Bike ride: Great Cumbrae, Ayrshire

The small island of Great Cumbrae in the Firth of Clyde is perfect for newcomers both to Scottish islands and cycling

Cycling along a coastal shoreline

As family bike rides go, Great Cumbrae (also known as the Isle of Cumbrae) takes some beating. A very quiet and flat 10-mile road hugs the island’s coastline, giving both children and adults a frisson of achievement as they complete the circuit. 

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A café a third of the way around on the island’s western shoreline and other cafés and restaurants in Millport, the island’s only settlement, further add to the appeal. Claiming to be ‘Scotland’s most accessible island’, Great Cumbrae lies a 10-minute ferry ride from Largs, which is just an hour’s drive from Glasgow. In spring, listen out for the mating calls of eiders, spot kestrels and red-breasted mergansers, and smell wild garlic on the footpath leading to the cathedral.

Coastal village and beach
Kames Bay, Great Cumbrae/Credit: Paul Kirkwood

Great Cumbrae bike ride

9.9 miles/16km | 2 hours | easy

1. To the beach

From the ferry follow the coastal road anticlockwise. Navigation is as easy as that – you don’t need a map. Shortly after setting off you pass the Tomont End monument, which acts as a starting post for your ride; it commemorates two midshipmen who drowned in 1844. You will barely need a rest this early into the ride, but White Bay is well worth a linger.

2.  West-side pitstop 

A better placed rest spot is the High Tide Café at Fintry Bay. It’s very modern now but was once the site of a lemonade factory, where drinks for sale included homemade ginger ale and Cumbrae Grog, the name of which encapsulates the Five Go Mad feel of the island.Cut-out figures of servicemen direct your gaze to the sea and sky at a poignant war memorial a little further around the coast.

Bikes at coastal village
Millport, Great Cumbrae/Credit: Paul Kirkwood

3. Island capital

The merry little Victorian town of Millport is strung out around a large bay in the south of the island. In keeping with the pint size of Cumbrae, the town contains the Cathedral of the Isles, the smallest cathedral in Europe, and what is thought to be the narrowest house in Britain. Called The Wedge, the house squeezes into a two-metre gap next to a bistro on the seafront. Children will love to scamper over the beach to find Crocodile Rock: a rock painted like a pantomime crocodile. Have a game of crazy golf and an ice cream at the wonderfully retro Ritz Café.

Boats and sea at coastal village
Millport Harbour, Great Cumbrae/Credit: Paul Kirkwood

4. South-side sands

For more authentic history, visit the small Robertson Museum and Aquarium just beyond Kames Bay, the island’s biggest and best beach.

The Lion rocky outcrop, 600m beyond the museum, isn’t as easy to discern as Crocodile Rock – but see what you think. In keeping with the rest of the ride, it’s an easy last leg to the ferry terminal and your return to the mainland.


Great Cumbrae map

Great Cumbrae cycling map
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Words: Paul Kirkwood