When you think of a Scottish Island you probably think of Arran or Skye, or perhaps even Shetland. The notion probably conjures up visions of a ferry battling against stormy sea’s and all-consuming remoteness. This isn’t always the case, however. There is a Scottish island, reachable only by ferry, that you can travel to in 8 minutes.
Yes. 8 minutes. It’s called the Isle of Cumbrae and it sits just off the coast of Largs in North Ayrshire. On the island there is just one town, Millport, and you will mostly hear the locals refer to the island itself as ‘Millport’ rather than Cumbrae. It’s a pretty little place that used to be very popular with the working classes in Glasgow as a holiday destination before the introduction of package holidays abroad. Going ‘doon the watter’ was a common phrase, meaning to travel out of the Clyde from Glasgow and typically have a holiday at a variety of coastal destinations nearby such as Rothesay, Dunoon or Millport.
Even today in the summer months the island is very popular. You can cycle around the island, play golf at the one golf course on the island or simply sit on the beach with an ice cream and watch the boats in the harbour. As for me? I wanted to walk around the island which I hoped would not only make a great walk but would also let me take in the views, scenery and quirks of this pretty little place.
Now, when I say ‘around’ the island I don’t actually mean ‘around’. This is a popular route with cyclists but it misses the highest point on the island, the Glaid Stane, so my route for the day would be a little more creative and, I hoped, more enjoyable. My route would take me along the west coast of the island, with views to Arran, Bute and beyond and then it would bring me into the pretty town of Millport (where I fully intended on acquiring lunch). Once refuelled, I would climb to the highest point on the entire island and take in the views before heading back to the ferry terminal at the north-east part of the island.
My 10 Mile Circuit Around Cumbrae
My day was one with no car travel. Largs is well serviced by rail and I decided to take the train to the town and make the short walk to the ferry terminal nearby. Largs itself is a bustling town and in the summer is very popular with tourists. If you are there you might want to check out the award winning Nardini’s with their famous ice cream or perhaps if you want to visit later in the season you could experience the Largs Viking Festival! In case you are wondering, this festival marks the ‘Battle of Largs’ which took place in 1263 between Scottish and Norse forces. The festival culminates in the burning of a Viking Longboat and is worth seeing! (How many replica Viking ships have you seen burned in your life?)
The Sign As Soon As You Step Off The Train
The Front at Larg’s: Nardini’s in the Background
I made my way to the ferry terminal, which is a 5 minute walk from the train station, and got my ticket. Caledonian MacBrayne run the ferry (and you will be using their ships for most of your island visits throughout Scotland) and for a foot passenger you can get a return to Cumbrae for a mere £3.20. The ferry runs back and forth constantly from Largs to the ferry slip on Cumbrae and it’s fun to watch the ship trundle towards you. Once docked and unloaded both cars and people can board. Today, my trusty transport would be the ‘Loch Shira’. Now the ship has plentiful indoor seating but, being a big kid, I of course wanted to sit outside and ‘up top’. The views were lovely.
Heading to Cumbrae
‘Loch Shira’ Dropping Me Off
Walking The West Coast
Once I landed on the island, I noticed most of the passengers boarding the waiting bus (the bus and ferry work in tandem so you will never have long to wait) which was about to head south to Millport. I, however, strolled beyond the bus and headed northward to begin the first leg of my journey. The day was a bit grey but it was warm and I was looking forward to taking in the sights.
The road winds around the north of the island and it is dotted with interesting features. The entire island has things to be seen and enjoyed. There are walking routes, monuments and a variety of interesting rocks (read on!).
The ‘Tomont End Monument’ on the north coast of the island, dedicated to 2 midshipment of HMS Shearwater who drowned in 1841
The Views to Arran
The ‘Indian Rock’ is Certainly Noticeable!
The Small, Secluded War Memorial on the West Coast
The road has almost no gradient and in conjunction with the views and features dotted along the coast it is a beautiful place for a walk (or indeed, for cycling). The island has very few cars and the ones that are on the island are largely based in Millport itself. The coastal views are beautiful and the road gently curves into Millport, with a view of the town sprawling along the coast: it was an inviting view and I immediately decided to get something to eat.
The town of Millport sits at the southern point of the island and it is a very pretty little place. The town has a lovely selection of shops, a few which have been on the island for decades, and are arranged on an attractive sea-facing promenade.
The Royal George Hotel has stood on the island for a long time, providing a place for holidaymakers to spend a night. For those who wish to cycle around the island, Mapes has offered bicycles for rent since 1946 and also has an attached toy-shop. If you fancy a bite to eat Millport also has plenty of choice with places to sit in or take away including The Ritz Cafe with it’s funky 60’s decor.
The Beautiful Garrison House
If you are feeling a little more adventurous, you could also visit the Robertson Museum which is situated 10 minutes outside of the town but it makes a lovely stop on a cycle tour of the island or as the destination of a stroll on a nice day.
I decided to grab a fresh sandwich and a drink from a local shop and I sat on one of the many benches at the little beach and enjoyed a rest while looking out to sea. Boats were bobbing in the harbour and on the horizon, the sun was only getting brighter and the crocodile was smiling. (Millport is rather famous for it’s rocks.)
Heading for the Glaid Stone
While I could have sat there for quite a while, I had one more object for the day: to reach the highest point on the island, the ‘glaid stone‘. To get there, you have to follow the road that passes the Garrison House and steadily climbs until reaching the summit of the island. I was looking forward to seeing the views but I was immediately distracted by the Cathedral of the Isles which is the smallest Cathedral in the United Kingdom. I had to stop in and have a look (it is completely free to have a look around).
The Sign in the Town: The Glaid Stone is in the Centre
The Beautiful Cathedral of the Isles
The Pretty Interior & the Atmospheric Path
Climbing to the Centre of the Island (Note the spire of the cathedral in the centre of the picture)
The road winds through farmland and, while consistently uphill, is never what I would call ‘steep’. The summer this year in Scotland has been exceptional and this day was no exception: the grey clouds from earlier had vanished and the sky was turning blue and it was very warm. The island really is set-up for visitors as even this road had some strategically deployed benches making the walk comfortable even in the heat.
The views were only improving.
The View to Arran
The Glaid Stone: The Highest Point on Cumbrae
The views from the top stretched in all directions. The Isle of Arran with it’s towering hills in the west, the Isle of Bute to the north-west, the Paps of Jura and beyond. The walk to the summit of this little island had been well worth it. Also worth mentioning is just to the right of the cairn above was a well-placed bench.
Did I mention I like benches?
ThatGuyBry: Bench Expert
All that was left was to descend to the north and head for the ferry slip where the Loch Shira was waiting. I’d had a great day on this often overlooked little Island. The ease of access, the views & scenery and the pretty town of Millport had all made for a great day.
If you fancy an adventure a little out of the ordinary, why not visit Millport on the Isle of Cumbrae?
The Loch Shira: My Ticket Home