The 5 ferry challenge – part 2

‘5 Ferries’


The highs and lows of a charity cycle!





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Onto the 3rd ferry nearly half way now!

Tarbert to Portavadie,  and then onto the Cowal peninsula.  It was at this ferry stage your author noticed his recovery including the recent food stop was not having the earlier effect of boosting his energy and feelings of recovery.  Looking at my fellow volunteers it became apparent that I was not alone in this thought.  However, the thought of passing through Tighnabruaich, would signify the start of the home stretch, or so I thought.


The whole group landed at Portavadie and made progress towards Tighnabruaich. This stage seemed to be the best so far early evening sunshine and flat and quiet roads. Life was good, or so we thought.


The roads led from the ferry through Millhouse and onto Kames, with the added bonus of a downhill stretch into Tighnabruaich.  I had visited Tighnabruaich in the past but always by boat.  It always seemed a nice place but the soon to become infamous A8003 was always just a line on the map.


When we arrived on the shore at Tighnabruaich we took time to find the way out of the Village. Iron Man had already gone through the village and was gone. One of the volunteers then mentioned that the correct road out of Tighnabruaich was the A8003, which climbs out of the village.


The group was almost complete except “Iron man” and our earlier volunteer who had been finding the pace tough.


We left the village and headed up the A8003 it was a tough climb but it will surely level out soon.


The next 4 miles to the top of A8003 was almost akin to the mental resolve of the guys at Rorke’s Drift.   I have never in challenged a hill like the A8003, indeed to give this road such a non-descript name for a cyclist is not doing it justice.


Our group had to dismount a few time on this beast of a stretch, a few of our volunteers nearly broke (some did but couldn’t admit it!) on this stage and indeed as we eventually got to the summit of the climb. I could count bodies and bikes strewn about the road verge.  Our ever helpful support vehicle appeared and was able to hand out water to revive some of our group.  However it was a bit like spraying a bottle of Highland Spring on desert sand dune, totally useless.





I now know why children were evacuated from Glasgow to Tighnabruaich during the blitz. It was a safe location. Not because the Luftwaffe could bomb and harm them, but because the children would never get out of the village back to Glasgow on the A8003.


At this point I climbed to the view point which has been placed at the summit of the road. From here I could see the next Ferry port of Colintraive.    “Guys I can see Colintraive from here, I can see the ferry .”  From the road below I got a grumble and a few moans.  My team mates were hurting. Although I could see Colintraive it was still about a 12 mile stretch due to the prominence of Loch Riddon. It was like a physical mirage; I could see it but couldn’t touch it.


At this stage we realised one of our volunteers had not appeared. I would have shouted man down, but that would just have confused things. Our earlier volunteer who had been suffering was still to make to A8003, little did he know. Anyway the support vehicle headed back to assist while we all took the road to Loch Riddon and beyond.


Even although this stretch was downhill the sheer exhaustion had kicked in, and we rolled to the Loch head in convoy.  The next few miles were a mental challenge. Our support rider said good bye to us 3 miles out of Colintraive.  Ahead lay another hill.  At this stage of the day it was more a mental challenge than physical. Once you have spent all your energy you can give no more. This hill was all about survival and getting to the Isle of Bute.




I was climbing this hill when one of my fellow volunteers pulled off to the side of the road lay down like a Bambi and cried no more. His legs required stretching as the Muscle cramp had found a willing victim.  I felt guilty not stopping as I went by, but self-preservation kicked in. “Got to get to the top of this hill.” “Got to get to the top of this hill.”  “GOT TO GET TO THE TOP OF THIS HILL!.”


If I had stopped there, I would probably still be there.



We made the 4th Ferry for 7.45pm.  I couldn’t find my ticket,  I think the Cal-Mac lady took pity on me as I looked like oxygen starved climber. I probably would have struggled to spell my name, or count to ten at this stage.


Soon the volunteers straggled in, even Bambi had made it.  What an effort!!


Iron Man by this stage was probably in Rothesay, reading a Sunday supplement chewing on a caramel wafer. Respect!


The Colintraive – Rhubodach ferry to the Isle of Bute.   We had now 8 miles to go and not any significant hills on route. The last ferry to Wemyss Bay was at 9.10pm, so we should be okay now. We all left again in a small group.


I pushed ahead on this stage as I wanted to get to Rothesay as soon as possible. Although there is no significant hills on this coastal road even a bump were giving me Goosebumps. I was caught by one of my colleagues and past, his pace was better. We however reunited at Port Bannatyne which has a small hill over to the Bute Sailing Club in Rothesay. He had stopped with a look of terror on his face. Things were getting ridiculous.


Things were so bad that my fellow volunteer was contemplating going on a detour, on the shore road, as this small hill now looked like a terrifying mountain. The look on his face was hard to describe,  the kind of look as if your house was on fire, words were not required.


We rolled into Rothesay about 8.30. I for one lay next a wall with a light head, empty body and a sense of pride.  The group all made it in to the Ferry Port. There was no great celebration at this stage.


Carbohydrates were required and I for one had no energy to go and purchase them, thank goodness for of Co-sponsors to volunteer to purchase Chips, Coke and Caramel wafers all round. I just needed fuel at this time. Good Scottish health food, hit the spot.


We all reunited outside the ferry ticket office, and out popped Iron Man, Smiling from ear to ear.


“Alright Lads, How are we feeling?”


“I’m living the <blanking>  dream.”  I mumbled to myself out of self-pity



(Ferry 5)


We boarded the ferry in good time.


The last ferry off of any island is usually full of an amalgam of society. This was no different. The Bute highland games had been on that day and the usual mix of punters were on board.


Our volunteers sat there with the knowledge that this particular challenge was over, for some never again.


However we had all done the five ferry challenge, something that we can all say.


The bond between the volunteers grew stronger as the day progressed, like a band of brothers. We may not talk often about this challenge, but all who were there will know with a nod of the head and a wink of the eye “I was there”.


I would like to thank our sponsors who made this challenge possible and have helped raise a magnificent sum for our nominated charities.


I would also like to thank my fellow volunteers, who in true fashion will go under nicknames but you, know who you are:-



“Iron Man” Total Respect


“The Legend that is DOC”


“Bambi Sorry for leaving youL”


“Vidal thanks for your help all day”


“I am Empty” are you NO??


“Steff, you got a light?”


“Obertan, the Gentleman”


“ Wills,  Hills are for wimps!!”


“Pops, what an effort”


The End


Thanks to eveyone who took part, you’re pain has made a difference to someone, somewhere.

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Special thanks to…


to the Calmac Skipper on the Lochranza Ferry, good guy.

The owner of the Tarbert Fish and Chip shop. Grazie!

The ticket collector at Colintraive for being so understanding.