The hill seems endless, on and on through the woods and past towering cliffs. The only sounds, apart from the faint whirr of the chain, are the distant roar of water and the increasing whisper of the wind in the trees as we climb higher.
My thighs are screaming for a rest but the upward grind is strangely exhilarating as the horizon opens out with the line of the Arran mountains sharp against the sky, a lone hen harrier silhouetted against the blue.
Suddenly my legs are spinning and I gear up as the road levels out with the blue of the sea ahead and far below. Up through the gears as the freshly-resurfaced road drops away, dead straight for nearly two miles; 30, 40, 45 before the speedometer hits 51mph, the roar of the wind past my cold ears drowning out everything else.
As we approach the bends I pull on the brakes and slow to a mere 25mph through the woods before braking to a halt on Brodick pier 20 minutes later – a fitting finale to a wonderful ride.
I passed one of those ‘milestone’ birthdays this year and was looking forward to a fitting way to celebrate. What better way than to ride some of the roads I cycled regularly as a teenager.
It had to be the west coast of Scotland, to my mind the finest scenery in the world and a cyclist’s paradise (if you don’t mind hills, wind, rain or midges!).
So, last Saturday morning found me on the ferry to the Isle of Bute after an overnight train ride from London. Bute was one of the few Scottish islands I’d never visited and was delightfully easy cycling before we crossed back on to the mainland and the remote Cowal peninsula. Following tiny roadside lanes we skirted lonely lochs and ground our way up seemingly endless hills, ever-changing spectacular views opening up at every bend in the road, every one well worth the effort.
I must admit to a childlike glee at riding on and off ferries, a feature of this trip. On one ferry, across Loch Fyne, there were five bikes and no cars – a portent of the future?
The final couple of days were spent on the wonderful isle of Arran. The island is often called ‘Scotland in miniature’, with high rugged mountains at the north end and rolling moors, forests and farmland in the south. I spent many months here as a child and a teenager and know the roads as well as any.
It was gratifying that I managed the tough climbs now as well as I did back then!
Although the legs are still a bit stiff I feel 10 years younger. Maybe the NHS should prescribe cycling as a cure for aging minds and muscles.