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Motorcycling: A ferry good mini-adventure

I'M up early on Saturday morning while the rest of the household sleeps and I'm out the door by 8am.

It might only be a day-trip around the Clyde islands and Kintyre, and not a Ewan 'n' Charley expedition, but I'm excited about my mini-adventure.

I've never taken my Honda on a ferry before. This journey will see me boarding five in one day.

I head down a quiet M8 towards Ardrossan, where I have to be 'available for shipment' by 9.15pm. I'm not expecting much from this stage of the trip but the twisty, well-surfaced stretch from Dalry down to the port wakes me up as the sun burns the mist from the fields and I glimpse the sea for the first time.

There are already four bikes at the port: two English couples on well-appointed BMWs, who look like they are no strangers to the Touratech catalogue, and a Scottish couple on a Honda NC700. I feel like I'm entering the belly of the beast as I gingerly roll down the ramp into hold. A deck-hand sticks a chock under the front and rear wheels and I glance back as I climb the steps, hoping I'll not come back to find my Firestorm lying on its side.

I grab a cup of Cal Mac coffee and make my way to the top deck and chat to the other riders. The Scottish rider has only recently passed his test and tells me he is determined to discover Scotland for the first time. We watch the dolphins as the ship closes in on a sun-kissed Brodick. It reminds me of a ramshackle Carribean port with the sun beating down on a perfect blue sea, stacks of timber piled high waiting to be transported to the mainland as another load of tourists disembark.

Back in the hold, and the bike is still standing. I grab a quick photo and I'm off up the gangway. I wave goodbye to my new pals and peel off towards Lochranza, carefully making my way through the squads of cyclists. I wonder briefly what the collective term for cyclists is - a press of pedallers, a chain of cyclists?

I don't get far before the stunning views force me to stop for another photo op. I take a seat on a wall beside the sea and watch seals basking, a heron keeping a silent watch, and one of his targets - a foot-long fish - cutting through the clear waters. Back on the bike, I head onwards with the sea on my right shining like a glitterball in a disco at midnight. It's slow going and poorly surfaced but I don't mind. I'm in no rush.

At Sannox, the road changes. The whole island changes. The gentle scenery and winding road replaced by open hillsides and a much faster, wider, sweeping highway, almost devoid of traffic, with the ragged, jagged peaks of Cir Mhor threatening in the distance.

I pass a young couple on their push bikes as we descend a steep hill. She is wearing a pretty vest top and shorts. She looks fashionable but I shudder to think of the road rash she would suffer if she took a tumble.

Coming down the other side into Lochranza I pass the Arran Distillery and the ruin of Lochranza Castle, which must rank alongside Eilean Donan and Urquhart Castle for its spectacular location.

I ride on and stop for a piece and egg at The Sandwich Station and watch the ferry for Claonaig make its way across the Kilbrannan Sound. Soon, I'm onboard and the broken teeth of the hills recede as we leave Arran.

I almost can't believe I'm on Kintyre. I've ridden here from Glasgow before and it's never taken less than two-and-a-half hours. I had no idea it was so close to Arran. I start to see Scotland as the Vikings must have seen it - a scattering of islands, peninsulas, firths and isthmuses. I see my country afresh, and it sends my soul soaring like the bird above me, which I'm sure is 'just' a buzzard but I decide is an eagle.

I trundle along the narrow B8001 onto the A83. It's like a superhighway after the single track: wide, with fast, sweeping corners. It's a dream to ride.

It's over almost too soon and I'm in Tarbert. I pass the pretty harbour, like something out of a Katie Morag book, and stop at the slipway. The woman taking the tickets on the MV Hallaig tells me it's a hybrid battery-diesel powered ship, built in Port Glasgow. I disembark at Portavadie and follow the single track before it opens up and takes me to Tighbnabruich where I promptly get lost. I double back and head for Colintravie. Then it's on to the day's shortest crossing, to Bute, which takes less than three minutes, then along to Rothesay and onto the fifth and final ferry to Wemyss Bay.

I'm home before 5pm. The milometer reads 117 miles, 52 of them around Kintyre and the Firth of Clyde. It might only be a mini-adventure but it was a day to remember.

The Five Ferries ticket - Ardrossan/Brodick; Lochranza/Cloanaig; Tarbert/Portavadie; Colintraive/Rhubodach; Rothesay/Wemyss Bay - costs £59 for a solo rider. See http://www.calmac.co.uk/five-ferries-tour.htm

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