IT may not have the brooding, dramatic landscape or some of its neighbours, but there’s something unique and very special about the isle of Cumbrae: “a wee island with a big heart” as one fan told me this week.

The island’s quirky capital, Millport, a favourite doon the watter destination for generations of Glaswegians, remains the big attraction.

Undoubtedly, part of the appeal lies in the nostalgia of stepping back in time to the golden age of Scottish seaside summers, not to mention ice-cream from the legendary Ritz Café. But as recent visitors will know, there’s more to Millport than buckets and spades, as its fascinating history and the buzzing summer festival scene attests.

Put simply, Millport has something for everyone, from history buffs and beachcombers, to scooter riders, country music fans and birdwatchers. The sunsets are pretty magical, too.

Historical highlights

Growing out of two villages – Kames and Kirkton - at opposite ends of the two bays on the south coast of Cumbrae, Millport was initially a base for customs ships.

Scotland's Insider Guide: Largs

In 1745, the seafront barracks known as The Garrison was built to accommodate ships' captains, then re-modelled in 1820 to become the family home of Lord Glasgow, the island’s owner, who built the pier in 1833. After that, the town became a popular port for Clyde steamers carrying holidaymakers from Glasgow. In 1851, the Cathedral of the Isles was completed, which seats 100 and remains the smallest cathedral in the UK.

For much of the 20th century, Millport was a bustling resort filled with holidaymakers spending entire summers on the island. In recent times, daytrippers and weekenders are most likely to make the short trip by ferry from Largs, many with bikes in tow.

What to do

Most people associate bikes with Millport (it’s still known as the “island of a thousand bicycles"), especially since the 10-mile island loop is pleasantly flat and thus easily negotiated by cyclists of all abilities, especially if you factor in a stop at the High Tide café in Fintry Bay. If you don’t have your own bike, there are a number of hire shops in Millport – On Your Bike, Mapes and Bremners – offering a range of cycles (pedal and electric, tandems and even four-seaters) and electric scooters, at very reasonable prices. Pack a picnic – and a waterproof – and make a day of it.

If you’re on foot, a regular bus takes you from the ferry terminal into town. I always like to get off at Kames Bay, at the east end of Millport, and walk the beautiful two miles along the seafront, stopping to admire the exotic trees and lovely architecture along the way, as well as the beautiful views to Ayrshire, Arran, Little Cumbrae and Bute.

Scotland's Insider Guide: Brodick

You’ll come across Crocodile Rock, the brightly painted landmark which has delighted children for more than 100 years. It’s not the only interesting rock on the island, of course. Keep your eyes peeled for the lion and Indian rocks. Look out, too, for real-life wildlife: otters, seals, fulmars, oystercatchers and, if you’re lucky, the odd golden eagle and lizard.

As you continue along Glasgow Street, take a right up College Street for the short walk up to the Cathedral, which is still a working Episcopalian church, as well as a theological college. If you’re looking for a peaceful place to stay, the Cathedral guest house offers accommodation on a bed and breakfast basis, and full access to the beautiful grounds. From £60 per night.

Back down on the seafront, Garrison House is a must-see. Following a fire in 2001 it was fully restored and is now a valuable community and culture hub. Museum of the Cumbraes showcases 4000 years of island life, from the stone coffins of ancient inhabitants through failed Viking invaders and successful 18th century smugglers, to Victorian holidaymakers and beyond. There’s also a lovely café and beautiful gardens to explore.

The seafront is also home to a stunning – and award-winning – sandy beach. On a sunny day, there are few lovelier stretches of sand in the west of Scotland. It’s also a great spot to take in the aforementioned sunsets. Millport fan Ann Wallace has another good suggestion for sunset-chasers. “Take a trip up to the ‘high point’ of the island, a short drive out of town and a wee walk from the car park to the trig point and Gledstane,” she says. “The views are incredible.”

She also recommends a break from walking along the promenade with a round of crazy golf, and as you head westwards. As you reach Guildford Street look out for The Wedge (named for its likeness to a wedge of cheese), which at 47-inches wide, is purported to be the world’s narrowest house.

Kirsty Morrison, whose father grew up in Millport, has a rather unusual recommendation – the toilets. “Stay with me on this one!” she says. “The public loos are passionately maintained by Cumbrae Cludgies, which does amazing work to keep the public toilets on the island open and in great condition.”

Scotland's Insider Guide: Largs

As Kirsty also points out, in recent years Millport has reinvented itself as a festival favourite. The Millport Scooter Rally, which takes place from 23-26 August, attracts mods – and indeed a few rockers – to the island, while the Millport Country Music Festival, on 30 August to 01 September, boasts four stages, 50 artists and a grand parade.

The Millport Flower Show on 18 August always brings a splash of colour, while the Millport Illuminations, at the September weekend (27-29 September) mark the end of the summer season with themed lights, fancy dress, talent show and a spectacular firework display.

Where to eat

Everyone who has ever been to Cumbrae over the last century has probably visited Millport’s iconic contribution to Scottish café culture, The Ritz, which opened in 1910. The vintage booths, counter and fittings – not to mention the menu – all hark back to another age. And the ice cream never disappoints. Kirsty Morrison says: “There are so many things to choose from, but you have to order the vanilla ice-cream with a 99 and raspberry sauce…anything else is sacrilege!”

Also on Stuart Street, the Round Island Café also has a growing legion of fans. Hannah Macdonald says: “What an absolute gem of a café. I’m vegan and they had a fantastic range of options, all very reasonably priced.” Ray Long adds: “Fantastic fudge cake and delicious homemade scones.”

Scotland's Insider Guide: Brodick

Ann Wallace recommends the Dancing Midge on Glasgow Street. “A really beautiful café, tiny but perfect with amazing breakfasts and lovely lunches, really friendly staff and lovely views over the water. In fact, I find all Millport folk so welcoming. And there's endless fun for families with kids.”

Scooter rally regular Gordon Davidson, meanwhile, always heads to the Deep Sea chippy on the Quayhead.

Where to stay

Central: Situated right on the pier, with stunning sea views, The Royal George has comfortable, refurbished rooms and serves tasty food. There’s also a lively bar with regular live music. From £75 a night.

Tasty breakfast: The Craigard, in Craig Street, is a friendly, family-run B&B just minutes from the seafront, with views to Ailsa Craig. Elegant rooms from £65 a night.

Quirky: Cosy, green-painted Hobbit Cottage is small and perfectly formed, and comes with its own garden. Sleeps four. From £150 a night. Go to Airbnb for details.

What to do nearby

Situated on the road to Millport from the ferry and showcasing the weird and wonderful creatures that live along Scottish coastlines, the Robertson Museum and Aquarium makes a fascinating visit. All the animals in the seawater-filled tanks were caught by students on field trips and kept for a maximum of three weeks before being released back to the sea.

Those looking to make a splash during their trip should visit the National Watersports Centre, which provides training in windsurfing, yachting, dinghying and jet skis.

In the coming weeks I'll be visiting Fort William, Drymen and Portobello. Send your hints and tips to: