Simply Magic article

The Island of Great Cumbrae – Simply Magic!

As I write this article I am looking out of the window across the ever changing view of a wide expanse of a coastal bay towards the town of Millport on the Island of Great Cumbrae. The backdrop to this scene is the magnificent outline of the Island of Arran with Goat Fell and The Sleeping Warrior just touching the clouds and the sun setting in a glorious amalgam of reds, purples and gold behind the mountains.

view across Kames Bay, Millport

In under an hour from Glasgow you can be at the Ayrshire seaside town of Largs where a CalMac ferry will take you, and your car if you want it, on the 8.5 minute crossing to Cumbrae. If you would rather save some fuel there is a regular bus service from the island pier to the town of Millport. From here you can explore the charm of a seaside town that in many ways hasn’t changed since the 50’s. Old fashioned café’s, shops and bars add to the experience, while a new bistro and updated pub facilities cater to different tastes.

A haven for wildlife, Cumbrae attracts migrant birds from around the world and has a resident population of over 100 species including fulmars, gannets, divers, swans, hen harrier and buzzard. The flora of the island is equally varied with 9 species of orchid being found amongst the abundance of other wild flowers and ferns.

In the summer, Millport’s beaches can take on a Mediterranean feel with tropical plants fronting the promenade and dozens of sailing craft moored out in the sheltered bay protected by two small islands known as the Eileans. The view that I mentioned earlier is over Kames Bay, often referred to as the most researched bay in Europe as it is visited daily by dozens of students from the island’s Marine Research Station which contains a museum and aquarium which are well worth a visit. Millport is also the home of Europe’s smallest cathedral and Britain’s narrowest house.

Just 11 miles in circumference, all parts of the island are easily reached by car, on foot or by bike, tricycle or tandem hired from island companies. Part of the way around, the kiosk  at Fintry Bay  makes a welcome break and provides a full range of food throughout the day.

cycling in Millport

For the energetic golfer, the Millport Golf Club welcomes visitors to their excellent 18 hole course where the hilly terrain offers both challenges and magnificent views across to the islands of Bute and Arran in equal number. A well kept bowling club also welcomes visitors, and both kids and adults can test their skills at the crazy golf on the prom. The main Newton Bay offer sheltered anchorages and secure moorings for sailors and on the east side of the island the National Watersports Centre offers courses to suit all aspect of water based activities.

In the centre of the town the Garrison House, built by Captain James Crawford in 1745 as a barracks for himself and his officers of the revenue cutter “Royal George” in Millport, has reopened this year. Having lain derelict for many years and suffering a devastating fire in 2001, the building has been completely restored to its former glory thanks to the dedication of the islanders and grants from The Lottery and Historic Scotland. It now houses an excellent library and museum, council offices, doctor’s surgery and a courtyard coffee shop.

Drawn by the magnificent views afforded all along the west coast of Scotland the island is home to a number of artists, several of whom are internationally recognised and many of their paintings can be bought from the  Art Gallery owned by Jim Thomson, himself an artist.

It is now dusk and the lights of the town are reflecting on the wet sand of Kames bay as the tide recedes, there is just the first sliver of a new moon appearing in the clear night sky above the town and very shortly I expect to see the heron arriving at the tide’s edge where curlews and sandpipers have been feeding, and in the deeper water of the bay gannets have been plummeting into the sea to chase shoals of fish.

Within its 11 Mile circumference, Great Cumbrae offers a remarkable range of activities to suit visitors of all ages and it’s the easiest of all Scottish islands to visit for a day trip or longer. It is one of my favourite locations in Scotland and getting to know it will leave you eager to return.

Charles Kelly


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