“It’s a good vehicle, it saves having to go to a psychiatrist.”*
Paul McCartney, one of Kintyre’s most famous residents, was talking about writing sad songs. But all bikers know that he could just as easily have been talking about why we ride. And the Long and Winding Road to Campbeltown, which inspired the first of his songs about Kintyre, is the perfect road to save your sanity.
In fact, you’ve a choice of two roads.
If you enjoy the challenge and the technical discipline of a fast ride on good tarmac, then you need the A83, which swoops and soars down the west coast of the peninsula, teasing you with glimpses of the sea before opening out to a coastal run with breathtaking views of Gigha, and Islay. It’s a fantastic road with open, flowing bends. Take a pause at Westport to stretch your legs and explore the stunning beach – six miles of sand running down the Atlantic coast to to the world-famous Machrihanish golf links – before turning inland for the final run towards Campbeltown.
But if, like me, you’re built for comfort rather than speed, then you might prefer to bimble gently along the B842, a single-track tarmac strip rarely more than a stone’s throw from the water down the east side of Kintyre. You’ll want plenty of time, because each bend in the road reveals a new, beautiful view across the Forth of Clyde back to Arran – and there are a lot of bends.
These remote winding ribbons are not my comfort zone. My comfort zone is a dirty, gritty urban ring road where I’m dicing with couriers, taxi drivers and bendy buses, not sheep, locals who know every twist, turn and overtaking opportunity, and cows equipped with bigger handlebars than me – but in more than a decade of riding the back roads of Britain with the Round Britain Rally I have come to love them. If you’re new to single-track-roads-with-passing-places, you’ll need a hard stare and good forward planning. The rule is supposed to be that the person nearest the passing place pulls in, but you’ll be faced with tourists who seem incapable of reversing so press on and try to push you into the ditch instead, or who decide that because you’re on a bike you don’t need any space. If you’re holding someone up – happens to me quite a lot, but I am brick slow – it’s good karma to pull in to a passing place and let them by.
In 2013 many Round Britain Rally participants found themselves heading beyond Campbeltown to High Keil, as far south as the road runs and just 12 miles from the coast of Northern Ireland – not to visit the chapel of St Columba or his mysterious footprints, imprinted on the rocks high above the coast – but to take a photograph of a memorial bench placed just below it, one of that year’s rally landmarks. I don’t know who Dan and Peggy Harvey, late of Creggan, were, but their bench with its cartwheel back is a wonderful place to take a break and watch the waves before turning north again back to Campbeltown via the Kintyre Way. Don’t miss the Muneroy Tea Rooms in Southend for some of the best cake in Scotland and a chance to stock up on essentials at the store.
After the peace of the southern coast – especially if you braved the one-mile hike from the end of the road to the Mull of Kintyre lighthouse! – Campbeltown will feel like a bustling metropolis.
If you’ve got time to stay and explore, there are three things you should do – see a film at Scotland’s oldest purpose-built cinema, the recently-restored Campbeltown Picture House; take a tour of one (or all!) of the town’s three distilleries; and pay a brief visit to the Linda McCartney memorial garden behind the museum.
But maybe you’re in a hurry to get to the next great road. You could fill up at the Esso garage and head north – or, even better, between April and September, why not book onto the brilliant, biker-friendly CalMac ferry and let the crew whisk you back to Ardrossan on the Ayrshire coast? The islands belong to MacBrayne, and no adventure is complete without at least one hop on their iconic black and red ships.
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Argyll & Bute council has declared both roads part of the ‘Argyll 190,’ a route starting and finishing at Inverary.
Title reference: *Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now. Barry Miles, 1997