Calmac website search form
CalMac Blog

Cycling in Scotland - hop aboard the five ferries

Cycling on Bute

Thinking of tackling the Five Ferries Cycle Challenge? Don't wait for the perfect day - instead, make one.

It's a very memorable 52-mile route, where you'll whisk your way from Ayrshire onto Arran, KintyreCowal and Bute. Yes, it can be done from Scotland's central belt in one day, or you have the option to take all that beauty in at a slower pace - and really soak in the surroundings. Whatever way you choose to tackle it - you're in for a treat.  

The starting line  

Make your way to Glasgow, catch the ScotRail service to Ardrossan.  

(If you're planning to do this in one day - catch an early train, which usually takes less than 50 minutes, to give yourself time to take the 09.45 sailing to Brodick. Below we'll share the timings that will help you complete in a singular day, if that's your preference).  

Find out more on how to board the ferry with a bicycle!



Going by that schedule, you'll arrive on Arran around 10:40, ready to cycle 14 miles around the northeast side of the island to Lochranza. It's a section that takes around 1h 20m.  

If you're completing the route in a day, it's worth pointing out that Brodick-Lochranza is the most time sensitive part of your cycle challenge as you'll need to be in Lochranza in time for the 13:15 crossing to Claonaig.  

The route to Lochranza from Brodick follows the coast road north and includes the challenge of The Boughllie - a steep climb. Later, you're rewarded with a descent into Lochranza, which is a great lunch stop. If you're making a longer trip of it, and you've time to spend in the area - there's plenty to see here - the dramatic ruined castle is a perfect backdrop to explore or take the weight off your legs with a visit to the Distillery at the southern end of the village.  

Arran cyclist


Lochranza-Claonaig and onto Tarbert  

For those on a mission to complete the circuit in one day - hop onto the 13:15 crossing from Lochranza to Claonaig on the east coast of the Kintyre peninsula. It's a 30-minute sailing across the Kilbrannan sound.  

From Claonaig, you'll set off for Tarbert - a stretch that's a hilly country round. You'll take a right turn onto the A83 for a few miles - a trunk road known as the gateway to Argyll, so this will be your busiest stretch of road on the route. This leg, which is 10 miles in total, will take an average of 1 hour to complete.  

Tarbert Castle


Tarbert - Portavadie and onto Colintraive  

If you're on the clock, catch the 15:00 sailing to Portavadie, arriving 15:25. From there, you'll cycle to Colintraive, a substantial climb over 19 miles - a 2-hour ride, allowing you to reach Colintraive in time for the 17.30 crossing to Rhubodach on the Isle of Bute.  

If you're taking the gentler approach, take time to explore the village at Portavadie, Loch Fyne and the Cowal Peninsula.

MV Loch Dunvegan travelling from Colintraive to Rhubodach


Colintraive - Rhubodach and onto Rothesay  

Colintraive - Rhubodach is a short 5-minute sailing, departing every 30 minutes, so you can take your time, or if you're completing the route in a day, and you're delayed, you can catch the next one.  

Once in Rhubodach, you're onto the final stretch to Rothesay - 8 miles of mostly flat round, which should take around 40 minutes. Working on this schedule, you'll arrive in Rothesay at 18:30 or 19:00, giving you plenty of time on Bute before the 20.05 sailing, which reaches Wemyss Bay at 20.35 in time to meet the 20:47 train bound for Glasgow.  

And, for those who plan to stay longer - you'll find Bute a great place to stop and catch your breath. Famous for its grand architecture - Mount Stuart is the island's striking 19th century neo gothic mansion. You can explore the design and style, enjoy the exhibitions which often draw on its own incredible collection of art.  

MV Bute leaving Rothesay


Get a taster  

As our itinerary shows, the route is doable during the Caledonian MacBrayne summer timetable period, which runs from late March until late October. It's a fantastic challenge to do in a day, or the perfect island-hopping adventure to do over a much longer period.  

Don't wait for perfect weather. Plan the day, pick a date - and let's go.  


Route at a glance:  

Train: Glasgow Central - Ardrossan  

Ferry: Ardrossan - Brodick 

Cycle:  Brodick - Lochranza 

Ferry: Lochranza - Claonaig 

Cycle: Claonaig -Tarbert (Kintyre)  

Ferry: Tarbert - Portavadie (Cowal) 

Cycle: Portavadie-Colintraive  

Ferry: Colintraive - Rhubodach  

Cycle: Rhubodach - Rothesay   

Ferry: Rothesay - Wemyss Bay  

Train: Wemyss Bay - Glasgow  


Useful links:  

If you're planning to take a leisurely approach to the route, take a wee look at our destination pages for Arran, KintyreCowal and Bute to see how best to spend your time there.  

Book tickets for each leg, which can be purchased in advance. Tickets for our Turn up and Go routes are valid for the season in which they were purchased, rather than being for a specific sailing.  

And check timetables to plan your time away by ferry.  Check ScotRail for timetables and ticketing information. 

Buy Tickets


Close Don't show again