Overseas warm (but very windy) weather weekend training trip to Costa del Millport

Costa del Millport – Kames beach looking distinctly Mediterranean for a picnic stop on day 2.

6.30 am on a Sunday and the alarm awakes Team Matilda from their slumbers. Amazingly the “old git” and “old gal” jump out of bed! The reason for this enthusiasm is that we were heading for our annual “overseas warm weather” May Bank Holiday training weekend on the “sunshine” island of Millport.

For those unfamiliar with the charms of “Costa del Millport”, the island (officially known as The Isle of Cumbrae) is just 10 minutes by CalMac ferry from the mainland at Largs on the firth of Clyde. It is a cyclists paradise as it offers a virtually flat 10.25 mile loop round the island on almost traffic free roads.

And as added excitement we were being joined on our weekend adventure by good solo cyclist friends of the “old gal” and “old git” – Gillian and Craig. Now believe it or not they are Millport virgins! I know it is hard to believe that some people have yet to enjoy the thrill of a trip to Millport – but this was their first time so laughs are guaranteed!

So we headed off from Matildas Rest – with the only slight snag being a weather forecast which was promising winds of up to 24 mph. And given we were heading to an island that didn’t sound too clever!  Matilda Transport was parked up in Largs and we tandemed round to the ferry terminal – complete with my natty matching (and bulging) panniers! – to meet up with Gilliand and Craig.

Here I am on the short ten minute CalMac ferry crossing to Millport.

I really enjoy a ferry trip you know, as you always get to meet some interesting new bikes – especially some of these sleek new racing bikes – which is nice eye candy for this “old lady”!

Ten minutes later and we were in a different world – it’s amazing the difference that short journey “overseas” makes! It was certainly blustery as we left the ferry – with the wind as per the forecast! This was going to be interesting – especially in the cross winds given that I am a “long vehicle”!

The calm before the storm – arriving with Millport virgins Gillian and Craig.

So after disembarking there was time for a quick group selfie before heading clockwise to pedal the four miles into the town of Millport. You can check out the details of our route on Strava below – and don’t forget to click on the map image to be transferred to Strava to get the full data and statistics! 

So this is where my dynamic crew knew it was windy! As we headed off from the ferry slipway the wind was recording a steady 24 mph – right in the direction we were tandeming! The “old gal” – who suffers a bit from asthma – found the first couple of miles particularly hard going.  Now we know what cycling in a cyclone is like! It was really tough pedalling and it seemed we were almost going backwards such was the force of the wind! But about half way towards the town as we changed direction, thankfully the wind suddenly calmed a bit. It was very much still there, but not nearly as ferocious!

On we pedalled into the town where we had arranged to hand our panniers in at the Craigard Guest House – our wonderfully friendly bed and breakfast – run by the really hospitable Janette and Crawford. We stayed here the last couple of years, and were welcomed back like old friends! I was most impressed when Crawford greeted us with “Good to see the three of you again!”

After a quick pit stop we were back on the road, heading off clockwise on our first lap. And as we cycled up the quieter side of the island it was like a totally different day from the mainland side! This was a joy with my dynamic crew enjoying the wind behind them as they flew along taking in the stunning views across the water to the nearby islands of Arran and Rothesay.

Gillian and Craig enjoying the flat open roads on Millport on their solo bikes.

Gillian and Craig were enjoying their first views of the island, taking in the beautiful scenery as we passed remote beaches with lots of wildlife. In high spirits we identified our usual “private picnic table” and made a booking for an hour’s time when on our second lap! As we came round the top of the island, we were all a bit more prepared for the wind as we came round the headland. It was just as strong but somehow Team Matilda managed to keep the momentum going by keeping pedalling. I was actually impressed as our speed didn’t seem to drop too much – and we were still back in Millport – having completed the first lap – in well under an hour!

After a quick breather it was time to continue on clockwise for the first half of lap 2 which took us to our idyllic quiet table for four with a sea view – with the weather almost balmy on the more protected side. Just perfect for our prosecco picnic.

Bon Appetit! Time for one of my dynamic crew’s infamous prosecco picnic lunches!

Now prosecco picnics by tandem at remote quiet spots are one of the great simple pleasures in life, and my dynamic duo take them very seriously with meticulous preparation! Today the menu to emerge from their bicycle rider’s luncheon box was smoked salmon and chilli cream cheese croissants followed by fresh fruit. Picnics don’t come much better than this!

The “old gal” among the bluebells on the track down to the beach.

Selfie time for my dynamic crew after the picnic with Rothesay in the background.

After a walk on the beach the four of us got back on the saddles. Happily for the “old gal” the wind had dropped a bit as we headed past the ferry terminal and we completed the second lap faster than the first. Time for a reviving reward of some coffee and yummy carrot cake – de rigeur for tandemers – at the brilliant Dancing Midge Cafe. Refuelled it was time for the final lap of the day – but as the sun had come out there was time for some scenic shots as the cycle path passed Kames Bay.

Gillian and Craig with the “old gal” overlooking the beach as the sun decided to pay a visit!

What a view – looking towards the ragged hills of Arran out from Millport,

Just  for variety we decided to  do the final lap anti clockwise and this was clearly going to be the fastest lap of the day! The first half of this circuit was a breeze – and not in the windy sense! Gillian and Craig headed off on their solo bikes to complete an ultra-fast lap and since they were visitors on their first trip to Millport, we decided not to chase them! We pedalled up past the ferry picking up speed all the way and enjoyed most of the trip back down the quieter side … until my dynamic crew suddenly became less dynamic as they simultaneously hit the wall! With about three miles to go the “old git” and the “old gal” both almost ground to a halt with their pedalling as today’s miles had clearly taken their toll. But they battled on with Team Matilda arriving back in Millport virtually at crawling speed.

Happy to have finished the final lap of the day – clocking up 35  miles.

Spangled! The “old gal” having a rest after that final lap and cycling in a cyclone!

Relaxing back at the Craigard – while enjoying a wee glass of wine – the “old git” and the “old gal” were euphoric when they checked Strava to find they had gained no less than 16 gongs – 6 third best times; 6 second best times; and 4 personal bests! Not a bad tally given the ferocious headwinds my dynamic crew faced throughout the day – which underlines that they are a good bit fitter and stronger than they think! Strava officially recorded the ride as Team Matilda covering a distance of  34.6 miles with a total moving time of 3 hours 27 minutes – giving a healthy average speed of 10.0 mph.

The total elapsed time was just over 5 hours – allowing for the prosecco picnic and coffee and cake! Top speed recorded was 20.1 mph and the elevation covered was 531 feet. Together we managed to burn up 1690 calories, and produced an estimated average power output of 122 W.

Time for a bit of rest and recuperation before Gillian and Craig knocked on the door – with another of their pop-up gin bars! They had gone to the effort of bringing some of the Glasgow-made Makaar gin, Mediterranean tonic, and even a chilli freshly cut up as a garnish! It went down a treat before we headed for our evening meal at The Harbour restaurant. Regular readers of my blog will know that this is the restaurant of choice on Millport for the “old git” and the “old gal”. And the offering now includes a cocktail menu – including gin concoctions – so the “old gal” was ecstatic!

Cheers! Well deserved cocktails for the “old gal” and “old git” at the Harbour restaurant.

The food was brilliant as always – very tasty and originally presented! The “old git” for example enjoyed some tempura prawns with a chilli dip followed by a build-your-own burger with blue cheese topping.  Just what was needed to restore energy levels! So after a great night – full of laughs – it was back to the bed and breakfast for some much needed zzzs ahead of another couple of laps tomorrow!

Day 2 dawned and bright sunshine streaming in as my dynamic crew and Gillian and Craig enjoyed  a hearty cooked breakfast at Craigard to set everyone up for the cycling ahead. After bidding farewell to Janette and Crawford, and thanking them for another great stay, we headed out to find the wind had changed – but only in direction!

Millport bay was a veritable millpond basking in the sun – but the “old gal” knew from painful experience of Millport that if the wind was still there that meant the other half of the island would be a maelstrom! And she wasn’t wrong!

So the plan was for two more training laps today – and for the first one we headed off anti clockwise. Remember you can check out the details of our route on Strava below – and don’t forget to click on the map image to be transferred to Strava to get the full data and statistics! 

It was a lovely day to be tandeming and all was well with the world – then just at the ferry slipway we felt the wind again! It was whipping up the sea into waves – but for some reason it didn’t feel as bad as yesterday! And it seems it wasn’t as it had dropped from 24 mph to a more placid 19 mph! But my dynamic crew were feeling fresh after their rest and powered round the island in 47 minutes.

On the way round just as we passed the public loos at Fintry Bay we saw a new star of the island my crew had been told about – the self dubbed Cumbrae Cludgie Cleaner. Fun-loving Suki McGregor signed up for  job following a community take-over of the public loos and is instantly recogniseable thanks to her trademark bright pink overalls and blonde dreadlocks. She even has her own Cumbrae Cludgie Cleaner Facebook page and has been posting video blogs which have gone viral!

We spotted the Cumbrae Cludgie Cleaner  at the loos near Fintry Bay. Photo: Scottish Sun

As we tandemed past my crew parped my horn and waved and shouted out hello and said thanks for doing a great job for the community. A few days later a great article appeared about Suki in the Scottish Sun and Team Matilda got a mention! Talking of the praise she received Suki told the paper: “I’ve had a couple on a tandem cycle past shouting ‘There’s the Cumbrae Cludgie Cleaner!”

A welcome coffee stop at Crocodeli after the initial lap on day 2.

Time for a quick coffee pit stop at the brilliantly named Crocodeli delicatessen – combining the deli part with the famous Crocodile Rock landmark. The coffee was great and we decided that their home made sandwiches would be ideal for a picnic lunch – so the “old gal” wisely got them to put a bottle of white wine in the fridge so it would be suitably chilled on our return from our final lap! The “old git” couldn’t help but laugh at the tongue-in-cheek west of Scotland humour on Crocodeli’s blackboard promoting the fact that they were self-proclaimed Piece Artistes! (For those not au fait with the Scottish dialect piece is a Scots word for sandwich!)

Only in Millport! Fantastic west of Scotland humour in bottom line of Crocodeli’s sign!

So with the weather conditions now at their best over the whole weekend, my dynamic duo decided that they would finish with a flourish! They got themselves psyched up for a record breaking Tour de Millport attempt!

Following much discussion – arguments and counter arguments and the scientific experiment of sticking a finger in the air to try and establish which way the wind was blowing – the “old gal” decided on clockwise! Just to emphasise the seriousness of the situation my dynamic crew removed their cycling jackets … and so Team Matilda set off from the harbour with the aim of recording their best ever time to lap the island.

It would need to be said that we fair whizzed round the island with the “old git” keeping me in high gears most of the time and really pushing on when we hit any wind. I was enjoying myself immensely as this “old lady” doesn’t normally get to experience such speeds!

And I am proud to report that my dynamic crew excelled themselves with a non stop circuit of the island which was recorded at new personal best of 41.28 minutes – which means that we were travelling at an average of 14.89 miles an hour! Fantastic! And what’s more it was great fun which proved my crew’s motto of “It’s always better when we are tandeming together!”

Time for a breather! The “old gal” relaxing after the record breaking lap!

Not surprisingly my crew needed a few minutes to sit in silence and re-energise after their record breaking attempt and found a lovely sunny spot beside the harbour. We met up with Gillian and Craig who had taken the internal – but much hillier road – to do some sightseeing, before heading back to Crocodeli for some lovely sandwiches and collect that nicely chilled wine for the picnic!

While the “old gal” was organising the picnic purchases, the “old git” decided to have a look in the window of the gift shop next door and his eye was caught by a range of caravan signs for hanging over a wine bottle. Immediately he thought of my good friend, the recumbent tandem Bluebird, and her crew John and Jane – who we enjoyed a great Tour de Perthshire with last year when they travelled north with their caravan! And excitement is building to the first week in July when Team Matilda is travelling south to meet up with Team Bluebird for a Tour de New Forest! So the sign that said: “Everybody join the caravan of love” seemed the perfect memento from Millport!

A present for Team Bluebird … the wine didn’t survive the picnic lunch!

Unfortunately for John and Jane – but fortunately for my dynamic crew! – the perfectly chilled and fruity Oyster Bay wine didn’t have a chance of surviving the picnic! But the “old gal” says it was delicious – so it didn’t go to waste! And it wasn’t just the effect of the wine, but as my crew enjoyed their alfresco picnic as the temperature rose, Millport had a distinctly balmy Mediterranean feel to it! Yes honestly! It was truly living up to its Costa del Millport nickname!

Picnic over – it was time to cycle the four miles back to the ferry slipway – which was taken at a more sedate pace than the record attempt!

Waiting on the ferry to dock at the Cumbrae slip for the return crossing.

While waiting on the busy ferry for the crossing back to Largs there was time to check out the data and my dynamic crew were ecstatic to discover the second day’s tandeming produced another 13 gongs on Strava – including an impressive TEN personal bests! … including that lap of 41 mins 28 seconds!

The distance was recorded by Strava as 23.2 miles for day 2, with a total moving time of 1 hour 57 minutes – giving an average speed of 11.9 mph. Top speed recorded was 20.6 mph and the elevation covered was 375 feet. Together we managed to burn up 1087 calories, and produced an estimated average power output of 139 W.

Reflecting on a fabulous Bank Holiday weekend of tandeming on Costa del Millport!

On the return ferry trip while basking in the bright sunshine there was time for Gillian and Craig to join my dynamic crew to reflect on a rather special weekend on Millport, which was ideal training for our Tour de France and Holland later in the year.

Team Matilda tandemed nearly 60 miles … averaging 11 mph over the two days … and recording no less than 15 personal bests! All together a pretty good result! And I for one can’t wait to go back! And it seems Gillian and Craig are now converted to the charms of Millport to, and promise to return!

As one of the promotional Facebook sites for the island says: “The Only Way is Millport”! And as this sign stresses: “Millport – in a world of its own!” And who can argue with that!

The sign says it all really!

Matilda’s miles on Millport

Quiet table for two?! Our lovely isolated beach view lunch spot on Millport.

Quiet table for two with a sea view?! Our lovely isolated beach view lunch spot on Millport.

7 am on the Sunday of the early May Bank Holiday weekend and the alarm beeps! The “old gal” has a quick look out the blinds and confirms it is lashing down with rain, and as we say in Scotland – it is blowing  a hooley!

But there is no chance of a duvet day as the “old git” has booked us all on an “overseas” trip for some “warm weather” boot camp training on the “sunshine” island of Millport.

For those unfamiliar with the charms of “Costa del Millport”, the island (officially known as The Isle of Cumbrae) is just 10 minutes by Cal Mac ferry from the mainland at Largs on the firth of Clyde and it offers a virtually flat 10.25 mile loop round the island on almost traffic free roads.

It is a cyclists paradise really and is a favourite destination of those in need of some training practice. Well it is when the sun shines and the wind doesn’t blow! Which is exactly the opposite of the weather conditions when we wakened up.

Despite the “old gal’s” protestations in the parlance of John McEnroe that “You cannot be serious!” we were all soon packed up in Matilda Transport and heading down the A9 and across to the west coast in driving heavy rain to Largs for the ferry.

The “old git” – ever the optimist – was trying his best to convince the “old gal” that there was going to be a weather window later in the day when the sun would shine. It would need to be said that the “old gal” was giving him her best “I don’t believe you look” – but obviously delivered with a smile on her face!

Those annoying motorway signs which were flashing “Warning – surface water” and “Caution – high winds” didn’t really help the “old gal’s” mood. But she knew mutiny was pointless as the bed and breakfast was already booked and the “old git” was a man on a mission.

The “old git” was clearly banking on the fact that Millport – being an island – is well known for its typical “four seasons in a day” Scottish weather. And it can actually change conditions very quickly.

Almost miraculously as we drove down the alpine zig-zag bend-style Haylie Brae overlooking Largs, the rain stopped, the wind died down, and the sun broke through the thick cloud. There obviously is a God!

So we were able to keep to the original plan of leaving Matilda Transport at Largs and cycle round to the ferry – complete with my natty matching (and bulging) panniers!

A quick stop at a new Costa Coffee beside the ferry terminal and we were on board! I really enjoy a ferry trip you know, as you always meet some interesting new bikes – especially some of these sleek young racing bikes! Which is nice eye candy for this “old lady”!

On arrival - the ferry slipway at Costa del Millport - just 10 minutes from the mainland.

On arrival – the ferry slipway at Costa del Millport – just 10 minutes from the mainland.

Ten minutes later and we were in a different world – it is amazing the difference that short journey makes as you make the trip “overseas”!

So after disembarking and a quick photo stop, we headed the anti-clockwise “long way” round – the 6 miles down the quiet side of the island to the town in order to take in the stunning views of nearby islands of Rothesay and Arran and clock up the best part of the first loop.

Check out the location and route of my Tour de Millport du tandem on Strava below – don’t forget to click on the map to get the full data and statistics!

cdm - strava snipBelieve it or not as we passed beautiful remote beaches, with abundant wildlife, the sun was shining and we managed to knock up a fair speed – even with the heavy panniers! In high spirits, we identified our lunch spot for the second loop and continued pedalling into the town.

Next job was to hand our panniers in at the Craigard Guest House – a wonderfully friendly bed and breakfast business – run by the really hospitable Janette and Crawford. We stayed here last year and were all welcomed back like old friends! I was most impressed when Crawford greeted us with “Good to see the three of you again!”

After a quick pit stop we were back on the road, with us all enjoying the tandem up the side of the island which looks out on the mainland. We were whizzing along now and soon completed the first lap as we passed the ferry terminal and on to our lunch stop.

It was now almost balmy round the more protected side of the island and my dynamic duo were feeling euphoric as they had to remove their cycling jackets due to overheating! Or as the “old gal” said: “I will say this only once probably this weekend – but I am too warm!”

The “old git” unpacked the prosecco picnic lunch as they took up seats on their idyllic “quiet table for two with a sea view”!

The "old gal" posing in alfresco fine dining mode!

The “old gal” posing in alfresco fine dining mode!

Now prosecco picnics by tandem at remote quiet sports are one of the great simple pleasures in life, and my dynamic duo take them very seriously with meticulous preparation! Today they had a very healthy Hay Plan menu of caesar salad wraps and fresh fruit – and yes the bubbly is on the approved list! They are obviously taking this eating healthy plan thing seriously (not a diet shouts the “old git” who doesn’t do diets!) as they have now lost 53 pounds between them in 11 weeks. And it has left them feeling so much fitter. And as for me I am equally grateful that I don’t have to carry all that extra weight around on my ageing frame!

A quick walk on the beach to take in the scenery in brilliant sunshine was a bonus – although the views to the snow-capped peak of Goat Fell on Arran was testament to the recent cool temperatures!

The "old git" trying to blend in with the bright yellow gorse at the picnic stop!

The “old git” trying to blend in with the bright yellow gorse at the picnic stop!

Back in the saddles and we were off for again with a couple of quick stops for some photos, including the poignant War Memorial which looks directly out to see and what has been – and still is – the Royal Navy’s training ground for warships.

Paying respects at Millport's War Memorial - a truly peaceful spot.

Paying respects at Millport’s War Memorial – a truly peaceful spot.

We tandemed into Millport town again – and after a quick coffee refuelling stop we set out on the third and final loop of the day! The “old git” decided this would be a non-stop clockwise circuit against the clock! We were soon clocking up an average of over 15 mph on the calmer side of the island before we hit the wind on the ferry side! This slowed progress a bit, but we still managed the complete lap in just over 50 minutes.

Strava officially recorded the day’s cycling at a total distance of 26.5 miles, covering an elevation of 651 feet. The average speed was 9.0 mph and we reached a maximum speed of 19 mph!

Just on cue as we arrived back at Craigard Guest House the rain started, so I was quickly parked up safely in their garden with carrier bags over my saddles and bags as rain protection.

Craigard is now in its third season and Janette and Crawford have rightly established a reputation for a home-from-home stay. So my dynamic duo enjoyed a bit of rest and relaxation before a shower and change for their meal at The Harbour. Regular readers of my blog will know that this is one of the favourite restaurants of the “old git” and the “old gal”. And the offering now includes a cocktail menu – including gin concoctions – so the “old gal” was ecstatic!

Dilemma - Should I have the Pilot Cocktail or the Stoker Cocktail - or both ..?

Dilemma for the “old gal” – to have the Pilot Cocktail or the Stoker Cocktail – or both ..?

The food was brilliant as always – very tasty and originally presented! The “old gal” for example enjoyed baked camembert followed by a build-your-own burger with blue cheese topping and bacon, finishing off with a chocolate toffee brownie and all washed down with Shiraz wine. Just what was needed to restore energy levels!

So after a great night – full of laughs – it was back to the bed and breakfast for some much needed zzzs ahead of three more tandem laps on the Monday!

Well that was the plan! But someone forgot to send the email to the weather department and we awoke to gale force winds and rain battering the windows. But again the BBC weather app gave hope for sunny spells mid morning – although it was still going to be windy!

A hearty cooked breakfast at Craigard set my dynamic duo up for the day. Over breakfast the rain did stop so we headed back out full of hope for more training!

As we set off anti-clockwise the sun broke through the clouds and all seemed good as we cantered along the ferry side of the island with a nice breeze behind us. There was even time for me to become acquainted with some of the local landmarks on the way round, including Lion Rock – a prehistoric rock formation which (up close) resembles a prowling lion.

Time for a quick photo stop at the landmark of Lion rock.

Time for a quick photo stop at the landmark of Lion rock. Note the “old gal’s” pink ski gloves!

It was significantly colder and more blustery than yesterday so the “old gal” decided to break out the pink ski (sorry stoker) gloves to keep the circulation in her hands.

We were actually enjoying being out on the road, but just after we passed the ferry terminal the first drops of rain started. And as we rounded the headland at the top of the island we were met with a combination of a heavy downpour of a squally shower and the full force of the wind.

With a wind speed of around 30 mph this really was like hitting a brick wall and more or less stopped us in our tracks. No matter how much my dynamic duo huffed and puffed they couldn’t make any significant impact against the wind and our speed slowed down below 5 mph.

They battled on in stony silence passed yesterday’s idyllic lunch spot. It appeared to be a totally different world today and one that they weren’t going to stop at. Nor did we risk stopping for a picture at another of the island’s landmarks for cyclists and walkers – Indian Rock – in case we couldn’t get going again.

Eventually we managed to get to the bottom end of the island and the wind resistance dropped – which gave a welcome chance to breathe and pedal into the town.

The “old git” wisely took the decision that we should abandon any further attempts at training laps and decided on a warming coffee and lunch at the welcoming Dancing Midge Cafe. Here the “old gal” thawed out and joined the “old git” in having a tasty bagel light lunch, followed by a spirit-reviving slice of that staple of cyclists  – home made carrot cake.

As spirits revived the sun broke out again and my dynamic duo decided to venture outside again for a daft photo at the third of the island’s rock landmarks – and the most famous – Crocodile Rock. Over the years it has  attracted many generations of children to have their photograph taken with the Millport Crocodile. So naturally that meant the “old git” – who can be a big kid sometimes – had to have his photo taken there! And the “old gal” got the angle just right!

It was very scary for me at Crocodile Rock - but the "old git" rescued me just in time!

It was very scary for me at Crocodile Rock – but the “old git” rescued me just in time!

With the weather dry the “old gal” wisely decided it was time to make a break for it and tandem the 4 miles back to the ferry slipway. Fortunately we made it to the shelter before the rain started again. Just a quick shower this time fortunately, and we were soon back on the mainland for the journey back to Matilda’s Rest after our  mini break. We maybe didn’t clock up all the planned boot camp training miles – but an enjoyable time was had by all.

To finish this posting, news of the UK Blog Awards 2016. The glitzy awards ceremony was held in London last Friday night – albeit without me (or my dynamic duo) there in person! My Matildas Musings blog didn’t win a prize in the Most Innovative category in which I was shortlisted – but congratulations to all who did.

The judges clearly didn’t think a blog “written” by a classic Jack Taylor tandem was innovative enough to pedal away with the trophy! But it was great fun taking part in the event and I can always use the words “UK Blog Awards finalist” in my future posts!

In time honoured tradition of thank you speeches I would like to thank everyone for their votes and support which got me to the finals in the first place. And who would ever have thought that my blog would have been in the last 10 shortlist out of 2,000 entries – and been the only Scottish blog to reach the finals?

And there’s always 2017!

UKBA finalist_twitter