the church you will pass on the right hand side of the road between bruichladdich and port charlotte is st kiarans, the regular place of sunday worship for rhinns folk north of portnahaven.
port charlotte is one of those indescribably picturesque villages with endless rows of whitewashed cottages and houses. it was home to the islay cheese company (which unfortunately closed down in march 2000), but is home to the award winning museum of islay life, the islay natural history trust field centre, the syha youth hostel and port charlotte lighthouse what was once known as the croft kitchen has been converted to yan's kitchen, a predominantly seafood-based restaurant. currently yan's closes between october and easter. there are also two hotels here; the port charlotte hotel and the lochindaal hotel. there is a small but perfectly formed sandy beach just down from yan's kitchen affording particularly good views across loch indaal to the oa (i can see the monument from here) bowmore, the strand, machrie and the rest of the east. on a clearish day, the paps of jura look not too bad either.
just past the lochindaal hotel (on the right) as you head towards portnahaven, there is a road leading up past port charlotte primary school and what was once the the local village hall. this leads to the extreme west of the island, through kilchiaran with its ruined chapel and this is the way we will travel next. the first part of the road, up to the water works on the right hand side of the road is sort of uphill. those of you on tourers or mountain bikes will pretty much always have the right gears.
on the left and visible throughout the first part of the ride (three miles from port charlotte to kilchiaran) is beinn tart a'bheil with an ministry of defence transmit-listening station on the top. the road all the way to kilchiaran is quite pleasant though you would do well to watch out for sheep and cattle. in fact, daft though it may seem, i have found it very practical to talk to sheep or cattle either on the road or at the side of the road, well before you actually reach them. sheep are daft and will almost always cross from one side of the road to the other for no particular reason. cows, however, are more likely to stand in the middle of the road and look. if they're in the middle of the road, shout at them in advance and they'll move out the way (usually). cycle up to them quietly and you're apt to startle them. cows are not noted for their anorexic weight. suffice to say they often kick as they run away. believe me, i'm a bicycle doctor.
anyway, the last part of the ride is steeply downhill. please don't attempt the brakes off, eyeballs out gravity descent. kilchiaran is a working farm and you're just as likely to meet a landrover, tractor or herd of cows as you round the corner at the bottom as you are to meet nothing at all. except the latter is considerably less painful. also bear in mind that cattle have a tendency to deposit sh@!%* on the road - you do not want to hit that stuff at speed. past the round building of the farm on the right is a track that leads up to 'granny's rock' where there are the last vestiges of a wartime listening station and the continuation of the track round to kilchoman and machir bay. on a good day, the views here are incredible and i will deal with this exclusively offroad path somewhere else at some other time. (it's beginning to worry me just how often i keep saying that, yet here we are, years later, and nothing has appeared).
at the moment we will continue on past the ruins of kilchiaran chapel (worth a wander in, even though the ruin has been 'tidied up' and doesn't have quite the 'je ne sais quoi' of a real ruin). from the ruin you can walk down to kilchiaran bay. the surrounding cliffs are quite fine and round the coast a bit, are the remains of a slate quarry, though i have to admit i've not struggled that far round.
now for the hard bit. the road past the chapel goes up and it goes up for about a mile and it goes up quite steeply. on a good day (not a frequent occurence) with a following wind, i can get up on a 39x19. on a bad day (much more frequent) i need to use the bail out gear of 39x21/23 but i've never had to walk. but then again, as mentioned previously, the colnago ain't heavy, neither am i and i only carry a pump and a spare tube. if you can manage in between gulping for breath and scrabbling for a lower gear, take a look to your right - the view over the atlantic is tremendous.
the road from now on is a bit flatter (all relative), though it's also twisty. again, a brief reminder, this is farm country and there's a lot of, shall we say, fertiliser, on the roads and also the water to your right is the atlantic ocean. nothing between you and north america, but frequently the supplier of strong gusts of wind. since the road goes behind hills before re-appearing in the open, just watch out for unexpected gusts of wind from the right - it's the prevailing wind round these here parts. the road goes past tormisdale croft on the right which sells things like hand carved walking sticks and such like. down and round and up a wee bit is cultoon farm. between cultoon and kelsay farm is cultoon stone circle, though you could be forgiven for missing it if you didn't know it was there. there are only two stones in a vertical position, though many of the rest are lying next to the holes dug for them. the site is pre-christian and nobody has a clue as to why they moved the stones there, dug holes for them and then scarpered before putting more than two of them in place. i'm sure i read somewhere or other that there was a third stone in a vertical position but it subsequently fell over (but i could be imagining it).
slightly further down the road is lossit farm on the right and kelsay on the left. there is a very rough and vertical track leading from kelsay up to the mod station at the top of the beinn. this is a private road, there are surveillance cameras at the top and the farmer will not take kindly to cyclists attempting to take their dual suspension, downhill bikes to the top in order to find out if adrenalin is brown or not. cycle on. lossit on the right has a path leading down to a very sandy beach which is worth a visit. bear in mind again, that this adjacent to a working farm and while the owners are unlikely to freak at cyclists taking a look at the beach, please don't get in the way of farming activities. it might be your holiday but it's their livelihood. the right to roam does indeed put you in an excellent position to do exactly that, however, the farmer at lossit keeps cattle in the field between you and lossit beach. having touched on the unpredictability of cows in a field, don't do anythig stupid; they are far too big and heavy to argue with. you have been warned. there are also remains of a fort on lossit promontary/lossit point though, without the ancient monuments book in your hands, you'd be hard pressed to figure out which bits of ground are fort and which are just bumps.
because the ministry of defence spent a deal of time putting the listening station at the top of the beinn, trundling lots of heavy trucks up and down from portnahaven, they required to re-surface the road. as a result, from here to portnahaven the road surface used to be pretty good. that, unfortunately, is no onger a valid statement. several pedal strokes further round the road, there is a sign pointing to octofad. this is a reasonable track that leads past ballimony, through forestry ground and comes out at octofad farm on the road between portnahaven and port charlotte. if you have a stout bicycle and no need or desire to go to portnahaven, this makes an interesting diversion. if you take this route, click here and miss out the bit in between.
a couple of miles outside portnahaven the road takes a left. about a mile down the road there is road off to the right leading to claddach, site of the former wavepower station. the wavestation used the plentiful wave motion that the atlantic provides to pump air through a turbine. claddach is on a loop so you can follow the road back round to the portnahaven road and on to the village. the lighthouse, now unmanned, on the island of orsay just off the bay dominates the skyline. i believe you can be ferried across to the lighthouse by a local boatman. ask at the boatyard between portnahaven and port wemyss. jack should know if it's possible. the sea off here can be very dramatic - the vc d'ardbeg directeur sportif refers to this as his 'water feature'.
portnahaven church, on the left as you head out of the village, has two doors. one for portnahaven folks and one for port wemyss folk. at least, that's how it used to be. port wemyss is also on a loop road so if you're feeling fresh and joyful you could take this brief detour and join up with the port charlotte road just opposite portnahaven village hall. as you come to the end of this loop road you will pass the free church which is now closed due to lack of attending members and two doors along, portnahaven primary school which closed in june 1999.
it's worth visiting portnahaven from this direction because now you have excellent views all the way up the loch on the cycle back to port charlotte or on to bruichladdich or bridgend, of not only the loch itself and its surrounds but, on a clearish day, the paps of jura. if you catch a headwind on the way back, it is somewhat of a struggle. (grovelling will be the order of the day). it's a single track road all the way from portnahaven to port charlotte so please use the passing places to let vehicles pass you from behind and pulling in to let cars, tractors etc pass from the opposite direction.
about half way between the two villages is nerabus chapel and, further towards the shore, an old mill. last time i was there, the mill stone was still lying in the ruins. headstones from the chapel have been moved to an area to the right for easier viewing. the chapel is in the middle of a field to the right and it would probably be prudent to leave bicycles at the gate and walk in. (while i remember, just before you reach nerabus, you pass octofad farm where the track ends that you took from ballimony on the west road). about three miles further on is the new port mor centre, opened in 2007 with a cafeteria and camping. the road then leads you gently into port charlotte and you meet up with the road you left a few paragraphs earlier. stop by the port charlotte hotel for a pint or dram if such is your tipple, or carry on a few more kilometres for a more cycle friendly espresso at debbie's in bruichladdich.
to be continued.... when time and effort permits, i'll detail some of the bits that we've missed by sticking to the principal byeways around islay. but i wouldn't hold your breath:-)
if you need any more information, feel free to e-mail before you come over to islay.......................................................................................................................................................................................................... ..........................................................................................................................................................................................................