Cycling on Arran: cycle routes, climbs, where to stay + more! Back to top
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Cycling the Isle of Arran:
cycle routes, where to stay + more!

The Isle of Arran is a mini cycling paradise. Located just an hour’s ferry ride from the mainland, it’s a popular destination for cyclists, especially in summer.

The main draws of cycling on Arran are the scenery and quiet roads. The Island is often heralded for being Scotland in miniature form, as it has so many diverse landscapes. 

It’s well known for being on the famous 5 Ferries cycling route. The demanding 55 mile (89 kilometre) circular loop around Arran is also very popular. 

Janice Small founder of Arran Belle cyclists Isle of Arran Scotland

Janice Small, founder of Arran Belles

With four cycling clubs, several bike shops and many cycling friendly tea rooms, cyclists on Arran are well catered for.

In this Q&A we catch up with Janice Small, a local cyclist and founder of the Arran Belles. She generously shares loads of information about cycling on Arran, including her tips for the best Arran cycle routes.


1. Give us an overview of cycling on Arran

The Isle of Arran is a cycling mecca, with superb mountain biking routes, gravel bike tracks and challenging road biking. It’s Scotland in miniature, from high glen passes with golden eagles, to seaside routes with basking seals. 

I love road biking on Arran because I can just jump on my bike and go, no faffing. Immediately, the ride is varied, challenging, exhilarating. You’re surrounded by spectacular views, wildlife and sea life. 

The best known rides on the island are to circumnavigate Arran, a demanding 55 miles, or complete the 5 Ferries Ride Challenge. The String and The Ross are the two big climbs that cross the island; they’re steep and challenging. It’s a fantastic training ground for any cycle challenge you wish to undertake. 


2. What are the must-do cycling routes on Arran?

Note: at Q4 below you'll find more information on The String, Ross Road and Boguille climbs, which are included within some of the routes below.

Arran Circular

Distance:

55 miles (89 kilometres)

climbing:

3,170 ft (966 metres)

estimated time:

3-6 hours depending on fitness

Summary:

clockwise loop of the island from Brodick

This is Arran’s most famous cycling route and every year many cyclists visit to cycle the Arran circular!  It’s got all the ingredients necessary for a perfect cycling loop, with a great balance of flat and hills, lots of cafés and cake stops and immense scenery. 

The route round Arran hugs the coast most of the way around, so there’s almost always sea views on one side of you and mountains on the other. 

If you pick a good weather day to ride, you’ll be rewarded with views to the east of the Ayrshire coast, and if you're lucky, south west to Northern Ireland.


Tips:

The south side of the Island is more arduous than the north side, so, if you can, cycle the south side first. If you’re getting off the ferry in Brodick, this means you cycle the loop clockwise. Ideally, hope for a tailwind to blow you up the West Coast!

The coast road from Machrie is flat nearly all the way to Lochranza. But keep something in the tank for the ‘Boguille’ and, at its summit, one of the island’s best views of its rugged high northern mountains. This tough climb comes after Lochranza and is followed by a flat 8 miles back to Brodick. 

Keep an eye out for the Arran Whisky distillery at Lochranza! Also at Lochranza, stop to take in the spectacular ruined castle in Lochranza bay.

Cycling through Lochranza on Arran, Scotland

Cycling east through Lochranza (spot the castle!)

Cycling south on isle of arran scotland

Cycling south on Arran


Arran Figure of 8

Distance:

68 miles (110 kilometres)

climbing:

4,514 ft (1,376 metres)

estimated time:

5-10 hours depending on fitness

Summary:

Starting as a clockwise loop of the island from Brodick but adding in a crossing of the String Road to form a figure of 8 circuit


This loop combines the beauty of the Arran circular with the challenge of the String road.

From the rolling farmland hills of the south end of the island to the mountain views of the north end, it is a spectacular journey.

Tips:

If you cross the String from the west, on a clear day, then towards the top you’ll get fantastic views over Brodick castle across the Firth of Clyde to the mainland. 

Riding the loop this way means that you're riding the more gentle side of the String.

Pacing yourself is essential.

Weather can be very localised…for example sunny in the south, rain in the north.

Cyclist on Isle of Arran

Heading north between Whiting Bay and Lamlash

Cycling route on Arran in the southwest of the island

Heading north on south west of Arran

Arran Double Figure of 8


Distance:

91 miles (147 kilometres)

climbing:

6,510 ft (1,984 metres)

estimated time:

5-10 hours depending on fitness

Summary:

an extremely challenging double figure of eight, adding in Ross Road to the Arran Figure of 8

Most visiting cyclists do the circular route around Arran. This double figure of 8 is the ultimate challenge for road cycling on Arran.

Tips:

The points mentioned above for the Arran Figure of 8 ride (regarding pacing and weather) are also relevant here.

Cyclist on Isle of Arran Scotland

At Top of the Boguille heading east

South of Brodick Bay

 Arran Belle cyclists south of Brodick Bay


3. Which are your favourite Isle of Arran cycling routes?

Oh that’s a difficult one….all my bike routes and rides on Arran are wonderful!

Here are a few favourite routes. If you are short of time, the first two are good options. They both have good, undulating hills and elevation to give you a challenging workout during a short ride.

Note: at Q4 below you'll find more information on The String, Ross Road and Boguille climbs, which are included within some of the routes below.


Kildonan Loop from Brodick  


Distance:

25 miles (40 kilometres)

climbing:

2,057 ft (627 metres)

estimated time:

5-10 hours depending on fitness

Summary:

Coast road south from Brodick, hilly loop and back


I love this loop, it's a great, quick out and back from the main villages with convenient cafe stops. Look out for seals and otters in Kildonan. There are stunning views across to the Isles of Pladda and Ailsa Craig.

The descent into Kildonan is very steep, called the Killer Brae, exercise extreme caution. 

Cycling Kildonan cycle route Arran

Cycling north on the Kildonan Loop

Bicycle at Lamlash, Isle of Arran Scotland

At Clauchlandsm Lamlash with Holy Isle in background

Machrie Moor Loop from Brodick  


Distance:

24 miles (38 kilometres)

climbing:

1,870 ft (571 metres)

Summary:

The String from Brodick, Blackwaterfoot loop and back across The String to Brodick 

This ride has stunning views back to Brodick and over to Goatfell, a steep climb over the String that's rewarded by twisty descent.

Here are a few of my favourite points of interest on this ride:

  • On the descent of the String, look out for the waterfall on the left, at top bridge.
  • There's also a quaint Post Box at the turnoff to Machrie.
  • Going over Machrie Road look out for the cairn on the right where King Edward V11 stopped for lunch when deer stalking in 1902.
  • The picturesque harbour at Blackwaterfoot is also lovely.
Cyclists in winter on The String, Arran, Scotland

Winter scene at the top of The String, heading east back to Brodick

Cycling in Arran on The String Road

A more summery scene - cresting the iconic String, heading west with Brodick Bay behind


Ross Road/String Loop    


Distance:

29 miles (47 kilometres)

climbing:

2,513 ft (766 metres)

Summary:

Brodick, over The Ross, north to Blackwaterfoot, over The String to Brodick

The Ross is a punchy, twisting, steep road out of Lamlash followed by a steady climb when clear of the trees.  There's a twisting descent on a narrow secondary road, with poor surface in places.  

Look out for the Samye Dechen Shing Buddist Retreat Centre on the left of Ross Road.

Remote coastal road takes you to north Blackwaterfoot and back over String.

At the top of the String

At the top of the String cresting from the west side

Cycling on Arran on the Ross Road

Heading east on Ross Road


Five Ferries Route

Although this isn’t solely on Arran, Arran is part of it and it’s a fantastic ride. It starts at Ardrossan Harbour on the mainland. This is the order of events for the route:

  • Ardrossan Ferry to Isle of Arran - cycle from Brodick to Lochranza (15 miles)
  • Lochranza Ferry to Claonaig - cycle to Tarbert (10 miles)
  • Tarbert Ferry to Portavadie - cycle Portavadie to Colintraive (19 miles)
  • Colintraive Ferry to Rhubodach, Bute - cycle Rhubodach to Rothesay (8 miles)
  • Rothesay Ferry to Wemyss Bay - cycle Wemyss Bay back to start at Ardrossan (20 miles)

By the end, you’ve taken five ferries and covered 72 miles in total. It’s a great ride as you are always chasing ferry times. (We love this route too - you’ll find it in our list of the best rides in Scotland).

Five Ferries route map for cyclists


4. What are your favourite Arran cycling climbs?


The String Road from Brodick


Distance:

2 miles (3.3 kilometres)

climbing:

730 ft (220 metres)

I love the challenge of viewing the climb unfolding in the distance, winding over the hillside. If you are lucky you might spot golden eagles at the top. Goatfell and 3 Beinns Mountain range are on your right.


The Ross Road from Lamlash  

Distance:

2.5 miles (4 kilometres) 

Climbing:

890 ft (272 metres)

This road is so remote, quiet and peaceful. I'd describe riding it as a steady slog. Watch out for sheep on the road and the uneven surface. It's narrow, but there are passing places if you encounter a car.


The Boguille from Sannox    

Distance:

3.5 miles (5.5 kilometres) 

Climbing:

700 ft (213 metres)

It's an undulating climb out of Sannox with stunning views of the “Castles” mountain range on the left.  

Look out for signs of the ruined Clearance Houses on the hillside to the right after North Sannox farm turn off.

Stop at North Sannox Bridge to admire the river and the two mile ‘Boguille" climb ahead.  

If you're lucky you might spot deer on both sides of the road. 


5. Is there any easy cycling on Arran?

If you’re coming over on the ferry without a car, you can ride north toward the picturesque Corrie and Sannox. 

Otherwise, the flattest stretches of coastal road are between Machrie and Lochranza in the northeast of the Island. However there is still one short, sharp climb (Imachar Brae) that's four miles north of Machrie.

Also be aware that the Island roads are narrow and there are many tight corners/blind bends.

For easier/family rides in and around Brodick, there’s the 3-4 kilometre ride north to Brodick Castle that you could check out.


6. What’s the best place to stay on Arran (for cyclists)?

I would stay in one of the main villages, Brodick or Lamlash. 

Brodick is where the ferry arrives and Lamlash is just 3 miles away. 

Both have plenty of accommodation, although pre-booking is recommended. Both villages also have hotels/pubs for eating out and are centrally situated, so perfect starting points for cycling south/north/across the island. 


7. Are any cycling events held on Arran?

I am not aware of any cycling events, although there are local Arran bike clubs that cyclists could contact to ask for advice or join for a group ride. 

The Arran Belles, Arran Bike Club, Arran Gravel Riders and Velo Club, IOA can all be found on Facebook.

Arran Belles cycling on Arran, Scotland

Arran Belles above Kildonan heading south

Two cyclists cycling in Arran in Winter

At the top of the Boguille in winter


8. Are there any bike shops on Arran?


Wally’s Wheels Cycle Repairs

  • Wally Wallace has forty years bike building and repair experience, plus a passion for cycling. He’s a Cytech level 2 qualified mechanic and a British Cycling Mountain Bike level 2 Leader. 
  • Services include servicing and repairs, bike maintenance and upgrades, new bike builds, brake bleeds, wheel building, and mobile/roadside repairs (Isle of Arran only, subject to availability). 
  • I've always found him a very reliable, knowledgeable mechanic with quick turnover. 
  • Telephone: 07970178066
  • Brodick Cycles

  • Small shop situated conveniently in the centre of Brodick.
  • Address: Opposite Village Hall, Main Street, Brodick
  • Telephone: 01770 302460


Public Bike Repair Stations 

Situated at:

  • Arran High School, Lamlash
  • Velo Cafe, Lagg
  • Sandwich Station, Lochranza


9. Can you get bike hire on the Isle of Arran?

There’s no road bike hire, but you can find mountain and leisure bikes.

Arran Bike Hire

Shore Road, Brodick, KA27 8AJ

Telephone 07825 160 668

They are the biggest Arran cycle hire outlet and have a fleet of hybrid and mountain bikes (Giant). They also have some kids bikes.


Arran Adventure (at Auchrannie Resort)

Auchrannie Road, KA27 8BZ

Telephone 01770 302 234

Offer mountain bike hire.


10. What are your favourite cafes/coffee stops? 

There are so many! They all serve delicious lunches and coffee/cake.

  • Brodick - Little Rock, Janie’s and Wine port
  • Lamlash - Old Pier Cafe
  • Whiting Bay - Coffee Pot
  • Lagg - Velo Cafe - Cyclist Cafe
  • Blackwaterfoot - Golf Club Tearoom
  • Machrie - Machrie Bay Golfclub Tearoom (this is a convenient halfway stop on Arran Circular route)
  • Machrie - Cafe Thyme (another halfway stop on the Arran Circular)
  • Lochranza - Sandwich Station (take away)
  • Sannox - Fran’s Tearoom at Corrie Golf club (good food at a reasonable prices)
Cycling cafe Isle of Arran Scotland

Sandwich Station, Lochranza

Easy cycling Isle of Arran past castle Lochranza

Heading west in Lochranza (with Lochranza Castle in background)

11. Is there anything visitors to Arran shouldn’t miss?

The main thing about Arran is the scenery and setting, so walking and cycling are the best way to soak these up.

Other things to check out during your trip include:

Brodick Castle and Gardens

A National Trust owned castle, previously owned by the Dukes of Hamilton and full of Victorian splendour. It includes an interactive visitor experience inside the castle, including a Victorian arcade. Outside, there’s an adventure play area, waterfall, woodland and formal gardens.


Lochranza and Lagg Distilleries

Both run by Arran Whisky. Lochranza distillery was founded in 1995 in the north of the island. The Lagg distillery in the south, is a newer venture; production began there in 2019. Both distilleries have a visitor centre.


Brodick Highland Games

These have been held every year since 1886 (other than for a few short breaks for things like World Wars). They’re held on the first Saturday in August and are a great traditional day out, featuring classics like the hammer throw, tug or war and shot put - as well as highland dancing and athletics.


12. What’s the best time of year for cyclists on Arran?

Spring and Autumn are the best seasons on Arran.

The weather is more settled during May/June and the roads are quieter. The schools start their holidays in July.

September can be a beautiful, clear, autumnal month with the busy summer months past. 


13. Tips for people cycling in your area for the first time?

Ferry crossings

The ferry terminal from the mainland to Arran is at Brodick. Check the ferry timetable and, if you’re bringing a car, book it in well in advance. No need to book the ferry if you are arriving as a passenger by bike. 

If you’re visiting Arran as a day trip from the mainland, the most popular ferry crossings for cyclists seem to be the 9:45am over and the 4:40pm back (though there are others if you want a more extended day).


Accommodation

The same applies to accommodation. Arran gets booked up very quickly.


Wind

The wind can be strong at the coast; beware of strong gusts.  


Be Prepared

Arran roads are often narrow, twisty and of course you’ll come across pot holes and loose gravel.

Consider what tools and spares you need to carry with you so that you are self sufficient. Arran routes are quite remote in places.


A few facts about Arran

It is the largest island in the Firth of Clyde and the seventh largest Scottish island, at 432 square kilometres.

The main beaches are at Brodick, Whiting Bay, Kildonan, Sannox and Blackwaterfoot.

Lamlash is the largest village on the island.

More information on Arran from Visit Scotland here.


Huge thanks to Janice for sharing this hugely helpful information to help get you started with planning a cycling trip on Arran. The riding sounds fantastic and Arran is most definitely on our to-do list!


More about Janice

Janice was born and brought up on Arran. She started cycling twenty years ago on an old mountain bike but caught the bug after doing a charity ride for Leukaemia Research. The following year she took part in a 50 mile Pedal for Scotland ride and was then off, signing up for rides all over the world, from LEJOG to India, Nepal, Bhutan, cycling across America and more mundane destinations (relatively speaking!) including Mallorca, Tenerife and Lanzarote.

In 2013 she set up the Arran Belles, an island Road Cycling group (not affiliated to CTC) and with them she’s cycled the NC500, Coast to Coast, Outer Hebrides, Ardnamurchan Peninsula and many more. There have also been regular day trips to places such as Troon, Bute, Cumbrae, Loch Semple, 5 Ferries route (Janice has completed it seven times!), Tarbert, and Skipness.

You can get a feel for the extreme conditions the group rode through on their NC500 ride in this video: 


Have you been cycling on Arran?

What are your top tips? Let us know in the comments below.

Want more information on cycling in Scotland? Check out our articles on planning a cycling trip to Scotland, our pick of the best cycling routes and information on cycling around Edinburgh

Cycling Scotland: an overview
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18 of the best cycling routes in Scotland
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Cycling the Isle of Arran:
cycle routes, where to stay + more!
Local tips for cycling on the Isle of Arran, Scotland, from the founder of Arran Belles cycling club, Janice Small.
  • Gareth says:

    Hi, I really enjoyed your article. We’ve just come back from an extended 5 ferries bike tour. On Arran we cycled clockwise from Brodick to Lochranza, tacked on 3 days on Islay and a full loop of Bute. We shall definitely be returning to Arran as the roads were so quiet with tailwinds galore (!) and wonderful scenery. Plus we missed out on the Ross Road / String loop and West coast via Sannox i.e. the meatier climbs!

    • Clare from Epic Road Rides says:

      Sounds like you had a fantastic trip! Thanks for your kind comments and hope the article provides useful inspiration for the next one!

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