|Great Cumbrae Island Circle|
|Distance:||9.9 miles (15.9 km)|
|Route outline (key)|
The B896 is the number now taken by the former A860 on the Isle of Great Cumbrae in the Firth of Clyde. Along with other islands in Argyll and Buteshire, Great Cumbrae has lost its A road, although to be fair the volume of traffic on much of what is now the B896 is so insignificant it hardly needs to be classified at all! This road sticks to the shore of the island for almost its entire route, passing through the main town (Millport) and also serving the Ferryport. However, traffic travelling between the two may use the B899 instead, the island's only other classified road.
We start, then, at the ferry slip, known as Cumbrae Slip. This modern slipway sits on the coast opposite a car park, and is the end of the islands bus service from Millport. The ferry takes 10 minutes to make the crossing, and sailings are every 15-30 minutes depending on the time of day, week and year. The B896 obviously heads in both directions, and with no give way lines on its entire route there is no real starting point, but the most obvious direction is south, towards Millport.
It is not far to Downcraig Ferry, the second largest settlement on the island (there are more than 2 houses), and the old ferry pier. Here too is the first junction with the B899, the road that shortcuts across the hill to Millport. However, the road is narrower and twistier than the coast road, so it seems that traffic is fairly evenly split between the two routes with neither particularly being quicker.
The B896 continues along the coast, and is never far from the waters edge as it winds around the south east corner of the island into Millport. The edge of the town is reached at the research centre at Keppel Pier, and around the next bend the town is revealed curving around the back of the large natural harbour of Millport Bay. The town and bay sparkle in the sunshine, the bright colours more closely resembling the Hebrides than the lowlands, although Cumbrae falls between the two. A line of elegant villas sits on the east side of the road, with grassy lawns stretching down to the water opposite. Then, as the road curves around the head of the bay, fine terraces look out across the rocky islets to Little Cumbrae and Arran beyond.
After lingering along the seafront, the road briefly diverts inland past the steamer pier, before emerging on the shore again with another row of villas looking out across grassy lawns to the sea beyond. Villas give way to bungalows as the road curves round to the north, eventually leaving the town behind. A small holiday park is passed just before the road returns to the shore, and then there are just under 5 miles of road ahead before the ferry is reached once more.
This is what makes Cumbrae such a haven for walkers and cyclists. On a sunny spring day in 2017, there was one car, 8 other cyclists and nearly 30 walkers passed, all enjoying the fresh air and great views across to Arran, Bute, Kintyre, north to Cowal and the mountains beyond, and finally across to the Ayrshire Coast. There are just two houses along this coast, plenty of laybys and parking areas, picnic sites and small beaches, all quite literally within a stones throw of the road. Doubtless on a busy summer weekend the volume of cars is significantly increased, but out of season it is a fantastic place to explore at leisure.