Less than one hour by train from Glasgow, and around two from Edinburgh, getting to the Jewel of the Clyde, or Great Cumbrae , couldn’t be easier. It makes a perfect destination for a Ginspired short break or just a day trip. You don’t even need your car!
Neither will it break the bank. A full rail return from Glasgow costs less than £20. Add the ferry (£3.40) and a brief bus fare, and you’re on one of the Clyde’s prettiest islands, with lots to see and do, even if the weather isn’t at it’s best.
Cumbrae has been inhabited since the 13th Century, and played a part in subduing Clyde Smugglers in the 1700s. It was a favourite for holidaymakers in the 50s and 60s as they headed ‘doon the watter’, but has recently seen growing numbers of visitors who enjoy the peace and quiet, spectacular views, and a gentle pace of life. People talk of a feeling of relaxation slipping over them as they head out on the 10 minute ferry ride from Largs to the Cumbrae Slip. Isn’t that something we could all use just now? Welcome to island life.
Once on this island of 1000 bicycles, (and three bicycle hire shops) there’s plenty to occupy come rain or shine.
First stop has to the newly opened Cumbrae Gin Distillery. Technically not quite yet a distillery, but locally produced ‘Nostalgin’ has proved so popular that the island ran out of tonic when it was first released in September 2020!
Learn more at Isle of Cumbrae Distillers
Don’t worry though, there’s plenty to go around now, and Nostalgin is widely stocked in pubs and bars across the island. Do pop in to the shop and visitor centre by Millport’s harbour. Sit by the roaring log fire, chat to the all-female team of founders, and enjoy a sample of this delicious gin. Make sure you buy at least one bottle to take home with you. There’s mail order too if you don’t want to carry it. Isle of Cumbrae Distillery tours bring to life the fascinating history of gin, highlighting the important role women played in the history of gin, and showcasing the colourful smuggling history of the Clyde and the history of Millport.
If your tooth is sweet and your appetite bolstered by the cooler days and longer nights, you’ll need no persuasion to visit Brewbakers of Millport. Here Johanna produces amazing chocolates, bread, cakes, quiches, biscuits and any manner of treats. Including, Nostalgin infused chocolate truffles! Now how can you miss those?
If you need to burn off some of those delicious calories, Cumbrae has its very own James Braid designed golf course, and hiring a bike and cycling the 10 mile or so perimeter road is a popular pastime on a bright sunny day. Some of the bikes available come with three or four wheels, or try a tandem. (Sit at the back and no one knows you’re not pedalling, just eating more truffles!)
Perhaps you prefer to stay on your own two feet, in which case a short climb to the Glaid Stone will reward you with views all around on a clear day, and keep you warm into the bargain.
On days when the clouds are also visiting Cumbrae, leave them outside while you visit the beautifully restored Garrison House in the centre of Millport. Built in 1745 it’s now home to a museum (free admission) telling stories of Cumbrae’s past as an anti-smuggling station. It also has a model railway on display, a craft shop and a café. Truly something for everyone. The UK’s smallest cathedral, The Cathedral of the Isles, is also in Millport, and provides retreat-style accommodation for visitors too. When hunger bites, both the Newton Bar and Frasers Bar offer good pub food and also Nostalgin (with plenty tonic back in stock!). So, complete your day with a hearty meal before heading back to the ferry and your return to the real world. Or stay overnight and enjoy more island life tomorrow. Those truffles are very moreish after all!