As a child I used to visit the Isle of Cumbrae – a small island a 10 minute ferry ride off the West Coast of Scotland from Largs – due west of Glasgow. The holidays were to visit ‘Aunties’ of my Dad’s – one of whom was billeted on my Grandparents during World War 2 to make small arms in Birmingham, and she ended up staying until my Dad – the youngest of his siblings – got married to Mum, and then Auntie Una headed back to live with her family in Millport – the town on the aforementioned island.
I remember holidays consisting of cycling (it’s 10.5 miles around the island, and is what most people do when they visit!), walking, horse riding, putting 2ps in the amusements, going on the fair rides at the Garrison,
It was an annual event to go to Millport in the 1980s, we were there when Live Aid was on the TV and I was there for my only visit in the 1990s when Princess Diana was killed in Paris. Subsequently we went as a family with my parents, sisters and our families back in 2003 when I was 8 months pregnant, and we ended up cutting the holiday short as my blood pressure was really high and I didn’t fancy being helicoptered off the island to give birth.
So now it was time to show the Pricelets where Mummy had spent many a holiday. Given they’re more used to Dubai or Florida it was going to be very different – but I hoped memorable. Fingers were firmly crossed for good weather – I wasn’t talking Dubai or Florida – just dry…….
We have a 7 seater car at home – but with us, 4 kids and loads of luggage (you have to pack for 4 seasons in one day going to Scotland!) we would have been overloaded – so we hired a mini bus from our local Enterprise car rental (who, on an aside, were great – and I would highly recommend them!). We headed off up the M6 on Bank Holiday Saturday – and as far as Manchester we did fine – it was all a bit busy around the lakes, but a stop at the fabulous Tebay services saw us revived and we headed on up through Glasgow and out to the coast.
When we got to Largs I was *slightly* excited as we waited in the ferry queue. The 10 minute Caledonian MacBrayne ferry ride across from the mainland to the Isle of Cumbrae was stunning – we could have been on a Med cruise! I kept saying to the rest of the family ‘it’s not normally this sunny’ – which could have been the mantra of the entire stay!
We’d looked at self catering properties to stay in – but there were only a couple of options for a family of 6 and 1 was fully booked and the other my sister and her family had stayed in a couple of years before and they’d had issues with it smelling of dog and having no WIFI! Given the husband and I had to work – and our kids are used to free flowing internet access – this was definitely a no no – so we booked a couple of rooms at Westbourne House. I’d chatted via email with the owners – Jane and Stuart – before we arrived and they sounded lovely (and had kids a similar age to our eldest two) – and I wasn’t disappointed, they were great! The rooms were well appointed, the breakfasts were beautiful – and I’m not sure we’ve ever stayed anywhere with a better view.
The first evening we wandered into Millport town centre, grabbed fish and chips from the chip shop, and ate them at the park. Classic British seaside town action – and probably a first for the kids!
The next day we first went to the town graveyard to try and find the graves of the ‘Aunties’ I’d grown up with. This was like some kind of Anneka Rice Treasure Hunt task – and we weren’t doing very well. Thankfully the phone signal was briefly good enough for me to call my parents and they pointed us in the right direction and we found all of the graves.
We then headed up to the highest point of the island. There was obviously some family pride at stake trying to get on top of the marker point – the Glaidstone (I didn’t – the stone needed to remain standing for many more years!) The view was amazing (and remarkably there was 4G reception #winner)
We’d also booked to go on the Waverley – the last sea going paddle steamer in the world (although I must confess to telling the children ‘you know that boat that takes you from the car park to Magic Kingdom at Disney in Florida – well, it’s kind of like that’). I’d gone on many trips on this fantastic vessel as a kid, and my sister and her family and my parents had done it the summer before. In all cases cagoules were the order of the day and it was freezing! But not on our trip! It was practically tropical! We sailed over to Arran – drank prosecco and pop, ate crisps and chocolate and admired the view – perfect!
On the Monday we decided to do what everyone does on Millport – cycle around the island. Back when I was a kid the local bike shop (there are others, but Mapes is the original and the best – and having just searched for their website, I’ve found out it’s for sale – the end of an era as it’s been owned by the same family for 70 years) had a tridem – so basically a tandem but for 3. The Homer family cycled on that loads! However now it’s in retirement – so we managed to rent a bike that seated all 6 of the Prices. We’d been warned it would be a tough ride, and was really for pootling along the front – but we were optimistic. We were also wrong! We got as far as the Lion Rock (one of the 3 rocks the island is famous for) and gave up and turned back. It was exhausting. To be fair we’d geocached that far (this was before Pokemon Go, when geocaching was still a thing!) but that was quite far enough for one day.
Lunch in the pub and playing on the traditional fairground rides (the same ones from when I was a child – albeit in a different location) were the order of the day – and some clambering over the AMAZING crocodile rock!
We ate in the lovely Harbour Restaurant that evening – a definite recommendation – but be careful – it appears to open on random evenings, so be careful to plan for a night it will be serving you!
The next day we did cycle around the island properly – bikes / trailers / tag-a-longs for all family members and we did all of the geocaches as we went around the perimeter of the island #boom.
When my sister and her family had been there 2 years before they’d managed every single geocache on the island apart from one – which was out on one of the Eileans (little islands) a boat ride from the main town beach. It was a journey we’d done lots as kids (in fact there is an infamous family story of the aforementioned sister doing a poo in the dingy when she was about 2 whilst Mum rowed out to the first Eilean! Thankfully, as the eldest child, there was no space for me in the boat so I’d had to swim alongside them – so avoided poo-gate! Oh how we reminisced about Auntie Charlotte’s poo!!!!) Anyway, the husband and the eldest 2 hired canoes to row out there – and they found the missing geocache! The 4G signal might have been rubbish – but my son was still able to send a photo of it to his cousin! To be honest, once we’d got this geocache, we couldn’t really be bothered with all of those on the internal area of the island – this was the golden one!!!
The little 2 and I stayed on the beach – and it was beautiful. The sun was shining, the sea was glistening – and we’ll ignore the fact I loathe sand!!!
We’d had a great time – totally made by the weather (it would have been a completely different trip if it had rained!) – but we were all getting on top of each other. The bedrooms were fab – but that was all we had. There was no bar / snug to chill out in – and so we were either ‘out’ or all 6 of us were squashed into bedrooms. The kids were niggling with each other, we played musical beds every night – and all in all it was a bit tiring. We’d had a fab time – but we decided to call it quits 24 hours early so we could remember a fabulous holiday – and not the time the children killed each other in the middle of the night because they’d nicked the duvet!!
The next morning Jane served us another one of Stuart’s fabulous breakfasts, and we headed back across on the ferry. We then stopped off at Nardini’s (the local Italian ice cream place – and family business of Daniella Nardini who was one of the stars of ‘This Life’ back in the 90s – for all people of a certain age) and all had far too much sugar for the time of day!
It was then a trek back down the M6 home – we had a pitstop at Gretna – to show the kids the history of weddings there, and the great new maze – and to stock up on supplies for the rest of the journey.
All in all, it was a fabulous few days away – and one I’m sure the children will remember far more than their 5 star trips to other significantly further flung places. I will freely admit we were super lucky with the weather – even the locals admit 5 consecutive days of pure sunshine and 20+ degrees in May / June is unheard of – but all in all it was amazing. I’m so pleased that revisiting a childhood haunt wasn’t a huge disappointment.
I would thoroughly recommend staying with Stuart and Jane – and they’re currently extending their caravan park – so you can have your own space, still with that amazing view.
Millport will always be a very special place to me (although if my parent’s plan to go and live there when I was a small girl had actually come to fruition – who knows where I’d be now!!)