If you follow me on Twitter, you may have noticed that for the month of July I will be living, working and playing on the Isle of Arran, a
place which I never tire of visiting. Already this week I have made some small gains in the fitness stakes by getting back on my bike and taking to the hills, we have been barbecuing on the beach every other night, the Tall Ships have looked in on their way to Greenock from Wexford in Ireland, and the Lamlash Maritime Festival gave me the chance to try my hand at sea kayaking, something which has been on my ‘to do’ list for some time. All this among some of the most magnificent scenery in Western Europe.
To make sure we don’t miss out on what might be happening across the island I picked up a copy of The Arran Banner, which indeed provided a wealth of information – and the most bizarre editorial in a week of bizarre happenings in the press. OK, it wasn’t on the scale of the crash at News International, but the intemperate language might have been straight out of the Murdoch school of journalism. It began:
“Summer finally arrived at the weekend and with it came a swarm – not of midges – but of that other dreaded multitude, the cyclists. I think most island motorists will admit that, apart from the blood-sucking insects that plague Arran in the summer months, their other most reviled horde is cyclists.”
Now, I’m not entirely convinced that there is a group of people whose identity can be so easily encapsulated in the phrase ‘Arran motorist’, but if there is, I would have thought that tourists – a large percentage of whom are cyclists – provide much of their income, and that far from being reviled, they should be welcomed with open arms.
Arran is almost the perfect place for cycling: the roads are still relatively quiet; there are some excellent off-road tracks; the hills provide enough challenge for even the most competitive riders and it is easily accessible from the mainland.
However, in my own travels round the island this week I did notice that the number of cars on the roads is increasing, especially those massively fashionable 4 x 4s, and many of them are being driven too fast for roads which are narrow and twisting and full of blind summits and bends. They are wider than half the width of the roads, and for many of their drivers the white line down the middle serves only as a rough guide to the best racing line.
So I would like to offer an alternative manifesto for those looking to build the economy of Arran while preserving its unique beauty and tranquillity, which is what most of those tourist hordes are looking for:
- Prohibit the movement of motor cars, apart from emergency vehicles, between the hours of 10.00am and 4.00pm in the summer months
- Provide a more regular bus service, but limit their speed to 30 mph on all roads
- Invest in re-surfacing the 56 miles of main road round the perimeter of the island
- Promote the island as a Mecca for cyclists and encourage all cycling-related businesses with preferential business rates.
- Encourage hotels to offer cycling packages for large groups or clubs looking for that special cycling experience.
With few exceptions, we are all motorists, but how on earth did we get to a situation where the motor car was so revered that there are people who define themselves as ‘motorists’ first and above all else, and where drivers expect to have right of way over cyclists and pedestrians. It isn’t so on mainland Europe, and it doesn’t have to be that way here.