During the fleeting Scottish summer, on those rare shoulder-baring days when the temperature nudges up to a level known as “taps aff”, quite a few Glaswegians take themselves off to Millport.
This magical little town is on the tiny island of Cumbrae in the Firth of Clyde, 35 miles west of Glasgow. As a treat, it’s fun to travel on board the Waverley paddle steamer with its smart funnels of black, white and red. The more usual thing is to take the little ferry from Largs; the crossing lasts just 10 minutes but imparts a delightful feeling of leaving the world behind; one’s cares dissolve in the milky wake. Do linger long enough in Largs to visit Nardini’s, Scotland’s most celebrated ice-cream parlour, and enjoy some elaborate confection of cherries and wafers and scoops in the grand art deco interior.
Lots of people take bicycles on the ferry, or hire them in Millport. You can cycle around the whole island in a leisurely hour and a half. The best beaches are on the western side, with gorgeous views over to Arran and Bute. It’s much quieter round there, but I’m not sure Cumbrae is really the place for solitude. Millport itself is busy and glorious. Lacking the Miss Havisham sadness of those seaside resorts long jilted by holidaying hordes, it retains the optimistic cheer of a new bride. This town is loved, and knows it.
The main drag faces on to the beach. There’s not much to this strip of sand, but I’ve sat there for hours while the kids mucked about in crab pools or clambered over “Crocodile Rock”, the iconic painted boulder which, for more than a century, has been emblematic of Millport’s gaudy charm. Eventually, there comes a point when the seals basking just off the beach seem too accurate a mirror to personal indolence, and one feels compelled to rise and move. Not too far, though. Heed the siren call of the Ritz Cafe, a Formica wonderland which appears unchanged since the 1960s. This is the place for chips and milkshakes, proper ballast for the boat home.