Scottish Climbs: Otter Ferry

Many thanks to Jim Speakman, @cowspassage on twitter, for writing this piece about the climb to Otter Ferry in Argyll.

The climb is in the Cowal Peninsula. The road runs East to West from the village of Glendaruel to Otter Ferry. The road is unclassified (but is signposted), branching off the A886 just South of Glendaruel village, and just North of the A8003 turn off for Tighnabruaich. The bottom is about 15 miles from both Dunoon (if arriving by ferry) and Strachur (if arriving by road). The other arrival points in Cowal – the ferries from Bute and Kintrye – are a little bit closer.

Ferry Road Hill, Argyll, image Jim Speakman

The turn off from the main road looks like a beaten-up farm access road. The road is a narrow single lane. In general the surface isn’t too bad (at time of writing!), but there are some sketchy patches where a few craters, gravel and vegetation appear.

At first the incline is gentle, meandering over a humpback bridge. After the farm, the gradient kicks up very sharply. The following series of ramps is the meat of the climb, and you quickly gain altitude with impressive views back to the main road and the hills behind. After several hundred meters of leg-ripping steepness the rest of the climb becomes easier. In the style of most of these Scottish back-road climbs the gradient fluctuates greatly, from flat (or even slightly downhill) to sudden 10%+ kick-ups. Choosing a gear is a bit of nightmare, especially for a weaker rider like myself, already drained by the earlier steepness.

They’ve recently felled trees lower down, but you soon end up amidst the pines. The road is very winding and in general the visibility ahead is very limited. There’s no views of the top until you actually get there.

The view back from the Otter Ferry climb, Argyle. Image Jim Speakman

The descent on the other side isn’t as steep, but is still fairly technical – narrow, twisting road with limited visibility around the corners. If you’re looping back round towards Tighnabruiach at the bottom you should be aware that the road in that direction kicks back uphill steeply at the T-junction, so be prepared to drop gear.

Looking back from Otter Ferry, image nadialena on flickr

Full map of Otter Ferry climb on