Entries tagged with “summer”.


Ulli – today is a special day we should do something to celebrate…
Me – Um, what is it?
Ulli – you remember…
Me – Um??
Ulli – no, begins with a W…
Me – Its Wednesday?
Ulli – No, try again!
Me – Oh, is it our wedding anniversary…?

Any excuse to go out for a cycle ride, well we do have two wedding anniversaries a year, this comes of having a cross cultural, cross border marriage, so we had two weddings, one in each country. Celebratory activities for us tend to involve getting out and doing something physical, such as skiing or cycling (depending on which anniversary).

Having gotten up late, the original plan of cycling around Glen Almond was out, Ulli didn’t want to spend 3 hours on the train going to Perth and back. So we changed the plan to a circuit involving Glen Carron, starting from Stirling. The easy bit was getting from Edinburgh to Stirling, or rather the bakers in Stirling. It was after that that we had a few route finding issues (only minor ones) and the story really begins. We were using Bike Scotland Book One, as we have done several times in the past, generally the route descriptions are very good. However, a book, as a map, is out of date as soon as the surveyor leaves the site. On this occasion we found our way from the station to the pedestrianised part of the town centre without problems, we then initially missed the right turn into King’s Park Road due to lack of attention, the “old style cinema” mentioned is now a Bingo hall. Then further up the road we took the wrong turning at the first sign for Cambusbarron. We stopped to consult a map (Ulli, being a geographer, always likes to have a map with her), realised our mistake and back tracked, turned on to Polmaise Rd, and this time after about 500m we found a second sign post to Cambusbarron (If we had looked at the map in the book rather than just read the text, we wouldn’t have gone wrong in the first place). After crossing the bridge over the M9 motorway, we turned left and left the town behind us.

It was a quiet road climbing gently through woods and fields before turning sharply to the right. The road then contours round the side of a wood before sweeping down to cross the Bannock Burn (if the name sounds familiar that may be because there was a famous battle on the banks of this wee burn in 1314, in which Rab the Bruce sent Eddie the Second back to England with his tail between his legs, and Scotland then enjoyed another 400 years of independence). The road then follows the burn through a wide gorge between Gillies Hill and Lewis Hill. Judging from the number of duns marked on the map this has long be a defensive line. Where the road turns away from the burn the proper climbing starts, gently at first but getting progressively steeper until it levels off again at the few houses that are Shieldbrae.

Just past Shieldbrae we forked left and started to climb again, with views opening up to the east over North Third Reservoir to the cliffs of Lewis Hill. The road then undulates as it passes by North Third, then runs gently downhill through some woods towards Loch Coulter Burn and a T junction. Here we turned right and started to climb yet again, it was about this time I began to realise that this ride was going to be all about hills. As we climbed across the flanks of Drummarnock Hill, we were treated to a view across Loch Coulter Reservoir. Then an easy spin down to Easter Buckieburn, I was starting to get the hang of this hill lark, it was like some shares which I have bought, they slowly go up, and then rapidly come down again.

After another sweeping decent, we came to the crossroads at Carron Bridge and turned right, there is a pub which looks cycle friendly. Well there were was cycle parking in the car park with a fair number of bikes parked, but it was a wee bit early for lunch and we were on a roll, so on we went. Looking back, I realise that was the only sign we saw of other cyclists outwith town we saw all day. We soon found ourselves cycling past the Carron Valley Reservoir, yes reservoirs seemed to be another theme for the day. About half way along the reservoir there was a wee island with a very noisy breeding colony of Black-headed Gulls (Larus ridibundus), but as we didn’t have bins with us we decided not to stop. Besides which the road was turning to the NE and the wind was now coming from behind us and the cycling was easy. We carried on to the end of the reservoir and almost turned down the wind farm road at Todholes, before realising we had missed the right turn just at the end of the forest plantation. So if you do decide to give this ride a go, remember if you pass the second dam on the Carron Valley Reservoir stop and turn round as you’ve missed the turning.

Having made the right turn, the climbing starts again, gently at first as it goes through the forest. As it starts to come out of the forest, splendid views of the Hart Hill wind farm open up, the majestically turning turbine blades are an impressive sight. Coming out of the Cairnoch Hill forest, you also get to cross the first of a series of cattle grids, humm another theme of this multi layer ride? The road then climbs towards Easter Cringate, along this section there plenty of good picnicking spots for a spot of lunch, if you don’t mind the hum and swoosh of the wind turbines. Further on the road swooped down again, giving the opportunity for a bit of high speed cattle grid crossing practice, shortly followed by a narrow bridge across a burn. If you come out the other side, you do so with a big grin on your face. Just to add to the fun, as I crossed the bridge two sheep appeared, one from either parapet, onto the road. I grabbed the brakes and ripped my feet from the cleats, narrowly avoiding both sheep and a clip less moment.

Turning turbines

Another wee climb and we passed the Earls Hill communication masts, this was the highest point on the ride with great views once again across North Third Reservoir, over Stirling, to the Ochills and the Pentlands. This is the start of a long and lovely series of descents which just keep getting better and better. However it wasn’t all good news, the road surface wasn’t of the best, in places there was a washboard effect and there was also a lot of loose gravel about, so I wasn’t going at full blast.

Setting off down Earl's Hill

This was perhaps just as well, coming down one section at about 50 km/h, I experienced a sudden deflation of the rear tyre. I stopped as quickly as I could to avoid doing damage to the tyre and rim, and found a safe place at the side of the road to up end the bike. Tyre removed, I could find no sign of damage or penetration, a quick inspection of the inner tube showed two small parallel splits, a classic snake bite puncture. This is normally caused by riding on an under-inflated tyre, and came as a surprise to me, as the night before I had inflated both tyres to the recommended pressure of 95 psi (6.5 bar), but evidently this wasn’t enough. Maybe the roughness of the road combined with the speed and the 7 kg pannier was just too much, and I should have pumped them to the full 120 psi (8.3 bar). Fresh tube in place, brisk pumping with a mini-pump brought the pressure back up to about 40 psi (2.8 bar), which obviously wasn’t going to be enough. So a quick squirt from a CO2 inflator was applied, this brought the pressure up to a satisfying 110 psi (7.6 Bar).

Passing Shieldbrae again, we faced the steepest hill of the day, this time going down, the odd thing was that neither of us remembered it being quite as steep on the way up. Approaching the Bannock Burn I saw a roe deer standing in the road, but as soon as it saw me it scampered off into the woods. What a great way to spend a Wednesday…

To follow the route see the map here.

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The old saying has it that “One swallow doesn’t make a summer”, but having just seen two pass the kitchen window I am hoping that this is the start of spring!

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“Come on get up”
“Um, What time is it?”
“Six O’clock, come on get up, we have to catch the train!”

Vaguely the memory of a conversation from the night before crept across my sleepy mind, “Lets go cycle round an island, how about Great Cumbrae?” So it was that I found myself cycling up to Haymarket Station at some god forsaken time in the morning, alright it was seven O’clock, but it was seven O’clock on a Saturday morning. On the upside, this meant there was no other traffic about and, even better, all the traffic lights were green!

There is one disadvantage of using Haymarket Station when cycling. Despite the best efforts of Anne Beag (the wheelchair bound MSP for Aberdeen South), the only access to the platforms is by stairs. Fortunately we weren’t in a hurry nor were the bikes heavily loaded, so it wasn’t any real problem. Train to Glasgow Queen Street, then change to Glasgow Central and catch the train to Largs. The great thing about trains is that once you have got the bike on board, you can sit down and go to sleep, especially when you are getting off at the end of the line. From Largs station to the ferry terminal takes just a couple of minutes, and with one of those brilliant pieces of integrated timetabling for which Britain is rightly famous, you arrive just in time to see the ferry leaving the slipway. This gives the passenger a good 20 minutes before boarding the next ferry, to buy their tickets and read the poster describing the delights of Cumbrae on the ticket office wall. Having done so, how you spend the remaining 15 minutes is up to you.

Great Cumbrae is not a large island, unless you are comparing it with Wee (or Little) Cumbrae. Cumbrae, the bigger one that is, has about 20 miles of road if you include all the back wynds in Millport, (the “capital”). Wee Cumbrae has none, but was on the market a year ago for the bargain price of £2.5m, mind you that was the offers over price. Wee Cumbrae was formerly the home of Robert II of Scotland and has its own castle on the imaginatively named Castle Island, but I digress. It is somewhat difficult to get lost on Cumbrae, as there are only really two roads, the B896 which circles the island just above sea level and an inner circular road which goes over the hill passed the Glaid Stone (there is really only one hill on Cumbrae, Barbay Hill, but it has a couple of sub tops which lay claim to being hills) in the middle reaching a height of 127m.

From a cycling point of view this hill is worth doing, tackled from the north it provides a short but satisfying climb (or should that be sprint). If the climb hasn’t taken your breath away (you weren’t sprinting hard enough), the views will (especially on a clear day). To the north east lies Ben Lomond, to the west, Bute and on a clear day you can see across Bute to Kintyre and the Paps of Jura. To the south west is Wee Cumbrae and in the distance Arran. To the east the views include the Ayrshire hills, Hunterston power station and coal terminal on the mainland, but then you can’t have everything.

Carrying on from the summit, working on the principle that which goes up must come down, is an enjoyable downhill ride. The first bit twists and turns, then the road straightens and over about 700m of fairly smooth tarmac looses 40m in altitude, allowing a good speed to be achieved. But be warned, at the end of this straight the road turns 95° to the left, where it swings round the “Breakthrough” farmstead, and the road surface deteriorates. Should you or any of your party come a cropper at this point, at the crossroads 50m further on, take the left turn which leads to the island hospital. The other two roads from the crossroads lead into Millport.

Millport, a “perfectly preserved” Victorian seaside town, is home to most of Cumbrae’s population of 1,300 people (according local council or 800 according to the BBC, I guess there are fair number not paying their TV licences), the narrowest house in Britain, three bike hire shops, a few half decent pubs (if my memory of the second year zoology field course serves me right), and a scattering of small shops and tea rooms (many of which are for sale), and the Crocodile Rock. Millport is also home to the Cathedral of the Isles, the smallest cathedral in Europe One of the ministers was fond of offering up a prayer for “the islands of Great and Little Cumbrae and the adjacent islands of Great Britain and Ireland”. Yes, while only 10 minutes from the mainland, Cumbrae is in a world of its own!

Leaving Millport, there are three ways back to the ferry:

The fastest is via the B899 up Ninian Brae, which would be a pleasant cycle if it were not for the cars rushing to catch the ferry to visit the flesh pots of Largs or what they would call doing the weekly shopping!

The second takes the road up the eastern coast of the island, which takes you past the University Marine Biological Station, with its attendant museum and public aquarium. This obvious tourist honey pot and money spinner is open year round, but closed at weekends (well it is a long way from London). Then there is the Lion Rock, an impressive volcanic dyke which looks vaguely like a crouching lion, or is it a bridge built by the fairies with holes knocked in by the goblins?. Either way it has recently undergone a £10,000 facelift. There is also the National Water Sports Centre, which was of course closed when we passed it.

The third route follows the western coast, this quiet road is popular with cycling families, probably because it is the longest way to get to the ferry and so none of the locals bother driving along it. The views across to the Isle of Bute are far more scenic than those on the east coast, Hunterston power station and the coal terminal. The road runs along a raised beach, which leads one to speculate what climate change and rising sea levels will do to Hunterston power station and the coal terminal. Reaching the north end of the island, you pass another (closed) Outdoor Centre and Stinking Bay, before arriving at Tormont End. Here Håkon IV of Norway landed on the 30 September 1263, the night before the Battle of Largs, the last Viking action in history. The battle was little more than a series of skirmishes, but it ended the last Norwegian invasion of Scotland, if you rule out the summer booze cruises from Bergen to Aberdeen.

From here it is only a few minutes ride back to the ferry slipway. It is notable that, while a ticket is required to get onto the island, none is required to return to the mainland. Once back in Largs there is a least 30 minute wait for the train, which leaves just enough time to get a Nardini´s ice-cream, highly recommended.

Millport: capital of Great Cumbrae

Addendum: For those who are interested, Wee Cumbrae was sold in 2009 for around £2m to the Poddar family from Glasgow.

If you are interested in cycling around Bute, see here.

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