After a restful night at Corrie Glen B&B, we set off once more, this time on the final day of our ride from the Tay to the Clyde (a mixture of cycle routes NCN 77 and NCN 7). The previous evening we hadn’t taken much notice of the wee river which flows below the humpbacked bridge, but now we took time to have a look. While examining the map the night before, we had realised that this was the River Forth, which meets the sea just north (and west) of Edinburgh. Another feature of interest which we passed several times, but didn’t take the time to investigate was the Old Kirk and the story of the fairies of Doon Hill. (If you are wondering why it has taken so long for this post to appear, it is because I have been away with the fairies too much as it is). Oh well, that is something to check out the next time we are passing.
Despite missing the opportunity to do a spot of fairy hunting, we weren’t in a great hurry. As we left the B&B, one of the owners, Steve, told us that it was all downhill from now on, but there was a twinkle in his eye. Besides we had looked at the map, so we did know what was coming. The route out of Aberfoyle took us first through a car park and then onto another old railway line. I was looking forward to spending more time on tarmac today after yesterday’s experiences, fortunately this path was tarred and wasn’t too bad. When we reached a minor road, we went straight across to continue along the railway line without thinking about it. We had gone about 500-600m when we found a temporary barrier across the path (there was a farmer moving live stock). This caused us to get the map out and check where we were going, it was at this point that we realised we should have turned right at the road. The farmer came up and asked if we were going to Buchlyvie, we replied that we were headed for Drymen. He pointed us back to the road, suggested that we look for an off road path on the left “just after the pink cottage“, as this would take us around by Gartmore House and give us great views across the Carse of Stirling to the Wallace monument.
So it was we found our selves riding along the “Butler’s walk” towards Gartmore House which was worth the diversion (see below), although the view over the Carse was too hazy for photos. As we exited the house grounds there was an extraordinary gateway next to which was an information board about Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham, an other extraordinary character: a politician, writer, journalist and adventurer. He was a Liberal Party Member of Parliament (MP); the first-ever socialist member of the Parliament of the United Kingdom; a founder of the Scottish Labour Party (1888-1893); a founder of the National Party of Scotland; and the first president of the Scottish National Party in 1934, also one time owner of Gartmore House. From here we rode down through the pretty wee village of Gartmore, joining the NCN 7 Lochs and Glens cycle route once again.
I tried again to get a photo of the Wallace Monument through the haze, while standing in a field gateway, and was almost being run over by a humungous tractor trying to get into said field to do some work. We set off on a long swooping descent to cross the Kelty Water at Chapelarroch, and then we started on the big climb of the day. Whilst this climb wasn’t as high or as steep as the ones we had done on the two previous days, it was long and sustained. We were now entering the southern arm of the Loch Ard Forest (part of the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park), on the map it is shown as a large area of conifer plantation, however at some time in the last couple of years there has been a large clear felling on the east side of the road. I suspect that, before the trees were taken down, this section might have been rather midgie at certain times of year (not that we would have been affected this early in the year), but now with the opening up it should be less so for a few years.
The road going up through the forest is only a single track and in fairly poor condition. At one point we decided to give way to a group of cycle tourers descending at speed, not that I was bothered by this, as I welcomed the rest. As you reach the top of the climb, the trees give way to open moorland and while this isn’t especially high (the highest point, Bàt a’ Charchet, is only 230m), I can see that in windy conditions it could be quite exposed. Up here you do get some good views, and cycling past Muir Park Reservoir is pleasant. Just after passing the reservoir, we came across a group of walkers standing in the middle of the road looking at a map. I got the feeling they had accidentally started to follow the green dots of the NCN 7 instead of the red diamonds marking the West Highland Way, and were just discovering their mistake.
The descent down into Drymen was satisfyingly rapid, having arrived, we were pleased to see they had put out the bunting for us, or maybe that had something to do with a wedding in London. But then again, most Scots were studiously ignoring the marriage of the Earl and Countess of Strathearn, feeling that it had nothing much to do with them. So maybe it was just a local gala day in Drymen (the nature of these gala is that they last all week). Bunting aside, the one disappointment in Drymen was the signage in the centre which was poor. This was the first time we had really had a problem with finding our way by following the signs on either the NCN 77 or the NCN 7.
Having found our way to the edge of Drymen, we found the other form of signage which was not welcome, the “Cyclist Dismount” sign followed by steps, always a sign of lazy thinking. For some reason cyclists are expected to walk across the Drymen bypass (A 811), rather than treating the crossing like a cross roads. Do the people who think up these signs actually ride bicycles? At this point we were riding eastwards and into the wind for the first time on this tour, not something I entirely welcomed. Fortunately, we so turned southerly again and were sheltered by a hedge, not that the wind was that strong.
The next section of road was also part of the West Highland Way, and we met a number of walkers coming the other way, toiling under their heavy loads, not really enjoying the view to the north. I, on the other hand was rather enjoying being on the road. However, this was not to last, as the route soon took us onto yet another de-commissioned railway line. Unfortunately, where this one crosses the Endrick Water the old bridge has been removed, now there is a large pipe laying across the piers where the railway bridge once was. There is a narrow walkway on top of the pipe.
This walkway is so narrow I only had 5 cm clearance either side of my panniers, this made for a very uncomfortable crossing. I found riding at low speed there was a constant risk of catching one of the fencing, it was too narrow to walk with the bike. So it was I found my self having to walk the bike froward while off the saddle and astride the frame.
I was glad to leave the railway line once we had passed Croftamie, and join a minor road once more. This was easy riding through pleasant countryside with views to Ben Lomond. From here, it was odd to think that we were in West Dunbartonshire, the county which has the unenviable reputation for having the lowest quality of life in Scotland (not to be confused with East Dunbartonshire, a county which is listed as being among the areas with highest quality of life in UK). Before long we found ourselves being directed into the grounds of Balloch Country Park, which was all well and good, until the signs disappeared again. It wouldn’t have been so bad if the map we had wasn’t so old and the route not marked on it. After a wee bit of bimbling about looking lost, we found our way out into a car park, and thence to Balloch itself.
It now being lunchtime, we set about finding somewhere suitable to eat, after unsuccessfully trying a couple of pubs, we found ourselves in the hell that is Loch Lomond Shores, Balloch. I have never understood why a shopping development was allowed to by built in a National Park, it certainly wasn’t what John Muir had in mind when invented the concept of National Parks, but then it is in West Dunbartonshire. Nevertheless we did find an outside table and some food.
Lunch over, we worked our way back to the NCN 7 cycle route and followed it downstream alongside the River Leven. We were on an off road path again, but at least this one was metalled for the most part. I was surprised to see the number of anglers along the river, apparently it is a “premier Salmon and Sea Trout fishery“, we did also see the police arresting one of the anglers, probably for not having a permit.
At Denystown we were directed off the path and onto the road (well actually the signs told us to get off and walk, but we ignored them) to cross the river. From here on we were following the Clyde up river. Through Dumbarton we were sent along a mixture of minor roads and off road paths, regularly interspersed with “Cyclist Dismount” signs which we ignored. There was one point where a roadway crossed the cycle path and there was a sign saying “Caution, vehicles crossing”, which is a far more adult approach.
Dear reader, I have a confession to make, the title of this post is a bit misleading, we didn’t actually go all the way into Glasgow. After two and a half days of riding through the glorious countryside of the Southern Highlands, this urban riding was rather tedious, and by the time the Erskine Bridge came into view, I was getting rather tired of it. So we got to Bowling, I got bored, and we got the train home.
My stats were:
- Distance cycled – 57.84 Km
- Time spent riding – 03:21:19
- Max Speed – 58.68 Km/h
- Ave Speed – 17.26 Km/h
- Vertical climb – ca. 360 m