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Once more into the Lothians

Once more into the Lothians

Once more we have been drawn to go a’ cycling in East Lothian, only this time we didn’t take the train. Instead with no particular plan we headed out after lunch into Holyrood Park and down onto the Innocent Railway. The railway was closed in 1968 and is called The Innocent because in its 137 year history no one was killed on it, a great rarity in the age of combustion power transport. It is now a cycle path and is part of National Cycle Route 1.

The path passes south of Duddingston Loch and affords great views of Arthur’s Seat and Samson’s Ribs (a formation of 57m high columnar basalt cliffs to the south side of Arthur’s Seat), if you stop to look. As this is a popular path, cycling while looking over your shoulder is not recommended. Then on through Craigmillar, an area with a rough reputation, neither of us had ridden the path for some years and we were both surprised to find that there wasn’t a shard of glass to be seen.

The signage has also improved dramatically over the last few years, so the chances of getting lost were fairly low. On reaching Musselburgh Station, we decided to carry on along NCR 1 towards Dalkeith, up until this point the route had been almost entirely off road. From Brunstane to Newcraighall the route weaves its way through a series of housing estates, here again the signage is excellent, although Ulli complained that the leaves on some trees were beginning to cover some signs. At Newcraighall the route goes off road again along a path leading out to the new Queen Margaret’s University [] (just one of Edinburgh’s four universities). The most interesting thing about this path is the solar powered lighting system, hopefully this sort of thing could be more widely used across town.

After passing QMU’s shiny new campus, we carried on through Stoneybank and then along the River Esk, under the Edinburgh bypass and to Whitecraig. It was at Whitecraig where we had our first and only problem with the signs. The route takes you along the main road then, just as you reach the end of the 30mph speed restriction, there is a poorly signed right turn, just where the cars are starting to speed up and overtake, care is required. Here again the NCR 1 goes off road following an old railway line, past an old coal bing, to Dalkeith. Ahead of us we could hear the sound of kids on dirt bikes and quad bikes up on the bing. Past experience had taught us that they often ride their bikes without adult supervision along this section of path, this make it more dangerous than cycling on the road. We decided to skip Dalkeith and head into East Lothian instead.

A quick check of the map showed that the path crossed under a road bridge, where we turned off and joined the minor road which took us towards Cousland. We didn’t bother going into Cousland itself but joined another former railway, now an off road cycle path, which took us to the north of Ormiston and then into Pencaitland. At Pencaitland we picked up the road again, it was noticeable how much easier it was cycling on the tarmac road rather than the softer offroad surface. After another look at the map we decided to head towards Gifford via the villages of West and East Saltoun as we hadn’t taken this road before. This was easy back road riding, beyond East Saltoun we joined the B6355 and with the wind at our backs glided into Gifford where we stopped for ice cream.

Ice cream finished, we set off from Gifford and continued along the B6355, as this was a route we had intended to take the week before, but had been taken off course by a large slow moving group from the ERC. This turned out to be the pleasant back road which we had hoped it to be, and carried towards Danskine. On reaching the 17% gradient sign, I was minded not to repeat the error of the week before, and changed to a low gear long before I reached the bottom of the hill. Being in such a low gear, my legs were spinning wildly to no real purpose, so I stopped pedalling and free wheeled the rest of the way. Having reached the bottom, I shot across the short flat section and started pedalling furiously, expecting the momentum to carry my on up the hill. However I was surprised to find just how rapidly the momentum died away. Having made only a few metres forward I went from pedalling furiously to standing on the pedals cranking over slowly to grind up the hill. Still it was an improvement over the last time. Having reached the top, I stood gasping like a fish out of water until Ulli came to join me. She of course arrived gliding along with swan-like grace, having taken the whole thing at a much more sensible pace.

From Danskine we carried on a short way to the crossroads, where we had a choice of a steep climb up onto the Lammermuirs (which had done before) or turning off and looping back to Gifford, either via Carfrae or Longyester. We choose the latter, turning down a pleasantly winding road which, after we missed the turning to Longyester itself, took us across the Castle Park Golf Course. The road led us back to the B6355 just west of Gifford at which point we reversed our route back to Edinburgh. We were now cycling into the prevailing wind, and decided to use the off road cycle path from Pencaitland, thinking that this would be easier cycling, as it was more sheltered. However, we found the increased rolling resistance of the loose surface rather harder work than expected and were greatly relieved to get back onto tarmac. The only other change from our outbound route was outside of Whitecraig, where instead of dropping down onto the cycle path and going round to the east, we followed the minor road to the end and turned right on to the A6094 for about 500m. This turned out to be the least pleasant 500m of the day, due to the bad manners of a few drivers. But I wasn’t going to let such things spoil a good ride, there are always going to be a few idiots out there who drive like they found their licence in a cornflake packet, strange how so many of them drive BMWs though.

If you would like to follow this route, there is a map here, the stats for the day for anyone who is interested are:

  • Distance cycled – 80.33Km
  • Time spent riding – 03:54:13
  • Max Speed – 55.3Km/h
  • Ave Speed – 20.57Km/h
Balerno or bust

Balerno or bust

After months without any recreational cycling we decided that spring must be here, after all haven’t I just seen two swallows flying past the kitchen window. So where to go? One of the great things about living in Edinburgh is that there are always plenty of options available. Given that there was a moderate westerly wind blowing (17mph gusting to 29mph at Gogarbank) and that Ulli hadn’t done any serious cycling since August, something sheltered and not too long was in order.

So it was that we decided to go out along the Union Canal then up the Water of Leith riverside path to Balerno. Trying to be clever, I decided to take my old GPS along, with the idea of tracking the ride and then being able to put up a Google Earth .kmz file on this blog. Before using a GPS that has been sitting on the shelf for some time, it is always advisable to check the batteries, first error of the day. The battery ran out before we reached the Canal. Still, nae bother, we knew where we were going, and could look up the route later. Being a pleasantly sunny day, the canal tow path was busy, with walkers, children and dogs. This is where having a wee bell helps to give a warning to walkers and children. Dogs and ducks on the other hand are another matter, and several came close to being run over, as they changed direction right in front of the bikes at the last second. All of this acted to slow progress, not that we were in a hurry, well Ulli wasn’t, but I am always tempted to go for a wee blast whenever I get the chance.

After crossing the Water of Leith on the Slateford Aqueduct, we carried on along the canal until we reached the turn off over the bridge across the canal and Lanark Road and onto the Water of Leith path which follows the old Slateford to Balerno Railway line. This path is wider and was far less busy, which made for pleasantly smooth progress for a while, until we reached the old mill below Juniper Green, here there was a sign saying that the path was closed and there was a diversion up round Juniper Green. We decided to carry on for a bit to find out what the cause of the closure was.

It was then that I heard the sound no cyclist wants to hear, pissst, pissst, pissst, pissst, yes an UDE (unplanned deflation event), a visit from the puncture fairies. Among some cyclists the using of the term puncture is considered to be unlucky as it invites a visit from the puncture fairies, generally at the most inconvenient time (humm is there ever a convenient time to get a puncture?), but as you will have now noticed I am not one of them. For some time I had been looking at the side wall damage to my tyres and thinking “really must get some new tyres soon”, so it wasn’t as great a surprise as it could have been. Fortunately I have long been in the habit of carrying a tool kit and spare inner-tube with me on rides. However, as I came to replace the tube I realised that it was about two years since I last had to do this and I couldn’t quite remember how. After a short while of faffing about, the wheel was finally back on the bike and a second stop after starting to ride again had been made to reconnect the brake.

Repair in progress

We saw the bridge over the Water of Leith was in the process of being replaced, hence the diversion. So we turned back and, rather than going up to Juniper Green and along Lanark Road, we back tracked to the next nearest bridge and crossed the Water a wee bit down stream, then headed up on to Woodhall Road. This road ends just past Woodhall House, but a rough path leads on until it reaches Blinkbonny Road. Now having skinny road tyres and having just suffered a UDE, I should have been taking it easy along this track but where would be the fun in that? Reaching the Blinkbonny Road without further incident we rode on through Blinkbonny itself, which is a rather charming wee hamlet.

At the end of the road we turned left down Kirkgate and past Currie Kirk, there is said to have been a church on this site least a 1000 years. We then rejoined the Water of Leith path and cycled on to where it ends at Bridge Road in Balerno, stopping for a rest and snack at the wee Memorial Garden, I am not sure just what it is a memorial too, but it has a Zen like appearance. Maybe someone from the Scottish Bonsai centre round the corner comes out and rakes it regularly.

Balerno achieved and snack finished it was time to return home, so back along the Water of Leith path. At Blinkbonny Bridge we were diverted off the path and up onto the road bridge due to the old railway bridge being replaced. This time we followed through on to Lanark Road and into Juniper Green, turning down back to the path and homeward. Stopping off at Argyle Place to pick up a couple new Conti GatorSkins at the Bicycle Works.

The stats for anyone who is interested were:

  • Total round trip distance – 31.1 Km
  • Time spent riding – 01:42:06
  • Max Speed – 44.9 Km/h
  • Ave Speed – 18.3 Km/h
A short pedal in the Trossachs

A short pedal in the Trossachs

9am Wednesday: isn’t this toil great, I suppose we really should get up now!

With Easter come up and the weather set fine, Ulli and I decided a little toil was in order, if you are a little confused, I should explain that T.O.I.L is short for Time Off In Lieu. Working in science, it is rare to be paid overtime for working beyond contracted hours, instead you are offered T.O.I.L, mainly in the hope that you won’t have time to take it (or am I being a wee bit too cynical?). Anyway the sky was blue, the sun was shining and wind light, so it was obviously a great day for a cycle trip, but where to go? The first reaction was to reach for Fergal MacErlean’s excellent wee book, Bike Scotland Book One, which lists 40 great routes accessible from central Scotland. One of the things which I particularly like about this book is that all the route descriptions start and finish at railway stations and not, as with some others, at car parks. Where does this notion come from, that in order to go on a cycle tour, the first thing you should do is stick your bike on a car and drive to the starting point?

We decided on the Trossachs as a suitable location for a day out, so it was off to Haymarket and catch the train to Dunblane as a starting point. From here we took the main road towards Callander (A820), which was reasonably quiet, but could get busy at weekends and the height of the tourist season. On reaching Doune we turned off to take the back road (B8032) on the south side of the river Teith. This is a quite undulating road with fine views of Ben Vorlich, Stuc a’ Chroin Ben Ledi and in the distance Ben Lomond. The turbines at the wind farm on the hills NW of Doune were turning lazily in the light westerly breeze.

After about 10km we met the main road coming up from Aberfoyle (A81), where we turned right towards Callander. Here there is a long straight with a gentle downhill gradient which makes for a good blast sprint (if so desired). At the outskirts of Callander, we turned left to join the NCN Route 7 towards Invertrossachs. This is a dead end for motorised traffic and so a quiet road, or it would have been if it wasn’t for the car park at the head of Loch Venachar, watch out for mini-bus loads of tourists from the likes of Timberbush Travel.

The Intrepid Cyclist views Loch Venachar

Once past the car park, there was very little traffic as we followed an estate road. Then turned onto a Sustrans cycle track through the woods along the loch side, very scenic with plenty places to stop for a picnic.

If you are thinking of following this section of the route, a word of caution here, there are a couple of cycle hire places nearby. So expect large groups of inexperienced cyclists with little knowledge of etiquette, i.e. when meeting other cyclists heading in the opposite direction keep to the left and don’t try to force them off the path. The cycle path gives way to a forest road, which is a bit wider, but do watch out for large timber lorries and guys with chainsaws, no not really. Forest Enterprise (FE) close the road if they are doing that sort of thing. The surfaces on these cycle tracks and forest roads are surprisingly good. There was only one moment on a downhill section where I thought that doing this speed on a hybrid with 700 x28 Ultra GatorSkins was not such a good idea (a MTB and knobbly tyres would be a much better idea), as it would have been a long walk back to Callander with a ripped sidewall.

At the end of the loch we had a choice of route, we could have turned south towards Aberfoyle, or carried on to Loch Achray which FE have sign posted as the Three Lochs Cycle Route, but we choose to turn north towards Brig o’ Turk passed an old farmhouse. MacErlean’s book says that you have to lift your bike over a stile on this path, but we didn’t find it, just a few cattle grids which were no problem to cycle across. Then we crossed the Black Water on an old stone bridge to the charming Byre Inn where we stopped for lunch, I can recommend the steak and sausage pie. When we first arrived, we thought the place was closed as there was no one sitting outside despite the warm sunshine.

Lunch over, we decided rather than head back to Callander as the book suggested, we would carry on to Loch Katrine. We followed the main road (A821) along the north side of Loch Achray and then up trough the trees to Loch Katrine itself. The public road ends in a large car park, here there is the inevitable gift shop, and the landing stage for the SS Sir Walter Scott, which has been plying the waters between the Trossachs Pier and Stronachlachar since 1900. There is a road along the north side of the loch which goes all the way round to Stronachlachar, this is popular with family groups, many of whom have hired bikes at one end and are planning on take the steamer back (you can also take your own bike, but advanced booking is advised). We cycled as far as the Silver Strand and took some photos, before turning and heading homeward.

For the return journey we followed the main road (A821) through Brig o’ Turk and along the north side of Loch Venachar, which has fine views of the Menteith Hills to the south. The traffic wasn’t too bad so we were able to enjoy the scenery, although as always there were a few idiots looking for a place to have an accident,. Just past the end of the loch we turned right down a wee road across the Eas Goghain and back onto our outward track. At Doune we tried to stop for tea but found the village tea shop is closed on Wednesdays, so it was on to Dunblane, where we were lucky to get an ice cream just before the shop shut at 5 o’clock. Then the train home to Edinburgh, taking up the only two bike spaces, which caused a wee bit of a problem for the commuters. ScotRail has been improving its bike carrying capacity, but the Dunblane line definitely needs more. As we were getting off at Haymarket this caused some congestion as we dug our bikes out.

Overall it was a great day out, the stats for anyone who is interested were:

  • Distance: 79.3 Km
  • Ride time: 3h 38m
  • Max speed: 50.5 Km/h
  • Ave speed: 21.8 Km/h

and there is a map here.

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