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Tay to the Clyde – Part 3: Aberfoyle to Glasgow

Tay to the Clyde – Part 3: Aberfoyle to Glasgow

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.

Gartmore House

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.

Looking north to the Trossachs, near Drymen
Looking north to the Trossachs, near Drymen.

The Pipe Bridge across the Endrick Water
The Pipe Bridge across the Endrick Water.

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.

There is a map of our route here, and there is a slide show here (NB. this is for the whole trip and not in order).

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
Tay to the Clyde – Part 2: Killin to Aberfoyle

Tay to the Clyde – Part 2: Killin to Aberfoyle

The plan for the second day was simple, ride from Killin to Balloch along the NCN 7 and then catch a train home. However, before the end of breakfast the plan had started to change. Having looked at the maps the night before we were aware the next section of the NCN 7 is routed along a lot of off-road cycle tracks. From experience, we knew that these Sustrans off road tracks are often poorly surfaced and slow going, so we decided to ride as far as Callander, then decide whether book accommodation in Aberfoyle or Drymen, depending how we were doing. Also, as we were spending another night on the road, we would extend the ride beyond Balloch as the end point. So therefore, the ride became Tay to the Clyde and we were going to end at Glasgow Queen’s Street.

Breakfast over and photos taken, we set out on the road once more. Over the Falls of Dochart, briefly stopping for photos this time, then turning off-road and following an old railway line. If there is one thing that riding on Sustrans cycle route network shows you, it is the extent of the Scottish railway network pre the 1960’s. That was when Harold Macmillan’s Conservative government decided that the British people didn’t need public transport any more, not surprising as he had a ministerial car and the transport minister, Ernest Marples, was the director of a road-construction company. To justify the wholesale destruction of the rail network, they commissioned Dr Richard Beeching (a physicist) to write a report, which he did in the space of a week. He was richly rewarded for this with a salary £14,000 greater than the Prime Minister’s (that is £214,000 in today’s money), and a life peerage as Baron Beeching of East Grinstead. This had a devastating effect on transport in rural Scotland which is still being felt today. But I digress. We rode along the old railway line through dappled sunlight, with moss covered concrete sleepers stacked neatly at the side, looking as if they were just waiting to be re-laid.

The route then turned off the railway line and headed uphill, thankfully, after a short time the path went from rough to tarmac. This wound its way up through the woods, before arriving at a gate with a car park beyond. There was a sign telling cyclists to dismount and walk across the road (A85). These signs always strike me as being utterly pointless, so we just treated the crossing as a crossroads and rode across. On the far side there was a gate and a sort of miniature cattle grid, it was just wide enough to ride across in comfort. Then we were onto another old railway line, shortly after Lochan Lairig Cheile we crossed the watershed into Glen Ogle.

Riding along the old railway, Glen Ogle

Glen Ogle

Further down the glen we came across ongoing path maintenance:

Resurfacing the Glen Ogle cycle path

As you reach the end of Glen Ogle, views of Loch Earn start to open up. So that you can make the most of these views, the route directs you off the old railway and down a steep set of hairpin bends (to another old railway line). At least I assume that is why Sustrans directs you off the higher railway line to one 70m lower, looking at the map the two lines meet up just above the old Balquhidder station. Why the route doesn’t stay on the higher line, with the option of a spur going off to Lochearnhead for those wanting to visit the village, I don’t know, but it would be a better option than the steep set of hairpin bends. At least this section of the route is metalled, which is more than can be said for much of what came next.

We followed the lower old railway over a bridge crossing the Kendrum Burn on which there was a memorial to a cyclist who was killed on the A9. The old railway crossed the main road (A84), but the cycle route stays on the north side and continues off road through the woods past old Balquhidder station, then picks up the Kingshouse to Balquhidder road.

You are now in the heartlands of an infamous character known, in his own time, as Robby the sheep (although not to his face). Red Robert (or Raibeart Ruadh, if you prefer the Gaelic) was variously a sheep trader and respected cattleman, a solder and a rent collector (after a fashion). This was back in the days when cattle-reiving (stealing) was a national sport. He initially made his name while still a teenager, in 1690 he recovered 15 beasts which belonged to the Earl of Breadalbane and had been stolen by the MacRaes of Kintail. This gained him respect and the patronage of other landowners who wanted their cattle protected. Unfortunately, not all landowners agreed with paying for protection of their cattle, and when young Robert picked up 200 cattle belonging to Earls of Callander and Linlithgow in 1691 it caused a scandal, reminding the Scottish Government that it did not control the Highlands.

As a recognition of his evident talents, Archibald Kilmanan (his clan chief) granted him some land around Inversnaid by Loch Lomond. Robert, raising money through his (legitimate) sheep dealing activities, was able to buy large areas of land on the east side of the loch. Just when he thought things were going well, he had a wee falling out with his neighbour James Graham, the fourth Marquess and first Duke of Montrose. This led to his lands being seized and him being declared an outlaw. However, he was able to call in a favour from Campbell, Earl of Breadalbane, who gave him a cottage in Campbell territory, out of the reach of Montrose. Robert then took to collecting rent from Montrose’s tenants, and even on one occasion paying the rent of a widowed tenant (then relieving the factor of the money later).

In 1715 Robert recruited supporters for the Jacobite rising in that year, but seems to have had second thoughts about it, as he and his men stood by and watched the battle of Sheriffmuir, refusing to take part. After the rising failed, Robert was accused of treason, but was given protection by the Duke of Argyll. Then in 1717 he was caught by Montrose at Balquhidder, and was being taken to Stirling for trial when he escaped while fording a river, distracting his pursuers by throwing his plaid into the river. After this incident, Montrose abandoned his attempts to persecute Robert, but others did not. He was taken prisoner, after being tricked by the first Duke of Atholl, who needed to demonstrate his loyalty to the Crown. Robert was imprisoned in Logierait Castle, but once again escaped.

There was a further Jacobite rising in 1719, this time Robert took part and was injured in the battle of Battle of Glen Shiel. Following the failure of this uprising, he went into hiding in Glen Shira, then later returned to Balquhidder. He was persuaded to petition General Wade (who was busy using the army to build roads all over Scotland to try and keep order) for a King’s pardon. A pardon was granted in 1725. Robert then carried on his cattle business for the rest of his life. He died in 1734, peacefully in his bed, at the age of 63 and is buried in the churchyard in Balquhidder. Should you wish to visit his grave as you pass, it is easy to find, just look for the grave of Rob Roy McGregor.

Anyway, back to the ride, having managed to get passed Balquhidder church, I was persuaded to stop to take photos of Loch Voil, just as I was about to take a run at the humpback that is Stronvar Bridge. Photos taken, over the bridge and we were headed back the glen we had just come along, only on the other side. As we turned the corner into Strathyre at Stroneslaney, there was a local man standing outside his house who waved and said hello. Evidently he regarded the appearance of cycle tourists rather like the arrival of swallows, a sign of approaching summer. It was a pleasant, quiet road, almost traffic free. Most people use the main road on the other side of the glen and don’t even know that this road exists. Sadly, just after Sidheag the hard top ran out and we were back onto the rough stuff again. Still, we did have a view of the next loch, it is not for nothing that the NCN 7 is called Lochs and Glens Cycle Route. This time it was Loch Lubnaig. As the track started to descend, we met a touring tandem coming the other way, they told us there was a steep descent ahead, and sure enough there was. A few hundred metres further on, the route turned sharply downhill through a series of hairpin bends, but this time it was on a loose surface. This gives the adventurous cycle tourist the opportunity to test their power sliding technique (irrespective of whether they really want to). Going up on a fully loaded touring bike can’t be much fun, as coming down was certainly interesting.

Along this lower track we started to meet a lot of leisure cyclists out for the day, indeed many were having picnics at the side of the track. There were also a few Heilan coos in the neighbouring fields, cue more photos. Towards the end of Loch Lubnaig we passed a collection holiday chalets and we were back on to the hard top, for a while at least. Once past the end of the loch, you find a car park for the Falls of Leny, beyond this we were back on a loose surface again. It continued this way, with exception of a road crossing, until we got to Callander.

Callander: time for lunch, but also decision time. Given the slow progress we were making, we decided to book accommodation in Aberfoyle and take another day. Well that bit was easy. Leaving Callander we decided to continue following the NCN 7 along the south side of Loch Venachar. We had ridden this part of the route before and knew what to expect until we got to the end of the loch, where the route turns south. At this point you turn on to the “forest drive“, a word of warning about this: although the route is off road, it is open to motor vehicles, and some drivers treat it as an opportunity to play at rally driving without regard for others.

The NCN 7 meanders it way through Achray Forest, it is very scenic and peaceful (for the most part, when there are no motor vehicles about), but it is not a easy option, compared to the Duke’s Pass. Now the Duke’s Pass does have a reputation for been a long hard climb, but the reason the road follows this route is because it is the path of least resistance. If you wanted to do the Duke’s Pass, you could follow the NCN 7 to where it turns south and away from the loch, but then continue westwards until you reach the road, then turn left. Or you could just follow the A821 out of Callander. We, having followed the NCN 7, passed Loch Drunkie (or Loch Drongaidh in Gaelic, meaning the loch between the ridges), then up and over the watershed. As we were coming down the south side, we turned a corner and saw a strange sight: there were platforms up in the trees and wires between them. This turned out to be the “Go Ape tree-top adventure”, which includes Britain’s longest zip wire at 426m.

Zip wire in Achray Forest

Sorry, but I am about to digress again, this zip wire is significantly longer than the piddling 230m one in Cornwall, which makes the spurious claim that it is the “longest zip wire in Europe”. However, the Aberfoyle one is also far from being the “longest zip wire in Europe”, as there is one in the Italian Dolomites which is 3 km long!! Now, back to the ride. As we exited the forest, there were a pair of half gates leading onto the road which had been specially commissioned for the NCN7.

Cycle gates

From the cycle gates it was a short downhill run into Aberfoyle, then over the humpbacked bridge to our B&B at Corrie Glen, where we were welcomed with tea and home baking, very nice it was too.

There is a map of our route here, and there is a slide show here (NB. this is for the whole trip and not in order).

My stats were:

  • Distance cycled – 64.75 Km
  • Time spent riding – 03:56:12
  • Max Speed – 40.89 Km/h
  • Ave Speed – 16.44 Km/h
  • Vertical climb – ca. 640 m
Tay to the Clyde – Part 1: Perth to Killin

Tay to the Clyde – Part 1: Perth to Killin

“Are sure this is an Easterly?” The question was key to the route we were taking, some days before noticing that there was a high over Scandinavia leading to an Easterly air flow across the country. So a plan had been hatched to cycle from the Tay to the Clyde, taking advantage of the tail wind. However, now as we cycled through Perth, the wind was cool and felt like it was coming out of the north. Not that it was hindering us, just that we had to stop and don jackets, that done, the sun was shining and the riding easy.

Donning jacket in Almondale Park, Perth

This first part of the ride we were following National Cycle Route 77 A.K.A. the Salmon Run. This route was originally devised to safely channel cyclists away from the A9, after a number of cyclists were killed on the A9. This is a typically short sighted attitude, as it ignores the real problem of the A9, which is people driving stupidly fast, often exceeding the speed limits. The only serious way to reduce the death rate on the A9 (most of those killed are travelling in cars) is to enforce the speed limits. Most cyclists using the A9 are those doing the LE-JoG (Land’s End to John o’ Groats) and they are not going to use this route.

To get back to the story, from the middle of Perth, the NCN 77 at first follows the Tay on a mixed use off road path, popular with dog walkers and runners, indeed, one runner stopped abruptly in front of us for a fag break, then passed us again as we were donning jackets. At the meeting of the River Almond and the Tay, the route turns to follow the Almond upstream and under the A9. We were soon away from the town and in out into the countryside. At one bend of the river, there was a cliff on the far side with a beech tree perched atop, with half its root plate undermined. On seeing it, one is left wondering how long it can last.

Just hanging on

Not much further upstream the nearside bank had been undermined and is currently being repaired. There were no diversion signs, so we had to dismount and carry the bikes across, squeezing past a wee bit of temporary fencing at the far end. Not long after this we regained the road, which was a relief, it says a lot about the Council’s attitude to the NCN 77 cycle route, that no diversion has been put in place. Strangers are just left to find their own away around the obstruction, maybe this technique could be used with road closures to discourage motor traffic.

Beyond West Huntingtower, the route took us though Pitcairngreen, a pretty wee village with a rather nice pub which had stopped at on a previous ride. We were following quiet back roads and past Moneydie came the first real climb of the day. It was the sort of climb where last year I would have glided up in the middle ring, but this was first big ride of the year and I had been carbo loading all winter for just such an occasion. So I girded my loins, dug deep, and changed down to the granny ring, well I had been carbo loading all winter.

Next stop, Bankfoot to pickup a few supplies to keep us going. Beyond Bankfoot the route follows the old road parallel to the A9, which is pleasantly quiet. That is until just short of Birnam where you are dumped onto a rather grotty off-road path, which seems almost designed to push cyclists onto the A9. At Birnam Station there is a “Cyclists Dismount” sign followed by a short run of steps, which could be made ride-able with a little bit of effort, to a minor road which passes under the A9 into Birnam itself. The village originated from the coming of the railway in 1856 and is somewhat overshadowed by its neighbour across the river, Dunkeld, which dates back to the Iron Age.

When crossing the bridge to Dunkeld, you can take advantage of one of the joys of touring by bicycle, namely you can stop pretty much where you like, and the view from the middle of the of the bridge is worth stopping for…

The Tay above Dunkeld

Bridge over the Tay at Dunkeld

The Tay below Dunkeld

Once into Dunkeld, Ulli went in search of things for lunch while I watched over the bikes. I was approached by an American tourist who wanted to know more about cycle touring in Scotland and we had a nice wee chat. For those who have not visited Dunkeld before, it is worth exploring with such curiosities as its Cathedral. This has been holy ground since at least 730 AD, and the relics of St. Columba were move here in 850 AD, to keep them safely out of range of Viking raids. It also houses the tomb of the “Wolf of Badenoch” (or Alexander Stewart, 1st Earl of Buchan, if you prefer), possibly the most unpleasant character in Scottish history (and there are plenty of other candidates). According to popular legend, Alexander died on the night of 24th July 1394, after loosing a game of chess with the Devil. The Cathedral suffered much during the Reformation, when anything considered to be “Popish” was destroyed. Later it was burned down as part of the battle of Dunkeld during the first Jacobite uprising in 1689, along with most of the town (only three houses were standing at the end of the battle). Dunkeld is also home to Scotland’s first brick built house, and the “Ell” (on Ell house), an iron bar used as a standardised unit of measurement, 39 inches long.

The NCN 77 leaves Dunkeld via the grounds of Dunkeld House Hotel, along an off road track, those wanting to stay on the road can follow the old military road (although this lands you with having to follow a pavement for a short section of the A9). Normally I am not keen on Sustrans’ use of offroad tracks, but on this occasion it is worth it. When you first turn off Atholl Street, you follow the driveway down to the hotel, then as you reach the hotel you are diverted down a track which follows the river. This is thoroughly delightful. However, this doesn’t last, after a couple of Km or so you pass under a bridge carrying the A9 over the Tay. Another 500m later you are popped out onto the A9 and have to follow the footpath back alongside the road over the bridge, then turn off onto the B898, which follows the river north, but on the far side from the A9 and so is very quiet, with only local traffic on it.

We stopped off at the Tay Viaduct by Logierait to have lunch by the river. The air was full of bird song, with sky larks, lapwings, the piping Oystercatchers, the churring of swallows, and a yellow hammer. It was idyllic, well it was until the two ghillies working by the river decided to add the humm of their chainsaws to this jamming session.

It should be noted that the NCN 77 carries on over the Tay Viaduct, and that we changed to the NCN 7 “Loch and Glens” cycle route and continued along the B898. Lunch over, we continued along the south side of the Tay, to the bridge where the main road to Aberfeldy joins in, here we swapped over to the north side of the river to use the quieter road.

Along Strath Tay we started to meet other cyclists in numbers for the first time. They we mostly “roadies” and I suspect that most of them were scoping out the route of the Etape Caledonia, which is the only closed road sportive in Britain. We also passed a couple of pairs of tourers, heading the other way along the NCN 7.

At Weem, we joined the B846 coming out of Aberfeldy and the motor traffic picked up again, not that there was much. We passed by Castle Menzies and considered taking a short detour to the village of Dull, but decided against it.

We turned off across the River Lyon and headed for Kenmore, oddly we stopped passing “roadies”. We had intended to stop over night in Kenmore, but had been unable to book any accommodation, so we just stopped for tea. Our destination for the day was Killin at the far end of Loch Tay. So we rode along the quiet road on the south side of the loch, past the Crannog Centre. As it was late in the day, we decided not to stop to go into the Crannog, which was just as well, as there were plenty of photo stops further along the loch.

Looking across Loch Tay

Cycle touring along the south side of Loch Tay

Looking west along Loch Tay

There were a couple of stiff climbs on the first half ride down the loch, but we took these in our stride, albeit slowly. The sun was shining, as it had been all day, but now it finally felt warm, there was plenty to see and we heard our first cuckoo of the year, we felt good. By the time we reached the Perth and Kinross/Stirlingshire boundary, my cycle computer was showing 90 Km (56 miles) and I was surprised how fresh I felt. It wasn’t to last, this was our first big ride of the year. The climb out of Ardeonaig really took its toll on us both, and the next climb felt even harder, but neither of us walked.

Finally we crossed the Falls of Dochart and made our way down the Main Street in Killin to find the Fairview B&B.

There is a map of our route here and there is a slide show here (NB. this is for the whole trip and not in order).

My stats were:

  • Distance cycled – 103.45 Km
  • Time spent riding – 05:31:41
  • Max Speed – 52.47 Km/h
  • Ave Speed – 18.71 Km/h
  • Vertical climb – ca. 830 m
Coasts and Castles, a ride along the NCN1/76 (Part 3): Dunbar to Edinburgh

Coasts and Castles, a ride along the NCN1/76 (Part 3): Dunbar to Edinburgh

As a Scot, the concept of a healthy cooked breakfast is a novel concept, but one that I thoroughly enjoyed at the B&B in Dunbar. We had arrived in Dunbar the evening before after two days of riding along the Coasts and Castles cycle route (NCN 1 and NCN 76) from Alnmouth, via Fenwick and today we were planning to continue cycling back to Edinburgh.

From past experience we knew that the NCN 76 shadowed the A1 to Haddington, taking it away from the coast and completely bypassing the charming towns of North Berwick and Gullane, as well as the impressive ruins of Tantallon Castle. This seems an odd route choice for a National Cycle Network route called Coasts and Castles. After Haddington the NCN 76 does take you back to the coast at Longniddry, so that you can follow a rough off-road (traffic free) cycle track and enjoy the delights of Cockenzie power station and it intendant ash lagoons. What are Sustrans thinking of??

If I had been planning the route, I would have followed the current route to East Linton, but then used the network of minor roads to get out to Tantallon Castle. Then follow the A198 into North Berwick, which has: a regular rail service on which all trains carry bicycles without a booking, an award winning Seabird Centre, tea rooms, ice cream parlours and view to Bass Rock.
Bass Rock

Next, either follow the A198 or take minor roads to the village of Dirleton, to pick up another castle, followed by a visit to the pretty village of Gullane, with its splendid teashops, after all cyclists need a good cake stop. Then follow back roads to the B1377 near Aberlady, and on to Longniddry which is on the current route. However, from Longniddry I would head inland, after all, how many people really want to cycle around a coal fired power station? Instead follow quiet minor roads to Pencaitland, with a diversion to the Glenkinchie Distillery, if desired. At Pencaitland, Regional Cycle Route 73 can be picked up to provide an off-road (traffic free) section (which seems to be obligatory) and follow it to join the NCN 1 for the final run into Edinburgh. But, I digress, as we didn’t actually ride the route suggested above, that is just my suggestion for a more interesting and pleasant Coasts and Castles cycle route through East Lothian.

Setting out from Dunbar, we took a minor road round the back of the cottage hospital, used a farm track which ducks under the A1, then turned uphill to Pitcox. From Pitcox, we headed towards Stenton, but then turned off towards Bielmill. This was a good downhill straight, so I got the opportunity to get a speed buzz. I got as far as Bielmill before remembering that we were going to turn left half way down, to avoid the short sharp climb on the far side of the Biel Water, so I had to turn round and trundle back to where Ulli was waiting for me. We jinked our way round to the road passing south of Traprain Law, and we were pleased to see along the way that there several sections of newly surfaced road. At the end of this road we reached a cross roads, where we had planned to go straight ahead, but the road was closed.

We pulled just passed the traffic cones and were just debating whether to go on and walk past the works, or take a detour, when a car came past. The driver stopped 50 m down the road, then reversed back to talk to us. She told us that the road ahead was very bad and suggested that we try going around towards Garvald. When I objected that way would be a wee bit more hilly, she gave me a cheeky grin and said it wasn’t that bad and that she cycled that way every day. After she had gone I remembered where I had seen her before, the last time we had gone down that road, she had passed us in the car, then I had seen the car parked outside a cottage, and shortly after that she had shot past us on a Tri bike. Aye, I thought, she may well go round by Garvald on her training route, but I bet she didn’t carry 10+ Kg of luggage on her Tri bike.

After a short further debate, we decided to follow the suggested detour via Garvald, sure enough it was a wee bit more hilly, but then that is what the granny ring is for. Just before Garvald, we picked up the B6370 which we followed to Gifford. Coming down a hill just outside of Gifford, there was a Speed Indicator Device which showed my speed to be 33 mph (53.1 Km/h), so I stopped pedalling and coasted into the village. There was a threat of showers in the air, and Ulli wanted to press on, so we didn’t stop at the café, as we normally would.

We hadn’t got far when we were overtaken by a rain shower and took shelter in a bus shelter. Once the shower had passed, we pressed on to Pencaitland where we planned to join Regional Cycle Route 73 which runs along an old railway line. Just as we got to the railway line, Ulli’s bike decided it had had enough of this off road stuff and broke a spoke on the back wheel. As we didn’t have a spoke key with us and the wheel had already started to go out of true, we decided the safest thing to do was to go back to the road, gently ride to Longniddry and catch a train to Edinburgh from there…

There is a map of our route here.

My stats were:

  • Distance cycled – 52.1 Km
  • Time spent riding – 02:41:47
  • Max Speed – 53.5 Km/h
  • Ave Speed – 19.3 Km/h
  • Vertical climb – 380 m


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