Browsed by
Tag: Touring

A gentle breeze to the Border

A gentle breeze to the Border

After a week of watching the weather forecast, the three of us, David, Ulli and myself, set out for the border to pick up the CC Relay Jersey. We had been hoping for blue skies, sunshine and light winds, what we got was partly clear skies with the threat of showers and strengthening winds. The plan was simple, cycle out from Edinburgh over the Lammermuir Hills and down to Coldstream to meet on the bridge over the Tweed to collect the Jersey. The forecast on Saturday morning was showers moving away to the south and 8mph westerly winds gusting to 21mph. This didn’t sound too bad, so we decided to go with the plan.

We headed out of Edinburgh through Holyrood Park along the NCN 1 cycle route, a mixture of off road cycle paths and quiet roads. On the western edge of Whitecraigs, we departed from NCN 1 and headed off across country towards Gifford, where we planned to make a cake stop. As we approached East Saltoun, a car with an amber flashing light came the other way, being chased down by a crowd of roadies.

Meeting the lead car
Road race passing
This turned out to be the Musselburgh RCC British Eagle 62 mile road race, which had just started from East Saltoun.

This early part of the ride was easy going and we were making good progress, so we dodged round Gifford and headed for the Lammermuir Hills without the cake stop. As we climbed above Danskine, we started to notice that the wind was somewhat stronger that we had been led to expect, over 20mph gusting over 40 mph. We stopped for a bite of lunch before tackling the first big climb of the day up Wanside Rig, a mere 17% gradient. Unfortunately on the steepest part of the climb the road turns westerly, straight into the wind, and we were all forced to stop. After a short walk, we were back on the bikes and heading on to the top, where we had to decide whether to carry on with the exposed high route or whether to take the lower sheltered route (which were planning to come back by). We decided to stick with the plan and take the high route, so began a titanic battle with the elements.

On the Lammermuirs

The Lammermuir Hills might only be 500 m high, but there is a good reason why they are popular with developers of wind farms, as we were about to find out. As we cycled across the tops, we had to keep to the middle of the road, so as not to be blown off the side in the gusts. After crossing Herd’s Hil, the road drops on a 15% gradient. I set off at speed, half way down I was travelling at over 50 Km/h (>30 mph), but had the disconcerting experience of being hit by a gust of wind which reduced my forward speed to 10 Km/h!

We then had a couple of Km sheltered by the Killpallet Heights before climbing up Duddy Bank, another 17% gradient. Only this time we had the wind behind us, I do love wind assisted climbing, it is like having a giant hand pushing you up the hill. Once on the tops again we at the mercy of the wind, and there were times when I could hear my bike chain rattling in the gusts. The landscape surrounding us was spectacular, it was just a shame that we were too busy trying to stay upright and moving forward to fully appreciate it. Nor were we the only ones to be up there, we did meet a couple of walkers and some other cyclists, but we were the only cyclists to be lugging fully loaded panniers.

Finally we dropped down into Longformacus, the Southern Upland Way crosses through the village and there is a small shelter with a map and leaflets. We stopped to take a look, and as we did so a few drops of rain began to fall. David and Ulli dug out their waterproof trousers, I only had a pair of bibbed longs with me and decided that, as it was only a passing shower, I would wait it out. However, whilst up on the tops I had been so busy fighting the wind that I had failed to notice the dark clouds to the south of us. The rain seemed to be easing off, so we set off south, only to catch up with the rain again. We rode on through the rain, discovering the other thing I had failed to notice from the tops, Hardens Hill. It’s only 320 m high, but that was high enough in steady rain, coming down the other side at a steady 50 Km/h was interesting.

I had to keep pedalling to keep warm, this meant that I lost Ulli and David, but eventually I reached a junction where I had to stop and wait. Fortunately they weren’t too far behind. We pushed on through Duns, which also meant we pushed on further into the rain front. Fortunately the front managed to get away from us a few Km south of Duns, and we mostly dried out again over the remaining 15 undulating Km to Coldstream, with only our shoes still wet.

Having arrived in Coldstream, we booked into our B&B, the very cycle friendly Haymount House. I tried to phone Jez who we had come to meet, only to find I had missed a digit when storing the number in my mobile phone. Fortunately two minutes later he phoned me to say that he and Graham were ready to meet us at the bridge and hand over the relay jersey. This was good, as the whole point of making the journey was to pick up the CycleChat Relay Jersey, which is making it way, slowly, around Britain (and maybe beyond). After a cup of tea, we set off again for the bridge. There, standing mid way over the River Tweed, on the border between Scotland and England, the Jersey was handed over. We then went to the “Welcome to Scotland” sign (there are no Welcome to England signs) for some more photos, agreed to meet Jez for dinner (Graham having pedalled off back towards Newcastle), and returned to the B&B for a long hot bath to sooth the aching muscles, before dinner.

CC relay jersey reaches the promised land

A map of the route can be found here.

The Stats:

  • Distance cycled – 86.3 Km
  • Time spent riding – 04:35:24
  • Max Speed – 55.7 Km/h
  • Ave Speed – 18.8 KM/h
  • Vertical climb – ca. 930 m
A short walk in the Lammermuirs

A short walk in the Lammermuirs

Well is was a very short walk, only about 50m, but more of that later, the main activity of the day was cycling. With the prospect of the long Easter weekend and the spring sun shining, we decided it was time to get the bikes out again and go for a half day ride. Having enjoyed our last trip to East Lothian, we decided another visit was in order, this time to see a wee bit more of the Lammermuir Hills. Once again we took the easy option for getting out of town, the train to Longniddry. From the station, our plan was to take a slightly different route to Gifford and then on to the hills.

However, things didn’t quite go as planned, we had only gone a short way when we saw a group of cyclists about to emerge from a side turning. Thinking nothing of it, we said hello and carried on. About 1km down the road the leader of the group, wearing an Edinburgh Road Club jersey, caught up with us and passed us, making a few snide comments as he did so. Evidently he thought that people riding hybrid bikes and carrying panniers should keep out of the way of those on road bikes. Then finding that his group was having difficulty keeping up, he slowed down, causing the group to box us in and slowing us down. I noticed that several riders were struggling, as they didn’t have their bikes set up correctly. In particular, one lassie was having trouble on a slight slope because her saddle was clearly too low, others had their saddles too high. This was obviously a beginners group, and one has to wonder what sort of a club doesn’t bother to help beginners set up their bike properly and just lets them struggle. As Ulli said later, “if that’s what cycling clubs are like, I want no part of it”. Being boxed in we missed our turning and were forced to carry on until they turned off. This led to a change from our intended route, and after a quick check of the map we decided to go on to Haddington.

Once in Haddington, we had a choice of Fords or Greggs the bakers. We chose Fords, and having taken on a few carbs and stowed some in the panniers for later, we set off once more, crossed the Tyne and headed south. We briefly picked up the B6369, before turning off on to a minor road which had recently been resurfaced and was beautifully smooth. After an initial gentle climb, the road was trending downhill, but I could see it turning uphill ahead, so I decided to pick up some speed and use the momentum gained to carry me up the other side. Had I looked at the map beforehand, I might not have chosen this strategy, as this was the first steep climb of the day, according to the map it is between 14% and 20%. I started the climb at a steady pace, but was soon dropping down through the gears in order to keep going. Just before the crest of the hill at Linkylea there was a sign saying “Slow down, children and animals!” At this stage I was breathing heavily and I thought “if I slow down any more I’ll will be track standing”. Having reached level ground, I stopped to wait for Ulli to catch up. Which she did a couple of minutes later, she had taken the climb at a much more measured pace and was hardly out of breath, whereas I was still wheezing when she arrived.

Breathing normally again, we carried on, crossed over the B6370 and followed the minor road until we picked up the road that we had intended to follow out of Gifford (B6355) towards Danskine. The road was again trending down when I saw a sign, part buried in a hedge, announcing a gradient 17% ahead. I immediately moved on to the big ring and charged down the hill, the road was bending slightly and as I rounded the bend at the bottom of the hill I saw that it went straight up again, at the same gradient which I had just come down. I madly scrambled to change down gear for the coming climb, causing the chain to suck. I back pedalled trying to free the chain. The road had started to climb and I quickly lost momentum and the bike slowed to a halt. At this point I suddenly realised that I was still cleated into the pedals. Before I had time to think about releasing my feet, I gracefully keeled over to the left, landing on an earth bank at the roadside. Having disentangled myself from my bike, I picked it up and manually turned over the cranks to select a low gear to climb the hill up to Danskine.

Beyond Danskine we were climbing steadily, ahead of us the Lammermuirs were rising up, as was the smoke from the muirburn. At one point a Landrover came hurtling down the road, presumably one of the gamekeepers had run out of matches. We crossed a cattle grid and left the farm land behind, setting out on to the moor. As we reached the foot of Newlands Hill there was yet another 17% gradient sign, this time I let Ulli take the lead. We made steady progress up to and around the big bend at about 340m (asl), but then Ulli decided that it was time to get off and walk, I carried on for a bit but then did the same. I walked for about 50m before Ulli came cycling past me, at which point I got back on the bike. With hindsight we could have (should have?) stayed on the bikes. Where the road flattened off around 390m, we stopped to take photos.

We then carried across another cattle grid and on to where the road forked and decided to follow the minor road across the shoulder of Wanside Rig to see what lay beyond. The road stretched out ahead up and down dale, curiosity satisfied we turned back to the B6355, turning right to join it once more. To the north of us on the side of Moss Law, above the Kingside Burn there was another fire burning, watch over by a bevy of Landrovers. As we passed out of the smoke the perfect down hill run appeared, the road dropped away before us, dead strait for two kilometres loosing 125m altitude along the way, with smooth tarmac all the way. I selected the big ring and cranked up the speed as best I could, the wind was cross on, only slightly hindering me. I looked down at my VDO cycle computer which suggested that I was about to hit 70Km/h (speed is shown in increments of 0.5Km/h), but when the hill ran out and I stopped to let Ulli catch up, I found the max speed was only 69.4Km/h (43.1 mph). Still not bad for someone riding a mere hybrid and carrying a pannier, now where was that snotty roady.

Ulli having caught up told me that she had been able to the flash of my rear light (the DiNotte 400L) all the way down. So there we have it the DiNotte 400L rear light is visible at a range of 1 mile in full sun, who says you can have a cycle light that is bright enough to use in daylight. Anyway, Ulli having caught up we carried on towards the Whiteadder Reservoir, then turned sharply left on to a minor road (at 274m asl). The turn was so sharp I didn’t notice in advance that it was also sharply up hill. Once again I found my self trying to change from the big ring to the granny ring and once again experienced chain suck. Only this time my feet flew off the pedals, the chain sorted it’s self out before I lost momentum and so I was able to reapply feet to pedals to carry on round the corner. The road undulated up and down, but mostly up until we reached the high point at 345m (asl) just above the White Castle iron age hill fort where we stopped for photos.

Photo stop at White Castle, East Lothian

From White Castle, we dropped down to Garvald on the worst road we had seen all day. There were a couple of steep descents (some were between 14% and 20%) but on these, unlike earlier descents, I had to keep the brakes on as there was too much loose material on the road and keep a close watch for potholes. Along the way we passed Castle Moffat, an impressive red sand stone building which looked like a cross between a castle and a steading. And Nunraw Abbey, which we had expected to be ruin, but turned out to be a modern building home to a community of Cistercian monks. Garvald its self was nothing special, just another sleepy village with a nondescript looking pub. We had planned to stop but having gotten there decided that it wasn’t worth it and so pedalled on mostly along minor roads, passing south of Lennoxlove, crossing the Tyne at Samuelston and passing north through Elvingston to return to Longniddry and the train home.

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 – 66.1 Km
  • Time spent riding – 03:17:36
  • Max Speed – 69.4 Km/h
  • Ave Speed – 20.1 Km/h
Tales of the Tirol, part 2: Into the Karwendel

Tales of the Tirol, part 2: Into the Karwendel

Sunday, Scharnitz, the crack of dawn.

OK so it was more like the crack of 09:30, but that is early enough for a Sunday morning to be dragging a couple of mountain bikes out of the back of a car. With Ulli laid up for the week following her wee accident (see Tales of the Tirol, part 1), Bernie had driven us round to Scharnitz, the self-styled gateway to the Karwendel Alpine Park. This is one of the largest areas of wild land in the Alps, and a great place to go mountain bike touring. Having parked up at he old skiing car park (the chair lift has now gone and the piste is steadily being invaded by trees), we cycled into the village (950 m a.s.l.) and out the other side, past the big car park where the Germans pay to park. As it was still early, the car park was only half full. The road up the first hill out of the village is tarmac and no great challenge, just use the granny ring and keep pedalling. For those who do decide to stop, there a is a field on the right (980 m a.s.l.) usually occupied by some Tyrolean Haflinger horses which are very photogenic, so you can always make out that it is a photo stop rather than a rest stop.

Not far beyond this the tarmac gives out and the road divides, you can go north along the Karwendeltal or east along the Hinterautal, above a gorge with spectacular views down to the River Isar. At this stage it is hard to believe that this is the same river that flows through Munich. Before long the road forks (1069 m a.s.l.), and you have the choice of continuing east along the Hinterautal and following the Isar to its headwaters, or you can drop down and cross over the Isar (1022 m a.s.l.) and follow the Gleirschbach up Gleirschtal into Samertal. For those yet to make their mind up this is a great place to stop and take a few photos.

Whilst we were stopped to take in the views and a few photos, Bernhard sadly remarked that the bike I was riding no longer turned heads the way it once had. He had built it some years ago for his father, who wanted to be able to cycle into remote areas for spring ski mountaineering trips. His father had been rather generous with the budget and Bernhard took the opportunity to build a very high spec bike. I remember how, when I first rode it about five years ago, it really used to turn heads. For those who are interested, it was based around a Rocky Mountain Elements full suspension frame, there are various pictures of it in the ubiquitous blog photo archive. It is still a great bike to ride, but nowadays people seldom give it a second look, not that that bothers me, I just like riding it…

After crossing the Isar (1022m a.s.l.) the way climbs steadily upward, gently at first but after a while it gets increasingly steep. So at first I was having no problems in keeping up with the riders ahead, which was a good feeling, but progressively I started to loose ground. Then I saw that I was slowly gaining on one rider ahead, good I thought, here is my chance to overtake someone going uphill. However, as I got closer I realised the rider I was trying to overtake was no more than 10 years old, so I was still the slowest adult on the hill. Time for a new strategy. I picked an object in the not too far distance, a tree or a rock at the side of the path, told myself that I just had to get there and I could think of having a rest. Of course having reached said object, I would tell myself “not yet, just a wee bit further, try and get to the next corner”.

Rounding the corner, the road got even steeper and seemed to disappear into the trees. I got half way to where it seemed to disappear and stopped for a drink, much to the bemusement of a six year old who blithely cycle past (aided by the odd push from dad who was cycling alongside). Mounting up again, I cycled on to that point where the road seemed to disappear to find that a) it was only about 100m away from where I had stopped and b) the road levelled off (1137m a.s.l.) and the cycling was really easy again. The road was climbing more gently now along a long straight, the Gleirschbach was gurgling away, the sun was shining and all was right with the world.

After a while (and after another short climb) the glen widened and the forest gave way to open meadows. Here alpine cows grazed contentedly (fenced in by electric fences), their bells clonking melodically, well as melodically as a cow bell can clonk. This signalled that we were nearing Mösl Alm (1262m a.s.l.). For those not familiar with the Alps, an Alm is (or was) a small farm only occupied in summer, where cattle are taken to graze the high pastures. Nowadays these Alms often have small (or not so small) restaurants attached to them and maybe basic rooms to let. Some of them have given up the livestock farming element altogether and just stick to servicing the needs of weary travellers (or fleecing tourists depending on your point of view). Personally I find the prospect of a decent meal and a beer, while surrounded by fantastic mountain scenery, after long walk or a cycle, rather an appealing one (especially as the prices usually put the cost of a pub lunch in the UK to shame). In addition, the working Alms also help to maintain the floristically rich alpine pastures which would otherwise disappear under rank vegetation and eventually trees. This leads to a loss of biodiversity which is currently occurring across the Alps. So it was that we decided to stop for an early lunch. The place was busy, mostly with cyclists, as the walkers were still on the trail making their way there.

Sunday lunch time at Mösl AlmSunday lunch time at Mösl Alm.

Lunch finished, we set off again, aiming to get to Pfeis Hütte (1922m a.s.l.) at the head of Samertal. About 500m (1320m a.s.l.) after we left Mösl Alm, we came across a sign telling us that there was 300m of bad road ahead, but after that it was a motorway all the way to Pfeis Hütte.
The notice
Sure enough, the track became very rough, and it continued to be rough until the turn off to Hafelekar Spitze. For any of you who ken Innsbruck, that’s the big mountain the cable car from the centre of town goes up. Obviously we were on the far side of the mountain from Innsbruck. Shortly after the turnoff, we meet a couple coming the other way with a small child in a bike trailer (something like this), heading in the opposite direction. There is no way they could have come up the rough section of path (and they couldn’t have come over Hafelekar Spitze either), so we guessed there must be another way back to Mösl Alm, but couldn’t find it on the map.

Into the Karwendel 3
Riding up the “Autobahn” towards Pfeis. © B. Dragosits.

We continued on to where, at about 1600m a.s.l., the track goes up a large hairpin bend. At the bottom, to one side, there was a bike parking area with about a dozen bikes in it. The track going up looked rough and steep, Bernhard didn’t think he could make it up on his non-suspension bike (he had struggled on the rough section earlier). So he borrowed the full suspension bike which I was riding, to go scout it out, while I wandered off to take a few more photos. After about a quarter of an hour he reported back that the track was really rough and that he wouldn’t be able to make the last 1 km or so to Pfeis Hütte on his bike. So we decided to leave a visit to the hut for another day. The ride back to Scharnitz was a real blast…

For a kml file of the route see here, please note my GPS is a wee bit old and doesn’t get a very good signal where there are trees.

Cycle Round Arran (Part 2)

Cycle Round Arran (Part 2)

Cycling on Arran

Following a good dinner and a good night’s sleep, we were ready to tackle the remaining part of our circumnavigation of Arran (see Part 1 for further details, or scroll down to “Cycle hire in Edinburgh” where the story really begins). Before starting out, we really needed carbo loading, however the B&B we stayed in was English-run and porridge wasn’t on the menu. Unfortunately it was one of those B&Bs where there is no menu, you just get what you are given, in this case a fried breakfast. No matter we thought, we will just pick up something more along the way. It was a bright clear morning, but the wind was in the North East again, so this time the cycling was not going to be as easy as the day before.

Starting out from Blackwaterfoot, things weren’t too bad, sure there is a bit of a climb going up through Torbeg to reach the giddy height of 54 m ASL (Above Sea Level), but then we dropped back down to near sea level at Tormore. Once we had crossed Machrie golf course, the road runs along a raised beach and we were in the lee of a low cliff to the east.

A digression on raised beaches, these are a particular geological feature of the Scottish coast (and can be found elsewhere in the world too). Raised beaches are caused in part by glacio-isostatic rebound and partly by sea level variation due to climate change. Glacio-isostatic rebound occurs where the accumulation of ice sheets has depressed the land, so that when the ice melts the land readjusts with time. Since the end of the last ice age, about 10,000 years ago, Scotland has been rising slowly (and southern England sinking slowly). Added to this, there have been changes in mean sea levels. At the warmest point since the last ice age, about 5,000-6,000 years BP, the global temperature was about 4°c warmer than at the present time and sea levels were higher. As the earth cooled, sea levels dropped and the sea receded from these beaches, leaving them dry land. However, with the current global warming (the earth started warming up again in the mid 19th century due to the use of fossil fuels and the emissions of greenhouse gases), sea levels have started to rise again, so one day the sea may yet reclaim at least part of these beaches. But enough of this and back to the story…

Pretty much all the way from Machrie Bay to Imachar Point the road runs along a raised beach at about 5 m ASL, and the cycling was easy. At Imachar there is a short climb up above the cliff, about 40 m ASL, before dropping down again at Whitefarland. From there to Pirnmill was easy riding again, as we were back on a raised beach, sheltered from the wind and enjoying the sunshine. As we passed through Pirnmill, I suggested stopping for an ice cream, as the tea room there does particularly nice ice cream, but it was still early and the other two didn’t want to stop. Beyond Pirnmill the road turns more to the North East and we found ourselves cycling into a headwind. So we started to take it in turns to lead the way, forming a very short echelon, with the other two tucked in behind, sheltering from the wind, a technique which cyclists call drafting. The curious thing about drafting is that it is not only the following cyclist that gains, the lead cyclist also benefits, although not as much as the follower. So two people who are drafting can use less energy than two individuals who are not drafting, to cover the same distance in the same time. This may explain how we managed to maintain a relatively high average speed despite the wind.

The road on this part of the island was even quieter than going round the south the day before, which made for pleasant cycling. I was in the lead as we approached Catacol, and saw up ahead a large area of gorse (Ulex europaeus) in full flower on the flat ground surrounding the mouth of the Abhainn Mòr, and its sweet coconut smell was carried on the wind towards me. I often wonder when I smell it, whether the first Europeans to encounter coconuts commented “hmm… these smell just like furze (the old name for gorse)”. We stopped at Catacol to take a few photos. There is a row of picturesque old fishermen’s cottages known as The Twelve Apostles that date from 1863, which are regularly photographed by passing tourists. There is also a rather dodgy bench which I made the mistake of sitting on, that photo is not going on the web. As there wasn’t a shop and it was still early, we decide to carry on to Lochranza before having lunch.

According to Bernhard, the Dictionary of Things There Aren’t Any Words for Yet – But There Ought to Be defines Lochranza as “The long unaccompanied wail in the middle of a Scottish folk song where the pipers nip round the corner for a couple of drinks.” Yep, I’ve been at ceilidhs like that as well.

Arriving in Lochranza it was time for more photos, this time of the castle, which is a bog standard L shaped tower house design so beloved of the Scottish nobility. It is situated in a commanding position on a spit of shingle sticking into the Loch and is also very photogenic. Or rather it will be, when Historic Scotland finish the work to stabilise the walls. Although most of the scaffolding has now gone from the outer walls, the builders hut and port-a-loo remain, while work continues on the inner walls. Photos taken, it was time to think of finding lunch. My first thought on a place for lunch was to try the Distillery visitor centre, however, a coach load of pensioners beat us to it. So we tried our luck at the Pavilion tea rooms by the golf course, where we procured some home-made soup and well filled baked potatoes which fortified us for the coming ride.

On leaving Lochranza, we headed up Glen Chalmadale and the hill which I had been thinking about all day. I was remembering my first visit to Arran and the speed at which I descended from the bealach, at 199 m, to sea level at Lochranza. The prospect of climbing in the opposite direction into the wind did not entirely appeal to me. Fortunately the glen is sheltered by Fionn Bhealach (444 m) to the north which kept off most of the wind. Even so, I soon gave up any idea of keeping pace with Bernhard on this climb, and I lost contact with Ulli before I reached half way. By now I should know better than to expect to keep up with Tyroleans when going up any form of hill. By two thirds of the way up I ran out of energy and had to stop. I was dammed if I was going to walk, so just stood for a while and took a rest. Way up ahead Ulli noticed I had stopped, so she stopped and waited for me. Having caught my breath, I started off again and joined Ulli. We rode together to the top where Bernhard was now waiting with a camera, and as we approached I punched the air to show victory over the hill. I then decided this wasn’t enough and tried doing so with both hands, attempting to convey the impression that I was riding down the Champs-Elysées with the pack following at a distance. Instead of which, as I was travelling at such a low speed, I had a massive wobble with the bike leaning over at a 45° angle. Desperately trying to unclip before I went over completely, I somehow managed to pull myself upright again, seize the handle bars and stabilise the bike, narrowly avoiding a very embarrassing clipless moment.

Having passed over the bealach, we descended from 199 m back to near sea level at Sannox. Still tired from the climb, I didn’t pedal much on the way down and mostly freewheeled, hitting a top speed of only 54.4 Km/h (33.8 mph). We did briefly consider turning off to visit North Sannox Bay, but decided that we had had enough climbing for one day. We carried on through Sannox to Corrie ,where we stopped for some more photos at the small quayside. South of Corrie at Rubha Salach we stopped and pulled the bikes off the road and went to photograph some seals which were hauled out on rocks at the edge of the water. That is one of the great things about cycle touring, you have plenty of time to look around and if you see something interesting it is easy to pull over and take a look. Passing car drivers slowed down to try and see what we were looking at, but soon found that there was nowhere for them to park.

Finally we found ourselves back in Brodick, where we made a bee line for Wooley’s of Arran, to pick up a pick up a few well deserved snacks before catching the ferry back to the main land.

Here are the stats for anyone who is interested:

  • Distance cycled – 53.6 Km
  • Time spent riding – 2:44:56
  • Max Speed – 54.4 Km/h
  • Ave Speed – 19.5 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.

Lets cycle around an island

Lets cycle around an island

“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.

Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!
%d bloggers like this: