cycle touring

Spending the day cycling in Clackmannanshire

Summer seems to be slipping through my fingers, and with its slide there is an accompanying mild panic that I am not fitting in enough exploration of Scotland on two wheels while the weather is playing fair. Thankfully, I am not the only person currently experiencing this sensation, and so to that end my pal Suzanne and I hatched a plan to spend a weekend in the Highlands cycling. Sadly, as time is wont to do, it disappeared in typical fashion and we found we didn’t have enough of it to plan a few nights away with the pair of us and her adorable mini-cyclist. So instead we decided to go to Clackmannanshire on a day adventure!

The Ochil hills of Clacks looking particularly lovely

The Ochil hills of Clacks looking  lovely. That high-quality stretch of path is also pretty glorious.

I have to admit, Clackmannanshire didn’t really inspire much in me when we initially decided to pay it a visit by bike. Suzanne was keen to explore the cycling in the local authority as it was considered a good bet for wee legs and little bikes as there is a decent network of shared use paths and cycle-friendly roads around the area. It’s a small local authority, so it’s relatively easy to connect to places by bike.

The Clackmannanshire network at a glance

The Clackmannanshire network at a glance. You may need to zoom in to see it, though!

After the familiar fight on the Scotrail train from Waverley, whereby four grown ups attempted to squeeze four and a half bikes into a space that comfortably takes two (whilst simultaneously receiving glares and a telling off from the guard), we made a tight connection at Stirling and alighted, slightly frazzled but in one piece, at Alloa.

Our adventure began with various squints at the map and spots of the Sustrans blue signs that highlighted our way around the cycle network. We took the NCN 768 to Alva, which was almost entirely on wide and well maintained shared use paths. When we hit Tillicoultry I almost felt like i was in the Netherlands, as there was a fully segregated path running parallel to the busy A91 into Alva. Of course, with no tangling in traffic the cycle journey was stress free and highly enjoyable for all concerned.

Other than jelly babies, this infrastructure makes cycling with a four year old a doddle.

Other than jelly babies, this infrastructure makes cycling with a four year old a doddle.

I learned a fair bit cycling with a little one. As I don’t have sprogs of my own, cycling with a child provides a whole other bucket of considerations that sit outside of a solo rider’s thought processes. For example, our route included small sections on rural road and even though they were quiet and non-threatening I still had nerves about the mini-adventurer and traffic. With two of us to tag-team with the little guy everything went without a hitch, but it was a good way for me to learn more about cycling with kids.

Gear like the follow-me tagalong is impressive and means everyone can enjoy the amazing activity of cycling

Gear like the follow-me tagalong is impressive and means everyone (including mini-cyclists with tired legs) can enjoy the amazing activity of cycling

One of the best things about the day was our relaxed pace. Family-paced cycling has a lot to be said for itself. You literally stop and smell the flowers. You point out the animals, plants and people you see as you tootle along. There is lots of discussion about treats and sweeties and cakes, and it all just fits so wonderfully together that it feels like the most natural way possible to travel.

Sharing the cycle path with a child unfurls so many bonuses to a bike trip.

Sharing the cycle path with a child unfurls so many bonuses to a bike trip.

Of course, our day trip wasn’t 100% idyllic. There were annoying barriers and dismounts, and we encountered such a ridiculous irony on the on-road cycle route that I had to stop and snap the silliness of it. A car complete with two bikes taped to its rear was parked over the cycle lane on the road in Clackmannan. Normally this would be a minor inconvenience for me, but when you have a tiny person with you the flaws in infrastructure and resulting behaviours of people take on a whole new colour.

Oh the irony of a bunch of bikes blocking the on-road cycle path.

Oh the irony of a bunch of bikes parked over the on-road cycle route.

After this ironic encounter, we took the NCN 764 to Dunfermline, a route almost wholly on disused railway line and complete with abandoned brickworks. The route stretched for something like 12 miles on the old railway and we encountered other cyclists and walkers enjoying the day.

#brickworks #clackmannan #oldruins #instascotland #clackmannanshire #chimney #abandonded #abandonedscotland

A post shared by Brian Allan (@brianallan7) on

 

Upon reaching Dunfermline, the map came back into force and we struggled our way through the town. It always confuses me that cycling routes are so grimly signposted in urban areas, but so easy to follow in the sticks. You’d think it would be the other way around, right? After negotiating a gyratory-type roundabout and blender-esque junctions in the town, complete with bizarre breadcrumb-style painted bikes on the ground, we made it into the park and finally train station.  Huzzah!

Clacks offers some spectacularly good cycling.

Clacks offers some spectacularly good cycling.

I would just like to say bravo to Clackmannanshire Council for maintaining such a good shared path network. Sure, it’s not perfect, but Suzanne, the mini-cyclist and I managed 32 miles of almost pristine cycling and I think that’s a pretty good effort. Quite a few of Scotland’s local authorities could take a leaf out of Clacks’ book with their cycling provision.

I highly recommend a visit, especially if you have a family. Clacks is easily accessible by train, well connected with paths and in my experience was flat and easy to ride. Plus, it’s really pretty!

Cycling around Loch Katrine

I’ve been working from home a lot these last few months as I manage the Edinburgh Cycle Challenge (remember to register and win prizes, hint hint). As a consequence my daily 14 mile bike commute has been suffering.

In an effort to combat my lack of miles I’ve been trying to squeeze in some more leisure rides. Last weekend I was fortunate to ride with Lothian Cyclists around Loch Katrine, and boy was I lucky. The weather was absolutely spectacular, company great and the bike ride one of the best I’ve enjoyed in Scotland to date.

Looking across Loch Arklet

Looking across Loch Arklet

The route was about 32 miles or so in total; I took my hybrid bike as I was a bit concerned about icy surfaces. Me and Kitt are buddies, but I’m still not 100% confident on the road bike so erred on the side of caution. The good thing about the hybrid is its love for hills – starting with a climb up the Duke’s Pass was no problem for the granny gears.

Climb up Duke's Pass

Climbing up Duke’s Pass

The Duke’s Pass (Sustrans NCN7) was a supremely enjoyable climb. Amazing views and a couple of hairpin bends but no desperately mean inclines meant I was happy as a clam as I pedalled up the hill. Of course, the downhill was great fun – it just kept going and eventually I rolled to a stop at the eastern shore of Loch Katrine. The Trossachs Pier is home to a wee coffee shop and the lovely Lady of the Lake steam boat.

Trusty hybrid at Trossachs Pier, Loch Katrine

Me and my trusty hybrid at Trossachs Pier, Loch Katrine

After a quick pit stop, we cycled on the private road around the north of the loch. The road has no traffic and is very beautiful…

Bike on north shore of Loch Katrine

Can’t complain about that view

Looking south to Ben Venue

Looking south to Ben Venue

The west side of Loch Katrine is home to Strontlachar Pier. This is where we took a wee break and enjoyed a bite to eat before resuming the cycle back to Aberfoyle, past Loch Arklet, Loch Chon and Loch Ard. The return leg was just as stunning.

On the return to Aberfoyle

On the return to Aberfoyle

The two piers on Loch Katrine

Decisions, decisions…

I was happily knackered after my 32 mile loop. I tended to sit at the back of the pack, partly due to the hybrid (everyone else was on road bikes), partly due to me gawking at all the incredible scenery, but mostly due to my lung-and-leg power. It was a clear indicator that my fitness is lacking after fewer commutes these last few months and a winter avoiding longer rides with mileage and hill climbs. There’s only one thing for it. I will need to cycle more…

For those interested, here is the Route on Strava. I highly recommend this loop. It’s a bit awkward without a car as there is no train station. Saying that, if you have the car or can hitch a lift you’ll be hard pressed for better bike riding within an hour and a bit of Edinburgh 🙂 My crappy iPhone photos can’t even get close to the scenic quality of this route. Srsly, IT WAS SO GOOD!

My Mini Cycle Tour Around Comrie in Perthshire

I haven’t had much time to get out touring this year because of all the house stuff that’s swallowed up my life, but this weekend I got the opportunity to go camping in Comrie, which is nestled in the hills just outside of Crieff. I decided to cycle there from Dunblane, and it was all just so easy and wonderful that I’m kicking myself for not exploring more of our fine country of a weekend.

I was pretty excited about this wee mini tour because I had to load my bike up with sleeping mat, bag and tent as well as perfectly packed panniers for a potentially rainy weekend of cycling. Previous bike expeditions have always involved the glamour of hostels, so this was new to me. Gosh, it was SO exciting.

me and my load

me and my load

The first time on the bike with all the weight was a bit daunting, but I soon got in my groove and pedalled to Haymarket station, where I jumped on the train to Dunblane. From there, I did a gorgeous 20 mile ride up to Comrie Croft, which I highly recommend for a visit.

The high road on the B827 was absolutely stunning and I was rewarded for my climb. The landscape was beautifully bleak, and I was treated to a glorious tailwind for most of the leg. It’s quite difficult to explain just how contented I was on the bike, in the middle of the countryside, feeling completely self-sufficient, strong and enjoying getting to my destination on my own steam.

The B827 high road to Comrie

The B827 high road to Comrie

The camp site at Comrie Croft was fabulous, with extensive mountain bike trails (if that’s your kind of thing), a tea room serving delicious bacon rolls, a bike shop, several camping fields and a hostel. I will absolutely have to return. A pitch was £10 a night and included hot showers, plenty loo facilities, fire pits and a glorious view. There was also a tonne of tea on offer.

The tea room at Comrie Croft

The tea room at Comrie Croft

I was a bit doubtful about my tent, newly purchased from Decathlon for a meagre £20, and it did look a little bit sad and decrepit once it was up. However, it was the best £20 ever spent, as not a single spot of rain managed to get in despite Saturday taking a leaf out of the Deluge’s book and utterly drenching everything in sight, including me, for almost eight solid hours. It was cosy and dry and I cannot believe it didn’t blow over, leak or refuse to pack back into its bag. It was a quality bit of supremely cheap kit!

My pokey wee tent from Decathlon

My pokey wee tent from Decathlon

We spent Saturday afternoon in the saddle and did another 20 odd mile ride exploring the countryside around Comrie. Myself and friends Suzanne and Lizzie layered up, braved the weather and enjoyed being badass cyclists in headwinds from a horror show and biting, stinging rain for several hours. The weather was so atrocious we even had to have a stab at drafting each other, which is generally unheard of when I get on a bike.

Badass cyclists ahoy

Badass lady cyclists ahoy – thanks to @backonmybike for the snap

Sunday was the return to Edinburgh, much to my disappointment. I packed up the tent and panniers and cycled back to Dunblane, this time with Lizzie to keep me company. It’s much more preferable to have a chum as we were evenly weighted and paced, happy to natter or just enjoy the ride.

Lizzie enjoys the Perthshire countryside

Lizzie enjoys the Perthshire countryside

I really need to invest in a better tent and lighter four season sleeping bag, because I can see this kind of mini adventure becoming a bit more regular. This time round I didn’t do lots of miles or spend much money, because I wasn’t sure how I’d take to a full load on the bike and sleeping on the ground for several days. But it turns out it’s bloody wonderful. I had such a good time. Honestly, it was just so much fun. For those interested, here is the A to B and the Comrie loop on Strava.

The only problem I can see with cycle touring and camping is when stuff gets wet. Without a drying room, clothing and feet stay damp and cold, which is rather miserable. In Scotland it’s pretty difficult to avoid wet weather. So I figure the best way to avoid this is with better kit…

Now I know what I’ll be asking for at Christmas! 😉

I’m off to a festival about cycle touring

I’m not a very experienced cycle tourer. The most I have managed is a couple of days away in Arran, a weekend in Perthshire and a little adventure in Skye. But now that I’ve enjoyed some tiny tours on the bike, I’ve come to realise that I have been bitten by the bug and I want to explore more and more and more.

Cycle Touring Festival

To that end, I have signed up to the Cycle Touring Festival at the start of May with my pal Suzanne (she is an excellent tweeter and mad into her bikes so I highly recommend you follow her). It’s the first of its kind and looks to be really fun, in a wellies-and-tent-in-a-muddy-field kind of way.

I haven’t been camping since 2006, when I went to the Lake District for a long weekend with a since extinguished flame. Some of my enduring memories include the inconvenience of a midnight pee, breaking the kettle and cooking sausages on a microscopic stove. Of course, this time the camping will be all sunshine and rainbows, not least because there will be bicycles involved. Whenever bicycles are involved everything is alright with the world.

I’m looking forward to listening to the inspiring speakers talk about their globe-trotting travels, while I sit slack-jawed and wonder how they avoid knee problems. The deserts, ice and jungle stuff is all really impressive, and I suspect there will be some excellent beards on show to complement the high adventure.

Are you interested in seeing the world on two wheels and/or beards? You should come.

 

2014 was a good year in cycling

I have some diverse bike things in the pipeline for 2015, with a weekend residential for Belles on Bikes in March, Pedal on Parliament in April, an 11 day cycle tour around the Outer Hebrides booked for the summer, various CTC Scotland bits and bobs, and the ongoing irritation of trying to strengthen my offending right knee. I am also in the market for a road bike and nervously look forward to clipping in for the first time in 2015. So many exciting things!

Saying that, 2014 was far from a write off from a two-wheeled perspective. So, as I cycle away from 2014 and welcome all these new events and challenges, now is an excellent time to recap my last year in cycling.

Highlights of 2014 include my two-day visit to Arran in May with the Lothian Cyclists, my first ever cycle touring experience. I think I caught the touring bug on this stunning island…

Mountains at the peak of the hill after Lochranza

Mountains at the peak of the hill after Lochranza

Triumphant at the summit of the hill after Lochranza

Triumphantly knackered at the summit of the hill after Lochranza

I had a brilliant 2014 with Belles on Bikes Edinburgh, helping to get the women’s cycling group off the ground with some other dedicated women in the city. We now have over 160 members and the group continues to grow, showing a real need for relaxed cycling opportunities for women.

I was trained up as a Belles ride leader, learned first aid, achieved a Velotech Bronze mechanics qualification and made new friends and connections through all the female participants and other ride leaders across Scotland. Plus, we got to cycle around Edinburgh and its local environs and take to the roads on a two-day residential in Perthshire. What’s not to love?

The tourer in Pitlochry

The tourer in Pitlochry on the Belles on Bikes weekend

Amazing routes in Perthshire

Amazing low traffic routes in Perthshire

As well as Perthshire and Arran, the bike took me to a wide range of spectacular locations throughout the year…

Cycling in Skye

Cycling the quiet B roads of Skye in an enormous helmet!

Cycling in the Pentlands

Two-wheeled Pentlands visit during winter.

Mount Tiede National Park

Jumping on the bike at the top of Mount Tiede National Park in Tenerife – what a view!

Cycling in Tenerife - Mount Tiede National Park

Big smiles in the desert landscapes of Mount Tiede National Park in Tenerife, just before cycling 22 miles downhill

Winter views across Threipmuir Reservoir

Winter views across Threipmuir Reservoir in the Pentlands

On top of exploring and touring, I managed to rack up around 2,000 miles of utility cycling coupled with my daily commute. Miles that accumulated without even trying; trips to the bloke’s flat, visiting friends, going to the shops, getting from A to B. All that otherwise dead time filled with (for the most part) enjoyable bike trips along the city’s extensive path network and a bit of on-road riding.

All in all, I’d say 2014 was an excellent foundation upon which to build my year of cycling in 2015. I don’t have too much in the way of resolutions, other than get my knee sorted and get fitter and faster. To help with both of these aims, I’ve started hill training around Arthur’s Seat and it almost feels like a pleasure rather than a challenge with these views.

View from Arthur's Seat route

View from Arthur’s Seat 5.5km circular route

Do you have any objectives or plans for 2015? Maybe you want to clock up some serious miles, get a particular route under your belt, try a different type of cycling or get on your bike for the first time in a while? I’d love to hear any of your resolutions! 🙂

So here’s to a happy 2015, filled with plenty bikey goodness, wonderful adventures, good company and excellent Scottish weather (well, we can always hope…).

A wee bit of cycling on Skye

The weather has turned and the daylight has diminished, so it’s been a bit more difficult to squeeze in long, leisurely cycle rides. Over the summer period I would go out and explore different routes until around 830 in the evening. Ahhh, lovely indeed. Of course, it’s still fine to cycle over the winter period but I do find it frustrating that the daylight hours have disappeared by the time I emerge from my work at around the 5 o’clock mark.

I raise this irritation as I can’t do exploring cycles just now, like my Skye adventure in August. It was the perfect time to enjoy this amazing island and I’d love to visit it again to try some different routes. I only did a short ride on a rental bike with the bloke and covered 19 miles in total but it was beautiful, so I wanted to share it.

Cycling on Skye.

Cycling on Skye.

Sadly, Skye has a thundering great A road that slices across the east side of the island. It’s terrifying for cyclists and I do not recommend using this as a route option. We were on it only very briefly and I found myself swearing like a sailor and gesticulating like a string puppet from the coach, lorry and car traffic that zoomed past us without any consideration. But once you get away from this heavily used road, things are very different.

The minor roads and tracks are a haven for cycling. The scenery is spectacular. The locals are friendly and patient and give you plenty of space and time when you’re chugging slowly up a hill.

Passing place on Skye.

Passing place on Skye. There are lots of these!

We saw more sheep than motorised vehicles on our morning ride. This is the way it should be, right? It surely beats wiggling down through traffic on a daily commute.

Sheepish traffic

Sheepish traffic

Even my other half, he who is considerably less excited about bikes and cycling than I am, enjoyed the ride. We got rained on and the terrain was undulating (read nippy wee hills) but he still managed the route with only a couple of grimaces and mostly smiles. Good times indeed.

M'oan then

M’oan then

Here’s the route if you are interested. We hired the bikes from Island Cycles. The bikes were (ahem) basic and rattled like a baby’s toy, but they did the job! The chap was pleasant. He gave us a backpack with pump, spares and tyre levers, which was also very helpful.

skye coastal view

It’s the coast!

If you have never been to Skye, you should go. I only spent a couple of days on the island but I’d love to revisit to see more. Other than a cycle, I did a walk along the coast, which was also beautiful and only marred by the endless stream of midges trying to eat me for their lunch. It’s not a problem on the bike because you’re going too fast for the wee shites to keep up. But walking pace? Oof!

Anyway. Now the dark and the cold and the misery is here, it’s not totally out of bounds to squeeze in cycles like this, but I do miss the light more than anything. Roll on spring time… Only another four months to go!

Arun Arund Arran

Back in January I signed up for a wee cycling adventure in Arran with the wonderful local group Lothian Cyclists. After several months of waiting and excitement I took to my bicycle along with 25 other like-minded souls and we headed off to this most beautiful of Scottish islands at the beginning of May.

I had been looking forward to the Arran trip, mostly because I had never really cycled out with the boundaries of my local area and was keen to challenge myself with a 60 mile loop around Arran. The group element was also something I was keen to experience – with over 20 fellow bike fans to ride with I was looking forward to the banter and friendships that might blossom.

Map of Arran

Map of Arran, note the red triangles meaning steep hill…

Upon arrival on the island I had positive vibes that I was going to thoroughly enjoy my challenge of a 60 mile loop around the circumference of the island. The map that greeted me at the ferry terminal gave me a few concerns, what with red triangles peppering the route like an unwanted pizza topping, but I shrugged them off and pedalled the six miles to the Corrie Bunkhouse along with my fellow tourers.

The Corrie Bunkhouse

The Corrie Bunkhouse, at the top of an EXTREMELY steep hill

The Corrie Bunkhouse was at the top of a horrendously steep, unmade road. Traipsing up there with a loaded bike in tow was no fun, but the views at the end were most certainly worth the trouble.

View from the Corrie Bunkhouse

View from the Corrie Bunkhouse

Accommodation was basic (what do you expect for £12 a night?) but after a bad night’s sleep due to excitement, nerves and a weird place I positively sprung out of bed, loaded up on porridge and prepared myself for my ride.

60 miles might not seem a lot for some folk, but this was a big thing for me. Having only managed 40 miles in one go prior to my adventure, I was a bit concerned I would have problems keeping up and managing the route. But once I got started the views and experience melted my worries away.

East coast of Arran on the way to Brodick

East coast of Arran on the way to Brodick

Arran is a spectacular ride. I cannot recommend it more. The scenery, the locals, the route is stunning. Even with a crummy road surface and tonnes of hills it was the best route I’ve so far traversed. Drivers were patient and courteous and did I mention the views?

Boats at Brodick harbour

Boats at Brodick harbour

The beach at Brodick

The beach at Brodick

We did the route clockwise, and after a hilly start there was a long, straight stretch which was parallel to beaches and the sea.

West of Arran

The view over the sea on the west side of the island after Blackwaterfoot

And although the straight was energetic and beautiful, I actually found the hills to be one of the most satisfying elements of the run. You just dig down and deep and keep going. They are a fantastic tonic; you are focused and concentrated and are set about the task at hand. Everything else just disappears into the ether. Although challenging and lung burning and red-face inducing, in retrospect they were perhaps my favourite parts.

Triumphant at the summit of the hill after Lochranza

Triumphantly knackered at the summit of the hill after Lochranza

The hill out of Lochranza was killer and seemed everlasting, but we were rewarded with peaks at the summit. And of course, the descent. The wind was strong on the way down and at times I felt like I was flying. I wonder how the folk on road bikes didn’t just take off into the air!

Mountains at the peak of the hill after Lochranza

Mountains at the peak of the hill after Lochranza

All in all, Arran was a wonderful trip. I feel like I have been bitten by the touring bug now and it’s imperative that I get out on the bike to see more of Scotland.

Lochranza

I’m pretty sure this is Lochranza…

So thank you to Lothian Cyclists, who I heartily recommend to you. They do all kinds of runs all though the year so you should check them out and get along on a ride with them soon.

More cycle touring beckons! Have you done this route before? If so what did you think? And I’d love to hear any recommendations you might have for other Scottish cycle tours and routes. Especially the islands. I think that seeing Scotland by bike might be the only real and proper way to see our fair country. Don’t you think? 🙂