NCN routes

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!

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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 Flag for John Muir

It was the grand opening of the John Muir Way yesterday, a 134 mile long stretch of coast to coast path from Dunbar all the way to Helensburgh. And boy, what an opening it was.

As part of the festival celebrating his impact on history and the environment, I took to my bike with the Belles on Bikes to carry a flag for John Muir and cycle the opening 15 miles of the Way from Dunbar to North Berwick. Here we all are at the end of a really beautiful stretch of cycling, complete with two John Muirs to pat us on the back!

Belles on Bikes John Muir Festival

The day started bizarrely but well, with a train out to Dunbar and then a lively atmosphere in the town centre with live fish wandering around in front of us, blowing kisses and generally being a complete hoot. There were also birds and flowers and other beautiful costumed performers doing their thing.

Costumed fish John Muir FEstival

The Belles and I waited our turn to be let off to do the cycle and took up our flags as part of the John Muir Festival relay. I loved the flags – big, bold and brimming with bicycles. Some folk had them strapped to their backs with special backpacks, but I opted to have the flag cable-tied to my pannier rack. It’s such a shame we had to give them back at the end of the run!

flag and bike

Belles waiting to set off John Muir Festival

After a quick blah blah blah from Alex Salmond and an unveiling of a pretty purple sign, we were off!

The route started with coastline but quickly moved into countryside and farmland. It’s worth noting that there are now actually TWO John Muir Ways – one for cycles and one for feet. Suffice to say we took the former route.

Dunbar coastline

River on the John Muir Way

Ploughed farmland on John Muir Way

The John Muir Way itself was mostly on shared path or quiet road. Surfaces were on the whole reasonable and the going was good. There were a few good hills to puff up, but nothing grim and the surrounding scenery made the climbs quite the enjoyable thing.

John Muir Way to North Berwick

There was one painful stretch along unmade field and my poor hybrid did not enjoy the experience one bit. So although for the most part the route is road and path, the small, bumpy, rough field part made this more suited to a cross or mountain bike. I was a bit irritated that such a splendid route would include cut-throughs of this nature, but I’m sure John Muir wouldn’t have minded.

John Muir Way Walking Route East Linton

Looking towards East Linton

The Way took about an hour and a half, with a couple of stops to strip off (it was very sunny and the going was roasty-toasty). The views were beautiful and the roads were blissfully quiet and clear. This, my dear friends, it what cycling is alllllll about 🙂

East Lothian countryside

East Lothian horses in field

You can easily see two of East Lothian’s big landmarks on the ride; the Bass Rock and Berwick Law.

Bass Rock in the distance

Berwick Law from John Muir Way

North Berwick itself has good eating and cracking views, and this is where the Belles finished the run. The official distance is 15 miles according to the John Muir Way, but my Strava mapped 13ish, so there’s a wee bit of give and take.

Bass Rock from North Berwick

Berwick Law

So there you have it. A bloomin’ gorgeous and easy ride from Dunbar to North Berwick. I cannot recommend it more. If you jump on the train from North Berwick you’ll be back in the city in less than half an hour. Or you can cycle the additional mileage back to Edinburgh. Or you can bike it back to Dunbar and jump on the train home, which is exactly what I did.

Here’s the route mapped, if you’d like to try it yourself.

So thanks John Muir(s), you have left quite the legacy. Not only did you preserve and care for the environment, but you left behind some lovely cycling in your place of birth.

John Muir times two

And thank you trusty, lovely, wonderful bike. Once again you come up a winner! 🙂

2014-04-21 12.07.21-1

A stunning cycle to South Queensferry

I’ve been out and about on my bike quite a bit these last few weeks. I’ve been out to East Lothian to do a fabulous route around farmland and quiet rural roads with the Belles on Bikes, looped down to Portobello and up to Morningside and been pootling down my regular paths around Roseburn, Drylaw, Corstorphine, Trinity and Davidson’s Mains.

Suffice to say there’s been plenty pedalling. Sadly, not so many photos. Being conscious of a lack of updates, I thought I would share a gorgeous route I did in November out to South Queensferry, complete with photies. This is a really good one.

View to Forth Bridge on way to South Queensferry NCN 76

It’s another road-free lovely, especially if you’re starting in the west of the city like me. Much of the north section of the ever-wonderful Innertube links to NCN 1 and 76, which is what you want to get onto for this cycle. So whatever way you choose, get your bike down to Cramond. I did it via the cut through path at the back of Barnton.

There’s a wee side street off the main road at Cramond, following NCN 1 and 76. Incredibly, there are Shetland ponies in a field, in Cramond, in the city, in Edinburgh. I had no idea these guys were even here and I only live up the road!

Shetland ponies in Cramond

Past the ponies there’s a stone bridge crossing the River Almond. It’s well worth stopping to take in the sound of the river and the views. It feels like Hobbiton. Very beautiful indeed, and it was doubly pretty with all the autumn colours in the trees on my last jaunt.

More of the River Almond

River Almond at Cramond

After the bridge, NCN 1 and 76 diverge. You pass the Cramond Brig, go through a wee metal gate and the NCN 76 is all yours. This route takes you through farmland to the Dalmeny Estate and eventually out into South Queensferry and it’s really quite a stunner.

It’s about 8 miles in total one way, mostly on unmade road or unmade path so ideal for the MTB, cyclocross or hybrid bike, but your skinny road tyres will definitely not appreciate the terrain! Also, as an added bonus, when I did the route I didn’t see a single car.

A road less travelled on the NCN 76

Farmland a stone's throw from Cramond

More autumn colours

After a couple of miles the route takes you through the Dalmeny Estate. By this time you’ll be able to see the Forth estuary, with the bridges peeking out now and again. The coast is juxtaposed by manicured lawns and plenty of woodland, with the estate’s house quite the impressive sight.

Dalmeny House in the Estate

Across the Dalmeny Estate to East Lothian

The route continues to be reasonably well sign-posted through woodlands and muddyish path, and you hug the coast until eventually coming out almost on top of the Forth Bridge!

Autumn colours in the Dalmeny Estate View to Forth Bridge on NCN 76

There are loads of places in South Queenferry to load up on tea and cake. There’s bike parking on the main street, with Sheffield stands to keep your trusty steed safe while you scoff. Ideal!

I believe there are a lot of routes from South Queensferry over the Forth Road Bridge and into Fife. So far I haven’t ventured across the bridge yet, but that is up for exploring now that spring is here. I will definitely do it when it’s not too windy!

If you fancy having a go at this cycle I’ve mapped the route for you starting from west Edinburgh, but you can add your own route in front to stretch it further. Check it out. It’s very easy, hardly any gradient and bursting full of views and perfect spots for picnics and pit stops. I heartily recommend it! 🙂