Impressions

Rush!

Falling out of Bed – I’m late!

Splashing water on face -a cold slap! of water – struggling, blinking to clarity.

Need to move!

Hopping one footed , dangerously unbalanced – squirming into bib shorts.

My spectacles go flying – caught in my jersey. Clatter off furniture, thump to floor.

Checklist – food – bike – bag on back – sleeves – leggings – phone – money – got to go!

Out the door – no wait ! Feed the dog- dash back indoors – done! – out again.

Door slam echoes into the street.   Sorry!

Morning cold! – neighbourhood quiet.

Roads are wet – tick tick tick from my gears.

Off we go. Pushing pedals.

Flush of warmth  up the legs – into chest as blood surges.

Wind whoosh surging over the main road and back onto quiet minor roads.

Bumps and chain chatter.

Bump then rhythmic dunk, dunk, dunk from the floor boards as I cross a temporary bridge.

Flutter of leaves, on cycle path, as I flurry through.

Branches swirl from overhead trees – I rush from light to dark – nostrils flared.

Whoosh of damp cold air as I enter the tunnel – my warm breath hangs in the air around my head.

I feel like a train – spewing smoke as I strain up the slight gradient. Must keep speed up.

Heartbeat in my head.

Splash in puddles at top of the hill. Panting.

Left, left, traffic, right – I spin from lights to lights. Motor sounds.

Engine noise follows my derriere then swooshes past with an angry increasing growl.

Tyres splash.

Half way there.

More people about now – in the park  – still early.

Click of gear levers – squee! of brakes applied.

Shifting weight as I ease around people walking on the cycling lane.

Wind whoosh shortened by red glare of traffic light.

Arythmic bumps as I cross potholes – chain chatter – grip eased on bars.

I swirl around corners right , left, traffic.

Tram tracks! A wobble , a flick to the left, sharp right  – da-duh, da-duh and I’m through.

Sun rising – warmth on back. Brow now damp.

Whoosh of air – heartbeat in neck. Legs straining – still pushing on.

Breathing heavy with effort – pushing up a hill.

Back wheel slides on damp leaves. Shifting my weight -pushing with my hips to keep in a straight line.

Rear wheel spins then bites – keeping moving.

Cold splashes pepper my legs from the ground. My Feet, now wet, feel numbed and distant.

Tick tick tick and tyre hum.  Light and dark from overshadowed cycle path.

Brakes grind and judder from dirt on the rims.

Mind the dogs – their owners too. Muted “morning” s to my hellos’.

Nearly there.

Extended air whooooosh down the hill towards the sea.

Coastline glimpsed across the water. City sounds dissipate – left behind me.

Fresh air movement as I gather speed – cooled to cold – back warmed by the sun.

Sea salt smell in my nostrils – slight wind in my face – shorefront promenade.

Weaving sinuously around milling people – a lot of people.

There’s been a run – the beautiful athletic ones have been parading.

I slow and I weave – swaying my hips as I wiggle.

Wiggle left , wiggle right. easy breathing…tick tick tick.

My path is sinuous.

Muted conversations flick past my ears as I pass.

Rumble from the wheels changes to gravelly crunches as I enter the car park.

I scrunch my way over to the group of bikes gathered in the corner.

Made it.

Morning all? – I blink slowly in the gathered sun.

Smiling faces and relaxed shoulders.

Hey…

So….

Shall we start the cycle now?

A wee donder…. and rediscovering the joy of “exploring”

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I went for a “wee donder” back in March  ….(and have only got round to publishing it now ….jeesh!)

The intention was to head west on my milk run from Edinburgh South East to Kincardine Bridge and back again – a trip of about 90 miles. This involves getting onto the Innocent Railway Cycle path, going through the tunnel at Arthurs Seat , shooting across to Edinburgh Meadows, cruising across Melville Drive,shooting through the busy streets past Evans Cycles to Haymarket Station, avoiding the problematic tram tracks,  and getting onto the National Cycle path route 78 cycle pathway that takes you out past Cramond to South Queensferry and round the Firth of Forth. It’s a good route – not too hilly – that I’ve done a good few times now.

A sense of cycling gloom…

The problem I had , however, was an internal one. I was suffering from a sense of internal pressure from myself that was weighing me down – I hadn’t put in many miles in the first few months of the year and I had the Caledonia Etape coming up – I really needed to get the miles in the legs and improve my levels of fitness too. I have always made a point of committing to several public events every year – whether it be Sportives or Long Distance Charity cycle runs  – as it gives me a positive goal to work towards. It helps motivate me to get out there, even when inwardly I was shying away from it, thinking perhaps that I’drather just go out for a meal and a drink or two with friends instead of grinding out more miles on my bike.

In the past I had always found a certain joy in planning routes, and even if doubtful about weather or my level of commitment I’ve always found that the very act of getting suited and booted and ready to go was enough of an incentive to (literally) push the bike out and get going . The weather IS always better than you think once you are out  than it looks when seen through a window from a cosy, centrally heated living room.

I still however, had a lingering sense of HAVING to put in at least 60 – 70 miles, and wasn’t in the right frame of mind when I got on the bike. I had planned a Tour de Forth circular which, whilst relatively flat, was about 90 miles by the time I got back in the door.

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The problem was that this year, my planned sportives were actually dis-incentivising me – it all just seemed to weigh me down  a lot more this year than last. The strava times, the reminders to do so many miles per week, the constant sense of having to get to the personal milestones of weight, food intake, calorie counts, mileage, hours on the bike etc were robbing me of the very thing that I enjoy most about cycling – the freedom to just get up and go. I like the ability to go where you want, to go when you want , with whom you want, for however long you want it to take. It gives you a break from work, from home, from everything – and also keeps you fit.

The Rediscovery of “discovering”

I had shoved myself out of the door slightly later than originally anticipated ( I wanted more sleep and a decent breakfast) and was already chastising myself about how many hours of daylight I had left, the ground to be covered, the route to be done, the busy sections to be watched etc etc. I mentallly figured my cut-off time – the time by which I had to turn around and come back to make sure I got back in time to perform the inevitable domestic duties and etc that needed doing, and I was setting aside to got cycling.

AS ever, however, the cycling magic started to affect me. As I cycled down the innocent railway cycle-path (NCN Route 1)  something happened….

The Innocent Railway Tunnel

At 517 metres, the Innocent Railway tunnel under Holyrood Park is an impressive one, particularly when you consider it was the first railway tunnel in the UK. Before 1845, trains were actually winched by a cable drawn by horse and a stationary steam engine up the hill known as  the St Leonard’s Inclined Plane.

The tunnel is one of three engineering features of the original 9 mile line. The other two being a cast iron beam, 18ft (5.4m) bridge and an impressive timber beam viaduct on Masonry Piers. The viaduct at Thornybank in Dalkeith was demolished in the Sixties, but you can still see the bridge at at the SE of Bawsinch Nature Reserve.

The railway line closed in 1968 and the section between Newington / St Leonard’s and Craigmillar re-opened in 1981 as a pedestrian bicycle path – and I travel the length of it pretty much every day on my bike – either commuting to work or (as today) as the 1st leg of a much longer trip out.

You can find out some more information about it on the link below:-

http://bembesabroad.wordpress.com/2013/11/02/innocent-railway-craigmillar-castle-and-duddingston-walk/

Shooting along the innocent railway cycle path
Shooting along the innocent railway cycle path

The thing is….whilst its a short route of maybe 1km in length – it a really lovely green corridor that runs between a very well established golf course on one side (Prestonfield Golf CLub) and a scene of Special Scientific Interest ( The Duddingston Loch and Bird Sanctuary) on the other . As I spun past the tress and bushes, saying “hello” to the other cyclists, walkers and runners that were also using the pathway, my shoulders began to drop….. How come I had got so uptight?

It really is a lovely pathway that immediately leaves traffic and street noise away behind you as you venture into one of the many Edinburgh green spaces. As you whizz along, the trees quickly slide past you on your right hand side with the hillside of Arthurs Seat looking over the treetops . You become aware of the fresh leafy smell of the trees, the cries of the birds in the sanctuary, the swish of the branches and the motion of the canopy as it sways in the breeze. Its not a bad start to any journey really.

Cresting a very slight rise you, plunge into the relative darkness of the railway tunnel. It has overhead lighting so it’s not spooky or anything but in comparison with the bright daylight outside its always cool, dark and quiet.As I pedal through this going from one pool of light to another, all I hear is my own breathing, feel the regular warm pulse of blood through my body from my heartbeat and feel the cool air against my skin. Its like skinny dipping without the water, and is delicious in the sense of cool calm it brings.

Following my normal commuter route, and leaving the tunnel behind , I navigate on autopilot through a few streets and out onto the Edinburgh Meadows – another great wee green space that Edinburgh has within its inner city district.

Edinburgh Meadows

Described by The City Of Edinburgh Councils own website as “one of the most important open spaces in Edinburgh and one of the most popular. There’s something for everyone with the biggest play area in the city, large grassed areas, tennis courts, cafe and toilets”. Its more than that its a great natural resource for runners, walkers, recreational games player and extremely well used by the city dwellers of Edinburgh. Even with just a little brightening of the sky, the place will suddenly blossom with picnic’ers, people playing games and walkers.

Bordered on the north side by one of the campuses of Edinburgh University and the now re-furbished hospital ward buildings that have become the very upmarket Quartermile development, the park is borderd on the south side by the long sweeping curve  of Melville Drive.

The park was once the site of a wind-swept Borough-Loch, which was part of the historic old Borough Muir, and one of the main water supplies for Edinburgh’s old town. In 1722 the Loch was leased to Thomas Hope, who completed drainage, created a walkway, and lined it with hedges and trees. When Melville Drive was opened in 1859 as part of the South Side development, it brought a further wave of popularity for walks, picnics or play. As the City grew, the Edinburgh Improvement Act of 1827 decreed it should remain as open space. Two cycle paths criss cross across this space linking it to many other routes within the city – and it is one of these that I am using today.

Cycle path through the meadows

I move through into the streets around Tollcross and move easily into a faster pace as I re-join traffic to stop start through several sets of traffic lights past the Evans Cycle store and down Morrison Street and past the big drum and clear glass wall of Edinburgh International Conference Centre – another landmark building which is easily recognisable within the city. My target here is to get down past the Haymarket railway station to get on to another really long cycle pathway that starts just to the west side of the station.

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Edinburgh International Conference Centre

The cycle path at Haymarket makes my blood boil …an opportunity missed by a country mile…..

As I approach Haymarket my senses are on red alert – traffic levels are high and I am fast approaching one of the biggest danger points of the trip  – the tram tracks at the tram-stop next to the station.

Now don’t get me wrong – I have nothing against the re-introduction of trams to Edinburgh…in fact I welcome them. Anything that reduces congestion, provides mass transit and breaks our over-reliance on the car is a great thing….

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What I do take issue with is the routing of the cycle lanes around the tram tracks outside the newly developed station.

Lets face it – a good deal of money has been spent on the tram system.

Another good deal of money has been spent on the redeveloped station.

Its a crying shame then that it would appear that the provision of cycle lanes going past the station was completely forgotten about and then tacked on at the end as a very very very badly thought out add on that is extremely dangerous.

Falls by cyclists trying to cross the lines have been well documented with glee by the Evening News and the Scotsman, both of which have adopted an anti tram attitude from the get-go.

http://www.edinburghnews.scotsman.com/news/transport/video-more-cyclists-fall-on-lethal-tram-tracks-1-3152608

http://www.edinburghnews.scotsman.com/news/transport/cyclists-steer-clear-of-lethal-haymarket-junction-1-3322215

http://www.spokes.org.uk/wordpress/documents/public-transport/tram/

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-edinburgh-east-fife-24712585

Crap transport design

Instead of just by passing the tram tracks by keeping on the same side of the track (and away from traffic)  until past the station and then crossing over at a quiet spot at the bottom of  the hill – the cyclist has to move through a heavily trafficked set of traffic lights and is dumped out onto a main road with the tram tracks filtering across from the right at an angle, squeezing you into the kerb or out over a line into the flow of traffic You now have 2 feet of road between tram track and kerb. Just as your recognising this ~(and hoping there isn’t any trams near you – you get filtered off the road and into a busy taxi rank – where taxi’s regularly juggle around trying to maneuver around within a confined space. Instead of going with the flow you now have to stop at a red light before re-joining the road you were already on. You have to cross the tracks here and then negotiate around a lane of bus stops which force you  out into the outside lane of a busy road. Turning left at the next junction takes you down hill towards the goal of the cycle track that takes you north and west and out of the city.  Problem is you have to cross the tram tracks again – and the natural flow of the road crosses at an acute angle again. A marked cycle route line takes you across at an a steeper angle but directly toward a high kerb with no lowered edge forcing you to turn 90 degrees back onto the 2 feet margin running down the side of the tram track. You are not able to go up onto the relative safety of the pavement that runs alongside the track here, even though it just serves an office building and for every trip I’ve made down it I have seen no-one using this stretch of pavement. So you wobble down hill between tram track and kerb about 20 meters before being pulled to the side of the the road at a junction on the left,  only to immediately sweep round a tight turn to the right and cross the same tracks again.

In short you have 3 crossings (often with junctions and or tight turns) and being forced to cycle 20m  on a 2 ft wide strip immediately adjacent the tram track when a simple segration off the track down the rear side of theLH  pavement with 1 crossing would have sufficed . Genius design that is…

For dogs sake -its not rocket science. It is however a fantastic example of how so far down the pecking order  decent cycle design comes when it comes to allegedly inclusive transport design.

http://citycyclingedinburgh.info/bbpress/topic.php?id=11324&page=5#post-128574

I for one don’t believe that our transport planners know how to plan inclusively – they are so blinkered into “working out the roads” everything else is secondary. And before someone starts to tell me how wrong my attitude is – My challenge is this –  just prove it to me with current examples of good design and I’ll give you millions of examples of either no-design or piss poor design where good intentions were let down by crap last minute thinking or next to no budget to work with.

Phew !! Rant over…… I promise I’ll behave (for the next few paragraphs anyway).

Once I’ve passed that particular rag-to- the-bull, however my blood pressure settles down.

Out to South Queensferry

A quick cycle round some tram- side apartments takes you onto the NCN cycle route 78 cycle pathway. It was once part of a network of train tracks going around the city but these have been mothballed, the rails removed and some golden gravel walkways / cycle paths installed. As a legacy of the steam train age it is a good one.  The tracks  have bridges over roads and the River Leith and easy gradients.  I swiftly cycle out past Cramond and over the Cramond Bridge.

In 1882-4, Frances Groome’s Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland described Cramond Bridge like this:

Cramond Bridge, a hamlet in Cramond parish, at the boundary between Edinburgh and Linlithgow shires, on the river Almond, and on the Queensferry highroad, 5 miles WNW of Edinburgh, and 1¼ mile SSW of Cramond village. It has a post office under Cramond, a good inn, and an eight-arched bridge, erected in 1823.

South Queensferry

The Forth Road and Rail Bridges. It really is one of the most striking scenes anywhere in the world.

Rail Bridge

The vast Forth Railway Bridge in South Queensferry stands 150ft/45m above the water and extends for 2,756yd/2,529m. The engineer Sir John Fowler and Sir Benjamin Baker collaborated on its design and it was completed in the 1880s.

Road Bridge

The delicately engineered Forth Road Bridge in South Queensferry was opened in 1964. With a span width of 1,977yd/1,814m it is one of the longest suspension bridges in Europe.

http://www.planetware.com/scotland/south-queensferry-sco-loth-forth.htm

They just had a 50 year celebration at the Forth Road Bridge – with an awesome fireworks display that really was incredible .

“South Queensferry, also called Queensferry, is a former Royal Burgh in West Lothian now part of the City of EdinburghScotland. It is located some ten miles to the north west of the city centre, on the shore of the Firth of Forth between theForth Bridge and the Forth Road Bridge, approximately 8 miles (13 km) from Edinburgh Airport. Queensferry is referred to as South Queensferry in order to distinguish it from North Queensferry. It has a population of around 12,000.

There were ferries at South Queensferry until 1964 when the Forth Road Bridge was opened. Ferry services continue to run from the harbour to the islands within the Firth of Forth, including Inchcolm.”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Queensferry

In 1984 Rosyth was chosen as the sole location for refitting the Royal Navy’s nuclear submarine fleet (a role it was already specialising in), and in 1986 extensive rebuilding commenced to facilitate this new role. However in 1993, the government switched the refitting role to Devonport Dockyard.

Onwards

Cycling underneath the forth road bridge and heading out towards Hopetoun House, I came across the works for the new bridge with the first beam hanging out into space what seemed a far too long a cantilever. That shouldn’t be hanging up there in space like that …can it?

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Th start of the new Bridge over the River Forth

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My Selfie – with the caissons of the new bridge in the background

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Its gonna be a big beastie – no doubt.

The Road to Hopetoun House 

The road to Hopetoun House from South Queensferry is a glorious one

It starts as a nondescript road in the middle of a small collection of housing tucked into the feet of the Forth Road Bridge, but as it drops down to the shore (under the new road bridge , as noted above) it turns into a fantastic single lane ribbon of smooth tarmac right on the waters edge  – with absolutely fantastic views over the Forth to the Rosyth Naval dock yard and the ferry terminal. This is not a road to travel in windy conditions as the sea often sprays over the wall and deluges the road on the other side.

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And then there’s Hopetoun House itself – a sight to behold….

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Hopetoun House

I cut through the grounds and up onto a side road that takes you along the south side of the grounds. There was a tricky turnstile bit to get through about halfway along to ensure that the grazing sheep don’t run amok amongst the planted gardens to the front of the house. Its best to hold your bike up vertical to fit in the space while you manage the full height gate with your other hand and then reverse yourself and the bike through. The gate is spring loaded so it tries to trap you and your bike by closing on you half way through …you have been warned!!!

Dating back to 1699, Hopetoun House is a striking Baroque style mansion. On display inside the house is an extensive display of porcelain from the early 19th century.

Hopetoun House is the traditional residence of the Earl of Hopetoun (later the Marquess of Linlithgow). Located near South Queensferry to the west of EdinburghScotland, it was built 1699-1701 and designed byWilliam Bruce. The House was then hugely extended from 1721 by William Adam until his death in 1748 being one of his most notable projects. The interior was completed by his sons John Adam and Robert Adam. The magnificent entrance hall dates from 1752.

The parklands in which it lies were laid out in 1725, also by William Adam. The east front centres on the distant isle of Inchgarvie and North Berwick Law. The walled garden dates from the late 18th century. In the grounds an 18th century mound was excavated in 1963 to reveal the remains of the earlier manor house, Abercorn Castle, dating from the 15th century. (Wikipedia)

I discovered a beautiful church and grounds just behind the house to the west whilst searching for the cycle pathway down the hill to the shoreline – it takes a bit of finding!!

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You need to turn off the main access road heading west and through between a couple of houses to find this little gem.

It has a beautiful  setting, quite serene and had fantastic cherry blossom trees just at the entrance . The cycle pathway is through a gate on the left and zigzags down a steep incline to  get to north deer park at the bottom of the hill. The pathway then follows the Cornie burn down to the shore line.

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Abercorn Church – a nice wee gem – tucked away out of sight.

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Beautiful cherry trees at the entrance – lovely.

The route goes through the trees on the shoreline along to Blackness Castle – which was a real joy to discover . I didn’t even know it was there !!

And what a castle it is . Jutting out into the waters of the firth of forth like a gigantic stone steamship that sharp lines of the angular stone walls and keep tower in the middle of the compact plan can’t fail to impress. It even has its own jetty to receive visitors and supplies.

Blackness Castle is a 15th-century fortress, near the village of BlacknessScotland, on the south shore of the Firth of Forth. It was built, probably on the site of an earlier fort, by Sir George Crichton in the 1440s. At this time, Blackness was the main port serving theRoyal Burgh of Linlithgow, one of the main residences of the Scottish monarch. The castle, together with the Crichton lands, passed to King James II of Scotland in 1453, and the castle has been crown property ever since. It served as a state prison, holding such prisoners as Cardinal Beaton, and the 6th Earl of Angus.

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Blackness Castle – what a beauty!
Dr John Wells – Photograph taken with a camera suspended from a kite line Previously published: http://www.armadale.org.uk/blackness.htm Castles from the Air, The Castle Studies Group Bulletin, 14, 20-21, (Summer) 2012 CC-BY West Lothian Archaeology. Used under Creative Commons Licence.

Just brilliant – going to have to go back and visits it properly – but what a find!

Heading west, the road follows the line of the  Black Burn stream once you climb the hill out of Blacknessand gets you over to the A904 the main road that leads into Bo’ness. Normally I would cycle this route , complete with heavy traffic whizzing past me at speed and then travel through Bo’ness itself . The road is wide but the traffic can be heavy.

Today I crossed over the road and kept heading west just to the south of Bo’ness on Borrowstoun Road. Again – what a find. A lovely relatively shallow gradient uphill takes you to the top of the hill overlooking Boness and the Firth of Forth – nice views!

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Looking North you can see the valley that the Firth of the Forth is in – sadly not doing it justice with my iPhone camera.

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Looking south – you are looking at the fertile agricultural landscape around Linlithgow.

I’m now running parallel to the main road that goes through Bo’ness, but without all the traffic hassle and with great views.

Stilling heading west, I discover that the road dives down hill quickly, swoops round to the left and joins in to the south end of the town., terminating at a T junction just where a small lane leads onto pedestrian and cycle friendly footpaths.

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Image courtesy of Google maps

I go straight on, on a voyage of discovery where I know-not where I will end up.

I mean, I know I’m heading westwards over to Grangemouth – but just not sure how this route will connect up with it unless I look up Google Maps on my phone. Ach – lets just follow my westerly direction pointed nose

The footpaths tai  me around the north and west sides of the Boness Firestation and down to Crawfield Road.

I have no idea where I am now (still stubbornly not looking up Google maps) but turn westwards and keep going, heading along an arterial distributor road that turns northwards, becomes Provest Road and starts to curved round to head north east. I headed of the LH side of the road into Kinneil Wood, along some cycle paths, around a wee loch and along forest paths that eventually joined up with National Cycle Network (NCN) Route 76 via some forest path type steps down onto the road. This is not a route you could easily do in bad weather or during the winter s the forest paths would get really mushy and the forest steps down to the road were difficult to negotiate with SPD SL clipped shoes, even in the dry.

Very picturesque though.

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Looking back at the steps up to the forest trails I came along on the RH side (in amongst the trees) – you can just see the blue NCN Cycle route sign on the railings ridiculously small signage though!

I was now on the Polmonthill road , still running west shadowing the main A904 Grangemouth Road. This minor single track road benefits from 2 huge advantages over the A904 for cyclists -

1. There was little to no traffic, and…

2. You get great views over the Grangemouth refineries  – still a technical marvel that is a sight to behold.

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The view as you approach the Grangemouth refineries from the east.
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Longannet Power Station – over the other side of the Firth of Forth – I cycle over that way quite a lot too.

I headed south and east along another one of the unnamed back roads back around the south side of Kinneil Wood, to come out on the A706, the main road between Bo’ness and Linlithgow.

Another first for me – I hadn’t realised they were so close together – practically bumping in to each other, so they are . I am so use dot travelling out on different roads / routes to each one I hadn’t twigged they were neighbours with just 1 hill between them…S’funny how your perception can be so moulded by your experience of travelling to and arriving at somewhere…by car mostly. The car isolates you from the terrain through which you are travelling, you head up and down hills and hardly notice. on a bike you are part of the terrain through which you are travelling – you smell it, taste it, feel the sun, rain and etc. You know when you are heading up a hill, feel the temperature change when the sun comes over the hill or you turn the corner and change direction. You are an integral part of the travel journey – not divorced from it.

I sail down the hill and into Linlithgow in no time, stopping briefly only to take a few photo’s of the magnificent Linlithgow Palace, as I head into town.

Amazing to think that the Palace is just off the towns main street up a wee lane called the Kirkgate and right on the banks of a lovely Linlithgow Loch.

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Seen from the other side of the loch , as I enter the town. The tower spire is quite recognisable from any angle….

Linlithgow Palace stands on a low green promontory overlooking a small inland loch. The name Linlithgow means ‘the loch in the damp hollow’. The location has a history of occupation reaching back at least to Roman times 2,000 years ago. David I (1124–53) was the first monarch to build a royal residence on the site. He also founded the town that sprang up in its shadow.The peace of Linlithgow was shattered in 1296 when Edward I of England invaded Scotland. In 1302 the ‘Hammer of the Scots’ had a formidable defence built around the royal residence. He called it his ‘pele’ (from Old French pel, meaning ‘stake’). Nothing of Linlithgow Peel survives, but the word now describes the attractive parkland surrounding the later palace of the Stewarts.

Once in the centre of town I stopped for a soup and a sandwich (Thank you Greggs the bakers) and people watched for half an hour.

I love the feeling of the sun on you back and just watching the world go by – its second only to having the sun on your back as you cycle past the world on your bike …closest thing you can get to flying under you own power.

Out of habit I climbers the hill past the railway station up to the canal – I’ve cycled along this route a few times and it has a few good memories for me , like the time my nephew and I stopped there for a break on the 1st stage of the Edinburgh to Iona trip for the St Columba’s Cancer Care Hospice in Edinburgh. (see https://ezpcgoescycling.wordpress.com/2012/05/24/celtic-challenge-day-1-23rd-may-2012/ for more information on that one…)

I realised however that as soon as I start down the pathway that it was pretty gravelly with sharp pointed stones. I remembered it being smaller more rounded sandlike dust surface before , but this was decidedly hard on 23mm tyres. No soon than I had decided to get off the pathway at the next available exit than Psssssh! and I’ve flatted.

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yeah…well….I’ve done this before…

The Union Canel pathway – great cycle ride but needs bigger sturdier tyres.  Always better to have protection ..as they say…

Having got myself back on the road (literally) I cycled heading east on  the B9080 through Winchburgh to Kirkliston, then the Craigiehall Road past the north side of Edinburgh Airport to Cramond , took the cycle path in Cramond round to the back of Haymarket and through the city to home following the same route back as I had taken through at the beginning of the trip.

As I got to the front door, I realised I was feeling quite good ..quite relaxed. I had gone out for a while on the bike, I had not chased strava times but instead gone exploring …

I had stumbled across new paths, new routes that I liked and would use again. I had looked once more at things and had stopped to take photo’s instead of whizzing past chasing a virtual record – a digital construct in another world.

I felt I had BEEN places, propelled by my own power. It gave me a sense of satisfaction, of not being bound by my circumstances but choosing to form my own path.

Life was good once more …you see? Cycling is just like that……..

A bad decision…..

New Forest rider and pony (CC licensed by iNew Forest:Flickr)
Email as issued to the New Forest NPA
Dear New Forest NPA
Bike hire scheme refusal
I am writing to express my sadness and concern about the NPA’s decision to veto the New Forest Bike Scheme.
I use the word “veto” as it appears that the national and local media have picked up on and are reporting that there appeared to be a justifiable and solidly backed economic basis for the scheme, which appears to have been outmaneuvered by local vested interests.
The view that there wasn’t a strong support for the scheme is also slightly hindered by reported objections from locals who said they were “simply not listened to”, and who fear that they may loose out on a potential revenue stream as a result of  lost trade.
It appears too that Mr Bright of B-Cycle was never asked to comment or address the concerns raised by your members either. This is truly lamentable, and I would think that the New forest NPA would need to demonstrate the steps taken to have as open and as a transparent decision process as possible, because at the moment it looks like the views of a few have dominated the views of many.
After interest from world famous sporting personalities such as Sir Chris Boardman and a petition of support from 800 + signatories “lack of support for the scheme” and a tight timescale look like poor reasons to justify closing down a scheme that was almost ready to go in framework terms.
am aware that there are a number of local campaigners in the area who have showed an extreme opposition to cycling as a sport , a transport option and a pastime with high profile media reporting “tacks on the road” or “dumped slurry” episodes being used to derail public sporting events on public roads. These are criminal acts on public services and unfortunately have tarred the area with a “no cycling”  brand which will certainly attract media interest and take some time to overcome , if ever.
Unfortunately I fear this will certainly hinder possible income generation from a  larger portion of the population than you think.
Whether you like or loathe it,  the cycling industry in the UK is a massive income earner in tourism terms, with Scotland alone highlighting that it earned around £239 million in tourism benefits from cycling as leisurely pursuit.
Government policy has highlighted the need to increase alternative transport means and world bodies are highlighting this need on a massive scale, with Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change reports calling on global Governments to prioritise infrastructure for pedestrians & non-motorised road users.
I’m not talking about super fast lycra clad speed junkies chasing a race here either, because the cycle hire scheme that has now been vetoed proposed bikes that are, in cycling terms, relatively robust and heavy, and that are designed for slower more ambling type cycling pursuits, precisely for the leisurely tourism and access to the spectacular views and scenery that the New Forest area is rightly famous for. It can’t really be argued that the availability of cycles to hire would automatically cause problems to livestock and farming either as they would be slow moving and relatively quiet, unlike the fast moving , clumsy, big and noisy motor vehicles that are the alternative, and which cause a lot of the traffic grid locking seen in the new forest area villages at peak tourist times. Motor vehicles  also cause problems with space taken up by parking and pollution, which bikes wouldn’t. So who precisely is losing out here?
Sadly then, I see this a great opportunity missed, possible income for the area denied, and another anti bike message portrayed across the media.
Pity really, as I would have welcomed such a scheme in the area as a plus point for deciding to visit.
Yours sincerely,
EZPC

More Tour de France fallout….

Two more pro-cyclists have dropped out of the Tour de France today before Stage 17  Saint-Gaudens > Saint-Lary Pla d’Adet (124,5 km) got underway.

Can’t say I blame them – whilst this stage is the shortest at 124.5 km, its one of the toughest – with absolutely brutal climbs.

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168 men are left in the race for this stage today.

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Orica-GreenEdge’s sprinter Simon Gerrans suffered injuries in the stage one crash that with Mark Cavendish and has struggled with them ever since.

“With the injuries I have from stage one I think the best decision is actually to stop now and completely recover,” he said. “I know I haven’t been 100% right since my crash but I was hoping to improve throughout the race. That hasn’t really been the case.”

http://www.smh.com.au/sport/cycling/simon-gerrans-quits-tour-de-france-due-to-stage-one-crash-injuries-20140723-zvvs0.html

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IAM’s Reto Hollenstein – The Guardians News feed meanwhile has alerted me to another story of the sheer stubborn intensity that pro cyclists need for their sport.

At the start of yesterday’s stage Iam Cycling’s Reto Hollenstein crashed and punctured a lung.

The medical car was a distance away up the road monitoring the leaders, so the young Swiss rider got back on his bike and finished the stage.

With a punctured lung.

Unsurprisingly he has not made the start today.

 

Post script:-

Even as I’m typing this update, the Tour de France official news feed has highlighted that at least one other rider has been forced to quit mid stage.

Simon Spilak was forced to quit the Tour because of a stomach bug while Zak Dempster (NetApp) called for medical assistance after being bitten by a wasp.

It is unclear yet if Zak Dempster has had to  quit because of the sting…….

 

Its been an attritional race this year – but probably no more so than normal……

 

The Tour de France……. genuinely one of the toughest sporting events of all time.

‘On the outside’: Constructing cycling citizenship by Rachel Aldred

I came upon this recent paper about “Constructing a view of citizenship” that is changed by active engagement in cycling as a social activity and as a means of transport, in my usual review of all things cycling this lunchtime.

 

The paper uses in-depth interview data from Cambridge, England, to discuss the concept of the ‘cycling citizen’, exploring how, within heavily-motorised countries, the practice of cycling might affect perceptions of the self in relation to natural and social environments. Participants portrayed cycling as a practice traversing independence and interdependence, its mix of benefits for the individual and the collective making it an appropriate response to contemporary social problems. In this paper I describe how this can be interpreted as based on a specific notion of cycling citizenship rooted in the embodied practice of cycling in Cambridge (a relatively high cycling enclave within the low-cycling UK). This notion of cycling citizenship does not dictate political persuasion, but carries a distinctive perspective on the proper relation of the individual to their environment, privileging views ‘from outside’ the motor-car.

There’s an interseting section that muses on the decline of street life and citizen engagement and its relationship with the increasing motorisation of public spaces – perception of road danger – risk of injury etc.that caught my attention. See the link below for a free download….It’s cogent, relatively concise, well written and has multitudinous cross references to there related papers.

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14649360903414593#.U8kPC1a8v7Q

Quite thought provoking, but it also highlights the lack of much research into the impact of motorised transportation in changing  peoples perceptions of public life and space , private life and space,  and general citizenship.

Gets the grey cells going ….

Meetup ….and Lothian Cyclists…and the Pennine Etape

This is just quick update really of my current preoccupations…

The good news…

Many of you might have worked out by now that I find it difficult to balance home-life/work-life and cycle-life times / pressures – mainly because my work as an Architect can be all-absorbing in terms of boththe level of detail required  and the amount of time required to juggle multitudinous things. As a result I have not yet committed to joining a local cycling club, though I have no doubt that I would benefit greatly from it and there are plenty of very good clubs nearby.

I was delighted therefore to discover two things simultaneously recently – The Meetup app http://www.meetup.com – and The Lothian Cyclists group – http://www.meetup.com/Lothian-Cyclists/

I pitched up for the first Lothian Cyclists Group activity that I could fit-in and It turned out to be a quick training session going up and around “that bloody hill” – Arthurs Seat in Edinburgh. Well loved and loathed in equal measure by many cyclists in Edinburgh my Strava account will testify to my willingness to test my mettle by going up and around the category 3 “steep bit”.

Arthurs Seat in Edinburgh
Arthurs Seat in Edinburgh

http://www.bikeradar.com/forums/viewtopic.php?p=15951685

I’ve never attempted to go up and around it repeated times for an hour and a half though and the Lothian Cycle group made that a very enjoyable way to spend and early Tursday evening. The beautiful sunset certainly helped too. Great bunch of girls and guys – very friendly – very broad cross spectrum of abilities and cycling types but all bound together with an enthusiasm for “getting out on t’bike.” Nice. The pint and the chat afterwards was good too.

And the bad news…..

After collapsing and ending up in casualty from dehydration as the result of an acute attack of gastro-enteritis, I was off work for a week for obvious reasons.

Still a bit weak even 2 weeks on I’ve regrettably decided that it’s probably not wise to try and tackle the Etape Pennine that I’m booke din for this weekend. Bugger…thats two sportives I’ll have missed this year….ach well. I think its better that I “caw canny” as my mother would say and build up for the next one …

Which happens to be the Tour O the Borders – the scene of so much carnage last year ….

Looking forward to it……

http://tourotheborders.com

 

The Trossachs Ton…well erm…3/4 Ton….15th June 2014 – Ride Report

Strava Map and Elevation
Strava Map and Elevation

 

The rule of 3

It seems that there is nothing that I can do to properly prepare for a cycling event that prevents me from having to do at least one of the following:-

1. Have an insanely long drive at faster than light speed to make up time for some unfeasibly remote happenstance that has delayed proceedings at the last minute

OR

2. Lose sleep as a result of a very late night either tweaking , cleaning or installing something that is just so incredibly urgent and necessary now when it wasn’t even considered just hours before

OR

3. Get up insanely early after a late night from 2. above.

 

Sometimes, just sometimes,  I even have to do all three at once…. This can’t be normal….can it?

 

It’s good to prepare

You see, I DO have a great routine for preparing in advance for any given cycle event.

ticklist

I DO have a readymade schedule of items required  – equipment to pack  – items to buy – things to look out – smaller cycling trips or goals to achieve etc etc. It’s all there laid out in my mind in resplendent glory and in beautiful technicolor.

The problem is that it’s all just a bit too readily brushed aside by current events / work / family needs / tiredness, and even, yes , crappy TV viewing habits. Pick any three, but you have to include work, in order to keep it slightly real.

Lets do the Trossachs Ton I say…Ok.

Lets get it booked early in the year …Ok. I booked it on  Jan 1st – great!

Its got  few hills – lets do some training. OK…some sorties are put out there – much to my wives chagrin. (What about the grass?) Ah…

 

Reality Invasion

Reality keeps finding ways of getting me back out of my cycling world and into the grittier facts of life.

Things such as :-

05-DoorScheduleTable

Incredibly boring ironmongery or door schedules at work.

48-GEAR_Rain-EssPeaPhotography-500x333

Weather thats great until I think “I could go for a cycle tonight” and then water pours out of the sky from 4.30pm onwards, and sucks the sun out of the sky just to taunt me.

paying-bills

Bills to pay.

Insurance reminders.

Food shopping to be done.

Meals to be made.

and yet more work… yada yada yada …I could go on …Ho Hum…

But thats life I hear you say. We manage it, so should you……….

Yes, Indeed. That doesn’t necessarily  endow it with the magical shininess that all things cycling have though eh?

New Bike

So there I am Friday evening before the Sunday ride – checking things off my list……Friday – I have loads of time.

Cycling clothes? – collected together for washing – now in machine. Check.

Bike checked for maintenance? – dismantled, cleaned, Tyres and brakes checked and now fully together ready for test run Saturday AM – Check.

Food stuffs / Gels? – got already . Check.

Weather report? – already seen – looks good (amazingly) – Check.

6823088485_4373a50b71

Competitive athlete with lean figure,  bulging muscles, ruddy complexion and healthy glow? ah …well…eh..no. Not Check.

You see – work had been REALLY busy….my Mum and Dad had had their 50th Golden Wedding Anniversary…the weather had been crap…I had been distracted …there were too many family birthdays…the sky had been falling down….the world was coming to an end…the printer had no ink, the dog needed company …or something like that. You get the gist.

In short, I had not got as much cycling in as I really, really felt was necessary to be Fully Prepared.

You can’t just get up one day and magically be Fully Prepared, you have to work at it and that takes time …and effort…none of which I had supplied sufficiently.

Meh.

Let’s be honest though – I never, ever feel Fully Prepared . 

 

Breaking the Rules

Ok – so I’m going to break my golden rule. The one that states that I should always have a rest day, the day before a main event.

Today however I’m deciding that I’m going to get out on my bike and go for a cycle Saturday. Sod it …. yes… I am!

A quick lifetime of text messages ensues and then I’m set. Me and my cycling buddy Sean are going cycling Saturday AM. Reality impinges enough to remind us that we need to be back by 1pm to get other things done  around the house or whatever. (Remember the grass?) In Seans case , he is greatly in demand on Sunday (Fathers Day) so he’s scheduling a ride on Saturday to get one in before the weekend is over. Good idea.

Saturday AM and  I’m hopping about trying to find things ( I left them there – honest), get my gear on , eat , shave and text simultaneously. “Will be with you in 5 mins” I lie when I’m still pouring my tea. Well, I need something in me before I go don’t I ?? 10 minutes later however I’ve whirl-winded my way to the start point and we’re off. Heading East- with no real plan in mind. The weather was good too. Lovely.

As it turns out, we ended up in North Berwick – had a good coffee and got back by 2pm. Not bad.

northberwickhighstreet

 

It was a very pleasant 45mile round trip – filled with good chat with Sean and good views over the Firth of Forth in the sunny weather.

My cycling computer display – a Wahoo RFLKT  unit wasn’t buying in to the feel good factor however and went belly up during the time out.

Ok so it needs batteries – I’ll change them when I get in.

Early Saturday evening – I’m checking high and low for my CR2032’s. No sign of course.

Saturday evening -9pm sees me in the local supermarket buying  CR2032 coin size batteries.

I get home – I try to fit the batteries to find the RFLKT has 4 tiny tiny tiny titchy small microscopic screws securing it’s back – which means I can’t get it open until I’ve got tiny tiny tiny microscopic screwdrivers and much better vision.

Another round trip to the supermarket for jewellers screwdrivers allows me to get it open. I still can’t see them too well though.

Aaargh! it takes a different type of battery? A CR2145 – much bigger and deeper in size.

ANOTHER round trip to the local supermarket reveals it is not a common size – THANKS WAHOO – and therefore not in stock. At 11pm on a Saturday night , I’m out of options.

Ever the bright one, I cobble together a felt infill shaped like a crescent moon to allow the 3V CR2032 battery to be used – and it works! yeah!  12.15 AM and I’m fiddling about with twitchy screws on cycling computers, filling water bottles and packing jersey pockets. I had previously stuffed myself with a high carbohydrate pasta meal earlier in the evening and had another set aside for breakfast.

12.45am I go to bed.

5.45AM I’m back up again. Yeay!…..See what I mean?

 

The Trossach Ton 

I need to be in Stirling by 7.30am to meet my cousin and his son, who are newbies to the art of cycling long distances and are tackling the Ton as a challenge to raise money for charity. They’ve been cycling for about a year maximum and trying to build up mileage for it. Me? I’m just doing it because I want to – it feeds the sado-masochistic urge for sheer effort, bloodyminded stubbornness  and a willingness to sweat lots. If you’ve cycled it – you’ll know what I mean.

I remembered that my cousin needed a bottle cage, so 5AM finds me in the shed wrestling with Allen keys to get a “spare” bottle cage off of one of my other bikes.

My neighbours must love me.

A quick dash in the car along the M8 and M9 gets me there on time – may the Lord bless the inventor of SatNavs!

My earlier wade through the long grass to get to the shed at of the bottom of the garden however (remember the grass?) meant I had soaked my socks and now my feet were freezing.  I “borrowed” a shot of my cousins-sons tumble dryer to dry them off and warm them up.

7.45am saw the three of us cycling the short mile distance down to Stirling High School in time to register for an 8.15AM start. It was overcast, but still warm and with the occasional misting of water, as though it was going to rain, I was reluctant to put on my rain jacket but thankfully  the “rain” stopped as soon as it started. I was relieved – I’ve cycled all day in the rain before and its a pain. The set-up at registration and the start line was impressive, there were about 20 to 30 cyclists being processed through in the few minutes that we were there – but the high school has a large atrium type entrance lobby so the place never felt like it was too busy. Another twenty or so were set-off from the start line as we were waiting for the mandatory 8.15am start time.

There were loads of riders , loads of bikes and the much longer 105mile riders “The Champion route ” had already set off before us. The “Classic route” riders like ourselves were all hanging about trying to keep busy and not look too nervous. There was lots of nonchalant-arms-draped-over-the-bars, glasses-on-helmets-poses going on that were the cyclist equivalent to an indifferent shrug stating “Do I look bothered? Me?”

We got ourselves set at the line, gave the event photographer a smirk and a wave (I’ll post it up when I get it) and listened to the inevitable last minute instructions about cycling to the highway code, not being on closed roads, taking responsibility for our own safety, cycling courteously whilst enjoying the day etc etc. A word about the weather, some stuff about the need to hydrate, some stuff about potholes and the worst part of the roads (on the most remote scenic downhill sections of course –  where you’re likely to be travelling fastest and the risk of damage / carnage / injury is that much higher.)

Once the marshall had relieved his organisation of all of its legal liabilities and reminded us afresh of  our responsibility to look after ourselves, we got the go and the tape was dropped. We were off.

Vaguely familiar

The first mile or so was familiar –  I had driven down it at speed in the car just an hour earlier after all, to get into Stirling in the 1st place. Early morning traffic was easy but we soon came to our first hurdle – a traffic light that would not change from red. There was a gaggle of about twenty cyclists and waited like the good boys and girls that we are. Patience however was in short supply and wise ass quips about jumping up and down – borrowing a car, needing an old age pensioner with a metal hip etc etc started almost immediately. About £50,000 worth of Carbon bikes and twenty humans in a row is not enough to get a car-centric traffic light system to recognise you exist apparently. After 20 loooooong seconds, it was clear that the main road was empty apart from us so we set off. Sorry – but there you go. The light never changed yet.

10 minutes saw us on the outskirts of town – heading south then south west past the Banockburn Heritage Centre and out over the M80/M9 junction.

The ascent started immediately we had crossed the motorway, with the New Line Road rising from about 150 ft elevation to 750ft elevation in a long but gradual gradient over the next 5.5 miles. We climbed up past Loch Coulter and then on to the B818 along the side of the Carron Valley reservoir. This is known as the Buckieburn climb in Strava-land and is a Category 4 climb.

Loch Coulter is on the left
Loch Coulter is on the left

The scenery was fantastically green – reminding me that the Stirling / Trossachs / Fintry area really was a very fertile agricultural landscape that helps keep the nation fed and watered.

The Carron Valley Reservoir
The Carron Valley Reservoir

The road dropped in elevation past the dam at the end of the reservoir and at the bottom of the hill we turned left onto the bottom of the Crow Road ascent heading south.

 

The Crow Road

This is where the proper climbing began – we would ascend from 360ft up to 1,107ft in a distance of 3 miles – a Category 3 Climb.

I chucked the bike into the middle ring and began the ascent with Mark and Scott along side.

Cyclists that had until now been quite separated by reasonable distances – started to clump together into rolling groups, and we passed a few of them on the ascent. The experienced club hill climbers and rouleurs were rolling past us at various intervals but we were making reasonable time. I wasn’t in a hurry.

The general chatter in the group I was in died down however, as more and more people focused on the climb and keeping their breathing regular.

Chatting was interspersed with heavy breathing and a lot of sweating, and you became much more aware of the hill gradients which varied from 3% to 6.5% in places.

The silence was interspersed with chain clicks, gear changes, the odd ruffle of wind and heavy breathing – all intertwined with my own heartbeat and blood rush. It was lie we’d suddenly entered an altered reality state for 10 minutes or so.

It was quite relaxing.

I was so focused in keeping my cadence up, that  I hadn’t realised I had distanced Mark and Scott a bit – their conversation behind me had waned into the distance and it was the lack of general chatter that caused me to check over my shoulder and see the  view back down the hill.

The Crow Road looking North - back the way we came up...
The Crow Road looking North – back the way we came…

We had come up quite far, without really feeling it too much. We were however nicely warmed up by now, and I was glad that the weather was slightly overcast sand not too hot.

…..cresting the hill, you begin to pick up speed noticeably as you freewheel along the road towards the next valley and Lennoxtown …a tight left hand corner at a car park and viewpoint area took you round the shoulder of the hill high up on the side of the valley. By this time you were going so fast you really had to be careful, hunker low and make sure you weren’t overcooking your brakes and had plenty of braking distance . The view down the valley was great but your eyes had to be on the road.

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Again, again…..

Three and a half miles disappeared in a flash and with the wind whistle still ringing in my ears I was easing on the brakes and slowing down to free wheel into the village of Lennoxtown at the bottom. I had dropped 870ft, and covered 3.2 miles in 7 minutes and 29 seconds, maxing out at a sensible 44.7 mph. And all without a single pedal being turned –  powerful thing this gravity.

I hadn’t gone too fast – it was my first time on the road and I didn’t really know the lay of the land – so I was trying to keep it sensible.

A few minutes later Scott and Mark appeared with equally big cheesy grins on their faces as I had on mine. “I want to do that again” says I.

Turning right onto the A891 the next twenty miles or so passed relatively quickly, and without any problems moving on to, and through, Strathblane and Blanefield and out past the Glengoyne Distillary.

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The village of Strathblane

 

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Glengoyne Distillery on the A81

 

Our first pitstop was at the Beech Tree Inn a few miles further on – it was good to get off the bike and stretch at that point

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Beech Tree Inn

.

Some really tasty flapjack and bananas had been laid on, as well as copious amounts of High 5 carbohydrate drink to refill your bottles. There were other things too, but it was the flapjack stat got my attention – they were that good.

I’d sucked a gel and been taking on water as we came down towards the bottom of the Crow Road ascent, so I didn’t feel too bad and had nearly depleted a whole bottle, so I topped it up.

Amazingly, Mark bumped into an old friend, who just happened to have stopped off on a long distance walk along the West Highland Way over that long weekend…..It’s a small world.

15 minutes later – we were on the road again.

11 miles later we were at Aberfoyle and the bottom of Dukes Pass.

 

Dukes Pass

Aberfoyle – once spelt ‘Aberfuil’ – lies on the highland boundary fault at the very edge of the Highlands. The river Laggan, the source of the river Forth passes through the village at the foot of Craigmore hill. A road leads over a high pass to the north of Aberfoyle and it is known as the Duke’s Pass after the Duke of Montrose who replaced the old pony track with a surfaced road to allow easier access to the Trossachs at Loch Katrine. Tourism is now the main industry in Aberfoyle with the Tourist information centre and Scottish Woollens Centre forming an important part of the attractions, with the Duke’s Pass also being an attraction in its own right for its steep incline with various views and forest walks accessible from car parks accessed from it.

Aberfoyle’s most famous resident was the Reverend Kirk. He was the misister of Balquhidder before moving to Aberfoyle and was the author of a book entitled Secret Commonwealth‘ in 1691. This was a study of ‘ the nature and social structure of supernatural beings or fairies’. The legend tells how the faery folk were so angry as a result of their secrets being revealed in the book that they imprisoned his spirit in an old pine tree on Doon hill near to the old parish church. The old tree on Doon hill is usually festooned with ribbons and scraps of paper bearing ‘wishes’ to be granted by the faeries.

An omen of things to come
An omen of things to come

Heading east from Aberfoyle over the Duke’s Pass involves a steep climb at first and it ramps up pretty much from the main street as soon as you turn right. We were quickly in the granny gears curving left and and heading up a long incline. The road turned back on itself twice in an alpine zig zag and then we came up to a broad turn to the right past the David Marshall Lodge and its small scenic lochan. I had dropped Mark and Stuart slightly so waited for 30 seconds or so until their small grupetto arrived and joined on at the back. The road pitched up again.

There was one final hairpin to the left, which is steep enough at the tightest point of the curve to require a significant effort to cycle through the sudden increase in gradient. I was so enraptured with the view from this point that I had naturally migrated to the flattest section of the curve (after checking for traffic) . I was about to remark on the view when Mark hit the steepest bit of the gradient , wobbled and went down onto his left side. He had been unexpectedly slowed by the change in gradient to 13.5% and couldn’t counter quickly enough due to the leg sapping nature of the previous 350ft of ascent. It’s a sore lesson to learn, not to mention a tad embarrassing so I really felt for him. To be fair, he got himself up , remounted and slogged on when a lot of others might just have given up at that point or decided to take it a little bit easier. Good on him.

The view that Mark probably didn't see
The view that Mark probably didn’t see

The “final” hairpin that caught us out, however, was only about a third of the way up and we still had to slog on for a total of 23 minutes to get from Aberfoyle street level to the very top of Duke’s Pass  – from 68ft elevation to 820 ft elevation on a gradient that maxxed at 13.7% and was rarely below 9%. I had tapped an easy granny gear rhythm all the way up and was surprised at how good I felt – the Scott CR1 Comp carbon frame bike I had bought from my brother in law really had made all the difference in the world!. I fervently hoped that tackling the slopes of the Etape Pennine to come later in July would be as good an experience – I had heard from others who had tackled it that it was rough – either up or down with little in between. I was glad that we had ascended on the short side – those hairpins would be quite hairy coming down, I reckon.

The pass undulated around for about a mile before descending down towards Loch Achray. I dropped 400ft in 8 minutes with Scott on my tail. The road was quite twisty and roller coaster like and unfortunately there were patches of potholes, rough surfaces or loose gravel just where you didn’t want them in the middle of the road or right at the apex you were trying to hug.  Mark quite wisely took it slightly more cautiously and we re-grouped at the foot of the Loch before moving on. It wasn’t quite as quick as the Crow Road had been, but had been mesmerisingly green with overhanging trees, ground bushes and the like.

 

We skirted around the norther shore of Loch Achray – which was just beautiful – and stopped for our 2nd rest stop at the community hall next to the Brig O Turk Tea Room. I’m sure that many cyclists were to be found in the tea room over the course of that afternoon. It has to be said that Mark looked a tad buggered at this point and was unusually quiet. When asked however, he noted he was fine – good man.

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‘Tigh Mor’ Loch Achray the Trossachs

It has to be said that we were slightly wearied when we got back on the bikes….

We skirted along the  north side of Loch Venachar – which is again stunningly beautiful – but the view across the loch was often obscured by a depth of trees which meant we felt like we were riding down through a tunnel of green shadows .

 

Stunning views across the Loch
Stunning views across the Loch

 

Shame you couldn't see it much because of the trees.
Shame you couldn’t see it much because of the trees.

We turned right on to the A81 and headed south ascending once more up to 475ft.

From there is was downhill into the valley that leads back to Stirling. W e had run through a small shower, bunt the sun was back out and it was quite warm. Thankfully there was a gusty breeze to keep us cool .

Unfortunately, the last ten miles of the route took us onto the main road (The A811) that heads east into Stirling. It was very flat – running along the base of the valley – which is in quite wide open at about 6 miles across. This meant we were riding into a headwind. The road was busy with traffic and the previous honeymoon period of stunning scenery, beautiful vistas, hardly any traffic and small windy roads ascending or descending through the hills had sadly come to an end. We were once more rejoining civilisation and it was boring and a bit relentless.

The last 10 miles were unfortunately a slog – you had to hunker your head down into the headwind and shove along as fast as you can just to to get it over and done with. Sadly, the intermittent passing of vehicles, the boredom of the long straight run in on a busy road and the headwind combined to make this stretch of road the least attractive part of the entire ride which had been fantastic all the way round up to this point.

Event organisers take note! It would be much much nicer to meander through some side roads to get back to Stirling – even if it is slightly longer. It would be a much more fitting end to what was a lovely day’s ride.

I became temporary Road Captain and lead-out man and counselled my two team mates to take shelter behind me and draft in my slipstream to save energy, as the head wind could wear us down. We  cycled along at an easy to medium pace of 13.5 to 14mph.  I’m not sure if my two travel companions could have pushed it any faster if they wanted to and we swapped around from time to time to take turns as lead out man.

The long approach to Stirling
The long approach to Stirling

Stirling Castle loomed on the valley floor horizon, and was slowly winched ever closer until  we crossed over the M9 motorway and entered the town.

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Our speed rose to a steady 19mph as we navigated our way around the outskirts of town ascending about 150ft in the process.

 

Finally, we arrived back at Stirling High School, crossed the line, were presented with a medal and entered the school building in search of food, drink and a loo.

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Stirling High School – a welcome sight.

The atrium that had served for registration in the morning had been turned into a refectory hall with a delicious buffet of salads, meats , pastas and cake with load of water and fruit juice available to aid our metabolic recovery. We sat and ate and chatted with the fellow riders around us and basked slightly in the warm glow of a Charity Challenge and a good days cycling now fully completed.

We had covered 75.7 miles in 5 hours 28 minutes and 40 seconds of cycling time (excluding stops) and had cycled up 4327ft of elevation in the course of the day.

A really, really good day – definitely recommended and one I will be repeating. Chapeau to the event organisers – Action Medical Research – who just made the whole day flow so well with excellent organisation.

You can check out their website and join me next year on the 2015 run here – http://www.action.org.uk/trossachs_ton