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

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.


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:-


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.

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….


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.





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.


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.


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.”


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.


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?


Th start of the new Bridge over the River Forth


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


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.


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


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!!

Screen Shot 2014-09-21 at 11.17.46

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.


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


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.

Screen Shot 2014-09-21 at 11.26.17
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!


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


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.

Screen Shot 2014-09-21 at 11.47.36
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.

Screen Shot 2014-09-21 at 11.59.49
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.

The view as you approach the Grangemouth refineries from the east.
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.


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.

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……..


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Brilliant trip. I used to cycle up the innocent railway before it was ‘poshed’ up – was amazingly wild, but you had to dodge overgrowing bushes etc. I was cycling from East Lothian out to Trefoil and found the cycle network amazing to be on, but Haymarket sounds a real mess. Love the let’s go somewhere, I know not where approach, chimes with me too.


    1. ezpc1 says:

      I like doing sportives and pushing myself to “go the distance” in a good time – but my heart lies in getting on the bike pushing out in a direction and seeing what falls before me. I love taking roads I haven’t been on before just to “go see”.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s