Tour de Galloway day 2 (mountain stage): Glen Trool Forest and South Ayrshire Alps

Route – Newton Stewart to Glentrool to Straiton to Loch Trool to Glentrool to Newton Stewart. For route map click here.

See route on Strava.

  • Weather – Cloudy and cool to start with but hot and sunny after lunch. Not much wind.
  • Bike type – road bike
  • Distance travelled – 77.67 miles
  • Riding time – 5 hours 51 minutes
  • Maximum speed – 33.8 mph
  • Average speed – 13.3 mph
  • Height climbed – 4898 feet

On the second day of our summer holidays Dad and I were up nice and early and after a breakfast of Aldi’s version of Special K (surprisingly tasty and very cheap), we were out on our bikes before 9am. Before going to bed the night before, I had planned a very long route for us which turned out to be rather more hilly than expected. But I really like hills so we had a cracking day out in some of the most beautiful countryside in the south of Scotland.

To start with we took the cycle path alongside the River Cree into Newton Stewart where we saw a heron creeping around in the shallow water looking for its fishy breakfast. Then, after a brief spell on the main street and a quick cycle over the grand-looking bridge across the river, we turned left onto a minor road, following the Cycle Route no.7 sign – we were going to follow route 7 for most of the day. This quiet single track road soon took us out into the countryside, basically following the River Cree northwards, going in and out of the trees for quite a number of miles. This area is called Wood of Cree and looked like a nice place to go for a walk. Although it looked mainly flat, it actually felt very slightly uphill as we cycled along the deserted road. Eventually we came to a junction and turned right and here the landscape changed as we entered the Glen Trool

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Forest. Here the trees are mainly conifers and there’s lots of evidence of forestry operations (ie. trees being chopped down!) and signs warning to watch out for forestry lorries. It was Sunday though so we didn’t see any lorries at all, or even any cars as we had the lovely smooth, narrow road all to ourselves. Soon we reached Glentrool village but instead of turning left into the village, we went right, heading into some even more remote countryside of the Glen Trool Forest.

From this point on, the road starts to climb more noticably uphill, not enough to have to use any low gears but enough so that your legs really do start to complain – especially as it goes on like this for a long long time (10 miles or so I think). Sometimes the road was lined with spruce trees on both sides but sometimes we had great views over to the Galloway Hills on the right as we cycled along, in and out of the trees. This area has the most wild blueberries I’ve ever seen – and they were very tasty! At some point we passed 2 signs: one was warning that from this point on the road is only gritted during daylight hours; the other was warning that we were about to enter Ayrshire!

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The warning signs weren’t necessary though as Ayrshire turned out to be perfectly lovely and at this point the road really did start climbing much more steeply as it wound its way quickly up to the high point of the so called Nick of the Balloch climb at around 400m high. We stopped at the top for a blueberry feast before speeding down the north side of the Balloch as fast as we dared. There are crash barriers on the left side to protect you from a very steep drop if you were to lose control on one of the twisting corners, but thankfully we made it down the steep hill safely enough. We passed a large group of cyclists heading up the other way. It looks like it would be a very impressive, but hard, climb from that side so I think I will go back there another day to give it a go.

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After a very brief flat bit at the bottom of the Balloch, we immediatly began climbing up the next steep hill of the “Ayrshire Alps”. This hill is known as The Pilot for some unknown reason and it was quite a hard slog up to the top of the single track road but we did spot an ancient stone signpost which told us we were 10 miles from a place called Maybole and 24 miles from Newton Stewart. The descent down the other side of the hill gave us a grand view over the Ayrshire countryside and some wind farms in the distance and we enjoyed speeding down the hill into the valley below. Well, at least I enjoyed it – Dad was unfortunate enough to be stung on the elbow by a wasp whilst travelling at over 30 mph! At the bottom of the hill, the sun finally came out and we turned right onto a rather bumpy single track road for a few easy miles past fields of sheep and cows until we arrived at the village of Straiton where we decided to stop for lunch. It was our usual fare: crisps, oatcakes, salad, apples and (for Dad) cheapo Aldi chocolate.

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After lunch we cycled through Straiton (which seemed like a nice little place) and then turned right at the sign pointing to Newton Stewart and we began our long journey home. At first the road was quite flat with 2 lanes, though it wasn’t all that busy. The views of the valley and the hills in the distance were quite nice in the sunshine. After a while the road narrowed and began to climb upwards into the hills. It was long but quite a gradual climb which took us back into the Galloway Forest again. At one point we crossed a bridge over the oddly named River Stinchar and then the road began to climb

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ever more steepy until we finally reached the top – the highest point of the day at well over 400m. From there we had a great view over to the Balloch hill we’d cycled over a couple of hours before, as well as the road ahead, disappearing off down the hill in front of us. It looked like a fun and fast descent – and it was! Soon enough we were back onto the same road we had cycled up this morning. In this direction, heading south towards Glen Trool, it was really great fun. It was nearly all slightly downhill and smooth tarmac with hardly any traffic to be seen as we said goodbye to Ayrshire and sped back into Galloway. The fast fun seemed to go on for endless miles and with the sunshine and blue skies replacing this morning’s grey, low cloud, the views of the hills and the forest were much more impressive.

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It wasn’t long before we reached the sign welcoming us back to Glentrool village. But again, we avoided the village and turned left and decided to cycle the 4 miles or so right into the heart of the Glen Trool Forest and the stunning hills surrounding the picturesque Loch Trool. The road was fairly flat apart from a couple of short but very steep climbs right at the end, just before we got the end of the tarmac at the parking area for Bruce’s Stone. Bruce’s Stone is a monument that was errected to commemorate Robert the Bruce’s victory at the Battle of Glen Trool in 1307. The stone is just a big boulder with nothing historic about it so is not really worth looking at, despite all the tourists that flock there to get their picture taken. The views of the hills and the loch are grand though.

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We then cycled back along the narrow road and this time turned left and finally did go along the road through Glentrool Village and after a mile of two we came to the junction with the A714 road. It would have been a nice easy 5 or 6 mile ride downhill from here to Newton Stewart. But I was still feeling full of energy so after a brief time on the main road we turned right onto the narrowest, and possibly the nicest, road of the day. As usual it was suspiciously uphill but this was made up for by the increadible views behind us back to the hills of the Galloway Forest where we’d been only half an hour before. The

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road took us past Loch Ochiltree as we climbed up and around a small grassy hill. From the high point we had a lovely long and straight slightly downhill stretch which took us quickly to the junction with the B7027. Here we turned left onto the smoothest road in the world. It was such a pleasure to cycle on it as it took us through areas of the Galloway Forest that had recently been cut down. It was also mostly downhill and very fast and before long we came to another junction with the A714 once more. We could have been there much quicker if we hadn’t taken our long cut, but we’d have missed out on some of the best views of the day so I was glad we’d gone the long and hilly way. After that we turned right and sped down the hill for a mile or so to Newton Stewart where we stopped at the Co-op to buy ice lollies to try and cool ourselves down! Then it was only a half mile or so back to our accomodation at Nether Barr where we arrived just in time for tea (mushroom risotto) – so that was well timed. It had been a bit of an epic adventure through some beautiful countryside and definitely one of the highlights of our holiday in Dumfries and Galloway.

Gorebridge to Tweedbank (volume 4: via Tweedsmuir)

Route out – Gorebridge to Eddleston to Stobo to Drumelzier to Tweedsmuir to Cappercleuch to Yarrow Feus to Yarrow to Yarrowford to Selkirk to Galashiels to Tweedbank. For route map click here.

Route back – Scotrail train from Tweedbank to Gorebridge.

See route on Strava.

  • Weather – Heavy rain (and some hail) for the first 15 miles, then mainly cloudy but dry with some glimpses of sun. Quite cold and annoyingly windy (and we were cycling straight into the wind) for the last 30 miles.
  • Bike type – road bike
  • Distance travelled – 69.3 miles
  • Riding time – 5 hours 37 minutes
  • Maximum speed – 30.2 mph
  • Average speed – 12.4 mph
  • Height climbed – 3359 feet

Dad recently bought me a brilliant book called “Cycling Climbs of Scotland: a Road Cyclists Guide” by Simon Warren which details some of the best, and hardest hills you can possibly cycle up. One of the toughest climbs described in the book is known as the Wall of Talla. It has a 20% gradient according to the road sign and looked impossibly steep when we drove up it in the car a few weeks ago. We once cycled down it and I remember it being rather scary and very hard to stop yourself going too fast or even crashing. However, I like a challenge so was determined that this time we would climb up the “wall”. And just to make things more difficult, the route I had in mind would be one of the longest we’d ever attempted, with almost 40 miles to cycle before the 20% sign even came into view…

The weather didn’t look too promising when we left the house but the forecast said it was supposed to brighten up with just one or two showers later in the day. Well, my advice to you is never trust the weather forecast as just after leaving Gorebridge along the B6372, the rain really started coming down, interspersed with occasional bursts of hail. It really was foul and horrible to cycle in. Thank goodness we have decent lights because it was almost dark. It basically rained constantly for the first 20 miles of this route – “Showers my ar5e!” said Dad – but we decided we may as well keep plodding on, turning off the B road after a few miles and onto the minor road that skirts around the edge of Gladhouse Reservoir and then past Portmore Loch. The minor road is a lovely smooth road surface, perfect for cycling on – at least until you reach the signpost welcoming you to the Scottish Borders. After that it’s much rougher and full of potholes. Amazingly though, the awful section of potholes we spotted on our last route had been patched up. They didn’t do a very good job though as the filled in holes are almost a rough and bumpy as the potholes were! Just after Portmore, the road took us down a steep, twisting slope until the A703 road where we stopped for a drink before venturing out into the traffic…

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It’s never particularly pleasant when you are cycling on a busy road and being overtaken all the time, but it’s even worse when it’s wet. We survived the 2 or 3 miles on the main road though and were soon in Eddleston where we turned right onto the minor road signposted for Lyne Station via Meldons. We were absolutely drenched by then, especially our gloves, and our hands were quite cold. We decided it would be a good idea to take off our gloves before carrying on. Bad idea. As we cycled up the gradual slope into the Meldon Hills the rain got even heavier and our hands just got even colder. So the wet gloves went back on soon enough! The Meldons road is one of the nicest you’ll ever cycle on – at least it is when the weather is decent. Today was just horrible as the road was extremely wet, flooded and muddy at times. Even on the downhills we had to go slow to avoid being constantly splashed by the water. At this stage we were so fed up that we were seriously considering aborting the planned route and just heading home. Thankfully, just as we reached the other side of the Meldons and we neared the junction with the A72, the rain suddenly stopped and skies brightened remarkably. In fact, it was almost sunny and just like that, despite the wet shoes and gloves, we both brightened up too…

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After only a few metres on the A72 we turned left onto the B712. This section of the route is highly recommended, taking you into the Tweed Valley past Stobo Castle and Dawyck Botanic Garden, and is one of my favourite roads for cycling. It is mostly flat and has great views of the hills and the River Tweed (which it basically follows for about 8 miles). The road is relatively quiet and is very straight for long stretches too so it’s easy to go at a good speed. As we cycled along we were also amazed at the miles and miles of daffodils lining the road. Someone must have taken years to plant them all. Or maybe they are wild daffodils – who knows? Very beautiful anyway.

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Eventually, we came to a junction with another main road, the A701. There is no way to avoid this one so we turned left and headed south. As it turned out the A701 is not very busy with traffic at all and it is also fairly flat with a reasonable surface for cycling on (well apart from the odd pothole to avoid). Like the B712, the scenery is stunning, with lovely hills all around and grand views of the River Tweed all along the 7 miles. Also, look out for several impressive-looking metal bridges crossing the river to farms and other private properties along the way. In this direction, we were heading in the opposite direction to the river flows so it should have felt as if we were cycling uphill. It felt more like we were going downhill though and in no time at all we’d arrived at the tiny hamlet of Tweedsmuir where we turned left onto the minor road and stopped at a nice old bridge and sat on some rocks at the river side and had our first proper rest of the day (after 35 miles unbelievably!). We were feeling rather peckish so ate some lunch of Parma Ham, oatcakes, grapes and celery sticks to give us an energy boost before tackling the big challenge ahead.

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After lunch, the narrow road took us eastwards, gradually uphill and straight into an annoyingly strong and cold wind. Soon we came to the Talla Reservoir which looks rather impressive with the very steep sloped hills around it. We couldn’t see the “wall” just yet but after a flat mile or so along the water side, we rounded the end of the reservoir and then, if you looked closely, you could just make out the line of the road heading up the next hill at a stupidly steep angle. Well, there was no going back so we tried to ignore the 20% gradient sign and started up the hill in our lowest gear. Immediately we realised that this was by far the steepest and hardest hill we’d ever tried to cycle up. It was real struggle to even keep moving. Dad decided to zig-zag up the road to help cut down the gradient and this certainly helped. Thankfully, despite this being one of the quietest roads in Scotland, a few cars came along when we were going up so we had no choice but to stop and let them past. These rest breaks certainly helped (and allowed us to enjoy the view behind us back down to the reservoir below too) and we eventually managed to reach the top. We probably could have walked up the hill quicker but we had climbed 150m in a mile according to the book so we were just pleased we’d managed it without any pushing at all.

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From the high point in the road you a get a great view through the hills towards the next reservoir, Megget Reservoir. We stopped at the top for a rather long rest before soldiering on into the cold wind. At least most of the next few miles was downhill with only some short ups and it really is a lovely road for cycling on – although I didn’t think so at the time as my legs were well and truly broken after climbing the wall… The area around Megget Reservoir is totally stunning and well worth stopping for a picnic on a good day. Today, we just sped past and free-wheeled down the long gradual hill for a few miles until we came to the junction with the A708 next to St Mary’s Loch.

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I was feeling worn out and wasn’t looking forward to the final 25 miles or so. It would be mainly on the main road and in to the freezing wind but after re-fueling on a banana we turned left and headed for Selkirk along the A708. Thankfully, apart from a number of motor bikes, this is a fairly quiet road and as it follows the Yarrow Water, it is reasonably flat. After Talla, I was really glad of this fact but I still didn’t really enjoy this section much, despite the nice views along the valley because I was so tired. I was glad when we eventually made it to the town of Selkirk as I knew that meant there wasn’t far to go… In Selkirk we avoided climbing the steep hill into the town centre but instead took a back street that follows the river past a recycling centre and eventually takes you to the main A7 road on the outskirts of town. Here we were able to avoid the traffic by going on the shared use cycle path. After a mile or so we turned left at the cycle route signs, over a bridge across the Ettrick Water and then into the Sunderland Hall Estate. A short, flat

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straight section of road then took us to another bridge over the River Tweed and then onto Cycle Route no.1. We followed the cycle route for the last few miles and it was really one of the nicest parts of the day, with a mixture of well-surfaced paths and quiet roads following the river. There was wild garlic everywhere and we got a great view of Abbotsford House across the water. Soon enough we arrived at Tweedbank Station, perfectly timed, just as the train from Edinburgh arrived. We’d had a rather challenging day and one I’ll never forget and if you feel like a bit of an adventure, I’d highly recommend to try and cycle up the Wall of Talla. You won’t regret it – even if your legs will at the time!

Camp Wood Hill Route

Route – Gorebridge to Camp Wood to Southside Farm to Gorebridge. Google Maps couldn’t find the off-road part of the route so for a map, see below.

See route on Strava.

campwood map

  • Weather – cloudy but dry, warm enough and not much wind.
  • Bike type – mountain bike
  • Distance travelled – 7.66 miles
  • Riding time – 50 minutes
  • Maximum speed – 32.5 mph
  • Average speed – 9.2 mph
  • Height climbed – 640 feet

A couple of Sundays ago, Dad and I took my little sister Isla on a short but very adventurous cycle route, cycling over the hill behind our school, St Andrews Primary. Part of the route follows a path that we often walk along but this time we decided it might be fun to try it on bikes. And it actually was fun.

We headed straight up the steep hill from our house, using mostly residential streets for almost a mile until we reached the B6372 road where we headed in the direction of Vogrie Country Park. After less than half a mile, we turned left onto a quiet and narrow road with a lovely smooth surface. Soon, this road starts to go very steeply uphill (Isla had to stop and push here!) but eventually we reached the high point in the road at around 250m high. The carries on back down the other side of the hill to Mayfield but today we left tarmac behind and followed the path on the right (signposted for Edgehead) which took us into Camp Wood. The first part of the path takes you through a small farm and in the past we’ve seen all sorts of animals here including donkeys and Highland cows. Today there was only a few goats and 1 horse to be seen so that was slightly disappointing. The actual track itself is rather narrow at first but then becomes much wider after you go through a gate and enter the woods. It’s also pretty bumpy and muddy in places. However, it was relatively pleasant to cycle on.

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After a short while of bumping slightly downhill through the trees, we came to a steep grassy section which was quite hard to cycle up. Dad and I managed but once again Isla had to push… At the top there is a clearing where you get amazing views across to the Moorfoot Hills in one direction and Fife, Edinburgh, Arthur’s Seat and the Pentland Hills in the other direction. Next we had to lift our bikes over a locked gate (or rather Dad did) before following the much less bumpy path through another patch of woodland for a short distance, foraging for blackberries along the way, until we emerged from the trees onto a very narrow road with a stunning view over to East Lothian in the distance. We could even see North Berwick Law and Traprain Law.

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Back on road, we headed right and our next challenge was to cycle as fast as possible down the steepest and straightest section of road in Midlothian. So Dad says anyway… I once went over 40 mph down this hill but today I only managed a reasonably poor 32.5 mph. This is a very quiet road (you’ll be more likely to meet a horse than a car) but you still need to be careful as at the bottom of the hill there is a sharp bend to the left so you must slow down before you get there or you might end up going straight on into the entrance to Southside Farm (if you don’t get run down by a tractor coming round the corner the other way that is…). We slowed down safely enough but did go straight on to follow the farm road from Southside Farm for a couple of miles, most of the way back to Gorebridge. It’s quite a well surfaced road, not too bumpy and only a few potholes to avoid. You probably wouldn’t want to drive your BMW along it but I think you could manage on a road bike if you are careful.

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About halfway along the road we came to a huge pile of massive tree trunks so we stopped there for a quick snack. Soon enough we came back to the narrow, smooth road we’d cycled on earlier on our way up to Camp Wood. This time we turned left and headed back to the B6372 for the last mile down the hill to our house in Gorebridge where we got home in time for an early lunch of poached eggs with smoked salmon.

Bathgate to Glasgow (via the Falkirk Wheel)

Route out – Bathgate to Linlithgow to Falkirk Wheel to Kirkintilloch to Bishopbriggs to Glasgow. For route map click here.

Route back – Glasgow to Uddingston to Coatbridge to Airdie to Plains to Caldercruix to Blackridge to Bathgate. For route map click here.

See route on Strava.

  • Weather – dull at first then much brighter but with 1 horrible heavy shower around midday. Mainly sunny and warm later in the afternoon.
  • Bike type – road bike
  • Distance travelled – 80.62 miles
  • Riding time – 6 hours 42 minutes
  • Maximum speed – 32.6 mph
  • Average speed – 11.9 mph
  • Height climbed – 1958 feet

It seems like Dad and I have cycled everywhere in the south of Scotland. But last Saturday I woke up and suddenly realised that we’ve never been to the largest city in Scotland – Glagow. So I decided at 6:30am that morning that that was where we’d be cycling to that day. Unfortunately, to get to Glasgow and back from Gorebridge in a day would be basically impossible so we loaded up the car and travelled to the West Lothian town of Bathgate and by about 9:15am we were on our bikes…

We left the car on Kirkton Avenue in Bathgate and started by cycling straight up a really steep and long hill (14% gradient according to the sign) heading north for Linlithgow. It didn’t actually seem that hard a climb and soon we were out into the countryside going up and down (mostly up) for a while until we reached the top of the narrow road near Cairnpapple Hill where, despite the grey and overcast sky, we got a fine view across to the 3 bridges crossing the Firth of Forth away in the distance. From there, it was mainly downhill all the way for the few miles to Linlithgow on a relatively busy “C” class road which passes by Beecraigs Country Park on the way. The is road has a lovely smooth surface but has lots of very sharp bends on the steepest downhill sections so be careful…

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Not far into the town of Linlithgow, we turned left off the main road onto the Union Canal, cycle route 754. We’ve cycled on the canal before from Edinburgh to Linlithgow but had never gone further until today. The surface of the path was much better than I remembered, fairly smooth and with a hard-packed covering of fine stone chips, so it was perfectly OK for the road bikes. The gradient is totally flat so you have to keep pedaling pretty much constantly so it is a bit of a slog at times. You have to pass beneath many bridges and the turns here are very tight and bumpy so you have to slow to a crawl at times. You’ll also find that the path is used by millions of dog walkers (we even passed someone skiing on rollerblades!) so you have to pay attention and slow down a lot – we didn’t notice much in the way of dog dirt on the path though amazingly! Don’t expect many good views from the path either because you are always low down. The exception to this is when you cross the Avon Aqueduct (you have to push along here in case you fall in…) which gives you a stunning view down into the Avon Gorge.

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Before too long, we had reached the Falkirk Tunnel. I normally like tunnels but this one was very dark, bumpy and wet, with water leaking down from above in many places. It was too dangerous to cycle through it so we pushed our bikes for what seemed like about a mile in the darkness. It wasn’t much fun and really ruined our average speed. Thankfully, we made it safely to the other side and were greeted by a much more pleasant sight – the Falkirk Wheel. It is a rather clever mechanical contraption which joins onto the end of the Union Canal and lowers a barge down into the Forth and Clyde Canal about 50m below and at the same time raises a barge up into the Union Canal. We stopped here for an early lunch of boiled eggs, Parma Ham, cheese and oatcakes whilst we watched the barges move slowly from one canal to the other. Luckily, we didn’t require the assistance of the Falkirk Wheel to reach the Forth and Clyde Canal – we just freewheeled down the hill and turned left onto our second canal path of the day.

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Compared to the Union Canal, the Forth and Clyde Canal seemed much more “open” and you get much better views all along the way, especially of the Hills on the right hand side. The path surface is similarly decent, though perhaps a bit more gravelly in places. We saw fewer pedestrians and dogs on this path but many more cyclists, most heading the opposite way than us. Perhaps they were escaping Glasgow…? Interestingly, unlike the Union Canal, you don’t pass under many bridges on this canal, you tend to have to cycle up the slope until you meet the road and then cross over and down to the canal path again. This was quite annoying as there never seemed to be any pedestrian crossings and most of the roads were busy and hard to get across. On the plus side, there were loads of brambles growing along the canal-side so we managed to stop and fill our faces a couple of times. By about 1:30pm Dad spotted some high-rise flats on the other side of the water so he said we must be nearly there. Sure enough, it wasn’t long before we came upon a signpost pointing to Firhill Stadium 1 mile away. This is Partick Thistle’s football stadium and funnily enough Dad’s favourite team Aberdeen (OK, I quite like them too) was playing there today with a 3pm kick off. We could have stopped for a few hours to watch the game but we’d never have had enough time to cycle back to Bathgate in daylight so we cycled on. Luckily, the path took us right around the edge of the stadium and we were able to sneak a photo of the Aberdeen FC team bus. We also made note of the fact that because Firhill only has 3 stands, you get a great view of around 90% of the pitch if you are standing on the cycle path. That bit of knowledge will save you £25 next time your team are playing Partick Thistle…

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From Firhill it was a short ride along the riverside path, down a steep hill, under the M8 motorway and then right into Glasgow city centre at Cowcaddens. We thought it would be sensible to push our bikes along the pavement in the city centre but as it turned out, pushing along the crowded pedestrianised Sauchiehall Street was the worst (and slowest) thing in the world. So we decided it would be best to brave the bus lanes and one way streets, cycling around George Square and then south towards the River Clyde. It was actually easy enough, and relatively safe, and soon we were on the pavement again, heading east along the river side path of Cycle Route no.75.

Route 75 starts off as a lovely path (watch out for dogs and children though) which follows the River Clyde for quite a long way, passing Glasgow Green and at one point giving us a glimpse of another football stadium, Celtic Park. Although the path has a mainly good surface, there are places where tree roots are growing close to the surface and this makes lots of mini speed bumps which are annoying (for Dad) or fun (for me) to cycle over. Near the outskirts of Glasgow we found a ginormous patch of brambles so stopped for quite a while to fill up. The outskirts of Glasgow basically never end as the city joins on to the fairly grim-looking towns of North Lanarkshire and around these parts there was a lot of broken glass on the path to try and avoid. At one point between Uddingston and Coatbridge, the cycle route directs you to go along a very narrow, muddy path that’s overgrown with nettles – not fun at all, especially on road bikes.

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There’s also quite a number of sections where cycle route no.75 makes you go on the pavement alongside some busy main roads – this does not make for a fun cycling experience. You keep having to stop and start again, cross over roads at junctions and traffic lights so it’s hard to go a decent speed. We would have been better just going on the road and braving the traffic. It also seems to take a rather long and winding route. I reckon there must be a more direct and/or pleasant route that takes you through the country roads instead of the town so I will need to check the map later. Anyway, when we reached Airdrie, the route took us right past our 3rd football stadium of the day, the Excelsior Stadium, home of Airdie FC, so that was quite nice. After Airdrie we came to another rather grim place called Plains, where again route no.75 suggest cycling on the pavement alongside the main A89 road. At one point, we had no choice but to divert onto the road as a McGills bus had crashed into car at a junction and was blocking the way. We found the road to be much nicer to cycle on so we stayed on it for a short distance until the cycle route sign pointed to the left and we left the grim towns behind…

The 12 mile section of cycle route 75 from just outside Plains all the way to Bathgate is one of the nicest cycling paths ever. If you ignore the brief visits to Caldercruix and Blackridge, this section is almost all on a very quiet path with an amazingly smooth surface which makes you speed along nicely, especially on the long, slightly downhill sections. The views of the countryside are remarkably good too, including the beautiful Hillend Loch which the path skirts right around the edge of. You also get some very close up views of a wind farm which Dad and I both liked. The path follows the same route as the railway line as well, so we were lucky enough to spot about 10 trains before we made it back to Bathgate…

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By the time we reached Bathgate it was about 6:30pm and we were both starving. Luckily, even though he doesn’t know the town at all, Dad has a strange homing instinct and somehow managed to direct us straight to a Dominoes Pizza. So we stopped there for tea, eating outside in the sun before cycling back to the car. It was our longest cycle route so far, our first ride over 80 miles, but it didn’t actually seem that hard as there were very few hills to climb all day. Both of us commented that we felt we could have gone for another 20 miles! Apart from cycling through the grim towns of North Lanarkshire for an hour or 2, we’d had a really great day.

Oh, and in case you are wondering, Aberdeen won 4-3 to go top of the league so Dad was happy…

Gorebridge to Ormiston (the long way)

Route out – Gorebridge to Edgehead to Elphinstone to Tranent to Ormiston. For route map click here.

Route back – Ormiston to Pathhead to Crichton to Gorebridge. For route map click here.

See route on Strava.

  • Weather – mostly bright and sunny and quite warm with hardly any wind.
  • Bike type – road bike
  • Distance travelled – 25.9 miles
  • Riding time – 1 hour 47 minutes
  • Maximum speed – 32.4 mph
  • Average speed – 14.4 mph
  • Height climbed – 1440 feet

Last week when Dad was off work we went for an early morning ride to East Lothian to take in some roads we hadn’t cycled on before as well as some we’d been on millions of times. We left the house not long after 7am and it was quite chilly at this point so I had to put my jacket on despite the sunshine breaking through the clouds. From the house it was straight up a steep hill to get out of Gorebridge, but once at the top of hill we got onto the B6372 and raced quickly along the smooth road slightly downhill for 2 or 3 miles. This is usually quite a busy road but at this time in the morning we saw very few cars as we passed by the beautiful Vogrie Country Park on our way to the village of Edgehead.

Edgehead is a lovely quiet village which would be a nice place to live I think. My favourite bus (Borders Buses 51/52) passes through here several times each day but we didn’t see it today. The village is also on the side of a steep hill but on our new road bikes, we made it to the top of the hill more quickly than usual. From the top you get a nice fast section of straight road for a bit and then the road heads steeply downhill heading for Whitehill. Just before Whitehill, we turned off onto a narrow and rather bumpy road that leads to Fordel Mains Farm. Halfway along the road you get one of the best views in Midlothian as the road is high up, overlooking Edinburgh, Arthur’s Seat, The Pentland Hills, Fife and East Lothian. We stopped here for a quick drink and to enjoy the view.

After Fordel mains Farm we crossed a bridge that took us to the other side of the main A68 road and then turned left onto the A6124. This is a fairly quiet road despite being an “A” road. This section is also very fast and all downhill for half a mile or so. Soon we passed the sign welcoming us to East Lothian and arrived at the traffic lights at the Crossgatehall junction. Here we turned right onto the B6414 to head for Tranent. We’d never been on this road before but found it reasonably pleasant to cycle on, not too busy and quite a good surface. It goes gradually uphill for a short while and on the way up, we found a large patch of early brambles so we stopped to stuff our faces before carrying on. Soon enough we were heading gradually downhill again, speeding through Elphinstone village and not long after that, arriving at the town of Tranent. We cycled through the town centre and this was quite busy with traffic but soon we were cycling out into the East Lothian countryside once more on the B6371. This is a lovely wide and smooth road (slightly downhill too) which passes by the Hibernian FC training ground just before we came to the village of Ormiston.

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Ormiston was very peaceful this morning and we decided to stop at a bench have a bag of crisps and a drink before heading home. We left Ormiston along a very quiet, narrow road, passing a new housing development that is being built before entering the countryside again. When we passed a house along the way, some stupid-looking dogs decided to run up to the fence and bark their heads off at us for some reason. Maybe they could smell cheese and onion crisps on my fingers or something… After about a mile of easy, flat cycling, we came upon the junction with the A6093  road. This is a lovely smooth road but also quite busy with traffic and we had to wait for a while before turning left onto it. Straight away, we passed an East Lothian sign again which means that at some point after leaving Ormiston we had actually gone back into Midlothian. I didn’t see any Midlothian signs though… Anyway, after a few yards, we turned off the main road and onto the B6367, heading uphill for a wee bit until we actually did come to a sign telling us we were back in Midlothian. After the sign it was a nice long, straight and flattish ride through the trees and fields until we came to Pathhead. Just before the village there’s a house on the right that has a vintage Shell petrol pump in the garden so keep your eyes open for that. Dad forgot to stop for a photo of it though.

In Pathhead we had to wait for a minute before crossing over the busy A68 road but we were soon back onto the mainly traffic-free B6367, heading gradually uphill to Crichton, which is basically a couple of houses, a church and a ruined castle. It’s worth heading off the “main” road to visit the church and castle, but today we didn’t bother and cycled straight down the Colegate Road hill. This is a very steep hill which takes you through the Beech trees, down into a gorge and then back up another steep hill on a very narrow but smooth road. There’s a quite a few corners on the way down and it was on one of these that Dad couldn’t slow down enough and his back wheel skidded on the damp surface causing him to crash into the muddy grass verge (luckily for him there were no nettles at that point). Amazingly, his bike suffered no damage but he did get quite a few cuts on his legs and elbow and (so he says) an amazingly huge black bruise on his “upper hip”. I was in the lead at this point so missed everything. I did wonder why it took Dad so long to reach the top of the next steep hill though as I had to wait there for a few minutes before he appeared…

After that excitement, we had an easy mile of so of cycling through deserted Midlothian countryside until we came to a crossroads. We went straight on, up to the high point of the route where we got some amazing views over to the Moorfoot and Pentland Hills before speeding back down another very steep hill (Dad was more careful this time) and then a nice gentle cycle for the last mile or so back to Gorebridge along Vogrie Road. We made it home long before 10am and it turned out to be our fastest average speed ever!

Grand Tour of the Scottish Borders (Volume 5): The 4 Abbeys

Route out – Tweedbank to Gattonside to Newstead to Newtown St Boswells to Dryburgh to Clintmains to Kelso to Heiton. For route map click here. Note that Google Maps tells you to go onto the A68 at Leaderfoot but you don’t need to – just use the pedestrian bridge next to the viaduct to cross the river.

Route back – Heiton to Cessford to Jedburgh to Nisbet to Ancrum to Melrose to Tweedbank. For route map click here.

See route on Strava.

  • Weather – bright and reasonably sunny in the morning but lots of heavy showers in the afternoon and very windy too.
  • Bike type – road bike
  • Distance travelled – 62.7 miles
  • Riding time – 4 hours 46 minutes
  • Maximum speed – 33.7 mph
  • Average speed – 13.1 mph
  • Height climbed – 2815 feet

Last Saturday, Dad and I took our bikes on the train to Tweedbank in the Scottish Borders to try out a route I’d been thinking about doing for a while – the 4 Abbeys cycle route. This is a signposted circular route though as we found out, the signage is at times vague or even invisible so make sure you bring a map with you so you don’t get lost in the middle of nowhere. Our route is also slightly different in places but 90% of it is the same as the normal route.

After leaving the station we crossed the old bridge to the other side of the River Tweed and headed along the B6360 through Gattonside. This is a nice cycling road – quite quiet, good surface, relatively flat and nice views across to Melrose and the Eildon Hills. Before long we arrived at the Leaderfoot viaduct and immediately after passing underneath it, we nipped off the road on the right and joined a pedestrian bridge which crosses the

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River Tweed. Here you get amazing views of the viaduct. We then crossed the river and followed the narrow road (closed to traffic) for the mile or so to the village of Newstead with the Eildon Hills getting closer all the time. After cycling up a steep hill to leave the village we came to the junction with the A6091. This road is very busy so be very careful here. Luckily we only had to go on it for 30 yards and then there’s a right turn lane which we used to cross over onto the mainly traffic-free road that goes along the side of the hills and is actually part of Cycle Route no.1. This is a lovely stretch of road for cycling and has great views along the way of the Borders countryside. There’s also a brilliant fast downhill stretch for the last wee bit as you reach the town of Newtown St Boswells.

We zoomed through Newtown and then up a steep hill to the junction with the main A68 road. We only had to cross over and onto a narrow side road but the A68 is busy so we had to be very careful here. Soon we arrived at an old pedestrian bridge with a wooden floor which crosses the River Tweed and we stopped here to photograph the nice views. On the other side of the water we cycled up a steep hill and and arrived at our first abbey of the day – Dryburgh Abbey. You can’t really see anything of the abbey from the road and unless you pay loads of money at the visitor centre you are stuffed – or so we thought. Dad went in and asked the man if we could sneak in and take a quick photo but he wasn’t too keen on the idea. He was though kind enough to direct us to a spot in the grounds of the hotel next door where we could see the abbey over a high wall so we did get some photos after all.

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After Dryburgh we had a lovely ride through the countryside for quite a while, mostly slightly downhill and quite fast on a mix of quiet B roads and minor roads with lots of long straight sections. Eventually we arrived at a junction with the A6089 and we had to turn right onto this road for the last mile or so into the town of Kelso. This short section was not pleasant due lots of traffic and idiots overtaking when it wasn’t safe… However, we made it to the town centre in one piece and after stopping to photograph Kelso Abbey (no sneaking around and peaking over high walls required!) we ended up at Greggs the baker for an early lunch.

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Leaving Kelso turned out to be a complete nightmare. Our intended route (the signposted route) should have taken us along the A699 for a short way and then down a minor road to Roxburgh on the west side of the river. Unfortunately there was some event on down that road and the road was completely blocked with a traffic jam. Rather than sit in a queue of cars (and ruin our average speed!) we took a diversion along another main road instead, the A698, which would take us the same general direction but on the other side of the river. This turned out to be a bad idea as the road was busy, but even worse, it was straight into the strong wind so we struggled to go at a good speed. It was a lovely road surface though and quite flat too. After about 5 miles of this, passing a village called Heiton along the way, we came to a junction where we could turn off onto the B6401 to re-join the official 4 Abbeys route. Thank goodness for that… From there we had a lovely time cycling along deserted

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back roads (we saw only 2 cyclists and 2 walkers and no cars at all for a long time). We also had the chance to forage for wild raspberries at one point which is always nice. Just before Jedburgh, there’s a very long gradual hill to climb and then the road goes steeply downhill right into the town centre. On the outskirts of town Dad spotted a road called Rowan Road so we obviously stopped to photograph it before we quickly heading along to Jedburgh Abbey which is a very impressive ancient building overlooking the main road. It is impossible to miss as you cycle along.

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After a pleasant cycle through Jedburgh town centre and then along a short riverside path, we came upon the main A68 road on the northern outskirts of town. Here the signpost for the 4 Abbeys route isn’t clear but Dad checked the map and we were able to miss out the busy road and take a minor road that runs mainly in the same direction but on the other side of a river. This road was very quiet apart from a recently killed badger which was lying in the middle of the narrow road. Soon enough we came upon the dreaded A698 again and there was no way to avoid it this time. Thankfully it seemed a lot more pleasant cycling on it with the wind at our backs this time. After less than a mile we turned left onto the B6400. We immediately came upon an unusual narrow metal bridge that took us over the river into the village of Nisbet. From the bridge we got amazing views down the river valley to the East and West. We stayed on the B6410 for a few miles, heading westwards and slightly uphill through pleasant and peaceful countryside until the peace ended at the junction with the A68. We just needed to cross over main road to rejoin the B6400 again on the over side but it was very busy so it took quite a while till there was a suitable break in the traffic. It was there that we spotted an unusual stone bench so we stopped for a short break and watched my favourite bus go by (the Borders Buses 51).

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After our bus stop we rejoined the B6400 and cycled through a village called Ancrum. At this point the rain really started to fall heavily so we put our jackets on and pedalled as fast as we could. We had been expecting some showers but it basically rained constantly for the rest of the journey back to Tweedbank. After what seemed like hours of slogging uphill in the wet through what was probably a very nice and scenic landscape (it was certainly quiet and we hardly saw any cars or cyclists), we finally turned off onto the B6359 heading even more steeply uphill, around the Western edge of the Eildon Hills before finally reaching Melrose with an extremely steep and scarily fast downhill section right to the town centre. In the rain, that downhill section wasn’t as much fun as it should have been… Anyway, we made it to our favourite ice cream shop safely enough and filled our faces with raspberry cone (me) and 2 scoop tub (Dad). Dad managed to sneak a photo of the Abbey through the fence too. We made it back to the station with a while to wait until the next train so we went for a quick cycle around Gun Knowe Loch to pass the time. When we got back, the train pulled into the station at exactly the same time as us.

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This was a very long and challenging route with lots of hills but apart from the last hour or 2 in the rain, it was very enjoyable. If it sounds too long for you though, you could easily split it up into shorter sections. Right, I’m now ready for Grand Tour of the Scottish Borders volume 6 – where will we go next…?

Gorebridge to North Berwick

Route out – Gorebridge to Crichton to Humbie to Longnewton to Garvald to East Linton to North Berwick. For route map click here.

Route back – 2 Scotrail trains (North Berwick to Edinburgh then Edinburgh to Gorebridge).

  • Weather – dry and mainly sunny, quite warm but rather windy.
  • Bike type – road bike
  • Distance travelled – 47.3 miles
  • Riding time – 3 hours 36 minutes
  • Maximum speed – 72.5 mph (not sure how that happened as it was a more believable 31.8 mph just before North Berwick…)
  • Average speed – 13.1 mph
  • Height climbed – 2064 feet

A few weeks ago we went on the train for a day out in North Berwick on the East Lothian coast. That day we climbed the Law Hill, went crab catching at the beach and had an ice cream. On the way home, the train conductor didn’t bother to check our tickets. Dad noticed that the return tickets were valid until the end of the month so we decided there was nothing to stop us using them a second time. Of course we’d need to find some way to get to North Berwick first…

So last Sunday, Dad and I left the house at around 8:30am on our new road bikes (so much faster than my old mountain bike!) with our train tickets in our pockets and headed for North Berwick again. We began by cycling along some of my favourite quiet Midlothian back roads, including the steep hill near Crichton. The roads are mostly very good smooth surfaces around here and there’s lots of nice scenery and wildlife to see. At one point a blackbird decided to fly right through the frame of Dad’s bike when he was travelling at over 20 mph! We stopped at a ford in the road at the border with East Lothian for our first snack of the day (banana for me and apple for Dad). This was about 9 miles in to the ride and we’d still seen no traffic at all.

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Soon after, we were on the B6371 heading for Humbie when a car finally drove past. I spotted some wild raspberries so we stopped to stuff our faces as another car and a whole load of cyclists sped by. At the junction in Humbie we turned left onto the B6368, crossing a river and up a very steep hill until the Lammermuir Hills appeared in the distance on the right hand side. This a great cycling road as it has a nice surface and lots of straight bits and interesting humps and hollows but we didn’t stay on it for long today as we turned onto a narrow road on the right, heading towards the hills. East Lothian has lots of amazing ancient road signs dotted around the countryside (with distances give to the nearest 1/8 of a mile!), and it was at one of these that Dad made a wrong turning and we ended up back at the B6368 by mistake. Rather than go back, we turned right onto this road again and then took the next proper road on the right to head uphill and into the middle of nowhere once again. At the top of the hill we got a great view of the Lammermuirs on one side and Traprain Law and North Berwick Law miles away in the distance.

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The next while was spent in some very remote parts of the region, going up and down a lot, skirting along the edge of the hills. When you think of East Lothian you think of the coast and beaches and golf courses and tourists and this area really felt a million miles removed from that. It was fantastic cycling territory though and we saw loads of road cyclists when we were there and basically no cars. At one point Dad also saw a ferret scuttling across the road in front of us but I missed it… The only real village we passed through was Garvald and after that we had to climb a mammoth hill at Papple before we finally started to get some good views over to the East Lothian coast with the impressive Traprain Law not far away now. We took a rather round-about route which took us up quite high and then down a long fast hill before going right round to the other side of the Law, where we joined up with Cycle Route 76. This took us onto a tiny road past the ruined Hailes Castle where we stopped for lunch of oatcakes with crab and cheese. Tasty. Note that this road may be very narrow but does have a fair amount of cars using it to get to the castle so be careful. After that, it was mostly downhill to the picturesque village of East Linton where we stopped in to say hello to my cousins Ella and Angus. Oh, and to eat their biscuits and use their toilet too…

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In East Linton, dad spotted an incredibly stupid signpost which pointed to North Berwick in two completely different directions. We chose left and headed uphill on the B1377 for a short distance before turning left onto the first road we came to. This quiet road gave nice views to the west and after a couple of miles of pleasant cycling, we came to the junction with the B1347 which took us past the Museum of Flight. Immediately we noticed that this road was very very busy. It might have been because it was a sunday and the weather was nice but it wasn’t much fun to cycle on. It’s also mainly uphill and there’s a lot of bad corners on it (some right angled bends too) which make it hard for cars to overtake safely. We witnessed some rather dangerous overtaking today by an idiot in a BMW. Thankfully the driver failed to kill himself or anybody else… If we ever come this way again, we’ll certainly try and find a quieter road from East Linton to North Berwick. Eventually, we got to the top of the long, gradual hill and got some stunning views of North Berwick Law with the Bass Rock in the distance.

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Dad actually spent too long taking photos that we got to the train station 1 minute after the train had left! That left us with  an hour to kill before the next train so we cycled down the hill into the town centre and bought come ice creams… The train journey back to Edinburgh was rather interesting as there were only 2 bike spaces but at least 12 bikes managed to cram their way into the carriages. Luckily the ticket conductor didn’t seem to be too bothered and everyone made it back to Edinburgh OK. We’d made it this far without having our tickets checked again so we were already planning an alternative route to North Berwick to re-use the tickets once more. Most annoyingly though, on the train back to Gorebridge, this conductor actually bothered to check our tickets, so those plans have had to be postponed – for now.