CYCLING GLASGOW TO EDINBURGH
CLYDE TO FORTH AND BEYOND
Steve and Ed Dyster shared a bit of Dad and Lad cycling time, visited two great cities and searched out Empire biscuits in Scotland’s Central Belt.
I’d love to have seen Clydeside lined with ships, goods swinging from the jibs of leviathan cranes with mighty legs planted as they performed a sort of static ballet of commerce. The hammer of the riveters, the chug of the puffers and the shouts of the dockers strong Glaswegian. Well, there’s none of that now. On the other hand there is a fabulous transport museum and some grand cycling infrastructure.
Actually, Glasgow has become a tourist destination and one which can easily be explored by bicycle. There are plenty of day excursions out of the city, too - Bowling and up to Balloch (on Loch Lomond), Gourock, along the Clyde, out through Paisley in to Renfrewshire. Excellent rail links put numerous excursions within easy reach.
Ed is not as keen on cycling as he once was, but still enjoys the odd thirty to forty miler, so long as the night’s accommodation has decent wifi so he can get his fix. For this trip, he also added a further proviso. Though he would say to is a dead game - i.e. neither the nor any of his mates would be seen dead playing it, I would've to learn how to play Pokemon Go.
Sad, really; a man of my age having his arm twisted in such an undignified way. Yet it has its advantages when it comes to getting out and about, so for two days we rode and collected and trashed gyms. If this is just gibberish to you, count your blessings. We had just one rule: no cycling and using mobile devices at the same time.
Going somewhere in Glasgow
Getting around Glasgow by bike seems to be popular. Keep your wits about you as trendy fixies mix with hybrids and road bikes along the riverside, through the parks and all around. we were both impressed by the signage and the continuity of the infrastructure. Right into the city centre,where traffic seems to move slowly, we dutifully dismounted on the crowded Buchanan and Argyle Streets.
Heading out next morning was just as good. Along the river, over the “Bridge to Nowhere” - now the bridge to somewhere - the routes were well-laid out, clear and easy. We would have flowed rapidly into Kelvingrove Park if it were not for continuing my digital education and repairing a puncture. The “Bridge to Nowhere” stood pointlessly for many years, suspended above the motorway. Opened a couple of years back it is a vital link between the west side go Glasgow and the main route along the River Clyde. There’s some public art at the foot of the bridge; a portrait bench starring James Watt, Jimmy Reid and Tom Weir; local heroes, by the foot of the officially named Anderston Footbridge.
Buckets of rain and general mooching round kept us in Kelvingrove Park. We eschewed the famous gallery, but sheltered where possible. Eventually the park gives way to Botanic Gardens and a pleasant ride along the rushing River Kelvin. Eventually we twisted our way up and emerged on the banks towpath of the Forth-Clyde Canal, half-way up the rise at Maryhill Locks.
By the cut
Apart form a quick dip to pass under the canal, the towpath quickly runs past the final outskirts of the city and into peaceful countryside. The surface is excellent - and maintains its quality all the way to Grangemouth, on the Forth.
Opened in 1790, the canal was wide and deep enough for some sea-going vessels to cross lowland Scotland at its narrowest point. Railways soon had the same idea for carriage of goods in this increasingly industrialised area, as bigger ships meant less traffic. Closed in the 1960s, the locks that climbed to the Union Canal near Falkirk had fallen into disrepair. Hence, the magnificently new Falkirk Wheel. For cyclists, this is NCR 754.
Before the spectacular engineering, there are miles of flat, effortless cycling - the steepest slope being the access to the main street of Kirkintilloch - and peasant views of distant hills. Though close to towns, there are limited refreshment opportunities, so we stopped atop the access ramp and ate pies. Kirkintilloch has lots of food choices - even in late October, so fill you boots.
Pressing on, the views become broader as the canal reaches its summit level near Kilsyth. The eponymous hills make for a grand view. Though very pleasant on an autumn afternoon, this could become a very bleak spot. The Roman soldiers manning the Antonine Wall, which ran to the south of the canal, may well have found it so, too. Fortunately, if things do turn nasty, one s rarely too far from a railway station.
The Empire strikes
The café at the Falkirk Wheel was still open, and the quality of the Empire biscuits was more attractive than magnificent engineering. We had been for a longer visit before.
So we sped on through Falkirk, stopping to admire industrial buildings and capture their concomitant virtual reality creatures.
There’s a short section where signage disappeared, but a bit of common sense kept us on track. A handful miles later, the immense horse-heads came into view. The Kelpies, sculptures that stand either side of the canal shortly before it passes into the River Carron and thence too the Forth. Attracting thousands of visitors, cycling infrastructure plays a big part in allowing easy access - most cars are kept at a distance - to the whole of Helix Park.
For us, we took a good look and headed into Grangemouth to find the Helix Hotel. Not posh, not in the most beautiful location, but great value, with safe bike storage and a jolly good breakfast - whatever your taste.
Beauty in industry or industry in beauty?
Ed wasn’t impressed by Grangemouth. too industrial and too grey. I loved the derelict Empire Electric Theatre and justified our stay to him; half-way, convenient, impressive scale of industry. He was certainly awed by the scale of the refinery at Grangemouth, as we looked back as we climbed a hill away from the town as we continued on NCR 754 towards Bo’ness.
A few racing descents and stiff ascents - all short - actually made a really pleasant contrast to the towpath of the previous day. Yes, speed may have meant we missed a sign, but picking up the barely busy main road enabled us to pick up some cycle tracks that took us to the banks of the Firth of Forth much sooner.
What would cycling be without places like this? Showers scudded across the choppy water; rainbows appeared only to dissolve almost as you looked; the breeze blew sharp and fresh; across firth hills rose above a line of sporadic industry. We messed about n some boulders, and hit the small town for a bag of sweets.
At one time the cycle route went inland, but it has been re-routes along the coast, at first on a rough path through woodland and then on a lovely new asphalt. Fifteenth century Blackness Castle is a prominent landmark, fortress, garrison and prison.
After Blackness the cycle route has a bizarre section across a grassy field. There is no track, just take your chances. An even more unsuitable mud bath presented itself at the bottom of the field, but things rapidly improved to a stony track as we entered the estate attached to Hopetoun House.
There were groups of MTBers and the occasional gravel bike went by, riders enjoying the sunshine. Well signed and with some pesky gates, the route winds about and gives a fleeting glance of the stately home before leaving rapidly to pick up the road for the South Queensferry, with all three Forth crossings in sight.
South Queensferry is delightful and has several cafés. We paused briefly to view the rail bridge - it is still the most iconic of the three bridges - before selecting one. Ed dismissed my selection on the basis that none had Empire biscuits. He found one that did, and seemed to sell almost everything else Scottish-Italian, too. We were both content.
Leaving the setts that provide speed control in the town, you pass under the railway bridge, now covered in longer lasting paint, and head into the grounds of Dalmeny Park. the tracks provide a mixture of comfort and adventure, but have some good views. Eventually one passes the grand house and climbs inland to emerge at Cramond Bridge, on the outskirts of Edinburgh.
Riding into the city centre was easy enough. Residential roads lead to a former railway line that descends through the suburbs and reaches the main drag close to Haymarket Station. Cycling through the city centre was not too bad, but signage was not as obvious as in Glasgow. Even so, Waverley Station, bikes parked up, four hours to visit Princes Street Gardens, the Scott Monument, the Castle, Hard Rock Café - or rather, to catch the wild Pokemon who keep appearing in these places. At least, Ed got to see the sights.
National Cycle Network www.sustrans.org.uk
Tourist info for Glasgow, including cycling pages, https://peoplemakeglasgow.com/visiting
For Edinburgh edinburgh.org/
At Grangemouth we stayed in the Helix Hotel https://www.helixhotel.co.uk
For the Forth and Clyde Canal https://www.scottishcanals.co.uk/
Dalmeny House https://dalmeny.co.uk/
Hopetoun House hopetoun.co.uk/
For an independent view and information on cycling in Glasgow, including maps http://www.gobike.org The organisation also covers the whole of Strathclyde.
For similar in Edinburgh http://www.spokes.org.uk Also covers the Lothians.
PUBLISHED NOVEMBER 2017