THE BROMPTON SETS FORTH .... AND CLYDE
Mark Jacobson goes a-folding and a-camping.
Milngavie (Mil-guy-ee), a suburb of Glasgow, had been my overnight camp. Regrettably, this site will have disappeared as the farm steading had been purchased by a developer for housing, the camping dell to become a residents' private park.
Riding northwards on the A81 to Strathblane gave a good view of the steep western side of the Campsie Fells falling into the valley of Blane Water. Turning to the east along the Campsie Valley took me through Milton of Campsie to Kirkintilloch where the excellent NCN755 abandoned me! The continuation as NCN754 is unsigned and, on asking for directions, I found that many are lost here. I eventually joined the cycle route some two miles beyond its start, only to lose it again in Moodiesburn!
Making my way to Twechar brought me to the Forth-Clyde Canal: the tow path here varies in quality, depending on the importance the local authority places on leisure activities. Stretches of tarmac were interlaced with muddy grit, but all ridable. This gave a level ride to the Falkirk Wheel, that magnificent modern method of bridging two disparate levels of navigation; there being a height difference of 34m between the Union and Forth-Clyde canals at this juncture.
The café proved to be reasonably priced but very busy! Leaving there I mounted the Union Canal tow path, heading for the camp site at Linlithgow, in the park at the slopes of the hills overlooking the Avon valley. The aqueduct over the Avon is definitely non-cyclable: the setts making up the tow path are well spaced and slope downwards. To slip is to be dunked in the cut!
Next day I took an unladen ride, visiting several Quest sites using NCN76 to pass the Kelpies. These immense horse-heads are 30m tall and dwarfed my Brompton, as well as that of a Cardiff lass with hers! Unless coming along the canal via NCN754 from the Falkirk Wheel, the Kelpies are very close to the A905 and NCN76 just north of Grangemouth. The kiosk here is more costly than the Falkirk Wheel café.
Rain set in soon after that and it took me a while to return to my tent. During the night snow fell to about 2” (5cm) but the roads soon cleared, allowing me to on as usual. Starting at West Calder I located NCN75 to find my way to Ratho and NCN754 for Edinburgh. From Kingsknowe I had an almost straight road, the B701, to Morton Hall camp site, a mere 5 or 6 miles on: in reality this route proved complex and I found myself accidentally in Morningside, many miles off route! Eventually reaching the camp site, I was pleased to find it had a well-stocked shop for my evening meal. Although my most expensive camp of this trip, the site here is ideally situated for the Rosslyn Chapel, which I wished to visit next day.
An easy road and then the cycle track along a former rail bed through Loanhead soon got me safely to Roslin and the Rosslyn Chapel, now so well-visited that it soon becomes crowded. Apparently the visitor numbers now exceed 135 000 just in August alone! One could spend a lot of time there, preferably out of season when the many carvings could be enjoyed. However, the interactive screens allow detailed digital viewing.
The Pentland Hills had a good covering of snow that day. From Penicuik NCN196/1/196 took me out into the countryside. Parts of there routes are still being surfaced so soft gravel was encountered. Unable to find an open café or pub in Ormiston I resorted to the local shop for sustenance before proceeding to Gifford and Dunbar. Here I had an extended stay on the camp site, owing to the excessive wind from the west. My tent had an exposed position overlooking the Firth of Forth and Bass Rock, well away from the rocking, creaking caravans!
After a wild and windy night, winds exceeding 40 mph, I set off in the blustery conditions to Dirleton for an isolated Quest outside the church. Having succeeded in my struggle there it was a delight to be invited to join the parishioners in their after-service refreshments! Very welcome, too. Once back at my tent I relaxed, did some bike maintenance, and rested, deciding to ride to St Abbs unladen for a final Quest under these very trying conditions.
What a noisy night! Flysheet guys slipped a bit and will need replacing, but aside from that the wind has been no threat to the NF Tadpole tent. With strong winds forecast for the rest of the day, I took NCN76 as far as Cockburnspath, having read the note about the ford at Pease Bay being impassable after heavy rain, which meant a very short distance along the A1(T), quite manageable.
In places near the cement works the route follows a footpath and then a redundant tarred road, now a farm track, before reaching a fairly decent off-road cycle path adjacent the A1 to a crossing point some way before finding a minor road to Coldingham. However, this off-road bit has been cheaply made, with perennial wild flowers already pushing their way through the otherwise smooth surface! The 19 miles to St Abbs took 1h55, mostly slowed by the very strong cross-gusts. Having found the Quest, I took refuge for a while in the Visitor Centre before moving to the, now open, café at House 4 for very fresh refreshments, the scones having just come out of the oven.
On my return to Dunbar I rode into the town for lunch, taken at the Castle Inn, washed down with a smooth, fresh and delightful pint of Belhaven Best, brewed just half a mile away. It was a fitting farewell to the Firth of Forth.
Camp sites used:
Bankell Farm Camping Site, Strathblane Rd, Milngavie, Glasgow, G62 8LE, Tel: 0141 956 1733
Beecraigs Country Park Caravan & Camping Site, Beecraigs Country Park, Linlithgow, EH49 6PL, Tel: 01506 844516
Morton Hall Caravan & Camping Park, 38 Mortonhall Gate, Frogston Road East, Edinburgh, EH16 6TJ, Tel: 0131 664 1533
Dunbar Camping And Caravanning Club Site, Oxwellmains, Dunbar, EH42 1WG, Tel: 02477670642
For the British Cycle Quest:
PUBLISHED DECEMBER 2016