Cycle Rides from 2018
Great cycling tours, routes, cafés and anecdotes
Sat 7th - Sun 8th April
This was the first Mellow Velo weekend of the season. The previous week had had some very nasty weather, including heavy rain, sleet and snow, which did not bode well for the weekend. The weekend weather turned out to be not too bad, starting with low cloud and heavy mist but finishing with some sunshine.
Mellow Velo has done the Five Ferries route several times, always clockwise. I thought of doing it anti-clockwise for a change, but the timings would have been awkward if we spent the night at Lochranza Hostel, so it was the same route as before. CalMac now sell a set of tickets called "Five Ferries Adventure", more convenient than buying individual ferry tickets, but no cheaper.
Four of us met at Ardrossan for the 12.30 ferry to Brodick. After lunch on the boat and buying food for the evening's meal, we took the String Road over a 234-metre summit across the centre of Arran to a tea stop at Blackwaterfoot.
After tea we went up the west coast to Lochranza. Three miles to the west is Kintyre, but it was invisible in the mist.
Apart from the first mile out of Blackwaterfoot and a short 1-in-6 climb at Imachar the road is nearly flat all the way. Despite being an A road, long stretches were pockmarked with potholes, some of them sporting traffic cones as an extra warning. A few other stretches had recently been resurfaced; one wonders what their surface must have been like before.
On the way we passed Dougarie Lodge, built in 1865 as a summer retreat for the Duke of Hamilton, with a picturesque boathouse built a few years later. At Catacol are the Twelve Apostles, a row of fishermen's cottages built about 1850; each has a differently-shaped upper window, the legend being "when the men were at sea, their wives could light a candle in the window and each man would know which house was signalling".
We spent the night at Lochranza Youth Hostel, arriving as it started to rain. The hostel was originally a hotel, built in 1894 to the design of J.J. Burnet, and was bought by the SYHA in 1943. Despite extensive alterations it still has some original features.
On Sunday we set off from Lochranza on the 9.30 ferry to Claonaig and climbed uphill across Kintyre before dropping down to Kennacraig. If you looked back from the top there would normally be a splendid view of the Arran peaks, but they were lost in the mist. The next bit was along the A83 to Tarbert, but that is reasonably flat and was not too busy. Its verges were disfigured with lots of discarded cans, bottles and other litter.
After coffee at Tarbert we took the ferry across Loch Fyne to Portavadie. From there we took a switchback road, the first bit having a concrete surface, to Tighnabruaich. There we had a good lunch at the Botanica restaurant, which specialises in sea food; three of us had some well-presented kedgeree.
Leaving Tighnabruaich the road climbs high above the shore of the Kyles of Bute, with wonderful views down into the Kyles themselves. By then the mist had gone and the sun was starting to appear. Half-way up the climb is a rock painted to look like a dragon. The road is frustrating, as you think you are at the top with a downhill stretch ahead, but then it rises again to a higher summit... and another... and another... and just as you feel like giving up you come to a viewpoint 170 metres above sea level where you look down the East Kyle and up Loch Riddon and can see the rest of the day's route and know that the worst is over.
By then we were starting to tire; we were not as fit as usual, probably because of the hard winter. The coast road to Colintraive seemed hillier than I remembered it, but we just made it to the 5.00 ferry to Bute. (The last time I did this route with Mellow Velo we also got there at the last minute, but for an earlier ferry.)
The final stretch to Rothesay was into a headwind. We were too tired to rush for the 6.00 ferry so we headed for the 7.00, the last of the day. Arriving at Rothesay in sunshine there was plenty of time to celebrate a better-then-expected weekend with the first ice-cream of the season.
Then home. An old suburban train squeaked and rattled from Wemyss Bay to Glasgow, then we made a 12-minute connection between the stations, and took a quiet and comfortable electric train on the newly-electrified line from Queen Street to Edinburgh. We got back home about ten o'clock, tired but cheerful.
Saturday 24th March 2018
We were nine for Mellow Velo’s first venture of the year, setting off after coffee in the sun from George Place, Bathgate. The sun shone for much of the day and bottles of sun tan lotion even appeared!
The ride took us down Whitburn Road (B7002) and shortly left onto cycle route NCN75 to cross the river heading west. We followed this off-road route to Blackridge (7 miles), turning north there onto the B718 to climb around Eastcraigs Hill to Gowanbank.
Joining the B8028 we dropped down into Avonbridge, forking right at the second church to climb on the B825 for magnificent sunny views. Second right for Candie-end and left to meander down to and across the A801. From there, almost immediately on the left, we took the track into Muiravonside Country Park for lunch at the Steading Café (01506 671290) (15 miles).
Service was slow as there was only one poor soul taking orders, payments and then catering but the microwave did a great job and we were in no rush.
We retraced our route back to the car park and then continued out to re-join the B825. The road crosses the Union Canal and bears sharp left at which point we pushed our bikes up the short path and left onto the towpath. This took us on a scenic ride via the Avon Viaduct to Linlithgow, the ice covering the canal experienced during the recci having since melted. The shadows of the viaduct stretching out beneath us as we crossed were memorable.
After the scenic amble along the towpath our legs were woken by the steep climb up Preston Road towards Beecriags Country Park. The reward was further fantastic views across to the north-west. The majority detoured along a path from here coming out just north of Beecraigs. Having re-grouped we skirted around the west side of the Park to the Korean Wall Memorial for a short break.
Continuing on we turned left and then right, climbing sharply to Cairnpapple but taking our next rest at a ring of standing stones. Reflecting their age and history we were right by the local farmer who admitted the ring dates from the millennium and is therefore only 18 years old!
A few went on ahead for an earlier train or to greet the car, whilst others climbed the hillock of the Knock on foot for a spectacular 360 degree view of the surrounding area, including the three bridges. The sun continued but the wind was bitter up at the top.
From there it was a relaxing drop down to crossroads, a right turn onto Drumcross Road and downhill into Bathgate. We continued past the left turn off for Majoribanks Street onto Hopetoun Street, took the next left which runs back down to the A89 and the station (25 miles total). The early train hadn’t yet left so all six train travellers managed to journey back together.
Welcome back to cycling, Mellow Velo, and a sunny start to 2018.
Photos: Tiana – cyclists along the road, stone circle; Peter - Korean War Memorial
Riders: Alastair, Alec, Anna, Jan, Jenny, Keith, Paul, Peter, Tiana
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