Monthly Archives: December 2013

The Scottish National Trail: Part 3 – Slateford to Milngavie

As the end of 2013 approaches, it recently dawned on me that my limited miles (a single day in March) on the Scottish National Trail was a poor show, and so with Christmas turkey still weighing me down, I found time to ride the “easy” Slateford to Milngavie section (which I am labelling as “Part 3”, Peebles to Slateford having been “Part 2“, and “Part 1” still to be ridden).

In between 40mph winds and torrential downpours, the forecast suggested a couple of dry days. Boxing Day looked tempting, but the need to rely on my long suffering wife’s taxi services (in the absence of a Scotrail service) saw me delaying slightly to 29 December. Probably a wise move as I’m quite sure I’ll be cashing in lots of brownie points for her taxi services for other sections.

Whilst I intend to ride the mountain bike for the rest of the trail, the Slateford to Milngavie section is along the flat and relatively smooth Union and Forth and Clyde Canal paths for the most part, and so the lighter cyclocross bike with skinnier tyres seemed the better option. Having ridden to Linlithgow in early January before, I know how wet the canal towpaths can be, even on dry days, and so the Shimano waterproof boots were donned and the rear mudguard added to the bike.

The Slateford start is only a couple of miles from home (I pass the Scottish National Trail plaque at the Water of Leith visitor centre almost daily on my cycle to work as a constant reminder of my dilatoriness), so after a quick ride down the hill and the obligatory start photo shot, I was climbing the steps onto the Union Canal path.

The relative simplicity of this section of the trail means that I can keep the route description brief. The Union Canal allowed a brisk start, and although the prevailing westerly wind provided a bit of resistance, this day would be by far the flattest of the trail, and ideal for weary legs after a hard season of cyclocross racing and a long lingering cold. The section to Ratho was quickly dispatched, before the towpath began to resemble more of a cyclocross racecourse – skinny cyclocross tyres cutting through a sodden mulch of rotting leaves and mud. The plywood childrens’ television characters lining the banks towards Newbridge kept a colourful, if slightly menacing eye on my progress before the trail opened out on to more exposed sections through Winchburgh and Broxburn, where the leafy mulch was replaced by puddle after puddle and a slightly stronger headwind.

The flattest ride you will ever see? The lumpiest bits are actually before and after the proper Scottish National Trail sections.

The flattest ride you will ever see? The lumpiest bits are actually before and after the proper Scottish National Trail sections.

The flat nature of the route reflects the impressive engineering involved – there is just a single lock between Edinburgh and the canal end by Falkirk. I always wonder if engineering like this would be undertaken nowadays – I’m sure it would be voted down by some quango as too expensive and not worth the bother. The tunnel a couple of miles before the Falkirk wheel is no less impressive, with jagged bare rock still visible on the roof and now well illuminated. Shortly afterwards the shiny and relatively new Falkirk wheel looms into view, alongside the only descent on the canal part of the route. The last time I visited here by bike was when at university in Glasgow – riding home with a friend was good way to avoid the Scotrail and Citylink fares, although we probably spent more than that in extra mars bars along the way. It was definitely a bit warmer then.

Pressing on past pedestrians staggering around the path, the route continues along the Forth and Clyde Canal towards Glasgow on wider but similarly puddly paths. By now the dog walkers were out in slightly greater numbers, and I was glad I had added the bell to the cyclocross bike. Ting ting.

By the time I approached Cadder, I was growing weary of the long, flat miles and relentless (but thankfully not terribly strong) headwind, and was glad to turn off on to the road for a short climb up past the church and descent towards Cawder Golf Club. A brief wrong turn saw me heading along a tempting driveway towards the clubhouse before about turning and picking up the path through a line of trees that I should have seen the first time around.

After cutting through the village of Balmore, I continued over the second golf course – sneaking round the clubhouse and on to a good path. At separate points I passed two groundsmen – both exchanged brief pleasantries and neither seemed perturbed by a mucky cyclocrosser nipping round the course – right to roam working well in practice. The path through the club was relatively easy to follow (although not signposted, so I was glad of my Garmin mapping) and aside from cutting across a deserted fairway, followed a path which would trouble only the most wayward tee shot. From here, pleasant backroads (through Baldernock and a third golf course in as many miles – they love lairy polo necks, checked trousers and Jaguars in East Dunbartonshire) led onwards and down into Milngavie. Thankfully I followed a car through the fast flowing ford on Baldernock Road. I might otherwise have been tempted to power through, but going arse over tit on slippy cobbles in the final mile would have been an embarrassing way to finish the day.

Having briefly flirted with the idea of picking up the canal again near Kirkintilloch and riding home (making a 110mi round trip), I decided not to spoil a pleasant enough ride by turning it into a do-able but slightly wearing epic. Shunning the tempting tailwind back along the canal, I pedalled down the Kelvin Walkway and on to Glasgow Queen Street for a train back to Edinburgh. Just over 100km all in, confirmed by the muddy spray covering bike and legs. I’m sure the virtually empty carriage at my end of the train was nothing to do with that though.

All done, a pleasant day of riding, although I am looking forward to the more rugged sections more. The prevailing wind was never quite strong enough to make me wish I had ridden west to east (which seems sensible, but not quite in the spirit of the SNT) and the canal miles were easily ticked off. I was slightly unsure what to expect of the sections through golf courses, but all were walker friendly and posed no issues for considerate cyclocrossers either.

A paltry two days of riding on the Scottish National Trail in 2013, but I’m now itching to crack on in 2014. I will let the trails dry out a bit first, and hopefully tick off several days in March, April and May. Not least, Part 1 from Kirk Yetholm still needs tackled.

The trimmed down GPX file, showing only the part of the ride from Slateford to Milngavie is here.

The Scottish National Trail: Part 2 – Peebles to Slateford

I like having a bike project on the go. Something to look forward to. Something to take up time when I should be working and to ponder whenever glancing idling at the calendar. Recently, meticulously planned new bike builds with geeky spreadsheets have filled much of that time, but now that the FF29 is built, the singlespeed CX bike is re-modelled and a few other bits and pieces have been upgraded, it is time to put the materialistic part of me to one side and get on and ride the damn things.

The current itch and long running project is to ride the Scottish National Trail. I am writing this post over a year after Cameron McNeish’s route launch, and almost a year after BBC’s Adventure Show covered the route. Although it was always to be a long term plan, progress has been rather slow.

To date, I have spent multiple evenings poring over OS maps (on paper and in Garmin BaseCamp), often with Cameron’s book as a handy reference for his suggested route. In riding terms, sadly only one day has been undertaken thus far, and whilst I had intended to write that up after riding a few sections, I had better press on before my hazy memories disappear forever.

Getting my route planning on

More on the route in later posts, but the basic premise in creating the trail was a trail for walkers running the length of Scotland using existing routes and tracks. Whether it will all be suitable for riding remains to be seen and I suspect that a few sections might require a bit of a rethink. The trail runs from Kirk Yetholm in the Scottish Borders, to Cape Wrath in the far north west. The appeal for me lies in exploring new trails and more than that, new areas. I have never ventured to areas such as Torridon, never visited Kirk Yetholm and never been much further north that Ullapool and Inchnadamph. Even in areas I have visited, there will be new paths I have never stumbled across.

Peebles to Slateford

Foregoing the intended first “stage” from Kirk Yetholm to Peebles (I am breaking it down into day sized chunks for mountain biking) , I instead began the second leg from Glentress to Slateford on a chilly but sunny early March day. Logistically, this worked well – a bimble around Glentress with friends in the morning, a spot of lunch in the cafe and then a solo ride home via Slateford (handily only a mile or two from home). Although not the proper first stage, this would include a neat finish by the trail’s plaque at the Water of Leith centre in Slateford (oddly lying neither at the start nor the finish of the official route, but 80 miles in). Presumably Alex Salmond could not be persuaded to get his wellies muddy in Kirk Yetholm or Cape Wrath when unveiling the plaque.

After a gentle start along the river from Glentress towards Peebles, the route soon turned uphill out of Peebles onto Hamilton Hill – already a new hill and path to me. The early afternoon sun had me down to shorts and top on only the 2nd of March, which was probably a bit ambitious (I was layering up again half an hour later). For the most part the tracks were good, although became a bit indistinct as I waded through farmyard mud by Upper Kidston Farm on my way to the Meldons. Briefly dropping down to the minor road from Eddleston (a favourite of mine on the road bike), the tarmac is short lived, giving way to a firebreak track and eventually an open climb round Drum Maw and down to Romano Bridge. Avoiding the obvious minor road (as the route often does, sometimes frustratingly) I added a bit of distance and fair amount of time skirting through farmland before eventually joining the very same minor road for the run into West Linton and on to more familiar trails – the Roman Road which connects West Linton to Carlops – a handy link for anyone mountain biking in the Pentlands. Very good of those Romans.

From here, I knew I could look forward to a stiff climb on a good track to North Esk Reservoir and then an often muddy track up to the Bore Stane. There are various trails in the Pentlands I only ride when bone dry and this is one such trail. Thankfully February had been relatively dry and the trail was mostly rideable with just a few dabs and a little wheel spinning. Over the top and on to  “Xylophone”: an inviting looking path, but made from a long line of greasy, polished logs placed side by side for a few kilometres. Polished logs lead to bum notes in the wet so I generally used the peaty singletrack to the side where available. Down to Listonshiels and avoiding the fast road down to Balerno I slogged through the slightly boggy “path” (sheep track is probably more accurate these days) towards West Rigg before a spin through Balerno to clean the tyres on the road (mostly in my face) and on to the Water of Leith walkway to Slateford. 4 hours 40 minutes after leaving Glentress was a reasonable ride – the time not helped by various stop to add layers, remove layers, add layers again, and a few short detours through muddy fields trying to find paths through farms.

A good start to the trail – 99% rideable, some new trails, some old friends, and not a drop of rain. Now, about that first leg…

The GPX for my “Part 2” from Glentress to Slateford can be found here.