Monday, 21 March 2016

Milngavie Circuit Cycle Ride

With Spring arriving the weather has been much warmer and drier and this has allowed me to travel further on the bike. I recently cycled on a circular route from Milngavie which took me up the Crow Road to Fintry then on to Killearn and back to Milngavie. The distance was 39 miles.

As Milngavie is quite a distance from my house I travelled by train to the start. The friends I was travelling with were boarding the train at Partick station in Glasgow.

The weather was nice and sunny, if a little chilly. We were going to travel in an anti-clockwise direction  from Milngavie to Torrance and then take the Campsie Road to Lennoxtown. This part of the ride was fairly flat. On leaving Milngavie we passed Murray Park, the training ground of Rangers Football Club. As it could be viewed from the roadside, I took a photograph of it.

Murray Park
 Campsie Hills

At the end of this road was a roundabout and we took the left turn onto Balmore Road. Shortly afterwards we arrived at the turn-off to Torrance and very soon the Campsie Fells could be seen in the distance.

The flattish roads were soon going to give way to the steep climb of the Crow Road. To get an idea of the gradient, think of a Pyrenean climb in Tour de France. It is such a steep hill.

Crow Road

Arriving in Lennoxtown, we took the turning onto the Crow Road. The climb starts off quite gently before unleashing a torturous climb to the top. Not only is it extremely steep, it also seems to go on forever. Shortly after starting the climb, a car park comes into view and this is usually the place where hill walkers begin their walk over the Campsie Fells.

View from the Car Park
Crow Road from the Car Park
It is at this point many riders start to think that the worst of the climb is over, but they soon find out that the summit is still a long way off.

Jamie Wright's Well

On Ordnance Survey maps there is mention of Jamie Wright's Well. On dragging myself up the hill, I spotted the well and as it was on a flattish part of the hill, I stopped to take a photograph.

Jamie Wright's Well
The well also has a tribute to James MacKintosh Slimmon (1865-1898) and his verses about the water at the well are inscribed on the front of it. As the water looked a bit dodgy, we refrained from filling our water bottles from it.

The small break to take photographs of the well seemed to give me a 'wings' as I was able to climb to the top with less effort than at the start.


At the top it was a nice descent to Fintry. The road surface on the descent, however, was dreadful - it looked like the council had thrown asphalt on the road and left the passing cars to flatten it as best they could. It was a bit dangerous and some care had to be taken to avoid a high speed crash.

At Fintry we stopped to view Fintry Kirk. The original church was built in 1642 and the present one in 1823. Its windows are among the finest in Scotland and includes a First World War Memorial window. It also has one of only two cantilever staircases in the area. The bell was transferred from the original church to the new one and is still in use today.

Fintry Kirk
The road surface on the next part of the journey to Killearn was also in a dreadful state, which meant we spent quite a lot of time keeping an eye on it rather than on the beautiful scenery. In the distance could be seen a
snow-covered Ben Lomond.
View from the road from Fintry to Killearn 

Arriving at Killearn, there were a number of bicycles parked outside the various cafes. We stopped at a one for a cup of tea and a cake and consumed them outside in the Spring sunshine, which was pleasantly warm.

After our refreshment stop, we were going to embark on the final leg of the ride to Milngavie. However, it was not going to be a mad dash to the finish - we were going to stop at Glengoyne Distillery to look at the waterfall which carries the water from the hills to the distillery and at Loch Ardinning.

Glengoyne Distillery

Glengoyne has been described as Scotland's most beautiful distillery due to it being situated under Dumgoyne Hill.

Glengoyne Distillery
Dumgoyne Hill
The distillery is unique in that it is classed as a Highland Malt despite being matured in the Lowlands. This is because the Highland Line, dividing the Highlands from the Lowlands, is located on the A81, which divides the main buildings of the distillery.

Waterfall at Glengoyne Distillery
The waterfall, above, is located behind the main distilling area. It is a nice area to visit, with seating for visitors.

Water carrier at Glengoyne
Loch Ardinning

After viewing the waterfall at Glengoyne, we continued on the journey back to Milngavie. We were going to make one more detour, this time to Loch Ardinning. This is a nature reserve managed by the Scottish Wildlife Trust. The reserve is a mixture of wetland, woodland, grassland and moorland. There were some good paths around the reserve which were smooth enough to cycle on with road tyres.

Loch Ardinning
The reserve was quite busy and we decided to visit it in the summer when the loch comes alive with invertebrates and flowers.

After leaving Loch Ardinning, it was a short cycle back to Milngavie station to catch the train home. It had been a great day out.

Further Information

Milngavie has a regular train service from the Glasgow and the surrounding area. There is space on the trains for transporting bicycles.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Falkirk Wheel and the Antonine Wall

The weather this year has been very wet and this has prevented me from going out on the bike. However, as Spring approaches, it has become much dryer and warmer and so on a day off work I decided to cycle over to the Falkirk Wheel. I was also wanting to familiarise myself with the route as I will be leading a small group of cyclists there in a few weeks time.

To avoid cycling through the industrial areas of Coatbridge and Airdrie, I took the 30 minute train journey from Motherwell to Cumbernauld. The route below has been taken from my Garmin and the total distance travelled was 22.10 miles.

Cumbernauld to the Falkirk Wheel 

I left Cumbernauld station and took the cycle path onto Forest Road. This is quite a busy road but at 10.10 on a Monday morning, it was quite quiet. I was going to stay on this road until the Wardpark area then join the B816 before turning left onto the cycle path leading to the Forth and Clyde Canal.  

Forth and Clyde Canal
Canal Path

The cycle path had recently been resurfaced and some of the surface chips were a bit loose, but it was not so bad as to cause any wheel slippage. On this part of the journey, the sun was shining and I soon had to remove my long-sleeved cycling jersey as the temperature rose.

Throughout the ride along the canal path the surface kept changing and at one point resembled a section of the Paris-Roubaix cycle race! However as I approached the Falkirk Wheel the path was covered by lovely smooth tarmac which was a joy to ride on after the occasionally bumpy ride I had experienced up till then. 

Visitor Centre

On walking into the main visitor area my eyes were immediately drawn to the miniature copy of the 'Kelpies'. The large Kelpies display is just off the M8 motorway at Falkirk. A Kelpie is the Scots name of a shape-shifting water spirit inhabiting the lochs and pools of Scotland. This is usually depicted as a horse.

Replica of the Kelpies
The Falkirk Wheel

This is the world's only rotating boat lift joining both the Union and Forth and Clyde Canals. It was opened in 2002 by Queen Elizabeth. When I arrived, there were no barges waiting to be transported by the wheel so I decided to explore the surrounding area and return later to see it in operation. The Wheel is managed by Scottish Canals.

I walked up the footpath outside the main visitor area as it was too steep to cycle up. At the top, I got a good view of the Wheel. 

View from hilltop
Rough Castle

At the top of the hill, there was a small sign pointing to a path which led to Rough Castle and the Antonine Wall so I decided to cycle over to have a look. The path was generally smooth and good enough to cycle on. 

The site of Rough Castle was very interesting and the remains of the Roman settlement can still be seen today. Rough Castle was a small hill fort on the north-west frontier of the Roman Empire. The Romans came to Scotland in around 71AD and left in AD 212. 

Site of Rough Castle and Antonine Wall 

Antonine Wall

Unlike Hadrians Wall, the Antonine Wall had been built using tufts of earth instead of stone. It was roughly 3 metres in height. There was also a huge ditch to help the defences. In the photographs above the ditches can be seen. 

The site was very interesting and I will spend some time in the future to discover more about this period in Scottish history.

After visiting the castle site, I cycled up to get a closer look at the aqueduct joining the canals and also to have a look at the Union Canal. A tunnel allows access for the barges and there is also a walkway for pedestrians and cyclists.

A barge was sitting at the last lock on the Union Canal and I watched as it was moved from the upper to the lower locks. 
Upper lock of Union Canal
Moving to lower lock

Lower lock

On my way back to the Wheel I stopped to have a look at the aqueduct. This is an 110m-long reinforced concrete trough supported by the curved concrete aqueduct pier arms which carry the barges to the Wheel.

Wheel Aqueduct
The Wheel in Action

When I got back to the wheel there were two barges waiting to be moved so I was able to watch the Wheel in action. 

Wheel moving a barge upwards
View of cogs moving the wheel.
Watching the wheel move two barges was fascinating. What a magnificent feat of engineering the Falkirk Wheel is! To avoid the Wheel parts being prematurely worn out, it rotates in both directions. The direction of travel of the Wheel is frequently changed to avoid this. 
Falkirk Wheel
At 15.45 I decided to make my way back to Cumbernauld train station. The sun was still shining and it was still warm enough for me to continue wearing my short sleeved cycling jersey. I wanted to allow time to get to the station as I thought I might get lost. Cumbernauld, being a new town, has many roundabouts and these can cause confusion. I did have to consult the maps on my mobile phone a few times to ensure I was on the correct road as the roundabouts were quite confusing. 

I arrived back at Cumbernauld station in plenty of time to catch the 17.22 train back to Motherwell. Once on the train, I was able to look at the photos I had taken of the day out. It had been a brilliant day which was helped by the warm and sunny day.

Further Information

Falkirk Wheel 

The Kelpies

Scottish Canals