Now we’re back from Austria and into normal lives, we’re both missing distance-cycling. (I commute to Napier most days: 2 miles of traffic fumes, potholes and 15 sets of traffic lights. Elly has been working at her High Street office, to which she walks. [She usually cycles the 4 miles to her office in Saughton.])
So to re-bond with our own bikes, we decided to try the National Cycle Network route 75 from Glasgow to Edinburgh. Elly prefers to ‘maroon’ herself somewhere so she’s ‘forced’ to cycle, while I was looking forward to not slogging uphill through Uphall. Here’s the usual map and here’s the nightmare as it happened:
- The first joke was getting to Haymarket Station – the tram works simply shouldn’t be taking so long.
- There are plenty of trains from Edinburgh to Glasgow and vice versa. Most of these have 4 bike-spaces (some have 6) so during the day, apart from rush-hour, getting your bike on a train shouldn’t be much of an issue. Our only problem here was getting our bikes and someone’s fold-up wheelchair together in the same space.
- At Glasgow Queen Street, the route emerges on George Square: it’s a bit intimidating for people who don’t like urban cycling and/or don’t know exactly where they’re going so they can get the lane-manouvres right. It’s even less fun trying to co-ordinate over the traffic-noise. I’m looking into iPhone solutions – what I need is something that connects our phones via Bluetooth. (I already have a bluetooth headset that works well for normal phone calls when cycling.) Anyway, we wobbled our way to the Clyde near the Clutha bar and started east.
- Quite how anyone thinks roughened, poorly set paving slabs constitutes a cycle-path is beyond me. We don’t all have mountain-bikes with suspension up the wazoo. I know I’m not alone in thinking this – see here.
- The next obstacle was a blockage where Dodge City’s dirty denizens were having their annual day in the sunlight or some such nonsense. We were advised to cycle on the pavements around this: the hi-viz-draped warders didn’t appear to have been properly briefed about cyclists. If you zoom in on the People’s Palace on the map, you can see the results of this lack of information.
- Anyway, having regained the Clyde-side path, we had the usual problem several times: the path splits with no visible NCN sign to indicate which fork to take. The surface is occasionally muddy and slippery, with bouts of bend-induced poor visibility so we didn’t dare get up any speed.
- At Cambuslang, there is a bridge over the Clyde tributary. We then had to take an immediate (and poorly sign-posted) left turn to avoid going into Cambuslang town centre and getting horribly lost (bitter previous experience!)
- About a mile later, the route turned south away from the Clyde, taking us for a couple of nervous miles along a rural rat-run. Not fun.
- The path then took us through Uddingston. Unless you’ve been lost there before and so have eventually found that the signs have been missed out, removed or altered, you will not find the route under the underpass to the school.
- Thereafter the route crossed busy roads in a staggered way. Right turns agains traffic are not fun unless you’re fond of kamikaze manoeuvres. (I am, but not when I’m trying to co-ordinate with another cyclist.)
- The route then droped along another footpath to the ‘Showcase Cinema – Glasgow East’, near Bargeddie. At this point we realised we taken nearly 2 hours to do 15 miles of cycling but were only 8 miles from our starting point.
- Then there were several miles along the Monklands canal – Elly’s least favourite type of cycle-route. The path was slippery and muddy, so I didn’t enjoy it either.
- At the end of this, you’re dumped into the Centre of Coatbridge. Thanks to yet more poor signage, we found ourselves north of the A89 outside an Asda. (This did at least provide a toilet-opportunity.)
- Once we’d found what we thought to be the correct route, we were taken up onto what appears to be a former railway viaduct. The surface was good and the conditions were fair: what was completely staggering was a gate across the path with an official-looking notice stating that the path was closed – with no indication of what to do. You can see our sudden stop and about-turn at the 20-mile marker.
- We then abandoned the NCN75. I used my handlebar-mounted iPhone to navigate us onto the A89, the direct road from Glasgow to Edinburgh. We made quite good speeds along this, but stupidly gave into the temptation of a sign back onto the NCN75 east of the town centre. Of course, there were no further signs – we found ourselves hauling our bikes up steps in an attempt to regain the route according to the NCN iPhone app.
- We stopped for lunch at Katherine Park, east of Airdrie. By now, we’d been travelling for 4 hours and had cycled 24 miles to get 14 miles from our starting point. We were advised by a passing local cyclist to get on and stay on the A89 for several miles – east of Plains we’d find the decent cycle-route to Edinburgh.
- True enough, we did. The route does gratuitously cross and re-cross the Bathgate to Airdrie train-line several times, and does meander (with the occasional missing sign) through Caldercruix village. However, it’s mostly pretty, with good surface and pleasant views of the trains the other side of a substantial fence.
- East of Blackridge (and hence in the Lothians – hooray!), the path took us through unexplained meanders through what felt like Vietnamese jungle. Having loaded-myself up with Viennese coffee and having been very concerned for my fellow-cyclist’s safety for the last 5 hours, I was beginning to half-expect the VC to leap out.)
- Eventually, the route threw us out in the centre of Bathgate. We decided to abandon path-hunting and the prospect of getting seriously lost in Livingston estates for the relative safety of the A89. Fortunately, the road was relatively traffic-free: the stretch from Boghall (east of Bathgate) is another HGV-laden rat-run.
- Just east of the big Tesco complex, we turned onto the A899 and coasted downhill through Dechmont, Uphill and Broxburn and were favoured with the welcome sight of the railway viaduct that marks the western border of Edinburgh.
- At Ratho Station, the official route is across a bridge with steps to the south side of the A8. Hauling bikes up and down that appealed much less than simply cycling on the road. It’s a dual carriage-way so cars should pull over to the middle lane to overtake. Glory be – most did!
- At the junction of Maybury Road and the A8, we met a spanish cyclist who was trying to find a station to take him back to Glasgow. We made up a wee convoy to trundle towards Haymarket Station. The last obstacle was the extra barriers put-up to control the Madonna-fans heading too and from Murrayfield.
Oh, and along the way, I attached something to Elly’s bike.
So that’s it: 57·3 miles and 7 hours in the saddle (8 hours total journey-time) at an average of 8mph, when it should have been 45 miles taking about 4 hours with no stopping except for traffic-lights. (I hope to test this in the next week or so.) As ever, I’m in awe of Elly for managing this distance on a commuting-bike.