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Cycle Rides from 2019

Great cycling tours, routes, cafés and anecdotes

Caerlaverock Weekend

11th - 14th October

starting at the museum in SanquharIt all seemed a good idea 3 months earlier but nothing is at it seems. Difficulty finalising accommodation (a wedding on at the Nith Hotel so no beds), difficulty with public transport to Sanquhar, last minute changes in plans, coffee stops closed for the winter and a dire weather forecast.

However it all came right in the end. We ended up 8 persons - Elaine, Harry, Tiana, Barbara, Sheelagh, Caroline, Sandie, Bill. We all arrived at our destination at the same time – amazing since we set out from 5 different locations, in some cases on different days - and we all fitted into a good value house and most of us with beds – Bill was on the sofa. And the weather was fine 3 days out of 4.

River Nith in the morningThere were 3 purists who used only trains, Sheelagh cycled from Lanark Station on Thursday and stayed in a B&B in Sanquhar and Tiana and Barbara took the train via Glasgow on Thursday and stayed at the Nithsdale Hotel in Sanquhar. Harry and Elaine met them on Friday morning ready for the cycle to Caerlaverock, about 46 miles through lovely country, largely following the Nith Valley via Penpont (where we were met by Bill), Auldgirth (good lunch stop at The Hamans café with Czech fare) and Irongray church (where we were met by Caroline and Sandie). Cycle paths through Dumfries led us to our destination in Glencaple.

Accommodation was at Gullsway, Glencaple which lies about 6 miles from Dumfries along the River Nith. The Nith estuary is one of the few places where the old practice of Haaf Netting still takes place. It boasts a hotel and a restaurant called the Boathouse. We sampled both.

Swans Bottoms up at the reserveSaturday was also a fine day which we spent at the WWT Reserve at Caerlaverock about 6 miles from Glencaple. The focus of the day was part of the reserve Goose Weekend which celebrates the return of the winter visitors from Iceland, Greenland and Svalbard. We attended a book reading, we gandered geese, ducks and swans to know our Canadas from our Barnacles and our Mutes from our Whoopers and watched from the Iron Age Fort of Wardlaw Hill as the geese fly back from their day grazing pastures out to the estuary where they spend the night safe from predators. Back in the dark for dinner at the Boathouse.

Caerlaverock castleSunday was wet as expected. Bill left us to retrieve his car from Thornhill. We got excited about the prospect of the Nith River Bore which was easily missed if you blinked. Caroline and Sandie set off for a tootle round Dumfries and the rest of us went out to Caerlaverock Castle, which is run by Historic Scotland. It is possible to cycle through the NNR to get there. Another café to sample here and Tiana and Barbara did the castle which was reported very worthwhile. Thanks to Tiana for a delicious pasta and tomato dish plus freebie stewed apple (help yourself from the Boathouse) and icecream. Two glitches today – Caroline got her gears in a fankle and Harry ate Barbara’s gluten free toast!

Geese-a-flyingMonday we left earlyish. Sheelagh set off to Lockerbie for the train managing to avoid a closed bridge, Tiana and Barbara to catch the train home via Dumfries and Carlisle and the rest of us cycled back to Auldgirth on small roads on the far side of the Nith. After lunch on The Hamans picnic tables (it’s shut on Mondays) we parted company, Elaine and Harry cycled back to Thornhill and got the bus to Sanquhar for the van and Caroline and Sandie back to Irongray to retrieve the car.

Thank you all for coming along and being good company.

Panorama from Wardaw Hill







East Fife

14th - 15th September

Cycle signsFive of us spent a cold and windy weekend in East Fife.

As this was the Edinburgh holiday weekend we left early to avoid competition from other cyclists on the trains. Jenny, Sheelagh and I took the 7.34; we were still rather sleepy when we got out at Ladybank, and Sheelagh left a pannier on the train. Thanks to modern communications she was able to contact the lost property office at Perth Station (where the train was bound) who managed to retrieve the pannier and leave it at Perth for collection later. The pannier didn't contain any valuables, but it did have her good waterproofs, and we hoped that the weather would stay dry for the weekend (it did!)

Flower boatBy then, Anna and Eibhlin had arrived on the next train. Buoyed by the news about finding the pannier, we headed north along a lovely lane past small lochs and a fishery to Newburgh, where Cafe Alice provided tea Continental-style, pots of hot water and a selection of tea bags to put in them.

Many places in Fife had floral displays for the Fife in Bloom festival. Flowers were draped over railings and planted in all sorts of containers from hanging baskets to wheelbarrows and even boats, making a lot of colour.

Firth of TayWe left Newburgh along a road above the south shore of the Firth of Tay, with views across it to the Carse of Gowrie and the hills beyond, and then headed towards Cupar. The westerly wind that had helped us up the slope then turned blustery, and as we were now going south it became a nasty cross-wind needing great care. We reached Cupar without any trouble, and had lunch there.

After lunch the wind was still strong so we took the narrowest lanes we could find to try and stay in shelter. They were switchback but quiet, with nearly no cars. By New Gilston the gale died down and things got easier. We reached Kellie Castle (National Trust) just before its tea room stopped serving, and had tea and scones there. Then we went to Pittenweem, looking round its picturesque harbour, and on to Anstruther.

Outside Murray HostelWe stayed overnight at Anstruther in the former Murray Library. The library moved to new premises a few years ago, and the building was converted to a hostel, opening in 2016. It is well-equipped, with a good kitchen, comfortable beds, and a friendly and helpful warden; the only criticism was the lack of good cycle storage, the bikes kept indoors but easily accessible by anyone staying in the hostel.

I had selected this weekend at the Big Meeting back in January; when I booked I found that the hostel was full on all the other Saturdays in September, but not this one.

MilepostOn Sunday we headed eastwards through the old streets of Anstruther and Cellardyke, up a steep path to Kilrenny, and along the A917 to Crail where we had a look round the town and its harbour. We then continued on the A917 to St Andrews (there is no easy alternative) but it was not too busy at that time of day. Kingsbarns has a milepost inscribed "Kingsbarns 0"; there are a few others like that in Fife. Some old signs at junctions have distances to up to thirty other places, a relic of more leisurely travel.

After coffee in St Andrews, and a tour of the town - past the cathedral, the castle and the Royal and Ancient - we headed west. The wind was still quite strong, so it was a headwind for the rest of the day, and most of the first twelve miles out of St Andrews were uphill. I had planned to go along the route of the St Andrews Ride (in reverse), but as the straight and open B939 could have had really fast traffic we took the alternative road through Craigtoun - and found it as busy as the A road from Crail.

village cafeWe joined the St Andrews Ride route at Pitscottie, had an excellent and cheap lunch at the community-run Village Cafe in Ceres, and continued through Chance In and Burnturk with views over Stratheden.

After Burnturk we left the St Andrews Ride route and decided to split into two groups to get different trains. The choice was either to press on and get an early train at Markinch or to dawdle and get one of two possible trains from Thornton. Eibhlin and Anna opted for Markinch and sped off ahead, while I and the other two continued more slowly. As we approached Markinch we heard shouts behind, then the fast group whizzed past going full pelt for the station; they'd gone the wrong way... but they managed to catch the train, which was running late.

The slow group had tea at a hotel in Markinch, and then headed for Thornton. After a long downhill I found we had gone the wrong way... but we managed to cut across to the right road, passing Balgonie Castle. We had missed the 17.02 train, but could still get the 17.15, and despite a stop to deal with a slipped chain, we did.

Sheelagh collected her pannier intact from Perth a couple of days later.

So despite misjudgements and strong winds, the weekend turned out to be a really enjoyable one.

Photos: Jenny, Sheelagh, Hostel Warden


Night Skies at Kielder

31st August - 2nd September

Herding cats? More like herding eels!

All ahead!Everything that could change did in the planning, and everyone who came changed their itinerary or had a mishap at least once!

First the bunkhouse & B&B in Kielder closed leaving no accommodation other than the camp site. Then the two nearest eateries changed their opening hours… The reccy turned out to be on just about the coldest May weekend on record… Add to this that only three folk were interested until two months beforehand and you have a part reccied route that nine folk were interested in doing parts of, and those parts changed with the fluctuating weather forecast….

When we left it was meant to rain all Saturday and Sunday leaving a dry and sunny Monday – actually the reverse happened.

Route to NewcastletonFour of us took the train to Carlisle. Keith, who’d not changed his mind so far, made up for it by leaving his waterproof jacket on the train and having what turned out to be bottom bracket problems once off it. Peter lent him his spare jacket and went ahead as he had chosen his own hillier route through Kershope forest (of which more later)…

After the spluttering start we arrived in Longtown to find the Sycamore café full so we retreated to the Grant Arms which offered an extensive lunch menu.

Janus ChairsThe low level route to Newcastleton via Penton Bridge and Stonegate was a joy – very little traffic and pleasant scenery. We arrived in Newcastleton in time to enjoy a cuppa at the Olive tree café before continuing onto Kielder. We met Harry and Elaine just outside the village.

The site manager was great – he’d put a reserved sign for Jan’s tent opposite the static and the static itself was warm and comfortable. The living area was large but the twin room was obviously devised with children, rather than adults, in mind. This would have been fine as the two women who should share the room are not tall, but Sue had decided to come the next day by car – and she was carrying Peter’s tent! So Peter had to sleep in the living area.

BelvedereAh yes – what of Peter? Shortly before we were due for our pub meal a stooping figure was seen at the door. It collapsed onto the couch and announced that it had ‘died’ in the forest. Peter’s route 10 had taken him onto the Bewcastle road and down to Kershope bridge where it turned west through the forest ending up at the north end of Kielder water. However there were no signs at Kershope Bridge telling of its closure a few miles further on. Peter tried and failed to find a way round the obstruction so had to come back through Newcastleton and along the road. He had sent a text telling of his plight – which arrived the next day at a spot with a phone signal.

Sunday dawned and Maura turned up as promised at breakfast. Not so Sue. All set to go at 9.30 when Barbara finds she has a puncture. Three folk inspect the tyre but can find no glass etc. so the inner tube is changed with fingers crossed. Keith noticed smoke rising from the long grass at the edge of the camp site – where some ass had tipped their BBQ embers. Fire extinguished, we set off for the route round Kielder water.

Kielder WaterThe North side cycleway is a great route with many distractions in the form of sculptures. The 12miles took nearly three hours! We decided to skip the extra loop to Falstone and cut across the dam to lunch at Tower Knowe. We were disappointed to find it is now dedicated to that most unhealthy of food – waffles.

We continued back along the south side omitting the peninsula loop but stopping at the sculptures. We had a couple of sharp showers, the second at Leaplish which sent folk scattering to buy milk, fill water bottles etc. Someone bumped into Sue who had cycled out from the camp site to meet us. Harry and Elaine changed to the road but the rest of us continued on the south side cycle way back to Kielder.

Freya's HutAs so many had driven direct to the camp site it seamed reasonable (to those who had cycled) that we should go to the observatory in cars as the return journey would be in complete darkness. This caught some of the drivers on the hop having set their hearts on red wine to accompany dinner. Red wine was promised as a nightcap so a compromise was reached.

All except Peter had tickets but he came in the hope that someone had cancelled. Alas t’was not so, leaving him to walk back in the twilight. He did stop at skyspace, an installation that changes colour as the sun goes down, so all was not lost. The rest of us enjoyed some interesting talks but no direct observations as the sky maintained near 100% cloud cover at all times.

We were introduced to a free website where you can see the stars that you would see if the cloud wasn’t there. (Great for those who have large TV screens in their bedrooms!)

Near the topMonday dawned rather wet and miserable. We started late. Those with cars voted not to cycle (wimps!). The four of us cycled north, the rain easing off once we were over the watershed and zooming down towards Bonchester Bridge. The Auld Cross Keys at Denholm were still serving at 2pm and had an extensive menu. We settled down to a long lunch while our jackets dried.

We emerged to get them wet again within the mile, but the showers were short. We took the more direct route back via Melrose to arrive in Tweedbank just in time for the 5.30 train. Who was on it but the MVers on Eibhlin’s day ride! Sadly we couldn’t join them as the guard refused us boarding and we had to wait for the next train. Arrived in Edinburgh tired but happy at 7pm.

Photos: Tiana, Maura and Peter

Craigie Farm Day Ride

Sunday 25th August

At Craigie Farm cafeOur now “almost Traditional” cycle to Craigie Farm and Ratho saw 8 of us gather at the Canonmills tunnel, and cycle to Craigie Farm via Cramond Brig, on a lovely clear sunny day. We enjoyed tea and scones indoors, due to the wasp invasion outside!

Then on to Ratho via Boathouse Bridge for some planespotting! A hot sunny canalside picnic (only 1 wasp!) followed, and a leisurely cycle home along the towpath.

Thanks to Vic, Anna, Claire, Peter, Maura, Rucheet and Rosemary for coming along.


Kiltyrie and Loch Tay

29th June - 1st July

Five of us met at Pitlochry Station on the Saturday morning - though no-one had actually arrived on the train that morning!! ( but that’s another story!)

Loch Tay In dry sunny weather, we enjoyed the lovely undulating Loch Tummel Road, to the T junction after Foss. One of the party took option 3 (longest), while three of us went for option 1 over the big hill to Coshieville, with a picnic at the top. We met up with Vic at Fortingall for a cuppa in the hotel, and departed in the rain, with disconcerting thunder and lightning, just as Harry rolled up in his van! I reassured myself that apparently one is safe from lightning on a bike, due to the tyres! We got the usual friendly welcome from Jane at Kiltyrie, with tea, coffee and homemade lemon cake, followed by a delicious meal.

Loch TayNext day, with a forecast for strong gusty winds and rain, we cycled up Glen Lochay to the BIG hill. Four managed the climb, and were blown down Glen Lyon on the other side for lunch at Bridge of Balgie.Two of us retreated down Glen Lochay for lunch in Killin.

We all met again at Kiltyrie, minus Harry and Sian who had headed home, and had another relaxing evening with good food and chat.

Logierait BridgeOn Monday three of us had a great day along the beautiful South Loch Tay road, with a tail wind all the way from Killin to Pitlochry (how lucky were we?!) We enjoyed lunch at the lochside “Paperboat Cafe” in Kenmore, then continued on a gentler road through Weem and Strathtay to the Logierait Bridge, where we found our alternative route through Ballinluig (the other wee road was closed for resurfacing) Thanks to Sian we were forewarned and had been shown the “new” route. Uphill from Ballinluig and then a lovely gentle wee road north, up high with great views, to eventually emerge on the outskirts of Pitlochry!

We had coffee (and an excellent raspberry flapjack!) at the Escape Route Bike Café, and still had plenty of time for Anna and Yvonne to catch their train home. I relaxed at the YH and headed home on the train next day.

Thanks to all who came along for a convivial long weekend, and the “Kiltyrie experience”!


North Pennines

13th - 14th July

The North Pennines are a block of hills bounded on the west by a straight and unbroken escarpment which separates them from the Vale of Eden, which is formed on the softer rocks of the New Red Sandstone. Between Brampton in the north and Brough in the south, only one road crosses this escarpment. This is the A686, which connects Penrith with Alston. At its highest point it reaches 1903 feet at Hartside Height. Cycling up Hartside was the central aim of the weekend.

Saturday 13 July 2019
We hoped to leave Penrith about 1010. Despite all the contingencies (see below), we left only 50 mins later, at 1100. The reconnaissance had indicated that the flow of traffic on the A686 is tolerable, so that we followed the A686 for most of Saturday’s ride, not the NCN7, which is longer and has substantially more and steeper ascents. But we did leave the A686 for a delightful loop of a couple of miles through Edenhall. At Langwathby (6 miles) we crossed the River Eden by means of a ‘temporary’ Bailey Bridge, now more than 50 years old, built to replace the 300-year-old sandstone bridge which was washed away by the floods of March 1968. We continued on the A686 to Melmerby (10 miles, 590ft high; distances are cumulative). Here we stopped for lunch at the Village Bakery, sitting in the sun in front of the café, close to our cycles.

Cross section Alston to Langwathby The ascent of Hartside begins at Melmerby. The slopes of the road all the way from Langwathby to Alston are shown in the cross-section (drawn in 1950), but beware that this has to be read from right to left. The section brings out the difference between the undulating climb from Langwathby to Melmerby, and the well-engineered ascent from Melmerby to Hartside Height, which has a uniform gradient which can be ridden in bottom or next-to-bottom gear, without dismounting.

Cycling up Hartside The ascent from Melmerby Café to Hartside Top is 1313 ft, in a distance of 4.7 miles, an average of 1 in 19. Traffic was moderate, mainly leisure cars and motor cycles, no goods vehicles nor buses nor coaches. To allow drivers to overtake without becoming impatient, we rode in two groups of 3, with a gap of at least 100m between the groups, but the members of each group keeping as close together as is safe. We paused 3 times during the ascent, for a drink and to admire the ever-expanding view to the west over the Vale of Eden, to the mountains of the Lake District such as Saddleback and Helvellyn. As we rode higher, we could see right across the Solway Firth to the hill Criffell (1866ft), which is 43 miles away, near the town of Dumfries. Towards the top, at least one of us showed signs of ‘hunger-knock’, which was treated with a quick energy food, namely a Mars bar. There is only one full hairpin on the climb, near the top. This can be cut short by pushing the cycle up a rough track. One of us chose to take this way, and arrived at the top before some of those who had cycled up the hairpin! Including the stops, our ascent took 1hr 25 mins, an average of 3.3 mph.

Hartside cafe ruinAt Hartside Top (15 miles, 1903 ft) we had a pleasant surprise. We knew that the Hartside Top Café had burned down in March 2018, probably because the snows left by the ‘Beast from the East’, prevented the fire engines from reaching the fire. Hence, we did not expect to get any refreshment there, but in fact a mobile snack bar was parked beside the ruined café, and we were able to slake our thirst with hot tea.

For the 5-mile descent from Hartside towards Alston, there is initially no alternative to A686, but after 3 miles we paused where NCN7 and NCN68 turn off towards Leadgate. This does provide an alternative way to Alston, and the ladies were keen to go that way to avoid the A686, while the men continued to freewheel down the A686 to Alston (20 miles, 900 ft).

Group at Hartside summitThis gave the men time to have tea and scones at The Top Café, which is about ¾ of the way up Alston’s steep main street, before making the following circuit north of Alston. We continued uphill on the A689 to Nenthall (320 ft ascent), then took the B6294 which contours around the hillside north-east of Alston (210 ft ascent), giving good views over the Alston basin towards Cross Fell, and finally returned to Alston by the A686 (all downhill). Thus, this circuit totalled 9.5 miles and 530 ft ascent, and brought our total for the day to almost 30 miles, but only 2120 ft of ascent. We completed this final circuit in exactly an hour, and reached Alston hostel reasonably early, despite the delayed departure from Penrith.

But where were the ladies? We heard from a dog-walker that he had seen a lady cyclist who seemed to be lost near the cemetery which lies uphill from the hostel. The manageress and two of the men immediately formed a rescue party who climbed to the top of the cemetery, but by then the cyclist had disappeared. A little while later, the ladies appeared on their cycles. Apparently, after making the deviation via Leadgate, they had spent some time in the Turk's Head Inn, then two had looked for a short-cut to the hostel while the third minded the bikes. The bike minder learned from the dog-walker that the shortest way was through the cemetery. It was however not the easiest as the gate into, and the path through, the cemetery had not been designed for cycles!

Alston hostel had been purpose-built, and we found it ideal. Arrangements for cycle-storage and for sensible breakfasts seemed especially good. It does not do evening meals, so we had a choice of self-cooking or one of 4 pubs/restaurants. I had booked a table at the Cumberland Inn, where the menu seemed to suit everyone.

Sunday 14 July 2019
We left the hostel at 0915, which gave us time to look at Alston station, which was formerly the terminus of the branch line from Haltwhistle, but is now the starting point for the narrow-gauge South Tynedale railway to Slaggyford.

Sheep on Slaggyford railway pathFrom Alston to Lambley, cyclists have a choice between A689 and NCN68. We took the NCN68, though it is a little longer and quite slow. Between Alston and Slaggyford, this follows a minor road on the east bank of the River South Tyne, probably the most scenic part of the day’s ride.

From Slaggyford (5.0 miles) to Lambley, NCN68 follows an abandoned railway, which is almost flat, but we had to push the bikes uphill to get onto it and to get off it. Several gates also caused delay, as did a flock of sheep who were sheltering from the sun under a bridge over the former railway.

Lambley viaduct At Lambley (9.6 miles), we paused to admire the Lambley Viaduct, which formerly carried the railway across the South Tyne gorge. Sadly, it does not yet carry the NCN68 because, although the viaduct already belongs to Sustrans, the adjacent land does not. Here we left the South Tyne valley and headed west through a broad gently-sloping valley which skirts the north end of the Pennines, and is followed the A689, which does not have heavy traffic. Although we were ready for elevenses, there was no café until we reached Hallbankgate Shop and Café (15.9 miles). Since our main lunch stop was only 35 mins further on, we ate lightly here, and retained part of our appetite for Talkin Tarn.

On the road to Talkin TarnAt Hallbankgate, we left the A689, and followed a minor road which gave good views of the tarn, and as far away as the Solway and Criffell, before descending steeply to Talkin village and Talkin Tarn Country Park (19.9 miles). It was such a beautiful, sunny day, that all the tables on the lawn were taken, but those inside the Café were empty! We ended up with the best of both worlds: on the balcony, one floor up, overlooking the tarn.

From here, we headed south on B6413, to Castle Carrock, then south-west on minor roads to Carlatton Mill, then north-west past Cumwhitton and along the edge of the woodland attached to Corby Castle, where someone pointed out that the woodland gates were in the style of Charles Rennie Mackintosh. We finally descended to Great Corby (30.3 miles) on the River Eden, where we paused to admire a lady sitting in a trap pulled by a carthorse, outside the Queen Inn.

Horse at Corby From Great Corby to Wetheral (31.0 miles), we followed the pedestrian walkway attached to the railway viaduct across the River Eden, which (still!) carries the railway between Carlisle and Newcastle. Cyclists are allowed to use this walkway, but must dismount for part of the distance. There are no steps to climb. The views over the gorge cut by the River Eden are spectacular. Four of our group were distracted by the flowers in the garden of the ‘Stationmaster’s House’, while I arranged for us to take tea at the Crown Hotel Wetheral, sitting at a table on the lawn. (It was a spectacular garden and had featured in a country magazine - ed.)

Crossing Wetheral ViaductWe had to leave Wetheral in time to ensure that everyone would catch their trains from Carlisle. To avoid the traffic on the B6263, we left by the Scotby road, then bore left for Wetheral Pastures, then through Cumwhinton and Harraby. We crossed the A6, then the River Petteril, and turned right onto Upperby Road, then went straight ahead until we merged with the A6 and reached Carlisle Station (37.5 miles).



This report is arranged like a wildlife film: first you see the species Cyclist riding happily through its favourite habitats in the North Pennine Reserve and the Cumbrian countryside. Then, at the end, the photographers reveal all the difficulties they had to overcome to make the film.

Weather: Plan B. Hartside reaches an altitude which is more often frequented by mountaineers than by cyclists, so we had to take the weather seriously. In April 2019, I made a reconnaissance with my friend John Rucklidge. At that time, the weather forecast, which the Met Office gives specifically for Hartside Height, was forecasting east winds of 35 mph, meaning that the gusts might be 70 mph. I was able to cycle most of the way up, but for the last mile (last 300 ft of ascent), I could not make progress against the wind, and had to walk. I did not want this to happen to Mellow Velo. I therefore composed Plan B, which defined the route we would take if the Met Office was forecasting winds similar to those which we had encountered in April.

If we were following Plan B, on Sat 13th July we would have cycled from Penrith to Alston without climbing Hartside Height as follows. Penrith to Little Salkeld Watermill Cafe (7.0 miles). Then to Talkin Tarn Café (24.8 miles). Then via A689 through Hallbankgate to Alston (43.4 miles).

On Sunday 14th July, from Alston we would have ascended Hartside the easy way, then down to Melmerby Village Bakery (10.5 miles), then via Renwick and Carlatton Mill to Great Corby (27.0 miles). Then cross viaduct to Wetheral and continue to Carlisle Station (35.2 miles).

The Garrigill Circuit. One of the suggestions I made in the Mellow Velo programme was a circuit though Garrigill, before reaching Alston. We tested this on the reconnaissance, and decided that it did not give enough reward for the amount of ascent involved, especially since the inn at Garrigill closed down in March 2019: we might get the hunger-knock before we reached Alston.

Cycle reservations. The challenge of riding up Hartside was trivial in comparison with the challenge of getting reservations for cycles on suitably-timed trains from Edinburgh to Cumbria and back. Unfortunately, two companies are involved: Transpennine (TP) and Virgin Trains West Coast (VT). In theory cycle reservations open 12 weeks before travel. I phoned TP on 16 April to check if their cycle reservations for 13 July would become available on Friday 19 April, and was taken aback to find that they were already available, and one of our desired reservations had already gone. On the other hand, cycle reservations for VT did not become available until 2 May, 3 weeks later. What does one do if your preferred train is run by VT? Wait and hope? Book and pay for a TP train at an inconvenient time? Or get a cycle reservation on an inconvenient TP train without purchasing a ticket, as an insurance in case you do not get a reservation on the preferred VT train – then return the TP reservation when you have the preferred reservation?

Double-booking of cycle reservations. By 3 May, everyone had a cycle reservation. Then on 5 July (a week before the Alston trip) one of us was turned away from a TP train because there were 3 reservations for only 2 cycle spaces. We knew that on the 0811 TP from Edinburgh, and on the 1815 TP back from Penrith, 4 people had cycle reservations, and TP confirmed that there were only 2 cycle spaces! A contingency plan had to be made for anyone who was delayed by this. In the event, no one was prevented from using their cycle reservation for this reason.

Cancellation of train was something we had not planned for. One of us had taken a cycle reservation on the 0619 TP train from Waverley (probably because reservations on the 0656 VT were not yet available). This train was cancelled. He was refused a space on the 0656 VT train because this was run by a different company! But TP did provide a bus replacement, which must have travelled fast, because it reached Carlisle in time for him to catch the 1034, arriving Penrith at 1048. Hence, we were able to start the ride only 50 minutes later than intended!

Alastair M.
Photos: Tiana and Euan

Kirk Yetholm

8th - 9th June

cheery teapots at EtalThe poor weather forecast for the Saturday may have put some folk off and just six of us attended on the weekend ride. Maura and Kathy got to Berwick early and enjoyed the comforts of the new Costa whilst waiting for Jan M and Tiana on the 09:08 train. Once Paul had arrived by car and dealt with the tricky ticket machine we were ready to set off. John was due to arrive on a later train and thought he would meet us at lunch. In the event, there was a request stop at the Honey Farm in Horncliffe and some of us enjoyed coffee and cakes on the green bus while others explored the visitor centre and John met us there. We proceeded onwards via NCR 68 through Norham and on to Etal for lunch at the Lavender Tea Rooms.

someone found that their bed was already occupiedThen we were off to Kirk Yetholm and dinner at the Border Hotel which offered its usual good selection of meals and beverages. In what might be a first for MV, five of us remained in the pub for an extra drink until 11pm. We were fortunate to avoid being locked out by the hostel warden!

It did rain, but not very heavily, and whilst it wasn’t a day for taking photographs, the conditions weren’t too bad and the usual waterproofs were adequate. We clocked up approximately 43 miles.

group on pack bridge outside hostelSunday dawned much brighter and more promising. We travelled in three different groups to the cafe in Cornhill, with John setting off early and taking a longer route, Maura and Tiana took the shortest route and Paul, Kathy and Jan taking the route along the B6352 through East Learmouth and Wark. The cafe was already full of lycra-clad cyclists from elsewhere and it took a while to get served, but it was pleasantly warm in the garden so it wasn’t a hardship. It was so warm we had to put up an umbrella to shelter from the sun.

After lunch, John made his own way to Berwick and an earlier train to Glasgow, Tiana made her way separately via Paxton House and the remaining four of us agreed to travel via Coldstream and the Hirsel Country Park. It was an adventure trying to find the entrance from the B road as it wasn’t sign posted and the track was bumpy for bikes. The main entrance on the A697 is much more civilised and that is how we exited the estate.

We then cycled via Route 1 and back through Norham and Horncliffe to Berwick station and met up with Tiana there. Maura and Kathy decided to keep Paul company in his car home and Tiana and Jan caught their delayed train back to Edinburgh. There were various mileages achieved and Jan recorded 46 for the Sunday.

The Kirk Yetholm trip was billed as ‘Four cafes and a pub’ and all of them were ticked off by at least one group member!

Jan M
Photos: Kathy, John and A Hosteller

Maytime in Angus

25th - 26th May

at one of the Aberlemno Pictish StonesThree of us met at Arbroath station and set off for Letham where two more would join us for lunch in the Commercial Inn. Jill, there, had offered to provide soup and sandwiches as the pub did not usually provide food and we knew there were no other pubs/cafes on the route. We bought our groceries in Costcutter and Spar but did not have much choice of fruit and veg. After lunch we headed for the impressive Pictish stones at Aberlemno. The road to Bogardo and Finavon Hill was particularly pleasant with lots of May blossom. We continued to Memus and Dykehead and were pleased to stop at the Scott/Wilson Memorial (2012) commemorating the centenary of the Terra Nova Expedition to Antarctica and the South Pole.

Wet and tired, we arrived at the Glen Prosen hostel at about 6 p.m. There were no other people staying so we had ample space for our damp clothes and soon dinner was prepared. It is a delightful hostel well-equipped and in a peaceful location with baby rabbits hopping about. (35 miles.)

At the Scott Wilson monumentOn Sunday we woke to rain and mist so decided against taking the steep route on the west side of Glen Prosen. Peter took himself direct to Dundee. The rest of us returned to Dykehead and took the B955 direct into Kirriemuir visiting the Camera Obscura and J.M. Barrie’s grave. After lunch in the Airlie Arms we went round J.M. Barrie’s birthplace/museum (National Trust for Scotland) and noted other interesting buildings and statues in the town.

Anna and Barbara set off for Arbroath enjoying the B roads, especially B9127, noting how few cars we had seen during the weekend. The wind was now from the west and the sun came out. Tiana and Keith set off later as they were booked on a later train and also enjoyed the better weather. (34 miles.)

Photos: Tiana

Inverness to Dyce

Fri 17th - Mon 20th May

Possibly a first for MV – everyone took a different route to personalise their trip and ensure they got their bike on the train.

Keith cycled from Carrbridge to Foyers on Loch Ness to join Tiana, Alec and Eibhlin at Inverness Station. After refreshments at the now mega Culloden visitor centre, we followed NCN 1 along beautifully wooded but unfortunately busy C roads to the Urchanys, where we decided to shorten the route (by democratic vote) by avoiding Nairn and head directly to Forres where Jan M joined us. We stayed in three different B&Bs but dined together at the excellent Ramee hotel.

On Saturday we met up at Sueno's pictish standing stone then cycled through the worsening rain to Elgin where Jan U caught us up having been cycle camping for a few days.

Tulips at the biblical garden, ElginHere we visited the biblical garden where the varied tulips beds were the highlight. Keith and Tiana viewed the Cathedral in the rain then joined the others at Johnston’s cashmere, our lunch stop, where the lukewarm soup was disappointing.

The route east gave us quiet roads, old railway track beds and great views of the coast. We stayed at the community run hostel at Portsoy – a lovely hostel in a restored sail loft. Part of the wall was being re-harled which meant we had to walk round the outside of the hostel to reach the kitchen – a nuisance in the rain but it did not detract from our enjoyment of the best the co-op could offer for our tea.

On Sunday we went via Duff House (spend an hour looking round if you can) for lunch and onto a nice B&B in Old Deer with a meal in the splendour of the Saplinbrae hotel.

Railway path Old Deer to DyceMonday started in relaxed fashion by visiting the park and farming museum at Old Deer. Jan M went on ahead – also missing the personal tour of Maud railway museum, only open once a month. This, now sleepy village, used to be a major rail hub for fresh and canned fish / meat with yearly cattle market. Only four miles from the start we were now ready for lunch which we had at the Old Mart, a community café in Maud frequented by the railway volunteers!
The trip to Dyce was entirely off road along the old railway, part of the excellent walking/cycling network in the area. This took us to Dyce station the end of our route.

Photos: Tiana

Vale of Leven To Stirling

Saturday 27th April

at the Marina where the River Leven leaves Loch Lomond at BallochThe long-term weather forecast was for rain or showers all day, and this may have discouraged people from adding their names to the list of those taking part, which included only 4 names, one of whom withdrew for health reasons. This left Steve, Elly, who was new to Mellow Velo, and myself. In reality we met a light drizzle only on the first 2 miles, and for the remainder of the cycling, the weather was ideal: no rain at all, not too cold, not too hot, and a light wind from the north-west or west, which propelled us up the hills eastwards. Only when we were safe in the stations or on the trains did the rain appear.

The cycling went according to plan, so that a description would duplicate the entry in the Mellow Velo Past Rides for 8th April 2017, but I include a few new photos. The first shows us at the Marina where the River Leven leaves Loch Lomond at Balloch. The second shows the River Endrick where National Cycle Route 7 crosses it on a pipe bridge. The third was taken when we paused on the long descent toward Gargunnock, to admire the view towards the foothills of the Scottish Highlands. But some surprises arose from factors other than cycling.

River Endrick where NCN 7 crosses it on a pipe bridgeWhen I tried to phone the Corries Café in Balloch on the preceding Monday, to check that they would be open, their number ‘was not recognised’, and neither the Web nor BT had any other number or Email address for them. I found an ingenious solution: Rmail. I sent a First-Class letter to their postal address! And I got a reply by Email on the Wednesday. They had recently had to change their phone number.

The train which Steve had intended to take from his home station to Glasgow was suddenly cancelled owing to ‘shortage of staff’, so I expected him to be seriously delayed, but when I arrived on the platform in Glasgow myself, there he was! He had been so early that he had caught the previous train.

The 6 miles of meandering cycle path along the River Leven was marked at intervals by signs directing walkers (or runners?) towards Balloch. After our elevenses at Corries Café, we intended to head north through a public park to join National Cycle Route 7, but found most of it had been fenced off and filled with tents and tables, presumably to form the reception area for the walkers, who were expected maybe the same afternoon, or the next day. Eventually we found a way around.

long descent toward GargunnockMuch the same thing happened in Stirling. We were following the roads which are signposted as the cycle route to the town centre, when we met ‘Road Closed’ signs, diverting traffic to goodness knows where. It seemed that the organisers of the Stirling marathon, which was to happen the following day, had included the cyclists’ route as part of their course, which was separated off by temporary metal fences. But there was a sign which said ‘No entry except cycles’, and allowed us to continue parallel to the Marathon course. The fenced-off course continued through the pedestrian shopping precinct. I took the opportunity to test my cycle’s ability on the Marathon course, but my companions preferred ‘When in pedestrian precincts, do as the pedestrians do.’

This dayride is organised around a stretch of 12 miles of tarred minor road along the north foot of the Gargunnock Hills, along which we met almost no vehicles at all. Towards the end of this stretch, we noticed ahead a brightly coloured trailer behind a tractor, then, as we got closer, we saw that behind the vehicle was a horse rider, who was having difficulty in controlling the horse, which was rearing up. Two ladies who were walking on the road, said that the horse had been frightened when overtaken by the tractor, and would we mind staying behind the horse until it had reached its stables which were about a mile further on. We were happy to oblige - but how many roads have so little traffic that such a request could be made, and carried out?

The final surprise came when we were in Stirling station. The next train to Edinburgh was shown as leaving from platform 9, so we followed the signs pointing to platform 9: up a lift, over a footbridge, down a lift, then some distance on the flat. I had used platform 9 previously with a bike, and had had to reluctantly carry my bike up a flight of steps and down the other side to reach platform 9, but those steps had only gone up far enough to clear the roof of the trains, they had been on a gentle gradient, and wide enough to manoeuvre a bike without obstructing other passengers. We were now confronted by a footbridge resembling scaffolding, which was twice as steep as before, half the width and, last but not least, at least twice the height. Why was it so much higher? Presumably because the line had been electrified by installing overhead power cables, which the bridge had to cross! At this point, I had to say No! Carrying a heavy cycle with loaded paniers to that height would have broken my back. We made our way back to the Supervisor’s office on platform 3. He explained that these steps were temporary while lifts were being installed. He looked at the departure board, for departures to Glasgow as well as to Edinburgh, hoping that we could get onto a train towards Glasgow from platform 3, which would stop at Larbert, which has only one platform in each direction, so we could easily transfer from the Glasgow train to an Edinburgh train. But the next train to Glasgow was also scheduled to depart from platform 9. He told us to stay on platform 3, and he would see if he could arrange a solution. After some time, we heard on the loudspeaker: “This is a platform announcement. The 1806 train for Edinburgh will now depart from platform 3. Passengers waiting for the 1806 on platform 9 should now move to platform 3”. I could imagine everyone cursing as they climbed back over the double-height bridge. We thanked the Supervisor sincerely as he made sure we could find one of the coaches with cycle spaces.
All’s well that ends well!

Alastair M.
Photos Elly and Steve.

Launch ride to New Hopetoun Garden Centre

Saturday 30th March 2019

group photoThe usual crowd and two new people set off in good sunshine along the Roseburn and Blackhall cycle tracks. Continuing via Barnton, we were soon at Cramond Brig. We entered Dalmeny estate and followed route 76 round the coast as far as Hawes Pier. Here we stopped for coffee and cake at the Honey Pot Creative Café. This centre/shop offers pottery classes and sells many beautiful ceramic items. We had copies of the new programme and were soon discussing the various trips planned.

We continued through the High Street, bearing left then right for Hopetoun House. The front gate was fenced off for repairs so we entered by the next gate. There were many daffodils and also bushes and trees in bud. Via two gates, we left the estate and continued to Abercorn Church and museum. The museum was particularly interesting with Viking hog-back burial stones; a cross stone; and a carved cross-shaft dating back to the 600s. The church was closed but the gravestones were enlightening: some from the 1600s, with emblems of mortality such as skulls and bones or hourglasses; or emblems of immortality like angels, cherubs or doves.

We joined the road south to take the A904 east for a very short distance and enter New Hopetoun Garden Centre. (15 miles) We ate together in the garden, all content with the usual excellent menu.

Crossing the A904 we headed for Duntarvie, Totleywells Cottages and Westfield to enter Dundas Estate at the White Gate. This estate is a delightful little-known gem, especially the loch and boathouse. Again the daffodils were out – the whole estate looking good.

Leaving the estate, we turned left onto B800 then turned very soon east and south to drop to Easter Carlowrie, Cramond Brig and home via Barnton.

Total 31 miles.




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