Aim for the Impossible
Have you ever planned to do something just because it seems such an impossible thing for you to achieve?
A couple of months ago I was enjoying spending a day with a small group of friends, chatting, laughing and discussing our business ideas or, as we like to call it, creating magic. As we all happily munched on lovely home-made soup courtesy of Kim, followed by cakes, bakes, meringues with cream and a whole host of berries, Saffron told us she was training to do pull-ups at the gym. Saffron also admitted that the only reason she was aiming to do the pull-ups was because she truly believed it was an impossible task for her to achieve.
“Go Saffron”, we all cheered, whilst grabbing another cake. It’s hungry work creating magic with friends.
A few days later I found myself wondering what impossible task I could aim for. The first thing that came to mind was to climb Mount Everest, one of my life-long dreams. This really is an impossible dream as I believe a budget in excess of £100,000 is required. And that’s before you have to deal with climbing at such high altitude without oxygen.
The next impossible aim on my list was to re-find my fitness so that I could once again set off on a cycle run for the day without the worry that I might be doing too many miles to cope with. Covid lockdown and closure of our tearoom has seen me hibernating a little, doing less exercise and eating all the cakes, resulting in a weight gain of just about three stone!
And in that moment of realisation and admitting my downward spiral, I decided exactly what my impossible aim would be. I would, over this next 12 months, get myself fit enough to cycle from Kirkintilloch to my hometown of Halifax in West Yorkshire, where my children still live. This will probably be a cycle in the region of 300 miles so plan to do this over four days.
I’m wise enough to recognise that there’s a limit to how many miles I can realistically do in a day. Even in my fittest cycling days all those years ago, the most I ever cycled in one day was probably when I took part in the West Pennine 200km Audax Reliability event (about 130 miles). Boy did I struggle at some points in this. Mind you, I was only about fourteen years old at the time.
Apart from being a great character-building event, this was also the first time I tasted Kendal Mint Cake. As the group I was cycling with were crossing the Lancashire moors somewhere near Haslingden I “blew up”. Too tired and sickly to eat my mars bar, one of the men cycling alongside me handed me a lump of Kendal Mint Cake. I was too tired to chew but the mint cake just melted in my mouth, giving an instant energy boost. With this boost, I was able to cycle to the next café stop where I was fed a nourishing bacon butty and a fruit slice.
Now, whenever I’m walking or cycling, I always have a bar of Kendal Mint cake in my bag for such emergencies. It’s not the first time I’ve had to be the one handing out the mint cake to a similarly exhausted person. It’s hardly surprising to find that Kendal Mint Cake was one of the energy treats enjoyed on the first ascent of Mount Everest on 29 May 1953 by Sir Edmund Hilary and Sirdar Tensing. Apparently, they enjoyed some of Romney’s Kendal Mint Cake on the summit of Everest, with it being reported that one member of the expedition team wrote in his diary, “It was easily the most popular item on our high-altitude ration – our only criticism was that we did not have enough of it.” So, £100,00 and a sponsorship by Romney’s of Kendal for my Everest attempt then!
Back to my impossible aim. For the last few weeks since the snow disappeared, I’ve been getting myself out on my bike. My cycling gear is, let’s just say, a little more skin-tight than it used to be. This is quite funny really as when I was younger, I refused to wear a skinsuit (an all in-one lycra top and shorts that leaves absolutely nothing to the imagination) to race in. At a glance you might be mistaken to believe I’m choosing to wear a skinsuit now!
Nonetheless, I’ve slowly I started to raise the miles I can manage. Somebody once said to me that it doesn’t matter how fit you used to be or how many miles you used to be able to cycle, if you haven’t been cycling for a while, five miles can seem a long way. So, I began with five miles to a café near us where I met the lovely Mr M for lunch and he praised my effort and determination, before getting back in the car to drive home.
Gradually, I’ve increased the miles and on Sunday 13 March, even managed a forty-mile, hilly cycle over the Crow Road and alongside the Carron Reservoir. But there are only so many times I can cycle the same roads without being driven to despair and I decided a trip out on the train would then allow me to cycle a little further into the Highlands.
Taking your bike on the train, especially in Scotland, is pretty straight forward, just look for the bike symbol on the train door and that’s the carriage you go in where you’ll be able to fasten your bike so it doesn’t roll away down the train. For short, regular train journeys, you don’t need to book your bike on the train, but in busy periods you might have to wait for the next train as the number of bikes able to be carried on the train is limited. If you’re travelling long-distance, you should book your bike on the train at the same time as you buy your ticket or you might find you can get on the train but your bike can’t. Another bonus is that you don’t have to pay extra to take your bike on the train.
Saturday morning, 19 March, I was up with the larks. Well, that’s not entirely true because the birds at the back of our house like to wake us up around four o’clock in the morning, every morning, with their morning song. It’s not a bad way to be woken up but sometimes I do wish they’d have a little lie in.
Overnight the sky had been clear so everywhere was now white with a thick frost. Mr M made my porridge and my lunch butties, along with a flask of tea. Yes, I do know how spoiled I am. I packed a few extra supplies and a spare jacket. I had to make a big decision as to which gloves to wear but finally opted for my woollen ones, knowing that there was no rain forecast so I didn’t really need my bulky waterproof ones. Of course, I remembered to pack my face mask, hand gel and GTN spray (that’s a whole other story!).
A short five-mile cycle to the local train station at Croy blew the morning cobwebs away but oh my, were my feet cold by the time I got there!
Talking about Croy Station, it’s interesting to see the work being carried out there at the moment. This station already boasts to have Scotland’s largest free railway station carpark but the walk over to the other side of the platform is a bit of hike, especially with a pram, wheelchair or bicycle. Mr M and I have been debating whether they’re going to build a bridge over the tracks or a tunnel under the line. I decided it has to be a tunnel as it would have to be a skyscraper of a bridge to go over the new electric lines. Mr M insisted it’s going to be a bridge. Sadly, I have to say I do believe in this instance Mr M might actually be correct. Time will tell.
Back to my story. The train journey from Croy to Glasgow Queen Street is just a matter of ten minutes. Once there, was a bit of a rush to get from the high-level platforms, finding the lift and getting down to the low level and I made the train leaving for Balloch with 30 seconds to spare.
I was soon able to get my bike secured and settled myself down to enjoy the journey. The Balloch train is an old-style train and the journey seems to take on a different feel to those on the high-speed intercity trains. This train just plods along, calling at every tiny train station on its way. Perhaps it was because it was early on a Saturday morning, but there was a relaxed air about the train. There were very few other passengers on the train so I had no fear of catching the dreaded Covid during my journey.
As we left the city of Glasgow, the scenery gradually changed. Travelling alongside the motorway the sky was clear blue and even the city was looking pretty. Passing through places such as Anniesland and Westerton, the city seemed to be forgotten and countryside was beckoning. A little further along the line, the Erskine Bridge made an impressive backdrop to the view. Some fifty minutes after leaving Glasgow, the train slowly pulled into Balloch.
Leaving Balloch station, you simply cross over the road and follow the cycle route signs for Luss and Tarbet. Signposts for Tarbet continue all the way along the route, so you can really follow the route without any need to map-read. Mind you, there’s nothing better than spending time studying maps and imagining where you might be heading or remembering where you’ve been. Mr M knows that once my head is in a map at home, he stands little chance of having a conversation with me.
The route today begins with a bit of a bumpy, rough ride through a car park and into Balloch Country Park to reach The National Park Gateway Centre, passing Drumkinnon Tower and the information centre as you reach Lomond Shores. A quick stop at the conveniences there and I was ready to go. Heading up the path, the route turns right and takes you along the Old Luss Road before starting a section where you follow the main A82. This is dedicated cycle track, separated from the road, but gives a slight unnerving feeling as you’re riding against the on-coming traffic, despite not being on the road itself. This route winds its way along the side of Loch Lomond, sometimes running alongside the road, but is always separate from the main road.
Before long you get your first view of Loch Lomond and the impressive Ben Lomond as you pass by Duck Bay Marina. Today the views were amazing, with clear blue sky and very little wind making the loch as clear and still as a mill pond. The footpath was busy with people who had just been for a swim in the lake and were now wrapped up in their big coats, cuddling cups of hot drinks. I made a mental note to tell my son, Benjamin, about this as he is slowly introducing me to the pleasures of cold-water swimming.
In the guidebook, the description of this routes says it’s a flat route, but don’t be fooled. It might not climb to any height but the track has many ups and downs, twists and turns. You need to keep your wits about you as you cross junctions, manoeuvre over tree roots growing over the path, gravel and rotting leaves and clicking quickly through your gears as you round corners to be faced with short, steep section. Fear not though, there are no hills that last more than a couple of minutes. And what goes up, has to go down again meaning there are lots of places where you can get your breath back before you once again enjoy the relatively flat route. The rough surface in places and the close proximity to the main A82 road is worth it though for the sections where you’re away from the roadside and travel alongside the loch. It’s not long before mountains are starting to appear in the distance and you really do get that feeling that you’re within touching distance of the Highlands.
A mere eight miles after leaving Balloch, you find yourself on the road leading to the pretty village of Luss. For this section you join the road that leads into the village, but for me, this doesn’t spoil the enjoyment and it’s certainly not a busy, fast road. Just before reaching Luss at the little hamlet of Aldochlay, you can see a statue of a child, known at Wee Peter, in the loch. Doing a bit of research on this, legend was that it was a memorial to a child drowned in the loch, but the truth was it was put there in 1890 by a local stonemason who found the statue in a London scrapyard and thought it looked like his own very alive son.
I was surprised reaching Luss to see that a new, huge carpark has appeared opposite the original public car park. There’s obviously a need for this as even now cars seem to park anywhere and anyhow, despite signs pleading for you to use the car park and not drive through the lovely village. How times have changed since the TV programme Take the Highroad was filmed there! Tourism is needed in the area but not wanted I feel. Despite, this, the carpark is not terrible eyesore and has been created quite aesthetically and does have plenty of picnic tables dotted around it. Will this prevent people leaving their picnic rubbish at the side of the loch I wonder.
Leaving Luss you begin what I think is probably the best part of the route. You cycle alongside the loch so closely that at times you feel you could almost dip your fingers in the crystal-clear water. It’s hard to imagine that the cycle track at this point is what used to the be main road to Tarbet. It’s now quite overgrown with the only indications of the old road being the few remaining cat’s eyes dotted down the middle of the track. I think I’m glad I never had to drive my car on this old bit of road at it really is so close to the water at some points. I can’t believe that people could drive along this road in winter and not find themselves going for a dip in their motor vehicles, especially in the harsh Scottish winters.
Rolling along really was a dream today with a building tail wind gently pushing me along my journey. Stopping to take some photos of the impressive mountains in the distance I took the opportunity to have a small bar of chocolate and a drink of juice from my bottle. I can tell you that when you are out cycling or walking, even a simple drink of water tastes like heaven. I could even imagine that I was feeling quite fit on the bike today!
For the last section of the route, you are taken back up to run alongside the A82 but you know you’re reaching your lunch stop of Tarbet, which spurs you on.
Reaching Tarbet just about two hours after leaving Balloch, there’s a fabulous area with benches, picnic tables and grass for you to sit and while away the hours, looking out onto the impressive mountain of Ben Lomond. There are public conveniences and, I discovered, a new facility for motorhome uses to re-fill water and dispose safely of their waste products. That is now noted deep in my memory for when we are out in Evie our campervan.
I found myself a picnic table and put down my picnic mat. I don’t know about you, but I always feel more comfortable when I’m sitting on a blanket rather than just on the bench. It makes the picnic seem even more special.
Knowing I’d made good time, the weather was glorious and the trains back from Balloch run every half hour, I settled myself down for an hour of bliss. I pulled out my picnic. Tea from a flask at home tastes rubbish, but hot tea from a flask when you’re out on a picnic is just the best. Of course, I had my egg mayo butties made by Mr M to start my picnic, followed nicely by a large piece of Charlotte’s Fab Slice. Just what the doctor ordered. Well, I think the doctor knew I was still getting fit on my bike and had used quite a lot of my energy because he also prescribed a fruit slice and a lemon wannabe biscuit.
Then it was back on the cycle route to return to Balloch for the return journey home. The cycle route back to Balloch seems more enjoyable somehow. Maybe it’s because on the sections where you are next to the main road you are cycling with the flow of the traffic and not against it. The sun was still shining but it was now a bit of a headwind. The loch was not quite so calm now and passing once again by the Duck Bay Marina, you could almost imagine there to be waves on the water.
But I was soon back at Balloch Station. Settled on the train to Glasgow Queen Street once more I enjoyed a well-earned bar of Cadbury’s Dairy milk and finished off my juice. Just five more miles to cycle once I get back to Croy for the final section home.
Today was a cycle of around 42 miles over the day, so the miles are starting to creep up. I’m already thinking about a route for next week.
I wonder what Mr M has made us for tea.