Aim for the Impossible - Part 4
Sunday 10 April 2022
This week has been a bit of a deviation from my plan to shed my excess baggage but I’ve had a fabulous few days with my children and grandchildren in Halifax so I’m not bothered at all.
As an update. My weight loss so far – 12 lb. Excess baggage still to lose - around 48 lb!
Planning has started on the route for my cycling journey to Halifax with the aim to do this in three days, with a buffer of an extra day if needed. I’m pretty sure of my route from Gretna, from where I’ll then head through the Lakes before reaching the Yorkshire Dales. It’s years since I cycled those roads, so it’s going to be a real adventure for me. I just need to work out a decent route from Kirkintilloch to Gretna, but plenty time for that yet.
I’ve had a couple of cycles recently involving long steep hills so I thought this week I’d stretch the miles out a bit more, skipping the big hills. A trip skirting around the Trossachs was needed I felt. I can already feel that I’ll be tackling Duke's Pass from Aberfoyle soon, but not this week!
A not too early start was made this morning with my plan to be out of the house by around 9 am. Getting my bike ready in the garden, I was smiling at the blossom on the trees in the park behind us that was starting to make a shy appearance. I could almost hear the trees talking to each other saying, “Come on boys, it’s time to come out. Spring is here.”
As usual Mr M made my breakfast and sent me on my way with my butties, snacks and a flask of tea. I’m starting to wonder now though why he’s so keen to get me out of the house. Are him and Beatrix having parties when I’m out for the day?
Today’s plan was to head out to Aberfoyle, across to Doune, then Dunblane where I could catch the train back to Lenzie Station, now my preferred station for home. From Kirkintilloch to Strathblane there’s a cycle track along the old Strathkelvin railway line. From Kirkintilloch though this track has become quite uncomfortable to cycle on with a road bike and narrow tyres because the lovely trees lining the track have forced their roots under the tarmac and they are now popping their heads up into the track. It’s a bit like cycling over lots of really rough sleeping policemen.
When I was younger (much younger) I used to worry about the sleeping policemen and hoped they always managed to move out of the way of traffic and that they didn’t get into trouble for sleeping at work.
Mind you, that’s not as bad as when I was driving up from Halifax with my friends Sally and Julie for our first trip to Scotland on our way to tackle Ben Nevis. The three of us were awe struck by the scenery, especially as we drove through Glencoe. Sally pointed out the many speed camera signs and commented, “Gosh, there are so many places for you to take photographs as you drive through Scotland.” I laughed so much I could hardly drive!
Anyway, I digress again. So, the root-damaged cycle track was avoided today as I opted to stick to the roads, taking me through Milton of Campsie, Lennox Town and on towards Strathblane. Thankfully today I was ignoring the right hand turn up to the Campsie Fells via the Crow Road.
The ride out to Strathblane was very quiet. It was like a sleepy Sunday morning and I was able to enjoy the undulating road, admiring the daffodils waving in the wind along the roadside. A good time to quote William Wordsworth’s “I wandered lonely like a cloud,” but of course that’s Mr M’s favourite poem that he would recite at any given opportunity at the tearoom.
From Strathblane, dropping down the hill to the small roundabout by the Kirk Inn, my route was to continue along through Blanefield and on past the Glengoyne Distillery. Once through all the traffic calming measures leaving Blanefield, the road opens out, so traffic can easily pass any cyclists they feel the need to zoom past.
Now you’re really heading towards the Trossachs and to me, the Trossachs are the gateway to the Highlands. I know this road well and you follow the tourist signs for Aberfoyle. There’s something quite satisfying about following the brown tourist routes signs rather than the bold white signs on the main roads.
The road out to Aberfoyle on the A81 is a main road but it’s not too busy early on a Sunday Morning. There are long straight sections too which means the traffic can see past you and find their chance to overtake you. Heaven forbid we cyclists should hold any drivers up for more than a minute or two. Of course, if I know I’m holding traffic up, I do kindly pull in at a suitable place to allow the traffic to come past me.
I was now surrounded by lovely views. To my right I could see the back of the Campsie Fells and to my left, the tips of the Arrochar Alps, including The Cobbler (Ben Arthur). Ben Lomond is of course there to watch over you on most of this stretch of road.
It’s a fairly leisurely ride, with just a few hills or rises, but nothing very strenuous. On roads like this, the miles just seem to fly by and before too long I was passing the junction for Balfron Station I spoke about in Episode 2, with a sign showing Aberfoyle was a mere nine miles down the road.
Past Gartmore, the road turns into something not dissimilar to Route 66 in America. This road just seems to stretch out in front of you neither up nor down, with not a bend to be seen. I did ponder calling for a coffee at the lovely Trossachs Holiday Park where we’ve stayed a few times in Evie our campervan but decided against it as I knew I’d get settled in the café talking to Clare who makes sure all the visitors to the park feel like the most important person there. Time would drift by and I’d be cycling the rest of the way in the dark!
So, I carried on past the park and very soon there’s a bit of a sweeping hill which tests your thighs a little, but it’s not very long so by the time you’ve realised your legs are hurting, it’s over and you have a lovely bit of gentle descent opening out in front of you again.
Nearing Aberfoyle there’s a new little roundabout next to the Rob Roy Hotel. It’s only a mile down the road from here to Aberfoyle but today I took a right at the roundabout towards Callander. The route from here to Thornhill is a wonderful cycle. There are no hills at all to shout about, a few little rises, but only enough to give your bottom a rest from the saddle.
The first village on-route is the Port of Menteith, alongside the Lake of Menteith. This is the only Lake in Scotland and as I cycled enjoying the tranquil setting, watching fisherman on the lake, I planned to do some research so that I could share my fabulous knowledge with you as to why this is a lake and not a loch. Sadly, the best explanation I could find was that it used to be called Loch of Menteith but when the Ordnance Survey people set about recording the area, a mistake was made and it became Lake of Menteith.
Talking about names for stretches of water. Do you know that in the Lake District in Cumbria, there is really on one Lake, Lake Bassenthwaite?
“Wait,” I hear you cry. “There are loads of lakes in the Lake District. After all, that’s why it’s called the Lake District isn’t it?”
In truth, there are sixteen stretches of water in the Lake District but all, except for Lake Bassenthwaite are waters or meres. That’s right, it’s not Lake Windermere, it’s just Windermere! Of course, you’ve probably heard me talk about my favourite place in the Lake District, Grasmere, which is the village alongside Grasmere, Rydal Water and Elterwater and where William Wordsworth found so much of his inspiration for his poetry and writings in the years he lived in Dove Cottage, then Allan Bank with his sister Dorothy and then with his wife and children.
Passing through the Port of Monteith I was able to enjoy a wonderful, easy cycle to Thornhill, passing Flanders Moss, which is now a national nature reserve and the largest raised bog in Europe still to remain in its almost near natural state. It is also a winter-feeding ground for thousands of pink-footed geese but alas I saw none today. There was lots of rapeseed beginning to show with its lovely yellow flower, but there was not much smell from it today. Early days, I guess.
Reaching Thornhill, my planned lunch stop, I was relieved to see the village bench was vacant. I’m not sure what I’d have done if it had been occupied. Coughing, spluttering, huffing and sighing were all things I’d planned, but they were not needed.
Picnic, flask and blanket out I was soon enjoying my well-earned lunch. My star treat today was a large piece of Charlotte’s Fab slice. Just the thing – packed with nuts, seeds, oats and cherries, with a drizzle of chocolate just for good measure.
I’d made good time so allowed myself just short of an hour to relax, enjoy my lunch and take in the peace and quiet. Thornhill really is a lovely little village with the main street being a long narrow road with pretty houses either side.
Of interest to me though was which way to go now. I had two options. First option was to follow the signs for Stirling joining the main A84 and catch the train home from Stirling station. I know this road well and although it’s an easy enough ride, for some reason it’s a cycle I never particularly relish. Maybe it’s because many times I’ve had to fight into a strong headwind or maybe just because it’s a busy route with tourists desperate to speed past on their way to and from Callander. My other option was to follow the signs for Doune then head over to Dunblane for the train. Distance wise, this would be about three miles shorter, but on unknown roads, which, as I said in my last episode, are always special. I knew there couldn’t be too many hills as there are no mountains between Thornhill and Dunblane. Checking the train times now that I have progressed in technology to have the National Rail app on my phone, I could see the trains from Dunblane ran every hour.
I set off again, still pondering. Coasting along the road, I noticed two cyclists in front of me take the Doune road. Decision made. Dunblane Station it would be.
Leaving the A873 to join to the B826 towards Doune there was an initial steep section and I wondered if I’d made the right decision. But, with only five miles to go to Doune, I thought what the heck! But the hill Gods were on my side today as the rest of the ride through gentle countryside was a breeze.
Very soon, I met the main A84 and, taking a left at the T-junction, I took the road up the hill through Doune before swinging a right at the next junction to join the road to Dunblane and the Red Kite Viewing Station. And there it was, once again I was cycling on an unknown road along the A820. Now this road really should have been an easy cycle with no major hills, but my energy had disappeared as I approached Doune. So, I took my time and had a slow cycle to Dunblane where I eventually found the train station.
The train journey to Stirling was uneventful and I almost had the whole train to myself. The next train from Stirling to Lenzie was equally smooth and before I knew it, I was cycling the last few miles back home to Kirkintilloch.
Overall, a fabulous day with my mileage starting to creep up with today being in the region of forty-five miles.
I’m even thinking that next week I’ll have a stab at Duke’s Pass from Aberfoyle to Callander. Mr M has already kindly said that I should give it a go and if he needs to come and pick me up in the car he will do. There he is again, already encouraging me to go out for the day again before I’ve even recovered from today!
Another bit of progress is that I’m now getting my own podcast, Mother Murphy’s Life Bites, up and running. Hopefully over the coming weeks you’ll be able to choose whether you read my blogs or listen to them on my podcast, or both of course.