Saturday morning…Angie wakes up..gets out her computer and starts route planning..now I’d been down in Helensburgh just last weekend and did a nice ride from there back to Glasgow..when I stopped to get some directions some joggers told me that Glenfruin was lovely for cycling so, the seed planted in my little head, I set off from Airdrie on the train to Balloch with rough ideas of taking the ferry back from Kilcregan to Gourock and being home in time for tea (dinner or evening meal).
“The next train calling at this platform is for Balloch”. I’d heard this announcement at Airdrie Station for many years. Usually I’d only gone as far as Glasgow Queen Street but now I was going to the end of the line (and with my bike as well). The day had got off to a good start indeed.
It was rather nice to gaze out of the window along the way, at the doubledecker graveyard between Coatdyke and Coatbridge Sunnyside. Whoever owed the “Jesus” bus with its “Save the World” sign? Did the sun ever actually shine in “Sunnyside”?
Whilst gazing out at Drumry Station, the smell of roasted malt wafted from a nearby distillery, and a young guy, aged maybe 18 sat between 2 friends, wearing a buzz lightyear costume. His face was incredulous, as if he didn’t quite believe his predicament either!
At Balloch, the train stopped, the end of the line.
Now I’d approached Balloch from Loch Lomond the week before but somehow reversing the route foxed my brain a bit and I ended up in a huge car park belonging to the Lomond Shores Mall! I reversed and got the right road and headed along to Loch Lomond. A pale mist hung above the Loch and it was quiet, save for a few canoeists training. A red open topped porsche passed me, the glamorous couple’s coiffed hair blowing in the wind. Not to worry they’d soon cool down as it became clear that the wind had picked up since early morning and the “2mph” forecast I’d checked was far from accurate!
From the edge of the loch, I headed alongside the road for a bit, then crossed over and headed uphill to Crosskeys Cottage where I cut off to a single track road through Glen Fruin.
This was the nicest part of the day! Carved during glacial erosion during the last Ice Age, the glens of Scotland are great to explore on bike. I mean what could be better than cycling through a route nature has created for you, providing you with mountains on either side for shelter and scenic distraction, an almost perfectly created route for a woman on 2 wheels. Glen Fruin proved no exception to my love for glens.
I enjoyed its ups and downs after my recent canal trips. The air was filled with sheep and lambs “baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaing” at me and 2 cute lambs poked their heads under a hedge to say “hello”. Cows grazed, a farmer cut up tree trunk with his chain saw, birds tweeted overhead and a pheasant wandered around only flying off when I attempted to take a photo! I saw a few cyclists who nodded to me, a few cars passed but mostly I was alone which was lovely!
The glen is around 9 miles in length.
The climb out of it is quite steep. You pass an army camp and then reach a flat bit when you feel you are about to cycle through the electricity pylons! At the top, you have views towards the hills of the Trossachs and down over the Gareloch and Faslane. Turn back and you can see right up the Glen where you’ve come from.
As in life, with ups comes downs. The descent is long and twisty. For me, with my fingerless gloves, it was the only part of the day that I felt cold. After the long descent, I came under a railway bridge, then stopped at the road, across from the Faslane Naval Base. I crossed here which took me some time as motorbikes roared past me. The joys of the silent Glen faded into a memory! I cycled right along the side of the Naval Base and then into Garelochhead.
Garelochhead had the feeling of a West of Scotland coastal town. For me, this feeling is the smell of the sea, seagulls circling above, a few boats tied up, their hulls in need of a lick of fresh bright paint, mussel shells cracked into tiny pieces line the sides of the road, blue and white (how did they get here?), large boarding houses look out over the bay. In the 1950s and 60s, these houses took in urbanites escaping for the summer. Some families took a house for a month with the father coming up for weekends, while the owners stayed in an outhouse. Students served meals and chambermaids cleaned rooms.
The pharmacy was closed though a smell of TCP invaded the air as I cycled past it. Further up I passed some nice churches and a pleasant smell of coals burning for a BBQ. The road after Garelochhead snakes along the side of the Gare Loch, It is a little busy but not too bad. The fastest thing to pass me was the bus on its run between Garelochhead and Helensburgh. Perhaps the driver was behind schedule. A few racing cyclists clad in lycra nodded at me as I plodded along. I stopped to take a photo and eat a piece of chocolate at the side of the loch.
I passed a boatyard with lots of boats waiting for repairs. Then it was a steep climb up to the top of a hill and then a lovely descent to Kilcregan. By now, the wind had picked up. I went to the ferry office who said the ferry would just come over shortly before it had to leave as it was too choppy to tie it up as it would bash against the pier. I had almost an hour to kill and with my hands still not having warmed up I treated myself to a coffee at the aptly named “Cafe”. Locals, many with English accents, greeted each other as they came and went. The man at the table next to me dropped something on the floor and when he kneeled down to pick it up, the lady at the next table called out “say one for me too while you are down there” (that is, a prayer!). And me, I thought!
I cycled down the pier and met one of the crew members and some locals taking the ferry.
They expressed surprise at the weather. The flat morning had been replaced by white horses dancing energetically on the water and gusts of up to 30 mph (over 40mph and they don’t run it). It was a westerly they told me. The really pleasant crew helped me on with my bike and informed me that it’d get a good wash on the way over! The views to Dunoon were obscured by the water crashing against the windows. I wasn’t able to stand on deck like the pretty little cartoon on the brochure.
I reached Gourock and jumped on the train back to Glasgow. A hen party was aboard with a bottle of rose wine for company. They commandeered the toilet though one was very red faced after she forgot to lock the door and a man interrupted her! Some rowdy school kids came on, smoked in the toilets, banged many things and jumped back off at the next stop. And a train lady gave me a questionnaire about Scotrail’s service…all 10 pages of it! By the time I’d finished it, the next stop was Central Station…back in the city..one more train, back to Airdrie and the adventure was over…and I was back in time for tea!
SOME PRACTICAL STUFF
I took the train from Airdrie to Balloch. It takes around an hour and cost £6.80. Check out http://www.scotrail.co.uk/ for exact times and prices.
I took the ferry from Kilcregan to Gourock. It takes about 15 minutes and cost £2.50. Check out http://www.spt.co.uk/cms/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Kilcreggan-Ferry-Timetable.pdf
I took the train from Gourock to Glasgow Central, then walked from Central to Queen Street. The whole journey took about 2 hours and cost £7.30.
Distance cycled around 22 miles but mostly flat. 2 very nice climbs, one out of Glenfruin and one before Garelochhead.