I arrived in Helensburgh without a plan…except to get back to Glasgow. As I got off the train I asked a few folk if they knew where I might find a cycle path. No one could really point me in the right direction so I asked if there was a tourist information.
“Aye hen there is, but it is not open until next month”.
So I decided to cycle around and find some local cyclists to ask. As I waited to cross the road alongside the sea front I spotted some handsome, fit looking road cyclists who had been stopped by the traffic. “Ka ching” (ie the sound a cash register makes) I thought. The two guys were very helpful. Thankfully they were at the end of their run so patient to explain to a slow looking novice (me!) with a backpack where a nice quiet route would be.
“There is a lovely hill out of Helensburgh, follow that up and then down to Loch Lomond, then you can cycle on a path all the way to Glasgow”.
“Lovely hill”? I think that small part of out chat was lost in translation. Up, up, up I went, past lovely posh looking houses, a park, up,up,up I went, unable to focus anymore on the scenery and simply trying to keep the bike going forward. It is just as well you can only cycle forwards I often think as I battle up hills!
Eventually the crest of the hill was in sight but I was confused, where was the cycle path?
All I saw was a road which the cars seemed to have mistaken for some sort of formula one track as they whizzed by me at break neck speed!
I stopped at a loch with some ducks and met a nice friendly jogger training for a half marathon. She was soon joined by her rather out of breath and red faced friend who was also very friendly and they soon pointed me on my way to a cycle path which started on the other side of the road, checking if I had enough food and telling me not to speak to any strangers as there could be “weirdos around”. I headed off along the undulating track, passing the road to Glenfruin and eventually arriving at Loch Lomond.
Some snow rested on the top of Ben Lomond, a hill I’ve climbed a few times and always cursed its false summits asking my mates “are we there yet?”. On a clear day the views from the top are stupendous. On a not clear day you see nothing and trudge on and on to touch a cairn at the top and then descend.
Once past the loch next stop was Balloch. I’d never realised how nice Balloch is with the boats sitting at the edge of the loch, a nice park and a great tourist info service. They gave me some maps and suggested some future routes for me. After a lukewarm coffee bought from a chip shop (the 10 minutes I waited for it should have been a sign of what was to come) I headed under the bridge and onto the canal path towards Glasgow.
It is a nice run from here with some fishermen to watch (do they ever catch anything or just drink special ale?), some cool iron bridges and trees swaying in the wind.
The approach to Dumbarton is spectacular with the Rock in fine view. This strategic strong point has the longest recorded history of any strong hold in Great Britain with its history dating back to the Iron Age.
I whizzed past, the wind for once at my back, and headed on to Bowling. En route, on a sharp uphill section, a woman on her bike swore as she fought against the hill.
We chatted at a crossroads a minutes later. “Excuse my French” she said in reference to her cursing. I replied “don’t worry it was a tough little one”. I pondered as I rode on why we say “excuse my French” when we swear when it’s clearly not French words we are saying!
Now I’d asked a few friends about doing this cycle and everyone mentioned Bowling though I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. It seems to be the mythical centre point of many cycle rides. I wasn’t disappointed by it.
Bowling sits at the western end of the Forth and Clyde Canal where it meets the River Clyde. A few canal boats were moored here. A man lovingly cleaned his boat while his wife sat on a deckchair reading. A perfect arrangement I mused!
I took a rest here and chatted to a woman running a cycle hire shop under the arches of the bridge. She said she’d been quite busy this year so far. Sitting by the side of the canal, the sun shining, a few dogs playing, I thought Scotland has quite a lot to offer!
Heading on out of Bowling I pottered along, passing gas works, then into Clydebank where a giant had left his bicycle at some point in the past!
Further along, there is an amazing set of locks reminiscent of Lombard Street in San Francisco. A little later I passed alongside a little loch next to a housing estate with lots of local men fishing. Around the corner was Firhill Stadium where there was game on and some guys caught the match free from the canal path.
Just before Speirs Wharf as my journey was coming to an end, I heard a call of “who’s het?” from the bushes across the other side of the canal. Some kids were playing tag and the “het” was the finder! It reminded me of my youth when some games, even within my own home with me hiding behind the thick velvet curtains which then adorned our front windows or in the shoe cupboard, seemed to go for hours and the house itself seemed like some mini world with a 100 places to hide!
A few canal boats lie alongside the newly developed Speirs Wharf. This area has a lonely feeling for me. It is high up above the City of Glasgow, a little exposed and below the M8 thunders past. Lots of houses but somehow no people! From there a short cycle past some lovely tulips which the giant must have scattered on his way and I was back at Queen Street. Another lovely adventure was at an end!