By Alex Bristol
Alex is a cycling expert at Pedallers and focuses on reviewing road bike accessories and general cycling. She searches for the most up to date products that match the needs of cyclists across the world. Whether it's recent news or the best bike set-ups, Alex is a trusted source for anything around cycling.
There are lots of great health benefits that come with cycling, and that’s one reason why more and more people are now choosing to cycle to and from work each day. It’s something that you should think about as well, especially if you’re looking to get in shape and improve your health.
We’re going to give you all the information you need about the health benefits associated with cycling to work and how you might feel the difference in your daily life. So read on now to find out what you need to know in order to make the right decision for you.
It’s a Great Way of Burning Calories and Staying Fit
First and foremost, cycling is very good for you and your general health because it provides your body with a cardiovascular workout. It really is as simple as that, but what does that mean for your health over the long-term? For a start, it means that you’re going to be buring calories every day as you cycle to work in the morning and back home again in the evening. It also means that you’re going to be able to stay fit and healthier for longer because you’ll be active on a daily basis.
You’ll Sharpen Your Memory Over Time
You can even sharpen your mind and increase your brain power throughout the working day if you start it by cycling to work. There has been research done that shows people who do moderate daily exercise experience improvements in overall brain performance, as well as preventing signs of cognitive decline. When your mind is sharper and more alert throughout the working day, you’ll perform to a higher standard in your job and you’ll achieve the outcomes in your career that you’re aiming for.
Get Some Fresh Air
Simply getting some fresh air is going to be great for your body and your general health. Sitting in a traffic jam usually means that you’re breathing in the fumes of the cars around you and that’s no good for your lungs or respiratory system. You won’t have to worry about that if you’re breathing fresh air and cycling to work instead. And you’re not likely to get stuck in many traffic jams when you’re on your bike, which is definitely a major bonus if you ask me.
Improve Your Joint Mobility
Joint mobility is another major reason why you might want to start cycling to work each day. When you use your joints and the muscles that make them work, you’ll be keeping them active and in use. That means they’ll become strengthened and able to stay healthy for longer. As you get older, you’ll realize just how important it is to have strong and supple joints. It’s one of those things that you take for granted until it stops working properly, so don’t let that happen if you can help it.
Cycling Makes You Happy
Cycling to work will make you happy in a number of ways. First of all, it means avoiding endless traffic jams and the general stress of driving during rush hour. And it’s also known that moderate exercise each day leads to happier people. It can improve your sleep patterns, reduce any symptoms of depression and generally make you feel better about yourself. Exercise does so much more than the physical benefits we associate with it.
It Can Reduce Feelings of Stress and Anxiety
One of the major ways in which cycling to work and being active each day will help you and your mental health is by reducing the feelings of stress and anxiety you experience each day. Research has shown that when you’re active on a regular basis, you feel less stressed and less anxious. So if those are problems that you experience from time to time, jumping on your bike to commute to work could really help you a lot.
It Eliminates Tech Distractions for a While
If you’re someone who’s constantly feeling distracted by technology, cycling to work allows you to take a break from that. Bikes don’t tend to have complex infotainment systems and docks for your phone the way modern cars do. That time away from technology is refreshing and it’s the perfect way to begin the day.
There are so many benefits that come from cycling to and from work each day, and even if all the health benefits above don’t persuade you, there are financial benefits too. So if you want to save money and improve your health at the same time, maybe it’s time for you to get on your bike.
Guest post by Mike Murray of Road and Mountain Bike Reviews
The Covid 19 has had an impact on cycling. The cycling calendar has been put on hold. Riders and team members have had to follow government guideline on self-distancing and isolation. We have created a beginner’s guide to cycling indoors to help cyclists who are at home.
Cycling outdoors is amazing, however it is not always possible. There are a variety of benefits to cycling in doors.
An entry level indoor cyclist can be faced with a wide variety of fancy equipment and accessories. A new indoor cycling enthusiast can get all the necessary indoor cycling equipment without breaking the bank.
The more an individual is willing to spend on an indoor trainer, will provide the rider with a quieter and more efficient trainer. Adjustable resistance, stimulating climbing, power meters and sensors that allow the rider to have a smother rider.
Different types of Indoor Cycling?
There are many different types of bikes for tackling every kind of ride possible. Indoor cycling has four main types: Rollers, Turbo trainer, Smart trainer and Static exercise bike.
Can be thought of as a treadmill for a bike. A roller has a set of three drums fixed on to a rectangular frame that sits on the floor. The back wheel drives the pair of rollers that turn the belt. The main difference between rollers and a turbo trainer is that a rider rides on top of rollers. Rollers requires less balance and skill.
One of the main benefit of rollers is it allows riders develop a good pedalling technique. A lot of professional riders will spend the winter on rollers perfecting this technique.
A second benefit of rollers is that they help the rider improve their balance and bike handling techniques. Improving the rider’s ability to hold a line, retrieve food or a phone for a quick selfie.
Advice for Using Rollers
Shoes: Wearing flat shoes will help the rider reach their full potential when using rollers. Riders wearing cleats can sometimes lose their balance when steading themselves.
Wall: An entry level indoor cyclist may benefit from having a wall to hold on to when starting out.
Focusing on a small object: A rider may benefit from having a small object to focus on. A spot on the wall is ideal.
Gear: Being in a higher gear will help the rider reduce the friction of the bike wheels and the rollers.
Hoods: Riding on the hoods will allow the rider to keep more control over the bike.
Fun: The most important aspect of training is that you have fun.
Pushing Yourself: Don’t burn out too quickly. Build up your pace.
A set of rollers allow the rider to get a hassle-free workout. Lots of Rollers can be seen set up on many cycling events to allow the competing cyclists to warm up.
Rollers have improved massively offer the years, offering the rider a smother and more comfortable ride.
Small bearings make it easier for a cyclist to get up to a higher speed. The majority of rollers have fixed resistance. If a rider is looking to work on power. They may want to consider a turbo or a smart trainer.
A turbo trainer clamps to the rear of a bike on a static stand. Once the bike is clamped into the turbo trainer.
The dial can be adjusted to the wheel of the bike. A compound tyre is required that offers less wear and not let heat build-up from using the turbo trainer. Turbo trainers’ wheels cannot be used outside.
Turbo trainers replace the rear wheel and are driven by a cassette. Direct turbo trainers tend to be not as noisier and stable as rollers. Entry level turbo trainers tend to have fixed resistance.
As the prices increase, the rider will be able to take advantage of features such as remote resistance control, smart features and power meters.
Common Mistakes When Using A Turbo Trainer
Rather than jumping on: Get a plan. A lot of riders will just hop on the turbo trainer and hope for the best. Any plan needs the cyclist to know where they are, their goal and how they plan to achieve it.
Turbo Training is Boring: Turbo training used to be boring. No more, riders can race online and take their skills to the next level. Riders need to get out of the mindset that turbo training is boring.
Burn Out: Riders should not focus on having an intensive work out every time they step on the turbo trainer. Training needs to be enjoyable to make sure the rider is motivated to do the next workout.
A smart trainer refers to a turbo train that uses specialist software like Trainer Road or Swift. The software allows the rider to recreate rides and races from the comfort of their own home. Working with wireless Bluetooth, heart and power monitors allows the rider to see how hard they are working out.
Key Benefits of Smart Bike Trainers
One of the main benefits of a smart trainer is that it allows the rider to know how fast they are working out by seeing a power meter.
The power meter can easily be seen through the software using a smart phone, laptop or an iPad. Allowing the rider to have a good idea on their performance and allow the rider to plan their training sessions to get the most out of every session.
An added benefit of a smart trainer is its ability to use software to allow the rider to take part in a tailored training program.
There may be no need to have a personal trainer. All the training can be done in real time and the rider can quickly and easily change the pace of the smart trainer to match their training goals.
One of the main features of the smart trainer is its ability to offer the rider a means of accessing an online community to compete when cycling indoors.
Advice for using Smart Trainers
Calibrate your smart trainer: A rider should get into a good habit of regularly calibrating their smart trainer. A smart trainers reading can be affected by changes in air pressure, temperature and movement.
Pedalling: Keep pedalling at all times as it will be harder to pick up the pace when the next interval begins.
Difficulty: The rider can adjust the level of difficulty in real time.
Plan your session: Smart trainers can make sure ridding more enjoyable. A rider should still plan their training session in advance to get the most out of the training session.
Different Events: A big advantage of the smart trainer is that it allows riders to train for different types of events such as sports, road races and tome trails. It’s not all about numbers. Don’t forget to focus on form and technique.
A stationary bike offers the rider with the cheapest, most stable and a no hassle way of cycling indoors. The same exercise bike found in your local gym can also be purchased for using in the home.
Advice for using a Stationary bike
Seat: One of the most common mistakes that people make is failing to adjust the seat. It only takes a few seconds. However, it can make a massive difference to a workout.
Stretching Out: Spend five minutes stretching your muscles. Cycling is a low form of exercise and an individual must make sure they are fully stretched out before beginning their workout.
Warm Up: Once an individual has spent five minutes stretching, they then need to spend five minutes warming up on the bike. After five minutes start picking up the pace for a real workout.
Riding Position: It’s vital for the cyclist to keep a good riding position. Keep the back straight and aligned with the seat.
Resistance Training: Pedalling on a bike is a really good start. However, changing the pace within the training session from hard, to medium and slow for a specific period of time will help the rider get the maximum out of the session.
Why should you Cycle Indoors?
Cycling indoors is a great way of toning the quads and glutens. Not only will cycling tone your lower body but it will also tone the upper body, if the rider starts to incorporate resistance bands or hand weights into their workout.
Cycling is a low impact sport that is ideal for individuals who want to build up their fitness levels at their own pace.
Indoor cycling is a brilliant form of exercise if someone is having trouble sleeping. Cycling can also improve breathing, that will in turn helps an individual have a better night’s sleep.
Indoor cycling is a great way of reducing stress and letting an individual forget about the stresses that life can sometimes bring.
We hope you have enjoyed Road and Mountain Bike Reviews article on indoor cycling and found it helpful and informative. Mike Murray
This book is about the epic, 6000 mile, cycle trip from New York City to Seattle and then to the Mexican border undertaken by adventurer Leon McCarron. His route takes the reader through a less touristy USA of small towns, general stores and farms. This journey is not about speed and setting records; it is about the places and people of America. It is a nicely detailed and highly readable book for anyone inspired by the idea of crossing America by bike.
Leon McCarron has done some pretty amazing things in his life. He walked across China and trekked 1000 miles through the Empty Quarter. His first experience of adventure was this bicycle trip across America, inspired, like so many others by not wanting to settle for a desk job. Leon's mind was also full of the adventures of Lewis and Clark, the men who led the first expedition across the western part of the USA in the early 1800s.
The author comes across as someone you would enjoy being friends with, a nice guy, and a great companion for a long bike trip. This is one of the things that makes this book so enjoyable because the friendly and laid back tone makes you care about Leon's journey. It is also that he is very aware of his shortcomings and not afraid to admit them, such as knowing little about how to fix bikes and carrying too much luggage. He misses his girlfriend and goes through the emotional dilemma of wanting to do the trip, but also wanting a life with her.
The other strength of the book is that the pace is slower than many similar books; there is no race against time. That means there is more detail in the descriptions of the landscapes, encounters with people and what these parts of America are really like. You get quite a vivid picture of a USA that you might not be as familiar with, largely away from the big tourist attractions. For example, Leon was quite taken by the General Stores in upstate New York. These shops are old fashioned icons in small town America. He recalls sitting on the porch of one for hours with a coffee, talking to locals. Leon even rides in the boxcar of a freight train just because it seemed like fun and it was the classic American hobo experience.
As you would expect he meets a lot of people on this journey. Although he set off on his own he spends a lot of time with other long distance cyclists. There are many interesting encounters with locals. I loved when he stopped at an Irish bar in Shipton where he was bought drinks all night because it was the first time that a real Irish person had ever been in the bar!
There is one particularly shocking encounter with locals that is written so brilliantly that it had my heart racing to find out how it was going to play out. I am not going to ruin it for you by saying anything more, but it is a superb piece of dramatic travel writing.
Leon also experiences a tornado, an encounter with a bear and comes close to wild buffalo. This book pretty much covers all the possible adventures you could imagine on an American cycle trip!
This is another classic of adventure cycle writing, made all the better for the author's likability, attention to detail and good story telling.
You can purchase the book from Amazon by clicking on the image below:
I chatted with Sue Steward, the manager and owner of The Four Seasons Hotel at Loch Earn in Perthshire. Although Scotland is currently in lock down and we should absolutely not be travelling beyond our local areas there will be a time when we can travel in Scotland again. It's good for our wellbeing to dream and plan for that time, so I asked Sue about her favourite walks and cycles in the area.
Me: Once the situation we find ourselves in is over a lot of us will be desperate to get back out into Scotland's magnificent countryside. What would be your number one recommendation for a hike that shows off the beauty of your local area?
Sue: There are lots of walks to enjoy but in my opinion, you cannot beat the old railway line walk that runs parallel with Loch Earn. It heads westward and the views are breathtaking.
Me: And on the same theme is there a particular cycling route that you would recommend?
Sue: Well, the railway line is being converted into a cycle path as we speak! This will eventually join onto NCN7, parts have been completed but still some to do. It will be a great route when it is soon complete – maybe by the summer months when this madness is over?
Me: When you get a day off/morning off from your busy schedule where do you go for a walk to find a bit of peace and calm?
Sue: If my time is limited Finn (my beautiful black lab) and I head over to the golf course but if I have longer then we head a bit further afield. Either to Glen Ogle which is the forestry commission, Glen Lednock in Comrie, or to Lady Mary's walk in Crieff (the latter being a riverside walk) so it really varies. I’m so lucky to live somewhere with all these beautiful walking trails on my doorstep!
Me: From looking at a map the south road along the shore of Loch Earn looks like it would be a wonderful cycle. Would you recommend this?
Sue: Yes, this is a very popular and safe route - it is a walker/cyclist friendly road. The path is a bit up and down so is not straightforward it stays fun and interesting.
Me: The road on the north shore is the A85. Is this an okay road to cycle on?
Sue: This is a popular road too as flatter. You can in fact walk/cycle all round Loch Earn - a little over 20km
Me: Are there any secret things that readers might not have heard of, such as ruins, standing stones or beauty spots that can be found on a hike or bike ride?
Sue: Yes, we have a Fairy Stone in St Fillans! This is a large stone that, according to local folklore, has fairies living in it. Our little town made the news back in 2005 when a building developer had his plans denied so as not to disturb the fairies! There is the old Stewarts of Ardvorlich ruined cemetery in the golf course and numerous waterfalls along the way.
Me: Is there a particular food and/or drink special to the area that you would recommend trying?
Sue: Our nearest whisky distillery (Glenturret) is in Crieff so its always worth a visit – when in Scotland and all that! I would say our shortbread is to die for – but I may be biased! We also have artisan food producers in the area; Strathearn Cheese and Wildhearth Sourdough plus Comrie Butcher which is an award-winning butcher. Again, I’m so lucky to live in an area with such amazing local produce. It is usually easier to shop local than at big supermarket chains which I love.
Me: I do have a particular love of combining cycling with coffee and cake stops. Where does the best coffee and cake in your area?
Sue: If I want to treat myself then I head in to Comrie to Hansens Kitchen - all is home-made and their yummy cakes change daily… It’s definitely worth a visit. Although, as I mentioned you can get some delicious shortbread and coffee back at the hotel after a long cycle!
The Four Seasons Hotel is located in St Fillans on Loch Earn, around 12 miles west of Crieff.
This incredible underground world can be found on the Union Canal, right next to Falkirk High train station. It's a tunnel with a special atmosphere thanks to the lighting, the cave-like structure and a fascinating history that includes Burke and Hare.
If you cycle around 25 miles along the Union Canal from Edinburgh you will arrive at the Falkirk Tunnel. Or you can take a train to Falkirk High and from the south platform it is just a five minute walk.
What's it like to visit?
This is so much more than just a tunnel. It feels like a cave with the rough natural stone interior that was blasted out by navvies around 200 years ago. There is a hint of Bond villain lair- you can almost imagine patrol boats with armed guards cruising by. The walls glisten with trickling water and a hole in the roof has a continuous stream pouring through it.
The canal was meant to be an overland route, but the owner of Callendar House, William Forbes, said it would ruin his view so successfully campaigned to have it diverted under Prospect Hill. Construction of the tunnel took place between 1818 and 1822.
It is 630 meters long and can be a challenge to cycle through as the towpath is cobbled, slippery, has puddles and is only 5 feet wide. Pushing your bike through it can give you more time to appreciate the unique environment of the tunnel.
When the tunnel first opened there was such a thing as passenger canal boats. Some people were afraid to travel through the tunnel so horse transport was provided so that they could get off the boat and meet it at the other end.
I can understand why they did not want to go through the tunnel. Moving from daylight and pleasant countryside into a dark cave-like structure is disconcerting. Although the lighting is much improved today it still feels dark and the roof is low. Plus there is a spooky association with Burke and Hare, the murderers who stalked people in early-1800s Edinburgh, killed them and sold them to the anatomy school. The two men had moved from Ireland to Scotland to work on the canal and the construction of the tunnel.
The tunnel really is worth a visit. I just loved the stark contrast between the bright and bucolic surroundings at the mouth of the tunnel and the mysterious, dark world that you step into. It's not one of Scotland's most obvious attractions, but you will not be disappointed if you put this on your itinerary.
Containing some of the oldest and tallest trees in Britain, Dawyck Botanic Garden is a peaceful place of woodland walks, waterfalls and wonderment. Here you will find the mighty Douglas fir, grown from seeds collected by David Douglas, the Scottish botanist who gave the tree its name. The gardens are 8 miles from Pebbles in the Scottish Borders.
One way of reaching Dawyck is from Biggar:
1. Take a train to Addiewell and then cycle 20 miles to Biggar. My Cycling to Biggar blog has full details of the route.
2. Take the 5 mile disused railway path from Biggar to Broughton. My blog has full details of this route.
3. Cycle the final 5 miles from Broughton to Dawyck along quiet country roads with breathtaking scenery, which I will describe below:
This happens quite a lot when exploring Scotland by bike. I find a new road that takes my breath away and I have to put it on the list of my most favourite ever. This short stretch between Broughton and Dawyck is on that list. My dreams about cycling in Scotland will feature this road. It is a perfect combination of quiet roads and outstanding scenery.
The B712 is the most obvious and direct road to take between Broughton and Dawyck, but to experience the incredible scenery of this area take the single-track roads to the north of the B712. It's a non-stop rolling panorama of a valley of hills with the mighty River Tweed flowing through it.
I could cycle this road all day long. Every single second my eyes were being treated to the most lovely vistas. It was Scotland at its very best. Come here and cycle this road or, at least, travel it on Google Maps and you will be smiling.
Dawyck is nestled within this glorious valley. It is a regional garden of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and the focus is trees, in particular the Douglas fir. It is also home to the world's first reserve for mosses and lichens. Azaleas, rhododendrons, snowdrops, bluebells and blue poppies can also be seen here.
It is the extensive network of paths, through woods and alongside a burn with little waterfalls and bridges that makes Dawyck such a pleasure to explore.
My favourite part of the garden was the small clearing with a Douglas fir and Grand fir alongside each other. The Grand fir is the tallest tree in the garden, over 50 metres high and a trunk with a diameter of 1.6m. You can walk right up to these trees and marvel at their scale. I put my hand on the bark- it was very rough and textured. I felt privileged to be able to feel trees of this significance, trees that have been here for over 150 years.
Their size is incredible, but the trees are remarkable in other ways. The Douglas Fir smells like strawberries in hot weather and if you crush the needles of a Grand Fir they smell of tangerines! I didn't try this for myself, but if you do please let me know if this is as wonderful as it sounds.
David Douglas, born in Scone, near Perth, was one of the greatest plant hunters. He took 8 months to travel from Scotland to the Columbia River in America where he discovered these trees and brought back the seeds to Dawyck. He faced many challenges during his expedition including his canoe overturning. He was only 35 when he died in Hawaii, falling into a trap to catch bullocks.
The garden is 65-acres and there is much to explore using the numerous paths that twist and wind through the site. The gardens are actually in the grounds of Dawyck House and you will catch glimpses of this private home. It explains the many grand staircases, topped with chunky urns, that you will come across.
Dawyck is a place to lose yourself in and enjoy being enveloped by thick woods, ferns and beautiful flowers. Make use of your nose here and inhale pine, fern, flowers, grass and moss.
Of course, there is a cafe, so you can get some sustenance here or you might prefer to bring a picnic and find a bench in your favourite part of the garden.
There is an entry fee for the gardens. Current prices and opening times are on the Dawyck website.
There are many outstanding gardens to visit in Scotland. Here's a couple of suggestions to inspire you- Drummond Castle, near Crieff and Inveresk Lodge, near Musselburgh.
The Scottish Borders
The gardens are in the Borders region of Scotland. For ideas of more places to visit in this region visit my Borders page.
Until 1950 trains used to run between Biggar and Broughton and on to Peebles. This disused line is now a path that is more suited to walking, but you can cycle it. It's only around 5 miles, the scenery is incredible and there is a brewery at the end of the route.
You can find the path south of Biggar High School, adjacent to the caravan park. To reach Biggar itself you will find a route guide on my blog about cycling to Biggar.
The start of the old railway path is a good surface and easy to cycle on, but it doesn't stay that way!
The path soon becomes overgrown to the point that you feel like you are cycling across a field on tracks left by a tractor. It becomes unrecognisable as a railway line. There are very few reminders that this was once traveresed by steam trains- the main infrastructure is the occasional small bridge with rusting ironwork.
I confess to being surprised by how incredible the scenery is on this path. I fell into the trap of assuming that north is the direction you need to go in Scotland to find the best scenery, but it is simply not true. The more that I travel in the south of Scotland the more I appreciate that it's just as beautiful here.
For the entire path there is a horizon of hills and I was lucky to have a day where the sunlight was golden and the sky blue and full of fluffy clouds. There are also hills on the right, some with incredible formations. It is a landscape sculpted over hundreds of millions of years from a time when these hills were once mountains as high as the Alps.
It must have been a dream to be an engine driver on this line and have this view from the cab.
The line began operating in the 1860s, but passenger volume never reached anticipated levels and it was closed in 1950. Freight traffic continued until 1966.
There was one small section that was completely impassable on my bike. It was too narrow and too muddy and I could not get any traction. I had to push my bike through nettles and got stung several times.
Arriving at Broughton there is a nice surprise- an old style railway signal.
The end of the route is adjacent to Broughton Ales, the first microbrewery in Scotland. It was established in 1979 and produces a varied range of beer, stout and lager. There is a shop where you can stock up on supplies.
I have written a review of the brewery's strong ale, Old Jock. The bottle label features Scottish flags and a bearded man wearing tartan standing in front of a backdrop of hills. A more 'Scottish' looking beer label you will be hard pushed to find. I love the bottle art of the cleverly named Hopopotamus pale ale. It features a hippo that has a keg of beer as a body!
Returning to Biggar
You can go back on the railway path, but if you found it tough to cycle you could use the B7016. It is a quiet country road and there are no nettles!
My Biggar blog is packed with ideas of things to see and do in Biggar, including the museum and independent shops.
Somewhere to Stay
If you are spending the night in Biggar read my review of the Elphinstone Hotel.
Biggar, located in rural South Lanarkshire, has a great museum and is crammed with independent shops and cafes. It's about 30 miles from Edinburgh and this blog tells you how to get there and what to see on the way
Highlights of this route
Take a train to Addiewell
Carstairs Junction is actually the closest station to Biggar- it's about a 10 mile cycle. However, trains to Carstairs are not that frequent and if you want a longer cycle you could take a train to Addiewell, which is about 20 miles from Biggar.
Addiewell is around 35 minutes by train from Edinburgh and around one hour from Glasgow.
Addiewell station, now little more than a platform and a couple of bus shelters, was once graced with a ticket office and waiting rooms. It is an isolated location with nothing much in the immediate vicinity. The cycle route travels south on Station Road, a single-track that really feels like you are in a remote location.
That's a lot of whisky
At the bottom of Station Road you will hit the A71. It's a left turn here where you pass the mass of the North British Distillery. This is a grain whisky producer and the warehouses- row upon row of black brick buildings- contain maturing whisky. In order to qualify as Scotch whisky the liquid must mature for 3 years and this site has a capacity for 130 million litres of the stuff. This is whisky production on an industrial scale and there are no pretty pagoda-topped distillery buildings or guided tours here. I could see weather-beaten whisky barrels, stacked in pyramids and hear beeping delivery lorry reversing alarms.
You are only on the A71 for half-a-mile and there is a pavement alongside it that is not really used by pedestrians, if you don't fancy joining the traffic. You then take a left down a country road that cuts through farming country to the A704 which you cross over to continue on the country road heading south. This is not a particularly scenic road, the farming landscapes are similar to many all over Scotland. The wind turbines are the standout feature here.
Some are near the roadside so I pulled over to listen to the gentle whir of the blades. It was quite a novelty to be next to one of these graceful machines for a few moments- you would miss this sitting in a car.
There is a border crossing on this route, from one council area, West Lothian, into another, South Lanarkshire. It is marked by a road sign welcoming you to the new area. I always look to see if there are any obvious difference when I cross one of these borders. In most case I find that there is no discernible change, but here it really did feel like I was entering somewhere different. The landscape felt less barren and the horizon suddenly blossomed with the hills of the Southern Uplands and the Pentlands.
I took a slight detour off the route to investigate a reservoir, largely because I liked the name- Cobbinshaw- and it struck me as the kind of place that not many people will have visited.
The road to the reservoir crosses over the West Coast Mainline railway and this got me thinking about all those people speeding to London and being completely unaware of this place. I do love train travel, but high speed trains don't allow you to really examine places like this, to hear their sounds, to experience their atmosphere and to feel their air in your face. I stopped by the shore and could see plenty of boats with fishermen. The only sounds were the gently lapping water and ducks splash landing on its surface.
I took a very muddy, pot-holed road to the causeway. A sign warned of children playing on quads on this road, but I didn't come across any. I paused on the causeway and the stillness made the place feel as remote as a Highland loch, despite being close to Scotland's urban centre.
Welcome to Woolfords
Returning to the main route I soon reached one of the few settlements along this road- Woolfords. It consists of a single row of cottages with a foreground of a moor of rushes, reeds and grass, a horizon of hills and legions of clouds. This place seems unbelievably remote and I wondered what it would be like to live there. A car must be essential. There are no shops within walking distance and I could see no evidence of a bus service.
Later on I found the road blocked by a herd of cows. They were walking towards me and I had to get off my bike and gently push it through the crowds, waiting for the beasts to make way for me. I smiled at them, said hello and thanked them for allowing me to pass!
The landscape here is not generic flat farmlands, but has waves and undulations because it was once an area of mountains as tall as the Alps. That was about 4 hundred million years ago and the changes in that landscape over that period of time have sculpted it into what we see today. From a bicycle saddle you naturally pay a lot attention to the road verges and these ones were awash with thistles, buttercups and butterflies.
This road ends at the A70, the Edinburgh Road, where you take a right turn towards Carnwath. You will be on the A70 for less than 10 minutes and I didn't find it a busy road. I passed an interesting house on this road- a round house, with a Harry Potter theme. It's called Hagrid’s Hut and has a weather vain with Harry Potter on his Quidditch broomstick.
Carnwath is a small village that has a main road flanked by rows of single-storey and two-storey cottages. There are some pretty houses here and a few shops. It has an unexpected claim to fame- the oldest running race in the world was started here! It's called the Red Hose Race, started in 1508 by Royal Charter. It must be held every year unless written permission is received from the Crown Authorities. This has only happened once, in 2001, due to the foot and mouth crisis.
The village also has a superb bakery called The Apple Pie. It has won numerous awards. Don't let the functional-looking building put you off as the products are well worth trying. Inside you will find a fine selection of savoury pies and cakes. I bought a strawberry tart and a white chocolate and malteser slice.
Cakes at the church
I cycled on a bit to find a picnic spot and came across the pretty parish church at Libberton. The sun was shining in my face and the view was outstanding. In one direction there were golden wheat fields with a big blue sky as far as you can see and in the other direction were the Southern Uplands, their green sides being enhanced by the burst of sun. Every cycle trip has a 'moment' where a special memory is created and it will be the thing you remember the most about the ride. This was the 'moment' of this trip- sitting in the sunshine, a gentle breeze, inspiring surroundings. Oh, and I almost forgot, the cakes! They were very good. The strawberry tart was of a traditional style with a thick and crunch pastry case that gave it a homely, authentic taste.
From Libberton it's just another 5 miles or so to reach Biggar. And to find out what there is to see and do in Biggar head to my blog: Exploring Biggar.
Your Piece Baking Company produce a range of handmade oatcakes and shortbread. They are based in Fife and their mission is to bring handmade oatcakes to the world. I tried their oatcakes with seeds and here is what I thought of them.
Oatcakes are as Scottish as the Highlands and Edinburgh Castle. They have been around since Roman times, possibly even longer. It is one of those traditional foods that you must try when exploring Scotland. They are widely available, including in supermarkets, but the taste can vary enormously. Your Piece Baking Company promises an oatcake far superior to the many bland, factory produced oatcakes out there. The fact that the company has received over 40 Great Taste Awards is proof that these cakes are something special.
The back of the box explains why these oatcakes are so good. They are made to a traditional Fife recipe and they are handmade- a series of photos shows the process involved. There are no artificial additions to the recipe and the oats come from Fife farms.
The rear of the box also features a map to show you the location of Fife. I love that Scotland has many regional food and drink producers. Food and drink is just as much a part of visiting Scotland as the scenery and castles, so make sure you try something from the region that you are visiting.
What does it taste like? For me the main point is whether or not you can eat them on their own without a topping. Many generic oatcakes are far too dry and boring to eat on their own and need to be smothered in something. Well, these Fife oatcakes are indeed delicious on their own. They are thick, but not too thick and have a satisfying crunch. The seeds bring an added, nutty, interest as you bite into it, not to mention the extra health benefits.
In fact, these are so good just as they are that I ate the entire packet without reaching for a slab of cheese or a honey pot. They were excellent as snacks throughout the day- whenever I needed an energy boost they kept me away from something unhealthy like crisps or chocolate.
Your Piece Baking sells several different kinds of oatcakes, including plain ones, those made with porridge oats. a wheat-free variety and oatcakes for canapes. They also do delicious shortbread- the one with ginger is my favourite. The products can be purchased from the Your Piece Baking website and can be found in numerous retailers. I bought mine from Cranachan & Crowdie on Edinburgh's Royal Mile.
Yes, they are more expensive than oatcakes from the supermarket, but they are undeniably more delicious. You also get to support a regional food producer. Give them a try and let me know what you think.
A cosy book store, an ice cream and chocolate shop, a fascinating museum, a deli crammed with local produce and a coaching inn to spend the night are just some of the reasons to come to Biggar. This town in South Lanarkshire, near the River Clyde and the Scottish Borders, has plenty to see and do.
"We were in many countries and we ate the bread of many nations through the long years of our exile...Your bread was the best for it was given willingly and with a kind heart, not as a pittance, but like a loaf shared with a brother and friend. You did not know us and yet you treated us like brothers." A Polish soldier commenting on the hospitality of the Biggar community when troops were evacuated to the area in 1940. The experience of the Polish soldiers is explored in the Biggar and Upper Clydesdale Museum.
Biggar is a royal burgh, around 30 miles south of Edinburgh. The town is in a rural location, near the River Clyde and the River Tweed. It is next to a group of hills called the Southern Uplands. Imagine! These hills were once higher than the Alps, 4 hundred millions years ago.
Discover hidden courtyards
Biggar has an attractive townscape, including some hidden courtyards that are reached through passageways, called closes, from the High Street. This one is particularly lovely with the window boxes and flower displays:
The High Street is very wide in parts and this is a legacy from when the space was used for town markets, but most of this has now been given over to car parking.
One of the most striking buildings is the 1860 Corn Exchange with its clock tower. It was originally built as a grain market and is now a venue that hosts a program of theatre, music and other events.
Further along the High Street there is another building of note. It stands out because it is clearly much older than its neighbours and has a distinctive red front door that tall people would struggle entering.
The part of the High Street where Biggar Burn flows is very pretty. The Burn is crossed by a small stone bridge, dating from the thirteenth century. It is called Cadger's Bridge after William Wallace reputedly crossed the bridge, disguised as a Cadger (a hawker), to spy on an English camp.
The High Street features several small gardens and areas of tree and flower planting with plenty of benches. This makes it very pleasant for strolling and watching the world go by.
Coffee with cows
Biggar has a good choice of independent cafes, and I can recommend The Coffee Spot for a morning caffeine hit. This cafe has a fun cow theme with a massive print of cows on the wall. You can have fun trying to spot all the cow items- there is a cow clock, cow salt and pepper shakers on the table and the child's menu is called Little Calves Menu.
There is a great selection of cakes, but in the spirit of the cafe's theme I just had to choose the cow shaped biscuit with chocolate blobs replicating the black and white pattern of a Freisian cow. If you are looking for something more substantial the café offers breakfasts, soups and sandwiches.
Have a go at operating a 1930s telephone exchange
The Biggar and Upper Clydesdale Museum is full of fascinating objects that explore the area's social history. The town's telephone exchange was in operation until 1973 and you can have a play with the cables and pretend to be an operator.
The museum has a period street where you can walk inside various stores, like a toy shop, apothecary and shoemaker. It is very realistic and atmospheric; there are even sound effects, like children playing. The level of detail is impressive with shop signs and the objects in the shops, like medication bottles. There is a magnificent old car on display, a Stirling Panhard Voiturette. It was built in 1901 by a Scottish company from Hamilton.
Come and explore inside some of the shops on my video:
Did you know that this area has the earliest known traces of human activity in Scotland? This was 14,000 years ago and the museum displays arrow heads from that time. These would have been used to hunt wild horses and reindeer. There is a reindeer hide that you can feel- dense and soft- and imagine wearing to keep nice and warm in the depths of Scottish winters.
One of my favourite objects in the museum is a scallop shell ampulla. In Medieval times this would have been carried by pilgrims to store holy water that they had brought back from holy places. It really captured my imagination as it was likely dropped by a pilgrim on their way home. They were probably hoping that the holy water would bring about a miracle cure, perhaps for a poorly loved one.
Hit the shops!
Biggar is superb for independent shops. There are two butcher shops, gift shops and even an interior designer. Don't miss The Orchard for a wonderful selection of foodstuffs. Fish and seafood, fruit and vegetables, cakes, cheeses and lots more is available here. I picked up a super delicious punnet of strawberries from a local farm and a jar of raspberry and lime jam which definitely deserves its Great Taste Award.
The Orchard has this ethos of old fashioned service, probably like it was in a market town grocery store of days gone by. The owner was on the shop floor interacting with customers, checking if they could find what they were looking for and talking about the products. It made the experience of shopping a joy and certainly more special than a retail park. In fact, I felt that Biggar had successfully retained the tradition, history and welcome that you would associate with a market town. Just take a look at Miniatures and Mindings, a china shop, and you will get that nostalgic feeling.
Too many books?
I always think that the presence of an independent bookstore is a good sign of a healthy high street. On entering Atkinson Pryce Books I smiled at a sign- 'Too many books? I think what you mean is not enough bookshelves.' This a place to really appreciate the written word with cosy cushioned corner seats and armchairs.
What's your favourite flavour of ice cream?
You don't have to head for coastal towns to find some of Scotland's best ice cream. Taylor's ice cream has been produced in Biggar for over 40 years and you can get a cone at Cones and Candies on the High Street. I can recommend the mint chocolate chip, but any flavour is excellent here- the company has received over 100 awards from the National Ice Cream Alliance. It's another blast of nostalgia in this shop with big jars of sweets behind the counter. Treat yourself to some of the home made fudge and a box of their chocolates- tell me if you also thought the lime cream was incredible.
Do a circuit of Burnbraes Park with your ice cream. It sits in a valley with a line of handsome Victorian townhouses overlooking it. The Biggar Burn flows through it and the paddling pond is a great feature if you have children with you.
Adjacent to the park, the kirk dates from 1545 and if you go inside you will be rewarded with a magnificent stone interior and striking stained glass.
The town gasworks
A remarkable nineteenth century relic is Biggar's gasworks. Town gasworks, supplying gas for the town's heat and light, could be found all over Scotland. This is now the only surviving gasworks, with its original machinery intact. It's now a visitor attraction, although the limited opening hours mean that careful planning is required if you want to see inside. It was closed during my visit, but I would love to come back.
Biggar is home to the Scottish puppet theatre company. Performances take place throughout the year and you can check their website to see what's on. There's always a special Christmas show!
Cycling the Biggar to Broughton railway path
This disused line is now a walking and cycling route that provides breathtaking views of the hills that surround Biggar. Full details are in my blog about this path.
Staying the night
I recommend The Elphinstone Hotel for comfortable accommodation and an excellent restaurant. You can read my review of The Elphinstone on my blog.
Getting to Biggar
Read my blog about cycling to Biggar and what there is to see and do along the way. I reached Biggar by taking a train to Addiewell (40 minutes from Edinburgh, 52 minutes from Glasgow) and then cycling around 20 miles. The route is mainly by quiet country roads. Carstairs station is closer- a 10 mile cycle from Biggar- but trains are less frequent (around 40 minutes from Glasgow, under 30 minutes from Edinburgh).
Blog: Cycling to Biggar
With New Year’s Eve just around the corner, you might be starting to think about fitness as one of your 2020 resolutions. Swapping out your car for the bike will make a huge difference to your physical and mental wellbeing. Cycling is also a cheap form of exercise which will save you time while making you feel great. If you’re still looking for more motivation to swap your four wheels for two, the environmental impact of cycling is almost non-existent when compared to CO2-heavy cars. Mountain bike retailers Leisure Lakes Bikes take a closer look at some of the reasons why you should say goodbye to the car in 2020.
1. Health benefits
The physical benefits of cycling in comparison to driving to work probably won’t surprise you. If you don’t have time to go to the gym, then cycling is a fantastic (and free) alternative that you can easily fit into your daily routine. According to a meta-analysis published by the British Journal of Sports Medicine cycling can dramatically reduce your risk of cardiovascular diseases. The study accounted for both people who cycled for sport and people who used a bike for their daily commute. Not only did this analysis conclude that cyclists have a 22 per cent lower risk than non-cyclists for cardiovascular disease, but they also had a lower BMI on average.
In addition to this, cycling is beneficial to your mental wellbeing. As well as the fact that cycling gets you outdoors, and allows you to release endorphins, this form of exercise has also been proven to drastically reduce stress.
2. Financial benefits
If you’re keen on getting fit and active, why not do it in a cost-effective way? Driving to work each day can be truly damaging to your bank account. Not only is there the initial price of the car, but the maintenance, road tax, and fuel costs all add up, resulting in a needlessly expensive method of commuting. Switching out your car for a bike can reduce these costs tenfold.
One keen cyclist told us that he has saved £6 per day on fuel costs since switching to cycling for his 30-mile round commute. So, on average he saves £30 a week and £1,150 a year! Even a few pounds saved a day can make a huge difference, and when you pair this with the health benefits and the environmental pros, the positive points really stack up.
Of course, there is the initial cost of a bike to consider. Luckily, many employers engage with the “cycle to work” scheme which could save you a lot of money if your looking to purchase a new bike. As a result of making monthly salary sacrifices, this scheme will allow you to purchase a bike tax-free, saving up to 42 per cent of the over all value.
3. Environmental Benefits
Over the past decade, people have started to pay more attention to environmental concerns. Whether you’re recycling your plastics, drinking from a reusable coffee cup, or have started to grow your own veg, every little bit of effort can make a difference. Leaving the car at home is one of the best things you can do to reduce your carbon footprint.
Unfortunately, driving is still most Europeans’ transport method of choice — at great cost to the environment. Not only do cars produce huge amounts of CO2, but the initial production of a car is far more environmentally damaging than that of a bike. According to calculations from ECF, the production of a car alone accounts for 42g of CO2 emissions per kilometre driven. When combining this output with the output CO2 from each kilometre actually driven, the total comes to around 271g CO2 per kilometre.
On the other hand, we have the eco-friendly bike. Contrary to popular belief, a bike isn’t completely carbon neutral, as we have to take the energy used in production into account. However, this small output is minimal compared to that of a car. Taking production into account, a bike is accountable for 5g of CO2 per kilometre — miniscule in comparison!
Overall, it is clear that the benefits of cycling dwarf those of driving. It may be difficult to force yourself out of bed a little earlier for the sake of exercise, but your health, your wallet, and the environment will all benefit from it! Why not give it a try in 2020?
Juliana Buhring became the first and fastest woman to circumnavigate the world by bicycle. This book follows her journey. It is an incredible adventure, particularly as the author had no background in cycling and was spurred into doing the ride after her boyfriend was killed by a crocodile. Buhring's background as a former member of the cult of The Children of God provides a fascinating backdrop to the journey.
These long distance cycle rides tend to be done by men and when Juliana Buhring became inspired by Mark Beaumont's around the world cycle she discovered that no woman had ever done the record attempt. Buhring was searching for something amazing to do in the aftermath of the death of her boyfriend, killed by a crocodile in Congo. The bike ride becomes the emotional release from this tragic event.
The first part of the book is set in Naples, Italy. This is where the author enlists the help of Professor Perno who has a background in cycling training. Buhring outlines the details of her training regime and learning how to maintain a bicycle at a friendly cycle shop.
Once the record attempt beings the book takes on a diary format, with short sections for each day of the adventure. This makes the book very easy to read and gives it a good pace, reflecting the time pressure of this ride. Europe flashes by and America is over in under a month. As you would expect this journey is full of highs and lows.
The highs are captured beautifully by the author in this quotation:
"On a bicycle, you are inside the movie, an essential part of it. Completely reliant upon your environment, you observe and absorb every sensation around you. You feel every change in terrain, the texture of the road, the direction of the wind, every ascent and descent, the constantly shifting weather. You smell every plant and flower, every rotting roadkill carcass. You hear every birdcall, every insect and animal. You take in the country, and the country takes you in. If you really want to experience the world, get on a bicycle."
There is a heart stopping moment when Buhring is cycling uphill through mountains in New Zealand when temperatures drop, hypothermia is setting in, it is getting dark and the GPS is not working. By chance she spots a camper van by the side of the road and the couple take her in for the night. The kindness of people is a common theme in the book. Crossing the Nullarbor Plain in Australia there is great camaraderie among travellers and Buhring experiences tooting horns and is given money to buy food.
Despite the speed of the journey the author is able to give a vivid flavour of the countries that she travels through. For example, there is a wonderful encounter with a family in Thailand who invite the author to eat with them at a place where there are prawns swimming in buckets and you simply choose however many you want for the cook to prepare and have them with rice and beer.
India proves particularly challenging for a cyclist- the roads are a mix of rubbish, mud and human waste as people just squat by the side of the road. Buhring and the bike are covered in it by the end of each day. Crowds of staring men gather each time she stops in India and she is often followed by men on motorbikes making rude comments.
This wouldn't happen to a male cyclist. Another point that Buhring makes is that she must find and stop at public toilets, something that male cyclists don’t need to do. The toilet stops add 10 minutes, precious time when you are trying to set a world record. She has to get the balance right between getting enough hydration and avoiding the toilet time wastage.
Despite these challenges you get the feeling that Buhring took all of this in her stride, that it came natural to her. This is because of her nomadic background, raised in The Children of God cult. In many ways the most fascinating aspect of this book is reading of the author's cult background.
Buhring has 17 siblings and her father had multiple partners. The cult leaders separated her from her parents when she was 4 and she was moved around the world so there was no country that she could call 'home'. The cult had training centres around the world where food and sleep deprivation, beatings and humiliation were used. These centres were disguised as international schools. Buhring escaped the cult and found it difficult to relate to mainstream life, particularly when people asked where she was from and she was unable to answer this. She did not know things, like how to open a bank account. That adjustment and leaving behind parents and friends provided her with the mental preparation for undertaking something as challenging as a cycle ride around the world.
This book is a great read. It provides a fresh perspective to add to the many other books about around the world cycle challenges. You can buy it from Amazon by clicking on the image below:
If you like your tearooms to be traditional, joyful and somewhat off the beaten path then The Willows is the place to head for. It's a world of white table linen, china decorated with flowers and dainty cakes. You will find it, not in a town, but in farming country, around 4 miles from the Moray coast.
Highlights of This Route
The journey is half the fun of visiting The Willows. You must look for a dusty path in the depths of Moray's farming landscapes. It's a slight diversion from the coast, not far from Cullen, so if you are on the coastal cycle route (National Cycle Network Route One) it's easy to pop by. Or if you are looking for the nearest rail access head to Keith- it is a 10 mile cycle from there.
Directions from Keith Station
Keith is about one hour from Inverness or Aberdeen by train.
Leaving Keith station you are aiming to get onto the B9018. From the train station you cycle down Station Road. Look for a path on the left, which takes you along a road that links to the B9116- Newmill Road. Take a left here. When you reach a crossroads you turn right onto the B9017. This road will join the A95 where you turn left and then the next left is for the B9018, signposted for Cullen.
The B9018 is wide and does not get a lot of traffic. It's got some ups, downs and curves so there is a bit of variety. The scenery is agricultural and although it is not the most exciting road in Scotland the peace and quiet and smooth tarmac make for very good cycling. During my visit I had the wind behind me and I sailed along at a nice pace- the long and empty road ahead providing a wonderful sense of freedom.
There was a lot of livestock in the fields, including sheep, cows and a very large bull with a nose ring who stared at me. I pulled over to say 'hello' to a group of donkeys, but they bolted off. Then one of them plucked up the courage to wander back to the fence and check me out. When his buddies could see that I was not a threat they all copied the brave donkey and returned to the fence, sniffing me for signs of food.
There were several wind turbines on the hillside and I spotted a farm sign that had both a picture of a cow and a wind turbine, a reflection of the mixed use of farming land in this area.
There is a place with a lovely name on this road- Berryhillock. Here there is a wooden shelter with a fantastic display of flowers. Inside the shelter there was a poster promoting an evening event with the local heritage group- there would be talks, including one on Deskford witches, tea and biscuits. Opposite the shelter is an attractive garden with a model windmill.
Less than 5 minutes cycling from Berryhillock will bring you to Deskford Church. This is a peaceful spot with an historic building which you are likely to get all to yourself. There is an iron gate with a heavy bolt to slide to gain access to the church yard. The church dates from 1540 and is now a ruin with no roof and holes where windows and doors once were.
The standout feature here is the sacrament house, a decorative storage cupboard that had been used to keep the wafer that is transformed into the body of Christ during Mass. The stone carving is impressive, particularly the angels with flowing frocks.
Just five minutes cycle from the church will bring you to South Lissens Pottery. It's a great place to hunt for a unique souvenir from the area. How about a Cullen Skink bowl? One of Scotland's most famous dishes, this hearty fish soup, was invented just up the road in Cullen.
The dusty track to the side of the pottery takes you to Deskford Garden Galleries and The Willow Tearoom, also located in farm buildings.
Raspberry, Rose and White Chocolate
When I opened the door to the tea room it was like stepping into a different era. The Shadows were on the music player and the tables were set out with linen, napkins and vintage china. What a surprise to find such a place in the depths of Scotland's farming landscapes!
The loose leaf tea selection is excellent. This is a place where tea is a passion. I ordered the Russian Caravan which has a sweet and smoky taste. The home baking is no less impressive. My raspberry, rose and white chocolate cake was perfection and looked so dainty (see image at top of the blog).
During my visit there were just two other women who hummed along to the soundtrack of 50s and 60s tunes. However, there are a lot of tables and the exciting menu of full meals and afternoon teas was a sign that this is a popular place.
It's not just the tea room to see here. The complex of buildings includes a lovely conservatory and rooms packed full of antiques to buy. There is also a pond in the garden with benches. I sat here for a few minutes watching songbirds gathering up twigs and bits of grass for their nests.
When I got back on my bike I felt really happy. This place was such a chance find and a wonderful experience that it put a spring in my pedalling.
I stayed at the cosy and welcoming Elphinstone Hotel in Biggar. It features a restaurant that has a Taste Our Best Award from VisitScotland. This hotel is a great base for exploring the attractions of Lanarkshire and the Scottish Borders. Read on for my review of the hotel.
The History Bit
Let your imagination take you back to the eighteenth century and you are travelling from Edinburgh to Carlisle on a stagecoach. The horses had to be changed every 10 miles or so and this takes place at a network of coaching inns that provided facilities like accommodation, meals and stables. The Elphinstone in Biggar was one of those inns. For over 400 years it played host to many travellers including Queen Victoria's Royal Company of Archers, the Dukes of Bucchleuch and acquaintances of Robert Burns. It is an impressive historical pedigree that is carried through nicely to the present day.
The Elphinstone is in a perfect location, on the High Street, right next to the town's attractions. The white washed exterior screams 'coaching inn' and it looks really pretty with the profusion of flowers in window boxes and hanging baskets.
The bar and lounge have plenty of coaching in features- low ceilings, roof beams, squeaky floorboards and working fires. The 11 bedrooms are a more modern style, but the traditional furniture and the sash and case windows (double glazed) maintain a connection to the building's past. The staff are friendly, welcoming and easy going.
I stayed in room 9. This is a family room with a double bed and bunk beds. Here is my video tour of the room:
There are two sash and case windows that bring a generous amount of natural light into the room. It is very spacious and includes a seating area where you can relax with a tea or coffee and browse the brochures of what there is to see and do in the area.
The bed was really comfortable and I had an amazing night's sleep. I liked that the room has two televisions- one next to the bunk beds and one next to the double bed- to allow children and adults to watch their own thing.
Everything in the room was immaculate and the bathroom sparkling. A nice touch is the inclusion of Arran Aromatics shower and bath products.
Restaurant and Bar
I took a cosy table next to the fire place in the lounge. The menu is impressive in it's variety and choice. It goes way beyond traditional pub grub and features curries, lamb tagine and pasta. There is something for everyone here.
The Elphinstone has a VisitScotland Taste our Best award. What this means is that the menu features ingredients with Scottish provenance, local ingredients and seasonal ingredients. The first page of the menu lists the suppliers, including meat from the butcher on the High Street, fish from the deli on the High Street and ice cream from the sweet shop on the High Street.
I ordered the haggis croquettes for the starter. They were beautifully crispy on the outside, giving a satisfying crunch. The interior of peppery meat was delicious and the creamy peppery sauce was the perfect accompaniment. They left me with a nice, warming aftertaste. I could easily have eaten another portion!
For my main course I had the fish and chips. It was exactly how you want this meal to be with succulent flaky white fish inside non-greasy crispy batter and chips with fluffy insides and a crunch on the outside.
The dessert menu is full of temptation, in particular the ice cream sundaes made with ice cream from the sweet shop just a few doors down from the hotel. The choices included Brownie, Applie Pie and Malteser Delight. I found it hard to decide so asked my server for her recommendation and she said the Malteser Delight was a good bet. When it arrived there was a gasp from the other dinners in the room- "look at that!" It looks the business and it was a joy to dig my spoon in and crunch the Maltesers buried within the vanilla ice cream and toffee sauce.
The bar offers a changing menu of guest ales and I tried a very nice one from The Orkney Brewery. Those who love their gin will be pleased to find an extensive menu of gins and tonics. Wines, cocktails and spirits are also well represented at the hotel.
This is a buffet format. There is a table set out with cereal, juice, yoghurt and a bowl of fresh fruit salad that had melon, kiwi, pineapple and orange.
You can also help yourself to the hot selection which includes sausage, fried eggs, beans, tomato, potato scones and bacon. I usually prefer my breakfast cooked to order, but the quality and taste was excellent. I really enjoyed it.
Biggar and the local area
The town of Biggar has plenty to see and do. There is an excellent museum, interesting architecture and a superb collection of independent shops. Biggar is located in South Lanarkshire, near to the border with the Scottish Borders. Pebbles is just 18 miles from Biggar and Dawyck Botanic Garden is just 10 miles away. New Lanark World Heritage Site is around 13 miles from Biggar.
I reached Biggar by taking a train to Addiewell (40 minutes from Edinburgh, 52 minutes from Glasgow) and then cycling around 19 miles. The route is mainly by quiet country roads. Carstairs station is closer- a 10 mile cycle from Biggar- but trains are less frequent (around 40 minutes from Glasgow, under 30 minutes from Edinburgh).
Disclaimer - My accommodation and meals were provided for the purposes of this review. These views are my own and reflect my honest experience.
Colonsay is an island on Scotland's west coast, 30 miles from the mainland. It is famed for its beaches, wildlife and tranquility. It even has a brewery and a golf course! It is 10 miles long and 2 miles wide with just over 100 people living there.
Read on to discover 15 things you can see and do on the Island of Colonsay.
An obvious choice for my blog! However, cycling really is the best way to explore the island- it is only 10 miles long and there are very few cars to worry about on the single-track roads. It will also save you the cost of taking your car across on the ferry. It is free to take bikes on the ferry and if you don't have your own bike you can hire one on the island.
2. Kiloran Beach
One of Scotland's most beautiful beaches, Kiloran, is a must-see on the island. It is an expanse of golden sand with dunes and caves to explore. There is a good chance that you will come across the grazing cattle that often stroll onto the sand.
3. Sip a Beer from Colonsay Brewery
Colonsay is the smallest island in the world with its own brewery. With a fact like that you just have to try one (or a few) of their beers! I love the colourful bottle labels and the 80 shilling (pictured) is my favourite. It is a dark ale with a taste of peat, which gives it a particularly 'Scottish' taste that makes you think of the islands and strong whiskies. You can buy the beer from the brewery shop which is near the ferry terminal. It is also sold in the hotel and onboard the ferry. If gin is more your thing there is also a distillery on the island called Wild Thyme Spirits.
4. Go Book Shopping
Next door to the Colonsay Brewery is the bookshop. There is a great selection of works about island history and culture, and if you are just looking for something for a rainy day there is a wide choice of fiction and non-fiction. During my visit I heard a customer stating "chemistry is more my thing" in response to the bookseller letting them know of an upcoming sale of philosphy books.
5. Look for Wildlife
Seals, Golden Eagles and Otters can be see on the Island of Colonsay. Perhaps a lot easier to spot are the beautiful wildflowers. Take a close look at the ground as you explore the island and you will find plenty of pretty delights. The abundance of flowers sustains the production of Colonsay Wildflower Honey which you can buy from the Pantry, a cafe near the ferry terminal.
6. Oysters at The Colonsay Hotel
Sampling local sea food is a must when visiting a Scottish Island. Pop into The Colonsay Hotel, the only hotel on the island, to enjoy Colonsay salmon and oysters. It is a cosy place with open fires and wooden floorboards so settle in and enjoy a beer from the Colonsay Brewery.
7. Touch Ancient Standing Stones
Near Lower Kilchattan look out for a gate with a painted notice, 'foot path to standing stones'. Walk through ankle height grass to reach a pair of stones that are the last remains of a stone circle. The stones are known as Fingal's Limpet Hammers' as they have the appearance of the tool that was used to detach limpets from rocks. Feel their surface, crusty with moss, and imagine the others who have put their hands here through the centuries.
8. Search for Highland Cattle
Take the very steep road that travels west of Kiloran beach. It takes a bit of effort on a bicycle! When the road eventually ends there is a gate with a sign stating that this is the footpath to a beach. Highland Cattle can sometimes be found grazing on this beach, so it is a great spot to get a closer look at these engimatic creatures. This is a pebble beach and it takes a bit of effort to reach it so you will probably get it (and the coos!) all to yourself.
9. Colonsay Heritage Trust
Housed in a former Baptist Church this museum tells the history of the island through objects, photographs and information panels.
10. Go To Church
Colonsay parish church, built in 1802, is gleaming white with fine Georgian architectural features, particularly the large round windows that let light flood in. The church is always open so come inside to have a look and enjoy some quiet contemplation. Incredibly it was originally designed to seat 400, somewhat optimistic for this tiny island. During my visit the pews were laid with second hand books that you could buy by popping a £1 coin into an honesty box.
11. Colonsay House and Gardens
These gardens are famous for their rhododendrons and the mild climate means that subtropical plants also thrive here- there are acacia and eucaplyptus. There is a cafe that serves afternoon tea, lunches and snacks. The gardens were not open during my visit, so if you want to see them make sure you plan to come on a Wednesday, Friday or Saturday during the summer months. Check the Colonsay Holidays website for current opening hours.
12. Take in Another Island- Walk Over to Oronsay
At low tide you can walk over to the island of Oronsay. Tide times can be checked with the Post Office on Colonsay. There is a 14th century Augustine priory to explore and you might spot the Grey Seal colonoy on a coastal walk.
14. Read a Book, Relax, Do Nothing
One of the main joys of spending time on of Scotland's islands is that it offers a complete escape from the stresses of modern life. You should take advantage of this and find a quiet spot to sit and do nothing or perhaps read the book you purchased from Colonsay Bookshop. Even watching the ferry arrive and depart is a good way to slow down and relax- watching the vessel glide across a calm water can be pretty mesmerising.
15. Cake at The Pantry
The cake cabinet in The Colonsay Pantry is where you will find the island's best homebaking. This friendly cafe is just a couple of hundred yards from the ferry pier and offers outdoor and indoor seating. During my visit I had hearty lentil and tomato soup followed by a luscious slice of caramel shortcake and superb barista-made coffee. The Pantry also provides evening meals on selected nights- check their website for the current offerning.
15. Go to an Event
For a small island it is surprising just how many events take place on Colonsay. There is a book festival, a music festival and a food and drink festival. For sporting enthusiasts there is the Colonsay International Golf Open and regular football matches. There are also regular ceilidhs if dancing is more your thing.
How to Get to Colonsay
The Caledonian MacBrayne ferry takes around 2 hours and 20 minutes to travel from Oban to Colonsay. The ferry service is more frequent in summer. Most of the departures from Oban are late afternoon and the departures from Colonsay are in the evening. This means an overnight stay is necessary on the island, but that is a good thing as this is a beautiful place. However, if you can really only afford a day there is also ferry service from the Island of Islay that gives you about 6 hours on Colonsay. Check the ferry website for current timetables.
Got Some Time to Spare in Oban?
If you are waiting for your ferry to Colonsay and looking for something to do why not visit Dunstaffnage Castle or treat yourself at Oban Chocolate Company?
Explore more of Argyll and Bute
Colonsay is located in the Argyll and Bute region of Scotland. Head to my Argyll and Bute page for ideas of more places to visit.
My name is Colin Baird and I want to see all of Scotland by bicycle. Follow my blog on Facebook: