This book celebrates the bicycle from its invention to Victorian trick cyclists and from BMX bandits to Le Tour de France. It is presented in an easily digestible format with plenty of photos and a well-written, chirpy text. Absolutely everything to do with bicycles is in here and it is a joy to leaf through the pages.
Just have a look at the contents of this book and you will see that nothing has been missed in the story of the bicycle. This includes the bike in art, film and books, the birth of the mountain bike, cycle racing and record attempts. There are also features on iconic bikes like The Chopper and the Dawes Galaxy. It is a chunky book, but presented beautifully with loads of interesting pictures and illustrations. There is even a guide to fixing punctures. If you love bicycles and want to know lots of interesting things about them then you will love this book.
You can buy the book from Amazon by clicking on the image below:
The location of the Bettyhill Hotel is breathtaking. It overlooks Torrisdale Bay on the far north coast of Scotland, around 100 miles north of Inverness. It is on the route of the North Coast 500, Scotland's version of Route 66, so ideally placed for visiting this beautiful area. The rooms are modern and comfortable and the food is excellent.
If you manage to bag one of the rooms with a sea view you will be mesmerised by the stunning blue bay and its golden sands. On a sunny day you would be forgiven for thinking you were elsewhere, perhaps Australia. The view is just as good from the restaurant. The hills across the water are green and golden; golden because they are peppered with sand all the way to the top, the cause of powerful storms spraying the hill with the grains.
Traditional meals like haddock and chips are cooked perfectly. Desserts like chocolate torte are gorgeous and indulgent. The breakfast is solid with the usual choices and my scrambled egg on crostini was perfection.
The hotel building is traditional 19th century architecture and painted immaculate white. It sits right on the main road, but don't worry as this is a very quiet place at night. There are 20 bedrooms, some with shared bathroom facilities, so if you want en suite make sure to check before you book.
The hotel has an interesting history. It had originally been affiliated with a petrol station - look out for the gate posts with the stone shell emblem, representing a certain oil company. The hotel would have had a petrol pump and appealed to wealthy fishing clients who expected high standards of service that included shoe shinning and an onsite hairdresser. These affiliated hotels were once common across the Highlands, so it is nice to know that you are staying in a place with heritage.
The owner had told me about the building's past- the friendliness of the staff is another plus point of the hotel.
Undoubtedly the highlight of the Bettyhill Hotel is one of the most outstanding locations in this part of Scotland. That view of the bay is to die for.
I stayed in the Bettyhill Hotel during my cycle ride from Kildonan to Cape Wrath.
This incredible sculpture stands on a remote hilltop in Sutherland, 100 miles north of Inverness. The journey to get here is well worth the experience of standing next to this 8 foot giant.
Near the village of Bettyhill you will find Borgie Forest. Here there is an uphill path to the sculpture. It takes your breath away because it is such an unlikely sight in a remote forest. The long legs, the sturdy rib cage and the big feet will enthrall you. You will want to stand next to it and walk around it.
Take a look at the head and what the giant is looking at. Is it just checking out the view or perhaps looking towards its home, the place it once lived?
The Unknown is representative of the outcast figure that features so prominently in Scotland's history, people like William Wallace, Bonnie Prince Charlie and the families of the Highland Clearances.
The sculptor is Kenny Hunter who is renowned for many well-known works across Scotland and elsewhere. The firefighter figure outside Glasgow Central Station is one of his, as is the goat standing atop packing crates in Spitalfields, London. The Unknown is undoubtedly the most remote of his works, appropriate for these outcast figures who were typically banished to distant lands.
You can read more about my experience of visiting this sculpture, including a map and details about cycling there in my travel feature about the area.
Top Out is an Edinburgh craft beer brewery. Schmankerl is their Bavarian-style wheat beer. So, how does their beer compare to the German versions? Pretty good actually. It is made with Bavarian yeast and has a fruity aspect that makes it a delightful drink.
Top Out was established in 2013. The head brewer loves climbing, so all of the bottle labels show Ordnance Survey maps of famous, mainly Scottish, moutains. That's a really cool concept for a bottle cover and it works brilliantly as the product stands out on the shelves next to other bottles.
The word Schmankerl means 'treat' or 'delicacy' in the Bavarian dialect. They have used a Bavarian strain of yeast to make this beer, so there is clearly a passion to make this as authentic as possible. Now, I love German wheat beers and I found Top Out's version a very good effort, although I thought that the wheat taste is not as prominent as it is in many German beers. However, that is no bad thing as many people prefer a lighter wheat taste. There is also a fruity taste, which brings an additional flavour element that you do not get with the German wheat beers. The label says that it is banana and this is exactly the aftertaste I get.
What you have here is a combination of Scottish and German brewing techniques that works really well. Personally I still prefer the German wheat beers, but I enjoyed this very much and would not hesitate to have it again.
The Union Canal is a great place to go for a bike ride. The path alongside the canal is traffic-free, starts in the city centre and takes you into the countryside. When its time for coffee why not stop at The Counter where your cappuccino is steamed and foamed onboard a canal boat?
The Counter is located near the start of the canal at Fountainbridge in Edinburgh city centre. The converted pale blue canal boat really stands out and is a welcome addition to an area of the city that is looking more and more exciting and attractive.
The windows of the canal boat have been converted into serving hatches. I like how the drinks menu is printed onto the hatch so that it is right in front of you when you make your order. The coffee is high quality, sourced from local roasters, Mr Eion of Stockbridge. There is also hot chocolate, tea and some bottled juices. Drinks are served in biodegradable cups. Homemade cookies and brownies keep the sweet toothed happy.
There are no seats inside the boat, but tables outside provide a nice spot when the weather is good. In fact, it is delightful to sit here in the sun for a while. You are right next to the historic Leamington Lift Bridge. This is an impressive piece of engineering that can be raised up to allow boats to pass beneath. You might just be lucky enough to see it in action during your coffee break.
What could be more delightful than watching canal boats glide by as you drink great coffee in the sunshine?
For doughnut lovers it is hard to beat Krispy Kreme, so why not take a bicycle trip to doughnut heaven? The Edinburgh stores are located in retail parks that are predominately designed for car users, but the good news is that you can easily cycle to the Edinburgh store at Hermiston Gait.
Yes, Krispy Kreme is an American, not a Scottish product. But they taste great, regardless of where their HQ is. And, yes, doughnuts are not exactly healthy, but what is the harm in the odd treat? And if you are cycling there you are burning some calories. You might be thinking 'why is he not writing about cycling to some beautiful scenic part of Scotland instead of a doughnut shop in a retail park?', but the point is to demonstrate that it is possible to reach everyday destinations using a bicycle.
If we are to truly encourage more people to switch from car to bicycle I think it is important to show that it is possible to safely reach city locations using a bike. Google Maps revealed that it would take 30 minutes by bus, but 25 minutes to cycle to Krispy Kreme. Car journey time was about 15 minutes, but this depends on traffic, which is notoriously horrendous in Edinburgh. I was very surprised because I had assumed that it would be a no-go area for bicycles because of busy roads, but it turns out that the cycle route is mostly traffic-free. Well, I never!
It's all about the Union Canal
The key to the success of this route is the Union Canal path, which is totally traffic-free. It takes you almost all of the way to Krispy Kreme with the exception of some short on-road sections.
The other great thing about using the Union Canal is that it is beautiful and way more scenic than the bus route or driving the main roads.
How to get onto the Union Canal
My map shows two ways to get to the canal:
1. From the city centre. From the Meadows you can follow the traffic-free cycle paths through this majestic green space to Bruntsfield where the cycle path ends opposite Leamington Terrace, a low-traffic road, that leads directly downhill to the Union Canal.
2. From Morningisde. Take any of the roads that lead you onto Colinton Road. Now, you cannot get away from the fact that Colinton Road is steady with traffic, but not scarily so. If you have a bit of experience on roads you shouldn't find this too bad. You will arrive at a junction where 5 roads converge. You turn right here onto Gray's Loan, which takes you to the canal.
If you arrive onto the canal via Leamington Terrace or Fountainbridge you will notice a cute canal boat cafe called The Counter. This is a great place to enjoy canal life with a quality coffee. You can read more about it in a previous blog post.
The canal is a fascinating ribbon of greenery that can feel very remote in places, but is actually just meters from built-up urban areas.
It is the kind of place where it is normal to have a number 3 bus, heading towards the city centre, pass you on one side at the same time as a canal boat chugs by on the other side.
I stopped to watch some ducks paddling in the water. Later a magpie crouched down on the path, a short distance ahead, ready to spring up into flight. He left it to the very last few seconds before I reached him. I caught a glance of a rat scurrying into the undergrowth.
London-bound express trains sped by on adjacent tracks and even cross over the canal on a bridge. I wonder if their passengers even notice the canal.
Apartments and Aqueducts
There is an interesting mix of properties alongside the canal. There are high-rise flats dating from a time when the canal was not considered such an attractive asset. And more recent apartment complexes with balconies, aimed at attracting first-time buyers to canal-side living. You very quickly move from patches of this high density housing into areas thick with trees that shield you from any sign of the city and trick you into feeling you have hit the countryside.
There is one part of the canal path where it is essential to get off the bike and walk. This is the Slateford Aqueduct, which carries the canal over the Water of Leith. It is simply too narrow and the surface too bumpy to even contemplate cycling over it. This forces people to make way for each other. This can result in pleasant exchanges, eye contact and smiles with some people as it is necessary to squeeze past anybody coming the opposite way.
It Takes Every Kind Of People
You come across all sorts of people making use of the Union Canal. In terms of cyclists it was mostly the leisure cyclist that I spotted- people wearing casual clothing, most without helmets. The canal is seen as a safe place to ride a bike. There were plenty of dog walkers, joggers and people using the canal to simply get about.
At one point I came across a group of people relaxing after a kyak trip. They were having a barbecue at picnic benches and just yards away from them a group of alcoholics were quietly sipping cans of super strength lager.
As I overtook pedestrians I caught snippets of conversation. This from a woman to her male companion: "Well I didn't know I was going to need to bring a clean set of underwear with me."
Then a group of young lads discussing a mutual acquaintance: "Aye, but he's a good c**t"
Time to come off the canal and get some doughnut
It is time to leave the canal when you spot this blue sign pointing to 'Sighthill Ind. Est.'
You turn left onto Cultins Road, a dull location of car showrooms and industrial units. It is not busy with traffic, so is fine to cycle and it is downhill so fun to freewheel. It looks like at least some of the pavement on this road is marked as shared cycle and pedestrian use, so you could avoid the road.
At the bottom of the road you turn left and pass Edinburgh Park train and tram station. There are cycle lanes marked on the pavements and I advise getting onto these in preperation for the roundabout that you must cross to reach the doughnuts. Using the cycle lanes on the pavement means you can avoid negotiating the roundabout.
Cycling into the car park that surrounds Krispy Kreme is tricky to say the least. It is designed to function as a 'drive-thru' for cars coming, so all of the road markings fulfill this and there isn't an easy route for cyclists or pedestrians. I ended up dismounting on the pavement and pushing the bike across. There is no shame in doing this. If it looks too dodgy to tackle a bit of road on the bike I always just get off and walk it.
Guess what? Krispy Kreme have cycle racks. Amazing. I think it is brilliant that they thought to put these in.
Inside the shop there is a huge window, with the words 'doughnut theater' above it, where you can observe the doughnut production line. The atmosphere is fun with pop music, smiling staff and during my visit there were lots of families sitting-in. It is the combination of fluffy dough and inspiring flavours that makes these doughnuts so special. Just read this description of their lotus white chocolate and raspberry flavour to see what I mean: 'A raspberry jam & kreme filling infused with Lotus Biscoff, dipped in white chocolate & topped with Biscoff crumb, white chocolate & raspberry pieces.'
I felt great at having successfully arrived here by bicycle. I don't think I would get the same feeling of excitement and satisfaction if I had driven or taken the bus. I had enjoyed fresh air, exercise and scenery. I felt that I deserved my doughnuts and coffee.
Lonely Planet have produced this utterly superb and inspiring collection of cycling routes around the world. For anybody who loves cycling, travel and dreaming of future adventures this book is essential reading. I devoured every single page and could not help my imagination racing with the possibilities of bike trips in numerous parts of our planet.
First off, the book is stunningly presented with breathtaking photography and a layout that makes you want to dive in. It is organised by continent with a travel writer describing their experiences on a particular cycling journey and then presenting a summary of similar journeys. The quality of the writing is exceptional. It is just the right length, not too long or too short, to grab your intention and spark your imagination. I found it impossible not to dream of going to these places.
Planning information extends to a map, distances, where to stay, how to get there and other essential tips. It may not be enough to seriously plot out your own route, but it points you in the right direction and this book is about inspiring you to do these rides, not to provide every single detail of the route.
About 30 countries and 200 route suggestions are contained within this book and I wanted to do all of them. There is something for everyone here. City cycling, mountain biking, family-friendly cycling, coast-to-coast cycling, cycling to breweries, cycling around lakes. You name it, all cycling tastes are covered.
Scotland is included in this book. There is one main feature on cycling the Outer Hebrides. It made me quite proud to see this alongside all of these other countries and that people will be inspired to come here as a result of seeing this book. There are also suggestions of some other cycle routes in Scotland, including Strathpuffer, a mountain bike endurance event.
I love this book and dipping into it whenever I want to dream of future adventures.
You can buy it from Amazon by clicking on this image:
One of the best things about cycling is doing it with a friend. My cycling buddy is Paul and we have been on numerous adventures together all across Scotland. We met at university and discovered a mutual interest in riding a bike. Soon we had bought bicycles and were meeting up at weekends and spending a few hours pedalling along the Union Canal path. This evolved into a desire to try out cycle touring with overnight trips and longer distances. Our first multi-day cycle tour took as to the Orkney Islands and we had such a great time that we wanted more and took a cycling holiday every year.
Cycling together has been so rewarding because:
It can be difficult to find someone to go cycling with, particularly if you have moved to a new area. SportPartner is a site where you can find a cycling buddy. Whether you are looking for more motivation or just enjoy meeting new people while cycling then SportPartner is the place to try. Basic Membership is free.
Post written in collaboration with SportPartner
Highlights of this cycle route:
Distance: Around 9 miles one-way, 18 miles return.
Terrain: Mostly tarmac cycle paths, some A and B roads that have low traffic volume. Mostly flat.
Getting there: Train to Tweedbank, around one hour from Edinburgh. Bicycle reservations not required.
First off, take a trip on the Borders Railway
The Borders Railway is the newest railway and the longest railway to be built in the UK in 100 years. It is a superb tourism asset as it makes it much easier to access the scenery and visitor attractions of the Scottish Borders.
Read my blog: 8 Reasons to Love the Borders Railway
You can also take a look at my video that shows how easy it is to use the Borders Railway for exploring the area by bike:
Journey time to Tweedbank is under one hour from Edinburgh. Once the train passes Gorebridge the view starts to become special with rivers, hills and sheep farms. There are tunnels and viaducts and the track twists and turns frequently, giving the line a unique character that makes it endearing.
Right next to Tweedbank station you will notice signage for cycle routes, so exploring this area by bike is very simple. Just follow the signs.
You want to take the path alongside the train track, heading back towards Galashiels. Follow the signs for Innerleithen.
Soon the path takes you alongside the River Tweed. I loved this ribbon of tarmac through meadows of little white wildflowers. It was a joy to ride.
This path smells sweet, fresh and woody. It is worth taking your time to spot the variety of wildflowers along the way.
There are also glimpses of Abbotsford, the home of Walter Scott, through the trees, on the other side of the river. This house, once home to one of Scotland's most famous literary figures, can be visited by bicycle, but I saved this for a future trip.
Further on, the road passes a trio of impressive timber-framed houses. They have gorgeous gardens and large bay windows looking onto the river. It looks like a scene from a country living magazine where everything is photogenic and perfect.
After about 3 miles on this road you take a left, crossing a stone bridge over the River Tweed. This will take you towards Selkirk.
The approach towards Selkirk is via a cycle path that runs alongside the busy A7. This is the least interesting part of the journey because you are just looking at a main road, but it does not last for long and it is superb that a segregated cycle path has been provided on this road.
The route does not take you into the centre of Selkirk, but passes the outskirts where there are impressive mill buildings, some ruined, some beautifully restored.
You get a great impression of how significant the textile industry had been in this town from the scale of these buildings. At one point it provided jobs for over 1000 people. It is sad to witness this visual display of the decline of an industry, but there are also positives to be found. Still in operation in this area is Lochcarron which weaves the largest range of wool tartans in the world. There is a visitor centre, shop and cafe.
From here it is only 3.5 miles to reach Bowhill House. This is by means of the A708, but don't worry because this is one of those quieter A-roads.
Whose side are you on?
The road passes fields where a great battle took place in 1645, the Battle of Philiphaugh. Imagine over 5000 men exchanging musket fire. You cannot tell who is on the side of the Covanters and who is on the side of the Royalists because there are no uniforms. Only a piece of paper or grass pinned to their hat symbolises which side they fight for. I wonder how many of the deaths resulted from mistaken identity? There is a battlefield walk with Interpretive panels at the fields.
The Waterwheel Cafe is also located here. It is a chalet-style building, made from Scots Pine, which gives it a striking interior.
For the remainder of the A708 you will have glimpses of the Yarrow Water through the woodlands that flank the road. You cross this river on a stone bridge to enter the Bowhill estate.
In comparison with other stately homes Bowhill can appear plain on the outside. It lacks in decorative architectural features like stone carvings and columns, but I think there is an elegance to its proportions, particularly when seen across the landscaped gardens.
One frequent visitor had been Walter Scott, one of Scotland's most renowned literary figures, and he was impressed, describing the house as 'sweet Bowhill.' It is the inside of the house where the magic begins with beautiful art, furniture and antiques, so let us step inside.
Visits to the house are by guided tour. My guide's name was Walter and he loved everything about Bowhill. His catchphrase was 'unbelievable', applying this to all of the things he found incredible about the house. "This clock dates from 1640 and is still ticking. Unbelievable."
Later he remarked on the tapestries, "the colours are just the same as the day they were made. Unbelievable."
There are many fascinating objects to be seen in the house. If art is your thing there are works by Canaletto, Raeburn and Gainsborough. I was intrigued by a curious long sofa with two separate seats at each end. I learned that these seats were for the chaperons to keep an eye on the courting couple who would be seated in the middle.
I adored the pair of French cabinets that had birds nests painted on them. One cabinet had a nest with two eggs and the cabinet on the other side of the room had a nest with chicks inside. "But look!" exclaimed Walter, "there are three chicks, so one of those eggs must have been a double yoker." If there are children on the tour Walter pretends to do a magic trick asking the kids to look at the cabinet with the eggs and then turns to the other cabinet and says "Ta da! And now there are chicks!"
Our tour visited a room that housed a collection of miniature portraits. These are incredibly detailed for their tiny size and I was surprised to learn that hairs from squirrel tails were used to paint them.
Despite all of these riches Bowhill has a lived-in feel. It is still used by the Duke and his family and I liked seeing the trappings of modern life dotted around, such as plasma televisions and modern paperbacks lying alongside the antique volumes. In one room there was a lingering scent of last night's crackling fire, a basket half-full of logs and a novel resting with a bookmark, so it really felt like people had been making used of this room.
Photography is not permitted inside the house, apart from in the kitchen, so here are some shots for you to enjoy.
The most striking thing about the kitchen is its double height, essential because of the heat that would have been generated in this room.
All this display of pots, pans and jugs was making me hungry so I headed to the tearoom. The sweet potato and coconut soup hit the spot and gave me the energy to explore Bowhill's extensive grounds.
I must tell you about the giant chess set that I found at the rear of the house. It has to be the most scenic location for a game of giant chess with a backdrop of rolling hills and forest.
My favourite thing about the grounds was the Upper Loch, artificially created for the sheer pleasure of having a loch in your garden. It was dug out in 1816 and that must have been some job without the aid of mechanical diggers. The loch is surrounded by woodland, which means a delightful walk through the trees when you do a circuit of the water. During my visit, pretty clumps of daffodils were in full bloom.
I was short on time so I used the tarmac roads to cycle some of the grounds, including the route up to the ruins of the 15th century Newark Tower. I passed a pair of lambs cuddled up together and sleeping. It was the cutest thing I had seen in ages.
The tower had been a royal hunting lodge and it provides an exciting 'wow' moment as it suddenly appears after a bend in the road.
Although you cannot go inside the tower it is interesting to walk around the outside, peer up at the crumbling remains of windows and put your hands on the hefty stone construction.
Reluctantly I had to leave Bowhill to catch the train home. This had been a perfect day trip using train and bicycle. Bowhill is just the right distance from Tweedbank station to provide a decent amount of cycling and plenty of time to visit the house and the grounds.
The Bowhill website promotes cycling, not just driving and public transport, as a means to reach the house. I was really impressed by this as it is quite rare to find cycling mentioned in the 'how to get here' sections of visitor attractions.
Tom Allen cycled around the world with his two friends and wrote a fantastic and highly readable book about his experiences. This is an epic work of quality writing. Allen has a great eye for detail and magnificently describes the countries that he travels through. The book is also about relationships, with the friends he travels with, with the people he meets along the way and the woman that he falls in love with.
There are many books about people who do around the world bicycle journeys. They tend to cover similar themes and it can be difficult to pick out what is unique about each particular story. Janapar is unique for several reasons. First off, the quality of the writing is exceptional. Just a few pages into the book I came across this superb description of a road through the Sahara:
"I drag my bike and trailer back up the slope to where the new road still glistens absurdly, like a liquorice lace flopped across an orange tablecloth."
Allen's prose really captured my imagination and made it easy for me to imagine the places that his bicycle took him.
The book does not follow chronological order and goes forward and back in time at many points through the chapters. This might initially come across as muddled and confusing, but I found that it worked really well and it made the story more dramatic.
Janapar is not only about cycling it is also about people. It is an honest account of what happens to friendships on extreme journeys. The twist in this mission to cycle around the world is that Allen meets a woman that he falls in love with. This results in a complete change of plans including a period of time spent living with her in Armenia. Therefore, it is a book not just for cyclists and travellers, but for anybody interested in human drama and relationships. You get to know Tom Allen at a much deeper level than you might get from similar around the world cycling books.
I have reviewed a lot of around the world cycling books on my blog and this one has been my favourite so far. It is beautifully structured and written, dramatic and emotional.
You can buy Janapar by clicking on the Amazon link below:
The history, heritage and archaeology of Scotland's 'small isles'- Rum, Eigg, Canna and Muck- is beautifully presented in this coffee table book. It is packed full of spectacular photography, particularly the aerial views of the islands, that provide the reader with hours of fascination. This is accompanied by a very detailed text that explains everything about the historic landscape of the islands. This book will certainly inspire you to visit these beautiful places.
Each island has its own chapter. This opens with a map of the island that pinpoints the locations of the points of interest that are covered in the chapter. This means that you could use this book to plan visits to the islands and seek out particular buildings or archaeological sites.
The text is very detailed and has clearly taken a lot of time to put together. In that sense it is not a traditional travel guide, but aimed at telling every aspect of the island's past through its human structures. I did not read every single page and tended to browse to the parts that interested me the most. It is the photography that makes this book such a pleasure to flick through. I loved the aerial photos that show how beautiful, lush and green the islands are.
This is a gorgeous book to have on your coffee table and inspire visits to these special islands.
You can buy a copy from Amazon by clicking on the image below:
Kildonan Station, Scotland. Come here for peace, beauty and fantastic cycling or just sit for a while
If you need an escape from the Edinburgh Festival crowds or any crowds there is a place that is just the ticket. Kildonan is the 11th least used station in the UK and the least used station north of Inverness. This means that you are highly likely to be the only person to get off the train and there is nothing quite like the feeling of having a remote station all to yourself. Give it a try and you will experience a sense of calm mixed with adventure.
A long way from Edinburgh
It takes around 7 to 8 hours to travel from Edinburgh to Kildonan, but you will be on some of the most scenic rail lines in the country. Going north for a large amount of time will make you feel like an explorer and just think how many of your fellow passengers will be making as exciting a journey as you?
You have to ask for the train to stop at Kildonan
Kildonan is a request stop meaning that the train will only stop if a passenger tells the conductor that they wish to get off. Request stops are marked on timetables with an 'x' next to the departure time.
When the conductor comes around to check tickets they will look out for passengers travelling to request stops and take a note to stop the train.
A staggeringly beautiful arrival
The train follows the North Sea coast where there is a good chance of spotting seals on the beach. After Helmsdale the track heads inland and the final approach to Kildonan curves alongside the River Helmsdale with a backdrop of hills and forest.
Let me take you on a tour of the station. It will not take long because there is very little here. And this is precisely what the attraction is. There are no shops, cafes, and loudspeaker announcements. The only sounds are birdsong and the River Helmsdale passing beneath the nearby stone bridge.
The station opened in 1874 and you get the feeling that very little has changed between then and now. The river makes the same sound, it passes the same rocks and the same types of birds are tweeting. I have been to this station twice with a three year gap between visits, but the second time felt like I had just been there yesterday, not years ago. It is the first time in my life that I have used the word 'timeless' to describe a place.
There is no station building at this location. There is a modern glass shelter, somewhat like a bus shelter. There is a litter bin, timetables and cycle racks.
The disused platform has a wooden shelter on it and this has been left to ruin, which is a shame as it is the only piece of distinctive heritage architecture at Kildonan. The last time I peaked through the window of this shelter I was delighted to find a wood burning stove that looked in good condition.
Why come here?
Kildonan station provides access to miles of single-track roads that are superb for cycling. You can read my travel feature about cycling in this area to find out more.
You don't have to bring your bike here. You can simply take a seat and enjoy a few hours of peace and quiet until the next train comes. Whatever you do at Kildonan you will not regret your decision to come here.
Read more about Scotland's train stations
Sean Conway embarks on an incredible around the world cycle journey. He covers 16,000 miles and experiences South America, Australia, U.S.A, Europe and Asia. This is an exciting read with the power to inspire you to do something adventurous.
Sean Conway opens the book with a tale of an unfulfilling career, being dumped by his girlfriend and a feeling that he was wasting his life. He tried to work out what he should do to change this situation and remembered being inspired by Mark Beaumont who broke the record for cycling around the world in 2010. He decided that this was the answer and signed up to do the around the world cycle race.
As this is a race against the clock you get fleeting impressions of the countries, rather than an in-depth exploration of culture, people and landscapes. The book lacks the finer details because there is no time for the author to pause and take it in or visit attractions. Conway must focus on mileage and how to do that mileage and also how to get enough calories. You do get a brilliant sense of adventure from this book. One example of this is when Conway had to flee tornadoes in America. His writing perfectly captures the drama of this situation:
"Signs were blowing over, windscreens cracking, leaves were getting stripped off trees as if being shredded by a huge invisible blender in the sky, and a 100 mph wind was heading in the exact wrong direction. I realised that had I not got a puncture when I did, I wouldn't have stopped in that gas station and I would probably have landed up right in the middle of the storm... One 100 mph golf-ball-sized hailstone to the face would have been the end of me."
As you would expect, Conway meets many interesting people during his adventure. Many of these encounters are brief due to the nature of the cycle race so there is not a strong human story in the book. The focus is very much on the author and his endeavor to complete this challenge. Many of the people that Conway meets are incredibly kind to him. In particular, the American doctor and nurse who treated him after he was knocked over by a pickup truck. They took him into their home during his recovery. They even bought him a replacement bike because his was destroyed in the accident. It wasn't just any bike, but an exact replacement that they shipped over. Without this kindness Conway would not have been able to continue with the journey.
There are moments of laughter in this book, such as the author't decision to play a game with the stray dogs that chase him. He would would go just fast enough to keep them at bay but interested enough to keep them chasing so that he could lead them as far away as possible from their home as revenge for the owners doing nothing.
The book is also serious in places. Conway writes openly about the lows and feeling depressed, but on the whole he loved his adventure and that really comes across.
I felt that the book could have done with a route map so that you could follow the journey as sometimes it was difficult to picture exactly where the author was unless you are really good at geography.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and it inspired me to explore further and further on my bicycle.
You can buy the book from Amazon by clicking on this image:
Coco is an Edinburgh chocolatier producing high quality luxury bars. I was particularly interested to try this bar because of its use of sea salt from the Isle of Skye.
Opening this chocolate bar is like unwrapping a Christmas present. The outer layer is beautiful paper that has the illustration of choppy waves inlaid. It is almost too beautiful to rip open. The next layer is a crispy wrapper. The whole experience of getting inside this bar screams 'luxury'.
The squares of chocolate are very small and delicate, another sign of luxury and quality. The overwhelming taste is of dark chocolate with a gentle crunch from the hazelnuts. The nuts have been chopped very finely, rather than being chunks or whole nuts, so they are quite discreet.
The sea salt taste is also discreet, just a tinkle on my tongue at the end of each bite. I think I would have preferred the salt to be a little more prominent, particularly as the bar is championing a unique Scottish product. On the Coco website it states 'flakes of Sea Salt gathered around the pristine waters of the Isle of Skye.' What a wonderful image this conjures.
This is delicious chocolate and worth seeking out during your travels in Edinburgh and Scotland. It is a luxury product with a price point of almost £5 per bar, so don't eat it all at once!
Coco has shops in the Bruntsfield and Stockbridge areas of Edinburgh. Their chocolate can also be bought from several retail outlets across Scotland. These are listed on their website and you can also buy the product online.
This 24 mile cycle trip takes you from Elgin to Duffus Castle in Moray. The castle's collapsed tower gives it a unique look and makes it an exciting place to explore. Along the way there is the opportunity to sniff out some whisky and reach the shores of the North Sea.
Highlights of this Cycle Route:
Take a Train to Elgin
Journey time is around 40 minutes from Inverness, around 1 hour 30 minutes from Aberdeen and up to 4 hours and 30 minutes from Edinburgh or Glasgow. There is a map at the bottom of this blog that shows the cycle route.
A Whisky Miniature
Glen Moray whisky distillery is slightly over 1 mile away from Elgin train station, so you might as well take a look.
You cycle through the suburbs of Elgin on roads that are fairly quiet. It does not feel like somewhere you would come across a distillery, but there it sits, on a narrow patch of land with a modern housing estate on one side and hills and fields on the other side. I tell you what, I wouldn't mind living in one of those houses and getting to smell that sweet malt everyday.
It is the scent of the spirit steaming out of the distillery chimneys that will mark your arrival here. I delighted in breathing it in.
I have been on several distillery tours and they can be similar, so I did not do the Glen Moray tour. There is, of course, a shop and I purchased a miniature bottle to enjoy later.
Scotland's distilleries can be beautiful buildings, but Glen Moray has more of an industrial look. It is not one of the prettiest to look at, but I liked the stone buildings and the the blue painted arched doorway.
Road to Burghead
It is about 9 miles from Glen Moray to Burghead where the scenery is a mixture of farming lands and forests.
During my ride the weather turned nasty for a while. Hail stones pattered on my helmet and onto the fence posts of the fields. The stones hit the side of my face and made it painful and numb with the cold. It was almost unbearable and I felt like screaming. I held up my gloved hand to shield my face.
As I entered Burghead a wheelie bin blew down in front of me. The streets were littered with fallen down wheelie bins. The sea was choppy and I took shelter in the visitor centre.
I learned that Burghead was once the site of a great Pictish fort from the 5th century. Stones with an intricately carved bull were found at the site and two of these can be seen in the visitor centre. The bull carving has become a symbol of Burghead and it features on the welcome sign into the village.
Watching the Body-snatchers
I took the B9012 coastal road and had glimpses of sea through rows of houses. The freezing hail and gales was now replaced by bright sunshine. The fact that you can get such different conditions in a single day is one of those things about Scotland that never ceases to amaze me. It just goes to show that even if the clouds look threatening it is still worth getting out on your bike because there might just be sunshine around the corner.
I took a right turn to Duffus and on to the idyllic St. Peter' Kirk. A burst of blue and white crocuses beautifully framed the ruined church.
A church has been in this place since 1190, built around the same time as the nearby Duffus Castle.
There are some interesting things to discover here. One is a medieval mercat cross from a time when markets were held in this churchyard. I had a look at the gravestones where many are carved with the symbols of mortality, like skulls and crossbones. Reading the stones I noticed that farming is the most prominent profession, although I found one that was a military auditor in Calcutta.
There is a watch house in the churchyard. This would have accommodated a guard who prevented body-snatchers from stealing freshly buried corpses to sell to medical schools. It was a common problem in Scotland and there are many surviving watch houses across the country. This one has a stone inscription with 'Watch House 1830'.
Although St. Peter's is a very peaceful place there was a constant deafening sound of passing military jets. This is from nearby RAF Lossiemouth. It is a sound that you will have to get used to when cycling in this part of Scotland.
The Falling Down Castle
This is an extraordinary-looking castle. With its fallen tower it appears that it must have come under attack. I wondered if it had been hit by canon balls and collapsed hundreds of years ago. I was looking for tales of a great battle.
The reality is that there was no battle and the tower simply collapsed through subsidence.
The castle is surrounded by a moat and sits on a mound so you must walk uphill to get inside.
The very first castle on this site was made of wood in 1150 by a Flemish man called Freskin. He was granted land by King David I as reward for his loyalty. In return Freskin was expected to maintain order, in the name of the King, in this part of Scotland. The construction of the castle was to aid Freskin in this mission. In later year the castle was replace with the stone version, but this act of building on top of an old structure is what made the ground unstable and caused the collapse of the tower.
During my visit there was only one other person at the castle. He was using the extensive grass lawns to train a collie.
To return to Elgin it is a 6 mile cycle on a minor road.
The Cycle Route
This is a 24 mile round trip on a mixture of B-roads and minor road. Traffic volume is not heavy and there are no major hills. When you are travelling from the distillery to Burghead you must cross the A96, which can be a busy road. You are only on it for a short distance and there is a pavement, so there is always the option to walk along the pavement.
My name is Colin Baird and I want to see all of Scotland by bicycle. Follow my blog on Facebook: