Abellio, a Dutch company, was awarded the Scotrail franchise last year and they have promised major enhancements to rail services. One of the developments is a bicycle hire scheme, which has been introduced at Stirling station and Haymarket station in Edinburgh.
It is called Bike and Go and the idea is to provide a convenient transport option for passengers to continue their journey once they arrive at the station. It works on the concept that when you arrive at a train station you still have some travelling to do in order to reach your final destination and a bicycle is an ideal means to do this. The theory is that train passengers will find it more convenient to use the hire bike to complete their journey than have to wait around for a bus or taxi or walk.
The scheme is based on a similar model in the Netherlands and I wonder how successful this will be in Scotland. I had a look at the Bike and Go website and there is a blog section with customers writing about their positive experiences with the bikes, but these are all from locations in England- Bike and Go is also available at over 50 stations in England.
The bikes are bright red and very distinctive, so you cannot miss them if you have been to Stirling or Haymarket stations recently. They have seven gears, luggage carriers and dynamo lights. The website features videos to help you to use the bike locks, adjust the saddle and check the lights.
Would I use the bikes?
Due to the fact that I have my own bicycle it is doubtful. However, if I happened to be travelling to another city and did not want to take my own bike with me this could be appealing. For inexperienced cyclists a major drawback is that city cycling can be daunting. City traffic will always be a barrier to many people taking up cycling and until there is a huge improvement in cycle lanes I think a lot of people would be hesitant to use this scheme.
The success of the scheme in the Netherlands is likely due to the fact that cycling is such a huge part of the country’s culture and people think nothing of jumping on a bike to get around the city. If you have ever been to Amsterdam you will see people cycling in normal clothing, most not wearing helmets because there are excellent bicycle lanes and people feel safe. In this country city cycling is still regarded as risky and cycle specific clothing and helmets are seen as necessary, so we have a bit to go before cycling becomes normalised.
Another potential issue is that you cannot just turn up and use Bike & Go. You have to register and pay a £10 annual membership fee. You then rent one of the bikes for £3.80 for 24 hours. This means that it is only worthwhile if you think that you will become a regular user of the bikes, rather than a one-off user. If you regularly commute by train to Edinburgh or Stirling and your workplace is a 15 minute walk or bus ride away then using one of the rental bikes could be a viable and faster alternative. This does depend on how confident you are at cycling in traffic and if the route to your workplace has cycle lanes.
The scheme could also appeal to leisure users to use a bike to reach nearby tourist attractions, but the £10 annual fee might put off overseas visitors. I think a one-off hire fee with a credit card deposit could be more successful when encouraging leisure use of the bikes, particularly if the bikes could be located at stations where there are a lot of attractions that can be cycled to. Although Stirling and Edinburgh are good choices there is still the issue of cycling in city traffic, but Scotland has plenty of rural stations that are near tourist attractions and the roads are less busy. I previously recommended Drem station as an ideal location for a cycle hire scheme because of nearby attractions, like the National Museum of Flight, located a few miles away on quiet country roads. Therefore, if the scheme could be rolled out to more stations in rural areas it would be a great way to encourage people to enjoy cycling away from city traffic.
I do wonder if Bike and Go is going to be Abellio's solution to the shortage of bicycle spaces on trains- to encourage more people to hire bikes on arrival instead of taking their bike on the train. At the start of the franchise announcements were made about increased bicycle parking at stations and there was a news story about the new Border's Railway having space for only 2 bicycles. Abellio stated that in the Netherlands people keep a second bicycle at their destination station, so that they do not need to take their bicycle on the train. It remains to be seen if the Dutch model will be successful in Scotland.
In April it was announced that membership of Bike and Go in England had reached 1000, so it seems to be a popular scheme. I don’t know of anybody who has used the bikes in Scotland, so it would be interesting to hear from you if you have used it and what you think about it.
Ever wondered what it is like to cycle the length of Britain, from Land's End to John O'Groats? It is the classic long-distance cycle route in Britain and this book tells the experience of two cyclists who took their time, took the scenic route and take their beer seriously.
A large number of cycle travel books use humour to carry them and Mud, Sweat and Gears by Ellie Bennett is no exception. You can tell from the title, the mention of the pub and the blurb on the back of the book that this is not going to be serious. The book certainly has its funny moments, particularly the banter between the author Ellie and her friend Mick.
For me, it wasn't laugh out loud and I thought the strength of the book is actually to be found in learning about the places that are visited. There are plenty of interesting snippets about what there is to see and do along the route. I looked forward to reading about their experiences in Scotland.
I learned about the town of Moniaive in Dumfries and Galloway, a place I had never heard of before. It sounds really pretty and is home to many artists, musicians and writers who are inspired by the beautiful scenery. It is known as Scotland's Festival Village due to the large number of events held here.
Bennett had this to say about her Oban bed and breakfast: "It was mediocre, but not terrible, which on reflection was my opinion of Oban in general. Sorry, Oban, if this is unfair; it had been a very long day." That is a shame because I like Oban and was actually travelling there whilst reading the book. I think a lot of people arrive into Oban and quickly leave again because they are on the way to somewhere else, but if you give it a chance it is an enjoyable town with superb seafood restaurants.
Ellie and Mick took around 4-weeks to complete the route, whereas many people normally try to complete this journey in about one week. This is an encouragement to those who are not super fit and want to take their time. Some might consider these two the complete opposite of the typical cyclist doing this route- they spend a lot of their time in the pub.
The author has a keen interest in real ale, so this journey is as much an exploration of beer as it is about a bike ride. Ellie and Mick take their beer seriously and so there are descriptions of the pints that they have and at the end of each day's ride the "stats" include how many pints they drank. If you are not a beer fan you may not enjoy this aspect of the book, but then food and drink is as important to defining an area as its history, architecture and landscape.
Ellie and Mick met a snobbish cyclist at Glen Nevis. He looked down on their bikes and was more interested in tech and speed than the simple joy of travelling by bicycle. Bennett beautifully mocks his chat: "It comes with a knob chainring; I had dickhead spokes fitted specially, and the saddle is a limited edition from Prickland." I am with you there! There is nothing worse than another cyclist slagging off your journey.
And that is the beauty of bicycle travel. You do not need to be some amazing racing cyclist with the most expensive kit to do a long-distance bike journey. This book encapsulates this philosophy and it certainly inspired me to do this journey. I was never that interested in Land's End to John O'Groats because I always had the impression that you had to do it quickly and cover a huge distance each day. But this book shows that you don't have to do it that way and you will see much more if you take your time and enjoy the opportunity to really get to know this land.
Get your copy of the book from Amazon by clicking on the link below:
Balerno is a village located around 8 miles south of Edinburgh. The mainly traffic-free cycle route to Balerno makes for an easy day out that takes you over an aqueduct, through a disused railway tunnel and alongside the tranquil Water of Leith. Once in Balerno you can visit the pretty walled garden of Malleny House.
The route begins on the Union Canal which can be found in the Fountainbridge area of Edinburgh. Once on the canal you have the delight of a traffic-free towpath shared with joggers, dogwalkers and other cyclists. After about 2 miles you will cross the Slateford Aqueduct. Shortly after this there will be a National Cycle Route 75 sign pointing to a path on the right. All you have to do is follow these signs to reach Balerno.
The route proceeds along the Water of Leith Walkway where the wooden signs guide walkers along this popular path.
There are also cycle route 75 signs to keep you on the right track, such as this one on the side of a bench:
One of the most exciting parts of the route is the tunnel at Colinton. This is the most obvious leftover from the railway. Passenger trains ran on this line until 1943, goods trains continuing until 1967.
After the tunnel you pass Spylaw Park in Colinton. In the park there is a particulalry striking grand house. This was the mansion of James Gillespie who made his fortune as a snuff merchant. He built the house in 1773 next to his snuff-mill and today it contains private flats.
All along this route there had been a thriving milling industry- saw mills, paper mills, barley and grain mills. The railway serviced these mills and led to a housing boom along the line as the train made it easy to travel to Edinburgh. Passenger usage was so robust that in 1914 a normal train consisted of 8 coaches and this was increased to 13 on Saturdays. After the First World War the railway started to go into decline, largely as a result of competition from buses.
There is very little evidence of the mills today. The one exception is the Newmills Grain Mill, a ruin not far from Balerno, alongside the cycle path.
These memorials to the area's industrial past are rare and what you will mostly find is trees, gently flowing water and the chance to spot wildlife. If you are lucky you might see deer, heron, badger and kingfisher.
Once you reach the end of the route, at Balerno, it is marked with a metal sculpture set into the pathway that signifies the twisting route of the Water of Leith. At this point you emerge onto Bridge Road. Turn left here to reach the centre of Balerno.
Main Street in Balerno contains a some pubs, a Post Office, a hairdresser and a pharmacy. It is a pretty little street the way that it curves uphill and is lined with attractive stone buildings and bright flower boxes.
Malleny Garden is sign posted from Bridge Road. You will see the large sign as you cycle towards the centre of Balerno.
Malleny House is not open to the public, but the gardens are in the care of the National Trust.
The entrance (admission fee) to the garden is through a small gate in the wall that has a bird, like a phoenix, incorporated into the ironwork. This is the Gore Brown Henderson crest, former owners of Malleny House. On the other side of the gate there is a coat of arms, representing the Rosebery family, also former owners of the house.
The gardens are small, but have many interesting features, including clipped yew trees planted in the 17th century, Victorian glasshouses and the largest rose collection in Scotland.
An interesting fact is that spring arrives up to 10 days later here than it does in the centre of Edinburgh. This is because the garden is north-facing and has an altitude of 170m.
Once you have seen the garden it is time to head back to Edinburgh, or if you want to go further you can keep following the National Cycle Route 75 signs. This cycle route goes all the way to Glasgow. It then continues to Portavadie on the Cowall Peninsula.
Have a look at my other blog posts about cycle trips from Edinburgh. Click on Edinburgh under the categories menu. Why not try the route to Musselburgh? It is also mostly traffic-free.
My name is Colin Baird and I want to see all of Scotland by bicycle. Follow my blog on Facebook: