This book is a delight, a perfect combination of inspiration and information. It is a guide to 60 islands in Britain that are 300 acres or less in size. Twenty-five of the islands are in Scotland and many of these can be visited by bicycle, so this book provides plenty of ideas for island/cycle trips.
Witty and sharp writing tells the story of the islands, whilst the stunning photography and hand-drawn maps illustrate what these places are like. It is a brilliant idea for a travel guide and the author must have had a great time researching these islands. He tells of encounters with locals and those who work on some of the islands. He uncovers fascinating histories and surprising facts. He describes the mini-adventures that are involved in travelling to some of the islands, largely involving tides or boats.
This is a book to dip in and out of and should be close at hand whenever you feel like your imagination could do with a bit of adventure. You just have to flick through a few pages and it won't be long before you find yourself planning your next island expedition.
In September this year Scotland will have an exciting new railway. It will link Edinburgh with the Scottish Borders which last had passenger trains over 40 years ago. This will be the longest new railway to be built in the UK for over 100 years, so this is a huge project and will have many benefits for commuters and tourists. However, it is a bit of a let down to find out that the trains will only take two bicycles.
The Scottish Borders are a beautiful part of the country with many temptations for cyclists, however it is difficult to access unless you have your own transport. There used to be railways in this region, but they were largely cut in the 1960s and this has made it a challenge to explore by bicycle unless you are on a multi-day trip. The Borders Railway should be a good news story for cyclists, but it now appears that there will be very limited cycle capacity on the trains.
Abellio, the new operators of the Scotrail franchise, have stated that Borders Railway trains will carry at least two bicycles. This is a backward step as most trains on other Scotrail routes take 4 or even 6 bicycles. Even 4 or.6 spaces can prove insufficient, particularly with the increased popularity of cycling and using trains to access routes. Many other countries devote much more space for bicycles on their trains.
Staff will be trained to provide ad hoc extra space for bikes when required, but it doesn't give enough reassurance that you will actually be able to get your bike on the train. This uncertainty and hassle may result in many people giving up on the idea of cycling trips to the Borders. There is a massive opportunity to capitalise on the cycle tourism potential of the Borders, but this does not seem to be a priority.
Yes, there is a challenge to get the right balance in the use of limited space on trains. Space is required for luggage, bicycles, disabled passengers and prams. But space is limited because the rolling stock is inadequate and new trains with a design that takes account of all of these things is the solution.
Abellio operate trains in the the Netherlands where they also have limited space for cycles on trains. Instead they have substantial cycle storage at stations and encourage passengers to keep a second bike at their destination stations. This strategy appears to be based on commuter cycling where passengers travel between the same two stations everyday. This may very well prove successful with commuters using the new Borders Railway, however, it does not support leisure cycling where the principal is to bring your bike on the train in order to travel to a station where you have never been before and may never return to- you have no reason to store a second bicycle in such a destination. The strategy also assumes that people can afford to own and maintain two bicycles.
News reports indicate that rolling stock plans are not yet finalised, so there is still a chance that space for bicycles will be increased. I hope so as I have been looking forward to using the new railway with my bike.
I have been blogging about the interesting things to see and do from Drem station. Within very short cycling distances of the station there is an amazing variety of places to ride to, from the birthplace of Scotland's flag to the cockpit of Concorde. This blog visits Chesters Hill Fort.
From Edinburgh Waverly station the train takes 25 minutes to reach Drem, located in East Lothian. The station is the prettiest on this line that travels as far as the seaside town of North Berwick. The stone cottage-style station house is now a private residence from where you can buy free range eggs.
Chesters Hill Fort is a 10-minute cycle from the station. If you are expecting some sort of wooden fortress protecting a village of huts with smoking fires then you will be disappointed. The large mound of grass that formed the ramparts is all that remains, but there is an information panel that will help you to picture what this place was like 2000 years ago.
This visit is as much about walking as it is cycling. To get an impression of how big the fort was, and it is quite an extensive site, it is worth walking up the ramparts. You may have to dodge past some curious cows during your walk- this is farming country after all. From the top you will have an extensive view of all that luscious agricultural land and all the way to the sea.
It is mainly flat apart from one obvious chunk of hill in the far distance. This is North Berwick Law, which also had an Iron-Age hill fort. If you take the train (or cycle) to the next station on the line, North Berwick, you can hike up the hill for some of the best views in East Lothian.
Chesters has not been excavated so there is not very much known about the site. In the Second World War it was used as an observation post for the airfield at RAF Drem.
To reach Chesters Hill Fort take a left out of Drem station onto the B1377. Then take the first left and follow this road until you reach the turnoff for the fort. The turnoff is a steep road and during my visit the fields were full of huge bails of hay. The the rest of the route is fairly easy on the leg muscles. It will only take about 10 minutes to cycle there.
You will have time to fit in one or more of the other cycle trips that can be done from Drem station:
The National Museum of Flight to visit Concorde
Myreton Motor Museum
Athelstaneford, the birthplace of Scotland's flag
Discover the story of Scotland's flag on a 2 mile cycle from Drem station.
Drem is located in East Lothian, 25 minutes from Edinburgh, and is within cycling distance of many interesting attractions. This blog covers the village of Athelstaneford where the Scottish flag comes from.
It is a 2 mile cycle from Drem station to Athelstaneford. From the station take a left turn onto the B1377, then the first left, which crosses over the railway.
Look out for the old fashioned road signs that are beautifully maintained in this area.
The village of Athelstaneford, like all of East Lothian, is characterised by distinctive red roofed cottages.
The village is tiny and the main focus is the Parish Kirk, where there is a large sign for the Flag Heritage Centre.
The Flag Centre is free to enter and located behind the church in a doocot that dates from the 1580s. Inside there is an audio visual presentation about the Scottish flag.
The origins of the flag can be traced to a battle in 832. King Angus led an army of Picts and Scots against a Northumbrian army near Athelstaneford. Angus was outnumbered and the night before the battle he prayed for victory. When he went to sleep he had a dream in which Saint Andrew promised that Angus would win the battle. In the morning of the battle an unusual cloud formation appeared in the sky- a white cross against a blue sky background. Angus took this to be an omen and his army won the battle, despite being outnumbered.
It will not take long to visit the village and the Flag Heritage Centre, so you may wish to add on one of the other cycle trips you can do from Drem station. How about Myreton Motor Museum? Or the National Museum of Flight.
My name is Colin Baird and I want to see all of Scotland by bicycle.