Quirky sculptures and a scenic reservoir are the highlights of this 14 mile route in central Scotland. It is mainly flat and traffic-free. The excellent rail links make it easy to get there and provide options to do shorter sections.
Take a train to Bathgate (27 minutes from Edinburgh, 40 minutes from Glasgow). This station is not the most promising start with its metallic, industrial look and lots of aluminium fencing. The stations along this line are meant to be functional, serving a busy commuter route.
This was once a heavily industralised area of Scotland and Bathgate was home to the world's first oil refinery.
It takes a bit of effort to get out of Bathgate. You must negotiate residential streets and a supermarket car park until you arrive at the bright and welcoming route map sign.
This railway line was closed in 1982 and then reopened in 2010. Network Rail replaced the existing cycle path with tarmac perfection that is a total pleasure to ride a bike on.
This is not the most scenic part of Scotland with overhead lines, concrete bridges and frequent passing trains. There is not even variety in the locomotives that pass- all identical blue Scotrail electric units. Wind turbines dot the landscape because this is clearly an ideal place for making electricity- strong winds marked my day out. The commuter towns that the railway serves have new build housing estates with little character and are empty of atmosphere on week days because everyone has left to go to work.
However, the route feels surprisingly remote in places. There are farms, forests and yellow goarse giving off its sweet scent. A fox ran across the path in front of me, a surprise in this land between Scotland's two biggest cities.
It was lambing season during my visit with sheep bleating aggressively when they thought I was a threat to their lambs.
Hillend Reservoir, near Caldercruix, is the scenic highlight of the route. At one time this was the largest man-made reservoir in the world. It is a popular place for trout fishing and home to a variety of wildlife, including osprey, otter and roe deer.
It comes as a complete surprise. One minute you are on a pretty non-descript segment of path then you turn a corner and this vision of blue suddenly appears. It was like I had walked through a door and entered a completely different part of the world.
The Airdrie and District Angling Club is based here and they have a tea room. It is pretty basic, but a chocolate bar and hot cup of instant coffee were most welcome after riding into the wind.
I sat on a bench outside and took a few moments to relax and enjoy the view of the deep blue choppy water. The lawn is immaculate and signs request you to keep off the grass. There are also plants and flowers. A little patch of heaven that someone has clearly spent much time over. I watched blue tits trying desperately to get a grip on a bird feeder that was blowing about like crazy. The wind soon made my coffee cold and it was time to move on.
The other highlight of this route are the sculptures find alongside the path. Before the return of the railway there used to be a lot more of them, but some had to be dismantled to make way for the new line. There is no information about the sculptures along the route, but I managed to find some online.
If you are starting the route in Bathgate one of the first sculptures that you will come across is "Tower" (1997) by Paul Matosic. It is an interesting structure of metal cyclinders of different heights. The rust had turned them a variety of colours and you can have some fun climbing onto it.
There is an iron and steel sculpture that looks like it has resisted several attacks from vandals, including a burning. I think this one is called 'Steam'.
My favourite sculpture cannot fail to make you smile. 'Legs' (1996) by Doug Cocker has 7 separate leg sculptures in funny poses.
The route passes the substantial, somewhat dark and brooding, Caldercruix and Longriggend Parish Church.
After Caldercruix the route leaves the cycle path and takes you onto shared pavement alongside the A89, through Plains. This is the least interesting part of the route, although I did stop to take a closer look at this attractive church:
When I came to Drumgelloch station I decided just to get the train back from there. I didn't find it enjoyable going along this main road, through built-up urban areas, so did not see the point in covering the last 2 miles to reach Airdrie.
Okay, so it is not the most scenic cycle route in Scotland, but the sculptures make it fun and it is interesting to find remoteness in this corridor of land between the two biggest cities in the country. The flat and mostly traffic-free path make it ideal for those new to cycling and the rail links make it a very convenient place to go for a bike ride.
There are train stations at Bathgate and Airdrie, so you can start the route from either. Bathgate is about 27 minutes from Edinburgh, 40 minutes from Glasgow. There are also stations at Caldercruix, Drumgelloch and Armadale, which gives the option to start and end the route at several points. This makes it ideal if you want the flexibility to get home if you start to feel tired.
If you start the route at Bathgate cross the station car park and turn left along the A89- you may wish to walk along the pavement as the road can be busy. You are only on this for a short distance until you take the first left, which leads to the golf club and under the railway. Continue past the golf club, through a roundabout to the supermarket car park. At the other end of the car park you will find the start of the cycle path.