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.
Fancy sharing your bike ride with Highland cattle? The single-track road through Glen Lonan is one of those places where there is a good chance of these iconic beasts straying onto the tarmac. The 12 mile road links Oban with Taynuilt and takes you through a lush glen of woods, fields and isolated farmhouses. "The Road of Kings" is famed as the ancient funeral route of Scotland's Kings to their final resting place on the island of Iona. This is a great road to ride with hardly any traffic and mountains on the horizon.
How to get here
The Glen Lonan road is a great way to arrive into Oban if you are taking the train- Taynuilt is two stops before Oban, so hop off the train early and get in a bit of extra cycling. Taynuilt is on the Glasgow to Oban line. It's two stops before Oban, about 2 hours 40 minutes from Glasgow.
Taynuilt station is rather pretty with flower boxes, a backdrop of mountains and a vintage signal box.
There is a great tearoom in Taynuilt and the fascinating Bonawe Iron Furnace is just a few minutes from the village. You can find out more about this in my Tanuilt and Bonawe blog.
Leave the station and turn right onto Taynuilt's main street with the small selection of shops. This will take you to the A85 which you cross over to a minor road, marked with a sign for Glen Lonan.
For the first few minutes this road is dominated by a cluster of cottages and houses. These soon make way for woods, streams, ferns and after a little bit of a climb there are meadows and fields for sheep and cattle.
The road twists and turns, rises and falls, giving plenty of variety to the ride. The views of the pointy mountains are particularly magnificent.
My video below gives you a great impression of how much fun this road is to ride, particularly the fast downhill sections. Also notice that the road is wonderfully free of vehicle traffic.
After about 3 miles you will reach Angus' Garden. The garden was created in the memory of Angus Macdonald, a journalist who was killed in Cyprus in 1956. Rhododendrons and azaleas dominate and there are numerous paths to go exploring and find the pond and loch. It is a tranquil place to spend some time and enjoy the views of Ben Cruachan.
After leaving the gardens there are sections of the road that travel through livestock fields. Here there are no fences and the sheep and cattle wander onto the tarmac. This is where you are likely to come across Highland Cattle.
5.5 miles from Angus's Garden you will arrive at the standing stone. It's about 4m tall and almost completely covered in crusty moss. It dates back to the Bronze Age and legend states that it marks the burial spot of Diarmid, an Irish hero who had a magical love spot that made women fall in love with him and single-handedly killed over 3000 soldiers in a battle.
The road that you are pedaling on was once the ‘Road of the Kings’, part of the route taken by the funeral processions of Scotland's kings when they were taken from Scone to their burial place on the Island of Iona.
From the standing stone it's just 4 more miles to reach Oban. It is one of those roads that you do not want to end because it is such a pleasure to cycle.
What struck me the most about Glen Lonan is that this road is so small and insignificant within this landscape- it feels like it is at risk of being swallowed up by all the trees, ferns and fields that it snakes through. This is a place to appreciate the immensity of Scotland's beauty.
Once you arrive in Oban and you feel like a bit more cycling and a visit to a castle then you could head 5 miles to Dunstaffnage Castle. My blog has all the details about how to get there and what the castle is like.
If you are in need of coffee and a sweet treat then head to the Oban Chocolate Company. It is one of the best chocolate shops in Scotland. Find out more on my blog.
Glen Lonan is in Argyll and Bute. For ideas of more to see and do in this region head to my Argyll and Bute page.
Shockingly the fashion industry is the second most harmful industry to the environment, moreover it’s continually being linked to harsh and unethical working conditions. With as many as 20.9 million people being directly affected by modern slavery on a daily basis, this is impossible to ignore. As a result, more and more people are starting to make the moral decision to only buy their cycling wear from ethical, sustainable brands. However, it can be difficult to source ethical clothing that is also high-quality. Here are five brands which can tick both boxes:
Based in Wales, this company make their clothing using sustainably sourced Merino wool and organic cotton made from renewable crops. They are proud to be sustainable throughout their entire production process, from design to delivery. Their cooling zip tops are the ideal everyday purchase for cyclists, as they regulate your temperature and their reflective detail will ensure you remain safe when on the road.
This clothing line is made in Britain from a variety of recycled materials, including bamboo and plastic bottles. Despite their unique source, their clothing has the same high-quality and breathable nature that you would expect from any cycling brand. They also guarantee that all their workers are fairly paid and work in a safe environment, a pledge that ought to be instated by all clothing companies. Their bikewear jerseys are particularly popular amongst customers, as the recycled fabric improves wicking in order to keep you dry.
Not shy in their ambitious goal to become “Europe’s most environmentally friendly brand”, VAUDE strives to achieve good working conditions for all. They also upcycle as much as possible in order to reduce the amount of waste they produce. Whether you are going on a cycling tour, mountain or road biking, or cycling on your commute to work, you are bound to find a product that you will love from their collection.
The Adidas Group, including both Adidas and Reebok, strives to use the most sustainable materials for all their products. As well as using recycled materials in production, they also evaluate the environmental impact of their resources, such as water consumption and land use. Adidas does not use any raw materials from endangered species and refuses to use leather from animals that are poorly treated. Look stylish and feel good in their cycling wear, knowing that you are doing your bit to help the planet.
Puma guarantees a safe working environment for its employees and has a zero-tolerance policy towards discrimination. Their strong ethical stance can also be observed in their environmental policy, as all workers must consider their impact on the local working environment.
Puma’s breathable cycling wear will help to keep you cool during long journeys and their broad range of designs enables you to find a garment to suit your taste.
This is an exciting account of James McLaren's attempt to beat the world record for the fastest cycle across Europe. The journey begins in Ufa, Russia and proceeds through 9 countries to reach the coast in Portugal. The focus of the book is the incredible human effort required to undertake this feat. It is a race against time so there is little insight into the culture and people of the countries, but you feel like you are right there with James. His fast paced and personable writing style draws you into this world of emotion, physical pain and sheer joy.
The book begins with a great opening that perfectly captures the nerves at the start of such a journey:
"What am I doing? I thought to myself, as I sat in a room on the ninth floor in a nice hotel in Ufa, Russia, staring at my bike all boxed-up in cardboard."
From that moment I was hooked on this book, wanting to find out how this journey will progress, what will happen along the way and if James will beat the record.
Chapter two is where we learn of James' background, his life in Devon, his interest in cycling and why he wanted to attempt the record. There is nothing particularly unusual here and I was desperate to get stuck into the record attempt. Likewise, I was keen to get past chapter three which is about James' training regime, although it does give you a good idea of the amount of effort that is required to embark upon such a project.
What made me really warm to James and to care about his journey was his honesty about the highs and lows. There is no ego here and you just get the impression of a normal guy wanting to do something amazing with his life. He knows that a month long cycle trip is insignificant compared to what many sports people have done, but he choose it as something that he thought was personally achievable. He had read about the previous record and the daily mileage was something that he felt he was capable of exceeding.
The relentless pace of 8 or 9 hours cycling each day, broken only with short rest stops to eat and then sleep at night, made it difficult to put the book down. I found myself routing for James and wanting him to reach his daily target of 120 miles. At the end of each day's cycling the book displays a statistics summary showing the mileage and average speed. I was cheering inside when the daily target was exceeded on particularly challenging days and James has quite a few of these. In particular, his journey across Poland was marred with horrendous knee pain.
I found it fascinating to read about the logistics of a trip like this. For example, although James travels with a tent it is sometimes a dilemma for him to choose the tent or a hotel for a night. The advantage of hotels is that it saves time in the morning as there is no need to pack up the tent and gear and allows an opportunity to dry out soaking wet clothes using a hairdryer. However, the disadvantage is that hotels can restrict the route and mean that James might have to stop short of his mileage target. The record attempt requires meticulous record keeping, such as photos, stats from a cycle computer, a log book and witness signatures. Despite being exhausted in the evening James must spend time on this paperwork. Food is simply fuel on this journey, so you will learn nothing of the wonderful foods of Europe. Fast food, kebabs and whatever can be found in petrol stations end up being a mainstay of James' diet, although he does describe the joy of French patisserie.
I liked the inclusion of James' photographs of the journey, appearing every few pages- camping spots, hotel rooms, the open road. They add to the pace of the book, brief impressions of places, just passing through, life on the road.
With a record attempt it inevitably means that there is simply no time to enjoy the sites of the countries that James powers through. There are very few encounters with local people; this is very much a solo affair. There are some short interactions with other cyclists. There are some descriptions of pretty towns and scenery, but nothing too detailed. If you are looking for more of a cycle travelogue you will not find it here, but that's not what this book is about. If you have ever wondered about taking on a long distance cycling record then this book will give you a very honest account of what it involves and it is no vacation, that's for sure! The final few pages of the book are an amazing adrenaline rush as James reaches the end of the journey, it's great writing.
I really enjoyed this book and if you would like to buy it on Amazon just click on the image below:
These days it is easier than ever before to pack up your life, pack in your job and take to the road long-term. With so many ways to make a living on the road, and so many adventures out there calling, you might be thinking about making the leap. If you’re wondering where to start with your planning for a long-term travel lifestyle, let’s have a look at the basics:
Keep accommodation costs low
Accommodation is likely to be your greatest expense as a long-term traveller. Unless you plan on camping every night - which can be great fun at first but, believe me, can get tiring quite quickly - you will need to think about cost-effective ways to find a bed for the night. Youth hostels and backpacker hostels provide good budget options, and in Scotland you can always aim for an uninhabited bothy in the wilds, but these traditional travellers choices are far from your only options. Peer-to-peer accommodation platforms such as Airbnb or Couchsurfing offer very affordable alternatives, and can lead you to find new friendships and local insider knowledge for your destination
Pack smart and travel light
When on the road for extended periods, particularly if you are cycling, carrying your gear can quickly become the bane of your life. Those extra items, that seemed indispensable when you first packed your bags, will soon become nothing but dead weight. You might like the idea of having three books to choose from when you come to wind down at the end of the day, but why not pack smart and carry a Kindle instead to save your back? A wooly jumper might seem a good idea for the great outdoors, but when its wet and weighs a ton you will wish you’d invested in one of those lightweight jerseys and a waterproof jacket. The moral of the story is: think in grams. Small differences in weight will make a big difference to your enjoyment of the journey so be bold and carry only what you can’t live without.
Stay safe and get protected
If you are planning to be on the road long-term, your gear and your body are your greatest assets. Make sure that both are protected by investing in specialist safety gear for your chosen activities and ensuring you have decent, comprehensive insurance cover. Protective equipment might range from a simple head net to keep the midges off all the way to the top of the range cycle helmet and hiking boots. When it comes to choosing insurance, look carefully at the small print so you know which activities and equipment are covered. If the worst does happen, experts advise that you have the emergency numbers on speed dial to report any damage or theft as quickly as possible. This will give you the best possible chance to claim cover for your lost or damaged items.
My name is Colin Baird and I want to see all of Scotland by bicycle.