Expedition to Scotland by tandem and open canoe
1st May to 31st July 2008
Expedition – in detail
Section 1: London to Glasgow
1st May – 26th May
Brentford to Chiswell Green
Most of this route was fairly grim. We passed from Brentford to Greenford to Harrow and then Stanmore all on busy suburban roads. The route improved from Elstree where we joined Watling Street. The heavens opened in Radlett and it hailed violently for a short while. Arrived at Chiswell Green at 5.45 pm where we were staying with an old friend Chantal. She revived us with tea and little Madeline cakes before cooking a splendid dinner which we shared with David and Ann, two other old friends. Went to bed far too late having drunk far too much (Martin that is – Tilly was still hardly touching anything alcoholic!)
Chiswell Green to Linslade
35 miles (approx)
We cycled from Chiswell Green to Hemel Hempstead along some very small and pretty lanes. Had lunch at a pub just outside Bourne End. Very steep hill on leaving the pub – had to walk. Route through Chilterns via Little Gaddesden and Ringshall was lovely and we passed through some spectacular bluebell woods. We then descended to Ivinghoe Aston and then over the flat plain to Linslade. We were staying with Chris, Tilly’s brother.
Rest day at Linslade
We spent the day with Tilly’s brother Chris and his partner Lorraine. Chris is a great railway enthusiast and is heavily involved with restoring a range of carriages at the Buckinghamshire Railway Centre at Quainton. We visited the centre and saw an impressive range of engines and coaches including the coach in which Churchill and Eisenhower planned the D Day invasions.
Linslade to Northampton
We cycled on country lanes to just outside Milton Keynes where we joined NCN 51. Initially this was great but soon we lost our way as there seemed to be no signs. Eventually, feeling very frustrated, we used road to get to the centre of Milton Keynes where we managed to pick up the cycle route again. After lunch at a picnic table by the canal, we again managed to lose all trace of NCN6 and so took to the roads again. We arrived at Billing Aquadrome at 4.30. The campsite at Billing Aquadrome was huge. We thought that it was expensive (£16 for the night) and that the facilities were not good. Also it was very busy but it was Bank Holiday.
Northampton to Arthingworth (Market Harborough)
We headed into Northampton on NCN 6 but again lost the trail in the suburbs. We were looking for the Brampton Valley Way and after asking a number of people, Tilly found a girl who was able to direct us. However, before we could get onto to the former railway trail, we had to overcome quite an obstacle course. First there was a horrendous cycle restriction barrier. Not only did we have to disconnect the trailer we had to lift it physically over the barrier. Fortunately, a friendly man in a van saw us struggling and came and helped. Then we had to circumvent a huge muddy puddle under a low railway bridge. Once on the Brampton Valley Way things improved although there was still a steady stream of cycle barriers which were difficult to get round. At Brampton the path runs alongside some restored track and they were holding a Thomas the Tank Engine day which was fun. After lunch we came to Kelmarsh Tunnel which is about 450 metres long and pitch black. We tried cycling with our lights but soon decided to walk instead. We camped at Arthingworth Lodge which was on a farm very close to the railway path. It was a very basic but charming farm campsite. It only cost £5 for the night and we were the only people there.
Arthingworth (Market Harborough) to Loughborough
We woke to find wonderful weather with not a cloud in the sky. We rejoined the NCN 6 and soon had to go through another tunnel – the Great Oxendon tunnel. Again we started by cycling but then switched to walking. After Market Harborough, we switched to NCN 64 to Leicester because we thought that a road route would be easier for our rig. However, it was also a hillier route particularly from Cranoe to Goadby to Gaulby and then Stoughton. It was tough going in the heat. The fields were full of oil seed rape with their acid yellow flowers and rather acrid scent. We traversed Leicester using main roads rather than the Sustrans routes which meant that we did not get lost but it was not very pleasant. We then re-joined NCN 6and shadowed the A6 to our campsite at Whatoff Lodge just outside Loughborough. This was another farm campsite and this one definitely had some dubious sanitation arrangements!
Loughborough to Derby 24 miles
It was another arosto day with a cloudless blue sky. We followed NCN 6 through the suburbs of Loughborough and this time we managed not to get lost. We then shopped in Shepshed which was quite sobering experience. The only shop seemed to be a convenience store which had huge racks of crisps and chocolate but no fresh fruit and veg – no wonder there seemed to be so many over-weight people around. We then joined another cycle track along a former railway which provided some great cycling. We had lunch sitting by the Trent and Mersey Canal and then gently cycled over to our campsite at the Elvaston Country Park just outside Derby. This was a Caravan Club site so expensive (£16.45) but also very well kept.
Derby to Pilsbury Lodge 36 miles
We cycled into Derby along NCN 6 and shopped which took longer than we had anticipated, then left on NCN 68. Heading for Mickleover, we hit a cycle barrier that we could not navigate so switched to roads but got lost in the Mackworth Estate. Finally we managed to get back on the route to Ashbourne. Here we joined the Tissington Trail.
We needed a cycle shop because a screw had fallen off one of the chain wheels. Amazingly there was one at the start of the trail. This was a National Parks bike shop and hire centre. The guy there was very helpful selling us not only the screw but some other bits and pieces too. By the time we left it was about 3.30 and we still had 13.5 miles to do which made the next section a bit of an slog. This was a great pity because the trail is fantastic with nice gentle gradients, good surfaces and great views. As we cycled north along the trail the countryside changed significantly becoming much wilder. Finally we reached Parsley Hay and left the trail to find our campsite. At this point the bike started playing up. The chain kept on slipping which made the last mile or so absolute agony. Finally we reached the campsite at Pilsbury Lodge Farm, Hartington. This was a nice farm campsite with basic facilities. Tilly sorted out the tent while I tried to work out what was the problem with the tandem. Fortunately, it became clear fairly rapidly that there was a sticky link on the drive chain and once this was eased the slipping and jumping seemed to stop.
Pilsbury Lodge to Crowden 36 miles
This was a really hard day. We returned to the Tissington Trail at Parsley Hay and called in to the National Parks bike shop and hire centre. I was not entirely sure that my efforts had completely sorted the problem with the chain. The guy in the workshop had a look at the tandem and re-adjusted the gears but while he was doing this one of their hire customers mistakenly walked off with my cycle helmet. Fortunately, they lent me a replacement but it was red not black. We cycled to the end of the Tissington Trail and then on into Buxton. From Buxton we cycled to Whaley Bridge then to New Mills. The gradients both up and down were horrendous. After this we switched to roads because the guy at the Parsley Hay cycle centre had warned us about difficult cycle barriers in the Longdendale Valley. The A roads were pretty unpleasant with lots of traffic. Finally we got to Crowden at about 6.00. and camped in the Camping and Caravan Club site. This is a great campsite but does seem to suffer from midges.
Crowden to Heptonstall 36 miles
A killer day. In fact this was the hardest day of the whole trip. We started on the A628 which had a lot of traffic. We then turned off towards Durnford Bridge then Holmfirth, Slaithwaite and Pole Moor. Each of these involved incredibly steep ascents which we often ended pushing the tandem up and then equally steep descents where I was hanging onto the brakes for dear life. On the other side of Pole Moor the Sustrans route left the road and seemed to go down a tiny footpath towards the M62. There was no way we could get the tandem and trailer down it so we had to follow a long route round the head of the valley which again involved an impossible ascent. We then continued to Sowerby Bridge where the descent was so steep that we had to get off and walk. We then followed the Colne Valley Cycleway towards Hebden Bridge but got fed up with the cycle barriers and so switched to the road. We got to Hebden Bridge about 6.30 – 7.00pm and tried the cycle way up to Heptonstall. It was so steep (and cobbled) that we could not even push the tandem up it. Instead we had to follow the road which was quite a long way round and also very steep. We ended up pushing the tandem again. By this time we were both completely exhausted and once we got to Heptonstall it was not clear where the campsite was. I asked an old man who at first told me that the campsite at High Greenwood was closed but then was able to give directions. Unfortunately the site was 2-3 miles further on the other side of Heptonstall. We arrived finally at about 8.30pm in an even more exhausted state. The site was very pretty but not very flat and the facilities were minimal. We decided to stay 2 days since we desperately needed a rest day to recover.
Heptonstall – rest day
The weather was beautiful again and we managed to catch a bus into Hebden Bridge where we were able to use a launderette. We looked around then caught the bus back to High Greenwood farm where we spent a lazy afternoon.
Heptonstall to Salterforth 18 miles
A terrific ride over the moors to Colne on another beautiful day. This was followed by a quiet pretty ride alongside the Leeds and Liverpool canal. The campsite at Salterforth had good facilities and was cheap (£5). May 13
Salterforth to Little Stainforth 25 miles
A fantastic days cycling. We started by continuing alongside the Leeds and Liverpool canal then followed small roads through beautiful green and rolling countryside to Gargrave. We stopped for coffee and cake at the famous cyclists café there, sitting outside in the warm sunshine. We then followed pretty lanes to Airton and then it was a long pull up onto open moorland.
The descent into Settle was quite steep with great views. Unfortunately, the back wheel was now making a worrying scraping noise so when we got to Settle we looked for a bike shop. The bike shop was closed so had to try to sort out the problem ourselves. The back wheel seemed to have come loose and so I tightened it up and removed the back mud guard which seemed to sort the problem out. The campsite at Little Stainforth, a few miles north of Settle, was quite large with good facilities. May 14
Little Stainforth to Dent 22 miles
Another brilliant day. Terrific weather and stunning scenery. We stopped in Ingleton to shop then cycled on to Thornton in Lonsdale. The road up Kingsdale was a long pull through wild moorland. It was a tiny road through spectacular scenery. The descent was so steep that we needed to walk in several places. The campsite at Dent had great views over the Yorkshire Dales.
Dent to Appleby in Westmorland 36 miles
We cycled along quiet lanes to Sedbergh where we shopped. Then along Howgill Fell to the M6. We tracked the railway and the M6 finally crossing them on our way to Orton. From Orton we climbed up Great Asby Scar and then descended to Great Asby and then Appleby. We stayed at a campsite at Colby about 3 mile outside Appleby on the way to Penrith. Hawkrigg was a farm campsite with great views and nice people but a terrible shower.
Appleby in Westmorland to Troutbeck 20 miles (approx)
We followed cycle route 71 towards Penrith and then cut across country to Troutbeck. The gears on the bike were jumping again which made progress difficult at times. We arrived at the Camping and Caravan Club site at Troutbeck at about 2.00. This site had very friendly staff and excellent facilities (the best showers of any campsite anywhere!). We took the bike into Keswick in the afternoon and persuaded a bike shop to take it in to try to sort out the problems. May 17
Troutbeck – rest day
We returned to Keswick to pick up the bike which seemed OK. Shopped, found an internet café and checked e-mails.
Troutbeck – rest day
Took it easy for most of the day although I did climb Blencathra in the morning.
Troutbeck to Dalston
Great cycle via Mungrisdale round the most northerly clump of hills in the Lake District on an unfenced road. Then on to Caldbeck where we stopped for some refreshments. After Caldbeck there was a steep climb over a hill completely covered with flowering gorse – a sea of yellow. We arrived at Dalston early and had lunch at the campsite. The site was beside Dalston Hall and the campsite people also ran the golf club. They were very friendly and welcoming and we had a drink in their bar in the evening.
Dalston to Cummertrees 36 miles
We followed the B road from Dalston into Carlisle and then picked up NCN 7. We had to do a really long loop to get to Gretna. Then we cycled up beside the Solway Firth to Annan where we shopped. Queenstown Caravan Park at Cummertrees was right on the edge of the Solway Firth so had great views. An old lady staying with her sister in a caravan on the site saw us arrive and brought us tea and biscuits which was really nice of her (we were feeling quite tired so they were very welcome) May 21
Cummertrees to Castle Douglas 36 miles
From Cummertrees, we cycled into Dumfries where we shopped. Then we left on a really good old railway cycle track. After Dumfries, the route became more hilly. The campsite in Castle Douglas was unusual in that it was in the centre of the town and run by the local authority.
Castle Douglas to Newton Stewart 42 miles
We left Castle Douglas and had a long descent into Kirkcudbright on the estuary of the River Dee. The lanes in and out of Kirkcudbright were very pretty with the route following the Dee estuary. We had some problems with the load on the trailer shifting which caused a certain amount of cursing. We dropped down into Gatehouse of Fleet and had lunch there sitting in the warm sunshine beside the river.
We then had quite a long climb up to Gatehouse station and then a glorious fast descent beside Moneypool Burn to Creetown. The section from Creetown to Newton Stewart had some annoying cycle barriers and this was followed by a really steep hill. We arrived in Newton Stewart about 4.00pm. The Creebridge Camping and Caravan Park was not very scenic – mainly full of statics and the people in Newton Stewart were not very friendly.
Newton Stewart to Maybole 42 miles
We left Newton Stewart following the River Cree heading towards Glentrool village. This was described as the wildest and most remote section of the Lochs and Glens South route. At Glentrool we started the long climb up to the Nick of Balloch. This passed through rather desolate forestry commission land and we had to watch out for the timber lorries since they do not take prisoners! As we reached the Nick, the scenery changed becoming wild moorland. Then there was a great long descent down to the valley at North and South Balloch followed by another steep climb up Doughty Hill. Then we had a marvellous run down to Crosshill coasting all the way. The route from Crosshill to Maybole was quite hilly and then we had to cycle a further 4 miles to the campsite which was at Culzean Castle. This was another Camping and Caravan Club site with great facilities and some superb views.
Maybole (day off)
We needed a rest day so spent another night at the Culzean Castle site. We spent afternoon visiting the castle itself which was very impressive. Designed by Robert Adam it has a magnificent setting right on the edge of the sea. The weather became really good during the afternoon and there was a spectacular sunset.
Maybole to Troon 28 miles
We had to retrace our steps from Culzean back into Maybole to re-join NCN 7.Then the route followed small lanes over Brown Carrick Hill. The route was very up and down with steep ascents followed by equally steep descents. Once we reached the top of Brown Carrick Hill there was a fast descent down to the coast and then a cycle track right into the centre of Ayr. It was sunny but very windy. We had a nasty experience on the outskirts of Ayr. We were passing a building site when we became aware that there were people inside the site throwing bricks onto the road. Unfortunately, once they saw us they aimed the bricks at us. Luckily they missed. We cycled on from Ayr via Prestwick to Troon where we stayed in a strange little site hidden in the middle of the town. It was very windy and we were worried whether the tarp would stay up (it did).
Troon to Glasgow 40 miles
We followed the NCN7 through Irvine to Kilwinning and then to longbar and Kilbirnie. Tilly became rather anxious since she had told Lorraine that we would arrive at 5.00pm and we still had a long way to go. Fortunately at Kilbirnie, we joined a splendid cycle path following the route of an old railway which speeded things up considerably. We then hit problems at Paisley because they had closed the path for repairs at Paisley Canal Station. We had to negotiate an excruciatingly tight ramp and then work our way back to the path. We then followed a series of paths through various parks into Glasgow. The southern section of NCN 7 ends at Bells Bridge but due to building works we found this difficult to find. Once we had found the bridge and crossed the Clyde, we had to try to find our way to Jordanhill. To get there we had to cross the multi-carriage main road by a stepped bridge with a ramp for bikes. There was no way that we could get the tandem and trailer together over this. So we had to disconnect them wheel/carry the tandem and then do the same with the trailer. A passing cyclist very kindly helped but it was still a bit of a nightmare. Still we arrived at Lorraine’s at dead on 5.00pm.
May 27 to May 30
We stayed with a friend (Lorraine) in Glasgow. We rested up and also took delivery of the canoe which had been sent by courier from London. We also visited the Glengoyne Distillery at Dungoyne and had a tour (and tasting!)