Rugged Bike – Easy MTB – Carron Valley

I live near a mountain bike route. Part of the route goes through a forest. In the forest section there is a very steep drop.

Earlier in the year, during “lockdown” I saw lots of middle aged men cycle into the forest. They were on old mountain bikes that they hadn’t touched in years. Many of them did not cycle out of the forest. They pushed their bike out after braking a bone falling off the steep slope.

I have to admit I’ve never cycled the slope. I get off my bike and push it to the bottom of the drop before getting back on and continuing. So I am not the person to turn too to tell you where scary technical routes are unless you want to know how to avoid them.

I do love cycling off-road BUT on nice tracks. So, over the years, I’ve found lots of safer routes that are technical enough for me and safe enough that anyone could do them.

This is a great route near Glasgow. It comprises two different forest sections and its all on good wide fire-track roads. There’s plenty of options on the route to make it more technical.

Video

Not yet!

Route Review

Difficulty:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Nearly 600m of climbing in 16 miles is a lot but that means there’s some great downhill sections.

Views:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Great views over Carron valley reservoir and there a mix of different types of forests to ride through.

Traffic: 

Rating: 5 out of 5.

There is only a very short section on road and normally there are very few cars along this way.

Parking

Rating: 2 out of 5.

I parked at Todholes car park. This can be full by 10AM in summer as it’s a very popular spot. If the car park is full go further along the road and ride to the start.

Toilets

Rating: 1 out of 5.

There were no public toilets open.

Cafe

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I haven’t tried it but there is a café at the Carron Valley main car park.

Route

Old Photographs (Iain)

I have approximately 10 thousand photos dating from 2006 onwards. I recently decided to go through them and edit them down to a more manageable number.

I’ve only reached 2013 at the moment but I thought it would be interesting to share some that I’ve come across

  1. Sherpa or Cyclist? (2010)

There’s a cycling idiom “All the gear, no idea” which describes novices who splash out on expensive equipment but who lack the aptitude to use it properly.

This picture proves I had “none of the gear and even less of an idea.” it was taken during the Radar Race in 2010. A 40 mile race near Wanlokhead.

I look like I’m dressed to climb a mountain but I’m actually a mashup of different sports. If you look closely at my shoes you might recognize that they are football boots just in case the race finished with a penalty shootout.

2. Is that cargo pants you’re wearing? (2010)

A couple of months later I’d learnt my lesson from the previous race. I dressed better – I wore cargo pants and trainers.

3. Is that the same shoes? (2008)

The trainers were very versatile and long lasting. They make an appearance in this photo from 2008 when I did a Stornoway Marathon with Andrew. I used to buy just one shoe that could be used for every sport and then use it for as long as possible.

Nowadays I have a trainer for 10Ks and less, a trainer for long runs, a trainer for trail runs, a trainer for wet trail runs, golf shoes, squash shoes, walking shoes, work shoes, casual shoes and a pair of crocs. Because crocs are great no matter what other people say.

I’m the Imelda Marcos of sports shoes. That’s a joke has dated almost as badly as my haircut in the photo.

4. Is this the best view in Scotland? (2013)

No.

5. Will it be a white xmas?

One of the nice things about old photos is rediscovering pictures and memories. This one made me think “Whatever happened to this jacket. I loved this jacket”

Not So Smartbells (Andrew)

The one thing no one warns you about when you buy dumbbell weights is how heavy they are when you pick them up. It might seem obvious to you. It may seem obvious to anyone but, the first time I bought a set of weights, I had not thought at all about how I was going to get them home.

I was in the final year of university and decided that it would be good to have a set of weights in my flat to use between studying. I lived on the edge of Glasgow city centre and thought I could pop into my nearest Argos, about 20 minutes walk away, and get a cheap set of weights. It was a simple plan for someone with a simple mind because…

They gave me a box. And in that box there was a set of weights and those weights weighed at least a tonne. If not two or ten. Because no one buys dumbbells in order to lift weights they can already manage. You buy weights that you can grow into and that can be increased as your biceps bulge.

Nor had I thought that the weights would be the total weights of both bars. I thought I could lift 10kg in one hand so I’d bought a 30kg weight set – 15kg for each hand. But now the set was in one box. So it wasn’t just 30kg, it was 30kg plus packaging and a large unwieldy box.

And I then had to carry this awkward package from Argos back to my flat, an easy 20 minute walk without weights. A trip through hell with weights.

Firstly, no one lifts weights for twenty minutes. You curl, you release. You put them down and have a wee break and a sip of water. Then you pick them up again. You don’t lift them for 20 minutes.

Not that it was 20 minutes. On the way in it was a 20 minute carefree, arms swinging, song in my heart kind of walk. On the way back, I couldn’t walk one minute without nearly dropping the box on my toes as I struggled to lift it across a street. Within two minutes my arms felt stretched like home made pasta. Everything ached. I couldn’t find a comfortable position to carry the box. I tried both hands, I tried under one arm. I even tried carrying it on my head like an Italian grandmother bent back from the fields of Tuscany. Nothing worked. I’d bought more weights than I could lift.

And what was worse was that the weights were in a box. To any passerby it looked like I was struggling with an ordinary box. There was nothing to indicate that I was trying to carry home an elephant wrapped in cardboard. Instead, I look like the very guy that someone would come up to and say “I think you need to work out!”

I did. But I couldn’t cause I couldn’t get the flipping’ box home with me!

Eventually, I decided to risk splitting the box. I took out the weights and, hiding behind a bin so no one saw me, I put the weights together and hid one in a bush and carried the other home. I then had a not so wee break and a gallon of water before going back and bringing the other home. Luckilly, it was still there but that was probably because no one could lift it.

And, once I got them both home I put both them under my bed and never touched them again for six months because my arms were as weak as a plastic bag handle when you’re trying to get a big shop home from the supermarket.

So, let my lesson be your lesson if you’re thinking of getting a lockdown weights set to avoid going to the gum. If you’re going to buy weights make sure you know how to get them home.

Learning to Swim (Andrew)

No one needs a bag when they have a towel

It’s funny. I can remember swimming, but I can’t remember learning to swim. Instead all I remember is trunks and towels. 

We would swim on holiday in the small Perthshire town of Aberfeldy. It has a sports centre with a 25 metre pool and every day on holiday we would go for a swim. We would get ready by grabbing our towel, folding it lengthwise in half and the rolling it up with our trunks inside. We’d then carry it under out arm up to the centre. We’d then unroll it, get changed and then repeat again on the way home – except this time our armpits would get wet because we were carrying a soggy towel and trunks. 

We never thought to use a bag. There was no need, once a towel was rolled up with your trunks then you didn’t need anything else. Not even goggles because for some reason our Dad didn’t believe in goggles. “You don’t need them”, he’s say, “If you duck your head under the water, it’ll sting for a minute but you’ll soon adjust.”

Which was okay for him, as, due to an illness, he only had nerves attached to one eye so was basically a cyclops when it came to swimming. He’s suffered an aneurysm behind an eye and been subject to a medical procedure that  he said “used a soup spoon to pop out my eyeball so that it could hang down my face like a Christmas decoration.” Somewhere there’s a medical case study describing the procedure he went through. We’ve never looked to find it – in case there’s photos of our Dad sitting proud with an eyeball like a yo-yo.

Because of his operation, he would never use goggles and would dive straight in, swim back and forth for 20 minutes and jump out with bright red eyes. “See,” he said, “you’ll get used it!”

We didn’t.

I could never put my head under the water. I still struggle now when water gets into my goggles. I need to stop and clear it.

But we never got our own goggles. It never occurred to me. Just as it never occurred to me to get a bag. I was learning from my Dad and we just did what he did – even if he was medical miracle who thought he was Aquaman – and somehow I learned to swim. But I don’t remember how. It certainly wasn’t by listening to my Dad.

The Bonnie Gardener: Season Two (Iain)

One of the joys of the first UK Lockdown was learning new skills. I decided I’d learn how to create videos. You can read about it here.

Trying to create a show every week from scratch was hard work. So, for season two, we decided we’d film videos during the summer and then put them together into episodes in the Autumn. This has hopefully resulted in a more interesting show to watch as its not just shots of my garden for 10 weeks.

Here’s a preview of season 2.

There is no running/biking or swimming in the videos but it does fit into the general theme of this blog which is a love of Scotland and a passion for showing off all the great places you can visit.

Rugged Run – John Muir Way – Longniddry to North Berwick (Iain)

John Muir was one of America’s most famous and influential ‘Outdoor Enthusiasts’ – although in a letter back to his native Scotland he did describe himself instead as a “poetico-trampo-geologist-botanist and ornithologist-naturalist etc. etc.” Which must be annoying to write when he was filling in the job title section of forms.

The John Muir Way is a 130 mile walking/biking route that stretches from his birthplace of Dunbar to where he left Scotland to head to America – Helensburgh.

John Muir Way - Falkirk, Scotland | AllTrails

I didn’t realize, until I looked at the route map, that I have actually done all of it but unintentionally whilst exploring various routes and paths along the Central Belt.

One of my favorite sections is Longniddry to North Berwick. I love the beaches in East Lothian and this section includes a run along one of the best: Yellowcraigs.

This section was easy to run. I parked my car in North Berwick. Got a train to Longniddry (10 minutes away) and then jogged back following the easy to follow route. There are lots of signs pointing out the route.

Check out the video to see the route in full.

VIDEO

MAPS

Review

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Its not a wild trail run, more like a mild trail run as it passes through some of the most affluent towns in Scotland. Its mostly flat and there are some sections near roads.

Parking

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I had no problem parking in North Berwick but it can be busy on a nice day.

Facilities

Rating: 1 out of 5.

No facilities.

Nearest cafe

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Plenty of options allong the route and in North Berwick.

Run Surface

80% off road, 20% pavement.

Dog Friendly

It depends on your dog. I ran with mine but she had to be on the lead a lot due to nearby traffic.

Outdoor Swim Review – Pinkston Water Sports (Iain)

“Pinkston is home to Scotland’s only artificial whitewater course, a flat water basin with bathing quality water, meeting rooms and storage facilities for clubs and groups, Pinkston Watersports is an official Glasgow 2014 Legacy project and is operated by Glasgow Watersports Ltd, a registered Scottish charity run by a volunteer board of trustees.”

https://pinkston.co.uk/facilities/what-is-pinkston-watersports

Threre is much debate about where the name Pinkston originates from.  Supposedly the Scottish version of the name originated in the old barony of Pinkerton near Dunbar. The barony had the motto “Post nubila sol” which translates to “After clouds sunshine,” which is a fittingly apt motto for an outdoor pool because anyone who uses an outdoor pool needs a positive attitude – it might be cloudy today but the next time I swim it will be sunny!

I’ve used the facility for the last few years. It’s a great place to get an outdoor swim in a safe environment.

This year they have been running pay and swim session which has been hugely popular. During lockdown Pinkston was the only swimming pool that could open as it could operate in a COVID safe manner due to it being outdoors.

The only downside is that Pinkston can’t open the changing rooms to users. Everyone has to get changed outside. Which I think is a positive move as getting changed outdoors is a skill all outdoor swimmers have to learn.

I’ve been swimming regularly at 1700 on a Monday. Up unti this week (late Oct) the swim was in daylight. But this week the clocks went backwards. My 1700 swim became a night swim.

I didn’t realize just how dark the swim would be. I brought the wrong swim googles. I brought my shaded ones. I couldn’t see a thing. I was blinder than Stevie Wonder in a dark room with his eyes shut. I’m glad I did not record the swim on my GPS. It would have shown me swimming all over the place and, at one point, I’m sure I was swimming in a circle.

Lesson learned. I’ll bring a torch next time… and clear googles.

Link to booking: https://pinkston.co.uk

REVIEW

Ease of Access:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The area around Pinkston is getting regenerated. Local roads and access points are sometime closed so always check google maps first to find the best way there.

Water quality:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The water is murky. Don’t expect to see the bottom of the basin. The pool is not that deep. I can stand up at any point in it (I’m 6ft tall)

Swim Quality:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Their is a 400m-ish loop when the basin is fully open. The site is open to the east and west which means it can be tricky swimming at sunrise/sunset as the Sun shines directly into your face.

Other People:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Due to Covid regulations only a small number of people can swim at a time. It never feels busy and there is plenty of room to swim in.

Would I go back: 

Yes – it is convenient to have somewhere in the city. It is good for beginners and it is a great starting point for people who want to move from the pool to outdoor swimming.

Training for Celtman 2021: October (Andrew)

The day I didn’t make it to the Windfarm when my derailleur broke

Through lockdown I’ve tried to keep to Windfarm Wednesday. This is a ride out to Eaglesham wind farm on the Southside of Glasgow on a Wednesday. Unless it’s raining in which case it’s wind farm Thursday. Or, because it’s Scotland in the summer, Windfarm Maybe Next Week When The Rain Finally Stops.

Now that the clocks are going back I will need to pause Windfarm Wednesday until the Spring, assuming that we’ll still be working from home, which, given current conditions, is a safe an assumption as Donald Trump will lie when he opens his mouth.

I will miss Windfarm Wednesday because it’s been the first time in six years that I’ve had the chance to consistently ride outside during the week. Normally I’d be commuting to and from Larbert and would only get the occasional chance to head out between arriving home and dinner and dog walking and all the other things we need to do at night. Instead, I would try and grab 45 minutes on an indoor bike before the evening overtakes me.

Having the chance to spend at least one night a week outside has been fantastic and has provided a good break from lockdown life as it allowed me to not become too insular by living and working from home 24 hours a day. Instead, it’s an escape to flee the city and, most importantly, to find new places and visit parts of Scotland I’ve never been before, even if only an hours distance from my house.

Over the last six months I’ve tried to explore new routes but to always pass the windfarm on the way out or the way back. It’s good to have a target – the Windfarm – but the journey changes every week.

Over the winter I hope to flip this approach to the long nights and not fall into an easy routine on the indoor bike as the journey doesn’t change: the bike doesn’t even move.

Instead I’m going to try various simulated climbs and try a new one each week through Zwift and other apps so while my journey may not change each week then at least I’ll always have a different target.