Last summer one of our Bike Mill team members, Richard, headed up to Scotland for a cycling adventure. Here’s the behind the scenes story!
Edinburgh to Aberdeen, 169 miles (187 miles riden!)
Day 1: Edinburgh (St Andrews Square) to Kinneswood
Having caught the Monday morning Scotrail train from Inverkeithing (on which bikes appear to be welcome, unlike South of the border), we arrived in Edinburgh the day after The Festival had finished, and found ourselves dodging huge piles of rubbish in the streets – not the result of a great night out as we first thought, but due to the refuse collectors strike! The imposing sight of Edinburgh Castle meant we could tick that one off our list, the first of many castles between here and Aberdeen.
St Andrew Square is the official starting point (also our finishing point when we’d cycled the south section from Tynemouth a couple of years previously) and we took the obligatory selfies before setting off through the cobbled streets, our fully laden bikes rattling over the bumps till we hit the smooth tarmac of the Edinburgh suburbs – a very quiet and pleasant ride, well signposted all the way to Queensferry and the Forth Bridges. A nearby visitor centre provides great views of all three bridges (more photos!) as well as a little kiosk, serving tasty sandwiches and drinks, and even more importantly – a toilet.
Crossing the bridge along the shared path was fabulous – quite a climb, and with no traffic apart from buses now, it’s pretty quiet, except for the gusty winds around the exposed middle section, high above the water! At the other end the route took us past Inverkeithing station where we’d caught the train earlier, and shortly after that we took our first wrong turn, misinterpreting a signpost arrow and ending up in a housing estate in Rosyth – should have checked the enlargment on the route map!
From Dunfermline the climbing started in earnest over the Cleish Hills on some lovely quiet lanes with beautiful views opening up behind us over the Firth of Forth and then over the top towards Loch Leven. By the time we got to Kinross we were starting to flag, not used to carrying heavy panniers, and getting hungry! We had booked a meal at the Balgedie Toll Tavern for 7.00pm and it was getting close to 6.00pm, so it was a bit of a rush past Kinross Castle, where Mary Queen of Scots had been imprisoned, and Burleigh Castle before finally reaching our B&B, ‘Arisaig’, at Kinniswood, a welcome hot shower and a change of clothes. Dinner at Balgedie Toll Tavern was great, highlights being the Warrior Queen IPA from local Loch Leven Brewery, panko haggis, Thai green curry, lentil and vegetable guiso (a type of Spanish stew) with tempura aubergines followed by coconut milk rice pudding and caramelised mango – we needed the mile walk back to ‘Arisaig’ to walk it all off before bed!
Day 2: Kinneswood to Ceres
Following a superb breakfast, cooked to order, we set off in drizzle and low cloud, the route undulating along quiet lanes then steeply uphill through a forest, emerging at the ‘Pillars of Hercules’ (an extravagantly named garden centre which we later learned has a very nice cafe) and on to the small Fife town of Falkland. We decided to explore Falkland Palace, once a popular retreat for Scottish monarchs, and were allowed to safely stash our bikes around the side past the ‘No Entry’ signs while we had a look round. As well as extensive gardens it features the world’s oldest tennis court still in use, and the enthusiastic and knowledgable interpreters made it well worth a visit.
Campbell’s Coffee House in the village square provided lunch, though we could only manage coffee and cake (the cyclist’s staple!) after such a substantial breakfast.
The sun emerged as we continued on to our Airbnb, an old police house in the quaint village of Ceres, 7 miles from St Andrew’s, where our host, a former baker, presented us with a fantastic cream cake each on arrival!
The Ceres Inn wasn’t serving evening meals, so after a pint of ‘Terra Nova’ from the local Ovenstones Brewery, we bought provisions at the well stocked Spar shop next door and ate them in our room.
Day 3: Ceres to Broughty Ferry
Setting off in lovely sunshine, out route took us mainly downhill to the tiny village of Kemback at the bottom of a wooded gorge, followed by a steep climb back up for fabulous views over to the river Tay and then on to St Andrews.
At St. Andrew’s we had to divert slightly off route to the sea front in search of public loos, not as easy as it sounds due to the one way system. After dodging golfers as we left the town, the route follows the A9 on a well segregated cyclepath, narrowing near Guardbridge then leaving the main road at Leuchars and weaving through a military base to the fantastic forest of Tentsmuir right on the coast. We plonked wearily down in the picnic area to eat our sandwiches, wishing we’d got a cup of tea or coffee, but grateful for the toilets at least, only to find (as we set off again through the other end of the car park into the forest) there was a ‘beach shack’ serving all sorts of delicious goodies and hot drinks just around the corner! Nothing for it but to stop again for a cuppa, a mere 300 yards from our last break… one advantage of averaging about 30 miles a day is you can take more pitstops!
The forest track was quite rough and can be bypassed on a quiet lane, but is well worth doing as the views across the Tay when you emerge at the far end are stunning.
Crossing the Tay bridge was quite an experience, cycling between the busy road carriageways on a slightly elevated path, and doubly exhilarating being downhill all the way – thankfully the lift was working at the Dundee side, otherwise the steps would have been tricky to negotiate.
You’re deposited on the newly re-developed quay side in Dundee near the V&A museum, but the route took us the other way along a scenic riverside path to Broughty Ferry and our next Airbnb. Dinner that evening was the best tapas that we’d ever eaten…anywhere…including Spain! Sol y Sombra Tapas Bar do a set meal: no menu, no decisions – they just ask what you eat (meat, vegetarian, vegan etc) then onto the table comes a constant stream of delicious food! Olives and nuts to start, then cold tapas: fish croquettes, egg burger, beef and figs, Serrano ham, mozzarella salad, Manchego cheese, couscous. The hot tapas is next: prawns in garlic oil, mushrooms, patatas bravas, paella, brochettes, sardines, black pudding sausage, washed down with a bottle of house red…fantastic!
Day 4: Broughty Ferry to Montrose 32 miles
We set off in beautiful sunny weather down to Broughty Castle on the sea front, the route following the east coast rail line through Monifieth and alongside a MOD training area – watch out for the high-speed trains and red flags! At Carnoustie the official route crosses the golf course but we ended up lost amidst a maze of paths and golfers with no visible signage and in hindsight it would have been easier to skirt around the golf course. Shortly after, two cyclists going the opposite way warned us that the route was closed at Elliot’s Links on the way into Arbroath but said that we could bypass it on the beach, so at East Haven we ignored the diversion signs onto the busy A92 and carried on.
The ride was fantasic, right along the coast, the sun shining and no-one in sight! Then came the diversion… we tried to ride on the beach but the sand was too soft for our heavily laden bikes and we ended up pushing them through the dunes for half a mile. As we entered Elliot, just outside Arbroath, we chanced upon a beach side kiosk where we tucked into a big portion of loaded fries and halloumi, all the while watching out for any of the thieving seagulls we’d been warned about!
After lunch we managed to negotiated another seaside one-way system to find Arbroath Abbey which had been founded by William the Lion in 1178. A new visitor centre with interesting displays had recently opened and cycle parking is available outside the front door.
Leaving Arbroath the route ventures away from the coast into rolling farmland, along quiet back lanes and round the magnificent Lunan Bay – with the warm sunshine, pine trees, blue sea and gentle breeze it could have been the Mediterranean.
Passing Red Castle perched on a hill we dropped down into Lunan and out the other side, where Dunninald Castle is buried in parkland and hidden from view. Finally we arrived in Ferryden and our B&B for the night, just outside Montrose. Walking into the rather drab and deserted Montrose town centre later in search of food, we spotted two couples enter a nondescript looking Asian takeaway, ‘Sher-e-Bangla’, so we followed them in to discover it opened out into a fantastic palatial lobby where smart serving staff awaited us in a beautifully furnished restaurant. And the food was amazing! Pappadoms and pickle, vegan biriani, Tandoori cod with pilau rice, salad and a spicy sauce – altogether a perfect end to what had been a super day on the bikes!
Day 5: Montrose to Stonehaven 33 Miles
After a hearty Scottish breakfast we left Montrose on a well signed path across more links and heathland until it disappeared into a work compound, reappearing at the other side after a short detour. The route crosses the North Esk on an old railway viaduct then drops steeply to the valley floor underneath and along to a nature reserve with toilets and a small visitor centre. Then came the steepest climb of the whole the route, ascending via the old sea cliff! It levels out after a few hundred yards but then fools you and kicks up again, slogging up and onto the A92 for 200 yards then dropping down to the lovely old village of St Cyrus.
After St Cyrus you unfortunately have to join the busy A92 for about 8 miles into Inverbervie as there is no other road – not very pleasant. However, after 3.5 miles you can turn off the A92 at the little fishing village of Johnhaven (it is signposted), and follow a rough track beyond the village beside the sea to the village of Gourdon. It is well worth the detour – we were on hybrid bikes, at least 30mm tyres, and had no problem on the surface of gravel, grass and embedded cobbles.
Leaving Inverbervie on a brief section of A92 we had our only close pass of the trip: a large lorry trying to maintain its speed for the approaching hill! Shortly after the climb we left the A92 onto great little back lanes, the sun was out and we soon forgot about the incident as beautiful views appeared over the hill.
En route to Stonehaven we had a brief visit to Dunnottar Castle for a quick photo opportunity before dropping down into Stonehaven harbour in search of food as our B&B that night was in the middle of nowhere, a few miles out of the town.
We found ‘The Seafood Bothy’, a tiny shack right on the harbour, and were soon enjoying fresh lobster and prawn burrito with chips, dip and salad – a taste sensation. We were slightly regretting eating so much during the slow ride uphill to our B&B, but we got the warmest of welcomes from the owners at Crawfield Grange near Newbigging, and the accommodation was first class.
Day 6: Stonehaven to Aberdeen 24.5 miles
After yet another delicous home-cooked breakfast we retraced our steps to re-join the route, fortunately not loosing too much of the height we’d gained the night before. This section of the route stays away from the coast for the first part and is pretty undulating through farmland and woods. A new road has been built to by-pass Aberdeen, only shown as ‘proposed’ on our map, and the route zig-zags back and forth over this road as it weaves its way towards the city. At one junction we passed the complete Movistar cycle racing team and their support car – we had forgotten the Tour of Britain was starting the following day! We headed back towards the coast and re-joined it on cliff top roads near Portlethen Village. As we approached Cove Bay the Movistar team passed us again, this time minus three riders, then a Team Ineos rider passed going the other way, all enjoying the nice weather before the rain that was to descend for most of the rest of the race.
As we rounded the headland we found that the harbour at Aberdeen is being extended into Nigg Bay so has ruined the loop round to the lighthouse and we promptly got lost in the diversion. We picked up the route as we rode passed the docks on the south side of the river Dee. Crossing the old bridge we almost missed the Sustrans marker and had to do a U-turn for the official end of trip photo.
We found our Airbnb close to the north side of the docks, two minutes from the rail station so it would be handy for the morning as we were heading home by train. We ventured into the city to eat, our now very tired legs struggling up the steep hill, and found solace at the Brewdog bar where we polished off burgers and chips and several fine brews to celebrate our achievement! Afterwards, we watched the end of the Scottish National Circuit Racing Championships which were taking place on the city streets that evening as a prelude to the start of the Tour of Britain.
Day 7: Train from Aberdeen to Stirling (120 miles, 1h 55min)
Cycle from Stirling to Dollar (16 miles, 1h 58min)
Not having realised the Tour of Britain Grand Depart was taking place at 11.00am (and which we’d have liked to stick around for) we had booked a train back to Stirling at 10.30am! But then again it was absolutely tipping it down with rain and we got soaked just riding around the corner to the station, so perhaps it was for the best.
We loaded the bikes onto the train, initially disappointed that the bike storage was the impossible vertical type requiring you to remove your panniers before hanging up your bikes (and there’s no way you can fit two flat-bar bikes side by side). However, on further investigation the carriage also had room for three more bikes stored horizontally, good old Scotrail…
Relaxing as we sped homewards (through all the places we’d just cycled through over the best part of a week!), we reflected on the fabulous experience we’d had cycling what is a really beautiful and interesting route, our relatively leisurely pace having afforded us time to enjoy the places we passed through and to get to know the people we met along the way.