21.10.17

Cycling in England - Lands End to John O 'Groats: Dumfries to Fort William



Erskine Bridge across the River Clyde
Day 8: Dumfries to Erskine. Not as popular as the Highlands further north, the Scottish Lowlands, in the counties of Dumfries and Galloway, felt great for cycling. I found myself riding along peaceful open roads, dotted with the occasional small town or hamlet along the way. Even the steep rises, like Kirkland Hill, from the small village of Kirkconnel, felt more like an experience to look forward to than just another climb.

The same could be said for the roads between Kilmarnock and Glasgow. What I first thought may have been a painstaking journey through the industrialised centres and suburbs along the Clyde, was more a continuation of good cycling roads and sleepy hollows. Roads like the A76 (from Cumnock), the B735, the B776 and the B790, all linked together like cogs in a bicycle chain. A final left-hand turn onto the A726 and a short ride of not more than 5 kilometres and I was greeted by Roz (my wife), at our accommodation at the Erskine Bridge Hotel.

Day 9: Erskine to Fort William. Like yesterday, what I thought may be a busy road towards Erskine Bridge, was exactly the opposite. With hardly a car in sight, even the 1,200 metre-plus ride across the  River Clyde felt easy; easy enough to enjoy the views of the river below. It was nothing like the heavy traffic I'd earlier envisaged.  A combination of cycle routes and secondary roads soon led me to the small town of Dumbarton and beyond it the A82, which meanders elegantly-most of the way-to Fort William.   

An enchanting village, Balloch is regarded as the southern gateway to Loch Lomond. As tranquil as any part of the journey so far, the next 40 kilometres took me along the western shore of the loch. Predominantly riding in the shade of  beech and birch trees, the splendid views, particularly the mountain peaks across the water, helped to make time pass quickly. 

A possible stopover for hikers on the West Highland Way, the village of Clianlarich is the junction where the A82 heads further north in the direction of Fort William, and the A85 towards Scotland’s eastern shores. Less than 14 kilometres north-east from the head of Loch Lomond, Clianlarich boasts a railway station, a hotel, the odd guest house and a youth hostel; all fairly useful should they be needed, though with less than 200 local inhabitants, you can imagine that there's isn't much excitement in the village itself.

Fort William
The views of Ben Nevis and the plethora of mounts to the south and east, boast the most dramatic scenery in all of Scotland. But they come a cost; for cyclists anyway. Getting closer involved the steepest climbing of the day, up onto the plateau of Rannoch Moor, and beyond, Glen Coe, which lies on the banks of Loch Leven.

With the hard climbing done, the final few kilometres leads from Glen Coe to Fort William which lies at the head of another loch, Loch Linnhe. Standing grandly to the south-east was a much closer view of Benn Nevis. The highest mountain in the United Kingdom, it rises 1,344 metres above the Irish Sea to the west. The second largest settlement in the Scottish Highlands, Fort William itself, is a major tourist centre, serving as a popular base for mountain climbers and walkers commencing (or more often finishing) the West Highland Way.
Two nights in Fort William, Roz and I spent the next day visiting Stirling, once the capital of Scotland; and known today as the 'Gateway to the Highlands'. 
Roz outside Stirling Castle 
Stirling Castle was not only a fortress, but a palace as well



Books by Mark Krieger:

                            High Spain Drifter, on Amazon

                                                        Also on Amazon

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