Across Caledonia

We took our bikes on the Caledonian Sleeper to Fort William, cycled across the Cairngorms and came home on the sleeper from Aberdeen. Here’s the story:

Sleeper from Crewe to Fort William. Note that if you take this train with bikes you are likely to have get up at 03:30 in Edinburgh and move them from one coach to another, because the train splits and the bike carriage for Ft William only joins the train then. Our host was able to squeeze the bikes into an empty compartment but it was quite a palaver getting them in and out.

It was great to wake up in the highlands with snow-covered mountains all around.


However, by the time we got to Fort William the snow had retreated to the mountain tops. We followed the bike route (NCN78) to Inverlochy Castle,  took an unecessary detour around Corpach, then on the well-laid cycle track alongside the Caledonian canal. Came off at Garelochead, saving the rest of the route to Inverness (now fully open – the Scots have been busy) and over to Spean Bridge to stay at the excellent Spean Lodge with dinner at Russell’s – an expensive evening.

Next day following an aborted attempt to follow a back road, on to the A86 over to Newtonmoor. Not too much traffic on this road and gentle climbing, stopping at Strath Mashie  Wildlife reserve and Achduchil getting onto NCR7 just outside the town. at Newtonmoor we stayed at  (? B&B) and ate at (? Restaurant) Good beer at the Glen.
Next day continuing along 7, on good off-road paths and forest roads to Boat of Garten (just one poor bit at Coylumbridge  Just outside Aviemore with busy traffic. )
Took the Speyside railway to Aviemore and cycled back on the off-road over moorland – a great easy route.
Monday from BoG via the Osprey centre – the nesting pair are incubating eggs, everyone’s on tenterhooks hoping for a successful delivery – then over the hills to Tomintoul. Our first impression was that this is a town that doesn’t really know what to do with itself – great walking and cycling and there’s the whiskey tour but nothing to really entice you to the place. One feels that dead hand of the Crown Estate.
But by Tuesday  we had warmed to Tomintoul – our hosts were very hospitable. We toured Glenlivet and enjoyed the wee dram, got hailed on along the road, picnicked at the Bridge of Avon and finished off with a damn fine Pizza at Gordon’s. The Crown had certainly furnished the area with lots of picnic sites and walking and cycling trails.
Wednesday was a hard day. We could see at breakfast that the clouds were heading in the wrong direction and predictions of 20mph winds with 40 mph gusts turned out to be true. We started out well but as we headed up the hill towards Lecht the going got harder and we were soon off the bikes, pushing hard against a punishing wind. By the time we got to the ski centre we were desperate for transport to Ballater to get us out of a dangerous situation but none was available so we just had to carry on walking even down the hill.
The total lack of any cover meant that we were hanging on to the bikes as we descended and it didn’t get any better as we passed Cockbridge and into Strathdon. There were short sections we could ride but then we had turned into the next pass which was just as bad. Finally the road turned and we enjoyed  the last 6 miles or so into Ballater. I reckon we had walked about 10 of the 27 or so miles we travelled that day. Walking with a bike in a blasting head and a side wind isn’t the most ergonomic thing you can do so our backs and shoulders really took the strain – it’s going to take a fair bit of back massage and yoga to sort that out. This being the 5th day of the very merry month of May, you can imagine what it’s like earlier on in the year. The last 6 miles however were bliss – the road changed direction and we were blown down the valley.
We stayed at the Deen Hotel in Ballater – not somewhere I’ll be rushing back to. A noisy pump somewhere in the innards of the building ensured a restless nights sleep. Luckily the Alexandra Hotel had furnished us with an excellent fish and chip supper with pints of  Cairngorms Trade Winds beer that had also sustained on previous nights.
Thursday. Forcing down yet another overblown hotel breakfast, we took to the Deeside trail which was to be our route down to the bright lights of Aberdeen. Ballater had suffered from floods over the winter and I feared that the trail, the former Deeside railway that brought Queen Victoria up to Balmoral back in the day, would be rough going, but it had fared reasonably well with some emergency repairs. The worst problem we encountered was some dustbowl conditions where a farmer had ploughed his land when it wasn’t ready for it and the topsoil was blowing away. Having said that the surface wasn’t very good for much of the trail – as we were heading down the valley with the wind behind it didn’t really affect us but if we had been heading in the opposite direction we might well have taken to the roads, which weren’t that busy.
We took to the road between Aboyne and Banchory. Once we reached Peterculter though, we had a good quality surface all the way into the city centre, where Google Maps took over and directed us to friendly Skeyne House, our City Centre apartment. Good beer and food awaits us at the Grill, Fusion and Under the Hammer. and then we repaired to the apart hotel to await the election results.
On Friday we had a walk around town, had a great lunch at the Adelphi Grill, strolled up the coast to the River Don estuary and back via Old Aberdeen and the University, stopping in at the busy St Machar for a pint, followed by great Tapas at Nargiles and a final beer at Aitchie’s Ale House before boarding the Sleeper. They had “lost” the 2nd class coach – careless of them – so we had to sleep in first class, shame. Even getting turfed off at Crewe at 5:30 the next morning didn’t seem so bad.


Across the Border to Flintshire

I visited some friends in Flint-shire this weekend. I set off on the Brompton catching the 8:40 Liverpool, full of smartly dressed people clutching boxes of Budweiser and heading for the Aintree Iron. De-training at Stockport, I caught the Cheshire Lines service. The last time I got this it was a crowded Pacer and not very comfortable, but this time it was a 3-car Sprinter and OK.  This train takes a crafty route to get to Altrincham, the most direct route having been taken over by Metrolink, but after that heads across the plains towards that most Roman of Northern cities.

I’d taken the millennium greenway before out of Chester and knew it was a great route so resolved to do it again. The Shropshire Union canal heading north links up with it, and then it’s a straight shot out to the Hawarden Bridge to cross the Dee. Following my nose I used the Liverpool – Wrexham line as a route guide and headed up a narrow lane that was closed for patching – clearly there had been some flood damage around here. Climbing the hill got me to my friend’s house.
That afternoon we headed back down the hill and crossed the bridge again to visit the Wirral. This is an area I hadn’t visited before and it was a very pleasant surprise. On the north side of the Dee estuary, you cross a bird sanctuary on a raised walkway and follow the route to Park Head.
There’s a great pub called the Harp and fish’n’chips to be had.It was a spring tide so there was water right up to the shore, unusually.
Later on we visited the hostelries in Hawarden, ancestral home of the Gladstones.
The next Morning after a leisurely breakfast over cycling chat,  I headed in the Homeward direction. Sadly the wind had got up and was not in my favour, but nevertheless I was determined to follow the River Dee into Chester. The city is blessed with two traffic-free routes into Wales, the disused railway and the river path and both are excellent quality. They also join up to make a great oval route for a leisure ride and many people were taking advantage of that.
They also form part of the North Wales coast cycle route. Today, however, it was heavy going with that blasting headwind slowing me down considerably. In these circumstances it is best to treat the headwind like a very long uphill climb, select a gear you feel comfortable in and pootle along – trying to fight the wind and go faster will just wear you out.
Rather than head for Chester Station, however, I had resolved to cycle through the city and head east towards the forest of Delamere. It’s easy to switch from the river to the Greenway in Chester – just head for the canal
The Greenway continues through the city – I had spotted it from the train on the way in – so with a short diversion to the retail park for provisions I carried on through. As well as the Greenways, Chester has a network of off-road paths that are of reasonable quality. Other attraction such as the Zoo are linked from the Greenway.
There has been a spate of pics on social media comparing a UK muddy track with an excellent Dutch cycle route – this amongst many other projects across the UK show that not all our bike routes are like that.
The Greenway ends at the former junction with the live railway east of the city and you have to take the roads. NCN5 had veered off somewhere – I’m not quite sure where. There is a section on an A-road but this was not busy – the area has plenty of motorways and dual carriageways as well. Then it’s back onto the lanes.
Beyond Mouldsworth there’s a short climb into Delamere forest, I found a back route in, but the area of forest I found myself in is the MTB Skills area, with steep banks and very muddy tracks  that had been churned up by the MTB’ers, so hard going on the Brompton. I climbed out of that however, crossed the road and used a hard track to get to Delamere station which is on the south side of the forest. Trains on only once every two hours on Sundays and I had an hour to wait, but there is a station cafe so I was able to while away the time with a cup of tea and Piece of Bakewell. In time for the Durrells, Undercover and even Indian Summers on +1!
Back in Sheffield, I noticed the new pocket park that has emerged in the CIQ next to the Matilda building.
 These little parks collect back-filling water in times of flood, allowing it to drain away later.

SCR Route Audit Rides

Cycle routes are subject to change and I need to make sure they are still current, otherwise people get lost when trying to use the routes. So, I am planning to run a FULL ROUTE AUDIT on the site, i.e. by riding all the routes. I anticipate that the audit will take two years to complete and all cyclists are invited to participate.
Ride Profile: Rides will be slow with regular stops to check route detail. refreshment stops etc.
The routes are divided into the following categories:

Suggested rides – these are short circular rides and audits will take place on weekday evenings during BST
Local short routes – these are short linear routes and audits will take place on weekday evenings.
Sheffield to… These routes start in Sheffield.
…to Sheffield these routes terminate in Sheffield.
Cross City Routes

Long Distance Routes – these rides can be completed in a single day and  audits will take place at weekends.

Further Afield – These longer rides will require a full weekend to complete.

For the longer routes as they are linear you may need some onward transport to get home.
The Audit Schedule as it emerges is in this Google doc and the rides will also be placed in the CycleSheffield calendar. All are welcome to participate!
Additionally I always welcome comments about the routes on the site.

Fort Dunlop to the Country Bookstore

Researching these routes takes me to some interesting places. For example, the other Saturday I found myself cycling up the A47 from Birmingham to Fort Dunlop on the outskirts of the city, at 10:30 in the evening. So, I hear you ask, what was that like?

In one word – horrible. It’s a dual carriageway road with, overall, no protection for cyclists. The first couple of roundabouts had subways that I suppose I could have used but my previous experience of subways in Brum has not been good – hostile places, broken glass, dodgy looking characters hanging around – so I preferred to chance it with the traffic. Luckily at that time of night there wasn’t much traffic but what there was, was mostly boy racers out for a burn.

At one point there was a speed indicator (limit was 40) and every single car that passed me as I approached it was breaking the limit.

Much of it didn’t have any pavements so there wasn’t  any opportunity to  get off the road – further out there were but not even set up for shared use. There had been some efforts to provide for cyclists at the junctions further out, but once past the junctions you were dumped back on the road.

In the daytime there is a canal towpath you can use but I don’t think that would have been a good place to cycle at that time of night. Local campaigners say that Birmingham officers claim that there “isn’t enough space” for protected space for cyclists in Brum. Based on this experience this is simply not true, there was plenty of space available, it has just all been given over to motor traffic. Where there were pavements the overall environment was so horrible you would have to be desperate to use it. Barely a tree to be seen along the whole route to Fort Dunlop. What you have  instead is canalised river, motorway, railway and the dual carriageway.

At FD itself, where quite a bit of development has taken place, there has been a bit of an effort to cater for cyclists with toucan crossings etc – hardly up to Dutch standards but just about usable.

After a good night’s sleep at  the Travelodge – view from my window attached – I set off back up north in the morning. A circuitous route off Broomford Rd got me on to the Birmingham and Fazakerly canal – this was good for a while if litter-strewn but then the surface turned to mud so I got off onto quietish lanes, heading up towards Tamworth.
Somehow I ended up on the A38 and did about 10 miles on that, which was very fast if a little scary, but made me think about how quickly you could get about on a bike if you had direct routes – most of the time we are forced onto winding routes that are pleasant enough but slow you down substantially. I came off at Lichfield and got onto NCR54, coming off that nr. Burton and heading up to Ashbourne for the Tissington trail, eventually heading for Bakewell where I ran out of puff and got the missus to pick me up.  The best thing was, the weather was fantastic! However, this particular route won’t be on my recommended list – we do have some quality control.

By contrast, a couple of weekends later we did NCN5/54 Birmingham to Burton – great to see that the canal towpath is being resurfaced, hopefully this will reach Wolverhampton and beyond – I have yet to get through Wolverhampton without getting lost. Other than that the worst problems we encountered were a lot of litter on Roebuck Lane, Smethwick and missing signage in Walsall. Otherwise congrats to Brum on creating this sustainable route out of the Motorway City.

Take the Bike-Rail Survey!

ATOC say:-

The number of cycle-rail users is growing each year and so it’s important that the Association of Train Operating Companies, understand how best to provide you with helpful information when you’re planning a rail journey with a cycle.

They want to make your cycle-rail journey as simple as possible with the view to clarify information around station cycle facilities, hire schemes nearby and cycle restrictions on board trains.

Take their short survey which will take between 10-15 minutes to complete. As a thank you for your time all completed surveys will be entered into a free prize draw where four lucky winners will win £25 worth of Amazon gift vouchers each.

The survey and prize draw will close on 31st January. Details of how to enter can be found at the end of the survey.

The link is:


Here’s a song you can hum as you ride around Sheffield-

Welcome to Sheffield Cycle Routes!

Welcome to the Sheffield Cycle Routes website – the definitive guide to getting out and about by bike in Sheffield and South Yorkshire. I try to keep this as up to date as possible, but if you spot any errors or route closures please let me know via the comments. If you know of a great cycle route in South Yorkshire and roundabout, let me know and I’ll see about including it!

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“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” – Yogi Berra

It takes a lot of going wrong before you find the best route.