Lochs 'n' Trossachs Tour, London to Stirling, Day 1, 10 May 2008
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10 May 2008 - The Cosmic Splendour and Cosmic Chaos of Tea (Beginning)

Packing, it might be the greatest challenge of any bike tour. Too much and it is heavy and you are miserable. Too little and you might have missed something vital (i.e. good rain gear). I consider packing for a few days before leaving, but as always, it is a bit of a last minute job. I am determined to finally crack the system for proper packing, two bags and a handlebar bag, I should know where everything is and be able to get to it without just dumping things on the floor and rummaging around. (See the report from last year's Northumberland tour for the consequences for having improperly packed and trying to find that spare inner tube in the bottom of the bag.) But this year, Linda has a car along (so decadent) and we can offload some luggage some days, so having to decide what I need along for the day (tools, rain gear, snacks) and what can go into the other bag that I won't need until later sort of forces me to come up with a workable solution. It isn't perfect yet, but it is better than before.

Anyways, 8:30 train at Kings Cross, must rush rush rush. The bags seem a little heavy but then again I have been zipping into work (late every day) carrying the laptop (the heaviest one known to man), so I guess it doesn't seem to be much more than that. Surprisingly, we are on time, well, a little early, and there are no train troubles. Nobody moans that we have bikes, it all goes pretty smoothly. On the train up, we try to think of a plan. There wasn't one yet, all there is that we have to be in Stirling that evening and our train is only going as far as Edinburgh. Lots of options, cycle all the way, take a train part of the way, take the train all the way. But Falkirk seems appealing and after a few texts to Ian, who is already in Edinburgh, we decide to meet at the station and catch the next train to Falkirk, and go from there.

At Kings Cross on time to catch the train to Edinburgh.

Which leaves us exactly six minutes to get off the train, get bikes and bags together, go up and down two sets of stairs, struggling with heavy bikes, buy tickets, find the next train, up and down those stairs, and catch the train. Luckily Ian has the train schedule wrong and we actually have more like 12 minutes, which is good because he was just buying the tickets when we find him. A burly guard blocks our way as we get to the platform. Oh no, I see a hassle over the bikes coming, but he only wants to see our tickets. Oh ok, everything is ok then. When the train comes, we rush to claim some space on the bike carriage. Another cyclists who was ahead of us nicely decides to catch the next train (thanks whoever you were) since there are only two spaces on the train (although the guard let us put three). (Insert rant here about the ever decreasing number of bikes allowed on trains. You can take an unlimited number of surf boards to Cornwall but no way will they let more than two bikes on a train. Sigh, no way Britain is ever going to get to sustainable transport as long as it is more expensive and more hassle to take a bike on a train somewhere than it would be to drive it there in your car.)

Heading to Falkirk to see the Falkirk Wheel.

Off the train at Camelon and trying to find the Falkirk Wheel. On the way back, I realize we probably went in a bit of a circle, but no matter, an extra mile won't hurt anybody. We follow the signs to the Wheel for a while and then spotting a canal and towpath we switch to that. The Wheel is all about canals, so follow one and you will end up there. The Wheel really is marvellous. It is enormous and all funky curves and angles and big gears. And there are some very simple basic principals at work to efficiently shift a few boats from the top to the bottom, hundreds of feet, which used to require just a crazy amount of locks. We sit and watch a group of boats pass through and have a few snacks.

Falkirk Wheel map/image

Time for a snack.

In operation.

Boat coming up off above.

And through a tunnel.

I was a bit lazy about maps on this tour. I brought a really large scale one and printouts of our routes for each day, but I didn't really have much for this Edinburgh to Stirling part of the trip. The Wheel visitor center has a few OS maps and we check those out since I at least knew that NCR 76 goes from Edinburgh to Stirling via Falkirk, but not much more than that. So, if we go up the A9 for a while and there should be a turn just after Torwood and hopefully we can find the route. The A9 was busy and annoying (as A roads tend to be) and it is quite a relief to turn off onto a country road. Holding our breath, and then a little further up we spot that familiar blue sign, Sustrans has been here. Now I might go on about Sustrans, how mad some of their routes can be (rocky, bumpy, through industrial estates, Britain-if you have a back alley that isn't on a Sustrans route yet, we want you, give us a call and let us know) but they are also fantastic. There is something so nice about being able to ride through completely unfamiliar cities and places without a map just by following those little blue stickers stuck on poles, signs, and anywhere else.

On Sustrans route 76 to Stirling.

It is a nice country road route and we go past Plane Tower (also known as Cock-a-Bendy Castle or Plean Castle) I look it up later, seems like it is a guest house now. A few dogs go crazy barking at us at we stop to look at it and when a mother and daughter appear down the road, oh no, go, can't be overtaken by a little girl, time to go. We take it slow, leisurely riding on the nice lanes. At a few points, Ian disappears, as he tends to, taking pictures or something.

Plane Tower ((also known as Cock-a-Bendy Castle or Plean Castle) link

There is a moment of indecision then. The sign points across a field and a road that looks rocky and bumpy, and the road also heads through the forest and looks like a little nicer road. We take a vote and the forest drive seems to be in the lead. After a bit of sitting around we take another vote and it has swung to the field road, so we take that. Luckily, that one seems to be the right way, it does seem to have been in the right general direction for Stirling. But then it isn't far now, soon we are on the outskirts of town, back on a B road and decide to forgo the rest of the Sustrans dirversions and just head straight into town. We follow the signs to the town center and realize we don't actually know where we are heading. A quick look at the tour notes gives us an address, which we find on the map of the town center in the pedestrian mall.

Which way now?

Picked the right way.

A quick shop at the M&S to pick up some porridge and a really excellent lemonade. I stay outside and watch the bikes. A man sits down nearby and assembles his drum and chair and his tray for change and then starts to play, drumming and singing quietly. It is really pretty fascinating. I just can't get a handle on the rhythm. There is one in there but I just can't translate it into anything I know. It makes me think of somebody running through the jungle, step step step step stutter stutter (to avoid roots or branches) step step etc. But I wonder what it is that inspires that sort of rhythm.

But they are back from shopping so it is time to go then. Besides the drummer was distacted by his mobile ringing and he stops drumming to chat with somebody. Our destination is just up the big hill a few blocks to the SYH. I make it a block before I realize that my rear tire is nowhere as firm as it should be. Damn. (Note this as a reoccuring motif during the tour. Lots of London glass was lurking in my tires waiting for the perfect opportunity to burst my inner tubes.) I end up walking up the steep hill, much to the amusement of a few earlier arrivals waiting at the top of the hill who just think the steep hill was too much for me. (Hmm, maybe the puncture story can be a good cover for getting out of all sorts of hills.)

Heading up the hill in Stirling.

But most of the group has already arrived and was just heading out to get some last minute supplies for dinner and breakfast. The hostel is in a fantastic building, apparently a old church, abandoned, much burned down, and then rebuilt fairly recently. And it is right next to the Old Town Jail, a Victorian castle-y looking thing. Mostly there is a lovely cherry tree out front shedding its pedals everywhere. We assemble in the dining room, chili is made, introductions all around, a few new faces for me but mostly old friends. There is much to eat, plenty of wine and then we retire for the night and prepare outselves for tomorrow, the first proper day of the tour. 23 miles for me for the day.

Tour Totals - 
Sat 10 - 23  Sun 11 - 51 Mon 12 - 53  Tue 13 - 43
Wed 14 - 64  Thu 15 - 47 Fri 16 - 45  Sat 17 - 34
Sun 18 - 58  Mon 19 - 0 Tue 20 - 38
456 total

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