So, half a year has passed since Boot and Bike last blogged. This morning I cycled in a pleasant 20 degrees, under a soft blue sky, peppered by puffy white clouds and, whilst January’s post appropriately eulogised about the snow, seasonal meteorological milestones are far from the only changes in a rather eventful six months.
Winter to summer; south to north; rural to urban; Trent to Clyde; level to hilly: a list of almost polar opposites. Throw in some other seismic events, such as a landmark (for ominous reasons) general election and it’s been quite a turnaround.
So having swapped the safe and leafy lanes of the Trent Valley for the edgier banks of the lower Clyde (inadvertently, I’ve always found myself within striking distance of some of our great rivers, now I’m literally in touching distance) and with a couple of months of housesitting, a further two confined to a camp bed until the furniture arrived, plus six week’s of marking thrown in for good measure, what’s the verdict so far?
Wonderful! Although deliveries, deadlines and essential domestic installations have restricted possible outings, having a cycle path outside the front window was always a large part of the deal and, so far, it certainly hasn’t disappointed.
15 minutes into town one way, 10 minutes into the countryside the other, all level, traffic-free, bordered by the vibrant shades of midsummer wild flowers, with rabbits, foxes, herons and even the odd deer for company; absolute bliss.
The Dear Green Place doesn’t usually feature on the lists of the most cycle-friendly cities and there is still a long way to go, but armed with a cycle-specific satnav and a good waterproof jacket (my priority clothing purchase), it is perfectly possible to get from A to B using traffic-free, or less busy roads, enjoying a different perspective on the city into the bargain.
Being appointed a paper girl by the Glasgow Women’s Library has not only been my most creditable achievement so far – narrowly beating my growing expertise at flat-pack assembly – but has also provided the ideal excuse to navigate my way around the streets delivering their publications and sampling some decent coffee en route: indeed, I can feel a “Best Coffee and Cake’ post coming on.
This morning’s jaunt round the cosmopolitan bars and delis of Shawlands was complemented by a sunny lunch in the exquisite Hidden Garden at the Tramway – spoilt only by a massive gull stealing the last quarter of my toast, before having the audacity to return to clear the plate it had knocked off the table!
Welcome to Glasgow, where even the gulls are gallus.
A perfect day to enjoy the wonderful Hidden Garden – just watch out for the gulls
A spring clean of the site should now, hopefully, make it easier to see what I do – sometimes it does take a neutral observer to identify a major problem and suggest an effective remedy, so many thanks to Susan Grossman @wordsallowed for her expert advice.
Much as I still harbour hopes to operate a sustainable travel service, complete with accommodation, I will always be, first and foremost, a journalist and writer and Boot and Bike is where I share my travel tales and thoughts on all things walking, cycling and environmental.
However, as is always the way, just as I was putting the final touches in place, my inbox was inundated with offers for cut-price banner advertising in the national media. Usually these kind of emails are consigned to the Junk folder – unless the offer is for the Daily Mail, in which case I have a ready reply – but as these latest messages were suggesting an appropriate slot in the Observer Magazine, I was at least slightly heartened that my SEO must now be working. Hopefully with the revamp, it will now do so more efficiently.
So, 2014 arrives with the alluring prospect of a winter trip to Abruzzo (in my opinion anyway) the most beautiful and unspoilt area of Italy, sandwiched between a couple of dramatic train journeys through the snow-covered Alps.
Hoping for a good covering of snow in the foothills of the Appenines, I’ll update you with my snowshoeing progress, as well as my thoughts on sampling the best of Milan’s coffee, culture and cuisine in inverno; and, as winter is the ideal time for some museum visiting, a viewing of The Last Supper is on the cards too.
When I return, it’ll be back to the keyboard, but not as a chore, because just as visiting beautiful places, sustainably, is a pleasure, writing about them is a privilege.
Last evening I booked rail tickets from my local station in Staffordshire to Milan, via London and Paris. Usually (this is the third time in 18 months I will travel this particular route and, as a lover of long-distance European rail travel, I’ve also journeyed to Munich, Venice, Vienna, Ljubljana, Budapest, Geneva, Lausanne and various destinations in France and the Low Countries over recent years) I refer to Seat61 for advice first, then book from Paris/Brussels to my destination on Rail Europe fit in the outward and inward connections on Eurostar and finally try to find the most reasonable fares to and from London on one of the many UK rail ticketing sites; a process at which I’m now reasonably adept, but which involves juggling four or five open webpages simultaneously and can be time-consuming.
This time I decided try out a new site Loco2 that allows travellers from the UK the opportunity to buy tickets direct from their local station to hundreds of European destinations. Verdict: completed the entire process, including registering, paying by credit card and printing tickets in a twenty minute window between finishing dinner and the start of Borgen.
Admittedly, as I can be rather obsessive about checking connections, as well as ensuring I find the best available price, I had previously checked the above sites earlier in the day and I still booked the journey in three stages (to catch the early Eurostar I have to leave the day before and stay overnight in London, so this made booking it as one single journey slightly more complicated) but being able to do so on a single site and with one payment, was far quicker and far easier – and the price wasn’t bad either, at £51 each way first class between Paris and Milan
So, well done Loco2 for an innovative and efficient site and thanks, as always, to Seat61 for continuing to provide everything anyone needs to know about train travel. I’m now looking forward to my week’s snowshoeing at the end of January in beautiful Abruzzo, smugly satisfied that I can take as much equipment as I can carry, without baggage penalties, as well as having the luxury of sitting back in my first class seat enjoying the snow-covered Alps on my way there.
And by the way, unlike Ryanair et al, on Loco2 apart from a credit card charge, there are no hidden extras and no nasty add-ons.
While reluctant to draw any more attention to the latest utterance of that tiresome publicity junkie, Eric Pickles, it is an unfortunate fact that the ‘right to park’ is one issue that generates raised blood pressure in this part of Middle England, even among supposed advocates of sustainable transport.
Mr Pickles’ latest suggestion that motorists should be able to park on double yellow lines for up to 15 minutes has, rightly, been ridiculed, not only by pedestrian and cycling groups, transport experts and safety campaigners, but also several retail spokespeople and even some motoring organisations.
But while this is merely the most recent instalment of Pickles’ unrelenting campaign to remain poster boy for the lazy, selfish, unfit disciples of entitlement and overconsumption in our society, it does raise some interesting, and depressing, insights into the attitude of many towards both car ownership and their ‘right’ to park wherever is most convenient to them.
One of the more heartening set of statistics that has emerged in recent years for those of us trying to improve and encourage sustainable transport throughout the country, has been the fall in overall car ownership. In particular, the results of the last census in 2011 show a marked increase in the number of car-free households. Indeed, in Inner London, the majority of households are now car free, while in Glasgow that figure rises to 65%.
But yes, I hear you cry, that’s in the cities where they have buses, trains, the underground – and, in any case, you can’t compare London with anywhere else in the UK. Life is very different out here in the rest of the country. Too true, and as someone who owns a car, not because I want to, or indeed, enjoy driving it, but because I live in a place with negligible public transport, I am only too conscious of this.
But the point is, as clearly shown by this article even in Inner London where a majority of households are now car-free, infrastructure and transport policies are still, overwhelmingly, being designed round the needs of private car owners. So the requirements of pedestrians and cyclists for safe areas to walk, cycle and socialise continue to be subjugated to the demands of motorists, when instead we need far more than even a level field policy to try to redress the current imbalance in favour of private motorised transport.
This is not a war on the motorist. I am a motorist, but I make no apology for trying to discriminate in favour of the less powerful (and less destructive) pedestrian and cyclist in order to achieve a safer, healthier, more environmentally friendly and more inclusive approach to transport in this country.
Despite what Clarkson and co might try to imply, there is no divine right to own and drive a car. In the UK at the moment, more than 25 per cent of adults do not have access to a private car – mostly for financial reasons, but also because of disability and age-related issues – and the majority of them are excluded from all kinds of employment and leisure activities because of this.
And, in spite of Eric Pickles’ best efforts, there is also no divine right for motorists to park their vehicles in the most convenient places for them. One man’s (or woman’s) accessible parking spot is another’s obstruction or source of danger. Parking on pavements and cycle lanes is potentially dangerous and often makes it impossible for those for whom they were designed to use them safely, or indeed at all.
The last thing we need is an escalation of the simmering conflict between motorists and cyclists we already see in some places. But, if we are serious about trying to emulate the cycling culture of The Netherlands and Scandinavia, then we have to accept that our road space is not big enough to provide safe areas for walking and cycling, while still indulging motorists with the belief that they have a greater claim to the roads, as well as the licence to park wherever is most convenient to them.
The Government could start by belatedly recognising that Eric Pickles is just about the worst mouthpiece possible if it really is serious about trying to improve the nation’s health and fitness (its promise to be the ‘greenest-ever government’ now being totally discredited). Far stricter sentences also need to be introduced and imposed on those who kill and maim other road users through carelessness, inattention and breaking existing laws, such as mobile phone use.
But, above all, those of us who are motorists, but say we are in favour of encouraging more sustainable transport need to put up, or shut up. We can’t have our cake and eat it.
Having recently fulfilled one of my all-time ambitions and become the proud owner of a pretty, Wedgwood blue Pashley Poppy – a smaller and sweeter version of its better-known big sister, the Princess – it has quickly become my favourite round-the-village bike, receiving many and varied compliments from the friends and strangers who we meet on our rides.
But, although over-the-moon with its looks, practicality and performance, it lacks one accessory I consider integral to complete the Pashley look – whereas the Princess has one as standard, the Poppy does not arrive with the de rigueur front wicker basket.
But, no worries, Pashley accessories are readily available on the the internet, so I duly order one online and begin, impatiently, counting the days until it arrives.
Well, if it’s in store on the Wednesday, then looking through my completely full glass, I reckon I might even be in luck on Thursday morning. But, damn, I’ll be out on Thursday until the middle of the afternoon; just like the thing if it arrives on the one morning I’m not at home for the next few days. But, relief, I arrive home around three to find no offending, accusatory “You Were Out” cards behind the letterbox.
Friday: it’s now a couple of days since it should have been dispatched and I’m becoming a little anxious. I wait in all morning, taking an unhealthily prurient interest in the comings and goings of the courier vans up and down the street. It’s hot and I really do need to take advantage of this unseasonal sunshine (it’s July, after all, when, in normal years, it invariably rains) to fit in a bike ride. Two hours on, trying painfully to cool down in a cold shower, I curse my stupidity at waiting in until early afternoon before riding 20 miles in 32 degrees of heat.
Over recent years, while clocking the regular deliveries of a former neighbour, who appeared to make his (fairly lucrative) living buying and selling on eBay, plus using my own experience of never being in when Parcelforce delivered my annual bundles of exam papers, I’ve become frighteningly knowledgable about the patterns of courier deliveries to our street. So, as it’s now Saturday, using the fruits of my research I calculate there’s no chance of a delivery today and head out, in even fiercer heat, for an earlyish morning ride.
Imagine my horror then, when I’m overtaken by a DPD van within a couple of miles of home! The prospect of my poor basket arriving unwelcomed to an empty house and having to be taken back to an inhospitable van – plus the excuse of forgetting my bike pump, as well as the even fiercer heat – convinces me to turn round and head for home after 15 miles.
There is one heart stopping moment when I arrive and peer nervously into the dark abyss behind the front door and see something – a card, flyer, envelope? – lying on the doormat. I approach it with trepidation before relief engulfs my fragile psyche and I crumple the brightly coloured invitation from the Christadelphian God botherers round the corner.
So, Saturday afternoon and at least I can rest easy for the next 30 hours of so, before resuming my lonely vigil on Monday morning. But Monday at 10am has been earmarked for my long-awaited tennis coaching lesson – postponed repeatedly because of marking commitments, Wimbledon viewing and re-arranged from last week in order to recover from the stress of watching the final.
Will my basket by lucky enough to be in transit with one of the couriers who text in advance to advise of their delivery window?
Will any of my neighbours be in?
Can I risk nipping out for some milk?
Will it arrive before 9.45am, or after 11.30am?
Will I ever be able to receive my basket?
Well, in the event, it was no to the first four questions and yes to number five. After rushing back from the tennis, I have time for a rejuvenating flat white, before my old friend, the Parcelforce delivery driver, knocks at the door.
“You see, I always bring you sunshine, ma’m,” he says with a smile as I sign his handheld computer thing.
Waiting in for deliveries, with its inherent frustration, disappointment, exasperation just has to be the 21st century’s ultimate form of control freakery.
So, just back from another wonderful week at Kokopelli combined with a few days either side in some of Italy’s most iconic cities.
For me, the best way to get to Kokopelli (or virtually anywhere else in Europe) is by train. There are several reasons for this but, essentially, by taking the train you can make the journey a positive part of your your holiday . So, instead of enduring the abusive security process, punitive baggage restrictions and the in-your-face travel experience that is flying, you can look forward to a comfortable, relaxed journey aboard some of Europe’s fastest and most technically advanced trains, with spectacular scenery flashing by your window.
Kokopelli is an eco-friendly campsite, run on the principles of self sufficiency and low environmental imprint.Therefore, if you are environmentally conscious and concerned about your carbon footprint, it makes little sense to fly there. According to Travelfootprint London to Rome by air creates 240-350 grams of co2 per passenger km travelled, compared to 50-75 grams by rail.
As most Kokopellites love the outdoors, they will often have equipment like skis, snowshoes, cycles, tents, walking and climbing gear. Unlike aircraft, trains have no baggage restrictions. Eurostar has recently altered its conditions for cycle carriage and now transports bikes, without bike bags, if booked in advance. This is well worth the £30 cost to avoid faffing around adjusting handlebars and pedals, particularly if you are touring with panniers. If you live near St Pancras you can also send your bike on to Paris/Brussels in advance which costs less. Have a look at Eurostar’s bicycle carriage and information about taking bikes on trains throughout Europe.
Kokopelli is situated roughly in the middle of Italy, so going by train means you can combine your trip with some city visits: Turin, Milan, Bologna, Rome, Florence, Naples; the choice is yours.
The train can also be much cheaper, particularly if journeying overnight: if travelling as a family or in a group, prices in couchettes can be as low as around £30 per person. And remember, an overnight fare includes your accommodation. You also waste less time as you are travelling when you are normally asleep and kids invariably love sleeping on a train!
But the best reason for travelling by train is simply that it is better. Instead of detracting from your holiday experience, it adds to it. Rather than wasting time in soulless, indistinguishable airport terminals, you get to experience life in other countries as well as the chance to engage with people.
On one journey the Italian family at the same table “forbade” me to go to the buffet and insisted I share their lunch of bread, mozzarella, tomatoes, prosciutto and local wine: something of a contrast with your typical Ryanair experience.
So, how do I organise train travel to Kokopelli? Well, the good news is that it is actually ridiculously easy; you do not need to move from your computer screen, there are no concealed extra charges and planning the journey can be an exciting way to involve all members of the family/group.
1. Make sure you consult Mark Smith’s indispensable SEAT61 as this gives every possible source of advice on routes, destinations, booking tickets and just about everything else.
2. The nearest major station to Kokpelli is Pescara – liaise with Jacqui and Kevin about transfers etc – so look at the information on how to travel there. But you may want to combine your trip with visits to other places in Italy, so look at all the options here.
3. Decide if you want to travel during the day or overnight: if I’m travelling on my own I tend to go during the day as individual sleeping accommodation is only available in first class and because I enjoy the trip though the Alps. But, if travelling as a family/group and if time is at a premium, overnight can be the better option.
4. I book tickets in three stages: direct with EUROSTAR for London to Paris, with RAIL EUROPE for Paris to Turin/Milan and ITALIA RAIL or TRENITALIA for any other journeys within Italy. Booking just under two months in advance I paid £69 return on Eurostar; £116 first class Paris-Turin return and the most expensive of my five first class tickets across Italy cost €29 for a three hour journey from Pescara to Bologna. Often the best deal was the first class offer.
5.If you have a currency card, such as CAXTON FX use it to pay for the tickets billed in euros and you won’t attract any conversion charges.
6. You will have to change stations in Paris from Gare du Nord to Gare de Lyon. The easiest way to do this is by metro, using the green D RER line. Tickets cost €1.70 at the time of writing, so make sure you have some loose euros and cents, although the machines do give change. Eurostar information desks sell books of metro tickets and provide maps of Paris. The metro is easy to use; just follow the signs and use the destination information to check you’re going in the right direction. There is only one stop, Chatelet les Halles, between Gare du Nord and Gare de Lyon.
Finally, on French and Italian long distance trains the standard of on board accommodation is generally excellent. However, despite commodious luggage racks at the end of each carriage (Virgin take note) Italian and French travellers seem to prefer to lug their cases to their seats! Do make sure your luggage is clearly labelled as French police boarded the train at the border to check this on my return journey.
Bon voyage; buon viaggio!; enjoy the journey, it’s part of your holiday.
Postscript: arrived back safely last night, having left Milan at 6am. Journey went like clockwork – TGV was actually held up at one point on the Italian border, but made up so much time it arrived at Gare de Lyon seven minutes early – only downside was last lap home from Euston to Lichfield Trent Valley. The concourse was packed, as was the train, with many passengers without seats and only their good humour and the diplomacy and good sense of the train manager avoided any serious incident. Arriving at my destination, a busy stop on West Coast Main Line, is like stepping out into the third world: there is no lift over the line, the station was closed (London Midland deem it unnecessary to man the premises after 7pm) and those of us having to wait for lifts/taxis got soaked as there is no shelter.
The joys of UK’s privatised rail network; and to think these train operating companies take millions of our tax money every year, but that’s another story….
If there is one topic that is bound to engage anyone who attempts to travel sustainably, it is the question of how to convey bicycles on public transport. What is more more interesting though, is how opinion on the best way to do this divides the cycling community itself.
This was brought home to me last week during a discussion with fellow Sustrans’ volunteers over Eurostar’s cycle carriage policy. I must admit I was genuinely surprised by the venom directed towards Eurostar’s ‘new’ policy of charging £30 to convey bikes in a dedicated space.
The reaction intrigued me because, having transported my bike this way last year, I certainly didn’t regard it as a ‘new’ policy. Yet the discussion was apparently stimulated by a request from a cyclists’ organisation to support its opposition and lobby Eurostar to reinstate the previous method of carriage where bikes could be conveyed, free of charge, in suitable bike bags.
It seems strange that since the policy changed as far back as 2008, it has only emerged as an issue now – perhaps Eurostar’s new user-friendly website has made its conditions of carriage clearer? However, there is no denying that transporting a bike is problematic and is further complicated by the plethora of conditions and methods of carriage among the different companies in our competing privatised rail system.
Ideally, I long for the days of the old guard’s van, where you could turn up and wheel your bike on board, without any prior reservation or special ticket. Similarly, I also look back with affection to the same days when you could pitch up at the booking office and buy a reasonably priced ticket without having to book it months in advance online. But, unfortunately, those days are gone and, however reluctantly, we have to make the best of the current system and continue to lobby all operating companies for more bike spaces on trains.
Having transported a bike regularly on trains throughout the UK over recent years, I admit I always fear the worst case scenario where, despite having a bike reservation, there are no spaces left, or on smaller trains, the designated space is already occupied by wheelchairs and buggies. Generally, in my experience, all such situations have been resolved by flexibility and the good sense of the train manager.
Interestingly, the most hostile scenario I have faced – with the prospect of having to leave a long distance train, despite having the correct reservations – was caused by a fellow cyclist who refused to remove his bike from the reserved space because he didn’t see why he should have to make a reservation. In this case it was the insistence of the train manager, plus the threat of removal by transport police, that granted me my reservation.
But ultimately, the moral of the story is that, however much you may dislike the regulations, failure to obey them, deliberate or otherwise, penalises only your fellow cyclists, not the train operating companies or Network Rail.
Returning to my initial point, I found Eurostar’s ‘new’ policy seamless and well worth the price to avoid the stress and hassle of trying to board a crowded train with an awkward bike bag and two heavy panniers. I would also gladly pay £30 if it means not having to assemble and disassemble handlebars and pedals every time I transport the bike. But I recognise opinion is split on this issue and those of a more mechanical bent, who own a bike bag and travel light, may not agree, even though £30 compares very favourably with air travel where you usually pay more and have to use a bike bag.
The figures from neutral rail observers, as well as Eurostar, show a huge increase in cycles now being transported across the Channel since the system changed. Surely, we should at least be positive about this and try to work with operating companies to further improve bike carriage, rather than negatively oppose every new initiative, however successful?
Mid March; the best time of the year for walking, according to many experts and so, happily, it proved for me. As much of the country shivered in the face of vicious easterly winds and and a blanket of snow covered the south coast, this Glasgow morning dawned clear and bright, with a sharp frost soon levelling into a perfect, early spring day.
I was on my way to Balloch to try out the first stage of a relatively new trail, the Three Lochs Way, linking Lochs Lomond and Long, the Gare Loch, with a stretch of the Firth of Clyde thrown in for good measure. The route begins in Balloch, travels west to Helensburgh, then north to Garelochhead, continues up to Arrochar, before finally winding its way to Inveruglas at the north end of Loch Lomond.
It’s a low level trail, with few steep gradients and, as it generally follows the course of the West Highland Railway, it’s possible to walk all sections as linear routes and use the train to get to and from the start/finish points. The first section is ideal for this, as both Balloch and Helensburgh are termini on Glasgow’s suburban rail network. It’s perfectly possible to walk the route in either direction: just buy a return to either station, then a single from the other to Dalreoch and the rest of your return ticket will take you back to the city.
My preference is to start in Balloch and walk towards Helensburgh. This way, you enjoy the unmatched experience of leaving the loch and views of Ben Lomond behind you, just as the coastal vistas over Kintyre come into sight: a unique joy, whatever the time of year.
My other reason is equally hedonistic, but for gastronomic reasons. Finishing in Helensburgh provides the ideal reason to visit my favourite cafe in the area; the Riverhill Deli and Cafe in Sinclair Street. The coffee bears comparison with anything north of Turin and their delectable cakes and pastries, including the incomparable millionaire’s shortbread, are the perfect way to cap a marvellous day in the outdoors.
Head out from Balloch station and turn left at the information centre. Walk along the street until you reach the roundabout and take the the third turning into a quiet, residential street. You will soon see a footpath sign pointing left, take this and walk along the track crossing the footbridge over the A82.
This is known locally as the Stoneymollan Road, an ancient drove and coffin route and it leads uphill to a plantation gate. Walk through the plantation and turn right after about 800 metres at the T junction, before heading north round the edge of the plantation.
Until this point, the route follows well marked paths, but the next part is not on a defined track and it is strongly advisable to have a map and navigational aids. The route now veers off to the west though the trees. You must follow the red and white tape on the trees which marks the route over the burn and up the slopes of the Killoeter Escarpment.
Volunteers regularly check that the tape markers are in place, but if any are missing, or if you wander off route, you will need to be able to navigate yourself through this section using a map or compass.
Finally, after about 300 metres of climbing uphill when the end of a forestry road comes into view (from this point onwards the trail follows obvious, well-marked paths), follow it to the T junction. Turn left to continue to Helensburgh, but a short detour to the right takes you to the highlight of this section, the views from the top of Goukhill Muir. It’s only a short climb to 281metres, but the panorama compares with vistas normally only enjoyed from far higher summits.
A few clouds had invaded the previous unbroken blue of the sky, but Loch Lomond glinted tantalisingly in the sun, protected by the solid mass of Ben Lomond, its peak wrapped in a thick layer of snow. The line of islands below looked like giant stepping stones en route towards Balmaha and the blue of the loch was almost tropical in its intensity.
To the north, the snow-covered peaks of the Arrochar Alps jutted dramatically into the midday sky and, turning westwards, the Gareloch shimmered like a dark ribbon below the Rosneath Peninsula. Few viewpoints serve up such sumptuous rewards and reaching them usually requires much more strenuous effort.
The heather was dry and, and a sheltered spot just off the path was a perfect place to stop for some lunch, before beginning the descent to Helensburgh. The majority of the route now follows a newly-constructed path and provides more fine views as the town and the Firth of Clyde come into sight, spoiled only by the mess of what appears to a scrapyard surrounding a cottage on the outskirts of Craigendoran.
Emerging at Hermitage Academy, you are a couple of miles out of Helensburgh and another advantage of completing the trail in this direction is that, should the weather turn inclement, or time be at a premium, you are only metres away from Craigendoran Station and half-hourly trains back to Glasgow.
Otherwise, turn right and follow the main road into Helensburgh. At one time regarded as the ‘Brighton of Glasgow’, the resort is renowned for its substantial Victorian villas and tree-lined streets.
I was too early in the year to enjoy the blossom that infuses the town later in the spring, or to re-visit the Hill House, one of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s most iconic designs. But I was happy to sip my excellent flat white and sample the said shortbread in Riverhill’s convivial atmosphere before heading the few metres back to Helensburgh Central for my return to the city.
Trains to and from Balloch, Helensburgh and Craigendoran:
Map: OS Explorer 347, Loch Lomond South
Please remember: although gradients are fairly gently and tracks are good, one section of this route is currently pathless. It is strongly advisable to have a map and navigational aids and be confident in your ability to use them. If you are unsure and/or you cannot follow the marked tape, always re-trace your steps.
My first reward when receiving this guide was to discover that, not only was there a networked cycle route following the entire course of the Rhine, but here was a detailed route guide, complete with background information, advice on general and bike specific preparation, plus help with food, accommodation and general services en route.
Tracing the route of a river, from its infant source through to its final entry into an estuary, or the sea, has always fascinated me, particularly in analysing how that river has affected habitation and human activity along its course. When that river is the Rhine and its 1300km course passes through six countries, following its route will provide a unique insight into a variety of different cultures, as well as an appreciation of how the Rhine has shaped and influenced the great events in European history over the centuries, from the Romans, through internecine Medieval conflict to the Second World War.
For cyclists, particularly those embarking on a long-distance ride, complete with packed panniers and other equipment distributed across their bikes, the idea of a route following a river has instant appeal as, by definition, it will be downhill all the way. As the Rhine’s source is located high among the Swiss mountains – conveniently accessed by a bike-carrying train – then this route provides the mouth-watering prospect of free-wheeling down the steep early stages, before enjoying some relatively easy pedalling along the flat agricultural land of the Netherlands towards journey’s end at the North Sea.
The topography also makes this route suitable for cyclists, who as long as they possess a reasonable degree of fitness, do not necessarily have to be experienced or super fit. Indeed, the comprehensive, non-technical advice contained in this guide is particularly well-suited to enthusiastic, would-be cycle tourers who have not previously completed a long-distance ride.
As with all Cicerone guides, the Rhine Cycle Route is amply illustrated with photographs of many places of interest, as well as containing a wealth of vital maps, showing the best passages through urban areas and detailed sections outlining each stage of the route. And even allowing for its 250 pages, its compact size makes it ideal for convenient stashing in the back pocket of a cycling shirt.
Sadly, I was a little disappointed with some inaccuracies in the section detailing how to reach the route by rail. Given the wealth of detail elsewhere, clearly based on painstaking research, this might seem like an over pedantic moan, but as getting to the start of a cycle route should always been done in as carbon-friendly method as possible, it would be a shame if this discourages some people from taking the train to the start.
It is perfectly possible to book in advance and take your bike with you on the same Eurostar service. It costs £30 and this service has been available for several years (although not from Ebbsfleet or Ashford). Alternatively, you can turn up on the day with your bike, pay £25 and, in 80 per cent of cases, it will travel on the same train: if not, Eurostar guarantees it will arrive at your Eurostar destination within 24 hours. Bikes don’t have to be boxed and Eurostar no longer carries boxed bikes in the luggage areas
The recently updated Eurostar site has a user-friendly page on cycle carriage For all matters relating to train travel here and in Europe, do always refer to Mark Smith’s indispensable Seat 61 as this also includes up-to-date information on the growing number of TGV and other high-speed services that are now carrying bikes – Seat 61 I suggest, would be an invaluable addition to the appendix of this and similar guides.
Nerdy train details apart, this is a useful guide to an enticing route and one that has certainly whetted my appetite for a mountain-to-coast ride down the Rhine