I went for a bike ride the other day and decided that instead of the usual ride to Tentsmuir Sands through the forest near where I live that I’d head on to Leuchars. But when I got to Leuchars it felt too easy so I decided to carry on – to St Andrews (home of golf!)
The weather was pleasant and warm, I had plenty of water with me and even thought I’d never cycled that far, or that way, before I reasoned that as I was on part of the national cycle network I couldn’t really go wrong (plus I had my iPhone with me so if I got lost I could locate myself on Google Maps).
It was a fairly easy ride through a couple of small Scottish towns. After Tentsmuir Forest it is, for the most part, a mix of small suburban districts and cycling alongside a small motorway – not much to see really until you get to just outside St Andrews when you once more begin to see the coast.
What was odd was that even though I’d cycled quite a long way, all I’d done was cycle inland a bit, following the estuary, cross the bridge and then cycle east again, which meant that just as I was reaching the outskirts of St Andrews I could easily see RAF Leuchars across the water, which made my achievement much less impressive!
(Cycling near the RAF base is quite impressive as aircraft regularly come in to land. Last week at the beach I’d seen about four or five come in to land in close formation, sweeping out across the North Sea and back in again. On this ride two flew just a few hundred meters – if that – above my head – again in close formation. RAF Leuchars lost a plane a couple of weeks ago when it flew into a mountain near Glasgow and even though it looks like they’re going slowly from the ground, it must be a case of split-second timing inside the cockpit).
Anyway, just as I was reaching St Andrews I could see dark clouds looming from the south and realised why all the cows had suddenly started lying down when I was cycling through the fields just outside Leuchars. It began spitting at first but as I got in to St Andrews a steady drizzle started. Fortunately I’d packed my raincoat and went off to find a café to have lunch and a sandwich.
St Andrews isn’t short of nice independent cafes but of course I ended up in Starbucks! As it turned out, I was served by one of my own students! Small world…
I could see outside that the rain was now quite bad so I went back to the bike and got my waterproof(ish) trousers out, intending to change out of my shorts. Which meant finding another café…
The cycle back was in the rain which didn’t feel so bad but when I got back to the forest I took a wrong turn and ended up getting a bit lost, finding a small group of houses and following a minor road/track figuring it must end up in civilisation. I stumbled upon a bridge standing in the middle of a clearing. It didn’t connect to anything, just an old brick bridge on its own. Turns out it used to be part of the railway line that led from Edinburgh to Tayport, back when it was called Ferryport-on-Craig and was the main route to the north. Before the Tay rail bridge was built you had to get a ferry (while still on the train). After the bridge was built the line became less important (until the bridge fell down, of course) and eventually it disappeared, leaving just the bridge standing alone in the forest. I’ll go back and take a picture next week maybe – it’s very strange.
It turns out I’d ended up in a nature reserve and in better weather I’d have gone looking for deer and highland cattle, but as it was I was now feeling rather wet and despite it only being about 4pm the light was very poor. So I kept cycling and found a row of telegraph poles and cycled under them for a while, coming out at a farm and onto the road just south of Tayport. Home at last.
When I got in I realised quite how wet I was – absolutely soaked to the skin. But feeling quite good. A few minutes later, after a shower and a change of clothes, though, I sat on the sofa and my body caught up with what had just happened…
45km or 28 miles. That’s nothing to some cyclists, of course but considering my longest ride up to that point was about 18km, it’s quite a leap. Three hours, excluding the rest at St Andrews.
So, a somewhat unplanned adventure but a good one – fairly flat and easy. I intend to do it again when the weather improves (we’ve had a week of sun and showers after a couple of weeks of hot sunshine when, of course, I mainly sat around). But I also fancy trying a few other local rides. The Salmon Run goes from Dundee to Dunkeld via Perth, following the Tay and the route the famous Tay salmon take. There’s also a ride from here to Arbroath where the Smokies are produced (I could follow that route up to Aberdeen and then on either to John O’Groats or take a ferry to Orkney, but I think that would be a bit too much!). And the route to St Andrews carries on to Edinburgh and beyond in to England. You can see all the routes in the National Cycle Network at Sustrans’s website. But all those routes are trickier, over hills and a mix of on- and off-road.
I had planned to use my holidays for this but they seem to have flown by with little achieved – which is of course the point of a break. But there’s still plenty of summer left so time to do a few of these rides yet.