Bike exploring: Help for Heroes
OS GetOutside Champion, Helen Pollard, takes us on a great Mountain Bike (MTB) route used as part of the delivery of MTB leadership training to Phoenix House staff in collaboration with Cycling UK.
Cycling is a great way of getting out there at low cost. OS champion Anna Hughes recently undertook a cycling adventure for less than £50, including transit, accommodation and food. Here’s how she did it.
Cycling adventures are my favourite – you can go far and fast, cover enough ground to feel like you’ve really gone somewhere, and feel the freedom and closeness with nature that’s typical of saddle-travel.
One of the best ways to keep your expedition costs down is to stay within the UK. There are thousands of routes to explore.
Though I have travelled many thousands of miles around Great Britain by bicycle, train, boat and foot, I’m always finding new places to go and new things to see.
One of my main fascinations is water, especially inland waterways.
It’s the feat of engineering and the rich history that draws me most, plus the fact that they’re mostly flat, easily-navigable and tend to have frequent cafes and pubs – perfect for cycling!
My most recent trip was from Edinburgh to Glasgow along the length of the Forth and Clyde canal. It’s a waterway that has long drawn my attention, partly because it connects two great cities, partly because the Scottish views are always stunning, and partly because of the Falkirk wheel.
Being a boater and an infrastructure geek, I’ve been keen to see this marvel of engineering since it opened in the early 2000s, a rotating lift that moves boats between the Forth and Clyde canal and the higher elevation of the Union canal.
Eleven traditional locks once stood in its place, but they were replaced by this design, in which boats enter a watery trough which is then sealed and lifted by the wheel, arriving at the top level five minutes later.
And, being an infrastructure enthusiast, I couldn’t visit Edinburgh and not take a trip out to the famous Forth rail bridge, the elegant Forth road bridge, and the newly-opened and impressive Queensferry crossing.
I convinced fellow OS champion and infrastructure geek Jude to accompany me.
So the route was planned: we would ride a total of 80 miles over two days around the Forth from Edinburgh to Grangemouth, then inland along the canal towpath to reach the Clyde, and finally into Glasgow.
My preference for long-distance travel is by train, but with a £100+ one-way ticket (even advance is £70) I was on the hunt for something cheaper.
National Express offer an advance overnight fare to Edinburgh for £9, and a return from Glasgow for £10. Even though we’d get little more than a patchy night’s sleep, and we’d have to be desperate to use that toilet, it was too tempting a price. It was only one night.
The arrival into the Scottish capital and the excitement of the cycle ride would nullify any tiredness. The one major snag was that full-sized bikes cannot be conveyed via coach. The solution: we would ride folding bikes, mine a Brompton, Jude’s an Apollo.
I’m a member of Warmshowers, a world-wide community of reciprocal accommodation for travelling cyclists, and I have used this network extensively in my tours around the UK.
A major benefit of Warmshowers is that often hosts provide dinner and breakfast as well as a bed, which can substantially lower your costs.
This free hospitality survives on the generosity and kindness of its members, and I have had great experiences both hosting and being hosted. It’s easy to register for an account: warmshowers.org
We arranged to spend one night with Warmshowers hosts in Kirkintilloch, and our second night with a friend in Glasgow, though there were plenty of Warmshowers hosts there too, and there was also the option for a hostel which would have cost around £30 for the pair of us.
Breakfast on arrival was £5.95 each, followed by tea, cake and snacks throughout the two days which added up to around £20.
Lunch on both days was homemade: olive and pesto tear-and-share loaf, a fantastic picnic food which keeps and travels well. All you need is a pot of hummus and some carrot sticks and it’s a gourmet spread.
It was a terrific ride. We were lucky with the weather, and the shorts were on for day two. The panorama of the trio of bridges was superb, as were the views from up on the bridge itself.
The countryside surrounding both cities was beautiful, with mountains ever-present in the background, and the visit to the Falkirk wheel will live long in the memory.
But OF COURSE we should have done it the other way around. Though both experienced cyclists and seasoned tourers, we forgot about the prevailing winds that meant, for almost the entirety of our east to west cycle, we were battling a headwind.
Our folding bicycles did us proud. It made for an interesting adventure, to cover so many miles on such tiny wheels, and the bikes coped well with the miles and the terrain, though we were growing distinctly uncomfortable by the end of the second day.
But stowing the Brompton on the return coach, with the imprint of the sun on my cheeks and a glut of new memories, I had a surge of respect and affection for that ingenious little bike.
Transit = £21
Food = <£20
Accommodation = £0