Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Heading for Unst, the last leg, and some thoughts on National Cycle Routes

The Mull2Muckle Scottish End-to-End, or Tom's Fairly Long Ride, is nearing completion, with midsummer tomorrow and the last approach to the Muckle Flugga shore station on Unst first thing tomorrow morning.

After the show today I'll drive to Toft, get the ferry to Yell, drive the 18 miles across (or up) the island (seeing as I cycled it on Sunday, both ways, 36 miles in total), catch the ferry from Gutcher to Belmont on Scotland's most northerly island, Unst, and begin cycling the 10-15 miles (no-one seems sure) to Haroldswick. An overnight there at the old RAF Saxa Vord and then, after the shortest night of the year, it's up to the Muckle Flugga shore station and we're done.

Time for some recollections and thoughts via the mull2muckle blog -

National Cycle Routes: are they fit for purpose?

In my experience on this trip, they're definitely not suitable for tourists who have a limited time and need to get to their destinations without necessarily (a) taking the route which visits every single hamlet or fencepost with-interesting-wire-attached; (b) avoiding even a smidgen of traffic; (c) visiting every private housing estate built in the last 35 years, often circuitously and both clockwise and anticlockwise (d) risking life and limb on atrociously maintained and dangerous canal towpaths, shared with weapon dogs and owners with home-made 'love' and 'hate' tattoos on their necks.

I admit that I do get bored with off-road cycling, so the otherwise soothing 14-mile Lochwinnoch loop railway track becomes some hellish condemnation to eternal, viewless monotony. The Forth and Clyde and Union canals have interesting wildlife, but after a while, you get all waterwayed out. Or in, if you hit one of the Union Canal's poorly maintained and presumably listed cobbled sections.

I'm going to approach Sustrans for their explanation for some of the routes. I presume they have parameters such as car usage and landowner attitude and permissions. But I'd really like to know if there are pressures on them to divert via (or indeed away from) the property of with a so-called 'stakeholder status'; if personal 'purist cyclist' approaches are taken so that steep 'healthy' ascents are included by default. What do they think makes a 'good' cycle route? And who wants to ride on pavements anyway?

At any rate, National Cycle Route One north nearly drove me distraction. And destruction, in the case of deciding to walk at the verge of the A90 in search of a cycle path which does NOT begin before the last turn off (golf course) to Stonehaven going north. And is not on any map. Forty-five minutes eyeballing approaching truckers to stop them encroaching on the dead-hedgehog area was not good for the spirits. But it did save over an hour and a half on the NCR, which veers crazily inland. As for the NCN route from Portlethen to Aberdeen itself - it's infuriating, dangerous, obscure and in the end, I abandoned it.

And another thing. Cycle paths are NEVER as smooth as roads. They ripple and they're always ripped apart by tree routes. The best cycling surface in Scotland, for me....is the main road through the island of Yell in Shetland.

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