A now three year old tradition for Ewan (my 10 year old son) and I, is our three day annual cycle tour. In 2019, aged 8, we did our first from Market Harborough to Bicester and in 2020 we cycled from Stafford back home to Coventry. This year we decided to leave England and head up to Scotland for a Coast to Coast challenge!

The planning

Inspired by Bike Packing Scotland’s films of the John Muir way, we plotted a variation on the route from Inverkip on the West Coast to Dunbar on the East.

Some careful route planning on Komoot, a route & adventure planning tool, created a pretty flat ride with only one tough climb that we would be doing on the first day. What I love about Komoot is all the suggestions for things to spot and detail over the type of surfaces and routes you will be riding; really useful when planning rides with children. We also put a shout out on Facebook and got some great ideas back on cafes to visit and other sights to look out for.

Getting there

A long Avanti train ride took us from our home in Coventry up to Glasgow, with a cafe stop & train change in Wigan. We stayed the night at a central Glasgow Travelodge and partook of a good fried breakfast before catching a local train out to Inverkip to start our ride on the Monday morning.

Day 1 – Inverkip to Glasgow 

The traditional tyre dip in the sea completed, we headed along NCN753 enjoying the traffic free cycle route which was to be the case for over 70% of our overall ride, perfect for cycling with children not only for the safety aspect but because it allows you to spend more time chatting and enjoying the views; great family time.

Hungry by the time we got to Port Glasgow, the only sustenance we could find was a McDonalds, Ewan was happy, me not so much, but it filled a hole. Then the hard work began as we cut inland on NCN75 for our biggest climb of the tour; a definite challenge on fully loaded bikes and relieved to be getting it out of the way on the first day! The summit rewarded us with views over the River Clyde and then a long, gradual descent all the way to the first day’s destination the Airport Travelodge back in Glasgow.

On the way we passed a “Roman Legion” as well as other sculptures and enjoyed a coffee and cake break at Bernie’s Cafe Deli in Bridge of Weir. The riding was superb, route 75 was tarmacked and traffic free, though the last few miles to the Travelodge were more road based and took us through some “interesting” Glasgow urban landscapes. 

Our bikes safely lodged in our room,  we tucked into pizza and afterwards took a little walk to explore the airport and examine the vintage tractor that had turned up on a trailer in the hotel carpark!

Day 2 – Glasgow to Linwater

Can’t beat starting the day with a good breakfast, then on to our bikes and off to catch the Renfrew Passenger Ferry across the Clyde (which also took bikes!). Once on the north bank, we headed to the Forth & Clyde canal to join NCN754, far better than the canal towpaths I’m used to riding; tarmacked with plenty of space for passing. The canal was surprisingly quiet of boat traffic but not of wildlife so we enjoyed heron spotting as we glided along.

Impressed as I was at the quality of the path, apparently it’s not good enough; Sustrans were working on improvements and we spent a few minutes answering a survey with a volunteer who was keen to find our views on the route and why we were using it.

WatcFollowing a delicious mid-morning coffee and cake break in Kirkintilloch at Cafe Mariana we pressed on to our big moment of the day, the Falkirk wheel. Ewan and I had been really looking forward to seeing this amazing piece of engineering. We enjoyed lunch while watching its slow but impressive rotation transporting boats from the Forth & Clyde canal at the bottom to the Union canal at the top. For us that same journey involved straining the muscles as we zig-zagged up the path that took us to continue our journey along the Union canal. This started in spectacular fashion as we journeyed through the colourfully lit Roughcastle Tunnel and then the Falkirk tunnel with its rough hewn rock formations.

We continued our journey along the Union canal towpath, still more than adequate though not quite up to the standard of that along the Forth & Clyde canal. What did provide a challenge were the impressive aqueducts, taking us high above the valleys but definitely not rideable. Any attempt to cycle along the cobbled paths they featured would have almost certainly ended up with us bathing in the canal. So we pushed our bikes across their considerable length, unfortunately losing my monopod into the canal on one as the “jiggling” worked it loose from where it had been strapped across my saddle bag.

Descending off the canal, by way of a flight of steps that were “challenging” to carry our laden bikes down, we joined the roads to head to our day’s final destination, Linwater camp site. Slightly late arriving but made very welcome. The lady who owned the site turned out to be an equal fan of active travel and had a cargo bike parked outside her house, used for travel into and around Edinburgh. Superb facilities at this site, I didn’t even have to crack out my stove as there’s a communal kitchen and dining area where Ewan and I enjoyed our first ever “meal in a bag” from Decathlon. After tucking Ewan up in our “cosy” tent, I sat enjoying the warm evening and utilising the camp wifi to catch up on some work (yes I was carrying my laptop with me on our tour!)

Day 3 – Linwater to Dunbar

Striking camp, panniers loaded, we headed back to the canal. This time with some tips from the campsite owner we avoided the steps to rejoin! We’d not had a proper breakfast at the campsite as we’d been led to think by Google Maps that a cafe was not far away, but OH NO, it was closed as was the next one, and the one after that was miles below as we soared overhead on an aqueduct. Just as we were beginning to lose hope and running the risk of collapsing of hunger we found a cafe at Meggetland Sports Complex and recharged our batteries with ham toasties. Back on our bikes for three miles into Edinburgh and up to the castle for some spectacular views. 

Leaving Edinburgh, it was time to head out to the coast along the Innocent Railway path including through a long, echoey tunnel and past Arthur’s Seat. After a day and a half of canal side cycling it felt strange to be away but instead we were soon greeted by a far larger expanse of water as we arrived at the coast in Musselburgh. There we stopped off for lunch at a cafe recommended to us, S. Luca, and tucked into some rather fabulous ice-cream desserts.

After a short stretch of cycling along the coast it was time to turn inland on NCN76, climbing gently on another disused train line, before joining roads to take us on the final stretch of our coast to coast adventure into Dunbar. It was getting late in the day and the evening sun was casting a beautiful golden glow over the fields, the landscape reminding me of the Cotswolds more than the rugged landscapes I normally associate with Scotland.

The disappearing time was also proving a challenge, we were cutting it fine to get to the campsite before the latest arrival time. This led me to make a big mistake, I tried to cut a corner. Rather than cycling through Dunbar, instead we headed straight along the A1, the dim light & the frequent lorries made that a highly unpleasant experience. Fortunately we found a turn off and a new cycle route that allowed us a safer passage to our final destination Dunbar Caravan and Camping Club Site arriving as the sun was setting and in time to be allowed on site!

Pitching our tent by the folly in the middle of the campsite we were both hungry, tired and didn’t fancy cooking, so were very pleased to discover that a local curry takeaway would deliver to the campsite, never has a biryani tasted so good.

Day 4  – Exploring Dunbar Birthplace of John Weir

We’d completed our journey but there was still some exploring to do and of course we had to complete the coast to coast ceremony of dipping our wheels in the sea on the East coast. But first, breakfast, a fabulous, full fry-up at The Food Hamper. Next door was John Muir’s Birthplace which now contains a museum telling the amazing story of his life. He may be little known by many but his influence and impact on ensuring wild spaces were protected and preserved led to the creation of National Parks here and in the US, he even took President Theodore Roosevelt walking and camping. His writings are an inspiration and never more relevant than in the current environmental crises we are facing.

Then down to the harbour, firstly to dip our wheels in the sea then to explore the fort. Next stop was something I’d spotted on the map the night before, I’m a big fan of Thistly Cross Cider (especially their whisky cask aged one) and I discovered that their home was just down the road, so off we pedalled. We could see work going on, a delivery of whisky barrels being offloaded, but then Peter Stuart himself appeared and came over to chat to us about the Thistly Cross story and their future plans, my day was made!

The Journey Back

Heading back to Dunbar and the train station, we stopped off for a coffee and cake and nipped into Beer Zoo to treat myself to a bottle of Thistly Cross to enjoy on the journey home.

Train boarded, we were whisked back much quicker than we’d pedalled, into Edinburgh where we had a few hours to explore the city before catching our final train home. First stop was Museum Context, owned by a friend of mine, a veritable treasure trove of Harry Potter memorabilia and an experience in itself to wander round. We walked down the Royal Mile to Holyrood Palace and the Scottish Parliament building. Grabbing a burger on the way back to the train station we rescued our bikes from the racks where we’d left them, stowed them in the Avanti train van and headed to our seats for the long journey home, our adventure complete. Where will next year’s tour take us?

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