If only all cycle paths could be like this…
That was my primary thought during my ride out from Alloa to Stirling on Saturday morning.
I had arrived at the campsite late Friday afternoon, after an agitating day in the office at the computer. It was raining very slightly and a bit windy, and the satnav had taken a very convoluted route to get there. The Woods, a campsite between Alloa and Alva, just outside Fishcross was to be home for the next two nights. Due to Covid-19 restriction, all units had to be self contained as no facilities were open other than reception and the external waste disposal points. The toilet and shower block wouldn’t open until the 15th July, and even then with new restrictions and safety measures. This would be the first camper-van trip of the year, and only an hour from home. It was just something joyous to be able to get away at all.
I knew nothing of the cycle routes in the area, except what I had planned during Thursday evening on Komoot.
(OK, I did it Friday when I should have been editing a feature, I admit it).
Even overlaying the Google satellite imagery I had not been convinced that the cycle paths would be any better than those I had encountered on my Two Bridges tour earlier in the week. I would be at the mercy, at least for some of the time, of the Sustrans National Cycle Network again, as well as some local infrastructure. Local infrastructure is very council dependent and immensely variable, shall we say.
On the computer, I had planned a cycle of 30 miles, but I would allow myself a few minor detours (more commonly referred to as me getting a bit lost) and any deliberate detours to visit to any attractions I happened across signs for or came close enough to. In the end I anticipated around 3 hours maybe 3.5hours ride and that would be leaving directly from the campsite.
I woke on Saturday morning to a beautiful sunny day:
But the sunshine wasn’t to last, and by the time I was ready for the off it was clouding over and the wind was picking up. The clouds and potential for a little rain didn’t worry me, but I knew parts of my route were going to be fairly exposed and so the wind could be a factor. Crossing the Clackmannanshire Bridge would definitely be on my watch list.
I wasn’t going to let a little breeze put me off however, and two coffees and a cereal bar in I was ready to go.
Getting onto the first cycle path involved going through a track within what I can best call a farmyard. This wasn’t ideal and I was on gravel and broken concrete again, which as it turned out, the worst surface of the whole day. Of course, I didn’t know that at the time, and after the ‘fun’ of the NCN earlier in the week, I wasn’t feeling encouraged. It was my own fault, it wasn’t the access route suggested by Komoot to get onto the path, I was trying to make a short cut. This time I will fully take the blame for it.
Once on the cycle path is was not unlike some of the better paths in Edinburgh. It was under the cover of trees and tucked away from the roads. It took me the whole way into Alloa, popping out on a housing estate. The signs were pretty good from there, getting me into the town centre via an industrial estate and a bit more housing, before I was following the signs easily and heading off towards Sterling.
Once out of the town, the path was incredible. It goes across a working farm but it is very well signed and smooth as silk. It was wide enough to pass other cyclists in both directions, to pass the plentiful number of mothers with children and buggies, dog walkers, and anyone else using it. There were plenty fo people using it too.
It was bliss. The segregation went all the way to Sterling either as a separate shared pedestrian/cycle path, as a reclaimed (and now non-motorised) road, or as segregated cycleway alongside the main road. I was in heaven. Why couldn’t we have more of this in the country?!? There was never a moment of danger from cars or lorries, and I am sure they were enjoying an easy unimpeded run at 40/50/60mph as applicable too.
This is the point I do not understand when drivers protest about money being spent on cycle paths – good infrastructure gets the cyclists out of your way!
Cyclists have as much right to use the roads as drivers, but why have an unnecessary conflict when it is so easy to alleviate it, and safeguard the most vulnerable of users at the same time – pedestrians and children. Ed.
I went from all the way into Stirling where there were yet more very easy to spot and directionally useful signs both for the national and local cycle routes. From Stirling I headed towards the Clackmannan Bridge along the south side of the Forth. Sometimes I was on NCN76 and sometimes I went in favour of a local path network (which was actually a better and more direct more often than not).
I finally left the segregated path and joined the road just coming out of Fallin. There were plenty of cyclists on this road, and it was a fast high gear cycle on a very pleasant surface without too many cars. This continued all the way Airth and then I used the dedicated cycle/shared path over the Clackmannanshire Bridge.
From here it is a simple and very pleasant ride into Clackmannan, and then on to Alloa on yet another section of properly segregated path.
I couldn’t believe it. Tarmac all the way! A combination of quiet roads, respectful and patient drivers (I kid you not) and wonderful, segregated, and smooth cycle paths. I wanted to come and live in the area just so I could use these routes every day. Compared to Edinburgh, I was in cycling heaven.
From Alloa I headed back on to the campsite on the dedicated path, which forms part of a longer route for hikers and cyclists that goes on to Tillicoultry and then to Dollar and beyond.
Why have the Councils of Clackmannanshire, Fife, and Stirling got it so right when other councils seem to get it so wrong?
Who knows, but I wish that any councillors looking to improve their local provision would come and have a shot at the ride I just did. They would then get to see what can be done with a little money, some repurposing, some imagination, and a bit of willpower. It was obvious that local stakeholder assistance and co-operation was paramount, but that this combined effort and will had definitely increased the participation in active travel. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people using paths like this, and I certainly haven’t seen anywhere near as many cyclists, outside of organised rides, on a windy Saturday morning.
I am sure there must be bad bits somewhere, it can’t all look like this that way, can it?
I don’t know about anyone else, but I am definitely going to go back and find out!