Never for a minute did I think that today would be a good day. Of all the days that I had planned I had always thought that this one would be the least enjoyable. I was proved right in so many ways today, yet there were positives. Today proved to be a day of contrasts.
We set out from Bridge of Orchy, a beautiful place in the middle of nowhere. The only road was the A82, so we were forced to continue our relationship with it for a few miles longer. We were scheduled to travel as far as Tarbet, part way down Loch Lomond. I know the road as I have driven it many times. I knew that there were bits of it that were narrow, and where the traffic was likely to be heavy. But the plan was always to leave the A82 at Tarbet, and take a more scenic route around and into Glasgow.
First thing this morning Vince said something which on the face of it was innocuous: “What are these arrows?” And so the seeds of mutiny were sewn!
All friends - Just before The Mutiny!
Vince is a remarkably efficient individual. He is wasted in his job with J P Morgan Chase (whatever it is that he does). He should be in time and motion. He knew full well that the arrows represented a hill, and he had also calculated that Carl would know this. It wasn’t particularly cunning, given that we were discussing it the previous day. Vince was aware that to continue on the A82 would save about 5 miles on the route and although the route was likely to be much busier it was a much more efficient journey. More direct. The hill was the thing that would unlock the Carl vote, and ensure that on a democratic basis we would be continuing down the world’s crappiest road for another 30 miles more than I had planned! By the time we reached Tarbet the votes were in the bag and the mutineers were taking us down the ‘efficient’ route!
The Scottish authorities had decided to put a cycle lane alongside Loch Lomond so that cyclists could avoid the main carriageway of the A82. Unfortunately they had omitted to carry out any proper maintenance for some time. The amount of brambles across the path made me think that the police were trying a new, green, ‘stinger’ device out on cyclists! The brambles that weren’t across the path were overhanging it, and it was impossible to avoid them so that after only a short distance it looked like I had been given a leg wax by Freddie Kruger!!! We left the cycle path quickly, preferring to risk a quick and painful death by truck than a certain but slow death from blood-letting! Occasionally the cycle path would open up, and be clear of man-eating flora for a mile or so. Twice this siren call away from the thundering trucks lulled me back onto the path. But no sooner than it did, the brambles were back, snapping at my heels (and calves). A return to the main road followed swiftly.
Dean meanwhile had stayed back at the hotel and was going to set off and follow our route. He would obviously catch us up at some point and would stop at a layby and wait for us. Unfortunately when he did set off and drive we were nowhere to be seen and by the time we were in Tarbet he was another 20 miles on, without a phone signal, being chatted up by an old dear in Asda in Dumbarton! Surprisingly for someone under 40 (albeit for only a week more) he knew how to work a public telephone and managed to contact us! After driving up and down the A82 a couple of times as we were being ‘bled’ by the cycle path he eventually met us in a layby (one of the few on the A82 that is not inhabited by pikeies!!!)
For whatever reason the further we got down the A82 the darker my mood became. It could have been the draining effect of the road itself, or the fact of the mutiny, or the fact that we were approaching Glasgow – a place that we had no real desire to visit but had no real alternative but to go through. Having driven through Glasgow many times I knew that it was a city of fly-overs and big roads cutting through the heart of the city. One of these was the A82, so it was important that we got off this before Glasgow and so my plan was to pull off at Dumbarton and to follow the banks of the Clyde as far as we could until we got to a place to cross, then cross and head out towards the M74 and pick up the old A74 (now an unused B road and is apparently almost completely free of traffic and a cyclist’s paradise which follows the route of the M74 – the most direct and least hilly route out of Scotland to Carlisle!) In the end this pretty much is what we did, but not without some wrong turns, some frayed tempers and a lot of stamping feet and thrown dummies!!!
A82 Above! NCN 7 Below! Contrast!
My first big hissy-fit came at Dumbarton (spelt and pronounced without the invisible and silent ‘p’ which should rightly live between the ‘m’ and the ‘b’!) We had just come off the A82, which by then was a 70mph dual (Note to Oxford English Dictionary Editor: It should really be spelt “duel”!) carriageway with no cycle lane or soft verge, and we were near Dumbarton town centre. Vince, in perhaps not one of his most efficient moments, had ‘arranged’ that Dean would meet us again and we could agree a stop for lunch. But off the A82 and with no method of contacting him we were scuppered. To add insult to injury Google maps was running at the speed of a shaggy dog through a trough of treacle and we had no idea which way to go. We were forced to rely on Vince’s torn-out pages from an old road atlas of Great Britain that he had (fortunately, as it turned out) brought along. I believe that he found this in the glovebox of his Vauxhall Variant and it was probably given to the first driver as a ‘congratulations on your new car’ gift! Interestingly the pages containing Glasgow were like new…! We swiftly abandoned the A82 as a possible route through Glasgow (it takes the form of a flyover at Dumbarton and might even gain an extra lane or two further on) and it was looking like the only slightly less daunting A814 was the only option along the Clyde. Probably in an effort to avoid the flying toys coming from my direction Vince decided to do a quick reconnaissance and found that we were almost on NCN (National Cycle Network) Route 7, which would take us to Glasgow centre. The NCN Routes are generally mixed in quality but they are designed for cyclists (no traffic) and are generally well signposted. We got on the cycle path which was like stepping through the wardrobe into Narnia! We emerged onto a canal path (complete with a cycle shop on the banks of the canal!) which took us through Dumbarton all the way to the centre of Clydebank! By stark contrast the A82 thundered 60m overhead on a flyover! The only reminder of the fact that we were getting nearer the centre of Glasgow was that most of the dog walkers sharing our route had pitbulls!!! We cycled towards a woman on the canal path walking a small black puppy (not a pitbull, surprisingly!) In a display of my almost tourettes-like ability to engage mouth before brain I said “Thank you” to the woman for holding on to her puppy as we passed. Thinking it would be nice to comment on her puppy I said “Hello little rat-dog”! The look on her face was the sort of look you imagine you would get if you said “My, what an ugly baby” to a proud mother! I changed gear and cycled swiftly away!!!
In contrast to the A82 cycle path which follows the banks of Loch Lomond, this cycle path through two of the largest urban shitholes in Scotland was perfectly maintained. Now behind ‘schedule’ (despite the fact that we are on holiday!) we grabbed lunch in the middle of the main shopping centre of Clydebank (three blokes, in lycra, sat wolfing down nuclear pies in the middle of a busy Tuesday afternoon in a Glaswegian shopping centre. We would have been stared at less if we had been JLS on tour!) We picked up the NCN 7 again and it took us parallel with the Clyde for several miles, past mountains of scrap metal and huge cranes – like the skeletal remains of the shipbuilding dinosaur that had once lived here. The path abruptly stopped next to a tower block. A man from a window 10 or so floors up shouted at us to go across the main road and I knew then that we had arrived in Glasgow proper.
The next 2 hours or so passed in a blur. There were no tears, but there were toys thrown and cleated feet stamped as we negotiated the cycle routes signposted through Glasgow. This often involved simply cycling on the pavement, which had been re-designated as a place to share with pedestrians. Judging by some of their faces the pedestrians were unaware that they were not entitled to all of the pavement. Despite the best efforts of the council to put up signs, judging by their faces many of the pedestrians probably couldn’t read the signs anyway! Eventually, after several wrong turns and the most potholed roads so far I decided to follow my nose and managed to pick up a sign for East Kilbride and a road out of Glasgow.
Although it was by now rush hour we managed to make good progress and we joined a main road which we thought from Vince’s antique map would take us into Strathaven, our stopping point for the night. Imagine the scene: Three tired blokes on bikes crossing a roundabout and being met in the distance with the road climbing sharply, rising above the fields and trees on concrete legs in the monstrous form of a dual carriageway! Fortunately we were not beaten as we had on hand Vince’s papyrus from which he managed to locate a small road which would take us to the same place. This small road was the best bit of the whole day! It took us through some beautiful (if hilly) countryside, and had signposts taking us to Strathaven. The bizarre thing was that the mileage never seemed to lessen! The sign would say “Strathaven 10m”, we would cycle for a mile or so and the next sign would read “Strathaven 10m”! Every so often the signmaker would give us a mile but it kept happening and by the end of it I was convinced that Strathaven was a place that kept moving, and that swiftly and invisibly some gnome like creatures would magically re-number all of the signs! But eventually someone, somewhere took pity and after over 10 hours and a paltry 87 miles on the road we finally arrived in Strathaven. The unusual signage was not the only thing strange about this place. Having unanimously agreed that pizza was the order of the day we found the town’s only Italian restaurant. But “This is a trattoria”, (I was told in broad Scots!) “We don’t serve pizza!”