Sanny sees lockdown as the perfect excuse to take a trip down memory lane and ride like he used to as a kid, when every adventure started from home.
I don’t know about you but when I was a kid, I had one bike and that was it. I was expected to be able to do everything on it. Your bike was basically your bike. Nobody really had the money to afford nor any great desire to have a whole fleet of bikes in the shed. There was no notion of Enduro, Gravel or Downhill. There was no quiver killer as there was quite simply no quiver! You just rode your bike from your house and went where the mood took you. For me, my bike of choice was an Elswick Superstar BMX. Resplendent in black and gold with yellow rad pads, I absolutely loved it. Whether messing about in the local woods, pretending I was Dougie Lampkin on “Junior Kickstart” or learning, not quite successfully, to jump over a prone Ian Campbell who rather gamefully agreed to be the last in a long line of kids, that I almost managed (but not quite!) to jump over. If you are reading this, sorry Ian! That bike opened my eyes to distant horizons. I was no longer confined to the streets and parks that were within walking distance of my house. I just needed to jump on and pedal and the bike would do the rest.
“Stoic – Is he not Hiccup’s Dad?”
Jump forward to today (and whatever the latest version of lockdown is) and I’ve found myself reflecting on those early adventures. With Janey Godley impersonator Nicola Sturgeon aka the First Minister placing restrictions on travel, I’ve had to narrow my horizons somewhat. Adventures now start and end at my front door, rather like they did as a kid. With that in mind, when a couple of Canyon Stoics appeared at said front door with a request to have an adventure, I decided to embrace the art of the possible and lined up what proved to be a corker of a socially distanced ride with my good friends Dave the Bastard and Rory of the disappointing lack of a nickname (at least, none that he will admit to!).
“Pinch me, lads. This cannae be Scotland, can it?”
As befits any adventure, choosing the right day is crucial and just after Christmas, we landed lucky. A band of low pressure saw Scotland enjoy a long spell of sub-zero temperatures and azure blue skies, meaning that we had the ideal conditions for a full day in the saddle. Leaving Sanny HQ just as the sun was creeping ever so slowly over the horizon, conditions could be charitably described as a touch fresh / borderline hypothermic. Fingers, ears and toes all took turns to remind us that a) they were still just about attached and b) expressed their considerable displeasure at being exposed the biting morning air. Hot aches all round.
“Where’s the mud gone?”
Darting through the urban woodland of Dawsholm Park and Cairnhill Woods, the customary squelch of tyre on slop was instead replaced by the delicate crunch of tyre on boilerplate trail and hard frozen leaves. One touch of the latter and they practically turned to a sparkling dust in front of our eyes. After what felt like a long autumn of rain, it felt good to be out on a proper winter’s day.
Stopping in at Casa Dave only long enough for him to jump on his bike and join us, we carefully navigated our way through the not so mean streets of Bearsden and Milngavie. Well-heeled suburbs of Glasgow, fair to say the pashmina count is pretty high there and sex is what coal comes in! Being on the northern edge of the “Dear Green Place”, one of the great things about the locale is that it is easy to connect up flowing off road trails even in the heart of a heavily built up area. Pretty soon, we were making our way at a fair rate of knots through mature native woodland, the still sleepy sun adding a golden tinge to proceedings.
Skids aren’t just for kids!
Smatterings of black ice that lay in wait for the unwary were quickly replaced with hard frozen turf and a thick layer of crystalline snow, the kind you usually only find on a powder day in some foreign clime. Spotting a deserted golf course that looked like it had just come out of a Netflix Christmas movie; we exercised our right of responsible access and made our way across it in jig time.
Spotting a section of frozen rough ground that was covered in snow, the temptation to throw some shapes was too great to resist. Whoever said skids are for kids clearly has no soul. Nothing comes closer to feeling like your young self than locking the back wheel and spinning a 180. Throw in a hard frozen surface that is impermeable to damage and you have a recipe for responsible skidding fun. I audibly guffawed as the chaps took it in turns to see who could spin round the furthest without coming off. The art comes in not falling off. Safe to say both were more impressionist than classicist in that regard!
Leaving our environmentally sound skid marks behind (so to speak), the trail of the West Highland Way opened up in front of us. A thick covering of snow blanketed the Campsie Fells which bode well for the main part of our ride. The sun on our backs, we made our way up and through the Carbeth Huts. Beginning with the then landowner’s granting returning soldiers camping rights in 1918, the huts have a long and rich tradition of offering respite from the dirt and grime of the city. There is something wonderfully ramshackle and slightly down at heel about many of the huts but they are very much interwoven into the social fabric of Glasgow.
Rounding a corner, we came across that classic icon of the modern urban landscape: the burnt out car. The sight of the fire ravaged carcass of a Mercedes C Class formed a curious juxtaposition to our natural surroundings. “Shall we see if we can salvage platinum out of the catalyst?” suggested Dave cheerfully, ever the engineer with a Yorkshireman’s eye for fiscal opportunity. I may have snorted a laugh out my nose at that point!
Dropping over the far side of the dense woodland within which the huts nestle, we skirted around the site of the dilapidated old coach house that is The Carbeth Inn. Once a regular mid-ride stopping off point, it closed its doors for the last time several years ago. However, with apologies to followers of certain Abrahamic religions, like some kind of pork tinged mirage, out of its shadow came the glorious sight of a drive-thru coffee hut.
With a mixture of trepidation and excitement, I asked THE most important question of the day “Do you do bacon rolls?” When the answer came, I could have done a jig. Not just bacon but Skinners of Kippen bacon! While there are some of you who may disagree with me that the butcher of my childhood, Skinners, makes the finest bacon, entitled to your opinion as you may be, you are quite simply wrong! Partaken with a steaming hot chocolate (cream and marshmallows obligatory), we were in foodie heaven. Forget your foulis of coulis of boulis, your jus reductions and your foam amuse bouches; nothing is a better measure of a kitchen than a proper bacon roll.
Like three Mr Creosote’s, as we devoured our prey, my friend Grant appeared on the scene. “You guys look like you are on some kind of Canyon photoshoot!” he joked. He wasn’t wrong! At this point, Dave decided to give us an insight into how he had spent the previous evening. “You know, I think the geometry of my own bike back home is positively regressive and short, high and steep! I think it may be more submissive than aggressive!” he laughed. “Have you been looking at the internet again, Dave? Have you been reading the spec charts? Did we not talk about that?” I replied. Our pork and sugar products long since devoured, we jumped back on our bikes for our main course – The Whangie. Supposedly caused by the Devil flicking his tail, so excited was he at the thought of crossing the moor (Old Nick really needs to get out more! I suspect he was probably going through lockdown at the time), this long stone corridor between the cliffs is a geologist’s wet dream.
Just where is everyone going?
A brief road spin beckoned first though. Normally, this is a relatively quiet and steady climb but on this day, apparently lockdown rules didn’t apply. The constant stream of cars going who knows where and a brute of a sudden onset headwind were , in the words of the comic genius that is The Big Yin, about as welcome as a fart in a spacesuit! As Dave and I powered on, Rory was engaged in his own long dark teatime of the soul as he came to realise that he had forgotten the chamois crème and was now paying for his omission.
Up, up and a bit more up!
Thankfully, the start of the off road climb proper soon homed into view and we could all get back to enjoying the ride. With a healthy covering of snow, I cut a smug figure as I headed up the initial steep climb. My choice of ice tyres had been a wise one and helped me find traction as Rory and Dave were reduced to hike a bike action.
Fortunately, the sight of the snow-capped Campsie Fells and the peaks of the southern Highlands made for a welcome distraction from the task at hand. There is surely an awful lot to be said for just being out on such a day, soaking in the scenery. To my mind, snow adds an extra and very welcome dimension to any adventure. Its transitory nature renders even familiar trails with a sense of the new.
So little of nature is so pure and brilliant of colour that the landscape takes on a feeling of a giant reset button having been pressed. A multitude of sins lie hidden and forgotten. In the case of The Whangie, the high path is frequently a boggy morass of boot swallowing mire that would not be out of place in a Sherlock Holmes tale. On this occasion, we were blessed with a frozen mud base and an ever deepening layer of sugar snow. Right place, right time.
Avoiding the crowds.
Cresting the summit, we skirted round the busy trig point and headed for the quiet solitude of the cliffs.It is a curious facet of peak bagging that it is invariably featureless high points , albeit in this case with quiet extraordinarily lovely views in every direction, which attract the crowds leaving the infinitely more interesting features to the more discerning traveller.
Of course, as you would no doubt probably expect from one of my adventures, I still managed to find an awkward section of hike a bike for the boys to manhandle their bikes over in the name of exploring the rocky outcrops and hidden passage that passes between the main cliff wall and the protruding section of rocky cleft that has come away from the main cliff and hangs over the ground below with a slight air of geological menace.
With expansive views over Loch Lomond and the Southern Highlands, it is an oasis of calm and has long been a go to place for me ever since I was a little kid. It was scene of my first proper hill walk and I still remember vividly going up it with my Dad on a gloriously sunny day and being rewarded with my first ever Twix! On this occassion, we took our time to enjoy second breakfast (the remnants of the previous night’s Peshwari Naan and Chicken Tikka Chasni being the biking gourmand’s staple of choice), play about among the rocks and generally kick back.
As is always the case, we played “Name that peak!”, so beloved of the red sock brigade. “Is that not Ben ‘AnJerris?” I suggested. Infuriatingly, Rory was wise to this and produced a “name that mountain” app on his phone. I have to say it was jolly impressive but it still doesn’t beat the fun of making up a name and saying it with wholly unwarranted conviction.
Onwards. Ever onwards.
While time wasn’t exactly marching on, I estimated we still had a good hour of crossing through thick snow ahead of us so were soon back on our bikes heading over towards the summit of the Kilpatrick Hills, Duncolm.
Positively bursting with historic hill tracks, the Kilpatrick’s have been a real lockdown haven for many Glaswegian’s over the last few months. Paths that were a bit bumpy and indistinct have become smooth and clear through sheer volume of foot traffic.
However, all that counted for nought as the deep blanket of snow called for trail breaking. At times, it felt more like we were in an episode of “Walks with my bike” but none of us were complaining. The feeling of solitude was intoxicating, interrupted only by Dave’s off key singing / murderous reworking of an old Janis Joplin staple. “Oh Lord, won’t you give me, progressive geome-treeeeeee!” I made a mental note to have a word with his good lady Linda when we got back that she needed to limit his screen time.
Busier than Sauchiehall Street on a Saturday afternoon!
To my astonishment, I had called the timing of out crossing pretty much to the minute and as we reached rideable trail again, I breathed in the mountain air, only to be met with the sickly fug of weed. “Jeez, it’s like bloody Cheech and Chong up here!” I opined, as we passed ever larger groups of pissed up lads who were clearly struggling with the concept of social distancing.
The closer we got to civilisation, the busier it got. Truth be told, none of us had ever seen it so busy. If Wee Nicola saw the scene we were experiencing, she would be going off her nut and with just cause. Pandemic? What pandemic?
With none of us remotely comfortable with the situation, we quickly broke off trail to leave the masses behind. From a safe distance, we easily counted several hundred folk, all in close proximity to one another.
Thankfully, our path was the one less travelled and as the sun slowly dropped towards the horizon, bathing us in the golden hour of sunshine, we dropped in on what has to rank as arguably the finest descents in the area.
Losing its height only gradually, the trail wends its way along the edge of the cliffs before following a gem of a singletrack path that ducks and dives through the heather.
With the ever present snow making for tail drifting fun, we were all grinning like idiots as we cashed in the gravity chips that we had spent much of the ride accumulating.
Trees, chutes, drops, rock steps – all passed in a flurry of smiles. With the vista of the Clyde and Glasgow in front of us with the distant peaks of Lanarkshire and Ayrshire beyond, it felt like we had come full circle. All that remained was a gentle sub-zero spin along the banks of the canal to get us back to base. As local adventures go, it had proven to be an absolute winner.
Another day, another adventure
In happenstance to which we Scottish folk are singularly unaccustomed, the glorious winter weather continued for a not inconsiderable time thereafter. Ignoring the potential for black ice induced injury, with riding restrictions further tightened such that only two people from two households can meet outside for exercise, it was left to Rory and I to go on a follow up urban adventure.
Originally intended to bookend our big day out, the shortness of daylight had put the brakes on our planned visit to the International BMX track and pump track in the west of the city. Constructed for the 2018 European Championships, it is a mightily impressive facility and worthy of a visit.
Reminders of the past
Adopting the now standard ride from your door, it was another cold but crisp day which greeted us as we made our way through the tenement streets of the West End and into Victoria Park. Originally named to mark the Golden Jubilee of India’s least favourite monarch, it is an elegant reminder of a more genteel bygone age when public parks were at the very heart of public life.
Ambling along the network of paths, we passed the well maintained war memorial and old boating pond, frozen for our visit, before crossing a classic example of top notch Victorian engineering, an intricately constructed riveted bridge. I wonder how much of what we build today will be regarded with a mix of wonder and fondness in a hundred or so years’ time?
Heading through an underpass of a long since abandoned branch railway line that is now enjoying a new lease of life as a multi-use path, we skirted round the edge of an eerily quiet Scotstoun Stadium. Home to Glasgow Warriors rugby team (although not proper rugby but that union nonsense!), this is a well-kent venue for Rory as he regularly commentates on the games in his day job for BT Sport. “How was the game last week?” I asked. “Cancelled! The all-weather pitch was frozen!” came the reply. I must admit I did chuckle at the irony of an all-weather pitch that isn’t although as Rory explained, under soil heating would probably melt the surface. Now that I would like to see!
With a pump track to be ridden, we continued our urban odyssey and soon found ourselves at the beating heart of BMX in the city. Except, as you would by now no doubt expect, it was shut and we were reduced to admiring it from behind a wire mesh fence. It is, truth be told bloody impressive and the start ramp is huge. Rather like a diving dale, only up close do you appreciate just how big it actually is. I thought back to my days on the Elswick Superstar. Things had definitely progressed just a tad! My younger self would have been slack jawed at the sight and probably let out a little wee at even the thought of riding down the ramp.
If we were wondering why it was shut (other than the obvious pandemic answer), the answer came in the form of the steel sign for the pump track. Clearly, the local mouth-breathers don’t take kindly to signs and had apparently operated a stoning and bricking policy of Trumpian inspired unrest. Quite how you take a fair sized chunk out of a heavy duty metal sign I’m still none the wiser but they certainly managed it!
Glad that none of the resident knuckle draggers were in evidence, we took great delight in whizzing round the pump track. For Rory, this was his first time on one and he quickly got into the swing of things. Watching me, he was able to succinctly explain what I was doing and copy it. Clearly, those commentator skills are well honed! Rising and falling, leg and arm pumping, forward, back and repeat – there is something irresistible about playing on a pump track.
Stopping to take some shots, I found myself sliding inexorably downward. What had felt grippy under tyre had disguised a thin patina of ice, leading to an interesting series of shots as Rory’s head and then shoulders gradually disappeared out of shot. Oh well, no reward without risk eh?
Handing me his phone (gloved hand, of course!), I took a short film of Rory for his Instagram feed promoting Scotland Rugby legend Doddie Weir’s Motor Neurone Disease charity. Having raised over £7million and counting, the charity is raising funds for research to find a cure for this frankly shitty bloody disease. Sporting a rather fetching buff for the occasion, I’m not convinced the 100% face covering was quite required for Covid compliance though! Amazingly and entirely out of character for me, I managed to refrain from making any comments about it being a definite improvement and him having a face for radio.
Frank Kelly’s Big Yellow Crane
After much messing about, we headed back to base though not before a detour that took us past what is affectionately known as Frank Kelly’s crane. My recently departed friend, Papa Frankie as I knew him, had placed the flagpole on the end of the giant yellow shipping crane that stands on the shore of the Clyde when he was an apprentice in the shipyards.
No longer operating, back then health and safety meant smoking filters and not roll ups and so it was that Frank had to install said pole while the daily work of the crane continued unchecked. It must have been bloody terrifying! You can guarantee there were no safety harnesses involved. It’s the first time I have been to see the crane since his passing and seeing it put a smile on my face as I reflected on the many daft things we did together.
This being a Rory and Sanny ride, the merest whiff of a greasy spoon just off the track had us positively salivating. Sustenance was called for and there was only one thing that would do: donuts! Upping the pace, we rode through Glasgow Harbour, scene of quite possibly the best nickname ever, given to a friend of Rory’s at a party who got a bit angry with the drink and worked in a bookshop: Conan the Librarian. That, dear reader, is the work of a genius. However, I had no time to truly appreciate the brilliance of the pun as I was by now ravenous. Speeding past some truly impressive street art, we soon reached our destination only to find that it was shut. Now I know how Charlton Heston must have felt at the end of “Planet of the Apes”. This wasn’t the end to our adventure we had anticipated.
We should have been trying and failing to eat donuts without licking the sugar off of our lips, not staring at closed shutters! It would have been the icing on the cake (Or donut! – Ed) but alas it was not to be. Still, on reflection, we had firmly embraced the spirit of childhood and enjoyed a couple of cracking adventures from the door. Is that not what it should really be all about?
Sanny was riding the Canyon Stoic
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