Day 14: Coylton to Balloch

Distance: 63.41 miles
Time: 5 hours 25 minutes
Average speed: 11.5 m.p.h.
Distance from Lands End: 727.40 miles
Distance to John o’Groats: 292.60 miles
Number of men in kilts spotted today: 2
Number of annoyed blasts on the horn from the motorists of the busy Glasgow and Paisley roads: 0

Our choice of accommodation last night was spot on – Woodside Farmhouse at Coylton was peaceful, surrounded by green fields and run by Alastair and Wendy, who were very helpful indeed. Alastair even offered to run us to the local pub, The Coylton Arms, where we had a good meal. Before long, however, we were feeling weary and headed back for a good night’s sleep.

This morning we awoke to blue skies, and after a good breakfast and a little routine maintenance for the bike we set off. The surroundings were gradually changing from mining country to farmland and, though the Ayrshire road surfaces were somewhat rough, we enjoyed the first few miles on quiet lanes. We paused briefly to watch a heron at a picturesque bridge, then continued through Tarbolton to Kilmaurs on a rolling B-road.

At Kilmaurs we spotted Walkers Cycle shop and, needing to replenish some supplies, decided to go in. Noticing the shirts the proprietor struck up conversation, and asked us our plans for getting over the Clyde. Mindful of the busy roads we thought we’d planned this bit carefully, but he advised us to scrap our plans, as we’d be cycling through a tunnel, where the cycle lane was always full of glass and the fumes were terrible. He suggested instead to head through Paisley to the Erskine Bridge, before taking a cycle path up to Loch Lomond. We decided to take the benefit of his local knowledge.

We were aware that an 800 foot climb was awaiting us at some point today, though we were not sure exactly when! It materialised after Stewarton, and wasn’t too bad – in fact we were up at about 500 feet before we realised we were on it. Near the top we again spotted a large bird of prey, as we stopped to take a picture of the “Welcome to Renfrewshire” sign. It was really close to where we had stopped, sitting on an implausibly flimsy branch staring at us, but sadly it flew off before we could get the camera out.

Over the summit of the climb we enjoyed a long descent towards Netherplace. We were enjoying it so much we failed to notice that Gary the Garmin had decided to re-calculate our route. He does this fairly frequently if he thinks we’ve missed a turning, or sometimes when he thinks we’re enjoying ourselves too much. By the time we’d noticed we were a few miles off route. Bad, bad Gary.

A helpful cyclist spotted us huddled at the side of the road with our map, and gave us useful instructions for getting to the Erskine Bridge. We set off. It was a very busy road, with many roundabouts and sets of traffic lights. We felt safe though, and the motorists were very patient and gave us plenty of room. By now it was 1.30 so we stopped at a roadside pub for lunch. The staff were friendly and helpful, the food and drink very average – another corporate triumph for Whitbread, unfortunately (see entry for Taunton)!

We still had around ten miles to go to the Erskine Bridge on busy roads, a cause of some apprehension. We needn’t have worried, again the motorists were considerate and before long we were cycling past Glasgow Airport and to the start of the Erskine Bridge. A cycle-lane was provided, keeping the traffic well away from us behind a metal barrier, and we were able to stop at the apex of the suspension bridge and enjoy spectacular views down the Clyde in both directions, particularly downstream.

After crossing the bridge it took us a little while to find the start of the cycle path. This was to take us all ten of our remaining miles to Balloch. Starting alongside the canal, it weaved its merry way through Old Kilpatrick and Dumbarton. The pleasure of riding on a traffic-free path was marred slightly by the quantities of broken glass strewn across parts of the cycle-way by helpful youths. Our tyres are made of stern stuff (well Kevlar, actually) and we suffered no punctures.

The cycle-way continued (and so did we) along the side of the River Leven. Our unintended detour earlier had added some miles to our route and we were tiring a little as we arrived at Balloch. As usual we headed for the Tourist Information Office, who helped us to find accommodation – a little way out of town, as a large wedding party has monopolised the B&B establishments in town. It’s a lovely evening, though, and apparently we can walk via the Loch back into town for our evening meal.

It felt good to leave our last city and arrive at Loch Lomond, the start of a very scenic part of our journey. We’re going to consult locally before deciding on our destination tomorrow, as there are few towns between here and Fort William. We may aim for Crianlarich, or possibly Tyndrum. Either way it will be a shorter day, but with some significant climbs.