Easter Cycle Tour 2009 - Day 1 (Glasgow to Balliemore, via Gourock-Dunoon Ferry)

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April 10th 2009
Published: July 10th 2010
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Thought I'd write up last year's trip before it fades away.

Route map: Route map: http://www.bikemap.net/route/586038

Day 1 saw me and Mike get an early-ish (10am!) train from Edinburgh to Glasgow. On arrival at Queen Street we headed due south to hit the River Clyde from where I could sort of get my bearings. We hoped to track down national cycle route 75 which would take us all the way south of the river to Gourock. As we approached the north bank at one of the many bridges the skies looked a bit menacing - its well known it always rains on the west coast! The cycle route was easy to find - it was mainly under construction (should be complete by now!), so we were able to pick our way on the riverside path and sometimes on roads till we reached the Armadillo and opposite the BBC Scotland headquarters.

At this point the path crosses the river on the Bell Bridge (i think). After a couple of streets of modern luxury apartments mixing in with the remains of a the Clyde's former shipping heyday: wharfs and cranes, we soon got into the thick of Govan's intimidating red-stone tenement streets. At this point we were placing bets on who would be getting the first puncture, or rather how long to the first puncture, as the cycle path weaved it's way merry way through the carnage of ex-Buckfast bottles.

Over the M8 things didn't seem to get too much better as the path gradually wound its way uphill behind Bellahouston Park. There I popped by on 353 Mosspark Boulevard, a place that haunts me to this day - where I lived for 9 months of my life during a student placement in East Kilbride. Well things didn't seem to have changed too much (same drab cream coloured 70s style houses), and coming down Mosspark Boulevard brought back memories of being overtaken by branches flying by as I cycled those days into work (at 7am! never catch me up that early these days) through a stormy winter.

So onward bound through more nameless estates with boarded up windows, but fine views back to Glasgow and the foothills of the Highlands up to the north. We stopped as long as we dared for a game of footie (no sliding tackles) and onward briefly through a nice bit of countryside bordered by a small river, then into Paisley. Now I have to say the name 'Paisley' had probably evoked terror in me before this trip, but I must say I was pleasantly surprised by the rather nice little centre they have there with some old architecture, a nice river and a little park. Of course there were still Buckfast bottles, and stranged pram laden single parent families speaking with broad west coast accents which has to make you chuckle as they munched on meat pies. Which brings us nicely on to lunch time, strange meat pies and donuts provided by Greggs of course. Mmmm, have a feeling we also had some left-over Char sui provided by Mike's mum!

After lunch we made good progress, down some sections that clearly followed an old railway line, and after a brief moment of losing the route made it on to a rather nice section that leads the 20 miles or so to Gourock. The path is up high and nestles in the valley of some rolling farmland, with occasional glimpse north to the Firth of Clyde and beyond. There's some strange art installation, made from old gas canisters depicting an army maybe?! For all I know of history this is the site of some famous Braveheart-esque battle?

The path finally breaks to the coast, where you realise just how high up you've made it - well below are the grim estates of Port Glasgow. The path dropped down quickly with a couple of exposed switchbacks - actually quite scary when braking with tank-like tourer bikes. Past a grim looking chinese restaurant which looked boarded up, but probably wasn't then to the coast road eventually at Greenock. Now Greenock was a real surprise too. The waterfront has been nicely done up and with the sun now shining I was really enjoying the scenic cycle along the waterfront. On the left is the dramatic town hall, which to me looks like something more at home in some Tuscan village with a grand piazza! Along the final stretch towards Gourock are some amazing looking mansions (albeit spoiled by a rather busy main road) with fantastic views north to Helensburgh, and the mountains around Arrochar (that we'd cycling through 2 days hence!).

The ferry across to Dunoon was fun. The weather was still holding off as we pulled out to sea. On the deck we got chatting to a guitar-playing, ex-hippy woman who seemed to subsist on occasional revenue from playing gigs, and rich sugar daddies (at least that was the impression I got).

It was already starting to get a bit late as we cycled out of Dunoon, finally on quiet roads all to ourselves. Perfect touring territory. With no real idea where we were going to stay (and not even a map, though I'd managed to photo one on a bus stand in Dunoon) we started to keep a look out for potential spots. I must say having done the whole solo touring thing the previous year, I have this down to an art form. There was a brief bit of rain, and also a short pass to get over before we descended down to a place called Balliemore, which is really just a farm at the head of a short sea loch. In the bay was a single fishing boat and the last rays of the sun were glimmering off the ridge line above us. This place seemed perfect. I quick reckie off the road up a farm track took us up to a strange rock jutting out from the valley floor by 30-40m. The path up was little more than a stream, which isn't ideal when you know you've got wear those shoes AND socks for the next 3 days, but we made it up as far as possible with the bikes and then stashing them took the tents right to the top in a field of dead ferns. In amongst the rocks we found a perfect mossy soft and flat spot to pitch the tent.

Mike seemed to have a bit of trepidation about the whole wild camping thing, but once the tent was up and we could relax in the final light of the day the whole 50 miles or so seemed like a perfect day. The perfect day was briefly spoiled by Mike tipping over the stove and half our evening meal, and then further by my socks in the tent (recurring theme). After dinner there was a flash storm, we dived into the tent. But later came out to watch the night sky all on our own, before finally collapsing back into the tent with first day fatigue.

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