Today saw the first of our Extra rides of the summer season. And what a lovely day it was, with clear skies and temperatures eventually reaching the high teens. Unfortunately, the wind speed in mph was also in the high teens. Not that that put off the 22 riders – including a couple of newcomers – who gathered at our Craigleith meeting point.
Under Alan's leadership, we set off along a familiar route, following the Blackhall Path towards Davidson's Mains, and then through Barnton to Cramond Brig. We crossed the main Queensferry road by the Burnshot Bridge, then continued west along the Carlowrie Road. At the point where the road swings round to the left, we joined the cycle path that runs along the old South Queensferry - Ratho railway line. Access to this path is via a steep, narrow ramp. A couple of the members of the group managed to cycle up it, but most of us found it necessary to get off and push.
Once on the path, we enjoyed an agreeable mile or so before re-joining the road just east of Kirkliston. After passing through the village, we stopped for our customary toilet break at the leisure centre, then continued west a little further before turning off on to the quiet back road that runs past Overton Farm to Niddry Castle. We often join the canal towpath at this point, heading either towards Broxburn for Almondell Country Park or to Philpstoun for Blackness or Bo'ness. Today, however, we stayed on the road, continuing westward for a short distance before turning right towards Winchburgh and then left to Faucheldean.
For the next couple of miles the road climbed steadily, soon giving us lovely views to the right and left, including to the Ochil Hills way over to the north. Although there were more hills to come, these were not particularly steep and we would normally have taken them in our stride. But combined with the strong headwind, they were proving more of a struggle than might otherwise have been the case. Fortunately, that didn't last long. On reaching the B8046, we turned to the north, and were soon freewheeling down to Threemiletown, and then, still downhill, over the canal and the main railway line to the hamlet of Old Philpstoun.
If we had continued a little further on the road, we would have hit the very busy A904 at a point where there is no pavement or bike lane. Happily, our leader had planned for that difficulty. Passing a "No through road" sign, he led us along a farm track, taking us past East Philpstoun Farm and then through a short tunnel under the motorway. We then joined the aforementioned A-road, but at a point where there was a shared-use pavement that took us for the next half mile or so. After leaving that path, we had to make our way through a very rough patch where we were forced to dismount and lift our bikes over fallen branches, overgrown vegetation and other obstacles. But we were soon back on a firm surface, this being a driveway that took us to our lunch stop at the New Hopetoun Garden Centre.
With 20-odd hungry and thirsty cyclists all arriving at the same time, there was inevitably a long queue at the centre's café. Despite that, the staff served us cheerfully and efficiently, and we all managed to get fed and watered within the hour that had been allocated. Lunch over, we were quickly on our way again, initially retracing our steps though the overgrown vegetation before turning north for a nice downhill stretch towards Abercorn Church.
We then entered the grounds of Hopetoun House. This is a particularly scenic area with delightful countryside and fine views. It is familiar ground for many of us as it forms part of our usual homeward route from the Blackness / Bo'ness area. With the wind now behind us, the going was very easy. And we had an additional treat, as the ride coincided with the annual Hopetoun Horse Driving Trials. We were able to watch a series of decorated horse-drawn carriages, most of them driven by individuals in colourful costumes.
We continued to make good progress through the Hopetoun grounds and then along the road towards South Queensferry. We had a short pause on the observation platform at the Forth Road Bridge, then headed back to town along NCN 1 via Dalmeny, Burnshot and Cramond Brig, reaching Craigleith a little before 4 pm. At that point, the ride was officially declared over.
Thanks to Alan for resurrecting this splendid route which we had not done since 2018. At 32 miles, and with pleasant scenery, a good lunch stop and (apart from the wind) excellent weather, it was a promising start to the 2023 Extra season.
Report and photos: Mike