Sunday, 27 July 2014

Monifieth, Scotland - A cycle to the simmer dim

On the first morning of my two-day ferry journey to Iceland, the boat slipped by a cluster of mist-shrouded, wind-blasted, low-lying islands, way out on their own in the bleak waters of the North Sea. They were the Shetland Islands, the most northerly outpost of Scotland. So if you've not already guessed, the final leg of my northern exposure is a cycle to Shetland. I'm looking forward to experiencing Scotland's northern summer light, the simmer dim. Given that it's a continuation of a cycle journey in other countries, it's going to be interesting to make direct comparisons with home. How good are the bike paths? How good are the drivers? Is it easier to camp wild here? Where will I find wifi and gluten-free cakes?

My cycle to the simmer dim, started with riding across Scotland's capital city, Edinburgh. As a touring cyclist, it's often a bit of a challenge getting across a big city but in the cities I'd crossed during this trip such as Amsterdam, Helsinki and Reykjavik, there was excellent provision of bike paths to make it fairly fuss-free. So I was really pleased to discover the same in Edinburgh as I crossed the city on a network of traffic-free bike paths and quiet roads that delivered me to the iconic Forth Rail Bridge via Edinburgh's river, the Water of Leith, and the wooded byways of Dalmeny Estate, a substantial country pile overlooking the Firth of Forth.

l stayed on the national cycle network as I biked across the agricultural landscapes of Fife. Fife is where I did most of my growing up but I was really trying to experience my journey as if I was one of the several loaded-up cycle tourists I passed on the route who were seeing the place for the first time. And so I would say that I had a gorgeous journey across Fife. The sun beat down from a blue sky as I pedalled along the coast, passing beaches, small harbours and pleasant little seaside villages bustling with activity at the height of summer holidays.

At Kirkcaldy my route turned inland and found some beautiful little back roads that made steep climbs over rolling hills to give me views across a patchwork of fields ripe with wheat and bursting with potatoes. I cycled through pleasant farming villages with colourful wildflower meadows and busy little grocery stores whose counters were offering locally-grown blueberries and raspberries. And in north-east Fife the national bike route passed through Tentsmuir, a large coastal forest criss-crossed by trails and bounded by long sand beaches. In the 18th century there was moorland here and when the Danish fleet was shipwrecked offshore, they set up homes in tents on the moor, giving rise to the name, Tentsmuir. As I pedalled through the forest, I was engulfed by the aroma of hot pines that made me imagine I was cycling somewhere more exotic.

The joy didn't end there as a traffic-free bike path took me across the Tay Bridge and continued alongside the waters of the River Tay before they morph into sea. At moments I cycled right beside the sea as my route headed east along the promenade to Broughty Ferry, home of my maternal ancestors and home of me until the age of seven. Cool, clear sea water lapped against the sea walls as a haar blew in on an easterly breeze, swirling atmospherically around Broughty Castle and the sailing boats on the water. I was grateful for the drop in temperature on a day when newspaper headlines read "Scotland hotter than Sicily".

All-in-all the cycle journey across Fife gave me a real "feel good" factor and, although there were no dramatic, wild landscapes, the ride was as enjoyable as that in the other countries I cycled through. Undoubtedly that impression was aided by the fabulous weather. In the first few days I've not been able to compare camping or availability of wifi as I've stopped at my dad's house in Kirkcaldy and my mum's house in Monifeith, both conveniently located on the national cycle network! But at a cute little cafe in Broughty Ferry, I have already found gluten-free cakes!

Fact File
Daylight - 18 hours, 27 minutes
Distance - 5146 miles, 8282kms
Days - 118
Route - crossed Edinburgh from Portobello to Dalmeny on city route 10, then the Water of Leith cycle route taking the Granton spur to Cramond. Cycled on the esplanade then to Dalmeny on the John Muir Way cycle route. Took National Cycle Network route 76 to Kirkcaldy, a lovely route that in places uses the Fife Coastal Path. Took route 1/766 via Leuchars to Monifieth. There are bike paths on both Forth and Tay bridges. All these routes are mostly well signposted.

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