DAY 1 - Edinburgh / Union Canal / The Lang Whang / Carnwrath / New Lanark

We only had to do 30 miles on the first day (to New Lanark Youth Hostel), so a late start had been anticipated, but time was getting on. Eventually, we got our gear together and started along the Union Canal out of town. What a pleasure it was. This is part of a national cycle route to Glasgow, at times the narrowness of the tow-path combined with the occasional dog walker, did make it a slow ride. Part of the route took us by the 'Water of Leith'. This is often mentioned as Edinburgh's 'hidden river' and despite continuing it's run right through the centre of Edinburgh is a haven for wild life and some very mature trees.

Edinburgh on a rare, clear day and Union Canal cycle-path which was our route out of the city.

I had left my home town of Edinburgh 40 years ago and like all waterside areas in large towns these days, it had been the subject of extensive development. I especially noticed the village of Balerno, which was 40 yrs ago was significantly out in the countryside was now well within the suburbs of the city. It was there we left the official cycle path and took the A70.

The Scots name of the road is the "Lang Whang", a whang in the Scots tongue being a narrow strip of leather. Much of the road is over elevated, desolate moorland; it ascends several times on its course to over 1000 feet above sea level. Because the wind enjoys an easy and uninterrupted passage over its length, in winter the road is frequently closed by snow, even by modest snowfalls. It was one of those roads, that lives up to its name and never seems to end. It is a surprisingly bleak road despite the good views across the Forth and to the Pentland Hills. The only small towns we passed through were Carnwrath and Carstairs. The exposed bare countryside confirms why the area is so sparsely populated. So it was that almost in an instant we said good-by to civilisation.

Despite the expected 'slog' the journey wasn't too bad, a grey dull day with no wind, certainly helped. Late in the evening New Lanark Youth hostel however, did eventually appear on the road signs. In order to get to it we had to go through the town of 'Lanark'. Just to get your history in prospective, the new town of 'New Lanark' was founded in 1786 and is in fact the older of the two. It was well hidden down a whopper of a steep hill, complete with S-bends and into the depths of a dark, tree covered gorge.

Its long, its bleak, its the Lang Whang.

I certainly enjoyed today's little ride but with grave thoughts about getting out of here in the morning. The next day’s ride of 53 miles to Ardrossan was going to be hard work as we were aiming to catch the 3pm ferry to Arran. Getting back uphill to Lanark (newish) from the hostel without dying from a heart-attack was going to be a major objective.

Anyway, I arrived at the hostel without Chris, who I am sure I last saw not far behind me at the top off the hill. Eventually, he made his appearance and on enquiring about his lateness I established that he had in fact walked his bike down the steepest bits as he “didn’t like riding down hills”. We intended to have a quick ride around this quite amazing place and look for a shop as we needed something for tea. On starting off I heard an almighty crash and turned to see that Chris had fallen off his bike - having completely failed to remember that his feet were in toe clips.
A good place to do this sort of thing is at a busy tourist World Heritage Site like New Lanark. I left him propped up against a wall supping his water (not before taking a picture of the injuries, of course). Tourist’s at the scene, began piecing together the information available - bottom of hill- bike lying on the road – injured cyclist nearby? The assumption then was made - Chris had suffered catastrophic brake failure coming down the steep hill and that he had heroically skidded to a halt by using his knees as a brake pad. The rush to his aid by a multitude of international visitors would have put UNICEF to shame; poor Chris was a bit shocked even if all is injuries amounted to was a skint knee. On my return he was gallantly telling a posse of women of a certain age about the proposed trip and his efforts to cycle all of 30 miles from Edinburgh that day. It became very noticeable that Chris and ladies of a certain age were mutually attracted, and often over the next few weeks Chris would be seen posing next to his bike while regaling his exploits on touring the B6047 and the back lanes of Leicestershire. I eventually managed to pry him away and shuffled him into New Lanarks Youth Hostel.

My search for a food shop had ended in complete failure as I found that the nearest shop was – guess where? Back up that bloody hill - I would rather go hungry, the prospect of doing that hill tomorrow was bad enough.
Planning the day’s rations are a logistical nightmare for the cyclist with minimum carrying space. I did carry emergency food supplies but, even in my current starved state, to break into these supplies on the first night, was not going to be a good sign. So it was a hungry stare by us at the very dodgy looking selection of pot noodles and tinned foods for sale in the hostel. We choose the dried spicy couscous which, accordingly to the label was packaged in East Grinstead. It was news to me that East Grinstead was the centre of couscous excellence, after eating it I can confirm it isn’t. We also both totally disbelieved the blurb on the front that this was a meal for two, so we bought two packets. It turned out that, in fact, two packets would have been enough to feed the population of New Lanark.

The Falls of the Clyde - a superb riverside walk. / New Lanark features on some very strange looking banknotes.

Now the hostel itself was excellent, in that it was modern and the rooms were all en-suite and had no more than four beds in each. After slaving over a hot kettle and cooking our hard-earned tea. I went for a walk up to the 'Falls of the Clyde' which I might add, despite it being mid-summer, was in full flow. If I had the time I would have written a song about it. Chris, however, missed most of this as he spent the evening repacking his panniers having discovered the first law of touring cycling; that anything you need will be in the other pannier but you will not discover this until the pannier you first went to is emptied and spread all over the road. I have already mentioned this particularly applied to his AWOL cutlery. Chris was henceforth often to be seen eating yogurt with a large plastic ladle.

I had been here before but was quickly reminded that this is a superbly scenic place, even late on a dull grey evening. On return from my evening stroll I went straight to bed, worrying my head off about the climb out of here and then the 53 miles to do tomorrow by 3pm. Chris had still had spread everything he possessed around the room and it was getting late. It was a four bedded room but looked as if there were actually four of us in it. As I was lying in my bed I made the comment to him that it looked as if we were going to have the room to ourselves when…… you have guessed it, there was a rattle at the door in came two rather large leather clad bikers (by bikers, I don’t mean the Lycra wearing, peace-loving, car-hating bikers. I mean the other type). Being a well-organised soul I had packed my kit ready for the early start, this meant I was fairly safe in that my worldly possessions were clearly established in my clearly defined personal space.
This was not the case however, with poor Chris, whose idea of writing everything down and recording which one of his three bags it was going to go in, had now clearly gone down the pan in a big way.
Chris, who had never been in a hostel before, was rudely brought down to earth when confronted by our two new guests. Gathering up his jumble into several black plastic bags actually made it worse for him. Why the black refuse bags - you may ask? Chris’s panniers were not waterproof. Yes, cycle panniers not waterproof – what was the point in making them? So he needed to keep everything in plastic bags, the rustling noise was deafening as he hoovered everything up and continually and profusely apologised to the bigger of the two guests. I however, kept my eyes firmly shut, I thought it best to pretend to be asleep and occasionally letting out a pretend snort hoping it would sound like I was about to come awake – so keep the noise down! It turned out that our two 'Hells Angels' were in fact father and son from Holland and were on the last day of a two-week bike tour of the Highlands.

Like most Dutch people they spoke very good English, if with a soft, Dutch lilt. Chris being Chris is slightly deaf and I suppose nerves had something to do with it as well, but the end result was the Dutchmen would ask a question and get a reply from Chris that bore no relation to the question asked. Couscous and East Grinstead were mentioned at some point and it all got too confusing in the end.
Eventually things settled down but a sleepless night ensued as my mind continually replayed the enormity of the hill before us to get of this place. My main worry was the prospect of water-only porridge for breakfast urgggh! Porridge at the best of times is bland and after our first day’s excitements playing on my mind I did not settle at all.