Category Archives: Routes / Rides

Scottish climbs: Kingscavil, West Lothian

As the road season nears a close, it enters its final, very violent death throes with the hill climbs. Peculiar to Great Britain, these short uphill time trials are some of the most intense races you can do, but with a decent crowd and a tough hill to conquer, can be very rewarding for anyone who enters them.

Kingscavil hosts one of these hill climbs, run by the West Lothian Clarion and club member Debbie Pollard has kindly contributed this piece on the hill and the event.

Cycling is a huge part of my life, my main hobby, the only sport I have ever loved, a source of great pleasure, and one of those precious things that helps keep life in balance. But it has a dark side. Climbing. I am not a natural climber.

Kingscavil Hill occupies a special place in my mind. A dark wee place of hidden fears. A place of nightmares and panic. I shudder a little each time I pass the turn-off for Kingscavil. Two or three times a year, however, I allow the hill out of that place so that I can challenge it.

The hill is just less than a kilometer in length. The gradient maxes out at 20%. But mere statistics don’t do it justice.

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Scottish Climbs, Nic O The Balloch, Ayrshire

One climb that the now-defunct Davie Bell road race used in the past is the Nic O’ The Balloch in Ayrshire.

It is one of the Ayreshire Alps, that have been promoted as a South Ayrshire ‘road cycling park’. The 3.5km, 7.6% climb is one of the hardest in the area.

The Ayrshire Alps website promotes the area as an on-road trail centre, with climbs graded green to black, to attract new cyclists and also to appeal to new sportive riders and experienced racers. Information on all the climbs including downloadable GPS files, journey planning details, details on local facilities and the option for cyclists to log on and register each climb they complete is there to access any time of the day or night.

The official launch took place in the car park in Straiton, where many people start their cycle ride when tackling the famous Nick o’ the Balloch cycle route.

The site showcases the fantastic cycling in and around the South Carrick area, with 15 categorised climbs in total, including Tairlaw and the Screws. The cycling festival will show case some of the lesser known climbs in the park area including Carleton and Knockgardner.

The concept for the park came from Christopher Johnson, a local race organiser.

He explained how the idea came about: “I was speaking to partners in the Council about creating a legacy from the cycling events in the South Carrick area when it struck me that there is nowhere else in Scotland that offers the same fantastic road cycling. Within a fifteen mile radius we have an amazing selection of testing hill climbs, on quiet roads and in beautiful scenery − far more than even most local cyclists are aware of. It is not unusual for me to cycle 40 miles in the park and come across less than 10 vehicles – that’s one for every four miles travelled.”

The area is well known to racing cyclists, with top professionals including Mark Cavendish and Chris Boardman, having competed in the Girvan Stage Race and more recently the Tour of Britain, which visited the area.

Scottish Climbs: Logie Kirk, Stirling

This climb, local to me, is a short steep narrow road that takes you from the church at the bottom to the Ochil Hills. The church sits in the Forth Valley, in the lea of the Abbey Craig hill, site of the Wallace Monument. Otherwise, the base of this climb is surrounded by the flat farmland of the Forth Valley, with the Ochils range rearing up along the ‘hillfoots’ villages of Menstrie, Alva and Tillicoutry.

The Logie church that sits at the bottom is in the shadow of the Witches Craig, a set of cliffs that were said to be the site of pagan rituals.

Logie Church  Stirling

Starting from the car park, the first section, past the cemetery, seems easy in comparison to the rest, but in fact the bumpy, gravelly road makes it hard to get a decent head of steam up.


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Riding in Ille-et-Vilaine, Brittany

I have been in France on holiday and while the blog is predominantly Scottish in outlook, I like to do some local French stuff once a year too.

Staying with my inlaws means I have had more time to ride, read and write than normal, with no daily grind and plenty of family members champing at the bit to look after our kids – even dinner and bath time is a pleasure for aunties and cousins.

Back road in Brittany
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Scottish Climbs: The Crow Road

I picked up Ian Banks’ The Crow Road again recently – I couldn’t remember whether the road named in the title was the Scottish cyclists’ favourite, or the urban Crow Road in the Anniesland area of Glasgow. It turned out to be the latter, but the book is worth a read anyway.

Heading north, out of Lennoxtown, it’s a fairly long climb with changes in gradient that can be your undoing- overcook it on the long straight section after the golf course, and you will pay the price after the road turns right and steepens after the scenic car park. Most club cyclists won’t be looking back over their left shoulder to take in the beautiful views- to enjoy it properly you’d have to ride at a more leisurely pace. But where’s the fun in that?!

To most riders this climb is a stiff enough test, and riding up it once is enough, but Robert Millar would ride a dozen reps of it as training in preparation for the Tour. It is part of the Robert Millar sportive, a new challenge ride that took place for the first time last weekend.

The Tour of the Campsies Time Trial is one of the classics of the Scottish Calendar and takes in this climb with a timed section making up a separate prize within the main race.

Davy Miller climbs the Crow Road in the Tour of the Campsies, late 80s. Pic Harry Tweed

You can still expect a view like the one below, from an old photo. The landscape changes little but the road much more so. In fact it is arguably a poorer surface in many places today than as seen in this image.

Alex Hendry riding a hill climb up the Crow Road. image: Harry Tweed

An image from the ever-popular Paris-Roubaix flickr account (below) shows that road races were run here in the 1960s:

A soaking for Chryston Wheelers Tom Jardine from clubmate Dougie Melrose on a road race over the Campsie Fells via the Crow Road in the 1960s. Ice cold water from Jamie Wright’s Well! Not recommended. Note the unusual braking arrangement on Tom’s Flying Scot, with both back and front cables going into one lever, this was due to a cycling accident.

Crow Road Race
picture originally from Tom Jardine.

From welcometolennoxtown, I learned that the well sits high up the Crow Road, around the bend beyond the car park. I have ridden this road many times but never knew about the well until researching this peice. It was used to slake the thirst of weary travellers, and no doubt coal horses and other animals would also have appreciated it. The water is clear, cold, spring water, which filters down the hills into the well.

Lennoxtown, East Dunbartonshire, 1910

The road above will be recognisable to cyclists as the foot of the Crow Road, but the main difference is the lack of traffic and parked cars.

The built-up towns and villages around the foot of the Campsie Fells make a road racing up here more difficult to organise these days. But there’s no reason why, without good marshalling and careful riding, that it can’t be so. And with a rolling road block, a Tour of Britain stage could go over here, through Fintry and back down past Glengoyne to finish in Glasgow – if we ever see the ToB come this far North.

And this year, a road race will go up the Crow again. GJS Racing, a (relatively) new outfit based in the Falkirk area are organising a race O’er the Crow ‘n’ Doon – 1st July 2012 and entry is via British Cycling website.

Two laps of a 40km circuit, that is flat/undulating, apart from the Crow road.

July is a good time to hold the race- although some people will be on holiday there is not a massive amount of events at this time, and it’s great to see a new club/team getting involved and putting an event on.

Scottish Climbs: Cadger’s Brae

I have not ridden Cadger’s Brae, which is situated in between Kennoway and Freuchie in Fife, and part of the Dave Campbell Memorial Road Race, but with that name I imagine it as a long drag that you can ‘cadge’ a tow up. This couldn’t be further from the truth- it is a steep nasty climb that can be the decisive point in the race or hurt the legs of any cyclist out for a training or leisure ride.

My misguided assumption led me to wonder why it is called Cadger’s Brae and a couple of people offered suggestions. Derek Hoy said “cadger was old Scots for a caddie or carrier”, while Dave Mackay checked the dictionary definition: “15th century origin unknown. Originally in the sense ‘itinerant peddler’, modern meaning evolved via ‘beggar, opportunist’.”

David Campbell Mem. RR 6/5/12 - Kennoway

A search online has led me to a Cadgers Brigs in Linlithgow and Biggar, a Cadger’s road in Forfar, a Cadgers Gate in the hills near Dollar and a cadgers ford in Aberdeenshire.
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Scottish Climbs: The Khyber, Mugdock

“The Khyber” is a steep short climb in an area to the north of Glasgow. The hamlet of Mugdock has three stiff climbs leading into it, plus the Cuilt Brae. If you are looking for a tough ride, you could could get plenty of bang for your buck by heading north from Glasgow.

The climb starts from from Stockiemuir Road on the road between Hilton & Milngavie golf courses, taking you to Mugdock.

This climb has been used by the Glasgow Nightingale CC for a hilly TT, with Cuilt Brae, making for a pretty stiff circuit.

It is is tougher due to a poor surface.

Scottish Climbs: Cuilt Brae, Mugdock

Cuilt Brae is the B821, a 2 mile stretch of road from pictureque, well-heeled Strathblane to Carbeth, to the North of Glasgow.

It seems to have several names- coming out of Strathblane/Blanefield, it is signed for Stockiemuir. I have heard people refer to it both as ‘Cuilt Brae’ and ‘Stockiemuir’. The top is at Carbeth, where there is an Inn.

The Glasgow Nightingale and Ivy cycling clubs both use it for their club hill climb championships.

In the photo above, behind the idling riders you can see the road climbing up.

It has steep but steady gradient and a couple of nice hairpins, where the gradient rises to 15%.

click for larger map

Turning right at the top will take you towards Drymen Hill, another good climb that I will have to cover another time. Turning left takes you back along the Stockiemuir Road towards Glasgow, and taking another left after passing the Hilton Park Golf Club, you will find an unclassified road that is known as the “Khyber Pass”. Another short sharp climb beloved (or hated) amongst Glasgow cyclists that is also on my list to look at.

If you ride the Khyber Pass, you’ll pass Mugdock Park, which plays host to a Scottish Cyclocross series race. Back down into Strathblane, you have the option to go east to tackle the Crow Road or the Tak-Me-Doon. North of Glasgow certainly has a great deal of climbs to offer.

This climb on Google maps.
photos by Jamie Forbes Glasgow Ivy(Ivy gallery)
Glasgow Ivy CC website

Scottish Climbs: The Serpentine, Rothesay

It is now hill climb season, and The Serpentine Road in Rothesay is used for the hill climb of the Bute Cycling festival, held annually by the Bute Wheelers since the 1950s. This weekend is coming up- 17th and 18th September 2011.

The festival incorporates a series of four races, with a fun atmosphere that is slightly more informal than some events. It is often used as an end-of-season social trip, with the Saturday night being as important a part of the weekend as the 2-up time trial, the 10, the hill climb or the APR.

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The climb itself is a steep winding road that spirals upwards for 1/3 of a mile, and like most short, sharp climbs, demands the maximum whether you are racing up it or just riding- taking your time simply prolongs the effort!

Stirling BC
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