Green travel to green places

In search of climate and wildlife stories…by bike

Taxpayers pay £100 per bike ride! — November 1, 2012

Taxpayers pay £100 per bike ride!

Bike2Go bikes at Dumfries station

When I got off the train in Dumfries back in August I was surprised to see Dumfries and Galloway’s (D&G) version of the Boris Bike. A few Bike2Go bikes were sitting at the station. I wondered then how often they were used – the answer is not much. An article in the Scotsman showed that the cost to the taxpayer of every journey was a whopping £101.37 as fewer than 20 bikes were rented each week The Council says the scheme is to remain for the long-term so it’s good they aren’t scrapping it and selling off the bikes. In the article Deputy Council Leader Brian Collins (also chairman of regional transport agency Swestrans) said ‘We’re seeking a change of mindset’, but changing mind-sets is about more than a few bikes. 

Planning a trip around D&G by bus is a serious headache as services are few and far between, especially away from the towns. The area is a popular holiday destination but going without a car is practically impossible. The roads are good though – a joy to ride. I really noticed this on my ride from Newton Stewart to Girvan, the potholes started as soon as I crossed into South Ayrshire.

When I stayed in Newton Stewart I was told that the Council has stopped kerbside recycling because of the recession. Shame that a reduced budget hits recycling first. So I can’t help thinking that D&G Council has cut back on recycling and prefers to keep car drivers happy. Getting people to think differently and travel in a greener way will take more than a few rental bikes. It means spending a greater proportion of budgets on the environment (including better bus services and recycling) and greater leadership on environmental issues. Perhaps, it’s Councillor Collins and his colleagues who need to change their mind-sets.

Greener, fitter, faster. — October 31, 2012

Greener, fitter, faster.


Yesterday I worked out that I saved 105kg CO2 through low-carbon travel on my sabbatical. My travel emitted 60% less than if I had gone by car – a small car. Brilliant. I also got fitter.

Of the 953 miles, nearly 200 were by bike. When I started, I found the cycling tough – I was a bit out of practice. In the first week my daily cycling was 17 miles on average but by the last week in Dumfries and Galloway I was averaging 36 miles a day. I was even doing extra miles by bike – on the last day I had planned to cycle from Newton Stewart up to Barrhill station but I had time and kept on going to Girvan.

Thankfully that fitness hasn’t gone away again now that the sabbatical is over. In fact, I am inspired to do more. I might not have loads of time to go on long bike rides but I am now a regular cycle commuter into Glasgow and I have made a dramatic discovery. Cycling is the fastest way to get into the office – only 30 mins. Faster than going by bus, train or car. The main question is why didn’t I discover this cycling commute earlier. Laziness? No, I just didn’t realise it was possible and so quick. So now getting to work I can be greener, fitter and faster…oh and a little bit richer.

MAMILs on the road — September 1, 2012

MAMILs on the road

I’m waiting for a new all singing all dancing modem to arrive and get us back into 21st century braodband speeds. So this is only a short post.

Do you know the difference between a MAMIL and a mammal? One is a usually hairy warm blooded creature which produces milk for its young. The other is short for Middle Aged Man in Lycra. You’ve seen them, sometimes in packs, often on a Sunday morning, brightly coloured and in a hunched position straining at the pedals. It’s the thing to do to get over the mid-life crisis; buy a flashy Chris Boardman bike (other brands are available), a cycle computer, a skin-tight lycra outfit and off you go to get fit and out of the house. It’s better than buying a sports car and looking for younger women – I guess.

I’ve cycled more than 100 miles this week on my visits to RSPB’s Mersehead, Wood of Cree, and Crook of Baldoon reserves in Dumfries and Galloway. I enjoyed the cycling and being in the countryside, and feel a whole lot fitter than when I started this cycling sabbatical lark in June. I think I’m going to keep going with the cycling to keep the fitness and to get about. I should resolve to go for a weekly ride, but don’t expect me to become a fully fledged MAMIL just yet.

More blogs to come about Wood of Cree, Crook of Baldoon and climate impacts.

A rant about having to leave my bike in Oban — August 29, 2012

A rant about having to leave my bike in Oban

In my blog post Bikes Trains and Automatons on the 18th I explained the trials and tribulations of booking a bike onto a train. Remember I said that I would take the chance of getting my bike on the train from Oban that they said had no bike space reservations left? Well it did come true, there were 6 bikes booked onto the train and, no I wasn’t allowed to take it apart and put it on as luggage and ‘if something went wrong I would be in for it’, said the conductor. So I had to leave my bike locked up in Oban till Monday when I could go back to pick it up. Poor thing – left alone in the rain.

I accept my own stupidity and complacency but what is annoying is 1) that the bike spaces were the only full thing on that train. There were plenty of empty seats and spare luggage space – why couldn’t I have slotted it in somewhere, even if I had to stand guard over it;  2) On my return journey with my bike on Monday there were 12 bike spaces on the train (so 6 on the last rain on a Fri evening in summer but 12 on a mid afternoon train on a Monday!);  3) I asked if I could book my bike onto the train in Dumfries yesterday and the ticket guy said, ‘No, it’s first come first served’! How’s someone to know what to do?

If we are to get people out of their cars and onto trains we must have a better system for bikes and more bike spaces – especially on busy routes in summer. Otherwise it will just put people off. Train companies only seem to organise their businesses around commuters and getting them to work, rather than holidaymakers or leisure users. Rant over!

A day trip along the Solway Firth — August 28, 2012

A day trip along the Solway Firth

Fancy a day trip to the Solway Firth to see some birds? Why not go to the RSPB’s Mersehead reserve… but not at the end of August. I went today and didn’t see much, save for, what could have been, a female wheatear, being battered by the wind. I was well and truly battered by the wind as I wandered along the beach and on my cycle to the reserve. So spotting birds and cycling were both hard work. There were lovely views though, across the sand flats and the grassland and saltmarsh. Views were great along the ride too, especially across the Solway on the way back and a following wind.

The best times to visit are either in the spring when there are loads of bums on nests, especially waders or in winter. Both Mersehead and Kirkconnell Merse RSPB reserve on the River Nith, are important sites for barnacle geese from Svalbard which spend the winter there as well as good numbers of other swans, geese and ducks.

 I got there by train from Glasgow to Dumfries and then it’s a gently undulating ride along the A710 Solway coast road. The ride is about 17 miles each way to Mersehead but you could make a shorter ride to Kirkconnell Flow National Nature Reserve and Kirkconnell Merse, or just stop off there on route to Mersehead. Definitely a good day out no matter how far down the road you get.

Learning to slow down and enjoy nature — August 25, 2012

Learning to slow down and enjoy nature

Someone accused me of not being very low carbon because I was planing to get the train and ferry to Coll. I laughed. True, I could cycle all the way to the sea and then follow the example of some people from Coll who on the 8th August swam from the Ardnamurchan peninsula to Coll (I heard later that they did the swim in relays so no-one actually swam all the way). Finally I could walk to the RSPB reserve, so technically it is possible but it would be one hell of a mixed up crazy triathlon. It’s true that the ferry is not exactly low carbon. You would have to do the sums, but if you were on a half-full ferry in winter it might be better for your carbon footprint to fly in a full plane. But if you did fly you would miss the sight of porpoises, dolphins, basking sharks, gannets diving into the sea, and more. I prefer the slow route and with Calmac ferries investing in some electric powered ferries this year, all the better.

Both Coll and Tiree are amazing for watching wildlife but Coll is wilder, quieter and with less people and houses – more romantic perhaps. There is more moorland and even a few trees. Tiree seems busier, flatter and greener, with sandy beaches all around the island. Getting to the reserve on Coll was fine by bike. I stayed in Arinagour the village on the island close to where the ferry offloads. It’s about 10 miles from there to the reserve, a bit up and down but not too arduous. Anyway the views are worth it and being on a bike you feel in the countryside and closer to nature. I had my own bike but you can hire them or even stick your thumb out and hope for a kind passer by – quite likely on Coll.

Also on a bike you can pootle along and stop when and where you like along the single-track roads. I’ll admit I’m not very good at this slow cycling philosophy – I like the ride too much. But I’m learning to slow down. I was inspired by two people I met who took most of the day to cycle their hired bikes around Coll, they saw so much wildlife. A family I met on their bikes said they loved Tiree because they could spend the days, slowly cycling from beach to beach. So on Tiree I put my mind to a slow ride to where I was staying for the night and was rewarded with a view of a rare female hen harrier hunting over the heather. With so much nature all around why not take some time to just enjoy it.

Bikes, trains and automatons — August 18, 2012

Bikes, trains and automatons

The dictionary defines an automaton as ‘a person acting in a mechanical way’. I’ve experienced a couple of automatons when trying to book my bike onto the train this week – a couple of odd experiences.

I don’t usually book my bike on the train but as it is holiday season I thought it best to do so for my journeys next week. At Glasgow Central I went up to the window and asked if I could book my bike onto the train to Oban and back. I got mechanical monosyllables and long silences while the guy looked constantly at his screen and shook his head. I wondered if he had actually forgotten about me. After a few minutes and a verbal nudge from me, it seemed he couldn’t find any availability from Oban to Glasgow. I tried the Scotrail website. Some information but nothing on how to make a bike space reservation. I tried by phone. The automated voice didn’t give an option for booking a bike onto the train so I chose a random number. A helpful woman helped me. Very helpful – probably because I had dialled the number for booking ‘assisted travel’. Her approach was to constantly talk and mechanically describe her every action to me as she looked up availability, more for her benefit than mine.

The good news is that my bike booked onto the train to Oban next week for my trip to Coll and Tiree. The bad news is zero availability on the train back from Oban. So I’ll just have to take the risk and a full set of spanners so in the event that there is a whole cycling club booked on I can take my bike to bits and get it on the train as luggage. Wish me luck.

Scotrail could do better and make cycle space reservation available on line at the same time as booking a ticket. It could also create more spaces for bikes on trains – that might inspire more people to get out and enjoy nature and leave the car at home.

My bike, on the train – unreserved
Wiggins, Cavendish and Densham — July 22, 2012

Wiggins, Cavendish and Densham

What a great day for cycling! Bradley Wiggins wins the Tour de France, Mark Cavendish wins on the Champs Elysses for the forth year in a row, and my son Willoughby learns to ride a bike. Superb.

This noteable event in Willoughby’s life is somehow surprising as he had seemed rather attached to the stabilisers, and actually not getting on his bike at all. But I think all the recent tag-along journeys have really helped with his confidence and balance.

For our family the best thing about this event is that, as the boys get bigger and heavier, family outings get harder and eventually impossible with the current bike seat and tag-along arrangement. I had feared that we would become reliant on the car! So hopefully, next summer we can progress to 3 bikes and 1 tag-along and remain able to green travel to green places.

The distance stats — July 19, 2012

The distance stats

For the stats lovers out there here are the statistics on how far I have travelled during my sabbatical, so far. All distances in miles and all low-carbon.

  • Barons Haugh – Train 34, Walk 2 (to the reserve)
  • Skinflats and Inner Forth – Train 42, Cycle 11
  • Loch Leven – Train 153, Cycle 19
  • Lochwinnoch – Train 17, Cycle 20

Total so far (drum roll please)

Train – 246 miles        Cycling – 50 miles 

A view from one of Barons Haugh’s hides

Thanks to my little brother I now have a wee bike computer to work out my cycling miles. I worked out the distances on and If there is an easier way to calculate train journey distances please let me know.

Now to plan the next Green travel to green places journeys.

Bute-iful cycling — July 16, 2012

Bute-iful cycling

I’m not back on sabbatical yet but thought I would blog about my latest green travel. I’ve been on holiday with the family the past couple of weeks and after abandoning our Moray camping holiday due to rain we decided to extend our time off with a short trip somewhere else.We found a B&B in Rothesay on the Isle of Bute so headed there from Glasgow. Best of all we decided to leave the car at home and go by train, ferry and bikes. We loaded 2 bikes, 1 bike seat, 1 tag-along bike, 2 panniers, 1 small rucksack, 1 handlebar bag and not forgetting 2 children onto the train to Wemyss Bay for the journey along the Clyde. At Wemyss Bay the station is at the ferry terminal so an easy roll down the pier to get a ticket. At the other end a short ride got us to the B&B – easy.

Taking a rest from digging at Scalpsie Bay

Taking the bikes meant we had them to get about the island, mainly to the sandy beaches for us. Cycling on Bute is easy as nowhere is very far away and doesn’t take a climb over a big hill to get there. On the east side the road runs along the coast so getting to Mount Stuart, for example, is flat all the way.

Rothesay is, sadly, a town in decline – a faded seaside destination of the past – and the worst fish supper I have ever had! But the beaches and views are glorious. I have never been to a beach where the sand and sea is so full of life. Give me a spade and a sandy beach and I have to dig, constantly, so I saw a lot of worms, shellfish and other invertebrates – even though I didn’t know what they are it felt like Bute was teeming with life. The weather was great and a few porpoises in the Kyles of Bute topped it all off, especially for Anna, my wife, who had missed seeing bottlenose dolphins in the Moray Firth.

Bute without the car was so easy. If more people decided to leave the aeroplane on the ground and even the car at home to cut their holiday’s carbon footprint Rothesay could be in for a second heyday.