Green travel to green places

In search of climate and wildlife stories…by bike

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.

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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.

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.

More paths to nature please — June 29, 2012

More paths to nature please

Here’s the quote of the week from my 6-year-old son when we had to get off and walk up a short steep section of the cycle path in Pollok Park.

‘Ohhh, why does the path have to go up here? ….[in reply to himself] I suppose because they made the path after they made the planet’.

You can’t fault the logic, even though he missed a few steps in between! It made me think that we do have the planet and we have wildlife habitats, what we need to do is build the cycle paths to get there – and the bus links. We need more low-carbon ways to get to nature wherever it is – not everyone has use of a car and what if we want to reduce our carbon footprint and choose to leave the car at home. I hope I have shown you, this week, a few possibilities for doing this within the Central Belt of Scotland. But what about further afield? In future weeks (probably in August) I’ll be trying to get to RSPB nature reserves in other parts of Scotland without a car. I’m making plans for this but some places are difficult to go low-carbon. Dumfries and Galloway, for example, has pretty limited bus services.On a cold grey day in January this year, 350 people, many with bikes, descended on the Scottish Government in Edinburgh to call for more money in the budget for cycling and active travel http://www.stopclimatechaos.org/on-yer-bike. Stop Climate Chaos Scotland organised this because the Government’s draft Budget showed a one-third cut in funding for active travel but an alarming rise in spending on roads. The action that day did win an extra £13million over 3 years for sustainable and active travel….but ironically an additional £72million for road building in the final Budget!

Cycling policy – stuck in the mud?  – Eleanor Bentall (rspb-images.com)

We need a much greater share of the transport budget going to pay for pedestrian and cycle paths and to support public transport. And we need routes to go to wonderful places in the countryside so that we can easily get out and enjoy nature. You never know, a small investment might even cut congestion, cut our CO2 emissions, improve the nation’s health and make us feel good.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t get out to a reserve today. I went to a meeting about the RSPB’s Inner Forth Futurescape project (where I visited on Tuesday). I hope to get to the Inner Clyde reserve at a later date.

Slow travel vs low-carbon travel — June 20, 2012

Slow travel vs low-carbon travel

 I googled slow travel. Most people who slow travel try getting from A to B with a lower carbon footprint to normal. Some, like slow food lovers, focus on taking time to just enjoy the experience, but this could be pootling along in a huge campervan rather than on a bike. I aim to cut my carbon footprint so my journeys to RSPB reserves on my sabbatical will only be by train, bus, boat or bike….but primarily bike. At the moment I’m a short-commute cyclist, rather than doing it to keep fit, so I’m aiming to take the bike on the train where possible and ride from there. I don’t have all the kit, like some of my friends who are also hitting the big 40, I’m more like the rider on the right than the left (see pic) – but I’ll give it a go.

I’m a bit more elderly lady than Mark Cavendish

There is also a perception that you can’t get to RSPB reserves unless you have a car. It’s true that many are in the middle of nowhere but surprisingly there are plenty you can get to even if you leave the car at home, or don’t have one. I can tell you that working out how to get to Loch of Kinnordy by public transport is a bit of a trial but I hope I can inspire you to enjoy nature and reduce your carbon footprint at the same time.