Green travel to green places

In search of climate and wildlife stories…by bike

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
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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.

WARNING: Steep hill; changing rainfall. — June 28, 2012

WARNING: Steep hill; changing rainfall.

The nice people at Loch Leven reserve did warn me about the steep hill on National Cycle Network Route 1 near Cleish; but I took the chance and now my legs may regret it. I’m not too proud to admit that I had to get off and push at the last steep section.

My bike at RSPB Loch Leven

I took the train from Edinburgh to Lochgelly and cycled the 5 miles to RSPB Loch Leven – formerly known as RSPB Vane Farm. On the way back I wanted to take in National Cycle Route 1 so had to head west out of the reserve, over the M90 and then pick up Route 1 (heading over said steep hill) and down to the station in Dunfermline. In hindsight I would have done my route the other way round. Check out the Sustrans network (to make a proper plan!) at http://www.sustrans.org.uk/map#292000,678000 .

A less strenuous way to get to the reserve without a car is to go by bus which has a limited service to the reserve on a Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday from Kinross and elsewhere. The scenic route is to walk or cycle clockwise the 8 miles around the edge of the loch along the Loch Leven Heritage Trail from Kinross.

RSPB Loch Leven reserve features a variety of habitats, It overlooks the open water of the loch, has a wooded hillside, meadows, a raised bog and wetlands. I spoke to Vicky Turnbull, the Warden, who explained to me the work they have done on the reserve in the past year to better control water levels on the wetland, especially for lapwing. Being on sandy soil, the wetland drains quickly but can also flood easily. Managing the water levels seems to be a stressful business because the RSPB does not have control of the water level in the Loch or when and how much it rains. With climate change projections showing less summer rainfall in future it is essential to try to store winter rainfall on the reserve for keeping the wetlands wet through the year. Building resilience to changing rainfall patterns is essential if the wetland habitat is to continue to support the numbers of lapwing that I saw today, and hopefully more. We must do all we can to halt further climate change but we also have a responsibility to help wildlife adapt to the impacts that the climate will have on them and their habitats.

The long-term trend in the east of Scotland may be for less summer rain but I did get a soaking today – that is the difference between climate and weather.

Day trips without the car — June 21, 2012

Day trips without the car

I live in the Southside of Glasgow with my family. We love getting out into the countryside at the weekend so when the kids are in bed on a Friday night we have a familiar debate that goes something like this;

Where shall we go this weekend?

Let’s go to [insert location here].

Can we get there by train?

Yes, but it will take too long [or] No, we will have to go by car.

We love to think we are not reliant on our car but when it comes to visiting the countryside its difficult not to be. Our destination usually rules how we travel rather than the other way around, although we are getting more familiar with great places to go to by train. We are lucky because we can afford to run a car even though we mainly use it only at weekends. The 2001 Census showed that 45% of Glasgow households do not own a car so public transport and active travel is the only way from them to access the countryside. For us, the car is a semi-luxury, helping us to enjoy our relaxation time.

On the sunniest day of the year so far we decided to take our bikes by train to Largs and take the ferry to then cycle round Cumbrae. It was a fantastic day, and so it was no surprise that half of Glasgow were also at Central station headed for the west coast beaches. That trip took more planning than if we had jumped in the car but even with the bikes and all the people on the train, going by car, with the traffic jams and parking hassles, would have been worse. Breaking the habit of grabbing the car keys and making a different plan can be the hardest part. It’s so easy to say – lets go to RSPB Lochwinnoch for the day – and automatically jump in the car, but leaving the car at home can be rewarding too in so many ways.

I’m off on the first week of visits to RSPB nature reserves next week. They will all be done as a daytrip from Glasgow to show that there are places you can go for a day out without taking the car.