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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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.

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
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 mapmyrun.com and transportdirect.info. 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.

The nuthatch moves north — June 28, 2012

The nuthatch moves north

Watching from the Aird Meadow hide

Today is the first day of the school holidays so I decided to take my 6 year old son with me on my visit to RSPB Lochwinnoch in Renfrewshire. After all, this blog is all about showing that you can enjoy nature and get there without the car – even with the family. We hooked his tag-along to the back of my bike for the ride home.

The journey there by train from Glasgow Central couldn’t be easier because Lochwinnoch station is almost opposite the reserve. The hard part was getting our long vehicle over the footbridge. It was a dreich morning but we got a warm welcome and a nature spotting activity for kids which we did as we wandered the path alongside Aird Meadow to the hide. The wildlife seemed to be hiding from the weather, but we did see a sedge warbler in the reeds. An otter had been spotted earlier in the day but no luck for us.

Nuthatch                                                               John Bridges (rspb-images.com)

 

No sign of nuthatch either. The first unofficial sighting of a nuthatch in Renfrewshire was in 2001 and now this small bird, which walks head first down the trunks of trees hunting for insects, is regularly breeding in the Clyde area. It has moved steadily north from England and this year one was recorded on the reserve on May 10th. My wife saw one this year in Linn Park, in Glasgow’s Southside and this year they have been breeding in Inverclyde. Changes in the range of species is likely under climate change scenarios – the suitable climate for many species is likely to move north and birds will change their range accordingly. This is OK where birds like nuthatch have woodland to move to but other species may not be so lucky. We need to make sure there is sufficient habitat in the right place to keep up with the changes.

Our cycle back from Lochwinnoch was along National Cycle Route 7. It’s amazing and so rewarding because it follows an old railway line north all the way to Paisley so it’s pretty flat and therefore constantly fast – always helpful, especially when pulling a tag-along. It’s also a great surface – well done to Sustrans. After Paisley there are some on-road sections plus some along the White Cart before the route enters Pollok Park. We did approx 18 miles [must check and update] and much quicker than expected.

We made it
WARNING: Steep hill; changing rainfall. —

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.

Training – Bike to Work Week — June 20, 2012

Training – Bike to Work Week

 This week is Bike to Work Week and RSPB always has a wee competition to see who can cycle in to work from the furthest place. My colleague Rory Crawford and I both live in Glasgow but are Edinburgh based so we decided to give it a go – well half of it. We jumped on the train at Glasgow Queen Street with our bikes and disembarked at Falkirk High heading straight for the nearby Union Canal and the towpath east to Edinburgh. You can easily join the canal at Falkirk, Polmont or Linlithgow. 

It’s a lovely cycle in the morning, chiffchaff and chaffinch singing and insects dashing about inches above the water surface. We saw stonechat, bullfinch, heron and a family of swans, and a dipper by the river below the Avon Aqueduct nr Linlithgow. The canal loops around Broxburn before heading east again to Edinburgh so here we hopped off to head more directly, past the airport to Edinburgh Park, along the cycle paths.

It took just over 2 hours so not a bad way to get me in training for anything over the usual 10 mins ride in Glasgow.

Jim and Rory – ready for work