The Stoker and her sister Rita with Uncle Frank at his 80th birthday party.

June 21 to June 27 2005 Bangor (Ireland) to Lenzie near Glasgow

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Day 27 June 21st Bangor (Ireland) to Stranraer (Scotland)

We left Bangor without regret, its only saving grace being the pleasant B&B. We continued on busy and at times dangerous roads to visit the excellent Ulster Folk and Transport Museum near to Holywood. We enjoyed our visit very much. But we only had time in about three hours to look at transport. If we are this way again we would like to come back to look at the rest.

The road system into Belfast is a good example of how not to build a cycle route. It could well go into the road engineers' manual as such. On the face of it and presumably on the plans it looked good. To the left of the highway the cycle lane is painted red and about as wide as a motorway hard shoulder. It runs like this for about 10km. That's the good side. On the bad side we felt as if we were on a motorway. Two and three lanes of very fast moving traffic to our right and high fences on our left. Not only were we extremely vulnerable but the noise level was so high that we could not even talk to each other.

When the A2 is finally designated as motorway for the last 8km cyclists are diverted off down a slip road. Needless to say at this point, on the entrance to the sliproad roundabout, the route ends as suddenly as it began. We staggered on undirected to the roaring Queens Bridge. From the Queens Bridge, clearly visible to our right, was a fine pedestrian and cyclist bridge. But we, and anyone else foolhardy enough to follow this route, had not the sightest idea how to get to it. Anyway by now it was too late.

So road planners, what we would like are direct, signed routes to places we want to go. They need to be away from roaring main roads. There was not a single other cyclist on this route. The money could have been better spent . If we come again we will plan our way into Belfast much more carefully. With solos, according to the publicity, it is also possible to take bikes on trains which would be a much better option. In the meantime we would like to send the Dorset road planners and require them to cycle on this route. Perhaps then they will rethink what they want to do in west Dorset.

Anyway, having had a grumble, by chance we picked up Sustrans route 93, which took us almost to the high speed ferry terminal. The Stoker put on her pressure bands and was not seasick. It would be nice to think that either the bands worked or the ferry was bigger and better and smoother than Condor. The ferry probably is, but much of the route is in sheltered water and the sea was calm.

Entering Scotland is a milestone on the trip. But it is also good to be away from Northern Ireland. The people we met were lovely and most of the cycling has been good. But one gets fed up with the bad feeling about the place. Everything is locked. Police stations are behind barbed wire. The news, particularly in late June, is fully of futile sectarian stuff. We could go on. Northern Ireland is worth a visit but is always good to leave.

Right on time at 19h15 we checked into a B&B just along from the ferry terminal.

Day 28 June 22nd Stranraer to Girvan

We had forgotten what wonderful cycling can be had in Southern Scotland. This area has, for many years, been rundown. Even so, much money has been spent on the roads. There seems to be little industry and consequently traffic is very light. Not only that but the average tourist from the south ignores the area on their way to theme parks further north.

Our plan was to travel inland through the mountains of the Glentrool Forest but unfortunately there seemed to be nowhere to stay along the route. The Stoker spent a long time talking to Tourist Information but accommodation seemed impossible.

Nevertheless we headed east and then north on the planned route. We were soon on tiny roads in high moorland. We had the sun and the wind on our backs and mainly sheep for company. Vehicles were few all day. We saw deer, curlew, and lots of other wildlife we didn't recognise including large birds of prey.

At New Luce we had to make a route decision. The Management was all for carrying on with the plan, happy to wild camp if necessary. The Stoker knew she did not want to. She was also not sure whether the Management really meant it. Camping is hard work and wild camping always difficult and often uncomfortable. So we turned left towards Girvan.

A final choice had to be made on whether to go into Girvan or stay in the hills at a little village called Barr. Failure to get a phone signal to book B&B scuppered this. Back down to the coast we went, reluctantly.

Girvan is the main departure point for trips to see Ailsa Craig. This is a strange steep sided conical shaped island which rises steeply from the sea to over 350 metres. Girvan does not however have the feel of a genteel seaside place. In fact we had the feeling that both of Rab C Nesbit's characters would feel at home here. Puffers certainly would have put in here. Whether working class Glasgow would have come down we don't know. If they did we think they would feel at home here.

Day 29 June 23rd Girvan to Tarbolton

The management was a bit upset this morning. He lay in bed and counted the church bell ring 7 times. Good he thought, a few minutes more and then make some tea. He looked at his watch sometime later. It was 5.30am. The church was 22 hours slow, nothing could possibly be 2 hours fast here.

As we left the hotel some locals suggested we take the coast route north. We had planned, like yesterday, to go inland. We stuck to our plan to go inland but the coastal route from here could be good cycling. As we went along we were, after yesterday's superb cycling, a little disappointed. It was certainly not busy and the scenery is pleasantly rural. It did not have the magic of the wild moorlands and deserted routes of yesterday.

Before lunch we climbed the most enormous hill. It looked more like Yorkshire than Scotland with rolling hills into the distance. It was also a busy place with contractors using heavy tractors and trailers for forage harvesting. The hill did for our legs, especially the Management's which had really needed a couple of hours more sleep.

In the village of Dalrymple the Stoker went to the post office to look at the Yellow Pages. We wanted accommodation in Tarbolton and there was none on any of the lists. She soon found the Crown Hotel, phoned and booked a room.

From here on we took things as easily as we could in the hilly country. We were glad to arrive in the large village. The hotel is very friendly, and really much more a pub than a hotel. They were not doing meals but let us use the kitchen to get our own. This suits us fine.

Le Cobusier said that form follows function. Among all the modern architectural rubbish in Glasgow dockland these two structures stand out. Both were designed to serve a purpose. They still please the eye.

Day 30 June 24th Tarbolton to Glasgow

We started the day by going to look at Rabbie Burns' Bachelor House. He apparently came to Tarbolton to debate things, and to roll up one trouser leg and do funny handshakes. Presumably to the detriment of the rest of us. Apparently his (male) followers still come to the Masonic Hall. The House was closed but looked pleasant enough from the outside. We didn't look at the hall.

The main impediment to our meandering on the country roads was the large town of Kilmarnock. With no easy way around it we did the opposite and went straight through the centre. This strategy worked fine and we traversed on mainly minor roads. At the outskirts of town we picked up a minor road to Stewarton. From here we were on the Old Glasgow Road.

There are alternative minor roads but this one was not busy so we stayed on it. It did involve a long steady climb but we were rewarded with lovely hilly scenery and wonderful views. We think that the minor roads would involve even more climbing.

After the descent we were in Newton Mearns. This is in effect the outskirts of Glasgow. There was some suggestion that a cycle route might exist from here but we could not find it. We eventually joined one, at the wrong end of Pollock Park. This took us easily and mainly off road to our hotel near the Scottish Exhibition Centre.

We have cycled in and out of Glasgow several times and can recommend the above route. We have tried the Sustrans route in the past. It is much further unless you want to wander off to the east and along the busy coast. It also has many barriers and long stretches of unmade surface. Has Sustrans patented it? We enjoyed the quietness of the country lanes and villages. We, not surprisingly, find this preferable to lifting over barriers and cycling through treacle.

Days 31 June 25th Glasgow for Uncle Frank's 80th birthday party.

The Campanile Hotel near to the exhibition centre is the venue for the Stoker's Uncle Frank's birthday party tonight. We planned the trip to be here today and having done so have lots to do. These modern hotels are best not used for overnight stays. They remind one of work. And there have been many retrograde steps taken over recent years in hotels and catering. But we had a good reason to be there.

We firstly needed clean and tidy clothes. We had used up all of our very limited wardrobe and now took it across the river to Govan. As a traditional tough working class area of Glasgow we reckoned correctly that it would have a laundrette. The Stoker negotiated a service wash with the turbanded Mr Mop. This is a great luxury for her and the extra cost is tiny. And he took great care of our clothes doing a great job.

We then cycled back across the Clyde via Bells Bridge and a covered walkway into the city centre. We had jobs to do for the next part of our journey. The Management had made a plan and we needed ferry timetables and accommodation lists. The Stoker also needed a new book to read.

It should have been easy but we were thwarted. The city centre was brought to a complete standstill by the marching bands of the Orange Lodges of Glasgow. They should not really be marching for a couple of weeks but had been brought forward as apparently in two weeks time all the Glasgow police are needed for the G8 summit. Having experienced bigoted Northern Island so recently we were affronted by this display. We also find it hard to understand what they have to march about in Scotland. We guess, like their cousins in Ireland, it has something to do with culture.

Eventually by wiggling through minor roads we got through to do our jobs. Unlike a carnival procession it is a lynching offence to cross the bands even when they are stopped. The drunken bystanders don't like this and we didn't like them. We were glad to be away from it.

Properly buffed up we joined with about 100 of the Stoker's relatives at the party. As with all of the family events here in Glasgow we both enjoyed it very much. Good food, good company and some dancing. The Management, one of the few southerners there, is always made very welcome. It is not easy for someone with the inbred reserve of South East England to enjoy himself but he did appear to manage it.

To Uncle Frank, who was still up when we went to bed, and to the cousins who organised it, thanks very much. It was worth cycling a thousand kms to come.

Days 32 and 33 June 26th and 27th Glasgow to Lenzie and a day off

The next morning we got up late. Rita, the Stoker's sister, had come for the party. We had a long late breakfast and enjoyed chatting over family matters. She left by train back to Manchester just before midday. And we had been invited to stay with cousins Margaret and Tom Harvey who live at Lenzie, just to the north east of Glasgow centre.

For some time the tandem gears had not been working properly, and having spent such a lot of money on them we were very disappointed. We have been in contact with St John Street Cycles who have been extremely helpful. They wrote:

"I am sorry to hear of your problem with slipping gears, (4,6,7,11,13 and 14 slipped) as I say in our literature, a small percentage of Rohloff hubs have to go back to Rohloff for attention. It looks as if yours is one of them. Their service is very quick indeed and I have never heard of a hub needing to be sent back twice."

Some time ago we had agreed with Robin Thorn that we could borrow a wheel. The problem was how to get it to us. This was solved by sending it to Tom and Margaret who brought it to the party. We fitted it and seriously overloaded with two rear wheels we set off.

The replacement wheel worked a treat which is more than can be said for Glasgow cycle routes. The plan was simple. We would exit the exhibition desert area via a bridge. This was all shown on the glossy map. The bridge had steps. Someone needs to tell Glasgow that bikes have wheels and it is hard to get a loaded one up steps. With some bad tempered pushing and shoving we managed it. The next bit was rather nice and on roads via the leafy shade on the University and Kelvingrove Park.

Then the powers that be struck again. We wanted to use the canal towpath. It is billed as a wonderful high level route out of Glasgow city centre. It probably is but we may never know as it has impassable locked gates on it. We were warned off it by friendly local cyclists who are already protesting about it.

We finally got onto the Forth Clyde Canal proper at its junction with the spur into Glasgow. We rode along the tow path which was busy with other Sunday walkers, cyclists and fishermen. All the gates were open but it is obvious that they are sometimes closed and locked. And this is supposed to be a wonderful project providing a cycling and walking route across Scotland. Someone, including Glasgow City Council and British Waterways, needs to sort this out because at present it is a serious failure. And lots of our money has already been spent.

Onwards in the sunshine we received a warm welcome from Tom and Margaret and spent a very pleasant evening followed by a restful day. Except that parcels had to be sent home and wheels returned to Bridgwater. Not to mention getting this diary sent and all the usual housekeeping for a long trip.

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