"I,ll say this for you Bob.You always come up with places I`d never think of going to in a million years!"
"Its the same with some of your ideas Alex...cheers."
Sitting in the car heading towards our destination neither of us could decide if this was a compliment.
One of the great things about Scotland though is how varied the landscapes and places to visit are for such a small country.Its not all mountains.We have miles of low grassy golden hills (braes),flat cliff ringed escarpments;hundreds of miles of beaches,each one different and unique;At least five different types of woodlands and even that rarest of Scottish features.....the high flat plain.
Recently I`ve been inspired by Rick Steins colourful 4 part TV series on Spain and in particular the vast elevated plains of La Mancha with its wide horizons and big blue skies.
Recently too Alex has climbed ( reluctantly) into the saddle,due to his dodgy foot, so a brainwave had occurred in my kaleidoscope of a mind for a cycle ride he`d really enjoy.
We have our own version of La Mancha right here.A high elevated plateau rising to almost 1000 feet where skies are big and wide and views stretch away into the hazy distance in all directions.
Only joking.To be more precise its the high triangle of moorland above Cumbernauld stretching southwards to Carluke and eastwards as far as Livingstone.A surprising place that's perfect for cycling.Wild, remote and empty yet full of surprise,history and interest.
Car parks are few in this area and indeed most people unless they are local aren't even aware of its existence
as they zoom past on the M8 motorway between Scotlands two largest cities,Glasgow and Edinburgh.(Its that high flat boring bit in the middle.)
But its aware of them alright and they could not function properly as a society without it. Without this place there would be chaos.Not believe me...read on.
It was a lovely sunny morning (well, it always is in BSS land isn't it?) when we arrived in the large car park at Palacerigg Country Park among the pigs, goats and chickens on the southern outskirts of Cumbernauld. A quick tour of the rare breeds in their various pens then we were off on the bikes,climbing up on empty roads past the remains of Longriggend remand centre, the vacant eerie bus shelters the sole reminder of its troubled existence in this isolated spot.It was closed down in 2000 due to prison cuts and the large number of suicides within then demolished in 2007. Only the village of Upperton nearby remains.A fairly tight knit community I`d imagine.
After more uphill panting and pedal work we reached the actual village of Longriggend sitting prominently on top of its high ridge.Its well worth the effort to get here.It feels so special ,like a frontier town from a Clint Eastwood film and what a view.Looking down from the roof of Scotland itself.
This is a back view looking towards the Campsies as to the obvious relief of Alex we had now reached the central plateau section.He doesn't like hills very much :o).
It feels amazing up here and its now easy cycling. I told all this to a game but suffering Alex beside me.It was another warm sticky August day. Luckily we`d picked a morning of light winds as it can really blow up here and in grim weather ,well... its a very grim place indeed for a victim on a bike.There is a distinct lack of shelter apart from widely scattered tree plantations.
From here we cut round past Caldercruix then on to the new cycle path running past the giant Hillend reservoir,a place very popular with central belt anglers fishing from the shoreline or in small hire boats.A railway used to run past here then closed down. After many years Its now rebuilt again as the new monkland line running from Airdrie to Edinburgh so apart from easing congestion on the roads network it should also improve Job prospects and Journey times.Good to see it back.
Next came the road from Forrestfield to Drumbow and its a gem.Straight, empty and with vast open skies.
Superb cycling.The skies seem massive up here.Much of this is reclaimed land and it would have looked very different a hundred years ago,teaming with open cast coal mines, deep coal pits,shale oil workings and ironstone quarries with miners and workers toiling hard and a network of railway lines and waggons dragging the raw materials off towards the hungry cities, seaports and towns. Entire villages and communities grafting away of which little now remains.Here`s an information board to some of the lost villages in the area.
A byproduct of all this endevour and industry all those years ago was the quantity of large holes left afterward
once the rich coal seams had run out.A handy place to stuff all our rubbish over the decades creating at the nearby Greengairs Reclamation Site high above Airdrie what is reputedly the largest single landfill site in Western Europe.Anybody who wonders why we need all those different recycling bins cluttering up the garden need only come up here and see the few holes remaining.Most have already been filled, landscaped or planted with trees.Half a million alone over the region we passed through. An additional square added to the patchwork carpet of the Central Scotland Forest which will one day transform this bare high plain.
Alex was still not happy though, dragged away as he was from his mountain trig points and bagging lists.
"Its official.You`re a bampot!" He rubbed his head to wipe away the sweat "How can you possibly compare this to Spain.Its nothing like La Mancha.
"How do you know?I shot back."Have you ever been there?
"No but I know its nothing like this.Do you even know where we`re heading?
Knowing that Alex had to have a hill on any outing to keep him happy I was gradually heading for the most prominent summit in the area.
The soaring bump of El Sombrero.Known locally as the Mexican,s Hat.Its formal name is Lochend Colliery Pit no 5 bing but that's not got quite the same ring..
To enhance the Spanish influence even more there was a surprise treat in store for Alex.
"See! You cant get any more Spanish than that! I declared proudly. "Hola! Hey Torro.
Despite my best efforts Alex still found something to complain about.
"There`s not much cover if its lurking about somewhere out of sight." he muttered, scanning the large field in question.
"To the victor the spoils (heap)" I quipped,pushing him ahead of me Go get your bing man! Its there for the taking."
No bull appeared and the view from this surprisingly steep pimple was extensive.A complete 360° panorama
of near empty moorland, occasional farms and forest.A rare sight in Scotland where something usually sticks up to break the horizon.The only thing disturbing the summit was a pulsating mass of tiny flies,hundreds of them who greeted our arrival with glee.Probably the first human victims this summer.It was like being in a bull run all right only in miniature.
"Probably Spanish flies."Alex commented dryly,still not enjoying himself sufficiently for my liking.
We returned swiftly to our bikes and continued past the Black Loch then Limerigg before a glorious freewheel down into Slamanan which was still over 500 feet in the air.
This is a fairly quite place now but the area around here used to be full of miners and industry.A look at the war memorial nearby convinced us that the region was also a prime recruiting ground for the the armed forces in the past as names of the men killed right up until recent battles lined the sides.Mind you when I found this list of old mining accidents online I can see why joining up might be a preferable if risky choice.Reading down this hair raising report of tragic but often grotesque calamities befalling the local population the armed forces might seem the safer option.See the accident reports here
Leaving Slamannan behind Alex suggested heading along a minor road from Wester Jaw to Jawhills which would take us back to Fannyside lochs on the edge of Palacerigg.(I`m not making these names up,honest!)
It was a cracking road for cycling with a dirt track section (white road on map) between two gates fortunately left open as three big sheepdogs gave us the usual excited farm welcome tearing along beside the bikes.
In the distance perched on Black hill,at 285 meters high ( or 935 feet) the twin Black hill transmission masts could be seen.Well ,where else would you put a TV aerial except on a roof .
If your TV picture occasionally gets knocked out by a massive lightning strike this is where it hits.Each of these monsters reaches a height of 306 meters over1000 feet ,the largest free standing structures in Scotland only beaten by the Durris Transmission mast near Stonehaven.322 meters;1056 feet.They cover a huge chunk of the central belt and Greater Glasgow.
Fannyside Lochs surprised Alex who had heard of them but never visited.He was surprised how large the main loch was when it appeared.Maybe he was expecting a puddle.They have a small sailing school here and both lochs are quiet,serene and delightful in good conditions.Although just above the traffic and bustle of Cumbernauld all you experience up here are views over moorland and a more distant backdrop of the Campsie Fells. A scenic but fairly lonely place.
Yet within minutes we were descending rapidly to access the back entrance of the country park.A short canter through the woods and we were back at the car.
"How did you enjoy that then? I asked a groaning Alex struggling to dismount from his noble metal steed..
"Pigs will fly before I get back on a bike again!" he declared, rubbing his aching bottom.
Oh, OK then.That,s easily arranged.Thought it was going to be something hard :o)
A flying pig.