Monday, 26 May 2014

West Lothian Rapture.Beecraigs. Binny Craig Bike Tour. Part One.

It's not often I set off from the house on a quest but this was one. After watching several programmes on TV recently where they had images of "Spring," rapeseed fields featured occasionally as a vivid emblem of that season which got me remembering my post from a couple of years ago when I cycled around the sunshine drenched fields around Arith and The Pineapple Monument.
I hadn't been back in spring since to that area so I thought it was time for a return visit. A cycle trip round the Oilseed fields to drink in their glorious colour and perfume and capture their vivid glory.
Alas when I got there all that awaited me was dull green fields. No rapeseed anywhere. No Mellow Yellow to lift my heart. I was crestfallen when I remembered that farmers have to rotate crops and can only use fields for one variety for a certain length of time before they have to change the yield to something else. Everywhere I looked no Oilseed fields in sight. It became a quest for the sun on planet earth as I knew they had to be hiding somewhere in this region. This is Scotland's Golden Triangle after all- the country between Glasgow and Edinburgh hemmed in by the modern boundaries of the great loop of the M9 and the M8 always has these vibrant yellow fields in spring. They never grow on the west coast in Scotland but only on the drier uplands and the eastern side of the country which gets half the rainfall. But where were they this year?
As I drove around the Falkirk and Airth area not one spot of yellow winked back at me apart from one small field which was hard to reach with no available parking anywhere near. I was wasting precious petrol on my quest and my meanness chip could only take so much before it melted as I circled back and forth across roads and landscape that stayed stubbornly green.
Disgusted, I cut my losses and headed for Beecraigs Country Park where I knew at least there was good cycling to be had in a rolling upland landscape.

                                          ALL PHOTOS BEST VIEWED FULL SCREEN
Beecraigs is one of my favourite areas for cycling with its latticework of quiet minor roads, good parking and interesting scenery with farms, rolling hills and the occasional volcanic plug sticking up. (An ancient vent from erupting lava that is made of far harder material than the ground around it so they tend to remain after everything around them has been eroded.) Edinburgh Castle sits on one and the east coast of Scotland is famous for them with many fine examples scattered about.
 A short guide to Volcanic Edinburgh here when lava flows covered the land around for miles in every direction.
Cheered up by being in a good area I parked the car in one of the many car parking spots here beside the large restaurant at the top of the hill then got out the bike.
It was warm, humid and murky with the threat of a thunderstorm hanging in the air and visibility was down to a couple of miles in the gloom yet it was only 10:30am.
Beecraigs is a typical Country Park with animal enclosures and a raised platform for families to let them see various rare breeds and wildlife. Belted Galloway cattle with their distinctive two tone colour scheme.

A view across the meadows of Beecraigs towards Binny Craig. Highland Cattle here.
Cockleroy, Cairnpapple, The Riccarton Hills, and the Knock make up some of the summits of the area and all are interesting in a geological sense as well as a visual one. What caught my eye however was a distant glimpse of gold sparkling in the landscape and my original quest was back on. Like any prospector after treasure I was back under the spell of Gold Fever! After giving up all hope of finding them I had stumbled across my oilseed fields. Serendipity has been a good friend of mine since early childhood and she always comes to the rescue when you least expect her to make an appearance.

 Oilseed rape fields sparkling in the late May heat haze. I was glad I was cycling as it was sweltering and muggy despite being early in the day but at least I was generating my own breeze. I think in the USA, Canada and Australia this stuff is called Canola and is a familiar sight there as well. As its a good cash crop in the UK there has been an increase this year as crops in parts of Europe have failed due to bad weather making our own fields more valuable. Good article on that here.
I know it's a monoculture crop and is not that beneficial to most wildlife but just the sight of it always fills me with a childlike happiness.(Like the smiley face on speed restriction signs if you drop under the limit- it's an instant mood enhancer. Feel good fields) Part of me wondered how far they stretched so I cycled in the direction of Binny Craig, seen above, a prominent quartz- dolerite sill in the West Lothian landscape which boasts a large vertical cliff on its western edge and is a good example of a "Dyke" or "Sill" formation where lava has formed in a weakness or crack line within a volcano leaving a hard band of resistant rock after the surrounding softer terrain has been scraped away by glaciers.
Tractor under Binny Craig. There are various climbs on this face but I've always avoided them as they are rumoured to be notoriously loose with few runners as protection available . An amusing guide to a few of the routes here with a witty line in dry understatement :o) If you don't mind loose rock it's a pleasant place to climb. Classic! Quartz -dolerite cliffs have been known to shed substantial rock falls without warning in other parts of the world. Maybe on this crag the worst stuff has already dropped off though. On the west coast near Strathblane , just North of Glasgow, the steep volcanic plug of Dunglass offers a similar challenge on dodgy rock. I've climbed there once.... never again!

A farm cottage in the oilseed rape fields.
Beautiful flower bedecked hedgerows under Binny Craig. Red Campion is always a star at this time of year.
I left my bike chained up below and climbed Binny Craig for the view. Rapeseed fields stretched away into the distance in an unbroken yellow sea. An amazing sight. You'd pay good money and queue for hours in the heat with moaning kids at Disneyworld for this kind of experience and I had it all for free. Yippee- de- doo- da- dee! A bluebird of happiness settled on my shoulder.
Or maybe it was a ladybird instead.
My next ambition was to cycle through this wonderland of golden meadows on the network of minor roads... so I did. Superb!
I was enjoying myself so much that I didn't use my brain when I noticed a commercial beekeeper at work up a farm track. My first thought was Boy- that would make a good photograph! I then noticed he seemed to be gathering the honey out of the hives and that he was fully suited and booted and I wasn't... in just a tee shirt and cycling shorts. My next thought was... Shit!!!- that sure is a lot of angry honey bees buzzing around in that field !!!. I was cycling past about a stones throw away and luckily didn't slow down but I was still chased by a few irate bees looking for someone unprotected to blame
and got stung about six or seven times before I managed to outrun them with superior pedal power.( In all seriousness I wouldn't have liked to have been walking past with young children as there was no way to avoid this blizzard of bees.) Travelling through a visual wonderland has its own special dangers it seems. Certainly puts the Bee in Beecraigs.
I found another collection of hives later on as there were many groups of hives dotted around the rapeseed fields and these beehives hadn't been harvested yet and were less annoyed at humans but it's a cautionary tale for anyone reading this. An unexpected starring role in the "The Secret Life of Bees" can be painful without the right equipment. It didn't hurt as much as I remembered though and the stings faded away fairly quickly although I still have the lumps on my neck and head after a week . Just call me "bumpy" as that's a suitable Disney character.
A fellow cyclist on the track down towards Winchburgh.
Passing under the Riccarton Hills with gorse thickets in full bloom.
Happy cows in the pasturelands around Ochiltree.
Superb landscape for bees making honey and chasing fat old cyclists uphill away from hives.
It was a day for every type of flying insect to be airborne and I was very glad I had my cycling glasses with me as a deluge of winged beasties of every size and description kept flying straight into my face or down my tee-shirt at regular intervals. If I was a swallow or swift I'd have been stuffed full to bursting after an hour. Rare breeds sheep look on, unconcerned by my plight.
A landscape to die for... or spit out if you swallow it accidently. After a few flies went down the wrong way I developed the knack of cycling along with clenched teeth. Paradise is a buzzing busy place for a cyclist on a hot day.
                                                       West Lothian- The Golden Realm

To be continued.....

Video this week is a vintage classic from Alex Harvey. It's an old Jerry Reed standard called "Amos Moses" and a beguiling tale of a one armed alligator hunter in the deep swamps of Louisiana. What I liked about Alex Harvey was his background in blues, musical theatre, rock, his love of cartoon and comic book characters and his ability to blend all that together in a stage act with a great band of top musicians that could play in any style required.


Carol said...

Ouch to the bee stings! I don't think I've ever been stung with a bee - only wasps and they're bad enough.

I didn't know oilseed rape was Canola in America. I do know though, that that 'nice smell' is actually VOCs being emitted from the plants and not all that good for you actually! That's why so many people have allergic reactions when they live near it and are allergic types...

That crag looks superb and certainly gave you a great viewpoint :-)

blueskyscotland said...

It's a great area and usually very quiet, either walking or cycling. In 30 years of coming here I've never seen anyone brave enough to lead rock climbs on Binny Craig cliff face. Tells it's own story :o)

The Glebe Blog said...

Looks a great area Bob. Glad you got your fix of the bright stuff. Shame you got stung. Our crowd all rely on Avon's 'Skin So Soft' for midges, I wonder if it works with bees.?
I was cutting the grass the other day and was suddenly swamped with flies. If we're in for a hot humid summer there'll be plenty more.
Talking of Jerry Reed, I got to see his crypt in the Woodlawn Memorial Mausoleum in Nashville.
Now heading to part two...............

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Jim,
Don't think 'Skin so soft' would work on angry bees. I was very glad I was on a bike and not on foot at that point.
I liked Alex Harvey for that reason as he had a broad knowledge of every kind of song and style over many decades and introduced people to loads of new music they might not have listened to themselves. (Willie Dixon, a prolific blues songwriter who wrote scores of memorable songs springs to mind- first heard as covers on Harvey LPs)