08:00 – Saturday morning, Inverleith Park, West Gate: our mission, cycle to St Andrews.

This was the 29th Annual LEPRA Edinburgh to St Andrews Cycle Ride and my first, Ulli had done it once before in 1994. We arrived early as we had neglected to register in advance and we wanted to be sure of getting a place on the bus to come back. There were a few others doing the same, all seemed quiet, then at about 08:20 bikes started to appear from all over the place and there was someone on the PA system saying would we all move down into the park as they were expecting 1,000 riders.

09:00 or thereabouts, the police stopped the traffic on East Fettes Avenue to let us out of the park and we were off. A large mass of cyclists moved along Carrington Road, stopping at the end as the traffic light turned red. We waited, the lights stayed at red, so we waited some more, still the lights stayed at red. It dawned on us that the lights are weighted for traffic using Crewe Road and were triggered by magnetic sensors on the roads either side. These magnetic sensors were not in the least impressed by the presence of £100K + of carbon fibre, aluminium and Titanium waiting patiently to get out of Carrington Road and were completely ignoring them. Finally, after about five minutes, the police noticed that we had all left the park and were now blocking the road outside their HQ, and a van was dispatched to stop the traffic on Crewe Road so we could carry on. By the time we reached the traffic light at Queensferry Road, the police had worked out the need to get ahead of us and be ready to let us through, otherwise the traffic would have started to gridlock. Cycling with a police escort waving you through the lights is great fun and would be a great innovation for my commuting. I remember hearing Tony Blair saying, the thing he found hardest when he stepped down from being Prime Minster, was having to stop at red lights.

One result of this was to keep the cyclists together as a body, and as we reached the dual carriageway at Cramond Brig, we were able to take over the inside lane of the carriageway. Only once we had turned off onto Burnshot Road did people begin to string out, this was easy cycling as we had safety in numbers along the busiest roads. By the time we reached South Queensferry, we were a long string of cyclists, although a bottle neck caused by the route onto the bridge from Stewart Terrace did cause people to bunch up again. Having reached the bridge it was obvious that many groups had chosen the start of the bridge a meeting place, should they get split up on the way out from Edinburgh. This caused something of a blockage, it would have been better if the organisers had sent us along NCN 1, which crosses South Queensferry one block to the south and gains access to the bridge next to a disused car park. Anyway, we were soon cycling across the bridge in the sunshine, having agreed our meeting point as being at the far end, away from the crowds.

After the bridge we turned west through Rosyth and round past Dunfermline on minor roads. Then we joined the A823 for a short while before turning off onto the B915, the A road was quiet and caused no problems. We carried on north climbing steadily all the while past Loch Glow to the Cleish Hills. I had been told that the Cleish Hills were the big climb, but as we had been climbing steadily all the way from Rosyth and this was the dip slope, I couldn’t see what all the fuss was about, gaining 260m over 20km was hardly a steep incline. At the top of the hill the organisers had laid on an ice cream van and many riders stopped for a rest, much to the delight of the local midge population. Having more sense, we kept going. Heading down the scarp slope of the Cleish Hills was fun, I wasn’t going flat out, but still passed every other cyclist without even trying. As I was riding a straight barred hybrid, passing riders wearing cycle club jerseys on drop barred carbon bikes, was particularly enjoyable. It is not what you ride that makes the difference, it is how you ride it and having the legs that counts. I wasn’t going flat out, as I had been told there were some difficult bends, but I didn’t find any.

Beyond the Cleish Hills we could see showers hanging from the clouds, so we stopped to don waterproofs. However, the rain didn’t come to much, so within ten minutes we had to stop again and take the waterproofs off. Looking at the map now, I see there is a place to the west called Coldrain, how appropriate. It was an easy ride onwards to Kinross, where a couple of marshals (the first marshals we had seen) directed us off the main street to a sports hall where the Kinross Ladies Circle had laid on lunch. Thank you ladies, your efforts were much appreciated. In a perfect piece of timing the rain started as we sat down to eat in a marquee and stopped as we got up again.

Lunch over, we set off once again, at this point my ride almost came to an end, at the junction of Burns Begg Street and the High Street, I had a clipless moment. I had disengaged the left foot, but not put it on the ground and was out of the saddle, when I tried to disengaged the right foot. Bad mistake, my centre of gravity moved to the right and over I went. As I was part way out of the saddle, I went forwards as well as sideways, landing on the end of the handle bars. The impact left a neat circular mark on jersey and cracked one or (so the doctor tells me) possibly two of my ribs. Having established that nothing was broken, I decided that the best thing was to carry on, after all there was only another 53km to go.

After a slightly shaky start I settled back into a rhythm and was able to pedal along without having to breath too hard. Once again this was easy riding, mostly on back roads, even where we were on A roads the traffic was light. The long down hill trend from Nether Urquhart to Falkland was welcome, but not as welcome as the cake stop in Freuchie. The ladies of Kinross had done us proud at lunch, but they were out done by the good ladies of Freuchie whose home baking was magnificent. I must have looked a wreak as I stumbled up the steps into the hall, my bashed knee was hurting and I was holding my ribs, but when I entered my eyes opened like dinner plates. What a spread! This was worth the ride in itself.

Having exited Freuchie and crossed the A914, the route planners thoughtfully provided the opportunity to burn off some of the calories which the cyclists had just taken on. Forthar hill is not very high but it is a 15% gradient, the steepest climb on the route, and having just seen my friend David with his new Condor Fratello, I would normally have shown him how this hill climbing lark was done, but having cracked ribs does tend to cramp one’s style. I did however ride all the way up, unlike the rider of a fixed wheel bike, who earlier in the day had been heard to say “gears are for wimps”.

The last 30km was pretty much straight forward, the wind had come round and was almost at our backs, the route was rolling and easy, apart from a section of road near Cults where a drift of sand was lying across the road. I had spotted it early and set a course to skirt round the edge. Another group of riders just ahead of me didn’t seem to notice it until they were almost upon it and came to an abrupt halt as they reached it. Always look ahead.

At Pitscottie, 10km out from St Andrews, another generous individual had decided to help the riders on their way. He was offering free drinks and friendly banter, which as the sun had come out, was very welcome. Who said that Fifers were tight. Suitably refreshed we set off once again for the final section, which was mostly down hill to St Andrews, after another gentle climb. Reaching the outskirts of the town, the signage, which had for the rest of the route been good, suddenly disappeared and riders were left to guess which way to go. I was luck in that I was following someone who obviously had done the ride before and knew the way, otherwise I would have been lost. The finish was a muted affair, none of the cheering crowds you get with Pedal for Scotland, just a lot of cyclists sitting on the grass enjoying the sun and a few hours waiting till the buses would take them back to Edinburgh.

There is a map of the route here and a gpx file for your GPS here.


My stats were:

  • Distance cycled – 114.5 Km
  • Time spent riding – 05:12:14
  • Max Speed – 56.9 Km/h
  • Ave Speed – 22 Km/h
  • Vertical climb – ca. 930 m

NB. My stats include riding to and from home.

If you feel inspired and would like to join the 2011 Edinburgh – St Andrews cycle ride, it will be on the Saturday 18th June, starting at 08:45 from Inverleith Park, Edinburgh.