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Last winter ride – and a spring networking day!

A quick reminder that this Sunday we’re heading out for the last of our scheduled winter rides – this time to New Abbey. This is a little longer than our other rides (about 25 miles in total) but a nice introduction to the delights of the countryside west of Dumfries (and an excellent cafe stop in the shape of the Abbey Cottage tearoom).

group photo
Last year’s New Abbey ride – hopefully we’ll get as much sunshine but without the biting wind!

Join us for an 11 am start on the Whitesands, appropriately enough at Devorgilla Bridge.

With the winter rides ending, we’re starting to think about Spring – and the first event on our radar is Cycling UK’s community group networking day in Dalbeattie on Saturday 16th March. This will be a great opportunity for anyone who is involved in cycling in the region – or who thinks cycling might be helpful as part of what they do.  It will also be a chance to hear from Scotland’s newly appointed Active Nation Commissioner, Lee Craigie. The event is free, but please do sign up if you’re planning to attend, to help with planning the catering.

As it’s on in the afternoon, and with no ride scheduled for March, we thought we might make a day of it with a ride from Dumfries that morning. It’s about 18 miles, mostly along NCN 7, and will be at our usual gentle pace, but will involve some ups and downs (the Old Military Road does tend to go up and over the hills instead of around them). For those not wishing to do the full round trip, the X500 coach takes bikes so you could ride to Castle Douglas and pick it up from there for the return leg. Details to be confirmed but we’re planning to start from the station at about 10:30 am, arriving in Dalbeattie shortly before 12:30

At the top of the hill
On the road to Dalbeattie … Slow is the way we like it!
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Georgetown – enabling cycling?

There were five of us who braved the February weather on Sunday to go on our little ‘safari’ around Georgetown, and the first thing we learned was that five cyclists feels like a lot for Georgetown! There were definitely some curious glances as we made our way around its tangled streets

So what did we find? If you’ve got a map (or a good sense of direction) Georgetown and Calside themselves aren’t that difficult to cycle around – there are plenty of quiet streets and even a few handy little cut throughs where bikes can get through but cars can’t (although none of them are signposted so even our local guide wasn’t aware of one of them!)

handy cut through
Filtered permeability like this (where cars can’t get through but bikes and pedestrians can) are really handy.

Unfortunately,  occasionally, the barriers are in the way of bikes, at least those which aren’t standard two wheelers

barrier onto the cycle path
This barrier at either end of the playing fields path makes it harder for trikes, tandems, cargobikes and handcycles to get through

It’s clear that when the suburb was built, there was no thought given to providing short cuts for pedestrians and cyclists which makes journeys longer and forces bikes onto busier roads. This is probably best illustrated by the access (or lack thereof) from Calside and Georgetown to the Maidenbower Path

maidenbower access
The Maidenbower Path should connect Georgetown to the Crichton, but lack of access points onto Craigs Road make it surprisingly hard to get to

As the map shows, there are almost no points of entry onto Craigs Road, other than through people’s back gardens, which they tend to object to. In fact, there is one handy path that cuts up from Calside Road (marked with the middle arrow) but it’s difficult to spot on the ground! There’s no signpost indicating that this might be a short cut to the Maidenbower (and it’s not even on Google maps) but with the help of some local knowledge we found it:

link to Maidenbower

This is yet another example of the council investing in creating cycle routes, which is the expensive bit, and then for the want of a few signs, which are relatively cheap in the great scheme of things, fails to let anyone know they exist (see also, Mabie Forest path).

Still, nice as the Maidenbower is if you’ve got the legs for a one-in-five hill and don’t mind the lack of lighting and gritting, it’s not really a practical route into town. Much of the rest of our visit was spent exploring the options for getting from Georgetown into Dumfries, and this is the real reason why so few people choose to cycle in the area.

Georgetown map routes
Routes between Georgetown and Dumfries

As well as being undeniably hilly, Georgetown is cut off on one side by the railway line, while Craigs Road is uninviting for cycling (and also involves climbing up and over a much steeper hill than the rest of the routes in).

Given the nice cycle route that runs alongside St. Joseph’s Playing fields, the most obvious route into town is down Eastfield Road and onto the Brooms Road cycle path. The council have actually signposted an official route which is also reasonably quiet – the wiggly route in brown through Cresswell – but although it’s shown as a cycle route there isn’t a cycle path or even a painted lane, just some directional signs.

Brooms road path
Brooms road path. But how to get across?

Nor is there any sensible way to get from either Eastfield Road or the signposted route onto the Brooms Road path. The signposted route does have a crossing, but it’s for pedestrians only, and if you’re trying to cross at Eastfield Road you’re on your own, with just a bit of dropped kerb to help you. There’s also the problem that the Brooms Road path drops you out at the Morrison’s roundabout, which is a bit of a hotspot for people getting knocked off their bikes.

Perhaps more pleasant is the route down Aldermanhill and the back of St Joes, which has the advantage of being much less steep than Craigs Road. From there you can either go down Glebe Street and cross Brooms Road by the car park (again, there’s a pedestrian crossing but not a bike one) or down Barnslaps and onto St Michael’s Street, which is very unpleasant to cycle on.

Finally, there’s the railway bridge out to the Annan Road which has the disadvantage of taking you to the Annan Road …

Annan Road roundabout
This sort of road is not inviting to either cyclists or pedestrians

There are options here  – a route down Milburn Avenue (off to the left) which is a dead end for cars (although it still means ending up on Brooms Road) or to somehow get across to Greenbrae Loaning, if it wasn’t one way at one end, although that just leads to the equally challenging Lockerbie Road. Even so, making these two roads more accessible to bikes would offer some local choices for cyclists and start to form part of a potential network.

In short – Georgetown needn’t be the black hole for cycling it sometimes appears to be! In order of doableness (we’re sure that’s a word) here are some simple and not-so-simple changes that could make a difference:

  • Signpost the cut-through to the Maidenbower Path (meanwhile maybe if someone has a laminator this could be done informally) and put in a dropped curb where the path meets Calside Road.
  • Remove the chicanes making it harder to access the path alongside the playing fields.
  • Signpost more routes into town, particularly down Aldermanhill Road.
  • Make the crossing from the Brooms Road path onto the signed cycle route up Barrie Avenue a toucan crossing, and remove the guard rails so that bikes can use that short stretch of pavement to reach Barrie Avenue
  • Alternatively (or as well!) create a toucan crossing so that cyclists can get from the Brooms Road path to Eastfield Road.
  • Make the whole area (actually, the whole of Dumfries) a 20 mph speed limit, including the bigger roads like Georgetown Road.
  • Remove the guard rails from the roundabout that joins the Annan Road and Georgetown Road, widen the pavement and create a cut through from Georgetown Road to Milburn Avenue.
  • Consider making Greenbrae Loaning a no through road for cars, but accessible for bikes, to provide a route from Georgetown Road down towards the Lockerbie Road.
  • Make Aldermanhill Road a no-through-road for cars, even if only during the school run, to prevent it becoming a rat run for drivers avoiding Craigs Road.
  • Convert the crossing from Glebe Street to Cumberland Street into a toucan crossing, giving bikes access into the traffic calmed Queen St area.
  • Create a cycle track from where Barnslaps joins St Michael St all the way down to Brooms Road, and continue it along the Dock Park side of Brooms Road down to the Whitesands.
  • Create an off-road route along the railway line out to the east, which could ultimately form a route out to Collin.

We’ll be passing these on to the council via Cycle Scape – but what have we missed? What would you do? Let us know in the comments!

 

Winter Maintenance – Two Cheers

A rare beast has been spotted on the cycle paths of Dumfries:

cycle path deicer
Cycle path deicer at work on the Caledonian Cycleway

This is the council’s latest acquisition and we’re really delighted – it’s for treating cycle paths (we’d call it a gritter but it actually uses brine rather than grit and rock salt because that’s more effective on cycle paths where there are no car wheels to help spread it). We’ve long been calling for cycle paths to be treated against ice and snow, just as the roads are. Since the opening of the new hospital, the lack of gritting of the Maxwelltown path has been a real problem because it is now a major commuter route for hospital staff who may be travelling to and from work at all hours.

Maxwelltown path in snow
A reminder of what the Maxwelltown Path used to look like in the ice and snow. Hopefully no more!

Not only that, but the council have also been working to cut back vegetation on some of the paths where it has started to encroach (as well as removing some of the barriers to path entrances, partly to let their little not-a-gritter through) – this has been positively noted by the cyclists of Dumfries, who have gone so far as to describe the Station path as ‘a delight’. A big thanks and well done to the council for organising that!

making a difference
We’ve been known to do our own clearing work when needs must – so it’s great when we don’t have to!

That said – with the icy weather last week, we still saw lots of cyclists coming off their bikes on the ice, particularly on Tuesday, so what’s going on? Partly it’s to do with the limitations of winter path treatment: if the brine goes on before it rains then it can be washed off, or if it’s more than a few degrees below freezing, ice will still form. So please do check the weather forecast and the overnight conditions before setting off, and plan your journey accordingly.

There’s also the fact that not all paths are treated. We know that the station path is too narrow for the de-icing machine to access, so doesn’t get treated. We’re told that the grit bins at path entrances are for the public’s use, so if you’re feeling particularly public spirited and have the time, feel free to treat the worst spots yourself. Other paths also may not get treated (the Maidenbower for instance) so check with the council about whether the ones near you are treated and if not, ask your councillors about getting it added to the route.

The de-icing also doesn’t seem to reach the access paths for the Maxwelltown path (which are probably the most dangerous bits to ride if it’s icy!) and the ‘snail trail’ of brine it leaves is quite narrow – it doesn’t treat the whole path. Hopefully, these are things that can be improved once the system beds in but meanwhile, be cautious when entering and leaving the path and try and keep on the brined strip if you can (random dogs and pedestrians permitting).

If you’re still finding ice a problem on your route, you can get a bit more grip by letting some air out of your tyres (to increase the contact patch with the tarmac) or even fitting ice tyres (like Marathon Winters – other brands are available) which are pretty magic even on black ice.  But the best safety tip of all (whether you’re cycling, walking OR driving) is to allow extra time for your journey – being in a rush is a recipe for danger.

Despite these limitations, we are still very pleased to see the council starting to treat cycling and walking as a year-round means of transport and treating its flagship routes accordingly. We spend a lot of time complaining about things in Cycling Dumfries – and this is an issue that has come up year after year – so thank you, and here’s to safe cycling for everyone for the rest of the winter.

Tailwinds and headwinds on our winter ride

In January, you take your chances with the weather – if it’s not raining (or snowing) it can be icy and if it’s neither it’s often blowy! And so it proved on Sunday when just five hardy souls decided that the lure of the winter sunshine was enough to outweigh the somewhat blustery wind and head off for a jaunt to Brow Well and back via Caerlaverock Castle tea rooms.

Maidenbower Path
Descending down the Maidenbower Path to Georgetown. This and most of the other photos for the day were largely taken by John Henry.

We started off by heading through the Crichton and up and over the Maidenbower Path and then took Craigs Road from Georgetown towards the Bankend Road. This adds a bit of up and down and a detour, but makes for a much quieter and more pleasant ride than the top end of the Bankend Road

Group shot as we joined the Bankend Road

Once on the Bankend Road we enjoyed an epic tailwind all the way to the turnoff and then a mostly-tailwind blowing us out to Brow Well. It was clear from the faces of the cyclists coming the other way that we should make the most of it as it was going to be hard work coming back. The wind aside, the skies were clear and it was nice to enjoy the sunshine and the sight of a huge flock of geese taking to the sky at our approach (for some reason, five bikes were scarier than any of the cars going past).

Turning into Brow Well
Taking the turn into Brow Well

It’s fair to say, the group were unimpressed by Brow Well itself which is perhaps more historically interesting than visually inspiring. Still, a few people had fun trying to take a more artistic impression of the place

brow well
Going for the artistic angle
Brow well sign
None of us were tempted. The general verdict was that Burns would have been better off sticking to the whisky

Then there was nothing for it but to turn back into the wind and head to Caerlaverock Castle to get some lunch. At least with a small group it was easier going – it’s much more pleasant to ride with a companion, especially if they’re acting as a bit of a windbreak into the headwind.

At Caerlaverock Castle
Lunched and ready for the ride home!

Once at the castle tearooms we had a warm welcome and were soon happily enjoying soup, toasted sandwiches and the tea room’s excellent scones. The headwind hadn’t eased particularly but we had at least fortified ourselves, and stuck together as much as we could to minimise the effect of the wind. A few impatient drivers didn’t spoil our day, but were a reminder that the Glencaple Road isn’t as cycle friendly as a stretch of the NCN 7 really ought to be.

All in all, a good day’s outing and we certainly felt we had earned our lunch! Our next winter ride is to New Abbey, on February 24th so please do join us then – but if you can’t wait, there’s always our Georgetown Safari on the 10th February.

A Burns Ride – and a ‘safari’

Don’t forget this Sunday is our winter ride – a chance to get out into the fresh air and enjoy whatever January can throw at us! With Burns Night approaching we’ll be celebrating Robbie Burns in our own way, by riding out to Brow Well, where he sought a cure for rheumatic fever.

At Brow Well
Our first ride out to Brow Well

As always, the pace will be at the speed of the slowest and we genuinely won’t care about being ‘held up’ – indeed we enjoy the chance to just pootle along and enjoy the scenery and the chat. We’ll aim for a cafe stop either at Caerlaverock Castle or the Boathouse at Glencaple. Join us on the Whitesands at Devorgilla Bridge for an 11 am start.

Maidenbower aftef
Maidenbower Path – a lovely traffic free route from Georgetown to the Crichton – but up a 1 in 5 hill …

Then, on Sunday 10th of February we’ll be doing something a little different. Despite being home to so many people in Dumfries, Georgetown is one of the hardest places to get to and get around by bike – especially for families or those who aren’t keen on tangling with traffic. In recent years there have been some paths and bike routes added but they’re not well signposted and not particularly joined up either.

The plan is a ‘safari’ to investigate some of the existing cycle paths and routes, to look at where the worst gaps are, and perhaps identify where we think some infrastructure is needed to connect Georgetown up to the rest of the cycling network. We’ll be meeting outside the Spar on Georgtown Road at 1:30pm for a couple of hours exploring.

If you know Georgetown well and have ideas about what would make it better, why not come along? Or if you live or cycle there (or want to cycle) and would like to learn more about the routes that exist this might also be useful. It won’t be a led ride in the traditional sense but a bike would be helpful, and you’d need to be comfortable cycling in Georgetown as it is, rather than as we’d like it to be.

Sunny start for 2019!

 

New years day gathering
Starting to gather for the ride on the Whitesands – this photo (and most of the others) by John Henry

Our New Year’s Day ride is usually well attended (it helps that for the last three years the first of January has usually been sunny, if not warm) but even with the rather glorious weather we had yesterday, we were pretty pleased with a turnout of 21 for our first ride of 2019 – including one youngster who was making  longest ride of her life so far on her shiny new-for-Christmas red Frog bike.

Group photo
Group photo at the start – one more joined us en route having suffered the attentions of the puncture fairy on the way in

With such a large gathering – and a variety of different speeds and experience – we decided to let the ride naturally split on the road,  regrouping after the climb up from Kingholm and again at Glencaple, to make sure all was well and everyone was happy with the pace and route.

We made quite a bright and festive sight strung out along the Whitesands and through Dock Park and although the park and river path were fairly busy with people on foot enjoying the sunshine too, allowing the ride to break into smaller groups meant there was room for everyone.

Normally the Glencaple Road isn’t our favourite as it can be quite busy and fast, but the morning of New Year’s Day was the perfect time to enjoy it with almost no cars and what few drivers we encountered mostly in a patient mood.  This gave our little ‘back marker’ group a chance to practise riding in a group taking turns at the front – a bit of fun and a new skill for some of us! The views of the Nith and Criffel were spectacular in the sunshine and unusually for a sunny winter day, it wasn’t that cold either. Just rather glorious cycling weather.

group on the road
One of our groups on the road

We’d hoped that by letting the speedy folk have their head at the front, that we might have less of a queue at the cafe in Caerlaverock but unfortunately there had been a big group in before us. The queue moved fairly quickly, though, and it gave people further chances to chat. With so many new faces as well as some old regulars, there were just too many conversations to be had and not enough time to have them in.

in the WWT centre cafe
Queuing for lunch!

With everyone fed and watered we retrieved our bikes (we’d completely overwhelmed the official bike shed) and set off for the longish pull up the Bankend Road and home. Taking it slow and steady, even our youngest participant made it up (with maybe a little bit of a push from Dad).

At WWT Caerlaverock
First find your bike! Getting ready to set off after lunch

Thanks to John Henry for most of the photos on here – I think he’s captured the flavour of the day! And thanks to everyone who came and made it such a pleasant way to start the year.

If you enjoyed it (or missed it!) – mark your diaries for our next outing, a Burns Night excursion to Brow Well on Sunday 27th January.

 

 

 

Happy Christmas – and an even happier New Year!

We wish all our supporters and members a very happy Christmas – with plenty of bike-related goodies under the tree (if that’s what floats your boat).

Although the dark and cold in December can be challenging, we know that getting out on our bikes can be one of the best ways to counter the winter blues (and possibly help counteract some of the excesses of the season). That’s why we run our Seasonal Rides – to celebrate the joys of autumn and winter cycling – and to get together and enjoy  the simple pleasures of the bike, the quiet road, good chat, and a cafe stop.

At the start of our new years day ride
Gathering at the start of our New Year’s Ride in January

Biggest and best of all of these is our New Year’s Resolution Ride. Join us on New Year’s day to start 2019 as you mean to go on, with a run down to Caerlaverock WWT and back.

Meet at 11 am on the Whitesands, at Devorgilla Bridge. We’ll be stopping at the cafe at the Wetland Centre for lunch so come prepared, and dressed for whatever the weather may bring!