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Join us for our August meeting!

As July’s heatwave starts to abate a little, it’s time to start looking forward to August and beyond.

As ever, our monthly meeting is the first Tuesday of the month – once more online, although the tantalising prospect of once more meeting in the pub is closer than ever before …

But for now, please join us at 7pm via Zoom on Tuesday 3rd August – if you’re a member, you’ll get an email with the joining details, but if you don’t (or if you want to come along anyway) let us know on cyclingdumfries@gmail.com and we’ll send on the link.

Missing Links – where are the gaps in our active travel network?

Mixed Messages - sign showing cycle routes and 'cyclist dismount' signs

Back in 2012, we ran a series of posts on the missing links in Dumfries’s cycling network. Since then, although some of the gaps have been filled, it’s clear that there’s much to do. We know that the council are busy developing their new Active Travel Strategy so we thought we’d update our list – and see what others thought too.

Hopefully each of these listed ‘gaps’ will be pretty self-explanatory, but we’ll also be developing each one over the next few weeks with more detail, and some ideas about what could be done. We’ve also categorised them a bit

We’d also love to get a feel for what people think are the top priorities among all of these!

Connecting the surrounding suburbs and settlements to the town centre

  • Connecting Georgetown to the rest of Dumfries
  • Clearing the last barriers to cycling from Cargenbridge
  • Collin – a gateway to the east
  • Putting Glencaple on a national cycle route worthy of the name
  • Holywood and Ellisland
  • Connecting Terregles to town
  • Lockerbie, Lochmaben and Torthorwald – opening the region to those coming by train
  • Making the most of New Abbey
  • Tinwald and Amisfield

Links within the town centre and individual suburbs/settlements

  • Making the town centre a place for people
  • Improving the Dock Park crossing
  • Connecting St Michael’s and St Joseph’s schools to the traffic-free network
  • Annan and Lockerbie roads – opening up the east of town
  • A cycle path along Brooms Road
  • Links within Heathhall, especially to the primary school
  • Connecting Cuckoo Bridge retail park to the Maxwelltown path
  • Accessible links to the Caledonian path from Locharbriggs
  • Connecting the station to the town centre
  • Widening pavements in the streets around the centre
  • Civilising Rotchell Road

Thinking big

  • A coastal bike route to encourage tourism
  • Sustainable links to Northern Ireland (rail + ferry link!)

Watch this space as we add links to each of these points in turn – and please feel free to suggest things that we’ve missed out!

To the Hospital! on our fourth summer ride

We’re having quite a summer at the moment – which means perfect cycling conditions for some of us, but perhaps it’s a bit hot for some! This may explain why we’ve seen smaller numbers than we might expect on the last couple of rides. In our experience, cycling – gently – is a perfect way to keep cool on hot days as you generate your own breeze, and we always keep our pace nice and slow so nobody need overheat.

As James reports from Sunday: anyway just four of us set off from the rowing club yesterday afternoon in perfect conditions. We made our way trouble free to the end of the Maxwelltown path encountering only a few other bicycles enjoying the same braw conditions.

Small group in the hospital grounds

We decided to extend on to the hospital and stopped for a chat around the bike maintenance station there.

Checking out the bike maintenance station

Returning for home we detoured very slightly to find yet another stone circle (a memorial garden set up by Dumfries and Galloway Sands).

Examining the stone circle memorial
Sign for the memorial garden.

Building on the stone circle theme, we’ll be heading for the 12 Apostles next Sunday, which is always a grand day out. Hope to see you there!

Bike Train at Kirkgunzeon: Transforming the school run

We interrupt our summer programme of rides to look back at an excellent initiative at Kirkgunzeon Primary School that started as a Bike Week event and grew arms and legs (or perhaps, wheels)

Parent (and Cycling Dumfries member) Richard Colbeck has written the following (photos mostly courtesy of Emma Maxwell of Kirkgunzeon Youth Club):

Parents and teachers at Kirkgunzeon School thought that it would be a great idea to do something in recognition of Bike Week.

Some of the older children were already cycling to school unaccompanied but to encourage more to do this, the idea of a Bike Bus was suggested. This is an organised accompanied group to safely deliver the children to school and there were sufficient parents in Beeswing who were willing to set up a rota. The “Bike Train” has been running 5km from Beeswing to Kirkgunzeon and back twice a week up until the end of term. The children have all been really enthusiastic and it is planned to start up again when schools return in mid August.

The ‘bike train’ sets off from Killywhan. Photo Richard Colbeck

As well as encouraging a more environmentally friendly method of travelling to school it is also good for fitness and well being and the children taking part have made noticeable gains in this respect already. 

Kids at the school for the Bike Fun evening

Before the Bike Train’s inauguration, parents ran a Bike Fun evening in the school playground which gave the opportunity for a bike mechanic to check that bikes were  all roadworthy as well as having some bike skill tests and the smoothie bike in operation.  Thanks to the help from Emma & John from the youth club for joining forces with the parent council for this event, and for their input ensuring that it was well attended.

Some former pupils who have now moved on to high school were on hand help run the skill session and also demonstrate their own bike handling skills. The children had an absolute ball and quite a few were asking to do it again the following  week!

The smoothie bike had been in use most of the day during school hours and was worked flat out in the evening  with an enthusiastic group of mothers  keeping the blender supplied with ingredients and eager children providing the pedal power and the thirsty mouths!

Thanks to Sally and Briony for the ideas and Briony for arranging for the use of the iBike smoothie bike.

There was clearly a lot of organisation that went into this initiative – but it does show that even small rural schools can provide alternatives to the car for the school run if there are suitable routes available. If you think your school could benefit from a bike bus (or Bike Train, as Kirkgunzeon school call it) then there is some helpful guidance here from an Edinburgh based group of bus organisers.

Time to Play on our Second Family Ride

As our summer ride programme gets into its stride, it was nice to have nine of us assemble for another short exploration of Dumfries’s cycling infrastructure, this time heading for Lincluden Abbey.

 group assembled at Lincluden Abbey
(Most of) the group assembled at Lincluden Abbey

Since our last visit, it was nice to see that the grounds have been somewhat transformed with the grass allowed to grow long to create a wildflower meadow, with paths mown through it. It really adds to the atmosphere and makes the place feel much more like a rural oasis despite being so close to town

paths mown through longer grass at Lincluden abbey

After a bit of time exploring the ruins and the grounds, we then decided to take a short detour on the way back via Popeye Park which has been refurbished. Despite there being only one child (in chronological age terms, at least) in the group, it turned out some of us were still big kids at heart when it came to a zip wire

Or, indeed, a giant slide …

Playing on the metal slide

We then took a route out the other side of the park – which is quite a sharp little climb – and through Lincluden to make our way back to the rowing club.

Group riding out of the park.
Climbing out of the park

Our next ride will have a bit more climbing (although it’s still fairly short) as we tackle the Crichton. See you there at 2pm at the Rowing Club if you want to join in the fun.

A Bridge too Far?

As you might have seen in the media or online, Highways England (yes, we were surprised too) have plans to infill two bridges in Dumfries and Galloway that cross disused railway lines: one at Kirtlebridge near Annan, and one at Lochanhead very close to the A711 and a few miles west of Dumfries.

Lochanhead Bridge
Looking up at the arch of the bridge at Lochanhead

According to Highways England, the bridges need repairing so they can carry modern levels of traffic, which seems fair enough, and Dumfries and Galloway council have told them that they don’t need planning permission to carry out repairs, effectively giving them the go ahead.

Unfortunately, by ‘repair’ what Highway England means is ‘infilling’, which looks like this (according to New Civil Engineer magazine, this work cost £129,000 (simply repointing the bridge might have been closer to £5,000):

Great Musgrave Bridge in Cumbria, after ‘repairs’. Two heritage railways could have been joined using this route, but not any more.

Now, we’re a cycle campaign, not a railway group but we’d love to see the Dumfries – Stranraer line reopen, not just because it would open up a lot of wonderful bike+train adventures, but because it would take a lot of traffic off our roads, cutting carbon emissions and leaving more room for cycling, wheeling and walking within our towns and villages. so this morning a couple of us went down to have a closer look.

The bridge at Lochanhead crosses the bed of the old railway line as it runs alongside the Dalbeattie Road near Beeswing, through a narrow valley just north of Mabie Forest.

Looking down from Mabie at the Dalbeattie Road and the old railway line (hidden by the trees) – there’s really no other place for the line to go.

Even if there were no plans to bring back the railway – or if another route was chosen – then the track bed would make a brilliant cycle path, cutting out both the dangers of the A711 and the climb (and gravel) of the route through Mabie Forest. Similarly, plans to infill the Kirtlebridge bridge would not just cut off a local farmer from some of his fields, but would prevent the extension of paths using the old railway line from Annan.

The road that the bridge carries is a tiny back route – we cycled the length of the road this morning and didn’t see a single vehicle, just one other cyclist. It seems massive overkill to destroy a potential sustainable transport link just to make sure that this road can carry a 44 tonne lorry:

This is the road the bridge supports – it doesn’t need to be engineered to carry massive amounts of traffic.

If you are as worried about these plans as we are then there are a few things you can do.

  • The easiest is to sign this petition (set up by the HRE Group) – and there’s also now a parliamentary petition against the entire scheme (with bridges under threat across the UK).
  • You can also write to your local councillors and your MSPs (you can do so via Write to Them) to ask for their support locally and to encourage them to protect these key assets for sustainable transport – here and elsewhere. We’ve already seen Emma Harper and Finlay Carson expressing their support, but it’s important to let them know that this is important to you.
  • You can also sign the petition to reopen the Dumfries – Stranraer line – something that’s under consideration by the Scottish Government.
  • Please also spread the word to let people know this is a problem – a lot of people have seen that this is a plan by Highways England and assumed it’s not an issue here – share this post and the links to the petitions as widely as you can

Thanks to the HRE Group and to the Reopening the Dumfries-Stranraer Railway group for bringing this issue to our attention.

Defying the Forecast on our First Summer Ride!

It’s fair to say that the forecast for Sunday’s ride was looking a bit dodgy, with rain and even thunderstorms in prospect, but we’ve never let a little bit of weather stop our fun in Cycling Dumfries and fortunately we were not the only ones who felt that way as we assembled at the Rowing Club just before 2pm.

Small group of riders assembled at the start of the ride
A somewhat diminished group but ready for anything

Despite a few last minute cancellations (and thanks to everyone who let us know they weren’t coming – everyone who had booked on for Sunday either showed up or let us know they wouldn’t, which is really helpful for the ride leaders). Five of us set out for the very first of our summer rides as we explored both sides of the Nith down as far as Mavis Grove and the cycle path back into town.

Mavis Grove path.

The path from Mavis Grove along the New Abbey Road is pretty basic and far too short, but, like the path out to Mabie Forest, it does the job of separating riders from traffic, and it’s something we’d like to see a lot more of around Dumfries. It does unfortunately end too soon, but we were soon onto the quiet, if confusing, residential streets of Troqueer and then back to the park and the river.

Waiting to cross at the Suspension Bridge

With such a small group, we were able to bypass the Dock Park crossing by continuing down the other bank of the river (which can be a little narrow for a bigger group, especially on a weekend afternoon), and wheel our bikes across the Suspension Bridge instead. That also meant a little wait to cross as we gave way to the family already on the bridge to maintain social distancing (and had to wait until they’d finished taking a selfie in the middle).

In contrast to last weekend’s outing this was no more than a brief jaunt, but it was just as enjoyable and a good way to kick off the summer’s ride programme! Next week we head out to Lincluden Abbey and there are still a few spaces left so don’t delay if you want to join us – you can make your free booking here.

One Year On: Revisiting our surveys

Last year, as the first lockdown eased, we spent a couple of weekends counting cyclists, among other things, to get a sense of just how many people were cycling (and walking) and where. We spend one day counting cyclists at Routin Bridge, about eight miles out of town, and another counting cyclists and pedestrians on the Whitesands. In both places we were surprised at just how many people were using active travel, with cyclists forming almost half the traffic at the Routin Bridge, and two people per minute using the crossing at Dock Park at the peak. There are lots of reasons for this, including the fact that there wasn’t much else to do at the time.

But one year on, with traffic more or less back to normal (if not worse), how have numbers held up? Anecdotally, we felt that there were more cyclists out and about than before the pandemic, although not as many as last year, while the numbers of people walking on the Whitesands (or otter watching!) also seemed up. We decided to repeat our surveys almost exactly a year on from the last ones to get an idea of what was going on.

We started at Routin Bridge (on a day that had promised to be sunny but ended up rather mizzly and cool) on Sunday 15th June. As before we counted all the cars and other vehicles as well as bikes and pedestrians. We divided cyclists into ‘sports’, ‘leisure’ and ‘other’ and recorded numbers of men, women and children.

Disappointingly, although bikes still make up a quarter of the traffic in this rural corner, cycling is definitely down from last year (46 cyclists between 10am and 4pm, compared to 121 last year) and 147 motorised vehicles (up from 123 last year). Interestingly women outnumbered men (by 24 to 20 plus 2 kids) but that might have been due to there being a football match on! Perhaps the weather played a part or perhaps the busier roads are putting off some of the new cyclists who got out during the lockdown last year.

We also repeated the survey in town, on Saturday 26th June, also from 10am to 4pm, just opposite the Dock Park crossing. Here the number of cyclists was also down (but by less than in our rural survey – 149 compared to 274 last year) but the number of pedestrians was actually up – from 900 to 975.

As before we counted all those using the crossing and found that use had also gone up from last year (despite taking so long to give people the green man) with over 120 people using it per hour during the lunchtime peak. That’s a lot of people being held up by a slow crossing – or taking their chances to nip across in a gap in the traffic. We also counted a number of disabled people using the crossing, including visually impaired people (with a guide dog or long cane), wheelchair users, and people on mobility scooters or using walking sticks or other mobility aids. It was also noticeable that at least two cars went into Dock Park with bikes on them, showing that people are perhaps happy to cycle in the park itself, but aren’t as willing to tackle the roads.

So what does this mean? It’s hard to know for sure, especially as we didn’t do any surveys before the pandemic, but it does confirm that people are continuing to walk and cycle in impressive numbers in and around Dumfries. We feel that the roads and paths around the town should do more to reflect that fact. In particular, we’re disappointed that still nothing has been done about the Dock Park crossing (despite years of promises – and it being the most commented area of the council’s Space for People survey last year. We welcome the extension of the town’s 20mph limit, but it remains very small, especially when you consider that our neighbours in the Borders now have 20mph limits in every town and village across the local authority area, as well as new cycle lanes and crossings going in.

We also think that the boom in cycling last year shows just how much potential there is for cycling in the town. Clearly, there’s no reluctance to cycle – just a reluctance to cycle in heavy traffic. Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll be updating our list of ‘missing links’ – the gaps in the cycling network that make it harder for people to use their bikes for everyday journeys. Perhaps if we can work to get these closed, then we’ll see cyclist numbers rising again, but this time without a pandemic to make it happen.

Getting the summer off to the best possible start…

Our usual family friendly summer ride programme doesn’t start until this weekend but this year we kicked off early with a spin up to the Glenkiln Reservoir and out round Speddoch – a ride we usually do in the dark! – for no real reason except that we want to get out on more social rides, and not just during the winter, and we thought it might be fun.

group at the top of the Glen Road

And indeed it was! A group of 10 of us assembled at the Rowing Club at 11 am on Sunday to enjoy a cracking day out, and with perfect weather to boot: partial sunshine, no wind, and some proper summer warmth in the air. We headed out along the Maxwelltown Path and then climbed the Glen Road and as always, we knew we’d got the pace of the ride right when we could hear the sound of chat from the group behind …

group photo on the reservoir road
Pausing to admire the ‘giant budgie’ at the start of the climb up to the reservoir. Photo courtesy of Steve Jefkins

This is one of the more challenging routes we tackle – not because of the traffic (which was largely non-existent on the back roads around Shawhead and past the reservoir) but because there’s a significant amount of climbing (and descending) involved. However, it’s worth it because it does take you through a real cross section of the local countryside and the views are amazing.

group riding up the ascent

We took it steadily, regrouping regularly as people tackled the steeper bits at their own pace. Once at the top, we found a picnic spot with a view and settled down to refuel and enjoy our packed lunches

picnic spot with view

Then came the best bit – the swooping descent (of almost two miles) that takes you back down to the river valley

pre-descent briefing
Pre descent briefing. Photo courtesy of Steve Jefkin
Descending past Speddoch

As is traditional on these longer rides, participants are welcome to peel off as it’s convenient (as long as they let the ride leader know!) so we were a slightly smaller group by the time we crossed over Routin Bridge for a quick photo opportunity at the waterfall.

Group at Routin Bridge

From there it was an easy 7-mile pedal along the Irongray Road, detouring slightly via Hardthorn Road (and thereby missing the excitement of the fire at the Lochside playpark the same afternoon). The last remainder of the group headed off for a coffee at the end, having done a total of 27 miles in all (and presumably continued the chat which had been more or less continuous all day).

It was, in short, pretty much a perfect day out. We always seem to have good company on these rides, and the roads and the scenery also played their part. Hopefully a good sign for our summer rides to come.

Our summer ride programme will not involve quite such distances but hopefully will still involve as much good humour, peaceful riding and plentiful conversation. If you want to join us, please check out the schedule and book in advance so we can ensure safe numbers. Our first ride will be on Sunday with a super short and easy outing to Mavis Grove.

This weekend – a survey and a bike ride

As we start to look forward to our summer ride programme (which is starting on Sunday 4th July ) we’re actually starting the summer early with TWO things coming up this weekend.

People using the crossing

On Saturday 26th June we’re reprising the Whitesands survey we did last year of pedestrian and cycle traffic along the Whitesands and using the crossing into Dock Park. We’ll be there from 10am to 4pm watching the world go by – and if you can spare an hour or so to help out we’d be grateful, just let us know.

Then on Sunday we’re heading off for the long delayed Glenkiln and Speddoch Loop ride – normally we’d do this as a night ride on Halloween but we thought it might be safer to stick to daylight and run it on New Year’s day. Lockdown put a stop to that, unfortunately, but we’re finally able to run it this Sunday. We won’t get to experience the Milky Way spread out above us but at least we’ll be able to see the views!

This ride marks the start of a plan to run longer social rides all year round, not just during our autumn and winter programme. These will be longer than our summer rides – usually around 25 miles, with a stop for a (packed) lunch on the way. They’re also a bit more challenging but they will always be run at the speed of chat and with plenty of breaks along the way.