Cycling the Coast & Castles North

For the last few years it seems that I make Barry go on at least one multiday cycle trip with me.

This year, the weather forecast helped us choose the Sustrans Coast & Castles North, which largely follows the Route 1 which ultimately runs from Land’s End to John O’Groats.

With Edinburgh being one of the end points, this had the added bonus of starting in Aberdeen and cycling to Edinburgh so you know exactly which train to book your cycles on (an absolute must given the number of times Barry and I have been turned away at a station because of our bikes).

So, we booked our train and hotel (no camp grounds in Aberdeen) for a Thursday and prepared ourselves for a three day, 277km ish cycle back home to Edinburgh. It still seemed like a good idea to go in this direction despite the headwind forecast (there might be a reason the route is normally done Edinburgh to Aberdeen). At any rate, we do love a train ride. And train snacks.

Day 1

The late September day started a bit grey but dry as we left the Granite City. As usual, there was a bit of back and forth getting out of the city (nice way to add in some extra ks) but once on route, the navigation was easy enough.

The wind was exactly as expected. Quite heavy, directly into my face, making the cycling quite tough but bearable. Probably on my edge of a good day out on the bike. Luckily, there were enough twists in the route to get a break every now and then.

We had a nice stop just outside Stonehaven for a picnic lunch at Dunolter Castle (Coast & Castles route after all) but, given the wind and the distance we had planned for the day, did not spend any time exploring the castle ruins and have earmarked Stonehaven for a return visit.

The route was mostly along the coast which made for beautiful views, so pretty much as advertised in the name. We found a cool farm shop just outside Inverbervie, where we were told the wind would ease off the next day. I think she was just trying to be encouraging as that wasn’t the forecast.

Just after this stop (and some chocolate) Barry convinced me we should take the ‘off road’ section, advertised as quite rough, rather than the smooth tarmacked on road section. I wasn’t convinced considering I was finding the cycling hard enough but it turned out to be a great choice and probably my favourite section. I thought the stones and uneven ground would really slow me down but given the wind, made very little difference and was significantly nicer. My hybrid, fully laden, handled it just fine.

Lots more cycling later, we pedalled into and out of Montrose. We finally made it to Luna Bay camp ground, not long before the sun set. We had just enough time to set up the tent and change before dashing to the hotel restaurant before last food orders at 8pm. A much appreciated hot shower followed. A full moon lit stroll along the beach with the whisky flask rounded off the day nicely. 

Day 2 started with a heavy dew but no rain, and, pleasingly, less wind. Some nice country roads took us past farmland, mostly potatoes, and along the coast to Arbroath. We were too early for the Saturday market so found a cafe in the village instead. Arbroath looks an interesting fishing village so we’ve earmarked it for further exploration too.

The coastal path easily led us to Carnoustie. Also a pretty town but mostly an uninteresting golf curse. Good off road cycle paths though.

By the time we got to Monifieth we decided that, although we were feeling good, we didn’t want to push on to Pillars of Hercules farm camp in Falkland but aimed to find a wild camp spot in Tentsmuir Forest instead.  

But first a stop in Broughty Ferry where we stopped at a nice community cafe and a walk around Broughty Castle. It is the coast and castles route, after all. 

Me and my trusty steed crossing a drawbridge

A bit of navigation eventually got us through Dundee, up a lift, and across the long exposed bridge into a head wind. Barry seemed to handle it just fine but I struggled a bit. Also mostly uphill along the bridge which is weird.

After the bridge, we soon hit a nice off road, forested path. When we got to Tentsmuir Forest, we worried that it was too busy, popular and exposed for us to camp. Eventually, we managed to nestle ourselves between some sand dunes, away from the late day walkers and a little sheltered from the wind that was due to pick up again in the middle of the night. Dinner was a picnic on the beach followed by a stroll with that whisky flask. We were in bed as soon as the sun had gone down. 

We reassessed our aim for Day 3 as well and planned to get to Glenrothes with Thornton, rather than all the way to Edinburgh. The wind had picked up again and, although we’d make it before dark, it might not actually be that fun. 

We first stopped at Leuchars for water refills and then cycled into St Andrews for a cafe stop and to pick up picnic supplies. Country roads, hills, and a head wind, with a few showers that were heavy enough for us to put on the waterpoofs were the characteristics of the day. 

We kept on pedalling. Once we reached Markinch, the cycling got less attractive. Not as pretty, lots of people, busy road and roundabout crossings. It was a relief to get to the station, really. We’d definitely made the right choice with skipping some of the less interesting bits. We’ve cycled the Forth Road Bridge and into Edinburgh before so didn’t feel we’d missed out on that on a windy day. 

All in all, another successful cycle trip. I’d definitely do some of the northern sections again. 

But maybe next year, a whisky cycle on Islay. 

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