If ever there was a land sculpted for scenic touring it is Scotland. From gently rolling hills in the lowlands, to the craggy peaks of the Cairngorms, there are shimmering lochs and great expansive glens, thousands of miles of dramatic coastline dotted with sandy beaches that rival the tropics. Along the way are hectic modern cities, quaint wee fishing villages, and castles and standing stones that transport you back in time. The question is not what to see, but how best to see it. One man, Colin Baird believes the answer is, the bicycle.
Colin Baird is a traveler, a cycling enthusiast and a budding travel writer. His stated goal, to "see all of Scotland by bicycle". Unlike some cyclist who travel the world to make one-off rides in various locations, Baird is content to explore his home country one ride at a time. In truth, he considers himself a travel blogger, one who concentrates on Scotland, and who happens to use a bicycle as his means of transport.
You can find Baird on social media as "The Cycling Scot." He began his travel blog in 2012 and it is just that, a travel blog. While he offers detailed information on the routes he rides, tips for proper clothing and gear, as well as safety issues, like dealing with traffic, he is quick to point out that his blog is not just for cyclist. An avid photographer, his blog is chocked full of great photos and tips about the sites he sees and visits while rolling along under his own pedal power.
Cycling Scotland is the national organization promoting cycling across Scotland, where cycling is popular in all forms. Cycling safety is taught in schools from a young age, adult cycling courses are also offered, there are major bike rides to support various causes, cycle commuting is encouraged and touring Scotland by bicycle is available in many forms. Tourists can find self-guided bicycle tours or book organized, multi-day trips with larger groups and guides.
If you're visiting Scotland and not taking your bike (they don't fit in the overhead compartment or under the seat in front of you) there are a variety of bike hire schemes. Some cities, like Glasgow and Stirling offer bike hire schemes. In March, Edinburgh announced that it will institute a bike hire pilot program before the end of 2017, likely to include electric bikes to help tourists and commuters with Edinburgh's hilly terrain.. "Bike and Go" offer a bike hire scheme in cooperation with Scot Rail wherein bikes can be hired at train stations in all of Scotland's cities and elsewhere.
Speaking of trains, it is free to take your bike on a train in Scotland. That said, space is limited and sometimes reservations are needed. Baird has an excellent post on his blog that details this experience. He often uses trains in order to extend his range of cycle touring.
Likewise, Baird says non-used train routes provide great cycling routes, free of traffic and offering an excellent opportunity to see the countryside up close and personal. Indeed, I first encountered Baird when preparing an earlier episode of this podcast about a lovely couple restoring Dalmally Railway Station as there home. Baird had trained/cycled there and kindly allowed me to use a few of his photos for the podcast blog.
If striking off on your own is not your cup of tea, not to worry. A simple Google search for bicycle touring in Scotland will turn up plenty of companies that book organized tours. (A couple, selected at random, are included in our FMI links below.)
So why spend time seeing Scotland by bicycle? Baird says, "You're going to be connected to Scotland in a different way, you're going to be more connected to the landscape and your surroundings. On a bicycle you can smell the flowers, hear the birdsong... and when you reach your destination there is a sense of accomplishment. It's a special feeling."
•The Cycling Scot (website)
•Visit Scotland (cycling into)
•Hooked on Cycling (Self guided tours)
•Scot Cycle (bespoke tours, group tours, bike hire)