I have said this before, I am map mad. If there is one thing I would shoplift, it would be OS maps. But if you are in the UK there is a way to get your fix that is free. You read that right. My pal Kenny showed me this for which I am eternally grateful. Go along to Bing Maps on the WWW. and up in the right hand corner you will see an oblong small box – click on it. It says ‘ ROAD’ and when it opens out, down at the bottom of the list, there it is ‘ORDNANCE SURVEY’.
You just clicked on it and nothing happened. Well no, not until you zoom in a bit, and there you are, those familiar contour lines and cartographical beauty that will make your heart race. So, why am I telling you this? Well I use this system, along with Ride With GPS to plan rides and walks and often just to daydream.
I was immersed in map daydreaming at the kitchen table during the dark weeks of the world of pain that were my days following the operation. I think I was looking for stone circles or cup & ring marked stones in the Glentrool area. Then I noticed a road. This is where it is useful to click on Aerial and zoom in to check what type of surface it has. We used this often when we rode around the world and it worked a treat.
The road heads North from Glentrool and is marked route 7 on the OS Map. Up through Glentrool Forest and out onto open land with views up to Merrick. At Carrick Forest route 7 takes a left kink and starts to climb Nick of the Balloch. It became obvious that you could use the road you just left as a way of making a loop. Using Ride With GPS I put together a route of just over 50 miles with 4,000 ft of climbing.
The map has more than enough wonderful names to get you out on your bike Loch Riecawr and Loch Macaterick, Big Meowl, Nick of Carclach all within a few grid squares. Maybole promised an open cafe at the half way point. It linked together a whole area that we have no knowledge of but had seen from the top of Merrick on our recent climb.
Any winter day you plan to ride will go through a set series of weather patterns. Perfect forecast to get you to circle that day in the desk diary and ask pals if they want to ride. From that point on the day’s weather will deteriorate, often requiring a lot of rescheduling. This is where a small number of people on the start list is an advantage. We had 3, which is 2 too many.
The days are getting lighter. noticeably so if it is a sunny afternoon, and a sheltered spot can make you think you feel some warmth in the air. Rooks are starting to take more interest in the Rook Tree and Blackbirds are calling at first light as they wait for porridge scraps in the garden.
We parked at the visitor car park in Glentrool with the car showing a temperature of 4’c. More importantly there was no wind at all and a red squirrel was on hand to greet us as we put the bikes together. Bags were bulging with coffee flasks and reduced price Christmas cake. We were on the gravel bikes as I still did not trust the surfaces.
What a route, stunning. I use that word too much, but only because if I use the word epic you will close the page and go elsewhere. The best time to take a photo of a mountain is when you can see it. I am glad I did as Merrick was looking 1,000 ft higher as clouds curled around it.
There are some days when you find a long ride easy. This was not one of those days. It could be the weight of the flask, the cake or the wider Panaracer Gravel King rubber, but I was struggling. My pal Jimmy would always describe a hard ride as ” I was going like an old coo “, well that was it exactly.
Maybole I think is a lovely name. We had arrived during school lunch time which today was a treat for the kids. To a man and girl they gave us menacing stares as they looked up from their bags of chips. We found a cafe. We carry what in the peloton we call a ‘ cafe lock ‘. It’s purpose is to buy you 20 seconds of time if someone is wanting to walk away with your bike. The trade-off is that it weighs almost nothing. We needed a D LOCK today and not a flimsy one either.
We rode on, closing the top of the loop and heading for Straiton which has a wonderful but firmly closed cafe. It was a great plan and we even found a bench on which to sit and eat cake.
Straiton is beautiful. Everything except Maybole is beautiful, which makes it quite strange and quite abrupt that they are so close together. There are long views of big houses and estates up driveways with big gates. You get a lot of Scotland for your money here I guess.
Up we climbed. It was one of those circular routes that do that MC Escher thing of always climbing yet returning to the start point. The weather was closing in, which is when you need to be cheered up by a Christmas Tree miles from anywhere. Merrick was now shrouded and had lost all of the height it had gained. It started to rain. Not enough to need a coat but too much not to wear one.
The light was going and we pushed down on the pedals putting legs into the lactic hurt zone that usually ends with cramp in the evening. Down on the drops and fingers lifted to mop rain from lenses every mile or so. Bad weather can be such a thrill.
Back at the car we pulled on dry thermals and coats. We were buzzing. Buzzing hours later when I tried and failed to drop off to sleep. What a day. Now to dig over the veg patch, snow is on the way.