Matilda at The Kelpies

Kelpies - Matilda at start

The Kelpies admiring me – not the other way around!

Five weeks today and we would be heading for the south of France for the Grand Tour de Bordeaux. So the “old git” and the “old gal” decided another training run would be a good idea.

The venue this time was the canal paths around The Kelpies – 30 metre high horse head sculptures by Andy Scott which tower above the M9 motorway in Falkirk.

The metal sculptures are magnificent, quite spell-binding in fact. This “old lady” classic tandem – no mean feat of engineering herself – was really impressed!

Kelpies - at start

One feat of engineering admires another!

The “old gal” had roped in good friends Gillian and Craig to help with today’s training ride. The idea was to meet up at The Kelpies hub, the centrepiece of an area of land transformation now called The Helix.

The plan was to do an easy 16 mile circuit from The Kelpies, round to another masterpiece of engineering – The Falkirk Wheel.

This circuit – known as the HArTT route (Helix Around Town Trail) was heavily promoted on the park’s website, to encourage cyclists to enjoy the network of cycleways, canal paths and woodland trails around the area.

Great plan – but unfortunately after spending so much money transforming the area, the park has omitted a minor detail – placing route markers along the way.

We had even downloaded the map of the route and were all eagerly anticipating the run. Well nearly all, as (whisper it) Gillian had been out for a night on the tiles the evening before, and lets just say she was a little fragile.

But gamely she vowed to plough on, trying to convince everyone that the fresh air would do her good. I have to say her husband Craig looked a little less convinced, but decided that as it was a self-inflicted injury, sympathy would be in short supply!

So after a few photos at The Kelpies we set off. Or at least tried to! The “old git” was almost beside himself as we couldn’t find the correct path to start. As I said, no signposts anywhere – and even asking the staff proved useless as they claimed not to know either.

Everyone looked at our map as if it was a piece of newly unearthed treasure – despite it coming from their own website. As the “old git” said – why spend millions on the park and leave out a vital ingredient like signposts. Even if they were waiting on proper signage, a few cheap laminated direction finders would solve the problem.

The “old gal” soon realised that “getting lost” was going to be a reular theme to the day. Eventually, after much head scratching – and no help from the Helix – we accidentally found a path that seemed to head off in the desired direction and off we went.

Now you know I am a bit of an “old lady” and don’t really like bumpy surfaces so I was most impressed with the first few miles where the tracks were virtually motorway standards of smoothness.

We were fair moving along and everyone (including Gillian) was enjoying themselves – until we came to the first T-junction. Which way to go? I mean it was crazy as there was no indication which way to head. So we had to resort to asking local dog walkers at each junction which way to take.

According to the map, we cycled through a wetland area then Abbotshaugh Woods complete with a series of smaller, but equally spectacular artworks in unexpected places.

We headed past the Carron Works, the largest iron works in Europe in its heyday.

After a few “wrong turnings” we reached the banks of the Forth and Clyde canal wish offered some lovely flat cycling. The only snag here was that Scottish Canals, who run the canal network, had decided on zig zag gates at every junction with a main road. This seemed to be an attempt to stop motorbikes getting through.

Now single bikes – like Gillian and Craig’s were able to navigate these gates – but as you know I  am quite a length and I don’t exactly bend in the middle! So there was no chance of me getting through these gates easily. Every time the “old gal” and the “old git” had to dismount and lift me rear end over the gate. Oh the embarrassment!

The “old git” was doing lots of dark mutterings under his breath each time we came to one of these gates – but this time I actually agreed with him. Clearly zero consideration had been made for tandems, which left us all wondering how a parent and child with a trailer tandem would manage? Maybe Scottish Canals could answer that one!

Onwards we pedalled, past the Rosebank Distillery – which dates from 1817 – we arrived at The Falkirk Wheel. This is another amazing sight.

It is described as the world’s only rotating boat lift. It stands to the height of 8 double decker buses stacked on top of each other and weighs 1,200 tonnes.It essentially allows boats to travel from the Forth and Clyde canal to the Union Canal.

The two canals used to be linked by a staircase of 11 locks which took nearly a day to transit. These were dismantled in 1933. Work started on the ambitious £84.5 million Millennium Link projects to rejoin the two canals in 1998 and opened in 2002.

Kelpies - at Fal Wh TigDi

Here I am at the magnificent Falkirk Wheel.

It was good to see so many people out enjoying the area, and we decided a quick pit stop was required in the canal basin. As always I was getting lots of attention, especially from children who were quite intrigued by what some people called “a double bike!”

The “old gal” had packed some mini bottles of (guess what?!) yes! prosecco for the four cyclists – which were eagerly consumed by three! Gillian decided that she would stick to water! But I have to say the new cycle cool bag seems to be working, as the bottles remained nicely chilled. Or so they told me!

Kelpies - Falk Wheel prosecco

The obligatory small prosecco for everyone – but Gillian demurred!

Gillian decide that something to eat might not be a bad idea and headed to the coffee shop for an egg sandwich. Although she seemed a bit unsure after the first bite, it was then eagerly consumed and to a certain extent normal service seemed to be resumed in her body!

Off we headed again, starting off by joining the path at the Union Canal and making our way through the Roughcastle Tunnel, a new tunnel which was actually runs under the Roman Antonine Wall.

Kelpies - selfie at FW tunnel

Selfie time at the Roughcastle Tunnel – just as a holiday boat emerged.

A nice stretch along the Union Canal – even allowing for the annoying regular gate problems – took us to the Falkirk Tunnel. This is a 700 metre long, seemingly never ending tunnel carved out of the rock. Again Scottish engineering at its best!

Kelpies - at Fal Tunnel

At the entrance to the “spooky” Falkirk Tunnel.

Now this is where the map and the reality of the actual paths seems to lose all contact with each other. The map says avoid the tunnel and head for Callendar Park, something which was actually quite difficult to achieve.

Direction signs would have been most helpful here, but eventually we found the route which went across paths in Callendar Wood, in front of the historic 14th century Callendar House and out the other side.

Let’s just say the paths had deteriorated at this point – and one of these new mountain bikes might have been an idea. My undercarriage is not that robust, you see, so I was glad the “old git” decided that walking would be better for us all at this point. We didn’t want any broken spokes before France!

We got most “lost” at this point, ending up back at the Union canal. So we decided to abandon the last mile or so of the route – which should have taken us through Westquarter Glen – and headed back via the main roads to the Kelpies.

I was most impressed as the “old git” and the “old gal” managed to navigate safely through some seriously heavy and fast traffic to get us back into the safety of the cycle paths of the Helix park.

Kelpies - end with C+G

The “old gal” with Gillian and Craig at the end of the tour.

Actually we were all rather proud of ourselves for the effort in actually finding our way around the route, despite getting “lost” at least six times.

But the owners of the Helix really need to sort out the signposting so that other cyclists can enjoy the wonderful cycle route and great scenery – without the frustration! We decided that a posting on Facebook and Twitter may urge them into action – so watch this space!

Kelpies - selfie at end

All smiles – despite the frustrating lack of signs!

 But good practice at map reading for France, I suppose! Now that wasn’t the end to the day as the “old git” and the “old gal” got me packed back into Matilda Transport and we headed for Gillian and Craig’s home in nearby Alloa.

They have a very posh hot tub in their garden, and the “old gal” decided this would be good therapy for the muscles after the ride.

And she was correct.It was a lovely way to relax – sipping champagne bubbles while enjoying the warm bubbles of the hot tub! Bliss! The last I heard was the “old gal” saying: “I want one!” And the “old git” was heard to mutter: “Aye right!” Well she can only hope!

A great day was finished off with a lovely dinner and great hospitality from Gillian and Craig. Thanks to them.

And we all promised to do the HArTT route again – but only when the signs are up!

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6 thoughts on “Matilda at The Kelpies

  1. Great story Matilda, sorry to hear that you all got lost, several times. We have also come across lots of places where cycle route signs suddenly vanish ( in Germany and Holland though signing is wonderful !) . The Kelpies look truly magnificent and we hope we get to visit them some time, let us know when the signs are in situ. Will you thank the old girl for having a translation on her shirt cos I don’t speak French. We were all lucky with the weather at the weekend so glad they got the hot tub relaxation and double bubbles. Bye for now Jane.

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    • French on the front of the “old git” with English on his back; English on the front of the “old gal” with French on her back. Perfect way for a tandem when cycling in France!

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  2. Hi Matty, glad to hear you are making them work. Sounds like everyone had a good day – clever of you to make them go the route that involved lifting you over the gates! Very clever. Bet they haven’t realised it was planned!

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  3. Note of apology from Helix Park, saying they are working on new signs. And Scottish Canals also saying sorry for inconvenience. They say aware gates not ideal and actively looking for funding to improve them. Both going to update their websites meantime to highlight the issues. Result!

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  4. A great story and no little drama too! Love the image of the ‘Old Git’ cursing about which way to go next. Seriously, it’s a good move to hurry them up with signage, which will help encourage more people to get out on their bikes. Just sorry the ‘Old Git’ didn’t get himself in the picture with those amazing horse heads, then we would have had a ‘Kelpie Selfie’! Keep up the training!

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