Flashes of winter sunlight at the west end of Loch Katrine
I’VE had a couple of cycling experiences this week which couldn’t have been in more contrasting landscapes.
Yesterday I was in the Trossachs on a wild day of wind and heavy rain showers. On such a day it’s always a temptation to turn your back on the outdoors and go and sit in front of a fire but a sudden shaft of sunlight prodded through the sullen clouds and lit up the hills around the Trossachs pier at the head of Loch Katrine. A rainbow appeared and it was as though there was a message in that arc of colour. I took the hint, wrapped up well and went for it.
It was a simple enough bike ride – down the undulating lochside road to Glen Gyle, birthplace of that highland rogue Rob Roy, then round the foot of the loch to Stronachlachur. It would have been nice to hoist the bike on a boat and sail back to the start but the ferries were off for the winter.
As it happened it was great to get the wind on my back and simply return the way I had come. Although the showers were heavy and I was soaked through the momentary flashes of blue sky through scudding clouds and the way the occasional sunlight coloured the surrounding hills were enough to compensate. I thoroughly enjoyed it, despite some steep hills.
It was also good to be in the land of Rob Roy and the MacGregors. I’ve long had a fascination with Rob Roy MacGregor Campbell and I’ve yet to be convinced if he was a champion of the poor, or a scoundrel.
History tends to be kind to rogues – look at Guy Fawkes, Dick Turpin and, I hate to suggest it – Ronnie Biggs, a low life criminal who will, I’ve no doubt, go down in history as a celebrity crook. It’s a funny old world…
The day before was unusually enjoyable, but surreal. I had pulled the bike out of my van and cycled into one of the strangest landscapes I’ve ever seen. It was like something right out of an HG Wells novel.
What’s happened to my boyhood wilderness?
These high Eaglesham and Fenwick moors should had a ring of familiarity about them as I used to explore them when I was a lad, my own youthful interpretation of a wilderness, but now, as far as the eye could see, the hills and hollows were covered in spinning turbines, apparently 250 of them ranging in height between 110 and 149 metres high.
I had been urged by a number of people to visit the Whitelees Windfarm, near Eaglesham on the south side of Glasgow. It’s Europe’s biggest on-shore wind farm, and I had been told that the 80 miles of service tracks made for some good mountain biking.
Scottish Renewables obviously use this place as a kind of wind power evangelism centre, but to be fair, there is a good car park, a visitor centre with cafe (closed) and separate facilities for cyclists. And I was curious…
The weather was foul – it was raining and the wind was gusting strong, which I suppose is ideal for a windfarm, and the turbines were certainly spinning. I couldn’t believe how noisy they were and what a strange noise they made, something between a whoosh and a mild roar as the huge turbine blades cleaved the air.
To be honest I found them a little bit scary. Stand below one of these things and watch the blade swoop down towards you. You feel as though you’re about to be decapitated…
The wind was too strong to do very much so I ambled round a trail called the Loch Goin circuit and I suspect on a better day I might have enjoyed it even more but I can’t deny that these massive turbines had a capitivating presence.
To be honest I don’t think mountain bikers would be all that impressed by the wide service roads, although I believe Scottish Renewables are building a proper mountain bike area here at Whitelees, but for a family wanting a day out on their bikes on fairly easy trails, with a good cafe nearby, then Whitelees Windfarm might be a different, and interesting option.
Let me finish with a plea. Because I spent a couple of hours at this windfarm doesn’t mean I have joined the pro-windfarm lobby. I think on-shore wind has a place in the whole range of renewables and I’m working as hard as I can to convince the Scottish Government we have to protect the best of our wild land areas from on-shore turbines.
In time we will see increased protection for National Scenic Areas and those areas of wild land registered on Scottish Natural Heritage’s wild land map, but as Whitelee is already in existence, and there are valid attempts to attract cyclists to the area, then it was well worth a visit. I might even go back on a better day…