Cycle trip to … Dunfermline
WORDS: Dominika Shrocka
IMAGES: Rachel Lijewski
Scotland has great opportunities for active leisure. I decided to explore some cycling trips in the Edinburgh area. Is this something you could easily do with your free time? Probably. Will it be worth the effort, and how much effort is there actually involved in some of the most popular cycle paths? Rachel Lijewski, with her photographer’s eye will accompany me on a few of the routes that are worth a try. This time we embarked on a trip over the Firth of Forth to one of Fife’s nicest towns, Dunfermline.
I met photographer Rachel at 10am at Haymarket Station. We then walked together for about 10 mins to the old railway path. The entries to this path are sometimes well hidden but once you get in there it is like a completely different world. You feel like you’re finding a secret path that you want to tell everyone about. Just off Wester Coates Terrace is one of those secret passages.
We got well prepared and printed out some maps. Surprisingly, with technology we use these days, it turned out to be a bit of a challenge. The 19-mile-route from Edinburgh to Dunfermline cannot fit on one piece of paper that would allow you to read the street names. In the end, we did not even look at our maps – the track is generally very well sign-posted. We followed the National Cycle Network signs placed on lamp-posts and bollards. However, we did have to stop a few times because it looked like the route could go in a few different directions and they all seemed like the right one! Even the distance could change from 3 to 4 miles depending on which side of the road you were on. For instance, we found a route sign to “Queensferry 9 miles” and right next to it another one said, “Queensferry 4 miles”. Sometimes we just trusted our intuition and, when we did have an opportunity, asked people for directions. Outside Edinburgh people tend to smile at strangers, especially on off-road paths. People are very nice and happy to help out and chat. They are usually people who use these paths everyday and do not often see new faces around.
So we followed the old railway path towards Queensferry. In the meantime we took a break in Davidson’s Mains to search for a bathroom, just to make sure we were ready for the rest of the trip. When we finally got ourselves ready we set out for the Forth Road Bridge. On our way to Cramond Brig we found this to be a really pretty area in the middle of the forest where the road splits in two. At this time of year, it is surrounded by stretches of wild garlic which we stumbled upon on many occasions. Its leaves have a very specific shine to them which reflects any light it gets. Together with the smell it creates a very unique experience. We continued through the beautiful Cramond Bridge on the River Almond which used to connect Queensferry and Edinburgh in the pre-motorway era. In the afternoon rush you do feel like you are on a bicycle motorway. This passage is essential for cyclists commuting between Queensferry and Edinburgh. If you follow the footpath alongside the bridge East, just a 100m further you can see a lovely small waterfall. However, the footpath is not so great for cycling as you can get a lot of hawthorn punctures.
A few miles further on, we encountered Dalmeny Water Tower and spotted the Forth Rail Bridge. This area was particularly rural – green fields, empty roads and a couple of dog-walkers. We stopped to take some photos as the view of the bridge was pretty incredible. Unfortunately, even for the best photographer and camera, it turned out to be quite a challenge with the brilliant Scottish sky that blends everything into its own greyness.
We finally got on the Forth Road Bridge cycle path. It never seems as big as when you’re cycling or standing on it. We noticed a train on the rail bridge, which looked like a little toy-train compared to the bridge’s size. Even though I have been on both bridges before, this was a much more intense experience. As we were approaching the other side of the bridge, we could smell an awful sewage odor which continued for the first mile into Fife – not the best first impression. We followed the path onto the main road and got through Inverkeithing and Rosyth without major issues. However, in Rosyth we did get a bit navigationally confused as this was one of the times where the cycle path suddenly ended. But, again, with the help of the locals, we got through it.
Finally, hungry, tired and in need of a toilet, we arrived in Dunfermline only to find that yet another cycle path ended with no obvious detour. We managed to get ourselves near the town centre, when we realised that we had a huge steep hill to conquer. But we made it. It was a worthwhile challenge. After we took care of our physical needs, we found the Dunfermline Abbey and walked around its grounds. The church itself is open to the public and it is free to enter and enjoy. It is an empty hall but it is used as a wedding venue for people with a sentiment for mediaeval architecture. We admired the church’s stained-glass windows. The Visitor’s Centre, located in the ruins of the Abbey’s Refectory charges an entry fee, which we, being cheap students, decided not to cover.
After warming up over some coffee, we ventured on our cycle-ride back to Edinburgh!