Falkirk · Fitness

Cycling along the Union Canal to The Bridge 49 Cafe

I’m not a great cyclist. I basically didn’t do it at all between the ages of 12 and 25, at which point P decided that this would not stand and during a trip to Aviemore, hand my cycling up and down the garden, on the grass, to remind me how it was done. They might say that you never forget, but you’d be amazed what a decade of neglect can do to your skills.

Since then I’ve had a few goes. We cycled a short distance that one time in Aviemore, I rented the Glasgow NextBikes for jaunts to  Pollock Park and Glasgow green and, more recently, I’ve taken advantage of the Bike and Go rental scheme. The main difficulty is the lack of cycling muscles. If you’ve grown up cycling and have cycled most of your life you don’t realise how hard it can be for those who haven’t. The simple action of making your legs go up and down can be torturous very quickly if those aren’t muscles you normally use. The one time I passed out in the gym was following a go on an exercise bike. It was embarrassing. I don’t recommend it (although the staff at Virgin Active were amazing).

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My shiny new Bike&Go card

So, as I said, I’m not a great cyclist. However, Falkirk is much better set up for cycling than Glasgow is, simply because it’s a small town. It gains extra points for its connections to the Union Canal and the Forth and Clyde Canal. It has the Callendar Estate to explore and sights like the Falkirk Wheel and the Kelpies. It has a dairy farm where ice cream is made. Simply put, there are a lot of places you might want to cycle along and most of them avoid busy roads.

Last weekend we took advantage of a little Spring sunshine to go cycling along the Union Canal. I picked up a Bike&Go key at Falkirk High station and within minutes we were on our way. The goal was Polmont since it’s a little over 4 miles away and has a train station. Since we don’t know my strength or stamina yet, escape routes like train stations are really valuable. We’d cycle along the Union Canal to get there.

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Along the Union Canal. Not a bad route.

Well, we reached Polmont and I felt fine. Almost exactly as fine as I’d felt when we started. The advantage of cycling along the canal is that it’s flat. There are no major hills for me to climb, so I don’t feel the need to get off and push. The downside is that there are no major downhill sections that I can freewheel down, either, but it seems like a good deal. We decided to go just a little further, to The Bridge 49 Cafe, about halfway between Polmont and the next town with a station, Linlithgow.

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I made it! I don’t know that I’ve ever been so proud of my cycling. We locked up the bikes and got some lunch in the cafe. I ordered a BLT with a side of fries that I felt was very well deserved. Honestly, I’ve had better BLTs, but the fries were pretty good. If we find ourselves cycling out this way again I might opt for a baked potato next time.

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BLT at the Bridge 49 Cafe

By this point, I was a little tired, but feeling refreshed from our rest and meal. We decided to try to get to Linlithgow. If we got there I could leave my bike at the Linlithgow Bike&Go stand (Polmont doesn’t have one yet) and we could catch the train home. Off we went, but we’d only been cycling for about ten minutes when we came to a bridge guarded by a police officer. The bridge was closed. I don’t know why I just hope no one had been hurt. We had to turn back.

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Now, I was starting to struggle. It’s amazing how quickly you can go from feeling fine to feeling like you’ll never move your legs again. P let me go ahead of him so I could set the pace but I was slowing down. I couldn’t speed up enough to let myself freewheel, which would have given me a rest, so I couldn’t rest, so I couldn’t speed up. I crawled. Eventually, I called for a stop and a rest.

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Please don’t make me cycle anymore!

That was a little disheartening. Eventually, I got my breath back and we managed the last leg, but it was pretty painful, especially the approach to Polmont Station which involved a very gradual incline and which totally destroyed me. Still, we made it, caught a train, and I left my bike where I’d picked it up.

My legs were sore the next day. It was worth it though, the weather had been wonderful the whole time and even when I was tired I was enjoying the view in spite of myself. Maybe next time we’ll make it all the way to Linlithgow, or maybe we’ll try a different route and head out to the Kelpies. All I need is a little dry weather.

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