Today my cousin Harry kindly offered to take me on a ride through some beautiful Scottish countryside near the birthplace of Thomas Makdougall Brisbane, after whom my home town of Brisbane is named. But there was one major twist to our ride…
Harry had a spare bike for me to ride, but it was a road bike – a contraption I have never ridden before in my life. Could I ride it? Would my friends ever speak to me again after I went over to the “dark side”?
I tentatively wobbled off, following my roadie cousin as we wound through the narrow streets of Johnstone. My narrow-wheeled bike was surprisingly light and twitchy, but being stooped over the drop-bars felt strange to me. I just rolled with the new experience, and tried not to crash his beautiful bike.
We rolled through town, looking for a bike shop. I’d lost part of my Camelbak on my previous ride, and wanted to find a replacement. My father Bruce grew up in this town sixty years ago. I imagined him as a teenager walking these streets, while an impressive soldier in a kilt looked down at me from a First World War memorial. Scots are fearsome warriors.
Harry shares my passion for politics. We happily chatted about the US Civil War, the upcoming UK election, and economics as we wheeled our bikes along the footpath.
Because we grew up on different sides of the planet, Harry and I have only met each other on a handful of occasions. I was surprised how much we had in common. Genetics can be delightful as it transforms people you’ve only spent moments with into good friends.
After a few minutes we reached the Paisley to Kilbirnie Railway Path. In Australia, we’d call this a “rail trail”. It’s twenty kilometre recreational trail which follows a disused railway line which used to run between Dalry and North Johnstone until the mid 1960’s.
Unlike most Aussie rail trails, this one was paved. As a novice “roadie” I was grateful for the respite from road traffic.
The quiet path twisted through fields of green grass and wildflowers. Scottish summers are far more gentle than what I was used to.
At Kilbarchan we left the trail for a short time as we passed through town. Even though it had taller gears than what I was used to, my bike climbed hills with ease. I put a bit of extra effort into the pedals, and crested the hill far sooner than I had expected.
A light rain started to fall. We donned our spray jackets and kept moving.
At Bridge-of-Weir we crossed the River Gryfe, a small but pretty watercourse which runs from the hills behind Greenock all the way to the Clyde near Glasgow. A series of rock walls crossed the river, but Harry said he had paddled it in some parts.
Back on the rail trail we rolled under a few quaint railway bridges, historic soot marks still evident on the brickwork. I resisted the temptation to make “choo choo” noises.
Some metal soldiers watched us warily as we pedaled past. I pondered about what sort of military activities might have taken place here a few centuries ago.
The rain continued to fall lightly, so we succumbed to the temptation of a trailside pub for an hour to warm up and dry off.
Harry might be a roadie, but he shares my love of good beer. I think he might make a good mountain biker.
Warm, dry and pleasantly refreshed, we jumped back on the bikes and followed the path westward, into the hills.
I didn’t mind the rain. I had good wet-weather gear, and enjoyed the rolling hills and green grass. This was a pretty place.
Although we were on paved roads, there was no traffic. This was a quiet peaceful ride.
Eventually we crossed Gryfe Water – a tributary of the River Gryfe we had seen earlier in the day. We crossed over a beautiful old stone bridge.
Unfortunately, road bikes can’t go on stoney roads. This was a new experience for me. Normally I’d rejoice at the sound of tyres crunching on gravel, but these thin tyres would easily puncture if they hit the stones.
We dismounted, walked, and talked.
Cousins who don’t see each other often have lots to discuss.
I felt slightly frustrated as I pushed the road bike on the dirt road. There were interesting-looking tracks leading off all over the place. If I ever return I might try to talk Harry into exploring them on a mountain bike.
For now I was content to walk and enjoy the view.
The rocky road ended. We started turning the pedals again as we passed Loch Thom, framed by old stone walls.
We crested another hill, and passed into North Ayrshire, and the Brisbane Glen…
From here we could enjoy a long downhill run, snaking through bonny braes covered with contented cattle.
Thomas Makdougall Brisbane lived in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. He was a soldier, but also an astronomer. He was governor of New South Wales in the early 1820’s when John Oxley discovered a large river, which he named the Brisbane River in honour of the governor. A couple of years later, a town and penal colony was later established upstream on that river. The town was eventually called “Brisbane” after the river.
As we rolled past lush grassy fields, I smiled at how different Brisbane Glen was from my home town.
The clouds parted for a short time, as we enjoyed a brief stint in the mild Scottish sunshine. Yes – this very different from home.
Minutes later we emerged in the outskirts of Largs, a charming town on the west coast of Scotland.
Largs has a proud Viking history. A thousand years ago, the brave townsfolk repelled a viking invasion. Today the shoreline boasts statues of warriors and norse ships. It’s a fascinating place.
Harry and I wound our way through back-streets to our destination. I had survived my first road bike ride, and lived to tell the tale.
Max elevation: 211 m
Min elevation: 16 m
Total climbing: 528 m
Total descent: -459 m
Average speed: 17.32 km/h
Total Time: 03:46:28
We rode about 40 kilometres in just under four hours. During that time we climbed just under 400 metres in elevation, and I burned about 1,700 kcal.
This was a leisurely ride punctuated with short stops to enjoy the view.
Thanks Harry for showing me your beautiful part of the world. I hope I can reciprocate the favour soon.