26 July 2022

2022 Dorman Family Tour de Little France report

We’ve done some good riding over the past two weeks. Unfortunately, the extreme heat warning suggested that we shouldn’t try to finish the final stage of our ride - across the barrens to close the loop. It was this section of branch line — seen on an old map that my parents had on the wall after they moved to Harbour Grace  — that inspired us to start riding them.  But there’s always next year….

Many many thanks to everyone who supported us along the way, with encouragement and donations. Especially my mother who worried about us and her neighbour Timmy who kindly loaned us a bike! We couldn’t have done it without them. We rode 72.52 miles (116 km) on challenging terrain and thanks to your generosity, we more than exceeded our fundraising goals!

For those who are feeling inspired, there’s lots more branch lines out there to ride! 

24 July 2022

Stage 3 TDLF: The Queen Stage

This was an unexpectedly epic ride. It was cold and cloudy when we left the cabin - very unlike recent weather.  We rode the 6 miles to the main trailway, and turned west.  The track here is wide and in good shape, but with a strong headwind and heavy rain the day before had left lots of puddles.  We got to Whitbourne without difficulty and stocked up on provisions. 

We picked up the branch line next to the community garden. It looked a little unpromising, so I asked an older gentleman if it was the old track. He looked doubtful, then said yes, but you won’t get through like that.  It did look a little wet… and oddly low lying for a track bed. 
Unfortunately for us, it got worse. Not just wet but mud. Proper Newfoundland bog seemed to have swallowed the track bed. But we didn’t let that stop us!
We did get through to the Trans Canada, where the track passes into a culvert, and then becomes a gravel road through to Blaketown, but I really wouldn’t encourage anyone to try it. 

After passing the foot of Dildo pond, the track runs up the east side of the pond before turning inland towards Broad cove junction , where the line turns off towards Tilton and Harbour Grace. This segment was also pretty wet, but less boggy.  

At Broad cove Junction we turned west, towards Trinity Bay and cold beer (for me) in Dildo. The track here is dry and fairly stable. 

Really glad we did this route, but it was not easy. Some sections we were on foot more than on our bikes! 

20 July 2022

Stage 2 of the Tour of Little France

 On day 2 we picked up the CBN trailway at Cupids.  Our support team got the bikes ready. 

After a brief sweep east, it heads south towards the Trans-Canada. This is a long straight run, with fairly good surfaces.  We had a stiff headwind most of the way which made it a bit of a slog, but it’s fairly scenic and a pleasant, quiet ride, with little ATV action until you’re near the  TCH. 

There’s a road tunnel under the highway, but you do have to cross an access road on both sides.  The branch line continues south to Brigus Junction, where it meets the Newfoundland Trailway, ie the old track across the province.  We turned west onto the trailway (our headwind seemed to follow us), and headed towards our cabin, which is near Ocean Pond. 

The big difference between todays stage and yesterday’s is that during the ride we didn’t enter any towns or areas and very rarely saw anyone else meaning that there was nowhere we could stop to buy anything even though we didn’t need anything specifically it had been nice to be able to stop and buy cold drinks  from gas stations.

Just after we passed under the trans Canada we saw a cyclist who was also looking at his phone for directions we went up and spoke to him and learnt that he was called Fernand Lussier and that he was from Sherbrooke, Quebec and that seven years ago he had ridden across Canada from Sherbrooke to Quebec but the. His grandson said “but Grandpa you haven’t ridden across Canada yet” so seven years later he took up his grandson’s challenge and is just now finishing it.                                                                

After reaching the trans Canada I (Bram) became physically and mentally tired because we had both been thinking about it as the end while really there was still a large chunk to go and it just kept going but  then we reached a small pond and we went for a quick swim and it really helped refresh us.

We had another swim when we got to our cabin —this time joined by two beavers and two loons. Very Canadian. 

18 July 2022

Stage 1 of the Tour of Little France

Harbour Grace to Cupids: this was a trial ride, to see how our bikes worked, and to see how fit we are (not very). 

We got in the track at River Head in Harbour Grace and immediately regretted it. 

The old track from Harbour Grace to Tilton is the worst we’ve ridden, and seems to have gotten worse in recent years. 

Loose, heavy gravel or big rocks. There’s also a diversion in Tilton where a lumber yard’s  expanded over the track, and put in a very rough and unpleasant diversion. But after that it wasn’t too bad. In some places it is classic ‘old track’ and totally rideable while in others it has been widened and smoothed.  The start of the section from South River to Dildo is tough going, but soon settles down to a long straight run on an embankment towards the old CBN Highway. 

Lots of work has been done on the track recently, especially around Bay Robert’s and Clarke’s Beach but that area was also swarming with ATVs. Most of them were lovely and considerate and moving slowly, but a few places had lots of kids on three wheelers, riding fast and kicking up a lot of dust.  But no problems and everyone very friendly.

I didn’t stop to get pictures at any of the roughest sections, but there are some great bridges. The track sections which run through the ponds along the coast are just fab too. 

This part of the trailway winds through lots of communities. In the BayRoberts area, a lot of the track sections have become roads, but quiet ones.  ATVs are routed away from some roads, but on bikes we were able to stick to a straight line, mostly on the original route. Also lots of shops for buying cold drinks, and even lunch stops. We had hoped to have lunch at the baccalieu trail brewery but it wasn’t open yet, so instead we got hot  dogs at the gas station and ate them while watching the seabirds in Spaniards Bay.  

Overall we rode just under 40km, which was enough for our first long ride in several months. We stopped a lot, to reapply sunscreen and empty our bottles, we even paddled in a pond. We had a hare lollop across the path, and a red squirrel dashed across too. Amazingly, the bikes held up, and we’re looking forward to the next stage. 

Tour de Little France details: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/dormanfamily 


23 October 2021

Is Gravelfoyle all it's cracked up to be?

Captivated by this video (filmed in stunning July weather) I booked a family half term holiday to Aberfoyle in October.  We'd already had one holiday to the area cancelled by Covid, and have hiked a few hills and biked a bit on the other side of Loch Lomond, but Aberfoyle (aka 'Gravelfoyle') was totally new to us. 

Once I worked out that we could hire bikes (why do no hire car services provide bike racks?), I quickly booked the only accommodation that I could find, and waited for October. 

The weather did not live up to our expectations, but everything else did.  Nick and Ross at Aberfoyle Bike Hire sorted us out perfectly. They were super helpful (especially when this summer another rural bike shop wasn't even picking up the phone).  The cottage we hired was very nice and perfectly located - a max 5 minute walk from 2 pubs, a big co-op,  and a tonne of cafes, and plumb on the bike routes.  It is so nice to be able to get newspapers while on holiday, to know there's a chemists near by, not to have to worry if you've forgotten something (all challenges we've encountered on other ventures out of Edinburgh). Also excellent wifi and mobile connectivity.

Despite the rain, we had a blast cycling around the 'Gravelfoyle' routes.  The surfaces are all different, but excellent. The gravel roads are mostly vehicle free, and the few utility vehicles we saw were all very cautious and friendly.  And we only covered a fraction of the possible routes.  

We did  a short loop around Lochan Spling to test our bikes the night we arrived.  Then a long but fairly flat  loop around Loch Ard, and paths south of it, checking out Black Linn of Blair Vaich, and various historic ruins.  On our one (mostly) dry day, we did a big, hillier loop in the Achray Forest, on NCN 7, coming back via Duke's Pass, which dropped us straight back at our front door.  Both of these were more properly half-day rides, but we stopped a lot to take pictures, explore, and eat.  My one complaint was that the 'waymarked routes' on the Gravelfoyle website didn't entirely map onto the waymarking on the ground.  At any rate, they have different names to what is used on the maps available in the super friendly tourism office, just next to the big (free!) car park.  We found it helpful to have OS maps and a GPS to show us where we were. There are also tonnes of routes online, using Komoot.  

The start of the paths where NCN 7 leaves the A821 are also worth exploring on foot - lots of stuff for kids to play on,  waterfalls, art, and a hide where you can watch red squirrels and birds. 

So, yes. Do go to Aberfoyle.  It's beautiful and friendly and well worth a visit.

03 January 2019

London by bike with kids

With a bit of specialist kit and some twitter friends it is possible to 'do' London as a family by bike.  

We took our 2 kids - one primary and one secondary aged -- and our trusty 8 year old Circe Helios tandem down by train. In London, we borrowed another - rather newer - Helios from a local cycling family.  

With two panniers that transform into backpacks, we tackled 60-odd miles of London over 5 days.  We saw Tower Bridge and toured the Tower.  We rode the east-west cycle super highway (CS3) by day and by night.  We went to a play in Southwark (Q1) and tackled the Farringdon infrastructure (CS6)  in both directions.  We pootled around Hyde Park and Green Park, saw Buckingham Palace, and the Horse Guards at Whitehall and visited museums. 

While the segregated infra was definitely the best,  the permeable connections from Bloomsbury to Angel (Q2) and around de Beauvoir in Hackney  (CS1) were pretty good, if not deserving of being called a 'super highway'.  The family was also convinced that CS1 took us round in circles until they looked at the Garmin track. The one section that got an overwhelming thumbs down was Exhibition Road, which had a lot of through traffic and where a kid jumping out of a 4x4 nearly doored us.  

On the streets, drivers were surprisingly forgiving, although the busses seemed to see us as competition. It being the holidays, there weren't many commuters, but instead a lot of folk cycling to the shops, or, in the city centre, tourists and locals on rental bikes. 

All in all, a good trip. We're looking forward to getting home, but  we'll miss the infra and the 'normality' of cycling in London.  Hopefully Edinburgh will learn from London's mistakes and build only the best. 

11 April 2018

Why are we still building infra that's not suitable for 8-80 year-olds?

Another in a series of blogposts 'inspired' by trying to get my kids to half-term/holiday activities in Edinburgh.....ie child-friendly locations that attract families from all over the city.

This Easter, I've been cycling with my kids to a nearby local school for bike camp.  There are two possible routes. Both are more than half on off-road cycle paths. The first one, which replicates my commute is flat but to get there we have to go through the worst intersection in Edinburgh.

The kids have voted with their legs and prefer to climb a hill to avoid that junction.  The nice off-road cycle path that runs through Bruntsfield links and along South Meadow Walk takes us across one well designed intersection with a toucan.  But then we come to the junction of SMW with Middle Meadow Walk (MMW), Melville Drive and Argyle Place.

This is one of the most used bits of cycle infrastructure in Edinburgh, and as a result was redesigned a few years ago.  At the time I said that it was not well-designed for pedestrians (unsurprisingly, they ignore the dropped curbs and follow a desire line that takes them straight across the cycle lane).   It's better now in some ways for cyclists who want to turn onto or off of MMW.  But if, like my kids, you need to continue on SMW, it's a nightmare.  It's a classic piece of infra that sort of works for grownups, as long as you can swivel your head simultaneously in five directions and start at a sprint.  But it's nearly impossible for kids to judge the on-coming traffic - cars, buses, lorries, and bikes, coming at them from multiple directions.

In the above - we are the red line trying to continue on the cycle path, cyclists are yellow and cars are green. What you can't see is that it's not a straight line.  First we cross the one way slip road for cars joining Melville Drive, then we hang about in the middle of the cycle infra, trying to spot cars turning in various directions, while also dodging cyclists and trying not to block pedestrians who are oblivious that they're not supposed to take the most direct route to their crossing point.

There is no way the kids could do this on their own, and no signalled crossing anywhere nearby that they could dismount and use either.

Which begs the question 'WHY?"  I suspect the answer is that the council's focus is on commuting routes.  Ignoring the 5 schools in close vicinity, the playpark, the football pitches, etc.

I don't have the energy to go look at how much this cost.  It's certainly better than what was there before, but we pointed out all these shortcomings when it was in the design phase.  Which raises the bigger question: why are we still designing and building infrastructure that doesn't meet the needs of all its users?  why are we building 'slightly better but still crap' infrastructure? and what will it take to move past this bodged half-way house?