Kirkcaldy – Pillars of Hercules, Falkland – Markinch

31/12/2018

Map(s) Used: Sustrans Coast and Castles North

Out: 30km, Back: 17.5km

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December had stayed mild. After the frenzy of family Christmases down South, both of us wanted to take some time for ourselves, to set our intentions for the new year and do something that we enjoyed doing together. Leafing through our maps, we found a cycle route that went North out from Kirkcaldy towards Falkland. We bandied about the idea of wild camping in the Lomond Hills, but Abi’s current lack of a back pannier rack meant I would take the bulk of the load if we were bringing camping stuff, and the absence of public transport the next day meant we didn’t have a safety net. So, we decided to make it a day trip. We were pleased to see the Pillars of Hercules (an often recommended but never visited organic farm shop and cafe) was on the route, and was a very achievable 30km away. A hot cup of coffee and some vegan grub at the halfway point seemed a good motivation, and also meant we didn’t have to carry much food with us.

We left at 9am. The 766 route passes outside our flat. We joined it, slogging our way out of Kirkcaldy uphill and through estates, industrial areas and past retail sites and a slightly confusing junction at the water treatment park (head past it towards the sound of rushing traffic) until we crossed the A92 (over a foot bridge with shallow steeps and a rail for the bike) and joined the B9130 towards Thornton.

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When we’d checked the route on google maps, dropping our little yellow figure onto the road, it had seemed ok – quiet and with a marked, on road, cycle lane. Although it was busier than we expected, the cycle route had been upgraded to a large separate pavement.

Heaving our unfamiliar fen legs up the hills, we reassured ourselves that this meant it would be sweeping downhills on the way back. This meant that when the route took us on a steep downhill into Thornton, I wasn’t very happy. Braking at the bottom, I looked back up at it, already anticipating the climb home.

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We passed the train station at Thornton and made our way towards Glenrothes. The signage was straightforward, taking us through residential streets, up to Markinch station and out the other side of the town. We were following a small road that headed East before it veered West, towards Falkland and our eventual destination. My only complaint on this stretch was having to make our way across a busy crossroads with the traffic of the B9130 rushing past us, and various cars also trying to turn or make the crossing. The cycling infrastructure sort of dissolved at this point, leaving us relying on our experience, confidence, and a very thoughtful car driver who gave us right of way.

The road out of Markinch was quiet. We passed through the small village of Star and agricultural land. Cars (mostly) overtook us at an appropriate speed and distance. Tractors forced us onto the muddy verge at various points. We climbed each hill slowly and steadily, stopping for water and to let the burning in our thighs ease off before we started up again.

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Emerging at the top of the hill into woodland (Mildeans Wood) we turned left at the T-junction and joined the NCN 1, which merges with the 766 for a brief stretch. Halfway through the wood began a descent that saw us speeding out of the trees, down several switchbacks and out onto a straight road which eventually intersected the A914. We crossed this, went under a railway bridge and began the long hard slog through the town of Freuchie and towards Falkland. The Lomond hills rose to our left, but with our nose to the road, eeking out the last bits of strength in our legs, we didn’t really appreciate them fully. The small village of Newton of Falkland offered a small respite, and then it was back uphill to Falkland.

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In Falkland we turned off the main road and rode up past the large palace, winding through narrow streets towards the gateway to the Falkland estate. The Pillars of Hercules was marked on the map, but at the first wooden sign pointing towards it we threw the map out and began following increasingly muddy and unrideable trails. I was feeling right on the edge – tired, hungry and sick of the endless uphill. I slumped down at the table, hurried Abi to order and demolished a huge mug of soya milky coffee, a toastie and a soup. Abi had a vegan burger. We sat in silence, munching away. I felt a lot better with food (and coffee) in me.

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Popping to the toilet on the way out, Abi and I were sent a sharp reminder of the cost of longer distance riding. We screeched in our cubicles, pulled our cycling shorts back up, and sat gingerly back down in our saddles – knowing that the only thing to do was to keep riding until it stopped hurting again.

Making our way back towards Freuchie felt easy in comparison to the journey there: caffeinated, with full stomachs and on a steady downhill which allowed us to enjoy the views. At the bottom of the steep hill which we had so quickly descended, we took the executive decision to get off and push.

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‘Remind’s me of Switzerland eh’ I joked to Abi; we’d spent most of the time in Switzerland on our cycle tour pushing our bikes up impossible hills (normally whilst elderly Swiss couples and children rode past us).

At the top, we stood for a while looking back out across the Lomonds. From there, it was a straightforward ride, retracing our route back. Arriving at Markinch station, we decided to check the train times. We wanted to be in Kirkcaldy before dark, and the sun set in an about an hour so we knew we’d have to peg the rest of the route back. This was Abi’s first long ride after she’d got ill, and we didn’t want to overdo it.

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We caught a train from Markinch, arriving home to a lentil dhal I’d cooked the day before in preparation and then falling asleep at 7.30pm, exhausted and happy.