CAR-FREE FUN – Granton Harbour to Queensferry to Inchcolm Abbey; by bike, boat and foot

It’s amazing what you can squeeze into one day!!  Our ‘car-free’ day was a photographers delight so even if you don’t fancy the bike ride I’m sure the coastal views, bridges, boats, nature and wildlife will inspire you to check out even just a few segments of our epic day out!

My Edinburgh ‘to-do’ list is so long that when I get a whole free day with nice weather I end up in an excited frenzy.  I bombard my husband with ideas which fly out of my mouth at about 60 per second…..let’s do….or why don’t we…. we could also go……

Knowing me as well as he does, he silently waits until I pause for breath OR…. mention something that includes cycling!!

A few weeks ago a few factors combined into a busy, exhausting but really fun day out.  It was dry, a little sunny and not too windy; I had a voucher for a boat trip on the Forth with Forth Boat Tours and I had been hounding John to take me out on some cycling paths.  I was thinking either a day of cycling or the river cruise but then I had the brilliant idea (yes I’m willing to take the blame for this one :D) to combine the two and cycle out to South Queensferry.  After all, according to Google Maps – it was only a 46 minute ride over mostly car-free bicycle paths (I didn’t notice the elevation profile at the time!)

google map of ride

I certainly don’t ride my bike as much as I’d like so every trip is a bit of a palaver to get ready.  Is there air in the tyres?  Where did I put my helmet? What’s the weather?  What should I wear?  Eventually I got myself sorted while John took care of the bikes.  John rides out this way on his road bike but today he was ‘willing’ to head out on the mountain bike and join me on the paths.

I LOVE the start of this ride.  The path along the Cramond waterfront is smooth and wide and the views are AMAZING!








We usually just ride out to the cafe and back as a short evening ride but today we were going further…..much further!  The cafe was open and I could sit and watch the boats for hours, but today we continued on along the river Avon.


The smooth tarmac disappeared but our trusty (and slightly rusty) mountain bikes were perfectly suited to the dirt and gravel paths that took us into the woods and past some ruins as we followed the river edge.


Suddenly we came to a stop.  We looked ahead, looked at each other, looked left, looked right – nope no path left – only STEPS!  Lots and lots of steps heading up into the trees.  A runner was heading down and saw the bemusement on our faces – he laughed and confirmed that is was up or head back.  We shouldered our bikes and began our ascent.





Looking back at how far up we came

Looking back at how far up we came

Huffing and puffing at the top – we got back on the bikes and continued along the path which promptly stopped at a set of steps heading back down!   That picnic I packed was adding weight to my bike but at least my arms were getting a workout.




Excitement over, we cruised along and very shortly the path emerged from the trees, crossed over a picturesque bridge, and brought us to the top of the A90.






Now, we had planned to cycle the small road/cycle path that follows alongside the A90.  This path would have then joined the B924 which means I would have to cycle on a road with cars for the rest of the journey.  However, it turns out the A90 path was closed until the end of August 2014!  There was a detour which would take us through the Dalmeny Estate.  This would add time to our ride, but would make the rest of the route car free!

I’ve never been through the Dalmeny estate and was impressed by the paved paths and beautiful setting.


We soon came across a detour sign that would return us to the B924.


We had our mountain bikes, had plenty of time before our boat ride and were enjoying the views so we ignored the signs and instead headed for the ‘Shore Walk’.


This route was lumpy, bumpy and had its ups and downs – giving my thighs a good workout, but we were rewarded with coastal views which were lovely on their own – but when the rail bridge finally came into view…. WOW!








As we approached to town of S. Queensferry we were thrilled that we decided to go by bike.  There were cars EVERYWHERE!  The gorgeous weather brought everyone to the coast – plus there was a charity absailing event taking place which was attracting a big crowd, cheering on the brave fundraisers as they descended from the bridge on a tiny little wire.




While waiting for our boat, we soaked up the party atmosphere, enjoyed our packed lunch and got more pics of one of the most photographed bridges in the world!




Ever since moving to Scotland in 2002 I’ve wanted to visit Inchcolm Abbey so I was first in line when the boat approached the dock.   We got the perfect seat – up front in the open air but tucked in the corner so we had shelter from the wind and spray.




However, I think there was someone on the boat even more excited than me!!


Instead of heading directly to Inchcolme, the ‘Forth Belle’ took us the opposite direction for an up close look at the bridges and to see the progress of the new bridge.  During the ride, we were entertained and educated by a taped commentary – I’m sure visitors to Scotland love hearing the broad Scottish accent sharing a wealth of information about the bridges, the wildlife and the use of the Forth River for commerce and war time defence.
















We passed several little Islands – most with some sort of building/outlook posts as we headed towards Fife and the island of Inchcolm.  As we pulled up to the dock we could see a wee figure on the rocks, welcoming us in.


Is that a….?  Yes, yes it is!! 😀


Our voucher was for the boat ride only; getting off at Inchcolm is an optional extra since this is managed by Historic Scotland but it is definitely worth the extra few pounds.

Walking up the path from the dock, the majestic ruins of Inchcolm Abbey rise ahead; we instantly saw that there was plenty to keep us busy for the 90 minutes before the next boat came along for the return to S. Queensferry.  The circling birds were a strong reminder that this island and its now uninhabited buildings have been reclaimed by nature, we are just visitors.


Closer inspections shows that the Abbey must have evolved through the centuries, with some areas in complete ruin and others still showing traces of the past use.



cDSC_5192 cdsc_5194









I love old ruins, especially when you are allowed to roam everywhere – down corridors left open to the elements, up steps that now go nowhere and I wasn’t disappointed at Inchcolm.










It seemed we could go EVERYWHERE!  Tiny staircases wound their way up to open views – so narrow I could hardly fit, especially with my tote bag on my shoulder – so it was a big shock that these were ‘2-way’.  We were sure to give a shout before heading up and down to save traffic jams halfway down.  It was funny to hear everyone exclaiming their delight (and possibly shock) that we were allowed such freedom.  So in addition to the cycle ride – I got a great step workout as well!









After exploring every possible nook and cranny we left the tranquil ruins of the 12th century abbey to explore the wildlife and war defences.  Some visitors chose to chill out in the grassy courtyards or even have a friendly wheelbarrow race, but we ventured onwards.


A giant set of stairs (I must have been too out of breath to take a photo) led us up past the 20th century war bunkers where we were ‘greeted’ by some very protective gulls watching over their nests.






Instead of heading down the opposite side which would involve walking over the birds, we decided to let nesting gulls lie and just enjoy the 360 degree views from the top.
















Our 90 minutes was nearly up.  We made our way to the small shop and gallery above the dock.  It was possible to get a chilled drink from the small fridge or a candy bar, but there was no tea room.  Really!  A british visitor attraction without a tea room!  Luckily there is a small bar on the boat serving hot and cold drinks.


Our return boat ride took us past a few more tiny islands and past other boats out enjoying the gorgeous day.






Although we saw lots of sea gulls on the island; I was hoping for a bit more sealife.  As we were turning back towards home, the captain turned our attention to the water where a wee head was peeking out at us.


A lone seal bobbed alongside the boat making our day out complete.


Back on terra firma, it was time to unlock the bikes and ride home.  As we walked the bikes up the ramp we could see that the charity absail event was still going strong.  Well done to the brave folk that met their fears and raised some money for their causes.






We headed back the way we came, along the rough coastal path up to the paved paths of the Dalmeny estate.




Entering the estate we saw a bizarre pile of rocks all numbered.  I thought maybe it was a disassemble wall or building.




By a very bizarre coincidence the day after our ride I saw a a photo on twitter, of the same rocks we saw as we entered the Dalmeny estate.  The person posting their photo was hoping to found out more about them. I shared my pics as well and surprisingly we were both contacted by the Edinburgh Evening News who thought that these mysteriously numbered stones were newsworthy!  Amazing what you see when you leave the car at home!!

Ahead of us we saw the detour sign that would bring us to the bridge near Cramond, or we could stay along the coast and join the path later.  We chose the coast.  There were some ‘technical’ bits where the path narrowed as the shrubs and trees tried to reclaim their territory.


This route added at least 15 minutes to the return home but at least now I can say I’ve cycled a bit of of the John Muir way!


Seeing that we had our fill of rough path, we avoided the steps along the River Avon and took the road through Cramond Village.  The road was wide and not too many cars so it was definitely the better option; before long we cut back to the Cramond seafront for car-free cycling most of the way home.

Overall it was a long day but with lots of great adventures!  You can always drive to Queensferry for the boat, or even take the Forth Bridge Curse Bus and Boat Tour with a coach departing from St. Andrew’s Square in Edinburgh taking you straight to the dock.  Looking back, we probably would avoid the steps, even if it means cycling on the road for a mile or so.  I was actually quite surprised that google maps recommended that route for cycling!!  I then remembered I had a Spokes Cycling map for Edinburgh.  I dug it out and sure enough there were a few strange symbols on our route…

map reproduced with kind permission from Spokes

map reproduced with kind permission from Spokes

Closer inspections showed…

map reproduced with kind permission from Spokes

map reproduced with kind permission from Spokes

CAUTION!! Lots of Steps!!!  Lesson for the day – check the Spokes map FIRST!!



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