I’m on a deserted road hugging the banks of Loch Lomond – but not just its traffic is long gone, the surface itself is disappearing into the encroaching undergrowth closing in on either side.
In fact, nature is erasing the last signs that the road once carried vehicles, its white centre lines almost completely faded into the tarmac and the remains of a few cat’s eyes the last indication of past motorists.
It’s part of an all-too-short short stretch of what used to be the A82, decades ago, and which now forms the highlight of the West Loch Lomond cycle path, a largely traffic-free route between Tarbet and Balloch.
It’s very satisfying to reclaim the road on a bike – after all, they predated cars by decades.
The 1953 edition of the Motor Touring in Scotland guide described as a “track of sustained scenic splendour”.
I’d been meaning to cycle the route ever since it re-opened as a cycle path 15 years ago, and the long-awaited launch this summer of ScotRail’s dedicated “Highland Explorer” bike coaches provided the perfect opportunity to take the train from Glasgow to Tarbet and ride back along it.
However, what should have been a pleasant excursion along the loch became marred by bewilderment and frustration.
There has been an apparent failure to maintain the route with its bare essentials – route markings to reassure riders they are on the right track, and tolerable surfaces so cycling doesn’t become a bone-shaking ordeal.
Freewheeling down the hill from the station into Tarbet, I was immediately puzzled at the lack of signs to the cycle route, ending up on a narrow, traffic-clogged section of the A82 through the village.
I finally realised its pavement must double as the path – despite having to dodge roadworks signs virtually blocking it.
In fact, I was to see no signs to confirm I was on the route until south of Luss, more than halfway along.
Instead, I just came across a needless “Cyclists Dismount” sign where the route met an A82 layby, since the path should have been have extended round it instead.
I had expected the biggest drawback to the route would be the sections right beside the main road.
But while the traffic noise and fumes were unwelcome, I noticed with bitter irony that the carriageway surface was far smoother than the pot-holed and uneven cycle path.
It’s not surprising to see cyclists on 60mph roads with parallel bike lanes if the latter are so poor.
Sustrans, which is responsible for the national cycle network, gave me the impression it wouldn’t touch the route with a barge pole.
It’s not part of the network and never has been, they told me – and it’s even been downgraded from a regional to a local route.
What a missed opportunity when ScotRail are trying to persuade us to get our bikes on the train, and we’re being encouraged to use Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park more sustainably.
But it’s also a warning for those developing new cycle routes across Scotland – and the many more likely to follow on the back of increased funding: don’t just open them, make sure you maintain them too.