We ride with a Scottish cycling club that has stood the test of time
- Words: Trevor Ward / Photos: Andy McCandlish
Based: Dundee, Scotland
Meets: Sunday club run, 9.30 am, from Camperdown Country Park gates, just off Kingsway, Dundee; Thursdays, 6pm, APR from Main Street, Invergowrie.
Social media took a very different form during Dundee Thistle’s heyday.
“See those gateposts?” says Jim ‘OCD’ Walker as we arrive for the start of today’s ride at the entrance to Camperdown Country Park. “All the local clubs met here, and they’d scratch that day’s route on the post for any latecomers to see.”
Not everything has changed for the better during the club’s 88-year history, however.
The scourge of Scottish cyclists is the A9, a monstrous dual carriageway with barely any concessions for riders wanting to cross it during its 270-mile length, and today’s cafe stop and midway point is on the other side of it. After waiting almost 10 minutes for a break in the traffic, we manage to cross and make it to our coffees and cakes in one piece.
At the cafe, 75-year-old Ned Carnegie pines for the days of half a century earlier when cycling was safer. He remembers a spot just a mile up the road, called the Barrier, which was popular with clubs for a ‘drum-up’ — rustling up a fire to make a cup of tea and fry some sausages.
“Managing to light the fire with one match was considered as big an achievement as winning the club championship,” he laughs.
In a perfect piece of cycling synchronicity, we vacate our tables just as another club — Dunfermline CC — is arriving.
Pleasantries are exchanged — mainly about it not raining for a change — before we start our homeward leg.
Chris McClements, a scientist at STAR-Dundee that makes computer chips for space satellites, says he’s always surprised to see riders out on their own.
“I joined 15 years ago. It’s great being in company and having someone take their share of the wind. I can’t understand why cyclists prefer riding on their own,” McClements says.
For Lionel Wylie, a member for 61 years, the benefits of being in a club are obvious: “It’s about fresh air, exercise and going on holidays with your mates.” He and a group of the club’s “elder statesmen” — all in their 70s — are off
on a cycling jaunt to Holland the following week. I fear for their welfare when Walker tells me the story of a previous foreign jaunt.
“We rode up the Glandon, and Lionel decided he wanted to walk up to the glacier so hid his bike in some bushes,” he says.
“When he got back down, he couldn’t find his bike. He finally got down just as we were about to call mountain rescue.”
At the younger end of the club’s membership, Stuart MacCallum is on the brink of making his competitive debut for the club.
“An ankle injury forced me to give up golf, so I joined the club about a year ago,” he says. “The advice and encouragement has been great. I finished sixth in yesterday’s Perthshire Challenge [a testing 100-mile sportive] and have just bought my first TT bike.”
Throughout the ride, Andy Fenwick has been pointing out sights along the way. A graduate in medieval history, he knows the location of every standing stone, Roman fort or other point of interest. But just as he’s telling me the history of the pub in the pretty village of Ardler, another modern-day scourge of cyclists — the impatient driver — shatters the peace with his car horn.
It’s aimed at me, because I’ve slowed down to take a photograph of a sign — a sign that reads, “Walking and cycling-friendly road.”
On the final stretch back to Dundee, I finally find out why Jim Walker’s nickname is ‘OCD’. It’s because he insists on making sure his bikes and accessories all match. At the last count, he had eight bikes, 10 pairs of shoes, 12 helmets and 34 pairs of sunglasses.
Founded in 1929, Dundee Thistle is one of the oldest surviving clubs in Scotland. Formed with close links to the local branch of the Labour party, members would address each other as “Comrade”.
One of its earliest chairmen was Jack Nicholson, one of the city’s best riders who went on to open Nicholson’s Cycles in 1949, still in business on Forfar Road.
By the 1960s, there were at least eight clubs in the city, including a women’s only club called the Heatherbell. “There was a fair bit of romance between the ‘Bell’ ladies and the lads from the local clubs, many proceeding down the aisle!” recalls the Thistle’s longest-serving member, Ned Carnegie, who joined in 1955 as a 13-year-old.
By the early 1990s, only two Dundee clubs survived, and the Thistle’s membership was in single figures. Current club captain Brian Sproul is credited with getting membership to its current level, by promoting both its social and competitive sides.
The current jersey design is modelled on the Dutch national kit, though came back from the suppliers with the chest bands upside down. “We only found out when some Dutch riders pointed it out when were riding abroad,” recalls Sproul. “We’ve left it as it is though; it makes it more distinctive.”
The club organises the Dundee Stage Race, voted one of the UK’s best stage races by CW readers, though currently suspended because of ongoing issues with police permission. This year, it also successfully organised the Tour of the Glens and the Scottish 25 TT championships, where Graeme Obree’s 1993 record was broken by John Archibald.
Every Christmas, the club takes part in a cyclists v runners race — five laps of the city’s Caird Park running track/velodrome.
- Lionel Wylie, a member of 61 years and still active with the club, made the cover of CW as Scottish BAR champion (50, 100 and 12-hour TTs) in 1965.
- Angus Wilson recently finished third overall in the UMCA ‘Team Swift’ 12-hour TT, posting 268.37 miles.
- Earlier this year, Alasdair Chisholm, Jim ‘OCD’ Walker, Martin Lawson, Angus Wilson and Brian Sproul, completed the three ascents of Ventoux in a day to join the Ventoux Cinglés Club.
- Two former female members now ride for semi-pro teams — Rebecca Durrell for Drops Women’s Cycling Team, and Rachel Crighton for Team 22 U-23 women’s team.
Dundee Thistle club run
1 Tullybaccart descent
After 10 kilometres of almost continuous uphill, this long, fast and twisting descent offers some welcome respite. You are also now well into the Perthshire countryside, so the scenery is pretty special too.
2 Birnam to Dunkeld
Only a short stretch, but it’s a flat piece of road linking two pretty villages and crossing the River Tay — with great views to the north — via a handsome stone bridge.
3 River Isla
The Isla is just one of several rivers crossed during the ride, but the stretch of road leading up to it is gradually descending and offers wide, dramatic views of the Sidlaw Hills.
The Chattan Tearoom is popular with cycling clubs because it is big and spacious, has an outdoor terrace and serves decent bacon rolls; although the slice of Victorian sponge we ate could have been a fraction bigger. The Chattan Tearoom, Perth Rd, Birnam PH8 0WA