EVERY festive season is followed by promises of healthy living and sustainable and environmental resolutions. Visiting one of Scotland’s more unusual castles can make these promises a reality.

Historic Environment Scotland is asking visitors heading for its dramatic Blackness Castle to get on their bikes. The castle’s small car park overflows and the tiny village of Blackness can’t sustain a stream of cars causing headaches for local residents.

Where possible, visitors are encouraged to use public transport, or leave their vehicles behind at the nearby town of Bo’ness before cycling or hiking along the stunning John Muir Way to reach the castle.

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Admittedly sustainable travel can end up being more complicated than expected, so we accepted the cycling challenge and roped in our two children, aged eight and nine, to experience the reality of it for ourselves.

The route is flat and well signposted. It’s very easy to follow, and off-road too, so we felt completely safe from traffic. The path hugs the waterline of the Firth of Forth, occasionally heading into woodland, making it a beautiful stretch of cycle path.

We tackled it with ease in only 30 minutes on a bright, cool day. I would never have thought of cycling there and I was grateful for the suggestion.

A spokesperson for Historic Environment Scotland said: “We are keen to promote active and responsible travel, wherever possible, to help connect the natural and historic environment, and make a positive contribution to climate targets as well as providing proven well-being benefits.

“Blackness Castle is just one of the sites in our care that people can visit where we run a ‘Good Journey’ discount, where visitors who arrive by public transport or active travel (walking/cycling) have the opportunity to get 25% off their tickets. This is a great way to enjoy Scotland’s rich heritage while experiencing the surrounding areas.”

A financial incentive definitely helps but the experience is worth the effort too. The watery surroundings are calming, providing two remarkably rewarding vistas en route. Firstly, the Forth Bridges stand with pride out of the water and when the ruins of Blackness Castle finally appeared in their sublime majesty, we felt a great sense of achievement.

The castle itself is a fantastic destination (with handy bike rails at the front door). Blackness is labelled the “ship that never sailed” due to its resemblance to a large ship that has run aground.

Scotland’s kings and queens used Blackness Castle as a prison, ranging from the luxurious (for wealthy or well connected inmates) to a piteous dungeon. It also featured in Outlander and the Mary Queen of Scots film.

Another bonus is the fact that, unlike many Scottish castles, Blackness is open over the winter period, so it’s perfectly possible to start planning a day out now.

After the half-hour cycle back to Bo’Ness it’s worth considering the raft of attractions in this compact town. Go back in time aboard the Bo’ness and Kinneil Steam Railway – afternoon tea can be booked on board as the train puffs its way through Birkhill up to Manuel then back to Bo’ness.

The neighbouring Museum of Scottish Railways, Scotland’s largest museum of its kind, covers everything from four-legged passengers to the railway’s role in establishing the famous Scottish seaside holiday.

ANOTHER option is Muiravonside Country Park, home to the free Newparks Farm, the Avon Aqueduct and an art sculpture trail. The 16th-century Kinneil House (a second Historic Environment Scotland property) offers up tales of ghosts, Romans, and motor car racing Downton Abbey style.

Visitors to Bo’ness can even drop by Scotland’s oldest purpose-built cinema, The Hippodrome picture palace. Notably elegant, with rich red velvet seats, it dates back to 1912.

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It’s worth noting that Bo’ness to Blackness isn’t the only cycling opportunity in Falkirk’s bike/hike friendly landscape.

Councillor Cecil Meiklejohn, leader of Falkirk Council, says: “Following on from the legacy of the UCI Cycling World Championships earlier this year and continuing investment in our cycling infrastructure, we are seeing a growing number of people who are visiting and want to travel in sustainable and responsible ways.

“The Falkirk area was awarded Best Walking Neighbourhood in the UK in 2019 by the Ramblers, which recognised the amazing selection of paths and routes stretching to more than 500 miles of path network suitable for all ages and abilities.

“This includes the stunning path along Bo’ness foreshore to Blackness. Other routes include the new Heart of Falkirk Trail, three sections of the John Muir Way across our area, canal paths and cycle paths across iconic attractions such as the Kelpies and The Falkirk Wheel.”

For our family, the Bo’ness to Blackness cycle experience was achievable, quick and scenic and turned a normal day out into an adventure. People can still visit by car but we thoroughly recommend getting on your bike.