Ever Decreasing Circles

July 22, 2021

It’s a feature of living in these parts, where the local tourism board’s motto is, apparently, ‘shh, nobody knows we’re here’, that every so often you will discover – usually quite by chance – that there’s some feature or site that in a normal place would have at the very least a brown sign from the nearest road (if not a gift shop, tea room, opening hours and, if you’re really unlucky, a Twitter acccount), will here just sit unremarked in the corner of a field. We already run bike rides to a number of these hidden attractions, including Bigtown’s nearby stone circle – allegedly the largest* in mainland Scotland – so I thought I was reasonably on top of the local antiquities.

But then someone mentioned in passing that Bigtown has a second stone circle which I’d never heard of in my 12+ years of living here, and I just had to go and check it out. So yesterday evening, with the heat wave continuing, I and a fellow cyclist, who is generally up for a bike ride even if it means a possible wild goose chase, set out to see what we could see.

view of church from the hill

Naturally, although marked on the map, the stone circle is almost completely unheralded on the ground. We knew that there was a path from the church, which is signposted from the road, and once you’ve ridden up the steep track to find the church, itself tucked away in a pretty hollow in the hills, a sign does point you towards the ‘7 Grey Stanes’ stone circle.

sign pointing to 7 Grey Stanes

The path itself was somewhat notional, and after passing through a couple of gates, we lost our bearings for a while. Having made the mistake of following our instincts (and also leaving both Internet connected phone and Ordnance Survey map with our bikes, which we’d parked by the church) our attempt to find the stone circle through the medium of heading for the sort of spot where we thought people might want to build a stone circle was not particularly effective (although we were rewarded with some incredible views).

view from the hills

Fortunately it was a nice evening to be wandering around on a hilltop squinting at various stones (and a few very convincingly stone-like cow pats) to see if, from a certain angle, it could be argued that this might be a stone circle, but failing to persuade even ourselves.

view in other direction

Eventually, having admitted defeat and retreated to the path, we found a gate that led us to a more convincing path and finally round a corner to what was undoubtedly a stone circle, albeit a rather small one – and what was, in all senses of the word, a magical spot.

The stone circle, with views beyond

The views here were also stunning.

The weather undoubtedly helped, but even on a dreich day I can imagine that this site, in its little hollow in a hillside with its commanding views, would be well worth a visit.

hillside and hawthorn

Selfishly, I suppose that it’s nice to live in a place with a stone circle so unvisited that the path to reach it has all but disappeared. And to be able to have it to ourselves (and without so much as a sign, let alone an interpretation board, to tell us what we’re seeing). But I do wonder sometimes if we could make a little more of our local attractions to encourage a few more visitors to the region … if only there was a way of ensuring that they only came by bike.

* as in, largest diameter. Ring of Brodgar or Stonehenge this is not. But still …


It’s Hard to Overstate …

July 20, 2021

… Just how amazing the weather is we’re having at the moment. I’m even feeling somewhat guilty about it, with all the extreme weather events going on apparently everywhere else on the planet, but with amber heat warnings creeping across the south of the country the only concession I’m having to make to this summer weather up here is heading out a little earlier on my bike to avoid the afternoon heat.

Indeed, this morning’s outing was just about the perfect summer bike ride, considering all I was really doing was going down into town to fetch the paper. Setting off before ten, there was still a cool pocket of air waiting where the road dips down through the trees to the burn on the way out, and the sun was not yet too hot on the ride back, although I did find myself actually welcoming the slight headwind as a cooling breeze across my skin, not something I could have ever imagined saying a couple of months earlier.

Harebells

And as the weather has got into its stride, the harebells – already one of my favourite flowers – have excelled themselves. I’ve finally, after two years of careful nurturing, managed to grow a handful of these from seed for my little patch of meadow, but I’ve got a long way to go before they will ever reach the casual exuberance of the ones in the verges right now which lift my heart whenever I see them.

It’s the beauty of a bike that I can stop to admire such things, and also forage for gooseberries, having finally remembered to bring along a tub to put them in. This makes up for the failure of my own goosberry bushes – I’d say due to neglect, but I doubt the ones in the hedgerow get any more care and attention and they’re absolutely laden with fruit this year.

Gooseberries growing wild

As I’ve said many times before, I chiefly ride a bike for short journeys like those into town because it’s one simple way of helping get us out of the mess we’re busy getting ourselves into with the climate, or at least not making it worse. There are days in winter when that feels like a penance, the hair shirt option. And then there are days like today when you honestly couldn’t pay me to do the trip by car.

I suppose you could say I’ve earned them.


A Rose between Two Thorns

July 17, 2021

As I may have mentioned, after double booking myself with work in the first half of the year, I’ve taken July as gardening-and-cycle-campaigning leave (and I can only marvel at the breakdown of the Weather Gods’ system for detecting when I’ve got time off and coming at me with all the rain and hope that they don’t notice for at least another fortnight).

So far the gardening side has been all about tackling some neglected corner of the garden, realising guiltily how overrun with weeds the plants I’d actually planted were, spending all afternoon clearing out the weeds around the survivors and then moving on to the next victim. So far I’ve managed to bring some sort of order to the gooseberry bushes (unsurprisingly gooseberry-less), one flowerbed where I discovered that a tiny plant bought at a plant sale years back and then somewhat given up on had grown into a bit of a monster (I suppose the name ‘tree peony’ might have given me a clue there), and excavated one rose I only have the vaguest memory of planting but which has been valiantly flowering away among the brambles.

Rose bush that had been submerged by brambles

I’ve also filled one compost dalek completely from a standing start, and have been reduced to leaving piles of weeds dotted around the garden to be wait until the magic of composting makes some room for them. Hopefully this will happen before the piles have grown a new crop of weeds of their own, as appears to have happened on the patio where the chunkiest bits of root and tangled stem from clearing around the sitooterie have taken on a bit of life of their own.

Weeds growing through piles of roots and sticks

Despite all this neglect, there are some corners of the garden that occasionally look – well, almost garden like. Occasionally my tactic of throwing plants at random in wherever there’s a space in the hope that they’ll outcompete the weeds does sort of work.

mallow and lychnis flowering together

And the little rose rescued from the sitooterie site is flowering away in its new spot; it was obviously quite used to being overwhelmed by way more vigorous neighbours and wasn’t going to let a little sticky Willie get in its way.

rose flowering

I’ve been inspired by this to plant some more roses, as I do love them, and the more highly scented the better. This might be a fool’s errand; when Gardeners’ Question Time last came this way and the panel were asked for their suggestions on growing roses in this climate; their advice (after much sucking of teeth) amounted to ‘why not embrace the inevitable and grow Himalayan poppies instead’. But, nothing daunted, I asked Twitter instead and got something much better than a list of possible varieties:

… A whole rose garden that needed rehoming. You don’t get that on GQT

Meanwhile, with the Weather Gods’ backs turned, we actually had to put up our garden umbrella to shade us from the sun for the first time ever this afternoon (it’s rescued a couple of barbecues in the past from passing rain showers).

garden umbrella and bench

I’ve been calling this corner of the garden the Mediterranean garden largely as a joke, but if this weather continues, it might stop sounding quite so ridiculous an idea.


St Swithin’s Day if Thou be Fair

July 15, 2021

In what I think is a first since we moved up here, it has been absolutely gorgeous weather on St Swithin’s Day. Lord knows we need a fine summer in these mad pandemical times, so I’m choosing to put some faith in the fact that this is one of those meteorological legends that has a grain of truth to it,* even if we’re unlikely to actually get 40 days of fine weather from now on.

On the other hand, St Swithin was a mardy bastard who was more into inflicting 40 days of rain on people than 40 days of sunshine, so we also decided to make the most of the fine weather while it lasted, just in case. So a gentle cycle into Bigtown, lunch (and even a glass of wine) in the dappled shade of a cafe terrace garden, and then a swim at the river on the way home. Close your eyes and squint a bit, and we could have been on holiday.

Bike with swimming towel draped over it

If it wasn’t for the fact that I loathe the word in general (and the people who get upset about it being used ‘wrong’ in particular), I might even have called it a staycation.

* As the more accurate version goes: “St Swithin’s day if thou be fair / For forty days, a northerly jet stream might result in some fairly decent spells / But then again it might not”


Cycle Campaigning: The fun part

July 11, 2021

I try not to bang on TOO much about cycling on this blog, and particularly the campaigning side of it (no really, this is genuinely the non-banging-on version) but the truth is it’s effectively a full time job (on top of my other full-time jobs, which include, if the last week is anything to go by, gardening). Yesterday was a case in point. We’ve recently heard that Highways England for some reason has responsibility for maintaining a number of bridges that take roads over disused railway lines and it’s decided to ‘maintain’ them by effectively filling them in with gravel and then concreting it over.

railway bridge arch

This is a serious campaign issue as it would put a giant spanner in any attempts to reopen the old railway line to Stranraer either to trains or, failing that, walkers and cyclists. It’s also extra annoying that an English body can apparently do this to Scottish bridges and the council’s response has been to roll over and let Highways England tickle its tummy.* More to the point, one of the bridges was only a few miles away and we decided a recce would be in order. So yesterday three of us headed out to check out this bridge that was apparently in need of drastic work so that it could support ‘modern traffic levels’ including 40-tonne vehicles.

Along this road.

narrow rural road

Note the heavy modern traffic levels (e-bikes do weigh a fair bit, it’s true, but tend to come in kilograms rather than tonnes …)

e-bike and rider on otherwise empty road

After a gentle ride untroubled by any modern traffic at all apart from one speedy cyclist who needed to overtake us as we bimbled along three abreast, we came to the bridge and did a spot of exploration (they don’t tell you you need advanced fence climbing and bank scrambling skills at cycle campaigner school).

Bank leading down to railway bridge

Having taken photos and extricated myself from a barbed wire fence, we then decided to take the scenic route home.

person looking down over bridge parapet

Because that’s what being a cyclist is really all about.

looking down into a narrow valley from a hillside

(top tip, don’t let the mountain biker suggest the route if you’re not comfortable riding on gravel, which my bike handles like an arthritic giraffe in two-inch heels despite supposedly starting life as a mountain bike back in the 80s. On the other hand, do stop to forage when you find a massive patch of wild strawberries on the way)

stopping to pick wild strawberries

Of course, that still left the actual campaigning part: the social media posts, writing it all up, promoting the petition, raising the issue with local politicians, and also annoying your regular blog readers with cycle campaign chat. So that was Saturday gone, albeit mostly enjoyably. And today will be taken up with ride leading – also a lot of fun – so that’s the weekend gone. It’s worth it, and I think it’s important, but the next time someone asks me why I took over a decade to write my new book I might point them to this post…

* What makes it even MORE annoying is that the other bridge they’re planning to fill in will block a landowner’s access completely to half his fields and they can apparently just do that with no consultation, whereas a single objection by a landowner to any proposed cycle path which might mildly inconvenience their farming activities kicks the whole scheme out of touch for ever.


Visiting Committee

July 8, 2021

Looks like my attempt to catch up with a six month gardening backlog this month is going to happen under supervision …

cows watching over the garden fence

Apart from the return of MooI5 (possibly temporarily – the farmer sometimes puts them onto the field for a few days after cutting it for silage, presumably so they can hoover up anything left around the edges), I’ve also had my annual visit from the garden inspection committee, aka my gardening pal from Old Nearest Village who likes to keep an eye on my progress and make sure I’m not getting too fancy with my notions. This time he did ring ahead so I was forewarned, although not by enough time to actually make a difference.

vegetable beds

A week of time off work has borne some fruit, and fortunately for me, he’s mainly interested in growing food rather than the decorative aspects of gardening, so I did squeak through by the skin of my teeth, bolstered by the fruit cage and the other half’s custodianship of the greenhouse (although it’s rather chastening to look back at last year’s inspection and see how far I am behind even by my own low standards – and I thought I was doing badly last year).

It was also good to catch up with the latest village news. It seems that the coronavirus has mostly passed it by; the oldest inhabitant is still going strong at 101 and undoubtedly getting ready to sweep the board once more at the village show.

With the inspection hurdle out of the way, I can now concentrate on finding the rest of the garden, which I think is in there somewhere. Step one: making room in the compost bins.


When Summer Calls …

July 2, 2021

.. You answer

Road in summer sunshine

Having somewhat prematurely celebrated the end of a big job of work, which promptly returned, with bells on, in the manner of the monster in the final act of a schlocky movie rising up from the apparent dead, I finally completed it on Wednesday lunchtime and this time nailed the coffin down properly AND put a stake through its heart.

Amazingly, despite this gap in the workload, the Weather Gods have not yet caught up with me and with an unexpectedly free afternoon, the sun shining, and some vouchers of the other half’s to spend, we plotted a magnificent afternoon escape.

coffee and cakes on outside cafe table

I have a massive backlog of things to do, and no doubt there would have been more productive ways to spend an afternoon than pootling along back roads on our bikes, refuelling with coffee and cake, buying All The Cheese at the attached organic dairy farm shop, and then topping it off with a paddle in the river on our way home, but I’m struggling to work out how (apart from remembering to buy cheese biscuits to go with the cheese).*

Bike on river bank

For the next month I’m going to be a different kind of busy as I take a month off from work work to catch up with all the work-shaped stuff I do when I’m not working. It’s not exactly what I envisaged when we ‘downshifted’ all those years ago, but I suppose it will have to do.

And at least if summer does call again, I should be able to answer…

* I did do penance when I got home by spending an hour or so going through planning applications, because that’s the banging way we cycle campaigners like to unwind.


A Sight for Sore Eyes

June 27, 2021

You can keep your green list countries and your vaccination passports … if there’s anything I’m excited about as lockdown eases, it’s the return of village plant sales

Sign advertising plant sale

Nearest village has gone all out this year, after having to cancel last year, and although I was held up and couldn’t make it until it was almost over (and it turns out there’s nothing like the fear of being gazumped at the plant stall to give you wings for the climb up to Nearest Village), fortunately there were still plants (and, importantly, cakes) to be had.

Plant stall

With these events I’m limited only by the capacity of my bike basket and the ability of any purchases to withstand a few miles of bumpy roads. This is probably fortunate, given I’m still not caught up with the gardening (and the work I’d hoped was over has returned for a final hurrah).

plants and pots in bike basket


The Luxury of Time

June 23, 2021

Since I’ve finished my work deadline (and also got my big bike adventure out of the way) there has finally been time for that most restorative of activities: pottering.

Or specifically, in my case – potting, because a local housing support service was looking for plants and were delighted to find homes for nine of my spider plant babies.*

mass of spider plants

Obviously, this hasn’t made even the slightest dent in the spider plant jungle (we acknowledge that this is their bathroom now, we are just allowed to use it) but it did enable me to trial my double-decker plant carrying solution which should stand me in good stead just as the plant sale season is getting into swing.

Spider plants in bike basket

Today meant a slightly longer adventure: I had a dental appointment in Notso Bigtown which is about 19 miles away and normally we’d drive. But the car is currently in the garage so there was nothing for it but to cycle. I’ve done this before, indeed twice, but I note looking back that on both occasions it was glorious weather whereas today’s weather was of the kind where the forecast insists it isn’t raining and isn’t going to rain, while the actual weather coming out of the sky begs to differ. So it’s entirely likely that had the car been available I would have taken that option but it’s amazing how much easier it is to choose the virtuous (indeed, mildly epic) option when you don’t actually have a choice.

Old military road

Anyway, after (nearly) 100 miles what are 38 miles between friends? And in the end the rain stopped and it was fine, and I even impressed the dental hygienist, which has never happened before.

And because I had time, I could even take a detour to visit an old friend:

the ford

And make a new one.

pony and foal

* I feel I should add for absolute clarity, because this is the internet, that their service is about supporting people who need housing, not houseplants, but that they are using gardening as part of how they support people and were happy to branch out into indoor gardening as well.


Ton Up. Well, Almost

June 20, 2021

Those of you who follow me on Twitter will know that I went on a bit of an adventure on Friday

It’s been an itch of mine for a while to try some longer rides, and the fact that my parents’ house is almost exactly 100 miles away (at least, as the bike rides) has been niggling away in my brain. Riding a hundred miles by bike is a strange sort of feat in a way – many, if not most, people I know would consider it to be a ridiculous proposition, and yet I also know plenty of people for whom a 100 mile ride is a mere warm up, something to get the legs going before taking on a proper challenge like crossing a continent. But it seemed to me like a nice round number (more on this later) and eminently doable, while still being impressive enough to feel quite pleased with myself if and when I completed it.

Up until now, my approach to going for longer rides than I’m used to has been: 1) get on the bike; and 2) keep pedalling until I got there, which has served me well enough up to about 50 miles. However, trying to double that felt like a bit of a stretch so I’ve been asking around for advice from people who do this sort of thing regularly and actually putting most of it into practice, not just in the training beforehand (oh, OK, I never did get around to doing intervals…) but on the ride itself, and actually it all proved invaluable.

So for anyone who’s intrigued by the idea of riding longer distances but doesn’t quite know if they’ll be able to, here are the top tips I received, and how it panned out on the day.

Sun rising over trees

Start early

I knew that if I was to get to my parents at a reasonable hour, I had to start at silly o’clock and I can honestly say that getting up at 4:30am was the hardest part of the whole adventure. But my experienced cycle touring pals all agreed that the trick to getting a lot of miles under your belt was to set off at the crack of dawn and get as far as you could before taking your first well deserved break. I knew my brain doesn’t really work that well in the small hours so I’d taken the precaution of writing a checklist the night before to make sure nothing got forgotten which mostly worked out, although when it came to planning my lunch it turned out that I should have been a bit more specific than just ‘sandwich’

Catering hiccups aside, I was out of the door by ten past five, sharing the first stretch of road with nobody but a badger strolling along the verge, and it really was worth the wrench of getting up that early. The roads were blissfully quiet and the air was still (a bonus as the wind was in my face for most of the ride from about 8am onwards) and it was one of those glorious summer mornings with the light gilding everything it touched. Apart from the odd dopey dog and oblivious dog walker on the cycle path, I didn’t have to deal with any traffic, and for the first 20 odd miles I knew the route pretty well so I could mostly concentrate on just pedalling and making good progress with the birds all singing their little feathery heads off in the hedgerows beside me.

empty rural road

Don’t stop

I wasn’t aiming for any really super speedy time, but I had been a bit … vague with my parents about my plans, in that they knew we were coming but I hadn’t actually mentioned I was planning to cycle there as I didn’t want them worrying. So I wanted to get to Duns reasonably close to our normal arrival time. I knew I was never going to be a fast cyclist, but as I started preparing for this ride a lot of people had told me that the key was not so much to ride fast but to stop as little as possible and I had been surprised at how much difference it made to my overall speed. I’m a terrible faffer as a rule, but after a couple of stops to check in with the family WhatsApp group, text the other half reassuring him that I was still alive, and send some tweets to anyone interested in following along, I then just put my head down and cracked on. I knew that the big climb would start about 33 miles in and top out almost 10 miles and over 750 feet later and, as the hills loomed up ahead of me, I promised myself a cup of coffee and a break at the top if I just kept going until the ascent was out of the way.

Hills looming ahead

I was pretty pleased to make it the whole way without getting off and pushing, although I was grateful to have the road to myself (apart from the sheep) so I could make all the faces I needed to to get over the last little kick upwards at the top. At this point I was feeling pretty good – it was only 9:30, I’d got the worst of the climbing out of the way (or at least, so I thought) and my legs were holding up fine. I almost had to force myself to stop, having got into the rhythm of just pedalling ever onwards. But I knew it was time to take a break, update Twitter, take a celebratory selfie and refuel with coffee and a sustaining oatcake with peanut butter (having ridden the first 40 miles sustained by a bowl of Alpen before setting off and a couple of jelly babies) and start the descent to my next destination – the cafe and (more importantly) the toilets at St Mary’s Loch…

Bike at the top of the climb

Manage the inputs (and the outputs)

If there’s one cliché about long distance anythings, it’s that it’s as much about the eating and drinking as the cycling or running or what have you. I had planned my food strategy carefully – my route took me past very few cafes (the St Mary’s Loch one cannot be relied upon to be open in my experience), or even shops, so I carried most of what I consumed on the ride: a packet of jelly babies (everyone agrees you need to have jelly babies; I don’t know if other sweets would do but I wasn’t prepared to risk it, so jelly babies it was), two emergency pork pies (nobody says pork pies, but as far as I am concerned, the whole point of massive bike rides is to earn the chance to have a guilt free pork pie), oatcakes, a full flask of coffee and two water bottles (which turned out to be two water bottles too few – I should have been better at refilling on the way). With that plus the all-important cake as I headed into Selkirk, I never really felt as if I was running on empty.

What people put less emphasis on is the fact that what goes in must also (partially) come out and I knew that the countryside I would be riding through wasn’t overly endowed with handy bushes. Perhaps other people are made of sterner stuff but I have never found it that easy to pee in anything but private and even if there aren’t any other humans around, the disapproving gaze of a sheep can be equally disconcerting. Most of the public toilets I would pass in the Borders were shut due to the pandemic, so let us all pause in appreciation for a moment for the efforts of the cleaner who has kept the St Mary’s Loch toilets open throughout.

With that important business done, it was time to enjoy the (mostly) downhill run to Selkirk with no navigation to worry about, not too much traffic, the sun-warmed gorse sending blasts of coconut scent as I passed, just me and the bike and the road unspooling endlessly ahead.

It’s a mind game

One thing I was a bit worried about when planning this ride was doing the distance on my own – I knew that the miles just disappear when I’m in good company and can chat as I go, but I wasn’t sure how it would be with just me. However, while I didn’t get into the sort of meditative zen state that some have described experiencing on longer solo rides, I did find I was perfectly happy in my own company. I have a busy brain as a whole, and what with snatches of earworms, thinking about the route ahead, composing this blog post, and trying to come up with the best way of describing the appalling cyclist-repelling surface that the Borders Council had decided to lay on their main roads (some combination of not enough tarmac and overly large stones that had the bike vibrating like a jackhammer on the descents) I was perfectly entertained. I had done enough route preparation to know how many miles to the next stop, and that really helped me to keep pushing on, ticking down the miles towards Selkirk where I’d planned to stop for lunch. Despite a freshening headwind (there’s never a westerly when you want one) if I kept turning the pedals, then the miles kept ticking away and I made good enough time that I was eating my lunch before noon, and able to stop at the Waterwheel Cafe for a cake afterwards (and another strategic wee) with my legs now starting to feel the effort of the ride but willing enough to keep going after I’d had a break.

Leaderfoot viaduct near Melrose

Know your route

Once out of Selkirk, things got a little more complicated. Selkirk to Melrose was lovely – an off road path the whole way and then another road closed off to cars that took me over the Tweed on an ancient bridge dwarfed by the adjacent trunk road. From there, I was in completely unknown territory. I’ve not cycled much in the Borders and only knew the roads we took by car, which I didn’t fancy much on the bike. Also, all roads seem to lead to Kelso, so if you don’t want to go to Kelso, then there’s a lot of navigating to be done to avoid it. I had spent a lot of time the evening before working out a route that seemed to offer the best combination of avoiding main roads and avoiding Kelso while still being easy enough to navigate on the road without too many stops to check my route. At the very last minute, I discovered the ‘Borders Loop’ which promised a cycle route from Melrose to Duns but crucially it wasn’t clear if it was signposted on the road or not. I did have a quick look at the route online, and it seemed a bit longer than my preferred option, so after pondering mildly why it wasn’t taking the route I’d chosen, I decided I’d stick with what I’d planned. I had my trusty OS maps which are my preferred navigation method so although it would mean a bit of stopping and starting, I was confident I’d find my way.

View across the fields in the Borders

Anyway, as it turns out, Borders back roads are very different from those I’m used to round us. Our roads tend to follow the river valleys and while they go up and down a fair bit, they usually go round the worst of the hills if they can be avoided. Borders roads, not so much: they seem to take more of a direct approach, except when they make a dramatic 90 degree turn, and contours be damned. This didn’t show up very clearly when I was route planning, because the climb over the pass before St Mary’s Loch had dwarfed the contours of the shorter, but much steeper, climbs in the Borders. As I pedalled round a corner and confronted the sight of the road shooting up apparently vertically, I realised that the last 20 miles were going to be tougher than I’d expected. I noticed a ‘Border loop’ sign enticingly pointing me downhill at one point as I plodded up another wall of a climb and briefly contemplated putting my navigational fate in the hands of the Borders council signposting department and just following it, but I decided against. The end was in sight. How hard could it be?

When you read various accounts of long distance rides, the failure of whichever electronic gizmo was being used to navigate at the crucial moment does tend to loom large, so I wasn’t surprised when my GPS battery died on me with 15 miles to go. No matter, I thought, as I turned a corner and contemplated yet another vertical wall of road. I wasn’t even using it to navigate. I had my map and so far I was on course, even if the course I’d chosen, and was doggedly sticking to, was going up every single sodding hill. My main worry was that both my water bottles were empty, and Greenlaw (where I knew there was a shop, the brilliantly named Blackadder Mini Market) seemed like a long way off. I stopped at a likely field gate half way up another hill and chugged the rest of my flask of coffee, only slightly put off by the slurry spreading tractor squeezing past me into the field. One last ridiculous climb up (in retrospect, going via Hume Castle was always going to involve a bit of a climb) one swooping descent into Greenlaw to raid the shop for any form of liquid (with the England – Scotland match on in the evening I was pretty much the only customer who wasn’t coming in for a case of beer), and I settled on a nearby bench to check my route for the final 10 mile stretch to Duns.

Maps, famously, can’t run out of battery and they never lose signal. But it turns out that if you awkwardly stuff them in the top of your pannier after checking for the 17th time that yes, you do need to go up that hill, then they can fall out onto the road without you noticing. The quiet backroads route I’d planned wasn’t going to be an option given my appalling sense of direction (I have even managed to get lost in the grid of Manhattan). My only choice was to take the main road from Greenlaw to Duns which I knew well from our many drives over. And yes, it meant one last hill out of Greenlaw, the steepest of all, which I’m not ashamed to say I walked up because the alternative was weaving all over the road. It also meant that my final distance (according to my route planner, given the death of the GPS) was about 97 miles, rather than the nice round hundred I’d aimed for. But as I staggered down the steps to my parents’ front door, I decided that was good enough. I’d achieved what I’d set out to do, and I hadn’t died. A proper century could wait another day.

And so I’ve done it – my longest ride ever, and an itch scratched. But as everyone knows, scratching an itch only makes it worse. Over the last few months as I’ve ridden more miles and found out what I’m capable of, I’m finding that my horizons are expanding. If you’ve ridden a hundred miles (well, within a rounding error of a hundred miles) then you’re only 25 miles or so away from 200 kms. And if I can ride from my house to Duns, then where else might my legs be able to take me?

quiet borders road

At the moment, I don’t know (and I’ve promised my mum that if we visit again, I’ll stick to the car). But I’m interested in possibly finding out …