If it’s Saturday, this must be Perth

October 30, 2015

My whistlestop tour of Scotland continues tomorrow with a dash up to Perth with the Brompton to annoy delegates to the Labour Party conference* with flags, bikes, t-shirts, postcards and (on this occasion) free bike lights courtesy of the Perth Bike Station. I have to say it’s been an exhausting month, and while in the end I’ve enjoyed the gadding about, I will be glad when it’s over.

Just when that will be, I’ll let you know – not November, which is already shaping up to be a busy month. Not only will we be running a Women’s Cycle Forum Walk, Cycle Vote event on the 11th (speed dating female politicians, anyone?) but I am off to Northumbria University on the 14th to take part in a combined academia and advocacy conference, to talk on ‘how blogging changed cycle campaigning’. It’s something I’ve talked about before, so I’ve got all the slides, there’s just the slight matter of boiling down a 40 minute talk into a 20 minute one. I suppose I could just talk twice as fast…

It may surprise some people to learn that we quit our jobs and moved up to Scotland in order to simplify our lives and downshift. Remind me how that works again?

* It was about half way through October before I thought to question whether the Tories also had an autumn conference in Scotland. To my relief, they confine themselves to the spring.

Halloween Horrors

October 29, 2015

One of the joys of going away is wondering just what will have happened to stuff in your absence. I have been growing mini ‘jack be little’ pumpkins in the greenhouse thinking they would be fun, or at the very least delicious, to have around halloween.*

So it turns out, if you slightly damage one just before you go away and leave it in a quite humid greenhouse, you come back to the Miss Havisham of pumpkins … which is quite scary enough as it is, without any additional carving

Halloween pumpkin

Now what to do with the rest of the crop?

mini pumpkins

And a touch more autumn colour from the Japanese maple in the walled garden, just because

Japanese maple

* for those muttering to themselves about how they used to carve neep lanterns when they were kids, rather than any of that rubbishy American pumpkin nonsense, I can recommend this thread in what is increasingly only nominally a cycle forum.

Holiday Snaps

October 28, 2015

An email from a friend mentioning the blue skies of Ulster made me realise that I’d possibly left people with a slightly misleading picture of our week’s holiday – the weather gods did track us down eventually.

Max Depth 2M

Max Depth 2M – it was a bit deeper by the time the sea had finished with it

When we were growing up, Newcastle was were we went on holiday in the UK (we mostly lived in sunnier climes), and October half term was when we went, so as far as I’m concerned you’re not properly at the seaside unless the sea is crashing over the walls onto the front

Tollymore forest and river

And Tollymore Forest is the first forest I can properly remember; everything else is but a pale imitation. Sadly, their excellent system of guided walks following a multiplicity of coloured arrows has been somewhat scaled back to just three. Oh how the mighty have fallen

Tree in Tollymore forest

And a mystery. How is it that Newcastle manages to be a seaside town where the gulls behave like seabirds rather than a gang of feathered thugs waiting to mug you for your last chip? Bigtown, take note.


Seagulls inexplicably fighting over something that is actually in the sea. Mountains of Mourne disappearing in the background

And now we’re home again and happy to be reunited with the Rayburn and our respective sofas. As holidays went, it wasn’t everyone’s idea of a seaside break, but it’s always nice to be be able to return to a slice of one’s childhood, however briefly.

Tollymore forest

Standing Sentinel

October 24, 2015


distant Newcastle

Walking along the beach from Newcastle today, I was struck by the way the wooden stakes (I think put in to stop the Germans from landing gliders on the beach) had weathered over the years.

weathered stakes on the beach

I don’t know why the ones closer to the sea might have lasted better than the ones higher up the beach; perhaps the sand and wind abrade wood faster than the waves (or perhaps they just treated the ones that were going to be in the sea, as the other half suggested)

weathered stakes

Either way, they look less like coastal defences now and more like something an artist might have made.

weathered stakes

Mixed medium, wind and sand and time on wood.

weathered stake with hole


Looking for Trouble

October 22, 2015

Newcastle harbour

Anyone visiting this blog for ford updates, pesky wildlife and rides down to Papershop Village must be sorely disappointed, for the gadding about continues and we are now in Northern Ireland for what was supposed to be a quiet week of walking and seaside pottering. Things aren’t 100% going to plan, mainly due to my out of control cycle-campaigning habit (just say no, kids) combined with some poorly timed freelance work but we made it over okay yesterday afternoon, and today I managed to drag myself away from my laptop for a short period of time because the Brompton and I had SCIENCE to be done

Last year, I missed out taking part in the Near Miss project because I was recovering from my hernia operation and barred from cycling, so this year when I heard it was running again, I signed up like a shot – picking a date this week because they were apparently short of data from Northern Ireland. We had planned a longer ride today, to maximise our input, but the other half was indisposed so in the end my contribution to research had to consist of me and the Brompton pottering between various shops. I had high hopes of at least one exciting near-death experience on the streets of Newcastle, because in my experience the drivers here tend to give you room if there’s room to be given, but just go ahead and pass you anyway if there isn’t, which always makes for a fun ride. Add in the fact that the high street is a snarl of double parked vans, darting pedestrians, and people pulling out of parking spaces, and the prom is full of meandering pedestrians and dogs on expandileads – not to mention a killer one-way system that funnels all traffic onto the kidney-bout on the edge of town whether it wants to go that way or not, and I was sure that this would provide far more food for research than my normal run down to the papershop where I can generally count the number of other cars I encounter on the fingers of one hand.

Obviously, despite the title of this post, I didn’t want to distort the research by changing my own behaviour, so I didn’t really go looking for trouble, although it’s possible my decision to cycle out to the Tesco on the edge of town instead of contenting myself with Lidl wasn’t entirely down to the fact that going into Lidl makes me want to shoot myself. Even so, despite even braving the one-way system and the Castlewellan Road, I encountered nothing but courtesy and consideration, including one driver who stopped to let me cross the road, another who started to pull out of a parking space and stopped when they saw me coming, and a third who hung back all the way round a blind bend until it was safe to pass. If it wasn’t for a white van man with a trailer who managed to squeeze past me on the way into town, I’d have had nothing to report at all. Still, no data is still data, right? And yes, I am aware that of all the things a cyclist can whinge about ‘hardly anyone trying to kill me’ doesn’t really rank up there among the most urgent.

Brompton in Newcastle

101 uses for a Brompton: taking part in research

And sadly, you can only sign up for one day to submit your near miss diary so I can’t spend the rest of the fortnight being miraculously protected from impatient drivers by the magical powers of Sod’s Law. I shall just have to find other ways of amusing myself instead.

The Northern Lights of Old Aberdeen

October 18, 2015

I think it’s fair to say I wasn’t exactly looking forward to this weekend’s flying visit to Aberdeen – there’s something about the prospect of taking 6 trains in less than 36 hours, plus of course navigating a strange city with a non-existent sense of direction, oh AND worrying that you might be about to hold a campaigning cycle ride and nobody comes.

Fortunately I was wrong on all counts. For a start, the train ride from Edinburgh to Aberdeen is a bit of a stunner, even if you sit on the wrong side of the train. Especially when October has decided it is, in fact, September, or maybe even May…

crossing the Tay by train

Crossing the Tay on the train.

And then, it turns out that if you want to cycle from Aberdeen station to the Deeside railway cycle path (which, as it happens, I did), then the signposting passes the exceptionally challenging ‘can I follow it without once getting lost’ test. This is, in my experience, a first.* For all other journeys, I had the services of a native guide, and it turns out that there are a few routes that don’t involve putting on your big girl pants and being beeped at by every driver who passes.

Aberdeen Esplanade

Am I the only person in Scotland who didn’t realise that Aberdeen has miles of glorious sandy beach, right by the centre of the city? I mean, you’d have to be part polar bear to actually want to swim there, but even so…

I’ll write about the actual campaign ride elsewhere but Aberdeen has enough brave souls willing to take to a bike to make it worth while, and we even got some politicians out to talk to us, if not actually join us on two wheels.

Joan Mc Alpine and Aileen McLeod

As a special bonus, I also got to see the Most Scottish Artwork Ever.

tunnocks art

All in all, a very satisfactory 36 hours.

* Aberdeen also has some mysterious signs which are just a picture of a bike on a blue rectangle, which don’t seem to signify anything at all. After a while, I realised that they were there as an aide-memoire to Aberdeen’s motorists, to remind them what a bike looks like so that every time they see one they can give it a friendly honk.

Come Back Glasgow, All is Forgiven

October 15, 2015

After last weekend’s Glasgow adventures, tomorrow the Brompton & I will be off to Aberdeen for another WalkCycleVote ride, this time at the SNP conference. It will be my first trip to the city, but I’ve heard that it’s possibly not the cycle-friendliest place in Scotland. Add in the fact that conferences take place in conference centres, which tend to be on the edge of cities and thus places expecting the answer ‘by car’ and you get the fact that we’ll be exploring roads that look a bit like this

Or as someone on Facebook put it “You’ve got to be brave to cycle in Aberdeen. Don’t you know it’s illegal up here?”

I’ve been rude about both Glasgow’s roads and its cycling infrastructure in the past, but I think I may be about to eat my words.

More on my return. I was going to write ‘if I’m spared’ but that feels a little close to the bone…

A Short Ride (without nuts)

October 14, 2015

autumn leaves

Buoyed by last year’s hazelnut bonanza, and with an unseasonably sunny October afternoon suddenly going spare, the other half and I ventured out on our bikes to see if we could find some hazelnuts the squirrels didn’t need.

two hazelnuts

Last year must have been a one-off though. This was 50% of our haul.

hazelnut shell


There were signs we’d been beaten to some of them by one Mr S. Nutkin esq., but not that many. Better get feeding our red squirrels this winter…

It wasn’t an entirely wasted trip though.

October trees

October trees

After all, it was by bike.

October trees

Flight Path

October 12, 2015

The geese have been returning for the past couple of weeks; I caught flight after flight of them honking their way south as I cycled to the station on my way to Glasgow.

geese overhead

Cycling home again, on a curiously mild October evening I was reminded that our other migrants, the swallows, have long gone. Unfortunately not so the insects they feed on, which are now thick in the air. I had to be rather thoroughly ‘debugged’ when I finally got in. Normally by this stage in the year you can cycle in relative safety without having to pick things with legs out of the corners of your eyes* for the rest of the day.

As a fellow cyclist put it a propros of funding for cycling infrastructure, among other things, ‘Aye the swallows have all fucked aff tae Africa and the bats are all gone intae hibernation so there’s naebody tae eat them but us. Perhaps if we promised to cycle around mair wi’ our mouths open they’d build us the cycle lanes to dae it in.’

It’s worth a shot, I suppose. No other argument seems to be getting through so far…

* still better than London bogeys though

Space for Really Rubbish Cycling

October 11, 2015

In Glasgow today for the first Walk, Cycle, Vote event, I discovered that – with a sufficiently lopsidedly loaded bike, and a sufficiently unskilled bike handler – it was possible to actually come off your bike while stationary in a comedy slow-motion tussle between me and gravity which gravity inevitably won. And no, I wasn’t track standing, I just somehow got tangled up in my bike in a way which even now I don’t fully understand.

There’s been much digital ink spilled over Glasgow’s separated cycle lanes which are, variously, too narrow, too slow, difficult to get onto, and in the wrong places. But I can confirm that if you are going to come off your bike, however slowly and amusingly to any bystanders, that doing it on a kerb-protected bike lane is much preferably to doing it in the road.

Still, once I’d picked myself up and dusted myself down (no harm except to my pride and the perfect imprint of my bicycle frame on my legs) and got to the actual event, it all seemed to go with a swing

I think I might rethink our campaign demands  though. It seems true safety – for me – will never be achieved until they surface any new bike lanes with that bouncy rubber they use for children’s playgrounds.