Looking but not Seeing

June 30, 2017

I was in town today running various errands, and also hunting out poor on-road cycling infrastructure to use in the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain’s latest toy, Insert Loved One Here.

insert loved one here

Actually, one of the good things about cycling in Bigtown, it’s that we don’t have too much of this sort of thing. The Coonsil’s approach to cycling may be lacking – we may not have a joined up network and it may be shared with pedestrians and their extendadogs, and it may take a week to cross at the lights, and they may never grit the paths in winter – but at least they mostly recognise that slapping some paint and a poorly drawn bicycle onto a scary road isn’t going to help much.

Still, I knew that there was a roundabout near Morrison’s that had some ‘suicide’ lanes around the outside (funnily enough, it’s where half the cyclists in Bigtown have been knocked off their bikes, it seems) so I headed there and took a couple of photos, then joined the road with the worst cycle lane in Bigtown on it where I failed to take any photos because I was concentrating on not being squashed by left-turning traffic. That left the roundabout by the station, which also has a few faded bike lanes around the edge – but it was getting a bit late and I had things to do, so I decided the one photo I had would be good enough and headed home.

cycle lane

And it was only as I reached the turnoff at the outskirts of Bigtown that I noticed this beauty, a bike lane that I never use because of all the places where I may want to be on my bike, cycling right across the mouth of a road used by bin lorries and into the back of a parked car is never one of them. I must have cycled past it literally hundreds of times but its existence has barely registered on me, despite the fact that I spend far more time than is healthy thinking and talking about cycling infrastructure.

No wonder the drivers don’t see us. Frankly, as a species, we’re just very poorly adapted to driving something as fast and as dangerous as a car, compared to something like a horse which notices absolutely everything. You can forget the driverless car – when it comes to transport our real mistake was to persist with the horseless carriage.*

* Although, having cycled through the residue left by the horse element of Bigtown’s Guid Nychburris parade, I can see that there are some downsides to using equines for urban transport


June 28, 2017

So it seems I’m not the only one with an ASBO buzzard, although I like to think mine is the original and best

While I don’t really miss ASBO buzzard, I do regret not taking the opportunity to try and film it in mid-attack, partly because I sense a certain scepticism when I tell people about it that a) it actually happens and b) it is genuinely scary. Plus the whole 15 minutes of fame thing, obviously.

These days, the main wildlife-related hazard I encounter on the road is an increasingly ripe badger carcase which has ended up right by a passing place on one of the narrower back roads. I always dread some well-meaning driver pausing at just that point on the road as they see me coming – leaving me unable to give it as wide a berth as I normally aim for. Squeezing past cars on a disintegrating road edge is one thing, squelching over disintegrating badgers is quite another. Sorry, were you eating?

Other road hazards are potentially a bit more fun

caution ramps ahead

Although the 14-year-old me is rather disappointed that the 48-year-old she’s trapped inside declined to even try to get some air.

Secret Garden

June 26, 2017

So the garden’s come on a bit in recent weeks …

… just kidding. I was actually visiting the local open gardens weekend, billed as the ‘hidden gardens’ of a nearby hamlet, seeking inspiration or at least a plant sale, or failing that home baking.

I got all three, although the inspiration was of the ‘distant aspiration’ rather than the ‘oh I could do that’ sort.
vista with wheelbarrow

Note the wheelbarrow left at just the perfect angle to give the vista the ‘real actual person’s garden’ feel rather than ‘Chelsea show garden’. It takes years to learn how to do that …

mats on steps

This is a good idea for slippery stone steps though. That I can probably manage.

Back in my own garden, I am tackling the paving stones out the back.

paving stones

Note the artfully angled tools to make it clear this has been done by pure hard labour, not Roundup

There is a vague plan to fill the cracks with sand and/or wood ash before they turn back into this.

paving stones vegetation

You never know, it might work.

How Does your Garden Grow?

June 22, 2017

Well now, funny you should ask that.

The plants that just sort of get on with it, like the potatoes and the broad beans, are just getting on with it.

broad beans and potatoes

The bits that regularly have hares sitting on them have hare-shaped gaps in the planting. I don’t know whether to be relieved or offended that they aren’t bothering to eat my beetroot…

beetroot with gaps

And one thing I have learnt since moving here is that beautifully landscaped sandstone terrace walls effectively double as high-density housing for slugs. We were out enjoying the last gasp of the longest day last night when I noticed how many of them were out chewing my plants. Time for some remedial action – fortunately slug beer brews up pretty quick and they don’t seem that fussy.

slugs in slug trap

Oh and up close, clematis flowers are rather fabulous

clematis flower


101 Uses for a Brompton: Avoiding Road Rash

June 20, 2017

Ordinarily, if someone had told me that the main road to our house was to be made 20mph and have the white line removed from down the middle, I would have been delighted.

skid risk

Unfortunately, it’s only temporary, because they’re surface dressing it (so named because after a cyclist has skidded on the loose chippings that result, or has been sprayed with gravel by the passing drivers who consider speed limits to be for other people, they are likely to need dressings on a large proportion of their surface).

This basically starts from our turnoff, and goes halfway down the hill, which almost feels pointed on the part of the coonsil. It’s on a long and winding descent which is ordinarily fun, if a little white-knuckle if you’ve got a 4×4 behind you attempting to overtake on a blind bend. Throw in a loose surface chipping surface, though, and you’ve got a cycling disaster on your hands, especially if you’re in a hurry to get somewhere.

Today I had a train to catch for a meeting in Glasgow, so I took the coward’s way out – threw the Brompton in the car and got a lift past the danger zone. Cycling up wasn’t too bad this afternoon as nobody overtook me and going uphill meant I didn’t have to worry about braking or slowing down for the bends. Tomorrow, hopefully, the traffic will have bedded it in enough that I can keep the rubber side down. But I’ll be allowing plenty of time for the descent …

Health Checkup, Rural Style

June 19, 2017

To the clinic for my annual checkup, where my weight and blood pressure are measured (no signs of damage from my cake-based lifestyle), and then the usual three questions:

“Do you smoke at all, and if so how much?”

“Do you drink at all, and if so how much?”


“No need to ask you that question, you’re out on your bike all the time.”

It’s nice to know someone’s noticed…

101 Uses for a Brompton: Parading

June 17, 2017


I’m ashamed to say, we’ve lived in the area for 9 years now and this was the first year I’ve ever been to the annual only-slightly-made-up historical celebration of ancient traditions dating all the way back to, ooh, 1932, aka Guid Nychburris.*

Buds of Anarchy float

Today, though, our local cycle campaign were taking part in the parade alongside Buddies, an organisation for people with learning difficulties who last year started a bike project. We’ve been helping them get riding (it’s amazing how many of their members have been confidently told that they’ll never ride a normal bike who turn out to be perfectly capable of it, with a bit of practice and some patience). The Buddies had decided they wanted to celebrate their biking project by dressing up as the Sons of Anarchy (‘Buds of Anarchy’) and we followed along behind as the ‘Hell’s Bells’. Like most of our plans, this all made a lot more sense in the pub when we first discussed it.

Brompton and float

Brompton ready to rock

Anyway, my touring bike, beautiful as it is, didn’t seem quite suitable as part of a biker gang, so I took the Brompton instead, lowering the seat to give it a bit more of a Harley Davidson feel. I’m not sure I quite rocked the ‘biker chick’ look myself, but others had made a more convincing effort and we set off in the sunshine at about 5pm for our slowest bike ride ever.

I hadn’t quite understood what a big deal this parade is for Bigtown. It helped that it was an absolutely glorious day, but the entire route was lined with crowds of people. We could have given out ten times the number of flyers we’d brought, and it was good to be part of a huge civic event, showing that cyclists are as much a part of the life of the town as the local Brownie pack, the young farmers (and boy were we glad not to be the ones dressed up in cow onesies this afternoon), the nearby wetland centre and the Cat’s Protection League

And I suppose it counts as a miracle that, given the many thousands who had lined the streets to watch, only one person felt the need to shout out ‘helmet’ as we passed. Because apparently even when moving at 4 miles per hour on completely closed roads and while dressed up as an anarchic biker gang – you need a magic plastic hat on your head.

biker gang

*I’m only bitter because every time I have to write about it I have to google it first to remind myself of which cod spelling of ‘neighbours’ they’ve officially used as its name. I’m all for Scots being used in the vernacular but given even the locals simply pronounce it ‘good neighbours’ I think they’re actually just spelling it that way for a bet.

Turning Left in June

June 16, 2017

As regular readers of this blog know I’ve been trying to get out at least once a month and do a ride which takes me somewhat out of my comfort zone. As I hinted in my last blog, I had plans yesterday to do a cycle ride which I’d been contemplating for a while but always finding an excuse not to do. Not because it was a particularly difficult route or even that long. But I knew I was a bit worried about my plans for my latest adventure when I awoke from an anxiety dream in which I’d left my Brompton on a plane…

Normally, when I go to Edinburgh by train, I go from Lockerbie because it’s the nearest mainline station. It’s about 19 miles from the house, and we always allow an hour in the car because there’s a chance of getting caught up in traffic and the trains only go every two hours. If I can’t get a lift, I cycle down to Bigtown and get the bus from there, allowing two hours because of not wanting to miss the bus. This can be a little anxiety making when you’re trying to catch a train and I try and not spend *all* of the time when I’m waiting for the bus making elaborate contingency plans for what happens if the bus doesn’t turn up, and mostly fail, but so far I haven’t actually needed to implement any of them and I’m getting almost sanguine about the process. I could cycle the whole distance in about the same time as I allow for the bike+bus, but most of it would be on a hideous road – busy with lorries, fast, largely uphill, and only just wide enough so that there’s no space at all for a person on a bike, particularly a person on a Brompton laden with cake, who isn’t particularly speedy at the best of times. Trying to take primary on a road like that holding up streams of traffic trying to catch the train doesn’t really bear thinking about.

But then someone posted an alternative route that was ‘only’ five miles longer and only included a tiny stretch of A road and looped round through new cycling territory for me. It was worth exploring as an option for people who wanted to get a full size bike to the station and couldn’t use the bus. The problem was managing to navigate it (all of the directions on Google were of the ‘turn left on unknown road then turn right onto unknown road’ variety), and doing so under pressure of time, plus did I mention I was on the Brompton? A couple of times I had the option of doing it, but then bottled it, and yesterday, when the opportunity arose, the weather forecast wasn’t too bad, and I generally had enough time, I knew I would have to do it or I would never attempt it at all.

I tried to keep my contingency planning, while elaborate, on the sane side of the line. I don’t have turn by turn navigation on my phone (or the relevant OS map, unfortunately) but I printed out the Cycle Streets route and step-by-step directions (which were extremely comforting en route). I allowed an extra half an hour on top of the 2.5 hours I calculated it would take me. I made sure I had taxi money and the number of the station cab firm in case of a mechanical issue. And I’d identified a number of bail-out points where, if I decided half way through that the whole idea was insane, I could cut across and catch the bus after all. I also, during some of the longer uphill stretches, worked out what I would do if I missed the train. I sometimes wonder just what I could achieve if half of my mental cycles weren’t habitually taken up with lining up not just a plan B but plans C, D and E as well.

At Bigtown, with plenty of time in hand, I realised that my contingency planning hadn’t involved what I would eat, or the fact that the Brompton doesn’t have a water bottle, so I stopped for emergency supplies (pork pies, Snickers bars and water – the lunch of champions) and set off, passing my normal bus stop with only a small pang of anxiety. I had time. It would be fine.

millhousebridge house

A signpost! A rare sight on the back roads

And, to cut a long story short, it was fine. There was one stretch of A road where I had the option of either sticking on the road for an extra mile, or taking a triangular detour that involved a nasty hill, and after the first car had passed me at speed, I had no hesitation in taking the detour (so little hesitation, in fact, that I received some words of advice from the gentleman in the white van behind me, although as the only word I could decipher was ‘cyclists!’ I was unable to take it) even though it meant walking up the hill. Once past the three crossings of the A road, I was then safely onto the back roads and although I had a few anxieties about taking the wrong road and could really really have done with a nice reassuring map, actually the navigation was quite straightforward. I had been pushing myself to keep up the pace for the first 15 miles, which left me gasping for breath at one point, but as the miles ticked down I realised that I did actually have plenty of time, and I could relax, even take a few photos.

road ahead

Smooth tarmac, and empty road and a tail wind. How often does that happen?

And then there was one point where the wind was at my back, the sun had come out, I had time in hand, and I was on a road that rolled out ahead of me with mile after mile of beautifully smooth empty tarmac, and I was just flying. I must have looked quite a sight on my “clown bike”, Brompton basket laden in front of me, backpack on my back, caning it down the road with a big grin on my face, but who cares. I had done it. Oh, and I got to the station with half an hour to spare. Never have two snack-sized pork pies tasted sweeter than they did on the platform waiting for the train.

Brompton at the station

It would probably have been more aero without the two laminated POP posters on the back (I could hear them flapping in the wind) but I’m never taking them off …

The irony of it all is that I was on my way to an evening listening to women who think nothing of riding across Canada or Kyrgystan or even the length of the UK with about the same level of preparation that I put into cycling to the station.

On the other hand it is ridiculous that what should be a straightforward 12 mile journey between two key towns in the region – not exactly ‘everyday cycling’ territory, but an easily doable occasional trip – turns into a 17 mile odyssey through unsigned rural back roads for those who prefer not to fear for a their lives on their bikes (and we’ll draw a veil over the stretch of ‘Notional Cycling Network’ that runs alongside the motorway on the run in to Lockerbie).

Imagine what levels of cycling might be unleashed if we built actual decent direct safe cycling routes that meant cycling to the station didn’t have to feel like an epic ride across Canada, albeit without the bears.

Call me a Fair Weather Cyclist …

June 14, 2017

… but I cannot deny that my bike becomes a whole lot more appealing means of transport when the rain stops

Fair weather road

June has been a bit too Octoberish for my liking recently, but this afternoon the clouds thinned, the wind dropped, the air warmed up and I even took my gloves off

Add in the fact that the hedgerows are full of birds who haven’t quite taken their L-plates off yet, so are often still fluttering about around me as I pass, and of course the hares, and suddenly spending time on my bike becomes a positive delight, rather than the virtuous chore it can frankly be when it is bucketing it down.

Oddly enough, the sunshine doesn’t just make rural roads more pleasant to ride on. Even my least favourite bits of today’s cycling – getting into the Tesco carpark, the roundabout-of-doom where I swear I will meet my end one day, even the hill home – they all seemed so much more doable somehow, although the last one might have been the tail wind.

As a result, I am rashly planning a little mini adventure on my way up to Embra tomorrow. More anon. If I’m spared …

Pecha Caka

June 10, 2017

In our continuing endeavour to see if *everything* can be improved by adding cake, or just most things, the Women’s Cycle Forum Scotland is following up its successful Cake Summit with a Pecha Caka evening – aka a Pecha Kucha event of short talks, but where everyone has to bring cake.

cake spread

Actually, bear with me, there is a serious point to it, and it’s not just that we like cake. Just like at the Cake Summit, bringing food to share, and eating food that others have given you, is a powerful way of building an atmosphere of warmth and supportiveness (and possibly a little bit of rivalry over recipies). As our teachers never tired of telling us at school, ‘companion’ comes from the word for sharing bread, although we’re with Marie Antoinette on the whole bread issue. As we’re asking people to stand up and give presentations, what better way to soften your audience than to have stuffed their mouths with chocolate brownies beforehand? Hopefully it will create an atmosphere where the dreaded ‘public speaking’ becomes less daunting, a matter of standing up and talking to new friends, rather than presenting to an anonymous audience, their arms folded, waiting to be entertained.


Let them eat cake

And that’s not all. We are aware that one* of the barriers to having more women speaking at conferences is that women are – for whatever reason – more likely not to put themselves forward for something because they don’t feel they’re qualified to do it well (clearly they’ve never sat through the sorts of conferences I have where speaker after speaker has stood up and read his powerpoint slides to us at great length, so they have no reason just how low the bar can be). So we’ve tacked on a short workshop beforehand, to give potential speakers at this or any other event a chance to practise their public speaking skills. With cake, obviously.

cake and coffee

So if you’re in Edinburgh next week – mark your diaries for Thursday the 15th June. The workshop is at five, the main event at seven. It’s free, as long as you bring cake, otherwise a donation will suffice. You can book here

And after that? Well, as we’ve almost certainly got another general election looming in the not-too-distant future, I’m already musing how we could make the whole thing a bit less painful with the addition of cake…

*Obviously the main barrier is them not being asked, and nobody thinking that it might be a problem until they get an #allmalepanel hashtag on twitter, by which time it’s probably too late.