A Study in Scarlet

July 29, 2018

So, almost two years after we moved in, I’m finally getting around to sorting out my study …

study decorating preparations

This is not (entirely) just idleness on my part – like gardens, I think houses need a bit of time before you can be certain how you want to decorate and arrange them, especially a study, given that I work from home so it’s also my office.

Up till now, I’ve simply had the desk in front of the window so my back was to the rest of the room and I could simply ignore the resulting chaos that develops when someone who is never tidy at the best of times is attempting to run three separate cycle campaigns, a writing and editing career, and an occasional pop up bookshop – not to mention a knitting habit.

Every so often, I would run out of floor and then tidy up, as far as I could considering there was nowhere to put anything away other than old cardboard boxes and bags (this, for those confused, is the ‘after’ photo. I did take a before photo but there are some things too embarrassing even for me to put out there on the Internet).

study tidied

This doesn’t mean I didn’t have plans for what I wanted to do with it in the fullness of time. I’m not about to become one of those decluttering people (I was kind of interested in the idea of becoming tidier, until I read an article describing books as ‘clutter’, which is clearly the first sign of insanity) but it would be good to be able to have places to put things. And I have a large collection of maps that I’d like one day to look at, for what is a study without maps on the wall. And I have always had a hankering for a huge pinboard, if only so my wall planner doesn’t become a floor planner again. And one day it would be nice to make my cousin a happy man and stop double stacking my books, although to be honest, I don’t think that will ever become a permanent state in our house, where books seem to creep in through the cracks in the walls.

study storage

Ooh, storage

Anyway, finally, a plan has emerged and I’m now 90% certain I know how I want it to be. We’ve raised the stakes by doing this a fortnight before we have friends coming to stay, which at least gives us a deadline. The last little bits of wallpaper have been scraped off the walls, the holes filled, the surfaces washed and it’s all going to be ready to go as soon as I’ve decided exactly how courageous I want to be with my colour choices (note,it won’t actually be scarlet, although now I come to think of it …)

I have no doubt that, six months down the line, everything will undoubtedly be scattered around the room in complete chaos because it’s a bit late to be undergoing a complete personality transplant this late in the game. But at least I’ll know that, should I want to, I could totally tidy it all away, if only in theory.

At which point, I will probably take up another stuff-generating activity…

The Weather: A Public Service Announcement

July 26, 2018

As the rest of the country swelters can I just say:

trees and river

It is not that hot here.

I don’t know about the rest of Scotland, but it was raining here just a few days ago, and it’s only really just brightened up again, and it was in fact a bit too cold to be wearing shorts yesterday.

shady path

And the grass is still green, and even though it’s reached the point today where even I will seek the shade, it’s still not that hot here.

summer woods

There are few meteorological advantages to living in this damp little corner of Scotland – but this is one of them: when the rest of the country has finally had enough of the heat, and the chorus of moaning about the weather reaches a deafening level, and everyone else is longing for it to rain …

dappled shade

… That is when we will finally have our summer.

And it’s bloody gorgeous

Breaking Ford News

July 24, 2018

My spies report with stunning news: the Tarmac Fairy has got a bit ahead of herself

tarmacked ford

She’s only gone and tarmacked the ford.

This has incited some local discussion on the advisability of putting tarmac on a piece of road that is, by design, underwater for most of the year. There’s a reason most fords are made of concrete.

Could it be that, like everyone else in the country, the coonsil have been so beguiled by the heatwave that they have forgotten that it will eventually end?

dry ford

Or do they know something we don’t?

(photos courtesy of Steve Jefkins)


July 23, 2018

butterflies on buddleia bushes

Whether it’s the warm weather or my relaxed approach to the many buddleia bushes in the garden, the place is alive with butterflies at the moment. In fact, we’ve had so many peacocks sunning themselves on the paths and elsewhere, I’ve had to be a bit careful where I tread …

peacock butterfly

This one was obliging enough to sit for a portrait and even uncoil its tongue – which I didn’t notice until I was going through the photos later. How cool is that? They’re definitely creatures that just get weirder the closer you look.

peacock tongue coiled

It also helps justify my chemical-free approach to gardening as I’d rather have weeds and butterflies (and hares) than a bowling-green lawn and a pristine gravel drive (although actually what we’ve got (as well as the weeds and the butterflies and hares) is a gravel drive that is closer to lawn than gravel in places). Fortunately, an hour or so mindlessly pulling up weeds in the drive is rather soothing when you’re in the right frame of mind, so one day we might get all the way back to gravel …

Even better, is weeding the raised beds. I have to confess that normally whenever I take a shot of any of my veg growing, I usually have to do a bit of hurried weeding first (I’ve even considered photoshopping the damn things out). But not this time. It may just be because they’re newly created and haven’t had time to get properly weed infested, but it took just half an hour to get those bits of the plot that the hares weren’t sitting on absolutely pristine.

weed free leeks

weed free fennel

I could get used to this …


July 20, 2018

Heading to the garden yesterday afternoon to pick some beetroot, I encountered a problem:

hare hiding in the beetroot

Can’t see it? Let me help:

hidden hare with arrow

I did wonder whether I could sneak in and grab a couple of beetroot without disturbing it but it took fright (I say took fright: it didn’t so much run off as saunter so it’s possible they’re aware they would have us wrapped around their little fingers, if hares had little fingers). Fortunately the hares seem fonder of sitting on beetroot than eating it, so there was plenty for the beetroot salad* I had planned for my writers’ group pot luck dinner.

Other things lurking among the veg are, frankly, a bit less welcome:


I may have to learn to love courgettes. Recipes welcome, preferably ones that don’t end ‘and you can barely taste the courgette’ as that doesn’t really fill me with a sense that it’s worth growing.

Anyway, the salad seemed to go down well and after an evening of good food and great chat, I realised with a bit of shock that it was 10 o’clock and I had better get on my bike and ride home. I do love these long light and warm summer evenings. The heatwave may have left this corner of Scotland (it rained for most of today) but we’re still getting enough warm weather to make riding at night a positive pleasure – especially when there are no cars, and the only other thing moving as I made my way home were the bats dancing above my head.

night sky
*Beetroot, feta cheese and parsley – known as ‘Barbie salad’ because of the colour the feta cheese goes

Compare and Contrast

July 17, 2018

Arran in the sunset

Well, I’m back, after 100 odd miles, five ferries, three trains, one coach (do not speak to me of rail replacement services) and a fun four days exploring the delights of cycle touring in Scotland. As I’m sure you don’t want a blow by blow account of our adventures (you can get a feel for them on Twitter if you really do), here’s a few random thoughts instead, starting with the good …

hills sea and sky

Arran and Bute are lovely and you should totally go.

climbing the hill in Arran

I have to confess I still have a very vague idea about the differences between all the many Scottish islands and tend to default towards imagining them as being bleak and windswept but the inner islands are much prettier than you might expect, with wooded coves and cottages with roses round the doors, as well as the usual quota of hills and cliffs and castles and moorland roads. Arran, of course, (she says, quoting from a tourist leaflet she found in a B and B) is known as Scotland in miniature, with a little bit of everything while Bute struck me as a bit like a bijoux Isle of Wight, complete with a somewhat faded Victorian seaside resort, secluded coves and sandy beaches, and rolling rural roads away from the main (only) town of Rothesay.

Scalpsie bay in Bute

The ferries are completely bike friendly.

soggy five ferries ticket

Having experienced the joys of taking bikes on trains during our last tour, I can’t say I was looking forward to the ferry part of this experience, despite that being the whole point. But bikes and ferries proved a much happier combination with no sense that we might ever have risked not getting our bikes on (we arrived in Arran on the morning of some big bike event and apparently they had transported over 200 bikes the day before). In some ferries racks were provided for bikes, in others they were just leant up against a bulkhead but in all cases, we were treated like customers who had a precious thing they wanted transported safely, and not like potential terrorists who were bringing at best a nuisance and a trip hazard on board…

more bikes than cars

Bikes outnumbering cars on one ferry crossing

The weather can’t (quite) spoil a good cycle tour.

After miraculous weather in France, and 3 out of 4 gloriously fine days this weekend, we did get absolutely drenched on the Sunday. We were lucky it was only one day, and we’d booked accommodation that night with plentiful radiators for draping wet kit on (ah the smell of wet merino in the morning) but it turns out that no item of clothing, however expensive, is waterproof in Scotland when Scotland puts its mind to it (Ortlieb panniers are another matter). I think if we’d had more wet days it would have put a dampener on things, but it wasn’t too cold or windy, we were in good company, and in the end it was fine.

cycling in the rain

But blue signs do not a cycle route make.


ceci n’est pas un cycle route

I’m sorry to bang on about cycling infrastructure all the time, but there was one massive omission on the five ferries route which stood out all the more after our French experience (and indeed our ride from Paisley to the coast on NCN7 which was mostly really excellent). Even though much of what we were doing was nominally part of the National Cycle Network, this effectively amounted to a few directional signs. While some rural roads don’t need separate cycle tracks, as traffic and speeds are low, this was not the case for quite a few stretches on our route. The A83 to Tarbert, on the Kintyre peninsula was a particularly bad example. It was a wide, fairly busy A road, with not even a strip of white paint to indicate any space for cycling. It was doable – we’re all grown ups and experienced cyclists – but it was not by any stretch of the imagination fun. Compared with the Velodyssee route, when we barely had to tangle with traffic at all, it’s a bit of an embarrassment.

climbing on Arran

The islands were better, if only because there were just fewer cars, but there were still far too many roads where we had to ride in single file, pulling in to allow impatient drivers to pass, or taking the lane around blind bends to prevent a close squeeze. At no time did we feel actually frightened on our bikes, but ‘you probably won’t die’ is hardly a recommendation for what is supposed to be a holiday.


Here’s how to do it: space for cycling AND a pub making the most of the passing trade

The result, sadly, is that routes like the five ferries will continue to be a challenge – one for the hardcore cyclist to take on, rather than something a family could enjoy. And that means that – like so many beautiful places in Scotland – Bute and Arran will continue to be dominated by car-borne tourism, something that will end up eroding the very thing people come to enjoy. It doesn’t have to be that way.

beach cycle parking

Just imagine if somewhere like Bute seized the opportunity to build cycle tourism and put in the infrastructure it needs: not just bike friendly ferries and the odd piece of cycle parking, but proper space for cycling all round the island, and marketed itself as a cycling island, the way similar-sized places in France do. Even if they never outnumber those who come by car, people on bikes are after all, kind of bonus tourists: easier to fit onto ferries, needing less space to park, not wearing out the roads – and always ready to stop and eat their body weight in cake should the opportunity arise.

cafe and patisserie

I don’t want to end on a negative note because we genuinely did enjoy the trip, even the hills (and maybe even the rain). But it could have been so much better – and Scotland would benefit if it was.

Ferry Exciting

July 12, 2018

So, I’m back, and while all part of me really wants to do is get on with the infinite amount of gardening that has been building up in my absence, that will have to wait until next week because I’m off again…

weeds in the drive

Our driveway. The other half may need a machete when he returns with the car …

This next trip is a little bit more my speed than last weekend’s flying visit to America: the gang that brought you #5GoMad in Amsterdam, Seville and, er, Enfield are now heading west for the Five Ferries – something that is variously described as a challenge (for those hardy enough to attempt it in 24 hours) or the much-more-my-speed ‘island hopping adventure‘ for us wusses who are doing it over three days.

This is something that was hatched a while back, when the weather was unfeasibly fine, and I had absolutely nothing planned for the summer except going nowhere and catching up with myself, so a four day jaunt seemed just the ticket. Since then, life has happened, and I’m suddenly too busy again – but then again that was always the way.

And, besides, even though the heat wave has nominally broken, the forecast remains uncharacteristically fine for Scotland (everyone is wandering round Bigtown in shorts and sandals as if we were in the Mediterranean) and I think we’ll be talking about the summer of 2018 for decades to come. I don’t want to be looking back at how I spent it crouched over a laptop and weeding the vegetable beds, when I could have been wheeling round Arran and Bute in the sunshine. The weeding can wait (the laptop, unfortunately, is coming along for the ride).

leeks in raised bed

And besides, it turns out raised beds do make weeding a whole lot easier than it used to be

weeds and flowers in the garden

And we’re all about informal relaxed plantings these days now, right?