Playing Fair

September 28, 2018

So, this week the Rood Fair has come to Bigtown – as it has done since 1592, apparently, although I suspect back then there were fewer waltzers and candyfloss stalls and more cattle sales and witch burnings. And, as has happened every year since almost 1592, I have found my path along the river blocked by assorted lorries, generators, rides and fair equipment, despite it being part of the National Cycling Network and nothing in the way of complaining to the council, asking the fair or sending sarcastic tweets made a blind bit of difference. However this year, for the first time in 426 years, I have discovered the secret weapon in getting a route cleared through all the paraphernalia: these guys

Buddies on the Whitesands

One of the many great things about the Buddies, is that, stick them on a trike or their newly acquired side-by-side pedal go kart (I hesitate to call it a tandem; tank would be nearer the mark) and they have magical leave to go anywhere. We wanted to get to the park, and so generators got moved, rides got repositioned, and barriers shoved out even if that meant narrowing the road so we could pass. Indeed, even when the fair is not on, not only are they entirely welcome on the pavement – but the few times we’ve ventured onto the road, white vans have driven at walking pace behind us with perfect patience, and we’ve been waved through junctions with a smile. It’s like riding in another country, and if only the pedal-powered go kart could cope with even the slightest incline, I’d never cycle anywhere without them. It’s bloody magic.


Remoooved

September 26, 2018

For those of you eagerly awaiting a Moo-I-5 update, I have a slight confession to make. Alarmed by the fact that the fence that separated our garden from their field had become somewhat less than cow-proof (in that two of the fence posts were no longer in any meaningful sense attached to the ground), I rang the farmer before our new neighbours discovered this and became our uninvited house guests. I was expecting him to bang in a couple of fence posts and all would be good, but instead he just closed a gate and confined them to the other field, shaking his head and muttering about the fact that ‘you can grow them all the grass you like’ and that appears to have been that.

cows

 

This is good news for our trees and the bits of the veg plot within cow reach, but bad news for the blog and probably the cows too because our garden – as well as being home to tasty cow treats – is also a source of endless amusement to them in what I suspect are otherwise quite dull cow lives. Certainly, when I moseyed past this afternoon on a walk up to the woods, I quickly drew a fascinated crowd.

cows in their new field

They were also watching me over the wall as I harvested some of our purple sprouting broccoli this afternoon, no doubt hoping I’d leave some for them. Their stay out in these fields is usually quite short (and, to be brutally honest, I don’t think they go on to pastures new either). Obviously it’s ridiculous to feel guilty about the fact that I’ve banished them from half a field and some variety in their bovine lives.

more cows

And yet, somehow I do …


Feeling My Age

September 23, 2018

So yesterday was the day of my Anniversaire – a 49 mile cycling jaunt with any similarly inclined friends who care to join me in celebrating another successful trip around the sun.

This was much improved by the fact that said sun actually put in an appearance, something that has not been a given in recent weeks.

anniversaire ride

It was also something of a nostalgia trip for me (if you can be nostalgic for the very recent past) as we revisited the back road to Papershop Village, reminding me just what a lovely ride that is.

road back from Papershop Village

We also paid due obeisance to the ford (to the slight bafflement of local friends who don’t actually read the blog):

inspecting the ford

I was a little worried I’d struggle this year because I have been suffering from sore quad muscles, apparently due to an unwise attempt to power up a sharp hill in top gear from a standing start a couple of days ago. But it turns out that if you take it slow enough you can still ride 49 miles with relative ease even when you can’t walk up and down stairs without making old person noises with every step.*

anniversaire ride

Even so, I was feeling pretty pleased with myself at mostly seeing off the ravages of time, up until I cycled into Bigtown this afternoon with Back on my Bike to meet an octogenarian for coffee and cycling chat. She was very polite about our epic 49-er before casually mentioning her cross-Canada cycle ride at 69 – and this summer’s 24-hour sponsored cycle challenge in which she ‘only’ managed 187 miles (not counting the ones she did on the turbo trainer in the village hall during the hours of darkness), while bemoaning the fact that the health and safety meanies had stopped her from doing her annual abseil down a local lighthouse for charity.

Clearly, I’ve got a way to go before anything I manage on a bike is in any way impressive to the average Bigtownshire senior citizen. Still, it’s good to have a stretch goal to aim for…

sunset finish

* I did better than my friend who, fresh from defying bears as she cycled epic distances over rough gravel in Newfoundland, was defeated by a broken station lift and spent the afternoon in agony in Carlisle station having put her back out carrying her bike up the stairs. Cycling, truly the way to a healthy and active middle age…


That Storm Damage in Full

September 21, 2018

downed tree

While I still maintain that giving storms names is a bad idea on the grounds that it only encourages them, it turns out that sarcastically putting their names in quotes just makes things worse. Certainly, Storm Ali did live up to its amber warning on Wednesday, took out our power halfway through the morning (which wasn’t then restored until Thursday morning) and downing enough trees on the roads around us to make going to my dental appointment in Notso Bigtown a bit of a choose-your-own-adventure as we had to backtrack several times to find a route that didn’t have a large amount of interesting looking firewood blocking the way.

dead olive tree

But what the Weather Gods taketh away, the Weather Gods also giveth. For a while I’ve been looking at our poor dead olive tree and thinking I really should replace with something that was less of a sad reminder of my neglect. It was as we were sitting there watching it being rocked wildly in its pot by the storm (what can I say, when the internet is down you have to make your own entertainment – indeed I ended up forced to complete this year’s tax return, so every cloud and all that), that I noticed something strange at the foot of the trunk:

resprouting olive tree

Yup. It’s aliiiiiive. Really, you can’t keep a good tree down.


Flyers’ Remorse

September 18, 2018

Normally, September’s habit of delivering a settled spell of sunny mild weather just as you’ve given up on seeing the sun in any meaningful sense before April is the only compensation we get after a rubbish summer. So this year, having had an actual summer for once, it seems a bit churlish to complain of this September’s endless succession of wind, rain, unforecasted showers and now an amber weather warning courtesy of the impending Storm ‘Ali’. The problem is, we’ve taken to planning around these Indian summers, and this week sees us hosting the Bigtown Bike Breakfast, so I’m complaining anyway, churlish or not.

September skies

Today, after a miserable start, we had enough of a break in the weather for me to spend a little time out flyering Bigtown’s hardy cycle commuters to let them know there were free bacon rolls in the offing just for the pleasure of riding to work by bike – and by ‘flyering’ I mostly mean ‘standing in one part of the cycle path watching all the cyclists whizz by unflyered on a different section of the path and then, when I have relocated to the place where all the cyclists were before, watching them zip past the spot where I was standing originally’.

empty cycle path

Empty cycle path

Even when I did track down a few cyclists, there was the challenge of getting them to take a flyer without physically impeding their progress. My technique for this is to smile, stand off to one side, and hold the flyer out for an easy passing grab. Mostly they were happy enough to either take one on the fly (kudos to chap cycling along no handed making a phone call who spotted me, switched his phone to the other hand, grabbed the flyer with a brief thumbs up, and continued on his way without even breaking cadence), or slow or even stop for a brief chat. But there’s always one or two who have to swerve past me unnecessarily with a look that suggests I was attempting to hand them a bag of dog poo or a fizzing stick of dynamite marked ACME. Your loss, miserable cycling people, that’s all I can say. May all your winds be headwinds, and your roads scattered with blackthorn…

On the plus side, one cyclist actually caught me: he was on his e-bike and I think had chased me down on the road in for the express pleasure of telling me all about it, so delighted was he with his new machine. (If you are a cycle campaigner in need of cheering up, I suggest you find your nearest e-bike and ask its owner what they think of it. You’re almost guaranteed to get a ‘cycling has transformed my life’ story which can keep you going through the next three meetings where the coonsil explain why they can’t put a decent cycle track in somewhere because they need a redundantly wide road to stay that way ‘as a spare‘). It was a pleasure to reward him with the news of a free breakfast, although as he was already the happiest cyclist in Bigtown, I’m not sure he needed the boost. Still, to those that have shall be given …


Tea for … Well, a Small Army, Frankly

September 15, 2018

teas sign

Normally, when a group ride goes silent, it’s because the ride leader has set too fast a pace and the participants are saving their breath for the climb in hand. But this afternoon the silence had a different source: this was no normal ride, but a ‘cake raid‘ and we had reached the legendary church tea of what I must now dub Church Tea Village and there were more important things to concentrate on than chat.

Now, I don’t know what you might have in mind when you picture something advertised as a ‘light lunch and church tea’ but – although I had been warned that the catering was substantial – I wasn’t quite prepared for what followed. After starting with some delicious home made bread, slices of melon and salad, we moved on to savoury pancakes with a choice of fillings. As these were being demolished, a plate of dutch pancakes (poffertjes) scattered with sugar and raisins arrived, which proved to be dangerously moreish.

scones and pancakes

To be honest, this would have qualified for a decent meal right there, but proved to be merely the warm up. As some were tempted by a second round of pancakes, this time loaded with nutella and marshmallows, the rest of us were piling into the scones and more pancakes (scotch ones, this time). Just as we were starting to slow down and contemplate the 20 mile ride home that lay ahead, thankfully mainly downhill, one of the group nodded to the windowsill ‘I’m just looking at what’s coming next’. For the church ladies weren’t finished with us yet.

We still had the cake trolley to deal with.

cake trolley

Top tip for church teas – when an innocent looking white haired women in a church hall offers you ‘just a normal sized slice’ of cake, get that quantified before you rashly agree to anything. Oh, and don’t sit directly opposite the scones if you find it hard to see any form of starch going to waste …

So yeah. Cycling. A great way to keep a healthy weight. Just make sure you heed the warning signs and keep away from the church teas.

 


Uncowed

September 14, 2018

So, as I mentioned in the last post, Moo I 5 are back, and when daylight came yesterday, we could see that they had been making themselves at home…

cows in the field

You can’t really see it from the photo, but as well as giving the copper beech a trim, our new neighbours had discovered that if you leaned against the nice scratchy barbed wire hard enough, and streeeetched your neck, you could have some delicious broccoli leaves.

broccoli and cows

Note innocent expression. Do not be fooled

(this is why I’m fairly relaxed about cabbage white incursions on my brassicas. What takes several dozen caterpillars weeks of eating to acheive, is barely a second’s work for a cow).

I’ve also only just noticed the angle of that fence …

leaning fence

The ash tree has so far survived unbrowsed, although for how long we don’t know, but for one of our new birch trees, a 2m tree tube was no match for a hungry Holstein.

nibbled tree top

Possibly time to upgrade the defences … and get used to gardening with a fascinated audience again.


Life on Mars

September 13, 2018

Coming back from Glasgow last night on the train that gets in at 11, there was part of me that was wishing I’d held out for a lift from the station, so that I didn’t have a 50 minute ride uphill in the dark before I was in my bed. And as I took my habitual route down the cycle path from the station, I did also find myself wondering if this was the wisest route home for a solitary female to be taking late at night. I know there are many women who find the old railway path a little too intimidated – we have it drummed into us from an early age that you don’t go into dark and lonely places alone.

But then again, I was on my bike and, rightly or wrongly, I always feel pretty invincible when I’m cycling. Sure I’ve had the odd encounter with a driver that has left me mentally planning my own funeral for the rest of the ride home, but 99.9% of the time I’ve anticipated their obliviousness and am out of harm’s way as they pull out into my path or overtake me on a blind bend. So I’m not frightened of cycling through parks or along dark cycle paths, although I keep an eye out for any obstacles or lurking figures. Indeed, now that I’ve got decent lights and my miraculous SON dynamo, I positively relish the deserted country roads at night where the only real danger is the lurking lesser-spotted pothole and my habit of riding along looking up at the night sky and ending up almost in a dyke.

And so I rode home under a sky speckled with stars, with Mars rising at my side, incredibly bright and and strikingly red. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it so clearly (and apparently it would have been even brighter a few weeks ago) and it was pretty mesmerising. Who needs a lift when you’ve got a planet escorting you home?

It was only once I’d arrived home, putting my bike away in the garage, that I heard a noise – noises – of some thing or some things out in the dark beyond the circle of the light.

The sound of breathing, of shifting weight, of movement.

The unmistakable sensation of being watched from the darkness…

Yes, Moo I 5 are back.


Timebends

September 11, 2018

Having just finished some work and finding myself with a few days off, today should, technically, have been an unusally leisurely affair, with not much to do other than plant 200 bulbs,* bake a loaf of bread, deal with a backlog of admin, pick up some flyers for the Bigtown Cycle Campaign bike breakfast and distribute them to unsuspecting cyclists, and deliver emergency coffee and cake supplies to the other half’s workplace …

…I may need to work on my definition of leisurely.

I also had to work in a detour for my ford correspondent had told me last night that the freshly laid tarmac has already, as predicted, crumbled into a mess of potholes (or ‘a road’ as we call it in Bigtownshire). Sadly there was too much water to see for myself, but it was nice to revisit an old friend.

Anyway, the upshot was that having looked at my watch and realising it was 12 o’clock and somehow the morning was gone, I found myself timetrialling into Bigtown to fit it all in – made somewhat more bearable by hitting the holy trinity on my way in of smooth tarmac, downhill and an epic tailwind. Indeed, this was, if I’m honest, one of those ‘why I cycle’ moments (but yeah, sure, it’s all about the environment and maintaining a healthy heart).

Tomorrow, though, tomorrow, I’ll get a chance to relax.**

* Damn you Crocus and your two for the price of one offers

** Maybe not


What Lies Beneath

September 5, 2018

So today (once our current hare had deigned to stop sunning itself in the back garden, preventing me from going outside & enjoying the sunshine myself) I thought I’d have a look and see how this year’s potato crop was shaping up

Pretty well, actually

digging up potatoes

Yup, very nicely indeed.

potato harvest

This is the initial* haul from the second of my three potato beds – the first had the first earlies in it (plus a fine crop of mushrooms) and we’re still only half way through those. I may need to upgrade my pototo storage solution so we can keep them through the winter and still have something to eat come Brexit.**

Meanwhile, in tenuously related news, the final chapter seems to have almost closed on our local stretch of the gas pipeline project with the mysterious pipe-and-bag arrangement now replaced with a much more engineering-y manhole cover, and the land returned to the cows.

manhole cover

Given the rate that grass grows around here, it’s already hard to imagine that there’s anything beneath this field but stones and soil, were it not for this warning sign (and incidental Gaelic lesson) and final loose ends which I have no doubt will be dealt with in the fullness of time.

pipeline warning sign

We’ll update you on this story as soon as we have news. I know, you can barely wait.

* Fellow gardeners will know that harvesting potatoes is a Zeno’s Arrow sort of an affair, with each dig yielding a few more, but still leaving enough in the ground to be a complete nuisance for years to come.

** Kidding ***

*** I hope.