November 29, 2019

So, in yesterday’s catalogue of winter cycling woes, I omitted the fact that it is still hedgecutting (and hence puncture) season. This was something of an oversight as I had sat at my desk for most of the afternoon and watched the neighbouring farmer in his tractor giving the hedge along our road a thorough short back and sides. Unfortunately, I had then completely forgotten this until the other half reminded me of it just as I was heading out on the Brompton, and wished me luck.

By that point, it was fully dark but I could see in my front light that there was a fair amount of hedgecutting debris scattered across the road. But there was nothing for it but to head off anyway and hope that I’d be fine. Yeah, I don’t know why I thought that might work either. I got as far as the river before the thumpety thump of a flat tyre had made itself unignorable and with it being the back wheel – the unholy trinity of a Marathon Plus, a tiny wheel, and a hub gear – there was nothing for it but to ring for help and a lift into town – and get the Brompton dropped off at the bike shop for a new inner tube (and no, I’m not going to fit it myself or even pretend I might want to learn how).

This morning revealed the scale of the problem, with the road completely carpeted with bastard big thorns. I do have some sympathy for the local farmers who seem to have every bit of mechanised kit they need *except* anything that might sweep up their hedgecutting debris; the last time I had a moan, they ended up sweeping the road by hand. But I do need to be able to get around reliably and I know from bitter experience that even Marathon Plus tyres are not proof against hedge cuttings. The answer is probably to just stop flailing the hedges and lay them instead (which has many other benefits, not least for wildlife) but I can’t see that happening any time soon.

hedge cuttings on the road

So, there was nothing for it but to take matters into my own hands.

broom sweeping road

Fortunately it was a sunny, if extremely cold, morning, so I swept myself a somewhat safer passage down as far as the farmyard (it seemed a bit too pointed to keep going right through their yard; maybe next year).

swept strip of roadI don’t fool myself that this will entirely keep the puncture fairy at bay, but it may perhaps have bought me a little time…

Testing, Testing

November 28, 2019

I have to admit that the last few days have proved testing to my commitment to making my bike my main mode of transport. It’s not just been the rain, or the dark, or the cold, or the fact that I have three evening engagements this week, one of which involved climbing back into my still damp things and heading out back into the rain and the dark only a couple of hours after I had arrived home – but if they’re giving out climate-saving medals, I would like one for that, please. No, I think the low point came yesterday evening as I was heading to New Nearest Village to find out more about the Coonsil’s declaration of a Climate Emergency.* Just as I crested the hill for the downhill run into the village (the topography of New Nearest Village somehow manages to be uphill in all directions, coming and going), my chain fell off. As it was pitch dark, I discovered the downside of having an amazing hub dynamo set up – that you can’t then point your wonderfully bright (even when stopped) but firmly attached front light at any part of the bike to sort it out (yes, yes, I know, you all carry spare lights for just this contingency). I was reduced to waiting for passing cars – not to stop and offer help, but to shine enough light to briefly work by. After about the fourth four-by-four had raced past (I’m going to assume not on the way to the climate meeting, but you never know) I’d managed to free the chain with a minimum of swearing and even managed to make it to the meeting without transferring any chain oil onto my face, which is a first.**

There are upsides too, of course, she says hastily. Mainly when the rain stops and it’s late enough that it’s just me out there on the road, with the odd owl for company. Or – as happened on Tuesday night – a Hercules lumbering slowly overhead at what felt like chimney height. I actually experienced a temperature inversion as the air warmed as I climbed out of the fog in the river valley and up our road. It doesn’t *quite* make up for foolishly choosing to live on a Cat 3 climb, but it is something to have your school geography lessons actually brought to life.

Tonight it’s my final social engagement of the week (well, my writers’ group) and I’ve only got a lift on the way home, so it will shortly be time to tear myself away from the fireside, find the least damp of my pairs of gloves, and set off again into the cold and the dark, saving the planet one bike ride at a time.

I hope the Coonsil appreciates me doing my bit.

* Actually slightly less greenwashy than I thought it would be, but they would appear to have a slightly different definition of ’emergency’ than most people.

** At least, if I did, nobody mentioned it.

Who Rides on a Day Like This?

November 24, 2019

I didn’t actually take a photo as I set out this morning into the dreich – but it turns out that one wet November morning looks very like another, so here’s one I prepared earlier.

foggy road

I was heading off to lead the latest Bigtown Cycle Campaign winter ride, resplendent in waterproof trousers, which, frankly, are neither a good look nor a good sign that you’re in for a wonderful day. The forecast had been for it to not actually rain, but I’ve learned the hard way since moving up here that there’s a particular kind of very fine, very wet rain, that seems invisible to forecasters and rain radars alike. So while the weather app on my phone was confidently telling me that it wasn’t raining, wouldn’t rain, and indeed hadn’t even been raining, the actual rain falling out of the sky was busy telling me otherwise.

Amazingly, though, I wasn’t the only person who thought a cycle ride in the not officially raining rain was a good way to spend a Sunday. Even more amazingly, it soon went from not officially raining to actually not actually raining and we were able to shed the waterproof trousers and enjoy the ride, if not the views.

bikes on the road

Far too much of my cycling at the moment is just wearing a groove between home and Bigtown so days like today – weather gripes aside – remind me that we’re incredibly lucky to have a massive network of largely empty roads like this to cycle on. The fact that this one also ends up at a decent cafe is just the icing on the cake.*

* actually a triple-chocolate brownie which – sacrilegiously – was actually a bit OTT even for me.

Ecowarrior Me

November 22, 2019

It was faintly depressing to be standing in front of a dozen young people – all students – and be faced with a dozen blank faces when I asked if any of them would consider themselves to be regular cyclists – particularly as I was there to deliver my guest lecture as an international cycle touring expert. It was even more depressing when I asked them why they didn’t cycle and they all looked at me as if I’d asked them why they didn’t have a chicken on their heads. Finally, one of the girls replied ‘Because I have a car? Why would I use anything else – it’s just easier.’ This from a year group that are, according to their professor, far more conscious and concerned about the environment than those even a single year ahead of them.

cycling the back roads

Yup – no idea why one might want to do this rather than drive a car …

It’s long been an article of faith among cycle campaigners that we should steer clear of emphasising the green aspects of riding a bike. Apparently any aspect of cycling – saving money, health, eating cake, the massive rush of adrenaline you get as a timber lorry overtakes you on a road that’s approximately as wide as a timber lorry – is to be emphasised over the whole saving the planet thing, in case we come across as dour and preachy.* And then suddenly everyone wants to save the planet and here we are promoting the most environmentally friendly means of transport there is, and the vegans – who of course are never dour and preachy** – are out there eating our lunch (or they would be, if our lunch was entirely plant-based, obviously). Because when it comes to saving the planet we’re suddenly all willing to give up all animal products, stop flying, and drive an extra 5 miles to the supermarket that allows you to put your lentils in your own container – but not to actually start riding a bike instead of getting in the car. Perhaps we’ve missed a trick here after all.

bikes not bypasses

So from now on I am going to experiment a bit with talking more about the environmental benefits of riding a bike as part of my campaigning (I’m sure regular readers of this blog have got the message already). I’ve no idea if it will have any more effect than waxing lyrical about the joys of cake, health, and turning your commute into an extreme sport, but it’s got to be worth a shot.

* Obviously, these people have never witnessed a helmet-related cycle-twitter dogpile.

** I know and love many vegans and this is actually true, in my experience, although not being on vegan-twitter I have no idea what they’re like on line. Can you even dogpile someone as a vegan anyway?

Laying Waste

November 17, 2019

I enjoy most aspects of gardening, but if I’m really honest, the tasks I really relish are the ones that involve getting properly stuck in and laying waste to something. This is especially the case in November when gardening is only really bearable if it involves being in the greenhouse or doing something fairly vigorous. I’ve already wheelbarrowed about as much muck as I’m going to need at the moment for the veg beds, so today I decided the time had come to tackle the overgrown trellis that disguises the old dog kennel.

overgrown trellis

I was a little ambivalent about this because it’s clearly a nice sheltered spot for the bolder class of bird in the winter – but for the same reason, I knew if I was going to deal with it at all, it would have to be now because it was also used by a nesting blackbird this spring (we know this, because we had to keep rescuing one of the fledglings from inside the dog kennel).

trellis bed

At some point, this must have been a raised bed with a trellis up the back, planted with a rather nice miniature rose, some sort of lacecap hydrangea, a honeysuckle, something that might be a kind of jasmine, periwinkle, and some ivy.

Lots and lots of ivy.

ivy flowering

Throw in approximately a decade of neglect, and what you get is effectively the memory of a trellis (now a few crumbling sticks clutched between the twining stems of the climbers) in a monstrous mass of ivy, possible-jasmine, and periwinkle (which is also, worryingly, coming up through the flagstones), with a rather desperate rose and hydrangea just about keeping their chins above the rampant vegetation.

ex trellis

A happy few hours with a pair of loppers and the radio for company produced that most satisfying of gardening things: a big pile. Hopefully, it has not also killed off the rose or the hydrangea although as I’d never actually realised the hydrangea was there until now, it wouldn’t be desperately missed. I don’t fool myself for an instant that I’ve done anything to slow down the ivy or the periwinkle, but at least we now know what we’re up against and can plan accordingly…

big pile

I like big piles and I cannot lie

I can’t say it actually looks any better just yet, partly because the old dog kennel is a bit of an eyesore (and rapidly going the way of the trellis), but watch this space, because we have plans for it …

Moon Shot

November 15, 2019

One of the downsides of having no working phone camera is that – having dragged myself out from the warmth of the fireside to cycle down to my writers’ group last night (and it’s definitely far harder to leave home by bike on a cold November night than it is to set off for home, knowing the woodburner will be waiting for you)- I couldn’t record the amazing golden almost-full moon with which I was rewarded.

On the other hand, nobody’s full moon pictures ever look as spectacular as the real thing, especially when the moon is rising. Arguably I was better off just enjoying it alone in the dark as it rose over the hills. I don’t remember ever seeing a golden moon before – but if it’s a symbol of the end times, then at least it’s a rather beautiful one.

The other glowing golden orb also put in an appearance earlier, so you’ll just have to content yourself with photos of that, courtesy of my actual camera, which usually does a better job than the phone anyway, but only if I remember to bring it along with me.sunshine on hills

Kill Will(ow)

November 10, 2019

With a long-running piece of work finally dispatched and a sunny Sunday in the offing with nothing else planned I knew what I’d be doing today: binge gardening.

The first port of call was getting to grips with my fedge. Over the summer it has become increasingly apparent that if my plan had been to create a line of willow trees then it has been a roaring success, as every single one of the sturdy stakes we stuck in the ground to act as a support for the woven willow lattice has sprouted nicely (I didn’t think that willow this mature would root, but apparently it will. Perhaps we should have put them in upside down to be sure but even then …)

Willow fedge

The actual woven whips, which were supposed to root much more easily, haven’t done as well. A few have taken but more than two-thirds have not, possibly due to the dry spell we had after I’d put them all in, possibly some other reason, undoubtedly user error. Nothing for it but to clear away some of the encroaching vegetation, and wait for spring to fill in the gaps.

Of course, with willow, it’s not dead until it’s warm (or in actual flames) and dead, so I live in hope. Indeed, one of the deadest-looking sticks did prove to have a shoot coming up at the base, so we shall see.

willow shoot

It wasn’t the only thing showing unexpected signs of life, either. When the sun shines in November in Scotland, everything seems to emerge to make the most of it.


Nature, Tooth, Claw, Red in, etc.

November 7, 2019

While I was gadding about in Embra, it seems there’s been a murrrder in the veg plot, which I’m rather sorry I missed.

feathers on the grass

Exhibit A: A sad pile of feathers

Closer examination of the scene of the crime revealed a little bit more about the identity of the victim:

pheasant's foot

It seems we are down one pheasant (and if that photo doesn’t convince you that birds are just tiny flying dinosaurs – and how cool is that? – then I’m not sure what will).

It leaves us no clearer about the culprit though. The position of the feathers, under the electricity wire, originally made me think it was a sparrowhawk as they like to retreat to a handy perch to pluck their supper, but I’m not sure a sparrowhawk could take a pheasant. I’m not sure a buzzard would be able to either, unless something had killed it for it first. We’ve not seen any foxes around, which doesn’t mean there aren’t any – it’s only urban foxes that like to stroll around in broad daylight. Then again, if we had foxes on the prowl would we have as many hares as we do?

It’s a mystery – and clearly, it’s also a sign that I need to be spending less time gadding about and more time at home, keeping an eye on my own back yard.

This is a programme I can entirely get behind.

Rode Hard and Put Away Wet

November 4, 2019

So I thought I had my current trip to Edinburgh well planned – I’m attending a conference at Murrayfield, with a workshop that started at 1, giving me a nice amount of time to take my usual train (getting in to Haymarket at 11:30), drop the Brompton off at the nearby Brompton dealers to get its mudguard sorted and various niggles ironed out, and then walk down to my afternoon session. It’s safe to say it didn’t quite work out like that – and not just because the Edinburgh Monsoon still seems to be in full swing. For a start, there was that fact that ‘a few niggles’ on a Brompton that has been somewhat taken for granted by its Bad Brompton Owner for the last few years translates into How Much?! and then some, and then some more. And for another start, there’s the fact that I hadn’t quite readjusted my mental scale for walking distances rather than cycling distances so once I was Bromptonless and trudging through the pissing rain, what had felt like it might be a nice leg-stretching walk quickly (or, rather, slowly) became a route march. It didn’t help that Murrayfield Stadium is huge and when it’s not holding an actual rugby match, quite hard to get into without walking about three-quarters of the way round it in the wrong direction in the pissing rain (did I mention it was raining? It was raining). Which is why I ended up at my workshop late, damp, and with VERY strong opinions about the need for better pedestrian wayfinding.

But that’s not even the worst of it. The worst of it was discovering that the train from Lockerbie – the one that connects reasonably nicely with the bus, that means I can get into Edinburgh for a late morning meeting or lunch without getting up at silly o’clock, the one that everyone in Bigtown uses if they’re heading up to Embra – that train is going to be no more from mid December. Instead, we can get the 8:30 train (and pay peak fare) or we can wait until after 12 for the next train. And it seems there’s nothing anyone can do about it, because that’s the mad way we run our train service in this country.

I’ve been feeling recently a vague sense that, at least in Scotland, the powers that be have started to – just a little bit – get the idea that we can’t just keep providing for car drivers and letting everyone else have the scraps. And then something like this comes along – effectively removing a key sustainable transport link between a major town and the Scottish capital – and it seems we just have to accept that’s the way it is.

Funnily enough, a few months ago, I sat through a long meeting about how transport links to Lockerbie could be improved, the subtext of which was ‘how can we avoid building a multistory car park to serve the train station because that’s clearly ridiculous in a town the size of Lockerbie’. Nobody thought to mention it at the time, but it would seem that TransPennine Express have had the cunning idea of cutting down the demand by not running any decent trains, so everyone will end up just throwing up their hands and driving direct to Edinburgh instead.

Remind me how we’re tackling that climate emergency again?