Ready to Roll…

January 26, 2022

Well, sort of. Tomorrow I head off to England (where, fortunately, COVID has apparently been abolished so that’s all right then) for my book event. My lovely publisher has actually organised the whole trip – train tickets, hotel, the works; I’ve even been sent a little itinerary so I know when and where I’ll be for the whole 24 hours which makes me feel extremely grand. All that’s left for me to do is decide which bit to read and pick an outfit.


Two years of lockdown on top of 12 years of living in the middle of nowhere and working from home (on top of being only vaguely au fait with the concept of accessorising in the first place) has left me somewhat struggling on that front. What I haven’t been gardening in recently, the moths have got at, and what the moths have left alone, has had too many close encounters with a bike chain for civilised society. I’m working on the assumption that people who go to bookshops events don’t hold authors to particularly high sartorial standards but I do feel I need to look as if I’ve made an effort, even if it’s just adjusted for being me.*

Anyway, after ransacking my wardrobe and trying on everything I could find that looked vaguely smart, I think I’ve got something that will work both on the Brompton and in front of a paying audience. So now all I have to do is remember to pack my author’s copy of the book, get myself to the train station on time tomorrow morning, and hope I can wow them all with my words, if not my fashion sense.

I do wonder how much thought male authors have to put into this sort of thing though.

* Back when I was seventeen I attended an interview for the English Speaking Union and the feedback I got was ‘We did feel she could have made a bit more of an effort with her appearance.’ The response from my teacher was ‘I told them you probably were making an effort’. I mean, I’d worn a skirt and everything.

Ever Decreasing Circles

July 22, 2021

It’s a feature of living in these parts, where the local tourism board’s motto is, apparently, ‘shh, nobody knows we’re here’, that every so often you will discover – usually quite by chance – that there’s some feature or site that in a normal place would have at the very least a brown sign from the nearest road (if not a gift shop, tea room, opening hours and, if you’re really unlucky, a Twitter acccount), will here just sit unremarked in the corner of a field. We already run bike rides to a number of these hidden attractions, including Bigtown’s nearby stone circle – allegedly the largest* in mainland Scotland – so I thought I was reasonably on top of the local antiquities.

But then someone mentioned in passing that Bigtown has a second stone circle which I’d never heard of in my 12+ years of living here, and I just had to go and check it out. So yesterday evening, with the heat wave continuing, I and a fellow cyclist, who is generally up for a bike ride even if it means a possible wild goose chase, set out to see what we could see.

view of church from the hill

Naturally, although marked on the map, the stone circle is almost completely unheralded on the ground. We knew that there was a path from the church, which is signposted from the road, and once you’ve ridden up the steep track to find the church, itself tucked away in a pretty hollow in the hills, a sign does point you towards the ‘7 Grey Stanes’ stone circle.

sign pointing to 7 Grey Stanes

The path itself was somewhat notional, and after passing through a couple of gates, we lost our bearings for a while. Having made the mistake of following our instincts (and also leaving both Internet connected phone and Ordnance Survey map with our bikes, which we’d parked by the church) our attempt to find the stone circle through the medium of heading for the sort of spot where we thought people might want to build a stone circle was not particularly effective (although we were rewarded with some incredible views).

view from the hills

Fortunately it was a nice evening to be wandering around on a hilltop squinting at various stones (and a few very convincingly stone-like cow pats) to see if, from a certain angle, it could be argued that this might be a stone circle, but failing to persuade even ourselves.

view in other direction

Eventually, having admitted defeat and retreated to the path, we found a gate that led us to a more convincing path and finally round a corner to what was undoubtedly a stone circle, albeit a rather small one – and what was, in all senses of the word, a magical spot.

The stone circle, with views beyond

The views here were also stunning.

The weather undoubtedly helped, but even on a dreich day I can imagine that this site, in its little hollow in a hillside with its commanding views, would be well worth a visit.

hillside and hawthorn

Selfishly, I suppose that it’s nice to live in a place with a stone circle so unvisited that the path to reach it has all but disappeared. And to be able to have it to ourselves (and without so much as a sign, let alone an interpretation board, to tell us what we’re seeing). But I do wonder sometimes if we could make a little more of our local attractions to encourage a few more visitors to the region … if only there was a way of ensuring that they only came by bike.

* as in, largest diameter. Ring of Brodgar or Stonehenge this is not. But still …

Life Histories

May 9, 2021

So, I went out for a 40-mile solo ride this afternoon, as you apparently do when you’re breaking the habit of a lifetime and semi seriously training for something. And I have to admit, given the brisk wind and the random showers (which at least weren’t hailstorms or snow showers, I suppose – it’s come to something when the Weather Gods have managed our expectations to the point that liquid precipitation in May is considered an improvement) that I wasn’t exactly feeling the whole cycling love as I set out.

empty road and gloomy skies

But I’d wanted to make sure I could stand my own company and keep my speed respectable (as well as navigate …) on longer rides, and as I powered up one of the last hills, I was feeling pretty good, despite the fact that I was doing so into a serious headwind. I was on course to manage 40 miles (including a 25 minute cafe stop and a short pause while a man on a quad bike attempted to round up an escaping cow that was galloping along on the road) in four hours, I hadn’t seriously fallen with myself and I was replete with coffee and cake, neither of which I’d had to make myself.

Looking down over a river valley

As is traditional round here, I paused to exchange pleasantries with an older man who was standing by the side of the road looking a bit amused at my slow progress up the hill, and we got to chatting, during which I learned that he used to deliver bin lorries (‘and Postman Pat vans’) all around the country (it is only as I type this that I realise I have many questions about bin lorry delivering), and that he currently makes walking sticks with rams’ horn handles, some of which were rather amazingly cool – he dug out an actual packet of actual photos (as you might pick up from an actual chemist, circa 1994) to show me and I’m now wondering who in my life might appreciate such a thing. And then, he having given me his card, we parted ways and I cycled home feeling that the whole outing had been made worthwhile.

single track road with passing place sign

One of the things I love about living here is the way random strangers will occasionally just tell me their life story in the course of a bus journey, a cycle ride, or a roadside chat. As a Londoner it’s always a little startling, but I always appreciate it when it happens. Lockdown has meant those moments have been rather few and far between, but if getting out further and more often on the bike means more of them then that alone will have made it all worthwhile.

empty road through forest

Out of My Comfort Zone

February 19, 2020

There seems to be a rail-based conspiracy at the moment to keep me stuck in my corner of South West Scotland. First the timetable for trains to Edinburgh got so messed up that it’s barely worth attempting the trip, and now a landslip has turned the otherwise slow-but-civilised Bigtown to Glasgow chuffer service into an obstacle course of rail-replacement bus services and all the uncertainty that entails. Unfortunately, this happened after I’d agreed to head to Glasgow to give a short presentation (and, to be fair, attend a half-day networking event) meaning six hours of travelling to deliver one 2 minute slide show.

glasgow cycling bridge

In fact, the total travelling time was technically longer, but the rest of it was by bike which never feels like time wasted. Cycling in Glasgow is usually quite challenging but amazingly enough, I was able to do the four-mile trip from Glasgow Central to the venue entirely off road and only got lost twice and then only a little bit. Given that I’d responded to the pre-event survey question ‘describe cycling in Glasgow in one word’ with ‘terrifying’ this was a welcome surprise.

railway line cycle path

I had meant to use the part of the journey I could do by train to get on with some work, but in the end I got chatting to a chap who sat opposite me at Kilmarnock. He opened with a joke (as is traditional in the west of Scotland) and I responded in kind and by the time it became clear this was someone I’d probably steer well clear of on Twitter (pro Brexit, anti Independence, and an HGV driver who when he learned I was a cyclist asked me to tell my colleagues to cycle as far to the left as was possible) I actually quite liked the guy. So instead of hiding behind my laptop – the in-person equivalent of muting him – I decided to keep talking. After all, we’re all about getting out of our bubbles these days. I didn’t try and tackle anything contentious – but I asked him about his life and work (as he’d asked me about mine) and learned a lot about the pressures he is under – paid less than he was 30 years ago, coping with busier roads and worse drivers, under intrusive surveillance, competing with drivers who know less than he does and generally fed up with it all. But he also talked about the good things – seeing the length and breadth of the country, meeting interesting people, and the joys of an early morning run when it’s just him and the scenery and the wildlife, including one stag that stood blocking his way and wouldn’t move because it genuinely did think it owned the road.

No great revelations were had on either side, but we parted on good terms, having agreed that it was a shame kids didn’t have anywhere safe to cycle these days, and perhaps he learned something too – about why a bike might be in the middle of the road and that the person on board could just as well be the nice middle-aged lady he chatted to on the train, just trying to keep herself safe, as some tosser in lycra who was obliviously holding him up as he tried to get on with his job.

Glasgow cycle path

All in all, perhaps not such a waste of time after all.

Far From Disgruntled

January 19, 2020

frozen moss on wall

It’s been a long time since I was Disgruntled Commuter, so it was a nice nostalgia trip to appear in the paper as a ‘disgruntled cyclist‘ instead (although I can only apologies for our failure to be photographed in proper angry person in local paper style – we were feeling quite pleased with ourselves at the time and weren’t expecting the story to get any actual coverage).

Inevitably when these sort of stories appear we get comments asking why cyclists have to clear their own paths, while motorists get their roads maintained for them. Obviously the main point of such an exercise (apart from actually clearing the path) is embarrassing the council into doing something about it although at the moment Bigtownshire Coonsil is proving itself unembarrassable and keeps sending us tweets thanking us for our efforts and volunteer spirit.

And I would also like it noted that this morning, we headed down to the bottom of our road to the icy spot on the corner and spread some grit on it ourselves.

our road

Because frankly, when your road looks like this, you really can’t expect anyone to grit it for you. We’re fortunate to have not one but two nice full grit bins – one handily outside our gate – and we’re perfectly happy to do a bit of amateur gritting as needed.

Either way brisk walk on a frosty morning and a little purposeful activity to work off our morning cinnamon rolls really is no hardship indeed.

frosty woods

Heat Treatment

July 26, 2019

In this week’s edition of ‘be careful what you wish for’ – after a day spent energetically trolling the weather gods on Twitter, I was rewarded with the arrival of the heatwave in Bigtown yesterday, about 48 hours after everyone else had been forced to freeze their bedlinen to get a decent night’s sleep.

It was so hot, I even abandoned my tweed cap and gloves for the cycle down to Bigtown, where the drivers were extra grumpy (hello actually swerving at the cyclist for the temerity of existing) and the tar was melting on the roads. A few chips of stone stuck to my tyres aside, there’s little a heatwave can do (beyond heatstroke) to hamper my cycling – I just cycled even slower than I normally do and enjoyed the experience of being warm.

No such luck for my visiting friend who had hoped to escape London’s heat with a weekend in Scotland and instead got to spend 3 hours on a sweltering train outside Euston while our rail infrastructure went into meltdown. By the time she was rescued and taken back to Euston, even the Virgin rail staff weren’t recommending she get onto any of their trains so she is trying again today.

It did mean she missed our evening’s entertainment: the heat had brought thunderstorms to Bigtown below us so we switched off the internet (we’ve lost 2 routers since we moved to a house on the top of a hill …), and sat on the bench with a beer in the evening sunshine, watching it pass by us safely by.

approaching storm

According to the forecast, this now pretty much concludes our summer. If anyone’s feeling a bit hot still in London, bear that in mind as we put our jumpers back on and wonder how soon before we can start lighting the fire. Or come up and join us, always assuming you can find a working train.

Home. And Away

January 22, 2019

I’m back from London after far too many social engagements for someone of my normally retiring habits. I’d normally be looking forward to a restful few days to recover (and a chance to catch up with the blog) but this is only a brief pit stop to pick up clean pants and our funeral clothes before flying off to France to say goodbye properly to my brother in law.


Normal service will resume next week.

Dirty Ol’ City

January 18, 2019

Ah yes, you know you’re in London when – in among the normal notices about standing well clear of the doors and taking care when exiting the train – you hear the following announcement

‘Please don’t urinate in the passages. Will men stop urinating in the passages. Will the man in the passage between platforms 3 and 4 please stop urinating in it.’

They say Londoners wouldn’t turn their heads to look at someone even if their hair was on fire, but I can assure you that the man who finally emerged from the passageway between platforms 3 and 4 had our full attention.

Sometimes I wonder whether I should make the effort to get back to my native city more often than once a year. This wasn’t one of those occasions.

Times Tables

November 19, 2018

What with one thing and another, I seem to have spent the last three weeks on a train with one or other of my bikes. This weekend it was Glasgow and the Go Bike AGM where I was filling in for my little sister as a speaker. Bigtown to Glasgow is usually pretty civilised by train, as long as you check the football schedules before making any plans – the train is slow but scenic and takes six bikes without any need to effectively lock yourself in a cupboard and have faith that someone will let you out, unlike when travelling on Virgin, so the big bike gets to go, which is fortunate as Glasgow has potholes that would swallow a Brompton whole.

bike on train platform

There’s a snag, however. I stayed overnight in Glasgow so I wouldn’t have to be rushing for the last train or, indeed, suffer the horror that is the last train out of Glasgow on a Saturday, a journey that can sometimes be a bit … lively. Unfortunately this meant that the first train I could get home on a Sunday was at 3 in the afternoon (and the next one after that at 10), which is the sort of service you might expect from a country bus, not the direct train service between Scotland’s largest city and a fairly major town about 75 miles away. So my kind hosts were stuck with me not just overnight but well into Sunday lunchtime too.

Fortunately, it being a sunny morning and they being cyclists too, they had just the plan to fill the morning. A nice pootle round Pollok Park (and fortunately it was a pootle – these being people who think nothing of 100 mile days on the bike), followed by brunch after we’d worked up an appetite. Brunch isn’t something that’s quite reached Bigtown yet as far as I know, so it was a welcome novelty. Indeed, it was a bit of a novelty not to be rushing anywhere, so maybe the Bigtown Sunday train service has a point.

cycling in Pollok Park

Today I had the luxury of having nowhere I needed to get to other than a ride out for the paper, and nothing I had to do except make inroads into a stack of work that’s building up. I don’t think it will last – indeed I have to be in Edinburgh on Thursday, having forced lots of Important People to rearrange their schedules because – guess what – the train service meant I’d have to spend three hours hanging around before the meeting if it had been at its originally scheduled time. Ironically enough, it’s at Transport Scotland (and yes they’ve had some full and frank feedback about rail services to the South West) but it turns out even they can’t make the Transpennine Express stop at Lockerbie on a reasonable schedule.

I seem to remember I used to spend quite a lot of time complaining about the train service in London back in the day. Man, I didn’t even know I was born …


April 20, 2018

You know, when you have lived somewhere for almost 10 years (and how did that happen, I want to know), you start to think you’ve got a grip on the place and its little ways and strange customs like talking to strangers on buses. And then you have a conversation in your writers’ group that goes like this:

Local person: yes, it was like at the flounder tramping when I just couldn’t bring myself to stand on a flounder.

Other local person: oh God, they’re so wriggly, I don’t blame you.

Me: Wait, whoa, hang on, back up a minute. Flounder tramping?

So it turns out, there used to be an annual event where you waded out into the sea to go and stand on flounders (you can get a flavour of the excitement here).

Sadly (or perhaps happily if you’re a flounder) it has apparently since been banned on health and safety grounds – although not, presumably, the flounders’. You snooze, you lose, even in the world of bonkers rural pursuits it seems.