Kicking the Can Down the Road

November 18, 2021

Life’s been gradually returning back to normal after all the excitement of COP26 and Glasgow and I seem to have finally cleared most of the outstanding post-event tasks, and even begun to catch up with the huge list of things that had been put on the pile marked ‘After COP’, some more glamorous than others …

Although as it happens, our septic tank is fine, despite not having been emptied, or even looked at, since we bought the house – it didn’t even smell too bad, which is a sign that its bacteria are working away nicely. And there’s something very satisfying about ticking something off your to do list that’s been nagging away at the back of your mind as something that ought to be sorted for over five years.

No such sense of satisfaction is looming for the Scottish Government, sadly, at least when it comes to its long awaited and now once more delayed deposit return scheme. This is incredibly disappointing, especially as they set up one of their shiny new Green ministers to announce it. It’s not just about litter and unsightliness of drinks cans (and broken bottles) along the hedgerows – each unrecycled aluminium can means an extra 8 times its weight in additional carbon emissions.

can caught in hedgerow

I’m still picking up cans when I’m out on the bike and every single time I go into town I easily find at least four – and that’s on just 5 miles of not very busy rural roads. Indeed, today I’d met my ‘quota’ before I’d even got half way into town. I’ve been looking forward to finding fewer of them once the deposit scheme kicked in (or failing that, having developed a lucrative new sideline). But now it seems I’ll have to keep on picking them up pro bono for the indefinite future. Which is bad news for the planet, as the scheme was expected to cut emissions by 160,000 tonnes a year, meaning every day this scheme is delayed, will cause over 400 tonnes of extra emissions.

After all the talk of the urgency of tackling climate change, and the need to get emissions down now, not at some time in the future, it’s beyond dispiriting to hear that this most anodyne and undisruptive of measures is being held up – and that by a government which fancies itself as a climate leader. What’s going to happen once they try and implement something properly difficult? They’ve announced that they’re aiming to cut car kilometres by 20% by 2030 for instance. Now that really will be interesting to watch …

old moss covered hawthorn bush

A Hard Pass

October 3, 2021
cyclist riding along an empty rural road

We were once advised never to buy a house with ‘Mill’ in the name, advice which has stood us in good stead over the years, and a sound principle to live by. In recent weeks I’ve been wondering whether to add a codicil: never to plan a bike ride with ‘Pass’ in its name (especially if it tends to appear in lists of the ‘100 greatest climbs in Scotland’). Despite such wisdom, this morning saw me setting off, with some trepidation, on a ride that would take me over not one but two named passes: the Mennock, and the Dalveen.

Start of the climb to Wanlockhead

The reason is that as part of the Pedal on Parliament plans for COP26 we’re planning a two-day ride from Bigtown to Glasgow, and that involves going over one or other of these passes. It seemed sensible to both recce our chosen route and work out whether I personally had the legs for it before committing irrevocably to the venture. And so a 70-mile Sunday spin was planned with my riding companion to go out up the Mennock, and back down the Dalveen, and see how we fared.

In preparation, I made the mistake of googling the Mennock Pass, just to see what it was like. Unfortunately, what this threw up was mainly discussion of gradients (and the terrifying fact that the climb was ‘longer than Alpe d’Huez’, although this turned out to be only if you head all the way up to the radar station at the top of the hill). It turns out that most descriptions of cycle climbs on the internet start and end with how steep and long they are, without any information about what they’re like to actually cycle on.

Looking back down the Mennock Pass

So here’s my attempt at a corrective: the Mennock Pass is bloody lovely. It’s a long old climb, true, but it’s not an impossible one. The road takes you up between soaring hills, but it follows the river valley for the most part and with the hills on either side to give perspective, it barely feels as if you’re climbing for most of it.* There are signs that it’s been infested with camper vans over the summer (from the number of bins supplied at every possible pull-off point) – not so much ‘wild camping’ as ‘fly camping’ as my pal calls it.

sunshine and looming clouds

The weather was Octoberish: we started in bright sunshine, watched the looming clouds gather, pedalled on through showery rain, braced ourselves against chilly winds, admired a sudden rainbow, and found ourselves back in the warmth of the sun again – and that was just the first five minutes (a pattern which repeated itself for the next eight hours).

Wanlockhead - Highest Village in Scotland sign

We had planned to stop at the pub in Wanlockhead, which very much wants you to know that it’s the highest village in Scotland, but by the time we arrived we had the bit between our teeth and paused only to eat an emergency pork pie (in possibly the least well chosen picnic spot imaginable) and enjoy our flasks of coffee before pressing up the final stretch of the climb. We were briefly tempted by the bar of the highest residential hotel in Scotland, in Leadhills (is there another kind?) but settled for raiding the shop for supplies and then turned right for an excellent descent down towards Elvanfoot, and back round to the Dalveen Pass for a descent into a headwind so brutal we were pedalling all the way down. The Dalveen road is bigger and (relatively speaking) busier, so we were relieved to get to the bottom and back onto the tiny empty back roads that make this part of the world so amazing to cycle on.

Descent from Leadhills to Elvanfoot

My legs now ache and I will no doubt be enjoying some tasty thigh cramps during the night (my quads have already given me some warning shots for attempting to move from the sofa during the evening). But the rest of me is feeling refreshed from spending a whole day off my phone and off the computer, with a pal to chat to and some wonderful scenery to take my mind off the tougher parts. Some parts of the ride were so glorious – like the descent from Leadhills – that it was hard not to laugh out loud. In fact maybe I did.

Quiet back road

Having spent a couple of days somewhat dreading this ride, and then ending up loving it it’s got me wondering. If that was one of the 100 greatest climbs in Scotland … what are the other 99 like?

Dalveen pass

Perhaps I might go and find out.

Ford Watch … for Science!

September 23, 2021
low water at ford

One of the nice things about having a blog is the occasional random query you get, sometimes about using one of my photos (I think my high point was when Which Garden magazine printed my picture of a mouse nibbled beetroot), sometimes pitching ridiculously unsuitable guest posts, very rarely* offering me stuff to try, and just occasionally inviting me to take part in some Actual Science.

Yesterday was the turn of the science as I received this enquiry:

I am a second year PhD student at the University of Stirling studying the importance of freshwater environments for promoting health and wellbeing across the Scottish Population. I came across your fab blog and writing and wondered with your interest in the outdoors if you might be interested in taking part in my freshwater diary project.

The aim of the diary project I’m currently organising is to assess how the mental health and wellbeing outcomes associated with accessing freshwater environments might vary over time with changing seasons. Currently, there is a large evidence base detailing the importance of accessing green spaces like parks and woodlands, for reducing stress levels and promoting greater levels of wellbeing. However, less research has focused on the effect of accessing freshwater environments and so my PhD is looking to address this.

The project is running over the course of a year and I am recruiting participants at three monthly intervals to complete a three month freshwater diary. The diaries include a range of tick box questions to assess how calm/relaxed you feel after visiting a freshwater area and also include short questions about your visit. Participants can decide whether they’d like a paper booklet version or would prefer to complete a digital one. Each entry will probably take between 5 and 10 minutes. It’ll only involve writing up to 3 short diary entries per week after visiting a freshwater area. However, it is also fine to take a flexible approach and for instance write two entries per month or whatever suits. Any level of participation in the project is really appreciated! There will also be the opportunity to contribute to an online group photo album and share photos of inland waters in Scotland.

All data will be anonymised in the research process using ID codes rather than participant’s names. The overall idea of the diary is so that we can track how exposure to inland blue spaces can influence mental health outcomes over time – for instance do they consistently lift people’s moods or do other factors have a stronger influence on people’s overall mood.

The next phase of the diaries will start in mid-October so if you would like to take part I can get back in touch closer to the time to arrange sending you a diary to fill in. It’d be great to have you involved but no worries if you’re too busy with work and other projects at the moment!

Anyway, it struck me that since we moved and no longer had easy access to the ford, my interaction with bodies of fresh water has been somewhat limited. And I’m about to go into a super stressful period as we run up to Pedal on COP, so even though I clearly don’t need a new project in my life, it will be a pretty good test of whether something has a calming effect or not. And besides, how often do you get to just go and spend time by a lake, river or, indeed, ford and call it science (I haven’t read the small print or not so I’m not sure whether the ford actually counts, but I like to think it will)?

Anyway, the researcher in question is still looking for participants so if you’re resident in Scotland and interested in taking part, you can get in touch with her here.

Everyone else, have another gratuitous photo of the ford:

ford level

I feel better already …

* by which I mean once.

Paths and Passing Places: A Tale of Three Islands

August 31, 2021
Bow of ferry with the saltire flying

It struck me, as I followed a knight in shining armour (well, he was in fact in lycra, but on a quite shiny road bike) through Irvine late on Saturday afternoon, that this was quite the contrast from the way my day had started. I had risen before dawn to pedal 10 miles down a single-track road on Islay to catch the first of three ferries that would take me home from our island trip and now I was pulling into the right hand lane of a multi-lane junction, dodging buses, lorries and cars, in a last-ditch attempt to catch my train. Having missed a crucial sign on the NCN 73, which allows you to avoid all the multi-lane junction nonsense, but at a cost of extra miles, I had used up all my contingency time trying to find my way back to the path and was beginning to despair when a passing cyclist came to my rescue and led me expertly through some scary roads to deliver me back on the path past all the wiggles and a straight run to the station in Kilmarnock.

Narrow road on Islay

For all the contrast in our surroundings this act of kindness from a stranger seemed a fitting end to a few days on Islay, where the drivers are famously courteous – and, indeed, they need to be. There are many narrow single track roads on Islay, and (at least when we were there, just to the end of the high tourist season) just slightly too many vehicles on them for real comfort. The roads tend to be long and straight, and give you plenty of time to overthink your passing-place strategy as you contemplate yet another approaching vehicle (fore or aft), meaning either periods of interval training as you race to the next passing place to allow everyone to keep moving, or time spent cooling your heels as you wait for a truck, and its attendant procession of following cars, to pass you. On the two-lane roads almost all the passes by drivers were pretty impeccable – fully changing lanes, and waiting for a clear view and a gap in the traffic, but that did mean the occasional build up of queues of vehicles or us needing to pull in occasionally at a field gate or similar if we were conscious of a lorry grinding its gears patiently behind us.

Lorry on narrow road

There’s a persistent undercurrent of opinion among some cycle campaigners that if only drivers would learn to behave around cyclists, then all would be well and everyone could cycle in perfect harmony and we wouldn’t really need any of those pesky cycle paths that are such hard work to campaign for and are never going to go everywhere anyway. From my (admittedly limited) experience, Islay already is that mythical land and … it’s not enough. Cycling felt largely safe and I’m not going to diss the idea of people being polite to each other, because it’s so much better than the alternative, but these are not the conditions to tempt most people out of their cars.

Cyclists on three distilleries path

It’s telling that we saw more bikes on cars on Islay than we saw bums on bikes, except at Port Ellen where the Three Distilleries path starts, and that was also the only place where we saw what I would call ‘civillian’ cyclists, in normal clothes and on ordinary bikes who looked like they were heading for the shops rather than the Tour de France. The Three Distilleries path was also the reason why I’d suggested visiting Islay, because it seems like a model for rural cycle tourism: a no-compromises path set aside from what would otherwise be a very scary coastal road, joining up a local town with three fine opportunities to part tourists from their money in the form of three famous distilleries (in contrast, you can ride 18 miles along the NCN 73 from Kilmarnock to Ardrossan before you come across a single opportunity to spend any of your cash on anything, which is no good for either the local economy or the hungry cyclist).

Ardbeg Distillery

They’d even cut through rocks, incredibly, to make the path work, rather than just dumping the cyclists out onto the road and suggesting they get on with it, or wiggling so much under and over and round that a moderately stressed cyclist with a train to catch can easily lose her way (looking at you again, NCN 73).

Port Charlotte path bollards (with one removed)

This seems to have been so successful that they’ve just built another one, from Port Charlotte to Bruichladdich distillery, which was similarly wide and direct (although with some signs that, brand new as it was, there had already been some adjustment of the bollards to ensure accessibility). With enough distilleries, and enough time (and fortunately the distilleries are fairly evenly scattered across the island) Islay may soon end up with a cycling network, and all those bikes can be taken off the tops of all the cars and ridden around instead, which they’d much prefer.

cyclists leaving path waiting for a car with bikes on the top

Interestingly, the other two islands we visited on our trip had many more cyclists, but very little infrastructure. On Jura, there’s just the one road , and effectively only as much traffic as one busy little ferry can deliver across the strait from Port Askaig, which was not enough to be properly annoying. On the other hand, that road does go up and down and up and down, which has the benefit of delivering any cyclists to Craighouse, where all the money spending opportunities are, properly hungry.

In the few hours that we spent in the village I’m not ashamed to say that we went to the cafe twice and the pub once and even then we needed to stop at another pub after we’d got off the ferry back in Islay for a restorative cup of tea before tackling the climb out of Port Askaig. Seriously, if you want high spending visitors to keep your cafes, shops and pubs open, welcome in the cyclists.

Sitting at a pub beer garden table

Arran was another kettle of fish altogether. Objectively, it’s the least pleasant of the islands to cycle on, with no infrastructure, massive hills, plenty of traffic, and the sort of narrow two-lane roads that I go out of my way to avoid on the bike normally. It is also absolutely hoaching with cyclists, especially on a sunny Saturday in August (apparently there had been around 100 come in on a single ferry that morning). These were almost all, to a man (and they were about 90 percent male), whippet-like creatures in lycra on equally whippet-like bikes – I had time to observe them as they passed me one by one on the climb out of Lochranza, usually with an encouraging word to me as they zipped by. They too are undoubtedly keeping the local cake-based economy topped up nicely, and must be pure jam to the ferry company (or at least its catering division from the way they made a beeline for the cafe as soon as they got on board).

Arran road

I joke, but it was just such a whippety cyclist who rescued me in Irvine, for which I will be eternally grateful. His kindness meant I got home in good time so I could be up early for yet another bike ride – this time helping to lead a mass ride organised by a local community trust who can not only organise a day of celebration but have also done 80% of the fund raising they need to build a cycle path joining two villages, having decided this would be easier than prodding the coonsil into action to do it for them. In the last couple of years there have been moves locally to promote our own area as a driving destination, hoping to replicate the success of the North Coast 500 (and by ‘success’ they apparently mean ‘having visitors pooing in their laybys‘). How much more amazing would it be to replicate some of those Islay paths along our own twisty and, sadly, lethal coastal roads? We may not have sufficient whisky distilleries to make the basis of a full rural tourism network, but we do have communities who understand that they would benefit from becoming part of the cake-powered economy … it’s just a question of making it happen.

sheep bollard

Well, a girl can dream, can’t she?

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 …

St Swithin’s Day if Thou be Fair

July 15, 2021

In what I think is a first since we moved up here, it has been absolutely gorgeous weather on St Swithin’s Day. Lord knows we need a fine summer in these mad pandemical times, so I’m choosing to put some faith in the fact that this is one of those meteorological legends that has a grain of truth to it,* even if we’re unlikely to actually get 40 days of fine weather from now on.

On the other hand, St Swithin was a mardy bastard who was more into inflicting 40 days of rain on people than 40 days of sunshine, so we also decided to make the most of the fine weather while it lasted, just in case. So a gentle cycle into Bigtown, lunch (and even a glass of wine) in the dappled shade of a cafe terrace garden, and then a swim at the river on the way home. Close your eyes and squint a bit, and we could have been on holiday.

Bike with swimming towel draped over it

If it wasn’t for the fact that I loathe the word in general (and the people who get upset about it being used ‘wrong’ in particular), I might even have called it a staycation.

* As the more accurate version goes: “St Swithin’s day if thou be fair / For forty days, a northerly jet stream might result in some fairly decent spells / But then again it might not”

Cycle Campaigning: The fun part

July 11, 2021

I try not to bang on TOO much about cycling on this blog, and particularly the campaigning side of it (no really, this is genuinely the non-banging-on version) but the truth is it’s effectively a full time job (on top of my other full-time jobs, which include, if the last week is anything to go by, gardening). Yesterday was a case in point. We’ve recently heard that Highways England for some reason has responsibility for maintaining a number of bridges that take roads over disused railway lines and it’s decided to ‘maintain’ them by effectively filling them in with gravel and then concreting it over.

railway bridge arch

This is a serious campaign issue as it would put a giant spanner in any attempts to reopen the old railway line to Stranraer either to trains or, failing that, walkers and cyclists. It’s also extra annoying that an English body can apparently do this to Scottish bridges and the council’s response has been to roll over and let Highways England tickle its tummy.* More to the point, one of the bridges was only a few miles away and we decided a recce would be in order. So yesterday three of us headed out to check out this bridge that was apparently in need of drastic work so that it could support ‘modern traffic levels’ including 40-tonne vehicles.

Along this road.

narrow rural road

Note the heavy modern traffic levels (e-bikes do weigh a fair bit, it’s true, but tend to come in kilograms rather than tonnes …)

e-bike and rider on otherwise empty road

After a gentle ride untroubled by any modern traffic at all apart from one speedy cyclist who needed to overtake us as we bimbled along three abreast, we came to the bridge and did a spot of exploration (they don’t tell you you need advanced fence climbing and bank scrambling skills at cycle campaigner school).

Bank leading down to railway bridge

Having taken photos and extricated myself from a barbed wire fence, we then decided to take the scenic route home.

person looking down over bridge parapet

Because that’s what being a cyclist is really all about.

looking down into a narrow valley from a hillside

(top tip, don’t let the mountain biker suggest the route if you’re not comfortable riding on gravel, which my bike handles like an arthritic giraffe in two-inch heels despite supposedly starting life as a mountain bike back in the 80s. On the other hand, do stop to forage when you find a massive patch of wild strawberries on the way)

stopping to pick wild strawberries

Of course, that still left the actual campaigning part: the social media posts, writing it all up, promoting the petition, raising the issue with local politicians, and also annoying your regular blog readers with cycle campaign chat. So that was Saturday gone, albeit mostly enjoyably. And today will be taken up with ride leading – also a lot of fun – so that’s the weekend gone. It’s worth it, and I think it’s important, but the next time someone asks me why I took over a decade to write my new book I might point them to this post…

* What makes it even MORE annoying is that the other bridge they’re planning to fill in will block a landowner’s access completely to half his fields and they can apparently just do that with no consultation, whereas a single objection by a landowner to any proposed cycle path which might mildly inconvenience their farming activities kicks the whole scheme out of touch for ever.

Visiting Committee

July 8, 2021

Looks like my attempt to catch up with a six month gardening backlog this month is going to happen under supervision …

cows watching over the garden fence

Apart from the return of MooI5 (possibly temporarily – the farmer sometimes puts them onto the field for a few days after cutting it for silage, presumably so they can hoover up anything left around the edges), I’ve also had my annual visit from the garden inspection committee, aka my gardening pal from Old Nearest Village who likes to keep an eye on my progress and make sure I’m not getting too fancy with my notions. This time he did ring ahead so I was forewarned, although not by enough time to actually make a difference.

vegetable beds

A week of time off work has borne some fruit, and fortunately for me, he’s mainly interested in growing food rather than the decorative aspects of gardening, so I did squeak through by the skin of my teeth, bolstered by the fruit cage and the other half’s custodianship of the greenhouse (although it’s rather chastening to look back at last year’s inspection and see how far I am behind even by my own low standards – and I thought I was doing badly last year).

It was also good to catch up with the latest village news. It seems that the coronavirus has mostly passed it by; the oldest inhabitant is still going strong at 101 and undoubtedly getting ready to sweep the board once more at the village show.

With the inspection hurdle out of the way, I can now concentrate on finding the rest of the garden, which I think is in there somewhere. Step one: making room in the compost bins.

The Luxury of Time

June 23, 2021

Since I’ve finished my work deadline (and also got my big bike adventure out of the way) there has finally been time for that most restorative of activities: pottering.

Or specifically, in my case – potting, because a local housing support service was looking for plants and were delighted to find homes for nine of my spider plant babies.*

mass of spider plants

Obviously, this hasn’t made even the slightest dent in the spider plant jungle (we acknowledge that this is their bathroom now, we are just allowed to use it) but it did enable me to trial my double-decker plant carrying solution which should stand me in good stead just as the plant sale season is getting into swing.

Spider plants in bike basket

Today meant a slightly longer adventure: I had a dental appointment in Notso Bigtown which is about 19 miles away and normally we’d drive. But the car is currently in the garage so there was nothing for it but to cycle. I’ve done this before, indeed twice, but I note looking back that on both occasions it was glorious weather whereas today’s weather was of the kind where the forecast insists it isn’t raining and isn’t going to rain, while the actual weather coming out of the sky begs to differ. So it’s entirely likely that had the car been available I would have taken that option but it’s amazing how much easier it is to choose the virtuous (indeed, mildly epic) option when you don’t actually have a choice.

Old military road

Anyway, after (nearly) 100 miles what are 38 miles between friends? And in the end the rain stopped and it was fine, and I even impressed the dental hygienist, which has never happened before.

And because I had time, I could even take a detour to visit an old friend:

the ford

And make a new one.

pony and foal

* I feel I should add for absolute clarity, because this is the internet, that their service is about supporting people who need housing, not houseplants, but that they are using gardening as part of how they support people and were happy to branch out into indoor gardening as well.

The Best-Laid Plans of Bikes and Men…

June 11, 2021

One of the great pleasures of living up here is taking visiting cyclists out on some of my favourite routes and watching them register that yes, we really do have miles and miles of (mostly well connected) all but deserted single track roads where the greatest hazards are the potholes (which are, admittedly, formidable*) and the ever lurking prospect of ASBO Buzzard.

If all had gone to plan (shaping up to be the motto of the 2020s I fear) I would have had three separate sets of visitors to introduce to the delights of Bigtownshire cycling but two have had to cancel on me at short notice. It doesn’t matter how last minute the plans – this weekend’s planned visit was only floated on the Monday and had to be cancelled on Wednesday, giving me a bare 48 hours of happy planning and anticipation of a day of cycling related chat.

Fortunately, I have a local pal who is always up for a ride of pretty much any length and who leads if anything a more secluded life than I do, so can usually be relied upon for last minute shenanigans. Last night, with miles still needed in my legs, we headed off for an evening ride on a route that turned out to be a fairly epic 54 miles (on top of 17 miles earlier in the day on a combined trip for the paper with dropping off a pannier full of books for the church sale**). It wasn’t the most pleasant evening weather wise but, once we’d resigned ourselves to the fact that we’d mostly be riding inside the low hanging cloud that had gathered over the region, it was entirely pleasant in every other way. Most of the back roads are quiet all the time anyway, but once you get past about 8pm, then it turns out that pretty much all the traffic disappears completely. As we bowled along, side by side chatting about Eddington numbers and house purchases and farming jokes and other miscellaneous matters we realised that we couldn’t actually remember when we’d last encountered a car.

After an emergency rehydration pitstop at the pub in Papershop Village (top tip for long cycle rides: a full bidon of water doesn’t do you much good if it’s still sitting on the table in your hallway where you left it while packing up your bike) we even found ourselves riding two abreast down Big A Road for the length of the village, although we did revert to the back road for the final stretch home. And then, once we’d parted company in Old Nearest Village, it was just me and the gathering dusk, a barn owl ghosting along to my left for the final stretch, and the densest cloud of insects I have ever ridden through (it’s always interesting what you have to pick out of your cleavage after these sort of summer rides).

My legs are now aching a little (lesson learned about proper hydration), but I’m glad I did the distance despite the unpromising weather. I’m also somewhat resigned to the fact that even if my best laid plans continue to gang agley, the roads will still be here and there will be other weekends and even other summers for people to come and enjoy them with me…

anniversaire ride

* When I went out on my first ever group ride I tried dutifully pointing out potholes and other road defects as I had been led to believe I was supposed to do. ‘We don’t really bother about that up here,’ the ride leader said. ‘We just assume there are potholes everywhere. If you come across a nice smooth piece of tarmac, feel free to point that out though.’

** I would like to make it clear that I did not take the books on the 54 mile ride as they weigh even more than a full length set of curtains.