Beating Around the Bush

July 19, 2017

Alert observers around here may have noticed in recent days a cyclist going even more slowly than normal along one stretch of road, sometimes even on the wrong side of it, paying more attention to the hedgerow than the (fortunately non-existant) traffic. The cyclist, for I am she, has been looking for that damned gooseberry bush ever since I first met gooseberry man and has been seriously beginning to wonder if he and his gooseberries were an elaborate, if disappointingly quotidian, hallucination.

Today, I thought I’d give it one last go. I’d even googled pictures of gooseberry bushes to be sure I knew what to look our for. I cycled down along the stretch of the road where I’d see gooseberry man at effectively walking pace, peering at every bush. The whole way down the road, and nothing. Crossed at the crossroads, picked up speed, glanced over to my left and bingo.


Please tell me these are gooseberries …

Of course by this time I was running late so I didn’t have time to stop to pick any, and besides, I actually have no idea how to tell if they are ripe. A quick further google suggests that they are ripe when they are neither too soft nor too hard, which leaves me none the wiser. I shall have to go down and give them all a squeeze tomorrow.

Exciting Food Miles News

July 14, 2017

On a somewhat frustrating shopping trip this afternoon* I passed a man burrowing in a hedge who turned out to be foraging for gooseberries. We’ve been enthusiastic pickers of raspberries and blackberries, but gooseberries in the hedgerow is a new one for me, and I was all set to pick a few of my own on the way back, but it turns out that it’s much harder to spot gooseberry bushes in a hedgerow when there isn’t someone picking them, and by the time I had worked out I had overshot I was buggered if I was going back down the hill to look again. Watch this space. Or, you know, don’t.

I also forgot to take out any cash, which means our planned expedition to the community-owned pub in New Nearest Village has had to be postponed. We’ve only lived here almost a year, and have yet to manage to actually get to it.

On the other hand, the stars (pound coin, need for eggs, remembering need for eggs, eggs actually present) have finally aligned and I have managed to buy eggs at the New Cottage That Sells Eggs.

Cottage that sells eggs

New Cottage that Sells Eggs. I feel those screeching tyre marks tell a story …

And they say cyclists don’t contribute to the local economy.

* The shiny new Aldi, which has an entrance off the cycle path, thus saving a frustrating wait for a standard Bigtown Issue toucan crossing which is designed on the assumption that people like nothing more than standing on an island in the middle of a four-lane road, breathing in fumes, and which also doesn’t require you to cycle past the exit of the KFC drive thru, but which does require a certain level of athletic ability, doesn’t sell pine nuts. Or Guardians. And now for the life of me I can’t think why I thought it might. Nice cycle parking though.

Ride Leader

July 1, 2017

So, one advantage of how slowly I cycle up the hill on my way home is that if the cows are standing at the gate at the field near the top then I can start talking to them as I approach and – because they are cows and are generally a bit bored and possibly hoping for tasty cow treats – when I then tell them to follow me as I pass …

hello cows

… they generally do.

This probably amuses me more than it should.

Turning Left in June

June 16, 2017

As regular readers of this blog know I’ve been trying to get out at least once a month and do a ride which takes me somewhat out of my comfort zone. As I hinted in my last blog, I had plans yesterday to do a cycle ride which I’d been contemplating for a while but always finding an excuse not to do. Not because it was a particularly difficult route or even that long. But I knew I was a bit worried about my plans for my latest adventure when I awoke from an anxiety dream in which I’d left my Brompton on a plane…

Normally, when I go to Edinburgh by train, I go from Lockerbie because it’s the nearest mainline station. It’s about 19 miles from the house, and we always allow an hour in the car because there’s a chance of getting caught up in traffic and the trains only go every two hours. If I can’t get a lift, I cycle down to Bigtown and get the bus from there, allowing two hours because of not wanting to miss the bus. This can be a little anxiety making when you’re trying to catch a train and I try and not spend *all* of the time when I’m waiting for the bus making elaborate contingency plans for what happens if the bus doesn’t turn up, and mostly fail, but so far I haven’t actually needed to implement any of them and I’m getting almost sanguine about the process. I could cycle the whole distance in about the same time as I allow for the bike+bus, but most of it would be on a hideous road – busy with lorries, fast, largely uphill, and only just wide enough so that there’s no space at all for a person on a bike, particularly a person on a Brompton laden with cake, who isn’t particularly speedy at the best of times. Trying to take primary on a road like that holding up streams of traffic trying to catch the train doesn’t really bear thinking about.

But then someone posted an alternative route that was ‘only’ five miles longer and only included a tiny stretch of A road and looped round through new cycling territory for me. It was worth exploring as an option for people who wanted to get a full size bike to the station and couldn’t use the bus. The problem was managing to navigate it (all of the directions on Google were of the ‘turn left on unknown road then turn right onto unknown road’ variety), and doing so under pressure of time, plus did I mention I was on the Brompton? A couple of times I had the option of doing it, but then bottled it, and yesterday, when the opportunity arose, the weather forecast wasn’t too bad, and I generally had enough time, I knew I would have to do it or I would never attempt it at all.

I tried to keep my contingency planning, while elaborate, on the sane side of the line. I don’t have turn by turn navigation on my phone (or the relevant OS map, unfortunately) but I printed out the Cycle Streets route and step-by-step directions (which were extremely comforting en route). I allowed an extra half an hour on top of the 2.5 hours I calculated it would take me. I made sure I had taxi money and the number of the station cab firm in case of a mechanical issue. And I’d identified a number of bail-out points where, if I decided half way through that the whole idea was insane, I could cut across and catch the bus after all. I also, during some of the longer uphill stretches, worked out what I would do if I missed the train. I sometimes wonder just what I could achieve if half of my mental cycles weren’t habitually taken up with lining up not just a plan B but plans C, D and E as well.

At Bigtown, with plenty of time in hand, I realised that my contingency planning hadn’t involved what I would eat, or the fact that the Brompton doesn’t have a water bottle, so I stopped for emergency supplies (pork pies, Snickers bars and water – the lunch of champions) and set off, passing my normal bus stop with only a small pang of anxiety. I had time. It would be fine.

millhousebridge house

A signpost! A rare sight on the back roads

And, to cut a long story short, it was fine. There was one stretch of A road where I had the option of either sticking on the road for an extra mile, or taking a triangular detour that involved a nasty hill, and after the first car had passed me at speed, I had no hesitation in taking the detour (so little hesitation, in fact, that I received some words of advice from the gentleman in the white van behind me, although as the only word I could decipher was ‘cyclists!’ I was unable to take it) even though it meant walking up the hill. Once past the three crossings of the A road, I was then safely onto the back roads and although I had a few anxieties about taking the wrong road and could really really have done with a nice reassuring map, actually the navigation was quite straightforward. I had been pushing myself to keep up the pace for the first 15 miles, which left me gasping for breath at one point, but as the miles ticked down I realised that I did actually have plenty of time, and I could relax, even take a few photos.

road ahead

Smooth tarmac, and empty road and a tail wind. How often does that happen?

And then there was one point where the wind was at my back, the sun had come out, I had time in hand, and I was on a road that rolled out ahead of me with mile after mile of beautifully smooth empty tarmac, and I was just flying. I must have looked quite a sight on my “clown bike”, Brompton basket laden in front of me, backpack on my back, caning it down the road with a big grin on my face, but who cares. I had done it. Oh, and I got to the station with half an hour to spare. Never have two snack-sized pork pies tasted sweeter than they did on the platform waiting for the train.

Brompton at the station

It would probably have been more aero without the two laminated POP posters on the back (I could hear them flapping in the wind) but I’m never taking them off …

The irony of it all is that I was on my way to an evening listening to women who think nothing of riding across Canada or Kyrgystan or even the length of the UK with about the same level of preparation that I put into cycling to the station.

On the other hand it is ridiculous that what should be a straightforward 12 mile journey between two key towns in the region – not exactly ‘everyday cycling’ territory, but an easily doable occasional trip – turns into a 17 mile odyssey through unsigned rural back roads for those who prefer not to fear for a their lives on their bikes (and we’ll draw a veil over the stretch of ‘Notional Cycling Network’ that runs alongside the motorway on the run in to Lockerbie).

Imagine what levels of cycling might be unleashed if we built actual decent direct safe cycling routes that meant cycling to the station didn’t have to feel like an epic ride across Canada, albeit without the bears.

Hope Springs

June 7, 2017

I’m trying to distract myself from the election, which has gone from a head-in-hands, can’t-watch horrorshow to something much more painful – the faintest dawning glimmer of hope that we might not end up with a Tory landslide on our hands. Obviously, that will just make Friday morning even more crushing so instead I bring you the fruits of a project I’ve been working on in the background for the last few weeks entitled ‘discovering how difficult it is to do a timelapse properly’.

We have a wood on the way to our house which is just lovely, and I’ve been trying to record the way it has been changing over the seasons. Woods generally are very difficult to capture properly, and trying to get a consistent image (never mind the lighting) is harder still, as I think my efforts probably demonstrate. But if you squint a bit and apply your imagination I hope you will catch some feeble reflection of what I was attempting to do.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Enjoy. You have until Friday morning to feel that sense of springlike optimism pervading your soul.


June 5, 2017

I promised you progress updates on the gas pipeline, and I have not forgotten – indeed I have been unreasonably excited about the whole project (which is enormous – you keep coming across it snaking over the hills in the back roads in places that seem unexpected given that it’s supposedly heading directly for Ireland. I suspect this is more a combination of topography and my poor sense of direction than – as was cynically suggested last weekend – which farmers were willing to part with a strip of their land for the least amount of money as I’m guessing that is the least of the expenses in pipeline laying projects). The thing that caught my imagination was reading that they weld the pipe together in kilometre-long stretches above ground and then dig the trench and crane* the whole thing in in one go.

So anyway, I really was hoping I’d manage to be passing when that happened as it sounded like it would be quite a sight. And I’ve been keeping an eye out for any sign of the ditch digging part, on my trips to and from Bigtown, reasoning that once they’d got the ditches dug the whole lifting in part would be imminent. Early last week, when I stopped for a chat, to try and discreetly gauge progress, there was no sign yet of any digging. But I had been lulled into a false sense of security because, when I cycled down to Bigtown on Sunday to oversee some slow bicycle races, there it was, leaning against a hillside …

pipeline buried

gone …

I might have to go on a little pipeline safari to see if there are any signs of trench digging elsewhere along the route and stake it out.

* actually they use sidebooms, not cranes, as I was told by one of the workmen a little scathingly. Ahem. I knew that, obviously. Nobody would mistake a crane for a sideboom, she says, googling furiously.

Turning Left in May

May 26, 2017

As part of our commitment to get out of our comfort zones in our lives, both Back on my Bike and I have been separately trying to go on at least one small adventure a month this year. This month, we hatched a plan that involved meeting her and a fellow cycling pal at the next train station along on the line to Glasgow and cycling with them to their campsite where they were going to take part in Bigtownshire’s biennial cycling fest, the KM Rally.

What’s so adventurous about that, you might ask – for it’s a ride I’ve done a couple of times before so hardly counts as a new adventure. Well, I had a cunning plan:

Rather than rely on my own knowledge of the route, or her phone’s satnav, she was going to have to navigate the old fashioned way.

Dangerous Hill

Admiring the ‘dangerous hill’ sign

Fortunately, I seemed to have left the Scottish weather in Colorado and we have been having some distinctly Colorado weather in Scotland, so there was no hardship in stopping to consult the map from time to time, preferably in a shady spot. Indeed, so unScottish was the weather, that we ran out of water and had to ask a householder on the road to fill them for us. He looked satisfyingly in awe at the distance we were cycling (actually no more than 30 miles with no wrong turnings – despite her protestations, Suzanne proved more than capable of navigating) and not only refilled them but added ice too, which was extremely welcome and went some way towards making up for the only tearoom on the route being firmly shut by the time we arrived at 3:30 pm ready to buy All The Cake. Their loss …

shady road

Other than that, it was just a question of enjoying the quiet back roads, breathing in the heady scent of the hawthorn blossom, exclaiming over the scenery and generally enjoying Bigtownshire cycling at its best.

on the road

On the whole, the area doesn’t do a lot to sell itself as a destination for cycle tourers, or for anything else. We decided that this was because the average Scot, when asked to big up their area, would probably concede that it was ‘awright’. Before adding that ‘it’s no Spain, mind’.

Not Spain

It’s no Spain …

Actually, today, it came fairly close. It wasn’t the fastest ride ever, but it was certainly the most enjoyable day out on the bike that I’ve had for a while. And look!

Achievement unlocked.