“Activism …

September 18, 2017

… is such hard work”, commented one of my fellow trouble makers as she topped up my teacup and settled back down in her deck chair.

tea break

It’s true that lots of what I do to try and bring about better conditions for active travel is quite hard work – POP doesn’t organise itself, and there always seems to be an endless stream of blog posts and press releases to be written, flyers to be printed and handed out, routes to be planned and meetings to attend.

So our little Park(ing) Day event in Bigtown on Friday was a revelation. All we had to do was show up, throw together a small park (easier than it sounds when your co-conspirators are already guerrilla gardeners) and sit back and enjoy the almost sunshine as local businesses brought out tea and biscuits. A tiny window of time to sit and chat and just enjoy the day while also making Bigtown a better place, if only for a day.

tea and biscuits

As protests go, this one has to be the most chilled ever.


Unexciting Ford News

September 14, 2017

I had a prescription to pick up this afternoon, at Nearest Village, and then needed to head to Bigtown to get the paper. As these are in opposite directions to each other, the sensible thing to do would have been to head directly to Nearest Village and then turn around and head to Bigtown, but we’ve already established that that just seems like a waste of time, so I decided to take the back route out of the village, down one of my favourite hills, and swing by the ford, partly for old time’s sake, but mainly because I had received word that the road there was to be closed due to essential ford maintenance works.

road heading downhill

This seemed like an exciting opportunity to catch the concrete fairy at work (that being the only other maintenance the ford has ever received in this blog’s lifetime), so off I went pausing only to wonder why it is that you can never take a picture of a road that gives any real sense of how steeply it is either rising or falling (actually, I also paused to take a photo of the impressive looking spider on the bike racks at the doctor’s surgery, but because my phone camera will never focus in on an interesting close object when there’s a fascinating stretch of concrete behind it to focus on instead, you’ll just have to believe me).

One swooping descent later, I reached the ford, to discover that nothing was happening, probably because it was running with 5 inches of water, although why the coonsil (or the concrete fairy) hadn’t thought this might be the case after a month when it has rained most days at least some of the time, I don’t know.

the ford, unchanged

More on this non-story as it develops.

Meanwhile, down in Bigtown, something stirs

How Much Wood can a Wood Chipper Chip?

September 8, 2017

It was all go outside my study window this morning as men arrived bearing machinery…

wood chipper

Our beautiful copper beech tree, which has been planted too close to the power line that goes over our property, was due a bit of a haircut.

copper beech before

It’s a shame because it wants to be a huge and imposing tree, and we are forced to keep reducing it back down to the size and shape of a lollipop, but it’s better than losing the tree. Someone who knows more about trees than me can undoubtedly explain why it’s gone from purple to green in the process

copper beech after

While they were there, they agreed to give the goat willow pollard, which is also large and imposing but really in the wrong place, an even more radical haircut. It will grow back; I think it’s technically impossible to kill a willow.

goat willow before

It was all done with impressive speed (I have pollarded trees and that willow would have taken me about a week, rather than the 20 minutes it took them) and left us with a nice stack of willow logs which won’t make particularly brilliant firewood but are unexpectedly decorative in cross section. We also got a nice pile of wood chippings for the garden and would have had an even larger one if they could have dropped off the pile they already had in their truck but they had already lost an argument with our gatepost and decided against further manoeuvres.

willow logs

In theory, this should let the sun into what we are only half jokingly calling the Mediterranean garden (it’s where the olive tree is after all)

mediterranean garden

If the sun ever makes an appearance, I’ll let you know how that goes.

Meanwhile, there is exciting news of the ford, but that will have to wait for another day.

Turning Left in September

September 3, 2017

Alert readers may have noticed that I have not so far held my Anniversaire this year. This was not because I had given up in the face of the ever-increasing distance, but because this year I decided to join forces with my cycling partner in crime, and as both she and I are busy women, it took us a little time to actually schedule a date that we could both make. This weekend was that date – and fortunately St Swithin relented (almost) long enough for a few days of determinedly non-epic cycling, epic amounts of cake, and what must be the least epic camping possible.

Never ones to do things by halves, Suzanne and Lizzie arrived on the Friday evening by train, cycled with me to the house, and pitched their tents on our front lawn.* On Saturday, we cycled back down to Bigtown to pick up three more nutters who think that riding 48 miles for no reason other than to celebrate it not being my birthday was a good way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

group at the station, ready to set off

In order to fulfil my own daft microadventure rules, we also had to ride a new-to-me route – starting out along the route of my last adventure, but then turning left. Fortunately, the weather was much improved – I’m not sure I could have handled another day in the pouring rain, however good the company. Other than a new route the rest of it followed established protocol:

A stop at a cafe to refuel

cafe open

Enjoying the incredibly empty and picturesque backroads of Bigtownshire, something I never tire of sharing with people who haven’t cycled them yet

empty roads

Riding at the speed of chat (you know that the pace has gone awry when you can’t hear everyone yacking away as we pedal along), with plenty of stops along the way to admire the view, take off or put on layers as the sun went in and out, and check the map.


And most importantly, stuffing ourselves with tea and cake once we got home, before a final loop to mop up the crucial last mile.**

Apart from one short stretch of road, it was extremely pleasant all round – including an amazing 3-mile descent with just the right combination of steepness, bendiness, and lack-of-carness to make it a pure joy. It was perhaps a little bit too up-and-down to be completely chilled, and my legs are making sure to tell me all about it today whenever I need to go upstairs (or indeed get off the sofa), but I still feel that this is by far the most civilised way to mark the passing of the years, and I hope one that I will continue for as long as the years mount up.

anniversaire final figures

The final tally

Thank you to those who came and all who continue to indulge me in this endeavour …

* they were offered actual beds inside the actual house, but apparently they preferred sleeping outside in all their clothes to ward of hypothermia, because – okay, I never quite fathomed that part, but hey ho, takes all sorts and all that

** I had slightly miscalculated the distance, so we ended up with a final bit of off-road madness up the track behind our house to get the last 0.67 miles in. If I’d realised earlier, we could have made a slight detour to visit the ford. Maybe next year …

Peak Swallow

August 25, 2017

If there’s one thing we’ve missed since we moved to the new house, it’s been having a whole shed just for the swallows which meant a ringside seat when the various broods fledged and – having mastered the whole swooping-out-of-the-window trick – started practising their flying around the yard. Indeed, having resident swallows is a great way of marking the passage of the seasons: from the cheery moment when the first one arrives back from Africa, chattering busily about its journey, to the sudden silence when you realise that they have gone, and they didn’t even say goodbye.

trainee swallows

Trainee swallows on the roof below our bedroom window. Paving beyond demonstrates our relaxed gardening approach …

So we were pleased when we looked out of the window the other morning and discovered not one but dozens of swallows, some still clearly novice flyers, swooping round our garden and perching all over the roof of the house. At one point there were well over 30 all lined up on the wires, and it’s been very distracting trying to work with a bird zooming past my study window at warp speed approximately every 30 seconds.

Not having hosted their nests in our own garden means we can’t feel quite such a sense of proprietorial pride in these birds but, as the other half pointed out, at least our somewhat relaxed attitude to gardening means there’s plenty of insect life around for them to hoover up. Plus there’s the fact that I ride so slowly up the hill that I’ve usually gathered my own personal cloud of flies by the time I get to the house (and if the swallows were to learn that and start greeting my approach by swooping round my head for a free snack, how cool would that be?).

swallow food

We have various plans for the garden, from a greenhouse to a sitooterie* but so far they have not quite extended to building a swallow shed, especially as both the neighbouring farms feature steadings with plenty of swallow habitat. Still, if a corner of the garden somewhere proves hospitable to hirundines (house martins are also welcome, and possibly easier to accommodate), then that will be a massive plus. Meanwhile, we shall continue to enjoy any birds who grace us with their presence, however fleeting.

* The place in the garden where you can sit oot, obviously

Bikes Bearing Gifts

August 21, 2017

Heading out for the paper this lunchtime after a hard morning compiling the Cycling Embassy Bike Blog Roundup, I was startled to discover someone had left a mysterious offering on the doorstep.

plastic bag

A plastic bag! That’s worth 5p you know

A quick glance inside revealed blackcurrant cuttings, but no note. I was puzzled because I didn’t think any of the tiny handful of people who live within walking distance of us would be bringing blackcurrant cuttings unannounced, but I definitely had not heard a car.

blackcurrant cuttings

A message on my phone quickly cleared up the mystery: my friend with the e-bike had taken advantage of its ability to zoom effortlessly up hills to drop them off. Clearly I was too absorbed to hear her knock on the door – and the bike was too silent to alert me to her arrival. As downsides to e-bikes go, it’s pretty minor but I’m sorry to have missed her, if only so I could see for myself what The Hill is like on the bike.

Anyway, the blackcurrants have been potted up and will make a fine addition to our fruit cage when we actually get around to putting one up. They’ll probably be full size by then …

blackcurrant cuttings potted up

Say Hello and Wave Goodbye

August 20, 2017

Stopping in to buy a paper on my way to catch the train to Glasgow yesterday morning, I had the nicest little encounter. A woman in the queue said hello to me as if she knew me and asked me how I was, which isn’t that unusual around here – I’m forever meeting people out of context and racking my brains to work out how I know them – but this time I had no sense that I recognised her at all. So I said hello back and asked how she was, and then she said something about me being always out on my bike. So we chatted about that for a bit, and she told me that she used to ride a bike but she had sold hers because she was now too scared to go out on the roads and I told her that I didn’t blame her one bit, and that there were some roads I only rode on because I was bloody minded, and the traffic frightened me too. And we had a real meeting of minds about needing better conditions on the roads, and terrifying lorries, and not needing to dress up specially to ride a bike and it was all lovely, although sad that one more person has been frightened off the roads.

But I still didn’t know how I knew her – or she knew me – until it emerged that she has been seeing me out on the bike for the last few months while driving and she has been acknowledging me and I have been acknowledging her (because I will always raise a hand in thanks at any driver who doesn’t actively endanger my life which is in fairness most of them). Except of course she is in a car so I have no idea what she looks like whereas I am extremely recognisable to her. So when she saw me in the shop, she felt that we had already become friendly, just through our interactions on the road. I shall have to keep an eye out for her car (fortunately she described it to me) and make sure to give her an extra friendly wave from now on.

It’s easy sometimes, especially when it’s raining and things are all a bit grim, to start to feel a bit beleaguered by the drivers out there, and ascribe all sorts of things to them (impatience, irritation, aggression) that they aren’t actually feeling at all. So it’s good to know that at least one of those metal boxes out there harbours someone who feels warm and friendly towards cyclists, feels a bit guilty about not being one, and looks out for you on the road. It left me with a nice warm feeling of my own, and a renewed determination to keep being polite and friendly to everyone on the road.