Evening All

May 8, 2022

We talk a lot about the lovely long summer days we have up here in Scotland, mostly during the rather less lovely short winter ones, but in my experience once they actually arrive, we (by which I mean ‘I’ of course) aren’t that brilliant at actually making use of them. Yes, it’s now light enough to garden (or insert the outdoor activity of your choice) well after 9pm, but in practice by that time the sofa has called and I have answered and – our post supper stroll to the top of the hill aside – I spend my evenings doing much the same things in May as I did in the dark days of November, just with the curtains open.

However, my plan to do Ride to the Sun at the end of the next month (ulp) may put paid to that. Not only will I be spending one of the very shortest nights of the year joining in this eccentric overnight adventure, but the need to get some more miles in my legs first has meant making the most of the extended daylight. My near daily trips to Bigtown to help the Pepperpots settle in have upped my weekly mileage a bit, but I feel that if I’m going to pull off another century ride, I need to be doing at least 100 miles a week and I’m not quite hitting that yet. Time is at a premium, as it always is, but with the cycle campaigning easing off, my evenings are more my own. And so yesterday, with a fine evening in prospect, I took off by myself for a couple of hours round the hills to top up the weekly mileage.

View from top of hill with overcast sky.

I still struggle with the idea of going out for a bike ride without either a destination in mind or a companion to enjoy it with but the other half was firm in his decision to stay at home and tend the fire and keep an eye on the hares, so I had to make do with my own company. Well me, and the cuckoo calling at the top of the biggest climb as I stopped to take in the view. It wasn’t the sort of evening for spectacular sunsets, just a gradual fading of the light as I turned for home, trying not to curse the yarnbomber who had decorated a post box in a way that felt positively cruel to this doughnutless cyclist with another couple of hills yet to climb (it did at least remind me that I had Chelsea buns ready to bake in the freezer so I got some delayed gratification this morning once they’d defrosted).

Post box decorated with crocheted tea cup and iced doughnuts

In the end, once I’d shaken off the sensation that this was all a bit pointless, I settled into the idea of it and started to enjoy being out on the bike, just for its own sake. Our roads, never busy, are more or less deserted after 7 or 8pm, so I got to enjoy our B road, and the descent down from Nearest Village, without having to worry about thinking for the drivers behind me as well as myself (no, seriously, overtaking even the slow lady cyclist on that bend when there is a tractor coming the other way is a Really Bad Idea and you should maybe not do it). It wasn’t the longest or fastest or hardest of rides, but I got home after two hours and 20 miles feeling refreshed from an evening away from the dreaded phone, and somewhat more prepared for the coming adventure. And I also slept like a log, which is a bit of a bonus. All in all, I think, an evening well spent.


Hello Headwind My Old Friend

April 27, 2022
Two bikes climbing up a long road

What can I say, when you’re grinding up a climb into a stiff breeze on day two of a ninety mile ride, during which said stiff breeze has been in your face the whole way, there’s a lot of time to think up stupid tweets for when you finally get to the top

So, we made it to POP although it was touch and go for my friend on her e-bike on the first day – 60 miles and lots of climbing, and did I mention there was a headwind?* takes it out of everyone, even a Bosch motor. In the end, we had to drop our usual commitment to riding in sociable formation, and just put our heads down and ride in close formation for as long as everyone could hang on, and then when the elastic snapped, just do individual battle with the hills as best we could, regrouping at the top.

Bike crossing into the Scottish Borders

This was my first long ride on the new-old bike and it definitely passed the test – there are a few minor details with the setup I’d like to tweak before I get it to level of all-day comfort I enjoyed on the old-old bike, but as we rolled into Innerleithen at the end of day one (with my friend’s ebike battery giving up the ghost just as we pulled up at the hotel) it was my legs that were feeling it, not anything else.

Bikes on the road through empty countryside

It was a bit of a shock to the system on Saturday morning as we crossed the bypass into the Edinburgh traffic and swapped potholes and scenery for even worse potholes and buses and vans and cars and if we were ever in doubt of the need for better conditions for cycling when we left Bigtown, there was none in our minds as we finally made it to the start. The Spaces for People protected lane gave us a short period of respite along one stretch of road (don’t ask me which; there were slight navigational issues with the route and we ended up just pointing ourselves in the right direction, putting on our big boy and girl pants, and riding in tight formation until we reached the safety of the Meadows) but that still left a heck of a lot of Edinburgh to ride through unprotected and we felt every mile.

Crowd waiting for the start of POP

But still, we made it. And so it seems did a couple of thousand others, despite a three year gap since we last filled the streets of Edinburgh with bikes of all shapes and sizes. With no formal organisational duties this year, other than riding at the front with the real organisers, I declared myself the Dowager Duchess of PoP, in which ceremonial role I had a marvellous time. I didn’t even have to listen to the speeches.

And then, despite the theoretical attraction of a tailwind home, I very much took the train back.

Bike hanging up on train

* I think I may have overdone the mentioning on Twitter on our way there, as everyone I met at POP asked me how the headwind had been.


Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Purple

February 5, 2022

Meet the new bike, just (a bit) like the old bike:

New bike

As those of you who follow me in Twitter will know, yesterday I headed up to Glasgow to pick up my new-old bike from the lovely folks at Common Wheel. Alarmingly, it was snowing on the way up, which made for a chilly trip as the train I was on appeared to have no heating and half the windows, but fortunately it had stopped by the time the train got into Glasgow (and stayed stopped until I got home).

The bike was undergoing last minute fettling when I arrived, but it was quickly off the stand and ready for me to try out and make the final adjustments to the saddle and handlebars. It felt deeply weird after two months of a very upright e-bike (and occasional forays on the Brompton) to be back on my familiar saddle, in more or less the riding position I had been used to before. The brakes are new (probably a good thing), and the handlebars have been replaced but the wheels, rack, dynamo, drivetrain and, importantly, POP This Machine Fights Climate Change sticker had all made it safely across. The guys in the workshop were a little sad to see it go – it seems that the Marin frame had some admirers. Before I could take it away, I had to promise them two things: that I would always have something purple on the frame, and that I would take it on some nice adventures.

Then it was just a matter of getting it home. I’d swithered over getting picked up from the station as the train got in at 6pm and it meant my first proper ride would be in the dark, but as the weather wasn’t bad and I was itching to find out what the bike was really like, I decided to cycle, and I’m glad I did. I do like night riding around here – even when it’s not that late, as soon as it gets dark it feels like you’ve got the place to yourself. The sky was clear and the new moon was up and the stars were coming out, and (more prosaically) it gave me a chance to adjust the headlight and make sure the dynamo was working as it should.

As for the climb home – it’s early days, and hills are always easier in the dark, but it feels like it will make easy work of most of the climbing I’m going to want to do on it. I can’t exactly explain why – no doubt some mixture of weight and geometry and rider position that I’ll never fully understand – there was just an effortlessness about it that I wasn’t expecting. My legs were feeling it once I got home – two months of ebike riding has taken its toll – but I’m already itching to take it on some longer distances, with no need to worry about range and recharging points. That promise of taking it on some adventures will be easily kept (indeed, I’ve already got one idea in the works, so watch this space).

Today wasn’t the day to start spreading our wings though. There’s no amount of new bike that will make stinging horizontal icy rain anything but type two fun. Especially when your chain falls off after an unwary attempt to see if the granny ring works on the climb. A little more bedding in may be needed before the adventures begin.

Wet dull weather

Thoroughly Spoiled

January 31, 2022

I’m not going to lie, I’ve rather enjoyed having a taste of the good life on my one-stop book tour. Being booked into a properly nice hotel, my own personalised itinerary, having people actually pay in order to hear me talk about my writing (top tip: don’t ask the person who takes 12 years to write her second novel for tips about writing) – it was all extremely head turning and it’s probably a good thing it was only the one event so far (but watch this space, because there may be other events coming up soon!)

(as you can see from the photos, I managed to match my socks to each other but not quite the outfit)

Anyway, having got home on Friday, the weekend was very much back to reality, with Storm Malik (even the Danes are naming the storms now – you’d think they’d be above that sort of thing being Vikings and everything but apparently not) making its presence felt on Saturday’s ride down for the paper. I have to say e-bikes definitely come into their own in a mahoosive headwind – even if I still all but came to a standstill on one particularly wind-tunnelly stretch of road. Indeed, I decided the occasion called for whacking up the e-assist a notch on the ride home because clearly, I’m worth it. It’s probably fortunate that I’ve just heard that my new-to-me bike will be ready to pick up on Friday. Another few weeks of having the e-assist on tap might just have ruined me for unassisted riding …

Let’s see how I fare coming up the hill next weekend, eh?


“All Book Launches …”

January 11, 2022
JoAnne with her copies of Hare House

“… should be like this”, my pal and local poet JoAnne McKay announced as we sat down to coffee and cake together to commence the real business of the day – exchanging gossip (the formalities of the actual signing being over).

Books with coffee and cakes

I have to say, I agree. January had served up a near-miraculous day of sunshine and light breezes, with barely any frost and she happens to live 12 miles away along one of my favourite routes in the area.

rural road and sunshine

I had stuff to do and (as I recalled later) a meeting to attend, but if I’ve learned anything since moving to Scotland it’s that when the weather calls like that, you answer. With the cake consumed and the coffee drunk along with the last juicy drops of literary gossip it was just a matter of caning it for the 12 miles back to make it home in time for my meeting.

late afternoon winter sun

And tomorrow I’ll be doing it all again only further, as I head to Notso Bigtown for the second instalment of my #BookLaunchByBike.


Welcome to the New Year, Just Like the Old Year.

January 1, 2022

Back in 2020, when I first found a publisher for my second novel (cough Hare House cough), I was disappointed that it wouldn’t actually be coming out until 2022 but I do remember thinking that at least the publishing industry’s long lead times meant I’d be able to have a proper book launch … Bless us, how young and foolish we all were back then.

Now that the time is actually almost upon us (did I mention I’ve got a book coming out next week at all?) and with Omicron ascendant, gathering a lot of people together in one room just for a book launch seemed potentially murderous, even if not technically illegal, so I had to think of an alternative way of marking the publication and one that absolutely didn’t involve anything so awkward as a virtual event on Zoom.

ebike on remote rural road

So, as well as foolishly offering to cycle round most of the country to sign a copy for anyone who buys one (terms and conditions apply …), I equally foolishly suggested I could put together a short film of the landscape that inspired the book. Which has been the reason why I spent the last three days of the year roaming round bits of the countryside on my borrowed e-bike, discovering, among other things, that putting together a decent video out of handheld phone camera footage is bloody difficult.

tree on hillside by stream

Especially when the weather gods have clearly decided to set the dial to ‘dreich’ and take off for the entire holiday period.

sun barely breaking through clouds

Damp socks aside, however, I can’t think of a better way of seeing out the old year, and seeing in the new.

Here’s hoping 2022 brings us better times. And at least you’ll have something decent to read.

Copy of hare house and mug with hare on it

Merry Twigmas

December 27, 2021

We’re in Duns for Christmas, probably for the last time, as my parents will hopefully be making the move to Bigtown in spring (it’s amazing what some people will do to feature more prominently in the blog).

Parents walking in the park

Since we last visited, Storm Arwen had done a number on the trees in the area, especially in the castle grounds where allegedly 3,000 have been lost, some of them rather mighty giants too.

Felled tree

Rather than add another to the toll, Mum gathered up some of the twigs to be our ‘tree’ this year. It’s amazing how festive you can make anything look with a few baubles and some fairy lights.

Decorated twigs with lights

I hope everyone reading this was able to similarly salvage some sort of Christmas festivity out of the wreckage of this year…

Here’s to a better 2022.


To Market, To Market, Redux

December 19, 2021

Me: How fortunate that we’ve got an extra Christmas edition of the farmers’ market on today, given I forgot to make bread last night so we’ve nothing for lunch, we’re out of pancetta for supper, and there are still a couple of things I need to pick up for Christmas.

Weather Gods: About that …

Bike in foggy road

Regular readers will know I have ridden in plenty of inclement weather over the years, but this was definitely one of the least enjoyable rides we’ve done for a long time. Not only was it so foggy that the other half’s back light was worryingly all but invisible from barely 50 feet away, it was also extremely cold, that raw bone-chilling cold that reaches everywhere and leaves your fingers feeling as if they have been smashed with a hammer.

Still, there is a stall at the market that not only does haggis samosas (don’t knock them till you’ve tried them) but also an excellent Goan chicken curry so we pressed on, hoping that at least the sun would have burned through the fog before we had to ride back. Sadly, as we waddled out again, replete with curry and with the last piece of the Christmas shopping puzzle in the bag, it had neither cleared up nor, particularly, warmed up. I think we were more than three quarters of the way home before we burst out of the cloud layer and into the sun.

fog in valley below

At this time of year, it doesn’t exactly warm you, but it does at least allow you to remember what being warm feels like.

And how is your Christmas shopping going?


Demobilising

December 7, 2021

Now, while normally I bow to nobody in my enthusiasm for cycling and generally getting out and being active, there are limits …

Sleet sliding down a glass door

… and those limits are when the Weather Gods has been spending the morning enthusiastically flinging sleet at the front door to see how much sticks.

Fortunately, we had already done all of the outdoors things we needed to do before Storm Barra* got going. So I was able to sit and watch the ice slide down the window while planning other bike rides, of an epic-ish nature, hopefully when the Weather Gods have calmed down a bit.

Sleet on window behind desk

Watch this space.

* I’ve said it before, but I do wish they’d stop naming the storms as it only bloody encourages them.


Snow Joke

November 28, 2021

With impeccable timing, my parents have made two visits to Bigtown in the past month, both times coinciding with epic weather warnings. Despite visiting during the floods at the end of October, they are planning to move over here (to be closer to their favourite daughter, naturally) so on Friday they made the drive again to view some houses, managing to arrive just before Storm Arwen had got into its stride, with red weather warnings ringing in our ears.

This morning, having congratulated ourselves on surviving the weekend’s storm with only minimal damage (the house is now wearing the gutter from one of its dormer windows at rather a jaunty angle), we woke to discover that Arwen had an unexpected sting in its tail…

Snow falling in garden

I do love snow, generally, however inconvenient, but this didn’t look like the sort of weather we could in all conscience send two 80-somethings out into on a 100 mile drive. However, they were keen to get home so after an anxious morning spent alternately checking the rain radar and the live traffic cameras on the A7, they decided to take the risk and set off armed with emergency blankets, snacks and a thermos full of tea.

An hour or so later, with the sun out and a cheery message from Mum saying they had reached Langholm and all was well and they were happily eating their emergency snacks, we could go out and enjoy what was left of the snow with a clear conscience.

Snow on fallen tree
Snowy path through woods