Bonus Ride

May 24, 2019

I had for some reason thought that things might get a bit calmer after PoP – a chance to chill out, catch up with some gardening, possibly even tidy the house (but let’s not go mad, eh?). Naturally that didn’t happen and this last week has been particularly bonkers as I’ve tried to combine a rash of tight deadlines, commitments I’d taken on in the intoxicating day and a half when I thought I might be about to have some spare time, and coordinating a non-Pop demo (of which more anon) which suddenly kicked up into high gear just as the sun came out and the countryside hit peak May in all its blink-and-you’ll-miss-it loveliness.

fresh green trees

So today was a bonus: one of the commitments I’d taken on was to lead a chilled ride out to lunch for a local cycling event and although the forecast was for it to be at best cloudy, the weather outdid itself.

I was leading a select bunch of nice people who were happy to ride at the speed of chat, and I was suddenly reminded just what an amazing place we happen to live in (especially at this time of year).

We stopped to climb a half-ruined tower and watch the house martins from above as they hoovered up insects and came into their nests

Drumcoltran tower

And we barely saw a car.

trees just coming into leaf

I still have a million things to do and I have no doubt that the few hours it took out of my day could have been more productively spent but I don’t regret it for an instant.

And now, back to the grindstone…

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Garden Visiting

May 12, 2019

Bike parked by garden

Sometimes everything just comes together and this afternoon was one of those times: glorious May weather, a gap (of sorts; there’s always something I could usefully be doing) in the schedule and not one but two open gardens to visit, both of them, crucially, offering teas.

Sunny view

Of course, this being May, you don’t have to go far to be struck by the beauty of late spring – this is the wood along our road at the moment.

spring woods alongside road

And you don’t have to go far to find bluebells either – even on the short ride down to the first garden, famous for its bluebell wood, I was assailed on all sides by the heady smell of them and shimmers of blue beneath the fresh spring green, but it was worth the visit, and not just because of the chance to catch up with Old Nearest Village gossip (the oldest inhabitant, who sweeps the board at the village show each year, lost her greenhouse over the winter so it’s all to play for in the tomato classes) and the ample tea.

bluebell wood

(We’ll draw a veil over one chap who managed to go from ‘why don’t you wear a helmet?’ to ‘I just drive them off the road anyway, they get in my way and slow me down’ in just three moves, a record, I believe).

Then it was off down more quiet rural roads to the next garden.

road with overhanging trees

(Potholes not shown; some of them were truly spectacular. I particularly liked the stretch where just one of them had been outlined in red, presumably for mending, while the dozen other equally hazardous ones around it had been ignored).

The second garden was also spectacular but more of the ‘just shows what you can do if you’ve got staff’ variety (as observed by the only other cyclist there). Also you had to pay separately for your tea, so I was glad I’d made good at the first. I am gradually learning that the posher the garden, the less generous the tea arrangements.

formal garden

All in all a very splendid day. Although our morning coffee on the bench, enjoying the view, (and my homemade chelsea buns) was possibly just as enjoyable …

coffee and chelsea buns

… Especially as it didn’t come with a side order of cyclist-baiting remarks.


Sprung

April 19, 2019

Hmm, I was hoping for a quiet week or two (workwise – the Pedal on Parliament madness is obviously in full swing) but as the fine warm sunny Easter weather has no doubt informed you, that didn’t quite happen.

fields in sunshine

Fortunately at times like these, one of the joys of being largely dependent on your bike for transport is that, however busy you are, you still end up ‘having’ to spend time out in the spring sunshine with the wind in your hair. So at least, even though I’ve had to spend more time at my desk than I’d like, especially with the garden calling, spring isn’t entirely passing me by. Yesterday as I rode down to Bigtown to drop the bike off for its annual service* the skies were filled with larks singing their little lark heads off. And today, as the other half and I rode down for a couple of errands, we found ourselves among a flock of sand martins, swooping and skittering over the river path in Bigtown, all but weaving through our wheels. As my Twitter feed has recently been dominated by the sight of netting preventing these charming little birds from nesting elsewhere, it’s nice to know ours have still found a welcome up here.**

River in Bigtown

* Like an idiot, when I was offered the bike shop’s e-bike as a ‘courtesy vehicle’ while my bike was being serviced I turned it down. Then discovered that Bigtown is actually quite big when you’re getting about on foot and instantly regretted it. Who knew?

**Seagulls, on the other hand, are still Enemy No 1.


Springiness

April 16, 2019

April seems to have been a month of easterlies up to now – bringing dry, cold weather rather than the traditional showers and – in my case at least – a welcome tailwind when climbing the hill to home. Indeed yesterday, in a boisterous hat-snatching gale, I could actually feel it like a hand on my back and my legs were suddenly very very good indeed. This made the fact that I’d had to pedal downhill on the way in worth it.

Even a withering east wind hasn’t quite managed to hold back spring, though. There’s a sudden surge of greenness everywhere (except on the big trees, which will hang on a while yet, I imagine). And today the wind relented and it got more mild (complete with the return of the April showers, possibly a good thing given our water butt is almost empty*). I even managed an hour or two in the greenhouse, potting on seedlings. I was pleased to note that my greenhouse potatoes were finally putting in an appearance after over a month

potato shoots

As, er, are the last of the stored potatoes, which I’m going to have to summon up the courage to investigate and deal with before we end up with a thriving, if cannibalistic, potato patch in our utility room.

potato shoots

And another green shoot popped up in the post this morning. This year’s PoP t-shirt is a zinger and you should definitely buy one.

Pedal on Parliament t-shirt

In other news, it’s harder to make a cow costume than you might think.

* Note to the Weather Gods – you didn’t hear me say that, OK?


Let them Eat Broccoli

April 11, 2019

Well, I hope you’re all enjoying the fine spring weather (at least for viewers in Scotland) – it is pretty much inevitable that when I’ve got a tight work deadline and a looming cycle protest (or protests – we’ve now got 17 different events planned and more in the works) to organise, that (a) everything will start to happen at once (laptop: would now be a good time to tell that you I need an update?) and (b) the sun will come out.* While I’ve been largely chained to my desk, the other half has been taking advantage of the lengthening evenings to go out and do some gardening pottering and the hares have been taking advantage of the rising sap to, er, hare around the field next door pausing only to make more hares, and it’s beginning to get on my goat. Expect it to start raining at the weekend, when at last the deadline will be over, even if the PoP preparations can only get more frantic from here.

All of which means I’m also falling behind on the gardening, although at least it’s chilly enough at night to mean spring is not yet completely in full flow. And I’m pleased to report that I was wrong about one thing – our leeks may be almost finished and last year’s potatoes sprouted beyond all hope but, had the worst predictions of the pundits over Brexit come to pass, we wouldn’t be completely starving after all. Despite the best efforts of the local cabbage white population and Moo-I-5 we’ve got broccoli coming out of our ears at the moment. Here’s hoping that’s not the only doom-laden prediction about the whole fiasco that will fail to come to pass …

Purple sprouting broccoli

* It’s possible that there are meteorological forces at work as well, but I prefer to blame the weather gods and sod’s law.


What’s Brown and Sticky?

April 3, 2019

I suppose, thinking back, I should have been forewarned when I stepped out of the cafe this lunchtime and discovered that the banging tailwind I’d sailed into Bigtown on had dropped, meaning I wasn’t going to face a banging headwind for the return, uphill, leg. As I’ve said before, this pretty much never happens, so when it does, the wary cyclist should be keeping her eyes peeled for compensatory hazards such as broken glass, untethered dogs, runaway lorries or (checks notes) sticks.

Or, more specifically, innocent looking sticks that have an unobtrusive long thin whippy twig attached that is perfect for getting itself caught up in the wheel of said cyclist when she blithely bounces her front wheel over it while turning into the local park. Cue slow motion comedy fall, fortunately unwitnessed by anyone else. This is now the second time I’ve come off my bike in ridiculous fashion in less than a year, after an entire adulthood spent largely keeping the rubber side down. All I can say is, once more I was saved by my habit of riding slowly because I have sustained nothing but bruises and not even damaged my lovely new trousers. Oh, and the bike is fine, before you ask.

You might argue that campaigners for safer cycling should probably sort out their own safety before worrying about anyone else’s (or at least, be sure to avoid any lurking sticks). But I’d argue in reply that what cyclists need is the sort of conditions where they can make stupid mistakes like that, without ending up under a timber lorry. Falling over on a path in the park is embarassing. Falling over on a busy road is potentially fatal.

All of which is a very tenuous way of saying, if you are in Bigtown and you want the sort of conditions where you can make a complete tit of yourself in safety, you may want to come and make a complete tit (or indeed udder) of yourself in public – on Bigtown’s inaugural Mad Cow Ride*

Whether I’ll get our occasional neighbours to come and join us is another question.

cows

* Originally ‘Critical Moo’ but that was a bit niche, apparently


Birthday Treat

March 20, 2019

We’re in Northern Ireland for my impending birthday and today, with the weather looking nicer than expected, we decided to spend the last day of my 40s climbing Slieve Donard (I had vaguely planned to do it actually on my birthday, but you take your windows in the weather where you can find them in March).

 

As we climbed up out of the town, it was sunny enough for us to almost regret dressing for hillwalking in March, with the sun turning Dundrum Bay an almost tropical shade of green.

sunshine on Dundrum Bay

As we turned the corner and looked up, however, it was clear that the blue skies were not going to last and that the clouds were gathering over our destination.

clouds gathering

Normally I’d never attempt any sort of climbing when the clouds were coming down, but the advantage of Donard is that you really cannot get lost even in the fog as there’s a well made path pretty much right to the summit (there was even a band of hardy volunteers out maintaining it today), as well as a steady stream of other people out tackling the highest climb in Ireland.*

climbing into the cloud

So on we went, re-donning the layers we’d shed on the lower slopes, and made it to the top in two hours to precisely no views but a sense of achievement all the same. A nice young Frenchman offered to take our photo at the top and managed to capture two frames of me with my hands over my eyes trying to defog my glasses, and then a further three frames of me looking down and trying to clear them properly, so I’ll spare you our triumphant summit photo. Instead, we were rewarded with the sight of the sun still shining down on Newcastle as we emerged out of the cloud on the way down.

sunshine on Newcastle

We’ve probably both now reached an age where coming down a mountain is at least as tough (and potentially injurious) as going up it, but we made it down with no more than the expected quota of grumbling hips, knees and backs.

And at least tomorrow, even though I will be 50 I know I won’t be feeling my age – because if this evening is anything to go by, I’ll be feeling at least 80 instead.

*It’s not the highest mountain on the island of Ireland, but it makes up for it by starting at sea level.