All of a Sparkle

January 22, 2023

The winter grinds on, as it tends to do in January (and February, and an unfair amount of March too, in my opinion). It is this time of year when my commitment to cycling for transport is tested most fully – not so much during the day, but when I have an evening appointment which means dragging myself from the house when the stove is already lit and the curtains closed and the temptation to just curl up on the sofa and stay there is all but overwhelming.

We’ve just had a few days of that crisp bright frosty weather which lifts the spirits during the day but allows the temperatures to plummet as soon as the sun goes down. On Friday I wanted to attend a local climate kitchen event, and I wasn’t about to drive down there in the car, so bike it was but I’ll admit it was a wrench. But then, as I left, the sun was just below the horizon and air was still and the sky was beautifully graded with every shade from blue to gold as the light faded. It was glorious and breathtaking and there are no photos because it was, as mentioned, pretty chilly, and I wasn’t about to take my gloves off just to disappoint myself with the results.

Coming out at eight, the clear skies had brought the expected freezing temperatures and it was pitch dark. Fortunately, new glasses and a new light have rekindled my love of night cycling (it turns out that there was nothing sinister going on except that my eyes are still getting more short sighted despite my advanced age, and a new prescription has restored my night vision). The climb up the hill soon got me feeling warm, and as I turned into our quiet road I found that the night was full of glitter. The hoar frost settling on the road and all around me – and even in the air – was catching in the beam of my light and the whole world was sparkling. You don’t get that on your balmy summer evening rides, I tell you. Of course, you don’t get chilblains either, but swings and roundabouts, eh?

Pepperpot Achievement Unlocked

January 11, 2023

Are we bored of 2023 yet? It’s certainly shaping up to be one of THOSE winters, when the radiators steam with damp gloves, shoes, jackets and hats from the last outing and you have to pick the driest combination for your next.

But never mind all that, because I have a new phone! Well, new to me. And its previous owner was a proper photographer so it’s got a super duper camera with all sorts of settings, none of which I fully understand but which I’m looking forward to playing around with at least until I have a grand total of three I know how to use and then stick with until the phone dies on me.

View out into the garden through heavy rain.

I didn’t have much scope for it yesterday as it basically rained all day, but today we had something of a break in the weather. Even better, the planets had aligned allowing me to attend an outing of Bigtownshire’s most venerable cycling group. For those without long memories, these cyclists don’t organise rides as such, but designate a lunch spot every Wednesday, and then descend on it like so many wiry locusts to refuel before ‘taking a slightly more lumpy but scenic route‘ home, usually involving an extra few hundred feet of unnecessary climbing. I haven’t managed a lunchtime session with these guys and gals for years and I was a little worried that the pandemic might have carried it, and them, off, but it turns out they have been back in full swing since March. And today I had a day free, and their designated lunch spot was actually Papershop Village, where they open the hall specially and the local Rural caters lunch. What better excuse did I need to get a few more miles in the legs, test the repair of my mystery flat,* and give the new phone camera a shakedown cruise.

Water roaring over rocks

Having stopped off briefly to check on the level of the ford (about as expected, but the depth gauge itself seems to have suffered in the flooding), I caught up with three riders who were on the same mission and we joined forces. Naturally we got chatting and within minutes established that two of them knew my parents from church and the other one lives on their road. This is very Bigtown, where we don’t really do six degrees of separation, maybe more like three. People have been asking me how my parents have been settling in since they moved in April and I can honestly now say that they have arrived…

View of the ford, showing almost a foot of water

Anyway, I had a lovely lunch, managed to get to the tray bakes before they had been completely depleted, caught up with a few of the old stagers and met some new ones, and then set out into the next instalment of rain giving thanks that I wasn’t facing 20 miles into the teeth of the wind like the group who’d ridden in from Kirkcudbright. I don’t know when I’ll be able to join them again, but even with the latest batch of soggy kit steaming gently in the hall, I’m glad I made the effort.

Grey day looking into the distance

* As suggested in the comments in the last post, the problem appears to have been the slime clogging the valve, something which came to a head after the tyre went flat on me twice in quick succession having been fine overnight. Fortunately it then held air long enough to get me to the bike shop where they replaced the valve core, which so far appears to be holding (although I have bought a spare inner tube as well as an offering to appease the puncture fairy). Roll on the arrival of the Tannus inserts, whereupon my bike will have to think up a new and entertaining way to go wrong, preferably when I am far from home.

It’s a Washout

January 2, 2023

Previously on Town Mouse, your intrepid/foolhardy (delete as applicable) heroine was cycling through flooded roads to get her paper safely home. The road was closed shortly afterwards, and even as the waters receded and the river reverted to its normal banks, it has remained closed. A short incursion past the ‘road closed’ sign* this afternoon revealed the reason why.

Road with the side of the bank all washed away

My intermittently working phone crapped out on me before I could get a better shot that shows just how badly the intact-looking tarmac was overhanging the washed out road, but it really doesn’t look safe at all, and it won’t take too much more rain for the road surface to collapse altogether.

I was at a virtual briefing about the Scottish Government’s target to reduce car kilometres driven by 20% by 2030, and one of the officials basically said ‘we can do it intentionally, in an orderly fashion, or we can do it the hard way as climate change starts to destroy the roads infrastructure.’ I thought that was putting it a bit strongly at the time; now I’m not so sure.

Selfishly, I’m rather hoping they take their time fixing it and keep the road closed. I ride this road every day and it’s narrow and twisting and there’s really nowhere along it where it’s safe for a driver to overtake, or even where it’s easy to pull in to let someone past. It doesn’t serve any houses except at the top, just acts as a short cut between two slightly busier roads, one of which is also very heavily used by cyclists. Keeping it accessible to pedestrians, cyclists and horseriders, while eliminating the SUVs too wide to comfortably pass anything on this road, would make my life so much nicer. And might even tempt a few more people out on their bikes as well. Filtered permeability, rural style.

* And if you’re thinking ‘bloody scofflaw cyclists’ (I was feeling it a bit myself, TBH), at least I wasn’t driving a massive van, like the delivery guys who squeezed through the traffic cones to take a short cut along the road while I was taking this photo

Periscope Depth

December 30, 2022

I thought I’d been a bit cunning in finding a window in the weather for today’s ride down for the paper. We’ve had an amber weather warning for rain, but it was forecast to stop at lunchtime and then the dangerously gusting winds weren’t due to kick in until an hour or so later. Just time to make the 11-mile round trip to the garage without being drenched or blown off the bike. So as the rain duly eased around noon, I hopped on the bike to take advantage.

Road flowing with water and covered in stones and debris

What I hadn’t factored in was that, for all it was no longer falling out of the sky, there was a hell of a lot of water lying about on the ground. I mean, we’re used to flooding here and I’m used to dealing with surface water, but for some reason I looked at the fact that the road outside our gate had transformed itself into a fast running burn and didn’t even go back to change into wellies. I just picked my way as carefully as I could through the running water and the banks of debris, trying to remember where the worst potholes were and wondering if we’d been right when we’d all laughed at the concept of an ‘all-road bike’ and whether, in fact, they did an amphibious model

Once on the main road things improved a little – at least apart from the driver who was in too much of a hurry to slow down going past me through surface water so sprayed my feet and lower legs with their wake. As it happened, this wasn’t going to matter long. For as I turned off the main road and headed down towards the river, it was clear the flooding was extensive. On my way into town, it was pretty bad, but not the worst I’d ever pedalled through. But water runs downhill, and it takes its time doing so, meaning that things had got worse on the ride back. One long deep section of flooding left me no option but to pedal steadily through it rather than try and coast with my feet up, even though that meant filling my shoes with icy water. I was relieved to note that the little car waiting for me at the other end of the stretch of water just turned around and went back the other way – I was a little worried that the driver would think ‘well if that bike can get through, then my car should no bother’, rather than ‘if the cyclist’s feet are underwater, then important bits of my electrics will be too…’

The (soggy) boot was on the other foot as I turned into the next road and stopped to let a tractor through. Its driver was then very reluctant to let me proceed at all, suggesting I take a five mile detour rather than continue along that route, something I was not that up for given my feet were by now freezing cold in the brisk wind. I have to admit, I thought he was being overly cautious because I had cycled in with no real problems, but he was insistent that things had got worse and when I got to the part he meant, I had to admit he had a point. One flooded field was basically emptying into another and it was as if the road wasn’t there, just a brown fast-flowing river. I just had to guess where the tarmac was and hope I didn’t hit any rocks or chunks of wood, keeping pedalling forward as the flow of the current tried to carry me sideways. This did feel like the sort of Very Bad Idea that usually opens an episode of Casualty, but by this time I was committed, so I just took it slowly and made it to the other side before lighting off for home as quickly as I could.

(I have just seen this tweet which confirms the tractor driver’s concern)

And for those of you wondering why there are no photos of this epic flood, well, that may be the subject of another post, but basically my phone is currently on its last legs and requires coaxing into life before it will take photos or do anything, really. I wasn’t about to do that when there were dry socks waiting for me at home, so you’ll just have to use your imaginations.

Thaw Point

December 20, 2022

As predicted, the sparkly freeze of recent weeks has given way to something milder, greyer – and windier.

Empty compost dalek rolled against a fence

It turns out hungry daleks go for a wander (I had unwisely emptied one without redistributing the contents of the other two as ballast). Fortunately, it also turns out that fences prove as formidable an obstacle to wandering daleks as stairs do so the errant exterminator was easily retrieved and put to work digesting the contents of the compost tumbler. I get the feeling that gardening is no longer my primary hobby; rather it’s become a by product of my composting habit.

four small harvested leeks

When it comes to actual gardening – or at least, harvesting some leeks – it’s a sign of how frozen things have been that two whole days of temperatures reaching double figures, I could only get the fork easily into the first two inches of the raised bed, before hitting what felt like concrete. It took some work to get the tines through the layer of frozen earth and then some careful prying to liberate enough leeks for tonight’s supper without damaging them. They say the recent cold snap hasn’t been anything particularly out of the ordinary, but I don’t know when we last had a layer of permafrost (oh, OK, tempafrost) in December. But at least the ‘glacier’ that guards our road is beginning to retreat somewhat. This has been fun to negotiate for the past week – even If I had put my ice tyres on, I wouldn’t fancy it on the bike, and even walking past it has been a bit of an adventure.

Stretch of ice along a country road

And how’s your winter weather shaping up?

Cold Snap

December 14, 2022

Like the rest of the country, we’ve been in the midst of a prolonged cold snap, with temperatures failing to get above freezing at all for the last couple of days.

Fallen garden statue covered in frost

Fortunately, it’s been combined with (mostly) sunny and calm weather, with no snow apart from a few half-hearted flurries to keep us on our toes. Coming after a week of unrelenting grey (and three solid days of fog), the sunshine has made the cold bearable. It’s been cold on the bike – finger-agonisingly cold at times – but there’s no black ice to deal with and blue skies do just lift the mood. Especially when combined with a sparkly frost all over everything.

Frost covered tree catching the early morning light

In fact, it’s hard to overstate just how beautiful it’s been. Coming back from town on Saturday, the slanting warmth of the sunlight striking the frozen pastel shades of the hills ahead was so beautiful I actually had to stop talking to take it in properly (that’s quite enough sniggering at the back).

Sheep grazing on frosted grass with distant hills covered in white

So let’s just enjoy the pictures and we’ll draw a veil over the downsides. Like the fact that hanging out your washing in sub-zero temperatures results in frozen wet laundry rather than any actual drying (yeah, I don’t know why I thought the results might be any different now either. It was sunny though…). And that when the ground has frozen solid, harvesting leeks becomes impossible without a pick axe and/or a blow torch (thankfully we still had the neighbour’s monster beetroot to sustain us).

Frost covered trees in front of a partly frozen pond

The forecast suggests the cold snap will be ending soon, although possibly not before we get a last hurrah of snow on Friday. Then back to slightly milder, damper, greyer weather. I for one will miss the sparkly cold if so.

Be Cool for Yule

December 10, 2022

Waking this morning to another hard frost, I wasn’t at all sure I was going to enjoy our planned morning activity. Signing up for a half day pulling up pine seedlings from my favourite wetland had seemed like an excellent idea back in October when the weather was mild. But last time we’d gone out there, in February, we’d been wading about in welly-deep bog (and sometimes – as I found out to my cost – welly-deeper). The thought of spending a couple of hours with wet feet and sodden gloves did not particularly appeal. The forecast was not that promising – cloud and zero temperatures. This was definitely going to be an experience to suffer through for the greater good…*

Frost coating everything in the wetland

With spare socks, a change of dry clothes, and extra gloves packed, we set off with the car insisting it was -8C (it does tend to exaggerate cold temperatures, to be fair). As we stood around waiting for the others to arrive it was already very chilly – toes and fingers already starting to go numb. Setting off into the middle of the moss, I was mainly concentrating on keeping my footing as we picked our way along the top of the bund that was helping to re-wet the bog – falling into the thinly iced water on either side was not an option. It felt like it was going to be a long couple of hours.

Work party on the bog

But then, but then. The sun came out, and the place itself began to work its magic. Every leaf and twig was picked out in the white of the frost, and the air was still apart from a few bird calls and a couple of whirring snipe. As we hunted pine saplings among the humps and hollows of the bogs, the going was much easier than it ordinarily would have been, the tussocks of moss and heather frozen hard enough to walk along – as long as you kept moving. We fanned out steadily, each on our own private mission, deep into the heart of this magical place. With dry hands and dry feet, and the sun on our faces, it felt almost warm. The kind of sparkly winter morning Christmas songs are made of. A morning to relish, after all, rather than endure.

Looking through the sun at the frost on the wetland plants

We had a lunch date with the Pepperpots, so we couldn’t linger. But we did manage to pick up a souvenir (with permission) on the way out. We’re in our own home for Christmas for the first time in many years, which has raised the dilemma of what to do about a Christmas tree. I’m not a fan of plastic ones, nor of growing trees just to cut them down for a couple of weeks as a decoration. But a salvaged Scots pine from a regenerating peatbog – that seems about as sustainable as you can get. I’m only sorry that logistics meant I didn’t bring it home by bicycle …

Small scots pine as a Christmas tree

* and honestly, it is for the good. Trees are marvellous things for the climate, and we’re all about rewilding and regeneration these days, but raised bogs like this one are a rare and precious habitat and removing pine trees are will help restore it to its former glory.

Muck Raking

December 9, 2022

Now that we’re supposed to leave our gardens untidy over winter for the wildlife, there’s not that much to be doing outside on a day in December – especially one as bone chillingly cold as it’s been lately. But the sun was shining and I had a bit of time to spare – and there is one task best done when it’s as cold as possible, which is shifting manure.

Barrow full of pig manure next to an almost empty compost bay

Our smallholding neighbours up the hill have pigs and having been offered some of their output (the muck, that is – we’ve also had their pork and it is delicious), I decided now was the time to take advantage and spent an hour and a half attempting to fill the spare compost bay with pig poo (I realise on writing this that ‘filling a bay with crap’ sounds more like something privatised water companies do these days than gardeners, but hey ho). An hour and a half – and a full body workout later – and I’d managed six(ish) barrowloads. I’d barely made a dent in the pile, or filled a fifth of the space – but I was done in. Fortunately we have many more such days still in the forecast to ferry a bit more down.

slightly more filled bay with manure

Although, there probably is no need to wait for the cold weather – this is wonderfully mature muck, and didn’t smell at all. And if the beetroot I got from the neighbour is anything to go by, it’s powerful stuff.

very large beetroot with secateurs for scale

Next step will be getting it up to the veg beds, greenhouse and fruit cage … but I think that will wait until my arms and shoulders have recovered from today’s exertions. Monster beetroot aside, I do wonder how anyone manages to grow enough vegetables to replace the calories expended in raising them…

Rain, Rain, Go Away

November 7, 2022

Bleurgh. I know it’s not unusual at this time of year, but I am getting heartily sick of days when you wake to the sound of the rain pattering on the skylight, to find that the forecast shows it has set in for the whole day.

Weather forecast showing heavy rain all day

It was extra galling today as I have once again managed to tweak something in my back, leaving me hobbling around and making sitting uncomfortable. I know from long experience that the only way to ease the situation – albeit temporarily – is to get on my bike and ride it, during which time the discomfort magically goes away (getting on and off the bike – and opening and closing the garage door – is very much another matter).

Torn between the misery of uncomfortably sitting down indoors, and comfortably but damply cycling down for the paper, I chose the latter. In an ideal world, I would have done more – a day in the saddle would probably have been just the thing – but even the magic of cycling-as-back-therapy couldn’t induce me to spend more than an hour out there with it hosing down and blowing a hooly to boot. As it was, I had to undress in the bath when I got back, although you could argue I wouldn’t have got any wetter on a longer ride.

I gather some parts of England are still suffering the effects of drought. If you would like to come up and get it, we have plenty of rain here…

The Eye of the Storms

November 4, 2022

Yesterday, a last minute cancellation gifted me with a precious commodity these days – a leisurely ride into town.

Rural road winding between green fields with blue skies above

Not only that but after Wednesday’s weather – which was, to use a technical term, absolutely minging – it was a rare, calm sunny afternoon to enjoy it in.

Another rural road winding away into the distance

Not so much the calm before the storm, as the calm after it. Or maybe, the way things are going this autumn, the calm between them.

wet road shining in the sun between bare winter trees

Either way, in these unsettled and unsettling times, we take our respite where we can.

Bare tree silhouetted against the dusk