Turning Left (Well, Right, Actually) in November

November 11, 2017

The other day I surprised a friend by saying that I wasn’t busy – by some strange configuration of events, I’ve got no work on at the moment and only light cycle campaigning duties, and while the garden (and, you know, writing) is taking up some of my time, I’ve also been enjoying the leisure and trying not to start any cycle campaigns by mistake, having made it almost all the way through 2017 safely so far.

setting off

That all means that I have absolutely no excuse not to fulfil my other New Year’s resolution and head off on my month’s micro adventure. The problem was where to go – I’ve done a reasonably thorough job of exploring the best routes around here. It was only yesterday when we were taking the scenic route to the garden centre that we passed this fork in the road and I remembered a little bit of unfinished business.

Fork in the road

“You come to a fork in the road …”

Years ago, when I first moved here and I was doing a bit of Open Street Mapping, I’d taken this right hand fork to explore a new road and been defeated by the resulting hill, having to get off and push (I thought I’d blogged about it, but I can’t find it). It was back on my old bike, and before I’d done as much cycling – or indeed taken to living up the side of a hill – so I was wondering if I could manage it now. Technically, this is not a new route, but as I had to walk the last section, it would be the first time I’d actually cycled it, assuming I made it, so I decided that would count. So today, with the sun shining, and almost no wind, and a morning to myself, was the perfect time to try.

November adventure

Top of the first hill. If anyone knows how to photograph climbs so they look impressive, rather than as flat as the Netherlands, let me know

First, I had to get there – which meant a hill in itself. The river valleys tend to run west to east around here, so any ride north or south normally means going up and over a hill. This is a road I’m getting quite fond of, despite its gradient, because there are few things lovelier than an avenue of beech trees, in almost any season.

november beech trees

Then, after a few more miles, I reached the fork in the road. The road wound up to the right, but as I started up it, wasn’t all that bad, to be honest. I began to wonder whether I’d just been terribly unfit back then when I’d been defeated by this road.

heading up

There was even a spot where it levelled off sufficiently to stop and take photos of the view of Bigtown in all its loveliness.

view from the road

And then I turned the corner and it kicked up enough that I had to give it the full Thomas Voeckler gurn (tell me you also make faces when you’re struggling up a hill on a bike…). As I battled up and round another corner, not only did it kick up again, but there were a couple out for a nice stroll who had to witness my hill-climbing face in all its glory.

‘Keep going’, the woman said, and I did – I made it. It wasn’t pretty, but I cycled all the way up. I don’t know whether because I’m fitter, have improved my technique (or my gurning) or if it’s true what Greg Le Mond didn’t say – “It doesn’t get any easier, you just get a better bike”. But I’m glad I’ve laid that one to rest all the same.

At the top

Sadly, this wasn’t the kind of hill where you get impressive vistas from the top – or even any sense of how steep the road was, but I stopped to take a few photographs anyway, once I’d finished leaning on my handlebars trying to breathe in all the air in Bigtownshire.

hill avoided

I remembered that I’d actually photographed this road from another vantage point which maybe gives you some idea. Trust me, it’s bloody steep.

Then it was just a matter of cycling home, where I noticed that the pipeline people appear to have started using their pipeline route as a handy shortcut. But that’s an adventure for another day – and a different bike …

pipeline road

Turning Left in July

July 17, 2017

garden open sign

I do like it when plan and the weather forecast come together. As regular readers will know I am trying to do a new route on my bike each month so I was interested to note another garden was due to open this weekend – not too far away, along a lovely little road for cycling, and crucially advertising tea and cake for visitors. It was described as a hillside garden, which interested me because our garden is on a side of a hill too, and I hoped to pick up some tips for creating a more sheltered space.

turning left

The forecast – St Swithin notwithstanding – played ball on Sunday so off I set in gorgeous sunshine. Stopping for a few refreshments on the way (the wild raspberries have been incredible this year and I spent a good few minutes just shovelling these into my face. I also encountered some peach coloured ones which were even more gorgeous but I had scarfed the lot before I thought to take a photo).

wild raspberries

I have cycled some of this road before, but never from the new house, so it was a satisfying mix of route finding and rediscovering old favourites. It was a fairly gentle uphill gradient, and into a stiffish headwind, but I knew I’d get all that back in spades on the way home. And besides, I was going to have to earn my cake.

road ahead in July

It was only as I found the turnoff to the place itself that I remembered the ‘hillside’ bit. And noticed the road switchbacking up the side of the hill in question. And added one more stretch of road to the short list of hills that have defeated me in the area … still, it was worth it for the added kudos among the garden visiting crowd of having cycled there. And the slice of cake the size of my head that I ate with my tea.

hillside garden

Anyway, it turns out the answer to mixing a hillside site with sheltered spots is to have about two acres to play with and plant lots of trees. I shall just have to keep visiting gardens until I find one that’s a bit more to our scale.

garden vista

More garden porn below.

veg plots

I always make a beeline for the veg plots on these visits


steps and flowers

Next month will be a bigger adventure, with more cake, if all goes to plan. And the month after that too …

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.

To Do List

March 31, 2017
sunlight and shadows on the field

No reason for including this photo, except that I do love the way the sunlight moves over the landscape and picks out the contours in this field

I was awake this morning at 2am with a list of all the things I had to remember to do today churning around in my head (I actually got up and wrote the list … it’s the only way to get back to sleep if you’re plagued by this sort of thing). And then I’ve been on the go from the moment I actually got up – one of those days that just feels a bit relentless, with every new email a new thing to do. It reminds me of when I had a proper job as a manager and often I would get into work at 8:30 and open my email then spend the time until 6:30 just reacting to stuff until it was time to go home, without having done any of the things I’d hoped to get done in the intervening ten hours (if anyone was wondering why I might quit a well-paying job in a fantastic institution, well, that’s your answer).

I’m not complaining – I have brought this on myself, and I’m doing something I feel passionate about, and it’s only for the next few weeks, and I’m working with a great group of fellow campaigners whose enthusiasm and energy is brilliant and amazing even as it generates ever more stuff that needs to be done. And it helps that, for the last three days the rain has been equally relentless so I have felt absolutely no resentment at being chained to the computer alternately answering emails and looking at lists of local authority candidates (which is more interesting than it sounds, but only slightly).

Freshly laid tarmac

But the problem is I had resolved to try a new route on the bike every month this year, and somehow it’s already the last day in March. And all I had time for this afternoon was a dash up to New Nearest Village to pick up a prescription. This might mean a new stretch of road, but only in the sense that the tarmac had been freshly laid, not a new route

But, with the sun finally putting in an appearance, I did realise that I had an opportunity to do the tiniest bit of exploring along a road that leads out of the village and through a tiny hamlet past the school. So I took it.

The road not yet taken

As new routes go, ‘detouring half a mile out of your way’ is a box-ticking exercise that the coonsil would be proud of, but what can I say, needs must when the devil drives.

sun and clouds

I shall do better in April, I hope. But don’t count on it.