Drive, Interrupted

January 11, 2019

As part of my bid to get more walking done without doing too much in the way of additional driving, a visit to Duns presented an opportunity to try a walk we’ve long talked about doing, but never left enough time to actually do: the walk up past the Grey Mare’s Tail waterfall to Loch Skeen.

Grey Mare's Tail

Today, we finally got ourselves organised and packed some sandwiches and left a couple of hours early to give ourselves time to explore. It’s a steep climb at the start but with a well-made path; I’ve done enough conservation volunteering in the past to appreciate the effort that goes into these trails. It was especially appreciated when there are precipitous drops – this isn’t maybe a walk for those prone to vertigo.

view from the climb

For everyone else, although it’s pretty strenuous to start with, the views are worth it.

tail burn

It levels off once past the main waterfall and soon we were walking along a pretty burn that tumbles down cascades and into rocky pools. We spotted some of the wild goats that roam the area, and the sheep that were busy keeping everything close cropped. After our visit to Carrifran, I couldn’t help wondering what the valley might be like if the sheep and goats were vanished and the trees and scrub allowed to return. It might help a bit with the erosion, too (that said, our sandwiches had lamb in them, so I confess we’re part of the problem).

landslip at the Grey Mare's Tail

On the whole, it’s better not to think about this giant landslip until you’re back at the car park… (the path is the line above it)

All good walks need a great endpoint (apart from the part where you finally get to sit down and take off your boots). It was only recently that I realised this walk took you up to a loch hidden up in the hills – and even though I knew it was there, it was still very striking to turn a corner and find Loch Skeen filling the whole bowl of the valley.

loch skeen

It was also rather nippy, so we didn’t linger over our sandwiches.

Loch skeen

And then it was just a matter of walking down again…

walk back down

Much as I love the whole active travel thing, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t grateful for our car’s comfy seats and internal combustion engine, wafting our tired legs onwards to Duns in time for tea. But all in all, it was a good way to break up the drive, get in some hill walking and explore another corner of our world that we’ve been passing by for so long.


Right to Roam

January 5, 2019

After last weekend’s adventure, I’ve been wondering about finding some hill-climbing walks closer to home. Then the other day we were chatting with our octogenarian neighbour and she told us that they used to climb up to the nearby trig point on New Year’s Day. Today, with sunshine forecast, seemed the perfect opportunity to give that a go.


A less than appealing road for walking on (cycling on it is bad enough)

According to the neighbour there is a track part of the way up from the road, but the problem was getting to the start of the track, as the road is fast and narrow and we didn’t really fancy walking along it on what was a fairly winding stretch. The alternative was across the fields from our house which we have, as a commenter on last weekend’s blog pointed out, a perfect right to do:

You do realise you’re free to walk across *any* fields in Scotland, including those with animals or crops in them, and even ones that have barbed wire fences enclosing them? No permission necessary!

This is, undeniably, true but in practice – just as cyclists have the right to ride on (almost) any road – there’s a difference between being free to do something and it actually being a practical and enjoyable proposition, especially if you’re not a badger and can go under barbed wire fences instead of over them. So there were a few ‘interesting’ bits as we squeezed through gaps and over walls and sent flocks of sheep scattering over the horizon.

badger run

Once we’d found the track it was easier going, apart from the whole slogging uphill part – you can cycle up as many hills as you like on a bike and it doesn’t seem to make walking up them any easier. On the other hand, you can spot more interesting wildlife when you’re on foot

Tremella mesenteric (yellow brain or witches’ butter) (You realise, I don’t know any of this stuff, I just ask people on social media)

The highlight was an interesting shaped pond in front of an old ruined cottage – I couldn’t decide whether it was art or accident.

spiral pond

In fact, the only real fly in the ointment was the lack of the promised sunshine – the views from the top were less than spectacular on a murky sort of a day.

murky views

All in all, a less photogenic walk than last weekend’s, but at least it was on our doorstep and a bit of an adventure. Time to get the Ordnance Survey out and see if we can scope out a few more …

Booting Up

December 30, 2018

A week in proximity to the Mournes (and also in a house that was walking distance to a town centre) has reminded me how little real walking I do generally, whether of the yomping up hills variety, or the popping out to the shops kind. It’s also reminded me that I used to quite like yomping up hills (and, indeed, popping out to the shops), but being fit on the bike doesn’t necessarily translate into easy hillwalking, especially on uneven surfaces.

So now that we’re home, and with a nice mild December day in prospect, we decided to go for a walk.

Two walks, actually – we cut our first coastal one short because lunch was calling. Having found ourselves a cafe of the ‘all day breakfast’ variety (often the best kind) we tried an inland one as well.

All in all, a very pleasant outing and a nice change. I’m a bit ambivalent about the whole idea of going for a drive in order to go for a walk, but we’re rather short of options around here otherwise. There are a few short walks we can do out of our front door, but anything longer would require walking along the B road, an even less appetising prospect than cycling along it. Clearly further investigation is needed to find some local accessible hills and get more walking in in 2019.

How the Other Half Live

September 29, 2016

In proof that no good deed goes unpunished, I was rewarded for my efforts to encourage cycling among kids yesterday with a puncture this morning that turned out to be not so much a Bastard Big Thorn as an entire twig which had somehow overcome my tyre’s puncture protection and got itself thoroughly embedded (I had passed the hedge-cutting tractor and wondered if I ought to worry, but I noted it was cutting hawthorn rather than blackthorn and decided I’d be okay… Big mistake).

Bastard Big Thorn

Fortunately I was visiting the office of a cycling friend so she helped* me wrestle with the tyre and provided a patch. Unfortunately, we were so focused on removing the Bastard Big Thorn and getting the tyre back on, we made the schoolgirl error of not checking the inner tube was actually holding air first. I was so demoralised when the tyre immediately went flat again that I let her get back to work and wheeled the bike to the nearest bike shop which has only recently opened (I like to think that Bigtown can only maintain three bike shops plus Halfords because of all the easy tenners they make fixing my punctures) and proceeded on foot to Aldi where I was intent on securing some bargain basement merino.

It’s not a part of town I go to that frequently, to be honest. It’s not a great road to cycle on and, Aldi cycling specials aside, there aren’t many reasons to visit, although possibly the bike shop will change that. But walking up that road, I realised that, unpleasant as it is to cycle on, pedestrians have it much worse. At least on a bike I can pretend to be a car and take a nice direct route, while pedestrians have to be penned in to prevent them from crossing the road in a straight line (after all, with cars enabled to make such nice sweeping turns, it simply wouldn’t be safe to let them cross where it would be convenient for them).

car desire lines

Car desire lines catered for; pedestrian desire lines thwarted.

Cyclists are considered to be an angry, organised bunch, but this sort of thing makes me wonder where all the angry, organised pedestrians are. If I actually spent any time on foot I’d be hopping mad at this sort of thing, all the time. It’s probably fortunate for the coonsil that I’m generally too lazy to walk if I can ride my bike and anyway already have my hands full moaning about the cycle provision. As it is, anyone would think they actually wanted us to drive …

* OK, she did it while I made helpful suggestions and passed her tools.

Walking with a Purpose

December 24, 2015

If you think cycling to the shops is doing it wrong around here, walking to buy something is even more outlandish (unless you’re at the mall, of course). Much as I like going for a walk, I also like walking to get somewhere, especially if that somewhere has some sort of a reward attached. Here you can just about walk to the nearest garage, if you were really desperate for some sort of corn-based cheese-food-flavoured snack products, but otherwise if you wanted to get your treats on foot, we thought we were out of luck. But then we learned that the best donuts in town were actually sold at the nearby Chinese restaurant, which is just over the road:

Although by ‘over the road’ we mean ‘Highway 50’ …

donut shop

here be donuts

Still, when the other half jokingly suggested that if I was going to go for a walk I should pick up some donuts while I was at it, I decided to take him at his word. I did take the slightly more scenic route though – up via the University, past the golf course, through the tumbleweed on the sidewalk …


(that’s slightly unfair – the road in question is a dead end so the tumbleweed has piled up everywhere, not just on the pavements. But you’ve got to love how even a dead end has about 3 lanes in each direction)

dead end road

Anyway, 50 minutes later (I took the more direct route back) I reckoned that the box had it right.

you deserve a donut

And then we went for a proper walk so we could deserve a couple more

Nature Centre, Pueblo

Committing Pedestrianism

May 24, 2015
Flight of pelicans

Blue skies (and scattered showers), palm trees and pelicans

So we made it to Southern California, bringing the rain with us, which I am told is a good thing, but also enough sunshine for it to have been unwise to visit the beach yesterday morning without any sunscreen. We’re not staying right on the coast (which is amazing if you look up – or out towards the ocean, but a bit depressing if you like your towns to be separated from each other by something other than a sign indicating the city limits) – but further in inland where, it turns out, despite the fact that our hotel is nestled in the bosom of the freeway, that right behind it is a bike path that runs along the creek, and would actually take us to the Historic Downtown (historic in that if there ever was a downtown, it’s now history).

The only problem is getting onto it

fenced off path

Top tip for bike path designers, fencing it off from most places (you can get on and off the freeway more frequently than you can this path) doesn’t exactly make for social safety, although at least this means that closing it at dusk is less of an inconvenience than it would otherwise be because there’s no way I’d use a path that’s fenced in like that after dark, especially given the very friendly but ever-so-slightly-sketchy looking people getting stoned under the bridge.

bike path closes at dusk sign

Still, it had its moments. And though the creek was no more than a concrete channel, also fenced off from the path, for some reason, there still was enough bird life* to make me wish I’d brought along my bird book and my binoculars for my post-breakfast constitutional. Or, indeed a bike.

flowers on the fence

And then we got into the car, and onto the freeway and went out to the park for a proper hike, like normal people.

hiking trail

Actually, that was pretty good too…

* Stilts, ibises, egrets, swallows, ducks, kildeer, and a couple of raptors, if you’re interested.

London’s Boiling

July 17, 2014

So I’m in London without my Brompton having reluctantly made the decision that the short few hops I would be able to take on it weren’t worth lugging it down on the train. And it was certainly very pleasant to be able to get onto a Virgin train without having to fret about finding space for even a compactly folded bike in the luggage rack AND to have a hand free to pick up a coffee at Carlisle and save me suffering the horror that is train coffee. It was also a bit of a relief to have the other half around to give me a lift to the station yesterday morning as it was raining quite heavily for the whole period when I would have been cycling and, while technically I don’t necessarily mind cycling in the rain, four hours is a long time to be sitting on a train in wet socks.

That feeling of having made the right decision did diminish somewhat as I emerged at Euston into a budding London heatwave: hot as cycling would have been, it is somehow never as sticky and unpleasant as getting on the tube and the train in rush hour. So today, with the heat forecast to increase, and not being burdened by my bags, I decided to take the train up to Waterloo and then walk the two and a bit miles to my appointment near King’s Cross. After all, when I lived in London, I walked everywhere in zone one and I was quite looking forward to getting my city legs back. I find navigating by bike through London quite hard work, whereas on foot it’s a doddle. I had my A to Z, and there are now handy maps on every corner so I didn’t end up going off at a tangent the way I always do when I’m trying to find my way on a bike. In fact, in the course of my walk, I discovered a much more pleasant cycling route from Kings Cross down to Waterloo Bridge (via Lamb’s Conduit Street, basically) than I’d ever managed to work out for myself before. Not only that but I spotted a fellow Cycling Embassy person as he sailed past on his very spiffy bakfiets and we stopped for a brief catch up and gossip before I continued on my way.

Indeed, I was rather grateful for the break. What with one thing and another – the bike, not really living anywhere within walking distance of anywhere – I don’t actually walk that much these days. And I certainly don’t walk on hard city streets in summer sandals, so by the time I reached King’s Cross my feet were on fire. Sweat or no sweat, I took the tube back and winced the last half mile from the station. Once safely back, I was grateful for a borrowed bike for our afternoon’s excursion to the park – frankly, this walking lark is way too much like hard work. I’ll be happy to get back home tomorrow and back to cycling around again in a civilised fashion

Deer in Bushy Park

You can tell these are London deer and not Scottish ones because a) it’s not raining and b) they’re busy ignoring everyone

Indeed, given it’s due to be even hotter tomorrow than today, I might even be grateful to get back to a bit of … OK, not for any actual rain. But a little bit of Scottish cool summer weather may not go amiss.