Monthly Archives: March 2015

What do you Feel? The First Bit.

OK, yet another ramble in the realm of the senses. This one has been a long time ruminating, wondering and generally meandering through ideas. There are two sides to feeling, the physical and the mental. So, I thought I’d put my thoughts down about the first type.

Cruising well, no aches!!

Cruising well, no aches!!

It’s Spring now officially, so though the temperature is in double figures, how come snow has recently been pelting on the windows? So the sensations of the weather, that soft snow caressing your face or the hail at the other extreme causing agony to any exposed bits. The rain, so different every time. That ‘soft rain’ as the Irish call it, a wee smurr that gently makes contact. Then another contrast, that lashing gale where it feels like sandblasting might be a preferable experience. Even when there’s nothing falling from above, there’s the wind, almost always present here. If there’s dust or sand mixed in then there’s the delight of the perfect exfoliant on your skin. When the wind blows hard behind the sudden warmth of that still bubble of air around you if you’re going downwind at the same speed. On a still clear day there’s the feeling of the sun on your skin, reminding you that your sun screen has not been rubbed in it usually is. So just a few of the feelings we get in our changeable climate. Then there are the internal physical feelings – oh no! Those knees are twinging again, overdoing it, seat too high or low, too far forward or back or just the glorious ageing process? The pain in the shoulders as the 90th mile goes past. That slight pain in my feet, shoes done up too tight, too many socks to combat the cold? Also, the various aches in the legs either top or bottom, that tightness after a hard week, that pain that tells you that a rest day is in order, but worst of all CRAMP – aghghghghg. The one that comes last here is the behind, that bad saddle sore or better, the discovery that chamois cream really does work. Best of all though is the ride where once you have finished you realise you haven’t thought about your body at all, except maybe to delight in the smooth workings of all your bits – yes, it does happen. I’m certain there are masses of things good and bad I have missed out, there is just so much to enjoy and hate about your physical feelings. On a totally different tack, the other day was wildly windy. We had battled upwind to visit a local castle.       Talk turned to Strava segments on the return. So it was hell for leather on the way back, with a final dash hard up our local hill, yoh must be a PR. Alas no, the Garmin had gone nuts. Ah well, I’ll just have to wait for the next gale! The segment was from the railway crossing up to the B1377, never mind.

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Tour of Britain 2015 – Checking Out the Route

A wee bit of joy came the way of the Scottish contingent of this Sceptred Isle just recently. This year’s Tour of Britian (henceforth, for the length of this blog, to be know as the TofB) is not only coming to Scotland but will be a local whizz past as well. I’ve already booked my spot on the Rigg, but more of this later. So we’ve maybe got Mark, Bradley and who knows who else likely to be popping past in September?

So why all this fuss – well, the route for the TofB has just been announced and Stage 4 goes from Edinburgh over our local hills, the Lammermuirs, down to Blythe in Englandshire. So I decided to check out how the route looked after the winter. It’s still not vastly warm yet, in our terms, so I was well happed up. An easy first bit up to the cafe at Gifford. Arrived – shut!! Ah well, if I will arrive on their day off serves me right I suppose.

Outside the cafe at Gifford - Yester Kirk

Outside the cafe at Gifford – Yester Kirk the TofB will belt round this corner, hopefully the bus will be out of the way

So no coffee or sustenance just off up the hill.

The glory of tractors? Hills to climb up top right

The glory of tractors? Hills still to climb up top right

Lovely day with a gentle wind behind, I came up the first wee steeper ascent with its 17% rise. As I puffed over the crest I thought of how the pro teams would just treat it as a wee bump. Then a steady climb up past Snawdon and over the first cattle grid.

Down to the cattle grid, the steep climb up Redstone Rigg ahead top right

Down to the cattle grid, the steep climb up Redstone Rigg ahead top right

I once rattled over this grid coming the other way down the hill fast and my bike bag under the saddle shot past me off into the undergrowth. The thump of the cattle grid had broken the clip holding it on. So, I wonder how the pros will cope with this at speed.

Then up Redstone Rigg, another 17%+ climb, getting gradually steeper as it nears the top. The roads are a mess here so I guess there’s work to be done. And my chosen spot is the bend at the steepest bit, good views of them coming up the hill and then speeding past.

Slow for me, but for the pros?

Slow for me, but for the pros?

Top of the Rigg, a bit of work needed?

Top of the Rigg, a bit of work needed?

Another cattle grid at the top and then a left turn

The cattle grid at the top

The cattle grid at the top

This is followed by an amazing, glorious descent, long and fast. My max down here is 50 mph+, so I dread to think of how the teams will do. There’s also a cattle grid on the way down so that could be dodgy as well. At the bottom I turn back for home, more hills, past the white castle iron age hill fort, the monastery and back.

Looking back up the hill - the fast descent

Looking back up the hill – the fast descent

White Castle Iron Age Hill Fort

White Castle Iron Age Hill Fort

Nunraw Monastry

Nunraw Monastery

A couple of days later Terry gives me a buzz. We’d done my birthday run together, so how about another ride? So off to the land of the wind turbines, with an 18% climb up to them. First though a stone on our back roads. I shot down the hill not realising, half way up the other side looked back and no Terry. Had he skidded off the road? Had he riden into a fence? I made my way back up the steep hill and there he was busy mending a pinch puncture, perfectly OK of course. A group of cyclists came past, stopped for a wee chat and then they carried on.

Almost done

Almost done

Flat tyre restored, we carried on up Elmscleuch, the steepest climb around here, I reckon. At the top a turbine sprouted from my head, so energised we carried on over the tops and eventually down to the valley to rejoin a lower part of the TofB route.

Elmscleugh, second steep bit to come, only 7% here

Elmscleugh, second steep bit to come, only 7% here

Self generating energy?

Self generating energy? Just call me Turbine Heid

This time the road was good, with just occasional gravel, and we swept down the glen and over the lovely bridge that crosses the River Whiteadder.

Elegant Bridge over the River Whiteadder

Elegant Bridge over the River Whiteadder

We soon left the TofB route and started our climb back over the moors, engulfed at one point by smoke from a muir burn (burning off the heather to allow new shoots to grow for feeding the grouse, which then get shot!).

House at Longformachus

House at Longformachus

Passing the muir (moor) burn

Passing the muir (moor) burn

Ghost Rider?

Ghost Rider?

Eventually back to Gifford and a welcome coffee and Danish pastry, then home 50+ miles and 5,000+ feet of climbing, not bad for a wee recce?

It was meant to be 67, the best laid plans . . . . .

Well, I had promised myself I would try to do 67 miles on the bike for my 67th birthday a couple of days ago. The forecast was unpleasant so I decided to go yesterday instead. I had planned an interesting route to Stirling with a lot of cycle path mileage and a train journey back. Then Terry rang me up. He fancied chumming me so that was settled then. Back to the drawing board for a route amendment.

So, early (for me!) start, and off at 7.30 am, temperature rising to the dizzy heights of 1ºC. But, the wind, though slight, was behind. So off up the road to meet Terry and then along the cycle track on the site of the old railway. A bit muddy and slidey in places, but hey life’s an adventure?

The mucky cycle track

The mucky cycle track

Then back on to real roads and a sweep down to and along the Firth of Forth, past Musselburgh Race Course & over the Tyne.

Musselburgh race course

Musselburgh race course

Over the River Esk at Musselburgh

Over the River Esk at Musselburgh

As you’ve probably realised it was a bit grey and murky, but sunshine was on offer later. We then had a short section on the main road, till we got to Joppa and the start of ‘The Prom’. This is a lovely section except for dodging pedestrians, children, dogs, a boxing group doing an outdoor session and other cyclists.

Down the promenade at Portobello

Down the promenade at Portobello – this bit was empty though

Then at the end of The Prom a bit more main road stuff till Leith Links, back on to cycle paths. I had loaded the route on to my Garmin and it urged me to go right. We obeyed and swept magnificently round in a triangle to land up where we started. This would not be the last time! So pedal on, the right way this time. Down past Lamb’s House and then cobbles and more cobbles – felt like the Leith Roubaix! So ‘Sunshine on Leith’, except it wasn’t. We passed over the Water of Leith, strangely enough where I had watched the filming a couple of years back. This time there was a rather odd cormorant of a type we’d not seen before.

No sunshine over Leith

No sunshine over Leith

Strange cormorant

Strange cormorant

Once more we delved into the mysteries of the former railways of Lothian. I think because we were low down in the cuttings the GPS signal was somewhat erratic. Once again we shot off completely away from our intended route and landed up by the sea again. So it looked like another unintentional diversion – and once again not for the last time. At least this time as we meandered round the coast and the deliciously named Silverknowes we passed by Muirhouse Mansion with its superb fancy chimneys. The area is now better known for its housing estates, but back in the day it must have been quite a place.

Muirhouse Mansion

Muirhouse Mansion

We managed to get back on track more or less and passed by J K Rowling’s Edinburgh house. Time for a quick break. We stopped on Crammond Brig (Bridge) for a quick, a stretch and a non-fashion show. The river tumbled way down beneath us, brown with the recent rains.

Break at Crammond Brig

Break at Crammond Brig

Disreputable Crew?

Disreputable Crew?

So refreshed, onwards and upwards – the tiny hill from the Brig beckoned. Great, a good stretch of cycle way, reasonably surfaced, lay ahead of us. We bowled along happy as anything after all the various twists and turns. Then, a big yellow sign lay ahead. DIVERSION it screamed in big, big letters. The cycle path was closed and the main road was definitely not an option. Off we went into the estate on a road that seemed as though the diversion would be a pleasant experience. We passed the local posh house, not sure if it is still occupied, but the horse outside was quite something.

Dalmenny House

Dalmenny House

Then things became worse. The track deteriorated into bumpy, lumpy gravel, stones and mud. Arms, legs and backside were being hammered – it was the Dalmenny Roubaix this time, a special vibro masssage for free! Thank you Specialised for making a bike with zertz inserts and gel covered handlebars, and me for fitting 25mm tyres. Gradually though we came into sight of the Bridges. The iconic Forth Railway Bridge drifted into view vague behind the trees and gradually looming larger and larger in front of us.

Dalmenny Estate

Dalmenny Estate

Forth Rail Bridge

Forth Rail Bridge

Classic View?

Classic View?

The three bridges & a tug

The three bridges & a tug

Train Time

Train Time

So the first part of our journey was nearly over, all we had to do was find a way up onto the road bridge. Off we went through the town. Oh No!! More cobbles and this time the worst of the lot. It was the South Queensferry Roubaix. With chattering teeth from the vibrations we popped out at the far end and lo and behold a wee ramp leading up to bridge appeared before us. My Garmin informed us that we were on the right route again. And we had a lovely cycle track across the road bridge and the Forth, even though the cars and lorries were thundering past beside us.

Forth Road Bridge

Forth Road Bridge

Hurrah, we had at least reached Fife. We trundled through Inverkeithing, up past a fine old fashioned bike shop, but no time to browse. North, go north we did and eventually picked up a cycle track leading off to the east along a former railway with the wind pushing us gently along. Oh joy. Unfortunately we had to skirt through Dunfermline and guess what? Yes we got mislaid yet again, not sure why but at least it was just for a little. Eventually we started tramping along passing dogs, runners, walkers, cyclists, prams but this time horses as well. The Ochill hills also began to get closer. Only downside was stopping to stretch and eat some Jelly Babies, which we promptly spilled onto the ground covered with effects of all the various human and animal traffic and certainly not too edible after the baby spill.

Looking to The Ochils

Looking to The Ochils

We managed to to divert not too much coming through Alloa, though we meandered a bit true to form. The local architecture looked amazing, even without the promised sun, and the little track was a joy, with things like an old ruined doocot (dove cot or pigeon loft) not that long after the town

Back end of Alloa

Back end of Alloa

An old doocot

An old doocot

More of The Ochils

More of The Ochils

Now guess again what happened after this? Yup – maybe going too fast, maybe day dreaming, maybe taking in the scenery too much. We missed another turning and landed up too far north at Menstrie. This time it was a busy main road with loads of unpleasant traffic after the quiet of the cycle tracks and a cold headwind to add insult and still no sun. Drafting time after having been companionable most of the way. But the Wallace Monument (aye, him of Braveheart fame) grew closer and our destination was not far down the road.

The Wallace Monument gets nearer

The Wallace Monument gets nearer

Past the monument (must go one day), wheech down the side roads, over the Forth, a lot smaller here, over the bridge and into the station. Hurrah we’ve made it, coffee, rolls maybe cake as well. But no chance, the next train was leaving in 7 minutes, so tickets hurriedly bought, bikes hauled up and down station stairs and onto the platform for a short wait before the train announce itself. Onto the carriage and a nice young lady removed her bike from the rack to make way for us as she was getting off at the next station.

Stirling Station

Stirling Station

Cramped bike transport

Cramped bike transport

Back to Edinburgh, there was a connecting train in a few minutes but we couldn’t face it. Off to get a giant coffee and a massive baguette, much needed by now. Then over to the platform for the next train, this time using the lifts. In this busy station we couldn’t face lifting our bikes up and down the crowded stairs. Then onto the train, a bit of luxury for the bikes and views of Edinburgh’s old jail as we sped towards our final section of the journey.

A bit of luxury for the bikes

A bit of luxury for the bikes

Leaving Edinburgh

Leaving Edinburgh

Back along the chilly, muddy cycle path when suddenly Terry was going really slowly. I thought the distance had got to him a bit. He complained that the bike sounded as though the rear wheel bearing was going. When I looked the rear tyre was flat. We pumped it up and with just 1 km to home Terry was totally determined just to get back. After a cheery farewell I was on my own again, into the wind and the temperature down to 3ºC. I got to the hill above the village and looked at the mileage. It was 137km. The latest Strava Grand Fondo Challenge was 150 km – how could I resist. So off on an extra circuit with a wee bit extra thrown in and then home. Yeh, done it!!!!!!! With all the extras thrown in my 67 mile trip had become 94.4 miles (151km) and I felt great.

And today as a mini celebration I went sea & surf canoeing with a pal.

Roll on 68?

Note: Normally I take a route map along as I find the Garmin map hard to read. Because of the last minute changes I didn’t manage to print one off – the very time I could have done with it.

Also apologies for the photo quality, lots of them taken on the move from a camera over my shoulder on automatic, ah well.

The Birthday Bash

The Birthday Bash

107.2 km – it’s only going to get harder as the years go by?

Harbingers of Spring

Harbingers of Spring

Well spring appears to be sprung. it’s suddenly warmed up (for now), there’s a vast snow melt & floods up north and the season’s flowers are emerging.

Plus I get to be a little older in birthdays in a few days time.

So what am I planning if the weather allows? I should be taking the train up to Stirling and cycling home. It’s just 107.2 kilometres and on reasonably flat terrain, compared to here.

Why 107.2, well it’s 67 miles and that’s the birthday I’m hoping to celebrate. I think this is maybe a bad precedent to set? Next year it may have to be 108.8 km, the year after 110.4 and in 33 years time 160 km. I think I’ve maybe made a rod for my own back?

Maybe I should have made the challenge 67 km, but where’s the fun in that?

And just for your enjoyment a wee neighbour just up the river a couple of days ago.

A Dipper keeping an eye open beside the Scottish Tyne

A Dipper keeping an eye open beside the Scottish Tyne

ps Apologies – I just can’t resist – it’s the mathematician in me!!

My Nemesis and The Walk of Shame

It started with my nephew’s bike. It’s a touring bike with a good selection of gears, straight bars, slightly heavy and upright and also a bit too big.

We were all staying at his aunt’s in the wilds of Herefordshire. The house is up on a ridge in a countryside full of narrow  back lanes, muddy, damp and pot holed. But, a bike is a bike and I was grateful for the loan of it.

I discovered that starting near the top of a hill is a drawback as there’s always that climb up at the end of the day. Also, the area is fully of steep hills, often ramping up to well over 15%, often with a wee section of 20%+. So it is all quite challenging.

On one of my rides I discovered Mill Lane. Aghghghghghghgh – and I’ll tell you why later. 2/3rds of the way up I was struggling and staggered off and started walking, slowly, very slowly. But the challenge had been set. Next day, a short ride and I was back. This time, heart pounding, lungs gasping, legs aching I was up without a dismount. Yippee.

When I got home and uploaded my stats I discovered, much to my amazement, I had become King of that particular mountain.

So, 8 months later, I was back, relegated to a lowly 2nd place on my nemesis.

What every cyclist should wear?

What every cyclist should wear?

This time I was with my trusty steed ready for “That Hill” This time we were cat and house sitting.

The cat being sat

The cat being sat

By this time you might be thinking, “What is it with this guy and this hill?” or maybe not.

Well now, the hill starts right after you’ve passed what looks like an old mill house, then cycled down the stream to emerge at the slope ahead. You then know you’ve only got half a mile to the top.

First you cycle down the stream!!

First you cycle down the stream!! The hill rises up to the top right.

Straight away it ramps up to over 20%, take it easy, take it slow, take it easy take it slow, then a wee rest at 15%. Oh no off again, another 22%+ ramp, then another ‘flat’ bit at only 10%. Onward and upward, wheel spin on the gravel as the next 20% section is underneath the bike, then a turn round the bend at a mere 17% before the final kick up at over 22% till it eases off with an almost downhill feeling 3% (OK well not quite, but it certainly feels easier).

So, take it slow at first, up out the saddle by the third ramp and gasping and spluttering as I reach the top of the fourth steepest ramp. Then ahead of me a car looking abandoned across the road with its passenger door wide open, almost blocking the path ahead. I manage to crawl past the driver’s door, gasping something to the woman putting up a notice beside me. I recover enough to get to the top. Done it!!!

Later, when I look at the result I see I’ve just exactly equaled the time on my last attempt. See that car!!

So next day I know that !@£$%^&?|>!! hill has still got my name on it.

So, three days later, after being penned in by the weather, rested and recuperated, I’m ready. A quick 5 mile warm up and I’m at the bottom again, cycling down the stream. Scooting up the first bit – easy, then it bites back. I’ve gone too fast. By the fourth steep section I’m puggled. I’m sure I can taste blood in my mouth, I’ve just overdone it my breathing and heart rate seem to have gone ballistic, should I do this to myself? It’s the walk of shame again. I push the bike up that last steep section, hop on and try to cycle quickly up the last section. Ah well, not to worry, won’t be down this way for a while so maybe next time and it’s off for another 20 miles of ups and downs.

An amazing collection of old items

An amazing collection of old items

The ride is excellent, though clarty, passing buzzards, ducks, cows, tractors, the amazing house shown above and the army base where the SAS are rumoured to train. We watched a dismantled Boeing 747 swathed in white plastic on three huge trailers negotiating the narrow lanes on its way to the base the day before. Presumably to be used for training.

Got home and loaded up the stats much later. Wow! Even with walking it was my fastest time up that hill, well I never!

And who was the person with the KOM? It turned out to be a pro rider from Texas on a 100 mile jaunt, so a different league altogether.

But if I’m back later in the year . . . . . . .