Category Archives: animals

Especially for Burns Night & veggies or discerning omnivores all

Whoops, this got lost as a draft, so a bit late!

Just in case, you’re going to veggie Burns Supper you’ll need;

“Ode To A Vegetarian Haggis

1. Oh vegetarian haggis whit a view
Thou glorious, steaming bag of veggie goo
No one could ever say that you
Dish death to beasts,
Not a single murdered chicken, pig or coo
Taints your braw feasts.

2. But noble pud you must ignore the taunting bores
From meaty Caledonia’s shores,
The moaning bloody carnivores
Who think you need
To slaughter sheep in scores
To have good feed.

3. Thy beauteous form can satisfy
The keenest neb or mouth or eye,
Wi’ as braw’ a meal as ane could buy
Pulse, veg and spice
And ev’n sheep eaters that dare to try
Say Oh it’s nice!

4 So stuff the purists and their cries of sin
Let’s split this pudding, serve and shovel it in,
And what the hell if it’s wee skin
A humble plastic bag is.
Let’s drink a toast and we’ll begin
The vegetarian haggis.

Tim Dalling January 1993”

ps for those who don’t know Robert Burns is Scotland’s national bard (poet)

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The Calm During the Storm

In the village, before the storm

In the village, before the storm

It was all because of Gonzalo, who crossed the Atlantic to say hello to us all over here – hurricane Gonzalo.

There have been some gales and wild winds recently, but they bring bonuses.

There’s the decisions do I go out? Upwind first, then turn and have a glorious return? Downwind and start with the delight? Across the wind – will the crosswinds be too much as they swirl through the spaces between the houses or gaps in the hedges? Can I make a route that winds its way between sheltering hedgerows or walls, that will creep up hills that hide the wind, or tack to and fro on a course diagonal to the wind?

So decision made – upwind first & head for the windward mark, tacking as we go (one for the sailors amongst you). After 10-15 miles, enough is enough. The roaring in my ears, either full on or from one side then the other has gone on for long enough, time to turn and head downwind.

Now is the time to choose the exposed bits, the wild upland roads with few walls, fences, trees or hedges. Fly, fly, fly – chasing my own tail.

The suddenly it’s there. That eerie calm when you’re going the same speed as the wind.

. . . .

Quiet.

. . . .

But not still, speeding along at 25 – 40 miles an hour with no sound except the whirr of the pedals, the faint whine of the chain and the sound of tyres quietly moving on the tarmac.

. . . .

Delight.

 . . . .

So – I stop peddling, even calmer, no chain noise on the sprockets, no feet spinning easily round,  just more delight. Then after a mile, 2 miles if I’m lucky, it’s time to work again, or sometimes the meditation is broken by the surface being disrupted, gravel crunching, potholes to be dodged, ruts in the road to be avoided, animals to dodge.

But sometimes, just sometimes I hit that sweet spot. I’ve had it occasionally in other sports, that totally windless day on the top of some peak, with a broken spectre reflected below on a bank of valley cloud, the lake with the perfect reflection and the canoe gliding silently across the surface by an ‘Indian’ stroke without a splash. But somehow it’s not the same. You haven’t tussled & worked so hard against the elements to get to where it can all happen.

Bliss

What do you hear?

Heading down from the Col du Galibier to Lauteret just before overtaking

Heading down from the Col du Galibier to Lauteret just before overtaking

Think this could be a theme coming on, wandering around the senses?

I was very conscious of the sound of my tyres on the road the other day. It was quite windy & I was freewheeling down hill with the wind behind. The tarmac was fairly smooth and a delightful hum came from the front wheel, with no other sound. It set me thinking.

Normal bike sounds, the usual sound of the freewheel, usually fairly quiet on my Shimano set up. The clunk of the gear change or horrendous crunch if, as I occasionally do, get it wrong. The rasp of the tyres in an occasional skid to stop or over-egging it, the squelch through a puddle or ford, the crunch through gravel, the click over the local train level crossing (which is far from level) or the thud over lumps of tractor mud.  The different noises from the brakes – a gentle rub of pads on the rim, a short squeal if there is dust around or a foul crunching if a wet day has thrown gravel onto the rim. The chatter of cycling companions around or beside you usually entertains you. Then there is the explosion of an inner-tube blowing or the hiss of it leaking.

Then there’s the traffic. The quiet hum of cars, or noisier deep throated rumble of a diesel vehicle, coming up behind. The click of a bike gear change that lets you know a fellow cyclist has teamed up. The roar of a boy racer’s car (not usually women) as it violently accelerates past you. The disturbing hoot of a horn sounding from an impatient motorist behind. There’s also the shout of an irate motorist from beside you, often for no reason, ah the joys of pathetic road rage. The sounds of trains running on nearby railway tracks or tractors working in the fields.

Then there are nature’s sounds surrounding you. The different wind noises is almost always a variable constant, sometimes the patter of rain, the crunch of hail or the crack of thunder. There is also the cries of birds and the flurry of wings as they fly towards or away from you. The sparking of the hooves of deer or sheep as they scamper out of your way, hopefully.  Dogs often bark, or sometimes growl as you ride past, sometimes giving you a doppler effect. Horses in fields or ridden along the road give a whole variety of snorts, whimpers coughs etc, with riders often shouting out a cheery greeting, or a quick ‘thanks’.

Also the welcome salutations of friends, other pedestrians or cyclists are an ever welcome part of the soundscape.

But, the worst is the sound of a fall or crash and the groans of the one who has come to grief, such a compendium of grating noises – hopefully hardly ever heard.

And the strangest thing of all, the fact that for those of us lucky enough to have hearing, we mostly just take all of this for granted.

So . . . . . . . . what do you hear?

Sometimes it’s just not . . . . . . . .

An East Lothian pheasant, not dashing out.

An East Lothian pheasant, not dashing out.

. . . . . got your number.

It’s been a funny autumn so far. The wildlife seems to be going a bit nuts. Drivers seem to be a bit less courteous or maybe less thoughtful, birds seem to have their minds on other things.

So – what’s the upshot of all of this.

The Lucky Times

Crossing the hills, the sheep take it into their minds to dash out in front of you, but decide to change course and head back to the edge of the road.

At the edge of the woods the deer skitter in front of you but head off into the trees.

The mad pheasants whizz across just before you, without getting that bit too close.

The flies & bugs that batter your face when your mouth is closed.

And as for humans, we manage to scrape past a big car belting round the blind bend towards us, with our wheels teasing the verges of the road and my back wheel skidding as I brake while angled over. Or the other one, when I was coming up the High Street in our village, she reversed out in front of me, I just managed to scrape round the rear of the ‘Chelsea Tractor’ without making contact. Went back and asked her politely to make sure she looked more carefully next time she pulled out and she said “But I did see you”. I was too flabbergasted to say or think of anything & just rode on shaking my head.

The Bad

Not to me, luckily, but to a cycling buddy.

On a Sunday we go out with a local group. I go out on at 9 am with the slower crew, a coffee stop is almost compulsory. He went out with the 8 am fast crew. I’ve been with them a couple of times, but just feel I’m holding them back when it gets to the hills, plus I feel knackered. Anyways, they were in a group speeding down one of our local hills at 35+ mph when a pheasant flew out into his front wheel. He went from fast to zero in a fraction of time and was thrown right off the bike. He was knocked out for a bit, but recovered consciousness but had a cracked shoulder blade, road rash & skid burns. After a hospital visit he was later back home to recover. The bike’s front fork was broken.

So sometimes, you just can’t do anything about it, fate seems to have its eye on you. So be thankful for the other times when it’s just not your day.

What Do You See?

A wet, chilly miserable day near Kinross

A wet, chilly miserable day near Kinross

My rides vary as we have such different terrain here. Keep to the coastal strip and the ground is undulating, though still with a few sharp hills. Head south and you climb up to the moorland with a lot of steep hills and ascents.

Just a wee local hill

Just a wee local hill – Lothian Edge behind

Then there’s the weather, varies daily from thick haar (smist) floating in from the North Sea, sunshine, gales, calm, clouds, rain, hail, snow – we do have a somewhat variable climate.

There’s also who you are cycling with, solo, with a bunch of friends (coffee stop mandatory), with the ‘Young Thrusters’ wheeling along at a pace that sends my heart rate into orbit.

A flock of swans in a local field with the LAmmermuir hills behind

A flock of swans in a local field with the LAmmermuir hills behind

So, do you keep your head down, do you sit up and look around or just mix and match? I’m usually the latter, my cycling aim is enjoyment, but sometimes that might be the fun of testing myself or screaming down one of our fantastic descents. Other times it’s with a bunch of cycling pals, riding beside each other & chewing the fat, gossiping or discussing the meaning of life. Some times I stop to look at a sunset, what’s scurrying in the hedge row, or watch an adder snaking across the road. Or at times I dangle the camera from my neck and go deliberately to look, photograph or film.

Riding back home, crunchty, crunchety.

Riding back home, crunchty, crunchety.

Some of the places I’ve cycled have been just amazing, especially one’s just around the corner if you don’t take them for granted.

So do you hang over the handlebars, watching the bike a few centimetres in front, do you hang loose or are you just a mixture like me?

Just a couple of miles from our village

Just a couple of miles from our village

A dramatic local castle above the sea

A dramatic local castle above the sea

Mid ride rest beside the loch

Mid ride rest beside the loch

A 1/2 Naked Lady . . . .

Getting to know the cheetahs with my granddaughter at Nambiti, S Africa

Getting to know the cheetahs with my granddaughter at Nambiti, S Africa

I had been thinking of writing about some my strange meetings on my bike when I read Jean writing about her encounter with storks (http://cyclewriteblog.wordpress.com/2010/08/07/behold-a-stork-sightings-during-cycling-trip/).

This has nudged me into looking back a bit at some of my wildlife encounters.

I’ve always worked in the outdoors, canoeing, mountaineering, climbing, skiing, sailing, travelling so have had some pretty amazing happenings, including bears in USA, wild boar, monkeys & huge lammergeier in Nepal, foxes high up in the Alps, a field full of hedgehogs sniffing round my bivvy bag in Norway, stroking cheetahs in S Africa, deer, eagles, capercaillie & a shrew running around the snow in Scotland, being ‘buzzed’ by an owl while riding my motorbike at night and more. But I was thinking more of stuff I’ve come across in my bike wanderings.

Some have been sweet & unthreatening – a shrew dashing across the road in front of my wheels, a weasel running across and diving into the hedge beside me, a hare skelping up the road ahead at a vast rate of knots before wheeling into a gap somewhere.

Others have been a bit more hairy, going along at speed then a couple of deer suddenly clattering on to the road in front & very, very close, their hoofs raising sparks on the tarmac as they tried, successfully to wheel round & scamper off, just missing me. Another deer careering through the woods beside me at over 25 mph for 1/2 mile before turning away. What looked like a piece of wood rolling across the road in front of me, till I realised there was no wind and it was an adder, the only poisonous snake we have her in Britain. Bites or stings or just bruises from insects of various sizes pinging in to me.

But what is probably the most memorable and exciting?

One sunset ride I was down in 1st gear slowly climbing up one of our little steep climbs at about 15%, The road was a narrow with steep banks, trees and bushes above. Suddenly a large animal popped out on the way ahead a few metres away. It was a large male badger. I thought ‘Ah, it’s seen me, it’ll just turn away’. I couldn’t stop anyway or turn round – not wide enough. I was also aware that badgers have very powerful teeth. So – committed. The badger turned a bit more & started trundling down the hill towards me. Oh !@£$%&(@!!. What could I do, just carry on, no other real option really. Just a metre in front the brox decided enough was enough, or I just wasn’t very interesting. It wandered up the bank and off into the undergrowth. I grunted past it with a bit of relief and wonder at the magic of it all.

So what about the 1/2 naked lady?

 

I’ll just have to leave it for another time I suppose.

It’s life’s illusions I recall . . . . . .

With the B-Spokes

With the B-Spokes

It’s a funny thing being out on the bike. While keeping an eye on the road I also like to have a wee neb around me. As it’s usually a quickish glance, sometimes things just aren’t what they seem.

There is a narrow road I normally whizz down  at well in excess of 40 mph from the wind turbines standing at the top, like the Day of the Triffids. It suddenly becomes completely different. Happed in mist, the turbines disappear and even the sound is so muffled I don’t hear them over the slight noise of the bike & road surface. Visibility is so bad I can hardly see the guy in front and we are reduced to crawling down with brakes full on. Suddenly a monster rears up ahead, becomes a huge car with lights full on, going too fast and just missing us. Once beside us, it just appears ordinary again and our heartbeats subside. Then a hundred feet down everything clears and the road becomes normal again.

Another spot I go past, this time climbing up, appears to show an ancient standing stone. I once stopped to have a look – it turned out to be a broken tree stump, though quite high. I still often give it a nod when I pass.

One winter I was just finishing a ride, cold but pleasant and dry. As I turned the corner going slow the road was looking quite wet, almost flooded. I suddenly was on a road width skating rink. Previous snow had solidified to thick ice for about 50 feet along the road with a skim of water on top. I slid to the ground, it was hardly falling, and came gently to a stop no worse for wear but had to skate across with my bike to where the road started.

And then there’s the wildlife, huge birds swooping down to transform into crows, a massive rustling in the undergrowth that becomes a rabbit, a giant dog in a field that is really a hare. Not cycling but ski touring – coming over the top of the hills and wondering how trees could grow this high when the ‘branches’ started to move and a big herd of deer moved off.

Then there’s the illusion of speed or lack of it, sometimes I feel fast and am really pathetic when I see the stats, other times seemingly cruising along and astonished at what I’ve done.

(Added this a day or so later after cycling & thinking: The other thing is the phantom cyclist(s). You spot someone up ahead & start to twitch, ready for action, then you get closer and a fencepost with a sign attached, or a piece of something else suddenly has been morphed from that cyclist you definitely saw.)

So it’s cycling, this strange perception of time, space, weather, fauna, flora, environment etc. that changes every time I click my shoes into my pedals and go.

So, what happens to you?