Category Archives: steep

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?

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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 . . . . . . .

Englandshire & Welsh ups & doons

Well then, a visit doon sooth to cat and house sit in an 11th century Grange (a farm run by monks from the nearby Abbey).
Stopped at my nephew’s overnight to perform my role as a gruncle as well. Unfortunately when I arrived at the Grange Rob messaged me to say I had left my cycle shoes at his 😱, but that they’d posted them off 😃.
So two days later, the cat stopped clawing me enough, in that tender way cats do, to allow me to thank the postie & get out on the bike.
There wasn’t too much time before sunset, so I thought a wee 15 to 20 mile spin would do the trick.
But . . . I’d forgotten a couple of things or more. First of all there’s a lot of steep hills in Herefordshire, at least four on the ride had sections over 18%. Then there’s all these little twisty turny lanes all over the place – more of this later. And it was getting chilly, luckily I had a laminated OS map section tucked down my front (lucky in more senses than keeping me warm).
So carefully down the steep, gravelly, pot holed, narrow road, up the steep road opposite, a lovely descent till the fences and defences round the base where the SAS are rumoured to train. The next day we were stopped in the car here as two huge plane bodies made their slow, slow way round the tiny lanes.
Then down the main road and off up and down, up and down, up and down the dodgy wee lanes (you get the idea?). Suddenly, despite the map, I decided I was somewhat mislaid. After a sweeping whooshing descent, through an icy shower, map time again and I realised that I’d gone a bit too far.
Decision time, back over different ups & downs or try to whizz back along the flatter valley, trying to race against the fading light.
So, the valley it was. I raced along and made it to the bottom of the steep initial hill and crawled up it before turning down the lane home in the gloom.
It was brilliant! I love those times when you get it all slightly wrong and haul yourself out.
So 30 miles instead of 20, and over 2,500 feet of climbing, so much for a quick wee trip!
😈

IMG_2207
The Cat being looked after.

Adventure – Thoughts on a Talk.

Soloing Mont Blanc a few years ago

Soloing Mont Blanc quite a few years ago

For the last couple of years I’ve been giving occasional talks to various groups and I’ve committed myself to another soon.
To me I’ve led what seemed to be a fairly normal life, but seeing things through the eyes of others it seems less so.
Previous offerings for talks have been a trip to Nepal, climbing & trekking, and another on ‘Hidden East Lothian’, showing all the odd places, objects, and wildlife in the area that folk normally don’t see or notice.
I was asked to do another one which is coming up soon. So what to talk about – I decided on ‘Adventures’

So, first look up Adventure, how is it defined?
1a : an undertaking usually involving danger and unknown risks
b : the encountering of risks
2: an exciting or remarkable experience
Origin of ADVENTURE
Middle English aventure, chance, risk, from Anglo-French, from Vulgar Latin *adventura, from Latin adventus, past participle of advenire to arrive, from ad- + venire to come — more at come
First Known Use: 14th century

Ah yes, done a bit of this!

Looking into Tibet from Yala Peak, Nepal

Looking into Tibet from Yala Peak, Nepal

Started early, with my Ma & Pa, trekking over the hills & Youth Hostelling before we were 10. Staying in odd locations around Britain and so on. By the age of 16, I’d been on a few multi day canoe/ camping trips with pals, including a canal trip with a total gale which blew canal boats out of the water, we managed to keep our tent down somehow. I’d also started climbing & mountaineering so used to hitchhike off to the hills. Me and my pals also from an earlier age used to go off on our bikes for the day & set up off road courses on old bomb sites in the city.

So when it came to a career, Outdoor Education was the thing, first as a schoolteacher, then into local authority centres. So adventure just became a normal part of life.

So now, retired I look back and realise that life has been a real adventure,

Singing & playing for the seals after a force 10 gale at sea, just below Loch Coruisk, Skye

Singing & playing for the seals after a force 10 gale at sea, just below Loch Coruisk, Skye

Square Rigger, Inca - The Clipper Challange 1982

Square Rigger, Inca – The Clipper Challange 1982

sailing in gales,

Canoeing the Falls on the River Tummel - I'm there somewhere.

Kayaking the Falls on the River Tummel – I’m in there somewhere.

The Grade III falls at Gradtully

The Grade III falls at Gradtully

white water, sea and loch canoeing trips,

Wandering up the Concordia Glacier in the Alps, this was a rock bridge over a deep crevasse

Wandering up the Concordia Glacier in the Alps, this was a rock bridge over a deep crevasse

Ski Mountaineering Scottish Highlands

Ski Mountaineering Scottish Highlands

Winter solo canoe camping & mountaineering

Winter solo canoe camping & mountaineering

mountaineering (summer, winter, on ski & foot), climbing, glacier wanders, bivvying on the ice,

Cyclist's road hazard on Mull, Scotland - a highland 'coo'

Cyclist’s road hazard on Mull, Scotland – a highland ‘coo’

cycle trips,

Cheatah

stroking cheatahs and so on. All not at a super high level, but generally just getting out into the wilds.

Now, as I get a wee bitty older, I maybe should slow down, but to hell with that. For my 60th I did a solo road trip round California and Nevada, sleeping in the car or woods,

Climbing in Yosemite, a few hundred feet up

Climbing in Yosemite, a few hundred feet up

climbing and rafting at Yosemite, skiing down the Palisades at Lake Tahoe & meeting many interesting folk.
Six years later, I’ve cycled more than ever over the last year and am hoping to do a few ski trips into the Scottish hills this winter and the rivers are up and calling.

So where did all this thirst for adventure come from? Well both grandads were in the Merchant Navy wandering all over the world. One of them was part of an Arctic expedition to the then relatively unknown Kara Sea.

My Grandad on the Kara Sea expedition, very early 1920s

My Grandad on the Kara Sea expedition, very early 1920s

As I said my mum & dad were into cycling & youth hostelling in a big way in their youth, so some of this has rubbed off too I reckon.
So for the next 66 years – well, life’s just an adventure isn’t it?

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.

Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!

Chilly Scottish mist

Chilly Scottish mist

Only event I’ve done this year – The Tour of Tweeddale down in the Scottish Borders, which I love. Friendly, magic soup at the food stops, good organisation, well signed etc.

I’ve entered this event for the last 3 years since it started. The first year it was just over 90 miles, last year 99 and this year 80, so looked like it was going to be easier.

Left home and it was 8ºC, so not too bad, had on two cycling shirts, the leg & arm warmers for the hanging about bit. Got down to Peebles, the car registered 3º – but I had on my down ‘gilet’ so felt good. Meet up with all sorts of friends and acquaintances and good chat with new faces.

Leg warmers off and set off into the misty gloom with the Haddington/ North Berwick crews, cruising along averaging about 17 mph. Instant freeze up of hands, strangely  the rest of me OK. The Garmin if I could have seen it registered 1º for the next hour and more. Luckily with all these fit people up front, apart from my occasional leads, it helped mitigate the wind chill a wee bit. Not only was the mist down, but my glasses were just about opaque as well and with lumps of frozen sausages for fingers I was finding it awkward to change gear, let alone the thought of having to do some emergency braking. Even when the sun came out the mist hung low & the faint glow wasn’t enough to warm things up.

We came up Loch Talla, which looked absolutely amazing. The mist was swirling across the water, breaking up and reforming with the sun  casting bright patterns everywhere and the hills behind coming and going. I had meant to bring my camera, but had left it in the car by mistake – damn! At the end of the loch came ‘The Wall of Talla’. This climb out of the glen averages 20%, ramping up to 30% in places so it’s a slow grind up, but in the sun luckily. A really good warming up process with a fantastic swoop down on the other side past Meggat water. By now I had about 8 working fingers and enough confidence in braking to ‘go for it’ with the rest of the faster folk. Total exhilaration.

A stop at the food station by now with hands operating as per normal, with thick, thick delicious soup and other goodies. The Haddington crew went off while Jo & I waited for Ronnie. The rest of the trip was good with a couple of good climbs, one long and progressive (Berry Bush), and the other (The Witchie Knowe) steeper, with the summit always in view, sometimes not seeming to be any closer, then through the gap & down, down, down.

Ronnie & I - Tour of Tweeddale 2013, cheery as ever

Ronnie & I – Tour of Tweeddale 2013, cheery as ever

Ronnie & I were sharing the lead with Jo doing her occasional bit. But at one point I looked back & there were 8 folk on our wheels, ah well. So as in the past a great event with fabulous scenery, great company and some challenging terrain and a few new PRs. Better get in training for next year?

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