Category Archives: Uncategorized

Theatre Thursday: Shed the monster

Short but joyful, re blogged from Kite*Surf*Bike*Ramblingwith thanks

Kite*Surf*Bike*Rambling

Cycling is about more than exercise. It’s a lifestyle choice that lifts your mood and gets you out of the house and out of your stressful little world, even for a few minutes. At least that’s what this film from cycling charity PeopleForBikes is trying to tell us.

The advert’s director Evan Fry told Ad Week that although it sounds corny and pretentious “ever since I was a little kid, cycling in one form or another has been my therapy, my church, my athletic pursuit, my trusted friend and my main vehicle for growth.”

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The Challenge Day 4: Windaes

Rachel (RachelSquirrel) has challenged me, not a cycling challenge as such but a photograph and writing one.

The rules of the Five Photos, Five Stories Challenge are:

1) Post a photo each day for five consecutive days.
2) Attach a story to the photo. It can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, or a short paragraph. It’s entirely up to the individual.
3) Nominate another blogger to carry on the challenge. Your nominee is free to accept or decline the invitation. This is fun, not a command performance!

Windaes

Windaes

So, another day of the challenge & wondering what to do. Then it struck me and once again this wonderful village has provided the wherewithal.

Windaes – which is the Scottish for windows.

Look carefully at the windaes in the photo I took today. No look really closely at what is unusual about some of these windaes. There is no glass and they’ve been painted. Inside the buildings there is often a wall or partition behind the window. So why are they there? A lot of the older houses in the village are like this.

I used to think it was because of the days of the window tax, when folk were taxed according to the amount of glass windows they had in their houses. As glass was expensive then it seemed to be aimed at those in society who were richer. But these were the wrong age for the window tax and when I was in some of them I noticed there were walls of rooms cutting across the centre of the false windae. So why were they there?
The explanation was fairly simple, it was done so the house looked more symmetrical according to the tastes of the times. Instead of windows far apart, separated by a blank wall, the illusion was made, a sort of trompel’œil, so that to the casual glance it appeared to be a real window.

And the moral – look up, be inquisitive, it’s surprising what you can find out!

By the way, the bunting is out for our Gala Week, another Scottish feature.

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?

Scotland – contrasts (& a promise to Rachel) + quite a few photies

I’ve lived in Scotland now for over 40 years. It’s home, it’s special to me, I chose it and love it. Why? I love the folk (or the majority of the ones I’ve meet – not everywhere’s perfect!), the humour, the music, the scenery, the history, the wildlife and the changeability (seasons, geology, weather, habitat . . . .) and my grandma came from here.

As for the outdoor life – it can be amazing. I live in the lowlands of Scotland, but within 15 minutes or less I could be cycling, hill walking, surfing, loch & river canoeing, mountain biking, rock climbing, sailing, land yachting, sea canoeing, bird watching, skiing (sometimes), fossil hunting, castle spotting, beach combing etc. etc. etc. Round about are volcanics, sandstones, slates & coal seams, glacial tilt (puddingstone), limestones (with lime kilns & fossils), and the much older graywracke of the Lammermuir hills. Quite a mix in just a few miles. No wonder John Muir was inspired by his boyhood here.

South to the borders are some impressive hills & rivers plus lovely old towns & villages ( and more castles). Go West and Edinburgh & Glasgow beckon with so many attractions. Go North & you’re into the highlands, western side for the truly spectacular landscapes, but more midges & wet more generally,  eastern side for the bigger hills of the Cairngorms & more subtle nooks & crannies.

For me, as a born again cyclist, the country is just amazing, with forests, good climbs, amazing scenery and fabulous sights. To back up this claim I’ve randomly added a few of the many 1,000s of photographs I’ve taken over the aeons. I hope you enjoy them. There’s a wee video cycling through Glen Lyon here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eOWm0oUgoiw

Aberfeldy Birks

Robert Burns statue – ‘The Birks o’ Aberfeldy’ – Birks are beech trees

Beinn Heasgarnich

View north from Beinn Heasgarnach

CanoeTweed

Canoeing on the Tweed

Falkirk Wheel

Falkirk Wheel & maquette for huge horses – the wheel lifts canal boats up

Glen Tress

Glen Tress – while mountain biking

Glencoe-Arisaig wi John 2009-10-05

Glencoe in autumn

GrampionHills

On the Culloden Sportive, Grampian Mountain Range behind

Kenmore 09-08-007

Loch Tay with the reconstructed crannog

Kenmore 09-08-078

Side of a house in Killin

LammermuirsSkiTour

Ski touring in our local hills – the Lammermuirs

Lismore

off Lismore island looking to the mainland, west coast

Loch Quoich 4-04-03

A solo trip to Loch Quoich, doing some winter mountaineering as well

Mull boats

Derelict fishing boats, Isle of Mull

Mull cliffs

Mull cliffs on a cycle trip, the road goes right round the bottom on the raised beach

Mull hazard

Cycling hazards – a highland coo

NT6271Deuchrie

Our local hills in summer

Nuclear Shelter Torness

Cold War relic – a local nuclear shelter (with a nuclear power station & cement works behind)

Pa of Australia Lachlan Macquarie

Lachlan Macquarrie, ‘Father of Australia’ buried on Mull

Sunshine on Leith

Filming ‘Sunshine on Leith’ in Leith, Edinburgh

Tartan Tat

Tartan Tat on sale in Edinburgh (accompanied by loud excruciating bagpipe music)

tynepaddle

One of our local castles – Hailes – has a bottle dungeon & doocot inside

Winter Skills

Instructing – clients practising cramponing on a Winter Skills Course

2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Ah well, the random approach or just a scatterbrain – you be the judge? Thanks for everything since I started folks, hope I’ve given as much as I’ve received.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 560 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 9 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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?

My senses hijacked

Foxlake Cyclocross - Just watch those juniors go!

Foxlake Cyclocross – Just watch those juniors go!

I was going to continue my ramblings about the senses, but my recent two rides have intervened.

It has been quite cold the last couple of days with snow on the local hills. I was tempted to liberate the skis & try to pootle over the hills, but never quite got it together and not sure if there’s enough cover yet.

So, looked out the window yesterday – it was dark, dark, dark, especially as it wasn’t that long after lunch. The thermometer & forecast were round about 2º and I was told “surely you’re not going to go out in that – it’s going to snow”. So only one thing for it – away. Donned double everything & quadruple up top. Hurrah for winter shoes and away we go. First the snow/ice was in the verges, so better to stay well out, just as usual anyway, and stick to the roads I thought would be gritted. The crows were around in the fields, picking a living. Further along a huge flock of rooks swung around the sky and a hare darted off across the field away from me. The hills came into view and looked just great and tempting in their winter whiteness. The it started to rain a wee bit. I suddenly realised I was roasty toasty, cheery and happy & bowling along with a grin all across my face, despite the chill headwind. I wandered up then down towards North Berwick, going for it when the wind finally hit my back. In the town I saw the postie, one of my cycling pals. She was just on her way home from work, so we had a wee chat & then I set of again. The rest of the ride continued with that feeling of joy when things are just right. My legs had been achingly sore 2 days before but seemed back to normal – a real bonus.

Today was a wee bit different, temperature down to 1º and slightly lighter with a hint of a touch of a sight of the sun and a bit less windy. Popped off up the local road, part of the Sustrans route near us. I had warned folk a couple of week ago that they had been cutting the hedges and that I had had a thorn branch stuck in the tyre, pulled it out and that hiss that followed that tells you everything. A friend had posted that the road was OK again if you stuck to the car tyre tracks. Alas I had to cross over to avoid ice. Guess what – yes again, followed by that hiss. !@£$%@:”?><)(!!. So much for puncture proof tyres. Ah well, at least it wasn’t dark. I removed the tube & made sure the tyre was free of stuff on the inside. As I put a brand new tube in the front wheel I noticed it didn’t pump up that well when I pre-inflated it. Damn there was a hole in it near the valve, hurrumph. Luckily I carry to spares. Put the other one in & away I went. All somewhat slowly because of the cold. But the views of the hills showed more snow on the ground.

Carried on & chose a steep ascent to go up as a warm up. Over a mile later at 6% average (rising up to 15% according to Strava) I was definitely warm. Then it was off back hame, chasing other cyclists en route. So all’s well . . . . . .

So 2 days and 2 very different rides with different challenges, but so glad to be able to get out. Tomorrow it is due to rise to a balmy 5-6º so with luck I’ll ride along with one of our local groups. Wonder how it will go?

Two Brill Days – St Andrew’s an’ all

‘Day 1

There was cyclocross on down the road & my mountain bike was ready, I’d not been on it for months and had put a new chain & cassette on and so – time to go. But I was a wee bit late for the off road route so it was down the cycle path into the misty, murky day. Might as well have been off road for all the gravel & stones on it, ah well, a bit of a disgrace for a national cycleway. On the way I passed the local ploughing match. Multitudes of tractors going up & down a wee patch of ground, tearing it up. Not my scene, but I’m sure they must enjoy it all.

Ploughing on a bit of a dreich day

Ploughing on a bit of a dreich day

So after a brief halt it was off down the road for the John Muir Winter Carnival. Not sure if John Muir would have approved, but then again?

There was masses going on, cross-country races, trail running, coastal rowers, wakeboarding, zorbing, crossfit, archery and more.

A wee video from youtube here (from the air):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xLZMIkQw3Lc and a couple of others  on youtube as well.

But I was there for the cyclocross. The youngsters race went first and they were brilliant, scooting up the hills (some of them) and revelling in the mud and glaur – it was more than a wee bit damp!

Junior Cyclocross

Junior Cyclocross

Junior Cyclocross

Junior Cyclocross

Junior Cyclocross

Junior Cyclocross

Junior Cyclocross

Junior Cyclocross

As I trotted round the woods on my old cheapo bike I realised the low chainring was slipping, so it looks like new chainrings are needed as well for steeper climbs. Then it was the turn of the seniors. I was off to Edinburgh to see a play later on (which was great!) so I only had time see the rowers and to watch the practise.

They normally race these boats on the sea

They normally race these boats on the sea

This was great to watch with the best riders zooming up the steep slopes like nobody’s business. Very gloomy though for action shots.

Senior Cyclocross practise

Senior Cyclocross practise

Senior Cyclocross practise

Senior Cyclocross practise

Senior Cyclocross practise

Senior Cyclocross practise

3 cycling buddies at the start line

3 cycling buddies at the start line

Unfortunately – time to go.

Day 2

St Andrew’s day dawned and the Saltire Festival awaited. The sun was out, hardly a breeze, stuff ready and time to go. Called in at a pal’s in Athelstaneford (the supposed birthplace of the Saltire – the Scottish Flag) and posed for a photo or ten.

Athelstaneford - birthplace of the Saltire

Athelstaneford – birthplace of the Saltire

The local pipe band was gearing up as I left. The flag’s journey was to start here & I would help it on its way 20 miles away later. So off I went to Prestonpans to await the rendezvous, with just road works, tractor, mud and  trains to hold me up.

Waiting for the train to pass

Waiting for the train to pass

Off to ‘The Pans’ to change into my kilt, meet the others, and pose for photies

With the Saltire

With the Saltire

‘The others’ were a mixed ability group on a tandem plus an adapted trailer on the back. We set off along the John Muir Way to Musselburgh, hauling the tandem along the sea wall to pass gates, through mud, gravel and all the stuff that makes it a bit iffy on a road bike. Then some more posing on the bridge over the River Esk to finally met the ‘Honest Lad & Lass’ on horseback plus another pipe band to hand over the Saltire. The folk on the tandem did brilliantly having cycled over from Haddington – all power to them. They were from a group called ‘Beyond Boundaries’.

The Handover of the Saltire to The Honest Lad & Lass

The Handover of the Saltire to The Honest Lad & Lass

The Beyond Boundaries crew - brilliant lads

The Beyond Boundaries crew – brilliant lads

The riders gather

The riders gather

Along with the Pipe Band

Along with the Pipe Band

Then it was ‘away hame’, with the sunset chasing up behind me, busy day & I had to be back. But time for a photo or two on the way.

Bike among the anti tank defences from World War II

Bike among the anti tank defences from World War II

Edinburgh from across the bay

Edinburgh from across the bay

A last look back

A last look back

What do you smell?

These hedges always remind me of giant caterpillars making their way across the landscape

These hedges always remind me of giant caterpillars making their way across the landscape

Well, here we go, my third in ‘the senses’ post.

I’m not referring to “what do you smell of” here, which is probably just as well, but what olfactory delights (or otherwise) greet you on your rides.
We’re lucky in so many ways here, we have the joyous changes of scene from being out in the lowland countryside, dominated by mixed farming, to up on the high ground with heather and grassland, grouse shooting and sheep rearing, then down to the coastal strip with it’s surf & pretty seaside towns, plus occasional visits to the metropolis of Edinburgh – a real visual feast once you’re done avoiding the traffic, pedestrians, tramlines, cobbles etc.

So what wonders for the nose does this all have?

Out in the morning, pottering down the high street in the village there’s the smell of partially burnt fuel from the cars which have just been fired up, the various seasonal smells of the flowers round the fountain and the winter smell of wood or coal smoke from the chimneys. On days when the wind blows from the north a pervasive stink from the intensive pig farm a couple of miles away. At other times there is a real treat – the smell of new mown grass from the park or folks’ gardens.

Then it’s away out and it changes. Depending on the time of year & activity in the fields you’re aware of all sorts of things. The cows in the field, the cloying sweetness of the oil seed rape plants, the diesel smells of the tractor chugging along in front of you, the occasional horse that you pass with its distinct odour, the hay stacked in the field, or piled up on a passing wagon and the good/bad smell of silage or manure recently spread, or spilled on the road. In the autumn there’s also the smells of the fields once the wheat or barley has been harvested.

Then maybe it’s a road to the west or north, the change of the tang in the air as you approach the sea, especially if the surf is pounding on the shore, the pungent seaweed rotting on the shore and in the seaside towns the fabulous smells of fresh brewed coffee, the sweet smells of the sweetie shops selling their rock & ice creams.

The there is a hard cycle up into the hills. But, some of the joys here can be amazing. As you ascend through the woods pine scents may fill the air or that earthy smell from the dense soil floor under the trees, a bit further on and that gorgeous (to me) coconut-type smell of the gorse with its bright yellow hairy flowers that combat the frosts in early spring. Then higher up, going through the hills, the heather, also known here as ling, exudes its fabulous scent, with its tiny purple flowers just filling the air. If you’re close enough and it is damp it can be overlaid by the presence of sheep hitting your nasal passages.

Then there’s occasional visits to the city, usually not a good experience for the nose, unless you’re on some of the former railway tracks, now converted into cycle tracks or cycling through the parks – a totally different experience from the fumes of the main roads and the stinks of the factories.

And of course there are the personal smells, but maybe that’s for another time?

So there’s all this and so much more – I’m sure you’ll all have your favourites.