A trip to the NORTH of Scotland.

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Like a migratory bird I am drawn to the North. Our time in the USA, and two bike rides across the continent taught us of the lure of West there, to the exclusion of any mention of middle. As the warmest and wettest December on record came to a festive conclusion, we packed our bikes and walking gear into the car and drove North to Gairloch.

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We had managed a Christmas day bike ride, and a brace of other East Lothian outings to push the festive milage close enough to 150. Winter miles count double in my book. The wind, the cold that can lock your jaw and eyes stung red-raw for the evening if you have to ride without your shades.

Most rides recently have been damp, wet or sodden. It comes as a shock after the last of the dry rides, that hesitation in stopping on wet rims. The winter bikes have a hard time and nothing labelled water-proof ever really is.

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New Year’s eve was the shortest ride of the whole year. No wind to speak of is a rare thing for Gairloch and a bright start to the day raised the excitement levels. There is not a river, burn or gulley in Scotland that can hold even a cup of water more. Waterfalls have sprung into life all over the mountains, and irregular streams now flow across roads. The first of these had frozen overnight. There would be countless ones ahead on our route. My twenty year old self would have carried on, but with well under 1 mile done, we went home and put the bikes away.

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The turning of the page from one year to the next is a time for planning. We were out most weekends when the weather was not unspeakable. But still we have ended the year having ticked off less than half of our to-do list. More nights bivvying in the woods of East Lothian, more bike trips to the Borders and the South West of Scotland.

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We did walks along the beaches and coast, then a walk into the hills in search of a waterfall. All the time the plans expanded to return with bikes. We had time to take the long way home. There are not many more road miles in the route, but it takes almost twice as long. Gairloch – Torridon – Stromeferry – Loch Alsh – then A87 to Invergarry – Spean Bridge – A86 to Laggan – Dalwhinnie to the A9 to Edinburgh.

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Lots of single track road, most of which took you on a journey along two sides of a triangle. Scotland was in the most marvelouse of Gothic moods. We did not cover more than 10 miles without pulling over to take it all in and pull out a camera. We will return with the bikes and tent. There are plans for loops with the road bikes and longer tours. Time to get out the maps and look for the road less pedalled.

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Happy Christmas.

Door Wreath.

Door Wreath.

I am so glad that we have a choice on the subject of confronting 70mph winds on our bike or not. Since the Met Office decided to start naming winter storms, a whole succession of wannabe storms of the century have turned up on our Atlantic Coast. It may be the cowards way out, but we picked spin class. More correctly, Esther did, as I take spin classes for a living. The big bonus is of course, that you do not have a horrid mess of a bike to clean, times 2. It is, as I think the cool kids are still saying, win win.

Esther made a wreath for the door out of collected or foraged bits from the East Lothain countryside. It may not be the most beautiful, but it has the highest vitamin c content of any seasonal wreath ever made.

So, in conclusion, thanks for following us this year and I hope we have inspired some of you just a little. I have organised a Christmas day bike ride and I urge you all to do the same. Get out and pedal a few miles and get a few lungfulls of air. You will be amazed at the feeling of contentment and superiority.

At the shed.

At the shed.

Winter begins.

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The Stag of The Stubble.

The first day of December, the official start of winter. Already the landscape is bleached to muted hues. Gone are the fire bright colour of autumn leaves, replaced for the months of winter by a pallet of cinnamon and well done toast. Already there have been days so cold we had to stay on the coast road for fear of ice. Today it is 3’c outside, and I have visited websites for indoor slippers rather than outdoor tech.

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Observed by a Hare.

 

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Scratching Hare.

The Earth’s 23.5 degrees of tilt puts anyone living this far North into months of short dull days and dreary long nights. If you have no clear idea of just how far North Edinburgh is, open Google Earth and hold down the left key to track West. There are miles of blue, which is why we are so wet and windy, and then you hit a place on the coast of North America well above Ottowa.

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Winter ride – a good day near Humbie.

 

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Aberlady during a coat ride.

So, now you have been put off any thoughts of one day rowing the Atlantic, you need to know that there is good news.We are far warmer than Ottowa thanks to the embrace of the Gulf stream. Ben Nevis, Scotland’s highest mountain at 4,409ft does not have a glacier yet. We have a ski industry, but there are mild years when it looks close to collapse. Stranger things do happen, but Scotland looks unlikely to be bidding for the winter olympics just yet.

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Borders view.

 

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Above Yetholm, the borders.

Autumn used to be the end of the farming year, a period of rest after the harvest and before the plough and Spring sowing. Stubble fields would be left unturned and the Hare, the ‘ Stag of the Stubble ‘ had the whole of the landscape to themselves.

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Fishing boat North Berwick harbour.

 

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Esther’s bike at North Berwick.

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North Berwick.

Many a early winter ride has the gift of a running Hare. But there are few fields that are left for Spring. Most now have been ploughed, seeded, and already show a haze of green shoots. Hares are out there, nibbling the young shoots, and you do not have a hope of walking up to one. They have almost no blind-spot.

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Scottish National Gallery – a day off the bike.

 

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Edinburgh Street.

Winter rides are hard, sometimes brutal. Places a short distance away suddenly feel remote and a challenge. I almost never feel completely comfortable on a winter ride. Too hot, too cold and often both at the same time. You wonder why 40 miles feel like a Summer century ride, and then you load 4Kg of damp technical clothing into the washing machine.

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Printing Hares.

Sunday was possibly the worst weather I have ever biked in. On a route where I would expect to see 20 or more cyclists, I saw none. It rained, which is fine. Unforecast, but acceptable. Then it snowed, caught and wiped horizontal on a gale force wind that should not have been there. It stung my eyes and turned my face raw.

It lasted about 10 minutes. Much of that time I was riding one handed, shielding my face with a gloved hand. The roads were flooded. Too warm to settle as I came up the coast. I felt good, quite elated. I did some mental arithmetic on the total cost of the equipment that I was wearing. Just shy of £700 worth of Rapha this and that, and Sidi stuff that just about made it comfortable. I had not wasted a single penny, which is a good feeling.

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Walking – a day too horrid to cycle.

The edges of the road were deep under water. There may be holes, possibly bricks submerged and waiting to spoil your day. The only safe line is out near the middle. Which is when a car coming towards me chose not to slow down. I have never been hit by a 8 ft high wave whilst riding a bike. The fast moving sheet of ice water almost had me off.

There are times when only Anglo Saxon will do, and this was one of those times to use the full range of is foulest mouthed dictionary.  The final 7 miles home were ridden in a thick fug of loathing.

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After the soaking – still not happy.

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Stone wall.

We have had good rides. Rides when the BBC weather site has promised something that the weather gods have delivered.  Until last week the temperatures were yo-yoing. One night under a winter weight quilt with double digit tog rating, the next it was kicked off and the thin summer one pulled on.

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Old farm cottages, East Lothian.

Facebook does little to help. It throws up the memory images of us in late November biking in warm sun along beautiful Asian beaches. Going through our photos in preparation for giving a talk, we realised that we had been too hot far more times than too cold. There are countless photos of roads disappearing to far vanishing points through sun scorched deserts.

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the Raccoon Song.

These are times when you retreat into the depths of your mind. Times when, if you are not vigilent, you will be consumed by an ear-worm. In the 4 years of our travels we had 3 repeating ear-worms. Rudolf the Rednosed Reindeer could strike at any time. There were days that stretched out  to weeks, when I could not rid myself of We’re Going on a Bear Hunt. But the one that drove me to the very brink of sanity was The Raccoon Song.

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More of the Raccoon Song.

Esther interrupted her Hare obsession to make me a birthday card illustration of The Raccoon Song. It is wonderful. I doubt that anyone has ever biked any sort of useful distance without getting an ear-worm. Best thing to do, is celebrate it, nothing is going to make it go away, so why not.

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Hare running.

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