Getting the miles in, and eating Tapas.

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A long ride. Duns and back with the England on the horizon.

A long ride. Duns and back with England on the horizon.

The Tour of Spain, Vuelta a España if you will, is on at the moment. So is the Edinburgh Festival, the worlds largest arts festival and the reason why it takes almost an hour to walk 2 miles in the heart of Scotland’s capital at the moment. So, what other connections between these two events are there? Well, when asked about cycle touring in Spain I get agitated.

I want to give it a good review. But every time we were hungry, nothing was open. When the bar was open it was just Tapas. You can not carbo load on Tapas, eating it just reminds you how little you have eaten that day. Which brings me to one of the top 10 jokes from the festival this year.

Mark Nelson: “Jesus fed 5,000 people with two fishes and a loaf of bread. That’s not a miracle. That’s tapas.” Which made me laugh, but not at the time. Added to the food problem there was always the sleeping problem. We, as you know, like to get up and on the road early. The siesta, which lasts 2 and sometimes 3 hours means that you can ride through villages that look as if some apocalypse has occurred and all have fled. Until 10.45pm that is, when they are out shouting and eating and the youngest of children are running around screaming.

Spain and my biological clock are at odds and that is that. So, what have we been doing? Lots of miles on the bikes, most of which have been of the heads down and go for the burn variety. We have a 200k Audax this weekend and needed to get bike-fit, and in double quick order. We first did the Newtonmore Audax about 13 years ago and it was our first 200k event. I had forged Esther’s signature on the application, so she was quite surprised to find she was doing 126 miles.

We worked our way up through the distances over a few years. I got to do a Super Randonneur, which is a 200,300,400 and 600 Kilometer ride in the same year ( the 600K took a year off my life I think ). Esther got up to the 400K. Let’s hope that we get around the Rothes Reccie 200K this Saturday with smiles on our faces at the end. Then we will get back to nights in woodlands and cooking porridge.

End of a long ride. Borders and back along the Tweed.

End of a long ride. Borders and back along the Tweed.

A bivvy night with BBC Radio Scotland, carving a spoon and other good stuff.

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Setting up morning coffee at the Woodland Skills Centre.

Setting up morning coffee at the Woodland Skills Centre.

Years ago, when artists could paint and draw, and well before installations and happenings devalued art; long before anyone had the lack of imagination to title a painting ‘ untitled ‘, you had to learn about anatomy to know the basics of your craft. The thought was, that you had to know what was underneath before you could paint a portrait.

By the teepee at the centre.

By the teepee at the centre.

Much the same could be said of knowing a tree, by carving a spoon from it. Which is what we did at the weekend at the Scottish Woodland Skills Centre. Hardwood, there you are that’s a bit of a clue, but then there is a range of hard. It starts at just a bit above the wood equivalent of Al dente to hard as nails, and finally to Ironwood and stuff that will not even float if you throw it in water.

Getting square on to your log.

Getting square on to your log.

We both picked a log. ” Now you just have to find the spoon within “, said Dick the instructor. We had both chosen wood at the hard end of the range. Esther had Sycamore and I had a wonderful log of the finest Beech. You just have to get one face flat, and square off the rest from that. You take a sort of golfing stance to your log. Feet at ninety degrees, with the axe held lightly in your hand, flicking it up and letting the weight do most of the cutting.

Taking a rest from the axe.

Taking a rest from the axe.

Within 40 minutes, when we stopped for tea I had to lift the cup with both hands. I had not got that first flat side yet and Esther was even further behind. We had both been ambitious, going for something the size of a ladle, rather than a dainty tea-spoon. This was going to be a hard day.

Still a smile despite the blisters.

Still a smile despite the blisters.

On the shaving horse.

On the shaving horse.

Four hours into the axe work we were both having to take long rests. The spoons were showing themselves and we had scribed pencil lines to follow. We were both getting to know just how hard Sycamore and Beech is. Pale yellow and close grained, the wood fought all the way despite it having a spoon shaped grain. Five hours and I had it down to something close to the lines. Onto the shave horse for a more all body workout with a drawing knife and spoke shave.

Just a bit more sandpaper now.

Just a bit more sandpaper now.

After 7 hours, the spoon was showing, and it was time to carve the bowl into the head end. Esther had fallen further behind and was still working on something that you might throw for a dog with the hope that it would remove plaque from its teeth. I was onto sandpaper ( I will always think of it as sandpaper – it drove my woodwork teacher mad as it had not been sand for hundreds of years ).

Oh joy, the spoon is born.

Oh joy, the spoon is born.

Just under 8 hours after I first stood in front of the log, it was now recognizably a spoon. It was a big bugger, with little in the way of graceful curves but it looked good to me. A liberal application of olive oil massaged in, and it was now a thing of beauty. i gave it 4 minutes of full on admiration time.

The Ormiston Yew.

The Ormiston Yew.

Mark and Esther under the yew.

Mark and Esther under the yew.

Now while we were doing this, over on BBC Radio Scotland ( Click to hear the show ) our most favorite program had just come to an end – Scotland Out of Doors. Excitingly, we were on it for the first half an hour. We had recorded a trip to bivvy under the 1,000 year old Ormiston Yew, in a repeat of a project we had done a few months ago. We chat about our travels, bits of equipment and the Yew tree with Mark Stephen. The whole thing makes you want to record the sounds of travel just as much as photographing it.

Whilst we were in Perthshire for the spoon course, we decided to explore an area of Scotland that we are rather vague about. I had ordered a new and rather swanky gps as I knew the navigation in that area would be challenging. It failed to turn up, so I went to the local library to book out the maps. They have every large scale map of the UK. All 200 or so of them were there on the shelf, all of them from Lands End to John O’Groats except the 2 I needed. We ended up using the 2 maps we had, Northern Scotland and Southern Scotland. At this big scale, they failed to show quite a number of the villages that we biked through, and to add to the navigational challenge our route meandered off and onto both the top of one and bottom of the other.

River Isla I think.

River Isla I think.

Glen Isla.

Glen Isla.

A ' Gathering '.

A ‘ Gathering ‘.

We headed up towards the Cairngorms, but turned towards Glen Isla, and away from the possible crowds. Considering this area should have been tourism ground zero this weekend, our cunning route avoided just about everyone. The sun was out, warming our backs and bringing out beads of sweat on the stiff short climbs. We had time to explore, it was good to have light bikes under us as we dived down another hill.

An un-named road.

An un-named road.

When a sign says KEEP OUT in CAPITALS you are not dealing with a graphic designer.

When a sign says KEEP OUT in CAPITALS you are not dealing with a graphic designer.

The valley of the Isla and the River Tay is rather the bridesmaid on the fringe of the Highlands, and all the better for that. Beech woodlands, flower meadows and enough quiet lanes to get lost in make this area a bit of a paradise for cyclists. Of course we got lost. It was inevitable given the maps we had and the fact that many of the junctions had not a single signpost. Towards the end, we knew we needed to be heading West and just pointed the bikes at the sun. We ended the day being led around a Beavers lodge. In just 4 years they have raised the water level almost 2m with their dams. The large bulk of an unseen Beaver threw up a bow wave as it turned to swim away, just  to my left. A near perfect end to the day in a perfect weekend. I had just enough strength in my arms to grip the wheel as we headed back South towards home.

Chanterelle wild mushrooms.

Chanterelle wild mushrooms.

An enforced walk by Keith Water – Humbie.

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Field-B

The Geese are back. Not many, but they are here bringing the cold air of the north with them. There is always a strange smell, a smell of warm dust as the heating goes back on for the first time in a few months. Already there have been mornings in single digit temperatures. Scotland has had a poor summer so far.

There was a weekend a couple of weeks ago. We had made plans for a bivvy, but then the forecast changed. It went from good to bad and then to worse and finally to ‘ some structural damage may occur ‘. We went for a walk rather than be blown off the road on our bikes.

We walked the fields that fringe the Keith Water. Again I am trying to trace the route of the old railway and find the bridge or what is left of it as it crosses the river. The Wheat has grown in the field where I climbed away from the river a few days ago. There has not been enough sun to bring on the golden colours of harvest, but it will come.

The crop is high now and catches the wind. It occurred to me to try this once to capture the wind. I held my finger down and shot off a dozen frames as the wind came in over the trees. With a bit of computer work we have animated the photos.

I have called it ‘ Wimpling Wheat ‘ – Wimpling, rippling motion induced in a bird’s wing feathers by the passage of wind ( Gerald Manley Hopkins ). We walked on, but still could not find the remains of the bridge. As we arced back to where the car was parked the route of the track bed was clearer. As a bonus for our diligence, we came across orchids growing on the track line. I am guessing they like the lime rich soil from the ballast.

Further north there have been ‘ grass frosts ‘ already. There is nothing like the feeling that summer is being chased away to make you stick with a plan to camp before it is too late. All it takes is a good forecast and a bit of packing. It has to come, it must. Tonight, the last day of July and the day ends with a ‘ Blue Moon ‘, the first since 2012.

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