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An impressive tree at Thirlestane Castle.

An impressive tree at Thirlestane Castle.

I never thought I would ever say this, ‘ The Simpsons is not as funny as it used to be ‘. After being away for almost four years our world has changed now we are home. I have not watched a single program from beginning to end on the BBC, which is a sad state of affairs. To be honest, we no longer watch anything’ live ‘ if we can avoid it and I listen to BBC World Service on what I will continue to call ‘ the wireless ‘.

The marsh at Aberlady bay.

The marsh at Aberlady bay.

Landscape with Anti Tank boulder. Aberlady Bay, East Lothian.

Landscape with Anti Tank boulder. Aberlady Bay, East Lothian.

Sign for the footpath.

Sign for the footpath.

I go swimming early three mornings each week, and buy milk for porridge around the corner from here. I have to pass rows of newspapers on my way to pay at the till. I have no idea what the front pages are on about. It may as well be in code. Celebrity and the stuff of front pages is a closed book to me and the popular magazine section bewilders. They all seem to make being angry normalized and shouting the way to communicate it.

Walking at Aberlady Bay at low tide. East Lothian.

Walking at Aberlady Bay at low tide. East Lothian.

Old posts, I, Aberlady Bay, East Lothian.

Old posts, I, Aberlady Bay, East Lothian.

Old posts, II, Aberlady Bay, East Lothian.

Old posts, II, Aberlady Bay, East Lothian.

Sand Dunes, Aberlady Bay, East Lothian.

Sand Dunes, Aberlady Bay, East Lothian.

On the up side, I have now seen my first newborn lamb of the Spring. The grass of the uplands is still laid flat from the last snow drift, but lower down there are signs of warmth and lighter evenings. There have been days this last week when the sun had enough strength to encourage a walk without a hat.

The pass , Northwest Highlands, Scotland.

The pass , Northwest Highlands, Scotland.

View from the pass to Loch Maree, Northwest Highlands, Scotland.

View from the pass to Loch Maree, Northwest Highlands, Scotland.

Old tree by Loch Maree, Northwest Highlands, Scotland.

Old tree by Loch Maree, Northwest Highlands, Scotland.

View over Loch Gairloch.

View over Loch Gairloch.

Over the weekend of the last snowfall we went ‘ up north ‘. We live in the north and yet there is more than enough north left above us to make it a long drive. Scotland is big. Many people do not know this and it comes as a surprise. When you cross the border on your ‘ end to end ‘ bike ride you are only just over half way. Americans come here on their ‘ bucket list ‘ holiday of a lifetime and give themselves impossibly crippling itinerary and experience Scotland from the windows of a speeding car. As a rule of thumb, if the Romans can’t conquer it then it’s big.

Inland lochs, near Gairloch, Scotland

Inland lochs, near Gairloch, Scotland

Big Sand Beach, I, Gairloch, Scotland.

Big Sand Beach, I, Gairloch, Scotland.

Gairloch is a long way up and it is still not at the top after 5 or 6 hours of driving from here. Not a mile of the drive is without some beauty and it just keeps getting better. In the final 20 miles or so, the road comes down to single track, with passing places and if you drove at a completely safe speed we would still be there. I like the community aspect of passing places, it makes for interaction. As long as you do not come across a German that dives to the right all is good. You must never wave with too much enthusiasm, just a maximum of two fingers raised from the steering wheel in acknowledgement.

Winter sun and shadow.

Winter sun and shadow.

Stones.

Stones.

More of the equipment for the bikepacking setup has arrived. Wildcat are made in the UK and were nice enough to offer us a discount on their beautiful equipment. The bag holder for the front of the bike is expecting to be fitted to a mountain bike rather than a swanky road machine. When I played around with things yesterday it was obvious that straps will need to be shortened.

Gentle rolling hills, near Garvald, East Lothian, Scotland.

Gentle rolling hills, near Garvald, East Lothian, Scotland.

What was also evident is the care that will need to be taken with equipment choice. With touring there is always a compulsion to fill the bags. If you leave an unattended skip or dumpster out for a week, when you return it will be brim full. Nature abodes a vacuum and stuff gets filled up, that is the way of things.

First attempt of bike packing.

First attempt at packing.

Close-up of the saddle bag.

Close-up of the saddle bag.

With bikepacking there is very little space to be filled. We have a Terra Nova bivvy bag from years ago and one has just arrived from our pal Bob at Backpackinglight – a Rab Storm Bivvy bag. It looks possible to sleep with your mat inside the Storm Bivvy but only outside with the Nova bag. We have also got a microlight ground sheet from Ultralight. Very small and I hope big enough to keep us thorn proof and dry.

Moss

Moss and Lichen.

There is also an ultralight tarp from Backpackinglight which I hope will keep our top half dry if it rains. I have bought 2 very light collapsible poles and will use one of them to pitch the tarp. It is all very light and all untested by us. I have only used a bivvy once in my life, which was in snow many years ago.

Add to the mix some cooking systems that are new to us and it is rather unfamiliar equipment. We have been out along the coast looking for places to test the stuff. A coastal first bivvy will almost certainly be the way to go, before we head into the hills. To try to understand the bivvy equipment first we will probably use our touring bikes on project 1. This will give us load space to take more gear as it will be cold.

Sheep. Gairloch, Scotland.

Sheep. Gairloch, Scotland.

Cottage on the shores, Gairloch, Scotland.

Cottage on the shores, Gairloch, Scotland.

I want to do a ride or two with the bike-bags before we use them to get a feel for how they move. As soon as you are out of the saddle to climb a hill, the bike gets thrown around. I want to be sure we have the luggage held down enough to do this without upsetting the balance of the light bikes.

I have got a detailed map of East Lothian and the sage advice of our friend Jimmy Noon ( Patriarch of all things cycling ) – ” We used to camp there in the late 40’s “. It is very exciting, and very little of this equipment was around when we left just 4 years ago.

Esther

Esther

Snowdrops are now everywhere and as we ride by, every woodland copse is full of the song of birds. We are going to have what I think is called a ‘ Staycation “, though without the sleeping in your own beds bit. It is going to be fun and a bit of an adventure and we have not much of a clue about quite a lot of it. When I was at art college we came up with a phrase ” If you know what you are doing, you are just a technician “. Like many, I talked a lot of rubbish at art college, but I think you know what I mean.

Snowdrops field.

Snowdrops carpet.

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