” There are two seasons in Scotland : June and winter ” – Billy Connolly. It was all going so very well, with hints of summer days as far back as mid April. The Swifts were back, the Swallows were here as well, which was the very day that it snowed. Back on went the heating and on went the winter layers for any bike ride.
We packed for trips that were cancelled at the last-minute. We even went on trips where the bikes stayed in the back of the car as unexpected storms rolled in and dropped a month of rain in a single night. I actually had a tan, a home grown Scottish tan before the end of April. Now it is more wind burn exfoliation.
To cope with the imperfect climate, we have bought another tent. A large and very sturdy one this time, a teepee tent that sleeps 4. Just big enough to stand up in and certainly with enough room to sit around in, make food and shelter from the weather. It is what we call a ‘ car camping tent ‘. During the research, I came across people who were buying this for bike touring, ” It’s got such a lot of room and I like to have somewhere for my bike “. They are of course quite mad. It weighs 4.5 Kg, which is at least 3.5Kg more than you would want.
It was a very reasonable price, from those nice people on the WWW. at backpackinglight. Just £200, which got me thinking about the first serious tent I ever bought back in about 1979, which I think was about the same price. That was a king’s ransom back then and just shows how reasonable outdoor stuff is priced now. I know it is all made in China, but the stuff has never been lighter or cheaper.
When budgies were first introduced to Europe they cost the same as an average house. A fact that I came across a couple of weeks ago in the same program that I learned that there are just 6,000 nuns in the UK. Which got me wondering if there are now less nuns than professional footballers. Certainly tents and bicycles have never been cheaper, which perhaps is more to the point.
When ever we want to get a feeling of just how fit we are, how things are shaping up, how the season is going or as cyclists say ‘ do we have the legs ‘. We head for the hills just south of Gifford. The route from here has caught the eye of who ever has planned this years Tour of Britain. From home here, in Musselburgh, we and the tour route link together a series of short and nasty hills that lead you and your already tired legs to the start of REDSTONE RIG.
The signs say 17%, which it may be as an average. The steep bits are more, much more, and there is of course a false summit. The pros may still be in their big chain ring when they go up it later in the year. I was in my smallest, easiest spinning gears and I still had to get off and walk. I can not remember the last time I had to get off and walk the Rig, but I had to do just that.
There comes a point when you have so little forward speed that balance is an issue. You could probably plot them out on a graph. There comes a point where you just might not make it, where your forward speed is zero or close to it. Now the thing is you had better be clipped out of those pedals before you get that slow or you are not going to get out.
I got in a panic, clipped out and walked. It is a sod of a hill, and now my confidence is shattered. The internet is full of bike related stuff about the climb, one of which is of me pushing a touring bike. It gets a world ranking of 8913 and is ranked 24 in Scotland. That is fine, but this time I was on my second lightest bike and I still pushed.
It is another world up in the moorland above the Rig. Colder, much windier, about 3 weeks behind in the flow of the seasons. The reward for the climb is one of the most terrifying white knuckle descents over some of the poorest surface and cattle grids that the most incompetent road engineer could put together.
We take a left towards Garvald on the B6355. Up on the moor to our left there are two stone circles: Crow Stones and Nine Stones. The surface is better than it used to be, but still rubbish, and there are holes and gravel run offs just where you want a bit of grip and confidence in the surface. It throws impossibly steep short climbs at you that will get your back wheel spinning if you throw your weight to far forward.
In the valley down to the left the Whiteadder Water is running fast and there are Curlews, the bird of upland and open moor. Down you drop, trying to find a line through the potholes and mud. The road leaps about changing direction. It is heart in your mouth stuff.
The views open up and they are stunning. Down to the East Lothian coast, fringed with golf courses and the Yellow of Rape fields catching the sun. Even in the dry you can not let your bike have its head, you keep on scrubbing off the speed and it still feels too fast, too out of control.
Garvald, we are in the cleft in the hills into which the village sinks. There are weeks in winter when the village holds onto the frost, never once warmed by even the weak winter sun. The run back home through Gifford is warm after the chill up on the moor. In 20 minutes of cycling we have gone forward a calendar month.
We got out to the Borders to do one of our standard loop rides from Lauder. Down to turn at Kelso and run along the River Tweed to Nisbet before turning beyond Ancrum to head into the hills and back to Lauder. Once again we feel at home there in the Borders.
The next weekend we planned a night of camping in our new teepee tent with a circular ride into the Cheviot hills and the Border Country. The forecast was for light rain overnight 12’c the next morning and brightening later. Temperatures dropped to just above freezing and a storm flooded road and rivers. The bikes stayed in the back of the car and we had a slow breakfast cooked in the tent. The stream behind us had turned to a frothing torrent the colour of your mum’s gravy. Enough was enough and we packed and went for a coffee and cake.
Nice bits of Titanium equipment turn up every so often. All part of our quest for the ultimate light weight touring kit. The best bits came all the way from Japan – a cooking system from Evernew. I am running it on Bioethanol, but it can convert to small sticks if you have got the patience of a saint. The burner is just perfect. Light powerful and a joy to use. As a bit of a bonus I have found that you can light Bioethanol with a spark from the fire steel. We are on to a winner.
There are plans for the weekend. But there is also a severe weather warning for gales. You keep the equipment ready, it all sits there in a box ready to go, the maps close at hand. People in London are in shirt sleeves and I am in our flat writing this in a fleece. We could not live anywhere else though. Scotland is a beautiful country and it will be sunny again and stop blowing a gale. We can hang out the washing and go off on our bikes some time soon.