Swallows, wings almost touching, are closely lined out along telephone and power cables. The swifts have vanished from the sky around our home. Only Robins need to display to hold a year round territory. There is quiet now, calm even. Is it Autumn? There are several definitions of when the season begins, to which I will add what may be the most accurate. I have worn long fingered gloves on the bike and it is now autumn.
We have had months of casual visits to online weather platforms. Now if we want to plan a ride, it is multiple anxious visits and a great deal of will we? and won’t we? But then there was a spectacular run of weather that included the hottest day of the year. We flung open the windows, chased angry wasps every few minutes, and sat down with maps to plan a route. What about Fife?
The weather forecast was that good, that in a moment of madness we took out the tent and replaced it with bivvy bags. A harvest moon in a clear sky, we were good to go. Over the Forth by car to the free car park at Kircaldy railway station, giving us a bale-out plan to return by train if things go wrong.
I have purposely underplanned this tour, which is not to say that I do not have a plan. I am going to let my Garmin Edge Touring make the route decisions in what I am going to call, Dice Man Touring. Decision making, randomized and left at the whim of the Garmin navigation algorithms. The original book, written in 1971 by George Cockcroft tells of his experiments in making decisions based on the outcome of dice throws. Brian Eno has a similar method using a series of cards which he calls oblique strategies. He used these to overcome creative blocks when working with Bowie and U2. I was in lofty and possibly slightly pretentious company.
I had written down the key villages that I want to pass through. These would be entered into the Garmin one at a time and then the RIDE button pressed. What could go wrong? Well one place is the spelling, so I put in one of those pen things with a rubber end for dextrous screen touching and my good reading glasses. What you need to understand is that the Garmin has 3 levels of freedom that will influence its route choice, Road Bike, Touring Bike and Mountain Bike. Common sense said stick it on touring mode, which we did. What you have to understand is, I had never tested this function, not once, never. This is also my fourth unit, the previous three having been returned as faulty.
T-H-O-R-N-T-O-N, RIDE. We were off, and within the first mile despite possessing between us, a generally keen sense of direction were mentally lost. We had a backup map, but it featured cities as far apart as Aberdeen, Newcastle and Carlisle. The Garmin was finding obscure paths that only people who had been born and raised in Kirkcaldy would know. But only then if you had got a dog that needed to be walked or a drug habit. We went along back streets, minor overgrown streams, the side of football pitches before we reached the light engineering and car sales zone. Then the Garmin treated us to a tour of the fly tipping spots on the towns outskirts and a bridge where we had to pick up the bikes and walk. But then we were into countryside and onto something that had a bike path sign. We were on National Cycle route 766, and after just 6 miles came into Thornton and stopped for a tea.
Could I have walked here quicker? well possibly, but we were in countryside now and the sun was out. Cafes are booming, and this was one of them. Picking up the slack from the rush to close all the village pubs this one was one of many offering tea, competitively priced scones and drop-in facilities for mother and toddler groups.
Off we pedaled, along a series of lanes with open views. Junctions often featured huge mature Oak trees, quietly testifying to the age of the routes in the Kingdom of Fife. A series of stiff ups and downs and on one of the ups, we catch sight of our next objective. Loch Leven, a highland loch slipped down south a little. We headed for a village at its eastern edge. But then we got enticed by a farm shop and cafe with less than a dozen miles done.
The cafe is full of silver haired couples, mother and baby groups and now us touring cyclists. There is one wasp, going from table to table looking to steal from the pots of jam. The elderly couples are swatting and slapping and it is all more panic than you would expect from a generation that has been through a war and lived through Thatcher’s Britain. Calm down! and now there is a baby screaming.
We pick up Route 1 NCR and head away from the lock, into the hills. Beyond Wester Balgedie, the Garmin has a plan for us and takes us off the road and right along a bridal way into the Lomond Hills. We have the village of Auchtermuchty dialled in ( a bit of a sod to enter! ) as we ride along paths fringed with nettles and overhung with elegant old Beech trees. For a while we are back on tarmac, but not for long. We are climbing up to a ridge line on a farm track an old lady walking a dog stops to chat. ” This was the way to school for my grandfather “. She is surprised to see us and likes to blether.
The route is diverted away from the farm buildings, and our mood dips as we are forced to push the bikes along a series of narrow and overgrown tracks. We are seeing the countryside that is certain. Into the forest now on forestry roads and fire tracks. Despite the sun it is damp under the thick canopy and a fungi foray hotspot. John Nox’s pulpit and the Devil’s Burdens are nearby. We are in Pitmedden Forest and have picked up a stretch of tarmac. It lasts less than a mile. I wish I had known about the advert for Auchtermuchty and Miller beer, it is fantastic.
It is slow progress and gets slower still when we try to out think the Garmin and are left pushing the bikes back up a gravel path. I am trying to be positive. The bikes are light and we have a whole summer of fitness in our tanned legs plus we are not on the west coast being eaten by midges. There is no possibility of our ever finding this route again, zero. We drop down to tarmac and are overjoyed to see it. Down towards the village of Newburgh on the banks of the river Tay.
The descent tests our brakes and nerve even in the dry and would be the pig of all pigs to climb up. The village is rather wonderful with cottages and boutique sort of places. It is time for a sandwich and a sit down on a brightly painted bench. I must say that despite the adventures of off-road cycling, the day has been fun. We head off North East along a narrow lane that traces the route of the Tay towards Dundee.
The sun is low now, casting gold fringed shadows. The harvest is almost in and the still air full of the smell of tractor fuel, corn and days of summer heat. Like all coastal riding the world over, this is far from flat. Big houses stand proudly over big farms. There are the signs of wealth, big gates and walls. The Garmin has settled down for a bit now and appears to be happy. We have both agreed that it will be switched to Road Bike in the morning.
We start to look for a place to bivvy. There are likely looking woodlands and field margins, but we need some water. The route is down towards the city, so we need to camp soon or get involved in crossing the city first. A white cottage, we go to knock at the door around the back. Dogs are barking and a lady is out welcoming us, ” come in “. Before we even know each others names, we are invited to stay. Once more the bicycle has made the introductions for us. I have very little idea of where we are, but now that does not matter and we are guests for the night.