It is almost impossible to leave anything behind when you pack up after a night of camping. We managed to leave behind a washing line strung between two trees. Not bad in about 1,000 nights of camping. When you pack up after a night inside, well it is a whole nother ball game. Things can get tucked into blankets, under beds and my personal favorite which is to leave something in the tumble dryer.
We had set up camp in a hiker-biker campground at the start of the Road to the Sun in Glacier National Park. Our host from the previous day drove 70 miles with my underwear and an apple pie. Obviously I had not left an apple pie, that was a gift and yet another expression of the fundamental kindness of strangers. And a bit of a wakeup call to check more carefully next time.
Up early enough to feel smug, and we start to cook our premixed porridge happy to see well over 1Kg disappear from the pannier. Outside, it is the most perfect of early autumn mornings and the sort of gift that September has thrown up in the last two years.
Off we go, our fingers nipped by the cool air. There is not a breath of wind as we drop down to the River Tay at Wormit. It is all going well. Well enough for us to stop after less than half a dozen miles for the first coffee of the day. There is quite a thrill to be had in being so unfocused.
The new rail bridge sits just beside a row of broken stone plinths. Now standing like broken teeth, these are the remains of tragic first bridge. It was swept away in a storm on a winters night in 1879 with great loss of life. In a sort of, you could not make this up, the tragedy is most often remembered in the poem by the Dundee poet William McGonagall. If you look up – worst poet in the world, McGonagall is top in the Guinness Book of Records. We join a small peloton of riders making their way across the river at the Tay bridge. The fine weather has made most rather chatty, ” Lovely day”, which it most certainly was.
We pick up a cycle path that takes us through the docks and out of Dundee along the coast towards the east. Seaside villages, B&B’s and then golf courses and the sea on our right. Dunes that the bike path picks a course around. A sign ‘ Marching Troops have Priority! ‘, like Lex Luther in the first Superman movies, the military does rather like beach front real estate. The coast is doing a strange sort of mix of vibrant colours and prosperous regeneration right next to decay and neglect.
Cafe Barrista in Arbroath and the cakes are cyclist quality, possessing a heft and satisfyingly large calorific value. If anything their leather sofas are a little too comfortable. We wonder around the town and down to the harbour. Arbroath is famed for one thing above all else, Arbroath Smokies. The history of the smoked Haddock of which the town is famed, is not all that old. But goodness are they proud of it. The UK has just 65 protected food products under European law. The Arbroath Smokie is one of them and up there with Cornish Pastie and Jersey Royal Potatoes. Champagne is perhaps the most famous one, so the smokie is in elevated company.
Without the bike route to follow, we are back on gps with the intention of turning inland to arc back to Dundee. I have downgraded the setting from touring to road cycling to try and reduce its enthusiasm for remote tracks. I have over eaten cake, forgetting that it is not a food group, nor an alternative to a proper meal. Little tugs of gravity against the bike as the road undulates are greeted with caramel burps and a slightly nauseous feeling when any effort is required.
We ride through a wonderful open landscape of farmland and small woodland copse. The last of the harvest is being bought in and we are often pulling over to let tractors with grain trailers pass. Already next years seeds are in, direct drilled into the stubble and top dressed in one pass. There is not much room left for nature any longer.
The gps and the road bike setting are sending us around Dundee on a 50 mile detour. There is a perfectly good bike path across the bridge and luckily we know this from a few hours earlier. The Garmin algorithms have found every hill and kept us up high overlooking the coast, until we notice things are going wrong and dive down into the city. We link together every rough looking dodgy backstreet bar and fast food outlet. Not the nicest route to the crossing.
Back in the Kingdom of Fife. the idea is to cycle down the coast to a promising looking forest and dune system for a sneaky bivvy pitch. It is not even late, still the sky has a hint of Californian blue, washed out at the edges by Scotland. It is only 5 in the afternoon, but we come across the perfect picnic bench. So, we call it early evening and stop. We are at the start of Tentsmuir Forest, which is a National Nature Reserve on the banks of the Tay as it meets the sea. Across the river, which is wide and tidal here we can see and even hear Dundee.
There are Curlew chasing up and down the sandbanks. They have returned from the high moor of summer to their winter home. Their cry is almost as good of that of the Loon. Oyster catchers, the sun dips to the horizon and migratory geese skein low across the sky. Time to find a bivvy pitch for the night. It is almost dark enough for a head-torch as we ride along the fire roads into the pine trees.
We try one turn-off, not good and retrace and move along. The second option is close to being too late and too little light to be fussy. We argue about very little, but tent or bivvy pitching is one of them. I think it is perfect, but Esther wants to be under the trees more. There is no wind at all and I want to catch every bit that is going to help with keeping the bivvy bag membrane working. I win.
We are right out on a raised patch of scrubby sand and grass. Three sides have tide marks but it looks safe enough so we set up camp. The lights of Dundee sit low, just above the water. Latter, we hear cars screaming along the main road, their harsh sound carried on the still night over the mirrored water. A harvest moon arcs behind us. Full and bright enough to read the small print in a contract.
3am and water sounds mingle with sleep. The sea is alarmingly close to us on three sides. It would be calming under every circumstance but these. I choose to ignore it for the moment it is probably that trick of things sounding closer in the dark. Half an hour later I am up and moving panniers higher. I guess the huge moon means that it is close and pulling the water high up the beach on an exceptional tide. I get back into my bag, cold with night chill. It is warm, snug but with a hint of moist. I am happy to be using a synthetic bag for the night.
Dawn and neither of us wants to get out of the warmth of top end technical kit. It has clouded over into a cool and misty damp first light. We will do a few miles of track biking to warm up before we make breakfast. Things into bags and bags into bags and away with just a glance at the mark of last nights high tide just 1 meter from us.
Tentsmuir Forest a vivid history of Picts, Romans and Vikings and now us cooking porridge and making morning tea. We ride on to St Andrews and the home of golf. Except of course it is not as that is Musselburgh, where we live. Not that St Andrews appears to be bothered about documentary evidence. It is doing a roaring trade. We look for a cheaper cafe further along. One that does not feature the words links, caddy, golf or tee.
We are going to cut the nose off of Fife. Unacceptable in polite company where cheese is concerned, but we are good with the idea today. We have a series of nasty little hills to climb to gain height. The final one and then a view of the Forth, home and familiar landscapes. Bass Rock and the coast of East Lothian and our cycling kingdom.
Anstruther, difficult to pronounce but picture perfect and crowded on this Sunday afternoon. The coast road is busy, too busy. We turn inland and gain height, then even more height. Garmin you stupid idiot bit of useless electronic kit. The sea is far off and we take an estimated guess at when to drop down to the coast road. It is far from fun when we get there.
My mother taught me a number of good things. One of which goes along the lines of – if you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all. I have half a sentence of scribbled notes about the ride back into Kirkcaldy, but let’s leave it there.
We are happy to see the car and more than happy to see we have not incurred the wrath of the parking people with clamping or fines. The bikes go into the back of the car and we are away. In a bit of a half obituary come foot-note it was the Garmin Touring’s last trip with us. This was the fourth one that had graced the handlebars of my bike fleet. But in conclusion, it is an utter piece of garbage. It went wrong and cut out on me once more. It was just before a junction that I was unfamiliar with and left me standing by the roadside. It is a sign the maturity that the passing of years has given me. A younger me would have smashed it under my Sidi and kicked the debris into the long grass.