Back on the bike…

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7.30am I have fed the scrapings from morning porridge onto the grass for the blackbirds. A task now done in the dark, rattling the spoon and calling out to them. I need to start the walk now to be in place for the geese moving from their roost. Not quite 2’c and the rain is hitting my coat and hat with an icy ping. Just a few miles away on our local mountains this is the first snow of the year.

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I am not quite in the place I wanted to be when the first skein can be heard. I do a quick count, 100. The next skein stretches horizon to horizon and quickly another row of V’s. There are thousands of geese now. I am too slow to photograph them or record their calls but you never do it justice so best left for the zen camera. Yesterday would have been amazing, clear yet dark enough for a nail thin sliver of moon and venus together in the south. Today is going to be one of those days that never gets light.

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It is now almost 6 weeks since my operation and I have managed 3 rides on the bike so far. I had set myself two targets, one of which I missed. To climb our highest mountain, the one we can see from the window of our home and yet have not even been to in the 2 years we have lived here. The chosen day was miserable enough to not even try the reserve walk up Screel Hill, the hill that overlooks us. A small hill, but so close to the coast as to dominate the view for miles. Today you could not see it. So, we borrowed a dog, packed a flask and headed for the coast. Walking is now almost pain free.

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Not so cycling and certainly not swimming, both of which I have now done and returned from to stretch out on the sofa, wondering if I have overdone things. The second ride was long at about 30 miles, but even in heavy rain was unmissable as this was goal number 2. Corsock village winter fayre is a place to meet all of your friends whose paths you have failed to cross since the last one.

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It is too cold for much chat. Just enough time for 2 slices of cake and a coffee and a dozen greetings. Back on the bike and on with both front and back light, both needed at midday. You wince when you pay for the best kit. Today it is worth every penny not to puncture or break down and stay warm and dry enough.

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30 miles or there abouts. I have not bothered with the Garmin and that guess will do. The swelling around the incision has failed to budge and only 2 pairs of trousers fit. But here is what Dr Bike does. After showering the button feels easier, less of a lump. What I hoped for has worked. Getting the blood pumping, the muscles moving and the heart beating has shifted things.

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I have biked about 50 or so miles this week. The first ride had me feeling nauseous with anxiety as I walked to the shed and ride 3 still began with nerves. I am back though. I feel 20 years older and 2 stone heavier which is horrid, but it is great to be back riding the roads of Galloway. I came in under the 6 week target, it still catches me out with pains that I don’t expect, but I am a cyclist again. I raked the leaves on the path to the top of the garden and found the first shoots of the spring bulbs already through. Time to walk and ride the forest trails, to be stealthy to pick your days till spring.

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Cycling and dreaming at the kitchen table.

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This morning there is rain, just soft enough to enjoy and the first for quite some time. The weather is warm enough to have windows open a little and the sound of the garden for company at the kitchen table. Sparrows are now supposed to be rare, but you would not think that for a moment around our home. Their calls are loud, more jazz than anything even slightly classical. They are the bullies at our feeders.

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Having a beautiful garden and being a cyclist are mutually exclusive, with peaks in both coinciding with the height of summer. Crisp cycling tan lines now obvious in post ride shower and plants so heavy with blossom that they fall over each other. I know it is a food chain out there in the garden, an abattoir for some even. But it does look stunning. We have decided to call it a wildlife garden. A choice made for us when Esther’s prized specimens in the raised bed were identified as weeds by a gardening neighbour.

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Spread out in front of me are local maps as I plan routes for our new bike touring business. 1:25,000 and the same area at 1:50,000 by Ordnance Survey and all featuring the reassuring Crown Copyright symbol. These are the maps I am most in love with and the ones I have had the longest and most passionate relationship with. It began at school in geography lessons and the occasional field trip. I did not grow up in a house of books or maps, but I could not live without either now and would probably shoplift both without a single pang of guilt if we fell on hard times.

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The big project for us at the moment is rebranding the bike touring company that we will be running. Every bike ride is now research. Is this good, too hilly, how can we make a loop and where is the nearest coffee and cake? The logo is now finalised and began with a stupid question, like most good things – ” can we have a cow on a bike? ” The cutest cow in the world, the one that will turn the wavering carnivore away from meat is the Belted Galloway. Our local cow, and a bit of a bovine celebrity,  hardy enough for the uplands and unmistakable from the hairy ears to that white belt. I first saw them down on the moors of Dartmoor 30 years ago and could not believe my eyes. Our Belted Galloway rides a sturdy bike and is called Robin.

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We are working on the content and style of the new website, but at the same time we wanted to do a 1 minute film that would put across our company values and mood. Riding a bike can be about speed, about the buzz and that perfect line around a fast descending bend. But it can be about looking over the hedge, stopping to take things in, talking to the people you meet. We have just 60 people per square mile here ( the scottish average is 168 ) and an amazing almost maze like series of quiet roads passing through beautiful villages. The little film introduces the quiet adventures that you can have here and the interesting thought that I came across; ‘ you can’t be sad whilst riding a bike ‘.  I hope you enjoy it – turn on the sound!

 

 

 

Summer rides of joy.

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Sculpture at Vogrie CP.

It is now almost 2 years since we forced open the door here against the wedge of junk mail. Back home from 4 years on the road, we were both at the ragged end of enthusiasm and energy. In the first year back we renewed our love affair with our home roads. Like dogs, high on freedom and off the leash we biked in a frenzy of marking. But we did not get anything like enough done.

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Old bike near home.
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Esther with new bike clothing – looking great!
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Above Jedburgh, Scottish Borders.

This year and with the focus on the summer months, we said we would do more. There is a lot to do, Scotland has a vast network of back-roads that we like to think as our domain. Most weekends begin with a ride from home, or loading the bikes into the back of our van. There is usually a route dialled into the Garmin and it is often complex.

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Rural road near English border.
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High in the Cheviot hills.
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Above Gifford in East Lothian.

Yesterday we needed the lights in the house by 7 in the evening. The North Sea Haar, a wonderful local word for the cloud and fog that rolls off the sea like Mercury. As we rode yesterday we had the first of the soft light days of Autumn and the sound of power cables sizzling. The Swallows may be still with us, but only just.

We have crammed in as much riding as possible. There have been new routes so complex that I have needed the gps and favoured old routes repeated for the first time in half a dozen years or more.

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Biking the island of Rugen in Germany.
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At Granny’s Rugen.
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Friends garden on Rugen.
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Beech woods of Rugen, Germany.

It is said that when an experienced glider pilot looks at a landscape, they see the clouds first. In the minds eye they read the lift offered by each cloud. A flight visualized and a line planned. Cyclists can do the same I think. On a ride in the Cheviot hills a few weeks ago we were on an unfamiliar road. The view back towards home opened up to a vista we had never had before and had not expected. Our cycling kingdom all hundreds of square miles was before us. We know each rise and fall. New routes day dreamed, visualized. We stood and looked for ten minutes or more.

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Berlin bike.
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The hills above Dunbar in East Lothian.
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Ancrum in the Scottish Borders.

When you know an area well, and I would say that you can only know it by walking or cycling and having the connection to that space through passing slowly and through effort there is a feeling of stewardship. A deep knowledge a slow won knowledge. You would think that farming the land would give you an ultimate connection, but you could be wrong. A couple of weeks ago we pedaled by a farm that I once owned. You would not believe the burden of ownership. Everything looks different when you are responsible for it. There is never the carefree gaze of the walker or cyclist.

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Rural road in the Cheviot hills, Scottish Borders.
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Valley near Yetholm, Scottish Borders.

Do I dream of cycling? Possibly. But then there are things that I am not sure I have ever dreamed, like sneezing. Can you have a dream where you sneeze, can you ride a bike in your dreams?

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View of our Kingdom. Looking north towards home.
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Remote church in the Cheviot Hills.

We are away on a short tour up the east coast and I need to pack. We must ride before the Dreich days of the months ahead and the earth tilts to rob us of light once more. ( Dreich – a word that recently topped a poll of favorite Scots words – A combination of dull, overcast, drizzly, cold, misty and miserable weather. At least 4 of the above adjectives must apply before the weather is truly dreich. )

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evening storm from Big Sands, Gairloch.
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Near Gairloch, Wester Ross in the NW Highlands
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Remote ride to Redpoint, near Gairloch.
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Walking the Pug, Gairloch.