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!

 

 

 

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Home in the South West of Scotland.

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Summer makes itself hard to pin down. It is always hard to point at the calender and say with any sort of confidence, ” today is summer “. Spring is the end of something and Autumn too, and there are comings and goings in the skies and fields. The first of this and the last of that. Yesterday we rode in shorts, but then today the heating is on. The BBC have issued a severe weather warning for heavy rain and flooding.

We came down to Dumfries and Galloway, in the South West of Scotland for a treat on my birthday weekend last November. We rode one beautiful day, and then a snap of cold bought sub-zero temperatures and winter clothes, so we went for a walk. Snow on the hills to the East as we searched for cup and ring marked stones.

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To be honest we had not settled after our world bike ride. We returned to home near Edinburgh and Esther pulled up houses for sale on the web. We could do it. A move was on down to Scotland’s South West and a trade in of city for rural with space and quiet. Speculatively our home went on the market.

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Two days later we had sold. We needed to find a new place and fast. I came down for a 48 hour mad search that could not possibly work. I shook hands on the final one of 6 just as light failed on a grey winters day. If it looked good now that is a great sign. Esther never got to see it until the deal was done. In Scotland these things are binding.

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Biking around the world you know your partner well enough, she would love it. Then everything that could go wrong went wrong. A day before completion we still needed to find a chunk of money.

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Walks to clear our heads were always full of tension a mobile phone always and urgent calls expected. We could be homeless, it was a real possibility and basic plans had to be made for that. We pushed the deadline and got a little extra time to find the cash, but still had to move out of our home.

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Friends took us in, and everything went into storage. There was two horrid weeks of deal on deal off before things lined up. We had held onto our most treasured things. Two bikes and the life essentials that could be squeezed into our car. We drove down to begin our new life, camping in a house cold enough to see your breath. Our stuff would follow.

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We bought the essentials in a charity shop and lifted a frying pan from the local dump. We froze in our sleeping bags and wore hats and gloves all day and night. Our new home is a 300 year old listed former hostelry in a village famous for droving of cattle, sheep and horses. It once hosted Scotland’s largest horse fares and was without doubt a wild place, with 13 bars, blacksmiths and shops.

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Today it is quiet, sleepy even. The quiet takes some getting used to and throws your balance with the scale of the nothingness. Winter gales and the house warmed over time as heat got back into the thick stone walls.

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You never see the gaffer tape or the sheer quantity of work a house needs until you buy it. We started slowly, this was going to take a long time. The garden is huge and full of mature trees. You could call it a wildlife garden or a mess. To be honest it is a bit of both.

Geese in huge skeins filled the sky and flocked in thousands on the nearby coast. We went for morning walks after breakfasts before dawn. Every day was a DIY day. It looked like a 1,000 days of DIY just to make a start.

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The bikes stayed in the sheds, we have three sheds all of which needed work. “If it was done right we could not afford it”, we kept on saying. Often we said that a dozen times in a day. We walked from A to B finding a mornings worth of jobs in a few steps. Things got done.

The bikes we bought out and the pedals turned on short rides. We felt we were on holiday and still do, ” WE LIVE HERE! ”

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Nights are star filled. The area is a Dark Sky Park, one of the few in Europe and the jewelled belt of the Milky Way arcs across the oil black sky here. We go for night walks to try to take it in and watch the moon rise through windows yet to have curtains. We have Red Squirrels and Rookeries close to the house and Red Kites over our house.

The rides get longer stretching out with the day length. Some are even warm enough for fingerless gloves and knee warmers. New friends and riding buddies and days when we have to trust the Garmin to find our way home. The first blossom and then a ride where Sand Martins have arrived to dart under the bridge as we pass. Two weeks earlier than last year.

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We have a large Cherry Tree in our garden. For weeks it promises to turn the world pink, but teases us. Then for two weeks the air, the ground everything is pink. A spell of dry weather and it is warm, hot even. We get to renovate the first of the sheds. It has the best bikes and electrical tools and is no longer water tight. It ends after 3 long days of work, waterproof and blue, with white highlights. More beach hut than shed, but we love it.

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The first 60 mile ride, high into Galloway Forest Park and the high land overlooking the coast. Hardly a car passes, little in the way of a phone signal and thinly spread cafe stops. It is perfect cycling country, just perfect.

Most of the ground floor is now done. Hours of work and many tubs of white paint later, we are starting to feel like home here and the number of days when panic overwhelms are getting less. We can turn off the heating most days and have installed a wood burner, fulfilling a lifetime dream.

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We know nothing about gardening and have now got a huge garden which we bring back into shape. Potatoes are planted and veg too. Never have we needed to worry about late frosts or slugs. The dawn chorus at the end of our garden, the deepest shade and tallest trees, the most wild. We stand there in first light with morning tea in hand.

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This is home, we make wonderful new friends and are surrounded by artists, crafts people and bikers too. This is going to be good, we may even be warm enough, and there is a chance we can make a living here. We need to, we are living on air at the moment. Oh a bit of a PS, I was going to mention this in the next blog. We are going to run this well established cycling holiday company as the owner steps back from running it. Just pop along to http://gallowaycycling.co.uk and see if anything catches your eye. We/they do custom tours to here or any other part of Scotland. When we run it we may expand to tours of the Baltic Coast of Germany – perfect cycling and cake country. Let me know what you think of the idea. Warren

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A talk in Rhonehouse

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At the start of the year we moved. Not too far, just up and over the watershed from one side of Scotland to the other and a little bit south. Home is now a 240 year old house in the wonderful village of Rhonehouse. We are on record as saying that we do not enjoy gardening or house renovation, or most other things that could get in the way of going out on our bikes.

Somehow, we have bought a place requiring a 1,000 hours of DIY and a full-time gardener. We will have to adapt. The positives are beautiful countryside, quiet and more than enough storage for as many bikes as we could ever want.

As a sort of hello from us, we are giving a talk on the 28th of April. Just a short distance from the table where I am writing is Rhonehouse village hall, which is where it is going to be. Friday is a good day for talks I hope and 7.00pm not too early or late.

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