Fife, the ‘Dice Man Tour’ part 1.

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The railway station Kirkcaldy.

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.

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Path in Kirkcaldy.

 

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.

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NCR route 766 Kirkcaldy outskirts.

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.

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Tea in Thornton, Kingdom of Fife.

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.

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Far off view of Loch Leven.

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.

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Second Tea.

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.

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Bridleway  towards Lomond Hills.

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Lomond Hills back on tarmac.

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.

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The joy of tarmac.

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Farm tracks.

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Pushing the bike.

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.

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Pitmedden forest.

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A wrong turn.

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Towards Auchtermuchty!

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.

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Newburgh and the banks of the 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.

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Long shadows and cows.

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.

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You will stay.

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A sketch by Esther of where we stayed

 

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.