Edinburgh Living


Occasionally you come across a video which just makes you say “Wow”, Beautiful Scotland – Aerial / Drone Showreel by John Duncan is one such video. “Living in Edinburgh we’re fortunate to have some truly magnificent sights on our doorstep”, need I say more? Enjoy!

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I recently came across Dublin Cycling Stories, which is a series of short portraits of people who use bikes to get around Dublin. These films were made with support from the Dublin Cycling Campaign and Dublin City Council. The site is inspiring in many ways and there are lessons here for Edinburgh. After all, Dublin and Edinburgh are capital cities of a similar size, both are emerging cycling cities, although Dublin is way ahead of Edinburgh, as we shall see.

Where Dublin has got it right, and where other emerging cycling cities should take note, is that the influencers in the city have made it a priority to promote the Cycling Stories as a normal way of life for Dubliners, and not just a fringe lifestyle for the brave few. These short films were made to show the world how gloriously easy, fun and sexy a bike ride can be, what a great idea!

Let’s start with Lisa’s story, the young mum taking her child to nursery …

… this shows that cycling can be easy and fun, something that both mother and daughter enjoy.

Then there is Paul’s story, he uses a bicycle for work …

… as a photographer he has to carry equipment about with him, but he can easily do so by bike and it’s obvious that going by bike has many advantages over using a car.

For a bit of contrast we have Julie’s story…

… she’s a student and tells us about how cycling gives her freedom (and how hills aren’t really a problem).

Next, we have Georgia’s story, showing how easy and sociable cycling can be as a way of getting about the city …

… in Georgia’s story we see clearly how far ahead Dublin is of Edinburgh in terms of infrastructure.

The film shows Dublin as having a connected network of cycle paths, where space has been taken from motor vehicles. Edinburgh is only just beginning to timidly experiment with this on George Street …

George Street, Edinburgh

… although in true Edinburgh fashion, they have only gotten half way through doing it, then downed tools for the Festival. George Street looks great, but doesn’t actually connect with anything at either end and is not part of a direct route to go anywhere, showing a frustrating lack of thought about cycling as a means of transport by the planners (and they call themselves transport professionals?).

Another thing that is different in Dublin, compared with Edinburgh, is evident from the dublinbikes story …

… Dublin claims to have the most successful bike share scheme in Europe. Edinburgh has yet to dabble with a bike share scheme, although such schemes have been real game changers in other cities. Will Edinburgh ever get a bike share scheme?

Well let’s just say that Rob Grisdale, MD of nextbike UK was sighted in Edinburgh yesterday, and he wasn’t here to do the festival (although I am told, he did manage to take in a show or two). So will Edinburgh ever get a bike share scheme? Given the City of Edinburgh Council’s desire to remain stuck firmly in the 1980’s it would seem not, but as Stirling is showing, the council doesn’t have to be in the lead, it could be a forward-looking social enterprise that takes the lead. I am not going to say more here, but there are ideas forming.

Possibly the greatest lesson these films have for Edinburgh (or indeed other cities) is that by promoting positive images of average people using the humble bicycle as a means of transportation, cycling can be used to “humanize” the city. In the last century the coming of the car brutalised our cities, now in the 21st century, civic leaders are starting to recognize the importance of the bicycle to creating living cities of the new millennium – the ones which embrace multi-modal transportation.

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In the run up to the second Edinburgh Festival of Cycling, I find myself having to move large numbers of festival programmes about the place. If I am just taking a few score of programmes to places where people might want to pick them up, that is easy to do with a courier bag or a set of panniers. However, today I was in the situation of needing to move several boxes (there are 150 programmes to a box and a box weighs 9.5 Kg) from Laid Back Bikes to EdFoC HQ, which is quite another matter. That is where the flying bathtub comes in.

Before going further, maybe I should explain that the “flying bathtub” is an affectionate nickname for the Urban Arrow family cargo bike (and one that I came up with this afternoon). Why, you might ask, “flying bathtub”? Well this particular Urban Arrow spent a couple of weeks sitting in the front window of the Cycle Service (where it was extracted from its cardboard box and built into a working machine), as a couple of frame bolts had gone missing in transit. While it was sitting in the shop, a number of customers asked about the “bathtub in the corner” and the name kind of stuck. The reason I call it the “flying bathtub” is because when you get used to the electric assist, it fair flies along (and this is a bike which weighs 45Kg unladen).

This wasn’t the first time I had ridden an Urban Arrow, I had had a wee test ride when the first one arrived in the UK last year…

Urban Arrow in action

… however today was the first time I had tried using it with a full load, in this case 66.5 Kg of programmes. So how did the bathtub and I get on? Well, starting off was a wee bit shaky, mainly because the front wheel is some distance ahead of the rider, which takes a little getting used to. There is also a slight play in the steering due to the nature of the ball joint at the end of the steering rod (see photo below), but within a few minutes I got the hang of it.

You can see the ball joint on the steering linkage to the left of the picture.

You can see the ball joint on the steering linkage to the left of the picture.

The other thing that takes a wee bit of getting used to is the transmission control which takes the place of gear leavers. Unlike most conventionally geared bikes, the Urban Arrow uses continuously variable NuVinci Hub gears. With this there are no set gears, instead there is a twist grip with an indicator window showing a cyclist on the flat. The straight line turns into a hill as you twist the grip. As it is continuously variable, there is no jump between gears as for conventional bikes, so at first you might not realise that you are changing gears, as it is so smooth. NuVinci are right when the say “It is unlike anything you have experienced before”.

Urban Arrow controls

When starting off with a heavy load, it is best to be in a low gear, with the indicator showing the wee cyclist climbing a hill. This makes it very easy to move away, even with the bike fully loaded. Once you are moving, you should then twist the grip to even out the hill on the indicator, until the wee cyclist is on the flat. At first I didn’t realise this and found that, once I had moved off, my legs where spinning round madly, with very little resistance and no increase in speed – as you might expect in a very low gear. I soon learned to twist the grip when I started to feel less resistance to my pedalling, and comfortably picked up speed. This, together with the Bosch electric motor providing assistance means that even with a heavy load you can actually fly along at a fair pace. It should be noted that the electric assistance cuts out at 15 mph (25 km/h) or if you stop pedalling, to comply with EU regulations. Although the route which I took was fairly flat with some slight uphill stretches on the way out (loaded), I found that I could get up to 20 mph (32 Km/h) and comfortably sustain a reasonable speed for keeping up with other traffic. Some drivers had a tendency to underestimate the speed at which I was travelling (but my experience is that also happens on an ordinary bike). This suggests that a VeloCityLight rear light would probably be a good idea.

The control for the electric assist (shown mounted to the left of the stem in the photo above) means that you can vary the level of assistance the motor gives you. This is done in three modes, Eco (the lowest level which makes the battery last longest), tour (which was the mode I was using) and sport. The display also shows the estimated range until the battery is exhausted and will need recharging. I don’t know how accurate this is, but I am told that you can expect to go about 25 miles (40 km) between charges.

Stopping wasn’t a problem either, as this Urban Arrow is equipped with Shimano hydraulic disc brakes (although the standard Continental configuration uses roller brakes), which provided plenty of stopping power even with a 66+ Kg load. The design of the Urban Arrow means that it can be stored out of doors with a cover over the cargo area (supplied as standard). There is built-in security in the form of a frame lock (something I am considering getting for my own bikes) and the electric assist can be disabled by simply removing the control unit. The only thing I found to be bit of a pain is the Dutch insistence on using Dunlop valves which makes pumping up the tyres very fiddly with a normal track pump. If I owned the bike, I would either change the inner tubes or fit adapter nipples (probably the latter).

Overall the bike was great fun to ride, as a car replacement it could be a useful addition for any family. It makes for very practical transport. In fact I enjoyed it so much, I will be taking it down to Round Six of The Pearl Izumi Tour Series (next Thursday) to see if Sir Chris would like to join me for a ride round the circuit. If he is lucky I might even let him ride in the bathtub at the front… 😉

Errata: Since I wrote this post the bike has had some work done and the steering issue has resolved.

 

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Today was one of those (supposedly) rare occasions, a sunny bank holiday. By way of celebration we decided to make uses of our Historic Scotland membership and visit one of their properties. One of the great things about living in Edinburgh is that there is so much to do within easy pedalling range, for today’s wee outing we chose Seton Collegiate Church, which we had not visited before.

Rather than join the tin box bampots, who seem to love sitting (fuming) in long stationary lines of traffic, we chose to follow much of the newly opened John Muir Way, mostly along off road paths, listening to the bird song. On reaching Musselburgh, we were please to find that the Electric Bridge was open (it being a race day) ,so we didn’t have the faff of negotiating the barriers at either end of the footbridge. For those confused by this statement, maybe I should give a brief explanation: the Electric Bridge was built in the 1960’s a few hundred metres north of the “New Bridge” built in 1806 (to replace the old bridge built by the Romans on their short holiday in Scotland, c. AD 71 to AD 213). The Electric Bridge was built was to allow transport of the turbines to Cockenzie power station. Having used it once and installed the turbines the Central Electricity Generation Board (CEGB) then offered the bridge to the Town Council for a nominal sum, but the offer was declined. As a result, gates were installed and the bridge is only opened on race days to allow access to the local racecourse. However, with the recent closure of Cockenzie power station (in March 2013), there is uncertainty about the future of the Electric Bridge.

The River Esk safely crossed, we headed down stream to the confluence of the Esk and the Forth, where we paused to look back to Edinburgh and take a few photos (note today I only had my phone with me and not the usual SLR).

View from the mouth of the Esk, looking west to Edinburgh

Had I had the SLR with me, I could have zoomed into the National Disgrace on Carlton Hill which was clearly visible. But I hadn’t, so we carried on around the coast past the former ash lagoons, now grassed over, to Prestonpans where we rejoined the road. From Prestonpans through Cockenzie to Port Seton, this was the least pleasant part of the ride, as you have to ride along a busy main road engineered to generate conflict. However, today the majority of motorists were tolerant (I have had bad experiences here in the past). Having survived this, we pulled off the road to look at the map and were passed by a smiling, waving Chris Oliver, AKA the Cycling Surgeon. The first time I met Chris we were viewing an x-ray of my clavicle, but that is another story.

The map consulted, we knew that just before the caravan park there is a wee path running up through the woods to the Seton Collegiate Church. We were greeted by Linda (?) of Historic Scotland who was very friendly and told us to leave our bikes along side her wee hut/office, as there is no cycle parking provided. She then gave us a brief history of the site and suggested the best way to view it, basically go left to the remains of the of priests’ accommodation, then peek over the gate at Seton House Castle (you are not allowed to go in, but peeking over the gate is free), and then enter the church through the west door. History wise, the original church was built in 1242 to serve the parishioners of Seton. Over time it was extended and adapted, it also became the private place of worship and burial vault of the Seton family. In 1470 the 1st Lord Seton introduced a college of priests, whose primary role was to pray for the souls of their benefactor, his wife, and his family. Evidently the Seton family had a lot of sins to atone for, as the “college” consisted of a provost, six priests, a clerk and two choir boys.

Over the years the church suffered damage during the various troubled periods of Scottish history, for instance during the Rough Wooing by the English army under the Earl of Hertford. They looted and stripped the vestments, communion vessels and stole the bells and organ, before setting fire to the timber work. Lady Janet, widow of the 3rd Lord Seton, did her best to repair the damage, demolishing the earlier chapel built by Lady Katherine St Clair (to house the tomb of her late husband, Sir John Seton) and building the present transepts and bell tower. A bell, cast in Holland in 1577, was installed, but the steeple was never completed. The church was further damaged around 1668 during the Scottish Reformation, with a number of the carvings being defaced by a mob of zealous Covenanters. Also at this time its role as a Collegiate Church came to an end, and for a short time it served as the parish church for Seton, until Seton was joined with the parish of Tranent and therefore was no longer needed.

The church finally left the control of the Seton family after the Jacobite Rising of 1715. The Setons were supporters of the Old Pretender (the self-styled James the 3rd and 8th), who caught a cold (or was it man flu) after the Battle of Sheriffmuir and beetled off back to France, leaving it to his son, the Italian coward Young Pretender to carry on the family tradition of romantic (or romanticised) failed rebellions. Anyway, I digress, back to the story, the kirk was desecrated, this time by the Lothian Militia in search of “hidden treasure”. Following this, the estates of the Setons passed to the Earls of Wemyss, who partially restored the kirk and used it as a burial place of deceased members of their family, until 1946 when they gave it to the Scottish people (probably in lieu of death duties). Enough writing, time for a few photos:

The Seton Collegiate Kirk
Seton Collegiate Church

The wee hoose next door
Seton Castle

Some of the Carvings
Carvings at Seton Collegiate Church

Carvings at Seton Collegiate Church

Effigies of an unknown knight and his lady (possibly Sir John Seton and Lady Katherine)
Effigies of an unknown knight and his lady

And a final carving, this one of Lady Janet Seton. If you are wondering about the colours, it is due to the sun coming through the stain glass windows.
Lady Janet Seton, Seton Collegiate Church

The bell. The kirk’s original bell was stolen along with the organ by the English Army in the 1544. This bell was cast for the 5th Lord Seton in 1577 by the Dutch.
Seton Collegiate Church bell

There were an number of Peacock butterflies (Aglais io) flying about the place, and this one dead on the floor
Peacock butterfly (Aglais io)

After an enjoyable hour or so wandering about the place, we decided it was time to head in to Longniddry to find a spot of lunch. Ulli suggested that we should go to the Summer House which has a wee café. The building was gifted to the village of Longniddry as a Reading Room in 1890 by the Countess of Wemyss and March. Its other claim to fame is that the Scottish Women’s Rural Institute held its first meeting there in 1917. There is a seating area outside where it would have been very pleasant to sit in the sun and eat, if it hadn’t been for the traffic noise which blights the village.

We returned to Edinburgh by much the same way as we had come.

On the way back to Edinburgh

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This evening I saw the first bat of 2014, it was probably Pipistrellus pipistrellus or Pipistrellus pygmaeus (based on previous identifications). Interestingly this sighting is later than in the last two years, it was 26th March 2012 and 30th March 2009. Maybe I haven’t been looking out enough.

I take the bat sighting as a sign of the coming summer, a couple of times recently I thought I heard swifts overhead, but have yet to see any, so I can’t confirm their presence just yet.

Update 19-4-2014: Noticed today the swift calls I have been hearing aren’t actually from swifts, they were from starlings mimicking swifts, which is a new one on me. I have heard starlings mimicking a range of other sounds before, including a car alarm.

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