Suz: What do horses say?
It was the quote of the day, but then Seb is only three and so is entitled to a logic all of his own. Ulli and I were out for a wee ride with an old Uni friend of mine and her son. It might have been the end of November, but it was a glorious day for seeing East Lothian by bike. Suzanne and Sebastian met us at the station in Dunbar. The plan was to ride from Dunbar to North Berwick along the new John Muir Way cycle route, allowing Sebastian to ride his balance bike whenever it was safe to do so, well that was the plan.
Exiting the station, the first issue arose: trying to explain to Sebastian why it wasn’t safe for a three year old to ride from the station out to the edge of town. He wasn’t entirely happy about this, and who can blame him, he had been told he was going out for a ride and now he was told it wasn’t safe. “But why isn’t it safe?” he kept asking. Good question Seb, mainly because a few selfish adults in cars think that they are far more important than children (or even adults) on bikes and they drive badly. However, this is rather a difficult concept to get across to a three year old, and it took a little time for him to reluctantly accept that he would have to travel, at least part of the way, in bike trailer.
Getting out of town proved to be a fraught experience with numpty drivers trying to overtake on blind bends and in other inappropriate places. As a former fully qualified driving instructor I am shocked by the poor standard of driving I see on the roads. Certainly there were a few who could do with taking some driving lessons and learning how to overtake safely.
The town finally exited, we found ourselves on an offroad path with great views and space for Sebastian to show off his skills on his balance bike. Meanwhile I was grabbing some photos.
By the time we time we had gotten to the end of the motor traffic free bit it was time for Sebastian to go back into the trailer. Fortunately by this time he was tired enough not to object and was happy to climb back into the trailer and take a nap while mum did all the work. This was fortunate as the route took us onto (what is euphemistically called) a shared use path. Now as regularly readers of this blog will know, Ulli and I have travelled a fair bit on the continent of Europe, and nowhere have we ever come across a path so narrow that it could only take a cycle trailer being called a shared use path. But this is family friendly East Lothian, where things are different.
VisitScotland has recently woken up to the concept of cycle tourism, but sadly Scottish transport planners haven’t (yet). If Scotland is ever going to achieve its potential as a family friendly tourist destination, it is going to have to do a lot better than this.
Crossing minor roads was also the sort of experience that you wouldn’t come across on the mainland either…
Not far from this crossing, we came across a field of Scottish road engineers and transport planners…
Need I say more?
About this time Seb woke up, hungry, and informed us that he would like to have a ham sandwich. It soon became apparent that wee Sebastian is a follower of the Zoroastrian tradition whereby the repeated chanting can will an object into existence. He is obviously an advanced three year old, or maybe just a three year old. Either way, turning off to find a farm shop where we could source some bread and ham was a relief, especially to Suzanne. Near the farm shop there were an number of happy chickens happy wandering about a field (blissfully unaware of what was sold in the shop). On seeing them, Seb gave a perfect impersonation of a chicken. A short way further do the farm track we passed a field with horses in it, at which point Suzanne asked Sebastian what horses say, he replied “Hello”, bless.
The road past the farm was delightfully free of motor traffic, which might have had something to do with the river crossing half way along.
Fortunately there was a footbridge to allow crossing, it was narrow (only just enough space for the trailer) and slippery, but it was the easier way to get across the river.
By now we were all getting hungry and it had, due to the poor infrastructure, taken far longer than we had expected to get as far as we had. We decided there was no way we would make North Berwick for lunch and so decided that the Tearoom at Smeaton Nursery (on the edge of East Linton) was a more realistic goal. Access to Smeaton Nursery was very muddy, but going in via the delivery entrance (being a Sunday) was mercifully traffic free.
Suitably fed, we decided that, as the day light was getting short, we should head back to Dunbar, but by a more direct rate route along the NCN 76 rather than the John Muir Way. However, this wasn’t without issue either. Trying to access one of the traffic free sections, we found that the western most set of bollards had been set too close together to get the trailer through, and Suzanne was forced to squeeze round the outside.
At the second set of bollards at the eastern end, the trailer was able to pass with about 5 cm to spare, likely not by design but by chance, as no thought had been given to the users in the planning process. The lack of professional competence of British road engineers and transport planners is something which needs to be addressed with some urgency. It is not that they can’t do it, it is more that they lack the training in planning for Active Travel and don’t think about it. The “profession” is totally fixated on motor vehicles and seemingly incapable of understanding the need of non-motorised traffic (for the origins of the word traffic). Earlier this year I tried to set up a CPD workshop for road engineers and transport planners, bringing in a Dutch/Danish consortium to do the training. I was shocked to find that the Professional Officers felt that they didn’t need such training, as they already knew everything they needed to know about providing for active travel.
Overall, I really enjoyed the day out, it is good to get out on the bike with friends. But was saddened by the lack of provision to make this easy for families. It doesn’t have to be this way, as I have seen on my travels on the mainland of Europe, where people expect and enjoy a better quality of life. Why should families be expected to accept second best? Why are we in Scotland not looking to take full advantage of the economic benefit of Active Travel? OK, VisitScotland are just starting to wake up to the fact that cycle tourism in Europe is worth in excess of €44,000,000,000 a year (the overall economic benefits of cycling are at least €205,000,000,000 p.a.), and Scotland is missing out on most of that. In fact our car dependent culture is costing us billions of pounds per year and has a highly negative impact not just on our quality of life, but our longevity, too.