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A sunny cycle to Seton

A sunny cycle to Seton

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

Pedal on Parliament II, launched

Pedal on Parliament II, launched

While I was away skiing in Austria Pedal on Parliament 2 was officially launched with this video:

This year Pedal on Parliament is going to be bigger and better than ever, make a note in your diary to be on the Meadows in Edinburgh at 15:00 on Saturday the 18th of May 2013 and make sure you are there to be a part of history. Together we can make Scotland a cycle friendly Nation!

Pedal on Parliament, let’s do it again

Pedal on Parliament, let’s do it again

Last year I got involved in an event which turned out to be far bigger than any of us expected – the first Pedal on Parliament. Ever since, people have been asking if we could do it again. Well, the answer is yes! There will be a Pedal on Parliament II, on the 18th May 2013, and this time it is going to be even bigger and better.

Why is this important? Last year 3,000 people turned out to join the ride, and this has had a real impact in moving cycling up the political agenda,and not just cycling but active travel in general. This is where Pedal on Parliament is different, we are not just another cycling group, we have always said that we want to make the roads safer for everyone. When our eight point manifesto is fully implemented, Scotland will be a better place for everyone. As Alistair Gray put it, Work as if you are in the early days of a better nation. So the clock is ticking, tell all your friends to be there, come and be a part of Pedal on Parliament II and we will make Scotland a cycle friendly Nation.

Gifford for lunch?

Gifford for lunch?

The plan was simple, ride out to Gifford, have lunch, pootle around East Lothian for a bit and take some photos before going home again. Well, that was the plan. It was one of those autumnal days when the air was clear and the sun bright, so I packed my big camera in a pannier and we set off, heading out through Holyrood Park, with the intention of picking up the Innocent path below the tunnel. Arriving at the park, we found there were lots of people running along the roads. Although the roads are normally closed on a Sunday, there aren’t usually this many runners around, nor are they usually as muddy as this lot were. We noticed a sign proclaiming “Survival of the Fittest” and realised this was some sort of race, also they were being directed down the path towards the Innocent tunnel. At this point we decided to carry on to Duddingston instead and join the Innocent Path and the NCN 1 after that. So far so good.

At Brunstane we had the absurdity of having to carry the bikes over the footbridge to cross the railway line. This always grates, it is typical of the couldn’t care less attitude of British transport planners. This bridge could easily be made accessible to wheelchair users, parents with pushchairs and cyclists with a little thought, but no, just put up something that is inadequate and tell people to make do. Certainly in the past, the same attitude has been shown by Sustrans, describing this as part of a Traffic Free route and the National Cycle Network. Why do we have to put up with second rate crap? For that matter why does Sustrans think this is suitable for an international long distance cycle route? Rant over*.

We departed the NCN1 at Whitecraig, and where we headed towards Smeaton Shaw, when we had to stop to investigate a strange rattling coming from the back of Ulli’s bike. It turned out to be a loose cable from her rear light, cable tided away we carried on. We had not gone much further, to the turn off onto the old railway line to Ormiston, when I noticed a strange rattling coming from the back of my bike. On stopping to investigate, I found this to be rather more serious. One of the bolts attaching the pannier rack to my bike was hanging loose and the spacer between it and the frame was missing (as I now have disk brakes, there has to be a spacer to stop the rack from pressing on the calliper and applying the brake). Fortunately we only had one pannier each, so I could swap mine onto Ulli’s bike. However I was reluctant to go on, as I was worried about the bolt shaking loose and being lost, so we decided to head home again.

On reaching the Esk, the bolt was still holding firm and Ulli suggested that we head to Musselburgh for lunch instead. We followed the path down the Esk to the town, but couldn’t find anywhere that looked interesting to eat. Rather than retrace our route, we headed west along the coast to Portobello. So it was that for a second weekend in a row we found ourselves on Porty Prom, this time I decided to get the camera out and take a few photos:

Looking across the Forth
Looking across the Forth.

Porty beach on an autumnal day
Porty beach on an autumnal day.

Tides out
The tide was out, people were wandering about…

Fetch!
… and a dog was fetching a stick.

Strange vessels in the Forth
There were some odd looking vessels out the Forth.

Arthur's Seat from the other side
Then, on the way home we took in the view of Arthur’s Seat from the other side, the low angle of the sun showing up the prehistoric cultivation terraces.

The morale of the story, it is always worth carrying a camera…

* I have now been told that there is a way round without going over the bridge.

How we came to Pedal on Parliament

How we came to Pedal on Parliament

Last year I wrote a post about how the Dutch got their cycle paths. A key part of this was the Stop der Kindermort campaigns of the 1970’s. On the 28th April the Dutch celebrate their Queen’s Day, while we here in Scotland took inspiration from their Stop der Kindermort campaigns and Pedalled on the Scottish Parliament to call for safer roads for all.

The genesis of the of Pedal on Parliament can be traced back to a meeting in Edinburgh to discuss the formation of a Scottish Consulate of the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, involving Sally Hinchcliffe, Dave du Feu, Dave Brennan and myself. There was some talk of taking a protest ride to the Scottish Parliament, but at this stage there was no formal plan. The Pedal on Parliament campaign really started on the 24th February, with a single e-mail to Sally and myself from Dave Brennan:

Hi Guys,

The call has gone out for cyclists to go to London on the 28th April in a show of support for the ‘cycle revolution’. I’d love to go, but I just can’t make it. Too far, too expensive, too difficult. 🙁

However, that got me thinking, surely this is the right time to push the agenda north of the border. We have a separate parliament who have yet to make any major noises about this campaign. So, I’m wondering if we need a Scottish ride to coincide with the London ride. Probably an Edinburgh ride to Hollyrood.

What do you guys think?

I’ve started writing a blog post about it, we would need a lot of support from others, and this might be a good time to get support from the Scottish press (we’d ideally have support from the Times as well). We’d obviously need Spokes, GoBike, Cycling Scotland etc on board.

Just thought I’d pass it by you guys first.

I’ll have to cancel my entry to the Kinross Sportive which is a shame! 🙁

Dave

 

Since then it has been a roller coaster ride, the three became seven and then eight, and before we knew it we had started a revolution. We had a website (run by Alan of Go Bike), we were getting press coverage in local then national papers, even a couple of mentions on the BBC and STV evening news. On the evening of the Spokes Hustings (29th March) Michael MacLeod of STV suggested that there could be as many as a 1,000 people turning up on the day. This was the figure we started to talk about, even though I for one didn’t entirely believe it.

Around this time we decided that we really ought to have something to give to Parliament, well, we had our Manifesto (a modified version of the one I had originally written), but we felt the need for something more. So it was that we started an on-line Petition and watched the signatures trickle in. The numbers were disappointing at first, but did give us an idea of where we where getting support from, all across Scotland. It also meant we could watch the momentum grow over time, and by the 28th April we had a little over 3,000 signatures.

We somehow managed to blag a wee bit of money out of Spokes and CTC Scotland, which paid for some flyers, using one of the posters designed by the Magnificent Octopus’ (or Andy Arthur as we know him). Andy also kindly donated the monies he was paid for designing a poster for a cycle rally in London, which paid for some blue Hi-Viz tabards for the marshals. We chose blue so that it would stand out from the expected sea of yellow, but I digress. Armed with said flyers, three of us headed for the Scottish Bike Show, where, with the aid of a wonky wallpaper table (is there any other kind?) we set about trying to reach people we couldn’t reach via Twitter and FaceBook Thanks to the Scottish Bike Show for letting us do this for free!.

As the day grew closer, so the flurries of Tweets we were sending to the world increased, as did the blizzard of e-mail between ourselves. Anth, Alan and Sara were busy organising feeder rides and recruiting volunteers to help with publicity, marshalling, etc. We were all working flat out, no one was free wheeling, and, despite the strong characters involved, there were no fallings out.

The day its self dawned, there were three laptops on the breakfast table, the e-mails and tweets were still flying, to try and encourage last minute support. Checking the Petition, we noted that we had just got past the 3,000 signature mark on-line, we had also picked up around 250 on paper at the Scottish Bike Show. About 09:30 there was a phone call from the Police to ask about numbers and arrangements for the day. The conversation went something like this:

Police: so you are expecting 300 (this was the number we had put on the original application form)
Me: um no we are expecting around 1,000 now
Police: OK we will work with that

I later heard that the police briefing for the event had said that they expected around 600 riders to take part. Some of the feedback we have received from participants since the ride has been critical of us, for not anticipating the number of people who turned up on the day. But we literally had no way of knowing how many would turn up. The petition had only just gone over 3,000, and from mapping the first part of the post codes we knew that almost 1970 of those came from the central belt, but how many of those could be expected to turn up on the day? We knew there were going to be some people coming in on feeder rides, but no firm numbers.

Setting off at midday, we (Dave B and I) headed for PoP HQ, Andy’s flat just off the Meadows, to meet up with the rest of the team. This was also to be the meeting point for the non-political invited riders, namely the McNicoll’s (parents of Andrew McNicoll who was sadly killed while cycling in Edinburgh in January) and Mark Beaumont (the round the world cyclist). While there, we tried testing the megaphones we had borrowed (yes, we had 2!), only to find we had bought the wrong batteries, cue mad scramble to get more batteries and pull strings to find if we could borrow a portable P.A. system. Next, there was the phone call from Mark Beaumont to say that he was stuck in traffic on the Forth Bridge, cue jokes about telling him to get on his bike. Fortunately, the Standing Orders for the day were “Keep Calm and Carry On”, which was what we did.

Andy’s neighbours must have wondered what was going on with the constant comings and goings. Ian and Lynne McNicoll arrived with a friend (whose name I have unfortunately forgotten), we had just done the introductions when a tall figure appeared in the doorway. I looked up and thought I recognise that nose, and said “Hello Mark, come in”. The others were looking a wee bit stunned, so I set about doing the introductions as if I was introducing old friends, until I got the friend of the McNicoll’s, when I went blank, at which point the room fell silent and Mark Beaumont looked confused. Fortunately, Ian realised what had happened, finished the introductions, and we were back on track.

People filtered in and out, I left the flat for the last time about 13:30, when I received a call on my mobile from a BBC cameraman down at Holyrood, asking when we expected to arrive and what we would do when we got there. I said that people had been told to gather from 14:00 and we would set off at 15:00. He asked if there were going to be many people. I looked down Argyle Place and across to the Meadows, on the far side I could already see a crowd gathering, so I said I thought that we would make our predicted figure of about a thousand.

Across the Meadows, I went looking for people I was expecting to see, and met some old friends I hadn’t seen for years. The crowd continued to swell, we asked people to keep to one side of Middle Meadows Walk, but it was soon clear this was filling up rapidly. It was when someone told me that people arriving were backing up Argyle Place and fanning out along Melville Drive, that I started to realise that this was really BIG. However, we didn’t really know just how big yet. A conversation caught on video with the police suggested that it was well over a thousand! The new batteries for the megaphones arrived, but we found that we still couldn’t get them to work, so to tell people about the planned minute’s silence, marshals walked down the line telling people at intervals and asking them to pass the message on. It worked! When the whistle was blown to signal the start of the minute’s silence, the whole park fell silent, even people walking past stopped talking. It was a truly eerie feeling, being faced with thousands of people with the only sound being a few birds in the trees.

ThousandsPhoto by Chris Hill.

After the silence came a cacophony of bells, hooters and cheers! Then the ride was led off by Mark Beaumont and the McNicolls, I filtered into the line later on and rode along, chatting with people on the way. There was a wee bit of a delay getting from George IV Bridge on to the High Street, and a taxi driver in Victoria Street decided the solution was to lean on the horn in his cab. Well, until one of the police officers went and had a word with him. Generally the drivers were well natured and patient, more amusing was the reaction of the tourists who cheered and took photos. Every one seemed to be smiling.

On reaching the Scottish Parliament, the organising team all headed for a grassy knoll which stands out (the grounds in front of Scottish Parliament have been landscaped to accommodate rallies such as ours), and invited politicians headed over to meet us as they arrived. All had ridden from the Meadows, we were very happy to have cross party support. Half an hour after the first riders had arrived at Holyrood, we heard from the police that the last riders had just left the Meadows. Once everyone had finally arrived, a number of short speeches were made. However, due to the size of the P.A. system we had blagged at the last moment, quite a number people didn’t realise that speeches were happening, as they couldn’t hear them.

There was a further discussion with the police about numbers, they said at a “conservative estimate there were at least 2,500 people and probably 3,000”, this figure was agreed by many of the others who were there. There was a comment from the politicians that this was one of the biggest rallies they had seen outside the Scottish Parliament, and definitely the most friendly. The buzz was amazing and has continued for well over a week!

Only days to go before the Pedal on Parliament: time for action!

Only days to go before the Pedal on Parliament: time for action!

The clock is counting down: 8 years, 2 months, 15 days, 21 hours, 0 minutes ago, the masses will set off to Pedal on Parliament with the purpose of calling for safer roads for all! We need you to help, if you can join us on The Meadows on Saturday and be a part of the ride. But even if you can’t be there to ride with us, there are still things you can do: sign the petition and write to your MSPs and councillors, asking them to implement our Manifesto. You can also write to your MSPs and ask them to support Motion S4M-02641 which has been lodged with the Scottish Parliament.

PEDAL ON PARLIAMENT - Poster 2

 

So join us, together we can make Scotland a cycle friendly nation!

 

An accidental revolution

An accidental revolution

It started out as a conversation on Twitter about The Times’ Cities fit for cycling campaign. We were bemoaning fact that it was all centred around London and there was nothing in Scotland. Dave Brennan, aka Magnatom, who writes The Mind of a Helmet Camera Cyclist blog, was the first to break and announced “I am going to write a blog post about this”, well someone had to. He came up with this call to arms, urging people to ride to Holyrood on 28th April, then sat back and waited to see what would happen. My response was to draft my own version of The Times’ eight point manifesto.

It wasn’t long before more tweets, then e-mails began to fly, a core group formed, and the whole thing started to snowball. A thousand e-mails and a little over a week later we had formalised our manifesto, drafted a press release and produced a website, thus Pedal on Parliament was born!

It wasn’t long before we started to get positive press, but the big surprise was the coverage we got from the Edinburgh Evening News, a paper which hasn’t always been friendly towards cyclists, but this is a very welcome change of editorial direction. We also received support from Mark Beaumont, who said: I support the manifesto points and hope that the politicians do take notice of them. There have been some tragic accidents in recent months and small changes could make the difference between life and death. I’m also glad that the Pedal on Parliament organisers understand that cyclists and motorists must share the road, too many times cycling safety campaigns get bogged down in adopting a them and us stance. I’m both a cyclist and motorist myself and I’ll do my best to be there on the day, too. Thanks Mark, we really appreciate your support!

On Monday morning, I was asked if I could get some people together for a photo call that same afternoon! At that time, only three members of the core group were in Edinburgh (of the others, three are in the west of Scotland and one in the centre), and I did wonder if it could be done. But fortunately, a call on social media for volunteers was picked up by an other blog and the local Edinburgh Cycling Forum. So by five o’clock there was a reasonable turn out for the photo call, and we gained a new member for the core group.

Grassroots campaign group Pedal on Parliament
© Johnston Publishing Ltd

We also have coverage in the cycling press, from road.cc and bikebiz. Day by day the momentum is building, you can now follow the campaign on twitter and FaceBook. There are an increasing number of posters available, with more to come, great work Andy!

As this is a campaign to make Scotland’s roads safer for everyone, whether you live here or visit, you can join in by signing the newly launched petition. Those of you who do live in Scotland, please write to your elected representatives and urge them to support the manifesto to help make Scotland a healthier, happier, safer place for us all to live in. Don’t forget that the Scottish local elections are on 5th May. Now is the time to focus the minds of your local councillors and persuade them to follow the City of Edinburgh’s example and commit 5% of their transport budget to active travel. We can do it, we can make Scotland a cycle-friendly nation again, if we work as if we are in the early days of a better nation!

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Margaret Mead

Let's Make Cycling in Scotland SAFE for ALL

Please sign the petition and get your friends and family to sign it to, and if you can please join us on 28th April at two o’clock on the Meadows, to set off at three o’clock to Pedal on Parliament!!

The way back from Broughton

The way back from Broughton

We had cycled down to Broughton from Edinburgh the day before, and now the day dawned bright (well dawn had actually been some hours before). It had been a peaceful night, apart from the odd bark from the farm dogs down the road, and the strange noises from across the road. Setting out we noticed that the horse which had been in a temporary paddock across the road, had disappeared, but this is the Scottish Borders which has a long tradition of lifting livestock, so a spot of horse rustling was only to be expected. Then again, maybe it was just that the other guests at the B&B (who had left early) were part of the big riding group touring the Borders. As we had entered Broughton the day before we had noticed a large collection of temporary paddocks, each with a single horse, in a field just outwith the village. Either way, it was a glorious day to be touring (in our case by bicycle) in the Scottish Borders.

Broughton Heights

Riding into the village, we briefly considered stopping at the Buchan museum, but only briefly. The museum is dedicated to John Buchan, son of a Free Church minister, the some time author, lawyer, and politician, who used to holiday in the village as a child, with his grandparents. After writing a few books, making some money and doing a wee bit of travel, he had a holiday home built in the style of a 17th-century tower house, in 1938, to reflect his newly acquired title of 1st Baron Tweedsmuir. Not that he had much time to enjoy it, as he was packed off to Canada as Governor General and died there of a stroke in 1940. One day we will get around to visiting the museum, just not on this day. Another thing I would like to have done in Broughton was to visit Broughton Ales, having enjoyed their Clipper IPA the night before, but on this occasion it was a wee bit early in the morning for visiting a brewery.

We turned away from the main road to follow the River Tweed eastward, passing Drumelzier with its ancient hill forts and the remains of Tinnis castle. According to Arthurian legend, the wizard Merlin was imprisoned in a thorn tree, by Morgan la Fay, somewhere in this glen.

Another local story talks of a character called Merlin Sylvestris, court bard to Gwenddoleu ap Ceidio, who ruled a kingdom around the Solway Firth in the middle of the 6th century. This was a rather fractious period in British history, the Romans had just left, the Saxons had started moving in and the native Brythonic warlords were carving out kingdoms for themselves. So it was that Gwenddoleu ap Ceidio picked a fight with Riderch Hael, King of Strathclyde, they met in a bloody skirmish (which became known as the Battle of Arderyth) in 573 somewhere near Peebles. The battle saw the annihilation of Gwenddoleu’s army, however Merlin survived and fled into the forest, suffering a bad case of PTSD.

While he was wandering about the woods, he bumped into a monk called Kentigern (A.K.A. St. Mungo, who went on to found an obscure town on the banks of Clyde), who spent a long time talking to him. He eventually converted Merlin to Christianity, which in the dark ages was the standard treatment for PTSD, if the chroniclers are to be believed. Merlin’s conversion took place at Altarstone which is a wee bit further down the glen on the far side of the Tweed (the actual stone now forms part of the baptismal font in Stobo Kirk). At his baptism, Merlin foresaw his own death, forecasting that he would suffer three deaths, being cudgelled, drowned and stabbed.

Later the same day he had a run in with a group of Riderch Hael’s followers, who bludgeoned him with cudgel, knocking him into river. He was carried down stream and impaled on a stake. Merlin was buried between the Pausayl Burn and the river Tweed, marked with a thorn tree. This is not quite the end of the story, though, move forward to the 13th Century and Thomas Learmonth, A.K.A. Thomas the Rhymer (who had apparently spent seven years away with the fairies after falling asleep under a tree on the Eildon Hills, although he claimed that it was only three days). He penned some lines saying that “When Tweed and Powsail meet at Merlin’s grave, Scotland and England shall one monarch have.”

Zooming forward along the timeline again, to 25th July 1603, a flood caused the Tweed to burst its banks and meet with the Pausayl Burn, something which apparently hadn’t happened before or since. The same day in London, James the VI of Scotland was crowned James the I, King of Scotland, England, France and Ireland (the France bit was a wee bit presumptious, as the Tudors had already lost all the French possessions).

Now, had I researched all this before we set out for the weekend, we would have gone looking for Merlin’s grave, which is apparently marked by a small plaque at the base of a thorn tree. However, I didn’t, so we didn’t and now it is time to get back to writing about what we actually did.

As we approached Dawyck Botanic Gardens, Ulli asked if we should go in. I pointed out that we would have to pay, as I hadn’t brought my old RBGE ID badge with me. Doing things on the spur of the moment is great fun, but there are times when a wee bit of prior planning doesn’t go astray.

Beyond Stobo, to avoid the main road (A72), we turned off onto a footpath and crossed back over the Tweed. It was the sort of mad off-road route which I normally associate with the NCN cycle routes, but this time it was our choice to avoid the main road. At the end of the footpath there was a junction, with a “public” road to the right and an estate road straight ahead. At the start of the estate road there was a big notice stating that it was a “PRIVATE ROAD” and “No Entrance to unauthorised vehicles or bicycles unless on Estate business”. Evidently the owners, Elizabeth and David Benson, are unfamiliar with the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, which established “statutory public rights of access to land for recreational and other purposes”. This includes the right to walk, ride a bicycle or a horse along any estate road. It is also interesting to note that in 2004 Barns Estate was described as the site of “Britain’s worst wildlife crime”, after the gamekeeper was convicted of poisoning 20 raptors. So we are not talking about enlightened land owners here.

We turned right onto the public road, a short way up we came across a dead mole (Talpa caeca) in the middle of the road. There was no obvious cause of death, but it was a sunny day, so maybe it had wandered onto the road over night then gotten lost and not been able to dig for shelter. Seeing a mole like that is very rare, so I was really surprised when a few hundred meters up the road and round the corner we came across another one. Other wildlife highlights of the day included four stoats (Mustela erminea) (three alive and dispersing into the hedgerows, one flattened on the road) and a buzzard (Buteo buteo) in a spruce tree (Picea sitchensis).

As we came down to The Glack, there was another junction, I saw a cycle route sign pointing straight ahead so headed off. I was about half way up the hill when I noticed that Ulli was no longer following me. I backtracked to the junction, to find her pointing to the cycle route sign pointing the other way, apparently that was the one we wanted. It was only after a check of the map that I noticed the route I had taken was a dead end. Oops.

Crossing the Manor Water, slightly to my disappointment, we took the southern route round Cademuir Hill. This meant that we missed out the viewpoint at Manor Sware, oh and a steep climb, but sometimes you just have to miss out on these things. Then again, the views we did get weren’t at all bad.

Scottish Borders landscape

Scottish Borders landscape

Cycle touring in the Scottish Borders

Onwards to Peebles then? No, stay south of the river and skirt through the King’s Muir, just as well that I wasn’t doing the navigating. Ulli was rather keen to visit the Osprey Centre at Kailzie, until she found that it was a shed by a pond with a video feed from the nest. Apparently the ospreys do occasionally fish from the pond, but this isn’t guaranteed, they are wild birds after all. Still, it did give us the opportunity to nip into the gift shop at the Gardens to get a wee present for the friends who were giving us lunch in Innerleithen.

Lunch over, we set out up the Leithen Water along the NCN 1, something we had done before, so rather than try to describe the ride up through the Moorfoot Hills (which you can read about in the above link), I thought I would put in some photos instead.

Looking up Glentress

Heading up Glentress, the Moorfoot Hills

Bikes and turbines

Topping out of the final climb on the shoulder of Broad Law, this time we were greeted with fine views to the Pentland Hills and north the Firth of Forth, Fife and beyond.

The Pentland Hills and the Forth from Broad Law, Moorfoot Hills

Coming down from Broad Law, as before, we were met with something of a headwind, which I decided not to fight and coasted rather than sprinting for speed. I was saving my energy for the road beyond Middleton, which, the last time we had been that way, had been appalling. This time we found that the worst sections had been resurfaced and it was considerably better than it had been, but there were still rough sections. Just past Middleton we stopped to look at Arthur’s Seat, home seemed so close, but we still had miles to go, and the small matter of crossing the river Esk. The Esk may only be a small river, but it runs in a steep sided glen, which makes it difficult to cross (unless you use one of the big busy roads which also involves negotiating some pretty gnarly roundabouts), whereas the NCN1 swings wide to the east on a large dogleg, to cross lower down the Esk, and then takes you on a winding route into Edinburgh. We prefer to leave the NCN1 at Carrington, cross the Esk above Dalkeith and take a more direct route into the city.

We decided to cross at Roslin Glen, this is not an ideal route for everyone, most sane people wouldn’t welcome a 16% climb after 80Km of riding on a bike with panniers, but we knew from experience that we could do it, if we took it slow and steady. I was surprised to find that I didn’t have to drop to the lowest gear available, and that when I reached the top on the Roslin side, I still had a couple of cogs to spare, so I am starting to wonder if it really is 16%?

Another thing which may seem odd about our choice of route was the decision to go to Gowkley Moss (rather than through the village to Bilston). For those who don’t know the area, the roundabout at Gowkley Moss is big and scary (and that is not just for cyclists), so why were we choosing to go that way? Well there is a secret way around for cyclists wanting to bypass the roundabout. Just before you get there, turn right unto the old road, which comes to a dead end after 50 m, then follow the path past the roundabout and you will come out just by the pedestrian crossing lights on the north side. From there it is a straight run into Edinburgh.

There is a map of our route here.

My stats were:

  • Distance cycled – 93.9 Km
  • Time spent riding – 04:38:42
  • Max Speed – 50.8 Km/h
  • Ave Speed – 20.2 Km/h
  • Vertical climb – 750 ca. m
Blasted back from Duns

Blasted back from Duns

Having struggled against a head wind all the way down the day before, we were sort of looking forward to having a tail wind helping us all the way home from Ravelaw (near Duns). Coming out of the B&B after a fine breakfast, we soon noticed the wind was still in the East South East and just as strong, if not stronger, than the day before. A later check of records from Charterhall showed the average wind speed to be 23 mph (37 Km/h), gusting to 37 mph (59.6 Km/h), which is not unsubstantial. Indeed, as Bernhard and I posed for photos outside Ravelaw House, the trees were bending in the wind.

Leaving Ravelaw on a windy day

Having set off, we first went south and east, which was odd, because our destination was to the north and west, but then that is what comes of putting a geographer in charge of the navigation, I suppose. The first place we passed through was the village of Whitsome, which has very little to detain the passing cyclist, so we didn’t bother stopping. There was some vague discussion of picking up supplies for the road, bananas, snackie bars, that sort of thing, so we headed for Chirnside with the aim of finding some shops. Having reached the outskirts, a further discussion on buying supplies ensued and it was decided that we didn’t need any. So we followed the A road around the village and didn’t go in, missing out on the delights of the 12th century church and an extra climb. On the subject of climbing, Bernhard, having shown the day before that he was the master climber, was rubbing in emphasising the point by wearing his Ötztaler Radmarathon finishers jersey.

Just short of Chirnsidebridge we turned off the A road and carried on along quiet little roads, seeing no other traffic. This is one of the things I like about cycling in the Scottish Borders, the number of quiet wee roads there are, but the B6355 seemed unusually quiet. We had passed traffic cones and a couple of blown over signs, but we hadn’t taken much notice, until we got to Nel Logan’s Bridge over the Preston Burn, just outside Preston. The bridge was closed for maintenance, which explained the total absence of traffic, but the workmen allowed us to cross over the bridge. However, we didn’t stop to look at the bridge itself, which is a shame, as it has a rather curious history. The bridge (which is now a Category B Listed Building) was build in 1793 with a single segmental-arch, this was later enclosed to form a gaol cell. According to local tradition, Napoleonic prisoners of war were held here while in transit to larger sites. The bridge is named after Nel Logan, she is said to have been the last person to have been imprisoned there, for the crime of sheep stealing. Apparently inside there are still metal rings in the wall to which, it is rumoured, the prisoners were chained. In the middle of the floor, directly above the burn, is a hole which is said to have been the toilet. There used to be a heavy wooden arch-shaped door, but this apparently fell apart some forty years ago. There are some pictures of the bridge on Flickr, really must stop to take a look next time.

We carried on through Preston, to cross the Whiteadder Water at Cockburn Mill Ford, which is now culverted and only a ford when the water is high. Then we followed the Mill Burn upstream to its watershed. Crossing over the watershed, we came down the dead pheasant highway, which was as heavily littered with road kill as the day before. We tore down the hill with the wind at our backs, fortunately there were no pheasants with suicidal intent throwing themselves before our wheels.

Reaching Ellemford Bridge, we crossed over the Whiteadder Water again, which was to become something of a habit as we crossed it a further four times.

Ellemford Bridge over Whiteadder Water

It was easy riding as we wended our way up past Cranshaws, following the Whiteadder Water up stream. I was starting to look forward to the prospect of wind assisted climbing on the Hungry Snout, but before this steep climb there is an easy slope by “The Bell”, which I sailed up this with ease. So when I came to the Hungry Snout itself I was feeling very confident. Having ridden this road before, I should have known better. The sign at the bottom says 14%, and although it looks easy on approach, it should not be underestimated, as there is a sting in the tail when you round the bend, hidden by the trees. However, confidence boosted, I decided to sprint up it. Bad idea. By the time I reached the steepest section, I was already breathing as hard as I could. I somehow managed to get past it, but as the road started to flatten off, my lungs were no longer able to supply my leg muscles with enough oxygen to keep going, and I had to stop and catch my breath. Utter madness, had I taken it slow and steady, it would had been easy. Ho Hum, but it was glorious.

Descending the north side of the Hungry Snout was fun, then we zipped alongside the Reservoir and up to the cattle grid, where we stopped for a snack and some water. Then, instead of going back the way we had come the day before, we turned off to follow the Whiteadder Water to its watershed. This is a great wee road, although the surface can be rough in places, but don’t let that put you off. Over the watershed, we decided to stop at the White Castle hill fort and take some photos, which isn’t so easy when the wind is trying to push you over.

Blown away at White Castle

The ride from White Castle to Garvald was an absolute blast! I achieved a new record top speed, 80.63 Km/h (50.1 mph), I hardly slowed on the climb up to Nunraw, it was a real blast. After Garvald, as we rode on to Gifford, we were no longer travelling with the wind, but rather across it, which was less comfortable. As we reached Townhead farm, we met a massive combine harvester, so wide it took up the whole road. Once it had passed, we rolled down into Gifford, for lunch at the café “Love Coffee… …and Food?”. It seemed far longer that the 24 hours since we had last been there, but the welcome was just as warm.

Over lunch we discussed taking the scenic route via Humbie, but decided that, given the wind conditions, we would go back the way we had come out the day before. Back on the road, we were confronted with road works just outside Gifford, with the west bound carriageway still being resurfaced. This prompted another change of plan which involved a dogleg along a minor road we hadn’t used before and then heading into East Saltoun from the south. As we rode along, I started to make a check list of things look for to determine if you were riding in a high wind or not, so…

Crows flying backward? check.
Large round straw bales blowing across a field? Check.
Corrugated iron sheets being torn off a barn roof? Check!
Large sections of tree laying in the road? Check!!

That last one also gives you the opportunity to check your brakes…

After passing through the Saltouns we headed for the old Pencaitland railway path and the shelter from the wind it offered. Then on to Whitecraig, where we picked up the NCN 1 back into town. We gave Bernhard the full tour, over the (not exactly cycle friendly) Brunstane Station bridge and the Innocent railway path, including the tunnel.

here is a map of our route here.

My stats were:

  • Distance cycled – 88.74 Km
  • Time spent riding – 04:08:20
  • Max Speed – 80.63 Km/h
  • Ave Speed – 21.53 Km/h
  • Vertical climb – ca. 750 m
Spinning down to Duns

Spinning down to Duns

The three of us, Ulli, her cousin Bernhard (visiting on holiday) and myself, were looking for a cycle tour. I had originally intended to use my new bike but we haven’t gotten around to building it yet, something for a rainy day, after we got back.

We had thought of doing something in the west, maybe a few of the islands over several days, but then the weather intervened. So we decided that a trip into the Borders might be a better option, and to keep it to just two days. Knowing that Bernhard liked hills, Ulli and I had a particular hill in mind, which suggested a route over the Lammermuir Hills. We talked about staying overnight at a place in Coldstream where Ulli and I had been before, but decided we wanted to try something new instead. Duns was chosen as a target area, a quick internet search turned up a suitable looking B&B at a place called Ravelaw, which was swiftly booked. Accommodation sorted, all that was left was to plan a route and ride there.

The early parts of the route were relatively straightforward as we were on home ground. For the first part, instead of just picking up the NCN1, Ulli decided which should use the Joppa variation. The Joppa variation has the advantage of avoiding the not so cycle friendly bridge at Brunstane Station. However, it has the disadvantage of a lot of streets with setts. It should be noted at this point that Ulli has the bike with the widest tyres, but it gave us the chance to joke about training for the Paris–Roubaix, once our teeth had stopped rattling.

Past Brunstane Station we joined the NCN1 and followed it out to Whitecraig, just before Whitecraig there is a short steep slope. As we approached I saw two cyclists up ahead at the start of the slope, and decided to take the first few points towards the polka dot jersey, knowing full well these were likely to be the only points I would get on the whole trip. The two cyclists were a wee bit surprised to be overtaken, at speed, by a hybrid bike with loaded panniers on the back, probably because they didn’t know that this was a cat four climb and there were points at stake (OK, I am getting sad in my old age).

As usual we parted company with the NCN1 at Whitecraig, choosing to turn west to Smeaton and on up past the bing on Smeaton Shaw, which is currently being rearranged to make way for a recycling centre. Currently this area is something of a mess. Before the landscaping began, the bing was partly hidden by trees, and in about 20 years time it will be again. We were fortunate that there were no heavy lorries about as we cycled on to Chalkieside to join the old railway which once served the coal pit which produced the bing. Once on the old railway, which is part of Regional Cycle Route 73, we were relatively sheltered from the wind as we rode to Pencaitland.

I haven’t mentioned the wind so far, and this is a good point in the story to bring it in. The weather was bright and sunny, but rather inconveniently the wind was blowing from the South East, straight into our faces. As the day went on, the wind seemed to get stronger, records from Charterhall showed the average wind speed to be 18 mph (28.9 Km/h), gusting to 30 mph (48.3 Km/h). Not the easiest cycling conditions, but I have ridden in worse.

At Pencaitland we rejoined the road and headed on through the Saltoun’s towards Gifford, past East Saltoun we found that the road was being resurfaced. Fortunately for us, the east bound carriageway had been done first and was now beautifully smooth, which made progress a lot easier, in spite of the wind. This was a good thing, as lunch was now calling, and I sprinted into Gifford, only to find that the café (Love Coffee… …and Food?) was already full of cyclists. At first I thought it was some sort of club run, but it turned out they were just couples and small groups who had all turned up around lunch time. No wonder the owners, Pam and Craig, are so keen on cyclists, they have in the past said that these are their favourite customers, now they are talking about selling “Love Coffee… …and Food?” cycle jerseys. Anyway, we managed to find a wee bit of space and had some lunch, and a bit of chat and banter with some of the other cyclists.

Lunch over, we set out again, taking the scenic route which take you around Yester House (said to be Scotland’s most expensive house, although it didn’t fetch the asking price of £15m or probably even the reduced price £12m. In fact, it would appear to be still for sale), but you never actually get you a view of it from the road. You do however get some good views of the Lammermuir Hills and the road up Newlands Hill to Redstone Rig. Turning on to the B6355, I became aware that we were not going to be alone going up to the Rig, there was a Dutch car rally going the same way. This was unfortunate, as the Dutch are some of the worst drivers in Europe, the concept of sharing the roads with cyclists is somewhat alien to them, which was probably why Dutch cyclists need separate cycle lanes. Local drivers were giving me plenty of room, but not the Dutch. All I wish to say to the driver who came within 60cm of me is “Krijg kanker en ga dood, Hoerenjong!” OK, that has got that off my chest, back to the story.

As you reach the foot of the climb, there is a combination of road sign and road marking which suggests that someone in the ELC transport department might have a sense of humour, or maybe not.

Prediction or advice?
© B. Dragosits 2010.

I mean, who else would tell you to slow as you hit a 17% uphill gradient? Given that we were going straight into a strong and gusty South Easterly wind, I took the instruction literally. For me this is a nemesis hill, I have yet to get up it without getting off the bike. Then again trying it without panniers weighing 10 Kg or so would probably be a good idea. Bernhard, on the other hand, just sailed up the hill (a pretty impressive feat directly into the wind), but then he is a veteran of the Ötztaler Radmarathon. So there was never any doubt of who was going to win the polka dot jersey.

Having reached the top, we were presented with the choice of continuing in a SE direction over the tops towards Longformacus or turning east and taking the low road via Cranshaws. This wasn’t a difficult decision, we took the low road, but it still wasn’t an easy ride. On a previous occasion, riding down the road past Mayshiel I hit a top speed of 69.4 Km/h, this time I was struggling to get up to 50 Km/h (I can get up to that speed on the flat). Further down the road, the Whiteadder Reservoir had white horses on it, with dinghies scudding back and forth on a beam reach. Fortunately when we came to the climb on the Hungry Snout, it was sheltered from the wind.

Passing Cranshaws, I saw the oddest tricycle I have ever seen, it was made from an ordinary child’s bike, but with two wheels mounted outboard of the front forks. Beyond Cranshaws, we crossed the Whiteadder at Ellemford Bridge for the last time and started up the dead pheasant highway. I have never known such a road for road kill, it was littered with dead pheasants and the odd rabbit thrown in for good measure, for about 2 Km.

We carried on to the end of the road where it met the main road between Duns and Preston (A6112). Here we were turning left, Bernhard was in the lead and abruptly switched over onto the right hand side of the road, closely followed by Ulli, I found myself loudly clearing my throat and saying in a loud voice “Links, links!”, fortunately there was nothing coming the other way.

Shortly afterwards, we turned right off the main road and wended our way through a maze of wee roads, crossed over the Blackadder and finally found Ravelaw Farm. By now we were getting tired and were confused at not seeing a B&B sign. We carried on another 200 m along the road and up a slight rise before seeing it. Having arrived, we were given a warm welcome and enjoyed a pleasant and comfortable stay.

There is a map of our route here.

My stats were:

  • Distance cycled – 83.2 Km
  • Time spent riding – 04:29:26
  • Max Speed – 56.2 Km/h
  • Ave Speed – 19.3 Km/h
  • Vertical climb – ca. 620 m
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