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What do horses say? Hello

What do horses say? Hello

Suz: What do horses say?
Seb: Hello

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.

St Andrew's Day, Dunbar

View to the Bass Rock from Dunbar

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.

Welcome to family friendly East Lothian

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…

Welcome to family friendly East Lothian

Welcome to family friendly East Lothian

Welcome to family friendly East Lothian

Not far from this crossing, we came across a field of Scottish road engineers and transport planners…

Of cabbages and traffic 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.

Welcome to family friendly East Lothian

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.

Welcome to family friendly East Lothian

Welcome to family friendly East Lothian

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.

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

Crisscrossing in the Lothians

Crisscrossing in the Lothians

Spring is definitely here, the spring cleaning has been done, the allotment tidied up, time to get some cycling in. We have been out a few times this year, there was the ride out to Linlithgow Park Bistro Bistro for lunch with friends (who had also cycled from Glasgow, Stirling and the wee Kingdom), the jaunt out along the coast to enjoy the sunshine, and somewhere else which I have forgotten. One of the great things about Edinburgh is that there is a wonderful range of countryside just outside the city, and now, with summer on the way, we were looking for new access routes out to enjoy it. The standard route out to the east is along the Sustrans NCN 1, but there are sections of this route which we would rather avoid, so the search is on for new routes.

Having looked at the Spokes cycle map, Ulli wanted to try a route which would avoid the Niddry neds you sometimes come across on the Innocent Railway path, and the foot bridge at Brunstane Station. I do sometimes wonder if the people who plan the Sustrans routes ever try cycling them first, routing a long distance cycle route over a railway foot bridge makes no sense. Our route took us out through a traffic clogged Porty, apparently there were road works on Sir Harry Lauder Road, either way those trapped in cars were looking fairly miserable, which just served to show there are better choices than the car for local journeys. We tried a wee off road path, called the Christian Path (named after Major Hugh Henry Christian, Provost of Portobello, who campaigned for it as a shortcut between the station and Argyle Crescent in the 1880’s, apparently), which was passable but looked as though it could become overgrown later in the year. This pops you out on Argyle Crescent and provides a useful means of bypassing Sir Harry Lauder Road. From the end of Argyle Crescent we headed south and found our way back on to the NCN 1 by Brunstane Station on the far side of the footbridge, which then wends its way through “the Wimpeys”. I always find this bit architecturally challenging, it is as if a small housing 1980’s housing estate has been uprooted from the English home counties and dumped on the edge of Musselburgh with no regard for the local vernacular.

We carried on along the NCN 1 to Whitecraig, where we parted company from it. On a previous ride (which I half wrote up then never got around to publishing) we had the followed the NCN 1 route. This takes you through Whitecraig then just at the end of the 30mph speed limit, with very little notice tells you to turn right on to an off-road cycle path.

View Larger Map

The last place you want to execute a right turn as a cyclist, at short notice, is where the speed limit changes from 30mph to 60mph, because you can be absolutely certain the drivers following you will have just seen the national speed limit sign (known by police traffic officers as the GLF, motorist see it and they Go Like F… well you can work out last word for yourself). Many will be desperate to overtake and will not take kindly to the cyclists in front, either signalling a right turn or even stopping while they try to pass. If you use the Street View above, you will see that not only is the direction sign hidden by a bush, but you have to dodge around the end of the railings and there is no dropped kerb, fun, fun, fun, not. Once you have managed to join the off-road path, it leads off towards a couple of old bings. Nothing wrong with that, apart from their popularity with the local neds using quad and trail bikes. Being passed by a 14 year old on a quad bike travelling at about 40mph (65Km/h) on a narrow path is rather disconcerting, and not an experience one is inclined to repeat.

Therefore, we parted company with the NCN 1 and turned onto the A6094, which we followed for about 500 m, then turned off onto a farm road and headed uphill towards another bing. There are a number of old bings in this area, reminders of Midlothian’s mining and industrial past. At some point along this road we had joined Cycle Route 73 which we followed until it turned off along an old railway line. In the past we have cycled along this path, but this time we decided to follow the road up into the village of Cousland. The villagers seem to be much exercised by the prospect of a new opencast coalmine, so it looks like mining is not just in Midlothian’s past, but to judge by the number of posters, it is not popular with the residents of Cousland. We were looking for a shop but there wasn’t one here, so we pushed on to Ormiston, where we bought refreshments at the local Co-Op, taking it in turns to stand with the bikes. While I was waiting for Ulli to get her shopping, a number of the locals turned up, some tough looking lads who could have been intimidating if they hadn’t been discussing the late spring and that they were only just getting the carrots and onions sown on the allotment.

Suitably refreshed, we headed back the way we had come, then turning south rather than going back into Cousland. There was a short downhill section, I was just starting to crank up the speed to enjoy a sprint when a car appeared around the bend at the bottom and I had to slam on the anchors, drat and double drat. For the most part these roads were quiet with little traffic, even when we had a short section of A road. We picked up the B6367 and rode on through rolling farmland, and just before Pathhead we turned off onto a minor road which runs south, roughly parallel to the A68. Again this was pleasant cycling along quiet roads, highlights included the Doocot at Whitburgh House, a pair of wheatears (Oenanthe oenanthe) flying along a hedgerow, and a splendid cock fowl (Gallus gallus) outside a cottage.

At one stage we went down a wee road so little used, there was grass growing in the middle of it. This road then dropped steeply downhill through woodland, it was strewn with debris left over from a recent storm, which made for interesting cycling. This led us to Fala Dam, a pretty wee place, but uphill to get out of, first we tried Fala which would be a nice place if it wasn’t for the main road (A68). Then we tried the other way out of Fala Dam and crossed the A68 to find a wee road leading to Crichton, which gave us views across open country to the Lime Kiln House, which featured on Grand Designs, it’s huge.

Having reached Crichton, we stopped to revise our plans, originally we were going to work our way round south of Gorebridge to pick up the NCN 1. However, as we had set out late in the day, we decided to go for Pathhead, from where we took a wee back road, initially 10% downhill to the village of Ford. After crossing the Tyne Water the road climbed steadily uphill again. As we passed through Edgehead, a couple of the locals helpfully told us that we were over halfway to the top. Topping out at 187 m it was then downhill again for a couple of kilometres, until we crossed the South Esk in Dalkeith. We then turned for home through Gilmerton.

There is a map of our route here.

My stats were:

  • Distance cycled – 62.3 Km
  • Time spent riding – 03:15:00
  • Max Speed – 66.5 Km/h
  • Ave Speed – 19.2 Km/h
  • Vertical climb – ca. 610 m
A gentle breeze to the Border

A gentle breeze to the Border

After a week of watching the weather forecast, the three of us, David, Ulli and myself, set out for the border to pick up the CC Relay Jersey. We had been hoping for blue skies, sunshine and light winds, what we got was partly clear skies with the threat of showers and strengthening winds. The plan was simple, cycle out from Edinburgh over the Lammermuir Hills and down to Coldstream to meet on the bridge over the Tweed to collect the Jersey. The forecast on Saturday morning was showers moving away to the south and 8mph westerly winds gusting to 21mph. This didn’t sound too bad, so we decided to go with the plan.

We headed out of Edinburgh through Holyrood Park along the NCN 1 cycle route, a mixture of off road cycle paths and quiet roads. On the western edge of Whitecraigs, we departed from NCN 1 and headed off across country towards Gifford, where we planned to make a cake stop. As we approached East Saltoun, a car with an amber flashing light came the other way, being chased down by a crowd of roadies.

Meeting the lead car
Road race passing
This turned out to be the Musselburgh RCC British Eagle 62 mile road race, which had just started from East Saltoun.

This early part of the ride was easy going and we were making good progress, so we dodged round Gifford and headed for the Lammermuir Hills without the cake stop. As we climbed above Danskine, we started to notice that the wind was somewhat stronger that we had been led to expect, over 20mph gusting over 40 mph. We stopped for a bite of lunch before tackling the first big climb of the day up Wanside Rig, a mere 17% gradient. Unfortunately on the steepest part of the climb the road turns westerly, straight into the wind, and we were all forced to stop. After a short walk, we were back on the bikes and heading on to the top, where we had to decide whether to carry on with the exposed high route or whether to take the lower sheltered route (which were planning to come back by). We decided to stick with the plan and take the high route, so began a titanic battle with the elements.

On the Lammermuirs

The Lammermuir Hills might only be 500 m high, but there is a good reason why they are popular with developers of wind farms, as we were about to find out. As we cycled across the tops, we had to keep to the middle of the road, so as not to be blown off the side in the gusts. After crossing Herd’s Hil, the road drops on a 15% gradient. I set off at speed, half way down I was travelling at over 50 Km/h (>30 mph), but had the disconcerting experience of being hit by a gust of wind which reduced my forward speed to 10 Km/h!

We then had a couple of Km sheltered by the Killpallet Heights before climbing up Duddy Bank, another 17% gradient. Only this time we had the wind behind us, I do love wind assisted climbing, it is like having a giant hand pushing you up the hill. Once on the tops again we at the mercy of the wind, and there were times when I could hear my bike chain rattling in the gusts. The landscape surrounding us was spectacular, it was just a shame that we were too busy trying to stay upright and moving forward to fully appreciate it. Nor were we the only ones to be up there, we did meet a couple of walkers and some other cyclists, but we were the only cyclists to be lugging fully loaded panniers.

Finally we dropped down into Longformacus, the Southern Upland Way crosses through the village and there is a small shelter with a map and leaflets. We stopped to take a look, and as we did so a few drops of rain began to fall. David and Ulli dug out their waterproof trousers, I only had a pair of bibbed longs with me and decided that, as it was only a passing shower, I would wait it out. However, whilst up on the tops I had been so busy fighting the wind that I had failed to notice the dark clouds to the south of us. The rain seemed to be easing off, so we set off south, only to catch up with the rain again. We rode on through the rain, discovering the other thing I had failed to notice from the tops, Hardens Hill. It’s only 320 m high, but that was high enough in steady rain, coming down the other side at a steady 50 Km/h was interesting.

I had to keep pedalling to keep warm, this meant that I lost Ulli and David, but eventually I reached a junction where I had to stop and wait. Fortunately they weren’t too far behind. We pushed on through Duns, which also meant we pushed on further into the rain front. Fortunately the front managed to get away from us a few Km south of Duns, and we mostly dried out again over the remaining 15 undulating Km to Coldstream, with only our shoes still wet.

Having arrived in Coldstream, we booked into our B&B, the very cycle friendly Haymount House. I tried to phone Jez who we had come to meet, only to find I had missed a digit when storing the number in my mobile phone. Fortunately two minutes later he phoned me to say that he and Graham were ready to meet us at the bridge and hand over the relay jersey. This was good, as the whole point of making the journey was to pick up the CycleChat Relay Jersey, which is making it way, slowly, around Britain (and maybe beyond). After a cup of tea, we set off again for the bridge. There, standing mid way over the River Tweed, on the border between Scotland and England, the Jersey was handed over. We then went to the “Welcome to Scotland” sign (there are no Welcome to England signs) for some more photos, agreed to meet Jez for dinner (Graham having pedalled off back towards Newcastle), and returned to the B&B for a long hot bath to sooth the aching muscles, before dinner.

CC relay jersey reaches the promised land

A map of the route can be found here.

The Stats:

  • Distance cycled – 86.3 Km
  • Time spent riding – 04:35:24
  • Max Speed – 55.7 Km/h
  • Ave Speed – 18.8 KM/h
  • Vertical climb – ca. 930 m
Once more into the Lothians

Once more into the Lothians

Once more we have been drawn to go a’ cycling in East Lothian, only this time we didn’t take the train. Instead with no particular plan we headed out after lunch into Holyrood Park and down onto the Innocent Railway. The railway was closed in 1968 and is called The Innocent because in its 137 year history no one was killed on it, a great rarity in the age of combustion power transport. It is now a cycle path and is part of National Cycle Route 1.

The path passes south of Duddingston Loch and affords great views of Arthur’s Seat and Samson’s Ribs (a formation of 57m high columnar basalt cliffs to the south side of Arthur’s Seat), if you stop to look. As this is a popular path, cycling while looking over your shoulder is not recommended. Then on through Craigmillar, an area with a rough reputation, neither of us had ridden the path for some years and we were both surprised to find that there wasn’t a shard of glass to be seen.

The signage has also improved dramatically over the last few years, so the chances of getting lost were fairly low. On reaching Musselburgh Station, we decided to carry on along NCR 1 towards Dalkeith, up until this point the route had been almost entirely off road. From Brunstane to Newcraighall the route weaves its way through a series of housing estates, here again the signage is excellent, although Ulli complained that the leaves on some trees were beginning to cover some signs. At Newcraighall the route goes off road again along a path leading out to the new Queen Margaret’s University [] (just one of Edinburgh’s four universities). The most interesting thing about this path is the solar powered lighting system, hopefully this sort of thing could be more widely used across town.

After passing QMU’s shiny new campus, we carried on through Stoneybank and then along the River Esk, under the Edinburgh bypass and to Whitecraig. It was at Whitecraig where we had our first and only problem with the signs. The route takes you along the main road then, just as you reach the end of the 30mph speed restriction, there is a poorly signed right turn, just where the cars are starting to speed up and overtake, care is required. Here again the NCR 1 goes off road following an old railway line, past an old coal bing, to Dalkeith. Ahead of us we could hear the sound of kids on dirt bikes and quad bikes up on the bing. Past experience had taught us that they often ride their bikes without adult supervision along this section of path, this make it more dangerous than cycling on the road. We decided to skip Dalkeith and head into East Lothian instead.

A quick check of the map showed that the path crossed under a road bridge, where we turned off and joined the minor road which took us towards Cousland. We didn’t bother going into Cousland itself but joined another former railway, now an off road cycle path, which took us to the north of Ormiston and then into Pencaitland. At Pencaitland we picked up the road again, it was noticeable how much easier it was cycling on the tarmac road rather than the softer offroad surface. After another look at the map we decided to head towards Gifford via the villages of West and East Saltoun as we hadn’t taken this road before. This was easy back road riding, beyond East Saltoun we joined the B6355 and with the wind at our backs glided into Gifford where we stopped for ice cream.

Ice cream finished, we set off from Gifford and continued along the B6355, as this was a route we had intended to take the week before, but had been taken off course by a large slow moving group from the ERC. This turned out to be the pleasant back road which we had hoped it to be, and carried towards Danskine. On reaching the 17% gradient sign, I was minded not to repeat the error of the week before, and changed to a low gear long before I reached the bottom of the hill. Being in such a low gear, my legs were spinning wildly to no real purpose, so I stopped pedalling and free wheeled the rest of the way. Having reached the bottom, I shot across the short flat section and started pedalling furiously, expecting the momentum to carry my on up the hill. However I was surprised to find just how rapidly the momentum died away. Having made only a few metres forward I went from pedalling furiously to standing on the pedals cranking over slowly to grind up the hill. Still it was an improvement over the last time. Having reached the top, I stood gasping like a fish out of water until Ulli came to join me. She of course arrived gliding along with swan-like grace, having taken the whole thing at a much more sensible pace.

From Danskine we carried on a short way to the crossroads, where we had a choice of a steep climb up onto the Lammermuirs (which had done before) or turning off and looping back to Gifford, either via Carfrae or Longyester. We choose the latter, turning down a pleasantly winding road which, after we missed the turning to Longyester itself, took us across the Castle Park Golf Course. The road led us back to the B6355 just west of Gifford at which point we reversed our route back to Edinburgh. We were now cycling into the prevailing wind, and decided to use the off road cycle path from Pencaitland, thinking that this would be easier cycling, as it was more sheltered. However, we found the increased rolling resistance of the loose surface rather harder work than expected and were greatly relieved to get back onto tarmac. The only other change from our outbound route was outside of Whitecraig, where instead of dropping down onto the cycle path and going round to the east, we followed the minor road to the end and turned right on to the A6094 for about 500m. This turned out to be the least pleasant 500m of the day, due to the bad manners of a few drivers. But I wasn’t going to let such things spoil a good ride, there are always going to be a few idiots out there who drive like they found their licence in a cornflake packet, strange how so many of them drive BMWs though.

If you would like to follow this route, there is a map here, the stats for the day for anyone who is interested are:

  • Distance cycled – 80.33Km
  • Time spent riding – 03:54:13
  • Max Speed – 55.3Km/h
  • Ave Speed – 20.57Km/h
A short walk in the Lammermuirs

A short walk in the Lammermuirs

Well is was a very short walk, only about 50m, but more of that later, the main activity of the day was cycling. With the prospect of the long Easter weekend and the spring sun shining, we decided it was time to get the bikes out again and go for a half day ride. Having enjoyed our last trip to East Lothian, we decided another visit was in order, this time to see a wee bit more of the Lammermuir Hills. Once again we took the easy option for getting out of town, the train to Longniddry. From the station, our plan was to take a slightly different route to Gifford and then on to the hills.

However, things didn’t quite go as planned, we had only gone a short way when we saw a group of cyclists about to emerge from a side turning. Thinking nothing of it, we said hello and carried on. About 1km down the road the leader of the group, wearing an Edinburgh Road Club jersey, caught up with us and passed us, making a few snide comments as he did so. Evidently he thought that people riding hybrid bikes and carrying panniers should keep out of the way of those on road bikes. Then finding that his group was having difficulty keeping up, he slowed down, causing the group to box us in and slowing us down. I noticed that several riders were struggling, as they didn’t have their bikes set up correctly. In particular, one lassie was having trouble on a slight slope because her saddle was clearly too low, others had their saddles too high. This was obviously a beginners group, and one has to wonder what sort of a club doesn’t bother to help beginners set up their bike properly and just lets them struggle. As Ulli said later, “if that’s what cycling clubs are like, I want no part of it”. Being boxed in we missed our turning and were forced to carry on until they turned off. This led to a change from our intended route, and after a quick check of the map we decided to go on to Haddington.

Once in Haddington, we had a choice of Fords or Greggs the bakers. We chose Fords, and having taken on a few carbs and stowed some in the panniers for later, we set off once more, crossed the Tyne and headed south. We briefly picked up the B6369, before turning off on to a minor road which had recently been resurfaced and was beautifully smooth. After an initial gentle climb, the road was trending downhill, but I could see it turning uphill ahead, so I decided to pick up some speed and use the momentum gained to carry me up the other side. Had I looked at the map beforehand, I might not have chosen this strategy, as this was the first steep climb of the day, according to the map it is between 14% and 20%. I started the climb at a steady pace, but was soon dropping down through the gears in order to keep going. Just before the crest of the hill at Linkylea there was a sign saying “Slow down, children and animals!” At this stage I was breathing heavily and I thought “if I slow down any more I’ll will be track standing”. Having reached level ground, I stopped to wait for Ulli to catch up. Which she did a couple of minutes later, she had taken the climb at a much more measured pace and was hardly out of breath, whereas I was still wheezing when she arrived.

Breathing normally again, we carried on, crossed over the B6370 and followed the minor road until we picked up the road that we had intended to follow out of Gifford (B6355) towards Danskine. The road was again trending down when I saw a sign, part buried in a hedge, announcing a gradient 17% ahead. I immediately moved on to the big ring and charged down the hill, the road was bending slightly and as I rounded the bend at the bottom of the hill I saw that it went straight up again, at the same gradient which I had just come down. I madly scrambled to change down gear for the coming climb, causing the chain to suck. I back pedalled trying to free the chain. The road had started to climb and I quickly lost momentum and the bike slowed to a halt. At this point I suddenly realised that I was still cleated into the pedals. Before I had time to think about releasing my feet, I gracefully keeled over to the left, landing on an earth bank at the roadside. Having disentangled myself from my bike, I picked it up and manually turned over the cranks to select a low gear to climb the hill up to Danskine.

Beyond Danskine we were climbing steadily, ahead of us the Lammermuirs were rising up, as was the smoke from the muirburn. At one point a Landrover came hurtling down the road, presumably one of the gamekeepers had run out of matches. We crossed a cattle grid and left the farm land behind, setting out on to the moor. As we reached the foot of Newlands Hill there was yet another 17% gradient sign, this time I let Ulli take the lead. We made steady progress up to and around the big bend at about 340m (asl), but then Ulli decided that it was time to get off and walk, I carried on for a bit but then did the same. I walked for about 50m before Ulli came cycling past me, at which point I got back on the bike. With hindsight we could have (should have?) stayed on the bikes. Where the road flattened off around 390m, we stopped to take photos.

We then carried across another cattle grid and on to where the road forked and decided to follow the minor road across the shoulder of Wanside Rig to see what lay beyond. The road stretched out ahead up and down dale, curiosity satisfied we turned back to the B6355, turning right to join it once more. To the north of us on the side of Moss Law, above the Kingside Burn there was another fire burning, watch over by a bevy of Landrovers. As we passed out of the smoke the perfect down hill run appeared, the road dropped away before us, dead strait for two kilometres loosing 125m altitude along the way, with smooth tarmac all the way. I selected the big ring and cranked up the speed as best I could, the wind was cross on, only slightly hindering me. I looked down at my VDO cycle computer which suggested that I was about to hit 70Km/h (speed is shown in increments of 0.5Km/h), but when the hill ran out and I stopped to let Ulli catch up, I found the max speed was only 69.4Km/h (43.1 mph). Still not bad for someone riding a mere hybrid and carrying a pannier, now where was that snotty roady.

Ulli having caught up told me that she had been able to the flash of my rear light (the DiNotte 400L) all the way down. So there we have it the DiNotte 400L rear light is visible at a range of 1 mile in full sun, who says you can have a cycle light that is bright enough to use in daylight. Anyway, Ulli having caught up we carried on towards the Whiteadder Reservoir, then turned sharply left on to a minor road (at 274m asl). The turn was so sharp I didn’t notice in advance that it was also sharply up hill. Once again I found my self trying to change from the big ring to the granny ring and once again experienced chain suck. Only this time my feet flew off the pedals, the chain sorted it’s self out before I lost momentum and so I was able to reapply feet to pedals to carry on round the corner. The road undulated up and down, but mostly up until we reached the high point at 345m (asl) just above the White Castle iron age hill fort where we stopped for photos.

Photo stop at White Castle, East Lothian

From White Castle, we dropped down to Garvald on the worst road we had seen all day. There were a couple of steep descents (some were between 14% and 20%) but on these, unlike earlier descents, I had to keep the brakes on as there was too much loose material on the road and keep a close watch for potholes. Along the way we passed Castle Moffat, an impressive red sand stone building which looked like a cross between a castle and a steading. And Nunraw Abbey, which we had expected to be ruin, but turned out to be a modern building home to a community of Cistercian monks. Garvald its self was nothing special, just another sleepy village with a nondescript looking pub. We had planned to stop but having gotten there decided that it wasn’t worth it and so pedalled on mostly along minor roads, passing south of Lennoxlove, crossing the Tyne at Samuelston and passing north through Elvingston to return to Longniddry and the train home.

If you would like to follow this route, there is a map here, the stats for the day for anyone who is interested are:

  • Distance cycled – 66.1 Km
  • Time spent riding – 03:17:36
  • Max Speed – 69.4 Km/h
  • Ave Speed – 20.1 Km/h
A Spring breeze through East Lothian

A Spring breeze through East Lothian

It is the start of spring, so what to do? Head out for a bike ride of course. Last week we nipped out to Balerno and back. This week we wanted something more, so to make the most of the day we took the train to Longniddry. From the station we headed west a short way along the A198, then ducked under the railway line along the B6363 and, as soon as we could, turned left onto a minor road to enjoy cycling traffic free, not that there was much traffic about anyway. After a kilometre or so we turned right and cycled on past Elvingston through open farm land. Being early spring, the sun was still weak and so I stopped several times, jacket on, jacket off, jacket on, jacket off, before deciding that it was a jacket off day. We crossed over the A1 (thankfully by a bridge) and continued southwards, crossing the A199 and A6093, both these main roads were really quiet. Past Samuelston the road passed though fields bounded by low stone walls. Over one wall we cold see march hares chasing across a field, as we approached a gate in the wall, a female hare ran out from under the gate into the road, saw us and dived back under the gate into the field. We stopped to watch, but they were too fast for the camera.

A couple of kilometres further on, the road passed through a line of trees which gave us some relief from the wind. Although the wind didn’t go much above 15mph all day, it was tiring to cycle across or into. The trees also give a tunnel like effect, even before they have their leaves on, focusing your view forward to the Lammermuir Hills ahead. The road ended at a T junction where we turned left on to the B6355 which we followed into Gifford. At Gifford we stopped for food in a wee café called “Love Coffee… …and Food?”. This gave me the opportunity to have my second cooked breakfast of the day, while Ulli had a bowl of soup. The food was freshly cooked and portions large and filling. One of the great things about cycling is that you don’t have to worry about having large portions as you soon burn it off again. While we were eating, a couple came in who were on a motorcycle tour, the contrast with us was noticeable. They were heavily swathed in warm clothing, whereas we were lightly dressed, with me in cycle shorts and both of us in short sleeves (ok, so I did have a T-shirt underneath). On a motorbike you don’t get any exercise, you just sit there getting cold and uncomfortable.

We weren’t the only cyclists out and about, as we left the café another couple of cyclists came in, we had a look at their bikes as we went back to ours. Then, as we sat by the church looking at the map deciding where to go next, a couple on a tandem rode past. Setting out from Gifford, we retraced our path along the B6355, then turned left towards Yester. We were both curious to see the place, as when we were living in Gorgie one of the local shops sold milk from Yester Farm Dairies. So now we know where our milk used to come from, the local shops where we are now only sell milk from Wiseman Dairies and so it could come from anywhere in Scotland. Then onwards to Longyester, where we dodged some very large farm machinery cleaning the winter build up from the cattle byres. We saw several farmers out working as we rode past, all of them smiled and waved, giving us the feeling they regarded the sight of cyclists on the road rather like the sight of the first swallows, a sure sign that summer is on its way.

We decided to get a little closer to the Lammermuir Hills and took a right towards East Hopes, but then realised that it was tucked away deep in a glen below the hills and turned back. We retraced our route to Longyester, through fields of spring lambs running around in the sun shine full of the joys of spring. Then we headed westwards, into the wind, passing the splendidly named Pishwanton Wood. As we passed we saw what looked like a hobbit house in the wood, this turned out to be a biodynamic study centre. This section of road was also notable for the billiard smooth surface of newly laid tarmac which made for very easy cycling. To the south of us along the edge of the Lammermuir Hills there is a string of old hill forts. Then as we came round a corner towards Long Newton, there is a line of terraced houses all painted in pastel colours, reminiscent of Tobermory.

From Long Newton, we worked our way along back lanes until we found our selves on the B6369, which we followed on towards Humbie, between high dome shaped hedges which gave us shelter against the wind. Just before Humbie we turned north west along the B6371, just past the appropriately named Old Windy Mains (we were cycling uphill directly into the wind at this stage) we forked right and followed a wee road down to the village of Peastonbank which sits astride the Kinchie Burn. This wee burn originally provided the water supply of the Glenkinchie Distillery (it now gets it water from reservoirs in the Lammermuir Hills), the producer of the only lowland malt whisky in Scotland. The visitor centre was closed as the tourist season doesn’t start until Easter.

After leaving the distillery we headed uphill and turned right at a T junction, then after crossing an old railway bridge we decided to drop down to the old railway line (now a cycle path), with hindsight we would have been better off staying on the road. The cycle path took us around the edge of Pencaitland, and we could have followed it all the way to Musselburgh, but wind had taken its toll of us and we decided to head back to Longniddry. We followed the main road into Pencaitland, then turned left on to the B6363 and followed its zigzag path back to Longniddry, arriving just in time to catch a train back to Edinburgh.

As an experiment, throughout the day I was running the DiNotte 400L rear light on a slow flash and it was noticeable that I did not get a single close pass by a motorist. I checked the battery strength when got home and was surprised to find that, using a two cell Lithium ion battery after nearly 3 hours of use, the battery was still showing nearly 75% charge!

If you would like to follow this route, there is a map here or use a Google Earth KML file. The stats for the day for anyone who is interested:

  • Distance cycled – 59.7 Km
  • Time spent riding – 02:54:44
  • Max Speed – 53.0 Km/h
  • Ave Speed – 20.5 Km/h
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