Thursday, 31 July 2014


I'm about to head off on a 10-day cycle adventure, of which you can read about next week. In preparation, regardless of the weather, I've been out every day on small to long runs. Part of each of these jaunts repeatedly takes me across a high pedestrian/cycle bridge over a busy by-pass road, always clogged with cars, and I feel a little smug at the ease and stress-free way I reach my destination quicker than any of them. I can almost sense the jealousy.

Over the past two to three years I've been noticing a growing popularity in cycling and indeed all things bike, from the actual machines themselves to colour-matching clothing and long debates over the right type of lights to have. It may be just a coincidence, but I have noticed this increased uptake since my trans America cycle in 2011. Following that great adventure I toured Scotland giving an illustrated talk with my companion Pauline, and judging by the great audience numbers there was already a wealth of interest. It would be nice to repeat that tour with a new cycle adventure talk some day soon.

I'm not a big fan, actually, not a fan at all, of watching sport, with the exception this year of the Tour de France, or specifically, the first two days, staged in Yorkshire in the UK. The glorious weather helped of course, and the uplifting and inspiring spectacle of the event itself, together with showcasing the countryside it passed through, really was thoroughly enjoyable. I even find myself today dipping into the cycle events of the current Commonwealth Games here in Scotland.

A friend of mine recently moved to Gozo, a small island off the coast of Malta, and wrote last week saying she had just bought a bicycle to use on the island. She also sent me a link to a new, limited release, movie coming out called, surprise surprise, Bicycle The Film. The entire family of another friend, Sarah, have now all invested in bicycles, and her  brother, once saying he would never get on a bike, is now heard to be saying "maybe".

For all of Man's engineering achievements I have to rank the bicycle as number one. In Germany in 1818 the first bicycle appeared, almost a century before the car, but it was the French who first coined the name "bicycle" in 1860. By 1885 the now familiar diamond-shape frame appeared, and apart from better components, it hasn't changed since.  As they say, if it ain't broken, don't fix it.

In case I was in any doubt of the increasing popularity of the bicycle, my local council of the City of Edinburgh, just last week took a bold step. In the very centre of the city they have turned one of the major streets, George Street, into a dedicated cycle lane. Not a small lane beside the cars, but an entire road. Now the cars can only go one way on one side of the road system. The new cycle lane shares the space with an increase in the street cafe scene, which makes for a real European cosmopolitan feel. It's been a long time coming but now that it's here it can only help to boost the bicycle's popularity even more. 

It really feels like this is the bicycles time.

And to all those jealous car drivers I say:

Buy a bike!

Thursday, 24 July 2014


My friend Pauline has just returned from cycle touring in Iceland where she had some appalling weather. It's not often that Scotland has great weather either, but the past few months have been spectacular. In fact, I read a news report that on Tuesday it was as hot as Cairo!

Making the most of it, and escaping the crowds of sun worshippers on the beach near my home, Pauline and I set off for a cycle run into East Lothian. It wasn't long before we could leave the traffic behind and be on cycle paths, as the John Muir Way, which you'll know I completed a couple of weeks ago, is very close to my apartment. The path then turned inland, following the River Esk out to open countryside past fields of golden wheat ripening in the sun.

The tennis elbow that had been bothering me was making pulling on the handlebars painful, so our first climb up onto a ridge that overlooks the Firth of Forth, I had to complete with just one hand on the slow ascent. It was well worth it though, as the view from the top is stunning, especially on such a clear, sunny day.

Our first focal point was the 14th century Faside Castle, with it's perfect location on the highest point of the ridge. Interestingly this was the site of the last battle between Scotland and England as separate nations back in 1547. It was uninhabited in the 1700s but today is home to a young family and operates as a B&B.

From here we enjoyed a fantastic ridge run, though all too short, down to the next village of Tranent and then south east further into the countryside, heading for Haddington, a burgh dating back to the 1100s, and seat of the East Lothian administration. It was on the edge of the village that we picked up a "rail to trails" route called the Haddington to Longniddry Railway Walk. The name tells you our next destination, which was just four miles away.

The trail was really nice and all the way along at various intervals small signposts, in the style of old railway signals, had been placed. Each one had information about the flora and fauna of the spot they stood in. I was impressed with the effort that had been made for this small, local trail.

From the tiny village of Longniddry it was a short run down to the coast, past the estate of 18th century Gosford House. On the edge of a rocky shoreline, overlooking the Forth estuary, under a baking hot sun, we tucked in to our packed lunch, before picking our way back to Edinburgh along the coast, following the John Muir Way again, past the little harbours of Prestonpans, Cockenzie, and Musselburgh.

It may have been as hot as Cairo but this had been a cool little cycle adventure.

Thursday, 17 July 2014


Two months ago I decided that the time had come for a change. It has been 25 years since I bought the apartment I live in, and parts of it have not seen any decoration or repairs in all that time!

A few years go I remodelled the bathroom, and just two years the kitchen and living room had a makeover. Now it was the turn of the hall, utility room and bedroom. Surprisingly, the smallest space, the hall, took the longest, possibly because it sees the most traffic, and was the one area I had done nothing to except a lick of paint in 25 years. Two weeks later and it had a fresh matt white finish with new modern lighting. The utility room needed just a tidy and reorganising and a fresh lick of paint, which took just a couple of days.

So far so good.

I then turned my attention to the bedroom. The first job was to gut the place, and somehow I managed to fill the equivalent of five wheelie bins over a whole week! I laughed at times at the things I had kept for over 10 years, like receipts from a coffee shop I used in New Zealand on my travels in 1999. Go figure. Obviously important at the time. But now the rule was, if I hadn't used it or looked at it in the past five years out it went.

Then the decoration stage. The dark wooden doors of the bedroom cupboards were painted a pale blue, seaside-feel wash, and the walls went from a deep yellow to a pastel yellow. This all took around three weeks, as I was busy with my own business that had recently brought in a lot of work. I reached the final stage of painting, and one evening, tired from work, I spent two hours painting the walls with Crown Sunrise yellow. The manufacturer Crown pride themselves in a product they call "Breatheasy", as it has literally no smell, though it does have some odour as you paint.

Late at night, proud of my work, I closed the door and slept on the sofa in the living room so as not to breathe whatever odour the paint would give off.

At around 5am I awoke suddenly. I could smell something not of this world. It was as if a tramp had taken his vest, not washed in the last decade, and stuffed it up my nostrils! I leapt from bed and went to investigate. As I got closer to the bedroom door it grew stronger. I cautiously opened the door, expecting to see a pile of rotting corpses. The smell was overpowering. I held my breath and flung the window open, then left and closed the door firmly behind me. I vented the rest of the house and left for work.

When I returned in the evening the apartment didn't seem to smell. That is, until I opened the bedroom door. I think in text speak my exclamation would be something like, OMG!

It was the paint. Don't ask me how, but it was the paint on the walls giving off this indescribable smell. So I decided to brave it, and give the walls another coat, only to result in exactly the same scenario repeating itself! I contacted Crown by email straight way, furious that their product had rendered an entire room of my home unusable, and once more slept on the sofa with all the doors firmly closed.

The following morning, less than 12 hours after emailing them, they phoned me, offering me a product to seal the walls with, and a trade equivalent of the colour I wanted. All free of charge. Then they offered to send a team to do the work! Hmmmm, was this a worried company I wondered? As it turned out I couldn't wait the week they had suggested for their team to get to me, and I ended up doing the work myself. The sealing agent was very unpleasant to work with, very smelly and like painting with thick glue. But it did the job and the story has a happy ending. I was impressed with Crown's customer service, but my confidence in their products I feel is now sadly lacking.

Maybe in another 25 years I'll be so old I'll have lost my sense of smell and it wont matter what I paint the walls with.

Thursday, 10 July 2014


This has been an exhausting week, with some, err, challenges, more of a pain than others.

On the first Saturday of every month I am in charge of a local community farmers market, and of course, last Saturday was such a day. The evening before I was getting organised, and had just started my supper. As I bit into an apple I felt something give in my mouth, and proceeded to spit out half a tooth! There was no pain accompanying this event, but for sure it was going to be a challenge getting it fixed with a very busy week ahead. It would have to wait anyway. It was the weekend and and all dentists were closed. Finally, just before bed, I checked the forecast for the market day, and it seemed like it was going to be, as I like to call it, a shopping day: overcast with the odd spell of sunshine.

However, when I awoke early the next morning the skies were not the only thing overcast; during the night I had developed the monster of all colds! I was floored, and the day had not even started. Somehow, aided most likely by the several ibuprofen, washed down with several cups of strong coffee and topped up with Lemsip, I made it through the market, only to collapse onto my sofa the minute I got home.

I awoke around 8pm, and I must have been lying funny on my arm, because I now had the most incredible pain in my forearm. I was unable to even lift a cup, which was a double pain as it had my lifesaving Lemsip in it.

I'll be fine in the morning, I thought.

Not a chance. On Sunday I was meant to be repairing someone's decking, but the pain in my arm was worse. It felt as if I had maybe trapped a nerve in the elbow joint. Luckily the family I was due to fix the deck for are away in the States just now, so I knew I could confidently delay it a week. I hardly rose from my bed until the afternoon, by which point, nursing a painful arm and an energy-sapping cold, I had to spend three hours in front of the computer preparing for a 6-day film school that was starting at 10am on Monday!

Monday dawned, and the cold was subsiding, albeit with a remnant nasty cough. As I travelled to the venue to meet the teenagers for the week, I was relaxed and happy to know I was back doing what I think I do best; teaching teenage students how to make movies.

Only these weren't teenage students, as I had been led to believe.

I stood at the door of the venue for a moment, staring in at the chaos of fifteen, 10 year-old children, let loose from their parents, running around frantically and screaming at each other, toppling over chairs as they went. This was my six day film class, for six hours every day. It was all I could do not to turn around and head straight back to bed. It was glorious weather outside as well, and right beside the venue was the Union Canal, where only a week ago I had trundled past on the John Muir Way, not knowing what hell was about to be unleashed one week later in this building.

I had to somehow adapt the film course for 18 year-olds to these children. It was going to be a challenge. As I thought it through I went to pick up the camera kit that I would be using all week, started to lift the heaviest tripod, when my sore arm lost all it's power. As the tripod started to fall I tried to catch it with my other hand, twisting awkwardly as I did . . . and hurt my back, resulting in a shooting pain in my hip all day.


I'm two thirds of the way through the film school with the kids, and to give them credit they have worked very hard, and above all have made me laugh.

Well that eases the pain somewhat.

Thursday, 3 July 2014


Last weeks blog covered the first day of three that I was cycling the new John Muir Way Coast to Coast route.

First night was in a comfy bed courtesy of my own apartment, as the Way passes close by. On the Friday morning, now loaded up with a full kit including tent, stove, sleeping bag and so on, I rejoined the route where I had left it the day before.

I live in Edinburgh, so understanding the route across the city was fairly easy, but for others, using the map you can purchase of the route, it would be virtually impossible. The detail is so small and contains no street names or landmarks of any kind. However, the Way is marked well with it's own symbol, so it was fairly easy anyway.

From my home I took an almost straight route west into the centre of the city and the start of the Union Canal. At first I couldn't figure out why it then left the canal on a route that added ten miles, as the canal would be a quicker way to Linlithgow 24 miles away. However, after Linlithgow you also stay on the canal, so I guess it would be quite boring.

I was just about to head off north toward South Queensferry, when I thought I'd take a self-timer photograph. Imagine my disappointment when I discovered the camera was broken! It had taken a tumble earlier in the day and was now not operating properly. I detoured to one of only three camera shops remaining in Scotland, and the only one that does repairs, called Camera Base in Morningside, not far from the canal. The good news was it could be fixed. The bad news was, not today, and it would cost £100. I was just about to leave to purchase disposable cameras, when another shop assistant asked me the make and model of my camera. I was puzzled at first but he then pulled out an identical one from under a magazine he had been reading. Exactly the same, like some sort of Harry Potter magic trick! He took mine for spares and we did a deal on £65. The replacement was in better condition than my own one! It also had a wee story of it's own: it had previously been found in the mountains of the Highlands and had been handed in to the Police. Six months on and no one had claimed it, so here it was, and now in a new home.

With the delay, and a strangled route across Edinburgh, past Dalmeny House, through the woods, and onto the picturesque village of South Queensferry and the iconic Forth Rail Bridge, it was pushing lunchtime and not many miles travelled. The day was far cloudier than the first day, and at times chilly on the coast. I'd left the house almost five hours ago and here I was, still on the east coast. Finally, not long after Boness, it turned south and along small paths between farmers fields, lined in large daisy flowers, which took me the three miles to Linlithgow and coffee and cake, naturally, followed by a quick photo outside the palace gates.

I was now travelling west and just eight miles later, having negotiated a narrow viaduct, I reached the Falkirk Wheel, an impressive piece of modern engineering in the form of a boat lift that connects the Union Canal with the Forth & Clyde Canal. Together with Pauline, I have cycled these canals before and visited the Falkirk Wheel, but it never fails to impress.

Just a mile further on I picked a quiet spot to camp for the night, very close to the 2000 year old Roman Antonine Wall. Well, if it was good enough for the Romans for the night . . .

The following day was glorious, and, as on the previous two, the wind was still at my back. Roughly 12 miles on, having enjoyed very easy cycling along the canal towpath, and an "awwww" moment when I watched a family of swans and signets near one of the locks, I left the canal at Kirkintilloch. Not very well signposted, but I was about to encounter and even more annoying signage problem. Just a few kilometres up a well made cycle path I reached the small village of Lennoxtown. I had been religiously following the signs all the way so far, and when I spotted the next way-marker pointing left away from the cycle path, I continued to do so. An hour later I was back at the same spot. Someone had purposely changed the sign to point in the wrong direction.

The great cycle path continued for many more miles, all the way to the small village of Strathblane, where the John Muir Way joins the West Highland Way, a popular route that takes you from just outside Glasgow, over 100 miles to Fort William. But the path is narrow for the most part here, and busy with people, and quite rightly walkers were irritated by this cyclist, with his wide set of panniers, on the same path. To avoid cycling the A81, which is a very busy road, the route sticks with the West Highland Way, but unfortunately it takes you over a hill and through a wood on a very rocky and boulder strewn path, only really suitable for a strong mountain bike with cross country tyres.

I wasn't far from journeys end now, and a few miles after this hill I turned west and left the West Highland Way and headed for Balloch, at the south end of Loch Lomond. From here it was a short eight miles to Helensburgh, where John Muir and his family set sail for America in 1849 when he was aged just 11.

It had been a tougher route in sections than I had anticipated, but after a two-hour train journey home I once again curled up in a comfy bed and drifted off reminiscing about my three-day mini adventure along The John Muir Way.

Photos on FLICKR