Thursday, 4 October 2018

THE 45

In a couple of weeks time I will be taking on a 130 mile cycle round trip, and for the past few months I have been trying to find the time to improve my fitness. It's unlikely that any one day will be that long, but, according to Pauline, it has challenging stages.

For Pauline to use the word challenging has me concerned. My exercise program has had too many days between each stint, and so I've been looking for opportunities to enhance that training.

Last week Pauline proposed a round trip coastal cycle, starting from the ancient town of Dunfermline, once a thriving linen town, and with Royal connections in the past to James VI of Scotland.

Our route followed old railway lines most of the way out west, which was very easy cycling, and took us all of the way to our turnaround point of Devilla Forest. The forest was planted after the second world war, in an area that provided the headquarters for the Polish army. But it has also played host to more ancient battles in centuries past.

Now it is home to a wealth of flora and fauna, among which is Scotland's cutest animal, the Red Squirrel. We ventured off on Red Squirrel Trail at one point, but sadly the only sightings were man-made steel cutouts, pegged into the side of the many Scots Pine trees on Bordie Moor.

At the point were the trail turns to head back out, we stopped for a quick bite to eat. Views stretched out across the forth to the north, and in the foreground the Longannet power station. beyond on the opposite shore was Grangemouth oil refinery. But just a few metres away from where we sat, hidden in the autumnal bracken, was what is known as The Standard Stone. It is part of the natural bedrock, with two oblong holes cut into its surface, both roughly the size of an A4 sheet of paper, and has laid here watching the comings and goings for the past 800 years, long before any power stations, oil refineries or bridges spanning the river.

No one is quite sure what it was for, but folklore has it, that it marks the site of the battle between the Scots and the Danes in 1038, and the holes are alleged to have been supports for the standards during battle. Some say it could also be a boundary marker. But as a fan of Shakespeare's play Macbeth, I prefer the idea that it was at this spot where King Duncan and his generals Macbeth and Banquo fought, and were ultimately defeated by, the Vikings.

Our lunch over, and entertained by ancient history, we headed back out of the forest on the trail. Pauline then told me there was another piece of history hidden away in the woods, that she wanted me to see. We took a turn along what could only just be described as a path, with the sun twinkling through the dense trees. Just 100 metres on we stopped and chained up the bikes, climbed over a fence, and headed into the woods.

In  a small clearing, dating back to 1645, the time of the Jacobite uprisings, was a small grave. Not just any grave though, for here was what is known as The Plague Grave, where the three children of James Bald were buried, having all died on this very day, the 24th September, 1645, of the plague. To this day people leave small toys and trinkets at the graveside.

Our route now headed back toward Edinburgh, dropping down to the coastline of the Forth. Within a short distance we were entering the Royal Burgh of Culross (pronounced coo-ross), acknowledged as one of the most picturesque villages in Scotland, and the most complete example of a 16th century burgh. And I have to admit it lives up to its reputation. Little wonder it is used as a shooting location for film and television.

In the centre stands a 16th century merchant's house called Culross Palace. For us though, the most alluring place was a small courtyard next door, home of Bessie's Cafe, and more importantly, coffee and cake.

Suitably refreshed we joined the cycle path again, and were soon upon the new road system that feeds the recently opened Queensferry Crossing bridge.

Beautiful as it is, the Forth Rail Bridge still wins, which I was to get a view of as I did something for the very first time. With the opening of the new bridge the original suspension bridge is now closed to traffic, except buses.

The Forth Road bridge was opened in 1964, and at the time it was the largest suspension bridge in the world outside of the United States, and at its peak carried 65,000 vehicles per day. Though it has always been possible for cyclists to use the bridge on an adjoining cycle and footpath, I had never ridden a bicycle across it.

Down the other side we turned into North Queensferry village, and sat eating our lunch admiring the beauty of the Rail Bridge, opened in 1890.

With a gentle tail wind, we set off on the 10-mile journey back to Portobello, via the Dalmeny Estate and Crammond, a total journey of 45 miles.

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