Bike in a rucksack

Isn’t this cute? The three-year old mostly sat in a child seat on the cross-bar, in front of his Dad. The little fellow’s bike fitted quite neatly into his Dad’s backpack.  When the situation allowed, three-year-old Ollie got on his own bike and had a cycle around or down a suitable traffic-free hill track. Meeting this family and their bikes was icing on the cake of a lovely sunny day at Rothiemurchas in the Scottish Highlands. Check out the café there when you are in the area!



Milton Keynes – so under-rated. Try it on a bike.

I’ve been coming to Milton Keynes for decades but have never seen anything other than the dual carriageways from a taxi the inside of modern buildings.  Finally, now that I am the proud owner of a Brompton (fold-up) bike, I brought a bike with me on the train.  The Open University provide a map and detailed instructions of how to bike there from the station and I managed it, albeit stopping a lot to check my location.  The roads all look alike and so do many of the cycleways.

There is a huge cycle and walk path network here and it is well signed.  A clever element, which is new to me, is a location number at various points so that you can work out where you are. That, coupled with my trusty compass (never leave home without one) meant that I got to my destination without mishap.  A real bonus of having the bike is that I was able to go out for a ride this morning.  It’s a beautiful Spring day out there and I biked around parks and lakes and little villages for an hour, trying to get a better sense of my surroundings.  That was such a nice start to an otherwise sitting-and-eating day.  Now all I have to do is find my way back to the station in time for the train home.

So when you are in Milton Keynes, bring your bike and you will see a totally different ‘city’.
No bikeable islands, it seems, – shame about that!


Inverness and exciting new bike

I’ve been persuaded that I need a bike designed for touring
but they mostly have quite a high cross bar and I am too old and stiff to get
over a cross-bar.  I found only one
‘step-through’ and it was very expensive so I was thinking it over when Bill of
‘Badger Bikes’ found one on Gumtree.  The
bike was near Inverness and I was going there that weekend anyway – what
serendipity.  After much faffing about on
the seller’s part about how I could get to see the bike and worrying on Bill’s
part that I might buy something which would cost a lot to fix up to Badger
standards, I got to Inverness. 

What a
lovely bike!  It’s a Dutch bike and they
really know how to make bikes  I tried to look all professional and examine the
bits that Bill had worried about but it looked like just what I need.  I impressed the seller by producing a
multi-tool kit to lower the saddle.  I
didn’t manage that but was able to ride it to the Columba Hotel where I was
staying.  The brakes are the ‘wrong’ way
around and the gears will take a bit of getting used to but I arrived safely at
the hotel. 

In spite of being very busy with a coach-load of arrivals,
the hotel took my query about a safe place to leave my bike very
seriously.  Having something stealable,
as opposed to my normal ancient trusty rusty steed, brings its own
problems.  The staff picked it up and put
it in a function room which they locked and kept it there for the next two
days.  That is above and beyond the call
of duty, isn’t it?  So this is a shout-out
for the Columba Hotel in Inverness

That same hotel were ultra-flexible about having an extra
person in our large room; she had arrived in town to find that the B&B
didn’t have the online booking – oops! 
It worked out very well for all of us.

Fortwilliam with a bike

I decided to
travel with my bike so as to attempt a biking of ‘Neptune’s Staircase’, an
impressive set of 8 locks on the Caledonian Canal just outside
Fortwilliam.  That morning I had the good
luck to have been able to buy a second-hand folding bike, a Brompton, but was
not sure enough of how to fold it or whether it had a slow puncture so took my
big bike.  I am fast coming to the
conclusion that life would be less adventuresome if travelling without a large,
clumsy, old-fashioned bike.
The first
adventure was changing trains in Dumbarton. 
The rear carriages would go to Fortwilliam so I found a door with a bike
symbol and was interrupted by the train manager saying ‘you can’t put your bike
in there’.  Experienced train travellers
know not to argue with a train manager so, in spite of being able to see the
bike spaces just inside that door, I asked where I should put it’.  ‘At the end’ she pointed.  I raced along to the end but the door
wouldn’t open and I couldn’t see any bike spaces there anyway.  Suspecting a plot to keep me off the train
(why? – I had a bike reservation) I raced back to find another door with a bike
There were lots of such doors,
this being one of the trains with plenty of bike storage, not like the
Inverness ones.  The dragon was back
telling me that I couldn’t put the bike there – I presumed, throughout, that
she may that I may not.  I said that the end door didn’t open so she
grudgingly agreed that I could put it on there, alongside the other bike in a
six-bike space.  I know that the train
can leave without me while I am faffing about so I just put it on and later I
tried to ask gently what the problem had been. 
‘It’s just that it would have been easier for you at that end’ was the
unconvincing reply.
After a stunningly
scenic few hours to Fortwilliam, I headed off on my trusty steed to find the
‘Guest House’ which I had chosen for its proximity to the station.  I need to be more selective but it’s
difficult to judge places from a web-based entry.  When the door was answered I cheerfully
introduced myself and asked if there was somewhere to put the bike. 
Is there a
national hatred of people with bikes? 
The forbidding-looking lady-of-the-house said I could put it around the
back and this is exactly what she was offering. 
In such a large building here in the ‘country’ there will absolutely be
an outhouse or shed that she could have offered.  Instead my gallant steel companion spent the
night outdoors, where, of course, it rained – this is the Highlands, after
all.  I was able to protect the saddle
with my European Greens saddle cover but the rest just had to take its chances.
This ‘guest
house’ is a blast from the past with its dingy entrance, bathroom on another
floor and a list of bad things that I am not to do.  In among the bad-things list is the wish that
I might have a pleasant stay but it is camouflaged, with not even a full stop
to separate it from the emergency instructions (ring the kitchen bell??).  Happily, breakfast was a more positive
experience, being cooked and served by a cheerful young woman. Two of the other
guests are setting off on a two-week walk to Cape Wrath so I feel that my
bridge-biking ambitions are very manageable.

Further bike adventures – Preston this time

Was so wow-ed by the Gormley ‘Iron Men’ at Crosby that I had to dash for the train home from Liverpool but got myself and my bike on in good time.  Chatty comuters on that train to Preston.  With half an hour to change in Preston it should have been a breeze.  I even got a cuppa and hot panini (Italian chicken – yum!).  The notice board said that the Edinburgh train would be on Platform 3a and another one on 3b.  OK.

The train came in and I carefully checked each door for the bike symbol, going into the first one that I found, tying up my bike and being careful of my cup of tea.  Good.  All set.

Announcement: ‘Please note that this is the train for Barrow-on-Furness.  All passengers not going to Barrow-on-Furnace should leave the train immediately.  Passengers wishing to travel to Edinburgh should note that train is in front of this one.’  Ouch!  I open the door, put out my saddle bag.  Untie bike, pick up cup of tea and get off the train.  There are several train chaps just hanging about, being mildly entertained by my panic as the Edinburgh train is due to leave.  No bike sign on any door so I just started to go in with my bike to the next door.  That produced some action from the bold lads, who then showed me the sign-less door where I should board with my bike.

By now I am providing free entertainment for the whole train.  All ended well and I even still had my panini and cup of tea.  Why did I bring the bike on this trip?  Why did I not stick to East Coast?  I am not impressed by Transpennine Express.


Liverpool with a bike

It can be handy having my bike with me but it can bring its own problems.  Changing trains at Manchester Oxford Street was the first barrier.  ‘They decommissioned the lift’ I was told.  ‘Is that legal?’ I asked hopelessly as I have found that compliance with the Disability Discrimination Act is less than uniform in England.  Nothing for it but to manhandle the bike up and down steps.  My physio would have a fit!

Once safely in Liverpool, finding somewhere safe to leave the bike was a bit of a challenge.  With the basket, bell and torn saddle, it is very attractive to opportunistic thieves!  I was able to leave it in the garage of the hotel where the conference is.  It was a bit tricky getting it set up in there but it was nothing to how tricky it was when I came to collect it at 8 pm and found the place locked up.

Turned out the garage watch-person had gone off for a take-away.  Well you wouldn’t be wanting to make a fast get-away with that kind of random absence.  Anyway, I did extrictate it, though it took a while.  Then I set off on the trusty steed to find the youth hostel.  I know where it is which helped a bit but didn’t find it until after I had a little tour of the backstreets of the dockland area in the dark.  All very interesting and I was lucky not to pick up a puncture with the areas of broken glass.


Still in Aberdeen – not wet yet

Nice weather here and I am enjoying cycling around and getting to know the city a bit. I was taken out to eat at Norwood Hall Hotel this evening – lovely spot, nice food (a Guinness burger!). Then I had a cycle around Duthie Park, where the roses are just finishing – very nice not to see any signs forbidding ball games or bikes or having fun.

Work here is good too! I will be glad to get home, though, as I need to get ready for the great South American aventura. Watch this space ….


Better luck in Aberdeen

I found the old railway line and so am still alive, not having had to compete for road space with homicidal motorists. After work I had a lovely evening cycling along the esplanade, ate fish and chips by the beach and then explored the old town – and stayed alive!

Then it started to rain, a landslide stopped the trains so I abandoned my bike to kindly station staff and got home by bus. Not before I had changed my clothes outside the toilets, as I didn’t have 20 pence and no change was available. Whatever! I donned my dry skirt over my wet shorts and whipped off the latter, wrung the water out and packed them away. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, given the Mary Poppins look of my bike, it was safe and sound (and dry) when I came back up to Aberdeen today.

Found a lovely guest house this time, Butlers on Crown Street – I recommend the friendly, generous welcome, nice rooms and fruit with breakfast (can be a rarity!).