Sunday, 30 December 2012

Another Windy Weekend

I was busy on Saturday and only managed out for a very quick cycle. 15 minutes from my front door and the rain started to pour down. This combined with the strong winds and I turned around and headed home. Today, Sunday, and the wind was even stronger, often gusting to 50 mph. It was pretty cold too.

Instead of cycling I took Fly for a couple of hours wandering across the fields. At this time of year the fields are often lying fallow which is great for looking for the little scraps of history that are turned up by the plough. 

The blue white pottery is fairly common. Most of it probably dates from the 18th or 19th century. Fertiliser was expensive in those days so it was common practice to use the muck from village cess pits where folk often threw old broken plates etc. The lead ball however is a great wee find. 

In 1649 Charles I had his head chopped off and England became a commonwealth. His son, Charles II landed in Scotland and raised a force of 25,000 under the command of David Leslie. There were various skirmishes around Edinburgh but Cromwell and his New Model Army failed to engage Leslie's army in full battle. The "round heads" we're being supplied by sea through Dunbar and Leslie, outnumbering Cromwell 2:1, saw the chance to cut the supply lines in a decisive battle. On the 3rd Sepember 1650 they met just south of Dunbar. Despite the vast numerical disadvantage Cromwell won. These fields often turn up musket and cannon shot, but this was the first time I've found one. 

This standing stone has three cup marks on the west face. As with all these stones, their original purpose is lost. The people that erected this didn't have a written history but they were a creative lot.  This one is directly east of Traprain where King Loth and the Votadini had their fort and traded with the Romans. At the base there is more modern mark where a groove has been cut in the stone by the cables used in steam ploughs.

It was a good walk and Fly enjoyed herself. I've got Tuesday and Wednesday off, so hopefully the wind will calm down and I can get a few miles cycling again.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

The sun also rises

It's been a hard time over the last week. My dad died peacefully but quite suddenly at home on December the 16th. I was filling my thermos with coffee to head out for a cycle when my sister telephoned weeping uncontrollably. She had stopped by on Sunday morning to ask if he wanted a newspaper and found him sitting in his chair. He had quietly slipped away from us all during the night. It's only 12 miles to my dads home but it was a long drive that morning. After the police and ambulance left we were faced with one of the hardest things I have ever done when we went to the hospital to break the news to my mum.

The funeral has now passed and with the support and love of family and friends, and a lot of advice from our minister, we have somehow muddled through. Last night was Christmas Eve, I managed a couple of hours of sleep but there comes a time when its easier just to get up. I switched on the radio this morning and quietly tuned it to a carol concert; then set about baking some bread and brewing the morning coffee. As I looked out the window I realised for the first time in a week that I needed to get out for a cycle. 

It was still dark but I went down by the lighthouse and then back along to White Sands to have my coffee and watch the sea.

The sun slowly crept over the horizon and I headed back home.  El is up crashing around, Fly is wanting out to play with her ball and I'm off to meet up with the transport to get my mum out of hospital for the day. My sister and my niece have hopefully got the turkey in the oven and we will all try our best.
Have a peaceful Christmas.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Sunday 16th December

Almost a year ago, when I started this blog, I said I would try to post every week. So far I have managed. Unfortunately there are times when a family must come together and all else can wait.  I'll try to get back soon. 

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Windy winter cycle

It's been a cold week with some snow and colder weather is forecast. Today the temperature had crept up a little but a strong north westerly wind had developed overnight. Twenty plus mph gusting to around forty mph. I still went out for a cycle mid morning but it was hard going at times.

As I pedaled into the wind along past Winterfield I was almost tacking from side to side to make progress. That's fine in the Heron but not so good on the LHT. I stopped down by the holiday chalets to think about my route. Most of them are boarded up for winter although a few hardy souls were trying to make the best of the sunshine. They look good in the summer with surf boards and barbecues but they also seem wonderfully cosy on a winters day with the view out over the stormy sea. If I had a wee cabin like this I'd be using it in the winter too.

Rather than fight the wind along to East Linton I decided to head around a loop of Dunbar and throw in a few farm roads for a bit of variety.

That's a big shadow bike in the low winter sun. I came back into town with only 9 miles under my belt so a quick zig zag through the little lanes and down by the harbour rounded it up to 10. Not very much, but its the getting out that counts. It also made the bread I had baked earlier taste all the better.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Searching for tractors, ooh arr!

The first of December and it was a cold start to the day with temperatures below freezing, ice on the roads and the frosty ground sparkling in the early morning sun. I had seen an advert in a shop window for a vintage ploughing competition this Saturday. Yes, that's right, men with old tractors seeing who can plough the straightest furrow. Well, 'I love the smell of paraffin in the morning', so several layers of clothing, a flask of coffee and off I went on the LHT.

Hallhill woods were full of little birds flitting around the trees and nosing through the leaf litter. The cycling was easy along the blaze trails. Once I got out on to the old road it was a bit different and a lot colder! I took it easy, keeping the bike upright when turning and watching out for ice in the shadows.

Although it might not be far in miles to Wester Broomhouse farm, it's all uphill. It was good climb with some low gear spinning interspersed with the occasional quick mash on the pedals to keep me warm. I needed to put my jacket on as soon as I stopped though. The sun might have been shining but it was brass monkey weather at the top.

I had a look around and soon realised that the ploughing might have been advertised as Wester Broomhouse, but it wasn't happening at the farm. There were low loaders and Range Rovers with trailers parked in the distance (back down the hill). In a seen reminiscent of the Somme, I could see little figures plodding through the mud towards the occasional puff of smoke as they tried to get their tractors to start in the freezing weather.  Hmm, time for a coffee to think about my next move

Blue sky out over Dunbar and the Isle of May on the horizon. A fine place to get the flask out and the rack made a handy wee table.

I didn't have the best shoes on for crossing muddy fields so I gave up on the vintage tractors and settled for trying to spot unusual sheep. Hee hee, look at the ears on that one! 

In the distance there is a road snaking up the hillside. Locally known as 'Starvation Brae', its a killer cycle. (the lower part follows the tree line). I've never done it, but the trucker gearing is feeling good so maybe sometime soon!

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Borders Cycle- Duns

It's my holidays and on Wednesday the rain stopped! We've been lucky in this corner of Scotland compared with the poor souls flooded out of their homes further south. The temperature was around 4 degreesC (39f), but it was dry, so I headed to the Borders town of Duns to join up a couple of local cycle routes into a micro adventure. 

The first three miles out from Duns were lovely. Smooth rolling roads that I like so much, although the cloud was building ominously and there was a noticeable drop in temperature when the sun disappeared. 

There must be at least a hundred years of different building in this wall. Why, oh why, did they use common brick for the repair? but at least its a decent job.  This bridge was pretty impressive too. They are a good guide to when you are leaving farmed areas and entering into a private estate.

These large private estates carry all sorts of connotations that tend to be fostered by the "Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre" style romantic dramas. The social disparity was certainly in abundance, but these estates also provided secure jobs and many owners built housing for their workers and tenant farmers. A few may have done this with genuine philanthropic intention. For many however it was to boast about their wealth and show off to the other landowners. Whatever your feelings, it has left us with some wonderful little hamlets.

Sinclairshill was my next junction with its beautiful cottages and schoolhouse. The stork seems to be a recent addition.  I headed west with the Cheviot's summit, dusted with snow, over my left shoulder.

It was cold but I just kept on pedaling and admiring the views. I probably should have paid more attention to the road signs. After a couple of miles the road began to deteriorate (see below)! A bit of backtracking proved fruitless and, lacking a decent map, I decided to keep heading west until I found a major road and then try to figure out where I was. It was great, I've not had the pleasure of being lost for a long time!

Finally I popped back onto a signed road. The little bike signs are for the Borders Loop ( a 250 mile route).

I turned off before Fogo so can't report on it but the moss growing on the sign gives a clue to the general level of excitement.

The sun came back out as I cycled into a bit of woodland. You may think, "nice trees", I was thinking "shelter" to get some coffee and food into my cold and weary bones.

The suspicious look is "has the self timer worked?"  The shelter amongst the trees was much appreciated and the coffee and scone hit the spot.

Back on the road and on my little route map I had pencilled in that there might be a few ups and downs. Oh yes! it was up and down. After Gavinton (the church in the distance) I turned back towards Duns and met this bonny cuddy. His red coat seemed to be a good fit so I can only assume he just had little legs. He was a friendly wee fellow.

Further on I came to a ford in the river. It probably wasn't too deep but those wet cobble stones and the speed of the flow made me think twice. Fortunately there was a little foot bridge a bit further down stream.

 After the climb up from the ford I had planned to head north-ish to meet the main road back into Duns. I didn't really fancy this as it's a fast, narrow road and the sun was getting low making a bike a bit vulnerable. Fortune smiled and I found a little turning onto the Duns Scotus Way. This walking/cycling trail proved ideal. It was hard blaze and the boggy bits had wooden duckboards with little reflectors along the sides. The tight corners were even covered with a grippy paint!

The trail goes from the centre of town to to the new high school and beyond. Given the number of bike tyre tracks it seems to be getting the local kids cycling.

Back in Duns and I stopped to take a pic of this monument to John Duns Scotus. My understanding of philosophy has been mostly gained from reading 'Sophie's World' by Jostein Gaarder so forgive my lack of deeper knowledge. Duns Scotus was born in 1266 in Duns. He went on to a Franciscan order and eventually became one of the most important philosophers of the high middle ages. I basically struggle to understand his philosophy and I am tempted to agree with later philosophers who accused him of sophistry. (I have a lot of experience working for sophists!) For all that, Duns was obviously a clever lad and did well for himself. The people who didn't agree with him called his followers Dunces which became a synonym for being a bit thick.

Whist I'm spouting my opinions I also want it recorded that I think this 1960's sculpture of Duns Scotus is terrible.

A fine day out, a great wee adventure, and a bit of learning thrown in.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Soaking Sunday Cycle

Saturday was crisp and clear with bright blue skies; ideal cycling weather. Unfortunately I didn't manage out until Sunday morning when a bitter wind was howling in from the north and the rain was falling sideways.

The pictures might give an idea of the rain, and how saturated everything is, but they don't really give any concept of the gusting wind, although that sea is starting to build.

It was still good to get out and it was certainly quiet enough. I hardly saw another soul. Given the weather it's not really surprising.

Even the track along to West Barns was empty. This is normally busy with excitable dogs and their owners out for their morning walk. Must have been a few miserable dogs stuck inside this morning.

The road up to Spott disappeared into the low cloud but wasn't too bad. Spinning slowly up hill kept me warm. The downhills were the unpleasant bit. Anything above about 20mph and the cold rain began to sneak in through the waterproofs.

I sat and dripped in the shelter of this barn. It's strange, the next line should be something about 'wondering what I was doing' but it isn't. I was quite happy.  I'd found a little lee in the storm and could look back knowing it was nearly all down hill from here. I thought about keeping going but a hot shower and breakfast beckoned.

The observant might have noticed a new rear mech. I had been looking for a rapid rise (low normal), as I'm no racer, and the smoothness of down changes on a climb is noticeable. Its also Deore XT so it just works. 

Just an hour and a half this morning. I've time off work this week and have a couple of rides planned but the forecast isn't looking very nice. Northerlies gusting 50mph+ and torrential rain. Ho hum!

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Sunday....lighthouse again.

Sunday morning and time for an easy cycle down to the lighthouse. I had planned a longer tour around Duns in the Borders but it will keep for a week or two when I've got time off. A couple of hours nosing around the local trails was fine for today.

Its been cold this week and today was no different. The clear air and low light make for great views. 

Busy wee spider.

At Whitesands I stopped to wonder. There is loads of parking available but for this individual a clearly marked cycle route provided a fine spot to drive off the road and abandon their car. Feel free to think of a couple of adjectives and a noun to express your dismay.

I have my own theories that ignorant behaviour tends to be inversely proportional to the distance a person is prepared to walk from their car. I pedalled off along the coast, away from the cars, to find some shelter from the wind and enjoy my coffee. Sure enough, the occasional walker that I saw smiled and was cheery in their greeting. 

Back towards home for a proper breakfast.

I have also gone back to canti brakes on the front but using a Tektro fork crown hanger. Judder problem solved!

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Hutton Village and a soldier bear

On my Borders cycle of Sat 10th November I made a special detour to the little Borders village of Hutton to try to find out a little more for this slightly different post.  

 There was a lovely Norman styled church with some very old grave stones.

A low winter sun picked out this Celtic cross that is the war memorial. The grass had been cut around it for Remembrance Sunday.

I had a look around the village but I couldn't find any mention of one of Hutton's more unusual residents and of a heart warming tale at a time when we remember the great loss of war.

When Poland was invaded from Germany in the west and Russia in the east at the start of the second world war the poor Poles who were captured by the Russians were either executed out of hand or were marched off to prison camps to become slave labour (my uncle among them). When the Germans attacked the Russians, the prisoners were released to fight against the Nazis. Not surprisingly the Poles chose not to fight alongside the Russians but to join up with the British forces in the Middle East.  It was here in 1942, in Iran, that a local boy traded a tiny orphaned bear cub for a couple of tins of meat. The troops fed the malnourished cub on condensed milk from a vodka bottle and soon adopted him as their mascot.

He was named Wojtek (smiling warrior) and as he grew he learned to wrestle, salute and drink beer. He obviously had the makings of a fine soldier and travelled with his comrades to Syria, Palestine and Egypt.

By 1944 the allied push was on into Italy but the officials at Alexandria would not let an animal aboard ship. It was for troop transport only. Thus Private Wotjek was enlisted, issued with a service number and pay book and standing over 6ft tall and weighing in at around 35 stone, headed off to fight the Nazis at Monte Cassino.

Here he is boarding the ship and heading to battle.


Monte Cassino was pretty horrific for all involved. The Germans were well entrenched in the mountains and the allied forces advance had ground to a halt. The Poles were brought forward for a final onslaught. Despite huge losses and withering fire they fought bravely and through it all was Private Wotjek, lifting cases of ammunition and carrying mortar shells to the front line. Can you imagine being an enlisted German facing overwhelming numbers of allied troops advancing towards you and out of the smoke and explosions comes a bear! His part in the battle did not go unnoticed and the 22nd Artillery Supply Company had a new emblem.

After the war there were many Poles who had the chance to return home but no longer really knew where home was. A few returned to the now Communist Poland, many disappeared off around the world. At the disbandment camp at Hutton in the Scottish Borders a lonely Private Wotjek sat and watched the comrades that he had grown up with leave for better lives. His days of being free to wrestle his friends, and enjoy a beer with the lads had come to an end.

Then the communists wanted him!  But they weren't getting a brave bear like Wotjek. Instead he stayed in Scotland at Edinburgh Zoo where many of his old comrades came to visit. He always pricked up his ears when he heard Polish being spoken. His fame spread and he appeared on the BBC television programme 'Blue Peter'. There was even an incident when an old soldier jumped the fence at the zoo and had a wrestle with Wotjek for old times sake.  

WW2 2nd Polish Corps - Polish soldier wrestling with Private Wojtek

In 1963 at the age of 22 poor old Wotjek died. The imperial war museum honored him with a plaque as did the zoo.

And now at the Polish memorial Gardens at Bonnington in Leith people gather on Armistice day each year to remember the brave Poles who lost their homeland and gave their lives in conflict and some bring teddy bears to donate to the Sick Kids Hospital and as a little reminder of Private Wotjek, the soldier bear.

The above pictures appear on various sites and finding who to attribute them too is near impossible. A search for Wotjek (pronounced Voytek) brings up loads of sources and there is some film on Youtube.