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.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Borders Cycle -Eyemouth -Paxton

It's been a long week at work but today dawned with crisp blue skies and low winter sunshine. Just the sort of day to forget the routine, breathe deeply and pedal. I packed the LHT with coffee and cake, then loaded it all into the car and took a drive down to Eyemouth. Free parking at Gunsgreen and I started cycling from the harbour, which of course is sea level...I never learn.
The pull up out of Eyemouth along Victoria road was memorable! I shifted down too quickly and my cadence was too high. Just relax and push little circles. I soon got to the village of Ayton and took a pic at the gate to the castle.

The little break to take a pic was all I needed to slow down and pace myself. Just as well as the next three miles were all climbing including a few granny gear corners. If anyone wonders why I fitted cyclocross tyres to the trucker the next pic is a perfect example of my reasoning.

Quick stop to look back. The darker blue on the far right horizon is the sea, where I started this fun.

The climbing continued up on to Lamberton moor. As I passed a farm this noisy lady came out to greet me. I stopped to chat but she had to protect the farmyard and bark as noisily as she could. In the usual Border Collie way she avoided eye contact. Always deferring to the human.

Further on I spotted this bunker. At first I thought it was a water reservoir but the door in kind of changed my mind. Pretty bleak spot for a bunker.

It was cold on the moor but I love the openness and the big skies. The wind was pushing against me so I was glad to start the descent deep into Border territory with the Cheviots in the distance.

At the wonderfully named Clappers I spotted this old Ferguson. The gearbox seemed a bit dodgy but otherwise it was looking good.

Oh no!  A quick turn around and I headed back into the safety of Scotland.

 I also headed back onto some very poor roads but still a great place to be.

Then the track really did get poor. Single track to a bridge over the Whiteadder Water.

All the effort was worth it. A beautiful stretch of meandering river, water cut rock and glorious Autumn colours.

After the bridge I pushed the LHT up the muddy track on the other side to the village of Paxton and then on to Paxton House. It's a fine example of a Georgian country house. Commissioned by Patrick Home and designed by James Adam with interiors by Robert Adam and furnishings by Thomas Chippendale. In 1760s Scotland you really couldn't get much better than that and some would argue you still can't. The romantic part of the story is that it was built to impress a Prussian Heiress. She wasn't impressed, so no luck Patrick. It also advertises itself as having a tea shop. Time for a break.

Unfortunately there was a sign asking for £2 for parking and £8 for entry to the house and grounds. Anyone who knows me can imagine my reaction to this. I hopped over the fence, took a picture of the house and made a tactical retreat. £10 indeed! You missed out on that one Prussian heiress.

On I cycled feeling a bit tired after missing out on a bun. I began to question my frugal ways as I climbed back up from another crossing of the Whiteadder Water. Fortunately at the next junction there was a wee shelter that looked like one of the local bus stops.

Feet up, bran scone and coffee in a little wooden shed... great eh?

Back on the road and on to Foulden and it's Tithe Barn. It was used to store grain that was made in payment to the church.  There's another at Whitekirk near to home.

After the barn I turned left and started to climb again. A slow couple of miles and I finally caught sight of the sea again. Time to put the Buff on under the helmet as I planned a fast descent and it wasn't getting any warmer.

I eventually got back to Eyemouth harbour and cycled along the pier between the harbour and the Eye Water, and crossed it for the final time by the little foot bridge.

Back to Gunsgreen. This house is another Adam building but this one was built for John Nisbet a local 'merchant'. That's a euphemism for Smuggler. The house is supposed to be full of secret hiding places and tunnels. I'll have to get around to visiting one day...depending on the price. 

A great day out. The climbing was harder than I expected but that's the way with the Borders. I lived there for a while and I still have a great fondness for the hidden valleys and open moors but I'm going to have to get the fitness up if I want to enjoy more of it.

Home time. I've missed out a few miles and pics of a diversion I took. I'll try to post that little interlude during the week.