The Pentland Hills lie just past the city boundary on the south side of Edinburgh and are a popular place for people of the city to walk, get fresh air, and enjoy some time out of town at the weekends. This week a friend and I decided to do just that and on Saturday afternoon we set out on a small walk. I must say, like many other things on my doorstep, I haven’t spent a lot of time up there until now but I was pleasantly surprised and, after our trip, hope to be a regular visitor to these hills.
The historic village of Swanston was where we left the car and, ambling up through some trees were really surprised to come across a conservation village consisting of a little village square and a number of very old tiny cottages with thatched rooves. Thatching is not something you see very often in Scotland so it came as a great surprise. The square consisted of slightly younger looking homes but still tiny. It looked very quaint and well worth a visit. I have not investigated their history yet but here is a link to a little more about them.
Walking up above Swanston golf club we veered to the west with a plan of walking a loop and coming down eventually above the Ski slopes that lie on the north side of the hills. The first part of the walk consisted of tracks used to access the fields, after which we continued upon a well-trodden path to the saddle. The views were just spectacular seeing past North Berwick to the East and up toward the Ochil Hills in the west, the expanse of space was quite amazing.
This was the first time for a while I had been up into the hills and I really enjoyed it but now I remembered how difficult I find it. Those who know me understand that balance is not my strong point so, on uneven ground, I do struggle a little. We went over some bogs and that is difficult because there is often nothing firm to stand on which knocks my balance off. Once we reached the saddle and walked over the tops I found that fine and enjoyable. On solid ground with fantastic views, what’s not to like?
Descending for me, and I imagine for a lot of people, is the most difficult part of the walk. It requires a lot of balance. The path was very icy and slippery so I held onto my friend’s rucksack and we walked very slowly at one point until we got down onto a better path. I learned that I should take walking poles with me as they would be a great help. I need to try to stick to paths. We were wading through heather for a while and that was hard going. None the less it was a fantastic day and really put me in the mood for hill walking again.
A long time ago, around this time of year, I remember chatting to a friend over coffee about our cycling and saying how difficult it was to get out in the winter. The days were grey and overcast, leaves on the road, daylight short, and no matter how many layers you put on, you always seem to cold. During the conversation, my good friend said to me, “You know David, the hardest bit is putting your shoes on.” That phrase got into my head and has stuck with me ever since and I toy with it, I mull it over, and I think about it on all sorts of different levels.
It’s true when you go out cycling in the winter that it can be really cold and I know my motivation drops off at this time of year. If I do go out, I tend to go for shorter runs and I try not stop much. The inevitable cafe stop in the summer becomes far less attractive in winter because when you get up and leave the warmth of a cosy coffee shop and go outside again, I find it hard to warm up again. However, this shouldn’t put anybody off going out in the winter. As long the roads are free from frost and ice it’s all fine and good to keep the pedals turning.
When I return from a winter cycle, more often than not, I realise that the hardest bit was getting my shoes on and going out of the door. I wonder how many situations in our lives we can apply that to? How often do we postpone making that phone call, writing that email, putting in an application, or simply saying ‘enough is enough?’ I use this little analogy in all sorts of situations in my life and sometimes it really inspires me onto other things. I always try to focus on how I’ll feel afterwards, when I’ve come in from a glorious run on a crisp winter’s day and, often, I cannot wait to go out again.
I wanted to start my reviews on a positive note because I think it is very important to show appreciation to organisations especially when it’s absolutely deserved. It is so easy to grumble, criticise and highlight where people fall short, so everybody should make more effort to show appreciation whenever they can. So, I was delighted to start my reviewing career with a look at Edinburgh Bicycle Co-operative (or EBC).
I have been a regular customer at the Edinburgh Bike Co-operative for many years, I suspect since I started cycling for sport around ten years ago. I have bought loads of pieces of kit there, attended talks in the Bike Festival and had my bike fixed more times than I can remember. I’ve dropped in on numerous occasions to have something tightened or adjusted because, with gammy hands like mine, there are lots of fiddly wee jobs on the bike I just can’t do by myself.
In all the times, I have used EBC, I must say I have always been treated with respect and enjoyed my visit to the shop. As well as affecting my balance and coordination, my Cerebral Palsy affects my verbal communication, or speech. I will be the first to admit that I am hyper-sensitive about the way people talk to me. Many people, sometimes daily, assume I have a learning disability and talk to me accordingly. I have never once experienced this in EBC and have always been treated as an equal. The staff are generally knowledgeable and give great advice on products.
I am grateful that I live so close to the Bruntsfield shop. If I am looking for a particular piece of kit I know I will almost certainly get it there. I am grateful for the way I have been treated in this shop over the years. I was in a mobile phone shop this summer with a friend of mine who also happens to have CP. He was looking for something specific and I stood back while he was at the counter. I was horrified the way the young man spoke to and treated my friend. Unfortunately, it happens a lot to him too because he has slight communication difficulties. It just wouldn’t happen at EBC for which I am grateful and I look forward to shopping there again soon.
Nestled on the East Lothian coast, Aberlady Bay is a wonderful nature reserve with a staggering amount of bird life on it, and somewhere that plays host every year to tens of thousands of geese every Autumn. Aberlady Nature Reserve is a gem on the East Lothian coast providing miles of beach, bog land and a tidal river which is a perfect home for many species of birds.
Far out in the bay lies the remains of two World War II submarines. I took a wander out there recently to investigate them. Hope you enjoy my photographs.
If you have been to my blog before you will know that I have recently cycled the Outer Hebrides and that this has been a big achievement for me as well as a lot of challenge and fun. I thought it was important however to round things off and try to summarise the trip in a way that might be helpful to others. So here is one final piece about my trip where I describe what affect it’s had on me, what I have learned from it, and how I feel about the future. I hope it some small way that by reading it others will be inspired to get out and have fun in a way that they may have though difficult or impossible. Hopefully by seeing the fun I have had by getting out and doing it, people might push themselves to get out and have as much enjoyment and fun as me.
I was surprised by my own Fitness/Stamina
Never having done a cycle tour before and have cycled so many successive days in a row, I was surprised how I was able to just keep going. I covered the 186 miles in 5 days averaging 40 miles per day and I have not cycled as consistently as that over a few days before. Some mornings I felt sluggish and one morning I didn’t want to cycle. After the first couple of miles, I felt good again. I was pleasantly surprised how I could just keep going and, of course, can now apply that to other areas of my life.
The Beautiful Islands
The Outer Hebrides are stunningly beautiful with miles of unspoiled landscape, rich in birds and wildlife. The remoteness of them makes them feel quite untouched and I felt like I was quite far away when I was there. The beaches have to be some of the best in the world with their mile upon mile of beautiful and deserted white sand. There is little to compare with turning a corner and seeing a Hebridean beach stretching out for miles in front of you.
The Biggest battle is in the Mind
Without doubt, the biggest barrier and obstacle to overcome is that of what goes on in my head both on and off the bike. I’ve always known that I struggle to control my thoughts sometimes but didn’t realise just to what extent that my mental well-being intrinsically linked to how I perform physically. The times that I desperately did not want to cycle or even go outside, turned out to be the bits of the journey that I enjoyed the most.
People are very Kind
I met many lovely people in the Outer Hebrides who showed us great kindness and hospitality and it made the trip even more special. The night, for example, that we could not get accommodation and were seriously contemplating a night in the car, people went out of other their way to help us and did everything they could to get us accommodation. I have to mention and send special thanks to Emily, General Manager of the Hotel Hebrides in Tarbert and to Flora who kindly opened up her house to us. We were so grateful for their kindness and generosity.
I can do other things and inspire others
This trip has filled me with confidence, self-esteem and has made me excited about other things I can do in the future. This trip has had a big impact on me and it has, among other things, made me realise that there are so many amazing places to visit, cycle, write about, and it has made me hungry to do more. I have had some very nice comments from people about how they find me an inspiration and it has given me the desire to do more. Helping other people is a privilege and if I can do that by showing what can be done to push the boundaries of their abilities, I am delighted to do that.
Cycling in the rain can be joyous
By far the favourite part of the journey was cycling over Harris, between Leverburgh and Tarbert, in the rain. It was mild, the roads were deserted and the atmosphere was indescribable and I had a wonderful time to myself.
I need people around me
The Outer Hebrides are beautiful and I don’t think I could find the right words to fully describe the beaches and ruggedness of the landscape there. Beautiful as they are, I don’t think I could live there. I learned that I am really grateful for my life in the city with all my friends and social activities and culture around me, although I will definitely go back for another visit.
Barra Airport is amazing
I would urge everyone visiting Barra to pay a visit to the airport to take in the spectacular view, watch a plane land on the beach and order a plate of chips. The airport consists of one room which acts as a check hall, departures gate, arrivals hall, luggage depository, security, and of course a fantastic cafe with a view to die for. I just thought it was wonderful and would like to fly to Barra next time to achieve the full experience.