Virgin trains had sale on for one week at the start of January. London / Edinburgh return for £30.00! Wasting no time I booked a ticket for Monday 1st February to return on the Wednesday evening of that week. The next section of the North Sea Cycle (NSCR) route, Dundee to Inverness was waiting. A bit of company never goes amiss so a I contacted a couple of friends and invited them along. Unfortunately neither could make it.
Putting intention to one side the ‘good fortune’ I had to do this ride was largely down to my accommodating wife and freelancing to earn money. Lucky or by design? An equal measure of both I guess. I’m aware that there are those who consider my cycling trips something of a liberty – freedom from control, interference, obligation, restriction, hampering conditions, etc.; power or right of doing, thinking, speaking, etc., according to choice. What’s not to like about that? To those people and to all I recommend this take on life –
Like most I have others who I serve. Wife, children and creditors cannot be ignored. That though is not the sum of my life. Making it so would in my experience lead to blame, feeling hemmed in and unfulfilled. When we seek positivity, when we prioritise positivity, exemplified by how we make decisions about how we organise our day-to-day lives, we are often happier. This is something we can all benefit from. Whether we choose to or not is down to each one of us. I appreciate the support I get to pursue my interests and loves. In equal measure I encourage and support others who pursue theirs.
So it was an early start on the Monday. Up at 4.30 am to arrive in London in time for the 7.00 am train from Kings Cross to Edinburgh. It was a good trip. Mostly spent reading Emily Chappell’s excellent memoirs of her time as a cycling courier in London. If you’ve lost your cycling mojo reading her book, What Goes Around – A London Cycle Courier’s Story, is a sure way to get it back.
From Edinburgh it was just another hour up the line to Dundee. It was from Dundee I rode the last section of the NSCR. On that occasion I headed south to Edinburgh with Dave.
It was the first time we had met. All previous contact had been through social media. I had a job in Dundee. Mileage and accommodation had been paid for. Having accepted the invitation to join me I picked Dave and his bike up from the KFC on the Oxford Rd just off junction one of the M40 in Uxbridge. An odd meeting place for two veggies but it served the purpose. Six and a half hours and 430 miles later we were still chatting without once there having been a lull in our conversation or the radio switched on. I don’t know if this struck Dave as a bit special but it did me. I’ve put it down to his affable nature more so than anything else, I would have liked for him to join me on this trip but sadly he was one of the two I’d asked that could not make it. The other being Azeem whose enthusiasm to cycle the entire 6,200 km of the NSCR had got me enrolled in the idea in the first place.
Together we have covered the stretch from Dover to Newcastle and from Calais to Denmark. There’s the odd gap we need to revisit but we’ve put in a lot of miles together. Azeem’s excitement for cycling has though waned and subsequently his fitness has declined. Being knocked off his bike near Convent Garden in October has not helped. Other interests and the demands of running his own business now taking precedence over recreational excursions on two wheels. He’s not joined me for any of the miles from Newcastle to Dundee. The lack of response to my invite spoke more about a man caught up in the day-to-day than anything about forgetting his dream to complete the route. If there was anything I could do to help him get over these obstacles it was not going to happen before February. So it was that I found myself setting out alone from Dundee for the ninety miles to Aberdeen on a wet and windy Monday afternoon.
Setting the date for this trip a month before it happened was taking a gamble with the weather. Scotland and February. Odds on it would be cold and wet, both of which you can dress for. You can’t dress for the wind at least not to the same extent. The closer the time came the more preoccupied I was with Met Office reports. The weekend before I was due to arrive Storm Gertrude visited Scotland. The news revelled in the tales of chaos it caused and left in its wake. I found this allayed my concerns somewhat thinking I’d been lucky and had missed the worst of it. On the way up the wind buffeted the train a bit between Newcastle and the boarders. An on board announcement told us we would be 10 minutes late into Edinburgh; the train had needed to slow down because of the breeze. Ah well that’ll be the tail end of what was. I was wrong. It was the prelude to what was to come.
On the train from Kings Cross I sat next to an ex pat of Scotland and her Tibetan Spaniel Seng ge. They were on the way to Ladybank, two stops before Dundee. Early in our journey we chatted about each others plans. She was visiting a frail and elderly relative for 10 days. She was quite reassuring about mine and with reference to the weather told me not to worry about what might be but perhaps never will. You’ll be fine on the East coast she said. As we drew closer to our destination her tone changed, she warned me, ‘…be careful you don’t get blown off your bike!’. ‘Nee bother’ I said (it’s good to make an effort with new languages), ‘it should be behind me as far as Aberdeen’. This was not without a hint of hope and wishful thinking.
After clicking in and riding away from Dundee station I immediately found the wind was mostly in my favour. Rolling along silently with not much effort is a great way to start any ride. It’s easy to overrate your cycling prowess at times like this. When I stopped to take a picture looking back to the road bridge over the Firth of Tay this notion was quickly dispelled as the wind rushed noisily past me and almost took off my hat.
I quickly covered the 18 miles to Arbroath, home of the famous Smokies. Stopped by the harbour and ate for the first time since having breakfast before 5 am. Chips and battered mushrooms did the job of getting me the rest of the way to Aberdeen.
The cycle ways were quite well maintained. The roads mostly quiet. Where possible the NSCR avoids busy A roads and such like. There was choice of an off-road section closer to the sea between Johnshaven and Inverbervie. I chose to stay on the A92 instead. With the pace the tail wind provided I was not tempted to leave the tarmac. There was that and besides the path may have been worse for wear after all the bad weather. Sustrans website highlighted a couple of sections to detour as a result of the bad conditions. Although this was not one of them I decided not to chance it. On the odd occasion the route turned west I was abruptly reminded how strong the wind was blowing. It side swiped me viscously when the road bridged Bervie Water just passed Inverbervie. I was taken by surprise and pushed off-line into the middle of the carriage way, luckily not when being passed by any of the fast-moving cars and lorries that sped along towards Aberdeen. An iridescent pink hue spread across the sky as the sun retreated for the day. It cast a wonderful light on the landscape. A real treat and one that had me thinking how good it was that I was out on my bike just there right then. It occurred to me more than once on these two days that the simple act of putting something on my calendar has incredible power in getting me out and experiencing new things. I’d just crossed Catterline Burn, 54 of 89 miles done so just another 35 to go.
I don’t mind riding in the dark at all. I prefer riding in daylight though if only to get a view of the countryside I pass through between towns. I have found that the air is often stiller at night than it is during the day. That and when the moon is out and the sky is clear the feeling of silent industry and single-minded volition to peddle onwards has the miles passing quickly beneath my wheels. A couple more hours of riding and skirting round a handful of small towns had the sprawling lights of Aberdeen come into view. The NSCR is frequently circuitous and quite often when you might least expect it. Instead of cycling directly towards the city it had me turning away from the lights and round the headland to the south of Aberdeen harbour where Girdle Ness lighthouse marks the entrance of the River Dee.
The few miles from here into Aberdeen and to my accommodation were the only ones heading predominantly into the wind. It had been a great 90 miles. I was in my room by 8.00 pm. That gave me plenty of down time till the start of day two. The weather reports were not looking great. Storm Henry was following hot on the heels of Gertrude and blowing in from the west which was my bearing for much of the following day. Time to fill up with food and get some sleep. It looked like Tuesday would be tough going.