Monday, 4 March 2013

B Roads And Branch Lines

The Bairn has taken to biking like a, well… Like a wee lassie whose dad is mad about bikes.

For Christmas Santa brought her a scooter but we’ve not been out and about on it much. The underused secondhand tricycle we carted down the road from Nairn over a year ago has instead become the vehicle of choice.

A few times now we’ve been down the street and around the block, and on at least a couple of occasions we’ve been a fair distance to a play park and back. Amazingly I don’t have to stoop and push terribly often - she’s pretty self-propelling.
Flouting the rules. That's my girl!

We’re lucky in that although we’re in a town centre and near some busy roads we do have a few areas of wide pavement and we don’t have to go too far to find some paths away from traffic and into parks or onto the links at the beach.

I guess at some point the scooter will take over and then it’ll be fun to see if we can move on to a balance bike or similar. I think one of our pals whose son is a few years older than the Bairn has offered a bike he’s outgrown, and we can take it away later this year.

Bizarrely the Honest Toun has been without a bike shop for a few years. The place is often swarming with cyclists and the route through from Edinburgh out along the coast towards North Berwick is incredibly popular with MAMILs. Thankfully a bike shop has just opened at the Fisherrow end of town. Ace Bike Co behind the Brunton Theatre already appears to be doing brisk trade and quite how they resisted ticking me off for the state of my commuting bike when I took it in for a service I’ll never know. I do sort of miss the mannie from the Nairn bike shop who used to roll his eyes and sigh whenever I hirpled my mud-caked calamity of a bike across his threshold for inspection.

To make the most of my freshly tuned machine (I was genuinely thrilled at having all 24 gears available again) I took it out for a bit of a thrashing around the B roads of East Lothian.

Skies beginning to bruise over Macmerry
Following the River Esk to its mouth and going along the sea wall by the ash lagoons made for a peaceful, flat start with distant landmarks like Cockenzie power station and North Berwick Law to spur me on. I spotted what I think were a couple of grebes in the sea and powered along towards the twin chimneys. (The power station shuts down in a couple of weeks and amazingly Iberdrola who own Scottish Power have no immediate plans to do anything with the site. There has been talk of conversion from coal to gas but who knows? Even more amazingly I learned only recently the station has never used all the heat it generates for anything useful - it just goes out to sea, hence the near-tropical waters off Port Seton. Bonkers when you think in years gone by across the road there were probably folk huddled round Calor Gas heaters in drafty council houses!)

Just before Seton Sands I turned inland and uphill to Seton Mains Farm and along a path by the dual carriageway towards Longniddry. Then again inland and uphill towards the Motherland of Pencaitland before dropping down into Macmerry. Along the old A1 (to think this was the main road to London until the late 80s) to Tranent, then up to Elphinstone (please pronounce as Elfason and not El Fing Stone) and down some very muddy tracks to Fa’side Castle.

Then a great freewheel downhill towards the sunset over the Pentland Hills, through Inveresk and into Musselburgh. Total trip? Probably 20 miles.

Pentland sunset
B roads are preferable to A roads but even then it seems it doesn’t take much of a straight stretch to encourage motorists to put their foot to the floor on what are basically country lanes with hedgerows and little room for manoeuvre. I’d like to think back in the day when I was behind the wheel I gave cyclists not only room but the courtesy of reduced speed upon passing. My experience of East Lothian roads suggests courtesy is a mysterious concept for most drivers.

Of course there are some great tracks and paths, in particular the old railway lines. Occasionally there is talk of trying to revive the Longniddry-Haddington line but I reckon it’d be pretty pricey. It is weird that the county town isn’t on the rail network and bus services are so shoddy. Of course if the line was reinstated we’d have to find a fresh route for bicycles and I can only imagine that would mean a route on roads. Something of a backwards step as the old rail routes provide such a safe place to cycle, especially for kids.

It probably makes more sense to improve the bus services. However, the rail line does go through East Linton and it’s a thriving wee community so I can see a case for opening a station there.

As for opening new stations I’m already imagining a future bike trip when the Bairn’s older in which we cycle along the old line to Dalkeith, hop on the new train service to the Borders at the new Eskbank station, alight at Tweedbank, pootle around the backroads and forests of Selkirk, Gala and Melrose and hop on the Waverley line back home having loaded up on tea and slabs of buttered bannock.

Epicurus, the ancient PR account executive for joy and simplicity, said: “Bread and water confer the highest possible pleasure.”

I reckon the modern equivalent must be bikes, trains and cakes.

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