Writing

Cycling Through Memories


I wrote this piece after a bike ride in early spring which provoked a lot of memories for me on growing up and where my family have come from (i.e. not very far from where we are now). I don’t write a lot of memoir type pieces but I wanted to try something different. I’d started writing this out as a poem but then realised there was a lot more I wanted to say in it and that a prose piece might be more appropriate.

After spending months buried under the accumulated detritus of small home improvements, we finally spent a day clearing out the garage and uncovered my bike from its extended hibernation. As if on cue the sun also re-appeared and although it didn’t bring much in the way of spring warmth, I gave in to the illusion of summer, pumped up my tires, lubed the chain and clipped into my pedals for the first time since August.

Heading out of town I passed my parent’s house where we moved when I was eighteen and the front door I failed to close quietly all those times I snuck home in the early hours of the morning. Next to it is the overgrown burn, which I discovered was full of nettles when I returned from the pub late one night and drunkenly rescued a blind spaniel which had lost it’s owner and wandered hopelessly into the middle of the water. My stung hands gratefully accepted a box of chocolates from the relieved dog owner a few days later.

I see the vet’s surgery where so many family pets have been treated, comforted and too often left forever, before I turn off and pedal up towards the cemetery. Here I keep pedalling but my thoughts linger. It’s three years since I last passed through the gates when we lowered my Gran into the earth to rejoin her husband, who’d been there alone for twenty years. I wonder if I should feel guilty that I’ve never returned to the grave or set eyes on the stone which marks it? Then as I feel the hill steepen under the slim wheels of my road bike, I remember that everyday I pass their house and it’s those times that I think of her. The warm welcome she always gave her grandchildren and the many years of joy we had in her company.

It’s those memories I decide are important. Not of the elaborate box lowered on velvet ropes. I don’t believe in heaven or an afterlife so a cemetery is simply a place for those left behind to remember those close to us and I would rather do that as I pass the places they were happiest. I think she’d prefer it that way.

The handlebars turn towards Auchenblae and I remember all the miles I put on the tyres cycling this route last year, preparing for a two day charity ride from Inverness back to Stonehaven. I never thought the bike would sit untouched for months once that special journey was over.

There’s a slow, steady climb then a long, happy, freewheel down towards Tewel. With head and elbows tucked I race at breakneck speed passed the row of houses where many years earlier I’d pulled over in a dull red Rover 214 with two flat tyres. My mum’s car a casualty of my overconfidence and poor judgement while overtaking a tractor on the small country road.

At bottom of the hill there’s a sharp turn past a farm, down towards a ford over the Carron river. As a small child I was amazed by the road going through a large, flowing river. It seems much less impressive now. I cross the river, take the hairpin turn and stare up a tarmac wall pretending to be a road. Sometime later I reach the top of the climb, much more tired and sore in the legs than I was at the bottom.

I’m on the loop back towards town now. After another fast downhill I change road again, passing a stables and heading towards Toucks. At this stage of the route the image of a large black and white photograph hanging at the top of the stairs in my parent’s house pops into my head. My great-grandparents farmed land at Toucks and though I never met them I’ve seen their faces in that picture countless times.

A terrifying descent into Kirktown of Fetteresso joins the loop back to my outward journey beside a house which once housed a close friend. Site of drunken parties, singing sinatra into broom handles at 6am and one memorable occasion when their family St Bernard sat on his mum before it got too excited and pissed on her leg.

I take it easy now as I head back through the industrial estate where both my parents worked at various times. The smell of freshly cut wood in the joinery, recently changed hands, will always be with me as will the site of black smoke pouring over the roof as the site next door went up in flames while we were visiting.

My feet are unclipped from the pedals as I thread the bike through Edinview, past my old home again and the street where my gran lived for many years. I turn onto the Slug Road at the school. Site of so many endless lunchtime corridor laps, childhood scraps and awful burgers in oversized baps.

The ride ends passing the entrance to Mineralwell park, where I was terrible at primary school sports days and as a teenager we drank cheap booze on a Friday night. I bring the bike to a stop outside my own house now, which is steadily filling up with new memories of family, friends and children.

A bike ride in the summer sun which only lasted a half hour or so and which I’ll feel in my legs and bum for a few days after, has taken me far beyond the seven mile loop, back through a lifetime.

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Health and fitness

Auchenblae and Drumlithie Loop


I really miss the scenery around Banchory but days like today remind me that it’s not so bad being back in the Mearns. Taking full advantage of a flex day from work I was up nice and early and left Stonehaven heading out towards Auchenblae.  I had vague the vague intention of going all the way through to Auchenblae but really I wasn’t sure I’d be bothered and my main focus was getting a good ride in and hopefully stumbling across a tearoom or some kind of cake along the way.

I’d been out this way at the weekend for a 17 miler just to get used to being on the bike again and like then I swung off the Auchenblae road at Carmont Station to head towards Drumlithie. The road from Carmont Station features a nice wee hill that’s probably the steepest part of the ride but is over before you know it, so nothing to worry about.  The reward is some stunning views over the Mearns, which today features a large number of wind turbines. I stopped to take a couple of snaps then pressed on to Drumlithie in the gorgeous spring sunshine.

When we were looking at houses last year we almost put an offer on a place in Drumlithie and part of me still wishes we had. The wee village was looking its best today, but I’m happy to be home in Stonehaven. After a quick pitstop at the village shop I pressed on through the hills of Glenbervie, intending now just to meet back up with the Auchenblae road and head for home.  However I hadn’t been checking my location or where the turnoff might have been and a short while later I came over a small hill to see Auchenblae golf course ahead of me with the village itself nestling behind it.

Coasting through the village I came to the Old Post Office tearoom – score! This proved to be a popular cake stop with a plethora of road bikes parked round the back of the restaurant. It seems there was a club ride had popped in past to refuel after tackling the Cairn O’Mount, rather them than me.  After chatting to them for a minute I sat down and tucked into a massive piece of pecan pie. That’s what my whole morning had built up to.  Wonderful.

I didn’t hang around too long though. Wanting to be home for lunch and then make the most of the fine weather with a walk to the harbour in the afternoon, so I left on my bike just as another bunch wheeled into the car park.  I almost made it to Stonehaven when I stopped at Tewel to take another photo and the Cairn O’Mount crew puffed past me with cries of “No Mercy!” and a friendly wave. Damn them. I’d been keeping an eye behind me for any sign of them and thought I’d made it without being caught after I had a small headstart.  Not that I’m competitive in any way…

Just under 27 miles in total as I unclipped back at home. Not a bad morning’s work. That’s a third of the daily total I’ll be doing in August at Ride The North so I’m quite happy that I can build up to that distance over the next few months. Now for a pint.

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