Here in Scotland we love to moan about the weather and with good reason! I was a victim of the weather two days in a row within the last week. It would have been five days out of the last five had I not had a couple of days off the bike yesterday and today. The weather has either been wet, windy, or both for the last five days.
Why is it white?
Last Sunday things were worse than it has been since. I was on my way to meet my friends from Pentland Velo at Kingsmeadow Road car park in Peebles. The plan… ride the 89km (56 mile) Tour o’ the Borders ‘Challenge Route’. The problem? I think I may have jinxed us the day before by Tweeting that the weather forecast, for the following day, looked promising…
Super Sunday… Ride short route of @tourotheborders with @Pentland_Velo then watch Paris-Roubaix. Forecast good too
So imagine my surprise, when driving South to Peebles the next morning. I was met by cars covered in snow heading in the other direction. It was a bit chilly when I left home, but snow? Really? And sure enough; as I drove out of Eddleston, when the Tweed valley opened out before me; I was faced with a beautiful winter scene. It was an amazing, picturesque, snowy vista.
Needless to say; as we, my Pentland Velo club-mates and I, stood in an inch of slushy, melting snow in the car park in Peebles, we decided that riding our intended route was out of the question. Moments later we were back in our warm cars driving back towards Edinburgh with a Plan B. Instead of The Wall of Talla, in the snow, we opted for a fast blast along the East Lothian coast; returning via Pathhead and Crichton. Although it wasn’t the long, steady ride through the Beautiful Borders, we still had a lot of fun. We swapped steep, tough climbs for the flat parcours and the high average speed which comes with riding along the coast. Both kinds of ride come with a grin-factor, but for different reasons.
From White to Grey
Twenty-four hours later, I was back out on the road. This time riding solo. The day’s plan… drive to Fala, a village South of Edinburgh, park the car and then cycle to Berwick-upon-Tweed and back via the Lammermuir Hills. I was quite excited about this route. I hadn’t ridden the South-East Borders region since I was a teenager (quite some time ago!). Then there was the challenge of riding over the Lammermuir Hills… twice! That is a serious amount of climbing for a 140km (87 miles) route. However, things were not so great on the Lammermuirs. Yep, you guessed it… the special Scottish weather struck again!
Things were fine, weather-wise, for the start of the ride. At least as far as April in Scotland is concerned. It was dry, which is a real bonus, but it was windy. The wind is an almost constant factor in the South-East of Scotland, so I wasn’t too surprised about that. There was, however, a thick canopy of grey cloud above my head as I set off. It looked like it might rain, but it wasn’t looking like it would amount to much more than showers. So I put my gilet in my back pocket to put on over my soft-shell jacket, should it get cold or start to rain.
The forecast suggested an Easterly wind, so a route heading South-East was perfect. A headwind on the outbound leg when I was fresh and then a tailwind to help me home, on the return leg, when I was tired. However, whatever the forecast suggests, you can almost double the wind speed when you get onto the Lammermuirs. That was going to be half of my problem though.
I could barely see more than ten metres ahead of my front wheel!
As I started the long ascent out of Humbie, through Gifford, towards the Lammermuir Hills and the punishing ascent of Redstone Rigg, I looked up to see that the hills disappeared into the aforementioned thick covering of grey cloud. This filled me with dread.
I took my time on the ascent. I was only 20km into a 145km ride. Attacking the ascents now would mean I would be cooked later. There was no sense in that. So I picked a low gear and tried to keep my heart rate as low as possible; using long, steady breathing and steady, smooth pedalling to keep me from going into the red. By the top of ‘the Rigg’ I could barely see. Not because my heart-rate was through-the-roof, nor was it because I had sweat running into my eyes. The cloud was so low and so thick that I could barely see more than ten metres ahead of my front wheel. This hampered my progress across the moors atop the Lammermuirs and made things rather dangerous.
There a a few fast descents on the road across the Lammermuir Hills. They are scary when you can barely see where you are going. Add the dampness on the road surface, caused by the moisture within the clouds, and you can remove some of the grip from your tyres as well. This made corners on descents a worry. Not only that, but I didn’t have any lights on my bike. So I was shitting myself every time a car appeared out of the mist. I had seen them, but had they seen me? And that’s not all. The wind, which I mentioned earlier, would occasionally gust from the side, causing me to wobble off my line. My butt cheeks were gripping the seat, believe me! Lack of grip, visibility, cars, wind… the Scottish weather had struck again!
I finally descended out of the clouds into Duns, with a great sense of relief. Then came the thrill of flat, faster roads (even with a headwind) and the excitement that comes with riding on roads you have never been on before. After a well-earned break for coffee in Berwick-upon-Tweed it was back on the bike and back over the hills. This time, however, the wind was behind me and the thick cloud from earlier was gone. I even had a few moments of sunshine to brighten up my day.