The Grand Tour: Fife and Beyond

Ramblings of an inveterate cyclist

Now in my 78th year and having been off a bike for the last five of those years, I was becoming a couch potato and having real problems with sciatica in my lower back and left leg. I went to Kingdom Chiropractic Clinic in St Andrews to see if  Dr. Francis Kelly, could help. He could, it was like magic. I decided if I wanted to remain feeling good then I needed to get myself a bit fitter and the only real exercise I loved was cycling.

I needed a plan and a purpose.  

We will be leaving the EU at the end of 2020, so it will no longer be so easy to simply go off to Europe after that, and  I wanted to do one last trip there. I could not afford to go into hotels or B&B every night, and camp sites have become almost as expensive as YH (youth hostels) which themselves have become very noisy, (or maybe I am just too old for youth hostelling now). 

When I had visited Europe in the past it was always cycling through, never really spending much more that a day in any one place. This time I wanted to enjoy some of the places I had visited and  spend enough time there to soak up the ambiance and enjoy the culture. This time it would be months rather than weeks away.

 I decided to purchase a small van. The plan is to  kit it out with a camp bed and my camping gear and this would be my home-from-home for the duration of my Odyssey. Although I am taking the van I intend this only to be a base camp for my cycling around a given area.  Once I had exhausted that area, I would move on to pastures new, and repeat the process. 

The places I really wished to re-visit would be the Loire Valley, Gorges De L’Ardèche, Paris, and Denmark but to see so much more of them this time around. There is one place I have always wanted to visit but never have and that is Stockholm, this time I will. Ever since I watched ‘The Bridge’ that fabulous detective series on television, that bridge has been on my bucket list.

You might well ask why I would consider doing this at this stage in my life, and the smart arse answer would be ‘because it’s there’. However, there are, on reflection, deeper reasons:

As a child I had a dark secret, I never learnt to read, with any confidence.  Later in life I would find out that I was dyslexic. It was an embarrassment to me, that continued into adulthood for there seemed to be no answer to my problem. My defense mechanism was my mask that I showed to the world and if anyone got too close, I pushed them away, or simply moved on. All of my relationships were with people that were more scared of commitment than I.  Most of my life I have been a loner, but never lonely, for I have an inquiring mind, always on the hunt for new adventures. In the movie “Knight and Day” comes this line: 

“Sometimes things happen for a reason”. 

Call it fate, call it what you will but when I was entering my 50s, by default, I learned to touch-type, I was now able for the first time in my life to communicate. Putting down my stories opened up a new world for me, and as I typed the words that appeared on the pages they started to make sense, I was reading. To improve my skills I started a journal, writing something each and every day.  Oh I will never be an academic but the joy that came into my life will never be surpassed. I am a great believer in : 

When life seems dark, simply hold fast, until the sun comes out,’ it always does. And when all your endeavors come to nought, it is simply spilled milk, move on.

Life is much the same for man and chimpanzee – a one-way ticket and no guarantee. I have been blessed with good health, and a natural fitness, throughout my life. I have never wished to be rich, and never envied those who are.  Dad always used to say “If you can’t afford it, why would you want it?” It made sense to me.

 I spend a lot of time in my boyhood with my father. Asking him questions was strange for he never came out with a straight answer and if I moaned about something, normally insignificant, he would say,  “Aye life’s lumpy, son”.   One day I asked what he meant by that and he told me,  “As you go through life, you will find it full of lumps, some should concern you, others are simply irritants.” 

I was none the wiser until years later I came to know what he meant. A lump in your throat, a lump in your porridge, a lump on your breast, are all lumps but different.  You have to decide which should concern you and which are simply irritants.

This journey of discovery is the one I wished to take a decade ago but life got in the way.  On the West coast of Scotland they have a saying:

 “When the Lord made time, he made plenty of it.” 

I hope that is true for this trip. 

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