The Grand Tour: Fife and Beyond

Ramblings of an inveterate cyclist

There’s quiet and there’s quiet, and my Old Year’s Night was certainly quiet, I did not even turn on the television to hear the bells. So New Year had come and gone without my knowledge.

Today the weather too is very quiet so I will be out on my bike, trying to ride off the excess of biscuits, sweets and corpus amounts of food I have eaten over the past days, I feel a fasting day coming on.

The book Walden, I feel much in keeping with Thoreau’s philosophy, I learned the same lessons but not in two years of the experiment as did he, it has taken me a lifetime of toil. Thoreau reduced his life to the basics, his house, a hut, he built himself, telling us it cost him less than a years rent in student accommodation, and he could live in it for a lifetime if he wished.

I had purchased for myself an old van and converted it into a camper-van, the interior was 12 feet by 6 feet and 7 feet high. Possibly around the same size as Thoreau’s hut.

The van was fitted out with mostly recycled material, the front door from a house, gave me an entrance. A windows from a home conversion light, and all from skips in or around St Andrews. In total, including the purchase of the van, it would have spent around £6 thousand, but mostly that was things like solar panels, inverter, chemical toilet and the likes, things not normally found in skips. Unlike Thoreau, not so much getting away from it all as taking it all with me.

I travelled to every corner of Scotland in that old van over a period of two years (around the same amount of time Thoreau spend on his experiment living at Walden Pond) and came to much the same conclusions as Thoreau. I remember when parked up on Ayre seafront, a couple of lads in a builder van pulled up and came to look over the van. It did have a magnetic attraction about it and I found it introduced me to some very interesting people during my sojourning. I invited them inside and offered then a cup of tea. During the conversation about the van, I said I would never be homeless and could not understand anyone who was, if you lower your expectation of what is a house, then a large packing case with air holes can be a house. I’m not sure they understood.

The book is about how man has not freed himself by acquiring more and more acquisitions, he has made himself poorer by his endeavours and a prisoner too them, unable to move for the weight he now carries. (my father would have called this flotsam and Jetsam, stoor collectors). Not unlike the lyrics of ‘Lock Keeper’ “Your anchor chains a fetter and keeps you tethered to the foam”. You make yourself a prisoner of what you collect and the way you chose to live. Many buy their property then spend a lifetime working hard paying for it, with interest, only for it to be sold on their death to pay for their funeral.

My father was a merchant seaman at a time when his accommodation on board was sparse indeed. This shaped his life. When anything new came into the house, (in the early days of their marriage) he would ask why it was necessary. Mum would react by telling him, if it was up to you we would be sitting on boxes. As a boy I would watch my father wash and shave, He would only put a few inches of water in the sink. I once asked why he never filled the sink to wash, he told me that would be wasteful, it was not until I had a boat of my own that I understood how precious freshwater was onboard.

Thoreau argues that man wastes a lifetime cutting stone to build grand statements, not for necessity. Those men who built the pyramids of Egypt, he argued, spent their lifetime cutting stone, they would have been wiser to have thrown the body in the Nile, and use their lives in more purposeful ways.

Having spent so much time building a railroad to the nearest town, the Irishman asked,

“Was the railroad not a good thing?”.

Thoreau answered that I could walk there quicker than you could get there travelling on the railroad. He explained that the fare was 80 cents, it would take you a days work to earn the fare. I on the other hand could set out in the morning to walk there and arrive in around eight hours. You would still be working for the fare and would not arrive until later that evening or the next morning. It was an interesting point Thoreau was making.

Walden is not a Lee Child adventure, that once started can not be put down, and maybe not that easy to understand if you do not have an open mind, or maybe have just lived a little. Walden is to be taken slowly and that is how I will approach it. Alongside it I am reading ‘A House Divided’ by Catherine Cookson. Yes, I know.

I set out on my run this morning in bright low sunlight, riding by my side and in perfect unison, my shadow, it’s nice to have company.

The air was very cold and my cycling jacket making a poor job of keeping the cold at bay, maybe I should go out wearing my motorcycling touring jacket. Although the roads were not too bad in the suburbs of St Andrews, as I neared Strathkinness they were treacherous, much worse than snow, black ice, and the many run-offs from the adjacent fields frozen solid. I soft pedalled my way to the top at Knock Hill and twitchy bum down the other side. relaxing only at Kinnaird farm, where I was once more back in pleasant sunshine I watched as a big black and white collie made its run-out and gathered and drove a flock of sheep before pressed on. At the bridge over the Eden, I made the decision to take to the A90 at Dairsie knowing at least I would be on a bus route that would have been gritted. I stuck with the A90 for the short run home, (the cycle track would have been just as treacherous as the back road) I was pleased to be back. Before stowing my bike indoors I hosed it down, salt and mechanical parts do not good bedfellows make.

Having skipped breakfast, brunch and now lunch, to give my belly a rest, I feel the better for it.

Stay Safe

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