The Grand Tour: Fife and Beyond

Ramblings of an inveterate cyclist

I have been reading a brilliant book by Paula Mitchell Marks, ‘In A Barren Land’ American Indian Dispossessions and Survival. About how the Europeans came to America and wiped out the indigenous peoples. Despite the American film industries interpretation of events, it was diseases, such as smallpox and influenza, that people from Europe had grown an immunity to, and then carried with them to America, (and not just America) that brought about the demise of the Native Americans, as much as slaughter by the US Cavalry. While I was thinking about what I had just read, a little rhyme that we as children would chant came into my head.

Me Chief Indian Feathers,

See how I talk my Indian blethers,

Me got Squaw and a wee Papoose,

My wigwams better than an Cooncil house.

After a lifetime at sea, my father found employment in the pits of West Fife. Growing up in a mining village the talk was mostly about coal and the pit. Many of the stories I heard during those days would be humorous, this is one such story.

Pits had adequate pumping facilities for removing water from the working, pumping it from the pit bottom to the pithead. However during development work you might get ingress of water and if pumps and pipes could not be installed quickly enough this would result in lost production. Comrie was a particularly wet pit and wet money would be paid on a regular basis, as an incentive to keep production going whilst pumps and pipes were installed.

During the driving of a new road ingress water had been pouring in, so bad was it that working conditions had become unbearable. At the end of the day-shift and start of the back-shift the men held a meeting to decide what action should be taken. The Union Convener was having difficulty keeping control of the situation, the workforce were demanding to see the Agent.

During the quickly arranged meeting extra wet money was offered, but not enough to satisfy the miners, they wanted more. The Agent, unsympathetic to the men’s demands, suggested they draw ‘Skins’ (waterproofs) from the store. This did not go down well and a dissenting voice rang out from the crowd.

“Skins! Its fins we need”

More money was forthcoming and the men returned to work.

When my father went from shot-fireman to the dizzy heights of deputy, a sort of health and safety inspector underground in the coal mine his duties would now involve testing for gas, checking the general condition of the roof, and measuring water levels. This work would often take him into old workings and places where time had little meaning. Keeping track of time would require the purchase of a watch, however, coal mines and watches did not good bedfellows make. Dust, water, and a harsh working environment would all be pitted against such a delicate instrument.

The pages of the ‘Exchange and Mart’ cast up a likely candidate that would fit the bill. The advert told him it was shockproof, showerproof, dustproof, and came with a lifetime of service guarantee. The watch, cleverly marketed as ‘Aircraft’, therefore quality assured, could be his for the princely sum of 1 pound 2 shillings and 6 pence. Dad duly sent off a postal order for that sum and in return received a shiny new pocket watch.

To protect the watch dad fashioned a pocket made from an old piece of sheepskin. Once secure within this pocket the two were placing inside a Four Square tobacco tin, such tins were common place at that time, and not only did such tins have a screw on lid, but an airtight seal to keep the original contents in fresh condition, ideal for keeping dust and moisture away from the watch. Now the watch, secure in it sheepskin jacket and further protected by its steel overcoat, as a first line of defence against knocks and dents, was ready for work.

Dipping his lamp as he approached a team working at the coal face, one lad, on recognising my father, called out.

“Have you got the time on you Jimmy?”

Dad removed the watch, first from its metal case, then its sheepskin jacket, but before he could read off the time the lad called out again, in a voice loud enough for all to hear.

“A telt yi Jimmy had money, even his watch has a fur coat”

No photo description available.

On the 17th February 1958, CND was established; I can not believe I have been supporting and marching in step with CND for over sixty years now. I was in the RAF the following year and had been posted to Hemswell, in Lincolnshire for a few months. Hemswell at the time, the home base of Britain’s first line of defence, their Thor Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles. Hemswell had five satellite stations scattered around Lincolnshire, where the missiles were housed and would, if required, be fired from. It would take around one hour to take the missiles from their silos, stand them upright and fill them with liquid oxygen and nitrogen, knowing full well that we had a maximum of only three minute warning of incoming missiles from (the old bogeyman) Russia, via any of our radar stations scattered around the country. I’m sure if we were on anyone’s hit list, Hemswell and her satellite station would have had a circle drawn around them with a notice saying ‘No immediate danger’. Not only were they inadequate as defence against a first strike, the Americans had already developed solid fuel rockets (the minute man) that could be in permanent readiness and presumably the Russians had a similar rocket system too, so Britain’s first line of defence was already obsolete, but we went through the motions anyway, much like Britton’s nuclear submarine deterrent today, political rather than stategical.

When moving these rockets around, mostly shipping them from site to RAF Scampton to be loaded onto Globemaster aircraft and taken to America for servicing and/or test firing. This was a real pantomime and would require a convoy with an American officer, alongside the driver in the truck carrying the missile, or missiles warhead. He, of course, came complete with sidearms. As you can imagine this was a slow process on such narrow roads and a stop would be made in Market Raisen for NAAFI break. The officers would go off to the tea rooms, other ranks, the little village café. The café had no shiny Jukebox, however, the owner did have a portable record player, on which he would play his collection of Jazz LP, his customers could choose tracks. So popular did this café become that bikers and young students from around the area were drawn to it like they had been when school students to the back of the school bikeshed. I frequented the café a lot at that time travelling there on my beautiful little 1959 350cc Velocette Viper motorcycle, like the image below (which belonged to me and the hire purchase firm).

$_57

I soon became involved with CND and went on early marches and rallies in and around London; the A15 to Peterborough, there to pick up the A1 south, was a well-trodden path for me and the RAF Club in London gave me accommodation for the night. My riding gear consisted of an RAF Second World War sheepskin flying jacket, white woolen sea-boot stocking turned over the top of Wellington boots, ex WD goggles, a pudding basin skid lid, (a motorcycle helmet that resembled a pudding basin with ear flaps) and to complete my attire I had a scarf pulled up over my mouth and nose.

The trips south would be punctuated with calls at transport cafes that were dotted all the way along major trunk roads, none more famous for bikers than the Ace Café on London’s Outer Ring Road. Transport cafes were hot noisy places with their obligatory shiny jukebox and where the main food served was a mixed grill (a big fry up) You would garble your order through frozen lips and received in return a big pint mug of steaming strong tea. Cradling this in both hands, until enough feeling came back into frozen face you would attempt a drink; even then you dribbled tea down your chin like a geriatric OAP. Although the speed limit for lorry’s had been lifted from 20 MPH a fully laden lorry would have had difficulty breaking even that limit and with duel carriageways still few and far between big convoys of trucks, resembling trains rather than road transport plied up and down Britain’s highways and byways at the speed of the slowest truck, a motorcycles was really the only way to pass on through such convoys. Not until the building of the A1M motorway did things start to change. As ever Britain was the cow’s tail when it came to forward planning and transport companies rather than buy British went to Sweden, (Volvo) Germany (Mercedes) and Holland (DAF) to buy their new trucks that were capable of sustaining high speeds on the new motorway, (Europe having had Autobahns since the 1940s) this was the final nail in the coffin of HGV vehicle manufacture in the UK.

One day when the RAF unveiled one of their missiles on an exercise, they were less than happy to find a CND sticker plastered on its side. You just would not believe the howls that when up when the smelly stuff hit the fan. We were treated to endless patrols, guard duties, exercises, you would have thought world war three had broken out, thankfully they never found the culprit, he would have been hung drawn and quartered, not by the powers at being, but by his ‘no longer’ mates, having subjected them to many extra duties and marching up and down. Strangely enough, the Snowdrops (RAF Military Police) did not suspect a lowly Airman running around with a CND sticker on the back mudguard of his motorcycle and one prominently displayed on the back of his pudding basin helmet; anyway I was posted to Germany soon after that little episode, phew!

Again today the cloud base in St Andrews was down at zero as I set out on my ride, a far cry from a beautiful day in spring (2020) when I cycled to Lindor Abbey

Monday rest day and I slept on until after 8 o’clock although I had been in bed before 10 o’clock the evening before. I whiled away the day not doing very much and later went off down to the harbour and sat there a while, daydreaming, I didn’t seem to have any get up and go this morning.

Tuesday a completely new ball game, up with the larks feeling good to go, lights, camera, action. There was still a chill in the morning air as I travelled the road into Cupar, by now a well-worn path. I stayed on the A91 all the way to Melville Lodges roundabout and just a few hundred yards further on I called in to see the Windmill converted to a Dove Cot.

The dovecot is circular and was apparently converted from a windmill. The internal diameter is 12 feet and the walls are 3 feet thick. The roof is covered with Scottish slate, unlike welsh slate, these are a bit misshaped and when laid have a unique textured look. The dovecot stands upon a flat-topped mound 20.0m in diameter and 3.0m high. Beneath the mound is a barrel-vaulted mound measuring 12.0m deep by 3.0m wide and 2.5m high, there is no apparent communication with the dovecote above. There is a similar mill with a vaulted chamber below at Dunbarney Perthshire, dated, mid to late 17th century.

Back on the A91 I turned off for Collessie, at first I thought I had turned onto a farm track by mistake, but no, up a wee climb and I was in Collessie. On the way up I passed a field with five horses, thereto was a young foul, all seemed to be of a heavy horse breed with big feet. Which for some reason reminded me of the film Notting Hill.

In the film Anna Scott (played by Julia Roberts) was chilling on the settee in William Thatcher’s (played by Hugh Grant) living room,

Anna, “you have big feet”

William, “yes”

Anna, you know what they say about big fee?

William “no, what do they say about big feet?”

Anna, “big feet – big – shoe size”

When I returned home, I looked up Newton Farm and found the breed of horse to be Clydesdale, and that the farmer was one Ronnie Black, dedicated to saving the breed.

There is a Pictish standing stone in the field beyond the farm. Carved on the surface of the stone is a large human figure and two symbols. The figure is walking towards the left and carrying a large rectangular shield and a spear. There is an arch symbol over traces of what has been identified as a Pictish beast. I have seen pictures of this stone but since we are in lock-down and to get to the stone you have to go through the farm and farmers field to get to it, I though better left for another day.

It was such a beautiful day, and all around I found all manner of wild fauna and lots and lots of primroses.

I stopped off at the church to drink from my bottle and wander around, the church it’s actually up for sale, I could imagine the sales pitch “well-maintained building, very quiet neighbours”. Although only a few miles from Cupar this village seems far from the maddening crowds.

I dropped down the steep narrow road turned right at the bottom and headed for Lindores Loch, this is God’s own country the road follows closely the railway line to Dundee, weaving its way along the valley floor. A train did pass along the line as I cycle on and I was surprised how quiet it was. The loch was a mirror with the odd willow the wisp scurrying across its surface. This is cycling at its best.

I left the road after the village of Lindores to visit the church on the far bank of the loch, both gates were chained shut but I still managed to get a good idea of its size and shape, the bell-tower with its large swinging bells was a surprise. When I lived in Bingley I took up bell ringing, we practised every Tuesday and rang peels on a Sunday, also if there was a wedding, we would ring the bells then. I did learn to manage the bell, holding it at the top of its stroke, but my timing was all over the place (is that a bum note I hear you play there Walter) The bells made so much noise I often wondered if anyone noticed my mistiming? Strangely enough, if I did not try to concentrate so hard and simply let the rhythm take charge I was better, better as in relative.

The present church was built in 1826/27, to a design by William Bum, replacing the pre-reformation church, St Magridin’s, which stands as a ruin nearby. That church was consecrated by Bishop David de Bernham in 1242 and in pre-Reformation days was under the control of Lindores Abbey. Abdie and Dunbog parishes became a united charge under one minister from December 1965, with the church building in Dunbog closing in 1983 upon the ecclesiastical parish of Abdie and Dunbog being linked with Newburgh.

The parish seems original to have had the name Lindores. However, when Lindores Abbey was granted a charter in 1178, the monks kept the old name and thereafter called the parish Abdie (or Abden), meaning “The lands pertaining to the Abbey of God”.

Back on the A913 I turned left for the Den of Lindores, this is a long downhill run all the way into Newburgh. I stopped off at the old castle ruin to take some photographs and a lad pulled up on his bike for a blether. His was an electric bicycle, in that typical Dutch style (sit up and beg). I said I may have to buy one of those in a few years time, to aid me on the hills. He said he bought it when he retired (did not say when he retired but later told me he was 71 years old) and has covered 4 thousand miles on the bike, now that’s a lot of miles. He told me that the buildings we were standing next to were the old farm steading. They were bought some years back and the buyer removed the roofs and was intending to pull them down and build houses there in their place. He had not heard anything more about the building of houses since, (possibly the buildings are listed and can not be knocked down). I got the feeling he would have blathered all day, so I made my excuses and went off to photograph the old ruined castle.

On into Newburgh village turning at the filling station and into Lindores Abbey. This is a massive site, it must have been one impressive abbey in its day. The remains of the abbey are very fragmented but it is still possible to work out the basic layout. The Cloisters were straight ahead as you enter the gate. To the right of what would have been a quadrangle are the Chapter House, so-called because this is where the daily reading of the chapter, the rules of St Benedict read aloud (learning by rot) and what remains of the south wing of the Choir. Beyond the Cloister quadrangle is the remanent of the wall that would have formed the main building the North Aisle and Nave with a Bell Tower in the north-west corner. You will see the round stumps of pillars that would have once held up the roof in the Nave. The remains of two child-size stone coffins, which are said to belong to Earl David’s children can still be seen in the south transept.

The Abbey was founded in 1190 by David earl of Huntingdon (grandson

of David 1st) it was inhabited by Tironensians monks, the Tironensians had a number of important houses in Scotland but it was very much a Scottish sect and hardly found outside Scotland. David 1st was a great patron of the Tironensians and founded an abbey at Selkirk (later moved to Kelso) and was the first house of the ‘reformed’ Benedictine religious orders.

I returned home on the A913 into Cupar where I picked up the A91 for home. Using the main roads is fine during the ‘stay at home’ shutdown, for the traffic is light and the road surfaces in better condition than ‘B’ roads and unclassified, so it is much easier to keep a good momentum going. Today was a bit special.

Over the last few months, I have travelled extensively around North East Fife and I can not contain myself any longer. The amount of aluminum cans, the contents of which, if marketing men are to be believed, gives you wings, and after drinking such a liquid, even pigs can fly, Aye right. Whatever the merits of the contents of such a beverage, please, please, please, once the can is empty stick it in the back of your cycling jacket and take them home with you. One thing I do know, there are no fairies, with or without wings, coming during the night to pick up all those empty cans, I see at frequent intervals along the side of the road.

The sea fog hung over St Andrews as I removed the bike from the back of my van, lights on, cycling top zipped up to the neck and I was off. The air was cold, a big change from yesterday, but I seem to peddle stronger in such conditions.

The thing I love about cycling, you are given time to yourself, time to look around at the world, make up silly little rhymes in your head, dream up new adventures. Back in the 60s, we were told that machines would take the grind out of our working day and we would all be working a three day week (we did for a time during the strike, could never understand why that did not continue, we produced more as a country in those three days than we did in five, where was the Unions?) Then came the 80s the age of the digital revolution. Again we were told how that would change our lives forever and for the better, what would we do with all this leisure time?

I was on a construction site some years back and overheard the site agent and the foreman in conversation. The agent seeing a drain layer stop and roll a cigarette commented on the amount of site time that must be wasted rolling cigarettes. I’m sure the same agent if he were on a site today would have the same comment, not about cigarette rolling but mobile phones. I can not help but wonder if all this automation and digital technology have really given us any more freedom? How much of our day do we spend on a mobile phone, talking, texting? On a computer e-mailing of involved in social media, or simply staring at a television screen?

The lockdown has given me the opportunity to cycle around North East Fife on relatively empty roads, what a treat. Alas, my cycling has been far more successful than the publishing of my log, it has been somewhat neglected. I hope to make a menses by posting some of my trips over the next, days, week, and by so doing redeem myself.     

The air was still, so as good a day as any to do my run along the coast from Elie to Anstruther via Killie Castle and Kilconquhar.

The A917 out of St Andrews, at Brownhills I wheeled onto the B9131 for Anstruther. 8 miles on my first port of call the Dovecote at Pitkierie, the structure is situated out in the middle of a newly sown field of potatoes, so long-distance shot.

Then on unclassified roads as far as Kellie Castle. As you can see from the photograph it, like everything else, in lock-down. I wanted to walk over to the Kellie Castle dovecot but I did not like the look of the Lamas, they looked placed enough, but it’s the quiet one you have to watch.

Kellie Castle is one of the most homely of all the Fife castles, and much of that is down to James Lorimer, father of the architect Sir Robert Lorimer, it was he that did much or the restoration work after he bought the property in 1878. The earliest part of the castle dated back to the 1500s and was built by a member of the Oliphant family. The castle passed to Viscount Fentoun, later first Earl of Kellie in 1617 and various changes were made over the following years, Several fine plaster ceilings were inserted, one dated 1617 and another 1676, whilst other alterations were made in the course of the eighteenth century. But what is most remarkable when you look at Kellie Castle is how all of these alterations seem to compliment each other.

A few cyclists on the road today, one serious, the others like me tourists. The road from Kelly Castle to Kilconquhar, was very quiet. Kilconquhar the land the time forgot, and where I meet a horse and buggy, the owner having a chin-wag with his close neighbour.

The church here is particularly beautiful built-in rich red sandstone, not the best of photographs.

It is only a couple of miles from here down to the start of our coastal trip, Earlsferry. The ruin to the west of the chapel is those of the hospital of Ardross (not Elie or Earlsferry). This was the north end of the ferry from North Berwick, and used by travellers and pilgrims alike. Founded in 1154 by Duncan, fourth Earl of Fife, and granted by Duncan, fifth Earl, to the nuns of North Berwick. There is little left of what could have been the boundary walls of a hospital but the photograph is of the chapel that was here and possible a cemetery attached to the hospital as the earth around it is full of human bones. The chapel was built by MacDuff, Earl of Fife, in 1093 and repaired in 1830. now a ruin.

Elie was my home for many years and I know it well having walked most of it. I decided to take a trip out to Elie Ness where the lighthouse stands. The path is simply that, a path and I am no off road cyclist, this is hard work and a bit scary. The lighthouse was commissioned in the early part of the 20th century, the reason put forward for the lighthouse here was that when off Elie Ness in bad weather they could not see the light at the Isle of May and Inchkeith. The builder would be David Alan Stevenson B.Sc. F.R.S.E. M.Inst. CE, and if that was not enough – grandson of Robert Stevenson of Bell Rock fame and cousin of Robert Louis Stevenson.

In September 1907 permission from the admiralty was received to approach Coast Guard to Become attendants and on 16th October 1907 financial terms were agreed with HM Coast Guard and reserve Edinburgh that the Coast Guardsmen Stationed at Elie would become attendants of the light. Work on the lighthouse started in December 1907 and was completed by June 1908. On the first of October 1908 notice was given to mariners that the light would be exhibited form Elie Ness, flashing white – one every six seconds all around the horizon.

Just one hundred yards or so further on is Lady Anstruther’s Tower. It was built in 1770 for Jenny Anstruther, daughter of a Scottish Merchant. She was renowned for her beauty, and reputed to be a bit of a flirt. She used the tower to relax in after her skinny dipping activities in the sea below, changing in the man-made cave there. Prior to her immersion she would send a servant into the town of Elie to ring a bell to let residents know to stay away.

A bell would ring around the town,

To tell the folk that Lady Jenny was going down,

For a wee dip in the sea,

Now since the Lady preferred swimming starker,

She wouldn’t want no nosy Parkers,

Do you see?

Back onto the main road and a mile or so up the coast we find Ardross Castle although little now remains.

The ruins of Ardross Castle, dating back to at least the 15th century, the castle occupies a fine defensive coastal position standing high on sandstone cliffs overlooking a sandy beach below.

In 1068 a Northumbrian knight named Merleswain came to Scotland, and was granted lands in Fife. The first mention of Ardross seems to occur in the mid-12th century. Merleswain’s grandson, also named Merleswain, was granted a charter of Ardross by William the Lion in the last quarter of the 12th century.

Sir William Dishington married Elizabeth Bruce, sister of Robert the Bruce, around 1309, and one of their sons, also Sir William Dishington, later became the Sheriff of Fife. Some historians have the first Sir William as the builder of Ardross Castle, while some have the second Sir William. Although the remains of the castle have often been ascribed to the 15th century, it seems entirely possible that it was built at an earlier date, and for either Sir William to have been responsible it would certainly have been built in the 14th century.

Certainly in 1402 the second Sir William’s son, Thomas Dishington, received a charter from Robert II granting him the barony and castle of Ardross after they were resigned by his father, while also referring to him as “dilecto nepoti nostro” (our dear nephew). The fact that the castle is specifically mentioned certainly suggests it was in existence in the 14th century.

The castle has had a few owners over its lifetime and in 1853 Sir Wyndham Anstruther sold the Elie estates to William Baird, son of Alexander Baird of Lockwood, and as such Ardross Castle became his property.

Following Baird’s death in 1864, the Elie estates, including Ardross Castle, passed to his son, William Baird of Elie.

In 1928 the estates were sold to Sir Michael Nairn, and they are now owned by the Elie Estate Trust, which is under the stewardship of Sir Michael’s grandson, Sir Michael Nairn.

The Fife Coastal Path passes through the ruins of Ardross Castle, between the two buildings, and so it is freely accessible.

At the roadside and in the grounds of Ardross Farm you will find a dovecot, it appears to be a modern building and has a skylight installed in the roof so clearly, the owner has found a new purpose for the dovecot.

Again only a hop, skip, and jump up the road from Ardross Farm is Newark Castle. You can get to the castle easily from the coastal path and the nearby bee-hive dovecot. But I was not on the coastal path. My way was fenced off and guarded by some cows, I am not sure the farmer would have taken kindly to me passing through the field so again long distant shots of the castle and dovecot.

The last time I walked the coastal path I did enter part of the ruin, or at le

ast the vaulted chamber below the castle proper. The castle probably dates from the 13th century, a time when Alexander 111 (1241-1286) was known to have spent some of his childhood there. However the current building did not come into being until the 15th century by the Kinloch family. In 1649 it was sold to David Leslie, a prominent figure in the English and Scottish Civil Wars, and was given the title Lord Newark. Following his death in 1682, the castle passed to the Anstruther family, and finally the Baird’s of Elie. Sir William Burrell (Glasgow shipping magnate, of the Burrell collection fame) wanted to buy the castle and restore it, plans were in place, drawn up by Sir Robert Lorimer, but Mr. Baird of Elie, refused to sell. It now along with the dovecot is a scheduled monument.

On now and into St Monans, I did not stop off at the harbour or the windmill not while things are the way they are. However if you get the chance visit the windmill just east of the village on the coastal path and climb up into the viewing room at the top for some magnificent view. Below the windmill are the Salt Pans. Salt was the third-largest export from Scotland after wool and fish. Salt pans were not only here but all along the north shore of Fife, mainly because of the abundance of cheap coal. The metal pans were flooded with salt water and fires burned underneath to evaporate the moisture, leaving behind the sea salt. The windmill above was used to pump seawater into the pans. There is little left of the house that would have covered the pans, and although the practise of boiling seawater for its salt content was known from the seventeen hundreds, the one we see at St Monans is dated from the eighteen hundreds.

Pittenweem is another town well worth a visit, and where you will find St Fillan’s Cave. St. Fillan was an Irish holy man, and it is said that God gave him a glowing left arm, so that he could read and write, in the dark cave with the light from his left glowing arm. There are all sorts of tales about the cave, having been used for smuggling. You can enter the cave but you will have to ask for a key at the local cafe, but again lockdown, so I pressed on to Anstruther and onto the B9131, and the ten (hilly) miles home.

It would have been good to have spend time in each of the little villages, and once the lock down is over I may try the same circuit again, for it is pleasant cycling on quite roads and no hills.

Such a beautiful day. I could have happily cycled on and on to the ends of the earth. It was the kind of day that could not be hurried, and the day that would determine distance, and direction of travel. Out to Strathkinness, and down through the dell to Pitscottie, sunlight slanted like spears through the latticework canopy of mature woodland striking the road ahead like points of polished steel. As the woodland gave way to a more sparse canopy the branches were silhouetted into beautiful, stunning patterns, bringing back fond memories of my trips to Paris where the intertwining branches of the plane trees would make similar patterns on pavements.

Dandelions have lost their heads,

No longer can be called “Pee the beds”.

Hawthorn hedges and trees were heavy with Mayflower. I believe it is known as a mass year, the strong scent from these snow-covered trees assaults your senses. And the Copper Beech shone like a burnished pot in the bright sunshine that flowed from an eggshell blue sky down upon it like a golden waterfall.

Even the stinging nettles today were at their best, reminiscent of when I visited Knoydart, a remote area on the west coast of Scotland. We were following a path that would have been taken by the carts that carried the barrels of Herring from boats that would have unloaded at Barrisdale and made their way over the Bealach (pass) and onto, what would have been the main road south, and the markets of Glasgow. It would have been a hard pull up and over the crest between the two high mountains, so extra ponies would have been used on the steepest parts and then when over the worst they would return to help the next wagon up.

It was winter and the days were short, and cold, but we were assured that there was a five-star bothy, about halfway across, where we could spend the night. It was the early hours of the morning when we entered what would have been a small village but every building we came to was less than a yard high, so we eventually put some old corrugated sheets over a corner in one of the abandoned ruined buildings and slept under that. Crawling out of my sleeping bag the next morning I found the five-star bothy only about 50 yards away. We must have walked right passed it, in the dark. My boots that had been splashing through bog and stream the day before, were now frozen solid. As we travelled on that day we passed many a home that had been abandoned (possibly during the clearances) but what was remarkable, in this wild and remote part of Scotland covered only in heather and grass, was that we found each and every ruinous building we came to had at its side, a neat square patch of nettles, easily three feet high, and black with frost. Each and every household must all have kept hens.

Then on up to Ceres, Cupar, and back down to Pitscottie for home. The roads were the busiest I have seen them for weeks, but it is OK, all the cars had stickers on their back windows to tell us that they were Tory Government Advisors.


The butterfly handlebars I had ordered from Amazon arrived a couple of days ago and having fitted them to the bike I took it for a spin to try them out.

I would normally ride a bike with a 21 to 22-inch frame and a 21 to 22-inch top tube, the one I have has a 19-inch top tube. This puts the rider in a much more upright position, almost a sit up and beg. Extending the top tube means a much flatter posture on the bike.

Setting up your bike, two things are important; saddle height, and the distance from the seat to the handlebars. Optimum saddle height is achieved by placing your heels (flat shoes) on the pedal and then turning the pedals backwards, your heel should just about start to lift from the pedal. HSS (high saddle syndrome) and LSS (low saddle syndrome) will cause knee problems. The other size that is important is the distance from the seat to handlebars. Ideally, this will be measured by placing your elbow in front of the saddle and stretching out your fingers, they should just graze where the handlebars fix to the steering head. When drop handlebars are fitted you have the option of sitting up with your hands on the top of the bar, with your hands over the brake/changer, or down on the bottom of the handlebars (cheating the wind). On mountain bikes this is seen as less important so the handlebars are straight. This is fine for control on rough ground but will be painful on the wrists after a while on the road, hands permanently in one position. This was the type of handlebars that came with the bike I am riding at the moment. Having mountain bike changers, I could not fit drop handlebars, but butterfly handlebars have become more popular; they are designed to take the mountain bike changers and still give the rider a variety of holds around the wings of the butterfly. The other advantage they have is that they are covered in a thick foam rather than bar tape so they absorb much of the road shock. Last, but by no means least, they extend (in a sense) the length of the top tube by around four inches, giving a much flatter riding position.

You really have to ride the bike to understand the difference it makes. As I came home along the straight out of Pitscottie I was able to simply rest my forearms across the bars (time trialing style), very relaxing. Really pleased that I made the change.   

Today the wind was from the north so that is the direction I chose, it should give me a nice easy run home. I fought the wind all the way to St Michael then turned off onto the Tayport road. As soon as I did the wind disappeared, sheltered now with trees, the ridge and a hawthorn hedgerow now dressed in springtime leaves. Soon they will be covered in white, sweet-smelling flowers. The day was clear and bright, skies deep blue, with fluffy clouds setting near the horizon.

Tayport was quiet and I soon found myself down at the harbour, I peddled my way over to the Northside to see what boats were there. There seemed to be no hurry to have them back in the water. The majority of the boats here are fin keel, fine here in Tayport where the harbour never dries out but a bilge keelboat would be better around the harbours of Fife – every harbour on the north side of the Forth dries out.

I spotted a large Ketch, now there was something a bit special, a blue water sailor. I was already on board imagining myself taking her down to the Canaries in December. Catching the trade winds across to the Caribbean, to spend some time there before heading for the Panama Canal. The currents and wind now with you all the way to Fiji, Loyalty Island and Brisbane Australia. A course north and around the tip of Australia, into the Indian Ocean for the long haul north and west chased by the wind for Christmas Island and on to the Maldives. Socotra and into the Gulf of Aden, the Red Sea and the Suez Canal and into the Mediterranean. Two years later to arrive back at Tayport. Then again, after such an adventure why would you want to return?

Dreaming over it was time to head home. I decided to return by the forestry track to Morton Loch, this is where the first Mesolithic, hunter-gatherers were known to have settled around 8000 years ago. The first stone tools from this period were found here by a local archaeologist, one Reg Candow. Then in 1970 a team from The University of Cambridge excavated the site and found good evidence of a settlement here. Today the sea lies about four kilometres to the east, but 8000 years ago this was the seashore. The site was probably an island cut off by the sea at high tide. We know they had boats for in their midden Cod bones were found in great numbers and could have only been caught out at sea.

Back onto the forestry track, which was in much better shape than many of the roads around here. A harvester had been thinning trees and stacking them along the side of the road for collection, the smell of newly cut pine filled the air all the way to the minor unclassified road that would now take me into Leuchars. Once out onto the A919 for Guardbridge I was flying along. I did not bother to go onto the cycle path, the roads being as quiet as they are I took the A91 all the way into St Andrews.

For a day that had not been planned it had turned into a very pleasant ride. The bike is doing well, it seems to have loosened up a little and feels much freer to ride. Then again maybe I am just getting better at riding it.