Rest and Be Thankful

Posted on July 15, 2012 by admin

In Glentress Forest, Peebles, Midlothian, Edinburgh on 13 – 15 July, 2012

Nestled in the Glentress forest, amongst world-class mountain bike routes and big kid adventure parks, were the final three Tweed valley heads. And nestled they were, not just overlooking a car park, but in a small clearing by the Ponds Trail walking route. In a new turn, there was a rudimentary ‘hot or cold – are you getting closer’-style system leading up to the giants – as I approached, trees became decorated, enormous willow foot sculptures appeared, and signs were posted telling me to keep my eyes peeled, for their be dragons. The Giants’ homes themselves were marked out by rags tied around their tree trunks. The fact that they’re deep in a forest makes them a tricky find, but once you’re there they let you know that you’ve caught the scent.

The Giant Guardians were Eastgate Arts, based in nearby Peebles. I stopped in town to get a new inner tube[1] and talk to Mandy and Caroline about how the Giants had been behaving themselves. They sounded like they’d been very friendly indeed, particularly at the beginning. They were subject to a public welcome ceremony, then were involved in hessian giant mask making, giant flowers, banners, community singing groups, and the decoration of the forest as a whole. And the response had been enthusiastic, too. The consensus was that the community were  keen and primed to get involved with the Giants, and were simply needing a small nudge. The people who live in the borders are a self-selecting bunch – there for the environment, the food, the activities, the quality of life as a whole – and thus generally open to be engaged. The Eastgate Arts centre, just off the Peebles high street behind a church, looked popular and welcoming enough. As seems to be the catalyst for all these community centres, it was based around an enticing Café in an attractive space. I don’t know what this says about the powers of caffeine and cake to stimulate our artistic senses, but it could be worth alerting school art boards. Fuelled on this heady mix, Eastgate organise around 150 performances a year, 100 film screenings, and full weekly educational programs.

My time inspecting Glentress also served as a short-lived distraction on my way to Edinburgh. I was promised a beautiful free-wheel cycle down into the Midlothian plane, and it did not disappoint. Unfortunately “what goes up must come down” and vice versa, and I had to earn the view with an hour-long painfully slow and windy slog. Having breached hills and forded rivers[2], I met my darling cousin at the Dalriada on the Portobello shore for a celebratory pint. And the Saturday continued in a similar vein, involving old friends and excellent family, and a couple of hours of glorious sunshine. And then, all too soon, I found myself on the 09h00 Sunday service to Glasgow, staring down the barrel at a 60 mile west highland cycle.

At the very least, I’d heard rumours that for once the West coast and Islands were the driest parts of the UK. Unfortunately these turned out to be vicious untruths. There’s nothing like a solid headwind, lashings of rain, an infamous never-ending hill[3], and a brutal hangover, to make a cycle so pleasurable. At least once I was out of the metropolitan sprawl[4] of Glasgow, the views were the reward: Loch Lomond is lovely with its mysterious islands, and the view from the top of Rest and be thankful was just rewards. All this nasty character building stuff certainly makes you feel like you’ve earned the pint and meal at the end of it, too.

It was a long way to Inveraray, it was a long way to go. But in the end I made it, and now sit knackered in the Argyll hotel bar stealing their wifi. The friends of Edinburgh are gone, and replaced with tearoom/pub regulars and old couples who don’t talk or do anything but just sit in restaurants and tearooms looking morose and absentmindedly interrogating the floor. I get to be the poor git who arrives sopping wet and uses two tables to dry all his clothes, or installs himself in the corner with an enormous clunky laptop. Now, to see if I can track down some tasty seafood. I hear the big wet thing next to Inveraray is named after that nice seafood restaurant chain all over England, Loch Fyne. Maybe they do fish and stuff here, too.

[1] I needed to replace the burst inner-tube from Bowhill. Selkirk sported one bicycle shop, run by a retiree as a weekend hobby. No use on a Thursday…
[2] In a sign of unexpected solidarity, a large number of roads seem to have decided to help the swollen rivers look after all their water, and offered to help. By flooding.
[3] Everyone kept on saying: “Oh, watch out for Rest and be thankful, it’s a long slow climb”. I didn’t really understand what they meant until I got there. It was nasty, and exacerbated by brutal winds and a roadworks single file traffic system which meant I had to make it up a certain stretch of road with the pressure of a 30 car long queue waiting to come hurtling down at me. And no pavement/hardshoulder/verge to walk up on in shame, either.
[4] Glasgow seemed to operate a triple belt system. An industrial car-salesman belt, a broken glass industrial estate carpark belt, and then finally the green belt. Cycle routes take you through some funny places in a bid to avoid the serious roads. I don’t know what the national cycle network would be if they hadn’t had all those canal towpaths, disused railway lines and superseded bypassed roads to re-tarmac and give to the bipedallers.

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