Bye Bye 2012, Hello 2013

Well the sharp, sunny days of early December didn’t last long and, since I penned my last blog post, I doubt there has been a day free of rain in this part of the world.

Shiny new bike about to get soaked!

At least 2012  has been consistent, certainly as far as the weather was concerned, and the first month of winter has followed the same dreary pattern set out in the summer and autumn. So, little chance to get used to the new bike and the few recent rides I have attempted have characteristically ended in soaking rain and/or complete darkness.

So, without dwelling too long on the 2012 negatives – take your pick from, amongst others: fracking and the undermining of the green economy, more cycle deaths and serious injuries, increasing polarisation of the haves and have nots – number one hope for 2013 is for a drier, sunny year. Although one positive, if  idiosyncratic, effect of the extreme weather, is that more people might just begin to accept the reality of climate change.

Celebrating some of our Olympic heroes

But 2012 hasn’t all been doom and despondency: indeed, the past 12 months  have produced some amazing experiences that lifted the spirits and defined the year in a really positive way. Danny Boyle’s sublime Opening Ceremony that perfectly and spectacularly epitomised, to a global audience, the true achievements of British history, kicked off an unbelievable Olympics. And, while in no way diminishing the fantastic performances of the competitors, for me the greatest achievement of the Olympics was its inclusiveness; that it was about all of us, not just the traditional, ceremonial Britain of Tudor monarchs, Winston Churchill and the Red Arrows.

One of our greatest cyclists - and a superb role model for cycling

My particular sporting highlights? Celebrating the continuing supremacy of Britain’s fantastic cyclists, particularly Bradley’s wondrous Tour victory, was certainly near the top.  Andy Murray’s deserved gold medal and first grand slam were more than worth the wait and the perfect response to the ‘once a year tennis “fans”’ who rate media friendly drones over true talent and authenticity. And, for a dyed-in-the-wool Hoops fan, seeing Celtic beating the best club side in the world was as incredible as it was wonderful.

Away from my grand stand seat in front of the telly, 2012 will always be a landmark year for me, as it marked my long-awaited release from having to work for someone else. And I sure took advantage!

The idyllic Crinan Canal

Freed from the constraints of crowded, expensive school holidays, I travelled to Argyll in early March and enjoyed the best weather of the year, visiting some of the UK’s most important pre-historic sites in Kilmartin, before walking the length of the delightful Crinan Canal.

A belated return to Florence, four decades after its treasures first blew me away as an impressionable schoolgirl, followed in May. It did not disappoint and nor did the train journey there and back, a weekend in Rome, a week’s eco-camping at the delightful Kokopelli Camping in the breathtaking Majella National Park, followed by taster trips to Bologna and Turin.

Rooftops in Florence

Italy in the spring, courtesy of western Europe’s superb high speed rail network, would be difficult to beat and it took another landmark trip to compete. Walking the West Highland Way in early September realised a lifetime’s ambition and it too did not disappoint. Loch Lomond, Rannoch, Glen Coe and Ben Nevis all lived up to their legendary status, but for me, the highlight of the trip was to walk from Scotland’s biggest city along the drovers’ paths and military roads, beside the shimmering lochs and magnificent mountains that encapsulate the history of my native country.

Another day, another view on the West Highland Way

So, as we say goodbye to 2012, what hopes are there for 2013? On a personal level, loads more travel, finances permitting. A return trip to Knoydart (preferably in winter) is top of the list, followed by another mountain trek: the East Highland Way looks interesting. Scandinavia and Poland are possibles for 2013’s European Rail Odyssey and hopefully the immediate winter days will be lightened by a forthcoming trip to God’s Own City either to enjoy Celtic Connections or February’s Film Festival.

Let’s hope the new year sees far more joined up thinking about the priorities of all our road users, particularly cyclists and pedestrians and a halt to the decline in public transport services, particularly in rural areas. Transport poverty is a real, but under-publicised, issue and one whose solution could also provide answers to the equally-important problems of inactivity and obesity. And encouraging as many of us as possible to swap our cars for our bikes and walking shoes  could well be the the most effective and longest-lasting legacy of 2012.

Happy New Year, hope it’s drier!

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Love this Winter Cycling

If a week is a long time in politics, then just a few days can witness a sea change in climate, landscape and mood. Gone – at least for the moment – are the dank, dog days of late autumn, suddenly replaced by the sharp brightness of early winter.

Sure, it’s cold, but  isn’t December supposed to be a month of short days and long cold nights? And the unbroken ice blue skies of the last few days have more than made up for any accompanying Arctic blasts of the wind.

One of the big advantages of flexi working time during winter weekdays is the opportunity to take advantage of the short window of ideal cycling time; after any ice has melted, but before the sun sinks too low and the 4×4 wags plough their way back to the school gates. Pick your roads carefully and on weekdays, you can also avoid the leisure traffic and the embarrassment of being overtaken by a peleton of Sunday morning mamils.

True, I will admit, this morning was just that bit too icy to risk riding before lunchtime and the biting wind was the Siberian side of north, but over the last week I have persuaded myself on to the saddle to take advantage of the cold, serenity and enjoy some of my best cycling days this year. Unlike in the so-called summer months it has been dry and still and the cloudless skies have revealed the full allure of austere, frosty-edged landscapes.

“Isn’t far too cold to be out on a bike on a day like this?” is the usual reaction of friends and neighbours when they see me taking to two wheels. Well, I admit it takes me an age to get geared up and ready to ride, but once I get started, I’m always pleasantly surprised how quickly I warm up and and the fear of sudden chill is the best spur to sustaining a sufficient level of effort.

And, in response to the second most common question I’m asked, no I don’t tend to wear THAT many layers. Trial and error have convinced me that if I wear more than three layers, I get too hot and they feel far too heavy. So, I’ve settled on merino base and mid layers, topped off by a micro down jacket, if very cold, or a winter cycling jacket in all but the most extreme days. Usually my winter-weight cycling tights are fine; if it is really cold, I wear some normal tights underneath. Add a neck buff extended over the ears and a pair of insulated gloves and, crucially, some fleece-lined bootees to keep my feet warm and I’m ready for the coldest of dry days.

My new bike has also come into its own over the last couple of weeks. Lighter and with a more comfortable riding position than my old Marin (and apart from  a slight reservation about the brakes), I feel more confident on the Scott.

So, after the wettest summer I can remember, I’m more than happy that the weather has turned colder, and drier. I might have to dig out my mountain bike if it snows but, until then, I’ll wrap up warm and make the most of the shortest days of the year. Who would have thought I’d need my sunglasses more in December that in June and July? It really has been a strange year.

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