Monday 23 July 2012

Edinburgh, Scotland - Home is where the heart is

It was another miserable, wet Sunday morning. Wind-driven rain lashed against the big bay windows of the waterfront guesthouses where, dry and cosy inside, the guests enjoyed their croissants and lashings of hot coffee as they looked out over the grey North Sea. Did they see the woman on a heavily–loaded bike cycle by, wrapped up in layers of waterproofs that hid the shabby clothes that she wore, tattered by the winds and bleached by the sun? Did they wonder where she had come from or where she was going? She was going home. 

That woman was me on my way north up the coast of Holland. I had battled across the horrible sprawl of Rotterdam in pouring rain the day before and was now riding in the rain again to the ferry terminal at Ijmuiden to catch the Newcastle sailing. It’s funny how there are key moments in life and you imagine exactly how they are going to be but it never quite works out like that. I had imagined this moment for some time. Although I still had some cycling to do back in Britain to get to Portobello, stepping onto the ferry in Holland seemed to me like the end of my world bicycle adventure. As the ferry pulled out from the quayside I stood out on deck and, as I listened to a favourite, melancholy tune on my ipod, I gazed to the horizon and tried to look well-travelled, windswept and interesting. But my music was drowned out by the ferry company playing at deafening levels what sounded like the comedy theme tune for Pathe News and the moment, as I had imagined it, was lost. Next morning the rain was still falling as the boat docked in Newcastle and I began my ride towards Scotland.

I cycled north up the coast and passed the seaside town of Whitley Bay. It was freezing cold and raining and a bitter wind whipped up white horses on the gunmetal grey waters of the North Sea. But the beach was full of people picnicking, swimming and surfing. You have to admire the Brits with their stiff upper lips, making the best of another bad British summer. 

The sun came out briefly next day as I pedalled by the sea and along the back roads of Northumberland but it was raining again when I picnicked below Bamburgh Castle and cycled across the old bridge over the Tweed at Berwick. It was pouring when I started climbing up through the Lammermuirs, the last hills to cross on my journey. On one of the most foul weather nights I have ever spent in the outdoors, I pitched my tent at Whiteadder Reservoir behind the sailing club. I re-arranged some of the outdoor furniture to get a good spot for my tent. The correct thing to do was to put it back next morning but I thought my own arrangement had slightly better “feng shui” and I had left quickly to take advantage of a beautiful morning, as early sunshine bathed the hills. 

I had chosen this particular route over the Lammermuirs for a special reason. Just after the last rise, where the little road from Longformacus comes in from the left and beyond the first bend, there is a stunning view of the Forth estuary. Today, with morning sun and blue skies, it was magnificent. Edinburgh nestled on the shore in the distance, the Lomond Hills of Fife provided a backdrop and the sapphire-blue waters of the River Forth stretched out passed North Berwick Law and the gannet colony on the Bass Rock. It was the route that I had set out on over two years ago on a ferry to Belgium. I choked back tears as I gazed down on the scene now and imagined an orange-painted ferry cutting its way through the blue waters and out into open seas. I imagined I could see a Scottish woman standing out on deck on the brink of the greatest adventure of her life. She had a bicycle below and a big smile up top. And I thought to myself … I would give anything to turn back the clock and do it all again. 

But there was already a small welcoming party gathered on the promenade in Portobello so I cycled on along the familiar routes of East Lothian and down the banks of the River Esk. Due to the rains, much of the route was under several inches of water but I cycled on right through it, just like Lausanne, my Atlantic cargo ship, ploughing through the high seas. A local cyclist pulled up beside me and said “Have you been on a bit of a tour?”. “Yes” I said, “a bit of a tour”. Minutes later I was pedalling along the prom back to my starting point of two years ago. The “Pauline’s World Cycle” banner that had been hung out at the start of my trip was up again but it had been repainted from “Start” to “Finish”. So my bicycle adventure has finished and I am back home. 

But I’m not sure that I am home. Home is where the heart is and my heart is out on the open road with a distant horizon, an ever-changing view and a colourful set of characters. And there’s another cyclist on my road and in my heart … a rather loveable Belgian man!

Brit pics on Flickr. Keep reading for the final installment and the competition winner.


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