Over the weekend we had beautiful weather - sunny, windless, almost cloudless. Before sunrise I could look out to the promise of a clear, bright, still day, as if it was perfect summer. Of course it is well into autumn, and being awake at sunrise is not just for dairy farmers and insomniacs.
On Sunday I dragged Carl out for a cycle - his choice of route, only I wanted to see some woods with the trees changing colour. Carl lives on the south east side of town, and has a good cyclist's knowledge of East Lothian and Midlothian. He led the way along partly official cycling routes and then some muddy tracks and back roads until we got to the scrappy edge of the green belt, between Edinburgh proper and the bv-pass. As far as I'm concerned this is cycle-through territory, to be endured until you hit the proper countryside. We ended up at the edge of Danderhall, an ex-mining village. I looked at the map and saw serious A roads and the impossible by-pass, and that we had still barely left the city streets.
We were opposite some big ornate wrought iron gates that were locked. We went a little further along and found a farm gate that was open and then we were on a public path - as unadvertised as possible - that went through farmland and suddenly we were opposite a perfect Robert Adam house -not one of his grandiose palaces like Hopetoun House, but neat, small-scale ashlar classicism, and looking as fine as possible under the sun as it faced us square on. It's Drum House and belongs to the Somerville family, who go way back and turn up in Walter Scott's Tales from my Landlord.
We went on past the farm where red hens were running about. There were only a few people walking. I think only the very local would know of this path, which came out near Gilmerton, a dodgy part of town. To me that meant we had not yet escaped the city, however along the road a little way we stopped and pushed our cycles through scrub and thorn up an embankment on to an old railway line - sadly not tarmacked or even gravelled or left as mud but with the tracks removed and the ballast remaining - an uncyclable surface as far as I'm concerned. Carl had warned me I would not like riding it - but he too couldn't stay on his bike so we mostly walked this, for a stretch of four pylons that were standing in the ripe barley, until we could see a tunnel and tarmac on the other side.
The tunnel was covered with graffiti - which is nothing odd - but a lot of it was quite good. Not just slogans, and words, but some attractive pictures, the colours very strong. There were some particularly good faces that were a bit Vettriano like, though sadly some lesser artists had half covered them with inferior works. Producing these seemed quite a challenge for surreptitious spraying. I was very sorry I hadn't brought my camera.
And it did seem incredible that the artists would come out this distance to do the graffiti - but on the other side was a good tarmacked path, where we passed a few people walking, as we went past scrap yards so evidently it would be guys from the local villages. However, they were definitely better quality than your average urban graffiti, possibly because their makers could work without interruption.
The path became lovely, crossing a deep glen at one point, and then we came out and we were right by the Rosslyn Hotel for lunch, a very pleasant eating place in Roslin. Since Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code Roslin attracts tourists to the carved chapel where the are clues to the Code, and there were plenty of Americans and Germans who once would not have bothered with an excursion to the village from Edinburgh.
After lunch we cycled down the very steep road through Roslin Glen, which is as heavily wooded as I wanted to see, but still green - a little too early for the full October colours - we need a few more frosts. I kept on exclaiming at the day - there was a chill but you could feel a warm sun, as bright as summer, but with the long autumn shadows in the mid-afternoon. So a couple of miles of this and then we were back at the edge of Edinburgh and the spread of new-built suburbs.
Carl consulted the map again and found another path, this one pretty much pure mud and so my wheels were well gummed up when we hit the road. We got to Dalkeith and cycled through the woods in the country park. This is horse country, and what with riders hacking on glossy backs, one on a Clydesdale as big as en elephant and huge Limousin (?) cattle browsing, among the trees of the park it was a pastoral painting.
Carl said he had the idea of another short cut, but we had been cycling for about 5 hours, it was getting late, and we didn't want any more mud, so after the usual pot hole dodging of this back road from the country park and with the low sun was doing strobe lightings through the hedge - October suns hit a cyclist's eyes and I have lost the visor of my helmet. - we hit familiar streets and were back by Carl's estate.
I was really impressed with Carl arranging this magical mystery tour containing the unexpected brilliance of the Adam house and the grafittied tunnel , as on the map this terrain looks completely hostile to cyclists - all A roads and the by pass and stretching suburbs. Sustrans could do a little tarmacking and signposting and joining up to fill in the cycling network in Edinburgh's environs, though that would take away our sense of being in the know - like when the obscure band you have been following goes viral.
I cycled the 5 miles back to my place, calculating that while we had done about 25 odd miles together , I tacked on an extra 10 miles going from Murrayfield to near Portobello and make from it a quite respectable 35 miles cycle. It was 6:15pm when I got home and the sun was setting. No more cycling after work - not that I've managed many in this appalling wet summer - until late March now.