Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Cycling in Edinburgh

Earlier this summer we spent a few days near Edinburgh with a friend we’ve cycled with occasionally in Germany. Her new home is in a small coastal town where an old harbour area is being redeveloped and cycleways are beginning to be included in street plans. As usual we had stuck a couple of bikes in the back of our vehicle so after a fortifying Scots breakfast we all three sallied forth to the nearby Ocean Terminal shopping centre to scope out the cycling facilities. Neil and I are fairly used to cycling in traffic and at first there was a reasonable cycleway. We sandwiched the more nervous A between us and despite a rather dodgy junction and a narrow busy section we made it unscathed to Ocean Terminal where we did find some cycle stands. It was gratifying to find OUR Swiss Cycling Guide (ISBN 978-1-85284-526-1 available from all good bookshops) on the shelves of the bookstore there. We located another short section of bike route leading away from the Britannia and returned home partly on roads and partly on (fairly deserted) footpaths. The threatened rain then arrived. We enjoyed a cosy afternoon sitting with A watching the seagulls as they dived and swirled in the winds outside.
Next day we headed along various of the ‘rails to trails’ routes, now through dense woodlands, now high over house roof lines and with new bridges to carry us over busy intersections. Our goal was the National Gallery of Modern Art, high above us on a river bluff. The only course downhill involved a steep grade with steps which we walked our bikes down without a problem. Then over a footbridge and up a narrow steep trail where the bikes had to be carried. Fortunately all three of us are relatively stalwart but we were glad to reach the NGMA and make spaghetti of the bikes and a bike stand. Lunch called rather than culture so we rushed to the restaurant. As usual in such places, the food was interesting and wholesome whilst the other clientele, probably retired headmistresses and ladies who lunch provided suitable background. Outside the herbaceous borders were a dream of blues and whites, alliums and irises which most gardeners would envy. We found a return route avoiding the valley crossing using quiet roads.
This outing was a great improvement over the previous day’s ride, though to be fair it is difficult to see how a cycle route could be accommodated between the Firth of Forth on one side and a busy road on the other. A shared pedestrian/cycleway would be the only possibility. These are quite usual in many continental countries but are disliked it seems in the UK, probably a few aggressive cyclists and walkers who feel threatened spoiling a solution for everyone.
A was so buoyed up by the whole experience that she went and ordered a Brompton folding bike immediately afterwards. Fine we said, we’ll cycle to the shop (biketrax), for we had been within a mile of the city centre on the bike trail. This was deemed too hazardous. Our grey hairs multiplied after the downtown trip by car. A is a good driver but the traffic in the city centre is something fierce. The Brompton has now arrived and despite the awesome weather this summer has already provided hours of enjoyment. A too has discovered that such machines are better than dogs or babies as a talking point, everyone wants to know what it is, where she got it and how it folds. She is still in the honeymoon phase where she is delighted to give a demo, whereas we’d be wealthy if we had a pound for every time we’ve played bicycle origami. Our Bromptons are still the bikes we grab as we set off for town and we ride them most days. Finally we are beginning to read more and more transport chiefs, town mayors and others advocating cycling for health and saving money and praising folding bikes like Bromptons in conjunction with public transport. Useful link: http://www.edinburghguide.com/edinburghguidebook/transport/edinburghcycling

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