Psycho Cyclo Cycle
Methinks it was Ernest Hemingway who said that “it is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them”, although I’ve no great recollection of dear Ernest doing a lot of cycling and although he did mention the up and downs, he didn’t mention the railway and tram tracks, current industrial and post industrial waste sites, recycling centres and sewage works and the suicidal motorway sections encountered in stark juxtaposition to the sea views, ancient landed estates, old mill houses and hill tracks which encapsulate the circumnavigation of Edinburgh in all its gory, glory.
If you think that opening sentence was long, then consider the run / cycle route itself. (Note initial run inventor Richard was Lathe seen just after Portobello and run inheritor was not Hardie enough to continue beyond Heriot Watt). A 33 mile circuit-depending upon route-choices taking in all of the above scenic and sensory delights.
Depending upon where each in the group sat in certain spectrums people chose where to start and stop, whether to run or cycle. Obviously, all options were bonkers anyway but the main contingent, the runners, set off from The Steading at around 8:30 and the cyclists bar one, at 9:00.
As actually running the absolutely atrocious route is way out of any spectra I might be on, I’ve traditionally cycled the route and this year was no exception and as I live en route agreed to meet the PCCs cycling contingent (hereinafter called the “PCCs”) at Drum Estate on the outskirts of Gilmerton village. A brand new cycleway runs to within less,than a 1/4 of a mile of Drum. When this route was a broken up, rubbish and tree strewn old railway track nightmare, it was – naturally – the optimum route. Now modernised and sanitised it was avoided in favour of the longer Burdiehouse Burn path. This path has several logical cut off points to swing off onto the Pscho Cyclo Cycle “route” the last of which is about 100 metres from my house but this last is way off route and I’d worried about the PCCs cutting off early and so set off circa 9:00 to head to Drum where I arrived circa 9:20. Naturally, the PCCs cycled beyond my house circa 9:40 before cutting off. Aye.
By 9:30 no show at Drum of PCCs team although several huge pelatons of cyclists raised my expectations as they passed by bombing down the Gilmerton Rd. Around 10:17 the BCCs arrived with bold, if pathetic, excuses as to why they were late and why they had ignored my mobile calls. Aye.
Still they and I were off and slipped down through Drum Estate, by the old but replica Edinburgh Mercat Cross the stables and oddly situated and outdated futuristic lights then along the front of the current Drum House before a wee dander through Danderhall and then out into open country again. After a shortlived period of fields it was back onto road and then a return to slippy, slidey, slurried, field edges before another road scoot down towards Mussleburgh.
The Honest Toon was outside our remit for the day however and so we cut through Newhailes Estate passing the old neo Palladian house, servants’ tunnel and grotto and through the remains of the picturesque folly over the river.
Our expectation was to catch the runners by Portobello Beach and we did, just as they set off across the golden sands. A rendezvous at the Espy worked to perfection although the bountiful staffw struggled to deal with an insurge of 30+ people all at once and let us espie the Espy especially floundering.
Whilst the runners once more took to the sands some of the cyclists had time to explore the ornate – although moulded not carved – but resplendate, remnant pillars of Argyll House and an old sandstone and mortar crenellated tower originally built as a summer house in 1786 before wending and winding our way through the considerable crowds of people “promenading” on our parade.
A brief regroup of runners and cyclists before Leith and again before another brief foray onto old railway line (now tarmac) after crossing one of only three extant although mostly dormant level crossings in Edinburgh took us along the edge of Leith Links where the runners and cyclists diverged as did the rest of the cyclists and me apparently as I went to look at the superbly restored Lamb’s House (now the Icelandic Consulate) whilst the other PCCs bods b*gg*r*d off. Following on, I got caught at the traffic lights at King’s Wharf and watched the other cyclists swing left onto the boring main road whilst I took the more interesting route down by the wharf to Tower Place and over the historic and hydraulic A listed Victoria Bridge and onto Ocean Drive with a wee zigzag around Victoria Quay avoiding getting trapped in the old rail lines or being knobbled by cobbles.
Ocean Terminal, exotic, expensive if eclectic, new housing developments, boxing clubs, warehouses and downtrodden industrial estate fight for their separate identities in the ensuing mish-mash of concrete and barbed wire and I’m entranced and estranged in almost equal measure plus I don’t know if my cohorts are ahead or behind but I’m more than comfortable with the route – if not the envronment -and the next stop off point – Cramond – so just enjoying the day and views across the forth. Granton harbour reflects robin’s egg blue skies, then beyond Granton the other PCCs hove into view ahead but Jonathan has a puncture and repairs are underway.
Quickly fixed and the PCCs (aye ok, me with them) reunited, we’re off again and soon battling against the headwind along the open foreshore towards Cramond. Pelaton time as we let the front cyclist take the brunt. Skulking at the back initially, I lazily let Jonathan lead and then move up to take his place when I see the pace slipping. Up front of course any previous ease was lost as I’m now catching all the wind. Just as I’m thinking “who will rid me of this turbulent breeze”, J comes good and again takes the fore. J and I continued to catch pole position whilst Keith wisely ducked behind. I was aware at some point that Willie M had “dropped off” but he seemed content to do so and with J and I alternating at the lead we crammed into Cramond to find Keith had also dropped off the back of the pelaton. Whilst we waited, Willie M, Keith and (runner) Digby arrived.
Our potential food and drink stop became slightly crocked when the otherwise excellent but busy Cramond Inn couldn’t do food in less than an hour, so a quick beer and we were off whilst the runners quibbled, dribbled and drabbled.
The initial thoughts were to get some grub at the Cramond Brig but we skipped that and headed up the interesting river (lots and lots of bike lugging step climbs and descents) and through Cammo estate lands taking us by the attractive recycling centre and round the perimeter fence of Edinburgh Airport where we were confronted by the tangled skein of fences pointlessly surrounding the tram depot. After contemplating having a Steve McQueen moment to make the great escape it was suggested that I shouldn consider the right and left options and wrongly as it transpired we opted left when there was a straightforward but unlikely exit stage right.
Fervent, f*ck*ng, frustrated, fierce and furied, fence uncoupling and recoupling later we spilled out into the horrors of negotiating dual carriageway roundabouts and pedestrian crossings across the carriageways. Inevitably we got separated temporarilly and Keith opted for simply cycling up the dual carriageway which the rest of us had already crossed, leading to a difficult and dangerous crossing for him further up. However, all safely across we cycled around the benign and calmer pools and streams landscaped into the Gyle techno park.
Some country roads and a climb to Heriot Watt, then the largest and biggest climb so far to Riccarton where we stopped to regroup at the site of the old Currie Toll House opposite the memorial stone to the mercurial climber and local lad Dougal Haston, the first “Brit” to climb the North Face of the Eiger. Keith arrived feeling like he’d accomplished a similar feat and in need of the sustenence we’d been deprived of at Cramond.
A quick repair to the excellent Riccarton Inn for soup and bread repaired the damage and led to a parting of the ways. I was on a hybrid whilst the others were on mountain bikes and I’d learned in past years that my bike, or me perhaps, was not compatible with the hill terrain to come.
So whilst the others headed up Curriehill, I headed through Blinkbonny – my delightful one time home for 9 years – and cut through to Bonaly taking the long way around the foothills to The Steading somewhat surprised to be first back but shortly to be joined by a fretting Digby also surprised to be first runner back and having a marathon moan about marathons.
The remaining PCCS arrived in dribs and drabs and after the usual convivial conversation it was time for me to slip off as I had to cycle home to complete my personal circuit then cycle out to Willie G’s to celbrate Chinese New Year with a dim sum evening.
That’s one of the nice things about life, as Helen couldn’t say “作為一個週期結束另一個開始” … (as one cycle ends another begins). Maybe all the recycling plants and sewage works en route have their place after all.
Of the Carnethy social runs, the Circo stands out as an oddity. There’s lots and lots of tarmac, it’s mostly flat, it’s really quite ugly in bits, and until recently it only ever touched one small hill. It’s also the longest of the (annual) social runs by a good margin… well, maybe not the Alt-JMW, but that wasn’t on last year. When reccying sections I’m always scared that I’ll be attacked by stray dogs, or that I accidentally sever an artery on some shredded metal under the A1. Or that I get shot by an irate farmer, or shot by trigger happy airport security staff. Each year I’m always amazed that we don’t stumble over a dead body, because some sections feel like an opening scene from Taggart. So, you’ll be unsurprised to hear that it’s also traditionally the least popular. Looking back on the old photos, for the first couple of years it’s mainly Mike O’Conner, a plus somebody else, and a cameraman. Yet…I seem to like this social run more than any other, god knows why. However this year I was dreading it, as I came down with a cold a few days before the run, and it was too late to pull out.
“You’re an idiot”, said my wife encouragingly, as I crawled out of bed at god-awful o’clock on Saturday. I was looking to offload the entire commitment to others before the day itself, seeing as I was a wheezing ball of phlegm at 7:25am, but that had failed miserably. Specifically, I tried to offload everything onto Graham as he knows the way. Unluckily for me, Graham messaged me on the morning to say he was bedbound with some nasty bug. Drat! Not all was lost, I reckoned I could do enough of the run to get people past the tricky first section to Portobello where I could hopefully leave the rest to Mark (backup plan #1) who should know the way, or perhaps even Cameron (backup plan #2) who has probably done the run more times than anyone else. As with any Carnethy run, it’s not particularly complicated, you just have to know the little connections between each path, track, trail, rail, and airport runway, otherwise you just add a couple of extra miles onto an already long run.
So, we group at the start in The Steading car park. Mark says has to bail out after Porty, scuppering my backup offload plan #1 and Cameron is unsure about the route from Cramond to the Gyle, kinda scuppering backup plan #2. Bah! The sun is shining, it’s crisp, clear, a little cold. In fact, it’s the perfect day for a run! Ah well, I’ll just see what happens. I open a can of Red Bull and drink the lot in one go.
21 runners start, which I think is a new record by about 6, and all bar a couple are intending to do the whole thing which would beat the record for all-rounders by about 10 folk! I can only blame the good weather. Among the mix, we have three Westies in the form of Cameron, John and Aron who have travelled through specially. Good lads! A good crowd in good weather, the gods must have taken pity on me.
Section 1 – Down in the dumps
Over the bypass, through Mortonhall, skirt some fields, cheekily nip through a farm, round some pylons and we pop out at the Straighton junction. All straightforward. Under the bypass, then through the nature reserve, then onto the old railway line that is usually a mess of dumped waste. However, in the past year Sustrans have cleared and upgraded the path to smooth tarmac. Ooooh, swish!! This should have provided better running, but they only upgraded the section for the first half mile until you get to Lasswade Road, after that it’s still the same mess of dumped rubble, fridges, bits of cars, glass and twisted metal. Ah well. Onwards, we come to Danderhall through some trees filled with even more dumped stuff, then towards the old Millerhill dumping ground. We shimmy alongside the new borders railway, onto the bing, then down new roads to the familiar dumping ground of the A1 underpass. We made it through without needing a single tetanus booster, another record!
The familiar dance through Newhailes, passing Newhailes House, reminding us of the prettier things in life, stopping at the seashell grotto to call in an order for food at the Espy. Around this time, Rodney Royles was leaving his house to start a shorter version of the run, from Cramond to The Steading. He’s giving himself a head start, and racing the faster main group to the end. He figures some food and pubs should slow us down….end he’s right!
A problem with the increasing numbers is the traditional team photo at “Edinburgh Festival City” sign. In previous years it was just Michael O’Conner and Andy Millard looking awkward for the camera, now the cameraman has to stand on the road to get everyone into shot. Fear gripped the crowd as Peter B stepped out onto an oncoming lorry, but thankfully he retreats in time. It would be a shame if he was hit, even worse if he was hit *and* a full Carnethy member, but thankfully he wasn’t and isn’t. Phew!
Then through Joppa, and the final sprint along the beach to the warm welcome of The Espy where our food should hopefully be waiting. We see the riders gliding along the promenade, timing their cycle nicely to coincide with the runners. Good work, Keith!
The Espy: Despite a bit of a warning, the Espy struggled a bit with the 21 runners, 5 riders and a dog all descending at once looking for food and drinks. I can sympathise, I really don’t think they knew what hit them. The food was good, at least I thought so, but not everything quite worked out in a streamlined way. I don’t think it’s anyone’s fault, mine perhaps, but I don’t know what the solution to this is. Hmmm, something to think about. Anyway, I was struggling and welcomed the rest. I drink a can of Red Bull in one go. Again.
Section 2 – Coasting
Back on the hoof, the main group loses Mike who was only staying for the bacon. Solo groups break off, with Richard, Rod and Digby all ploughing their own furrows to Cramond. The start is nice, along the beach to the sewage works, but from then on it’s all roads and pavement. There’s no other way to say it: this bit’s a drag. Tiredness is starting, it’s flat as a pancake, and the only relief from the hard tarmac is if you’re lucky enough to spot a pristine dog turd to stand on. I’m still struggling, so we pop into the Starbank for some refreshments. Some start on beer, but I decide that a port with Red Bull is the order of the day for me. With hindsight, it wasn’t, but it tasted good at the time!
Then to Cramond, along more tarmac. It’s still a slog, but the refreshments and break at the Starbank seems to have helped a bit. Maybe it was the port? I don’t know, but I was glad when we finally arrived at the Cramond Inn for their excellent Sam Smith beer. Unfortunately, there’s an hour wait for any food, so chips are off the cards. Euan and Lisa do the right thing and pop round to the café to get a sandwich, but the others stick around for their mild ale and crisps. Still struggling, and my nasal mucus has taken on a really interesting flavour, so I neck a pint of cola to perk me up. I decide that the day is killing me, and that I should plan my exit strategy.
Section 3 – On the up
We stretch out along the Almond Walkway heading to the edge of the Cammo estate. We lose a couple accidentally, one has had enough and heads for the bus, and the other (Digby) takes a magical diversion that bypasses the main group and puts him about half a mile ahead. It’s unclear how this happened, as I was leaving a trail of snot rockets for any stragglers to follow, but it happened none the less. I was adamant that we must go look for these people, it’s the right thing to do, but the heartless mob says no, and that we should plough on without them. I beg, but they’re having none of it. They cackle, and click their heels with glee. Ah well, god knows I tried.
I always enjoy the jaunt through Cammo. Across the field, through the woods to the old house, then along some nice rolling paths past the tower and over the knoll to the edge of the grounds. In fact, it’s the first section of trails on the run that doesn’t involve a discarded fridge, and a taster for the Pentland trails later. It’s also the first point where the Pentlands come into view, a tantalising hint of the finish. From here we shimmy through some fencing next to the council works. The local farmer has recently stripped the fields between us and the airport, leaving some nice stubbly ground that looks great to run on. We didn’t think the farmer would care, so we took a short cut across, it was certainly better than the roads we usually take. The airport squeezes us against the Fife-bound railway line and we pop out at the Tram Depot. Last year, we took a lovely wee jaunt through the tram underpass, but this year they’ve decided to surround the entrance with temporary fencing. A bit annoying, so we take the road and paths round the Gyle Roundabout and continue our previous route along the bonny, bonny banks of Loch Ross. Middle Phil decides that dinner with his wife is a better option that continuing, and heads to the tram for home.
Well, I figure I’ve done enough, my bed is calling and I figure the rest can take it from here. Euan steps up, he knows the way, good man! I keep with the group for the final crossing of the bypass, and over the M8 and finally crossing the canal. Riccarton Park and Ride will be my final stop, and I wish them all well. The hills look lovely in the distance and I’m sad to miss the final stretch as it really is the best bit, but it’s not going to happen. I have the legs for it, I’m just getting a bit concerned about making myself a lot worse.
I trundle back into town, wishing I was at the Kinleith Arms, and wishing I was romping up the final hills. Rodney Royles is already at the finish, having comfortably beaten the rest by over an hour. I’m sure somebody else can file a report for the final section. Peter’s photos of the sunset are spectacular, and are worth a look!
I think the following folk made the entire journey:-
The three wise westies: Cameron, John and Aron.
East coasters: Kathy Henly, Annie, Graeme Carracher, Alec Erskine, Euan, Lisa, David Harrington, Anthony Hemmings, Andy Barnes, Peter B, Hilary Holding. And I’d be really surprised if Rod didn’t make it round.
I reckon that’s about 15 Circompleaters, easily a new record! Add a few more cyclists, those that dropped out, and those that dropped-in, I reckon about 35 were involved in total. Things have certainly changed since 2008!
So that’s where I started my run, but for a couple of tantalising glimpses of the cyclists I saw no-one until popping my head in The Espy where everyone was tucking into nice looking rolls. Being super slow I carried on but couldn’t get egg rolls out of my mind. Happily there’s a wee café at the exit by the sewage works (glittering in the sunshine), and even more happily an egg roll is only £1.20.
A long plod to Cramond getting slower by the mile I staggered into the Cramond Inn just as the cyclists arrived. No food as they weren’t prepared for sunshine and people, but a nice pint in a roomful of dogs. No not fellow runners, just where you had to go if you had one, as did Heather, joining here with hers.
Setting off again I soon dropped a long way back, and wended my solo way through Cammo and on to the tramworks. The sun sparkled off the acres of fencing and I had no idea how to escape. Resigned to fence hopping I headed left and was halted by a cry. Somehow the fasties were behind! An odd route choice off the River Almond through to Cammo (ok I got a bit lost) put me ahead.
In fact heading right led straight out of the tramworks with no problem. The cyclists, without the benefit of a recce, picked the way I would have gone and had to endure a lot of fence undoing.
Crossing the bypass is an adrenalin rush (or to put it another way, suicidally dangerous) but the new business sector quite soothing with its ponds and waterfalls. And save for Jim waiting for a bus at Riccarton, and Euan stopping to check I was still around, that’s all I saw of anyone until the Steading. The new deer fencing at Bonaly is not very nice and the track is very chewed up. As were my legs as I glacially ascended and headed towards the pub. No Allermuir for me.
On this showing, should be a very slow London Marathon!