Walking without a dog: Edinburgh Cycle Paths

26th January 2107 – An aside!

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Most people in Edinburgh live pretty close to some green space* – a patch of grass for dog walking, a play-park for children (and teenage smokers), or the grander Holyrood Park with its famous Arthur’s Seat and Salisbury Crags. Underneath, well, at a lower level than the roads, is where the network of railways used to run, and much of that is now an intricate, and, let’s face it, often very confusing, myriad of cycle paths. But, we are very lucky to have them.

On a very chilly morning, when my phone said it was -2 degrees at 8.30am, I set off through Trinity for a meeting with wise Jenny. There’s a new Sculpture Workshop cafe, Milk, at the Newhaven end, offering welcome hot drinks and scones, and they have blankets for the very cold weather, which is  nice touch.

Three hours later, when the edges of the leaves still had white around them, I spontaneously chose not to return home on the pavements, but to take the path less travelled (know that poem by Robert Frost? see below for link), and I discovered that nature is at it again, preparing for spring.

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Walking engenders trust, because every step I take is a reassurance that the earth is steady underneath me. And when I walk in nature, I notice that it changes, and that those changes are cyclical, reliably so. And if I keep on doing that walking, I become reassured without even knowing it. Today is a reminder of that – all around me is shiny and green. Look carefully and the bluebells and snowdrops are poking their heads through! Whatever I do, good or bad, the seasons shift regularly, and the ground is still there when I put my weight down onto it.

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Walking is quiet, so the wildlife doesn’t know I am coming, and I am startled by a bird flashing out of the undergrowth; a squirrel makes a courageous leap across the path and lands on the thinnest of branches above my head, sweeping and dipping backwards and forwards and up and down, as it tries to regain its footing and run towards the trunk. It manages to save itself from plunging onto the tarmac in front of me. Just.

Traffic noise is in the background and thank goodness for that. I take an involuntary deep breath, and hear melodic birdsong, and a repeated shussh rustly sound, as if something is falling through the bushes beside me. It’s a mystery what’s caused it.

I saw a wren, yes, an actual wren, – so unusual that it must be a blessing. It was fluttering in the fetid-looking, standing-water in the sunshine. Except it can’t be fetid because then I see a lady blackbird, and a sparrow, and they are doing the same thing, so they must know better, and be on to a good thing.

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A wren. Picture from the internet

A lot of the cycle path is in the shade in winter, but there are patches of sunlight, and that reveals badger setts. The black ice sometimes stays on the path all day long and my bike has skidded in the past, tipping me unceremoniously and painfully over. It can be dangerous in other ways: two of my daughter’s friends were mugged a few years ago on another section, and so I am repeatedly warned against walking on these ways at dusk.

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Like the Camino, there’s a sense of a community along this network, with political or family-day-out posters on lighting poles. There is evidence of little kindnesses along the way: a rubbish bag that someone has put out to limit the mess, which is regularly emptied; a baby hat picked up and hung on a railing just in case someone comes back to look for it.

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There are runners, buggies, and sometimes both – mums and dads running with the push-chair; there are bikes, some side-by-side chatting as they ride; there are single and multiple dogs (now that there’s a rise in people who go house-to-house collecting the canines for walkies while their owners are out at work); there are young and old; commuters; and sightseers with sunglasses and binoculars. The other day I was overtaken by a ‘proper’ walker, with a backpack, striding purposefully with poles; and there are folk on the way back from Morrisons with their shopping.

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I walk on the tiny strip of grass by the side, and feel-hear a familiar, hollow sound underfoot. Not the clatter of my shoe on the hard surface, or the thud I get when I walk on the grass under the trees on Boswell Drive, but as if there’s space underneath the icy ground. And it’s springy.

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For an hour I walk, and I am unaware of the news, or my day-to-day worries. When I walk, news becomes surprisingly unimportant. Walking and feeling the ground solid underneath me then seems to help me write about what is real, not imagined. ‘Soon’ writes Frédéric Gros, ‘you have lost all knowledge of the world and its gymnastics’. p.81/82 in A Philosophy of Walking.

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*Study by Catharine Ward Thompson et al 2013: ‘Contact with green space in the environment has been associated with mental health benefits, but the mechanism underpinning this association is not clear. This study extends an earlier exploratory study showing that more green space in deprived urban neighbourhoods in Scotland is linked to lower levels of perceived stress and improved physiological stress as measured by diurnal patterns of cortisol secretion.’ http://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/10/9/4086/htm

The Path Less Travelled by Robert Frost, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/resources/learning/core-poems/detail/44272

Edinburgh Cycle Paths http://www.cycling-edinburgh.org.uk/bike-paths.htm

Milk cafe http://www.cafemilk.co.uk/sculpture-workshop/

Walking without a dog: Forth Bridges, Aberdour, Edinburgh

Today’s walks – Aberdour: Silver Sands, tiny part of the Fife Coastal Path; Edinburgh: Lothian Road to Granton

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The journey from Edinburgh to Aberdour takes 31 minutes and it cost me £5.35 return (I have a Scotrail Over 50s card). What a bargain!

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Aberdour station has won many ‘best kept station’ awards. It is all co-ordinated in blue and white.

There was the new Forth Road bridge in all its glory! A yellow crane stood beside each of the uprights, and it was teeming with vehicles, and people in high-vis jackets!

It’s a bonny sight, and takes the number of crossings to three: the red rail bridge, buxom and with a reputation for needing a new coat every year; the old road bridge, swanky but showing signs of age; and now the elegant, silver-white virgin, as yet untouched. They all, more or less, connect South Queensferry to North Queensferry, and the views are impressive.

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Part of the red rail bridge in the lower corner
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That’s North Queensferry on the right

There used to be a train which trundled along where Lower Granton Road is now, taking passengers and goods to Fife, Dundee and beyond. It rolled onto a large piece of wood with rails, floating in Granton Harbour, and was sailed across to Fife, before it drove off and up north without anyone having to get out. How clever is that?!

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On the other side of the blue water, the white things all in a line, are the yachts in the harbour.

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Aberdour is an historic village in Fife – pretty, well-off, and you can see my flat from its sands. After work, I walked down to the beach and wandered east amongst the seaweed and rock pools (approx. 5 mins) smiling at dog walkers as I went; and then west to where the boats are moored, across the wonderfully named ‘Dour Burn’ (‘dour’ means ‘relentlessly severe, stern, or gloomy in manner or appearance’, and a ‘burn’ is a small river or stream) on the wee brown bridge. From there I joined the Fife Coastal Path onto the headland and around to the next bay. I am definitely coming back to walk that Path when I have time.

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The wee brown bridge..
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..across the ‘Dour Burn’.

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You will need proper boots as it is a steep, slippery climb.

There’s a municipal tourist board to help you identify the islands and hills you can see across the water, including Arthur’s Seat, Salisbury Crags, the islands of Inchcolm (the one with the Abbey), Cramond (the one you can get stranded on if the sea covers the crossing before you get back), and Inchmickery. Apparently it is the latter which was said to resemble a battleship to scare off invaders during the war, although I thought it was Inchkieth (the one I can see from my yoga class and front room).

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This is the first walk I have had outside Edinburgh city since I returned from Yalding (Kent) where I spent New Year. First I got the scent of the sea, the sea plants, and the sand in my sinuses, and they cleared (fantastic after my cold); then, as I walked slightly inland, the whiff of the newly disturbed earth and the wet bracken. My respiratory system sighed with joyful relief!

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This morning’s hard frost had given way to a warmer 7 degrees by early afternoon.

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Everyone was very friendly. There were helpful directions, and a Scottish version of ‘Buen Camino’. ‘Enjoy your walk, she said, smiling. I have a fear of going the wrong way. I think it is because I never have enough time and so do not want to waste what I do have. As it was I ended up at the ‘Silver Sands’ car park twice.

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I spotted a bird of prey I could not identify. I kept seeing an unusually long body part as it turned around on the air current (neck? legs?) and hovvered in the sky above. I asked a man with binoculars and he kindly told me the difference between a sparrow hawk (red tummy), buzzard (‘very large’), and kestrel (pointed wings). I am still not sure what I saw, but it was the size of a large gull. He drew out his camera and sifted through several 100 photos before showing me a gorgeous picture of a robin silhouetted against a dramatic sky whilst perching on his hand (which, he explained, was poking outside the car window) .

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2.30pm. It is February after all!

I enjoyed a green tea and scone at the McTaggarts Cafe (was that where I lost my keys?). Good service, delicious cakes, WiFi – recommended.

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Here’s another shot or two of the station. Only I can wax lyrical about a station, but it is so pretty. And it’s got a blue and white pot on a barrel (almost like a museum-exhibit, it could have come from friend Lesley’s kitchen), a most interesting clock, and a greenhouse. I have never seen a station with a greenhouse before. The man in red (can you spot him?) was potting up the containers while I waited for the 3.15.

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There is more to Aberdour than I that. There is a castle, at least one church, an obelisk, and a shinty club, so I recommend you stay there for a couple of nights.
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I gave a very enjoyable Shiatsu to a client after my return (or did the keys drop out of my pocket on the train?), and then I had my second walk of the day.

It was raining heavily all through the 50 minutes it takes to get home, indeed my shoes and coat are steaming on the radiator as I write. My toes got wet as I traipsed the first few streets, and the pools of water in my trainers had spread to my insteps by Stockbridge. Eventually my heels were soaking too – that was when I was passing the Botanics – but inexplicably they were still warm. And what a lovely walk it was. I had loads of creative ideas (eg I decided what my book is going to be about, and I came up with an alternative topic for the Eastwood House residential), and even if I do not get my keys back I will manage somehow.

There are no photos of this walk as it was dark, but I will take the opportunity to moan about the lack of street lighting, especially on Doune Terrace and Gloucester Street. And I will leave you with the last, lovely photo of the beautiful, blue, Firth of Forth. Sweet dreams!

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The Fife Coastal Path http://www.fifecoastalpath.co.uk/

McTaggarts Cafe https://www.facebook.com/McTaggarts/

Aberdour, Visit Scotland (I like my photos better!) https://www.visitscotland.com/info/towns-villages/aberdour-p239011

Granton history http://www.grantonhistory.org/harbour/harbour.htm

granton:hub, Madelvic House (where I learned about the harbour’s history) https://grantonhub.org/