Recently we moved from our suburban semi on the outskirts of the city of Glasgow, to a rustic cottage in middle-of-nowhere Galloway farmland countryside.
The transformation in my commute has been immense. How peaceful to see a deer in the early morning Scotch mist on the road ahead, that low-lying cloud that shrouds the valleys in mystique and muffles the whirrs of a moving bicycle, allowing me to catch wildlife by surprise. The primitive waddle of chickens across a courtyard. The stink of fertiliser still more appealing than those days in Govan when my route was downwind of the recycling centre. The terrain is more challenging but what better incentive to summit that hill than the revelation of another glorious verdant panorama at the top.
One aspect of my new commute that I was apprehensive about was the night riding. Galloway Forest Park is a designated Dark Sky Park – meaning it’s one of the world’s best places to see the night’s sky, and that the surrounding area is committed to keeping light pollution low. None of the roads that I cycle on here are lit at night. They wend through mostly fields and occasional hamlets of three or four houses. Most of them are the width of one lane, which necessitates courteous use of passing places by oncoming vehicles. I had worked myself up into a minor frenzy about navigating my way home alone down those quiet country lanes in the pitch dark.
Isn’t it funny how we perceive risk? It turns out that through years of battling through rush-hour traffic in some of Britain’s larger cities, I became totally OK with the very real risk of being knocked off my bike by one driver too careless. Friends and family balk at the thought of my switching lanes on an inner city dual carriageway, keeping my wits about me while double-parked cars stop or pull out at random on a major traffic corridor (Levenshulme, here’s looking at you), or assuming a primary road position on a road that observes the national speed limit. But me? I’ve been getting worried about a journey where I’ve mostly counted more rabbits than vehicles.
I have had to purchase a muckle new bike light to illuminate my route at night. The packaging states that ‘riding at night is an inherently dangerous activity’. Never have I ever seen an overt warning about the perils of sharing an urban carriageway with commuter traffic (though the road traffic collision admissions to A&E resus that I’m privileged to see through my work are quite sobering).
From anticipated dangers to unexpected ones: my other half was out on his bicycle last week when he saw a red squirrel dart up a tree and heard rustling up ahead, followed by an acorn to the head (he had his helmet on). When we lived near Glasgow a scally once threw a burger at him in town. How we thought that mindless violence was behind us.
Perhaps it’s no wonder, then, with the natural riches to be enjoyed by all who cycle in this lush region, that we’ve found ourselves welcomed into a large community of friendly and enthusiastic vélophiles in Dumfries. My new place of work has a joined-up cycle policy that includes maps suggesting cycle-friendly routes into work, and electric bikes that can be borrowed by employees who need to travel between several hospital campuses.
And the cherry on the cake of our welcome to Dumfries-on-two-pedals, was a cycle commuter breakfast organised by a local cycle group. In a car park overlooking the river Nith I was welcomed with coffee, flapjack and sausage sarnies and a choice of red or brown sauce by a sea of beaming smiles, jackets in neon colours and reflective panels.
I think I’m going to be right at home here.
20 September, 2019