It’s officially the end of spring, and four months since I pledged not to exceed my carbon quota according to the limits prescribed in the Paris Climate Agreement. While the milder weather has definitely made it easier to choose pedalling over motoring, the longevity of the 2021 lockdown has made our locality, lovely and large though it is, seem very small. And while our little car spent a lot of time on the drive in March, I’ve been finding it difficult to keep myself on an even keel without spreading my wings and travelling further afield, and a week’s annual leave fell at just the right time for some Galloway adventures. We drove out to different beauty spots in Dumfries & Galloway on five days out of seven and took a round trip to Newcastle to visit some family, and that was sufficient to exceed my April quota.
It’s pretty difficult to get around Dumfries and Galloway by public transport. If I want to travel the 10 miles into Dumfries by bus I have to walk a mile to wait for a service that runs three times a day; if I want to head out west to Castle Douglas, Newton Stewart or Stranraer it’s a five mile walk or cycle to a bus that may or may not be able to take a bike on board.
Nevertheless in March and April I mitigated some of my carbon footprint by taking public transport (did you know that, mile-for-mile, the carbon footprint of using the train is 1/3* of that of driving solo in a car?). Always one to espouse the merits of taking the train, I’ve been treated in particular to visiting the newly refurbished Glasgow Queen’s Street station and virtually having the train and station to myself (perhaps this mitigates the carbon footprint-diluting effects of the public transport somewhat…).
Much as this doubly-vaccinated, young healthy individual who has never been furloughed or forced to work from home during lockdown currently feels confident getting back on the train, there is a palpable sense that for many, the post-lockdown phenomenon of ‘re-entry’ back into normal society will be a difficult transition to make. I fear that public transport may be one of its’ many immediate casualties. There are a number of journeys I took by car this month that I would have rather used the train for, but my company wasn’t comfortable with it. What can be done to make public transport seem safer and more appealing? I’m encouraged by the new ScotRail Covid policy of allowing no consumption of alcohol, nor inebriated passengers, on the train. I’m less happy with having to travel with all the windows open but perhaps the extra ventilation will make some less anxious.
These past few months we’ve been making a habit of using Saturday as our errands-by-bike day. Castle Douglas high street is a 30 mile round-trip from our front door and I’d like to think we’ve got pedalling down and perusing the shops, coming back with panniers brimming with artisan bread and groceries, down to an art. (As an aside, you can eat much more of this artisan haul guilt-free if you’ve expended that many calories to pick it up. See here for the numbers stack up to neutralise a chippy tea). There’s a lot of beauty to be appreciated in taking your time on a well-worn journey, stopping and noticing things that have changed or were not there before. One of our routes features a field of emu and we’ve delighted in watching some fledglings grow, both in size and in confidence, while their plumage changes colour from juvenile grey/white to the deep purple/grey of their parents. Sometimes we pass through neighbourhoods where acquaintances live and it’s nice to stop when we see them out tending to their front garden, to pass a few minutes catching up with them. I’d never do that if I were driving. As much as Castle Douglas is revered for the quality and variety of independent businesses that decorate the high street, it’s also flanked by a Tesco superstore at the top end and had I driven into town I think I’d find popping into the bakery, the greengrocer, the wholefoods store, the chocolatier and the deli separately less appealing. But what a joy it was to be on the high street today, pedalling from store to store, and seeing it finally bustling again after months of closed stores and empty cafes and service only delivered via pre-order or a hatch in the wall.
It takes much longer to cycle everywhere for errands than to use the car, and many may not have the luxury of the time we’ve had at the weekends. But if lockdown has taught us anything, it’s that the fast pace of life we’d become accustomed to, the next-day delivery consumer culture that’s choking our planet, has been no good for our mental health. Perhaps we should think about redesigning our lives as we emerge from Covid to allow more time to slow down where we can.
When I travel by car I barely notice all the wildlife encroaching on the roads. The lanes round here are brimming with pheasants and partridge who haven’t learned road safety, and their squashed carcasses at the side of the road are testament to how easy it is to mow one over in a car even if, as presumably most of us are, we’re being careful. There were a couple of wet and stormy days in March that coincided with a major frog migration and on my journey home by car I counted over 20 that I had to stop for and move off the tarmac (I dread to think how many I didn’t see that suffered a worse fate). Conversely I can confidently say I’ve never hit any animal bigger than a worm while riding my bike (worm lives matter too, of course), and I also get to notice a lot more of my surroundings by travelling that bit more slowly, with my senses exposed to the elements rather than encased in a metal cage with windows.
Today was a prime example: two lambs had found themselves on the wrong side of the fence and couldn’t work out how to get back into the field to the rest of the herd. We hopped off our bikes and managed to corner the woolly little loves and carry them over the hedge. What a sweet sight it was to watch them leg it over to mum and straight away butt-butt-butt on that teat for comfort (OK, that bit wasn’t so sweet; I feel like they were definitely getting too big for these shenanigans, and mum was nearly knocked sideways). In any case, it’s unlikely I would have taken the back lanes home, let alone noticed what was going on, had I been driving. And I wouldn’t have missed that little escapade for the world.
1 May, 2021
*An addendum was made to this post on 24 July 2021 – I had originally counted the carbon footprint of train travel as 1/65th that of car travel, but more recent sources tell me this is incorrect. Soz pals!