“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” I love that quote by Albert Einstein. To me it means that to be fulfilled in life you have to keep moving forward and trying new things. It forms the opening slide in the talk that my friend Graham and I are currently touring Scotland with, sharing the story of our 4000-mile bicycle journey across America.
Talking of trying new things … if you’d told me several months ago that I would be performing a stage show in front of audiences of a hundred people, I would have said you were crazy. I’m really a rather quiet type, preferring to be in the shadows and on the edges, rather than in the limelight and centre stage. During the planning of the tour, the thought of having to do a stage performance to a big audience filled me with fear and worries of failure. And in the run-up to the very first show, I felt sick with nerves while throughout the performance my knees wobbled like jelly. But I stepped outside my comfort zone and took on the challenge. I’ve now done half a dozen shows to very appreciative audiences in places as diverse as Arbroath and Dumfries. Not only am I starting to feel like a polished professional, I’m even enjoying the experience. I’ve stretched my abilities and tried something new. As a result I’ve grown as a person and discovered a whole new side to myself.
As we’ve been travelling around the country with our talk, we’ve taken advantage of the time away to get into the local outdoors. The other week we had the privilege of performing in the Theatre Royal in Dumfries, Scotland’s oldest working theatre and once frequented by the likes of Rabbie Burns and JM Barrie. It was also not far from Dumfries in the village of Keir that Kirkpatrick Macmillan, the man credited with the invention of the pedal-driven bicycle, lived. So it was appropriate that the day after our talk we headed out from Dumfries by bike for a delightful ride in this quiet corner of the countryside crammed with little gems.
On a cool, blustery morning we pedalled Bromptons over the multiple arches of the Devorgilla Bridge. Built in the 15th century, it’s the oldest bridge of this style in Scotland. The bikes then took us out of Dumfries and south alongside the muddy waters of the River Nith towards the salty waters of the Solway Firth. Our four wheels spun past old harbours with fishing boats drawn up as we enjoyed sunny views to the emerald slopes of Criffel, the highest hill in this area. We took a quick peak at the turrets and water-filled moat of Caerlaverock Castle which looks as if it belongs in a faiytale.
The Bromptons rattled along quiet roads through lush farmland, skirting the edges of Caerlaverock National Nature Reserve. The reserve is a stunning place to visit, especially in the winter months. You can enjoy the spectacle of whooper swans whose trumpeting calls carry for miles across the countryside and thousands of barnacle geese in straggly skeins silhouetted against a December sunset. We then put the Solway Firth at our backs and turned our wheels north to cycle back to Dumfries. We whizzed through its old town centre of narrow streets and alleys and at the top of the High Street, tipped our helmets to the Rabbie Burns statue.
We didn't cover many miles but that day we had such great fun zipping around by bike. There’s something about riding a bike, especially a Brompton, that gives you an incredible sense of joy and JF Kennedy summed it up when he said “Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride.”
Start/finish: Devorgilla Bridge, Dumfries
Map: OS Landranger 84
Route: From Devorgilla Bridge follow signs for National Cycle Network Route 7 south along the River Nith, at first on a bike path and then on the quiet B725 road. Follow this road to the hamlet of Bankend, passing Caerlaverock Castle and the road to the Wildlife and Wetlands Trust centre before you get there. Don't follow Route 7 to the right here but carry straight to return to Dumfries on a very quiet road.
Tip: If you'd like to see the adventure talk on tour, the next venues are Oban, Mull, Glenmore Lodge, Birnam and Helensburgh - dates and ticket information are on the website at www.sleeplesstilseattle.com where you can also buy a DVD of the film about the trans America trip.