Friday 26 July 2013

Montrose - cycling thanks to Edinburgh Bicycle Coop

Cycling Sponsorship:
Thanks to generous sponsorship from Edinburgh Bicycle Cooperative I now have a bike. I used to love cycling but have done none for the past three years since my RSI problems came along (now greatly improved). This machine that I'm trying has huge back-curved handlebars and seems like it's going to be the solution. I'm riding upright in the 'continental' style and find it massively reduces pressure on shoulders, elbows, wrists; and the view is so much better. You're probably much more aerodynamic when leaning forwards over a mountain bike or road bike but that's not what I'm after. Having Edinburgh Bicycle come on board is going to greatly increase the reach of my ScotRail-supported explorations by rail.

I've used the bike lots over the past two weeks – a week each on Islay and Mull (more about those in future blog posts). This evening I'm writing from Montrose where I'm sitting outside my mum's caravan as terns cry their creaky calls over my head. I won't mention the low drone of engines, commentary and crowds that's travelling through the air from a summer motorbike stunt show a mile along the links.

We're here on a family holiday before my brother Roan heads to Australia for a year, but it's also a sketching trip for me. If you're inspired by long sweeping beaches of sand or of pebbles and geodes, by craggy coastal paths, by woodland walking, by cafes galore and by birds birds birds, then Montrose and surrounds is a place to visit. This time I came with my bike on the train - regular service throughout the day from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, and intermediate stations. From Edinburgh or Stirling it takes only an hour and a half and much of the route is alongside beautiful coastal scenery. Be sure to book bike spaces in advance by calling at a staffed station or by phoning 08457 550 033. More info -

Birds in the fog:
In the morning, pre-breakfast, I headed out to see what was around and to sketch. The fog was thick -'a real pea-souper'- and as I walked along the beach I could imagine how easily one might get lost at sea, or among the hills and moors of the Highlands. Gulls and terns broke the soggy muggy silence but I could only ever make out the vague shapes of their gatherings before they sighted me and flew away. I did get close to a small flock of knot, still wearing the rust-red underbellies of their breeding plumage. A solitary turnstone accompanied the group.

As I got to the river mouth (the River South Esk) and walked a few hundred metres upstream towards harbour and Basin the fog was lifting a little to reveal eiders, oystercatchers, some gulls, and a grouping of 25 or more red-breasted mergansers all floating on the water. I stopped and painted; a half hour watercolour of a black-headed gull that stayed for most (well, some...) of the time that I hoped it would.

St Cyrus Nature Reserve:
A long, late, relaxed outdoor breakfast for the four of us before cycling the five miles to St Cyrus village; cafe stop in bright sunshine then down onto the pebbly part of the Nature Reserve to look for geodes and lots of butterflies; return cycle through the fog (now back with reinforcements); tea in the caravan and back outside to write this.

Common blue, St Cyrus

Two days later:
The above was written on Wednesday. Now it's Friday 26th July (my 29th birthday) and we've had more walking and cycling, and plenty of time for me to work. Hours of rain yesterday allowed me to start and complete a Staffa watercolour from my Mull sketchbook.


eiders preening, seal yawning

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