In the-Middle of It

by George Berwick


Peter Coulson made it easy for me to tackle 'The Middle Road he lured me into the ride by offering a £2 card and a low (10 kph) minimum speed. Friday afternoon saw the keen one sauntering along to Wormit to begin 'The Middle Way'. From the steps of the post-office life was looking good, reflecting my demeanour, with benign weather. The Tay rail bridge, with what remains of the old one alongside, looked splendid as it stretched across the firth to Dundee with the Sidlaws beyond.

Eight kilometers into the 2,200k I gave myself a treat with a 'Hunger Lunch" at the Quaker Meeting House in Dundee, then played postman to a friend in Newtyle. Then it was time to start concentrating. After Alyth it was over the lonely road to Blackwater. In my youth this was a rough-stuff route. The Spittal of Glenshee hotel is always welcoming with a large wood fire, gigantic buns and plenty of coffee refills. The spirit is always uplifted on cresting the one mile 1 in 8 climb of Glenshee.

It was here in 2001 on an icy January night at 4a.m. that The Glenrothes Flyer and myself almost departed the Audax scene. We had just started the descent when a loud report rang out. Leaping off the tandem trike, I hastily deflated the front tyre noting that a three inch section of rim wall had vanished. Disconnecting the front brake cables, I kissed my bike-china good luck and plunged downhill into the darkness at a frightening rate. The rear one clung gamely to the now useless hub brake, his anguished cries of "What's going on?!" adding to the excitement. After two miles the ordeal nearly over, the road had been salted and there were no deer or sheep wandering in front of us. We reached Bridge of Cally before 'The Flyer' discovered that we didn't have any brakes; I should have piled on the misery by telling the shocked one that I'm also half blind and looking for a new tandem partner.

Musing thus, I reached Tomintoul at 8p.m. to find that this new hostel wouldn't be open until July so pressing on to Dufftown I enjoyed the sight of three deer leaping across my path. When the dynamo was engaged after Rothes the light only lasted a few seconds. With a new bulb fitted I found to my surprise I could only get illumination by turning the wheel backwards! I'm only a simple Scotsman and the reason for this defeated me. It was gone 10.30p.m. before Elgin appeared so there it was into the first B&B I could see.

Next morning I was on the road early to reach the first turn at Lossiemouth. Al Sutton was on his May holiday trip so my intended hot coffee stop turned into a cold milk drink. The good thing about 'The Middle Road' is the nearly free choice of route. Return to Tomintoul was by the scenic road and climbing the Lecht from the north can be enjoyable with a good wind. The summit cafe was closed, the owner telling me that he had given his staff a holiday. Fortunately the upmarket cafe at Corgaff was trading so I partook of an elegant luncheon.

The Scottish and English Cup Finals were on the wireless earphones as I happily pedalled over the Grampians. The longer Blairgowrie road was preferred as my return route to the Kingdom of Fife. At Midcraigs it was bathtime with the plastic ducks, fresh clothes and a good sleep from which the wife kicked me out at 6 am on a sunny Sunday. In Glenrothes two young lassies overtook me and as I fought to hold their wheels I suffered a deflation. Edinburgh was very quiet for a change so I decided to take the hilly Bonnyrigg road to meet the A7 near Middleton. It was sad to see the Stow cafe closed so I had to continue to the one near Selkirk. Hawick was sunny, a far cry from the snowy and windy Hawick 200k in March. It was on that ride, in the dark, the observation control came along and as we looked up to read the sign stating the height of the bridge we completely failed to notice the foot of standing water beneath it.

From Newcastleton it was onto lanes to reach Brampton by 6p.m. where I chatted to two End-to-Enders. Dusk arrived after Alston and I was glad to reach Langdon Beck at 9.30p.m.. No room at the Hostel but a nearby B&B was much more friendly. The roads were fairly quiet on a cloudy Bank Holiday Monday as I made for the control in Northallerton. I was sitting pretty in "Betty's" by 11a.m. having the card signed and ordering coffee and teacakes. Stamford Bridge, with ducks outnumbering tourists, was the next port of call and here I consumed a traditional fish-and-chip tea. The roads became flat and open and near Goole a motor-cyclist was retrieved from a ditch after he had overshot a corner. The pressure was on to reach Lincoln YoHo, to the south of that city, before dark. Here the friendly warden accommodated me in my request for a 5 a.m. start.

Mist and cold north winds were waiting for me but I made a good time to arrive in Grantham by 7a.m., then the rains came and I got well lost in the lanes and soon I was frozen and greeting for home. Mrs. McNasty informs me that I'm always hot in bed, so why, in the middle of England, was I wearing gloves and thick Jacket I don't usually wear gloves in Scotland even during the winter. In Wilbarston I took a chance with a broken road sign and headed along a 'No Through Road'. Talking to a man with a dog, he suggested going on and over a disused runway thence along dirt roads to reach tar before Desborough. At least that was the plan although it might have been quicker to return to Wilbarston.

The lady in the bakery in Rothwell wasn't amused when I placed my bike against her window, still the cakes lifted spirits. No one entered her shop during the twenty minutes I munched away. The low point of the trip came at Northampton while standing still reading the map I fell over. A sign at the start of the Nene Way stated that this road is barred to vehicles that can't maintain 25 mph. As Andy Wilkinson wasn't around I slipped onto the cycleway which disappeared after a series of white-water rafting courses. So it was back onto the trunk road to regain the route at Ashton.

My tongue was hanging out before Buckingham was reached. The roads around Thame had masses of 5 p.m. traffic. Streatley YoHo was a sight for sore eyes and I booked in before 8p.m. Leaving before 5 a.m. it was a good run down the Thames to Pangbourne, then along the Bath road with its many dead deer. In 1956 Ray Booty broke 4 hours for 100 miles in a Time Trial on this road. In those days I was working in a grocery shop and delivering food on a message-bike. Nowadays we lug the shopping home on a tandem trike. The trip over the Downs went well and Winchester was reached in the morning slack traffic time. I was lucky in getting lost for I picked up a good cycle route to Twyford and even used the cycle crossing to escape traffic trying to get onto the M3. The roads were busy all the way to the final turn at Fareham. After a leisurely lunch in a charity shop I turned joyfully northwards. Soon I managed to get lost once again in a now much quieter Winchester.

By the time I reached the Little Chef in Thame after 7p.m. I wasn't in a good mood; 'The Archers' wasn't getting through on my radio and the staff seemed to think that I was too eccentric to serve. In desperation I fled to the Burger King and ordered a Veggie Burger. On the way south I'd noticed a farmhouse B&B near Buckingham. Unfortunately the place was full, but after a few phone calls they managed to get me fixed up only a few miles away. I missed out Buckingham and took the road to Old Stratford and onto Ashton. Peter Coulson was out, away to sunny London. This time I followed the recommended roads around Northampton. A first class lunch in Rothwell put life into the deficient one for the hilly road to Oakham. The lanes were taken to reach Lincoln YH once more by 8p.m.

I was surprised to find on my bike next morning food and a choc. bar with a good luck note attached from the Hostel Manager. What a gent! The flatlands of Thorne and Howden provided the usual thrill as this area boasts the emptiest O.S. squares in Britain. Yet another fish tea was consumed at Stamford Bridge followed in due course by another afternoon tea at 'Betty's'. This dynasty doesn't seem to have any objections to sweaty jocks or, if you prefer, knights of the road. I really worked on the hills through Barnard Castle and Middleton to arrive at Langdon Beck before dark. This time the Hostel let me in.

Next morning it took over an hour into the wind to gain the top of Yad Moss. A very friendly man runs the Jacobite cafe in Brampton, "I'm glad I'm not cycling to Dundee today", he told me. A dirty big hill halted my fast progress as I entered Scotland.
After another cafe stop in Langholm, the summit of Eskdalemutr was taken slowly before a Manx cyclist came past. With the speed now above Evens I let him do the talking. He had a good trip up west climbing the Cuillins in the sun. Thankfully before the Berrybush climb he peeled off toward Hawick.

Reaching Innerleithen in the late afternoon the only shop open was the ice-cream parlour. With the penultimate stamp secured I headed into the Moorfoot hills. On the way over I encountered two Audaxers going south. Nae time for this talking lark, just get the miles in is our mantra. From the summit on a fine spring evening Auld Reekie was looking grand but the Fife hills across the Firth of Forth were much more appealing. After crossing the Forth the next highlight was - guess what - a fish supper in a draughty gateway near Crossgates. The final Control, a 24 hour garage near Newport, was reached after 1 a.m. then I had only to pedal the five miles home. Total distance was 2197k.

Her ladyship was snoring away and on my side of the bed lay a large black Labrador!

Take this as a warning - they pledge love but leave them alone for a week and a dug gets your bed.