On Culfoldie

Last weekend I was back home and managed to sneak a bike ride in between various family ‘duties’.

Back home for me is rural Moray in the north-east of Scotland. I was lucky to have grown up in such a spot but didn’t think my location fortuitous at the time (the adolescent me craved the bright lights, attractions and fellow indie kids I imagined the city held within).

Going home avec velo and I realise how great a place it was, and still is.

Compared to the roads around Edinburgh (where I now reside) those of home are in far better condition and are far quieter too. Many of my once regular routes lead onto single-track roads that barely see any motorised traffic. I can be lost in that escapist, peaceful bliss within minutes of home.

The move to Edinburgh quickly curtailed my cycling. I couldn’t believe the volume of traffic, that people risked their lives taking bikes in amongst it – let alone navigating three-lane roads, complicated-looking junctions and roundabouts, none of which existed back home.

It’s not all about the absence of cars. I’ve been lucky enough to have ridden in a few European cycling locations and genuinely believe that some of my home routes compare favourably to their exotic counterparts. Yeah, so the Scottish climate doesn’t always impress, and home hills don’t compare to the Alps et al, (Culfoldie, my childhood ‘Mortirolo’, isn’t a patch on the real thing), but to get a picture of my Moray imagine the route of a hilly, Ardennes classic with a few bigger climbs and some coast roads thrown in. Nae bad at a’, as they say up Fochabers way.

One issue I have when riding back home is comparing my performance to that of my younger self. I have a habit of trying to ride climbs in as quick and nimble a fashion as I’m sure my younger self used to. Sometimes I can keep up, often I have to sit back down, lower the gear and my expectations.

They don’t make ’em like this no more

There was no Strava, let alone smartphones back in my day, so I can’t compare the 40 me to the adolescent who did little but eat, ride, sleep and repeat. I may have a bit of ‘old man’ endurance but I doubt I’d be pinching any KOMs off the young, whippet-like Rolf.

That nostalgia isn’t reserved for the manner in which I ride. These home routes aren’t ridden solely in the now. The backdrops are layers of memory and past experience. I might be riding along on my carbon Scott, into a cold and drizzle-wet wind, but my mind’s eye sees a 531-framed Peugeot and the shining sun  — which all goes to prove that I must learn to be more mindful when riding.

Returning to the same bed I slept sound and safely in as a boy is a luxury. Better still to have those home roads, always on hand to bestow a few hours of biking bliss.

Now click your cleats together three times and repeat after me: there’s no place like home.

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Fancy riding the roads of my home? Here’s a link to a blog on one of my all-time favourite rides, around Speyside’s Whisky Trail.