|My cross bike and trailer, on the way home from Castle|
Douglas with groceries.
Much of Galloway, and some of Dumfriesshire, is remote rural. Public transport options are extremely limited, and distances are considerable; for example I am more than ten miles from my nearest health facility or supermarket, and the only shop nearer than that is extremely small and has very limited hours.
In common with many other remote rural areas across Scotland, local wages are significantly below the national average. The combination of significant distances and low wages make cars unaffordable to many, and of course there are others who, because of age or infirmity, cannot drive. This observation applies equally to secondary school pupils as to the elderly. In the absence of frequent public transport - and in many places, the absence of any public transport at all - this leads to isolation.
It's hardly surprising given this overview that cycling is an extremely popular activity in the area. Castle Douglas, a town of 4,000 people, supports three specialist bicycle shops, while each of the neighbouring towns have at least one. This is partly due to the presence in the area of extremely good off-road recreational cycling facilities, but not wholly. Even a casual observation of Galloway's roads will reveal a high proportion of utility cycling - most particularly in and around Kirkcudbright.
Utility cycling has a real potential to improve health, decrease isolation, and provide access to services for a significant proportion of the remote rural population. Compared to cars, pedal cycles are inexpensive to buy and extremely inexpensive to run; fitted with luggage trailers or pannier racks they can effectively replace cars for many shopping trips as well as providing access to social events and healthcare. In summary, utility cycling should be seen as a critically important tool in improving the lives of the rural young and the rural poor, while having a contribution to make to the lives of rural people more generally.
Deterrents to the growth of utility cycling in remote rural areas include the high speed of traffic on rural roads and the lack of cycle parking facilities in villages and towns. In particular a lowering of speed limits on unclassified rural roads could be significantly beneficial.