Thursday 23 November 2017


Myself in Ae forest on our second ride.
I went out for a ride with my old friend Andrew Crooks back in September, when I was - and partly because I was - still deep in depression. I rode into Castle Douglas to Gareth Montgomerie's shop, where I met up with Andrew, and we rode down to Tongland, out to Twynholm, over to Kirkcudbright, and back by Loch Fergus. We stopped for cake and coffee in the very excellent Earth's Crust bakery, and that's when Andrew broached the idea of Coffeeneuring.

There's this challenge, he said, on an American blog: ride to seven different coffee shops (and drink coffee) in six weeks, starting in October and ending in November.

So we did.

Myself and Andrew near New Abbey
The first day of the challenge was the Friday the 13th October, an auspicious date - so of course we had to start then. It was a wild, blustering day with sharp showers blowing down a stiff westerly (that will become a theme). We met up at Beeswing, and rode out by the beautiful road down to New Abbey; from there we took wee backroads up to Cargenbridge, and joined the Old Military Road back to Beeswing. We had coffee and cake at Loch Arthur farm shop, which was as always excellent.

We started our second ride, on the 22nd, from Andrew's house in Dumfries, riding through the town mainly on the old railway cycle path, and thence up to Ae Forest - a 10Km climb which could have been a fair old grind, but for yet another sturdy south-westerly which fairly lifted us up the hill. We did a wee bit of zooming around the forest on green-graded single track, had an excellent cake and coffee in the Ae Forest Cafe, and then... zoomed back down the long hill into Dumfries, our speed limited only by the westering sun glaring in our eyes.

For our third - Hallowe'en - ride we again met at Gareth's shop (and again I rode in), with the intention of riding out to the Cream of Galloway ice cream factory near Gatehouse of Fleet. Again the wind was westerly, and again it was driving rain before it. We rode down to Kirkcudbright by the Loch Fergus road, and thence out via Nunmill towards Borgue. But the wind was near gale, and the rain became more intense; after a brief discussion we decided to turn back to Mulberries in Kirkcudbright, and there had soup and coffee. We rode back via Tongland. It was an enjoyable but quite tough day - what I particularly remember about it was that Andrew (who is always faster than me uphill) was also faster down. That felt an injustice!

Pete White, in impossibly bling
retro-reflective jacket, buys coffee
in the unknown coffee shop. 
I was in Edinburgh on the weekend of the 5th November, staying at my sister's; and, on the Sunday, went for a ride with my friend Pete White. We had planned a tour of the reservoirs up in the Pentlands, but it was a cracking day, and so instead we rode out of Edinburgh by the Innocent Railway path, and took the coast road fast out to North Berwick. In North Berwick we got a cairry-oot coffee and cake from a wee cafe I've totally failed to identify from Google maps; and then rode up to the train station where we got a train back into Waverley. Riding back to my sister's from the station I made a sentimental detour to the Edinburgh Bicycle Co-op, one of my favourite shops.

That counted as my fourth Coffeeneuring trip; by agreement Andrew was also doing one that weekend. However, later that week I rode into Castle Douglas for Gareth to fit new non-slick tubeless tyres to the Slate, and I snuck in a coffee and cake at Streetlights Cafe, putting me one ride ahead. I rode home by the old iron-age road over the ridge by Dungairy, a long climb on mud and gravel. The new tyres made the bike feel quite different - assured and surefooted in conditions in which it had previously been decidedly sketchy.

The three mile dirt road descent from Dungairy to Culnaightrie was a complete blast.

From the start of the Coffeeneuring challenge Andrew and I had talked about doing a Roof of the World ride at some point if the weather allowed, but the weather didn't really allow and on the 13th of November, riding from Andrew's house, we decided to do the Birthplace of the Bicycle instead; Andrew promised me an interesting climb on the way home - one we've often talked about in the past, but I hadn't yet ridden.

Where the first ever pedal powered bicycle was built
It was actually a beautiful day, but cold; on the north slope of one of the first hills we encountered a patch of ice which completely covered the road for about twenty metres, and from there on our descending was a little more tentative than it would otherwise have been. But we had a good ride up Nithsdale and before too long came to the birthplace itself, where we stopped to make the customary obeisances.

Then on into Penpont for coffee in a surprisingly busy wee cafe, and back. Andrew led us across to the east side of the dale, crossing the A76 at Closeburn, onto wee back roads that were new to me.

Approaching the top of the Loch Ettrick climb - yes, it is
uphill, dammit!
Andrew is lots faster than me anyway, but on hills he's notoriously quite a lot faster. So when we came to the junction at the bottom of the "interesting" climb, he stopped for a comfort break and I went ahead. I was very pleased with myself with how far I'd got before he caught me, but the photograph he took of me near the top doesn't look at all dramatic.

However, we topped out at Loch Ettrick, high above Ae Forest, and Andrew promised me ten miles of continuous descent. It wasn't quite continuous, but pretty close to it, and apart from one huge tipper truck which wasn't taking any prisoners, it was quite a blast.

That made my sixth qualifying ride, but only Andrew's fifth.

For the next, which I number as 7.1, we met up at Mossdale on the 20th and rode up by the Raider's Road to the Otter Pool, where we enjoyed an al fresco coffee with some buns I'd bought in Castle Douglas on the way up. It was a soft, damp day with continuous fairly light rain, but not dreadfully cold; still, it wasn't weather we wanted to sit around in for too long. We'd had a plan to stop at the cafe at Clatteringshaws, but it was closed for the winter. We discussed the route back, and Andrew liked the idea of the loch shore to get us out of the wind (although it wasn't that severe).

Al fresco at the Otter Pool
So we made the glorious descent into New Galloway, where we actually could have bought a coffee at the CatStrand; but we agreed that if we stopped in our wet clothes we'd quickly get cold, so we rode on at good speed down the west shore of Loch Ken. The autumn colours were glorious, and in the shelter of the hill and the forest the loch was almost still. Burns tumbled down the hillside in wild spate. We got back to the cars at Mossdale with - for me, anyway - mixed feelings. We were droukit. It was cold. Dry clothes were delightful (although I'd carelessly forgotten dry socks). But it had been a magical ride, on largely empty roads (as, to be fair, all these rides have been), amid all the spectacular scenery of Galloway's high country.

Today's ride - 7.2 - completed the set. We met in Kirkcudbright on a day of westerly gales, although by 11:00 when we started the rain was almost through. Andrew had concern about his back tyre, which had lost a lot of air with a spectacular hiss in the car on the way over, and which neither of our mini-pumps could get hard; but, after checking he had a spare inner tube, he decided to set off anyway. Our aim, again, was the Ice Cream Factory, which as well as ice cream makes good coffee and spectacular cakes.

It's a mistake to start a ride with someone who's a much better grimpeur by going uphill, but given the wind I wanted to stay in shelter as much as possible on the way out, and get down onto the coast to take advantage of the wind on the way back. I controlled my competitiveness and didn't burn my legs on the first long climb, and, despite the weather, we had a remarkably swift and enjoyable ride out to Rainton.

Is there anybody there? said the traveller,
knocking at the moonlit door...
Sadly, the cafe was shut. We discussed alternatives, and decided to return to Kirkcudbright. I asked Andrew whether I thought his tyre would cope with an unmetalled section, intending to take the shore path from Sandgreen round to Carrick. He thought it would, but when we got down to Sandgreen felt it was just too risky. So we doubled back round to Knockbrex on the metalled road, and took a wee sentimental detour down to Carrick just because.

Then, with the sun beginning to shine and the wind behind us, we were whisked up the coast, past Knockbrex, passed the Isles of Fleet, past the Coo Palace, past Kirkanders Borgue, and up the long hill to Borgue village, at good speed. We did stop a couple of times because the views out to the Isle of Whithorn and the Isle of Man were just so good!

In Borgue I had to stop to take off my jacket and change to fingerless gloves; despite a benselling wind the sun had become warm. And then swiftly on, past the Brighouse turn, down through Senwick to the Doon and Nunmill, and up the river to Kirkcudbright. We obviously couldn't go to Mulberries again, because we'd already bagged it; and Harbour Lights and Solway Tide were closed for the winter. But the Belfry Cafe was open, and we had soup, scones and coffee to finish up.

Eight rides - actually slightly more than eight over the period, because I've done another couple which didn't involve coffee and thus don't count - averaging around thirty miles/fifty Km, longest not more than fifty miles/eighty Km. None of them epic. All but one in company and in good company. All but the one I rode alone probably faster than I ride alone.

They haven't, by themselves, cured depression - it isn't yet, completely, cured, although it's greatly better. But they've certainly contributed. And one thing I realise that this simple, light hearted challenge has done for me - aided by my friends - is that it's given me an excuse to take time off to ride just for the pleasure of riding, of enjoying the weather and the views and the roads and most of all the company.

Myself and Andrew at Clatteringshaws - with coffee!
And the coffee, of course. Let's not forget the coffee.

More pictures here.

Monday 6 November 2017

Catalunya, Rule, and Law

The Spanish courts seek to suppress the Republic of Catalunya, in the name of the rule of law. The EU refuses to intervene, because it claims it's an internal Spanish matter. 

The EU has high claims to support fine-sounding principles, including human rights, democracy, subsidiarity, and the rule of law; and in claiming that, if finds itself, like a bullfighter in a fight the Spanish courts denied Catalunya the right to ban, on the horns of a dilemma of its own breeding.

The Rule of Law is not synonymous with democracy; in fact, it is more often antagonistic to it. This is shown by the Catalan crisis.

Law is, at best, a lagging indicator of a social consensus - but only when passed by delegates voting in their constituents interests. Law is more often passed by elites (the House of Lords, a Tory cabinet of millionaires, etc) in their own interests, or by elected representatives excessively or corruptly influenced by powerful interests through 'think tanks' and 'lobbyists'.

This is particularly so in the Catalan case: the Spanish constitution was negotiated with fascists in Franco's dying days, and is fenced round with conditions which make it unalterable in practice. Even if there was a practical course to amend the constitution, the Catalans are a systematic minority in Spain. They do not constitute a majority, they can never muster a supermajority. They cannot change it.

So where does that leave Carles Puigdemont and the Catalan Government? The courts said they could not hold a referendum. The electors, who elected them to office, said they must do so.  The Rule of Law did not support democracy. Rather, democracy and the rule of law are in direct conflict. No man can serve two masters; the government of Catalunya chose to obey their electors.

Here endeth the first part; the lemma, if you will. Now, let's move onto the thesis.

Lawyers will argue that the law solves this problem: that the UN Charter and the ECHR are incorporated into Spanish law, and somehow trump the constitution, making the judgement of the Constitutional Court wrong. I say that argument does not hold. 

It may be that in this particular case there are ambiguities and paradoxes in the corpus of law by which one can contort the law into appearing to agree with the democratic decision of the people. But what if there weren't? Should the rule of law trump democracy?

The principle of subsidiarity dictates that the people who should decide the governance of Catalunya are the people of Catalunya. The principle of democracy dictates that they must have a mechanism available to then to decide this. And in Catalunya especially, with its ancient tradition of civil society and its proud tradition of anarcho-syndicalism, the views of the people must surely trump the views of any governing elite.

So where does that leave Donald TuskGuy Verhofstadt and the rest of the sclerotic cabal in Brussels? They can support the Rule of Law. Or they can support Democracy. They can't do both. It's time to choose.

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The fool on the hill by Simon Brooke is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License