Wednesday, 15 July 2015


In a sense it was more of the same today: more space, more time, more sheep. Also more hills, more wind and more incessant arse-ache.

More dreary music too, whenever we stopped for a cup of tea and a restorative bacon sandwich. It was only when I hear Dido's White Flag for the third time that I really noticed it: recent chart hits of a certain type have become the muzak for our times.

All of which suggests that I might not have enjoyed today, but I certainly did. There is something quite unlikely about setting out to cycle nearly a thousand miles and oddly pleasurable to find oneself actually doing it. Nice to picture one's progress on an actual map of Britain and to realise that one has already done the top triangle that is one of those things that gives the island a recognisable shape. There is something uplifting too about seeing a great long hull ahead and instead of feeling one's heart sink thinking instead, 'well I did the last one. And the one before that. And the one before that...' and setting to to labour up this one as well.

This morning over breakfast we got talking to a woman who works for an organisation called something like Scottish Heritage, working mostly with the Outer Isles, Orkney and Shetland. She explained the massive issue she is having at the moment with the Orcadians and Shetlanders objecting (quite justifiably, in my view) to the fact that all of the organisation's letterheads and so on are bilingual, in English and Gaelic, Gaelic never having been spoken in Orkney and Shetland.

For her this was an example of parochialism and the inability to see the big picture but for me it reminded me of how pressing concerns can become for one group of people while others are barely aware of them or dismiss them as trivial. How many londoners, or glaswegians even, would know or care that Orkney and Shetland are not and have never been Gaelic speaking? And yet clearly to the islanders it is an important issue of identity and distinctiveness.

What was also interesting though was the woman's suggested solution to what she regarded as parochialism and I saw as lack of sensitivity. "More people should do what you're doing," she said. "Get on their bikes and cycle the length of Britain."

I didn't point out that a Shetlander might be offended by the suggestion that we were cycling the length of Britain. Because fundamentally I think she was absolutely right.

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