I think I’ve just read one of my favourite articles from our archives.
It was an 1883 edition and a writer was telling the tale of an ambitious attempt to cycle 100 miles in one day while on summer hols near Perth. There are two types of articles that always pull me up short when researching our upcoming 150 Years Bookazine. They are the ones where you’re either struck by how very different things are now, or how remarkably similar. This was a bit of both.
We’ve only just started on the Victorian era, and it’s fast become my favourite. It’s proving such an interesting time, between the progress of science, lingering bits of folklore, superstition and a new interest in leisure time.
I like a bike ride, though I prefer the woods to the roads, and I know a 100-mile ride is not an uncommon thing these days. But, this was before tarmac was invented, before bicycles had all the gears and padded saddles, and before it was OK to go out in short shorts and a lightweight top to stay cool!
The big day
On the morning of the writer’s attempt, they had to push their bikes several miles before they got to a road that was good enough quality to cycle on. So that’s changed. Once they got to a road, they made a number of mistakes taking lanes they thought would be shortcuts, but that actually took them around in circles.
That should have changed, but hasn’t. Cyclists today still have a keen eye for a cheeky shortcut, even if our GPS-mapping phones tell us otherwise.
The joy of free and speedy movement through great scenery is still the same, though obviously there’s no mention of cars.
The daring duo reach Aberfeldy for breakfast, to be greeted by the sound of a piper playing for tourists. “However unmelodious to the listener who is unfortunate enough to be within three yards of them, [bagpipes] are by no means unpleasant when ‘distance lends enchantment'”.
At Aberfeldy, they cram their pockets full of biscuits for sustenance, as they expect to find nothing from then until Killin at the earliest. And rather than water bottles, they must stop at every stream to gulp some water.
When they come across a family of ducklings waddling across the ride while at full pelt, their Victorian brakes stand little chance of stopping them. The writer decides to speed up to get past while his companion dives for a hedge and ditch to avoid any harm. Bless them. Thankfully brakes actually work now.
The writer is massively fond of the phrase “legs over handles” – meaning he’s going full pelt. That’s new to me, but I had to laugh when they talked about climbing hills on the bike. Everyone they overtook would say something like “Rather you than me” or “Wouldn’t you be better walking?”. I’d be willing to bet that anyone who has cycled up a hill alongside walkers anywhere in Britain will have heard this a hundred times! Who’d guess that’s been happening since 1883?
Stopping for tea
The route carries on to Lochearnhead and along to Crieff, where they stop for tea. With only two hours left of light and no lamps, they have to push on. The author is rather blunt about the scenery from Crieff back to Perth being a bit disappointing (though it is after the Perthshire Highlands). But he feels absolutely elated about making it back home for 10 pm. About 17 hours after they left.
The last and most important thing that hasn’t changed a bit is the sense of satisfaction they both feel. Any day out in the hills is a memorable one – always has been and always will be – and the author is sure it was the highlight of his whole summer!
Keep up with all of Alex’s post here