I’m sitting in a coffee shop in a small town called Pitlochry in the Highlands of Scotland. Storm Frank is in full swing outside. The sky is a dark shade of grey, the rain is horizontal and relentless. The entire valley – or glen – has been turned into a series of great lakes with small fishing sheds and treetops poking incongruously out of the middle of them. Both the Tay and the Tummel have burst their banks and there is flooding of biblical proportions. We’ve been lucky – our cottage further down the valley is just high enough up the hill to be above the waterline but the cat has her wellies ready and her eye on her favourite Christmas bauble just in case.
I cycled the 6 miles over the hills to this the nearest coffee shop, from a hamlet called Logierait. My wheels covered more water than road and my trousers are now dripping onto the polished wooden floor. I’ve just picked another lump of mud (I think – although it could be cow dung) off my cheek and have been edging my sodden boots towards the big open fireplace near the end of the table.
Believe it or not, this is when Scotland comes into its own. On days like this when I have lost sensation in my toes, my ageing and injured hamstring is crying out for a hot bath and I am reminded as I glance at the sleeve of my fleece that half-way through one of the downhills I may have used it to blow my streaming nose. When I am covered in mud from head to toe, am so wet that even my underwear needs wringing out and my cheeks are stinging from a combination of hail, rain, sleet and snow. It is only then that I can truly appreciate the crackling log fire and the huge pot of tea served by the welcoming and chatty landlord who makes a passing comment about how ‘driech’ it is outside and doesn’t blink an eye when I position my wet feet so close to the fire grate steam rises off them.
It is tempting then to sit back into the weathered leather armchair, read my book and nod off against one of the soft tartan cushions but the waters are rising and what is left of the afternoon light is fading fast. I have squeezed the last drop out of my pot of tea, that was definitely a drying splatter of cow pat not mud, and I still have the cycle-wade-swim home to tackle. I don my snotty fleece and damp waterproof, reluctantly remove my soggy boots from the fire place and head back out into Frank’s path. I will be back at the cottage soon, and it is only 6 miles away. But thanks to the Scottish hills and weather, my cycle will have been an adventure and the open fires, mugs of tea, wee dram of whisky and cosy evenings a delicious reward for venturing out.