Saturday, August 12, 2006


As in Houston, Friday nights we like to pay a visit to the pub to sample the local brew. We've been to the Bieldside and found it nice enough but populated by the local good ol' boys, so we want to try a place where the working folk go, the Cults Hotel pub. Not wanting to drive back after beer or pay eight pounds for a taxi, we're left with our legs, or bicycle, and last night we chose the bicycle.

Leaving Gairn Park and crossing the one lane stone bridge -- we encounter the first hill. Coming from the Texas flats and not trained up for hills, we dismount and push the bikes up the grade. Though cars whiz by us on the narrow road, they see our flashy yellow jackets and give us the space we need. At the top of the hill we strike the dirt road through the piney wood, a speedy though bumpy downhill stretch past fern glades. At the edge of the wood the track joins a narrow path through a hilly field. Large gorse bushes scratch us as we pedal past. Also large wild raspberry stands, their branches laden with very sweet fruit. Walking the trail earlier we filled up on them. The path ends in a copse of beech trees where we drag our bikes onto a dirt road. All downhill from here, to the single lane asphalt road that takes us to the main road. We pass barley fields, once filled with golden stalks, now freshly mown, fields of stubble with straw in straight lanes waiting for the baling machine. Thicker raspberry bushes line the road, but this time we don't stop to sample them. At the main road, we find a bike lane, a good thing because the heavy traffic is nerve-racking. We pedal through Bieldside and onto Cults, an Aberdeen suburb where folk drive cars with snobbish license plates.

As we lock up our bikes outside the Cults Hotel, I wonder whether we'll find mostly expats and the well to do, but my concern fades when I see a couple of guys, beer in hand, smoking outside a small side-door where formerly the servants crept in so as not to be seen by the posh guests. It takes us to a small room where men and women, mostly middle aged wearing jeans and simple tops stood about in small groups. Broad Scots shouted everywhere, the small talk about folk and goings on. I bought a couple of pints and we stood near the pool table where a couple of guys took precise shots at a dwindling number of balls. We talked about our day, family and people we had left in Houston. A man standing next to us said, "Now, there's a couple of Amerreeecans over there." "Who's American?" I say. "I was born in Perth." He returns a doubtful look, no doubt because of my mongrel accent. He nods at Amber's sneakers, the only ones in the pub, and a dead giveaway. As I re-order, I listen for any conversation about the terrorist plot. The barman discusses with a customer how a common acquaintance was delayed a day at Heathrow, but that's the extent of the interest. The animated shouts and talk don't suggest that terrorists dampened anyone's spirits.

Leaving the pub we push our bikes up a well traveled two lane road out of Cults. Where the grade is easier we mount and ride through woods, a mile to the top of the hill. From there, it's level or downhill to Gairn Park. On both sides we pass fields framed by stone walls, the tops overgrown with thick moss. Time and the lack of cement left the walls half collapsed in places. Embedded in each wall is a concrete manger, once used for water and now dry. Black and white cattle sit or lie down in the grass, taking a rest from a long day of cropping the grass and thoughtful chewing.

It's after eight in the evening, and the sky is still bright, at least for a couple more hours.

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