Into one of the outer circles of hell

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I AM not, by nature, a sportsman. I was raised to believe that every moment discharged in athletic activity was a moment which could have been better spent in gloomy contemplation. Not for me the nauseous rushing of adrenalin, the happy slapping of victorious team-mates, or the homo-erotic lapping of the communal bath.

There are two exceptions to this rule: bowls and cycling. Bowls is too complicated to go into here, but there is, I fancy, something deeply metaphorical about the game, involving, as it does, a confident command of violence, an innate sensitivity, and a complex understanding of grass. (A browntop bentgrass is best, with its very fine blades, but a good commercial blend will add various chewing fescues and a slender creeping red fescue to give durability).

Bowls is also a game played in slacks and blazer, so there is no need of unpleasantness or partial nudity in the locker room.

Cycling is a more muscular affair, and while I regret the fact that the modern cyclist will be clad in Lycra pants, plus a helmet designed after one of the monsters in Doctor Who, there is something refreshingly straightforward about it. It requires endurance and stability. True, professional cyclists indulge in blood transplants to boost their stamina, and ride machines no heavier than a bag of sugar, but the basic principle of their endeavour is easy to comprehend. It is an equation involving pedals, a hard saddle, and a hill, in which the result is a sore backside.

For many years, I spectated on the Milk Race, an event open to amateurs which grew out of the old Daily Express Tour of Britain. The Milk Race was funded by the now-defunct Milk Marketing Board, and as well as boosting the popularity of what my father, Mr Elder (or "Pater"), used to call "coo juice", it encouraged an appreciation of the countryside, bringing tourists to farming areas, including the Borders.

It also has an agreeable effect on its spectators: in much the same way as Wimbledon fortnight prompts thousands of obese children to venture on to village greens waving Slazenger rackets, so the Milk Race sent squadrons of delivery boys on to the country lanes in the hope that they might one day emulate the speed and grace of Mr Bill Bradley on his Harry Quinn cycle.

My own enjoyment of cycling has never stretched to treating it as a sport. My bicycle, a 1960s Raleigh Sport, was named as a provocation to the Trade Descriptions Act, as its frame is fashioned from 24-carat lead, and its wheels from the finest mahogany. The tyres are made of solid India rubber, and the Sturmey-Archer gears have three settings: Agony, Inner Turmoil and Dropkick Me, Jesus, Through The Goalposts of Life.

Recently, I have taken to riding the cycle paths of Lothian and the Borders. There are many of these, as both regions have an enviable record in railway closure, and the abandoned tracks have reopened as cycleways.

Edinburgh is particularly well-served. The cycle routes thread through the capital on the tracks of the old suburban railway, and provide an excellent snapshot of urban life, albeit from an unusual viewpoint. To ride the cycle path is to enter into an uncertain geography. There are few signposts, and no passers-by. A traveller may glide from an area of wealth and badly-constructed conservatories into one of the outer circles of hell almost without noticing. Usually, the only clue is an increase in the amount of broken glass on the road, the fluttering foliage of torn pages from pornographic magazines, or the occasional burnt-out Ford Fiesta.

It is, I concede, possible that a biologist might be able to discern the changing social cachet of the Edinburgh suburbs by taking samples of the dogs’ dirt - from the pedigree lurchers of Murrayfield to the inbred Alsatians of Leith - though this is of little practical help. Spattered moleskins are spattered moleskins.

Occasionally, though, the pleasure of cycling is almost metaphysical. For an experience that is truly thrilling, but which will not displace your bicycle clips, I recommend riding through the tunnel of the Innocent Railway in Holyrood Park.

Whistle while you go, and pray that the light coming towards you is benign.

Kirk Elder is a senior citizen from Peebles. He is actively considering buffalo-horn handlebars.