One of the greatest cycling crimes known to mankind was committed on the Orkney isles- the theft of my friend Paul’s saddle.
It was our first ever cycling trip and we had chosen to visit Orkney, a chain of 70 islands located 10km from the north coast of Scotland. These lands of green fields, heather moors, lochs, coastal scenery and archaeological sites promised great cycling country.
We arrived into Stromness, the second most populated town in Orkney, by ferry. I had expected a quiet and peaceful town, but the place was packed with people celebrating, laughing and having fun. We had to push our bikes very slowly through the crowds to reach our room for the night. We had unwittingly walked into Stromness Shopping Week, an annual gala with parades, music and dancing.
The town has one main street with lots of narrow alleyways. We had to store our bikes in one of these alleyways because our bed and breakfast did not have a garden or garage to keep them in. “They’ll be fine there,” the sweet and laidback owner told us.
We spent the evening enjoying local seafood and one of the most delicious desserts I have ever come across, Orkney fudge cheesecake. This was followed by some Orkney Ales, including one named Skull Splitter!
In the morning we were looking forward to our very first day of cycling which was going to include a visit to Skara Brae, a Neolithic settlement that is older than Stonehenge and the Pyramids. However, you can’t do much cycling if one of you doesn’t have a saddle! Paul and I looked in shock at the metal stump on his bike.
“Someone’s nicked my saddle! I don’t believe it!”
Was this the end of our first ever cycling trip before it had even started?
We discovered that Paul’s saddle was on a quick-release system which means it is very easy to remove it without the need for tools. Perhaps too tempting for a passer-by who had consumed one too many Skull Splitters?
We felt silly because we should really have removed the saddle at night and kept it in the room. But this was our first ever trip and there was a lot we did not know about bikes, like quick-release saddles. What a stupid invention anyway! I mean, you are unlikely to want to adjust your saddle so often that this system is worth the risk of someone being able to easily remove the saddle.
Adjacent to the alley there was an abandoned garden and we thought it was worth checking in there in case the saddle had been unceremoniously discarded over the wall. When we entered the garden we could not believe our eyes. It was thick with the tallest, stingy nettles I had ever seen! How on earth were we supposed to look through this? We tried anyway and fought our way through the jungle. This disturbed a squadron of stinging insects. We were defeated and retreated to the safety of the saddle-less bicycle in the alley.
We decided to check other alleys and peaked over garden walls as if we were searching for a lost cat, but there was no sign of our poor missing saddle.
“I could put a jumper on the stump and try to cycle,” Paul suggested.
There was no way a jumper would cushion the blow and he ended up doing standing up cycling as we tried in vain to find a bike shop. Everything was closed and it seemed the town was still fast asleep from the partying the night before. The tourist office was about the only thing that was open.
We went inside and asked if there was a cycling shop in town, but there was not and when they asked what was wrong we dreaded telling them. Inevitably they laughed and we all laughed together. It was funny, but then the realisation dawned on us that without a saddle this trip was over.
“Would you like us to call the police?” one of the women offered. Her name badge said Isabel.
I imagined sirens, sniffer dogs and door-to-door enquiries. “Police! Open up! We know the saddle is in there! We can do this the hard way or the easy way!” We both agreed that it would be crazy to involve the police. All that we wanted was to be able to buy a new saddle.
“Mac could probably help out. He fixes cars n’ stuff,” Isabel offered. “Only thing is that he was oot last night and is probably still in bed.”
We took up the kind offer and could not help smiling as she explained the situation to Mac on the telephone, “I’ve got these two lads here. Their saddle was stolen,” there was a pause and then,”Yeah, that’s right, saddle. It got stolen.”
Mac said something and Isabel replied, “No, they don’t want to bother the police. Just want a new saddle.”
After the conversation Isabel turned to us and smiled, “Good news! Mac can help. He is still in bed and has a wee hangover, so he asked if you could give him half an hour. I’ll write down the address.”
Paul and I were overjoyed. If Mac could put a new saddle on Paul’s bike then our trip would be saved. We waited long enough for Mac to get out of bed and then found his place, a garage for fixing cars. It was filled with tools and odds and ends, including some old bicycle saddles. Mac looked a little worse for wear, “Are you the boys that had the saddle nicked?”
He examined the metal stump on Paul’s bike and tried matching up some of the saddles to it. “This one will do. Not perfect, but it will do.” He hammered it in place using a mallet and it stuck perfectly. There was going to be no possibility of adjusting it, but Paul was delighted. He could ride again!
When Paul asked Mac how much we owed for the job he shrugged, “You’re all right.”
We cycled off in the direction of Skara Brae. The replacement saddle was great and did Paul proud for Orkney and many other cycling trips. We laughed about the entire incident and that it would probably get talked about all over the island. “Did you hear about these lads who had their saddle stolen?”
My name is Colin Baird and I want to see all of Scotland by bicycle.