The Herald Magazine - - CONTENTS - GARY SUTHER­LAND

CY­CLING along a 40ft high wall with a child on the back of your bi­cy­cle might seem reck­less. Ex­cept that the child in ques­tion is lov­ing ev­ery minute of it and her fa­ther has not taken leave of his senses be­cause we are on the walls of Lucca which, in ad­di­tion to be­ing 40ft high, are 80ft wide.

These Re­nais­sance ram­parts, de­signed by Leonardo da Vinci and never breached, form a four-kilo­me­tre cir­cuit en­cir­cling Lucca’s old town. The walls are topped by a tree-lined prom­e­nade shared by cy­clists, jog­gers, dog walk­ers and court­ing cou­ples.

My wife is ped­alling along with our three-year-old son up front while I’ve got my daugh­ter on the back with her arms around me. As qual­ity fam­ily time goes, it’s up there. We look out to green Tus­can plains and the Apuan Alps. Gaz­ing in­wards, we are treated to close-ups of San Martino Cathe­dral and the oc­ca­sional palazzo with ex­quis­ite gar­dens.

But the chil­dren are more in­ter­ested in the colour­ful play­grounds dot­ted on and around the walls. So we dis­mount to give them a push on the swings and watch them slide down chutes. Once we have com­pleted a cir­cuit of Lucca’s walls, we ask the chil­dren what they want to do next and get the clas­sic re­sponse: “Again! Again!”

We man­age a third lap of the merry-go-round of church spires, moun­tains and see-saws be­fore re­turn­ing our bikes to the hire shop, pay­ing a hand­ful of eu­ros for two hours of plea­sure.

Lucca is a de­light to ex­plore by foot since much of its his­toric cen­tre is traf­ficfree. Wan­der­ing through the at­mo­spheric streets, we stum­ble upon pretty pi­az­zas and yet more play­grounds. With lunchtime ap­proach­ing, the chil­dren start clam­our­ing for pizza and ice cream but that’s easy. We’re in Italy, af­ter all. We join the queue at the Pizze­ria da Felice and or­der slices of margherita which we scoff on a bench out­side then it’s off to the near­est ice-cream shop for dessert.

Hav­ing pol­ished off their lunch, the pair are asked what they wish to do next. Our daugh­ter would like to see the “crazy tower” so we jump on the train to Pisa. Within the hour we’re there among the crowds, my daugh­ter won­der­ing if the tower is about to fall down and her lit­tle brother ask­ing where the pizza is since Pisa makes no sense to him.

We all agree it was worth see­ing the Lean­ing Tower of Pisa but an­other “crazy tower” awaits us back in Lucca and it is next door to our hol­i­day apart­ment.

The 15th-cen­tury Torre Guinigi was once the home of Lucca’s lead­ing fam­ily and has to be seen to be be­lieved. Even then it is hard to get your head round it. The tower is quite ver­ti­cal but the twist is it is topped by oak trees.

We set about climb­ing the sur­real tower but my wife and chil­dren fare bet­ter than I do. Two flights of steps from the top, my legs turn to jelly. My fear of heights pre­vents me from go­ing any fur­ther. Forced to sit down, I watch the rest of the fam­ily con­tinue to the sum­mit. Af­ter a while they re­port back to dizzy dad about the out­landish trees and un­beat­able views.

I share in their ex­cite­ment and am even more thrilled when we reach the bot­tom of the tower and terra firma.

Af­ter a pasta din­ner in a bustling trat­to­ria, we take an evening stroll through Lucca in the fad­ing light and end up hang­ing out in a square that is not a square.

Pi­azza dell’An­fiteatro stands on the site of a Ro­man am­phithe­atre, which ex­plains its un­usual oval shape. The chil­dren run around and, once they have tired them­selves out, we ask what they want to do to­mor­row.

“Bikes!” comes the unan­i­mous re­ply.

Gary Suther­land’s Life Cy­cle: A Bike Ride Round Scot­land and Back to Child­hood is pub­lished by Bir­linn in pa­per­back and ebook. See www.bir­

Cy­cling round Lucca’s 40ft high ram­parts was a de­light for Gary and his fam­ily

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