Polly clocks up 1,000 lockdown kilometres thanks to WheelNess

Woman with bike standing on road under Edinburgh Castle
Polly's travels have taken her all round Edinburgh
Student nurse Polly Talbot found cycling a safe and healthy way to get to work during the pandemic – and it has inspired her to explore further afield

Polly Talbot rediscovered cycling with the WheelNess project. As well as riding an amazing 1,000km during lockdown in Edinburgh, her bike came to the rescue as a safe way to get to her hospital placement at the height of the coronavirus crisis. “I truly believe my lockdown would have been an entirely different experience without having a bike to enjoy the fresh air, clear the head and explore,” she says.

Student nurse Polly was one of the first people to benefit from the WheelNess project which, in its first year, supported people in the Inverness area to cycle for everyday journeys by providing free access to a bike and a personal programme of support. It is now being extended to other areas of the Highlands.

Originally from Ullapool, she is about to start the third year of a nursing degree at the University of the Highlands and Islands in Inverness. It was during freshers’ week at the university that she spotted an information stand about WheelNess and signed up to  take part.

“I’d always enjoyed cycling but I hadn’t had a bike for a long time, so it seemed like a good way to get back into cycling”.

A move to Edinburgh at the end of March to be with her sister was intended to be temporary but when further restrictions on travel were imposed, it was arranged for her three month placement to move to the Royal Edinburgh Hospital instead.

Working in a hospital during the coronavirus pandemic was an unusual experience for Polly and other student nurses, as they were treated as nurses rather than students, with a greater level of responsibility.

Having mostly cycled for leisure before, Polly turned to her bike as the perfect way to travel to her placement.

She said: “It felt good to get exercise before and after working. When you’ve been on a ward for 13 hours you need some fresh air and even though you’re tired, it’s good to get some exercise.”

But the main benefit for Polly was being able to avoid public transport during the worst part of the coronavirus crisis. Catching the virus would have put her ward’s infection-free status and possibly the health of her patients at risk.

The WheelNess project has made such a huge difference to my life the last couple of years for my physical health and wellbeing

Polly Talbot, student nurse

She said: “If I hadn’t been able to cycle to the placement at that time, worrying about it all would have made me anxious. Having the bike really gave me peace of mind.”

As well as providing transport to her placement, Polly’s bike has been the passport to explore Edinburgh and many other areas. Lockdown gave her the chance to cycle all round Edinburgh with her sister, taking advantage of the quieter streets to really get to know the city.

She said: “We've probably cycled every street of Edinburgh as well as going to North Berwick, Peebles, Galashiels and more. I cycled to Carstairs, in Lanarkshire, in the rain which was still wonderful.”

It was a 110km return trip to Berwick-upon-Tweed with her sister one weekend in early September that tipped her over the 1,000km mark, as measured by her Garmin app.

Her next plans are to take part in a triathlon, and then to start exploring Glasgow, where her sister is planning to move soon.

“My sister is really keen and has already started picking out routes for us to follow, so I’m really excited about that – eventually we’ll cover the whole of Scotland!”

Starting on that day in freshers’ week two years ago, Polly’s cycling journey has had a real impact on her.

She said: “The WheelNess project has made such a huge difference to my life the last couple of years for my physical health and wellbeing”.