World Bike Girl Ishbel Holmes from Falkirk shares her incredible life story

Raising awareness...of the plight of street dogs is Ishbel Holmes new  mission. She explains why in her new book, Me, My Bike and A Street Dog Called Lucy launched at Apex Vets and Falkirk's Travel Hub. (Pic: Alan Murray)
Raising awareness...of the plight of street dogs is Ishbel Holmes new mission. She explains why in her new book, Me, My Bike and A Street Dog Called Lucy launched at Apex Vets and Falkirk's Travel Hub. (Pic: Alan Murray)

From living on the streets to speaking in front of the First Minister, Ishbel Holmes’s story definitely merits a book.

And happily she’s written one because I wouldn’t be able to record even a quarter of the 37-year-old’s life story here!

Local support...Ishbel's World Bike Girl blog has thousands of followers and she also has plenty of support in her chosen home town, Falkirk. She's pictured here at the town's Travel Hub, introducing visitors to her dog Maria, a street dog she brought home from Brazil and nurtured back to good health. (Pic: Alan Murray)

Local support...Ishbel's World Bike Girl blog has thousands of followers and she also has plenty of support in her chosen home town, Falkirk. She's pictured here at the town's Travel Hub, introducing visitors to her dog Maria, a street dog she brought home from Brazil and nurtured back to good health. (Pic: Alan Murray)

Me, My Bike and a Street Dog Called Lucy is the first chapter in her autobiography.

I say first, because Ishbel, whose World Bike Girl blog now has thousands of followers, admits there are more books to come.

And it is little surprise as she has crammed more into the last three decades than most people could squeeze into a lifetime.

As we sit chatting over a coffee, courtesy of Bob & Berts in Falkirk, Ishbel tells me her story.

Born to a Scottish mother and Iranian father, she spent her formative teenage years in foster care. Sadly, she was preyed upon and abused by men in the Scottish village she then called home.

She went from being a straight A student to failing her exams, after which she ended up on the streets. However, she reached a turning point as she approached her 21st birthday.

Ishbel said: “My life was so bad, it was either a case of ending it or making it a life worth living. I made a decision – I chose life.”

She enrolled in a course at Cardonald College in Glasgow in holistic therapy and stress management.

She also bought a second hand bike for £40 to get to and from college daily.

Her dream was to travel using her diploma to earn money while doing so.

After completing her two-year course, she did just that – heading to Australia where she lived for almost two years.

Breaking up with her then boyfriend saw Ishbel get back on her bike, literally.

She said: “Instead of getting the traditional break-up haircut, I came back to Scotland and decided to go on my first bike tour, cycling through the Pyrenees.

“My best friend was going to come with me but there was an issue with her bike so, rather than face the disappointment of not going, I decided to just go for it.”

She quickly ditched the maps her friend had created and freewheeled it.

“I cycled in one direction and hoped for the best,” she said. “That’s still the way I travel now.”

Pretty brave given she openly admits that she can’t change a puncture and still relies on Jack Clark (75), from Denny, for repairs; she first met him when he worked at JJB’s in Falkirk’s Retail Park.

Indeed, a puncture in Seville and severe flooding saw her fly back to Scotland and set up home in Falkirk.

She bought a celeste green Bianchi racing bike to get to and from work and was invited to join the Falkirk Bike Club.

That decision was to start the next chapter in her life – road racing across the UK.

And then, during a trip to the Chris Hoy Velodrome with friends, she discovered her true passion – speed.

She said: “It was a taster session and I was beating everyone. The head coach for Glasgow Life, Kevin Stewart, approached me so I became a velodrome cyclist.”

Much success followed and she was approached to join the Iranian team.

She said: “It was an opportunity to explore my Iranian roots so I left Falkirk to join the team in January 2014.”

It turned out to be a real eye-opener.

“Women were treated like second class citizens there,” she said. “I had been to Iran before as a visitor but this time I was there working in the system as a woman. Some of my team mates had been arrested, simply for riding their bikes.

“It was the first time I’d felt really passionate about women’s rights.”

Standing up for those rights subsequently saw Ishbel treated harshly so she decided to leave Iran after the Asian Championships. And so began the chapter that led Ishbel to write her book, leaving in June 2014 to cycle around the world – through 16 countries.

Setting off from Nice, she travelled across Europe, through the Alps, into Turkey and then on to Chile, Bolivia and Brazil.

But it was a street dog she met in Turkey which really pulled at her heart strings.

She added: “Lucy was attacked by four dogs and just lay down, defenceless.

“I had been in her position once so I chased the dogs off and cycled 400 miles with her to a shelter.

“There was something about Lucy that reminded me of me and, despite warnings not to, I really wanted to get her to safety.”

It’s the story of this adventure which Ishbel tells so compellingly in her book.

To find out what happens, though, you’ll need to read it!

Me, My Bike and a Street Dog Called Lucy is available from www.bradtguides.com, Amazon and leading book stores.