Dino's blog for mini adventures and endurance challenges

The Other End of the Land

July 31st, 2015 | Posted by Dino in UK - (1 Comments)

Melvich to John O’Groats

Distance: 67km

Hurrah! We made it!

I wave my arms in the air in celebration. We pose for a photograph under The Famous Signpost. We chink glasses of ginger beer (later we chink glasses of prosecco). It’s over. We’ve done it. Thank goodness.

I would be lying if I said that it was easy. Foolishly I’d imagined that cycling Lejog wouldn’t actually be that hard. Having spent half of June cycling between Trappist beers and cheese in Belgium, I was expecting that the ride across the UK would retain the theme of easy cycling interspersed with leisurely stop. Instead we got long days in the saddle, strong winds, lots of rain, lots of hills, more rain, more hills and a couple of storms and a bite of cold weather to finish it off. Blimey.

Now I understand why people spend their holidays horizontally by the hotel pool sipping sangria. Having cycled and camped for three soggy weeks, these are the things I appreciate more: a dry bed, not having to put shoes and a waterproof on in order to wee in the night, not having to check the weather like my life depended on it. Oh, and eating salad.

I woke in the night to pull the fleece blanket around me. Despite my many layers, the cold still creeped in. By breakfast time the midges were already out in force. I tried to spray myself with midge repellent only to discover that the overnight cold had solidified the liquid in my bottle. My Dad checked the temperature on the car: it was 3 degrees.

The weather today was annoying: a strong headwind, sunny and dry. This was the complete opposite of the rest of the trip. The final photograph by the signpost would show us in the sunshine but that is NOT a fair representation of the trip. Nonetheless, I am grateful for the tailwinds we’ve had so much of the way as it was hard going against the wind.

Orkney was visible to the left, a large slab of land across the water that we could use to measure our progress along the coast. The hills eased as we travelled further east. On the west coast we’d been surrounded by harsh rock, peat bogs and steep descends. Here the flatter views looked out over pasture, crops and houses. Throughout the day we waved at cyclists who were finishing or starting their trips. You could which ones were which by who was clean and who was weather beaten.

We munched one final packet of oatcakes, one more block of cheese, and one final slab of flapjack. I had one final scenic wee by the roadside, admiring the purple thistle. The final kilometres ticked down slowly until we took one final left turn. I freewheeled down the hill towards the sea. My mum was already there to guide us straight to the signpost and crack open the ginger beer. My Dad and I posed for photos, chinned glasses and glugged ginger beer.

We’ve made it: these two tired Lejoggers have now Lejogged.


Highland Gathering, Highland Soaking

July 31st, 2015 | Posted by Dino in UK - (0 Comments)

Durness to Melvich

Distance: 90km

I awoke in a puddle. Or, more accurately, awoke because there was a loud, inebriated Scotsman outside mournfully yelling expletives:

“My tent is ****ing soaked. ****. It’s soaking wet. My ****ing tent is ****ing soaked.” He repeated this a few times, in case anyone in the campsite was still asleep or remained unsure of the condition of his tent.

My hand reached out my sleeping bag and searched round the tent floor. It was in a similar condition to the Scotman’s. I had a genius theory that because it’s so windy then the rain falls diagonally in Scotland and so by pitching the midge tent (which is exposed on one side) with its back to the wind would mean I remain dry even in the rain. This theory fails when a) the rain pours down in a torrent and b) the wind changes direction overnight. This night it had done both.

It was too dark to do anything. So I went back to sleep. When I woke again the sun had risen to reveal that I was perched on an island. An inch of rain had fallen over night (this was verified by the amount of water in our BBQ). Half an inch had fall into the midge tent. As it turns out, my thermarest is just over half an inch high and so whilst I remained dry in my sleeping bag all around me was a moat of rain water with my shoes, buff, bags and other possessions floating on top.

It was a quiet morning on the campsite. Yesterday we had enjoyed an unexpected day’s rest. We had meant to take a side trip to Cape Wrath, the most northerly point on the UK mainland, but discovered that the ferry was not running because of the Durness Highland Gathering.

So, after a beautiful morning scramble around a headland of clambering rocks, sand dunes, cotton grass, orchids, snails and wading birds, we too headed to the Gathering. The Highland Gathering started with a pipe band made up of local school kids who marched with impressive confidence and not a smirk to be seen. We took our folding chairs to the front of the field to watch the games: burly shot putters and hammer throwers, inagile high jumpers flinging themselves into the pole, pipers, Scottish dancers, kids running for the egg and spoon. Everyone was allowed to join in: the locals and the holidaying European lined up side by side for their turn wanging the welly. A commonwealth champion was apparently chucking some heavy things. My mum entered the egg and spoon alongside a woman who was mid-puff on a cigarette when the event was called so handed her fag to her friend, ran with egg and spoon, then continued to puff again when she didn’t make the final. I was sprayed with muck as I competed in the 220meter race as the race track descended into bog on the corner. A woman in a Sutherland Athletics hoodie did warm up sprints on the track while a generously-proportioned man waddled blithely across the field carrying three hamburgers.

After the fun of the games it was perhaps not surprising that today, back on the bike, my legs didn’t feel as fresh as I hoped they would after a rest day. My knees were sore from the first hill. Oh, if only I could soak in a bath, lie down, take some time off the bike. It was overcast and damp as we pedalled around a large loch. There were lots hills and few houses. You wonder what it must be like to live here. Cycling past you forget that people have cars and can drive to a town. Perhaps it is not so remote with four wheels. But what about the snow? What if your car breaks down? One house we passed was all on its own on the loch edge. It sat on a circle of land that was attached to the bank only by a thin natural causeway such that it gave the appearance of a water drop clinging to an edge just below it falls. A lone house sat on that piece of land. Further along our way we passed crumbling stone walls that once would have been warm with people and a fireplace. Now the roof was gone the cold wind blew through. So much of the history of this part of Scotland is about displacement and loss. We passed a vacant bay where once, before the
Highland Clearances, a village had stood. Now, it was left empty and nature has fills the void left by the desolation of man.

As we approached at the campsite we overtook a lone cyclist who we’d spotted earlier in the day climbing up hills on the horizon. Jennifer, a much seasoned tourer, had nearly given up on cycle touring in Scotland after a trip earlier in the year had left her completely soaked. Why did she come back for a second rinse? It’s a good wonder, especially given she has a sister to visit in France. But Scotland has its pull: the scenery is more majestic and wild, the flapjack is more filling than your fancy patisseries, and the midges and drizzle keep all by the hardiest of tourists away. It’s hard, but cycling in Scotland is rewarding. After my soaking tent, however, I cannot promise that next time I come here I won’t book into a B&B…





The Rocky Road

July 29th, 2015 | Posted by Dino in UK - (0 Comments)

Ardmair to Durness

Distance: 105km

The weather was bad. Dreek, dreer, drizzly, dire…whatever your dialect it was a day for indoors.

But no. We were out in the wild. The wind was the worst. Though it was strong enough to push a heavy, tired cyclist up the side of a mountain, it was wild and irregular. The open landscape gave little or no protection. As the road twisted and turned around the contours, the crosswinds snapped across the road with cold teeth. The rain had already soaked us through. The left side of my body, because it was on the westerly side, was getting more battered than my right. My left foot was dead numb and cold with pain. The rain hit hard against my left ear. As I summited another grey, waterlogged hill, I reached for my gears with my left hand but couldn’t move my frozen left thumb enough to shift gear. Why am I here? Is this not pig-headed, stupid and dangerous? Get off your bike, get in the car.

After an hour of cycling we pulled into the car park outside a hotel. We were hoping for warming tea and coffee only to discover that the hotel bar was closed to non residents. “That should be illegal! All hotels in Scotland should be obliged serve hot drinks!” My mum hissed angrily. We were too cold to complain. We took shelter as best we could in the car. The rain hit against the windscreen, the wind shook the car. We ate flapjack.

The support vehicle was setting out and we weary cyclists were commanded to follow up hill and down to sea level. Again it rained and blew. A stag looked out, totally bored. A castle ruin from clan warfare crumbled further… Who fought to live as lords of this desolate place?

I stopped at the sign called “Rock Stop”: it seemed like a command but it was in fact a cafe and visitor centre for the Northwest Highlands Geopark, where 19th century scientists had first figured out the basic foundations of geology. Not quite warm enough to fully thaw but protection from the wind, a cup of coffee, a slice of rocky road and a view of the grey loch through a window running with rain drops. We led our quaking support vehicle over a high level bridge (my mum hates high bridges even more than I do). We cycled up a hill. We grumbled at our support driver. We grouched at each other. We cycled down. We took photos of soggy shepherd with his wet woolly flock and his drenched dog.

For a moment the clouds broke. Heading towards Durness we reached a summit. Below was a huge, wide valley that sloped down for ten miles to the sea. Harsh mountains lay behind us. Ahead lay softer green fields, light and dark, painted by the shadow of the fast moving clouds. The sun broke through. We freewheeled down towards the rainbow. A moment of joy.

It didn’t last. We arrived at the campsite with enough time to dive into the car before the rain arrived again. Drum, drum, drum went the rain. We found the whisky and had a wee dram while it continued. Drum, drum, drum. We had another dram. What can I say? The weather was bad.


Paint on road describes average speed of wearily, cold cyclist

Paint on road describes average speed of wearily, cold cyclist

Easy going

July 29th, 2015 | Posted by Dino in UK - (0 Comments)

Achnasheen to Ardmair

Distance: 84km

If only all cycle touring was this good. It is a lot, and I mean A LOT, easier going if you have a support vehicle which carries your kit and drives ahead to the lunch stop to slice the tomato.

There’s more energy for noticing other things along the way. A stag, to put us in fine Scottish mood; orchids; flesh eating plants (well, insect flesh); possibly an eagle (possibly not, it’s hard to say); jelly fish that look like transparent frisbees decorated with red onion; and a double rainbow arching over the barbecue bucket.

Last night I slept soundly inside the delightful midge tent. As the tent is open on one side I was a tad concerned that it might rain in the night and I would have to run shrieking and cold out the tent to find shelter inside the bathroom or the car. But instead I enjoyed my cosiest (extra blanket) and most peaceful night’s sleep and awoke to find blue sky the other side of the midge-proof netting.

For the first 10 miles we flew downhill. Our speed picked up and pick to over 15mph, something which is almost unheard of in a touring bike. Ah, but although we are touring we do not have the cumbersome kit to carry. Rather I just carried a small bag with flapjack, waterproofs and a repair kit. We enjoyed majestic highland scenery: huge, wide valleys that must have been carved out by ancient glaciers. A small patch of snow was still visible on the top of some of the mountains, though some other peaks disappeared into cloud as the sunshine and showers was blown by a stiff wind down the valley.

At lunchtime we only needed to pull into a lay bay on the shore of Loch Glascarnoch where my mum was parked, already midway through chopping up veg sticks and tomato to have with our cheese and oat cakes. It was only 11am but we’d made such good progress in the morning thanks to having lighter bikes.

The afternoon ride went swiftly as well as we sped down the hill towards Ullapool. Since Ullapool is the launching point for ferries to Stornoway and the Outer Hebrides then I saw surprised to find such a small, neatly packed town that fitted into one square kilometre on my OS map. We restocked our food supplies, assuming this small town will be the last outpost before we turn home, and refuelled with coffee and tea. My parents discussed whether what we could see was the sea (my Mum) or a loch (my Dad). The cafes were promoting their sea views and the ferry boats leaving the harbour clearly go out to sea, but the body of water is labelled as a loch on the map. Either way, it offered a beautiful view with steep sided mountains behind it.

An easy 3 miles brought us to the campsite in the tiny settlement of Ardmair. Though it makes it onto the map there is not much here except a campsite, a cluster of white houses perched on the bank along the beach and a beautiful panorama that looks back at mountains and forwards to rocky shore and the blue outline of the Summer Isles out in the sea. After pitching the famous midge tent, my mum and I walked along the beach where we found bizarre looking jellyfish. At first we thought one must be a child’s lost toy but on closer inspection (including a small prod) we realise it must be a living thing. Strange thing that it is though for it is the size of a small side plate, squidgy and gelatinous as you’d expect, and complete transparent save for what look like four small rings of red onion inside. How can it be that this odd disc is a) real and b) alive. My mum and I joked how being on a failing diet but be so much harder to lie about if you are a transparent jellyfish.

“Chocolate biscuit? No, I haven’t eaten a chocolate biscuit. Not a crumb!” Said the fat jellyfish.

“I can tell you’re lying,” the slimmer weight-watchers champion jellyfish said, “I can see right through you!”

What an odd thing life is.


Rainbow over campfire curry, a beautiful end to the end

Rainbow over campfire curry, a beautiful end to the end

Team Skye

July 28th, 2015 | Posted by Dino in UK - (0 Comments)

Mallaig to Achnasheen

Distance: 95km

I hadn’t even unclipped my second cleated foot from the pedal when the whisky was handed to me. Just a wee dram. This is, really, how all days of cycling in Scotland should be finished. Indeed, it may be how all future days of cycling in Scotland finish now that we have, wait for it, a support vehicle!!

Like some sort of pro Tour de France team, we now have our own team car and soigneur in the form of my mother; but what Chris Froome lacks and we (Team Skye) has is the most glorious bright yellow midge tent. The midge tent, let me explain, is made from a lightweight tent semicircular shelter big enough for three people to sit that my mum purchased off the internet. But the shelter has now been enhanced by my mum stitching and clipping inside it a fine-mesh inner that keeps biting things out.

Joyfully our support vehicle came to find us at a viewpoint layby above Loch Carron. We brewed a cup of tea for my flagging dad and I inhaled some of the fresh supply of salted pretsels. We then offloaded our panniers into the support vehicle, just a short way before a 14% climb into the highlands.

The day had started in a B&B with a fantastic breakfast of fresh fruit, yoghurt, and the full Scottish with a poached egg and extra toast and a supplementary yoghurt. Today I would not go hungry. Refreshed from a good night’s sleep on a mattress and suitably fuelled I was ready for the cycling miles ahead.

We caught the morning ferry from Mallaig to Skye along with a couple of bus loads of tourists and a friendly Scottish cyclist who was doing a tour of his homeland. Thanks to a strong south westerly wind we we blown along Skye enjoying the views of boats on the sea and cottages by the shore and the magnificent Cuillin mountains melting into mist.

At the roadside we met two Polish cyclist’s, dampened by rain in clothing but not in spirit, so were doing a tour of Scotland. We stopped long enough to exchange greetings and hear about their route before pedalling off. We did, after all, have a rendezvous to meet.

To get back to the mainland we had to cycle across the Skye bridge. My Dad stopped to take photos while I pedalled on, head down, while muttering prayers to myself. I think the views were beautiful but frankly I don’t know. I will look at my Dad’s photos later to find out, when I am not high on a bridge and in fear of my life.

We stopped on a remote bit of roadside to enjoy a scenic picnic. Since the ground was damp and boggy and there was no picnic bench we hunched up on an uncomfortable rock in a little cutting of land. Gorse poked into my head when I moved but I enjoyed the views of mini islands in the blue waters ahead. The mountains of Skye were still visible, a few houses stood on the distance shore. As luck would have it, we passed not one but five picnic benches in the mile after our lunch stop. But hey, we still had the view.

We pressed on. Up and down, winding back and forth we followed the single track road the snaked through the woods south of Loch Carron. My Mum had already called so we were expecting to see her in a few miles time when we reached the main A route towards Inverness. My calculations of how long it would take to get there hadn’t factored in the rather steep hill at the end. I pushed on, hoping my Mum wouldn’t be fretting about why we were late. Then I saw: the outline of a figure walking down the road. Was it her? My mum’s usual walking jacket is a distinctive apple green colour. This figure was a different colour. But as I pedalled closer I could make out the shape, the sunglasses, the boots… Of our wonderful new support team. I waved, and she waved back.

I pedalled up the hill as fast as possible. I called a brief “hello” as I passed, followed by “have you got any milk?” And pushed quickly up the hill with my Mum now running behind me. By the time my Dad pulled into the lay by, the hot water was on the boil for a fresh cup of tea to revive him.

Never will I forget the kindness and generosity of my mother who was the real hero of the day. For she had brought pretzels, peanut butter, marzipan, a hand stitched midge tent and other such delights that brighten the lives of weary cyclists. Now without panniers to carry (and still with a strong tailwind) we made good speed up the hills towards Achnasheen. The scenery here is glorious: we cycled through a huge, huge valley, wider than your eyes can fathom, with steep sided mountains on each side and peaks that disappear into cloud above. We cycled under an avalanche shelter and later, as we climbed higher up the valley, my Dad pointed out red and white posts on the roadsides that are used in winter so they know where the road is when they plough the snow.

I led out a whoop of glee as I saw the sign for the campsite and then swerved into the car park to find my mum holding a wee dram of whisky to share. “Cheers!” We clinked glasses, took a swig and then marched up the hill to admire the midge tent.





Ardnamurchan rollercoaster

July 28th, 2015 | Posted by Dino in UK - (0 Comments)

Tobermory to Mallaig

Distance: 96km

3 to 30 mph in a minute, every couple of minutes. That’s what it’s like cycling across Ardnamurchan, a wedge of land that sticks out to the mostly westerly point of the UK mainland. The B8007 is one of those Scottish single-track roads with passing places, and follows the north side of Loch Sunart from the ferry landing at Kilchoan to Salen, where our route turned inland. “Follows” in this context should be taken in the metaphorical sense, as it goes up and over all the headlands instead of around them. The result is a rollercoaster road that is rarely straight or level for more than a few metres and one that taxes your gear-changing skills as well as your leg muscles. The day was up and down, up and down, in more than one way.

Starting the day with a ferry crossing meant that we had another opportunity to sample the delights of the Tobermory Bakery and stock up on calorific goodies. I probably should have stocked up on more calorific goodies than I did because not far across the wild coast of Ardnamurchan and I began to not feel so good. Sick, nauseated, out of gas..? It was hard to say what the problem was. I hadn’t felt great as the ferry had lurched around on the crossing, not heading up the hills I became to feel quite faint. How are my legs still moving? It was like the wheels were spinning on gravel and not moving, the key was in the ignition but no power was coming out. I limped up the hill, my stomach an uncomfortable knot of pain.

By midday we’d done less than 20 miles with more than 40 ahead of us. But I must have looked sufficiently desperate enough as we pulled into a quite picnic spot by the shore. I had no eyes for admiring the coastal views as I lay down on the bench clutching my stomach while my Dad boiled up some noodles. All I wanted to do was be teleported home to my sofa, a blanket and my cuddly penguin-shaped hot water bottle. Instead I lay on a bench. The hot noodles however began to nourish me. My hunger returning I then ate the rest of my flapjack, then ripped open a large bag of jelly beans. As we pedalled off, I kept my sugar levels high by nibbling jelly beans every few miles.

Thankfully we soon joined an A road and turned inland across the peninsula. The road became a bit straighter and the hills a bit longer. A small road side shop resupplied me with fudge, honeycomb slice, a banana and a Mars bar which kept me on a sugar high for the road ahead. With more sugar and slightly easier terrain we were able to maintain more of a rhythm going up steadily and going faster on the way down.

The peninsula is renowned for being one of Britain’s last wildernesses. The scenery in Ardnamurchan was stunning in its scale, even on one of those dark days when the sky is low and threatening rain. Exposed to all weathers, inhabited by fewer (not doubt heartier) souls, it is not somewhere you would want to be caught out. The forecast for the day was heavy rain in the afternoon. Fortunately for us it did not start until the last hour of cycling, by which time I could start dreaming about the hot shower and warm comfort of the B&B we had booked for the night. Though I love camping, I think one of the things I love most about it is how much more you appreciate the simple stuff (eg pillow, clean sheet, a toilet that is en suite and doesn’t require you to hunt around for your waterproof and scurry across puddles to get to). So we were glad of our decision to have our first non-camping night for two weeks. We celebrated by watching the day’s highlights from the Tour de France while reclined, very comfortably, on ample plump cushions and pillows.

P.s. My Dad wants to include that today we saw “The Jacobite”, one of Britain’s last steam trains (headed by a Black Five, for those who are interested in such things). It passed us just near the Prince’s Cairn, marking the spot where Bonnie Prince Charlie came ashore in 1645.




July 25th, 2015 | Posted by Dino in UK - (0 Comments)

Oban to Tobermory

Distance: 41km

This morning I was awoken first by the rain, secondly by my bladder, and thirdly by my Dad rattling the tent flap as he searched through my panniers for the tea bags.

“Is it cold?” I asked, listening to the rain softly pattering on my tent.

“No, it’s not cold. But there are midges.”

The joy of putting on freshly laundered cycling clothes was slightly dampened, as it were, by the pervading wetness in and outside the tent. My lovely Christmas present socks were theoretically clean but still smelt like they’d spent a week in the garbage bin outside a cheese factory. I wrapped up in waterproofs, armed myself with Avon Skin So Soft and went to do battle with the midges outside. Instead of raining from the sky it appeared that the cloud had simply lowered itself onto the land, creating a misty, thin drizzle all round that invited the biting midges.

The ground was a sponge. Each footstep around my tent squelched softly as the water oozed around my shoe. The freshly-cut grass had turned into damp clumps that clung onto anything and everything. The water has seeped inside, leaving my thermarest wet to the touch. My tent, once so new and dry, was now limp with water and covered in bits of grass. With no wind to flap anything dry, I reluctantly rolled up the soggy, grassy mess and hoped for better weather on Mull.

I realised, while on the ferry nibbling another corner of my Dad’s chocolatey flapjack, that a lot of my blog so far has been dedicated to recounting the dreary weather, the wetness of my tent and how I succeeded in my daily task, not of cycling another 50 miles, but rather in getting stuff dry. Yet, despite the wet, I was cheerily singing tunes to myself as we packed up and cycled back to Oban to catch the ferry to Mull. I had expected England to be easy and was disappointed when the days where long and wet. But in Scotland I expected it to be hard. Although my knee hurts a bit from all the climbing and my body and all my kit oscillates daily, if not hourly, between very wet and mostly dry, my general mood while cycling in Scotland is a bit like the scenery: calm, peaceful and inspiringly joyful.

By the time the ferry had arrived in Mull and decanted several bus loads of tourists followed by two waterproofed cyclist, the sun had come out sufficiently so as to demand sunglasses rather than jackets. We followed the coastal road north along the island, searching as we went for a picnic spot with, you guessed it, space for us to dry our tents. We found a suitable spot with a picnic bench for our cheese and oatcakes, and a tree for our washing line. Our spot overlooked the Sound of Mull, with Morvern in the background. The clean, white sails of a handful of boats graced the water. The shadows of the clouds moved quickly over the scene, transforming the appearance of the rolling contours of the land and making the green grasses look like crumpled velvet. A sign warned us to look out for otters but, bar for my Dad inspecting some unusual and unknown scat on the shoreline, we didn’t catch sight of one.

After lunch, we pushed into a headwind up a steep hill. The single track road meant we had to keep giving way to cars and slowed our progress but today, with only 25 miles for the whole day, but it didn’t matter. We pedalled slowly, admiring the views of the sound, the surround hills, the wildflowers and fresh, sea air.

At the top of the hill we were caught by a man in a Mull Cycling Club jersey who called out “it’s downhill all the way to Tobermory now” as he sped by on his road bike. The long descent to Tobermory provided beautiful views of the colourful houses on the waterfront miles before we caught the smell of the angel’s share of the distillery’s whisky on the edge of town.

For some reason I do not quite understand, it is on the easy cycling days that my appetite becomes most ferocious. Today I was ravenous. We pulled up at a cosy bakery cafe with handwritten menus in chalk and photos illustrating the history of Mull on the wall. The counter was a sight to behold: bricks of custard slice, an uncut bananoffee pie the size of a truck’s wheel, oaty flapjack, crispy cornflake flapjack, millionaires shortcake oozing with caramel, chunks of tiffin, fist-sized French fancies with pelican pink icing, gingerbread biscuits sandwiches together with icing, donuts, croissants… The display was everything you could name and more. I ordered a coffee and slice of cranberry flapjack, enjoyed both, but then spotted the peanut butter chocolate cup. I couldn’t resist. I felt slightly sick but deliriously happy from eating my daily calorie intake in peanuts and sugar in four mouthfuls. After three easy days of cycling, the profile for tomorrow’s ride looks very, very hilly. It’s nearly 60 miles and is forecast to rain heavily all afternoon and evening. So, forgive me if I order another peanut butter cup…

Out of the rain

July 22nd, 2015 | Posted by Dino in UK - (0 Comments)

Lochgilphead to Oban

Distance: 67 km

Next time I’m home and struggling to stir myself out of bed, I will remember this morning. For the second night in a row, my tent had sheltered me from slashes of rain and wind. Wetness surrounded me. A small pool had collected by the flap of my tent door, the ground felt soft with the water underneath, and lifting my thermarest revealed yet more dampness. Thankfully the rain had stopped by the time I peered out the tent to see a dismal grey sky. The forecast I’d seen for today showed full heavy rain for the entire day. I suppose I should call this grey but dry sky good sky. I packed as hastily as I could and then moved my sodden tent to flap as dry as it could while my Dad and I sheltered in the lean-to to eat breakfast.

We called my Mum for help. For the next half an hour or so, my Mum looked up hotels and B&Bs in Oban on her iPad, several hundred miles away, and fed us numbers to call. We called one, we called another. Then another. But everywhere was full. By this time, my tent had flapped enough to be near-ish dry and so we packed up and went on our way.

It rained on and off all morning. I had an extra thermal on to keep off the cold. How on earth do Scottish people cope? Is this really their idea of summer? Nonetheless, the cycling was easy enough as the strong wind pushed us up the many contours. We learnt to identify how close we were to the summit and what the path would do next by looking at the streams. After so much rain, the streams were full of life, gushing with white water down the rocks. It was pleasing to mark our ascent by seeing the fast flowing water coming down and then, having passed a small watershed, to start cycling downstream on the other side of the summit.

There wasn’t much life beyond the trees, the sheep and the lively water. The road was pretty quiet and only two, maybe three, clusters of houses en route were big enough to warrant a village sign. We pushed to Oban in search of somewhere warm and dry.

My Dad led us to a lovely restaurant that apparently I had been to some 14 years ago (I don’t remember the restaurant though I do remember eating Irn Bru ice cream in Oban). We took a window seat by the waterfront restaurant from where we could see the ferry boats coming and going, loaded with tourists. I munched my way through, first, a mini haggis pie, then, smoked salmon and scrambled egg and then I polished off the remnant of my Dad’s burger and chips (he’d decided he didn’t really like burger half way through, either that or the beer had gone to his head because he became weary and stopped eating). Joy of joys, as I looked out the window again a large patch of blue sky had appeared. Not quite believing our luck, I checked the weather forecast online using the restaurant wifi to find full sun and warmth forecast for the rest of the day. Who needs a B&B in his glorious weather? Hurrah!

Done cycling for the day, we pottered around the town, collecting goodies from the distillery and supermarket before heading to the campsite to have a well-needed wash and rest. We laundered our stinky cycling clothes and while they flapped in the cool sunshine, we flopped. Another day done.


Dodging the rain

July 20th, 2015 | Posted by Dino in UK - (0 Comments)

Lochranza to Lochgilphead

Distance: 42 km

Throughout the night my tent was shaken and buffeted by violent gusts of wind, the sheets of rain drummed loudly against the sides. We were lucky as by morning the rain had passed and only the strong wind remained. I took my theory that it is wind not sunshine that dries things to the test. In the absence of a washing line or anywhere to hang my tent, I took the inner sheet of my tent and wrapped it around my neck and fastened it like a cape. I then proceeded to continue with my morning routine of packing my panniers dressed like a camping superman and caught amused smiles from passing campers. Yet it worked! And I happily rolled up a dried tent.

We paid a quick visit to the distillery on our way to catch the early morning ferry back to the main land. As we waited by the coast, listening to the squeaks of oyster catchers and admiring the blues of the sea, the sun came out.

The Lochranza to Cloanaig ferry has an appearance reminiscent of a WW2 landing craft, with a drawbridge-type ramp at each end. This enables it to land at a simple concrete slipway and load a range of vehicles including large caravans towed by Chelsea tractors. As we headed across the water the last of the night’s gale was still blowing itself out. This made our arrival at Cloanaig more akin to landing a sea kayak in surf than hopping off the average ferry. The vessel was moving up and down considerably on the swell even while the vehicles were disembarking. As we approached the ramp downwards, I could see the waves crashing on the concrete landing and swamping the ramp. How on earth could I walk my heavy bike down this steep ramp in cleated shoes without being swept away by a crashing wave? The ferry man clearly saw the question on my face and came rushing toward to take Monty across, leaving me to run as fast as I could between the waves.

Our feet now wet with salt water, but otherwise in fine fettle back on terra firma, we were glad of the strong wind, which blew us up the single-track climb to the main road and along the Kintyre peninsula to Tarbert. Only 15 miles done, but already time for lunch at a cafe on the quayside. With only 25 miles to cover in the day it was the perfect location to indulge our appetites on flapjack crumble ice cream sundae (my Dad) and veggie supreme pizza with added pepperoni (me, not so veggie but still supreme).

From Tarbert we followed the main road north along the coast with views across (the real) Loch Fyne to Argyll. We were lucky to reach the campsite at Lochgilphead and get our tents up before the rain started again. I spent the rest of afternoon lying in the tent reading my book about Kazakhstan while wondering when the clouds would run out of water. In the evening, we cowered in a damp lean-to in order to have dinner and fretted a bit more about the weather as it continued to pour, throwing our tents around in the wind and gradually turning the camping field into a boggy marsh. I fell asleep with my ear plugs tapped into my ears to block out the sound of another night sheltering from a storm.

Getting on the ferry... Sunshine and calm.

Getting on the ferry… Sunshine and calm.


Getting off the ferry in crashing waves…


Ride on Ayr

July 20th, 2015 | Posted by Dino in UK - (0 Comments)

Loch Ken to Lochranza

Distance: 133 km

After yesterday’s skipping gears, today we had a mission: to get to the bike shop on Ayr and fix Monty.

Just after 6am I poked my head out the tent. Streaks of white cirrus cloud over a fresh blue sky, what a beautiful morning. Another bowlful of porridge and some fresh coffee (me) and two cups of tea plus a flapjack (my Dad) set us up for a busy morning’s ride.

Coming here, you can understand why dispossessed Scots felt at home in Canada. On our left was the end of Loch Ken, still and calm in the morning, a single yellow canoe floats undisturbed on the water. Conifers fill in the gaps between lake, sky and road. A moose here wouldn’t feel out of place.

Having spent yesterday focusing on getting to the campsite on time, we’d neglect to stock up our supplies for today. After an hour of cycling we passed through a tiny village. On the outside, the post office looked like it had seen better days, but inside was a cyclist’s dream selection of homemade cakes, flapjacks and tiffin, all neatly wrapped in clingfilm. With our panniers and bellies a little heavier with goodies we began the long climb towards Ayr. We passed three hydroelectric power stations as we ascended through forest. Each small summit would reveal a new vista, and a new line of hills beyond with perhaps a new river or loch. When I stopped, all I could hear was the wind in the grasses and the trickling of a stream.

The decent was pure joy. Long, easy, sweeping bends took us down towards Ayr, past an old coal mining village with rows of old houses, identical in their peeling paint and matching satellite dishes. Thanks to good flapjack and a tailwind the whole way, we pulled into the bike shop in Ayr before noon, having cycled 70 km.

The man in the bike shop had the parts I needed to fix Monty but not the time. However, being a kind and wonderful person, he lent us the tools so my Dad and I then spent the next 45 minutes on the street outside the shop (there was not enough room inside) taking Monty apart and putting him back into one, happy piece. I took him on a short spin around the Aldi car park: all was running smoothly again.

We took lunch on the sea front looking towards the blue outline of Arran. A woman came up to say hello. She’d just been looking for driftwood and bits of glass on the beach with her sister for a project she was working on in the garden. I’d asked in town about the weather and been told it was going to be “wild”. I was a bit worried.

“Nah, just a bit of rain,” she said, “the ferries will still be running unless the wind gets up.” She recommended that, since we were headed to Arran, we push on to the campsite in Lochranza, at the north end of the island. “It’s a beautiful place, good pub and the views are lovely.” She told us about her own cycling trips out to Barra and South Uist. There seems so much here to explore, if you have a good enough waterproof.

Convinced by the woman’s description of Lochranza and now with a ferry to catch we pushed on to Ardrossan. We followed the coastal bike path which weaved back and forth over the railway and in between one, two, three golf courses en route.

This is the fifth long day of cycling but a good bit of food, clear skies and a beautiful view always inspires me to keep going. It was 7pm by the time the ferry arrived in Arran.

We had 15 miles to cycle across the island to reach the campsite. A storm was forecast to arrive later in the evening and as we set off around the coastal road the grey cloud lowered and soft, fine rain began to fall as gently as breath. In the quiet of the evening, the road was empty save for two cyclist. On our right, the distant blue of the mainland disappeared as we headed in land and up into steep open hills, gushing streams, and wildflowers.

Here you can measure distance in colour. As we reached the summit of our climb, the northern end and the land beyond was visible beneath us. Beside us was the lush, bright green of wet grass, the green rounds of the hills beyond faded in the rain, until the land turned greyish-white and disappeared into the sky.

We arrived at the campsite just as the wind was picking up. My tent flapped with each new gust as I fought to pitch it. I hastily heated and gulped down a tin of beans and sausages while the midges began to bite. It began to rain harder and my Dad, still halfway through his beans, dived for the cover of his tent while I scarpered to the bathroom for a hot shower before bedtime.


Enough to last us at least a few miles...

Enough to last us at least a few miles…

Room with a view

Room with a view

New gears, hurrah!

New gears, hurrah!