Oykel to Ullapool – a touring bike don’t (oh and mum don’t read this, just look at the photos)

Yesterday I completed one of my typically silly days of outdoors adventure, honestly I’d put it in the same league as my Naas Valley fire trail weekend but I should vet to the point. I decided to ride from Oykel Bridge to Ullapool via the dirt roads and bern at Loch an Daim. With my fully loaded touring bike. In summary – anyone with a touring bike should NOT do this, even if the guys in the pub at Oykel tell you it is easy and they drove it DO NOT BELIEVE THEM!!!

Anyway, the back story. I have put in a few big days recently riding from John O Groats to Bettyhill (83km, 900m ascent) and Bettyhill to Lairg (76km) and was looking forward to getting into Ullapool for a rest day. To make the day interesting I noticed a marking on the Sustrans Map stating there was a mountain bike route from Oykel to Ullapool, and after talking to locals and people in bike shops I decided to give it a go.

The 10 miles of dirt roads up the Strath Mulzie is spectacular and has to be some of my favorite riding of the trip so far. The road is a bit rocky, generally pretty flat and feels like genuine wilderness which I absolutely loved! It is the first place I have not been able to see houses or sealed roads and it is just spectacular.

The downside of this ride is the 2+ miles of goat track connecting the two dirt roads. This track is tough, and although I did manage to push through the track with my 50kg of bike I would bot recommend it to anyone. The only reason I made it is that it hasn’t rained for nearly a week and the track and bog had dried sufficiently to be safe. In the rain I would definitely have turned back scared.

Once through I must admit that I was supremely happy to have made it, extremely hot and sweaty, and very very excited to ride my bike!

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Some other snaps

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Orkney Adventures

Oh what an amazing place. So much green. So much history. So many friendly people.

My arrival in Orkney at 10:30 was a celebrated affair. The skies opened in welcoming and the rain fell heavy and fast. So dark was it that I put on my lights despite the fact it should have been quite lovely twilight still. Luckily my gps found the way to the hostel and there was a quiet ans sheltered place in which to de rain myself before going inside!

The next day ( Saturday I believe) dawned bright and sunny to make up for it so after a little shopping I managed to get on the road with some new wind proof gloves and so much food! I headed for the island of rousay which sits to the north of the Orkney mainland and has a nice convenient ring road. It also has the highest bit of road, as well as quite possibly the steepest bit of road in town. Luckily I met a lovely british woman (Margaret?) who informed me that at the north of the island was a splendid campsite next to the beach. The day was so warm that when I got there I even went for a swim! A swim may be exaggeration but a repeated series of quick dips could be accurate.
To top off an amazing day some very kind locals rocked up with a bbq and fed me chicken, salad, bread not squashed by a pannier and a toffee apple cider
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Sunday woke to miserable cold rain, but having had a few rest days recently I couldn’t bring myself to stay in the tent so I packed up a very very wet tent and got on the road. Despite the drenching miserable rain for 2 hrs I can not say how glad I am I started riding as iy was a most spectacular afternoon  (eventually) which I spent explorjng Skara Brae, the Ring of Brodgar and the Stones of Stenness. The light anf temperature were just perfect for riding so I made it my first long day in a while and rode into Stromness whistling to myself merrily.

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Monday turned out equally amazing, as I just made the ferry to the island of Hoy, and disembarking met an English couple Dave and Tabitha who were riding the same route that morning I had planned considered with the advantage of having researched so they knew what they were looking for. We saw the Dwarfie Stone, drank coffee at RackWick and walked up to the Old Man of Hoy. Guys I can’t say how grateful I am we got chatting as I probably would have skipped that walk without your invitation to join you!

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Yesterday finished off my list of tops days in Orkney. After a late start in Lyness waiting for the ferry and checking out the EU wave power site I headed up to Kirkwall again to do my token whisky tour (Scapa) and the made the leisurely sprint down across the Churchill Barriers, past the Italian Chapel and down to Burwick for the Ferry to John O Groats.

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Shetland so far – pretty awesome

So I arrived in Shetland last Friday morning with the aim of being as far north as possible for the summer solstice, and I can pretty well say that I have achieved that goal.
Shetland is basically an archipelago of long skinny islands stretching about 100 miles north to south. Arriving in Lerwick I made a beeline north following bits of cycle route 1 and the lesser A roads to get to the northern Island of Unst in a reasonable amount if time.
As it happens there are a lot of hills in the Shetland group as the twisted and convoluted geology is the result of oceanic continental collision. While nothing is particularly tall there have certainly been a few hills that made me question whether hills and headwinds are a bad combination (they are) and whether perhaps luggage and light weight touring has merits (untried but unlikely). As such I rode about 80km north from Lerwick to camp in a lovely valley not far short of Mid Yell on the island of Yell and managed to find the one flatish piece of not soggy ground I had seen all afternoon. Anyone free camping here. Bring a ground sheet!

Anyway from there it was up to Unst where I found a campsite at the lovely hostel right at the bottom of the island and set about having some “rest days”. As usual rest days just mean you aren’t carry all your panniers so I rode the 20 odd kilometres up to Hermaness Nature Reserve on the day of the solstice which officially gave me my “as far north as possible” claim, although pesky skuas stopped me heading any further north. Check out the “Where am I” tab at the top of the page to see exactly how far north I got.

I am now headed back southwards towards Mousa Broch in the south of the Shetland Mainland. For anyone visiting the islands be prepared to find amazing history everywhere you go. In one day I came across three viking long houses, a bronze age broch, a norse farmstead, innumerable old bods. On top of that I have seen seals, puffins, skuas, shetland ponies en masse and I am pretty certain I saw an otter from a great distance. It is a pretty awesome place to visit!

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The sign associated with this water course was "protecting Shetland's trees". I couldn't work out why.

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Ferries are cool, and convenient

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Not a bsd campsite after a long day on the bike.

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I can see why the vikings put their long houses here

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Dramatic cliffs, sheep and puffins.

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So many sea birds!

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The sail loft bod. A great piece of history where I am sleeping for a few days until I feel like riding. Edmund Hillaries jumper was made here.

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Free mussels from an great bloke in Voe with whom I chatted for a few hours. I did eat some of most of them

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Not sure I'll ever look as surly as a viking!

Edinburgh to Aberdeen -so many castles!

So I am in Aberdeen where the sun only serves to make the world look a little more dreary ( sorry Aberdonians) after three and a half days on the road. According to the odometer on my bike I have ridden about 560km over the 7 days of riding I have done so far and despite a few grimaces it appears I am still alive and pedalling, though I clearly not in full swing as my food consumption is still working its way upwards.

The ride so far has been quite lovely, and it appears that the weather gods have been smiling on me as I have had predominantly tail winds. Every day the local Scots have been laughing at me for my ability to become sunburnt here, though as I bought sunscreen yesterday I fear it could never be needed. Still, it is a talking point right?

In other news I broke a tent pole the other night. Nothing catastrophic but I still need to work out a proper mend for it as replacement sections aren’t easy to come by. I am sure my McGyver skills will get me through. Apparently setting a tent up in a castle while in a stupid rush while tired is not the best idea i have had recently. Oh yeah i camped in a castle!

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Edinburgh and back again

So I have spent the past few days riding a loop south and east of Edinburgh enjoying the massive amounts of sunshine that have been laid on presently. In fact is has been so consistently sunny that I am sun burnt!

My riding has followed cycle routes 76 and national cycle route 1 (NCR1) down the east coast and then across to Innerleith and back up to Edinburgh. Starting out flat with some nice pinchish climbs and lots of golf courses and varied track surfaces (at one point the trail was a two inch wind single track through paddocks for a few kilometres) has been great to get used to the handling of my very heavily loaded bike.
The hills have been something of a shock to the system, but I have already noticed myself getting fitter and now I am just tossing up whether to change the rims of my bike to try to reduce some of the massive rolling resistance I have with 2.3″ tyres on 50mm rims giving me well over an inch of contact width.

Anyway enjoy some happy snaps while I plan the next stage of my trip!

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Kalbarri National Park

Two hours north of Geraldton in Western Australia is the spectacular Kalbarri National Park. Stretching from the coast about 50km inland the park encompasses a pretty amazing range of ecosystems from the inland reach that really made me feel as though I was back in Alice Springs with bush tomatos and low scrub the most noticable species (except for a small native pine which I’ll have to read up on). The coastline is stark and dramatic with cliffs and sea stacks that could rival the Great Ocean Road down in Victoria.

A day out in Geraldton

So this weekend I am in Geraldton, Western Australia exploring the town for things of interest while work keeps me here for a while. Luckily there seems to be plenty on this weekend which means that I’ve had a busy day of coffee, washing, viewing a church, the Valley View Airshow, sunset at the beach and putting together a quick video from some canyons I did recently.

Some photos to corroborate my very brief words (oh and open up the photos).

And then there was the sunset!

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A few weeks of “normal life”

In the two weeks since P and I got back to Sydney after bring in Fiji life has been pretty close to normal. I have been in the office (yay!), been for a bush walk, spent some time at site and dropped through Canberra, Cowra, Orange and the Blue Mtns. I suppose that makes life pretty good really!

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Jeusalem Bay walking with Mike

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Mike on Brooklyn Dam wall

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Cowra Japanese gardens

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Cowra Japanese gardens. I love the contrast of native and japanese plantings

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Orange, or blue

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Mum and Dad on our little walk

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Bungendore hills. I want to go to Wales!

Fiji’s Yasawa Islands

So we’ve just spent an exciting week and a bit in Fiji where we’ve had the opportunity. To snorkel, sleep, hang out in hammocks, get to know the locals while waiting out a cyclone.

The plan was hatched less than two weeks ago, and thursday last week saw us booking a travel package through Awesome Adventures, a Fijian tour organiser who seem to have a bit of a monopoly on the Yasawa Islands that were to be our destination. The next day we were on a plane to Fiji and I can honestly say we had no idea what we were in for during the trip.

As it turned out what we could expect was sheer bloody luxury, with Mantaray Resort and Barefoot Resorts both offering the kind of accomodation that you see in brochures but assume doesn’t actually exist. To top it off each of those resorts had spectacular snorkeling opportunities with multiple reefs to snorkel and crystal clear waters.

Among the numerous sea creatures we’ve seen we can mention a few highlights that included sharks, sea horses, sting rays, cuttlefish, sea snakes and oh so many types of fishes. I took a good hour of video so keep an eye out for coming posts.

The highlight of the trip though has to have been Safe Landings resort. My initial feelings about the place were that it was a little daggy as the accomodation is pretty basic compared the the other resorts, and the generator doesn’t run at night so there are no fans to keep you cool during the hot tropical wet seasons nights! That said though, the people have been absolutely amazing. As we arrived at the resort it was announced that the boat back to the main land wouldn’t be running for a few days due to the cyclone that very very slow cut a swathe through the ocean in between Fiji and Vanuatu.  For us this meant no boats or seaplanes as the seas were way too rough, and that we’ve spent 4 nights chilling out here with ran and coolish breezes instead of the two nights we’d planned.
We’ve been incredibly luck to have been stuck with some absolutely people from around the world to keep us company. From coconut bowling to hiking to volleyball to snorkeling to village visits to rea and cake with the locals each afternoon we’ve been kept busy despite the winds and rough seas putting a stop to some other adventures.

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If you’d like to check out some videos of our snorkelling adventures have a look at my Mantaray Island post, or use the navigation menu at the top of the page.