Snowdonia, the Brecon Beacons, everything in between – it is all hills! Big hills, long hills, steep hills, country hill, urban hills and then you get to the mountains.
For the past week I’ve been riding with Will and Ollie from Gloucester in England, down to the bridge over the Severn and up through every single hill to Bangor (next to Menai) (but not in the shire). To say it has been hilly would be an understatement, to say it has been amazing would be a downright crime against how beautiful this place is. Wales has been the first place in the UK where it has felt remote or like you aren’t just riding between villages. The mountain passes have been high and covered with flowering heather while in the cold valleys on the northern sides of the mountains the trees are showing their autumn leaves.
It has been such a great week I can only relate a few highlights and challenges, so here is an attempt at daily highlights.
Friday – riding along a rough canal path, getting my second puncture of the trip while with two mechanics and then discovering the puncture occured 500m from a pub with a beer deck where there was sunshine!
Saturday – getting to the top of a very large hill and finding ourselves dragged into a local’s birthday party, being fed and watered. Oh and my only 100km day of the trip.
Sunday – group photos in an abandoned priory and cresting our first major pass
Monday – dropping in on a local agricultural show to see golden sheep, eat local beef and lamb burgers, watch a demonstration of wood chopping and then watch dogs herd ducks.
Tuesday – finding a spare £4 pedal in a junk shop after mine seized, climbing the steepest pass I’ve seen and then riding at sunset down the rail trail beside the tidal estuary to Aberdovey Bar (location not venue)
Wednesday – another long day topped off with 20 odd kilometers of rail trail after some massive and brutal climbs that had me wondering if we could make it.
So the past week has been a little crazy. I got back from Iceland on Tuesday morning and took a taxi straight to the bike shop to get my back wheel fixed. By that afternoon my wallet was substantially lighter, my bike was even heavier, and I was ready to get going again!
In the morning after a little faffing around to buy a new pump and some chain lube I was off. My initial plan was to ride south west and then east from Glasgow to Ayr to Dumfries, but on arriving in Ayr in the rain at 8:30pm with 90km under my belt I realised two weeks off the bike is a long time and more fitness was required.
Not to worry, Clare had plans for me and through a stupid number of train trips and some beautiful riding (Dumfires to Carlisle) I made it to Penistone in Yorkshire at night with no where to stay and was needless to say a little stressed. Luckily a kind farmer/prospective campsite manager sorted out a patch of ground for the tent.
Saturday morning saw Clare arrive on a train from London and off we set. Now Penistone is in the Peaks District which seems to be appropriately named, we rode up hills, down hills, and up hills again all day. Looking at the stats we rode 1122 vertical metres in 59km which is a fair bit on fully loaded bike last time I checked. The steeped gradient warning we saw was for 25% but luckily we were headed downhill on that. Some of the up hills mamust surely have been approaching the 20% mark as the rain and storms set in.
The highlight of the ride though would have to be the amazing rail trail we rode on for a good 20 miles. Virtually flat and following the cuttings and bridges of the old line it was both spectacular from an engineering and scenic perspective.
Well well well. What have we here? A pub courtyard full of frumpy english tourists. Frowning while looking out at the vertiginous ridge lines of the Lakes District. Guess I am not in Scotland anymore.
After 5 weeks of cycling and 2 weeks of faffing around my touring in Scotland is pretty much complete. Yesterday I caught the train into Glasgow from Oban, put my bike in for service, drank excellent coffee, ate vegan chocolate banana cake (while maple icing) and piss-bolted out of the city which was clearly larger and busier than I was mentally prepared for. Having teed up with John from Lake District Stand Up paddle boards to head out for an overnight camp to see what SUP-touring would be like I made Keswick my destination, but more on that later (perhaps).
I figure after my not so grand tour of Shetland, Orkney, the Outer Hebridies and Skye I should give you some form of collection of thoughts on what my impression of Scotland has been.
● Shite coffee. Seriously bring your own coffee making implements. I thought remote parts of Australia were bad on the coffee front, but I genuinely had a guy ask me if he’d made my coffee well after serving a mug of instand coffee.
● Instant coffee has some benefits. It often comes with a price tag in the islands of scotland, and that gives you a right to sit in a warm dry place after cycling into wet head winds for 2hrs.
● Scotland is an excellent place to visit if you are a a lactard like myself. A surprisingly large range of cakes and biscuits are dairy free, including a few fancy shortbreads.
● The people are amazingly welcoming, helpful and friendly. They are always ready for a chat and often have the best info on where to go and what to see. They are mostly infuriatingly considerate drivers too.
● Otters are a myth. You will not see one, so don’t get your hopes up.
Happy adventures everyone!
The cycling in Scotland is undeniably excellent, with an amazing array of resources available for cycling including:
● Comprehensive cycling notes
● Cycling accessible public transport
● Free showers on most ferries.
● Legal right to go anywhere and camp anywhere within the extent of the right to roam.
● Towns so close together you could ride with out carry foods, camping gear and probably even water.
In summary. Go ride people!
Well what a week it has been. Again. Last Thursday I arrived Wednesday Uig (on Skye) after a few days of rain left me more in the mood to make miles than stop for breaks. Waiting for the ferry i met a swathe of other cycle tourists all wanting to talk about my bike or how far they had pedalled each day ( they all seemed to be smashing the kms). Of the 8 or so cyclists a young couple from Cambridge kept chatting and turned out to both work for the British Antarctic Survey so we had a great chat about their adventures, their extremely outdoors lifes and various other things. In the morning while I dawdled not really feeling like riding they made me tea and chatted some more basically convincing to start riding for the day. Thanks guys!
As it turned out the day was to be the last nice day for a while and luckily I managed to fit in some castles a nice walk up a rather large hill, thr most expensive coffee ever, an amazing curry for dinner (seriously cycle tourists the MacKenzies Store in Staffin is worth the stop, they even made me a dairy free curry to order while I sat and read my book!), and to top it off a beautiful campsite looling up at the Dolerite Columns and dinosaur foot prints of Staffins coast!
The next day it rained. I mean it rained. Like wet through, more than my rain coat could handle, no more then 200m visibility, missed the beauty of Skye type rain. To top it off the wind meant I needed to pesal hard in my lowest gear to get down hills! After a massive lunch of soup and filled potatoes trying to warm up I made the called it was going to a hostel night! A few hours later I arrived at Raasay house wet, cold and disheveled.
Skipping forward through some very wet and smelly cross country exploring (seriously deer fences are not easy to climb over) i finally made my way off Raasay on Sunday afternoon to discover not only were the hills on Skye big, they are craggy precipitous monstrous things that are far more intimidating than i had ever imagined. Despite this the roads on Skye are amazing for cycling maintaining comfortable gradients and good passing lanes throughout. After a day anf a half riding I made it back to Uig just in time to catch the ferry back over to Lockmaddy and it Uists where I have been for the past few days.
Go to the Uists!
Seriously the riding is spectacular, the mechair almost unbelievably scenic and beautiful, the beaches are wide sandy and spectacular, and you’ll love it.
To summarise how amazing -I rode 25km on Tuesday because I kept getting distracted and turning down side roads and then losing track of time! The one thing I wouldn’t recommend is swimming, because believe it is freezing! Painfully so!
I’m now chilling in the Dunbar hostel on Barra enjoying the good company and facilities after two weeks without using a washing machine. Soon I’ll head back over to the mainland and chill out for a while before my next adventure begins.
What a bloody week. Not literally, but after consistent rain, fog, strong winds amd temperatures brushing up towards the Sydney winter temps I am tired and exhausted.
As such I have holed up in a bunk room in Raasay House, one of the great british mansions now converted to a hotel, bunkhouse, cafe, pub and activities centre. Yesterday was so wet and miserable, think pedaling hard to get DOWN an 8% gradient with cold rain biting into your face and find the gaps between the waterproofs. Weather like this has not been uncommon over the past week, though the weather gods had been kind with tail winds.
So while I sit in a wind of the cafe drinking a soy latte and eating a bacon and egg roll I have put together some thoughts on rest days and fatigue.
I have now been riding for about 5 weeks, in that time I have had about 5 days of not riding and perhaps 4 short days less than 25km. I am certainly finding it hard on the body sometimes, particularly managing to stretch enough when it is miserable and cold and doing so means lying your bike in the swamp on the side of the road. This seems to necessitate a day off from riding once a week or such just for the chance to sleep in, let muscles rest and such. Equally this is matched with eating the right foods at the right times that I will admit I still struggle with, especially when so many cafes sell extremely bad coffee with bacon and egg rolls in a warm place.
Harder though is the not riding. To paraphrase Bill Bryson ‘riding is what we do’ except there is no we. There have been a few days when I have really not wanted to ride but once on the bike have enjoyed the day immensely, equally there have been days when I have been super keen to ride and pedalled 10km and wanted to set up my tent. Cycling by yourself really is a lesson self motivation, sheer bloody determination and maybe a little stupidity.
I have read a lot of other blogs on this subject but never really understood what it meant until now. The Wandering Nomads for example have written well about the need for a holiday from cycling every 2 months and I think that might be in order soon.
Anyway enough self indulgent rambling from me, look at the nice pictures from when i could get my camera out.
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!
Some other snaps
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
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.
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!
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.
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!
The sign associated with this water course was "protecting Shetland's trees". I couldn't work out why.
Ferries are cool, and convenient
Not a bsd campsite after a long day on the bike.
I can see why the vikings put their long houses here
Dramatic cliffs, sheep and puffins.
So many sea birds!
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.
Free mussels from an great bloke in Voe with whom I chatted for a few hours. I did eat some of most of them
Not sure I'll ever look as surly as a viking!
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!
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!