Monthly Archives: May 2013

Leg 18 – to Fochabers

18 May 2013

It was another grey day, but not raining when I got up about 07.30 despite having done so pretty comprehensively overnight; luckily I’d remembered to put a plastic bag over my saddle seat. I have numerous plastic bags, handy for all sorts of things from saddle coverage, separating out wet stuff, to rubbish bags.

There’s something very nice about being in a warm and cosy tent with the rain lashing down and nearby waves crashing against the shore. I could have sworn it sounded more like hail at one point, however the tent again performed admirably with no leaks, and I remained cosy and dry. I was however beginning to thing the Scottish weather gods had something against me. One of the campsite wardens said the weather forecast for this corner of Scotland is never spot on, but it was likely to be more rain today.

I sat in my tent porch eating breakfast (pitta bread, cheese, apple) and watching Terns dive for fish just offshore. The sea was noticeably choppier today, with waves rolling across the bay.

Choppy sea off Fraserburgh

Choppy sea off Fraserburgh

I was packed up and away by 09.30, travelling down the coast through Sandhaven, on to Rosehearty and New Aberdour and its beach. The weather started to close in with thickening sea fog ( The Haar in Scottish), and the hills got noticeably hillier. At least there wasn’t a headwind though, just a mild onshore breeze at present.

Continuing to follow the coast the terrain got increasingly challenging, as I constantly seemed to be going up or down, with no flat bits to speak if, and it started to rain which I don’t mind too much without a headwind but it does make things harder endurance wise. At one point I stopped and took my panniers off my bike to make sure nothing was rubbing and slowing me down, even though I couldn’t hear anything. My legs just felt dead up some of the hills (bonked – cycling term for hitting the metaphorical wall). Nothing was rubbing so must just have been my energy levels and the conditions, so I had a banana and some chocolate. 

Grey coastline

Grey coastline – broken harbour wall here

I did however notice one of the struts on my Blackburn front right rack had sheared through. Not sure when that happened and will need to be replaced when I find a bike shop that stocks them. It’s aluminium so don’t think it can be welded very easily. Was quite surprised as Blackburn are meant to be very good, but must have been metal fatigue from the bumpy routes I’ve encountered. I also have a real hatred of speed bumps on a fully loaded bike, especially the really vicious ones that jump out at you as they’re camouflaged with steep gradients. The rack will continue to work for now; I can patch it up with tape and cable ties, it will need replacing in Elgin or Inverness though.

Lots of fishing village harbours

I passed lots of fishing village harbours

More hills and rain followed, but I did pass a curious farm cat, lots of sheep and lambs who were their usual suspicious selves, and had to cycle pretty fast past one farm with some large German Shepherds who didn’t seem to like me, luckily they were tied up.

Rainy and foggy day

Rainy and foggy day

 

Curious farm cat

Curious farm cat 

 

Aberdeenshire coastline

Aberdeenshire coastline – dull day but great scenery

 

Aberdour Beach

Aberdour Beach 


With the rain getting harder I rode through MacDuff, a big fishing port by the looks and smell of it, then on to Banff, a Royal settlement which I hadn’t realised. The latter is a nice town with a big sandy bay that sits between it and MacDuff, where the waves were again rolling in.

MacDuff

MacDuff – busy fishing port 

 

Banff

Bay between MacDuff and Banff

 

Banff Bay

Banff – bay looking back to MacDuff

I didn’t see anywhere particularly appealing for lunch so I decided to continue on, but wasn’t sure of the route to take. A couple of old gents, think one was called Jim, hailed me from outside a pub where they were smoking; a lot more people seem to smoke still in Scotland. They pointed me in the direction of the coastal cycle route, which turned out to be my old ‘friend’ route 1, but at least it was all tarmac and avoided the A98. They also started to give me several tips on the best route to take around Scotland, what hills I’d end up walking up, and various other things – wasn’t entirely sure what they were saying sometimes due to thick accents, me not being completely tuned in to them as yet, a bit of dialect, and the fact they’d had a few by this stage. They were very helpful though, being cyclists themselves, and using the most ‘colourful’ language I’ve heard in a while in describing certain hills (braes in Scottish), which I’d better not repeat. Had to slowly edge away bidding goodbye, as they probably could have kept talking all afternoon.

True to their word the route worked, and I was soon sailing along the coast, still in the rain, but with less hills now. I passed more wind farms, eerie in the fog, more livestock looking pretty stoic in the weather, and unsurprisingly more golf courses. I stopped in Portsoy for lunch, a delightful little fishing village I’d recommend a visit to, again reminding me of some Cornish villages of a similar ilk. Lunch was pies and a cake from the bakery, eaten down in the harbour during a break in the rain. 

More wind farms in the fog

More wind farms in the fog

 

Break on a bridge

Break on a bridge

 

Portsoy Harbour

Portsoy Harbour – lunch stop

 

Portsoy Harbour 2

Portsoy Harbour – marble shop in background

 

Portsoy panorama

Portsoy Harbour panorama

 

Portsoy - colourful rocks

Portsoy – colourful rocks

Resisting the temptation to stop for a pint in one of the good looking pubs, I continued on to Cullen, home of Cullen Skink, one of my favourite soups. Having just had lunch I didn’t stop, and pedalled on to Buckie via Portnockie and Findochty, feeling increasingly damp.

Cullen

Cullen – home of Cullen Skink

There are a lot of ‘historic’ fishing villages along this coastline, as displayed proudly on the town or village sign you pass on the way in. In fact they all seemed to be historic fishing villages so no need for a history lesson on how people earned their keep on this stretch. Trying to stay close to to the coastline I switched on and off route 1 a few times, but didn’t go down into absolutely every historic fining village as would have taken ages and I’d have got a lot wetter; did a fair few though.

Made it to Spey Bay, a bit of a bleak looking place, especially in this weather, reminding me of Pevensey Bay down in East Sussex, close to my parents. Didn’t see another soul out in the rain, even on the golf course. I could have camped there however the two old fellas in Banff had recommended Fochabers, just inland, which has a good campsite and would be more sheltered. It was also on route as I planned to visit my godfather down in Aberlour the next day, whom I haven’t seen for years.

I cycled through Fochabers noticing that the Highland Games were on tomorrow at Gordan Castle, just outside the town and an unexpected bonus I’d definitely have to take advantage of; can’t miss a Highland Games out on this trip. I found the campsite and pitched up quick in the rain, bundling everything minus my bike into my tent, before having a hot shower which rejuvenated me. I still did’t feel like cooking in the rain so elected to head into town for dinner, where hopefully I and some of my stuff would dry out; everything had got a bit damp, but I reckoned I’d have a good sort out, washing session, and dry things at my godfather’s the following day. I would also need to look up a shop in Elgin or Inverness to get a replacement front right pannier rack, and perhaps a kick stand. I’ve noticed a couple of dents on my bike frame from when it’s fallen over, although one I’m not sure how got there and is a little worrying, so a kick stand might be a good plan. Any suggestions?

Fochabers campsite

Fochabers campsite

 

Fochabers campsite 2

Fochabers campsite 2

I had dinner at the Gordon Arms Hotel, as recommended by some fellow campers here for the Games, and my Dad who I found out used to frequent the same establishment when stationed at Lossiemouth quite a number of years ago now – at least 45 anyway. Cullen Skink, Venison Casserole and a few pints of Red Cuillen (from the Isle of Skye) followed, which was all top notch. The Cullen Skink was especially good, and very welcome after a wet day. Dad will be pleased to know the place is still going strong, and probably be a bit jealous!

Over dinner I chatted to a group from the Veteran Scottish Cycle Club, out for a long weekend consisting of a few day trips, eating hearty Scottish fare, plus the odd pint; my sort of sustenance regime anyway. They had been to Cullen earlier but hadn’t been impressed with the Cullen Skink there, so I was glad I hadn’t stopped. Really nice group of gents with great senses of humour, and offering so good advice for the rest of the Scottish leg. They also did a collection for the Big C for me. Jim offered to help me out if I encounter any difficulties in the Glasgow area, thanks Jim, and good luck all of you on your next cycling venture.

Gordon Arms in Fochabers

Gordon Arms in Fochabers

 

Gordon Arms in Fochabers 2

Gordon Arms in Fochabers 2

Spent the rest of the evening chatting with a few of the other patrons in the bar, including a Scottish couple touring by motor home who made a donation, an American couple over from Texas who were also loving Scotland, and a great group locals, all of whom were very friendly. The evening ended with a whisky and a walk back to the campsite in the rain, during which I took a wrong turn accidentally and ended on a 10 minute detour; I blame the latter group of locals and the whisky.

Post a 60.5 mile day and a great evening I fell asleep pretty rapidly, looking forward to the Highland Games in the morning.

Mileage total now standing at 1183.5, approx.

Leg 17 – to Fraserburgh via Peterhead

Oh how the Scottish weather can change…

17 May 2013

Post a good night’s sleep I didn’t wake up until 8 o-clock, a new record; I must have been more tired than I thought and decided to take it easy today having not had a proper rest day for a while, still ended up doing 38 miles though.

I packed up and hit the road under grey skies, yesterday’s sunshine having vanished overnight, and with the cold north wind still persisting.

A grey day

A grey day, but could go either way still

Headed up the coast through Boddam with it’s lighthouse. I’ve noticed that a lot of the houses in this neck of the woods are painted grey, or have faded to grey, and are pebble dashed. Not the best look when it’s a grey day with intermittent rain. Reckon they should go for more colourful appearances; would help with raising spirits anyway.

Boddam lighthouse

Boddam lighthouse

I rode on up to Perterhead, where I stopped for a couple of hot chocolates to get out of the cold wind for a bit, and a burger and chips for lunch. Riding along the cycle path I bumped into a couple of elderly lasses out for a stroll, nearly literally despite frantic bell ringing, who informed me when consulted that ‘Och no, this isn’t the usual weather for the time of year’ and ‘with this north wind they’ll be snow, you mark my words’. I half expected then to say ‘we’re all doomed’. As it was it started raining shortly afterwards, a cold rain that was to persist for the rest of the day, so limited photos with the and the wind.

Peterhead looks like a busy fishing port, with lots of unloading, maintenance, Fisherman’s missions etc. Good to see there’s still a fishing industry and hope they’re not suffering from fishing quotas etc, although have to say I’m a big supporter of limiting fishing, stocks need to recover and sustainable methods employed.

Peterhead

Peterhead

Moved on to St. Fergus, and detoured down to Scotstown beach to ensure I maintained contact wait the coast.

Random bridge and more gorse

Random bridge and more gorse

 

Scotstown Beach

Scotstown Beach

It was a tough ride up from Peterhead, into a headwind and trying to avoid the traffic on the A90 by taking country roads that wound about a lot, and which my map wasn’t accurate enough for. Post St. Fergus I headed out towards Rattray Head and past the RSPB reserve at the Loch of Strathbeg (I think), with the weather really closing in at this point.

Realising the weather was going to get worse when some hills I’d been seeing for a while in the distance just disappeared, I made haste for St. Combs with low cloud bringing yet more rain. St. Combs is an old fishing village, of which there are a lot in Aberdeenshire, however it wasn’t great sight seeing weather so I retreated to the Tufted Duck hotel for a hot drink. The barman obliged with decaf coffee accompanied by fudge; he must have taken pity on my bedraggled state, although I think the clientele thought I was either mad or eccentric to be out cycling in this weather, and in shorts. Have to say that shorts are the best idea in most weathers, they don’t get caught in chains, take less time to dry, legs don’t get that cold anyway and skin is mostly waterproof.

The Tufted Duck

The Tufted Duck, not the most attractive of hotels but very welcome at this point


St. Combs coast

St. Combs coast


St. Combs coast

St. Combs coast


Re-energised I headed on through the drizzle and wind following a narrow coastal road, not on the map, past yet another golf course which had several groups of punters out despite the weather; mind you who am I to talk, out cycling in it. I reached Inverallochy, made my way through via the Shore Road to Cairnbuig and its harbour and Maggie’s Hoose. Noticed an old shipwreck blown up on the coastline.

Cairnbuig shipwreck

Cairnbuig shipwreck

Cairnbuig coast

Cairnbuig coast


Post a final stretch around Fraserburgh Bay I found the campsite I was aiming for, a cooperatively owned site with a friendly warden named Barbara who showed me around and found a sheltered spot for my tent. The campsite is right next to Young’s  Fish Factory so is a little whiffy, but accommodating and with warm showers! No wifi but they hope to get that next year.

Showered and changed I headed into Fraserburgh, and found a good curry house, the B.Raj Tandoori. Actually it might have been the only curry house but it had won awards. I proceeded to consume their Friday night special involving a lot of chicken; pappadums plus spicy onion mix, mango chutney, 3 different types of chicken kebab plus beef kebab, half a tandoori chicken with rice and curry sauce, followed by ice cream. I didn’t think it too much, was mega hungry as usual. Lovely hosts too, with a fierce front of house lady (assuming wife of owner) who ran a tight ship, ensuring the waiters were doing what she wanted.

Post curry I headed to the Galleon, a pub I’d spotted on the way in, for a pint. Chatted to a few folks who were interested in my tour, before heading back to my tent. I’d only covered about 38 miles today but felt shattered. It was nice to get in my sleeping bag and listen to the waves crash against the nearby shore, and the rain lash down on my tent, which was still performing well and not leaking!

Hopefully the weather tomorrow will improve.

Fraserburgh campsite

Fraserburgh campsite


 

 

Leg 16 – Aberdeen shop and short leg to Cruden Bay

16 May 2013

Waking up feeling refreshed, I was up surprisingly early for me, by 07.30 because the tent got too hot; a good sign that the weather had improved however Scotland had tricked me before so I decided to reserve judgement. A German couple were up early too in the pitch next to me, and I half expected to see they’d deposited towels on the chairs next to the duck pond to reserve their seating for day. Instead they were practicing their golf swings using pine cones, and drinking freshly brewed coffee that smelt amazing. Unfortunately I don’t do the caffeine thing, so settled for some peppermint tea instead, along with the last of my cheese and oatcakes; must buy some more!

Post breakfast I had a lazy morning sorting out a few bits and pieces, and catching up on some blog entries in the sunshine that looked set to continue to for the day.

It’s worth mentioning how impressed I am to date with my tent, a Hilleburg Akto that’s performing admirably. It’s not only very light and strong, but keeps the wind out, as well as the sometimes driving rain; a blessing since I entered Scotland and this cold north wind sprang up.

Hilleburg Akto

Hilleburg Akto – excuse the mess

It’s a one person tent but surprisingly roomy, with space in the porch area to fit my four panniers and the dry bag that sits on my back rack. There’s enough room inside to spread out a bit, and you could even fit two in at a stretch, should the need arise!

Post blog entries and a smattering of rain, told you the weather was unpredictable, I finished charging up my phone and iPad in the TV room, then packed up. Realised I haven’t watched TV for two weeks now, not missing it, too much other stuff to do.  I noticed at this point my front tyre had a puncture, which was annoying seeing as I had new and tougher tyres on my bike in the form of Schwalbe Marathon Plus’. Upon closer examination it was a weird puncture, the rubber having fatigued and worn through around the valve so nothing to do with the actual tyre, and perhaps a result of yesterday’s rough riding. Inner tube replaced I was ready to go, albeit with very grimy hands I had to scrub; handy I got the puncture in the campsite so had a bathroom to wash up in. I only have one spare tube left now, so ought to buy a couple more, although I have one old one that’s mendable still.

Leaving the campsite about midday, and passing the Old Mill Inn from last night, I pedalled to Aberdeen down the Deeside cycle path, a nice smooth ride of about 7 miles that didn’t take very long. The sun was still out so the day looked promising.

Deeside Holiday Park

Deeside Holiday Park – weather sunny but still unpredictable


I headed to a Cotswold’s shop I’d located earlier via the medium of the web, and picked up some more fuel for my Whisperlite stove. I chatted to the shop staff for a bit, one of whom was a keen cycle tourer. Have to say I’ve always found the Cotswold’s staff really friendly and helpful, and the ones I’ve met so far know there stuff which makes a change. Mind you I should probably be sponsored by them considering the amount of kit I bought from them for this tour. Get a discount through work though, and CTC members also get a discount which is worth remembering.

I proceeded to wheel my fully loaded bike through the mall and grabbed a baguette for lunch, attracting some curious looks. I figured me wheeling my bike through the mall as no different to people pushing their prams, and if anyone wanted to challenge this I would claim I was using my bike as a pram to transport a lobster; Lobster wasn’t  entirely convinced by this plan.

Leaving the mall, which I found entirely too crowded, I took a somewhat circuitous route out of Aberdeen seeing a few sights. It’s a nice city and one I knew nothing about other than it has a large port.

The Gordan Highlanders

The Gordan Highlanders – lobster reckoned he could have them


 

Giant Lobster invades Aberdeen

Giant Lobster invades Aberdeen 


 

Me in Aberdeen

Me in Aberdeen


Stopping in Morrisons on the way out I picked up a few extra provisions. I might have bought too much however I wasn’t sure how much I’d need over the next few days, given the apparent sparseness of campsites along the Aberdeenshire coastline. I thought I might have to wild camp so wanted to make sure I had enough carbs – was nearly out of reserve flapjack! So armed with bananas, apples (Pink Ladies no less) more pasta, pasties, pork pie, snickers, pitta bread and other assorted goods, which to my relief all fitted in my panniers – Orltieb panniers just absorb stuff but bike does get heavier, I left Aberdeen in glorious sunshine. I assume you don’t have to toast pitta breads incidentally? Could be tricky on my stove. Also splashed out on some houmous, how very middle class. Forgot to buy oatcakes though, d’oh.

Wanting to avoid the A90 I cycled over the Bridge of Don, and up through the countryside to Potterton, then on to Belheavie, before heading back down to the coast at Balmedie. At that point I had to cycle along a bit of the A90, past a few traffic jams, before turning on to the A975 to Newburgh. Is ‘burgh’ in Scotland pronounced ‘burg’ or ‘borough’? I’ve been going with ‘burg’ but don’t really know! There are a few words I need to look up too which are repeated on signs – Slains, Mains, and Links which I assume must be golf associated. Anyway it was a relief to get off the A90 which was far too busy, even if most Scottish drivers do look out for cyclists.

Bridge of Don

Bridge of Don 


 

Countryside route out of Aberdeen

Countryside route out of Aberdeen, beautiful weather  


 

A90 - bit busy but nice route

A90 – bit busy but nice route

The Ridgeback was running well post the morning’s puncture repair and general maintenance – de-griming the gears etc, and my legs were feeling good post the big feed the night before and morning off. I think rubbing in Emu oil to tired muscles is also proving effective – look it up if you don’t believe me. My spirits were generally higher due to the sunshine and nearly no wind for a change, even if it was still chilly.

Nature reserve outside Newburgh 1

Nature reserve outside Newburgh 1

 

Nature reserve outside Newburgh 2

Nature reserve outside Newburgh 2


On a high I continued on to Collieston, where I stopped for a bit. It’s a lovely village on the coast, again reminding me of Cornwall. I lay in the grass up at the viewpoint, overlooking the bay and harbour, and admired the view. I nearly dozed off it was so peaceful, and for the first time in a few days I felt all the tension leave me, completely relaxing. I felt a real sense of calm descend over me, and would have stayed their for longer hadn’t the chilly breeze finally roused me; I climbed back down from the bluff I’d clambered up to earlier and got back on my bike. (Again reminded me of Cornwall as a kid, and rock hopping about)

Collieston 1

Collieston – beautiful day and village


 

Collieston, lying in the grass

Collieston, lying in the grass


 

Collieston, the other way

Collieston, the other way

About halfway out of the village I realised I didn’t have my sunglasses, and must have dropped them when lying in the grass or climbing back down. Stopping suddenly I skidded on a patch of gravel, feet slipped out of cleats and bike went sideways. My shins were duly whacked by my pedals, and leg covered in grease from the chain, great way to shatter the tranquil state I’d achieved earlier. My lower legs are covered in scrapes and bruises from my pedals or cassette hits, resulting from manoeuvring a heavy bike, it tipping over, or my feet slipping out occasionally (must tighten cleats a bit). They look like they’ve ‘been in the wars’ as my mother would say, a few battle scars I reckon. Does anyone else have this problem or is it just me being clumsy? Anyway I went back and found my sunglasses where they’d fallen whilst I was climbing down.

I passed a lot of cattle on my way out of Collieston, bullocks mostly, who seemed very interested in my progress. Passing one field of particularly frisky bovines, I noticed they started following me, slowly at first, before speeding up until the whole herd were steaming along beside me; maybe it was my red panniers. I was very glad of the solid fence between us. Not sure they were being particulary aggressive, maybe just interested, but I wouldn’t have liked them on my side of the fence.

Interested bovines

Interested bovines – they started following me, vigorously

It was a great cycle along to Cruden Bay, another lovely coastal town with a great beach where waves were rolling in; I could have surfed, if I could actually surf that is, and had a surf board which unfortunately wouldn’t really fit on my bike.

Cruden Bay

Cruden Bay


 

Cruden Bay - drying fishing nets

Cruden Bay – drying fishing nets


 

Cruden Bay - me

Cruden Bay – me

I left Cruden Bay intending to wild camp, perhaps up at the ruined castle (Slaines), but within minutes I saw a sign to a campsite with a tent symbol on it, bonus, as fancied a hot shower. I cycled with a bloke on a mountain bike for a bit, whose friend took part in the recent Perthshire Etal and came 50th, pretty impressive. The same friend apparently has 8 bikes in his garage; I only have two and was slightly jealous, but sounds expensive.

We parted ways as I reached the campsite, Craighead, a nice surprise considering I wasn’t expecting many campsites out this way, however the owner said there are quite a few on the coast and gave me a map which was helpful. Good campsite, nice and quiet, no wifi but warm showers and only £9.  He let me charge stuff too, lucky considering the lead from my solar panels to my Power Monkey has broken – need to get a replacement in Inverness. Dinner consisted of Morrisons pasties, fruit, biscuits, and a medicinal whiskey as the sun went down.

Aberdeenshire is impressive so far, a hidden gem in my humble opinion. The campsite owner said a lot of tourist traffic gets directed towards Balmoral etc up the A96/A947, rather than around the coast, their loss I reckon, and my gain, with its thus far gentle hills, lovely countryside and picturesque coastal villages – which although lovely could do with a few more pubs. Great to have sunshine too.

Post real morale boosting day, covering 45 miles, I wrapped up warm in my tent and fell soundly asleep pretty quick. Long may the good weather continue.

Gorse in bloom

Gorse in bloom – pass a lot of this

 

Leg 15 – to Aberdeen

A day of two halves…

15 May 2013

I was up by 06.30, one because I was keen to get to Aberdeen in good time, and two to get out of the farmer’s field. There are a few principles of wild camping, including always leave the area in the same state or better than you found it, don’t overstay your welcome, and ask permission if private land, if possible. It hadn’t been possible late last night however I really don’t think they’d have minded anyway, camped where I was on some rough grass next to an old pile straw/manure!

Wild campsite number 2

Wild campsite number 2 – not as nice as Tentsmuir but served its purpose

As it happened the farmer turned up in his tractor just as I was leaving, so I gave him a friendly wave and he didn’t seem bothered, just got on with spraying his crops.

I rode back to the coast and Montrose, past the House of Dun which sounds impressive but was closed (too early), so I didn’t get to check it out. Rejoining route 1 I went round in an accidental circle because I wasn’t concentrating and missed a turning, think I was tired from yesterday and feeling a bit low with another overcast and cold day on the cards; nose still really sore too, despite aloe vera vaseline. Said hello to various dog walkers out for a morning stroll, and dutifully scooping the poop.

Anyway, picked up the right trail in the end and cycled through a couple of nature reserves. It was a good path to start off with, and a sign said I might see common lizards, this being one of their last habits in the North East.

Montrose cycle path

Montrose cycle path and lizards


 

Montrose cycle path - smooth ride at present

Montrose cycle path – smooth ride at present


 

Montrose cycle path - view from viaduct

View from viaduct, chilly day

There was another nature reserve at St. Cyrus, followed by a steep climb back on to the main route which got me going. Pedalled along to Johnshaven, where I nipped into a local shop and bought some ginger biscuits. Really wanted a fry up but no cafes present. I ate some cheese and oatcakes instead to try and boost energy levels.

I opted for the coastal rather than road option on route 1 for the next bit, which was an error really considering the path is more like a cobbled road or beach for the most part. Bit of bumpy and frustrating ride through to Gourdon, and one I wouldn’t recommend unless you’re on a mountain bike. Reckon it was probsbly the old coastal road in he past and was cobbled, but has since deteriorated. I really appreciate the national cycle network routes but they can be a mixed bag, and some really aren’t suitable for road bikes, tough though mine is. I had assumed wrongly that any marked cycle route would be road worthy, not always the case so worth bearing in mind and checking beforehand.

Johnshaven

Johnshaven – fishermen were unloading their catch


 

Route 1 - coastal option

Route 1 – coastal option – right next to the sea 


 

Break in Gourdon

Break in Gourdon

Post Gourdon I had to rejoin the A92 for a bit before turning off onto country roads again. The wind seemed to have changed direction to come from the north/north east, so I had a headwind again, and was getting cold despite the considerable number of hills, so it was slow progress to Stonehaven. I was also on a contemplative mood and found my thoughts turning to Lu, as they often do. I haven’t thought about her last few days for a while as it’s a box I don’t like to open too often, too painful and makes me sad, and angry that she didn’t have longer. You always wonder what else you could have done, but with cancer there isn’t much one can do other than be there, offer support, love & comfort, and listen, which thankfully I was able to do. The Big C, for whom I’m raising money on is tour, offer fantastic support for patients, so all donations gratefully received – link to Charity in top nav or here.

So feeling a little down in the dumps I made it to Stonehaven, where things immediately improved when I found a proper toilet! Things continued to improve with lasagne at a hotel bar (the Royal I think) in the town, plus a pint of Caledonian Best. Noticed Stonehaven also has a Gold Gilt award, at least I think it did, perhaps because it’s home to the original deep fried Mars Bar, or so the sign claimed.

Battered Mars Bar

Stonehaven – home to the battered Mars Bar

I still haven’t tried one, and not sure I want to particularly. I might do just to see what all the fuss is about, but I’d rather have some haggis and black pudding really.

Post lunch and chatting to a few people interested in what I was doing, they thought I was crazy, I set off out of Stonehaven on route 1, avoiding the A90 as it’s just not that safe. Even though it sticks closer to the coast than route 1, I didn’t fancy the traffic. As I left I remembered one of the families I’d met near Stirling lived here and had invited me round should I need a break. Thanks for the invite Jackie, and sorry I didn’t make it – maybe on the next lap!

Feeling buoyed post lunch and a pint I powered up the hill out of Stonehaven, and into a series of convoluted country roads I’d have got lost in if not or the route 1 signs. This part of the route may have been designed by a madman or sadist, seeming to pick out every available hill, of which there were many, go up them rather than around them, and go back on itself. It felt at times like I was tacking. I like the challenge of a hill climb but on a 100 pound bike they can get tedious. Saying that the countryside was lovely, and well worth the pain in the legs. There were hardly any cars, just the occasional tractor, and odd fellow cyclist to say hello to.

I passed a lot of cows/calves/bulls/bullocks, who made polite conversation. I asked them if my mobile reception was likely to improve but they were on a different network so didn’t know, the sheep, lambs and horses were no help either. I was able to focus on more positive thoughts in the afternoon, remembering Lu in better times, and quietly updating her as to my progress.

Highland cattle

Highland cattle saying hello


 

Oil seed rape

And it was all yellow, passed a lot of fields of this on tour so far


 

Random dog obstacle course in middle of nowhere

Random dog obstacle course in middle of nowhere

So the route took me out of Stonehaven, round to Cookney which I thought was called Cockney and started singing the Lambeth Walk, then I lost track a bit, before arriving in Portlethen, along to Cove Bay, around the point at Nigg Bay and into Aberdeen via the docks, which were quite impressive. 

Aberdeen lighthouse

Aberdeen lighthouse 


 

Aberdeen fog horn

I preferred the fog horn though


 

Aberdeen docks

Aberdeen docks – a lot of ships coming and going

It was a bit windy and raining in the latter stages, with a lot of traffic, but good to be in Aberdeen. With improved mobile reception I located a campsite 6 or 7 miles out of town, along the Dee, so using google maps I made my way there via a nice cycle track, the Deeside Way. Lovely smooth ride, with no headwind, a welcome relief. I reached the Deeside Holiday Park by 17.30, having covered about 65.7 miles, and had a bit of a fist pump moment when I noticed the large and welcoming inn next door. The campsite/caravan park was good, with a nice toilet/shower block, kitchen if you needed it but for extra, a TV and games room where I could recharge my phone and iPad, and a good pitch for my tent. Not as nice as the smaller more personal sites but you’ve got to love a hot shower post two days in the saddle. 

Showers are also handy for washing your cycling bib and tops through, and socks. Two jobs done in one and means you stay warm in the shower or longer. Not a really comprehensive clothes wash but gets rid of grime, sweat and associated salt which if left unchecked can cause the dreaded chafing! Also got chamois cream to help with that, which I rub into the material as well as apply to any afflicted areas, thankfully been mostly fine so far, probably because of the aforementioned practice.

All clean and in my civvies I made my way to the Old Mill Inn, serving great food and ale. Spent a very pleasant evening there chatting to the staff and a couple of touring (by car) Americans from Oregon, updating my journal and blog (free wifi) and of course eating. I had kipper pâté, followed by mixed grill including haggis and black pudding, then apple crumble, accompanied by three pints of ale. A little extravagant maybe but really nice and much needed. I sat next to a fire too, which although gas added to the pleasure of the evening. Slept well that night.

So a mixed day but ending on a high, and a relaxing day planned for tomorrow with some shopping in Aberdeen, and a short leg further up the coast. No troll sightings so think I’ve left them behind, what will be next? Maybe giants up North, who knows!?

Leg 14 – to Dundee, Perth, Dundee, Arbroath and Montrose

This was going to be a long one, turned out at I broke the 100 miles mark! Before I start a note on Scottish drivers. With the exception of Edinburgh I have found them to be very considerate to cyclists. They give you loads of space and use their indicators! Some English drivers could learn a thing or two from them. Thanks very much 🙂

Also I’ve noticed several constant companions so far – Skylarks, pheasants, road-kill (often pheasants), rabbits, the odd deer and once a herd destroying a field of crops, wind farms, fields of oil seed rape, cattle and sheep (lots of lambs), and weather in a variety of forms – mostly adverse since entering Scotland but heard it might improve soon.

14 May 2013

Post a good nights sleep in Tentsmuir, with no troll activity to report, I awoke to a bright but cold morning. I’d received a text from a friend of my brother last night, offering a relief package in the form of baked goods from his family’s bakery in Dundee, this was quite an exciting prospect seeing as Fisher & Donaldson was apparently recently endorsed by the queen, and bakeries are proving a regular stopping point anyway.

Morning in Tentsmuir

Loaded up and ready to leave Tentsmuir


Post a breakfast of oatcakes, cheese and fruit, and setting up my Power Monkey to recharge using the solar panels attached to the rear of my bike, I pedalled out of Tentsmuir with the sun coming through the trees. I intended a good long leg today, but priorities first so I rode out through Tayport, and Newport-upon-Tay, before crossing the Tay Bridge to get to Dundee. The Tay Bridge is pretty lengthy, and you have to use a lift on the North side to get down to street level, the first time I’ve taken my bike in a lift.

Tay Bridge

Tay Bridge – central cycle path


The clouds were sweeping in from the south west at this point, so after getting directions from a friendly cyclist I made my way across the short distance to Whitehall Street and Fisher & Donaldson. The lovely ladies at the bakery sorted me with a bacon roll and decaf coffee, plus pies and doughnuts for the day, hearty fair and just what I need to keep my energy levels up. Nice to have a chat too. Thanks very much for organising Ronan, much appreciated!

Bidding adieu but intending to return later, I cycled back over the bridge and down the Firth of Tay on the south side, through Wormit, Balmerino – where there’s an Abbey, and Newburgh, amongst other places. I didn’t really stop until Perth as the day was turning duller and showery, and with some big hills and a headwind I wanted to get this bit over and done with.

Craggy Bottom

Passed through Craggy Bottom, a neighbourhood watch area no less


Firth of Tay

Dull day on the Tay


I met a fellow tourer just outside Perth, out for a day’s ride, who gave me some directions – meet interesting and helpful people from time to time and always good to have a chat, agreed the weather was indeed bad. I had a quick cycle around Perth and consumed lunch from the bakery, great pies and exceptional fudge doughnut containing custard filling, best doughnut I’ve ever had I reckon, and worth going back to the shop just for that!

I meant to take the back route out of Perth, which I knew involved a big hill climb but was quieter and safer than the A92. Unfortunately I must not have been concentrating and somehow got trapped on the dual carriageway for a short but alarming stretch, not for the faint hearted with all the heavy traffic going to Dundee. I was soon off it though and back on route 77 which I followed to Dundee up the north side of the Firth of Tay, through Glencarse and Invergowrie, on fairly flat roads and with a tailwind for a change, nice riding.

Wooden heads

Wooden heads – passed a few of these in the area, bit trollish if you ask me


Firth of Tay - sun coming out

Firth of Tay – sun coming out


Discovery

Discovery – a friend’s great something grandfather sailed on her on an expedition into icy seas


Having only been rained on a couple of times (glad of the Ortlieb panniers again) and with it getting slightly warmer, I shed a layer and made my way back to Fisher & Donaldson for another coffee and doughnut, very nice too, before heading on up the coast wanting to put some more miles in, and take advantage of the nice evening and tailwind.

I rode on up the coast through Broughton Ferry, Monifieth and Carnoustie, then on to Arbroath. With the tailwind it was a great ride and made good time up quiet and tarmac’d cycle paths, past yet more golf courses and an MOD firing range – the red flags were up but didn’t hear any bangs. 

Cycle path to Arbroath

Cycle path to Arbroath – rain on horizon


I had fish and chips in Arbroath and considered finding somewhere to camp. To that end I rode out to St. Vigeans where there was allegedly a tent friendly caravan park, but I couldn’t find it. I did find St Vigeans which is a lovely old village with a museum containing Pictish carvings.

Smokies in Arbroath

Smokies in Arbroath – local speciality


Arbroath life boat

Arbroath life boat – saw it launch but just a drill


Arbroath Abbey 1

Arbroath Abbey 1


Arbroath Abbey 2

Arbroath Abbey 2

Arbroath - nice evening

Arbroath – nice evening


There endeth the pictures for the day as my phone needed charging.

Deciding to follow my original plan of wild camping I continued up the coast out of Arbroath, following route 1 over the hills. Was a lovely evening and I made great progress, the wind having dropped and rain holding off. I passed through Lunan with it’s sandy bay and dunes, Usan, and then on to Montrose as dusk approached. Great countryside but sadly no pics, google it. 

Passing over the bridge into Montrose, a busy port by the looks of it, and old town judging from the buildings, I pedalled on looking for a suitable pace to camp. As the light faded I finally found somewhere a little inland near the House of Dun that was suitable – farmer’s field with no crops or livestock. I was quite relieved to set up my tent, have a snack and go to sleep, after a very long ride – worked out later it was 110 miles, longest leg yet but legs felt good still.

Day 14 done and Norfolk seems a long way off now, as does the start of my tour even though it was only 2 weeks ago. Went to sleep dreaming of doughnuts.

Note: need to buy more camping stove fuel, and bananas, can never have enough bananas.

Leg 13 – to Tentsmuir Forest via St. Andrews

13 May 2013

I awoke to a cold and windy morning post a good night’s sleep. It wasn’t raining although precipitation was forecast for later on, whether that be rain, hail or sleet remained to be seen. Breakfasted on oatcakes and cheese, berocca substitute and fruit, and felt set for the day. Oatcakes are a good find as they fit in my panniers easily in their individual packets, and contain plenty of the right sort of carbs, and cheese is always a win.

With the weather looking like it was going to do much the same as yesterday I packed up my thankfully dry tent, stuffed kit in my panniers, and was on the road by 10am. I’m definitely getting into a routine on this, and getting more efficient at what goes where and keeping things organised. It’s really annoying if you can’t remember which pannier you’ve put something in when you need it in a hurry, and you end up going through them all until you find what you want.

Me - another day

Ready to go, bit windy though


Taking advantage of a tailwind I made good progress along the coast, through Elie, St. Monans, and on to Anstruther where it started raining, just a shower and already had my waterproof on.

St Monans or Elie 1

St Monans or Elie 1

 

St. Monans

St. Monans I think

The showers were to continue on throughout the morning and into the early afternoon, and the temperature really drops when they pass through so had to pedal vigorously! A lot of the coastal towns and villages I pedalled through reminded me of those down in Cornwall where we used to go on hols when I was a child. They’re stuck on to the coastline, with neat little harbours for fishing boats, a church, cottages and of course at least one pub. I guess the towns around here sprung up on similar sorts of enterprises to those in the south west; fishing, farming or mining.

I pedalled on to Crail where I took a diversion out to the point – Fife Ness, where there’s yet another golf club. I wanted to see the point but regretted it slightly when I had to ride back to the route into a fierce headwind.

Fife Ness

Fife Ness – another golf course

Feeling peckish I got back on to the A917 and continued around to St. Andrews, into a partial headwind and at times driving rain that came lashing down with a vengeance. Could have sworn there was a bit of hail mixed with it too as it left my face stinging. I arrived in St. Andrews as the sun came out, and had a quick scout around, immediately liking the town. Nipped into Boots and bought some vaseline, with Aloe Vera (well posh), for my lips and nose which were suffering slightly from the adverse weather. Also bought a few provisions from Sainsburys, using a £2 brand match voucher that was about to go out of date. For those organised people this won’t sound like much of an achievement, however remembering to use supermarket vouchers is a big thing for me, so was quite chuffed with my savings!

Lots of students and tourists in St. Andrews giving it a good atmosphere. One busker playing an accordion, very well, no goblin tendencies as far as I could tell.

I found a lovely cafe for lunch and proceeded to spend the next couple of hours there. Jannettas is a great little establishment, serving reasonably priced and wholesome food.

Jannettas food

Jannettas – a welcome break. Bean soup, coronation chicken baguette, hot chocolate and peppermint tea, all for about £14.

As they had wifi I also caught up on my blog, but had to finally drag myself away to get to my campsite in reasonable time.

I noticed St. Andrews has a Gold Gilt award. I’d been seeing these awards as I made my way around the coast in various towns and villages, but only seen bronze and silver to date. I assume they’re to do with general attractiveness of the town, tourist appeal, tidiness etc. Gold definitely deserved for St. Andrews, even if it’s just because of the lack of goblins or trolls.

On my way out I cycled past the cathedral, destroyed in the reformation, and the castle, destroyed in the independence wars and apparently the site of various burnings at the stake and murders. A prominent Protestant was killed there, then his mates all got together and killed the catholic Cardinal (Beaton, who had a mistress, is that catholic?), and set up their own Protestant parish. There were various sieges and French assaults as well, all very dramatic and I imagine you can get a far better account on Wikipedia. Few pictures below.

St. Andrews Cathedral 1

St. Andrews Cathedral 1

 

St. Andrews Cathedral 2

St. Andrews Cathedral 2 

 

St. Andrews Castle

St. Andrews Castle 

 

St. Andrews Castle plus Lobster

St. Andrews Castle plus Lobster

 

St. Andrews Castle 2

St. Andrews Castle 2


Cycled around a bit more of St. Andrews, including the golf course seeing as it’s a famous one – road all the way down to the estuary and view point, seeing a few jets take off from RAF Leuchars, and back again enjoying the sunshine. Then watched a few people teeing off from the prodigious clubhouse which has words such as ‘ancient’ in its title, must be posh. Wasn’t so impressed when a bloke in his Chelsea tractor nearly flattened when he turned out of their car park whilst on his mobile phone though.

St. Andrews golf course

St. Andrews golf course

Note sunshine out, a rarity.

Scenic St. Andrews bay shot

Scenic St. Andrews view from viewpoint

Leaving St. Andrews via a nice cycle path running alongside the A91, I cycled on to Guardbridge and over the River Eden, watching more Euro Fighters play cat and mouse in the sky overhead. Rode past the RAF base where my Dad was once stationed (a few years ago now ;)) and on to Tentsmuir Forest where I wanted to spend the night wild camping. It was a really nice ride through the forest and down to the beach where the sun was still shining, clouds and rain over St. Andrews now but it was going out to sea so I was saved another soaking. Apparently Dad used to get chucked into the sea off the coast here, for Air Sea Rescue drills, looked abut chilly for that sort of activity to me.

Tentsmuir forest

Tentsmuir Forest beach, looking back to St. Andrews

Making my way through the forest I collected some birch bark for at experiment later (doesn’t harm the tree). Nice ride down good trails, smoother than some of the roads I’d been on! I stopped just past Tentsmuir Point at a landmark called the Ice House, which is a perfect place to camp. Didn’t see another soul for the rest of the evening.

Tentsmuir and bike

Bike in Tentsmuir


 

Tentsmuir wild camp

Tentsmuir wild camp – watch out for midges, ice house in background

The Ice House was built in 1858, or thereabouts, and was used to store salmon caught in the area, using ice saved from winter. It’s derelict now but home to a colony of Natterer Bats I hoped to see later. Was slightly concerned it might also be home to trolls, and whilst I’ve watched troll hunter I’d forgotten my UV light kit.

Tentsmuir Forest has been home to people for thousands of years, from the Mesolithic period through to the Picts, Romans, Vikings and beyond. A group of sailors, Dutch I think, got shipwrecked of the coast here and set up home, initially in tents, which is where it’s current name came from (Tents Moor). Poles were stationed here in the second world war and built tank traps and bunkers. Then the forestry commission bought it and planted pines. Interesting nature reserve along the dunes with cool species of plants and animals, where you can learn about succession if you’re that way inclined, took me back to biology field trips.

I had a cold supper eating provisions bought from St. Andrews, accompanied by a hot cup of peppermint tea. It stays light a lot longer up here, compared with Norfolk anyway, so although chilly enjoyed a nice peaceful evening in the forest, about 200 yards from the dunes and sea.

I wanted to experiment with trying to light a fire using only flint and steel, which is why I collected the Birch bark earlier. Found and sandy hole and after a few minutes had success. Silver Birch bark makes the best tinder, at least in the UK.

Fire by flint and steel

Man made fire!

The forestry commission don’t like fires in or near their woods so I quickly put it out, and made sure it was out. Shame as it was a chilly evening, and could have been handy if anyway unwelcome guests of a trollish nature turned up.

Had an early ish night after waiting up to see the bats, they didn’t appear, making me wonder if there were indeed trolls in the ice house.

Only did about 47 miles today, but nice to have a slower day and have a couple of big legs coming up.

Leg 12 – to Lundin Links via Dunfermline

12 May 2013

Officially today was meant to be a recovery day, and with the weather looking pretty bad I was half tempted just to stay in my tent; it was pretty cosy and I didn’t wake up properly until 8 o-clock, a record seeing as it starts getting light so early. Eventually I got up and grabbed a hot shower and breakfast, and checked in with reception for a weather forecast. Apparently today was going to be showery, but tomorrow could be worse. News from home also suggested I might encounter some sleet or even snow, as well as strong winds, oh the joy of Scottish weather.

This left be in somewhat of a quandary, however I decided it would be prudent to get at least some miles done today, back up the Firth of Forth but on the opposite side from previous days, and perhaps today I’d have a tailwind! I spent the rest of the morning relaxing, face-timing my brother, sister-in-law and nephew Seb, and updating my blog from inside of my tent, listening to the rain patter down. It always sounds worse from inside a tent than it actually is, most of the time anyway.

Packing in the rain

Packing in the rain

During a respite from the rain, I quickly packed up and got on the road for about 13.00, pedalling from Blairlogie down to Tullibody, then along to Alloa which sounds a bit Hawaiian but really isn’t. I found a great cycle path that went in the right direction so followed that, route 764, which goes all the way to Dunfermline. It’s Tarmac and with a tailwind I made excellent progress, which was a handy considering it was mostly raining, that quite light rain that drenches you slowly.

Bad weather in Blairlogie

Bad weather in Blairlogie


 

Curious lambs

Curious lambs, pass me the mint sauce


 

Cool statue on roundabout

Interesting artwork


 

Bluebells

Bluebells are out


Unfortunately I got a bit trapped on route 764, which whilst follows the Firth of Forth as intended, doesn’t hug the coast and hence I missed out a few of the villages I wanted to visit, such as Culross, and the Kinkadine Bridge. Route 76 does hug the coast, but I missed this somehow, and it might not have been such a smooth ride anyway. Given the weather I wasn’t overly bothered and pedalled on to Dunfermline enjoying the quiet cycle path and lovely countryside, despite the rain.

Rainy route 764

Rainy route 764


 

Firth of Forth

Firth of Forth


 

Forth Bridge in distance

Forth Bridge in distance


 

Clackmannanshire

Clackmannanshire

With water starting to drip down inside my waterproof I left route 764 and entered the black hole of Dunfermline. At least my feet were still dry and toasty in my Shimano shoes, and I was very glad I’d spent the money on Ortlieb panniers which keep my kit completely dry. Dunfermline proved to be a bit of a trial, especially in the rain. I kept trying to escape but got drawn back in. After a while, and feeling a little dispirited, I stopped at a Subway and consumed a foot long chicken tikka sub with vigour. It disappeared pretty quickly and I could have probably eaten a couple more. After wringing out my cycling gloves and emptying a pocket on my waterproofs of rain – I’d accidentally left it open, I felt a lot better, and the rain even looked like it was stopping for a bit.

I’d originally planned to take it easy and stop in Dunfermline for the night, but decided to carry on as couldn’t find the campsite I’d originally set my sights on. I picked up the coast road again, the A921 I think, and passed through Dalgety Bay, Aberdour, and on to Kirkcaldy where the sun started threatening to come out. I pedalled on through Buckhaven, Methil and Leven, past more golf courses of which Scotland has many, and found a campsite in Lundin Links, the Woodland Gardens, run my Jan and Craig Young. It’s up a bit of a hill but was well worth it for the hot shower and peaceful campsite, with a recreation room I could chill out in, where I could also recharge my phone and iPad. At £16 it was a little pricey but figured it was a prudent idea considering the weather, and I really wanted a shower.

Threatening weather

Threatening weather

The site has separate enclosures for tents, affording some privacy, and wifi. Was nice to have a chat with the owners and a few others staying at the site, and I called a couple of friends to catch up.

I cooked up a large bowl of pasta (250g) with tomato sauce, cheese and Tabasco, whilst updating my journal, something I do every night as preparation for my blog, and to record things afresh in case I don’t have a decent Internet connection. Also had some fruit, ginger biscuits, more cheese, and some peppermint tea, mange tout. The weather was definitely brewing up something so I retreated to the recreation room to do some planning, before retiring at a sensible time. Went to sleep to the sound of rainfall and wind gusting, I was very cosy in my sleeping bag.

Scotland so far is great, but most definitely wet, and of course in places infested by goblins. I’m looking forward to seeing more of it and getting to less populated areas. Will need to pick up some more fuel for my Whisperlite as think some wild camping is on the cards, campsites are getting a little sparse in places.

Off to St. Andrews tomorrow, and then up to the Firth of Tay, probably stopping in the Tentsmuir Forest after a shorter ride. Did 56 miles today on what was supposed to be a rest day so I’m ahead of schedule. In fact I’ve totalled up 810 miles so far, an average of 68 miles a day, including rest days, so pleased with progress.

On the Garmin front I’ve emailed them concerning the Nemesis device and it’s failings, waiting to hear back. At the moment I can’t recommend them, but maybe they’ll sort a replacement.

Might be a couple of days until the next update, depending on where I end up, power and signal etc. At least I’m out of Goblin country now, touch wood, so just the trolls to worry about now, but I watched troll hunter so should be fine!

Trolls

Troll country ahead

Leg 11 – to Stirling via the Union Canal

11 May 2013

With Noah off to little ninjas club with Meredith, Hugh cooked up a fine cyclists breakfast of sausages, beans and fried potatoes, most excellent fare for a day on the road. I needed to get a few things done to the bike before leaving Edinburgh, and after a few false starts we found a bike shop that stocked what I needed. Hugh printed off a more detailed map with directions to the bike shop, and then on to the Union Canal which I intended to follow to Falkirk.

Bidding goodbye to my excellent hosts, with a snack pack, clean laundry and boosted Star Wars knowledge aded to my inventory, I set off cycling down Princes Street again, seeing the castle, and managed not to get lost or waylaid by Edinburgh drivers or buses, on my way to the shop. Bit of an overcast and dreary day, but no rain as yet.

Edinburgh Castle 1

Edinburgh Castle 1


Edinburgh Castle 2

Edinburgh Castle 2


I found Blackhall Cycles owned and run my Derek Laing, who turned out to be a real whizz on the bike front, as well as being very friendly and helpful. My brake blocks needing replacing before tackling the rest of Scotland, and my tyres had seen better days, so I got them all replaced – got some funky Aztec brake pads, and Schwalbe tyres which are much tougher so should cope with the sometimes rough cycle tracks better. Derek also straightened my wheels which had gone a little out of shape, and tweaked, cleaned and lubed various things, quite an education in bike maintenance. Glad to report everything is running a lot more smoothly again now, with far more responsive brakes which I think I’ll need. Hopefully won’t need to change anything else significant for the rest of the tour, touch wood. Would strongly recommend any tourers passing through Edinburgh stopping in at Blackhall Cycles (15 Marischal Place, Blackhall, Edinburgh)for a bike health check and chat, thanks Derek (and for the donation).

Post Blackhall Cycles, and again following Hugh’s map, I made my way through the city to the start of the Union Canal, stopping for a pizza lunch break on the way. The Union Canal runs all the way to the Falkirk Wheel, something I wanted to see, a distance of about 34 miles. I spent quite a few hours chugging along by the canal, passing various towns and villages, including Linlithgow and it’s palace. I passed over several aqueducts, and through some lovely countryside once out of Edinburgh. Unfortunately I still had the headwind from yesterday to contend with, and the track was pretty bumpy and muddy in places so was glad of he new tyres. At least it was flat being a canal track.

Union Canal 1

Union Canal 1


Union Canal 2

Union Canal 2


Union Canal 3

Union Canal 3


Avon Aqueduct

Avon Aqueduct

Also passed through a couple of old and mysterious tunnels, at least one of which was Goblin infested, but made it through unscathed.

Goblin tunnel 1

Goblin tunnel 1


Goblin tunnel 2

Goblin tunnel 2


Goblin tunnel 3

Goblin tunnel 3 – leaking!


There were a lot of other cyclists going the other way, on a charity ride from Glasgow for Guide Dogs for the blind. I stopped and chatted to a few of them who were comprehensively mud splattered, apparently there was a bad stretch near Glasgow but I wasn’t going that far. I helped one mend a puncture as his pump was broken, my good deed for the day, couldn’t help another with a broken pedal though, hope he made it okay.

Swan

Nesting swam


I made it to the Falkirk Wheel about 5ish, and stopped for a look. It’s an amazing piece of engineering, which transports boats from the canal on high down to the next section of the route below, via a huge rotating device. Apparently it’s the only one like it in the world.

Falkirk Wheel 1

Falkirk Wheel 1


Falkirk Wheel 2

Falkirk Wheel 2


Falkirk Wheel 3

Falkirk Wheel 3


Falkirk Wheel 4

Falkirk Wheel 4


Falkirk Wheel 5

Falkirk Wheel 5


From Falkirk I rode north up the A9 to Stirling, passing Bannockburn but not stopping as it was getting late and would be closed. I stopped in Stirling for a bite to eat before heading off to find a place to camp. I’d been roughly tracking the Firth of the Forth all day, so was good to cross the River Forth.

River Forth

River Forth


I rode up past the William Wallace monument, an impressive structure that looks great up on the hilltop, and can be seen for miles, dominating the landscape, I’m sure Mel Gibson William Wallace would approve.

Wallace Monument 1

Wallace Monument 1


Wallace Monument 2

Wallace Monument 2


Rather than wild camp I opted to stay at the Witches Craig campsite. A lovely site although the midges had started to appear so I quickly applied Avon Lady skin so soft which worked a treat, and probably helped my wind chapped face too! A group of fellow campers had just finished their BBQ and had leftovers which they kindly offered me, plus a glass of wine, very kind of them and was great to have a chat. Never going to turn down more food on this tour! They live on the coast so might meet up with them again at some point.

Got to bed late due to starting late, but a great day. As I was settling down, in sight of the Wallace Monument, there were some very loud bangs in the distance. No idea what caused them, a quarry maybe, but seems weird late at night. Suspect more goblin activity!

Going to be a cold night as clear sky, hopefully better weather tomorrow.

Witches Craig

Witches Craig


 

Leg 10 – into Scotland and on to Edinburgh

10 May 2013

Warning, this post might go a little odd, it was a long day and hard ride. 71 miles, across some serious hills to begin with, and into a nasty headwind all the way.

I awoke to a grey day but at least the rain had stopped, and I’d had a cosy night’s sleep under the Monkey Puzzle tree post lots of food the evening before. Packing up a wet tent is never good, but is something I’ll have to get used to I expect, gave it a good shake but impossible to get it dry without some sunshine.

I breakfasted and set off before 9am, wanting to make good time up into Scotland and to Edinburgh. Little didn’t know at this  point what the day had in store for me. I cycled down into Berwick-upon-Tweed, and across the bridge into the town proper, before finding a McDonald’s on the outskirts for a quick second breakfast and to upload a couple of blog posts via their wifi.

Berwick-upon-Tweed

Berwick-upon-Tweed

To get into Scotland I had to hit the A1, crossing the border after a few miles, with hills getting hillier, and a headwind building from the East. Sunnier though.

Scottish border

Across the border into bonny Scotland

I finally turned off the A1 at Burnmouth, which was somewhat of a relief given the traffic, and headed down to Eyemouth along the A1107, following route 76. The headwind was getting stronger making hill ascents trickier, but the countryside was lovely and the sun was out, so all good. I had a break in Coldingham post a long climb – quick rest and a banana from my fruit basket, on the St. Abbs road in a nice warm sheltered spot. I didn’t go all the way to St. Abbs as would have involved long hill back up into Coldingham, and I was already feeling a bit tired.

I followed the coast road back towards the A1, past a wind farm having a particularly productive day. Some pretty long hills up, followed by some lovely long descents despite the wind which meant I had to keep pedalling to prevent stopping, even downhill.

Wind farm

Yet more wind farms


 

Scottish Borders countryside

Scottish Borders countryside

I had to cycle down the A1 again for a bit, whereupon I passed a sign which as well as advertising various tourist attractions, mentioned Goblins abounded in East Lothian, but that you might not see one; I’d had a feeling I was being watched for some time.

Goblins

Goblins


I turned off the A1 to Dunbar where I lunch from a local bakery – nice chicken tikka masala slice and cake. Met up with a large group of cyclists on their way to Newcastle from Edinburgh, they were enjoying a nice tailwind, I had the opposite to contend with. They were riding for a children’s charity and taking three days, looked fun but think I prefer cycling on my own or in a smaller group.

In Dunbar I also passed a Peruvian busker, sending familiar notes drifting through the town from his pipes. I’m sure I’d seen him in Norwich at some point. Quite strange to hear in Scotland where I was more expecting bagpipes. He had a funny hat on, maybe he was a goblin.

From Dunbar I headed off once more into the fierce headwind, which was proving very draining. I had to turn off route 76 to keep following the coast, and headed up to North Berwick past Tyninghame and Whitekirk. I passed Tantallon Castle and the impressive Bass Rock island.

Tantallon Castle and Bass Rock Island

Tantallon Castle and Bass Rock Island


I turned into North Berwick where I had a break. I’d had a tiring day so far with my bike feeling heavy. I had suspicions someone or something had slipped stones into my panniers but couldn’t find any. North Berwick is a lovely spot and would be worth a return visit.

North Berwick 1

North Berwick 1


 

North Berwick 2

North Berwick 2


 

Goblin Mound

Possible Goblin Mound or Citadel


On the subject of the large hill/mound to the north of the town, it was a little bizarre coming out of nowhere, and very imposing. Don’t know if it was man made, I suspect not, probably volcanic origins, or more likely Goblin in nature.

The clouds started to draw in now and it was getting colder, so I tried to pick up the pace, heading down the coast through Dirleton which had an impressive castle, then past Aberlady Bay.  As well as getting colder my lower back started to ache on the right hand side which I tried to ignore; suspect poison darts from the Goblins who’d realised I’d rumbled them.

I rode past Gosford Bay where there were several goblins kite-surfers out taking advantage of the wind that had been plaguing me. They were going really well but hard to capture in a photo.

Kite Surfer

Kite Surfer


I think I was starting to hallucinate at this point so I ate some sweets to try and get some energy and sanity back, before continuing along the coast past Cockenzie and Port Seton, then on to Musselburgh where the charity ride from earlier had started. It started raining at this point but I didn’t bother with a waterproof, it would have been too much effort to get out.

Rode on determinedly towards Edinburgh city centre, hoping to make last orders at the Virgin Money lounge above which our Edinburgh office is based. I road around quite a lot of Edinburgh looking for the office, due to going wrong then getting trapped by roadworks. Everything is a lot more difficult when you’re tired. Finally found St Andrews Square, which should have been easier seeing as I passed really close to it about 30 minutes previously, however unfortunately it was well after 17.30 by that point. Thanks for the donations though Edinburgh colleagues!

Worth mentioning that Edinburgh drivers are a little mad, and quite aggressive, plus there are lots of buses to contend with. I think Princes Street had the highest density of buses I’ve ever seen in one place, even more than London or Marseille, and they’re all driven by goblins as far as I can tell. You also have to watch out for the tram lines they’re installing at the moment, no trams until next year however the lines are easy to get your wheel stuck in; several cyclists have apparently fallen afoul!

Negotiating more of Edinburgh I made my way to Hugh and Meredith’s flat, friends who I’d been threatening to visit for years but never quite made it. Arrived in time for dinner, a very welcome Mexican cooked up by Meredith, followed by strawberry tart and ice-cream. Great to catch up and also learnt lots about Lego Star Wars from their son Noah. He could seriously go on Mastermind with specialist subject Star Wars, not sure 6 year old general knowledge would quite work out though I’m sure he’d give them a run for their money. Also got some laundry done so good for at least another couple of weeks now 😉

Full of food, and with thoughts of goblins receding I retreated to a comfy bed, although thinking about it Hugh does have a Goblin tendencies, especially when he gets his bottle of Everclear out – if you’re ever offered this drink run away!

Tough day, hardest yet with wind and hills, but good to end up with friends. Tomorrow equals finding a bike shop to get new brake blocks, tyres, and a once over (for the bike not me, although I could probably do with it), then going down the Union Canal to Falkirk, and on to Stirling. I might also try and find a chemist for sore nose remedy, and anti goblin hallucination drugs!

Leg 9 – to Berwick-upon-Tweed via Northumbria

09 May 2013

After a sound night’s sleep courtesy of Lynne and John, woke up feeling a little dehydrated. Think I need to make sure I drink enough even when it’s cold and I’m not sweating much. It was a beautiful morning with bright sunshine and only the odd fluffy white cloud, however the forecast was for rain later. It often seems to do this in Northumbria, starts off lovely then deteriorates as the day goes on. I made sure I had my waterproof handy after jinxing the weather by applying sun cream.

After a superb and hearty breakfast (full English) I bid goodbye to John, Lynne having left for the office early, thanks again for putting me up guys, recommend no.28 for all touring cyclists! First I cycled back up the hill for a quick look at Warkworth Castle, the first of many I was to see today.

Warkworth Castle 1

Warkworth Castle 1


 

Warkworth Castle 2

Warkworth Castle 2


Warkworth Village

Warkworth Village


Warkworth Village 2

Warkworth Village 2


I then headed back through Warkworth and over the bridge, turning right on to route 1, intending to follow it for a bit before turning inland to visit Alnwick, a short detour down memory lane and to restock with supplies. Reached it in good time after a couple of invigorating hill climbs, and stopped in at Barter Books, the UK’s biggest second hand bookshop and well worth a nosy around. Unfortunately I had no spare room in my panniers, could have spent hours there looking over the dusty shelves of venerable tomes and interesting books of all genres.  Feel certain there must be a few magic grimoires hidden amongst the collection, some scenes from the Harry Potter films having been filmed in Alnwick.

Barter Books, Alnwick

Barter Books, Alnwick, well worth a nosy


I meandered around the town some more and past the castle, but didn’t enter – too expensive at £14 to justify a flying visit and I’d been there before. The castle was used for some of the Hogwarts scenes. After restocking with supplies (pasta, sauces, fruit, chocolate and lunch), but forgetting breakfast ingredients, d’oh, I left Alnwick and made my way back to the coast, down to Howick, along to Craster (wondered if there was a Keep there aka Game of Thrones), and on to Embleton.

Bike with banana attachment

Bike with banana attachment


Alnwick Castle 1

Alnwick Castle 1


Alnwick Castle 2

Alnwick Castle 2


Passed a lot of sheep and lambs lying about in the sunshine. Do sheep lying down mean the same thing as cows lying down, that it’s going to rain? My Gran always said that about cows apparently. It did start to rain about an hour later so reckon so.

Northumbria is littered with castles, a testament to it being on the border with Scotland and more warlike days. I passed several more including Dunstanburgh, right on the coast. The below is the view from route 1 which passes right by it.

 

Dunstanburgh Castle

Dunstanburgh Castle


I did divert from route 1 briefly as it seemed to leave the coastline and I want to stick to it for the most part, but rejoined it at Seahouses, where you can get a boat a out out to the Farne Islands to visit the seals, colonies of sea birds, and St Cuthbert’s pad; he spent his later life there as a hermit. He was also prior of Lindisfarne (Holy Island) which was somewhere I wanted to visit later, but the tides were wrong to get across the causeway, would have to wait for another visit.

Seahouses 1

Seahouses 1


Farne Islands

Farne Islands in the distance


I didn’t have time for a trip out to the Farne Islands today, and besides I’d been there before, plus it was getting pretty wet and cold. After having lunch (again) I chatted to a fellow Ridgeback Panorama tourer for a bit, always nice, before moving on up the coast past Bamburgh Castle which is very impressive, standing tall and imposing.

Bamburgh Castle

Bamburgh Castle


Think Bernard Cornnwall used this location as inspiration for Bebbanburgh, in his Uhtred books which are a great read, set in the period of Alfred the Great with battling Saxons, Normans, Christians and Pagans. If memory serves it was restored by the same person who built Cragside, Lord Armstrong, a great industrialist and inventor. Both places well worth a visit – Cragside especially but was somewhat off route.

I had to leave the coast post Budle Bay to avoid the A1, so moved inland on route 1, and up and down a few more hills. Met a couple from over the pond on heavily laden tourers on their way from Glasgow to Amsterdam, on their first visit to the UK. Nice to chat for a bit and they said how friendly and helpful they had found everyone so far, very encouraging. They started on the 01 May too, and were cycling into the headwind today which I didn’t envy them. Recommended a trip to Norwich on their way down to Harwich to get the boat. They were somewhat surprised I was in in shorts – said I was acclimatising for Scotland!

Continued on to Beal in the drizzle, and stopped at the Beal Barn Cafe for a hot chocolate, followed by a beer as it was still raining – got to keep hydrated after all. Beal is at the head of the causeway to Holy Island, but as mentioned the tide was in so it would have to wait for another visit. This is the second time this has happened to me, poor planning, maybe third time lucky. The Cafe has free wifi and was nice and warm so spent a good hour there sheltering from the rain, and downloaded a new WordPress app for my iPad, hence the photos now. Friendly staff too who gave me marshmallows for my hot chocolate, must have taken pity on my somewhat bedraggled state.

Lindisfarne

Holy Island in the drizzle


Beal Barn Cafe

Beal Barn Cafe – rehydrating


From Beal I headed towards Berwick-upon-Tweed. Had to travel on the A1 for a bit to make up some time, and I wanted to get to the campsite to get out of the wind and rain. The A1 was surprisingly okay, despite the big trucks – probably hit it at a quiet point. After an 8 mile stretch I turned off into Scremerston and headed into Berwick looking for the Pot-a-Doodle campsite – they have wigwams which I thought sounded cool. I doubled back through Wittal in a big circle, on a very bumpy route 1 along the cliffs which I was glad it’d avoided earlier. Eventually found the campsite back in Scremerston, but it was closed. 

Rode back to Berwick and found a different campsite – East Ord House Park, which accepts tents and had a cosy spot for me next to a monkey puzzle tree. Quickly set up the tent and got a very welcome hot shower, before retreating to the on site bar for a huge plate of liver and bacon, side salad and onion rings. Really nice and very much needed. This was to be my last night in England for a while being only a stones throw from the border, so I had a couple of pints from the Belhaven Brewery, as recommended by the friendly clientele, to mark the occasion, whilst writing up my blog from the comfort of the bar.

All in all a great day at around 70 miles, and trip down memory lane, if a little tough at a couple of points; I did resort to playing some Pantera and Disturbed off my phone at a couple of points to get me up a few hills! Then Coldplay came on which slowed me down somewhat – this was on speaker by the way as don’t agree with cycling in earphones, but there was no one else to annoy apart from the odd bemused looking cow.

Off into Scotland tomorrow, and round to Edinburgh which I hope to reach in time to visit the office in St Andrew’s Square, should be doable depending on the weather. Looking forward to seeing Hugh and Meredith who have offered to put me up for the night.

Bike and body still doing well, although one unpredicted side effect of lots of cycling is a very dry nose, and think I might have burst a few capillaries therein. Will visit a chemist in Edinburgh but probably just needs to acclimatise to lots of outdoor activity!