Monthly Archives: May 2013

Leg 21 – to Nairn, via Elgin and Lossiemouth

Reinvigorated and ready for a longish leg.

21 May 2013

It had felt a bit odd sleeping in a real bed again for the first time since Edinburgh, however I did sleep well, and awoke feeling refreshed to a day that held promise weather wise, if still a little chilly due to the north/north westerly wind. Still it was nothing like the wind they’d had over in Oklahoma, where a tornado had ripped through the city. Reading the news it looked pretty horrific and my thoughts are with the victims. We’re fortunate in the UK not to experience such extreme weather too often; 1987 was the last really big storm/hurricane I can remember, which caused widespread damage in the South East, when I still lived there.

I finally managed to get myself out of the comfy bed, showered and had breakfast with Jim, Sue, Joan and Chip; porridge and toast. Wonderful toast made from homemade bread, with marmalade, been ages since I’d had toast and hadn’t realised how much I’d missed it. It’s a bit tricky to toast bread over a stove but maybe I’ll have it try it, or drop into more cafes for breakfast!

I got packed up, with a bit of help from Chip although he was slightly dubious of my tent flapping about (I’d spread it out to dry), and hit the road about 10.45, bidding a warm goodbye to my most excellent hosts. It had been really good to see them after so many years, and I’d really appreciated the bed, food, company and temporary fix to my pannier rack!

View from Anderson household

View from Anderson household – another overcast day but brightish, there was snow on the hills to the right still, but apparently that doesn’t disappear until June usually, so wasn’t too concerned.


I scooted down the hill from Jim’s house, remembering to stop at the Co-op at the bottom to buy more toothpaste, before heading back up to Rothes, and taking the B9015 to Mosstodloch and on to Garmouth. I’d had a really good run up to the coast again, with very little wind, and my legs feeling refreshed. I passed quite a few people fishing in the Spey again. Apparently you can pay upwards from £5,000 a week, per rod, to fish. Seems a bit extortionate to me, especially as I didn’t see a single person catch anything.

At Garmouth I decided to continue on up the Kingston-on-Spey, despite it being a dead end, just to touch base with the coast again before heading West.

Kingston-on-Spey

Kingston-on-Spey


I wanted to go to Elgin for lunch, and to have a look around plus visit a bike shop I’d sourced earlier via the web – Bikes and Bowls. Post a slightly slightly frustrating ride into another headwind, through nice countryside, I made it to the city – it is a city which I didn’t realise, having a cathedral, albeit a ruined one. 

Pleasant country roads

Pleasant country roads


The sun came out in Elgin anyway, and I had a welcome sandwich which was slightly awkward to eat being massive.

Me and Lobster in Elgin

Me and Lobster in Elgin 


Elgin City Centre

Elgin City Centre


I made it to the bike shop, and bought two new back-up inner tubes just in case, although I shouldn’t get too many punctures with these new tyres, touch wood. The owner had a Blackburn low rider front pannier rack but wouldn’t have been able to fit it until later, and I needed to get some miles under my belt. I decided to risk it and carry on – the temp fix seems to be holding very well anyway, and should be okay as long as I don’t go on too may more bumpy routes – will avoid Route 1 off road sections in future, for the sake of my posterior if nothing else. It was good to have a chat with the owner about touring and some of the routes he’d done anyway.

Elgin seemed like a nice small city. On the way out I rode past the cathedral, which was mostly destroyed at some point due to an argument between the rich & powerful and clergy; think it might have been over someone wanting to marry someone. Cathedrals being destroyed seems to be common in Scotland, same for castles.

Elgin Cathedral 1

Elgin Cathedral 1


 

Elgin Cathedral 2

Elgin Cathedral 2


From Elgin I rode up to Lossiemouth, startling a female pheasant with chicks on the way; I had to swerve to avoid the chicks, and the mother flew out at me in defence but then settled down. The chicks looked like big bumble bees but had hidden by the time I got my camera out. 

Female pheasant

Female pheasant

In cycled to Lossiemouth via the B9040, riding through the town via the harbour, and out by the RAF base, another where Dad used to be stationed.

Lossiemouth 1

Lossiemouth 1


Lossiemouth 1

Lossiemouth 2


Lossiemouth 3

Lossiemouth 3

I picked up the coast road and headed west towards the Moray Firth. Several Tornados from the RAF base were circling overhead, either on a training exercise or coming back from patrol, I think they were Tornados anyway. A group of them were coming into land one by one as I rode along, with them flying overhead before circling around and out of sight. I had a  brief moment of feeling a bit like I was Tom Cruise on his motorbike in Top Gun, riding down beside the runway as F16’s took off, but it’s not really the same on a push bike, loaded to the nines, with no cute flight instructoress to go and meet afterwards – just a tent and slightly smelly lobster! I sang along to Danger Zone anyway!

I continued on down the coast road, which dips inland a bit, through Hopeman then Burghead, then all the way down to Kinloss where there’s a big army barracks. I turned up to Findlorn, a slight diversion but wanted to see the village and Findlorn Bay. Findlorn is an attractive little village and marina, with a couple of nice looking pubs. I could have camped there but wanted to get a few more miles done on this leg, and still had plenty of day left.

Hopeman

Hopeman


Findlorn Bay 1

Findlorn Bay 1


Findlorn Bay 2

Findlorn Bay 2


Findlorn Bay 3

Findlorn Bay 3


From Findlorn the terrain continued to be fairly flat, and the wind dropped leading to some easy cycling with no rain! I pedalled down to Fores, then on to Brodie Castle, mostly via back roads although none go that close it the coast. Was following Route 1 again for the most part.

Gorse in bloom

Gorse in bloom


Brodie Castle

Brodie Castle


Moray Firth from Nairn

Moray Firth from Nairn


I arrived in Nairn about 19.00 and picked up a few provisions, including more bananas and breakfast stuff, before heading out to the campsite at Delnies Wood, just outside the town. It’s another Camping and Caravaning site, which I’ve always found good, and welcoming to cycle tourers. Apparently their constitution says they always have to try and find a pitch for backpackers, cycle tourers, and canoeists, which is good to know when you’re feeling shattered at the end of a long day’s riding, and just want to pitch up and go to sleep. Only £5.50 too, despite not being a member. The site is in the woods and red squirrels live in the surrounding forest; I’d seen one earlier but hoped to get a photo or two.

Dinner consisting of a pasta feast, with added onion, cheese and Tabasco, followed by fruit, chocolate and flapjack, the latter making the best sort of trail food in my opinion.

Pasta feast prep

Pasta feast prep


Delnies Wood campsite

Delnies Wood campsite

So a good days ride where I’d managed to get into the zone and ignore the weather, mulling over a few books and wondering where Game of Thrones has got up to in the TV series. Covered about 73.7 miles.

Went to bed looking forward to the following day, which had Fort George, Culloden and Inverness on the agenda, ending in Loch Ness. Fingers crossed weather continues to be okay.

Hope the death toll in Oklahoma isn’t too awful, and people are coping okay, all this considered!

Leg 20 – to Aberlour

A quick detour inland.

20 May 2013

I woke up feeling hungry, I always do post a migraine, and with a cycling appetite on top of that I proceeded to devour the remains of my cheese, pitta bread, some fruit, and some ginger nuts I found lurking at the bottom of one of my panniers. I’d need to do a provisions restock soon but not today, seeing as I only had a short leg to do down to Aberlour to visit my Godfather and his wife.

I packed up slowly enjoying the lack of rain, and loaded everything onto my bike for a late start, meandering out through Fochabers, and past the Baxters jam factory. The factory was established here years ago, I think because of the abundance of wild raspberries in the area that seem to grow well here.

I crossed over the Spey before turning south on country roads which run parallel to the river, and through it’s flood plain so they are mostly flat, undulating at worst; ‘undulating’ is a good word, I’ll attempt to use it more often along with ‘verdant’ and ‘dwelling’, also good words.

The Spey - looking south

The Spey – looking south

The next town of any significance was Rothes, although I did ride through lots of gently undulating and verdant countryside, past many stone dwellings both humble and grandiose. The weather remained non committal.

Spey valley countryside 1

Spey valley countryside


From Rothes I started to pass more whisky distilleries, including Grants. You can smell the whisky in the air around here, quite literally. I got a bit enthusiastic, maybe egged on by the whisky aromas, and decided to go on a bit of a hill climb up to Rothes Castle and to the golf course beyond to get a good view the valley.

Spey Valley - view from on high

Spey Valley – view from on high, not sure it was worth the climb

I stopped at the castle on the way back down, but there’s not a lot left if it. I bet the stone has been robbed over the centuries by farmers etc, for other building projects, however it must have looked imposing at one point, with a commanding view over the valley.

Rothes Castle

Rothes Castle


I think it was originally built in the 12th century when the then Scottish king ordered the local lord to build a castle here, overlooking a village of wattle and daub huts housing tenants who farmed the land and paid part of their harvest to the Lord, or would it be Laird? Edward I, who was named the Hammer of the Scots, stayed in the castle during his triumphant victory tour of Scotland; bet he was popular.

From Rothes I pedalled down to Craigellackie, seeing a few people fly fishing in the Spey, dressed in all the get up and standing in the middle of the river. Didn’t see anyone catch anything. I stopped at the old Craigellackie Bridge, now closed to traffic, but originally built by Thomas Telford from 1812 to 1814. It’s an impressive feat of engineering, spanning the Spey at quite a height to avoid flood waters; a prefabricated Lozenge-Lattice cast iron arch bridge apparently.

Craigellackie Bridge

Craigellackie Bridge


 

Craigellackie Bridge history

Craigellackie Bridge history


 

Craigellackie Bridge turret

Craigellackie Bridge turret


 

Craigellackie Bridge 2

Craigellackie Bridge 2


 

Craigellackie Bridge - fly fisherman

Craigellackie Bridge – fly fisherman


 

Craigellackie Bridge - symbol

Craigellackie Bridge – symbol, wandered what it meant? Mason mark maybe.


The bridge is also the spot where the Queen’s Own Highlanders merged with the Gordon Highlanders in 1994, meeting symbolically in the middle of the bridge.

I continued on post a brief decaf coffee break in Craigellackie at the Highlander Inn, down to Aberlour on more undulating roads that took me past the Walkers shortbread factory, which smelt wonderful. I stopped for lunch and an ice-cream actually in Aberlour, at the Old Pantry, where I consumed two lots of sandwiches and a large bowl of soup, still being hungry post migraine.

I then had to tackle a pretty significant and non-undulating hill up to my Godfather’s house, meeting Jim halfway there with his dog Chip, a Jack Russell of considerable character. I pushed my bike the rest of the way up the hill, obviously not wanting to be impolite and ride whilst they were walking! They have a lovely dwelling at the top of the hill set in verdant surroundings, although some of the hills opposite still had snow on which was a little concerning.

Jim and Sue had Jim’s sister Joan visiting too, and I was made to feel very welcome, plus it was a change to sleep in a proper bed, not something I’d done since Edinburgh. We jury rigged a fix for my front pannier rack strut involving a stiff wire splint, bound on with more wire and gaffer tape. It will probably last for the rest of the trip however I might replace it in Inverness if I find a good bike shop. That just leaves a broken Garmin, and a new lead required for my Power Monkey to connect it to the solar panel, as it’s fractured near the USB plug and needs replacing – not connecting to charge at present. Oh, and the wind just knocked my iPad off my pannier and onto the floor, which won’t do it any good but apart from the volume seems to be functioning still. The Scottish weather is really p*ssing me off today (22 May), strong headwind, squalls, then bright sunshine, then more rain! Grrr.

Anyway I spent a lovely evening in Aberlour, catching up and relaying progress so far, and was well fed and watered! The panacotta bread pudding was especially good, and the wee dram very welcome. Chip the dog was very interested in everything and did his best to help out. He likes chasing deer and sometimes disappears for long periods on the hunt, however not sure what he’d do if he actually caught up with one. I think the local deer are wise to him now.

Also picked up a relief package of flapjack from a friend in Norwich (thanks :)), so all in all a very enjoyable stop-over before tackling the Highlands. Mustn’t leave it so long before seeing Jim and Sue again (and Chip), and thanks for your help with the bike Jim. Off to Elgin, Lossiemouth, and down the Moray Firth forthwith, with clean washing too!

 

Leg 19 – to Gordon Castle Highland Games

Well I say leg, I only did about 2 miles…

19 May 2013

Gordon Castle is just outside Fochabers, and wasn’t tricky to find seeing as I’d passed it yesterday on the way in. Thankfully it was a dry day so I packed up post a lazy morning, and made it to the Highland Games for its opening at 11.00. Amazingly I wasn’t hungover, which was pretty fortunate considering the previous nights excesses; must be all the cycling and fresh air.

I joined a short queue of traffic before locking my bike up to a fence just outside the entrance, where a Scout leader on duty offered to keep an eye on it and my panniers. The event was being run by a host of volunteers, including scouts and cadets marshalling traffic and visitors, selling tickets and programmes etc, it must be quite an enterprise to organise.

First up was a hot chocolate, followed by the Massed Pipes and Drums of Elgin & District, Dufftown & District, Strathisla, Buckie & District, and RAF Lossiemouth. They sounded very impressive marching into the main arena, and getting everything going for the day. They played a few times during the day and I took a bit of video I’ll try and upload, but can’t find a way of doing it on this app.

Massed Pipes and Drums

Massed Pipes and Drums


The Games were then officially opened by the owners of the estate, Angus and Zara Gordon Lennox, and compered by Hamish who somehow kept going throughout the day. There were a plethora of stalls to look around, from the informative to those selling various Scottish themed wares you’d be hard pressed to find in your local mall. One stall was warning of the dangers of ticks and Lyme’s disease, which I’ll need to watch out for as I generally wear shorts and will be passing through and camping in a lot of countryside. I immediately felt itchy but didn’t find any ticks, thought I had enough to worry about with the midges! Will buy a tick removal kit if I find one.

Throughout the day there were loads of events to watch and get involved in, from archery, shooting (laser and clays), and fly casting, to watching the actual Games, Highland Dancing, Dogs, and lots of other attractions.

Highland Games - hammer throwing

Highland Games – hammer throwing

The first event of the actual games was the hammer throwing, where Hamish repeatedly warned that the hammer could go anywhere so we’d better keep an eye out, despite the safety net which was a new addition to comply with health and safety regs. The competitors were all Scottish heavy weights and huge blokes, and the Games are taken pretty seriously. These are serious athletes, all competing in several events during the course of the day. Think there were 10 of Scotland’s top competitors vying against each other in the hammer, shot putt, weight for distance, weight over bar, caber toss, stones of density, and stone putt. Jeff Capes eat your heart out.

Scottish Heavies

Scottish Heavies – part of castle in background

I watched a few of the events over the course of the day, the weight over bar looked extremely challenging; a new record was set at over 16 feet I believe.

I hadn’t seen highland dancing before, and was intrigued to see what it was all about, with several different dances from the Flora to the Sword Dance. Mostly girls from the age of about 7 into their teens, and equal in competitiveness to the Highland Games. Don’t quite know how they kept bouncing on the balls of their feet for so long, but must take a lot of practice and stamina.

Highland Dancing 1

Highland Dancing 1

 

Highland Dancing 2

Highland Dancing 2

Accompanying the dancing were more bagpipes, in fact I don’t think there was a single point during the day when I didn’t hear the skirl of the pipes coming from somewhere, there being a solo bagpipe competition going on too. The constant piping can get a little draining after a while!

There were various animals in abundance at the Games, including ferrets, terriers, birds of prey, and Gordon Setters which were originally bred here. There was a Gordon Setter dog show but I skipped it, dog shows not really being my thing unless they’re jumping through fiery hoops or something, but I did see the terrier racing, which was fun.

Terrier racing 1

Terrier racing 1 – lined up at the start and raring to go

The terriers get very excited at this point, they can see the lure and start barking and clawing in their eagerness to get at it.

Terrier racing 2

Terrier racing 2 – and they’re off

 

Terrier racing 3

Terrier racing 3 – and they’re on their way back

There was also audience participation on this, with several of the spectators wanting to get involved, of a canine persuasion that is. A few did quite well, chasing the lure and finishing, in fact I think the organisers would have quite liked to take them on permanently. Several however got distracted, made it halfway and then saw something else interesting or that smelt nice, or didn’t really start at all and went in the wrong direction. Great fun all round and the dogs obviously love it.

Birds of prey flying display

Birds of prey flying display


Several different birds of prey were flown including a European Eagle Owl, Harris Hawk, and a Saker falcon I think. From a young age I’ve always love to watch birds of prey, so great to see and would love to give falconry a go some day. Will add it to the list!

Fly casting demo

Fly casting demo from bloke on stilts


 

Re-enactors in traditional garb

Re-enactors in traditional garb


 

Foxhounds

Foxhounds


The Foxhounds only drag hunt these days I think, not sure if the law is different in Scotland. The master huntsman was with them and put them through some moves a but later in the day.

Vintage cars 1

There were several vintage cars present, I liked this Jag


 

Nimrod cockpit

Nimrod cockpit


 

Phantom cockpit

Phantom cockpit


Cockpits courtesy of the Morayvia organisation.

By this point it was about 16.00 and I’d begun to feel a little odd, a combination of tiredness, a bit of dehydration and some rather rich and sickly food in the form of chocolate brownies, on top of hog roast and pancakes. Bagpipes may have been taking their toll by then too. I should have recognised the warning signs from earlier on with the slightly blurry vision and being off balance. The migraine came on pretty swiftly and I had to exit stage right, missing the caber tossing, although I saw a caber sail through the air from a distance during my retreat. Great show from the Scottish heavies.

I’d intended to head down to Aberlour that afternoon, to my godfather’s, but instead had to call a rain-check and made my way back to the Fochabers campsite; tricky trying to ride and control a heavy bike whilst wanting to vomit and feeling decidedly off-centre! I quickly re-pitched my tent and disappeared into it for a few hours. Unfortunately migraines can make me quite sick so I lost most of the days carb loading, but after a few hours lying down felt a lot better. Whilst migraines make me sick I fortunately rarely suffer from the bad headaches, just have to shut out noise and too much light for a while.

The late evening was quite nice by the time I’d emerged and had a shower and lots of water, but no food – wasn’t ready to risk that quite yet. The sun had even come out for the first time in days.

Evening sunshine at Fochabers campsite

Evening sunshine at Fochabers campsite

So a very short leg today, but lots of fun despite the migraine, and I had made very good progress to date so could afford a bit of an extra time off the saddle. I’d head down to Aberlour tomorrow instead.

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!?