Monthly Archives: July 2013

Leg 51 – to Creetown via Portpatrick

21 June 2013

The tent was pretty hot when I woke up after a restless night, due to roosting oystercatchers making a racket for most of it. I had also awoken with a start at about 03.00 to the sound of something being set upon and probably eaten, hopefully it was just a fox getting a rabbit or pheasant, and nothing more sinister; I had thought the campsite felt a bit spooky. It took a while to get back to sleep after that due to a slightly overactive imagination. All this led to a slightly later start than usual, not getting on the road until about 10.45 post a shower, bike checks and breakfast.

It proved to be a lovely day as I rode west from Stranraer, over the top of the peninsula to Portpatrick where I could gaze over to Ireland and Belfast, only about 21 miles away. Portpatrick is a lovely small town, and a great spot in the sunshine, so I decided to stop for an early lunch.

Portpatrick

Portpatrick


Portpatrick lighthouse

Portpatrick lighthouse

Selecting a pub, the Crown Hotel, by the enclosed harbour, I had a coffee whilst I waited for midday when they opened for lunch. There was a stag party indulging in a morning beer before setting off to play golf, wearing shirts that I think probably broke the Geneva convention; truly lurid affairs which required my sunglasses to combat. Thankfully they left after not too long.

Portpatrick harbour front

Portpatrick harbour front

Frank, whom I’d met last night, also turned up on his bike having had a bit of a ride around the peninsula, and joined me for lunch. I tucked into a substantial lasagne verdi whilst we continued our conversation from the previous evening, also having a look at each others bikes.

Portpatrick harbour entrance

Portpatrick harbour entrance


Frank and his trusty steed

Frank and his trusty steed


Me in Portpatrick

Me in Portpatrick – note great tan lines from my gloves!


Frank didn’t have to catch his train until 14.15, but I still had a fair distance to travel, so had to get on my way whilst he enjoyed Portpatrick some more, and a pint of real ale. Good luck with your future tours Frank, I’ll keep an eye on your adventures via Twitter.

Portpatrick coast

Portpatrick coast – you could just about see Ireland


Before leaving I had a quick read of the information sign at the end of the harbour, which recounted the tales of some of the shipwrecks around the coast here, some 70 significant ones in the last 150 years, attesting to the difficult waters of the Irish Channel, its rocks and sometimes violent weather. The Portpatrick lifeboat has helped many a crew and passengers in trouble, and is still moored in the harbour ready for action.

Portpatrick inner and outer harbours

Portpatrick inner and outer harbours


After stopping at the town general stores I rode up out of Portpatrick, then south through scenic countryside, not without its hills, before finally ending up in Ardwell on the east coast of the peninsula. I’d had to navigate my way through a bit of a maze of country roads, avoiding dead ends and tractors, but it had been a pleasant ride so far.

View off the coast of Ardwell

View off the coast of Ardwell


I turned up to Sandhead from Ardwell, rather than cycle all the way down to Drummore and the Mull of Galloway, which was most definitely a dead end. I followed the coast all the way around Luce Bay, turning on to the A747, and stopping for a break and some ginger biscuits at Port William.

Riding around Luce Bay

Riding around Luce Bay 


Pleasant country roads

Pleasant country roads


Road to Port William

Road to Port William


The midsummer sun was proving pretty strong, so I topped up on the sun cream to avoid burning. It was a fantastic day weather wise, however clouds looming over to the west boded of less pleasant weather to come.

Isle of Man off the coast

Isle of Man off the coast


Lovely coastline

Lovely coastline

Continuing on my way I passed a field of cows who either regarded me solemnly, started following me, or pegged it in the opposite direction, strange beasts. There are a lot of stone circles and old forts in the area, indicating the region has always been populated by various nations and cultures over the years, whose bloodlines have no doubt all mingled to an extent to give today’s residents. I was half tempted to seek out one of the stone circles, it being the summer solstice, to see if anything mystical was happening. There were a few sheep I could think of that could do with a damn good sacrificing, and it surely wouldn’t hurt to try and appease any gods listening and ask for nice weather; alright it might hurt the sheep but they had it coming after their antics on previous legs.

Unfortunately there were no sheep to hand, and the cattle didn’t look particularly in the mood for participating in any Druidic rituals, so I pedalled on, arriving in the Isle of Whithorn, which is a seaside village and not and island, where I stopped for a breather.

Isle of Whithorn

Isle of Whithorn


It’s a nice seaside village and harbour, and the site of the ruined 13th century Saint Ninian’s Chapel. It also had a couple of nice looking pubs that I was severely tempted to stop at, cycling being thirsty work in the heat. Pedalling around each ‘sticky-out’ bit on the coastline does culminate in a lot of miles. Tempting to stop as it was, I probably wouldn’t have got going again, so I gritted my teeth and pedalled on.

I rode on up to Garlieston, and then to Bladnoch after crossing the river bearing its name. The Inn in Bladnoch looked too good to pass up, and besides I needed to stop to decide where I was going to camp for the night, and they had free wifi. I had a quick half whilst checking my route and possible campsites. It was already 18.30 and I’d done about 70 miles. Whilst I’d been thinking about heading for Castle Douglas it looked like a bit of a stretch for today. Luckily there were lots of campsites to choose from before then.

The A714 took me north through Wigtown, where there was a disappointing lack of toupees in evidence, before I turned on to the A75 crossing the River Cree just below Newton Stewart, and cycling back the other way alongside it to Creetown. A cold South Easterly had started up so I was keen to stop sooner rather than later, as it looked like the weather was definitely changing. Just past Creetown I found the Castle Cary Holiday Park,  which looked promising even if it might cost a bit more. I was therefore pleasantly surprised to find it was only £5.00 a night, and it had a pub/restaurant on site – The Lairds Inn. All in all a bit of a win with clouds closing in rapidly, so I pitched my tent and headed to the Inn for dinner, and to celebrate the Summer Solstice.

Castle Cary and the Lairds Inn

Castle Cary and the Lairds Inn

The staff at the Inn were very accommodating, and I dined on sizzling spicy chicken as the rain started to tip down outside, enjoying a few pints of ale. The Inn is converted from part of the old castle, which dates from around 1580, and looks great inside, with open fireplaces, stone walls and wooden beams abounding. The landlady did say she didn’t like being on her own in the place late at night, which didn’t surprise me, old buildings like this do sometimes have a weird feeling about them. She hadn’t actually seen any ghosts, but had had a few strange experiences by the sounds of it.

Lairds Inn and sizzling chicken

Lairds Inn and sizzling chicken – with it pouring down outside it wasn’t cooking weather

Despite the solstice latterly turning a little soggy it had been a good day, with 85 miles covered through some nice countryside and coastline, gentle hills, lots of cows and thankfully very few sheep. I was getting some good legs in now so would soon be back in England and heading further south, with only abut 2000 odd miles left to do.

Leg 50 – to Stranraer

Quick plug for a friend’s kickstarter project – Ren season 1. If you enjoyed the Lord of the Rings, the Hobbit, and that sort of genre of film, check out the link below as well as some of Kate’s previous film projects, such as Born of Hope. Well worth supporting!

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/mythica/ren-a-brand-new-epic-fantasy-series

20 June 2013

Leg 50 proved to be a longer day mileage wise, helped by the fact it was considerably flatter than recent days – 87 miles covered in total, getting me a long way further south.

Light rain on the tent didn’t bode particularly well for the day when I awoke, so I stayed inside for a bit waiting for it to stop. It did eventually and the sun came out, so I rolled out of my tent, getting a bit tangled up with my sleeping bag in my haste, but finally managing to extricate myself along with several other bits of kit in the process. I stuffed down a breakfast of leftovers including pitta bread, houmous, a banana, and smoked sausage, a bit of a weird combination but I reckoned it would keep me going for a bit. I would however need to restock soon.

Lobster implying a shower was probably in order

Lobster implying a shower was probably in order


Before having a shower I gave my bike the once over, not quite satisfied I’d got my spokes quite right last night, but they seemed okay – think I was just getting paranoid over my rear wheel. Nothing was rubbing so I left it alone.

I was finally ready to hit the road by 11.00, and rode back down the hill to Largs stopping at one of the sweet shops to get some energy boosts for the day ahead; they’d tweeted me so I felt obliged to respond…oh the power of targeted marketing.

With the sun out and the isle of Great Cumbrae just off the coast, I pedalled south through Fairlie down the A78. The road was reasonably flat and straight for a change, but a little bit dull compared with previous weeks, and the traffic was also heavier again with lots of cars and lorries steaming along in both directions. Everyone always seems in a hurry to get past a cyclist, and whist I realise they have work to get to etc is waiting an extra 30 seconds to pass safely really going to make that much of a difference. Still, the drivers were still relatively patient compared with those further south.

I got my head down and passed West Kilbride, before tackling Ardrossan, Saltcoats and Stevenston, which all merged into one another and weren’t very remarkable. You can get the ferry from Ardrossan over to Arran or Campbeltown. I’d been tempted by Arran but had been in Scotland since 10 May and figured I really ought to make some longitudinal progress. There was also the risk of me going native if I stayed much longer!

Coast off Ardrossan

Coast off Ardrossan


Skirting around several golf courses I made it to Irvine, riding through the town and on to Troon avoiding the busy dual carriageway. I stopped in Troon for a break, grabbing a sandwich and slice of pizza from a bakers, as well as a birthday card for my brother which was duly dispatched. His present will have to wait until I get home, but rest assured the garden gnome is coming!

The next bit was a tad convoluted as I pedalled around to Monkton, followed by Prestwick, past yet more golf courses and an airport, before arriving in Ayr. I didn’t pause in Ayr, although if I’d been there a few days later I could have met up with Esko from Finland who has been following my blog, and has dropped me a few emails; thanks for the support Esko, will have to cycle to Finland to meet up instead, I’ll add it to my list of destinations.

The route got a bit more interesting and scenic post Ayr, and I stopped in Alloway to look at the birthplace of Robert Burns, celebrated Scottish poet.

Burns Cottage

Burns Cottage

I hadn’t realised he died so young.

Burns Cottage in Alloway

Burns Cottage in Alloway

There’s a museum you can visit, but I contented myself with a walk around the gardens and memorial, as well as the Brig o’ Doon bridge. The late medieval bridge is pretty impressive, and the setting for another verse from Burns’ Tam o’ Shanter poem. Tam rides over the bridge to escape a witch, as apparently they can’t cross running water, which seems a little inconvenient as far as one’s toilet is concerned.

Burns mouse

I found this mouse a bit ominous, a bit like the ghost rabbit from Watership Down that had freaked me out as a child

 

Burns memorial - getting a facelift apparently

Burns memorial – getting a facelift apparently

 

Tam o' Shanter

Tam o’ Shanter


 

Gardens and Brig a' Doon

Gardens and Brig a’ Doon


After a deficit of pleasant countryside for the last few miles I seem to have taken quite a few photos in Alloway.

View from Brig a' Doon 1

View from Brig a’ Doon 1


 

View from Brig a' Doon 2

View from Brig a’ Doon 2


 

On the Brig a' Doon

On the Brig a’ Doon – no witches about


 

Brig a' Doon

Brig a’ Doon


Post a bit of a photo frenzy, and with the nice weather and countryside distracting me slightly after the morning’s urban sprawl, I took the wrong road out of Alloway. I ended up heading up the B7024 towards Maybole instead of taking the intended coastal route. I tried to correct my mistake a few times, but just ended up getting turned around and still finished up in Maybole. Never mind, it was still a pleasant route through forest and farmland, with a few hills to keep things interesting (and sweaty).

Random ruin

Random ruin


I passed a couple of tourers going the other way who gave me a wave which I duly returned. They looked more loaded than me and were struggling slightly up the hill I was coasting down; I assured them they had a nice descent coming up. Unfortunately due to my wrong turning I missed an ‘electric brae’ that was marked on my map, which I’d have liked to see. For those who don’t know that’s a hill which plays a trick on the eye, so you think you’re going up when you’re in fact going down, and vice versa.

I took the A77 from Maybole back to the coast, with a few accidental extra miles added on to my tally for the day. There were still lots of miles for me to get through, so I pressed on through Kirkoswald and past Tam o’ Shanter’s house, then pedalled through Turnberry and along the coast to Girvan.

Back on the coast near Turnberry

Back on the coast near Turnberry


Just past Lendalfoot there’s a memorial to a Russian cruiser, the Varyag, which has an interesting history. I wasn’t expecting to find a memorial to Russian cruiser on the west coast of Scotland, which ran aground and sank just off Lendalfoot in 1925.

Varyag memoria

Varyag memoria


 

Varyag memorial info

Varyag memorial info


In case you can’t read the info in the photo above, the Varyag was involved in the Russo-Japanese war, it’s crew refusing to surrender in the battle of Chemulpo Bay in 1905. She and one other Russian ship were blockaded in the Korean port by 15 Japanese ships, but refused to strike their colours when offered the opportunity. An unequal battle followed, with a heroic attack by the Varyag, however eventually both Russian ships were unable to offer continued resistance and their crews scuttled them, before returning to Russian aboard foreign vessels. The Japanese later raised the vessel and added it to their own navy as ‘the Soya’, before selling it back to Russia in 1916. The Russians sent it to Britain in 1917 for repairs, but then had a bit of a revolution and it was set adrift. From what I can gather we then nickedsalvaged it, before selling it for scrap, but it ran aground and sank on the way to be dismantled, a bit of an ignominious end for a ship with such a valiant history.

Coast off Lendalfoot

Coast off Lendalfoot


I continued down the coast with the island of Ailsa Craig off the coast. At first the island really confused me as I couldn’t see it on my map, and I wondered if it was a mirage, or perhaps a giant turtle (it was a hot day and I probably hadn’t drunk enough water). I learned later that Ailsa Craig granite is used to make Curling Stones, and the island is currently up for sale but no-one wants to buy it. I think the asking price is around £1.5m, however I’m not sure what you’d do with it, perhaps build a secret base from which to mastermind plans to take over the world. Other than that it’s a bird reserve, home to large colonies of gannets and puffins

Ailsa Craig off the coast

Ailsa Craig off the coast

A few longer hills followed as I rode around Bennane Head and through Ballantrae, with a long climb up to Smyrton and Auchencrosh which left me very hot. I realised my arms had burned slightly as my sun cream and worn off, probably hours before, whoops. The road surface was pretty shoddy in places which made for tough riding, and jarring my wrists which were really starting to ache, however I was rewarded with a nice long descent down to Loch Ryan.

Loch Ryan

Loch Ryan

I made it round to Cairnryan, from where Stenaline ferries leave for Ireland now, instead of from Stranraer. The traffic was still relatively heavy so I hurried round to Stranraer, arriving about 19.00, and found the Aird Donald campsite.

Around Loch Ryan to Stranraer

Around Loch Ryan to Stranraer


Stranraer in the distance

Stranraer in the distance

I had to interrupt the campsite owner during her soaps, however she was very accommodating and we had a quick chat. Apparently she doesn’t get as many tents as she used to, with the ferries having moved and more people in camper vans. It was only £8.00 a night, and my only company on the camping field were lots of rabbits. For some reason it felt a little spooky.

Aird Donald

Aird Donald – I just couldn’t decide where to pitch my tent

Post setting up my tent I cycled into Stranraer on a considerably lighter bike, and had a quick tour around looking for somewhere to eat. In the end I decided upon a Chinese at the Sun Kai, as well as a couple of cold beers to celebrate a good day’s ride, and to cool off a bit. It proved to be a good choice, with lots of carb loading opportunities, and I also met Frank Montgomery (@tr6fom) a fellow cycle tourer. Frank, who lives in Leeds but is originally from Glasgow, had just completed a ride from Leeds to Glasgow in one day, covering over 200 miles, a pretty phenomenal effort. At 64 he’s just about to retire and has a lot of cycling plans. We chatted about touring ideas (Pyrenees sound very attractive) and experiences to date, with the restaurant girls chipping in with a few tips on the local area. A great evening and before I knew it 23.00 had arrived.

Dinner venue in Stranraer

Dinner venue in Stranraer

Another day done I bid Frank goodbye, although I’d very likely bump into him tomorrow in Portpatrick, and headed back to the campsite. It was too late to start a blog entry at that point, however I made sure my written journal was up-to-date before I nodded off, slightly concerned my tent was being surrounded by rabbits intent on mischief.

Leg 49 – to Largs via Glasgow

19 June 2013

I slept very well after yesterday’s long ride, and awoke to a bright morning feeling fresh despite having stayed up pretty late working on my blog. There just aren’t enough hours in the day, and I’d decided that whilst the blog was important, it had to take second place to anything else going on, such as places to visit or people to meet.

After breakfast I had a check over my bike which seemed in order, however I did need to get new rear brake pads, the current incumbents being down to the bare minimum. There followed a bit of faffing as I reorganised my panniers a bit, which had got into a bit of a mess with things like pairs of socks getting split between bags. I didn’t even have that many pairs of socks, it just doesn’t seem to matter where you are or what you’re doing, socks always get mixed up!

I tried to phone Garmin again to see about getting my Edge replaced, but as usual the line was busy and I ended up on hold. I didn’t hold for long, being on my mobile which costs me money. I’d probably have to wait until I got home to sort it out properly; their customer service is seriously overstretched and needs sorting, and I hope I haven’t wasted £400 – I’ll go down fighting! Using a map was working out fine anyway, and in many ways was a better option, it just meant people couldn’t track me online and I didn’t have an automatic mile counter. The Garmin website is good for route planning anyway, and from that I could tell how many miles I covered.

Everything loaded onto my bike I dropped off the toilet block key and got on my way at about 10.30, taking are rather more direct and less alarming route from Stepps back into Glasgow, via the A80. After being on quiet roads for so long I had to sharpen up a bit in all the traffic, and remember how it tackle traffic lights and roundabouts, Glasgow having a lot of both. It didn’t take me long to get into the swing of city cycling again, I just had to be slightly more aggressive and awake.

I rode into the city via the Cathedral Precinct, to my first stop at Cycling Scotland in Blythswood Square, a rather upmarket bit of Glasgow. Their offices are located at the top floor of number 24, and I thought it would be good to visit having been following them on Twitter. They were all in a meeting when I arrived, however William, their Comms Officer, ducked out for a chat. Cycling Scotland are a great organisation, promoting safe cycling, cycling awareness amongst drivers, and how to integrate cycling into modern life. They hold and organise cycling events, and generally promote cycling in Scotland, being funded both by the government and some businesses. It was good to learn a bit more about them, and I wondered if we had a similar organisation in England, I’d need to find out. I guess the CTC/Sustrans fill that gap. 

You can visit the Cycling Scotland website at http://www.cyclingscotland.org

William pointed me in the direction of Rig Bike Shop and Cafe just around the corner, as well as the Velodrome which would be worth a visit. I passed on my blog details in case they wanted to link to it, seeing as I’ve cycled around most of their coastline and think it’s pretty amazing. Could be useful for other cycle tourers thinking of doing the same.

After getting slightly lost trying to get out of the building by using the stairs, I cycled the few hundred yards to Rig Bike Shop on West Regent Street (141), which has the Luke Monaghan’s Cafe attached to it.

Rig Bike Shop

Rig Bike Shop


I spoke to Brian who runs the shop, and is an ex Glasgow bike messenger, and bought some new rear brake pads to fit later. The front brake pads were nowhere near as worn. He checked my tyres and agreed they both had a few more miles left in them. I’d been getting concerned about the rear one which was starting to wear a bit, but the front was fine still. They’re Schwalbe Marathon Plus’ so they should be fairly indestructible. Great bike shop and staff, with lots of bike messengers popping in and out for snacks from the cafe, or repairs, or just to chill out for a bit. Being a bike messenger in Glasgow must be a hard vocation with all the hills and traffic, and something of an extreme sport. Was good to say hello and have a chat with a few of them.

Before leaving I had a panini and excellent strawberry smoothie at the cafe, all for £4.00 so great value, and was also able to swap out my loose change of which I’d seemed to accumulate a fair amount; good to get rid of the weight, even if I was only fractionally lighter as a result. Brian did warn me to make sure I locked my bike and to keep an eye on my stuff whilst in Glasgow, so despite all the regeneration it’s still like most big cities and you have to watch out for theft.

Luke Monaghan's Cafe

Luke Monaghan’s Cafe


If you’re passing through Glasgow on your bike I’d thoroughly recommend Rig Bike Shop and Cafe, but they’re likely to be busy so you might have to book anything more serious than a tweak in advance. Thanks for the tip Cycling Scotland.

Post the bike shop, and a quick cycle around the city centre, I rode alongside the river front and out to the Commonwealth arena, which was in the wrong direction really, but I wanted to visit the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome. I passed through a lovely park by the river before turning inland to the arena.

Glasgow river front

Glasgow river front – excellent cycle paths


There were no tours of the Velodrome for another hour so I just had a quick look around. A few super light bikes were whizzing around the velodrome on time trials, which looked fun. I’d have loved to take the Ridgeback on it fully loaded, however I’d have probably crashed, and it was closed to the public at the time anyway.

Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome

Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome


Curiosity satisfied I rode back into the Glasgow, again long the river front, passing a few marquees with cycle type people around them. I stopped to find out what was going on, and met The Bike Station Glasgow. They’re a Glasgow based charity who were holding an event to promote cycling in the city, and performing free bike checks. They were just finishing up but were kind enough to give my bike the once over, finding nothing untoward aside from a slightly smelly lobster. They did adjust my gears, which had been sticking a bit – thanks guys and good luck.

You can check out their website here – http://www.thebikestation.org.uk  They recycle old bikes for the community, promote cycling, teach bike maintenance and cycle confidence, and offer bike services via their mechanics. All great stuff and a great bunch of people. Must be working as there were certainly a lot of cyclists out and about, and lots of cycle paths to take advantage of.

In possession of a new freebie water bottle, and needing to get some miles done, it was time to leave Glasgow. I was somewhat reluctant as I really liked the feel of the city and its residents, more so than Edinburgh which I was surprised about, and would have liked to explore some more. I think the city has had a lot of money spent on it in recent years and has blossomed as a a result. Another place to come back to and visit again, and great launch pad for heading further north into the Highlands; I wonder what the job market is like in the city.

I rode alongside the Clyde for a bit, before crossing over near BBC Scotland and the Science Park.

Glasgow and the River Clyde

Glasgow and the River Clyde


 

BBC Scotland

BBC Scotland


Seeing BBC Scotland reminded me it was nearly midsummer and that the Midsummer Watch programme would be airing soon – I’d met Mark Beaumont and a BBC team filming some of it earlier on my tour. I thought I really ought to do something for the longest day, I might even be back in England by then!

Leaving Glasgow via the A8 I passed through Renfrew again, and then swung onto Old Greenock Road to avoid the M8. I had to rejoin the A8 at Langbank, to stick close to the coast, passing through built up areas all the way along to Gourock. There was quite a bit of heavy traffic about, there being a lot of shipping arriving or leaving from Port Glasgow, but at least the road was mostly flat, and there were cycle paths available on some bits. One cycle path led me through a ferry port and literally through a train station which was a bit odd, but I remained on track, as it were.

I could see across the Firth of Clyde to where I’d been yesterday, and the day before. I could have easily jumped on the ferry across the short stretch to Dunoon.

Firth of Clyde

Firth of Clyde


Firth of Clyde near Gourock

Firth of Clyde near Gourock


Gourock

Gourock

Dismissing thoughts of ferries I rode around the point to Inverkip, taking a chance on following the route 75 cycle track, which went in the right direction and looked in good condition.

More of the Clyde coast

More of the Clyde coast

It started off well but the track rapidly deteriorated leaving me swearing somewhat as I was bumped about, and had to negotiate flooded areas. I was certain I’d be wheel straightening again that evening!

Route 75 deteriorating

Route 75 deteriorating


One of the smaller puddles

One of the smaller puddles

I got back on to the road at the Kip Marina, which looked nice but expensive, and pedalled south through Wemyss Bay in the sunshine, with a slight south westerly wind slowing me down a bit. I passed various ferry ports pedalling on to Largs, with Bute just across the firth, and the isle of Great Cambrae even closer. The road was flat again so it was fairly easy going, and I arrived in Largs in good time.

After a quick look around Largs, which was alright for a typical seaside sort of town with amusements and the normal array of shops and bars, I made my way to the campsite I’d spotted earlier on the Web. South Whittlieburn Farm is about 2.5 miles north east from Largs, and I pedalled there via a climb up Brisbane Glen. It’s a nice little campsite, with limited wifi and a small unisex shower block where I was also able to charge up everything which was handy. The farm also offers B&B, which I was almost tempted by after missing out on a bed last night, but in many ways I prefer my tent, and it’s cheaper.

Whittlieburn Farm campsite

Whittlieburn Farm campsite


After a quick chat with the campsite owner Tom, who was running the site solo with his wife away which he seemed in a bit of panic about, I pitched my tent and cooked up a meal of pasta, smoked sausage, cheese, and tomato and chilli sauce.

Whittlieburn Farm - tent pitched and cooking in progress

Whittlieburn Farm – tent pitched and cooking in progress

At the same time I was changing my brake pads and tweaking the spokes on my rear wheel post the bumpy ride up route 75, which resulted in me slightly overcooking the pasta.

Sausage pasta in progress

Sausage pasta in progress

My meal was a bit of a soft pasta mess, but tasted delicious with the addition of Tabasco sauce – a staple of my cooking on the road it seems. It was a bit like eating pizza topping, and there was lots of it to refuel on.

I spent the rest of the evening finishing bike maintenance, as well as planning my route over the next few days and updating  my journal and blog over, a can of cider. I tried to sit outside to enjoy the countryside and sunset, but unfortunately the midges arrived as the sun set, and I had to retreat to my tent. Some noisy arrivals about 22.30 seemed to spend an age parking their camper van, however they didn’t stop me falling asleep, after planning out tomorrow’s leg; a long one down to Stranraer.

Only 58 miles covered today due to time spent in Glasgow, a very worthwhile visit. 

Leg 48 – to Glasgow

I made it back to Norwich completing my Bike around Britain tour yesterday, post 86 days on the road, and covering around 5,451 miles. Great feeling to have made it ahead of schedule and in one piece, and great to see friends and family again. Now to catch up on my blog, and plan my next adventure. Oh, and I’d better go back to work next week!

18 June 2013

After a late night at the Whistlefield Inn I was a bit bleary first thing on Tuesday morning. I was still up relatively early, and after swatting a few midges that had made it through my tent airlock system into my inner sanctum, I got up, and had a swift breakfast. It had to be swift as there were still midges swarming about, leaving me feeling pretty itchy. Apparently they’ve taken the chemical that repels midges out of the Avon Skin So Soft product I’d been using as a repellent, which explains why it hadn’t been working very well. In fact it had probably just been making my skin nice and tender! I’d need to find an alternative if the midges were going to continue. It seems a bit short-sighted of Avon to remove the midge repelling bit of lotion, as it’s on the shelf throughout Scotland not for its moisturising qualities, but for its ability to keep the little blighters at bay. I imagine their sales will reduce massively as a result, so sell any shares you have in the company now!

Whistlefield Inn pitch

Whistlefield Inn pitch

Post a bit of wheel straightening, which was a bit tricky whilst being attacked by midges who insisted on trying to crawl up my nose, I packed up and was on the road just after 09.00, foregoing a coffee at the Inn as I had a long day’s ride ahead of me, and I might have just ended up staying!

View from Whistlefield Inn down to Loch Eck

View from Whistlefield Inn down to Loch Eck


 

Whistlefield Inn, built 1663

Whistlefield Inn, built 1663


I pedalled slowly alongside Loch Eck for a bit, letting my legs warm up as the sun came out, through the Argyll Forest Park which is really worth a visit. It’s a brilliant landscape with lots to see and do, although you have to watch out for the midges. I was somewhat sad to leave it behind, this being my last day in the Highlands, having seen some superb places and met some fantastic people.

At Strachur I turned left onto the A815 and rode up to Ardno, where I turned onto the B839 to make my way through the mountains. It was a great but challenging ride over to ‘Rest and be thankful’, the apex of the old drover’s pass, that was named by soldiers making there way along the military road. A lot of military roads were built in the area, to help with quashing any anti-government sentiment or rebellion.

Hill climb up from Ardno

Hill climb up from Ardno


 

Road winding through forest

Road winding through forest


I was slightly jealous of a fellow cyclist who passed me without panniers, seen in the above photo whizzing off in front of me. 

More of the Argyll Forest Park, near Ben An Lochain

More of the Argyll Forest Park, near Ben An Lochain


On my ride across to ‘Rest and be thankful’ I stopped by one of the fast flowing and clear mountain streams for a break, and decided it was time for a wash to rid myself of some grime, and to cool off a bit.

Mountain stream washroom

Mountain stream washroom


This was another tick on my list of things to do, and the water tasted wonderful. I really wasn’t worried about it having anything nasty in it up here, and felt thoroughly refreshed after the rigorous climb, even though I was about to get very sweaty again with the next ascent.

Bathing on a cold Scottish mountain stream, another great experience

Bathing in a cold Scottish mountain stream, another great experience


 

B828 over to Rest and be thankful

B828 over to Rest and be thankful 


I stopped for a break at ‘Rest and be thankful’, as it seemed appropriate and timely, from where you have a great view down Glen Croe and towards The Cobbler.

View down Glen Croe from Rest and be thankful

View down Glen Croe from Rest and be thankful


 

View down Glen Croe from Rest and be thankful 2

View down Glen Croe from Rest and be thankful 2


 

Rest and be thankful marker stone

Rest and be thankful marker stone


Bidding farewell to the Highlands for now (in the words of Arny – ‘I’ll be back’),  I had a long and speedy descent down to Arrochar, which went on for ages and was thoroughly enjoyable despite the traffic. I stopped in Arrochar about 11.30 and had second breakfast at a local cafe, consisting of a very large and tasty fry-up with black pudding, eggs, bacon, beans, Lorne sausage, potato pancakes, and toast. It was nearly a case of my eyes being larger than my stomach, but I managed it all, and left feeling rather full but with plenty of energy to get me to Glasgow.

I pedalled down the A814 alongside Loch Long, passing several naval bases and MOD areas, shut off from the public by some fierce looking razor wire fences; think they are submarine bases. There were lots of other cyclists out on expensive looking road bikes, and a few tourers heading the other way into the Highlands with whom waves were exchanged. I briefly considered riding from Glasgow over to Edinburgh and starting the Scottish circuit again, being slightly envious of those just setting off.

Following a steep climb I made it to Garelochhead, and decided against pedalling down to Rosneath, it being a bit of a dead end, and needing to get on to Glasgow. Getting my head down and consuming a lot of water due to the heat, I rode down to Helensburgh alongside Gare Loch, past lots of military accommodation by the looks of it, and on to Dumbarton with the Firth of Clyde on my right. It was a nice and easy ride, the road being flat and with no wind to speak of. I stopped in Dumbarton to refill my water bottles and grabbed a cold lemonade for my parched throat – really hit the spot after the hot Highland pedalling.

I had to join the A82 for a bit up to the Erskine Bridge, which was a slightly alarming experience after being on quiet roads for so long. It’s a dual carriageway and had lots of heavy traffic on it, including logging lorries which have a tendency to shed bits of bark as they hurtle along. I pedalled over the Erskine Bridge, having decided to go that way in case I decided to skip Glasgow and head west to Greenoch; I sometimes don’t make my mind up on what route I’m going to take until literally the last moment.

In the end I did head across to Glasgow, getting a bit turned around in Erskine before picking up the right road, and trying desperately not to get funnelled on to any motorways, which road signs kept pointing me at – the M8 and M898. Via a slightly convoluted route, and with assistance from a few other cyclists with directions, I rode down through Renfrew and along the A8 to Glasgow itself, crossing over the pedestrian/cycle bridge.

Rangers Football Club

Rangers Football Club


 

Pedestrian/Cycle bridge over the Clyde

Pedestrian/Cycle bridge over the Clyde


I had a quick cycle around the centre of Glasgow, which wasn’t actually very quick due to all the buses, cars and traffic lights. I found the Cycle Scotland office but it was closed, it being 17.45, so I thought I’d pay them a visit tomorrow morning instead, having been following their tweets. Cycling seems to be very popular in Glasgow, and on the up in Scotland in general, which lots of promo activity going on to get more people pedalling which is great.

I’d had a cunning plan to gets a room in a hostel for the night, and pedalled to the Euro Hostel with this in mind. It’s one of the larger hostels in Glasgow, and very central, with loads of rooms. I strode up to the receptionist, looking forward to a night in a bed and going out for a curry…

Unfortunately my plans were thwarted by Bruce Springsteen who’d arrived in Glasgow for a concert, meaning the Euro Hostel, as well as all other hostels and hotels were fully booked. Just bad timing on my part as it’s usually easy to get a room or bunk for the night, but a bit selfish of Mr Springsteen I thought.

After a quick think I decided I really didn’t want to pedal all the way out to Greenock that evening, so I turned to my mobile and Google for help. I found a campsite not far away in Stepps, just East of Glasgow, which would do just fine. I rode there via a slightly bendy route again, but successful avoiding more motorways. I passed through some slightly dubious areas with gangs of teenagers hanging around drinking and smoking, looking at me with an air of speculation, and past one fight outside a pub.

I got a bit lost around the Red Road housing estate, which has some enormous high rise blocks that are in the process of being demolished. I was getting slightly concerned that several older and tougher looking kids were starting to follow me on bikes, but was heartened when a younger lad showed me the right road, realising I was a lost after I’d been staring at the map on my phone for a bit – perhaps not the wisest move in that neighbourhood but I might being doing it a disservice. I followed his directions, seeing him again on the other side of the tower blocks which he’d obviously snuck through, ignoring the ‘danger’ and ‘no entry’ signs as you do as a kid. The demolition site must be a paradise of a kids playground for the youth in the area! He gave me the thumbs up as I rode off to Stepps, getting there about 19.00 after stopping at a Co-op to get some dinner.

It was a relief to make it to the campsite, after a long 83 mile day which had begun in the mountains. The site had plenty of room for my little tent, and I pitched up and got some dinner on. I really like it when campsites have a picnic table I can use, both for cooking and writing on. It was a lovely evening with clear skies, but got a bit chilly so I headed for a warm shower to wash away the day’s grime. It wasn’t as nice as my mountain stream bathroom but was definitely warmer.

Stepps campsite

Stepps campsite

The campsite was a bit pricey at £14.00. There seems to be such a variation in cost, with prices ranging from £5.00 all the way up to £20.00, with no real difference in facilities. Some of the cheaper campsites often seem to to be better. I was going to have to be careful with more campsites getting booked up now, as I wouldn’t have as many wild camping opportunities; it’s not legal in England and Wales, although you can get away with it if you’re respectful and responsible.

I went to bed mulling over my time in Scotland, which would be coming to an end soon. I was sad to be leaving it and will have to plan a return trip to the West Coast to revisit a few places more thoroughly, and do some hiking and kayaking. I want to get to a few more of the isles and places like Fingal’s Cave – I wonder if you can get a sea plane there, as one of my Dad’s friends in the RAF once did. I think I could quite happily live up here, if I could find a job that worked out, and could put up with the midges, and sheep! 

Leg 47- to the Whistlefield Inn, Argyll Forest

I’m in Essex as I write this, and miss my time in Scotland, which was amongst some of the best riding of the Bike around Britain tour. Leg 47 was another good day, with fantastic scenery and more places and people to revisit at some point in the future.

17 June 2013

There was was a splash from outside my tent, followed by another, someone throwing stones I thought? Maybe I’d annoyed some locals by camping here. I cautiously opened the tent flaps to a bright morning, peering out, and spotted the culprits of splashing. Rather than an angry mob there were two gannets fishing, flying up and down the shoreline and occasionally diving down into the loch, an amazing sight to wake up to.

Morning at Otter Ferry, Loch Fyne

Morning at Otter Ferry, Loch Fyne

 

Loch Fyne, gannets fishing

Loch Fyne, gannets fishing – couldn’t catch them in a photo though

Unfortunately I’d camped in a shady spot and the midges were still out, so I packed up and breakfasted quickly, before setting out on what was probably going to be a long day, with lots of Scottish hills to cross, as well as some lovely National Park land.

Otter Ferry - The Oystercatcher

Otter Ferry – The Oystercatcher


Bike loaded I rode down through Otter Ferry, not named after Otters, but after the Gaelic for sandbank (oitir), and past the Oystercatcher pub, before continuing up the B8000 towards Ardlamont Point. I passed a couple of cyclists going the other way looking rather sweaty, who warned me of impending hills. They weren’t wrong about the hills, which were a little feisty, however it was worth it for the views at the point. There was also a nice coach house cafe which I was tempted to stop at, but resisted in this instance.

Ardlamont Point 1

Ardlamont Point 1

 

Ardlamont Point 2

Ardlamont Point 2

 

Ardlamont Point 3

Ardlamont Point 3

I turned back north towards Kames and Tignabruiaich, passing a few other cyclists with whom greetings were exchanged. A lot of tourists appear to frequent this area, also know as Secret Scotland, and I’m not surprised given the fantastic scenery and national park. 

Road to Tignabruiaich

Road to Tignabruiaich


Following the coast alongside the Kyles of Butes, the Isle of Bute was just across the water. I think you can almost walk across to it at low tide, but they obviously want to keep their island status for the tax breaks!

Looking across to Bute

Looking across to Bute


I stopped in Tignabruiaich for lunch at the Burnside Bistro, as several coach-loads of mostly the older generation turned up, quickly making there way to the few eating establishments who were obviously prepped for their arrival, springing into action; it must be a daily occurrence during the holiday season and I was glad I’d got in just before they’d arrived. I consumed my scampi and had a coffee, before escaping the hordes who were busy eating Tignabruiaich out of cake as far as I could see.

Tignabruiaich - panorama

Tignabruiaich – panorama

 

Tignabruiaich - Kyles of Bute

Tignabruiaich – Kyles of Bute

Post lunch I had to tackle a long hill climb out of Tignabruiaich, which took a considerable amount of effort especially as it was getting fairly warm; it was all worth it for the views the top. Several loads of cake laden tourists passed me, the coaches labouring up the ascent, and filling the lovely clean Scottish air with fumes. A lot of those tourists could have benefitted from a bit of a cycle I reckon!

View from above Tignabruiaich 1

View from above Tignabruiaich 1

 

View from above Tignabruiaich 2

View from above Tignabruiaich 2

 

View from above Tignabruiaich 3

View from above Tignabruiaich 3

There was another one of Scotland’s handy information signs at the top of the hill, which educated me on the various Norse versus Scots battles that had taken place in the area, before the Norse were finally kicked out, and about Clan Cambell who dominated the area, with at times an equally bloody history.

I rode on alongside Loch Riddon, enjoying a nice descent on the A8003, before turning on to the A886 and then the B836 as I followed the coast. Another series of hills followed up to Loch Tarsan, several marked as serious climbs or descents which either made my brakes squeal or me perspire and grunt accordingly. I was almost tempted to jump in Loch Tarsan to cool off, but reckoned it would have been a bit of a shock to the system. Scottish lochs are not renowned for being particularly warm.

Loch Tarsan

Loch Tarsan


There followed a nice descent down to Dunoon, where I did a quick circuit before heading back up around Holy Loch. I stopped to refill my water bottles at an accommodating cafe at the Marina, and stocked up on a few energy boosting supplies in the form of bananas and biscuits.

Dunoon waterfront looking over to Strone

Dunoon waterfront looking over to Strone


I considered getting the ferry over from Dunoon to Gourock, which would have saved me a ride back up to Loch Fyne and round to Glasgow, but in the end decided I didn’t want to miss out on the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park. I’m not entirely sure what a Trossach is though, perhaps related to haggis?

With it starting to chill off I rode through Strone and up to Ardentinny, alongside Loch Long, with more great views to absorb.  I feared Scotland was going to spoil me somewhat, potentially overshadowing the rest of my tour! With it getting later I considered pitching up and wild camping for the night, but couldn’t find anywhere immediately suitable so I pedalled on, spotting the Whistlefield Inn on my map which would do for dinner.

Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park

Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park


 

Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park 2

Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park 2


 

Fishing boat on Loch Long

Fishing boat on Loch Long


 

Loch Long - near Ardentinny

Loch Long – near Ardentinny


There were of course the usual caravan parks in evidence, but they don’t always accept tents, and I didn’t fancy paying over the odds to camp when I could just find a nice spot further into the national park.

With the end of the day looming there followed a massive and very steep hill climb up to Sligrachan, that seriously taxed my legs and lungs, and was probably the closest I’d come to having to stop and push in Scotland to date; reckon the hills and heat had tired me out somewhat. I was rewarded with a pleasant descent down to the Whistlefield Inn, where I’d already decided I’d stop for dinner. It proved to be a good decision.

Road to Whistlefield Inn through national park

Road to Whistlefield Inn through national park


I’d only covered 65 miles, but there’d been some serious and pretty constant hills along the way, so it was a relief to sit down  in a comfy chair and stretch my legs out. The food was excellent and reasonably priced, although at this stage I would have eaten pretty much anything and thought it nice I was so hungry. I consumed my Cajun chicken meal pretty swiftly, followed by a ginger and date sponge pudding which was also excellent, all washed down with a pint of Sommerset Cider as recommended by Hannah, the most excellent barmaid/host who was running the place with the manager out poorly. Hannah let me know there was a good spot to wild camp just around the corner, or said I could just pitch my tent in the grounds of the Inn, so I was also sorted for a place to kip for the night.

Taking advantage of the free wifi I caught up on the news, and enjoyed a few more pints, then spent the evening chatting to Hannah and a few other locals in the Inn. John and Lynne gave me some good advice on my route for the following day, round to Glasgow. John had cycled in the Outer Hebs, which I hadn’t managed to get to but sounded very much worth a visit – on the list! He also has at least one Uncle who’s won the lottery, and we talked about the effect this can have on people. I reckon it would be great to win, as there is so much I’d love to do with the money, but I might not tell anyone as that just seems to cause problems.

All in all a great evening, finishing up by chatting with Hannah about living up here, which sounded great but not without its challenges. For example getting anything done by employing workmen from Dunoon is obviously a bit of a chore, as they work on ‘Dunoon time’ and are very laid back. They’ll get things done, but might need reminding, and there’s no guarantee as to when the job will be finished. The pace of life around this neck of the woods is definitely completely different to for instance the South East, and there’s something nice and I daresay healthy about that, although it could be frustrating if you’re not used to it.

Post a bit of a late night, with probably a few too many beers and a whisky courtesy of Hannah, I rather blearily pitched my tent and crashed out for the night. It had been a great day’s ride, followed by a great evening in friendly company. I was looking forward to tomorrow’s leg and getting around to Glasgow, and heading South, but I’d be sorry to leave this part of Scotland and some of the people I’d met. Thoroughly recommend the Whistlefield Inn if you find yourself in the area.

The Whistlefield Inn

The Whistlefield Inn

I’ll definitely be coming back to this part of the world sooner rather than later.

Leg 46 – to Otter Ferry via Inveraray

Just to confirm I’m not actually in Scotland anymore, my blog is just really behind due to more exciting stuff taking precedence. I will catch up, but no doubt I’ll still be doing so from home post tour end! Check out my twitter feed (@jam_har) if you want more up-to-date info.

16 June 2013

I woke up feeling a little woozy after the excesses of the previous night at the Argyll Inn, however I feel it’s important to immerse oneself in the local culture. It was a pretty dull day outside my tent, with no wind, and closer inspection revealed clouds of midges still buzzing around.  I grabbed some breakfast from my panniers and retreated back inside for another hour or so, swatting at any midges that made it in.

Post a bit of writing, and some route planning (will wonders never cease), I spread out wet stuff to dry as the sun came out, and had a shower. I still had quite a bit of damp kit from the last few days, and didn’t want to wear wet kit again, or pack it away like that. My shoes were also still quite soggy, however after a bit of bike maintenance, packing up, and a call to my parents to wish Dad a happy Father’s Day they were at least comfortable to wear again, and on the road to being merely moist.

It turned in to a bit of a late start after deciding to FaceTime my brother and his family too. Still, it was Sunday and I was enjoying catching up with people. It was good to see my nephew Seb dashing about on his tricycle. He’ll be on a bike and challenging for the yellow jersey in no time, although he is only 1 and 3/4, so maybe a little bit of training required; no performance enhancing drugs though so I’d better hide the Haribos.

Lochgilphead campsite

Lochgilphead campsite – sunshine!


Leaving Lochgilphead in the sunshine, I stopped at a supermarket for a few supplies and to get some lunch, expecting to have to wild camp for a night or two. I try to avoid going to supermarkets when I’m hungry, which is a bit of a challenge on this tour, so I ended up buying far more than I intended, mostly from the bakery section – pastries, fresh bread, and cookies.

Lochgilphead - low tide

Lochgilphead – low tide


I pedalled down the A83 round to Loch Fyne, following the relatively flat road along the coast through Lochgair, Tullochgarm, and past the gardens at Crarae, advertised as Scotland’s own Himalayan experience which sounded intriguing.

Alongside Loch Fyne

Alongside Loch Fyne


 

Alongside Loch Fyne 2

Alongside Loch Fyne 2


Post Furnace there’s a reasonably long climb up past the Aachindrain Township, before a nice long descent to Inveraray. The A83, thus far, was proving to be a pleasant road, being smooth, and passing through forest and farmland. I noticed quite a bit of logging going on again, leaving stark patches on hillsides, and piles of timber waiting for a lorry beside the roadside.

Lush vegetation next to mountain stream

Lush vegetation next to mountain stream


 

The hills before Inveraray

The hills before Inveraray

One of the benefits of hills plus a high level of annual rainfall is Scotland can generate quite a bit of power from hydroelectric facilities, and I passed quite a few along the way.

Logging activity

Logging activity in evidence


 

More sunshine makes a nice change

More sunshine makes a nice change

After an altogether different sort of ride to yesterday morning’s, and feeling in holiday mode quite randomly, I stopped at the Loch Fyne Hotel on the way into Inveraray for a break. The hotel in run by a friend of a friend’s brother, and had been recommended (thanks Vikki) via Twitter due to good food, and spa facilities should I require them. I was sorely tempted to have a sauna and massage, but opted for a pint and food instead, sitting outside in the sunshine and chatting to a few other tourists. The tuna melt panini and wedges didn’t last long, and it was lovely feeling warm for a change, although with clouds in the sky and it being Scotland I was prepared for the weather to change at any given moment.

Bike having a break at Loch Fyne Hotel

Bike having a break at Loch Fyne Hotel

The sign said the hotel couldn’t be held responsible for any damage to parked vehicles – I hoped my bananas were going to be alright.

Post the hotel I rode on into Inveraray, and had a look around. Even though it was Sunday everything was open, it being a tourist destination, and I nipped into the whisky shop as recommended by Dad. I could have spent a lot of money in there, but thankfully didn’t have room in my panniers, so instead chatted with the owner about some of the distilleries I’d passed. He, of course, had whisky from all of them. The shop smelt marvellous.

Inveraray Whisky Shop

Inveraray Whisky Shop – Loch Fyne Whiskies


 

Inveraray Whisky Shop 2

Inveraray Whisky Shop 2


I stopped for a look at the famous jail, and castle, but didn’t go into either. They were a bit pricey for the time I’d be visiting them for.

Inveraray Jail

Inveraray Jail – thought about dropping lobster off for a stay given his lack of cycling effort


 

Inveraray Castle 1

Inveraray Castle 1


 

Inveraray Castle 2

Inveraray Castle 2


 

Inveraray high street

Inveraray high street


Inveraray is a nice little town and worth a visit. I joined the throngs in having an ice cream and relaxed on the green next to the loch for a bit, watching a bloke toss a cocktail bottle around pretty professionally (that sentence could have gone wrong). I think he was trying to impress a group of nearby girls so I was quite amused when he hit himself in the head, causing much giggling.

Inveraray waterfront

Inveraray waterfront

 

Inveraray Castle from bridge

Inveraray Castle from bridge

I rode out of town over the bridge, continuing on the A83 alongside Loch Fyne. Everything was very green, with the road passing through forest and fern, and some lovely scenery. I passed a group of veteran cycle tourers going the other way, powering up the hill I was coasting down, all looking very fit and lean and probably in their 70’s, good stuff. Cycling obviously has massive health benefits, and must add several years on to your expected life span.

The Loch Fyne Oyster Bar/Deli/Restaurant was my next destination. This is the original restaurant of the Loch Fyne chain. I’ve been to the one in Norwich several times and really like their seafood, although I need to check if they use wild or farmed salmon now.

Loch Fyne Oyster Bar

Loch Fyne Oyster Bar


I was tempted to grab a meal, however you no doubt need to book, and it wasn’t long since I’d last eaten (not that that seems to make much difference on this tour, mange tout) so I just had a browse around their shop looking at all their goodies, a lot of which I have ordered online in the past as gifts for people, vey handy. Unfortunately none of the produce would keep very well in my panniers, but I did recommend the Bradan Rost pâté to one indecisive shopper.

I finally made it around the top of Loch Fyne and rode down into Cairndow, and past the Ardkinglas Woodland Garden which claims to have the tallest tree in the UK; I wonder who goes around measuring them all. The village is ‘quaint’ and gas some pretty roads around it.

Verdant roads near Cairndow

Verdant roads near Cairndow


 

More verdant roads near Cairndow

More verdant roads near Cairndow


With it starting to get late, and still wanting to cover a decent number of miles, I pedalled on down the A815 to Strachur and past the apparently award winning Creggans Inn. There must be a lot of people and organisations giving out awards these days, having passed a lot of establishments that have won one award or another, but to be fair the Inn did look nice. Steeling myself I pressed on down the B8000 coastal route, passing through a few small villages, and hearing the distant strains of the pipes from down the road somewhere. It was a bit bizarre cycling down the quiet road with the sound of bagpipes gradually getting louder. I eventually passed their source – a man playing outside his caravan in a small caravan park. I wonder what his neighbours think.

I rode past the Kilmore Chapel where the Lachlan Clan chiefs are buried, according to the sign.

Loch Fyne - clouds suddenly made things go dark

Loch Fyne – clouds suddenly made things go dark


 

Loch Fyne from on high

Loch Fyne from on high

The road alongside the loch is really lovely, with just the occasional hill, dip and turn, and great scenery. I think I hit it at the right time of day with the light conditions making things look dramatic.

I made it to Otter Ferry at about 19.30, and stopped for a pint in the pub whilst considering where to camp. The owner advised there was a good spot just back up the road, next to the loch, that would hopefully not be too midgey. With that sorted I got chatting to the only other people in the pub, who turned out to be from Norwich too, living just down the road from me near Elm Hill; it’s a small world sometimes.

Me at Otter Ferry, shores of Loch Fyne

Me at Otter Ferry, shores of Loch Fyne

 

Kay and Peter Bemble were up on the West Coast of Scotland on hols, with Peter recovering from bowel cancer surgery and chemotherapy. We chatted for a while about my trip, and what they were up to, agreeing that when something like cancer happens to you, or someone close to you, it doesn’t half give you the motivation to try and live life to the max, and get out there and do stuff you’ve always wanted to but perhaps put off due to work etc. You never really know what’s going to happen so don’t put your dreams on hold for too long! Peter talked about having a fresh perspective on life, and appreciating things more such as Springtime arriving, blossom appearing on trees etc. Lu was the same, having had a big lust for life post her treatment. Thanks for the donation to the Big C, and congrats on your daughter making the Olympic fencing team! Good luck with your next scan Peter, and maybe see you back in Norwich. Lovely people, like a a lot of the folks I’ve bumped into on this tour.

Post a pint, and another courtesy of Kay and Peter, I rode back along the loch locating the spot next to the shoreline the publican had recommended. It was a great little patch and I pitched up next to the beach, quickly lighting a fire to try and discourage the midges, which duly arrived in numbers. I used the quick fire lighting method in this instance, rather than flint and steel, opting for fuel for my stove over driftwood. Needs must when midges attack.

Anti midge fire

Anti midge fire – sort of worked


Nice camping spot

Nice camping spot

 

I applied Avon skin so soft to try and further deter the midges but it didn’t seem to be discouraging them much, so I got the tent up quick, whilst watching a cormorant fish in the loch. 

Wild camp on the shores of Loch Fyne

Wild camp on the shores of Loch Fyne


Tent up and fire smoking nicely

Tent up and fire smoking nicely

The light kept changing because of the clouds, but it led to a wonderful sunset which I watched from my tent, before turning in early with a big day planned for tomorrow.

Loch Fyne sunset 1

Loch Fyne sunset 1


Sunset beach panorama

Sunset beach panorama


Loch Fyne sunset 2

Loch Fyne sunset 2


Loch Fyne sunset 3

Loch Fyne sunset 3

The colours just kept getting better and better.

Loch Fyne sunset 4

Loch Fyne sunset 4

As I was shutting the tent door a grey heron stalked by at the water’s edge, obviously not quite sleepy enough to retire yet, unlike me. I keep meaning to do a count on grey herons, I’ve seen loads in Scotland.

Quick mileage update – with 60 odd miles done today, my total was standing at around 2720. 

Leg 45 – to Lochgilphead

15 June 2013

It was still raining when I woke up, and pretty hard judging by the sound of water hitting the canvas, so I decided to stay in my tent a bit longer and work on a blog post. The rain surely had to stop at some point, and I wanted a dry patch to pack up in, plus to check my rear wheel. I decided I’d definitely find a campsite tonight, to hopefully dry some stuff out. In the meantime there was no point in getting more stuff wet, so I’d wear my still damp kit which I reasoned might act a bit like a wetsuit (didn’t entirely work out as planned).

It didn’t stop raining, so I packed up about 10.00 rapidly getting wet again in the process. My tent was soaked, although it had been dry inside; I’d need to dry it out somehow in the evening as there was no way it was getting any dryer in the hills above Southend.

Bike maintenance in the rain

Bike maintenance in the rain


I did a quick check of my bike wheels and spokes, adjusting a few, before loading up and setting off down the hill. Everywhere was waterlogged, including the short track I’d walked down yesterday evening. I had to hop about a bit trying to stay on non-submerged areas to get back to the road, which had streams of water running down it. I’m not sure why I bothered trying to keep my feet out of the water, my shoes were still soaked from yesterday.

Very wet countryside

Very wet countryside


 

Damp but still smiling

Damp but still smiling


I rode around the coast towards Campbeltown, in the rain and attempting to dodge the worst of the waterlogged potholes – you can’t see how bad they are when they’re full of water. At least I had a tailwind which helped up some of the hills. I was a bit concerned a couple of times that the road was going to be underwater at the bottom of some of the descents, or simply washed away. The streams that had yesterday been small babbling brooks were now raging torrents, angrily rushing down the hills and crashing into the sea. Amazing how the landscape can change so quickly and violently.

Countryside inspiring despite the weather

Countryside inspiring despite the weather


 

Rain still coming down

Rain still coming down on the road to Campbeltown


 

Is it a road or a river?

Is it a road or a river?


I rode up another hill past a field full of bullocks standing stoically in the rain. They spotted me and did their usual trick of following alongside for a bit on the other side of the fence, at quite a pace. Have any other cyclists encountered this phenomenon or is it just me? Maybe I have panniers that are particularly attractive, or offensive, in the bovine world; I don’t want to find out which it is.

I rode around the point and into Campbeltown after about an hours ‘paddling’, thoroughly soaked, past Davaar Island.

Approaching Campbeltown, isle just off the coast

Approaching Campbeltown, Davaar isle just off the coast


Dripping everywhere I stopped in at the Bluebell Cafe and had their breakfast special, which improved matters considerably – bacon, eggs, Lorne sausage, black pudding, beams, potato pancake and toast! Friendly staff, hot food, and a chat with a few other breakfasters all helped, plus I rang my gloves and sleeves out in the bathroom, not for the first time, and I was sure it wouldn’t be the last.

Fry up at Bluebell Cafe

Fry up at Bluebell Cafe improves matters

Post the Bluebell Cafe it was still chucking it down so I adjourned to the Black Sheep Pub around the corner for a decaf coffee, in the vague hope the weather might improve and that I might dry off a bit. Slowly drying, or at least not getting any wetter, I stayed in the pub for about an hour chatting to the barman James, who with the weather as it was didn’t have a lot of tourists to serve. James was about to emigrate to the USA with his American wife, and in fact will be there now so hope it’s going well. It sounded like a pretty exciting lifestyle change, and the weather will certainly be a bit different, although we both reckoned it could be a bit of a culture shock to begin with. To move to the US he’d had to be sponsored by someone, in this case his father-in-law, and had to visit the US embassy to do all the paperwork; sounded like a bit of a trial but sure it’ll be worth it. It was good to relax for a bit and chat post my wild time in the hills, and the rain even stopped about 13.00.

Welcome break at the Black Sheep Pub, Campbeltown

Welcome break at the Black Sheep Pub, Campbeltown


Slightly drier I got back on my bike and left Campbeltown, keen to head back up the peninsula. I took the B842 up the east side, towards Carradale Point, as unfortunately the rain started again which made for pretty unpleasant riding. There was a lot of spray and mud on the road, and I was very glad of my mudguards having passed a couple riders grimly going the other way coated in muck. On a sunny day the scenery would have been great, and even in today’s conditions was impressive…and hilly…there weren’t really any flat bits, and there were lots of chevrons indicating steep sections, marked on my map.

One of several rivers I passed over, all swollen

One of several rivers I passed over, all swollen


 

Sun coming out over another river

Sun coming out over another river


 

Damp sheep, that'll learn them

Damp sheep, that’ll learn them


At one juncture I passed through a cattle farm and rounding a corner encountered a cow in the road, which had a steep bank on one side and vegetation on the other. It was either stop or run into it, so I ground to a halt as we regarded one another with suspicion. On reflection I think it was probably a bullock and not a cow, and it started frisking about a bit and pawing the ground. At this point of the day I really wasn’t in a retreating mood, and there was certainly no easy way around without backtracking for miles, so I tried to make myself bigger and edge forward, which has worked in the past…they usually back off. A bit of a stand-off ensued however eventually, after some more melodramatics on both of our parts, the bullock backed off into the bushes, leaving me somewhat relieved. I’m really not sure what I’d have done if it had charged or not moved, probably just kept the bike in between me and it, and maybe brandish a lobster in it’s general direction; or climb up a tree quick, which could have been tricky given the rain.

With the sun starting to come out, but it still raining, I rode on through Saddell and up to Carradale, over continuous hills. At least there was no chance of dehydration or overheating, and bananas were keeping me fuelled for the climbs. After Grogdale and Crossaig the rain finally stopped leaving me with just the hills to contend with, but I could deal with them, especially with the wind mostly behind me; mostly aside from when it’s a bit fickle and flows down off the hills swirling about a bit.

I met a group of 3 other cycle tourers at Crossaig, who were out for a weekend’s riding from Kilmarnock and on their way to Arran, intending to take the ferry from Claonaig. They’d set off from Campbeltown earlier only to have a chain break which had to be mended on the roadside. Luckily they’d had the tool for the job and were able to fix it – I was just glad that hadn’t happened to me, yet, however it reinforced the importance of checking your chain regularly and replacing it if it’s stretched too much. It was good to have a chat with fellow tourers, and I felt my spirits raised by the encounter.

With miles left to cover I bid them goodbye and cycled on, drying off a bit in the sunshine, and fervently petitioning the weather gods to keep the rain at bay.

Dry but still threatening

Dry but still threatening

At Claonaig I turned inland and rode over the top to Whitehouse and a familiar road, joining the A83 towards Tarbert. I passed a police radar gun speed trap and asked if I was in the clear after they aimed the device at me. They waved and encouraged me on which was nice.

Tarbert was a welcome and somewhat unexpected sight, being a lovely little harbour town, with lots of yachts moored up, and a yacht club, plus several cafes, pubs, shops and and hotels. I decided to stop for a break and raided my panniers for bread and cheese, and bought some tomatoes from the Co-op, having a nice conversation with an interested seagull and a few passing tourists wondering how far I was going.

Tarbert harbour

Tarbert harbour


Tarbert harbour and swans

Tarbert harbour and swans


Seagull friend, but he only wanted me for my cheese

Seagull friend, but he only wanted me for my cheese, so a short lived relationship


Tarbert harbour, large motor cruiser

Tarbert harbour, large motor cruiser


The sun came out properly in Tarbert and I started steaming gently, a bit odd but it made a pleasant change to have water going the other way. Somewhat reluctantly I left the town pedalling up the hill, and being passed by the police from earlier, who reliably informed me I was going very slowly at 7mph, thanks guys.

Blue skies at last

Blue skies at last

After a few initial ups and downs the road flattened out and I had a nice ride up to Ardrishaig, being able to engage my ‘mile eating’ pace for once, in a high gear with no interruptions. Enjoying the sunshine I stopped for a break at the end of the Crinan Canal, had a wander about and made a couple of phone calls. I walked out to the end of the pier, watching a fisherman cast for mackerel. He didn’t seem to be having much luck, but I spotted 3 gannets diving for fish who were having a better time of it. It was amazing to see them dive, and something I’d wanted to witness for ages.

Ardrishaig - end of Crinan Canal

Ardrishaig – end of Crinan Canal


Crinan Canal

Crinan Canal


Ardrishaig pier and lighthouse

Ardrishaig pier and lighthouse

Pushing on I rode up to Lochgilphead and found the campsite, relieved to see they accepted tents as well as caravans. Whilst I was happy to wild camp again if need be, it was really nice to have the prospect of a warm shower, and to dry some stuff off. Post checking-in I pitched my tent as the midges started to arrive, homing in like heat seeking nano-missiles. I applied Avon Skin so Soft and lit some incense, but neither seemed to make much difference, I just smelt a bit hippyish and my skin was more tender for the midges. I retreated to the shower and spent a while washing away the day’s grime, before arranging a few things to dry and heading into town to explore.

It being a Saturday evening it was fairly lively on the streets of Lochgilphead, with a lot of excitable youngsters out, and I have to admit I kept fairly quiet to avoid attracting attention to my Sassenach accent, although I’m sure it would have been fine.

Lochgilphead - looking down towards Saddell Water

Lochgilphead – looking down towards Saddell Water

I located the Argyll Arms which looked promising, and spent the evening their amongst a lot of lively locals, many of whom seemed intent on downing as many shots as possible, with varying results. I chatted to quite a few of them, and got a pint bought for me so all good. The jukebox was pumping out some classic rock tunes, as well as a few dodgy numbers that got several groups singing rather discordantly, but it was all entertaining and a friendly atmosphere.

The Argyll Inn

The Argyll Inn

After several pints I retreated back to the campsite, not noticing midges anymore, and funnily enough slept very well post the day’s 60 mile hilly leg. With any luck the weather would be better again tomorrow, for the ride around to Inveraray and beyond.