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