Tag Archives: outdoors

Stamps, holiday in Scotland, and September cycling

Did you collect stamps as a kid? I did. It was thrilling getting stamps from weird and wonderful places such as Australia, Europe, or Papua New Guinea. Maybe that’s where I got my original desire to travel from, to see these places myself.

I recently came across the Post Office Blog site, mainly because they’ve launched a new range of stamps covering Britain’s seaside architecture. It reminded me of several places I passed through on my Bike around Britain tour; well actually I passed close to or by all of them. I don’t collect stamps anymore, and have no idea if kids still do, but it’s a cool collection and made me feel a bit nostalgic. You can view them yourself here:

http://blog.postofficeshop.co.uk/celebrating-britains-seaside-architecture/

Here’s a sample – it wasn’t this nice in Bangor when I pedalled through, in fact I think it was raining, as it was for most of Wales.

Seaside Bangor Pier

Thinking about it I doubt kids still collect stamps, unless you can get them on an iPad, or games console; shame really, I hope I’m wrong.

Other neat stuff I’ve come across recently includes Volume Two of SideTracked magazine. I don’t usually buy magazines but think I have finally found one worth reading. I loved Volume One and wasn’t disappointed with this edition; it’s truly inspiring reading about the adventures other people have, all over the world. If you want to be inspired to have an adventure look no further:

http://www.sidetracked.com/

Volume Two

P.S. I’m not paid for either of the above links, I just enjoyed them and thought I’d share. I liked this paragraph from the Foreward:

‘A life encased in bubble wrap is claustrophobic and stilted; a sad waste of what could have been. But be careful, a life jam-packed full of unconscious distraction and thrill-seeking isn’t necessarily any healthier. I’m an advocate of seeking adventure, yes, but I’ve also learnt that it’s only when you risk with real integrity that the opportunity to grow wiser presents itself. Otherwise we just stumble from repeated mistake to repeated mistake, blind to the world.’ …Ed Stafford

With the above in mind I’ve got a few plans, but need to think them through a bit more.

So what else have I been up to? I spent a very pleasant week with family up on the West Coast of Scotland at the end of August. As usual it did not disappoint, and I especially love the West Coast. Highights definitely included the hike over to the pub, Tig an Truish, at the Bridge over the Atlantic with Dad, somewhere I stopped at last year, as well as a good day out cycling, entertaining my nephew,  being fed by Mum, and spending time with everyone. Also found a new whisky I like – a peaty little number called AnCnoc Flaughter which I thoroughly recommend. Here are a few pics:

Also did some mackerel fishing and managed to hook about 8 that were a decent enough size for the frying pan. Fresh mackerel really is hard to beat, especially when you’ve caught it yourself. Seb, my nearly 3-year-old nephew also caught his first fish, but wasn’t entirely sure what to do with it.

And now we’re in September, how did that happen so quickly? Whilst I haven’t really settled upon an idea for my next adventure, whether it be in Iceland, Asia, around the coast of the Mediterranean, or Scandinavia. I have at least been getting out on my bike a bit more and having the odd microadventure; can’t beat sleeping in the woods and waking up to the dawn chorus. I’m on holiday this week, and after a short ride yesterday I set off on something a bit more substantial today; a cycle just shy of 60 miles up to the coast, along it a bit, then back to Norwich. It’s been a gorgeous September day in Norfolk and it sounds like Autumn is looking promising weather wise, although best not to count one’s chickens before they hatch. I should really have bivvi’d up on the coast and cycled back tomorrow morning; maybe I will this weekend.

Here’s the route I took:

http://connect.garmin.com:80/activity/embed/597344206

With a tailwind I made excellent time up to the coast, via Wroxham and Stalham, before arriving at Waxham. I had the beach to myself, aside from a few seals who appeared and regarded me curiously when I went for a swim. The water is still pretty warm, and it was elating plunging into the sea on a deserted beach; I think I loosed an involuntary ‘yeehaw’. Sadly I couldn’t get any pictures of the seals; my camera would not have survived contact with water. It was amazing how close they came; one popped up 2 metres away, snorted indignantly, before plunging back underwater.

From Stalham I pedalled along the coast, nearly to Great Yarmouth, before turning back towards Norwich. I had to spend a bit of time on the main road before turning off into the countryside again and making my way to the Fur and Feather Inn near Salhouse. They also brew Woodfordes ale here, and having covered 50 miles it would’ve been rude not to stop for a pint; Once Bittern, with hops imported from New Zealand apparently.

Brilliant day, which once again reminded me that the simple things in life are often the best; a day out cycling, costing me less than a tenner, through some lovely countryside and coastline, equals contentment.

Scottish Independence – my tuppence (or should that be cents) worth

I’ve been mulling over this for a while, getting gradually more irate as I see politicians make more of a hash of things, as they are want to do. Should I post something on my blog expressing my opinion on the Scottish independence vote? My initial thought was ‘No’, nothing to do with me, then I realised that’s completely incorrect, and perhaps reflects the apathy us general public have for political shennanigans that pass us by.

This is a blog about cycling primarily, and stuff I see, hear, smell, feel and taste as I pedal around the UK. That’s just it, I love the United Kingdom, I think it’s great, with all its history, people, places, and diversity. So I think it’s appropriate to post something here about how I feel about the whole thing.

Needless to say my opinions are my own, although I think they reflect those of a lot of my friends and family, some of whom I’m proud to say are Scottish, or at least live in Scotland so get a vote. If I’ve got anything factually incorrect then I apologise, I’m only human, and get my ‘facts’ from the news and speaking to other people.

Tent_up_and_fire_smoking_nicely - shores of Loch Fyne

Tent_up_and_fire_smoking_nicely – shores of Loch Fyne

So what do I think? I spent around 2 months cycling around Scotland and can genuinely say it was the best part of my Bike around Britain tour.  The scenery and environment is fantastic, the drivers patient with cyclists (aside from perhaps Edinburgh), and the people are mega friendly and always willing to help you out, or have a natter. I’m going to intersperse this post with a few pics from the Scottish legs of my tour, mainly as inspiration, but also because it’s well worth posting them again.

Bridge_over_the_Atlantic - one of my favourite place on the West Coast

Bridge_over_the_Atlantic – one of my favourite places on the West Coast

I really hope our Scottish family don’t vote for independence. I think they add so much to the United Kingdom; culturally, economically, politically and all the rest. By remaining in the United Kingdom Scotland will continue to benefit from all those points as the rest of the UK benefits them likewise. What exactly will Scotland gain from becoming independent? Seems to me like they’ll throw away a lot, taking on board a whole lot of risks that might not pay off, and also potentially damaging the remaining countries in the UK as a result.

IMG_1960

Sunset near Malaig

I think Alex Salmond is leading people slightly down the garden path with the view that they’ll be better off out of the Union. Seems to me like he’s just trying to make a name for himself as the one who reinstated Scottish independence; Robert the Bruce he is not, and we’ve moved on massively since those bloody and unproductive days. I shouldn’t reduce myself to personal commentary on individuals but he reminds me of a weasel, although that might be unfair on weasels.

What’s the benefit of independence? We have a growing economy, we’re coming out of recession, employment and business seems to be on the up although I recognise a lot of folks are still having a hard time of it. Scotland will have to join the Euro, they can’t keep the pound if they want to become truly independent and not just pay lip service to it. Do they really want to embroil themselves in the turmoil, instability and risks that the Euro could bring?

Top of Bealach na Ba

Top of Bealach na Ba

On the economic front, and I’m far from an expert, but I keep hearing how money and business will leave Scotland should they become independent. Several banks seem to be gearing up to move south, along with their pension funds. This isn’t going to help the rest of the UK and certainly won’t benefit Scotland as opportunities and businesses move away, leaving a gap that allegedly will be filled by oil and gas; a short term solution to a long term problem as reserves run out. I will however continue to support the whiskey industry, although I guess that can only go so far.

Highland_cattle

Highland_cattle

As I’ve mentioned I get some of my ‘facts’ from the news, and I was slightly disappointed today to see Westminster wading into the argument, although I think it’s probably with genuine concerns and good intentions. I don’t however think David Cameron et al are going to do anything to convince our Scottish compardres to remain in the UK; it’s more likely to be down to you and I, as well as more respected newsworthy individuals, to present a convincing and non-politically/career based case for remaining part of the UK. Maybe the queen should say something heartfelt; but that might be ill received, or construed in the wrong way.

Cape Wrath lighthouse

Cape Wrath lighthouse

Now for a few perhaps more controversial points. Why doesn’t the rest of the UK get a say on this?  It seems very undemocratic that only a partial percentage of people get a vote on an issue that’s going to impact the whole of the country. I guess if everyone got a vote it would be a landslide ‘No’, but I don’t think that’s the point; democracy seems to have gone awry. And whilst I think it’s fair that the vote is being given to 16 year olds and over is this not another ploy by the SNP to garner more support from perhaps a more volatile and more impressionable age group; I was speaking to someone about this earlier and think Alex Salmond has underestimated the intelligence of this age group, and that they’ll see sense and vote ‘No’. On the voting front why are only people that live in Scotland being given the vote, and not Scots that live abroad?

Again controversially perhaps, but why is Westminster offering further concessions to Scotland to stay in the UK? Feels like bribery to me, and surely similar benefits and powers should be offered to England, Northern Ireland and Wales? Having cycled around a lot of Wales they could do with some of the money that Scotland has benefited from for regeneration and welfare purposes? Seems unfair and pretty underhand to me. Scotland should stay in the Union because it works at the moment, and the long term benefits will be in everyone’s interests. It really iritates me and a lot of my friends that this last minute bribe is in the offing. Perhaps the rest of the UK has been too slow to wake up to this issue but surely this isn’t the way to go.

Highland_Dancing

Highland_Dancing

It’s not long until the vote now, and I sincerely hope that everyone in Scotland is able to get a clear and unbiased view of both sides of the argument without too much rubbish from politicians, and other selfishly motivated individuals. I’d love a ‘No’ vote and Scotland to stay with us, being obviously a big fan of Scotland and it’s people, from wherever they hail. If however a ‘Yes’ vote happens, good luck to a fair and generous country; you’ll need to stand on your own two feet, with your own currency and policies, and weather the storms that beset all other independent nations on your own. The remaining countries in the UK are going to have to focus on restructuring and moving forward, and won’t necessarily have the capacity to assist; although we’ll still I hope very much care.

Sunset_at_Big_Sands.JPG

Sunset_at_Big_Sands.JPG

I may have missed loads of pertinent points, and as previously mentioned my opinions are my own although shared with lots of people South of the border. We don’t get a vote, so I’ll get back in my box now, but hope some of these words made sense. If you do vote for independence I’m not done with you. I’m still going to visit as often as possible, and who knows, I might move North one day; I love the West coast and could quite happily live in Glasgow – great city and people. Good luck whatever happens, but I hope you see cents (get it, sense, reference to the Euro; maybe I should have left that pun out).

Arty_photo. - north coast of Scotland

Arty_photo. – north coast of Scotland

IMG_1863 IMG_2312

Stay with us Scotland!

P.S. What does everyone else think?

Harvest Moon

A few pics of today’s Harvest Moon – still need to get the settings completely right, and think I might need a bigger lens! Still, it was a nice evening’s pedal out to Bawburgh; gets very dark on those country lanes though.

It was a little more overcast than I’d hoped, and my attempts to lure bats into remaining within shot were not successful – they’re a little on the quick side. Good to see lots of them flitting about down by the river though.

 

Yorkshire 3 Peaks

It was with some trepidation that I approached the Yorkshire 3 Peaks challenge, a 24.5 mile hike up and down 3 mountains of a sizable nature, aiming to do it in around 12 hours. I’m used to cycling long distances, but am a little rusty when it comes to walking involving steep ascents and descents; different muscles would no doubt come into play, and my knees don’t like going downhill. As well as a bit of an adventure a group of friends and I were also raising money for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, a worthy cause and a weekend away from the rat race.

Equipped with my new Scapa hiking boots (thank you Cotswolds), moderately broken in, my buddy Chris and I travelled up from Norwich by car on Friday afternoon, tackling horrible weather and a atrocious traffic on the A1, before arriving at our campsite and meeting up with the rest of the team – Mike, Rachel, Ian, Rachel, and Dan, as well as Megan and Gethin, Mike and Rachel’s two youngun’s who sensibly opted for a day out with their mother rather than dragging themselves up any mountains; in their case it would have been crawling, as they’re both under 3, but who’s to say we wouldn’t be crawling by the end of it. As pre hike preparation we carb loaded on cake, courtesy of Rachel, and had a couple of beers to ensure we were properly hydrated.

There’s something great about arriving at a campsite in the dark, pitching your tent, settling down, breathing in the fresh air, and wondering what everything is going to look like in the morning; Yorkshire does not disappoint.

We were up in good time the next day, breakfasting on porridge, before setting out to our starting point.

Lobster ready for the offingg

Lobster ready for the offing

The first peak was Pen y ghent, a 691 metre climb, and the weather was not looking favourable at this point. Still, everything was in working order as far as limbs and morale goes, and we embarked in high spirits.

Pen y ghent CafeDisappointingly the team didn’t let me stop for second breakfast at the cafe, where as we ambled past the smell of wafting bacon set my stomach a rumbling. A mild ascent by a steep climb followed, accompanied by a quick donning of waterproofs as the rain swept in. Pen y ghent was doing its best to quench our spirits but we made it up, and down, and then up and down some more.

Here are a couple of videos demonstrating our heroism:

Climbing Pen y ghent

Thankfully the weather cleared up after Pen y ghent, and we were able to doff our waterproofs and march ever onwards. Whernside was next, albeit after a long route march and a bacon roll stop (finally got my bacon), an ascent of 728 metres.

Whernside entailed a gentler albeit longer climb, but with the sun out, and post a bacon roll, anything was possible. We made it to the top, but the descent proved tortuous on tired knees with ligaments not as good as they ought to be.

With one peak to go we steeled ourselves for the last ascent – 723 metres up Ingleborough, although a helpful comment from a local about how the last climb was probably the most difficult didn’t particularly embolden us. By this stage we had seriously achy knees and tired legs going on, aside from the few mountain goats amongst us, and I was getting concerned about the frequency of my old nemesis…sheep…you can’t trust them you know.

I was particulary impresssed with Dan and Ian, who conquered a massive fear of heights to make it up a particulary steep section on the Ingleborough leg. Well done lads! There was a bit of lying down and heart rate reduction that had to occur after that.

A few other memorable events; Chris pointing out the enormous black sheep, that were in fact cows (or bulls), he should have gone to specsavers, the Nazgul circling as we crossed the dead men’s marshes, not being allowed to stop at the pub (a good call as a I wouldn’t have got up), marching songs about mammoths and trousers (I can’t remember the words), and in general being out in the open, with good friends, and burning some calories.

Video from the top:

All that remained was the descent, and time was ticking on with the sun starting to set. We were a little behind schedule, due to injuries, but we started as a team, and ended as a team.

It was a relief to get back to the cars, and then campsite, a BBQ courtesy of Rachel, cake and beer. We made it round in about 13 hours. which was a stirling effort considering some seriously comprised knees.

Team, I salute you, a brilliant effort and thanks to Mike for organising it. Think we’ve raised over £1,500 for CF too, including gift aid so all worth while. I especially enjoyed the challenge, company, and getting out in the wilds again. If you fancy donating here’s a link:

http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/team/Misfits17

Needless to say the journey back was grim, but thanks to Chris for driving.

Driving home - very wet

Driving home – very wet

I think I’ll get back on my bike now, it’s easier on the knees, and pubs are more frequent.

Post dedicated to Stef, who sadly passed away from CF several years ago; you are sorely missed.

Our feathered friends

I’ve gone through a few of my photos and chosen several I like of an avian persuasion, to practice a bit of photo editing on. Need to get better at editing for when I next go on a cycle tour. Work is keeping me busy at present but planning on doing a few shorter tours this year, some around Britain, but hopefully also venturing abroad in the summer. Safe cycling all.

Bike around Britain – blog index and route maps

Links to the legs (Garmin maps) and blog posts that took me around the coast of Britain in 86 days, covering 5,451 miles. Hopefully this will be of use to those of you planning similar tours.

Caveat – some of my routes were at times a little unorthodox, there may well be smoother rides in places. All worth it for scenes like this…

Loch Fyne sunset 1

Loch Fyne sunset, spent the night wild camping

Leg 82 – to Norwich, final Leg…for now

25 July 2013

So this was it, the final day of the tour, after 85 days on the road I had just one more and then I’d be home. It was a weird feeling and whilst I was looking forward to seeing everyone I wasn’t sure I was ready to reintegrate into ‘normal’ life. I’m writing this post over 3 months later and whilst I’m firmly back in a work routine, I definitely miss the simpler life of being on the road, and only having to think about food, miles, and where I’m going to sleep each night. I’m still cycling whenever possible, and have lots of ideas for future tours, I just need to decide on which one to do next and set a date.

Final day - bike packed and ready

Final day – bike packed and ready

It sounded like my tent was surrounded when I woke up to the sound of peacocks, seemingly from just the other side of the canvas. They’re pretty noisy avians and there was at least one wild one living on the campsite. It was still early but I got up anyway and had a shower, followed by a breakfast of ginger nuts as it was all I had left; I reckoned they would see me through to Lowestoft, and I thought I’d better start cutting down on my calorie intake now I wouldn’t be cycling 65 odd miles every day.

Morning, final day a bit grey

Morning, final day a bit grey

It had rained pretty heavily overnight and the sun was still obscured by clouds rolling in off the North Sea. I retreated to my tent as a shower passed over, leaving everything smelling fresh and clean. Unfortunately this meant I had to pack up my tent wet but with any luck I could dry it out in my garden when I got home. It was strange to think this was the last time I’d have to pack my kit into panniers, and my last day on the road. It had been eye-opening as to what you really need to survive, not very much apparently. I still had a couple of emergency ration packs I hadn’t used but they’ll keep; they weren’t due to go off for a few years yet.

Final campsite - Kessingland

Final campsite – Kessingland – Heathland holiday park

After I’d checked my bike over and pumped up my tyres I got on the road at about 09.00, and cycled the few miles to Lowestoft, completing my circuit of the coast of Britain. I stopped on the promenade where I’d been 86 days and 5,420 miles earlier; it seemed like longer and I paused to contemplate the places I’d been and people I’d met, mentally retracing the route I’d taken over the last few months. There were a lot of places I wanted to go back to, and new friends I’d like to see again.

Mostly for posterity I stopped for second breakfast in Lowestoft, at Greggs the bakers, and had a sausage roll and chicken fajita slice, the latter not very breakfast like but pretty tasty. Refuelled I set off on the final stretch back to Norwich, through the Suffolk and Norfolk countryside.

I pedalled up the B1074 from Lowestoft to Somerleyton, a pretty village with lots of identical houses painted red, with thatched roofs. I wonder if the deeds say you have to keep them all in an identical fashion.

Somerleyton

Somerleyton

St. Olaves came next with its small marina on the edge of the Norfolk Broads, where I joined the A143 to cross the River Yare. I was finally back in Norfolk!

Norfolk - Nelson's Country

Norfolk – Nelson’s Country

I cycled down familiar country roads I’d travelled down months ago whilst training for Bike around Britain, the clouds disappearing and sunshine blazing down over fields of ripening corn and barley, and lots of potatoes by the looks of it.

Back in Norfolk - ripening corn

Back in Norfolk – ripening corn

I passed through Loddon and Chedgrave, then on to Rockland St. Mary where there’s another Broad’s mooring. I pedalled idly, drawing out the last few miles and enjoying the quiet country roads and gorgeous weather. I’d been really lucky with the weather latterly, and the summer was shaping up to be far better than last year.

Brief pause near Bramerton

Brief pause near Bramerton

Despite riding slowly I arrived in Surlingham and then Bramerton ahead of schedule, coasting down to the river and Wood’s End to the Water’s Edge pub for lunch, just a few miles from Norwich. It’s a fantastic pub having been recently renovated, and with ongoing work to install a large decking area alongside the River Yare, a lovely place to sit and watch the world go by. I’d arranged to meet Mum & Dad, as well as Lucy’s parents and her Aunt and Uncle (John and Sena) who were visiting from New Zealand. My friend Nigel also cycled down to join us, and to accompany me on the final few miles back to Norwich.

It was a great welcome from everyone, and lovely having lunch down by the river in the sunshine. I was especially pleased that Sheila (Lucy’s Mum) made it out as she was just out of hospital having had surgery for skin cancer, a pretty serious operation that went very well. It’s great that the operation is done and dusted and a few months on she’s looking brill!

After lunch I cycled the last few miles to Norwich, via Whittlingham Broad, and stopped in at work to say hello. I received another great welcome, but thought everyone looked a little pale and overworked – get out in the sunshine more folks! Bob had brought cake to celebrate my arrival which I felt obliged to consume, after all I still had a few more miles to do. I really should have taken some back out for Nigel who was looking after my bike but I knew he was watching his weight 😉 – it was very good chocolate cake though. I said hello to our Newcastle office via conference video and then set off on the last few miles. Thank you for all your support Virgin Money.

Nigel and I pedalled from work into Norwich, doing a quick circuit of the city before a tactical stop and the X Bells for a gin and tonic to cool down. This was turning into a bit of a pub crawl however it was important to keep hydrated.

Nigel at the X Bells

Nigel at the X Bells

Nigel was pretty insistent that he’d had the hardest leg of the tour, and that we must of cycled miles; I appreciate your sacrifice mon ami.

G&T at the X Bells

G&T at the X Bells

We had to have a second G&T just to ensure we were ready for the half mile stretch to the Fat Cat, one of my favourite pubs in Norwich with the biggest selection of real ales I’ve seen anywhere. Having covered a lot of Britain on this tour I challenge anyone to name a pub that does a wider variety of quality beer.

The G&T made my hair go funny

The G&T made my hair go funny

We arrived safely at the Fat Cat to meet up with more friends and have a few beers to celebrate finishing my tour. It was a great turn out and really good to see everyone – I remember seeing Wayne, Nigel, Nicky, Chris B, Sinead, JB, Mike, Mark, Nigel P, Charlotte, Christopher, Frank, Karen and Slava, then it all goes a bit fuzzy. Dad also joined us and I’m  glad to say he was as merry as I was by the end of the evening, a few beers having turned into jugs of beer. Unfortunately I forgot to take any pictures but thank you all for coming down, it was a very good evening.

At the Fat Cat with jugs

At the Fat Cat with jugs – pic courtesy of Wayne

Needless to say the walk home, still with my fully laden bike, was a little tricky, however Dad helped push it up the hill. Mum welcomed us back, and was pretty sure she hadn’t seen Dad so ‘merry’ since his RAF days. I suspected tomorrow morning was going to be interesting.

So, the last leg was 39 miles, and I finally arrived home at about 23.00. There was bunting – pics from the day after.

Bike around Britain - bunting

Bike around Britain – bunting

Me - looking surprisingly un-hungover

Me – looking surprisingly un-hungover

Some vital statics from the tour:

  1. Miles covered = 5,451
  2. Days on the road = 86
  3. Number of punctures = 3
  4. Number of new rear wheels = 3
  5. Number of times I fell off = 3
  6. Days camping = 78
  7. Average miles per day = 63.4 (inc rest days, 70 if exclude)
  8. Max miles in one day = 128
  9. Carb consumption = Approx 4,000 a day
  10. Loaded bike weight = maybe 60kg, it was funny watching people try and lift it
  11. Weight lost = a measly 4 pounds
  12. Weight gain since getting back = half a stone and rising
Some highlights from my Bike around Britain tour

Bike around Britain highlights

Coming soon: I’ll post the routes for all my legs, and plans for another tour.

Thanks to everyone for following this blog, you’re too numerous to mention but I really appreciated the supportive messages, company of the road, company after a hard day’s riding, free food, bed, advice, and conversation. Over £7,300 raised for the Big C to date, and here’s to the girl that inspired my trip – thank you Lu, we all love and miss you but will always remember you.

Lucy

Lucy