Tag Archives: scotland

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?

Leg 34 – to Gairloch and the Big Sands Campsite

A 59 mile stint, despite a late start.

03 June 2013

After a slightly hazy start to the morning due to the whisky consumed the previous evening, I had a quick breakfast and got down to the business of the day, which first involved mending my rear wheel.

I had to take the wheel off again, remove the tyre and find the spoke nipple, before reattaching the whole thing, a messy job. I then spent about 30 minutes carefully trying to straighten the wheel without over tightening the spokes. It’s a tricky job but I managed to get it vaguely straight without anything going ping, and the wheel rotating without rubbing against the brake blocks, a result in my books. I’d still need to find a bike shop to get it professionally straightened and the spokes tightened, however the next shop I’d pass wasn’t going to be until Portree on the Isle of Skye; even if I diverted inland there were none closer. My administrations would just have to suffice for the time being.

Having spent a while on the bike, then getting a shower and packing up, I missed the 10.30 ferry to Stornaway. On reflection I decided this was probably a good thing, as I wanted to get further down the coast with a lot of Scotland left to do. I could always catch the ferry from Oban across to Barra at a later stage, depending on how I was time wise. I had a quick trip to a supermarket to restock on a few supplies, having run out of shampoo for starters but also needing breakfast stuff, then had a ride around Ullapool, which is well worth a visit even if you’re not catching the ferry.

The ferry I just missing, leaving it's berth

The ferry I just missed, leaving it’s berth

 

Rowing skiff out practicing in the bay

Rowing skiff out practicing in the bay

As I rode along the seafront a couple of Tornados roared through over the bay, practicing some low level flying by the looks of it – almost another Top Gun moment.

Looking out along Loch Broom towards the Hebs

Looking out along Loch Broom towards the Hebs

 

Bike post restocking at supermarket

Bike post restocking at supermarket – banana and baguette accessories

Before leaving Ullapool I had an early lunch at the Ferry Boat Inn, who serve a great sausage bap. Food photos are for my Japanese readers to give them an idea of ‘traditional’ Scottish fare, although I’m not convinced that usually involves salad.

Ferry Inn - sausage bap

Ferry Boat Inn – sausage bap

 

View from Ullapool across Loch Broom

View from Ullapool across Loch Broom

 

The Ferry Boat Inn

The Ferry Boat Inn


I hit the road south at 13.00, with at least a 55 mile leg in front of me which I hoped wasn’t going to be too mountainous. I wasn’t too worried as it stays light so late, and would be alright as long as I didn’t encounter any significant wheel trouble. 

From Ullapool I cruised down the A835 alongside Loch Broom. Aside from the traffic, which consisted of some big lorries, it was a nice ride through woodland with bigger trees for a change. This section ended with a big climb up the Corrieshalloch Gorge, with the weather deteriorating I turned on to the A832 to follow the coast.

Riding up towards Corrieshalloch Gorge - bigger trees

Riding up towards Corrieshalloch Gorge – bigger trees but weather deteriorating


I stopped at the Falls of Messach, and walked down to the gorge and Victorian suspension bridge. The gorge is startling, and the bridge over it wobbles quite a bit when there’s more than one person on it. I decided not to bounce up and down as I didn’t want to upset anyone, or cause them to fly into the depths of the gorge.

Road bridge over the Gorge, before reaching the falls

Road bridge over the Gorge, before reaching the falls


 

Falls of Messach - Victorian suspension bridge

Falls of Messach – Victorian suspension bridge


 

Corrieshalloch Gorge

Corrieshalloch Gorge


 

Falls of Messach - looking down on them from suspension bridge

Falls of Messach – looking down on them from suspension bridge


In a fit of enthusiasm I ran back up the path to my bike, something I’d no doubt pay for later. With the rain closing in I progressed up a gradual but on reflection long climb in the shadow of Meall An T-Sithe – I don’t know if that means anything specific but it sounds cool. 

View back towards Ullapool

View back towards Ullapool


 The roads takes you up pretty high, and I passed quite a few patches of snow further up the mountain – they weren’t that much further up the mountain.

Road over the top - snow on mountains

Road over the top – snow on mountains


 

Low cloud and rain ahead, was going to get wet

Low cloud and rain ahead, was going to get wet


I felt like I was on the road to Mordor at this stage, with the fairly bleak landscape and weather closing in. At least it wasn’t winter when this road must get closed by snow fairly regularly. And at least the weren’t any Orcs or Uruk’hai chasing me, although couldn’t be absolutely sure of that. A lot of the place names around here sound very Tolkien, and surely provided him with some of his inspiration.

Having travelled upwards for so long there followed a remarkably long descent down to Dundonnell, that seemed to go on forever, but did take me down into more verdant territory, with the first flowering rhododendrons I’d seen this year providing a stark contrast to the trees and mountains. I free wheeled down most of the way, at quite some speed, just hoping my back wheel held out. The downhill section was only slightly marred by another cold shower, however I didn’t bother putting my waterproof on as it was protecting a couple of baguettes I’d bought earlier and attached to my rear rack cargo net. I’d rather have gotten wet than be eating soggy baguettes later. As it was I was pretty much blown dry by the time I reached the bottom, and the sun came out.

The descent to Dundonnell

The descent to Dundonnell


 

Rhododendrons

Rhododendrons

I stopped outside the Dundonnell Hotel and ate a pork pie and some fruit I’d bought earlier, as well as some chocolate, chatting with the only other cyclist I’d seen all day; a lone tourer on his last couple of days around the Highlands. He was about to go home before packing his car and going to the Isle of Skye where he had a cottage for the week. He was staying at the bunkhouse just up the road from Dundonnell, and hadn’t been camping, hence had a lot less kit. Got me thinking I ought to try the occasional bunkhouse. We agreed the hills around here had been an ‘interesting’ challenge before parting ways, wishing each other the best of luck and the wind at your back etc etc.

Continuing along the coast there followed another long climb up to Gruinard Bay, with Gruinard Island in the middle of it. The  island was the site of Anthrax tests during the Second World War, both with a view to dealing with such an attack from Germany, or launching an attack versus them. Happily neither occurred but the island was contaminated for years afterwards, not being declared safe until 1990. It’s safe now, but uninhabited aside from sheep, who haven’t keeled over. Apparently the original owners were able to buy it back for £500 once it was declared safe, the price agreed with the government during the war.

Gruinard Bay and Island

Gruinard Bay and Island


There followed another long climb out of Gruinard, the steepest of the day. I made it up despite my chain slipping off at one point; I wonder if I’ll need to replace my gear cassettes soon too. I rode on passing through Laide and Aultbea as the narrow road dipped and turned, past more great scenery including deserted beaches, cliffs and patches of pine forest.

Road around to Laide

Road around to Laide


 

Passing over more mountain streams

Passing over more mountain streams


 

Deserted beaches

Deserted beaches

Aultbea is quite a sizeable village, with the Isle of Ewe in the centre of the bay – Loch Ewe. There looked to be houses on the Isle as well, probably farms by the looks of it. The sea was flat calm today and it had been lovely riding so far, despite the hills and occasional shower. I put it down to there being no headwind, which really makes a difference to your morale as well as your speed. I’d also only had to tighten one spoke so far so must have been doing something right.

Loch Ewe, with Aultbea on the right, and the Isle of Ewe in the centre

Loch Ewe, with Aultbea on the right, and the Isle of Ewe in the centre

 

Aultbea

Aultbea

 

Poolewe

Poolewe

I rode on to Poolewe, where followed another long ascent before finally riding down into Gairloch. I stopped at a general store to buy some Branston Pickle that I’d started craving for some reason, before turning right up the B8021, through Gairloch itself, and on to Big Sand where there’s a campsite. Gairloch is a nice looking town and I thought I’d stop at one of the cafes on the way back through tomorrow.

The ride alongside Loch Gairloch was really magical, with the sun coming out, the sea flat calm, no traffic to speak of on the gently undulating road, and no headwind. Sitting up in the saddle I relaxed and rode the last 3 miles admiring the view, but forgetting to take any photos, accompanied by the odd cuckoo and a few ducks out on the water, and only interrupted from my reverie when I rumbled over the odd cattle grid; they always worry me as they rattle my wheels around.

The campsite at Big Sand is set right against the seashore, amongst the dunes covered in Marram Grass. It was really peaceful, it not being the school holidays, and I had plenty of space to find a spot for my tent. Having arrived at 19.30, covering 59 miles in the end, reception was closed so I’d settle up in the morning again. 

With my tent set up I proceeded to feast on baguettes, Crowdie cheese left over from yesterday, ham, pork pie, Branston pickle, tomatoes, a banana, two cookies, a twix and some peanuts…I didn’t think it excessive. Just about sated I went for a walk on the beach and sat with a beer on a dune for a while, just letting the calm atmosphere wash over me. It was a great spot just to relax, gazing out across the slightly misty loch towards mountains in the distance. I hoped to see some dolphins or a whale, but there were only seabirds out on the water as far as I could see. I walked down to the waters edge thinking how much Lucy would have liked it here, so I built a small cairn near the dunes to mark the spot for her.

Big Sand and Loch Gairloch

Big Sand and Loch Gairloch

 

Dunes covered in Marram Grass

Dunes covered in Marram Grass

 

View back to campsite and my tent

View back to campsite and my tent

 

Beautiful view across loch towards mountains of Skye

Beautiful view across loch towards mountains of Skye

 

Low tide at Loch Gairloch

Low tide at Loch Gairloch

 

Waves gently lapping on the shore

Waves gently lapping on the shore

 

Pebbles at Big Sand

Pebbles at Big Sand

 

Cairn to mark the spot for Lu

Cairn to mark the spot for Lu

 

With seaweed attachment for artistic purposes

With seaweed attachment for artistic purposes

Wandering back to my tent I met a German couple touring by motorbike – one of the many sets of German bikers I’ve passed up here. We had a good chat about our rides so far; they’re off up north to Cape Wrath, with me heading south. Karl had been there before and agreed it was much more impressive than John o’Groats. They also informed me they had a friend who was a local whale watcher, who says that the whales and dolphins weren’t coming in yet as there’s little in the way of plankton due to the late spring and it being cold for longer. This means for example the fish the dolphins feed on (mackerel) haven’t come in, as they in turn haven’t got as much to feed on, all part of the food chain. We also had a chat about the relative state of the economies in both countries, Karl reckoning that things weren’t as good as people think in Germany, with a lot of people on very low income jobs (400 Euro jobs); he was certainly concerned about what would happen if he lost his job, being nearly 50 which does make a difference to your employability, despite it not being supposed to.

Turning in for the night I chilled out listening to some music for a while (Abney Park). The cuckoo I’d heard earlier still going strong at 23.30 when I fell asleep. It was so peaceful I could have stayed for a while, but I needed to make my way down to Applecross, before crossing over Bealach-Na-Ba (pass of the cattle) and on to Skye.

Sun going down at campsite

Sun going down at campsite


Sunset at Big Sands

Sunset at Big Sands – the colours were actually much more dramatic than this picture shows


Sunset at Big Sand 2

Sunset at Big Sand 2

Thanks to Nigel and Rich for the texts today, helped get me up some big hills!

Leg 28 – a day off in Orkney

Time to fix the bike (fingers crossed), and for some sightseeing.

28 May 2013

Post a bit of a late night chatting with fellow campers I was still up relatively early to get to the bike shop as soon as possible. It looked like it was going to be a brighter day, and the wind had dropped a bit which would make cycling easier. I had breakfast and a shower, before following Allan, one of be campsite wardens, to the bike shop – Orkney Cycles. I followed him in his smart car, cycling with my rear brake disconnected to stop the wheel from rubbing; it was pretty bucked now.

Orkney Cycles turned out to be a great bike shop, probably better than any within a 100 miles or so, including the mainland, so I’d struck lucky. It’s also one of the only bike shops on the island so was quite busy, and I was glad I’d got there early. I left the bike with them for half an hour whilst they worked out what they could do to help, and grabbed a cup of tea in town, opposite St.Magnus’ Cathedral.

St Magnus' Cathedral 1

St Magnus’ Cathedral 1


St Magnus' Cathedral 2

St Magnus’ Cathedral 2

Thankfully the bike shop were able to find a new wheel, albeit a racing wheel really, with 32 spokes instead of the 36 I’d had previously. It’s still double rimmed and strong, so should be as good as the previous being a good spec. At the very least it will get me further south where there are more bike shops, but hopefully will last for the whole trip otherwise this is going to get expensive. Didn’t really have a choice anyway given my whereabouts. I’m writing this whilst on the ferry back to the mainland, with my bike 3 decks below me, so can’t tell you the make presently! (Mavic CXP 22) I also got my chain replaced as it was getting worn and had stretched, which would mean it might start slipping or break; not something I wanted to happen on the next leg along he north coast. £130 all done.

Orkney Cycles

It was nice spending a relaxing morning chatting to the staff and other customers, without worrying about how many miles I needed to get done today. It seems there is quite a lot of cycling activity on the island, mostly road biking and time trials rather than mountain biking. There was a constant stream of customers coming in and out, either to hire bikes, or get repairs or advice. The shop also doubled up as a Games Workshop, selling figures; a slightly odd combination but works, will have to dig my old figures out at some point.

Orkney Cycles 2

Cycle Orkney 2

Recommend any tourers passing through Kirkwall drop in and say hello and get your bike checked by the friendly and helpful staff, who no doubt can give you a few tips on where to visit on the islands too.

Post bike fixing I pedalled out of Kirkwall, wanting to visit the Churchill Barriers around Scapa Flow, as well as the Italian Chapel. I’d already decided to spend one more night on Orkney, so had booked in at the same campsite in Kirkwall again and would head back to the mainland on Wednesday – think Wednesday anyway, losing track of what day it is slightly. Just a short ride today would give my legs, and body in general, a bit of a break. I very nearly stopped in at the leisure centre for a massage, but the weather was really too good to not get out. Nice not to have to pack up my tent, and to ride without panniers. Of course I did have to contend with the wobbles for a bit, until I got used to the much lighter bike again! It feels really weird for a bit, and the front wheel wobbles all over the place.

Looking back and down to Kirkwall

Looking back and down to Kirkwall


I did have to stop to adjust my back brake, which with the thinner rear rim wasn’t gripping enough, easy and quick job though. All done I rode up the hill and past the Highland Park distillery, where I stopped to look in the shop. They do tours but decided to save my money for a pub dinner later. Smelt pretty good as I rode up to the distillery and was tempted to get a whee dram! They had some expensive whiskys in the shop. I liked the look of their Loki and Thor bottles, but they’re well over £100. I also thought that Loki being a bit of a trickster might mean the whisky isn’t quite what you’d expect, and Thor might just give you a hammering hangover!

Highland Park distillery

Highland Park distillery


 

Highland Park distillery - steaming chimney

Highland Park distillery – steaming chimney


I pedalled on to St. Mary’s, over some moderate but exposed hills, into the lessened but still mildly irritating south easterly. It didn’t matter as much today as I wasn’t in a rush, the sun was out, and the scenery amazing.

Road to St. Mary's

Road to St. Mary’s


 

St Mary's - Lobster Pots

St Mary’s – lobster pots. Lobster wanted to sabotage these but the fisherman was around so he decided discretion was the better part of valour and hid.


 

Churchill Barrier number 1

Churchill Barrier number 1


From St. Mary’s I rode over the first of 4 Churchill Barriers, built in the Second World War, to stop German U-boats and warships from attacking the British fleet, which were based out of Scapa Flow. As well as the Churchill Barriers a host of anti-aircraft defences were also erected pretty swiftly after the outbreak of war. Unfortunately the defences hadn’t been maintained or improved upon since the First World War, and were a little shoddy to start off with as a result. The German U-boat U47 managed to sneak through one of the narrow sounds (Kirkwall Sound I think) and torpedo the British warship HMS Royal Oak, with the loss of over 800 lives. The U-boat got in and out without being caught, so despite the tragic loss of life a pretty gutsy move from its commander. This was before the Churchill Barriers had been built, and whilst a lot of the main fleet were still out at sea; if they’d been in Scapa Flow it could have meant an even worse toll. The defences were much improved by the end of the war, with at least one U-boat being destroyed in the anti submarine nets and minefields.

Post the 1st of the barriers I cycled up to the Italian Chapel, built by Italian POWs during the Second World War, who worked on building the Churchill Barriers.  They felt in need of a spiritual retreat, deprived as they were of other things, and built the chapel with the blessing of the camp commander, out of two donated end to end Nissan shelters, and other material they had to hand. For example bullied beef cans to make the lanterns/candle stick holders on the altar.

Italian Chapel 1

Italian Chapel – built out of two end to end Nissan shelters


Italian Chapel 2

Italian Chapel 2


Italian Chapel 3

Italian Chapel 3

 

Italian Chapel 4

Italian Chapel 4

The Chapel is a pretty amazing place, with everything having been built by hand. The Islanders promised the Italian POWs to look after it when they left, and it’s become a bit of a place of pilgrimage, restored in the 1960’s when the original Italian responsible for its design and build returned for a visit.

The POWs were also responsible for much of the work on constructing the barriers. Construction began with the scuttling of of old merchant ships to provide a temporary barrier, followed by the laying of large concrete blocks. They provided a very effective barrier, and now join the Orkney east mainland to Burray and South Ronaldsay. It was great cycling across them all, especially in the nice weather, but I wouldn’t like to do it in the winter with a gale blowing, and waves crashing over. 

Skua I think

Skua I think


Old scuttled ship

Old scuttled ship


Sea and amazing colour

Sea and amazing colour, and great sandy beaches


Sandy beaches

Sandy beaches – bit cold still for a dip though

I saw lots of seabirds including Cormorants, Lapwings, Gulls, Oystercatchers, Plovers and I think a Great Skua. Also saw a seal fishing next to one of the barriers. You could see it swimming under the water it was so clear, but didn’t get my phone out in time for a pic.

I had lunch at a little cafe just before barrier 4, attached to the Fossil & Heritage centre. A bowl of butternut squash and ginger soup, plus a smoked salmon an scream cheese toasty for £6, bargain. Treated myself of chocolate cake too.

Lunch break on Burray

Lunch break on Burray

Post lunch I cycled over the last of the barriers and on to St Margaret’s Hope, a small fishing and tourist town, with a pier and ferry too, on South Ronaldsay. 

St. Margaret's Hope

St. Margaret’s Hope


St. Margaret's Hope 2

St. Margaret’s Hope 2

I cycled back to Kirkwall on the same route, but with a tailwind so zipped along at quite a pace, especially with the new wheel. The hills that had taken quite a bit of effort before took half the time this way round. I popped into the bike shop on the way through to let them know the bike was running well, before going to Helgi’s Bar in town for a couple of beers and dinner; it was my day off after all.

Over a fantastic lamb tangine, and a few pints of the Orkney brew Scapa, which is a really good ale, I chatted to a few people. Hamish is a local salesman and travels around the islands selling agricultural products to farmers. Great bloke and seemed to know everyone that came in who was a local, which included the owner of the brewery whose beer I was enjoying, as well as Cameron who apparently once won Big Brother. I also learned that there are quite a few Harveys on Orkney, and in Scotland in general. I’ve always wandered about the origin of my surname, so maybe I have ancestors from round these parts! Thanks for her beer and company Hamish, I’ll be in touch on my next visit! 

So I’d recommend Helgi’s for the beer, food and company; it seems to be the place it go in Kirkwall and is good value for money.

Post the end of a great day off, a 32 mile ride and lots of good food, I returned to the campsite and chatted to a few of the other visitors for a bit. Shane was on holiday for a family gathering on Orkney, with people travelling here from all over the place including America. They can trace their family tree back to around 1480 on Orkney, pretty amazing. Made me keener to try and trace my roots back further.

Tomorrow I planned to get back to the mainland, after a quick tour round the rest of the mainland. Orkney definitely worth the visit so far.

Misty Scapa Flow

Misty Scapa Flow

Sunset in Kirkwall

Sunset in Kirkwall


Sunset in Kirkwall 2

Sunset in Kirkwall 2


Kirkwall bay

Kirkwall bay

Leg 27 – to Orkney and Kirkwall


Thanks for all the messages of support and sponsorship, they really help keep me going.

27 May 2013

It had been a somewhat disturbed night’s sleep due to the South Easterly that got stronger overnight, rattling the rafters in my tent, not that it has rafters, but the canvas definitely rattled. I was up early to go and meet Mark Beaumont, of ‘The Man  Who Cycled The World’ fame, who’d I’d been in touch with over Twitter. He has a page on his website that promotes various people’s expeditions/challenges, which he’d stuck my ride up on – http://markbeaumontonline.com/your-adventure/

Mark was cycling down the coast from Duncansby Head with a team from BBC Scotland, filming a programme to air on midsummer, and he’d suggested that it would be good to meet up en-route, both to say hello, and we could do a short interview for the programme. Seemed liked an opportunity not to be missed.

I quickly breakfasted and hit the shower block, but realised I’d lost the code for the door, d’oh, needed to do my hair and everything. I ended up having to phone the warden to get in as no-one else was up and needing the loo, typical. Didn’t delay me long and I was in plenty of time to meet Mark and the crew down by the river in Thurso. They were talking to and filming two local fishermen, who’d brought along some marinaded trout and salmon to taste. Not being one to refuse an opportunity for food on this trip I got to taste some of the trout, marinaded in whisky, it was delicious.

Post finishing with the fishermen we grabbed a coffee in Thurso to get out of the cold wind for a bit, before cycling a couple of miles out of town to film Mark and I meeting up on the road, and having a brief chat about what has changed as I’ve travelled further north. Mark noticed my rear wheel had a bit of a wobble but seemed okay, something to keep an eye on though.

It was great to meet up and fun doing a bit of filming, should be airing on 21 June in Scotland, and will be on iPlayer – I wonder if I’ll make the cut. I’ll have more of a speaking part than my last foray in front of a camera, for which you’ll have to see our Arms Race movies on You Tube; definitely worth a watch if you’re a Science Fiction or Steam Punk fan.

Meeting up with Mark Beamont

Meeting up with Mark Beamont

Bidding goodbye to Mark on his slinky road bike, and the production crew Ed and Jenna in their far warmer land rover, I cycled back down the road to the ferry terminal in Scratsby, to catch the boat to Stromness on Orkney. Mark pedalled off to their next scheduled stop with someone who could take them whale watching, before he continued on to Sandwood Bay – a today distance of 125 miles for him, but there again he wasn’t weighed down by lots of kit! He’s got a big challenge starting on 01 June, to swim and run across Scotland. It sounds a little bit crazy, but is in aid of a great cause – http://www.justgiving.com/markbeaumontSTVAppeal

I had a few hours to wait for my boat to Orkney, however these were productively occupied, first with a large fry up in the port cafe, good value and hit the spot. I spent a bit of time updating my blog before heading down to the terminal to get my ticket and board – £17.50 for a single, bike is free, much more expensive in a car.

The trip across to Stromness was a little bit rough due it the wind, but not enough to cause at sea sickness – I don’t generally suffer anyway but there’s always a first time. I spent a bit of time in the lounge, where I nodded off on one of their comfy chairs, before going on deck to admire the scenery.

 

Thurso from the ferry

Thurso from the ferry


 

Bit windy on board

Bit windy on board


 

Passing the Isles

Passing the Isles

 

Arriving in Stromness

Arriving in Stromness


I was chatting to another passenger who pointed out how the majority of the houses, especially the older ones, are built side on to the harbour to avoid the worst of the wind. Most of the houses also have slipways down into the sea, a testament to their fishing heritage. Post disembarking I had a quick cycle around Stromness, and stopped to by a sandwich even though I hadn’t cycled much yet today – permanently hungry on this trip anyway. The older roads are laid with large paving stones, which is fairly novel and something my dad remembered from when he visited years ago.

Stromness - cool alleyway

Stromness – cool alleyway


 

Stromness - view into bay

Stromness – view into bay


I cycled out from Stromness to Sandwick, before continuing up the coast on minor roads. The coastline is fairly hilly, although I had a strong tail wind for this first section so was easy going. I was kind of dreading the long haul back to Kirkwall into the headwind but I only had myself to blame for that.

I rode on up past various lochs and the Bay of Skaill, to Skara Brae, the site of an ancient Stone Age settlement that was uncovered in a storm which blew the covering sand dunes off. As a result the site is remarkably well preserved, and you can see the stone huts, beds, and even dressing table like constructions.

Riding the Orkney mainland 1

Riding the Orkney mainland 1


 

Riding the Orkney mainland 2

Riding the Orkney mainland 2

Got hit by a dust storm just after this.
 

Skara Brae

Skara Brae


From Skara Brae I continued, riding up to Birsay and slowly turning further into the wind. At one point I had to cycle through a bit of a dust storm caused by the strong wind blowing over dry ploughed fields, it stung a little and the sand-like dirt got everywhere; glad I had my sunglasses on, and had to wash my mouth out.

Orkney coastline

Orkney coastline 


Road to Birsay

Road to Birsay


On one section I heard a ping as I rode over a bump, a pretty distinctive noise if you’ve been cycling for a while. Stopping to examine my rear wheel I found the cause of the disturbing noise, my real wheel rim was cracked and the spoke had almost pulled through. It had obviously been weakening which had been the cause of the wheel wobble Mark had spotted earlier.

Cracked rear wheel rim

Cracked rear wheel rim


Without much of a choice I carried on – I’d just have to tighten the two spokes around the break if it got worse and started rubbing.

Birsay - Earl's Palace

Birsay – Earl’s Palace


 

Birsay coastline and lighthouse

Birsay coastline and lighthouse


Post Birsay I turned into a buffeting cross wind, that turned into a draining headwind as I turned down towards Finstown. I nearly ran over a group of teenagers out hiking, strung across the road. They couldn’t hear me due to the wind and were walking in the middle of the road as hardly any cars around. I pedalled around the top of the island, then down through Evie, reminding myself it had been my decision to take this route and not go straight to the campsite, despite the force 5 to 6 wind. Still, the countryside and coastline made it worthwhile, even the my legs were really started to hurt. I passed a couple of potential campsites but ruled them out wanting to reach Kirkwall. Not many trees around on this island, maybe there were once and they got used for firewood and construction, or maybe it’s just too windy.

Felt like a bit of a twat to be cycling out in this wind

Felt like a bit of a twat to be cycling out in this wind


 

Eyehallow

Eyehallow


 

The road to Kirkwall

The road to Kirkwall – sheep regarding me with suspicion as usual

From Finstown I rode on to Kirkwall, gradually turning out of the wind, and arriving at the Pickaquoy campsite about 20.00. The ride had taken me at least twice as long as it would have done without the wind. And incidentally Orkney is not as flat as I’d anticipated. I guess the buckled rear wheel didn’t help either.

The campsite on Pickaquoy road is really good, very close to Kirkwall city centre, and only cost me £7.15 a night – ended up staying off two nights in the end. It has an indoor lounge area, laundry, kitchen, and great loos and showers, as well as decent free wifi. All included in the price – usually you have to pay extra for kitchen facilities, and this was the first lounge area I’d encountered. The site is also attached to a leisure centre, which will shortly have a swimming pool opening, but has a sauna, jacuzzi, massages, a climbing wall and lots of other stuff. Was quite tempted to try a massage and sauna but would depend on the weather, so much to see on Orkney.

Post pitching up I had a chat with the warden who let me know about a good bike shop in Kirkwall which I’d try tomorrow ref a new real wheel, fingers were most definitely crossed as it would be a long walk back to the ferry, and my wheel was now rubbing so much I’d had to disconnect the rear brake. Dinner consisted of a microwave meal for two from Lidyls, along with some fruit and cake. Lidyls is really common in Scotland and has some great produce at low prices. The stores up here seem to have a wider range than those down south. Will definitely be stopping at more of them on the way around.

Sunset in Kirkwall

Sunset in Kirkwall


 

Sunset in Kirkwall 2

Sunset in Kirkwall 2


I spent the rest of the evening planning out the next few days. Tomorrow would depend on a wheel fix, but if successful I wanted to visit the south of the island, the Italian Chapel, Scapa Flow, the Churchill Barriers, and maybe the Highland Park whisky distillery. More on that tomorrow. I also met up with a group of Liverpudlians, or self proclaimed Scousers as they wanted to be known (Fred, Spike and Richard if memory serves). The generosity of strangers is always great and heartwarming to behold; they donated £30 to the ride and Big C which was very much appreciated, especially as they’d been saving for ages to come to Orkney. They were camping too and spending the week island hopping, having a great time by the sounds of it. Come as 

So a great day, only about 50 miles, but went to bed with tired legs post the afternoon’s slightly ridiculous ride to Kirkwall into the killer headwind! I’ve only got myself to blame and the advantage of touring along is you can only fall out with yourself, plus you get to stop and start when you like, and it’s easier to meet other people and make decisions. 

Still finding bits of sand from the dust storm!

Leg 25 – to Wick

Hills, lots of hills.

25 May 2013

Post a good night’s sleep I woke up to a bright morning, and was on the road by 10.00 post a shower and shave. Remembered to put some sun cream on for a change! Feeling fresh I had a quick cycle around Dornoch, taking in the old square and market place, once the centre of commerce for the area, with several big fares held throughout the year; no doubt earning the Sutherlands a pretty penny. There was an old stone slab in the market place, one of only a few still in existence in Scotland, that was used to accurately measure out lengths of plaid/cloth/tartan.

Dornoch Market Place and Cemetery

Dornoch Market Place and Cemetery, plus cloth measuring slab


 

Merchants and Money - history lesson

Merchants and Money – history lesson


The markets, or ‘Mercats’, apparently went onto decline in the early 19th century.

From Dornoch I rode up to and around Loch Fleet, passing seals basking out in the sunshine on the mudflats. Not sure if they were Common or Grey seals, in fact I didn’t know what they were at all at first as they weren’t moving. Then the incoming tide started to submerge their basking spot and they all decided it was time to find a new spot, en masse, was quite a sight to see them all shuffling/swimming off. Some were quicker than others, obviously wanting to reserve the best spot with their beach towels. Also saw a Grey Heron fishing just on from the seals, he lunged down from a motionless hunting poise and his beak came back complete with a small meal, must have been second breakfast time; I was starting to get hungry again. Saw the usual masses of Oystercatchers.

Castle on shores of Loch Fleet

Castle on shores of Loch Fleet


 

Loch Fleet 1

Loch Fleet 1


 

Loch Fleet 2

Loch Fleet 2 – Seals


 

Loch Fleet 3

Loch Fleet 3 – Heron


I could have stopped every 50 yards for another photo of something interesting but thought I’d better get on, and made haste around to Golspie. I passed a few cyclists going the other way, including one tourer with whom waves were exchanged. 

Loch at Loch Fleet

Loch at Loch Fleet


 

Mystery statue just outside Golspie

Mystery statue just outside Golspie

I stopped in Golspie at a promising looking cafe called Poppy’s, and proceeded to consume their most excellent full Scottish breakfast, complete with black pudding, bacon, beans, egg, potato pancake thing, toast, mushrooms etc. I should have taken a photo of it but forgot in my haste to get stuck in, truly delicious – best second breakfast stop of the tour so far. Chatting to the owner I discovered the tourer I’d waved to earlier had been James Ketchell, on his way from John O’Groats to Land’s End (Jogle) in preparation for his round the world cycle starting in June. Check out his website – http://www.jamesketchell.net – he’s done a few great challenges such as rowing across the Atlantic. He’d stopped at the cafe too and had partaken of the same breakfast just 30 minutes previous. Anyway I heartily recommend Poppy’s Cafe to any hungry tourers passing through Golspie; you’ll need the energy for the next bit if you’re going north!

Leaving Golspie I pedalled on to Brora, through lovely countryside along the coastline, with only moderate hills at present. The gorse is really out in bloom at the moment, and not too much traffic on the A9 which I’d been nervous about, considering the bank holiday weekend. I stopped briefly in Brora to buy more bananas.

Post Golspie - lovely coastline

Post Golspie – lovely coastline


 

Post Golspie - lovely coastline 2

Post Golspie – lovely coastline 2


At Helmsdale things changed, with the terrain starting to grow more challenging. A long ascent got my legs going, followerd by lots of ups and downs through moorland and forest. The hills got really big again around Berriedale, steep and lengthy, leaving my legs somewhat burning by the time I reached the top only find to the scene repeated. I managed to make it all the way through this section without stopping, albeit in a very low gear, which I was pretty chuffed about; don’t think I could have done at a few weeks ago, on a bike this heavy. I really must deal with my squeaky pedal though as getting a bit irritating.

Hills around Berriedale

Hills around Berriedale – great scenery again


I rode on to Dunbeath where I stopped for a food break, raiding my panniers for calories to recharge on. A light north wind had started up which made the going a bit tougher, despite the hills getting milder. I pedalled on zoning out slightly, thinking about books again, as well as possible future plans; more expeditions – although I must finish this one first, opening a cafe/pub with a cycling theme somewhere – offering guaranteed high carb meals, 1000 calories minimum!

During the course of the day I passed several groups of motorbike tourers, who I kind of envied whilst going up the steeper hills. I still rather be riding under my own power though, less noisy and more environmentally friendly, reckon I see more to. I saw a group of buzzards circling overhead, riding the thermals, and wondered if they were waiting for me to expire on one of the steeper hill sections. Do they get eagles up this coast? I know they do on the west coast but not sure here, it would be great to see a Golden Eagle and a Sea Eagle.

Also passed a few abandoned villages today, in ruins. One was labelled as a clearance settlement, which tended to grow up along the coastline post the evictions in the 18th century I think, when landowners wanted to clear out tenants in favour of sheep farming. Not a popular move which displaced thousands from the more sheltered and fertile inland glens. Must have been a very hard and exposed life up here on the coast. Reminded me of a song by the band Goats don’t Shave which I used to play years ago – The Evictions I think it was called, will have to dig it out when I get home.

I continued on to Latheronwheel and Lybster under clear skies, but the terrain just seemed to keep repeating itself with more farms, livestock, and ups and downs through moorland. I passed a few highland cattle on which I heard a theory from my godfather and his wife. They think they are placed at strategic points by the Scottish Tourist board, and must complain about getting put in the same spot each year!

Terrain on repeat

Terrain on repeat


 

Endless road to Wick

Endless road to Wick


 

Must carry on!

Must carry on


I was beginning to think the road was never going to end by the time I reached Thrumski, with only few miles to go to get to Wick. Interestingly I don’t remember passing any golf courses today, maybe they’ve finally petered out.

I made it too Wick about 18.30, after another great but leg straining day, covering about 65 miles. I camped up about half a mile from the town centre at a nice sheltered site, with easy access to the centre via a path alongside the river. Decided to go into town to eat as a reward for today’s efforts, plus I couldn’t face pasta again quite so soon. Ended up at the local Weatherspoons which was cheap and cheerful, with a huge plate of curry and a couple of ales – Belhaven Best again. They also had free wifi and I was able to recharge my phone and iPad which was handy. Aside from that it was quite an interesting cultural experience, with what looked like a few hen parties in, and a football crowd. Lots of enthusiastic drinking and general antics. A good atmosphere, but not the Champions League result everyone was looking for by the sounds of it.

Got back to the campsite but stayed up for a bit, it doesn’t really get completely dark up here, and the sky looked impressive.

Path along river from campsite to Wick

Path along river from campsite to Wick

 

Outside Wick at about 23.30

Outside Wick at about 23.30

 

Wick by night

Wick by night

On to John o’Groats tomorrow, and then Thurso. Hope this weather continues.

Leg 24 – to Dornoch, via Tain

Saw a lot of interesting things today, and weather was brighter! Bit of a long post.

24 May 2013

A cold morning but brighter. Feeling famished I dived into a breakfast of pitta bread, cheese, bananas, flapjack and berocca substitute, realising I probably hadn’t eaten enough yesterday. It’s hard to take on board the required calories for this sort of day in day out riding sometimes. I spent breakfast mulling over a strange dream I’d had about recovering diamonds stolen by Nazis during the Second World War, and getting a reward for them when I returned them to their descendants via a contact of a friend, all a bit strange. I blame Lucy’s sisters blog which I’d read the day before and mentioned Nazis.

I packed up as the sun started to come out, a bit late to dry the two pairs of socks I’d washed last night, or my still damp towel. It had been too wet and cold to get anything dry of late, however I attached the socks to my cargo net to hopefully dry as I went along. Campsites rarely have drying rooms, and your stuffed wild camping anyway. My tent was also still damp and I wondered, not for the first time, if I’d not be better off just using a bivvy bag – on reflection I think a tent is better though.

With the Ridgeback loaded I gave it the once over. Everything checked out fine, despite it being a little more battered and grimy than when I first started, and with a few bits of gaffer and wire in places including holding together the front right pannier rack; I just call that a custom job.

I wasn’t sure how far I’d get today, so I loaded up on pies and doughnuts at a bakery in Dingwall for lunch, on the way out. There were 3 bakeries to choose from, that I sa. I chose Deas where my purchases came to about 5 pounds, a bargain. Scotland seems to have more bakeries that England, which have fuelled my progress around the coast pretty well to date; cheap, tasty, lots of carbs, and always have a nice chat with the staff. I need to find more black pudding and haggis though.

Dingwall high street

Dingwall high street 


Dingwall Wimpy, unfortunately closed

Dingwall Wimpy, unfortunately closed

Post a second breakfast of a cheeky croissant from the same bakery, I pedalled to Alness. You can follow Route 1 and avoid the A9, but I stuck to the coast road which was a little busy. I hadn’t looked up where Route 1 went, and had been led astray by it before, or it had turned out to be really bumpy, so I generally left it alone today aside from where our paths converged on roads.

From Alness I rode to Invergordon, once site of of the main British Naval base in the early 20th century back when Winston Churchill was first sea lord. The base got moved further north to Scapa Flow, when it was realised it was in range of bombers from Europe. The fleet sailed from here for the Battle of Jutland in the First World War, the one great sea battle of that war. There was a submarine boon/net across the entrance to the Cromarty Firth back then. A German Sub once tried to sneak in under a British warship, and nearly made it; they had trouble raising the boon afterwards and found a big bit of the net missing. Also found a plaque commemorating the lives lost on HMS Natal, mentioned in yesterday’s post.

Invergordon Rigs

Invergordon Rigs


The sun dismissed the last of the clouds in Invergordon, and I took off a layer, still leaving two on not including the bib; it still wasn’t warm. There was a big cruise ship moored up, I guess where the old naval docks used to be, the MSC Magnifica haling from Panama, although every one I saw going back to it appeared to be German. Apparently quite a few cruise ships stop here, it being a deep water birth.

Invergordon - Magnifica

During the break I tried to phone Garmin again. I’ve been trying to get through to them for a few days but it’s impossible. You just end up with the message saying all their lines are extremely busy at the moment, and to check their website. I’ve already checked their website, and emailed them, to which I got a reply suggesting I call them. I think I need a replacement unit as this one is clearly bust, I can’t even perform the hard reset suggested. Think I’ll try calling them a few more times then email them if that doesn’t work. I hope my phone isn’t being charged for being on hold, could be expensive and will result in a complaint. Still feel better off with just a map though.

I pedalled on up the firth through Barbaraville, where I started singing the beach boys song Barbara-Anne, then down around the point to Nigg, to the shoreline opposite Cromarty. It was a bit of a long ride but worth it and followed my sticking to the coast plan. There used to be a ferry that ran from here but not sure if it still does, couldn’t see one, much better weather today though!

Cromarty Firth in sunshine

Cromarty Firth in sunshine

 

Cromarty on opposite shore

Cromarty on opposite shore


I could see where I’d been the day before, in much worse weather, I waved. Amazing how quickly the weather can change.

Cromarty Firth panorama

Cromarty Firth panorama


 

Me and lobster in Cromarty Firth

Me and lobster in Cromarty Firth

At this point I consumed the lunch I’d bought earlier; curry pie, pizza slice, Bridie (like a pasty but with different pastry) and a toffee doughnut, nice. Re-energised I rode on to Balintore and Shandwick Bay, on the Pictish Trail apparently. The Picts, descended from the ancient Celts that once lived across most of Europe, used to live in the area, and there’s a standing stone covered with their carvings just outside Balintore. It’s got a mixture of Christian symbols and Pictish artwork on it, carved in the 7th or 8th century, and pretty impressive.

Pictish stone

Pictish stone with carvings

This got me thinking about the Picts, about whom I know relatively little. I wondered what happened to them, did they all die out or get absorbed by other nations and cultures, the Vikings for example? Apparently not a lot is generally known about them, aside from their stone carvings and silverware which still survives. They’re also mentioned in writings from the same period, from other countries. I don’t think they wrote anything down themselves, probably using a tradition of oral history like the Australian aborigines. I expect their genes are mixed in with everyone else’s, Britain being a mixing pot of people from all over the place, so no doubt they still have descendants around today, even if those descendants don’t realise it.

Balintore looked lovely in the sunshine, and I could have easily whiled away a couple of hours down by the harbour, however I decided I couldn’t dawdle with more miles to cover today.

Balintore

Balintore Harbour


 

Looking down on Shandwick Bay

Looking down on Shandwick Bay

Post adjusting my rear mudguard which has a habit of slipping and rubbing the tyre slightly, I pedalled on to the other end of the peninsula. My pedals have started to squeak sometimes which is getting annoying, so I’m going to have to address it before they drive me to distraction. I arrived in a Portmahomack in the sunshine, which was persisting throughout the day, and cycled through the village. There’s a visitor centre there too which would be good to visit sometime if they have more stuff on the Picts.

Portmahomack

Portmahomack 


 

Random Alpacca

Random Alpacca

There were three Apaccas. They regarded me with some suspicion.

I rode on to Tain, where I stopped at the Duthus Inn (great name) for a pint of cider, it being a warm day. There were quite a few motorbike tourers pausing there too, so had a quick chat. I noticed I’d got singed a bit – forgot to put on sun cream! My face might be a bit stripy due to the cycling helmet and sunglasses.

Tain

Tain


I decided I had enough time to tackle the Dornoch Firth, it only just coming up to 17.00 when I left Tain. I knew there was a campsite in Dornoch itself on the coast. Passed a couple of distilleries including the Glenmorangie distillery, which apparently isn’t pronounced quite how we all pronounce it.

The ride around the firth was really great, spectacular scenery and sunshine, and not much traffic. I rode along the gently undulating road to Bonar Bridge, through more heathland and verdant forest – pine and Beech; think Beech woodland is my favourite, especially if it includes Copper Beech.

Road to Bonar Bridge

Road to Bonar Bridge


Dornoch Firth countryside 1

Dornoch Firth countryside 1


Dornoch Firth countryside 2

Dornoch Firth countryside 2


Dornoch Firth countryside 3

Dornoch Firth countryside 3

 

Dornoch Firth

Dornoch Firth

 

Bonar Bridge

Bonar Bridge


I passed quite a few other cyclists and tourers going the other way, and got passed by a couple of groups on sleek carbon fibre road bikes on their way to John O’ Groats judging from their outfits. They didn’t have panniers or tents, lightweights I thought ;-). Good to see other cyclists out though, probably the weather and it being a bank holiday weekend,  which I’d forgotten about. Can’t quite believe it looks like we’ll have had two good bank holiday weekends weather wise in May, must be a record, even if some of the rest of May has been dubious at times.

The ride up the north side of the Dornoch Firth was again beautiful, through a more forested landscape, though more hills to tackle. On tired legs this meant jelly baby consumption, however I made it all the way along without stopping so my legs must be getting stronger. I joined up with the A9 for a short section, going back to the bridge across the firth near Tain which I’d ignored earlier. I then cut North East up a side road that lead to Dornoch, a lovely looking town with a few shops, pubs and hotels, and main square with historic marketplace (photos tomorrow). Think this is where the Sutherlands were centred. I stopped to buy a few bits and pieces, including a multi pack of crisps – proceeded to eat about 4 bags I was so hungry by this stage.

I got to the campsite and pitched up about 19.00. Nice site right next to the beach, cost £7.00. Bloke said it was the cheaper of the two in the area so a bonus. I proceeded to cook up the traditional pasta feast, but might have overdone the Tabasco slightly; bit of an inferno but there was none left after only a short time. Finished off with a banana, an apple, more cheese, ginger nuts and a Pepperami I’d forgotten I had for good measure.

All in all a great day, covering 85 miles in predominantly sunshine, even if there’s still a chill in the air and snow on the mountain tops. The only slight annoyance is trying o get through to Garmin, they need to get more staff or stop issuing faulty badges of devices, something they apparently have a history of doing.

Onwards to John O’ Groats!

Durnoch campsite

Durnoch campsite – following morning