A Travellerspoint blog

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Over The Top


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I took the coast route to Ullapool, via Gairloch. The weather was wet again, no wonder Scotland is so green. I had recovered well, but the riding was quite hard. My cycle computer had stopped working, although it is made in Germany it was not designed to withstand the constant wet drizzle of a Scottish summer. On reaching Ullapool, I just wanted to stay somewhere dry, I went to the SYHA, but there was no room. I then tried some guest houses and hotels. All full. I cycled around the whole of Ullapool and every B&B had a No Vacanies signs in their window. I eventually found one without a sign, so I knocked. A lady answered and said sorry we are full we just don't have a sign. My shoulders dropped and I went off to the pub for some food. After eating I got back on to my bike and was heading to the campsite to erect a wet tent when the lady from the B&B said there he is. She was walking with her partner who owned the B&B that they were renovating. Alan and Jane offered me the front room, it was a slate floor and no bed, but they said I could have a bath. Wow what luxury, you really appreciate the small things that are normally taken for granted when doing something like this. And the generosity of people is also amazing, Alan even cooked me breakfast in the morning and would take no money from me, so I did the washing up.
Loch Assynt

Loch Assynt


More bad weather leaving Ullapool, it was windy and raining and very hilly. All the elements to make it a hard days riding. I got to the top of a hill that had a cut through the rock, this channelled the wind making it even faster (as according to Bernoulli's equation), I had to stand up to pedal downhill!!! With all the weight I was carrying I found that so incredible that I had to laugh, otherwise I would have cried. I stopped later on and two cyclists stopped and said hello. They were from Austria and were on racing bikes with ten litre backpacks on. We set off together and slipstreamed on another, taking it turns to take the lead. This made it all so much easier, but I decided to stop at Scourie when the two Johanas's were booked into a B&B. It was only 42 miles that day my shortest day by far as I was using so much energy battling the wind. I stayed in the camp site which was an incredible £9 for my micro tent, it was still £9 for a large tent, they wouldn't even charge my phone. I had a something to eat and a beer with the two Johanas's.
The route from Scourie to Durness is like no other part of the UK I saw on the whole trip, this was truly an ancient landscape. The wet weather prevented me from taking any photos and its almost impossible to describe. There was not much vegetation apart from short scrub and heather, farmers did not even keep sheep up here, although there appeared to be evidence of deer. The mountains looked like tall magma chambers from ancient volcanoes and were so steep that little vegitation apart from lichen or moss stuck to them. There were no trees at all in the area and it gave an impression of being in the wilderness. The winter months must be very difficult to survive without good food and fuel stocks and as I climbed up onto one of the moors there were some strange looking tracked vehicles parked up. These were to drive across the boggy land and collect the peat that was cut to dry out for fuel to burn. The hill dropping of the moor was extremely long and it was nice to be able to freewheel and take in the view.
At Keoldale there is a ferry to go across the estuary and then a twelve mile track to Cape Wrath, which is the furthest North West part of the UK. I did not take this path as I was told the track is quite rough and with the weight I was carry could cause damage to the bike if the weather had been kind I may have risked it, but I didn't fancy an extra 24 miles in the wet. On this side of the moor there were sheep, it was like coming back to civilisation, and the roads were single tracked. I noticed that the motorists would happily slow down and give plenty of room to the sheep but would not give me the same courtesy, one person towing a caravan even ran me off the road.
Scottish beaches don't have many sunbathers

Scottish beaches don't have many sunbathers

Durness beach

Durness beach


It felt like a huge achievement reaching the top of Scotland and it was well worth the ride. I spoke to an Italian motorcyclist who was saying that people call him crazy for riding his bike in this weather and terrain, then he said "when I see you guys on your bicycles I think you are the crazy ones." I didn't argue, just smiled. When I got to the Kyle of Tongue there were roadworks and the road was closed with a twelve mile diversion. Luckily it was okay to take my bike through the road works, the causeway and bridge that was being repaired is an amazing sight and well worth the trip. I stopped that night near Armadale, it was the most remote place on the whole trip and I camped in one amazing spot next to a river. It had even stopped raining.
Tongue

Tongue


Wilderness

Wilderness


The temperature on the 10th August in the very North of Scotland was 8 degrees centigrade, it was also raining. I only had fingerless gloves and lost all sensation in my fingers. I cycled past a van with a gazebo set up at the back, a man wrapped in the warmest looking blanket asked if I wanted a cup of tea. On chatting with them I found out they were a band who were doing le jog (Land's End to John O' Groats). All the band members were cycling and they had a support crew carrying kit, including their instruments. It had taken them 17 days and they had performed 10 gigs on route. I forgot to ask the name of the band, but they gave me a box of fig rolls, which became a favourite snack food of mine for the rest of the journey. Next stop was Thurso, I had received some bad news via email and wanted to post a letter so set off looking for the post office. I asked a couple for directions and the woman said "Steve, what are you doing here!!!" At first I did not recognise Kylie as she was covered in waterproofs, what a random meeting, if I didn't want to post that letter I would not have asked and it could have been anyone I asked. I had not seen her in over 6 years when we both lived in Plymouth, she now lives in Newquay, Cornwall. Kylie and her husband (Simon) were travelling around Scotland in their van. I was feeling cold and miserable, but changed into dry clothes and went to a cafe with Kylie and Simon to eat and chat. This really raised my spirits, its funny how the universe provides, having a friendly face to share my troubles with was very much needed. Thank you Kylie, Simon and the universe.
Dunnet Head lighthouse

Dunnet Head lighthouse


Feeling blessed by the chance meeting and with a slight improvement in the weather I headed for Dunnet Head, the Northern most part of the UK. The nature reserve on the trip to the headland with the tall cliffs and masses of sea birds and the view of the Orkney Isles make this a truly magical location. I spent about an hour here and should have maybe camped there, but I was trying to meet up with the band I met earlier to catch them if they were playing a gig at John O' Groats. So I travelled the twelve miles to the furthest North East part of the UK, and saw the most fantastic sunset, but didn't find the band. The hotel I ate at had the largest selection of single malts I have ever seen, must have been over 100. Camped right at teh end of John O' Groats.
Sunset over Dunnet Head

Sunset over Dunnet Head

Posted by ukextremes 08:22 Archived in Scotland Comments (0)

Downhill From Here


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I had to jump the turnstile at the toilets in John O' Groats as I was desperate, much to the annoyance of the attendant. After breakfast and packing I paid my 20p and received a nice smile in return. Managed to get off to an early start for me and combined with the good weather I knew I would get good mileage in, well it is all downhill from here (wishful bloody thinking). I could even charge my phone properly (I had a bottle dynamo that I soldered a USB female connector to), therefore I decided to take plenty of video rather than photos, but this site is not allowing me to upload them for some reason. i will post them on my facebook account (Stephen Rowe, profile picture is a wickerman) anyone can view you don't have to be my friend.
The sunny weather even managed to dry my cycle computer and it started working after about 30 miles. It was nice to know how far I was travelling again, its easier to set targets before stopping. I guestimated that I had ridden 304 miles without it working, this was a conservative estimate from what the road signs and Google maps said.
Within the thirty miles I had passed a lot of cyclists going the other way, they all waved and wished me good luck, assuming I was heading for Land's End. I suppose I was going to Land's End, the long way round. By this point I had covered 1,859 miles, depending on their route that is over twice the shortest distance for LE JOG, and I was not even not even half way through my ride. Most of the people going the other way were on road bikes with no equipment, but it still ain't easy. Well done to them, they set their goal and had achieved it. I probably saw about 40 people in total on that one day that appeared to be doing LE JOG.
I cycled towards Cromaty, but missed the last ferry, still felt fresh so I went back and around the Cromaty Firth. Strange estuary, it is where oil installations go to be decommissioned. There are several parked up waiting to be scraped in an idyllic setting. I camped about 15 miles outside of Inverness, making a total of 116 miles for the day, good feeling doing that mileage.
I by passed Inverness and onto the A96 heading East. The road is busy and many drivers had little regard for a cyclist, several times I had lorries pass me very close, one overtook me with plenty of room then pulled in before passing me fully. I went off the road and into the grass ditch at the side of the road, but managed to stay on. I am not normally a nervous person, but I don't mind saying that I was shitting myself when I could hear something big coming up behind me. I got off the main road at the earliest opportunity. As I went through Buckie there was a seafood merchant advertising Moray Firth lobster from £4.50 cooked as well. I deserved a treat, made it to Banff that night making the days ride 102 miles. That lobster tasted good.
Eating good tonight

Eating good tonight


My aim for the following day was to make Aberdeen where I had a place to stay and could even have a shower, it had been six days since my last one. It was very hard riding, there was a nasty head wind and no shelter. I was looking for a forest so that I could get a slight break from the wind, but nothing. The highlight was reaching my top speed of 53.55 mph or 86.18 kmph, if I knew what the hill was like I could have even bettered this. Definitely don't want to fall off at those speeds, okay I was wearing a helmet, but lycra is not known for its protective properties when sliding across tarmac.
I arrived in Aberdeen to stay at Dominic Treseder place, I ad not met him before but contacted him through the Mankind Project chat an organisation that we are both members of. Domonic could not be more welcoming and we were joined by two other members for food. I had a very relaxing rest day and good food Dominic even gave up his bed for me, which I was not to happy about, but too tired to argue. The floor would be luxury for me.

Posted by ukextremes 17:25 Archived in Scotland Comments (0)

Last Few Days In Scotland


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Domonic went to work on Monday morning and left me to let myself out, what a perfect gent, he even gave me some energy bars and gels as he is a triathlete and understands the need for nutrition. I left late and only made 60 miles that day, camping near Carnoustie, saw the full moon rise over the sea, as I cooked my evening meal.
Tent with a view

Tent with a view


The cycle paths north of Edinburgh were fantastic, covered a lot of miles off road and through forests, a bit wet though. Tried to eat in St Andrews but for some reason three places said they were not serving, I started to think that they just don't like riff raff in those parts any more. I carried on cycling through Fife where the locals did not appear too friendly. People would stare at me cycling along, I would nod and say hello but they would just carry on staring with no change in expression. I even had this treatment from runners and other cyclists, as well as abuse shouted from cars. On the outskirts of Edinburgh I stopped to talk to two cyclists called Ian and Phil, they showed me the route I needed to take and were good company for a few miles, they even gave me £10 for the Stoke Association, which I texted through straight away.
I did not bother to go into Edinburgh as Ian and Phil told me you can hardly move due to the festival being on, anyway I was sticking to the coast. The ride East had a marker in the distance a large rock in the sea just past North Berwick. There was a lighthouse on the island and the top of it was white. I stopped and took my binoculars out to see what was making it so white, it turned ut to be a combination of thousands of sea birds and their faeces. That night I spent my last night on Scottish soil for the trip at Coldingham Sands. I was sad to be leaving Scotland it had been so enjoyable and surprisingly easy to cycle as the hills are not that steep (Wales was worse). I had one final treat that Scotland gave me and that was to camp in a very special spot and watch the almost full moon rise.
Special spot

Special spot

Posted by ukextremes 04:38 Archived in Scotland Comments (0)

East Coast Of England


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On waking on my last day in Scotland I was greeted by a fresh dog poo just outside my tent, thanks to the inconsiderate dog owner for leaving me that present. I broke camp and headed for the border and the Northumberland coast. What a gem this coastline is, the beaches are sublime and there were even people sitting on them, unlike in Scotland. I now regret not taking the detour to Lindisfarne, it would have meant over five miles down a road and then five miles doubling back. My reason was to make it to a friend of my sister who lives in Newcastle. I was stunned when I came around a corner and saw Banbourough castle. I freewheeled down the hill in awe of the scale of the structure, forgetting to take any video, but stopped and had lunch on the cricket pitch next to it. What a venue to play sport.
Banborough Castle

Banborough Castle


I decided to follow the National Cycle Network path number 1 for a section of this coast and wish I hadn't. It was more of a goat track than a cycle path. Although some of the paths are excellent, others are less than desirable to ride on. The view and route was lovely but I was carrying far too much weight on my bike to be riding along this path, still I persevered and made it through. The distance into Newcastle was further than what the road signs were saying, this was making me later than what I had said to Sara, I was getting hungry, then I went through Whitley Bay which had the smell of curry for about 2 miles. Eventually made it to Sara's and met her 9 year old, Adam, who is good friends with my nephew, Noah. Adam showed me his new drum kit, what a great mother, I was never allowed one. I wonder if she is regretting it now?
I left Newcastle and headed for South. For 60 miles there was not very much to look at apart from the transporter bridge at Middlesborough.Middlesborough transporter bridge

Middlesborough transporter bridge


After Redcar the route took me onto the North Yorkshire moors and the lovely town of Whitby, which is where I stayed that night. After Whitby there was less than 20 miles of the North Yorkshire moors left. Once off the moors it was mostly flat all the way down the East coast.
If you read my Twitter feed then it would become clear that I was not a fan of Hull or the surrounding area, my sister phoned me to make sure I was out of Hull as she worried for my safety.
I think this is a Typo

I think this is a Typo


After leaving Hull I Tweeted "I think this is a typo, surely it should say Jesus or Hull, choose. Its the only way I would choose Jesus!"
I did not really enjoy this part of the ride from Scarborough to Kings Lynn, partly due to the flat ride and also due to having a stomach complaint. I had no appetite at all, I would go to a shop for food and wonder around looking at food knowing that I needed to eat but not seeing anything that took my fancy. This was very worrying as before I would eat everything and needed to consume approximately 6,000 calories a day. I later found out that there was a strange life form growing in my water bottle that I used for my carbohydrate drink. Once this was cleaned and sterilised then my problems ceased.
I was not looking forward to Norfolk, thinking it would be flat and after spending the last few days on the flat I was finding it monotonous. I was pleasantly surprised by Norfolk, it is not flat, there are slight hills that meant freewheeling was possible. I got to the North coast of Norfolk and was looking for somewhere to camp and cook my evening meal when I could smell something delicious. On rounding the corner I could saw a restaurant called The Yurt at Drove Orchards in Hunstanton. This was a 14 metre yurt, the largest I have ever seen, on asking if they took cards I went to the toilet block to wash for dinner. The taster menu for a starter was nice and the sardines for my main was delightful, washed down with a very pleasant Sauvignon Blanc. I have just found out that the restaurant is no longer there, but they are looking for another venue, I would definitely reccomend finding the new venue as the experience was wonderful and reasonably priced.
The following day I carried along the North coast of Norfolk and on reaching Cromer I was looking at the back wheel of my bike when I realised not everything was how it should be.
Not good

Not good


This was the case on four of the rear spokes, I called the shop I had bought the bike from only a few months earlier. John at Spa Cycles in Harrogate was most helpful he even said "I've bloody told Dawes that that rim isn't up to the job." He arranged to have a new rear wheel sent down to me, I just had to get to a bike shop that dealt with Dawes bikes (it was a very nervous 20 miles avoiding all the bumps and potholes I could). I was sent to Streetlife in Norwich, which was good for me for two reasons. Firstly the pub across the road did very cheap rolls, which was why I went there, and they had the largest selection of real ales I have ever seen. My only regret is that I could not try them all. Secondly, a friend that lives in Wymondham, had invited me to stay, but I had replied that he was too far inland for me to detour. Strange how things work out sometimes, I had to have a day off and wait for the wheel to be delivered and even had a place to stay, with a friend to catch up with. Thanks Ian.

Posted by ukextremes 13:10 Archived in England Comments (0)

South East England


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I left Norwich and headed for Lowestoft. This meant that I missed approximately 20 miles of the coast, but I more than made up that distance by heading into Norwich and back. The Ness in Lowestoft is the furthest Eastern point of the mainland UK and is the only one that is marked with something, a disk with the edge showing the bearing and distance to various points in the world. There is an industrial estate situated next to it with a large wind turbine nearby, not like the two previous extremities I visited, which just had lighthouses.
The Ness

The Ness

The Ness

The Ness


After leaving Lowestoft I realised that I needed to get a move on, the problem was reaching the ferry at Tilbury before the upcoming bank holiday weekend. Tilbury was the nearest Thames crossing point for me, otherwise I would have to ride on to Greenwich. I ended up spending the night at Marlesford and was treated to another special sunset.
Another nice sunset

Another nice sunset


I set off early so as to make the ferry by 5.30pm, it was a total of 87 miles to Tilbury and I avoided going into Felixstowe and Harwich as these roads were in and out on the same road and would have meant me missing the ferry. I made it to Tilbury with an hour to spare and then headed off into Kent. That night I made it to Rochester and was surprised to see a Russian sub moored in the river.
The Russians are invading

The Russians are invading


As I was looking for something to eat another touring cyclist asked me where it is good to camp. She was a visitor from Holland and had tried the nearby camp site only to find out it was only for caravans. They would not even let a lone female camp there for one night, shame on them. I told her that I just camp in woods or a field and that she was welcome to join me. We looked on her map and I located a suitable spot and rode the couple of miles there, set up camp and cooked an evening meal. It was nice to have some company. The only problem with the location was that it was next to the high speed rail line to Europe. Those trains are long, fast and loud, but they do not run all night luckily. I had a good nights sleep, as always, the Dutch girl not so, she said she was worried about wild camping and kept waking up. We had breakfast and rode on together for a bit, but I had to leave her to meet up with some friends.
James and Grace live in Chartham and we arranged to catch up in the lovely town of Whitstable. I hadn't seen them since they left Plymouth three years ago with their new born son Noah. Now three Noah has a big spark of life in him, James and Grace have their hands full there. I decided to have a half day and spend the night at theirs. Good decision, I had a bath, some food and a sofa to sleep on. Oh and the best thing, some good company.
Noah

Noah


Grace dropped me back to Whitstable and my bike, which I had left locked up by a pub. I was nervous about it being left, but was glad to see it was still there as I left it. I went round the coast path towards Margate even stopped off and had some cockles and mussels. Could not face those jellied ells though.
As I was climbing out of Margate I broke my chain, luckily I was carrying a spare. It was a bank holiday Sunday, so without the spare it would have meant two days of enforced rest.
You are the weakest link

You are the weakest link


Another cyclist kindly stopped to offer help, when I told him about my chain and that I had a spare he was first surprised then said it looked like I was carrying the kitchen sink anyway. I went to the nearest bench to fix my bike and on completing the task I was pleasantly surprised to see the commemoration on the bench. Thank you Bill Brooks.
Thanks Bill

Thanks Bill


I rounded the East coast of Kent and made it onto the South coast, I soon got to Dover and the white cliffs. I could see France and the ferries crossing the channel, if only I had enough money in my account and my passport I would have been on one of those boats. By this time I was enjoying my cycling so much and just wanted it to carry on. I didn't have the money, unfortunately, and had to finish the coast ride first. (Maybe that's one for 2012 though ;-) I decided to cycle along the cliff path for a bit, this was okay for a while but then I came across steps. This was the only time that I had to push my bike any sort of distance, the only other times was when I was finding a camping spot in the woods or a field.
The white cliffs

The white cliffs

Panoramic view at the white cliffs

Panoramic view at the white cliffs


Cycled on to Folkstone where the smell of good food caught my nose (actually the smell of any food catches my nose when hungry, even thought of having McDonalds at one point). There was a food stand near the sea front called Chummy's, I ordered a plate of their noodles with king prawns, the man serving said that it I would be good for the Tour de France after that, when I told him I had already done a greater distance than that and was going around the coast of Britain he was impressed. He asked if I was doing it for charity and when I told him it was for the stroke association he gave me the food for nothing, I donated the £3 that the food cost myself. So if you are ever in Folkstone I can recommend Chummy's for food, good food from kind people.
I cycled on past Dungerness power station which dominates the headland of a strange pebbled landscape with bizarre low lying plants. In fact a lot of the south coast was like this which was a great surprise to me. That night I camped at Camber near Rye, with a total of 3,050 miles behind me.

Posted by ukextremes 13:06 Archived in England Comments (0)

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