A Travellerspoint blog

February 2012

North West England

sunny
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After rounding the Wirral I had to cross the Mersey, so I caught a ferry, and yes they do play the song. I could hardly keep a straight face. On the Liverpool side there is much evidence of declining industries, much of the quayside has derelict wasteland or warehouses, quite depressing. Riding through Southport I could not believe the size of the houses, huge mansions everywhere. The beach here was strange, I couldn't see the sea and the beach seemed to have grass growing on it in some places. I stopped and asked for directions from some other cyclists who were from Bolton Hot Wheels. A group of people ranging fron 8 to 80 with the older riders aiming to get young people into cycling. One girl had only started to cycle that year and was going to do the coast to coast. The oldest cyclist said if he was half his age he would of come along with me.
By the time I got to Lythan St Anne's there was a head wind that was blowing sand into my face, I was not enjoying that. I saw a sign for a private school that said "If you aim for the moon and miss, at least you will be amongst the stars." What are they teaching those kids and what dumb ass parent would send their child to a school that says that.
I then cycled through Blackpool, I could tell you what I thought of that, but I'd better not. Maybe it was the headwind that coloured my opinion. I did take the photo you see below and tweet that I must have taken a wrong turn and ended up in Paris by mistake. My next tweet said "Silly me Paris doesn't stink of chips, this must be Blackpool."
Paris?

Paris?


I camped near the river Wyre that night and was over taken the following morning by Pete and Mick. They were two retired friends from Blackpool that were happy for me to slipstream them. This was the first cyclists I had ridden with since the first day with Paddy. These guys were fit, they were planning to do a hundred miles that day. It was great to have help with the navigation and a bit of company, we even ate lunch at Siverdale before they headed back. I hope I am that fit when I get to their age.
I carried on solo following the coast next to Morecambe Bay, what a lovely place it is. I had to ride along the A590 for a short while and I was not impressed by the room given to cyclists by some of the drivers, it was not even a narrow road. I took the road towards Barrow in Furness and Met up with a young triathalete called Pete Denness, he even slowed down from his training ride to chat. On finding out what I was doing and seeing how I was struggling up some of the hills he invited me to his place for some food, "Don't worry my Mum will cook for you, you can even stay in the front room." True to his word the Denness family were very accommodating. Thank you for your trust and generosity.
I left Roose (near Barrow) and soon my front pannier rack broke. I went to every cycle shop in Barrow and not one had racks for sale, but one shop sent me to a Gilmour fabrications that was run by a cyclist called Mark. They welded the aluminium rack and did not even charge me. Thank you Barrow, really showed the wonderful side of the human spirit.
Action shot

Action shot


I carried on up the coast to Mawbray, this totalled 91 miles for the day and I had a massive delay getting the pannier rack fixed. On waking the following morning it was raining heavily, so I decided to rest, read and eat in my tent. Eventually I broke camp and rode the 5 miles to Silloth and stopped at a cafe to eat some more. I met up with another cyclist called Tony in the cafe and the weather had cleared up, we rode along together and swapped stories. Tony was 68 years old and was riding the route of Hadrian's Wall, 168 miles and he was planing to do it in four days. It was nice going at Tony's pace and we managed 35 miles together, we stopped for a cup of tea and even had food together in Carlise before going our own ways. The amazing thing about Tony was that he had a stroke two years previously. I told him about my fathers stroke and how it was a motivating factor for me doing this ride. I was even raising money for the stroke association. Talking to Tony about his stoke and recovery gave me optimism over my fathers condition and I can now see the progress moving quite fast. Tony's medical staff told him that for up to four years there can be improvements.
After leaving Tony in Carlise I did over 30 miles in two hours, this taught me about pacing myself. When I had ridden with Pete and Mick I went fast early in the day, come the evening I had little energy left. When I rode with Tony I went slow in the morning and afternoon then could go very fast in the evening. This distance took me across the border into Scotland. I rode through Annan and had to do a double take at a shop that was carrying my name, I thought I needed my eyes testing at first.
That's me, that is

That's me, that is

Posted by ukextremes 15:51 Archived in England Comments (0)

South West Scotland

semi-overcast
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I camped near Annan and on getting going I decided I had 100 miles in my legs. The ride was beside the Solway Firth, which is beautiful on both sides, but the Scottish side reminded me of Devon where I grew up. I stopped in Kilcudbright for food in the afternoon at the Harbour Cafe, lovely food, good art on the walls, good jokes in the male toilet (See below) and the best chocolate fudge cake I've ever had. The waiter said it had 1,200 calories and my only regret is that I only had one slice.
In the male toilet of the Harbour Cafe

In the male toilet of the Harbour Cafe


Kilcudbright

Kilcudbright


I still had over 30 miles to go to do the hundred miles and I pushed on to Newton Stewart, made it as the sun was setting and passed the mark for the first time on a bicycle. Had to ride a further three miles to find somewhere to camp, with a real sense of achievement.
Dawn in Dumfries and Galloway

Dawn in Dumfries and Galloway


I woke up early and got going, soon broke the other pannier rack, not impressed with Blackburn low riders. Stopped in Wigtown for food and I had totally forgotten about lorne (square sausage), it cooks easier and fits straight into a sandwich, lovely. They gave me directions to Kirkcowan where there is a cycle repair shop. Brian was very helpful in servicing my brakes and cleaning out my drive train, but he could not weld the pannier rack. Thanks Brian, it was nice to have brakes again, he also gave me a few parts like brake and gear cables, because if they broke in the North of Scotland he told me there was no cycle shops.
I missed a slight bit of the coast by getting the bike fixed,but then headed up towards Stranraer and onto Turnberry, This has to be one of the grandest club house of any golf course. I slept in the woods nearby and heard a bird screeching as it got dark, thinking it was a chick that had fallen from the nest, I assumed it would be killed by a wild animal soon. On reflection I think it was a young owl, as it carried on all night, apart from a few times when I assume the parent came back to feed it. It stopped at first light, so I could get some uninterrupted sleep.
I cycled up to Ardrossan and then took the ferry to Brodick on Arran, this was a bit of a cheat but it saved me a couple of hundred miles. It was only about fifteen miles on Arran and I shared that with a patent clerk from Leeds (sorry forgot the name), he was touring around Scotland on his bike, but staying in B&B's so travelling much lighter than me. I made it over to the Mull of Kintyre that day and headed towards Cambeltown. They say that Kintyre is the most beautiful part of Scotland, but I just couldn't see it myself.
Mull of Kintyre

Mull of Kintyre


I camped in a forest near Carradale, when it is wet a forest give some protection from the elements, this forest had a thick carpet of moss of about six inches. Along with my thermorest it was as comfortable as my bed at home.
The Comfort Inn

The Comfort Inn


The weather was slightly better the following day, visibility was better but still wet. After a meal in Campbeltown I headed up to Lochgilphead. I was visiting my ex-wifes parents, Jane and Simon Powell, where they were staying with friends of theirs, Ali and Dino Wright. On asking someone for directions he looked at me and said "You'd better be fit." By this time I had done about 1,150 miles, so I was getting there. I hadn't had a rest day so far in 17 days. Time for a break. All I did was eat, sleep and play with Shenzi the Jack Russell. Shenzi is Swahili for uncivilised or uncouth. As a Jack Russell owner myself, it couldn't be more apt.
Shenzi

Shenzi


The ex in-laws and me

The ex in-laws and me

Posted by ukextremes 15:51 Archived in Scotland Comments (0)

Western Scotland


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Once back on the road I realised how important rest days were. My legs felt very good, with good weather and beautiful scenery the road to Oban was very enjoyable, even met some Lands End to John O' Groats cyclists. They had van travelling in front with all their kit and food being sorted out for them. Seems like cheating to me.
I arrived in Oban and had just missed the 2.30 ferry to Mull, so I had an hour and a half to kill. Therefore I partook in my favourite activity, eating. I looked around Oban and found it to be a pleasant town. Went back to the ferry to find out it was delayed, this was going to leave me no time to cycle the fifteen miles to Tobermory to make the 6pm ferry to Kilchoan. I could have caught the bus to make the ferry, but that would have been cheating.
Leaving Oban

Leaving Oban

Castle ruins just outside Oban

Castle ruins just outside Oban

On the ferry to Mull

On the ferry to Mull


On making it to Tobermory I was about 20 minutes too late for the ferry, if you have ever been, the town is at the bottom of a steep hill. After eating and having a couple of pints I found out there was nowhere to stay so I had to go to the camp-site. At the top of the hill!!!
The following day I caught the ferry which is about eight miles from Ardnamurchan point, the furthest Western point of the UK mainland, this was my first extremity and I had cycled about 1,260 miles. The lighthouse at Ardnamurchan point is not the actual furthest West point although all the tourists (and even the girl who worked in the shop) think it is. It is actually at Carrachadh Mor, which is very close, just go back the road a bit then walk a mile and a half over the bog. I walked around the lighthouse and felt that seeing as I had cycled all this distance to go to the furthest West point I had to make the extra effort. Sometimes ignorance is bliss as the weather was very wet and so were my feet.
Corrachadh Mor looking towards Ardnamurchan point

Corrachadh Mor looking towards Ardnamurchan point


I left Carrachadh Mor and carried on in the drizzle, the type that soaks you right through, eventually made it to Loch Ailort and found the inn where I took my shoes off and stuffed them full of newspaper and asked if they had any rooms. there was no room left and I had five minutes to order food. After eating my steak I was contemplating having to sleep in my already wet tent with very wet clothes, the barmaid took pity on me and asked the landlady if there was anything they could do. Aileen let me have a bed in the bunkhouse, it is normally used for staff and was not to the usual standard for guest. It was luxury for me, I had a shower and could dry my clothes.
Loch Carron

Loch Carron


I rode on with dry feet and through some stunning scenery, rode to Mallaig and caught the ferry to Skye. Loch Carron was a highlight and I reached a speed of 52 mph down one of the hills. I climbed over the moor towards Sheidaig and received a phone call in a very remote area, after about fifteen seconds I looked down to see a cloud of midges. They feel like pins and needles being pricked into your skin. I hung up and jumped back on the bike, wiping the midges off my skin. It would really test a Buddhist monk to not kill one midge if they were to visit Scotland in the summer.
Sheildaig

Sheildaig


On reaching Sheildaig I realised there was something going on, it turned out that I had just missed a raft race around the island, but this was the start of their annual fete. There was live music and DJ's at an event called the Sheidaig sheepshed shuffle, because it was held in a sheepshed. In Devon it would be called a barn dance, I like their name better.
Sheildaig sheepshed shuffle

Sheildaig sheepshed shuffle

No pesky midges here

No pesky midges here


The locals were so friendly and on finding out what I was doing many of them insisted that I have a drink on them, with my rubber arm being so easy to twist, I ended up very very drunk. There was a very large bonfire, even though it was warm, to keep the midges away and I was amazed that the sky to the North never really got totally dark. I eventually made it back to my tent which was pitched right outside the pub in the centre of the village.
The following day was an unscheduled recovery day. I enjoyed the events that they had to part people from their money and the Ceilidh (Scottish music and dance) was the highlight of the Saturday night. I had to decline the offers of alcoholic drinks to the disgust of some of the locals and had an early night.

Posted by ukextremes 05:37 Archived in Scotland Comments (0)

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)

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