It was a very good idea to have two nights in the hotel in Belfast. The ride from Galway to Belfast had been quite challenging weatherwise and the final three days riding not so interesting after the stunning west coast. The best part of the hotel room was it's bath which is as much spa treatment as my aching legs got! Even the receptionist who checked us in recommended I put yoghurt on my face. Jeez, I eat it everyday, but I didn't know I was supposed to be smearing it on! When we were on the Scilly Isles we saw monoculars for sale and were tempted to get one. We had since thought about it numerous times when we passed stores that sold them. Binoculars are too much of a luxury spacewise for cycle tourists, but with spending so long touring and much of it in forest and so on, we thought it would be useful to zoom in on unsuspecting puffins, leprechauns (we sure we must have missed them as we saw many rainbows), reindeer and bears (hopefully not...). So we bought one in Belfast. Our Stenaline ferry left Belfast at 3:30 pm so we checked out of our hotel at the last minute, 12:00 pm and then rode the 10 km to the ferry terminal, dodging showers of rain and avoiding the worst of them. The ferry trip was great as there was hardly anyone on board and we disembarked at 6:00 pm in Cairnryan, Scotland. We had a raging tailwind and only 11 km to ride to our campsite. The little old lady who ran the place looked quite excited to see us! We didn't even need supper as we were still running off our "all you can eat" Irish breakfast this morning that we ate at the hotel. I think we dented their profits, but there you go, that's what comes of offering cycle tourists "all you can eat". We did however eat Scottish shortbread to get into the spirit of things. No bagpipes yet though.
It was nice being back in our tent and we slept better than we had in our hotel! We had such a great day's ride today, Scotland has really impressed us! We had some rain to start but not for long although it was cold and overcast most of the day. We are back to marked cycle routes which Ireland does not have and today these routes were excellent. We used route 7 and 73 and the roads were quiet and narrow, passing through farmland with steady gradients. We reached an area of mainly heatherland and then entered the Galloway Forest Park at Glentrool. This was a very beautiful area and we stopped at the Glentrool visitor's centre for coffee and to pick up a map of the area. Glentrool has a very nice campsite but we wanted to have a bush camp. Scotland would provide our first opportunity for this as there is right of access which means you can pitch your tent for the night almost anywhere, subject to certain conditions. We had cycled 50 km by the time we left the visitor's centre and then were steadily climbing for 16 km. It was a great ride, wonderful views and a good road. On the descent we were on the lookout for a good camping spot. We ended up turning off the route onto a forestry track and found a great spot by the side of the river. The river swim was not as good as the hotel's bath! We soaked up the warmth of the sun afterwards though and felt quite pleased to be ahead of our day's schedule!
After a great night's sleep in the forest we were up early. We had another climb in the hills first thing. It is so beautiful up here, narrow road, sheep and goats all around. We rode into Maybole to pick up some breakfast and it rained a little. A local farmer chatted to us, we find ourselves asking people to repeat themselves a bit as we are not used to the accent. We cycled into beautiful Ayr, birthplace of Robert Burns and sat in the Burns Gardens to eat breakfast. Really pretty place. A few tourist coaches already stopping by. All this time we were quite relaxed as we were to have a short day. We had got ahead on the route yesterday but as there were not many campsite options today, unless we found a good bush camp we would only cycle as far as Troon. That would of course mean cycling past Troon in expectation of a bush camp which would be a bit of a risk. We had a great route all the way to Troon and passed a few golf courses, including Royal Troon. We stopped to buy something to eat and then decided to ride on a couple of kilometres on to Loans where there was a small Certified Site (these only take 5 caravans but facilities can be limited). On the way we passed the turn off to our planned site but saw no sign which got us wondering if it was there at all!
At the Certified Site we were gently informed that they did not take tents as there were no toilet/shower facilities. The manager could confirm that there was a campsite in town. We turned around and went back there down a tiny lane along the railway line and found the campsite. A few caravans, one tent, squeezed into a small grassy area. No sign. And dodgy-looking ablutions. It was only 2:00 pm and did not look like the sort of place we wanted to wile away the afternoon. At least a man came out to ask if we wanted to camp there, but we politely said that we were thinking about pressing on. So we started checking out the GPS again to see what our options were. We had already explored some options online and there was a campsite along the coast we could go to but it was a bit off our route. I found a site listed about 12 km further on and we decided to take a chance on it. We weren't really sure if it would be viable. Many sites here do not take tents and also some are longstay sites only. Luckily all this time we had not had rain. Also, we had a great route along cycle route 7 and were off the road a lot. We got to Eglinton Country Estate which was beautiful but only took tents for "events". Pity. Oh dear, now to turn back to the coastal park we knew was there. On the way we passed another caravan site and actually went in there to enquire about tents but could not find anyone to ask. It was one of those sites with static vans. A few kilometres further on we came to the coast again and to the Sandilands Resort. Once again, many static vans and a HUGE park. The reception was staffed with four people but no one really looked keen to help us. One lady got me to call out my name and address to her and she was sitting about 10 m away! She asked if we knew that the campsite was close to a railway line. I felt like saying we didn't really care. It was cheap through, probably our cheapest campsite so far. We located the grassed area for campers and let's just say we could sqeeze our tent in between the bins and the bogs. As Mike said positively, "You always complain that they are so far away!". It all looked a bit like the Troon site but on a larger scale but the ablutions were spotless and that was a relief. Once our tent is up we are at home. So, we stopped at 5 campsites today as well as numerous bush camp options along the way in forest areas and we were pleased to finally find one. The trains are passing by our heads, and you can feel the rumble through the floor, but they are quiet(ish).
We had a suprisingly good night's sleep last night. There were not many trains overnight but we were woken before six by a louder goods train of some sort. Yesterday had been a tiring day and we took it easy this morning, having tea and breakfast in bed before hitting the road. This was mainly due to the rain as being cold and wet does not a good breakfast break make! We had expected rain until about 11:00 am and the weather forecast was right on the money. The route took us over some hilly farmlands for the first 20 km and then we hit an amazing cycle way along an old rail route for another 20 km, until Paisley. It was great! The final 20 km into Glasgow was also very well planned and an easy route in. We arrived at the fabulous quayside which had clearly been redeveloped for the Commonwealth Games held last year, and there were some quite impressive buildings to view. We had planned to cycle through the city as our campsite was about 10 km east of the city. We mixed it with the buses in the busy streets but were soon out of the city limits and it was not long before we had arrived at our campsite before 2:00 pm.
The campsite was great with friendly staff; definitely an improvement on last night! We were only 10 minutes walk from Stepps train station and caught the train into the city which was only a 15 minute trip. We picked up a new pair of pedals for Mike to replace his squeaky ones and also some Proofhide to pamper his fast degrading Brookes saddle. We had ordered these from Evans Cycles online on Monday night so just had to pick them up. Luckily I could also purchase another pair of 3/4 knicks. For the trip we had each brought 4 pairs of shorts and one of mine is 3/4. This is great as it's warm enough and you don't have to worry about leggings. One of my pairs of shorts failed after a couple of uses (the gel padding came undone) so I have replaced these with another 3/4 pair. We spent a bit of time in the city, it was cool to visit the various stores that sold all kinds of tartans and woolen products. There was one store which made kilts so people were getting fittings and so on. We saw the new Peter Rabbit tartan and also the Princess Diana tartan. We also saw Harris Tweed products and Heather Jems jewelry which is something I am interested in. We are passing the area where it is made later on. Particularly on this trip one has to be disciplined as 6 months is a long time to carry stuff about if you end up purchasing it! We got back to the campsite at 7:00 pm. It is so nice that it is not raining and we expect clear skies tomorrow!
Woke up cold but to CLEAR BLUE SKY!! Wow, had not seen one since before leaving for Ireland three weeks ago! What a treat. Just the thing to spur us on! We had another great route today, route 7 again known in parts as the West Highland Way. We had wonderful views of the hills, all a little hazy in the early morning sun, sheep grazing on the hillsides. We were on an old rail trail route again for the first part and then had some climbing to do around Drymen and Gartmore to Aberfoyle. We could have chosen a flatter, busier option but the cycle route was very good, great views and good climbs. Also good descents! We would be in the Loch Lemond & the Trossachs National Park for most of the day and it was very popular today with many people out cycling and walking. It seems that when the weather is good many Scots head for the highlands with full packs ready to camp and hike. The hills of the Western Highlands were heather covered and beautiful. Aberfoyle is a great little spot and has a large Wool Centre as it's focal point, with all the usual Scottish souvenier goods, Pringle of Scotland, Harris Tweed, etc. Still looking; no buying! The interesting thing about the centre was it's individual paddocks with different sheep breeds in each and info about where the breed is found, what they are bred for and so on. Also, there were about 10 predatory birds on display. They were undercover but in the open, each sitting on their own stand with a leg roped so they could not fly away. The most interesting were the owls. There were four and one was very large, about 75 cm tall with huge feet. Another was very small, only about 10 cm tall. It was amazing that they just sat there, unbothered. They were beautiful. We had lunch at the picnic tables and a traditional bag piper (yes you heard right, our first!) performed Scottish classics. Priceless! We were deciding on the next stage of the route. We could either take cycle route 7 up into the hills or stay lower on a main road. We decided on the cycle route option but swung by the visitors centre to check it out. Luckily we did as a notice informed us that there was a diversion off cycle route 7 to the main road due to tree felling. This would have meant that we would have climbed up there only to come back down to the main route and then climb up to the cycle was again. So we took the main route to the point where the diversion ended. The climbing on the main road, Duke's Pass, was steepish and we were pleased to turn off to the Three Lochs Forest Route. This was largely unsealed but good quality and continued for about 13 km. It was a fabulous route, not much climbing at all and the second half on a narrow cycle track right along the edge of Loch Drunkie. There were many spots where we could have made a bush camp, but it was too early and not enough distance covered. Scotland is very beautiful, especially in the sunshine!
We reached Callander and continued on the cycle route upstream until we reached Loch Lubnaig. A few kilometers further on we found a good bush camp in a field of bluebells. It was high on a hill overlooking the Loch so we could swim (brrrr) and get water. We think we will have a quiet night!
We had a very comfy night's sleep on our bed of bluebells. The long grass made for a very springy mattress! That is, until we heard some sort of loud grunting noises from a distance (reminded us of the crazy "bear-duck" that erupted outside our tent in Sweden!). Then it started to rain a little off and on. We had hauled our bikes and gear up the little hill to the flat camp area and had to haul it back down, but it was worth it for the good bush camp. We set off again on a narrow cycle route to Strathyre and shortly thereafter had a couple of steep hair pin bends on the cycle route, which thankfully was tarred at this point. After the short, steep climb we followed the contour on top, gently rising as we went. This is another wonderful Scottish rail trail and it was amazing to be up so high with remarkable views of heather and even snow patched mountains around. Very dramatic scenery. Can't get over the haze in the morning light, it is beautiful. We descended into Killin and all the way, there were great picnic spots and benches to stop at. Cyclists are very well catered for up here, it is amazing that this little track specifically for cyclists is so well designed and maintained. We can't believe that you can get to these sorts of places on a bicycle. Killin is really pretty with the lovely Bridge of Dochart waterfalls, cascades and there were MANY tourists that had been spat out of tour buses lining the bridge taking photos. We went into town to pick up some food for the day. Shortly after the town we started the gentle undulations along Loch Tay. The thing we are discovering about these Loch routes is that the main road for cars and trucks is along one side with a cycling option along the other, so the route is quiet. On this road particularly, as no trucks or caravans are allowed due to the narrowness of the road. We stopped at a lovely spot along the loch for brekky and noticed that right below us was the perfect campsite! We got talking about it and then decided, let's stop here and spend the day! Beautiful view of the loch, swimming right there, water for drinking, level spot. This is the type of impulse decision that we had hoped for in a tour of this length. All along we have known that of the three months in the UK we were most looking forward to Scotland and the remoteness of it, so why not have the experiences that we dream of along the way? Across the loch there were three campsites and here we were, same views without the limitations so to speak. Stop for breakfast and stay the night!
We had such a good rest yesterday and a great sleep listening to the waters of the Loch lapping gently. No wind, a little rain. We woke early to a lovely day, cloudy but with bursts of sunshine. We had our morning tea, packed and got going. Just need to make a note here, we are coffee drinkers and cannot do without our flask of coffee on the road which we make before setting off, but for some reason from the moment we arrived in Ireland we wanted to drink tea! Now we had tea in the morning and the evening and coffee only on the road. The minute we arrived in our hotel in Belfast though, we were making cups of coffee and I bet the minute we get home we will do the same. It is a mystery... or mysterEA. I digress. The first 20 km we followed our side of the Loch and it was up and down, but so pretty. The villages here have wonderful buildings of dark grey stone with carved wooden eaves and they are very beautiful. The hillsides were full of sheep and goats and the morning air was optimistic. It might have something to do with the fact that we had no rain on the bike yesterday, of course we only rode 30 km so maybe that's the answer! We stopped to buy breakfast at Kenmore which is a tiny village with the oldest hotel in Scotland, built in 1652 or something. A lovely place. The Spar is located inside the post office. Mike had Cornish pasties (not quite the same as in Cornwall but warm) and I had fruit and yoghurt. After this we had a wonderful road all the way to Pitlochry, along a river for most of the way and quite flat. Stunning scenery of surrounding mountains.
I was interested in going to the Heather Gems factory and shop but actually couldn't remember where it was. I knew we had saved the waypoint to our GPS. Suddenly as we entered Pitlochry, there is was on my screen! So we did some shopping at Co-op (this is our favourite supermarket in the UK, and has been since the Scilly Isles) and then went to Heather Gems. It did not disappoint! You could view the manufacturing process through glass and see the various stages of production. I won't go into it here, but check it out. It is wonderful jewelry and a very clever idea. The shop was HUGE with so many styles, designs and everything from fountain pens to scarf clips. I bought a round pendant on a fine silver chain and a pair of earrings. They are beautiful. We sat in the nearby park and wondered at the number of visitors, tourists and even cyclists out and about on a Monday. Then we remembered a sign at Co-op advertising Bank Holiday hours for May. As we had already been around for May Bank holiday in Wales and then another in Ireland, we thought it was over and the sign outdated. Then we realised that this explained the numbers of people we were seeing and had been seeing all weekend; it was a public holiday today!
We continued into Cairngorms National Park, via the Pass of Killiecrankie. We stopped at the visitors centre and continued through Blair Atholl which looks like a nice town as well. Not much further on our route turned onto a quieter road and we came across a PERFECT campsite right on the river with fast flowing rapids and a beach! What a spot. We pitched the tent on the beach and had a cold swim. We are actually aclimatising to these and they are becoming quite enjoyable. Sort of.
Once again our bush camp equalled a great night's sleep and we woke to reasonably good weather. Cloudy, but the sun coming out every now and then. We were getting used to this and our days in Ireland of rain gear at the ready seemed a distant memory. We had a long climb this morning, 20 km up the Pass of Drumochter. A sign warned of snow drifts possible from Ocotber to May. Today the Scottish Highlands revealed themselves in all their glory and our expectations were exceeded. Our road was mainly between the railway line and river, which itself varied from rapids through a deep rocky gorge to sleepy meanders through the heather. The main road route was a dual carriageway for most of the Pass so it was a pleasure being on our traffic free route. It was amazing to have a path to ourselves and we will forever remember the patchwork heather and snow covered hills of the Highlands.
Just before the top of the climb I got a rear wheel puncture! By the time Mike had fixed it we were freezing cold and put on jackets and gloves. Shortly after we reached the top of the Pass and stopped for breakfast overlooking the teeny Drumochter Train Station. After this we descended through Dalwhinnie, Newtonmore and Kingussie. The path was now a quiet road and still a beautiful route. Aviemore is the main town on this route and here we stopped for a warm meal. It was cold with snow very visible on the hills. We have not been adventurous to try Haggis yet! After Aviemore the route was laid as a small gravel path through purple heather dotted with conifers. What a view! The colours here are amazing.
We had originaly planned to camp in Aviemore but wanted to get further on if we could. Mike had spotted an area on the map that promised a good bush camp and we aimed for this just after Carrbridge. The route warned of a rough track and just after it became a track we reached the steeply pitched Sluggan Bridge. This was a great spot for a camp. It was late in the day at 5:00 pm and raining slightly. We pitched the tent just over the bridge in the field and had our best swim so far on the trip. Special note: We are clearly acclimatising to the water temperature. Something else I should mention are the TICKS. We have been warned about them and have found a couple on our shoes/person. We are being specially aware of this when we camp as of course there is a lot of long grass around. We now have roughly 140 km to cyle to Ullapool and the ferry to the Outer Hebrides. It is very exciting to think it is so closeby. We will pass through Inverness tomorrow. Scotland is so far the jewel of the tour.
Last night we were fortunate to see three grey deer on the nearby hill and zoomed in on them using our new monoculars! This morning's ride began with 5km to Slocht on the promised "rough track" which meant walking in parts. Beautiful countryside however. After Slocht we left the Cairngorms National Park and we happy to have been able to spend two nights in it. A sign advised that Slocht Summit at 405m had been reached. We then had mainly downhill all the way to Inverness. Along the way we rounded a bend and came across Cava Stones which is a collection of ancient burial sites. They are circular enclosures made from stones and date to a few thousand BC. Pretty cool to see - you could walk into the chambers. When we arrived it was all quiet and empty but suddenly vans full of tourists arrived and the place was full! After this we passed the site of the Battle of Cullendon and the Cumberland Stone. It was cloudy all day but no rain as yet. We arrived in Inverness and as these larger places do, our time was swallowed up. We went to the visitor's centre, mainly to get information about the Outer Hebrides which is where we are going tomorrow. We looked around and had a good meal at a nearby pub. We had decided to give Nessie a miss and pressed on to our campsite about 30 km further on. This would mean that our ride on Thursday to the ferry port at Ullapool would be shorter. It was a very cold day, with the temperature only reaching 10 degrees and we could not face a swim in a river. We reached the campsite at Contin as the heavens opened and we were soaked in a few minutes. There was a shop at the campsite and the sign read "Last shop before Ullapool". A hot shower has never felt so good!
We were unsure of the road to Ullapool as it is not a cycle route and we thought it might be a busy transport road for trucks. We had had some experience of this last night for the last few kilometers. Happy to report that the road was magnificent! The first 10 km or so to the turn off for Gairloch was quite narrow, up and down and quite busy, but thereafter it widened out and the climb was gradual and easy. We were in full wet weather gear as there were very heavy showers and also a strong headwind for much of the day. It was very cold as it had been yesterday and looked to be fresh snow on some mountaintops. A note to those planning to cycle the route: there are ample bush camping oppurtunities after Contin. There are a few Forestry Commission picnic areas and so many other appealing options just off the road.
The ride was fabulous. As I said, a gentle climb until about 40 km or so when we started the descent to Ullapool (pronounced "u" as in "umbrella"). The views of the hills were breath taking. We stopped on the descent to chat to a couple from Edinborough who had left Stornaway that morning and were travelling in the opposite direction. It seems that the weather on the islands was bad for the week that they were there. We also passed a couple of other cycle tourists. We had some hail going into to Ullapool and were soaked by the time we arrived at the ferry terminal. The terminal building is beautiful with an upstairs lounge from which the views are fabulous. The building only opened a few weeks ago! We had lunch at the nearby Seaforth Chippy and this included Haggis (fried in batter) which we enjoyed! Also Delicious onion rings (also in batter), hamburger, chips, sausage. You get the picture.
The ferry departed at 5.30 pm. It is the Caledonian MacBrayne line and the ferry was also only a few weeks old! We had wondeful seat right in front of the observation lounge. The first part of the trip was really picturesque; the best views from a ferry we've had. We can't believe we are at this point of our trip, it feels like quite an achievement to reach these islands. We will arrive at Stornaway at 8.00 pm.
We arrived from the ferry terminal last night to Laksdale Holiday Park in quite heavy rain and it continued all night. The campsite was busy and we were happy to leave Stornaway. We had a late start as we wanted to go into town and look around, and the shops opened at 10:00am. We looked at the Harris Tweed shop and also at Rarebird which produces accesories from Harris Tweed. The Harris Tweed jackets were absolutely beautiful in wonderful colours (how about a fuschia pink with pink velvet collar, ladies?). If only we had room... Rarebird had lovely things also but nothing quite right. I really wanted to get something tweedy from the Outer Hebrides. We set off back past the campsite and were on our way. We would do three short hops on a loop around the top island of Lewis only. You can do a lot more on these islands and we saw three sets of cycle tourists on the first day. Many come over to do just the islands as a tour. We only had time for a taste. We had some rain on the day out of Stornaway, the air very fresh and the views very beautiful. Much of the place is quite boggy and peat is the only source of fuel for fire as there are no trees; just bog and rocky hills. You see a lot of peat being dug out and piled by the roadside. It is anyone's guess how long it takes for the stuff to dry out in this weather before it can be burnt. We stopped at a petrol station and bought chips, black pudding and hot soup. Delicious. The sun came out and we chatted to a local cyclist who said that they were all upset about the bad weather and the gales that had arrived last November and had yet to leave. She spoke longingly of last summer when they had a day of 34 degrees C. None of us could believe it. We popped into the Arnol Blackhouse and went into a ruined blackhouse. We only had to ride 37 km to Eilean Fraoich Caravan and Campsite which was lovely with an indoor seating area.
We had another later start on day two as we would ride 56 km to Reef Beach Caravan and Camping, near Uig. This would be our furtherest point from Stornaway. What a fabulous day! The road grew more and more remote but was always a good road and well finished. It was quiet as well. We arrived in Carloway after only 10 km and pulled right into another Rarebird shop. The man working there was the husband of the lady who runs the concern and who we had met at the Stornaway store. At Carloway they are across the road from Harris Tweed weavers (there are a few of these throughout the Outer Hebrides). It was interesting as he showed us what he was working on; making ceramic buttons from scratch, from kiln to glaze and then for use on their fabric corsages, and in this case many thousand to be shipped to Japan. The quality of craftmanship of evetything in Rarebird was superb. For me seeing Harris Tweed being made into items for use was a highlight of the trip. I bought a new kindle cover and also a beautiful orange scarf. Rarebird will ship anywhere so perhaps we'll be tempted to order more from home.
We then passed the Carloway Broche which is a ruin of some sort of defensive tower built around 400 AD. It was interesting to see the building techniques which were still clearly visible and you could go inside (by bending very low to get through the teeny door).
The Callanish Standing Stones were also a highlight and in addition to the main circle, there are two smaller ones. As always with these things no one has much idea why they were put together in the first place, but a very impressive achievement they are. There is a visitor's centre there. After this the riding got more and more breathtaking, the views that is, as we went. There weren't many options for food and we stopped at Loch Croistean for lunch. Delicious food in a homely atmosphere. The photos we took of our campsite at Reef Beach will have to tell the story. This place is an absolute gem.
We woke on our last day on the isle to rain which felt a bit grim. We were lucky that we had had such lovely weather to enjoy Reef yesterday afternoon. We had to back track for 30 km as the road to Reef Beach is out and back, and then it was only 24 km on another road back to Stornaway. We spotted a group of deer close to the road. The ever present sheep kept us in good spirits. They looked about as pleased with the weather as we were! We had rain and cold wind all the way but defrosted at the ferry terminal. It felt a bit sad to leave the Outer Hebrides but the time here was well spent.
The ferry arrived at Ullapool at 5:20 pm. Unusually, cyclists are last on and last off this ferry so we were a bit disappointed at first to miss out on the Observation Deck seats. Then something unexpected happened. We found seats at a table in the restaurant area and a band who were travelling back from a gig in Stornaway just started an impromptu rehearsal/performance. They played a mix of traditional folk music and bluesy stuff. Everyone was entranced and people started coming in to the area just to hear them, even the Captain. It was great! We got off the ferry and rode about 300m to the local campsite which was fairly water logged and a gale was kicking up. It is right on the coast and after a quick scan of the huge grassy area we spotted a little rise in the corner furtherest from the ablutions and pitched there. This was all done in record speed due to the HUGE rain storm rolling in. Many motorbike tourists had also arrived and some valiantly tried to pitch tents and then packed it in and went to find rooms nearby. The storm passed quickly and we then walked back to Seaforth's Chippy for haggis, onion rings and fish and chips. Yum. One does not get many chances to eat hot battered haggis and feel as if one deserved it! Food shopping had been a little scarce on the Isle of Lewis, especially since everything is closed on Sundays.
Let's just say we had a windy night and leave it at that. Our tent did us proud as usual. We had not had a complete rest day off the bikes since Belfast and both of us had had tight lower backs, probably just our kidneys freezing on the bike. Also, and perhaps more importantly, we had not done washing since the west coast of Ireland! The campsite had a laundry so we decided to have a rest day in Ullapool. The washing dried speedily in the wind and we had an enjoyable day watching the ferry arrived and leave and staying warm and dry.
Of course getting back on the bikes we were in all our wet weather gear and had a lot of rain, but luckily a tailwind which was such a help. The first 20 km or so from Ullapool were hilly but things soon settled down. We stopped for breakfast in the info centre/shelter at Knock Crag Nature Reserve. It was cold but interesting. The road was quiet and the views of the mountains were good, that is when we were not enjoying a "Highland Facial". This is when the rain falls as hard as needles in your face and you can barely open your eyes to see where you are going. We reached a junction and turned east; the tourist route goes along the coast but we had had enough of west coast action for a while. We rejoined cycle route 1 at Lairg. Much of the route today was on Highland single lane roads and very quiet. These roads have many passing places and are quiet and safe. The weather had improved slightly and we were hoping for a bush camp. About 10 km after Lairg we checked out a few spots in a pine forest and then came across a little hill with a hollowed out grassy part. We are calling it the Crater Campsite. It was right on the road but it was a single lane road. Mike hopped over to check it out, I expected him to disappear into a pool of bog water but he happily gave the thumbs up. It was totally sheltered and the tent was not visable from the road at all. Winner! We pitched the tent and then trotted back down the road for another very cold river bath (gulp). We had a super comfy bed and spent the afternoon reading and having a sleep!
We had a perfect night at our Crater Bush Camp. It was very still, no wind and no rain. Until of course we got up to leave. We were happy with the westerly wind which would mean a strong tailwind for us for the second half of the day, but we had showers of rain all morning and it was also very cold, barely reaching 10 degrees all day. We had our great single track road though, all day actually. We also had the last of the highland views, perhaps for the entire trip (unsure of the scenery south of Aberdeen which is where we will return to the mainland after the Orkney's and Shetland's). The road was excellent though as we travelled north to the coast, skirting Loch Loyal to reach Tongue. After this the road continued undulating, from temperate forest to high heather hills once again, through Bettyhill. We could camp at Melvich, at the 95 km mark, which would give us a 60 km day tomorrow to John O'Groats, or look for a bush camp around 80 km or so. We came across a picnic site on a swiftly flowing river so could filter water and also have a wash. Mick, another cycle tourist, pulled in to the picnic site soon after us and we had a great chat, sitting in the sun. He was from South East England and had started his trip the same time we did, cycling up the east coast. It was interesting to hear about his trip, he is going ALL the way round the perimeter and here's a link to his blog. We always admire solo cycle tourists as so often we motivate each other, or moan about a common cause. It all helps! We all appreciated sitting in the sunshine! It does seem that the weather is improving, which fits ALL the advice we have received for the last week. One can only hope! We survived the swim anyway.
Many cyclists have a dream of being End To Enders here in the UK; That's Lands End to John O'Groats (approx. 900 miles). For us, John O'Groats did not have the same significance, but it was a significant point in our journey as the spring board to the Orkney's and the Shetland's. As we rode today I remembered the girl who shouted excitedly at us after Penzance "Are you going to John O'Groats?" I replied "Yes, eventually". So we like to say we did Lands End to John O'Groats the Long Way Round: 3,578 km actually.
We woke to - No, it is not a joke - BLUE SKIES!!!! And also a teeny tailwind still. Wow! LEPT out of bed at 5:45 am and on the road super early. On our way to John O'Groats. At first the road was still quite hilly but settled down after Melvich. We were pleased to see that our bush camp had been a good choice as there was not much available with convenient water and bathing opportunities close to the road. It's always a bummer when you pass something better just a few kilometres down the road! The road was still passing through some pretty remote country. We were excited to see that there was a Lidl in Thurso and we stopped for a BIG shop. Two other cycle tourists came along, travelling super light. A father and son. They had just set out from John O'Groats this morning and planned to cycle to Lands End in 10 days, "100 miles a day" they announced. They had booked into B & B's along the way. We wished them well and silently hoped they stay warm. I almost offered them a pair of rubber gardening gloves to ease the pain. Must admit, we are more alike Mick from a philosophical perspective; it's all about what you see along the way.
We had breakfast (long wait of 40 km today) while we waited for the visitor's centre to open at 10:00 am. We wanted to check out which ferry to catch to the Orkney's; Gills Bay to St Margaret's Hope (vehicle ferry), or John O'Groats (JOG) to Burwick (pedestrian ferry). The Gills Bay option would mean we could catch one at 1:30 pm and get a little closer to the campsite on the other side. The latter option left JOG at 6:00 pm. We thought we had enough time to get to JOG and then ride the few miles back to Gills Bay for 1:30 pm. With this in mind we shot off up the hill out of Thurso. It's amazing how good weather puts an extra spring in your pedalling motion! No rain gear today and much warmer; wonderful. After 20 km or so it all seemed too much of a rush particularly when Mike said that we should ride out to the end of the headland at JOG to see the stacks. We reminded ourselves that this was a once in a lifetime situation and we did not need to rush. We started to contemplate camping at JOG and getting the ferry tomorrow at 9:00 am. What were we really gaining by getting to our overnight stop at 8:00 pm? So we slowed the pace and took the ride out to the Duncansby Head. There was a bit of a hill but hey, we are End to Enders; what's another hill? It was wonderful to see the views from up there. Stunning cliff tops views that we had not seen since the Cliffs of Moher on the Irish West Coast. The views had been pretty amazing all day actually. We were lucky with the weather; we know how much!
We turned back to JOG and were suprised and delighted with how small and uncommercialised it is compared to Lands End. The campsite and ferry terminal and village are all in one place on the seafront and the campsite is brilliant and cheap. Perfect for us. Strangely no other cycle tourists! I'd expected to see many. We booked on to the 9:00 am ferry for tomorrow to the Orkney's. As I write the rain is falling steadily on the tent. The record now stands at 1 "no-rain" day in the last 35!
It rained all night and the morning dawned cloudy. We dressed warmly for the ferry trip. The harbour was about 5 minutes from the campsite so that was convenient! It is a pedestrian ferry from JOG and the bikes needed to be unpacked to be taken down to the bottom level of the ferry, which itself was small. The crossing took about 45 minutes and was quite bouncy! We alighted at Burwick and the ride to Kirkwall was quite fun with s stong tailwind. We were happy to be cycling in a north north-westerley direction with a strong south easterley wind! The road was quiet but busied up after the arrival of the car ferry at St Margaret's Hope. The riding over the Churchill Barriers were also cool, especially the one where we were warned of strong cross winds and waves breaking over the road, which they were. These barriers were built during WW2 when the Orkney's served as important defensive sites and were later made into formal roads. So the "mainland" is actually still small islands joined together. Apart from the wind it also rained a bit, but the rain only really set in once we had pitched the tent which was convenient! We bought milk for breakfast in Burray and ate in a small sheltered bus stop. When we arrived at Pickaquoy a couple of campers who must have passed us on the road asked "How was your meal in the busstop?". One could only laugh! Kirkwall is a big town and we passed a Lidl abut 500 m from the campsite. The campsite is expensive but has great indoor facilities which we appreciated what with the rain and all. They have had very heavy rain here and a lot of the site is fairly waterlogged, but we are fine in our tent with plastic under the groundsheet which we use in wet conditions. So we use it everyday almost! The main historical attractions are along the road tomorrow that we take to Birsay, but we stopped at the Italian Chapel today, which was built and decorated by POW's in WW2.
Although it rained quite a lot yesterday afternoon, it cleared up nicely in the evening and we were able to walk into the town to have a look around. There is a very different feel about Kirkwall compared to the mainland, with many Nordic references and even Norwegian flags about. When I commented on this to a shopkeeper he agreed emphatically and he and his colleague went on to joke that had Scotland won the "Yes" vote for independance, the Orkney's would have tried to rejoin Norway! We visited St Magnus Cathedral which is beautiful and shouldn't be missed as well as the Bishop's Gate ruins. Some shops were open and the craft is also very different from mainland Scotland, we felt that we were moving north!
We expected better weather today and we were not disappointed! We had a late start (9:00 am) and decided to travel north to Birsay but along the east and north coasts. There was a gale force south/south easterly wind which we were able to take great advantage of! We will save the Neolithic sites for tomorrow when a north-wester is forecast! We are really deserving of a tailwind of note! Today's ride got us away from it all and the coastal views were beautiful. The emerald green rolling farmlands seem to fall off cliffs into the blue ocean all around. It was a mere two hour ride to Birsay and we stopped in at the village shop and had a look at the ruined Earl's Palace. The more of the stories we read of times gone by here on the Orkney's, the more interesting it all becomes! We arrived at the Birsay Hostel and Campsite which was fabulous! In fact it is one of our Top 3 of the trip. We had called ahead last night just to make sure we could get in as there are limited campsites and Kirkwall was busy. When we arrived there was one other caravan and a single tent, so booking clearly was not required. The facilities are the best we have had on the entire trip as it is mainly hostel accomodation but there was only one couple staying in the hostel. All the bells and whistles including Free washing machine and drier! Also a dry room so we can hang stuff up in there to get nice and toasty overnight. As usual people suprise us. Why would you want to sit in Kirkwall when you have a car and this is only 30 km away? We do not know the answer, but are happy that they stay put and we do not have to share? As I write I can see the Brough of Birsay outside the window, instead of a ferry terminal. It is beautiful.
We had a brilliant time at the Birsay Campsite. It is the best kept secret on the island surely; a third of the price of Pickaquoy (GBP7.40 as opposed to GBP19.90!!) and free laundry service thrown in! We chatted to the couple staying in the hostel who had booked into campsites on the island but their tent had suffered in the winds and they had had to change their accomodation options. We also chatted to a caravanner who had completed London to JOG last year with wife and dog ON FOOT in three months. Wow!
It continued windy and raining all night but dawned quite clear and the wind had shifted to north westerly as predicted, again to our advantage! We had a lazy start as our main stop of Skara Brae only opened at 9:30 am and was only 10 km down the road. Also, it was only 40-odd kilometres to Kirkwall and our ferry is scheduled for 11:45 pm so it's not like we had to rush! We benefitted from the fabulous tailwind AGAIN (yes we still deserve it) and it was a great ride with views of East Mainland. The craft trails here are very well signposted and you can pop into the craft person's home to have a look and purchase jewellery, knitwear and other craft. I don't need to be tempted and as it was Sunday much was closed. This island is a fabulous place for a holiday and the walks and views are magnificent.
We reached Skara Brae and paid the entry fee. This is a Neolithic (Stone Age - 3000 BC) village that was uncovered in 1850 when strong winds blew away a sand dune that had covered it up. There are 10 dwellings now excavated and you walk around and look down on them. There is a great exhibition and complete replica of one of the homes that you can walk into. As for the village, it is a little walk to it and you would not believe that it has been there for over 5000 years! It is right on the coast and waves lick the shores below it. Fascinating to see and wonder about the people who lived there.
Back on the bikes and another 8 km or so to the Ring of Brodgar which is a very large ring of stone slabs and then on again to the Stones of Steness which was our favourite although only 4 stones remain. We then headed back to Kirkwall, omitting Maeshowe which you need to be on a tour to get into. There were lovely views of a turquoise bay and we still had our tailwind so it didn't take long. It was a very cold day; 12 degrees maximum. The ferry terminal only opens at 9 pm so we are waiting in the bus terminal/visitors centre 'til it closes at 6 pm and will then look around town and make our way the 3 km to the ferry.
It was quite a long wait for the ferry last night as it was cold and windy. We sat outside the beautiful St Magnus Cathedral for an hour or so as it was quite sheltered and we had a sunny spot. There was a recital on in the cathedral and we watched people come and wait for the doors to open. We were tempted ourselves to attend but it was quite costly and generally we entertain ourselves for free. We went back to this cute shop called Judith Glue which sold all sorts of Shetland crafts and Mike got a Harris Tweed kindle cover too which is cool. Our kindles are better dressed than we are!
We rode the 3 km to the ferry terminal and got there at 9:00 pm. The ticket sales attendant was very professional and as soon as I said that we'd made an online booking she knew who we were and presented our tickets. The bikes would have been a give away I guess. She also informed us that the ferry would be late, arriving around midnight but we should still get to Lurwick by 7:30 am. We were happy to be in the warmth of the terminal and went upstairs to wait. The departure lounge filled up, largely due to a pack of young Shetland Island boys who were in the Orkney's for some sort of sports event. They arrived at 11:00 pm but were quickly fed Magnum icecreams which shut them up. We noticed that the sky was still quite light at 11:30 pm. Midsummer approaches! Our departure was very well managed and we were quickly summonsed to board with no waiting around. We had booked cinema seats which recline and the cinema room is closed so very quiet. There were only a couple more people there. We fell asleep quickly and woke around 6:00 am. It was weird to stumble out half asleep use the loo and see people milling around watching Lerwick arrive out the windows. We disembarked and changed into cycle gear in the terminal.
Leaving Lerwick we stopped off at the Clickimin Broch which was very well preserved minus most of the roof. You just walk in along a little path. It was quite an arresting site, at least as impressive as the more well known ancient sites we had seen considering that I'd never heard of this one! Leaving Lerwick entailed some climbing but the roads are excellent and wide. This is apparently thanks to the wealth of the oil industry. We stopped at the hospital as I needed to see a doctor for a presription and was referred to the health centre over the road. I was offered a 2 pm appointment which wouldn't work so the receptionist asked where we were headed and suggested I attend the clinic in Bixter. It was on our route but a teeny tiny place. We were then on our way and all we can say is GO TO THE SHETLAND ISLANDS. You will be amazed by the scenery; we were. We went to Scalloway and checked out the castle, the views over the islands from the hilltops were wonderful. We had good weather apart from one rain shower. We stopped at the Shetland Jewellery Shop in Weisdale and had a lovely self service coffee and chatted to a group of 6 riders who were staying in Lerwick and out for a jaunt today. We had a few more climbs and then arrived at Bixter. It had one street and a handful of buildings, one of which was the NHS Health Centre. The receptionist said the only appointment today was at 4:00 pm and it was only 1.00 pm so then she said that as the doctor was there but just not consulting, she would ask if I could be seen. I was amazed at the service which just got better. I had to fill out a form as a temporary resident and the doctor's consultation and all medication was free of charge. I am still a bit amazed about this. Such helpful friendly people and a great service. What a pleasure to be a citizen of a country with reciprocal health agreements!
After this we had only 13 km to Skeld so we decided to buy a litre of famous Mackie Scottish ice cream. We had been wanting to do this for ages but realise now that waiting for it to be hot will not help the proceedings. We laughed later on as only Scottish summers would allow one to buy icecream, ride 13 km with it on the back of the bike, then still have a shower and pitch a tent, and it is not liquid yet! The campsite was brilliant and Josephine was the community member who came to check us in (it is a community concern run by volunteers). She was so welcoming and helpful, even offering to drive us to the start of a clifftop walk so we could go puffin spotting! The facilities were fabulous, a very homely amenities building with everything you would need. It felt like someone's home.
We were not in a rush to leave Skeld as it was a lovely spot. We heard the fishing boat come in last night and off load it's haul of crab and lobsters at the little harbour alongside the campsite, and then again at 6:00 am leaving for another day. Such a different way of life. We headed out to West Skeld and Culswick first, and looped back to Brae. The west coast landscape was dark heather, peat recently cut and left to dry and a lot of birdlife, particularly water birds. The road was single track again and the narrowest we have seen, with passing bays as usual. We stopped to buy brekky at the co-op in Aith around 20 km and then continued north towards Brae. The road from Aith to Voe was very hilly with lots of climbs but the views superb and the gradients mainly good. After Brae we hit the Northmavine which is the northernmost parish of mainland Shetland, described 100 years ago as "the largest, wildest and most beautiful parish in Shetland". Nothing has changed. Some more hills and fabulous views. Wild camping oppurtunities abound. We were really out in it today; in the teeth of a fairly ferocious west-southwesterley wind, meaning strong crosswinds you have to watch out for speed wobbles on glorious downhills. It was a great day's riding and true to form, west is always wild! On the last climb to Eshaness the famous cliffs began to reveal themselves. The campsite at Eshaness was quite windswept and we decided to pitch our tent away from the tearoom and campervans. The views out of our tent are of rolling hills on one side and the cliffs and ocean on the other. We amuse ourselves watching the lambs and sheep use a nearby rock as a scratching post. At first they were wary of the tent but now that they are used to it they don't see us inside and behave naturally. We had a delicious meal at the tearoom and I bought a Shetland wool handknitted beanie dyed in oranges and yellows using natural bracken dyes. We will remain here tomorrow and take a short ride out to the cliffs and lighthouse. It is wonderful being in this place.
We woke to notice that we had lost our lovely view of the cliffs into the cloud and mist, and it was raining off and on. We read about a bird here called the "Rain Goose" which is very rare in the UK but more common on Shetland. It makes an eerie "whoo whoo whooooo" sound when rain is coming. We heard it for the first time today and it is really accurate! Two bus loads of tourists arrived at the coffee shop campsite promptly at 10:00 am for tea and two people even waved and called to us from outside the cafe as if we were part of an exhibit. Maybe they were just super friendly! We took a ride to the Eshaness Lighthouse about 5 km away straight into the westerley wind. It was very beautiful there with the surrounding cliffs, and it only drizzled a bit. We had dressed very warmly so that we could go on walks around the cliff edges looking for puffins. Sumburgh Head, south of Lerwick is the place to see them and you are practically guaranteed a sighting, but we had not planned to go there. We hoped to spot one somewhere on the Eshaness Cliffs but it was not to be. THe whole area around the lighthouse was so perfect for a bush camp that we were tempted to go and pack up and move here. It was a pity in a way that we had not continued to here yesterday but actually we were so pleased to reach the campsite what with the headwind, and also the hot shower was good! We spent about 3 hours walking along the cliffs and then rode back. It was a very worthwhile trip even though the views were not as good as they could be. We saw two grey seals amidst the crashing waves and one checked us out on the clifftop! We spent the afteroon in the tent reading and listening to the predictions of the "whoo whoo whooooooo" bird. We were also entertained by the lambs at play.
We woke to better weather than yesterday. It was still very windy and cold; a west south-westerly. We were happy about the west but not so much the south, still the hillier part was a repeat of Tuesday's route from Voe and in this section the wind helped us a bit. The route was very direct after Voe, in a southerly direction. Ouch! We had no rain on the bike and I spent my time either willing the kilometers away (bad bad wind) or trying to take it all in as this was our last day on any of the islands. Tomorrow, we would alight our ferry in Aberdeen and that is proper mainland again. We breakfasted in Brae, stopping at the Co-op and eating outside the Leisure Centre at a bench. After this we were frozen and the headwind did not help. At times we had a cross wind which was quite dangerous as it blew us all over the road. The second last uphill was bad as there were also big trucks passing which create their own wind. About 6 km from Lerwick we turned east (yay) for a last climb plus tailwind, and then a brilliant steep descent into the ferry terminal. We changed and locked the bikes. We could only pick up our tickets at 5:00 pm so we walked into town to eat. Found a great little place with homecooked meals; lentil soup, cauliflower with cheese sauce and macaroni cheese. This is cycling fuel! We then went to the Shetland Museum which is really worth a visit. Very interesting displays and well done. Our ferry awaits!
We boarded the Northlink ferry Hrossey at 5:30 pm which was great as it was only due to depart at 7.00 pm. We had booked a 2-berth outer cabin as this trip was 12 hours. The ferry had two decks and the cabins are all on deck 5. The cabin was cute and roomier than we had expected. We thought back to the sleeper train we had caught to Penzance with those TEENY cabins and had a giggle. The cabin had a decent sized shower/toilet and also tea/coffee making facilities. We had a shower and admired our final views of the Shatlands out our window. It was wondeful being out of the wind and the elements. It seems as if we have been listening to the wind forever. For the first hour or so we had sight of land still as the ferry moved south and then that ended and we felt the swell for the first time. It was quite strange falling asleep to it, your head dipping down every now and then to the rhythm of the waves!
We had a decent night's sleep and rolled off the ferry in Aberdeen at 7:00 am. Back to the mainland! Another cyclist came off the ferry with us. We had seen him arrive in Lerwick on his bike but hadn't spoken to him yet. He was from Perth (not our Perth, but Scotland's Perth which was only 100 miles away) and had almost finished an 8 day solo charity event where he cycled the outer perimeter of Scotland from Perth to the Isle of Skye and on to the Outer Hebrides, then the same route as us through Ullapool and along the north coast through the Orkney's and Shetland's. What an effort, sometimes riding 12 hour days. We waited in the ferry terminal until 9:00 am as nothing was open. We could have gone back on board after removing our bikes until 9:00 am but there was not much point. The most amazing thing was that the sun was out in Aberdeen! It even felt warm! I overheard the lady at the tourism office comment that yesterday's temperature of 18 degrees was a hot day for Scotland! Wow, things are looking up!
We went to pick up a new E-Werk for my bike that we had ordered online. It was delivered to an Amazon locker nearby (amazingly convenient) and then ate breakfast. We then took a chance and arrived at our hotel at 10:00 am explaining how we had arrived on the ferry that morning and they were happy to check us in! We had decided to book a night at the Premier Inn again (like in Belfast) as they offered such a cheap rate for this night which was pretty comparible to the closest campsite! We were so happy we did. We have found that for us it is important to have these breaks when moving from one part of the trip to the next. It allows you to get organised and focused on the next part. Our room had a bath in it again we had a very comfy sleep!
Yesterday was a no rain day which was quite an event. We looked at our route and decided to keep to the plan of a shorter day today and enjoy the hotel room! So we left at 10:00 am. Yes, it was raining by then. We got 2 km down the road and I noticed that my back tyre felt quite spongy. I had a puncture! Mike fixed it in the nearby park. Would it have made life easier if this had been discovered at any of the following: (a) when alighting from the ferry, (b) any time on our rest day yesterday, or (c) prior to packing the bikes in the undercover hotel parking area? The answer is YES, any of the above!!! This is Cycle Touring Rule Number 1: Punctures will usually be discovered in the rain within the first few kilometers of your day. Anyway, after this we followed the coast for a bit (passed a GIANT foghorn/some sort of warning horn) and then through farmlands on narrow roads. It all felt very different to the Shetlands and even to the Scottish mainland we were used to. Pretty and rural. We descended into Stonehaven and then climbed up again, all with pretty views over the North Sea. We had a slight northerly wind today and when we had the choice stayed on the main road and avoided the rambling nature of the cycle route. It was a great ride but it is clear that our days of spectacular scenery in the north are over. We were not sure if we would stop at St Cyrus or get as far as Montrose, but in the end the slight changes we made to the route brought us to Montrose 10 km less than planned. Bush camps were not an option today. The campsite at Montrose was not quite our thing, very big and sprawling and slightly dodgy looking (maybe the circus has come to town...). We pitched our tent between some trees and my comment was "We'll have to lock everything up here!". The shower was good though as it had been very cold all day and we were still cold.
We had planned the shortest route possible to Glenrothes; 106 km including a side trip to St Andrews (The Home of Golf). This would then give us a third, shorter day into Edinburgh on Monday. We set off at 7:15 am and although it was overcast we did not think rain gear was needed today. We avoided the coast route with it's inevitable ups and downs for the first 20 km but still had wonderful views of the North Sea as we travelled south. We stopped for breakfast in Arbroath with it's lovely esplanade which must be packed in summer. We sat at some benches next to a paddle pool, but I wasn't tempted to have a dip! It drizzled a bit as we ate, but that was the only time we got vaguely wet all day which was wonderful. We stayed along the coastal cycleway, eventually hitting an old rail trail all the way to Dundee which was amazing. One golf course after another out here! At Dundee we crossed the bridge over the Tay River which was fun as we had to go up in a lift to get to it!
On the other side, we continued along the coast as it was so pretty and took us through a pine forest area, Tentmuir Forest. This was the Fife Coastal Trail and very lovely. It was not much further on to St Andrews. You could see the spectator stands from a way away. Mike remembered that the British Open was to be played this week. The cycle route passes between the road and the Links Course and you can see people playing through the gaps. It was interesting to see such a famous place from this perspective. The town itself was very pretty with it's old, ruined cathedral and the Northpoint with it's sign in the window "Wills met Kate here (for coffee)" or something to that effect. We stopped to eat our picnic lunch in the Botanical Gardens and the sun was out: hip hip hooray!
Some climbing as we left St Andrews and continued through very pretty farmland, blue skies with some clouds. We had started the day with a slight tailwind which had shifted but that was okay. We made some further changes to the route as we went (one to avoid a crazy and unnecessary down and up) but it just seemed to get longer! We had another detour in Glenrothes to buy some food for dinner and couldn't believe it as our 106 km day morphed to a 132 km monster! We pulled into our campsite at 4:30 pm. I had rung the day before to double check that they took tents and the manager was at first a bit hesitant, but when I explained that we were cycle tourists he sounded more relaxed and said "Ah sure, we have a wee bit of grass at the back that you can pitch on, see ya when ya get here!". Sounded perfect! When we arrived they were so helpful. The site was mainly permanents and he explained that they had abandoned the grass because of the wet weather. The patch of grass was "wee" but it was all ours including a picnic table. The kitchen and ablutions were spotless and homely. All this for GBP10! We saw him the next morning and he was concerned that we had had a good night's sleep. The sun stayed out all afternoon and it was warm and wonderful. Could summer be here?
A lovely, peaceful night's sleep but unfortunately Mike caught a cold yesterday and was not feeling the best. As we had a shorter day we decided that we did not need to rush, so I was suprised when I checked my watch and saw that we were making such good time getting ready and it was only 7:00 am and we were packed and ready to go. Then I noticed that the time on my GPS was an hour later, 8:00 am. Some strange timezone/daylight savings thing? Surely not? No, just my watch finally breaking. It had been threatening to and had stopped twice on the trip. Added to this, my cycle computor broke two days ago and my E-Werk had just been replaced. Why can everything not just work? So we set off towards the coast and the Fife Coastal Path was really lovely today, taking us through temperate forests on a VERY narrow little track and passed lovely views of the coast. Again huge tidal variations here, with miles of sand and mudflats. We stopped for a coffee at a pretty spot and admired the view. You could see Edinburgh all the way on the other side of the Firth of Forth. The sky was filled with fluffy white and grey clouds but this was the warmest day we have had for months.
We were tired after the distance covered yesterday and there were some steep climbs today, notably the climb up to the bridge over the Forth and then the climb up to our campsite. We would not go through Edinburgh today as we have a rest day tomorrow and getting caught up in the town would add more time to the day. As it was, the route was slow going, mainly due to the narrow coastal route paths, but very pretty. We hit the coastal route again after the bridge and it was quite twisty along the river so no speed here! We stopped at a supermarket to buy some last minute supplies with 13 km to go. It was actually an award winning bakery and I bought the famous Steak Bridie and Mince and Onion Bridie pies that we had read about. Mike and I ate outside on a bench. We then hit the John Muir cycleway which took us onto a river route passing some allotments, again very slow and when it started doing some crazy things we abondoned it and took to the road which climbed up and up and up, but was direct to our campsite. Mortonhall is situated in beautiful grounds and there were even two hairy cows! (We had thought we would see alot of these Hebridean Cattle on the Outer Hebrides but did not in fact). It is expensive here, and they charge for EVERYTHING e.g. kitchen facilities at GBP1 for 15 min. This just makes me mad when you think that we have had access to at least a free kettle in the tiniest and most remote of campsites in the Shetlands! Also, there was the inevitable man on a sit on mower mowing the lawns which are sprawling and immaculate. The lawn closest to the road was empty and mowed but we were directed to the central lawn where there were other tents already. Lawnmower man then proceeded onto our lawn and for two hours we had the raging lawnmower going when an afternoon nap would have been good! Eventually I went to the reception to ask what could be done and was told "Nothing, but we apologise. There is a lawn mowing procedure and the lawns must be mowed at the start of the week." to which I replied, "That's fine, but then surely we could have pitched on the mown lawn". Alas, not part of the procedure. Back to the tent I went and when the mower passed within a meter from our heads Mike jumped out and had a few words. Lawnmower man said that he had only one more strip to do. This was true. We spent the rest of the afternoon people watching from our tent.
We bought a day tripper ticket each and caught the bus right outside the campsite into town. The buses in Edinburgh are mainly all double decker and of course we always sat on the top deck as a novelty. We had good weather on the day and went to a few stores, notably Nordic Outdoors as on the cold days (so everyday) we had fantasised about all the new Aclima gear we could buy. Of course, although we tried on a few things and drooled over others, we were optimistic that it was going to be warm anyday soon, so no purchases. Can't wait for the day on which my, by now, reasonable faded and tired-looking woollen hoodie makes it into the bottom part of a pannier and we say things like "Remember those two months in Ireland and Scotland when we were FREEZING? Can you believe it?" as we jump happily off the end of a jetty into a Norwegian fiord. One can only dream. We also went to a store called Biketrax as they stock the range of Brompton folding bikes and it is another dream of mine to get one. It was great to test drive the models and see the colours you can choose from. Of course, we also went to Edinburgh Castle which suprised us being such a fortress. It was interesting as they were installing the stands for the Tattoo which is not something you think about when you watch it on tv. We strolled the Royal Mile and checked out some more Harris Tweed and also woollen gloves (again saying "Well, I don't feel that we'll need them anymore"). We watched a piper in "full fig" including feathery black hat. We also took the bus to the Botanic Gardens which I must say were really beautiful and well worth going to see. We had a picnic lunch there.
We chatted with our Dutch neighbour at the campsite, he was on a motorbike and had come to the UK for the Isle of Mann motorcycling festival and had travelled through Scotland. We also chatted to our other neighbour, a German lady who had been on the rode on her bike for 6 weeks, also through England, Wales and now Scotland, and had also been cold. She was in a one person tent and we were again impressed by the efforts of the solo cycle tourist. She was off to Glasgow tomorrow. It began to get very windy as night arrived and there were eventually great gusts of wind against the tent so Mike put up the guy ropes. We hoped it would all quieten down tomorrow.
We had had a windy night and it was still very windy when we woke up. I remembered those guys we met in the Shetlands on their bikes out for the day who said they lived south of Edinburgh and there is no wind there! What were they thinking about? We both struggled to get going this morning, we really just wanted to sleep and do nothing. We knew there was a campsite about 50 km away, so worst case scenario is just to get there, which is better than going nowhere! We left a little later, at 8:00 am, wishing German lady all the best (she was travelling west to Glasgow into the teeth of this ferocious westerley). It was a great spot to camp as it was very easy to get away from the city and we were immediately in farmland again. We knew we had two climbs to about 400m and then a bit higher but they were a good, quiet, narrow roads and had gentle gradients. The headwind was harrowing at times though. We had some rain, but not much. Over the climb the landscape was once again heather covered and very scenic as we travelled up a narrow steep river valley. We were lucky to see an owl take flight and land in the field nearby. It was biscuit coloured and immediately disappeared into the grass it landed in, clever camouflage. We decended into Inverleich and cycled through it's lovely golf course. The route continued along the River Tweed, still narrow and on a quiet road through forest. Very pretty. At Galasheils we joined a rail trail for a few kilometers and then arrived at Melrose. This is a pretty town and we arrived as the sun came out which makes everything better! We parked the bikes at a bench on the main street and Killin Butchers caught our eye (4th generation butchers). The window was filled with the most delicious looking pies we have ever seen! Mike had the Bridie again and some sort of sausage roll and I had Scottish Stovie; wow - delicious and filling!
We weren't sure whether to camp at our planned end point or to continue to a site at Jedburg. We were conscious of not doing too much mileage each day as we actually had too much time available to get to Hull from where we have booked a train to London. Our planned distance was 94 km. The wind was really pumping now and the road was a bit up and down. Things became fun when the route went off road and we had to push our bikes up a steep wooden bridge alongside a ford in the stream. Mike said "Bush camp?" and I said "Yes please". The river was perfect for a swim and to filter water and we took a walk up the dirt road and found a great campsite under some trees. We were happy as we had not had a bushcamp since the night before John O'Groats and this was our last night in Scotland with it's fabulous Right of Access Rules.
Wow, what a great night's sleep in our lovely bushcamp! We were on the road just before 8:00 am and it seemed a nice day, westerly wind still in our favour and not too cold. It does seem that the weather is improving, but it sure is taking it's time doing so, considering that it is midsummer in a few days time. We did put Solly out today which was an event, but he did not achieve very much (Solly is our Goal Zero Solar panel and battery). The route headed eastwards, still along the Four Abbeys cycle route which was pretty and we had breakfast at Kelso which was a nice town with what we presume was one of the four abbeys on view. We realised shortly after that we could potentially change a 90 km day into a 60 km day by cutting off a wide bend in the route and as it was not particularly interesting and the thought of doing laundry was, we did so. We still got to our planned end point but in 30 km less distance. We were now back in England, Northumberland to be exact. Goodbye to beautiful Scotland and it's wild camping opportunities! We shopped again in Wooler town where we camped at a larger campsite.