The isles of Jura, Mull and Iona, Scotland.

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Road North of Jura, Scotland.

Road North of Jura, Scotland.

There is a scene in the film Crockodile Dundee that sums up the difference between town and country etiquette. Dundee is in New York, and is out walking the streets for the first time. He is saying ” Hello ” to everyone. There is a mass of people, but he is trying to maintain his country greeting code. ” Must be the friendliest place in the world “, he concludes.

Paps of Jura, Scotland.

Paps of Jura, Scotland.

There is a point when you bike out of a town when you must begin to wave at everyone and shout a cheerie ” Good morning ” to all you pass. Knowing where this begins, this line in the sand is hard to define, but you know it when you see it. Once you are in the zone it feels normal to greet everyone, but you can stop doing it if you return to a town or built up area.

Road between Feolin and Craighouse, Jura, Scotland.

Road between Feolin and Craighouse, Jura, Scotland.

We have been biking on single track roads quite a bit recently, and I must say I love the feeling of community and sharing. You have to cooperate, and there is a mutual agreement to wave at the conclusion of the contact. I would build more of these, and possibly dig up existing roads and turn them into single track roads with passing places, just to get a bit more social interaction in society. I think it is worth giving it a try, and there is money to be saved.

Old telephone box, Jura, Scotland.

Old telephone box, Jura, Scotland.

Whisky barrels, Jura, Scotland.

Whisky barrels, Jura, Scotland.

A cold night made worse by being so damp you could wring out a pint of water from a pair of socks left out for an hour. We wake to the sound of the most foul mouthed farmer trying, and failing to load sheep into the back of a trailer. If there is a place where people swear more than anywhere in the world, you could make a strong case for it being Scotland. People use a swear word in place of a comma, or just part of the syntax of conversation. You have to get used to it, you are never going to change things.

Low tide Craighouse, Jura, Scotland.

Low tide Craighouse, Jura, Scotland.

We ride down to the ferry terminal and take the short hop across the sound from Islay to Jura. These are fast flowing and dangerous waters, and the boat sets of at a right angle into the flow. In a few short minutes we are on the island of Jura, landing just under the iconic mountains, the Paps of Jura ( I would guess that Pap means conical or breast in Gaelic even without looking it up ).

Yellow boat, Jura, Scotland.

Yellow boat, Jura, Scotland.

The main and only road along the length of the island is designated as an ‘ A-Road ‘ even though it has grass growing up the middle for a good deal of its length and is often not wide enough for a car and bike to pass without one of them stopping or backing up. It takes you over 3 lumpy bits, that on a bad day would make you turn back to the ferry, before you  enter the shelter of woodland. It feels like a summers day and a glance down at my meter confirms it –  67’f. I can not hold back a whoop of joy. The weather in Scotland lets you down so often, this is a gift. The grief and anguish involved in planning a barbecue here can not be overstated.

The Paps, Isle of Jura, Scotland.

The Paps, Isle of Jura, Scotland.

Craighouse, home of the Jura distillery. Today there is not a breath of wind to move on the fumes of the whiskey. It hangs in the village clinging and filling your nostrils. If the very thought of Whiskey makes you wretch, today, this is not a good place. I love it. The sea is mirrored and horizon lost between sea and sky just a short distance off shore. Esther orders Haggis for lunch at the cafe.

View towards Lagg, Jura, Scotland

View towards Lagg, Jura, Scotland

Cottages, Jura, Scotland.

Cottages, Jura, Scotland.

Perfect day, Jura, Scotland

Perfect day, Jura, Scotland

The road is over 25 miles in length and shows every variation in road quality imaginable. It goes from recently re-surfaced, to shockingly bad and almost wheel crunchingly unridable in parts. How bad must the recently repaired bits have been, and why did they not do the other dreadful bits whilst they were here. How did they make the choice? Toss a coin or some form of divination? Where is the logic? We ride until we have had enough and call it a day when we find a flat bit of grass next to a stream.

Wild camping, Jura, Scotland.

Wild camping, Jura, Scotland.

Time to make some tea. A camping spot is not ready until the first tea is drunk. The pot is lowered into the fast moving waters and comes out full with water a two teabag per cup shade of brown from the peaty stream. It makes good tea, unusual and perhaps even harmful longterm, but good for now.

Peaty River, Jura, Scotland.

Lossa River, Jura, Scotland.

Once I move away from the tent and put some distance between my ears and the stream, the silence is total. No wind, no movement, no sound. So totally silent that it is disorienting. I feel giddy. The night is cold. A damp cold that no amount of technical goose feathers can keep out. The tent, the whole area is so wet in the morning it may as well have rained all night. We leave the tent, throw our heavy bags inside and head for George Orwell’s Cottage.

Natural woodland, Jura, Scotland

Natural woodland, Jura, Scotland

GPS view.

GPS view.

We cross Lossa River, dark as oil, reflecting the sky and trees an Obsidian black. The track goes from black-top to loose gravel and then to dirt and house brick infill mixed with fist sized stones. It is often beyond our bike handling skills. With 2 miles to go, we decide that it is not a good place to break a collar bone. The bikes are stashed at the side of the track and we start to walk. 20 years ago the art duo of Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty came this way. They were driving a car into which they had recently piled £1 million in used notes. They took the car close to Orwell’s cottage and burned it partly as a statement but mostly for the sake of art.

Distances.

Distances.

"Orwell's Cottage" , Jura, Scotland

“Orwell’s Cottage” , Barnhill Jura, Scotland

The walk is wonderful in the water-colour wash of the landscape in mist.  ” The walk to Barnhill is one of the most profound, beautiful and moving journeys anyone can take on this earth ” – Will Self, just about pitches it right. Orwell stayed here as he wrote 1984, enduring the remote self reliance that such a spot throws at you. He came close to drowning in his boat, sucked into the Corryvreckan Whirlpool just up the coast.

The house where G. Orwell wrote "1984", Jura, Scotland

The house where G. Orwell wrote “1984”, Jura, Scotland

The walk back to the bikes is as uneventful as it is beautiful, right up until the point where my foot comes down 4″ from the UK’s only poisonous snake. It is a big one and could have chosen to bite, but turned to slither across the track. Adders occur on Jura in more number than anywhere else in the UK. I caught it’s movement in my peripheral vision. Next was a sort of arm flapping that javelin throwers use to stop them stepping over the line and fouling a throw. It would have been a very bad place to have a medical emergency and we both know we have been lucky. Within the next mile we see another Adder, but now we are scanning the track as we walk.

The ferry between Jura and Tayvallich, Scotland.

The ferry between Jura and Tayvallich, Scotland.

Bikes secured to the back of the boat.

Bikes secured to the back of the boat.

Back to the bikes and down with the tent. A final tea and we are ready to pedal back to Craighouse for a camping pitch in front of the hotel. This is a great spot to contemplate the world and perhaps your own very small place in it. A few years after burning the money Drummond had a moment to reflect on the event. The ashes of the fire were fired into the clay of a house brick and on reflection he thought the whole thing had not been the best idea he had ever had. Boats hang in a void at anchor on a perfectly cast reflection. We catch the fast ferry service from the bay to the mainland after a rest day, and the adventure continues. I catch a last full lung of Malty Aroma.

Gannet.

Gannet.

Lighthouse between Jura and Loch Sween, Scotland

Lighthouse between Jura and Loch Sween, Scotland

Tayvallich Bay, Scotland.

Tayvallich Bay, Scotland.

Tayvallich Bay is one of the most beautiful and peaceful places on gods clean earth. We pitch the tent at the campground and provide a meal for the local Midges. Before we left Jura I had a sneak look at the 10 day weather forecast – amazing, not a single rain spot icon.

Memorial to fallen Soldiers, on B8025, Scotland.

Memorial to fallen Soldiers, on B8025, Scotland.

On we go, making our way North along the coast, towards the local hub point that is the town of Oban. Dew hangs in pearls from grass hung spiders webs although it is after 11 o’clock and the sun has been up for hours. The Crinnan Canal, built to save ships the bother of rounding the coast, is to our left. We pass over it on the B8025, and head towards Kilmartin Glen.

Crossing the Crinnan Canal, Scotland.

Crossing the Crinnan Canal, Scotland.

Standing Stones, Kilmartin Glen, Scotland

Standing Stones, Kilmartin Glen, Scotland

Kilmartin would be chapter 1, paragraph 1 if I was writing a book on undiscovered Scotland. It has rock carvings and standing stones and enough history to fill the whole book. We take a walk around two of the most prominent stone circles – Nether Largie and Temple Wood. All around here there are outcrops of rock in the hills into which 4,000 years ago our ancestors carved intricate patterns. Spirals and hollows that may have been filled with offerings and cut marks that would have let sparks fly as their stone chisels hit. Many have panoramic views and sight lines to the sea. It is a place to visit and spend time exploring.

Grave stones, Kilmartin, Scotland.

Grave stones, Kilmartin, Scotland.

Ancient Burial mount, Kilmarting Glen, Scotland.

Temple Wood buriel mount, Kilmartin Glen, Scotland.

We head on up the coast along the banks of Loch Melfort. The road is quiet enough for us not to need to take the cycling alternative along Loch Awe.  There are people gathering Clams among the seaweed and great expansive views ahead to the mountains of Mull. We pass the turning to the island of Easdale, a destination for another journey – it holds the World Stone skimming contest every year.

Prepared Tup  (male sheep)

Prepared Tup (male sheep)

Route A816 towards Oban, Scotland.

Route A816 towards Oban, Scotland.

We enter Oban late in the afternoon. It feels more Mediterranean than West Coast today. Pale Scots walk along the prom displaying the most dreadful of sunburn and bad tattoos. The streets are busy and election fever is at a high. Cars pass in convoy, blue YES flags flying. There is music of pipes and high spirits.  We get to our hotel and spend the evening in what animal behaviorist call ‘ mutual grooming ‘. I have collected more than 20 ticks on arms, back and unreachable areas. I am a mass of wounds by the end of the operation.

Up through the mountain bits, I, Isle of Mull, Scotland.

Up through the mountain bits, I, Isle of Mull, Scotland.

Up through the mountain bits, II, Isle of Mull, Scotland.

Up through the mountain bits, II, Isle of Mull, Scotland.

The 9.50 am ferry to Mull. It has a small huddle of fellow cyclists keen to head for the outer islands. It is a short crossing, giving just enough time for Porridge and a plate of toast and beans. We turn left out of the ferry terminal and head along the coast clockwise. A bird of prey. A flash of white confirms it is a Sea Eagle before it is lost behind trees. Oyster Catchers run the fringe of the Sea Lochs as we pass. Some take to the air with their rattling cry of alarm.

Lochs, Isle of Mull, Scotland.

Lochs, Isle of Mull, Scotland.

Route A849, Isle of Mull, Scotland.

Route A849, Isle of Mull, Scotland.

Ben More mountain, Isle of Mull, Scotland.

Ben More mountain, Isle of Mull, Scotland.

This is the largest island we have been on, room enough for mountains where we have biked through hills. These are big, easily touching the low cloud. The feeling is more dark, somber even. Winter is not far away now.

Distance marker, Isle of Mull, Scotland.

Distance marker, Isle of Mull, Scotland.

Ship wreck, Isle of Mull, Scotland.

Ship wreck, Isle of Mull, Scotland.

To our right as we approach the ferry port for Iona, we can see the small island of Staffa. It’s basalt columns give it a unique landscape. A small harbour goes into the columns and is called Fingles Cave. The sound inside the cove it amazing. Felix Mendelssohn was inspired by his visit here and included this in his Hebridean Overture. The sun is burning off the clouds now and we may have a clear view for the short crossing to Iona. It is also good to have the sun out as it brings out the colour in the water. White sand is just bellow the surface of this shallow sound, turning the sea turquoise when the light hits it right. We pass the last village – Bunessan. The vicar at the small church is passing around outside the church. He goes inside and the thinnest of voices sing out ” Halellluliah ” . Cars are only allowed on Iona by permit. We cross to the smallest and quietest island of our tour.

View across Lock Scridain, Isle of Mull, Scotland.

View across Lock Scridain, Isle of Mull, Scotland.

Petrol station, Isle of Mull, Scotland.

Petrol station, Isle of Mull, Scotland.

Slow.

Slow.

Sheep in trailer.

Sheep in trailer.

The ferry pushes up onto the concrete ramp in Martyres Bay, we are less than 10 passengers on this late afternoon crossing. Iona is a special place, a place to retreat to a place to recharge, a spiritual home. We have chosen to make this the furthest we will go in Scotland. We came here together on our first trip together many years ago. We will turn across the country and head for home now. This is the end point and we have time to explore.

Campsite on Iona, Scotland.

Campsite on Iona at dusk, Scotland.

Rocks, Isle of Iona, Scotland.

Rocks, Isle of Iona, Scotland.

You can walk around the island in well under a day and take in a dozen beaches of golden sand. There are pebbles of pink granite to be picked up and green Marble to be found. There is just one campground and it is perfect, we pitch there for 3 days, our longest pitch of our whole journey. Barnacle Geese fly over our heads as we climb a small hill to look over the campground and out to sea. This is perfect, this is home and we have come full circle.

Football field. Isle of Iona, Scotland.

Football field. Isle of Iona, Scotland.

The history of Iona is complicated for such a small island. It has a pivotal place in the spread of  Christianity throughout the world. You can read a little about it and the voyage of St. Columba here. Vikings liked what they saw here and began to raid the island and eventually settled and mingled with the local population. The Abbey of Iona was built and then lay in ruin until it was taken on by the trust that now looks after it. Much of it needed to be rebuilt, a task that has taken from the late 1960’s. My friend Chris Hall, a sculptor has spent 30 years of his life working on the stone carvings here. The most obvious display of his work are the columns of the cloister. On a summer’s day you can walk in the Machair and hear the sound of Corncrake. Almost extinct a few years ago it is making a return. It needs a late cut of the grass for hay and low inputs. It is a fussy sod when it comes to what it likes.

St. Martin's Cross, Iona Abbey, Isle of Iona, Scotland.

St. Martin’s Cross, Iona Abbey, Isle of Iona, Scotland.

The bells of the Abbey ring out as a service is being held. You can almost see a dozen islands from any lump of rock more than a mans height. The sea is the way to travel here, for religion, for trade to go to war. – ” As we moved away, we had a curious meeting with a boat from Iona, crewed by Hebridians, leading with a rope in the water three small black Scottish horses which were swimming around the boat, not with the anxious agitation that accompanies fear – but with the calm of very skillful swimmers:  C.L.F. Panckcouke 1831.

Capital designs by Chris Hall, Iona Abbey, Isle of Iona, Scotland.

Capital designs by Chris Hall, Iona Abbey, Isle of Iona, Scotland.

Iona Abbey, Iona, Scotland.

Iona Abbey, Iona, Scotland.

 

 

 

 

The islands of Arran and Islay, Scotland.

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Shore at Kildonan, II, Isle of Arran, Scotland.

Shore at Kildonan, II, Isle of Arran, Scotland.

As we rode around Arran we there was a feeling, much like Salmon returning up river to spawn, we were going in the wrong direction. We were battling a very strong headwind and the 100 bikes coming the other way were not. They were, on the whole on top-end road bikes from the exotic carbon end of the bike hierarchy. Many were ‘ middle aged men in lycra ‘, most looked happy enough.

Bridge at Irvine, Scotland.

Bridge at Irvine, Scotland.

When they had bought their bikes many had apparently taken a vow of silence. Our cheery ” Hello ” to our fellow cyclists were not being answered. This is strange, and yes, there were half of them responding as they shot past us. None were needing to turn the pedals with much labour. But there were those that did not. Did they look at us as inferior, or just plain stupid for going clockwise around Arran today.

Blue Bench.

Blue Bench.

Ferry to Isle of Arran, Scotland.

Ferry to Isle of Arran, Scotland.

Saturday morning and we head out of Irvine. Within minutes we are lost, and this time we have fallen foul of some scallywag turning the sign. Luckily I have looked up the route just a few minutes ago and this does not feel right. We regain Cycle Route 73 in what is now the right direction. Luckily the ferry is delayed as the connecting train is late and I do not have to continue thinking the murderous thoughts about the youth of Irvine.

Isle of Arran with view of Goatfell, Scotland.

Isle of Arran with view of Goatfell, Scotland.

The peaks of Isle of Arran, Scotland.

The peaks of Isle of Arran, Scotland.

It is a 1 hour crossing and the weather is perfect. Brodick is even from afar is looking beautiful. Clouds hang over Goatfell and we walk down the ramp into a stiff breeze. It is a layer of clothing cooler than the mainland as the wind is coming directly from the North. A bite to eat, and then we are on our way around the island in the wrong, clockwise direction.

View of Holy Island, Isle of Arran, Scotland.

View of Holy Island, Isle of Arran, Scotland.

Road above Kildonan, Isle of Arran, Scotland.

Road around Whiting Bay, Isle of Arran, Scotland.

Above Kildonan.

Above Kildonan.

Arran is lush. Most years you can point at it and say ” Temperate Maritime ” and you would be spot on. There is a climb forcing a stripping of clothing and the warmth is full of the earthy aroma of bracken. It grows tight into the road, a warm smell, and for me a smell of summer dens and school holidays. Holy Island is to our left just the other side of Whiting Bay. There is a Buddist retreat on the island, and you can see why.

Shore at Kildonan, I, Isle of Arran, Scotland.

Shore at Kildonan, I, Isle of Arran, Scotland.

Our first night on the island is at the campground at Kildonan overlooking the beach. We sit watching clouds gather and throw strong shafts of light across the water. We are on the third cup of tea before we even bother to change out of cycling clothing. The island of Pladda is just off-shore and beyond the Ailsa Craig looking impossibly angular. All of the Curling Stones in the world come from here, which is a nice fact.

A sunny day, Isle of Arran, Scotland.

A sunny day, Isle of Arran, Scotland.

Roadside Brambles.

Roadside Brambles.

A cold night, our coldest since we got into the UK. In the morning the air is still and as sharp as a knife. The lighthouse on Pladda that was a light grey smudge yesterday is now Gannet White, and feels close enough to touch. The coast of Ayr stands out in sharp contrast. The tide is in and there on the rocks is an Otter and its youngster. The Kit is being tought how to fish and they look impossibly happy. We climb out of the bay and as we round the southern tip of Arran the full force of a cold wind hits us full on.

Southern Road, Isle of Arran, Scotland.

Southern Road, Isle of Arran, Scotland.

Blue Sky to the Kityre peninsula.

Blue Sky to the Kityre peninsula.

Warren and cottage, Isle of Arran, Scotland.

Warren and cottage, Isle of Arran, Scotland.

The road rises and falls. On the exposed parts of the road it is cold enough to have on your winter clothing. When you climb, often protected by high walls and hedges it is warm enough to comfortably ride naked. It is an impossible compromise to strike. We get to Blackwaterfoot just in time for coffee and cake.

South Westhern Road, Isle of Arran, Scotland.

South Westhern Road, Isle of Arran, Scotland.

Ancient Burial ground, Isle of Arran, Scotland.

Ancient Burial ground, Isle of Arran, Scotland.

Rowan Tree, Isle of Arran, Scotland.

Rowan Tree, Isle of Arran, Scotland.

These are familiar roads for us, we have biked here many times. The last time was 4 years ago and riding our light road bikes. Things feel unfamiliar. It feels so much further today with the heft of touring bikes to propel up short sharp climbs. Travelling a little slower today has advantages. To our right, a single standing stone that we have not noticed before.

Standing Stone, Isle of Arran, Scotland.

Standing Stone, Isle of Arran, Scotland.

North Western Road, Isle of Arran, Scotland.

North Western Road, Isle of Arran, Scotland.

Our camp, near Catacol Bay, Isle of Arran, Scotland.

Our camp, near Catacol Bay, Isle of Arran, Scotland.

Dry stone wall and shadows, Isle of Arran, Scotland.

Dry stone wall and shadows, Isle of Arran, Scotland.

Catacol Bay, Isle of Arran, Scotland.

Catacol Bay, Isle of Arran, Scotland.

A wild camp at the side of a fast moving stream. Here in Scotland you have the right to walk just about most places and pitch a tent if the fancy takes you. Catacol Bay is just in front of us and we take a sunset walk along the beech. This brings to the end a near perfect day of cycle touring. The only downside is the song “Maria” from Westside Story which has been in my head all day. It is harmless as ear-worms go, but annoying none the same.

Warren.

Warren.

The night is even colder than the previouse one. There are cows, no this is deeper and with more passion. The Red Deer are begining to call the start of the rutting season and the poor sods will be doing this night and day for weeks. Some will not make it into winter, worn out by the effort. Morning, and the still air is alive with Midges. Horrid flying Pyrana that drive you close to madness. We make breakfast and throw our stuff into the bags. The ferry is coming in and we have a race to meet it at Lochranza.

View of Arran from Kintyre Peninsular.

View of Arran from Kintyre Peninsular.

Sea front road, Kintyre Peninsular, Scotland.

Sea front road, Kintyre Peninsular, Scotland.

Skipness castle, Scotland

Skipness castle, Scotland

Isle of Arran from Skipness, Scotland.

Isle of Arran from Skipness, Scotland.

The ferry across to Cloanaig on the Kintyre peninsula is full of cyclists and the sea flat calm. Last time we were on here we thought we were going to die it was so rough. We have time before the next ferry to go exploring. Skipness Castle is at the end of the road to the right. There are wonderful views back along the straight. Arran is wearing a hat of clouds. This is perfect touring, and the great thing is that this is where we live. We could get in our car and be here in two hours or so.

Mile marker, Scotland

Mile marker, Scotland

Warren and Isle of Aran in the background, Scotland.

Warren and Isle of Aran in the background, Scotland.

The road climbs steeply out of the bay. One disadvantage in being almost local is that we know the nasty things that are ahead. It is a stiff pull out away from the bay. The views are worth the effort. A right turn, and it is just a mile or so to the ferry terminal and our ride to the island of Islay.

Ferry.

Ferry.

Isle of Islay, view from the ferry, Scotland

Isle of Islay, view from the ferry, Scotland

As ever, there is quite a thrill in pushing a laden touring bike onto a ferry. It feels such a perfect fit, a combination of transport that opens up the remote islands of Scotland’s West Coast. To look at a CalMac timetable with a map on your knees is to enter a dream world of possible travel plans. It costs just £12 for the two of us and our bikes for the 2 hour crossing. You could hardly find a better trip in a boat any where in the world that would match that.

Habour with Jura in the background. Isle of Islay, Scotland

Habour with Jura in the background. Isle of Islay, Scotland

Uphill from Port Askaig, Isle of Islay, Scotland

Uphill from Port Askaig, Isle of Islay, Scotland

The landing at Port Askaig comes at the end of half an hour of riding up the narrow sound between Islay and Jura. The poor touring cyclist now has a horrid climb out of the port. We have a camp for the night at our friends in the first village – last but 3 houses on the right in Keils.

Traditional house, Isle of Islay, Scotland.

Traditional house Keils, Isle of Islay, Scotland.

Washing and burial ground, Keills, Isle of Islay, Scotland

Washing and burial ground, Keills, Isle of Islay, Scotland

Bowmore Bay Islay.

Bowmore Bay Islay.

The next day is without panniers. A ride around our favorite bits of Islay with the joy of half the weight under us. To have a run of good weather that last more than two or three days is to consider yourself blessed in these parts. It is too close to Atlantic storms that can roll in at a moments notice and spoil your day or even your week or month. We are being lucky, too lucky, but we do deserve it.

Bowmore Highsreet, Islay.

Bowmore Highsreet, Islay.

The gates of Bruichladdich distilary.

The gates of Bruichladdich distilary.

We go to Bowmore and then it is around the island to the distillary of Bruichladdich. The island is looking wonderful and riding around there is a feeling of being at home. It feels good, very good. There is time to look around, to smell the sea air, to feel the earth. We turn left down the road to Finlaggan, the ancient seat of the Lords of the Isles or Fionn Laggan as they say in Gaelic. In the morning we cross to Jura and ride to Orwell’s house. You must come and do something similar.

1838.

1838.

Finlaggan, Islay.

Finlaggan, Islay.

Back in Scotland, and heading to the islands – 32,000 miles done.

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The rolling hills of Northern Dumfrieshire, Scotland.

The rolling hills of Northern Dumfriesshire, Scotland.

We have crossed the border and are back in Scotland, heading west under a grey sky to the island of Arran. Has Britain changed whilst we have had our backs turned? Well 1 in 5 people here now have a tatoo, or so we are told. Marijuana may as well be legalised, as the sweet perfume can be noticed in even the most sleepy of villages and is almost endemic in the towns we have pedaled slowly through.

Richmond Castle and River Tees, England.

Richmond Castle and River Tees, England.

Market place, Richmond, England.

Market place, Richmond, England.

Scotland is going to the poles. Independence would mean losing the blue bits in the Union Flag, which would be a shame. There are certainly lots of YES posters in windows, but it is going to be a whole lot easier to put one of those up than a NO. We plan to be in a remote corner of an unimaginably remote west coast island on polling day. We will give it a day or two for the dust to settle. It all gets rolled into one thing – Nationalism and politics.

25%.

25%.

It is a perfect Sunday to go cycling in Yorkshire. Which is excellent, as that is just what we had planned. When the Tour came through here earlier this year it was a day for the climbers. Those little men from exotic parts of the globe who hate to see their names on the team sheet for the Spring classics in places with a fondness for mayonnaise and cow bells.

Out, up and over. Richmond, England.

Out, up and over. Richmond, England.

Single Tree.

Single Tree.

We are walking a lot of Yorkshire. It really could do with another ice-age or at the very least ironing. We catch the first views of the high moorland that is ahead, but that is a task for later in the day. Here is bad enough, with the road to Richmond cutting across the grain of the land. Up and over one fold after another it makes a hard start to the day. It is one short, hard out of the saddle grunt after another.

View from the Byway.

View from the Byway.

Richmond is quaint, that is undeniable. Trying to get a photo of it without including a bin, large sign advertising a bank or a security camera is impossible. Including a pub sign feels like the most genuine of things to include. We climb a 18% grade to get into the town, only to find that a 25% would have been an option if we had bothered to plan a bit. We exit the town to find more hills and are cheered on by an elderly lady descending on a road bike – ” Well done ” she shouts. There is a common bond in suffering on a bicycle and we are holding the trump card with our four panniers.

Little lane, into County Durham, England.

Little lane, into County Durham, England.

National dish, fish and chips.

National dish, fish and chips.

Castle in Barnard Castle, England.

Castle in Barnard Castle, England.

We enter County Durham, the land of the Prince Bishops according to the sign. It could do with a Wiki entry as I am clueless as to what that means. Time for lunch now and the easiest option is Fish & Chips. We enter Bernard’s Castle in search of the Nations favorite through narrow lanes of limestone built dry stone walls and solid looking buildings.

Approaching Mickleton, England.

Approaching Mickleton, England.

Local in a Morgan.

Local in a Morgan.

Cotherstone, we are climbing up to the high moorland now, with a welcome tailwind. We get as far as Eggelston after just 35 miles, but there is over 3,000 ft on the altimeter and our legs have had enough. Beyond this point our map turns a nasty brown shade and our road ahead features a horrid series of chevrons. There is no doubt trouble ahead. We negotiate a pitch behind the Woodcock Inn. A flick through the altimeter readings for today show that we maxed at 22%, it felt like more.

All Welcome.

All Welcome.

Single Tree.

Single Tree.

Wild camping.

Wild camping.

The first half of the night is all pin pricks of bright stars and passing satellites. The sheep in the next field stay alert the whole night, often quite vocal about things. It clouds over with something half way between a low cloud and rain. By morning there are enough patches of blue to be hopeful ( my mother would always confirm this by – ” if there is enough patches of blue to make a sailors jacket it will be fine “). I am not used to packing our new tent and this is the first time we are doing this with it wet. I make a terrible job of it. If you are next in line for a parachute that I have packed, make some excuses and return later.

...one of the climbes...

…first of the climbs…

Climbing the Pennines, England.

Climbing the Pennines, England.

The climb begins through sheep fields and silage crops. Soon enough we have gained hight and are up amongst the purple kingdom of the Grouse Stalker. It is all un-natural, stage managed and costed to a budget but it is undeniably gorgeous. Up fly the Grouse as we pass shouting GET BACK GET BACK. The climb up onto the tops of the moors of Teesdale begins with a drop which is followed by a twisting return to the height that you were just at. This is all character building and could only be improved by a sleety horizontal rain. Today, we have just the climbs, which are going to get worse further ahead.

Purple with blooming heather, North Pennines, England.

Purple with blooming heather, North Pennines, England.

Weardale, England.

Weardale, England.

The long down to Stanhope, England.

The long down to Stanhope, England.

Sheep.

Swaledale.

North Pennines, England.

North Pennines, England.

To the sides of the road and occasionally on it, the local sheep, the grey snouted Swaledale have all the character of a hard winter. 1636 ft and we enter Weardale and still ahead is the big climb of the day. The drop into Stanhope has a sign indicating 10%, which I would say is about 100% wrong. It is a testing time for nerves on the narrow road as we slalom down into the village. In the first 14 miles we have climbed over 2,000 ft and we are trying to remember if we had ever equalled this in the last 3 1/2 years on the road.

Hexam Abbey, Hexam, England.

Hexham Abbey, Hexham, England.

Hexam Abbey, Hexam, England.

Hexham Abbey, Hexham, England.

The B6278 towards Edmundbyers. I am still thrilled with the place names of England, so good you just want to say them out loud just for the thrill of them on your tongue, much like a strong mint. Storm clouds hang low in the sky and Esther catches a glimpse of a Red Kite. We descend towards Derwent Water, now just 3 days from home if we continued North. The A68 is quiet enough today to get a few easy miles done. We are averaging 1,000 ft of climb every 10 miles since we got back on the bikes. A pub lunch and we are surrounded by photos and signed stuff from Alan Shearer, the last gentleman footballer.

St Oswald's church, England.

St Oswald’s church, England.

Corebridge, one of the main garrison towns during the time of the Roman Wall. We move on to Hexham Abbey, amazed at the depth of history in this border area. A campground for the night, which of course is a steep climb above the town. It is a beautiful climb and the campground is one of the best, so it pays to put some effort in. We keep the door open and watch the stars, our tent pitched just a few yards from the line of the Roman Wall. The biggest structure in all the Empire, the most emphatic line in the sand. Civilisations frontier.

Left over from Hadrian's Wall, Northumberland, England.

Remains of Hadrian’s Wall, Northumberland, England.

We ride up next to the wall. This is Hadrian’s Wall and we are remembering two years ago biking through Spain and visiting his birthplace, the origins of another emperor. He was being beaten back here and the Wall of which this is the third, the strongest, most southerly and more permanent was a way of making a huge statement. He turned a defeated into a statement in stone. It is over 70 miles long and was over 11 ft tall in places, and some suggest that it may have been painted white all the way along.

B6318, near Haltwhistle, England.

B6318, near Haltwhistle, England.

B6318, Along Hadrian's Wall, England.

B6318, Along Hadrian’s Wall, England.

Much of it has been robbed in the 1,000 years since it was abandoned. Much of the walls of churches, farms, bridges and castles have Roman stone taken over the Millenia from its length. Troops from the furthest reaches of the Empire came to man its mile castles and garrisons. You have to say they thought on a grand scale.

Near Longtown, England.

Near Longtown, England.

Reivers Route sign.

Reivers Route sign.

We meet the Wall at the junction of the B6318 and follow it under a summer sky for most of the day. We are getting closer to Scotland, the border country of cattle rustling and conflict. We can see the border at the Carter Bar off in the distance and the rolling hills of the Cheviots. We start to head West, to cut across the country south of the border. This is hard cycling, we are on a Roman road that runs straight. If there is a hill ahead, we are going up it. A left turn and we pick up the Reivers Cycle Way. I stop for a moment to take the picture and can hear a Curlew. We are back home.

Church in Longtown, England.

Church in Longtown, England.

We end the day as the only campers on a site near Longtown and get charged a fortune for the privilege. Early the next morning, even before we have got any sort of rhythm, we are at the border with Scotland. This is our 39th and final country of our time on the road. It is Autumnal, last night there were skeins of migrating geese overhead. We pass into Scotland and head towards one of the strangest tourist places in the country, Gretna Green.

Welcome to Scotland.

Welcome to Scotland.

The Blacksmith's place, Gretna Green, Scotland.

The Blacksmith’s place, Gretna Green, Scotland.

People have been running away from families to get married under Scotland’s liberal laws for a very long time. This is the first stop on the main road across the border and today the road is lined with wedding photographers shops and bridal gown shops. It has a bit of a history – Scottish law allowed for “irregular marriages”, meaning that if a declaration was made before two witnesses, almost anybody had the authority to conduct the marriage ceremony. The blacksmiths in Gretna became known as “anvil priests”, culminating with Richard Rennison, who performed 5,147 ceremonies.

Caerlaverock Castle, Dumfrieshire, Scotland.

Caerlaverock Castle, Dumfrieshire, Scotland.

The Solway Firth.

The Solway Firth.

We leave behind the coach parties of Asian tourists and follow the geese to the coast. Thousands of Arctic migrant refuel in the fields around the Solway Firth and Caerlaverlock. As they return to roost on the mud flats at dusk they fill the sky, turning it dark as thousands turn in the sky. It is an amazing sight, one of the highlights of the approach of winter.

Stone circle near Dumfries, Scotland.

Stone circle near Dumfries, Scotland.

We catch a glimpse of standing stones through a gap in the hedge. We are on an unfamiliar road and this is our first glimpse of the 12 Apostles. We follow the road to Dunscore, even in what is now twilight, it is beautiful. There is just enough light to show up the folds in the land. Corvids are coming home, doing final low circles of their night-time roosts. These roosts remain unchanged for hundreds of years, and generations of Rook, Crows and Jackdaws.

B729, near Dumfries, Scotland.

B729, near Dumfries, Scotland.

Single tree.

Single tree.

...or Sorecock?

…or Sorecock?

It may be the soft light, the lack of a headwind or the fact that the big climbs are behind us. There is something magical. The B729 becomes a top 10 road in our journey, it is absolutely stunning. We wild camp in a stubble field. Soon we are visited by flocks of geese drawn to the grass and lost corn. Wonderful things and an amazing journey, but good grief they are noisy. They just can not control themselves and are easy to panic. Up they go again with loud cries and accusations. You would not want a flock of geese in the flat above you.

Local church of Penpont, Scotland.

Local church of Penpont, Scotland.

Kirkpatrick MacMillan's shed. Keir Mill, Scotland.

Kirkpatrick MacMillan’s smithy. Keir Mill, Scotland.

A strangely warm morning. It is 70’f early and yet the sun hides behind a veil of uniformly grey clouds. We are linking together narrow lanes just wide enough for a single car and a bike to pass. We pay homage to the birthplace of the modern bicycle and then it is on to Drumlanrig Castle for a view of less modest history just up the road.

Approaching Drumlanrig Castle, Dumfrieshire, Scotland.

Approaching Drumlanrig Castle, Dumfrieshire, Scotland.

Drumlanrig Castle, Scotland.

Drumlanrig Castle, Scotland.

These are steep roads once more. There is cursing and sweating in equal measure. This is just one of the Duke of Buccleuch’s houses and estates. Together his landholding exceeds that of the Queen. It all looks very impressive, and there is a steady trickle of cars rolling up and people pointing cameras at the castle. We move on, and once again it is up a series of steep hills. Sanquhar, and we sit and eat lunch as a lorry tries to go the wrong way down a tight street. This is a medieval road layout and at any moment he can wreck one of half a dozen listed buildings he is reversing near. No one can speak Czech to help him.

32.000 miles done.

32.000 miles done.

The River Nith tumbles over untidy rocks down to our right. It could not look more Scottish if it tried. Another hard day comes to an end, but there is excitement in the last few miles – we go through 32,000 miles on our journey! We wild camp at the side of a wet field, such is the glamour of bike touring.

The last robe.

The last robe.

We rise, throw our legs over the top tube of our bikes and start another day. Today is grey. No, it is beyond grey to the point of having no sharp edges, no contrast and no feeling of distance. It is also unseasonably warm again. Ayrshire passes by in a uniform pallet of subdued colours. Then it starts to rain. I am lost in thought. Then I pass a discarded dressing gown. It is new or newish and then a second and third. This is the sort of thing to get your attention in Ayrshire. We turn right towards Irvine and the dressing gowns continue. I photograph the final one – a red model and again in good condition. I am not sure we will see more unusual things as we head towards the islands. We enter Irvine. I need a haircut and nowhere beyond here will be cheaper. Sitting in the warm salon I feel worn out. We smell and are weary enough to call it a day. It starts to rain again, which seals the deal. We take a hotel.

Getting thin again.

Getting thin again.

 

 

 

 

 

From the heart of England – the Midlands to the Vale of York.

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Houses in Beeley Village, Derbyshire England.

Houses in Beeley Village, Derbyshire England.

It is often said by those who travel, that you see more, or at least pay attention to more things in the first few days in a new place. Soon, things merge together and blur as you become familiar with the new surroundings. At the moment we are looking at England with the gushing excitement of tourists.

Ready to go - leaving Tunstall.

Ready to go – leaving Tunstall.

I had forgotten that England is the largest market for open top cars in the world. Yes, England, home to postponed football matches and cricket washouts. Home to Wimbledon rain delays and Bank Holiday localised flooding alerts. It is completely irrational to buy a drop-top, but we do it anyway. You put on your down jacket and away you go. Until it rains, and then you drive fast enough that it goes over the top and hope the lights are on green.

Canal path Staffordshire.

Canal path Staffordshire.

We had been giving every possible weather forecast a great deal of attention. We could not find a single positive one for our departure day. If anything, it had started to rain earlier than any of them had predicted. It is just 10’c ( 52’f ), so you can add, it is cold to the ‘it is wet’.

The longer forecast shows this band of horrid weather to be slow moving for a weather front. It is going in exactly our direction and at exactly our speed. Facebook is full of photos of our Scottish friends displaying pale flesh to unfamiliar blue sky on sun kissed beaches. We talk a great deal about the weather here and you can see why, we can find a lot to moan about. It is not that much of it is actually going to kill you. It is the inconvenience, the mud, the grey sky that gets you down, the ruined wedding and the smell of damp dogs.

We have downloaded a route from our friends on the WWW. ‘ Google bike map, beta version ‘. What could possibly go wrong? We get a little puzzled at a suggested ‘ turn left after 0.2 miles ‘. This is taking us onto a canal towpath and no one has heard of the place Google thinks we will be going to if we follow it. 15 minutes of asking every local who passes and eventually someone recognises the place. We are on our way again.

It is the right way, which is good. But then our way along the towpath is barred by less than friendly ‘ KEEP OUT CONSTRUCTION WORK ‘. We have done less than 10 miles in the hour we have been on the road and now we are lost. We have a map, of course we have a map, but it does not start until about another 20 miles as we were not planning on getting lost quite so soon. We pass the turnoff to Rudyard Lake, after which Rudyard Kipling is named. It is a rare moment of clarity in a day of not quite ever knowing where we are.

Climbing up onto the moors.

Climbing up onto the moors.

The wonderful names of the villages of England.

The wonderful names of the villages of England.

It starts to rain, and then it really starts to rain. We improvise our way to a town called Leek. Already we are amongst Limestone built houses and farm buildings and the fired red brick of the Potteries has been left behind. Left onto the B5053 and we enter the Peak District National Park. We pass a way marker, a tribute in stone to the glory of the names of English villages. You just can not make these up. If you think coming up with a name for your pet or first born is hard, imagine having to think of a new name for a new town. To see just how hard this is you only need to look at the index in any map of the USA. There is only 30 names, it is that hard and most are the same as where the first person was born back in England. These are glorious names, poetic names with high scoring scrabble point complexity.

The maids of the dance - Morris Dancing, a tradition of England.

The maids of the dance – Morris Dancing, a tradition of England.

Bells on their legs.

Bells on their legs.

Keeping the time and calling out the tunes.

Keeping the time and calling out the tunes.

What this part of England does rather too well is leg breaking short hills of savage intensity. There is no glamour, no col, no pass and not much that could be called a breathtaking vista for your efforts. The final one of the day is through the grounds of Chatsworth House – home to the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, who may even have heard a passing touring cyclists swearing and cursing the fact that just such a short distance as 40 miles have included 3,500 ft of ascent. We have had better days.

The beautiful lanes of Staffordshire's Peak District.

The beautiful lanes of Staffordshire’s Peak District.

Ploughing time.

Ploughing time.

Sheep in the mist of high moorland.

Sheep in the mist of high moorland.

Our host for the evening is my school pal Mark and his wife Jackie. We arrive in time for the traditional food of England – Curry. It is wonderful to see my pal from childhood, the person who I now share my longest history with. He is a cyclist as well and understands when we wake to winds blowing to storm force, sending squalls of rain across a grey landscape lost in low cloud, that we will be staying another day. It does brighten later, but the damage to our moral has been done. We pass the day walking around Beeley, one of the many beautiful villages around this part of England.

Prayer Cushions - Beeley Church.

Prayer Cushions – Beeley Church.

Houses in Beeley.

Houses in Beeley.

Climbing out of Beeley.

Climbing out of Beeley.

The morning begins with a grunting murderous climb of almost 800 ft right from the door. Not a single pedal stroke is followed by anything that could be felt as a glide. It is all uphill and with the taste of breakfast at every turn. Today, there is the payback of a view for all this toil. It is glorious. It may just be rolling and agricultural, but it is spectacular none the less. Whole hillsides are wearing almost Papal Purple, as heather Grouse Moors are in full flower. It could not look more exotic. We drop down into Chesterfield, famed for it’s poorly constructed church spire. It developed a lean quite some time after it was completed. Wiki has this-

Chesterfield - the spire.

Chesterfield – the spire of Church of St Mary and all saints.

“The spire was added to the 14th century tower in about 1362.[3] It is both twisted and leaning, twisting 45 degrees and leaning 9 feet 6 inches (2.90 m) from its true centre. The leaning characteristic was initially suspected to be the result of the absence of skilled craftsmen (the Black Death had been gone only twelve years prior to the spire’s completion), insufficient cross-bracing, and the use of unseasoned timber.”

Chesterfield Canal.

Chesterfield Canal.

We are attempting to link together canal towpath and railway lines that have been ‘ rail to trailed ‘. Again we are using Google, but this time we have made loads of notes and are actually on the map ( It includes southern Scotland so not as much help in fine navigation! ). We are heading in the right direction along a minor road towards Dinnington.

Chesterfield Canal.

Chesterfield Canal.

 

House with Tour bike.

House with Tour bike.

Flatter landscape as we enter Fen country.

Flatter landscape as we enter Fen country.

The Robin Hood county of Nottinghamshire, and our third county of the trip so far. By lunch we have climbed over 1,500 ft, but the rolling hills are now easing off, we are starting to enter the flat lands of the Fen Country. If you come from Holland, you will feel right at home here. Lapwings tumble across the road ahead. Few birds show less aptitude for flight than these, but they migrate across Europe every Spring and Autumn. It is great to see them.

Fen Landscape.

Fen Landscape.

The roads we are riding on are now arrow straight and the gps shows blue lines as dykes reach across the landscape to drain these low lying fields. We pass near the village of Haxey and enter the county of Yorkshire before returning to Nottinghamshire once more. This has been a hard day of stops and starts and cinder track biking and it is starting to show. My legs are gone. We have picked up a headwind for the last couple of hours and now my sense of humour is lost and temper short.

It is 7.30 before we get to the campground and we have done just 67 miles to Barton Upon Strather. None has been easy, and we have no energy left to cook. It is cold rations and early to bed in our new tent. It is good to be back camping, to be able to look up at the star flecked sky and feel the air move and the world turn. I enjoy it all for 10 minutes tops and am gone.

Humber Bridge.

Humber Bridge.

We have a bridge to cross. In 1981 it was the worlds longest single span bridge and today still looks impressive even at a smudgy distance. If you want to see if you suffer from vertigo, a bike ride across this would be a way to find out. As we look down, millions of gallons of water ride by. It is a vast moving wall of liquid the colour of builders tea colour after the storms. We turn left and head up the opposite bank of the Humber Estuary as sun breaks from behind the clouds.

The Humber Bridge.

The Humber Bridge.

Along the coast of the Humber Estuary.

Along the coast of the Humber Estuary.

Once again, the landscape of England is putting on a good show for us. Villages, and it is the villages that make it special, are picture postcard perfect. The Parish Church of St Helen of Beaufield is jaw droppingly beautiful and it knows it.

St Helens.

St Helens.

Tower of the church and English flag.

Tower of the church and English flag.

Doorway through the garden.

Doorway through the garden.

Biking the lanes.

Biking the lanes.

Parish church.

Parish church.

Swallows are taking a rest, perching on power lines, taking in the view and possibly contemplating the thousands of miles they will have to travel in a few weeks time. We head North and possible even slower than the slowest of Swallows. Again we are in to a headwind. The afternoon passes in a blur of quaint pubs and beautiful villages. England is looking prosperous, well this bit is. We stop before getting to involved in the roads around York. That can wait for the morning.

Pocklington Canal.

Pocklington Canal.

It starts windy, but today the weather is blowing in from the side. It is hard to tell some times as there are so many left and right turns. There are signs for York and we can link quiet roads together to get to the outskirts. Soon we have to surrender to the A roads and chaos of car choked Britain. We are in York and finding it hard to find enough space to even push our bikes. It is tourism on an industrial scale.

The Minster and streets.

The Minster and streets.

Pub in York.

Pub in York.

Route of the Tour de France 2014.

Route of the Tour de France 2014.

Most come for the Minster, one of the worlds most celebrated cathedrals in the world. All of inner York is stunning, and all of it has someone standing exactly where you want to stand. We may have hit it on a bad day, but York is hard work. We head onwards, towards the backbone of England, The Pennines.

York MInster Cathedral.

York MInster Cathedral.

Route of the Tour.

Route of the Tour.

Once again I am finding our ride through England to be an education. I have never biked here, in fact I have hardly ever been this side of my small country. I am amazed at how beautiful it is and rather pleased at how flat this bit of it is. I am rather proud of my country at the moment. When I watched the Olympics I was proud, particularly after China threw so much money at their hosting. It is beautiful, small, but very beautiful and it is bringing a grin to my face.

Narrow roads and high hedges.

Narrow roads and high hedges.

Canal Lock campground.

Canal Lock campground.

We ride on through lanes, narrow enough to allow one car at a time and to be underused enough to have grass growing up the middle. We camp at the side of Lenton Locks, a canal basin built in 1767 to take the agricultural products of the fertile Vale York to the sea at the Humber. The River Ouse flows by our tent and it is joined by rain hitting the fly sheet as we have another wet night.

Edward Lands 1835 designed church.

Edward Lands 1835 designed church.

Detail 1.

Detail 1.

Detail 2.

Detail 2.

The morning is cool and damp and not the easiest to give up the warmth of the sleeping bag for. Soon enough we are out on the road and pulling off the arm warmers and base layers. We spend the day biking through just about the most stunning cycle touring landscape imaginable and often following the route of this year’s Tour de France. We stop for a tea at the impossible to make up village of – Brafferton Carthorpe, and very nice it was too. Roads meander through a landscape of centuries, through tradition, back-breaking hard work and the best and worst of wars and prosperity.

Tour Bike marker.

Tour Bike marker.

Phone box.

Phone box.

Conker Trees line the roads with leaves turning the brown of toasted teacakes and hedges higher than two men block a strong Westerly wind. We ride into the town of Bedale and like it right away. We have done a stupidly small distance, but there are hard climbs ahead. We deserve a half day off, and take a room. Time to walk around the town and drink tea. I am back home in England, riding North towards my home. It is a good feeling, a familiar feeling with little in the way of stress or uncertainty and I can even understand most of what they are saying, even here in Yorkshire. We enter the town passed a gate painted the maillot jaune of the TdF. I have returned to a country that is now brilliant at cycling and rubbish at football.

Tour de France bunting Bedale Yorkshire.

Tour de France bunting Bedale Yorkshire.

Gate detail Bedale.

Gate detail Bedale.

Bedale Church yard

Bedale Church yard

Pub interior.

Pub interior.

 

Ready to start again, Tunstall in Staffordshire England.

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Our home for the first few days.

Our home for the first few days. We have decided to cal it bijou.

I am struggling to do the maths in my head, but by 2.00 am I think I have been awake for close to 40 hours. There is a lot of addition or possibly subtraction for time zones but one thing is beyond doubt, I am so tired I could burst into tears right now. The frustration of it all is that I can not sleep despite being very very tired. I am warm, dry, comfortable enough even though my head is touching one side of the caravan and my feet the other. It feels strange sleeping in something the size of people fridges where we had been a few hours ago. There is the sound of rain hitting the roof, which is second only to waves rolling onto a beach for sending you off into the land of sweet dreams. But still I am wide awake.

Assembling Esther's bike.

Assembling Esther’s bike.

This bit goes in here.

This bit goes in here.

Morag the dog - means Great or Sun in Gaelic.

Morag the dog – means Great or Sun in Gaelic.

I am rubbish at jet lag. Our pal George Berwick has ridden over 750,000 Km on his bike during a lifetime devoted to pedalling the roads of Britain. He has a number of records for long-distance events to his name from his younger days. He is slower now, but still does the odd 24  hour race. The Merseyside 24 is one of his favourites in a sort of ‘ love hate ‘ sort of way. ” The thing takes a year off your life every time you do it! ” is the way he sums up the event. George has done it for every one of the last 40 years.

The brace of Yates' touring bikes come together.

The brace of Yates’ touring bikes come together.

Looking good despite the miles.

Looking good despite the miles.

I feel the same about flying across the Atlantic. One way is supposed to be worse than the other. I am not sure if it is West to East or the other way round, and to me they are both horrid and humiliating beyond words if you are not a billionaire and can turn left at the top of the stairs you are in for a bad time.

Jez Hastings - ' all round top bloke and mechanic at Longstaff Bikes.

Jez Hastings – ‘ all round top bloke and mechanic at Longstaff Cycles.

" Steer don't lean!!! "

” Steer don’t lean!!! “

Thanks to Tom and Kathryn ( both now upgraded from Gold to Platinum Membership of Team Sportswool ), in Baltimore we got ourselves to Dulles Airport in good time. Thanks to Sir Richard Branson – everyone’s favourite megalomaniac billionaire, the bikes were waved through with not a moment’s hesitation from the ground staff. Virgin Atlantic retain their slot as our number 1 bike carriers of choice on the trans Atlantic route if the bikes get there in one piece.

Houses in Tunstall, Staffordshire.

Houses in Tunstall, Staffordshire.

Seven hours later we are back in the UK and all our kit is here with us. Which is exactly when we realise just how heavy it all is. You can carry two bike bags at a time. One goes on the left shoulder and the other the right, and then you try to walk. You are not going to get far like this. Which is when we realise that getting between here in Heathrow and Euston train station in the rush hour with 2 bike bags is suicidal. The ticket guy confirms it ” I would sell you a tube ticket but you are going to hate me soon enough. Take a taxi “.

Along the Canals of Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire.

Along the Canals of Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire.

 

Burleigh Pottery.

Burleigh Pottery.

On the road.

On the road.

We only just manage to drag the bags to the taxi rank without bursting into tears. Into the London traffic we go in the back of a cab. London has gone cycling crazy since we left and most of them have a death wish. There are bikes everywhere and they all take risks with their lives that I would call unacceptable, and I am not their mother. It must be afternoon before they come down from the adrenalin rush of getting to the office alive.

Pottery chimney.

Pottery chimney.

The train is packed. We are using another part of Richards Empire – Virgin Trains. The nice crew people tell us we can put the bags in the bike spaces which is great. This is at the front of the train which is about half a mile away, which is not so good. The nice lad offers to help and then regrets it the moment he feels the weight of one of our parcels – ” What’s in this thing? “. I am not sure he understands when we tell him – everything you need for three and a half years on the road.

Canal towpath ride.

Canal towpath ride.

We are on the train North to our friends Tink and Jez who are living in Staffordshire. For me this is a home-coming to the county of my birth. I think I should recognise things as I get near – not a hope. Everything has changed, been pedestrianised or tarted up for the multinational chains. Jez is at the station to greet us and somehow all the bags and the three of us fit in the car.

Round the corner and keep to the left now.

Round the corner and keep to the left now.

We are back in the UK. Unfortunately our brains are still back across the Atlantic in Baltimore. Slowly, over the next three or four days, the bikes get put back together. They both look fine and eventually it stops raining long enough to take them out for a ‘ will anything fall off ‘ test. Stoke-on-Trent is for industry, what Africa is for civilisation. It all started here or very near here. It was brutal work, hard long days of graft at trades that all cut short your life for little reward beyond knowing you were the best in the world. Many of the buildings are still smoke blackened from the coal fires of the industrial revolution. Since it stopped turning here many are derelict. There was craft and skills that lead the world where now there are charity shops and cheap booze. The plan is to ride North to where I live now. We are going East a bit to cover roads we have never explored. We start on Monday, a Bank Holiday, a National day off. The weather forecast is appalling; so wish us luck.

Burleigh Pottery.

Burleigh Pottery.

Canal boats.

Canal boats.

 

Seattle and Baltimore, a big THANK YOU.

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Cloud from the gallery of art, Baltimore MD.

Cloud from the gallery of art, Baltimore MD.

When, in a few days, we return to the UK there will be ‘ artists ‘ in the pop chart that we have never heard of, and may only have been at infant school when we left. There will be celebrities of the chef variety and otherwise that we have no idea of the names of or care much about. New cars will have unfamiliar shapes and the bank notes of Scotland will be as baffling to us as any tourist.

Fake branding.

Fake branding.

Things will have changed in 3 and a half years and I can only hope that someone has cut the grass. We are older that is just simple mathematics, and there are times when the wrong light makes us look as if the journey has aged us. There are other moments when I can be convinced it has kept us young.

Phyllis - Seattle.

Phyllis – Seattle WA.

Dennis - Seattle WA.

Dennis – Seattle WA.

You left us just after we had got to Seattle and were full to the brim with emotions of a project completed. We have now crossed the USA from coast to coast twice, which makes us part of a special club of sorts. If we had to pick, and of course it would be as hard as choosing which one of the twins you would save in a house fire, it would have to be The Northern Tier. The next person you ask on this subject will probably put these the other way around just to confuse you.

From the garden.

From the garden.

Good cheer with fine friends.

Good cheer with fine friends.

We have met wonderful people, crazy people, slightly confused people and people who have just the very vaguest grasp of reality. People who just a moment before have been total strangers have stepped forward to offer us help. We could have made it without them, but my goodness it would have been far, far harder.

Chris Cameron - Seattle WA.

Chris Cameron – Seattle WA.

If you set out on a bicycle to travel the world you will make the sort of friends that you can count on. The sort of people you want by your side at a lion hunt. You will be invited into people’s homes without a moment’s hesitation. We are lucky enough to have a whole legion of theses ‘ trail angels ‘. In Seattle we had hospitality beyond our wildest dreams. If you are reading this because you met us on the road somewhere on the journey, we thank you.

My bike renovated by Rosebud - we know he put the front rack on wrong!

My bike renovated by Rosebud – we know he put the front rack on wrong!

Chris Cameron of Rosebud Bicycle Builds came around to give our bikes the bicycle equivalent of a Rock Star Spa weekend. He did the same sort of thing in year one, which is why we look so good after all these miles. We have tried to look good, smell fragrant and smile throughout the more than 31,000 miles and it is thanks to a few good mechanics and the best equipment on planet Earth that we have managed this most of the time. Most of the stuff we use we hand over hard cash for. A few things we get a deal on – Thank you Big Agnes Tents of Colorado USA and Showers Pass Waterproofs of USA. These are the best in the business.

Padding for flight.

Padding for flight.

Bagging for flight.

Bagging for flight.

If you have stumbled upon the blog while searching for some sportswool socks – welcome. If you are here for a bit of inspiration, or to find a route, get out there and tell them we sent you. There are lots of you reading this who should be working – you need a rest anyway, and will be far more productive in 20 minutes time after a bit of a distraction. If you just can’t sleep, pull up a chair and grab a Scotch. It is good to have you all.

Tom - Baltimore MA.

Tom – Baltimore MD.

Kathryn - Baltimore MA.

Kathryn – Baltimore MD.

We are now in Baltimore guests of the wonderful Tom and Kathryn, with our flight back to the UK just 2 days away. Thanks to South West Airlines everything got here and for no extra charge for oversized – a bit of charm helped, and a €150 fee got waved. If Sir Richard’s people do a good job and the bikes come off the other end with everything there and unmolested Virgin Atlantic will remain our favourite way to get across the pond.

Gallery - Baltimore MA.

Gallery – Baltimore MD.

Church with Poe's grave - Baltimore MA.

Church with Poe’s grave – Baltimore MD.

If we can meet any of you on our way from the North of the English Midlands as we ride up to Scotland, make yourselves known. If you are in Scotland, on the West coast or on many of the islands then we will be passing by your door. We will be trying to show you our home country through this blog. I hope it all works out and the sun shines and the wind drops to a breeze that keeps away the midges. This last kick of the ball should be fun. Let’s see what happens and as usual we have almost no plan.

Offerings on the grave of Edgar Allan Poe - Baltimore MA.

Offerings on the grave of Edgar Allan Poe – Baltimore MD.

Offering on the grave of Edgar Allan Poe - Baltimore WA.

Offering on the grave of Edgar Allan Poe – Baltimore MD.

 

 

 

Goal reached; Seattle

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Warren and Seattle Port, Seattle, WA.

Warren and Seattle Port, Seattle, WA.

” Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning ” – Winston Churchill. Which of course is brilliant, absolutely perfect and on a serious subject other than a bike ride, even a very long one. We are a bit closer to the end than that and have been trying not to get carried away with the ‘ miles to go figure ‘ rolling down towards zero. The last book of the guide is on the bar bag with 14 of them, in the depths of the panniers or posted off. But it could still end with failure.

Astoria, WA.

Astoria, WA.

Car hood,

Car hood,

If I had one or two words of advice to give you before you threw your leg over the top tube and set off on your first long tour, it would be – look after your teeth and your chain. Floss like every day you are going out on a first date with the girl of your dreams. If you can hear your chain, it needs some TLC with rag and lube, do it now! I have just saved you a whole load of grief, possible pain and a skip load of cash.

Scott and Tim, Astoria, WA.

Scott and Tim, of the art shop Astoria, WA.

Old piles, Astoria, WA.

Old piles, Astoria, WA.

Overcast, cool even in the way the Pacific North West should be. This morning, the flags were hanging limp from the poles and we were even considering putting on coats. It could not be more perfect. In under a mile we were in a McDonald’s for second breakfast oatmeal and a hot chocolate.

Secular Humanists sponsors.

Secular Humanists sponsors.

HWY 30 begins for us along the dock area and warehouses of what is left of Astoria’s fishing industry. Turning inland it became lumpy enough to clock up 1,500ft of climbing in the first 25 miles. That should not have come as any surprise, but did even though we were retracing roads that we had already biked in year one. It was time to cross the path of Lewis and Clark for the final few times. A final steep climb and we drop down to Westport and the ferry across Puget Sound to the State of Washington and 10% Sales Tax.

Ferry across the Columbian River.

Ferry across the Columbia River.

Entering Washington State.

Entering Washington State.

Bridge to Cathlamet, WA.

Bridge to Cathlamet, WA.

Back home in Scotland we have spent a king’s ransom re-introducing the Osprey. Here, they are as numerous as Pigeons in Trafalgar Square. They call from high with frankly unpleasant screeches and stare down at us from untidy nests. The ferry hops across to Puget Island and then a bridge takes us across to the mainland. It all feels like Scotland and home, heck it even smells like home. It is stunning, absolutely beautiful.

Back on the Lewis and Clark trail.

Back on the Lewis and Clark trail.

Along the Columbia River on Route 4.

Along the Columbia River on Route 4.

We ride along coastal roads with the Columbia River on our right. Rounding a bend we get our first view of Mt. St. Helens, it’s slopes steep and still holding onto last years snow. It looks like it is venting steam which is all rather impressive and rather thrilling. It should be just a 50 mile or so day, but the only legitimate camping option is an RV sight. We take a look. Driving through on our bikes there is not a obvious place to pitch. There are dumped trucks, trash and an air of desperation. A big hill and an extra 20 miles or camp here? 600ft is a big hill when you start from sea level, but then there are two nasty little hills beyond that catch us out.

Countryside and grass without irigation.

Countryside and grass without irigation.

A run in with a big truck and a driver that wants to run us off the road. It is the sort of monster truck that you can fall to your death from if you miss the step. It has lots of chrome and a driver with single digit IQ. His window is open to show off his arm tattoos and we have a spirited chat. The RV sight at Castle Rock is cheap cheerful and pleased to see us. Dew on the tent in the morning for the first time since either of us can remember and possibly since the East coast.

... for the weak woman.

… for the weak woman.

Mural in Toledo, WA.

Mural in Toledo, WA.

Route 505, Washington.

Route 505, Washington.

Benson 273.

Benson 273.

Apple Trees and Pickup Truck.

Apple Trees and Pickup Truck.

17% looking down.

17% looking down.

The morning ride is through Old Growth forests of pine. There are of course state parks that would have been perfect to camp in if we could have found just a bit more energy. Just as we are getting thoughts of an easy day of cycling a 17% monster hill turns up and a final busy road into Tacoma increases the possibility of getting swiped off the road by an RV even at this late stage.

Car.

CHevrolet.

With Kevin at Salmon Beach, Tacoma, WA.

With Kevin at Salmon Beach, Tacoma, WA.

Salmon Beach , Tacoma, WA.

Salmon Beach , Tacoma, WA.

Sun set at Puget Sound, Washington.

Sun set at Puget Sound, Washington.

Rosco.

Rosco.

Ring.

Ring.

We have a rendezvous with a dear old friend who lives near Tacoma and has come out to pick us and the bikes up, and drive us to his beachside home. Two days, three nights of bliss and kicking back. The arrival of Whales makes the time here perfect and we are starting to unwind. There are trips to coffee shops and reading magazines.

Seagel.

Seagel.

Kayaking.

Kayaking.

Kevin and decoy.

Kevin and decoy.

The homes here at Salmon Beach began as shacks for fishermen and have spent more than a hundred years rising through the social ranks. They are now very desirable, but still at the bottom of over 200 steps.

Laterns in Jesus Barn Farm, Vashon Island, WA.

lanterns in Jesus Barn Farm, Vashon Island, WA.

Mural.

Mural.

Fat Tire.

Fat Tire.

Ferry to West Seattle.

Ferry to West Seattle.

There are two ways to Seattle for us. The first requires us to climb hills and catch a ferry which, when it births in Seattle, has the WOW! view of the Frasier skyline as you get closer. The second option is almost flat and the ferry looks like you are arriving at a parking lot. We take the easy option. As we get closer to Seattle the number of Toyota Prius climbs, the smokers drops and those with milk and gluten intolerance rockets.

Our little cyclist.

Our little cyclist.

View from West Seattle across to Downtown Seattle, WA.

View from West Seattle across to Downtown Seattle, WA.

100 year old chair.

100 year old barbers chair.

Bike route amongst Highway nightmares, Seattle, WA.

Bike route amongst Highway nightmares, Seattle, WA.

We pick up one of the city bike paths that takes us around the coast and into downtown Seattle, via a hair cut in a 100-year-old barber’s chair. Into the city heartland through China Town and then it is just a case of avoiding car doors and madness. There is time off the bikes with our friends Dennis and Phyllis, and the delights of Seattle to be enjoyed. If there is one major downside to longterm biking, it is – you are going to get bored with your clothes, really, really bored. Now, at the ‘ Mother Ship ‘ of the outdoor shop – REI there is the option to buy new stuff and the excuse that we need to get winter stuff for the tail end of summer in Scotland.

Bike Lane on Jackson St, Seattle, WA.

Bike Lane on Jackson St, Seattle, WA.

Happy Welcome.

Happy Welcome.

Esther's Sidi shoes after more than 20.000 miles.

Esther’s Sidi shoes after more than 20.000 miles.

Yes indeed, our plans at the moment are to fly into London, get on a train and head to the Midlands of England. Bikes will be put together there if the airline has not lost them. Then we pedal North towards Scotland and home. We turn right and go home if we are not enjoying things. If we feel good and the weather is fine it is time to head to Scotland’s West coast and the remote islands. We have never had the time to tour the unpopulated parts of the country that we live in, so that would be just fantastic. So, the USA is at an end now after over 4,500 miles. We have to say a very big THANK YOU to all the kind people who have looked after us, fed us, given us a roof – you are all now honarary gold members of Team Sportswool. Over 31,000 miles into our ride and the two of us are still in love – just so you know. 24/7 and all that time together under quite a bit of stress, which is, I think, our greatest achievement.

Somewhere downtown Seattle.

Somewhere downtown Seattle.

in Vivace Cafe, Seattle, WA.

in Vivace Cafe, Seattle, WA.

Red.

Red.

Bike rack, Seattle, WA.

Bike rack, Seattle, WA.

 

 

Astoria on the Oregon coast, our paths cross.

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Touching the water.

Touching the water – Pacific Ocean.

The TransAmerica bike route is a bit over 4,000 miles in length. Not every pedal stroke of which, I must admit to you now, has been a cycle touring gem. Some of it is a chore, a moral snapping, mind numbing chore. There are whole sections that are only part of the route because they are unavoidably in the way. Blog after blog entry here has featured photos of either Esther or myself on a bike in a bleak landscape, with the road disappearing to a dusty horizon. There have been whole weeks that taxed my creativity to make the shots look different. If you were bored by them, you can only begin to know the tedium of having to ride a heavy touring bike through these barren landscapes. Then there is the unmentionable heat.

Camping in the back yard. Eugene, OR.

Camping in the back yard. Eugene, OR.

I am not the first person to complain. The cowboy drovers of old saw off boredom by fighting, betting on just about everything, more fighting and betting. In desperation, if nothing else could be found, reading and reciting to each other the labels of dried goods. There are whole states that I have made a solemn and binding pledge never to ride a bike in again.

Quilt. Coburg, OR.

Quilt. Coburg, OR.

 

Quilt Day, Coburg, Oregon.

Quilt Day, Coburg, Oregon.

We have made it across the United States of America for the second time, and not many people can make that claim. When we started I put the chance of getting across at not much better than 20%. You remember me telling you just how painful injections of Cortisone in your foot are. Well, we set off with me wincing every time I put pressure on the pedal. If I had a job to go to that had involved standing up, I would have been off sick and watching ‘ daytime TV ‘ from a comfortable chair. There is never anything guaranteed about such an endeavour. There are bike chasing dogs of Kentucky to avoid. Pot holes that can swallow your bike, and lapses in concentration that can find you in a ditch and involved with the American Medical System. Then there are the RV drivers to avoid, which is more down to them than you and a whole load of good fortune. ” Never pedal faster than your guardian Angel “, which is a wise German saying.

Road End flag. OR.

Road End flag. OR.

 

Straw Henge. Oregon.

Straw Henge. Oregon.

We set out from Eugene on the final bits of our journey towards the Pacific. Bits of our equipment had chosen the last few hundred miles into town to wear out. The bike industry has in our absence decided that the 9 speed drive that we are using is now RETRO, and available only in the bottom of dusty draws or on Ebay. We are both on new chains and I have a new rear deraileur. There was a choice of one. Which explains why I am using one that operates in the reverse direction. After more than 30,000 miles of changing gears by pressing the lever in one direction, it is time to pull instead of push. I hate the very concept of Sudoku, and I think I dislike this more. We are not getting on.

Barn.

Barn.

We set out on Quilt day. It was a sad day, not because of anything quilt related but because we were rather fond of Eugene and its bike friendly beer centric culture. ” We could live here “, which we had not been saying about too many places. Back out to join the river bike path and then out into farmland that was already deep into harvest time and turning the rich soil for a new crop. Which is when it struck me that there can not be a place on earth beyond the place where they are made, in which it is possible to be overtaken by more Subaru. Every second car in Oregon is a Subaru.

Little Trees.

Little Trees.

 

Road side flowers. Oregon.

Road side flowers. Oregon.

A couple of days ago, before our wet traverse of the McKenzie Pass ( it was one of the wettest days in recorded history we have since discovered ), the corn was not yet ripe. Here, summer is having one last kick of the ball and geese are seen in the morning sky on their way south for winter. We ride on, and have a comfortable day with the highlight being a ‘ Bald Eagle ‘ spotted by Esther – good for her. We did not find our grove today and stop short of where we had intended. The only place that may allow camping is a state park. A couple of miles off route to be greeted by a NO CAMPING sign. We negotiate a ‘ pitch out of the way and be gone by dawn ‘ spot with the warden.

Broadleaf trees and a river under a star flecked sky. It could not be much more perfect. The calming sound of water is not universal. A dripping tap can rob you of sleep, as can a toilet overflow. Water causing pebbles to chatter or in the form of vast oceans washing onto a shingle beach and you are into the arms of St. Elijah, ( patron saint of sleep – feast day July 20th ).

Yard art.

Yard art.

Back onto HWY 99 and heading West towards Monmouth in cool morning air. HWY 22 which we pick up next, is less wonderful as we head in the direction of Buell. Horrid, heavy with traffic even on a Sunday morning. The day passes with curses and incantations towards the drivers of RV’s. Another short day that once more ends with a pitch next to a river and a second night of near perfect sleep in our little tent.

Post box, Oregon.

Mail box, Oregon.

 

Jesse, the Wandering Yeti.

Jesse, the Wandering Yeti.

Very narrow shoulder. Route 18 . Oregon.

Very narrow shoulder. Route 18 . Oregon.

... and less traffic.

… and less traffic.

We are on the road again next morning. Just because I had little more to do or think about, I decide to zoom out the gps. There it is! on the screen in all its baby blue blueness, The Pacific Ocean and the coast that will be the end of our journey across the USA. I had done the same thing yesterday and we had stopped short and camped. In Year 1 we would have raced for the sea and ended the day with no place to camp. We are a little bit wiser now. We turn away from the main highway and take the scenic route to the coast.

THE Woodpile,

THE Woodpile,

 

Sun and Shade and a bit of  a climb. Old Scenic Hwy 101, Oregon.

Sun and Shade and a bit of a climb. Old Scenic Hwy 101, Oregon.

Temperate Rainforest on Old Scenic Hwy 101, Oregon.

Temperate Rainforest on Old Scenic Hwy 101, Oregon.

...with Warren.

…with Warren.

 Horsetail Fern.

Horsetail Fern.

The first thing that I recognise is a wood pile. We have crossed our path from 3 years ago. It is quite a moment and a bit disappointing that it is marked by a wood pile. There are tall trees, damp shaded pools of darkness, and the smell of earth that is wet to the touch. We are on familiar ground.

Almost there.

Almost there.

The Sea!

The Sea!

We come to the coast and a possible viewpoint. The fog of the Atlantic NW coast robs us of our moment of triumph. The view of the sea is held in mist so close we can hear it. Onwards to Pacific City and familiar things. I ask the cook who is taking a break from the grill, and standing outside the diner ” How Many days till Christmas? “. There can be few places in July where this is not a stupid question, and this is one of them. We ate here before on a cold morning with rain forecast. Outside there was a row of cat bowls with hungry guests – cat, cat, cat, racoon, cat, racoon, cat. They are all gone now and I am sure the health inspector had something to do with that.

149 days to Christmas. Pacific City, OR.

149 days to Christmas. Pacific City, OR.

Beach along the Oregon Coastal Hwy. Oregon.

Beach along the Oregon Coastal Hwy. Oregon.

Looking across to Sandpoint Recreation Area.

Looking across to Sandpoint Recreation Area.

Highway 101 and the Oregon Coast Bike Route.

Highway 101 and the Oregon Coast Bike Route.

Rather more emotionally than expected, there is a place to touch the water, just around the bay. That is it then, we have crossed the USA and now it is official. We continue along the coast, one moment in sun so strong you need to lather up with factor 30. Around a bend and the next miles are biked in winter gear and freezing temperatures of thick fog. We camp at Cape Lookout, one of Oregon’s lovely state parks along the coast. It is full, but arriving by bike gives you the privilege of ‘ Hiker-Biker ‘ and a cheap pitch for the night guaranteed. There is no ‘ looking-out ‘ to be done as the fog drops onto the sandy beach early in the afternoon. You will need to indulge me a few art photos of the landscape.

Fog on Cap Lookout, IV. Oregon.

Fog on Cap Lookout, IV. Oregon.

 

Fog on Cap Lookout, III. Oregon.

Fog on Cap Lookout, III. Oregon.

Fog on Cap Lookout, II. Oregon.

Fog on Cap Lookout, II. Oregon.

We sleep the sleep of the traveller on our happy campground pitch. The normal visitor just a hundred feet away packed together as tight as farrowing sows.  It is just 56’f in the blanket of fog and moss hangs from the old trees that stand around our tent. Whilst the air is still cool, the morning is bright and clear. The beach is covered with people gathering clams. Our route takes us along the coast, by sheltered harbours and mud flats. We go inland, but then turn to take the coastal route. The traffic this morning is mad and we turn inland again and make up the route towards Tillamook.

Netarts Bay, Oregon.

Netarts Bay, Oregon.

 

Netarts Bays, Oregon.

Netarts Bays, Oregon.

Half Pint, Oregon.

Half Pint, Oregon.

We pass through the town of Garibaldi. Few towns are named after Italian revolutionaries in the USA. In Britain he is more known for a biscuit named after him – which after the fig and the humble digestive is one of my favorite. Into, and out beyond Tillamook, the road shoulder is varies from poor to downright unridable and often vanishes for long stretches. I am not happy one little bit. The wind has been gathering strength all day, and is now blowing a gale right in our faces. The Chinook Winds win and we pack in after just 41 miles, exhausted. Another night of Hiker-Biker joy for us.

Warren on Warren St, Tillamook, OR.

Warren on Warren St, Tillamook, OR.

Fresh Seefood, Garibaldi. Oregon.

Fresh Seefood, Garibaldi. Oregon.

Cow theme.

Cow theme diner.

Last climb for the day.

Last climb for the day.

Breakfast.

Breakfast.

The Oregon coast, near Manzanita.

The Oregon coast, near Manzanita.

Peter and his cat in the bag.

Peter and his cat in the bag.

A big climb to over 500 ft and of course it is straight out of the tent and on complaining legs. We are on our way to Astoria with the sea on our left. Everyone else wants to go that way today, logging truck, big rig and a fleet of RV’s. It is not nice at all. Lewis and Clark made the coast here and must have been thrilled to see the end of the Columbia River and the Pacific. We are every bit as enthusiastic as them to get to Astoria, believe me. The wind is howling in our ears ( we know we are doing this coast in the wrong direction! ) and we cross over the main little bridge towards town. The high road bridge goes overhead and out over the Columbia as you enter the town along the river. With the State of Washington on the bank to our left we pedal into this town for the second time. You would imagine we can not fail to get to SEATTLE now and then it is onwards to touring of northern England and Scotland. But there is strong beer to be drunk in Astoria’s craft brewery district first.

on  the Lewis and Clark Road, Oregon.

on the Lewis and Clark Road, Oregon.

Old barn, Oregon.

Old barn, Oregon.

Esther and an old barn.

Esther and an old barn.

 

 

 

Eugene, Oregon and we are almost there.

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Hub Motel, Redmond, Oregon.

Hub Motel, Redmond, Oregon.

If you had asked my 10 year old self if I would ever stop playing with LEGO, I am sure I could not imagine the day would ever come. I wish that I could have marked the last time I took out those blocks, to know the significance at the time. At the moment, I know that we will climb up through Pine trees and take in lungs full of resin just one last hot day time on this trip. At every time that we have that sensory overload I am trying to commit that moment to deep memory. It may be the last in my life.

Church in John Day, Oregon.

Church in John Day, Oregon.

Already we have seen our last Turtle, the last Cardinal and did not know it at the time. Soon we will have biked from sea to shining sea, as I guess they may say here and soon it will be cool and maritime and back to things we know and feel comfortable with. Too much like home perhaps.

Early morning,

Early morning,

There is talk about the road ahead being open in the morning. We took a rest day in John Day to try to work out what to do. We could go north to the coast, but it takes us into high desert once more with big mountains and a trip to the coast along busy roads. GOOGLE maps did not show many options, but then we get a good old paper map. There it is, the answer is obvious. It is even surfaced. We are back in business, and it only adds about 50 miles.

Climbing in Trees!

Climbing in Trees!

No diversion is ever shorter or flatter. This begins with a big climb straight from main street. The biggest climb on the route ahead is McKenzie Pass and this climb is bigger. 1969ft of climbing later on HWY 393 and we are at the top. We take a right turn towards Paulina – 55 miles ( the sign quite clearly says 55 miles and I have no idea how it could be 7 miles out – we will curse this in a few hours time when we think we have made a terrible navigational error on a straight road! ). This is very nice biking and we pick up this quiet road as it winds its lonley way between the mountains. There are trees and flower dashed meadows and more chipmunks run across the road in front of us than you would think possible.

Road along fields.

Road along fields.

 

OUr Detour route towards Paulina, Oregon.

OUr Detour route towards Paulina, Oregon.

Gate to a ranch.

Gate to a ranch.

A gradual climb.

A gradual climb.

The first half of the ride is through trees and joy of pure joy, there are clouds. Just when the trees drop behind, the hills start and the heat builds. It is rolling high pasture, but there is still a welcoming green and the sound of running water. Paulina is a full 7 miles further than the signpost said – we curse, it feels like an eternity.

The last climb before Paulina, Oregon.

The last climb before Paulina, Oregon.

 

Davie and Po, Travellers.

Davie and Po, Travellers.

The store in Paulian, Oregon.

The store in Paulian, Oregon.

Paulina and as we lie in the tent there are raindrops on the fly. The sound is wonderful, but it is the smell of burning that we will remember. Just across the road flames had looked as if this town may need to be evacuated yesterday. At 2.30 am the rain is joined by an assault by the sprinkler system that we had overlooked.

Old valley.

Old valley.

Again we are in high desert in the morning, but today it is cool enough to be comfortable as we ride under a cloudy sky. This is bliss, and for goodness sake we deserve it. The village of Post comes up at just the right distance to justify a coffee stop. It is the geographical centre of Oregon. This diversion road may turn out to be better than the official route. We climb through an area of Juniper, a new and wonderful smell and a beautiful day to ride a bike.

Old cabin.

Old cabin.

 

Route 380 West.

Route 380 West.

Single Tree.

Single Tree.

Remnants of the fires.

Remnants of the fires.

Water.

Water.

The news.

The news.

A little over 55 miles into the day we join HWY 26, the official route. Redmond, just big enough for a few motels to compete for trade. We pick the cheapest and settle in for a well needed shower. Just before the town we got a glimpse of the Cascade Mountain chain ahead. It is covered with more snow than we have seen for a long while. That problem is for the morning and fresher legs. We have enjoyed the diversion and start thinking about all the routes we have not taken across the country. All the possible choices that would have been a different adventure, a different slice of the onion.

Paulina Hwy, Valley almost green, Oregon.

Paulina Hwy, Valley almost green, Oregon.

 

Rock formations on Paulina Hwy, Oregon.

Rock formations on Paulina Hwy, Oregon.

Ladies Night.

Ladies Night.

It is BIG CLIMB DAY and we look up the weather for the road ahead on the WWW. Cool, cold even and a 40% chance of rain later. This is perfect, and so is the warm-up ride to the town of Sisters. Up ahead hanging over the mountains there are dark clouds. These are oil black clouds, foreboding clouds, up to no good clouds that should have told us to stop where we are and ride up another day.

Start of the climb near Sisters, Oregon.

Start of the climb near Sisters, Oregon.

 

Ferns!

Ferns!

It starts to rain and it is big heavy drops of cold water. Forest is close, tight to the road on both sides. It is too hot to put on our coats to climb and any way this is quite fun. At 4% grades you feel like you are getting up the mountain almost for free. 4,000 miles of our journey across the USA come up on my metre, the end is getting near.

4000 miles done on the TransAm Route.

4000 miles done on the TransAm Route.

 

At least not overheating.

At least not overheating.

Lava flows on McKenzie Pass route, Cascades, Oregon.

Lava flows on McKenzie Pass route, Cascades, Oregon.

Mist clings to the tops of the trees and it is getting cooler as we climb. Near the summit the rain starts in earnest and the temperature drops. 53’f and down. Now there is less shelter and the wind hits and rain becomes horizontal. This is getting bad, horrid even.

Sort of a view; McKenzie Pass climb, Oregon.

Sort of a view; McKenzie Pass climb, Oregon.

 

Last few Miles to the top. Cascades, Oregon.

Last few Miles to the top. Cascades, Oregon.

McKenzie Pass and Lava flows.

McKenzie Pass and Lava flows.

There is just enough time and feeling left in my hands for a few photographs at the top before the camera has to be put away. Things are not good, and it is now 43’f. On with the coats and we try to drop height as quickly as possible. The road grit chews at my brakes and water sheets across the road. 40% chance of precipitation my arse! I have almost no brakes left.

Around 2000ft of the McKenzie Pass downhill, West side. Oregon.

Around 2000ft of the McKenzie Pass downhill, West side. Oregon.

4,000ft and I can feel my legs shaking uncontrollably as we drop through lava fields and then a green world of moss and fern. Water is everywhere, and stinging our eyes as we try to control the bikes on hairpin bends. This is not safe, not by a long way. We have to stop to put on more clothes and adjust the brakes. I can hardly hold the multi-tool in shaking hands. Esther can not find her cold weather clothing. It was last seen months ago and has migrated to the depths of her bags.

A bit of the sun.

A bit of the sun.

3,000ft and still horrid and my hands are cramping as I try to find some braking. The 180′ bends are heart stopping, steep and tight, with no margin for error. The first signs of habitation, a campground. We were going to camp, but that is not much of a option now. 2,000ft and then we turn right onto the main road. Horrid, horrid NO Vacancy sign at the only motel. There is a place 7 miles ahead and no other option. The rain has now stopped, but we are soaked to the skin.

We get a deal on a bunk room option. The sort of deal that only two horrid specimens with bloodshot eyes could be dealt. The warm shower may be the best in the known universe. Two of these sort of days ‘ back to back ‘ could end your journey and make you want to sell your bikes. The morning is like stepping out of our door back home. COOL DAMP AIR, we are back in our comfort zone.

Road 126 along the McKenzie river, Oregon.

Road 126 along the McKenzie river, Oregon.

We join the road along the McKenzie River along with every RV and timber truck in this part of Oregon. The shoulder comes and goes and the traffic consists of people in a dreadful hurry who have never once had to contemplate how to overtake a person on a bicycle. We are counting down the miles to a side road that we are going to take into Eugene and hardly notice the beauties of the valley we are passing through.

Al, the bike mechanic in Eugene.

Al, the bike mechanic in Eugene.

A series of bike paths can be threaded together to take the weary touring cyclist into the heart of Eugene. We have to find a bike shop and deal with the series of things that have sensed that we are close to the end and all failed at once. Eugene is a good place for things to fall apart, wear out and go blank. The bike goes up on the stand and we stand and watch. There are few places where we have the ‘ I could live here ‘, conversation, and Eugene may be one of those. We are guests of Mike and Paula and of course talk until late and drink too much beer. Just out of curiosity I stand on the bath scales – 204lbs. We dial that into a app and the result is that at 25BMI I am seriously overweight. I demand a second opinion and a recount.

Mike and Paula

Mike and Paula

John Day, So close but stuck in Oregon’s tinder box.

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Long shadows.

Long shadows.

During our trip up and across the USA in year one of our travels, we were blocked by snow in the Sierra mountains. Now, after what feels like an eternity of riding in stupidly hot temperatures, the inevitable has happened. We are blocked by fires. Ahead, the town of Mitchell has been evacuated, as thousands of acres of forest have been engulfed by fire. Dry lightning, and I have seen estimates of 6,000 strikes, came across Oregon five days ago. Many started fires, and it is one of these that is blocking our route.

It is one thing to find your way around a road closure in a car. You do not mind a bit of doubt about your route. On a bike, you need to know. There is not enough information to plan a detour and no advice we can find. The obvious route takes you a hundred miles out of our way. A shorter way looks possible, but it is impossible to find if it is open.

Dawn.

Dawn.

For what feels like weeks now, we have been getting on the road as early as possible to avoid the heat. Some days it got just too hot to ride and we had to quit short of where we wanted to be. Back in Cambridge, we were up at just after 5.00 am. Problem was, I had been up since just after midnight worrying about getting up at 5.00 after 2 hours of sleep the bikes are loaded and we are out into the cool dawn.

Entering Hells Canyon, Idaho.

Entering Hells Canyon, Idaho.

 

Brownlee Dam, Idaho.

Brownlee Dam, Idaho.

It is 69’f which I would love to last all day. It will not and the arm warmers will be off within 5 miles. Already I know I am having a bad day and the legs will not respond. I make the first climb, and there is a swooping descent that is fun enough. We are entering ‘ Hells Canyon ‘ and I am struggling on even the most gentle of climbs. This is not a good place to show up with anything other than your best game. Sun bleached mountains, some still holding the last of the snow, climb steeply around us. We are biking in a cleft in the landscape that holds the Snake River. It has been turned into reservoirs by high dams at several points. It is still, green with depth and not even slightly inviting.

Reflections.

Reflections.

 

Road 71 along Brownlee Dam, Idaho.

Road 71 along Brownlee Dam, Idaho.

Entering Oregon and Pacific Time Zone.

Entering Oregon and Pacific Time Zone.

The road rolls along one edge ,and then passes over the dam wall. On the other side we are in Oregon our final state before the ocean and our final time zone. We need to make a pass to go any further, but there is a campground at Oxbow Lake. We draw a line under a poor day in the saddle and pitch the tent. Sitting in the shade I start to wonder how we are going to continue if it is too hot to bike every day, this is crazy.

Oxbow-Brownlee Hwy, Oregon.

Oxbow-Brownlee Hwy, Oregon.

Along Pine Creek, Route 86, Oregon.

Along Pine Creek, Route 86, Oregon.

Some trees. Good to see.

Some trees. Good to see.

We are up early again. It never feels early enough when you need time to cook breakfast and pack. Straight onto the climb that we should have done yesterday and we are back into Hells Canyon. There are already small fires burning unseen over the horizon. A smudge of blue sits across the vanishing point of the road. Up we climb, taking the curves towards 6,000 ft for the first time in a while. I think I can hear water running. The leaves of a tree are so brittle with sun they are chattering in the wind. 6,350 ft and we reach the top of the climb and catch the breeze a little.

Ranch.

Ranch.

Looking forward to the down.

Looking forward to the down.

Entering the basin around Brownlee Reservoir, Oregon.

Entering the basin around Brownlee Reservoir, Oregon.

The descent is breathtaking and the road surface good enough to let the bike have it’s head and gather speed. There is a very distinct green area around the town of Richland where extensive irrigation allows a crop of hay for winter feed of the big black cattle raised here. This valley that we have dropped into is hotter than where we were. On the descent I can feel the air burning my legs. The tarmac is once again starting to bubble under the tyres as we ride.

Livie's Mercentile, Richland, OR.

Livie’s Mercentile, Richland, OR.

 

Cafe, Richland, OR.

Cafe, Richland, OR.

We sit on a bench under the shade and have a think about things. This is impossible to ride in, and now a strong headwind has got up. The worst of the canyon are ahead and there is no camping bail-out. It has been a short day, but that is the end of the riding. There are times when I think this blog lacks drama. We do not have mechanical issues, broken spokes by the dozen, dehydration and doctor emergencies. Few things drop off the bike and almost nothing has ever broken. We make decisions like this – we stop here and camp, stay safe.

Great communal park, Richland, OR.

Great communal park, Richland, OR.

There is a 40 mile stretch to Baker City that can wait for the cool of the morning. We ride to the municipal camp spot at the end of town and make endless cups of tea. Dozing in the shade, we are both worrying about our slow progress towards the coast. Hells Canyon tourist pitch goes like this – ‘ We named it Hells Canyon to keep people away – not you, other people ‘.

Red car in the field.

Red car in the field.

 

Canyons along Powder River, road 86, Oregon.

Canyons along Powder River, road 86, Oregon.

Powder River, road 86, Oregon.

Powder River, road 86, Oregon.

Sage bushes, along Powder River, road 86, Oregon.

Sage bushes, along Powder River, road 86, Oregon.

We pick up Powder River as it cuts along the base of the Canyon. We are as ever, on the road early to get some cooler miles in. We have 40 miles to do and none of them are easy. There are more than enough dead snakes in the road to keep you focused. By 10.30 it is hot and the wind is beginning to build. We would not have managed this yesterday and would have been in a bad and possibly dangerous place.

Another blazing head wind when going up to the pass at 3,684ft.

Another blazing head wind when going up to the pass at 3,684ft.

High desert around Baker City, Oregon.

High desert around Baker City, Oregon.

It is a hard 40 miles with a grind up a few nasty sharp hills. Baker City can not come soon enough. It is quite a shock. One of the biggest urban hits we have had for quite a while and the temptation is to stay. We compromise with a long sit in a cafe with good coffee and cakes. One bonus of all this heat and dry is that I have not been bitten by a mosquitos in a long while, but that is the only up side that I can think of.

Mad, Baker City, OR.

Mad, Baker City, OR.

We have a climb of 20 miles, and try to judge when we can leave to manage this in the slight cooling of late afternoon. It is so nice just sitting here and chatting with people. People say that there is forest and shade ahead and that the campground is in trees. This feels impossible and neither of us can quite remember when we had forest last. We are both excited at the prospect.

Wallowa -Whitman National Forrest, Oregon.

Wallowa -Whitman National Forrest, Oregon.

We set out again after 4.00 pm. I click the gps and can see the symbols for forest ahead. This is all too good and too impossible and rather easy to get wrong on a gps map. When you think of Oregon, you have an image in your mind of unbroken green of forest which we can now tell you is wrong in the east. Up ahead we can see trees. It is true.

Our camp.

Our camp.

Butternut Squash soup.

Butternut Squash soup.

The campground at Union Creek is also over 4,000 ft, and we sleep with just the bug net under sharp pin pricks of stars. A great sleep and a morning cool enough to need a hat as I get the porridge underway. There are three climbs ahead for today, every one of them is steep and goes up to over 5,000 ft. There is nothing better than a good night in a tent in a cool forest under a Spielberg sky, and we hope for many more.

Old  barn.

Old barn.

9.15 and the first of the passes done already. Ahead, that worrying blue smudge in the sky is getting darker, more defined and much more worrying. A cyclist stops to tell us that he had to take a lift in a truck and detour way,way,way,way north. We get the next climb done and start to descend. Then the trees vanish. Ahead is the town of Prairie City, so I think we could have guessed. We are back in the backed landscape that I am afraid to tell you, we now hate. In the town there is talk of 140 mile detours and the town we planned to pass through – Mitchell has been evacuated. Our road ahead is closed with no opening planned. We have a problem.

Pine Forrest,

Pine Forrest,

We book a hotel in the town of John Day to have some air-conditioned comfort to think about things. Google map is not too helpful, but a real paper old school map shows a possible short detour. Trying to get information about our options from the WWW. is impossible. We are stuck, so close to the end and can not go on. We take a day off, with promises of cooler weather rolling in and rain possible. The thought of detouring to the north into mountains is horrid. To the south is not much better unless we can take a short swerve around the fires. We sit in a cafe with air con and I write the blog. Every time we go outside we shake our heads. I have no idea how we ride in this heat, no idea at all, we live in Scotland for goodness sake.

Road 26 near Prairie City, Oregon.

Road 26 near Prairie City, Oregon.

 

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