” Did you pack these bags yourself ? ” Lessons in ultralight touring.

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An impressive tree at Thirlestane Castle.

An impressive tree at Thirlestane Castle.

I never thought I would ever say this, ‘ The Simpsons is not as funny as it used to be ‘. After being away for almost four years our world has changed now we are home. I have not watched a single program from beginning to end on the BBC, which is a sad state of affairs. To be honest, we no longer watch anything’ live ‘ if we can avoid it and I listen to BBC World Service on what I will continue to call ‘ the wireless ‘.

The marsh at Aberlady bay.

The marsh at Aberlady bay.

Landscape with Anti Tank boulder. Aberlady Bay, East Lothian.

Landscape with Anti Tank boulder. Aberlady Bay, East Lothian.

Sign for the footpath.

Sign for the footpath.

I go swimming early three mornings each week, and buy milk for porridge around the corner from here. I have to pass rows of newspapers on my way to pay at the till. I have no idea what the front pages are on about. It may as well be in code. Celebrity and the stuff of front pages is a closed book to me and the popular magazine section bewilders. They all seem to make being angry normalized and shouting the way to communicate it.

Walking at Aberlady Bay at low tide. East Lothian.

Walking at Aberlady Bay at low tide. East Lothian.

Old posts, I, Aberlady Bay, East Lothian.

Old posts, I, Aberlady Bay, East Lothian.

Old posts, II, Aberlady Bay, East Lothian.

Old posts, II, Aberlady Bay, East Lothian.

Sand Dunes, Aberlady Bay, East Lothian.

Sand Dunes, Aberlady Bay, East Lothian.

On the up side, I have now seen my first newborn lamb of the Spring. The grass of the uplands is still laid flat from the last snow drift, but lower down there are signs of warmth and lighter evenings. There have been days this last week when the sun had enough strength to encourage a walk without a hat.

The pass , Northwest Highlands, Scotland.

The pass , Northwest Highlands, Scotland.

View from the pass to Loch Maree, Northwest Highlands, Scotland.

View from the pass to Loch Maree, Northwest Highlands, Scotland.

Old tree by Loch Maree, Northwest Highlands, Scotland.

Old tree by Loch Maree, Northwest Highlands, Scotland.

View over Loch Gairloch.

View over Loch Gairloch.

Over the weekend of the last snowfall we went ‘ up north ‘. We live in the north and yet there is more than enough north left above us to make it a long drive. Scotland is big. Many people do not know this and it comes as a surprise. When you cross the border on your ‘ end to end ‘ bike ride you are only just over half way. Americans come here on their ‘ bucket list ‘ holiday of a lifetime and give themselves impossibly crippling itinerary and experience Scotland from the windows of a speeding car. As a rule of thumb, if the Romans can’t conquer it then it’s big.

Inland lochs, near Gairloch, Scotland

Inland lochs, near Gairloch, Scotland

Big Sand Beach, I, Gairloch, Scotland.

Big Sand Beach, I, Gairloch, Scotland.

Gairloch is a long way up and it is still not at the top after 5 or 6 hours of driving from here. Not a mile of the drive is without some beauty and it just keeps getting better. In the final 20 miles or so, the road comes down to single track, with passing places and if you drove at a completely safe speed we would still be there. I like the community aspect of passing places, it makes for interaction. As long as you do not come across a German that dives to the right all is good. You must never wave with too much enthusiasm, just a maximum of two fingers raised from the steering wheel in acknowledgement.

Winter sun and shadow.

Winter sun and shadow.

Stones.

Stones.

More of the equipment for the bikepacking setup has arrived. Wildcat are made in the UK and were nice enough to offer us a discount on their beautiful equipment. The bag holder for the front of the bike is expecting to be fitted to a mountain bike rather than a swanky road machine. When I played around with things yesterday it was obvious that straps will need to be shortened.

Gentle rolling hills, near Garvald, East Lothian, Scotland.

Gentle rolling hills, near Garvald, East Lothian, Scotland.

What was also evident is the care that will need to be taken with equipment choice. With touring there is always a compulsion to fill the bags. If you leave an unattended skip or dumpster out for a week, when you return it will be brim full. Nature abodes a vacuum and stuff gets filled up, that is the way of things.

First attempt of bike packing.

First attempt at packing.

Close-up of the saddle bag.

Close-up of the saddle bag.

With bikepacking there is very little space to be filled. We have a Terra Nova bivvy bag from years ago and one has just arrived from our pal Bob at Backpackinglight – a Rab Storm Bivvy bag. It looks possible to sleep with your mat inside the Storm Bivvy but only outside with the Nova bag. We have also got a microlight ground sheet from Ultralight. Very small and I hope big enough to keep us thorn proof and dry.

Moss

Moss and Lichen.

There is also an ultralight tarp from Backpackinglight which I hope will keep our top half dry if it rains. I have bought 2 very light collapsible poles and will use one of them to pitch the tarp. It is all very light and all untested by us. I have only used a bivvy once in my life, which was in snow many years ago.

Add to the mix some cooking systems that are new to us and it is rather unfamiliar equipment. We have been out along the coast looking for places to test the stuff. A coastal first bivvy will almost certainly be the way to go, before we head into the hills. To try to understand the bivvy equipment first we will probably use our touring bikes on project 1. This will give us load space to take more gear as it will be cold.

Sheep. Gairloch, Scotland.

Sheep. Gairloch, Scotland.

Cottage on the shores, Gairloch, Scotland.

Cottage on the shores, Gairloch, Scotland.

I want to do a ride or two with the bike-bags before we use them to get a feel for how they move. As soon as you are out of the saddle to climb a hill, the bike gets thrown around. I want to be sure we have the luggage held down enough to do this without upsetting the balance of the light bikes.

I have got a detailed map of East Lothian and the sage advice of our friend Jimmy Noon ( Patriarch of all things cycling ) – ” We used to camp there in the late 40’s “. It is very exciting, and very little of this equipment was around when we left just 4 years ago.

Esther

Esther

Snowdrops are now everywhere and as we ride by, every woodland copse is full of the song of birds. We are going to have what I think is called a ‘ Staycation “, though without the sleeping in your own beds bit. It is going to be fun and a bit of an adventure and we have not much of a clue about quite a lot of it. When I was at art college we came up with a phrase ” If you know what you are doing, you are just a technician “. Like many, I talked a lot of rubbish at art college, but I think you know what I mean.

Snowdrops field.

Snowdrops carpet.

Bits and bobs as Spring draws nearer.

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I think I may have coined a phrase recently. The thing is, I forgot to say it out loud, and it may now be lost to history. I was trying to think up a starting sentence or two for the talk we have just given. I was going to call it ” The Moose Conundrum “. It goes something like – If you put a whole roast Moose in front of a starving man, he would instantly lose his appetite. I was of course trying to explain our dilemma in editing down a half a million word blog into three talks. I was pleased with this, but then it went out of my head just when I needed it.

Gosford Bay, East Lothian, Scotland.

Gosford Bay, East Lothian, Scotland.

Family mausoleum, Gosford Estate, East Lothian.

Family mausoleum, Gosford Estate, East Lothian.

First snowdrops.

First snowdrops.

It may have been a dictum, you can mix those two up. I read one of those yesterday – Chamfort’s dictum states ‘ that a man must swallow a toad every morning to be sure of not meeting with anything more revolting in the day ahead ‘. Which has much of the same feeling as my favourite of all time – ‘ A pessimist is never disappointed ‘.

South Mains Samuelston, East Lothian.

South Mains Samuelston, East Lothian.

The old Penicuik railway.

The old Penicuik railway.

Riding in freezing conditions.

Riding in freezing conditions.

There is now the slight whiff, the merest hint, the tinge of green that may hint at the rising of the sap and the approach of Spring. You have to be careful here to keep your hopes in check. It is now statistically more probable that we will have a white Easter than a white Christmas.

Big tup.

Big tup.

Trees in frozen water.

Trees in frozen water.

The glove tree.

The glove tree.

On the good days we have headed down the coast on our bikes with hardly a breeze moving the long dry grass by the roadside. We ride down the coast road to North Berwick if there is ice higher up the hill. Turning, we head into a full gale and crawl back home. In both directions we pass Gosford House a good place to look for the first snowdrops. I like to think of them as a flower of Spring but they may just be a winter flower, and perhaps all the rarer for that.

First snowdrops in flower.

First snowdrops in flower.

The Witches' Stone, Spot, East Lothian, Scotland/

The Witches’ Stone, Spot, East Lothian, Scotland.

Dunbar Harbour. East Lothian.

Dunbar Harbour. East Lothian.

There have been days of wild storms that have taken neighbours roofs and bought them crashing down on our property. Snow has also kept us off the bikes, more this year than since the year we left for our adventure. Now I have come down with a thud and bruises in the past and give snow and ice a great deal of respect. Others can ride, perhaps eating a Baguette as they go and never fall. I have either no bike handling skills or a shed load of bad luck.

Yellowcraig Bay, with the island of Fidra in the distance.

Yellowcraig Bay, with the island of Fidra in the distance.

Snowdrop field

Snowdrop field

Single Tree Dalkeith Country Park.

Single Tree Dalkeith Country Park.

We have been out on roads that are snow fringed or ones where the sun catches the diamond glint of ice. I am never at ease. The bar gauge reads below freezing and I become tense. The village of Gifford is a continuous climb from home and always sits in a blanket of cold air several degrees colder than home. It is a beautiful ride and always a great welcome. It is our equivalent of the bar in ‘ Cheers ‘, everyone knows our name and often the bikes that lean against the window would buy you a good house if you cashed them in on eBay.

View from North Berwick Law.

View from North Berwick Law.

Whale bones above North Berwick.

Whale bones above North Berwick.

View from Traprain Law, East Lothian, Scotland.

View from Berwick Law, East Lothian, Scotland.

East Lothian has a number of landmarks that you can orientate on. The hills of Traprain, and closer to home Berwick Law are both lava plugs from volcanic activity thousands of years ago. Berwick Law is topped with Whale bones and Traprain with an ancient fort that yielded the Traprain horde, a stash of silver that is now in the National Museum of Scotland. We had never walked up Berwick Law, and put that right on possibly the worst day in the 20 years we have lived nearby.

Beech tree alleyway  near Gifford.

Beech tree alleyway near Gifford.

Fenton Castle, East Lothian.

Fenton Tower, East Lothian.

The next talk has now been planned and the photos sit on this computer in a file labelled TALK TWO CTC. I am saying this myself, but they look beautiful. A company has offered to sponsor our bikepacking project a little and a few bits and pieces – ultralight tarp and ground sheet have already arrived. It is going to be exciting to turn our road bikes into a touring option. The spring is on its way – am I being too optimistic?

Back road and Traprain Law. East Lothian.

Back road and Traprain Law. East Lothian.

Talk with the CTC in Edinburgh

If you are thinking of doing a big bike trip, or just planning your summer holidays, you could do far worse than to turn up to one of our talks. We like to think of them more as ‘ An evening with Esther & Warren ‘. This is the first in a series of three that we are doing for the Cycling Touring Club here in Edinburgh. If you are in the UK you should be a member for no other reason than their legal cover, which is brilliant. So join up and get yourself along. It’s a night out, and there is soup! ( click on the lovely poster for details ).

Talk 1 poster

Talk 1 poster

What happened after we arrived home.

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Warren's beloved Titanium bike.

Warren’s beloved Titanium bike.

There is a time and a place for electronic wizardry. You know of my love for our Garmin gps, and the deep joy I feel at knowing just where I am. Esther, right to the very last did not trust the thing one little bit. ” Esther my dear, my most beloved. The might of the American military do not want us to get lost. It says we are here, and that is where we are and nowhere else “. If we had arguments, they were few. But the one topic for dispute was always going to be navigation.

"our" Glenkinchie Distillery

“our” Glenkinchie Distillery

At Humbie church.

At Humbie church.

Perfect Autumn day.

Perfect Autumn day.

Esther was guardian of the maps by virtue of me not wanting to bother to put on my glasses. I was guardian of the Garmin, but second in command as far as navigation was concerned. She knew where we needed to go, and I knew where we were. Most of the time I had the Garmin turned off as it constantly reminded me of our slow progress. There must only be one navigator in a party or you will make mistakes that is the rule of exploration.  But you are going to wish that they trusted Sat Nav a bit more.

Ruined cottages.

Ruined cottages.

Marked sheep.

Marked sheep.

Cold fog rolls over the hills.

Cold fog rolls over the hills.

E-Readers such as the Kindle are a joy for the weight conscious traveler. We carried guides, English to current foreign country’s language dictionaries, and fun books to read and quote at each other during dull patches in the road. It has not once been used by me since we returned, and I have binge ordered paper books from my WWW. retailer of choice. The cost of second-hand books has fallen through the floor whilst we have been away. 1p for a hardback book for goodness sakes. I have a teetering pile of wonderful, musty smelling books with proper paper turning pages and pictures and dark winter evenings to fill. Only real books can do this.

Warren's birthday cake.

Warren’s birthday cake.

Athlestanford, home of the Saltire.

Athlestanford, home of the Saltire.

Beautiful old house, East Lothian.

Beautiful old house, East Lothian.

Crichton Church - since 1499, East Lothian.

Crichton Church – since 1499, East Lothian.

What I do not have any more, is anything that can be called an attention span. I may have been over-stimulated. For the first month I could not manage a whole tv program without turning off or over. For three months I have found it hard to sleep. First the weight of a quilt feels like a crushing slab compared to my ultra-light down bag. No amount of flinging the windows wide could replace the wind over the face tenting experience. I have adjusted a bit now, but there were many unhappy weeks of looking terrible for lack of sleep.

Late November Ride.

Late November Ride.

Low sun, long shadows.

Low sun, long shadows.

Preston Mill, East Linton, East Lothian.

Preston Mill, East Linton, East Lothian.

Winter riding with a smile.

Winter riding with a smile.

“The pleasure we derive from journeys is perhaps dependent more on the mindset with which we travel than on the destination we travel to.”
Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel. Which is from a book that I just can not find and have had to re-order for one of those 1p internet deals. But on returning I have thought about another of Alan de Botton’s concepts. He is a clever fellow and has achieved far too much to be so many years younger than me. In the book he writes about being in an aircraft, and arriving at a foreign destination. I can’t find the exact quote, but the gist of it is – on arrival, half the people on board are excited and full of anticipation. The other half are not, they are returning home. How can it be that they are both going to the same destination and have such opposite emotions.

Grassy fields and ploughed fields, East Lothian.

Grassy fields and ploughed fields, East Lothian.

Aberlady Bay History.

Aberlady Bay History.

Lovely winding roads in East Lothian.

Lovely winding roads in East Lothian.

I am going to try to stay excited about returning home. To bike the roads that are familiar with the same intensity that I would bring to a road in a distant country on a far continent. We have started already on this project. Scotland is amazing and our little corner of it is as wonderful as just about anywhere we have travelled. We have done as many rides as the weather has allowed. We have even had that most strange of experiences – getting lost in your own back yard ( without the gps to blame ) .

At Aberlady Bay, near Edinburgh.

At Aberlady Bay, near Edinburgh.

Sunny Autumn ride at the foot of the Lammermuir Hills, II.

Sunny Autumn ride at the foot of the Lammermuir Hills, II.

Playing with the Kelly Kettle.

Playing with the Kelly Kettle.

Autumn foliage.

Autumn foliage.

It has been amazing to discover a 1,000 year old Yew tree for the first time, just a few miles from our door. To take vague turns down half remembered tracks and pot holed roads. To watch Autumn come in, the fields harvested and turned again. Now, with winter cold and bare trees it is not uncommon to pass a dozen birds of prey on a ride. All too cold to be bothered to take flight.

Bike in front of a church window.

Bike in front of a church window.

The Ormiston Yew -  1000 years old.

The Ormiston Yew – 1000 years old.

Ice on a puddle.

Ice on a puddle.

Tea brewing preparation.

Tea brewing preparation.

The geese have come on their migration from the true north. They filled the sky with V shaped skeins. Some are still here. They are late to go south as the weather has been mild so far. 2014 was the warmest year since records began in the UK and the fourth wettest. I had forgotten how much I look at the weather forecast on the WWW.

Brewing tea on a mini stove.

Brewing tea on a mini stove.

The plan for this new year of 2015 is to look in detail at the area that we live in. There are so may little woodlands, beautiful stretches of coast and open moors. We plan to camp on as many as possible and share the experience with you through the blog here. East Lothian stretches down the East of Scotland at the point where Edinburgh ends. It has more history than a whole state in the USA and it is waiting to be explored.

Frost on leafes.

Frost on leafes.

East Lothian in winter sun.

East Lothian in winter sun.

Alain de Botton is probably right in his observation. But there is no reason why you can not be excited about returning home. Getting out and photographing the place you know with the intensity of a new country. We are putting together a ultra-light bivvy kit, with tarps and bivvy bags. The plan is to camp in as many wild places as possible and make breakfast in each.

A field of Brussel Sprouts.

A field of Brussel Sprouts.

” Exploring is delightful to look forward to and back upon, but it is not comfortable at the time, unless it be of such an easy nature as not to deserve the name ” – Samuel Butler, quoted in the book – The Book of The Bivvy – by Ronald Turnbull. The 5 day BBC forecast features 2 days with ‘ severe weather symbols ‘. Cycling in Scotland in the winter is hard on the nerves.

Scottish delicacy - Haggis

Scottish delicacy – Haggis

 

 

Home in Musselburgh, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK

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It's written in stone....

Written in stones….

There is nothing, but nothing that comes close to making you feel small and insignificant, in the way that the astral wonder of a sky full of the brightest stars on a moon free night does. We have had a perfect show of stars on two occasions on our journey and on Iona, on our final night there we got lucky once more.

Porridge for breakfast. Potcozy in background.

Porridge for breakfast. Potcozy in background.

Gull.

Gull on roof – Iona, Scotland.

Shadows, rock and machair, Iona.

Shadows, rock and machair, Iona.

And I do mean lucky. You would guess that you would have more star filled nights, but something always spoils it. When things are right, you know you are witnessing something very special, and it makes your head spin with the enormity of it all. A morning of horizon spanning azure blue followed as we packed up the tent.

Ben More, island of Mull, Scotland.

Ben More, island of Mull, Scotland.

The short ferry trip across the bay to Mull, and we retrace our route for the first few miles on the road across from Ben More. We take a left turn, the B8035 towards Salen, a route we have done a few times before. We know we are in for a treat. To call it one of the great cycling roads of Europe would not be over selling it, and today we had the perfect weather.

Along the North road of Loch Scridain, Mull, Scotland.

Along the North road of Loch Scridain, Mull, Scotland.

On the other side of the pass of Glen Seilisdair, Mull, Scotland.

On the other side of the pass of Glen Seilisdair, Mull, Scotland.

Down to Loch Na Keal, Mull, Scotland.

Down to Loch Na Keal, Mull Scotland.

Overhanging the road as you turn to ride down the far side of Mull are a series of high cliffs that dominate that side of the island. You expect to be a bit in awe of geology when you stand in the Grand Canyon and yet we have it here at home as well. You have to stop, take it in, listen to it even and soak up the drama. If you are there on a day without rain, wind, mist or a bitingly cold that will go straight through the most technical of high-end bike clothing, then you are lucky. We got lucky.

Towering rocks, Mull, Scotland.

Towering rocks, Mull, Scotland.

B8035, along Loch Na Keal,II, Mull, Scotland.

B8035, along Loch Na Keal,II, Mull, Scotland.

Into the village of Salen. A nice cosy and unpretentious place with a friendly pro-cycling cafe. A pot of tea and a scone, the typical cafe stop and very welcome. We take the short ride to Fishnish to catch the ferry to the mainland. The is a cafe of sorts at the terminal, and another cup of tea would do no harm. ” Could we get some water in these bottles? “. We had already paid for our teas, so the answer when it came was a bit of a shock, ” NO “. Then I remembered that we had been here before. A group of us cyclists had descended on the place and spent enough money in half an hour of calorie consuming frenzy to put his first born through college. He was unhappy and unfriendly then, and he is just the same now. A good case could be argued for declaring him ‘ the most miserable man in Scotland ‘. Perhaps he is good with animals?

Ferry from Fishnish (Mull) to Lochaline (Mainland), Scotland.

Ferry from Fishnish (Mull) to Lochaline (Mainland), Scotland.

Wild camping on a small, white sanded beach.

Wild camping on a small, white sanded beach.

Across the Sound of Mull, and we camp on the beach just up the road from Lochaline We have passed into the Highlands with just a short ferry ride. We set out the following morning after a cold night. We can not complain, we are biking in a run of good weather we have never witnessed in our home country. It is polling day, the day that may end the Union and turn our little country into a small independent nation. We cycled through cities in China that would dwarf the total population count here. Which is a good reason to live in this beautiful country.

Single-tacke road, A884, Scotland.

Single-tacke road, A884, Scotland.

Distance marker.

Distance marker.

Esther walking.

Esther walking.

A glen shaped by ice.

A glen shaped by ice.

A884, South- East shore of  Loch Sunart, Scotland

A884, South- East shore of Loch Sunart, Scotland

A884, towards the Eastern end of  Loch Sunart, Scotland.

A884, towards the Eastern end of Loch Sunart, Scotland.

The closer we get to home, the more tired we feel. We have both remembered the final ferry at Corran as being ‘ just up the coast ‘. The first signpost comes as quite a shock – 29 miles. To add to the horror, there are an uncomfortable quantity of short sharp hills between us and it. It is a right turn onto the A861 to Ardgour and we pick up Nation Cycle Route 78 as we push onto the Corran ferry. To our left is the start of The Great Glen, a gash in Scotland’s landscape that runs diagonally across it. To the left has geology in common with continental America, to the right is European.

A82, crossing Loch Leven, Scotland.

A82, crossing Loch Leven, Scotland.

The A82 would not be on anyones list of safest cycle roads. It is however, just as stunning as it is hard on the nerves. Ballachulish, once the heart of the slate industry is slowly turning into a tourist town. Beyond, is Glencoe Village, where we take our most expensive campground of the tour of the UK. It is just short of Swiss prices, but we are too tired to argue and the views are amazing. I love Mince Pies, that British cake of the season of Christmas. Imagine my surprise to find a box of 6 on special offer. It is mid September, more than 3 months to go and here they are. The madness continues when you look at the ‘ best before date – 27-10-14 ‘, they will expire long before the big day!. Of course I buy them.

Loch Leven from our camp site spot in Glencoe village.

Loch Leven from our camp site spot in Glencoe village.

We watch the sun pass over Onich Bridge and dip into the water at the end of the loch. The morning is cool again, with not a breath of wind. We play host to a million midges and try to eat breakfast without lifting the rim of our head-nets. It is onto the Dave Yates’ bikes for the ride through the tourist heart of Scotland. We climb up through Glencoe, passing each of the Two Sisters mountains as we ride. Today they are all wearing a cap of white cloud, which is fitting. Pure blue skies through here would feel wrong.

One of the Two Sisters, Glencoe, Scotland.

One of the Two Sisters, Glencoe, Scotland.

Buachaille, Etive More, Glencoe/Glen Etive, Scotland.

Buachaille, Etive Mor, Glencoe/Glen Etive, Scotland.

The Buachaille Etive Mor with Stob Dearg at it’s head comes up on our right. If you have watched the Bond film Skyfall, you will know this view. Bond turns down Glen Etive here, towards Skyfall, his ancestral home. It is one of the most beautiful Glens in Scotland, but a dead-end. Our road continues to climb, but the mountains drop away as we ride over Rannoch Moor to the summit at over 1,100 ft. We may have just biked through the bleakest and most beautiful 10 miles anywhere in Scotland. It is as good as anywhere we have been in the world today.

Rannoch Moore, Scotland.

Rannoch Moore, Scotland.

After a series of short climbs, we drop down to meet the Oban road at the village of Tyndrum. A fish pie for lunch at the institution that is The Green Welly Stop. We sit talking to people just long enough for my legs to almost totally lock up. They simply do not want to turn the pedals ever again. The thought of even more traffic hanging at my elbow is not an uplifting thought either. We make it to Glen Dochart has a campground marked on our map. We are overjoyed to see the site open sign come into view at the end of a short, but hard day.

The old railway,I, along Glen Ogle, Scotland.

The old railway,I, along Glen Ogle, Scotland.

The old railway,II, along Glen Ogle, Scotland.

The old railway,II, along Glen Ogle, Scotland.

It is a Saturday morning like few in Scotland. You could plan an open air concert, a wedding or nude sunbathing without anxiety today. It is going to be peachy perfect. Off we ride, and at the start of Glen Ogle a bike path that we had both forgotten about. It takes us away from the madness of the road and high up onto the opposite hillside. Thank goodness for the Victorians and their love of money and exemplary work ethic. Welcome to National Bike Route 7, and I feel better already.

The old railway,III, along Glen Ogle, Scotland.

The old railway,III, along Glen Ogle, Scotland.

South road of Glen Earn, I,Scotland.

South road of Glen Earn, I,Scotland.

South road of Glen Earn, II,Scotland.

South road of Glen Earn, II,Scotland.

Ferns.

Ferns.

We drop down at Lochearnhead and head to the narrow road that runs behind the loch. This is a new road for us and quite a treat to discover such a gem. Crief, a town I know that I must have been in before, but I can not quite place it. I am looking at Scotland as a tourist and it is rather fun.

Good looking sheep, sprayed with dye and ready for the sales.

Good looking sheep, sprayed with dye and ready for the sales.

Crossing River Earn at Kinkell Bridge, Scotland.

Crossing River Earn at Kinkell Bridge, Scotland.

A rear spoke goes. I can feel the ‘ping ‘ through the saddle. This is the first on the tricky side of the wheel in all our time on the road. I decide to ignore the problem this close to home. The sun is already low, and shadows long as we pull onto The Glen Eagles Caravan Park. It is all rather posh, as you might expect for such an address. ” Set up and come and see me later “. We do, and after a nice chat we get the camping for free, which is nice. They are a bit busy with preparations for a game of golf in a weeks time.

Last campsite at Glen Eagles Campgound, Scotland.

Last campsite of our journey – at Glen Eagles Caravan Park & Campground, Scotland.

Preparation for the Ryder Cup, Glen Eagle, Scotland.

Preparation for the Ryder Cup, Glen Eagle, Scotland.

The morning starts poorly. I always shake my Crocs before sliding them on. Today it is not enough to dislodge the slug that has enjoyed my shoe and called it home for the night. It is a morning of cool and heavy dew, as we leave the campground. Geese fly overhead as we put the work into the first few miles of undulating road. Every Copse, every damp woodland carries the smell of mushrooms into the still air.  Rumbling Bridge and then we enter the Kingdom of Fife. My legs are killing me – why do they always start the day worse than they were when you stopped the day before?

Entering Kingdom of Fife, Scotland.

Entering Kingdom of Fife, Scotland.

Rolling hills, near Saline, Scotland.

Rolling hills, near Saline, Scotland.

Heading for the Forth Road Bridge.

Heading for the Forth Road Bridge.

Us, with old Forth Rail Bridge in background.

Us, with old Forth Rail Bridge in background.

Our first signpost to Edinburgh. We are getting close to home, close to the moment we need turn these pedals no more. A right towards the village of Saline, and we are clear of the main roads for a while. We link together bits of the Fife Coastal Path to get onto the Forth Road Bridge. In the haze to our left as we cross, the Rail Bridge an icon of engineering known the world over. We cross from North to South Queensferry, and are in among the bustle of a sunny afternoon on the coast.

Forth Rail Bridge, South Queensferry, Scotland.

Forth Rail Bridge, South Queensferry, Scotland.

Dalmeny House has undergone a bit of an enlightenment with regards to public access while we have been away. We join the throng and pick up The John Muir Way – a Trans-Scotland walking and bike route in honour of the man from down the coast here. We manage to miss the turn where the walking and cycling paths diverge for a while. It gets a bit too technical for our touring bikes and becomes more of a walk.

Dalmeny House, Scotland.

Dalmeny House, Scotland.

We spill out into the outer reaches of Edinburgh. It is like suffering from amnesia. I recognise bits and pieces, but not for the life of me can I join them together to make a route that goes where we need to be. I am using the gps, keeping the blue of the Forth to our left. Our mental internal map is a few updates old and we are quite pleased to find the big red bridge that is close to our hosts for the night – our pals Drew and Jan.

The Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh, Scotland.

The Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh A Unesco World Heritage Site, Scotland.

Reaching the sea front, near Portobello, Edinburgh, Scotland.

Reaching the sea front, near Portobello, Edinburgh, Scotland.

Sleeping indoors is harder to adjust to than going outside to sleep. You can drop backwards through evolutionary time more easily I guess. Whatever the reason, I have my first of a string of bad nights of sleep. We head up to town the next morning to find big changes to our home town – there are Trams and stuff. It is down the coast now, through what once were individual villages with fishing at their hearts.  For the first time, as we ride, we admit to each other that we have pre-visualized the moment when we get home many times. We get to Musselburgh and spend time on the beach, not wanting things to end just yet.

Musselburgh habour, Edinburgh, Scotland.

Musselburgh harbour, Edinburgh, Scotland.

As we ride up the road to our flat, the meter trips to 32,499 miles in total. It would be nice to get it to 500 miles, but that would look like we cheated. We have been away almost 4 years. Thinking back to the night sky on Iona, we have been on our bikes whilst our small, blue planet has gone around an insignificant star almost 4 times. Now that is a big number of miles. People have the glib saying ” small world isn’t it? ” Well you know what, it is not small. Looking up at the heavens makes it feel small, looking down beyond your feet and at the far horizons, it’s big and not much of it is flat.

Arriving in our flat... the clock is wrong, it was midday.

Arriving in our flat… the clock is wrong, it was midday.

Forth Rail Bridge, South Queensferry, Scotland.

Forth Rail Bridge, South Queensferry, Scotland.

 

 

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.

 

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