Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Day 21, Kirkwall to John O'Groats and Wick - 38 miles

Cumulative and final mileage - 1,327.

Just over one hour cycles from Kirkwall to St. Margaret's Hope where the ferry goes back to the mainland. Another lovely, thankfully, windless day. Cycled over the "Churchill barriers" which were causeways constructed by Italian POWs duing WW2 to block off Scapa Flow from German U-boats.

One of the barriers above.

Ferry to the Scottish mainland.

The End ! Or almost.

Paul at the end with still enough energy to lift his bike in triumph.

More circumspect knowing that another 17 miles still to be cycled to get to Wick where we catch the train back to Reading. Only item of note back to Wick was when we were overtaken up a hill by a young man on a mountain bike and flip-flops (we did stop for liquid releif). Not taking this sleight well we sped off and hammered past him to put him in his place. We did let him get a sufficient lead to think he could sustain his lead. Hence zoomed into Wick.

We were asked many times if we were going to cycle back ! After the train journey we thought it would have been easier. Leaving Wick at 0620 we were meant to arrive in Reading, after taking four trains via London, at 0800. After missing endless connections we eventually drag ourselves into Reading at midnight. We couldn't even cycle home in triumph and had to be picked up by Lesley in the car. An ignominious end !

OK Paul what's next ?

Day 20, Circuit round the Orkneys - 41 miles

Cumulative - 1,289 miles. Set out on another lovely day for what should have been a tootle round the island as it's flat and quiet. Hammered north to Birsay at the end of the island in less than an hour (for 20 miles !). When we stopped we realised that something was up when we turned back south into a 40-50mph wind. Great picture of Paul pushing his bike on the flat. He realised we were in for 20 miles of hell when freewheeling down the hill in the picture he came to a stop ! We were in bottom gear cycling downhill !
Looks lovely but was hell.

Great surf - if only in Bournemouth.

Luckily there were plenty of things to take in on the return to Kirkwall like the Ring of Brognar above.

All in all it took less than one hour to do 20 miles and three hours to do the return 21 miles !
Today was also the day of the most famous bike chase of all time. Another couple were out on their bikes and struggling more than we were. It took ages to pass them. It must have been the slowest overtake of all time. Soon after we dashed all of their hope, they gave up and we lost them.

Day 19, Tongue to Kirkwall, Orkneys via Thurso - 63 miles

Cumulative 1,248 miles. Start of four days of beautiful, hot weather. Most other cyclists we met were white as ghosts having come up through England to the west of the Pennines (ie through Manchester, Lake District). We came up to the east of the Pennines and hence did not get wet or cold and to most peoples shock, a lovely bronze colour.

More big spaces, views and skies.
The Kyle of Tongue in the background bathed in cloudless skies.

More impressions of speed !

Passing the still to be decommissioned Douneray atomic power station on a Friday afternoon. From here to Thurso we were continually attacked by chavmobiles driven by Skanska construction workers rushing home for the weekend. A series of clapped out Suburus and loads of small Clios, Fiestas, Astras and Mondeos with exhaust systems larger than their engines, zoomed close by us - some even heckled "go faster you poofs". I am sure they must have all come from Mansfield.

Day 18, Durness to Tongue - 29 miles

Cumulative 1,185 miles. Shortest day of the trip but still included plenty of what one shaggy haired local called "plenty of wee fellies on tha road".

Big hills. Big roads...

Small problems. Paul trying to work out why he is cycling so slowly - he is blaming it on the front disc brakes.

Big views. Cycled all day and saw no people at all. Not even any sheep.

Big skies and big landscapes.

More of the main A road across the top of Scotland.
Once we had arrived at Tongue, we took over the local pub so we could watch the Champions League Final, however the one pub there is in Tongue was owned by Geordies..... however not your average Geordies, one of them seemed to be the missing link in evolution. He could not string one sentence together without a swear word......actually yes your average Geordies. I was worn out just listening to him!!

Day 17, Achmelvich to Durness - 56 miles

Cumulative - 1,156 miles. This is where "youth" hostelling needs more explanation. Paul was the only "youth" we saw in any of the 10 hostels we stayed in. Even me at 48 was deemed young as I could walk, go to the toilet without assistance and generally not dribble over my clothes. Youth hostels are the summer repository of old, single, white men - commonly known as "pros". Pros stands for "Professional Botherers". They prowl the hostels looking for naive people on their own they can corner. Once coralled they will bore you to death about their time in the middle east as an expat, the ins and out of taking trains in Wales or the deficiencies of the Labour Party (we did get the feeling that all pros are Daily Mail readers and UKIP or even BNP voters). These pros follow you around the youth hostels. Just when you have cycled a whole day to avoid them they turn up at the next hostel in their clapped out Volvos to bother you some more - as they have met you previously you are greeted like a long lost son. We learnt very quickly that eye contact with a pro is a fatal mistake. Take this on board early that all is well.

The turn to the main A road to the north of Scotland - a single lane just about tarmaced road unbeleivably with passing places if any traffic just happens to meet each other.

Common site above today - ie nothing for miles.
Above is Paul racing ahead in the drizzle - he doesn't like to get wet !

Day 16, Carbisdale Castle to Achmelvich - 55 miles

Cumulative 1,100 miles. We make the long trek from the east coast to the west coast of Northern Scotland. Not much in the first part of the day except the beautiful River Oykel which unfortuneately had a lot of rude Audi-driving English trout fishermen roaring around the backroads which we had carefully picked out of the map. Hence the photo in the only pub for miles around which says trout tickling and "groping" are offences. I know lots of people that grope old trouts and didn't realise that this was illegal !
The long climb around Loch Assynt coming into Lochinver. Only 152 miles say Paul - I have to bring him down by saying that on my route we still have at least 250 miles to go.
Great action photo of Paul giving the impression of great speed - sadly not the case as you can see the long ascent we have just come up.

Achmelvich beach which would grace the Med. The photos is badly let down with me wearing a coat. There is probably one day a year when swimming here is a pleasure but this was not it.