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.

Day 15, Loch Ness to Carbisdale Castle - 65 miles

Cumulative 1,045 miles. We crash through the 1,000 miles barriers going through Beauly below.
Paul takes a well earned rest on the long descent into Bonar Bridge after a long climb out of Allness.
This is Scotland's idea of a young person's coach trip "Wild and Sexy" - when has coach touring ever been sexy !! Anyway had a bout of road rage with this thing today as the driver could not decide whether to go right or left with us behind him - his indecision was made worse by his speed of 20 mph.

Funnily our only other incident of road rage occured today when a Toyota Yaris tried to inch past both of us on a B road. He got past Paul but started to edge me into the ditch at the side of the road until much flailing of arms and horrible curse words made the stupid driver realise that there were two bicycles on his indside (I have to say "his" because both cases of dreadful driving were done by "his" and not "hers" strangely).

Below our bed for the night - Carbisdale Castle - unbelievably a youth hostel equipped with grand ballroom (communal eating) and a Great Hall scattered with Italian marble statues. Not bad for £12 a night.

Day 13, Crianlarich to Fort William via Glencoe 52 miles

Cumulative - 940 miles. Rained, no pissed down all day, and we have no photos at all of Scotland's most photographed area of the Glencoe Pass. We didn't care being more intent on reached Fort William asap to see the Heinekin Rugby Cup Final.
Day 14, Fort William to Loch Ness via Ben Nevis - 40 miles
Cumulative 980 miles. Rick, the hivis escort rejoins us for the scaling (well more like heads down grinding and plodding) of Ben Nevis on our day off. Unusually for this area we have photos which show some background rather than low cloud.

Richard near the top carrying a large swag bag filled with "get you up the mountain goodies".

Bloody freezing as you ascent - temp dropped by 10 degrees C in a couple of hours of plodding. Must admit I left Rick as I was too cold and ran down the mountain to meet up with Paul, as he preferred to read about the continued demise of Newcastle Football Club rather than brave the outside. Good decision as it started raining as I reached the bottom leaving Rick with a sound drizzly drenching. Paul outside the Scottish Youth Hostel located on the banks of Loch Ness. Fab spot with the communal lounge overlooking the view behind Paul.

Same view of the loch. More about the dangers and pitfalls of youth hostelling later (why they are called "youth" hostels is a mystery - more ranting later).

Paul astride the 1940's tandem that a very nice couple of 70 year olds from Bristol were doing the same trip. Deep deep respect for doing it on the above beast which Paul could not even lift up ! Alex would say it's Pauls "guns" but I can vouch that it was made of cast iron.

Day 12, Kirkintilloch to Crianlarich - 68 miles

Cumulative 888 miles. Bum ratings - these are now discontinued as both Paul and Miles have developed "Iron Arses" as Stalin famously said about Molotov.

Started out the day from Miles's brother Richard's house outside Glasgow. We have been honoured by a bright yellow "highvis" cavalcade motorcycle escort. Paul reckons it is because we are taking exercise in Scotland and thus need to be protected from the natives. More mundanely Rick needs to get his farting, Chinese 125hp beast to his second home in Oban.

Nevertheless going down Kirkintilloch high street we are confronted just after 8am with a man running across us in trainers looking like he is one a morning run. Paul is so cynical that he immediately comments "the only reason he is running is the pub has probably opened on the dot at eight and he doesn't want to miss any valuable drinking time".

No more about low Scottish life expectancies - although it does seem to both of us that everyone has a fag on the go. Cycling through the streets of urban Scotland is counterproductive as there is more passive smoking taken in by all the folk crowded round pub entrances.

Fantasctic day's cycling along three bespoke cycle ways - Strathkelvin Walkway old railway line above from Kirkintilloch to Strathblane, then onto part of the West Highland Way - where my road bike set up faltered as I immediately careered into a mud hole whilst Paul just floated by on his tractor tyres (I got him back later on straight flat roads - well nearly flat - the road surface still awful). Lastly we went round three inland lochs after Aberfoyle on the wonderfully named "Loch Venachar InverTrossachs Trail".

Above one of the lochs to be cycled round.

Motorbike escort at the pass to Lochearnhead and the run into Crianlarich across more dreadful road surfaces. The full glory of what Richard's wife Fiona calls the "putt-putt machine" is seen above. We went faster than it on several descents but you can't argue with 148mpg.