Riding my bike to the UK

Here we go again! CTC bicycle bag makes things so much easier! Just roll up to the airport, no muss, no fuss! Managed to beat the rush at check-in, so everything went super smooth. The only issue was that I forgot (again) to deflate my tires before sealing up the bag, so now my tube caps are floating in the bag somewhere. Now I’m just chilling until my flight to Manchester leaves in 2 hours.

Bartholomew, take me there!
Notice the use of Gatorade bottle to protect my derailleur
See you on the other side, Tatonka!

Day 1 Down!

Pierre and Greg started the day with huge breakfast buttys (full English breakfast stuffed in a giant bread roll), and we then had a pleasant ride up the Hadrian’s Wall cycle path. We saw some Roman stuff.

Intrepid navigators
Riding along the quayside in Newcastle
Roman town in Corbridge
Vindolanda roman fort
Gorgeous views of the English countryside

We sadly didn’t make it to the Vinolanda museum before closing, but we could still see some ruins and excavation sites in progress from the road.Also, we came across a lamb panicking on the side of the road, trying to get back to its mother on the other side of the fence. We were able to herd it up to a gate and after a few attempts coaxed it through, thus earning our honorary sheepdog badges.We had dinner at a pub in Once Brewed and have set up tents at a campsite nearby. We got a bit of rain today but tomorrow looks like the start of a lot of very wet weather…

Lochs and Hills

The story so far: We had a great second day along the Hadrian’s Wall route and finally got to see a bit of it.

There’s a sign here asking people to not walk or climb on the wall. I then saw a man walking on it, and his wife called to him that he’s not supposed to do that. He shrugged and said, ‘That sign’s for the English; Scots dinnae listen!’

We then caught a train to Glasgow and had a ridiculously easy route out of the city on a nice bike path. I usually hate navigating big cities on bike tours but the national cycle routes are pretty well laid out here to avoid heavy traffic.Then into the highlands! The scenery is pretty stunning here and photos can’t do it justice.

We rode up along the west coast of Loch Lomond and then caught a ferry across, then wild camped near a big hotel that also had a nice warm room for hikers to dry out in. (We’re on the path of the West Highland Way, a very popular walking route.)

The next day I caught a train to Tyndrum to have a rest day while Greg and Pierre rode the long way around. Unfortunately it was a day of really heavy rain, and by the time they caught up to me they were ready to quit, so we checked into a hotel room and filled it with wet, smelly clothes.

On the plus side, Tyndrum is extremely vegan friendly, and I got some veggie haggis with my breakfast.

A wee drizzle

After Pierre and I left Erin on Loch Lomond, we climbed up into a gorgeous glen that led us to Loch Katrine, which is encircled by a private road open to bicycles. This meant we had about 10 amazing, nearly car free, miles to ride around the loch. But not before we had full Scottish breakfast – complete with vegetarian haggis – at the small cafe on the loch. Best of all, it stopped raining and warmed up enough that we were just in shorts and t-shirts – Even had to wear shades!

Full veggie Scottish, with veggie haggis and sausage and a big ol’ hunk of fried cheese
MacDonald gravesite on Loch Katrine

We then caught back up with a national cycle route, which took us on car-free paths up though a series of lochs and glens, until we set up camp at a nice campsite on a river. We’ve become acquainted with the infamous Scottish midges, tiny little biting flies. They don’t itch like mosquito bites, but there are so many that they are extremely annoying. Also their bites leave little red welts so now our calves look like a connect-the-dots book.

The next morning the rains had returned, and we had a very wet ride to the town Erin was staying in. The first half wasn’t so bad, as we were still on bike paths – mostly an amazing rail trail high up on the edge of a valley – but once we had to rejoin traffic it was a little nerve wracking. British roads, even the major ones, are pretty narrow and almost never have shoulders. Most of the traffic gave us plenty of room as they passed – it seems that most drivers are used to dealing with obstacles in the road, but it was still pretty stressful. Luckily, we found a nice pub to take refuge in, and I decided to go ahead and try real haggis – it kinda tastes like my grandma’s cabbage rolls.

Pierre conquers the rail trail
Glenogle viaduct
Haggis, neeps, and taters

We met up with Erin in Tyndrum, home of the famous Green Welly stop, and decided to get a hotel to dry out. Words cannot describe the smell a hotel room gets with three wet cyclists drying out their gear.

This morning was again drizzly, but not nearly as bad as yesterday. We had a great ride up to Glencoe, a really beautiful valley that is probably featured in every movie you’ve seen in the Scottish highlands. We stopped at the ski resort to warm up a bit, and the weather really started improving, so Erin and I rode the lift up to get some better views. We had a glorious ride down through the glen, and by the time we reached the sea loch at the bottom, there were blue skies and the sun was shining.

This looks familiar

We took a ferry to the less-trafficy side of the Loch, made dinner on the beach, had a pint at a pub, and now are wild camping on a little green patch on the shore beneath a waterfall – what a great day!

Bikes, beers, and blue skies

Lochy lochs and Caledonian Canals

Our luck with the weather seems to have turned in our favor, and we had an almost entirely rain-free day. After being woken up by sheep at our tent at 5am, we had a lazy morning before we checked the ferry schedule and realized we had to hustle the 10 miles there or wait until noon for the next one! It was a really pleasant and quiet ride in the sunshine, and a nice break from the heavily trafficked roads we were on yesterday.

Our sheepy campsite

Waiting for the ferry

On the other side of the loch we spent a good amount of time in Fort William, the biggest town we’ll see for quite a while. Pierre got his derailleur cables changed, we had breakfast at a vegan cafe, and we explored an eclectic museum that included stuffed birds, fossils, a WWII Commando exhibit, and lots of Jacobite stuff.

We left town pretty late in the day and stopped for a picnic at the ruins of Inverlochy Castle.

From there looked like an easy ride to the next campground, but the national cycle route we were on took us up a very rough dirt and gravel road through the woods for about 10 miles, following the west coast of Loch Lochy (the best named Loch in Scotland). It was beautiful but also pretty grueling riding on my recumbent bike, and even though we’d only done 30 miles I was wiped by the time we got to the canal at the tip of the loch. Fortunately Greg chatted up a woman who runs a little cafe there, and she offered to let us use the toilets and shower if we wanted to camp there! Of course we weren’t going to turn that down. We then discovered that one of the boats on the canal was actually a cute pub complete with couches and a very good dog.

Never thought I’d drink on a boat

The next day we hit the southern end of Loch Ness at Fort Augustus, and got innundated with goofy tourist stuff.

Crossing the canal

We had good weather up until about 10 miles from where we’d wanted to camp for the night, and then the wind picked up and it dumped cold rain on us for an hour. I was getting pretty discouraged, but then we got to the Claugie Inn, which is still in the process of being built up as a luxury hotel. Lucky for us, though, they’d just that day opened their bar and restaurant. We dried out and warmed up a bit over dinner and whiskey before setting up our tents just down the road.

We’re about to tour Eilean Donan castle! Getting pretty remote now and service is spotty, so may be a while before the next update!

Baleach na Ba!

Woah, long time no post. Let’s see what we’ve been up to since the last update…

Eilian Donan castle

After touring the castle, we rode over a series of rolling hills until we reached the village of Lochcarron, where we stayed at the hotel/pub.The next day, we split up, as I wanted to ride up over a famous pass for cycling, the Baleach na Ba, and Erin and Pierre are smarter and took the flat shortcut. The ride over the pass was gorgeous, and there was only about 1 mile where it was so steep – like 17-20% – that I had to stop every 100 feet to question my existence.

The foreboding sign at the start of the climb

That’s the steepest part up ahead

What a view!

After reaching the top, I raced down the other side to the cute little seaside town of Applecross, and then continued along the coast to meet back up with Pierre and Erin. Unfortunately, it turned out that my workout had not ended with the pass – the coast road was beautiful, but full of very steep little climbs. Eventually, I was reunited with my fellow bums, where they had found a great little wild camping spot next to a stream. The weather even got nice enough that Erin and I took a dip in the steam to rinse off!

Hairy coo!
Another amazing wild camping spot

Pierre pet a cat

After another set of short, but gruelingly steep, hills, we continued making out way up the coast to Gairloch. The beach here had such amazing turquoise water!

By the time we arrived at the caravan campsite the wind was starting to pick up, and the next morning had us riding into 20mph headwinds. Uphill. For mostly the whole day. I think this was one of the shortest touring days I’ve had yet – we only made it about 25 miles, but by the time we made it to our campground the wind had died down a bit and we had a nice night.

Cycling the North Coast has been pretty tough, but it’s also incredibly beautiful here; everywhere you look it’s been stunning, for days now.

We had an amazing tailwind and downhill ride the next day, and at the bottom of the hill we found a really cute cafe run by a sweet couple who had abandoned London life eighteen years ago for country living, and chatted with them for a while.

We then hit Ullapool, which felt like a bustling city after the last few days! We got a hotel and some Indian food, and got to see bored-looking teenagers doing a public performance of bagpipe music and ceildh dancing. The next day we decided to have a rest day since I was feeling pretty tired, and we rolled across town to a nice caravan site on the loch and set up camp. We then had a nice day of napping and lazing about in town, and Pierre got a sore arm from skipping rocks and petting the fluffy camp cat.

The next day I felt much better despite the tough climb out of Ullapool, and we sadly bid the dramatic mountain landscape farewell as the hills started to get lower and lower. We ended up wild camping in Rosehall aka Midgeville, and found a local pub that had takeaway cartons of cask ale!