Category: UK (Page 1 of 2)

Highlands

Some highlights from the past month in Scotland:

During a layover between trains in Inverness we got to explore the city briefly. As we rode around town Lisa’s bike started having strange issues with the chain skipping and getting jammed in the chain rings. A closer look revealed that several of the chain ring bolts were somehow missing — apparently fallen out somewhere along the way. Luckily we found a bike mechanic working out of a garage for the Happy Tours bike rental shop who dropped what he was doing and spent an hour finding bolts and fixing the chain rings for her — for only £10.

We spent a week camped behind the Ledgowan lodge hotel in the tiny village of Achnasheen in the Scottish highlands, exploring the area by bike and on foot. We had access to the cooking facilities in the bunkhouse for hikers and hill-walkers and the occasional cream tea in the lodge’s sumptuous study provided by the friendly owners.

We happened to arrive in the coastal town of Ullapool in time to take in the Loopallu music festival — the last festival of the year. We also arrived in time to catch some intense autumn wind blowing in off the North Atlantic. The weather station housed a few feet from my tent recorded wind speeds up to 58 mph over night a couple nights. This necessitated a rather urgent relocation of the tent one night at 3 in the morning, with the generous assistance of a couple parked nearby in a camper van. George, the extraordinarily friendly campsite manager, assured us that the wind was not that bad yet and that it wasn’t a gale until 65 or 70 mph.

We had thought of catching a ferry from Ullapool out to the islands of the Outer Hebrides, but with the change of weather and finding out that many of the campgrounds were closing up for the year, we reconsidered. Finally we decided it was time to head back south. We took a couple days to bike to Inverness then caught an overnight train to London.

The highlands were stunningly beautiful. Remote, and sometimes desolate. Definitely a place to return to.

But for now this will be the last post for the official long 2014 bike trip. Until the next trip, thanks for riding along…

 


 

 

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England and Scotland

From St. Malo, France, the channel crossing meant ten hours on a huge ferry complete with bars, restaurants, a cinema, and live shows for children. Upon reaching Portsmouth I queued up with at least a dozen other cycle tourists to go through immigration. Most seemed to be headed home to somewhere in the UK after a bike trip in France or Holland. My entry into Britain appeared almost derailed as the immigration officer considered my four months on a bike to be suspicious. However, after several assurances that I did not intend to stay in the country indefinitely and did indeed have the finances to take care of myself, my passport was stamped and I rode into England.

A short trip across the harbor brought me to another ferry port where I caught a small catamaran and twenty minutes later found myself on the Isle of Wight. Where I met Lisa, my riding partner for the UK. We had run into each other a month earlier in Austria, each on solo bike tours, and decided to try traveling together in Britain. Lisa had started her European trip in Paris, ridden east to Austria and then south to Italy before catching a flight from Rome to London and then biking to the Isle of Wight. You can check out her blog at Semester on Cycle.

We spent a few days resting up and wandering around the eastern coast of the island, biking on narrow lanes and seaside cliffs and through quaint towns along the shore. Finally we caught the ferry back to Portsmouth and headed northeast toward London. We hadn’t quite worked out the distances or negotiated our navigation methods yet, so misjudged the route a bit and a couple nights later found ourselves biking through London, crossing Tower Bridge at midnight, and arriving at my friend, Osama’s place at one in the morning. Luckily Osama knows me well enough to expect absurd lateness and even had sticky toffee pudding waiting for a midnight snack. Brilliant!

After several days with Osama — including catching an Imax movie and dinner at a nearby Nigerian restaurant — Lisa and I caught the train to Edinburgh. We wanted to catch the end of the Festival Fringe and biking north would not have left much time. At King’s Cross station I was tempted to get in the line for platform 9-3/4, but in the end stayed with the other muggles on a regular train. Unfortunately, Lisa’s train experience was less than ideal when she came down with food poisoning and our arrival in Edinburgh was followed by an unplanned cab ride to the Royal Infirmary. Fortunately after a tour of the emergency room and a good night’s sleep she was back to her normal self.

Once in Edinburgh we took in several shows at the Festival Fringe of which my favorite was the Tarzan Monologues, a fantastic performance of monologues, dancing and singing by a group of Nigerian men.

We’ve now been hanging out at a campground just south of the city for a week and are about ready to hit the road again. In theory we’ll head north to brave the reportedly poor weather of the Scottish highlands before turning back toward northern England.

 


 

 

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The Surrey hills

After my first day out of London, I expected to make it to Portsmouth by evening. However, in what seems to be a developing pattern I found the route longer than I expected and myself traveling slower than I expected.

The route through the Surrey hills was beautiful and where possible I followed small side roads with little traffic. Occasionally I took main roads when there were no other good options. The main roads were heavily traveled which made for somewhat hectic riding, but in all the experience was good.

I asked a man in his workshop I was passing where a good location might be to pitch a tent and he graciously showed me into his back lot. Pete (I hope I got your name right) brought me firewood, introduced me to his wife and son, and allowed me the use of a shower. Pete’s son, Zaphod, is building a mud hut and we sat inside it around the fire for a good part of the evening. A great day.

The next morning I was up early and rode on to Portsmouth by mid-day. Then I just had to wait for the evening ferry to St. Malo.

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