Thursday, 31 March 2011

Ardlui to Neilston

Thursday 31st March 2011 52.52 Miles 4hr 53mins 10.76mph Average Speed 298.07 Total Miles We had seen a weather report last night to say that we would have rain all morning with gale force winds of up to 60mph, so we had decided to have a lay in and leave a bit later hoping it would clear in the afternoon. This morning the weather report said it would rain all morning and the gale force winds would follow this afternoon! So an hour later than normal we set off in the pouring rain along the shore of Loch Lomond. It was beautiful and relatively flat with the mist sitting in the valley in layers.

We cycled for 25 miles without stopping pretty much as we got cold the minute we stood still. We had one photo stop when the rain eased for a bit and carried on straight through Tarbet and Luss to stop in a McDonalds in Balloch after 25 miles. For the last 5 miles or so the wind really picked up. It was quite dangerous cycling on the road, we managed to find a cycle path for some of the way but the surface was quite uneven so painful in many places and a lot slower.

It felt like we were in a dishwasher with the rain and wind coming from the left then the right then the front then the back etc. You had to be prepared and its not easy to cycle in those conditions with lorry’s zooming past splashing us and drawing us in. Leaving a few puddles in McDonalds, we left when the rain had nearly stopped but the wind had taken its place. Until now we had been following the A82 for a few days but it was time to put our map reading skills to the test.

We found our way through Alexandria and Dumbarton on smaller roads which was a nice change to people watch on the high streets. It was also more protected from the wind. Getting back on the A82 the sun came out and the wind was blowing strong behind us. We stopped briefly to remove some waterproof gear and there on the side of the road was a brand new still in the packet high vis jacket with dads name on it… thanks grandparents.

We climbed up onto the Erskine Bridge where we were approached by the maintenance van who told us to walk the bikes over as he had measured the wind on the bridge at 45mph! Of course it was in our faces along with the grit and gravel being thrown up by the vehicles. It was tough and not much fun. Arriving the other side in one piece and a bit wind swept we continued on smaller roads into Paisley.

To avoid the major junction at Glasgow airport we took the pedestrian route across a wooden bridge, up a muddy path off road which came out in the airport departure area! We managed to avoid getting a flight home. In Paisley we had a quick stop in Halfords where we blagged a free chain clean and oil for Betty as she was squeaking quite loudly. We stopped in a park at a café for a well earned break but the lady was closing early and gave us some directions to Neilston. On route we came across a garden centre with a coffee shop that was lovely sitting in a greenhouse with the sun beaming in. We did the last 8 mile to the hotel but it was all up stonking hills! Another eventful day.

Fort William to Ardlui

Wednesday 30th March 2011

58.93 Miles 5hr 24mins 10.91mph Average Speed 245.55 Total Miles

We fuelled up with a cooked breakfast then left at 9am continuing on the A82 South alongside the shore of Loch Linnhe. It was still grey and with the weather forecasting rain all day we set off with waterproofs already on. The first 15 miles was flat and very picturesque. We made good time and stopped in Glencoe for a cuppa tea and homemade scone. We sat in almost silence as there was a definite feeling of the calm before the storm!

We set off in the rain and headwind and began climbing gradually up into the Glencoe mountain range with the three sisters towering above us in the clouds. The road turned steep and snake like as we fought our way through the conditions up and up. The views were breathtaking, literally! With nowhere to stop to take a break from the rain and wind we were forced to plod on as it was too cold to stand still.

All our clothes were soaked on the outside from the rain and soaked on the inside from the sweat. Dad could not see with his glasses on or with them off! We took a short break on the top of the first hill at 1,000ft. We put another layer of clothes on and warmer gloves for a short dismount before climbing again up to the summit at 1,142ft! At his point we were sitting in the rain clouds with a great view of the three ugly sisters! From here we had a fantastic down hill but it just meant no pedalling which meant we froze!

The downhill lasted for a good 10miles into the next town of Bridge of Orchy where we had done a total of 40 miles and it was a sight for sore bums! We piled into the bar and stripped off changing into dry clothes and standing under the hand dryer in the loo for a good half an hour! We had lunch here and stayed until we were warm and feeling revived. We were thrown out when dad started snoring in the restaurant!

The weather actually cleared for a bit as we set off and climbed the final hill of the day up to 1,000ft. The line on our map looks as though it is a vertical climb but we were pleasantly surprised to find that the road was a gradual climb. With a downhill pretty much for 15 miles we rolled into Ardlui at the tip of Loch Lomond in the rain again. We arrived at the Hotel Sam had booked which was so nice and warm! We even had a bath to relax the muscles before meeting in the bar for a delicious dinner.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Beauly to Fort Williams

Tuesday 29th March 2011 65.71 Miles 5hr 45mins 11.34mph Average Speed 186.62 Total Miles Another cooked breakfast and as we ate we listened to a story where all Scottish mainlanders were forced to leave the country by burning of villages so that sheep could be kept in their place. Leaving at 9am we climbed almost immediately up 250 metres for about 10 miles then the descent was very steep at 15%. Even with breaks fully applied the bikes would not stop. We rolled into Drumnadrochit after 15 miles which is the tourist town of Loch Ness! We had a hot chocolate to warm ourselves before following the A82 alongside the Loch. The road was undulating and very scenic but we were unable to spot Nessie. We stoped to have a look at the Urquhart Castle before continuing to the end of the Loch to stop at Fort Augustus after 33 miles. As we turned into the town I stopped to photograph some hairy cow with horns when it took a fancy to me and came far too close for comfort and was shouting at me, calling me alsorts! Slightly panicked I returned to Betty just as Sam arrived to save the day. We had a terrible plastic cheese sandwich for lunch that was grossly overpriced. We set off concerned that we have only covered half the miles for the day. We had only been gone about 8 miles when it started spitting so we took cover under a petrol station roof in Invergarry to put on waterproofs. The next stop was at Spean Bridge at the end of Loch Lochy 15 miles on and at the top of a stonking hill that was nasty having already covered 50 miles. With all our bums numb from the climb we found a little chef with a comfy chair for another hot chocolate as it was still spitting. So far on the trip this would be our end point for the day but the good news was we were on top of a big hill so it was all down hill for 10 miles into Fort Williams so we went for it. We came across an amazing viewpoint of the snow covered mountain tops including Ben Nevis with a war memorial standing tall. The next 10 miles was lovley riding, its so nice when the downhill covers many miles. We located the B&B at 6pm which was not bad considering the long days riding. Having no headwind and fabulous scenery really helped us today. A short walk into town we came across a pub with a sofa where we enjoyed our well earned dinner. Just to mention that my job is photos and blog, dad's is finding somewhere for dinner and pace setting and sam's is B&B booker and is in charge of the wallet. She has sufferred from a snotty nose that is getting worse and has now resorted to lemsips. She has today cycled the furthest she has ever cycled and over the highest hill she has ever climbed! Good on ya.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Golspie to Beauly

Monday 28th March 2011

51.50 Miles 4hr 35mins 11.25mph Average Speed 120.91 Total Miles

We woke to a sunny but frosty morning. Another cooked breakfast and on the road by 9am. The weather forecast said rain at 2pm but we could not leave too early as the roads would still have been slippery from the frost. We decided to try and crack on to cover as many miles as possible before the heavens opened. We did 16 miles before stopping in Tain. We had managed to climb over a 120metre hill which was not too bad. We found a coop with a coffee shop inside. We also did a bit of shopping where Sam got lockets and lucazade, Dad got multivitamins and aspirin and I got deep heat, I think those purchases tell a story!

We had been following the main A99 then A9 all the way until this point where the route we are following in our guide book took us on some smaller lanes which went through forest, little old villages and along the coast. This made the ride more interesting and a little easier. Mind you the wind has been smacking us in the face the whole day, but it could have been worse as 2pm came and went and it did not rain!

We stopped in Evanton having done 36miles in a tiny pub for a pot of tea and munched on our coop sarnies. The fire was roaring and we were so comfortable it was hard to leave. With only 15 miles to go as an incentive we set off. However, after chatting with two old guys in the village we decided to divert from the route and made our own way on back roads continuing through tiny villages to Beauly. This turned out to be a good move as the distance ended up the same and there were no hills where there were in the tour book.

We located the B&B and unloaded the bikes at 4.30pm. As it was a bit earlier we had time to relax for a bit before walking into town for dinner. Dad was well impressed with the pots of biscuits in our room. All these B&B's with fluffy towels and comfy beds are luxury! Eating out each night is also a treat. Perhaps this trip is a holiday after all?

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Wick to Golspie

Sunday 27th March 2011

52.12 Miles, 5hr 25mins, 9.63mph Average Speed and 69.41 Total Miles

Breakfast at 8am was delicious, full cooked breakfast, locally smoked Salmon, Haddock and Haggis of course. On the road at 9am where the lovely Clachan B&B owner gave us some fudge that we were only allowed to eat when we have climbed the biggest hill of the day! The first 20 miles were relatively flat but the headwind was making it a much harder ride than it ought to have been. We had to stop once or twice to add or remove various pieces of clothing as one minute we were getting hot and sweaty going up then cold going down and into the wind. It's really tough to get the right balance in these grey conditions.

We stopped in Dunbeath for a cuppa tea and the cafe had the most amazing views looking out over the sea. After we had warmed up, we set off for some very hilly terrain over the next 15 miles. We climbed up a good 100metres before coming back down to sea level only to face a massive climb up to approx 230metres. The first uphill was a gradient of 10%, the downhill was 13% and the stonking Berriedale Braes uphill was 13% but one of the locals said it was a 1 in 4 climb which I must say it felt more like the later!

Not only did we have the uphills to contend with, but as we entered the higher grounds we were hit with terrential rain where a great big black cloud was looming. As we came out the other side into Helmsdale we were soaked and frozen. We found a tiny pub where I walked in dripping wet still with my high vis vest on and helmet only to find a room full of men watching Scotland play Brazil at football, they all turned to stare at this allien invasion.

We changed into dry clothes and had more tea and a cheese roll each. Feeling more human we set off for the last 16 miles of the day to Golspie. Thankfully it was fairly flat and it had stopped raining. It even felt like the wind was behind us for a while. We followed the coastline all the way where the trainline was by our side and a gorgeous sandy beach. When I saw the sign for the beach first I thought it said Candy then I thought it said Shandy then I realised I was dreaming.

Arriving in Golspie we found the B&B which was just after the castle and in front of the links golf course. We settled in and showered then the owner offered to drive us to the golf course restaurant for an amazing 3 course Sunday Carvery that only cost £12 a head. Again the views were to die for. As we walked back to the B&B there was a lovely sunset. In bed at 9pm and it will not be long before we are lights out! What a day.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

John O Groats to Wick

Saturday 26th March 2011

17.29 Miles
1hr 37mins
10.6mph Average Speed

We unloaded the bikes and luggage off the train in Inverness where we took it in turns to mind the bikes and take in the sights of the City. We trekked over to the Castle and took in the views of the river. We had a 2hour wait until our train to Wick departed. We went through the palaver of loading the bikes on the train again, mounting and dismounting the panniers time and time again. We found our seats and settled in for the 4 hour journey.

Now this journey felt longer than the 11hour ride from London! If the train were to have a GPS attached I am sure it would produce a map that resembles spaghetti junction or at least the star of David! Arriving at Wick at 3pm we were just in time for our booked taxi which was not there to meet us. We made a call and waited in the freezing wind until he arrived, we were searching our bags to put on all the warm clothing we could!

Loading the taxi we soon realised only 2 bikes would fit on the rack so dad was left behind to call another taxi firm who famously said they would be there in 10mins! 40mins later dad was picked up and we all met at John O Groats, finally! The wind was bitter in our face and it was spitting. To top it off, everything was closed out of season and the well known Lands End John O Groats sign post had gone! The white post was there put the sign was missing. There was a note to call a guy who keeps the sign at his house and he would charge £10 to bring it for that key photo opportunity! I called, he was out for the evening!

Also, we had nobody to take our picture as nobody was there to brave the elements! We had to pay the very old half blind taxi man £5 to take our picture! You can see how good he was, never mind his driving! We all rang our bells and mounted the bikes and set off heading South. The first 2.5miles were up hill which warmed us up then we were cruising to Wick with the sea to our left. Again it went quick because of the beautiful scenery and the sun was setting.

We arrived at our B&B at 6.30pm, stuck the bikes in the greenhouse and were shown to our lovely rooms. We all had a well overdue shower and walked 5 min up the road to a hotel for dinner. We were turned away as fully booked and walked another 5mins into town to another hotel. We were asked to wait in the cocktail lounge while the table was prepared.40min later I complained and we were seated to eat seconds later. The food was lovely and we realised we had not eaten hardly a thing all day. Managing to escape without being charged for drinks, we crashed back at the B&B.

Gravesend to Scotland

Friday 25th March 2011

After half a day at work we did some last minute packing leaving behind a few bits that now the bike is fully loaded we realise we don’t really need to carry! A slight adjustment to dads gears turned sour and we rushed his bike up to Halfords for a quick last minute health check. Panic over we loaded the bikes, said our farewells and cycled into Gravesend. We met Sam there and were pleased to see she had not had a change of heart.

As we were ahead of time we managed to jump on the earlier train which was the fast train up to London St Pancreas. Before we knew it we were walking the bikes in Central London to Euston station where we had an hour and a half wait which flew past with a cuppa tea. In the meantime we dodged a thief stealing a handbag, put Soya milk in our tea by mistake and refused to pay 30p to spend a penny!

Thankfully we could load our bikes and gear on the sleeper train 45mins before it left. We had to hang the bikes vertically in the guards cabin then me and dad hiked up to the standard cabins while Sam drew the long straw and ended up in 1st class! Dad and I shared a bunk which was quite small but cosy and comfortable. We all sat chatting until 10pm then tried to get some sleep aided by the rocking motion of the train.

Dad and I met Sam in her single cabin at 7.30am to eat her cooked breakfast then we had a 30 min rest in the lounge cabin to take in the views which were spectacular but we could not help but notice the dark clouds, the mountains and the large patches of snow! How does it manage to be raining on our standard class window but not in 1st Class?!

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Final Training Ride

Saturday 19th March 2011

Today was our final training ride before we leave for Scotland. With more blue skies and the sun shining Dad and I met up with Sam at Cobham Church to start our planned ride to my brother Mark’s house in Folkestone. We set off through Cobham to join the Cuxton Road and then took the old A20 which is the road we followed pretty much all day. One long straight road is always a bonus with my navigational skills!

We took our first rest break after 15 miles at Aylesford on the bank of the river Medway. We managed to locate a sweet shop that sold my Dad’s favourite Eccles cakes which went down well. We continued on to take another break after 22 miles in the grounds of Leeds Castle. The next stop was in Charing having done 31 miles where we found a pub that was open as it was now lunch time. A few power bars, a Shandy and a hot chocolate later we cracked on.

By this stage my dad aged 59, being very nearly twice my age, was leaving me behind! Both Sam and I were trailing behind but Sam had an excuse as she was cycling her bike fully loaded with 4 panniers and a bar bag packed with all the gear she is taking on the trip. My Dad and I on the other hand were cycling with two panniers and a bar bag stuffed with fleeces and dressing gowns! Not quite so heavy, or organised but at least we would keep warm if need be!

Sam and I were struggling for the last 5 miles where we were hit with a few hills. We stopped on the roadside at a roundabout where I attempted to regain some feeling in my bum. We arrived at Marks and enjoyed a nice cuppa tea having cycled 50miles! Mum had met us there to load the bikes on the bike rack and drive us home. Unfortunately, only two bikes would fit on the rack so my bike Betty was left behind in Folkestone. I shall consider fetching it one night this week as we leave on Friday! I can not imagine doing today’s ride again tomorrow and the next day, and the next day for 3 weeks!

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Training Ride

Saturday 12th March 2011

Today was our first training ride with all three of us together. The sun was shining and we were blessed with blue skies, perfect riding weather.

We set off to Eynsford then followed our noses through to Kemsing and Wrotham before arriving home approx 4 hours later with 36 miles under our belts. Of course we had a couple of cheeky stops at a sweet shop and to pet Derek and Madge the donkeys, as you do.

We made it to the highest point in Kent a few times during the ride and it certainly felt like it! I am sure the entire ride was up hill! Its only two weeks before we leave and have set ourselves a target of 50 miles a day each day for 3 weeks with the only planned day off to climb Ben Nevis.

Today the weather was amazing but this morning we all watched a BBC news weather report that showed a huge blanket of snow right the way across the north! Nightmare, fingers crossed it clears in the next two weeks! Come rain, wind, shine or snow we will make it, im sure! It just may be a bit of a shock to the system as to date I have only cycled in sunny countries and for Sam and Dad this is their first cycle tour. One of the major concerns is directions, we are going to be lost with out Kris to follow!