A few days on Hoy

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original_url: DSC_0104_3.JPG/1465811503000

I woke up on my second morning on this lovely campsite early. It’s fully light here at this time of year from about 3.30 am and although I curled back up in my sleeping bag when this first sky lightening occurred, the warm sun was beginning to heat the tent. Hard to sleep when that starts. I had planned to head north today, having spent a good bit of time exploring what South Ronaldsay had to offer, on foot and awheel. I took the causeways across from south Ronaldsay on to the Orkney Mainland via Burray, Gills Holm and Lambs Holm. It proved to be fascinating ride including glimpses back into Orkney’s past, with views of the rusting hulks of block ships, still visible as you pass over the causeways, old vessels deliberately wrecked to protect the Royal Navy in Scapa Flow.

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Orkneys, Shetland and a little detour to the Mainland

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I wonder why I have never thought of coming to Orkney before, given how much cycle touring I have done in nearly every other part of Scotland in the past. Perhaps because It’s north and east rather than north and west, the direction I’m usually headed. And also because access to the ferries that bring you over is via the A9, the far northern section of which I am not a fan. It’s narrow and very busy with big trucks. Not the best cycling experience in my opinion.
However, there are options which allow one to avoid it, especially now my daughter is living in Helmsdale, right at the end of a strath that has a handy road (or train) that can take you up to the north coast too. Continue reading

Beaches, Birds and a Boat to Barra

20140613-160315.jpgThis was my first visit to Coll. The threatened wind and rain had not fully materialised, passing over to the east and the evening proved to be warm enough for me to eat outside, sitting comfortably in my new Helinox chair (worth the money and the wee bit of extra weight) and then head down to the hotel for a drink in the garden. Then up the hill again and in to my sleeping bag.

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First Stop, Coll

Well, not really. An evening and morning in Glasgow with my daughter, then a train journey to Oban and then, Coll.
Hot, hot, hot. Well 22 degrees anyway…which is hot for this part of Scotland, especially in May. Standing waiting for the ferry to Coll, I had to dig my sunglasses out of my bar bag, the bright sea glare of the sun was beginning to hurt my eyes.
I have been spending large chunks of my spare time somewhere in Scotland for many years now, and there is still a lot of it I haven’t seen. Among these places, the Isle of Coll. A three hour crossing, sea flat calm, brilliant, sparkling, I spent most of that time out on deck, in a short sleeved t shirt. I think that may have been a first for me. Of all the Scottish ferry journeys I have made, and there have been a fair few, I don’t think I have been able to stand bare armed up on deck for more than half an hour or so, even on the finest of days.

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As the ferry neared the little island, however, the wind began to whip up, and the clouds began to pile in. The view of Mull in the distance, so clear for most of our voyage through the Sound of Mull, began to fade.

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Rain had indeed been forecast for later that evening, which decided my choice of camping spot for me…I had been looking at maps and thinking about heading to one of the dune beaches on the other side of the island…….but with bad weather on its way, I was tempted by the free camping field in a field behind the hotel. Easy access to hot showers, toilets, a warm place to hide if the weather got really bad seemed a more attractive option. I rode out of the tiny settlement of Arinagour, the main place on the island and rode round to where the field seemed to be on the map…just to check it out first…it looked OK, empty, and there was a fine view of the sea from up there with some sheltered spaces to pitch out of the the wildest blasts of wind and rain. So I rode back popped into the hotel, as you are asked to tell them if you wish to use the field. I spoke to a man who appeared to be serving himself behind the bar, and he proceeded to tell me about the field. He spoke with authority and I assumed from his manner, he was the landlord. I told him I had looked at the field and checked again with him that it was where I thought it was…he began to tell me I was mistaken, it wasn’t on the right, it was on the left and began to give me directions which confused me entirely…then he cast his eyes to heaven and said, “What is it with women and their complete lack of of sense of direction?
The barmaid looked a little uneasy at that point…I think she had noticed my eyes narrowing and the look on my face (I may have been growling and baring my teeth). “My sense of direction is fine”, I said, “at least, it has been good enough to get me across Europe on a bike in the past and back, with a tiny road map, so maybe if we start again?” At that point, the landlady appeared, and it soon became apparent that this guy was just a bloke drinking in the bar, and he had not realised (because he had not listened to me) that I had taken the road up to the camping field, which does lead you to view it from the right, but he was directing me from the track next to the hotel, from where it is on the left.
I pushed the bike up the steep track, past a rather ugly, aggressive looking church, to the field.

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By now the wind and rain was really setting in, so I chose a sheltered spot behind a rocky outcrop and pitched as quickly as I could. The Man from the bar appeared again, ostensibly offering assistance (politely declined) but I suspect to see with his own eyes, a woman pitching a tent without male assistance and hopefully prove his prejudices to be correct as I was sure to make mistake after mistake. I am sure he didn’t believe I could possibly do it without something going wrong and I was almost certain that, the usually simple job I can do in a few hitch free minutes would, on this occasion, be hampered by all sorts of problems, just because he was watching. However, this proved not to be the case and the tent was up, the Trangia out and boiling water, and tea made and offered to him in possibly the shortest amount of time I have ever done it. Result!>

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On the Road Again

On the train out of Euston for Glasgow again. 3 days ago the bike was still clamped firmly in the bike stand, in the middle of a pre tour service. Panniers still on top of the wardrobe, flat and unfilled. Not a thing laid out on the bed in barely organised pre packing piles. Eeeek!
Actually, I wasn’t that worried. It’s only a month. And I will be cycling in the Highlands and Islands not crossing continents.

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Still can’t persuade myself to use the front rack on the Roberts. I should really remove it..I have used it once in eight years. The thought of lugging four bags on and off the bike in order to access whatever form of mass transport I might have to use at some point on my trips, encourages very light packing. Which is fairly easy in summer. Winter trips are a little trickier when just a winter fleece and winter sleeping bag can fill one pannier on their own. But, ironically, now I finally have a bike fitted out to take that volume of kit, I am doing fewer winter journeys and feeling less like camping when I do them. Getting old, I guess.

It’s a long time since I have ridden a loaded tourer through Central London in rush hour. I usually make sure my train departure  enables a cross London journey at quieter times. But the availability of a very cheap ticket meant I was riding up Blackfriars Rd at the tail end of the rush hour, and forced to sit in the stream of heat belching engines rather than heading up the jam on the right as I would usually do on the singlespeed. The Roberts Roughstuff is a great bike, but it’s not made for traffic jamming. With it’s long wheelbase and big load on the back it’s secure, steady, strong and stable but not nippy! And nowhere near as fast and manoeuvrable as the Holdsworth, the bike on which I am usually to be found riding around city streets.  But, I had plenty of time, so just sat patiently, the only downside being the copious amounts of polluting particulates I was being forced to inhale…not a pleasant thought, especially for an asthmatic, like me.
But, I would still rather ride these streets, than drive them (how mad an idea is driving in London?) or cram myself into a tiny space on a bus, tube or overground train, where I am forced to breathe in a variety of bodily odours belonging to a diverse and large number of human beings, along with the manufactured odours they have purchased and, often far too copiously, applied to mask them.
And still faster than any other way of getting here from Southeast London, even on my magnificent beast of burden that was never built for speed.