Sunday, 27 June 2010
If you would like to download a GPX file of our whole route with a few bits straightened out, right click on the link below and save the target on your computer.
Right click on this link and save target to download GPX file
You can contact me at "eric at ericpercival.co.uk" if you would like gdb or gpx files of the planned route (which differs a little from the above) or if you have any questions on what we did and why.
Saturday, 26 June 2010
Sandy's stats are off his computer and GPS. He was working in kilometres and was reading slightly higher than me. His moving times are a bit less cos he was going quicker than me most of the time :-).
|Day 0 - 4th June - Edinburgh to Sennen|
|Comments||Home to station and Penzance to Sennen|
|Day 0.5 - 5th June - Sennen to Land's End|
|Comments||Steep climb out of Sennen!|
|Day 1 - 5th June - Land's End to Veryan||Eric (imperial)||Sandy (metric)|
|Distance||72.2 miles||123.9 km|
|Climbing||5500 feet||1533 metres|
|Moving time||7 Hours||7 hours 4 mins|
|Average speed||10.3 mph||17.5 kph|
|Max speed||35 mph||56.8 kph|
|Comments||Last 15 miles with a broken rear mech||Sandy did some extra miles looking for rear mech hanger|
|Day 2 - 6th June - Veryan to Okehampton||Eric (imperial)||Sandy (metric)|
|Distance||74.5 miles||121 km|
|Climbing||12700 feet (cumulative)||2071 metres|
|Moving time||7 Hours 48 mins||7 hrs 35 mins|
|Average speed||9.5 mph||15.9 kph|
|Max speed||33.3 mph||57.9 kph|
|Comments||First 15 miles with a broken rear mech|
|Day 3 - 7th June - Okehampton to Mark||Eric (imperial)||Sandy (metric)|
|Distance||88.6 miles||144 km|
|Climbing||17000 feet||1072 metres|
|Moving time||8 hrs||7 hrs 54 mins|
|Average speed||11 mph||18.2 kph|
|Max speed||28.7 mph||49.9 kph|
|Day 4 - 8th June - Mark to Ross on Wye||Eric (imperial)||Sandy (metric)|
|Distance||71.9 miles||116 km|
|Climbing||didn't record||1038 metres|
|Moving time||6 Hours 17 mins||6 hrs 4 mins|
|Average speed||11.4 mph||19.2 kph|
|Max speed||33.1 mph||58.9 kph|
|Day 5 - 9th June - Ross on Wye to Ironbridge||Eric (imperial)||Sandy (metric)|
|Distance||66.7 miles||106.9 km|
|Moving time||5 Hours 53 mins||5 hrs 51 mins|
|Average speed||10.4 mph||18.5 kph|
|Max speed||45.3 mph||73.5 kph|
|Day 6 - 10th June - Ironbridge to Standish||Eric (imperial)||Sandy (metric)|
|Distance||85.3 miles||138 km|
|Moving time||7 Hours 44 mins||7 hrs 34 mins|
|Average speed||11.0 mph||18.3 kph|
|Max speed||28.6 mph||48.4 kph|
|Day 7- 11th June - Standish to Kendal||Eric (imperial)||Sandy (metric)|
|Distance||62.5 miles||102 km|
|Moving time||5 Hours 30 mins||5 hrs 27 mins|
|Average speed||11.3 mph||18.7 kph|
|Max speed||29.5 mph||43.4 kph|
|Comments||Shortest full day|
|Day 8 12th June - Kendal to Langholm||Eric (imperial)||Sandy (metric)|
|Distance||66 miles||107.5 km|
|Moving time||5 Hours 33 mins||5 hrs 29 mins|
|Average speed||11.8 mph||19.6 kph|
|Max speed||33.2 mph||54.7 kph|
|Day 9 - 13th June - Langholm to Edinburgh/Dunfermline||Eric (imperial)||Sandy (metric)|
|Distance||73.7 miles||148 km|
|Climbing||42560 feet||1636 metres|
|Moving time||5 Hours 55 mins||7 hrs 12 mins|
|Average speed||12.4 mph||20.6 kph|
|Max speed||34.0 mph||56.1 kph|
|Comments||Eric went to Edinburgh||Sandy went to Dunfermline|
|Day 10 - 14th June - Edinburgh/Dunfermline to Blair Atholl||Eric (imperial)||Sandy (metric)|
|Distance||85 miles||110 km|
|Climbing||46780 feet||821 metres|
|Moving time||7 Hours 6 mins||5 hrs 20 mins|
|Average speed||11.9 mph||20.6 kph|
|Max speed||33.8 mph||56.2 kph|
|Comments||Eric started in Edinburgh||Sandy started in Dunfermline|
|Day 11 - 15th June - Blair Atholl to Balloch||Eric (imperial)||Sandy (metric)|
|Distance||86.95 miles||141 km|
|Climbing||48980 feet||1068 metres|
|Moving time||6 Hours 49 mins||6 hrs 38 mins|
|Average speed||12.7 mph||21.2 kph|
|Max speed||31.9 mph||68.0 kph|
|Day 12 - 16th June - Balloch to Crask||Eric (imperial)||Sandy (metric)|
|Distance||67.35 miles||109 km|
|Climbing||52300 feet||901 metres|
|Moving time||5 Hours 37 mins||5 hrs 23 mins|
|Average speed||11.9 mph||20.3 kph|
|Max speed||29.9 mph||51.4 kph|
|Day 13 - 17th June - Crask to Castletown||Eric (imperial)||Sandy (metric)|
|Distance||69.8 miles||113 km|
|Climbing||56110 feet||1020 metres|
|Moving time||4 hrs 58 mins||4 hrs 47 mins|
|Average speed||14.0 mph||23.6 kph|
|Max speed||36.5 mph||73 kph|
|Day 14 - 18th June - Castletown to John O'Groats||Eric (imperial)||Sandy (metric)|
|Distance||24.5 miles||40 km|
|Climbing||57280 feet||329 metres|
|Moving time||1 hr 57 mins||1 hr 54 mins|
|Average speed||12.3 mph||20.8 kph|
|Max speed||48.6 kph|
|Day 14.5 - 18th June - Back to Thurso||Eric (imperial)|
|Comments||Stopped at Dunnet churchyard on the way back|
Total distance - 995.7 miles
Friday, 25 June 2010
Thursday, 24 June 2010
Overall it was a great experience and something I feel a sense of achievement for having done. It's the first time I've done multiple days of long distances on a bike and carrying that amount of weight in panniers. I can see why people get addicted to the idea - and it increases my respect for someone like Mark Beaumont immensely. The idea of 195 days doing about 100 miles a day with a lot more weight than we were carrying beggars belief!
In the first 9 days I lost no weight at all. In the last 5 I lost a few pounds - probably due to fewer cake shops :-).
We raised about 2800 pounds for RP- Fighting Blindness along the way - thanks to everyone who contributed, particularly those we met along the way including the "Bettyhill Babes" who paid some of our coffee and cake bill when we realised we had insufficient cash! It's hard to pick the top cake shops - the one in Carrbridge scores highly for having a table with cakes laid out and you picked your own :-). The most unusual cake award goes to lumpy bumpy cake in Kinross.
The best lunch remains the one with John and Frieda in Chepstow - very welcome after a long morning skirting Bristol on some pretty busy roads to reach the Severn Bridge.
People were really friendly and helpful throughout. The folks at the Elerkey guest house who even volunteered to let us cannibalise their son's bicycle to sort my broken rear mech hanger, the "Lord Mayor of Mark" and friends who we met in the Pack Horse Inn in Mark (the wettest day of the trip,) the B&B owners in Mark who took us in despite (or perhaps because of) our bedraggled state, the B&B owners in Langholm (Wauchope Cottage) who have previously done the end to end thing, where they even had bike racks and a map to show the way to the pub (and yes, I do really know the difference between a suspension bridge and a stone bridge,) the B&B in Blair Atholl where we were mobbed by tame blackbirds, Robbie for putting us up for a night in Inverness, Mike and Kai at the Crask Inn (best unplanned experience of the whole trip) who let Sandy sleep in the summer house and the lady at the B&B in Thurso who let us take Sandy's bike apart in her back garden and gave us the best sandwiches, made with home made bread, to eat on the train home.
Most places we stayed were really good - the top award probably goes to The Crask Inn - mainly for the novelty of the experience - with a tie between Wauchope Cottage in Langhom and Dalgreine Guest House in Blair Atholl, closely followed by The Elerkey Guest House in Veryan and Kingsley Farm in Mark.
The weather was fairly kind to us. There was only one day where we ended the day wet - we had one other fairly wet day and the odd shower. Temperature was fairly good for cycling - although it was cold the day we went over Shap and absolutely baltic on the last day. The wind was northerly throughout, although for the most part it was light enough not to notice - the exceptions being going over Shap and the last day.
We pushed up a few hills on the first couple of days - not helped by loss of drive on my bike - and some more on the 5th day. I think we pushed up one short one in the whole of Scotland, which must mean that Scotland is basically flat(?).
The scenery throughout was for the most part great - great variation across the length of the country. One of the odd things is that Britain on a bicycle somehow seems smaller than Britain done by car or train. Even though it takes longer to get places, every day we got to somewhere distinctly different - different scenery, accents, beer....whereas travelling by car it seems to take ages to get to the next major place down a busy motorway. We were on back roads for the majority of the trip - even the A roads we were on were pretty much like back roads a lot of the way. For the most part we avoided towns and cities - but when we did have to traverse them they were rather hard work - Exeter, Telford, Warrington, Wigan, Lancaster, Penrith and Carlisle coming to mind in particular. The one way systems had a habit of taking you a long way round - which could easily be done more directly on a bicycle.
Of the major points along the way, The Lizard was probably the most spectacular. Dunnet Head was rugged - but it was so cold and windy we didn't really get to appreciate it. Land's End was ok - good views and it was sunny - but John O'Groats had little to recommend it.
The train home was perhaps the least exciting part of the whole trip - I was certainly glad to get home that afternoon after the air conditioning in the carriage we were in failed.
So we did it - we have plenty of memories - many but not all of them recorded in this blog. Thanks to everyone who supported us and a personal thanks to Sandy for accompanying me on this journey.
Tuesday, 22 June 2010
Getting to your start point - the easiest way is to travel by train - but book as far ahead as you can (12 weeks is the current maximum.) That way you can get an Advance ticket which depending on where you're travelling from can be a LOT cheaper than the standard fare. Since you have to travel on the same train as your bikes and you need to make a bike reservation at the same time this is the obvious thing to do.
One decision to make is whether to get to somewhere near Land's End (or John O'Groats) the night before or do the extra miles in the morning. If you choose the latter then allow for the extra miles in your first day's plan. Personally I would recommend the former - there are quite a few B&B's near John O'Groats and also a fair bit of accommodation near Land's End (although booking ahead is important.)
Getting home from your destination - This can be a bit tricky! If you are certain you can stick to a schedule then you can book a train and reserve bike spaces - but obviously there is rather more uncertainty. The big problem is the limited bike spaces available on trains - and in the case of Thurso and Wick, there is a very limited number of trains available - 4 per weekday/Saturday and 1 on Sunday. I made the mistake of trying to organise our return travel on a Sunday evening and ended up talking to somebody useless in a call centre. All the train companies seem to use the same call centre. I then tried booking online through the the East Coast Railways website and despite thinking I had a bike reservation, I didn't.
There are a couple of other options - it is possible to post your bike home. The bike shop in Thurso will sell you a box (15 pounds - a bit cheeky since other places will pretty much pay you to take them away...but supply and demand and all that) and help you dismantle and pack your bike. You then take it to the post office about a quarter mile away and simply mail it. It cost me less than 20 pounds including insurance. The bike beat me home! You can also try dismantling your bike and putting it in bags/boxes and putting them on the train. Sandy did this and it worked perfectly for him. Obviously it depends how small your bike will go. With these options it matters a lot less if you miss a train connection (assuming you have an Anytime rather than an Advance ticket.)
It is also possible to catch the Orkney bus to Inverness from either John O'Groats or Wick. The leaflet says they will carry bikes for free - but I suspect it is likely down to how much space they have. Some websites say they don't take bikes - but the photographer at John O'Groats recommended this option to us. That would save pedalling back to Wick or Thurso (about 20 miles) to catch a train. It seems to go twice a day.
Another option would be to cadge a lift from a supported group - we didn't try this one either - but it's quite possible you could get a lift back a good chunk of the way if your arrival timed nicely with a group with a minibus and big enough bike trailer.
Accommodation - Some people choose to camp - this is obviously the cheapest and most flexible option - but it can be quite a lot of extra weight to carry. We met quite a few people taking this option, but personally it's not for me.
Bed and Breakfast - the main question is how far ahead to book. We booked the first two nights' accommodation - the one before we set off in Sennen and the first night of the trip proper in Veryan. Despite booking three months ahead this was much harder than anticipated. The B&B's I tried in Sennen were all booked and we ended up staying in The Old Success Inn in Sennen Cove. This was fine - except it was at the bottom of a very steep hill. The first night proper I had been aiming for Tregony, but again they were all fully booked 12 weeks ahead, so we switched to Veryan - which as it turned out was a good choice.
For the most part we didn't book ahead - although if staying somewhere busy like Kendal I would recommend doing so. I would also recommend it for the quieter or more remote places. We phoned ahead to Langholm and got into the 3rd place out of the 4 showing on the web. The stretch between Lairg and Bettyhill (or Tongue) is also very sparsely populated and other than Crask and Altnaharra there is absolutely nothing in terms of accommodation. The Altnaharra hotel is also expensive so beware.
Money - Lots of B&B's don't take credit cards, so carrying some cash is quite important. Also, lots of places in the north of Scotland don't take plastic either.
Daily Distances - Obviously your mileage will vary - we planned on doing 55 to 80 miles a day with the exception of the last day. We nearly always ended up doing a few more than planned - in one case almost 20 more - but that did allow us a shorter day later on. Most of the deviation was down to the difference in joining dots on the GPS versus actual wiggles and ups and downs. Some deviation was down to varying the route to avoid traffic or similar. Our shortest day bar the last one was 62 miles - the longest 88 (or for Sandy, 92). We had plans to do a bit more sightseeing along the way, but after the Eden project we didn't do a whole lot. Our focus became getting a decent number of miles done early on and not finishing the day too late, particularly if we didn't have accommodation booked. If I did it again I would a) take a different route (the one we did was fine - just a bit of variation) and b) aim to do fewer miles each day and do more of the sight-seeing thing.
What to carry - We started off with three sets of cycling gear, some tools, lights, waterproofs and some gear to wear in the evenings. This didn't seem like a whole lot, but it's amazing how the weight and bulk builds up. We also had a book each and I brought along a decent camera. Sandy used the camera on his phone. We reduced the load slightly in Edinburgh/Dunfermline, but not a whole lot. If you can wash stuff along the way and get it dry in time, then that helps keep the volume of stuff down. We didn't carry any maps - relying on the GPS the whole way. That worked ok, although the maps on the GPS itself were sometimes a problem - although not a serious one.
Saturday, 19 June 2010
The train guards swapped over somewhere down the line - the second guy was a lot more pleasant - no jack boots or swastikas in sight.
As we got to Dingwall the conductor announced over the tannoy that there would be a three minute stop in case anyone needed a quick cigarette - first time I've heard that particular announcement.
The train got into Inverness on time and we switched trains for the journey to Kirkcaldy/Edinburgh. A lot of the seats were reserved - although it looked like the tickets had been randomly distributed around the carriage. As is often the case, either the people didn't turn up or sat elsewhere. All except a large American girl who proceeded to clamber over Sandy to get to her seat - she managed to wedge herself in - although I was a bit worried that we'd need a couple of crowbars and a pound or two of lard to get her out again - tyre levers just wouldn't have been able to do the job!
The only other incident of note was Sandy exploding in fits of laughter at a particular point in his book, "A Walk in the Woods" by Bill Bryson. For those that have read it it's the part where Bryson comes back from trying to buy insect repellent. He had to leave the carriage for a few minutes to recover.
Somewhere along the way the air conditioning in our carriage ceased to function and it all got a bit hot. The guard opened the window after Kirkcaldy, which is where Sandy got off to catch the train to Inverkeithing.
I got home to discover that my bike had made it back to Edinburgh before me - well done Royal Mail - although I'll have to go and collect it from the local post office - they said they couldn't carry it up the stairs - which I don't want them to do anyway because it lives in the garage!
So the big adventure is over. I'll add some photos and final thoughts later.
Up early to catch the train. The lady of the house gave us some sandwiches made with home made bread - which were definitely the best sandwiches of the trip.
We carted our stuff including Sandy's bags of bike bits up to the station in plenty of time.
There was a lady heading back to Dumfries and a few other folk arrived while we were waiting, one with a bike. It looked like we could probably have gotten one if not both bikes on - but there were 4 on the train in total.
After the train set off we got the Spanish Inquisition from the guard - "Are you the guy who put a bike on in Thurso?" No. "Are you sure?" I even pointed out who it was. "I've asked everyone on the train" he said. 5 minutes later he had it figured out (the bike was booked, but needed to be put on the other rack so's the tea trolley could get through.) After that he was all smiles again.
The train crosses the most desolate landscape on its way south. On a grey day like today the sense of isolation is emphasised. It stops at a few tiny communities - some of them request stops. I wonder if people stand on the platform with their arm out?
Friday, 18 June 2010
So to the results. In time honoured tradition, I shall annouce the rewards in reverse order.
In 3rd place, nothing (you will see why after I announce 2nd place), however IF I were to fill that place it would go to Deuchars IPA which we had in Langholm.
In joint 2nd, we have Shropshire Gold, and Crask Inn's Wednesday nights bottled Black Isle Yellowhammer IPA. Really smooth, and not too gassy for a bottled beer. I just could not choose between them.
And you already knew the winner. Head shoulders and some other measures above all the others is HPA. Beautiful, smooth, clear, loved it.
Best cider is Sams, although we didn't get to try too many before we left the cider west country.
All told a great oddysey and lots of fun conducting such vital refreshment research,
Up at 8 for breakfast and on the road for a little after 8.30. We cycled the couple of miles to Dunnet village and decided not to look for the churchyard on the way but do it on the way back - just as well as it turned out because we had gone past it. It was a strong cold north,north westerly wind which was in our faces as we climbed the 3 miles up to Dunnet Head. A very different kettle of fish to The Lizard with all its touristy bits and restaurants and gifty shops. We climbed up to the viewpoint and took some photos then wandered down to the lighthouse. It is well over 20 years since I was last here - not a lot seems to have changed.
From there it was straightforward to John O'Groats. The wind was unrelenting but other than that we made decent progress. We arrived just before 10.45 a.m. and immediately made for the shelter of the coffee shop. It has to be said that John O'Groats is still a dump with little or nothing to recommend it.
All in all a slightly anti-climatic moment - what are we going to do after riding bikes for 6 or 7 hours a day for the last two weeks? "It is better to travel hopefully than arrive."
We put on some extra layers of clothing and posed for the official souvenir photos then set off back towards Thurso. We called in at Dunnet village as I wanted to see the grave of one of my set of gtx4 grandparents. I already had a photo that someone had sent me but it was nice to see it for myself. I spent some of last night looking around Olrig cemetery and the ruins of the old church there.
Anyway, we got to Dunnet and just as I was about to cycle up the road I spotted the church. Whew. Saved myself a couple of extra miles :-).
After taking photos we headed back into Thurso for lunch. On the way we met the guy we had last seen in Ross on Wye. He had stayed in Tongue last night. His mishaps had continued. He had hit a pothole and buckled his frame. We chatted for a few minutes and then continued on our way.
Given the challenges of getting bikes on trains I decided to post my bike back to Edinburgh. There was a bike shop close to where we had lunch so I went to ask their advice. He was prepared to sell me a bike box that meant I could post the bike home. Good enough so that's what I did. He apparently did 59 of those last year. It seems whether or not you get extra bikes on the train is down to the guard. Some are helpful and some aren't. The owner also said that it was down to the council as to what kind of service Scotrail provide!
We then went and found the b&b we had called in at yesterday, had a quick shower and went up to the station to observe the 4.30 train. We met some more end to enders waiting to catch it. One guy had done it in 9 days.
The good news is that the luggage racks are certainly big enough to take Sandy's bike if dismantled, so that was the next project. We will therefore catch the 6.48 a.m. train tomorrow and get home in reasonable time.
I think I will go and tout my cycle reservation for the 4.30 tomorrow :-). It must be worth a few quid to someone.
Now in a bar for tea. Thurso doesn't have a whole lot to recommend it on that front!
I'll not do full accurate stats, I'm sure Eric will, his numbers are a little differnt to mine, mainly because of my 7 miles detour to look for a new mech hanger on the 1st day!
My total was 1621km in 84hr 12mins, just over 1000 miles approx. Total climbing was approx 15622 metres with two big days in Cornwall, one in Shropshire, one in the borders, which was also my longest day at 92.5m (148km), that was also my favourite day. Best place to stay was Crask, the wendy house view that morning was amazing. Roads were great with generally excellent surfaces, the only exception was Edinburgh, obviously all the money is in the trams.
Best (only) icecream was in Milnthorpe
Best (only) whiskey was on the Dalwhinnie tour.
Biggest hill was Drumochter 462m, hardest hill into the wind was Shap, although the borders day with 6 times over 300m was great.
Beer blog not yet completed. Update later.
Only breakdown was Erics hanger
Cakes eaten - incalculable
Lance Armstrong might have to ride a bit faster than us, but not carrying all those cakes and having to write a beer blog. Lance - must do better.
Thursday, 17 June 2010
Tonight there will definately be no contenders, I might have to resort to a mini lager competition to keep us focused. Hopefully tomorrow night back in Thurso, we can find the final few condenders, maybe one or two of the Orkney ales.
Update on the wendy house from last night was that it was FREE. Just had to cough up for dinner and breakie. The tent totting Dutch lads we met last night mentioed that the Scottish midges dont sleep. One of them had to get out of the tent for a pee in the middle of the night and didn't bother putting anything on. It took him a while to itch them off before he could get back to sleep. He didn't state how undressed he was at the time.
Random punchline inspired by passing at least 1000 passing places (I do not exagerate). ...... Can't get the toilet seat down......
Todays scenery staggering, Mclovin it. Sandy
We left after breakfast at about 8.45 a.m. having just about cleaned out our cash reserves paying the bill. If it wasn't that they didn't charge Sandy for staying in the summer house we would have been toiling. We bought a couple of book tokens with paintings on them that show remote a place Crask is!
The other end to enders from London who were planning on completing the journey today had only just shown up for breakfast as we were leaving. They were aiming to do over 100 miles. We gave them the tip as to which was the best road to take to Bettyhill.
We made good time to Altnaharra - downhill most of the 7 miles where we caught up with the Dutch pair heading for Orkney. They had stopped for coffee and had just gotten back on the road. We chatted for a few minutes before leaving them behind as we pedalled up beside the loch. It was a great ride up to Bettyhill. Hardly any traffic. Almost flat with little ups and downs. We saw the RAF practising their low flying although not as low as the other day. We also stopped at MacLeod's Gloomy Monument which had information about the highland clearances.
We stopped for coffee at Bettyhill at the tourist information place. It hadn't struck us that they wouldn't take plastic and we thought we were going to have to pedal back up a steep hill to get some cash. Fortunately some other customers came to our rescue - we will add what they subbed us to the donations. They were a couple of ladies - who Sandy christened the Bettyhill babes :-). They have retired here from Manchester - about as far away as you can get from the rat-race they said and they are never going back. They then proceeded to tell us where they lived and that nobody up here locks their doors.
Re-fuelled we continued on towards Thurso. It was a bit hilly in places - fairly long climbs followed by some decent fast descents. Some of the scenery was simply stunning.
We made it into Thurso and headed for the train station to confirm our bookings for Saturday. Ha ha! As I had suspected, despite ticking the boxes on the website we didn't have a bike space reservation.
We considered the options and decided to get a later train - but that doesn't quite work because in the time we were considering one of the bike spaces from Inverness to Edinburgh disappeared. We decided we will take the bikes to bits and get them on that way. It's only a 2 carriage train and I don't imagine it will be too busy at 6.40 in the morning. Rules and regulations will be the problem. I asked the girl at the counter why they didn't put more bike spaces on and got a story about the number of passengers not justifying more than two carriages. Like go figure! Maybe you need a different kind of carriage.
After that aggravation we went to look for a b&b for Friday night - we found a place near the station that said no vacancies but we rang the doorbell on the chance there would be space tomorrow night.
The woman said she hadn't been doing b&b for a while but she would put us up if we were quiet.
We then went back down to the tourist information place to see about accommodation in Castletown. I phoned the only listed place - the Castletown Hotel. Result, so we pedalled the 5 miles and arrived in good time.
We have done about 70 miles today, leaving just over 20 for tomorrow including Dunnet Head. We had a very high average speed today - around 15 mph.
After checking in we went for a wander down to the harbour and the flagstone trail. Flagstones used to be quarried here and shipped all over the world. I haven't confirmed it, but I suspect that one of my ancestors who was listed in the census as a stonemason probably worked there.
Now, following tea in the bar, it's time to watch the football, although I willgo see if I can find some network coverage first.
Guess what - no mobile coverage again.
We have come on 5 miles from Thurso to Castletown where some of my ancestors come from and are staying in The Castletown Hotel. The train hassle has put a slight dampener on things. We have booked a b&b in Thurso for tomorrow night and will have a go at getting the bikes onto the very early train in bits.
TV coverage is broken - the digital switchover is happening and at the moment there seems to be neither analog or digital available.
No phone coverage again, but no matter.
Set off at 8.45 in warm sunshine and made good time down to Altnaharra - averaged better than 16 mph. Beautiful scenery, then alongside the loch and the river - almost flat until we got to Bettyhill.
Well that has to be the best evening we've spent on this trip by a remote country 8 miles (the distance to the next habitation).
Dinner in the bar with a bunch of other cyclists. 3 of them doing the end to end thing, a Welsh couple who had been on Orkney and Shetland and a couple of Dutch blokes who were heading towards Orkney and Shetland.
Angus from Kirkcaldy who comes up here for weeks at a time played the accordion.
We got through most of the Black Isle beers.
A beautiful sunset topped it off.
Sandy has retired to his Wendy house for the night.
Mike and Kai have been running this place for the last 13 years. Electricity comes from a generator. It couldn't be described as luxurious but it's comfortable and homely. No TV or the like, but there is no need for it. Given at one point today we thought we might be sleeping in a field I would have to say we have lucked out big time. This is one of those things we'll remember for a very long time.
This is turning into the most bizarre experience of the whole trip.
We are sitting at the bar. People keep turning up. A party of 10 just showed up from the lake district for a 30th birthday party. An Australian/French couple showed up for dinner - squeezed in. There are some Dutch people camping outside in the front garden.
We are working our way through the Black Isle Brewery beers. I think we may be zig zagging up the road tomorrow. Angus is next door practising his accordion.
A group of 3 more cyclists are showing up shortly - one is here already.
Dinner is at 7.30 - Venison.
This is just pure dead brilliant :-)
No phone coverage again, so this will appear tomorrow I imagine.
Last night we went into Inverness for an Indian, then returned to sample the Dalwhinnie whisky we had brought up the road with us.
We took our leave after breakfast at about 8.30 and headed over the Kessick bridge. Getting onto it was fairly straightforward although crossing the road wasn't so easy. The only "help" being a sign saying "High speed dual carriageway - cross with care" - like we hadn't noticed!
The cycle path left the side of the A9 after a while which was a relief. We saw a sign for The Black Isle Brewery, but we couldn't tell how far off the route it was and also whether or not it would be open so decided to give it a miss.
We continued on until we got to a junction where the A9 took a direct route to the bridge across the Cromarty Firth but the cycle route took a massive detour via Conon Bridge. We opted for the A9 - no cycle protection which for a relatively new road is ridiculous. The bridge was much the same - although there was at least a bumpy pavement - which just stopped at the other end.
We regained the cycle route shortly after and then turned onto a B road towards Bonar Bridge.
We got some splendid views across the Dornoch Firth as we approached. Not too surprisingly there was nowhere selling coffee. I suspect the Food Safety Act has put anyone doing it on a casual basis out of business.
We got to Ardgay - one shop that sold coffee and no cakes, so pressed on to Bonar Bridge - just another mile up the road where we found a cafe and filled our faces. We tried phoning a couple of places in Altnaharra for accommodation. Both were fully booked - which was a bit concerning because there is almost nothing between there and the North coast, another 30 miles or so.
We decided to go onto Lairg - another 10 miles up the road - with the option of staying there if we couldn't find anywhere further on. We found the tourist information - which showed a place called Crask, which has an Inn. Sandy called them - initially they said they were full, but offered us the summer house. Sounded good enough to us so we set off the 12 miles or so, which would leave us only 8 miles short of our target.
The wind was in our faces on a single track A road that just climbed and climbed. Surely it must go down after the next bend? We passed the 900 mile mark and then came around the corner to see a farmhouse and The Crask Inn in the middle of nowhere. It reminds me of the Tan Hill Inn in Yorkshire.
We were welcomed by the proprietors and given a welcome cup of tea. Sandy is sleeping in the summerhouse and I am in a single room in the main building.
An excellent and unexpected find.
You cannot hear the distant cuckoos or squabbling swallows darting around and a slight background drone of honey bees.
What I cannot hear is traffic or human noise of ANY kind.
I was awake briefly in the night, and found the birds still singing, probably because it didn't actually get dark, and therefore no dawn chorus either.
Wierd and wonderful
Wednesday, 16 June 2010
For those of you who do not know where Crask is, I'm not surprised. It is 250m up on an isolated moor and consists of an Inn. Yup, this is it. The Inn however is full, Eric got the owners son's room, the son Tom is sleeping in a caravan, while I volunteered for the summer house - see pics.
It's a realhome from home with a gas lamp, a one bar electric heater, 3 chairs and a bed. I love it and the view out my front door is staggering.
Eric mentioned in an earlier blog that we were in the middle of no-where, but we were mistaken, THIS is the middle of a beautiful, isolated, no-where.
First punchline with no pictures...... 36, yes thought that would get you laughing, if you hadn't heard it before.
Battled headwinds all day, one rain
shower, 67miles or so, no real hassles.
Big thanks to the folks at the Crask Inn for looking after us. The alternative was another 30 miles to Tongue and a VERY short day tomorrow. Eric has no cell coverage.... Again.
Tuesday, 15 June 2010
We got away about 8.30 a.m. after breakfast of porridge and smoked salmon with scrambled eggs. That has been a family favourite since discovering it in Norway many years ago.
The first 10 miles seemed fairly flat, but we were actually climbing pretty much from the off. The route was close to the A9 for most of the day - either on the path beside it or on a nearby road. We followed cycle route 7 until the last 5 or 6 miles - and in fact we could have stayed on it until the last mile.
We climbed over Drumochter just as the sun disappeared. Some splendid views over the loch near the top.
We carried on into Dalwhinnie where we paused to visit the distillery. We took the tour and did the tasting. After that we bashed on towards Newtonmore, stopping for coffee and toasties and a non home made cake at Rialla. The path was very well sign posted as far as Kingussie. After that they must have run out of stickers.
We paused briefly to survey the ruins of Ruthven barracks before bashing on, now quite a way from the main road, towards Aviemore. From there it was onto Carrbridge where we stopped at a small cofffee shop that said cyclists welcome. There was a whole table of homemade cakes. We were told to help ourselves - so we did :-). Two pieces of cake, a cup of coffee and a milkshake each later we were feeling suitably revived for the last 25 miles. Up over Slochd summit and then along the back roads to Balloch, which to all intents and purposes is Inverness - at least it is in my book.
We saw quite a few curlews today and a dead deer beside the A9. Yesterday we saw a live one near Dalguise.
Various quality of surfaces from excellent to diabolical.
A long day in the saddle but a good average speed of almost 13 mph.
Today's new game for bike geeks is gear gambling. As you approach a hill how high a gear are you prepared to go up it in? I'll raise you a chain ring...if you make it up in the higher gear you win :-).
Check out the graffiti-esque sign for the cycle path at Dalwhinnie, and the old car got me thinkink about a bonus punchline........ No officer he had a Cortina.....!
Been through Newtonmore, Kingussie (in the background behind the barracks), Aviemore, currently having more cake in Carrbridge, 25m to go until Inverness. Earlier blog was from Drumochter, not Slochd, cos that is just ahead...
We got away sharp about 8.30 and headed off up the road. Over Drumochter - long climb but not steep. Got buzzed by a low flying jet. Sustrans marketing department have done a good job calling something more akin to a cart track in places a cycle path.
About to take the distillery tour - but this won't get posted until later as there is no t-mobile coverage, just for a change. I shall not be renewing this particular contract!