Monthly Archives: May 2014

Day thirteen: Lairg

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This is the Skye Bridge linking the island with the mainland.
Other than that I was cycling all day, cycling, cycling, cycling. I finished in Lairg which leaves me as well positioned as I could have hoped for. The east has more settlements but as I headed north, again the isolation became apparent.  There is just one place large enough to support a bike shop between here and John O’groats now. One final push required tomorrow.

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Day twelve: Isle of Skye

I met Jon this morning.  He rented a bike at Fort William and will be doing the 3 Pistes sportive on Sunday. That’s 100 miles in one day with 2,700m of climbing over three ski resorts in Scotland, they claim that it’s the highest cycle sportive in the UK and I’m not going to argue.  Good luck with that Jon!

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We headed out west to the Isle of Skye. The quality of the tarmac has been exceptional up north.  I would complain that we pay the EU bureaucrats a great deal of money to shield them from short term political and economic reality and take long term strategic decisions, adding a supranational layer to overcome the individual self interests of nations and instead they lay smooth black tarmac in the middle of nowhere to encourage us to destroy the countryside that still remains.  This week I’m loving the tarmac.

Going west is the wrong direction really. It means I’m going to have to put in two huge days and hope that the weather is kind and the bike holds up. All the advice is to avoid the A9 on the east coast so I had planned to go up the west coast for the scenery.  Sod that, I just want to get this done now. So I’m going to take a shorter route by going inland. The advantage is that it’s shorter and nearer civilisation (better phone signal and more places to stay), the downside is that there may be more gradient.

Day eleven: still in Fort William

A rest day in Fort William

I can understand why the telecoms companies don’t build masts in isolated locations but I don’t understand why people live like this.  Maybe the people that do find high density cities like London equally difficult. Fort William is an oasis in the desert but since Glasgow I’ve had only very occasional internet access and it’s made me realise how much I rely on it: finding accommodation, supermarkets, restaurants, routes, counting calories/ protein, uploading this blog, etc. Life is much harder without it. The most popular supermarket around here is a specialist in frozen food (but not the chavvy one you’re thinking of) and that perhaps shows how long people go without visiting a town centre. It’s jerry can country.

Given the isolation it’s striking to find that the majority of staff in hotels (at least front of house) are from eastern Europe. I can’t imagine that anyone moves to the edge of a loch to find a job, the hotel owners must be mandating a recruitment agency or engaging in a recruitment process that deliberately searches further afield and entices people to move here. Increasingly we’re in an international labour market and that is going to keep wages suppressed.

The independence debate is raging in Scotland. Alex Salmond is a canny operator and it’s interesting that part of his plan to deal with an increasingly elderly population is to encourage further immigration. I’d consider moving but it would have to be to Glasgow or Edinburgh.

Day ten: Fort William

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5km ahead of schedule is not enough to allow me to visit the isles of Islay and Jura and perhaps that is for the best, whisky tasting and cycling don’t sound like a great combination. Studying the ferry timetable it looks like the frequency of the service is related to the number of distilleries so my idea to visit the Outer Hebrides isles of Harris and Lewis is looking equally unlikely.

It proved difficult to find somewhere to stay in Arrochar. I ended up in a Fawlty-esque establishment with six coach loads of elderly holiday makers, bag pipes and dancing. The phone network has been intermittent since Glasgow so asking whether they had wifi, I was told “yes we do, but it’s not working”.  Wifi in general has been shocking everywhere.

The rule in Scotland seems to be that it will rain in the afternoon, it may rain in the morning.
This morning the sun was shining.  Here’s a photo of Inveraray Castle:

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I made it to Fort William which is 10km ahead of schedule but I’m going to lose that as I’m meeting Jon here on Thursday.  That gives me a rest day to give my knees a break; I’ve tried all sorts of adjustments but cannot shift the pain from the lower inside corner of the knee cap and sometimes it seems to run down my legs. Maybe it’s just inflamed after so many consecutive days.

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Day nine

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This is a photo of the Glasgow School of Art designed by Rennie Macintosh. The fire has been big news on the Scottish version of the news I’ve been watching. As I walked past, the fire brigade and police were still there as well as an army of people carrying out the contents in crates.

On the way out of Glasgow I found myself by accident on the motorway.  Thankfully after a short trip over the river there was a chance to exit but that was enough time for quite a few kind hearted white van drivers to wind down their windows and explain where they thought I might have gone wrong. Noisier but on balance safer than some A roads.

After three big days on the bike I wanted to have an easier day.  I haven’t suffered any muscle ache since Cornwall (the protein shakes with BCAAs I found in Bristol probably helped) but my knees are hurting.  It all started when I raised the height of my saddle which had a number of implications that cyclists will be familiar with: cleats needed to be adjusted, the saddle needed to be tilted and the additional leaning forwards was causing pain in the lower back and hands. So I stopped at Arrochar, now just 5km ahead of schedule.

The scenery in Scotland is stunning and for the first time since Cornwall I’ve been able to smell the sea. I’m not sure how good it is for swimming in, there is a lot of MOD infrastructure around and this park of tens of caravans:

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Day eight: Glasgow

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Here’s the point, not far from Carlisle, that I crossed into Scotland. No customs officers (yet) and no sign of Hadrian’s wall.

I’ve worked for a Scottish company for over ten years and have always liked the unostentatious professionalism of Scots.  However the only place in Scotland I’ve been to is Edinburgh so was looking forward to visiting Glasgow. A third consecutive big day on the bike put me 52km ahead of schedule.  Glasgow is a growing conurbation and whilst the final 20km through the suburbs was thankfully a roll downhill, it was cold and raining the proverbial cats and dogs – so much so that I was unable to hold a pen and fill in a form to check in upon arrival.

Glasgow looks like a great city. Less formal and touristy than Edinburgh. I haven’t been able to get tickets for the cycling at the Sir Chris Hoy velodrome at the Commonwealth games this summer but I do want to come back. Unfortunately I passed the velodrome in the rain on the way in so didn’t get a chance to stop and take a closer look.

I spent the evening searching for a battered mars bar but in the end had to settle for a bridie and a Scotch pie. They seem to have a similar filling but the Scotch pie encases it in a hard pastry, whilst the bridie is much softer. I daren’t look up what the filling is made of but I can only describe it as the material that might be considered not robust enough to go into sausages. I couldn’t finish either of them.

Day seven: Carlisle

If London is considered South and Birmingham 200km to the north is the Midlands, Liverpool, Manchester and so on another 200km north are The North, what do you call the 200km to the north of that?

I’ve had requests for a photo of the bike as people don’t believe that I’m not on some train journey around the UK. Others have asked for a selfie – I think because they want to laugh at the hair cut. Hopefully two birds can be killed with one stone:

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It’s strange how much my mood on the bike is dictated by the weather.  Today was cold, wet and windy.  Couple that with the climbing required to get between the lake district and the Yorkshire dales and I was pretty miserable. If this is a taster of what is to come in Scotland I’m tempted to rename this a Tour of Britain and return to work earlier. 

I finished in Carlisle which puts me 27km ahead of schedule.