Long Itch

Day 129: Leicester to Long Itchington England, Saturday August 26th

That’s not a typo, we camped in Long Itchington, or Long Itch to locals.

Our day started with a simple breakfast in Leicester, followed by the making of beds and vacuuming the room. Stewart, the Airbnb host gives you a choice: do these chores or pay a £7 cleaning fee to his paypal account. Naturally, we went the cheap route.

Getting out of Leicester started out well. It took us little time to get on the cycle route by the canal. But then we missed the rail trail entrance and ended up having to haul our bikes up some stairs to get on it later. Good thing we’ve had so much practice doing that.

It was sunny and bordering on hot. We took cycle route 6 and 50 almost straight south on trail and quiet roads through quaint towns. Then we cut west toward Rugby to find the 41. We barely saw any of Rugby as the cycle route dropped into forest to follow a stream. It did come back up at south edge of town, where we saw some guys playing rugby in Rugby.

The route took us through a couple more little towns, and along the way we met up with an older gent out for a ride of his own. We rode with him for awhile and he told us it was his first day out in three months due to illness. He was a character, and I was happy to finally meet a cyclist who goes our speed! While we all laboured up a hill he chirped, “It’s only gravity.” He also helped us out with directions to Long Itch.

Another gentleman helped us find the local grocery store, and then we arrived at the Marton Rd Farm campground. Some of the online reviews made it sound pretty terrible, but it was perfect for us. Although there was only one working shower for the whole place, there were no lines when we needed it, right after getting the tent up. The field was flat and the grass was soft. There was a fence to lean the bikes against. And there werepicnic tables! Enough for everyone!

Deb and I shared a bottle of wine and had a cold dinner of “reduced” (discounted) food from the Co-op at our own table, next to our tent, in the sunshine.

The sun is setting much earlier on our campsites now, so we turned in pretty early.

Distance: 60 km

$

Stamford … even the toilet blocks are Grade II-listed

Day 127: Peterborough to Stamford England, Thursday August 24th

Today felt like a new beginning. It was sunny and warm, with no rain in the forecast, and we had no idea what the cycle route would give us. Very exciting.

Cycle route 63 took us north and east, meandering through some park areas and mostly quiet roads. We got a little turned around in the old winding streets of Stamford, and ended up having to roll carefully down a flight of shallow stairs.

Our Airbnb was, yet again, excellent. Miranda and Mark had a beautiful house and they made us very welcome in it. They had a golden doodle puppy named Olive who was also keen to meet us. Our room was really nice, so nice the antique piano in it didn’t seem out of place. They gave us some advice about exploring the town. It had been a fairly short ride, so we had time to be tourists. We showered and set off.

Stamford is very Niagara-on-the-lake, but with older buildings. It was a perfect day for walking the pretty streets.

We stopped at a pub attached to a brewery. It was full of little cosy sitting areas, and the pints were very cheap.

We bought a couple of postcards, and stopped again for another pint at a pub that we found out later was renowned for having a very surly barman. He wasn’t mean to us.

When we returned to the Airbnb for dinner, Miranda and Mark said they were also about to eat, and they asked if we’d like to eat with them and have some wine. They were really interesting people, and we talked about Brexit (strongly opposed) about travel and Airbnb, and much more.

Distance: 28 km

$

Snowball

Day 123: Beith to Maybole, Scotland, Sunday August 20th

After a makeshift breakfast we rode out of Beith and back onto cycle route 7, heading south. It was a fairly nice day and we were on quiet roads in the country.

At Irvine the route hit the coast and we got our first views of the Atlantic ocean since the Orkneys. The path through Troon was all along parks and beaches and golf courses and there were a lot of people out.

 

Shortly after Ayr, the route briefly put us on a rather busy and fast road. I was pleased, at first, when it turned off onto a little single track road with almost no traffic.

Then we hit the Carrick Hills.

It was one of our more arduous climbs, and it was followed by a series of smaller, but still tough foothills, until we finally reached Maybole.

Our Airbnb was a very big, beautiful, old house with a huge garden and some outbuildings. It was a lot of space for our two hosts, Chris and Julie-Anne, and their four cats, so they’d decided to get on Airbnb. They were excellent hosts, and really fascinating people. Julie-Anne had just finished her Masters thesis, and Chris took amazing photographs of abandoned spaces. He’d even been to Chernobyl.

All their cats were fun, but Snowball had a face I could not get enough of.

There were other guests, and we ended up sharing dinner with Shaun (Sean?) from California, who was traveling and working remotely (web consulting). He was really interesting too, and we had excellent dinner conversation over pasta, red wine, and a little rhubarb pie for dessert.

Distance: 65 km

$90

A Cousin in Hamilton

Day 122: Kilbarchen to Beith, Scotland, Saturday August 19th

We were getting a bit weary, and faced another day with afternoon rain in the forecast, so we booked a room above a pub in a town only 20 km farther down the cycle route. This meant we could also linger over breakfast and chat some more with our hosts and their other guests.

There was just a little intermittent spitting rain when we finally got on the cycle path, which was right outside their door. Cycle route 7 here is all on old rail trail: flat and beautiful.

The Saracen Head Hotel had graciously offered to let us check in as early as noon, but with such a short distance to go, we still took our time, stopping frequently for photos.

Beith is just a little ways off the route, but we had no trouble finding the pub and they had a back corridor where we were able to store the bikes. Sadly, the Isle of Skye Brewing cask taps at the bar were no longer in use, but we survived. While we sat enjoying a pint we met John, an older gentleman with family who emigrated to Hamilton. I told him we might be related, but we weren’t able to connect our family trees.

We bought supplies at the local Co-op, and had a simple meal in our room, resting up for a tougher day to come.

Distance: 20 km

$106

Familiar Faces

Day 116: Brightons to Edinburgh, Scotland, Sunday August 13th

It was hard not to ride slowly to enjoy the good weather and the fantastic canal tow path cycle route, but we were anxious to get to the city to see our friends Allison and Aron. They were already in the midst of the Fringe craziness, and we exchanged messages as we drew closer to Beaverbank, the student residence where we all had rooms.

We had to push our bikes across a couple of old aqueducts. Water on one side, the drop on the other, and a narrow, rough, cobbled path between. The Avon, in particular, was a bit harrowing for Deb, as it is very long.

The ride through the city was a bit hectic, but we managed to carefully weave through the crowds.

We checked in, showered, and Deb ducked out to get supplies. Al and Aron arrived while she was out, and Aron, a true gent, gave me a cold beer. We spent some time catching up then went out dinner. The owner (manager?) of the restaurant gave us some Fringe tips.

We walked deeper into the festival area, thinking that we might find a show that interested us, but it was a warmish night, so when Allison spotted some seats outside a bar, we got drinks and enjoyed the people watching.

At 10 pm you can’t have outdoor drinks apparently, so our mini-crawl moved across the street. Then we returned to our rooms, planning some Fringe fun for Monday.

Distance: 50 km

$237

Dull, Boring and Bland

Day 109: Pitlochry to Acharn, Scotland, Sunday August 6th

Some of the riding on this day was on the Rob Roy Way, which we hiked back in 2011 with Will and Susanne. The route (still Cycle Route 7) follows the River Tay here, and it is mostly very quiet roads. Perthshire is beautiful.

We detoured into Aberfeldy to eat our lunch by the Black Watch memorial. A band of marauding ducks hassled us while we ate.

We rode up into the town to shop for supplies and stopped at the little market. We looked, but somehow missed, Charlotte Flower Chocolates, where we could have met our host.

It started to rain a bit as we rode past Castle Menzies and into Dull. This place I had read about, as it has paired with Boring, Oregon, and just lately with Bland, in Australia.

In Kenmore things became very familiar, and we couldn’t resist stopping at the Kenmore Hotel where we stayed during the hike. It is reputedly the oldest hotel in Scotland. In the lounge there is a poem written in pencil over the fireplace by Robbie Burns.

From Kenmore it was a short ride along Loch Tay to Acharn, where we found the wonderful old house where we we stayed the night. Our hosts, Charlotte and Adam are amazing people and their home is an old schoolhouse, full of quirks and stories. They made us tea, and later their other guest arrived: Charlene, from Brittany, a schoolteacher touring by car. Charlotte had bought herring at the Aberfeldy market, and they invited us to join them for dinner. Deb helped with the cooking. The conversation was as good as the food. Charlene had funny stories of being an Au Pair, and Adam and Charlotte have lived all over the world (Nepal and Namibia among other places). We could’ve listened to them all night.

And, of course, Charlotte now makes incredible chocolates using ingredients she forages for. Which we had after dinner.

Distance: 41 km

$100

Where Go the Boats?

Day 106: Kingussie, Scotland, Thursday August 3rd

Kingussie, the “Switzerland of the British Isles”, has been a popular holiday town for a long time. Robert Louis Stevenson (in whose footsteps we seem to follow often) spent much time here. He even wrote a poem about the Gynack River, where he floated paper boats as a boy. We walked a short hiking trail along the river, learning much about the history of the area from the plaques.

We did some planning over a pint in the lounge of the Duke of Gordon Hotel and I bought a random package of sweets at the candy store.

Making dinner we met the Dutch cycling couple staying in the room opposite ours. They were headed the same way as us, having come down from the Western Isles. They showed us their awesome cycle route guide (the Dutch publish very good ones) and helped with our planning.

Where Go the Boats?
Dark brown is the river,
Golden is the sand.
It flows along for ever,
With trees on either hand.
Green leaves a-floating,
Castles of the foam,
Boats of mine a-boating –
Where will all come home?
On goes the river
And out past the mill,
Away down the valley,
Away down the hill.
Away down the river,
A hundred miles or more,
Other little children
Shall bring my boats ashore.

-RLS

Distance: 0

$98

 

The Last Homely House

Day 102: Bettyhill to Crask, Sunday July 30th

A beautiful morning. We packed up the tent, rode (and pushed) up the hill to the only shop in town and purchased a makeshift breakfast. While we drank our instant coffee another cycle tourer arrived and we started talking. Brigitte was Swiss, and quite the traveler. We admired her custom-built bike and talked about the road. She invited us to look her up on Warmshowers if we ever tour Switzerland.

From Bettyhill it was a quick, and fun, drop to the River Naver. We spent much of the day riding on a B road next to the river. This was the Strathnaver region, which once had about forty settlements and is now nearly empty, thanks to the clearances. Along the route we stopped at a few historical plaques.

A neolithic site

After reaching Loch Naver and turning west the sky began to darken. Before we rejoined the A836 at Altnaharra we were getting some light rain.

The last stretch seemed awfully long as the rain came and went. Finally, we rolled down a long hill and into the only building in Crask: the Inn. It was raining very hard, and we arrived with me shouting angrily at a caravan driver who didn’t think he needed to give bicycles space.

I calmed down quickly when we saw the inside of the Inn. It was built in the early 1800s as a drover’s cottage, and it doesn’t face the road, because the road didn’t exist. We were warmly welcomed into the bar, where a peat fire was burning. The Inn is owned by the Scottish Episcopal Church, and they brought in a family to live there and run it on their behalf. You can tent in the garden for a donation to the church, but we, thankfully, had a room.

We met Allen, an English cycle tourer, when he came in soaking wet, asking if he could pitch his tent. We were already toasty warm, drinking tea by the fire. All three of us paid the extra £15 to join the family for dinner, and it was worth every penny. Douglas, Denise and their daughter cooked and served. Denise’s sister, and her son and daughter were also there with us riders. It was a big family meal, and we loved the food, drink and conversation.

After dinner, we riders retired to the bar for pints. Allen was a fascinating guy – a musician, and quite a cycle tourer. We talked midges, weather, gear, and a lot about the route and our travels.

Distance: 52 km

$230

Pod People

Day 93: Johnshaven to Aberdeen (ferry to Lerwick), July 21st

A day with a deadline; we had to be at the Aberdeen ferry by 6:30. It wasn’t a particularly long ride, but we knew there were a lot of hills to conquer.

Getting out of Johnshaven involved riding along a rather rocky seaside track. We crisscrossed over the A92, and rode on it briefly, then climbed a long way up for a spectacular view over Stonehaven. The ride down into the port town was nice, but the ride up and out was not. Construction of a new highway has added a lot of traffic and confusion to the roads up the coast. Climbing a busy, steep and long hill is not a lot of fun.

 

We stopped to rest and eat by a cenotaph and who should come riding up the hill but our new friend, John. We formed up our little convoy again and he helped us negotiate some of the construction mess.

At one point we met a young Dutch guy who was on a huge tour. He’d already been to Iran and Mauritius (which I had to look up).

When we were only a few miles from Aberdeen, Cycle Route 1 seemed to get bogged in construction again, following a gravel road which appeared to be closed. John elected to ride the A90, warning us that Aberdeen drivers were crazy, but saying he’d ridden it safely many times when working in the area. We followed him up the on-ramp. But it was an on-ramp. The closer we got, the more the A90 looked like the Don Valley Parkway. We bailed. John disappeared into the throng of traffic and we rolled the wrong way back down the ramp. Google Maps helped us find a slower, safer route into the city.

Riding into Aberdeen felt a lot like riding in Toronto. There were a few half-assed cycle paths, but mostly it was riding on busy roads. Too many potholes, too many cars and people. We were happy to finally reach the port.

We were early, so we had time to go into the giant mall across from the port and get me a new, unlocked, phone. We walked into the city a bit, took some pictures and picked up supplies. At a bank, Deb also managed to trade in a £5 note that had been taken out of circulation.

Boarding the ferry was straightforward, and we discovered that the “Sleeping Pods” that we’d booked were really just glorified reclining chairs. Still, they had USB plugs and were in a room with no blaring TV. We also received blankets, eye masks, and tokens for the showers, which were actually really good.

Distance: 60 km

$223 plus a new phone

John’s Haven

Day 93: Broughty Ferry to Johnshaven, July 20th

There was a lot of rain in the forecast, but things were looking pretty good when we left Jo’s place in the morning.

Broughty Ferry has a small castle right on the Tay where we picked up Cycle Route 1 again. After that we were riding pretty much right up the coast towards Aberdeen. The first few hours were great: no rain, views of the sea and beaches, small towns, and even a wind at our backs.

After Arbroath, the route turns inland, and then the hills begin. On one of those hills we met John, a tourer from Inverness. He was headed our way, so we rode together, and talked.

Then the rain started, just some smirry rain at first, but it got worse.

All three of us stopped at a Tesco in Montrose, and we said goodbye to John in the store, giving him one of our cards. But we caught him again after a long stretch of muddy trail. The last 7 km of Route 1 before Johnshaven are all on the A92, which is pretty busy, and has no shoulder (very few roads here do). The rain got worse.

John turned to go to a campground and we said goodbye again. Deb and I pushed on, finally sloshing down to the coastal town, and checking into our rented flat. We weren’t sure what to expect, knowing only that it was an apartment run by the Anchor Hotel and Pub across the street, and that it was cheaper than a regular room.

It turned out to be a huge two bedroom place, with a kitchen, and a living/dining room with an electric fireplace. We were able to bring our bikes right inside, and promptly spread all our wet stuff around. There was even a washing machine. It was like heaven, and we felt horrible that we hadn’t invited John. We felt better later, when he sent us an email saying the campground was cheap and excellent, with a kitchen and lounge, and WIFI.

We lounged around the apartment, warming up and drying off, but we also nipped over to the pub for cask ale.

I plugged my phone in and heard a sizzling noise. Some water had found its way into the charge port, and I’d fried it. The phone still worked, but it would never charge up again.

 

Distance: 60 km

$