Thursday, 30 June 2011

Better than average

The Pen y Cefn Guest House at Amlwch must rate as one of the very best B&Bs that I've ever visited. Hosts Colin and Jenny seemed to have thought of everything. If anyone is heading to Anglesey, I can heartily recommend them. See their website. As well as a discounted rate for the room, I was presented with a packed lunch. My message in their visitors' book was "I'll be back!"

Most days I average about 7 miles an hour. That may not sound much, but that includes stops for lunch, snacks, photos etc. It means that I need to be 'on the road' for up to ten hours a day. That's why I try to leave reasonably early. If I'm camping, I'm usually away by 08.00; if at a B&B it's more like 09.00. Ideally I try to reach my destination by 18.00, but it has been as late as 20.30.

This evening I continued past my planned stopover point (Plas Newydd) as there were no camp sites nearby, and continued over the Britannia Bridge and turned left towards Bangor, where I found a quiet camp site near the old Menai Bridge.

The day had started with a visit to Cemaes Bay, where an attractive harbour was well stocked with boats. Then it was on to Holyhead, where I enjoyed meeting up again with Sue Morris, Stena Ports' Personnel Manager, whom I knew from my days with British Ports Industry Training. I hadn't seen her for at least ten years. I spent a couple of hours in Holyhead, which included a brief tour of the port with Port Manager Alan Williams and a photoshoot for the Stena newsletter.

In days gone by, before there were bridges across the Menai Strait, there were many ferries operating between Anglesey and the mainland. My aim this afternoon was to visit several of these locations. I failed with the first, Plas Penrhyn, as it was at the end of a private, gated road, but succeeded with the next two, at Foel and Moel-y-Don. The fourth, at Plas Newydd, was within a nursery which was closed for the day.

So that's Anglesey circumnavigated; now it's on to the Lleyn Peninsula tomorrow, which I'm really looking forward to. And the weather seems promising.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Boring Blogs?

I'm aware that recent Blogs have been rather boring. The trouble is, by the time I get round to writing them, it's usually well after 9pm and I'm ready for bed! Witty writing is then way beyond my ability. So my new policy is to write some words in my notebook at lunch or tea-time. So here I am at Menai Bridge (the village, not the bridge itself), having an early afternoon coffee and flapjack.

I've been thinking about bad drivers this morning, having encountered more than a few. I need to look at the Highway Code and see what it says about drivers v. cyclists. But I maintain that, where possible, drivers should leave a vehicle width gap when overtaking a bike. Few do, but if the road ahead is clear, there's no reason why they can't.

Other categories of 'bad drivers' are those who overtake when coming towards you. It's scary, seeing a vehicle (often a motorcycle) coming at you on your side of the road. Another type is those who blip the throttle before they overtake you. Generally, if a driver does anything that may cause the cyclist to swerve, then it must be classed as dangerous. Sometimes, the suction effect from a large vehicle can be quite frightening, as you're drawn in towards its rear quarter.

But enough moaning, I'm on Anglesey now, heading this evening to Amlwch...

Coming out of Beaumaris I encountered my second 25% hill. I don't think it was that steep; it didn't look like a 1 in 4, and I managed to climb most of it, only stopping when the road became rather busy. As you can see from the photo, I also had to duck and watch out for falling rocks.

There were two campsites indicated on the map, just outside Amlwch. But when I got there, both had closed down. So it was into the village to find a B&B. There was just one, with a 'No Vacancies' sign. In some desperation, I rang the bell with the intention of asking if they knew of anywhere else nearby to stay. However, the door was answered by the owner's daughter, who was staying there with her own family. That's why the sign had been posted. The owner said that although there was a spare room, it wasn't ready for a guest. However the daughter insisted, and even offered to prepare the room herself. So I wandered into the village and found somewhere to eat. When I returned, everything was ready - a beautifully clean room.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Good day / Bad day

First the good aspects of the day.
* Great night's sleep and sandwiches presented to me as I was leaving;
* Covered about 70 miles to the far side of Rhyl (Towyn to be precise);
* Sunny for most of the day, though not as warm as yesterday (probably a good thing);
* John and Eileen Turner met me as I was about to cross the River Dee, with a flask of hot coffee. Thanks!

Now the not so good things about the day.
* Got lost several times, thanks to poor signage and diverted cycle routes. Added several miles to an already long day.
* Strong westerly wind;
* Had another puncture - delayed for 30 minutes whilst fixing it.

Which leads me to another good thing - having texted John, whom I'd seen only half an hour earlier, about the puncture, he drove out to find me and helped to get back on the road by using a compressor to put some decent pressure in the tyre.

It's amazing how I survived right round Scotland, over all sorts of terrain, without a puncture. Now I've had one in England and one in Wales. This one was caused by a thorn, not glass.

Tomorrow I'll be going on to Anglesey, my eighth island.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Bacon for breakfast - and lunch

I was just finishing breakfast at The Plough in Southport when Nigel, the owner, presented me with a foil-wrapped package containing bacon toasties - "in case you get stuck for something to eat today". I've said this before, but people can be so kind. I managed to defer eating them until reaching the Albert Dock in Liverpool three hours later, when they were still quite warm.

The route today was mainly off-road, following either discrete cycle paths or old railway tracks; occasionally there were marked cycle lanes on main roads. Part of the ride followed the Trans-Pennine Route (NCR62), which crosses the country finishing in Hornsea on the Yorkshire coast. I had actually ridden along part of that route back in the early days when following the old railway line between Hull and Hornsea.

Liverpool was very busy, and construction of the new Museum of Liverpool (opening next month) meant that access along the waterfront was restricted. Still, it was very pleasant sitting in the warm sunshine, eating my toasties.

My route took me across the Mersey at Widnes, by which time it had clouded over. To get to the bridge the Trans-Pennine Route followed the river eastwards until suddenly it rose by a series of wooden ramps, as can be seen in the photograph (left) on the hill above the metal bridge. The trouble was that the ramps were not slopes, but a series of steps. Fortunately the steps were shallow, and the distance between each step just over a bike's length. Still, it took me at least 10 minutes to negotiate this section. I wish Sustrans, or whoever is responsible for these National Cycle Routes, could indicate their suitability (or otherwise) for heavy bikes like mine!

Ever since my 'Workington experience', I'm acutely aware of glass on the road. In places it's awful, with broken glass scattered everywhere; it just can't be avoided. I do feel strongly that local people (Sustrans rangers?) should be out there clearing the tracks. The worst places today were in underpasses, where the route went under main roads or railway lines. Clearly these are places where young people gather, for various reasons, and obviously they're not averse to deliberately breaking a bottle or two.

I ended the day at Eastham Ferry, just short of my planned destination of Bromborough, where John Turner was waiting for me. After a short diversion to look at a derelict pier at Job's Ferry (where he took this photo of me), he drove me back to his home near Chester. His wife Eileen had prepared an excellent roast lamb dinner with all the trimmings, followed by (how did she know?) rhubarb crumble and ice-cream!

Tomorrow, John will drop me back at Eastham, when I'll continue around the Wirral Peninsula, across the River Dee and into Wales.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Chased for payment

Last night I stayed at a camp site at Arnside (Hollins Farm). When I arrived the office was closed, so I found a place to pitch the tent in a crowded field. At about 8pm the warden arrived, asking if I was OK. Yes, I replied, and how much do I owe you? It appeared that he thought I was someone else who had booked that pitch. When he realised that I was not that person, he demanded £26. I was busy cooking supper, but expressed total amazement at that fee; the highest so far had been £17 (which was waived); the norm is about £10. He said that as I was just one person in a small tent he'd 'see me all right', by which I assumed he meant he wasn't charging me. After all, someone else had paid in advance for that pitch. And off he went.

In the morning, I packed up early and as I left he and his wife were busy near the entrance sorting out some rubbish bags. I said 'Hi' and continued out of the gate. He had nodded back. Then, some three miles down the road, I was confronted by the same warden in his Landrover, saying I hadn't paid and accusing me of trying to avoid payment. He tried to tell me that he had to justify the space I'd taken up. I explained that I thought he'd let me off the fee. After some nasty exchanges, I played my final card, the charity one. He then relented, with some reluctance. By then I had decided that I would pay him only £10, as the noise from drunken caravanners had lasted until well after 01.00, and the facilities were not as good as the previous night, which had cost a mere £8. So I put the tenner quietly away. But fancy being chased down the road!

George at Knott End jetty

Today I met up with George Thompson, whom I'd met at Durness in the north-west of Scotland. We had kept in touch after his Lands End to John O'Groats ride. We met just east of the Knott End ferry, after he had cycled up from Blackpool. He had got there by train from his home town of Darwen. He's a fit, nine stone something 66-year old, with a fancy bike. So he acted as pacemaker for me for much of the ride. We crossed via the ferry from Knott End to Fleetwood, which meant that I missed out a 15-mile loop. This would have taken to Skippool Creek, a former port, but not a serious omission. That helped me to get back on schedule. George eventually left me at Preston, where he was able to catch a train home. Good company - thanks George!

I eventually arrived on the outskirts of Southport at 20.00, where I dived into the first place offering accommodation, the Plough Inn at Crossens. Many thanks to the owner, Nigel, who gave me a discount rate as well as donating a hearty meal to the 'cause'.

Early to rise

This is Saturday's Blog. Sending it from Morecambe seafront on Sunday morning.

It rained all last night, only stopping at 06.30. That was my cue to get up early, cook some porridge and leave the campsite before 8. Spent a while trying to find the old port at Millom before setting off around the coast to Barrow-in-Furness. I had decided I could hardly miss out Barrow, as a) I hadn't been there before, and b) it's an important port. So it took the rest of the morning to reach Barrow. I then followed the coast north-eastwards to the former canal port of Ulverston, and then a long ride with no harbours around the edges of Morecambe Bay, until I reached Arnside at 18.30. Again, with rain threatening, I found a campsite and pitched up for the night. That leaves me about 30 miles behind schedule as I was supposed to have got as far as Glasson Dock.

Some busy roads today. Drivers in England seem to be in more of a hurry than in Scotland. They're also less concerned about giving me a wide berth; one came very close indeed and must've missed my pannier by inches.

No sun today, so any photos will be pretty dire. But no rain to speak of, either. Also, no Internet connection for the second night in a row. I managed to send yesterday's Blog from Ulverston and will look out for somewhere tomorrow to send this.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Heading south - sort of

This is Friday's Blog - no signal last evening at Haverigg.

New tyre fitted this morning - thanks to The Bike Bank of Workington. They also advised that the bearings on my front wheel are beginning to go, so that's another problem I'll have to deal with soon. Not sure if that means a new wheel, or just new bearings. Anyone know?

After a promising start to the day, it turned increasingly cloudy and rain seemed the most likely outcome. I stopped at a campsite at Haverigg, some 25 miles short of my target destination. But I knew there were no campsites in Barrow, and this was the nearest. Tomorrow I may miss out Barrow-in-Furness and try and get back on schedule. The predicted rain arrived, though gently at first, at 18.30, by which time I was safely in my tent.

Had a 'nuclear' lunch in a cafe at Seascale, next to the Sellafield Power Station. Seemed to spend a lot of time today zigzagging around Cumbrian coastal villages, rather like the mad taxi-driver from Cockermouth. However I didn't kill anyone. I was just trying to avoid the main road, which was narrow and extremely busy.

I heard today from my French friend Alexandre, the one I saw several times in the North of Scotland. He went over to Stornoway from Ullapool and spent some time on Lewis and Harris. He's now back in Fraance, of course. I've met many interesting people on this trip and it's good to be able to keep in contact with them.

I've had another offer of accommodation, from John Turner who lives near Chester. He'll come and meet me when I'm somewhere south of the Mersey on Monday evening.

Thursday, 23 June 2011


It had to happen some time, I guess. After extolling the virtues of National Cycle Routes in a recent blog, it was on Route 72, just north of Workington, when it happened. Some careless individual had splattered a bottle or something similar across the wide asphalt track. I saw it but couldn't avoid it. The tyre deflated almost immediately and I was forced to remove the (back) wheel and insert a new inner tube. Fortunately I'm carrying a couple of spares. So much for '6000 miles without a puncture' as a book title...

Looking at the state of the rear tyre, I feel it needs replacing. I can see where the glass went in, and that part of the tyre is virtually bald. The front tyre is fine, but of course has much less weight on it. So instead of going on to Harrington, I've stopped in Workington, just a couple of miles short. There's a good bike shop just around the corner from where I'm staying. Tomorrow I shall get that rear tyre replaced.

Other than that, today went well, with only one short (though heavy) shower. The sun even deigned to shine for much of the afternoon. I particularly enjoyed re-visiting Port Carlisle, which has a fascinating history (See link).

It seemed strange to be leaving Scotland, having spent the last 45 days there. But it holds fond memories: Seacliff, Calgary, Tayvallich, Jura, to name but a few.

Tomorrow will be a very long day, and if I'm delayed at the bike shop in the morning, may not make my target of Barrow-in-Furness. We'll see.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Skin's watertight ...

... fortunately. From about 11.00 onwards it didn't stop raining. And at times it was torrential. I tried sheltering under trees on a couple of occasions, but the drips became as bad as the real stuff, so I set off again. Finally made it to Gretna where I quickly found a B&B. That's my policy now - I don't intend to camp if I'm wet through.

So, not the best way to spend my final day in Scotland. A pity, because I visited several harbours that I'd not been to before. The first, at Rockcliffe, preceded a free 'full Scottish' breakfast at the Baron's Craig Hotel. I'd had dinner there last evening and the manager, impressed with my story, had offered me breakfast 'on the house'. A lovely, imposing hotel, built in 1880 for some eccentric Merseyside solicitor as a holiday home. The jetty and some other cottages were all part of the estate.

Although the day had started promisingly, the heavens opened after I'd left Carsethorn - and stayed that way.

Over the years Britain has tilted slightly, with the south-east of England now lower than it was. The area around the Solway Firth has risen, leaving many of its harbours high and dry. The rivers Urr and Nith, once busy waterways, are now largely silted up and former navigable channels no longer exist. Such harbours as Annan and Palnackie are now just about unnavigable, except perhaps at high water spring tides.

Tomorrow will be a long day, though mainly flat. I'll be heading westwards, so I'm hoping that the prevailing wind and rain ease up.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

The longest day

After an excellent breakfast, I said my fond farewell to Andy and Anni at Braehead, near Wigtown, setting off rather later than usual at 09.30. It's the Summer Solstice today, so the days will be getting shorter from now on. Today's ride was by no means the longest, at about 60 miles, but ir felt long. 20 miles were on the busy A75, in quite heavy rain, which required the greatest concentration. It's a pity when parts of the ride are like this, as it's difficult to enjoy it.

The rain stopped for three hours between 13.00 and 16.00, so I was able to visit Knockbrex, a harbour that I'd never been to before, without getting the camera wet. Getting to the quay entailed a short walk across fields. Thanks to John Gould of Little Saxham for recommending a visit to this harbour. He and his family have holiday'd near there a number of times.

The rain eventually stopped at 18.00, so by the time I reached Rockcliffe an hour later I was reasonably dry. There's nothing worse than setting up camp when you're wet through, knowing that your clothes are still going to be wet in the morning.

I've had a meal at the local hotel, which has Wi-Fi. So I'm using this to upload a few photos and to send the blog, as otherwise there's no signal in this area. Tomorrow will be my last day in Scotland, having entered the country at Berwick-upon-Tweed on 8 May, 44 days ago. I've missed both sun and midges; a couple of warm and sunny days now would be most welcome.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Potholes in Scotland

Question - are the potholes in Scotland worse than elsewhere in the UK? In the (Scottish) newspapers recently there has been a report that it will cost £2 billion to reinstate Scotland's roads to their 2009 standard. I can certainly confirm that many of the roads in Scotland are in a dreadful state. And they're dangerous. On a bike you need to try and avoid the worst of them, and this can entail swerving into the road. If I hit a serious pothole, the bike suffers. I've already had to replace the rear wheel.

I can understand the need for cutbacks, but if the existence of a pothole causes a serious accident, then perhaps the local Council must take the blame.

Today's route, along the Machars coastline, certainly contained its share of potholes. Hopefully the Dumfries and Galloway Council will meet their responsibilities soon.

A sunny day for a change allowed some better photos to be taken, and with four interesting harbours (Port William, Isle of Whithorn, Garlieston, Wigtown), it was a good day, once I'd remembered to miss the potholes.

I arrived at Andy and Anni's house at Braehead, south of Wigtown, just before 5. A great welcome awaited me, as well as the deepest bath I've ever had. I even floated. A visit to the local pub preceded a great steak and veg dinner. I shall sleep well tonight. Thanks guys!

Sunday, 19 June 2011

The Rhins of Galloway

Also known as The Rhinns, this is the least known and most unspoilt part of Dumfries & Galloway. Looking at the map, it's that strange double-pointed bit that sticks out to the left. The bottom end, the Mull of Galloway, is Scotland's most southerly point. That's where I was today, not far in terms of distance, but plenty of hills to keep me amused.

My first port of call, so to speak, was Stranraer. Probably best to move on, as Sunday in Stranraer was like, well, nothing on earth. So on up the west side of Loch Ryan to a place that interested me. The jetty and slipway at Glenside were used during World War II when Sunderland flying boats were based at RAF Wig Bay. From there they were able to protect the busy shipping lanes out of the Clyde and Liverpool.

Then over to Portpatrick, once an important ferry port. But the harbour feels the full force of westerly winds and ferry operations moved round into Loch Ryan many years ago.

The next harbour was Port Logan, where the BBC series '2000 Acres of Sky' was filmed (Michelle Collins et al). Then it was all the way down to the foot of the Rhins, to the lighthouse at the Mull of Galloway. Since I was last there (2003?) the burger van has been replaced by a posh coffee shop, where I treated myself to a brie and cranberry toastie, knowing that I probably wouldn't be eating out tonight.

I ended up at the Sands of Luce campsite near Sandhead - very expensive at £15. My route plans have changed because of tomorrow's accommodation offer, so tomorrow (Monday) will be to Braehead, near Wigtown; Tuesday night will be at Rockcliffe, where there's a good campsite; then back on schedule on Wednesday night, at Gretna.

I'm longing to see - and feel - the sun again. It seems ages since there was any blue sky. Intermittent rain today as well. Hey-ho. I'm getting used to it by now.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

National Cycle Routes - pros and cons

Earlier in the ride I had a moan about National Cycle Routes, especially their poor signage. But there's another side to this argument, bought home to me today. At the Ardrossan B&B I met four lads who are cycling from John O'Groats to Lands End in 12 days (Link) (see photo right). They're cycling an average of 80 miles a day, almost all on main roads. That's heads down stuff and 'let's get to the end of the day as soon as possible'. Apart from the satisfaction of completing their challenge (and raising a lot of money for the Anthony Nolan Trust), are they able to enjoy the ride as much as I can? Today I followed NCR 73 and the NCR 7, from Ardrossan to south of Ayr. The route took me all over the place, along the coast, inland through wildlife reserves, woods, over railways, under main roads - almost all of it off-road. It was a real pleasure to be able to gaze around at the scenery, taking everything in. That's what is possible by following (well-signposted) National Cycle Routes.

I have great difficulty taking reasonable photos when there's no sun. Still, my better efforts are up on Facebook now.

A fairly long day, with intermittent light showers. Dunure was the best 'harbour of the day', with a pleasant coffee shop where I stopped for lunch.

The supposed campsite at Cairnryan doesn't allow tents, so I've pitched up near the beach at Leffnoll Point.

Friday, 17 June 2011


What a way to celebrate - rain all day. It started as soon as I left Bowling and continued either as fine drizzle or heavy rain, until reaching Ardrossan. Although it was only 17.00, I decided I'd had enough, ploughing into a strong southerly too, and called a halt. I'm in a B&B tonight.

Before leaving Bowling I met up again with lock-keeper Billy Brown. He took a few photos using my camera which I will email to him this evening. He's hoping to get his employer, British Waterways, to publish one in their in-house magazine, together with a write-up about my ride. Thanks for everything Billy - so good to get such a great welcome, even if the night security man did try and evict me!

Acting on Billy's advice, I crossed the Clyde over the Erskine Bridge (much in today's Scottish news today because of an inquest into the death of two girls who had an apparent suicide pact), rather than by the passenger ferry at Renfrew, saving quite a few miles as well as tedious suburbs.

Because of the rain I decided there was little point in taking the ferry from Largs across to Great Cumbrae. The 11-mile circuit of the exposed island would not have been pleasant in this weather. However, I did divert, as planned, to Portencross. An interesting and attractive place, even in the rain - two harbours, a jetty and a castle in a couple of hundred metres of each other.

I'm still a few miles ahead of my schedule. I'm spending Monday night with Geograph member Andy Farrington, who lives near Wigtown. So I'll need to adjust the schedule to fit that in. Tomorrow's weather is again forecast to be raining, though clearing up after midday. I must find a campsite, or at least a place to wild camp - I'm spending far too much on hotels and B&Bs!

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Bowling along

The 22-mile (return) detour to Inveraray was well worth the effort - despite yesterday's rain. The town (or 'Royal Burgh' as they prefer it to be known) is a delightful, white-washed place, where everything seems to be tidy and ordered; clearly a place which the locals take great pride in. The views from the town/Burgh, both last night and this morning, were outstanding.

Today's main challenge was to reach 'Rest and be Thankful', the top of Glen Kinglas, without resorting to bike pushing. The A83 has been re-graded in recent years, so although it rises to nearly 900 feet, there are no 'impossible' sections. At the top, where there are spectacular views to either side, a solitary burger van in the lay-by was doing a roaring trade. Even I bought a coffee.

Can anyone answer this question? When a hill is signposted at, say 20%, or 1 in 5, does that mean the average gradient, or the steepest part? I'd be interested to know.

As I had reached Inveraray yesterday, I was 20+ miles ahead of schedule, which allowed me plenty of time to tour the Rosneath Peninsula, a quiet area only accessible from the main road at Garelochhead. On the far west-facing side there are some pretty exclusive properties gracing the waterfront.

Having reached the target of Helensburgh by 17.15, I decided to press on to put a few more miles in hand, especially as a steady drizzle is forecast for tomorrow. I arrived at Bowling Harbour just before 19.00, the start of the Forth and Clyde Canal. I met Billy, the lock-keeper, who was most interested in my endeavour, and allowed me to pitch my tent overlooking the old, ruined harbour.

As I'm now on the western outskirts of Glasgow, I think I'd better start using my bike lock...

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Wheely wet

Last night I actually camped on a quay! The remains of Toward Pier, once used to service the lighthouse, have been grassed over and formed an ideal location, with a wall to protect the tent from the wind.

Today felt strange, heading north for much of the time. It takes more effort and commitment when you know you're heading the 'wrong' way. But those harbours and jetties are there to be ticked off and photographed, so needs must.

Heavy drizzle lasted most of the morning, but with a light southerly breeze it didn't trouble me too much. After 20-odd miles of relatively flat loch-side roads, the hills started in earnest as I left Loch Long behind. A couple of 1:5s (push the bike hills) before the road suddenly descended to scenic Loch Eck, where to my surprise I discovered the welcoming Whistlefield Inn. After a coffee I was tempted to order a chicken lunch (with vegetables) as I was planning to be camping this evening.

However, plans sometimes have to be changed. The last eleven miles to Inveraray were cycled in torrential rain. I just put my head down and went as quickly as I could (it took an hour). By the time I arrived in Inveraray I had long since decided that camping was NOT a good idea. So in to the Argyll Hotel and a welcoming bath. Various items of clothing are drying on the towel rail and in front of the heater, but the forecast for tomorrow isn't good, so they'll probably get wet again.

Ironically, after I'd had my bath the sun came out a lovely evening ensued, as you'll see from the last few photos on Facebook.

Tomorrow will be a grind, mainly on busy A roads to Helensburgh. The high point is 246 metres, at 'Rest and be thankful'. More teeth-gritting stuff.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Wheel trouble

For several days I've been concerned about the rear wheel on my bike. It had a bit of a buckle and several spokes were loose. Today, things got decidedly worse. The wheel had taken on more of a buckle, causing it to grind against the brakes on every revolution. Not a good idea when there are lots of hills to climb.

I had been very fortunate earlier in the ride when I had lost a filling. I happened to be close to Inverness, just about the only place in the north of Scotland where a dentist could have replaced the filling and sent me on my way with barely any delay. And so it was today. I was approaching Rothesay, a reasonably large town on the Isle of Bute. Sure enough, there on the main street, was a cycle repair shop, 'The Bike Shed'. This was the first I'd seen since leaving Oban. I showed them the problem and left the bike whilst I had some lunch. On my return they'd fitted a new wheel. The original one was way beyond repair, with several spokes tearing away from the rim. They reckoned the wheel wouldn't have lasted much more than the next pothole.

So, no more rough moorland tracks (I don't think there are any more planned) and I must avoid potholes - not easy when you're careering at 30 mph down a steep hill.

Whilst waiting for the ferry from Rothesay to Wemyss Bay, I visited the restored Victorian loos on Rothesay Pier - they're amazing! Well worth the 20p entrance fee.

Other than all that excitement, three (not four - I can't count) ferries today. I've reached Toward Point lighthouse, just beyond Innellan where I'd planned to stop. There was a caravan site there, but hard-standing only so no facility for tents.

Tomorrow I head north for a long way; I'm aiming to get as far as Inveraray. It seemed strange today, cycling between Wemyss Bay and Gourock, knowing I'll be doing the same section the other way in several days' time. But first I have a few more jetties to visit...

Even more hills

This is Monday's Blog; no signallast night.

I was pleased I had gained the 12 miles yesterday by cycling on to Campbeltown, because the 40 miles to Tarbert today were really tough. I knew about the hills, having done much of the same journey in the other direction several years ago. I was determined not to have to push the bike, so managed all the hills, some of which were signposted at 14%; short sections were even steeper, requiring 'standing on the pedals'. So some weary limbs tonight.

Anyway, I've now managed the full circuit of the Kintyre Peninsula, with its great scenery (when the sun does comes out). Having arrived at Tarbert by 17.00. I decided to take the ferry across to Portavadie. Tomorrow is one of those extremely complex days, involving five (now four) ferry crossings. When I was planning the route, it is Days 46 to 48 - the next three days - that caused me the biggest headache. It seemed impossible to cover all the harbours, ferry terminals and jetties on the Argyll coast, with its many deep and varied indentations. At one point I will be in Inveraray, some 60 miles NORTH of Campbeltown. I will also be covering a short section of coast twice, in opposite directions, just as I did today between Tarbert and Kennacraig.

When the ferry arrived at Portavadie, I was surprised to see a brand-new building at the entrance to the Marina. It appeared to offer cheap rates on accommodation. I had expected to 'wild camp' tonight, but was lured inside to ask. The Lodge only opened a couple of weeks ago, and clearly there are many teething problems. I eventually managed to secure B&B for £27 and the meal I had there was "on the house" because of computer problems trying to book me in. The facilities are excellent, except that their 'free Wi-Fi' isn't working yet, so the Blog and photos will have to wait.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

On Jura

This is Saturday's Blog.

Ah Jura. "The best island in Scotland", said a fellow passenger on the way there this morning. I guess he's biased, as he lives there, but he's not far off the mark. It's totally unspoilt: no tourist trappings, only a few inhabitants (outnumbered by 200:1 by the deer). The three Paps dominate the scenery; fell runners actually climb all three and return to Craighouse in little more than three hours. It's my second time on the island and it certainly didn't disappoint. Fine weather too; the journey across from Tayvallich was like a millpond.

My challenge was to reach Ardlussa, some 17 miles away from the landing point at Craighouse (and back), in the four and a half hours available. At least I wasn't weighed down with panniers, having left them in my tent at Tayvallich. Some of the hills were rather steep, but I managed to visit the two jetties at Lagg and Ardlussa, returning to Craighouse in just over four hours.

I had been wondering where all the deer had gone, when four splendid roe deer leapt across the road in front of me. They then stood gazing at me from the sanctuary of a field some 100 metres away, too far for a decent photo.

On the way back to Tayvallich I gave the boat owner one of my cards, as he was interested in what I was doing. He promptly returned one of the single fares, so that's another £20 towards the charities. Good luck to the Jura Passenger Ferry, now that it has secured sufficient funding to operate four days a week (Friday to Monday inclusive).

The views from the speeding boat were impressive, especially as it entered Loch Sween, with the Island of Danna (not actually an island as it is connected to the mainland by a causeway) to the left and Castle Sween to the right (rather spoilt by a proliferation of caravans).

Tomorrow I shall head back to the Crinan Canal, following its towpath to the 'other' end at Ardrishaig before continuing south to the Kintyre Peninsula.

The 'Wow' factor

This is Friday's Blog.

I had been told by several people that Tayvallich was an amazing place. As that was my target for the day I was determined to get there in good time. The day started with a visit to Loch Craignish, with Ardfern as its centrepiece. This was a 'wow' place too, pretty as a picture and a haven for yachties. I cycled to the end of the road to 'nab' another long-forgotten jetty, returning for an early coffee at the hotel in Ardfern.

The route then took me to the Crinan Canal, where I stopped by a bridge and had a long chat with Fred, a South African who now lives by Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland. We seemed to share the same political (or should say non PC) views. I then cycled along the towpath for a couple of miles to reach Crinan itself, where the basin between the final two locks (nos 14 and 15) was filled with yachts and other interesting craft.

Tayvallich was now within easy reach and I made it there by 15.30. Before I left home I had been following the Jura Passenger Ferry website, hoping to be able to get across to Jura (don't forget that you can click on any hyperlinked text). It seemed that the ferry would no longer be operating, as it relied on a subsidy from the Argyll and Bute Council, which had been withdrawn. When I arrived at the campsite, I asked about the ferry. Apparently funding had recently been approved and the service had only started last weekend! So tomorrow I will be taking the one-hour journey to Craighouse on Jura, where I'll have four or five hours to cycle up the east coast towards George Orwell's refuge at Barnhill, where he wrote '1984'.

Having pitched the tent I continued, pannier-less, to Keills, where two amazing jetties remain, testament to Thomas Telford's skills. The jetties are next to each other, but one slopes down to the sea and was clearly designed for cattle droving. The other is of standard jetty design, but sadly is slowly deteriorating, as the photos on Facebook will show.

Tayvallich certainly deserves its 'wow' tag. It sits in a sheltered wooded bay and is humming with activity. Yachts and fishing boats fill the bay and the Inn and shop are heaving with activity. I enjoyed the best Thai green chicken curry for a long time at the Tayvallich Inn this evening.

Later, as the sun begins to set, I plan to cycle over to Carsaig, a mile away on the west coast, hopefully an oppotunity for some good photos. No internet signal again, so none tomorrow night as well, as I'll be staying here. Hope no one starts worrying about me....

The colour purple

This is Thursday's Blog - no Internet since then!

Earlier on the ride the predominant colour was yellow; now it's purple. The most common is the purple foxglove, which lines every verge, along with campion, clover, ragged robin, orchids, rhododendrons and the occasional wild rose. Also to be seen today was a purple face - mine - from all the hills. Not that I pedalled them all. Some short sections must have been about 30%.

The island of Seil is linked to the mainland by ther famous Clachan Bridge, 'The Bridge over the Atlantic'. It acquired that epithet long before the Skye Bridge was built, of course. Perhaps it should now be called 'A bridge ....'. Seil's neighbour to the south is Luing, a grown-up version of Lismore, more rugged and hillier. Both islands have delightful conservation villages - Ellenabeich on Seil and Toberonochy on Luing. Both owe their existence to the slate industry and the white-washed cottages were once lived in by the quarrymen and their families.

The big challenge today was the moor track between Ardmaddy and Ledaig, some three miles of off-road track of unknown quality. This saved about 12 miles of busy A-road, so I was determined to make it work. It was tough going uphill - I changed into trainers for a better grip and pushed the bike over rocks and large stone chippings. The views either side of the summit were stunning and the sun stayed out most of the time. This section woiuld have been most unpleasant in the rain. As it was, it was difficult, but enjoyable.

I reached the target of Arduaine at 7.30, only to find that the campsite no longer existed. I pressed for on a couple of miles and found a suitable off-road place to pitch the tent. No internet signal though.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

40 days and 40 nights... the wilderness? Well, on occasions, yes. The storms at Durness and Sligachan spring to mind. But it's not so much the wild nature of some parts of Scotland that have impacted on me, but the sheer diversity of Britain's coastline. From the tawdriness of Mablethorpe to the stunning setting of Seacliff; from the manic Middlesbrough to the remoteness of Skye's Neist Point; from the flatlands of The Wash to the 25% hills at Drumbeg.

It's difficult to believe that I've been cycling for 40 days (with the one exception when I was storm-bound). Each day has been very distinct and different; there's no question of the days blurring into each other. I've been pleased to find that I continue to get up early, excited about the day ahead and the new places I'll be visiting. I'll admit that when it's raining in the morning, it's harder to get going, but the feeling doesn't last long; as soon as I hit the road I'm looking forward to the next milestone, usually a harbour or a village.

Recently I've enjoyed a succession of quite short days, and today was no exception. It began with an excursion to Lismore, an island I've often wanted to explore. As with every island, it has its own 'feel', in this case one of tranquillity and simple beauty. Whilst fairly low-lying and lacking in the stunning scenery of the Highlands, Lismore has a peacefulness of its own, an unhurried haven away from the throbbing traffic and thrill-seeking tourists.

After Lismore it was a straightforward run to Oban, where I needed to get my rear brake fixed. The Oban Cycles shop (where we've hired bikes before) had closed down a couple of years ago, but I found another shop where they quickly made the necessary adjustments. Hooray, I can now ride safely downhill without worrying about tipping over the handlebars.

Tomorrow will be interesting, visiting lots of islands as well as a rather risky sortie across moorland on not much more than a farm track. I may have to push the bike for a while.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

What's the difference

I'm often asked by people I meet what the difference is between a port, harbour and a jetty, a pier and a quay, etc. I'll attempt to give my own explanations, though I doubt if these would be substantiated by the Oxford English Dictionary.

A 'port' needs to be a location where an active commercial or fishing operation takes place; it also has to be a reasonable size. Felixstowe and Newlyn are good examples of each. There are a lot of places with 'Port' in the name, but that doesn't necessarily qualify it as a port, in my book. Port Isaac in Cornwall, for example, can only qualify as a 'harbour'.

A 'harbour' is a location where there's an enclosed or semi-enclosed area where boats can moor or berth. There is usually a jetty, often curved or angled, to enclose the harbour area.

A 'jetty' is a solid construction, usually of concrete or blocks, which juts out from the foreshore. It is usually wide enough for vehicles to use it.

A 'pier' is usually of wooden construction, enabling water to pass below and through it.

A 'quay' is a straight section of either concrete or wooden construction, which vessels can berth alongside. A port may have a number of different quays.

Some ferry terminals are wide slipways, with no jetty. These are included on my Ports and Harbours website; slipways that are not ferry terminals are not included.

Hope that's all clear now. No arguments please; they are my definitions and I'm sticking to them.

Oh, today. Yes, a fairly straightforward day. It rained until 08.30, so it was a late start. But as I had missed out the 12 or so busy miles from Fort William along the A82, I wasn't concerned about time. The first section was the scenic route to Kinlochleven alongside Loch Leven, and back along the other side. This 20-mile loop was well worth the effort, although sadly the sun didn't oblige.

The rest of the day involved getting to Port Appin, where a passenger ferry will take me across to the island of Lismore tomorrow. I'm wild camping at the end of the track near Port Appin, a delightful spot when it's not raining (as it keeps doing). This photo shows where I've pinched my tent.

So far no midges, but I bet they'll be plentiful in the morning. They don't get in the tent, as I'm in a sealed area, but tend to bother me while I'm making and eating my breakfast. I have to walk round in a large circle, carrying my bowl of porridge.

Monday, 6 June 2011

A complicated day

This morning I had planned to catch the ferry from Tobermory to Drimnin. Unlike most ferries in the West of Scotland, which are operated by Calmac, this one is run by a community based organisation, the Sound of Mull Transport Group. According to their timetable the ferry only runs on Mondays and Fridays; I had planned my journey carefully to coincide with the Monday morning sailing. But no boat arrived. After a couple of phone calls I got through to Ardnamurchan Charters, whose boat is used as the ferry. They informed me that funding from local councils had been suspended and that the ferry was no longer working. I told them about my cycle ride around Britain and was informed that all was not lost: the boat was coming over to Tobermory later to collect some fuel and other supplies. They would detour on their way back to Laga, where they are based, to drop me off at Drimnin.

The boat arrived, but was not planning to leave until 14.00. So, half a day lost, but my planned route maintained. The alternative would have been to cycle all the way back to Fishnish and take the Calmac ferry over to Lochaline. But I hate doing the same bit of road twice, especially as I remember all the hills! The boat eventually dropped me off at Drimnin just before 15.00. Many thanks to Tom and Sue Jackson, the boat crew, who didn't charge me anything.

I now had to make a decision, whether to continue as far as Camasnagaul, where there's a ferry to Fort William, or take the Highland Council ferry across the Corran Narrows. That would entail missing out three harbours/jetties (Camasnagaul, Fort William and Corpach), but would keep me on schedule. With poor weather forecast for the next two days, I chose the latter course. I grieve missing out these harbours, but with several people around the coast expecting to see me (and give me a bed for the night) on planned dates, I feel it is more important to try to stick to the schedule than to visit every little jetty. I guess it's better to show some flexibility than to be too rigid (anal?) about visiting every possible harbour (he says in feeble self-justification).

Anyway, having crossed Loch Linnhe on the Corran Ferry, I headed straight for the campsite shown on the map. It was getting late by now, about 8.30. When I got there a sign said 'sorry, no tents'. It was strictly for caravans only. So I carried on for a few miles and found a nice field at North Ballachulish. Wild camping for only the second time!

Some of the photos I've uploaded were taken in Aros Park, a pleasant wooded area near Tobermory, where I walked whilst waiting for the boat to leave.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

A doddle of a day

Last night I tried to get an internet connection, but it kept dropping. Spent ages uploading photos, but only nine got through, leaving a further eight to send today. I left Craignure at 07.20 as heavy rain was forecast from 10.00. The plan was to get to Tobermory as soon as possible and find a B&B - essential as I had virtually no power left on either the phone or the netbook; the camera and satnav were both getting pretty low, too. This is one of the problems on a trip such as this - finding somewhere to re-charge all the technology. Occasionally a pub or hotel, such as the one at Poolewe, has plug sockets available, but this is rare. So after three nights camping (Kilchoan, Gruline and Craignure), I needed power!

I arrived at Tobermory at 10.15, via the ferry slipway at Fishnish and the recently renovated pier at Salen. The first guest house I tried, right on the waterfront, had a single room available. Fantastic! The proprietor said it's 'impossible' to find accommodation in Tobermory after midday, so I was lucky - and pleased I'd bothered to get up early (despite the midges, which were massing for attack). The expected rain didn't arrive until 15.00, but it's been a steady downpour since then. Glad I'm not camping.

I spent much of the afternoon uploading the 'missing' photos from days 6 to 11, which can now be seen on Facebook.

So that's Mull circumnavigated. Fabulous scenery, but no otters or sea eagles. Some great jetties though. I've now spent six and a half days on the islands of Skye and Mull. I've encountered all sorts of weather, from storm force winds to sublime, still mornings. Back to the mainland tomorrow and heading north (the 'wrong way') for a while, negotiating sea lochs as far as Fort William, before turning south to Oban.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

What I'll do for another harbour or jetty

Up at 6 and on the road by 07.15, full of porridge and cheese. A gorgeous morning, with no traffic and wonderful scenery. Today was an opportunity to visit a couple of old piers that I hadn't been to before. The first was Carsaig, on Mull's south coast.

To get there I had to cycle to the top of a pass, where I left the bike against a rock and started walking down the steep hill towards the coast. It took half an hour, passing yet another remote telephone box before reaching the deserted and derelict quay. Worth all the effort, especially as I met two couples at the quay, one of whom offered me a lift back up the hill to my bike. All four were ex-naval people, and I managed to ascertain that one had been at Dartmouth at the same time as me (September 1964).

The second, even more remote pier was at Croggan. This necessitated a 16-mile loop from the main road. So having negotiated the Glen More Pass, I then had to endure a further steep ascent to reach Loch Spelve. To my surprise, on arriving at Croggan, I found I had a phone signal, so I was able to upload the previous day's photos and blog. Because I did this in broad daylight, even sunshine, I couldn't really see what I was doing, so most of the photos are unlabelled. I hope to get into Facebook and edit them this evening, from my tent.

I met a pleasant couple of people on the road back from Croggan. I was advised that the road to Grasspoint was very poor, even worse than the road to Croggan, which was potholed and very rough in places. So I decided to miss out the disused Grasspoint quay and to head on to Craignure, where I knew there was a 'proper' camp site.

That leaves a relatively short day tomorrow, back to Tobermory. I need to find a B&B there, as I'm running out of juice on my various electronics.

I've been asked a number of times how I manage to cook. I've got a Trangia stove set, which comprises two saucepans and a frying pan. It runs on methylated spirits and works well in any weather condition. The only problem so far has been managing to light the stove; the matches have been a bit damp and difficult to ignite. I've used the stove for porridge most mornings, followed by a cup of coffee. I've only used it on a few occasions in the evenings, when pasta and bacon has been the usual fare.

I'm writing this in the Craignure Inn, having consumed an excellent haddock and chips. There's no signal here in the pub, so it's back to the tent to upload this, as well as today's photos.

Mulling it over

This is Friday's Blog; no signal last night at Gruline.

A fantastic blue sky morning, camping in the grounds of Kilchoan House Hotel, just up from the pier where the ferry leaves for Tobermory (or Ballymory for those with children). On a day like this, it's paradise here. Still waters, spectacular views - what more could you want.

Over to Mull and an hour spent wandering around Tobermory, then over the hills to Croig and Calgary. The latter place consists of just a few scattered dwellings, but it was from here in the early 1800s, following one of the notorious Highland Clearances, that emigrants sailed to Canada, setting up their own Calgary which is now one of Canada's larger cities. The remains of the jetty that they probably used is a mile along a rough track, but the walk there was well worth it; a very atmospheric place, as I hope the photos will show.

Arriving at Ulva Ferry just as the last sailing had left, I wasn't able to get across. But perhaps that was just as well, as there are no roads on Ulva, just very rough tracks, not really suitable for my bike. So I continued six miles to a campsite at Killiechronan, near Gruline. Another warm day with no rain. Perhaps I've left the worst of the weather behind me.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

A day of contrasts

A misty, drizzly morning out of Mallaig, to Arisaig, a favourite place of mine. Unfortunately, it was rather spoilt today by the attitude of the owner of the Rhu Cafe. I waited outside until 10.00, the opening time, and could see and hear him talking to someone inside. A few minutes after 10 I went to the window and pointed inside. "You'll have to wait, OK?", he called. Perhaps I should have walked away then, but the sign outside offered Wi-Fi and I needed to send the previous day's Blog and load some photos to Facebook. He deigned to open up eventually, glaring at me as he put out an 'Open' sign. I said," it's as if you don't want my custom", to which he replied with something about having to face a busy day. No apology. Then, when I asked the waitress for a Wi-Fi key, I was told it cost a pound for half an hour. I've used Wi-Fi in a number of places on this trip and this was the first time I'd been charged for it. I've decided to re-name the Cafe 'Rhu-de'.

Later in the day the sun came put and it became quite warm. For the first time since St Andrews I took off my leggings! The last stretch, from Salen to Kilchoan along the Ardnamuchan Peninsula, was wonderful, with fabulous scenery. I'd been looking forward to this day, because the section between Lochailort and Kilchoan was all new to me. It didn't disappoint. In places, with lush vegetation, steep, wooded hillsides, it looked similar to parts to New Zealand. There are rhododendrons everywhere.

A long (70 miles) and hilly day, but one to really enjoy, especially as the wind has died down to little more than a whisper.

After the storm

This is Wednesday evening's Blog; no signal yesterday.

There were at least a dozen tents at the campsite last night; by this morning only three were left standing (mine included). It was mainly the larger tents that suffered most, with broken poles. This morning two guys were in the loo, attempting to dry out their soaking wet sleeping bags. It amazes me how stupid some people were, pitching their tents in hollows, rather than on higher ground. They soon got flooded out, including two young German backpackers with whom I'd exchanged a few friendly words, and who had pitched their tent only a few metres from mine, but down the hill. I heard them packing up, amidst howling wind and pouring rain, around midnight. Goodness knows where they went, because they had no car.

If Dave Fergusson hadn't insisted on driving me around North Skye yesterday, I would have been 'wild camping' at deserted and exposed Neist Point last night. Now that would have been at experience. At times, last night, the gusts of wind were worse than the previous Monday, when I was at Durness.

I packed up the tent at about 11.30 during a lull in the rain and went straight across to the hotel bar for a bowl of nachos and guacamole. With that inside me I gritted my teeth and set off south.

On the road near Sconser there was a sudden squall from my right. Two things happened simultaneously: a blue wheelie bin shot into the road and was hit by a passing car, whilst I was shoved (by the wind) on to the gravel at the edge of the road and toppled over. No damage done to me, but apparently there were some dents and a broken wing mirror on the vehicle. The car driver went to see the property owner, who subsequently drove up the hill to catch me up, wanting my details for evidence of what had happened. He was annoyed because he had attached a caribiner (rope and hook) to the bin, but when it was emptied earlier in the day the binmen had failed to re-attach it. Whoops.

So, apart from the grim weather (the wind did ease considerably), I was able to reach Armadale by 18.30. A sign at the start of the road (at Broadford) had stated that sailings to Mallaig had been cancelled, so I was prepared to have to camp somewhere near Armadale. But as I neared the harbour, I saw the ferry steaming across. I just made it in time. There had been only three sailing during the day, instead of the normal eight.

So here I am in Mallaig, on the mainland again, staying at the Marine Hotel. No signal here, surprisingly, so I'll have to find somewhere to send this tomorrow. Only a few photos too, mainly because of the weather.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Welcome to June

A scene of devastation. Last night this area was full of tents; now only a couple remain. Two have broken poles and many others were flooded out and had to retreat either to cars or the hotel.

The storm started about 8.30 last evening and lasted all night - and is still raging. Winds of at least 60 mph funnelled down the loch and it didn't stop raining. Fortunately I'd pitched my tent on slightly higher ground, so apart from a small leak I've kept dry.

It's now 09.30. I'll stay here for a while to see if it clears up.