18 August 2013

Scotland Tour Part 3: Durness back to Inverness

We woke up at our wild camping spot near the beach in Durness, to the sound of wind coursing around the tent, but at least the skies had cleared. It took us a bit of time to get going as we cooked up some sausages that we hadn't eaten the previous night, but soon we were making a beeline for the famous Durness chocolate place, Cocoa Mountain. We knew we had to go there since two different people on our way through Scotland had mentioned it! We had some delicious truffles and an absolutely incredible hot chocolate (with the price tag to match). It truly lived up to the hype! (Alberto also left some lenses for his sunglasses there and they were kind enough to send them to us back in London!)

Delicious chocolate from Cocoa Mountain in Durness
The sun was shining and the orientation of the building was blocking the wind, so we were in no real hurry to get going. Another touring cyclist turned up, Jimmy, from near Pitlochry in the Cairngorms. He was really interesting and we enjoyed a long chat with him before we parted ways, although we were both headed in the same direction so we thought we may run into him on the road.

It seemed to take ages to get going from Durness. We went to explore some of the beach views, stocked up on groceries and dealt with other 'admin' like getting cash and fuel for the stove, and before we knew it it was past 3pm before we left for the day.

Checking out the Durness beaches
It didn't matter too much (or so we thought) as we were planning a short day to Tongue, only about 50km away. We pedalled out of Durness under sunny skies, but things started to cloud over soon afterwards. Still, we had great views of the sea and then around Loch Eriboli. Alberto's map had indicated that there was a town called Polla on the route, which means somehing naughty in Spanish so we had to take a detour to see if we could find a sign for the Spaniards to pose in front of. Alas, it wasn't to be, so we were back on the road to Tongue and had seemingly picked up a headwind as we had to climb a long hill over the headland.  It was beautiful cycling, but pretty tough, especially considering it was supposed to be an easy day!

Climbing and climbing some more
We finally made it to Tongue around 7pm. Ran into Jimmy again who had arrived a few hours earlier and was just finishing up a pub dinner (he advised us not to eat there!). He was staying in the youth hostel, but the prices were pretty steep and there was no reason why we couldn't camp so we set out in search of a camp spot. The midges had already picked up in Tongue so we were in search of the windiest spot we could find. We finally decided to camp in the picnic area on the bridge across the Kyle of Tongue. We were not hidden in any way, but that's one of the pleasures of Scotland where wild camping is legal.

Idyllic camp spot
We set up the tents and started getting dinner ready. It was an absolutely stunning spot, but as the sun started to set, the wind died down and out came the midges. As midges don't bother you while you're in motion, we decided to eat while walking around in circles! It kind of worked. It was a shame we couldn't stay out longer to enjoy the views, but as it was we dived into the tents as soon as possible.

Eating and walking
There was a breeze again in the morning which meant no midges over breakfast, so that was good! We had some porridge while a busload of tourists pulled up to take pictures of the views. We went to the shop in Tongue but the selection wasn't great, just some junk food to tide us over, and after brushing our teeth at the public toilets in town, we were on our way.

It was a pleasant first 25km to the only town in this section, Altnaharra, where we ran into two cyclists going in the opposite direction and made a quick stop in the pub. There were some midges about now, so we pressed on until we found a spot high up on a plateau with a bit of breeze where we had some lunch.

Rolling towards Lairg 
We had a bit of on-off rain so it was difficult to get the right layers of clothing on, but it was a pleasant ride into Lairg, where we pulled in about 5pm. We could have continued on, but the sun had come out, and we fancied a shower and some local food, so we made our way to the campsite. We all had a good shower, 20p each (I think Alberto used two) and I even paid 20p extra to use the hairdryer which always makes such a difference to me when we're on tour.

Lairg campsite
Dinner was some venison burgers, plus smoked salmon and smoked mackerel for the boys. The midges started to come out again just as we finished dinner. Lairg is known for bad midges and were indeed the worst of the trip by far. So we dived into our tents about 8:30pm and listed to the sound of thousands of midges landing on the tent. A truly unique sound!

The following morning the midges were still out in force, so we cut our losses and decided to have breakfast in the restaurant attached to the campsite. It was a pretty good breakfast, and we were extremely glad not to have to deal with the midges. We got on the road to head to Keith's house, our warmshowers host who we had stayed with at the end of our last tour of Scotland as well, taking it easy because we knew he wouldn't be around til the evening.  We surprised ourselves by making such good time, and before we knew it we were back on somewhat familiar territory, passing parts of the road that we skipped with our off-road detour on the way north, and eventually meeting up with our outward route near Evanton.

View of the Black Isle
Group shot!
We were getting close to Keith's house and it was still on the early side, so we stopped in Beauly, which I remembered wanting to check out the last time we went through it. We explored the shops and had an end-of-tour treat at a cafe with delicious cake, and then made our way to Keith's house where we arrived just a few minutes before he did.

Keith is an excellent host, and we enjoyed a delicious dinner al fresco with a roaring fire, truly a great end to the trip. It was only a shame that once again we missed his wife Sarah, as she was busy riding across the US! After another excellent evening it was off to bed before cycling into Inverness for the morning train back to London. Another truly excellent tour of Scotland, by now firmly establishing itself as the best place to cycle in the UK.

08 August 2013

Memories of the Dunwich Dynamo 2013

The sense of excitement that builds throughout the day on Saturday as you do your final preparations. The first glimpse of other Dynamo riders as you exit the canal at Broadway Market. The happiness of meeting new friends and friends-of-friends amongst the thousands of cyclists assembled at London Fields. The looks of disbelief on the faces of pedestrians as you pedal out of London. The coolest feeling when a perfect stranger rides up to you and says, "Machacas on Wheels!"

The increasing intensity of hundreds blinking red lights as the sun starts to set. The swift breeze as a set of fast club riders overtake you. The short-sighted pleasure of going a bit faster than you probably should so early in the ride. The unusual privilege of getting to ride two-abreast on a major road. The echoes of voices of all accents shouting "Car!" when one approaches. The worried feeling that comes after yawning when it isn't even midnight yet.

The panic of coming around a bend and having to stop suddenly because hundreds of cyclists are blocking the road outside the pub. The taste of peanut M&Ms at the moment when you can't imagine anything more delicious. The feeling of adventure as you set off into proper night riding in the countryside.

The sound of happy cyclists chatting all around you. The confusion of hundreds of cyclists queueing to walk their bikes through a narrow bit of roadworks. The sound of cleated shoes shuffling on plywood ramps over the makeshift bridge. The comfort of knowing the halfway stop is only just on the other side of the queue.

The utter ridiculousness of losing one of your ride companions when they miss the turnoff for the feed stop. The sight of hundreds of cycles and cyclists lying on the ground of the carpark. The restorative effect of a hot, caffinated beverage. The excitement of seeing "sunrise in 2 hours 24 minutes" on the GPS screen.

The sight of the sun rising ahead of you as you pedal into the dawn. The smell of bacon being cooked up by an enterprising local resident. The warm familiarity of visiting Needham Lake in the early morning hours. The increasingly tired looks on your fellow riders faces. The serendipity of coming across the free tea and coffee stand just when you start to get seriously worried about your ability to stay awake.

The final push into Dunwich through green fields and quiet lanes. The feeling of a light summer shower on your forearms. The joy of arriving into Dunwich with someone who has done it for the first time. The smugness of getting out your camp stove and cooking up bacon baps on the beach. The unfairness that it is slightly too cold to enjoy a morning on the beach. The smile that creeps accross your face when you see the thousands of other people who have done the same crazy thing with their Saturday night.