31 May 2014

M2H12: Harrogate to York

Back home to York - a service stop for changing socks, offloading camping gear, eating curry etc - so a short day.

In fact, all today's highlights were in Knaresborough, traditional home of 16th-century prophetess Mother Shipton (picture). One of her lesser known predictions, clearly foreseeing the coming of the Tour, runs "...On iron wheels young men shall ride / In yellow garb from France's side / Roads smooth as silk shall now appear / But not in any other year...".

OK, yes, I made that up, but then most of Mother S's predictions were made up by some bloke called Hindley in 1862. Still, Knaresborough looked very nice (picture).

The townspeople, as all over this part of Yorkshire, have embraced the Tour. Bunting, displays, decor and posters are everywhere, and there's even a TdF them to one of Knaresborough's local specialities - trompe l'œuil windows (picture).

Miles today 20
Total miles 601

30 May 2014

M2H11: Aysgarth to Harrogate

A sociable day of beautiful but hilly stuff in and around Wharfedale (picture). I was relieved I'd put new brake blocks on back in Penrith.

Much of the cycling was an uphill struggle. The socialising in cafes (picture, Kettlewell) certainly wasn't. In fact, a combination of pushing up 1 in 5s, stopping constantly to take photos, and chatting amiably to fellow cyclists over coffee, resulted in my taking nine hours to do 45 miles.

There were cyclists everywhere on the lanes and roads, most out on a club-run, but many on a more leisurely basis (picture, Burnsall). Evidence of the forthcoming Tour de France was everywhere too: not only those yellow bikes, but also signs for temporary (and lucrative) TdF camping at every farm field. Where will they put all the sheep that weekend?

Another TdF giveaway was the resurfacing work being done all over the place. Three parts of my route were closed to traffic for the tar'n'chippings gangs, but of course as cyclists we could go through (picture). I was stopped and asked three times by cars if I thought they'd be able to get through. Each time I said No, it really is blocked, you've no chance. And each time the drivers said Well, I'll think I'll risk it anyway.

After Bolton Abbey, where there is this entertainingly low arch for cyclists to duck under (picture), I headed for Harrogate, and had the first proper dinner in two weeks, thanks to Vicky and Pete.

Miles today 45
Total miles 581

29 May 2014

M2H10: Penrith to Aysgarth

I followed quiet, rolling back lanes in the morning from Penrith to Kirkby Stephen, in the shadow of the Pennines. Some of the roads were surprisingly busy with traffic (picture). That's rush hour just outside Appleby...

Handsome Appleby is just about to play host to its famous annual horse fair, when lots of travellers come to trade nags. I was intrigued by a restaurant there called PIZZA ROMA, and wasn't sure what sort of 'Roma' they had in mind.

I had lunch in Kirkby Stephen, where this much-photographed fingerpost (picture) displays distances in miles and furlongs - a mode curiously missing from my otherwise flexibly programmable bike computer.

Out of KS was a monster climb (picture), up to 500m, whatever that it is in furlongs, through Birkdale and over into Swaledale.

I was delighted to see ROAD CLOSED signs at the bottom, as I knew I'd be able to get through on a bike, and that I'd therefore have little traffic - only the people ignoring the signs only to have to turn back when they got to the top (picture). (Some cars tried busting the barrier here, only to be turned back further on by a roadworks gang completely blocking the road with diggers.)

Just past the summit, on the Swaledale side, was this yellow bike (picture). Yorkshire's full of them - they're put up to celebrate the forthcoming Tour de France. Not many are this high up, though.

The views down the long descent of Swaledale, though Keld and Thwaite and Muker, were fabulous (picture). If I'd had any breath left after the long push up, they'd have taken it away.

From Muker I went up and over into Wensleydale - another big climb up to near 500m, and big descent the other side down to Askrigg. Here they're celebrating the TdF too: this was my favourite (picture) out of many displays in the village. Whether this a subtle comment on the Milk Race, or about some cyclists behaving like silly cows, I don't know.

I'm camping in Aysgarth, right next to the Falls, which I will hear gently all night. Better not drink too much in the pub next door, then - chances of making it through the night without wanting to go to the toilet would therefore be slim.

Miles today 52
Total miles 536

28 May 2014

M2H9: Rest day in Penrith

A rest day in Penrith today, sitting out indifferent weather and doing service-town admin such as haircuts. The hostel (Wayfarers Penrith) is excellent, and possibly the best for cyclists I've ever stayed at - it's aimed at Coast to Coast groups. It has a fine bikeshed-cum-workshop in the basement (picture), with workstand and tools and track pumps and a bright clean space for maintenance. Just as well, as there was little left of my brake blocks after all those Scottish hills.

I took a bus to Keswick, whose shops were rammed with walkers chased off the hills by the rain, and spent the afternoon strolling round the lake (picture), which was busy with shoppers chased off the town centre by the walkers.

My chum Tim was in Keswick, also having a rest day from leading a group of Coast-to-Coast walkers, and I spent a sociable evening with him and some of his friends and colleagues. Conscious of our food miles, we had a pint of Dog & Gun Landlord's Choice in the Dog & Gun, brewed by the Keswick Brewery (picture). Tim wasn't sure it had travelled well.

Miles today 0
Total miles 484

27 May 2014

M2H8: Moffat to Penrith

A very early start - I had taken down the tent and was out from the campsite in Moffat by 6am - so that I wouldn't have to lay in bed being disturbed by early risers taking down their tents. Sound travels in campsites.

I had breakfast at Lockerbie, where I was not impressed by the cycle parking in front of the Town Hall (picture). Sheffield stands would have been so much more convenient than sheep-shapes.

Further down the old A74, now the smooth, fast, almost traffic-free, but tedious, NCN74, I dropped into Robert the Bruce's cave at Kirkpatrick Fleming (picture). I came here a few years ago intending to get a photo of a spider spinning a web, but didn't succeed. So I came here once more to try again, but without luck. So I think I'll give up.

A short distance down the road is Gretna Green, famous as the place pre-18s with disapproving parents would elope to wed under Scottish law. Now it's a slightly tacky tourist coach-stop, as demonstrated by a piper on photo-display for tips, a retail outlet, and this curious sculpture (picture) of a couple arm-wrestlling for custody of the kids. When it comes to marriage, Bruce's dictum does not apply.

The Border With England (picture) - the River Sark, pub quiz fans - is a few hundred yards south. Next time I cross the border, could Scotland be an independent country? Well, no, because I'll be back in July.

Anyway, I whizzed down to Carlisle (unlimited coffee refills in one of the two Wetherspoons on Botchergate) and then to Penrith, where it was a heartbreakingly beautiful sunny evening. Just as well, seeing as the weather forecast for tomorrow is incessant heavy rain and headwinds...

Miles today 61
Total miles 484

26 May 2014

M2H7: Ayr to Moffat

I left Ayr without further investigation. I'd done all the jokes about Robert Burns and John McAdam I could think of last year, when I passed through on my multiple End to End trip.

Today was always going to be a bit of a slog, east across from Ayr to the old A74, and then down that road towards Moffat, especially as it rained much of the morning. I proved that my new rear Ortlieb panniers are completely waterproof. And that my new front Halford panniers aren't.

In Auchinleck I kept seeing signs for 'Barony A Frame', which I thought must be some sort of Disney character, but in fact it was this remnant (picture) of the coal mine that was here, now left as a monument to the lost industry.

The old A74 is now a virtually unused series of roads, and also a Sustrans path, NCN74 (picture). A curious experience, because it's on such a big scale. Normally on a Sustrans route you get a concentrated sense of things happening: within 15 minutes you might cycle along a towpath, by the side of a road, through a housing estate and scruffy park, then alongside a derelict battery-acid factory via a dump, for instance. But this gives you no such sense of achievement, even if you're bombing along at 15mph, because the views just never change.

A joyous freewheel in the sun down the A701 with lovely scenery got me into Moffat, a handsome town with what's said to be the thinnest hotel in the world (picture, on the far right). And I thought you couldn't get anything thinner than the Eagles' Hotel California.

Anyway, I won't be staying here. I'd never get my bike inside with those Ortliebs.

Miles today 66
Total miles 423

25 May 2014

M2H6: Lochranza to Ayr

A short day today - a measly forty miles - thanks to rain. And laziness.

From Lochranza it was a long slow climb up Glen Chalmadale (picture) before a short fast descent down the other side to a few miles of lovely waterside cycling. The road was often unfenced right over the water's edge, so I dared'n't concentrate too much on singing Seekers songs in the wrong mode, Shostakovich-style.

From Brodick, capital of Arran (ie it has shops, which Lochranza didn't) I got the ferry with lots of other cycle tourists back to the mainland at Ardrossan. Following the Sustrans path gave me a meandering conspectus of characteristic British views I hadn't seen over the previous few days - housing estates, factories, scruffy parkland - and this puzzling pair (picture) of contradictory signs in Troon.

A little further north, to prevent any such misunderstanding, was this set of signs (picture) for a two-metre-long underpass.

En route to Ayr, and the siren call of the cheap hotel I remember from last year's End to End, the Sustrans Route took me right past Glasgow Prestwick Airport. This is famous as the site of Elvis Presley's only visit to British soil, in transit from military service in Germany back the US. Apparently his main reaction on setting foot was, Where am I?

Miles today 40
Total miles 357

24 May 2014

M2H5: Lochgilphead to Lochranza

Another day of endlessly beautiful lochside cycling in fine weather. Plus a deer, a seal, a canal, the smallest 'bar' in the world, and a bizarre place name.

I started cycling up the Crinan Canal towpath to Crinan, where it opens into the sea (picture). It's a playground for deer: I saw one on the towpath, not a feature of my English towpath cycling. It's also a playground for millionaires, at least judging by the price of the coffee in the canalside cafe.

I cycled down the tiny road along the lovely south-east shore of Loch Sween. For cars it's a cul de sac, but cyclists can use the private track (picture) over the hills between Kilmory and Ellary, and continue to join the B8024. It's so remote it's not even on Google Maps at all, never mind Street View.

I had lunch at the summit of that cyclist-only stretch, with a wonderful panorama over Loch Caolisport (picture). Obviously, I only ate locally-sourced products. They all came from Lochgilphead Co-Op.

More wonderful (and mostly flat) lochside road cycling came on the next peninsula, round to West Loch Tarbet via Kilberry. En route I spotted this spotted seal (picture) basking on a rock in front of the Paps of Jura. That makes the Interesting Wildlife tally so far White Tailed Eagle (2), Sea Eagle (1), Highland Cattle (millions), Otters (0 but one beer of that name), Deer (1 live 1 dead), and Seal (1).

At Kilberry there was an Inn with this very small bar (picture). Last week I was at the Signal Box Inn in Cleethorpes, officially (according to Guinness) the Smallest Pub in the World. (It has space for three people.) This phone-box-sized drinking booth may, I suppose, be the world's snuggest snug.

I was delighted to go through this place, Achaglachgach (picture), evidently named by mistake when the person deciding what to call it was caught gargling.

Anyway, I'm on Arran tonight, in the youth hostel, doing what groups of outdoorsy people naturally do on a gloriously sunny evening. Watch the Champions League final on telly.

Miles today 66
Total miles 317

23 May 2014

M2H4: Oban to Lochgilphead

Another gorgeous day of fine weather and stunning scenery. I was ignoring Sustrans Route 78 for most of it, but I inadvertently followed it out of Oban (picture): a 12-mile slog into a headwind over hilly pasture.

Most of the day was a glorious lakeside circuit of Loch Awe (picture). The B840, running flat along the water's edge for 20 miles, was a delight. Lunch by the lake was chorizo from Oban Co-Op, £1.76 per pack, or £4 for two packs. I asked the lady on the till if this was right and she said Oh yes, they're good value some of these, do you have a membership card?

I stopped briefly at Kilmartin, where I'd investigated with Mark four years ago on my Cape Wrath to Dover ride. These are the famous funeral stones of local warriors, dating back 500 years (picture). I was disappointed to see that their helmets do not appear to conform to British Standard 1078.

I'm stopping at same campsite as we did then, in Lochgilphead. I'm planning to cycle along the nearby Crinan Canal tomorrow, and so had to buy a pint of Crinan Classic in the Argyll Arms to reconnoitre the route (picture).

Miles today 62
Miles so far 253

22 May 2014

M2H3: Strontian to Oban

A long day - almost 12 hours' cycling - of endlessly beautiful loch views.

I cycled north out of the sea-level campsite at Strontian at 6am and got up to 380m (picture) on just a banana and Twix. Sounds pretty efficient fuel consumption to me.

A huge descent took me past Loch Doilet, which is crying out to be in the first line of a Limerick, and I then had a superb 15-mile flat car-free ride on the forest road alongside Loch Shiel (picture) up to Glenfinnan, home of what is apparently the Harry Potter viaduct, though I recognised it from Scottish ten pound notes.

I went along the south shore of Loch Eil (picture) along a fantastically scenic flat A road that was about as wide as my bike. I got chatting to a fine fellow cyclist, Alasdair, who was clearly a lot faster than me, but then most people are.

After the ferry across to Corran, I followed Alasdair's tip and took the Sustrans NCN78, 40 miles south to Oban. Some bits are still being joined up, but much of it is an astoundingly scenic (picture), and very well-surfaced, flat railtrail with superb views of Loch Linnhe. I can recommend doing it in a tailwind, as it was today.

I found a hostel in Oban which, by total coincidence, is a short walk from Wetherspoon's.

Miles today: 88
Miles so far: 191

21 May 2014

M2H2: Tobermory to Strontian

My dorm-mate last night turned out to be from Hull, which seemed appropriate for this trip. I guessed he was from Hull before he even opened his mouth because he'd blagged two extra whiskies over the two-shot allowance in the tour of Tobermory Distillery.

It rained hard till half ten, so I sat it out in Tobermory and got the 11am ferry north to Kilchoan, on the Ardnamurchan peninsula (picture). The rain had followed me, and it threw it down until four.

I thought, What's the point? The point is, of course, Ardnamurchan, the westerliest bit of the British mainland. There's a lighthouse, though it was so dark and rainy you couldn't even see if it was illuminating (picture).

I chatted to the Polish lass in the cafe there. I asked her if it ever stops raining here. She said I don't know, I've only been here six months.

After three coffee breaks, I eventually set out vaguely towards Hull into the driving rain. There was some spectacular scenery. When the rain finally relented I even saw some of it (picture).

The last three hours of cycling, from four to seven, was gorgeous, all along the wonderful shore road of Loch Sunart.

I'm at the campsite in Strontian ('stron-TEE-an', I now know), one of the select places in the world with a chemical element named after them. So I must cycle to Ytterby, in Sweden, some time. Especially if it's as scenic as this.

Miles today 42
Miles so far 103

20 May 2014

M2H1: Craignure to Tobermory, Mull

A fine day of Hebridean scenery and single-track roads, that took me up the west side of Mull destined for Balam - er, Tobermory.

I kept running into minibus tour parties staring with binoculars at distant wildlife such as eagles, otters, and less elusive fauna such as Highland Cattle. Not far from the island of Ulva, I saw a white-tailed eagle out hunting just a hundred metres away, and had him all to myself. I felt rather thrilled.

Towards Bal - er, Tobermory - the roads, which had been fairly flat, got rather vertical. Descending one of the steeper roads I got a blowout. No big deal to replace the inner tube, but the midges that had been absent last night had clearly all gathered in anticipation of a cyclist too preoccupied with puncture repair to bother with deet sprays, and I got comprehensively munched.

I arrived at B - er, Tobermory - around half four. What a pleasant little place it is, with those famous multicoloured harbourfront buildings (inc the YH, where I'm staying), pleasant pubs, chip shops, a Co-op, and a souvenir shop called Tob - er, Balamory.

Miles today: 61

19 May 2014

M2H0: Train, York to Mull

I'd rather have been on my bike, but... this was an enjoyable day on a succession of trains from home in York up to the Inner Hebrides. I'm doing Mull to Hull, which barely qualifies as a 'rhyming coast to coast' seeing as Mull is an island, not a locality. But it's Scotland in May, so why not? During my Glasgow stopover I was pleased to see that the Modern Art Gallery (picture) had this witty piece of Modern Art outside. I'll leave it to you to fill out the pretentious nonsense describing Turner-Prize exhibits like this ("deconstruction of urban semiotics... traffic cone as exemplar of restriction on internal combustion engine retrospectively applied to horse... asks fundamental questions..." etc). Unless it's students, in which case little has changed since I was at uni. Several times. The train up to Oban went past spectacular scenery bathed in radiant sunshine. As soon as I arrived it started throwing it down with rain, and I got the ferry across to Craignure on Mull (picture). Given the rain, it wasn't a hard decision to stay at the village campsite in Craignure and invest responsibly in the local. Er, I mean, the local economy.
On the way back to the campsite there was this local bagpipe band practising at full throttle. Curiously, there were no midges. Perhaps this was why bagpipe music was invented.