Brews and Views

Friday 23rd May
We are having another unscheduled day off because of the weather. The difference this time is that there is no free wifi on site (we could pay but have chosen not to), no phone signal, no nearby cafe for breakfast or pub for lunch.We spent the morning listening to the rain on the tent debating what to do. We are in Achmelvich, a very picturesque remote spot on the north coast of Scotland. Picturesque and hilly, we did 34 miles yesterday to get here from Ullapool. The hills were worth it as the views were rugged and spectacular. The sort of views that make you feel very small and insignificant.

Views that make me feel small

Views that make me feel small

I have never been anywhere quite like it. Consequently we have tired legs and are both feeling a bit lethargic. The longer we lay in the tent the less we felt like moving on. Horror of horrors though, the milk supply that was plentiful enough for the original travel plan was fast running out and there is no shop. We did spot a fish and chip shop that said it’s open today, that could solve the food problem for tonight and leave our emergency meal intact for another day.

At 11.30 ish we finally decided to stay. The fish and chip shop is definitely open and the dour campsite owner turned out to be a kind soul who understands the need for a brew.  When asked about milk she filled a large jug for us and wouldn’t accept any money.

So far the mood in the tent is good. We have survived a potentially stressful morning while we decided what to do. To be honest I think we are both glad of the rest.

Plentiful brews and the thought of fish and chips help!image

Boys beware

In a conversation in the Ship during our farewell drinks session what seems like a lifetime ago but is actually less than two weeks, I was discussing the blog with Susie Burns and she made a request for blogs that contain the experience as much as the journey. So this one is for you Susie B.

From a girls perspective there were lots of questions about how I was going to cope without my creature comforts. What you have to remember is that we have been touring for a few years now so I have already learned to live without make up, only having two sets of clothes, using minimal amounts of shampoo, conditioner and shower gel. The challenge for me this time is really about how I will cope longer term and I can’t answer that yet as we have only been gone a week, but I do have some changes to report.

In the challenge to manage my hair I stopped having it coloured more than six months ago, stopped using conditioner a couple of months ago and dabbled with joining the no shampoo brigade before we left (unsuccessfully as it happens because we had so many social engagements). Since we left I have shampooed it twice in eight days, water washed it four times and done nothing except use my even bristle brush (as recommended by Linda Neville) twice. I have to report that it looks OK. Linda did actually report through gritted teeth when I had my last trim before we left that it was in very good condition. It is of course easier now that I can get it in a ponytail, and it also spends most of its time hidden under a cycle helmet or a hat at the moment. Time will tell with this one girls as the need to go bare headed arrives.

Hair in other areas is another thing! I keep forgetting to shave my legs. When you are in a shower with a push button to turn the water on it is a chilly prospect. I have bared them a couple of times this week. I don’t stop anywhere long enough for it to be noticed, but having seen a woman walking through one of the places we stopped at with high heels and bare, very obviously hairy legs it’s not a look I covet, so the vanity of shaving will continue as long as I can remember to do it!

 I’m not sure how many of you will admit to the occasional long hair sprouting from your chin area, but I’m sure I can’t be the only one. They seem to appear overnight. In a bathroom with good light they are easy to spot, but I did find myself stroking my chin and OMG there was one. I have no idea how many days it was there but it’s gone now.

My eyebrows are another challenge. Plucking is a pain so I’m not doing it routinely, however I quite like having two eyebrows so I need to keep an eye on that. I’m sure one long eyebrow is not a good look!

The clothes thing is OK. I’m rarely in the same place two nights running. I wear the same thing for as long as I can get away with and I’m not on the pull or in a fashion parade. I’m already a bit feathery (leakage from the sleeping bag) but not too scruffy yet. That will come I’m sure but Tony will be in the same state.

Finding a place to pee at the side of the road is much more challenging for us girls. That is until you purchase a p-style. I wasn’t sure I could discuss this publicly until I saw Alex Jones chatting with Michael MacIntyre on TV  about using a Shewee half way up a rock climb during a Sport Relief challenge. The p-style is basically a plastic device that enables you to pee standing up. If you are really interested Google it. There’s a very comprehensive video. I have used it several times this week, mostly successfully once I relaxed and it makes choosing a pee spot much easier.

I think that’s enough for now. There will be more to report as the journey continues. When I eventually catch up with any of you please forgive me if I’m not picture perfect.

Missing underwear

It seems that while we are travelling there are some jobs that will still be mine (to be fair Tony is usually cooking tea so it’s a fair deal). Last night, taking advantage of a two night stop in Kirkcudbright and a free token given to me by the campsite warden when I enquired about the cost of using the washing machine (3 pounds), I set about catching up with the washing. Not a difficult task I realise and following the instructions on the top of the washing machine everything was going according to plan. It was such a lovely evening I hoped to get it dry on the rotary washing line so followed the wardens instructions to give the washing an extra spin in the spin drier.

Somethings missing

Somethings missing

As I crammed the drier to the top I thought briefly that maybe it was a bit much and when it rocked rather than spun my more sensible self switched it off and took some out. Two successful spins later the washing wash was much dryer.

As I was getting to the end of attaching the washing to our elasticated camping washing line hooked onto the rotary line, I realised that I hadn’t come across Tony ‘s buff. Cue several minutes of exasperated searching as I checked the washing machine, the spin drier, the surrounding area, the toilets, the washing machine again, the spin drier again, the surrounding area again. How could a buff mysteriously disappear?

Eventually I gave up as Tony called me for my tea and I had to explain that I had lost his buff! He took it very well and after tea as I washed up he repeated my searches with the same lack of result. So we decided to give up and put it down to experience.

However, never one to completely give up and always ready to look in the most unlikely places I went back to the laundry, opened the spin drier, pushed the drum to one side and peered into the darkness. I was sure I could see something, so I poked around the water outlet and pulled out ……. a SOCK! Back I went to the washing line, counted the socks and there was still an uneven number, oh dear that meant that as well as the buff there was another sock in there, and where was my bra? I was sure I had washed it. Tony went and turned the drier upside down, gave it a shake and retrieved the sock but the buff and bra remained lost in the depths. Time to go and tell the warden – not so we could get them back, just so that he was aware. What a nice man, completely unfazed he just offered to take the thing apart and retrieve the offending articles!

This morning we saw him wandering across the campsite with the drier and sometime later he wandered across to our tent holding a buff but no bra. Had the spinner eaten it? No, it was safe and well in my stuff sack!

Being camped above a town we are a little more wary of the safety of our belongings but we would never have suspected the spin drier!

Simple Pleasures

As I begin to type we are just over four days away from the start of our big adventure. I have had lots of conversations with friends about how I will manage on the road without life’s perceived creature comforts.

Of course this trip is going to bring new challenges. The most we have done is 17 days, so from day 18 it is all unknown territory. We have a budget and in order to stick to this we need to eat at the tent most of the time, so I am going to have to become acquainted with our Trangia stove. On holiday we only boil water for tea on it and Tony has always done that. I’m sure I won’t get away with not cooking for the whole of the six months, and anyway I’m not sure I want to do all the washing up.

Instead of the myriad items contained in the bathroom I will have shampoo and shower gel, (at least at the beginning of the trip) moisturiser, deodorant and toothpaste (which more seasoned touring friends will think is more than enough!). I have worked hard to need less and have even considered giving up shampoo all together and joining the “no-poo” brigade. I had a foray into this a couple of weeks ago, managed about five days and realised that I can’t even consider this until I am on the road when most of the time my hair will be under a cycle helmet or tied back (and no-one knows me!). I’m not even sure I will be able to give it up completely but am willing to try. It will only reduce my load slightly but would be one less thing to restock.

The absence of bathroom accessories doesn’t reduce the immense pleasure of a hot shower after a day on the bike, and dressing for dinner is a simple affair when you only have a selection of two outfits and one is in the wash!

Life in a tent is very much connected to the daylight hours. We find ourselves getting up earlier and going to bed earlier as a tour goes on. Going to bed is bliss, I love my down sleeping bag. It’s so snuggly I never want to get out once I’m in.

Snug as a bug

Good night everyone

The truth is that life becomes simpler and the things that bring pleasure are more basic.


Not the kind that flutter gracefully around the flowers, but the kind that flutter excitedly in my stomach when I think about what we’re soon to be embarking on. I have been asked if I’m scared or nervous, I must be a bit or I wouldn’t get butterflies!

Fluttering in my stomach

Fluttering in my stomach

It is a very big adventure for us and I appreciate how lucky we are to have the opportunity, time and means to do this. I want to do it justice and bring home some very happy memories and great stories – a lot of which I expect might be situated around days that don’t feel so good at the time – like the Dent day (which served to show me that no matter how bad it is, it does eventually end, and makes for endless story telling).

There are many reminders of how close it is.

On Monday it will be one month exactly until I finish work, I gave them six months notice and I can’t believe how quickly it has gone.

Next weekend we’re off to visit the Gloucester family for the last time before we depart. The next time we see them should be when we cycle up the West coast following the course of the river Severn to make our way into Wales.

The house is in uproar, there are boxes everywhere. We have a space marked out in the back bedroom the same size as the storage space we have booked, so that we can work out if everything we intend to keep will fit in. Watch this space, there may be more for Ebay, Freecycle or the tip!

It’s going to be strange to cycle away from our lives, home and friends but there’s lots to look forward to. Tony is compiling a map with markers to show where we have been offered accommodation (not all of them family or friends). People are incredibly kind and we have had offers of accommodation from readers of various blogs and forums that Tony has been posting on.

There’s another potential source of butterflies, accepting hospitality from complete strangers. One of my work colleagues is worried that we might meet an axe murderer! I’m pretty sure it will be OK, as Hannah Engelkamp found out when she walked the circumference of Wales with Chico the donkey. You can read about her adventures here – Seaside Donkey.

I can’t wait to start the adventure. Most of the family we don’t see before we go are en route or going to travel to see us. We have friends planning to join us for bits of it. There’s 5,500 miles of coastline to explore and six months of pleasing ourselves with no bigger plan than to head North and keep the sea on the left.

To quote Susie Burns “happy days”.



Indian Squats

Children squat without thinking about it too much

Children squat without thinking about it too much

When I paid a visit to Kelly Thorn at Inner Power Pilates  with a view to improving my core strength and learning some techniques to manage my back spasms and life on a bike and in a tent, I never imagined I would spend an evening happily Googling the phrase “indian squats” and reading about toilet habits!

According to Wikipedia “Young children squat instinctively as a continuous movement from standing up whenever they want to lower themselves to ground level. One and two year olds can commonly be seen playing in a stable squatting position, with feet wide apart and bottom not quite touching the floor, although at first they need to hold onto something to stand up again” .

As we grow into adults we lose flexibility and with it the ability to squat with ease. I didn’t realise this was going to be a problem but it seems that for a life on the road, wild camping at times, spending six months mostly living in a tent and disappearing into the bushes to perform bodily functions it will be an invaluable technique to develop.

Across the Indian continent squatting is a part of daily life as noted by Bombay Jules.  Kelly believes that if I can perfect the technique it will make a big difference to my life on the road, giving me a comfortable natural alternative to sitting cross legged in the tent, leaving Tony and his tight hamstrings with plenty of room to stretch out in. It will also come in handy when it’s my turn to be camp cook and I expect to utilise it fully when I disappear into the bushes with the trowel!

Maybe it won't be quite like this in the bushes!

Maybe it won’t be quite like this in the bushes!

Abandoning the hair dye

In order to provide some balance and dispel any idea that this is Tony’s dream and I have been press ganged into keeping him company as he is “no good on his own” – his words not mine – I thought I had better have a go at this blogging malarkey. I can’t promise to be as amusing as Tony but if I don’t try I will never know how good or bad I am!

As most of you know, we have been planning this trip in earnest for about four months and thinking of it as something we would “love to do one day” for a lot longer than that. My first experience of cycle touring was in 2006, three days in Mid Wales cycling from home near Machynlleth on a circular route via Abersytwyth involving some of the biggest hills I have ever climbed.Dylife

Anyone who has done those roads will know that they are make or break. No-one can force you to enjoy that experience, or make you repeat it. Cycling to the top of a big hill, stopping to enjoy the view and then freewheeling down the other side is one of cycle tourings’ great pleasures, along with that first cup of tea after you have stopped cycling for the day and pitched the tent, the hot shower, and eating everything in sight!

Packing is an art that I have learned over the last seven years. It is a precision task made easier by the packing list that I grudgingly compiled. Life is pared down to the bare minimum, everything I take has to be hauled up every hill that we climb. Gone is the make up that I carried on the first tour (who’s looking at me anyway?) One on and one in the wash is the basic premise of the wardrobe. We very rarely eat in the same place two nights running anyway so no matter that I might wear the same trousers for two weeks – that may need some thought as I’m not sure I would get away with it for six months!

Abandoning the hair dye is a symbol of how simple life will become once we are on the road. It was as a result of a passing comment from Linda, my hairdresser, as she was applying the colours to my hair a few hair cuts ago. “How will you manage your hair colour while you are on the road?” She very kindly offered to send me off with a wash in, leave twenty minutes and wash out colour. Apart from the fact that the reason I let her colour my hair is that I hate all the faff involved, I have showered in some very draughty shower blocks, where having a shower involves 20p pieces or constantly pushing the button to keep the water running. The thought of having to wait twenty minutes to rinse my hair is not an attractive one!

I can’t promise to always be a cheery companion for Tony. There will probably be days when I hate the hills, my bike, my grey hair, camping, Tony. There will definitely be days when I am distracted by hunger and needing a wee when there is no loo in sight. The reality is that there will be lots of days – we are going for six  months after all. You can’t expect them all to be good, but I am expecting that most of them will be. I have survived the Dent day so I know that even when it is really bad there are moments of joy. There are jelly babies for the hungry moments and plenty of fields to wee in after all.

Rainbow on Barra

Rainbow on Barra