Today we met Larry, a very young fledgling magpie cycle touring around the north of Scotland. He wasn’t actually riding a bike but he was riding on a bike. He was rather cute and very attached to Kaleb, the owner of the bike he was travelling on.
We have met a lot of people so far on this trip and they add an interesting counterpart to the scenery and the weather. I’m fascinated by the range of reactions when we explain what we are doing. It varies from manic excitement and a barrage of questions to total indifference and a rapid change of subject. Currently we are mostly meeting other cyclists on a mission. The proximity of John O’Groats over the last few days means that everyone we meet is either doing Lands End to John O’Groats (or the other way round) or assumes we are. It’s hard not to deal the ’round Britain’ trump card when asked if we are doing ‘the end to end’ but today we were out trumped by Kaleb, the owner of the magpie. He generously expressed interest in our journey before casually mentioning that he had cycled from UK to Mongolia last year. (www.iskaleb.com)
In Moydart we stopped to look at a plaque which tells the story of the Seven men of Moydart and bumped into the four sisters of Moydart instead. The seven men were mates of Bonny Prince Charlie and helped him escape when things went a bit pear shaped. The sisters were on a very different mission. They had come together from their various homes, including one from Singapore, to visit the island where their mother’s ashes are scattered. They were lovely and we now have an invitation to stay with Juliet when we get to Suffolk. She isn’t the only one to offer us accommodation either. We have contact details from at least two others who after less than five minutes conversation have potentially opened their homes to us. Including Jan that we met on a campsite near Arisaig and we have arranged to stay with tomorrow night. It is incidents like these that confirm my faith in humanity.
We first bumped into Mark and Heidi as they emerged from their wild campsite near Applecross and enjoyed an enthusiastic exchange about our various exploits before waving them goodbye. Two days later as we strolled through Ullapool we bumped into them again as they unloaded their bikes and luggage from a car they didn’t own. Unbelievably, whilst debating how to get from Gairloch to Ullapool, they got chatting to somebody who offered to take them, their two bikes and all their luggage, simply as a favour. He wasn’t actually planning to go to Ullapool but was happy to make a round trip of 112 miles just to help out a couple of strangers.
We spent a very pleasant hour at the summit of Dunnet Head brewing up and chatting with Jane and Eric about dating agencies amongst other things. They had met in similar circumstances to ourselves but in their case they had both been let down twice before but they got it right third time as evidenced by the fact that they have just celebrated their silver wedding anniversary. They too were travelling just like us but as Jane put it they were spending the children’s inheritence on posh hotels so not completely like us. Eric really looked the part in his scottish tartan kilt and Jane was dressed in a stylish country way. We must have looked an odd foursome to a casual onlooker but we seemed to have more in common than our appearances suggested.
Of course there have also been the characters that we have been happy get away from too. Like the cyclist who was terribly disconcerted because we weren’t using a particular brand of tyre or handle bar tape or whatever it was. I don’t remember because I was busy plotting my escape rather than listening to his explanation of relative grip in wet and dry conditions or something. I actually quite enjoy these encounters to be honest. They just add another dimension to the experience.
I could go on and on relating stories of these meetings. They are a very important aspect of this journey and the time we spend with complete strangers means just as much to us as the sites we see and the miles we cover. Some of them we will never see or hear from again but others I am sure will become life long friends and acquaintances. It’s a fabulous part of this journey of discovery and the affirmation of the good that is in most people.
We left Kaleb loading Larry into his handle bar bag ready to continue to their campsite for the night. I have no doubt we will meet many more colourful characters over the next few months but at the moment a black and white magpie is contender for most unlikely encounter. He’s going to take some beating.