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

Thousand miles, thousand smiles

A thousand and one miles, a thousand and one smiles and just under four weeks into the journey seems like an appropriate point to reflect on our life on the road.

The most amazing thing that I find is that our nomadic lifestyle already seems completely natural. I mentioned on day one that contemplating what lay ahead of us was a bit daunting. Overwhelming even. Well within less than a week all trace of those feelings had gone and now there is no sense of awe at all. This may sound odd but our day to day existence has become quite ordinary. Not for one moment in a negative way but in the sense that it is simply what we do. How we live. It isn’t extraordinary any more so it must be ordinary.

We’ve been travelling for twenty seven days and I’m sitting in the tent eating chocolate and drinking tea just like most nights. It’s cold outside with a blustery north wind but we are warm and snug and the sharp showers that rattle the tent don’t bother us in the least. We are content. Tomorrow we will follow exactly the same routine as every other morning, the only slight differences are brought about by the weather. If it stays dry but windy the tent won’t suffer from condensation and won’t need wiping down but other than that the morning packing procedure will see us on the road a couple of hours after first waking. Legs will complain at the first incline but as soon as we turn the first corner we will be ooing and ahhing at something. It might be a white tailed eagle or it might be a flower in the hedgerow or just a sky with patches of blue amongst the grey.

We haven’t had much in the way of warm weather but that has been more than compensated for this last week by the the increasingly spectacular scenery. The mountains seem to get bigger and bigger as we move north and their shapes get more dramatic as they rise from relatively flatter surroundings.

Stac Pollaidh. I was gawping at it for most of the day.

Stac Pollaidh. I was gawping at it for most of the day.

Sometimes you feel like you can’t do enough looking because there is so much to take in. We are never far from water, whether sea, loch or river and all too frequently rain and the endless variety of colours it produces. From the most vibrant turquoise of some of the white sand fringed bays to the black and tan of raging rivers in spate.

Could be in the Tropics if it wasn't for the temperature

Could be in the Trpics if it wasn’t for the temperature

It never stopped raining for thirty miles but it had it's rewards

It never stopped raining for thirty miles but it had it’s rewards

We are constantly on the lookout for sea otters but so far we have only been teased by rocks and clumps of seaweed which can do a convincing impersonation of an otter believe me. Wildlife is however abundant and seeing our first white tailed sea eagle was a very special moment.

The people we come across are also a constant source of entertainment. Every day we meet people who think that what we are doing is awesome, or amazing. Or as a French gentleman said yesterday, “you are risk takers”. I quite like that one. But I also like the odd balls. The Ferry Boat Inn in Ullapool was trying hard to be a bit cool. They referred to themselves as the Sky Blue Restaurant but they just served bar meals which were good but nothing special. They had big blackboards detailing their fancy wines and high tables with matching sky scraper chairs. Unfortunately all this was rather undermined by the khaki clad and mildly inebriated local who wanted to talk about midges and fly fishing very loudly to anybody who would listen. He stood, not so much at the bar as about four feet from it, swaying gently as if his boots were nailed to the floor and laughing heartily at his own witty remarks. I’m sure the new owners desperately want to ban him but are terrified of treading on local toes. He is obviously very much a part of the local scenery as we found him in a very similar position but in a different bar some time later in the day. He was swaying a bit further from the vertical by now and was even more amused by his own musings than before judging by the volume of his laughter.

We have become mildly obsessive about certain things over the weeks. The weather is an obvious one but less expected are showers (bathroom type ones, not rainy ones) and for me, notices. The showers at the various campsites are invariably hot. It’s the space and facilities that we fuss about.

Yes it's a campsite. Sunnyside Croft at Arisaig

Yes it’sa campsite. Sunnyside Croft at Arisaig took some beating.

Arriving in the shower in wet dirty cycling clothes and carrying a bag of clean dry clothes, not to mention a wash bag and a towel only to find one hook behind the door and no shower curtain leads to some interesting juggling of possessions. We often speculate on whether or not the owners of these places have ever actually taken a shower in their own facilities. I think not myself.

I intend to do a post specifically around odd signs we have seen but just for example: is it really necessary to put up an A4 printed notice behind every toilet in the block ordering “customers” to “Please flush the toilet after EVERY use”. I don’t want to think about what prompted the site owner to think such a notice was required.

On the whole  the experience so far has been exhilerating, challenging and deeply satisfying. There have been times when we have been pretty down in the dumps but they don’t last forever. It’s usually when we are wet and cold and grinding up yet another hill but those moments pass and there is always another spectacular view, another warm cafe and ultimately a dry and cosy sleeping bag. With tea and chocolate of course.

Food always raises the spirits!

Food always raises the spirits!

A thousand miles has a certain ring to it. I’m really looking forward to the next four or five and whatever delights and wonders they will reveal.  Right now I think it’s time to put the kettle on again.

Edit: this post is a few days old now. More to come later I hope.

A day in the life of..

Here is a description of a fairly typical day on tour. Just to give a flavour for those who have never done anything like this.

We are typically awake between five thirty and seven and begin the morning routines almost immediately. For me that means wriggling out of my sleeping bag and starting my morning Pilates exercises. This consists of taking off pants and sleeping shirt, putting on cycling shorts and shirt and other items for the day which, believe me, is as good as any Pilates class when done in a small tent. I’m then off to the loos because I’m a creature of habit while Gill dresses. Once back I put the kettle on and Gill begins her packing. I’ll pack some stuff while waiting for the kettle to boil and then after tea it’s breakfast of weetabix with added fruit and nuts or porridge if we are having a slower start. I’ll then pack up the stove and cooking equipment and Gill goes off to wash the dishes. It takes a while to get everything back where it belongs in the right bags before we can start on the tent.

Our tent is a Hilleberg Nallo GT2 and it is extremely strong and waterproof but it does suffer badly from condensation on the flysheet on all but the windiest of nights. Rather than carry all the excess weight Gill dries the inside off while I do the outside. It’s amazing how much water we can remove this way. Taking the tent down is very methodical. We tie up all the guylines to prevent them getting tangled and remove the pegs in a particular order. As we take out the poles we always ensure the tent is weighted down with a pannier or two whatever the weather. It’s just a good habit to stick to. As I roll and pack the tent Gill rolls and packs the thin foam mats we use under it for extra insulation.

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Just arrived

All the bags, mats and tent are attached to the bikes then it’s back to the shower block for teeth cleaning and water bottle filling. Finally, we are ready to ride. About two hours after waking.

We usually take the first opportunity to stock up on snacks and food for the day though we always have some stuff in reserve. Fresh fruit and veg is proving a challenge so bananas and tomatoes are more often than not on our snack menu.

We tend to ride for about two hours or twenty odd miles before stopping to brew up or at a cafe if we feel like a treat. (Usually when the weather is really bad). We’ll stop frequently for a few minutes to take pictures, add or remove clothing and sometimes just to stand and gawp at another stunning view. It’s suprising how easy it is to fill the day like this and depending on terrain, weather and how we feel we will be considering our night’s stop after anything between thirty and fifty miles. We have campsites marked on our map and this is supplemented by local knowledge and the Camping and Caravan Club listings and those of the tourist boards. We are usually tired at this point in the day and it’s the time to be careful not to let emotions take over from logic and practicalities. It is also the time that we are most likely to snap at each other over silly trivial things. As time goes by we are more aware of these things and we are getting better at dealing with them.

We’ll shop for the evening’s meal at the last place likely before we camp ensuring we have plenty of comfort treats for later in the evening. Chocolate and tea feature most nights.

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First brew is always the best

Once at the campsite the tent goes up first. This is a team effort and takes only five minutes. The kettle is usually on within about fifteen minutes and then it’s off for a shower after tea and biscuits/cake/chocolate etc. Our inflatable sleeping mattresses double up as very comfy chairs and I am usually sitting in mine cooking the tea by six or seven o’clock. We supplement pasta/rice and tins or jars of sauce with fresh veg where we can and to be honest it always tastes like heaven whatever we cook. Last night we went off at a bit of a tangent with pasta cooked with cuppa soup, black pudding and scrambled egg. Don’t judge till you’ve tried it. (Unless you are veggie of course) It was followed by honey and butterscotch cake with custard. More tea and more chocolate round off our consumption for the day. Calories are only an issue if we can’t get enough of them. The evenings pass incredibly quickly just going back over the day, writing notes and sorting out photographs and listening to some obscure local radio station.

With teeth cleaned and one last wee (you really don’t want to be getting out in the night if at all possible) we are usually settling down to sleep around nine. There is often quite a bit of pillow construction to refine as this seems to by the key to a good night’s sleep. The next nine hours or more are lost in deepest dreamland.

And repeat

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