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Holiday over

Well that’s the holiday over. What I mean is that tomorrow we start our seventeenth day on the road which is about as long as we have ever toured for, until now. Under normal circumstances we would be getting a bit despondent at this point as we contemplated returning home and getting back to work and routines but not this time. I’m wondering if the next week or two will feel like an extended holiday or whether we will begin to really believe that this is our life for the forseeable future. It’s an exciting prospect and ever so slightly frightening too. If I’m worried about anything, it isn’t the cycling, the weather or any problems we may encounter. No, it’s the possibility that there will come a point when we just aren’t enjoying the experience, but if the first two weeks are anything to go by, I would say there is nothing at all to worry about. So far, it has been wonderful and even without much in the way of warmth or sunshine, being completely immersed in the unfolding spring has been a magical experience.

Wild garlic in profusion

Wild garlic in profusion

As we have travelled north, further and further from familiar territory, the sense of being close to nature and living almost completely outdoors has been the single most rewarding sensation for me. As I write this I am sitting in the lounge of our wonderful and generous Warm Showers hosts, Dick and Jackie and I am looking out over Loch Sween with the very real prospect of seeing an Osprey fishing for its supper. You couldn’t ask for a nicer setting or kinder and more interesting people to stay with but I am still really looking forward to camping again tomorrow night. We will almost certainly be on Mull by then and well on our way to the Highlands. Lots of big climbs, I know, but with all the rewards of spectacular scenery that the clash of big mountains and rugged coastlines does so well.

Loch Sween

Loch Sween

Looking back at the first two weeks I get the sense of a transition from focussing on making linear progress over the ground to climbing to a completely different spiritual place that comes with this new landscape and the peace and tranquility of it all. We have gone through a kind of breaking in process. Getting gradually fitter as the roads have risen higher and working our way through various aches and pains as our bodies have adjusted to the new demands we are making of them. Now comes the reward of hard work we hope.

When Gill met Gill from Reed in Lancashire. She loved our story.

When Gill met Gill from Reed in Lancashire. She loved our story.

We have already met loads of lovely people, some of whom have embraced our odyssey with joyous enthusiasm and others who have not. I think the coolest response so far was from another cyclist who, when Gill explained what we are doing simply replied, “oh lovely” and changed the subject. By contrast, while I shopped for dinner in the Girvan Co-op Gill was presented with a two pound donation by a woman in the street who wanted to know what we were doing.

In Wigtown we were sheepishly approached by the wonderfully named Forbes Rogerson who, it turned out, was harbouring a burning desire to load up his bike and pedal into the sunset. I hope we inspired you Forbes because you really won’t regret it.

Port Patrick

Port Patrick

We have been spoilt rotten by Dick and Jackie over the last twenty four hours and it has been incredibly relaxing to stay in their home and swap stories of cycling and all manner of other topics. Dick offered to host us for two nights because we needed a rest but also because he said the weather forecast for today was awful. In fact it’s been glorious so the fact that he had a large load of firewood delivered today that had to be unloaded and stacked does make me slightly suspicious of his real motives for keeping us here for today. Only joking of course Dick, stacking firewood is my second passion after cycling, honestly.

We’ll be sad to leave our new friends but happy at the same time to start this new phase of the journey and to enjoy the experience as it continues to grow and develop.

Sunset over Jura

Sunset over Jura

Still waiting for the Osprey I’m afraid.

Bags and baggage

My kit from a previous tour

My kit from a previous tour

At some point I will put up a detailed kit list, mostly for the benefit of other tourers who seem to like these things. In the mean time here is a bit of fun for those who keep asking, “what will you take with you?” It just goes to show that the basics of life don’t change, at home or on a bicycle tour.

At HomeOn Tour
HouseTent/Hostel/B&B/Warm Showers
GardenThe view from the campsite
BedSleeping bag, liner, inflatable mattress, home made pillow
Wardrobes/drawersCycling clothes x 2, evening clothes x 2, underwear x 2, training shoes, hat, gloves, socks.
Bedside lampTorch
Junk under the bedNo room under bed
Personal hygieneWashbag
Bath, shower, toiletWet wipes, trowel.
Spare bedroomThat's just a silly idea
Central heating systemIf only
TV, hi-fi, music, booksGadgetry
Sofas, tables, chairsWe can make very comfy seats from our inflatable mattresses actually.
Wood burning stoveCamp fire where permitted
PicturesThe view
Ornaments and nick nacksNope. No shelves in tent.
CookerSmall meths stove
Fridge/freezerNo but we do expect the occasional frost.
Assorted pots, pans and crockeryTwo pans, one plate/choping board
Drawer full of cutleryTwo plastic Sporks
General cooking accessoriesPen knife
SinkTap in field
KettleYes! (for meths stove)
Cupboards full of food1 - 2 days dinners, up to 7 days breakfasts, lots of T bags
Shed full of tools, bikes, junk2 x bikes, 4 x inner tubes, small tool kit.
Car, trains, buses, taxisBikes
Endless supply of electricityBatteries, methylated spirits

Warm Showers

Warm Showers is an internet based membership organisation aimed squarely at cycle tourists. It enables like-minded people to offer a bed and maybe a meal and a shower to travelling cyclists and to share good conversation, comparing notes on the ups and downs of our passion.

Now I would like to think that I might be able to make this blog a little bit interesting to a wider audience than purely other cyclists and that’s why I want to share something about Warm Showers with you. You see, despite the fact that its purpose should only really appeal to cyclists, what it represents is important to everyone. It represents the very best of humanity and something that the popular media would have us believe does not exist anymore. It represents human kindness and generosity, provided for no other reason than because it is a nice thing to do.

Of course I accept that there are bad people out there but believe me they are a tiny, tiny minority. Most people are good. Most people will help a fellow human being in need and that is why Warm Showers works.

It was first set up in 1993 by Terry Zmrhal and Geoff Cashman and is now maintained by a group of volunteers. The idea is that you register on the site and offer accommodation for free to passing cycle tourists. Conversely, members who are travelling can send a message to prospective hosts requesting one or two nights shelter. I can hear some sceptics muttering, why on earth would you want strangers staying with you but I can assure you it really works for both parties. Gill and I hosted our first guests last month and it was a wonderful fun filled experience providing dinner and a bed for the night to John and Di. They arrived very wet and somewhat dishevelled after a hard day’s riding in the rain but they were full of smiles and laughter and from their bulging panniers they produced wine and beer! Despite it being a school night, the dishes went unwashed while the talking and laughter went on. We will certainly keep in touch with them and no doubt cycle with them in the future. It was an overwhelmingly positive experience all round.

I think Warm Showers represents something very precious. It is like a beacon, but a beacon that is struggling to be seen from under the black cloak that the media casts over us with their scaremongering stories of bad things lurking around every corner. The reality, when you travel, by bike or by any other means is quite different. There are endless examples in all travel blogs and books of generosity and kindness. Indeed we have experienced it ourselves on numerous occasions. We have been offered accommodation by complete strangers who just want to help, to be useful and for no other reward than the satisfaction that it brings.

One of my favourite stories comes from just outside Londonderry in Northern Ireland. We had walked a couple of miles from our campsite in search of a meal but we weren’t having much luck. The bar we ended up in didn’t serve food in the evenings but once we explained out situation the barman didn’t hesitate. “I can run you up the road to Harry’s Bar and Restaurant*; it’s only five miles over the border”. So after we had enjoyed a pint with a few locals he duly took us up the road but he wasn’t satisfied with just giving us a lift. He wanted to know how we would get back to the campsite. We said we would try to get a taxi so he then phoned his nephew who ran a taxi service and told him “an English couple will be phoning you later and you need to pick them up from Harry’s Bar and take them back to their campsite. And make sure you look after them”. The poignancy of this in such a location was striking. But it happens all the time. Travellers like Alastair Humphreys and Josie Dew have endless stories in their books of this kind of selfless kindness from strangers as do all of the travellers we have encountered ourselves. There is strong evidence that helping others is a key ingredient of living a happy life. Don’t take my word for it: Mahatma Gandhi once said that “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others”.

So, next time you go to the newsagents and are confronted by yet another doom laden, fear inducing headline about a tide of criminality don’t buy the paper. Go and buy a travel book instead and then go help somebody and be happy.

* We found no evidence that the barman was in any way related to Harry and shame on you for even thinking such a thing.

Moving house

I love the questions people ask us about our trip. “Where will you stay?” crops up quite frequently and has, on occasion, been followed by “will you have an electric hook-up?”.  That, after we have told them that we will mainly be camping. Goodness knows what they think we carry in our panniers.

Well the answer to the first question is very definitely, we will be camping as much as possible to keep the costs down and because we like camping. Yes you read that correctly, we actually do like to sleep in a small space with nothing more than two bits of thin nylon fabric between us and the elements. It’s as close to sleeping outside as you can get without having to worry about getting wet or cold. People talk about, ‘getting close to nature’. Well most of the time we are just two zippers away. The sounds of animals and birds, rain on the fabric, wind whistling in the trees and distorting the shape of our shelter and even the smells of the outdoors are all so close from inside our little cavern.

"excuse me, this is my pitch"

“excuse me, this is my pitch”

What was once known as the ‘bell end’ but is now, more often referred to rather pretentiously as the ‘vestibule’ of the tent has been home to beetles, hedgehogs, a robin, and once, rather alarmingly, a horse’s head. That last experience probably brought me a little closer to nature than I was comfortable with. (Aren’t they big?) Gill wasn’t with me at the time or she might have been put off camping for good. When we aren’t hosting local fauna it’s just magic to open the flysheet zip in the morning and be greeted by a glorious sunrise or a world turned sparkling white with frost.

With the kettle on, we relish the prospect of a lovely cup of tea whilst watching the world wake up from our morning campsite.

Of course there are occasions when a nice bed and breakfast might be preferable. Pitching the tent in heavy rain isn’t much fun and the same goes for packing it up in the wet. We once spent an hour huddled inside with all our gear packed and ready to go while we listened to the rain hammering on the flysheet. So loud was it that at times it made conversation difficult, and we gave ourselves several deadlines to get out and load up all of which passed without further discussion. What people who don’t camp or work outdoors don’t realise though, is that rain that goes on for hour after hour is actually very rare. Showers of varying lengths are much more common and easier to deal with.

Pitching the tent in normal conditions is very easy. It takes little more than five minutes between taking the tent off the bike and putting the kettle on from the comfort of our cosy little home. Complete with arm chairs and radio four. I loved it when we were assailed by a caravan dweller one morning who complimented us on our camp craft. “I watched you pitch your tent last night and I said to the wife: they’ve done that a time or two before haven’t they?” It’s so easy and convenient and unlike a hotel there’s no need to worry that the wallpaper won’t be to our taste.

Occasionally we will use a hostel or a Bed and Breakfast to avoid really bad weather or to catch up on washing and chores that don’t come easy on a campsite but mostly we will camp. We will also be using a web based organisation called Warm Showers which is brilliant for all sorts of reasons but that deserves a post all of its own. In the meantime, in case you are wondering, this will be our bijou residence for ninety percent of the time:

Room with a view

Room with a view

With a different view every day of course.