Gentleman Cyclist

April 25, 2007

East Mey to Thurso, via Dunnet Head

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Day 21 – 25th April 2007

I was awoken in the small hours by the unfamiliar sound of raindrops being blown with some force against our bedroom window. I looked out into almost total darkness – there were three or four orange smears somewhere in the gloom – neon lights through horizontal rain. I tried to sleep, but did not do so for at least an hour.

The next time I looked out, a small amount of daylight oozed through the clouds, which was enough for me to see the pampas grass outside clinging onto its mother earth with every fibre of its being. Our final ride of this holiday, from East Mey to Thurso, via Dunnet Head, promised to be amongst the toughest miles of all.

Breakfast was ample and well-cooked, and was enlivened considerably when our host announced cheerfully that Alan Ball had died of a heart attack: Alan Ball, of Everton and England, who once told a newspaper reporter that he didn’t squeeze his spots because he wanted to be repulsive to keep the girls away. They would only interfere with his football.

By the time we set off, around 8.30, the rain had stopped and the sun was threatening to emerge. The fact that the wind was southerly, rather than westerly, was also a considerably bonus. It would be a cross-wind rather than a head-wind for most of the ride.

Our progress was initially very good, as we had a long downhill from East Mey. After about 4 miles we turned towards Dunnet Head, a final northern push towards the limit of this island. This section was wind-assisted and still we bowled along, but we could see that the sleeping monster we had photographed so happily in the tranquillity of last night’s sunset was a totally different proposition in the cold light of a gale-force day.

I was surprised to see some quite large lakes beside the road as we approached the lighthouse, and even more so to see that the fishing rights belonged to the Dunnet Head Angling Society. Does someone really come up here to put half-tame stock trout in these wilderness lochans so that someone else can pay for the privilege of pulling them out again?

Eventually we reached the lighthouse and in many ways, the journey’s end. To me, Land’s End to John O’Groats was incidental, a ride for the tabloids. Lizard Point to Dunnet Head is the true “end-to-end” – a ride for the purist.

It is a marvellous place, nothing but sea between us and the North Pole. The sun was trying to break through as we reached the top and we could just make out the Old Man of Hoy. We all recalled a gripping day’s television when the BBC broadcast live from Hoy as Joe Brown and his team became the first to conquer it. Now that was reality TV – one of the finest moments of British Broadcasting history.

After a few photographs, we began the last ride of all, along the A836 to Thurso station. A few times we had to stop, as we had done throughout the ride, for Jan to get comfortable.

I wonder if her saddle needs adjusting?

April 24, 2007

Dunbeath to East Mey, via John O’Groats

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Day 20 – 24th April 2007

This morning dawned bright and clear. We had another very good breakfast overlooking the Moray Firth in which, according to the landlady, the world’s tallest wind generator was situated. It isn’t working yet and there is a similar one being built nearby.

We set off around 9.30 and made for Lybster, where we bought provisions. A mile or so later we took a left turn which took us due north through some very remote and wild countryside. We climbed gently but for quite a few miles and when we reached the top of this lens-shaped hill the views were spectacular. This was Flow Country, and there probably wasn’t another human within two miles of us. Once we stopped the bike, the only sounds were the wind and bird song. This was one of the finest parts of the entire ride.

The Grey Cairns of Camster

We descended to Watten which, to judge by the people we met, has more than its fair share of very attractive young women pushing push chairs. We crossed the railway and a few minutes later a train came – probably one of very few all day. Loch Watten, although small when compared to some we had seen, is still a large lake about three miles long.

After lunch, we climbed again, although this time through less remote countryside, and eventually we saw Stroma Island and Orkney beyond. We were now very much in the home straight, the last two or three of a 1000 miles journey which ended in a not-very-inspiring pub and which served no beer worthy of the name. However, we celebrated with a wee dram of Glenmorangie, since we had cycled past the distillery yesterday.

We decided to see Dunnet Head tonight, rather than leave it to the morning, and we made the mistake of missing out Duncansby Head. This was demonstrated when we arrived at Creaig-na-Mara to find that the latest we would be served dinner was 7.30 (our host, who assured us modestly that he was by far the best in the area, wanted to watch a football match) , so we wouldn’t have time to get to Dunnet Head either.

We have now opted for a 7.30 breakfast, to leave at 8.30 via Dunnet Head and still get to Thurso in plenty of time for the 13.06 train to Inverness. We did have a very good meal at Creaig-na-Mara, where we are the only guests for tonight. We are overlooking Dunnet Head, where we have been treated to a very fine sunset.

April 23, 2007

Alness to Dunbeath

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Day 19 – 23rd April 2007

“Bridgwater. we have a problem!”

So serious was deemed our problem that I was referred immediately to Robin Thorn himself. He said that on some very rare occasions, Rohloff hubs can shed bits of flange. He talked about short-term solutions and long-term solutions. I pointed out that I had superglued the hub back together, had managed to get a small amount of tension in the spoke, and in any case we had been riding on it for at least 100 miles since I noticed the buckle in the wheel, which I had managed to reduce considerably.

Robin had another solution: take the bike to a good, small bike shop where they know what they are doing and get Bicycle Repair man to drill another hole and fit an oversize spoke in place of the offending one. Robin himself would track down the said BRM, I would visit him en route, the repair would be done and everybody would live happily ever after.

Robin found the said BRM and after some faffing gave me his phone number. His name was Mike, he worked in The Bike Bothy in Brora and he was primed with what he had to do.

I phoned Mike. I was in Tain at the time (as everyone knows, Tain is the home of Glenmorangie whisky) and Brora is something like 20 miles along the Sutherland coast. Mike was quite reluctant to tackle the job. He felt, as I did, that the fact that the bike had done quite a few miles since the break occurred that my superglue was holding the spoke in place, even if it wasn’t doing all the work it was supposed to. The principle of “leave well alone” was quite a good one.

In my view, this whole issue puts a big question mark over Rohloff hubs. What does Robin Thorn mean when he talks about “very rare occasions”? How often does a hub break before a spoke? I have never come across this situation before. OK, our tandem has taken a good deal of punishment over the past 3 weeks in which we have done a fair amount of off-road. I think it was the Great Glen Way which caused the damage, no doubt aided and abetted by the enormous bulk of the riders. Pilot and stoker weigh more than 27 stones. Each rear pannier wiehs about 1.5 stones. That, on a rough surface, puts everything to the test and we clearly found Panaracer Pasela tyres to be inadequate for the work we wanted them to do, whereas the Schwalbe Marathon Plus seem equal to the task.

The bottom line is that Rohloff hubs, retailing at about £700 a throw, should not have a fundamental flaw in them. If something is to break, it should be something the rider can easily replace (eg a spoke) not something that could put the entire tour in jeopardy. I don’t think I could now take a Rohloff-equipped bike to Patagonia with any confidence.

But enough of Rohloffs and Superglue. Today’s ride began in Alness, and very soon the A9 was the be-all-and-end-all of our existence. It wasn’t as busy as many A roads in SE England, but the traffic came in waves and was fast. As often as we could, we rode to the left of the while line on the left of the carriageway, and mostly we had plenty of room there.

We had 11ses in Tain, and a very fine cake shop it was. We made for Golspie and at lunch time sat in the drizzle eating sardines straight out of the tin. We looked for a loo in Brora but decided not to trouble Mike the Bike in his Bothy, and held a Council of War in Helmsdale. We phoned the B & B, telling them that we still had about 16 miles to do (by this time it was 5.30) and that we would find food before we arrived.

I had suspected, the way the map showed the road as zig-zags, that it climbed in Helmsdale, but we were not prepared for the climb we had. It was monstrous. I was worried that the slow pace enforced upon us would mean that we would miss our meal. Up we went, further and further, with marvellously spectacular views out to sea and along ravines. We reached a summit of sorts, allowing some descent, but then climbed again. Then we reached Berriedale.

I had been warned by the guy selling ferry tickets at Ardrossan, himself a Helmsdale man, that the hill into Berriedale was spectacular. So it was, but I didn’t want to give the tandem its head with the rear wheel problem and in any case, I would have been held up by a coach, whose brakes were doing such hard work on the descent that the tyres smelt as though they were on fire. Even so, we reached over 40mph.

The hill north of Berriedale is not such a git as the Helmsdale climb, being much shorter, but it takes you right to the top of Caithness and from that point it is a glorious fast run all the way into Dunbeath.

We stopped at the Inver Hotel, where food was still being served, but just to us, or so it seemed. There was one other couple for a brief while, but thereafter we had the place to ourselves. The view across the bay was most dramatic.

Toremore, our B & B, was only about half a mile up the hill from the restaurant, so we were soon bathed, in bed, and ready for the final day of this epic adventure.

April 22, 2007

Fort Augustus to Alness

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Day 18 – 22nd April 2007

Our host, Mike, had washed and dried a load of washing for us, for which we were very grateful. We found that Mike was a very accomplished hill walker, having conquered all 284 Munros*, so I’m sure he has had a lot of practice at drying wet clothes.

We set off rather later than we intended, after 10am, but we made very good progress along Loch Ness, dropping in to Urquhart Castle for a coffee. Normally this would have been out of the question because the entry fee to the castle was £6.30 per adult and you had to buy a ticket to gain access to the café. However, for the weekend fo 21st-22nd April, many of Scotland’s historical attractions were opening their doors free. So we had a coffee and a cake without bothering ourselves with the castle.

Shortly came the major climb of the day, heading north from Drumnadrochit up to Convinth Glen. This was long and steep, and Janet and I pushed the bike for about 3/4 of a mile. Eventually we caught up with Chris, who was waiting by a small loch with his lunch. Although pushing the tandem up a long 1 in 6 had been hard work, when we were at the top the wind was cold. We were keen to make a move and the descent towards Beaulieu was great fun, as once again Janet and I broke our speed record: 46.2mph. This hill was not especially steep, just very, very long, but if you cannot build up a bit of pace when descending from the Highlands, when can you?

I recall a saying quoted to me when I visited Elgin VAT office with Customs & Excise years ago: “Speak well of the highlands, but live in the Laich”, the Laich being the stretch of coastline between Nairn and Elgin which has a particularly mild climate. I don’t think that Beaulieu, the Muir of Ord or Conan Bridge can be correctly be called the Laich, but we all noticed how much warmer we felt at the lower level.

We had a brief explore of Dingwall Town Centre but there’s not much going on at 5pm on a Sunday. We climbed to the minor road to avoid the busier, lower route and I decided it was time to do something about the wheel buckle which has been annoying us for a couple of days. I found the spoke key, tried to adjust a spoke or two in the offending part of the wheel and found a completely loose spoke, still attached at the nipple end. But the spoke wasn’t broken – the hub was! A piece of metal about an inch long had broken off my precious Rohloff hub!

This is definitely a tour-threatening situation. If another spoke on the rear wheel or, more to the point, another chunk of hub were to break off, I would be most reluctant to ride.

When we reached our accommodation, the Commercial Hotel, a fairly unpleasant place with no real ale and a very restricted food menu, I set to work trying to superglue the offending piece of hub back into place, but with little success.

We visited the local Indian for our evening meal, and the place might well have been called Balti Towers as the service was very slow and the apologies profuse, the woman blaming her husband for the tardiness of the meal. Eventually the food arrived and it was very good, although at the end we were treated on a discourse on how to provide low-fat Indian food to Scotsmen.

We returned to our hotel and I made another attempt to glue the piece of hub back into its place. There will be phone calls to Bridgewater in the morning and I can see the headlines in Der Zeitung: “Rohloffhub in LandsendtoJohnoGroatenfahren kaput ist!”

*It would appear that the number of Munros is a moveable feast, as it were. At the time of re-writing this some 17 years after the event, it seems that the Scottish Mountaineering Club now recognise 282 Munros. I wondered if two of them have worn out.

April 21, 2007

House of Keil to Fort Augustus

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Day 17 – 21st April 2007

We enjoyed another excellent breakfast and said our farewells to the Ryce-Garwoods. As we left, our hostess pressed two £10 notes into my hand as their contribution to the National Kidney Foundation. We are always very grateful for touching gestures like that.

We made very good progress this morning and reached Fort William in time for coffee – but we had to take care not to drench other customers as we had cycled through constant rain. We were due some, of course, so we can’t complain. In fact, the weather was quite mild and there was little wind so cycling in the rain was not that unpleasant.

We saw some eider ducks on the sea lock (Loch Linnhe). We had seen some previously but could not make out what they were.

On leaving Fort WIlliam we made for the Great Glen Cycle Way and once on it, we ate the lunch we had just bought at Tesco’s. The route was a bit stony but reasonably flat, so we made quite good progress. On reaching Clunes me net a lovely pair of English setters in a garden and made friends with them whilst chatting to their owner. Then we returned to the Great Glen Cycle Way.

It was pretty unpleasant, being quite rough, hilly and hard going. On another day, the views of the mountains would have made for a wonderful ride, but but by this time we were all thoroughly damp and simply looking forward to a shower and some food.

We returned to the A82 as soon as we c ould and it was quite a good ride. Some of it had just been resurfaced and it was very smooth going.

We arrived at our digs, The Bank House in Fort Augustus, around 6.45, so after showering and finding the driest clothes we possessed, we set off for the Lock Inn, where Chris and I consumed venison, whereas Janet had chicken.

April 20, 2007

Kilmartin to House of Keil

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Day 16 – 20th April 2007

Another fine breakfast. Rosebank is an interesting house. Chris remarked that it was the like the tardis. One enters through the front door of what appears to be a modest cottage and suddenly you are faced with an unexpectedly impressive and spacious hallway and stairwell.

Yesterday was probably the prettiest day of our journey, but today was probably the wildest. We left Kilmartin soon after 9.20 and initially we made good progress. Before we reached the village of Ford, I mentioned to Janet about two large birds of prey I had seen along the loch. One was silhouetted against the sky, the other against the hillside, but both were perched on a dead limbs of an old pine tree. The sign on the gate said “No Entry – birds nesting”. My immediate suspicion of ospreys was confirmed a few minutes later. We met a man, from Norfolk as it happened, having a quick drag outside the Ford village inn. He confirmed that there were indeed ospreys at that location.

Soon we began climbing, and it was tough. The aptly-named Loch Awe appeared to our right. Janet and I had a good view of a bullfinch and frequently the trees would give way to a splendid view along the loch. We came across a coffee shop in Dalavich where we each had coffee and cake. Is there really anything better than a thoroughly glutinous chocolate cake to bring strength back to tired legs?

We didn’t stay long because we still had a long way to go. As usual, Chris was well ahead. Suddenly my attention was drawn by the shrill cry of a bird of prey of some sort. I could not tell what species it was that uttered the cry – the manner of its dive suggested it could have been a peregrine – but I had no doubt about the object of its ire: there, majestic, with long, slow wingbeats, was a golden eagle. I stopped the bike in an instant and readied the camera, but in my excitement I forgot to zoom in. I had only the time for one shot and the entertainment was over, but there were three birds in that shot: a large gull, the unidentified raptor, and the eagle, the last being mobbed by the other two.

We stopped for lunch in Kilchrenan and it was there that a mystery was explained. All morning, a series of cars and some much larger vehicles kept overtaking us on a road that I would have expected to be pretty much deserted. Apparently, there had been some sort of chemical spillage not far north of Kilmartin and all the traffic had been diverted from the A road to this tiny highland lane.

When we reached Taynuilt, we were so much behind the clock that we decided to press on. The A road offered the opportunity to make much better progress and we grasped it with both hands. At one point a large troupe of motorcyclists, all seemingly immaculately turned out in the Geordie Chapter of Hell’s Angels’ Team Colours, went thundering past on their Harley-Davidsons. Somewhere amongst them was an absolutely pristine Land Rover, in the same livery as the riders, clearly their support vehicle. So there you have it: the Geordie Chapter of Hell’s Angels needs a sag wagon. What a bunch of big girls’ blouses!

We crossed Loch Etive by the Connel Bridge. Now some seriously high mountains were coming into view. Loch Etive is fed by the Etive River, in Glen Etive, which in turn is a southerly branch off Glen Coe. We still made good progress. all the time keeping a weather eye open for an otter or other interesting wildlife on the shores of Loch Linnhe, but although the water was beautiful and crystal clear, we saw no creatures of any great interest.

Gradually we approached the House of Keil and suddenly we came upon it. We rode down the driveway to be met by the spectacular sight of a fortified Jacobean mansion and a pair of noisy labradors. I rang the bell and the Lady of the House appeared. We were made most welcome, showed to our rooms, and what rooms they were! Janet and I had a superb family room overlooking the loch and there, below our bedroom, were the fortifications and three cannons pointing out to sea. We were informed that two of the cannons were 17th century and the other from the Armada.

The whole house was steeped in history: antlers on the wall alongside portraits of long-dead ancestors, and pictures of dead birds: was it a snipe and a woodcock, and a wood pigeon and a greater spotted woodpecker? In addition the Broadwood upright piano, probably Victorian to judge by the sconces, was still in place. Beethoven himself used a Broadwood, a gift delivered to Vienna in person by Thomas Broadwood. I was tempted to ask to give it a try, but I felt so strongly that I was so privileged to have a window opened slightly into a bygone ear that I didn’t have the nerve.

We had taken our own food this evening, as there were no restaurants or pubs within eary reach, and the Lady of the House supplied us with a tray of tea. Unfortunately, the first one ended up all over the floor with the teapot smashed – the carpet looked expensive and I’m sure a pot of scalding tea and a jug of milk did it no good at all. The second tray full was more of a success and we had a very enjoyable, if simple, meal of bread, ham, red wine, tomatoes and red peppers followed by a lump of bannock and, of course, a cup of tea.

Before I went to bed tonight, I don’t think I knew what dark was. There were no street lights in the road outside the House of Keil, and our room overlooked the loch. I pulled the curtains back, turned the light off, and I cannot make out the shape of the window on in the wall opposite. It is darker now than anything I can ever remember – darker than the cupboard I used to hide in as a child, because there was always a friendly gleam of light to connect one to the world outside. Here, there is nothing. Just a complete, total and utter absence of light.

April 19, 2007

Arran to Kilmartin

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Day 15 – 19th April 2007

We set off fairly early, given the 8.30 breakfast, and bought some rolls and dried fruit for lunch. The weather really let us down with wave after wave of fine, west-coast drizzle drifting across.

Our road followed the coastline initially, there was little climbing and we were sheltered from the wind, so we made pretty good progress. At one point, a rare occasion in which Chris was cycling behind Jan and me, a red squirrel ran across the road. Chris saw it, we did not.

Then the climbing began. The first climb was not to bad, and we reached the top without getting off, but when we reached the descent, the wind was so strong that we had to pedal all the way down. Arran is a really beautiful island and it was a pity that we were just rushing through, having to catch the midday ferry.

The main climb was quite a brute, reminiscent of Sunday’s ascent of Bowland. It took a little over half an hour to cycle/push the bike up but on a hill like that we actually walk faster than we cycle.

The descent would have been exhilarating had it not been for the headwind, which kept our speed below 30mph for the most part. When we were quite close to Lochranza, another cyclist was coming the other way. He had a heavily-laden bike but was climbing the hill as though it wasn’t there. He looked to be into his 70s – very impressive!

The ferry left on time and in half an hour or so we were back on the mainland, but as for Claonaig, there is not much there. We now had another stiff climb over the Kintyre peninsula, during which we broke off for lunch. We heard the first cuckoo of spring.

The weather improved dramatically during the afternoon, and we headed north in almost unbroken sunshine. We reached Tarbert, a very pretty place, and it occurred to me: why do people make so much fuss about the coast-to-coast ride? We did three today!

We had a good cup of coffee at a rather pseudy art-gallery-cum-coffee-chop in Tarbert. I quite liked some of the pictures on display, but was not so keen on the prices. Then, after a visit to the Co-op to stock up on calories, we headed north to Lochgilphead with Loch Fyne to our right.

It was a lovely ride with the sun shining on the sea and the mountains. It wasn’t too hilly and we made quite good progress.

After Lochgilphead we turned inland with the Crinan Canal to our left and made for Kilmartin There was little climbing left but we arrived at Rosebank soon after 7pm, bathed, and enjoyed a splendid meal at the Kilmartin Hotel. I had duck, Chris roast beef and Janet venison sausages. Chris and I had a couple of pints of a local brew, Highland Ale. All in all, another excellent day to add to our growing list.

April 18, 2007

Dalry to Arran

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Day 14 – 18th April 2007

Although today dawned bright and clear, it didn’t last long. Soon there was plenty of grey cloud and it was also by far the coldest start we have had. I started with my longs on and kept them on all day.

Breakfast at The Porridge House is an Event. Our hosts were very good at entertaining, and as we were eating in the kitchen, there was a very friendly informality about the meal, as we chatted with the chef as he wielded his frying pan. The fine points of the preparation and cooking of porridge were discussed, as were the merits of the spirtle over a wooden spoon for the stirring thereof. Personally, I prefer the wooden spoon, no matter how much this offends the purists.

When we set off at 8.40, armed with a very fine packed lunch, we were in for a morning of climbing. Initially the B7000 gave us spectacular views, but after Carsphairn, where joined the A713, there was yet more climbing, something like 8 miles of unbroken slog as we approached Dalmellington. There was not much wind to begin with, but as the day wore on a nagging westerly was more of a hindrance than a help.

We entered Ayrshire and its rocky roadsteads were not to our liking. Neither was the occasional enormous lorry which came thundering past, usually laden with the trunks of the conifers which were being systematically felled. There was not a lot of traffic, but what there was was mostly heavy commercial stuff.

Some of the villages we passed through looked decidedly run down. Patna was fairly scruffy-looking, which was a pity as the impressive River Doon runs nearby, and Waterside, a small hamlet, had once been dominated by a large travellers’ inn which was now boarded up.

We turned off the A road onto the B730 and after one final stiff climb we were out of the highest of the day’s hills and into rolling pastures, reminiscent of Hertfordshire or the hillier parts of North Essex. We ate our sandwiches by a field gate, but were keen to press on: we had to catch the 6pm ferry from Ardrossan and did not have a lot of time to spare.

Just after we reached the highest speed of the day, 39mph, a wee lassie on a very fine bike sped past us, wished us a “Good morning!” and was gone.

Now the hills were behind us we pushed our speed up quite a bit and it wasn’t long before we were in Dreghorn. I had planned what looked like a very neat route through an estate into Irvine, but every couple of hundred yards we committed the offence of ignoring a “NO ENTRY EXCEPT BUSES!” sign, much to the annoyance of one bus driver. Soon, though, we were through Irvine and onto the Sustrans route. This time it worked very well and was a good surface taking us all the way out to the ferry terminal. We were there with at least an hour to spare and seldom have a warm lounge, hot coffee and a sticky cake been more welcome.

Arran is a spectacular island and was shrouded in cloud as we approached, although with enough sunshine to give a variety of light.

The captain had to wait for the tide to rise before he could berth the ferry, and this delayed our arrival at our B & B. We therefore decided that finding food was our top priority.

Brodick is a pretty little town nestling at the foot of the Arran mountains. It doesn’t have much in the way of neon lights, but if it ever does, the harbour entrance should be emblazoned with the words “Ye’ll have had yer tea…”. As we left our digs at about 8.20 looking for food, we came across restaurant after restaurant which were closed. We tried a promising-looking hotel but were turned away: they stopped serving at 8.30. We walked the entire length of the waterfront and were just on the point of going into the Co-op for some ham, salad and rolls when I asked some passers-by where we could eat. They suggested a bistro near the port office, although without confidence. We found it and asked for a table for three.

There was a large blackboard covered withe exciting menu items and we were on the point of planning our orders when the waitress informed us that as the kitchen was on the point of closing down for the night, we could have fish and chips or pizza. Three portions of haddock and chips it was then and we each had a dessert as well. When we left, at about 9.45, we were the last customers.

We returned to our rooms, showered and did some hand washing. This presents a problem when we are late to our B & B. We have travelled as light as we dare, but even so we have three sets of cycling gear. Frequent washing is necessary. Washing the stuff isn’t the problem. And fool can make stuff wet with soapy water and rinse it out again. The problem comes with trying to get it dry before you set off again in 12 hours’ time. Our method is to take the kit into the shower with us, dry ourselves on the towels and then roll the kit up in the towels we have just used. When the lycra is no longer dripping we hang it up anywhere we can. This works pretty well for getting stuff dry – everything so far has dried after two nights’ hanging up – but then this leaves us with absolutely sopping wet towels. We just bung them in the bath or shower and then spread them out in the morning just before we leave. Whoever tidies our rooms after we go must wonder what on earth we have done to the towels.

April 17, 2007

Annan to John’s Town of Dalry

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Day 13 – 17th April 2007

We left the Old Vicarage at about 9.30 in bright sunshine. On crossing the river Annan we took some photographs and a local chap, out walking his dog, helpfully pointed out the Sustrans route, down a flight of steps, which took us out to the seaside. I hope I didn’t sound to ungracious when I told he we were going to stick to the road.

We hadn’t gone far when a bank of cloud appeared to the north-west and threatened rain. It was enough for us to don our waterproofs, but it was not many miles before we had removed them again.

At one point, a dead rabbit lying in the road attracted my attention as it started to move across the road towards the hedge. A stoat was attempting to drag it away. I stopped the bike but of course that scared away the stoat, but we could see it running up and down a labyrinth of tracks in the bank, willing us to leave so that it could secure its lunch.

In Bankend, we came across a “ROAD CLOSED” sign precisely where we wanted to go. We ignored it as normally it is possible to get a bike through where a larger vehicle would have to turn back. Here, though, we appeared to be scuppered as the entire carriageway was blocked by a wide trench bordered by Heras fencing. It was Chris who noticed a small footbridge over a stream so we took the luggage off the bikes and manhandled them over.

Once in Dumfries, we particularly liked the river Nith, and on its waterfront we found a basic Italian takeaway which served delicious pasta and tomato. We each had some, and some coffee, so suitably refreshed, we were ready to tackle the hills.

These were long, grinding climbs, in contrast to the repeated switchbacks of Devon and Cornwall a week or two ago, and Jan and I cycled up all of them, albeit very slowly. Our big problem was that when a downhill did appear, our progress was restricted by the strong headwind.

So we struggled all the way to Dalry, as it seems to be called. We stayed at The Porridge House, which is very comfortable. We were supplied with a pot of tea and the most excellent fruit cake, we ordered a 7.30 breakfast and a packed lunch, the shower was most refreshing and the pub only 50 yards away. It served some very tasty Deuchars bitter. Janet and Chris had lamb casserole, I had the steak and ale pie.

We had mentioned that today was our wedding anniversary and when we returned, our hosts offered us a wee dram of malt whisky. Chris and I enjoyed ours – Jan, of course, declined.

April 16, 2007

Sedbergh to Annan

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Day 12 – 16th April 2007

Today, the weather seemed to remember that it is April, and not July. We awoke to cloud and mist, although by the time we set off from Sedbergh, the mist had mostly lifted.

We knew today would be tough, with somewhere in the region of 70 miles to cover. We climbed the B road from Sedbergh and had to push the bike two or three times. We had a fine 11ses stop in Orton, but immediately on setting off I snapped one of the gear cables.

Although Rohloff and Thorn boast that it is possible to change gear whether or not you are pedalling, it is much easier to do so when you are not. With a solo bike, of course, this becomes second nature, but with a tandem, if the stoker is applying pressure to the pedal, then you meet resistance when trying to operate the twist-grip. I must communicate better when I’m intending to change down to a lower gear – changing up isn’t usually difficult because the whole point of changing up is that you want to apply more pressure.

After the cable had broken, I could still change gear after a fashion. The Very Nice Man at the Orton Post Office gave me the number of Aragon’s Bike Shop in Penrith, and after some struggling over very high fells, we descended into Shap and eventually found ourselves in Penrith, outside Aragon’s Bike Shop.

The Man set to work pretty promptly and after a call to Bridgewater to find out how a Rohloff gear works, he managed to unthread the broken cable and replace it with a new one. Annoyingly, it takes a Torque 20 tool to undo the bolts, which is pretty silly as Thorn/Rohloff do not supply such a thing as standard with the gears, and even if I had brought a spare cable with me, I would not have been able to do the job. As well as paying for the work to be done, I replaced the lost Cateye computer.

All of this, and our general sloth, held us up to the extent that Chris, who arrived in Carlisle at about 2pm, was kept hanging about until 5 before we arrived. With little further ado we set off for Annan, but rush-hour Carlisle is not my favourite place. We exchanged a few pleasantries with a Bromptoneer on the A7, but he had turned off before the horrendous roundabout at which the M6 becomes the A74.

We got around the A7/A74/M6 roundabout with few problems, but the A7 itself, and subsequently the A6071, were pretty fast, with poor surfaces. Shortly after leaving Longtown, Jan and I heard a noise to our right and looked up to see the white rump of a fallow deer disappearing amongst the trees.

We entered Scotland at around 7pm and suitable photographs were taken, but no wee drams were to be had. After that we struggled along the B721 for about 9 miles towards Annan. This was the first time in almost 600 miles that we had had the sun or the wind in our faces, and we were treated to a beautiful Solway sunset.

After showering and washing a few clothes, we went to the Star of India, which was very good and reasonably priced.

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