Posts Tagged ‘winter’

The Loch of Butterstone just perfectly smooth with the foothills of the Cairngorms behind it on a still winter’s day in Scotland.


By the frozen river, Haerbin, northern China - hoarfrost clings to the trees as warm vapour freezes over night onto their branches. The river to the side is frozen solid in the -40C environment.

By the frozen river, Haerbin, northern China – hoarfrost clings to the trees as warm vapour freezes over night onto their branches. The river to the side is frozen solid in the -40C environment.

Banks of the River Ness

While waiting for the hard drive and the CF disk to be recovered (with the tecnicians now!! Hopefully should only need one more week or so to come back… hopefully they manage to get all the data!), I remembered that we had a few photos from Inverness that we took on a spare CF disk. I think I talked a bit about Inverness when we were going up through it, but this time we were coming down from the Orkney Islands, where we had met up with my mother.

Going back down south to Inverness from Thurso after we left the Orkney ferry, we took the bus rather than the train, though we would get a sleeper train down to London. It meant there was a bit of a hassle as we had to put the bikes into boxes to be able to put them into the bus – they wouldn’t let us take them otherwise, so we had to dismantle them and get them in one piece, and then reassemble them in Inverness to get to the train station.

Views back over the hills we had gone through and the coast we had cycled along. Very different going back down south by bus.

Views back over the hills we had gone through and the coast we had cycled along. Very different going back down south by bus.

The good thing about going by bus, however, was that we got to see over the route we had taken. The bus driver was crazy and was going pretty fast along the roads which seemed much narrower being in the bus than when were on the bikes – both Natalia and I looked at each other, thinking that we both must have been nuts to be going along that road with drivers like this! And am sure that this particular driver must have passed us a couple of times when we had been riding as the service from Thurso to Inverness was quite frequent. It was nice though – the two-and-a-bit day ride that we had taken from Inverness compressed into a four hour bus journey. This time we were able to sit down and relax, and enjoy the views as we went.

In Inverness we had a good seven hours or so to wait before the train, so plenty of time to put everything together, leave everything at the left luggage point in the station, have a nice long drawn-out lunch (at Zizzi again, where we had eaten on the stop-over coming up – as I say, definitely liked that place a lot), and then a stroll along the river. We could see mountains in the distance, mountains we had been and sweated through. It seemed a bit strange not having to ride any more, and the journey really was coming to an end with just a couple more days or so before going back to São Paulo. Both of us felt like we were in shape to continue for another couple of thousand miles or so, and I don’t think either of us really wanted it to stop and go home. So we sat down in evening on the sleeper train to London, much as we were pleased with ourselves for doing it, it seemed slightly anti-climatic… here we were going back down to London, and it will be a long time before we do anything like this again… Admittedly, the next time will over considerably longer distances and the challenges there will be fantastic, but all we could think about was that it would have been nice to have been able to keep going.

1,480km in cycling through the British winter

1,500km in cycling through the British winter

Right, we are still waiting for the hard drive and the CF card to come back along with the recovered data. The good news from the technical guys looking into it is that they will be able to recover the data. Great news, really, as imagining losing all of those photographs and videos is really not a very nice thought at all. Just when we will get everything back is another question. There are loads of posts that I want to write, but I think it would not be so good without some of the photos I want to show – just a short clip of the hellish conditions on the final day of cycling would be nice! But no, not until we get back all the recovered data. I just hope that no files have been corrupted…

On the start line... 1,500km to go..!

On the start line… 1,500km to go..!

So for now, here are a few pictures taken from the course of the winter ride from Land’s End to John O’Groats (excluding the final day, which is the time from when no files had been downloaded from the drive). It was an incredible experience all round, really. I feel (justifiably, I think!) quite proud of myself and Natalia, though at the same time a little worried about Paulo and his knee – as I mentioned in an earlier post, this would need to be sorted out as we definitely don’t want a repeat of that on the expedition itself – hopefully there is no long-lasting problem. Coming back to the positives, however, and it was great as at the end of the day (though I had a couple of problems with my knee early into the ride before I got by saddle height sorted out), we both felt like we would have been able to just keep going indefinitely; a feeling that bodes well both psychologically and physically for the main expedition to come.

Plenty more training to come,  however (next one will be in the Arctic circle for a month or so, and also there are thoughts about returning to Bolivia as well as plans for a traverse of the Greenland ice-cap…!), so please keep following and supporting! It is great to have your support for the project particularly because we have never done anything like this in the past and we are learning all the time to make a dream (a particularly ambitious dream, mind!) come true…!

Naty e Ben em John O'Groats

We did it!!! Completed the Land’s End – John O’Groats route, through the British winter! Tiring, but at the end of it all… great fun and I guess we are pretty pleased with ourselves!

First of all, however, apologies for the time it has taken to post this, and for the lack of photos: when writing this post, the hard drive with all the photos and video (300GB or so) fell on the floor just as we were about to make a backup and was damaged. Typical timing, really. That was almost a week ago – I wanted to post this with some video and pictures of the final day, so the morning after it was damaged, we took it to a place to try to recover the data (don’t really care about the hard drive; just want the photos and video!!), however, they are still working on it. Enormously frustrating. So no photos or video for a bit, though hopefully this week we will know something at least. So here’s praying that we will recover some/all of it. (The photo posted is one we just saved onto the computer earlier… at least it’s something, though!)

But anyway… yes! We did it!

Route to John O'GroatsThe last day was short and was meant to be a walk in the park, as it were. 15km… 7 or 8 miles… easy, huh?

It was… painful. Winds of around 35 miles per hour, occasionally from the side, occasionally tail-winds… and on the way back from the end point, directly into our heads… Painful. There was snow… it wasn’t falling: it was going horizontally. On the flats where we had a tail wind, we were cruising at 50 kmph without even pedaling… When the winds were coming from the side, we had to ride diagonally into the road in order to go straight as the force of the wind really was pushing us. Then the occasional gusts stronger than ever almost caused us to go off of the road a number of times. Thankfully there was very little traffic so we were not in danger of going under anything, and the cars that did pass us; well I can imagine that the drivers must have thought we were absolute nutters riding in those conditions… and they gave us nice wide berths so as not to kill us! Even more thankfully, there was no heavy traffic at all. In some regards, we were thankful that we didn’t stay at Wick for the night as that would have meant an extra 10km or so riding, though at the same time we regretted not having completed the entire thing the evening beforehand when the conditions were nice. Ah well.

So getting to the end… in the conditions we were more worried about staying on our bikes than celebrating, so I guess we were muted in our vocals! We were probably laughing more at the whole ridiculousness of riding in that weather than realizing that we had just completed almost 1,500km… 1000 miles of riding through often treacherous and very demanding conditions…

We kissed and gave each other a hug… laughed about the conditions a bit more… stopped for a few pictures by the John O’Groats – Land’s End sign… saw another couple of people who had come by car and were taking some pictures, trying not to get blown over, and then headed back into the vicious headwinds and snow that were impossible to look ahead into.

Natalia was exhausted, not physically, but I guess more emotionally as we had finished the course, but still had to go back into that wind a little to a place where we could rest. She ended up pushing her bike the 400m to an Inn where we would stop and have a celebratory soup and coffee; I just looked directly downwards and forced myself to get there. 400 metres of probably the most painful riding I have ever done.

But… while it hadn’t really sunk in when we were at the ending sign… we had done it! wooooohhh!!!

Over the bay after HelmsdaleSo near! At the beginning of the day, we had just slightly more than 100km to ride to reach John O’Groats. We decided, however, that we would just ride to a place called Keiss, about seven miles away from our ending destination, so we would not be in any hurry to get to John O’Groats and take pictures. Keiss would be a good location to set out from in the morning so we would be able to take our time and enjoy the moment, so Keiss it would be for the night.

In Brora, we stayed at the Sutherland Inn – not the best place in the world, quite expensive and with a water system that sounded like we had some sort of monster in the bathroom whenever we went to the toilet, washed our hands, or took a shower; quite alarming really! Unfortunately (maybe because it was winter) there were not too many choices around, and this was the best place/price… It was not with heavy hearts that we left, however, in spite of the weather being overcast and quite cold in the morning.

Map Brora-KeissWe knew that we would be in for a hard day as we would be going through Helmsdale and hills surrounding this small village. My sister had warned us that the area would be quite hilly and she certainly wasn’t joking; the route planning software showed us the steep hills that we would be facing, going both up and down, and we would have to do our fair share of climbing over the course of the day. The big climbs started after around 15km of riding, though the main event was after Helmsdale at a small village called Berriedale, about 25km away from Brora. After climbing up, we had about a steady 13% descent for about two and a half kilometres, and just as soon as that was complete, we had a 13% climb back up over the next two and a half kilometres, with a respite of about 20 metres flat at the bottom. Unfortunately, with the descent, it was difficult to go too fast because of the curves and damp roads which made it slightly hazardous. There were tight curves in the road in the climb up, where drivers of large trucks really had to concentrate to get round. We were told that accidents along that road are pretty common, so we were glad that nothing went skidding out of control when we were on it…

After these climbs, and a few further climbs gradually getting less and less severe, it became straightforward, with flats towards Wick that we were able to cycle along at a pretty brisk pace. The main problem was that there weren’t really many places around where we could grab a warm drink or bite to eat. We ended up passing via a place called Lybster – a place that was one of the most desolate that Natalia and I had seen. All of the very few cafés and restaurants were closed, very little life was around to be seen, and we were grateful to find a Costcutter where we could grab a coffee and shelter a bit from the bitter wind.

It was about 4pm by the time we finally got to Keiss; possible to get to John O’Groats by dark, even. However, as I said, we wanted to take our time. So it was a nice end to the day; we knew we were pretty much in walking distance … just 15 kilometres or so to go. The hardest parts had all been done  and we were just about to reach our final objective, in accordance with our schedule. The only thing that could make things hard for us was the weather, which was not meant to be so good over the next day… and just like my sister wasn’t kidding about those Helmsdale hills, the forecast was not kidding at all about what we would face when we woke up…

up to newtonmore

Fomos pela ciclovia que seguiu ao lado da A9 por alguns quilômetros, depois desviava por uma estrada lateral que por ser pequena e usada mais por ciclistas não era cuidada na época do inverno, o resultado foi pilhas de neve cobrindo o icy. Pedalar ali era quase impossível, manter a calma se mostrou mais que essencial. Estudando onde tem menos neve e manter o ritmo do pedal ajuda a não perder o controle em cima dessa superfície que parece que só quer nos derrubar. Pude ver que mais a frente não tinha mais neve, e foi bom ver que aquilo duraria pouco. No fim eu e o Ben rimos, porque desde o dia que começamos estávamos esperando condições como essa, e foi bom poder experimentar e aprender como lidar.

Seguimos pedalando, e a estrada apresentava montes galhos e folhas, poças, neve em todo lugar. Acabamos perdendo um pouco do ritmo e chegando a conclusão que seguindo por ali realmente chegaríamos em Newtonmore bem tarde, mas ficamos aliviados em não ver mais icy e neve, pena que o alívio durou pouco  mais a frente a neve era tanta que não dava para saber o que era estrada e o que não era a não ser pelas cercas e muros, e as marcas de pneu de algum carro que passou por ali alguma hora do dia. Fomos pedalando por cima das marcas de pneu, mas quando a pilha de neve aumentava mais difícil ficava de pedalar, a bike ficava pesada e os pneus parecem deslizar mais. Eu escorreguei mas consegui apoiar o pé no chão evitando a queda. Subi de volta e voltar a pedalar se mostrou um desafio e tanto. Mais a frente escorreguei de novo, mas não caí, e a neve aqui mais densa ainda me mostrou que tem horas que empurrar a bike é mais seguro e rápido. E assim fui. Ao terminar, subi de novo e a segunda parte coberta por neve consegui pedalar até o final.

icy road

Encontramos uma saída para A9 mais a frente e como a ciclorota parecia ainda pior do que o que já havíamos enfrentado, resolvemos ir pela rodovia.

Agora o movimento parecia bem menor, e realmente estava, os carros e caminhões continuavam nos surpreendendo com tanto cuidado conosco,  íamos pelo cantinho esquerdo tentando ocupar o menor espaço possível da pista, e eles continuava entrando na contra-mão para nos ultrapassar com segurança.

Mais a frente vejo uma das minhas placas prediletas: pista extra a frente. Agora sim poderíamos pedalar nos sentindo bem mais seguros, mesmo sabendo que depois de todos esses dias se tem algo que aprendi é que junto com essas placas vem uma subida. A lógica é simples nas subidas é mais comum os carros quererem ultrapassar, já que cada carro tem uma potência diferente. A subida era longa e constante, nada que atrapalhasse nosso ritmo.

Nos últimos 20 km o que eu mais queria era ver a minha segunda placa predileta, a que indica posto, banheiros e cafés. Mas nada, nem sinal. Na verdade até teve uma próxima a Dalwhinnie mas o posto estava fechado. 

O jeito foi se distrair com o cair da noite e pedalar rápido pra tentar chegar antes e ficar o menor tempo possível no escuro. E fizemos bem, pegamos a entrada de newtonmore quando a noite escureceu, acho que mais ou menos 18h30. Chegamos no B&B que era ótimo, o quarto todo bonito e arrumado, e naquela hora nada como tomar um chá quente, tomar um banho quente e vestir roupas secas. O dia tinha começado calmo e parecia que ia ser um dia sem muitos desafios, mas para nossos engano deve ter sido o dia em que aprendemos mais.

Enjoying the view along the coast at duskTotal distance covered (start of day): 1,356km

Distance travelled over the day: 93.38km

Total distance remaining at end of day: 104.55km

Map - Inverness - Brora

It was good being back in Inverness. The reason for this was that the town was always a place where my family and I would stop off when going from the Orkney Islands to southern Scotland and England on holiday. We always had to get a train from Thurso to Inverness and change to get a sleeper, which invariably meant a few hours to wait in the town, and same again on going back up. The train from Thurso was always something we hated as at least one of us would end up not feeling well. Though there is a new train now and adjustments made to the route that have shortened the journey, back then it was a long and slow process. So time in Inverness helped us to recover/prepare ourselves for the torment. I didn’t remember much of the city, just walking over a suspension bridge for pedestrians that seemed to bounce whenever we worked. I wondered if this was just our imagination as children or if it did actually happen. We didn’t find out this time, however, as while we had daylight hours to spend, relaxing and going to get something to eat was more important… plus we knew that we would have time in the town when we would come down from the Orkneys at the end of this journey…

In Inverness, this was the one time that we received an offer from a host (couchsurfing) but chose to decline. There were two main reasons for this, the first is being an important point about the reviews system with both couchsurfing and warmshowers. After looking at a few of the reviews and also finding it difficult to gain responses from the host, Natalia and I felt slightly uncomfortable. Maybe we were completely wrong, as the host did get a fair few positive reviews as well, and we might have missed a very interesting and nice person (which, in all likelihood, would have been the case); but it was our choice to make and it is great that people are able and do provide feedback about guests/hosts – so thank you to all who have! The second point was that it wasn’t clear from our brief communication with the host about whether or not there would be space for our bikes and equipment and am not sure whether the host had understood. We didn’t really want to overwhelm the poor guy! … I guess that is one thing that Warmshowers definitely has over Couchsurfing for cyclists in that warmshowers is largely for cyclists, so people generally know what to expect, while Couchsurfing… is not.

Enjoying a large meal at Zizzi

Enjoying a large meal at Zizzi

No regrets in the end; we managed to get a good offer at a hotel in town, and it was nice just to be able to leave our bikes and stuff there; have a warm shower and wonder around to find a place to eat. We stumbled across Zizzi on the other side of the river which, while expensive in the evening, had some really great food that left us both ready for sleep and the ride to Brora…

A ride which was lovely. Cold (as you would expect!), with a bit of an icy wind, but lovely. Going over the main A9 bridge northwards over the Beauly Firth was slightly scary – there were engineering works meaning that there was a single lane with no way cars could pass us easily, and no obvious cycle path we could use. So I guess we caused tail-backs for some distance..! Fortunately the cars behind us were generally patient and didn’t get too mad with us, though it was a relief to get over it. After that, we road on more side roads close to the A9 for a little while until we got to a junction where it was only really possible to go on the A9 towards Wick. It was great that now we were starting to see road signs saying “John O’Groats” on them, letting us see the miles ticking down as we got closer and closer. Maybe another way of torturing us… 110 miles…. twenty minutes later… 109 miles… you get the idea… but it was nice all the same…

We were also riding close to the sea for a lot of the time; the first time we had done this since we had left Land’s End, really (after the brief time leaving Edinburgh), and it was good seeing a pretty lovely coastline as we rode along. Not too many hills, though there were a couple of unexpected ones (one near Golspie sticks out in mind) that were tough, but it was generally alright. There were other quite long bridges (about three or four) to cross as well, giving some side winds, but nothing too bad. Fortunately it was pretty calm and the water on many occasions simply appeared like glass. Quite fantastic, especially considering the time of year! Indeed, the conditions for the day allowed us to make good progress and again we were able to meet our target of completing the 93.4km to Brora before it got dark.

Waking up in Newtonmore, ready for the day ahead

Waking up in Newtonmore, ready for the day ahead

Total distance covered (start of day): 1,282km

Distance travelled over the day: 74.46km

Total distance remaining at end of day: 197.93km

The route from Newtonmore to Inverness

The route from Newtonmore to Inverness

In Newtonmore, we stayed at Clune House ( – a family run B&B which was excellent. Unfortunately, not really any members of Warmshowers or Couchsurfing in the area to stay with, but this was a great alternative. The staff were very helpful with our bikes and gave us some good tips of what we could do in the town for the evening, and the breakfast in the morning was very nice as well. The room was very comfortable, and the rate (through gave excellent value for money. So, if anyone is in the area, I would definitely recommend you take a look!

In the morning when we left, it was pretty cold and pretty cloudy above us; a few snow flakes fell though nothing that looked like it could pose any problem for us. Keith, one of the owners of Clune House told us about how the cycle route continued, so we didn’t have to go on to the A9 again. And it did indeed continue, through the nearby towns of Kingussie and Aviemore as well as a small and picturesque place called Carrbridge, further down the road. Definitely much more pleasant and quiet than the A9, though as with the preceding day, we did eventually have to come back to the A9 as the route faded away under the snow and ice.

Passing traffic

Passing traffic

Being a Sunday, there didn’t seem like there was too much traffic on the A9, though they were still going pretty fast. Again as it went to a dual carriage way, we felt more comfortable as cars invariably went into the right-hand lane to pass us. I tried to imagine that happening in Brazil and … was unsuccesful: we would have been run over at least a dozen times…!

The route over the day was nice and short as well. Only 75km which, in comparison to other days, was lovely. What was more was that the first 35km were pretty flat, and while there was a gradual 10km climb (very gradual – only 175metres or so up), after this it was more or less straight downhill to Inverness – over the next 30km, we climbed only 148metres but descended a good 550m… The hills down were not the steepest in the world – my top speed only reached 54kmph – though it was nice to be able to relax and enjoy the hills while they lasted: we got to Inverness at a very respectable time of 3.30pm after having an average moving speed of 18.8kmph – reasonbly high in comparison to normal days of around 16 kmph – giving us some daylight hours to enjoy. Not many daylight hours, mind, but daylight hours all the same and it felt good.

Furthermore, and more importantly, had left the Cairngorms and the treacherous weather that they frequently present, meaning that if we had any luck, the rest of the joruney would be like a walk in the park…

The Cairngorms await us

The Cairngorms await us in the distance

From Blairgowrie into the Cairngorm mountains in what may have been the toughest full day of cycling. This was the day which I was probably most worried about, with 100km or so of cycling planned, of which most would be going up hill. Not just up hill, but up hill in to the Scottish highlands which, as we could clearly see in the distance on the previous day, were well and truly snow-covered.

Brian cycled out with us in the morning, in spite of it being cold and, for want of a better description, darn miserable. There was low cloud and drizzle, and it just wasn’t very nice to go riding through. It was straight forward enough at first, going from Blairgowrie in a westerly direction to join the A9, the main north-south trunk road, connecting Edinburgh with Inverness. Though it was drizzle, it was still lovely country side, passing Loch of Drumelli, Clunie and Loch of Lowes before reaching Dunkeld. There, we said goodbye to Brian, and he pointed us to the cycle path that ran along the A9, and said that it really would be better to go along that instead of the main road which is the centre of a debate about whether or not it should be re-classified as a motorway and is accident prone…

Detour at BallinluigWe took his advice, though it got a little a confusing south of Pitlochry about where the actual path ran. We ended up asking a couple of people about how to get to the path, and we ended up going what seemed to be all around the sun to meet the moon to continue along it in the hills above the main road. Indeed, taking the cycle path as a whole along the route probably increased our total journey by about 10km or so. If it was summer and if we didn’t have pretty heavy panniers it would have been great – it was a lovely, desolate kind of beauty going over those hills; however, occuring on an already challenging day going up into the Cairngorms, the detours weren’t always particularly welcome…

It is worth remembering that on the preceeding day, coming up to Blairgowrie, I mentioned that my bike was making strange clunking noises. Brian had a quick check in the morning as well, though wasn’t able to see what the issue was, though certainly recommended that we get it checked out once we got back to Brazil. As with me, he thought that it should be okay to get up to John O’Groats. However, the noise from the bike gradually got worse and worse, and much more constant (though still on a kind of random basis). So it was with relief that when the cycle path eventually came down from the hills and we got to Pitlochry. There we were able to find a  bike shop, and not just a bike shop that sells, but also repaired bikes. They had a look at it while we had lunch and when we got back, the guy said that some of the ball bearings in the back hub had broken and replaced them – had they gone unchanged, it would indeed have got worse and worse, until the wheel would have pretty much broken completely. So I was very happy testing the bike again and not hearing or feeling any noises at all.

Tricky conditions

Tricky conditions along the A9 cycle track

With time ticking on and us being quite significantly delayed with this problem and the cycle path taking longer than we wanted, we were thinking of continuing along the A9. The guys at the shop, however, advised us to keep going along the cycle path that went alongside it, and also suggested that we stop earlier. Unfortunately, not many other places were open to stay, or had any vacancies, so we had to keep with plans to proceed to Newtonmore. We continued along the cycle path for a while, and it was good for a whole 25km or so, however, with it being a cycle path / B-road, it had not received any salt from the gritters that pass along the A9, and as we got higher, the amount of snow and ice in our way increased, making life harder for us. We eventually gave in as the amount of daylight we had left was quickly running out, and we just wanted to get to Newtonmore, so on to the A9 it was.

It was surprisingly easy and not as terrifying as we were preparing ourselves for. Okay, there was steady traffic, and that traffic was fast, though just about everyone gave us a nice wide berth – am absolutely certain that our good Hi-Vis jackets and multiple back and front lights helped with this. For me the important thing is always to be as visible as possible even during the day. Furthermore, the remaining uphill was extremely gradual and we hardly noticed it, then, with 26km remaining it was just a nice gradual downhill – not too steep to cause us to worry about losing control, though with a nice gradient which allowed us to cruise at a good 25-30km per hour with no problem at all. In spite of all the delays and everything, we still managed to get to our guest house in Newtonmore for 6pm, just as it turned pitch-black outside.

The two bridgesIt was slightly hard mustering the will to leave Edinburgh and continue the ride – I have to admit that the day of rest had been very welcome. Though we had to continue, onwards, northwards, on the final phase of the journey towards John O’Groats. We believed that this would probably be the hardest phase of the route, with no flexibility in terms of weather days or days to rest. We would be going north, straight through the Cairngorms, stopping at Blairgowrie to the south of the mountains, Newtonmore in the middle of the region, and then Inverness before going to Brora, Wick and John O’Groats… a total of 488.23 kilometres, so still just about a third of the total distance of the whole route.

Entrance to the Forth Road BridgeFirst thing’s first: leaving Edinburgh… We were staying with Charlie and Mel in Musselburgh, so a little bit to the east of the city. We still had to get the Forth Road bridge – a good 25km away and a little longer than I thought. It took a while getting there, along an apparently endless cycle path with so many exits we would have got lost had it not been for the GPS. Our next host, Brian, told us that evening that he had been on the path a few times though had taken ages to navigate his way through it to the bridge. Fortunately the map plotted was good though it took a little while working out where the entrance to the path was.

The bridge itself is pretty spectacular: giant, going over the Firth of Forth, with the red rail bridge to its side. Apparently they are going to build one more road bridge right alongside it in the same area  – not sure why. The bridge does close when the wind is too strong, so maybe that has something to do with it. We were lucky that the day was still so there was no problem for us, thankfully. As we were going on it on the cycle path, it was constantly shaking with the enormous traffic that was going on it – very glad that there was a cycle path…!

On the other side, it was reasonably plain sailing. A few hills now and then, but nothing we hadn’t seen before. As the day progressed we could see snow covered mountains appearing in front of us, and it was nice as we were able to cycle along smaller roads that went north, paralleling the motorway, so there was little traffic going along with us. All the heavy vehicles going up to Perth were on the M-road.

Going along, my bike started to make irregular clunking noises. Nothing very much, but it was an annoyance. Being irregular and with no rhythm, it seemed that there was nothing wrong with the actual drive mechanisms as there would have been regularity with the turning of the pedals and chain. There was nothing visibly wrong, either. So we  kept on going. Past Perth, at around 4pm or so, though we decided not to stay to enjoy the town even though it was very pretty going through it and across the river there: we wanted to arrive in Blairgowrie before night-fall as, as we had found out in the first few days, riding after dark is no fun and on these roads, there are no street lights until you get right into town; and towns were few and far between.

Full speed ahead for 25km (16 miles) and again it was pretty easy-going across the relative flat terrain. It was gradually getting darker and darker though we were doing well enough. As we got close to the town, however, we saw a cyclist passing the opposite direction. I said hello as he went by, and then all of a sudden I heard Natalia calling to me. The rider had turned around and was riding alongside her: he was Brian! He had come out to meet us and guide us back to his place. It was certainly  a great welcome!


Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle

It had been a while since in Edinburgh, and as neither Natalia nor Paulo had been in Scotland before, we had a day off scheduled in the city. We stayed with Melanie, an English teacher, and Charlie, her husband who is an actor. As with many other hosts, we met them through Warm Showers. Both Mel and Charlie were wonderful and extremely helpful, giving us tips of things to do in the city and it was great chatting with them. They did a cycle tour of New Zealand for a year which sounded like it was great fun. Mel unfortunately got ill with a migraine while we were there, though we had a great meal with Charlie on the evening before we left.

The windows and flags of St. Giles

The windows and flags of St. Giles

In Edinburgh we just did the normal touristy things, really; wondering around the Royal Mile and the Castle (though we didn’t go in), St Giles’ Cathedral, and Mary King’s Close – which we did pay the GBP 12.50 (each) to get in, a price that we felt at the time, and had absolute certainty after the tour, was expensive, bordering the extortionate… Okay it was interesting. The tour gave us an idea about life in the Closes of Edinburgh before, during and after the Black Death, and how things were cramped for the inhabitants. It was interesting seeing the small rooms where families lived and the extremely narrow alleys where all the sewerage was poured  into from all the windows of the tall houses that lined them. Not the nicest of places to live. The actor who gave the tour was good and understandable as well. But, it just seemed expensive for an hour – maybe am just used to Brazilian prices (obviously, converting to the Brazilian Real and you get a much higher number and you don’t get many simple guided museum tours costing BRL 40+ per hour in Brazil, though this ultimately doesn’t mean much). The information that was provided in the tour also wasn’t particularly revelationary for anyone with an incling of an understanding of general history and ways of life in the 16-17 hundreds…

But anyway, we met with Paulo as well and he had been to a doctor in Edinburgh to examine his knee. It wasn’t great news as he was told that he had ligament problems and he was advised that he should rest at least for 7-10 days or so, otherwise he would risk causing permanent damage to the knee. Not what any of us wanted to hear. So to put it simply, that was the end of his LEJOG. The only way for us to proceed was to just give Paulo tips of things to do in Edinburgh, London and Europe in general and to proceed. It would have been nice if he could have come up to John O’Groats to see us arrive there, but to be honest, John O’Groats is in the middle of nowhere and there isn’t exactly much to do there so, as this was Paulo’s first time in the UK, we thought it would be good if he could at least enjoy his days before his return to Brazil. But what Paulo will need to do in Brazil is go to get a full examination of his knee and ensure that he is in a condition where this problem will not happen again – the last thing that we can have in the actual journey is a repeat of this only a few days in… So this is an ongoing concern.

We only spent the afternoon on the rest day in Edinburgh city; enjoying a bit of a sleep-in, and then we didn’t stay in the city very late – no chance to enjoy the night life at all as we would have a long ride up to Blairgowrie on the following day. The meal with Charlie in the evening was great – first time I have had vegetarian haggis, which was really good – and the conversation with Charlie was excellent. Definitely would be great to stay in touch!

With Strachan and Alex

With Strachan and Alex in the morning… preparing to go to Edinburgh

At Galashiels we stayed with Strachan and his girlfriend Alex. As with our previous hosts we had met through Warm Showers and Couch Surfing, they were fantastic people – incredibly generous and helpful, and had some great stories to tell. They built their own bikes and are planning a world bike tour, which I really hope they get to do as they would definitely enjoy it. As with many of the other places we stayed, though, I felt tired pretty quickly – not sure what time it was when I went to bed, but it wasn’t late. I think the daylight hours have a lot to do with it – getting dark at around 5.30pm –  I guess I feel more tired quicker… also I guess riding 80-110km in one day with the heavy panniers probably contributes…! Hope I didn’t seem anti-social, though!!!

Map - Galashiels - Edinburgh

The route from Galashiels to Edinburgh

The journey from Galashiels to Edinburgh was short… only 50km or so. We discussed the route with Strachan and we had a choice of whether to continue along the A7, which was shorter but has more traffic in general and is not the widest road in the world; the A68, which added on 5km plus about 300m or so of extra climbs in total but safer and wider than the A7; or the A703 via Peebles, which is quieter and more of a scenic route. After the long day coming to Galashiels from Carlisle, however, we decided that the shorter route would be the most preferable, and opted to go along the A7…

It wasn’t the easiest of 50km in the world, however, as we had tough head winds pretty much the entire journey; icy ones at that. Though there was much less climbing to do than the other options, there was still enough to do, and the headwinds did not make life easy for us going up them. Also, there were very few places on the route where we could stop to get a hot drink or anything like that. What was okay about it though that while there was traffic on the road, the time that we rode on it, between 10am and about 2pm, meant that we avoided the rush hour traffic in and outside Edinburgh city, definitely making things more pleasant than what could have been. Furthermore, though it apparently was not the scenic route, there was still lovely landscape to go through, though with the cold of the winds, we didn’t stop too much to take so many photographs… sorry!

Finally, the other good thing about the road was that while there was gradual climbing for about 30km, after this it was all pretty much downhill for the rest of the route to Musselburgh (just outside the centre of Edinburgh itself), the town of our next hosts, Charlie and Mel…

Off into the mist

Off into the snow – the whole of northern England and southern Scotland is covered…

Carlisle was the city where I spent three years of my high school life at a boarding school called Austin Friars, up until I finished my GCSEs. It was good to be back in the town as I had never been there since I left the school. Those were… interesting years; the school was good, and I guess I grew up quite a bit after the torture of my first high school back in Lancaster. Played a lot of rugby and was half good until I got a clothes-lined in a tackle and lost confidence; then cross-country. I didn’t expect to remember anyone in this place though. and it was a shame that we were only passing through and didn’t get to see too much.

The route

The route for the day

The first big issue occurred in the morning when Paulo said that his knee was hurting too much and that it had been painful through the night. He decided that he would get a train to Edinburgh to go to a hospital there and meet us there when we arrived. Not much else that could be done really as definitely did not want to risk any permanent damage. The problem had resurfaced during the ride from Lancaster on the previous day, in spite of the additional day’s rest in Lancaster – a point that left both Natalia and I skeptical about his chances of being able to continue up after Edinburgh… but we hoped that things could improve as he would have three days of rest in total while we cycled over the next two days up to the Scottish capital and had our next day off scheduled to explore the city.

Coming through the snow

Coming through the snow

The other big issue came with the weather. It had snowed over night leaving us worried about how the roads were going to be. We had seen a number of gritters, however, making me pretty sure that the A7, which connects Carlisle with Edinburgh, would be well taken care of. Moreover, we would be entering into Scotland, with our last couple of hours in England, and in Scotland I find that the authorities are slightly better to equip with the colder conditions and are generally pretty thorough in gritting the roads.

And indeed it was a great day to cycle. As we left Carlisle, the countryside became steadily whiter and the snow at the sides of the road became steadily thicker, though aside from one stretch on 10 metres or so at the top of one of the passes we had to go through, we did not have to content with any ice or snow on the road at all – which was a relief as ice on the road is definitely not good at all. It also snowed on us as we rode, though thankfully it did not get too hard. It all made, however, for a beautiful day’s ride – the landscape covered in white, with the thick clouds above us, made for dramatic viewing and up to this point at least, the ride from Carlisle to Galashiels was definitely by favorite. This was in spite of us having to cover a larger distance than normal, of 110km or so, over three pretty long and tough climbs.

There weren’t too many places to eat en route and we ended up grabbing coffee and a bite to eat at a Sainsbury’s in Hawick (pronounced “Hoik” – something I really didn’t know and it took me a little while to make the association…). This town is a good 18 miles / 29km from Galashiels, and well more than half way through our ride. The weather seemed to change from then on as well, with it becoming sunnier and also, the snow on the hills above the town had all but melted away, leaving just patches of white mixed with the green grass; Quite lovely contrasts, made even better by the like of the late afternoon sun as we descended the last of the hills into Selkirk.

As a note, and I didn’t realise at the time, Selkirk is the home of Mungo Park, one of my favorite explorers, the subject of a book I mentioned in a previous post called Water Music. There is a monument to him in the town, though I didn’t know this until Strachan, our host (along with his girl friend Alex)  for the night. I will talk more about them in my next post, though as with everybody we stayed with through Warm Showers, it was meeting them and getting to know them – just a shame we didn’t have more time!