Thursday, 29 September 2011

Day 15. Mon 29th Aug. Tongue to John O'Groats. 65 Miles.

Journey's End

After all the drama of yesterdays ride. Today seemed like a breeze. The route was a lot like Cornwall for the first 20 Miles, then undulating for 15miles and after THURSO flat all the way to John O'Groat's. All along the A836 .The wind was on our backs and significantly less ferocious than yesterday. My buckled wheel dictated my speed, but I had long since decided to take it easy and spend the day with Jenny and Dave. After all Jane had a new buddy for the day, the unshackled and unleashed Caroline.
Strathy Bay
After a cracking evening at the BEN LOYAL HOTEL and a bountiful breakfast we set off at 8.30am. Dave's cunning plan of stoking the fire just before we went to bed and leaving our shoes on the hearth had sadly failed as they had put the fire out as soon as we went up. It started to rain despite the forecast of a fine day on the religiously watched 10 o' clock news last night. No serious climbs until we got to BETTYHILL at 12 miles.

My mate Jenny!

 Although the wind was 20mph and scooping  us up the hills. After her experiences yesterday Jenny seemed relaxed and was cycling at a steady pace on her incredibly squeaky bike. The first 20 miles had some sharp ups and downs. Not being able to benefit from the downs I was instead clinging on to the brakes and keeping an eye on my front wheel. Watching Jenny fly past me on every descent. I even caught a fleeting glimpse of Jane and her new cycling partner on the horizon climbing up the next hill. I empathised with Caroline as I watched her slowly loosing touch as Jane blasted up the hill. I was feeling rather pleased with my choice and felt really comfortable chatting away the morning with my mate Jenny. Who I've got to know fairly well over the past two weeks, so the hours and the miles slipped by unnoticed.
We'd done 25 miles before the first rather disappointing scheduled stop. A shop with no hot drink or shelter. We had to sit outside chomping away on our cold pasties. At least they had a toilet. It started to rain again so we pushed on to THURSO. 15miles further on. We got there an hour later and were in need of a nice hot coffee as the cold Scottish summer was taking it's toll. Thurso is a surprisingly large town and we soon found Jane and Caroline at the first Cafe' on the left. It was bland and unimpressive, but warm with seats so good enough. Jenny and I just had time to order our food when Dave arrived followed swiftly by the boys. You sensed today was a bit of an anti climax. We were on the same road all day, no interesting places, no views of any note and no difficulty in the cycling as we had the wind behind us. We did get a rare glimpse of Bob, who proceeded to order loads of cakes. No wonder he was so slow!
We stayed for half an hour then set off for the final 20 miles of this epic journey.
Jane by now had persuaded Caroline to do the extra 8 miles and go via DUNNETS HEAD. The most northerly part of the British Isles. I knew she would. I did feel a pang of frustration at my bike, but was already resigned to not visiting the top of the country. So thought I'd give Caroline the pleasure of watching Jane's rather shapely backside disappear into the distance up to Dunnet's Head.  Jenny , Dave and I completed the final few miles together with all the hills of the day climbed and a strong wind on our backs we floated along the well surfaced roads from Thurso to our final destination. JOHN O' GROATS. Which incidentally should be renamed Grotty o' Groats. I thought Land's End was a bit bleak but this place took the biscuit. The original hotel long since closed down and painted in an array of gaudy fluorescent colours graffiti like in their presentation.

The van was at the finishing line. We all rather appropriately (apart from the 'posh')rolled down the last road together, had our photo's taken by Tony and were handed our celebratory mugs and medal, along with a Luke warm plastic cup of cheap champagne. Which rather summed up John O' Groats. We were then sent to the cafe' to wait for BOB to finish!
Peppermill Anyone?
Ignoring the man at the kiosk with his 'charity bucked' for photo's. I hurdled the rope with Caroline and we took pictures for each other at the finish post. Bob arrived 15 mins later and the official group photo was at last taken. Onto the SEAVIEW HOTEL back up the hill for the final get together with this delightful bunch of strangers, that would all now hold a piece of my heart and warm colourful memories.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Day 14. Sun 28th Aug. Evanton to Tongue. 68 Miles

Severe Weather!

Imagine if you will, opening your front door and stepping out into a 36mph wind slapping at your left cheek. As you hit the pavement the wind hits gale force 9 and you struggle to stand up as your blown sideways  in the 70mph gusts. Then it starts to piss down with rain. Seriously this is not the weather to go out for a walk to the shops. Best go back inside and wait till it stops raining at least. Sensible thing to do is get in the car for the journey, stay warm and dry. After all you new it was going to be this bad because it was forecast the night before...............

Having told Jane last night that it would be sensible to stay with the group today because of the severe weather warning we had seen on the news . We gathered our bikes and our thoughts outside the grotty NOVAR ARMS HOTEL. Jenny and Dave were expecting our company. The rain and the wind already getting stronger. Jane glanced across her shoulder and said something like," Let's get this done come on"!  Like a lamb all my resolve gone in an instant I followed. Jenny said "Go on we'll see your smiling face at the end" resigned to not seeing her friend again for the day. Sympathetically I left them and we were off again.

Having cycled through plenty of rain during this trip, I felt prepared for the worst. Maybe it's best to get this over and done with as quickly as possible. How wrong I was.
It soon dawned on me that I had completely the wrong choice of clothing. Jane had her Gortex weather proof's on and seemed OK. After an hour of struggling in the wind we reached the open moorland after ARDROSS FOREST. It hit us with avengance, wallop. The wind was unabating. Wicked in it's ferocity. Ripping at my sodden clothes, taunting me for my stupidity. After an hour and a half we had only covered 12 miles. We would have usually covered 25 by now! I knew I would be in serious trouble if I didn't get some waterproofs and some warmer clothes on. Having just three thin layers on which were all wet through. The wind was bitterly cold and prevented me from getting any kind of warmth from the rhythm of cycling. I phoned the support vehicle and left a message for some assistance.
The scheduled stop was the FALLS OF SHIN  13 miles away and I was now shivering cold.
Thankfully Tony phoned back right away and said that KEN was still at the other hotel, but would soon be leaving in the van to catch us up. So we pushed on and because of the 5 min stop Jane was now feeling the cold as well. Ken eventually caught up 1 mile from the falls. Not really a good idea to stop in the middle of nowhere in  the pissing rain to get changed so he continued to the falls and we met him there.

The Falls of Shin on a better day!
Ken was a bit flustered as quite a few of the group were having problems in the weather, so he wanted to get away as quickly as possible to help the others.
A quick change and into the cafe'/souvenir shop. By now I was shivering uncontrollably, teeth chattering. I needed something warm inside me. A nice bowl of hot soup and a dry set of clothes helped no end and I was soon back to my normal self. To my surprise Caroline was the next in. Without her boys. Having decided discretion is the better part of valor, had left them behind to fend for themselves. " Too bloody slow" she said.
Now Caroline is a thin slip of a woman, but they are obviously made of sterner stuff in Derbyshire. She had a flimsy pair of shorts on and was coping much better than I.
Just as we three were about to go the others came in together. Pete had his usual glazed, 'What the fuck am I doing this for' expression. Jenny looked like she had been having a hard time of it. She was soaked through and freezing cold. I felt a pang of guilt for not staying with her and gave her a sympathetic hug as we passed in the doorway. She felt really cold.

So the three of us set off. Caroline's cheery demeanor raised my spirits as we took turns in facing the wind and rain head on. All was going well despite the weather, with only 15 miles to cover until our next stop at the CRASK INN where they were apparently expecting us.
At the current pace we should be there in an hour and a half!.  It was really tough going. You couldn't hear anything but the wind. When you did get a slight respite from some trees you had to brace yourself when you came out as you were blown across the road by it's shear ferocity. Then with about 2 miles till the Pub . Bang.. What the? One of my front spokes snapped and the wheel instantly buckled. I was sheltering behind Caroline at the time. She must have only been 20ft in front of me by the time I'd realised what had happened. I called out, but because of the howling wind she couldn't hear me. I watched as they slowly drifted into the distance. I stopped to remove the spoke, quietly cursing to myself. Today of all days.... They would realise I wasn't there soon enough. After about 10 minutes of wobbling along Jane appeared on the horizon. She got to me full of apologies for leaving her cycling buddy behind. We got to the pub cold wet and tired from our exertions in the storm. What a welcome site. A welcome as warm as the soup and a hot stove to dry our clothes over.
We gather around the stove to warm our bones. Midsummer in the north of Scotland . Delightful. They even had hooks above to hang our jackets and hooks on the mantle sills to hang sodden gloves. I made another call to the support van, hoping that they would have a spoke to fit my wheel.

The Wonderful Crask Inn. On a better day.
Ken arrived after about 15 mins and managed to tension the other spokes and get rid of the worst of the buckle. After about 45 mins Caroline and Jane were eager to get going and get this day finished. So I told them to go on without me as today was not a day for hanging around. I was about to leave when the others arrived. First in were Sunni and Chris, followed shortly after by the boy's without their leader. Dave was with them and eventually Jenny. I was shocked to see the state she was in. She was frozen, sodden and sobbing. Now Jenny is a strong woman and to see her in such distress was quite alarming. She was being fussed over by all the others, with people running in and out with dry clothes for her to wear. I had to go though and I genuinely thought that they would not let her continue as she was in such a bad way. I had 25 miles to go on my own in the storm and I desperately wanted this day to end. I gave Jenny a warm hug and some words of support then slipped out to face what mother nature could throw at me! The last 25 miles took me 3 hours! The wind,  getting harsher as the day went on, now tasted of salt. As I rounded one sheltered corner , I was caught by a ferocious blast and was carried across the road and almost over the other side into the estuary. Just clipping the verge on the other side before leaning into the wind and back over to the left hand side. Man that was close. It was quite a drop over the edge.
The last 6 miles seemed to take an age. after each turned corner I was expecting to see the outline of the town or something resembling civilisation, but nothing just desolate barren heathland and the mocking wind to greet me as I rounded the bend.
Just to cap the day, with a few hundred metres to go, I was climbing up the last hill of the day to reveal the town and seafront beneath me when a car came unannounced at my side. Startled I lost control of the bike, veered off the road and did a comedy roll down the verge to my left. Ending upside down legs a-kimbo against a mesh fence. The driver was quickly out of the car apologising." I'm OK mate" I said. I could see the town from my prone position and was not in the mood to exchange pleasantries. So wiped myself down and rolled down the hill to the wrong Hotel! They did indeed have a reservation for Chris from Bike Adventures. But this was the 'Posh' Hotel. Very nice too! I excused myself and headed down the road to our 2* accommodation. Ken was there to take my bike, I asked how Jenny was and was astonished to hear that they had let her carry on. " You are F****ng Joking". I said. "Didn't you see the state she was in". Ken shot off to find her. She'd managed another 20 miles and was found crouching in a bush, just a few miles up the road. Thankfully this time Ken persuaded her to call it a day and except a lift to the Hotel. I skulked to my room and had a much needed hot shower and decided then that I would stay with Jenny tomorrow and not be swayed to do otherwise.
I asked the lady on reception if  they had any facilities to dry my clothes. I was despatched back to my room to pick up said items and she took the lot and had them dried for me. Thank you Maam! I slipped into the bar to meet Caroline and Jane for a drink. When Jenny arrived Jane went to run her a hot bath. Leaving the two of us to chat about what had been a rather testing  bloody horrendous day. I informed Caroline that she was Jane's new cycling buddy for tomorrow as I was staying with Jenny.
The Ben Loyal Hotel
When Dave Jenny and Jane sat down we were harrassed by a Pissed Scottish poacher who wanted to dance with Jane and kept saying that I looked 'serious'. Apart from that minor irritation we had another  great night at the BEN LOYAL HOTEL. The food and company again first class. They even let us hang all our wet stuff on the radiators in the restraunt, I only had a wet pair of shoes by that time! Happy Days.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Day 13. Sat 27th Aug. Fort William to Evanton. 86 Miles.

Loch Ness

Ever since this ride was a figment of my imagination two years ago. This was the day I had dreamed about doing. Along the CALEDONIAN CANAL and LOCH NESS. I'd envisaged the beauty of my surroundings and the majesty of BEN NEVIS towering above the landscape.
So today I was going to enjoy.
After another agreeable evening with my friends at the Alexandra Hotel, we gathered after a bountiful breakfast to hear today's brief. Even after being told by Tony and Ken that mine and Jane's bikes were not suitable for a part of the loggers road at CLUNES and that we had to skirt around it adding 8 miles to our already high mileage of 78 Couldn't dampen my spirits.
The thought of all the mountain views and cycling along the Lochs had my juices flowing so I was eager to get going. We set off at 8.30 and after a couple of miles were climbing over the  CANAL and riding through the beautiful undulating valley at TORCASTLE with the canal to our right and views of a cloud covered BEN NEVIS.

Ben Nevis
We got to GAIRLOCHY and headed right, back over the canal and along the diversion which was a smooth road eventually meeting the A82 at the COMMANDO MEMORIAL. We stopped there for some photo's, just over an hour into the day. Dave and Jenny and in fact most of the others in our group had decided to stay on the A82 for 50 miles before turning off onto the A833 at Drumnadrochit. So it came as no surprise when we were taking photo's to see Christine go past head down not even pausing to take a look at this wonderful memorial.

We set off after her and eventually caught her up at the top of a long climb where to our surprise we found all the other cyclist taking a breath. Forgetting for a moment that we had already done 8 more miles than them. I couldn't  resist the long descent so we flew down leaving all the others in our wake as we kept up a good pace along LOCH LOCHY. eventually crossing the Loch at the LAGGAN SWING BRIDGE. Continuing on to INVERGARRY. Jane and I used now to doing 50 miles before first stop, pressed on. The weather was fine and warm again with no wind. Can this really be Scottish Weather? After a brief cut inland at INVERGARRY  we headed along LOCH OICH and eventually got onto the CALEDONIAN CANAL. Through my months of preparation this was the part of the ride I had been looking forward to the most. Always imagining what it would be like to cycle along the GREAT GLEN. I wasn't disappointed. Although at times because the tow path was so lumpy I found myself concentrating on the path to avoid the large stones and craters rather than taking in the views.

Loch Ness
We got back on the A82 at FORT AUGUSTUS and as soon as there was a clearing in the tree line, stopped to take some photo's of LOCH NESS.

Urquhart Bay Drumnadrochit
Along Loch Ness

First stop today was DRUMNADROCHIT three quarters along the length of LOCH NESS. As this was the August bank holiday weekend the Highland Games were in town. Lots of costumes and kilts on show. Also lots of tourists.
We stopped off at the Glen Cage Cafe' which had a rather dour Scotsman manager who informed us that if we were eating outside we had to order outside through the hatch! So we walked away from the counter where he was , went outside and he took our orders at the hatch!!!
After the smallest pot of soup ever, a Coffee and a Red Bull. I was ready for the sharp climb out of town. We were preparing to leave when some motorcyclists took an interest in our bikes. They had also ridden from Fort William and were amazed that we had just cycled the 51 miles to get there.
We were just saying our goodbye's when Sunni and Chris rocked up on their £5000 bikes and matching outfits. Catching the motorcyclists attention again.  The hill out of town was very steep. I was glad that I'd had the Red Bull for that extra injection of caffeine. As I watched Jane pull away from me again. At the top of the climb we were passed by Tony in the van catching us up for only the second time on this trip. We had a quick chat and carried on, safe in the knowledge that our kit would be waiting for us in EVANTON when we reached the hotel. With the promise of clean fresh clothes and not the scrumpled up ones stowed away on my bike.
We had views down to the BEAULLY FIRTH on our right as we approached the surprisingly populated town of DINGWALL and views to the CROMARTHY FIRTH and the long road bridge across it.  We took the cycle path out of Dingwall which had a short sharp climb and gave us even better views of the road bridge and beyond.

Cromarthy Firth road bridge

On the cycle path  4 miles outside of EVANTON we were absolutely astonished to find Christine. Legs crossed leaning on a fence munching away on a rather large french stick.
She reminded me of Bugs Bunny chomping  on that roll. When he is always getting the better of Elmer Fudd. Well slap my thighs and call me Elmer. I just don't understand how she  got passed us. I know we stopped at DRUMNADROCHIT but that was 25 miles ago. She can't have stopped at all since we passed her just after the Commando Memorial 65 miles before!
Hats off to her. She's a woman of few words and obviously fewer stops so after a very brief chat we excused ourselves and proceeded cursing under our breath.
We got to Evanton and met an annoyed Tony. Who was frustrated at the lack of help he was getting unloading the bags from the Novar Arms Hotel/Pub staff. The bar was packed with bank holiday drinkers, so we went to our very basic rooms. Freshened up and came down for a deserved pint to wait for the others to arrive. Jane sinking two pints of Guinness!
Jenny and Dave arrived an hour and a half later. Quickly followed by Caroline and the boys.
The rooms were pretty sparse and ill equipped at the hotel but the evening meal and subsequent breakfast were OK.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Day 12. Fri 26th Aug. Inveraray to Fort William. 73 Miles.

The Lochs

We had a lovely evening last night at the ARGYLL HOTEL. We are getting along splendidly
as a group.        I know I've said this before but the other six are missing out on so much.
We don't cycle with them and we don't see them in the evenings. Christine is doing her own thing and Bob is so far behind, he's on his own during the day most of the time. Howard and Steph stay on their own as do Chris and Sunni. They don't even mix as a six!! There's nought as strange as folk! So you'd think they would make an effort and join us in the evening. We have such a laugh sharing our experiences of the day and finding out little bits about each other. I always say experiences are much better shared with friends and we are already making plans to meet up after this adventure. I doubt the same can be said for the 'Posh'.
Anyway I digress..
We left at 8.30 and were straight into a steep climb along the wooded valley of  GLEN ARAY initially 13% then climbing gently for 7 miles until dropping down to the shores of LOCH AWE. The weather was fine and sunny with little wind, perfect for cycling.
We hit some road works half way up and were kept waiting at the traffic lights for what seemed an age. In fact we thought that the rest of the group would catch us up.Shock horror! Eventually we got a car escort along the roadworks. He was going from one end of the works to the other making sure no one jumped the lights as each change took 10 minutes.
Once passed the works we were in for a real treat as we had ten miles of freshly re-tarmacked road. Smooth as a baby's backside and bliss for my damaged rear end as well.
In fact the only sore point about this adventure is my sore arse!
Loch Awe

We reached Loch Awe and passed the Island of INISHAIL with it's 13th century Chapel.
Going at some pace today and I sensed Jane was in a hurry. I was trying to take in the beautiful views. So many of them you get a bit blase'.

Inishail Island and Chapel
We turned around the head of Loch Awe on the A85 and doubled back around the other side for 5 miles. Then through the wooded valley of  the PASS of BRANDER to TAYNUILT. Then on to Connel where the road climbed to cross the Bridge over the estuary with the shimmering beauty of  ARDMUCKNISH bay to our right and on  to BENDERLOCH.
Ardmucknish Bay
Loch Linnhe

Loch Linnhe
Loche Linnhe

We then came upon a mixture of cycle paths which were pleasant to ride along away from the busy A828 until we reached APPIN with a further 2 miles of secluded cycle paths.
Then a steep climb up the main road to PORTNACROISH. This was our planned stop some  47 miles into the day. We stopped at the 'Castle Storker View' cafe which offered views down to LOCH LINNHE and SHUNA ISLAND. The cafe was fairly busy, obviously a popular stop for tourists. We had our customary bowl of soup and I had a mouth watering apple crumble and cream for pudding. Using the remainder of my cream for my coffee, yum yum. Where as Jane opted for a flapjack and a scone. ( how do I remember all this? Normally my memory is shocking).The soups are definitely getting smaller the further up the British Isles we get.
The soup was however served swiftly, mine arriving before Jane had ordered hers and sat down.
With just 25 miles to do we set off with renewed vigour and blasted along LOCH LINNHE entering THE HIGHLANDS and onto more cycle paths to north BALLACHULISH. (pronounced Ballahulish, Ta Dave.)and onto the bridge separating Loche Linnhe and LOCH LEVEN. This is where today's ride took an interesting turn. We were  just coming off the cycle path and onto the main A82 when four chaps on bikes came past in front of us. They began to pull gently away. We are no slouches and were going along at about 17mph. Jane was behind me which was a rare occasion on this trip let me tell you. I noticed that one of the chaps had panier's and thought that I can't let them get away from me with panier's on the bike so I upped the pace and after about a mile caught them up and soon passed. It was my intention just to get by them and put a bit of distance between us, but Jane had other ideas. She blasted passed me saying something like, "You're going to regret that". Continuing to hurtle down the road at breakneck speed. I quickly got on her back wheel and we raced along for about 10 miles! As the terrain was relatively flat I was able to keep up to her. But I'm sure that I've told you before , this lady is fast. A 26min 10 mile TT rider. So rather depressingly for me as soon as we hit a slight incline she pulled away and I was alone with my thoughts.

View from  b&b window at Fort William
Just beside the 'Welcome to Fort William ' sign Jane was waiting for me. I skulked up and we rode through town together to our b&b. The Guisachan Guesthouse. Where this time Jane managed to blag an upgrade to a room with a view over to Loch Linnhe.
We were really going well today and had time to wash , change and stroll into town. Do some shopping and scout out all the local eateries for the evening. We had a drink and got back to the b&b before anyone else had arrived.
Dave got back first minus Jenny. She'd been having problems with her bike and Ken had taken her to the bike shop in town to get it fixed. Caroline and the boys arrived soon afterwards. We had a drink with Dave who then left to get ready for the evening. Jenny arrived with Ken and joined us  for a pint of Cider. When the group joined us it was Robin who persuaded us to go for dinner at the Alexandra Hotel as we would get 10% off with our hotel cards. The only place we hadn't been earlier! Time was getting on so eager for some food Dave, Jenny , Jane and I set off for the hotel which was just around the corner. We sat down and were entertained by a Scottish female one  woman band who had a very pleasant voice. The rest of the group joined us soon afterwards and another enjoyable evening was had by all.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Day 11. Thur 25th Aug. Strahaven to Inveraray. 90 Miles.

Lots More Mileage!

A very long days cycling ahead. We had a wonderful meal at RISSONS RESTAURANT in the Springvale Hotel last night. I had roast pork with delicious crackling. The best meal so far on the trip by a country mile.We even had a game of footy to watch outside the conservatory window.
Speaking of country miles we have 90 of them to cover today. Earlier in the week we  promised Jenny that we'd stay with her and Dave today. I was resolved to, right up until late last night, I say late but it was about 9.30! When Jane twisted my arm. After Tony had told her that although the official advice was to stick together until we got past the Peoples Palace as long as we two stuck together we'd be fine. Jenny was a bit miffed and to be honest I don't blame her.
So Jane and I left on our own at 8.00am. Early start as we wanted to get past Glasgow as soon as possible.
The first 10 miles into HAMLTON and then on to the beast that is GLASGOW.
It was grey and overcast and we were expecting rain at some time this morning, as we headed down the A723 into Hamilton. We got to the first cycle path and it had a closed and diversion sign up. We thought about it for a split second then thought b****cks were not attempting a diverted route in Glasgow so we headed down the very steep descent over a contributory river and back up just as steeply the other side.
The workmen hadn't even started yet and as far as we could tell the diversion was just so they wouldn't be disturbed by cyclists. So we texted Jenny to tell her to ignore the diversion as well and carried on.
After a short spell on the cycle path we were back into the suburbs studiously following the Satmap until picking up the River Clyde cycle path a few miles on. Carefully skirting all the broken glass that was on the path that was absent of people this early in the morning. We agreed that it wouldn't be much fun doing this later as it looked a really dodgy area.
We got to the Winter Gardens in Glasgow Green at 9.30 which houses the grand looking Peoples Palace which is a museum and a cafe' opened in 1898. At the time, the East End of Glasgow was one of the most unhealthy and overcrowded parts of the city, and the People's Palace was intended to provide a cultural centre for the people. We stopped for a breather and that was when I noticed the Satmap had run out of battery and shut off. We had no option but to wait for the others. I phoned Ken and he said they were about twenty minutes behind so we parked the bikes and waited. It started to rain!

Peoples Palace. Ken Receiving his sons GCSE Results.

When the others arrived at 10am Dave gave me his spare battery and I got my unit working again. No point in rushing off in the rain so we followed the group into the large glass roofed Cafe' for tea and scones.
I actually felt quite relieved to be with the group as I knew we had to pick our way across the centre of Glasgow and find the cycle path again for the next 15 miles. It was lovely and warm inside the Palace and we stayed for about 40mins. We were just leaving when the 'Posh' minus Caroline turned up. Obviously slept in.
Chris and Sunni opting to ignore the no bikes sign and brought there expensive carbon fibre's into the cafe'.
Refreshed and ready for the road ahead the group set off with there two new additions! It was funny because Robin is obviously used to being anchor man and I was hanging back taking photo's of everyone. He was twisting and turning  in his saddle anxious for me to get in line. A bit like the Elephant convoy in Jungle book I thought! We got into the centre of Glasgow after a little bit of criss-crossing through suburban roads. Actually the centre looks great. Lots of money has obviously been spent to tidy the place up and I have to say it looked rather splendid. Helped by the fact that the sun had peeped out on us. We cycled at a serene pace along the cobbled path of the Clyde passing Albert Bridge then George V Bridge and finally Bells Bridge before joining Cycleway 7 which hugs the River Clyde and is a delightful way to get out of Glasgow.

Cheer up Dave
We stayed on the path all the way to MILTON which was our intended lunch stop. We arrived at just before 2pm. Jane and I would usually be on our final stretch before arriving at the Evenings stop by now. But here we were only 36 miles into a 90 mile day. It was going to be a long one. We all stopped at the same pub and sat outside with our food. I had a half of 'bitter and twisted' ale along with my prawn baguette. We were getting pestered by wasps so only stayed for 3/4 hour.

It was time for us to leave the convoy and head out along LOCH LOMOND then a sharp left to take on the climb up GLEN FRUIN to GARLOCHHEAD and all along LOCH LONG. The group had decided to stay on the  busy A82 along LOCH LOMOND missing the quieter country road along the climb and knocking several miles off the route. Fair play but Jane is not a lady for wimping out. I quite fancied the climb as well as we had been poodling along all day and I felt fresh.
View From 'Rest and be Thankful'

Dave Smith my roomate

Caroline Getting to the top
We cycled along the A82 for 6 miles it was quite busy and we were glad to get on the quiet A817 where the climb was steady with a few sharper ascents then a very steep descent down to LOCH LONG. We cycled along the loch passing the oil refinery,all the way to the end then around and back on ourselves the other side of the loch for a few miles before starting our climb up GLEN CROE along the A83. A climb that the others could not navigate around and had to negotiate as well. It was a long hard  6 mile slog up to the Rest & Be Thankful at the top.
The old road through the glen seen in the photograph is part of the military road that ran from Dumbarton to Inveraray. This was built in the 1740s. A stone inscribed Rest & Be Thankful was erected around 1749, after this section of road was completed. It's now just a car park and a photo spot. The climb got steaper and I watched  Jane dissapear into the distance as the road curved around the glen. Eventually after what seemed like an age I reached the top. Finding a rather flustered Jane trying to get her back tyre off as she had got a puncture towards the top. I changed the innertube for her and put the tyre back on pumped it up and it went down again. Bugger! must have nipped it! To my relief Ken arrived and took over. I gave him one of my tubes as Jane had no more and he fixed it in double quick time. To our surprise the group started to arrive in dribs and drabs. Well we had been messing about for about 20 mins . I went off to take some photo's and by then we were all at the top. We assembled together and prepared for the descent down to INVERARY. "It's a long way to Inveraray. It's a long way to go". I'd been singing that all the way from Glasgow. Now we were only a 4 mile descent down GLEN KINGLAS and along the beautiful LOCH FYNE before arriving. It was 6.30pm. Finally getting there just before 7pm. Eleven hours since we set of this morning! I took some action photo's on the way down and a picture of the Castle in the fading light.Which took 40 years to build finally being completed in the 1780's.

Jenny Starting Descent into Inveraray

Dave S

Inveraray Castle

We stayed in the fine looking ARGYLE HOTEL, although as we all know appearances can be deceptive. It was rather shabby and run down inside. It had been a long but very interesting and varied day. With a nice mix of riding fast with Jane and at a steady pace along the CLYDE with Jenny, Dave,Caroline and her Boys. Robin, Pete and Dave W.
Jenny, Dave and I decided to have a pint before getting a shower as dinner wasn't until 8/8.30 and they were totally unprepared for us because they'd fully booked the restaurant. It took them 10 mins to serve us our pints and we ended up knocking one over as we sat down on the crumpled old chairs.Doh! We ended the day eating in the conservatory, which suited us as it had pleasant views across the lock and we watched the night fall as we ate our Pub Grub and settled down as a group of friends to another great evening.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Day 10. Wed 24th Aug. Ecclefechan to Stathaven. 80 Miles.

Serious Mileage!

After a lavish breakfast, served by the polite young man. Who seemed to be doing every ones job at the hotel.
Jane and I set off. Again planning to do 50 miles before stopping at BIGGAR for lunch. The mileage has been going up in notches over the past few days and today was a testing 80 miles, for Jane and I anyway.  As everyone else were busy plotting shorter routes to Strahaven avoiding the five mile climb at MOFFAT. Choosing instead to follow the main roads and not deviate through the countryside climbs that were intended for the route.
No such plans for us.. The start of the day was a long stretch running parallel to the M74 along the B7076, the A702 and finally the B7078. This was all along the Annan Valley so quite easy cycling. Eventually we turned right along the A701. This is where our route deviated from the others. They continued up the B7078 which continued to run alongside the A74 and M74 . This was at 23 miles. The official route however took in the long 5 mile climb to the Scottish Borders region before descending for 7 miles into BROUGHTON and eventually lunch at BIGGAR. The climb wasn't very steep at any point again just a long slog on and off the saddle. The pleasing thing was the surface of the road was very good and we noticed that the tour of Britain was coming up this climb in 2 weeks time. I tried to imagine how much faster they would be  coming up than me. When a succession of  good club cyclists came past me at 5 minute intervals. Oh that fast! 

Well surfaced climb
 Jane was a speck on the horizon by now, in fact she stopped twice to let me catch up such was the length of this one. When I finally reached the top we took some photo's and the club cyclists were coming back up the other side of the climb. We'd reached the Scottish Borders and we started down what proved to be a wonderful 7 mile descent. I couldn't resist it and hit the hammer! Zooming down the hill at 75kmh on some parts. Magical after the long stretch up.

Top of climb
As the road levelled out Jane came along side. It's the first time I've seen her out of breath on the trip. A feeling of guilty pleasure engulfed me. Then off she went. Leaving me in her wake!
After 46 miles we turned off along the B7016 to BIGGAR. I saw a sign 29miles to Edinburgh and did start to wonder whether we were going the right way. We entered SOUTH LANARKSHIRE . We stopped as planned in Biggar which looked like a bit of a retirement town, at the first cafe we came across. Where we again had a rather small soup, hot drink and a piece of carrot cake to refuel. As we were sitting enjoying our light lunch it seemed like half the towns pensioners had congregated at the cafe and it was getting very busy. Time to go.
Straight out of BIGGAR we hit the cycle  network roads which offered virtually  traffic free cycling for the next 20 miles. We stopped to take a picture of the purple heather fields near a rather endearing village called BOGHEAD. We soon ate up the remaining ten miles to the larger town of STRAHAVEN. (Pronounced STRAYVEN thanks again Dave)

 Where we walked passed the SPRINGVALE HOTEL a couple of times as it had a large sign outside saying RISSONS RESTAURANT.
We were first back and were shown to our rooms by the owner Anne Baxter. In fact it was so nice there we thought for a moment we were at the 'Posh Hotel'. They must be staying in a stately home if this is the standard we've got tonight. We stuck to our routine and an hour later were enjoying a cold glass of lager in the conservatory restaurant waiting for our friends to arrive. Who I'm sure by now were used  to us smiling out of the windows at them with drinks in hand. Whilst looking out of the window at the kids having a knockabout in the football nets on the pitches in the park, the chef came in and he was a rather large cheery chap. Bodes well for the meal tonight we agreed.
We were proved correct in our presumption as we enjoyed another great meal later on that evening.