Cycling in minus 19

Studded tyre

Not me though! I have trouble being outside in that weather, though the air sparkles in the sun and that is just magical. These cyclists are amazing. One of them chatted and I took a picture of his studded tyre. Most bikes don’t have those tyres, but mostly they do have fat tyres, so that connection with the path is more stable. It is all relative, though.

Messy collage – sorry!

The cold is such that some cyclists wear full face masks. At least, in these temperatures there are not many others out, though joggers are still jogging.

I loved the sign that suggests we should not cycle on the seat – just imagine it!

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Ospreys and 260 miles completed

Ospreys

On the final leg of our trip our route took us past the RSPB reserve at Loch Garten where two young ospreys were quarreling about a brown trout. We could see them up close through telescopes and binoculars. Life was pretty exciting that afternoon as another Osprey flew around and the parents of the squabbling youngsters moved into defensive (Mum) and attack (Dad) mode. All good clean fun. Great sightings of birds too and I enjoyed the woodpecker the most, since we so rarely see them.

Things were a bit wet by then and they got wetter but it all dried up for the lovely approach to Aviemore on the Sustrans route 7 – thanks Sustrans! We were not surprised to go by yet another micro brewery – Cairngorm Brewery this time. What a friendly bunch they are! It would have been rude to ride by. We tasted all manner of delicious beers and bought some fun beer mats. This is the #graintrail after all.

Then to the SYHA hostel in Aviemore which cannot be recommended highly enough. Train home the next day in spite of it being a strike day. First stop at home was the washing machine! Great trip of 260 miles in total but it will be good not to set off on another 30 miler tomorrow.

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Dufftown to Granton-on-Spey and ‘banter’ when we got there

Best lunch spot ever – comes with 4G signal

 The Speyside Cooperage in Craigellachie was fascinating – well worth a visit. They mostly repair barrels and we heard so much interesting stuff about the construction of and repair of these essential elements in whisky-making.

Sadly we didn’t have time to check out The Macallan distillery but our picnic lunch spot was the best ever. Here on the top of the world, well above the river Spey, we had the rare experience of good 4G phone coverage so lunch was not a chatty affair, other than virtually, while we caught up a bit with the world outside. Given what was happening in the world, that might not have been the best idea.

Pies – all pies. That’s the menu.
Morning coffee ‘stop’

The Speyside Way continued a bit muddy and unpredictable but flat – beautifully flat. We did have to leave it eventually but enjoyed the flat surface of the adjacent not-so-flat B road into Granton-on-Spey. This is a fine town which merits a longer stop. We can recommend the Ardenbeg hostel in the town (as opposed to various hostel-type accommodations out of town and too far from food and drink for our taste). We ate in the Craig Bar which is famous for its pies and the ‘banter’ of the barman. I found the latter to be less entertaining than the former and wondered where ‘banter’ because offensive language. However, they had an impressive range of malt whiskies so I focused on that.

Lovely quiet sleep and a nice coffee/scone in town before starting our final biking day of this trip – to Aviemore, optimistic about a train home in spite of the rail strike.

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Nosing around Speyside

Weary muscles made cycling along the almost-flat-but-muddy-in places Speyside Way a great relief after the far better surface on the up-and-down road and the scenic views. I was even more relieved to arrive in Dufftown without a puncture.  My puncture-fixer was even more relieved.

Dufftown is the  ‘malt whisky capital of Scotland’ and boasts six working distilleries.  Glenfiddich is the only visitable one within walking distance. This is our rest day so biking to the others is not even considered.  Glenfiddich is a fascinating distillery to visit.  The bar served a whisky which cost £1000.00 a dram. We didn’t have that one.

We attended a ‘nosing and tasting evening’ in the town – well, how could we resist? It was great fun. We were given notepads to write down the ‘nose’ etc. To most of us they all smelt like whisky.  You can see that we didn’t win the prize with that kind of talent. We met two Australians, one of whom was walking to London, and a fascinating young Kiwi in love with whisky making. Grand evening in spite of the substandard hotel which was our billet for two nights. There was considerable compensation in our evening meals at the Tannochbrae restaurant and the Stuart Arms hotel. Great grub.

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Bike maintenance points. Great idea!

Quick pump of the tyre

I was wandering around the newly gentrified dock area of Auckland, as you do, when I spotted a bike maintenance point. It initially looked like a bike stand, which it is, of course, but there are plenty of bike stands and racks around so I approached to have a closer look.

See? No queue!

As luck would have it, a cycling chap stopped to do some fixing so I was able to chat to him (to the bemusement of my more reserved travelling companion – who is getting used to me chatting up total strangers). This is relatively new, he tells me and shows me the wide range of tools available and all tucked away very neatly.

All the tools you need

Another cyclist came by then; this did not generate a queue because there is scope for more than one repair/fix to be done at the same time. She just wanted to pump her tyre, having found it soft during the day and feared she might have had to walk home. She was told about this facility and was very pleased to have such a simple solution.

What a great way to facilitate city cycling! Go Auckland!

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Hot Wheels in Rotorua

Great fun was had in biking around the Lake Rotorua area (as opposed to biking around the whole lake!) and some of the thermal areas. It was not only spectacular but so pleasant because we followed a completely off-road route, based on information from our motel host, Alan, at the Silver Fern motel. He also lent us bikes! Even without the bikes, the motel is highly recommendable. One of the bikes was a bit ramshackled but they were free and Alan pumped up any soft tyres and oil-sprayed a dry-looking chain. I must get some of that spray, it looks easier than my more-standard oiling system.

Along the route I was enchanted by this imaginative bike locking ‘log’ outside an equally imaginative public toilet block. The rings are attached to gear cogs, if that is the right word for the jaggy things that the chain runs on. You can see how technical I am!

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Helen on her Brompton in her 70s

Talking Bromptons

Meeting inspirational people is one of the great joys of travelling. Here I am with Helen Macleod from Suffolk in Englandshire. Helen in biking the Outer Hebrides on her own in her 70s but, even more amazingly, is doing it on a Brompton (fold-up bike for the uninitiated). That the Brompton has been fitted with a battery-powered motor, inside the front wheel, just adds to the amazing-ness.

Scalpay Bridge

Helen cycles all over place and has been doing so for many years. She used to travel with her husband but, since his death, has continued on her own, often over very long distances. It was lovely to chat to her as she boarded the Tarbert ferry to Uig.

Scalpay lighthouse

Having seen Helen and one of our own gang onto the ferry, we headed off to explore the road to Scalpay, with its fine bridge and lighthouse. The lighthouse was built by another McLeod, not surprising as it is such a common name here. He was then the owner of Scaplay. The lighthouse was first lit in 1789.

It’s not a long way from Tarbert to Scalpay but is very hilly. I am seriously considering following Helen’s example and fitting a motor to my bike, since my internal motor seems to be ageing,

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The Butty Bus – Leverburgh, and the golden road on Harris

A welcome sight

Even though we had only cycled a couple of miles to the ferry at Berneray and then been on the lovely short ferry crossing to Harris, we were delighted to see the famous Butty Bus waiting in Leverburgh. How could we all be starving again? Easily. What an great institution it is and it has its own blog! The blog has news and chat and soup recipes. What more could one ask of a blog?

We were to be glad of the sustenance from here as we biked to Tarbert on the ‘golden mile’, so called because of the cost of this amazing road over the Harris hills, along the East coast. First, though, we stopped and measured each other for grave slabs at Rodel, a very very old and amazing church. Not to be missed, even if you are not shopping for a grave slab.

Being measured for grave slab

After exploring the church at Rodel we set off in earnest on the challenge of the ‘golden road’. It is an amazing bike ride, with long smooth descents which really do make up for the rest. Well, in retrospect they do anyway. This route is not for the faint-hearted.

Welcome to North Harris!

Any trip along this coast can be enhanced by visits to galleries such as the Mission House Studio, where we were amazed at the photography, in particular. Don’t miss it if you in the Finsbay area. There is a chocolate shop nearby which is never open but has a tantalising sign. The Mission House owner gave us an apple and allowed us to fill our water bottles which helped to compensate for the chocolate shortage. A bit further on the Skoon Art Café provided the best chocolate brownies we had all trip. After that we really had to stop messing about and get up and over those interminable hills. We were so pleased eventually to arrive in Tarbert and find the welcoming Backpacker’s Stop hostel.

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Biking London – scary, scarier and wet.

Being down here for two full weeks this month was the
opportunity to get London and biking sorted out. I started very tamely by
hiring a ‘Boris Bike’, as in the previous post. Thus terrified (by Tower Bridge), when I needed to get from Euston station to Waterloo with my folding
bike, I looked at buses. Yes, there are two buses that go on that route but I
had forgotten the crowds and stress of London. I couldn’t easily find the bus
stop that I needed and decided that it would be easier to cycle them. The
alternative was folding up the bike, taking it and my bag onto the bus and
jostling for a space. Too hard – so I set off, following the bus route in that
time-honoured way that I used to travel around Dublin.
Cycling in London is pretty scary but was made easier by the
kamikaze cyclists who wove in and out of lanes of traffic. There were enough of
us to force drivers to notice us, so it actually felt quite safe. On the way
back through London, after a great few days at JSWEC2014 conference, travelling back
between stations made sense as it is so much quicker and less hassle, or so it
seemed.
I didn’t have a lot of time for the transfer, but enough. I
set off from Waterloo and just as I was crossing Waterloo Bridge in the bus
lane, the heavens opened and huge raindrops flooded the streets.  I’ve never been outside in such enormous
raindrops. The rain was accompanied by some thunder and lightening and a cross
wind. I was soaked to the skin in minutes but there was nothing to do except
keep going and the monsoon eventually stopped. I was so wet and the streets so
flooded that I forgot to be scared!
When I got to Kings Cross station, I didn’t win the wet
tee-shirt contest (L)
but didn’t have long to wait for the train platform to be announced. Once on
the train I was able to change every stitch of clothing. At this point even my
‘wet-clothes’ JSWEC bag was wet inside and out and my watch is still wet inside
the clock face. 
Motto: wear a waterproof watch when cycling in London in
summer.  I might also add not to put things which can be damaged by water at the bottom of your pannier – my camera was there and is pretty wet. The water came up from the road, through the bottom of the bag. Ouch!

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