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And so off I went around Islay to catch (well I mean see) some geese…the cycling felt easy without my paniers so up to Machir Beach felt like a dream…as did the beach itself…
Atlantic waves coming in across the white sand..swimming at own risk given the strong currents. If only I’d had a message in a bottle to send out across the Atlantic!
Then it was on the equally beautiful Saligo Bay..
cycling around Loch Gorm’s quiet roads a cute little cottage caught my eye…
And then it was time to catch those geese. The RSPB reserve at Loch Gruinart has a cute little visitor centre manned by a lovely girl from Wales who’d just started a few days before. She was full of enthusiasm telling me about the choughs she’d seen a few days before at the other reserve in the South of Islay the “Oa”. She said it’d make a lovely cycle to go out to Ardnave Point. By this time it was positively tropical conditions so a beach sounded like a nice idea!
I didnt quite make it to the point as it said it was a 3 hour walk so I just wandered around a bit and enjoyed the swirling patterns in the sand.
One of the RSPB farmers gave me some water on the way back since it really was dead hot!
I was talking to a birdwatcher with really big binoculars..I really just fancied seeing what he was seeing…an eagle very far in the distance…when the lovely brother and sister from the ferry passed me! So we cycled together back to the road end and shared stories of our adventures so far. It’s funny but on these trips each day can seem to hold many adventures!
At the junction they headed to Port Ellen to camp there for the night before a ferry back over the next day…I headed back to the hostel to see what the evening held…
There’s not much in Port Charlotte but it’s gorg and has an amazing hostel run by a lovely couple who could not be more helpful. It also has a hotel. I’d been once before to the hotel bar on a sunny afternoon when I’d chatted to an american guy who’d travelled specially to drink whiskey..such is the call of this intoxicating stuff! After drying out and chilling out in the hostel I decided to head to the hotel bar for the live music. I sat myself down at the bar chatting to the barman and owner for some cycling tips for the next day. I think they thought I was Victoria Pembleton..they kept saying I could just do loops around the island!
A man with a beard and perhaps a dutch accent sat next to me with a little black book into which he made copious notes…what was he writing my curious mind asked! The musician arrived amidst much ado – sound testing, set up…he said himself the pub looked so busy he was worried guests thought “sting” was playing!
He started to play and then Julie and Colin arrived so we had a good ole night chatting in the increasingly hot pub. Three french guys arrived at the bar every so often, spent an age studying the whiskey menu, then ordered 3 whiskies each time! Their faces looked gravely concentrated like it was some kind of exam. I stuck to the local ale!
As the night passed laughter came from behind us….a man wearing cool specs had picked up a piece of tartan carpet being used as a doormat, wound it around himself and was Scottish country dancing! I’m laughing even as I type this…it was so funny! His “group” who were well on were killing themselves laughing! It turned out they were Swedes from Southern Sweden and were over on a long weekend. This somehow seemed incredible. They’d flown from Stockholm to Edinburgh then hired a car and driven over to get the ferry. They then hired bikes and were cycling around!
I saw the son of the man with the “kilt” back at the hostel later. He was wandering the small corridor unable to find his room! He eventually woke the lovely warden who told me the next day he kept insisting the hostel had two floors and he was on the wrong floor. Next morning at breakfast, as only Scandinavians can, they were up bright and early, crisp and fresh in their neatly fitting cycle gear..they half recognised me from the night before.
After a brisk and efficient breakfast they sailed off on their bikes, their long legs spinning the wheels fast and neatly! I felt a bit clunky on Orbit and certainly nothing like Pembleton….
And so leaving Lochranza behind with her deer and pretty castle I was off on the Calmac to Kintyre. Some other cycle tourists caught the ferry with me..a brother and sister who loved cycle touring though their bags were awffy heavy and they were tired after a hilly 45 mile route round Arran the day before. I was also feeling the weight a bit after the climb up to Lochranza. It’s been a while since I’ve hardly been able to sit down on the bike!
A wee short ferry trip and then a dash over the hills to Kennacraig for the Islay ferry to Port Askaig – my fav point of arrival up the little bit of water between Islay and Jura. We shared cycle stories on the boat over and drank lots of tea and ate toast. I’m usually proud of my lightweight packing though on this occasion it did have the downside of me no having maps!!!! It couldnae be that hard I reckoned…there aren’t too many roads on Islay and Jura after all! It was brill to chat through our routes right enough and compare cycle stories. The only bother with these conversations is I end up adding even more “routes” to my list of “musts”! One life, many adventures I guess!
It was a bit grey when we arrived in Port Askaig…even the paps of Jura were hidden in the greyness.
And I really felt the climb out of Port Askaig…up, up and up some more…from a sitting start! Thank goodness Orbit had it in her to get me to the top….and then it was off…well kind of..it started to rain..and it was that cunning rain…the kind that you hardly feel until you’re soaked through and know that later your legs will resemble corned beef! So a stop for my rain trousers which flap in the wind! I never seem to have quite the right stuff but try not to let it stop me. It was a bit of a damp and characterless cycle until I got to Bridgend where, mapless of course, I took the turn to Bowmore instead of Port Charlotte. It was only a few miles and I got to cycle round the lovely bay…my first real “glimpse” of “Islay”.
Bowmore gave me my first whiff of whisky and it was so nice! A perfectly intoxicating wind. I wandered around Bowmore a bit. It’s the biggest place on Islay and has a nice little round church at the top of the hill..round so the devil has no place to hide!
I got some provisions from the local coop and spoke for ages to the nice lady in the tourist info asking her where I might find the geese! She said “just look up”. She had that warm Scottish accent that takes the corners off harsh words and just makes you feel welcome and good. I met Colin and Julie in the tourist info. They were car camping and seemed like a laugh. They were looking for some live music and the warm accent advised that the Port Charlotte Hotel had live music from half eight.
After walking up and down the little streets, admiring a garden with a stream coming right through it and passing loads of folks on the way to the local baths (heated from the distillery) I got back on Orbit and headed to Port Charlotte.
I saw some geese on the way over. How clever are these guys? Each autumn they leave Greenland via Iceland and come to Islay for the hotter climes. Awesome…and we think we’re clever…I pondered whether they liked the whiffs of whisky too?
In Scotland it’s better to ignore the forecast and just get on wi it. So Easter weekend and a few days off work time to get Orbit packed up, complete with tent and stove, for a few days touring the West Coast Islands.
Think I was half asleep when I boarded the train at Glasgow Central for “Brodick” as I managed to get on the back train on the platform and ended up in Gourock! Thought the scenery looked a bit different from my previous trips! The conductor was also half asleep as he checked my ticket and didn’t tell me to get off. The route back to Paisley Gilmour Street was punctuated by my bike falling (why are there never bike racks when you need them) and the banter of a few mums:-
Kid – “Can I go to the toilet?”
Mum – “You’re pure at it. You always wanna go on the train”.
Mum to other mum – “Is that yer ringtone, nae danger”.
At last I was leaving land behind and on the ferry to Brodick on Arran.
The ferry was packed with holiday makers eating chips (they smelled great) and drinking beers and rose wines. Coming into Brodick the racing biker snakes soon flexed their muscles and their carbon forks and left me and Orbit stuck behind a camper van. As usual I had to coax my mudguard to get itself away from the wheel…those guys just always want to be together…and then it was on the quiet road to Lochranza.
The wind was a bit strong right enough. I always find the first day back on the bike a bit tough. It’s almost like my mind says “right what are doing here fighting through this gale force wind, are there no other options?”.
The hill up out of Sannox was a toughie…wish I’d paid more attention to those tiny little arrows marked on the route in my bike book…I had a comedy fall at one point when I stopped to adjust my headgear only to forget I had 2 huge bags on the back…thankfully no one saw this! 199 metres up with a headwind all the way….if you’ve ever cycled in Scotland you’ll know it’s always a head wind even bizarelly when you go back the same way you’ve just come. How does that happen??????
Here’s me at the top of the hill….see it really is windy!!!!! I’m not exaggerating!!!!!
The descent down to Lochranza is magnificent. As I reached the flat just as the castle came into view a few deer silhouetted themselves right in front of the castle. I’ve arrived indeed I thought! A quick meal then a local ale down the small pub..had to do something to escape the lack of “youths” in the “Youth Hostel”.
When is a dram not a dram??? When it’s a half marathon in Dundee. I’ve been looking to do a half marathon in ages and was kinda attracted to the small size of this one and the setting….Dundee….I’ve visited Dundee many times but never fallen in love with it somehow. It seems somehow back-to-front – a bit like Fort William where the road feels in the wrong place. Couldn’t they move the road back and the nice buildings to the front to over look the water?
Anyway back to the run. As usual I was last minute to decide. Story of my life. Set the alarm for 6.15 am (in Edinburgh). It didn’t go off so only left the burgh at 7.30 for the trip there. Made it to Camperdown Park just after 9 and set myself into one of the many queues to see if could enter on the day. Managed to persuade the nice, friendly organisers to let me do so, taped on my number 875…and looked at the huge queue for the portacabins. Wow! Decided against the huge queue and entered another queue to start the run. Then suddenly the queue all moved in the other direction so then I worked out what direction the run was going in! Phew! As my phone was playing up (hence the alarm issue) had to ration the music. Thought would need it for the start so as the gun went (I couldn’t really work out whether I was in the right place or not) I put it on.
The start of the run seemed more like Tough Mudder than a half marathon. Mud, mud, mud…and the nettles which I’d seen mentioned on one of the sites I read were in abundance. The first miles seemed up, up and up and I was slow, slow and slower. We eventually got out of the park and onto some routes through housing estates. It was quite nice actually. Local folks lined the roads and the police people at the junctions did a great job of keeping traffic at bay. Hadn’t really realised how much park land there was in Dundee but most of the 13.1 miles seemed to be through these little trails through parks…one was particularly nice with a wetlands area and houses overlooking it. There was a long loop back at one point (obviously to get the mileage in) and then a bit of an uphill. I think this was about the 10 mile mark. On the approach to 11 miles, which was an upwards one, in the by then excessive heat, some peeps looked to have run out of gas. It was a lot hotter than I’d expected and promised myself shorts for the next time.
After 11 miles (or round about) it was a nice downhill with highlights being some folks with jelly babies standing in the street (or was this a mirage) and sprinklers directed to hit runners with some cool water. I wondered also whether it was a mirage during the run that I only saw peeps with “FULL DRAM” numbers next to me. At various times, I chastised myself for not checking the route in more detail but resisted the temptation to disclose my silliness by asking anyone. I’d just stop at 13.1 miles on the dot I’d decided….no matter where that was! No one would see me…I could disguise by pretending my lace was out. That’s what I’d do. Then I’d find out where I was and make my way back!
The final road crossing seemed a little haphazard as it was at the bottom of a downhill and runners and cars weren’t sure what to do. I got across ok and then there was a nice bridge and a view of the water. This part of the run was glorious. On one side the Firth of Tay, on the other a wildflower meadow complete with poppies. We crossed a funny bridge at about 12 miles (or maybe a bit after). It seemed fine at first then wobbled gently underfoot – kind of a nice sensation really. A few cyclists seemed awkstruck by the number of runners.
And then it was along a bit of road, a pavement and to the end. The end was lovely.
Take a right for the HALF DRAM, take a left for the FULL DRAM.
I took the right, with relief. The sun was high, it was super hot and it was kinda nice to cross the line! It truly was time for a dram to celebrate my first half marathon!
CONSUMED 4 plastic cups of water, one gel.
BEST VIEW coming along the First of Tay (with the breeze in the face)
TOENAILS LOST- only one – result!
Now Orbit likes to travel…and take me with her….she mentioned Thailand en route and I thought goodness will I make it back on time for work..well she is dynamic right enough…so just trust I guess….
But then I realised what she was talking about. We cycled past the signs to the ferry to Harris, past some houses and then we arrived…and I mean arrived…white sands, sheep with blue tags matching the blue sea, islands in the distance…I knew now what she was talking about..the beach at Berneray had once been used by the Thai Tourist Board for their ad campaigns and I saw why. Truly wonderful!
The Gatliff hostel is also a highlight. A lovely little white washed cottage with an annex. The kitchen has the atmosphere of your gran’s house…warm, the fire on, board games lying about which may or may have all the pieces, half a jigsaw on the table…I grabbed a bunk in the room adjoining the kitchen. Alan had arrived at the same time. I’m not sure what age Alan was but his energy was twice of that most folks half his age! With 6 children and some of those retired I could only guess. He had come with his tent for 3 weeks touring the islands. He loved these islands he said and had come before with his wife cycling and camping all over. We went a walk over to see the point. Alan was faster than me and regaled me with tales of doing mountain marathons with his daughter and trekking across Corsica with his son! A true inspiration indeed!
Skylarks soared above us – why is it impossible to see them??? Are they transparent?
We spent ages in the old cemetry reading the inscriptions and were amazed by the wonderful condition of the gravestones even the old ones.
Tired we went back to the hostel for tea and biscuits. Some others had arrived. A couple – him Scottish, her Italian, I’d met them in Nunton. She’d looked a bit bored and I asked if she was enjoying the trip. She said yes but that there was nothing to do at night. I thought about it then realised she was exactly right and that the fact there was nothing to do at night was what I loved most about a trip like this. The beauty of the scenery and physical tiredness of the day followed by chilling in a wonderful location I (or Orbit) had propelled myself to for the night. I met the guys from Ayr – of the “Eriskay is flat” saga! One of them, Boaby (Bobby but that’s how we say it) had climbed all the munros twice and was on a mission to see all the islands. This trip they’d gone to Mingulay. Chat moved on to Shetland and a Londoner said she had been there and the weather had been awful. Boaby said he’d been there several times and the weather was always awful so I guess that was that!
The Gatliff warden popped along later to collect the fees (£12) and see how we were. Alan remembered her from before and promptly she joined us to partake in some red wine! Like so many folks of the islands, she has more than one job and was dressed in her carer’s outfit to head straight to her next job. The guy at Nunton hostel had a hostel, a croft, a b and b, was a builder….I guess it’s interesting what it takes to survive at what felt like times to be the end of the world!
And with that Orbit and I retired to rest before our next adventure!