Day 9 – Ayr to Dumfries

Today’s distance 66.9 miles, ascent 3269ft; total 541.2 miles, 25744ft

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Watch a video of our route.

As planned, Rowland left us today as he is going home to celebrate his daughter’s 30th birthday. He rejoins us in Bristol.

We awoke to a windy morning which, fortunately, was blowing from the north west, so giving us a push towards Dumfries.

After a hearty breakfast we bade farewell to Rowland and then left Ayr ourselves. We had done a hasty bit of replanning when we realised our route was due to take us along the busy A77 dual carriageway. Instead we headed south on a quiet but hilly B road towards Maybole.

We then headed east for the first of our climbs today. Starting from Straiton we climbed to about 900ft with some pretty sharp gradients, then across the high moors and a long descent into Dalmellington. A quick coffee, cake (and a burger for Joe!) in a truck stop, and then our 2nd climb of the day. 

This was a long climb along the A716, to over 1000ft but with a tailwind, a gentle gradient and a good road surface and not much traffic. Another long descent took us into the small village of Carsphain. This small village had a shop cum cafe where we had an excellent lunch – freshly made soup, toasties, cakes, drinks.

After lunch we tackled the final long climb of the day, this time along a quiet B road through forests and high moors, again reaching an altitude of over 1000ft. A long descent took us to the village of Moniaive, where we saw a traffic jam caused by a delivery lorry and a mobile library! It was then a relatively flat route of 18 miles to our B&B in Locharbriggs, near Dumfries.

On arriving at the B&B, nobody answered the door, so we phoned. The landlord was on the school run, but told us how to let ourselves in! A wonderful shower and fantastic views over the sunny valley put us in a great frame of mind. The landlord then drive us to a local Italian restaurant, where we had a great 3 course dinner, a couple of bottles of red wine and digestifs! A great end to a good days’ cycling.

Dawn over Ayr bay (courtesy of Rowland)
Goodbye Rowland
The Eater of Ken, on the road to Moniaive
Mobile library, causing traffic jam in Moniaive
View from our room in Locharbriggs

Day 8 -Lochranza to Ayr

Distance today 62.9 miles, ascent 2499ft; total 474.3 miles, 22475ft

This includes the 12 miles Mike and Derek cycled to recover joes phone!

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Watch a vide of the route.

A surprise awaited us when we awoke this morning. After heavy rain all evening and night, it was a bright morning.
After a good continental breakfast, courtesy of the SYHA, we divided into two groups. Joe and Rowland took the direct route to the Brodick ferry terminal via the East coast road.

Meanwhile, Derek, Terry and Mike headed West towards Machrie to do the Arran North Loop, which includes the infamous String Road. This was a wonderful route following the coast in the lovely sunshine. At Dougarie, we stopped at the Lodge to visit a distant relative of Mikes, who have lived on Arran for 45 years (see their website at https://www.dougarieestate.co.uk/). Whilst there, we saw a red squirrel in the garden. 

After coffee and waiting for a shower to pass, we headed across the island to Brodick via the String Road – a long slow climb to 750ft, followed by a hair-raising descent into Brodick, where Mike reached 45mph!

We all met up again at the ferry terminal and boarded the Isle of Arran ferry to Ardrossan, and crossed in the beautiful sunshine.

The afternoon brought a different experience to the ride. Not long after leaving Ardrossan, Joe was knocked off his bike by another cyclist who was trying to overtake on a corner with a very slippery surface. After picking himself up, Joe was okay, but his bike was not. His rear wheel had been buckled. Terry effected a temporary repair, and we found a bicycle shop about 5 miles away. We shared Joes panniers amongst us and cycled slowly to the shop. 

On reaching the shop Joe realised he had lost his phone, so Mike and Derek returned to the scene of the accident, while the bike was being repaired. Fortunately the phone was found.

Meanwhile, after advice from Duncan, the bike shop owner, Joe decided it was best to have the rear wheel replaced. The bike was repaired, given a quick service and we were off again. A very big thumbs up to Duncan at Irvine Cycles for his excellent service.

The final 17 miles to our overnight stop in Ayr were along NCN 7. This was a mixture of coast paths and promenades, paths through tired port towns, expensive golf courses (Royal Troon, being one), Prestwick airport and housing estates. Not the most beautiful of routes, but mostly traffic free.

Our evening entertainment was hosted by Weatherspoons, in a converted Free Church – The Old Kirk. Cheap beer and cheap food was just the ticket tonight!

Lochranza castle in the morning sunshine
Dougarie Lodge
Mike with relatives Stephen and Letitia Gibbs
View of Goat Fell from Brodick
Outside Irvine Cycles after the repairs

Day 7 – Kilmartin to Lochranza

Distance today 41.5 miles, ascent 2292ft; total 411.6 miles, 20076ft.

(Note the route below is longer, but that includes the ferry journey!)

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Watch a video of the route

Today was the closest we have to a rest day – we had planned only 37 miles.

It was a lovely sunny morning as we had a leisurely breakfast overlooking the lovely Glen. Chatting with our hosts, we were told that this area was where the Scots originated and there were hundreds of Neolithic monuments close by.

As we were leaving, a light shower started, so we donned our waterproof coats. A few yard along the road, we joined a very rough track that took us on to NCN 78. Almost immediately we came across a cairn, which we explored. The rain had stopped and the sun came out, so we removed our waterproofs. A few hundred yards and we explored a 2nd cairn and shortly afterwards a circle of standing stones. The rain started again, so waterproofs were donned again!

A few miles further on, we met the picturesque Crinan canal, which was built in the mid-1800s as a shortcut for ships heading to Glasgow, instead of travelling around the Mull of Kintyre. 9 miles long and having 15 locks it saved 100+ miles. A lovely cinder track took us to the village of Crinan, where the canal starts. We tried to find the harbour, but a long descent (and thus a reciprocal ascent) and some heavy rain, put us off, so instead, followed the canal along its entire length to Lochgilphead.

We had to follow the main A83 from Lochgilphead to Tarbert, which was busy at times with a few drivers who passed too close. This was not helped by the frequent showers and, towards Tarbert, the sharper and steeper climbs.

In Tarbert, we had a nice lunch in a gallery, cum shop, cum cafe. We had to leave by 1.30 as the church organise regular coffee and cake for the local ‘little old ladies’. Terry offered our services as little old men…

After lunch we continued on the A83 with a few more sharp climbs before turning off at Kennacraig towards our ferry to Arran at Claonig. This brought our biggest hill of the day, with a 14% gradient at the bottom. We climbed about 650ft over about 2 miles.

A 30 min ferry journey brought us to Lochranza on the Isle of Arran. Our YHA did not open until 5pm, so three of us quickly cycled to the local distillery and just got on to the final tour of the day. The distillery was only started in 1995 and was started as Arran was the only main Scottish island without one. It was an interesting tour with a couple of tastings along the way.

Our evening meal involved a short Walt in the rain to the local inn/hotel. The bar had the biggest selection of whisky we have ever seen – over 500 different ones, according to the barman. The most expensive was £192 for a measure!

Exploring the inside of a cairn
Mike emerging from a cairn
Along the Crinan Canal
Harbour front at Tarbert
Chased by the paparazzi while waiting for ferry at Claonig
Richard, the guide, explaining how to turn barley and water into Whisky
Some of the 500 whiskies at the Lochranza Hotel
A deer from our room in the youth hostel






Day 6 – Onich to Kilmartin

Distance today 67.2 miles, ascent 4323ft; total 365.8 miles, 17784ft

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Watch a movie of the route

Today was going to be a ‘big day’ with the 2nd most climbing of the whole route, as well as being one of the longer distances.

We were worried by the forecast last night, and the heavy rain overnight, but the morning looked much more promising. 

As it turned out, the weather gods smiled on us, with no rain, some sunshine and a northerly wind to help us along.

After a light breakfast in the bunkhouse we followed NCN78 route south to Oban. The route is mostly dedicated cycle route following the main road and old railway lines, keeping close to the shores of the Lochs – Leven, Linnhe, Etive, Creran. A beautiful route and excellent cycle path, that is mostly flat.

An early break was had at he Creagan Inn on Loch Creran, where we had coffee and scones with a lovely view across the Loch.

We crossed the bridge at Connel and continued on the NCN78 ‘slightly hilly’ route to avoid the busy A82 – which had some very sharp climbs! After a long, steep descent into Oban, we decided to it was time for lunch. We eventually found a lovely cafe in the main ferry terminal – not where you’d expect to find one. As we arrived one of the CalMac ferries was docking – they are quite large ships! A few of the guys had Cullen Skink, a thick fish chowder. The staff were very friendly and we spent some talking to one of the chefs who is thinking of cycling coast to coast – of Canada!

After lunch brought the hills. A good climb out of Oban showed what was to come. Following the main A816 took us alternately along lochsides, forests and heathland before the final big climb south of Barravulin. As soon as you turn the corner, you see the sign warning of a 12% gradient. We climbed over 500ft in about a mile, with an average of about 10%, with some much steeper sections along the way!

A lovely descent took us into a green valley and to The Old Manse in Kilmartin, our B&B stop for the night.

Dinner was had at the Kilmartin Hotel, a few hundred yards from the B&B. Opposite the pub was an old church with 12th to 17th Century standing stones in the graveyard and a 9th century cross in the church.

So, an excellent day – good weather and great cycling, with a few hills to test the legs!

Leaving the Bunkhouse, ready for a wet day!
Across the Loch near Ballaculish
Coffee and scones at Creagan Inn
Cullen Skink in Oban
Across the harbour at Oban
The church in Kilmartin

Day 5 – Invergarry to Onich

Distance today 58 miles, 2120ft; total 298.6 miles, 13462ft

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Watch a movie of the route

The forecast for today was for it to be very wet, and so it proved to be! But let’s start with breakfast.

Our hosts Helen and Gregor provided an excellent breakfast with home-made muesli, fresh baked bread, banana cake and great coffee (Gregor is a coffee aficionado, and proud of his coffee machine!).

We headed off into light rain, along the A82 towards Spean Bridge, sharing it with some tourist traffic that, at times, got close to us. As we cycled along the shores of Loch Lochy, the rain got heavier as the climbs got longer.

We visited the Commando Memorial just before Spean Bridge and then turned towards the Caledonian Canal with a lovely fast descent. At the canal, the swing bridge was closed to let through a large pleasure ship. We climbed a short hill and then joined a lovely minor road above the canal, which was also being used by the Rat Racers (from yesterday), who were mostly mud spattered on their mountain bikes.

As we neared Fort William, the rain intensity increased. In need of sustenance, we popped into a pub, but were redirected to JJ’s cafe further along the road, where we got coffe and cakes, and watched the rain get even heavier!

After the break we followed Loch Eil towards Malaig, before turning at the end of the Loch towards Ardgour, experiencing the more of the wet stuff. Along the way, we met a Swiss couple who were cycling north, with the guy very very heavily laden (50kgs, apparently), but the girl had no luggage!

We ended the days ride, very wet and bedraggled, at the Ardgour Inn, where we had drinks, soup and sandwiches before catching the ferry to Corran and our bunkhouse for the night. Our hosts Helena and Alan generously donated £10 to our charities.

Our meal tonight turned into a wet adventure as we tried to find the pub in -guess what – heavy rain. We did eventually find the pub, up a muddy track,  and had a decent meal.

Coffee for breakfast
Alongside Loch Lochy
 

Commando memorial at Spean Bridge
Sheltering from the heavy rain at the end of Loch Eil
On the ferry to Corran
Coffee and cake at JJ’s

Day 4 – Alness to Invergarry

Distance today 68 miles, ascent 3753 ft; total 240.6 miles, 11341ft

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Derek headed off early today, to get to Inverness to buy a new phone (see day 1). Meanwhile Mike took a different route to visit a distant cousin near Beauly, leaving Terry, Joe and Rowland to head to Inverness to meet Derek. They finally met at the Velocity cyclist cafe.

After lunch all 4 set off, but quickly Derek and Terry took a different route down to Fort Augustus, leaving Rowland and Joe to follow the Loch route. There will be hours of debate as to whose route was the most difficult, but we all had to climb to the summit at 1290ft! The decent into Fort Augustus produced some hair raising speeds of around 40mph! There is a coast to coast race happening this weekend, so we passed many mountain bikers on the mountainous roads (who also need to run and kayak the 105miles of the route).

A nice gentle ride along the Caledonian Canal and we met up with Mike, before heading to the Saddleback hostel for the night. A quick shower and then a short walk to the Invergarry Hotel for a well deserved (excellent) meal.

Dinner in Invergarry
From the bridge over the Garry

Day 3 – Altnaharra to Alness

Distance today 62 miles, 2210ft; total 172.6 miles, 7588ft

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After a great breakfast, we went to our bike, surrounded by midges. It started to drizzle as we headed up the long 7 mile climb towards the Crask Inn, either he rain getting heavier.

At the Inn we had coffe and freshly baked scones and a good chat with the landlord Douglas and his dog, Brandy. The Inn was recently gifted to the Episcopal Church and Douglas is a ‘reserve preacher’. They plan to hold services in the pub!

The rain continued as we took the long, 20 mile, downhill ride into Lairg, passing lots of cyclist heading the other way – they were supported by vans.

After Laurg, we went on to the Falls of Shin, a well know location to see salmon leaping up the falls, but we did not see it.

On to lunch in Bonar Bridge, which seems to have closed early in a Friday, so we had lunch in a creperie attached to a crèche and play barn that had been opened less than a month.

After lunch, Mike pushed up the average speed as he could smell the distilleries in Tain, 20 miles away! We stopped at the Balblair distillery but had missed the last tour, so had to be content with a free tasting.

A brief trip down th A9 took us to Tain and then a lovely ridge-top ride took us the final 10 miles to Alness.

Bedraggled cyclists outside the Crask Inn
The Camjoglers at the Falls of Shin
Balblair distillery

Day 2 – Thurso to Altnaharra

Distance today 54.8 miles, ascent 2953ft; total 110.6 miles, 5387ft.

Day 2 dawns with a forecast of heavy rain. So we all donned the wet weather gear

Leaving Thurso

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Watch a video of the ride
A wet, windy and longish climb out of Thurso was a portent of what was to come.

We headed west up and down long hills, in the heavy rain, past Dounreay nuclear power station. At Melvich the pub opened early to serve us wet and cold cyclists, hot coffees and cakes. 

On to the Bettyhill cafe for hot soup lunch, where the rain finally eased off. We then turned inland, heading south,

 following the River Naver. A very pretty valley (despite the rain) with a great salmon fishing river – a few wealthy “rods” were out with their minders, apparently paying £1000 a day, and they have to return the fish! The gillies gave us a wide berth when passing on the narrow road, but the clients did not, leading to a heated exchange when passing them shortly after…

As the road turned west the river became the Loch Naver for our last 10 miles to Altnaharra (which holds the record for coldest settlement in Britain). The sun broke through briefly as we arrived to a very welcoming B&B who were very used to hosting JOGLE cyclists.

Our hosts Mandy and Lyndsey produced a lovely evening meal (using venison shot by Lyndsey). They were proud of the Ultra fast broadband that had just been installed in the village, but less so of the very expensive  water treatment plant (£2m for 17 residents!),

The rain! We are st the blue blob in the middle!

Day 1 – Thurso, John O’Groats, Thurso

Distance today 55.8 miles ascent 2425ft; Total 55.8 miles, 2425ft

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Watch a movie of the route
Finally, after months of planning, training and anticipation, we have reached the start of our journey!

We awoke to an overcast but dry morning with a forecast of showers this afternoon.

After good Scottish(kippers) and English breakfast we headed off at 9. A short climb and 5 old men looked over the Old Man of Hoy.

It was not Derek’s day as after 30 mins his phone fell off and smashed. Another 30 minutes and a pee stop resulted in two wet feet from the (peat) bog! 

We reached John O’Groats without further incident and spent some time with cameras and chatting to friendly fellow tourists.

After coffe and cake we headed off to Duncansby Head for great views north of the Orkneys and some stacks to the south.

We then started heading West into the wind, passing a tidal power station (apparently the North Sea and Atlantic meet here with huge tidal flows), and Castle Mey (where the Queen Mum used to live, now a visitor attraction) before heading to Dunnet Head, the most Northerly point, for more views and a battering by the wind!

On the way back we visited Tesco to see if Derek could get a new phone – no luck. Back to the hotel and Derek found a repair shop next door who were very helpful and replaced the screen.

The evening was spent in a lovely restaurant on the Front in Thurso.

Towards the Orkneys
The camjoglers at John O’Groats

Grand Depart pt 2

We are now in 2 parties heading for Thurso. The advance party of Mike  Rowland and Joe had an overnight stay in Inverness YHA, but Terry and Derek were trying to get from Cambridge to Thurso in one day.

Catching the 8am train to Peterborough, and then on to Edinburgh, Derek was worried about the 14 min connection for the Inverness train, but by some miracle, all trains were on time. The next train took us on a beautiful route through the Cairngorms with the sun shining. A quick bite in Inverness and then followed a tortuous journey to Thurso with 22 stops and taking almost 4 hours. Beautiful evening shows the scenery off to perfection, before darkness descended.

Queensferry crossing
Near Dingwall
Leaving Inverness

The advance party started the day with a full “English” cooked breakfast surround by German schoolgirls with sheep, clouds and rain sweatshirts at the SYHA. On to Velocity cycling cafe and workshop to pump up the suspension and coffees, before catching the Thurso train. A couple of women of a certain age (more than ours) regaled us the their cycling experiences, including crossing America, as they headed to the Orkneys with their bikes. 22 stations later and “Welcome to Thurso”! Unloaded at the hotel, we set off to explore, heading to the new harbour as the rain swept in and the large ferry was loading for Stromness. 

As the afternoon wore on the sun came out for a beautiful calm evening – the weather was very nice and even the locals say we are lucky. Exploring Thurso sea front, looking across to clear views Orkney a great fish restaurant on the front was found to prepare us for our weeks ahead.

 

Fish dinner on Thurso seafront with Orkney islands in the background
Preparing lobster pot, Scrabster harbour
Welcome to Thurso
Velocity in Thurso