Taken on a summer’s evening in the northern fjords of Norway as the sun was dropping in the skies. Being north of the Arctic Circle, it did not drop much lower than in this image, holding the lovely golden tones for a prolonged period. Although this was mid summer (early July), the snow had only just melted 2-3 weeks prior.
I have visited Iceland a few times. This was from my most recent trip there, when I cycled round the island. This was one of the rare days when it did not rain. I was around 300km east of Reykjavik when I took this shot. The wind was with me that day and I covered over 100 miles.
This next shot was a couple of days out of Egilsstaðir, close to Hoffell if I recall correctly. Just a mile or two away from the road where I was cycling, was this the view I was treated to, of a glacier positioned on the edge of Vatnajökull National Park.
Woke up to another beautiful day, Julien treated himself to a bit of a lie in. It was still cold but bright always helps. Broke the tent down. Set off and headed 55km down the hill towards Angelique’s location. The head winds were at it again and even though the cycling was downhill it was only possible to reach 8mph, cycling into the winds is heartbreaking and always a challenge . It was an unrelenting 4 hours. When we met up with Angelique she deduced that Julien needed to lose some kit to make the head winds easier so we had a bit of a turn out and Angelique will be taking 10 kilo’s of stuff and leaving it at the airport on her way out tomorrow.
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Finally, the night before I leave for foreign shores and my mind is awash with so many small details. I think I am missing the virtue of the bigger picture here. Just spoken to my good friend Leslie on Skype. She is currently at home is the US after an operation. Apparently, they are not quite so well equipped in Rwanda. Anyway, I digress. It was great to her from her and it got me to thinking just what an adventure I have stretching out ahead of me. My cycling buddies from last year’s trip, Pete and Mary, were also on the phone tonight, wishing me luck with the tour. I really wish they were joining me.
This weekend was my dear friends Caroline and Duncan’s wedding, in wet and windy Devon. It was the best wedding I have been to in ages. So many friendly faces and a lot of gossip to catch up on. I think Caroline’s mother thinks I am nuts and there I cannot fault her. However, comfort zones are there to be lived both inside and outside of.
Now, time to go to be as I have a very long first day of cycling ahead of me tomorrow. I reckon about 90 miles through central London down to Dover. Apparently, the rain will fall hard so I envisage a tough day in the saddle. Something interesting to sink one’s teeth into.
So far, people have been pretty generous on the old charity donations. I have raised almost £750 on my Just Giving site. Child’s I Foundation, the charity I am raising money for posted a story about me on their blog today.
I think I have decided upon where I am going to journey this summer. Although I love Iceland and would love to circumnavigate the island, my original desire to cycle to Nordkapp is captivating me more. I love the idea of travelling through Europe’s last true wilderness.
Due to the nature of where I intend to go, it will be necessary for me to wild camp on a regular basis. To this end, I have been looking further into what treats may lay ahead for me if I pursue this course. As I delve deeper into researching my route through Scandinavia, I have started to uncover something that I had not contemplated before, dangerous animals. It was actually in conversation with a Swedish friend last night that alerted me to the perils that I might encounter on the road. The list runs from nuisances, such as mosquitoes hordes, which are particularly prevalent in the north during the summer. Although they are most active around dawn and sunset, I will be north of the Arctic Circle for a couple of weeks, truly in the land of the Midnight Sun. So, this means that if I camp along the way, I am likely to be under attack most of the night.
Other insects that may provide me with issues are Gadflies, with painful but mercifully non-poisonous bites. In addition, Sweden is home to large plagues of wasps, so I will need to be careful with any foodstuffs that may attract them. A more serious issue will be ticks, widespread in southern Sweden and northern coastal regions. Ticks can transmit Lyme’s disease and more serious TBE (tick-borne encephalitis) through a bite. I have the choice of either staying inland with the mosquitoes or on the east coast with the ticks. Tough choice…
Sweden does have a venomous snake, the European adder. Fortunately, the snake is not very common, although ubiquitous throughout Sweden except for the north.
Then there are the top two mammals on the bloc; the brown bear and the wolf. This worried me considerably as I will be headed through the areas where both species are most commonly located. I did take solace in the fact that bears in Sweden have killed no more than a handful of people since 1900 and that wolves have not killed a human being since 1821. This information was marred by the accompanying caveat of how to deal with a bear encounter in the woods. Evidently, the done thing is to walk slowly away from it whilst talking loudly. This I could probably muster. The tough bit is what to do in the event of a bear attack; the answer, to play dead, protect your head and make yourself as small as possible. However, once could adopted the opposite approach and start screaming as loud as possible at the creature, jumping and making oneself as large as possible. Always a worry to be presented with such conflicting options.
I just read an article that brown bears mate between May and June. During this period bears are active both at night and during daylight hours. Young males are searching for females at this time and cover long distances in their search, while last year’s cubs are making their first independent forays into the world. I am likely to be on the road towards the end of this period, so I will be vigilant.
To round up then, I will have to be acutely aware of various animals including the brown bear, wolf, moose, wolverine, lynx, the very rare Arctic fox, reindeer and perhaps even the golden eagle. Don’t misunderstand me, I’d love to see all of these animals, just from a safe distance and not whilst trying to sleep in my tent, completely along in the absolute middle of nowhere. Then, I may take issue with such beasties dropping by for a snack, which could ultimately turn out to be me!
Putting all of this jeopardy to one side, one of the truly exciting parts of the expedition will be once I reach Lapland, or Sápmi, on the northern side of the Arctic Circle. Here lies the ancestral home of the Sámi, or Lapps, indigenous people of the region. The Sámi people are among the largest indigenous ethnic groups in Europe. They are renowned for tended their herds of hardy reindeer for millennia. I aim to visit an old Sámi settlement to find out more about their culture and way of life. I may even succumb to the touristy urge to stay in a traditional Sámi tepee. It should all make for some stunning photography.
Cycle ride from John O’Groats to Wick
Total mileage: 18
Terrain: Very fast cycle ride over quite flat terrain
Our last day saw us cover a small distance from John O’Groats to Wick, where I had booked a B&B for us. Pete had tried in vain to book a return rail trip from Wick to London, so we were forced to either catch a bus or cycle it! Fortunately for us, our landlady had been kind enough to accept three bike bags we had ordered via the Blackberry on the way up, once we knew we were not going to get a space on the train.
We arrived quite early in Wick as the terrain had been flat and easy to negotiate, which meant that we cycled the 18 miles at a very healthy space. We hung around in a café for a couple of hours until the tenants leaving our B&B checked out. Mrs McDonald, our landlady, still had to tidy the place up but we were able to leave our bikes and change clothes.
Wick is a pretty nasty town when all is said and done, with very little to do. We wondered around the very small town centre for a few hours until we were able to head back to the B&B. We all chilled for the rest of the day and watched crap TV programmes.
The following day, we had to check out early and wait until 4pm when our bus turned up. Carrying the packed down bicycles to the bus stop, about 1km away was absolutely exhausting. Far easier to cycle the damn things!
Our mammoth return journey included the following legs:
- Wick to Inverness
This was very pleasant, as there were few people on the bus and the weather was pretty awful making us happy that we were on a bus rather than cycling. The landscape was stunning as we tore passed it at a pace were had become unaccustomed to.
- Inverness to Sterling
The journey was very pleasant with more beautiful scenery and not too many people on the bus.
- Sterling to Glasgow
The bus stop in Sterling was like a large public lavatory. Fortunately, we did not have to wait too long for our hour-long connecting bus to Glasgow. By now it was getting dark and the rain continued to fall.
- Glasgow to London
Although we had stated to the bus company prior to purchasing the tickets that we all had bikes, National Express had overbooked the bus and had to call in another company to help with the final leg of our return journey. These cowboys tried to charge us an extra £15 per bike. Considering the entire ticket had cost us £35 each, this did seem more than a little exorbitant. We fobbed the driver and conductor off saying that we needed to withdraw money from cash point and them promptly fain sleep to prevent them from extorting the cash from us. By the time we reached London the following morning, there were so many people buzzing around the bus, we were able to scarper without being forced to pay. We went to the National Express helpdesk at Victoria Bus station to ask them if this was normal practice for them, to which they said no. As a consequence, we complained and told them that she needed to be more prudent choosing extra bus suppliers in the future.
I was extremely happy to see Bryony at the bus stop. She took us all out for breakfast before poor Pete and Mary had to press on with their journey and catch a bus from London down to Weymouth and re-assemble their bikes there, before boarding the ferry back to Guernsey. From subsequent conversations, I can assure you that we were all very happy to be back home with all of its conveniences and comforts.
I cannot recommend this journey enough to anyone interested in cycling or seeing the country. Physically, it does have its challenges but that is not to say that it is not equally blessed with rich and rewarding experiences all along the way. Although I am and have been for quite some time, an ardent cyclist, I have been indoctrinated into the world of long distance cycling. I am determined to find a new challenge in for 2009. Perhaps Pete and Mary will join me, who knows?
In additional to all the images here and on Flickr, I have also uploaded many to my gallery on Alamy.com
Stock photography by Julien Buckley at Alamy
Total mileage: 50
Terrain: Long shallow climbs and downhills with a very pleasant warm, sunny afternoon
We bloody well did it!
After a pretty awful night at the Bettyhill camping ground, with all the local drunks and their kids making one hell of a noise, none of us were that sprightly the following morning. We only had a short distance to cycle today but the terrain was quite arduous and not too exciting.
The morning was cold and so we wrapped up as heavy clouds circled above us. None of us we particularly talkative even though we were were at the zenith of our ride. First stop of the day was in some tiny town for a comfort stop. The cold wind was chilling our moral and we all donned another layer. I had hoped that our final day on the bikes would be more pleasant.
The land began to flatted out as we passed Bighouse. There was an inlet that took us a mile or so inland but overall, nothing particularly taxing. The spledour of the previous days Highland ride was all but gone. The land had fewer features but was very so slightly more urdan, although this is perhaps not the correct way to describe such wilderness.
As we pushed on throgh Raey, the golf course was a welcome expanse of green with the backdrop of the Scottish north coast. The only other point of interest was the bizzare power station we passed. The focal point was a hugh white sphere that looked as though it had been plucked straight from a Star Trek episode.
We stopped briefly in Thurso for some provisions and a couple of bottles of Cava. Rather than push on to Wick, we decided to camp at John O’Groats as this seemed the most fitting end point to our cross country endeavour.
Upon leaving Thurso, the road was occasionally adorned with a sign post denoting the distance to John O’Gorats, as in the photo above. The last twenty miles flew by. All three of us were utterly transfixed on completing the task. We were fortunate enough to have a marked change in the weather, which had us stripped down as the heat rose. Before long, we were hammering along at a healthy 18mph, only moments away from he end.
We eventually rocked up at John O’Groats as it clung to the last remnants of sunshine. All behind us was shrouded in cloud. However, the sun shone on us for the rest of the day whilst we had our photograph taken under the sign post and set up camp in the field next door. We all got pretty hammered on the Cava immediately after calling all our friends and families to inform them that we had made it to the end point successfully. Loads of people congratulated us including a rather large contingent of motorcyclists.
We had a hearty meal in the evening and watched the beautiful sunset over the North Sea. So, what’s our next challenge then guys?
Total mileage: 43
Terrain: Coldest day with lots of hill climbing with sustained periods of rain
A short day and a bit of an anti-climax after the previous day’s cycle. Breakfast was a simple affair in the hostel. The room stank of 4 large, pissed French blokes. Neither Pete nor I made any attempt to be quiet as they had been crashing around the previous night, completed steaming, when they returned to the dorm. Not sure where they went but there were a few bottles of Jack Daniels littered on teh floor of the room.
The temperature had dropped a few degrees and the wind was progressively more severe as the day pressed on. Today marked a change in direction for us. We stopped heading north and started heading east. The road ahead hugged the coastline closely as we navigated around Loch Eriboll, a 16km long sea loch. Apparently, it had been used for centuries as a deep water anchorage as it is safe from the often stormy seas of Cape Wrath and the Pentland Firth. On our round route, we passed some bronze age remains including a wheelhouse in great condition.
On our way back up towards the north coast and Hellam, the hills started to raise more sharply around the water’s edge. As we reached the apex, the relentless winds of the previous day returned to pummel our easterly journey.
This was very much the make up for the rest of the day; stunning scenery, step hills and unceasingly resistant winds. The temperatures continued to dropped as we all wrapped up. By the time we reached Tongue, our spirits were at a low ebb. Perfect timing as it turned out for some lunch. We stopped in the town’s only hotel, which happened to sport a decent restaurant. Three courses of hot food and accompanying beverages later and once again, the cockels of our hearts were warned.
We estimated that to reach John O’Groats would have been a long stretch and that to cut the last day’s cycle down to a mere 10 miles from Thurso to JOG would have been a real anti-climax. Therefore, the best alternative was for us to stop in a town called Bettyhill. The town itself was non-descript. In our ferver to find a decent spot for the evening, we managed to choose the lesser of the two camping sights. As you can tell from the image above, this was not the most solubrious of campsites. Indeed, I think on reflection, it was perhaps the most grim campsite we stayed at, a most fitting last night!
Not everything about Bettyhill was a disaster. Once we were able to navigate our way successfully to the local beach, a trial in itself, we were treated to a glorious sunset. The skies were peppered with a few clouds but we all remained optimistic that our final day would be one blessed with sunshine. I think Pete and Mary were really lucky to have one another on this trip. Sharing an adventre like this, no matter how trying or run of the mill, is something that shared will be a momeory for life. I was definitely happy that Pete and Mary were on teh trip. It really reminded me of the great times we had experienced together when we met on the Inca Trail, en route to Machu Picchu or diving in the Caribbean off the north coast of Colombia.
Total mileage: 45
Terrain: Very tough day with sustained hill climbing and strong headwinds
Today was awesome in so many ways. Firstly, the weather was magnificent, with wall to wall sunshine. Considering it was the north of Scotland, the temperature was comfortably in the twenties, probably the warmest day we had whilst cycling in Scotland. Then there was the landscape, which was superb. Best of all, there was very little traffic on the road, so it meant conditions were perfect for cyclists.
Very close to Inchnadamph on the shores of Loch Assynt is Ardvreck Castle and some other ruins. We stopped here whilst I ran off to grab from shots. I was so caught up in the moment that I forgot the time. Before long, the Mary had decided to head off and take the day at her own pace as I was taking so long. This opened up the day to a different type of cycling. Instead of working in a pack as we had done for most of the journey, we were working as separate units. Pete hung back to tell me that Mary had gone off ahead, so we cycled in tandem initially.
The hills started getting gradually more serious, especially as we turned right up the A894. The climb was intense in the heat. In the absence of Mary, we did the typical boy approach to any challenge and started to try and cycle up the hills at full speed. This was a mistake as I ended up consuming a lot of my water on the 2 mile climb, which was not great as I and only done about 8 miles so far.
After a period of climbing, we made it to the top of the first climb. In front of us was one of the finest roads I have ever seen. It snaked down and around the hill side, way off into the distance. Mountains abutted the road, with an occasional loch. The weather was spot on making this perhaps the most perfect piece of cycling on the whole trip.
As there was so much beautiful scenery for me to photograph, I kept stopping to take shots. Pete eventually headed off ahead as I was taking my time. This gave me the opportunity to thrown on some tunes as there was little traffic to fear.
The cycling was amazing, truly epic. Occasionally, I had to negotiate the road with coaches or motor homes heading in the opposite direction. Unfortunately, the narrow roads meant that passing was perilous, especially when the drivers in the most part tended to continue driving along the centre of the road. On one occasion, I had to swerve off the road to avoid being hit by a bus, hurtling along without any regard.
The only other fly in the ointment was the wind. The climbs were steep and definitely the toughest of the trip but at least the hill off shelter from the wind. Most cyclists will admit one of the benefits of a hill is the decent on the other side. I felt slightly robbed of this perk by the fact that the relentless southerly wind. The wind was fierce and depleted any momentum I managed to gather whilst climbing the hills. So, in effect, one had to cycle just as hard to decent as one did ascending.
We all hooked up just before lunch in Scourie. Shovelling down large mouthfuls of energy foods, we all felt better as the tired muscles were replenished with rest. Again, we separated on the way north but by the Kyle of Durness, we reformed and cycled the remaining 5 miles. Although today was one of the shortest days of the ride, it was perhaps one of the most challenging. Durness is a small outpost of a town, at the North West end of Scotland. The guesthouse was empty when we arrived but the co-habitants were all congenial. The small local shop had some fresh vegetables Pete used to cook with, always a pleasure after a hard day in the saddle. The day would have been perfect had it not been for four smelly, half-pissed, snoring Frenchmen…