Having had a succession of great weather days, the Scottish summer finally set in on my third day in the Isle of Harris and Lewis. I was up well before 4am and had been walking around the beach looking for a good spot to shoot from, without disturbing the sand. This shot was taken at just after 5am, just as I was about to give in. The rain had been gradually falling since dawn broke and I was sure that there would not be a decent image to capture under such circumstance. I am glad I persevered. The light in this picture is quite eerie but I like it.
Clouds rolled in at the last minute to obscure the setting sun over the tiny village of Ardroil, on the Isle of Lewis. I had this huge expanse of sand all to myself with the exception of the occasional dog walker. I had decided to camp a few miles away in a place called Kneep, to capture the 4am sunrise the following morning, which turned out to be an error for two reasons. Firstly, the Kneep campsite was pretty awful, especially in comparison to the wild camping at Ardroil. Secondly, the rain started to fall after the sun dropped and the next day was a wash out.
Last week saw story weather striking the south coast of the UK. I was in Devon and took the opportunity to travel to Dawlish Walsh. The sun was not hidden behind opalescent clouds but the water was being violently tossed around by the gale force winds. The groynes in this picture are at the top of the beach and seldom get wet. On this day, they were over run with wave upon wave.
West Witterings – Shot 2
Following on from my last entry, here is another shot from the sequence I shot in West Sussex, at West Witterings beach in December 2015. This shot was taken using a Lee Filter Big Stopper about 10 minutes after the previous shot. You can see the rain falling in the distance, beneath the cloud. Quite a surreal scene.
West Witterings – Shot 3
Shortly afterwards, the sun climbed high enough in the sky and started to light the clouds above the main bank. I had to wait another half an hour until the sun had completely cleared the main bank of cloud in the scene and that created a completely new view of Witterings. Truly a stunning morning.
West Witterings – Shot 1
Before leaving the UK for Christmas with my family in Singapore, I headed down to West Witterings, one of my favourite childhood beaches. The morning was cold, wind lashed and stormy. All of which made for fantastic clouds and changes in light.
The image for today’s shot of the day is one of a series of five shots I took that morning, that I will publish over the next few entries. This was the moment the overhead storm relented momentarily, giving the sun a brief reprieve to broke through the cloud and washed the beach in golden light.
Warning, if you head to Witterings, remember to take £1 coin or change with you as you have to pay to drive into the car park behind the beach. Otherwise, it is a long walk.
Today is the first day that I feel tired after a ride. Had a prevailing wind so made the most of it!
Starting off from Kirkjubaejarklaustur. The pizza was rough and was only edible because I was hungry. Unfortunately I didn’t really get any sleep last night. A couple of hardcore Russian bike nuts rocked up at midnight and decided to shout at each other all night. I always camp near a bench so that I can tie my bike up and camp close by but unfortunately the bikers decided to sit on said bench and chat loudly all night before crashing out and snoring their heads off. Not fun, they revved off at about 5am and I dozed until 7. Went to local supermarket, had a decent breakfast with lovely patisserie. Cloud was grey so thought I had better get going before the rain comes. Today I had planned to go through Vik and stop there for lunch and then stay in Skogar. So I started off cycling through a lava field, the road appears to cut through where the lava had stopped but so it ends up looking like the moon but with moss on it.
The day was pretty flat with a very decent wind, I was cruising at 14/15 mph. Only 70 km to lunch so was rocketing along. But then it started raining, heavy, light, heavy. I was soaked to the skin knowing that I would be soaked for the rest of the day. I am literally getting webbed feet as my feet are wet all day and every day.
Started on my way, passed on old guy on a Recumbent cycle which is a kind of half seated, half laying down bike. Rode along with its rider, a Danish guy and chatted about his time in the armed forces. Then I got going faster again and was passing other cyclists going straight into the wind knowing exactly what they were going through. Rocked up at Vik at about 1PM so it had taken 3 hours to do 70km/45miles. I would normally expect 12mph so very fast and felt like I was really whipping along. Unfortunately the wet had made me feel cold, very cold so I needed hot food. Ordered big hot meal and cups of tea. I decided to have a nice leisurely lunch and take my time but it began to rain really hard. Just as I started leaving the guy on the Recumbent turned up and said that it was a bad day to have a leather saddle. I had learned that it was a bad choice for Iceland as the wet makes it all misshapen and it never dries out fully.
On my way out of Vik I needed to go out on a hill into small mountain range. It was a 10% ascent, cars struggling, so I cranked it down to 1st gear but on the way down it was a different story and I hit my PB 42 mph (!) One and a half hours later, I rocked up at Skogar, the lady there said that there was a severe weather warning for tonight so all of the rooms were full. She told me where there were other places 3 – 6kms down the road. So I cycled 3kms more but it was full, 6kms full, 20kms full. In the end I thought “stuff it, I am going to head down to the next town” which is Hvolsvollur.
My average speed today was 14mph so I was very tired and decided to treat myself to a hotel. A local recommended a hotel but it was £110 room so that was too much of a treat for a lone cyclist! I have now found a small place with a tiny room in a lovely B and B . They too were full but kindly cleaned out a storage room for me! It is full of Israelis on a birthday trip and I can hear them singing and celebrating downstairs which is nice. I have just had my shower and am now going to walk about half a km back to the centre to get some food. I therefore need to put my dry feet back into wet shoes. The good news is that there are now only 100km to Reykjavik so it looks like I am going to finish a day early and spend time with Dave doing touristy stuff on Thursday!
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We woke up to thick cloud but there was no wind or rain. Planned to do 130km. When we got on the bike Dave began to suffer from the illness that had struck him on his way out here. It struck him quite early in the day and as it really kicked in he could hardly move. We attempted to do 35km’s before breakfast but Dave couldn’t make it so we stopped and set up for a hot drink. Cycled a little bit further. Julien then got his second puncture which was very annoying as he only had two inner tubes but it was caused due to the poor gravel road surfaces. We now have no inner tubes left, so fingers crossed.
By the afternoon Julien was getting really cold. Dave was very ill. Dave wanted to thumb a ride as he could go no further. Julien decided to go on to find a hostel. There was nothing, so he cycled on and on and on. 40 clicks down the road found a town called Litlahof.
A landlady said she had a house with rooms. Julien took the room at about 4pm and waited for Dave. He was in a bad way so arrived at 8 PM. When he got to the hostel we had a chat and decided that Dave should rest up and either meet up with Julien at the end of each day or head to Reykjavik. Four days to go. About 110km solo planned per day.
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Total mileage: 78
Terrain: Flat on mainland but steep end of day climb on Arran with heavy rain
Another long day in the saddle after the previous day. However, we had a glorious view in the morning at the YHA hostel. The guys there were all really friendly and sent us off with a hot cup of tea and toast.
The weather was pretty foul again but not the same level of rainfall as the previous day. We cycled for a few miles on the small B7000 the hostel was sited off, until we came to the A713 main road to Ayr at Carpshaim. This road was fantastic as there was a long downhill through some incredible countryside. I think in all, we must have had the slope in our favour for about 4 miles.
We stopped off at a superstore in Ayr to stock up after the previous night’s food shortages. None of us wanted to be stuck in that position again in a hurry. Ayr is a very industrialised town and not particularly pleasant. Although the cycle route was well marked, the parts that took us through the urban areas, up through Prestwick and Troon, were particularly forgettable.
Fortunately, the route through the forests close to Kilwinning and Stevenston were really pretty and well maintained. We hardly saw another soul. The well kept cycle route made the ever worsening weather more bearable. Indeed, with 5 miles to Androssan where we intended to catch a ferry to Arran, the skies opened.
By the time we made it to Androssan, we were all completely soaked and the level of motivation was dropping almost as fast as our body temperatures. We timed the ferry perfectly, arriving with just enough time to buy our tickets and board the ferry. As you can see from the first picture, our bikes were fastened with a single bungee to the side of the boat. This, however, was sufficient as the crossing was relatively calm.
Arran looked incredible at first sight. The heavy, opalescent skies looming threateningly overhead as the ferry drew into the harbour. It was getting cold and our kit had not dried on the brief crossing. Mary was feeling the worst, suffering from knee problems. The harbour town of Brodlick was sufficiently congenial but very small. We soon pushed past the town limits as we headed northwards, towards the other ferry port town on the island of Lochranza.
Our route clung to the coastline, affording us the opportunity to see a sea lion as we rode along. The absence of traffic was also noted, something that made the final 16 mile push all the more bearable in the rain storm. The second leg of the Arran ride took us inland, into the mountains. The drama of the landscape was incredible, a real highlight of the trip as we forced the bikes up an ever steeper climb. The lashing rain only seemed to heighten the moment, making the scenery foreboding and menacing. It truly felt as though we were adventurers in parts unknown.
The hostel in Lochranza was great but considering that we had hardly passed a soul on the roads, strangely busy!
Total mileage: 88
Terrain: Hills – Very challenging and long day
We had not intended to make today such a long day but things conspired against us and we ended up cycling for 13 hours again. We did pass a big landmark today, as the image shows below, we made it to Scotland. I also set a new top speed record for the trip, beating Pete by hitting 45.5mph – bloody scary on a fully loaded bike!
Hasket Newmarket was lovely and the cycle ride up to Dalston for breakfast was very pleasant. We had cereal and fruit for a change, leaving the full English aside. From Dalston, we went via Carlisle, a super- grim town after the beauty of the Lakes. Things got a little tricky thereafter, as we cycled on B roads that run parallel to the M6 motorway. Our plans came undone when the road ran out, with only the motorway as an option. There was a lot of construction going on, so we decided to cycle through the road works, along the M6. Things went well until we were stopped by the Foreman. He gave us an earful about the safety aspect and that we should go back and around (a 12 mile detour). He fortunately relented and allowed us through, over the border and into Scotland.
As soon as we crossed the border, the weather turned foul and started to drizzle. We had to join the A75, a dual carriageway from Gretna to Dumfries. Fortunately, Mary had an alternative plan and we hopped onto a minor road, which was far more pleasant. We were about 5 miles outside Dumfries when the skies opened and we were all completely soaked. As we rolled into Dumfries, we were unsure whether to press on or stop and dry off.
Our decision was made for us by the fact that there was nowhere safe for us to leave the bikes, so we bought some food and headed to the tourist office. Here, we bought a map of Scotland and talked to the guys there about where we should head to. They recommended a place called St Johns.
Unfortunately, this meant getting back on the dual carriageway and cycling in the rain. All of us were cold, tired and fed up of the busy roads. All of this changed once we got off the A roads. We were fortunate enough to cycle a wet but gorgeous road, another top 5 road for the trip for me.
The biggest blow of the day came when we got to St Johns. All of the hostels, hotels and B&Bs were booked out, including some rancid Scottish woman who lied through her teeth saying one moment that she had room and suddenly changing her mind the next. What really galled us was that she said there was a YHA hostel 10 miles up the road, in the middle of nowhere. We were cold, tired and hungry and really not in the mood for this crap.
Our early impressions of Scotland were somewhat saved from complete damnation when we eventually arrived at the hostel. We were greeted by some really friendly people, given great rooms with incredible views and then food by the other people present. Overall, a very long day indeed that ended really rather well.