Monday August 19th : Newtonmore – Pitlochry (67,5 km)
When I woke up around 7 o’clock I immediately noticed that is was raining again. I put on my rain trousers, but the enthousiasm to jump on my bike dropped to an all-time low. Moreover, I expected the trajectory to be boring because it ran close to the very busy A9. In the end, both the weather and the trajectory were much better than expected and I even had a very agreeable ride through quite impressive landschapes.
Until kilometre 30, the road went slightly uphill. When I paused to take a photo with my bicycle as model, a van with six Chinese stopped, they all jumped out and before I could take my picture, they all sat before my lens taking pictures of the landscape and of themselves. When they were done, they jumped back into their van and peace and quiet returned.
The roadsign warning that during the ascent to Drumochter Pass (457 m) there would be no food nor shelter for 30 km was exaggerated: There was a B&B and also some sort of railway cottage. I do not think the inhabitants would leave a cyclist in distress to his/her own devices. And the A9 was nearby, it would always be possible to hitchhike. Moreover, the ascent was very mild. If it was not for the brisk headwind, I would hardly have noticed that I was cycling uphill. I have had more difficult sections during my journey.
Following the pass, it went downhill for a very long time and I hardly had to peddle, apart from two steep climbs about 7 km before Pitlochry. Softly pedalling until my destination was a little bit too much to expect…
The Pitlochry region in county Perthshire seems to be a very wealthy region where many very rich Scotts and Englishmen are living.
First, I passed a large sales facility of the luxurious ‘The House of Bruar‘ department store, which sells the most exclusive Scottish and Irish brands.
Not only for people, I saw dog beds in hand-woven Harris tweed costing 200 pounds for a mid-size dog, as well as a Barbour clothing line for dogs. There seem to be many people who do not now what to do with all their money… And I am doing all this cycling for comparatively small donations for Cipriano…
Then I passed Blair Castle with a huge steeplechase track for horses. And a golf course. And huge country houses with park gardens and vast meadows. The people who live(d) here are/were no poor crofters…
Tuesday August 20th : Pitlochry – Perth (47 km)
Today I experienced the opposite scenario of yesterday: the day was forecast to be nice and sunny, but in the afternoon the sky turned very dark and it started raining cats and dogs. Fortunately there was a visitors’ centre where I could hide till the rain stopped, killing my time looking at ‘Made in PRC’ gadgets.
The trajectory was less attractive than yesterday, except for the heritage village of Dunkeld, with a cathedral dating from 1260. Before this cathedral was built, there was, since the 6th century, a Celtic-Christian monastery and guess whom I met? My Irish 6th century travel companion Saint Columba. His remains are said to have been kept here until the Scottish Reformation, and the Church in Dunkeld became a major place of pilgrimage. Subsequently, Columba’s relic was brought back to Ireland.
In 1689 a war between Jacobites and Orangists was fought out in Dunkeld and all but three houses were burnt down.
Tomorrow I have to go direction Edinburg, also via quite busy roads. Therefore I am considering avoiding the greater Edingburg region and taking a train to Dunbar, where I can rejoin the NC1 North Sea cycling route.
Wednesday August 21st
Good news: I did not have to pay for my bicycle nor paniers on the ScotRail train. En there are lifts to all platforms. Here one can travel easily with a bike on public transportation.
As far as the modal shift is concerned, Scotland is performing far better than Belgium, where one has to pay for a bike and where there is no room on trains to place your bike. Moreover, in Antwerp/Berchem railway station, you have to carry your bike and paniers upstairs to the platform.
This is the second time that I take a train with a fully packed bike. The first time was in Berchem. What a difference!
Perth/Dunbar-Thorntonloch (15 km)
Not much to write about today. This afternoon in Perth I took the train to Dunbar, with one change of train in Edinburgh, and then I cycled 10 km to a campsite in Thorntonloch, located in the backyard of a nuclear power station. Therefore the sea water may be a bit warmer here….
Dunbar is the village where John Muir was born, a well known Scottish conservationist and geologist. I was sorry that his birth house was closed, I would have liked to visit it.
As far as the weather is concerned here in the Lowlands: much wind and showers. More of the same, haha, another night in a windy shaking tent.
The pictures pop up during the cycle trajectory. I did not record the train ride, the train did not traverse the water.
Tornes Nuclear Power Plant
Thursday August 22nd : Thorntonloch – Berwick-upon-Tweed (38 km)
My last cycling day in Scotland. Right now I am back in England, 1 km beyond the Scottish border.
It was a quiet cycle ride with pretty many hills (560 altitude metres), that began under a deep blue sky and ended with some drizzly rain in the evening.
After one steep descent into a bay, I had to push my bike uphill at the other side. All the other hills were cyclable.
At the Berwick campsite — once again one affiliated with the Motorhome and Caravan Club — I was refused access. It is a bank holiday in Britain and all tent pitches were occupied. I said I was very tired because of the multiple ascents and that somewhere on the large terrain there should be 3m² to pitch a small tent, but the lady of the reception was unrelenting. While I sat down on a stair looking for an alternative on my phone, a man had come in who told the lady there was a spot where I could pitch and, in the end, I was allowed in.
Later on, I noticed that the tent pitches were quite big, it would have been perfectly possible to pitch next to another cyclist with a small tent. And one of the tent pitches was not even occupied… How inflexible and cross some people can be….
Friday August 23rd : Berwick-upon-Tweed – Walkmill campsite (76 km)
A long ride today: 76 km and 560 altitude metres.
The first part over the cliffs was along gravel of grass paths, so I advanced at snail pace – or rather frog pace: 17 km in 2 hours.
Due to this, I did not have enough time to visit Holy Island, because this implied a detour of 13 km and I had still 60 km to pedal.
However, I spent quite some time zen-sitting on a tree trunk at a huge tidal beach with a view to Holy Island, and I performed the Taichi form on the beach. It was a very soothing spot.
Subsequently the cycling route turned inland and this involved many, often steep, climbs. But it was a wonderfull cycling day, the first really sunny day since the outer Hebrides. At the flowery railway station of Chathill, I needed a refill of my water bag. Three litres was not enough with this weather.
Saturday August 24th : Walkmill campsite – Whitley Bay (50 km)
My ride began with a ‘Coquette’ obstacle: to cross the river Coquette, I had to hoist my bicycle four stairs high to get on a narrow pedestrians’ bridge, which was just wide enough for my packed bike. Cars could cross the river at a constructed waterfall where the water was approx. 15 cm deep, but I did not venture doing this on two wheels on a slippery surface.
After a short stop at Warkworth Castle (12th century or earlier) I followed thé Coquette river until Amble, a lively coastal town. I visited a lobster nursery/research centre and took a picture of a baby lobster. Normally, one can never see them because they live under the sand until the age of two. The baby lobsters are being kept in separate compartments because they tend to kill one another. When they are adult, a notch is made in their tail to improve their fertility and they are released into the sea. Notched lobsters may not be landed, fishermen have to throw them back into the sea. I also learnt that male lobsters are called cocks, and female ones hens.
Beyond Amble the cycle route ran parallel to the coast behind the dunes, with every now and then a nice sea view. The final 20 km were less agreeable, along busy roads because I was approaching Newcastle.
I was allowed to stay in the garden of the parents of the lady of Walkmill Campsite, because there are no tent campings in this area. Tent camping is not fashionable any more, or not lucrative enough…
Sunday August 25th : Whitley Bay – Trimdon (51 km)
I started my ride via the suburbs of greater Newcastle to North Shield, took the ferry crossing the River Tyne to reach South Shields and followed the coastal route, with at my right a row of houses and at my left vast, cliff-top meadows. The people were in a summery beach mood today because the weather was splendid and they have a bank holiday on Monday.
The second, inland-bound part of my ride ran along former rail tracks which previously serviced the collieries. In the mid-eighties, then Prime Minister Margareth Thatcher closed virtually all British mines. At that time, I was working as a trainee in a Glasgow company and I witnessed a few miners’ protests organized by trade union leader Arthur Scargill. Miners were deeply embittered by Thatcher’s heartless policies and were on strike for months in a row. There also was a widespread solidarity movement that organized multiple actions, but all to no avail. The mines were closed.
The surface of some of these former rail track cycle paths is so rough that I often had to walk with my packed bicycle. At one cycle gate which was too narrow I had to take off my four paniers. To avoid more of such unpleasant surprises, I set my GPS in ‘car’ mode to cycle the last 15 km, otherwise I had never reached the campsite before sunset.