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Expedition to Scotland by tandem and open canoe
1st May to 31st July 2008

 

 Introduction

Our idea was to cycle from London to Scotland on a tandem pulling a trailer with camping equipment etc and a folding canoe. Once in Scotland we would cycle to a suitable Loch then assemble the open canoe, pack everything including the tandem into the canoe and then paddle off up the Loch. We would continue across Scotland like this and then we would cycle back to London. That was the idea anyway – in fact we came pretty close and the following pages provide an account of what we actually did.

 

The idea

Where did the idea for this somewhat unusual expedition come from?
The germ of the idea came to me at a campsite in France in July 2003. I was camping in Uzerche on the way to stay with some French friends. The municipal campsite there is great – you camp right beside the river (the Vezere) and watch the canoes playing in the gentle rapids. It is an area which is very popular with cycle tourers (particularly the Dutch) and I had a couple next to me with their bikes and tent. As I sat there watching them and the canoes in the river I thought wouldn’t it be great to be able to cycle tour and then pack everything into a canoe and take-off down a river …. And so the idea was sown

Looking at the web it became clear that others had had similar ideas. I was particularly taken by the account on the Bike Friday site of "Canoeing Sea to Source by Two’s Day" which told how Brent Curry and Gary Pluim used a Bike Friday tandem Two’s day to haul a 100lb aluminium canoe from Calgary to Bow Glacier, the source of the Bow River and then canoe back to Calgary with the bike folded in the canoe http://www.bikefriday.com/citytosource. I was also interested in the journeys of Martin Lunz and Nadine Puschkasch who left Limburg in Germany on the 1.6.2003 to tour the world. They are travelling on bicycles and on occasion an Ally folding canoe and have now visited 35 countries.http://www.weltenbummler2003.de/35215.html

Inspired, I started to research equipment. We wanted to use a tandem rather than individual bikes because our riding speeds and styles are very different. The question then became should the tandem fold or separate (using SS couplings).

We opted for the Bike Friday folding tandem Two’s Day partly because it seemed to have worked for Brent and Gary but mainly because it turned out to be a much cheaper option. This was due to the fact that we were able to buy a second hand Two’s Day from AVC. The choice of folding canoe was between an Ally and a Pakboat. Researching the Ally I spoke to Mike Thompson of Scottish Paddler Supplies who was very helpful and who put me in contact with Peter Hutchison who lives very close by. Peter had used Ally canoes on his expedition to the Parepeti http://www.coursingtheparapeti.com/index.html and he took me out in one of them to give me an idea of how they performed. I was impressed and since the Ally was cheaper than the Pakboat we opted for the Ally.

Preparation

We tried out the gear on a number of short expeditions although we were hampered by the demands of work. In particular we cycled down to friends on the South Coast a few weeks before we left. This gave us a chance to see how we coped with the weight of the bike and trailer fully loaded and check out the canoe and tents. This was very valuable since it made us aware of just how heavy the full rig was! Our friend John suggested that we courier the canoe to Glasgow since we would not be using it before then and we decided that this was a very good idea.We were planning to camp for virtually the whole of the trip and so wanted to have plenty of space for living as well as all the gear. So we planned to take the Hilleberg Nallo to sleep in, the Golite Hex and Nest to live in and a Hilleberg tarp to provide cover for cooking etc. We tried both tents at Johns but did not manage to get the tarp up (we had left too much space between the tents).

 

The Route

The trip divided into 3 sections. Section 1 was cycling London to Glasgow, section 2 was cycling and canoeing a series of Lochs from Glasgow to Inverness, section 3 was cycling from Inverness to Preston.

Section 1
West London to Derby via Northampton, Market Harborough and Leicester
Derby to Lake District via Ashbourne, Buxton, Hebden Bridge, Colne, Settle,
Dent and Appleby in Westmorland.
Lake District to Glasgow via Carlisle, Dumfries, Gatehouse of Fleet, Glen Trool,
Maybole, Ayr and Kilwinning

We mainly used Sustrans routes which were usually quiet and pretty but also often much hillier than more major roads. The Sustrans routes are also often a nightmare in large urban areas. We faced 2 problems: first, our rig was something around 12 ft long so struggled with the kind of cycle restrictions often in evidence; second, in towns you were totally dependant on the route being clearly and fully signed. We often found that signs would completely disappear in the middle of housing estates and it then proved very difficult and time consuming to get back on route. To be fair to Sustrans and its partners there was evidence that signs in urban areas were often vandalised or destroyed. Despite the above, Sustrans routes gave us days and days of wonderful cycling.

We picked up NCN 51 just outside Milton Keynes and then switched onto NCN 6 which we followed to Market Harborough. From Market Harborough to Leicester we followed NCN 64 and then NCN 6 to Derby. We left Derby on NCN 68 and followed this all the way to Appleby in Westmorland. We then cycled to Troutbeck in the Lake District initially using NCN 71 but then switching onto a non Sustrans route. We used non Sustrans routes to cycle between Troutbeck and Carlisle where we picked up NCN 7. We then followed this (Lochs and Glens Cycle Route South) all the way to Glasgow.

Section 2
Cycle Glasgow to Milarrochy Bay on Loch Lomond mainly Sustrans NCN7
Canoe Loch Lomond - Milarrochy Bay to Ardlui
Cycle Ardlui to Kilchurn Castle (Loch Awe) A82 to Tyndrum then A85
Canoe Loch Awe
Cycle Kilchurn Castle to Fort William via Baracaldine A85 to Connel, A828 to Ballachulish, A82 to Fort William.
Cycle Fort William to Glenfinnan A830
Canoe Glenfinnan to Kinlochmoidart (Loch Shiel, Shiel River, Loch Moidart)
Cycle to Arisaig A861 to Lochailort, A830 to Arisaig
Canoe Loch Morar
Cycle Arisaig to Fort William A830
Canoe Fort William to Inverness (Great Glen - Caledonian Canal/ Lochs Lochy, Oich and Ness)

Section 3
Inverness to Glasgow via Aviemore, Kingussie, Dalwhinnie, Blair Atholl, Pitlochry, Killin, Calander and Dumbarton – Sustrans NCN 7 (Lochs and Glens Cycle Route North)
Edinburgh to Berwick on Tweed via Innerleithen, Melrose, Kelso and Coldstream – Sustrans NCN 1 (Coast and Castles Route)
Berwick on Tweed to Kendal via Norham, Wooler, Bellingham, Haltwhistle, Alston and Appleby in Westmorland – Sustrans NCN 64
Kendal to Preston via Garstang – non Sustrans route using small roads to Garstang. Garstang to Preston A6

Equipment

Bike
Tandem: Bike Friday Tandem Twosday
Trailer: CarryFreedom Y Frame large
Panniers: Ortlieb Classic Backrollers, Front Rollers and Top Bag
Dry Bags: Ortlieb 490 109ltr and 54ltr

Canoe
Canoe: Ally 811 16.5’ DR with full spraydeck
Canoe trolley: Eckla large
Paddles: Grey Owl River 52 and 57, Prijon RIM Indian
Sail: Downwind sail from Brighton Canoes
Lifejackets: Plastimo Club Master Buoyancy
Flares:

Camping
Tents: Hilleberg Nallo with footprint; Golite Hex with Nest; Hilleberg Tarp
Sleeping mats: Thermarest full length
Sleeping bags: PHD Minim 400 with silk liner sheets
Camp seats: Thermarest chair
Stove: Alpine
Cooking equipment:
Water purification: ME filter and Steripen classic

Clothing

Martin    Tilly
Ron Hill cycle shorts    cycle shorts
Cycle shorts    2 pairs Title 9 long trousers
Ron Hill bikesters    
Ron Hill tracksters    
Paramo tights    
North Face shorts    
Berghaus T    
Berghaus shirt    
Craghoppers T    
Smartwool long sleeved T    
Field and Trek light fleece    
Mountain Equipment duvet top    
Montane Featherlite smock    
Paramo Nevada smock    
Rainlegs    
Berghaus Packlite overtrousers    
Shimano cycling shoes    

Bike
Tandem: Bike Friday Tandem Two’s Day
We bought the bike second hand from Avon Valley Cycles (they are the UK distributor for Bike Friday).  It was a Dual Drive 21 i.e. it had a Sachs (now Sram) Dual Drive Hub and probably dates from the mid 1990s. It folded up relatively small – which was important since we needed it to go inside the open canoe.



 
 

It was quite an ungainly package though with a number of sharp edges ( pedals and frame joints) which needed to be carefully wrapped.


But It fitted remarkably well into the back of a Smart – which was the car we had at the time
 
 
Since we planned to pull a trailer with a considerable weight on it we needed very low gears. So we had the bike modified by the Bicycle Workshop in Notting Hill Gate. They added a front derailleur with triple chain ring This meant that the bike now had 63 gears (although there were lots of doubles or near doubles). In retrospect this modification was in many ways a mistake. It put the internal hub under significantly increased pressure and this was reflected by the problems we faced on the road.
 
Trailer: CarryFreedom Y Frame large
An amazing load carrier.  We had some teething problems with the trailer before the trip but no problems during the 3 months. It not only carried everything we asked of it but also had no effect upon bike handling. We had no scary moments with it even when descending some very steep hills

 

Panniers: Ortlieb Classic Backrollers, Front Rollers and Top Bag
High quality panniers. Totally waterproof. Only problem was the loss of a hook insert but gaffer tape on the back rack overcame the problem.
Dry Bags: Ortlieb 490 109ltr and 54ltr
Performed well.

Canoe: Ally 811 16.5’ DR with full spraydeck
We bought the canoe from Mike Thompson of Scottish Paddler Supplies in 2005. The canoe fits into a single 225 ltr packsack although the framework of the spraydeck is separate. The canoe takes about 30 minutes to put together and is able to take a formidable payload (380kg)
Putting the canoe together for the first time at the Milarrochy Bay campsite.

The canoe performed very well for us. It is very stable and with the spraydeck on it stayed dry in all conditions. It flexes with waves which can feel a bit strange but it coped with some big waves particularly on Loch Morar. It also coped with the larger than expected rapid (with what to us looked like an enormous stopper wave!) where the Shiel River meets Loch Moidart extremely well. We lost it slightly at this point and hit the further rock wall quite hard. Damage was minimal. We broke the elasticated cord which holds the spray deck on and made a 5 cm tear in the upper hull. The tear was easily mended with the fabric and glue which is supplied with the canoe.


Canoe virtually assembled at Milarrochy Bay
 

It was important to get the mat centred in the canoe and we found that it was worth taking some time over this. The rubber mallet which is supplied with the canoe is essential since the cross frame pieces need to be gently tapped into position.
 
The problem we had in getting the seats in the right place was solved by marking the frame with indelible ink (thank you John!). This allowed us to identify which end of the canoe was bow and which stern and build accordingly.


 First outing on Loch Lomond

Canoe on Loch Awe

 We used a full spray deck on the canoe – something which is fairly unusual on open canoes. This deck was attached to the elasticated cord which runs round the canoe. We found that the spray deck worked well. It kept all the kit in the canoe dry and certainly stopped us from shipping any water when we went through the rapid at the end of the Shiel River. It was slightly fiddly unloading the canoe onto to pontoons ( which we needed to do at the lochs on the Caledonian Canal) but we developed a technique for unhooking the deck which worked well.

Canoe trolley: Eckla large
The canoe trolley was vital for portages. They mainly occurred on the Caledonian Canal and we were able to load all the gear back into the canoe once it was on the trolley. The Eckla was robust and trouble free.


 Portaging with the trolley

Sail: Downwind sail from Brighton Canoes

Tilly with the sail
 
The sail fitted onto the handles of two of our paddles and then Tilly held it up. This proved to be remarkably effective and with the wind behind us we sped along.


Camping Equipment

Tents: Hilleberg Nallo with footprint; Golite Hex with Nest; Hilleberg Tarp

We started the trip using all three tents which was ludicrous. Very rapidly we settled on a combination of the Golite Hex with Nest and the Hilleberg Tarp held up in the front by canoe paddles. This was very spacious and worked well providing it was not too windy. We liked the height and room provided by the Hex but felt that the tarp was essential to provide a porch area. The main problem with this set up was that the paddle holding the tarp up tended to fall down if there was any significant wind. We struggled with this for most of the trip until in Arisaig I solved the issue by tying the tarp to the paddle rather than using the paddle to prop up the tarp.

All the tents at Arthingworth
 
Hex and tarp at Dent
 
New improved design

 Once we returned the canoe to Glasgow, we decided to switch to the Nallo for the last part of the trip. We decided to do this mainly because we wanted to minimise our weight and not carry a canoe paddle with us (needed to hold up the tarp). We have used the Nallo over many years and it was as reliable and bomb proof as ever. It did take a few days to get used to living in a much smaller space though

The Nallo at Kendal
.

Sleeping mats, bags and seats

Sleeping mats: Thermarest full length
Sleeping bags: PHD Minim 400 with silk liner sheets
Camp seats: Thermarest chair
We used 15 year old full length Thermarest mats which when we bought them were the lightest weight that Thermarest produced. These worked perfectly and were very comfortable. In particular they work well with the Thermarest seats we have. These are off the same vintage as the mats. We found that having seats made an enormous difference to the level of comfort. We really missed seats on our GR10 trek in 2007. The sleeping bags are also a number of years old but work superbly.


 




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