Scotland 08 Part 3
Section 3: Inverness to Preston
8th July to 31st July
Inverness to Coylumbridge
We left Inverness in the rain and it did not let up all day. The load on the trailer shifted and gave us some severe problems early on and then the chain on the bike started to slip and jam. We had got a new chain fitted in Fort William but it seemed to make our bike problems worse.
The weather was so grotty that we decided to stop and have lunch at a pub at Tomatin. We met another couple of cyclists there who had come from Tonbridge and were going to Cape Wrath. We arrived at the campsite at about 3.45 and set up under dripping trees. It was rather a damp evening overall.
The rig ready to go- Inverness
Columbridge to Dalwhinnie
We cycled from Columbridge into Aviemore to pick up more gas. Then retraced our steps to pick up the cycle route. We saw a bike shop, Bothy Bikes, and called in to see if they could improve the tandem’s problems. At first the head man said no they were far too busy but then he saw the bike and trailer and let out a sort of whoop. He could not believe the rig and before long all the guys were gathered round discussing the strangeness of our tandem and trailer. Needless to say they set to and tried to sort out our problems. They did not have a stand big enough so the tandem ended up being slung over the branch of a tree. They shortened the chain which improved things greatly, gave us coffee and would not take any money – what a great set of guys!
We eventually left about 11.00am and headed off along the quiet and pretty B road to Feshie Bridge and then Kingussie and Newtonmore. We stopped for lunch beside Ruthven barracks – an impressive ruin but it was a bit cold for picnicking so we did not linger. The cycle way then followed alongside the A9, at times using the old road. The weather was grey and wet at times with low cloud. We finally cycled down into Dalwhinnie and found the Dalwhinnie Inn where we had a room booked. It was nice to be in a hotel room and not camping but the Dalwhinnie Inn was nothing to write home about.
Lunch stop at Ruthven Barracks
Dalwhinnie to Blair Atholl
We left Dalwhinnie and climbed the Drumochter pass in mist and rain. It was very atmospheric but views were limited. The cycle track alongside the A9 was great and we made good time. The descent from top of the pass through Calvine and down to Blair Atholl was exhilaratingly fast and we arrived at the camp site by lunchtime. We were camping at the site run by the Blair Atholl estate – all very plush and organised but expensive.
Pass of Drumochter
Tilly on the Drumochter Pass
Blair Atholl to Aberfeldy
When we woke up at about 7.00 the sun was shining on the tent which was a really welcome change. We packed up and had a chat with a guy who worked on the campsite who was intrigued by our tent and hit the road about 9.30. We cycled through the Pass of Killiecrankie and arrived at Pitlochry just as the load on the trailer tipped over onto the wheels. We stopped to re-arrange and T bought food including buns! Again lots of people stopped and chatted including a delivery driver who had a tandem and was interested in what we were doing.
Enjoying a bun in Pitlochry
The road alongside the River Tummel was pretty and quiet and we enjoyed cycling in the sunshine. At Logierait we crossed an impressive former railway viaduct before descending to Strathtay and then on to Aberfeldy. We arrived at about 1.45 and set up in the campsite.
Railway viaduct at Logierait
Aberfeldy to Strathyre
We got up early and the sun was warm on the tent. We left after briefly meeting an Australian cycle camper who had arrived late the previous evening and who was interested in the tent. We cycled back over the impressive bridge and then cycled along a quiet B road to Kenmore. At Kenmore we crossed the end of Loch Tay and the outflow into the River Tay before setting off along the single track road along the east side of the Loch. The road was scenic but it went up and down a lot and there was a surprising amount of traffic, which made the going quite tough. At Killin we passed the Falls of Doohart and then turned off onto a cycle track through Acharn Forest. This track was steep in places and then before the crossing over the A85 it became really steep but fortunately the surface was good so we managed the climb without getting off and pushing. After a lunch stop including a bacon buttie from a van café, we cycled down Glen Ogle following a cycle track along a disused railway. This was a great cycle with gentle gradients and superb views. After a steep descent to Lochearnhead, we followed a minor road to Balquidder and then on to Strathyre. The last part was hilly and seemed to go on for ever so we were really glad to arrive finally at the campsite. Shopping for food was not easy though. The shop in Strathyre had virtually nothing but we managed to get a bit more in the shop at the campsite.
Strathyre rest day
The day off was very welcome and allowed us to rest up and wash clothes. We had a relaxed day with a short walk down though the meadows to Loch Lubnaig.
Strathyre to Cobleland
We cycled back into Strathyre to pick up the Sustrans route and then followed a cycleway along tracks and an old railway into Callender. It was quiet and enjoyable cycling although we started having problems with the load shifting early on. We stopped for coffee and buns in Callender and then cycled on a small road along the side of Loch Venachar. This then turned into a track and then a forest road through the Achray Forest. We knew that this part of the route would be difficult but it was actually worse than we had feared. The tracks were very rough and wound up and down the whole time. This made hauling the rig really exhausting and this was made worse by the continual shifting of the load. We had to keep on stopping to readjust it. Then the hitch came loose so we had to unpack the black bag to get the tools. We were particularly worried about a narrow bridge which we had to cross (we had seen this when we visited the forest while staying with Lorraine). Fortunately it was just wide enough to allow the trailer to pass which was a real relief. We finally made it to Aberfeldy and then on to the campsite at Cobleland. This was a pretty campsite by the river run by Forest Holidays who seem to be associated with the Camping and Caravan Club. It was a quiet site with good facilities.
Cobleland to Glasgow
We knew that we had a long day so got up early and were on the road by 7.25am. The route from Cobleland to Drymen was along small lanes with good views but the gradients were quite tough. The bike was misbehaving again after the strain of getting through the forest the previous day. The chain kept on jumping which made it difficult to get up the hills. From Drymen we cycled along small lanes to Balloch where we stopped for some buns and some very bad coffee. By now we were retracing the route that we had followed on our way out of Glasgow to Loch Lomond back at the beginning of June. Despite this we managed to get lost in Dumbarton which led to some “words” and then rather a silent patch until we stopped for lunch in a small park at the point where the route joins the canal. We met a Dutch couple there who were cycle touring and had a chat. They had cycled in Finland and Norway and we spent some time talking to them. We then cycled along the canal towpath until we reached a cycle barrier that was so impenetrable that we virtually had to dismantle the trailer! After that we abandoned the Sustrans route and followed the Dumbarton Road into Glasgow and Lorraine’s flat. Lorraine was in Venice but she had given us a key which allowed us to get into the laundry area at the bottom of the flats. We left the bike and trailer there and took a bus into central Glasgow for a night in a hotel and a meal in a Chinese restaurant. Luxury!
Glasgow to Edinburgh
We had decided not to cycle this stretch but instead to hire a car in Glasgow, pack bike and trailer into it and then motor over to Edinburgh where we would leave the car and resume our cycling. We were leaving the canoe at Lorraine’s and just taking the bike and a stripped down trailer for the last part of the trip. As part of this, we decided to switch tents taking the Hillberg Nallo with us and leaving behind the Golite Hex, Nest and tarp. We were hoping that less weight would mean that the bike would misbehave less (in the event a vain hope). We hired a small car from Arnold Clark, loaded up and set off. We camped in Edinburgh at the Caravan Club site which was in a great position overlooking the Firth of Forth. We dropped off the car and having re-assembled the tandem, cycled back to the campsite. We had a brief conversation with a lady who cycled alongside us for a while. It turned out that she had cycled the Paris Brest Paris audax in 2007 on a tandem which was really seriously impressive! We had a map crisis when M discovered that he had failed to pack the Berwick to Appleby Sustrans map – eventually this was solved by ordering another one by phone to be delivered to T’s friend Jan who were going to stay with just outside Berwick.
Edinburgh to Innerleithen
We took the number 1 cycleway into the centre of Edinburgh and picked up our route out at the Mound. We followed cycle tracks and roads out of Edinburgh and then, after lunch, had a glorious ride over the Moorfoot hills. After a long descent we arrived in Innerleithen at about 4.00pm. The campsite was right by the Tweed.
Innerleithen to Melrose
A short day. We left about 10.15 and cycled down the Tweed valley. Bike chain was jumping badly despite everything I did to it. Stopped and shopped in Galshiels and then arrived at the campsite about lunch time. I snoozed in the afternoon while T went round Melrose buying some presents for Jenny who we were going to stay with the next day. She had a look at the outside of the ruined Abbey but did not go in. We met up with the Australian we had talked to at Aberfeldy who was pretty fed up with the weather (so were we!) Talking about bikes led to the bike shop at Kelso being recommended and so we decided to detour there the next day.
Melrose to Berwick on Tweed
It was T’s birthday although she did want any celebrations and I was not allowed to even mention it to her friend Jenny. We left Melrose and followed some pretty and quiet country lanes to Kelso. The bike was worse than ever slipping every 5 revolutions or so. We arrived at Kelso to find the bike shop closed which was a real blow. So we had coffee and cake to cheer ourselves up (and celebrate T’s birthday). Unfortunately after this it started to rain and continued wet for the next 2 hours. We decided to go into Berwick itself to try the bike shop there. We arrived at about 3.30pm and the people in the shop were very friendly and helpful. They worked on the bike while T went off to have some tea. The bike seemed a lot better after all this attention. We then cycled back to Paxton to stay with Jenny.
Paston (Berwick on Tweed) rest day
We had a much needed rest, visiting the coast just outside Berwick with Jenny and her mad dog Baxter. We also picked up our replacement Sustrans map for the next section: Berwick to Appleby. It was great sleeping in a bed and we really enjoyed seeing Jenny and catching up on news of friends.
Berwick on Tweed to Powburn
The weather was hot and sunny which made a real change. We cycled to Etal and then Doddington and then Wooler. After Wooler the route deteriorated into a really rough track. It was too rough and stony for us to cycle so we had to push the tandem and trailer. We then had to cross a ford. There was a footbridge but it was too small for the tandem and trailer so we tried to cycle through the ford. Needless to say we failed and got very wet feet! By the time we had reached the little village of Ilderton we had had enough. We left the Sustrans route and cycled via the A697 into Powburn. The campsite was run by the Caravan Club and was the most expensive place we camped at - £19.50!
Powburn to Bellingham
We avoided the off road section between Ingram and Alnham instead taking the route which followed small lanes and then took another alternative route via Netherton and Sharperton. Tilly saw a hare which really pleased her. In Sharperton we managed to take the wrong road, turning right too early and so joined the B6341 further north than we should have done. From there it was quite a tough ride to Elsdon where we stopped for lunch. We sat eating our food on the village green and then saw a large group of cyclists arrive and congregate outside what looked like a private house on the other side of the green. One of the cyclists came over for a chat and told us that the house was a famous cyclist’s café. So we went over and had some tea and cake which was delicious. After a long lunch break, we set off again climbing up through wild moorland. Outside East Woodburn we were held up by a large flock of sheep being driven down the road. We arrived at the Camping and Caravan Club site at Bellingham about 5.00 and set up. Unfortunately our pitch was under the trees and was plagued by both midges and flies so we retreated inside the tent to eat our dinner.
Bellingham to Alston
We got going early and packed up spurred on by the midges. We cycled up into Wark Forest and all too soon the road deteriorated into a stony track. We found it really difficult to cycle and had to push the bike for much of the way. At one point 2 huge timber lorries appeared behind us travelling at speed. Fortunately we were able to pull off the road before they crushed us! Then the route deteriorated even further into just a bridle way. We came to a ford which we could not cross so had to use the footbridge. Of course the footbridge was too narrow for the trailer so we had to manhandle it across. This involved not just detaching the trailer but actually carrying it over the bridge above the narrow hand rail. This was made worse by the incessant biting of midges and other insects.
Finally we hit tarmac again and descended towards Once Brewed and Twice Brewed. We crossed Hadrian’s Wall stopped for a brief look. It was really quite dramatic. At Twice Brewed we stopped at the visitor centre for a coffee – horrid machine coffee to our disappointment. We then went on via Barden Mill to Haltwistle where we got onto a railway track. We continued on the track and then the A689 into Alston.
The campsite was quite extraordinary. You went into a scrap yard and then at the other end there was a trailer park. The lady who looked after the site was very friendly though. We were able to pitch our tent on a small piece of grass and later a Dutch family (parents and two teenage girls) on a cycling holiday pitched beside us. The facilities were horrid – dark, dirty and approached through a tunnel made out of an old pipe. Tilly was not impressed. The Dutch girls found it all funny though and there were peals of laughter all afternoon and evening.
Alston to Appleby
We got going fairly early and bought some terrific tarts and rolls from the bakers in Alston. We climbed Hartside Pass in glorious sunshine and stopped for a coffee at the café at the top. Then it was free wheeling all the way down to Melmerby. Then it was an up and down cycle by the side of the Pennines. We got to Appleby about 2.30pm, shopped and then cycled the couple of extra miles to the Hawkrigg campsite that we stayed at before.
Appleby to Kendal
A really hot sunny day. We cycled back to Appleby and then followed the Sustrans 68 route south. We had a great climb over Great Asby Scar and then took a short cut to Tebay. There seemed to be a vintage car meeting going on in Tebay and we passed a whole range of pre WW1 Fords. Then we started down the valley alongside the M6 and the railway. It was very beautiful but hot and the bike was really misbehaving badly. Finally, rather hot and tired, we reached Kendal and after shopping pitched at the Camping and Caravan Club site.
Kendal (rest day)
Kendal to Garstang
We decided that we were going to stop at Preston. We had booked the van so that we could get back to London for the handover of our flat from our tenants. Originally, we had intended to return to Preston and complete the journey back to London by bike. We changed our mind for a number of reasons. One was that we were now very tired and the prospect of repeating the ride through the Yorkshire and Derbyshire Dales and then the West Midlands was not appealing. Another was that the bike was misbehaving seriously and we did not know whether it would make it all the way back.
We stopped off at Garstang for the night to stay with our friends Phil and Betty. We had met them snowshoeing with Hilary the previous year and they had invited us to stay either on the way up or on the way back. We had a great evening together and really appreciated Phil’s potatoes roasted in goose fat!
Garstang to Preston and then Glasgow
Cycled along the A6 into Preston and eventually found Arnold Clark. Picked up the van then folded up the bike and packed everything in. The trip to Glasgow went well and we had an enjoyable evening with Lorraine.
Glasgow to London
London to Preston
Unfortunately, Arnold Clark do not have any office in London so I had to drive the van back to Preston and return by train.