Scotland in the summer time means cycle trips. Usually with a waterproof. Unusually, this year, a waterproof was not needed. Such luck.
Barry and I knew we wanted to do a week or so of cycling once I’d arrived in Scotland. Outdoor time during the easing of pandemic restrictions meant that I wanted to stay away from large indoor crowds. We landed on cycling in the Outer Hebrides, mostly due to the great weather and the lure of nice beaches to camp on. It was the least planning I have ever done for a trip. Having two weeks to complete a one week cycle meant that we were very relaxed about how much or how little cycling we did (or how many times we stopped for cake).
The weather and the beaches did not disappoint. Neither did the lack of planning.
More cycling! I wanted to go as far north in the UK I could possibly get for my birthday on 21 June. And without flying. So, Barry and I took our bikes on the train from Edinburgh to Aberdeen and rolled onto the overnight ferry to Shetland.
Shetland feels like a cross between Scotland and Iceland. There are no trees, and lots of rolling hills. Shetland ponies look a bit like Icelandic ponies, only smaller. Apparently there were (are?) also Shetland sheep and cows and pigs, also small in stature so they’d need less nutrients to stay alive during a harsh winter (which is every winter, right?). Clever.
The Caledonian Way, Route 78 is lovely. Sustrans do an excellent job of finding fab quiet roads, and constructing off road paths. Caveat – my enjoyment was probably helped enormously by the uncharacteristically excellent weather over Easter, April 2019. Five days of sunshine, no wind, 4 drops of rain and temperatures that had me in shorts and t-shirt for five days straight.
The first section of Route 78 is normally cycled from Oban to Campbeltown. As we wanted to do the Oban to Inverness leg as well, we decided to start from Campbeltown. The best way to reach Cambeltown from Edinburgh is a train to, then ferry from, Ardrossan Harbour. Unfortunately, that ferry doesn’t run until 2 May. We didn’t want the hassle of boxing up our bikes to take on a four hour bus ride (that was the point of sticking to a UK cycling holiday and the number one factor for not cycling to Italy), so we planned our own first leg.
First, a train from Edinburgh to Gourock on Good Friday. We managed to get our bikes on the train with no problems and no reservations. Once in Gourock it was a short cycle to McInroy’s Point, timing our arrival perfectly with the roll on ferry to Hunters Quay in Argyle and Bute. From there, only 44km across Argyle to Portavadie and a short ferry to Tarbert where we’d pick up the Route 78.
To open the Jazz and Blues Festival in July, Edinburgh puts on Carnival Sunday, a parade of performers, musicians, etc. This year, thanks to a friend who was involved in the organising, I was one of the ‘etc’.
Anna needed a bunch of folk to be in the parade, wearing elaborate costumes. Brouhaha, from Liverpool, made the amazing costumes and basically we had to walk and dance around Princes Street for a few hours.
Summer has arrived in Scotland for the first time in about seven years. Or something like that. I think it’s been two weeks without rain, replaced by a big yellow ball in the sky. I haven’t worn stockings in ages. And I don’t always have my jumper on (though it is always in my bag, let’s not get carried away). The great thing is how happy everyone is. And how nobody expects it to last. It actually makes for a great attitude for life, living each day like it will be the last sunny one and you’ll be going into hibernation any minute now. Fancy a barbeque tonight? Sure, could be our last chance this summer. How about going to that beer garden? Definitely – how many other Wednesday evenings are we going to be able to enjoy being outside? Picnic for lunch? You don’t have to ask me twice.
Live like tomorrow will rain. It’s wonderful.
The best invitation so far has come from my friend, Sally. Sally has great ideas. Tuesday: ‘How about swimming? Outside?’ So off I went, across the bridge to Fife, met Sally and drove into Glen Sherup. We walked along a forest track until we got to the, rather lonely, reservoir. We did have a few moments of hesitation. Will the water be freezing? This is Scotland after all. The grey clouds rolled in too. But having bragged about going wild swimming we had to do it. So we shut out minds to the murky water, ignored the two fishermen and plunged right in. A brief moment of chill and we were away. The water was really black. I could just make out my arm and a few bubbles with each stroke. Quite eerie and something from a Hollywood movie, just before you’re grabbed by the creature. But this was no Loch Ness and we survived. In fact thrived. We felt amazing afterwards, inspired and amazingly hungry.
We went swimming again in Loch Ore on Thursday. Because you just never know when the next cold and rainy day will come.