Bit of a long one this so hang in there! We’ve been on another adventure too mid writing (which has been confounded by WordPress’ new editor) and I’ve had a big Great Western Randonnées event plus others upcoming hence the long wait!
DAY 16: Grizedale through The Lakes to Hawksdale.
Did I say it rained last night? It did. Tremendously! We packed our bags in the damp of the morning thankful of the pod then make our way down to the cafe for breakfast. Below in the camping field there’s a small lake, other campers haven’t had such a great night waking up in the morning with their beds floating. Lots of disgruntled campers; due to this the cafe opened early without us knowing and we were lucky to get the last breakfast baps. Refunds were being offered as rage was directed at the proprietors who explained nothing like this had ever happened before. Got to love global warming!
We head back to Hawkshead through Grizedale Forest. R starts the tally again. B road to Ambleside. Lots of disgruntled campers impatiently trying to escape The Lakes. Cloud hangs low obscuring the peaks. R has a thing for mountains ever since we drove between The Brecon Beacons and Black Mountains; always questioning “is that a mountain?”, “no R, it’s a hill.” This time though a blanket of cloud had obscured the tops since we arrived and would stay as we left. Just before Ambleside we turn off following a quiet road north but not before a quick stop in the park. R finds £1.20 under the zip slide. I bank it for him later. I’d planned to join the main road at Rydal but instead we follow the cycle route. It isn’t long before I realise why I’d chosen the main road as the route ahead turns into a track/path with ample families walking along and up and down; fords included. Round Rydal Water and cross the river stopping for an early snack.
Rather than enduring the path any further we then humped our bikes back up to the main road. A minor inconvenience for easier progress ready for the long climb from Grasmere to Thirlmere. Again we join a path, this time metalled but a right rollercoaster as we descend. The Beast from the East flattened the trees above the quiet road around Thirlmere and work was still being undertaken to make safe the hill side above so back onto the main road, luckily it isn’t too busy and we’d soon be turning off again. All the while the blanket hangs above us.
After a quick stop at a community cafe in Trelkeld we come across a large octagon. Another oddity. I’ve only spotted one of these previously in Penrith on a garage forecourt. I knew R would love it so took a photo only to find out later the camera had again said no and not saved it. I mentioned it to him and thought nothing of it. Several weeks later he reminded me, we found it on Street View and I then went about calling the garage to ask the staff to take a photo and email to me. R was going nuts in the back ground and the lovely lady realised she was going to make a young boy very happy so sure enough, later that day, a photo arrived! We spotted 4 of these this time and as we headed around Blencathra on a lovely lane with plenty of gates I pondered and asked Grandpa Pom if he had a good descriptive word beginning with ‘O’. To my surprise R piped up ‘outstanding’, so there we have it, outstanding octagons!
Leaving The Lakes behind us the cloud began to lift offering a peak of some peaks. R is bouncing between me and the old man chatting away. Finally we have a long descent with views to the right of The Pennines and I point out Great Dun Fell; R has recently asked me which is the highest road in England which is this, he also wants to go up it one day! Ahead in the distance past Carlisle, Scotland awaits us on the horizon. First to find our not so wild wild camping spot for the night. I’d planned a field next to the River Caldew in the shadow of Rose Castle but with the knowledge of company just before we left I contacted a new cafe en route if we’d be able to use their garden. Mike and Debs of Woodside Welcome Cycle Cafe were unable to ‘help’ but kindly organised with Andy of Thornfield Camping Pods next door to use a square of their grass for free! Their aim is for a small camping area once facilities are in place. The pods looked great with their hottubs but all were full. After dinner and a bottle of wine kindly provided by Mike we settled in for the night. Fantastic hospitality!
🔺s = 7 | Total = 488
71km forwards | 1090m of up
DAY 17: Hawksdale – The Border – Auldgirth
The fantastic hospitality kept coming! In the morning we are treated to a fine breakfast by Mike and Debs and we chat about the cafe and pods which Mike is the groundsman for; reed bed filtration, bromine hot tubs, council basically begging them to set up the cafe all whilst being an ex-farmer and working at the police station part time as a civilian.
We bid our farewells and head off to Carlisle using a cycle path in the Calder Valley from Dalston right into the centre. I take a moment for some peace and quiet and let Grandpa Pom and R chat away without worrying about traffic. Passing the castle we continue to the border and do the obligatory photos and stick a sticker. The going is easy with the wind on our backs. 2 stops in quick succession for a roll; one in Arran, the other climbing a gate to dine in a field.
Flying west along the Solway Firth coast R jumps off spotting a new one for the books; a small square with oval, it’s the little things in life eh?
We’re making good time, R and Grandpa Pom chat away (see header photo) as we turn inland for the one ‘hill’ of the day as we approach Dumfries. Rain! It’s held off all day but we get a sprinkling now as we navigated through the town past Robert Burns’ house before exiting on an old railway line. R is suddenly flagging even though topping up with a bar shortly before. He’d speed up and slow down or stop. I tell dad to go on and we chat, he’s tired, we’d done 75km, about 15km left. When it gets like this I’d break it down to R into recognisable distance; about the same as The Bird in Hand to home along the Bristol to Bath Railway Path. This does the trick. Me and R ride side by side as I tell dad to drop back so there is no distraction. We finish off our day’s journey to Auldgirth and the lovely Open Gate Campsite; up one final hill which finishes R and Grandpa Pom off; they both walk it!
There is only one other tent there, a mum and her daughter, slowly making their way home to Germany having been to see family. First things first we get the fire going in an old BBQ. Then pitch tents. Much to mine and R’s amusement it takes us 5mins but dad 20! R kicks back as I make dinner. Fine dining tonight; pasta, veg, chorizo and pesto, followed by marshmallows, yum yum. Owls hoot in the distance and a train rushes past us below.
We spotted a pub on the way up to the campsite so in the dark with R on my shoulders make our way down. Closed. Bugger! Back up we go. A few more marshmallows, into the tent for Swallows and Amazons and bed; I turn to kiss R goodnight but he is already asleep!
🔺s = 41 | Total = 529
91km forwards | 550m of up
DAY 18: Auldgirth to Sundrum Castle Holiday Park
After breakfast we chat to the owner’s mum. They have recently bought the place and the campsite is new. We check out the bunkhouse too and I note it as a possible audax overnight location for the future. Off we go down the hill faffing on a cycle path next to the A76 that abruptly ends.
“R, where are your sunglasses?” Uh oh, worry creeps across the lads face. “Keep going” I say to dad & R as I turn round and race, fully loaded, back to the campsite. He had them on his head in the farm yard so I have a quick scan there to no avail. I knock on the door and ask to look around the bunkhouse. Nowhere to be seen. All but given up hope when the owner’s mum overturns a sofa cushion and we find them tucked away there. Back I go and the relief flows across R’s face as we head on leaving the main road behind, for now, following the Nith Valley through the Southern Uplands.
A quick divert into Thornhill for supplies; bars and snacks of various sorts. R resists spending his £1.20 again so I say I’ll double it for the future. Now we head off to Drumlanrig Castle, described as Scotland’s finest. When we get there R states it is more big house than castle. Still we go and do an early lunch in the tea rooms. On exiting one of the wardens has spotted our bamboo bikes so I chat. R is eager to go and starts circling out front. I chat. R circles. I chat. ARGHHHHHHHHH!
R has overcooked the circle and his front wheel has gone from under him on the sprinkling of stones coming down hard on his arm. I rush over and extricate him from his bike, Grandpa Pom joins me. Tears aplenty. I check him over and asked him to squeeze my finger. All good. Then I ask him to raise his arm and rotate it. All good. A few light scrapes on his leg. Tears turn to anger. The Castle’s first aider comes over but I’ve figured R is more pissed with himself than injured; I get a whack. I hold him close and tell him he is fine and explain why it happened. Foot to the shins. I give him a big kiss and amongst a few tears and lots of grrrs we put ourselves back on the our bikes and head off. I asked Dad to go ahead again and just give R some space. Sulking ensues as we leave by the main drive.
Not far after as we leave the drive R says his arm hurts. We stop, I peel off his top and sure enough he’s removed some skin. Cleaned up and a big plaster applied and all is well. R is now peeved he’s torn his club jersey. Not to worry I say, one of my jerseys got torn too when I fell off. Knowing I’ve fallen off helps the situation. Soon the tumble is forgotten as we begin the easy climb up the rest of the Nith Valley. R bobs between me and Grandpa Pom. Eventually we pop out onto the A76 again. Not particularly busy but there are lorries and fast cars. We have 11km until we turn off, uphill to start. I get R to ride in front with me on the outside in the middle of the lane, Dad behind. I’m happy controlling our space in situations like this; any way the road isn’t wide enough for a vehicle to pass safely whilst one approaches if we were in single file. R though is yo-yoing back and forth between us. We’re just chugging and I ask him to stay ahead of me. Then off he goes again, this time clipping my back wheel and tumbling onto the verge. We pull ourselves over off the road. Anger again. I tell Dad to go on, the turning is in 8km, we’ll meet him there. I have words with R and explain that what he was doing was unsafe, then try to get to the bottom of why. Grandpa Pom was a distraction, he wanted to talk to him, and didn’t know where to ride. Mine and R’s dynamic on the road is great. Together I’m happy with his riding but I had noticed a gradual deterioration with R coping with 2 voices. We sit and chat. I told R I needed him to focus on this main road; it was probably the fastest we were on of the entire ride. We set off again; R in front, me on the outside. We smashed it, R was in the zone! We whistled past Grandpa Pom as he’d stopped in a layby, I signal for him to wait there for a bit. The climb was out of the way just rollers left. We stop in a layby ourselves for a pee. No sign of Grandpa Pom, R is concerned so we wait. I tell him his cycling is super. “I love you Daddy, you’re the best Daddy in the World.” “I love you too Red, you’re the best son in the World.” – that happens a lot! Grandpa Pom catches us up and I wave him on again. Not going to break this roll. We give it a min or two and again smash it to New Cumnock and off the A76 joining back up with the old man round the corner. Quiet minor and B roads now as we reach the final peak, then all down hill to our night’s rest.
A quick stop for this spiderweb drain and soon we’re at Sundrum Castle Holiday Park. Unloading our panniers we stash our bikes in an exit to the building that isn’t used; we’d be having a day off tomorrow with no bikes. Tents are thrown up; well not quite for Grandpa Pom so we leave him to it and head to the bar/restaurant, avoiding the loud and bright flashing lights of the arcade. R makes full use of the park before and after dinner before bed. Me and Dad kick back for a pint or three. He tells me how he admires the bond me & R have. I do my best!
🔺s = 15 | Total = 544
83km forwards | 755m of up
DAY 19: Day off – no bikes!
Not too much to write here. A holiday park isn’t my idea of fun. Whilst planning I noted the lack of campsites or spots to wild camp in the Ayr area. To break the ride up as it would have been a long stint of day on day riding I tensed, groaned inside, and hit ‘book’. We made use of the facilities; 3 swim sessions and no cooking. I even gave R a haircut with the first aid scissors; a couple of girls asked me if I was a hairdresser, “no!”, “well you look like one!”….
After dinner R is back out in the playground. He comes running in saying the boys are fighting. I tell him not to worry about it and to just stay clear. Off he goes again. Shortly after the two girls that accused me of looking like a hairdresser come in and tell me R has hit one of them. I’ve taken my eye off the ball; Grandpa Pom is a distraction! Outside I scoop R up and get a thwack to my back. Lots of tears from being removed from the playground and Red doesn’t see that he is in the red. We to and fro with reasons why I’ve removed him; this goes on for a while as I struggle to get him into his pyjamas. He tells me he’s had enough and wants to go home. I call his bluff and say we’ll get the train back with Grandpa Pom tomorrow. “NOOO!!!!!” More tears. I know his heart is in it, reassure him that if he does want to continue we will, then carry him to the toilet block to brush teeth. Then bed, Swallows & Amazons and a ‘bed cuddle’. Eventually R settles. It is now late. Back to Dad I neck my lukewarm remains and get another couple before calling it a night too.
DAY 20: Sundrum Castle to Lochranza
More grey & wet! The three of us pack our kit and plonk our panniers and bags outside the restaurant and wait for it to open. Once inside we order then go retrieve our bikes from the other side of the building. Brekkie done we head to Ayr. Grandpa Pom would be leaving us today. He had all the train times from the stations along the coast to maximise his time with us. We meander through industrial and housing estates following the signed cycle route; with the occasional stretch along a promenade or sea wall with the Isle of Arran to the west, mine & R’s destination for the day.
Morning slips away and soon we are at Irvine. Grandpa Pom has decided this is where we’ll say our farewells. I also book a train ticket for mine and R’s eventual return as I can also book generic bike reservations. Outside it gets emotional. I think Dad would have liked to do more (cycling in general not just on our adventure).
A quick bite follows before we wiggle our way out of Irvine along more shared paths. Rain jackets at last are removed and we enjoy the sun when we can as the clouds whizz past ahead. spotting a toad and a giant concrete Lego brick…..
Soon we are back on the sea front again and closing in on Ardrossan, making the ferry with about 15 minutes to spare; perfect timing!
After a brief spell on deck fighting the wind we make our way into the front observation lounge to continue watching showers in the distance race across the ever looming island ahead. The crossing takes about an hour and as well as one eye on the weather we tuck into a few pastries from earlier, do a bit of colouring and tick a few more I spy boxes off.
Arran – a big rock reaching for the sky with a strip of flat land around its perimeter. We were heading north along the coast with the climb of the day over to Lochranza. A few stops en route ensued; first supplies, second swings, third 2 RED SQUIRRELS – we’d just stopped to don waterproofs again as the heavens opened and as we set off these 2 hopped across the road in front of us then perched on the wall watching us whilst I fumbled too slowly for the camera, and finally The Corrie pub for another break from the rain. We chat to others hiding and after an hour it hadn’t let up so we decide to go for it, up and over to our campsite.
This climb from North Glen Sannox to Glen Chalmadale would now become the toughest R had done after Cheddar Gorge; sea level to 200m in 5km. He bosched it like a pro winding up that strip of tarmac as it stretched out in front of us to the top of the pass.
Summiting as evening began to set in and grey skies above darkened, his red waterproof and rear light stuck out against the encroaching bleakness.
Something very magical in the still of the evening with wind buffeting us as we begin the descent, which was fast. A lady from The Corrie on her motorbike passes us waving as she goes. We arrive at the campsite and no sooner had we began setting up the tent when again the heavens open and it stays that way. Luckily there was a ‘kitchen’ so we leg it there and set about cooking; late it is now 20:30 and dark. The lights on the verandahs are motion activated. R goes round in circles screaming for joy setting them off, dodging rain drops crossing from one to the other and stopping briefly for a mouthful every few laps.
Exhausted we fall into the tent and listen the the continual patter of rain before zzzzzzzzzzzzz!
🔺s = 71 | Total = 615
72km forwards | 510m of up
DAY 21: Lochranza to Nether Largie
Rather than rush for the first ferry off Arran we amble through breakfast and head for the slipway not too far away passing the castle on a spit jutting out into Loch Ranza for the second. We spot the only 🔺s of the day by the ferry waiting room. A half hour hop back to the mainland and we arrive in Claonaig, sit in a bus shelter and snack again. First things first it was up over the Kintyre peninsula. R didn’t take too kindly to this, it wasn’t a gentle ascent, it takes him a while sometimes to get the legs wound up in the mornings. No prizes for hill climbing today, descending to West Loch Tarbert was another matter though; what goes up must come down, quick!
Bundling into the Marine Bistro on the harbour front of Tarbert we settle down for lunch and cake. It is popular with cyclists with several groups coming and going as we wait. R and Mummy chat on the phone as I nip across the road to the shop. Most days we have a chat and R updates all the 🔺s spotted along with the I spy items. The 2 red squirrels from yesterday get some air time. As does yesterday’s rain!
We then have a long stretch along the coast road of Loch Fynne. One of the group from the bistro passes us. Then we pass them as they wait in a layby. Then again a few pass us. One of the ladies in the group starts chatting. R shouts out “I’m doing Land’s End to John O’Groats”. Obviously she seemed a little shocked then R shot off to the front and led the train for a while before they headed on.
Leaving the road behind in Ardrishaig we join the Crinan Canal path; this canal once was a vital link from The Clyde to the Inner Hebrides. Luckily it is fantastically surfaced for its entire length so we lazily pootle as we jibber jabber. I spot a Peacock butterfly on the path, this is a high scorer in the I spy book; I seem to remember seeing loads as a kid but have to admit this is the first one for me for a long time. However it has reached the end of its lifecycle for whatever reason so I carefully pick it up to show R and we examine it.
Half way along the section of canal we were using we stop by some locks and swing bridge; obviously at a pub….
….with a cafe lounge for tea, crisps and cake. We stay there for a while and end up chatting to another family and a couple of friends who haven’t seen each other for years; they bring a dog in as R is in the toilet, I have to say that R may not react too well, he has a thing for dogs and gets quite fast. However he handles it well and is happy to now tell everybody what we are up to, again everyone is amazed before wishing us the best on our onwards journey.
As we finally leave the canal path I hear a fervent cry from behind. Yes! More #drainspotting. This time a diamond. Is it a coincidence the only other one we have ever seen like this was also close to a canal? The Kennet & Avon at Avoncilff. These are now dazzling diamonds!
This is the talking point as we head north across Moine Mhor towards what I think is The Highlands. You are always learning. I thought The Highlands referred to the higher altitude land around Ben Nevis. Later in the journey though I discovered it was the higher latitudes; defined by historic demographics and geology. We’d been in them since crossing to Arran. R is asking if we’ll be on any more canal paths hoping to see more diamonds!
Tonight I’d picked a fantastic wild camping spot, a car park for the Nether Largie Stones and Cairns. On arrival we find it closed to vehicles as the footbridge opposite to the ancient monuments is being repaired. Bonus for us we put up the tent and start on the cooking not having to worry about any visitors. Except R’s super hearing notices I’ve put the tent right next to a wasp nest at the base of a tree. I quickly move things around. We do get a couple of visitors later after dinner as we tried home made blackberry juice having squashed them in a bowl; not quite the desired outcome we were after being full of bits but a bit of fun before bed. Something we’d been meaning to do since Cornwall I think….
🔺s = 2 | Total = 617
55km forwards | 780m of up
DAY 22: Nether Largie to Dunstaffnage Castle
Right, first things first, after breakfast and packing down of course so perhaps third things third, we head to Nether Largie Stones and Cairns, a collection of standing and stone circles and ancient burial monuments dating back over 4000 years. We walk amongst their presence and peak inside a couple; luckily we don’t have a Sixth Sense.
We then head further up Kilmartin Glen to Carnasserie Castle, a commanding ruin over looking the valley, to have a nose around. We bump into the group of cyclists that R led after Tarbert, but R is gone; off up & down the spiral stairs, through darkened corridors and across railinged walkways. I can’t keep up. After a time I call out and there is a scurrying from different corners until R pops back out into the surrounding gardens. He’s hungry, I go back down to the bikes to fetch some food and set about lunch sat on a bench with view dropping away below us. We chat to a couple of Yanks over for some golf who’ve gone exploring. Needless to say R announces his journey, later they grab a photo of us with the bikes as we’re all leaving. Before that though R races to the top of the castle again for one last photo!
Onwards we go, it has gone noon and we still have 55km to do with several fairly big climbs. We’re main roading it today, no other option really without going the long way to Oban. Luckily the traffic is light, the two old friends we were chatting to yesterday pass us waving as they go. We pass several Lochs, climb a couple of those hills. R needs a poo, me too. I see a sign for Loch Melfort hotel a few miles off so we head there. It has a cafe too. And the most amazing view!
More chatting. A dad is asking about when me and R started cycle camping together and how we did it. I gave him details for the FollowMe tandem that we used to use. R and his boy set about swinging, picking blackberries, sliding, running, slurping tea till we were all done. We bid our farewells and wish them luck for their future adventures.
Still 40km to go we make haste in a lazy way, enjoying the warm afternoon sun and admiring the views across the loch to some of the isles close by. I spot a large caterpillar in the road. When I say large I actually mean ENORMOUS! I try to pick it up to move it out of harms way but it is a tough wriggler about the size of my thumb and breaks free, instead I nudge it to the verge. I know of a large moth so take a punt later when doing a search, it is the caterpillar of an Elephant Hawk Moth. Time ticks by as does our progress; busy talking about mountains, where we’ll be camping tonight (I still wasn’t sure) and what we’d do for dinner. Food! 20km to go we do one more stop and climb down to Loch Feochan’s edge to munch on cereal bars. The rocks higher up are covered in tar. I explain to R about oils spills, how it affects the wildlife and remains present in the environment.
On our way to Oban we wait at some roadwork lights, 2 Germans pull up on their motorbikes, more chatting, they do pedal powered cycles as well, we see them several times over the next week as we head north as they are off to Fort William and then on to do the North Coast 500 which we’d be on sections of nearing the end of our journey. You ‘bump into’ more people repeatedly the further north you go. I suppose as the choice of ‘things to do’ narrows as the wilderness widens so common goals are shared. The lights go green and we begin the descent to the hustle and bustle of Oban with CalMac Ferries going this way and that. We ride around and settle on a pizza restaurant on the harbourside much to R’s joy; plus there is a 🔺 on the quayside!
I had two camping options here. Either south along the coast to a proper site or north and wild camp near the railway on a very back road on the way to Connel; me & Mummy had walked this track years ago. However I decided to go for another option to avoid the pitfalls of both, extra overall distance or extra climbing.
Instead we headed out of Oban past its castle and on to the grounds of Dunstaffnage Castle near Dunbeg. It has begun to rain again. I find a spot in the woods with the sound of the sea tumbling over the pebbled beach below and rain drops on the canopy above. Looking at the area now there were probably a few spots where we could have got up closer to the shore, perhaps next time!
🔺s = 6 | Total = 623
62km forwards | 830m of up
DAY 23: Dunstaffnage Castle to Glen Nevis
OK, so it began to rain last night, it didn’t stop! I checked the route forecast in the morning and it was looking like rain all day and pretty intense. We hastily make breakfast and I pack as much as possible with R still in the tent until the last minute. I had hoped to have a look round the castle and grounds but it is so wet we agree to just get a move on.
I’ll make this brief as it was a disgusting day. We crossed Connel Bridge and thanks to the tide were able to see the Falls of Lora. Initial plan was to use the main road being ‘flat’ but it was so wet the spray was intense. Instead we resigned ourselves to NCN78. This isn’t quick being a windy lumpy brute with many access points. But quiet using a mixture of an old railway line, road side paths (not many thankfully as you would get a soaking), back lanes and a bat shit crazy path scaling the lower slopes of Creag Ghorm; with stunning views but the steep climb was unnecessary on a day like that, if I’d have known we would have suffered the road spray for 2km! On a pleasant day this whole section would have been lovely and we’d have probably have got the ferries across and back and followed the quite route down Loch Eil. Instead, with 55km of sodden soul stripping cycle paths behind us, we rejoined the main road. 13km to Fort William. R had had enough and nailed it pumping out an average 20kph for 40 minutes through the pissing rain; that boy can move!
Not only was today Day 23 it was a Sunday. ‘Everything’ had been closed probably intensified by the weather. We’d only managed one stop at the Scottish Sea Life Sanctuary for warm food, we didn’t see any of the wildlife and luckily we got into the cafe before the lunch bulge. Also I’d only bothered with one photo!
What I hadn’t planned on was this autumnal weather in August. We both only had sandals. Now I could get away with it but I put R’s feet in some plastic bags too to keep the wind chill off. Then there were gloves. R had just his fingerless cycling ones and I had none. And finally to top things off the bracket holding my saddle had begun to swivel on the seat post, perhaps the rain had got in and destroyed the bonding. So in Fort William we sought out a bike shop and got our selves some gloves. Not much we could do about sandals, at least we had warm socks. New seat post I put off hoping to find some glue to fix it with once I’d had a proper look. Oh, and Smidge, the new Avon Skin So Soft (they changed the formula), as last night and this morning I was eaten alive!
The last stretch through the town to Glen Nevis campsite throws up a plethora of 🔺s much to R’s delight. We pass a swimming pool which R banks for later. Tent up quickly we go to the site restaurant to warm up and fill up ready for tomorrow.
On paper the ride doesn’t look to bad with the highest point about 45m above sea level. But there were loads of little sharp ups and downs, gates, road crossings, and the wettest, coldest day of the entire adventure. It was horrible!
🔺s = 36 | Total = 659
75km forwards | 890m of up
Stage: 511km | 4680m
Adventure: 1,425km | 14,080m