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8th August 2011, 2011 Europe Trip Diary

I have been working on converting the news (blog) into a diary that contains photos.  This takes some time, and so far I have only done about a quarter.  Check here to have a look

9th July 2011

We rode the 10km from our hotel at Alsmeer to Schipol Airport, outside Amsterdam, packed our bikes and were on our way.

We stopped off, as we usually do at an Asian hub on the way home.  This breaks the 21-hour journey, and helps with the jet lag.  We book a really, really nice hotel, and veg out.  We go for a bit of a walk, maybe hang around the pool, and indulge ourselves.  Usually, the flight out of Europe arrives in the early morning, and we can leave on the evening of the following day for Australia.

We indulge ourselves with the wonderful breakfast that these hotels offer and then don’t eat during the day.

The stopover, Hong Kong this time, is an indulgence and a celebration, and something just for us, before going home.

As this is our fifth European bicycle tour, the experience of getting there and home are now pretty familiar.  While I love getting back to my own home, perhaps the most overwhelming feeling is the one of withdrawal from the intense daily exercise hit.  I know that over the coming weeks I will mourn the gradual loss of the very high level of fitness, that I simply do not have the time to maintain in “normal” life.

This was the hardest trip we have yet undertaken.  We rode just over 3700km, a little less than in some of our other trips, but feel that the workload was much more intense.

It cost us around $150 per day and of that perhaps $100 was for accommodation.  We could have done it for a bit less, if we didn’t have blowouts.  But we like the blowouts.

This was not a trip for the first time bicycle tourist.  I think it takes a trip or two to develop the confidence in your own ability to know that you can cope with the continuous hard riding through Scotland and England.  While the hills are not large, they can be very steep, particularly in England, and there is no relief.  Most days, we were either riding up a hill, or down the other side.  The weather in Scotland is not easy, it is often wet, cold and blowing, but there was never a day when I just wanted out.

It is hard to know whether we just had luck with the weather and our trip organization, or at some level our experience from these trips and a lot of other travel leads to some subliminal planning that allows us to pick a way through that works.  In 43 days of touring, we only got seriously damp on 4 days.  Pretty good in wet country.

Our trips are about the journey, and now after some 20,000km of European bicycle touring, we are a bit over cathedrals, castles and the like, and more into the subtleties of the changing landscape.  The thing in the built environment that struck me most was perhaps the Great War German cemetery outside Ypres.  It’s stark and somber design made more of a statement about that war than all of the other monuments, most of which I found slightly sickening in their honouring of the soldiers who would have been shot by their own side, had they not sacrificed themselves.

I think unless you undertake an extended bicycle tour you cannot understand the sheer joy of just riding when your stamina is up, and your confidence is high.  It is an absolutely exhilarating experience to be riding hard on a good day, with the bike spinning along, knowing you can ride like this forever, and getting to this point is so easy.

I always find it hard to think about another trip at this stage, but I am absolutely sure we will be back.

Day 44, 30 6 2011, Dortrecht to Alsmeer

We have only stayed in two crook hotels on this trip, the first being the Hotel Pirie in Edinburgh, and the second being the Hotel Dortrecht in Dortrecht last night.

This hotel was quite expensive, and the large room was pleasant, but we could not open the window, which faced onto the street.  Nevermind, it was hot, so we turned on the airconditioner, but it didn’t work.

I tried to use the free WiFi, but it went through a proxy server that was supposed to limit the time you could log on, but I couldn’t connect, so this post is late.  Why they need to limit the time is not clear.  It is highly unlikely that they have been ripped off by guests logging on for too long.

They insisted we pay for breakfast, which was continental style, but the bread was stale, and one of the butters was rancid.

The point here is, as I said about the Hotel Pirie, that serving stale bread is a sign of slovenly contempt for their guests.  It costs no more to get it right.  The coffee tasted like instant, and the rancid butter is completely unacceptable.

We have stayed in some pretty ordinary places, but generally they are run by people who do their best to offer the service you pay for, but not these two.

This was our last day.  We had plenty of time to wander up to Alsmeer to the hotel we booked last night, the first hotel we have booked on this trip.  As the hotel is in the Schipol (Amsterdam) airport precinct, we knew we had to get here, and there was some saving by booking ahead.

We decided to follow route LF2B, which runs north and passes very close to Alsmeer where our hotel is located.

The weather was fine, and likely to stay fine as our bike computers were showing an altitude of around -80m, indicating a high pressure region.

We made stately progress, as it was generally sunny, and a good day for photographs, and we were in no hurry.

The path wandered through country defined by vast numbers of drains, canals and dykes, and was increasingly pretty as we made our way north. It seems that most of Holland is part of the vast Rhine delta, and this part of the country is particularly defined by that geography. The villages also were increasingly pretty, with beautiful gardens around the cottages, and the occasional attractive barn-conversion home.

We passed through the market town of Gouda, which has the exuberance, architectural idiosyncracy and panache that characterizes so many Dutch cities.

This route provided a lot more than the town-to-town route we used yesterday, taking us past special places that we would otherwise have missed.

The overwhelming impact of this country is that it is man-made, and man has done a pretty good job over the last thousand years.  Presumably, much of this country was swamp.

We rode an easy 103km for the day and that is it.  Tomorrow morning we will ride the few kilometers to the airport, pack our bikes and be on our way.

I will add one more post to sum up, and perhaps convert this blog to a diary, but already I can sense the usual emotions that I feel at the end of one of our bike trips.  There is a sense of loss, combined with a desire to get home.  We have to radically change our eating habits, and there is almost a sense of mourning that the stamina we have acquired will gradually diminish.

Until next time, and there will be one.

View 30 6 2011 Dortrecht to Alsmeer in a larger map

Day 43, 29 6 2011, Kapelle to Dortrecht

There are several different bicycle-travelling systems in Holland.

All towns have bicycle lanes on almost all roads.

There is a system of efficient bicycle tracks between towns, which usually parallel a main road, but not the motorway.  These tracks are around 2m wide, about 1.5m from the road, and built to a similar standard as the roads.

Then there is the knoppoint system.  This consists of a series of places scattered all over the country, and signed routes from them to adjacent points.  At each knoppoint there is a map showing the location of the point, and the location of neighbouring points, and there are signs defining the route from one to another.

Lastly, there are a large number of defined routes.  These are designed for tourists.  Some are national, but many appear to be the work of regions.  These signposted routes may be a day’s ride or a week.  They meander around to show the best of the country, and therefore are not efficient as point to point options.

Yesterday we followed one of the national routes and today we used the town-to-town system, in order to ensure that we will be at Schipol by tomorrow evening.

The difference in the efficiency of the routes should be obvious by comparing today’s and yesterday’s routes.  Of course, efficiency is not everything, and if time allows, we would usually choose to follow one of the national LF routes.

We rode 109km today, and there is not much to say about it.  It was easy and pleasant riding through flat country on well-defined high quality paths.  The objective was to get close to Dordrecht, where we eventually stopped for the night, to give us a straightforward ride into Schipol. We need to be there tomorrow night as we have to be at the airport by about 10.00am on Friday.

Drodrecht is a large industrial city in a heavily populated region, so we found accommodation, but it was not straightforward.  There is not much accommodation even in a city as large as this.

Even though we were generally travelling through villages that were on or near major routes, there is little travelling infrastructure, by which I mean coffee shops.

If you were to take the best of cycling in Holland, the marvelous bicycle infrastructure, and in the UK, the good accommodation options, coffee, pub culture and associated food you would end up with Germany. Only Germany offers even more sausages, and nothing wrong with that.


View 29 6 2011 Kapelle to Dortrecht in a larger map

Day 42, 28 6 2011 Zeebrugge to Kapelle

We caught the overnight ferry from Hulle to Zeebrugge in Belgium.  I thoroughly enjoy these ferry trips.  I settle in with my book in the lounge, and drink coffee or beer as the time dictates.

Knowing that we were moving to an impoverished coffee zone in Belgium and Holland, I started the morning with two huge cups of Costa coffee on board.

We got off the ferry around 9.00am, to an overcast, warm and sultry morning.

We did not have good enough maps, so simply kept the coast on our right on the grounds that Holland is that way.  TomTom is not good at this sort of navigation, as it doesn’t always get you on the right car-free tracks.

We ended up back on the North Sea Cycle Route, and by now I think we must have ridden close to half of the 6000km route.  The only major sections we have not ridden are those in the far north of Scotland, and in Norway north of Bergen.

It was so peasant to get away from the traffic, which has been such a feature of the last week, and so pleasant to be in full-on bike culture, where the whole road system is designed to integrate bikes.

We entered Holland rather sooner than I expected, and our navigation picked up, as we have good maps for this country.

We came to a ferry on our route and as we saw the ferry port the ferry pulled in, as they usually do.

We rode through the afternoon in hot humid weather, with a bit of a head wind, but the ordinary conditions were made up for by the quality of the route.  The signing on the Dutch cycle route LF13A was impeccable, and almost all of the route was on very high quality sealed paths, on the top of dykes, farm access roads and a lot of custom bike path.

Around 4.30, we picked a large town, and decided that it would be the destination for tonight.

We arrived about 6.00 but unfortunately there was no accommodation there.  We asked around, as it started to drizzle, and found that there was no accommodation for at least 35km in our direction, and we were told that there was a severe weather warning. We were told that the nearest accommodation was around 10km in the direction we had come, and were strongly advised to go back there, so we did.  There was a lot of lightning and thunder around at the time.  We bought a minimal meal in a supermarket just in case, and that will now do for breakfast.  In all we rode 106km, but we are not that far from Zeebrugge.

We founds the motel and got a room and by 8.00 were eating a really rather good dinner at their restaurant.  The storm didn’t come here, and the thunder turned out to be bird-scarer guns.

The contrast with the UK could not be starker.  The riding conditions were vastly superior today, but if we had arrived in a town of the sort we had targeted in the UK there would have been at least three pubs, and perhaps a half a dozen B&Bs.

Such is life.


View 28 6 2011 Zeebrugge Kapelle in a larger map

Day 41, 27 6 2011, York to Hull

Today was just about getting to Hull so we could catch our ferry this evening.

We caught a train to York, then rode the 64km to Hull.

Something unusual occasionally happens to our bike computers.  Sometimes they just put on a lot of kilometres.  Today mine was indicating 92km/hr for quite some distance, while Roz computer was working perfectly.  We have never seen this happen at home but it has happened a number of times on this trip.  The computers are wireless, so presumably they are picking up some stray electrical noise in the environment and interpreting it as a signal from the sender unit near the wheel.  We have not been able to track down whatever is causing the problem, and of course there is not necessarily a single cause.

We left York as quickly as possible, we have been there before, to ensure that we could get to Hull on time.

Today was the hottest day we have had in the UK, with the temperature well over 30C.

The road to Hull is mainly flat, with one minor hill, but there was a solid head wind all the way and we had chosen to ride on the busy A road in order to ensure we could get to the ferry terminal before they cancelled our booking.

Headwinds make the bike and me feel lifeless, so with the traffic and the heat we have had more inspiring days, but it was alright.  The one hill gave us some good views of the east Yorkshire landscape, so it was a bonus, even though we had to ride up it.

We went straight to Nero’s in Hull and settled in for a half hour to drink a lot of cold liquids, and a coffee of course.

All we then had to do was post some letters, go to Tesco’s to buy some picnic food for dinner and then we got to the ferry terminal about 15 minutes before they were due to cancel our booking.

The food on the ferry is not bad, but we don’t need the full buffet meal, and are happier with a cold drink and our bread and cheese.

As we lined up to ride onto the ferry, the weather started to change and the dispatcher wished us luck and said we were lucky we were not in Scotland as they were forecasting temperatures of 3C and awful weather.

Lucky indeed.

The map is made up in Google, as the datalogger failed, perhaps due to the same electrical noise that affected the computer.  I hope it hasn’t affected my fertility.

This is posted late due to the vagaries of our ferry and various hotels.

View 27 6 2011 York to Hull in a larger map

Day 40, 26 6 2011, Morpeth to Darlington

We thought we would be on our way to mainland Europe by now, but it wasn’t to be.  We thought it might be precipitate to book a ferry berth ahead of time, and then last night found that there were no ferry berths to be had out of north east England to anywhere. 

We have had a lot of ferry legs on our bike trips, and our usual practice is to roll up and buy a ticket at the terminal.  “Oh, goodness me” we say, “You mean the ferry is leaving now, and there is a berth for us?”  We have had glitches that I have written about elsewhere, but never have these giant ferries been full.

So we decided to bite the bullet last night and make an on-line booking.  I logged onto the P&O website, and said there were two of us and we were travelling by bicycle.  The rather snide response from the website was that only one person could travel on a bicycle, and I should start over.  Apart from being technically incorrect, there is even a song about this, the response was idiotic.  What sort of fuckwitted programmer could design a website that could not anticipate that two people travelling together might have two bikes?

There was no way round the problem, so Roz rang up this morning to make a booking for tomorrow night.

This left us with a bit of a lay day.  We do not do rest days, which was one alternative.  We have tried this and it doesn’t work for us.  So we decided to ride towards York with the intention of catching trains when the time ran out tomorrow.  However it was difficult for me to get enthused, and the difficult riding confirmed my mood.  There was a strong head wind, and very choppy hill riding, not big hills, but short and steep.

Then we came across the British National Cycle Championships, and watched the end of the women’s competition, and I perked up.

We had turned onto a road called the B3609, in an effort to keep clear of Newcastle.  The hills got steeper and bigger.  We can only assume that this road has history, that is, it was made up of old village-to-village walking tracks that evolved into a road, because there is no effort to limit the grade.  I think this is the hardest riding we have done in our trips, culminating in a 200m vertical climb at a slope of around 12%.  This is shown in the elevation profile that you can access from the Google Earth link on the map.  There was no point on this road where we were not riding steeply uphill or down.

As soon as we turned onto the A road, it all changed.  We were on an engineered road with controlled grades, and the riding improved immensely, but the traffic increased commensurately.

And here is the dilemma for bicycle touring in England.  Sustrans have made a heroic effort to define the National Cycle Network (NCN), but too often their routes are compromised.  They are often very rough, contain frequent changes of route, have sections where there are numerous gates, and the signage goes missing.  The major problem is that the routes are imposed on existing infrastructure, and not custom infrastructure as in central Europe.  The B roads are hard work, and the A roads are busy.  I suspect that with a great deal of work you could put together a route in England using rail trails, canals and a judicious selection of roads, but it will take a lot of work.  This is not to say that it is not worthwhile, just that there is a cost.

So we rode through Churchill’s “green and pleasant land” for 103Km, ending up in Darlington, where we immediately found a great cheap pub, and unusually good and cheap pub meal.

This was a hard day, and character forming, not of course that I need that.


View 26 6 2011 Morpeth to Darlington in a larger map

Day 39, 25 6 2011, Cockburnspath to Morpeth

We left this morning in a cold light drizzle and solid overcast to ride up a big hill. This was an appropriate ending for our riding in Scotland.  This is not to disparage Scotland, the weather gives it the mystical quality that is so beguiling.

As we got to the crest of the hill we had a spectacular view back north up the coast.

Glistening in the sunlight was the nuclear power station at Torness, right on the coast, only there was no sunlight.

A few miles further north we could see the steam billowing out from the cement factory, as they dehydrated the lime for the cement, presumably using the power from Torness, thereby establishing a tiny carbon footprint.

We pressed on today, as last night we decided to check the ferry timetable out of Newcastle, only to find that the Sunday night ferry was booked out.  This is unprecedented in or experience, and we believe it may be due to a major bike race in Newcastle that has attracted the major teams from Europe. They will have come with vans full of equipment, and the teams and officials will likely need the ferry to get home.

The upshot of this is that we will catch a ferry out of Hull, and that will require a train trip.  We are not going to ride from Newcastle to Hull as we have already done that. So we had to get closer to Newcastle tonight than we had planned, to allow for the trains.

We made a point of riding as close to the coast as we could, all on road.  We crossed the national cycle network route 1 numerous times, but decided to ignore it.  The first time we saw it this morning we were riding on a perfectly good road, and the sign suggested we ride up a nearly vertical rough gravel track.  So we didn’t.

This was generally easy riding after the first hill, on gently undulating country, farming country, with fields sloping away down to the sea.

We rode over one shallow ridge, and came upon Bamburgh Castle.  It just appeared at this point.  It is pretty impressive, and makes Edinburgh Castle look pretty ordinary by comparison.

As we rode south, the population density increased, and so did the frequency of delightful, quintessentially English villages.  It is Saturday, the weather was pleasant, so people were out and about, sitting outside the pubs and coffee shops, just enjoying life. 

While this was a long ride on a long day, just under 130km, it was not difficult.  The country was a pleasure to ride through, the weather immediately improved when we left Scotland, and we rode in balmy conditions in light clothing for the first time in ages.

View 25 6 2011 Cocksburnspath to Morpeth in a larger map

Day 38, 24 6 2011, Edinburgh to Cockburnspath

We had a good night’s sleep, and I started to agree with Roz, that perhaps I had been a bit rash about the Pirie Hotel.  We went to breakfast, and they had espresso coffee and a buffet style breakfast, so that was very good.  I can’t understand why it is that so many hotels assume their guests like really good coffee during the day, but prefer shit coffee for breakfast.  So I had my fruit and yoghurt and was feeling pretty good, and went to get a couple of rolls, which turned out to be a few days old, so old they crumbled.  THAT IS NOT GOOD ENOUGH.  My opinion of the Pirie Hotel remains unchanged.

We spent last night wandering around the city, and this morning went to the castle, which looks like it was poured over the big rock on which it stands.  Edinburgh Castle is a great castle.  It has been evolving for a thousand years, but somewhere there is a consistency in the design.  It is filled with guns, kilts and all sorts of other memorabilia, including the sort of vermilion-coloured uniforms that say “shoot me first”.  There were thousands of tourists there, but we managed to spend a couple of hours, which may be a record for us.  Of course, a place like this is a testament to human bastardry.  The people in charge here have carelessly visited the most appalling suffering on all sorts of other people, through their immorality, venality and ambition.

I took advantage of a Nero’s coffee, and left around 1.30, following a combination of a bicycle route courtesy of TomTom and the National Cycle Network route 76.  We only rode 68Km today.

Our route was over gently undulating country through farmland on a cool partly sunny day, with little or no wind.  A very pleasant afternoon, and only the second day in Scotland without big hills.

We will definitely be back in England tomorrow, and have been planning how we will get back to mainland Europe, and when.  We should be in Newcastle the day after tomorrow, and will try and get a ferry out on that evening.

This leaves us with a few days riding in Belgium or Holland.  Of course we had to allow a couple of days to get back to Amsterdam to get our flight home, and this next short tour is the result of that consideration.

View 24 6 2011 Edinburgh to Cockburnspath in a larger map

Day 37, 23 6 2011, Perth to Edinburgh

Tomorrow may well be our last day in Scotland.  Our intention is to have a quick look at Edinburgh, before heading south, which may take us into England.

We did a bit of tourist stuff this morning, went out to Scone Palace.  The gardens are great and the palace is quite nice.

The ride today was pretty straightforward.  We rode up a big hill out of the Tay Valley, and then down secondary roads, occasionally intercepting the cycle network route 1, and easily rode into downtown Edinburgh without having to go on major roads.

We checked into maybe the worst B&B of our trip so far, although Roz believes there are two other candidates for this honour.  It is a basement room and we can’t open the window.  We usually don’t bother to check rooms when we book in as they are almost always much as we would expect.  Not surprisingly for a hotel of this standard, they do not have free WiFi, like other mediocre hotels from the Travelodge and Ibis chains.

So I am writing this in a pub, where we had dinner.  I stuck with the fish and chips, which was very good, and good value.  You can tell good Scottish fish and chips, as, when you press your fork into the batter, little wells of oil appear.  Of course you can’t live on food like this, but it is great on a short trip.

Scotland has been very easy to travel through.  We have been comparing the food with Italy, and the pubs here are incomparably better.  You get a good solid feed, not haute cuisine, but fair variety at a good price, often in an atmospheric old bar.  Our experience in Italy was that you get very limited choice, pasta or pizza, at ridiculous prices with very poor service.  To be fair, you get better delicatessen food in Italy than you can find in Tescos in Scotland.

Accommodation has been easy to find, and at least with the current exchange rates, pretty good value.

So that is the logistics covered.  The riding has not been easy, but quite achievable.  There has only been one day where we have not had to do some significant climbing, but the rewards have been there in terms of the scenery and the riding experience in general.

We are down now to checking ferry timetables to get back to Amsterdam.

It may be necessary to scroll the map to see the route.

View 23 6 2011 Perth to Edinburgh in a larger map

Day 36, 22 6 2011,Blair Atholl to Perth

The last 10Km into Blair Atholl yesterday was completed at a pretty fair pace and we were soaking wet and chilled.  We were still riding slightly downhill from the high pass, there was little or no wind and the road was good.  I started thinking, as you do, about what I wanted to see.  I wanted to roll into Blair Atholl, and see a nice substantial old pub sitting but the road side with it’s “accommodation available” sign sitting outside.  While I knew without a shadow of doubt that we would have no trouble finding a bed, I didn’t want to see a sign that said something like: “Hotel 4 miles up this very steep hill”.

And there it was, the Atholl Arms, exactly where I wanted it, and as I had pictured it, a nice big solid stone pub, advertising rooms and food, sitting by the side of the road as we rolled in, and were in a hot shower in 10 minutes.  Perfect.

Even better, it only had 3 stars.  If it had 4 stars, we would have had to pay an extra 20 pounds, and all we would have got is a flunkey.  If I needed any flunking, that would be good, but I have never found the need. Yet.

Today was a pretty relaxed day as we did tourist things and got a little TLC for Roz’ bike. We started with a two-hour session at Blair Atholl castle, described in the Lonely Planet as a mausoleum for deer.  There must be thousands of stag heads mounted on the walls of the corridors and many of the rooms. All labelled with date of death and age or weight, eg 1850 13yrs.  The castle is set in beautiful grounds and houses a great deal of fascinating memorabilia.  The castle itself is an also-ran amongst castles.

We followed the national bike route as this kept us clear of the A9, which our map indicated almost every road eventually joined.  This worked well.  The route followed minor roads and forest tracks that ran around the rim of the Tay River valley through picturesque country and pretty villages, dipping into thickly wooded valleys and rising onto low farmed ridges. 

The difference between the built environment here and on the west coast of Scotland is striking. There are some stunning houses and gardens scattered through the countryside here, while almost any building in the west seems minimalist and with only a tenuous connection to its environment.  Perthshire must be the most attractive party of the country we have seen so far.

So we only rode 75km today.

We have been talking about the bits of the north here and in Norway, and parts of France and Switzerland that we have not ridden too, and decided that some of these areas may be better suited to motorcycle touring rather than the sort of bicycle touring we want to do.  We just have to work out how to do that.

So we rode into Perth and found the street with the B&Bs.  It took a while, but it seems that most Scottish towns have such a street and it is sometimes not immediately obvious.  There must be a dozen immediately around us.  We wandered down to Tesco, bought some bread, cheese and the like and settled in at our B&B.

It was supposed to rain today but didn’t.  We got lucky, again.

You may need to play with the map to make it work correctly.



View 22 6 2011 Blair Atholl to Perth in a larger map

Day 35, 21 6 2011, Spean Bridge to Blair Atholl

We met another bike rider on the high pass we rode through yesterday, a local from Inverness out on a morning ride, albeit quite a strenuous one.  He was riding a light-weight carbon-fibre road bike, with a weight, I would guess of less than 8Kg.  My bike’s all up weight, including panniers is around 30Kg, and that makes a big difference.  And we are travelling very light compared with many touring cyclists we see.  This chap, a man about our age gave us some advice, including that we could use routes that he could not on his bike.  That was the case yesterday, and again this afternoon, when we again joined the national cycle network.

The weather forecast for today and the next day or so was pretty grim.

We left Spean Bridge in dry but threatening weather, which turned to light drizzle in about an hour.  Our route out was a road called the A82.  Any road with an “A” in its name gives me some traffic concerns. However the traffic was light and we had a simply exhilarating morning. The road climbed steadily up 200m vertical at a modest 3 to 4%.  We know this because our bike computers tell us so.

After 5 weeks of riding we have gained a good deal of touring fitness, which we could use today.  It is very hard to explain the pleasure of being able to work hard on a bike, with simply no sense of impending tiredness.  It is a wonderful feeling, and to get there requires no particular effort, other than simply enjoying the previous five weeks.

We have had days that are harder than others, today being an example, but I don’t think there has been an occasion on this trip were we have actually felt tired.

After our coffee break, we rode to a whiskey distillery at the junction of the major trunk road, the A9, took a tour, then rejoined the cycle route that parallels the A9.  This route is made up of old parts of the A9, bits of local paths and some rough custom-made trail to join the other bits together.  We considered joining the A9 instead to avoid the roughness, but there was far too much traffic.  Not a route for road bikes, and it is the only way to get through this part of the country.

We came to a notice warning us that we had to go through a pass at 457m, and the weather could be horrible.  In fact, at this stage it was horrible.  Steady rain and a temperature of 10C.  Our bike computers tell us the temperature.

Murpy’s law came into action and Roz had two punctures in rapid succession, right at the crest of the pass.  We were cool enough at this stage, and even though it only took us a bit over 5 minutes to replace each tube, this was quite enough to cool us down further.

We then rode hard to get into Blair Atholl, and as we rode in saw the sort of great eccentric old pub that we both love, and checked in, a bit chilled by now.  So I am sitting in the bar after a hot shower, in front of the fire, writing this stuff.

Despite a good deal of climbing in generally awful weather, We enjoyed our 102Km today.

The weather forecast for tomorrow is no better.  Nevermind.


View 21 6 2011 Spean Bridge to Blair Atholl in a larger map

Day 34, 20 6 2011, Foyer to Spean Bridge

We had a great meal last night, sitting in the bay window of the dining room overlooking Loch Ness.  The meal was prepared by a chef, with considerable care.  It was a set menu of three courses, and a couple of little appetizers, and beautifully done.  It cost 70 pounds, or around the fuel cost of driving for a day, but was a very special experience.

For the last few days before this we have been eating supermarket dinners, bread, cheese, cold meat and the like for around 14 pounds, and staying in B&Bs for around 50 pounds.  Tonight’s B&B is 44 pounds, and we are going to have fish and chips at the local pub for around 7 pounds each.  Plus beer.  The local minimart is not up to even my low standards.

We only rode around 60km today, but that is not reflective of the day’s riding.

We started out with a 400 vertical meter climb, only in Scotland it is more.  We were on a very minor road, so minor that at some stages it was only single lane, with bays to pull off so people could pass.  The road rose and fell, so the gross climb is a great deal more than 400m.  It felt more like the 500 or 600m climbs we have done in France, where the climb is a consistent 6%.  Our climb today varied between -14% and 14%.

From Port Augustus we joined the Great Glen Track, which follows the Caledonian Canal and the chain of lochs interconnected by the canal.  This is all off road and on quite rough gravel tracks and beautiful but muddy single tracks.  There were even a couple of points where we had to get off and push our bikes up a bit of a hill.  While the track is rough, the country is extremely beautiful, particularly on a day like today, when the lochs are mirror calm.  The dense forests most of the way come to the very edge of the lochs, so sometimes we were riding without a view, and then there would be a clearing and the views would come into sight including Ben Nevis with snow still visible.  There were a lot of people out walking on this track.

So, we have effectively recrossed the country, and now will have to turn back to the south east towards Edinburgh.

None of this was really planned.  We had discussed riding the Caledonian Canal path, but in the other direction.

View Day 34, Foyer to Spean Bridge in a larger map

Day 33, 19 6 2011, Tain to Foyer

I have decided that I am not going to eat the Full Scottish Breakfast anymore, a meal that has some similarity to the Full English Breakfast.  We were told by one of our hosts that the Full English Breakfast is rubbish.  The ingredients, bacon, eggs, sausage, tomato, black pudding and mushrooms are the same, but where the English fry the tomato, the Scots grill them.  There are some other variations, for example, some Scottish breakfasts include a tattie scone, that is, a wedge of a potato pancake.  These are so strikingly similar from one establishment to another that I suspect they come from Tesco, a theory I intend to check. Haggis is occasionally offered.

Anyway, I travel better on cereal or porridge and toast.

Today was an easy day compared with the last couple.  For most of the day the road was flat, and we travelled on Cycle Route 1, the North Sea route that we joined shortly before we arrived in Tain yesterday.  This route has a total length of 6000km, and we have now ridden on it in Holland, Germany, Denmark, Norway and England in addition, now, to Scotland.

We are getting used to the weather.  Today was pretty good, with just a few drops of rain and broken cloud.  The temperature got to about 16C, which is a bit above what we have been experiencing, and there was no wind, which is such a pleasant change.  It felt like a nice day. 

We started back in attractive country, pretty farmland, with shallow forested valleys and rhododendrons.  The towns are so much more attractive than the ones we have ridden through elsewhere in Scotland.  So we meandered along comfortably and covered 108 km.

Finding accommodation was difficult. There are a couple of little towns along this southern, les-travelled shore of Loch Ness, but we found nothing that could offer us an evening meal, so we rode on to the locality, rather than a town, of Foyer, which seems to be here because of a hydroelectric plant.  We found signage for 2 hotels.  The first was up a very steep and long winding path, but was closed today.  After a considerable amount of effort, which included using a map given to us by a passerby and a ride up another steep and winding path we found the hotel.  We missed it at first as the sign had just been cleaned, and the arrow on it was placed pointing the wrong direction.

This hotel is another of those rare finds.  It costs 80 pounds, but the huge room has windows with unimpeded views of the loch and an enormous four-poster bed.  It is great, and another of those bits of happenstance that we so love on these trips.

We saw some sheep with four horns.  That is, four horns each.

View 19 6 2011, Tain to Foyer in a larger map

Day 32, Stornoway to Tain

We caught the 7.00am ferry from Stornoway to Ullapool and were on the road around 10.30.  The ferry services to the Hebrides work very well and are cheap.  The fares for the two of us and our bikes, for the nearly three-hour trip was just 15 pounds.

This was a hard day.  There was a string wind blowing right in our faces and a lot of steep uphill climbing.  We rode to Ledmore, which is the junction of the road going to the north coast and one to the west.  We had decided a few days ago that we would go no further north, but then reconsidered, and decided to leave the decision until we got to Ledmore.  We stopped at a café down the road and after discussing the road and getting advice from the proprietors, decided to continue to the east.  We thought that if our solid southerly tail wind had continued we might have taken advantage of it, but the riding to the north was hard, through the sort of dramatic country we had been riding through for the last few days on the Hebrides.

We followed the valley of the Oykel River to the Dornoch Firth, a ride that would have been a delight on a nice day, but was compromised by the hard wind.

So, we rode from coast to coast after a late start, on a windy day, over the hills, 103km to the town of Tain.  Tain, by the way, is by far the prettiest Scottish town we have seen so far.

We rode into the town on a street where there were a host of B&Bs, selected the one with a WiFi sign out the front and checked in.  55 pounds, and they are doing our washing, which is a first, and another free service not offered by Travelodge or Ibis.

I have had to make up this map as the datalogger failed again.  Pity really, as it is difficult to show the hills.

View 18 6 2011 Stornoway to Tain in a larger map

Day 31, 17 6 2011, Ardhasaig to Stornoway

We started this morning with a big steep climb, overly sustained by an enormous piece of Stornoway black pudding.  The people around Stornoway claim it is the best in the country.  I prefer to warm up a bit before facing a climb like this, particularly when weighed down with a big piece of black pudding.

This morning was probably the best weather we have seen in Scotland.  It was sunny, and the country looked great, with its sparkling lochs and dramatic hills.

The plan was to ride to Stornoway, by a slightly circuitous route.

We were told yesterday afternoon that there were no B&Bs much between Tairbeart and Stornoway, but we saw at least 6, and there were probably a lot more.  The Visit Scotland people who helped us yesterday were concerned and really tried, but were just wrong.  Visit Scotland seems to have a bit of a problem in this regard.

I have been puzzled as we ride through the Hebrides about the lack of evidence of human habitation before around 1960, when pebblecrete buildings seem to have been built.  We made a point of visiting the hamlet of Arnol, to see some traditional buildings, the last of which was vacated in 1966, and is now a museum.  It was the sort of design one imagines from the middle ages, no windows, no chimney, no plumbing, a small hearth with a peat fire and a thatched roof. The animals were kept inside, and the floor was flagstones.  Pretty rough living.

When travelling through these islands it is important to remember just how tenuous human civilization was here. If it was not for the availability of peat, it would probably have been impossible.  These islands really are on the edge of nowhere, and a trip to the west will probably see a landfall in somewhere like Boston.

There is a distinct lack of industry here now.  We visited a Harris tweed outlet, but they are well past their heyday.  A couple of generations ago, every middleclass British subject would have worn a Harris tweed jacket, but no more, and the styles we saw harked back to this period.  The roads are covered in EU supported sheep, there is tourism and a little fishing and that is it.

The riding deteriorated this afternoon.  A change blew in, and the country suddenly looked bleak and threatening.  We moved out of the dramatic hill country and onto rolling moors, scarred with the trenches of peat mining.  We rode towards Stornoway, uphill against a strong head wind in occasional drizzle across this bleak empty moorland, that even the sheep have deserted.  It was all a bit ordinary.

We rode 113km today, and both of us prefer the longer days.  We have been a bit constrained by the ferry timetable, but hopefully it will be more up to us from tomorrow.

We booked into a B&B, went to Tesco for food, and will leave the Hebrides on the ferry tomorrow.

View 17 6 2011 Tairbert to Stornoway in a larger map

Day 30, 16 6 2011, Uig to Ardhasaig

We had a very late start with our ride today as the ferry didn’t get into Tairbeart until 11.20.  We had done a bit of planning last night and decided that there were a few things to look at in these islands, and we would spend a day or so doing just that.

You can see from the map that the bulk of the riding was an out and back route on the Isle of Harris.  The geography is remarkably different from Skye, in that the bit that we saw is pockmarked with extremely pretty little cirques.  The country is wild and spectacular.  We rode to a pure white sandy beach on the Atlantic Ocean at Luskentyre, and while I find few foreign beaches come close to what is on offer in Australia this one did, though it was a bit cool for swimming.

The glaciated landscape otherwise looks remarkably similar to the country in the NSW highlands around Mt Kosciusko, gorsey, with a lot of jumbled rock.

Riding on the main road was relatively easy, there was only one very steep climb. The secondary roads are a bit of a roller coaster, but around each bend there is another secluded little bay or cirque.  We have seen quite a number of bicycle tourists today.

Roz had been given the name of an up-market B&B and restaurant just north of Tairbeart by a friend, but we had not intended staying there, as we thought it might not fit our itinerary.

However, on returning to Tairbeart we asked at the Information Centre about other options on the road north to Stornaway, and there were only a couple of B&Bs, neither of which were answering their phones.  There are no pubs, and no places on the road where we could buy food.

So we blew our budget and booked in here at Ardhasaig House, which is beautiful.  We could have ridden further, but had no idea of what was there, so some things are meant to be.  Only 52km for the day.

Every week or so on these trips we end up spending much more on accommodation than we would normally, and because these are always somewhat unusual circumstances, our occasional expensive stops are usually great and varied.

Normal spending using B&Bs with ensuite and cooked breakfast, a snack or two and dinners out means we are spending around 100 pounds a day, and living very well.

We had a discussion this morning on the ferry about just how far we can go, and decided that the town of Ullapool where the ferry from here on the Isle of Lewis docks, is our turning point.  From there we will meander down to Newcastle to catch a ferry to Amsterdam.

View 16 6 2011 Uig to Tairbeart in a larger map

Day 29, 15 6 2011, Isleorsnay to Uig

We met a woman on the ferry into Hull a few weeks ago who had been on a cycling holiday, based in Ghent.  She had rented a house for a week with a friend and gone on daily bicycle excursions.  Ghent is a good place to do this from.  Other possibilities for a similar holiday would be Delft in Holland, Sarlat in the Dordogne Valley in France and Passau on the Danube River in Germany, amongst many others.

We don’t do holidays, we do a tour, or perhaps and adventure.  Our tours are as much about the travel as the sights, and we feel perhaps a bit guilty when we ride straight past one of the wonders of the world.  Scotland suites our kind of tour, but may not suite those who want a holiday.  The distances between things is a bit greater than other areas of Europe, and some of the wow factor of European civilisation is not here.  Instead, there is a wild and subtle beauty and good roads.  And of course there are historic buildings, castles and the like, that we have not seen, but were told that we should.

On a tour you expect to be a bit uncomfortable, like this morning when we left in cold drizzle to ride up and over a number of ridges.  I think hill riding with a touring bike loaded with all your possessions is a bit of a learned art, and for that reason, I don’t think Scotland is the best choice for a first tour, but of course many people do so.

We stopped after about 40km or so, as we were a bit chilled and there was a nice pub with an open fire.  That was worth a second cup of coffee, and a slightly extended break.

By the time we left, the weather had mostly cleared, and the afternoon’s ride was good.  The scenery today was not as attractive as the little corner of Skye that we saw yesterday, mostly rolling moor country with enormous spectacular peaks.

The town of Portree is unusually attractive, with gleaming white buildings with grey rooves.  In our experience, building sightly homes is not a Scottish forte, many homes being covered with some sort of pebblecrete or other ugly stucco.

From Portree to Uig there is barely a building that does not fit the white and grey model, and it enhances the countryside no end.

We passed a large number of B&Bs on this road, many run by Mrs McLeod, not Susan Mcleod, or Fiona McLeod, but Mrs McLeod.

We are going to catch the ferry to the Isle of Harris tomorrow, and Uig is the ferry port, so that is our stop.  86km today.

We rolled into Uig, and there is not much of it.  We knocked on the door of a likely B&B, there are many, and there was a vacancy.  We have an unusually large and comfortable room, for the modest sum of 50 pounds, with WiFi, unlike…..

For the first time on this trip, my datalogger failed, so the map does not have the full data set of other days.

View 15 6 2011 Isleorsnay to Uig in a larger map

Day 28, 14 6 2011, Salen to Isleorsnay (Skye)

As a child I was enthralled by Gavin Maxwell’s books about living in Scotland and caring for otters.  We went through the sort of country pictured in his books today, and found later that he actually lived just a few km away.  Most of the day was spent riding around sea lochs, or fjords as they are otherwise known.  This is not the easiest of riding as we alternately ride up steep hills, and plunge down the other side.  The hills are frequently above 10% in grade, which is seriously steep.  You can see the elevation profile by selecting the Google Earth link from the map and choosing elevation profile.

I have praised Scottish road making, compared with the English, and that still stands.  This country is very craggy, and the steepness is unavoidable. I remember my father on family holidays talking about the Scottish road engineer, Macadam.  He told me that this man more or less invented modern road building, and I remember when sealed roads were referred to as macadam roads.

We had another short day, just 80km as the goal was to get to the Isle of Skye.

So we rode in very pleasant weather to the ferry port of Maillag, where we bought our tickets and went to see the local tourist information centre.  This was not run by Visit Scotland, so was unable to provide information about Skye.  It is a mystery both to the proprieter and to us as to why Maillag does not have some official tourist information.  Nor does Ardvasar, the ferry port on Skye.

However, we were directed to a local information centre near Advasar, where we asked about accommodation up the road a bit.  The man there told us there was not a lot, but gave us the card for a B&B some 12km away, who Roz rang.

By an amazing coincidence, it turned out to be his mother in law!

Anyway, we arrived here at a place we would never have otherwise found and it is perfect and very reasonably priced.  It even has free WiFi, unlike the Travelodge or Ibis hotels.  Surprisingly in this tourist area we saw very little alternative accommodation on this stretch of road.  Our hostess says numbers are well down this year.

The logistics of bike touring here in Scotland is turning out to be remarkably easy.  Accommodation and decent food is easy to find, the roads are good, and although we are told to expect a change in the weather we have been very lucky so far.

However, I do not think that this is the best first bicycle tour.  More on this later.

We wandered down to the local pub about a km away, and although it was a beautiful evening, the best so far, we were advised not to sit outside because of the midges. Pity really, as the bay and the island, reflected in the glassy-smooth water looked exquisite.

A quick look at the pub menu confirmed, yet again, that the beer-battered haddock and chips was the best bet for me. 

I ordered us some really good local ale, and the fish and chips were excellent.  I love fish and chips but do think though that we will have had enough by the time we leave Scotland.  I love pubs when they are as good as this, with a free whiskey tasting session thrown in for Roz.

So another day passes when it is difficult not to gush. Perhaps I can be more negative about tomorrow when it rains.

Lastly I wish to apologise for misrepresenting the oyster ratings by Roz.  She says that the Loch Fyne oysters which were freshly harvested a few metres away and freshly opened and huge, are the best oysters she has ever tasted.

View 14 6 2011 Salen to Isleorsnay in a larger map

Day 27, 13 6 2011, Oban to Salen

We caught a ferry to the Isle of Mull this morning, because we were variously advised that the scenery was stunning and the main town of Tobermory was one of the prettiest in West Scotland.

We got off the ferry in a cold drizzle, with a bit of a head wind to ride the 35km to Tobermory. We had discussed perhaps staying in Tobermory, as it was so special.

The ride in and the scenery on Mull was alright.

We got to Tobermory and went straight to the ferry terminal to check to timing of the ferry north to the mainland, the one we had planned to catch tomorrow, and found that the next one left in an hour and a half at 2.30, so we went to a coffee shop to discuss our options.

Tobermory was alright, so we caught the ferry and left Mull.

The ride on to Salen was fairly special.  The views from the road were sensational, and the weather cleared to a nearly cloudless sky, something that boosts my spirits, and has been rare so far during our stay in Scotland.

We had no idea what was at Salen, but rode up to a pub, that had a room, did dinner, charged 70 pounds, which is pretty reasonable and all is good.

We are on the way to the Isle of Skye, and this means that we had two legs to get to Skye itself that added to around 140km, too much for one day, so by doing the extra leg today, we have split this section neatly in half.  69km today.

We have not travelled on B roads in Scotland until today, and they are certainly much harder than the A roads.  They have slopes up to around 12%, which is big, and the ones today were single lane, with pockets every couple of hundred metres to allow passing.  One of these roads is so minor that it is not even marked on one of our maps.

Our pub tonight has free WiFi, unlike the Travelodge or Ibis pubs.

We used the pay WiFi at Ibis and found out later that Roz’ Facebook account had a hiccup, which I put down to the affect of the proxy server used by Orange, who supply Ibis.  Another reason to just provide the service.

View 13 6 2011 Oban to Salen in a larger map

Day 26, 12 6 2011, Tarbet to Oban

Today was a day when everything just hung together.  We rode 103km, unusually on a plan today, to get to Oban tonight.  We rarely determine a stop the night before, but this is a ferry port and the distance looked right.

Our host last night had met us at the door, and helped us with our wet gear.  He took our wet shoes off to his drying room, and this morning presented me with my shoes, pronouncing them dry.

I rode today in soaking shoes.

The country is quite spectacular, huge towering hills and lochs.

Our host said that Loch Fynne was renowned for its oysters, so we stopped so Roz could sample some.  I don’t do oysters for morning tea.  She said they were superb.

We were on normal roads today, with some traffic, mostly light tourist vehicles and hundreds of motorbikes.  I am still very impressed by the quality of the road engineering.  The big hills we rode today were easy, with a very carefully calibrated grade of less than 5% for most of the time.

We arrived in Oban just before the tourist Information Centre closed for the night.  B&Bs are often tucked away a bit, and we find the centres helpful in finding them.  They charge 4 pounds.  There are plenty that are visible on the main streets, but of course they get filled up quickly.  So we checked in and had a chat with our hosts.  Kenneth assured Roz that the oysters from Loch Fynne were rubbish and a rip off, and nowhere near the local standard.  They kindly booked us into a restaurant on a little island in the bay, serviced by a ferry.  We had some of their oysters and a nice seafood dinner that included a hefty charge for ambience.  They served oysters of, according to Roz, no better quality and exactly the same price as Loch Fynne.

So far, we are finding Scotland somewhat easier than I expected.  We are on a tourist route more or less, and that makes a difference.  The quality of the roads, the riding experience, scenery, accommodation and food are all great.

We have seen numerous Australians and various Scots we have spoken to have also commented on the number of us around, probably reflecting the value of the various currencies.

We found ourselves talking last night about how we might round out our tour, as it dawns on us that the number of days is limited.

View 12 6 2011 Trbet to Oban in a larger map

Day 25, 11 6 2011, Glasgow to Tarbet

We decided that we would head up Loch Lomond, and then make a decision when we got to the head of the Loch.  We could go on up to the Caledonian Canal before turning west to the islands, or ride more directly west.

After the sort of just adequate breakfast we expected form our cheap hotel we spent a bit of time doing a few odd jobs in Glasgow that included drinking a large cup of excellent Costa coffee.

So we got away very late.

The ride out of Glasgow was shaping up to be pretty ordinary, when after only 5km the route turned onto a rail trail.  From there on, the route was pretty much excellent.  We moved from the rail trail onto a canal path, and finished up on an obselete road patched together with bits of narrow footpath up the side of the Loch.

The Loch, as you would expect is extremely photogenic, on a sunny day, which it wasn’t.

The weather forecast was pretty good, but around lunchtime the temperature dropped to 11C and we were in drizzle for the rest of the day.  Not enough to get really wet, until we hit a shower shortly before we stopped.

We only got to Tarbet, about 70km or the day.  The decision we had to make at 4.15pm was whether to continue for another 35km or so in the cold drizzle, or stop here.  So we stopped.  We go the tourist Information Centre to find a B&B for us.  We have had a couple of good experiences with them now.  We only found out today that they will book ahead for you.  This is very unusual in Europe where they are fiercely loyal to the local community.  This may be a huge advantage for us, as it could allow us to make a booking fairly late in the afternoon for a place some distance away with the knowledge that a bed awaits.  We don’t have a feel in this lightly populated area as to what may be available.

We still have to make a decision as to exactly where we go from here tomorrow, but it will be to the west islands one way or another.

The Scottish farmers have been out doing there shit spraying, and it is quite different from farmers to the south.  We usually like the nice earthy compost smell of the spray, but here the shit has an appalling sulphurous smell.

Tonight’s nice B&B is the first good one we have come to without WiFi.

Our host has just driven us to a local pub (with WiFi) on a neighbouring sea loch.  The rain has stopped, the mist is low on the hills, the loch is glassy smooth, and the outlook is exquisite.  The weather forecast for tomorrow is even improving.

As usual, zoom in to see the track.

View 11 6 2011 Glasgow to Tarbet in a larger map

Day 24, 10 6 2011, Ayr to Glasgow

 I was feeling fairly chipper as we left our B&B this morning.  It was quite a bit warmer, and the day looked much less threatening.  A fellow guest asked about our intentions.  We said that we were headed for the Isle of Skye. “Och Aye, it is very beautiful”, she said cheerfully. “The weather on Sunday will be truly horrrrendous.”  This dampened my spirits somewhat.

We had another good breakfast, and generally have been eating remarkably well, and at a reasonable price.  This probably reflects the relative values of our currencies more than anything else.

Of course, the food here promotes heart disease, and there is very little in the way of fresh fruit and vegetables, so scurvy also is perhaps a problem.

We left around 9.45, as we nearly always do.  It is something of a puzzle to us as to why it takes so long to get going.  Talking to people is at least part of the problem.

I usually find the first 5 to 10km go slowly, as I warm up, but then am always amazed at how quickly the day goes.  We stopped today at around 2.00pm for my coffee and a snack, and this is part of our normal pattern.  We then rode through to around 4.30 when we stopped at the Tourist Information Centre in downtown Glasgow.  On a good day, it is often the case that the latter part of the ride is the most enjoyable. 90km for the day, somewhat more than we expected.

It was in part a frustrating day.  We followed the National Cycle Route 7 fairly closely.  For the first 40km or so, I doubt that we rode as much as 1km before a turn, a gate, an overpass or underpass or some other route change.  A lot of the chopping and changing was in an obsessive attempt by the route designers to avoid roads with traffic, when it would have been much more sensible and even safer to allow some short sections.  A lot of the route was on trafficked roads anyway.  As part of the effort to avoid traffic, the route passes through quite a lot of trashed old industrial infrastructure and boring old suburban streets.

We then popped onto another rail trail, beautifully converted to a bike path, with a high quality sealed surface.  This took us most of the rest of the way into Glasgow.  Unfortunately this trail was mostly set in a cutting, so it was very difficult to see.  This is a problem we have seen before with some rail trails. Somewhere in the last 5km or so, we fell off the route and used TomTom to get to the centre.  This was not a pretty ride through busy streets.

We are in a cheap and ordinary B&B, as Glasgow is pretty well booked out due to a summer festival and an Elton John concert tonight.  This is the first B&B, which like the Travelodge and Ibis hotels, does not have free internet, so this will be posted a day late.

We are now a bit over half way through this trip, and I have found in the past that the second half of the trip seems to disappear very quickly.

Form Glasgow, there is no really obvious way in which to explore the western islands.  All of the options have quite severe compromises of one form or another for touring cyclists, so we haven’t yet quite made a decision as to what we will do tomorrow.

Same Google zoom problem.  Zoom in to see the route.

View 10 6 2011 Ayr to Glasgow in a larger map

Day 23, 9 6 2011, Stoneykirk to Ayr

I think I am beginning to get the hang of Scotland and like it.

We had an easy and very pleasant ride today, getting into Ayr in time to talk to the very informative guy at the information centre.  We have not had much luck with information centres in Scotland.  Mostly they close at 4.00pm.  We did catch one lovely lady just as she was closing up, and she gave us a lot of information, mostly wrong.   A couple of our B&B hosts have complained about the service offered, and in particular the advertisement on their website advertising lovely cheap holidays, in France.

However, Mike here was different.  He told us what he did know, and what he did not, that is, he didn’t make it up.  He persuaded us, gently, to try the Isle of Skye, rather than Arran near here.  So we will continue to ride on towards Glasgow tomorrow.

Today’s ride is about as good as an on-road cycle tour can be.  The roads were virtually empty for most of the day, and while we went through hilly country, the grades were always modest.  The only problems are the persistent cold wind and overcast skies.

Having only ridden a few hundred km in Scotland it is probably too early to make a judgement, but the design of the secondary roads seems quite strikingly different from those in England and are immensely more pleasurable to ride. They are more like the evenly graded French roads that I have discussed this at some length in our book,

The countryside was remarkably variable, from deep forest, to moor land that looked remote and wild, while only being a few tens of km from major centres.

So we rode 100km with comfort and ease, helped greatly as we were not held up by the chopping and changing that characterises bicycle routes in the UK.

We met someone in the street a couple of days ago, who sympathised with our difficulty in assessing B&Bs.  Her advice is that if they have tidy gardens and clean windows, they are OK.

So far we have had extremely good luck with B&Bs.  They cost around 60 pounds a night, for the two of us including a huge breakfast.  They are so good that hotels can be a bit thin on the ground.  The ones we have stayed in are run by friendly helpful people, are clean and in all ways a pleasant experience.

When travelling I always have a beer with my dinner, it is an end of the day ritual.  I always try and find a local beer as usually these are better than the internationals.  In the UK I try and find a local ale, or failing this, the excellent Newcastle brown ale, or Fullers London Pride, both more interesting and better beers than the standards.

I have attended occasional social functions where beer tasting was part of the proceedings. The idea is that people are given a list of beers, and have to match the number on a glass of beer with the brand.  I have never seen anyone get more than 50% correct, and yet many of the participants swear by a particular brand.  There is also, amongst Australians a certain chauvinistic attitude to the major Australian beers, which by any reasonable standard are as mediocre as all of the major international brands, Stella Artois, Heinekin, Tuborg, Budweiser and so on.  In fact, the major breweries often produce one or other of these brands in their own breweries under licence.

British ale is often written off, but in my humble opinion is vastly better in general than the lager produced by the big companies.

So here in Scotland, the riding is good, the accommodation is good, the scenery is good, the beer is good, and the food is good.  What more could you ask for.  More about the food tomorrow.

Zoom in to see the map, I have Google's scaling problem again.

View 9 6 2011 Stoneykirk to Ayr in a larger map

Day 22, 8 6 2011, Newton Stewart Newton to Stoneykirk

We only ended up today some 40km from where we started after 101km of riding.  Today was something of a nostalgia trip for Roz.

Our intention was to do a little tour of the country to the west of Stranraer, including a place Roz had visited on a family holiday in 1959.

The weather forecast was for light rain, moving to showers, which our hostess from last night informed us was just like light rain, but not as continuous.

Sure enough it started to rain shortly after we left, and this seemed to affect my mood for most of the day.  We did not get wet, except for our feet, which were soaked.

Today would normally be classed as a classic bike ride.  It was through gently rolling country, with a couple of minor climbs, and pretty scenery.

We first went to the town of Wigtown, where the residents have pulled of a huge coup, in getting the place recognised as a major book sale centre.  There are actually about 6 very small book shops in a pretty dull town, but apparently there is now significant tourist traffic.  Good on them for pulling of such a fraud.

The weather was threatening all day, but we stayed dry.  The cold dull sky did not add to my mood.

I have always believed that there is something wrong with people who are gormlessly merry all the time.  They need to go to a doctor to get some mood altering drugs that will give them a more realistic perspective on life.

We arrived at Portpatrick, an unusually attractive village in an area where this is not the norm.  It is not the Cote d’Azure, but quite pleasant.  Apparently you can see Ireland from here on a good day, which of course begs the question as to why you might want to.

There was bugger all chance today of seeing Ireland today through the mist, fog, drizzle and low-hanging cloud.  Nice days are not common around here so I think this is probably a local myth, passed down from generation to generation.

My mood improved markedly as we climbed up to a low ridge above Portpatrick.  We rode through a forest of old deciduous trees with an occasional understorey of rhododendrons.  The forest and rhododendrons grew denser, until they formed a hedge alongside the narrow winding road.  This is extraordinarily attractive.

Roz wanted to go to Lochnau Castle, where her family had holidayed as a child, and we founds it situated by the loch, which in turn is surrounded by the same dense forest and rhododendron understorey.  As we reached the castle, actually more of a large baronial home, the sun came out, and the scene was simply gorgeous.  We spent some time there before descending off the low ridge to the ferry port of Stranraer, where we expected to find accommodation.  There was none.  They are extending the ferry port and every bed in every B&B was taken.

A nice B&B man helped us find our accommodation 8km south of town and we are all the better for it.  We had a beautiful evening ride through clearing weather, arriving just before dinner time.  Dinner was superb.

I was going to say something about beer, a subject about which, not surprisingly, I have strong opinions.  That will have to wait.

I can't make Google put the map in the centre of the page.  Use the scroll keys at the top left of the screen.

View 8 6 2011 Newton to Stoneykirk in a larger map

Day 21, 7 6 2011 Dumfries to Newton Stewart

We left this morning under a threatening sky, and within a half hour were drenched by a cold, soaking drizzle, that lasted about 40km, until we reached Castle Douglas. 

As we rode into town, Roz had a puncture, our first on this trip, so we pulled off into a convenient bus shelter to fix it.  This took about 10 minutes, by which time we were bone-chilled.  We bailed out into a café for about 45 minutes until the shower had blown through, and we had warmed up a bit.  The coffee was mediocre, the cake not fresh, but I live in hope of improvement.

We left town, continuing to follow National Cycle Route 7, and had a dry ride for most, but not all of the rest of the day.  There is not much choice of roads in this part of the country, and eventually we ended up on the A75.  Normally we avoid these A roads, but things conspired against us.  Route 7, even for a bike route, takes an unusually idiosyncratic and convoluted path through here.

The section of the A75 we rode on is a coastal road, and pretty.  It is flat, and while busy, populated this afternoon by very courteous and considerate drivers.

Before coming to the A75, we had been riding through some quite exceptionally beautiful hilly country.

We were trying to reach Stranraer today, which would have been a big ride in the best of conditions.  As we rode into Newton Stewart we were again hit by a shower, and then hail. It was only 4.00pm by the time we arrived, but the weather was still threatening, it is 40km to Stranraer, and, we were told, the traffic was going to pick up as people hurried to catch a ferry. Stranraer is a major ferry port.

So we bailed after 91km.

We found a B&B, and by the time we had checked in, were seriously cold again.

B&Bs in Scotland may turn out to be a bit of an issue.  There seem to be plenty of them about, but we can’t yet read them.  Our host in Dumfries explained that he does not subscribe to a star rating system, as he thinks they are a rip-off, and sure enough, most B&Bs don’t.  Neither of the B&Bs we have checked into are attractive from the outside, but both of them are exactly what we need, and run by pleasant and accommodating people.

View 7 6 2011 Dumphries to Newton in a larger map

Day 20, 6 6 2011, Carlisle to Dumfries

We had a delayed start to today as we had to get some work done on Roz’ bike. This was work that should have been done by the bike shop in Canberra before we left, but was not.

So we had to hang around in the town centre of Carlisle until 11.30 while I drank good coffee.  British coffee, like British beer is greatly underrated.  There are two major chains, Costa and Nero, with outlets in most major towns in England.  Both chains offer coffee that is vastly superior to anything I have had in Holland or Belgium.  It is served in a very big cup, if you wish, and they use fresh milk, not UHT, which make a huge difference.  There are also a lot of little coffee shops that also offer excellent coffee.  The style is very similar to that served in good coffee shops in Australia.

Our usual practice is to stop for a snack around 1.00pm or whenever we roll into a town, and I have a cup of coffee. Roz doesn’t do coffee.  The snack is usually a pastry from a local baker, if there is one.  We do not do lunch, and if there is no appropriate place to stop, then we make up for it at dinner time.  I do enjoy these breaks and look forward to them.  Coffee has a special place in my world.

The ride tody took us north into Scotland and then west along the northern shore of the Solway Firth.  We had a weather change over night and the wind is now blowing from the south west as it usually does in these parts. The villages and towns do not look as affluent as in the part of England that adjoins here.  The houses are tiny and many look a bit rundown.

With a cool wind blowing in our faces and a partly overcast sky the Solway is not strikingly attractive, but improved as we moved into the low hills around Dumfries where it is the common pleasant European vista of rolling green grass, sheep and stone walls.

We stopped at a sign on the Nith River shortly before Dumfries, which stated that this was one of the most attractive regions in Scotland, a statement that at this stage of our tour of Scotland left me mildly disappointed.

We got into Dumfries just after 5.00pm, quickly found a B&B of which there are many.  We rode only 83km, but this was almost entirely in the afternoon against a headwind, so not a bad distance all things considered.

I have had a bit of a problem with the website dropping daily reports more than ten days old, but this is now fixed and all of the reports should be there.

I am able to post this today, as our cheap B&B has free WiFi, unlike the Travelodge chain or Ibis.

You may have to zoom to get the map to show properly.

View 6 6 2011 Carlisle to Dumphries in a larger map

Day 19, 5 6 2011, Haltwhistle to Carlisle

This was a very short day.  I woke up with a sore throat, our power adaptor had broken, Roz’ bike needed attention, we wanted a map for our next stage, the temperature varied between 8C and 12C, and there was just a little bit of drizzle.  So we bailed out at Carlyle at about 3.00pm, after only 53Km. 

Carlyle is where we finish the Hadrian’s Wall route, before turning north into Scotland.

We rode into Carlisle, saw an Ibis hotel and checked in.  It was then we found that the hotel had Travelodge disease.  WiFi is an optional extra, and just like in the Travelodge hotel, the optional extra doesn’t work.  Actually I walked away for an hour or so, and it decided to work at an extra cost of just 9.90E.

We actually rode alongside the path of Hadrian’s wall for quite some time today, and saw some of the fortifications and forts that were built to support the wall.  It was an astonishing engineering achievement. There is an outside chance that there is some possibility that Hadrian may have actually briefly stopped at one of these forts.

The riding was not difficult, but had its challenges.  The country is rolling and there are several steep hills with pitches up to about 14%, but they do not last for long.  We found out that we were very lucky that the wind for the last couple of day has been from the east.  Apparently most people ride from west to east as the prevailing wind is from the south west.

As is nearly always the case, the scenery improves as you move into hills.  It is also the case, that while you might wish for flat country, after a while the hills offer a change and they are something to look forward to.  So today’s scenery was classical English post card stuff, rolling hills of green grass, dotted with sheep and bounded by dry-stone walls.  This is also country of pretty villages and hamlets.

We have stayed in perhaps 150 hotels on these trips, and many more outside of Europe, and they share this common misconception.  They assume that their clients enjoy good coffee at all times of day, except breakfast, when they would prefer to drink really appalling, awful coffee.  Now why is that?

Tomorrow we begin another stage of this trip, with a tour of the Scottish west island.

View 5 6 2011 Haltwhistle to Carlisle in a larger map

Day 18, 4 6 2011, Tynemouth to Haltwhistle

I was not looking forward to the ride to the west of Newcastle.  I imagined another frustrating ride through back lanes and trashed industrial areas, but it turned out to be unexpectedly easy and pleasant.  We rode back to North Shields from Tynemouth.  North Shields is where the Hadrian’s Wall path, National Bicycle Route 72, actually starts.  It is very carefully signposted, is being rapidly upgraded and runs on dedicated bicycle and pedestrian paths for 60km and well to the west of Newcastle.  We actually didn’t see anything of Newcastle city proper as the path runs along the Tyne and doesn’t go into the city.  As we left the north-east of England we had the overwhelming impression that this part of the country, including the people had seen much better days.

The path follows the Tyne River for perhaps 70km and the scenery just keeps on getting better.  The country in Northumbria is very attractive.

We rode 98km today, with a tailwind for most of the day.  The weather had changed overnight and it was cold and overcast. There are some hills towards the end of the days ride, including some steep pitches, but nothing too difficult.

For the first 80km there is bugger all evidence from our bike route of Hadrian ever having been here, or building a wall.  We stopped at the first major site on the bike route, Vindolanda, an extensive site of a major Roman encampment. It was alright.  Our problem is that it is all about the ride, and after so many years of doing this we have got a bit spoiled, lost our perspective.  It is not Pompei, but that is entirely our problem.  It is beautiful country to ride through.

We checked into an ordinary little hotel in the town of Haltwhistle, which is getting free WiFi soon, but not yet.  Unlike the Travelodge chain, which apparently has no such plan.  So this post will be a day late.

I love European showers with the shower rose on a flexible hose.  It is wonderful to have a hot shower at the end of a day in the saddle, and then enjoy the soothing sensation of a jet of warm water up the arse.

I forgot to turn on the datalogger at the beginning of the day, so the first 7km of the track is missing.


View 4 6 2011, Tynemouth to Haltwhistle in a larger map

Day 17, 3 6 2011, Middlesbrough to Tynemouth

We are staying tonight at the Grand Hotel at Tynemouth, on the coast east of Newcastle.  Never in our wildest dreams would we have considered coming to Tynemouth, let alone staying at this wonderful old Victorian pile of a hotel, with its views out over the North Sea.  That is the point of this sort of touring.

Leaving Middlesbrough this morning was a bit of a trial.  The route markers were simply not there on some crucial intersections, a problem that haunted us all day.  Normally we wouldn’t care about it, but in this heavily populated and industrialised part of the world, the easiest way to thread your way through is to follow the bike route.

The first couple of hours was somewhat frustrating as we twisted and turned down suburban streets, through back alleys and across town parks, before eventually coming to another rail trail, that led most of the way to the sea.  The path rose gently out of the Tees River valley, meandered along a ridge line, before descending into the Tyne River valley.  The going was slow.  Most of the route is on gravelled paths.  There are occasional places were there are a lot of people with dogs doing there own thing, and numerous gates designed to stop cars, but which require you to get off your bike and wrestle it through the gate.  This is another area where a bike trailer will not work for you, an issue we have covered at some length in our book.  Some of these gates are only a few hundred metres apart.  So we only made some 90km today, even though we were riding solidly until about 6.30pm.

The riding was generally easy and pleasant, and it is a miracle that the route designers managed to find a way through at all. Unlike a lot of mainland Europe, bicycle access is not the first consideration of road designers, so the route planners here have to work hard to find a way at all.  It is interesting that a lot of the very recent roads have a parallel bike path in the European tradition.

We reached South Shields and crossed the Tyne River on a ferry to North Shields, the point where we leave national route 1, the North Sea route, and join the Hadrian’s Wall route, number 72, to the west coast.

We probably should have got better maps, but with a combination of our large scale maps and TomTom on my Iphone we muddled through.

This was another day’s riding in perfect weather and with just a tiny tailwind.  We could not have asked for better.

Our old Victorian hotel of course has free WiFi, unlike the Travelodge chain.

I have the map zoom problem again.  Just use the zoom in (+) key to show the route.

View 3 6 2011 Middlesbrough Tyneside in a larger map

Day 15, 1 6 2011, Hull to Scarborough

After an uneventful overnight ferry crossing to Hull, we had a bit of  a hold up in the city.  Riding into Zeebrugge, Roz’ pannier rack broke.  The only spares other than puncture repair stuff that we carry are cable ties, which we used to secure the rack temporarily.  In Hull we got a new rack fitted, and had some minor work done on Roz gears.  Unfortunately they are still not right.

We had decided, depending on weather, that we would either go north more or less along the coast, or if it was less clement, than go inland towards York.  The longer-term objective is to get to Newcastle, from where we will head west along the Hadrian’s Wall route.

We have a large scale map of the UK major bike routes.  From this we chose to follow route 65 out of Hull and then join up with route 1 going north along the coast.  This part of Route 1 is also the North Sea route, and we have ridden on the other side of the route, north through Denmark.

The path out of Hull is great, being a rail trail for the first 20km or so. These trails always have a very even grade, as you would expect.  This was a good one as it did not go through cuttings and tunnels, so we could see the countryside.

We had a pleasant day’s riding meandering though the Yorkshire wold, before arriving in Scarborough.

The quality of the bike infrastructure in the UK is nowhere near as good as in Flanders.  While there is a good attempt at making provision for bikes in the town traffic, there is little in the way of dedicated bike lanes, usually just an easement alongside the road.  However, this is not a problem.  Mostly it is possible to find farm lanes, if you lose the bike route, which in turn uses mostly farm lanes.

We had a good easy day’s ride, with mostly tail winds, in pleasant mild weather.  Difficult to ask for more.  Distance covered was 91km.

This will be posted a day late as the Travelodge chain in the UK wants to charge for WiFi, and can’t even get that right. 

View 1 6 2011, Hull to Scarborough in a larger map

Day 14, 31 5 2011, Veurne to Zeebrugge

As we rode towards Veurne lat night the weather changed quite suddenly.  The temperature dropped 10C in an hour and it started to drizzle just as we rode into the town.

Veurne has some special significance to me, which I have written about in our book.  This was the first classical European market town we rode into on our first trip, and it was the experience here that sold me on bicycle touring.  So when Veurne appeared on our route, I thought it was a good idea to stay here, and see what four more bike trips had done to my idea of the city.  It could not have been more different.  When we were first here it was a glorious summer’s evening, and the square was alive with people settling into the restaurants and cafes, which were all sporting the usual colourful umbrellas.  The buildings glowed in the twilight.

This time it was cold, drizzly and the umbrellas were stowed.  There was noone around and the buildings looked drab without the light.  Nevertheless, Veurne has the quintessential charm of a European market town.

Our day’s ride today was really just a transfer to the ferry port of Zeebrugge.  For most of the day the wind was behind us, and the weather from last night had blown through.  The towns along this route, Neiuport and De Haan amongst others are attractive, but the countryside is primarily flat canal country, easy to ride through and pleasant enough but without the charm of the last few days.

There are some appalling tourist developments along this North Sea cast, but the Flanders route thankfully avoids them.

This was a very straightforward ride of 73km, although we noticed again that the guide we bought when we first rode through here in 2005 is now occasionally out of date.  It was nice spinning along the beautifully-made canal-side path with a solid tail wind.

We arrived at Zeebrugge, as seriously ugly as any ferry port town around 3.00pm, bought tickets for the passage to Hull and came on board around 5.00pm.

We rode this western section of the Flanders route as much as anything because the weather in Scotland when we were in Brussels was appalling, so we were in no hurry to get there.  This is how things should work.  We have had a great, more or less unplanned week.

View 31 5 2011 Veurne to Zeebrugge in a larger map

Day 13, 30 5 2011, Ypres to Veurne

This was about as good as a day’s touring can get.  It started as a bright sunny day, for a change, and the wind was not against us, also a nice change.  As the map shows, the Flanders route, LF6 loops to the south before continuing its counter-clockwise direction.  This means we were taken back into some hillier country.  The countryside is exquisitely beautiful on a day like today, which makes the frequent military memorials and cemeteries even more poignant.

We left the hills not long after Kemmel, descending into gently rolling country and by the time we came to the pretty city of Poperinge, we were back to canal country.  Poperinge is where the British in World War 1 lined up and shot bewildered and traumatised soldiers who could no longer face the horrors of the front line.  British soldiers that is.  They also wanted to shoot Australians, but in an unusual rejection of the usual sycophantic quasi-colonial attitudes of that time, the Australian command would not accede to this slaughter.

This was a day when our gradually building riding stamina made the ride so enjoyable.  We have found that it takes a little while before your body gets used to the longer days of exercise and responds positively.  The sensation of limitless stamina is absolutely delightful and difficult to describe.  You have to be there.

We have found on the last couple of days that our tour guide, purchased some 6 years, ago is occasionally out of date.  We had to follow TomTom into Veurne due to such a change.

Most of the day was spent on the wonderful sealed farm paths.  I had wondered about the cost of sealing these tracks, but after seeing in the World War 1 photos how impassable these tracks were then, it makes more sense.  It is these sealed byways that make bike touring such a pleasure in this part of the world.

This was another shorter day, just 79km.  The issue is that we decided to stop in Ypres lat night, which meant that the ride to the ferry port at Zeebrugge was too long for one day, and a little short for two days.  We could have just made a beeline for Zeebrugge and made it in a day, but this tour has taken us to some great places, and today was no exception, so we made the right decision to continue the tour route.

For example, the route took us past a Trappist abbey, reputed to make the finest beer in Belgium, a country that arguably makes the world’s finest beers.  We tried a sample, which was excellent, but I think I have had the equal here at other times.

While I think it is wonderful that the Trappists are dedicated to making fine beer, I wonder at the motivation to serve God by making fine beer.

View 30 5 2011 Ypres to Veurne in a larger map

Day 12, 29 5 2011, Kortrijk to Ypres

We have noticed over the years that bike routes such as the one we are following now seem to have a number of different designers.  While this is hardly a profound observation, it has consequences.  On this route, we found that over the first portion of perhaps 100km, we went through all of the market towns.  Then we noticed that we were no longer going through the market towns, but seemed to go through all of the little hamlets, while skirting around the larger towns.  Some route designers love to take you on gravel roads, others meticulously avoid them.  Sometimes you find that the designer goes to great lengths to avoid shared road sections, other designers seem not to be concerned.  Similarly, sections of the route and its marking vary quite widely.

In other words, we got a bit lost.  It didn’t matter as we used TomTom to intercept our route later on, but it is quite easy to miss a sign and end up in a bit of a mess some distance away with no real idea of where you are. The GPS is a great backup.

We decided last night just to ride to Ypres, and check out the major World War 1 sites.  My grandfather fought here, and survived, so it seemed a bit perverse to just ride on through and ignore the whole scene.

We arrived in Ypres after a 43km ride against a big headwind, checked into a hotel, ate a patisserie, got a bike route map of the cemetries from the tourist information centre, went to a supermarket and bought food for dinner, and then, without our luggage set out on a truncated version of the bicycle peace route, the Vedesroute.

This route passes numerous memorials and cemetries before passing the large Commonwealth cemetery called Tyne Cot at Paschendale.  I find these places hugely draining.  It is beautifully designed and maintained, light ands airy and full of flowers.  From there we rode to the German cemetery at Langemark.  This is interesting partly because of the contrast.  There are no flowers, where Tyne Cot is full of roses and other flower gardens.  The graves are marked by a flat granite slab on the ground.  Oak trees are planted throughout the cemetery, so the whole place is in subdued shade. The whole thing is remarkably understated and the more powerful for that.  It is a pity that the few men who were responsible for this tragedy were not also buried here, perhaps in 1913.

We went back to our hotel to eat our supermarket dinner and then walked to the Menin gate for the 8.00pm evening ceremony, something that has been happening since the 1920s.  The Menin gate is a vaulted arch over one of the roads leading into town, on which are inscribed the tens of thousands of names of Commonwealth soldiers whose bodies were never identified.  The half-hour service is nicely done and on this occasion featured an English choir, and the Colchester scout band.  It all went well until the band finished the ceremony by marching off playing the theme to Dad’s Army.  Roz thought that the choir was superb and the finishing number by the band was an inspired choice, I thought the Dad's Army finale was a bit tasteless.

79km for the day.

I have the same zoom problem with the route again. Zoom in to see the route properly.
View 29 5 2011 Kortrijk to Ypres in a larger map

Day 11, 28 5 2011, Vollezele to Kortrijk

Late yesterday afternoon we visited Gaasbeek Kasteel.  It is set in a beautiful landscaped park. The castle, more of a large banorial home, has at various times been attacked and rebuilt in a variety of styles which gives it a wonderful eccentric appearance.  The bike route deliberately takes you past this monument, and is typical of such routes.  That is, the route designers place the route so that you meander past the interesting features of the region. That is why we follow the meandering route the designers have chosen.  As this blog is primarily about the experience of bicycle touring, I have not included the major interesting features, but you can take it as written that following a route such as the LF6 will incorporate as many of the features as possible that make Europe such a stunning destination.

I received an email from Koen last night, he of the fabulous Brussels bike shop, to say that, coincidentally, he had had a visit from the Taiwanese manufacturers of the bike chain that I had left in his rubbish bin.  They told Koen that the chain was completely inappropriate as it was a kind of “funky BMX chain”.  The point is that I prepare our bikes meticulously. I bought this chain from a well-reputed Canberra bike shop who claimed that it was a superior product for my needs.  They were clearly as clueless as I was.  This is hardly surprising as they rarely if ever have to deal with a touring bike.   Their suggestions were entirely similar to another highly-reputed bike shop that I deal with. It is hard to overestimate the demands that our sort of touring places on a bike, and the need to use precisely the right equipment.

We started late this morning, as breakfast was late.  This is the weekend and the owner of the establishment wanted just a little slack in her hours.  Breakfast was as nicely done as everything else.  Butter was put on a plate and jam in little bowls.  I hate “portion control” packets and think that it is not such a big deal to avoid those annoying little packages.

We rode against a strong headwind all day, but due to the twists and turns in the route, it was quite tolerable.  The route ran through gently rolling hills and very attractive country before rising to a beautiful forested ridge, not accessible by car.  This forest park seems to be a major tourist attraction.

We rode a steep descent down to a canal, which we then followed to the town of Kortrijk.  By the time we got here the weather had deteriorated, and we had a brief rain show.  While riding along the canal we could only manage around 19kmh, instead of our usual 25kmh, due to the wind.  That made 88km for the day.  We normally expect to do around 100km, but there seems to be a reason on most days on this trip why it doesn’t happen.  It really doesn’t matter at all.

We arrived in Kortrijk at around 6.00pm, too late for the information centre, so used TomTom to find a hotel.  The TomTom database is far from complete, but we found a good hotel easily, then went to a local delicatessan and loaded up on cheese, meats and beer for dinner.  Another day that worked as planned.

View 28 5 2011 Vollezele to Kortrijk in a larger map

Days 9&10, 27 5 2011, Brussels to Vollezele

Brussels gets a bad rap from a lot of travel writers, who are inclined to write it off.  However, it is as pleasant as most old European cities, with the same sorts of attractions.  We thoroughly enjoyed the city, and spent too much time in cafes drinking coffee, eating patisseries and solving the world’s problems.

Brussels has been in the grip of a terrible drought for the last few weeks, but it was forecast to rain yesterday and today.

We stayed a day longer than we had intended to avoid the bad weather, but misjudged the situation.  It was drizzling this morning, so we delayed our start to around 11.30, and then got going.  Shortly after we were in cold penetrating drizzle, that lasted for a few hours.

We used TomTom to get out of the city, and this worked well, although we were not on dedicated bikes paths.

Our intention is to ride the Vlaanderen Fietsroute.  This is a bicycle route that more or less encompasses Flanders.  We made this decision last night as the weather in Scotland is still not good, so we have the time to do a bit of a tour before catching a ferry from Zeebrugge to Hull.

We rode to Waterloo, passing the battle site, although we were unaware of this, and then used TomTom to get to Halle, where we intercepted the LF6.

This route wanders all over the place, but is exceptionally picturesque.

Around 5.00pm we saw a B&B by the road side, but we decided to ride on as the country was so pretty and the day was brightening up.

That was the last roadside accommodation was saw.  Around 7.00 after a beautiful evening’s ride we came into the village of Vollezele, where we were bailed up by some of the locals who were well into a good night of drinking in the local pub.  They questioned us about our intentions and we said we were looking for accommodation.  One of them gave us directions to a local B&B.  We thought they might be teasing, but also thought it was worth a try.  Following their instructions we passed a supermarket, so decided to buy some food for dinner, as the B&B is out of town.

Their instructions were exactly correct, and we got a room at the B&B.  This place is a bit special.  When I walked into book a room, I thought there was no way this was going to cost just 70E, and I was right.  It is expensive, too expensive to own up to, but quite gorgeous.  It is a restored farm house, done in exquisite taste, and set amongst beautiful gardens.

We only rode 83km after a late start, and a longish stop to warm up and get out of the rain. My bike is transformed after the work in Brussels, so I have added the shop to our links list.

Another good day, where our luck again held firm.

I do not understand why it is that Google chooses to shrink our GPS track to a dot, sometimes.  Zoom in for a look at the track.

View 27 5 2011 Brussels to Vollezele in a larger map

Day 8, 26th May 2011, Brussels

We have a day or two or Brussels, and the number one thing on my agenda was to get my bike fixed.  There was something wrong with the drive train, which I suspected was from my lovely Rohloff hub gear set.  My friend in Brussels found out that there was a local distributor, and we went out to see what he could do.

He immediately put the bike on the stand, identified a couple of major issues, none of which were due to the hub gears, and spent the next two hours working on the bike while we watched over his shoulder asking questions.  I have never, in a long life of working on bikes, come across anyone who had more knowledge and capability as a bike person.

Amongst other things, he replaced the rear wheel rim.  The one on the bike had a large crack that ran completely around the circumference of the wheel.  It was only obvious when the tyre, tube and protective tape were removed.  It certainly explained the buckle in the wheel, and could not have conceivably lasted much longer.  The drive problem was due to a faulty chain and cog combination.

The company is Fietsen Koen at  Highly recommended.

The rest of the day was spent wandering around Brussels.  Normally we sort of “do” cities in a couple of hours, but having a guide made a huge difference.

At the time of writing the weather over the UK seems not to be conducive to riding, so we will meander up to the ferry port, perhaps by the long way.

Day 7, 25th May 2011, Huy to Brussels

There is a chain of hotels called Logis de France, or just Logis in Belgium.  They are usually well-priced, clean, well-situated basic 2 or 3 star accommodation run by lovely families.  The distinguishing feature is the appalling breakfast in a country where breakfast is usually wonderful.  Fortunately, breakfast is an optional extra, a fact we forgot. And so it was with the hotel in Huy.

We rode out of Huy with the pretty clouds of steam from the downtown nuclear reactor contrasted against the clear blue sky.

The ride along the Meusse is not pretty.  The river is canalised, and large barges ply up and down the river loaded with gravel.  It is not clear why so much gravel needs to be moved around Belgium.

We left the river to start towards Brussels.  We had a headwind up the river, and this grew stronger when we rode up out of the narrow river valley and onto the rolling hill country.  This was quite a hard ride against the wind with significant, but diminishing hills.  We realised that we could get to Brussels, albeit a bit late.  We had arranged to stay there for a day or two with friends.

This was a long day’s ride, occasionally trying, but through increasingly-attractive country as we moved away from the industrialisation close to the Meusse river.

We had not got around to getting a proper map so were still using our one-sheet map of the whole of the Benelux countries, and were navigating by selecting small villages on minor roads, and using TomTom to find an appropriate route.  This worked surprisingly well.

The route into Brussels selected by TomTom seemed to be particularly inspired, involving a number of tracks through parks and very little on-road cycling.

We road to our friends apartment around 7.00pm after a 102km day’s ride.

This is posted on the 26th May.

View 24 5 2011 Huy to Brussels in a larger map

Day 6, 23 5 2011, Spa to Huy

Riding hills is something of a learned art.  As a general rule of thumb, anything over 6% is a serious hill, and I cannot maintain 14% slope.  Roz has lower gearing and better balance so she can ride something a bit steeper. There is also a pacing technique that has to be learned through experience.

Today was all about hills.  To make sense of this, click on the link at the bottom of the Google map.  Then click on the link to view in Google Earth.  Then when this has loaded,  expand the folder in the left pane, and then right click on the track and “Show Elevation”.  The Day 5 map is also relevant.

Most of the climbs were less than 300 metres vertical, but steep.  We again used Iphone TomTom to work out a route, and it was good at avoiding traffic, but hills apparently did not figure in its calculations of what constituted a bike route.  We routinely saw slopes of more than 13% on our VDO bike computers.

Eventually we arrived at the village of Werbomont, where we held a meeting and unanimously decided that we were over the Ardenne, emotionally that is, and decided to turn north east towards the Meusse valley.  We also decided to use the N66 road, shown on our map as a scenic drive.  This road was little trafficked at this stage and had much more even slope than the goat tracks picked out by TomTom.

One of the attractions of the Ardenne is its war history. Hitler invaded France by unexpectedly sending an army under the gifted general Hans Guderian, through this region.  Even though we only skirted the northern edge of the region, it is obvious that its seemingly benign terrain would be horrendously difficult country to bring an army through, particularly in 1940, when the roads were not sealed.  The country is a very attractive mix of forest and farmland, with a timeless quality.

From the ridge tops the Ardenne appears as a series of pretty rounded shallow rolling hills.  This is deceptive, as the descent into the valleys between the ridges is steep.  We live in hope of receiving a speeding fine for entering a village above the speed limit, as we often did today, but so far no luck.

We arrived in the town of Huy on the Meusse, a typically slightly shabby Belgian town with considerable history, around 4.30pm, visited the information centre and quickly checked into a hotel.

This was a hard day.  When we crested the top of a lot of these ridges, we were hit by a head wind.  We only rode around 83km, but it was our hardest day.

Both Roz and I have the arrogance and the sheer good luck to have got by without really considering the physical challenge of what we do.  We still get off on the proven fact that we can do what we chose to do when we choose to do it, and don’t have to take into account our advancing years or, frankly, common sense.  We knew we were in a hilly region, but did not bother to find out what it might cost us physically to ride through it.  We have done something similar on many occasions. We just rode, and it was all OK.  Perhaps one of these days we might find a limit, but thankfully it hasn’t happened yet, and long may it stay distant.

View 23 5 2011 Spa to Huy in a larger map

Day 5, 22 5 2011, Elsloo to Spa

We were pondering our arrival in Elsloo last night.  We had to stop and ask about where we might find a hotel in the neighbouring village of Meer.  Four locals joined in the conversation and decided there were none, but on reflection said it was possible there was one in Elsloo, but they were unsure because the village was all of 4km away.  When we got to Elsloo, I asked at a restaurant where the hotel might be.  The host asked want sort of hotel I wanted, as there were apparently several, and he asked how much I wanted to pay.  Normally I refuse to volunteer a figure, but I got caught out and suggested 80E.  He then gave me directions.  What a surprise when the hotel price was exactly 80E.

We had a late start this morning because our very pleasant and voluble host wanted to talk about his son who is working as a chef in Australia.  We have heard similar stories a number of times over the last few days.

We rode into Maastricht on the same LF pathways we had been using and had desultory look for more maps, as our bike route maps ran out just a few km south at the Belgian border.  Eventually, we decided to ride on using TomTom on the Iphone, and a large-scale map for general directions.  This worked really very well, as the bicycle route chosen by TomTom, while hardly inspired tourist-wise avoided the traffic.

There is a very sudden change at the Belgian border. There is no more bike infrastructure, no special lanes, signals, route markers and no bikes, that is, absolutely no bikes.

The Belgian border marks the northern extent of the Ardenne region, so the terrain changes from very flat to quite hilly, and of course this is the reason why the bikes disappear.

We decided to head south to at least the spa town of Spa, before turning east and then on north to Brussels.

The hilly terrain was a bit of hard work after the flat terrain of Holland, but not too bad.

We rode to the town of Dison, just north of Verviers.  Dison is my candidate for the ugliest town in western Europe, followed quite closely by Verviers.  We may have made a mistake here.  Common sense would have suggested finding a hotel in Verviers.  It was 4.30pm. But Verviers is such a shithole that we decided to ride on towards Spa and see what we could find.  Belgium appears quite shabby after the polished perfection of Holland.  This was quite a solid ride up and down the ridges of the Ardenne. The only hotels were full, so finally we pulled into Spa to find that the only obvious B&Bs were also full, hardly surprising as it was now 6.30pm.  88km for the day.  So we settled for a very comfortable 115E room.  It doesn’t matter, we knew full well that we would pay more if we had to stop in a resort town.

We had an excellent dinner with particularly good service in a local restaurant.  At the end of the meal the chef asked if we were Flemish, and on finding we are Australian, apologised profusely for not talking to us.  It is a bit sad that a French Belgian can talk to us, but not to his fellow countrymen.

View 22 5 2011 Elsloo to Spa in a larger map

Day 4, 21 5 2011, Lutton to Elsloo

Last night while we were finishing dinner, a group of about 6 middle-aged people rode up to the café to have dinner.  They were chatting animatedly as they dismounted their bikes and walked in.  It is a puzzle to me as to why it is in my country that riding a bike is considered some sort of hair-shirt activity, restricted to greenies and socialists.  For all I know these people may have been part of the local conservative party, but one thing is guaranteed, that to lose their bikes would reduce the quality of their lives.

For the last couple of days there have been thousands of people on the bike paths, from people in their racing strip on carbon fibre racing bikes, to elderly people on electric bikes, drawn out by the unseasonably pleasant weather.

The bike path is just a hundred meters from our B&B, so after a good breakfast we made an early start.  Being Saturday, we planned to stop a little earlier, as there may be a bit more demand on accommodation.

Fairly early in the day we met a Dutch couple, obviously touring from the equipment they had.  We rode alongside for a while and they explained that they were riding to Rome.  They told us that riding from Holland to Rome is considered a fairly standard ride now and a bit of a challenge.  They were heading to Maasstricht and then to Luxembourg, Basel, the Alps and on into Italy.

There have been quite a number of ferry crossings in the last few days, which is a puzzle to TomTom, as some are not able to carry cars.  TomTom seems to estimate distances a little over half of the actual distance.  This is because the bike path meanders.  It is a tourist route and probably all the better for it while TomTom calculates the best possible bicycle route.

Just when I think I have seen enough of the Maas Valley the route changes and something else happens.  While we had another good day today in superb weather, the countryside lacks the impact of the last few days.

We noticed that many of the villages we passed through had B&Bs, until we started to look for one, and they all disappeared.  Eventually we arrived at the village of Elsloo after riding 117km, more than we anticipated, and found another little gem of a pension at 80E.  The provided an excellent dinner on the terrace on another beautiful evening.  The owner explained that they did not expect passing traffic, but picked up guests through internet searches.  He certainly was not easy to find.

I have just noticed that for the lat two days Google maps is not loading the track correctly.  However, if you zoom the map, the track will appear OK.

View 21 5 2011 Lutton to Elsloo in a larger map

Day 3, 20th May 2011, Lottun to Elsloo

I can’t work out whether we are lucky, or if we have a level of subliminal planning that creates luck.

We decided last night that Maastricht would be an intermediate destination.  To head in that direction, we needed to follow the Dutch cycle route LF3A.

So this morning we started out and found LF3A within a few hundred meters of our B&B, so we were underway quickly.  The weather was ideal, not too hot, but a lovely clear day.  The path meandered along the dykes that contain the Nederrijn River before coming to low hills that mark the barrier between the Rhine delta and the Maas River valley.

The path through the hills is delightful.  It utilises a number of narrow gravel forest trails, passing through some really beautiful country, and is the best riding we have experienced so far in Holland, enhanced by the rolling nature of the countryside.  These paths would not be accessible by any other means.

Around 1.00pm, we came out of one of these trails and onto a country road where, in the distance, I could see the umbrella of what could turn out to be a coffee shop.  It was more than a coffee shop, being a restaurant with a pleasant alfresco area at the front, more or less in the middle of nowhere.  Roz noticed a blackboard advertising asparagus, which is in season at the moment.  I ordered my usual cappuccino and apple cake, while Roz negotiated an order of asparagus, which she imagined might be an aperitif of a few stalks.  She was served a full meal of surpassing excellence, which included in addition to a mass of asparagus, a very nice grilled piece of salmon and some beautiful new potatoes.  Not exactly what she expected, but I helped her clean up the plate.

We rode on through the Maas valley towards the town of Velno, a very peasant ride through some attractive villages, and around 5.15 arrived at the town of Lottum, where Roz spotted the information centre about to close.  We were still some 15km, or perhaps an hour from the larger centre of Velno. We asked about accommodation, and very quickly found the last room in a particularly nice B&B, at the very reasonable price of 65E.  We had ridden 106km, of which an unusual distance of around 40km was on gravel paths.

We then wandered the few hundred meters to the village, had a cheap, cheerful and surprisingly good dinner sitting outside on a beautiful warm evening.

This has happened over and over again on our travels, things work out better than you could ever have expected, and so much better than if we had planned.

This will be posted a day late, as the internet at our B&B was down, just for today.

View 20 5 2011 Arnhem to Lutton in a larger map

Day 2, 19th May 2011, Utrecht to Arnhem

This is the time of year that Dutch farmers get to do their shit spreading.  They have cleaned out their barns after winter, and are now spreading the manure over their fields, so the whole countryside smells of it and it is wonderful.  This earthy smell is the scent of northern Europe.

It only took about ten minutes to work out how to ride out of Utrecht, and on into very pretty farming coutryside.  Today we followed route LF4A. One of the pleasures of travelling through this country is the marvellous houses and gardens.  Even modest houses and semidetached homes have beautiful meticulously tended gardens.

This was an easy day’s ride.  The weather was cool and comfortable, albeit with a bit of drizzle, but not enough to wet us. We had a late start after sleeping in a bit, the result of a couple of hard disrupted days.

We had to stop at a bike shop to get a buckle taken out of my rear wheel.  This was aircraft handling damage.  I have had damage that indicates considerable mishandling on three of our five trips.  It only took a half hour and I was only charged 5E.

We are now into our daily routine.  A big breakfast, which we never do at home, and a coffee and cake stop at around 1.00pm, or whenever a place turns up. We don’t do lunch as such, simply because we don’t feel the need.  So we stopped at a great popular little bar, restaurant, coffee shop, warmed up a bit and refuelled.

I have been using TomTom on my Iphone in addition to the Dutch bike route maps, the “Basickaart netwerk LF-routes Nederland”.  I have the TomTom preferences set to bicycle routes, and it worked today, most of the time. That is, it followed the bicycle route we wanted, but the database is not perfect.  It needs to be used in conjunction with maps.   It is however, a huge aid and highly recommended.

We rode very comfortably into Arnhem around 5.00pm, found the tourist information centre who booked us a B&B.  This turned out to be more in the way of an apartment, so we walked back to town, about 10 minutes, found a supermarket and spent 15E on bread and food which we cooked in our apartment.  The apartment cost 80E.

It is hard to understand, unless you are on a bike, just how pervasive and central the bicycle is to Dutch culture.  If you drive around, you will notice a lot of bikes.  If you ride around you become aware that no transport system in the country operates without bikes at its centre.  So, you do not need a special path into the centre of a city, the whole system works to get you safely to wherever you want to go in the country, seamlessly.  More on this later.
View 19 5 2011 Utrecht Arnhem in a larger map

Day 1, 17th May 2011, Amsterdam to Utrecht


This blog is designed to give some flavour as to how an unsupported bicycle tour of Europe might work.  The use of a GPS  tracker is important, as it provides a good understanding of the actual route used.  I am logging every 30 seconds, so the mileage is slightly different from that acquired from my bicycle computer.  If you are interested in how the bike path system works, you can zoom in on the Google map for detail.

It took around 32 hours from when we closed the front door of our home to when we arrived in Amsterdam.

We got our bikes from the oversize luggage at Schipol Airport, spent around a half hour putting them together, and then left the airport at around 8.30AM.  The bike path starts about 200m from the doors of the Airport. Driving out would have to be a lot more difficult.

The intention for the day was to head first to Utrecht from the Airport, then head east.  We only made Utrecht as it happened, after 85Km of riding on the wonderful Dutch bike path system.  We were on either dedicated bike paths, or farm lanes and very minor roads.  We had a great day.  The weather was perfect, overcast, cool and low winds.

The riding is so comfortable without fighting with traffic.

So we meandered along these paths, a lot of the time beside canals.  We were most impressed with the beautiful houses and gardens that proliferate along these canals apparently owned by wealthy commuters from Amsterdam.

The country looked beautiful, and it was a pleasure to meander our way through it, albeit with a few navigation errors as you can see from the map.

 The Dutch cycle touring system has two aspects.  There are a series of places marked by maps and numbered, and from these there are routes to other such numbered places.  These places are nowhere in particular, they may be in villages or at some point of no particular significance on a path. We had the maps from a previous trip, and you would be well advised to get them in advance of a trip to Holland.

The second associated system is a number of defined routes.  So we followed route 7A which wends its way south to Utrecht.  We have found that signage is usually pretty good, but can be tampered with, hence our error.

At Utrecht we found the information centre who booked a hotel for us, about 2km away.  It is two-star but clean and cost 80E including a map and booking fee.

We had dinner at an alfresco restaurant with good food, one amongst dozens along a canal in the centre of the city.   I find this a highlight of the day, just relaxing and watching life go by.   59E including tip.


View 18 5 2011 Amsterdam Utrecht in a larger map

Mid May Preparation

We have done this sort of trip a number of times before, so our preparation is pretty streamlined.  The only things we have booked are our tickets from Sydney to Amsterdam, rental cars to get us to and from Canberra to Sydney, and a one-night stopover in Hong Kong on the way home.

Our intention on this trip is to ride to Brussels to see friends, and then to the North Sea coast, where we will catch a ferry to somewhere in northern England, probably Kingston on Hull.  From there we will ride more or less up the east coast of England and Scotland, as far as we can go.  We have to get back to Amsterdam to fly out, so will look at riding back south through Scotland, and perhaps across England via Hadrian’s Wall.  We have six weeks.

The English Sustrans company produces maps of bicycle routes in England, and there are a few which coincide with this route.

However, if it rains, we may jut go to eastern France from Brussels.

We have sort of planned part of our first day.  The plane arrives in Amsterdam at 6.30am.  We will ride to Utrecht, about 40km away, and then on east from there.  I would like our route to Brussels to include part of the Ardenne region.  At Utrecht we should find the junction of a couple of the Dutch LF major bicycle routes, so will probably follow one of them to the east.  We have maps of these routes.  I also have the TomTom GPS application on my Iphone, and it shows a bicycle path out of Schipol airport and on to Utrecht, so that should do.

So all that has to be done now is a little bit of preventative maintenance on our bikes, and a bit of packing and we are off.

Mid April, IPad


In our previous trips we have been a bit weighed down by books and maps.  When we first started touring Europe ages ago in 2005, to communicate with our family back in Australia, we used to use the one guest computer that some hotels had, and if that was not available, then stopped in an internet café.

On later trips we have found that wireless (WiFi) is becoming more and more common, and we have been able to ring home for free using Skype on my Iphone.

So for this trip, we thought we would become even more sophisticated and look at whether we could load stuff onto an IPad.  The latest model, version 2, is considerably lighter than the original and it would not take much for it to turn out to be lighter than the books we would otherwise carry.

 The first books we need are Lonely Planets.  Roz in particular uses these extensively and they seem to fit our style of travel well.  Fortunately they are available in PDF format, (the same as our book) which means that while this is not a native format for the IPad, it works well.

Lonely Planet sell their books by the chapter, which is slightly inconvenient, and I still have to work out how to store  these chapters in some sort of folder.

 The only trick, is that instead of using Apple’s IBook application you do the following:

 Buy and download the PDF files to your computer.  Then drag and drop the PDF onto the Itunes icon.  That’s it.

 We will also load some other stuff onto the device, perhaps some novels and accommodation directories to further decrease the weight.  We have access to Google maps amongst others at night through WiFi, and this should help, although it is no substitute for having a paper map in front of you during the day.

Late March, more GPS

More on the saga of getting a GPS track to work properly.  The problem is that I am a Mac user.  Mostly this saves an enormous amount of time, but GPS are the exception.

I reported in an earlier post that I cannot reliably use my Iphone, so I have to use a dedicated GPS tracking device.

Mostly these are designed for business purpose, but low cost models are available. The first one I tried I had to send back as it simply didn’t work, even though it came with Mac software.  this was a Gisteq.  The guy I bought it from said they were sometimes flakey, and recommended that I try the next model up in his range.

I will add details to a GPS Tracking page on the specifics of the issues involved in getting this device to work, which is not quite straightforward.  The device is a Qstarz BT-1300ST  .  Its virtue is that it uses a standard chipset so in theory I should be able to use any of a number of programs that work with that chipset.  But this is not the case.  Again, refer to the GPS Tracking page.

I have managed now to get track details onto a Google map.  This is just a local afternoon coffee run from my home. It is our intention to do a daily addition to our blog when we are touring, and include a map.  If you click on the link at the bottom of the map, you will be taken to the actual Google map, from which you can link to Google Earth.  If you right-click on the track in Google Earth, you will have the option of seeing an elevation profile, which is both pretty cool and of interest to touring cyclists.
View 12 5 2011 Tuggeranong in a larger map

Still March, GPS

I want to be able to track our progress using the GPS, with the hope that I can upload a Google map to this site.

I wanted to use the Iphone I have had for the last couple of years, but it won’t multitask.  That means, that I cannot leave the GPS tracking running while using another app, (application) such as TomTom for general navigation.  I didn't want to have to carry two devices, but it seems that I will have to.

As I have discussed in our book in detail, I cannot use Google maps for navigation in Europe due to the download charges.

At the end of my phone contract I upgraded to an Iphone 4.  I hated to do this as for all other purposes the original phone was OK.  Anyway, the multi-tasking problem was solved, or so I thought.  I had hoped that I could run a GPS tracking app all day, and use the phone for anything else I might want to do.

The next problem was choosing an appropriate GPS tracking app.  There are lots available, but there are various issues with some.  One problem was that some of these store every set of coordinates as a placemark, making the map very busy.

I eventually settled on Tracker4D.  I can either use placemarks automatically or not as I choose.  I can also name the file, rather than have the app make up a default and difficult name.  Tracker 4D is $2.49 from the Itunes store.  However, it will not work in the background. I can run the Ipod function at the same time, but if the phone rings, then it dumps all of its data.  It has to run in the foreground, so I can do nothing to interrupt it without losing all data.

Conclusion: I cannot use the phone for tracking the way I want to.

I will have to pick up a dedicated GPS logging thingo.

So, I will use the phone for GPS navigation using the TomTom app, and other smart phone-type functions, but not for track logging.

I purchased a nice handlebar-mounted waterproof case for my Iphone 3, but it doesn’t fit the new shape of the Iphone 4.  So it is back to the web for a new case.  This sort of thing irritates me, but I now have a version that works for this phone.  I spent a considerable amount of time searching for this, as I wanted a waterproof device.  My experience is that when you really, really need to use a GPS for navigation, it is raining.  There does not seem to be a better alternative to this:  It is a bit clunky, but solid and well-designed.


Early March, Scotland and Gear

Early March

I have said in our book that we much prefer to travel light and stay in B&Bs or hotels than to camp.

 However, our intention is to go to the north of Scotland, where the population density is quite low, and I was concerned that we might get stuck, like we nearly did in Sweden.  When I looked at a possible route up the east coast of Scotland, there appeared to be quite a lot of accommodation.

 The problem occurs over a few hundred kilometers down the west coast. It does appear that there is accommodation, but not a lot.

 We will be away for six weeks, so as it is likely that we could have a problem for just one night; we breathed a sigh of relief and decided to leave the tent and sleeping bags at home.

 A friend rang, and said that it is possible to travel by ferry between the islands off the west coast, and she seems to be right. 

 Check here:

 Some time ago I bought a pair of dark glasses with a two-times magnification bifocal built in.  I use them for flying so I can read the instruments.  I find it gives my passengers confidence.

 It is a good idea on bike trips like this to wear glasses, not only for the glare but also to keep the bugs and dust out.  Bicycle shops do not sell anything appropriate but I found some DeWalt glasses on Amazon.

 Check here:

 They haven’t turned up yet, so I will have to wait and see.  They are a lot cheaper than normal bicycle glasses, and I will be able to read a map or TomTom on my Iphone without changing glasses.  That will be nice.

 I use Cannondale Roam bike shoes.  These are very comfortable, and have recessed cleats for walking about, so you don’t have to hobble.  I need a new pair.  So they have been taken off the market.  I hate it when I find a product that just works and for some inexplicable reason the company that makes them decides to do something else.  They deserve to go broke.

February, Tickets

Time to buy tickets.  This ought to be particularly easy, as we are not fussed about where we actually go or even exactly when, but there are difficulties.

 Our plan so far is to ride to Brussels, where we have friends, and then go to Scotland, if the weather is OK.  The fall back is to do some touring in eastern France, where we have not been.  A bit vague, I know, but that is how we do it.

 The problem is that we would prefer to have a one-night stopover on the way home, at one of the hubs in Asia.  Again, we are not particularly fussed about exactly where.

 The intention is to relax at a very nice cheap hotel and perhaps have a brief look at the city, in between visits to the hotel pool.  A change from our trip.

 We have found that it is difficult to organize such a flight on line.  The problem is that most of the available on-line booking services do not allow you to break your journey.  You have to organize your trip as three one-way journeys, one to Europe, one from Europe to Asia, and one from Asia to Australia.  If you book this way on-line it will cost about 50% more than the return ticket.  It is cheaper to go to a travel agent if you want to break your journey. In our experience they can book such a trip at no extra cost.

 Of course, the cheap offers are the flights noone wants, the ones that leave before dawn, or arrive at some ungodly hour.  So there has to be some negotiation with the agent to inform them that there is a reason why these available flights are cheap.

 There are also some airlines to avoid.  Unfortunately they are the cheap ones.  There is a reason why they are cheap.

 So we have ended up with tickets on Cathay to Amsterdam with a stop over in Hong Kong on the way home.  I haven’t been to Hong Kong since 1974, and Roz hasn’t been there at all, so that is good.

 Our trip will start in mid May and we will return in early July.  I get home sick after six weeks.