Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Days 31 & 32 to Clashmore and to Lyth

No internet access yesterday... so here's two day's worth:
Here's my Human Sat Nav for Day 31; Nigel. He showed me an ace route from Inverness to Clashmore.

I wish someone had told me the show was in Clashmore before. I was told it was in Dornoch so that's what was on my website. And apparently the phone number I had there was also for a different venue with the same name: Carnegie Hall. Not helpful. Sorry! Still, it was only a couple of miles away and it was the most beautiful village hall I've ever seen... but I'll show you that later.

I'm ever so slightly phobic about suspension bridges - I understand the physics of how they work but I can't help but entertain horrible notions of them failing when I'm on them. I didn't tell Nigel that until after we'd crossed Kessock Bridge because once the person I'm with knows it only makes it worse. I made it across okay. That took us on to the Black Isle where we made a brief stop at the Clootie Well.

There are hundreds - possibly thousands - of rags tied up on the branches of the surrounding trees here. I gather it's supposed to be a holy spring and the rags are tied as part of a prayer of supplication to help you with some ailment or other.

Nigel's wife had prepared a rag for me...

It says, please get my legs up Berridale Braes. I'd never heard of the Clootie Well and I'd only heard of Berridale Braes the night before when several members of the audience warned me about it after the show. It's a big, steep, winding climb that cyclists are supposed to dread. I was - therefore - dreading it... and grateful for the raggy request for help.

Nigel had one of the classiest tea stops planned for us... he'd parked his car up by the Cromarty Ferry with a proper boss picnic inside:

My first taste of the Scottish speciality, a macaroni-cheese-pie:

It tastes exactly like cold macaroni cheese in a pie.

This was my third ferry ride of the trip - one across the river Fal, one on to the Ardnamurchan peninsula and now this one on to Nigg. It was the smallest one of the lot. The road sign for a ferry always shows two cars on a boat. This one only takes two cars...

We'd been dealing with rain and a headwind for most of the way to Cromarty so it was relief once we were on Nigg to find the weather clearing up a bit.

The route only had one climb of any scale mind... and we did well to avoid the dastardly A9 for as much as we did.
Although, as we did end up having to contend with it - and all the lorries on it - for the last few miles...
And here's the beautiful Carnegie Hall... it really is beautiful. Like a scale model of a much grander building.

And here we are at the finishing line...

Which is when Nigel said the ominous words to me, "I would love to come with you tomorrow as well but the truth is, I'm not sure I could do it... I'd be a liability."

I slept that night with nightmarish visions of what Berriedale Braes held in store.

One thing the day seemed to have in store was beautiful weather. It was gorgeous when I got to the starting line for the 32nd day:

This was set to be the last big push. I knew I had a 75 mile ride - a long one - and my final show of the tour at the end of it - and that on Day 33 all I'd have left to do was a piddling 15 miler. So this was the one. Berriedale Braes. Gulp.

I enjoyed the first half of the ride though... the weather was ace, and the terrain nice. I was glued to the A9 for most of it - apart from a detour through Embo (I think) - but the traffic wasn't too bad and the views were amazing.

What journey am I on again...

... oh yeah... this one:

As you can see there were two notable climbs. The first one - Helmsdale is actually the harder of the two - and the second one is the dreaded Berriedale Braes. It's full of hairpin bends and has "escape lanes" full of gravel at the bottom of it... it takes you down and then up... past two graveyards.

But the truth is that I found it very manageable. I didn't end up in my granniest of granny gears and felt fine at the top.

That's either a sign that my fitness has improved... or a real credit to the work of the Clootie Well.

Before the ride I was a bit worried about this one. I'd had the fear put into me about the climbs and knew it was likely to be in the region of 75 miles. But having completed the two ascents I was pleased enough with my progress to make time for a couple of stops.

But I might have made a mistake because the weather was going to turn against me. As I cycled along hugging the coast I was constantly getting blown towards the sea so obviously when I made that left turn I inevitably headed into a headwind.

It's a long straight road with no obstruction and the wind was strong... and two miles in the rain came too. That long stretch was far harder than Berriedale Braes. Oh well.

Still, I (and my mismatched outfit) made it in the end:

There are fifteen miles to go. So close...

Monday, September 28, 2009

Day 30 -> Inverness

Hang on... that isn't a bicycle.

I've not really mentioned much of the extra-curricular activity but this is what we - my tour manager Ed and me - got up to this morning. A powerboat trip on Loch Ness. We saw no monster.
Here I am before the trip...

... and here's Ed during.

A big thanks to Marcus - who was in last night's audience - and who organised the trip for us... and also to Tony who piloted the boat. Ace.

Meanwhile back at the bike ride, here I am outside Fort Augustus Public Hall with my Human Sat Nav for the day, Toby - on the left - and his friend, Colin.
And this is the route we took. We took the south/east side of the loch... It's slightly longer but means we could avoid the take-your-life-in-your-hands A82.
As you can see from the U-D chart, the hard work was all at the start of the ride. But it got a lot easier.
We stopped off to take a look at the Falls of Foyer...
... and also at Dores where this man lives in a converted mobile-library, hoping to spot the monster that doesn't exist. Ah.
Nice views...
And here we are at the end of the ride. Dry, unrained on and happy after a jolly day out. After the last few days, at 33 miles it was, dare I say it... easy.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Day 29 -> Fort Augustus

I was preparing to do this ride alone. Scot - my guide for the past couple of days - had given me some good advice for the journey and I was pretty sure I could find my way as a result. But as it happened, when I was chatting with the audience after the show in the train carriage one of them said, "I suppose you've got someone to show you the way tomorrow?"... I explained that I hadn't and so... step forward, my short-notice Human Sat Nav, Campbell:

As you can see we were both in our waterproofs from the get-go... it was raining pretty heavily from the start. It never really cleared up. And most of the 44 mile ride was off-road - we started on the A380 for a while, used a bit of the A82 - but spent most of the time on the Great Glen Way or the Caledonian Canal towpath which made it a muddy affair:

We made it to Fort Augustus Public Hall in a wet and sodden state:

It had taken us just over four hours and given how rough and muddy much of our route had been I reckon that's a pretty decent pace. Impressive guiding, Campbell.

Day 28 -> Glenfinnan.

I apologise for the late running of this blog.

So, Scot and I were getting ready to leave at the start of Day 28...
... when we were joined by a pair of brothers called (I think) Neil and Dave. (I'm sure about the Dave one... but Scot thinks that Neil was called Alan.)
They stayed with us up until Acharacle - about 25 miles in - no mean feat given they were riding mountain bikes which will always be slower on roads.

The weather was constantly changing so the views were changing dramatically too.

But somehow we seemed to have the knack of avoiding the worst of the rain.

There was a nice lunch stop at Acharacle and a nice tea stop with Olivia and the camper van where Scit drew our route so far. I was getting confused because no matter what direction we went in we seemed to be heading alongside a seawater loch.

It was pretty close to the route that came up with later when I plugged my Garmin in:

It was a long ride - my third challenging ride in a row - and while we weren't dealing with a headwind this time I could definitely feel myself suffering a calorie deficit from the past two days. Scot's a far more experienced cyclist than me and he reckoned that the ride to Ardnamurchan had been one of his toughest rides. I concur. Rides of far greater distances have been far less physically draining.

I was certainly happy when I saw the welcome to Glenfinnan sign eventually show up...

And even more so when we reached the finishing line - at what is surely the strangest venue on the tour - a railway dining car at Glenfinnan Station:

A short trip from the fabulous Glenfinnan Viaduct:

I believe both locations are considered quite exciting by Harry Potter fans... they're certainly both very impressive in their own way.

It's probably one of the strangest "dressing rooms" I'll ever have as well:
Although it was nice to find that uppity downity charts have been used for years:
Here's mine:
I've generally avoided blogging about the shows for fear of it becoming a procession of "nice gig tonight" blandness - but it's worth mentioning this one because of its oddness. It was in a railway dining car. That means that half the audience are facing one way and the other half the other. There's no stage. There's no obvious focus. But what happened felt really special. Instead of trying to force a 3 gallon show in to a pint pot I tried to turn it into a pint pot shaped show. Everyone there was up for it because it was different and entered into the spirit wonderfully. It doesn't feel like a gig that I did and they watched, it feels like an experience that the 33 of us shared. I'll never do another gig like it and I liked it for that very reason.