I think it’s best to say a few words about the Scottish part of our trip. Especially as to us, it feels like we just about made it home, even though we have still got a good few hundred more kms to go.
Our home is in Fort William, and we feel that is the right place to end this particular trip. Of course we have ended a fair few trips there in the past, and it feels right. The “locals” amongst you will notice that we are heading all over the place instead of heading due north to the finish line. There is a good reason for this. We have people to see.
We couldn't plan a route that did what we have to do efficiently. So we did the only sensible thing and planned a route that did it inefficiently.
We’re still planning day to day, still talking about which route home to take, but the next few days are longstanding arrangements to see friends in the south of Scotland, before we head to Fort William to look in on our friends there.
We plan to conclude this trip in Fort William, but we plan to turn around straight away to cycle south again…we have a lot of people to see!
Langholm to Hawick 39 km
This is an odd leg of the journey, but we have people to visit in Hawick. To be fair after yesterday’s epic, a short day was no disappointment today.
As if the universe admitted to itself that it might just have been a “tad harsh” yesterday, today it made up for it. Although it was as cold as Theresa May’s heart, we enjoyed bright sunshine all day. Our fingers were ice and our feet made of wood, but everywhere we looked was stunning.
This really is beautiful country hereabouts, and in the sunshine it was glorious. Traffic was light, and the roads were pretty good (for U.K.).
We had a really strange conversation where Annette completely misread the person she was talking to. She was saying that we had noticed the tension around the election, and was telling some of the stories we had picked up along the way. The woman Annette was talking to then told us that she felt compelled to vote Conservative to save the NHS.
I picked my jaw up off the floor, and helped Annette up with hers, as she seemed to be unable to pick it up herself. I was prepared to leave it at that, but Annette was not. She asked the woman what she meant, and she told us that she’d heard that Jeremy Corbyn secretly planned to sell off the NHS to Donald Trump. Therefore Boris Johnson was the thin blue line protecting the NHS.
She went on to say that everything seemed to have got worse over the past ten years, and she suspected that Corbyn was behind it.
The next few kilometres were spent in shocked silence.
We stopped for a flask of hot chocolate in the watery sun and pressed on to Hawick. It looks like the back pain might have an influence on the next few days.
* 10thDecember; we looked out of the window in Hawick, and decided not to venture out. The wind was too strong to ride a bike.
Hawick to Edinburgh 85 km
This morning was bright, but bitterly cold with a strong wind. Even though the temperature reached 4 degrees, it never felt anything other than bitter in the wind.
This could, and should, have been a fantastic ride. The scenery was beautiful, the views excellent and the traffic light. The temperature though, made sure that it we were not quite able to enjoy it as the needle on the “sufferometer” redlined.
The day seemed to be dragging and as we “lunched’ in probably the finest bus shelter of the trip so far, the wind whistled around the shelter, but didn't trouble us at all. We contoured around the hills, gradually climbing. The wind peaked on an exposed moorland and Edinburgh and Arthur’s Seat appeared in the distance.
All that was left, was a helter-skelter descent into the city in the gathering darkness. It started raining on the outskirts and by the time we reached our friends (Kathrine and David's) house, we were damp, cold, and more than a bit tired.
The hospitality and the surroundings at Kathrine and David’s always deserve a wee bit more than a fleeting visit, so we planned to stay for a couple of nights. We hadn’t seen them for a while and had much to catch up on (plus Kathrine is a fantastic vegetarian cook, and always comes up with something special).
Heading west next.
Edinburgh to Kirkintilloch 95 km
Well this one totally ambushed us. We planned to head along the National Cycle Route on the Grand Union Canal towpath. We’d heard it was a nice ride.
We left after David’s speciality breakfast, in a light drizzle. After shopping for lunch, we dropped down to the canal on a hideous road. It has to be said, the roads around Edinburgh, are the very worst we’ve encountered in the world…by a good margin! Even unmade roads in Africa and Asia are graded now and again.
As we were to find out later, the lack of interest in the nation’s roads in U.K. makes it the least cycle friendly place we have experienced. Even Malawi, consistently categorised among the poorest countries in the world, has better roads.
Maybe we could get EU grants to bring us up to “developed nation” status…oh wait, we didn't want any of that, did we. Go U.K.; taking control of our appalling roads back from pesky European subsidies, way to go guys!
Rant over…So, We got ourselves onto the canal and enjoyed a decent hour or so. Then the rain started. The rain wasn't too bad, but nevertheless, we bailed into a canal centre around Linlithgow for a coffee, where we met some great folk who were preparing a wee Christmas bash for the local kids. We had a good craic and bashed along the canalside.
I'm sure the National Cycle Route is different in the summer, but our experience was one of greasy, wet mouldy leaves, pools of water, and dogshit.
As we approached Falkirk, the heavens opened, and a bitterly cold wind drove the rain into us. We were chilled to the bone in no time at all and slowed to almost walking pace.
Annette was really struggling, and as I pulled her into the wind, I was often slowed to 8 or 9 kph…on a flat canal towpath! Of course we were so slow that it soon went dark. With poor quality lights, through the slutch and over fallen branches, we slowed down even further. This was where it started to go wrong.
As we popped out of the towpath and into Kirkintilloch, we followed Google maps through a maze of tracks and woods, for what seemed like the half-life of plutonium. Eventually, in the middle of a muddy wood, it proudly announced that we were “at our destination.” we could see no streetlights, or indeed anything at all. It was as if somebody had stolen our retinas.
Dispirited, cold, and still in torrential rain, we saw no option but forwards, and eventually we appeared at a gate in a country lane. A really nice guy stopped his car and asked if we were lost. In the pitch-black night, in pissing rain and gale force winds, in the middle of what must be the remotest corner of central Scotland, I wondered how he knew we were lost. Maybe he was psychic.
His intuition was better than his navigation though, and he directed us to an even more remote and god-forsaken place. At our wits end, we phoned the B&B and discovered we were in the wrong area, I think we were actually in the wrong time-zone. I think it was the middle of the afternoon in the kitchen of the B&B.
We could see lights in the distance and by phoning periodically and telling them what we could see (“it’s all black!”), we managed a 10km loop around the B&B. Paula our host, very kindly came out in her car to help us, and we arranged to meet on a garage forecourt.
We were struggling to stay upright in the wind and rain on the exposed moor, but when we got back on target, a flooded hole in the road ate Annette.
It just looked like a big puddle, I had hit it head on, and sort of bounced out, Annette was not so lucky. The first I knew of it was when I heard a scream. There were a couple of cars that stopped to help, and as I looked back, I saw her lying on the pavement, but moving both arms. I knew at that stage she was sort of alright. Having fallen off my bike a fair few times, I knew that the deal-busters are shoulders and collarbones, both of which seemed to be working. As she got on to her feet, I knew she would be sore, but most importantly, I knew she was basically in one piece.
We loaded her panniers into the B&B owner’s car, and we limped the last couple of kilometres home. The guys from the B&B were great, and after checking cuts and bruises, and a wolfing down a bucket of take-away curry, we prepared for tomorrow, as snow was forecast.