Friday, 28 June 2013

On a crannog

As I approached Pitlochry, I saw a sign announcing "loch/lake" access. I then thought to myself, "I didn't know there was a loch in Pitloch...oh. Boy, do I feel silly."

In Pitlochry, I made phone contact with Tamsyn, the daughter of someone Mummy went skiing with in Norway. She lives in Perth, and been mooted as someone who would be willing to put me up for the night and indeed she was. We made arrangements for the next day.

I also phoned my cousin Donald D. in Edinburgh to see what progress had been in arranging to see him and his family especially his mother, Mary, whom I had not seen since 1996 despite two visits to Edinburgh. It was still a work in progress, so we left it at that.

The weather the next morning was mixed rain and cloud with a stiff wind out of the North West or so. In rain gear, I followed NCN route 7 to Kenmore along quiet if somewhat up-and-down roads against the wind. I made poor time and it was only afternoon that I reached the Scottish Crannog centre.

Crannogs were houses built on stilts in various lochs early in the first Millennium BC. The Crannog Centre had a reconstruction of a crannog to visit with an archaeologist tour guide whom I embarrassed a couple of times. The first time was after a general lecture on what was known about the crannogs and there inhabitants.There seemed to me a curious omission in the diet described by her, so I asked her if they ate fish or shellfish at all. Her answer wasn't very good in my opinion as it amounted to a vague "maybe". On shore, we were shown working examples of various tools thought to be used by these people including a trio of wood lathes. The first of these was a bow driven lathe which she described as inefficient and asked for volunteers to help power the thing. I volunteered along with another man. We pushed and pulled the bow back and forth with such vigor that it turned out that the design could be quite effective, though I did point out that it required a sturdy pair of men to make it work properly!

After lunch, I retraced my steps to Aberfeldy making much better time with the wind now at my back. After stopping at the distillery to buy a bottle of single malt as thank you present for Tamsyn, I took a busier but flatter road back to the the junction of NCN routes 7 and 77. Along the way I could see white water rafters on the River Tay. This reminded me of a case that Donald D.'s father had won on behalf of such people against owners of salmon fishing spots. (Donald later informed me that the case had been on the Spey not the Tay, but I suspect his victory had likely established precedent.

I rolled along through the afternoon, making decent but not terrific time. The NCN took me along the Tay into very manicured grounds beside the river. I felt ever so slightly nervous some ghillie would pop up and either escort roughly off the grounds or charge me £10 for the right to ride across the Duke of Dunrovin's estate. ;-)  It turned out to be the Dunkeld Hydro Hilton. (Dominique D. later told me that "Hydros" were temperance spa-type resorts.).

Shortly thereafter, the NCN took me in front of the Dunkeld railway station. As it was getting a shade late, the day was cold and I was tired I decided to investigate if there was a useful train anytime soon. As it turned out, there would be one in about twenty minutes, so I rang Tamsyn and gave her the train's ETA in Perth. She met me at the station which proved to be a bow-shot from her flat.

I think we got on quite well. After supper, she gave me a short tour of downtown Perth followed by a stop in a pub for a pint.

The next morning, I ran a couple of errands in Perth, including getting a ticket to Edinburgh before setting off to visit the Palace of Scone. In the process, I got lost in Scone. Once I found the Palace, I made a point of having a scone in its coffee shop. Doubtless, many others have done the same play on words.

The Palace of Scone is very much a stately home. Its video history makes a very definite point as to how a great many Scottish kings were crowned there.

It also makes a slightly petulant point that the Stone of Scone should not have been taken to Edinburgh Castle on its return from London to be displayed along with the Scottish Crown Jewels. It instead implies it should have come to the Palace of Scone. As a historian, I disagree as the coronations took place at the Abbey of Scone, which burned down in the 16th century. I need to check my facts but I believe the last coronation of a king there was that of Charles II and wasn't any entirely kosher affair as Cromwell and company were truly the people ruling Britain. The present building is more recent and no longer has the power it had having become a largely private building.

I got back to Perth much more efficiently and caught the train to Edinburgh, arriving mid-afternoon. The trip took me across the fabled Forth Rail Bridge, the painting of which was once synonymous for a Sisyphusian task.

I love Edinburgh. However, I suspect that there will be a day of reckoning for the city planners regarding Princes street as it is clogged with buses and will get worse once the tram system starts running. They have also made the sidewalks too wide. Consequently, I found making a North-South transit somewhat hair-raising. There is a 19th century railway tunnel between the New Town in the vicinity of Scotland Street that might be useful as an additional route for traffic.

I got to my guest house where I deposited much of my clobber before setting out on Edinburgh in search of a book or two before supper. I wasn't particularly successful.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

On a good day

This is a short entry aimed to say that I am now in Bromyard, Herefordshire, chez Izzy and company after taking the train down from Edinburgh to Wolverhampton. Wolverhampton is much easier to get out of than Birmingham.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

On NCN route 7

Today was very much a better day on any number of accounts. For last two days, I have been following the National Cycle Network (NCN) route 7. The NCN is analogous to Quebec's Route Verte, though not exactly the same.

It has provided me with a relatively traffic light route from Inverness taking in the Cairngorms mountains and possibly other mountain ranges. It is a little hard to tell which bunch of snow dappled mountains belongs to what geographic division or subdivision. The general NCN route in this area is something of a confusion of old and new roads. These include the old military roads (a.k.a. General Wade's roads), the old (disused) A9, the new A9(T), "B" roads and some even lesser roads.

Stops today included the Ruthven Barracks where BPC finally admitted to his followers that the jig was up. Ironically, the Barracks had been built to suppress Jacobites. Now it is an empty shell.

I also visited the Dalwhinnie Distillery. My comment in the visitors' book was: "Good, but 'tis nae my wee dram."

Near Blair Atholl, I saw a merganser and four or five chicks swimming in the River Garry.

The weather has been a perverse mix of rain and sun that has me changing clothes several times a day. Tomorrow is my last day of real biking on this trip, though there will be a decent day from Wolverhampton to Bromyard.

Friday, 21 June 2013

On ups and downs

Yesterday saw me cross from the wilds of the West Coast, past Loch Ness to the more "civilized" East Coast of Scotland. It was a long, fairly wet day. The high point was Urqhart Castle. Coming up next was biking along the tow path of the Caledonian Canal between Loch Ness and Inverness. The low point was the lack of coordination between two flag men which might have killed me as one doesn't seem to have said to the other to wait for the cyclist before letting traffic through on the A82.

The A82 answered a question that had been at the back of my mind for awhile, namely why isn't there a railway line through the Great Glen. The answer is that there isn't enough space.

Today was a series of exercises in frustration and stress that I will not relate as I would rather forget them.

I also visited Culloden Moor. Bonnie Prince Charlie should have shown himself a true king and surrendered himself in exchange for clemency for his men or had them retreat to a better position. The Jacobites didn't have a hope in hell on that open ground.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

On a dawdling day

Today was also a designated rest day with only 40 klicks on the card, getting ready for tomorrow's 100 km push to Inverness. As 40 km is nothing of a distance, I dawdled over breakfast chatting with a German cyclist, then rolled on to Kyleakin where I strolled over to the ruins of Castle Moil and perused an otter based museum partly in memory of Gavin Maxwell, author of Ring of Bright Water.

I then walked Leonardo over the Skye Bridge. I tried writing a parody version of the Skye Boat song, of the name the Skye Bridge Song as the locals are still miffed about the way the bridge tolls and related matters. My efforts were hampered by my lack of knowledge of the original lyrics.

I visited the railway museum in Kyle of Lochlash before having a lunch of cold smoked salmon and salad.

Next came a visit to Eilean Donan, a 1920's folly castle/hunting lodge built on the foundations of a castle last used by the Spanish(!) in 1719 during Jacobite unrest and subsequently blown up by the Royal Navy by the captain of HMS Entreprise. This castle has been featured in many second-rate big-budget movies, including Elisabeth the Golden Age, The World is Not Enough and the wretched Braveheart. The place is actually very interesting, though in truth, it represents wealth at an excessive level. It reminds me of a private castle in Spain that Margo, Chris and I had a peak at courtesy of its maintenance man. When Margo asked who owned it, the man shrugged, smiled and rubbed his thumb and fingers together in the symbol of money.

Through some rain, I continued up Loch Duich passing a deer and then stopping to photograph some shaggy and impressively horned feral goats that were grazing on the shoreline next to some penned llamas.

The hostel tonight is in Ratagan, a hamlet of no great significance to my knowledge but great beauty. The name is the same as that voiced by Vincent Price in "The Great Mouse Detective". Price is said to have enjoyed the role immensely, though this probably part promotional hoopla.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

On a dodgy tire

I got up early yesterday and successfully caught the early ferry to Kinloach. After I paid for my ticket, I realised I'd forgotten to return my hostel room key. As the hostel was only a stone's throw from the ferry terminal in Tobermory, I asked one of the ferry employees if he would be so kind as to hand it back after the return trip. He accepted readily.

The road out of Kinloach was a long climb punctuated by working Land Rovers belonging to the Ardnancham Estates with border collies in the back. A few times, a pair of them heading in opposite directions would stop at a passing place for a confab. I was reminded of a passage from one of the Wingfield plays which described the situation as meaning "the meeting is called to order." There was also a considerable herd of red deer stags, along the wild and woolly road. (Yes, there were also sheep.)
A number of the hamlets along the single track road seemed to surrounded by deer proof fencing and deer grates. I wonder if North Hatley might benefit from this idea. ;-)

A little after Salen, I had a flat on my rear tire. Investigating the cause, I noticed there was a tear or near tear in the side wall quite close to the bead and approximately at the location of the hole in the inner tube. This is the same tire that gave me grief in Australia, and one I suspect has manufacturing issues, as the front one hasn't given me any problems. I put a tire boot over the problem area and put I a new inner tube. This seemed to work in that I didn't have another flat but going down a hill, I could feel Leonardo wasn't rolling as smoothly as he should. In short, I lost confidence in that tire.
I rolled on a bit gingerly in sunshine so warm I stripped to bike shorts and a short sleeved jersey. I stopped for a lunch of cullen skink in Glenuig where a couple of cyclists had the same idea. We chatted a fair bit, before they left ahead of me. Once I finished my smoked haddock and potato soup, I rolled on beside the gorgeous Loch Ailort.
On account of the dodgy tire, I contemplated catching a train to Mallaig from Polnish. So I looked in at an unstaffed station. As I would have had to wait a couple of hours, I gave it a miss. Besides, I'd just joined the A830 which has recently been done up a treat thanks to EU funds.
Beside the road was a cairn marking the spot from whence Bonnie Prince Charlie hightailed it off to France. Grandpa was of the opinion that BPC was a bloody fool. Having studied Scottish history, I am inclined to agree. You can call me a Whig.

Mallaig is fairly compact so finding my hostel should have been easier. However it wasn't. I think they should look into advertising.

More predictably but also annoyingly, Mallaig didn't have a bike shop. A little Interneting revealed a bike hire place that did repairs in Broadford on Skye and proper bike shops in Fort William.  Today was supposed to be a rest day with only a ferry boat ride to Skye and a 16 mile ride to Broadford. Looking into ferry and train schedules, I worked out I would able to take train to Fort William, buy a tire and get back to Mallaig in time for a ferry to Skye.

Owing to issues with ScotRail's bike policies, I left Leonardo and several bags in Mallaig before catching the train on the utterly spectacular West Highland Line. I chatted most of the way with a Glaswegian cyclist on his way home.

In Fort William, began my search at the handy Alpine Bikes store. Unfortunately, they are mostly mostly concerned with mountain bikes and were sold out of tires of a suitable size. They pointed me in the direction of Nevis Cycles a mile or so up the road. As time was a trifle short, I phoned ahead to confirm the presence of tires, then caught a cab. The chap at shop had anticipated my arrival and had a suitable tire out for my perusal. It met my specifications with ease so after buying it and a replacement inner tube, I made my way back to the train station and caught the train back to Mallaig.
I gathered up Leonardo and my bags before heading to the ferry terminal where I could find open space to make the tire swap. When I examined the old tire, having removed the tire boot, I found that there was a distinct hole very near the bead. I therefore very glad I now have a new tire.
I took the ferry to Armadale. Some twit in a Peugeot estate wagon left their alarm on. The motion of the ferry kept setting it off. Had I a brick, I'd have heaved it into his windshield.

The road to Broadford took me up over some windswept moors. The old road ran along side the current one. A man was road skiing along accompanied by a black dog.
As I neared to Broadford, I saw the lights of a police car and a police officer in a high-viz vest standing in the road. Thankfully, all it was was that there was a car commercial being filmed (possibly for Porsche) and the road was being temporarily close off. After less time than it took to pull on my soft shell jacket, it was over and I could ride on to Broadford.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

On wild and woolly roads

I had planned to catch the first ferry to Mull this morning but ended up missing it by about 3 minutes. This meant I had to wait more than an hour for the next one.

While waiting, I watched a shore excursion landing from a small cruise ship in Zodiacs. A little while later, I was mistaken for a crew member on account of my high-viz vest. This is the third time this trip this sort of mistake has been made. The second was when some thought I was a postman on account of the colours of my panniers.

I stopped for a light lunch of a cheese toastie and scone at a B&B cum restaurant in Pennyghael. While I ate, I saw a middle-aged couple arrive on sturdy touring bikes. Something about their appearance made me think they were Dutch. They came in to the small dining room and asked if I minded if they joined me at the only table (of two) that had empty chairs. I invited them to join me. As it turned out, they were Dutch and were near the end of an island hopping trip. As they had come the way I was planning on going, I asked them about the road to Tobermory. They said it was beautiful but that she had lost her bike computer along the way. I offered to keep an eye out for it and she typed in her email address into my iPhone.

he route was extremely beautiful going over a craggy pass, followed by a twisty, open descent that led to a section jammed between Loch Na Keal and the cliffs forming the base of Ben More. The single track road had little traffic but lots of sheep. These needed to be approached with a certain caution lest they panic and run over a cliff and fall into the sea!

It was a wild and wooly road. It was also quite beautiful.

On Iona

I caught the early CalMac ferry to Mull, Craignure if you wish to be precise. This involved getting at 6:30 in the morning and having breakfast on the ferry. It was cloudy with patches of rain as I started along the single track road to Fionphart. I made poor time between stops for traffic and to change in and out of raingear. Coming out of a pass, there was a rainbow. As I tried to zoom in with my digital camera, I found the zoom wasn't working. Blast.

On the plus side, the rainbow was the start of some gorgeous weather. Lots of sun.

"Foreign" cars aren't allow on Iona. Consequently, I was the fastest thing on Iona's  one paved road. This was a welcome reversal of the normal situation, only spoilt by the fact that some of the tourists could be a little slow on the uptake about what a bike bell ringing meant.

I made my way to the hostel at the northern end of the island where I stashed most of my panniers and went to visit the abbey founded by Saint Columba in about 513 or so. I need to check my dates but people have been talking about the " anniversary". The celtic abbey itself did not survive the Vikings (and neither did a significant number of monks some of whom were slaughtered in the nearby Martyrs' Bay.) The extant building is an early 20th century restoration of 14th century Augustinian abbey.

There is, alas, precious little to connect with Celtic church aside from some ornate stone crosses. The most interesting of these fell over several times in the 20th century alone and is now indoors with a reproduction outdoors. The modern carvers reproduced the considerable erosion on the cross. This has a logic but I would have liked to see an attempt to show what it would have looked like when it was when it was new.

I also visited the ruins of a 12th century nunnery and a cow pasture cum golf course. As I was leaving said course through a farm gate I saw a truck heading my way so I opened the gate fully to let it through much to the driver's gratitude.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

On an error in map reading and its consequences

One of Murphy's laws of warfare is that battles tend to take place at night, in the rain at the junction of two or more maps. There is a similar rule in cycling, though I can't formulate right now. Certainly, it applied the day I left Arran for Campbeltown.

My main source of information for distances in Scotland were pages cut from a map book. As luck would have it, the road from Clonaig to Campbeltown was on two different pages and consequently hard to read. However, it was clear that the distance was 13 miles as it was so marked on both pages.
There were two female cyclists on the ferry, locals if I remember correctly. When we were landing, we had to time our crossings to avoids the waves breaking across the ramp. These waves were part of the same wind that had prevented John from giving me a lift from Arran.

After a short ride from the ferry, I came to the "main" road to Campbeltown which had a cheerful sign saying "Campbeltown 27 miles".  With a sinking heart I re-checked my maps only to find that the "13 miles" on both pages had been the distances between Clonaig and Carradale and then Carradale to Campbeltown! 
I rang John and Helen to let them know I would be late. They offered to give me a lift which I declined at that time.

I rode down the single track "B" road to Campbeltown making poor time owing any number of factors. There was a contrary wind which blew in rain in fits and starts which lead me to stop too many times to get don or doff rain gear. As well, the road twisted in and out of groves of trees and little valleys making it hard to predict on-coming traffic. 

By the time I got to Carradale, I'd had enough and rang John to ask if I might take him up on the offer of a lift. I found some shelter in the lee of a post office and pulled on another layer of wool while I waited. I was not a happy camper, but I was very glad when John and Helen arrived in their covered pickup truck.

On Arran

Arran is a popular place to bike if I am any judge, based on the evidence. To begin with, there were a pair of other cyclists on the boat train to Ardrossan from Glasgow. They were of the spandex or MAMIL (middle aged men in Lycra) variety with next to nothing in the way of gear. At the ferry terminal, they joined another group of MAMILs. There was also a couple on what appeared to be a folding tandem. They came across as day tourers.

The ferry made its journey with out incident. Midway across, it passed a sister ferry going the other way. Evidently, the run merits two ships. Incidentally, bikes travel for free on Caledonian MacBrayne. On the ferry, I snaffled a map of Arran which had advice for cyclists on it as well as advice to drivers which include how to deal with cyclists. One particular pointer is that drivers should refrain from honking at cyclists unless truly necessary (i.e. the cyclist is doing something stupid). *glares at the paternal unit*

There is an unusually strong food branding on Arran with numerous products being labelled "Arran this" or "Arran that". In no particular order, I have consumed Arran beer, cheese, ice cream, mustard, oatcakes and whiskey. The first experience of the latter was on the ferry where free samples were being offered of the Arran distillery's ten year old. I am afraid I can't recommend it. Among other things, it lacks the complexities of my beloved Springbank as well as tasting a tad of raw spirit.

As the day was young, I thought I would go to Lochranza the long way round. I stopped for lunch in Whiting Bay where I discovered that my decision was based on the dodgy conclusion that I would be able get past the construction South of Blackwaterfoot. As I backtracked, I found that the experience was different due to the change in direction. I therefore adopted the rule that all other factors being equal, if I have to ride a section of my route more than once, then I should try to ride it in the opposite direction if possible. 

After leaving Brodick for the second time, I rode beside the sea for several miles before I came across a Norse longship about to head out to sea. Seriously. There was a reproduction of Norse longship, or a least a knarr which was being prepared to be towed down the coast were it would be picked up by the Discovery Channel in order to be used in the filming of some documentary or other. I learnt this as I stopped to photograph the scene. The preparations seemed somewhat haphazard so I made the comment that they weren't going to get to L'Anse-Aux-Meadows at that rate! ;-)  I chatted for a while as preparations were made. The boat had a carved head which as per Norse tradition was detachable. At the request of the Discovery channel, the head was left behind as presumably, they had their own heads.

The road to Lochranza then took me over a dramatic and beautifully wild pass with high crags across the valley. I dropped into Lochranza's valley and rolled down past the Arran Distillery to the youth hostel. As the reception would only open in more than an hour, I rode back to the distillery to see if a tour was possible. I was in luck, I am afraid that the distillery is far too young to be interesting. In fact, if it were a human, it wouldn't be allowed to drink in the United States! The tour included both a dram of its 14 year old whisky which wasn't that much better than the 10 year old from the ferry and a dram of the cream liqueur derived from the whisky which was very good. I suggested they use it as an ice cream flavor.

Back at the youth hostel, I was assigned a room with two other cyclists. One was a neophyte who was in awe of the other who was 78 and had recently ridden 160 miles in a day that ended somewhere on Islay! That is 160 hilly miles. To put this in perspective, on my best day of biking I only covered 230 kms which translates into 143 miles and those were flat miles with the benefit of a strong tailwind.
I rang John in Campbeltown to enquire as to whether he could give me a lift on his yacht as the possibility had been offered previously. Owning to contrary wind and weather, as well as a malfunctioning engine, the answer was no.

That night, I had supper in the Lochranza Hotel. There was a contingent of yachtsmen from Southern England who were up for some sort of charity yachting event. They were enjoying many a pint and I asked who was the designated rower!

The next morning, I pored over my maps to work out the day's cycling. I opted for a loop around the Northern half of Arran that would take me back over the pass to Brodick and then over another pass to the West Coast of Arran along which I would return to Lochranza where I would retrieve cachéd saddle bags and catch the ferry to Cloanaig on Kintyre from where I would ride the 13 miles which separated it with Campbeltown.

As I left the youth hostel, the elder cyclist was also setting out and was grumbling about the midges. I offered him the use of my Canadian bug dope which he readily accepted.

A little before Brodick, I stopped at a folk museum to learn more about the history of Arran. I then did some shopping for the some of the local food. I also popped into a store selling outdoor equipment to see if there was anything of interest to me. I don't believe I bought anything there, but I was interested to see that products for care of waterproof clothing were displayed quite prominently. Evidently, there was a considerable market for them! 

Lunch seemed to take an inordinately long time. Partly for this reason, I narrowly missed the sailing of the ferry I had planned to take to Kintyre. I had to wait about an hour before it returned.

Friday, 14 June 2013

On the Caledonian Sleeper

I am no longer as agile as I once was. (I should probably invest some time and energy in flexibility exercises.) Consequently, I had booked a lower berth sleeper ticket. I boarded the train relatively early and proceeded to get ready for bed as the compartment was quite small, and doubtless be even smaller once the possible compartment mate showed up. In the event, he only appeared shortly before the train pulled out and then only to sign some piece of paper and to announce he had secured another compartment and therefore I had mine myself.

The train left the station in one direction and proceeded in for unknown time like this as I sought the best position under the duvet. It came to a long stop possibly to divide the train into Glasgow and Edinburgh sections. My section started moving in the other direction than it had.

I fell into a relatively fitful sleep. In the midst of a particularly strange dream which featured a knocking radiator, I was awoken by the train "host" (i.e. porter) who informed me we were an hour out of Glasgow and gave me my coffee and shortbread.

I dressed for biking and packed my panniers, taking great care to search the compartment for any misplaced items. The last time I took a sleeper to Glasgow, I lost my hat.

On my day in London

After bidding adieu to Elly and Collin, I rode Leonardo to the train station. While waiting at the designated bike spot in the platform, I noticed a steam engine at the Didcot Railway Centre been marshaled for the day by a diesel shunting engine with linked wheels. I took up my camera to record the scene in company of another cyclist of about my age. I broke the ice by asking if our photographing the event made us train spotters. He didn't think so. He was on his way with a small group for a day in London. (It was a Sunday.)

They were wearing fairly distinctive cycling jackets, which will be important later.

We travelled to Paddington station where we went our separate ways. I went first to Euston station where I picked up my tickets on the Caledonian Sleeper and dropped off three panniers in the left luggage office. I then proceeded across the Tower Bridge to HMS Belfast.

While on the bridge of the ship, I espied a Thames sailing barge with red sails called Hydrogen across the river. It moved upriver before turning and going under the Tower Bridge which had raised its drawbridge section for the barge's mast!

By the time I finished touring the light cruiser, veteran of the Second World War and the Korean War, it was too late to see another attraction. Consequently, I sought out some supper at Covent Garden. As I was scoping out the options who should emerge but the people from Didcot in their distinctive cycling jackets!

After a supper of Indian food, I headed towards Euston Station, stopping shortly before at the Euston Flyer pub for a pint. As the Montreal Grand Prix was playing on one of the TV screens, I settled in to watch the action with the eye of someone who has ridden the track on a bike. I was suddenly possessed by the giggles when I saw the plethora of "Fly Emirates" signs around the track as I am pretty sure they don't fly into Montreal!

I remarked upon this to people sitting next to me in the pub. This started a chat which one of them commented he had taken me for a railway maintenance worker when I first came in as I was wearing a new lime green high-viz vest and a yellow bike helmet! (I had bought the new vest as my old orange one is fading badly and might bring untoward association with Orange Order idiots. As well, the increased visibility is a comfort on these narrow British roads.)

On Didcot

Elly and and her husband, Collin, live in a rather nice if slightly perplexing house in Didcot with two friendly if undisciplined black labs. They are remarkably bouncy and playful to the point that I asked how old they were as they displayed puppy-like exuberance. Elly laughed at that as Bella, the oldest (and most exuberant) is roughly ten years old!
On Saturday morning, I assembled Leonardo. I then went on a shopping expedition with Elly and Collin. Afterwards, we went to the Barley Mow for lunch. The Barley Mow is a pub on the Thames featured in Jerome K. Jerome "Three men in a boat". It was a nice sunny if slightly cool day so we ate in the beer garden where we could admire the thatched roof of the pub.
After lunch,  I took Leonardo on a short trial run to the Didcot Railway Centre where I rode in not one but two steam trains, including one drawn by a tank engine that might have been Thomas' brother.
The Centre had very large number of old steam engines in various states of repair. It also had a section of pipe from Brunel's failed atmospheric railway. The theory behind this was that the trains would be propelled by a centrally located vacuum. It didn't work well in practise. I'd heard about it on Wallace and Gromit's World of Invention.
The Centre is largely run by steam enthusiasts who are mostly men older than I. It is very much dependent on the love of steam engines.

Note to readers

Some of you may have been wondering at the lack content. I had been running into issues with getting proper Internet connections whilst having the time and energy to write posts. Generally, the issue has been the lack of energy as my travels have been a bit demanding in their way. At an early stage, I opted to enjoy myself rather than worry about writing. I have been and will shortly be posting some entries.

Thank you for your patience.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

On where I am

I am in Campbeltown after two days of dodgy weather and possibly dodgy conclusions. The weather has cleared to glorious sunshine, so I am going to seize the moment and go for a spin around town while it lasts. More later.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

On a grueling flight

I must remember not to book long flights on nights after work ever again if I can possibly help it. I found my flight over a grueling, sleepless chore. Thankfully, the seat next to me was empty so I had a bit more space.

When I got to immigration control, there was a huge lineup as it seemed flights from several countries had all arrived at once. This included an Emirates flight and one from somewhere in the vicinity of Oklahoma as I overheard some people talking about the tornado. There was also a guy in a cowboy hat and jeans held up by a big buckled belt who opened a can of chewing tobacco and put some in his mouth while waiting. There was a discouraging sign saying the wait could be as long as 90 minutes from that point. Thankfully, I was through faster than that.

The delay meant that my luggage and Leonardo were waiting for me in the luggage retrieval area. I put the wheels onto Leonardo's box and pulled it and the rolling duffle off to find the exit.

Once out of the secured area, I sought out a cashpoint machine to get some pounds. The last time I tried to do this in Heathrow, I managed to get my bank card cancelled. Consequently, I approached the machine with a certain caution born of bitter experience and cash advance credit card charges ;-) and a depiction of an alphanumeric keypad as I remember my PIN as series of letters not numbers and European cashpoints don't show the letters. As I was doing this an oddly accented voice from behind me asked about where I was biking to. I turned around to see an older man with a large rolling suitcase. I am afraid I said to him slightly curtly that I had to concentrate so please don't bother me. I don't think I insulted him, but as he walked away I noticed that his suitcase was marked "Tern" which is the brand name of a folding bike maker, meaning the suitcase contained a folding bike. I felt I had been a bit unfriendly.

As luck would have it, the same man was at the railway platform when I got there. I apologized for my behavior and we began to chat. He was on his way to a Land's End to John O'Groats ride! I don't know where he was from, but it wasn't the UK. Among other things, it was hard to explain to him that he should take the Heathrow Express train to Paddington rather than the Heathrow Connect train that also went to Paddington but stopped several times along the way.

I took the Heathrow Connect train one stop before changing to another train. This involved hauling my luggage up and down stairs to reach the right platform where I caught the train with no time to spare. Once on the train, I phoned cousin Elly to give her an ETA of my arrival in Didcot.  She met me at the station and drove me and gear to her house where after a couple pieces of toast, I collapsed into bed for a four hour snooze. Elly later said I had looked completely wiped.

Monday, 3 June 2013

On how long it takes me to disassemble Leonardo for shipping

People have sometimes asked me how long it takes me to prepare Leonardo for shipping. In the past, I have been unable to give a proper answer. However, this evening I decided to time myself. With tools laid out and a large bike box at the ready, it took me a bit under 24 minutes.  It takes longer with a smaller box as fitting the bike into the box just so is much more fiddly. The box isn't sealed but that can wait as there are still bits to go into it.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

On a particularly wet Tour de l'Île

This year the Tour de l'Île offered as an attractive option a 100 km version that went out to St-Anne-de-Bellevue, e.g. the extreme Western end of the Island of Montreal. This was the one I opted for. I tried volunteer for it as a mechanic, but Vélo-Québec was only accepting volunteers with a higher level of qualification than I possess for the 100k option. The parents had been going to go too, but didn't because of the timing of a friend's visit (e.g. Christina, the origin of Maria middle name, and family).  Possibly just as well, as the start of the Tour, near the Olympic Stadium was 12.5 km from my home, which would have been their base.

I left my home a little late and it began to rain shortly before the train viaduct into Central Station. I say shortly before, as I stopped under the viaduct to don rain gear. It was a very intense rain. I got to the start shortly before 8, and had the shortest wait I have ever had for a Tour de l'Île, e.g. no time. I went through instantly with a volunteer saying "Remain calm." I started acting crazy.

The first three quarters of the tour were on streets and bike paths that hadn't been cleared of other traffic. Unfortunately, far too many of the 100k people hadn't got the message about biking in single file. Vélo-Québec needs to do more nagging.

There was section on a nominally gravel dust bit of bike path that was in fact clay that was quite soft and slippery. Thankfully, I was on Leonardo with his fat tires which reduced the trouble. 
Around the 34 km mark, the rain tapered off. Thankfully, it was a warm, almost tropical rain, quite unlike last Sunday's rain. For one thing, there was little wind. The sun came out and I annointed myself with an insufficiency of sunscreen.

Around noon, I stopped at a Dairy Queen for a banana cream pie Blizzard. This is essentially, sliced bananas and a few cookie crumbs mixed with soft ice cream. I like to think of it as a good biking indulgence. This proved a very wise decision as the 100k Tour de l'Île joined the 50k
Tour de l'Île about a 1 km later. Had the Dairy Queen been on a 50k section of the Tour, it would have been overrun with other cyclists. As it was, there was only a couple of others, including a man whose hair had formed into rows due to his helmet!

It was quite a relief to get onto closed off roads for the remaining 25 kms of the Tour. With a tailwind, these were over fairly quicklys as it was about 1:30 when I finished.

After the lunch, I was watching a circus perfomance by two men carrying a bouncy pole between them and a woman balancing on and jumping from it. After one very high jump, she landed badly, not on the foam put out, but on the hard concrete of the Olympic Stadium's raised piazza. I was groaning inside out of sympathy. The two man ran to her, asked her a couple of questions before one of them picked her up and carried her behind the scenes. She somehow kept a stage smile on her as she was carried away.

Between the Tour, and going and returning to the Olympic Stadium, I covered 125.06 km, in 5.46.28 hours, for an average speed of 21.6 km/h with a maximum speed of 53.4 km/h.