Sunday, 19 June 2016

On planning for my trip to Scotland and thoughts resulting from it

Well, I have done the bulk of the organising, planning and above all booking for my trip to the North of Scotland. This held a variety of surprises and frustrations. Margo will doubtless think I over prepared out of worry and wimpiness  ;-) and I agree with her to an extent but not so far as actually changing my plans! For one thing, there were a fair number of places I couldn't stay as there was no room at the B&B and the hotels were an arm and a leg. (One of the latter's website seemed to indicate that salmon fishing rights were included in the price! Grandpa might have liked that, but Granny would have shuddered at the price.) The worst bit for this is on the Northern stretch of the West Coast of the mainland between Ullapool and Cape Wrath. I was unable to find suitable accommodation, so instead I will travel inland via Lairg. Actually, this route will be somewhat shorter and definitely flatter. It also uses part of the  National Cycle Network's Route 1 and is also the recommended route in the Lonely Planet's Cycling Britain version of Land's End to John O'Groats (hereafter referred to as "LE JOG").  The Highlands of Scotland is no place to be caught without a dry bed for the night and if it is this hard to find beds now, imagine what it would be like in August.

Where will I be? South Uist, Benbecula, North Uist, Skye, Lewis and Harris, Ullapool, Lairg, Kyle of Tongue, Thurso, the Orkneys and John O'Groats not to mention various points in between. The penultimate destination has been on my wish list for nearly twenty years if I am not mistaken. More precisely, Skara Brae. If my memory is correct, in September 1996, while flying back from a historical research trip to Edinburgh on a British Airways 747, I saw a tourism documentary about Scotland (which I thought would have been better if shown on a flight going to the UK) which mentioned it. The neolithic site sounded fascinating and stuck in my memory as something worth seeing. While I have been to Scotland three times since (two of them documented in this blog), I was never close enough to be able to go. So this time, I have made a point to include Skara Brae (and Orkney) in the itinerary of the present trip.

ScotRail, like all British railway companies in my experience, has a very welcoming bicycle policy by Canadian standards. (Sorry Via Rail, but you could learn a lot from the Brits.) Bicycles can be taken on all trains free of charge, up the space limitations. Obviously, this varies from service to service, and on some services, the company recommends making a bike reservation. This is all very well, except that you can't make a bike reservation online unlike some other train companies. So I have had to make a couple of phone calls to the U.K. in order to book both my self and Leonardo, on various Highland train services. The one that particularly stressed me was from Thurso to Inverness as there are "only" four services a day and given that Thurso is the end of the line for LE JOG cyclists, I was worried that it might be saturated by returning cyclists in the same way that it is hard to find a bike box in St John's, NL in August. In the end, it all worked out and both Leonardo and myself have tickets on the particular train I wanted to be on.

The 1996 trip to Scotland came up a different way this weekend as just before that trip, I had bought an oversized (XXXL) T-Shirt to sleep in. It has been used of and on ever since and probably on three continents. As it's use is seasonal, it has survived. However, I noticed this weekend that it had worn through in some places and given it's age, it is now destined for the rag shelf. Today, I set out on a quest to find a replacement which was oddly difficult. However, having found a replacement, I was returning along the Lachine Canal where I stopped for a mid-afternoon pint at the Terrasse St-Ambroise. As today was a hot, sunny, Sunday, it was packed with people, mostly cyclists, many of the MAMIL subspecies. I was struck by how much this:
 resembled this. Life imitating art.

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