Day 16 – 18 Loch Lomond to Glasgow to Newcastle… Goodbye UK

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It was time to say goodbye to the lochs and make a dash for Glasgow.   For the first time since we left we actually found a cycle track that was well maintained, signposted and did not just dump us at a highway.  We could also make out that were getting closer to Glasgow as the amount of smashed Buckfast bottles on the cycle track increased in abundance.  Rolling into the city was bitter-sweet although the peacefulness and beauty of the highlands was divine, the lack of food availability and bike parts could sometimes become a chore but hey that’s the nature of the beast!  Glasgow was also our first rendezvous with our ‘warm showers’ hookup.  Warmshowers.org is similar to couch surfers however specifically made for touring cyclists.  We spent the evening at a guys house by the name of Martin, a German which had been residing in Glasgow for the last six months.   That evening was the first shower we had since leaving over two weeks ago.  Up until this point we had been washing ourselves and our clothes at roadside restrooms or highland streams.  An absolute delight indeed!

In the morning Martin led us to the central train station were we had booked ourselves and our bikes tickets to Newcastle.  In Newcastle we had also lined up another warm showers host, Ashleigh and his flatmate.  These were two young lads in their twenties which had bought a house and were in the midst a full renovation.  They had kindly partially emptied their spare room to tightly accommodate a double mattress, our bikes and our gear with a cardboard box acting as the door.  The whole house had been gutted the living room filled with building stuff, the kitchen reduced to a few capped pipes and unattached power points and in the bathroom toilet required a bucket to be filled from the sink and tipped into the cistern to refill.  Nonetheless we were super thankful for the nights stay despite the fact the guys were super hard at work and for them clearing the space for us.

After a night sleeping behind a temporary door made of cardboard the time had come say the goodbye to the UK and take on the European mainland.  We cycled down the passenger ferry located on the coast of Newcastle, changed our pounds to Euros, chained our bikes up in the cargo area of the ferry and waved goodbye to the country we had called home for months.  The time in Scotland had been challenging both mentally and physically however all in all an amazing experience which I would do again in a heartbeat.  Leaving Scotland felt like we had finally taken off our training wells and were ready to take on anything the terrain and weather could throw at us.  Although the bike odometer only read around 600km every meter was was earned… the hard way. The next leg of our journey would be an uninterrupted cycle easterly cycle of the European mainland to cross over many boarders completely under our own steam.

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Day 11-15: Inverary to Loch Lomond

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Waking up in the morning in Inverary we were delighted to find raspberries growing right outside our tent which we eagerly scoffed down with the morning’s cereal.  The climb from Inverary to Loch Lomond national park turned out to be a series of long uphill stretches which we had to tackle almost entirely by cycling on the highway as trucks roared past on a frequent basis.  The ascent was a complete chore however the descent to the Lochs was an absolute joy with a downward winding road into the valley that seemed to last forever.  It wasn’t long before we ended up on the edge of the much adored Loch Lomond.  This is the pace where Glaswegons hang out on summer holidays and hot weekends off.  Scotland has an open land policy which permits anyone to wild camp without permission which we had been using to its fullest so far. However as it turned out Loch Lomond is one of the few places where wild camping is banned in many places. This is a direct result of the camping areas being badly abused by Glasgow teens which go up for a weekend, trash the place and take off again.  This provided troublesome at first however after a lot of scouting we found an area some distance from the main road that did not have a ‘no camping’ sign with the added bonus of its own free-flowing stream and a water-hole!  This is where we setup base camp for three nights.  It was nice to take some time for R&R and undertake some long overdue bicycle maintenance.  Over the days we would hang by the waterhole, the river go swimming in Loch Lomond.  Temperatures over the weekend peeked into the high thirties with the hottest days in Scotland ever recorded.  This brought people with car and bus in droves to the loch.  When the crowds became too much we would retreat to our secluded camping spot and sip cool cider.

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Day 10 – Oban to Inveraray

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This day would take us from Oban to Inveraray.  The day began hard as Oban is a seaside surrounded by hills in every direction.  This was where we encountered the longest and steepest traverses on our journey so far.  It was completely worth it as we made it out on to the farming planes where the sheep and goats seem to run free vastly devoid of fencing.  This is also where we got the chance to get up close and personal with the lovely Scottish highland cows.  This cheered us immensely and reaffirmed that traversing by bike was a good idea as they would have been impossible to see driving by with a car.  Despite the hard going we arrived in Inverrary earlier than expected with enough time to set up the sent on the edge of carpark and buy cold beer before the sun went down.  A hard but rewarding day however with our morale super high from a very challenging day which we smashed with ease!

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Day 9 – Oban Downtime

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We took a day off cycling to hang in Oban to explore the city some of Oban and collect supples.  Thankfully the rain stopped for a the afternoon giving us the opportunity to dry/air out some pretty mingin’ clothes which had started to fester since Skye.  Oban is a lovely seaside town albeit touristy and yuppified.  It is also coincidentally which is where the awesome Oban scotch whiskey is distilled.  It was also a day for internet-related logistics for the journey ahead.  We had not has access to power or the next since we left Edinburgh so it was time to try get things sorted for the rest of the Scottish leg and the further afield: the European mainland. We spent almost half of the rainy day in an internet café having making the most of our first taste of wifi It was a welcome day off before we would move onwards to Glasgow, Necastle and Holland.

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Day 8 – Portabello to Oban

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Given that one bike was out of the action and that the weather on Skye had turned sour, we decided to abandon the rest of our say on the island and headed back to the bus stop. Holding our breath we hoped that the boxes we has spent so much time constructing had not been discovered and discarded or reduced to papier-mâché by the rain. Fortunately they were dry and intact.  We then went about repacking the bikes and with loads of time to spare loaded them onto the bus setting off for Oban to find a replacement wheel.  The bus ran late and arrived in Oban and raced to a bike shop to buy a replacement wheel just minutes before close.  After reassembling the bikes we went on the hunt for somewhere to camp out of town just as it began to rain.  The yuppy pubs along we dropped into for shelter on the way were unsympathetic to our plight and did not offer us any shelter from the weather so we carried on through the elements.  In a scurry we found a spot next to a yacht club set up the already went tent in as the rain continued to pour, climbed inside and waited for the rain to pass which carried well into the night.

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Day 7- Isle of Skye Day Tripping

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We decided to take a day trip around Skye reducing our stuff to a few panniers and chose a 60km loop around the north of Skye.  The island is every bit picturesque as so many have made it out to be with rolling hills, steeps cliffs sparsely dotted with small town houses. As we soaked in skye’s rugged beauty weather began to turn for the worse with ominous with black rain clouds rolling in assisted by tearing sea gusts of wind that would rattle our bikes on downhill descents.  Then midway through our journey due to some miscommunication I ran into the back of Janine’s bike.  Although a slow speed impact of less than 7kmph which knocked neither of us off our bikes Janine’s rear wheel buckled rendering her bicycle unrideable.  After trying for some time to tighten the spokes and bend the wheel rim in vain, we headed back to the nearest bus stop as the first rain drops began to fall.  As it turned out, further add to our misfortune, it was Sunday thus no busses would be running.  We had no alternative except to slowly drag the bike back to Portabello. As we headed back we spotted a house with a van out the front so Janine decided to knock on the door.  An elderly man reluctantly and grumpily came to the door but refused to help us as he was very Christian and today was the day of rest.  I then spotted a three-fingered fisherman also on a bike passing by and waved him down, however he did not have a car either and did not know how we could get one, thus increasing the number of helpless individuals to three.  Just as we stood there helpless a ute rolled passed which he flagged down for us driven by a Skye local.  The kind man agreed to take us to town with our damaged cargo just as it ban to pour. Happy to return without pneumonia we thanked the man and climbed into the tent for the rest of the afternoon/evening.

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Day 6 – Fort Willaim to Porabello (Isle of Skye)

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After being refused the previous day by a bus driver we were determined to not have this repeated.  We got up at 6:30 and after breakfast with morning coffee headed off to the bus depot to get our bikes ready for transport. Janine organised bus tickets and a few other odds bits and pieces while I scrounged a nearby shop for cardboard boxes and began to pull the bikes apart.  It took us a little less than 45 minutes to strip the pedals, handlebars, drop the seats and wrap the bikes just as the bus rolled in.  With a high-5 we loaded our goods climbed into the bus and set off for Skye.  Looking out of the bus window as headed north made me anxious to get on the bike again.  I was glued to the window constantly evaluating areas to wild camp that were clear enough, flat enough and close to a river even if the bus was going to sail through anyway.  It felt so institutionalised to jump out at prescribed stops in car parks half the size of football fields where thousands would gather daily to take exactly the same photos only to jump back on and continue riding.  Although we were by no means the first to cycle through the Scottish highlands, having the route so strictly laid out just seemed to remove some much adventure from the trip.  Nonetheless it was still a great ride through mountains with highland cows and small fishing towns a plenty.

Finally shortly after 1pm we arrived in Portabello, one of the largest towns on the Isle of Skye.  We loaded the bags and the bikes off the bus again at immediately reassembled the bikes like a formula one pit-stop team while the already pissed locals watched on from nearby pub’s smoking area.  To avoid having to remake travel boxes for the bus journey south we opted for folding them up and stashing them underneath a nearby power distribution box and hoped that they would still be there in a few days.  We then found an awesome spot on the edge of a memorial area overlooking the town and settled in with a bottle of wine, rather chuffed with the day’s efforts.  Finally we had made it to our most northerly camping point for the trip, something which had seemed so far away while struggling up hills for hours each day.  Although we had to bus it for some of the leg we were really proud of our efforts.

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