Inverness – Bonar Bridge

North KessockThe weather today was lovely, except for the hail storm. And the downpour in the final half hour. Really; the wind has dropped and for every glowering black cloud on the mountain, there is a sparkling, sunny valley.

North of Inverness I expected a deserted wilderness, but we passed through several decent sized towns and the countryside was dotted with pastoral farms. Dingwall, Cromarty, lunch in Alness, and rolling through the rather posh-looking Tain, which we guessed was built on money from golf, before noticing the Glenmorangie distillery at the back end of town. At last we reached the fringe of Dornoch Firth, a long stretch of water between striking multi-shaded hills, and at the end of it, Bonar Bridge, under its personal dark black cloudy downpour.

If you wonder how we pass 6 hours a day in the saddle, here’s a taste. Caroline’s painstakingly-prepared routes, and finely-chosen accommodation have come up trumps again. So I decided she should be granted a lifetime achievement award, for services to holiday planning. Initially I imagined a photo-montage running as she climbs the steps at the ceremony; scenes roll-by: California 2001, the Spanish road trip of 2008…. But then… why not a full biopic? But who to cast? C opened with Anna Maxwell-Martin (which I thought a good choice) and I Jonny Lee Miller, but then the budget was raised and C would settle for no less than double Oscar winner Emma Thompson (notwithstanding differences in stature). Which left me no alternative than to choose Greg Wise, for the veracity of the love scenes. As for supporting cast, for memorable holidays in Costa Brava, Greece, etc, Susan Sarandon will play Yvonne, and Brian Cox (the grizzled Scottish actor, not the professor) takes the part of Tony. The most challenging casting decisions have been Tom and Clara. Whether to restrict to child stars (Emma Watson?) or imagine junior versions of adults (Audrey Hepburn!). Tom has so far completely escaped; any ideas?

Newtonmore – Inverness

Innkeepers are empathising with the epic slowness of our cycling in the face of strong winds, but meanwhile engaging in a Four Yorkshiremen contest.

Innkeeper #1: “I was cycling into a 90 mile wind in Ireland in October, and going so slowly a bloke walked past me”

Innkeeper #2 (who actually was a Yorkshireman): “That’s nothing, I was going so slowly one day, that I was passed by a bloke reading a newspaper and smoking a pipe”

The forecast, and downpours around breakfast time in Newtonmore convinced us we’d have heavy showers all day, so we set off in full rain gear for the climb up Slochd. It only occurred to us around 4pm that it had been a lovely sunny day. Stripped off rain gear. Rained at 5.

A nice day’s riding, passing sights from our last trip to the Cairngorm area, and later, the battlefield at Culloden Moor. Trad folk band at the Hootenanny pub in Inverness.

A spot of wind: Birnam – Drumochter Pass – Newtonmore

Scottish wind is different from the English variety. There were no gusts, just an endless flat blowing like the egress of a hair dryer. We battled into the teeth of it and up the pass, light in gradient but heavy on gravelly, bumpy surface, and alternate sunshine and downpour. It must have been the slowest 15 miles we ever cycled.

By the way, it was beautiful at the top.

Last night we stayed in Birnam (of the Scottish play) at a guest house run by a charming naturalist. We bombed back to Perth by bus (reversing the last 2 hours of our ride) to see Lau play at the splendid Perth concert hall. Mesmerising as ever, and, to Caroline’s shock, they stood up! (Folk music is not used to such radical changes of direction).

Faxe Ladplads to Copenhagen: the final leg

So. Arrived in Copenhagen. 12 days riding, 12,998 feet climbed, 654 miles ridden, 63 hrs 10 mins ride time, 4 capitals.

Two weeks at work fly by in the blink of an eye, yet here we are looking back on less than two weeks on the road and it feels like months. In a good way. Our heads are full of experiences: a lot delightful and satisfying, some awkward and painful. The psychologist Daniel Kahneman tells us that our Remembering Self craves these experiences to stock up our mental scrap book. The Experiencing Self, who lives for the moment, has to put up with a lot to keep Remembering Self happy. It’s quite a fascinating subject!

Where next?

Marielyst to Faxe Ladplads: meandering in Møn

We expected Marielyst to Faxe Ladplats to be a challenging day (another Maynard “we’ll never make it” day). 120km whereas our normal rule is no more than 100km. A ferry which only runs hourly, hence an unpredictable time delay. And accommodation in a Conference Centre in Faxe which we expected might close early. Quite some stress then.

In the event, things went fine.

We set off by 8.15 with 30-odd km to the ferry at Stubbekobing. Early on abandoned the winding, gravelly coast path for the main road straight down the middle of Lolland island. Spotted the possibility of catching the 10am ferry, which would put us an hour ahead of schedule. Pushed on fast, running at about 15mph, not bad into a head wind, with the lead out man weighed down by about 3 litres of water (gifts from the Marielyst hotel) and two of the heaviest locks known to man. Racing turns through Stubbekobing and we rolled onto the boat with 2 minutes to spare.

I checked Strava and we were 15th of 15 for that segment, but I confidently predict we were 1st of 1 who stopped for a wee break en route.

Arrived on the island of Møn which was completely delightful. The day now leisurely, we meandered between coast and country. Even found a glorious deserted beach for the briefest possible skinny dip.

Stegge is the main town of Møn and is quite cool and stylish. In hot sun, we stopped for lunch on a bench in the square and watched bank workers relaxing on a balcony and glamorous young women at cafe tables.

Over an ugly Nazi-built bridge (1943) to Zealand. Bob came a cropper because workmen had left a hose lying across the cycle lane on a sandy surface, but no harm done.

No great excitement in Zeeland, we just plodded on to our destination in Faxe, keeping ahead of a dramatic weather front; we remained in sunshine while a few miles west, dark clouds rained down.

Waren – Butzow: Approaching the Baltic Sea

Breakfast in Waren was a feast! When I booked Hotel Amsee, I felt cheated that I was lured into paying 10 Euros a head for breakfast. But it was so good! Big bowl of muesli, cheese roll, smoked salmon and eggs, fruit salad and cake with coffee and orange juice. We were stuffed.

The hotel was annexed to an old people’s home and I thought some of the breakfast guests were geriatrics, being visited by their children for the day. But then one of the oldest and most doddery-looking got on a bike with panniers and cycled off into the sunset.

Progress was quick, quick, slow, with a mix of fast, smooth tarmac (we call baby’s bottom), and rough, gravelly forest roads. Sorry for the preoccupation with road surface; it makes such a difference to progress and comfort. We have strong legs now; fatigue is not really a problem. Still some hurty bits need a break from time-to-time.

There is a change in landscape, accent and culture up here. It’s distinctly Baltic, one could almost be in Denmark already.

Bützow, where we spent the night, is an interesting small town, with apparently mediaeval buildings, some derelict, an old church with twisted spire a la Chesterfield, and some nice reconstruction going on around the Library, Museum and civic buildings.

Furstenberg – Waren: More lakes

Cobbles. Every town and village has laid fiendish cobbles in its central area; not sure whether this is for aesthetic reasons or as a traffic calming measure. It doesn’t calm us, it enrages us every time. Caroline is convinced that she risks brain damage in riding over the cobbles, so we often get off and walk, even through the rather large town of Waren this evening.

We are on the shore of lake Tiefwaren, about 3km north of Waren town. The hotel is quite plush but slightly odd; it doesn’t seem to have any customers. There is renovation going on and they may have closed the hotel but forgotten to tell us. Anyhow the duvet’s nice and there is free WiFi. And the lake this evening looked ravishing as the evening sun fell on it.

Hard to think of anything new to say about our ride through the land of 1000 lakes. Paul is very slightly cronky after a knock to his derailleur, so when Caroline dropped her chain on a climb, and arrived at the top, walking and surrounded by a swarm of flies attracted to her vivid lime jersey, she had a minor breakdown. But all was well after administering some of the emergency banana cake I have been carrying for such moments.