Breathtaking views on the Great Tour

PUBLISHED: 14:13 02 August 2010 | UPDATED: 16:24 05 August 2010

Long and lonely road - stage 17 of the Great Tour.

Long and lonely road - stage 17 of the Great Tour.

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The amazing caves

Stage 28 Scourie to Ullapool

Today always looked as if it was going to be a hard day and it didn’t disappoint! It started well, in the dry and even with a glimpse of the sun for at least three minutes. The midges were in fine form and their teeth seemed even sharper than usual, luckily they seemed unable to fly at the same speed as The Great Tour riders. I had a bit of an off day today as my knee started to hurt and at the same time the Qoroz was making some odd noises that none of us could pin down, heavy and persistent rain started and the hills were just as persistent in their frequency and severity. The morning turned into a bit of a battle and our speed started to take a bit of a knock, this was going to be a tough day with a late finish unless things improved. To balance things out, the scenery was completely stunning with loch after loch after loch and a backdrop of misty mountains with their tops concealed by the low cloud base, it was all very atmospheric. This is one very beautiful part of the United Kingdom and even now I want to come back.

We lunched at Lochinver under the shelter of our canopy and the rain increased and the mood did feel a tad heavy, however, off we went and somehow the afternoon shot by as the hill climbs seemed to ease and our pace increased. I took my leg warmers off during the afternoon and my knee problem curiously started to ease, so I guess it might have been too much pressure on my patella (let’s hope so). We are now at Ullapool, (well known for the music festival – Loopallu), having entertained our traditional Friday fish and chips and after I have finished this, it is down to see what’s amiss with the Qoroz (we suspect a loose cassette). We knocked off about 1,800 metres of height gain and 115 kilometres of distance.

Stage 19 Edinburgh to St Andrews

Stage 27 Bettyhill to Scourie

We knew when we set off that it would be lumpy today and probably our hardest day since the first day. That turned out to be the case, but wow, what a stunning day it was from start to finish as we cycled through open moorland, rugged coastline and wonderful sandy beaches in protected coves. With Ben Hope (a Munro) towering over us to the south, we cycled west over the Kyle of Tongue and towards Loch Eriboll, where on the west side we called in to meet Lotte Glob, a Danish ceramist who has been living and working in the area for over 40 years. I loved her work and it was a joy to meet and chat for a while. I brought my first present of the tour and look forward to enjoying a coffee at home with memories of the very tip of Scotland. At lunch we even had time to visit the coastline caves of Smoo, carved out of limestone and with a fresh waterfall tumbling into a deep pool below that spilled out to the open sea.

It was a brilliant day, and the legs felt okay, long may it stay that way J

Stage 28 - Scourie to Ullapool

We have now reached Scourie and by the end of tomorrow we will have completed 4 weeks of cycling without a day off, by the time we finish stage 32 next Tuesday we’ll be half way.

Stage 25 Dornoch to Wick

Thank you Dornoch for arranging a very Scottish send off. It was just fantastic to turn up and to be greeted by a piper in his full regalia and for him then to march forward and lead us out on stage 25 of our journey. We also greeted Stephen from The Prostate Cancer Charity who was joining us for today’s ride, welcome aboard Stephen, it’s really good to see you again. Today’s ride involved quite a lot of the A9, quite simply because of no alternative. Some of this route was familiar from a couple of years ago when I cycled from John O’Groats to Lands End. We contented ourselves with pressing on today as the threat of heavy rain was all around us and so stops were short and Wick was reached early. One bit of humour along the way was Graeme chasing an Austin 7 (see pic) up a hill.... he almost beat it. It was a stunning day for me as we had rolling roads, pretty good (smooth) tarmac, a tail wind and ideal conditions for the Qoroz......it just flew!

Tomorrow is a huge day for the mind, as we set off north, pass by John O’Groats and reach Bettyhill, which is the top of Scotland for us. After that we start heading south again, were not half way in either days or distance, but it will feel a very important staging post. I have to say that home family and friends do feel a long way away at the moment, not so much by distance but more by time.

Stage 30 Gairloch to Applecross

Stage 24 – Inverness to Dornoch

The day started really well as we were invited into the Inverness Town House (Town Hall), home to the Highland’s Council’s City of Inverness offices. Councillor Jimmy Gray, the Crown Ward welcomed us and we enjoyed tea and cakes of a really delicious nature. After morning tea we were taken into the Council Chambers where on the 7th September 1921 at 11am the British Cabinet met to discuss the political troubles in Ireland. The basis of the meeting led to the “Inverness Formula” which formed the basis of the Treaty creating the Irish Free State. Lloyd George and Winston Churchill were both present and I have to say that the room felt charged with an atmosphere of history.

So after a great start and the prospect of a short day all was going well. It then started raining, in fact raining quite hard! Then we heard that the ferry from Cromarty was not running and so we had to add another 30km to our day. We plodded on and after lunch at Tain we eventually made it to Dornoch about 2 hours later than intended. From there it was a quick shower, into transport and off to the Alladale Estate, where we were guest for the evening. We were very kindly shown around some of the 23,000 acre estate and the entertained with a fabulous barbeque, a truly memorable evening.

Stage 23 Lossiemouth to Inverness

Stage 30 Gairloch to Applecross

Sunday morning and we had a little lie in, with a late breakfast at 08:00 and a even later start of 09:30, the reason for our tardiness was because we had only 85 km to cover and about 600 m of height to climb. We started outside the Balgreen lighthouse near the campsite in true coastal fashion and enjoyed a relaxed morning’s cycle to our lunch stop in Nairn. Not only did we have lunch, but we managed a few minutes on a practice putting green, it was positively indulgent as we took an hour break in the middle of the day. Hugh potted a 25 yard ‘hole in one’ to demonstrate his golfing prowess and Graeme hit the pin, but on the wrong green!

The Road Won felt good today after I had cleaned its chain, re-shod the front wheel and generally fed it a little oil in the right places. My legs felt better as well, so a pretty good day altogether.

Today has been a bit like a day off almost, except for the last few kilometres which provided a sting in the tail as far as height gain is concerned!

Stage 22 – Fraserburgh to Lossiemouth

Stage 30 Gairloch to Applecross

We said good bye to our core riders from last week and hello to our new core riders, Adrian, Stuart, Mark, Brian and Hovis who will be with us for the next 7 days. We set off from Fraserburgh on a dry morning and went straight into broken spokes and sticking brakes as we climbed the steepish hills. I have to say that my legs felt rubbish this morning. Every hill felt like a mountain as I must have left my cycling legs back in my sleeping bag, my rear brake kept sticking, which didn’t help. Hovis broke a spoke on his back wheel that we couldn’t repair and so my spare qoroz wheel came to the rescue, just prior to that ,

Today was a day of cycling West as we added another 100kilometres to our tally and climbed up about 1100 metres. We lunched at Cullen, overlooking the harbour and tasted Cullen Skink. The name of this rich, tasty soup comes from the fishing village of Cullen, in Morayshire. “Skink” is a soup made originally from a shin of beef, but in this case, the main ingredient is smoked haddock.

I’m just loving this coastline, with its small protected harbours and surrounding fishing villages, dotted along the undulating coastline. I have promised myself to return and spend more time here in the future.

A shortened day of about 85 km awaits us tomorrow, which I hope will feel like a bit of a rest day!

Stage 28 - Scourie to Ullapool

Stage 21 Stonehaven – to – Fraserburgh

We are feeling just a tad lucky at the moment as we complete the 3 week milestone, as so far we have only had one really wet day. Today started sunny and dry, but soon turned cold and cloudy, however somehow we seemed to cycle into sunshine. There was a bit of a chill in the air, but that was fine when we were cycling. It was Viv’s birthday today and we started off the day with a rousing happy birthday song and then off and onto the bikes by 07:30. The countryside felt reminiscent of Brittany, with blue skies, a deep blue sea, rolling hills, fields packed with vegetables and even the architecture with steep roofed houses seemed to have a similar style.

Welcome to Neil ‘Hovis’ Tubbs a friend and fellow cyclist from Axe Valley Pedallers. It’s great to have Hovis aboard, he is a strong and willing cyclist from Seaton and I’m sure will be an asset to the team over the week.

After a rather rapid lunch overlooking Collieston harbour, we sped off for afternoon tea at Buchan Ness Lighthouse where we had such a friendly welcome from Sheila, Robert and Eric who made us a wonderful cuppa on their island. I’m going to do my best to go back at some point and rent one of their cottages, what a wonderful spot! www.buchannesslighthouseholidays.co.uk. Have a look at the size of one of the bulbs from the lighthouse (see pic).

Stage 29 Ullapool to Gairloch

Stage 20 St Andrews to Stonehaven

We started off the day by a look at the 18th at St Andrews and all of the core riders sat on a small, but very well known bridge, A day of mixed terrain again, with some smooth tarmac roads to some real bone shaker bridlepaths, the bikes are taking a real bashing and some signs are beginning to show, particularly on the tyres that will need to be replaced very soon (the Qoroz is fine). A very pleasant lunch stop was enjoyed at Arbroath and then the day’s ride really started to unfold with some stunning views inland and out to sea. The hedgerows seem to provide a continuous song from Yellow Hammers and the roads were lined with Rosebay Willow Herb and Meadow Sweet, the sun shone, the lanes were quiet and the sea was calm, how good it all felt. We stopped off at Gourdon for an ice cream and then four of us stayed on for a cuppa at the Harbour Bar. The owner, Debbie Dorward, would not charge us for the tea, but asked us to make a donation to The Prostate Cancer Charity – thank you Debbie.

We travelled on and met a fellow cyclist, Liz Bruton, who was on her way to Aberdeen for a science history conference. Liz joined us for about 15 kilometres and we all chatted as we cycled into Stonehaven and finished at the harbour. It was a really good day with a total distance of 136km and a height gain of 1182m and also, only 3 punctures!

Alistair Cope and friends near St Andrews

Stage 19 Edinburgh to St Andrews

With the threat of heavy rain in the air we set off early from Edinburgh and with our large group of day riders got caught up in the early morning traffic. Eventually we made it to the Forth Road Bridge and slightly brighter skies. After a series of punctures we found ourselves slipping behind schedule, however we pressed on and enjoyed a well earned lunch stop (see photo) in Leven. We covered about 118 km and pedalled up 1213 metres of height gain on quite a lumpy stage. I’m now in a room of my own (luxury) in halls at University of St Andrews. This has been a long day and it looks as if we are going to be eating quite late, but it feels good to be edging our way up the East coast of Scotland. I have a feeling that reaching Bettyhill is going to be psychologically important (a week today).

Stage 29 Ullapool to Gairloch

Stage15 Scarborough to Middlesbrough

Balgreen Lighthouse

We said goodbye to five of our weekly riders and greeted five new weekly riders this morning. I was really pleased to welcome Colin and Camilla Mathison from the Met Office in Exeter, Devon. It’s always great to see a face you know.

We enjoyed about 25km on a cycle track that was built on an old railway and that got us off to a great start. The countryside has changed and it started to roll in a way quite similar to home. It felt great to be off the level, gaining height and gaining views. Our route provided some wide views out to sea and across the North York Moors National Park. We stopped for coffee today!

Stage 16 Middlesbrough to Blyth

We set off early from our accommodation at about 8am to enjoy a quiet cycle through the centre of Middlesbrough on a Sunday morning. We had loads of cycle paths to negotiate and long runs on old railways. The dominant feature was broken glass that added to our puncture tally. So far, I’ve only had two punctures and that was on our nightmare puncture day.

Alistair Cope and the tour riders get a real Scottish send off

We cycled 116km and pedalled up the height of Snowdon – 1085m. It was an easier than yesterday as the hills were gentle, but I must admit I felt tired. The day provided such a contrast of views from fishing to very industrial and long sweeping coastlines. We had a great reception from the people of Blyth and a most welcome cup of tea. We are now all in a church hall, having had showers in a nearby sports centre and the smells wafting from the kitchen are of a roast dinner variety, mmmmm I’m starving!

Stage 17: Blyth to Berwick

We left Blyth in a fine spirit and pedalled many a mile on route 1 of the National Cycle Network with much of that on quite rough bridlepaths at times. Sand, mud, waist high grass, were just some of the surfaces we cycled on along the coastline, travelling almost due north. The views were breath taking with wide sweeping beaches and an undulating cliffs together with villages that demanded a closer inspection, but alas time did not permit. Lunch was at Embleton and then it was a case of pressing on to Berwick-Upon-Tweed to be meet by the Deputy Mayor at the Guild Hall, however before that we passed Bamburgh Castle (see pic). We cycled about 127 kilometres and climbed about 1193 metres.

l Thursday sees one of the longest stages taking riders north to Kingston-upon-Hull.


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