The Last Hurdle

I’ve crossed deserts. I crossed mountain passes. Hell, I’ve crossed continents. I’ve dragged the bike through bush to cross borders. I’ve dealt with wind, snow, rain, temperatures below zero, temperatures above forty. I’ve travelled along lonely isolated roads, sometimes over 200km between towns. I’ve also negotiated some of the busiest roads, in the biggest cities, with the worst drivers.

But yesterday I met my match: The Tay Bridge:

The Tay Road Bridge, in better weather

34,903km of riding around the world, and I was at the end of the line – Dundee. This was the planned end of my trip in the UK, from here I would get a train back to London, and fly home. The weather was shocking when I woke up, high winds, rain, snow, freezing temperatures. The wind was coming directly from the direction I wanted to go in. The only good point was that the snow wasn’t settling, so the roads weren’t icy. Normally I would have gone back to bed, but I needed to reach Dundee that night, to see some friends, and to get on the train I had booked for the next day.

So I struggled along, wearing pretty much the entire sum of my cycling wardrobe, some items coming out for the first time on this leg of the trip. In London I had purchased some new full finger gloves, since my old ones weren’t waterproof. The new ones were supposed to be windproof and waterproof, from a respected brand. Well, whoever put that on the label should be forced to go and do a ride like I did yesterday. A couple of times I had to stop, pull off the gloves, stick my fingers under my arms, try and warm them up, jumping up and down to distract myself from the pain of thawing fingers. Wouldn’t have been so bad if they had stayed numb, it’s when they keep switching between numb and thawing that it hurts.

Some roads were closed, so I had to wind about a bit, to get to the Tay Bridge. Finally I could see Dundee, see my destination. Rolled up to the roundabout just before the bridge, followed the signs for cyclists, around the path, through the carpark, and up to the special footbridge. There was a warning sign up, “Pedestrian and cyclist access will be closed if wind gusts exceed 60mph.” Should be fine then, gusts weren’t over 50 I thought. Rolled around the corner, onto the ramp up to the dedicated pedestrian/cyclist lane down the middle of the bridge…and the gate was shut. Foiled at the last. I could see Dundee, I just couldn’t get there.

Hmmm. What to do? First I went back to the kiosk, for some hot food and a drink. I was just warm enough when riding, but when I stopped, things got cold in a hurry, teeth chattering, near-uncontrollable shivering. Couldn’t stick around there forever. Hung around for a little while, in case there was any sign of the gate opening, or perhaps a friendly truck driver heading over the bridge. Nothing doing. Aha! I could see if I could get hold of Craig, see if he can come and get me.

So went to the nearby village, tried ringing Directory for the number for Bright Solid. No, no listing for that. OK, let’s try Scotland Online, the old name. Ah yes, we have a listing for that, but it’s ex-directory. Eh? But they’re a business that wants people to call them. Try another tack – go to the local Post Office, ask to borrow a phone book. Ah well, this is still Fife, so we only have an old copy of the Dundee phone book. No problem at all – we just need to look up Scotland Online. They had the phone number, it worked, and Craig was able to do me a great favour, and pick me up, and get me over the bridge to Dundee.

Was very nice to be inside a warm car, then inside the office, warming up and chatting to people. Had a nice night out in Dundee, good to catch up with Craig again – it’s been a while since I’ve been up to Dundee. Had changed a bit, they seemed to be building a whole lot of decent-looking student accommodation. Looked far better than what I think is appropriate for students, but I guess they don’t want to live in rat-infested tenements anymore.

A bit of fun with the trains this morning – because of the bad weather, East Coast trains have been cancelled. I thought I was all sorted, with a direct train from Dundee to London Kings Cross, bike reservation made. But my train was cancelled. Shit. The lovely woman at the ticket counter was able to help me though, getting me new tickets, and bike reservation to go across to Glasgow, and come down the West Coast. Will only end up being an hour later into London. Only problem is that Wi-Fi isn’t free on Virgin trains, and to make things worse, it’s not even working at all. Mustn’t complain though, the fact that they normally offer it and have it working is pretty awesome really.

There was a lot of snow on the ground through the Borders, I think I’m very lucky to have got through when I did, it would have been tough riding. It was always a bit of a chance, riding in the UK at this time of the year, but I’ve been very lucky, with really only the one day that was bad. Otherwise it was quite pleasant riding conditions, through the countryside, with spring just starting to peek through.

Random photos taken when I could unfreeze my fingers

Over the Border

I have finally reached the last new country of my world bike tour:

https://goo.gl/photos/Qra1deaxv9u1b5bx7

Yesterday I crossed the border near Langholm, tomorrow I should arrive in Edinburgh. Driving rain, strong winds and low temperatures didn’t make things the easiest today, but as I said to someone “I didn’t come to Scotland to work on my tan.” Besides, so far it’s been warmer than Patagonia.

One thing I forgot to mention last time too – a big thank you to the crew at Evans Cycles in Kendal. As I was passing through Kendal, one of my seat post bolts snapped. Hunting through my pile of spares, the closest replacement I had was just a little bit short, resulting in a seat at an unnatural angle. I went in to Evans, where they found some spare bolts, fixed up the outstanding minor issue I’d had with my front brake, and loosened a tight pedal. I wanted to buy some muscle recovery rub, and they felt that was sufficient charge – the other work was free! Cool. Very grateful for the quick service, and being able to get back on the road no hassles at all.

Photos!

I’m back baby

Wooo! Properly back online at last! BT switched over my line to ADSL now, and I’ve finally got proper internet access working. www.myfreeisp.co.uk was handy in a pinch, but I’d gotten very used to my wireless setup, with half-reasonable bandwidth. Although I can’t get full rate ADSL here, only 1100kb/s, it’s still pretty good. Makes me wonder how I managed so long in the past using only GPRS.

Pretty much sorted out in my flat now – some cheap and nasty Argos furniture and my room is looking a bit better. Bit of a hassle getting the furniture – they were due to deliver it on Sat morning, didn’t turn up, when I rung later they said they “couldn’t find my address”. I guess looking at a map was a bit tough. So I went to collect it from a store in town. But then on Monday morning, they turned up with my furniture! I could have taken that as well, but I would have felt a bit bad about it, so I told them the truth. Plus I’m not sure what I’d do with another “Malibu small chest of drawers” and a “small wide bookcase”. Getting it assembled would have been straightforward enough – if I had the tools. I couldn’t find anywhere around the city centre that sold something as common as a hammer and screwdriver, so I had to make do – I used a screwdriver and – I kid you not – a pot to hammer the tacks in. Worked a treat.

Started to get sorted out job-wise too – heaps of stuff to get my head around, but I’m starting to get it in hand. Had to change the wardrobe a little – bought two new suits, and now a nice wool/cashmere overcoat. I’m still going to have buy more warm clothes before winter really bites though…but my current problem is getting wet from all the damn rain, not getting cold.

Trying to work out my next few trips before the end of the year – I’m thinking of visiting Cambridge, perhaps Manchester, somewhere in the west of Scotland, and hopefully a weekend break to a European city – I’d like to go to Berlin, I’ll need to find out what I can get cheap deals to from Edinburgh.

Fare thee well, Bonnie Dundee

The time has come for me to move on, from a place that has made me feel most welcome for the last few months. However, I cannae face going cold turkey, so I am moving to Edinburgh – Irn Bru’s just too hard to get hold of outside Scotland.

My time here has gone quickly, but I’ve got a few good memories of this place:

  • When getting on/off the bus, most people say hello/good bye to the driver. One of my regular drivers was quite put out one day when I caught a different bus – “Where were you last night?” he demanded. “Just checking out the competition,” I told him “and I came back here didn’t I?” He came right after that. Last time he dropped me in town, we actually shook hands. Not exactly the sort of thing you do in other cities.
  • The people I worked with at SOL were fantastic at making me feel welcome, and making sure I was enjoying my time in Scotland. I was extremely touched by the leaving do last week, and the gifts. I wonder how well my bottle of Buckfast will age? Probably not as well as the Glenfiddich. Not sure how I’m going to be able to wear the Scotland rugby jersey at the game next month though – perhaps if I wore an All Black’s jersey underneath?

Random comments on Dundee in general:

  • Keep doing what you’re doing – the city is clearly in the process of re-inventing itself – I would say keep going down that path. Redevelop the waterfront area, keep supporting things like the DCA – and not just the bar part of it – and the Rep. Theatre
  • I feel the city could do with another 10-20 thousand people. Some of the infrastructure would put much larger cities to shame. I’m amazed at the number of new bus shelters I’ve seen going up, all equipped with electronic timetable boards. It all seems to be happening relatively quickly, whereas back where I come from, that sort of thing takes years.
  • Keep encouraging the universities – students are the lifeblood of a vibrant city.
  • I just don’t understand the locals’ feelings about keeping their city clean – every day, walking to and from the city, I see guys working hard, picking up rubbish from the streets. Every morning, every afternoon. And yet there’s still rubbish around. There’s a huge number of rubbish bins around, perhaps people could try using them some time? People don’t want to put their rubbish in the bin, but they do seem prepared to pay for other people to pick it up

So, off to Edinburgh shortly for me, where I’ll be straight into another contract. I’ve enjoyed by time here, but on the other hand, I’m looking forward to a new challenge, and some new experiences.

One more thing, if anyone is thinking of visiting the City of Discovery, the local tourist board has put together a fantastic website promoting the city, well worth a look. “Gadgies” is a new term to me, but I can see myself using it a bit. Don’t underestimate the number of shell suits, teenage mums, and Burberry caps that you can see in one day here – it will amaze even the seasoned ned-spotter. Possibly that’s a result of living in Hilltown, but still, it’s amazing.

Don't tell anyone, but I've been south of the border…

…and it was pretty good. Fear not, for I did not stray far from Scotland, and I returned quickly. I hired a car for the weekend again, and headed south. Down to Edinburgh, then east along the A1, down towards Newcastle. A quick photo stop at the English/Scottish border (it’s not very exciting), then on south. The plan was to roughly follow the line of Hadrian’s Wall across the country, then curve back up around through the Borders region.

Coming up to Corbridge, I thought it would just be a “blink and you’ll miss it” type of affair, but it turned out to be a lovely little village. It’s quite cool when you walk across bridges that have stood for nearly 400 years. I was going to get something to eat in the town, but they were having a food festival on at the old Roman site in Corbridge, so I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone. There were quite extensive remains of the Roman town that had stood there 1800 years ago, which were pretty cool to look at. The extent of the water and drainage systems they had in place were pretty amazing.

Then it was time for some local food and drink, and one of the more unusual settings I’ve seen for food festivals. The local Angus beef was very nice, and the chocolate orange fudge was particularly good. The Fentimans drink was pretty good too – quite unusual, something along the lines of the Phoenix range in NZ, but with more of a herbal taste.

Off to Chester’s Roman Fort next, which was the first real sighting of Hadrian’s Wall. Not only running water and drainage here, they even had central heating! What I don’t quite understand is how the Romans could have had that, but later all these works were lost, buried. When the places were abandoned by the Romans, you somehow would have thought that the locals would have taken a look at them, compared them to the thatched huts they lived in, and moved right in!

The other thing that cracked me up was some of the old tombstones – people were buried, a stone was erected, with their name on it, then 20 years later, someone else can’t be bothered getting a new stone, so they just engrave a new name over the top of the previous one!

Via Carlisle, then on to Dumfries for the night. Went in a B&B;, looking for a place to stay – they were full, but the fantastic manager rang another place, gave me a map of the town and pointed out good places to eat/drink. Great service, especially since he wasn’t directly getting anything for it – will hunt down the name and post it here. The actual place I ended up at – Morton Villa – was very nice too, really nice personal service.

Caerverlock castle (Or is it Caeverlock? Seems to be some variation) Sunday morning. I don’t think I’ve seen a castle with its moat filled with water before – it really made the place come alive, made it a real castle experience. Lots of good photos here, I’ll just add the one:

Back via the A7, stopping at the Malcolm Memorial. Quite stunning views of the surrounding area. There’s some pretty barren terrain there. The thing I didn’t get was the road signs pointed towards the McDiarmid memorial – but that only seem to consist of a small cairn 400m from the summit, compared the large obelisk that is the Malcolm memorial.

Nice country to drive back through, towards Edinburgh. Strangely enough, there was an NZ flag flying about a rural house, more or less in the middle of nowhere. Perhaps not so strange though, the Borders region seems to be pretty big on its rugby.

Went into Rosslyn Chapel (if you’ve read the Da Vinci code, you’ll know what I’m talking about) on the way home. It’s actually quite an amazing little church, with massive amounts of imagery – of which I might only be able to work out 10% – but it’s kinda taken over by the people out there who think that the Da Vinci code was just the best book ever written, and that’s it all true, every word. Never mind that it was possibly the only book those people have read in the last 5 years. It would be quite the place to wander around just by yourself, but you’d need a few religious scholars to help you interpret the meaning of it all.

Hope everyone out there is doing ok. Not sure exactly when/where the next Scotland trip is – I’m thinking the west coast/Skye for a long weekend, but I’m not sure when that’s going to work out, due to some other stuff happening.

Trips around Scotland so far – part 3

I’d been to Glasgow several times for work, but just to the data center, I hadn’t really had a chance to look around the town, so I decided it was worth making a visit. Only £6.50 return with megabus, pretty outstanding really. Glasgow was not really what I expected – I was expecting a much grimmer place, but it was actually really nice – I was even struggling to find large numbers of neds. I did notice a disturbing number of people obsessed with wearing their Celtic shirt to all social occasions though. My particular favourite was the man who was too hot to wear a shirt (another disturbing British tradition, that of taking your shirt off at the first sign of sun), but stil had his Celtic shirt over his shoulder, just so you would know who he supported. Overall a nice place, and I met some interesting people, who I’ll probably run into again a few more times.

Blair was travelling through Scotland, and stopped in here for a couple of nights. We went up to the Orkneys for a day trip, which meant a pretty long day, but it was well worth the admission. There’s something not quite right about an island that only has about 7 trees on it, and none of those over 5m. We were very lucky with the weather though, and it was really quite a nice day. There are a huge number of prehistoric (or perhaps neolithic is a better term) monuments on the island, not least of which was Skara Brae – a cluster of dwellings inhabited 5,000 years ago, then covered up until about 150 years ago. You have to figure the climate was different then though, I’m not sure I would have settled there.

The highlight of the day though was probably stopping at some Cairns on the way home – they had been partially rebuilt, so that they were closed in. You could scramble through a narrow tunnel, then it opened out into the central part. The road wasn’t really suitable for tour buses, so no-one seemed to go there. It was just getting dark as we got there, which made it a bit spookier. Here’s a photo of me inside one of them:

The other travelling so far has been some touring around St Andrews – nice town, ruined cathedral, castle, golf courses, lovely houses, students spewing in the gutter, it’s got it all – and the Angus region. I went up to Dunnottar castle, which was great – really dramatic, must be pretty mean there during a big storm. Places like the Whig Vault were a bit spooky – must have been terrible with 160 people imprisoned in there.

Trips around Scotland so far – part 2

Bruce and Tanika stayed with me for a few days, which was great – really good to catch up with them. We had a good day out with Paul and Kate in Edinburgh. Just the one photo here, of us holding a snake. Good to have done, but I don’t think I’ll get one as a pet. Huge strength, very quick moving.

A week later, I hired a car and headed north. Some fantastic driving around here, the scenery really is amazing. Went up to Culloden Moor, which was interesting, but didn’t really grab me. Maybe you have to be a Scot. I found the nearby Clava Cairns more interesting, without the tourists. 4000 year old burial cairns, nestled amongst the trees, make you think a bit about the people who were once here. You just don’t get that sort of thing in NZ.

Further north after that, to the town of Wick. It’s just a small town, near the north of Scotland. Ended up having a great night out, amazing the interesting people you meet, even in places you might not expect it. Pushed on to John O’Groats the next day. Not that exciting, but one of those things you have to do. Came back via the Inverness -> Fort William road, travelling alongside Loch Ness. Can you see Nessie?

No, neither could I. Coming back through the Glencoe region was awesome, huge rugged country, no trees, just some scrub and tussock.

Trips around Scotland so far – part 1

Dundee is pretty centrally located in Scotland, with much of the country relatively nearby. Since getting cheap flights to Europe isn’t an option from here, I’ve been taking advantage of the location, and touring as much of Scotland as I can. Hiring a car is reasonably priced, especially if you don’t really care much about what car you drive – e.g. last time I ended up with a Nissan Micra. If you’re feeling charitable, you would describe it as a scooter – fun to ride, but you wouldn’t want your mates to see you on one.

Anyways, Scotland trips – the first one outside Edinburgh/Dundee was a short trip up to Aberdeen. The train goes up along the coast, and is a lovely trip on a fine day. Aberdeen had a different feel to Dundee – you could almost feel the oil money floating around. It’s almost multicultural (well, within reason…). Take a look at photo here of the beach:

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Doesn’t look all that bad right? Could almost swim there? Well, on the edge of the horizon, you can see oil rigs, where men walk around in survival suits. All people going over on helicopters must be dressed in survival suits, and even then they’d be lucky to survive 5 minutes in the water…meanwhile back here in Aberdeen mothers are pushing their kids into the water. Scary.

Next weekend trip was to Stirling, Falkirk and Linlithgow, followed by a morning in Fife, and watching the last afternoon of the British Open at the Old Course. Stirling was pretty cool, if packed with bored American students. The approach to the castle is just fabulous – it really dominates the surrounding plain. Something I hadn’t realised was that the castle used to all be a golden colour – it was clad with King’s Gold. Currently only the Great Hall is, but it must have been quite something with the whole castle that colour.

Getting to Falkirk was a bit more..interesting…than it should have been – I was following the signs to the Falkirk Wheel, but then they just seemed to stop. I ended up going around a few times, and until I finally saw the smaller, different coloured sign, that pointed the way down the last road to the Falkirk Wheel. It’s really quite cool, and it’s made me really want to hire a canal boat for a week, just cruising along between pubs at 4 knots. I don’t understand how the whole EU/millennium funding works, but who cares, it was pretty good.

Linlithgow castle was very interesting – it’s ruins, but relatively complete, as far as ruins go. Unlike some other places, you get pretty free reign, and you can go pretty much anywhere. Not really sure what they were doing with that weird thing on top of the church next to the castle though.

On the way back, I went via the Forth Bridge – I really don’t understand why all the fuss is made over the rail bridge – personally I quite like the road bridge.

Visited Scotland’s Secret Bunker on the Sunday morning. Really quite interesting – makes you wonder what else is around that we don’t know about. Suprisingly few people seemed to know about it though.

On to the golf at St Andrews – huge crowds, all pretty exciting. Not cheap to get in, but I figure I’ll probably never have the same chance to go to a golf major again. The course was weird – it was basically a paddock, with some mown strips. It would take me about a week to get around if I was playing I reckon. Good to see Michael Campbell playing, with huge numbers of Kiwis following him, all dressed in Kia Kaha shirts.

It was about time I got organised with this…

I’ll start uploading more photos and trip details shortly, but for now, here’s a picture of me after climbing Ben Nevis.

It’s somewhat odd that I can go from nearly sea level to the highest point in this whole country in about 2.5 hours. It wasn’t much of a walk, but it was good to do. I was lucky to get good weather – misty in the valley, then clear from about a third of the way up. It was actually quite warm and sunny.

I was reasonably well-prepared, but perhaps not as much as I could have been. I was suprised at the people who were doing the climb in jeans and t-shirts. If the weather had changed, some people would have been in serious trouble. You can see why more people die there every year than Everest – it’s not that it’s difficult, it’s just that people don’t treat it with the respect it deserves.

Look at the second photo, taken from the top – notice how the cloud is quickly moving in? The weather can change quickly here. The trail was pretty hard to follow in the top section. That last photo is taken quite close to the summit – that drop is only a few feet from the trail. Would be interesting in thick fog.

It’s good to have done it, now maybe I can go and do some of the nice hill walks around here.