Category Archives: Cycling

Operation Close Pass

In July 2017 Dorset Police launched Operation Close Pass. This scheme is adopted from a scheme run by West Midlands Police and similar schemes are being rolled out in most parts of the UK. The initiative is designed to improve the safety of cyclists and to raise awareness among all road users on how to behave courteously to each other.

In the last 2 years 3 cyclists have been killed on Dorset roads and a further 133 seriously injured and 144 slightly injured.

Close passes are a regular occurrence for all regular cyclists. Such dangerous manoeuvres are rarely done from a position of malice by the driver, but from ignorance. The Operation Close Pass aims not only to protect cyclists but to educate drivers to be more considerate road users, benefitting everyone using the roads.

At times drivers may feel frustrated and inconvenienced by cyclists and fail to understand that cyclists share the road with drivers and are equals with drivers on the road. All road users have equal rights to use the highway safely.

Operation Close Pass is trying to educate drivers to overtake a cyclist in the same way that you would overtake a car. Give cyclists at least 1.5m clearance in slow moving traffic. At higher speed or in bad weather a full cars width is recommended.

There is much that cyclists can do to improve the safety of themselves and other road users. The roads would be much safer if we were all thoughtful and considerate of each other’s situation and treated each other with kindness, tolerance and courtesy. Patience is important. Good behaviour is not only the responsibility of the drivers; cyclists must also do their part to create a safer travel environment for all.

Dark clothing, no helmet, no light, no glasses, no gloves. The illegal bits are no bell and no pedal reflectors – Oh and riding on the pavement of course!

A frequent mistake that new cyclists make is riding in the gutter or too near the pavement. This may feel safer but it is actually very dangerous. It encourages drivers to make that close pass to get past you when there is not enough space. You are less visible not only to cars but also pedestrians who may step out into the road. If there is an obstacle ahead, or a pothole, you have less space to avoid it. It is safer to ride in the centre of the lane when travelling at the speed of the traffic or when you believe it is not safe for the following car to overtake you.

Fluorescent and reflective clothing will help make you more visible to other road users.

I passed my driving test a very long time ago but I can still here Stan my instructor saying ‘mirror – signal- manoeuvre’. It is no different on a bike. A cyclist needs to glance behind frequently so they know what is going on behind them. If they are planning a change in direction then before anything else look behind and check what is going on. If possible make eye contact with those around you and then make a clear hand signal to indicate your intention. Only when you are sure your intentions are clear make the manoeuvre.

Make that manoeuvre in a very positive way. If you are coming to a junction or a roundabout, be in the middle of the lane. Do not allow a car to move alongside you. Stay in the centre of the lane and this allows you to move off safely.

It is much safer for cyclists to think like a motorbike when it comes to overtaking. Motorised vehicles are trained to expect other vehicles on the right. This is a safer place to be. Cycling along the nearside of vehicles is very dangerous as they could turn into your path at any time. I think the safety of cycle lanes to the left of the main carriageway which are not separated from the main traffic compromise the safety of cyclists using them.

When I am cycling in traffic or in an urban area I have my hands permanently positioned on the brake levers so that if there is suddenly a need to brake then I’m ready.

Cyclists seem to think it is cool to make half hearted gestures to indicate the direction they are going in. Cars are unlikely to see this. As a courtesy to all road users your arm should be straight out. This shows authority on the road and is a clear indication of your intentions. Check behind before that signal and move when you think other road users know what you are going to do next.

It makes sense to be visible to road users by wearing bright colours, and having flashing lights and reflectors on your bike. The clothes you wear are personal. Wearing a helmet is also personal and some cyclists choose not to do so. I always wear a helmet. I need a new one as I had a collision last week which meant my helmet hit the tarmac with some force causing it to be damaged. My head was undamaged. As I say – I always wear a helmet.

Bright clothing –rear flashing light gloves shades helmet – this is what I usually wear. (add front light and bright reflective jacket in low light condition). 

The things that seem to annoy car drivers most are those that result in the cyclist making better progress that they are. Some are legal like choosing the road over a cycle path or riding two abreast. Some are illegal – like jumping a red traffic light.

I’ll finish where I started. We are all on this road together. We all have equal rights. If we all treated each other with patience, kindness and courtesy the roads would be much safer for everyone.

 

 

Advertisements

The Scottish Tour Part 2. The Western Isles

It was raining as we boarded the Calmac ferry ‘Loch Seaforth’ to take us form Ullapool to Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis. The announcements warned us to expect heavy seas as wind speeds were up to gale force. The stabilisers would be out. Visibility was low as we left Loch Broom and sailed through the Summer Isles. It didn’t look much like summer with the grey skies merging with the grey heaving seas. We settled down in the quiet area on the ferry and were pleasantly surprised at how smooth the crossing was.

Lewis came into view and we were soon ashore and went straight to our B & B in downtown Stornoway.

The plan was to ride out to Callanish Stones in the afternoon.

The Callanish Stones that we failed to see

The promised gale force winds proved to be too much for us and we abandoned. The inland scenery on Lewis is endless heath and moor with thousands of lochans. Not a pretty sight especially with the grey skies with frequent squalls of horizontal rain. The island’s diverse habitats are home to an assortment of flora and fauna, such as golden eagles, red deer and seals. We saw eagles and seals on our journey.

The scenery of inland Lewis.

On Lewis life is very different from elsewhere in Scotland, with Sabbath observance, the Gaelic language and peat cutting retaining more importance than elsewhere.

On Sunday 17th June we crept out of Stornoway carefully avoiding all the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, where almost everything but worship, Bible study and eating is banned on the Sabbath.

On the road to the Butt of Lewis

The up side of this is that the road was deserted so we had the wind, rain and moor to ourselves. In the absence of any other form of shelter being open on a Sunday we followed Audax tradition and used a lovely bus shelter to get some respite from the weather.

Any port in a storm

We continued to the Butt of Lewis (Scottish Gaelic: Rubha Robhanais) which is the most northerly point of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. The headland, which lies in the North Atlantic, is frequently battered by fierce weather. There were quite a lot of people here, despite it being the Sabbath, but I think they were all tourists like us – though all in motorised vehicles.

The Butt of Lewis

We were now at the official start – or end- of the Hebridean Way.

The Hebridean Way

The cycle route (NCN780) is 300 kilometres from the Butt of Lewis in the North down the length of the Outer Hebrides to Vatersay in the South. The route passes through 10 islands linked by a combination of causeways and ferries. The stunning landscape is varied and follows the dazzling Atlantic coastline on the western side of the archipelago and in places goes over rugged hills and along the moonscape of the eastern coast. The Outer Hebrides retain a culture that is different to mainland Scotland. Gaelic is often spoken as a first language and there remains a sense of culture and tradition on each of the inhabited islands that make up the archipelago.

Most people cycle South to North with the prevailing wind. We were cycling North to South and hoping for the best!

While we were exploring the Butt of Lewis  the rain stopped and there was some brightness in the sky so we made a detour to the Port of Ness with its once busy harbour and fine beach. We stopped for a while watching the Gannets fishing. The gannet’s supposed capacity for eating large quantities of fish has led to “gannet” becoming a disapproving description of somebody who eats excessively – a glutton.

Port of Ness harbour and beach

Our overnight billet was about 20km south so we were at the start of the 300km journey – into the wind as it turned out!

We had arrived in plenty of time to enjoy the now sunny afternoon and we walked to the nearby Atlantic coast. The scene was reminiscent of Cornwall. The Outer Hebrides reminded us of the Isles of Scilly in so many ways.

The coast on Lewis in the sunshine! Cornwall?

Monday 19th June 2017 the South of England was ‘suffering’ in temperatures over 30 degrees. The Isle of Lewis did not have that problem.

A humid start to the journey south

Next up – Harris!

Our route took us towards Stornoway, but we found an unofficial bypass by cutting across at Laxdale to the A859 which took us away from Lewis towards the more inviting landscape ahead. Harris promised to be more to our liking than Lewis.

Views of Harris  hills in the distance

The Isle of Harris is actually joined to the Isle of Lewis, and has a short border shown by a ‘dashed’ line on the Harris map. Harris has a wide range of landscapes, all of which have their own interest. On the West coast are the beaches with the large open machair areas like the other islands in the chain.

Machair is a Gaelic word and refers to a fertile low-lying grassy plain found on the western coasts of the Outer Hebrides. It is low lying arable or grazing land formed near the coast by the deposition of sand and shell fragments by the wind. Machair is the focus of most Hebridean crofting agriculture. In June when we were there it was covered in wild flowers.

Machair

We continued our journey along the increasingly remote A859, rounding the head of Loch Erisort and eventually Loch Seaforth came into view. The Loch forms the boundary between Lewis and Harris and was the boundary between the two traditional counties of Ross and Cromarty and Inverness-shire.

The Lewis – Harris boundary at Loch Seaforth

Loch Seaforth forms the boundary between Harris and Lewis. Our overnight stay was at a crofting cottage named Seaforth at the foot of The Clisham.

Seaforth

The Clisham is at 799m is the highest point on the Outer Hebrides. The highest point on the road climb is 201 metres. We were lucky that the weather was good for our journey over the Clisham and we had no problems at all. The scenery was varied and interesting and we are used to Dorset hills which are much steeper!

The climb up the Clisham

We enjoyed our ride through the pass and the long descent to Tarbert.

The descent to Tarbert

In Tarbert we met up with friends from Bridport who coincidentally were on Harris. We met them at the Harris distillery and they joined us for our ride along the East coast of Harris.

Bridport Cycles reunion at the Harris Distillery

It was the East coast that we were excited about. I knew from our planning that the isolated East coast of Harris was going to be a highlight of our tour. It has some of the oldest rocks in the world dated some three thousand million years old. The exposed rocks are a result of scouring by the glaciers in the Ice Ages. The area is known as ‘The Bays’ because of the many small inlets. The inlets are populated by small villages – or townships – each with their own unique character.

The East coast of Harris

The Golden Road winds and twists through the East Coast of Harris. The single track road runs from Tarbert to Rodel through the coastal townships which have Viking or Gaelic names. The name was given to this lovely winding road in part by the ‘locals’ who really did have to fight to get a grudging authority to spend the money to build the road.

The Golden Road

The spectacular scenery encompasses what is sometimes described as a ‘lunar ‘landscape.

Lunar landscape on Harris with the Isle of Skye in the distance

The sun came out to make our day perfect.

Views from the Golden Road out to The Minch

We had a sneak preview of the beaches on the West Coast of Harris but our journey was moving South onto Berneray. The West Coast of Harris will have to wait for another day.

A glimpse of the West Coast of Harris

We had time to pose for a photo with the well travelled Dorset flag at Leverburgh whilst waiting for the evening ferry across the Sound of Harris to Berneray.

The Dorset flag at Leverburgh

Berneray is one of fifteen inhabited islands in the Outer Hebrides. It is small with an area of 10 square miles. There is strong evidence that Berneray has been occupied since the Bronze Age. The island is scattered with ancient sacred sites, stone circles and historic buildings. We made a detour to the island’s West Beach which was pretty spectacular.

The West Beach on Berneray

We continued our journey south crossing from Berneray on the 900m causeway to North Uist officially opened by Prince Charles in 2000.

The causeway to North Uist

Our route down through North Uist took us along the Atlantic coast with the beaches and Machair to our right and the bog with heather and lochans to our left. The East coast of North Uist is more rugged.

The Atlantic coast of North Uist

The wind from the south west increased through the day. There isn’t any shelter and at times it became quite hard work!

Coastal scenery on North Uist – you can’t see the head wind

The landscape changed as we continued our journey across another causeway to the island of Benbecula. This island is essentially flat and we stayed there overnight before crossing yet another causeway onto South Uist.

South Uist is the second largest island on the Outer Hebrides and has a population of about 1700.The population is 90% Roman Catholic. We were riding along the West Coast which has a sandy beach broken occasionally by small estuaries.

Estuary on the West coast of South Uist

The machair along this coast was extensive and featured enough level ground for a footie pitch.

Football pitch on the machair

South UIst is connected to the next island on the archipelago, Eriskay, by a causeway which opened in 2000.

South Uist to Eriskay

It was off the shores of Eriskay that the ship the S.S Politician foundered in 1941 – and from here that the local seafaring community set sail to salvage her precious cargo of whisky, which was in short supply on the islands during the war years. Island fishermen used their boats to reach the wreck, reportedly bringing thousands of the bottles ashore. This event gives the story-line to one of Scotland’s most famous stories – Whisky Galore.

There was an improvement in road width and surface as we entered Eriskay.

Better roads on tiny Eriskay

The coastal scenery across to Barra opened up as we approached Eriskay Harbour.

Eriskay harbour

Once again Calmac provided an excellent ferry service across to Barra.

The Calmac ferry to Barra

Barra is the second southernmost inhabited island in the outer Hebrides, after the adjacent island of Vatersay to which it is connected by a short causeway. The population is just over 1,000.

The area of Barra is about 60 square miles. The only centre of population is Castlebay.

Descending to Castlebay

The west of the island has white sandy beaches backed by shell sand, machair and the east has numerous rocky inlets. The predominant faith on the island is Roman Catholicism.

Barra’s tiny airport, near Northbay, uses the beach called An Tràigh Mhòr (“The Great Beach”) as a runway. Planes can land and take off only at low tide, so the timetable varies. Voted the world’s most stunning landing spot, Barra’s airport is claimed to be the only airport in the world to have scheduled flights landing on a beach. The aircraft currently in operation on Barra is the de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter, flown by Loganair to and from Glasgow. There are usually flights every day of the week in the summer. The beach is also a source of cockles.

Barra Airport

We circumnavigated Barra and then continued South across the causeway to Vatersay.

The end of the road-Vatersay

The Hebridean Way ends at Vatersay

Vatersay is the most southerly inhabited island on the Outer Hebrides. If you want to ride the Hebridean Way I strongly recommend that you start here and ride south to north with the prevailing wind!

The west coast of Vatersay like the other islands has wonderful windswept sands bordered by the rich Machair grasses which were awash with wild flowers.

We returned to the tiny undulating lanes on the rocky east coast of Barra.

The rocky East coast of Barra.

The next day we were on our last ferry taking us back to Oban.

What a great adventure – the Outer Hebrides are best explored at the speed of a push bike!

The Hebrides

 

Top tips!  Book accommodation as early as possible and at least six months in advance.  Barra is particularly difficult. Cycle South to North with the prevailing wind. The ferries are regular but infrequent.  Check ferry times when planning your days.  There are very few places where you can get any help with mechanical problems with your bike. Service your machines before you go and take tools and spares in quantity!

 

GPX Files

Day 8: Aborted trip to Callanish Stones

Day 9: Stornoway to Butt of Lewis

Day 10: Lewis to Loch Seaforth

Day 11: Loch Seaforth to Leverburgh

Day 12: Berneray to Benbecula

Day 13: Benbecula to Lochboisdale

Day 14: Lochboisdale to Eriskay | Tour of Barra and Vatersay

Day 15: Another tour of Barra

The Scottish Tour Part 1. Oban to Ullapool

We stayed overnight at a B&B just outside Oban. In the morning before we left we posed for a picture – in the rain. I was very excited! It was 3 km down to the ferry (ever mindful that we had this 3 km and 171m of elevation to ride on our return).

Leaving our B&B in Oban

We were the only cyclists waiting in the rain at Oban as we watched the incoming ferry dock.

The Oban to Mull ferry

It was still raining heavily when we got off the ferry on Mull at Craignure. We cycled the 18km to Salen, where we stopped for our first coffee and cake. We prolonged our visit long enough for the rain to ease off. On again around the West coast of Mull. This is a scenic route with a few hills and a wonderful waterfall.

Eas Fors on the west coast of Mull

The views out to Ulva and the Trenish Isles were fantastic and distracted us from the hills.

Looking south across Loch na Keal to Ben More

What goes up must come down and we had a glorious descent down to Calgary Bay.

Empty road descending to Calgary bay – blue skies and sunshine

When we were planning this trip we ensured the schedule allowed time for relaxation off the bikes and time to explore.

Relaxing at Trenish Point. Just beautiful.

We arrived at Mornish school house our overnight stop about 1500 so we had time to visit Langamull beach before dinner.

As we left Mornish the following morning it was quite dull and it rained a little on the undulating ride to Tobermory.

Tobermory

Tobermory was built as a fishing port in the late 18th century and is now the main town on Mull. It is a picture-postcard of a place with the brightly painted buildings along the main street to the pier.

We were there in plenty of time for our second Calmac trip across to Ardnamurchan.

Calmac are vital to the economy of the Highlands and islands of Scotland

Calmac operate throughout Scotland’s Hebridean and Clyde islands, stretching from Arran in the south to Lewis in the north. Operating 475 sailings per day in summer and around 350 per day in winter, they carry in excess of 4.9 million passengers per annum.

We landed at Kilchoan and made quite a long, planned detour to visit Ardnamurchan Point which lies at the Western end of the Ardnamurchan peninsula. It is the most Westerly point on the British Mainland.

Ardnamurchan lighthouse

Ardnamurchan Lighthouse has been guiding ships safely through the waters off Scotland’s west coast since 1849.

We were ready for our second cake stop by the time we got back to Kilchoan but Sunday closing denied us this. We slogged up the B8007 (not feeling much like James Bond) in ever increasing humidity before a quick descent to sea level at Loch Sunart. The Nadurra Visitor Centre was open and we welcomed an opportunity to escape indoors with tea and scones in front of their fire. We dripped in there for as long as possible and then completed our day with a splendid ride through Glenborrodale to the Salen Hotel.

Humidity was still high as we began day 3. Facilities for cake shopping and cafes are abundant at Acharacle but this was too early in the day even for us. We continued along the A861 undulating all the way with splendid views until we reached a flat kilometre of road along Loch Moidart. Here we discovered the first of many references in the local culture to Bonnie Prince Charlie. The seven companions who accompanied Bonnie Prince Charlie aboard Du Teillay on his voyage from France to Scotland in 1745 came from here. Our thoughts were drawn to the huge hill ahead of us that would take us into a new landscape. Through the drizzle at the crest of the hill we could admire the wonderful Sound of Arisaig ahead of us. We had to continue all the way to Arisaig before finding a cafe for coffee and cake.

We bumbled along the coast road at Arisaig admiring the wonderful beaches

We arrived at Mallaig with plenty of time to do our shopping at the Co-op. Our overnight stop at the Flora MacDonald hostel on Skye required us to self cater! The beer weighed heavy in my panniers but it wasn’t very far to ride.

Mallaig ferry terminal. Note the shadows

We delayed our start on day 4 due to the torrential rain. Knoydart was across the Sound of Sleat but it was obscured in the low cloud. At 1000 we ventured out and were immediately soaked.

Ian on the Skye Bridge. Wet wet wet

Kyle of Lochalsh provided us with Hectors Bothy and we dripped in there until the rain stopped and the sun came out. Our route wiggled its way through lovely forested, quiet lanes with glimpses of Loch Carron before emerging onto the A890 at Achmore.

The sign post at Achmore. Well up north now.

Grinding slowly up the hill at Stromeferry (no ferry) we suffered our first midge attack and stopped to retaliate with our Avon ‘Skin So Soft’ spray. It seemed to work but they couldn’t keep up anyway once we were descending along Loch Carron to our overnight stop at Strathcarron.

The sun was shining as we cycled along Loch Carron to start Day 5. The first hill took us up and over to Loch Kishorn.

North Coast 500. A stream of Westfields, it was quite fun to have them all wait in passing places while we cycled past!

We were now on the North Coast 500 – Scotland’s answer to Route 66.The route runs to and from Inverness, up the West Coast and back via the rugged north coast. The route is proving very popular with motorists of all types. There were fleets of classic cars, streams of motorbikes and the dreaded camper vans. Although the route has brought much needed revenue to the Highlands it has mixed blessings. Complaints that the motorhomes do not contribute anything positive were frequent from local business. We had no intention of going over Bealach na Ba but cyclists are experiencing congested roads and the beautiful village of Applecross ‘wrecked’ since NC 500 has become popular.

Our onward route was beautiful and secluded as all the traffic was going around the coast, so we enjoyed the ride though Glensheildaig Forest to Sheildaig. Nanny’s cafe at Sheildaig on the shores of Glen Torridon was most enjoyable. Superb cake!

We ascended to the viewpoint above Loch Torridon.

The viewpoint above Loch Torridon

Once around the head of Loch Torridon at Annat the next 30km to Kinlochewe through Glen Torridon were fantastic. The weather was perfect and we enjoyed the beautiful scenery.

Beautiful remote wild scenery through Glen Torridon

Our overnight stop was at the Loch Maree Hotel.

Loch Maree Hotel

The views from the Hotel are fantastic.

We braved the midges to walk along the Loch.

Loch Maree

One of the highlights for Ian was feeding vegetable peelings to wild deer that turn up at 1600 every day for their treat.

Daily visitors at the Loch Maree hotel

We had the inevitable morning shower to wake us up as we continued our journey to Gairloch. The well placed Coast Coffee Company on the pier provided a refuge for us to drip in.

The scenery was excellent as we continued our way along the North West coast of Scotland.

Gairloch

Our route for the day allowed for a visit to the superb National Trust Gardens at Inverewe.

Inverewe Gardens

Our overnight stop was at Laide and we left our bags there and rode out to Mellon Udrigle beach.

Mellon Udrigle is a stunning white sandy beach offering unparalleled views of some of the spectacular Highland mountains.

Backed by dunes and framed by rocky promontories, Mellon Udrigle is one of the most attractive pieces of coastline in Wester Ross. With clear, turquoise water and clean white sand, the beach is spectacular in itself without its stunning location. However what makes the beach really special is a distant mountain vista possibly unequalled from any low level viewpoint in Scotland. To the north east the views include the distinctive profile of Suilven, near Lochinver, taking in the mountains of Coigach, including a glimpse of the top of Stac Pollaidh. To the south east the views conclude with a glimpse of An Teallach.

Mellon Udrigle beach with fantastic mountain backdrop

Our last day of riding on the Scottish mainland took us along Gruinard Bay passing Gruinard Island infamous for anthrax testing in World War 2.

Our first climb of the day gave us a fantastic view over Little Loch Broom.

Little Loch Broom

The following 15km to Dundonnell hardly required a turn of the pedals as it was predominantly downhill.

The next 26 km to Braemore junction had an ascent of 430 metres with a maximum elevation of 340 m. It was superb riding across the bleak, remote moor once we got up there.

The high point of the tour. 340 metres above sea level! (This is not the Alps!)

Another long, speeding descent brought us to Corrieshalloch Gorge for a planned exploration stop.

Corrieshalloch Gorge

After a testing walk (I’m not keen on high bridges) we enjoyed coffee and Malteser cake from the Gorge refreshment van and finished our mainland riding with 20km down the A835 into Ullapool.

Ullapool looking serene in the evening sun

GPX Files

Day 1: Craignure to Moornish Schoolhouse

Day 2: Moornish Schoolhouse to Salen

Day 3: Salen to Mallaig | Armadale to Flora McDonald Hostel

Day 4: Flora McDonald Hostel to Strathcarron

Day 5: Strathcarron to Loch Maree

Day 6: Loch Maree to Laide

Day 7: Laide to Ullapool

The Reluctant Cyclist

I love riding my bike, but my husband Ian does not share my passion. He has always supported my sporting endeavours without breaking into a sweat himself. He maintains and services my bikes. He even cleans them for me. He pretends to take an interest when I am wittering on about Strava segments. He takes me to events and stands around for ages supporting me and says ‘well done dear’ or ‘never mind dear’ in the appropriate places. He even comes out to rescue me in the team car when necessary. But he’s always avoided actually riding a bike. Getting out of breath, getting sweaty, and having aching legs was never going to happen.

This changed in the summer of 2016 when he decided to have a go at mountain biking. I’m still not really sure why he did this but I think there was an element of ‘if you can’t beat them, join them.’ The whole idea was that it would be something we could do together.

Early outing on the new mountain bikes

It took a couple of months for him to get used to the sweaty, out of breath, aching legs element of the sport and it became a familiar sight to see him bent over the bars at the top of a hill cursing and swearing to himself.

‘You’ll enjoy it’ she said…

However, he has gradually got used to it and he has got pretty good and although I can’t say he is avid, he has come to enjoy it mostly.

A rare cycling smile

In the year since he began riding he has become much fitter and now weighs the same as he did when he was 19! Not quite the same shape though and less hair!

He was persuaded – albeit very reluctantly – to ride the Dawes Galaxy that I used for LeJog in 2013.

The £150 ebay Dawes Galaxy

He was not keen and thought road riding ‘boring.’ However, he has gradually come round to the idea that a touring holiday, on his terms, was a possibility. He is still quite reticent about this – and we start our Scottish Highlands and Islands tour very soon. All the accommodation is booked. We are going!

All smiles ready for our tour of the Scottish Highlands and Islands

The Western Isles have been on my bucket list since I was a student in Edinburgh in the 1970’s. I have never been there. On my LeJog adventure I really enjoyed the West Coast of Scotland so we have devised a round trip from Oban. We ride North to Ullapool where we get the ferry to Stornoway and then we ride up to the Butt of Lewis and then all the way down to Vatersay.

Ian’s T and C’s are that there will be no rain, no midges, and no hills! T and C’s that we can control and are more realistic include daily distances and elevation that are manageable without it being too arduous. In practice this means the maximum distance is 80km in a day with less than 1000m of elevation. Total distance will be about 750km which is getting on for 500 miles in 14 cycling days with about 10,000m of elevation. There are a couple of short days which I call rest days! Accommodation is comfortable and requires minimum effort. In practice this means nice hotels with good food. There is one night in a hostel (private room with en suite) where we will have to self cater. He can cope.

Other equipment that has been deemed necessary for the tour includes:
Gortex waterproof boots.

Warm, dry feet…tick

Nice shiny new panniers.

Waterproof panniers…tick

Plenty of this…

Commercial quantities of midge repellent…tick

And a little bit of this.

Completely superfluous sunscreen…tick

It’ll be fun. I really really want him to have a nice time. Much will depend on the weather so I’m hoping it will not pour with rain and blow a gale all the time.

The Sport of Ageing

I suppose that being over 60 I can still be classified as being middle-aged, towards the end of middle age and heading towards old age. There is of course chronological age and biological age. That nice machine they have at the gym that tells me I’m only 45! A dexa scan tells me my bone density and % of body fat are average for a 20 year old.

As the body ages, muscle size and strength reduces, flexibility reduces, aerobic capacity reduces, bone structure and density changes – it’s all happening and it’s all a natural process. Ordinary people become more sedentary as they age. Older athletes reduce the rigour of their training. Metabolic function changes, my thyroid doesn’t produce any thyroxin for example and the synthetic substitute is a poor replacement. I am basically very healthy and fit. We live in a nice place and have an active outdoorsy lifestyle.

Kayaking near our home.

For better and for worse, your body never ceases to change through ageing. My approach to training and sport choices and level of activity will reflect that by evolving from year to year in appropriate ways.

The changes in my body have meant a dramatic reduction in running speed. To keep this in perspective I am still ‘good for age’ but it’s still very annoying! Also my body finds running very strenuous and complains more loudly and often than it used to when I was younger. This means I can run less as I don’t want to exacerbate injuries.

I spend more time these days on strength and conditioning than I used to. In practice this means weight training with dumbells and kinesis. It means regular Iyengar yoga classes.

Chair headstand at our yoga class.

At a simple accessible level it is a 2 minute daily plank! Some days even that is too hard!

I no longer feel the need to push myself to do things I don’t really enjoy. I no longer swim in the sea year round for example! I still swim regularly, but only in the pool when the sea temperature is in single figures.

Sea swimming

I did not take up my ‘Good for Age’ place at the London Marathon in 2017. I loved the 2016 event and ran well ensuring an automatic entry to all the big city marathons in the world in 2017 and 2018. But, for reasons I can’t really explain I just didn’t want to do it. Maybe it’s a case of been there done that and got a drawer full of T shirts.

Finishing London Marathon 2016

I have not entered any triathlons this season- yet. I am still training. I still swim, bike, run and I enjoy it. At present – that seems to be enough. Racing is not on the agenda at present.

My Ironman trophy

I still ride Audax events.

I keep up my AAARTY.

There are many inspirational people out there riding huge distances who are much older than I am – mainly men. I continually ask myself, ‘Am I having a nice time – is this fun?’ The effects of ageing on my body have made stuff that used to be fun, much less fun because it hurts and the results are poor. So evolve – focus on what is fun. Focus on what I can do now rather than what I used to do.

My attention has been diverted from training by normal family events earlier this year. My father was very ill for a while. He is 91 and lives close by so we were able to give him the care and support he needed to get well and regain his independence. We also had the great joy of the marriage of Kathryn our daughter.

Kathryn’s wedding

This focused our attention for a number of weeks.

A big change in my life that has affected the training I do is personal. My husband Ian who has never really been interested in doing much exercise himself whist being very supportive of everything I do. Last summer a change occurred and he decided we should get mountain bikes. Now Ian is normally one of those reactive people so when he becomes proactive I tend to sit up and take notice!

Since we got those bikes last June Mountain biking has gradually become a more important part of our lives. We now ride as much as 3 or 4 times a week TOGETHER and have a lot of fun.

Mountain biking

He has become (rather annoyingly) very good and much fitter. I now ride my mountain bike more than my road bike. As a further development he gradually succumbed to riding my old Dawes Galaxy with straight bars that I did LeJOG on and doing some gentle road riding.

Dawes Galaxy ready for the Grand Tour of the Highland and Islands

We have a tour of the West coast of Scotland and the Outer Hebrides planned for a tour in June. A distance of about 600 miles with enough hills to make the elevation the same as the height of Mount Everest!

I can feel my strength and speed just disappearing as time passes and I am determined not to let it mar my enjoyment. I can still do loads of stuff. There is still lots of stuff to do and lots of adventures to be had!

Focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t.

It’s All In The Planning

There are some of us who are proactive, who like to be in control and others who are reactive and are happy just to go along with whatever’s happening and be happy with that. I fall into the proactive category and I spend a lot of time dreaming up ideas for trips and adventures. I much prefer to organise, plan and book our own adventures rather than go on an organised trip. For me a lot of the fun is in the planning and I love eventually arriving at places that I have anticipated in the planning process months before.

Last year we very much enjoyed walking Coast to Coast with our dog Archie. Archie enjoyed it too.

Archie and his support staff

Archie is 10 years old now so we decided that this year we should do another long walk while he is still able to join us. None of the Long Distance Footpaths appealed very much so I decided to plan our own route. The bits of C2C which I enjoyed most were the moors and mountains: I did not enjoy the lowland parts on lanes and through endless fields. So after a lot of poring over maps I decided on a walk starting at Skipton in North Yorkshire. The route goes North through the Yorkshire Dales and Howgills as far as Newbiggin-on-Lune and then West following the C2C West as far Kidsty Pike in the Lake District. After that I have booked 6 nights’ accommodation in the Lake District and we have a circular walk planned. The route can be varied according to what the weather throws at us, but hopefully we will spend a lot of time on the tops.

Ian on the Langdale Pikes on New Year’s Day 2017

My husband Ian has become more tolerant of cycling in the last year to the point where he enjoys it mostly. In 1978 I bought some OS maps of Harris and Lewis and fully intended to get out there to explore. It never happened and I still haven’t been. I really enjoyed the touring aspect of LEJOG and the Scottish part of the route was fantastic.

Little Loch Broom in May 2013 on LEJOG

I was very sad that we didn’t make the extra effort to get out to Ardnamurchan Point which is the most Westerly point on the British Mainland on LEJOG.

To combine these elements in a tour with Ian seemed like a good plan for 2017. We are starting at Oban and have agreed on manageable distances for each day so we have plenty of time to enjoy the scenery. We will be visiting Mull, Ardnamurchan and Skye en route to Ullapool, where we get the ferry to Stornoway on Lewis. From there we cycle up to the Butt of Lewis in the North before riding all the way down the islands to Vatersay in the South.

I have promised Ian there will be no midges or big hills!

Both these trips have been planned over several weeks of poring over maps and websites. All the accommodation is booked for both. We are mostly staying in Hotels and Guest Houses.
Later on in the year we are off to San Francisco to visit our daughter Jenna and her fiancé Jay. At present the plan is just a line on a small-scale map. Initially we go North to Inverness  – that’s Inverness in California not Scotland – which is where their wedding is taking place in April 2018.

After that we are going on a HOT road rip taking in Joshua Tree, Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam, Las Vegas, Utah, Nevada, Death Valley and back North to Yosemite and San Francisco.

Now is the time for doing rather than planning but I look forward to getting some detail on that trip soon. Now where are my walking boots?

MTB

In June my husband, Ian, suddenly decided that he would like to try mountain biking. I think he just got a bit fed up with being left behind while I was out cycling, yet didn’t fancy doing the long miles on tarmac. I love riding my bike so I assumed that I would also love mountain biking – especially with him.

We hired bikes from our local cycle shop, Bridport Cycles, and went out on a Bridport Cycling Club mountain bike ride.

img_9518

Nice wide flat trail with a good firm surface.

Our first club ride was for beginners and although we found it quite difficult and tiring we did enjoy it.

We then went off to our nearest trail centre at Haldon. Again we hired bikes and cycled around the green trail which was very pleasant. Then we tried the light blue trail – more interesting but manageable. We then tried the dark blue trail. Too interesting. I found the steep, stony descents really frightening and couldn’t stay on the bike. There was no point in looking at the red trail, that was way beyond our skill level. We did have a play in the skills park and although I avoided all the drops and stony paved areas, I did think that I had improved.

img_9710

Haldon Skills Park

We took advice from a couple of experienced MTB riders at BCC and Ian, being an impulsive sort of guy, just found a couple of good deals online and we bought a full suspension bike each.

The shiny new bikes were both blue and we were very pleased to be out riding in the beautiful countryside in West Dorset where we live.

img_9611

First outing on the new bikes

We found routes that were not very technical but managed to find some mud even in the dry summer.

img_9620

Mud!

Riding the MTB was really good fun after the serious stuff of the Exmoor 70.3 ironman in the summer. The sole reason for riding the MTB was to have fun.

img_9700

Having fun in the sun!

We enjoyed some lovely rides in the summer. We are fortunate to live in a very scenic area close to the sea. Scenic also means there are plenty of hills, of course.

img_0259

Scenic Dorset

We returned to Haldon quite regularly and gradually improved. Ian improved more quickly and was much braver on drops and stony descents. We no longer bothered with the green and light blue and were able to ride around the dark blue more quickly.

img_1318

Starting the red run.

We ventured onto the red trail. Ian could ride about 50% of it and I couldn’t really manage much of it at all. However I kept trying and pushed my limits in the skills park. We have returned to Haldon regularly and each time there is significant improvement. We can now enjoy riding the red trails. Some intensive sessions on the regulated trails at Haldon have really helped improve our skills and confidence. The next step is to travel to a different trail centre and frighten ourselves there!

p1030261

Pushing my limits in the Haldon skills park

Back in West Dorset we became more adventurous and challenged ourselves on more technical routes. At this stage, some of the time I was not having much fun.

img_0490

More technical routes

img_0702

Making progress on more technical routes

14716210_1043161362497412_1009421580959920186_n

The Colmers Shute Strava segment! (Ian doesn’t do Strava!)

14100412_1008156172664598_2576822296838857091_n

Sometimes it was a bit too challenging for me.

We continued to go out on BCC Club rides. Club rides tend to be challenging and hilly but take in some beautiful coastal scenery.

img_0907

On Eype Down – Golden Cap the next challenge on the horizon.

We took the bikes with us on a visit to the Gower Peninsular in Wales and found some good routes and had some fun times again.

img_0636

Gower Peninsular. Getting up there was a grunt but we had the best fun on the descent.

As the weather changed and the trails became wetter and muddier we faced new challenges. In the summer I would worry about the smallest patches of mud and puddles and really hated the back wheel squirming. I soon had to get used to puddles and lots of mud as well as wearing lots of gear in the cold, wet weather. We even venture out in the dark occasionally which adds another dimension to our riding. Often hilarious.

img_3045

Darkness is falling.

I’m pleased to say that I have improved a lot over the last few months and I am enjoying the MTB riding much more. I am much more confident on steep stony descents and am able to ‘stay on my bike’ most of the time. It’s still really hard work and very strenuous –especially with all the mud and puddles, but we usually have a lot of fun on our rides and it’s great that we can enjoy cycling together.

img_3082

Muddy winter riding

We are planning some cycling trips away this year as my focus moves away from competing in triathlon back to cycling just for the sheer enjoyment of being out on my bike. I love riding my bike – but riding my bike with my best buddy alongside me is the best!