Category Archives: Scotland

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?

The Three Peaks Challenge – cycling from Ben Nevis to Scafell Pike

After a good night’s sleep in Glen Nevis we were rested and ready for our first days cycling. As Kathryn is quite inexperienced at cycling longer distances, we planned the first day at a modest 80km with 800m of elevation.

Ready for the off at Glen Nevis

Ready for the off at Glen Nevis

We left Fort William on the A82. There was quite a lot of traffic but everyone was patient and considerate and gave us plenty of room.
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The beginning of the Three Peaks Challenge – Ben Nevis

The timing of our Three Peaks Challenge wasn’t perfect as the Commonwealth Games were underway in Glasgow ensuring that Scotland was as busy as it gets. We drove up to Fort William from the South West of England overnight to avoid any congestion. For us this worked out very well. Kathryn slept on the back seat and Ian and I shared the driving. Ian stopped the van and justifiably woke us up at 05:00 to view the magnificent morning sun over Loch Lomond.

Dawn at Loch Lomond

Dawn at Loch Lomond

We arrived at Fort William too early for breakfast so we drove up to Glen Nevis and put the tents up first and then at 07:30 returned to the Alexandra Hotel in Fort William for an excellent all you can eat buffet breakfast.
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Day 18: Thurso to John O’ Groats – 58°38′43.3464″N 003°04′08.5597″W – Journeys End

The last day of our cycle ride from Lands End to John O’ Groats was a short hop of 18 miles from our overnight stop at Thurso.

We woke to blue skies and sunshine and were cycling up the hill heading east out of Thurso at 07:30.

The view across to the Orkneys was clear but Dunnet Head the most northerly point on Britain’s mainland dominated the view.

As we approached the village of Dunnet we stopped to admire the beauty of Dunnet Bay, a wide sweep of sand with small surf rolling in.

Dunnet Bay

Dunnet Bay

The wind was lifting the tops off the waves making a salty mist against the bright blue sky.
Our eyes were drawn to the headland and we decided to make the 10 mile detour. As we headed out of the village of Brough the land changed once again to wild moorland with heather and small lochans. It looked more attractive on this bright, sunny morning.

Wild moorland with heather and small lochans

Wild moorland with heather and small lochans

The lighthouse at Dunnet Head stands majestically on the cliff top. We cycled up to the viewpoint,

Viewpoint at Dunnet Head

Viewpoint at Dunnet Head

and had extensive views back along the North Coast to Cape Wrath, north out to the Orkneys and east to our ultimate destination John O’ Groats.

Dunnet Head lighthouse

Dunnet Head lighthouse

We enjoyed the descent on the quiet, smooth road back to Brough and Steve spotted a dozen or so seals hauled out on a slipway, basking in the sun.

We stayed on minor lanes and passed through small isolated communities. Although cuckoo had deserted us, we saw a nesting swan, geese, black-throated diver, curlew, tufted ducks and kittiwake.

We passed by the Castle of Mey with 7 miles to go and even passed two cafes to save ourselves for John O’ Groats.

John O’ Groats is centred around a small harbour.

John O' Groats harbour

John O’ Groats harbour

The views seaward are fantastic with the Orkneys to the North and the Pentland Firth racing around in between.

We had the obligatory photographs and I had my Audax card stamped.

John O' Groats

John O’ Groats

John O' Groats

John O’ Groats

Audax card stamped with the all important JOG stamp

Audax card stamped with the all important JOG stamp

It was very quiet with few tourists on this chilly Monday morning. John O’ Groats is having a bit of a facelift and is looking quite smart. We enjoyed the best scrambled eggs of the trip in the smart new cafe there.

Perfect scrambled eggs

Perfect scrambled eggs

It seemed unreasonable to miss out the most north easterly point on the British mainland so we cycled out to Duncansby Head and looked at the lighthouse there

Duncansby Head

Duncansby Head

Duncansby Head

Duncansby Head

and admired the Duncansby sea stacks.

Sea stacks at Duncansby Head

Sea stacks at Duncansby Head

Bill took a photo of us with the flag. He was geocaching and had found what he was looking for.

We had had the best of the weather and the south easterly wind was strengthening. We had the first heavy hail showers that accompanied our arduous 20 mile ride south against the wind to Wick to catch a train south to Inverness.

The GPX file for today’s ride is here.