I have been feeling unwell all day and figured it was time to take an actual rest day and just sleep and catch up on my blog etc.. I asked if I could stay over an extra night and I was told unfortunately no because they had booked it out exclusively to a group...
Guess which group it was.... The Countrywide Great Tour http://www.thegreattour.co.uk/home.php
they are cycling around the UK.....
So here am I solo, self supported and I have to move out because of a group coming the opposite way... the irony of this is outstanding...
"It is amazing how life can be humbling and teach you a lesson about generosity. I packed my kit to leave this morning and the hostess of the Hostel came in and said the tour organiser had invited me to stay for the night so I could rest up...... I really feel humbled.. They have invited me to spend supper with them, I just don't know what else to say!"
21st July and 22nd
When I awoke I knew immediately I had not rested enough, my body wasn't co-operating and I could feel myself fumbling about. I had left my laptop on and some kit strewn about, I had woken up early so I could make some sandwiches in my room which I did in robotic fashion fighting lethargy. The room which was so welcome last night felt very small and confining.
Finished with the morning chores I carried all my kit downstairs and left it behind the entrance to the hotel and locked it while I retrieved my bike. I headed up the hill a short distance to the bike shed and retrieved my bike, as was my habit I gave it a quick once over to make sure nothing had dropped off in the night. I noticed that my sign had come off and I remember standing there almost confused for a second because I could not recall when or how I could have lost it. Eventually I snapped myself out of it and headed back down to the hotel.
I left the keys to the room and the bike shed in the hotel as instructed but not before having one more paranoid check of my room and belongings to make sure I hadn’t left anything behind. I checked my phone as my sister texts me daily and it hadn’t arrived yet, it’s strange but I had come to rely on that as a sort of stability.
The air was brisk and the sun was showing through, I had hopes the day would be dry but I could feel that it would be windy. As I exited the hotel area I could already see the ferry which was huge as ferrys go towering over it’s surroundings. The dock was very close to the Ferry Inn so I wheeled my bike down and into the ferry reception area. I spoke to the lady at reception she checked my booking number and said did you reserve your bike, internally my heart sank, when people on reception say that to you it is usually rhetorical as she had my info on screen and obviously knew that I hadn’t got a bike reservation.
I told her that I had booked online the night previously and there was no option to reserve a space for a bicycle, she simply stated that I should have reserved a place?? Sensing I could get a refusal to board I said very firmly: “please show me on your booking site where you reserve a bike or even a number on the site that would allow me to do it”, she looked at me for a few seconds and said I will do it from here. I got my tickets and my bike reservation and asked where to go, I could see a passenger door to the left that lead directly to a door out to the loading area for vehicles less that 2 meteres. She simply said you will have to take your bike around the buildings that’s the only access for bikes. I did so and laughed when I arrived as I met the security staff who asked why I had gone round the building rather than through the passenger door….
The security officer was a genuinely nice guy and helpful, we chatted about bikes he said he was a fair-weather cyclist almost guiltily, I laughed and told him he was more sensible than I was and that he was doing the important thing and at least getting out on his bike, most people don’t even do that. We took a few photos and soon it was time for I tme to board the ship.
I had a quick glance around the harbour mentally taking in my surroundings I took a purposeful breath of Orkney air and headed into the ship. The stevedore told me to tie my bike up at the far end where it would be easier for me to disembark.
I lent my bike against some padded railings and he made as if to tie it up, I said it would be ok and secured the bike myself tying a securing knot which he examined and then smiled at me, one of those knowing smiles that says ok you can tie a knot.
I took a few shots leaving the harbour, Orkney is incredibly beautiful and stark at the same time, a mist had hung low over the water and I could see it parting as the ferry pushed it aside, there were seabirds everywhere and I saw a march of ducks moving away in the distance. The coastline receded with every beat of the ships engines and turn of the screw and I felt a tinge of sadness at leaving, I knew that I had barely scratched the surface of this strange place.
I had booked in for an “all you can eat” breakfast experience so I headed upstairs to stock up on calories for the day. I had some muesli and then helped myself to a large cooked breakfast followed by fruit, and several helpings of fruit juice and a coffee, this would set me up nicely for the day. The breakfast on the ship was an extra £9.00 but compared to buying separately it was good value as mentally I had added it all up to about £22.00, I even stashed a few bananas in my bar bag for later in the day and stocked up on sauce sachet’s and the incredibly useful honey and butter sachet’s.
To be honest I don’t recall much about the interior of the ship, I hadn’t felt the inclination to go up on deck and used the time to catch up on some writing and planning, judging from the sideways glances of other passengers I must have looked a strange site with my unkept beard and my hair wild sat in ¾ shorts tapping away.
I glanced out of the window and could see the coast approaching and I checked the time, we would be docking in about 20 minutes so I began to pack away, I looked out at the sea and wondered about the Orcas that had been seen recently, and then I recalled the seals that had been lined along the sandbank at Dornoch Firth tasty treats for Orca’s but safe in their hideaway.
I exited the ship and cycled my way onto the access road, I turned right onto a main road but something made me stop and check my bearings, although I was heading west the road felt wrong and I hadn’t rejoined my route yet for the sat nav to begin. A voice from behind said are you looking for the road west? A middleaged man with a walking cane approached and without waiting for my answer proceded to give directions to the road west that I was looking for.
He was a bit of an enigma as he had very good walking boots on with clothing designed for a walker, I asked him what work he did and he explained he was a decommissioning engineer at doonray the nuclear plant but was off as he had not long had a hip replacement but would be returning to work soon, I thanked him for the help and headed off.
From the first hill I knew there was something wrong, number one and two piston complained and where lethargic, I was sniffling and just had no go in me, it was only a short day in mileage but the terrain was hilly and I knew I was going to suffer.
Eventually I came to doonray in the distance and passed by, looking for secret military police ready to pounce on anyone taking to many photographs but it was comparatively quiet from the exterior with nothing to indicate the 1500 to 2000 staff still there working on it’s decommissioning.
I wondered about the viability of such an installation if it took so long to decommission in relation to it’s useful life. I remembered the words of the gent who had given me directions, “there’s years of work to be done there”. I wondered why they didn’t just build a new one there, why spoil somewhere else? I imagined the area as being full of radiation and looked out for strange mutated animals, I saw none just the regular kind and an area abundant with wildflowers.
I remember seeing signs of rust on a huge white dome (I presume the reactor) and didn’t like the idea of anything nuclear being rusty, my mind ran through escape scenarios should I hear any sort of alarm, but I decided that out here on my bike there wouldn’t be much I could do except lie back and watch the show if something bad happened, however I was pretty sure that at the first sign of danger number one and number two piston would work a hell of a lot harder than they were doing now.
I cycled on and in the distance a movement on the road caught my eye as I drew closer a bird flapped around on the road and then as if in exhaustion simply sat there. I lay my bike at the side and bent over to examine it. It had been hit but both wings seemed intact, it had blood smeared on it’s beak but it’s neck wasn’t broken and it seemed alert, my best guess was that it had been dealt a glancing blow and was possibly in shock.
I moved it out of danger and it made no attempt to leave so I cleared out my bar bag and washed it’s beak clear and gently opened it’s beak to put a little water down it’s throat I had no idea how long since it had drank and as the blood on it’s beak had been liquid I summised the accident had been recent. Taking care to handle it as little as possible I wrapped it in my towel and closed the lid of my Bar bag so that it would be warm and less stressed.
I cycled on wondering what I was going to do with it, my plan was to knock on the door of the first house I came to and see if they could hold the bird till the SPCA could come. Then almost miraculously I saw a sign pointing to a building on the left that said SPCA bird rescue and sanctuary I laughed at the incredible coincidence and pulled in.
I went into reception and suddenly felt very unsteady myself I began to think that there was something more wrong with me than tiredness and suspected I might have a mild cold as well, I had been sniffling all morning. I was greeted by a lady who gently took the bird from me and said she would put it in one of the cages to see if it would recover, I know from previous experience that shock is a killer to small birds and animals, it was now up to the bird if it was to recover. Quiet and rest were the best medicine right now.
I was invited in for a coffee, she was the assistant manger and she introduced me to the manger, he chatted me for a while telling entertaining stories of the animals that had passed through. They also kept other animals there and there was a board with their names, I spotted the name Roxy and I explained my own dog had passed away not long before I had left. He said Roxy was a rottweiller who had been brought in a short while ago, I was taken aback by the coincidence as my dog was a Rottweiler although Roxy is a common name for them. He took me through to meet Roxy and she was small and well formed like my Roxy and she was just as gentle and obviously a loving dog.
I was conscious of the time and thanked them for the coffee and the chance to rest, I headed back out onto the road. The scenery grew more and more incredible as I headed west and more and more hilly too, I was glad that I only had to get to tongue but knew that it would be a slog the way I was feeling. I focussed on keeping hydrated and taking it steadily, if I got very ill out here it could be iffy.
Eventually I passed into Sutherland and Mackay country, on a previous visit I had seen a similar sign announcing the Mackays were a hard bunch and laughed at the recollection. I cycled on towards tongue and stopped at several places where I saw piles of large crabs bleached white, I could find no explanation for their appearance on the hills and though of them beaching themselves???
Not far from Tongue I stopped at a house to fill my water bottles and a local suggested that the hostel in tongue would be a good stopping point. He got their number and I called and booked a room for the night as I had no wish to sleep in my tent when a warm bed was a possibility. I had decided I needed a rest day to allow my body and my legs to recuperate so I resolved to stay their for the whole of the next day.
I soon passed Borgie and it’s signs pointing to the forest saying “The Unknown” later I found out from some of the guests that this was actually a strange carving/statue of a man in the forest.
I carried on and witnessed some of the most beautiful scenery and land I have ever known, just before tongue there is a beach with islands that was so beautiful I stopped and thought this must be one of the most beautiful places on the planet. It would have been at home in the caribean and imagined pirate ships sailing by.
I was soon into tongue and I quickly located the hostel, it was strange that on my Jogle in 2013 I had stayed in Tongue but saw nothing of this as I had taken the more direct A road rather than the coast road. I dipped down to the field which I had camped in previously and the same horse was roaming about. I turned round back to the hostel and booked in.
I asked if I could stay the next day and was told no because an exclusive group had booked in, I was crestfallen as I had set my heart on resting and felt the upheaval of a move unfair but such is life. I was niggled when I found out that the exclusive group was “the great tour” cycling round the UK coast the opposite way to me, here was I solo doing the UK coast and the Irish coast and I was having to leave the hostel… I felt very aggrieved which was in no way there’s or the hostel’s fault no one had done anything wrong I was just feeling hard done by!!!
I briefly met a someone outside from the tour (who turned out to be Hugh who is running the tour) and bemoaned in a joking way about having to leave, however after spending a night in the hostel I was packing away in the morning when the staff at the Hostel came to me and said Hugh had invited me to stay with the tour and join them for supper. They had arranged a separate room for me and I was overjoyed.
I will try and put more detail in later, I can only say that the staff their were lovely it is one of the best places I have stayed, I felt comfortable and at home and the tour staff were really nice.
Some things to add:
Helping a joggler with a broken front derailler and the tour staff helping him
Chats with Sharon the Chef
Chats with the rest of the crew
Going for a sleep and waking up at 8pm missing supper
Buying fresh samon and cooking it in a sweet chili sauce
Riding down to the causeway
Feeling better when I realised I was still on schedule and taking into account the work day I would get back at the end that I was still on schedule.
Plans to try and build enough mileage to take a ferry to the Orkneys
The silence of the lounge when the others had made there way to bed
The weather turning bad in the night – wind howling
Missing supper so cooking scrambled eggs and toast for tea.
Thinking it would have been nice to meet the tour on the road going the opposite way.
Laughing at what the team would have said to me when I was moaning to myself about feeling tired
|Selfie with one of the crew|
|Done the orkneys|
|Some views from the ferry|
|Off we Go WESTWARD HO|
|came across this poor thing on the road, wrapped|
him up in my towel and put him in my bar bag...
what on earth am I going to do with him???
|2 miles down the road!!!!|
time to put him in better hands
|I lost my Rottweiller Roxy a few weeks before my trip,|
I am carrying her collar, this was Roxy she has been
brought in... what a coincidence, she looks like my
old dog, and has a wonderful warm temprament and the same
|The beard is coming on|
from my Jogle I remember the Mackays are tough!
|As you near Tongue the scenery becomes increasingly spectacular|
|From a distance these trees look like ribs|
|I stopped off and asked for some hot water, and I was invited|
in for coffee! They offered me some spaghetti but I wasn't in the mood
for eating. He is a retired languages teacher from Austria who
fell in love with the UK coast!
|You can't see them but there were several trout here|
|amazing rock features|
|The wind was up and weather looking angry|
|High on the hills I found two or three mass graves of Crabs??|
Birds dropping them there?? Do crabs beach themselves on hills LOL
|The Unknown "woooooooo"|
|I stopped here to fill up on water|
they man taking the photo is a professional photographer
|Arriving at Tongue|
|almost my last descent|