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Journal

Filtering by Tag: Scotland

Up in the highlands.

10,000km.cc

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Date: Wednesday 27th May, 2015
Distance: 46.3km | Elevation: 459m
Destinations: Gleneagles – Muthill – Gleneagles

Start kms: 3,337.3km | Finish kms: 3,383.6km | % complete: 33.8%

Mid-way into a 10-day UK road trip, Ashley and I spent 2 nights in Gleneagles Hotel, where it turns out it’s not only possible to while away your day in spas, restaurants, bars between golf and shooting sessions, but also to hire Condor bikes and explore the surrounding roads of Auchterader. 

Gleneagles being the Mecca of all things golf, I naturally chose to body-swerve the greens and fairways entirely in favour of some Scottish roads. 

With the help of a couple of Garmins pre-loaded with several routes, Ashley and I set out to explore Strowan Road and its surroundings. 

The roads were as quiet as you’d expect given the fact that they surrounded an idyllic retreat and the undulations were as present as you’d assume them to be in an area named The Highlands. 

What I had failed to anticipate was the considerable contrast in temperature compared to London. A month of committing to attire consisting of bib shorts and jersey-only meant that I’d turned up woefully unprepared. My true colours as a soft, southern twat were at risk of being exposed, made immediately obvious to anyone that might care to gaze longer than a couple of seconds on my goosebump-covered, purple/red-coloured arms and chattering teeth.

Ashley had already laid claim to the only vaguely suitable cycling jumper I had, so I strictly adhered to Rule #5.

The Condor Italia RC bikes we’d hired were by no means top of the range – and I suppose a £2,500 frameset, one of Condor’s higher-spec numbers, is an unreasonable expectation for a morning jaunt – but they were comfortable runners. 

This comfort was made all the better by the addition of bar-mounted Garmin cycle computers. Whilst I’ve benefitted from the navigational prowess of the Garmin Edge in the past, I’d never used one first-hand and I was entirely sold on the merits of using it over a mounted iPhone – battery life, size and clarity and three of numerous realms it trumps the latter. 

The Scottish scenery had put on the most ominous, looming, moody outfit it could find for the morning. The clouds hung dark, grey and heavy over the surrounding hills and valleys. The threat of rain was constant. 

With so little in the way of weather protection, I was living dangerously, but it made for some truly phenomenal views and superb panoramic shots. I was willing to risk being battered by the rain for both. 

Thankfully, it did manage to hold off for the majority of the ride, with increasingly frequent droplets welcoming us back to the hotel before an all-out downpour. 

That was our cue to hit the spa. 

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Details:

The Stag | Day 2.

10,000km.cc

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Date: Friday, 10th April, 2015
Distance: 130.5km | Elevation: 1,775m
Destinations: Morebattle — Duns — Haddington — Edinburgh

Start kms: 2,104.0km | Finish kms: 2,234.5km | % complete: 22.3%

The second day started early, at around 6am. The sun was still rising over the hills of the surrounding valley  and the mist and frost had yet to dissipate from the impending heat of the day. 

Looking out at the view from the bedroom window, it was nothing short of beautiful and completely chased away any weariness that ran the risk of creeping in. It also made for a picturesque backdrop on which to share our breakfast: half a CLIF bar and a cup of tea. 

Our first rest stops opening time was what dictated our departure. The 130km route we were taking had us away from any form of town or village for tens of kilometres at a time. Running light on any form of snacks, we had little room for unplanned breaks and therefore slowly packed and got ourselves on the road for a little before half past seven. 

Once again, the wind was behind us and, it still being early, there was little traffic on the road. Little soon became none as we left the A and B roads behind and planted ourselves on country lanes for what would be the majority of the day. 

Our pre-breakfast route was an excellent warm-up for the day, with nothing but relatively flat roads interspersed with a few small hills to break us in. We wheeled into Dunns and spotted the sign of our haggis roll purveyor. 

I’m not sure what it is about small villages, but there seems to be a real affinity for cafes located in garden centres. This isn’t the first time I’ve experienced these dual-purpose businesses on cycles, but this was definitely the friendliest encounter so far. 

Wheeling our bikes past the piled-up bags of compost and through the stacked lines of plant pots, all of the staff greeted us warmly, despite having only opened their doors minutes earlier and no doubt still comprehending the prospect of another day of work. I’d imagine the somewhat novel sight of two dishevelled men in skin-tight clothing contributed to their smiles. The glorious sunshine probably helped, too.

The only irk from anyone came as the result of Gorrods order: “A haggis and egg roll? Well I’ve never heard that before”. Given the limited range of breakfast accoutrements in existence – bacon, sausage, egg, beans, tomatoes – we were somewhat surprised that any pairing with haggis would come as a curveball. These guys either lacked a creative intrigue, or Gorrod really had strayed far from the Scottish breakfast track. 

Regardless, we’d only been in Scotland a few hours and he’d already rubbed the locals up the wrong way. 

We were right about there not being anything beyond our first rest stop. I’ve never been on a ride that doesn’t pass the odd local shop, newsagent, cafe or pub every 10km or so. I suppose that’s the result of the majority of my rides taking place in and around the M25. In this case, though, the 50km that followed saw more farmhouses than public houses; more road kill than cars. 

The roads themselves had begun to slope upwards considerably, with hills being more of a level you’d expect from a day with circa. 1,700m of climbing. It was the kind of climbing that I enjoy, with short, sharp bursts of uphill that for the most part, allowing you to attack  before resting your legs on the freewheel provided by the descent. Yes, at times it meant struggling skywards at 15kph for several minutes, but for every 5 minutes of that, you benefitted from 10 minutes of sailing through Scotland’s quiet roads at 50kph. 

Civilisation was reestablished at 95km in the town of Haddington and with it, we encountered our first set of traffic lights since Kings Cross. You quickly forget the existence of such things on getting out into the countryside, meaning you don’t appreciate their absence until you find yourself slowly approaching one, willing it to go green before you need to un-clip.

Coffees consumed, our final 35km was back towards the coast of the fairly aptly named Musselburgh. Whilst the name suggests a rustic, coastal town, home to shellfish, fishermen and trawlers, I can assure you that it was more akin to a tired British seaside town (although the internet informs me that, as one of Scotlands oldest towns, it’s known for both its golf course and its racecourse). 

On our approach to Edinburgh, we were both determined to hit the all-important Gran Fondo distance of 130km, but soon realised we were running out of road. The city centre was fast-approaching and we still had some ground to cover before it was official (to both us and to the Strava app, which would be officiating). I wasn’t helped by my GPS dropping off in a tunnel, costing me several hundred metres.

An extra lap of the town centre was needed to take us over the line. We jokingly referred to it as our victory lap, moments before Gorrod – choosing to ignore the designated cycle lanes and keep to the roads of Edinburgh – discovered a still fairly new addition to the city: its tramlines. 

Both of his wheels locked in to the thin metal grate, leaving him with no room for manoeuvre. With little option other than to hit the tarmac, I watched as he slid down our final descent, closely followed by his bike. 

100m from the finish and we had our first casualty. 

Stag down. 

Dragging his bike, and himself, over to the pavement he should have been riding on originally, we assessed the damage. The bike was fine, with no damage to the wheels or frame. The important information established, we then turned to Gorrod, who had succumb to a little road rash and a hard knock to the hip, but little else. 

Thankfully, we were more than capable of free-wheeling to the finish and Gorrod was still more than able to participate in a weekend of Stag-based activities.

My total distance flicked over to 130km seconds before I unclipped at our final stop, Fortitude Coffee, where we both toasted an almost-successful morning of riding over a cup of delicious coffee and a couple of shared slices of cake. 

As we did, I synced my ride data from Garmin to Strava and was horrified (and I’m somewhat shamed to admit that this is not an understatement) to discover I had in fact logged 129.9km.

129.97, to be exact.

30m short. 

That equates to around 5 seconds of riding. 

That tunnel had cost me dear.

Gorrod laughed (too much, if you ask me. He seemed to be taking some level of enjoyment from it).

I began drafting my email to Strava in a vain attempt to reclaim those much-needed metres (and you’ll see the retrospectively resolved the issue). 

Questionable distance measurement aside, we had made it to the city centre exactly on schedule. We’d crossed borders and taken in some incredible scenery. We’d also put in a solid couple of days of base-tanning our perma-kit lines for the summer.

We were ready to begin The Stag proper.

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Details:

The Stag | Day 1.

10,000km.cc

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Date: Thursday 9th April, 2015
Distance: 85.4km | Elevation: 1,247m
Destinations: Alnmouth — Banburgh — Wooler — Morebattle

Start kms: 2,018.6 | Finish kms: 2,104.0km | % complete: 21.0%

There are occasions when, setting out for a ride, you tightly cross your fingers and pray to whichever god might care to listen that the run-up to it is not indicative of the excursion itself. 

With an hour of the morning spent trying (and failing) to load two routes onto Gorrods Garmin, this was one of those sort of run-ups. With 30 minutes left before our train was due to pull out of Kings Cross Station, we eventually decided we were flogging a dead horse. On this occasion, the Garmin would not be our guide. 

With neither of us knowing where we were going beyond the station we’d be arriving into, we quickly hatched a plan. On the ride to the station, Gorrod would veer off to locate an iPhone mount for his phone whist I powered on to the station to print out our tickets. We set out together, darting through the rush hour traffic and snaking between the masses of cars, buses and motorbikes in a manner more reckless than I’d care to admit. 

Tickets in-hand, I ran through Kings Cross. Anyone who has tried walking on a tiled floor in cleats knows this is no mean feat, but I was determined to pick-up some remnant of the Stag breakfast I had intended.

With two bikes, two flat whites and a paper bag full of impulse purchases, we ran for our platform to load our bikes into the front carriage.

We had 3 minutes to spare. 

After months of careful planning, this is not how I had anticipated us beginning the two-day ride that would kick-off Gorrods Stag Weekend. As Best Man, I did not feel like the best man.

Seats located and cycling accessories safely stowed away, we took approximately 10 seconds to breathe, basking in the fact we’d managed to stick to time, before greedily going at our almond croissants and cinnamon doughnuts. This was chased down by a past-its-optimum-drinking-temperature coffee. 

We were heading for Alnmouth, Northumberland and would be crossing the Endland-Scotland border later that afternoon. However, with a 4-hour train journey ahead of us, there was little to do in the meantime except kick-back, watch the south of England transform into the north, consume a questionable array of pre-ride fuel and relax. Awkwardly, I took my level of relaxation a little too far, nonchalantly knocking over my just-opened can of beer and watching its contents drift slowly and precariously closer to the MacBook of my neighbour. Whilst I felt bad for disrupting his in-train entertainment (at points I became as enthralled by the silent rendition of Rambo I’d been watching over his shoulder as he was by his full sensory experience), I have little doubt that watching a Lycra-clad idiot jog down a moving train carriage in cleats in search of loo roll had its own merits. 

Accompanied by the vague stench of beer and sausage rolls, the cycling itself began at around 13.30. Normally, our rides end with a train journey rather than beginning with them, so I thought  we might be a little more lethargic in our riding style.

I was wrong.

With the sun shining brighter than it had all year, we were expressing levels of excitement over the first bib-shorts-and-jersey-only day of 2015 that, for countless reasons, was unacceptable for two guys in their mid-twenties. Throw in the fact that the first part of our route was taking us down to Bamburgh and its coast, meaning a fairly constant downward slope, and we’d covered 40km in little over 90 minutes. 

Stopping only for a photograph of Bamburgh Castle, we were quickly on the move again, back in-landf towards Wooler which, at around 65km seemed like a sensible place to stop. Both of us could probably have pedalled on through to the finish, but it feels wrong to complete a ride of this distance and not have one rest-and-cappucinno stop along the way. Gorrod added a tiramisu to this, which is arguably excessive, but forgivable on account of it being his Stag Do ( I suppose…). 

With the sun warming us on the terrace of thew inspiring and uniquely name Milan Restaurant (it was indeed an Italian), we were sure we were moving closer to the England-Scotland border. However, the fact that everyone was still speaking with the warm, affectionate lilt of Sarah Millican suggested we weren’t there yet.

We did arrive at it soon enough, though, and thankfully it had a level of ceremony to it. This is the first time I’d cycled over a country border in the UK and I had a mild concern that we’d find ourselves missing an understated sign that was characteristic of our nation and not discover we’d made the transition until we reached our destination. Instead, we pedalled up towards a large sign that simply stated: “Scotland welcomes you”.

Behind us, we left an even simpler sign: a plaque screwed to a wall that read “ENGLAND” in block capitals. 

Make of those what you will. 

Our stop for the night was only a few kilometres beyond the official border in a small town called Morebattle. Neither one of us for the indulgences of lad culture, the first night of Gorrods Stag could not have been further from the Hollywood-inspired debauchery of Vegas: a quiet cottage on Teapot Street named Kissingate, located by a stream, complete with free-standing bath and gas stove. The owner could be forgiven for thinking us honeymooners rather than Stags. 

I’m sure our matching embroidered casquettes, Gorrods labelling him ‘Groom’ and mine ‘Best Man’ removed any doubt from the situation.  Following a beer on the balcony in the last of the days sun, a bath and a Chinese Takeaway, we prepared for the following day by mulling over our route and drinking whisky from makeshift whisky glasses (refashioned tea light holders). We also located our all-important breakfast stop — approximately 60km away, allowing us a reasonable warm-up. 

Meanwhile, Gorrod pondered aloud the major concerns of what the day held in store:

“I wonder what roll our haggis will come on tomorrow”.

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