On the first night at the remote campground (Ardmair Point Campground), our neighbors invited us into their camper-home to cook and dine with them. In the morning, Steve and I unfortunately learned the hard way that we had accidentally set up our tent next to the camper waste disposal area. One morning awaking to funky smells and gurgling sounds was enough to prompt a move. We relocated our home to a site along the seashore — not yet realizing the challenges that would present. As the gusty winds made it a bit challenging and cold to cook outdoors (& our former neighbors departed), so began our daily routine of dining in the laundry room. While cooking up some dinner on the second night, our new camper-encased neighbors brought us over a bottle of wine and couple of glasses and insisted we have it. Then in the middle of the night, we awoke to find the howling winds pushing our tent poles to the brink as the tent walls caved in upon us. At 3 am, we opted to move our home to avoid impending devastation. Our kind, wine-baring neighbors were also up dealing with their own issues, and promptly launched into helping us move our belongings to a more protected area of the camp. In the morning, we chatted with the campground owner, George, who said that the wind we experienced was only about 35 mph and totally normal. “It’s not really a gale until you hit about 65 mph,” he mused. A weather station located on the campground property provided us with very accurate wind readings. The next night the wind speed hit 60 mph! Still not a gale of course. Ha!
George and his family turned out to be super nice folks and took a fond interest in our cycling adventures. He wanted to do his part to encourage our ride and did not charge us for internet the entire time we stayed – a saving of $10 lbs a day. They added to our Scottish food explorations by hooking us up with some fun delicacies such as some yummy cakes, and Scotish Broth soup which has mutton in it – quite different – still not quite sure what to make of it. Speaking of fun Scotish foods – here were some of my favorite discoveries: Cockaleeky canned soup, Krabbie’s Ginger Beer (with alcohol), and the Queen’s choice Raspberry jam…and believe it or not hagas –it’s not as bad as it sounds.
On the weekend, George was kind enough to give us a lift into town for the music festival and a quick tour of Ullapool. Normally a three mile bike ride to town would be no big deal, but with the wind, rain and crazy hills, it would have been an ordeal. We ate, drank, and braved the wind while listening to the great music oozing from inside the sold-out festival tents for a few hours before wandering around town and heading indoors. We thought it would be no big deal to catch a taxi back to camp as we understood there to be three taxi companies in town. Well we got that wrong. There were 3 taxi cabs in town and mind you, thousands of visitors. We waited a couple hours for a taxi, and rode back with some nice drunken sorts, who attended the music festival and expressed how it was “magic”. A great Scottish term used frequently to express a good evening had.
The important thing we learned about the weather in Scotland was that winter means a major increase in wind in addition to cold blustery weather, and that campgrounds begin closing down in October. This was the case with the ones that we contacted on the island where we had hoped to cycle. The very real prospect of high winds and a lack of campgrounds, prompted our decision that cycling the islands would have to wait for a future trip. We opted to enjoy some hill walking around Ullapool before looping back to Inverness. As an aside, “hill walking” is the term the Scots use for “hiking”. The term hiking was used only if you are walking on rather flat paths. Hmmm?
Finally, the time had come to bring closure to my bicycling trip. The plan was to cycle from Ullapool to Inverness –about 55 miles– and then take a train to London. We were at about the 40 mile mark when the rain began and made the sky prematurely dark. We opted for a night of “wild camping” at a waterfall park, primarily because it had swanky public restrooms. Gotta love the “Right to Roam” law in Scotland. We slept soundly, but awoke abruptly to bus axel sounds from a tour bus. A full bus of tourists had descended upon us. We enjoyed a good laugh and took pics with the tourists before continuing our ride to Inverness, and on to London via train.
While this adventure is coming to a close, it also marks the beginning of new adventures — such as the launching of an academic career which I hope to include the Semester on Cycle bicycle program. Additionally, if you enjoyed this ride, you might also check out Steve’s blog (www.untraveledworld.com). He has great tales of his cycling adventure which began six month ago in Africa.