AROUND THE WORLD BY BIKE
5 May – Cape Town to London
After phoning around to a number of SAA offices, the verdict on transporting a bike by plane was that I would have to take it as part of my luggage. So at R250 per kg, I was in for a lot of money: my luggage alone weighs 20kg and so does my bike, and at R250 per kg, it was going to be a very expensive affair. I arrived at the check-in counter, credit card in hand, ready to pay my way. To my very big surprise the payment for the bike was a once-off payment of R250! What a good start.
6 May - London
Arrived in London at 6h30 all stiff and puffy eyed and got picked up by Eddie (my friend from Tour d’Afrique). As it was still quite early there was plenty of time to explore the area around Chelmsford were Eddie lives. We took a walk in the woods and tried to find some cycling maps in the village, but without any luck. (I thought this would be easy).
7 May – Chelmsford to East Bergholt - 50km
It was 13h00 by the time we left Chelmsford and took the back road, via Maldon to Colchester and found a campsite between Colchester and Ipswich. The weather is real wintery and we had some rain during the day as well as in the evening. The countryside is really flat and extremely beautiful, it is very green and the many villages along the way are steeped in history. Every 5km to 10km there is another little village with red-brick houses. This is truly a cyclist’s dream.
Still trying to find the elusive Sustrans cycling maps that I saw on the internet.
8 May - East Bergholt to Aldeburgh - 40km
We left at around 9h30 and headed for Ipswich and Woodbridge where we found a cycling map of the area. It is, however, more confusing than ever, as it shows the very small back roads and one is not always sure if you are on the right track. Half the day was spent studying the map. In the end we went around in circles and did not get very far at all. I will have to make another plan, this is just too frustrating. In the end, we headed for Leiston where a campsite is indicated on the map, but on arrival we found that it catered only for caravans, not tents. I must add that it is a rather large site with not a soul in sight (but rules are rules, oh give me a break). In the end we found a private campsite on a farm for £3 each. No shower however.
The scenery is just out of this world and it is hard to cycle past a village without stopping and exploring. The weather was slightly better than yesterday and although it rained during the night we had no rain during the day. It was, however, very cold.
Still no map, is this a phantom map or what?
9 May – Aldeburgh to Corton - 35km
Once again we took a little back road and the most unique sight was Walberswick and Southwold, two very old villages with buildings built of stone carted from the beaches (needless to say, the beaches are very stony). So we had to stop and take in the sights (and enjoy some of the local brew!) before heading off to Lowestoft. Lunch was chips with curry sauce, which I believe is very popular around here. We made it just in time before it started drizzling again (this is just never ending). It really is very cold and I am wearing every piece of clothing I have. There’s nothing left to do but go the pub and have a pint, at least it’s better than sitting huddled up in the tent.
The campsites vary greatly from camp to camp, some are well equipped with manicured lawns, toilets and showers, others just have a toilet and no other facilities; the prices are also in line with what you get.
10 May – Corton to Cromer - 60km
The days are so very long. With day light until 21h30 in the evening, it is quite fantastic not to have to worry about what time you get to camp. Cycling past Great Yarmouth, I found an internet cafe (at last), had some chips in the town square (again and carried on cycling all along the coast, which is, sadly, eroding away fast. Found a campsite at £16, which is considered very expensive in these parts, and to cap it all, the showers are miles away!
It started drizzling again, but thankfully not before I had my cup of soup and a bread roll. It rained all night!!!!
The big difference between cycling in the UK and cycling in Africa is that in Africa you are an enigma; children come running across the fields to stare and beg, people are curious and will ask where you are from and where you are going and they cannot believe you are doing this for FUN. Here in the UK you are just another tourist on a bicycle with an ipod stuck to you ear.
11 May – Cromer to Sandringham - 50km
We had to pack up in the rain, and cycled to Cromer where Eddie was to get a train back to Chelmsford. In the end, he decided to cycle to Norwich where it would be easier to get a train. So off I went solo, heading for King's Lynn.
At last I found a Sustrans map (Route 1 Harwich to Hull), and what good maps they are. Yet another day of magnificent estates, ancient castles and churches all equally impressive and dating back many hundreds of years. It helps to have a keen interest in castles and churches in this part of the world (which I don't have).
The route is well marked and I had an excellent day of riding, even though I had difficulty with the bike; the gears keep slipping!
12 May – Sandringham to St John’s Fed End - 30km
This is such a well-equipped campsite, with laundry facilities and a shop, so I ended up leaving later than usual as I just had to make use of the laundry facilities − high time as well.
King's Lynn is a large town with all the necessary shops, so I took the bike in to have the gears fixed, bought a bike computer and got a cellphone. So all in all I spent a lot of money! I thought of staying in the youth hostel, but it was closed so I hit the road again. It was quite late when I left, but thankfully it does not get dark until 21h30, so I went all the way to St Johns Fed End where I found a very nice campsite with a bar and restaurant.
13 May - St Johns Fed End to Boston - 35km
I am surprised at how many pierced and tattooed people there are; looks like every second person has six nose rings.
On my way to Boston I was surprised by Eddie, who drove all the way from Chelmsford to see if I was OK!We had lunch together and then he drove all the way back to Chelmsford again.
What I find intriguing is that most people I come across along the way appear not to even notice me. However, in Eddie’s search for me, they could tell him to the minute when I arrived and when I left!
Soon after Eddie left, the heavens opened up again and rain bucketed down, so in Boston I succumbed to the temptation and booked into a hotel (at a huge fee − surprising what a person will do when you are wet and cold!).
14 May – Boston to Woodhall Spa - 25km
I reluctantly left my warm hotel room− at the price there is no way I can stay. So off to Woodhall Spa, only 20 miles away, just to find that there is no spa! There’s a cold north wind blowing with some drizzle, so I’ve decided to stay and relax for the day.
While riding to Woodhall, my bike’s rear rack came loose, and the tent, sleeping bag and panniers all went flying. How embarrassing. Fortunately this all happened opposite a boat shop and the friendly man in the shop tightened the screws again (should have brought some tools). But all in all a good day of flat riding across the Fens and along a river with plenty of boat houses.
One thing I have discovered is that one cannot look out of your window or tent in the morning and predict what kind of day it will be. The weather changes every half hour; now I'm sitting in the sun reading my book, but I will not get too optimistic, as it could rain again in just 5 minutes.
15 May - Woodhall Spa to Humber Bridge – 75km
With my new bike computer I can now also tell the daily distance. What a good day of cycling, I did not see a campsite along the way so just carried on to Humber Bridge. It was also the first day that I saw some hills − nice easy green rolling hills.
I'm so stupid that the first time there was no cycle sign I took the wrong turn and a very nice man actually came driving after me to tell me I'm on the wrong road. So even if the locals pretend they don't see you, they do!
Today was also the first day that I actually saw other cyclists at the campsite.
16 May - Humber Bridge to Hornsea - 30km
What an impressive bridge! I cycled across the bridge and looking down really gives you vertigo. Had a coffee and muffin at the bridge and then carried on to Hull. What a frustrating day; I am now at the end of the cycling map I picked up a few days ago, and need to find a new one. Finding a good cycling map is far more complex than I ever imagined. In desperation I just got on the bike and cycled all the way to Hornsea, where there is not a hell of a lot. Found a campsite just outside of Hornsea and was stuck in the tent for the rest of the day (raining again) I am really frustrated.
17 May- Beverley to Malton - 70km
As frustrating as yesterday was, as good a day I had today. I managed to find a very good map with easy directions, in fact the day was so good that I even managed to find a B & B at a reasonable price. I met some very friendly people in a pub (people always seem to think I’m from Australia). The strange thing was that I could not understand a word they said, so I left and found a restaurant where I did not have to speak to anyone.
18 May Malton – Boroughbridge - 45km
Only left Malton at midday, as at last I have found an internet café. I can not believe that the cash machine retained my card again!!!! What a drama now to get it back again!!!
19 May Borough Bridge – Leyburn - 35km
This has defiantly been the hardest day to date, into a ferocious wind, the good old South Easter has nothing on this wind, it blew me all over the road and I had to peddle downhill in my small gear!!! So, at the first sign of a campsite I called it a day, which was a good thing in a way, as now I have time to do the dreaded laundry again.
20 May Leyburn to Middleton-in-Teesdale - 45km
What a lovely part of the country this is, there was no sign of wind and even the sun is out. I cycled past Richmond with a magnificent castle so I just had to stop and look around. Next up was Bernard’s Castle and from there on to Teesdale.
Found a campsite with very friendly caretakers, they even brought me coffee while I was pitching the tent. How is that for service!!
21 May Middleton-in-Teesdale – Chollerford - 41km
At last I have reached Hadrian’s Wall!!! What a tough day it was, it was again very hilly with up to 20% gradients, but a beautiful sunny day, I think the first sunny day I had since I started. I am really going very slow as I have to push the bike up the hills. The route seems to climb out of the villages just to drop down into another one. A local cyclist directed me to a campsite and there were various hikers at the campsite, all walking the Hadrian’s Wall Route.
22 May Chollerford – Bellingham - 25km
Not a very long ride today, but defiantly the best weather so far. I will now have to decide to either go West or East, I’m heading for Glasgow to go visit Esther, so West will be the obvious route, but going East to the coast will also be nice.
To my utmost surprise, Eddie tracked me down again!! He came up in his car all the way from Chelmsford. What a nice surprise.
23 May Bellingham – North Berwick BY CAR
Well, well we put the bike on the car's roof and off we drove in luxury, what a pleasure. We past numerous castles and popped into a few, all equally magnificent. We finally crossed into Scotland and what a magnificent coast line it is. We finally called it a day at North Berwick where we found a B & B (Oh I am really living the high live now).
24 May North Berwick – Glasgow BY CAR
We left the lovely town of North Berwick and drove all the way to Glasgow, to Esther’s place where Eddie dropped me and drove all the way back to Chelmsford. It was really great to see Esher again, and she sends her love to all in Cape Town, (still as mad as a hatter, and needless to say she still talks non stop.) We went out to the local pub and had a good few beers and a bit to eat.
26 May - Getting ready
We decided to do the West Highland Way, and with Esther having 3 of everything, it was easy to borrow a backpack and all the necessary hiking gear from her. So we packed our bags with tents, sleeping bags, food, stove, pots and odds ready for the long walk.
The West Highland Way - 95 miles (153.8km) – is Scotland’s first long distance footpath and passes through some of Scotland’s most beautiful and dramatic scenery.
27 May - Milngavie to Drymen - 12 Miles (19km)
So off we went on the West Highland Way. Caught the train at 09.20 to Milngavie, which is just a short distance from where Esther lives (about 4 stops). Half the train got off at Milngavie, all doing the West Highland Way. I did not expect to see so many people on the hike; I also did not expect to see them only carrying small day packs. Most people make use of Travel-lite to transport their packs.
The 12 mile walk from Milngavie to Drymen is really well marked, the route is fairly easy and flat and the path wide, so there is no chance of getting lost. The first section of the route we walked through beautiful deciduous woodlands with lots of streams. The route past by many villages so halfway we popped in for lunch and a beer.
We camped on a farm about 1 mile (1.6km) before Drymen, the farm offers a cooking shelter which came in very handy as it started raining just as we arrived.
28 May - Drymen to Rowardennan 14 miles (22.5km)
We left Drymen, a pleasant walk though the woods, the path soon reached Conic Hill, our first taste of the Scottish Highlands. Reaching Balmaha we, once again, stopped for lunch and a beer. From Balmaha we walked along the shores of Loch Lomand. The views across the loch and towards the mountains are fantastic. We walked past Ben Lomand and through ancient oak woodlands, the views are really spectacular.
On arrival at Rowardennan we found only a hotel, youth hostel and wild camping. Esther opted for the Youth Hostel and we found it to be very comfortable and warm.
29 May - Rowardennan to Invernarnan - 14 miles (22.5km)
On leaving the Youth Hostel Esther was struggling getting her backpack on (anyone who knows her, will know that she has the whole world and the kitchen sink in there). The man from the Youth Hostel looked at her in amazement, and asked if she knew there is a transport service. So we decided to send the backpacks with the van. By now we were well known as the people with the large backpacks, so the other walkers looked at us in disbelieve as we came strolling past, swinging our little plastic bags containing the days provisions.
Once again the path followed the shores of Loch Lomond and passed through more natural oak woodlands. We even spotted some wildlife, being the wild goats in the area. The area here is much associated with Rob Roy MacGregor, there are many stories about Rob Roy and I am not quite sure, if they are all true.
The path was much more hilly than the previous days and what a good thing we were not carrying those heavy packs. We camped at Benglas Farm which also had a great bar/restaurant and cooking shelter, which helps a lot in the rainy weather. We took a walk across the river to a bar which is apparently more than 300 years old, and what a nice atmosphere it had. We had an excellent night of singing (and drinking red wine) with the other walkers, to such an extent that I left my wallet in the pub. Disaster again.
30 May - Inverarnan to Tyndrum - 13 miles (20.9km)
First thing in the morning it is back to the pub looking for the wallet and to my relief it was still there!!! By now everyone knows the South African has lost her wallet (how embarrassing). With wallet in hand we set off to our next destination. The route follows the River Falloch and posses spectacular gorges full of waterfalls and rapids. We soon reached the old military road built towards the end of the 18th century, the path follows the road (by now mostly just a narrow track) for most of the way. The hills all have a blue/purple colour as they are covered in blue bells.
We walked past an area known as “the king’s field” where legend has it that in 1306 Robert the Bruce (From Brave Heart) suffered defeat by the MacDougalls.
By now the dreaded midges had come out (smaller than a muggie but more ferocious than a mosquito), these biting insects are just everywhere and as Esther walks in short sleeves she is now covered in lumps and pumps, they get in everywhere, in your hair, ears and even up you nose.
At Tyndrum we camped at “By the Way” and took a short walk into the village, well known for its Green Wellies Shop”. Here one can find almost everything, from hiking gear to food. So Esther and myself picked up two very small backpacks, as walking with a plastic bag is not all that becoming.
31 May - Tyndrum – Kingshouse - 20 Miles (32.1km)
We did a longer walk today as Ronnie, a local guy, told us to rather do this, as the other sections are very hilly, and you never argue with a local. Although it was a long walk it was fairly flat.
We walked through forestry plantations, which is a bit muddy in places, and now I understand why wearing hiking boots is better than running shoes. The route crosses Rannoch Moor with spectacular views of various Munros (mountains over 3000ft) and lochs in the distance.
On descending into Kingshouse, one can see the magnificent mountains of Glen Coe and Glen Etive where I am sure there must be excellent skiing in winter and some fantastic rock climbing areas.
We camped at Kingshouse which only offers wild camping with no facilities, so no better thing to do but sit in the pub until bed time.
1 June - Kingshouse – Kinlochleven - 8 Miles (12.6km)
A nice short walk today. We are now in an area with some of the most impressive peaks in Scotland and it makes you wish you were a rock climber. So we go over what is known as the Devil’s Staircase, still on the old military road, and reach the highest part of the walk. It’s the first day the sun is out and the views are truly magnificent.
We reach Kinlochleven early and camped at McDonald, which is on the loch side. The village is picture perfect with a large ice climbing centre.
2 June - Kinlochleven – Fort William - 13 Miles (20.9km)
The way climbed steeply out off Kinlochleven through woodlands and joined the old military road again. Esther even brought a beer as refreshment, which we had at an old ruin along the way. The other walkers must think we are total hooligans by now, as we constantly canning ourselves laughing at absolutely nothing, they must think that we are pissed all the time.
On arrival at Ford William we did not, unlike most others, go straight to the camp site, but first wandered about town in search of a pizza and a beer.
3 June - Ben Nevis - 12 Miles (19.3km)
We put off getting up until about 09h30 as it is raining and very, very wet outside, but how long can one be cooped up in a small tent? So in the end there is nothing more to do than put the wet weather gear on and head up the mountain. The starting point is at The Visitors Centre which was conficulously quite and we did not see many hikers along the route as the mist is very heavy and a constant drizzle made it a bit unpleasant.
The path up the mountain is a gentle climb and not very steep, I was surprised at how quickly the landscape changed from green rolling grass to a very rocky landscape. I could not believe my eyes when we reached the top and found a large snowfield!! How impressive.
The walk up and back took about 7 hours and needless to say we went straight into the pub for a beer and some food. Mission accomplished!!