Month: September 2022

The end of an era

It is surreal to be at the end of our journey through England, Wales, and Scotland as the UK and world mourn and pay tribute to Queen Elizabeth II.

Announcement of Queen Elizabeth II’s death came just 24 hours after we celebrated the end of our bike journey. The end of our trip in the highlands of Scotland is not far from Balmorel, in Aberdeen, Scotland, where the Queen finished her 70 year reign. Her grace, resilience and equanimity during her lifetime of leadership is truly extraordinary.

We finish this trip on a remarkable week: the Queen’s historic reign ending, King Charles III’s reign beginning, and new Prime Minister Liz Truss confirmed by the Queen just a few days ago. Long love the Queen …and long live the King.

Standing in John O’Groats, a tiny village at the tip of Scotland, looking across the pounding North Sea on a day when headwinds gusted to 25mph, we felt enormous humility and gratitude. So many wonderful people. So much rugged beauty. So much history.

We pedaled 1,100 miles, climbed 72,688 feet, and saw just as many sheep.

I guess the Scots have to do something with all that wool…
We are ready to trade in our bikes for ploughs so we can compete in October along the North Sea.
Aye (yes)! Haste Ye back!
Thank you for driving carefully.
But maybe next time we should consider calling?

This trip was full of laughter, massive amounts of calories, more ups than downs (literally), and friendship. But as with every story, there are at least two sides. Barb, Jo, Kathy, and Cindy may have something to say about that.

Haste ye back!

Route 66

On the second day of this journey in the south of England, I stopped for the umpteenth time and stared at the sign posts pointing down winding lanes to names of villages I didn’t recognize. The tiny lanes zigged and zagged between tall hedges. A woman, taking a break on her porch, cigarette in hand, called out in response to my “good morning and we are lost!: “Dear, this isn’t Route 66, you know!” and she was right. We haven’t had a straight road in about 1000 miles—until today! Our penultimate day, we pulled out of Lairg (a town about 50 miles from the north coast), pointed our bikes north on a single lane path, and besides pulling over for the occasional car, truck, and motorcycle and work crew, we enjoyed wide open vistas for nearly 45 miles and didn’t turn again until shortly before we reached our inn, located on the dunes of the North Sea.

Today we travelled through the Heath and bogs of the highlands, and besides sheep, saw very few others.
Some people need everything explained.
This is the same road that trucks pass on!
Happiness is…
Jo wondered if they sold chips in Betty Hill on the North Sea. Her prayers were answered.
Meanwhile, more important thing were happening in the UK. We haven’t met a single person who is happy about the result, or the lack of proportional representation.

One more day pedaling along the north coast to our final destination in John O’Groats. Happiness is seeing this part of the world (and straight roads).

When they go low, we go high. And low. And high. And low. And…

Loch Lomand, 24 miles long, separates the Scottish lowlands from the highlands.
Barb cycling along the Loch Lomond, known by the song “The Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond”, first published in 1841. “O ye’ll tak’ the high road, and I’ll tak’ the low road, and I’ll be in Scotland a’fore ye”. We asked a local if this song is popular. “Oh yea! At every wedding, we gather in a circle and sing this as the bride and groom leave.” He also said that weddings are held on Saturday, “as you may know that the Scots like to drink a wee bit, and we need Sunday to recover, and we nearly recover by Monday. He happens to work at the Ben Nevis distillery, located in the shadow of its namesake mountain. But he assured us he doesn’t drink while on the job!
Swooping along the lochs with peep holes for views, ever changing with the light.
When we are not pushing against it, we are propelled by it! And we are cycling by water everyday. Water and wind are a major source of alternative energy in scotland. We stopped at a huge hydro electric plant in Cruachan. Scotland has enough wind power to cover all its residential electricity needs in half the year! Most of it is from onshore wind. Yes, we know all
about onshore wind. Crossing a bridge between lochs yesterday we could barely stay upright.
The wind whipped up whitecaps.
To celebrate after her successful bridge crossing, Cindy found a use for the wee bottle of Scotch that Buddy and Bully gave her in Glasgow.
This stone is part of a poem created inside a lovely stone wall by a group of school children. They obviously were not allowed to write “scotch soothes,” something Cindy might have suggested.
Windy days do pose hazards for others, too.

Cycling through Scotland is to be surrounded by shades of green and alternating blue, gray, and violet sky. From the lakes (lochs), we biked up into the mountains to a pass with the lovely name, “Rest and be thankful.” We were especially thankful that the highway maintenance crew held traffic so we could safely ride up the pass on the single lane without cars whizzing past.

Cars cueing for the single-lane passage. When bike paths ended, we had no option but to cycle north through the lochs on the A82 with no shoulder. A scary endeavor. We sandwich Cindy’s trike among our bikes for safety and had all our lights flashing. If we could swim the lochs, we would.
From “Rest and be thankful” pass. Ahh.
Heading the wise advice to “rest and be thankful.”
Today I had a glimpse of the highland mountain, Ben Nevis, mostly hidden by the rain clouds.
Our rainy start today in Fort William was fueled by my first taste of black pudding and Haggis and tatties (potato pancakes) plus salmon, tomatoes, eggs, yogurt, fruit….
Guisachan Guesthouse‘s breakfast was made by the amazing Carmen and Phill, the kindest B&B owners in Scotland.
Taking the train up into the highlands seemed very appealing in the rainy weather after consuming a huge breakfast. I stood at a bridge with two blokes, rain dripping off our hoods, all of us keen on watching the train rush by. Then we tightened our rain hoods and waved a cheerio and headed up into the highlands on foot and bike.
The Scottish isles call.

A surprise sunny day in Glasgow earlier this week where a friendly Scotsman took our photo on one of many eclectic bridges crossing the River Clyde. We miss Kathy who is on the mend after an unpleasant fall injured her ribs. As she would likely point out, it also resulted in an early release from the hills of Scotland. She is healing, but of course, not resting, as she is preparing for another bike trip in Nova Scotia taking the high road again! Thank you Michele Obama (was she thinking about The Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond?).

Food, glorious food!*

We entered Scotland on Monday night looking for a proper pub with music. No luck. Music is on Thursday’s in the “wee bonnie tooon” (town) of Moffat. We though we would settle for a green salad after our bread- and chocolate-fueled days. We ordered prawn salads. Here is the recipe: Scoop a “wee bit” of mayo- say two cups per serving -and add a generous fistful of tiny prawns. Coat until you cannot find the prawns. Mound on top of a few pieces of lettuce and decorate with two beet slices. Then take a “wee bit” of mayo – at least two more cups – and stir in some shredded cabbage. If you can see anything that resembles shredded cabbage, add more mayo. Mound onto the “salad” ensuring you leave a tiny green center. Raise your glass of local beer or hard cider with a hearty wish of Ith gu leòir! (Scottish Gaelic for bon appetit!)

Jo and Barb enjoying our Scottish pub dinner. Note that Jo chose half a pig instead of the Mayo special.
Wee is the most used adjective in Scotland. We had a wee climb fueled by our wee bit of mayo. We were greeted by a sign just a wee thirty miles into Scotland!
We are certainly not going hungry.
Jo and I picked up venison and vegetable flaky pies for lunch at the Village Grocers.
The nice ladies at the Village Grocers sent us off with a tray of apple crumble and chocolate cake. How could we say no? (Note to those worries about our cholesterol: do you see that bag of spinach? Our dessert chaser.)

At our Scottish breakfast this week, we asked Kiernan, our teenage waiter to explain an item on the menu new to us. We asked, “What are oat cakes?” Kiernan replied, well… oatcakes are… well…oatcakes.” Cindy queried, “So, are they pancakes”…”No. They are not pancakes.” “So, are they good?” (Conversation was flagging at this point…) Kiernan conceded, “They are not particularly popular.” I ordered them. They were two round discs with the consistency – and taste – of a cardboard bike box. I will not order these again!

We have learned to skip the “full English / full Scottish breakfast.” None of us is keen on haggis (sheep liver, heart, and lungs, stuffed into a sheep stomach), or black pudding (made with animal blood). Here is Cindy at a very posh breakfast in England). Although she is certainly capable, she did not eat all this food. We helped her.
We like to stop at churches. We especially like to stop at churches with bake sales. At the All Hallows’ Church in Mitton, England, we bought a lemon cake, apricot bars, chocolate-ginger-orange florentine cookies, shortbread they call “melties,” sugar cookies, and scones. I better stop there.
The church likely raised half their annual budget by the time we rolled away at 9:30am. The kindly minister, Rev Canon Brian McConkey, told us that there are only 30 parishioners remaining in that great big church. Once people get wind of the bake (and garden) sale, I forecast an increase in membership.
My mother asked me what we pack in our panniers. Cheese. Blocks of cheddar cheese. Lots of cheese. Every day we make piles of sandwiches. Not only do the bake-sale ladies love us, but the cows do, too. We have graduated from mellow cheddar to mature:)
What else goes in our panniers?
Chocolate, Blocks of Cadbury chocolate. Lots of chocolate. In the front handlebar pannier, for easy access, of course.
These lads and lasses descended on their local deli as they poured out of school.
(I suspect they might prefer being called something – anything– besides lads and lasses.)
Some comes in funny bags.
Given the number of crisps (potato chips) we have consumed, I suspect Tyrells will reach out soon to inquire about putting our charming smiles on their bags. Time for a Boomer brand update?
Our happy group with fish and chips (not to be confused with the chips above).
And did I mention bakeries? This one in Strathaven, Scotland, has been owned and run for six generations
by the Taylor family: 200 years makes it Scotland’s oldest bakery. We did our part to keep them going at least another generation!

Cindy stopped to ask these blokes (Buddy and Billy) for directions. She came back with a wee bottle of Glenlevit scotch. They obviously thought she needed a lot more than directions to finish this trip.

Food, glorious food (and drink)! Definitely not gruel.

* Thanks to Lionel Bart, British creator and composer of Oliver!