Woke up to the strongest howling wind we've experienced in the entire 8 months we've been away. Remarkably it was sunny, but still very cold, and we put almost all of our clothes on when we finally rode away from our free campsite and the curious cows that had gathered to see us leave.
In the UK, and so far other cyclists we've met here agree, the roads are generally narrow and poorly surfaced, and don't usually provide much room for cyclists. Additionally there are lots of cars, far more than you would see over a weekend in the Mt Dandenongs and often challenging or inadeqaute signage, causing me to decide that if I were asked about riding in the UK I wouldn't recommend it, particularly when France, the perfect cycling country (and holiday destination) is so close.
We started the day with a detour to the Aira Force waterfalls in Ullswater, a popular part of the Lake District in the county of Cumbria. We read on a sign in the carpark (packed with cars) that the stream that forms the falls is called the Aira Beck, but could find no other real information, like were we had to go to find the falls, other than something about taking a turn through a glade, or something...
So, we followed some other people, who were following some other people, who were probably following some other people, and ended up hiking to a point well above the falls. From here we found our way down. Now that we could see where they were it was quite easy actually. From here we could see the water cascading down from under the bridge at the top and making a spectacular twenty meter drop into the stream below.
Around mid day we got to the Kirkstone Pass, the highest pass in the Lakes District with a gradient in sections of 20%, but were, according to wikipedia the gradient apparently becomes as steep as one in four, or 25% at one section. Setting off for the final two kilometers through the roaring wind we wished each other luck, deciding to meet at the top of the pass.
Much to our (my) amazement, we both rode the entire way up without stopping. When I got to the top, legs pumped with blood, wobbling like jelly, sweaty and exhausted, I jumped the old stone wall to fill my bottle in the mountain stream (with what turned out to be the cleanest water I've seen in weeks), jumped back over and there she was, smiling breathlessly with satisfaction at the accomplishment.
Gulping down the freezing pure water we looked down around us at the lakes and beautiful countryside, and pausing I thought to myself, 'maybe England has some good roads after all.'
The Lakes District
Our sleeping bags had been infested with bugs... at least that was the theory... at nights we've been feeling itchy and Sam woke with a funny bite on his foot... so we spent a few hours washing the sleeping bags and putting them through two cycles in the dryer. It meant we had a late start to the day but hopefully it was worth it.
On the road at Gretna Green we spent some time chatting to two English guys from London who are cycle touring this weekend. Both interesting and friendly guys; it was nice to stop and talk about cycling adventures. We also saw the old blacksmiths shop where English runaways have been getting married Las Vegas style without need of witnesses since the 1800s... I'd read about people eloping to Scotland so it was interesting to see how close to the border of England this place was.
Back in England, and despite some morning rain the sun is shining again. We go through Carlisle and then continue down to Penrith, where we buy some Indian for dinner and eat on a bench in a church graveyard, cold wind blowing furiously... on our way out of town we see the ruins of an old castle on the hill.
We make a turn and head into the Lakes District. It's evening and the sun is low... we can see the well known craggy hills in the distance and our first lake below us. In the cool evening, the wind behind us, we fly down and up the hills, past the lake and past sheep and cows. There are fences along the road restricting access to perfect free-camping sites, every bit of land seems to have been fenced and sold to farmers in this National Park. We stop at a real camp site but it's full.
We keep riding, both tired and cold and eager to stop, but where? Finally I see a little embankment in some trees. We push our bikes up and find a great spot - our view of the lake that we'd hoped for obscured, but well hidden and quiet, Sam shoo's away the cows and we prepare to sleep.
Swimming in Scotland - part 2
Distance - 127km
Near Peebles- to Ecclefechan via Moffat and Loch (lake) St Mary
Apparently we rode 127km yesterday. I guessed 110km, and Shanna guessed 90, but google maps assures us it was 127. So we'll take it!
Anyway, today we really did swim in Scotland, in a Loch, and it was bloody cold. As expected Shanny freaked out and yelled at me while I was laughing. It was all well worth it though, the loch turned out to be a massive inland lake with slippery cold rocks on the bottom and apparently a gigantic man eating Loch Ness Monster that can be seen on full moon... But trust me kids, he's a friendly fella this one, he doesn't eat young boys or girls, just grumpy old fiery haired Scotts with big bellies!
As you can see from some of the photos there was a fair bit of sun today, but I can tell you that it was still really cold, particularly when the sun was hidden by cloud.
For lunch we stopped at a small cafe beside the loch, where we sat by the bay windows and enjoyed a burger with chips and a panini with brie, chicken, cranberry and salad- good choice Shanny. If you haven't tried the 'bird and brie' burger at 'Grilled' in Australia then get out there tonight and give it a shot- we believe it's one of the best burgers you can get anywhere!
In the evening we cycled into Moffat, and availed ourselves of some free wifi at one of the many Pubs.
While I was ordering some food, a baked potato with sweet corn, brie, butter, beef, red onions and capsicums, carrot and green stuff, I was mocked by a couple of the local Scottish 'lads' for my accent. I didn't understand the first one, the accent was a bit too strong for everyone to grasp I think, but the second laughed in reply saying;
'thinks ee's fom' Osford dis one ay.'
Quick as I could I snapped back, 'she'll be right mate, that's what ya get when ya from the Land Down Under, bloody crocs everywhere ya look.'
And laughing at my own joke I walked back to our table.
By 8:30pm we finally cycled through Ecclefechan, the proud home of Thomas Carlyle, the Scottish writer and historian, and saw his famous resting place. Here we witnessed a few guys feeding beer to young kids who were flipping the bird to unsuspecting motorists as they drove by outside the town meeting centre (the pub).
From here, with a fresh perspective we pushed into the caravan park on the other side of the little town (not the expensive one 2 miles away near the Castle).
It cost only 8 quid, and we enjoyed a spot all by ourselves in the middle of a huge grassy park. Setting up the tent we were treated to a spectacular light show as the sun set over the Scottish countryside.
Looking out over Ecclefechan I imagine I can see what drew Thomas Carlyle to this small town, its beautiful small streets and buildings, and the gorgeous countryside that surrounds them, and I'm going to hazard a guess that it didn't have much to do with the wanka's outside the pub.
It was a day of planning... we need to have these days every now and then. Planning timeframes, dates, ferries and planes for the next leg of our journey.
We found free wifi at the Peebles library but got in trouble for plugging in the laptop into a power point... we inspected the entries in the 'postcard for Peebles' competition but the winner wasn't that good, there were many better entries... we checked out the museum and local gallery, and we ate a hearty meal at an English pub.
The sun shone most of the day and it was enjoyable to stroll the main street of the beautiful town or simply sit in the sun.
Late in the day we rode out of Peebles, and turned into a national park not far down the road. We rode up some mountain bike paths for maybe a mile (you cant use kilometers here) until we found somewhere discreet to camp in between a creek and a pond.
The final squeals of amateur mountain bikers died with the sunlight, and we easily fell into a restful sleep, tucked snuggly into our sleeping bags.
Distance- Hilly 45kms
We left what could be the most expensive campsite in the world this morning- at 20 pounds it cost the same amount as a fancy hotel in Bangkok!
I'd like to say bright and early but it wasn't, we were both tired and our stuff was wet, so we took out time waiting for it to dry, before packing and vowing never again to stay at a caravan park that cost more than $20 australian dollars.
Before I forget I want to use this space for a plug- if you get the time have a look at Jesse's (the guy who invited us to stay at his house in Newcastle England) website www.livingexposed.com.
It's fantastic- hopefully one day he might get the chance to create a similar program in Australia, which would be great for some aspiring photog's (there are far to many wannabes on facebook...) to get some proper advice and training.
If you like photography, and especially if you're based in the UK check it out.
While I'm looking around at an intersection, trying to figure our where to go, I hear Shanna yell out hysterically, 'my derailleurs at a sickening angle, I think its broken!'
'Hang on,' I say, 'I'll have a look.'
It's the front derailleur, and it looks broken. 'Damn,' I say to myself, there's no bike shops for miles. Amazed that it has bent so badly and wondering how this has happened I pull out some tools to see if it's fixable.
An hour later and we're on the road again- everything seems fine, touch wood. And a few hours after this at around 6pm we see a camp site in the quaint historic Scottish town of Peebles that lies upon the River Tweed.
From here in Peebles you can see the Neidpath castle, originally built around 1250ish. Its changed hands a few times since, and at one time Mary Queen of Scots even stayed here, and it's still a fascinating relic of ancient Scottish stone. But the oldest building here is the tower of St Andrews church. Built in 1195, the church surrounding the tower was destroyed in attacks soon after its construction but the tower remains.
During the night the temperature reaches a low of about 1 or 2 degrees. If this is Summer in Scotland Winter must be a challenge. You've gotta give some credit to the Scots, they're a hardy lot.
Fringe festival in Edinburgh
It was a cold night and the morning was no better. We layered our clothing on -thermal jumpers under our jackets, thermal tights I'd been carrying for seven months and never worn, gloves... but it was still cold.
We caught the bus to the city not really sure where we were going or what to expect... We got off the bus when everyone else did, and happily found ourselves in the middle of the action, looking at the castle on the hill.
But before exploring, we need to eat! So we found a cafe where it claimed we could have breakfast "The Italian Way"... we weren't really interested in having strong coffee and a piece of bread, so luckily having breakfast the Italian way actually meant eating a big English breakfast. Phew.
Nourished, we headed back into the bitter cold and started walking around the Princes Street gardens looking at the sculptures and different angles of the castle. When the rain turned from a mist to a down pour we took refuge in St Johns church until it grew lighter again.
Walking up the hill to the castle we saw a man walking in our direction who looked like Billy Connelly... as he got closer we realised it was him. With his head down, trying to blend in... We fought the temptation to heckle with ING slogans...
The streets were full of action. We stopped to watch a couple of street performers and realised we'd walked into the middle of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. There were people posed as statues, magicians, dancers, ci singers... we enjoyed the free entertainment but on our currently VERY limited budget didn't enjoy the guilt trips at the end of the show demanding large sums of money. We tipped when we really enjoyed the performance, but not for those who weren't enjoyable.
We went to a 'free' comedy showcase with six fairly unknown performers. A couple of them were quite funny, but one in particular, a self-described thin red-headed guy, was completely not funny, but openly blamed the audience for not laughing... calling us racist against him and 'ordinary'... I felt sorry for the other comedians in the set because this guy left us all feeling negative and not very willing to open our wallets...
Our next attempt at a free comedy showcase was much more successful. It was hosted by a really funny Aussie and the performers were all good. They were trying to drum up support for their paying shows in the evening, and if we'd had any money we definitely would have gone to at least one... but with six pounds left, just enough to buy subway for dinner, we called it a day.
We'd had a great time in a beautiful city, and we felt lucky to have stumbled into the city's biggest festival of the year.
Swimming in Scotland
Rain pouring down I'm sitting here, in a place that used to be Scotland wondering what to do.
Do we start riding in the rain or stay put were we are, in England, warm and comfortable, enjoying the view of winter from our table.
Two hours later we turn and look at each other at the English/Scottish border, a funnily excited feeling, wondering if we made the right decision.
Filling the air with the mist of heavy breathing, rain splashing against our faces, the spray from trucks and cars covering us in a haze.
My face and legs are cold, actually they're freezing, but I'm sweating profusely under this jacket. Taking it off is not an option though, it's to damn cold, and it's been raining all day.
On the few occasions the weather breaks we glimpse gently rolling hills cascading down to the ocean amidst a darkening sky and massive sea gulls, wings spread wide, circling like birds of prey.
Scotland is a beautiful place, but I think someone forgot to tell them it's still meant to be Summer...
Just as the evening light is beginning to finally fade we cycle into Musselburgh, a coastal town just outside Edinburgh. It's still raining, and we haven't seen anywhere to camp for at least 30 kilometers, so I stop and ask a crazy looking red headed Scott walking his two Rott Weillers if he knows anywhere we can camp around here.
'Overrr therrrre,' he replies nonchalantly, as if it's not even raining.
'Where,' we ask, confused.
'Oveeerrrr thhherrrrrre, in the sand dunnnes' he says back in a thick Scottish drawl.
'OK thanks,' we say, unable to see anything, or any dunes, and keep riding.
Now its dark, & wondering what to do suddenly Shanna spots a camping sign, we turn and head up a dark alley, hoping the place exists when we come upon another hill.
'400 yards' the sign says, as we race up the hill through the rain, knowing, hoping, because this is the last bit of energy we have left in us today.
Reception is closed, we wheel our bikes through the gates and in the dark fumble around, searching for a campsite. But it seems that every spot is taken, mild panic (can that work) sets in before we discover another section behind a massive crumbling wall.
We set up our tent, in the rain, tired, relieved and greatful for somewhere to sleep.
'Houses are underrated,' I say, as the rain makes a 'pitter patter, pitter patter' noise, splashing down on the tent.
Castles by the sea
We were woken by the sound of voices, getting louder and closer. We saw flashlights... and hoped they wouldn't see us.
The group arrived on the grass clearing near our campsite and the men started running at each other while the women laughed. I heard a female voice, "They're camping down here..."
The tent was shaken and the drunk/stoned group exchanged some heated words with Sam, until one of the guys apologised and they moved on... but it was hard to fall back asleep... would they return??
After another couple of hours the first of the dog walkers arrived with the light of dawn. Two dogs were sniffing our tent curiously and an owner looking on even more curiously. It was time to move on.
We packed up as fast as we could, but it had rained on-and-off all night so things were a bit wet... Once the sun came out though it shone, cold and bright.
As we sat on a bench in the next town drinking some juice a rider came up to us. He'd been on the same ferry as us, and chatted to us in a supermarket in the evening before, and now we ran into him again. What a small world!
In the town of Morpeth we were not so surprised to see him again. He introduced us to a friend of his, Raymond, who was 78 (almost) and still riding hard. What a character he was! He told us about his bicycle travels around the world more than 50 years ago, and stories from his life. We spent a good hour chatting to them in the warm sun before following their advice and heading back to the coast for our journey north.
We rode past castles and beautiful small coastal towns. At one point we stopped to take some photos of Alnmouth and a lady who was out running offered to take a photo of both of us. At the same time our phone rang and it was our friend Steve - our first phone call for months! We spent an hour and a half alternatively talking to Steve and this friendly couple from Newcastle.
We realised it was going to be hard to get anywhere in England, because all the people are so friendly and want to have a chat.
We had a late picnic lunch on a hill in Alnwick... next to a large column given to a duke by his tenants... and were surprised to find ourselves working on our tans for the first time in over a month - in England! And close to Scotland at that...
It was an idyllic day of sunshine and friends... and even ended with a hot shower in a campsite!
Last night we had dinner with Jessie and Susie, it was vegetarian, but you'd never have known. Spag bol with a vetetable/soy substiitute for mince, funny thing though, it tasted and looked exactly like mince, even more so than some of the real mince we've been subjected to since we left Australia.
Anyway, it was a good night, thanks for that one guys!
The next morning we got up late, and stumbled downstairs for breakfast. Three hours later we finally left Jess and Susie's massive house in Tynemouth, said goodbye to the Rangie, and sadly parted from our fully awesome new friends.
It felt great to be on the road again, clean freshly washed clothes and bikes we headed off in anticipation, expecting to find a beautiful English countryside full castles and ancient buildings.
With dusk arriving we found a good looking (and free) campsite, so hoping for a good sleep and an early night we eagerly began setting up the tent.
But, early in the morning disaster struck, we'd been ambushed...
Distance: 28km riding
In the morning thousands of people gathered on the shores of Ijmuiden to farewell us from The Netherlands.
They even organised a parade of boats through the harbour, music blaring, people dancing... it was quite the nautical celebration. We wondered if it all spontaneously erupted simply because the sun came out...
We enjoyed the party and headed off to the terminal of our departure. It was exciting to be going to Newcastle, and to be staying overnight in a cabin! Almost a hotel... with beds... and hot showers...
The voyage across the north sea was quite rough, it was sometimes difficult to walk through the ship. And the pile of courtesy seasick bags on the table indicated this was normal.
We arrived in Newcastle to 17 degrees, winds and a forecast of heavy rain... But I felt so excited to be there! I wanted to talk to all the border workers as we made our way to the passport check, just because they spoke English...
But getting into England was more difficult than expected. They wanted to know where we were staying that night, what was our route through England, when were we leaving... turns out many Australians overstay their visas and they wanted to check me out... especially since Sam has a UK passport so technically he can stay... It was harder than entering China!
Once I got the stamp and we were in the country we rode to the suburb of North Shields, where we found a fantastic bike shop. We spent a couple of hours looking at all the things we needed (and didn't need) and chatting to the store workers. One of the mechanics, Jesse from Arizona, invited us to stay with him and wis wife for the night. We gratefully accepted and spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the seaside of Newcastle.
I felt quite nostalgic being in the place my hometown was named after. Suburbs like Wallsend and Gateshead.. signs pointing to Morpeth. And it looked like Newcastle, the working harbour, beaches... I loved it! As we waited for Jesse to finish work and take us back to his home, we sat on a bench watching the surfers, joggers and energetic dogs... we could have been sitting on the beach on the other side of the world.
But we weren't. We were in England. And it felt good.
Sam and Shanna Evans are from Melbourne, Australia