Scotland

Matt and I recently went on holiday to Scotland.

On Saturday, we got up super early and were at Brixton for the first tube up to Euston. We’d booked first class for the journey up to Glasgow, as it was only £2 more each – well worth it, considering you get much more space, wifi, tea/coffee and snacks. We both did some sleeping, reading and knitting (okay, just me), and ate our breakfast panettone. Just after 11 we pulled into Glasgow Central, ready for our adventure.

We went to a nice quirky little cafe and the first soup of the holiday. Then we picked up our car and hit the road!

We’d planned to take the ferry from Oban over to Mull, but when I’d tried to book the ferry the day before I’d discovered it was fully booked! Instead we had to drive to Lochaline, about 100 miles further, and take the ferry from there. It was a long old drive and quite stressful as we had to be at Lochaline for 17.15, and had another ferry to catch before then. It was a relief to get a cup of tea at Lochaline and drink it in the queue, Mull finally in sight. From there it was still a long drive across Mull to Fionnphort, in the west, and I was exhausted.  

In Fionnphort we had dinner at the pub before going to the campsite. The campsite was on a farm and next to the sea. We pitched in a little hollow (to the disappointment of the people camping about 25m away, who wanted the whole place to themselves) and settled in for the night.

The next morning was glorious. We thought we might get up early to take the boat to Staffa, but when my alarm went off early, I turned it off and went back to sleep. We finally emerged into beautiful sunshine – what a day!

At Fionnphort there were lots of tourists waiting to take the boat to Staffa, some of whom had arrived by coach. I was glad we were taking the less touristy ferry to Iona! I had a great vibe as soon as we stepped off the ferry – the sunshine helped and it was such a pretty place. We looked at the old nunnery, then wandered up the monastery and visited the oldest building still standing on Iona.

After some soup in the sunshine we set off on a walk across the island, ending up at a beach on the west of the island. With nothing but sea stretching off into the distance, we scanned the horizon for whales.

Waiting for the ferry, we enjoyed a cup of tea while a giant seagull tried to stake its territory.

We ate at the pub in Fionnphort again, and I ran back to the campsite afterwards. It was a good run, despite a few drivers trying to push me off the road. Matt was waiting in the car when I got back, but I didn’t spot him and went directly to the tent, leaving us both wondering where the other was.

The next morning Matt woke up and put his shoe on – to find a frog hiding inside! He was NOT impressed but I found it hilarious.

I also found it hilarious that the people in the tent near us who hadn’t wanted us to camp so close to them now had to deal with rap music from the tent on the other side. Ha.

We packed up and set off across Mull, stopping at Loch Frisa to look for sea eagles, as well as briefly stopping whenever a flock of sheep decided to wander in the road.

After Loch Frisa, it was a short drive to Tobermory, a ridiculously pretty little town (and setting for the kids TV show Balamory). We ate soup at a jetty side cafe and admired the brightly coloured houses.

We were staying in a B&B rather than camping, and were excited to sleep in a bed and have an ensuite shower! Matt was so excited that he had a two hour nap, while I went for a little run around the (extremely hilly) town. We went out for dinner at a restaurant by the distillery, and Matt ate a lot of mussels and sampled the local whisky.

We had a ferry to catch at 9.30, which felt like it would be a rush, but we managed to fit in a run (just me), showers, cooked breakfast and a trip to the Co-Op before boarding the ferry. I couldn’t get into the car once it was on board as it was surrounded by bikes, so I stood on the decking and pulled faces at Matt, who ate biscuits quite happily in the car.

Back on the mainland we got stuck behind some cyclists wobbling all over the road. They were really struggling not long after leaving the ferry. One guy was gunning it and we didn’t pass him for quite some time. I was extremely jealous of everyone cycling!!

We got stuck behind a few selfish drivers – the roads were single track with passing places and it’s safer to let faster cars past, rather than causing a snake of cars, as it’s impossible to use the passing places properly as too many cars try to fit in them at once. Some drivers did not get this, even when we started using indicators to try to force them to pull in.

At Mallaig we took the ferry over to Skye, a big ferry this time, where we had to leave the car and go up onto the deck. It smelled of old chips. We were tired by the time we got to Skye and I kept my eyes peeled for somewhere to get some soup and a cup of tea.

We stopped at a nice looking cafe but they’d sold out of soup, so we got back in the car. Immediately we saw another sign for a cafe, so pulled in there – and what a great decision. The Bread Shed is an offshoot of the Isle of Skye Baking Company, and we had delicious soup with two types of bread.

Refreshed, we drove to our campsite at Sligachan. The campsite was at the head of a loch, on what seemed to be a bog. We pitched our tent facing a mountain – a mountain I then found out people had run up and then down in under an hour.

The next day was rainy and grey, and we set off for the Fairy Pools. We needed a cup of tea first and saw a sign to the Wee Tea Room, so decided to follow it. We drove on and on. Just as we were about to turn back, there was another sign, so we carried on. And on. And as we were about to give up, there it was – and we had the best scones of our lives.

After popping into Carbost, we went to the Fairy Pools. It was chucking it down on the drive but luckily by the time we ventured out of the car it had cleared a little. The pools were busy but very pretty. No one was swimming.

Afterwards we went to Portree for a cup of tea, and ended up at the Isle of Skye Baking Co again for more soup and bread. The evening was spent at the pub in the Sligachan Hotel.

That night, we settled into bed. At around 11.30, two cars arrived and a bunch of lads of got out and pitched up. They were incredibly loud, slamming the car doors repeatedly, shouting, having a barbeque inside one of the tents. At around 1 I got up to go to the loo and shone my torch directly at them, thinking they might realise how close they were to other tents, but they didn’t notice. I didn’t really want to go over as there were around 8 of them, all pretty drunk by now. They didn’t seem to have any spacial awareness – none of the group were trying to keep the noise down (as far as I could tell, as they weren’t speaking English). It went on until 3.30am when finally, FINALLY, they went to sleep. I was fuming.

The next morning I felt broken, I’d had so little sleep and I was so cross with those boys. I opened and slammed the car boot several times and loudly called them pricks, but they were snoring their heads off.

Matt and I set off for a walk, heading to Marsco, one of the mountains in the Red Cuillins. Matt had wanted to tackle one of the Black Cuillins but the weather looked too changeable for that. We walked down the Sligachan glen, and were shocked out of our skins when a fighter jet passed on our right, darting out from between the Black Cuillins range. Incredible sight.

We walked away from the glen and up towards Marsco, along a boggy path up the side of a burn. It wasn’t particularly enjoyable and I was so tired. Marsco never seemed to get any closer, and after a couple of hours I decided I didn’t want to go on any further. The summit was still some way away and our guide book warned that the summit wasn’t pleasant or easy to walk along. We thought about alternate routes back but in the end retraced our steps back to Sligachan, where we had a cup of tea at the hotel and went back to the tent for a restorative nap – the noisy guys from the night before having thankfully left.

That evening we had a barbeque, which was fun despite us having no proper implements and burning our hands. Halloumi makes everything good! Then Matt looked up and said “uh oh, the lads are back…”

I looked over to the campsite entrance and sure enough, the two cars of guys had pulled in. After a little while, one car drove off while the other started driving slowly around the campsite, clearly looking for somewhere to pitch up for the night. They came towards us and we stood up, ready to guard the ground around us.

As they turned towards the space near us I walked over to them. “No way. No. You’re not camping here. You’re completely outrageous” I said, remembering how noisy they’d been. They asked if we could hear them last night. I told them they’d kept us up all night. Matt pointed out that one of them, sitting in the front, looked wrecked from the night before. He looked sheepish.

They asked why we didn’t tell them to quieten down and I told them that they were intimidating and drunk, and that they shouldn’t camp near any other human beings – or possibly only deaf ones. They took great offence and told me I was rude.

“You can’t just tell us we can’t camp here when you’re so rude! If you asked nicely then we would listen!” one of them said.

“Okay, please do not not camp here” I said.

“Erm… okay…” they said, and drove off, back to the campsite office, where after dithering for a minute they asked for a refund and left the campsite.

I WAS SO HAPPY.

When we spoke to the campsite owner later he seemed annoyed that he hadn’t been able to get involved in an argument the night before but didn’t seem bothered that I’d just kicked people out of his campsite.

That evening we watched the Mountain Rescue helicopter take off and land, went to a gig at the Sligachan Hotel and watched two border collies playing – one with four legs and one with three legs – and then had a lovely quiet night’s sleep.

In the morning we packed up our tent and drove up to Portree, where once again we went to the Isle of Skye Baking Co, before walking up the Old Man of Storr. There was a man flying a drone, which Matt was happy about, and a man with two labrador puppies, which made my day.

We set off back for the mainland, and I told Matt of my plan to run across the Skye bridge. The bridge was built a few years ago and used to have a toll, but so many people refused to pay that it got dropped. Unfortunately there was nowhere to pull in before the bridge and we were on it before we knew, so on the mainland side we stopped at a Co-Op and I got changed into running kit and ran back over to Skye, with Matt following in the car (luckily no heckling when he passed me!). On the other side he picked me up and drove back over the bridge AGAIN (definitely glad there’s no toll) and we had lunch looking over the water to Skye, with some otters keeping an eye on us.

It was a long drive from here, with no fixed destination – we hadn’t booked anywhere to stay, thinking that we might stay in Glencoe. We listened to Radio 2 drivetime and sang/danced along. We stopped for a cup of tea in Glencoe but decided to carry on.

After having our hopes dashed by a sign promising hot tub cabins “available tonight” (they weren’t), we wound up staying in Arrochar, at the top of Loch Long. We’d had our eyes open for B&Bs with a sign proclaiming “vacancies” and one did, so in we went. The host was a retired chap, dog sitting his daughter’s labradoodle for the weekend and enjoying his wife being away with a sneaky mid-afternoon trip to the pub, and he had two rooms available. We chose the one with the loch view, then went to the pub ourselves!

The final morning heralded a great breakfast (including porridge), cooked by our host who asked us how we’d voted in Brexit. We drove down to Glasgow, where we got caught in some traffic and had a terrible time trying to find a petrol station in the city (spoiler alert: Glasgow doesn’t have many petrol stations) in order to return the car with a full tank.

We’d thought we might go and do something cultural in Glasgow before getting the train, but our bags were really heavy, so we went back to Cafe Wander and I had my second bowl of porridge of the day.

The train back was long but passed by quickly thanks to a box of teacakes and the train conductor holding a quiz over the tannoy.

We had friends staying for the weekend who were already at our house when we got back – the perfect end to a holiday, and nice to hang out with some of my favourite people!

If I was to plan the same holiday again I would spend less time in the car (we drove around 650 miles, which was quite tiring (although it only cost £60 in petrol!)); I would encourage Matt to pack his own thermals so he didn’t steal my leggings to sleep in; I would probably spend more time on Mull and in Tobermory; I would go to the Wee Tea Room again; and I would eat even more soup.

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Bank Holiday cycling in Wales

I’ve not been riding my bike much lately, and I’ve missed it. There’s something delightful about zipping through the countryside on a sunny day. It’s the perfect balance of travelling far/fast enough that the scenery changes, but slow enough that you can take it in. I knew it was exactly what I needed, as it’s been a rough few weeks. Work has been incredibly busy and I’ve been getting increasingly stressed, and I still feel the residues of failure after the marathon DNF.

I thought about going to France for the bank holiday but the prospect of ferry timetables and cycling in crappy ports made me more stressed, so I asked around and someone suggested Wales. I’d never been (I know!) and a friend offered to lend me his copy of Lost Lanes Wales, so the decision was made. Not before spraining my ankle AGAIN though.

Bank holiday weekend rolled around and I worked until 1am on Friday night, before spending Saturday in the park and watching the football. However I was up bright and early on Sunday morning to begin my adventure.

Sunday

I always panic about trains so left myself nearly 1.5 hours to cycle 10km to Paddington. I was worried about my carradice rubbing on my rear wheel, which it did the last time I used it, but it must have been packed wrong as it was nowhere near my wheel all weekend, and by the time I got to Paddington I had almost fought the urge to check it at every red light. Paddington itself didn’t relax me, the ticket machine wouldn’t recognise my card and there were no members of staff around to tell me where the bike carriage was, but these problems were almost immediately overcome and before I knew it I was on the 08:07 heading towards Gloucester, eating a homemade flapjack.

It was a little cloudy on the way across the country, but by the time I arrived in Gloucester at about 10 the sun had come out. I set off through a deserted town centre and onto a cycle route by the river, through a nature reserve. The path was a little gravelly in places and there was definitely a bit of boardwalk missing at one point but it was a pleasant route out of town. I saw a couple of runners but otherwise I had the place to myself.
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I passed an equine college and spotted a few nice looking horses, then came to Hartpury Church, which I’d read about as having a bee shelter. I went to check it out, feeling a bit silly clomping through the churchyard in my cycling shoes. At the back of the churchyard was the shelter, a carved sculpture where bees were encouraged to live so that they could pollinate the nearby fields. There were no bees here today, hopefully not because of colony collapse disorder or anything apocalyptic like that.
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I thought I might stop for lunch in Newent but my route went right on by, and so I carried on heading north-west. I was pretty hungry and ran out of energy, getting off my bike a couple of times. It was definitely more of a mental thing as at every hill my mind was defeated well before my legs. I stopped to have a snack on a bench outside a church near Kempley and felt a lot better.
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I crossed over a surprisingly scenic main road, and past what I thought might be a pottery.
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My route went west for a little before turning south at How Caple and along a lovely lane heading towards the River Wye. I stopped to take a picture of the valley and didn’t realise I had three cars behind me – oops.
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There were families out by the river, enjoying the sunshine, and I was tempted to go for a swim, but thought it would probably be extremely cold and not much fun.
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From here it was just a short distance to Ross-on-Wye, where I (finally!) stopped for lunch – a sourdough cheese salad roll and a chocolate crispy cake. In the sunshine. Ah. That felt better!
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Ross-on-Wye had an annoying one way system which meant I did about 50 laps of the town before managing to escape south towards Monmouth. Since Kempley I’d been following a route I’d made up, rather than one recommended anywhere, and was pleasantly surprised at how it wasn’t totally awful. South of Ross-on-Wye wasn’t amazing, but it was still quietish roads. And then… the A40. I don’t mind a dual carriageway, but it wasn’t exactly fun, so when I saw a sign at the next junction to a “hedge maze” I immediately decided that I couldn’t live without seeing the hedge maze and turned off.

The hedge maze was at a butterfly farm, of course, which is something I actually find quite disturbing (I went to one as a child and found the sensation of butterflies landing on me a bit weird) so I had an icecream in the sun instead of looking at the maze or the butterflies. There were loads of kids running around, including one little boy who was being chased by his parent, desperately trying to put a nappy on him. I decided to leave before someone did a poo on the grass.

It was back on the A40 for about 5km, which no one was happy about – I didn’t like it and the drivers didn’t like it either. I passed a sign “Croeso i Gymru” and carried on pedalling down the A40. Not exactly the bucolic welcome to Wales I was hoping for.

Eventually I got to turn off the main road and headed into Monmouth. I rode around for a while and decided it was too early (and sunny) to go to my B&B, so investigated the loud booming voice I could hear all over town. Turns out it was the Monmouth Regatta, and I got down to the river just in time to see the final race.
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Rowers and cyclists appear to wear pretty similar clothes (ie. lycra and garish sunglasses) so I fitted in well, and hung out by the river, watching the rowers be replaced by swans.
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After checking into my B&B, where I was assigned Oliver Cromwell’s old bedroom, I showered and got changed into the dress I’d brought with me (everyone takes dresses cycle touring, right?) while listening to terrible pop music. I went out to explore the town, and wandered through a meadow listening to Fuck Buttons on my ipod.monmouth.png

The owner of the B&B had told me about places to eat in the town, and recommended a Mexican restaurant as serving huge portions. It looked nice and laid back, too, and I had a relaxed evening reading and stuffing myself with chilli and cheese. Then it was back to the B&B, where there was a blues night going on downstairs. I opted for lounging on my bed and was asleep by 11pm.

Monday

I’d said I wanted an early breakfast, saying I’d be down at 7.30 – but didn’t wake up until 7.30! I chucked some clothes on and went downstairs, where I chatted to the lovely owner while eating a (veggie) full english. It’s not what I’d normally eat but I thought it would help fuel me for the day ahead.

I got myself together and got on the road. It was forecast to get warmer so I’d rolled my shorts up so that the tan line would be the same as the day before. Priorities! I had a full change of clothes, which I could have done without but it was nice to not have to put on smelly kit.

Immediately out of Monmouth there were a few hills, but my legs felt a lot happier than the day before. I felt generally in much better spirits than I had the day before, clearly eating proper food is a good thing!

I was cycling parallel to the A40 but a distance from it, but eventually I crossed over and decided that this must be South Wales. There was one very big hill on the agenda for the day and this was immediately after the A40, but I felt a lot more positive and rode up almost all of it, stopping for a quick photo near the top as the views were just so lovely.
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Then I hurtled through some lanes, freaking myself out a bit on the descents. I really hate descending, I have an irrational terror that I can usually keep semi-under control but it will occasionally bubble up into a physical refusal to go on. I went through a farm and round a corner, and faced a 15% descent. And stopped. It was actually kind of difficult to get off my bike as it was so steep but I managed it, sweating coldly and trying/failing to have words with myself.

I could hear voices close by but couldn’t work out where they were coming from. Eventually I managed to get back on my bike and around the corner I saw a car and small sheep transporter in the road. The farmer and his three dogs were rounding up the sheep into the transporter. He was a young guy and we had a brief chat before he had to leg it after one errant sheep who didn’t want to go in the transporter. I was pretty transfixed by the working dogs and the way one corralled the sheep into a field.
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Once the farmer had gone I had a 15% slog up the other side of the little valley, but this turned out be to the final steep hill as after this there were a few km to go before hitting a bigger road into Usk, a further few km on from there.

Usk is pretty small, so small I managed to accidentally cycle through the whole town and miss the high street, and had to do a u-turn outside what I thought was a picturesque castle (but was actually a young offender’s institution). I had lunch in a Sprokwobble’s cafe, enjoying a cup of tea in the sunshine.

Beyond Usk, it got warmer and I headed south, keeping the river to my right before crossing a steep bridge at Newbridge. I stopped to make friends with some cows near the golf course.
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Heading into Caerleon, a village outside Newport, I went past a cemetery and along a lane almost entirely encircled by flowers, before taking a wrong bloody turn and going down an access road for the railway. I turned back and got back onto the right track, a designated cycle way to Newport (how did I miss the signs?!). This was a really lovely route, the path ran alongside the railway and next to the river on a wooden boardwalk. I wish I’d stopped to take pictures as it was so beautiful!

Lots of people were out on bikes and families out walking. A family had left their baby in a pram in the middle of the path but were super polite and apologised to me for getting in their way. Don’t worry about me, I thought! Two young boys cycled past and one wobbled off and into some stinging nettles. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?!” the other asked, in the most Welsh accent imaginable.

The path continued into Newport, kicking me out onto a main road, which was a bit grim but I managed to get back on the cycle path by the new footbridge. There were some signs up detailing the history of Newport and I had a good old read, before heading along the cycle path hugging the water’s edge..
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I have to admit to being a sucker for bridges and other engineering marvels (eg. my longstanding love for the Falkirk Wheel) so I was very excited to see the transporter bridge. There are only two in the UK! From afar it didn’t look that great, but as I got closer I saw the gondola making the crossing, and when I got closer still I heard that the visitor centre was banging out tunes like Gangnam Style and the Macarena. I stripped down to my vest and shorts and sat by the bridge, watching the bridge in action and eating some quasi-healthy sweets.
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From here I got back on the bike, through an industrial estate and onto a long, flat road to Cardiff. It seemed like the kind of road that might be busy mid-week but on a bank holiday it was fairly deserted. There were a lot of horses by the side of the road and I was a little wary of them. I went down Lamby Way, and past the Lamby Industrial Estate, but there were no signs so no photos, alas.

Once in Cardiff I headed for the centre, then saw a sign to Cardiff Bay and followed that. There were so many people out enjoying the sunshine and there was a great vibe. The Welsh Assembly building is very impressive.
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I begrudgingly headed to the station and got some snacks before getting the train back to London, my phone full of snaps ready for instagramming and my soul salved by two days outside in the sunshine.

Planning the #hatsradtour

I was asked how I went about planning the route for my tour, so I thought I’d write up on what I did.

Firstly, I did a lot of staring at google maps while I decided roughly where I wanted to go.

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I toyed with the idea of visiting a friend in Darmstadt, but that made the route quite long.

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Eventually I opened ridewithgps.com and plotted an extremely rough route.

Next I had a think about where I would be staying. Initially I thought I’d do no more than 100km a day but it was often hard to find places to stay in suitable locations! Other than a hostel in Berlin, I stayed at Airbnb places, so I opened up the Airbnb site and had a look at where I should stay.

I had to ride a bit further on the 1st day as I wanted to stay to the right of this map, but could only stay at the place on the left.

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Once I’d booked my accommodation I marked all these on my ridewithgps route and made the necessary adjustments to the route. I then had a think about where I might like to go through on the way, and fiddled about with the route until I had a rough plan for the whole thing, which looked like this:

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I then kind of forgot about things for a while as I had quite a bit on with work!

In the week before I set off, I broke the route down into individual days and tweaked them to include points of interest along the way, and diverting away from main roads wherever possible. This is one day:

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Of course, when it came to it, there was quite a lot of freestyling, especially towards the end of each day as I headed into a town. Every day before I set off I would look at the route and if I knew that a particular place was really nice then I’d head there instead of following my route precisely.  I also took recommendations from people along the way, or followed signs (in the Netherlands in particular). This cycle route through the woods was recommended to me on the way out of Amersfoort and was lovely!

In hindsight, I wish I had spent more time on the route. Most of the time I was on quiet roads or cycle paths but there was the occasional busy road and a few muddy off road bits that I could have done without. With a Garmin (Garmin Edge 800) and OSM maps it’s easy to change route, and the battery life on the Garmin is excellent. I had it on from 9am until 6pm, with a lot of looking at the screen and navigating, and it only started to run low on one day (I had a battery pack with me anyway just in case).

Now if only I could stop looking at maps and thinking where I want to go next!

#hatsradtour: my winter summer holiday

#hatsradtour

I don’t know what gave me the idea, or what possessed me to do it in late autumn, but for my holiday this year I cycled from Berlin to the Hague, timing it so that I began my trip the weekend the clocks changed.

A few people I know have cycled from Berlin to Amsterdam before; I enjoyed cycle touring in the Netherlands last year; I wanted a big adventure… This year I turned 30 and I wanted to do something momentous to mark the occasion – originally I wanted to take the Trans-Siberian railway, but the ongoing conflict in Russia required a rethink.

So I cycled over 500 miles, on my own. And it was brilliant.

High points: the scenery, sweet little towns and interesting cities, endless snacking opportunities, seeing an owl, sunrises, sunsets and the sense of accomplishment.

Low points: the cold, the mist and my garmin misbehaving. And all forms of transport other than my bike.

Days 1 and 2: A day each in Paris and Berlin, with an unexpected fuck up by Deutsche Bahn.

Days 3, 4 and 5: Berlin to Hanover, the mistiest and coldest days. Included a fair bit of cyclocross, some at sunset (do not recommend).

Days 6 and 7: Hanover to the Netherlands. Getting in a fight and disappearing off the map.

Days 8 and 9: Crossing the Netherlands, powered by cheese, stroopwafels and Indonesian food. In the sunshine!

Days 10 and 11: The Hague, where I ran a bit, chilled out and fell down the stairs.

I tweeted the trip and really loved all the responses I got – thanks to everyone who kept me company on my #hatsradtour

#hatsradtour, day 10 and 11: Hague, Hook and home

Monday, Day 10

My navigational skills had been surprisingly good all trip, so of course I went completely the wrong way when I went for a run around the Hague, something I only realised a mile into the run.

I spent the day relaxing at Lola’s Bikes, where I read an entire book in Dutch and became suddenly aware that I had my top on back-to-front, then wandering about quite aimlessly but happily. I didn’t go to any museums in the end, but went to De Paas beerhall and also ate a pancake, before going home for another great evening with my hosts, Menno and Elze. They really made me feel at home and we could have stayed up even later than we did, just chatting.

 

Tuesday, Day 11

I was sad to be leaving the Netherlands and my subconscious made a valiant but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to get me to stay by throwing me down a flight of stairs. I was on my way out for a run and despite the blood dripping from my hand and elbow, and quite a sore back and bum, decided to still go out running. Make the most of the adrenaline, I thought. It wasn’t a great idea as I had to detour into a café to get a napkin for my hand.

I packed up and rode the final miles to the Hook of Holland, stopping off at the beach.

I really wanted to go to the Maeslantkering but my back was getting quite sore so I bailed, but got this shot from the ferry.

View from the ferry

Arriving in Harwich, many many hours later, I was struck by what an almighty dump it is, the train station in particular.

So sad to be home. What a rad tour.

 

#hatsradtour, day 8 and 9: Crossing the Netherlands

Saturday, Day 8

I confided in a friend that I felt a bit alone. “Darling,” she said. “You’ve been on your own for days!” Good point. I decided to cut myself some slack.

With every mile that passed I felt better, and even found the endless level crossings (I wish I’d kept count!) amusing, or at least a good excuse to snack on German Christmas treats. I headed for Deventer, which my LP guide assured me was “the Delft of the east”. I loved Delft when I went and had high hopes, all of which were realised. There was a man playing ‘Gangnam Style’ on the hurdy-gurdy and a sprawling food market in the town square.

My LP guide had also said that Apeldoorn was dull (I later found out it’s where old people go to live), other than the palace, so I followed signs to the palace and ate a sumptuous picnic lunch in the grounds – clearly a popular choice as there were other cyclists and motorcyclists doing the same.

I was mainly ignoring my garmin and following the signs from one place to another, and the most direct route to Amersfoort was a really pleasant cycle path near to, but separate from, the main road. There were a few roadies out and they all overtook me, but then they didn’t have 25kg of panniers to contend with!

I dropped my bike taking a photo of an alpaca, getting this chainring tattoo – the shame!

My hosts in Amersfoort were such a lovely couple – cyclists too, and we discussed cycling and travelling around Europe. They recommended an Indonesian restaurant in town, and I headed off there for dinner, where several older Indonesian ladies fussed about me like mother hens. Walking home I saw a woman on a swing in her living room – people don’t seem to go in for curtains in the Netherlands (a good thing, I think).

Strava: 77  miles

 

Sunday, Day 9

Geertje, my host, had made breakfast, and after I’d eaten I fed the chickens in the garden. They ate from my hand! Geertje and I chatted some more and I really had to tear myself away from her house.

The queen stage! Geertje gave me directions to Utrecht on a really nice route that I wouldn’t have found on my own, through the woods with the smell of pines in my nose.

Can you spot me?

Utrecht had lots of students doing sporty activities and was a really pleasant city until I got near Central Station and I got caught up in the enormous diversions as a result of the epic redevelopment of the area. I finally got out of the city and onto a small road that looked exactly like the fens, unsurprisingly I guess. It was extremely windy, so windy that I felt like I might be blown into a dyke. I had to stop for an emergency stroopwafel for energy.

In Gouda I sat by the water and watched a man row his dog down the canal, contemplating the imminent end to my journey.

The run in to the Hague was alternately alongside a motorway (though still on a much nicer cycle path than you’d find in the UK) and through parkland. I took a wrong turn as I got close to the city centre and had to do a circuit of the only slightly dodgy housing estate I’d seen in the entire Netherlands.

But I arrived, and my hosts and I had Indonesian takeaway and watched trashy films, and all was right with the world!

Strava: 62 miles

Next few days…

#hatsradtour, day 6 and 7: Hanover to the Netherlands

Thursday, Day 6

It took a while to get out of Hanover but once I did I was rewarded with quiet radwegs and a one-on-one encounter with an owl.

It began to get quite hilly and I dragged my overladen bike up the hills.

Let me see your hill face!

I had my only mechanical of the trip: changing gears, my drivechain suddenly stopped. My chain had got stuck underneath one of the bolts holding my pannier rack on! For a moment I thought I’d have to find a bike shop or a garage, but I was able to sort it out quickly and with a minimum of mess, and set off again – phew!

I’d been cycling on the cycle paths when they were there, but sometimes they weren’t convenient: they switched sides of the road with little warning; often the other cyclists were going slowly; the road surface was still superior; and in built up areas they were annoying as it was like riding on the pavement, with paving slabs and curbs. A woman honked her horn at me as she passed me on the road and pointed at the cycle path on the opposite pavement. I pointed at the road in front of me and waved her on. She stopped her car, got out and started shouting at me that I needed to use the cycle path. I told her I wasn’t a child and was perfectly able to cycle on the road. She wasn’t impressed, and I later found out that I was wrong and that you have to use the path where there’s a sign indicating a cycle path. Sorry, angry German lady!

It flattened out as I approached Porta Westfalica, and there was a nice route along the river (my garmin would have preferred me to take the motorway…).

My stop for the evening was a house on the outskirts of a village and I couldn’t for the life of me find the house, nestled at the bottom of a hill. When I eventually got there my host told me that a chap had visited recently on a “very funny recumbent” – the second time this trip I’d been told I was following a man on a recumbent. She had some photos, it looked like a loo roll on wheels.

Strava: 72 miles

 

Friday, Day 7

It was a beautiful morning, misty but sunny. There were horses in the fields and I was in high spirits.

I saw a few signs with what looked like speed limits for tanks, though thankfully no actual tanks. The first part of the day was a little hilly but the countryside became more Dutch, and the radwegs got better too.

Casual goat on a table

I’d decided I wasn’t eating enough fruit and bought some plums, and finished off the punnet. Big mistake! I immediately got a sharp stomach pain and almost convinced myself it was appendicitis. I had to stop to lie down on a bench to try to make it stop hurting. I felt terrible, but there wasn’t far to go, and then I could lie down, very still.

And then I ran out of map. I had 4 maps on my garmin:

  • Europe basemap (utterly pointless map that comes with the GPS)
  • Britain
  • German (recently downloaded and very high quality)
  • The Netherlands (downloaded last year for my tour then)

I was reaching the edge of the Germany map but the Netherlands map wasn’t showing. I was riding into a black void. Of course, it was getting dark and my planned route involved going down a farm track. No!! No more frickin’ farm tracks! I headed down the main road, crossed into the Netherlands (the border wasn’t marked at all) and eventually got the map to show, though the garmin kept bleeping that it was low on batteries.

Enschede on a Friday night made me feel a bit lonely. Everyone was, unsurprisingly, out with their friends. I went to a restaurant and ate cheese fondue, and the two very sweet (and not unattractive) waiters kept checking up on me. Oh god, I realised, this is what it’s like to be an old lady when everyone is nice to you but they’re thinking ‘aww, poor dear, she must be lonely’.

That night I didn’t get a huge amount of sleep as fireworks were being set off and Enschede is where the Netherland’s biggest firework disaster took place.

Strava: 84 miles

The next few days…