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Monday, October 18, 2010

B's eye view of our first week in Scotland

Glasgow. We are finally in Scotland. The train pulls into Central Station in the early afternoon. Despite a significant effort, we can't find accommodation. So, around 4:30 we decide to take the well-marked number 7 bike path to Loch Lomond. Some 20 miles away. Several hours pass before the Glasgow suburbs are behind us. Hopefully there will be free camping at the end of the line. By the time we get there, the night is just putting on her panties. "Hostel 300 yards" it says on the side of the road. We decide to go take a look. When we get to the place I can't believe my eyes. It is a majestic monstrosity. A huge castle dating back to gods knows when (Well, I guess the tourist office would know).

The next morning in the lobby, a halfass intellectual twit spouts off about what he claims is Free Masonry symbolism in the castle decorations. He speaks loud enough so everyone can hear him. He looks around to see if anyone is interested. The receptionist pretends to care. The twit is one of those arrogant and overly-confident types. Probably very successful in life but with no other qualities. I love these types of people. It makes great conversation talking about them.

OK, let's go free camping! I feel like a teenager about to get laid. On the way out from Loch Lomond, we meet two local guys that point us the way to a good cycling route. Good thing we bumped into them because the route they suggest is stunning with very light traffic.

This leads us to a nice little spot in the forest where we put up the tent. The midges are bad so we end up eating quickly and dashing in the tent. When the night comes I get a few flashbacks to our first try at wild camping in Quebec. This is when we got a fairly large animal growling outside our tent in the middle of the night. A fairly terrifying experience. I won't go into the details but I end up sleeping like shit despite that there is no dangerous wildlife in Scotland. With the exception of drunks.

In the morning, the woman at an information centre tells us that we can avoid the main road by taking a logging road. It's steep but it offers some nice view points that would have made great camping spots. Too bad it's the morning.

At the top of the hill it's back to the main road where we get a few assholes passing us at 160 km/h. Thoughts of boiling people in sulfuric acid pass through my head... Time to stop for lunch. New strategy. I get my mirror nicely adjusted and pull over every time I see an upcoming vehicle. It's slow but I feel less murderous that way. When we finally get off the main road we pitch the tent, dash in and pass out.

The next morning it's more logging roads. There are too many midges to cook a proper breakfast so we leave with a few cookies in our bellies. It rained all night but now it’s clearing a little bit. There is a lot of logging activity here. You see patches of mossy rain forest next to completely decimated areas. Quite sad. It reminds me of images of clear cutting in British Columbia but on a smaller scale. But the redneck is present with his (never hers) John Deere tearing up his area. We won't be waving hello.

We keep riding and eventually get back onto a paved road. It’s really hilly. Short steep climbs coupled by steep descents. Having eaten barely anything all day we decide that it’s enough and pitch the tent at the first spot we find. But before we do, we stop at a tea shop and order an all day breakfast. Both huge plates are almost inhaled in the span of 5 minutes. We were so protein starved that we’re not even full afterwards.

In the morning we pack up in a deluge. The tent is water logged and weighs 3 times what it should. We set off not too motivated and without eating properly. How can you cook a proper breakfast with a cloud of midges around your head. The idea is to get to Oban. There, we want to catch a ferry to South Uist. On the ferry we meet Tom and Sarah. They're here for a week. The time on the ferry passes quickly as we talk about travelling and cycling. At arrival of the ferry, a young guy waiting to disembark tells me of a wee garden where we can camp. We set up in the pouring rain. The tent is so wet that we have to wipe up the inside before putting in our bedding. Everything smells like a moldy wet suit. However, we smell great. The ferry had showers! It rained all night but in the morning there are blue patches. While packing up we realized that there is a "No Camping" sign. Oh well, who cares.

Time for a rest again. We decide to take a load off for a few days at a youth hostel. It's more like a mountain refuge: rustic and dirty but the setting is nice.

We end up meeting some interesting people. Jokes fly around and everyone is friendly. A bit of an argument breaks out on the topic of fox hunting. A woman named Linda and an older fellow who looks like Patrick Stewart debate the issue. But the Patrick Stewart guy seems to be exaggerating. At one point he puts his hand three feet off the ground and says he seen foxes this big. Later, Linda tells us that foxes really don't get that big.

A few days later, we feel it's time to head out again. Bad choice. We get hit by a nasty rain storm. Head wind and heavy rain. So heavy that our rain gear fails. Water actually got in to the kayaking dry bag containing my sleeping bag. Michele's waterproof Arkell panniers leaked as well. The luck we had with the weather in Iceland and Denmark is asking for reimbursement. I am starting to feel the weight of the bad weather we've been having for the last month. The weight is not only psychological but physical as well. At the next hostel we both end up getting a nasty cold that lasts three days. Mildly comfortable, we do the best to nurse ourselves back to health.

The next leg takes place in North Harris. We get there on a Sunday: the lords day. God didn't play golf on that glorious day, he rested. Neither shall you. That's OK, we don't play golf. Instead we pitch our tent in the cow paddies next to an ancient standing stone. We fall asleep to the distant sound of the pounding waves. In the morning, the feeling is on the knackered end of the scale. An uncontrollable cough came over me which lasted a good portion of the night. The nasty cold is lingering. When we poked our heads outside it's blue sky all around. The night was cold so there are no midges. It's the perfect morning. Finally! I take a walk down the beach before breakfast. The beach is huge and magical. Something about water meeting the earth in such a violent way. Maybe they should come down here on Sundays and let the waves do the talking.

The sun quickly gives way to a nice rolling carpet of clouds. No surprise there. In Tarbert we experience two random acts of kindness whilst looking for camping. Paul, a contractor in charge of repainting the ferry dock, give us a ride to a friend's property where we should be able to find a spot. Unfortunately it's way too boggy and we can't find a place to put our tent. So, we decide to move on. We feel bad about walking away after someone has made the effort to help us. After a few miles we start to get desperate. There is a nice piece of grass inside a four-star establishment. Let's check it out. As we approach the house, the owner, Katie, comes out to meet us. Michele goes straight to the point and asks her if we can camp on her lawn. "No problem" she says. And in the morning she offers us tea and toast. Thank you.

We head to Stornaway with a decent tail wind. There, we decide to stay at a caravan park because we need the services. In the evening, in our comfy sleeping bags, we can hear a garage band playing next door. I can imagine a bunch of kids feeling the euphoria of originality playing the same cord progression that sixty years of teenagers have passed through. At one point it's time for Eye Of The Tiger. But it's cut short. They can't get the past the intro. What comes next are my ear plugs. When I pop them out several hours later I'm hoping that someone is pissing on our tent. No, it's more rain.

Another day is spent at the campsite. I just can't get motivated enough to head out in the rain again. Not today. We end up chilling out with some beers and good food. Next door lives a sheepdog trainer. He's out on the field training one of his dogs. The dog is 5 months old and just starting out. Very cute. The trainer tells me that they start them out on Swedish sheep because they are less aggressive. Apparently, the sheep around here can attack a young dog and end its career. 4000 pounds for a good sheep dog!

At the end of the day the sky is clearing and in the morning we have a beautiful day. Time to pedal out of town on a small road that offers wide open spaces. The traffic is light, the sun is shining and we have a side wind. What a treat! We ride side by side and talk about future plans and adventures to come. Our next stop is at Callanish. The place offers a nice set of standing stones where pagans spent their Sundays worshipping figments of their imaginations. Now tourists gather to take pictures and read information plaques.

Looking for a spot to camp we stumble upon a broch. One thing I imagined about Scotland was to camp by an ancient castle. We head up and inspect the place and find a spot sheltered from the wind. All we have to do is clear some sheep crap and set up. Unfortunately for us, the ghosts of the castle decided we were not welcome. They told us to pack up around 5:30 in the morning by knocking at our tent with 30 knot winds. So much for the sheltered spot but they were nice enough not to send rain.

It's time to head to the Isle of Skye. From Stornaway we head towards Tarbert. The wind is so strong that gusts are pushing us in to the traffic. It's too dangerous and we decide to take a bus instead. During the ferry crossing, the seas are so rough that you can get a few seconds of weightlessness as the boat comes crashing down into the next wave. I come very close to puking my guts out but end up falling asleep instead. Thank god.

When we arrive in Skye we have to cycle 12 miles to the hostel. The one in Uig is closed for the winter and it is impossible to camp in this wind. Besides, it's cold, wet and we are still under the weather from our cold two weeks ago. When we finally pedal out town it's already getting late. When we arrive at the hostel it is pitch dark and we are finished to do the 2 hour battle with the elements. My only fear during the ride was missing the turnoff to the hostel despite the rain pellets in our faces. It is taking a relentless effort to keep a positive attitude these days. On the way to the hostel I come very close to losing it. I'm proud to say that I kept it together. For somebody fresh off the airplane for their 2 week vacation this would have been a novelty followed by a good laugh. Personally I'm at the end of my rope. Maybe it is nature's initiation to this type of travelling but the last several months have been very difficult despite the kindness we have received.

Now at the hostel. I don't even want to put my nose outside. But we do anyways because we've decided to go see a doctor. I'm getting worried that our lingering colds are going to turn into something serious. Besides, we have to get information about vaccines if we want to head into Africa. We try to explain the situation to the receptionist. Bad move. We should have just asked to see a doctor. Confused, she tells us that the medical center is very busy and that we should google the information or go to the tourist office for our medical inquiries. What a moron. Anyways, we do get to see a doctor and I get prescribed antibiotics. The cost of the whole thing is only 3 pounds. We are extremely surprised.

To be continued...


  1. Wow quel long post et que d'aventures ! J'espere que vous allez vous remettre en forme tres tot et que le temps va s'ameliorer. Courage Benoit!


    Désolée pour la bièveté de mon message, c'est que le premier qui était bien long et super exhaustif a été perdu quand g essayé de l'envoyer avec compte google. Merdouille

    Bonne chance à vous et je vous souhaite du beau/bon temps!
    Karine H.

  3. Merci Seb et Karine.
    On pense beaucoup a vous.
    Oui, le moral remonte. On a eu du beau temps et on se prepare pour le Maroc.

  4. Ha! Ça va être moins humide le Maroc! Ça va vous guérir du rhume en moins de 2. Bonne continuation. Benoit, j'adore tes dessins.


  5. Ah! La secheresse c'est l'bonheur! Je suis content que tu aimes les dessins.

  6. Hi Guys. Was lovely to meet you at Flodigarry Youth Hostel (or hospital as you called it!). Hope you are both well. Looking forward to reading more about your adventures...

  7. Hi Lorraine! Did you see that we finished the Where's Wally puzzle while recuperating at the Flodigarry Youth Hospital, I mean, Hostel? It was great to meet you.