Thursday, August 28, 2014

A Midge Too Far: West Highland Way

(Scratch, scratch, scratch)

In Scotland, they have these flying insects called "midgeys". They're smaller than New Zealand sandflies, so one can be lulled into a false sense of security. At first the bites aren't bad, but after a few days they swell up and are crazy itchy.

Midgey Legs, Despite Wearing Gators

My friend M (from NZ) lives in Scotland, and we both wanted to walk the West Highland Way. The full WHW runs for about 150 kms, from just north of Glasgow to Fort William. We were limited on time, however, so we joined the route at the Bridge of Orchy, leaving us the northern 60 kms to complete. That's the hillier end of the walk.

My trip started badly. As I was doing up my pack to head to the station, my hand slid across the edge of my 3-blade razor: lots of blood! I wrapped a 10m piece of gauze around my finger, and made it to the train on time.

The first day of our walk crossed the edge of Rannoch Moor. I'm not quite sure why Rannoch is famous, but the Scots seem very attached to it. Maybe it's just the right ratio of swamp to mosquitoes.

(Scratch, scratch, scratch)

The first night, we made camp at the Glen Coe Mountain Resort. Glen Coe valley is famous as the scene of the massacre of the MacDonalds by their guests the Campbells.

Speaking of plagues upon the earth (the Campbells), the camping ground was plagued with midgeys - they swarmed in clouds around us and we were forced to wear head nets, which are about as annoying as a plague of insects themselves.

We had dinner at the nearby King's House Hotel, which dates from the 17th century.

Some people use baggage carrying services to transport their luggage along the route. We went old school, carrying the full camping kit and food. 

It's possible we were unused to the rigors of tramping, because despite sleeping in a tent next to a car park, we slept for around 11 hours. It was a bad day to start late, because this was our day climbing the Devil's Staircase.


Looking up the zigzagging Devil's Staircase:

Looking back down from above:

My guidebook said that there was a geocache hidden in the cairn at the top of the pass, but as I hunted for it I only found some used underwear. It then became awkward, because my companion decided I was specifically looking for worn undies.

After a long decent, we arrived in Kinlochlevin, which appeared to be a hotbed of anti-English sentiment.

After a long day of walking, we couldn't decide between cooking spaghetti bolognese on the camp stove or buying fish and chips for tea, so we had both.

(Scratch, scratch, scratch)

Day 3 saw us doing another steep climb, before skirting around Ben Nevis to arrive at Fort William. From there, we caught the evening train back to civilisation.

Back in Edinburgh, I celebrated by drinking a milkshake made out of a blended up scone with jam and cream. I know that sounds piggy, but I passed on the one made out of a blended up black forest gateau, so I was actually quite abstemious.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

A Twerp goes to Antwerp (II)

Antwerp itself is a pretty town. I had planned to spend a day there, but because the ride there was far longer than I expected, I only had an hour before I had to start cycling again.

Heading back up through Holland, I stopped to take a photo of this horse trap passing me.

As I did so, I noticed that one of my panniers was hanging off the bike at a crazy angle. One of the bolts had pulled loose.

Luckily, the bolt was still sitting in the housing and I was able to reattach it.

On the ride, I saw more tulips in the wild than I did on my previous trip to the tulip district around Keukenhof.

So, that was a great ride. I did over 400 kms in 4 and a half days.

This was my favourite part of the trip. Some genius in the marketing department decided to name their chain of petrol stations "Firezone"

A Twerp goes to Antwerp (i)

Over the May Bank Holiday, I once again went cycling in Benelux: this was my fifth trip now and I'm not sick of it. I tried to catch the evening train from Cambridge to Harwich, but because the rail companies are terrible, we were dumped at Ipswich. I had to scramble to catch several extra trains - with a fully loaded bike - and just made it to the ferry before the office closed.

On the Ferry, Waiting to Roll Out

I took the North Sea Route and headed south down the coast. It was the same route that I rode on my first trip in 2009. I made good progress on the first day (120 kms) and made it down to the bottom of Holland, camping a little north of Middelburg.

The camping ground had a nice restaurant, but I couldn't make out a word of the menu so I ordered the house specialty, which turned out to be king prawns in a butter soup. It was nice, although I'm not sure of its nutritional value (actually, I am - not good).

In the morning, I turned east and headed towards Antwerp. There was a headwind and my progress was slow. I had also misjudged the distance. What I expected to be 60 kms turned out to be another day above 100 kms. While I had a detailed map of Holland, it petered out around the Belgian border and it took me a long, confusing stretch of cycling through an industrial zone before I got to the town centre.

On the way, I encountered my second Benelux cycle race.

Despite the bottle of sunscreen in the photo, I didn't bother to apply any and I now have the outline of my lycra shorts burned into my legs. It's 1 inch lower than the bottom of my rugby shorts, meaning I have a 1 inch white stripe around my legs when I play touch.

I cycled through Antwerp, looking for a bridge across the river to the camping ground. I was exhausted, and the kilometer count continued to mount. I couldn't work out why there wasn't a bridge. (Antwerp actually has escalators that carry you down below the river, and then you cycle under the river before climbing up again.)