Durham and Northumberland not quite 200 km

09/04/22

I was ready for a 200 km. Just not this one. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an amazing route; beautiful scenery and very quiet roads. But the wages of scenery are hills.

I fixed a puncture in light snow and fading light in my way up Swinhope Head, then descended to Middleton in the dark with a flickering headlight. It’s only about 40 km back to Darlo, but I was done. A stop at the Co-op and phone calls to a few taxi companies, all but one refused to take a bike and that one wouldn’t be available for ages, so I tried one of the hotels/bars in town and was delighted when they found me a room, and also let me leave my bike in the cellar overnight.

The following morning was sunny and I had a nice ride back via a much needed cooked breakfast in Barnard Castle.

167 km in who knows how many hours

The Bolsover Jester 100 km

Amazing weather (caught a bit of sun on my face) but not a huge fan of this route; combined with the schlep from and to Chesterfield I don’t think I’ll do this again. Too many busy roads, either ridden along or crossed (the sort that you get off to walk over as it seems safer). Highlights were power stations and a secure psychiatric hospital.

Undulating but nothing too bad (certainly compared to the last one), the first 50 km were fasted (after which I was bloody hungry) and for once I wast counting down the last few kms and could definitely have gone further. All of which is a good sign as I have spontaneously entered LEL, when some last minute places came up.

Also ridden in my usual time of 6 hours, so back on form in a shorter distance sense.

Average 20.9 kph, max 54.1 kph, 4:57 riding time, 5:58 total time

Hovingham (Hilly) Hundred 100 km

26/02/22

After the last couple of weeks of storms, the weather was splendid for this ride; a beautiful visit to the North York Moors. The hills were challenging, and a few were walked up.

Pit Ponies 100 km

04/12/21

This is a bit of a different audax, with extended off-road sections. They are mainly old rail trails so not muddy single track (well, there was mud). Consequently there were a variety of bikes in attendance; ‘normal’ audax road bikes, gravel bikes, mountain bikes, and a recumbent. I thought about putting my touring wheels back on for the ride, but was too lazy. The UK had been visited by a storm a week or so beforehand, although most of the large debris had been removed, with just one downed tree that we had to walk around/under. This also resulted in a large number of punctures, although I was lucky and escaped a fairy visit (Panaracer Pasela tyres).

The weather couldn’t have been much better; a few spots of rain but not enough to need a waterproof, and cold but just warm enough that there was no ice to worry about (only a small amount of residual snow on one of the off road sections which wasn’t slippery).

The trails might be around 25 – 30 % of the distance (educated guess) but it certainly felt like more than that, being much slower. Some really nice wooded sections which would probably be great at any time of the year, but I really enjoyed the wintery feel.

Definitely possible to consume more calories than used on this ride; there were some very tempting morsels (and nice coffee) at the start, and one control was a chippy (although I opted to go elsewhere, I know I feel crap if I eat too much en route). Then at the finish there was amazingly a three course menu, which again I didn’t manage to sample all of, but the bits of Dean’s cooking and baking I had were splendid.

Segment One

I live near the river Aire and the Leeds-Liverpool canal, and when I moved here I thought it would be great to be able to explore them on the water, but I don’t have a car so a traditional kayak or canoe is impractical. I had a vague memory of seeing a crazy folding bike and inflatable boat adventure, (Alastair Humphries, the initial story I remember seems to have disappeared)), which led me to learn about packrafts, and then how expensive they are. Then I found DIY packraft, and after some research, ordered a Skeena kit.

The kit comes as scored pieces of fabric, which are cut out and heat sealed together using a dodgy-looking instrument called a leather iron. It took a long time to build but I really enjoyed the process, it was great seeing it come together. The guidance on the website are really good, including videos, images and written instructions.

Folded packraft and dismantled paddle.
Rear half of inflated packraft showing seat
Inflated packraft and paddle on grass bank.

The maiden voyage was on the canal, nice tame water but getting in and out was a bit difficult.

Small bottle of prosecco 'launching' the packraft on its maiden voyage

I want to add an extra top-up valve somewhere accessible while afloat, as the temperature of the air inside drops as it cools in contact with the water so they usually need a few puffs after a while. Also required are some more attachment points at the rear for some line to grab on to. In future I might add a removable spray deck – I think my paddling technique has room for improvement as I do a lot of dripping, which gets on my legs in onto the floor, but I am quite short so I think that might have something to do with it. But I kind of like the simplicity of it being open.

View of packraft on canal

Paddle is from https://www.celticpaddles.com, ‘Mania’ model; it splits into 5 pieces so no sections are longer than the blades, and is length and feather adjustable. Buoyancy aid/PFD is an Astral V-Eight, I haven’t tried out its full function yet.

Packraft on canal under railway bridge.
Paddle in canal.
Front of packraft on canal about to go under a stone bridge.
Front of packraft on canal in front of a lock gate.

Three Abbeys – Wigginton Autumn Brevet 100 km

16/10/21

First audax in a long time. I thought it would be straightforward after my tour, with a longest day covering 70 km fully loaded. Well it wasn’t as easy as I thought, I am just not used to spending so many hours on the bike with limited breaks.

Slow, and the last 10 km or so were quite uncomfortable. Must get more practice in.

I’ve done this one before, it’s a nice autumn ride with some lumps but nothing silly. Going on the villages and big houses spotted there is some serious money around here.

A nice accessible start via a train to York, although I managed to get lost in an infinite housing estate in Haxby so started 15 mins late. However for the first time I managed not to get lost in York on the way back, even finding Kat’s house where I was treated to soup.

Island hopping

Well the logistics for this trip were quite something (mainly to do with Colonsay sailings); and then subject to last minute changes with ferries cancelled after COVID outbreaks. Amazing weather and multiple sea swims.

18/08/21 – Leeds to Lochranza

Train to Ardrossan for the ferry.

After arriving in Brodick I took The String road over the middle of the island, then followed the coast north to Lochranza, where I had camped many years ago with my sisters. This time we had the company of some deer, at which point someone (the campsite manager?) fired a shot into the air to scare them off – apparently they have been fed by some campers and as a consequence were coming too close to the tents. So having a stag startled by a gun shot running around a campsite is going to help?

50 km, 13.6 kph average

19/08/21 Lochranza – Port Charlotte

Ferry to the, er, shaft of Scotland and a trip across the girth, to the day’s second ferry to Islay.

It was hard work, probably due to lack of fitness than anything else, but I eventually arrived at the excellent community pub/cafe/campsite/sports ground in Port Charlotte.

36 km, 15.8 kph average (my notebook says ‘hmm, felt like a bit more than that’; I assume I was referring to the distance)

20/08/21 Port Charlotte – Bowmore

On my way out from the campsite I stopped at the shop in Port Charlotte for some supplies, and the chap running it came out and said “it’s an unwritten rule that if anyone stops on an interesting looking bike I come out and take a look”. Well that’s a good rule in my book. He admired my mud flap, clocked the AUK badges on the panniers and we had a chat about the ride on Islay I remembered reading about in Ariveé.

A mild, windy day but it was mostly helpful as from the SW. I rode a loop around Kilchoman and had a paddle in the sea at Machar Bay, which wasn’t too cold.

Stopped at the RSPB visitors centre at Gruinart – it was open but unstaffed and the toilets were closed. My biggest issue now was a water supply, I was hoping to have been able to find some here. Rode up the west side of Loch Gruinart, which became increasingly gravelly. I’m pretty sure there would have been a great wild camping spot further on, but it would have been a walk for a few miles with no sign of water, so I decided to backtrack and got to the shop in Bridgend, by which time it had started to rain properly. The old woman in front of me at the till had lost her specs, and asked if any had been handed in. The staff member in fact had two ownerless pairs, and held one up, asking if they were the ones, to which the woman responded “I don’t know, I cannae see”.

On to Bowmore where I had a wander around and found that the church had an outside tap. There is a swimming pool here which I though might be useful for shower purposes but still in COVID times the opening hours were quite limited. There’s a public toilet anyway in the centre.

Then cycled out to Gartrack, again a gravel road once past the tip. A house here looked uninhabited, and I pitched my tent just above a small rocky beach. Quite a wind and I’m glad of the tent modifications I had made (extra tie-out points for guy lines to keep the back fly away from the inner).

57 km, 14.8 kph average

21/08/21 Bowmore – Port Ellen

Took the main road from Bowmore to Port Ellen, which goes past the airport, then followed the three distilleries cyclepath to Ardbeg at the end. A taste of An Oa much appreciated as it was quite wet.

Stop off at Kintra beach where there was a closed campsite and had a swim in the sea, place deserted (source of earwigs to be encountered later). Views of the posh island hotel across the links.

A hard and rough ride to the Mull of Oa, RSPB reserve and home of choughs, which I’ve never seen before. Also a memorial to Americans lost in two ship sinkings.

Back down to the Singing Sands just outside Port Ellen, for a wild camp on the dunes.

62 km, 13.8 kph average

22/08/21 Port Ellen – Port Charlotte

Breakfast on a picnic table in Port Ellen, then took the back road back to Bowmore, to find a load of classic cars posing in front of the distillery on a ‘Skyfall’ tour.

Stop off in Bruichladdich on the way back to the Port Charlotte campsite, to use the laundry facilities.

The morning’s dampness had cleared to give great views across to the Oa and beyond (Ireland?).

39 km, 15.7 kph average

23/08/21 Portnahaven

Paid a visit to the Port Charlotte natural history centre, and then cycled a loop around to Portnahaven.

Burials of various ages.

Back to the campsite for another swim in my own little bay.

30 km, 13.6 kph average

24/08/21 Port Charlotte – Jura

Over to Jura today.

Went as far north as Lagg Bay, would have liked to have had more time and go as far as possible but the ferry to Colonsay determined timings.

Down to Curran sands for another swim. Seemed warmer here and nothing but sand.

Camped in the field behind the beach, had to retreat into the tent as the midges were out in force.

77 km, 15.6 kph average

25/08/21 Jura – Colonsay

Midges were still around in the morning so as quick a pack up as possible.

Back to Feolin for the little ferry to Port Askaig. Stopped off at a church and the village hall to find water but without success, met a couple touring on Bromptons who were looking for the same thing. I would later bump into them a few times on Colonsay.

There were lots of bikes heading to Colonsay.

Left the bike to walk up to the top of the hill above Scalasaig, Beinn nan Gudairean (136 m, I think the second highest peak on the island).

Rode the long way (it’s all relative) via Kilchattan to Kiloran Bay, and had yet another swim.

Headed further north to find somewhere to camp (no campsites on the island), the track was very sandy in places so hard work even pushing. Lots of cows grazing and I had to keep going to find somewhere to stop that was clear of possible bull disruption. Eventually stopped by a little bay, Port Skibinis. There was a standing stone on the nearby hill, and a fish made out of stones that I later learned is the Colonsay Whale (ok not a fish).

34 km, 12.1 kph average (lots of pushing)

26/08/21 Colonsay – Oban

Up as the sun rose and had my one and only trowel use of the trip. Retraced my steps (literally), and met a farmer and sheep dogs on a quad bike, I guess I must have slept in his farm’s field.

Down to the south end of the island and a walk across The Strand at low tide to Oronsay. The sun was hot and I was flagging so didn’t get to explore properly; only on the return to Scalasaig and coffee, irn bru, soup and panini did I realise I had been running on empty.

Ferry back to Oban through some eerie mist.

26 km, 11.6 kph average

27 – 30/08/21 Oban – stop off at HQ – home

Had a day in Oban so rode up to the viewpoint at Pulpit Hill, and visited the town Museum, which is the classic volunteer run over-stuffed gem. Travelled to Lockerbie the next day and had a night with the parent before heading home.

Trip total distance 460 km