South Dartmoor CTC


Friday 23 July 2010
Evening ride: DartingtonSunny
4 present: Ash Freeman, Callum Freeman, Michael Jones, Zac McGrath
Our ride this evening took us along Colston Road, where Michael had a chat with his relatives, and on past the kennels near Hood Manor where the din suggested that a great many dog owners had gone on holiday. After ascending the new cycle path to the top of Dartington hill we decided to take a new road home, turning right for Rattery. We stopped a little way up for some Frisbee fun on a footpath in a field, but when a herd of cows turned up the youngsters fled for the gate!

Sunday 25 July 2010
Morning ride: HolneDry with sunny spells
4 present: Ash Freeman, Callum Freeman, Michael Jones, Zac McGrath
Ash, Zac and Callum at Holne playpark
Michael's attempt to arrange another full-day summer ride were not met with much enthusiasm from the members today who all seemed to want to be back by 1pm. We rode out through Buckfast and then took the interesting track through Burchett’s Wood. This track always used to be very muddy at all times of the year, but Hallam recently told Michael it had received loads of wood chippings and we were pleasantly surprised to find today that, despite recent rain, it was nowhere near as muddy as we had expected.

Continuing through Scoriton and Michelcombe we were soon in Holne Play Park enjoying the swings and Michael's chocolate box. There was some debate about whether to visit the cafe, but in the end we decided to return home via the popular Slalom track through Hembury Woods. Ashley couldn't resist having some fun with the jump near the bottom.

Friday 30 July 2010
Evening ride: Belford MillCloudy with some drizzle
5 present: Ash Freeman, Callum Freeman, Ryan Havinga, Michael Jones, Zac McGrath
Belford Mill track
Ryan was out this evening and once again he managed to persuade us to do his favourite ride - out to Ashburton, through the back lanes to the wedge-shaped Belford Mill and then down the woodland track back to Ashburton. We stopped halfway down the track by the felled tree so the youngsters could eat refreshments and enjoy the jumps.

Sunday 1 August 2010
Morning ride: Chalk FordCloudy with light rain later
5 present: Ash Freeman, Ryan Havinga, Hallam Iles, Michael Jones, Zac McGrath
Zac, Ash, Hallam and Ryan
Hallam, Ryan and the piglets
Admiring the piglets near Chalk Ford
Ryan was still suffering from knee pains after his recent activity week, so once again we found ourselves limiting the ride length. We climbed Wallaford road to Cross Furzes in record time today and quickly reached the open moor at Lud Gate. Everyone enjoyed the downhill to Chalk Ford, but we were particularly looking forward to seeing what had happened to the piglets that we saw nearby a few weeks ago. Sure enough they were there, with their mother, and they were definitely much larger and fatter, but this time there were only three!

Michael gave the usual speed warnings before the descent of the stony track to Scoriton, but evidently Zac didn't heed them as he had collected a pinch puncture by the time he reached the bottom at 12.10. Zac didn't have a spare tube or repair kit and neither, it turned out, did anyone else. Even Michael had neglected to refill his puncture kit with new patches. Fortunately Ryan's house was nearby, and after an abortive trip to get a spare tube which turned out to have a valve that wouldn't fit the rim he returned with a puncture kit which allowed Michael to effect repairs.

In view of the light rain that was now falling on us we headed straight for home, getting back by around 1pm.

Friday 6 August 2010
Evening ride: SpitchwickMainly sunny
4 present: Ash Freeman, Callum Freeman, Ryan Havinga, Michael Jones
Callum, Ash & Ryan at Spitchwick
Tonight seemed like a good night to visit Spitchwick, and there were certainly no arguments from the lads as it is always a popular destination. We got there for around 8pm and found absolutely nobody there. Everyone went into the cool evening waters of the Dart but only the three youngsters went all the way in, having a great time splashing around. A couple of groups of visitors came along while we were in there, including a couple with a young lad who just had to go paddling when he saw us in the water.

In view of the rapidly fading light we had to return along the same route as our outward journey, via Hembury Woods.

Sunday 8 August 2010
Morning ride: River Dart AdventuresSunny spells with light cloud
3 present: Ash Freeman, Callum Freeman, Michael Jones
Ash & Callum on the old Ashburton railway
Today's ride took us through Buckfast to the lower Hembury Woods track that runs alongside the Holy Brook. The marquee, tents and cars that we had seen in the field last year were back again - Michael later found out it was the Buddha Dharma Sangha summer camp and that a number of other camps are run on the same site over the summer. Callum had a few problems with his bottom bracket coming loose on his new bike.

After emerging from the woods we took the track through Holne Woods to River Dart Adventures, which was packed with visitors as one would expect in peak season. At Ashburton we had time to take the old railway track to the park so that Ash and Callum could play on the jumps for ten minutes before we headed back along the old road to Buckfastleigh.

Friday 13 August 2010
Evening ride: LandscoveSunny & warm
5 present: Ash Freeman, Callum Freeman, Ryan Havinga, Michael Jones, Zac McGrath
Michael's Mercian was still halfway through its service so he accompanied the youngsters with a support car this evening on our ride up Green Lane and past Baddaford. He had to take the alternative road route as the cyclists descended the track across the fields to Landscove, but we all met up in the school playing field where the Frisbee flew well and everyone learned that the one thing Ryan hates more than anything else is getting bits of grass in his "afro" hair - apparently it takes ages to get it all out!

Zac had a new bike this evening - an enormous Gary Fisher hybrid - bought for our forthcoming tour, and he certainly seemed to make good speed on it. We returned via Abham.

Sunday 15 August 2010
Morning ride: RatteryPerfect sunny morning
5 present: Ash Freeman, Callum Freeman, Ryan Havinga, Michael Jones, Zac McGrath
Michael was still bikeless and the youngsters for seemed to want to save their energy for the tour, so he led by car a short ride up Dean hill, over to Rattery and back to Buckfastleigh via Pennywell Farm.

Friday 20 August 2010
Evening ride: Converted to SocialRain
4 present: Ash Freeman, Callum Freeman, Ryan Havinga, Michael Jones
Heavy rain put an end to all hopes of cycling on our last ride before the tour. A social was organised instead, starting with computer games at Crofters and ending with several games of Pool at Plymouth. We called into Tesco as usual on the way home to buy some snacks, and even had time for some more games when we got back to Buckfastleigh.

Sunday 22 August 2010
Morning ride: Converted to Social
5 present: Ash Freeman, Callum Freeman, Ryan Havinga, Michael Jones, Zac McGrath
With our Scotland tour starting tomorrow we had made the decision some time ago that today's morning ride would be replaced by a social. We spent the morning playing various computer games and said farewell at 2pm - until tomorrow afternoon!

Monday 23 August 2010Tour: Scottish Highlands & Islands Day 1 Home to Sleeper Train (2 mi)Warm and sunny
6 present: Ash Freeman, Callum Freeman, Ryan Havinga, Hallam Iles, Michael Jones, Zac McGrath
When Michael booked us on the earlier train to London as insurance against unforeseen delays, he really hadn't expected problems to start before we had even boarded the train! We were all waiting on the platform at Newton Abbot Station when the announcement came out that our planned 1540 service had been cancelled owing to engine failure and its replacement would only be going as far as Taunton. Passengers for London were being advised to take a slightly later train to Bristol and then change again for London. We knew how difficult it had been to book all six bikes on a single train several months ahead of travel, so it was not hard to imagine the complications that might arise if we tried taking them on two different un-booked services.

Michael negotiated with the station manager and he agreed that space would be made for our bikes on the next direct service at 1640, so with time to spare some of us enjoyed scones and jam in the station cafe while others huddled together for a chat on the platform.

When the train arrived - one of First Great Western's 54 class 43 high speed train sets - several of the six standard cycle spaces were already taken. But the guard had been asked to accommodate us and obligingly unlocked the rear section of the trailing power car to reveal a cavernous space with hangers for several more bikes. Michael remembered many times in the past when this area had been denied to us by unhelpful train staff who argued that they "might need the space for something else later", so it was a a pleasant surprise to find it so readily offered today.

The journey to London passed quickly as everyone was playing first cards and then 6-player Bomberman on Michael's laptop computer - the first time he has brought it on a full length tour. Two controller cables had to cross the central aisle from one table to the next and had to be passed back whenever a passenger wanted to walk through, but this didn't affect the games too much.

Arriving at Paddington at 7.20 we had the simple task of getting to Euston station by 8.30. As it was after 7pm we were technically allowed to use the Underground, but Michael had programmed his Satnav with the recommended cycle route through the city, and since it was only around 2.1 miles and we would have to cycle it on the return journey anyway we decided to give it a trial run now while we had plenty of time.

Michael had bought a special cycle mount for his Satnav, but it didn't take more than a few minutes for him to realise that something was wrong: it was taking us in the right general direction but seemed to be misreading its location by 20 or 30 metres. After being advised to turn right into a private car park and then being told to continue straight on into a brick wall, Michael decided that perhaps his wireless speedo may be affecting it. Once the wheel sensor had been moved so that no more signals were transmitted to the handlebars, the Satnav worked fine and brought us quickly and safely to Euston station.

Our ScotRail sleeper train was due to leave at 9.15 so we had time to buy our evening meal from the excellent shops in the station. In the dash to the platform, however, Ash somehow dropped a bag that contained some rather expensive M&S yoghurts! More serious was the loss of Zac's pump while loading the bikes into coach A: it dropped down under the train and Zac was not allowed to retrieve it from the track.

We were soon settled into our cosy (or cramped, depending on your point of view) bunks, and after placing our orders for breakfast and eating some long-overdue food Michael spoke to everyone about the dreadful weather forecasts for later in the week and tried to put as much positive spin on it as he could: "It shouldn't be too wet on the first day" and "we would have had bad weather whichever week we had chosen this summer". Clearly this was not going to be a tour for comfort-lovers, so while everyone tried to envisage how they would cope with being cold and soaked to the skin we enjoyed some hot drinks and card games in the lounge car.

Tuesday 24 August 2010Tour: Scottish Highlands & Islands Day 2 Sleeper to Glen Nevis YH (3 mi)
6 present: Ash Freeman, Callum Freeman, Ryan Havinga, Hallam Iles, Michael Jones, Zac McGrath
Browsing the Nevisport shop in Fort William
Fort William station, 10am
Ryan and Ash take a break during the climb of Ben Nevis
Haggis for sale in Fort William
View from near the top of Ben Nevis, looking back towards hostel
One of the many streams flowing off the mountain
View from Ben Nevis
View from Ben Nevis
HD video footage from today's ride
Knocks on our cabin doors at 8.45 signalled the arrival of our continental breakfasts which boasted a bag of fresh apple slices, a pastry, a yoghurt and a bottle of orange juice together with complimentary tea or coffee. It was surprisingly tasty, compensating somewhat for the light rain that was spoiling our view of the wild but beautiful Rannoch Moor. A piper did his best to welcome us to Scotland by playing "Scotland the Brave" on the platform of Fort William station as our train pulled in, but clearly his dedication to duty didn't extend so far as piping in the rain as he disappeared minutes after we disembarked.

Our exploration of Fort William started with the Nevisport outdoor shop near the station and continued via a local Butcher's shop where Ash had been challenged by his family to bring back a photo of a Haggis as proof that he has crossed the border. I think Callum was somewhat disillusioned to discover that they weren't in fact cuddly furry creatures that skipping across the moorland. Zac and Ryan proved true to form however by buying one to cook for their evening meal: when they asked about the ingredients the proprietor said that there were some things it was better not to know!

By the time we had finished our shopping the weather looked much brighter and we were optimistic that our Ben Nevis climb could go ahead as originally planned. The easiest path up the mountain starts, conveniently, from just opposite the youth hostel. We rode the three miles along Glen Nevis to the youth hostel, used the facilities that were open to us, secured our bikes in the bike shed and set off at around 12.00 for our grand assault of the highest mountain in the UK.

We made good progress and stopped for lunch after forty minutes or so. The upper reaches of the mountain was shrouded in cloud so we set ourselves the modest target of reaching the lake which was about halfway up. As we neared it the cloud lifted higher, but Zac, Hallam and Callum, who were leading at this point, had clearly decided that the lake was as far as they were going, so they diverted to the lake edge while the rest of us continued on up the path. When they realised we were carrying on it just seemed too far to go to catch up, so they decided to settle on the path and admire the view.

Ryan, Ash and Michael continued on for another half an hour or so, crossing a tricky stream that required careful navigation of some rather precarious stepping stones and eventually reaching the cloud line. Here the views were astounding and the eerie silence and almost icy air made the whole experience surreal. We could have gone on but the thick mist would have afforded us little more in the way of views, and anyway the three waiting by the lake were ringing by mobile to encourage us to hurry up!

The descent took every bit as long as the climb as we had to take care with footing on the rough path, but it would have taken longer if swarms of midges hadn't descended on us whenever we stopped to rest.

By 5pm we were all back in the hostel showering, and a little later there was the smell of something horrible in the kitchen as Ryan and Zac made things hot for their haggis. Michael checked the weather forecast for tomorrow and found it much better than expected: it had always been Thursday that was supposed to be the really wet day, so we would make the best of tomorrow - the lull before the storm.

Wednesday 25 August 2010Tour: Scottish Highlands & Islands Day 3 Glen Nevis to Raasay (38 mi)
6 present: Ash Freeman, Callum Freeman, Ryan Havinga, Hallam Iles, Michael Jones, Zac McGrath
The group at Mallaig station
Hallam playing cards on the train journey to Mallaig
Zac makes a new friend near Luib on the Isle of Skye
Callum enjoys the view from the Mallaig to Armadale ferry
Salmon farms in Loch Ainort
Our first Highland Cow, near Luib on Skye
Waiting for the Raasay ferry at Sconser, Isle of Skye
Fat salmon in the fish farms in Loch Ainort
Views across to Skye from the remote hostel on the Isle of Raasay
Arrival of the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry at Sconser
Sunset from the hostel on Raasay
Youth hostel at sunset on the Isle of Raasay
HD video footage from today's ride
In order to ensure that we could get around all the interesting places in the Scottish Highlands within a week or so, Michael had booked the group onto the 0830 train along the scenic West Highland Railway route from Fort William to Mallaig, which cut a day and a night compared with our previous Scotland tours. Unfortunately this put paid to any thoughts of a lie-in, and there was much groaning when the alarms went off at 6.15. At least there were no queues for kitchen facilities - we were the only ones there!

There was a very slight problem with the booking in that there had only been five bike spaces left when Michael made the booking: we were going to be dependent on the generosity of the guard to let the sixth bike on. When we arrived at the station at 0815 the guard welcomed us warmly but took advantage of the situation by suggesting that one of the youngsters would have to cycle the forty or so miles to Mallaig - some of them took him seriously and made strenuous efforts to get their bikes on first!

The journey lived up to its reputation as one of the most scenic routes in the country, although the youngsters seemed more interested in playing cards than admiring the stunning reflections in mirror-flat lochs. They did start taking notice however when we approached the huge viaduct at Glenfinnan, recognising it at once as the one used by the Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter films.

We felt very fortunate to see the sun shining so brightly as we arrived at the small fishing port of Mallaig. A ferry would take us from here to the Isle of Skye at 1055 but after buying our Hopscotch 13 tickets from the ferry terminal we had half an hour in which to sample hot chocolate and muffins in the local cafe / gift shop and for Ryan to buy the one thing he had forgotten to pack - midge repellent.

Cyclists always board first on Caledonian MacBrayne ferries so we were able to get the best seats on deck. Once the many cars had been loaded and the front of the ferry had closed up the crossing took just twenty five minutes, offering stunning views across the Sound of Sleat. Numerous car alarms were activated during the crossing but nobody was allowed down to the car deck to silence them.

Now at last we could begin the first real cycling of the tour, with the twenty mile journey along mainly flat roads to Broadford. Skye didn't really feel like an island even though there was plenty of coastal scenery along the route. This was an A-road but the small number of vehicles meant we had the road to ourselves most of the time. Michael's satnav really came into its own now, not so much for giving directions as there was only one real turnoff, but for giving accurate information on distance to be cycled before lunch, which helped all the youngsters to pace themselves properly.

As we neared Broadford, dark clouds were gathering around Skye's Cuillin mountains, and by the time we had bought our lunch and supper from the local co-op and settled down in the park to eat it, the first drops of rain began to fall. Initially we moved to what looked like a circular bus shelter, constructed from blue tubes with a partial roof over the seats that lined the circumference, but as the rain got heavier the roof (such as it was) proved totally ineffective so we moved to a small covered walkway at the entrance to the park, made entirely of wood. The torrential rain found all the leaks in the roof but we stood in the driest places we could find, chatting with two female American cyclists with bottles of Hobgoblin in their hands (no, they weren't proper cyclists).

Zac, who refused to accept Michael's assessment that this was simply a heavy shower that would soon pass, was all for looking up bus timetables, but within minutes the shower had stopped and we were on the road again with sunny spells cutting through the disappearing clouds. It was along this stretch of road when Callum's bottle of coke, which he had lazily placed loosely in the webbing cover of his panniers, fell out onto the road in front of a lorry: the driver used all his skill to avoid crushing it, but sadly it continued rolling after the front wheels had passed and ended up exploding under the nearside rear wheel.

Michael was disappointed to discover that the Spinning Wheel cafe at Luib, which had provided a warm welcome to our group on previous tours, was now just a private house. We had to make do with chocolate rations eaten by the side of the road, but this gave Zac and Ash opportunity to acquaint themselves with our first Highland Cow and a very friendly horse. We followed the quiet coast road around the peninsula which afforded us excellent views of the salmon farms in Loch Ainort: fat salmon were jumping high in most of the pens which were all linked together with cables or pipes, and a little boat visited each pen in turn.

The last part of our day's journey involved another ferry crossing, from Sconser on Skye to the smaller Isle of Raasay. We arrived at Sconser fifteen minutes late for the 1615 ferry and so had to wait three quarters of an hour for the 1735 departure. There was really nothing much there at all, not even a cafe or shop, so we ate some snacks, chatted on the pier and managed to persuade Callum that swimming in the deep, murky waters would really not be a very good idea.

The CalMac ferry arrived on time, but as we boarded it a few raindrops began to fall. It was also quite chilly, so for this journey the passenger lounge seemed a lot more attractive than the deck. The ferryman remembered Michael from previous Scotland tours, the last of which was in the year 2000.
By the time we arrived at Raasay's new ferry terminal this second shower of the day had turned extremely nasty. We only had to ride two miles up through the forest to get to the hostel, but by the time we arrived we were totally soaked - and the rain was stopping! Drying rooms and warm dormitories would have been the perfect welcome under such circumstances, but Raasay is a very simple hostel with only one shower, and our dorm was in the annexe! We were all amused when Zac, who had forced Ryan off the top bunk at the last hostel on the grounds that he could never sleep on bottom bunks, immediately took the only bed that was already made up in our dorm - a bottom bunk!

Once everyone had showered we prepared our various meals in the cosy kitchen / common room where the volunteer warden made us very welcome. There was a wood-burning stove that did its best to keep everyone warm, but it seemed to be suffering from a distinct lack of oxygen as it refused to do much more than glow dimly.

The views from the hostel across the Narrows of Raasay to Skye were spectacular in the evening sunset, although the profusion of midges encouraged us to view it from the common room rather than the doorstep. Ryan provided the entertainment this evening by carefully preparing several penny bombs from coins, caps and sticky tape, getting everyone outside to watch them hit the ground and then finding that they didn't actually go off at all!

Thursday 26 August 2010Tour: Scottish Highlands & Islands Day 4 Raasay to Tarbert Bunkhouse (31 mi)
6 present: Ash Freeman, Callum Freeman, Ryan Havinga, Hallam Iles, Michael Jones, Zac McGrath
Raasay YH
Ash & Callum outside Raasay YH
The annexe at Raasay YH
Raasay YH
Ash at the refreshment stop in Glen Varragill Forest
On board the ferry from Raasay to Skye
Shop stop in Portree, Isle of Skye
Cafe stop in the Aros heritage centre, Portree
Waiting to board the ferry from Uig to Tarbert
Approaching the ferry terminal at Uig, Isle of Skye
Stowing the bikes inside the Tarbert ferry
HD video footage from today's ride
The tasty fish pie that Michael had eaten last night was evidently not quite as wholesome as it had appeared, so Michael wasn't feeling too hungry at breakfast time. Bright sunshine and blue skies made the views stunning as we packed our bikes, although the swarms of midges encouraged us to pack speedily. We had no trouble descending the hill in time to catch the 9.55 ferry back to Skye. The ferry captain clearly wasn't in the mood for hanging around: he left at 9.54 when he could see that nobody else was coming down the approach road.

Our route today was to take us right across Skye to the ferry terminal at Uig, where a late ferry would take us on to the Outer Hebrides. There was only one road to take, so once we had reached Sligachan we headed up the gradual climb through Glen Varragill along the A87. Michael felt confident enough to eat some breakfast by the time we reached the top, so we made use of the opportunity for a refreshment stop.

A long stretch of downhill riding brought us swiftly to the Aros centre on the outskirts of Portree. This turned out to be multi-functional, including a shopping centre, cafe, theatre, cinema and RSPB observation hide. After browsing the high quality gifts we enjoyed refreshments in the cafe that for some included chips.

Callum correctly pointed out that our bikes had got wet while we had been in the centre, and as we rode the last mile to the town of Portree another shower began. The students at Portree High School had been back at school since 16 August, and many were walking around the town during their lunch hour. A cheeky remark from one small group of students didn't go down too well with our youngsters however.

We bought lunch in the town and looked around the local book and toy store, but when we were ready to leave the shower had turned particularly heavy and we were forced to shelter under the trees in the town square. It wasn't long before the sun came out however, and the weather stayed good for the rest of the day.

We did see some nasty showers amongst the distant hills as we rode along the undulating but relatively easy road to Uig, but none of them came our way. The youngsters were in good spirits, testing the friendliness of the passing cars and lorries by waving at them to see if they responded - many did, including most of the lorries, although there were often long gaps between vehicles of any kind. Michael was not altogether happy about their activities, and things backfired somewhat when they waved at a car whilst sitting on the verge eating a late lunch: the car stopped and the driver came over to see if everything was OK!

We arrived at Uig with plenty of time to spare for the 6pm ferry departure, so were able to really enjoy the excellent downhill to the port. It turned out however that the ferry was running late and wasn't even due to arrive until 6.05, so we had a little longer than expected to play cards in the ferry terminal lounge and browse the nearby shop.

As usual we got first pick of the seats on the ferry, reserving an excellent area in the observation lounge but watching the departure from deck in view of the superb weather conditions. Callum made friends with a group of motorcycle tourists, but for the most part we just enjoyed drinks and card games during the one hour forty minute crossing to Tarbert on the Isle of Harris.

The Scottish youth hostel at Stockinish closed many years ago, so this year the only accommodation was the Rockview Bunkhouse. Fortunately it was just a few minutes from the ferry terminal and very easy to find. The live-out warden greeted us warmly and showed us around. For the most part it was good value for money at £10 per night, but the showers turned out to be very poor and usually cold, so some didn't bother to shower at all. Hallam and Zac made good use of the TV room while the rest of us made drinks in the small kitchen where a large glass-topped table allowed viewing of the local ordnance survey map underneath.

Tonight, at last, everyone was getting quite tired, so there were no arguments about lights out at 10.30.

Friday 27 August 2010
Tour: Scottish Highlands & Islands Day 5 Tarbert to Ullapool YH (37 mi)
6 present: Ash Freeman, Callum Freeman, Ryan Havinga, Hallam Iles, Michael Jones, Zac McGrath
The fleet of post vans loading up outside Tarbert post office
Preparing to leave the Rockview Bunkhouse in Tarbert
View to Loch Seaforth from the lunch spot
Lunch stop at the start of the Harris Walkway near Adrvourlie
Memorial to the Deer Park raiders land struggles near Baile Aleian
View of the loch
Approaching Ullapool on the late ferry from Stornoway
Hallam rolls down the hill beside the monument
Two enormous crane lorries take up most of the central vehicle space
HD video footage from today's ride
After breakfast eaten to the sound of a faulty fire alarm we found ourselves chatting outside the bunkhouse with our room-mate, an Irish cyclist who seemed rather amused at the sight of our panniers. He seemed to have no luggage whatsoever and said he had learned from years of experience to travel light! Michael felt like saying how years of experience had taught him to bring a plentiful supply of clean clothes and a laptop, but he decided to stay quiet!

We rode the short distance up the main street to A D Munro's village store, a longstanding family business - all the provisions we needed were available somewhere along the narrow, packed aisles. Just opposite was the Harris post office where a fleet of post vans was preparing to set off to deliver the mail all over the island.

Leaving Tarbert we passed the Sir E Scott school where children were at play. This school has both primary and secondary departments and covers the whole of the islands of Harris and Scalpay. Since the total population of Harris is only around 2000 people it doesn't have many pupils!

The first major hill of the tour, from sea level to 189m at Loch a'Mhorghain, gave everyone a bit of a challenge. The climb was punctuated by some passing motorists who hooted at us cheerfully, undoubtedly some of the vehicles our youngsters had waved at on previous days.

We stopped for lunch at Ardvoulie, near the beginning of the Harris walkway, with great views over the loch. From here we could see several miles of our main road wending its way into the distance, and this enabled us to confirm a few facts about the traffic: total traffic flow at this peak time was around one car every three minutes in any direction, and the proportion of Volvos up here was probably around 20% instead of the national average of around 5%! Hallam decided he was too fragile to take part in the rough and tumble that the other lads started, so he retired to a safe distance.
Next stop was the Deer Park Raiders’ memorial near Baile Aleian, which included steps inside to the turret. There was little to see in any direction other than peat moorland but it gave us a chance to refuel - and the youngsters a chance to roll down the grassy hillside.

Our Irish room-mate finally caught up with us at the junction with the A858 saying he hadn't left Tarbert until 1pm and couldn't understand how he had caught up with us - he hadn't figured on us stopping for a lengthy lunch break.

We finally pulled in to Stornoway at 5pm on a cold and grey afternoon, thankful at least that the rain had held off for another day. Michael was astonished to see that Tesco had arrived to the Isle of Lewis, boasting a well-stocked supermarket near the ferry terminal. It was useful to be able to get good quality food and reasonable prices, but it seemed strange to be buying exactly the same products in this remote corner of the UK that we could have bought in Devon.

After checking out the bookshop (at Zac's request) we enjoyed hot drinks in the modern ferry terminal building until our delayed ferry back to the mainland finally arrived at 7.30. During the twenty minutes or so that we had to wait outside in very chilly conditions, Callum managed to get told off three times for putting his front wheel on the ferry access road!

The ferry was the largest of our tour. We secured a comfortable table in the observation lounge and then went to the restaurant to get a top quality hot meal. Callum, under pressure from some in the group to eat more healthily, decided to buy the excellent fish, chips and peas like most of the others: after taking a mouthful he decided he didn't like it and ate a packet of crisps instead!

Cards and computer games kept us happy until we entered Loch Broom, then we got some excellent views of the approach to Ullapool from the upper deck. We finally pulled in at 11pm, and as usual were last to be unloaded. The hostel, a short ride along Shore Street, was expecting us late after Michael's earlier telephone call, but it really was difficult to get everything sorted in such a short time. A few had showers but many were exhausted and went straight to bed. Despite our best efforts to be quiet we still got told off by the people in the adjacent dormitory for waking up their children!

Saturday 28 August 2010
Tour: Scottish Highlands & Islands Day 6 Ullapool to Achmelvich Beach YH
6 present: Ash Freeman, Callum Freeman, Ryan Havinga, Hallam Iles, Michael Jones, Zac McGrath
View from Ullapool YH across Loch Broom
The group outside Ullapool YH
Starting out on the Road to the Isles
Helpful signposts that show all you need to know in north Scotland
"Local Wildlife Obstructs Cycling Club"
Ominous weather ahead on the Road to the Isles
Welcome sunshine at the coast at Loch an Eisg Brachaidh
Spectacular scenery at Loch an Eisg Brachaidh
Very welcome cafe stop near Inverkirkaig
Climbing one of the last hills to Lochinver
The youngsters signal an urgent retreat from the icy waters
Achmelvich beach beckons
Engineering works on the beach
Sandcastle building on the nearby beach
Sunset at Achmelvich beach
HD video footage from today's ride
Today we were heading north to one of the remotest parts of the UK mainland. The detailed weather forecast suggested an unsettled day, but all the showers seemed to be grouping together south of Torridon. The sun was shining as we were chatting with an ex-teacher from Devon over breakfast, but just to be on the safe side we decided to make best progress while the weather remained fair.

If we'd known there was a Tesco store in Ullapool too we'd probably have gone to it, but the small shop in the town served us adequately and allowed us to head north by around 10.30. Up here, where the country is very narrow, the signs are often quite simple: north or south!

The first ten miles of the day were fine - not too hilly, and plenty of sunny spells. Things began to change, however, when we reached the turnoff for the Road to the Isles at Drumrunie at 12.10. A few ominous raindrops soon turned into spells of slightly heavier rain, but with the weather forecast clearly in our minds we continued in denial for as long as we could. As luck would have it there was hardly anywhere to shelter in this nature reserve, and by the time the rain became unbearable we had reached the best shelter we had seen so far - a small area of woodland at the foot of the Stac Pollaidh mountain.

We took what lunch we had into the deeper recesses of the wood, but the rain became torrential and the scant leaves offered little protection after the first few minutes. Callum discovered that his jacket wasn't waterproof and everyone got cold and wet. We tried moving to some thicker bushes just opposite and huddled together for shelter, but it really didn't protect us any better from this downpour.

When the rain returned to more normal volumes we were forced to set off once more, with one or two youngsters wishing they could go home (there's nothing like a cold shower to test stamina!)Zac had somehow twisted his ankle while running around in the woods, but he was convinced he had broken something and was crawling along at half his usual speed.

When we finally regrouped at the right turn for Lochinver this darkest, most dismal period of the tour was dissolving into something far more pleasant: the rain had just about stopped and the sun was lighting up the coastline ahead of us. It would take us a while to dry out, but once the rain had stopped morale was bound to improve.

Our road has been nicknamed the Mad Little Road to Wester Ross - mad because it twists and turns all the way to the coast and on to Lochinver. The sun was shining and the skies were blue again, making the whole journey nearly as enjoyable as Michael had hoped it would be. Michael's satnav helped enormously, not so much for telling us which way to go as there were no turnoffs at all, but specifically because if gave us accurate readouts of the distance remaining to Lochinver, something that is notoriously hard to estimate from a map when the road is so twisty.

The scenery at the coast was magnificent, the remote and lonely lochs and islands only rarely glimpsed by humankind. When we were just a few miles from Lochinver we stumbled across a welcome surprise - a cafe at An Droighneach that Michael had all but forgotten about from his previous tours. It was 3.55 and Michael was keen to keep moving, but there was no doubt about the outcome of the vote so we headed up the steep drive and settled in the warm cafe, Achins, run by two sisters. This had been just about the third building we had seen since leaving Ullapool, and we could see why many visitors to the area would be certain to call in for hot drinks.

It was nearly an hour later when Hallam, riding down the steep drive from the cafe, came off on the cattle grid at the bottom. Fortunately the only damage was a bent rack which was easily fixed, and by 5.05 we were pulling in to Lochinver. The local shops provided us with supper, breakfast and lunch for tomorrow, and also with piles of used newspapers that we would need for drying our shoes overnight.

The last four miles to the youth hostel at Achmelvich were delayed by Zac's concerns about his foot. The surgery was closed and we had to travel the first mile up the hill towards the hostel before we could get any mobile phone reception. A twenty minute conversation with the doctor convinced us that Zac had not broken anything, so we pressed on along the delightful road to the coast.

Callum had been looking forward to swimming all week, and tonight was the one and only chance for doing so. Achmelvich hostel is located very close to one of the most beautiful silver sand beaches in Scotland, and normally it is an idyllic place to spend an evening. This evening, however, the air was chilly, the breeze was stiff and the sky was distinctly cloudy. Callum and the others were determined to go in for a swim, but they couldn't stay in the icy water for more than three minutes! We were still able to enjoy the area up to a point by walking over the grassy headland to the next beach and building an enormous sandcastle. So we had a sample of the delights of Achmelvich, but this year it was not the heavenly place we have found on some previous tours.

When we arrived back at the hostel, cold and tired, Zac seemed to be saying something about having jam with the warden. This turned out to mean he had been playing a guitar with him, and was nothing to do with an absence of marmalade after all. There was just a single shower at the very simple hostel - in a shed at the back - so we took it in turns to shower and then settled into the cosy kitchen to prepare our meals. Everyone was tired and most were in bed in the cramped dormitory by 10pm. It was all surprisingly comfortable, however, and there was not a squeak from anyone all night.

Sunday 29 August 2010
Tour: Scottish Highlands & Islands Day 7 Achmelvich to Carbisdale Castle YH (48 mi)
6 present: Ash Freeman, Callum Freeman, Ryan Havinga, Hallam Iles, Michael Jones, Zac McGrath
Preparing to leave Achmelvich YH
Achmelvich YH
Ryan makes much of his knee pains outside the Altnacealgach Inn after a very tasty lunch
Loch Assynt
Entrance to Carbisdale Castle YH
Approaching Carbisdale Castle YH
HD video footage from today's ride
Today's forecast was good, with a strong westerly tailwind that should help us all the way to the east coast. Zac's foot was evidently much better today so everyone was in high spirits as we set off at 10.15 for our 47-mile cross-Britain ride.

We followed the generally quiet main A837 for most of the way, which initially gave us a side wind. This turned into a kind of headwind as we climbed a small hill into a cutting, and Ryan, who had been having knee problems on and off for the past month, found this stretch particularly painful. The rest of the road gave us the tailwind we had hoped for, and some spectacular views of Loch Assynt.

When Ryan saw a bus going the other way he began to doubt Michael's assertion that there were no buses today that would help us. Michael said he could flag one down if he saw one, and within minutes he had done so. Sadly the bus was heading north and we found him three minutes later at the turnoff for the A894!

There was a small ruined castle on Loch Assynt - Ardvreck castle. It is supposedly haunted, but we didn't really have time to investigate as we had a specific target for lunch. We made good progress up the easy climb from Inchnademph and enjoyed a high speed descent on the other side with a magnificent tailwind, bringing us to the Altnacealgach inn in good time for lunch.

The restaurant proved excellent, having a wood-burning stove and excellent meals. Even the prices were good, with child-sized portions being bigger than we would normally expect for adult portions in Devon. Some had chips, everyone had drinks and we thoroughly enjoyed our stay. The woman who was serving us kept sitting around looking at us and chatting, which was friendly but a little off-putting. She didn't believe Ash when he told her a banana was a herb and promised to look it up.

The afternoon ride was pretty much all downhill with a tailwind. Zac's insistence on making up limericks about people backfired when Michael made up one about him: he did his best to prevent Michael from telling Ryan, but unfortunately it found its way to him quite quickly. All Zac could do was punch him for laughing!

As usual the satnav guided us effortlessly to the correct right turn and gave us a constant readout of distance to go. This accurate information proved invaluable on the tour in keeping morale high as well as avoiding the need to read maps on the road and the possibility of wasting time on wrong turns.

Just for a change today, Callum was not asking to go swimming as we crossed a river (the river Oykel in the case) - clearly last night had satisfied his need for swimming for some time! We soon got excellent views of Carbisdale Castle youth hostel, a real castle left to the SYHA by the owners in the middle of the last century, and everyone was excited when we finally arrived at the impressive entrance at 5pm.

The castle is reputed to be haunted - Michael had told the group ghost stories about it on previous tours - but the room where most people claim to have seen ghosts is the so-called Spook room, room 208. This used to be the children's nursery in years gone by, and many people claim to have seen the old nanny wandering around the internal balcony in the room. We hadn't been allocated to the spook room, but because we had arrived so early we were allowed to go up and look around it before its new occupants arrived. It brought back memories for Michael of previous club tours where our youngsters claimed to have felt a very unusual presence in the room.

AS the hostel are no longer doing guided tours, Michael took everyone around for a whirlwind tour of the three staircases, four floors, secret doors, hidden passages, sculpture gallery and massive common rooms. The showers were so powerful that Callum managed to flood his - when this happens water apparently drips down into the dining room below, so he spent some time mopping it up. We cooked our own food in the enormous members' kitchen but some bought puddings from the dining room to finish things off nicely.

Enthusiasm for our first and last opportunity for a game of Manhunt had now waned, since everyone was tired again. There was some interest for Michael's castle treasure hunt (find and identify all the showers and bathrooms in the hostel) but sadly Zac and Ash decided it would be more fun to cheat and copy the information of the floor plans at reception rather than run around, which ended the game in five minutes flat. So we concluded our day with some games of Bomberman in the dorm before retiring to bed at the fairly early time of 10.30.

Monday 30 August 2010
Tour: Scottish Highlands & Islands Day 8 Carbisdale Castle to Sleeper Train (47 mi)
6 present: Ash Freeman, Callum Freeman, Ryan Havinga, Hallam Iles, Michael Jones, Zac McGrath
Callum, Zac, Ryan, Hallam and Ash at Carbisdale YH
Entrance to Carbisdale Castle YH
The Upper Gallery, first floor of Carbisdale Castle YH
The Statue Gallery, ground floor of Carbisdale Castle YH
Callum admires the view along the Cromarty Firth towards Dingwall
View from Cadha Mor towards Ardgay across Dornoch Firth
HD video footage from today's ride
We awoke to a glorious sunny morning - definitely the best weather of the tour - and the good weather was set to continue for several days. Most of us booked a hostel breakfast this morning, but the dining room was so busy that we had to use overflow tables in the Statue Gallery. It was during breakfast that the van driver who would be taking our bikes from Inverness to Edinburgh at the end of the day rang to say he would now be happy for us to be there by 6pm rather than the originally-planned 4.30. Suddenly we weren't in a rush.

We chatted with some End to End racing cyclists outside the hostel and finally left rather late at 10.10. We had nearly reached the local village of Ardgay when the driver rang again to ask us to return to the original plan of 4.30! Well we would do our best, but he had been messing us about a bit.

Michael was sad to see that both of the corner food shops that had been in Ardgay on his last visit had now closed, one having been replaced with a hunting shop. Their fate had apparently been sealed by the building of the bridge over the Dornoch Firth in the 1990s which meant most drivers now bypassed Ardgay altogether. We had to get provisions though so we crossed the end of the firth to reach the Spar shop at Bonar Bridge, adding an extra couple of miles to our day.

We avoided the main road by taking the shortcut over Cadha Mor, which wasn't steep enough to cause Ryan any particular knee problems. While we were waiting at the viewpoint to look back at Carbisdale a female taxi driver pulled up with a couple of women from California. They were on a European cruise, had a day to spend in Scotland and had booked the taxi to take them on a guided tour of the area. They were very interested in our cycling trip and in what we had to say about Carbisdale Castle and its ghosts, but clearly the taxi driver / tour guide felt she had to earn her money and added in a few details: apparently the castle has 365 windows, one for each day of the year!

The scenery on top of the moor was so pleasant that we stopped for lunch on a grass verge by the side of the road, with tiny lizards streaking through the grass at lightning speed. An excellent downhill brought us to the Cromarty Firth, and since we were in good time Michael made the decision to follow the cycle route around Dingwall rather than take the busy A9 over the firth. Cycle route 1 was clearly signposted but after following it along the side of the A835 for a little way it carried straight on instead of veering left to join the A9 as the latest maps said it should. Well it seemed to be going in the right direction so we followed it all the way to Tore roundabout.

At this point Hallam decided to get a puncture, but Michael was stunned when he arrived at the scene a few minutes later to find the youngsters had already got the wheel off and were changing the tube - a real pit-stop team! The job was complete in 8 minutes, which was all good news for the van driver who was ringing us regularly to see how much longer we were going to be.

Unfortunately the last part of our journey went a bit wrong. Our road now joined the A9 but there was no cycle path continuing down the hill. Our route 1 cycle path took us left off the roundabout, saying 7 miles to Inverness, so we trusted it and the leading riders set off keeping a watchful eye for the next sign. Unfortunately no such sign appeared and it was two miles down the road that Michael finally caught up with them. We then found a cycle path sign saying Inverness 9 miles, and it was taking us back in the general direction of the A9. What had happened was that the cycle route turned right a few metres after leaving Tore roundabout (although this was not marked on the map) but the sign could only be seen when travelling in the other direction!

At this point Michael picked the direct 5 mile route to Inverness over the hill which was a good deal shorter than 9 miles, but it did involve climbing over a hill in the heat of the afternoon which left Ryan with slightly painful knees. After negotiating busy traffic in Inverness we finally arrived at the station at 5.20 or so. The van driver was very pleased to see us, loaded four of our bikes into his nearly-full van and set off for Edinburgh.

There was a reason of course why we had to hire a van. The sleeper train from Inverness to London would have been far more convenient for us than the sleeper from Edinburgh, but the Inverness sleeper only accepted two bikes and lengthy negotiation with the ScotRail staff a few months earlier had failed to persuade them to change that restriction. The Edinburgh sleeper would take 6 bikes but all the trains from Inverness to Edinburgh also had a two-bike restriction. We had tried going to the manager of ScotRail to get special permission for our group, since we has to travel together to get our railcard discount, but after hours of wasted phone calls we were left with no option but to hire a van for the remaining four bikes at a cost of £70. I think it can safely be said that ScotRail is not at all cycle friendly.

Our train wasn't due to leave until 6.43, and while the rest of us used the time to get food from Morrisons, Zac used the time to go hunting for a souvenir for his Mum - which was admirable of course, but left him with no food for the journey home. The train was ready for boarding at 1825 but to our complete amazement six other cyclists were already loading their bikes onto a train that was supposed to have a limit of two bike spaces. An annoying platform attendant assured us quite angrily that there was no way we would be taking our bikes on that train as there were already six on there! The other cyclists, who claimed they had reservations too, said quite calmly "If you think we're going to take off some of our bikes so you can put yours on, then you should know that's not going to happen". Fortunately when the train guard finally arrived on the scene he accepted that this was a ScotRail error and found a way for us to get all the bikes on the train - which begs the question of why we were made to spend £70 on a van when the train would have been quite capable of taking all six of our bikes! This kind of intransigence is just like the bad old days with British Rail!

Our journey to Edinburgh took several hours. An American gentleman was sitting next to our reserved table seats who ran some kind of Christian training charity from the UK. Initially he was very chatty - and very interesting actually - but when he realised we were unlikely to sign up for his mission he shuffled off to a seat in another carriage. A short while later a young man came along and asked us if we had seen his master! The disciple returned later to collect more of his master's things and conveyed their best wishes for our journey.

We got to Edinburgh at 10.20 but the van driver was running late and didn't arrived until around 11.07. While we were waiting Ash and Zac spotted a man waiting on the platform who they knew to be "the guy from the Aviva advert". Ash had no trouble finding the courage to go and confirm his identity: he was busy on the phone at that time but called them all back later for a chat. Apparently he regretted doing the advert now, although he had been paid well to do it!

The sleeper left on time at 11.40. Our attendant appeared to be at least fifteen years past retirement age: he took forever to check our tickets and sign them, and then got confused over the breakfast orders and had to come back again to check. He was friendly though, and our journey was very comfortable.

Tuesday 31 August 2010
Tour: Scottish Highlands & Islands Day 9 Sleeper Train to Home (2 mi)
6 present: Ash Freeman, Callum Freeman, Ryan Havinga, Hallam Iles, Michael Jones, Zac McGrath
Disembarking from the sleeper train at Euston station, London
HD video footage from today's ride
Unlike yesterday the last part of our tour went completely smoothly and without incident. We were woken for breakfast at 7.20, were off the train at Euston by 8.03 and cycle straight to Paddington with the help of a properly functioning satnav in 25 minutes. We were greeted by name by the guard of the 9.06 service to Newton Abbot, who wanted to make sure that the bike spaces were being allocated to the right group - that's First Great Western efficiency for you! Our journey home was occupied with food, card games and Bomberman, and everyone was full awake by the time we reached the waiting parents at Newton Abbot at 11.40.

The weather on our tour had been remarkably good considering the poor forecast before we left, and whilst we might have wished for warmer weather at Achmelvich we had really managed to do pretty much everything we had planned to do. Hopefully the youngsters will look back on their first trip to Scotland with fond memories.

Friday 3 September 2010
Evening ride: Converted to Social
6 present: Julian Duquemin, Ash Freeman, Callum Freeman, Ryan Havinga, Michael Jones, Zac McGrath
Not surprisingly, everyone was quite tired after our jaunt around Scotland, and since it was Callum's birthday on Sunday he had requested a ten-pin bowling social tonight. Everyone agreed, and with Julian make an unexpected return visit to club activities we headed off to Plymouth. We hired two lanes so we could play two games of three people each in parallel. Ash was stunned and overjoyed in equal parts to achieve his highest ever score of 152, but everyone very much enjoyed the games. As usual we called in to Tesco on the way home for snacks.

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