Took a short spin westward along NCR7 to Dumfries, where I knew I could get my chainrings replaced. Having seen the state of them (Shane McGowan has better teeth) it was easy to see why they weren't working, but the inner ring was barely four months old. Touring kills your bike: official. It was also beginning to kill my knees...
After the bike shop, bike now as good as new (ish), I stopped off for a coffee and bumped into my opposite number. Two end-to-enders with less luggage between them than I had. Much, much less... They looked like they were less than a week into the ride, and were clearly benefitting from real beds at night and light loads every day.
On the advice of Mike the fitness instructor and camp commandant at Powfoot, I decided to press on to Kirkcudbright, where there was, I was assured, a really lovely campsite. That I was making good time despite my workshop visit and leisurely lunch meant that I could get some extra miles in and shorten tomorrow's ride. On a whim, I decided to ditch the coast road and stick with National Route 7 again to Castle Douglas, from where I could choose to go on or cut short to Dalbeattie if my knee worsened. You can never tell what knees will do... As it happened, my trip to Scotland's 'food town' was to buoy my mood more than I could have anticipated.
I popped in to the town's tourist info kiosk as I wanted to discuss my options for getting even further along the coast (I'd heard the weather was going to get worse, so I reckoned on getting some miles in while I could) rather than sticking with the plan. Flexibility is today's buzzword.
Yvonne and Emma were very helpful and charming, sorted me out with a very well appointed and reasonably priced campsite and - spookily - claimed to have seen a story about me, my journey and impending arrival in Scotland in the Sunday paper. So, there you have it, I'm famous for 15 minutes in Dumfries and Galloway. Well, it may not mean a lifestyle change, but it made me feel I'd be able to make a difference.
I pedalled on via Kirkcudbright - a town as pretty as any arty hideaway in Cornwall - to Gatehouse of Fleet, a tiny town with a mobile chippy (delicious) a campsite with private bathrooms (with actual baths!) and, conveniently, many electric sockets for charging mobile phones and camera batteries. What a find. Thank you Yvonne and Emma!
I'd earned a righteous and deep sleep, but a lonesome dog, left in a caravan while his owner went out drinking, kept me awake with pitiful barking until 1am. I really got my knickers in a twist about it, and considered actually letting the dog out to get him to be quiet. I was at the end of my chain, and felt as sorry for the poor hound as I did for myself.
Choices, choices... Do I take the coastal route, the A75, the Stranraer-bound artery, clogged with heavy lorries and narrowed by hills and cliffs, or take the cycle route over the fells to Creetown.
Hills or lorries.
Knee pain or terror.
Knees it was, reasoning that I was bound to reap the benefits of a long climb with a long descent... In the event, the altitude simply provided a stiffer headwind, and I ended up pedalling hard just to get down the hill, so I stopped off at Creetown post office for a hot pie and a supply of jaffa cakes.
Stopped in sunshine at Kirroughtree for coffee and my supply of Avon's "Skin-so-soft", a delightful moisturising spray that just happens to be the Army's only workable defence against Scotland's weaponised insect population: midges.
Feeling the slightest bit delicate in the knee department, I toddled (an old chap in a mobility scooter burned me up) to Newton Stewart, and loafed by the river Cree, eating jaffa cakes and watching kingfishers flashing up and down the iodine-black waters. Not far now to my camp at South Balfern, a two-farm road-ending just south of Wigtown.
Proper food in Wigtown; Scotland's book town was mostly shut, it seemed, except for a café that served real food, big cakes and proper pots of tea. Perfect!
Picked up a bag of peas in the Co-op for my knee, and wearily flopped my tent out at Drumroamin, where I fell asleep with frozen food on my legs and repeats of CSI on the farm's common room telly.
Tomorrow looks like it's going to be hard, with 50 miles of coast to cover and a forecast of evil headwinds. Still, I could get lucky...
...I didn't get lucky.
Today is the halfway point, timewise, and that fact is a sobering reminder that I need to look after myself, or I may not finish the ride.
Took the tailwind to Isle of Whithorn, location for the film ‘The Wicker Man’. Britt Ekland had, very sensibly, stopped dancing, put her clothes on and gone home... It POUNDED with rain but, in the lee of a stubby coastal tower, I managed to sleep...
Now I know I'm tired: I'm sleeping in broad daylight in high winds and rain.
The absolute, muscular and unflinching headwind that accompanied the turn north-west towards Luce caused me much pain and swearing, so I stopped in Port William for convenience food and a bus-stop banquet.
Fell asleep again at Chapel Finian, a roadside ruin with a sheltering wall. There's something about wind noise that is so mentally exhausting, so sitting behind the wall was - even with wet grass and boulders for a bed - a slice of heaven.
This was turning out to be a harder day than I'd bargained for, and I still had 17 miles left to ride.
Reached Glenluce just as it started to rain (again, third time today) and took a long detour to avoid the delightful A75, which was even less appealing in the rain. After about another 40 minutes of pedalling into the wind, slamming rain and battling to stay upright in the wake of the local cement trucks, I arrived at the dismal-yet-delightful tin-farm that was the Sands of Luce Holiday Park. The owner took pity, or so I thought, and dropped his price for one night to 'just' a tenner. I pitched in the field next to a local biker, a retired engineer called Dave. It transpired that Dave had told the charming owner to get lost at the price of 15 quid a night, so he'd dropped the price for him. Well, with me pitched next door, he couldn't charge me more, could he?
Met Dave again at the Sandhead Village pub/restaurant/hotel, the Tigh Na Mara, and chewed the fat well into the evening. Not literally, as I had a mahoosive paella and lentil soup, but in any case it transpired that we both had the same plan for the following day's travel: north, by train. Dave was going home after five ill-chosen days of touring; I was avoiding two more days of headwinds, the A77 (it's just trucks) and heavy luggage, and taking a rest day or two to help sort my knee out. By now I had no problem with taking trains where necessary. I no longer care about 'completing' the west coast as much as I do about finishing the ride in one piece.
Packed up and left camp in the second downpour of the day, heading for the refuge of Stranraer rail station with Dave the local. True to recent form, it continued to crap with rain for the seven mile journey so, having arrived an hour and a half before the train departed, we had plenty of time to strip and air soaked 'waterproofs', drink machine coffee (Stranraer has a coffee machine, and that's it. No other discernable investment has been made to the station, or indeed any concession to passenger comfort made since it was used for shipping in POWs. Probably. The men’s toilet is pure mid 20th century) and discuss routes, travels and places to avoid.
Changed trains at Ayr and left my helmet behind. Doh!
Dave volunteered to investigate lost property at Glasgow Central but, shortly after I reached Largs, he phoned to say he'd been unable to find the helmet, but that he'd picked up one for free from his local bike shop! What a nice bloke, and an interesting one to boot...
Oh, and as it was a day off, the wind dropped and the sun came out. Perfect cycling weather, in fact.
Fab breakfast in a lovely and tastefully styled B+B, the landlady of which offered to dry my tent and do my small pile of laundry. Completely above and beyond the call of duty, and something for which I'm very grateful.
Dave called and we arranged to meet so he could give me the helmet. In the event he also bought me coffee and a sandwich, which was very welcome and another morale booster. Caught the ferry to Great Cumbrae Island in the afternoon, taking about an hour or so to circumnavigate it on its one road, and spending just enough time in the early 1970s time-warp town of Millport, giving my regards to - possibly - the last VG store in the world and the Millport crocodile, a painted rock in the harbour with fierce teeth and wild eyes.
Oh, and here's my food tip for the day: the Koh-I-Noor Indian restaurant in Largs.
Really, really poor. Pre-made and re-heated onion bhajis with a weird three parts onion to one part tinned fruit salad and lettuce accompaniment, chicken jalfrezi with no chillis in it, and clearly not fresh naan bread. I ate because I was hungry, but decided that trying to palm me off with £1 too little change was more than reason enough to leave a - deliberately derisory - 15p tip.
Woke early and refreshed. I'd left the curtains open so I could enjoy the sea view. After all, why waste the best aspect of this adventure behind floral curtains. I stood - naked - at the window and admired the scene: Arran and Cumbrae, like black-ringed emeralds set in the beaten silver of a windless sea, cloud-catching mountains, black cliffs and moorland bruises populated with flashes of white from cars and the distant, but unmistakable, angles of an early yacht. In this weather, this early, a yacht means crappy weather will be along shortly. I left the sea view window and put my pants on as I didn't fancy upsetting the dog walkers on the prom...
I could smell breakfasts cooking too.
Took a - mercifully - short trip upwind to McInroy's Point and caught the ferry to Dunoon, a surprisingly scenic 20 minute boat ride across the Firth of Clyde.
Dropped my bags off at Foxbank B+B and took a long ride upwind around Holy Loch and up Loch Long... Well, until it rained me out and the wall of wind stopped me, soaked and aching, in my tracks.
On the way back I had a most unexpected tangle with the local fauna, when it stepped in front of my bike an managed a lot of startled legwork and flapping. Oh yes, if you guessed that the local critter fleeing my menacing wheels of steel was a heron, you can give yourself a pat on the back (and give me next week's lotto numbers too). I never imagined I'd see one that close, and I expect that's exactly what the heron thought too!
As if that wasn't odd enough, I then got beeped and waved at - quite energetically - by a woman in a car who looked a bit familiar. Twice; first driving one way and then the other. How odd.
After all the excitement of the day, a beer and a take-away were uppermost in my mind, but I had a much more pressing engagement with the local chemist, to arrange a faxed prescription from Dr Dave and lovely drugs for my knee, which wasn't getting any better...
A change is as good as a rest, apparently, and today was officially a rest day, although that simply meant not engaging with headwinds, luggage or hills, today's urgent task was to sort out the position of the cleat on my right shoe, now positively identified as the cause of my knee pain. I had so wanted for that not to be the cause, as I knew that re-setting cleats was a precise and repetitive job requiring a delicate touch and brute strength. An ideal undertaking whilst tired, you'll agree.
In the event, it was much worse: one of the allen bolt heads was busy rounding out, and taking my allen key with it, so there was no way it would ever get adjusted by me now.
Looked up and phoned round some Glasgow bike shops (Dunoon doesn't have one, and everything else is shut on a Sunday) and took the Calmac and train to the city to address the problem.
As it happened, none of the bike shops wanted to fix them either, so I took the plunge and went shopping... Why is it that the combination of fit size, comfort and suitability is only found in the most expensive - and garish - shoe in the shop? Arse.
So, not quite a rest day, but it's gone a long way to solving my dodgy knee, so I don't mind that it turned into a change day.