Days 28 - Present
 

Day 28

 

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.

 

 

Day 29

 

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...

 

 

Day 30

 

...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.

 

 

Day 31

 

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.

 

 

Day 32

 

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.

Don't bother.

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.

 

 

Day 33

 

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...

 

 

Day 34

 

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.

 

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Day 35

And lo! The gods smiled upon the weary traveller, and did send down sunbeams to warm him, gentle winds to speed his journey and blue skies to lift his heart...
Yes, for the first time in weeks (since about week 2, I think) I cycled in sunshine and tailwinds. Not far, but far enough to appreciate the gesture. Today was all about three boats and some cunning to avoid what I'm told was a very hilly road from Dunoon to Ormidale. In the event, perhaps I needn't have bothered, as it transpired that it wasn't as hilly as the road from Ormidale to Tighnabruich, which I had to take to reach my campsite. Swings and roundabouts? Well, I took the ferry from Dunoon to the 'mainland', toddled down the Clyde shore to Wemyss Bay - home of the most fabulous Victorian wood and iron rail-ferry terminus - and hopped on the ferry there to the Isle of Bute. Continuing the journey's developing theme of meeting interesting people, I queued for the boat with a local cyclist and regular at Dale's, and we discussed kit, routes and, both being of a certain age, knees. On Bute I found a fab but very cramped restaurant on the old pier at Bogany Point, and ate out on the pier to soak up the heat from twice diluted Scottish rays, before turning northwards to catch the Colintraive ferry from the top of the island.

Distracted by the opportunity to see the other side of the island, I took the eight mile round trip to Ettrick bay, which has a sandy beach with views across to the fells on Arran and the hills of Kintyre beyond. Clearly this was where the young ladies of Bute came to test drive their bikinis before their Ibiza outings, and I'm sure I'd have been happy to join them if I'd been a local lad. Back on the north road the weather forgot its promise and started to rain again, but it was just a couple of miles to the ferry and the final push to the campsite at Carry Farm, so I didn't mind.

The Colintraive ferry crossing is short: any shorter and CalMac would probably have installed a rope swing with a tyre and charged you for a push...
On the mainland (OK, the Cowal peninsula) again, and I was riding with yet another local on a very shiny racer. He informed me that I'd have been as well to ride from Dunoon, as it would still have been the easier part of my journey, and that the road to Tighnabruich over the Kyles of Bute was high, with a bloody long hill, unsuitable for anyone with a heavy pack and dodgy knees... aha, but see, I don't have dodgy knees anymore! Four days of rest, two of lovely drugs and one in my new, problem-solving shoes had given me the knees of a 20 year old, and he wasn't asking for them back!

In fact, I couldn't have been happier to ride up the hill; the views from the top, looking over the Kyles and the island of Bute were as stunning as any mountain scene on the Rhine or Danube. The only thing spoiling it was the one billion (estimated) flies all wanting a nibble on me, sweaty and signalling my living, blood-bearing presence with hot breath, savoury perspiration and god knows what else insects look for in a meal. In fact, my Scottish cycling companions needn't have apologised (as so many of the locals have, politeness seemingly built in to every conversion, for other people's poor driving, hills, weather and the midges) for the hill at all. It's what the journey should be about, at least on the physical level. It would, however, have been a pleasant end to my day's riding if Carry Farm had still been a campsite. It wasn't. It was a residential tin farm in the middle of nowhere.
Arse.
I can see why anyone would be happy to live there: neighbours from hell included seals bickering and belching on their adjacent rock thrones and deer stealing the corn put down for the chickens. Rural life, eh? I opted for a rough camp on a small grassy spit, and went to the pub... The Kames Hotel caters for the boaty set, and the Scots were not much in evidence amongst the well-heeled English at the bar. Food was priced accordingly, so I opted for beer and snacks, and decided to cook when I got 'home', and also built and lit my first real campfire of the journey. I went to bed tired, sweaty and smelling of woodsmoke, but I knew that I'd had an adventure, so I felt good.


Day 36

Early up; the sound of seals farting, belching and grunting tore the dewy stillness of the shore in two and wiped the floor with both pieces. I know... They look cute, but they're like two ton legless rotweillers with trapped wind. Still, from a distance they're fine. Skipped porridge and headed round the point, past Ardlamont, towards the ferry for Tarbert. Another short but cold crossing and I was in picture-postcard Scotland, wall-to-wall with galleries and gift shops and the original (probably) Loch Fyne Fish Bar. It's a chippy. Grabbed a coffee, use of a blessed settee and the loo (oh yes) in a wee gallery, and headed south, towards another ferry, this time to Arran. It's a short ride, but the clotted maritime air - not so much rain as thick drizzle - and a subtly forceful headwind made for touch going for the 10 miles. I'd have complained, only I passed an old German guy on a 3-speed roadster, wearing cheap waterproofs and ordinary shoes. He was pushing his bike and its sodden luggage up a hill, but was still cheerful. It made me wonder about all my weather and kit-based griping: was I losing sight of what touring was about?

I bade him bon voyage and sped off to Claonaig and waited... And waited... For the well-spaced ferry crossing. Soggy German caught me up, still in good spirits, and joined my conversation with a seasoned tourer who had wandered over to cast his eye over my 'rig', and impart to me the benefit of his accumulated wisdom on the subject and many others, including beer, driving and youth hostels. On the boat he wordlessly proffered a leaflet on Scottish Youth Hosteling, waving it in front of me in a manner that suggested that I'd "do well to read this, young man", and pushed it onto the table in front of me. He had no idea that I'd already picked up the same leaflet earlier in the journey, so I was unlikely to jump up and thank him, but I nodded in appreciation and I ticked the box next to the picture of "retired teacher" in my mental Spotter's Guide to Types.

Anyone wishing to cycle round Arran has, sooner or later, to face up to the hill. There's only one serious climb on the island, and I'd been told that it was easiest approached from Lochranza, so the warm, dry sitting was soon replaced by a long, damp slog up the glen road - inevitably foggy but astonishingly atmospheric - and over to Sannox. The eastern side of the island is almost entirely flat as far as Brodick, the island's capital, but is scattered with picturesque villages and bays, populated with artists and craftists, holiday homes and the well-to-do at play. Brodick contrasts with this very sharply, but at least offers a choice of low cost eating venues, and was therefore my next stop. Onion soup, burger, chips, salad and a beer later, I was ready for the final, rollercoaster, push to my campsite at Kildonan, the most southerly tip of the island. The soil there was deep, the midges few, thanks to a sea breeze from the beach just meters away, and the showers were hot. Bliss? Well, there was a covered area for cooking, a day room for recharging mobile pho... I mean watching TV, and a very good pub next door. Let's just say I'll be going back!


Day 37

Thick fog, fat drizzle, low cloud... Call it what you will, the 40-tog duvet of moist air that had been pulled up the west of Scotland had coagulated around Arran's high southern shore, making the morning trundle a damp and breathless slog over high ground. Fortunately then, I ran into company that would raise my spirits and keep me up to speed. That blessing was delivered in the form of three Norwegian lads who were taking a tour of the islands. Funny, friendly and razor sharp, they were the perfect antidote to the dull morning slog, and the miles trolled easily by as we chatted and swapped stories, eventually stopping at Blackwaterfoot golf club for a cuppa and - novelty for the Nords - a bacon roll. As we went our separate ways, they over the 'string' road, and I along the coast, we paused for photos and I promised them a drink should we meet up on Islay.

The east coast of the island was Beautifully flat and, as the mist burned off and the wind was now at my back, the ride became a cheerful spin, still grinning with Norwegian jokes in mind.

At Lochranza, I was harassed mercilessly by a deer.
It's ok, I'll wait while you read that again.
A deer seemed to have adopted the car park for the ferry, and was working the traffic for snacks, often poking her head into cars for sandwiches, cakes and fruit.
OK, so I suppose I brought it on myself by offering the animal a piece of apple, but it did look more healthy than the flapjack which it was doing it's best to wrest from a group of Belgian cyclists. Cute at a distance, and magical in the wild, nevertheless it was a complete nuisance as it poked it's nose into my face, trying to get another mouthful of juicy apple.

Back on the mainland of Kintyre, the sun was having it's way with the cloud, and it was a shirt off ride all the way to Carradale, and the welcoming end to the friendliest day of the trip so far. Friendly? Well, within minutes of arriving in the village I'd had a good old natter with the village gardener, met a man from Leicester who lived in Scotland and could still get in touch with his accent when I mentioned Shepshed, been offered a hand putting up my tent and the use of a small dog as a hot water bottle... And then I went to the pub. Just for a pint, mind, but the locals Bobby and Sarah (OK, not local locals, but they had a house there) were good company and made easy conversation. We were joined by Argyll and Dodie, two real locals who'd lived their whole lives in the village and were immensely entertaining. They also managed to carry on drinking long after I'd left for bed...
 

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Day 38

Having slept rather more soundly than I otherwise might have done, due to the generosity and beverages on offer at the village pub, I awoke to see my tented neighbours going about their business. Rod and (can't remember, sorry... Mahesh?) were from Bradford, and were keen to wish me well for my journey. They, however, were about to emigrate to New Zealand which, at least in my mind, warranted far more respect and envy than the short bicycle ride I was unedrtaking. They also - very kindly - offered to make me a cup of tea. It has to be said that, even though I love camping, I really don't like cooking on the single gas burner with just one pan; a cup of tea as a gift to a weary traveller was as valuable as a rare single malt or fine champagne and I was, and still am, very grateful. I knew I had a hilly 14 miler to Campbeltown ahead of me, the next likely place I could get a cup of tea, so having one before I set off put me in exactly the right frame of mind.

I'd been told by everyone in Carradale that Campbeltown was a friendly town, but I hadn't expected it to be noticeably so. I'm happy to say that it WAS noticeably more friendly than other places I'd visited. I had decided to stop there and buy new shoes, as my trainers were now so fetid that simply leaving them strapped to my rack would have acted as an effective anti-theft device even in a big city, but - out here in the country where people just don't steal bikes as often - it was unnecessary and, let's face it, they were beginning to upset people. I had also caved in to my longing to be wearing 'normal' underpants again, so decided to buy some. The menswear shop in the town was furnished in the old-fashioned wooden shelves, drawers and cabinets style. It had clearly once carried a far wider stock, and many of the shelves were empty, except at the back of the shop from where one could buy or hire formal and traditional Highland attire. The owner was on hand to explain and help me chose from his modest but good quality stock of pants, and a three-pack of boxers seemed to do the trick perfectly. In conversation with him, it emerged that many people thought his shop old-fashioned and 'boring', but I was happy to say that I disagreed. Yes, maybe it was old fashioned, but boring it certainly wasn't. It's always a delight to me to see a shop that is different, that survives on service and customer relationships, and is geared towards the needs of local people rather than the profit margins of a large chain and its shareholders.

The same can be said of Campbeltown's shoe shop too; not a huge stock, but friendly and helpful owners and, as it happened, just the sort of shoes I as looking for.
Then again, maybe this is the first sign of me slipping into middle age? Maybe I should rebel against this ageing, buy a motorbike, get my eyebrow pierced and grow my hair. Y'know, have a proper mid-life crisis? Ok, maybe not, but i'm not sure I'm ready for full-time sandals and real ale either...
Sat and had a 'famous' bacon roll from Light Bytes ("Famous?", asked the girl behind the counter. "Well," I replied, "I'm not from round here and I've heard of them. Anyway, there's a sign on your door saying "Bacon roll to take out, £1.50." and besides, I'll be telling everyone about them." So I have, and very tasty it was too. And, do you know what? She as a smiley, friendly face too. My famous snack was punctuated by people coming up to me and asking what I was doing, where I as going and how I was getting on. Really. Complete strangers taking an unsolicited interest. One of them was from Vancouver so maybe he shouldn't count towards the 'Campbeltown friendly count'. The couple I'd met at the Kames Hotel a couple of nights earlier said hello too.

As the sun heaved aside the usual Atlantic mists and turned bright chill into midsummer sultry I pedalled away from town, the wind behind me (I could get used to this...) and up the west coast of Kintyre. The pretty coast with the beaches. No, that's not fair. It's just the less hilly coast with fewer houses, but it was utterly spellbinding. The beaches were all white sand, carved rocks and glassy, warm waters, with views of Ghiga, Islay and Jura in the distance and so inviting for a swim. I yielded to temptation and rode off the rode, ran down to the shore and slipped out of everything except my shorts and got in.
Wow.

Back on the bike and shirtless again for only the second day so far, I was feeling like I didn't want the day to end... but I might have been more careful what I'd wished for.
At Clachan filling station I stopped for water, my two bottles having long since run dry, and indulged myself with sports drinks and fruit juice too. It was that sort of hot day. Now, with only 6 or 7 miles to the ferry terminal, I knew my campsite would also soon be in sight.
Stopping off to check ferry times for the following day with Mrs Dispatcher, I checked with her that the campsite wasn't far either. She took her face of piteous disbelief and tried to hide it with her shades, but I'd seen the doubt cross her mind, and on inspection of the map, the campsite was indeed another 20 miles further on. Along a hilly road. I was almost in despair; I was exhausted from my 50 miles, done in a rush as my leisurely cuppa and chats with my fellow campers had turned my half eight into everyone else's ten o'clock, dehydrated and struggling to keep up my fluids and carbs, and now had a 2 mile detour. I was beginning to be not very happy.
Bumped into the Norwegians again, and had a brief chat concerning their schedule (mostly beer and pool with locals in Tarbert) and mine (20 more bloody miles) which at least cheered me up a little, and took the Knoydart coast road through the most southerly of Scotland's empty quarters to the campsite at Port Ban. It as a road I thought would never end, and although it wasn't really that long or hilly, it was enough to finish off my sense of humour.

It also turned out to be a Christian retreat, with plenty to do if bearing witness, prayer and sing-alongs were your thing. I'll give credit where it's due though and say that, even though the cafe on site had closed, they did cook me fish and chips as a take away, which was just as well as I was in no mood for cooking after trying to pitch my tent amongst the midges.


Day 39

The road back to Kennacraig, the Islay ferry terminal, was just as hilly and energy sapping as it had been on the way out, but at least this time I had the wind with me and knew how long it would take to get to the boat. I diverted myself by counting the houses for the hour-long journey to the main road (63) and freewheeled into Tarbert for my brekkie.

I'd heard (from a Tarbert local living in Campbeltown) that the locals there weren't as friendly, although on my last visit I had no means to compare or test the theory. Today, though, I as able to detect a thick streak of indifference and resentment running through the 'customer service skills' of the aitress in the cafe, which I think was also called Light Bites. I'd have tipped her for a smile, a friendly word or even a hello, but none there came. Here's a tip: Smile, girl, and at least pretend to take an interest in people from outside your extended family. It's your job!

Gladly I left Tarbert's frosty shore and pedalled up the road to the ferry. Mrs Dispatcher said hello, and enquired after my night's camping (see, it wasn't that hard, was it?) and I got chatting to an English couple, Liz and Gerry, two medics on holiday (I'd guessed they were medics: whatever it is that doctors do or say when meeting people subtly marks them out. I think it's a bedisde manner thing, but in conversation) who took an interest and were themselves interesting. She as an STD and AIDS specialist and he was a Doctor of tropical diseases. Liz, Gerry, I hope you had a fab time on Islay. I did, and I know I'll be back.

I also picked up my copy of 'The Ileach' on the boat. It's Islay's community newspaper, and I was in it! My contact on the Island, Brian, worked for the paper and had put me, and my story, on page four, and had also tipped me the wink as to where to stay on the Island. I was very excited to be famous on a small island, even for just a fortnight, and have saved a copy to send home.

On arrival at Bowmore after a short and very pleasant spin across the island from Port Askaig, I sought camping advice from the girls in the Tourist info kiosk. They recommended a spot on the shore just beyond the distillery, and pointed out that I could get a shower at the lcoal swimming pool, also just by the distillery.
Good job I'd invested in some pants in Campbeltown, then, as the showers and changing area of the local pool are mixed. I don't exactly know why I was expecting a small leisure centre to haveseparate mens and womens changing areas, but I guess I was just so used to the gym back home. Anyway, I washed in my shorts and avoided unrest, arrest and possible lifelong notoriety in the Hebrides, although, thinking about it, that'd be quite some badge of honour...

Back at the tent, midges were massing in their trillions* and were ready to eat me as avidly as I'd dispatched the curry in Bowmore's indian restaurant just a few minutes before. I lit a fire with some unexpectedly large and dry pieces of driftwood, gathered under the watchful eye of Seal Shore Patrol, two dark domed heads piercing the steel of Loch Indaal's surface, and sprayed myself all over with Avon Skin So Greasy, but they were still winning, so I hurried away to my bed.


Day 40

Woke, broke and hurried away from the midgie heartland, into the town square and towards my B+B. Lambeth House was not elaborately signposted, but if I'd asked anyone they'd have told me that it was the one just by the petrols station, and so when I got there it as entirely obvious. Mrs McNiel (Margaret) opened the door with a huge smile and a "Niiiick!", which I wasn't expecting at all. Two star accommodation, but a five star welcome. I deposited my bags and went for a ride to the north and west of the island, near Loch Gruinart, Saligo bay and Machir beach.

At Machir the sun came out - and I do mean properly out - and so I stripped to my shorts again and took a proper swim among the breakers rolling in from Canada.
Looking around, between the rocky headlands to the south, the dunes and the long azure horizon, I was amazed to count 10 other people on the beach. I went off the place when two families turned up and I had to share 'my' space with 20 people. I've since learned that I really shouldn't have swum there, as there are horrible currents and riptides and in truth I'm sure i did feel some weight of ater tugging at my legs as I swam, but thought of it as a 'wrong end of Croyde' moment. Apparently there are huge signs, yellow and red, in English too, warning people of this. Oh well. When I got back to the B+B I rang Brian to say hello and arrange a sunday ride.


Day 41

Brian, founder and 1/4 of the local cycling club, arrived at half nine on a very slick looking black bicycle by Fixie.com with some delicious looking black and white carbon forks. I was pleased to see that he was kind enough to cycle slowly so I could keep up and keep up a conversation even on my by now tired and squeaky hulk of a bike. We headed over to Bruichladdich to Debbie's Cafe to meet with Jez, another 1/4 of the Velo Club D'Ardbeg. We were joined by Jez's daughter Megan who, even though she was only 12, needed no special treatment and kept up a grand pace all the way round our ride. We covered much the same route as I had the previous day, and returned to Debbie's for a coffee, a chat and a sprint finish against Jez's younger two children (which they will probably win next time!)

Brian is also proprietor of thewashingmachinepost.com, scotland, and some say the UK's, best independent cycling website and, as such, there is not much he can't tell you about road cycling. Nor, indeed, are there many people in the industry and the sport whom he doesn't know.

In the afternoon, I took the low road (read 'straight' or 'windy' road) to Port Ellen and sat with a beer on the town beach, just relaxing. I also checked out a fine camping spot as reccommended by Jez, just about 3 minutes ride from the ferry which I'll be taking on Tuesday.