Iceland To Africa By Bicycle 2004

Newsletter 3

Written 13th September 2004

Key statistics so far:
  • Pedalled distance:  1,046 miles
  • Furthest in a day:  84 miles (Crianlarich to Hamilton)
  • Punctures:  3 (including a rather dangerous exploding valve)
  • Shredded tyres:  2
  • Maximum speed:  42.0 mph
  • Highest altitude:  671 metres
  • Top of The Pops:  The Carpenters have gone!  They've been replaced by a rather eclectic mix of old Scottish songs and Simon & Garfunkle (The Sound of Silence, Mrs Robinson and Homeward Bound!).  Strangely I found, in some distant part of my memory, that I actually knew most of the words to Ye Banks and Braes of Bonnie Doon!
  • Newsletter:

    The latest newsletter comes to you from Craven Arms, a small town 20 miles south of Shrewsbury.  Here I sit, enjoying the comforts of the Stokesay Arms pub and B&B, trying my best to sit on my left buttock to avoid putting pressure on the boil that's been my uncomfortable and unwanted passenger for the last week!  Thank you to Mark and Pat who suggested that this might happen.

    After a lightweight day, and an appointment at the local surgery, I am encouraged to find that it's not too serious and can be treated daily with a bit of drainage, some salt and antiseptics!  It's painful and uncomfortable but according to the doctor  "your leg's not going to fall off or anything!" ... so the journey goes on!

    The list of injuries so far:

    -  A sore knee
    -  White-finger in the left hand (a condition often found in miners and road workers who operate drills all day)
    -  One boil!

    Some good progress has been made since John O'Groates - and Land's End is now within just a few days' ride.  For those interested in statistics, the mileage from John O'Groates, via a no doubt unusual and circuitous  route is as follows:

    Day 1:  71 miles to Golspie on the east coast of Scotland.
    Day 2:  65 miles to Drumnadrochit on the banks of Loch Ness.
    Day 3:  52 miles along the Caledonian Canal to Fort William.
    Day 4:  52 miles to Crianlarich for a welcome evening with friends (Andrew and Marie).
    Day 5:  84 miles to Hamilton, south of Glasgow, via Aunty Judy and Uncle Tim's house for Sunday lunch!
    Day 6:  56 miles to Moffatt (this was an awful day with a wonderful ending
    - more on that later).
    Day 7:  65 miles to Penrith.
    Day 8:  59 miles to the warmth and hospitality of The Maypole Inn in Long Preston.
    Day 9:  39 mile short hop into Leeds along the Leeds Liverpool Canal.
    Day 10:  52 miles to Buxton in the Peak District (now that was a hilly day!).
    Day 11:  66 miles to Shrewsbury.
    Day 12 (today):  18 miles through high winds, storms, hail and carrying my now angry boil, to Craven Arms.  How do I know it was angry? ... Probably something to do with the fact that every time I gave it a friend to talk to (in the form of a saddle) it stomped its feet, shouted abuse and then bit me very hard on the backside!

    So much has happened since John O'Groats that it's difficult to know where to start.  Suffice to say that this week has been dominated by the
    weather - does anyone know what Xplair likes for a tipple because I'm fresh out of ideas!  The wind has been dreadful and always south/south westerly
    - it appears to be showing solidarity with the hurricanes that have been battering significant portions of the rest of the world!

    However, I have been incredibly warmed by the hospitality shown to me as I've
    passed through the UK.  Rather than mention everyone by name, please take a moment to look at the donations page of the website
    (http://www.justgiving.com/icelandtoafrica) where you can see the people who have made donations and the many hotels/B&Bs that have been
    incredibly hospitable in supporting the cause and saving me from further wet and windy nights in a tent!

    On the 6th September, for example, I headed southwards from Hamilton along the dreadfully dreary B7078, following the M74 south.  This particular day was hard - the weather was grey, the road was grey, the M74 kept popping into view to remind me that everyone else in the world was travelling far faster than I ... and the miles crawled past!  The wind in your face takes a terrible toll on mood and motivation and I was rapidly lapsing into a deep doleful misery.  The road continued to weave it's way around the M74 like a giant knitting pattern, and appeared to be heading inexorably upward!  My legs were tired and the mood was dark.  I started to regret taking this on -  which wasn't the way it was supposed to be and I had to find a way to motivate myself.  I found myself repeating, like a mantra, "You can't change the past, but you can change the future!" (to tell you why would be a long session lying on the metaphorical psychologist's couch), followed occasionally by "the future lies down this road!" and so on I went, mile after mile, hour after hour, forcing myself to pedal in rythm to the mantra.  It was difficult to keep going - but I did!  Determined not to stop I pressed on for 56 miles in this fashion to Moffatt.  Then came the turning point in the day ... the moment I walked into the Buccleuch Arms Hotel looking tired and filthy from the road.  The proprietor is one David Smith and his son Clint.  David, Clint and their families were forced to Leave Zimbabwe last year with nothing (can you believe that inflation there is over 1000%!) and have restarted their lives with this lovely little private hotel in Moffatt.  David is a keen businessman and his attention to detail,  branding, quality and service is unsurpassable!  He is also an incredibly charitable individual and, even though he must consistently prove increasing profitability to the bank, he supports several charities and also supported me with a bed for the night and the most wonderfully human and generous treatment.  If ever you are in Moffatt (which is a beautiful little  market town, nestled into the low rolling  hills of the borders and well worth a visit) I can vouch for the quality of food, service and value for money of the Buccleuch Arms Hotel and the hospitality of their staff (not to mention the fact that they have the prettiest staff in the country!).

    After my stay in Moffatt, the sun came out and the three day ride to Leeds was a veritable pleasure before the weather turned again.  This time I was following the M6 southwards along the B2615 ... Over, under, knit one, pearl one - all the time crossing the motorway, rising a peak, down and across, another peak.  It was beautfiul scenery.  Occasionally the rugged horizon  was interrupted by Wind turbines which I have come to regard as majestic in their own right - I love the cleanliness they represent.  I couldn't help but feel disappointed by the people of Tebay and ther "stop the windfarm" banners!  They're quiet, clean and environmentally such a blessing ... but (if you'll pardon the dangerously political comment that's about to follow) obviously it's better to have pollution in someone else's town than clean air for us all (this feeling hit me hard as I cycled past).

    My stopover in Leeds was extremely important to rebuild the spirits (with a few too many spirits!) on Friday night (calling in to visit my friends at The Living Room who very kindly sponsored the expedition from the outset), but also to update the website which now has photos and news from the Icelandic and Scottish legs of the journey.  Photos are at:

    http://www.icelandtoafrica.net/photos.htm and previous newsletters are now published at http://www.icelandtoafrica.net/news.htm

    This weeks strangest observation is cows!  Why is it that, when you pass by, 30 sets of eyes look up at the same time and slowly track your movements until you round the bend or disappear over the hill and their owners return to the important but dreadfully lazy business of chewing
    cud?  I started to feel very self-conscious ... I began to wonder if cows are actually more intelligent than we give them credit for.  I mean, how can such dosy, unintelligent and laxadaisicle creatures make you feel so scrutinised?  Perhaps what I first interpreted as "oh look, there's something moving over there, let's watch it .... there's nothing better going on here and at least it's something to look at apart from grass" isn't actually that.  Perhaps what they're really thinking is  "look at that daft bugger over there - cold, wet, tired - surely he should buy a car.  I know, let's all stare at him and make him feel really uncomfortable ... That'll be fun for a while!".  I have also been transfixed by how beautiful our country is - seen from this perspective, the diversity of wildlife, the green, the smell of wild garlic and the sweet smell of flowers that my horticultural ability (or lack thereof) failed me on ...even the diversity of the roadkill!  Badgers, minks, rabbits, hedgehogs, frogs, foxes, rats and more - it's incredible and I really believe I've found a new outlook.

    The prize for the best road this week goes to the A82 over Glen Coe.
    Nothing in Iceland (or infact anywhere I've ever seen) can compare to the stark beauty of the Scottish mountains and moorlands.  I passed over Rannoch Moor which is possibly one of the most bleak places in Scotland.  This area was, I believe the scene for the infamous massacre of the Maclans by the Campbells in 1692.  The worst road so far was two days earlier - the A9 down the east coast to Inverness.  It's flat, straight, dull, boring, fast and far too narrow.  I was so glad to finally get off it!

    The next writings will no doubt come from somewhere in Spain after I sail on the 22nd from Plymouth to Santander and keep the compass needle
    pointing south.  Recent photos have been posted to the website for all to see.  Please continue to help with support and feedback, if only to help me retain some kind of focus and
    sanity!

    Best regards

    Tom

    PS - in keeping with newsletter 1 I thought it would be nice to have a bit of poetry again.  Having just passed through the length of Scotland, I couldn't miss the chance to quote some Rabbie Burns ... then I found out that the song I'd  been singing was actually written by the man himself!
    For the romantics among you, please see below:

    Tom Bottomley
    Mobile:  +44 (0)7740 592834
    http://www.icelandtoafrica.net
    This email SENT FROM MOBILE

    Robbie Burns (1759-1796):

    Ye banks and braes o' bonnie Doon,
    How can ye bloom sae fresh and fair?
    How can ye chant ye little birds,
    And I sae weary, fu' o' care?

    Ye'll break my heart, ye warbling birds,
    That wanton through the flow'ry thorn,
    Ye 'mind me o' departed joys,
    Departed never to return.

    Oft hae I rov'd by bonnie Doon,
    To see the rose and woodbine twine;
    And ilka bird sang o' its love,
    And fondly sae did I o' mine.

    Wi' lightsome heart I pu'd a rose,
    And my fause lover stole my rose,
    Fu' sweet upon its thorny tree;
    But ah! he left the thorn wi' me.