Hello to everyone from cloudy, windy, cold and wet Aberdeen, Scotland.
Since our last update from Belfast, N. Ireland we have covered a number of miles and had some interesting (tongue in cheek) developments with the upcoming itinerary. First the mileage, then the contents of the meeting with TK&A.
On the morning of our departure from Belfast to Ayr, Scotland we had the uncomfortable task of riding past the still burning remnants of the previous nights riots. The streets were strewn with not only burning rubbish and burnt out cars but copious amounts of trash and broken glass, a sad commentary on the conflicts that still plague our society.
The ferry departure time had for many days been advertised as 9:40AM when our friends were getting tickets for their vehicle they could not find any reference to any such ferry, as it turns out the ferry sailed at 7:30AM and there had not been a 9:40AM ferry for sometime, even the daily route guide for the day listed a sailing time that did not exist, makes one wonder what research had gone into some portions of the trip. The ride was uneventful and took all of about two uneventful hours to complete, would have been shorter but low tides resulted in a slower than normal entrance to the harbour. These ferries are something in that they have duty free stores, casinos and even a McDonalds.
Upon departure in Scotland it was off on a 60+ mile ride along the coast to Ayr. The roads were quite pleasant, scenic and with little traffic to speak of. There were a couple of climbs but compared to other hills they would be classified as speed bumps.
Once again the Moulds clan stayed at a B&B some two miles from the area where the group was camping. This was the grass field at the local Horticultural Center. During the night they had the skies open and soak everyone. We walked back to the campus for a nice dinner at the cafeteria.
Ayr to Inverrary, 95 miles
Following a wonderful Scottish breakfast at our B&B it was off to tackle a relatively long day in the saddle. The ride was pleasant albeit it long as it took us along some relatively flat countryside, which was scenic. The weather for the day cooperated and we were blessed with partially cloudy skies and temperatures that were pleasant for cycling.
We also had a 1/2 hour ferry ride thrown in to get us to the other side of the loch as luck would have it we missed the ferry by about 30 seconds and had to wait 30 minutes in a chilling breeze. The ride was uneventful save much animated discussions concerning the meeting with TK&A in Belfast some two nights earlier.
As usual we along with others had sought out B&B accommodations and had a relatively good nights sleep in a bug free environment. The route guides for the day had promised a special Scottish traditional Robbie Burns meal but as we found out this was never to be, unless of course such a meal consists of cold cuts and a bowl of soup.
Back to the bug free night. When we rode out to the campgrounds to put our overnight luggage in the trailer we were greeted by what the Scot's call MIDGE'S. These could be best described as an almost impossible to see bug whose body mass is 90% teeth, 10% flying apparatus. These little devils must have sensed fresh meat in the area and decided to attack with a vengeance. The back fourty were the group were housed along with the proximity to the forest did little to alleviate the infestation.
Inverrary to Fort William, 80+ miles
Once again sated with a spectacular Scottish breakfast we were off again to another Scottish town. The ride today was along a scenic route with significant amount of climbing, this on a day listed as flattish. Once again the weather cooperated and we were blessed with overcast conditions, good cycling temperatures and no rain. Today we entered what they called the Scottish Highlands (you can guess why they are called that)
Camping tonight was in a football pitch (soccer field) beside a sports complex where we were advised a disco would be in action till 2:00AM, since we are not into the camping scene at the best of times we saw this as another good reason to seek a B&B. We went back to camp for supper and as we have seen in the past the food was somewhat questionable, (chicken still had feathers on it) and seating accommodations for significantly less than those in attendance. Food seemed to be in short supply. Feel sorry for the vendors who are being caught short with either to little notice or miss information on the numbers who will be showing up.
Fort William to Inverness, 65 miles
Well mother nature decided today was the day she would make up for her lack of wet days and bless our day with rain commencing after the first 25 miles. In an effort to cut a couple of miles and a significant climb from our day we chose to take an alternate route which took us along a scenic route past many a Loch including the famous, Loch Ness. Despite our efforts we did not see any hint of the famous monster, therefore we cannot prove or disprove his (her) existence.
The camping in Inverness was once again a grass field on the fringe of the AquaCenter. Since rain was falling and predicted to fall for the next few days only a handful of tents were set up. The remaining bikers found cover in the many B&B's in and around the town.
We returned to the campground for an average dinner and even got the chance to eat haggis, actually tasted better than it looked and the mental images of what it is conjures up. The deserts were great and the catering staff apologized indicating they had not enough notice of our arrival to adequately prepare for a super meal.
Inverness to Aberdeen,
Following a day off we were loaded onto buses for a mini version of the Gibraltar bus ride, thankfully this was only 2 1/2 hours and was during daytime. The bikes had been loaded onto a transport and they along with the gear trucks will be heading for the port of Newcastle where they sail to Norway to await our arrival in a few days.
Accommodations in Aberdeen are at the local University where we are staying in the student dorms. What can one say about dorms and university food, basic at best.
How would we sum up Scotland and the Scot's? A beautiful country well worth a revisit with a car and the bike strapped onto the roof or the boot. There are many little towns tucked into the coast and hinterlands all worth a stop. Those riders that went off route visited some very neat towns and raved about their experiences.
The Scottish people love to talk and are extremely accommodating to say the least. Mary accuses me of being an old wind bag but I pale in comparison to some of the people we had the pleasure of meeting. They can however keep their MIDGE'S!!!! And the cool cloudy weather that they say is common.
As for the infamous meeting in Belfast. After 76 days (according to Tim) without a meeting this one turned out to be a barnburner. We were somewhat concerned that it would be a repeat of the one in Carcassone, which was a love fest, spawned by a few followers but such was not the case.
We were presented with a new schedule that removed Russia and Japan from our itinerary. Russia was now listed as an option and Japan had been replaced with numerous days parked on the ground in Australia.
It was difficult to get a clear answer as to why Russia was dropped but it seemed to revolve around visas. If this were the case how is it possible for one of the riders to arrange for 40 riders to visit St. Petersburg, arrange trains, accommodations and visas within a few weeks when the organizer who has had many months to do it cannot?? It is a disgrace that we are forced to pay again to visit a country that has been included on the published itinerary for the past few years.
Why was Japan cancelled? From what we could garner it was deemed to difficult to do and there were only a couple of campgrounds able to accommodate a group our size. As was pointed out by one of the riders it was for this reason we had paid the thousands of dollars we did, any of us could plan a trip to Australia, and Japan was another issue. There was even an accusation of bait and switch tactics being employed. If there were a lack of campgrounds in Japan why was Japan listed on the itinerary for the last few years with camping indicated as the primary accommodations?
The meeting was very animated and it became clear to those present that the level of discontent was more widespread than was earlier believed. The question now is did the organizers get the message. Let us all hope that China and Vietnam both of which require visas do not suffer the same fate as did Russia, these countries need to be planned now and not when we arrive in Australia as the organizer has indicated verbally.
Tomorrow we are off to Norway on a 9:00AM flight where we begin the Scandinavian leg of our trip it should prove challenging and interesting. There is a great deal of comfort to be derived from traveling in an English speaking country.
Will close for now and write when we get to Norway or perhaps Sweden.
Dave & Mary
PS. Since starting to write this update we had a piece of paper posted on a bulletin board at the University saying Japan is back, stay tuned as no indication what is back and in what format the itinerary will take. This is truly an evolving trip, subject to daily change a fact we are reminded of on each daily route guide.