Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Mull2Muckle: It's over! Photos from the edge of the world

Having ridden the length of the island of Yell on Sunday (twice: Ulsta to Gutcher, the Unst ferry departure, and back) all I had to do to finish the Mull2Muckle was the 10 miles or so through Unst to RAF Saxa Vord, or the Saxa Vord Resort as it's now called, being filmed on the way by Precious Productions for Promote Shetland, then do the last four miles or so in the morning out to the Muckle Flugga shore station.

It was damp and quite cold when I left Lerwick, but merely, dry, cool and windless by the time I was waiting for the ferry at Gutcher. And after that, a winding, fairly hilly run through a landscape I know well and remains one of my favourite, along with Yell and Northmavine, in Shetland. I was in Saxa Vord for 8.00pm and a really fine meal with Andy Steven from Promote Shetland and the Crawford family from Glasgow, who are Precious Productions. Fresh haddock, as you'd expect. Exacxtly the same meal I started the trip with in Drummore.
On the Unst ferry

Simmer Dim from Saxa Vord at midnight

Me and Andy Steven of Promote Shetland at the Muckle Flugga shore station

The end!

Many, many thanks to everyone who helped: My family, in Shetland, Glasgow and Ayr. The Fairpley guys, Stephen and Jim. Everyone at Scottish Fair Trade forum, especially Martin and Tanya. Heather, Bryce and Kenny, who rode with me over the first few days and were a real inspiration. All at the STUC in Glasgow. The folk at Prestwick Academy, the Troon and Prestwick Fair Trade Groups, Val and David in Troon and the Old Loans Inn. Richard and Jolene. Sarah Boyack and Susan Johnston MSPs, Rachel and all her team in Edinburgh at the One World Shop (more good fish and chips at the Barony Bar) plus all the Fair Trade Folk there. Old pal Dave Donaldson, who rode with me for two days and kept me going with jokes, stories and local knowledge. Roddy Pattison for guidance and coffee. The Aberdeen Fair Trade folk and the NorthLink staff, BBC Radio Shetland, Fiona and all at the Tom Morton Show, The Saxa Vord Resort and anyone else I've forgotten. Apologies.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Heading for Unst, the last leg, and some thoughts on National Cycle Routes

The Mull2Muckle Scottish End-to-End, or Tom's Fairly Long Ride, is nearing completion, with midsummer tomorrow and the last approach to the Muckle Flugga shore station on Unst first thing tomorrow morning.

After the show today I'll drive to Toft, get the ferry to Yell, drive the 18 miles across (or up) the island (seeing as I cycled it on Sunday, both ways, 36 miles in total), catch the ferry from Gutcher to Belmont on Scotland's most northerly island, Unst, and begin cycling the 10-15 miles (no-one seems sure) to Haroldswick. An overnight there at the old RAF Saxa Vord and then, after the shortest night of the year, it's up to the Muckle Flugga shore station and we're done.

Time for some recollections and thoughts via the mull2muckle blog -

National Cycle Routes: are they fit for purpose?

In my experience on this trip, they're definitely not suitable for tourists who have a limited time and need to get to their destinations without necessarily (a) taking the route which visits every single hamlet or fencepost with-interesting-wire-attached; (b) avoiding even a smidgen of traffic; (c) visiting every private housing estate built in the last 35 years, often circuitously and both clockwise and anticlockwise (d) risking life and limb on atrociously maintained and dangerous canal towpaths, shared with weapon dogs and owners with home-made 'love' and 'hate' tattoos on their necks.

I admit that I do get bored with off-road cycling, so the otherwise soothing 14-mile Lochwinnoch loop railway track becomes some hellish condemnation to eternal, viewless monotony. The Forth and Clyde and Union canals have interesting wildlife, but after a while, you get all waterwayed out. Or in, if you hit one of the Union Canal's poorly maintained and presumably listed cobbled sections.

I'm going to approach Sustrans for their explanation for some of the routes. I presume they have parameters such as car usage and landowner attitude and permissions. But I'd really like to know if there are pressures on them to divert via (or indeed away from) the property of with a so-called 'stakeholder status'; if personal 'purist cyclist' approaches are taken so that steep 'healthy' ascents are included by default. What do they think makes a 'good' cycle route? And who wants to ride on pavements anyway?

At any rate, National Cycle Route One north nearly drove me distraction. And destruction, in the case of deciding to walk at the verge of the A90 in search of a cycle path which does NOT begin before the last turn off (golf course) to Stonehaven going north. And is not on any map. Forty-five minutes eyeballing approaching truckers to stop them encroaching on the dead-hedgehog area was not good for the spirits. But it did save over an hour and a half on the NCR, which veers crazily inland. As for the NCN route from Portlethen to Aberdeen itself - it's infuriating, dangerous, obscure and in the end, I abandoned it.

And another thing. Cycle paths are NEVER as smooth as roads. They ripple and they're always ripped apart by tree routes. The best cycling surface in Scotland, for the main road through the island of Yell in Shetland.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

One last random selection...

Southernmost! some of the Dundee Fair Traders with  Dave Donaldson. Me at the top of the Redcastle Brae, looking down on Lunan Bay. What a fantastic evening's riding that was. And Dave just as we emerged from the Dalmeny Estate towards South Queensferry. We just scraped across the bridge before it was closed for Torchification.

...and even more pictures and people from mull2muckle

That's Bryce (piper extraordinaire) and Kenny, who joined me on the route between Girvan and Ayr, upping my pace considerably. Fiona (electric bike, no less) heads up Prestwick Fair Trade and met me on the prom between Prestwick and Troon, where I stayed at David and Val Gwynne's B&B. Old Loans Inn was really, really good for dinner. That's Master of Malt and weinmeister John Lamond at the Fairly Good Show in Glasgow. The Co-op's Malbec Fair Trade is magnificent. Finally, that's Roddy Pattison, who got Dave and me over Cleish Hill and supplied coffee afterwards.

Some pictures and people from the mull2muckle...more coming!

Some pictures and people from the mull2muckle trip! Not finished yet as I've still got Yell and Unst to go. That's the Mull of Galloway Lighthouse, Scotland's southernmost point, and then the  closed King's Hall in Drummore, the nearest village, with its curious reversed 'N'. Then New Luce - this little caravan site was where I spent my first honeymoon, back in 1978. It is unchanged. Same caravans and everything. That's Heather Eccles from Carlisle on the high road from New Luce to Barrhill - a million thanks to Heather for the survival pack. I finished the Big Peat whisky in Montrose. And then the Girvan Community Garden workers and mosaic workshop participants. The garden is a real jewel in the middle of Girvan, approached by a beautiful snaking path which leads to the narrowest of doors in a high wall. Girvan is a potentially wonderful place just waiting for the kind of facelift Arbroath has had.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Mull2Muckle Days one and two

Having problems with pictures so they'll pop up when I get to a proper computer and on Twitter/FB.

Stephen from Fairpley, who are handling the logistics for the Mull2Muckle for Scottish Fair Trade Forum, ran me down to the Mull of Galloway from Ayr, where I'd broadcast from. Set off in a smirry rain and a nasty wee wind, amid loose cattle and sheep. Hard going. What had I let myself in for? But it was only 5.5 miles to Drummore, not the 10 I'd anticipated, so blessed relief to check into the Queens Hotel. Great soup, log fire.

Up and away at 9.15 today, upset stomach disappeared after first half hour in dull, cool but dry conditions. What a fantastic part of the world the Rhinns of Galloway is. Scotland's secret treasure.

Across the bombing range and past the caravan site where Susan and I had to wrestle a disappearing camper van awning into submission. Then I missed the cycle route and scared myself senseless on the A75 until the Glenluce turnoff.

Decided to avoid the A77 from Stranraer and take the B road from New Luce to Barrhill, then to Girvan. very glad I did. It's one of the great lost roads, a narrow Tarmac track across the high moorland, quiet and mostly smooth apart from some cracked bits and truly scary cattle grids. Some hard climbing but worth it. Was joined for 10 miles by the Tom Morton Show's top Carlisle listener, Heather Eccles, to whom thanks for cycling slowly (she's a triathlete)and for the survival pack! Then I hit Barrhill and thought it would be an easy run to Girvan.

It wasn't. The climbs, on terrible road surfaces, we're endless, it seemed, and I was rapidly running out of resources. at last Girvan appeared,far below, and there was a splendid swoop down to meet Julie Campbell and the superb team behind the Girvan Community Garden.

Things learned today? It's fine to stop. As long as you start again. And don't have sausages for breakfast.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Mull2Muckle - The Fairly Long Ride - itinerary

Just wrapping up things in Shetland before heading off south tomorrow. This is where I'm going and what's happening if you want to catch up at any point. Remember to follow the blog posts and also, though I'm not doing the afternoon show from 11th-15th, I think I'm doing daily updates for Fred Macaulay on R Scotland.

Friday 8 June: START at Mull of Galloway lighthouse, probably around 6.00pm. Cycle to Drummore and overnight there.

Saturday 9 June: Drummore to Girvan. Around 50 miles avoiding the A77. Quite a bit of climbing. Overnight Girvan.

Sunday 10 June: Girvan to Troon, via Ayr, where I'll hopefully see my dad! Shortish run of about 30 miles. Overnight Troon.

Monday 11 June: Busy day. First thing, wheech to Prestwick Academy for a class there - Lots of Fair Trade action at the school. Then off to Glasgow. looking forward to this run, as it's almost all off-road cycle tracks via Lochwinnnoch. Then the first Fairly Good Show at the STUC in Woodlands Road Wine tasting!
Overnight Glasgow.

Tuesday 12 June: Glasgow - Edinburgh. Meeting Fair Trade and cycling folks at the One World Cafe at 4.00pm, roughly. Then the second Fairly Good Show at 28 York Place, EH1 3EP. Overnight Edinburgh

Wednesday 13 June: Edinburgh - Perth. Overnight Perth.

Thursday 14 June: Perth to Dundee, then Brechin
Morning and lunchtime events in Perth and Dundee. Overnight Brechin

Friday 15 June: Brechin - Aberdeen
There will be a Fair Trade event at Jamieson's Quay, where the NorthLink ferry docks.


Saturday 16-Monday 18th - AT HOME. live Tom Morton afternoon shows hosted by me begin again on the Monday.

Tuesday 19: Cycle from Yell ferry to Unst ferry, then to RAF Saxa Vord. Overnight in Unst.

Wednesday 20 (Midsummer) Cycle to Muckle Flugga Shore Station. END OF Mull2Muckle!

'The Passionate Man's Pilgrimage'

Scooped a scallop shell off the beach last night, and thought: might as well take it with me!

Daiphantus, 1604 ; written
about 1603.


GIVE me my scallop-shell of quiet,
My staff of faith to walk upon,
My scrip of joy, immortal diet,
My bottle of salvation,
My gown of glory, hope's true gage;
And thus I'll take my pilgrimage.

Monday, June 04, 2012

The week it all begins...too late to back out now!

A quick visit to Cee and Jays and then Tesco to buy waterproof map bags, water bottles, a spur-of-the-moment 2-in-1 bum bag/rucksack, toothpaste, travel clothes washing liquid, Sudocream, Johnson's Baby talcum, Pampers wipes, Anadin (oh, for Askit Powders...)and doubtless there will be more to add before I head south from Shetland on Wednesday.

I've all but abandoned the idea of cycling up (and back down) the island of Yell (nasty northerly blowing all weekend)and that means that on 19th after the show it's drive to Toft, bike on the ferry, and then cycle to the Unst ferry, then to to RAF Saxa Vord. I may have to leave the bike in Unst and hitch a lift back to Lerwick for the show, but we'll see. I've not been practising my cycling much, but I have been preparing, and really that's been the problem with the Mull2Muckle.

It incorporates two performances of something loosely labelled Tom Morton's Fairly Good Show (11th Glasgow, 12th Edinburgh)which amounts to about 14 songs, and two poems at the moment. I'll obviously be nattering away nonsensically, and picking up (I hope) tales on the road. But researching, writing and trying to learn all this stuff, while doing normal work and preparing to cycle 400 miles, has been difficult, to say the least. Also, my ultra-short attention span (why I'm a hack/broadcaster)isn't helping...

Nevertheless, I think there's some good stuff in the show and besides, there will be a wine tasting and ace comic Susan Morrison on both nights. Still, it's weighing on my as much as the thought of cycling up the A77.

Wednesday I get the boat overnight to Aberdeen, do the show from there, then take the train to Glasgow. Overnight Thursday in Glasgow, Lift to Ayr Friday, do the show from the Beeb studio there, and then a lift to the Mull of Galloway and it all begins. Saturday night Girvan, Sunday night Ayr/Troon. then Glasgow, Edinburgh, Perth, dundee, Montroase and Aberdeen, before the boat north. Oh, and many thanks to Edinburgh Bicycle, who are supporting the trip and will sort out the Surly if anything goes wrong. Which I hope it won't...