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Rannoch Moor

Our journey started with a trainride along the West Highland Line, that i would recommend if you are travelling through this part of Scotland. While we waited at the train station in Arisaig, one of the steam trains frequenting this line passed through.

The train ride was amazing. Still stunned by the beauty, we got off the train and forgot our guitar in the overhead compartment. When we realized our mistake, it was already too late. We heard the train doors shut and the train leaving with me running after it and screaming. As it sank in, there was little we could do and we sat a while in silent shock. We called the train station in Glasgow and were given little information what might happen to a guitar travelling all by itself and where it might turn up.

Sadly we rolled down the lonely road leading from the station and just camped next to the road. The beautiful scenery deserved better onlookers than we were at that moment.

These photos won’t give you any impression on what level our hope was to ever see our guitar again. And also not, that after the rather traumatising tick bites on Skye, that we now shared our home with a whole family of ticks. Including further relatives until the great-uncle’s niece’s cousin.

The next day i boarded a train to Glasgow to investigate at the lost and found office. The conductor was extremely helpful and tried to enquier with her cellphone, but to no avail. I returned in the afternoon, with no result. After some debate we decided to continue our trip and try to investigate further with phone calls in order to track down the guitar.

The route towards Pitlochry was beautiful and while we were already starting to give up on the guitar, we decided to at least make one more attempt in Glasgow. Since our friend Maggie from Canada would also be in town, there would be a reason to celebrate.

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Skye

We arrived late in Uist, where we just had enough time to pitch our tents, have a shower, eat dinner and go to sleep.

The next day we climbed gently along the River Rha to the viewing point towards the Quiraing.

The downhill part was over far too quickly, but gave us also plenty of time to while the afternoon away. The next day the weather turned and we were cycling through dense mist, and clouds of midges when we slowed down. So we passed the Old Man of Storr without stopping as midges and mist didn’t seem to make it worthwhile. The landscape had its own charme in this weather.

Skye is quiet touristy and the traffic crowds on the few roads there are. Sometimes we were lucky and could take other smaller roads, like here along the Moll Road, sparing us the traffic of the A87.

Before leaving Skye we had one more night of wildcamping. We were a little bored and made a contest. We each had to complete tasks and disguise ourselves with what little we had with us in the tent while outside it kept on raining.

And the last night we spend next to the ferry port at Armadale called Rubha Phoil. A magical place with one downside: the ticks. Apart from that, it is a lovely hideaway. Birds come to visit and this bird later was sitting on my knee investigating me or the chance of getting some food out of this redhead fellow.

There are walks through the woods and although the area is not that big, one gets easily fooled by the density of its fauna.

We stayed two days and Andrea got two tick bites, which haunted us a little the following days as we worried about any transmission of a disease. The Highland Games in Arisaig were a welcome distraction.

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Kyntire

The ride along the eastern coastline north of Campbeltown is amazing, though hilly at times. We pitched our tent just next to the Arran ferry at the beach near Claonaig. I hadn’t heard about the isle before but it looked inviting.

The water was also inviting and we didn’t mind the cold temperature too much.

We made our way to Tarbert, which has a bit of an odd history.

There was a festival in town and we had a bit of a chat with this guy until he was asked by a little girl why he was so tall, as if there was something suspiciously wrong.

On a long cycling trip, one has to make sure to stretch. A pretty backdrop to do so is easy to find in these parts.

We still came past the odd castle in forgotton places like here Carnasserie Castle.

We wildcamped for three nights in a row but we stayed in places that let us wash up at the end of the day in the ocean or in a nearby river.

We still felt quiet fresh when we rolled into Oban from where we took the ferry to the Outer Hebrides.

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Wales

The morning started with a walk downhill. We had met Reja from Germany the night before. And as we were going in the same direction, we decided to continue together. The road made a huge detour to the next bridge and so we just cut across a field and made use of the vast network of bridleways and public right of way paths to get us to a footbridge over the Wye and into Wales. This turned out to be quiet an adventure because of fallen trees blocking the way and a rather steep and rocky section at the end.

On the other side of the river lies Tintern with its impressive abbey.

After Tintern we had to climb out of the Wye valley to continue our way westward. We cycled to Usk together where our short time as a trio already came to an end. Reja wanted to choose a flatter route closer to the coast, while we were heading farther North.

It was a pleasant ride through the country side. And I decided I want to become a tree designer in Wales when I grow up.

After a hefty push uphill, we cycled along the Brecon canal until we reached our destination for the day.

We stayed with Rachel and Luke close to Abergavenny. Rachel is a successful athlet, having just competed at the commonwealth games on the gold coast in track racing. Now they are planning their honeymoon: a bike ride from New York to Los Angeles.

They made a great BBQ cook up for us. Mushrooms with nuts and cheese, couscous with dried tomatoes and there were quiet a few more items on the buffet. For desert we tried homemade scones with marmelade and cream. Thus established to be trustworthy, we followed their advice to have a look at the “big pit” mining site at Blaenavon.

Before going underground one is equipped with the necessary items to survive in a mine.

Our guide John had worked in the mines for over twenty years. And although he still considers it a lucky day when he got a job at the mine, he feels like he was done a favor when the they finally closed down. Enabling him to give tours today in a good state of health.

It was a short cycling day after the visit underground. It started to rain and the evening was rather sad, pitching our tent on a vacant camping site with the reception already closed. Luckily the weather cleared until the morning and we had a good day of cycling, lost of climbing included.

After being on the road for five days, we found ourselves on a campground next to a little stream and a nice bench with table next to our tent. It looked like a good opportunity to take a day off. We celebrated a bit after those hills with a cider and creamy mushroom pasta and the next day with an apple pie to restore our energies.

Over the next days we’ll continue to cycle through Wales until Pembroke from where we plan to take the ferry to Ireland.

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England

After a nice warmshowers experience in Plymouth, we cycled up the Plym valley. It was an excellent ride on a sunny day and we met quite a few cyclists who were keen to recommend the best ale, campsite, route etc. As we were climbing, the temperatures dropped and we steered towards the yha Dartmoor instead of camping in the wild. Even so this meant some more climbing to get there.

We rested our legs the following day and decided to stay another night to explore the national park with its tors,

and the remains of settlements of the bronze age. Maybe the climate was different then, otherwise it would be strange why Dartmoor national park is full of stone circles, stone rows and dolmen.

The Dartmoor ponies are a special breed of this area. Even with a grown horse, one has to kneel down to be on eye level. The tiny size probably helps in these environments with heavy winds, cold and hardly any shelter.

Dartmoor is quiet barren but there are some quaint little villages in the vicinity which were a welcome place to restock and rest.

A lot of these had inns, pubs and churches like you’d imagine while reading a story set in this area.

One thing I imagined before coming to the south of England were its country lanes lined with trees and hedges and it was a pleasure cycling these.

On such roads we travelled until we reached Okehampton where we stayed with Tim from warmshowers. We arrived early and took the time to visit the remains of the castle.

After a quick stop at the supermarket we drove a little outside of town to have another walk through the moor before having dinner, which Tim had already prepared beforehand.

Bath was our next stop where we went to by train. We wanted to visit Paul, a cyclist whom I met in central and South America. He was soon to be off for holidays in Spain, so we choose this quicker way to get there to see him before. It was great to see him and catch up while tasting several ales and ciders.

The next day, spring arrived and we went for a walk from Paul’s house to Alexandra park from where one has a great view over the city.

The center was busy with people wearing their summer dresses and with ice cream cones in their hands. We made a picknick in a small park behind the Royal Crescent before having a look at it.

A former rail line, connecting Bath with Bristol, was converted into one of the first cycle paths of England and was also the beginning of the national cycle network “Sustrans”. It was a short ride into Bristol where we stayed at the Yha once more. We had enjoyed the few days off in Bath a lot and felt more like cycling than to explore another city. So over the Severn bridge we went to Chepstow and into Wales the next day.

Entry fees are quiet high in Britain. Mostly we are content with a quick look from the outside while having one or two cookies, like here in front of Chepstow castle.

We then cycled north along the Wye river and up, untill we reached our campsite for the night.

With a good view to end the day.

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Velodyssee

From Irun we cycled the last kilometers to the French border and crossed it hardly noticing. After sometime along the coast, the cycle route turns a bit inland and goes through beautiful pine forests and the sea can only sometimes be heard in the distance.

We stopped in Biarritz for lunch were from a bench on the higher promenade we could watch the Atlantic ocean again. And we agreed that it is a sight difficult to get tired of.

Our last stop along the coast, before heading inland to Bordeaux, was the dune du Pilat. One sand giant, that was also nibbling at the edges of our camping, that was just next to it.

Getting on the dune was a bit of work, climbing up the steep incline and the sand giving way almost as much as you moved upward. On top it was a lot easier to walk around as the sand was hardened by the latest rainfall.

The most fun was getting down again. With long strides and some jumping involved, one could let the inner kid roam freely without much worry of a hard fall.

We climbed up again after dinner and were rewarded with a lightshow of the finest. The sun was setting slowly and after it had sunk beneath the horizon it got even better.

We stayed one day more and then started towards Bordeaux where we had found a couchsurfing host and from where we would take a train to Paris.

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Vía verde del aceite

This is how most of our days started along the old olive oil railway line. Camping was never hard to find between the millions of olive trees. It seems that the whole world could be supplied from here.

We wildcamped most of the time and often had some source of water nearby, that in one case was so inviting that someone was contemplating more than just a quick wash of hands and face.

The old train stations are converted into cafés or bicycle rental stations and offer some services like public toilets and water fountains to refill your bottles.

Zuheros was just one of the pretty villages along the route. We just had a look from below as we still had enough from hefty climbs from the “pueblos blancos”.

We enjoyed once more the absence of motorized traffic and the route has its charm with its tunnels, viaducts and breaches through the rocks.

This time we made it to Martos before the weather turned again with temperatures below zero during the night and hardly getting above five degrees during the day. It was the semana santa and accommodation was expensive almost everywhere. This was one of the reasons for not passing through Madrid. And as we wanted to have enough time to see France, we hopped on a bus from Jaen directly to the French border at Irun.

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Pueblos blancos

The “pueblos blancos” have their origins from the arabic influence in the region of Andalusia. The name comes from the whitewashed walls of its buildings. Our first stop was Arcos de la frontera where we arrived battered by the rain and crosswinds. On one of the last ascents, I leaned my bike against a roadsign to walk back and help Andrea with hers. When i came back, I found my bicycle lying on the ground pushed over by the wind. I checked the guitar through its bag and was certain that part of the corpus was broken. With this thought and unsure how to break the news to Andrea we made the last kilometers to our guest house. We even asked the owner if he knew a Luthier to fix it as Andrea had the same impression when checking the guitarbag. When we got to our room and had a look at the guitar, it turned out that we were mistaken and that part of the reinforcement of the bag itself had given us the false impression. Quiet relieved we kept the camp kitchen in its pannier and went for dinner in the restaurant and were pleasantly surprised. Starting with gazpacho, I had grilled vegetables and ended with a chocolate cake for dessert.

The downside for cyclists visiting these white villages is its location on the most promint part of a hill and entering at the end of a day often involves some pushing up the steep streets. But they look oh so pretty.

We had a small walk through the tiny historic center, which came as a relief for our tired legs. There were two viewpoints we visited, here the “Balcon de arcos”,

and the basilica.

It was a lovely day when we left Arcos de la frontera, although we were quiet tired and couldn’t enjoy it at first. It didn’t help that we had to climb out of the valley of the rio Guadalete. But then we left the rather busy main road and could ride side by side for most of the day as hardly any traffic passed. After stocking up supplies in Puerto Serrano, we entered the “Via Verde de la Sierra”. It wasn’t that hard to find a spot for the night, and we felt lucky to pitch our tent in these surroundings.

The next day it started to rain again, but we still made good progres as we were protected from the wind by the surrounding mountains. Getting closer to Olvera a passing mountainbiker told us that it would be difficult to pass some muddy parts ahead because of recent rainfall. He suggested an alternative route with just some “tiny hills”. These turned out to be a little heavy for us loaded touring cyclists and once out of the valley, the wind made progres real slow. The rain started to become a downpour and so we arrived in Olvera soaked to the bone and being cold.

When leaving Olvera, the skies had cleared a little and we could enjoy these view looking back while we made the first break of the day.

Towards Ronda was a beautiful road. Some hills were challenging but always rewarding.

We stayed with Salvador, a writer, in his house. We had decided that seven degrees during the day and temperatures below the freezing point during the night called for some different accommodation than a tent, with us already sneezing a lot.

We spend one day in Ronda to see some of its sights, most prominently the bridge spanning the narrow chasm formed by a river dividing the city and the plateau on which it’s nestled. When you cross the bridge it is hard to grasps it’s beauty, but there is a path leading down the other side from where one can appreciate its magnitude.

As the weather was still not improving we opted for a short intermezzo in Malaga to escape the rain and the cold for a while. Just to get a train back close to Ronda and to cycle the “Via Verde del aceite”.

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Crossing into España

We crossed the river Guadiana from Vila Real to Ayamonte and stopped at playa Taray for the night. We still had some ingredients left from the last time we made pizza and decided to give it another go on the camp stove. Although the heat is more difficult to control and it burns more quickly, they turned out great again.

After the mixed experience with the ecovia, this continued on the spanish side with de vía verde del litoral. This time it was at least foreseeable as mentioned on their webpage that the cyclepath would be in disrepair. After the weather turned wet and wetter, sometimes it was enough to cruise around the puddles of water,

but in some places the path was so muddy or a bridge was closed, that any advancement was almost impossible.

We arrived in Huelva and spontaneously decided to board a train to Sevilla. For one, because of the weather forecast and to advance a little after more rest days then planned because of the rain.

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Algarve

In Carrapateira we stayed two days without leaving the guesthouse much. The one time we left with courage after seeing some rays of sunlight as well as bits of blue sky lasted about half an hour in which we got to see some of the rugged coastline.

In Lagos we had to overcome some inundation from all the rain along the path to the cliffs.

And then walked almost as far as the lighthouse to have a view of the coastline towards Lagos.

On the farthest point of our walk we stopped a while to watch the change in light and pattern on the breaking waves.

Our next stop was Faro where we first strolled through the historic centre while messing around,

and then went on to see peacocks in the park of Alameda.

The ecovia, part of the Eurovelo cycle network, east of Faro is mostly a disaster, especially after rain. The parts inbetween Luz de Tavira and Tavira as well as Conceição and Vila Real de Santo Antonio are good. East of Tavira as well as east of Faro are closed bridges, marches or other obstacles that make it sometimes impossible to continue. We stayed at the campsite in Fuseta in lovely company. Mostly retired people that escaped the cold weather father north in Europe. Malcolm was an outstanding example. He let us cook and weather the rain in the vestibule of his second camper that was usually reserved for family visiting. Being protected from the rain and having a camp kitchen at our disposal made our plan to make pizza easier. It is still a hassle making the base in a pan and then get everything cooked well and the cheese melting before the underside gets burnt but it turned out oh so well.

The smell of pine trees has been a good companion on many days in Portugal like here on our last kilometers to Monte Gordo.

From here we took a quick walk to the beach before setting up camp.

We made good use of the empty terrace of the closed restaurant in the campground to cook and stayed the next day in our tent for the first half of the day and in a small cafe in town for the second half as it continued to rain outside. And we started to wonder if we had formed an idea of cycling in southern Portugal and Spain that had more sun and warmth in it than reality could offer.