The pedalling photographer

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TO THE CYCLE TOURING FESTIVAL AND BEYOND (continued)

 AFTER THE FESTIVAL

We left the festival feeling excited and eager to get on with our tour of the Outer Hebrides. Everyone we had spoken to had told us that the islands were beautiful, wonderful, a magical place, that we would love them. No one said anything about bad weather – some had had a couple of days of rain, but nothing really awful. They were all so enthusiastic about it; we were really looking forward to it.

The drive up there was good – the sun was shining, the sky was blue, the traffic was good, the scenery was beautiful, there was even snow on top of the mountains. All was well with the world. We were on our way at last to visit these beautiful islands, something we’d longed to do for years and we were now going to cross it off our bucket list.

Loch Lomond with snowy Ben Lomond (and squished flies on the windscreen!)

Loch Lomond with snowy Ben Lomond (and squished flies on the windscreen!)

Whoa, hang on a minute! We were getting carried away with the euphoria of talking to like-minded people at the festival and forgetting our usual holiday luck – BAD WEATHER. The joke in our family is never to take a holiday at the same time as us. It has even been suggested that we visit dry, arid places in order to end their drought and bring them rain! Everyone finds it amusing, but after years and years of soggy, waterlogged holidays, the joke is wearing a bit thin for us!!!

We pitched up at the campsite just outside Oban and, ominously, the skies were beginning to darken. It started raining in the night, and it continued to rain and rain and rain – solidly for the next 24 hours or so. The next morning the ferry to Barra was cancelled due to the adverse weather (we’d signed up to receive text alerts on the sailings) and we spent the morning sitting it out in the tent. The ground outside was beginning to squelch and large puddles were forming around the tent. In the afternoon, we went into Oban and visited the CalMac ferry office. We had planned to buy a hopscotch ticket but, in view of the weather, we decided the best bet was to purchase the ferry tickets as we went along, just in case we had to bail out and backtrack.

Sitting out the rain

Sitting out the rain

Oban campsite - we're surrounded by tin tents!

Oban campsite – we’re surrounded by tin tents!

We spent the evening sat in the car, pouring over all the weather apps we could get our hands on. It wasn’t looking good. The forecast up to the weekend was for heavy rain every day, but even worse were the strong winds, with gusts over 46 mph predicted. Not exactly safe cycling weather!

What should we do? We discussed and deliberated. We had been planning this trip for several months and were really looking forward to it. Should we chance it, pack up camp, put the car in storage and go for the ferry, only to find it cancelled at the last minute? Should we be sensible – and safe – and pull the plug on the whole trip? Are the forecasts really reliable? Suppose we don’t go and then, a few days later, we see the weather has perked up? We would be absolutely kicking ourselves and cursing our caution. We decided to go to bed and sleep on it.

The following morning, the ferry was still on amber alert. We had to make a decision. In the end, our sensible heads won and we decided to bail out. We were both absolutely gutted, so disappointed, feeling utterly miserable. We reluctantly packed up the tent. Where to now? We could stay in Scotland, do static camps and go out for day rides. But the forecast for the week ahead was heavy rain and very strong winds. In the end, we knew that we would just be killing time. Why not save the money and put it towards the longer trip we plan to do later in the year to sunnier climes? Decision made, and home we headed 😦 😦


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TO THE CYCLE TOURING FESTIVAL AND BEYOND (words by my wife Chris, my cycling buddy)

BEFORE THE FESTIVAL 

When we stumbled across an announcement of the first ever cycle touring festival to be held in the UK, we immediately bought tickets. Usually, we avoid festivals like the plague – all those people crowded together, tents so close together that guy lines cross, noisy nights, long queues for smelly toilets, etc., etc.: we’re getting way too old for that sort of thing! This sounded different, however: right up our street. And being based in Clitheroe, half way up the country, we decided it would give us the impetus to continue on to Scotland and do a trip that we’d always wanted to do – a cycle tour of the Outer Hebrides.

So, Friday, 1 May, saw us excitedly loading up the car with panniers and bikes for our trip north. It wasn’t too long, though, before we were reminded of why we hadn’t used our car for the past 5 years of holidays but instead left our home on our bikes (we’re lucky enough to live within 10 miles of the port of Poole, giving us easy access to France). Road closures, long-winded diversions, motorway madness, accidents, long tailbacks, 40 mph speed limits – the journey took almost twice as long as it should have done.

On finally reaching Clitheroe, we stopped at the first opportunity to buy some fish and chips. Getting back to the car, a man approached us and said out of the blue, ‘Would you like a book?’ ‘Er, what type of book?’ we asked, mystified. He proceeded to delve into the boot of his car and dragged out a pile of books on subjects as random as cigars, poinsettias, politics, … We plumped for an album of World War I photographs – well, we would, wouldn’t we!

Oblivious to the fact that our fish and chips were getting cold, he then proceeded to tell us about his love life! How he’d just split from his partner of 16 years but that he was going to try to woo her back as it was no fun cooking for one. We listened politely as he seemed lonely and wanted to talk. Eventually, we clambered back into the car to tuck into our by now cold dinner!

 THE CYCLE TOURING FESTIVAL

On arriving at Waddow Hall, we were greeted by a familiar figure. Well, Tim Moss was, of course, familiar to us; having followed his blog, we felt that we knew him. He, on the other hand, didn’t know us from Adam!

And so this was the start of the most amazing weekend, way, way beyond our expectations.

Introductory session round the fire pit

Introductory session round the fire pit

Introductory session round the fire pit

Introductory session round the fire pit

At first, we felt somewhat star-struck. ‘Wow, look, there’s Tom Allen, there’s That Emily Chappell, Anna Hughes, Helen Lloyd, the McNeils on Wheels, the Pikes on Bikes, Kate Rawles…’, the list went on. All these people whose blogs we had followed avidly over the years. Some of them were extreme adventurers and initially we felt a little out of place, having only done short cycle tours during holidays from work. That feeling didn’t last long. Everyone was so friendly and welcoming. And there were lots of other people like us who, for whatever reason, can only fit in small chunks of cycle touring.

There was such a camaraderie between everyone – we all understood each other and had a passion for travelling by bicycle, be it on round-the-world tours or just a short hop over to France. Blanca summed it up perfectly, ‘I feel I have found my tribe’. It felt like we were all part of one big family: sharing knowledge, talking about gear, routes, bikes, clothing, actually feeling normal for a change and not that odd couple who carry all their kit on their bikes and cycle everywhere for a holiday!

The talks were interesting and informative – those more experienced were happy to share their knowledge with newbie tourers. Mealtimes were fun, giving us the opportunity to chat to so many different people and to share experiences. The guys on the couple of trade stands that were there were so friendly, enthusiastic and patient, nothing was too much trouble for them.

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For us, cycle touring allows us to travel at a slow pace – it’s not about how many miles we do, it’s all about the places we pass through, the sights we see, the smells on the road (good and bad!), and, most of all, the people we meet. To have spent a weekend with 200 or so people who felt exactly the same was absolutely fantastic. Roll on the next Cycle Touring Festival – we shall be there!

Packing up, getting ready to leave after a great weekend

Packing up, getting ready to leave after a great weekend

AFTER THE FESTIVAL

To be continued……