The crap cycle facility to the isles


In January I said some nice things about the Caledonia Way, what is shaping up to be a very nice leisure (and perhaps, for some locals, plain utility) ride between Oban and Fort William, via Glencoe. I never got around to writing the other half of the story: the road to the isles. I don’t really have any interesting point to make about it, it’s just an excuse to post pictures of pretty places and crap cycle tracks. Continue reading “The crap cycle facility to the isles”

The remotest road

This was the ‘A’ road across the top of Scotland until the EU built a new, full-size one. It’s high up on the Moine — the moss — between Tongue and Hope. The house is miles from anything, built with the original road as an inn, back before bicycles and motor cars made Tongue to Hope less than a morning’s journey. I wrote about it before.

It’s a lovely place to go for a bicycle ride.

The friday photo theme is just an excuse to plug my pictures and prints.

What’s wrong with this picture?

I think somebody at Sustrans got a bit carried away with the B&Q catalogue. If you don’t fancy the diversionary routes around the side, you could just open the gates — and leave them open. Which rather makes one wonder: what’s it all for?

It’s NCN55 on the old Shropshire Union Railway at the edge of Stafford. If ever you want to discover what a lovely town Stafford is, follow the NCN55 from the station. It ends at Telford, at which point any town will look lovely in comparison.

I mainly go to Stafford because I’m a miser who prefers to take the £3.95 train tickets and ride an extra 20 miles, than to pay £88.00 for trains on lines that are more convenient for the places I want to go…

Three* stone circles that are way better than Stonehenge

And now for some light diversion.  David Hembrow describes the travels and travails of a Dutch family trying to get to Stonehenge by bicycle, faced with south east England’s network of motorways and motorways-in-all-but-name.  I think I have solution to the Stonehenge cycle tour problem: don’t go to Stonehenge.  It’s a bit crap.  Stonehenge fell apart over the millennia, but the stones were stuck back upright at various times in the early 20th century.  They were still concreting it back together right up into the 1960s.  Stonehenge just looks weird, neither ruin nor full restoration.  If you go there you’ll be behind a rope on a concrete footpath, next to thousands of vehicles each hour squeezing through the bottleneck on the A303.

Any alternative to Stonehenge is going to be blighted to some extent by Britain’s poor cycling conditions, but at least when you get to them it will have been worth it.

The obvious alternative is Avebury, a couple of dozen miles north of Stonehenge.  Larger, more complicated, enigmatic and interesting than the famous neighbour.  And sat on a confluence of Sustrans routes.

Avebury: dull enough that I've never been back for a better photo.

But you know Sustrans routes.  I wouldn’t trust them to get me to Avebury.  Better not risk it.  Instead go for Castlerigg.  More beautiful and breathtaking than the soft southern stone circles, set high on a hill yet dwarfed by the massive landscape of the Cumbrian Fells.  And on NCN 71 from Penrith station, a generally delightful, if not perfectly direct, set of lanes and rail trails.

Castlerigg: even on this freezing february weekday I had to hide the tourists behind the stones.

But at Castlerigg you’ll still be sharing with tourists.  You’ll hear the distant traffic on the trunk road, and pass the car park on your way in.  If you want something proper special, head for Machrie Moor.  Machrie Moor is not a stone circle but a collection of them, all different designs and styles.  I lost count of how many.  To get there you’ll be needing a ferry, a half day’s ride, and a half hour walk up a winding track to a tumble-down old barn and the circles beyond.

Machrie Moor
Machrie Moor: perfect.
Machrie Moor
Machrie Moor

Of course, as Kim illustrates, you’ll be sharing the roads with idiots, but at least it won’t have all been for the sake of Stonehenge.

Followup: pimp my ride

Before the last random meandering tour of the hills and mountain ranges of England and Scotland (idea for a book: find the least flat end-to-end route) I briefly mentioned the latest accessories with which I had pimped my ride.  A few people asked questions about both the handlebar smartphone mount and the solar phone charger.

The Herbert Richter HTC Hero mount was pretty good.  The reviews worried me because somebody said that it had failed on the very first ride and their phone had been destroyed.  My experience was far better: I must have done at least 1,000km, in all kinds of conditions and speeds, before the cradle was knocked loose when I hit shoddy roadworks while descending the hill into Melrose in the Borders at 35kmph:

The trench across the road was one of a series.  A developer has very recently put up a little cul-de-sac called Scottsdale and has dug up the road at intervals to lay the power for each streetlight.  It appears they couldn’t be bothered to compact the backfill properly before smearing a bit of tarmac on the top.  The road is already sinking as the backfill settles, and the tarmac job is already crumbling off.  Presumably Borders Council will be left with the bill when it (and the rest of the development) fully falls apart — which it probably already has by time of writing.

I wonder if prospective buyers notice this shoddy shortcut when they visit?  I wonder how confident they feel about the quality of the construction at Scottsdale after this, their first impression of the developer’s work?

(Unfortunately I can’t find the name of the developer because if you attempt to Google for new housing you get about 1.75 million hits from SEO drivel — a hundred thousand pointless property search engines, all duplicating the same non-content but promising to help you find new homes and new houses and new properties ready to buy and rent, for sale and to let, in Scottsdale, off the B6059 Dingleton Road, TD6 9HR, Melrose, near Jedborough, Tweedbank and Galashiels, in the Scottish Borders, Scotland, United Kingdom.  None of them actually tell you anything about the properties listed, but they’re very keen to tell you they have properties in Scottsdale, TD6, Melrose…)

Anyway, everything’s fine because the excellent thing about the Herbert Richter HTC Hero handlebar mount is that it is designed for the HTC Hero, and the HTC Hero is apparently indestructible.  It has scrapes gouged out of it, and there’s barely a straight line or flat surface left on it, but it still does everything it’s supposed to do.

It would probably be even more complete if I hadn’t simply put it back on the mount.  It fell off again a few days later, on the crumbling roads of Arran, and the cradle no longer clips onto the mount.  It merely slides.

The mount cost £17, and I think it probably lasted about 17 days.  It was convenient being able to put the phone on the handlebars for navigation, but I’m not sure it was £1-a-day convenient.

And somebody asked me about the FreeLoader solar phone charger.  It’s worthless.

Pimp my ride

I did mention that I quit my job six weeks ago, to be a full time bicycle touring landscape photographer for the summer, right?  I’ve been on a short break between tours — a few days to catch up with bike hacking before the next one.

One problem with being a bicycle tourist photographer is making sure you’re at the right spot at the right moment, not rushing off to your B&B or hostel before it gets dark.  For this reason, few photographers would think to work by bicycle, even though it has loads of advantages over the alternatives.

And there are a couple of simple ways around the perceived limitation of the bicycle.  One is a headlight, to enable you to shoot the evening light at leisure and get to your destination after dark — I’ve got the £70 Cateye EL610 Single Shot Plus on the right there, which properly lights up the lanes and has paid for itself.

The other is to wildcamp (where safe and allowed) at the subject of your shot, giving you the added benefit of dusk, dawn and night shot opportunities.  The only problem then, if you are out all day and all night, is how to keep enough charge in your phone to maintain twitter operations.

I could have the front wheel rebuilt/replaced with a dynamo hub charger, but that would probably cost over £100.  So instead I’ve got the bike all wired up with a delightfully sparkly old USB extension cable to connect the HTC Hero to some Freeloader solar panels (reduced to £15 at Best Buy) on a rack mount that I hacked together with pipe lagging, electrical tape and velcro.  The Hero gets through a full battery charge every day and the solar panels are small, so I’m not convinced that the Freeloader will be enough to keep it going by itself — especially on grey days — but it should do until I can find a cafe to leach from.  I will report back.

The solar panels, coupled with all the other wires and gadgets, introduces another problem: with all that attached, it really starts to look like you’re trying too hard and taking things too seriously.  I mean, somebody might think I’m a weirdo.  It needs some frivolity to detract from that.  So I finally got around to installing the Delta Airzound 2 Horn, a refillable airhorn.  It’s really poorly made: the only tube it fits is the seat post, which makes it pretty useless for quick response angry beeps; and the plastic in the bracket is so crap it almost fell apart when I screwed it tight — it’s currently hanging together by a thread.  It’s so cheap and shoddy it couldn’t do a better job at lowering the tone.  And it still makes a delightfully loud honk from between your legs.

None of this in any way makes the rider look like a massive nerd.