April challenge: Dunkeld Enduro 

One day into being 40 injury strikes (again) with a sharp hot poker going through my hand, or that’s what it felt like when I woke at 3am thinking my hand was melting. Not good full stop but not good when you’ve got your first enduro race in two days time.

In the morning the burning had subsided but an alterered sensation progressed to pins and needs in both arms/hands and has remained ever since (now at 2.5 months). I cycled to work one handed to try and preserve the ‘worst’ limb. That’s a logical thought process, right? 

So, back to the race. I decided to give it a bash, expecting to bail after Stage 1, but didn’t want to miss out on the banter. The climb to the top of the first stage was a long one hour, one handed mission. 

The first stage was a blinder – straight into a crazy rock garden and it wasn’t long before I was over the bars after a bad line choice. Why on earth did I not see the freshly cut nice smooth berm? Lesson 1: look ahead more! 

I had another tumble further down on a flat bit a grassy traverse and managed to fly through the tape. Jeez, not sure what I can learn from that?! 

Stage 2 was much better and I felt pumped at the bottom. 

Near the start of stage 3 my chain came off and I must have had my race head on as didn’t want to stop and lose time. I rode pretty much the whole stage with no chain…….eat your heart out Aaron Gwin! Lesson 2: was my free hub still wonky? Need to upskill on the mechanical side of things.

Stage 4 and 5 were awesome. Pretty steep, gnarly and I was definitely riding faster than I should have been. Lesson 3: full face helmets = more risky riding. 

The adrenaline of the staged sections obliterated any thoughts of my arm/hand issue. I’d survived an enduro, was pretty pleased with my result and had good banter with my chums on the way round the course. 


I reckon the key to climbing the ladder is avoiding mechanicals (so many punctures around, thankfully not me) and riding slightly slower/more in control to avoid crashing! Not sure the latter is possible if you’ve got a wee racing demon that rears its head?! 

I’m not 100% sold on racing.  I ride my bike to discover new and remote places but guess it’s good to mix things up every now and again! 

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Cycling the North Coast 500 when the wind is blowing a hoolie 

The North Coast 500 is a circular route showcasing some of Scotland’s finest scenery. Starting in Inverness the route heads west to the Applecross peninsula and hugs the coast taking in the top slice of Scotland. 

I had a week off work and this was to be my March challenge, riding solo and unsupported. I didn’t give it much thought until it was Friday night and time to pack. Yikes! 

Day 1: Inverness to Kishorn (111km 684m) 

I drove up from Edinburgh slightly apprehensive; there was snow at the side of the road, it was 1 degree celcius and the forecast was grim for the next few days. This was a challenge and no one said it was going to be easy.  

I abandoned my car in a residential street near the canal and set off hoping I’d be back by the following Sunday! 

I followed a suggested route through Beauly and Muir of Ord to reduce the time on busy roads until the inevitable at Contin. I’d also suggest the quiet short cut via Kirkhill on route to Beauly. 

It was a fairly gentle ride and apart from a few showers, the weather was pretty kind. From Garve the scenery started getting more interesting with rolling snow topped hills hugged by low cloud. I kept stopping to take photos of all the stags at the roadside looking on curiously.

As I dropped into Achnasheen I was hoping for a cafe stop but it was still closed and there wasn’t any sign of life at the hotel either. I pushed on to the Sanachan bunkhouse in Kishorn. Watch out for the steep climb out of Loch Carron just before you get to Kishorn. I was exhausted by this point but thought if I can’t get up this wee hill, what hope do I have for the Bealach? This was the longest I’d ever cycled and I was a bit bedraggled by the time I had arrived at the bunkhouse. Wrists, neck and lower back were feeling it and this was only day 1! 
I’d spotted a seafood bar on the map (would surely have a veggie option?) but it was closed too. Note the pattern…….who comes this way in March? Emergency adventure meal no. 1 to the rescue. I had a good chat with the owner about adventures in the hills and their plans to build a log cabin later in the year. Perfect spot for cyclists. 

Day 2: Kishorn to Kinlochewe (92km 1481m)

I knew this was going to be a toughie, with the Bealach na Bá just around the corner. It means ‘Pass of the Cattle’ and resembles alpine passes with steep gradients and switchbacks, climbing to 626m. 

The forecast shifted from heavy rain to cloud so I set off just in my shorts ready for a sweaty climb and fine views. I caught my first glimpse of what I guessed must be the route and it seemed the weather had different plans. 

A few minutes later the wind had picked up and it was lashing down. Full on waterproofs and nowhere to hide! 

The climb to the start of the switchbacks is long and relentless and probably the worst bit. At times I couldn’t pedal because of the headwind. 


The plus point of doing it this time of year is the dearth of traffic. Eventually I made it to the top and there was a wee lift in the cloud. 

There’s a viewpoint a bit further up with views over to Skye, Rum, the Outer Hebrides and Wester Ross but I was cold and wet and didn’t hang around too long.  

From here, the descent to Applecross is awesome with sweeping corners and the type of speed that makes me glance down to check my front wheel is on properly. I had to stop and put more layers on, it was flipping freezing! 

I headed straight for the Applecross Inn for coffee, hot chocolate and radiator hugging. I’d gone through 3 pairs of gloves with the rain and was pretty soaked. Clothing is always tricky to predict but I was grateful I’d packed spare waterproof gloves and a jacket.

The next section to Shieldaig follows the coast around the Applecross Penninsula and was actually harder going than the Bealach. It’s a series of short sharp leg zapping climbs that seem to go on forever! 


I decided to keep going to the Torridon Inn and got some fine views of Ben Alligin and Liathach.

 

After a fuel stop I charged on to Kinlochewe as the rain wasn’t far behind. It’s fairly flat up Glen Torridon so a good way finish off a big day. I didn’t quite manage to beat the rain and my heart sank when I arrived at the bunkhouse/hotel and everything was closed up. A quick phone call to the bunkhouse number and fear not, the door is always open! 

It wasn’t the most inviting of places and emergency meal no.2 would be on the cards but it was 5pm, 20 miles to Gairloch and without internet I had no idea if I’d manage to get any accommodation further up the road. I knew the forecast for the next day was horrendous and would have liked to get some more miles in but it was too much of a gamble. I stayed put, dried my clothes off and enjoyed my rehydrated meal. 

Day 3: Kinlochewe to Ullapool (124km 1477m) 

I woke early with the wind and rain battering the window and was dreading the day ahead. This was a big day starting off with 20 miles to Gairloch into a forecasted 40mph headwind. Part of me wanted to hitch a lift and not tell anyone, but I remembered my brother doing an etape in horrendous conditions and decided just to crack on with it. 

The ride to Gairloch was brutal in terms of the wind; I was barely moving in my granny ring. I was battered by rain, snow and hail but there were also moments of sunshine. I let out a whoop when I caught my first glimpse of the cafe down by the pier. I was pretty broken by this point and there was still 59 miles between me and Ullapool. It was the first day of opening for the cafe (Coast Coffee Company) and thank goodness! It’s been taken over since I was last there and has a delicious menu that I would happily have worked through. Unfortunately it was only 10.30am so coffee, smoothie and a date slice filled the gap.

 

I’ve done the Tollaidh loop on my mountain bike before and knew there was a big climb out of Gairloch but thankfully the wind was behind me at this point and it wasn’t too bad. My dodgy knee had taken a hit battling through the wind to Gairloch which was a bit of a worry. Anyway, I kept going with the wind sometimes being a hindrance and sometimes my new best friend. More snow and hail showers and I actually got blown off my bike when I stopped at a viewpoint, not long after this……..


On some descents I had to pedal hard to move because of the headwind. Stunning views though over to Assynt, An Teallach and Sgurr Mor. 

I made it to Ullapool, pretty broken from the wind. I’d booked into the bunkhouse at the Ceilidh Place and took advantage of the log fire, a pot of tea and iced my knee. By now weight bearing was tricky and I was worried it was game over. Guess this highlighted the importance of conditioning. I ride my mountain bike all the time with no issues but this was a different bike and a different type of riding. I was super excited to get some proper food at the Ceilidh Place and not have an emergency meal! Big high five to the veggie options. 

Day 4: knee recovery day in Ullapool

It was blowing a hoolie and the sensible thing was to have a rest day to try and let my knee settle. I spent the day eating, icing my knee and taking it easy (actually harder in some ways than riding!)

Day 5: Ullapool to Durness (119km 1489m)

I was nervous starting the climb out of Ullapool. I knew the road and knew my knee would get tested. I road tentatively and enjoyed the views across Ardmair Bay to Coigach, Stac Polly and Suilven.


Approaching Loch Assynt I had a decision to make – the direct route to Kylesku or the longer route via Lochinver and the stunning beaches around the penninsula. From spending a week up here before  I knew the latter was a beautiful but challenging route with short sharp hills and twisty singletrack. My heart said that way but my head said to protect my knee and go direct. I went with my head and while I didn’t capture turquoise coves, I enjoyed riding past the snow topped peaks of one of my favourite hills Quinag. 

I stopped at the Kylesku Hotel for soup and coffee and had a peek at the bridge.

After the climb out of Kylesku it wasn’t long before I was passing through Scourie and getting fine views of Ben Stack, Arkle and Fionaven (another one of my favs).

 I took shelter from the wind behind an old fishing building on Loch Laxford and refuelled in the sun. 

After Rhiconich the road gradually climbed again and my knee started playing up. It was a case of head down and pedal the last 20km to Durness. 

I stayed at the Lazy Crofter bunkhouse which was perfect – comfortable and cozy. The hotel was closed so another adventure meal! 

Day 6: Durness to Thurso ( 119km 1489m) 

The beaches were gorgeous but when you’ve got a lot of miles to put in, there wasn’t really any time for exploring. One of these days I’ll get to Smoo Caves! 

This was the first day of light wind and coupled with a big flat section from Durness tracing the shore of Loch Eriboll I was suddenly experiencing a completely different NC500.

I stopped for a roadside view of Ard Neackie after seeing @loosemooose‘s photo a couple of weeks beforehand. 

After a fast descent to cross the River Hope, there was a big climb up to Á Mhòine and this section is a strong contender for most breathtaking part of the trip. Perfectly still, just me, snow by the road, frozen lochans and stunning views of a snowy Ben Hope and Ben Loyal. I was in a moment for sure and could have spent the whole day up here. 

Another fast descent takes you to the Kyle of Tongue slipway. @belhavenbikes had sent me a message on twitter to visit Weavers cafe just after Tongue and promised it would be open, and so I did. A great refuelling stop and it has a track pump outside which is handy.

The beach at Bettyhill looked inviting but I needed to push on. Pretty much as soon as you cross into Caithness the road flattens. I managed to hit home time as I passed Dounreay and the road suddenly became very busy. 

With the calm conditions I would have liked to get to John O’Groats but by the time I got to Thurso my bum was so sore I couldn’t sit on the saddle any longer and called it a day.

Day 7: Thurso to Helmsdale (121km 1056m) 

It was an easy 30km to John O’Groats with a flat road and light wind. Before long, Orkney was visible and I was pulling in for the obligatory photo.

I stopped for a coffee and to let my back have a rest – by now I was really struggling. Last year I had a pretty bad back injury and was anxious from day 1 that it was going to spasm again. 

If you are doing the pure NC500 there is no choice but to head down the east coast from JOG and join the A9 after Latheron. 

I was back to having a decent enough headwind to make riding tough, and the first section from JOG was fast car territory. I was glad of the high vis vest I donned for this section. 

This part of the route is far less interesting than the West / North West corner and you don’t have the spectacular scenery to distract you when things are hard going. I stopped in Wick for lunch and the rest of the ride to Helmsdale was a sufferfest. My lower back was struggling and I was getting off the bike every 20-30 mins to do release exercises on the ground. 

Watch out for the Berriedale Braes – a steep descent and brutal climb, especially with a headwind! 

I’d booked a B&B in Helmsdale and after doing all my back stretches fell into a deep coma. 

Day 8: Helmsdale to Inverness (127km 704m)

I was expecting to need 2 shorter days for the final stretch because of my back but made good progress to Dornoch. There’s a really nice coastal road that takes you from Golspie to Dornoch and lets you escape the lorries on the A9 


After coffee and cake (definitely back in civilisation now!) at Gordon House in Dornoch I headed back along the A9 to Tain. 

There’s a nice route along quiet roads to Dingwall 

My back was holding out with some off the bike releases and I was then on the home straight retracing my route from Muir of Ord to Beauly and the final stretch along the Beauly Firth. 

I made it! 

For me this was an epic challenge. I set off knowing I’d have a tough 4 days with the weather and I sure did! 

People talk about the mental and physical side of things. I ended up talking to inanimate objects at the side of the road and the odd bit of road kill. There were times when I felt like curling up in my bivvy bag under a rock and giving up because of the relentless wind, but I didn’t. Mentally I (just) managed to hold it together. 

Physically my legs were fine and got me up the many many hills but it’s the things that come with conditioning (and possibly a professional bike fit) that would have made the biggest difference. A ride like this exposes the niggles that normally dont bother you. The 20-40mph headwind for the first few days took its toll on my knee. A chronic injury that has never bothered me on the bike, became a big problem. Sitting on a saddle for 7-7.5h on consecutive days, my bum and lower back were crying out.  I ride my mountain bike about 3 times a week for maybe 3 hours at a time and a lot of that is standing up or off the saddle chatting. If I’d done some proper road training would it have helped? Who knows but I do know this is a serious undertaking and a completely different kettle of fish to being mountain bike fit. 

March threw up its own challenge……food. The fickle Scottish weather can catch you out anytime of year but until Easter pretty much everything is closed. This includes the hotels! Apart from Ullapool I had a dehydrated adventure meal every night for tea (can restock in the outdoor shop in Ullapool).

March does have its benefits though. The only traffic you encounter is Highland cows, locals and Tesco delivery vans. You have the bunkhouses to yourself so it’s easy to dry off clothes and there are no midges! 

Good luck to anyone doing it and I hope the wind is your friend. Scotland is a spectacular country and what better way to explore?! 

Strathpuffer – 24 hour mountain biking race 

Turning 40 this year and decided a challenge/adventure a month would be a good way to celebrate! 

First up was the Strathpuffer – a 24 hour mountain biking endurance event, set in the Scottish highlands, at the harshest time of year.

Well I (only just) survived! It started off fairly benign before the arctic conditions set in causing havoc to the bikes – seatpost gave up on lap 1, brakes and gears froze, icicles hung from my down tube, drinking water froze, stoves stopped working and the trails got pretty sketchy with ice. Great experience looking back and bumped into some familiar faces which was nice. A great team with Angela, Nicola and Fergus and support from Tony. We managed 24 laps most of which was sub-zero with garmins recording as low as -8 degrees. If it wasn’t for the fire not sure I’d have lasted! Given it was dark for 17 hours, photos are limited!

Exploring Sri Lanka in two weeks 

If you’ve done a lot of travelling and it takes a lot to go ‘wow’, Sri Lanka is for you. The tear shape island in the Indian Ocean offers spectacular scenery, abundant wildlife, locals who take friendliness and welcoming to a new level, and a rich culture. Oh, and the food is absolutely delicious; aromatic curries, coconut roti, exotic fruit and juices. 

We didn’t do much planning before heading out apart from reading a few blogs and getting some  recommendations from friends. 

Day 1 Colombo – Anuradhapura 

We arrived at night so booked a hotel in Colombo. I’m not a fan of cities and it didn’t seem to warrant eating a day into our trip so we caught the morning train to Anuradhapura. We booked seats in 2nd class reserved before leaving home (https://www.visitsrilankatours.co.uk) but you only need to do this if you want a guaranteed seat. There’s loads of useful train info here

The train weaved through villages and towns for about 3 hours as food vendors did laps up and down the carriages selling roti, samosas and lentil vadai (patties). If you’re happy eating local food, you don’t need to take any snacks for the trains or buses. Our guesthouse (Kutambaya Resort) was a couple of km from the train station and given the heat, we caught a tuk tuk. Over the two weeks we got better at jamming ourselves in with our backpacks. 


Our host recommended Milano for food and this was one of the best curries we had. Tucked away down some side streets we were served about 8 different veggie curries, each with their own combination of spices. 

Day 2 Exploring Anuradhapura on two wheels 

We hired bikes through our guesthouse to explore the ancient city ruins which include enormous stupas built from millions of sun dried bricks, temples, statues, and water tanks. Once you get off the main road you hardly encounter any traffic, meet lots of monkeys and can travel at your own pace – definitely recommend. There are various checkpoints along the way where you need to buy tickets (quite pricey) 

We’d seen everything we wanted to by mid afternoon and caught the bus to Dambulla and a tuk tuk to our guesthouse in Habarana (Wild View Resort). On arrival the heavens opened and we decided to just eat at the guesthouse. Most places will do evening meals and breakfast which makes things easy if you are arriving later and pretty tired! It also means you get traditional Sri Lankan food = yum! 

In hindsight staying in Dambulla would have been easier for exploring Sigiriya Rock and Dambulla Caves but we were put off by the description in the Lonely Planet. If you don’t have a ‘driver’ there is nowhere to leave your backpacks when exploring the sites.

Day 3 Sigiriya Rock and Dambulla Caves

We were keen to get to Kandy after our sightseeing and decided having a tuk tuk to drive us round the sites, keep our rucksacks and drop us in Kandy was going to be the best option (5000 LKR). The owner of the guesthouse had organised a driver but unfortunately he had to go to a funeral so the owner took us instead. A perfect example of how helpful the locals are.

Sigiriya is a big rock, rising 200m above the jungle. Part way up a plateau features a gateway to the top in the form of a massive lion.  On the top are the ruins of a palace and you can only marvel at how it was constructed in the 5th century. 

When we arrived it was covered in mist and raining 

As optimistic people we had high hopes it would clear by the time we got to the top but we ended up soaked through. Unfortunately it meant we didn’t hang around a lot to look at the frescoes and explore the gardens, moats, water pools and caves. 


Close by are the Dambulla caves – the Royal Rock Temple complex of 5 caves contains heaps of Buddha statues and paintings 

We had a couple of minor mechanicals with the tuk tuk but there was always someone at the side of the road ready to help. The roads are lined with wee shacks selling fruit and veg and we got some supplies on route to Kandy. When we arrived at the Kandy Hill Escape guesthouse, we caught the last of the sun looking out at the hilly jungle from the balcony and munching our way through the fruit. This included a new one that we still don’t know the name of (doesn’t appear to be an English name). Kind of like a small jackfruit but with white flesh. Equally as sweet and sticky! 

We were perched up on the hill and walked into town for some food at the Muslim Hotel. Super cheap, big portions and very tasty. One of their specialities is Kottu – chopped up roti with veg mixed through. 


Day 4 Kandy 

Our bizarre breakfast experience – papaya juice with salt in it. The hosts take such pride in their cooking that you don’t want to offend by not eating/drinking but we did wonder if this was a mistake! 

Kandy is nestled amongst the hills and known as the cultural capital because the sacred tooth (the tooth of a Buddha) resides in the temple here – considered Sri Lanka’s most important Buddhist relic. We didn’t go to see it as needed a day wondering about rather than being in temples. 

We took advantage of the first coffee shop of the trip (Sri Lanka is all about the tea) and walked around the lake watching the monitor lizards recharging their solar panels in the sun and cormorants diving for fish. We had a second visit to the Muslim Hotel for food and wandered round the botanical gardens. With any busy city, I usually find the gardens are a great place if you need a bit of tranquility amongst the hustle and bustle. Lots of interesting things including canon ball trees and a colony of 22,000 flying foxes. 

It was Tracy’s birthday and friends had recommended going to Helga’s Folley for a drink – a hotel high up on the south side of the lake and described as a mix between Dali and Gaudi. Very bizarre place, not sure it’s really worth it. 

Day 5 Kandy – Nallathaniya (for climbing Adam’s Peak)

Adam’s Peak, also known as Sri Pada (Sacred footprint of the Buddha) and Samanalakande (Butterfly Mountain; where butterflies go to die) is a 2243m mountain which is a pilgrimage site, especially important for Buddhists. 

You start the climb from Nallathaniya and the first part of this journey involved getting the train from Kandy to Hatton. 
Tickets for the observation carriage sell out weeks in advance; we’d left it too late and settled for unreserved 2nd class. We followed our host’s advice and got to the train station an hour early to buy tickets but there didn’t seem to be much point to this. We were among the first on the platform but by the time the train came, the platform was pretty full and it was a rammy to get on the train. 


The train was already packed when it arrived at Kandy and we ended up standing. Our carriage was full of students from Colombo, also on their way to Adam’s Peak, armed with bongo drums and loads of songs. It was a great atmosphere and definitely a perk of travelling with the locals, albeit missing out on sitting at a window taking in all the scenery. 

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When we arrived at Hatton, the bus left from just outside the station and filled up within a few minutes. The tuk tuk drivers spun the usual yarn saying the bus takes hours and they can drive it in 1 hour (this is typical throughout Sri Lanka). We went by bus and arrived after just over one hour.  

We’d read to avoid climbing Adam’s Peak during festivals and weekends due to the volume of pilgrims but when you’re only in Sri Lanka for 2 weeks we didn’t have much choice and arrived for a Saturday morning trek. 

We had a wee wonder when we arrived, grabbing delicious rotis at one of the cafes, and walking down the start of the trail. I wasn’t prepared for the lines of tatt stalls which are like the ones you get at fun fares, selling bright orange cuddly toys, other very random toys/posters/Buddhas with flashing lights, and high sugar snacks. 

There’s not such a choice of accommodation here and we’d booked into Daddy’s. Lots of development going on so options likely to increase over the next couple of years. We grabbed tea at the guesthouse (dreadful) and had an early night to try and rest up before our early start. 

Day 6 Adam’s Peak

We’d read to start at 2am to make it up for sunrise. While most of the tourists seem to aim for this, bus loads of locals were arriving every few minutes and there was a steady stream of people of all ages setting off. Most of the locals were bare foot or in flip flops carrying plastic bags with blankets and food provisions, and wearing ‘ice caps’ (fleecy hats). 


We started off with a good pace. It was incredible being part of the pilgrimage and seeing wee kids from about 3 or 4 years walking without voicing any complaints, the elderly being helped up the 5000 steps by their family, and those who clearly don’t exercise climb a couple of steps and then just stop or sit down in the middle of the path. The path starts off pretty gentle and then you hit steep steps. We got about 3/4 of the way up and then hit a massive jam and were pretty much stationary for one hour. 

There was only a trickle of people coming down (mostly tourists who’d turned around) and weighing up the options we made the difficult decision to turn around and not make it up to the top. If we’d waited, we would have missed the train to Ella and taken a day away from doing something else. It was disappointing and our advice would be to strongly avoid going at the weekend if possible. We saw the guys from the train and it had taken them 7 hours to get to the top because of all the people. 


We caught the bus back to Hatton and for several kilometres the road was lined  with buses that had transported the thousands of pilgrims. We jumped on the train at Hatton to Ella. Unreserved 2nd class again and after a wee bit of standing we all managed to get a seat and rotated who got the window. Great views as the train passed through villages and tea plantations. Vegetable samosas saved the day! 

We arrived in Ella and caught a tuk tuk up the steep hill to our guesthouse Lucky Star. Much cooler here which was a nice change. Ella is set up for tourists and reminded me of some of the ‘backpacker’ hangouts in other countries, with nice cafes and restaurants selling a mix of local and some western food.

Day 7 Ella  

After our failed ascent of Adam’s Peak and the Sigiriya monsoon we had high hopes for Ella Rock. You get there by walking for just short of one hour along the railway track and then turning off left and heading up through the tea plantations until you reach the summit. 


It’s a nice walk and when we got to the top we had a view over to Little Adam’s Peak before it turned to another pea soup day. There is a cloud forest on the top which is nice to walk through. 


Watch out for the trains while walking along the tracks. In both directions we had to get off the tracks and although they travel much slower than trains at home, still quite speedy! 

We went for lunch at Matays Cafe – a wee shack that serves up delicious curries and paratha. All cooked fresh to order and the best curry yet!

Ella is popular for hiking and waterfalls. I’ve always got low expectations for waterfalls after visiting some of the world famous ones. We walked down the road for 6km to Rawana Ella Falls and this was a great nature walk with heaps of monkeys and birds just off the road side.


Day 8 Ella – Udawalawe 

We climbed Little Adam’s Peak in the morning and this time we got a view! A path gently winds up through tea plantations with Tamil women out picking leaves. They fill up big sacks with the handle looped over their head. 


View to Ella Rock

The path steepens and it was sweaty climbs to the different tops. 


We stopped for a fresh juice at the swanky 98 Acres Resort on the way down and the mist started rolling in. Before long, Little Adam’s Peak and Ella Rock were under their blanket once again. We couldn’t resist another lunch at Matays. 

Next up was safari. I’ve been spoiled with several African safaris so left it to the other two to decide on the safari park. We opted for Udawalawe and got there by two buses – one from Ella to Wellawaya and then the Colombo bus from Wellawaya to Udawalawe. The buses are handy for getting around but blast out Sri Lankan pop, peep excessively and drive a bit crazy. Like most buses, we were glad to get off, although did see a few elephants, monkeys and peacocks as we skirted the edge of the park. 

Day 9 Udawalawe and to the coast 

We stayed at Leesa Villa Safari Resort which was great. Would definitely recommend. The hosts were so friendly and the room was spotless. We sat out in the garden with a beer listening to the jungle noises. The husband has a safari jeep so we headed out at 6am the next morning and got a delicious breakfast when we got back. The park was great – loads of elephants, birds, lizards, water buffalo, crocs all within a relatively small area so you didn’t drive for long in between spotting the animals. On most occasions we were the only jeep which was perfect. 

We’d been non stop since arriving, trying to cram in as much as possible and had a few days on the coast the relax before heading home. We decided to have a night in a less developed place and experience the more remote beaches. We stayed at Eco Cabanas in Marakolliya which was fabulous. 

We headed straight for the beach but like a lot in area, swimming was a no go due to the currents and we had to settle for paddling. Dinner options were a bit more limited in this area and we ended up at the Crocodile Grill which is attached to a large hotel on the beachfront. The menu and prices were geared to the tourist, with less local Sri Lankan food on offer. Unfortunately this was common at the coast. 

Day 10 Goyambokka 

We needed a day chilling on the beach and decided on Goyambokka because it is safe for swimming. A picturesque cove with turquoise water, deckchairs and quite a lot of tourists! We are definitely spoiled on the west coast of Scotland where you are lucky to spot another person on the white sandy beaches. A day of reading, soaking up some rays and swimming in the Indian Ocean. 

We finished up with 3 nights in Mirissa. We had a great room at Maya Guest House and were grateful for the AC – much hotter on the coast. We headed down to the beach for tea and first glimpse was of a strobe light, music pumping, illuminated palm trees and numerous restaurants set up on the beach. Not what I was expecting at all (guessing lots of recent development as my 2015 LP is definitely out of date for Mirissa) but not at the Ibiza stage (yet!). I couldn’t actually get a Sri Lankan curry and had to have a pizza! Still a relaxed vibe and hopefully there’s not much more development. 

Day 11 Galle 

We caught the bus to Galle for a day trip. The historic Fort area is full of Dutch colonial buildings with the ocean lapping the walls around its perimeter. We walked along the wall before exploring the streets filled with nice shops and cafes. You almost forget you’re in Sri Lanka. Take swimmers with you as we didn’t and there were some lovely sheltered swimming spots. 


We had a yummy lunch here: 


Day 12 Mirissa 

We went blue whale watching with Raja and the Whales after a recommendation from a friend. They are more eco aware and support responsible and sustainable whale watching. There was quite a swell and I was glad I’d taken sea sickness pills – get Avomine if you’re in any doubt! 

After sailing for about 2 hours we caught sight of a blue whale and watched as it came up to surface every 15 minutes or so before diving down again. Amazing to see them. We also saw flying fish and a pod of acrobatic spinner dolphins.


Photo credit: Raja and the Whales

In the afternoon we went surfing at Weligama. First time without a wetsuit and it was brilliant! Almost lost the bikini a few times though. 

Traditional fishing boat (Oruwa) Weligama 

Sunset Mirissa Beach 

Day 13 Mirissa

We’d spotted a sign for an early morning yoga class and headed along for a very relaxing start to our final day. What a setting! 


After a lovely brekkie on the beachfront we picked up our rucksacks and headed to Weligama for a final surf before heading home.  

We’d booked a room in the Bee Nest in Negombo to have showers and try and catch some sleep before leaving for the airport at 2am. We’d planned to get the train to Colombo but the trains were off so we had a painful bus journey with the usual tunes blasting, peeping and scary driving. 

We caught a taxi to Negombo and a few hours later were at the airport boarding our flight. 

This was an absolutely cracking holiday. You can certainly cram a lot into 2 weeks but there are plenty reasons to go back. There’s hiking in the Knuckles range, the east & north parts of the country, the friendly faces and of course the food…..veggie heaven. Yum! 

My 2016

Things got off to a shaky start when my back went big style at the start of January ski touring. This was first outing for my new bling (thanks to a tax rebate!) at Glenshee; unfortunately followed by a few months of intensive physio 

Most of January and February was spent in cafes and keeping myself busy making macrame plant hangers but I did manage a couple of gentle walks at the end of the month. This is from Loch Gamhna, Cairngorms and love the light catching the branches and ice 

In March my beautiful nephew Harry Patrick Souter arrived. This is him just a couple of hours old. A biased auntie but what a cutie! 

By April I was ready to try an adventure and set off to explore Eigg. This is the view to Rum from my wildcamp at Tràigh a’ Bhìgeil

In May, explored Colonsay by bike and paddleboard. My favourite Scottish island so far and so good, went back the next weekend. This is where we wild camped the first night (Kiloran Bay)

Colonsay just squeezed into the start of June and deserves another photo. This one is actually from Oronsay – packrafted over and had the whole island to myself apart from these guys 

By July things were getting back to normal and had an amazing trip cycle touring from Munich to Venice. This photo was just after a big tunnel in Austria when the cloud lifted and we got the first glimpse of our surroundings 

It wouldn’t be fair not to include a photo from Slovenia too as it is stunning and one of my new favourite countries. This is the Soca River where we managed to do a paddleboarding trip.

In August we had a family weekend up at Badaguish. A trip up Sgorr Goaith and rewarded with my first ever view of Glen Einich (3rd time lucky). 

September saw the arrival of my new bike who was christened Alma Libre on our biking holiday in the Spanish Pyrenees. What a blast! 

With the Autumn colours it’s always difficult to pick out a photo but I love this one of my folks on their new bikes. Never too old to take up cycling! On our way from Aviemore to An Lochan Uaine, Cairngorms. 

In November, had my best ever winter hill day. After aborting our original plan as the road was blocked, we had a stunning day on Ben Vorlich. Had high hopes for the season at this point…..

There’s been loads of mountain biking (and cafe) action in Innerleithen this December but managed to fit in an after work bothy adventure to escape to the hills, and be back for Christmas drinks on the Saturday 

The big 40 happens in 2017 so here’s to  an injury free year with lots of adventure and fun times with family and friends, and the safe arrival of a new niece or nephew. 

First up…….Strathpuffer! 

Cycle touring trip: Outer Hebrides and beyond

A second cycle touring trip, a second mad dash for the ferry, only worse. The lesson we never learn is accounting for caravans (and cars) driving at 30 mph. Amazingly we managed to catch the ferry after arriving in Oban after it was meant to leave. 

But, as soon as you get a spot on deck calmness and relaxation take over and the mad rush is forgotten. We certainly enjoyed the sun while cruising past the Ardnamurchan peninsula. 
  

As usual, we didn’t have any plans apart from our first stop being Barra. I’d heard from surfing chums about the beauty of the small island, just 23 square miles, and  it didn’t disappoint.

Andy showed off his mean set of wheels and packhorse style set up. He’s since earned himself the nickname Kelpie. 

 

We did a wee trip south over the causeway to Vatersay, passing the plane wreck of a Catelina from WWII. This island is tiny at just 3 miles long. 

 

A perfect evening to start the trip with a BBQ on the beach and a dip in the turquoise water below the narrow strip of machair holding the island together. 

  

  

We camped near Borve in Barra and then headed up to the north tip and managed to time it perfectly to catch a plane landing on the wide bay of Traigh Mhòr; the only airport in the world where scheduled flights use the beach as a runway. The beach on the west side of the airport is stunning. 

  

   
  

We camped near Bolnabodach and had an early start to catch the ferry across the Sound of Barra to Eriskay. Any ferry involved a near miss and this was no different! Eriskay is only 2 x 1 mile and super cute. 

We crossed the causeway and made our way up the Uists sandwiched with Benbecula to Lochmaddy where we ended up camping on the local football pitch. 

In the morning we caught the ferry to Skye and after arriving in Uig, cycled across the Trotternish Peninsula to the Quiraing. Full of pillars and pinnacles it was a welcome hike off the saddle 

   
 

  

The fast and sweeping descent to Staffin Bay was worth the climb from Uig to the Quiraing. We then cycled the undulating A855 down the east coast of Skye to Portree. This was a tough day, especially in the heat, and we were ravenous by the time we reached Portree and glad of all the food options in Skye compared to the less populated Outer Hebrides.  

  

   

We braved the midges and camped at Sligachen but there was no hanging about in the morning when they were out in force. Definitely glad I’d gone for the extra weight and protection of my scarp tent than the tarp! 

  

We cycled to Armadale and caught the ferry to Mallaig on the mainland. From here we followed the coast to our camping spot in Arisaig and had a stunning sunset with the sillouette of the Skye and Rum Cuillins set below the glowing sky 

  
   

     

We rode to Glenuig and had lunch at the Inn. I’ve driven that road a fair few times and nothing compares with the senses you get when cycling. Despite being a group, cycle touring gives you a sense of freedom and solitude. After recharging we continued to Resipole with multiple ice lolly stops to help with temperature control.  

  

 

We decided to head round the Arnamurchan Peninsula to catch the ferry that goes from Kilchoan to Tobermory. Another ferry almost missed but this time due to a mechanical. Luckily some cable ties came to the rescue.  

 

After a lunch stop in Tobermory we climbed the rediculously steep hill south and meandered our way to Craignure to catch the ferry back to Oban. I always feel a sense of sadness on the last leg but we certainly deserved a beer! 

 

This was an amazing trip. We were blessed with the weather but it did cause some sweat issues! 

7 islands, 250 miles, stunning scenery and a whole heap of giggles. 

Cycle touring is such a special way to experience our landscape, flora and fauna. Get out and explore. Don’t plan, just go with the flow and whatever the weather throws at you! 

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