Saturday, June 27
As much as it pains us, today was our first day of travelling with an extra pair of wheels.
I started the day with a run and set off at 5:30 in the morning for a leisurely 10K along the path we had ridden in on. I ran through woodland and looked out over the River Forth and it was a beautiful morning for a run. I even saw another little deer on the path ahead of me, until a cyclist came past and scared it away. Those pesky cyclists! 🙂
After a hurried breakfast, Steve set off to catch the train back to Edinburgh to pick up a van. I waited and clock watched with all our gear, hoping everything went according to plan and he would be back before the check-out deadline. He wasn’t. The van wasn’t ready, so Steve was left waiting for it to arrive from somewhere obviously far away and then he listened to instructions being given to the driver who was lost en route to bring it to the waiting Steve at the rental company, however it eventually arrived and Steve was on his way an hour late. While this was going on, I was making repeated trips down to reception to ask if I could wait with the bags in the lounge, or the shed with the bikes, or wherever I’d be out of the way. Each time the nice lady said to just wait in the room and they’d leave it until last to clean. Finally though, I couldn’t hold up proceedings any longer and the lovely, and very strong, cleaning ladies helped me lug all twelve bags down the stairs and I waited in the lounge with an Everest of panniers on tables and chairs around me. When Steve eventually arrived, we thanked the staff profusely, loaded up the van and set off.
We decided to make use of our new speedier mode of transport and headed straight for Ceres where I’d found some Highland Games for us to have a look at. We zipped along and of course, because we weren’t on the bikes, the sun shone! We parked in the paddock beside the venue for the games and walked along the road into the little village of Ceres. We found a spot on the grass among all the people, colour, music and activity and settled in to watch our first Highland Games. What topping fun! What a ripping time! We watched all the events which included track running and cycling around the very small grass track, which had a “burn” (creek) running beside it and I was terribly worried a cyclist might take the corner a bit too wide and end up in the drink! No such casualties eventuated though! We also watched the “heavies” as they’re called, competing in the single arm “Weight for Height” throw, which involved tossing a 56lb weight, like a kettle bell, backwards over a bar. Thankfully I discovered that the modern day Scottish “heavy” does indeed wear something under his kilt, because these fellas were doing a lot of hitching up, tucking in and general rearranging of their kilts before each throw. It seems the thing to wear under the modern day sporting kilt is a pair of compression tights! The winner cleared the bar at 14 1/2 feet.
Next came the sheaf tossing. The heavies had to toss the bail of grass over the bar using a pitchfork. This was very exciting! The announcer had never seen anything like it! The crowd was on the edge of their blades of grass! There were gasps and ooooh’s and aaaahhh’s and yeeeaaahhhh’s! coming thick and fast from the onlookers! The previous record for this event was 23 feet. That record was torn to shreds by the big fella who had come all the way from Iceland. The bar was set at 28 feet!!! According to the announcer, “If they can clear this it will be amazing! I’ve never seen anything like it! This height has never been seen before at Ceres, in fact I don’t think this height has been seen anywhere before! The bar is set as high as it can go, there’s no more room to lift it any higher!” Well, the big heavy planted his feet, stuck in his pitchfork, adjusted it, took it out, stuck it in again looking for the best spot in the bail of grass. He lifted it, he swung back…then forth…then back…he lifted it…and with a flick of the wrist and a thrust of his arm, he sent it flying, up…up…up towards the bar…up…up…and…OVER! He’d done it! The all new sheaf tossing record had been set! The crowd went wild! We were there to witness a piece of Ceres Highland Games history!
With our hearts pumping, we turned our attention to the highland dancing, to calm ourselves down a bit. We watched the girls jumping and leg-flicking and toe-pointing their way around the stage to the strains of the live piper, playing the bagpipes as accompaniment. It was fantastic! Those girls must have awesomely tough achilles tendons!
We also watched some wrestling, which I’m ashamed to say I probably found more amusing than I was supposed to! I’m sure it’s supposed to be very technical and very masculine, but the sight of a couple of fellas flailing around on the ground in their kilts, with their legs splayed, was just a sight to behold! Now come on, who can’t smile at that!?
It was time to turn our attention back to the heavies, who were now competing in the “Throw for Distance”. This one was a huge ball with a handle that they had to throw for distance. Some chose to swing it around and throw it like a discus, but Icelandic man’s technique was to pick it up on his shoulder and throw it like a shot put. To give an idea of how heavy that big ball was – when the officials carried it back to the start position, it took two of them to lift it, using a pole with one man on each end!
While these events were going on, we also watched some tug-of-war. A group of young fellas, a little bit weedy and wearing board shorts, fronted up against the rugby team. They gave it a red hot crack, but I’m afraid they were no match for the rugby beef. Then, obviously not feeling challenged enough with all their tossing and throwing, the “heavies” competitors joined as a single team in the tug-of war! They made short work of the rugby team in the final and pulled the rope like they were pulling a cork on a string!
Then, having won the tug-of-war, they went back to being individual competitors for the final event…the tossing of the caber! One man was out straight away. He was the smallest of all of them and had come from Washington State. He lifted the caber and it toppled backwards, to the shouts from the announcer to “Drop it! Drop it! Let it go!” which he eventually did, or I think we would have heard some damage being done to his back! So he didn’t even manage to lift it, let alone toss it.
The competition went on and the caber was tossed and the winner was announced and there we had it…our inaugural Highland Games experience was complete! What fun!
We hit the road in the van and drove on to find a campsite, eventually finding a spot in St. Andrews and settled in for a night sleeping in the back of the van. We managed to fit, alongside our bags and the bikes and the van turned out to be a welcome form of accommodation because heavy rain was forecast to start during the night.
We made it through our first day of driving. We missed the bikes and kept saying it would have been nice to be pedalling, but we also got to stay out of the wind (which had been blowing all day) and we got to see some Highland Games which we wouldn’t have made it to, had we been cycling. So in the end I guess the van was OK. We’ll keep moving tomorrow and head for parts of Scotland that we wouldn’t have made it to, if we’d been cycling, so we’ll see how far we get and what we manage to see. Off we go…vroom to the van!
Sunday, June 28
Well, the weather forecast was spot on! The rain came down in the small hours and it poured all morning! That made us feel a bit better about being in the van, because the weather would have left us stuck in a hotel somewhere, so at least with the shelter of the four-wheeled transport we could keep exploring.
We drove into the town of St. Andrews and of course the first stop was the golf course! Things seemed to be in full swing with preparations for the British Open. The grandstands were being put up and the fairways were being prepared, but we still strolled around a couple of tees. We saw the first and eighteenth hole, where it all happens and where the main stands are. The course is open to the public and there were a few dedicated folks out and about chasing the little white ball in the rain.
The course is right beside a beach and it so happens it’s the beach that was used to film the opening scene of Chariots of Fire. The scene of all the men running along the beach in their white singlets and baggy white shorts, was shot there, on West Beach at St. Andrews. I did my own version, sans white running kit and substituting daggy camping clothes!
We went for a roam around the town and saw some of the University colleges where Prince William studied, then went for a look at the cathedral. The cathedral is a ruin, but still so impressive. It was absolutely huge! The rain had eased, so it was nice to stroll around the ground and read some of the information and picture what it would have been like when it was a complete and ornate building. We spent a while wandering around the ruins and as we were leaving we saw a sign…a sign with information about tickets…and the cost…for visiting the cathedral ruins! Whoops! We didn’t mean to sneak in! In fact we didn’t sneak at all, there were three entrances right off the street and there was a public cemetery in the grounds too, so I don’t see how they can expect people to realise they’re supposed to pay! Anyway, we didn’t! It was unintentional, but we didn’t! That’s the second time we’ve done that. Another time we pedalled into the grounds of an estate where we saw a park bench and sat and had elevenses and it was only when we left and rode a little further up the road that we saw the sign for tickets and admission. Whoops again! We don’t mean to be law breaking, ticket evading, felons on the run!
We continued roaming along the streets of St Andrews and it was a lovely town, very pretty and historic.
We hit the road again, as the rain once again came down. We drove through Dundee and then on into the highlands and the ski fields. There was some stunning scenery and a mixture of rolling countryside and patchwork hills and mountains. Despite it being summer, we saw snow! Yep, thar was snow on them thar hills!
Speaking of hills, we drove up and down a few and we were imagining being on the bikes. “Pah!” we’d say, “we’d get up that no worries!” Or, “Ooh, I reckon this one would have pulled us up. We’d have got up it but we’d have been huffing!” We went up a couple of 20% gradients and they would have made us puff that’s for sure! I’m glad we decided to drive around areas that we probably wouldn’t have got to on the bikes, so it means we can see the highlands, hills and mountains and all! We drove across the Cairngorm National Park and then stopped in the small town of Braemar for our traditional Sunday pub lunch. By this time the sun had actually come out and the man serving at the pub said, “Enjoy the weather, we don’t get it like this very often!” When we drove out of Braemar, we happened to drive past Balmoral! We didn’t even know we were in royal territory, but it turns out we were!
On we went through the highlands and eventually found a campsite at Grantown-on-Spey where we stopped for another night of camping in the back of the van. I guess you could say that today was our day for “going for a Sunday drive.” It was a very nice Sunday drive too, although Steve wasn’t wearing a flat cap and I wasn’t wearing a tweed skirt and we didn’t have our thermos and tartan picnic blanket, but apart from that I think we fitted the picture of Sunday drivers rather well. I can’t say we’ve bonded with the van yet, but it did help us move forward and stay out of the horrible weather, so it’s doing its job. On we go tomorrow, four wheels to the road…rev up and roll on!
Monday, June 29
As a teenager, I wasn’t one of those gals who got around with the panel van crowd. The ones who’d park at the beach and have a mattress in the back of the van and who got up to all sorts of things in its dark and custom designed interior! I wasn’t one of those gals. However…I must say I feel a wee bit like one of those gals when I get up of a morning and slide the door of the van open and tumble out onto the grass of our camping pitch. There’s something a little awkward feeling about emerging from the back of a van, even if it is a van that happens to be full of panniers and two bikes, rather than shag pile carpet on the walls and disco balls hanging from the roof. I’m just glad I get up so early, so I can feel awkward and self-conscious without an audience. At least I tell myself I don’t have an audience at those dawn hours because it makes me feel better!
Personal embarrassment and awkwardness over, we had breakfast, packed up and set off in the direction of Inverness. We thought while we have a van for a while, it would be a good time to leave the bikes somewhere for a well earned service and to get some of the clicks and crunches and strange noises dealt with and to get the brakes and gears all made tip top again for the onward journey. With a few bike service places in Inverness, we were heading there to try and find somewhere that may be able to tune up our trusty steeds.
The day was grey again and very windy and quite chilly, so another day that would have been a little bit unpleasant on the bike. We called into the small town of Forres, which was another nice, quiet little town, then continued on and passed through Nairn, the home of the Nairn Scottish oatcakes. The afternoon saw us arrive in Inverness and we began our search for a bike service shop. We tried a couple and both were busy and couldn’t fit us in until next week. No good for us. We stopped to pick up some supplies, sit in the van for a quick bite of lunch and then check in to a hotel. We decided to stay in a hotel, just so we could get some wifi, since we’ve been without it for a few days and there was barely any phone reception either in the highlands. Tomorrow we’ve got one more bike shop to try, who’ve said they can service the bikes this week, we just have to check if they have the parts we need.
It was a fairly uneventful day today, just a day for “getting things done” really and not a lot of time for exploring or roaming or sight seeing or scenery admiring. Just a drive and then jobs to do. Something I have noticed here though, that’s interesting, is seeing signs written in English and Gaelic, I think that’s pretty great!
We’ll take some time tomorrow to see some more of Inverness, before we again head for the highlands. The blog posts may be a bit sporadic over the next few days if we again head for technology black holes, as far as reception and wifi services are concerned. We hope to head North-West and see some rugged scenery and the lochs and get a look and feel for the “real Scotland” as it’s been described to us. So with a few rest days ahead of us, we will stop to smell the heather, view the world through tartan coloured glasses and twirl around the hills that will be alive to the sound of bagpipes…bring on the haggis!