1: Scotland, The Beginning of the trip Edinburgh to the Scottish Highlands

Photos: Scotland

And the trip has begun! It has been really hard saying goodbye to everyone I know back home. In many ways it has been one of the hardest things I have done and the unknown of the next two years has been a daunting thing to overcome. Now at this point I am getting into the mindset of living day by day and covering ground at a pace that is easy to conceptualize and not worrying about what is months or years away.

I began this trip by moving away from Utah, running around, saying my goodbyes, enjoying having a place to be social and have guests over. Thank you Ally and Tony, it was great living with you and being your room mate all be it for a short time. Heidi and I then drove the five hours from Boise to spend the night at her Sister and sister’s fiances place to spend a little time with them. Then we made our way to eastern Oregon and after Heidi and my mom going above and beyond to play car leap frog I was able to get to Bend where I was stashing the remainder of my things. It was a hard quick goodbye with Heidi since she had to return to Boise and we were in a hot dirt parking lot, but with her own adventures in southern Idaho about to begin only a couple weeks it is easier to allow the time to go by and look forwards to meeting up in Paris in mid September where our bicycle tour will begin properly.
Once i was in Oregon I finished moving all of my belongings into my parents basement and gathered up the remainder of my things for the bicycle tour. Spending time at home was nice but felt strange knowing I had just left Utah where Heidi and I had made a wonderful home and an amazing group of friends. All be it with some melancholy I enjoyed my time in Bend and got myself ready to leave.
Since i was flying out of Seattle my mom and I made a bit of a road trip north staying in the National Forests for one night near Mt St. Helens, doing some little hikes to water falls and exploring the volcano itself. It was a wonderful way to remind myself of what is home to me before heading out to a place I have never been. Once we were in Seattle I was able to say goodby to my mom and briefly meet some of her friends from New Mexico who were coming to visit during the coming week.

Saying goodbye to my mom in the Seattle Airport

In the airport while waiting for my flight I made quick friends with a man from The Gambia, in West Africa, who had just finished a stint of time working as a cook on a cruise out of the North West. It was great to briefly talk with him and hear about his time working in the area and of course his home. The flight itself was uneventful and one I was in Manchester in the U.K. I had one hiccup with security not liking my explanation that I was planning on biking out of the U.K. instead of flying out from another area. After they involved my dad over the intercom, who was in the entrance waiting to greet me, they finally let me through with our stories matching up.

Once outside of the airport it was 9:00 am UK time and I had time to build up my bike and bike about a bit to several different places so my dad could gather up his items and we could get over to the home of the Warm Showers host who was going to allow us to stay for two days and let me get my feet back under me.
Manchester as a city was very much not ideal for biking about and with the time change and the emotional weight of having said goodbye to so much it was a very rough start to the trip for me. My father, having biked for the last two and a half months was already in the correct mindset and he was very helpful in getting me through the first few days when I was struggling. We both agreed to get the heck out of Manchester and just train up to Edinburgh to spend our time bike touring around Scotland.
Still dealing with jet lag the train ride was a blur and once in Edinburgh we explored downtown briefly and then made our way over to the home of our warmshowers host there.

Knowing that I wouldn’t really be able to enjoy myself until my sleep schedule was back to normal we agreed to start immediately the next day and head straight for the Scottish countryside. The first day we rode 100 kilometers and with the biking app Kamoot we were able to stick to mostly cycling paths all the way out to the edge of Loch Lmond and the Trossachs National Park.

Biking on the paths out of Edinburgh

The camping laws in Scotland are extremely liberal and in nearly all areas you are allowed to camp for free as long as you arent on fenced in Land or within too much of a view of any major roads. Of course, the one part of Scotland we had just cycled to was an area they had enacted a no wild camping seasonal policy with the high season so we ended up camping in the parking lot of a type of hotel and bike rental place in the rain. Not the most picturesque location and start to the trip but still better than biking about Manchester with jet lag!
The next day we explored a bit of Callander, a small town right on the edge of the National Park enjoying very much the easy access to the public bathrooms and some delicious pastries from a shop where we asked to fill up our water bottles.

We then headed north and were able to stick almost entirely to an amazing bike path that took us all the way to Killin where there were some amazing waterfalls. Dropping into Killin we could hear someone walking about and practicing the bag pipes which brought a good smile to our faces.

Looking at the Falls of Killin right off the road

Some nice wifi and a coffee break in Killin

After some consideration we took a small road on the south side of Loch Tay right next to Killin. We were getting a bit nervous about finding a camp site as it was getting late and there were nothing but houses and fenced in farms everywhere and we were high above the loch and away from water. At the last moment on our offline maps a spot popped up saying “wild camping” and we went there and found a great place to put up our tent and stay for the night! There were several other camper vans that found the spot as well and we briefly talked with a German couple who were on vacation for several weeks and driving about Scotland to escape the unseasonally hot summer they were having. This was a soon to be common theme we found with many of the people from mainland Europe we would run into. Temperatures up to 38 celsius in Germany and France was not uncommon and Scotland, with a dry summer as well, was much more temperate and comfortable in comparison.

With camping at Loch Tay we also had our first interaction with the infamous ticks of the Scottish Highlands! The following day we began biking towards the town of Aberfeldy to the North East and there we resuplied at a grocery store, explored the outside of a castle and made plans to head towards the Cairngorms National Park. We biked up a very tough hill in the foothills near the park and found ourselves in a rather expensive looking part of the Scottish countryside but were able to dip into the managed woods of an estate and camp for the night. Not our favorite campsite but free.
On day four we were able to begin into the park proper. The national parks are very different from the parks in the U.S. They are free to enter and are not to dissimilar to the land outside of the parks, almost all the land still being owned and little towns the entire way. I’m sure there is a change in how the land is managed but it was hard to notice a real difference between the area outside of the park beyond a slightly smaller population.

We biked up to the Glenshee ski area and had lunch at the top. There were many other people up there for the day and we even met two other German bicycle tourers out for a two week holiday in Scotland as well. We flew down the other side of the pass only to realize a few items had been forgotten at the top. After a quick hitch hike and rescue of a phanny pack from our lunch spot we only biked another few Kilometers then decided to set up camp in the valley below the ski area.

It was a beautiful spot with a stream flowing nearby and sheep roaming about, a very stereotypical scottish area. There were many old rock outcroppings around our campsite that after a little investigation appeared to be the old foundations of a very old set of buildings. Not knowing anything about it we sat and wondered as to the history of the place.
Day five we woke up and set out to bike up two passes which my dad had heard were extremely challenging, with a bike touring couple from Belgium having said it looked like a wall as you biked towards it!

For the first 25 km of the day we had a gradual downhill and a tailwind and the time flew by. In the town of Ballater we talked briefly with a man who was redoing the old train station (where they had built the station before the plans for the train tracks were entirely canceled) and we got some free wifi to look at warmshowers hosts in Inverness, our goal for the following day. We sat and watched as a sort of parade went by and then began our ride up to the top of the first passes.

There was a section where the grade was at least 15% but we had a tail wind and were able to barely pedal to the top. We then flew down the next side and began biking up to the top of the Lecht Ski area. Here we came across a section that was 20%! It reminded me a ton of short insanely steep hills in Costa Rica and we struggled our way to the top.

At the ski area we were able to get water from a woman who was care taking the place and then we camped on a grassy slope right at the top of the pass with an amazing view of the entire area.

For day six we biked from the Lecht and dropped down several 20% grades and even had to go up another one. With our bike route app it was a great success until we were on the outskirts of Inverness then it tried to dump us on the freeway…. After a quick rerouting with google maps we made it to the home of our warmshowers host there. They were a wonderful couple who had bike toured the 101 of the west coast of the United States! We had a great time talking with them, they made us some amazing chili and we were able to enjoy the sunset while around a fire pit in their backyard. It was a great way to end the sixth day in a row of hard riding.

For the next two days we each had a list of errands to run in Inverness and stayed in a campground to refuel ourselves and relax a bit before heading off north and westwards. We made friends with two German women camping next to us and spent the two days biking into town to run errands and drinking beer and watching the sunset from our camping spot. We even had a chance to grab some quintisential fish and chips and try some of the micro brewery beers in the area!

After our two rest days we had another warm showers host lined up named Andy in Evanton, who happened to be heading off in two months to Bend, Oregon for a single speed mountain bike race! We biked the short 40 kms to his house and quickly sat down to a great evening of feasting and trying his home brew beer! After talking it was fascinating to hear about his years of travel and bike touring. He had even biked from Scotland to South Africa along the east coast of Africa, and I began to pick his brain as much as possible!

He also gave us some great advice on good mapping apps to find smaller roads through more remote areas and gave us a great route reccomendation between Evanton and the town of Ullapool on the west coast of Scotland, helping us bypass the main road the entire way! From Evanton to Ullapool with the backroads route we had about 95 km to cover and with our heavily laden bikes we decided to take it very easy and enjoy some slow exploration.
From talking with Andy and other locals it has become apparent that much of the land in Scotland is owned by a small minority of people. This has lead to much conflict over the years and created allot of inequality between land ownership, development and access. It was obvious to us as we biked away from Evanton with so many signs saying “you are now entering such and such estate or leaving such and such estate”. There were many gates we had to pass through all saying no vehicle access and private land but there was always an easy way for a bike to get through.

The dirt roads were all in pretty good condition and we only had to push in a few spots where it got to boggy to bike and/or the rocks were a little to challenging for our touring set up. We camped the first night just at the halfway point as we were beginning to drop in elevation and drop down towards the western coast of Scotland. It was an amazing and beautiful spot but we quickly found there were ticks everywhere. We quickly relocated to a less grassy spot next to the road and then proceeded to tick check ourselves and all of our items before finally falling asleep exhausted from the battle with the ticks and the midges, little no see ums that begin swarming you the second they get a chance. I was happy to have my bug net to avoid them as much as possible.

For the second day after having left Andy’s house we decided to bike down and only go a short ways, we passed a very nice bothy (a privately owned, free shelter to stay) and decided to make it an easy day with lots of time to rest and catch up on journaling and enjoyed the well kept shelter.

For our goals of the next few days we hope to wild camp near Ullapool, resuply and take a ferry over the western Islands off the coast of Scotland to bike south. Our only schedule set by getting into France by the first week of September to give us time to bike tour a bit through Northern France and head into Paris to meet up with Heidi on September 16th! This gives us two and a half more weeks to explore the coastal area of western Scotland and very much take our time and relax. So far the weather has been great, only having been rained on a couple of times but the western coast is where most of the rain falls so this next few weeks could see us getting very wet.

3 thoughts on “1: Scotland, The Beginning of the trip Edinburgh to the Scottish Highlands

  1. Susan Axtell

    Daniel, thank you for thinking of us land locked folk back home. Your blog is so well written and the pictures are beautiful! Can’t wait to read more. So glad you two are having a great time.


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