A Bonnie Wee While

When the weather is good, there really is nowhere better in the world than the Scottish Highlands.

Arnisdale

Wild and rugged, the landscape evokes feelings of times gone by, when life was simpler but made you tougher.

Monroes (mountains) roughened by centuries of weather stood proud beyond the shores of the loch (lake) we camped beside.

The fresh Spring sun, still weak from the harsh weather, warmed my face, bathed my eyes and bore light back into my soul after the long night of winter. The darkness banished in an instant and replaced instead by blue skies and the gentle sea breeze that rippled across the waters and into my hair and mouth and nose.

A Deer at Dawn

We were there, my boyfriend Ben and I, for a particularly special occasion – a wedding of two friends. The stunning location and the beautiful backdrop only served to make the ceremony, which was held outside at the foot of the lake, all the more moving.

Both Ben and I were in tears!

It was a perfect day, sunshine and cloudless, sandwiched between two much duller days. Lucy and Colin, the newly wed couple, cycled off for a few quiet moments together on bikes that Ben and I decorated before returning for a massive meal with all of us guests.

The Decorated Bicycles

It had been an epic 8 hour drive to get there, but it was well worth the journey. The wedding day started with a wild swim in the loch, and the weekend followed on from there.

The day after the wedding we hiked up The Old Man of Storr, on Skye, where Lucy, the bride, and I donned our birthday suits and practiced a little yoga on the top. We mountain biker, climbed mountains, ate well and camped in the van. It was an amazing weekend.

My feet have been getting itchy, my rat, hungry for while now. It has been a while since my last big adventure over a year ago…

At first, I loved being home. It felt good to see everyone, to catch up and have mini adventures. I didn’t miss the road at all. Of late, I have struggled to find my place but this mini trip to the remote wilds of Scotland revived me, like a long drink for a thirsty soul.

Thanks & Congratulations Colin & Lucy…and Good Luck for your upcoming adventure!

Beautiful Dawn

Advertisements
Posted in Adventures, Europe, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Van Life

Being at home for the past few months has been amazing – a dynamic mix of famiy, friends and all things familiar. It has been a chance to learn new skills, work, and catch up with the people I love most in the world. 
But when the winter months came, Christmas had passed and the weather turned to classic British drizzle, it was the perfect time to set off on another adventure. 

This time, a little different to any I have done before…in a van!

Morning Coffee in the Van

You see, it was at the end of last summer that life decided to throw a curve ball my way, in the form of a ginger-haired gardener called Ben. He happens to be a fellow cycle tourer, traveller and adventurer. He also happens to have a van and for the past few months we have been kitting it out ready to live in for a month. After all, what better way to cement our relationship (or test its limits perhaps?!).

Despite two trips to the garage the day before we left, and four speed camera flashes on route (somewhat stressful!), we finally made it down to the south of Spain. We began our trip cycling round the stunning city of Granada, visiting the incredible Alhambra and tasting some of the free tapas treats that are served with every beer. 

The trip continued on an upward curve when we headed into the mountains of Sierra Nevada for a few days of skiing. 

It was stunning. 

Parking up on the side of one of the streets of the resort, van life started to come into its own. The panoramic views of the mountains surrounded us and we watched the sun set through the van door each evening. Despite rumours of being unable to park up for free in the town we found it easy to, rolling out of bed and onto the piste each morning. 

I didn’t think it could get much better but for the last week we have been camping and climbing in and around El Chorro, El Torcal and Valle del Abdalajis. 

At the foot of the crag at Valle del Abdalajis

Van life is, of course, cramped at times, but to Ben and I, who are used to wild-tent-camping it still feels very luxurious. We have found routines that work for us and the space, as we live in it, continues to change to what we need as and when we need it. 

At times, the van has felt more stressful than enjoyable (like the 3 days of driving it took us to get down here…or the 4 speed camera flashes on route…or that time we meandered through the small town of Alora, lost in ever steepening, narrowing roads and tighter corners…just hoping we wouldn’t hit a dead end…) For the most part though, it has given us the most amazing way to see the south of Spain and allowing us to bring all the gear we need to have lots of fun and adventures along the way.

Now, we are headed toward Ronda, a white washed village in the south of Spain famous for its bridges, wild swim spots and mountains. 

Life on the road is pretty good. 🙂

Posted in Europe, Van Life | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Back at Home

It has been more than a month since I arrived home now.

A lot of travelers I have met talk about the dread of going home and the post-trip blues. I cannot relate to either of these as being home has been amazing for me.

Having been away for the best part of two years, it has been a pleasure and a privilege to catch up with so many old friends and family! I have loved every minute and though it may not be as new as travelling all the time, it is just as exciting! There is nothing quite as amazing as having friends who have known you since childhood and reminiscing about all those old times and memories together! 🙂

It is also a huge privilege that I am able to give a few talks about my experiences. As I prepare for them, it has given me an amazing and rare opportunity to relive and process some of the experiences of the past few years.

I will be speaking at the following places:

York Children’s University Graduation Ceremony (private event)

Fadmoor Village Hall on 14th July 2017 from 7-9pm. Advance Tickets £5, Tickets on the door £6

The Basement, York on 17th July 2017. Doors Open 7pm. Advance Tickets £5 Tickets on the Door £6

**Booking in advance recommended – places are filling up fast!**

Thanks again for all the support and encouragement as I have journeyed and for reading my blog!

York & Fadmoor dates Poster

Posted in Adventures, China to UK by Bicycle, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Monty’s First UK Outing

A lovely sunny day

Well, I’m finally home!

After more than a year and a half away, travelling overland to Asia and back again with Monty (my bike), Arron and Jessica (his bike), it feels strange to be in somewhere so familiar. 

Cycling the 45km to York I didn’t once need to check the map or question my route. The plan in my head was hazy but as I arrived on each new road I knew the layout like the back of my hand. It was a strange sensation after so much newness in the past few years!

Cycling in the UK felt amazing though and it is good to be back. Spring has arrived in full force, the trees covered in the lime green of new growth and bluebells scattering the ground beneath. I’d forgotten how beautiful the UK is, especially at this time of year!! 

Now I’m home I’m looking forward to catching up with everyone and having some adventures here. Thanks for reading! 🙂

Beautiful​ Bluebells

Posted in Adventures, China to UK by Bicycle, Overland Travel, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Netherlands and Nearly Home

It was our last long day, and almost our very last day, of cycling and we were sitting on the a ferry as we crossed the giant IJsselmeer lake in the Netherlands. We sat, sipping coffee and resting, before the final push; a last 60km pedal to my friend Sanne’s house in Heemskerk – just 11km from the ferry port back to the UK. 

It has been a great last few days, but exhausting too. We decided a week ago to push a bit harder and to pull our return date forward by a week. Then a few days later we decided to pull it forward another day so we could stay at Sanne’s before she left for a holiday. It was a great decision, but meant our daily average increased from between 50 and 80km per day to one hundred kilometres a day or more. Luckily for us, the Netherlands is as flat as a piece of paper which makes it easier. Even better, we were at times pushed along by a tailwind, taking our average speed to 20km per hour despite our 30kg bicycles! 🙂

We also seem to have just caught the tail end of the famous Dutch flower season. A few fields of brightly coloured tulips still remained in sporadic clumps of yellows, purples​, pinks and reds. 

Last Few Days Past Fields of Tulips

We followed tree clad canals, lined with lovely little houses with steep roofs and an eclectic mix of building materials, from wood to thatch, tiles, bricks, stone, even plastic and metal. It seemed that whole villages had worked together to create houses made of as many of these materials as possible, and the result was at once surprising and charming. 

Yesterday was our longest day yet, 120km through this land of canals and fertile fields. We had accidentally prepared terribly for it the day before… feeling like a treat after our 100km day we bought a beer each… Little did we realise until afterwards that they were in fact 12%!! Not exactly what you want after a hard day’s cycling with another couple to come and no rest day for a fortnight! Nor did we camp in the nicest of places… Determined to continue our wild camping all the way home we ended up in a small woodland on the edge of a town (the only one marked on the map for miles around). Unable to find somewhere hidden except on the very edge we ended up camping next to an enormous gas works. Looking out of one side of the tent we were greeted by a lovely woodland scene, complete with deer tracks on the ground and bright new beech leaves. Looking out the other side was concrete, wire fences and huge rumbling metal pipes. Just as we started to fall asleep the gas works suddenly roared into life, making us both jump and me then worry about camping next to it! Suffice to say we woke up to our longest day less than fresh!

By the time we turned up at the forest we had marked out on the map as our final campsite later that day, we were shattered. I was feeling dizzy. I parked up my bike against a tree to look for a suitable place to pitch our tent and as I emerged from the woods, Arron was bent double throwing up. It had been a long day for both of us! 

Thankfully we slept much better that night and after a relatively short cycle to the ferry, we could relax for the rest of the morning as a boat carried us across the huge lake. It was incredible – a small boat for cyclists and foot passengers only. It was packed with other cycle tourers! We chatted to a few and enjoyed being in such good company – it felt good to be surrounded by liked minded souls on one of our last days cycling.

We arrived at Sanne’s feeling triumphant. We have not quite managed to cycle the 8,000km planned from China thanks to the lack of fuel, break downs and visa restrictions, but we have cycled somewhere around 3,000km since arriving in Saint Petersburg just 6 weeks ago! We are trying to raise some money for World Bicycle Relief so if you would like to support us, that would be lovely! Thank you! It has been so much fun, and I am excited to be heading back to the UK in a couple of days to catch up with family and friends! 

Posted in Adventures, China to UK by Bicycle, Europe | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Birds and Building Things

In the past week we have left Sweden with its beautiful forests, lakes and coastline, cycled through Denmark and entered Germany. The cycling has become flatter and flatter which makes it easier in some ways, but harder in others. Obviously we no longer need to put lots of effort into climbing hills, as there aren’t any (!), but it also means that when we have a headwind (most days) we really feel it! There is nothing to stop the wind whistling across the countryside and straight into our wheels!

Having said that, the scenery is still beautiful. Meandering rivers, straight canals and the open sea have adorned our route and we are not bored of the cycling, despite the flat landscape. In fact we have a spotted a lot of birds; red kites, buzzards and storks to name a few that have made our peddling even better!

Our first evening in Denmark we were a little apprehensive as we were finally out of legal wild camping territory. In the end, our first evening could not have been better.  We had completed our distance for the day early and, not wanting to get stuck in the city with no place to stay, decided to camp early. We headed deep into a forest just north of Copenhagen and to our delight found a small clearing with a handmade bivouac shelter built from fir branches – still green it was so new. Next to it was a fire pit with a swinging metal grill that we could cook on and big tree trunks as rustic benches. It was fantastic.

We made use of or afternoon off the bikes whittling spoons from wood we found (Arron’s came out much better than mine!). When we slept, we sheltered under the fir bivouac and despite the rain slept soundly and dryly! 🙂

A few days later Arron continued to the building theme and managed to make a rocket stove out of an old tin can he found. It is incredibly efficient, burns incredibly well even with damp wood and has meant we can leave even less of a trace as we camp now. It has been a great way to continue to use camp fires to cook on. 

Our wild camping adventures continued and so far, we have managed to camp most nights, with just a few exceptions. Mostly these exceptions are warm showers hosts, which are wonderful, but one particularly special evening was thanks to a small A4 sign pinned to a cycle signpost halfway through our day. It offered cyclists a free bed for the night, a shower and a rest. Enchanted by the offer, and intrigued to meet the person behind it, we followed the trail to his house. Helge, out host, was wonderful. He let us sleep in the roof of a wooden cabin that he had built and we cooked in his outdoor kitchen – half dug into the ground and with a grass roof. It was fantastic! 

All in all we have had a great week, and we are less than 500km from the ferry home now, which seems quite surreal! 

The Bivouac

Posted in Adventures, China to UK by Bicycle, Europe | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Togetherness

Enjoying a Campfire

Arron asked me a few weeks ago, ‘If you could do this trip with anyone else, who would it be?’
I thought for a while. In the end, I couldn’t give him an answer, except ‘No one.’ 

It has so become OUR trip that I simply couldn’t imagine it as my trip with anyone else. It is not exactly how I imagined it, or how it would be if I was alone and had complete control, but the sacrifices and adjustments more than make up for Arron’s company, and I hope, though will never truly know, that he feels the same. 

It is incredible to think that this time last year I had never even met him and yet, since the beginning of this year I can count on one hand the days we have spent apart!

I have never before spent this much time with one person and it was one of my biggest concerns about the trip together. What if we didn’t get on? What if we irritated each other or ended up hating one another? In fact I fully suspected that we might decide to split along the way, but, only a few hundred kilometers from home, we are still cycling and camping together. 

At the beginning I believe we needed each other. Cycling and camping in conditions as cold as those we faced in Xinjiang meant that falling out simply wasn’t an option. We needed one another for warmth (I reheated my frozen toes up in his armpits more than once), for shared cooking duties, and to be honest, basic survival.

As time wore on we have needed one another less. The conditions are easier than ever, our own abilities increased and comfort zones stretched to easily encompass our current daily challenges. 

We have stopped at numerous points along the way to talk about whether to stay together or not and have always ended up choosing to do so. Inevitably cycling with someone means compromises on both sides. Sometimes one of us has to stop early because the other is feeling tired, other times we have to push harder to keep up with the other, and sometimes we drive each other nuts for no other reason than that we haven’t had any space for a few days.

Perhaps it would have been different had we managed to cycle the entire journey, as tiredness can often aggravate an otherwise minor issue. However, we had other stresses to deal with (namely wrestling dismantled bicycles onto buses and through numerous unnecessary security checks) and somehow we managed to overcome the difficulties and still find time to laugh together (and sometimes at each other!)

Before we left Hong Kong Arron was lent a book by a friend called, ‘Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus’. He read it and raved about it and said I absolutely had to read it. So I did. 

In truth I hated the book, I found it outdated and sexist (though I’m sure it wasn’t intended this way). However, it had unexpectedly positive results when we cycled. Though I may not have liked or agreed with some of it, it gave us a framework that we both understood. We could then use and refer to it when one of us was having difficulty understanding the other and in that way, were able to give each other the space or support needed – or at the very least, try to! 

As it is, we are still cycling, still laughing and sometimes crying and still on our trip together! 🙂 

Posted in Adventures, China to UK by Bicycle, Europe | Tagged , | 2 Comments