Swindon to Orkney - A Wet Week in October 2019

8mph

Über Member
Location
Devon
Weds 2nd - Swindon to RAF Cosford
It's a fine morning and I push off at 7.45, pass through Swindon and head towards the Cotswolds. This stretch is all familiar territory and I'm interested to see what lies beyond as I've only ever travelled north by car on on the M6. After a few hours I arrive at Worcester and take the canal path which will take me into the midlands. I pedal away all day long and all of a sudden around 9PM tiredness descends. I spot an M+S 24hr garage outside RAF Cosford and seek out a spot to camp in some nearby woods.

Thurs 3rd - Cosford to Preston
I enjoy the midlands, the people are friendly and the countryside is pretty flat, a good thing as I want to escape the upcoming urban section before nightfall and get North of Preston. Shropshire is pleasant and Cheshire has good wide roads which are nice and quiet. At around 3pm I arrive at Walton, I must be a proper southerner because I've never heard of the place. I spend a couple of hours navigating through a suburban maze and busy rush hour traffic but at 5 it's all over and I'm back on country roads, with a definite sense of finally being in the North.
I'm passing through Preston at 7pm when it starts to rain, it's only a light drizzle and I don't bother to get into my waterproofs. The drizzle doesn't sop however and at 8pm it starts to rain harder and the wind picks up. It's dark and I'm not seeing any good spots to camp, so I have to push north a few more miles and it's not till 10pm that I'm setting up camp in a narrow strip of woods next to a stream.

Friday 4th to Carlisle and beyond
My kit is feeling damp and the rain doesn't let up till 2pm, nothing to do but ride on. Lancashire is a treat though, passing through Bowland is the highpoint of the journey so far with wonderfully luscious scenery.
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I stop at Kirby Lonsdale for chips, lube the chain and the rain lets up. This section of the journey is stunning, hilly and there are sections of single track. I get a puncture at 5pm, high up on a hilltop. Before dusk I make the last big climb out of Orton and drop down into Crosby Ravensworth, relieved that the land ahead is relatively flat.
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I arrive in Carlisle at around 9pm and race through the center as fast as possible. I find a great spot to camp near Rockcliffe, in some woods that are full of puffballs, I fall asleep to the distant sound of the motorway and night trains rattling over crossings.

Sat 5th - On to Edinburgh
I cross into Scotland at 8am and take the road to Lockerbie. There is a hilly section ahead and I pop into Beattock looking for the local services but find nothing. I could have popped into Moffat to look for shops and replenish supplies but decide against the 4 mile detour. The A7076 following the river Clyde is quiet, no shops in sight as I make my ascent into the hills, at lunchtime I get another flat on the footpath next to the Clyde Wind farm, again right on the crest of a hill. It's an unwelcome delay as all that I have at this point in the way of provisions is half a kilo of oats. As luck would have it I find a cafe a little further on near Crawford.
The next section through Lanarkshire is scenic, the roads are quiet but the traffic on some sections is very fast. I arrive at Livingston at 6pm, van't find a hostel, so jump om the train to Edinburgh and spend a night at the central youth hostel. It's a good opportunity to use the laundry facilities and get my kit dry. It starts to rain soon after my arrival and I'm glad to be out of it.

Sun 6th - Edinburgh to Pitlochry
It's another rainy day as I head out of Edinburgh. I spot a charity outlet and buy a padded PVC jacket and a 1 man tent for £3.50
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The jacket is snug and warm and I plan to keep it until I'm passed the Cairngorm mountains. I keep the best parts from my two 1 man tents and using the aluminum poles from one and silicon fly from another configure something that weighs in at less than 1.5 kg in weight. The weather is unremittingly wet and doesn't let up till 2pm again. I pass through Perth and use the cyclepath alongside the A9 which is fine for a while but as the dark draws in, the light from oncoming trucks is blinding and slows things down. I find another great spot to camp near Pitlochry, in woods where the fir trees have grown to well over a hundred feet tall.

Mon 7th - Pitlochry to Inverness
Passing through pretty Pitlochry and Blair Atholl through forest roads and on to the Cairngorms. Things are about to get really wild as I make the pass over Drumochter summit to Dalwhinnie.
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The ascent is a wide path, deserted at this time of year. By the time I reach the summit there is a fast tailwind and sheets of rain, the descent is made on a narrow stip of freshly laid tarmac which winds its way downhill for miles, alongside the A9 road. It's tempting to ride at breakneck speeds, and I go for it, this is probably the most memorable ride of my life, extreme fun!
At Newtonmore the sun is out briefly and I drop off the now soaked PVC jacket at a charity shop. This is all wonderful riding through Newtonmore, Aviemore and up to Inverness where I spend another night in a hostel.

Tues 8th - Inverness to Bettyhill
Inverness, Dingwall on to Bonar bridge, from here on in it's magnificent scenery through Lairg and up to the north coast. There's a chippy in Lairg and the road though Sutherland is empty, wild moorland, a good smooth road, it's absolutely perfect. The moors here are boggy and not ideal for camping but when I stop at the Crask Inn, I notice that they let people camp on their lawn. At Altnaharra I take the Strathnaver trail up to Bettyhill, it's dark and I'm missing some of best scenery but there are other rewards. I stop 20ft away from a herd of deer and we watch each other for a few minutes, it's rutting season, the red stags are bellowing and every few hundred meters I startle more deer, the owls are hooting and the night is clear. i pitch my tent on the beach at Bettyhill and get 4hrs sleep. There is an early ferry from Scrabster and if I can catch it, I can take another ferry from Kirkwall that will take to my destination and not get stuck on mainland Orkney for the night.

Weds 9th - Bettyhill to Sanday
I set the alarm for 5 am and strike camp. Upon setting out I realise that the road ahead is pretty hilly, so at this point I ride flat out for a couple of hours and get to Scrabster at 8am, making the ferry in good time.
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I arrive in Stromness and ride on to Kirkwall, take another ferry and arrive in Sanday at 3pm, it's only 3 miles to my friend's house where I spend the next 5 nights before making the return journey. I've spent about 30 hours riding in the rain and there hasn't been a dry road since Preston, luckily the weather is mild throughout my stay.
 
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OP
8mph

8mph

Über Member
Location
Devon
 

cosmicbike

Perhaps This One.....
Moderator
Location
Egham
Fair play doing a route like that at this time of year, and not a hotel in sight.

Edit:- Did you follow the route you linked to? I presume you just gave Cycle Travel start and finish points and let it plan the route for you?
 
Last edited:
OP
8mph

8mph

Über Member
Location
Devon
Fair play doing a route like that at this time of year, and not a hotel in sight.

Edit:- Did you follow the route you linked to? I presume you just gave Cycle Travel start and finish points and let it plan the route for you?
Yep, the route took all of 2 seconds to calculate after typing in the start and end points.
I did have to navigate my way out of Edinburgh but I was very impressed with cycle.travel
 

Pat "5mph"

A kilogrammicaly challenged woman
Moderator
Location
Glasgow
Great ride report!
Kudos for doing it at this time of year.
the descent is madeon a narrow stip of freshly laid tarmac which winds its way downhill for miles, alongside the A9 road.
It certainly wasn't smooth when CC Ecosse did it a few years back!
Good to see they have upgraded the path, it used to be gravel.
That sign at the start of Drumochter is certainly intimidating, in summer it was actually a lovely ride.
 

steveindenmark

Legendary Member
Great reading . I see you have a Garmin. Have you downloaded your route anywhere?
 
OP
8mph

8mph

Über Member
Location
Devon
.
Thanks, not yet tried random camps in woods!


Stealth camping solo is pretty easy, you just trust your instincts. Wild camping with a friend can be tricky. Agreeing on where to camp while hungry and fatigued can lead to disagreements, so start looking for a suitable spot a bit sooner.

I don't camp in woods that have litter or footpaths, so it can take quite a bit of energy finding a good spot. If I get really stuck and start to dip, I get off the bike and stroll for half a mile, then ride for a few miles.

Personally I start looking for a spot at dusk, don't light fires, don't drink and I keep the site tidy. The bike makes it pretty obvious that it's a temporary camp and I'm away early, why would anyone mind?
 
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