Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Scotland I

July 3-4 - 20 miles

My stomach was full of butterflies as our friend, George Biehl, dropped us off on July 2, 1994 at SeaTac Airport in Washington. Saying goodbye was tough.

For nine hours we sat in front of a chain smoker on the British Airways flight. Though we were technically in a non-smoking section, the row behind us­­ ‑ the last on the plane - is reserved for smokers. I grumbled the entire flight, already worried about whether we’d packed everything, and now we’d get little sleep. I fanned a flight safety card whenever the cloud of smoke drifted between the seats. We asked about moving, but the plane was full.

At noon-time on Sunday, July 3, we landed at London’s Heathrow Airport. Clutching our passports and money to our chests we went through customs and took a stuffy shuttle bus 5 miles to a British Air satellite wing. Intercom announcements warned to watch luggage so we took turns going to the restrooms. While Andy was away I sat, gazing at the melting pot of travelers: a woman sheathed in cotton and silk, only beady dark eyes peered out like a fox in a den, copper-toned Italians, Spanish students with “Miami” baseball caps, even a myriad of British Isle accents from ivory white faces. Andy returned with a smile. The condoms sold in the men’s room were called “mates”. We chuckled and boarded the plane for Glasgow, Scotland.

We set our watches nine hours ahead and ate the small lunch offered on the flight. Andy munched cheese and scones while I devoured 3 triangle sandwiches filled with egg salad, corned beef, and a delicious cheese spread.  Tea is the drink of choice in the Isles so we carried on the tradition. Also of note: clotted cream (looks like melted and cooled butter) was served with the scones, though I didn’t try it - strawberry jam sounded more appetizing.

At first we were slow.
The sky was overcast when the plane landed in Glasgow at 3.p.m. We claimed a corner near the terminal entrance near tall windows, unboxing the bikes. It took an hour and a half to place handlebars, seats, screw in pedals, set, pack, and load panniers, etc. With a deep breath, we were ready to begin - except we didn’t know how to get out of the airport!  Straddling the heavy bikes we asked a policeman for directions. He said it was really quite easy, “A left here, here, and here. No problem”. I was scared, wobbling, trying to negotiate several turns, our first nervous foray on the left side of the road. Roundabouts proved to be the most difficult. We were cautious, unsure which lane we were supposed to be in, reflexively checking the mirror on the left before correcting and looking on the right. My mantra was “left, keep left”.

Confused again –the grey sky gave no clue to the sun’s position – we waved to a cyclist. The man had scrambled from the bushes back to his bike and came across the road to where we’d stood. I smiled, knowing how difficult it is to ride when your bladder is full. The cyclist got us back on track. Fatigued and sleep deprived, we just wanted to make it to a campground.

Narrow roads, yes.
A few miles later we were lost again and pulled into a gas station/car wash/store. Two mountain bikers hosed themselves and their bikes with the pressure washer. “Just came down from the mountains, riding over that hill,” one guy said. The two had pedaled through farmers’ fields, explaining that you can mountain bike anywhere. “It’s against the law to post land.”

We followed the cyclists over the Erskine (pronounced “Air skin”) bridge to a cycle path along a canal. It’s one thing to negotiate left side riding in traffic and another to only watch out for cyclists. I pedaled beside one of the guys. He admitted that he doesn’t normally ride a bike. I kept a keen ear to the Scottish brogue and I had to laugh when he said, “I got a fractured fanny (pronounced “fonnie”)”.

On the far side of the bridge the two men left us. We worked our way west towards Dunbarton, enjoying the grey stone buildings – indeed every place was of this construction - many with red tile roofs.  Houses were often connected together with tiny fenced yards.

Scotland was green – much like you’d expect. A steady mist fell. The pathway snaked through cow pastures. I’d never seen such clean Holsteins, as if the constant drizzle preserved their whiteness. We dodged manure piles and the cows ambled off the pavement. We proceeded in this welcome manner all the way to our destination of Balloch.

At 9 p.m. we pulled into a campground; the evening astonishingly still light at this latitude. After a quick dinner of Wheetabix cereal, yogurt, and honey, we walked into town searching for fuel for our stove.

Back at the campsite we visited with fellow travelers, Ann and her son Max, from Connecticut. They were on a 3 month tour of Europe. The pair pedal 20-30 miles a day, taking trains and busses too. We chatted well past dark, when suddenly Andy got up and bolted for our tent.

We all followed with flashlights. He’d spied a creature disappear under the vestibule. Andy unzipped the nylon entrance. In the glow, a hedgehog had curled itself into a bristly black and tan ball. Andy prodded it with his foot but the animal remained still. It’s an unfamiliar sight to Americans. We left it alone and the hedgehog unfurled and scurried away.


  1. This is awesome. I love reading about your adventure in the Highlands!

  2. I am sooo going to enjoy these posts. Lovely eye for detail! But, Annie, I can't believe you passed on the clotted cream . . . it's heaven!


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