Thursday, 21 August 2014

A night on Tiree

Tiree is definitely on our list of places to revisit. The ferry timetable meant that we could have only a very brief overnight stay, arriving in the early evening and departing early the following morning. The island's ranger (who meets the ferry and whose office is on the quayside) was very helpful with suggesting suitable spots for wild camping. We had emailed ahead, so he was expecting us, but we had to join the queue of new arrivals in camper vans wanting his guidance on where they could park.

Tiree had such a friendly air, perceptible as soon as we rolled off the ferry. Lots of locals were there meeting friends, family and guests from the boat. Our trailer and trailer bike outfit drew a few glances, and kind enquiries.

We cycled a couple of miles from the quay and pitched our little tent in the dunes overlooking the beautiful beach at Crossapoll, on the ranger's recommendation. We passed a lovely clean public convenience block where we were able to obtain drinking water on our way there.

The machair gave us a few difficulties as we pitched the tent- it was so soft that the tent pegs were spinning round, and the tent was essentially unanchored. With a stiff wind, we were forced to use the trailer as a wind break and to weight the back of the tent down with anything we could think of.

We decided to cable tie the inner to the fly sheet in the hope that it might increase the chances of still having the fly sheet in the morning. We lost at least two pegs in the battle to get pitched, and since we only had a couple of spares, that was a fairly high rate of attrition!

It was totally worth it to wake up to this:

None of us minded the early morning start. We were just sorry to leave so soon.

Monday, 18 August 2014

A car crash and an anxious inspection

It's fair to say that we had an inauspicious start to our trip to the Outer Hebrides. An hour's drive up the road to Scotland, I stopped the car at a red traffic light on a busy roundabout on the outskirts of Stoke on Trent. The Yodel van behind me did not spot the traffic lights and did not stop. I had one of those slow-motion rear view mirror moments; I heard the wheels lock, realised that we were about to be hit, knew there was nothing I could do about it except let the brake go and hope it didn't hurt too much.

A short verbal altercation ensued ( "What are you playing at, you can't just stop"...."No, mate, what are you playing at- can't you see the RED traffic lights?"). We exchanged details. We pulled off the roundabout, worrying about how well the dropping mechanism on the bike rack would hold up post impact, and whether our bikes had been damaged.

We got very lucky. The impact was low, so the bikes didn't have even a scratch. The bike rack picked up a crack to the light cluster. We worried about the locking mechanism, which seemed bent, but gave it a very hard shove and confirmed it was still securely in place. And that was that- no injuries.

Tom took over driving duties, and we set off for a second attempt to reach the Premier Inn in Dumbarton for an overnight stay on our way to Oban. The children love the Premier Inn- we race Thomas to be the first to yell out "Premier Inn!" whenever we pass one, so with no expense spared, we checked in, charged up every electronic device we own and enjoyed the last wifi for a while!

Saturday, 16 August 2014


The Family ByCycle have packed our gear and done a shakedown ride to visit Tom's Grandfather, ahead of setting off on our first adventure.

Things we have learned:
  1. Ortlieb 'plus' panniers are sticky.  Shoving your stuff to the bottom is trickier than it looks!
  2. Stuff sacks are not always helpful.  Trying to pack five sleeping bags and mats into two sets of panniers was always going to be a challenge:  it proved impossible for as long as the bags were all the same cylindrical shape.
  3. Baby sleeping bags are made of cheap material and don't compress anywhere near as well as adult bags.  We have seen other people suggesting buying adult bags and re manufacturing them to baby size.  With a bigger budget, I think we would start again and crack out the sewing machine. We've elected to push them into the bottom of the panniers to take up the gaps in between the other items in their stuff sacks, as a compromise to make best use of space.
  4. Buy loads of re-sealable food bags and use them to repack practically anything to stay organised without adding lots of weight.
  5. The Ortlieb 'rucksack adaptor' looks like a very handy bit of kit (see picture).
We rode 20 miles fully laden, and got back to the car and packed up before it lashed with rain, so we're calling that a success.  Our daily mileages for our first trip won't be much more than 20 miles, given the ages of the children.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Getting some more miles under our belt

Yesterday, we nipped out for a ride before the tail end of tropical storm Bertha hit.  We set off down the cycle path along the disused railway line from Stanwick Lakes to Thrapston, turning off the path and taking to the road to ride through Denford and Ringstead.

Our new Ortlieb handlebar bags arrived last week, so having fitted them we took them out for a test run.

The path was busy with people walking, and the surface was very badly potholed as we got closer to Thrapston.  Bumpy track and potholes are more of a challenge with the trailer.  There were a LOT of big potholes on this path, and finding a route through so that both trailer and bike wheels avoided the worst of it left me zigzagging a very peculiar path, and absolutely killed our average speed (down below 6mph!).  The terrain didn't bother the girls - both dozed off mid- ride, but the grown ups were pretty happy to turn off the rutted path onto some Tarmac as we crossed the A14.

The biggest headache of the day was getting in and out of the gate at the end of the path (below), which proved impossible with the trailer.  We had to unhitch and lift it over, but we managed without too much fuss.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Our first adventures

We have just completed our first overnight cycling trip, a round trip of modest mileage from our home, and an overnight stay in the campsite at Grendon Lakes.

We packed up our tent, sleeping bags, mats and little cooker in our panniers and in the back of our bike trailer and set off yesterday afternoon, a little anxious about  whether we were fit enough to pull off cycling with all our gear and the trailer.

We made it!  That's the good news. The girls were comfy in the trailer- both went to sleep for most of the hour we spent cycling to get to the campsite.  The grown ups were rather more exhausted than we might have liked, but we gain some confidence from getting our first fully loaded ride under our belts.

Things we have learned from our first ride:

  1. Our stuff is too heavy! Having completed what was only a short ride, we are both agreed that it is time to get a little more obsessive about weight saving.
  2. We need to do some work on the weight distribution. With the trailer on the back, we need to move some of the weight from our rear panniers to the front of the bike.
  3. We need to run the pressure on our rear tyres higher than we thought to cope with the extra load when the trailer is on the back.
  4. Even with small children, you don't need much stuff at all to be totally self sufficient.
  5. We are not as fit as we need to be to really enjoy this yet!

Grendon Lakes was a nice, no frills, overnight spot: we had a huge field all to ourselves (which turned out to be a very good thing, as Ruth was sick several times in the night, and we were therefore not the quietest of campers!) with a short walk to the toilet and shower block.  With Ruth poorly, we packed up quickly in the morning and headed home without spending much time investigating what else Grendon Lakes has to offer.  

Once we are all recovered from last night, we're looking forward to making some changes to what we pack, and getting out again for our next adventure.