Scotland 2008

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The Scotish highlands are not easy cycling. Though even the biggest hills have modest elevations, the landscape is rugged and the cimbs steep. It really does rain most of the time, but it rarely rains hard, often there is just a mist. Believe it or not, you get use to it. The Scots proclaim it a wonderful day when the sky brightens a little and the rain lets up slightly. After a month of cycling, we thought this too. It helps that it never gets very cold. Given all the rain, Scotland is, of course, soggy. This breeds the next challenge - midges. These little insects are sometimes so thick that breathing is difficult. When so engulfed, the best solution is to cycle faster and pray that you don't get a flat. The main difficulty though is not the rain or hills or the midges but the wind, especially on the western islands. We encountered winds so hard that cycling was simply impossible and we were forced to seek shelter and a cup of tea.

If one survives these terrors, the countryside is simpy lovely. The rolling hills covered with heather are a sight to behold and the Lochs, especially Loch Shin, are equisitely beautiful. Whenever possible we rode on the excellent Scottish National Cycle Trail. This follows exclusively small roads and generally scenic routes. We were able to avoid large roads throughout the trip. Road surfaces were uniformly excellent. Traffic was never heavy, but sports cars, travelling too fast and often out of their lanes, were also common.

The Scots love to play up their romatic histroy (Bonnie Price Charley, Mary Queen of Scots, William Wallace, etc.) and the mideval history and ruins are interesting, but for us the neolithic ruins were the more compelling. The 5000 year old ruins at Skara Brae in the Orkney Islands should not be missed or the many rings of standing stones.

The food might not compete with France, Italy, or Spain, but Scottish Porridge is an excellent way to start a cycling day, and oak cakes make great cycling snacks. The salmon is great, but expensive. Fish & Chips restaurants are everywhere - even the smallest town will have 2 or 3 - and its usually good. Even so, after a month of this, I do not believe that I will ever have fish & chips again. It is usually possible to find good beer and good scotch is never far away.