Cycling Tour of Europe – 1977

Europe tour 1977
Europe tour 1977

In 1977 Magnus and I decided to tour Europe. We had left school and needed to find work to finance the trip. We both got jobs at a local meat processing factory (Lawsons of Dyce). It wasn’t the worst job I’ve ever had but it came close. We initially applied for jobs as cleaners, which were full time posts not summer jobs and we put down all our exam results from school. The manager called us into his office and asked why, with all these qualifications we were applying for jobs as cleaners, we really didn’t expect this. He decided the post of cleaner was not for us and gave us jobs in other areas, I was put on supplying the bacon for the packing lines and I think Magnus worked in the sausage section. We worked all the overtime we could to save as much money for the trip which was the only reason I think I could stand working there, I knew I would leave soon.

When we’d saved enough we bought a small two man ridge tent and we were all set. Magnus’ father gave us a lift to the ferry terminal in Hull where we caught the overnight ferry to Zeebrugge in Belgium. We had no beds, just what they called couchetes (a large reclining chair) but we spent so long in the bar that night we didn’t even get one of then and ended up sleeping on the floor, after we’d eventually found where the blankets were stored. The North sea was pretty rough that night and all I can remember is hearing the engines as the ship rose and fell, needless to say I don’t think either of us got much sleep that night.

We arrived in Belgium the next morning a little worse for wear with no real plan other than cycle as far from the port as possible. We cycled through Brugge, on through Gent towards Brussels finally coming to a stop in a farming area with field of maize somewhere near Geraardsbergen. I seem to remember just camping at the side of the road, we we simply knackered and needed to get some sleep.

Our plan, such as it was was just to cycle all day and stop at a camp site towards the end of the day. This was sometimes problematic as we had as we had only one road map and didn’t know where the sites were. So occasionally we come to a site at around 15:00 and have to decide whether we’d find another site further on before night fall or stay there, some days we cycled till very late, too late. We had a couple more stops in Belgium near Namur and Rochefort before heading into Luxembourg staying for a couple of nights just outside the city.

Our stops were just over the German border near Saarlouis then over into France near Phalsburg then back into Germany near Freiburg then over the mountains to Lake Konstanz. We stayed in Lonstanz for a couple of nights then headed off towards Luzern via Zurich. For most of the trip we’d managed to stay off the main highways but for some reason not in Zurich and before we knew it we were riding straight through the centre on what was in effect a motorway. Just before entering a long, very log tunnel I saw a sign saying ‘no cycling’ but it was too late, we were committed and spent the next 10mins riding through a 6 lane tunnel with cars travelling at over 60mph. Quite frankly I was shitting myself and got off the road as soon as we could on the other side.

We spent five days in total in Luzern, not that we liked it that much but the weather was really bad and each morning we awoke to rain and decided to stay. Whilst we wre there we visited a local attraction, a cable car up a mountain called

Pilatus
Pilatus, it wasn't like this when I was there.

Pilatus. Although the weather was pretty bad we took a chance that the top of the mountain was above the clouds…it wasn’t. In fact it was a total grey-out up there you could hardly see 10 feet in front of you but some tourist still took photographs though !! There was ‘traditional’ Swiss music at the top with guys in lederhossen playing alpine horns, the whole show, it was straight off a chocolate wrapper. On the way down we caught the cable car with one of the alpine horn players who it turned out was in the middle of his national service in the Swiss Army, (I didn’t ask if he had a knife!) I didn’t even realise Switzerland had an Army, let alone a Navy, yes a Navy.

After Switzerland we headed back into France on our way to Paris with a few stops along the way.  We didn’t want to cycle all the way into Paris and found a really nice camp site at Neuilly-sur-Marne a short want from the Metro station into the centre. We spend 4 night in Paris and did all the usual stuff, Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Monmarte, Pigalle. My biggest regret of this trip is that I have no photographs at all, neither of us had brought a camera.

After Paris we headed North to the coast and stayed at what I can only describe as the camp site from Hell. Magnus got food poisoning from a can of ravioli and the toilets ! well they remain to this day the worst I have ever seen. I felt sorry for Magnus having to use them so much, I felt OK and I could barely bring myself to use them. We spent two nights there and left before Magnus was better, I think I forced him to leave, poor guy. He did however get his revenge as a day or so later I got the food poisoning…not nice I can tell you, having to go to the toilet so often and forcing ourselves onto our bike.

The next few days were spent just riding up the coast towards Rotterdam where we intended to catch the ferry back to Hull. We spent five nights outside Rotterdam near Rockanje. In retrospect I can think of a few places that would have been nicer to spend that much time at. The only thing I remember about Rotterdam is the fast, clean and efficient rail link into the city. It’s pretty boring place as it was totally rebuilt after the war.

On our ride along the coast Magnus had been having trouble with his gears and by the time we landed in Hull I think he only had about three left that worked. The plan was to ride home from Hull to Aberdeen. We spent the first night back in a field somewhere near Scotch Corner, but the next day Magnus had had enough of his bike problems and was down to only one working gear. He decided to ditch his bike in a lay-bye and hitch-hike home. Years later we found out his bike was actually worth quite a bit of money and toyed with the idea of going back to look for it, but never did.

Magnus headed off carrying his panniers and handlebars (which he quite liked) and stuck out his thumb, I wouldn’t see him again till Aberdeen. I set off in the wrong frame of mind, I felt as if the holiday was over and all that was left was to get home as quickly as possible. I don’t think I fully appreciated the splendid countryside in the Yorkshire Dales, the hills were both magnificent and a real pain at the same time. I just kept cycling only stopping once or twice to eat. That night I got as far as Jedburgh. In fact I went past Jedburgh but decided to go back as it was getting late and I knew there was a youth hostel there so I’d get a bed for the night. Ferniehirst Castle is no longer used as a hostel but it was a really nice place to stay.

The next day I headed off with the sole intent of getting home that day and just kept going as long as I could, stopping briefly in Arbroath for fish and chips and finally calling it a day just outside Montrose as I couldn’t see the road. The battery in my light was almost dead and it was getting rather dangerous. Exhausted I pitched the tent (stupidly) at the side of the road which in those days was the main N-S road from Aberdeen. I awoke, very early with the tent being blown about by the trucks as they thundered by, as I said a stupid place to pitch a tent. After breakfast of a tin of baked beans I set off and eventually reached Aberdeen I think around 15:00. I rode past Magnus’ house and popped in to see if he’d arrived, turned out he’d only beaten me by about three hours. I went up to my mus and spent the next two hours soaking in a warm bath….what a trip around 1740 miles in total.

Second Cycling Tour of Scotland – 1976

tour route 1976
Cycle tour 1976

Following our successful tour in 1975 Magnus and I decided to do the same the following year only following a different route. We again planned to stay at SYHA youth hostels which as before we had to pre-book. The route took us from Aberdeen to Braemar, Perth, Edinburgh, Wanlockhead (Scotlands highest village), Ayr, Glasgow, Stirling, Glen Nevis, Inverness, Aviemore and finally back to Aberdeen. A total of around 591 miles (google maps).

The year before had been pretty exciting and we had no accidents or any mishaps, except for one puncture on the first day. 1976 however was very different, on route from Glasgow to Crianlarach (I think) we had a very nasty accident. We came speeding round a corner, Magnus in front and me with my front wheel only inches from his bike, when suddenly this woman jumped right out in front of him waving her arms. Magnus swerved and braked but I didn’t have enough time to react and my front wheel wedged between his pannier rack and wheel. The next few seconds seemed to go in slow motion as I remember my front wheel getting jammed and veering off to the right whilst I carried straight on and the rest of the bike followed me. I flew forward and started to tumble and hoping like hell there wasn’t any on coming traffic as I was heading for the middle of the road. I saw Magnus come to a stop as I landed heavily on my left shoulder with my bike following behind me. I thought at the time, “this is going to hurt because I don’t have a shirt on” . When we all finally came to a stop all I could think about was my bike lying in a tangled mess in the middle of the road. I had a few cuts an grazes but nothing broken.

The woman had been driving an old mini van which had broken down, after we had assessed the damage to my bike (a badly buckled rear wheel) we agreed to  try and jump start it. She agreed if we got it going she’d give us a lift to the nearest town to to get my wheel repaired. Well, we got her car going all right after pushing it for about 50 yards but then off she drove leaving us behind.We were left totally amazed that anyone could do that. We got ourselves together and walked a couple of miles and found a garage but they couldn’t help, but they did tell us the nearest bike shop was in Stirling.

I tried to adjust my wheel and tried to cycle but this was impossible so after walking a few miles more we left our bikes at a farm and hitch-hiked to Stirling, getting to the bike shop half an hour after it closed. This was turning out to be a very bad day. We headed up to the hostel near the castle in Stirling checked in and called the Crianlarach hostel to say we couldn’t make it. I those days you had to do chores when you booked out of the hostel so we asked if we could do ours the night before so we could leave early in the morning. We then made a bee line for the nearest pub because today of all days we needed a drink.

I don’t remember the name of the pub but it was not exactly a high class establishment, Magnus got involved in a game of cards and won quite a bit of money. Just when we thought our luck had changed and tried to leave with the winnings it was made very clear by the locals that we couldn’t leave until they’d won their money back, which they did…fairly quickly. We returned to the hostel and in a very drunk state tried to brush the hallway and stairs, in the dark whilst trying to be quite.

Next day, bright and early we headed to the repair shop and the guy kindly straightened my wheel for free. We then hitch-hiked all the way back to the farm where we left our bikes, which was somewhere near Thornhill I think. It was now nearly 13:00 and we had to get to Fort William. That was a very hard days ride sustained by mars bars and crisps we made it to Glen Nevis hostel at about 21:00 just in time to claim our beds, the place was really busy that night with people even sleeping in the hallway.

First Cycling Tour of Scotland – 1975

my first 2 wheeled bike
my first two wheeler

I have been cycling almost as long as I can remember, my first bike was a three wheeler at the age of three or four, I can still picture it. At the age of five I had an accident falling off a neighbours bike whilst messing about and badly grazed my face. As a sort of get well present my mother bought me my first ‘real’ two wheeler from Halfords in Aberdeen, they only did bikes in those days. I had this bike for years in fact it was handed down to both my sisters then brother and it was still around being used at my mother’s when I was in my late twenties. The next bike I got was second hand and had no gears and was nothing special. I spent a lot of time trying to make it look better but nothing worked and my mother wouldn’t even let me put drop handlebars on it.

At secondary school I met Magnus, still a close friend who shared my interest in cycling. We got talking about going for a tour of Scotland which I showed great enthusiasm for even though I didn’t own a bike at that point. We agreed to do a few training runs from Aberdeen to Braemar (about 60 miles), but first I had to get a bike. I scoured the local paper and picked up a Raleigh with five gears for £20 and that weekend we set off for Braemar. By the time we got to the youth hostel it was evident, in many ways that this bike was far too small for me, I was in a lot of pain and had blisters where you should never get blisters. It was clear that I could not tour Scotland on this bike so I had to get another but with less than two weeks till the school holidays time was running out. I sold the Raleigh and bought another (proper sized) bike which I had for a couple of days before I rode into the back of a parked car and bent the frame.

carlton corsa
Carlton Corsa

We were due to head off on our first tour of Scotland in less than a week and I couldn’t use the damaged bike. My mother, once again bought me a bike form Halfords, this time a full sized Carlton Corsa. This image is from an old catalogue but my Corsa was exactly the same as this, even the colour. I found out years later that my mother had to take out a loan to pay for this bike which was £65 but she realised how important this trip was to me.

cycle tour 1
cycle tour 1975

So Magnus and I headed off on Thursday 3rd July 1975 on our first cycling tour of  Scotland which would follow a route through Inverness, Carbisdale Castle, Ullapool, Torridon, Ratagan, Glen Nevis, Oban, Aberfeldy, Perth, Aviemore then back to Aberdeen. The total distance (according to Google maps) is 697 miles, although we never measured it at the time. We Stayed at Youth Hostels all the way which in those days had very limited opening times and some were very basic indeed. I remember Torridon (Glen Cottage)

Glen Cottage Torridon
Glen Cottage Torridon

in particular which was a temporary hostel whilst they were building the new grade 1 hostel. We basically slept in a shed with a canoe slung in the rafters and a chemical toilet out the back. The most impressive hostel by far was Carbisdale Castle which was, and still is a magnificently impressive building. I remember the warden used to waken you at around 06:30 by playing bagpipe music on an old record player in the great hall. The Inverness hostel we stayed in which was near the Castle is no more and there doesn’t appear to be an SYHA hostel in Perth any more.

This was a fantastic trip for a sixteen year old I think it was our first real taste of freedom, no parents, no school and it was up to us what we did. The first day however, didn’t go that well if I remember I had a puncture outside of Elgin and although I had a repair kit I couldn’t find the leak, I even tried using a nearby burn. In the end Magnus remembered a friend of his fathers lived in Elgin so we went there and begged the use of a basin of water and had a welcome cup of tea.

I remember that summer being extremely hot in fact there were forest fires up around Aviemore and the tar on the road melted and stuck to our tyres. In those days I hadn’t even heard of sun screen except for the old zinc past our mothers used on us as kids, so consequently we both got very sunburned, me in particular. I remember stopping at almost every burn and using the water to cool us down we even tried cycling with no shoes, but this was too painful. Somewhere along the line I bought some calamine lotion to soothe the sunburn and at Ratagan hostel I covered my arms in the stuff. This proved to be even more unbearable then the sunburn itself so I spent the next hour or so trying to get the stuff off (very gingerly) using water from the loch, a sight which Magnus found highly amusing.

Cycling in Scotland: Links to on-line information

I have been gathering information relating to cycling in Scotland for some time now and I thought it was about time I compiled a list of some of the sites and what they offer.

Useful

I may add to this as sites come and go.