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Ireland    to Scotland

DAY 187

Belfast to Ayr, Scotland 

There were three departures for the ferry to Stranraer, Scotland on July 5. The first one left at 7:30 a.m. and most people went on that one. They would have to get up early and scramble because they had to be at the ferry by 6:30, only 30 minutes after breakfast started at 6:00. They would have to locate and extricate their bicycles from a room containing some 200 of them, then cycle to the ferry dock. I thought it would be too frenzied for me and was almost thankful to have an excuse to miss it. My excuse was my UPS package which had not been delivered on July 3rd or 4th as promised. I intended to wait for it, hoping to get it first thing in the morning. It contained two photo cards for my digital camera which are very expensive items. I had already lost one photo card, the one sent to Gibraltar, and I didnít want to lose two more. Even as late as 4:30 on the 4th when I called the UPS office for the umpteenth time they assured me it would be delivered yet that afternoon. It wasnít but I thought that the driver might come with it first thing the next morning and he did! What a relief! I left immediately with plenty of time to cycle to the ferry by 8:30 for the 9:30 sailing.

While I was cycling through the city I came to an intersection that had been the scene of a fire and I donít know what all during the night. All that was left by the time I got there were ashes, broken glass, bricks and stones, and broken street dividers. I walked my bike through the debris to try to avoid a flat tire. An Irish woman there told me that the Protestants had done it and in their own territory too. She was disgusted. Later I learned that when the riders who had taken the early ferry passed that spot there were tanks and other armored vehicles there. It was so scarey they didnít stop for pictures. My sleep had been disturbed for what seemed like the whole night by noisy, low flying helicopters. I thought at the time that there must have been demonstrations or riots in the city. I was right. Poor beleaguered Belfast

The ferry I took was the slow ferry and the crossing of the North Channel took three hours. I used the time to write for the web pages. The earlier ferry was the fast ferry and required only 100 minutes. Another advantage of the early ferry was that there was more of the day left to finish the ride. My ferry didnít dock at Stranraer, Scotland until 2:00 and I still had 55 miles to cycle.

It was a fine day for cycling and to my great relief the roads were smoother and generally in better condition than in Ireland. That was the most noticeable difference between the two countries. Many of the homes looked identical to the typical Irish cottage and the scenery was similar too, green fields, sea coast, wild roses and beautiful flower gardens. There were sheep and cattle in the fields and the occasional old castle. But although the highway was smooth enough it was narrow and without a shoulder. Most drivers had patience with us and waited for a clear passing opportunity. Not some of the bus drivers however. I was riding as close to the white line as possible with nowhere else to go when a bus passed so closely beside me I wondered that my elbow wasnít skinned. I was somewhat shaken by that and it set my nerves on edge for the rest of the ride. Gisa, who had been riding some distance behind me, caught up and asked, ďDid you think that that bus came awfully close?Ē

Did I! It had occurred to me that I should report that driver but I was too shaken to get the license number. The same thing happened again later in the afternoon. I had noticed this sort of callous disregard for the safety of cyclists by bus drivers in a couple of other countries. Truck drivers on the other hand, usually wait and leave space for us on the road beside them. Later I heard Ďolderí Anita say that a bus had clipped the mount for her mirror (the mirror was already missing) and she went on to add that that was the closest call she had ever had.  I tell you, it can be scarey out there! When those big buses and trucks pass at high speed such a great wind is created that sometimes I wonder whether I can control my bike.

I was glad to see the end of that ride. We were camping in the Craigie Horticultural area at the rear of the Ayr University campus. It was like an arboretum and there was plenty of green grass for everyone. But many opted for indoor camping in an old gym there though as rain threatened. I was late to arrive and hurried to get my tent pitched and run to dinner. I had to delay my shower until later. It is unpleasant to go to dinner covered with grime, face encrusted with salt from  windtears and sweat. When I unpacked my bike I noticed that there were large smears of a very black and thick grease on the back and one sleeve of my nearly $300 rain jacket. I was very dismayed and had no idea how they came to be there. I cleaned the grease off the best I could with tissue paper while I pondered how or where it could have happened. Finally I decided it must have happened on the ferry. We had had to stow our bikes in the lowest level, down there with the big tractor-trailers and the cattle and sheep. The grease must have dripped on me or more likely I brushed into it somewhere.

After dinner I waited and waited for my turn on the one public phone only to try and fail nine times to succeed in sending the web page by e-mail. That was running up my AT&T bill, trying my patience and others were waiting. I gave up and got up my courage to ask the night watchmen to use the phone in their office. They agreed and I succeeded on only the second try! Yes!  Finally I could go to my tent and get ready for bed. I was settled there doing all the little tasks I always do to get ready for the next morning and to sleep. I was thirsty so reached for my Kamelbak for a drink. A few minutes later I noticed black grease on my hands, legs, pajamas, and everything I had touched. Now what!, I thought. I wondered what the source of the grease was, then realised it had to be my Kamelbak. Sure enough, I found a big blob of grease on it and on poor, old Lawrence too. He had grease on his rump, tail, ear and saddle blanket. I worked and worked to clean the grease off everything the best I could until I had used all of my wet wipes. What bad luck! 

Goodbye, Alice 

DAY 188

Ayr to Inveraray 

We cycled along the seacoast most of this windy, blustery day. The view was lovely but I thought the smell of the abundant yellowish seaweed and all that went with it was a bit off. It wasnít the pleasant salty smell that I expect at the seashore. We cycled through villages with appropriate names like Saltcoats and Seamill, and at 43 miles arrived at Checkpoint in Gourock. Checkpoint was at the Western Ferries Dunoon Dock where we lined up and waited for the 30 minute ferry ride to Dunoon. We would cross the Firth (bay) of Clyde. I was starving and couldnít wait a minute longer to eat a big tuna sandwich in a wholegrain bun that I had bought earlier at a bakery. Several other hungry riders eyed my sandwich enviously. There was no food available at the dock and none on the ferry either, although there was a room below deck where we could get out of the wind. It was otherwise an open air ferry. All the other passengers stayed on deck in their cars.

Twenty miles or so later I was hungry again and stopped near Strachur at a restaurant/shop specializing in seafood from the Bay of Fyne, especially oysters. I didnít have time for oysters but quenched my thirst with a bottle of raspberry juice and a tiny cup of exquisite raspberry ice cream from Orkney. Raspberries and seafood are specialties in Scotland.

Just before Inveraray we crossed a narrow, arched stone bridge. From the center of the bridge there was a perfect view of the beautiful Inveraray Castle and its reflection in the river. It was a one-way bridge controlled by a traffic light with no stopping permitted, but ignoring that, we moved our bicycles out of the way and stopped to enjoy the view and take pictures.

Inveraray is ready for tourists and picturesque there by the sea but I cycled on, anxious to reach camp and get my tent up in time to dry. We were staying at the Argyll Holiday Park 2.5 miles beyond Inveraray. The Duke and Duchess of Argyll, who live in the Inveraray Castle, own the campground and everything else around for 5 miles. The Duke really should do something about the voracious, miserable midges which tormented us while there. After I applied a Deet insecticide they didnít actually bite anymore but they still hovered a fraction of an inch away. We were told that midges (or no-see-ums) are prevalent everywhere in this part of Scotland. The citizens of Inveraray and other infested places have apparently learned to live with them, but I wonder why others would choose to vacation where the midges are.  

Our hosts at the campground provided  special entertainment for us after dinner. A piper played his bagpipes while a young woman with great stamina performed several dances. A haggis ceremony was performed by another Scottish man. I couldnít follow what he was saying but he told a story (or recited a poem)  about the haggis with great enthusiasm and ended by splitting it open with his dagger. A haggis is apparently a special treat to the Scots and tasty too, said those few of us who tried it. It is made of all the leftover bits and bobs of sheep that are not normally eaten. The meat is ground and cooked with oatmeal and spices in a bag, traditionally a sheepís stomach or bladder, I believe.

( Editors note - follow link to Robert Burn's "Ode to a Haggis" )

Some time in the night I was awakened by unusual sounds and after listening decided it was people trying to imitate bird calls. There were other guests in the campground and I thought that some of them were playing a game of hide and seek or such. But the sounds continued and were definitely in our section of the campground which was far removed from the other campers. I kept wondering why someone didnít do something to put a stop to it. Could I be the only one awake? Then I heard bike noises and worried that they were messing with our bikes. I picked up my flashlight and stepping out of my tent onto the cold, wet grass in my bare feet, I turned it on to the high beam and flashing the light among the tents, I found two sets of two culprits, one pair were at the gear trucks and the other cowered behind an electrical box. I shone the light on the two teenagers by the trucks first. Blinded by the light, they froze in their tracks and I shouted at them to get out. They immediately started to walk away so I directed my attention to the other two, still cowering behind the box. They stayed there until I walked up to them and to my amazement and disappointment I saw that they were two of our young volunteers. I scolded them for being so foolish and irresponsible and then went back to bed, but could not get back to sleep.

 Goodbye, Alice 





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