Iceland by bicycle – practicalities and gear thoughts

Getting to Iceland

Ready to fly... Evoc bike bag at kit at Manchester Aiport
Ready to fly… Evoc bike bag at kit at Manchester Aiport

Iceland sits in the North Atlantic between the UK and Greenland. It takes just over two hours to fly to the main international airport at Keflavik, which is approximately 40km away from the capital Reykjavik.

If taking your own bicycle, you must check your airline’s current rules and regs for bike carriage. These can vary between airlines and it’s a good idea to take a print out of the rules to save any additional fuss at the check-in desk.

I flew with Iceland Air from Manchester. My flight cost a shade over £200 and I ended up paying another £100 to cover the cost of bike carriage both ways, all paid at the check-in desk. The airline also requests that you reserve a space for the bike in the baggage hold which I did separately by email. Continue reading

Cycle touring the Hebrides – practicalities and gear thoughts

The Hebrides offers great potential for the bicycle tourist. The islands are accessible and yet feel very different in character to the mainland.

The roads are generally excellent and quiet. Make sure you let motorists by at the passing places and your days in the saddle will be relaxing… A marked contrast to the mayhem you can encounter elsewhere it the UK.

However, cycling these islands is not without its challenges, the biggest of which must be the weather. I had superb conditions for much of my trip this year, but my early pedaling on Barra and the south Uists gave a hint of jut how harsh conditions can be. Had I been cycling north to south into the wind, progress would have been slow and difficult. There are several accounts on the web of people riding these parts where trips have been abandoned due to frankly atrocious conditions, even in the summer.

The rule of thumb should be: always have a plan b. In my case, I had researched alternatives to camping had conditions been foul. This preparation extended to clothing. I washed and reproofed waterproofs, took a strong, weatherproof tent, had warm clothes for the evening while ensuring I had a dry alternative set of clothing at all times.

Simply put: prepare for the worst, but make sure you have some suncreen just in case you are lucky.

Continue reading

Long term review: VauDe Hogan XT – The final word

I bought my VauDe Hogan XT for cycle touring. However, for a long list of reasons which don’t really merit further mention here, the Hogan has become my go-to shelter and the one I have used most over the last couple of years or so. It’s too heavy for backpacking, although manageable for two when slimmed down for the trail, but is perfect for trips on the bike and for chucking in the car for a dirty weekend.


Continue reading

Coasting… my C2C

Last week’s C2C was a huge success. I’m still basking in a warm glow (and a slightly dodgy knee) after traveling more than 250 miles over five days.


The pace was leisurely, well this was a holiday after all, but the itinerary did provide a couple of more demanding days in the saddle, not least the trip to Windermere from Whitehaven, which took in 70 miles of rolling roads and some testing headwinds.


Similarly, the stretch from Wooler to Bellingham through the Cheviots proved a test for the legs following very easy first section from Berwick, when I was buoyed by flat roads and a favourable north-easterly.


I enjoyed this uncharacteristic blow for the first two days, but more familiar south westerlies blew in once I reached the summit of the moors along Hadrains’ Wall and crossed the backbone of England.


A stiff and cold ‘facer’ then became my companion, and I didn’t shake it off until boarding the train at Windermere. This wind played havoc with my face, causing the skin to tighten and my eyes to water and swell.


An overriding memory of the trip must be the first phase, though, as my route wended its way through quite Northumberland back roads. This really is heavenly cycling country, with fabulous scenery and a sense of deep, permeating tranquility.


Dotted with castles and other historic distractions, this turbulent border country is to be savoured for fans of the velo.


Anyway, here’s the itinerary and some thoughts…


Day One: Berwick to Wooler. 30 miles


An easy day to start following a lengthy journey to Berwick. I’m always a little apprehensive taking the bike on the train but credit must go to the fine folk at East Coast rail. An Antipodean dispatcher gave me plenty of assistance at York and I was likewise well served when I arrived at my destination. I was told the fine is £1000 every minute they are late so it’s in their interests to help cyclists as much as possible.

Not only was the bike support first class, so was the train. I used to think Branson’s West Coast service was one of the finer ways to travel on the UK rail network, but the Pendolinos pale in comparison with this intercity service.


Alighting, I pushed the bike down to the harbour to get the traditional coastal departure photo. The sun was warm and soon there was nothing else holding me back… time to go.


Finding the route our of Berwick was a little tricky at first, but I was soon reveling in the network of quiet lanes, occasionally crossing the border to Scotland. I made the most of the tailwind and was soon in Wooler.


I camped at Highburn House, which reads better on the web than it actually is. I tried to find a pub showing the cricket (in vain).


Day 2: Wooler to Bellingham. 53 miles


Overnight rain fizzled out by morning and I was soon on the road… which climbed steeply out of Wooler. The guidebook said to prepare for a challenging day tackling the Cheviots and so it proved. At first, the landscape was all fields and sheep, and a slender, brown, rolling ribbon of tarmac. Later hills presented leg and lung-busting climbs.
The route did become perilous at one point, as the road degenerated into a grassy (read muddy) farm track and then a very steep path which was a challenge pushing a heavily laden touring bike. This wasn’t meant to be a mud-plugging tour and I cursed the diversion.


Once back on the road, more fields and lonely farms accompanied me. It was sublime save for one frisson of excitement when a Jack Russell spotted me some 200 yards away from his farmyard perch and decided to make chase, hoping he’d head me off at the end of his owner’s drive.


Yapping as he sped along the track, I too increased my cadence and reached the mouth of the drive first… but only just. I sped by offering him the ‘cyclists’ salute’ and he continued to chase for another 100 yards along the road before boredom won out.


A superb, gated stretch of road, the B6320 if memory serves, led to Bellingham.


I camped at the Bellingham CCC site. Spotless, if a bit pricey. I did find a nice pitch in the woods next to a Dutch family riding rather impressive Rohloff touring bikes. More impressive, perhaps, was the parents’ preparedness to tour with teenage children.


Day 3: Bellingham to Carlisle (and beyond) 77 miles.


Day three was bright but cold. There had been talk of wintry showers and snow in the north. This bleak forecast was far removed from my breakfast in the sunshine.


This long day started again on quiet country lanes but soon found the tourist traffic alongside Hadrian’s Wall. The B6318 follows the Wall a good stretch and here the tail wind was replaced with a stiff, and cold, facer. I stopped at Housesteads for a coffee and threw on my down vest, leaving it underneath my cycling jacket. I regretted not packing full gloves alongside my track mits.


The route eventually left the Wall and things warmed up a little. Heading towards the mayhem of Carlisle, the Cumbrian fells came into view, giving a flavour of what was to come.


The city was an unwelcome obstacle but I soon pedaled through it, finding a scenic but not direct route to Dalston, and Dalston Hall campsite.


A grand hotel concealed a rather splendid little site and an adjoining golf course. I re-supplied at Dalston village store and spent a great evening listening to the England New Zealand game from a neighbouring tent. It transpired that this camper was a little deaf hence the high volume of his digital radio. With the Co-op’s finest organic ale in hand, Test Match Special had never sounded so good.


Day Four: Dalston to Whitehaven. 45 miles (…ish, I inadvertently switched off my odometer).


The final push took on some pretty steep roads ‘back of Skidda’. I haven’t ventured to this remote part of the Lakes before and it had immediate appeal for future journeys by foot. Although there were no steep climbs, a couple of short sharp pulls necessitated the ‘granny gear’.


I dropped into the village store at Hesket Newmarket before venturing to the wilder areas of Cumbria. I picked up four excellent home-baked cheese scones, shortbread and a range of other goodies to fuel the engine.


Yet more sunshine and I was soon enjoying the view of Bassenthwaite Lake and the sea.


Dropping down into Cockermouth, I was alarmed by the trail of destruction last year’s floods have left. Business premises are being refurbished and the town is very much open to tourists, but the scars of that unseemly incident will be felt for years to come.


I followed quiet lanes out of the town west and eventually found the cycleway which forms part of NCN route 10 heading to the coast. I got lost spectacularly in Workington due to a bridge closure (another victim of the floods) but eventually found the track along the coast to my final destination.


Whitehaven came far too quickly and pedaled over a headland to St Bees and the Seacote Holiday Park, an unsightly collection of ugly corrugated holiday statics ruining a perfectly decent piece of coastline.


Travellers with tents are an afterthought here, but you will be charged heavily for your slightly unsatisfactory stay (a tenner, in fact).


I quickly headed into St Bees to find a better pub rather than the dispiriting bar of the Seacote Hotel. Stake and ale pie, a few pints of Cumberland and a conversation with an American group on the finer points of English ale and giant sausage-filled Yorkie puddings ensued. Happy days.


Day 5 Whitehaven to Windermere 69 miles.


I was undecided what to do on Day 5 right until departure. My first plan was to tough it out on the main road, try and get to Kendal and then assess my options for cycling all the way home.


My inadequate mapping had not highlighted the fact that the NCN route 72 threads its way along the coast until Ravenglass. It was only when I saw the sign and ventured along the route that I finalised my plans.


On arriving at Ravenglass, I’d join the A590 but only for a short time before cutting into Lakeland proper and ultimately getting to Windermere. I could get a train, and a direct one at that, and get in my other half’s good books as she was on leave the following day. I guessed it would be in the region of 70 miles, and I wasn’t far off the mark.


The start or end of Route 72 dances with the coastline for over 20 miles south of St Bees. There are some rough sections along the way, but following the coast so closely had tremendous appeal, as did the views of the Western Fells, including Great Gable standing proud at the head of Wasdale.


A blot on the landscape was Sellafield, an ever-present industrial mass the scale of which skewed my perception of distance. Thinking I was on the power station’s doorstep, I would then have to navigate more lanes until finally I reached the barbed perimeter fence.


I crossed the plant’s railway lines and cycled alongside a train of those ominous looking concrete nuclear transport vessels. A blot it may be, but it was inexplicably exhilarating to ride alongside such as huge complex… I was dwarfed by it.


At Ravenglass, I got a bit lost on the cycle lanes and forest tracks around Muntcaster Castle but I soon joined the main road though and the traffic. Motorists were considerate and I made speedy progress on good tarmac.


Turning off on to the A5902, the headwind returned as did the climbs, all short, but some had a real sting. The ascent to Gawthwaite and beyond was more demanding but I found the ‘zone’ on this climb and started to really enjoy the effort.


Eyes down and teeth gritted, I was suddenly aware of a field of extremely excitable and noisy sheep watching me as I trundled up the incline. It felt as though they were cheering me on… once I’d passed, the field was quiet again.


A welcome descent followed before joining the A590 again for miserable miles this time, due to the traffic, and then on the A592… a road that has not survived the winter unscathed and a real test for tired legs.


This long day had been draining with the ever-present pressure to meet train timetables and get that direct train.


A cyclist I met along the way summed it up perfectly… I came across him at a quiet junction on the A5902, red faced, astride a rather nice road bike.


(Apologies as I try to recreate the accent)


Him: ‘I dern know which I’m gannin…’


Me: ‘Where you heading?’


Him: ‘Ahh, back to ‘Barra.


’It dern matta which way I’m ganin, theuw, there’ll be a big fookn’ hill!’


Quite.

Back at the desk…

I’ve just had the most enjoyable week cycle touring. The weather was reasonably kind, if a little cold, and miles in the saddle allowed me to detach from the grind and get a bit of much-needed perspective on things.


I rode from Berwick to Whitehaven and then back to Windermere following the Hadrian’s Wall cycle route for much of the way.


The itinerary was relatively gentle, although there were a couple of 70-mile days thrown in for good measure, some reasonable climbs and an ever-present headwind which robbed my face of moisture and each night gave me the bug-eyed look of a high -altitude mountaineer of polar explorer. I have never got through so much E45!


As soon as it was over, I started to miss the bike. I could happily carried on to Ireland or about turned and headed to Europe for a few months. Maybe one day…

Gear tests

Superb weather over the weekend meant the jobs around the house would have to wait (again).

Besides, I needed to test the touring rig properly before heading north next month for my C2C.

I had a bit of a back spasm late last week so I thought I would take it easy and head to Hayfield campsite. This is not a long ride, 20-25 miles depending on the detours, and there is plenty of scope for finding quiet routes away from weekend motorists thundering over the South Pennine passes.

 

I loaded up the panniers correctly (this time) with some pretty textbook weight distribution between front and back.

On the scales, it all went at just shy of 16kg, including two bidons of water. I know I can shave some more weight off this if needed and still be very comfortable camping out.

The Club Tour felt great, even under all those bags. I’ve just fitted a new Dura Ace shifter on the drop bars and the indexing was working beautifully on the rear mech (another feather in my bicycle repair man cap).

Some great cycling was followed by a night on an excellent site.

This was the first outing using the VauDe Hogan XT and it is a perfect tent for cycle camping. I had to drop the front wheel off the bike and lower the saddle, but she (yes, the Club Tour is now a ‘she’) fit in the porch perfectly.

To keep the bike upright, I used a couple of featherweight Titanium pegs to secure the front against the ground.

Sunday morning I felt strong and so took a longer way home. I guess the next test has to be grinning and bearing it in the rain… better get some mudguards before then.

Vaude Hogan XT first look

My new Vaude Hogan XT arrived yesterday and, in between the showers, I pitched it in the garden to check it over.

Vaude Hogan XTI’ve purchased this tent for my LeJOG trip on the basis of its huge porch swallowing a bike. It does, although I will have to remove the front wheel when I put the bike to bed every night.

So what are my first impressions?

Well, for its 3kg-ish weight, the XT is an enormous tunnel tent. The fly is 40D polyamid ripstop 240T, and siliconised, while the bathtub floor is the same material, but laminated. Fly seams are not taped due to the silicon so I will seal them as a precaution. I thought he floor looked rather insubstantial, but compared favourably with my Akto. I’ll still use a ground cloth of some description, though.

Pitching is very simple… possibly the most intuitive tent set up you are likely to find.

Like a good many models in the Vaude range, the XT uses a skeleton of poles for its structure, which is essentially self-supporting. The poles intersect at alloy bosses, which appear sturdy, and this entire pole set is connected via shock cord. Establishing the flat pole structure is therefore speedy and straightforward. Shock cording all poles raises concerns about long-term durability and making repairs in the field, though.

To erect the tent, simply lie the fly and inner connected on the ground and orient the pole structure correctly on top. The pole ends along the side of the tent locate into pins which cause them to bend and form the long tunnel shape. Alloy hooks then locate on the intersection bosses while plastic spigots and both ends locate into grommets on the fly, which provide apexes for both vents.

To finish, elastic cords are stretched over the pole frame and located into hooks and additional guy ropes attachments wrap around the poles if required. Although the tent was not pegged down properly, it felt very stable and taught.

All this sounds quite involved, but it is a very straightforward process. Attaching the elastic cords could be difficult when wearing gloves, though.

The XT has two doors: one on the side which is additionally protected by a ‘bug door’ and one on the front, which doubles at the front vent. A second zippered vent is located at the other end. The vents do not have netting, but feature protective hoods created by the spigots and grommets on the poles and fly. This allows the vents to be open during rainfall.

The inner has a standard ‘D’ door and features a full mesh door for warm evenings. Mesh is also sewn into the foot of the inner, marrying with the zip vent in the fly. The inner comes fitted with an integrated washing line along with small pockets for odds and ends.

In addition to the cavernous porch, the inner tent is very long indeed. Lying down there was plenty of clearance above my head and feet… and I’m 6ft 6ins. The inner door is vertical, too, maximizing inner space and headroom, is excellent, despite the fairly sharp ridgeline.


The inner is connected to the fly with a series of quick release straps. These are important as they help to keep the inner tent taught, as there are no mid fixing points along its considerable length.

Breaking down the tent is also simple, although watch knuckles when unhooking the elastics. Care is also needed when breaking down that pole structure.

All stuffsacs are ample, although the main roll-closure sac does feature a heavy plastic lip, which seems a bit surplus to requirements. I’ll use this for storage though, as the tent will eight be split between panniers or rucksacks.

The tent is supplied with sufficient guy lines and, as always, fairly rudimentary pegs. These will be swapped for some titanium stakes.

Overall impressions, then, are good. Build quality is excellent, in the Hilleberg class, and the XT looks like it will perform well for cycling and backpacking trips when shared with another walker.

I’ll add to this review after it’s first use in anger.