islay is roughly (very roughly) twenty-one miles end to end and side to side. that would make it seem somewhat square and it's true that a map of the island will, at a pinch, fit inside a perfect square, though i'm not sure if anyone's actually tried. we are not possessed of directly straight roads, though north to south isn't that complex a route to ride. i rather enjoy cycling over the same roads because the weather and wind rarely allows the same route to be the same at any time of the year. however, if i would care to entertain some variation in velocipedinal joy, a trip to scotland or even further afield would of necessity be in order. i did enjoy getting lost in portland, and the cycle route in sacramento was something of a revelation, but generally the wanderlust that drives the likes of james bowthorpe and those rapha continental riders to explore every nook and cranny does not have the same hold on yours truly.
not everyone, thankfully, is like me, and many think nothing of loading the dawes galaxy to the hilt and heading off for a weekend or longer aboard that brooks saddle, map securely fixed under the clear plastic on the bar bag. many worry not for the intricacies of forward planning, preferring to alight wherever day's end drops them, but i would think it more likely that at least the first night's accommodation and perhaps a few days more would be in order, if only for peace of mind. there is, of course, the one cycle ride to which all others lead, at least from the point of view of those domiciled in the land of great britain. correct: land's end to john o'groats.
while there used to be a substantial degree of derring-do involved in traversing the length of the uk, i am readily assured by those that know such things, it is possible to have a cossetted ride from the tip of southern england to the pointy bit at the top of scotland, luggage taken from a to b and full mechanical support. that rather goes against the grain to many an intrepid adventurer, but to the confirmed softy (who me?), it all sounds rather inviting. there is, however, a middle-way, one that takes care of all the planning duties, but leaving enough to chance that bear grylls might just ask to tag along.
cicerone publishing are world renowned for releasing guides to anywhere and everywhere, not only on bicycles, but by alternative transitory methods. in keeping with my introductory diatribe, one of their latest publications concerns the very scoot up or down the country that we have just been discussing. author nick mitchell is one of those guys you just love to hate (in a nice way), filling his every waking hour cycling bizarrely long-distances and then writing about them afterwards. using a route originally deployed in the services of a tour company, the several stages into which this book is divided (roughly between 50 and 80 miles per day) are well travelled and barring the re-routing of any of the intrinsic highways and byeways, it should prove to be a guide worthy of your trust.
if, of course, you intend doing it all back to front, braving the rigours of a prevailing headwind, it should be a simple case of starting at the back and turning the arrows in the opposite direction. the opening sections detail the necessities involved in one continuous bike ride of over 1,000 miles: how many jerseys and pairs of shorts to take (strangely, only two of each) and many another item that would likely be seen to be missing in action round about runcorn. i freely admit to being one for whom maps present a problem, not purely because of a sheer lack of geographical knowledge on my part, but because i rarely look at the contour lines and continually underestimate how much ascending or descending might be involved. however, those illustrating this cicerone guide seem disarmingly clear that there's every possibility even i wouldn't get lost (though i'm not counting on it).
the manual is well illustrated with many of the intriguing and interesting sites to be seen along the way, one of which provided a brief moment of humour. on page 56 there is a photo of the half moon inn, stoke, st mary from which the letter 'f' is absent without leave from the building's exterior, resulting in the hal moon inn writ large. in the best tradition of cycling world magazine, seemingly every perhaps uneventful photograph has (presumably nick's) koga miyata front and centre as if to underline the point that we are reading a cycle guide. somewhat unnecessary i feel, but a trivial complaint nonetheless. there are also too many folks dressed in the fluorescent yellow uniform beloved of the intrepid cycle tourist, but that's hardly the photographer's fault.
though i have not entrusted my safety to nick's words and maps, the cogency of the epistle leads one to suspect that errors and ommissions have been satisfactorily taken care of long before ink made it to paper. though the undertaking is designed to take place over a two week period and each day's stage takes this into consideration, there is no earthly reason why the incumbent could not ride quicker or slower, or indeed use a variation on this prepared route (though the latter would surely rather defeat the point in acquiring a copy of end to end). nick entreats those following in his tyre tracks to bed overnight at the nearest youth hostel, but again, there is no reason not to book alternative, more upmarket accommodation if so desired.
though the latter would increase the budget for getting from north to south, the price of admission, in this case, remains exactly the same. £12.95 is surely an extremely modest amount to pay for such a wealth of carefully laid out and explained information.
as the saying goes, 'don't leave home without it.'
posted monday 23 april 2012...........................................................................................................................................................................................................