Saturday, 6 November 2021

Mallorca in 2021

Sue and I have been visiting Mallorca for many years, for a mix of chilling and cycling . After a two year forced absence October seemed a good time to return, Covid restrictions being a bit easier, but before the predicted “winter surge“ not to mention our concern that our much rolled-over airline tickets would expire.

Still there is plenty of bureaucracy, not to mention passport control to remind us that while we are personally welcome, officially we are now distant cousins. By all accounts Mallorca has been relatively Covid free so it was reassuring to observe that the health controls were strictly applied, even for us arriving on the last flight of the day. At our hotel the owner had been an early Covid victim, spending 72 days on a ventilator. Although now officially recovered, he is a daily reminder of what a toll this disease can take on ones body. The law was for masks to be worn indoors. There was no visible enforcement, but was respected by almost everyone. This apart, there were no other restrictions.


 

We stay in Puerto de Sóller surrounded by mountains. It’s not everyone’s ideal cycling base, given the minimum 500m climb to leave the town, not to mention the return. But I don’t mind the climbing, and it does have a super bike hire shop, with bikes to suit almost any taste. My first ride is a Trek Emonda SL6, nice and light, though the 11-28 gearing gives me an extra challenge.

Sóller is on the route of the Mallorca Moonpig Audax, a 130km tour of the island’s biggest climbs, totalling 2,800m. I have ridden it a few times, but the last time was 2 1/2 years ago so I’m unsure if I’m up to the challenge. Day one cycling is therefore a combined 100k recce and fitness test for the real thing planned for day two. Thankfully my legs were ok, and the various cafes and pit stops I had used before had survived.

Riding in Mallorca is a revelation. Roads are mostly silky smooth surfaced and potholes rare. But above all motor traffic is light, and almost always courteous. Climbs can be long, but gradients gentle by Surrey standards; mostly 6% to 7%.


Cyclists were on the road almost everywhere, in groups or solo, fast or slow. In the past I have found many dourly introspective, but now most wave, nod or smile, doubtless thankful to be out at last enjoying what they like to do best.

An early finish to my 100k recce meant there was time in the evening for a visit to hear local guitarist Damià Timoner play his regular gig in a nearby hotel. He plays mostly his own compositions as well as arrangements of popular songs. The location is tranquil, a nearby hotel, converted from a huge c17 stone farmstead. Normally in summer he plays outside surrounded by ancient olives and carob trees. If you are lucky the local slow worms and geckos turn out. He plays for 90 minutes nonstop and for that time you can believe that the world is indeed a wonderful place.

Back to cycling, and day two is the day of the Moonpig challenge. Mornings start late at this time of year so an 8am start is before the sun has shown itself over the mountains. But it’s warm enough, dry and almost windless, so perfect riding weather.

 

                

The first climb, around 800m goes well, I think probably my quickest ever, doubtless due to the lower gearing on this Trek Domane rather than my fitness.

                          

Time for a coffee before the next leg, a 40k round trip, first descending to sea level at the cycling Mecca at Puerto Pollença, turning round and climbing back to the coffee stop. It’s a bit of a drag but at the top about half the day’s climbing is done. Time for lunch. The place is the isolated Petrol Station atop the Coll de sa Batalla, a sort of crossroads for Mallorca cyclists, and an ideal place for rip-off cafe prices. But to my surprise a freshly made tuna baguette and a big bottle of water costs just €4. And it comes with a bowl of my favourite Sóller olives, reputedly so bitter that they cannot be sold in the rest of the EU. Wonderful.

                                     

The lunch is ideal fuel for a long descent, where the only concern is to wear just enough clothes to be comfortable both at altitude and lower down where the warmth is welcome. You are now in undulating farmland, with dry stone walls surrounding fields of almond and olive.

Thankfully the big climbs are over for today, just three colls around 500m each. But it’s the tiny Coll de Tofla at 260m, barely higher than Leith Hill which is for some reason the biggest mental challenge. At the top I can sense that the end is in sight and I feel good. The final climb up the Coll de Sóller takes me 40min, my slowest ever; a few years ago I would be disappointed with a time of over 30min, but now I know it’s downhill all the way home.

The descent has some technical bits, and can be damp even in the afternoon, so I’m cautious. The Domane has a slight tendency to oversteer which is odd, perhaps it’s the suspension, or the gradient, or perhaps it’s just me. Anyway I get back just fine and I’m happy with my time of just under 9 ½ hours. I believe I have ridden more Moonpig Audaxes than anyone else, which is a kind of record.

Day three of cycling I decide to head south along the coast to Andratx. There are a few colls on the way, but the coastal views are superb, and the roads quiet; it’s away from the main tourist areas, and even most cyclists don’t come here as it’s a bit far from the popular cycling base at Pto. Pollenca. 

 

 

 

There’s a tailwind too, but that’s no help when I turn for home, and it’s cold, blowing from the northeast. Normally I wander back through the inland lanes, but today I decide to shelter in the hills. Which brings me to the climb to Es Verger; this is a real back road, and as it gets steeper the surface becomes atrocious. Garmin consistently says 17% but when it hits 20%, I’m walking. Finally I’m at the top, 530m and the highest point of the day. 

 


 

A bumpy descent follows. I met only one cyclist, and he was coming the (easier, I believe) way from the north.

Before the final climb up to the Coll de Sóller I need refreshments. There’s the delightful town of Bunyola ideally placed, with several cafes. Unfortunately the traditional bakers which I have visited for delicious ensaimadas and other delicacies, is closed. But there’s a small supermarket where you can get the next best thing, a packet of cakes. They appear to be composed mainly of hydrogenated vegetable oil and super refined sugar, just what I need right now, and they are very cheap. I down a couple, put the rest in my pocket for later, and have a nice coffee. Now I’m prepared for the final climb. It still takes 40 minutes, so no great fitness gain since the previous ride, but no matter. I get back to find I have done more climbing even than the Audax, and it certainly feels that way.

Tomorrow I will settle for Sunday lunch with Sue and a stroll round the harbour to admire the boats. There’s no chance of going anywhere as the roads will be closed for the Mallorca 312k sportive, displaced from its normal April date. I have huge respect for these riders taking on more than twice my distance and over 5,000m of climbing at competitive pace. But I do permit myself the smug thought that they won’t be climbing Es Verger.

On this trip I have ridden over 350k and heard no horns blown, no abusive rants, and only one close-ish pass. What is it about UK drivers which makes them so abusive?

The final day is reserved for Covid bureaucracy, form filling for our return home. It’s been a great few days, and doubtless much of my feeling of wellbeing will be erased by a day spent in airports and plane, but there will remain a warm feeling that things can be better.

Thursday, 31 December 2020

Welcome to our new Touring blog

If you go on a trip this year, you are invited to post your pictures and stories here, as it happens!  Whether it's the Dieppe Raid or your own personal cycling adventure, other Sou'Westers would be interested to read about it.  If you are writing after the event, the Sou'Wester newsletter remains the best place, and will be read by most Sou'Westers, but this blog is intended for perhaps more frequent updates and photos posted during your trip.

To become an author, please ask Simon Lambourn or Tim Court.  If you add a "label" for your trip to your post, then your friends and family can easily find all the posts about your trip.

Wednesday, 2 September 2020

Day 12 plus one......

After an early start, catching the Corran ferry at 8.45am, and a late arrival into Euston at around 10.45pm, the final day of our tour was a long one, even if most of it was sitting on trains!. After re-attaching panniers and for the first time on this tour, adding lights, we were ready to ride again.



The tour started as it finished with a ride through an eerily deserted central London, this time at night, and even quieter than our early morning ride the other way had been. Barely a car was seen as we rode right through the centre of town and down onto the Embankment, and pretty much every traffic light turned in our favour as we rode towards them....this is probably as enjoyable and safe as riding through London will ever get.

If you haven't tried it yet, its definitely worth a go.

The 16-plus miles from Euston to home was covered in barely over an hour, and I arrived back home a few minutes after midnight.

The tour in numbers :-

12 days of riding
559 miles
28,870 feet of climbing (not quite an Everest....)
1 puncture
2 tubes used fixing said puncture
3 attempts at fixing the same
5 days with no rain
5 different train journeys (2 of them unscheduled)
7 different overnight locations
8 ferry journeys (although on only 2 different crossings)
24 lochs ridden alongside

....plus loads of laughs and an infinite amount of enjoyment.

I hope that you have enjoyed reading our ramblings about our travels, and if you did......we would love to hear about yours!!! (I'm thinking of you Mike Reynell first up....cycling in Italy?....tell us about it!!).

Tuesday, 1 September 2020

Day 12: Life in the Slow Lane

(with apologies to The Eagles).

Speaking of eagles, we saw an eagle yesterday on the long climb out of Lochaline.  It was wheeling and floating high above the high moorland.  Dave also spotted another otter in Loch Aline, playing at the end of the ferry slipway.

Corran ferry

Mini lighthouse at Ardguor

Today is our last day.  We had a ten-mile cycle and two ferries to get to Fort William,  just your average commute, along the quiet road we'd used three times already, the other side of Loch Linnhe.  After a sizeable breakfast, we set out at a cracking A Group pace until the first small incline, when our legs reminded us of the past few days, and we decided an Easy Riders pace was more appropriate.


By the way, as we set off from Corran we met a couple of guys who were just setting off to cycle the NC500 route. Corran is a weird place to start from, but never mind.  We mentioned that we'd done it in 2018, and they asked for advice for any sights to stop and visit, as they were "only" doing 100 miles a day.  They were staying at Lochcarron, Ullapool, Durness, Wick and Inverness, before heading back to Corran.  Our NC500 trip had twice as many stops.

Ben Nevis across the loch

We realised we had four miles to cycle in an hour, so we slowed down again.  As we rode, I was trying to capture the memories of this place: no stunning photo opputunities today, but the small things - the mossy crags, the little woods leading down to the shore, sun(!) sparkling off the water.  The salmon farm, with noisy pipes delivering food out to the salmon cages 24 hours a day, or so I assume.  A few goldfinches twittering and flitting along in front of us. The little white house with a field as front lawn, a wooded mountain as back garden.  And the friendly welcome in different ways from everyone we met.



Arriving at Camusnagaul, where we caught the ferry on our arrival at Fort William, was the end of our ride.  Unless... We dared not think of the consequences if the ferry didn't turn up.  Luckily, we didn't have to.  Fort William was a ten minute choppy ride on white horses across the loch.  We stocked up for the four hour Most Scenic Train Journey to Glasgow, and caught the train with a few minutes to spare.



It's a fabulous journey, but this is a cycling blog, so you'll have to look it up, or watch the TV programme.


Thank you for taking the time to read these blog posts, and for your encouraging comments, which were very much appreciated by Dave and I.  We're sorry that it wasn't possible for all four of us to come this time.  And thanks to Dave for taking the risk, being a great riding companion, and never complaining when we reached a closed cafe for elevenses.




Monday, 31 August 2020

Day 11...Corran to Lochaline out and back

Today was our last full day's riding before the long journey back home tomorrow. We chose an out and back route to Lochaline, down towards the bottom of the Morvern peninsula, and on the other side of the Sound of Mull from the island of Mull itself.

The weather forecast was benign, if a little cool, and we were granted our fourth successive day with no rain. Unfortunately blue skies were nowhere to be seen, and there was a strong southerly wind to test us on the route out.

After taking the Corran ferry across Loch Linnhe once again, we headed south down the main A861 road. This is slightly misleading, as the only traffic that comes down this road is that which comes off the small ferry. So, every half an hour a small convoy of cars or trucks whizzes by and then nothing until the next ferry unloads its cargo and the next convoy comes along.


We turned off the "main" road onto the very minor B road that leads down to Kingairloch. The first 5 miles or so is through rolling but quite barren hills, and then it follows the side of the loch for about 4 miles. The surface along these 9 miles or so varies from excellent to appalling, with the vast majority being of the rough variety....but the views are fabulous.



After passing through Kingairloch, which appears to consist solely of 5 houses and 1 church, the road turns inland and rises almost unnoticeably through the valley. The road for the next 4 miles is almost a perfect surface, and we saw as many cyclists as cars....and we only saw 4 cyclists!!!


This 13 mile detour away from the main road proved to be some of the most enjoyable cycling of our whole trip....lovely views, good roads in parts, almost no traffic, not too taxing...what's not to like?

As the road reaches the head of the valley it rejoins the main road for a very long gradual descent all the way down to Lochaline, where we stopped for lunch at the snack bar by the ferry...the only cafe of any sort open for many miles around.


Of course a very long gradual descent on an out and back ride also means a very long gradual climb on the way back, and of course the strong wind that we had hoped would be behind us for the return had disappeared. Still, being a very gradual climb, it didn't feel too arduous and we were soon back at the junction where we decided to ride our new 13 mile detour away from the main road back in the opposite direction. It was as enjoyable in reverse as it was on the way out, and Simon took the opportunity to inspect a bothy at an outdoor Leadership Centre on the way.


Alternative accommodation is available

After this, it was a straight run back to the ferry, with just enough time to make it back across for a quick shower and change before taking advantage of the last night of Rishi's Eat Out to Help Out offer.

All in, an extremely enjoyable days ride to finish off our tour around this area of the West Highlands.

63 miles, 4100 feet of climbing (but feeling nothing like that much) and very few cars.


The effects of Covid-19

It was on our minds, and it's been interesting to find out how it has affected the tourism industry, and us in particular.

Lockdown clearly put everything on hold for customers and businesses alike, causing real hardship for many i  the hospitality industry.  Some seem to have used the time productively - hostels being done up or adapted to all en-suite rooms ; pubs getting ahead with their social distancing protections, procedures and plans.


Uncertainty caused us huge worriies in planning our trip. We were unsure of the health risks, the rules, whether we could get on trains and ferries, and what would be open. We were close to cancelling it many times, and even after extensive research we have still frequently been surprised by big gaps in the tourist offering, especially cafes.  This must have affected other potential visitors too, and has also affected businesses, who have no idea of how many customers to expect.


Public restrictions limit numbers of customers in pubs and shops, and forbid types of sharing, such as buffet breakfasts, shared hostel dormitories. 


Business restrictions behind the scenes limit numbers of kitchen staff and require hugely increased cleaning.  Restaurant tables, hostel and B&B rooms require deep cleaning between clients; laundry is quarantined for three days before washing.


In a tourism-dependent area like Fort William, there have been no tourists for half the season, and still many places are fairly empty.  Businesses and workers rely on these few months to cover their costs over the winter.  They are all worried.


Some businesses have already closed for ever. Others simply couldn't find a profitable way to re-open under the current restrictions. Most Scottish youth hostels will not re-open this year.  Others opened anyway, just to survive.  Government and council run services, such as community cafes seem to have fared better, as there is less need to make a profit.

The Inn at Ardgour, just across from Corran, faced a choice of going bust or opening with numbers of tables down from 21 to just seven. They also faced community pressures: there have been no Covid cases on that side of the loch, and encouraging visitors invites infection, passed by staff and their families.


There is still a welcome in the hillsides, but it's different... Perspex screens, masks, lists of instructions make it inevitably more impersonal. The cosy hostel I remembered at Inveraray was altogether more spartan, with no lounge area with books and games, just hard chairs around each room's allocated dining table.

It is striking in a place like the Highlands that some businesses focus on what customers can't do, while others have a strong focus on making customers feel welcome while also dealing with the necessities of Covid.


We have found that in remote areas, half or more of the cafes were closed. We had a few days entirely without cafes, but there was usually a shop somewhere, or we could take something with us.
Pubs and cafes that were open were often very busy or completely booked up.  This all meant that more planning was essential each day, and this generally worked out well 

It was a risk to go when we did, but Dave and I knew that, and I think we both felt we could deal with whatever came up.  Some of the more serious risks, such as one of us catching Covid, haven't arisen (yet...), but many of the other risks we thought about have happened.  Some of our hosts have been particularly supportive and understanding as our plans had to keep changing, and we're very grateful to them. I guess that is the new normal for them.  Despite the difficulties, we have both enjoyed the trip, and we're pleased we managed to make it happen despite everything.

Day 10: Loch Leven and Glencoe

Another shortish day with a bit of sightseeing.  Not without a few hills but thankfully without rain.  It was grey and cold when we set out from the bunkhouse.  Loch Leven is just round the corner, and on the way we stopped to look for Inchree Falls, unsignposted from the main road and up a short, just-rideable track.  The falls were impressive. In England they would be a major attraction with a cafe and probably an entry fee.  Perhaps even better due to the recent rain.

One of the Inchree Falls

Looking back across Loch Linnhe

The road round the loch is a very quiet and beautiful lane, fairly flat on the ten miles to Kinlochleven at its head.  Lovely scenery surrounded by huge mountains, but it all looked a bit grey without any sunshine.

Loch Leven

Loch Leven

We passed a cafe at 10 miles, safe in the knowledge that Kinlochleven had a multitude of cafes and bars.  As you might guess, they were all closed, so we had some rather good Eccles cakes from the Co-op.

River Leven, with power station
outflow

On to Glencoe village. With some difficulty we passed an attractive looking cafe and headed up the valley to the Clachaig Inn for lunch.  It was in the desirable and uncommon state of not being shut, not being full, and not requiring bookings. Dave had the freshly-caught local haggis, and we both had apple & blackberry crumble, with custard of course.

Glen Coe

Glencoe is famous for the huge Glen Coe valley, and for the Glencoe massacre, when in 1692 the British(English) forces massacred 38 members of the MacDonald clan, for refusing to swear allegiance to the King.  It was suspected that the rival Cambell clan was involved, and this led to generations of hostility.

Our way back went through North Ballachulish, much smaller than Kinlochleven but with masses more refreshment opportunities.  We'd only done three miles since lunch, so we passed, returning over the bridge & back 'home' to Corran Bunkhouse.

The Bunkhouse isn't what you might imagine.  It's described as a five star bunkhouse.  Modern, with nice rooms , comfortable beds (no bunks), a heavenly shower, spacious and light lounge area, and a well equipped kitchen, bookable by the hour for one household at a time.
The staff couldn't do enough for us.  When we enquired about eating places,(very limited options without a car), they offered to get some shopping in for us, and refused to take payment for it.  When we couldn't get ITV4 to watch the Tour, they were all over the TV to fix it for us.

Lounge

Socially-distanced private room

Corran itself is tiny. There's a restaurant and a pub, both of which are still shut after lockdown, and an Inn across the loch at Ardgour, reached by the half-hourly Corran Ferry.  Another option requires a 2 mile bike ride on a nasty road with a nasty bike lane - we might try that tomorrow, but tonight we're eating at Ardgour.