Whales and dolphins of the Moray Firth, Day 1, 31 May 2008
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31 May 2008 - Buzzards and dreadful crows - Day 1 - Aberdeen to Gardenstown

Ok, not a great night sleep. I feel a little rubbish when I get up. Maybe I'm catching a cold or something but hell no, not going to pay attention to that. Although I do feel not so great on later days and I think it causes me to sniffle and snore a bit at night. Sorry roommates.

But up at like 5:30 or so. The sleeper train is weird. There really is no indication of where you are and when you arrive somewhere. No announcements and some of the platforms you stop at don't have signs on the side I was on, peering out my sleeper room window. We go over a large body of water and I figure it must be the Firth. I didn't see Edinburgh so maybe we didn't go there there. I peek out and look out the other side and the train guard tells me it is Dundee. Ok so a little bit more. Then we go past a huge lake, sort of swampy reed, based on other times I've gone through, that must be Montrose. Then Stonehaven, ok I remember that station, very close now. I pack and get ready. I can't remember if the train terminates in Aberdeen, so I am ready to do the quick unload just in case. But it does and no problems.

From the train, just coming into Dundee.

Going through Montrose.

Our group assembles on the platform, hmm, now what. We wander around the station a bit, it seems to be in a state of destruction (construction) and they are looking for left luggage. Me, I'm not so bothered, I ponder how long to hang around. They head to a hotel across the street and Stephen goes in to see if they can leave things there. Apparently the desk staff is bewildered and tells him to wait until the day staff comes in. They decide to have coffee and I make my break. Damn, I really should have gotten breakfast there. The bag of food on the train was rather unsatisfying and it is like 53 miles to get there. But I want to get on my way.

In Aberdeen station with the group.

Aberdeen harbor.

I have a few maps, the Sustrans one for Aberdeen to John o'Groats, which I adapted my route from. I leave it early and head straight up to Gardenstown for the last 10 miles but I follow pretty much the entire rest of the way. And of course I have my trusty OS maps. Love them. Never leave home without them. And it is really great for obsessives. Ok, just passed that road, ok, I'm just passing that grove of trees, ok, there's that radio mask.

Riding through Old Aberdeen.

Sustrans, yes love and hate relationship with them. Totally mad routes through towns, back alleys, industrial parks, and miles of cobble stone. But then, you can be somewhere, no idea where you are and there are those comforting blue signs guiding you on. And the route through Aberdeen, evil cobble stones aside, it goes past some interesting things. My other teammates spend most of a day in Aberdeen but I probably saw more of it than they did in my ride out of town.

But I start following the signs out of town. Old Aberdeen looks pretty nice. Although that entire section, like a mile or so, is over pretty brutal cobblestone. Pretty but hell on a touring bike. Eventually my arms can't take it anymore and I ride on the pavement for the rest of it. On the outskirts of Aberdeen, I realize I should have found somewhere to eat in town. Oh well, there are things further up the road, a few big towns.

Lots of busy roads out of Aberdeen and annoying Cyclists Dismount signs.

Beginning of the rail track.

That's the other problem with Sustrans routes, they tend to be way off the beaten track (i.e. no cafes on the way). Much of the way was on old dismantled rail lines. It was really nice and away from traffic, but it gets a bit dull after a while, and riding on gravel seems a bit slower and harder work. Did I mention the headwind yet? A nice steady one slows me down the entire day. Not much comfort to think it will be easier to get back to Aberdeen, at least not at that point.

Sustrans mile marker.

The food situation gets pretty dire. In Newmanchar, I hope to find a cafe or something, there are symbols on the map to say maybe. But after wanderinga around town for a little bit, I ask somebody if there is a cafe and he says, no, I don't think so. Nothing to do but go to the grocery store and see what I can find there. Which isn't a whole lot, but it has to do. I head out of town, back on the rail track again and find a suitable spot to sit, vaguely sheltered from the wind and stuff down a little food. Not very satisfying, but what else can I do.

Lunch break.

I meant to switch over to the on road route instead of continuing on the rail line but I think I missed the turn. I bail off the route as soon as I can, which isn't easy since the only way off is occasional roads that pass have huge enbankments which are impossible to haul up a fully loaded bike up. So I keep going unti I can finally duck off and head to the open roads.

Fiendishly difficult gates.

Highland cattle.


Had never seen gorse with red highlights before.

Ahh, this is nicer now. There is a bit of traffic but it is nice to be moving faster and the scenery is much more varied. A buzzard swoops overhead just above the power lines and is spectacular. I jump off to try and see where it goes but it heads off into the trees. I spend most of the day jumping off when something interesting catches my eye, a gorse bush with red highlights, which I've never seen before.

Later on, I find a two buzzards hovering over a ridge and then a crow hovers near. The buzzard takes a swoop at it and bumps wings. Another crow comes up and the two of them harrass the buzzard. An amazing dogfight in the air, mostly just bumping each other's wings to try and knock them down, I guess. I sit and watch this, totally amused for a few minutes.


I have until 5, 5:30, or whatever to get to Gardenstown, so I'm not in a major hurry. The rail tracks don't allow a whole lot of speed anyways. And a few of the roads are basically single track but then have a fair amount of traffic on them. I have to stop to let a lot of cars pass. Some of them even sort of acknowledge me as they zip past.

I really didn't plan the food thing all that well. I have plenty of food from the grocery store but I'm not that excited by it. Tarves is about half way and it seems like a nice place to see about lunch. The pub marked on the map doesn't seem to be there anymore. The other pub I pass has a sign out front, food all day, but it looks completely deserted (even a little abandoned). I walk in, not terribly hopeful. I actually feel like I'm walking in the back door to somebody's house, hello, anybody home? The bar man is there and I ask him if he is serving food. Well, maybe. We look at the menu together to tell me what he could make. A toastie seems possible, although when it comes, it isn't all that nice, but oh well, I was a bit desperate. The lime and soda however was really refreshing.

Back to it, I send a text to the others letting them know that I'm progressing. I have a bit of road left before rejoining the rail track and I enjoy it, seeing lots of wagtails and a few lapwings, and other entertaining birds.

Eventually I reach Cummingstown where I part ways with Sustrans. I have about 10 miles to go, down a pretty straight road which luckily seems to be pretty light traffic. The terrain is sort of heading upwards. I work out that that line of trees way up there, once I get there, it is all downhill after that. I had a text back from the other group saying they were waiting for the bus and would be there at 5:30. I guess I will get to Gardenstown a little before them then.

9 miles to Gardenstown

Over the last hill, I can see the sea.

At the top of the hill, I send a few last texts, since Gardenstown has no mobile reception. What a hill though. It winds back and forth a few times, and heads straight down. It isn't quite as relentlessly steep as the hill a few weeks ago that superheated my rims and blew out my front tire, but still is pretty amazing. I take lots of pictures on the way down of my progress.

From the directions, and the pictures I was sent of CRRU, I guess I can't really get lost, just go to the water. Main Street heads off one direction but it doesn't look like it goes where I need, so I go the other way. Somebody smiles at me, saying I'm going the right way since they wouldn't want to ride up the hill.

Seatown Road, ok, that's the right one. What a lovely row of houses, right on the edge of the seawall. The numbering system is a bit arbitrary, lots of As and Bs and all that, and jumps in numbers. I walk back and forth until I isolate the likely location. Ahh, there's the sign on the door, found it. The neighbors are out, sitting in the sun, drinking wine and watching their dogs run around. They introduce themselves and say I must be there for the dolphins. Yep, that's me.

The harbor.

Low tide in Gamrie Bay.

But nobody seems to be home. The neighbors think they saw everybody rush off just a little bit before. Hmm, that probably makes sense, it was just about 5 then, if they were meeting in Banff at 5:30, I guess that gives me a little bit of time then. I leave my bike there and wander off to see the village. Well, ok, I only make it to the far side of the seawall and then back to the harbor and end up sitting on a bench at the water's edge and sleep for a bit. I guess I was a little tired. But how nice too, it is warm, I'm tired, there are nice noises like birds and waves, and it is really just pleasant.

CRRU, tan building in middle.

I hear a honk which startles me and see a rather loaded Land Rover with a trailer working its way down the road. I guess that would be them. They are a bit busy unloading but they realize I'm there and introductions are made. Yeah, ok, they seem alright. We have all seen Dr Kev's glamour shot, holding a baby seal in the booklet, so that's him, the rest we just had profile descriptions, not that you can tell much from those.

A walk on the beach and Amber hula hooping.

Our half of the group, apparently split by age, me being with the old people, isn't in the CRRU house, but just a few houses down. Soo and Simona are in one room and Duncan, Stephen and I are in the other room. We also have the kitchen that is stocked and will be where all the meals are made.

The CRRU team makes us a BBQ dinner and we add a few ticks by our names on the list for the honesty bar and watch the sunset. Which is about 10 pm or something crazy like that. Hmm, I might not sleep for a few days. Well, with my cold, hopefully my sniffling and all that won't keep my roommates up at night either.