Lockdown2 Ride9 – There’s snow on them there hills on Breezy Braco Burl!

There’s snow on them there hills – which created a rather chilly breeze!

This shortish blog is the story of how my dynamic crew enjoyed a fun #Lockdown2 Ride9 #tandem adventure which featured There’s snow on them there hills on a breezy Braco burl!

The “old git” and “old gal” were champing at the bit to get back out in tandem taking advantage of some sunny conditions for their ninth fun #lockdown adventure – while adopting Cycling UK Scotland‘s #cyclingfromhome mantra in #tandem in rural Perthshire, mainly on Sustrans Scotland and The National Cycle Network routes.

You can check out the details of our route by clicking on the Strava map below.

Despite the wind – and the wind chill giving a “feels like” temperature of just 3C which meant that the new Tandem Club snoods were de rigueur – it was again a joy to be out in the bright sunshine on beautiful rolling Perthshire countryside. And again Team Matilda luckily managed to avoid the showers which were forecast for later in the day!

Beautiful clear visibility and stunning sunshine as we set off from our home base of Auchterarder, again cycling out of town past Gleneagles and on towards Braco – battling a really fierce headwind, which at times quite literally took the “old gal’s” breath away!

But we heroically pedalled on and at the junction with the A8222 we turned right – enjoying the break from the wind pummeling into our faces as we pedalled to the highest point in the ride for a breather and a few pictures.

Stopping for a breather and taking in the views over the stunning Perthshire countryside!

My dynamic crew were rewarded with stunning views across the valley towards the main A9 trunk road and the Ochil hills which had a new snow cap on them from the recent stormy weather here.

As the “old git” said: “There’s snow on them there hills” – which the “old gal” thought was pretty obvious and gave one of her less-than-impressed long-suffering looks. But the point he was trying to make was it was the reason behind the rather chilly breeze blasting into my dynamic crew!

Yes, that’s definitely a fresh fall of snow! No wonder it was a tad on the chilly side on our Braco Burl!

The bright sunshine created brilliant shadows and kept spirits high – including a fun selfie with both the “old git” and “old gal” once again requiring to wear the new Tandem Club snoods for warmth … rather than just as a fashion statement!

A fun selfie of Team Matilda in the bright sunshine – complete with Tandem Club snoods!

Re-breathed my dynamic crew tandemed on – this time ignoring the left turn for Mill of Drummond and headed on the route to Crieff – with the sun-kissed snow-topped mountains behind the town providing real brain food for my dynamic crew!

A right turn took us along a superb farm road to Machanay before another right turn onto the main Crieff to Auchterarder road and back towards Gleneagles.

Great joy as Team Matilda – with the wind behind them – enjoyed the downhill Orchil road stretch and hit a new record on the speed camera approaching the town of 27 mph! Oh the simple pleasures!

Great feelgood factor on returning to Matildas Rest from the exercise – which clocked another 16 miles onto the #Lockdown2 milometer taking the total to 197 miles from the 9 rides completed so far.

And the day got even better when the “old git” checked Strava to discover that my dynamic crew have been awarded yet another of the “Local Legend” accolades – this time for an uphill section just before the highest point, known as Muir of Orchil. This caused the “old git” and the “old gal” much amusement given the fact that they are so very far from “local legend” status cyclists!

But a “local legend” accolade is an accolade no matter what – and my dynamic crew were quietly chuffed!

Strava officially recorded the ride as being worthy of 8 gongs – four personal bests; two 2nd bests; one 3rd best; and the “local legend”! The detailed Strava figures showed my dynamic crew tandemed a distance of 16.5 miles with a moving time of 1 hour 15 minutes. The average speed was a healthy 13.1 mph despite the ever present wind! Elevation was 878 feet. The maximum speed was 34.0 mph and Team Matilda managed to burn up 1,028 calories and produce an average power output of 203 W.

As always the route is brought to life in our Relive 3D mapping video – so click here to view or on the image below.

Once again there were hugely positive endorphins from #Lockdown2 Ride 9 for my dynamic crew – underlining what fun it is being out pedalling on a bicycle made for two in our rural Perth and Kinross Cycle CampaignPerth and Kinross Countryside TrustAuchterarder Community Cycling and Love Perthshire area.

But as the chittering “old gal” quipped: “Hopefully the next ride will be less windy – and a tad warmer!”

Hebridean Way – the definitive guide to tandeming ‘on the edge’ with the Nutty Tandemers Club

The Nutty Tandemers Club loved tandeming ‘on the edge’ on the Hebridean Way

#HebWay and #NuttyTandemers Club – Introduction

So the “old git” came up with the idea that our next annual tour of the self-proclaimed Nutty Tandemers Club should be an epic odyssey taking on the Hebridean Way Challenge – tandem cycling “on the edge” of Scotland, while taking in the views of some of the world’s best beaches.

The Hebridean Way passes some of the world’s best beaches. Whats not to like?!

Now the “old gal” really enjoys a little fun recreational island hopping – and scenic beaches – but this was something different! A true adventure on Sustrans Scotland NCN Rt 780 across the Outer Hebrides, starting at the southernmost point on Vatersay and ending on the northernmost point at the Butt of Lewis, which takes in 185 miles, 10 islands, six causeways and two ferry crossings!

Fortunately – and perhaps naively! – both tandem teams quickly agreed that the Hebridean Way would be the ideal route for an independently booked self-guided end-to-end tandem tour, which offered a real challenge amidst some stunning scenery, and plans were put in place to complete the distance over five action packed days in June 2019 averaging around 40 miles a day in the saddle.

This blog aims to be the definitive guide to tandem cycling the Hebridean Way – an unfiltered honest reflection highlighting the highs and lows, and the many uphills and downhills, from four good friends who don’t consider themselves to be anything more than keen and enthusiastic leisure cyclists, who enjoy the joys of a bicycle made for two!

So who are the members of the Nutty Tandemers Club? Regular readers of my blog will remember that in 2016 my dynamic Team Matilda crew became ‘best pals’ with another crew of a bicycle made for two – Team Siggy, made up of John and Jane, who also have their own Travelling in Tandem blog, but more importantly have the same views as my dynamic crew on not taking tandeming too seriously.

Such was the level of laughing, fun and general nuttiness on our inaugural Le Tour de Perthshire du Tandem that we became the founding (and only!) members of our self-styled and therefore exclusive Nutty Tandemers Club! A year later we all enjoyed Le Tour de New Forest du Tandem before a Mini Tour de Perthshire last summer.

Because of the logistics involved, our #HebWay challenge has been a long while in the planning and booking. This blog is therefore full of useful tips and recommendations for places to stay, eat and replenish picnic supplies along the way – along with some to avoid! – in order to be self-sustaining. It also contains Strava Maps and Relive videos of our route – and loads of photos to give you a flavour of what it is really like tandeming or cycling “on the edge”!

In short, if the Hebridean Way is on your bucket list of rides – then go for it! But read this blog first!

#HebWay – The logistics and getting to Barra

Getting to the start line of the Hebridean Way at Vatersay is almost as challenging as doing the route itself – and there is no easy way of doing it. You need to allocate time to get there – the best part of two whole days! And that’s before you get to start pedalling!

The Offcomers guide to Cycling the Hebridean Way

The recommended way of tandeming or cycling the Hebridean Way is from south to north so you get the benefit of the prevailing winds. Access to the start point is by the island of Barra, which is around 100 miles out in the Atlantic by a 5 hour ferry trip from the Scottish mainland at Oban – think next stop America! Oh and there is only one ferry sailing a day! Then the finish line is 185 miles further north on Lewis – where the return ferry operates from Stornoway to a different mainland ferry port of Ullapool. Thus why it can be a bit of a logistical headache to organise travel for your trip. So planning is key.

At this point my dynamic crew want to recommend the guide which became their “bible” – both in planning and along the route. The “old git” and “old gal” used the fabulously detailed ‘Cycling the Hebridean Way’ by The Offcomers. It is written by and aimed at cyclists and provides a wealth of information – with comprehensive maps, routes and listings. In a nutshell it was crucial to the Nutty Tandemers Club’s planning, and became an essential reference guide each day.

Another recommendation is a company called HebShuttle – the award winning cycle tour and transfer operator in the Outer Hebrides which offers, among other services, bike and passenger transfers, bike and e-bike hire, and an accommodation booking service.

The official tourism information website for the Outer Hebrides also has a wealth of information on suggested itineraries with a linked on-line planning service, along with a newly launched ‘Pit Stop’ listing of rest, refuel and repair stops along the Hebridean Way. It has also published a new handy 1:200,000 scale HebWay Cycling Route Map which my crew found invaluable.

The Nutty Tandemers decided the best way to overcome the transport issues getting to and from the Outer Hebrides was to position two vehicles on the mainland – one at the departure port of Oban, and one at the arrival port from Stornoway.

But first up there was the vitally important pre-tour prosecco toast to welcome John and Jane when they arrived at Matilda’s Rest on the Saturday afternoon after a long drive from their current base in Lincolnshire. The sun came out (briefly) allowing for a very convivial catch-up on the decking before a hearty meal and an early night with a long day of driving ahead.

A toast to a successful Hebridean Way Challenge when John and Jane arrived.

Sunday saw a 6am rise with Team Matilda and Team Siggy’s cars on the road by 7am heading from Matildas Rest to Oban. That was the first leg of what was admittedly a fairly torturous day of driving around 400 miles. The detail of the trip, firstly saw the two tandems dropped off at the Hostelling Scotland hostel in Oban, our pre-ferry overnight base, before embarking on a near 4-hour 160 mile drive to Ullapool to park John and Jane’s vehicle there for our return from Stornoway. After a brief lunch stop we returned to Oban and although the scenery on route was magnificent – including driving the full length of Loch Ness – there is no doubt it was a marathon, but logistically necessary, journey.

The sleeves of the Nutty Tandemers t-shirts complete with crew names!

The return journey from Ullapool – with both tandem crews in one car – offered a great opportunity for everyone to catch up on life since the last tour! And there was the opportunity of the grand unveiling of the tour t-shirts, complete with tour logo on the front and crew names on the sleeves.

After the long drive back to the ferry port of Oban, the Hostelling Scotland hostel offered a welcome refuge for the crews who were most impressed with its five star VisitScotland accredited facilities including private en-suite double rooms with sea views over the Firth of Lorne. Meanwhile the two tandems – me and Siggy – enjoyed a comfortable stay in the hostel’s great secure cycle storage shed complete with a selection of useful maintenance tools!

After the drive some good food and drink was required and The Olive Garden offered the crews some tasty seafood followed by a gin tasting in a nearby pub before some much needed sleep.

The departure port of Oban offered a welcome overnight stay after 400 miles of driving.

After a solid sleep, the “old git” and the “old gal” got into final packing mode, refining the items in my four panniers which were to support Team Matilda for the duration of the Hebridean Way trip, with cycling gear covering every possible eventuality of weather and geographical conditions, my trusty tool kit and a variety of essential spares – such as new inner tubes – which spokes crossed would not be needed, as well as a a few non-cycling clothes for evening relaxation!

Along with Team Siggy, my dynamic crew then had a short pedal along the seafront at Oban just to check all was in order with the tandems. It was, but with the four panniers my frame has never been heavier.  Let’s just say some of the hills are going to be interesting!

The Nutty Tandemers Club crews eagerly awaiting embarking the Barra ferry!

After a coffee, and picking up some fresh seafood, it was time to head to the Caledonian Macbrayne Oban Ferry Terminal – the departure point for the ferry to Barra. There is just one crossing a day to Castlebay from Oban – departing at 1.30pm. The “old git” had done his usual meticulous research and discovered that there was a Hopscotch 8 ticket created by CalMac, specifically tailored for tourists doing the Hebridean Way end-to-end. And it is great value at £31.75 per passenger – with tandems (and bikes) travelling free!

Excitement was building as we queued to be allowed to embark on the ferry, which reached fever pitch as we finally boarded the MV Isle of Lewis through via the car ramp. And it was amazingly busy with bikes, with at least 100 cyclists heading over to Barra to start their own adventure – proving the success of the marketing of the Hebridean Way route as a “must do” route.

I presume the sign was also meant for tandemers as well as cyclists?!

I was securely tied to the some railings with rope, just beside Siggy, as the deck hands were warning the crossing could be a bit lively given the wind conditions. The ferry departed on time and headed out of Oban, offering a very scenic route as it passed thru the channel between the mainland and Mull. After we left the mainland behind, at Ardnamurchan Point, and headed out into the Atlantic Ocean, the waves increased and the crossing became a bit rockier. I know the “old git” and Jane certainly benefited from their anti sea sickness tablets and wrist bands! Meanwhile the “old gal” and John seemed fine on their sea legs!

The “old git” couldn’t resist clowning around showing the lively conditions on deck!

The “old gal” wisely held on to the railings as we passed Ardnamurchan Point.

As conditions calmed again the crews were treated to a few brief glimpses of porpoises swimming along beside the ferry. The crossing itself passed fairly quickly – with a decadent mid afternoon glass of prosecco helping the journey along. From about 90 minutes before arrival the chain of islands which make up the Outer Hebrides was evident and offered an amazing vista the closer we got! The view also offered our first glimpses of some of the hills – make that mountains – the tandem crews were going to have to negotiate! The “old gal” turned a bit pale at this point!

The arrival into the port of Castlebay offers one of the most spectacular views from a ferry in Scotland passing almost within touching distance of Kisimul Castle – the seat of the chief of Clan Macneil – which is perched on a rocky islet in the bay.

My dynamic crew enjoying the views of Kisimul Castle on arrival at Castlebay, Barra.

Right on schedule the ferry berthed at Castlebay, which is the village capital of Barra and as both crews emerged from the car ramp it was immediately apparent why it is known for its beautiful setting, relaxed atmosphere and friendly residents. It is actually quite an incongruous sight to see such a large ferry arrive at such a rural location and disgorge its cargo of passengers and vehicles on to the island.

We quickly found our stop for the night – the ultra relaxed Dunard Hostel – a small family-run hostel which offered basic but comfortable great value accommodation. It was easy to see why it is a favourite spot for bike crews to stay before they embark on their HebWay journey the next day.

After self checking-in (noone actually checked who we were!) me and Siggy were parked under a shelter out the wind at the back of the hostel. The crews then headed for a meal to a tiny restaurant which had been highly recommended to the “old git” – and Café Kisimul certainly did not disappoint. It is a friendly family run licensed restaurant which specialises in Indian and Italian cuisine and local seafood … all with an Outer Hebrides twist! The hand-dived scallop pakora was just fantastic and the whole meal was a culinary delight, with the menu offering several vegetarian options. It is no surprise that booking ahead is essential, and it offered the ideal start to the Nutty Tandemers time on Barra.

The “old git” and “old gal” after enjoying a meal at Cafe Kisimul in Castlebay.

#HebWay Day 1 – And they’re off! – Vatersay to Daliburgh

Morning broke after a restful nights sleep at Dunard Hostel with some ominous clouds and heavy rain showers around, along with some serious wind. But both crews making up the Nutty Tandemers Club were in great spirits at finally getting to do some pedalling after all the travelling, and getting to grips with their Hebridean Way Challenge.

So buoyed up they were to get moving that there was an almost immediate schoolboy error of setting off without any breakfast! And as any cyclist knows trying to cycle on empty is not a great idea! To be honest it wasn’t really anybody’s fault. There was no breakfast available to buy at the hostel, and the cafe recommended for breakfast as we left Castlebay was unexpectedly closed for a few days.

The “old git” and “old gal” leaving Dunard Hostel in Castlebay after an ovenight stay.

Ready for rain – but what a backdrop! The two tandems ready to leave Castlebay.

So fully kitted out in gear that would not have been out of place in winter, both Team Matilda and Team Siggy headed to the official start point of Sustrans Scotland NCN Rt 780 at Vatersay. Almost immediately on leaving Castlebay we hit the first steep climb of the tour – and right on cue a nasty squall hit us. Both crews were seriously hoping that this incongruous start over the first few miles was not going to set the pattern for the rest of the 185 miles – both in terms of climbs and the weather!

Fortunately almost as quick as the heavy rain arrived, the storm clouds blew away, and by the time we arrived on Vatersay the sun was shining. The crews easily located the sign marking the official start of the Hebridean Way – an iron plinth in the grassy dunes between two glorious beaches. Not sure how you could come all this way to do this route and actually miss it, but the “old git” has been reliably told that some people actually didn’t find it and amazingly set off without the obligatory “start” photos!

The official Team Matilda and Team Siggy photo at the sign marking the start of the HebWay.

The “old git” and the “old gal” looking cheery at the start of our Outer Hebrides adventure!

Leaving without a photo (or ten!) would obviously have been a major faus pax for this tandeming blog – bigger even than setting off without breakfast! – but the “old git” ensured that embarrassment didn’t happen and the bright sunshine added to the magnificent backdrop for the photo shoot. My dynamic crew even managed to record their thoughts at the start of our HebWay adventure on this video:

Sadly the Vatersay Cafe, part of the community centre, did not open till a good hour away at 11am, so there was no option but to start the Hebridean way proper on an empty tank! Hopefully we would not bonk – the cycling definition of hitting the wall thru a lack of energy – within the first hour of the ride! As funny as it sounds, the cycling bonking is not a good feeling – especially with a heavily laden tandem like me!

Fortunately the “old git” had researched where the Co-ops were situated along the route – which was to become a running joke of the tour but the stores offered some very necessary opportunities to top up with supplies – and knew that on our return to Barra the Co-op at Castlebay would offer something for breakfast … and stop the “old gal’s” stomach from grumbling!

Our actual route for day 1 of the Nutty Tandmers Club HebWay Challenge was combined with day 2 on Strava due to a problem with a mobile phone battery. But you can still check out the details of our route by clicking on the Strava map below (just remember we stopped overnight at Daliburgh!)

So we were officially underway and Vatersay was island number 1 of the 10 we would cover on the HebWay. Soon we were crossing the first (of six) causeways which took us on to island 2 of Barra and a rather cheeky 11% hill climb before that much anticipated food stop at Caslebay. My dynamic crew decided that as a precautionary measure they would push up the short distance of this first big hill – given the “old gal’s” asthma and not wanting to create any unnecessary problems so early in our trip.

The sun broke thru to give a spectacular view of the turquoise sea and beach at Vatersay.

Team Matilda getting acclimatised to the wind on the steep climb out of Vatersay!

The rain stayed off and me and Siggy soon rolled in to the Co-op at Castlebay – after just 5 miles of the route! – where much needed breakfast pastries and smoothies were quickly consumed by my dynamic crew providing some much needed nourishment – and a great place to buy picnic supplies.

Before leaving Castlebay there was an important visit to make – to the Isle of Barra Distillers, which makes the Barra Atlantic Gin. The main botanical in its unique island mix is carrageen seaweed, which is collected from the island’s coastline. The tandem crew saw the seaweed being dried before being offered a tasting – I mean it would have been rude  not to!

The new Barra Gin Distillery offered an interesting stop (and tasting!) back at Castlebay.

The company has now started producing the gin on the island itself and has announced that the first batch of the first ever distilled spirit on Barra will have a limited number of 1,174 of bottles – marking the island’s population on the last census back in 2011. The “old gal” ordered one of the individually numbered bottles which would be delivered to our home base offering a unique memory of our trip.

Refreshed in more ways than one the two tandem crews headed off on the route which took us up the scenic west coast of Barra hugging the Atlantic coast, before heading inland to cross to the east side – all the time enjoying the benefits of a mostly favourable southerly wind.

Me and the “old gal” at an unusual warning sign on the approach to Barra Airport.

We took a short detour to see the wonderful Traigh Mhor beach – which doubles as the runway for Barra Airport, which offers the world’s only scheduled beach landing.

On arrival at the airport we enjoyed a coffee in the tiny departures and arrivals hall before the Nutty Tandemers had the first of their signature prosecco picnics in the sun, but blasted by the wind, on a picnic bench in the sand dunes.

Just after lunch excitement reached fever pitch as around 100 spectators took up position to watch the arrival of the Twin Otter Loganair flight from Glasgow land and taxi in across the sand.

It was great to watch the Twin Otter flight from Glasgow land on the beautiful beach.

It really was quite spectacular to watch – and the “old gal” said it was actually one of those moments that she was glad to have witnessed in person, rather than just on video or tv. Once the twin propellers on the aircraft had stopped the ground crew headed out on to the runway on the beach – complete with a wheelbarrow to collect the baggage!

The “old gal” enjoying the views at the airport which boasts the world’s only scheduled beach landing

Me at the rather basic baggage reclaim at Barra Airport – complete with sand!

There was a quick turnaround and after watching the flight depart from a magnificent viewpoint just above the beach, we pedalled back to join the official HebWay route again and the short trip to the Ardmhor ferry terminal for the ferry to Eriskay – the first of the two inter island CalMac routes. Look out at the ferry terminal for an attractive sculpture of two otters chasing a salmon.

Me and the “old git” at the Otter statue at Ardmor ferry terminal for the crossing to Eriskay.

The short scenic 40 minute crossing saw the Nutty Tandemers arrive on Eriskay – island number 3 – and immediately face a long hill to climb away from the harbour passing above “Prince Charlie’s beach“. This is where Charles Edward Stuart, Bonnie Prince Charlie, first set foot on Scottish soil in 1745 at the start of his ill-fated campaign.

The Am Politician bar, of Whisky Galore fame, on the island of Eriskay

A short diversion took us to the Am Politician bar  which is named after the SS Politician which ran aground in 1941 in the Sound of Eriskay spilling its cargo of whisky onto the island’s shores. Eriskay is the original Whisky Galore! island made famous by the book and film.

The tandem crews were lucky enough to be shown some fascinating artifacts from the SS Politician by the friendly barmaid, as we enjoyed a welcome refreshment. This included one of the original whisky bottles still containing its original whisky, an other original bottle, plus a machete type weapon, and a heavy flare gun from the doomed ship.

Original whisky bottles and artifacts from the SS Politician are on display in the pub.

It was at this point we had our first (and fortunately only) mechanical of the Hebridean Way Challenge when John discovered that Siggy’s brakes were in a pretty bad condition. There had been a ghastly noise on the descent of the last hill and a closer inspection showed that effectively the brakes needed replacing. Annoyingly none of us had thought to bring spare brake blocks with us – schoolboy error number 2! But in a spark of ingenuity John quickly swapped the front blocks with the rear, allowing the journey to continue given that we were on fairly flat ground and that Siggy was equipped with a drag break.

The final 10 miles or so pedalling firstly took us across the mile long causeway – causeway number 2 – which took us on to island 4 of South Uist. It was here we saw the first of what would be regular sights at the causeways – signs warning drivers to take care of potential otters crossing.

Our first sighting of several signs warning of otters crossing – at the Eriskay causeway.

On we pedalled, with the route taking us off the busy B888 road and onto gently undulating minor roads giving fabulous tandeming and an interesting view of some real crofting land at South Boisdale. The crews were a bit battered by the wind and happy to spot Invercanny Bed and Breakfast just a few hundred yards outside Daliburgh – where we received a hugely warm and friendly welcome from hosts Eddie and Audrey Woods.

Time for a quick shower and change into non cycling clothes, then a walk to the nearby Borrodale Hotel for a hearty and tasty re-fuelling meal, with my dynamic crew sampling the local delicacy of Barra scampi. A nightcap of a Barra gin was a fitting way to bring an end to the first day’s activities. Not surprisingly sleep was not hard to find!

At the end of the day the “old git” was somewhat devastated to find that a phone battery power failure resulted in a Strava operating error. You know that cyclists’ view that if it is not on Strava it doesn’t exist! After appearing that the ride was “lost”, Strava suddenly sprung into life on day 2 and decided to combine the actual route and data for first two days of the Nutty Tandemers Club Challenge together! However, that meant the clock kept ticking while we were in the bed and breakfast – so thus recorded the ride with a crazy long time of over 22 hours and ludicrous low average speed (even for Team Matilda!) of just 3.7mph!

But my faithful on-board milometer recorded that on day 1 Team Matilda tandemed a distance of 33.7 miles with a moving time of 3 hours and 18 minutes, giving an average speed of 10.1 mph.

#HebWay Day 2 – Tandeming on the very edge! – Daliburgh to Sollas 

The schedule for day 2 saw our longest mileage to be covered, tandeming onto 3 more islands by crossing 3 more causeways on the Hebridean Way, on the very edge of Scotland, and indeed Europe.

Both crews were raring to go after recharging their batteries with a great sleep in comfortable rooms and a hearty breakfast provided by Eddie and Audrey at Invercanny Bed and Breakfast. Indeed our hosts were so hospitable and interested in our challenge that they reassured the tandem crews that if anything went wrong we were to phone and they would come and rescue us. Now that is service!

Team Siggy and Team Matilda ready to roll from the hospitable Invercanny b+b at Daliburgh.

Our actual route for day 2 of the Nutty Tandemers Club Challenge was actually combined with day 1 on Strava due to that problem with a mobile phone battery. But you can still check out the details of our route by clicking on the Strava map below (just remember we started day 2 from Daliburgh!)

As we headed off the “old gal” – who has rather good hearing! – heard a bit of a squeak coming form one of my wheels and was worried that I had pinged a spoke. But closer examination discovered it was actually the magnet on my speedometer rubbing on the receiver part and just required a tiny adjustment – much to everyone’s relief!

The first stop was a cairn marking the birthplace of Flora Macdonald, the famous island heroine who helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape “over the sea” to Skye back in 1746. This marked the first of several British Cycle Quest (BCQ) clues which John and Jane were collecting along the way.

The cairn marking Flora Macdonald’s birthplace erected by Clan Donald to commemorate her life.

At Bornish the NCN Rt 780 turns off the main road again thru crofting lands. This was spectacular tandeming on flat terrain, helped by a brisk southerly breeze. As the sun emerged from behind the clouds we pedalled on a scenic stretch with a sea wall on one side and the renowned machair on the other. Machair is a Gaelic word meaning fertile low lying grassy plain. Here sand, largely made up of crushed shells, is regularly blown ashore by Atlantic gales. Over time the calcium rich shell sand and traditional crofting land practices have led to the development of a mosaic of fertile Scottish grassland habitats renowned for its Outer Hebrides wildflowers, Western Isles birds and insect life.

The spectacular machair near Howmore beach.       Pic credit: Visit Outer Hebrides.

The sea wall at Howmore created some amusement as the crews tried to climb up for a view!

Thanks to both the official HebWay Cycling Route Map and the fabulously detailed guidebook ‘Cycling the Hebridean Way’ by The Offcomers the tandem crews had earmarked a stop at a bicycle hire and repair shop where John hoped to buy new brake blocks to solve the mechanical on Siggy which became apparent on Eriskay yesterday.

Fortunately we found Rothan Bikes at Howmore – which was a traditional South Uist house with a small sign on the hedge and lots of rusty old bikes in a heap along with some “newer” and more ride-able ones! John knocked on the door and Tommy and his sheepdog appeared! After a rummage about Tommy returned with a box  of brake blocks – some which appeared to date back more than a few years. But he had something suitable and John selected 4 as spares and we were on our way again.

John and Siggy picking up new brake pads at Rothan Bikes at Howmore on South Uist.

With new brake blocks for Siggy, we pedalled on cutting inland for a bit thru the Loch Druidibeg National Nature Reserve. Then it was time to cross the causeway – causeway number 3 on the HebWay – which took us on to island 5 of Benbecula. Despite another of the Otters Crossing signs there were sadly no sightings of the otters themselves!

The “old gal” at another Otters Crossing sign at the causeway to Benbecula – but still no sightings!

After a stop to restock on vital picnic supplies at the Co-op, the crews had a detour to Griminis to visit the Benbecula War Memorial – providing another BCQ clue for John and Jane – which is proudly positioned overlooking the whole island.

The Benbecula War memorial looks over the whole island.

We headed back to the coast and almost immediately found a sheltered area of sand dune where the tandem crews set up their prosecco picnic. Just as the cork was popped the only rain of the day fell with a short but sharp shower, which passed as quickly as it arrived – meaning that thankfully the fizz didn’t get too watered down, although the French baguette did get a bit soggy! The views across the beach provided a magnificent backdrop for a picnic with lots of suitable nuttiness!

This seemed the ideal place for me to park as I am clearly not a lorry!

John and Jane – Team Siggy – looking out onto the beach on Benbecula.

And a shot of my dynamic crew – the “old git” and “old gal”!

Re-fuelled Team Matilda and Team Siggy set off again – but with the crews feeling the call of nature a short diversion was taken into Benbecula Airport. Such was the rush to enter the terminal building to use the facilities, I am not sure how the sight of 4 crash-helmeted, reflective sun glasses-clad, hi-vis jacket-wearing adults didn’t set off an anti-terrorist alarm or a major security alert at the airport – but happily such a scenario was avoided!

Another causeway – number 4 – saw us tandem onto Grimsay – island 6 – albeit very briefly. Just four miles long and two miles wide and surrounded by clear shallow waters and shifting white sands, Grimsay was connected to neighbouring Benbecula in 1960 with the opening of the causeway. But it more than makes up for its tiny size with its huge spectacular scenery. And with the sun shining brightly, the causeway offered the perfect opportunity for a few fun sunny photos!

The causeway linking Benbecula with Grimsay is one of the longest on the HebWay.

Despite Grimsay being small it makes up for its size with spectacular views.

Here I am having a breather taking in the views on the Grimsay causeway.

My dynamic crew really enjoyed the views – and flat surface – on the causeway.

No sooner had we tandemed on to Grimsay we seemed to head off it again as we skirted the north west corner of the island. Another causeway – number 5 on the our HebWay adventure – curved across some small islets to take us to island number 7, North Uist.

The Hebridean Way takes the west coast route on North Uist. At Caranish we stopped to take in the atmospheric sight of Trinity Temple and a field at the roadside known  as “Field of Blood” which is reputed to be the site of the Battle of Caranish – a famous clan battle back in 1601.

After finding another BCQ clue at Caranish Church of Scotland at Clachan, the wonderful tailwind made the tandeming easy despite the heavy load on my frame and the undulating terrain. There was a quick stop at The Hebridean Smokehouse at Clachan where my dynamic crew tasted some of their wonderful peat smoked salmon before making a purchase for the next day’s picnic. Seems there was a spare few inches of room in my panniers after all!

The tandeming here was really spectacular on a nice smooth road surface in bright warm(ish!) sunshine – with rugged moorland and lochans on the right and the sea, sandy beaches and some small islands to the left. The crews were ready for an afternoon cake and coffee stop and the Claddach Kirkibost Cafe at the unique community run centre provided the perfect venue. The “old git” decided it was warm enough for a rare HebWay tour t-shirt picture and we got one of the staff to volunteer to be team photographer in the centre’s garden again the magnificent backdrop of the sea.

The Nutty Tandemers Club taking advantage of the sunshine for a rare HebWay tour t-shirt shot!

A few miles further we passed a sign for our destination for the night of Sollas, just before Bayhead. So after consultation with two different locals we decided to turn inland rather than hug the coast for the last few miles. And the tandem crews were glad we did as the so-called Committee Road – built in the 1840s to provide famine relief work – cut across the top of North Uist. There was a bit of a climb but the reward was a great downhill with views direct onto the fabulous beach at Traigh Bhalaigh.

Sollas is a small crofting community – which rather bizarrely hosts a Co-op which is quite literally in the middle of nowhere! But both tandem crews decided that a nice bottle of wine was required after today’s mileage and the “old gal” was utterly amazed to pick up a bottle of one of her favourite wines – Oyster Bay – which was on special offer!

My dynamic crew spotted a revamped traditional Hebridean Blackhouse – still with its thatched roof – which provided the last photo opportunity of the day. With over 50 miles on the clock the tandem crews were happy to spot Struan House bed and breakfast which has got to have one of the best outlooks for a b+b – overlooking the magnificent turquoise waters and silver sands of Vallay Strand.

A traditional Hebridean Blackhouse – with thatched roof – at Sollas on North Uist.

This was Hebridean hospitality at its best! When we arrived Peggy, our hostess, was not home, but the door was open and there was a cheery welcoming note telling us which rooms to use and to make ourselves at home! Because of the remoteness of Sollas, we had taken up the offer of an evening meal at the b+b. Peggy excelled herself presenting a magnificent and tasty 3-course dinner – including a fabulous fresh sea food salad starter which could have been the main course – all eaten in front of a large picture window looking out at the stunning beach landscape. And the “old gal’s” Oyster Bay was a fitting accompaniment for such a feast!

Dinner with a view! The stunning landscape from the dining table at Struan House.

You will remember that it was at the end of the day 1 the “old git” was somewhat devastated to find that a phone battery power failure resulted in a Strava operating error. After appearing that the ride was “lost”, Strava suddenly sprung into life on day 2 and decided to combine the actual route and data for first two days of the Nutty Tandemers Club Challenge together! However, that meant the clock kept ticking overnight at our bed and breakfast stop – so thus recorded the ride with a crazy long time of over 22 hours and ludicrous low average speed (even for Team Matilda!) of just 3.7mph!

But my faithful on-board milometer recorded that on day 2 the Nutty Tandemers Club tandemed 54.2 miles with a moving time of 4 hours and 24 minutes, giving an average speed of 12.3 mph.

#HebWay Day 3 – Gin and bear it! – Sollas to Tarbert

The Nutty Tandemers Club Hebridean Way itinerary for day 3 was a 40 mile pedal on NCN Rt 780 from Sollas to Tarbert – taking in the immense and dramatically beautiful beaches on Harris before a climb over to Tarbert … but with the reward of a locally produced gin to finish if we were on schedule!

As both crews wakened in their ultra comfortable rooms – having enjoyed the superb Hebridean hospitality on offer at Struan House bed and breakfast – heavy rain was battering the windows.  Showered and wearing freshly laundered cycling kit – another service provided by our hostess Peggy who could not do enough for the tandem crews offering her true ‘home from home’ experience – the hearty breakfast was eaten looking out at the rain lashing down. The view from the huge picture window across the Vallay Strand beach was still nothing short of spectacular and and right on cue a massive rainbow appeared which the “old gal” managed to capture on a photo.

The spectacular rainbow over the beach during our hearty breakfast at Sollas.

After kitting up all the panniers to both tandems – me and Siggy – and bidding fond farewell to a brilliant hostess in Peggy – the crews pedalled off into the rain. You can check out the details of our HebWay Day 3 route by clicking on the Strava map below.

Fortunately the rain stopped within a couple of minutes of pedalling off and the wind soon blew the crew’s jackets dry! Blue sky was starting to appear as we all tandemed over our last causeway, number six on the HebWay, to Berneray – island number 8.

Here my dynamic crew had an invite to call in to Coralbox Gift Shop on Berneray to meet Eilidh Carr, the owner of the tiny gift shop on Berneray who has been named one of Scotland’s best new tourism entrepreneurs. Eilidh had found my blog, and also been following my Facebook and Twitter feed, and suggested that the “old git” and “old gal” make a quick pit stop before catching the next ferry.

Eilidh Carr, entrepreneurial owner of Coralbox on Berneray with me and the “old gal”.

It was great to meet Eilidh – who is a real breath of fresh air in Scottish tourism. The small shop stocks an amazingly wide range of nautical and island themed gifts, and also has an on-line store. Most impressively Eilidh had done her homework and clearly been reading my blogs and knew a big part of tandeming for my dynamic crew was their love of a prosecco picnic! So Eilidh very kindly presented Team Matilda with a bottle of prosecco – which she said should be consumed overlooking one of the magnificent beaches en route! Ok if you insist!

Spot the bottle of fizz on my frame which Eilidh kindly gave my dynamic crew for a prosecco picnic!

We easily found the Berneray ferry terminal for the ferry to Leverburgh on Harris – the second of the two inter island CalMac routes. This was a scenic hour long sailing which offered a constantly changing seascape vista as the ferry weaved between low islands across the sound of Harris before arriving at Leverburgh on Harris, island number 9 on the HebWay. It was great to see the ferry so busy with other cyclists and the “old gal” and “old git” took the opportunity to compare notes and exchange stories!

Fame! My dynamic crew had their photo taken for the Rather be Cycling travel firm’s Facebook page!

While enjoying the view the “old gal” was accosted by a friendly cyclist who said: “Team Matilda – you are the guys with the tandem blog aren’t you. I just love it! It is brilliant!” Fame had obviously followed me to the Outer Hebrides! Turns out the person who was a big fan of my blog was Gav McDonald who is a professional bike guide who has led adventure biking trips all over the globe and runs his cycling holiday and events company called Rather be Cycling. Gav and his partner Chez were leading an organised tour along the Hebridean Way and took a photo of my dynamic crew to post on their firm’s Facebook page with a link recommending my blog! Thanks Gav!

A Hebridean Way sign marks the route at Leverburgh ferry port on Harris.

At Leverburgh we made a detour off the official route for John and Jane to claim another British Cycle Quest (BCQ) clue – this one focusing on the restored medieval St Clement’s Church at Rodel. We retraced our pedals to Leverburgh and had a coffee at the wonderfully named The Butty Bus – an old bus enterprisingly converted into a cafe and fish and chip shop – just beside ferry pier.

The “old gal” getting morning coffee from the wonderful Butty Bus at Leverburgh.

The tandems crews set off from Leverburgh with both the sun and the mostly helpful south westerly wind at their backs. It was a still a bit chilly however in the strong breeze which necessitated the wearing of jackets. The “old git” had diligently done his research here and discovered that a few miles further on, near the community of Northton, there were a couple of ‘must visit’ honesty shops.

The first was the Mustheb Shack – a small blue shed by the roadside with a selection of homemade mustards made by the Hebridean Mustard Company Purchases were made by both crews – including an unusual liquorice mustard – with the money deposited in an honesty box. Brilliant system!

Team Matilda at the fabulous Mustheb Shack which operates on an honesty system.

The second honesty shop stop was at the highly recommended Croft 36 – which is a slightly bigger shack where a pie/bakery business is based specialising in sustainably caught produce from the Hebrides including seafood, venison and mutton. There is also a culinary delight of a selection of Patisserie style baking on offer – including bread, tarts, quiche and cakes, with some gluten-free or vegetarian. We arrived just after the lunchtime “rush” and much of the stock was denuded and needing restocked – but the crews still found a few goodies for their picnic.

Croft 36 offered a culinary delight of home made goodies – and another honesty shop.

As we headed towards Borve the crews got their first sight of the fabulously breathtaking beautiful beaches of West Harris, and the views out to Taransay and the Atlantic ocean. Each headland brought a new ‘wow factor’ as the stunning blue sea and the white empty beaches came into view, with the contrast of the desolate North Harris hills in the distance beyond.

The “old git” taking in the views on the amazingly beautiful beach stretch of the HebWay at Scarista.

The crews passed the incredibly scenic Sacrista Golf Course, home to the Isle of Harris Golf Club which rightly claims to be “one of the most picturesque 9-hole courses in the world” It is bordered on one side by the Sound of Taransay, leading onto the Atlantic Ocean, and all down the west side of the course stretch the white sands, typical of this part of the Hebrides.

The Isle of Harris Golf Club hosts one of the most picturesque courses in the world.

Around Borve the crews found a picture perfect spot for their signature prosecco picnic – their third in three days! – with a picnic bench just out of the main force of the wind and overlooking the stunning views toward the beaches. Not surprisingly the Nutty Tandemers caused a bit of a stir popping the prosecco cork and a couple who had arrived by car were suitably impressed by the organised set up that they had a chat and took photos for us!

Stops for our signature Nutty Tandemers Club prosecco picnic don’t come any better than this!

The Nutty Tandemers picture perfect picnic spot towards Horgabost and Seilebost beaches.

Picnic over – and refreshed with the food and fizz (thanks again to Eilidh at Coralbox!) – the tandem crews pedalled off to enjoy more sensational views as they passed the world renowned beaches of Horgabost and Seilebost. The Nutty Tandemers were in agreement that this was one of the most stunning stretches of a route that they had ever had the pleasure of tandeming along. Words hardly do it justice – but it was an unforgettable experience to be immersed in such Caribbean-like scenery as we cycled along a route which quite literally was “on the edge” of Scotland.

The turquoise blue sea and white sandy beach at Seilebost was truly Caribbean-like.

The last of the ‘big three’ beaches is Luskentyre and although it had clouded over at our viewpoint it was easy to see how it earns its reputation for being ‘a little slice of heaven‘. Sadly the crews had to leave the beguiling beach vistas behind as the route headed east and inland and it was back to the reality of grinding out a 500 feet hill pass – with the climbing helped (a little!) by a great new road surface.

The “old gal” looking towards the famous Luskentyre Beach, before the climb over to Tarbert.

At the top of the climb beside one of several picturesque lochans Jane decided this was a suitable venue for what has become a tradition of the Nutty Tandemers Club tours – a recreation of the Three Wise Monkeys ‘see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’ scene, which has made an appearance on our personalised calendars featuring the best images of our annual tours! This year John opted to be the photographer and it therefore featured Jane and the “old git” and “old gal”!

The annual Nutty Tandemrs see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil photo!

Nuttiness suitably completed – not sure what the passing cars thought about this rather strange scene?! – the crews pedalled on tandeming across a desolate rocky moonscape before a rapid and somewhat thrilling descent to the east coast ferry port town of Tarbert, our destination for tonight.

The “old gal” thought she had reached heaven – arriving at the Isle of Harris Gin distillery!

Before our hotel there was the scheduled flying visit to the Isle of Harris Distillery which is home of the famous Isle of Harris Gin known for its unique beautiful blue glass bottle which represents the “seas of Luskentyre with a gentle azure rising from its depths.”

The building was still open but the cafe was showing a closed sign to allow for clearing up. The “old git” put on his best pleading voice and explained that we just wanted to sample a gin – no food required! – as the crews had just tandemed 40 miles specifically to get to the distillery! A little poetic licence there, but his strategy worked! A supervisor appeared and warmly welcomed us in to the now empty cafe and quickly produced a round of stylish and very appetising gin martinis to allow the Nutty Tandemers to celebrate one of the best days tandeming ever!

Cheers! the fabulous gin martinis – shaken not stirred – went down a treat!

After (quickly!) finishing the drinks, the building had suddenly become noticeably very quiet – but there was time for the “old gal” to purchase a bottle of gin to be sent back to Matildas Rest by post. A final look around the gift shop, and a loo stop, before the crews tried to get out of the building … only to find they were locked in! Yes they were officially locked in a distillery! I mean if the “old gal” had to be locked in any distillery – then this was the one! But just as she was thinking she had arrived in heaven a member of staff arrived to let us out! Drat!

With the gin martinis clearly having gone straight to the heads of the tandem crews, it was good that our base of the Harris Hotel was just a few yards away! But first Jane and the “old gal” burst into a fit of the giggles when they spotted what they thought was a rather amusing road sign which asked them to “indicate their intention” – so naturally they obliged and took up a suitably nutty pose!

Which way shall we go? Jane and the “old gal” indicate their intention! (fuelled by martini gins!)

At the hotel there was a super spacious bike shed for us tandems, and I am reliably informed that the rooms offered the crews a luxurious sanctuary for some well earned relaxation. Later, a very tasty meal was eaten in the hotel’s restaurant as the crew looked out at the heavy rain – thankful that they were warm and dry. Finally there was the need to sample from the bar’s huge selection of gin and whisky for a nightcap to toast what had been a truly fabulous day on our HebWay tour.

The “old git” was delighted to report that Strava had worked normally on day 3 and recorded the ride showing that my dynamic crew tandemed a distance of 40.19 miles with a moving time of 3 hours and 58 minutes. The average speed was a healthy 10.1 mph given the terrain and weight being carried in my panniers and an overall elevation of 2126 feet. The maximum speed was 36.2 mph and Team Matilda managed to burn up 2552 calories and produce an average power output of 160 W.

As always the route and pictures are brought to life in our Relive 3D video – so take a look below.

#HebWay Day 4 – Tandeming to a standstill! Tarbert to Callanish Standing Stones

The schedule for day 4 – the longest day of the year – saw the tandem crews face the daunting challenge of tandeming up and over the massive North Harris hills before crossing into Lewis and heading east for a Summer Solstice visit to the evocative Callanish Standing Stones.

And it was also set to be a record breaking day as both Team Matilda and Team Siggy were scheduled to hit significant cycling mileage landmarks.

The “old gal” woke after a great night’s stay at the Harris Hotel with an air of foreboding about the hills ahead due to her asthma – which was not helped by hotel staff saying we better have double breakfasts when they found out the direction we were tandeming!

The “old gal” had an air of foreboding about the hills ahead as she left the Harris Hotel.

Today’s route started with a quick tandem round Tarbert’s one way system – required by the ferry traffic – in order to re-stock on picnic provisions. This is actually where the “old git’s” planning came a bit unstuck in spectacular style. He had meticulously researched where all the Co-ops were situated along the way and confidently asked at hotel reception where to find the Co-op in Tarbert – only to be met with a somewhat bewildered look! Turns out that he had confused Tarbert in KIntyre (which does have a Co-op) with Tarbert on Harris (which doesn’t have a Co-op) and thus found himself some 240 miles away from said Co-op much to his embarrassment! Naturally this was the focus for some serious ribbing from the other Nutty Tandemers!

Fortunately there was a local grocery store where the crews could stock up before heading into the hills! You can check out the details of our HebWay Day 4 route by clicking on the Strava map below.

Tandeming away from Tarbert along the north shore of West Loch Tarbert – looking out at the unbelievably blue ocean – was a joy with a gradual climb and some gentle undulations bringing us to the hamlet of Ardhasaig where Team Siggy screeched to a halt when Jane noticed a sign for a licensed grocers. The Nutty Tandemers were still missing the key ingredient for their prosecco picnic. But it was still only 09.57 and Scottish licensing laws mean no alcohol can be sold prior to 10 am. So Jane entered the shop and placed a bottle of prosecco on the counter at exactly 10.00 am much to the amusement of the shopkeeper!

Then the serious climbing began as we had to cross the North Harris Hills. The steepest section is actually quite near the bottom and there is no shame for Team Matilda to report that this was a part of the route where they “took me for a walk!”

The “old gal” at the start of the steep climb out of Tarbert into the North Harris hills.

This process involves the “old git” strenuously pushing me up hill – with the “old gal” walking about 20 yards behind! To most passing drivers it probably looks like my dynamic crew have had a major fall out – but nothing could be further from the truth. It is the only way Team Matilda can conquer the steep hills … and it was only for about a mile.

The “old git” taking the opportunity to refill his water bottle from natural resources!

The Hebridean Way climbs rapidly to the pass between Sgaoth Aird (1833 feet) and Clisham (2621 feet) which the guide books rightly describe as “true mountain country!” It is also bang in the middle of the islands’ Bird of Prey Trail in Golden Eagle Territory. Don’t think the crews spotted any Golden eagles but there were a few big birds around – one of which could have been a Sea Eagle given its large wingspan.

The crews hit the first peak at over 650 feet – then had a pleasant downhill pedal and a flat stretch – before knowing a second peak back up to 650 feet awaited as we passed Clisham – which officially qualifies as a Corbett as being between 2,500 and 3000 feet. Despite the dramatic scenery, Clisham will forever have an expletive adjective in front of it when it is referred to by the “old gal!”

Between the two peaks – in almost surreal circumstances – I am delighted to report that my dynamic crew officially clocked up their 4000th tandem mile together. Jane was on hand to record the significant landmark moment when my Matildas milometer hit the 4000 mile mark on this video; and take some photos of the “old gal” and “old git” as they celebrated their achievement.

The “old gal” sporting a big smile at the achievement of clocking up that 4000th tandem mile! …

… and the “old git” looked somewhat satisfied and pleased with himself too!

… and a smiling thumbs up from my dynamic crew after hitting the 4000 mile landmark!

Buoyed by the irony of a tandem team who “don’t do hills” hitting the 4000 mile mark on one of the highest hills they have been up, the crews slowly reached the top of the second peak – with the “old git” happily pointing out the small wooden bridge on the right which marks the top!

Now after any climb there is usually the elation of freewheeling at speed down the other side! But not today! The wind was blowing at over 20 mph and directly into the faces of the crews. So for the first time ever my dynamic crew found that they had to actually pedal downhill to make any serious progress. A quick stop allowed the “old gal” a triumphant shot looking backwards at those (expletive adjective!) hills the tandem crews had just conquered!

Looking back at the North Harris Hills – aptly described as “true mountain country”!

After battling downhill – and yes the word battling is not usually linked with the word downhill – there was a welcome stop at the Taste n’ Sea food caravan which not only offered a welcome coffee but also incredible panoramic views across Loch Seaforth. This was just one of the many brilliant tips the tandem crews enjoyed from the fabulously detailed guidebook ‘Cycling the Hebridean Way’ by The Offcomers – so naturally the “old git” had to pay homage to the book with a photo.

Jane and the “old gal” enjoying the views over Loch Seaforth at Taste n’ Sea.

The Offcomers book – The Guide to Cycling the Hebridean Way – was invaluable.

After the stop at Taste and Sea we immediately crossed a river from Harris onto the Isle of Lewis – island number 10 and the final island on our Hebridean Way adventure. Quite why Lewis is deemed to be a separate island – as it is simply the northernmost part of the largest island on the Outer Hebrides – remains a mystery shrouded in history. Some say the distinction between the two dates back to a split in the MacLeod clan which dominated the Western Isles for centuries. But if it is officially island number 10 on the HebWay, then that is good enough for the Nutty Tandemers!

My dynamic crew about to enter “island” number 10 on the HebWay – the Isle of Lewis.

As we tandemed on the “old gal” was almost delirious that the big North Harris Hills were now behind us and fast fading into the distance as we pedalled along. Although it wasn’t as bad as expected for my dynamic crew, she was still muttering under her breath the words “never again”!

The “old gal” is almost delirious that the big North Harris Hills were now behind us!

As the miles rolled on – with the wind now happily behind us – the tandem crews ticked off a couple of monuments along the route. The first was the Charles Edward Stuart Monument near Arivruaich – where history says Bonnie Prince Charlie landed while on the run just 18 days after the disastrous Battle of Culloden – whilst heading from Scalpay to Arnish near Stornoway.

The Bonnie Prince Charlie Monument at a viewpoint near Arivruaich on Lewis.

The second was the intriguing looking Pairc Raiders Monument south of Balallan. The cairn, built in 1994, is dedicated to the memory of the people of Lochs who laid claim to the dispossessed land of their forebears and challenged the authority of the State to spotlight the poverty and injustice they suffered under the oppression of heartless landlords. The unusual style of monument offered a perfect spot for a photo opportunity for the tandem crews.

The Nutty Tandemers pose for a group shot at the Pairc Raiders Monument.

The “old git” at the top of the staircase inside the unusually designed cairn.

Whose looking at you?! The Nutty Tandemers in reflection on the “old gal’s” sunglasses!

The crews had to answer a call of nature and called in to use facilities at the fascinating Kinloch Historical Society Museum at Balallan. We asked a local if there were any picnic spots nearby and thanks to his local knowledge we were told to look out for a huge rock in a mile or so where we would find picnic benches with a view over a lochan. The rock provided some shelter from the wind and it was an ideal spot for The Nutty Tandemers’ prosecco picnic number 4 of the tour!

John, Jane and the “old gal” enjoying the prosecco picnic sheltering from the wind.

The “old git” and “old gal” and John clearly found the prosecco somewhat relaxing!

Batteries suitably recharged by the food – and spirits refreshed by the fizz – the tandem crews pedalled off enjoying a downhill start. At Leurbost the crews headed west directly into a head wind which was nothing short of brutal for the final 10 miles to the destination for the night near Callanish. There is a real feeling of exposure here – of being in a big open amphitheater of a landcape featuring loch filled moorland and the backdrop of those Harris hills. Some bright sunshine appeared giving my dynamic crew the chance to remove their anoraks and reveal the supreme irony of their choice of cycling shirts given today’s hilly stage – their King of the Mountain Tour de France-style jerseys!

The sun came out to give the “old gal” and “old git” a chance to reveal their King of the Mountain shirts!

Team Siggy and Team Matilda both found this stretch a hard slog as they tandemed into the relentless wind, with next to no protection on the exposed moorland road. There was a welcome break from the hard pedalling with another major mileage landmark – which firmly puts my dynamic crew’s earlier 4000 mile celebration in the shade!

Incredibly Jane clocked up her 66,000th cycling mile and the “old gal” captured the actual moment – complete with commentary – when Team Siggy’s stoker recorded her amazing feat of hitting that 66,000th mile on bicycle saddles throughout her life in this video.

Team Siggy celebrate Jane’s amazing landmark achievement of 66,000 cycling miles.

Fortunately, given the head wind, there was just a few more miles to for the tandem crews to cycle till the imposing sight of the Callanish Standing Stones came into view. Rated as one of Scotland’s most magnificent and best-preserved Neolithic monuments, this was to be the focus of a much anticipated evening visit on what was the longest day – so Team Matilda and Team Siggy pedalled past for another mile or so to check-in to our base for the night at Loch Roag Guest House at Breasclete. And since this is a warts-and-all appraisal of our experiences it would need to be said that this bed and breakfast had the most brilliant location – but my dynamic crew felt it was a bit of a tourist trap and therefore overpriced and lacking in the real Hebridean hospitality factor experienced throughout the trip.

Before heading to our evening meal at the Standing Stones at Callanish – or Calanais in Galeic – there was time for the “old git” to check that Strava had recorded the day 4 HebWay ride showing that my dynamic crew tandemed a distance of 41.4 miles with a moving time of 4 hours 34 minutes. The average speed amazingly was 9.1 mph given the massive steep hills and the overall elevation of 2630 feet. The maximum speed was 35.6 mph and Team Matilda managed to burn up a new record of 3034 calories and produce an average power output of 165 W.

As always the route and pictures are brought to life in our Relive 3D video – so take a look below.

After a bit of welcome relaxing the crews enjoyed the benefit of tandeming without the heavy panniers and sprinted along to the Callanish Standing Stones and Visitor Centre which had a great cafe which provided a memorable spot for a tasty, home-cooked evening meal.

The Callanish Standing Stones consists of circles and lines of stones making up an extraordinary ‘Celtic Cross’-shaped setting of stones erected 5,000 years ago. They predate England’s famous Stonehenge monument, and were an important place for ritual activity for at least 2,000 years. The importance of the sight remains a mystery, but the best guess is that it was a kind of astronomical observatory.

The Callanish Standing Stones was the perfect place to observe sunset on the Summer Solstice.

The Nutty Tandemers had a wander round the ancient Neolithic stones, enjoying their enigmatic, almost magical quality on the Summer Solstice. One of the most remarkable aspects of the site being its relationship to the landscape within which it sits – from its dominating ridge it has uninterrupted views over land and seascape to the distant horizon around 360 degrees.

The “old git” decided that this was too good a photo opportunity to miss and so dragged me round the perimeter of the site to find a gate with easy access which avoided me being lifted over the fence!

The “old gal” celebrating Midsummer Night at Stonehenge of the North.

There were lots of druid-type revelers about at the stones – but only one tandem!

The “old gal” trying to blend in to the Neolithic stones which date back 5000 years.

Because of the date lots of druid-type revellers were arriving to feel the celestial presence as the sun set later – and throughout the longest night. But the by now weary tandem crews decided that a comfy bed was a better option before the final tandem to complete the Hebridean Way tomorrow!

A special effects arty treatment – hinting at a celestial presence at the Callanish Standing Stones.

#HebWay Day 5 – the final tandem! Callanish to Butt of Lewis Lighthouse

The Nutty Tandemers Club schedule for the final pedal on day 5 was a 36 mile ride from Callanish to complete the Hebridean Way Challenge at the Butt of Lewis Lighthouse. Both tandem crews were full of anticipation at crossing the finishing line and were hopeful it would be a gentle, mechanical-free pedal to the end of the route – to meet our booked transfer to our overnight stay in Stornoway.

Breakfast at Loch Roag Guest House was sadly a meagre affair – in comparison to the hearty meals enjoyed on the rest of the trip. The disappointment was confounded by ordering the packed lunch service – only to be given two slices of bread with some tuna in between as a sandwich and a slice of cheesecake which was obviously just out of the freezer. Not good value for money.

Before pedalling away from Breasclete my dynamic crew paid a quick visit to the Flannan Isles Memorial which pays tribute the tragic mysterious loss of three lighthouse keepers in 1900 – which was used as the basis for the 2018 movie The Vanishing starring Scots actor Gerard Butler.

The “old git” at the Flannan Isles Memorial at Breasclete before the start of day 5.

Then we were off on the final day of our adventure tandeming “on the edge of Scotland”! You can check out the details of our HebWay Day 5 route by clicking on the Strava map below.

The route immediately headed off through what was to be the typical terrain for the day – remote rolling moorland landscape with lots of lochans. Fortunately the wind was behind us which helped us tandems fair whizz along. There was plenty of interest to see along the way, as the crews firstly passed the Carloway Broch – an Iron Age drystone fort structure then the Garenin Blackhouse Village – depicting what life would have been like in the thatched blackhouses in the mid-20th Century.

My dynamic crew enjoying the view over one of the many lochans along the route.

The crews were in buoyant spirits taking in the sights of the bog cotton grass and hearing the lonesome call of curlews. And it was a joy to pedal along the well sign-posted Sustrans Scotland NCN Rt 780 route which was notably pot-hole free.

The Hebridean Way signposting along NCN Rt 780 was excellent – here with my friend Siggy tandem.

After pedalling past the Shawbost Norse Mill and Kiln we pulled in to see the fascinating recreation of a shieling – a simple dwelling lived in during the warmer months by families taking their cattle away up into the hills for summer grazing developed by the Barvas and Brue Historical Society

The “old git” and me at the fascinating recreation of a shieling at Brue.

As it says on the interpretation boards: “Imagine a time in the latter half of the 19th and early 20th centuries where there were no tarmac roads, cars ferries or plane travel, no electricity, running water, or toilets, a time before the internet and mobile phones.” It was clearly a basic and frugal life.

The “old gal” inside the authentically recreated basic stone shieling.

By this time of day the “old gal” was much in need of her caffeine fix, but small townships and villages came and went but no sign of a coffee shop. Interestingly most of the towns on this stretch had a Lower section – which required a downhill pedal … followed by a Higher section which obviously required an uphill pedal. Not surprisingly the “old gal” wasn’t a fan of this type of town planning! But after coming down thru Lower Barvas – and then up thru Upper Barvas a sign appeared in the middle of nowhere indicating “gallery and coffee”.

More in hope than expectation the crews followed a track which ended up at the Morven Gallery – where we spotted lots of other bikes leaning against the walls, so we knew we were in luck! The gallery turned out to be a wonderful place – full of paintings, driftwood mirrors and sculptures, and pottery – as well as having the vital coffee shop where the Nutty Tandemers indulged in a coffee and cake.

The Morven Gallery at Upper Barvas offered a welcome stop for great coffee.

Naturally the “old git” had to strike a ‘grumpy’ pose at the giant chair!

Refuelled and resisting the temptation to splash out a few hundred pounds – well the tandem couldn’t really carry a big mirror, could they?! – the crews moved on stopping at the Borve Mini Market which belied its claims to be a clothing and general store as it did not appear to have very much stock at all. But it did have one bottle of prosecco behind the counter, which the “old git” snapped up for the picnic, but only after not having much luck at chatting to a very uncommunicative shop assistant!

This section of the route is really open to the elements and the crews were grateful that the wind was generally behind us – but the air movements were still interesting! There was a few more miles of climbs and descents – more ‘uppers’ and ‘lowers’ – before we sought out a picnic spot by turning down a track at South Galson – part of Galson Estate owned by the Galson Community Trust – and ended up on an idyllic deserted stone beach.

Overlooking the Atlantic, and totally private to us, this was the perfect sun-kissed spot for final Nutty Tandemers’ signature prosecco picnic of the tour – number 5! And in the distance, we could see our Hebridean Way end point of the Butt of Lewis lighthouse – which added to the nutty celebratory mood!

The “old git” captured the prosecco infused picnic beach view in this artistic shot!

The “old gal” enjoying the scenic prosecco picnic in the sunshine.

Fortunately at the mini market both crews had topped up the “packed lunch” provided by our bed and breakfast – as it really wasn’t very filling. And given that this was the stop before the finishing line I think it is fair to say that the prosecco went straight to the tandem crew’s heads, such was the euphoric atmosphere. Team Siggy’s captain John found the fizz had a ‘relaxing’ effect, before all the tandemers had to pose for one of their suitably nutty photos!

Team Siggy’s captain John found the prosecco picnic rather relaxing!

Being the last day, the Nutty Tandemers had to pose for one of their suitably nutty photos!

After the picnic there the crews set off on the final stretch – to pedal the last 10 miles. With the ocean to the left, the Butt of Lewis Lighthouse crept tantalisingly closer with every push of the pedals. And still the final miles continued to undulate – providing some sharp inclines before some fast descents.

In fact one of the last downhills was so sharp that my dynamic crew hit a new Team Matilda speed record with Strava recording it as an amazing 40.1 mph. Team Siggy also clocked up a new record too – just a fraction behind at 39.6 mph.

Three final townships of Dell, Swainbost and Lionel passed in a flurry of excitement before the last junction and a left turn signposted to the lighthouse, One final climb had to be negotiated before the road flattened out and the lighthouse was firmly in the tandem crew’s sights for the last mile!

My dynamic crew on the final approach to the finishing line at the Butt of Lewis Lighthouse.

The “old gal” and “old git” happy to know just a few more pedals to the end!

Perhaps not unexpectedly, The Nutty Tandemers ensured that crossing the Hebridean Way finishing line did not go unnoticed! And as luck would have it our arrival was shot on video by Gav McDonald – of cycling holiday company Rather be Cycling – who we had met on Day 3 and was at the lighthouse area for his own organised tour finishing just a few minutes before us. Watch the video here:

I am reliably told by those who have completed even longer end-to-end rides that the end point can be a bit of an anti-climax! There was no chance of that happening with the tandem crews who savoured every second – almost incredulous at actually completing their 185 mile 10 island challenge! Great to see the video now appears on the I Have Cycled The Hebridean Way Facebook page!

Mission complete! The Nutty Tandemers Club complete their Hebridean Way Challenge!

Naturally the “old git” was in his element – taking lots of photos at the metal sign which marks the end point and finishing line of the epic Hebridean Way odyssey.

The “old gal” and “old git” celebrate at the finishing point!

Hi 5s at the sign which marks the end point of the Hebridean Way at Butt of Lewis Lighthouse.

The “old gal” looks somewhat happy at completing the 185 mile epic HebWay journey!

The “old git” clearly happy to be pointing out the finishing sign marking journeys end!

My dynamic crew took a few minutes, amidst the euphoria, to record a few initial thoughts on their immediate feelings after completing the Hebridean Way Challenge which you can see on this video:

There was a palpable sense of achievement among the tandem crews – and the other cyclists who had reached the end of their route. And there was something really satisfying finishing the ride “on the edge” of Scotland at the Butt of Lewis Lighthouse – where it really was next stop America!

The end of the road at Butt of Lewis Lighthouse … next stop America!

Stokers united! Jane and the “old gal” celebrate the end of the HebWay!

After loads of photos it was time to head back a couple of miles to the car park at the Sporsnis leisure centre where we had arranged to meet our pre-booked pick up transfer – to avoid a 30 hilly mile pedal to Stornoway – our base for the final night.

This is where we were in the hand of the experts at HebShuttle – the award winning cycle tour and transfer operator in the Outer Hebrides which offers, among other services, bike and passenger transfers, bike and e-bike hire, and an accommodation booking service. The company was a recent winner of the Scottish Rural Award 2019 for the Best Business Start-up – and its easy to see why from their highly polished and professional service.

The Nutty Tandemers were glad to see the HebShuttlle minibus and trailer waiting for them!

The NuttyTandemers were glad to see the branded HebShuttle minibus and bike trailer waiting their arrival – complete with a bottle of celebratory prosecco, what else?! The “old gal” was delighted to meet up with co-owner Jan Schouten to have a quick chat about the rapid growth the business is experiencing from the booming popularity of the route among cyclists – and tandemers!

Siggy and me were loaded into a custom designed covered bike and tandem trailer, complete with internal secure bike track holders – for the transfer to Stornoway. HebShuttle offer a wide range of bike and cyclist transfers throughout the Outer Hebrides linking the various ferry ports, including an all day transfer back to Barra for those who want to return to Oban.

One more group shot at the stylish HebShuttle bicycle trailer.

Siggy and me had the spacious trailer all to ourselves! Spot the prosecco!

The tandem crews were happy to be driven to Stornoway in comfort by Jan’s son Mike – underlining the family nature of the business – rather than face a long energy-sapping cycle into the wind. And all highly recommend the HebShuttle pick-up service as the perfect – and good value – way to get back to the ferry port after the satisfaction of completing the route.

In the spacious minibus there was time for the “old git” to check that Strava had recorded the day 5 HebWay ride as showing that my dynamic crew tandemed a distance of 36.17 miles with a moving time of 3 hours and 11 minutes. The average speed was 11.4 mph given the undulating terrain and an overall elevation of 1993 feet. The maximum speed was a new Team Matilda record of 40.9 mph and  my dynamic crew managed to burn up 2175 calories and produce an average power output of 170 W.

As always the route and pictures are brought to life in our Relive 3D video – so take a look below.

In no time the Nutty Tandemers were checking in to their comfortable rooms in the hospitable Crown Inn in Stornoway for a much needed shower and relaxation. Meanwhile me and Siggy were allocated our own large en-suite family room to spend the last night together – oo er! But of course this “old lady” of a tandem never reveals her secrets!

The tandem crews enjoyed a brilliant tasty meal to mark the completion of their Hebridean Way Challenge. I am told there was a fantastic gin bar – which helped the celebrations along! Lots of stories were recounted about the best bits of the tour. And the cork was popped on the bottle of prosecco, presented earlier by HebShuttle, to provide a fitting nightcap!

#HebWay – the journey home

The tandem crews gamely tried to hide the fact that there was a certain light headedness around – after last nights celebrations! – as they were up for an early Sunday morning continental breakfast provided for them at the hospitable Crown Inn in Stornoway.  The early rise was due to the need to check-in just after 7am for the 8am departure of the CalMac Stornoway to Ullapool ferry.

This was where the Nutty Tandemers got to use the final section of their fabulous value Hopscotch 8 ticket created by CalMac, specifically to cater for people doing the HebWay from end to end, The crews all thought that CalMac offered a great turn-up-and-sail service for cyclists throughout the Outer Hebrides. Just remember to keep your batch of tickets handy as you will need them on boarding!

Siggy and me were once again secured to the side of the car deck on the stylish and fairly new MV Loch Seaforth. The tandem crews were thankful that the sea was ultra calm for the 2 hour 30 minute crossing. Perhaps not surprisingly some strong coffee was the order of the day from the ship’s cafe!

The “old gal” enjoying the flat calm sea on the ferry crossing from Stornoway to Ullapool.

During the crossing there was a flurry of social media activity as the crews caught up with messages. The “old git” checked the Tandem Club UK leader board on Strava for miles covered over the past week – and spectacularly both Jane and John and my dynamic crew occupied the two top places! Chapeau!

A screengrab of The Tandem Club UK leader board.

Although the Hebridean Way route is officially 185 miles end to end-to-end, on the ferry crossing the “old git” had time to work out – via Strava – that Team Matilda tandemed a grand total of 200.5 miles due to a few detours. The total time my dynamic crew spent in my saddles was 19 hours and 25 minutes, resulting in a fairly impressive average speed over the five days of 10.6 mph, given the weight of my panniers and the total overall elevation over the route of 9488 feet. And don’t forget that top speed of 40.6 mph of which I am immensely proud for an “old lady” of a tandem!

On arrival at Ullapool we made our way to John and Jane’s SsangYong Tourismo car, which we had positioned at the start of the week. Team Siggy’s car is cavernous – and it needed to be to accommodate us two tandems, the four Nutty Tandemers and all the luggage. To create a bit more room Siggy did his very clever act of splitting into two bits – with John undoing the couplings on the tandem to allow this to happen! Now I don’t bend in the middle – or split into two – so I had to go in full length, although I did have my front wheel removed so I could fit! Oh the ignominy of it!

Both of us tandems easily fitted in to the back of Team Siggy’s cavernous car!

After fitting everything, and everyone in, we set off on the long near 4-hour 160 mile drive from Ullapool back to Oban, where Matilda Transport was parked – required by the logistical nightmare of having a car at the start and end ferry ports. The crews did however have an enjoyable pit stop at the artisan Cafe Eighty2 just after Drumnadrochit on the A82 on the drive down the side of Loch Ness for some much needed, and very tasty, food!

When we arrived in Oban my dynamic crew bid a fond farewell to John and Jane who had wisely decided to stay overnight in the local area before Team Siggy embarked on their journey back south of the border the next day. The “old git” and “old gal” meanwhile had a further two hour drive back to Matildas Rest to complete the epic journey.

#HebWay – final thoughts

The morning after the end of the Nutty Tandemers Challenge saw both Team Siggy and Team Matilda a bit sad that they were not tandeming “on the edge” on the Outer Hebrides and that their island odyssey was over. But back at base the “old git” discovered that the Outer Hebrides Tourism website had a new addition – a free downloadable personalised Hebridean Way completion certificate. So naturally my trusty captain printed out two versions – one for Team Matilda and one for Team Siggy – to keep the memories of the trip alive!

The personalised Hebridean Way completion certificates – we did it our way!

The certificates include the fact that there were ‘185 smiles to match the miles’ – which is of course what tandeming is all about! To that end I was in a quandary about the best way that I could recap our Hebridean Way adventures and end this blog – so I decided to simply ask both tandem teams to give their considered opinion to a series of questions about the trip.

1 Best B+B:
Team Siggy: Struan House at Sollas – on day 2 – because of the openness of hospitality provided by hostess Peggy, the wonderful meal, and the view from the table.
Team Matilda: Agree about Struan House for the unique ‘home-from-home’ Hebridean hospitality – although Invercanny on day 1 was a very close second!

2 Worst B+B:
Team Siggy: Loch Roag Guest House near Callanish – on day 4 – because of the tiny room with full size price++, the meagre breakfast, and the exorbitant cost of the packed lunch.
Team Matilda: Also Loch Roag, although to be fair perhaps we did hit them on a bad day with it being very busy due to the Summer Solstice.

3 Best prosecco picnic spot:
Team Siggy: Joint winners between the picnic bench above the Harris beaches on day 3, and the one at South Galson on Lewis on day 5. Why? Because of the locations and the company!
Team Matilda: Popping the cork on the bottle of prosecco overlooking the Caribbean-like scenery of the stunning blue sea and the white empty sands of the world renowned Harris beaches of Horgabost and Selebost – and sharing that with good friends – was a truly unique and unforgettable experience!

Stops for our signature Nutty Tandemers Club prosecco picnic don’t come any better than this!

4 Most scenic part of the route:
Team Siggy: Day 4  – all the way from Tarbert to Callanish because it was such a varied day – from the stunning shoreline, the rocky moonscape, looking down on the lochans from the top, and the moorland and trees.
Team Matilda: The stretch along the fabulously breathtaking beautiful beaches of West Harris on day 3, with the views out to the Atlantic ocean. Each headland brought a new ‘wow factor’ as we tandemed along with that feeling that we were quite literally “on the edge” of Scotland.

5 Funniest moment:
Team Siggy: When the wheelbarrow was brought out to collect the baggage from the aircraft which had just landed on the beach at Barra Airport on day 1.
Team Matilda: A dead heat between the “old git” looking for the Co-op in Tarbert on Harris on day 4 – when the Co-op was actually 240 miles away in Tarbert in KIntyre; and, on the same day, Jane patiently waiting till exactly 10 am to buy a bottle of prosecco to stay within licensing laws at a tiny grocers in the hamlet of Ardhasaig.

6 High point of the tour:
Team Siggy: Being at the Callanish Standing Stones on the Summer Solstice on day 4.
Team Matilda: Another dead heat between the surreal moment when my dynamic crew, who “don’t do hills”, clocked up their 4000th tandem mile together on one of the highest hills they have been up; and the Callanish Standing Stones being the perfect place to celebrate Midsummer Night.

The Callanish Standing stones was the perfect place to observe sunset on the Summer Solstice.

7 Low point of the tour:
Team Siggy: There wasn’t one!
Team Matilda: We agree it was all a fabulous experience – although the “old gal” did mention having to pedal down hill into the fierce headwind after the climb up (adjective expletive!) Clisham over the pass thru the North Harris hills on day 4!

8 Nuttiest moment for the Nutty Tandemers:
Team Siggy: Jane and the “old gal” ‘indicating their intention’ at the sign outside the Harris Gin Distillery on day 3 – in a moment fuelled by gin martinis!
Team Matilda: At the same venue – when the tandem crews found themselves literally locked in a distillery!

Fuelled by gin martinis – Jane and the “old gal” indicate their intention!

9 Overall thoughts on the Hebridean Way experience:
Team Siggy: The permanent special memories created by the friendliness of the people of the Outer Hebrides, experiencing life as it should be and the spectacular scenery.
Team Matilda: To borrow that phrase from the Hebridean Way marketing people, It was quite simply unique, fabulous and unforgettable to ‘experience life on the edge’.  If this route is on your cycling or tandeming bucket list – you simply MUST do it! Thank you Outer Hebrides!

10 Finally, wold you do it again?
Team Siggy: YES, YES and YES – and with the same people, and the same tandems!
Team Matilda: In full agreement here – although for some reason the “old gal” is muttering something about an e-tandem!

Unforgettable memories created by The Nutty Tandemers Club on the Hebridean Way Challenge.

In conclusion, on behalf of Team Matilda, it was a real pleasure to share every moment of the fantastic scenery and uphills and downhills of the Hebridean Way Challenge with Team Siggy. It was a true privilege for the “old git” and “old gal” to be with John and Jane on such an epic journey – where they more than lived up to being fellow Nutty Tandemers and once again proved they are real kindred spirits to my dynamic crew!

It really was an utterly fabulous week – a time where you can honestly say that tandeming just doesn’t get much better than this! Delighted that we have created lots of new nutty images for the memory bank! And this “old lady” tandem is already pining as I am missing that real gent of a tandem Siggy! We can’t wait for the next Nutty Tandemers Tour next year! Thanks guys!

Finally, thanks to all of you for reading this special edition of my blog, focusing on the Hebridean Way. if this is your first time, remember if you want to know more about Matildas Musings – the UK’s only blogging tandem – then click the follow button on this webpage to sign up for regular updates!

Till our next adventure on a bicycle made for two!

Life’s a beach (but not sunbathing temperature!) on ride to Carnoustie

“Where’s the sun” asks the freezing “old gal” in a somewhat forlorn manner!

So after our first ride of 2018 the “Beast Fae the East” – as it was called around these parts – meant heavy snow abandoned any hopes of another outing anytime soon. Finally the weather forecasters promised some milder air and my dynamic crew decided it would be safe to venture out – if they kept to the coast. The lure of a balmy 10C and even a few rays of sun was just too tempting. After all the weather folk are never wrong … are they?!

The “old git” had selected one of my favourite routes – a 13 mile ride across the Tay Road Bridge and onto Sustrans Scotland NCR1 to Carnoustie. And the “old gal” likes it too, as it is relatively flat.

The first doubts about the weather forecast surfaced however as we pulled into the Tay Bridge car park opposite Dundee. As I was unpacked from Matilda Transport it was quite difficult to even see the bridge – despite it being so close – due to mist and low cloud.

The Tay Road Bridge is there somewhere – if you look closely thru the mist!

The omens were not looking good and the “old gal” who doesn’t do cold was already full of a feeling of foreboding. But the “old git’s” natural exuberance told her the cloud would lift and there would be sunshine by the time we got to Carnoustie! Let’s just say he was wrong!

Check out the details of our route by clicking on the Strava map below.

The first part of the trip was crossing the Tay Bridge – which carries the A92 across the Firth of Tay, and is one of the longest road bridges in Europe. On this bridge the cycle path intriguingly sits in in the middle of the two carriageways for cars, unlike most bridges where the path runs at the side of the bridge. It can be quite alarming watching lorries speeding in what seems straight for you – but you are safely boxed in behind crash barriers. Just the joggers and dog walkers to look out for!

The mist shrouded the far side before somewhat eerily the huge new V&A Museum of Design Dundee emerged from the low cloud. It is in the final stages of construction – with the building designed to look like ships. Opening later this year, it will be an international centre of design for Scotland – the first ever design museum to be built in the UK outside London.

Off the bridge and we followed the well signposted NCR1 through the Dundee port area. Emerging from the electronic gates the “old gal” was already shivering so the “old git” chivalrously offered her his cycling jacket so she had double the protection against the elements.

We pedalled on trying to work up some internal steam to fight off the bitter cold. As we tandemed round the bay the charming old fishing town of Broughty Ferry came in to view – albeit it was looking a bit damp and grey today. Passing the quaint castle we continued along a stretch of the cycle path which hugged the Blue Flag beach – which was completely deserted! Wonder why?!

The route continues to Monifieth where a new stretch of path heads over Barry Links, past a very large Ministry of Defence area on the right known as the Barry Buddon Training Centre. This has high security fencing along its perimeter and rather ominously every 100 yards or so there are warnings signs telling you to keep out as this is a live military firing area! Not surprisingly the “old gal” ordered the “old git” to pay heed to the signs and not to veer off course!

Brrr! The “old gal” trying to escape the chill for a quick picnic and welcome coffee at Carnoustie.

Another couple of miles and we reached our half way point on the ride – and our picnic destination – at Carnoustie sea front. Certainly no sunbathing for the “old gal” today as she huddled in a shelter under two jackets and warm gloves nursing a very welcome flask of coffee! The good thing was that we didn’t have to queue for a picnic bench as they were all deserted! Strange that!

Where is everyone! The picnic benches were (not surprisingly) deserted!

Despite the chilly conditions my dynamic crew bravely ate their picnic of smoked salmon and spinach wraps with and some fresh fruit. Just a shame it wasn’t a bit warmer as the view from our picnic shelter was amazing. But that sea looked icy cold!

Erm what do we do now? Here I am at the top of the bmx and skateboard track!

Our picnic spot was close to a bmx bike and skateboard track and naturally the “old git” thought this was an ideal spot for a couple of fun photos! I seriously thought he was going to take me for a ride down some of the steep slopes! As an “old lady” classic tandem I would have found that quite exhilarating! Mind you I think the “old git” was the one who was scared and decided not to risk life and limb … and my brakes! Secretly everyone was quite glad!

Personally, me thinks the “old git” was more scared than me looking at the steep slopes!

The steps at a slipway which providing another interesting photo opportunity with big waves crashing in leaving the beach almost non existent. The “old git” helpfully promised the “old gal” that they would return on a day when the sun was splitting the skies so she could soak up some rays on the sand!

It was fair to say it was bracing with the waves pounding in to Carnoustie beach!

As we tandemed back thru the car park there was a brief stop to check out the preparations for the 147th The Open which is to be played over the Carnoustie links golf course in July. It has a well-deserved reputation as one of the world’s most challenging links course, and at 7,421 yards it is the longest of any of the Open venues. The last time The Open was played at Carnoustie was in 1999 when Scots golfer Paul Lawrie lifted the famous claret jug.

The “old git” checking preparations for the 147th The Open being played over Carnoustie Links in July.

As we headed off on our 13 mile return trip it was clear lots of work is going on all over the course – and at a huge extension to the hotel overlooking the 18th green. It wll be jam packed come the week of the tournament in July.

My dynamic crew quickly got into their synchronicity factor and soon we were speeding back along the NCR1. Half way back the “old gal” made a good call for a coffee and carrot cake stop at the Glass Pavilion in Broughty Ferry.

Refuelled – and with the “old gal” having regained feeling in her feet – we tandemed back thru the dockyard before facing the final challenge of our ride – the return uphill crossing of the Tay Bridge. Into a head wind, and being cold and a bit tired from our adventure, this was a bit of a grind!

But we made it back to Matilda Transport in one piece! Back in the warmth of Matildas Rest the “old gal” immediately had a bath to defrost while the “old git” checked Strava which officially recorded the ride as being worthy of no less than 20 gongs! Amazingly we recorded a personal best for the initial crossing of the bridge covering the 1.3 miles in a time of 5 minutes and 06 seconds – it seems at an average speed of 15.7 mph. We also collected 8 2nd bests and a further 11 3rd bests! Not at all bad considering the temperature and that it was only our second outing of the year.

My dynamic crew tandemed a distance of 25.3 miles with a moving time of 2 hours 54 minutes. As always it is the smiles not the miles that count, but our average speed was 8.7 mph and the elevation was 512 feet. The maximum speed was 18.6 mph and Team Matilda managed to burn up 1,050 calories and produce an average power output of 90 W. As always the route is brought to life in our Relive 3D video – so take a look below.

So the second outing of 2018 ticked off! Both the “old gal” and the “old git” are getting a bit fed up with the cold weather. Winter can go away now – as all three of us on Team Matilda are hoping some warmer temperatures are on the way soon for sunny tandem rides!

A coffee table book of my Musings and lots of tandeming Christmas gifts!

My new Matildas Musings blog book outlines my latest European tandeming adventures!

Excitement reached fever pitch at Matilda’s Rest on Monday when Christmas Day finally arrived! The “old git” – who should really be re-named Santa over the festive period! – made sure everyone had their ‘ho! ho! ho!’ on, whether they wanted to or not!

On Christmas Eve the “old gal” even put on her Christmas jumper to signal she was in the mood for Santa’s arrival! She had whispered to me that I was getting a present or two all for myself so I could hardly contain myself!

And I knew the “old git” had been planning something with my blog as a present for the “old gal” so it was an exciting time! I could hardly sleep and I am sure I heard Santa’s jingle bells as he and Rudolph delivered his presents around rural Perthshire …. presumably in #tandem!

The “old git” was up early on Christmas morning making sure that Santa had arrived – and he certainly delivered … filling the “old gal’s” stockings to overflowing … and he even dropped a few presents in the “old git’s” stockings too! (Yes he does have some …. weird or what!)

Then it was time for my dynamic duo to tear open their presents. The thing the “old git” had been secretly scheming away about was turning all my Musings about our tandeming  tour adventures across Europe during September into a beautiful hard-back coffee-table style book.

My Musings of our European trip turned into a glossy coffee table book.

I must say even I was impressed at the what the “old git” had achieved – and you know I’m not easily impressed! … and as for the “old gal” well she thought it was brilliant! There was even a wee tear in her eye as she read the “old git’s” soppy dedication at the front of the book! Awh shucks!

Each page is in glossy colour and the book is essentially a full record of each day of my blog – including all the photos – as they appeared on my on-line blog! A great permanent record of a fabulous trip! And great fun to flick through and bring back those memories of my dynamic duo’s days in my saddles in warm sunshine … oh and not forgetting those amazing picnics and wines and champagnes!

And as a special festive season treat for readers of my blog you can take a look at the complete book (in a pdf version) by clicking on the title of the book here: Le Tour de France et Holland du Tandem

I do hope you enjoy re-reading it all again, as much as me and the “old gal” did!

A bundle of tandeming presents from my good friends John and Jane.

So then it was time to open my presents, and the “old git” and the “old gal” made sure Santa delivered a bundle of presents from my dynamic crew’s tandeming friends – and fellow self-proclaimed founding members of The Nutty Tandemers Club – John and Jane who have their own Travelling in Tandem blog! They have a stable of no less than three tandems – Siggy, Henry and their original Bluebird.

The presents included a fabulous cushion cover which captures the good life my dynamic crew enjoy en France! Perfect! There was also a lovely Matilda sign – ideal for the garage door at Matildas Rest!

The garage at Matildas Rest now proudly bears my nameplate!

The “old git” said that I must have been a “very good girl” as I am reliably informed that only “good girls” get presents from Santa! And there was more in the present from John and Jane! My handlebars now bear a pretty mini vase – especially for bikes!

Tulips from Amsterdam! My new handlebar vase proudly in place!

Regular readers of my blog will remember that Team Matilda enjoyed magnificent hospitality from team Bluebird during Le Tour de New Forest back in July, which followed an equally memorable Le Tour de Perthshire the year before.

So naturally my dynamic crew had organised a present on my behalf for Team Bluebird and designed a personalised Nutty Tandemers Club 2017 calendar – with each month having a great memory from our wonderful week together touring the New Forest.

Calendar time – our European Tour on the left and Le Tour de New Forest on the right.

Now these two tours have been such a success that Team Bluebird and Team Matilda are already planning a joint Le tour de Hebridean Way in June 2018. This will be an attempt at completing the Hebridean Way  – a simple matter of 185 mile tandem across 10 islands of the Outer Hebrides. I may need some lucky white heather in my new handlebar vase for this trip!

John and Jane are riding Siggy the tandem on this trip – and it looks like the Outer Hebrides won’t ever have seen anything like the two tandems as we will both be carrying that highly sophisticated must-have accessory for tandems – eye-catching and very French La Bouclée wine carriers.

You see my dynamic crew have long been extolling the virtues of  La Bouclée to Team Bluebird – as Scottish ambassadors for the product no less! So they decided that it would make an ideal Christmas present for John and Jane – complete with a bottle of champagne specially selected and brought back from our tour of the Champagne area!

Henry the tandem sporting his new la bouclee wine carrier!

John and Jane were so impressed with the product that they immediately attached it to Henry (Siggy was too dirty it seems!) – well they did after watching the Youtube video how to do it! It’s only easy when you know how!

There were lots of other presents to open with a special one for me from the “old gal”! It was a replacement gel saddle cover for my front saddle as the “old git” had worn thru the previous one!

My new gel saddle cover – a replacement for the “old git” to sit on as Captain!

My dynamic crew even bought each other tandem t-shirts! The “old gal’s” had the wording: “It takes two to tandem” on it while the “old git’s” said: “Complete Tandemonium” They will certainly catch the eye on future trips!

My dynamic crew happily wearing their new tandeming t-shirts!

Now you know that my stoker, the “old gal”, has a bit of a quirky sense of humour … well she excelled herself with one of her presents for my captain – the “old git.” He was delighted to receive tandem cuff links … but not just any tandem cuff links – specially commissioned hand-made silver cuff links … the only ones in existence!

The “old git’s” very exclusive specially commissioned hand-made silver tandem cuff links!

Another present for the “old git” which he loved were a new pair of trainers to match the “old gal’s”! He had secretly coveted her day-glo orange trainers ever since she bought a new pair for our European tour. And when he delved into his stocking a pair was there for him!

So now my dynamic crew will not only be matching but totally unmissable! I guess he must have been a good Captain throughout the year then!

The “old git” got a pair of day-glo orange trainers to be a match with the “old gal”!

Last but not least was some wonderful soft bamboo silk socks from seriouslysillysocks – complete with bicycle patterns.

Great soft bamboo silk socks with cycling patterns.

Matildas Musings Strava

As the year comes to a close my dynamic Matildas Musings crew have had a great time during 2017 in #tandem! Our Strava app recorded every one of our 43 tandem adventures during the year – which incredibly saw us clock up approaching 1,000 miles.

The nice people at Strava have compiled a little video which pulls together all our statistics which is fun to view. Just click on any on the images below to watch – it only takes 60 seconds!

The blog is great fun to write – and I am delighted to report that over the year that according to host WordPress, my Matildas Musings blog has published 35 new posts which has attracted nearly 5,000 views from nearly 60 different countries around the globe.

The most popular countries are the UK, followed by France then the USA. But my worldwide appeal sees my blogs being red as far afield as the Philippines, Mexico, United Arab Emirates and Indonesia.

So, to everyone who has read a blog post – a huge thank you!

And thanks for all your messages of support – whether that be a comment on my blog, or on my Matildas Musings FacebookTwitter or Youtube feeds. If you want to follow me on social media hit any of the images below to access my pages, and then hit follow or subscribe.

Matildas Musings Facebook feed

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Team Matildas Musings sincerely hope you continue to find the adventures of the UK’s only blogging tandem entertaining – and that it makes you smile – while finding something that you (as non-professional non-lycra-clad fun-loving fellow tandemers) can relate to!

Finally for the moment, I hope all readers of my Musings had a lovely Christmas and that Santa brought you and your tandems what you wanted! If not then the only explanation is that you were on the “naughty” list!

And if we don’t speak until after the bells – on behalf of Team Matildas Musings – let me be one of the first to wish you all the best for 2018 … and many happy tandeming miles together for you and your team!

Here’s to more adventures in 2018 for Team Matildas Musings as “it’s always better when we’re tandeming together!”

Cheers!

Here I am at Matildas Rest waiting on the weather to improve to get put on some 2018 adventures!

Reflections on Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem 2017

It’s always better when we’ve tandemed 300 miles together on Le Tour de France et Holland

Back home at Matildas Rest there has been plenty of  time for Team Tandem Ecosse to reflect on what was an incredible three legs of their two week Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem 2017 – and an amazing sense of achievement in completing the 300 mile route.

Although it was hectic, and very full-on, the “old git” and the “old gal” are already suffering from the “tandem blues” – missing their days of togetherness in the saddle while on the the quiet cycle lanes and back roads of the beautifully scenic dykes and towns of the North Holland peninsula, followed by tandeming thru the vineyards and villages of the Alsace, and Champagne.

The scenery throughout the trip was fabulously eye-catching and a real joy to experience and provided real brain food with stunning images to store in my dynamic crew’s memory banks as we  tandemed along – experiencing an incredible contrast between the serenity of the windmills and vineyards to the bustling towns along the route – while all the time being at one with nature.

Team Tandem Ecosse managed to experience their target of ticking three bucket list items – eating Edam cheese in Edam; sampling Alsace wine in the Alsatian vineyards; and quaffing champagne in Champagne. So mission accomplished!

Sampling Edam in Edam – first bucket list tick!

Sampling Alsace wine in the Alsatian vineyards – second bucket list tick!

Sampling champagne in Champagne – third bucket list tick!

Before we set out my crew always said that “the journey” was going to be the holiday – not racing from place to place. Sticking firmly to that agenda all three of us on Team Tandem Ecosse enjoyed long warm sunny days on the road in both Holland and France – giving a fantastic in-depth experience of the local geography and the friendly people along our route.

As always our journey was so much more satisfying for my dynamic duo being self-propelled at the slower pace of a tandem – rather than travelling by car. Every view of a windmill, vineyard or eye-catching village lasted so much longer – as did the amazing picnics and many wine and champagne tastings en route!

Amazing picnics are de rigueur for my dynamic crew!

My dynamic crew more than fulfilled the remit on their t-shirts!

I think it is also fair to say that Team Tandem Ecosse more than fulfilled their remit on their Euro Tour 2017 t-shirts – which had them on a tandem quest to find the best wines and champagnes en route!

Travelling by the relatively fragile mode of transport that a tandem is certainly exposed us not only to the warm sunshine – and on one day fairly heavy rain – but to the physically demanding exertions of progressing from place to place … especially in the mountains of the Champagne region!

It also brought us into close interaction with lots of local people, many of whom tooted their support and issued friendly “bonjours” as they passed Team Tandem Ecosse – unmissable in their multi-lingual day-glo cycling shirts.  And of course the many other cyclists we met along the way – with whom we shared a special bond. Amazingly we did not see any other tandems along our route.

But perhaps the most important thing is that my dynamic duo of the “old gal” and the “old git” did the trip as a real team – laughing and smiling all the way even when frustration levels increased as energy levels fell! And that was the case even when at confusing signposts my crew had to pedal back to the previous junction to take the “correct” turning; or over the course of many meaningful “discussions” as to which direction to take!

Confusing signposts! 12km to Dambach-la-ville to the left and 13 km to the right!

After all my dynamic duo firmly believe in their twin mottos of: “It’s the Smiles that count, not the miles!” and “Its always better when we are tandeming together!”

And this “old lady” is proud to say that my dynamic crew resolutely supported each other every pedal and every kilometre of the way – and emerged from the experience even more together, and in love!

And I am even more delighted to say – as are the “old git” and the old gal” – that this classic tandem managed to get through the two weeks without a squeak … and even managed to avoid the dreaded p-word! And honours too for Matilda Transport which clocked up a not insubstantial 1850 miles on the Euro Tandem Tour 2017.

So after some 300 miles and 35 hours in the saddle over 10 days all three of us on Team Tandem Ecosse experienced another fabulous adventure – and we wouldn’t have missed it for the world!

Euro Tandem Tour 2017 was another unmissable adventure!

In conclusion our brief overviews and thoughts on each of the three legs of Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem 2017:

Euro tour 1st leg – tandeming along the dykes and thru the windmills of north Holland

Team Tandem Ecosse really enjoyed their first venture into Holland with a three-day taster tour of the North Holland peninsula. Everyone said my dynamic crew would love Holland for at least two reasons – its impressive cycling infrastructure – and because it was so flat!  Well they were correct on both counts! My dynamic crew could have tandemed all day on the amazing cycle paths. Our route took us in a triangle from Amsterdam out along the dykes to Marken and Volendam then thru Edam before turning inland to Alkmaar and back to Amsterdam. The highlights were seeing the fabulous picture postcard windmill area, and tandeming thru the centre of the red light district in Amsterdam with its pretty canals! We covered around 100 miles and despite the minor mishap of getting lost – which to be fair was probably the fault of my dynamic crew! – I am told we will certainly be back!

One of my crews favourite shots as it sums up the Holland experience!

The pretty canals and bridges offered a sharp contrast to Amsterdam’s Red Light District.

Here is a video montage of the images form the Holland leg set to music – watch by clicking here:

Euro Tour 2nd leg – tandeming the vineyards and canals of l’Alsace à velo

Team Tandem Ecosse had some amazing sights and experiences on their four-day 125 mile tandem trip in the Alsace – pedalling thru the scenic vineyards and wine towns on ‘Alsace à vélo before heading along the fantastic canals on EuroVelo 15. Despite hitting the challenging hills of the Vosges – let’s just say the downhill stretches were great! – it was a spectacular trip made all the better for my dynamic crew by the many wine and cremant tastings along the way! Our self-guided Tour d’Alsace du Tandem covered 125 sun kissed miles in a loop starting in Strasbourg, France with overnight stops to enjoy gourmet meals and luxurious chambre d’hôtes in Obernai, Beblenheim, and Colmar before returning to Strasbourg. The highlights were filling my bidons direct from a vat of newly made wine, and tandeming along the flat canal paths! It seems canals could be the way forward for future tours!

Filling my bidons with nouveau vin direct from the vat!

This sums up the blissful Alsace for Team Tandem Ecosse.

Here is a video montage of the images form the Alsace leg set to music – watch by clicking here:

Euro Tour 3rd leg – tandeming (and pushing) up the Montagne de Reims vineyards to drink champagne en Champagne!

Team Tandem Ecosse saw some amazing sights and enjoyed fabulous experiences on their challenging 75 mile three-day tandeming trip in the heart of the Champagne region, thru the wonderfully scenic vineyards and villages of Montagne de Reims Regional Natural Park! Yes the word montagne means mountains … and my dynamic crew faced no less than four category 4 climbs (or walks!) en route in their quest to sample the best champagnes! It would be fair to say that we definitely underestimated the terrain which resulted in my crew overstretching their cycling ability in places. But again there are some fantastic memories in the memory bank and the “old git” and “old gal” enjoyed many tastings of the different varieties of champagne along the way – purely for research purposes, of course! Our self-guided tour started in Reims and taking in a loop around Epernay – the champagne capital. The highlights were visiting the wonderful hilltop village of Hautvillers, which is the cradle of champagne making, and a crazy ride along L’Avenue de Champagne – one of the most expensive streets in the world kitted out in full King and Queen of the Mountain gear! Would my dynamic crew return? – yes, definitely – but probably taking in the views of the champagne vineyards from the luxury of a hot air balloon … in tandem, of course!

Hautvillers – said to be the cradle of champagne – was a charming village.

Not many better places to be than the headquarters of Moet & Chandon on the Avenue du Champagne!

Here is a video montage of the images form the Champagne leg set to music – watch by clicking here:

Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem 2017 certainly was a Bon Voyage! Cheers!

Time to celebrate in style – with champagne obv! Over 300 miles and over 300 smiles along the way!

Euro Tour 3rd leg – tandeming (and pushing) up the Montagne de Reims vineyards to drink champagne en Champagne!

This sums up the hilly (mountainous!) tandem tour of Champagne for Team Tandem Ecosse.

After Team Tandem Ecosse’s fantastic tour of the Alsace – and ticking off the bucket list item of sampling Alsatian wine where it was made, in the vineyards of the Alsace! – it was time for another bucket list item … this time the task was to quaff champagne in Champagne! So there was a non cycling day on the itinerary for the three of us to reposition from Strasbourg to Reims to begin the third and final leg of our two week Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem 2017.

So as our tour t-shirts said – the “old git” and the “old gal” were determined in their quest for le vin et champagne! A three hour drive along the fabulous French toll roads flew past and soon Matilda Transport was pulling up at Le Clos des Roys, our chambres d’hote in Reims – marking the start point for a three day tour of the vineyards of Champagne.

And what a fantastic location – the beautiful old fabric trading town house was located in the heart of the historic district, just 30 metres from the forecourt of the city’s magnificent Cathedral. We received a warm welcome from hosts Marie Ann and Gerard and shown to our luxurious room.

With both me and our car parked safely in an internal courtyard, my dynamic crew didn’t waste any time in exploring their new base, so headed out for dinner and their first taste of champagne! Our hosts had made a booking at the highly recommended Brasserie de Boulingrin – an art deco sea food restaurant dating from 1925 which we later discovered is an institution in Reims.

First ever champagne in Champagne – accompanied by a fisherman’s basket! oh if you insist!

The menu was mouthwatering! Pop went the first of many champagne corks to be popped over the next few days and “the old git” and the “old gal” toasted what they knew would be an epic trip with their first ever taste of champagne in Champagne! It really was one of those special moments to savour and remember – even more special as it was accompanied by a fisherman’s basket of gorgeous seafood including oysters! OOh la la!

All in all, a promising start to Le Tour de Champagne!

Day 1  Climbing and climbing from Reims to fab champagne vineyards at Verzenay and Bouzy as phone died at epic moment!

Smiles at the lighthouse in the middle of the champagne vineyards!

An early alarm and after another wonderful communal petit dejeuner, it was time for my dynamic crew to get me kitted up to depart on our 35 mile adventure on Le Route de Champagne. The schedule being to tandem from Reims to the other main town in the region called Epernay – which lays claim to be the champagne capital. Team Tandem Ecosse are staying there for two nights – with a short ride on the day in between – before heading back to Reims on day three.

With three days tandem touring – and given that Team Tandem Ecosse was going completely self sustained and self-guided with no luggage transfer as they had enjoyed in previous years – my four panniers were again packed full to the brim, adding substantially to my weight!

Heading off from our stylish Le Clos des Roys chambres d’hotes in Reims.

In bright sunshine and in high spirits all three of us pedalled off from our stylish base and headed towards Epernay in our quest to find out lots more about champagne. Check out the details of our Day 1 route by clicking on the Strava map below.

The start was idyllic as we tandemed out along the cycle path along the banks of the Canal de l’Aisne à la Marne out towards the town of Sillery and then head towards the first of the villages with names which resonate, Mailly-Champagne.

It was at this stage that the realisation dawned on my dynamic crew that the champagne vineyards are hilly. Maybe the “old git” and “old gal” should have realised when the route description said: “You will be touring through the villages of the Montagne de Reims!” For some reason the word montagne hadn’t hit home … but let’s say it did as we left Sillery behind and started to climb … and climb!

Climbing (and climbing) in the Champagne vineyards towards the famous windmill.

My dynamic crew – who were a bit less than dynamic with the effort required on the hills – have subsequently realised (with a bit of basic research) that the best grapes for champagne require long roots to give them the best flavour – and long roots means they grow on slopes on the hillside! Doh!

Did someone mention hills? The view back to the canal showing the sudden elevation!

The views across the vineyards were stunning however. A quick glance at the guidebook for the area there are more than 15,000 wine growers in the designated Champagne area, 5,000 small champagne houses and over 100 well-known houses. We pedalled thru a welcome flat part at Mailly-Champagne – one of the over 300 picturesque villages which make their living from the fizz and were amazed to see winegrower’s houses at every turn … all offering their own name champagne. All fabulously scenic!

The amazing high axled tractors which mechanically pick the champagne grapes.

Leaving the village and back into climbing mode, my dynamic crew were fortunate enough to see one of the eye-catching high axled tractors which amazingly pick the grapes mechanically. It is a sight to be seen and obviously cuts out a lot of back breaking work!

Our target – and hopefully where the mountains would plateau – was firstly a landmark windmill and then a lighthouse at Verzenay. I got to feel a real VIP by posing at the gates of the windmill which is owned by the world-famous GH Mumm. The windmill – officially known as Le Moulin de Verzenay  is unfortunately not open to the public – but it is used by the company as a corporate reception area. The next day we discovered that Olympic sprint champion Usain Bolt had flown in by helicopter in his role as brand ambassador. Obviously he wasn’t fit enough to cycle up the hills to get there either!

Posing at the gates to the windmill owned by the Mumm champagne house.

A final climb took us over the next ridge to the village of Verzenay and a welcome stop at Le Phare de Verzenay – a lighthouse which incongruously sits overlooking the vineyards. It was built in 1909 by Joseph Goulet to promote his brand of champagne – shining its light all over the vines. It turned into a bit of a folly but now combines a role as a promotional area for champagne tasting and museum.

Relief for the “old gal” when finally we reached the plateau at Le Phare de Verzenay.

Le phare offers the chance to sample up to 50 different varieties of  champagne – which was just what my dynamic crew needed for recovery after their exertions. Well they sampled a glass each – not 50! And they were able to chill and relax and enjoy their tasting in a fabulous sun-kissed garden area overlooking the vineyards under the lighthouse.

Le phare offered a perfect tasting area in a garden overlooking the vineyards! Cheers!

The “old gal” reflecting on those energy sapping hills!

After that reviving refreshment – my crew climbed the 120 odd stairs to the viewing platform of le phare to get a magnificent vista. The “old gal” recorded a short video to show it is hilly and the view from the top of the lighthouse over the champagne vineyards – which you can view by clicking here:

Before leaving the lighthouse the “old git” purchased a  bottle of champagne using his new found knowledge of the different types of the fizz. It’s not just any old champagne you know! Oh no! There are three different grape varieties used in champagne – white Chardonnay grapes and the red Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

The “old git” selected a bottle of blanc de blancs – which is  made entirely from the white Chardonnay  grapes. The tasting notes said: “With its elegant and lithe style this is the Champagne of choice among serious oenophiles.” After googling oenophile and discovering it meant wine connoisseur – he wholeheartedly agreed!

On leaving the lighthouse we were approached by a photographer, Karine Lhémon. who wanted to take some pictures of me and my crew! Karine introduced herself as being the official photographer for the Office de Tourisme du Grand Reims and was looking to take some shots of visitors to the area for their publicity purposes.  Obviously the “old git” was hesitant and had to be persuaded – jokingly saying: “Only if you twist our arm and give us champagne!”

Pose for publicity shots? Only if twist our arm and give us champagne!

My dynamic crew even had to sign an official form giving permission for the tourist agency to use the photos in their marketing. Given that the “old git” works in communications, he was suggesting some ideas for shots – and cheekily took a photo of Karine taking a photo of Team Tandem Ecosse!

Taking a photo of the photographer from Reims Tourisme snapping us!

The photographer wanted me involved in the photos too!

All the photos had le phare in them and after taking some of my dynamic crew, the photographer wanted to get me involved in the photo shoot as well! Well after all as a classic tandem, I am the star of the show! It was all good fun – and produced lots of laughs. After Karine promised to email some of the pictures, we bid farewell with her determined to capture us tandeming off for posterity!

“3-2-1-Go” Our start-up routine captured for posterity!

My crew immediately hit another hill but had to battle on to save face as they were still being filmed! One more short climb at Mount Sinia marked the peak – before the road through the vineyards started to go steeply downhill. It was a good long stretch so we were able to pick up speed rapidly.

Unfortunately it was at this very inopportune moment that the “old git’s” phone decided it would have a battery fail – but this wasn’t discovered till a few miles further on. Therefore Strava didn’t record the epic moment when my crew hit a new top speed – as recorded by the good old-fashioned handlebar speedometer – of 38.9 mph. Weeeeeh! It was our Chris Froome moment!

Full of high speed adrenalin my dynamic crew soon arrived at the village of Bouzy, famous for its red wine as well as champagne! Heaven for the “old gal” who has a fondness for both!

Tasting Bouzy Rouge – the wine of Kings – at the champagne house in the well-named Bouzy!

Bouzy is a Grand Cru village on the south side of the Montagne de Reims and we found the perfect spot for a tasting at the combined home of Paul Clouet and Bonnair champagne. To celebrate our new record high speed, naturally my crew had to sample both types! In addition the champagne house is famous for its Bouzy Rouge. This is known as the ‘Wine of Kings’ as it historically was served at the Court during the grand banquets of the coronations. The red wine is made exclusively from Pinot Noir grapes from the village. The “old gal” deemed it as living up to its regal reputation! A bottle was bought for the Christmas table and safely stored in my panniers!

After sampling the best of Bouzy – and feeling a teensy bit bouzy themselves! – my crew decided that an ice cold soft drink was required to fuel them for the final hour pedal to our overnight stop in Epernay. Happily for the “old gal” and the “old git” it was downhill to Tour-sur-Marne and on to the cycle path running alongside the Canal latéral à la Marne which took us direct into the city.

Amazingly just as we were pouring over a street map of Epernay, on the edge of the world-famous Avenue de Champagne, a car stopped and asked if we were looking for Les Epecuriens chambres d’hotes. I think the tandem was a bit of a give away – but it was our host Laure and my crew eagerly pedalled after her car to the front door.

I was parked up safely in a very colourful indoor courtyard while my crew were shown to their room – the Noble Equestrian Suite. More about the amazing chambres d’hotes later, but suffice to say for the moment that Laure had thought of everything and there were luxurious touches everywhere.

Glad to see standards being maintained at Les Epicuriens!

The “old git” was particularly impressed with a sign which said it was forbidden to drink champagne from a plastic glass! So glad to see standards being maintained! He knew my crew were in the hands of an expert!

Having arrived fairly late my crew enjoyed a welcome glass of fizz from Laure before showers and heading to dinner at the recommended Au Petit Fourneau restaurant for dinner where the speciality was les patates – effectively baked potatoes! But these were rather special – cut into slices and smothered in an amazing array of toppings. The “old git” had the Bretonne with prawns and emmental cheese sauce; while the “old gal” indulged in the Fromages one with reblechon, emmental, blue cheese and goats cheese. Oh and there was a bottle of champagne – just to sample the local produce of course! They told me it was rather yum!

Not surprisingly after a long day on the slopes of the vineyards, sleep wasn’t far away! So a somewhat challenging but still sensational first day of the Champagne leg of Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem covering an actual total of 35 miles (with only 26 of them recorded on Strava!) As always the route is brought to life in our Relive 3D video – so take a look below.

Day 2 – KoM climb to Hautvillers – home of Dom Perignon – and whizz back down to tandem along L’Avenue de Champagne in style!

Not many better places to be than the headquarters of Moet & Chandon on L’Avenue de Champagne!

My dynamic crew wakened after a deep recovery sleep to find there had been unexpected heavy rain and thunder overnight! Tell me about it! I was soaked thru as the lovely internal courtyard was open to the elements! All my bits were sopping – including my front panniers which had not been removed!

Heavy rain overnight and into Saturday morning left me a bit wet in my colourful courtyard!

After a hearty breakfast – including freshly baked bread – my dynamic crew had to reorganise the day as rain stopped play! The original plan was to leave early for a short loop of the scenic villages around Epernay followed by a more relaxing afternoon. A quick look at the weather forecast said heavy rain all morning – suddenly stopping around lunchtime turning to warm bright sunny conditions. So the schedule was turned back to front – as were my panniers in an attempt to dry them out! As for me the “old gal” gave me a good rub down with a towel! She is good that way!

Borrowing big umbrellas, my dynamic crew ventured out to the local food market and had a wonderful morning ooohing and aaahing at all the gorgeous fresh produce on display. The “old gal” was in her element and quickly secured some provisions for today’s picnic – which was going to be an indoor picnic! Funny how there is always one day the picnic has to be inside on these trips!

There’s always one! Each of our tours seems to have one indoor picnic!

Amazingly, bang on cue as per the local forecast, the rain clouds rapidly cleared just after lunch and the sun came out to play. So, with more hills on the route, my crew donned their King (and Queen) of the Mountain jerseys and got me kitted up before heading off on today’s loop.

Check out the details of our Day 2 route by clicking on the Strava map below.

With the sun on our backs it was a real joy to be back out on the cycle paths for Team Tandem Ecosse. We weaved our way thru the city heading out along a long flat stretch towards Cumieres before heading uphill to our destination of the pretty village of Hautvillers. My crew had been warned that the climb would get their hearts racing! That was a bit of an understatement!

Well the climb turned out to have two Tour de France category 4-rated climbs (or in our case walks!) – which means it was steep! Very steep! As the “old git” and “old gal” struggled for breath they were at least able to tick off some of the world’s most famous champagne houses as the vineyards were all clearly labelled and were like a who’s who of champagnes.

It was quite a climb – but worth it as like a who’s who of champagnes!

It was so steep that even when pushing the “old git” thought my brakes were on! But the panoramic views overlooking Epernay and the Marne river were stunning – with champagne vineyards stretching before us as far as our eyes could see. Truly beautiful!

The trip to magical Hautvillers involved two category 4 climbs! Just a bit steep!

Finally we crawled (almost literally!”) into the village of Hautvillers – causing quite a stir among the tourists who had arrived by car and coach! Can’t think why! A couple of people even asked if they could take pictures of “le doublé vélo” – maybe they thought we were mad arriving by bike!

Hautvillers – said to be the cradle of champagne – was a charming village.

The charming champagne producing village is recognised as the cradle of champagne as it was here in the ancient Benedictine abbey at Hautvillers that the monk Dom Pérignon discovered the champagne wine-making process in the 18th century.

My crew also discovered (via good tandeming friends Jane and John) that Hautvillers is twinned with the town of Beaulieu which we visited in our Tour de New Forest back in July.

After recovering their breath my crew sought out the sanctuary of the highly recommended Le Cave et Jardin antique shop. It really is a veritable Aladdin’s cave of all things related to champagne! While enjoying a fascinating browse, the owners offer the chance to visitors to indulge by buying a glass of fine local product – which naturally my crew thought would have been rude to refuse!

A visit to the fascinating Entre Cave et Jardin antiques shop is a must at Hautvillers.

Le Cave et Jardin offers a chance to enjoy a glass of fine champagne while browsing antiques.

My dynamic crew sat in the jardin (garden) part while quaffing their bubbly – establishing some kind of equilibrium after their mountain pedalling exertions! They even had a toast to Dom Pérignon before purchasing a Moet Chandom champagne glass set for two as a momento!

We then tandemed along the cobbled streets to find the Saint-Sindulphe abbey church – which houses Dom Pérignon’s black marble tombstone.

Dom Perignon, the monk who invented champagne, is buried here.

At every turn in the village there are links to Dom Pérignon – including a photo opportunity to turn yourself into the champagne inventing monk – which the “old git” obviously couldn’t resist!

The “old git” posing as Dom Perignon in the village!

Leaving the village my dynamic crew enjoyed a fab whizz back downhill – retracing our pedals to the city with plenty of time to explore the ‘Champs Elysees of Epernay’ –  the famous L’Avenue de Champagne which hosts the glitzy headquarters of the main champagne houses.

It offered a fascinating insight into the luxury world of champagne – with the whole avenue simply oozing money and opulence. An interesting fact is that the 19th century buildings sit above some 110 kms of underground cellars, built into the limestone, used for storing the champagne at temperatures of around 10 C.

Moet & Chandon is the most famous champagne firm and honours its links to Dom Pérignon with an impressive statue at the entrance to its headquarters. Each of the champagne houses were trying to outdo each other with eye catching displays – which offered a real spectacle.

The “old gal” at the Dom Perignon statue at the Moet & Chandon headquarters in Epernay.

The Boizel champagne house offered a good photo opportunity on L’Avenue de Champagne.

Things you never thought you’d ever do! My dynamic crew always had drinking champagne in Champagne on their bucket list! But how many people can say they have tandemed down the glitzy L’Avenue de Champagne in Epernay – the capital of Champagne ?!

Well we did and the “old gal” recorded some video footage for posterity which you can watch here:

It would need to be said that a tandem cycling down the L’Avenue de Champagne with a crew decked out in polka dot cycling jerseys was always going to attract quite a bit of inquisitive attention – and after we had finished we even received a round of applause! After all that fun and frivolity my dynamic crew headed back to the sanctuary of Les Epecuriens chambres d’hotes.

My crew were looking forward to the evening as they had booked a private steam room session in the property’s hamman on their return, and later, a private champagne dinner a deux – home cooked by our host Laure – served in our suite! Told you it was classy!

I was parked back in the internal courtyard, and this time our hosts covered me with a huge plastic sheet – just in case the rain returned. The “old git” and “old gal” thoroughly enjoyed relaxing in the heat of the steam room – ideal to help them get over the tail end of their heavy colds.

Our fabulous dinner in our suite at Les Epicuriens home cooked by our host Laure.

The dinner which followed was a culinary delight, as it turns out one of Laure’s main interests is cooking – and has even produced her own cookbook. My crew eagerly ate up their four course dinner – which was naturally accompanied by a fine bottle of champagne from a nearby vineyard.

So two epic category 4 climbs today on another brilliant second  day of the Champagne leg of Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem covering just 8 miles – with the route brought to life in our Relive 3D video – so take a look below.

Day 3 – Grand finale Euro tour 2017 up mountains to Reims from Epernay as we clocked up 300 miles in 10 days

The scenic reward for the climb of tree tunnels in the Parc Naturel de la Montagne de Reims.

This was the final ride of our brilliant two week Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem 2017 and the schedule today had us tandeming back to Reims from Epernay – a distance of just over 30 miles. That’ll be easy at this stage in the tour then for my dynamic crew who were now finely tuned athletes! Let’s just say it didn’t turn out that way! …

My dynamic crew were reluctant to leave the luxury of Les Epicuriens chambres d’hotes.

After another gorgeous and tasty petit dejeuner at Les Epecuriens chambres d’hotes Team Tandem Ecosse were a bit reluctant to leave their luxurious surroundings. We sadly took our leave from the wonderfully hospitable Laure and headed thru Epernay for the last time heading out into the country towards the ancient town of Ay.

Check out the details of our Day 3 route by clicking on the Strava map below.

The “old git” and the “old gal” had both looked at the maps and knew it was hilly so were suitably kitted out in their King and Queen of the Mountain jerseys! But they didn’t realise the emphasis today would be on the word mountains! Mind you, the fact that one of the villages very near our route was called Rilly la Montagne should have been a bit of a clue!

The first few miles were great and we soon picked up speed along the flat roads thru the vineyards. This was giving us a false sense of security … but then it happened! My crew hit the Montagne de Reims like a brick wall! A very high brick wall at that!

Team Tandem Ecosse huffed and puffed their way up the first climb (slowly) before resorting to taking me for a walk on the second – which was the first of another two category 4-rated climbs of the day! Since I was fully laden the “old git” had to use significant effort to push me up what seemed like an almost vertical incline, while the “old gal” – who suffers from asthma and therefore finds hills difficult at the best of times – puffed along behind!

Ab fab! We ticked off names of many champagnes including Bolly!

The only break my dynamic crew (who were feeling somewhat less than dynamic at this stage) had from the relentless climbing was ticking off more names of the major champagne brands, including Bollinger and Mercier. Let’s just say that my crew were now acutely aware that the best champagnes need the best grapes and they grow on steep slopes!

Mercier was next to be ticked off on the climb to Germaine.

A local guide book informed my crew that the term “mountain” is justified for the Montage de Reims by the brutality of the change of relief between the plain at 80 meters above sea level and the slopes where the vines produce the champagne some 200  metres higher. That made them feel so much better … not!

To be honest, we overstretched our ability on this route – and on the next big climb, which was a category 4 between Germaine and Ville-en-Selve it became less than fun for the first time on this trip. With my heavy panniers weighing me down, it was little wonder that the “old git” kept looking to see if my brakes were locked on as he slowly pushed up to the summit. This was by far the toughest route we have ever tackled! … Or ever want to tackle!

The Route de Champagnes offered some fascinating glimpses of past and present.

After taking an energy sapping 2 hours 45 minutes to travel 14 miles, we finally reached the plateau just  after Ville-en-Selve- a fantastic forest area which is part of the Park Naturel Regional de La Montagne de Reims. This gave my crew a bit of respite. The smiles returned as they enjoyed some scenic tree tunnels and the beauty of the leaves changing colours.

The climb was worth it to see the colours change at Ville-en-Selve.

The beautiful scenery helped restore spirits as did the sight of the first downhill stretch for some time which saw my dynamic crew whizz down into the village of Ludes. It was Sunday and our experience tells us everywhere is closed – but we came across a patisserie which was open. Coffee and yummy apricot tarts restored energy levels for the “old gal” and “old git”

The “old gal” at the picturesque Mairie (town hall) in Ludes.

After a much required stop to restore equilibrium after my crew’s mountain climbing exploits, we headed further downhill and saw a signpost for Chigny-les-Roses famous for its rose champagne – made from the Pinot Meunier grapes. Just at the entrance to the town is an old barrel used in the champagne process – which provided a fun photo stop!

The “old gal” was happy to see the town of Chigny-les-Roses famous for its rose fizz!

The “old gal” was happy to see the Canal de l’Aisne à la Marne ahead of us and we pedalled off – enjoying some welcome freewheeling to reach the canal cycle path at Sillery.

The Sillery French Military Cemetry contains graves of over 11,000 soldiers killed in the first World War.

Just before reaching the canal my crew stopped at the impressive Sillery French Military Cemetry which contains graves of over 11,000 soldiers killed in the first World War during the battles of Champagne.

Final picnic of le tour! Sadly all good things have to come to an end! Last one on canal at Sillery.

After paying our respects at the war cemetery, my dynamic crew found a nice seat by the canal for our last picnic of this year’s Euro Tour du Tandem. By now readers of my blog will know that the picnic is one of the key points of the day for the “old git” and “old gal” and this one was no exception.

After a late picnic lunch we tandemed along the canal path – again in awe at the fabulous surface and how everyone respects the cycling culture. This for Team Tandem Ecosse is what tandeming is about! My crew were enjoying themselves so much they deliberately pedalled on past the turn off into Reims in order to clock up 75 miles on the Champagne leg – to break the 300 mile total for the 10 days cycling on the three legs of Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem 2017.

The Cathedral Notre-Dame in Reims marked the end point.

The magnificent frontage of the Cathedral Notre-Dame in Reims was the official end point of our tour – and the “old gal” purchased a bottle of champagne in one of the gift shops in the square to allow my dynamic crew to celebrate when we we arrived back at Le Clos des Roys, our chambres d’hote.

Job done! Celebrating arriving at Les Clos des Roys after 75 gruelling miles in Champagne.

It’s always better when we’ve tandemed over 300 miles together on Le Tour de France et Holland

After I was secure in the inner courtyard, it was time for my dynamic crew to enjoy some end of tour celebrations! And how do you celebrate when in Champagne! Yes in the only way that is possible here – by drinking champagne in Champagne!

Time to celebrate in style – with champagne obv! Over 300 miles and over 300 smiles along the way!

… even if it was just a tad knackering on some of the uphill stretches! Time for relaxation!

As my crew enjoyed the feeling that their legs wouldn’t have to pedal up any more hills, they were buoyed when the “old git” checked Strava on his phone and discovered that they had achieved their highest every placings in the league tables! Amazingly Team Matildas Musings were in third place in the Tandem Club UK table for tandemers in Britain having clocked 154.2 miles over the last seven days; and 14th in the league table for tandmers around the world!

.. and 14th in world tandemers in last 7 days!

Delighted at 3rd place in UK tandemers over last week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My crew had a most welcome shower and a bit of relaxation before heading out for a celebration end of tour dinner. Our hosts Marie Ann and Gerard came up trumps with a wonderful recommendation – La Paix which is a bustling brasserie known for its fish and seafood specialties. It was a perfect spot for a gala meal and my crew decided to splash out on the menu gourmand which saw them enjoy six fabulous oysters as a starter followed by a sensational meal – and all washed down with a perfectly chilled dry local Rieseling. Quite simply a sensational way to finish!

So although we hit the Montange de Reims like a brick wall – overall it was still another unmissable ride on the final day of the Champagne leg of Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem covering 30.7 miles, with the route brought to life in our Relive 3D video – so take a look below.

As a quick overview of the third and final leg of our Euro Tandem Tour 2017, Team Tandem Ecosse again saw some amazing sights and enjoyed fabulous experiences on their cycling trip in the heart of the Champagne region. The total distance covered over the three days was just 75 miles – but it felt most of these were up hills and mountains. We definitely underestimated the terrain which resulted in my crew overstretching their cycling ability in places. But again there are some fantastic memories in the memory bank and the “old git” and “old gal” have ticked off that bucket list item of quaffing champagne in Champagne! The overall conclusion from my dynamic crew is that they wouldn’t have missed it for the world! Would they return – yes, definitely – but probably taking in the views of the vineyards from the luxury of a hot air balloon!

There will be a blog reflecting on Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem 2017 overall. For now our European tandem adventures were over for another year but before the three hour drive to the Eurotunnel service back to the UK, there was time for my crew to sample some of the sights of Reims and pick up a few supplies and presents.

The magnificent 13C stained glass rose window in Reims cathedral.

We paid a visit to the magnificent Gothic Cathedral Notre-Dame, which is where French Kings were traditionally crowned.  More than 2,300 statues decorate the exterior and one of the key highlights is the 13th Century stained glass rose window. There is also a plaque marking the spot where Clovis, the king of the Franks, was baptised by the Bishop of Reims.

Clovis, King of the Franks, was baptised in the cathedral.

According to legend a dove brought a phial containing holy oil, which was used to anoint Clovis. It was then used for the coronation of every King of France from the 11th Century to 1825 – the most famous being King Charles V11 in 1429 at the height of the Hundred Years War in the presence of Joan of Arc. A real history lesson then for my dynamic crew.

The roll call of French kings who were crowned at Reims cathedral.

After being steeped in history my crew walked around the market and bought a few presents – while noting the slightly alarming high level security presence of armed police even for a local market, which underlined the high state of alert in France due to recent terrorist atrocities.

Then it was time for the “old git” and the “old gal” to have fun stocking up on supplies of champagne to take back home! My crew carefully selected their bottles which marked key spots on our Tour de Champagne from the more than 700 different varieties on offer at Le Cave des Sacres – a fabulous champagne cellar situated in the shadow of the cathedral. Purchases made, the “old git” then needed to borrow a trolley to get the boxes back to Matilda Transport!

The “old git” needed a trolley to get champagne supplies to the car!

Time for a quick late lunch burger before Team Tandem Ecosse had to head to Calais for our Eurotunnel connection back to the UK and then an overnight drive back to Matildas Rest.

A fitting setting for the final toast of champagne in Champagne!

The courtyard of the cathedral provided a fitting setting for my dynamic crew for their final toast of champagne in Champagne – bringing to an end an epic Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem 2017.

These tours are what memories are made of! Cheers!

Euro Tour 2nd leg – tandeming the vineyards of l’Alsace à vélo

This sums up the blissful tandem tour of Alsace for Team Tandem Ecosse.

After Holland there was a day on the itinerary for Team Tandem Ecosse to reposition into France to begin the second leg of our two week Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem 2017. On paper it seemed a straightforward 400 mile drive from Amsterdam to Strasbourg.

But as you know things rarely work out according to schedule for my dynamic crew and while enjoying beautiful scenery we got very badly lost in Luxembourg when the main motorway was closed for roadworks. The “old gal” – who was driving – said it was confusing road signs but we lost 2 hours trying to find a way out of the diversion route which saw us going round the same loop three times!

Eventually we arrived somewhat late and frazzled to be calmed by our palatial surroundings at La Celistine, our chambres d’hote in Strasbourg – the start point for a four day tour of the vineyards and canals of the Alsace to allow my dynamic crew to tandem thru the vineyards and enjoy sampling Alsace wine in the Alsace! My crew quickly regained their equilibrium with a fabulous traditional Alsatian dinner at a brilliant old style restaurant called Au Cruchon – and had their first taste of the local Riesling!

The “old gal” selected this leg after the success of our previous vineyard tours in Burgundy, Bordeaux and the Loire Valley. The route selected was a loop of around 120 miles following the l’Alsace à vélo and Veloroute du Vignobles d’Alsace with overnight stops in Obernai, Beblenheim, and Colmar  and back to Strasbourg.

With four days tandem touring – and given that Team Tandem Ecosse was going completely self sustained and self-guided with no luggage transfer as they had enjoyed in previous years – my four panniers were packed full and my overall weight had increased substantially.

Day 1 – Canals, filling bidons with wine, private organ recital and some big hills on l’Alsace à vélo

The Veloroute du Vignobles d’Alsace offered truly spectacular scenery.

After getting up early and a very enjoyable communal petit dejeuner provided by Claude and Fabienne our hosts at La Celistine, it was time for my dynamic crew to get me out of Matilda Transport and kitted up to depart on our adventure on the l’Alsace à vélo. In bright sunshine, all three of us on Team Tandem Ecosse were full of high spirits about the day ahead that promised canal path cycling before joining the ‘route des vins’ and heading into the vineyards.

Check out the details of our Day 1 route by clicking on the Strava map below.

Strasbourg boasts that it is France’s most cycling-friendly city and it was certainly a joy to pedal out of the city on smooth dedicated cycle paths with clear cycle signposting in warm sunshine. We were heading along the banks of the Canal de la Bruche towards the old town of Molsheim – part of the impressive l’Alsace à vélo network.

The cycle path hugged the picturesque canal all the way and took us past numerous pretty villages. It was a Sunday and it was great to see the cycle path so busy with bikes, walkers and joggers. Plenty of room for everyone as all kept to the discipline of keeping to their side of the path.

It was a joy to ride the beautiful Canal de la Bruche out of Strasbourg.

Most of the bridges were bedecked in flowers which made a colourful sight as we pedalled on. In next to no time we were in the outskirts of Molsheim and luckily found a patisserie and cafe that was open as most places seemed shut because it was Sunday, including the supermarkets, which meant my crew had been unable to stock up on picnic supplies.

As a result the cafe was a magnet for all cyclists on the route, and it would need to be said that a tandem with my dynamic crew kitted out in their new day-glo yellow multi-lingual t-shirts – featuring the slogan ‘tandem quest for wine and champagne’ – certainly attracted attention!

Fortified by some tasty local delicacies – and lulled into a false sense of security by the distance covered in a short time on the easy canal tandeming – my crew decided to spend some time in Molsheim, which used to be the religious capital of Alsace. The town offered our first experience of the local historic architecture – with most towns having an entrance arch.

Me and the “old gal” at one of the three scenic town arches in Molsheim.

The “old git” had done his research and discovered that there was a Bugatti museum in the town where the Bugatti Foundation displays mementoes of the family and a few of the classic cars that were built here between the two world wars.

An ideal place for a classic tandem – the Bugatti museum in Molsheim!

Molsheim is the home of the Bugatti family, the birthplace of the brand and the modern headquarters of the company. The town is where Bugatti’s long history of success began in 1909 when it started making cars that caused an absolute sensation.

The “old gal” admiring the classic cars in the Bugatti museum.

My dynamic crew admiring the Bugatti cars which caused a sensation in the early 1900s.

According to the museum: “This was where the brand values of art, form and technology were born; values which endure to this day. Ettore Bugatti was a true gentleman of his day, cultivating personal relationships with many of his customers. Today, we are proud to be continuing the Bugatti tradition in the place where it began, here in Molsheim – just as its founder would have wanted.”

The “old gal” pictured beside founder Ettore Bugatti.

After leaving the museum the next stop was the imposing Gothic style Eglise des Jesuites which dates from 1615. The church once belonged to the famous Jesuit university, which was transferred to Strasbourg in 1702. It was also part of the Carthusian monestry, the only one ever to be built in a town. My dynamic crew were the only people there at the time and were fortunate to be treated to a private Sunday afternoon recital by the organist.

The stunning organ which gave my dynamic crew a private recital at the Eglise de Jesuites.

The “old gal” recorded a short video which captured part the private organ recital at the Eglise de Jesuites which you can view by clicking here:

Molsheim is in the heart of a wine growing area and duty called in the quest for le vin! The “old git” saw a sign for ‘le vin nouveau’ and pulled on my brakes and pedalled into a courtyard. Here my dynamic crew had a fascinating visit and discovered that the new wine had only been made the day before and had just started its fermentation process into the famous Bruderthal grand cru. They were offered the chance to tick another of their bucket list items by filling my bidons direct from the vat of wine. And the price for this extravagance? One euro a bottle! What a bargain! Hic!

Bucket list tick! Filling my bidons with vin nouveau direct from the vat!

Having spent a highly relaxing couple of hours exploring the town my crew thought they better head off and complete the remaining 10 miles to our overnight stop at Obernai – which they expected would be an easy pedal taking well less than an hour. Wrong!

Almost immediately on leaving Molsheim we joined the Veloroute du Vignobles d’Alsace and hit the hills of the Vosges! I am not sure if it was the effects of le vin nouveau – but my dynamic crew were suddenly rendered a bit less than dynamic and quickly almost ground to a halt with the sudden change of geography!

On leaving Molsheim, the slopes of the Vosges took the “old gal” by surprise!

But I am proud to say they battled on – doing their best to counter the weight of my panniers – with the spectacular views of the vineyards stretching for miles in either direction spurring them on! Let’s just say that the downhill stretches were great!

For a bit of relief Team Tandem Ecosse stopped in the wine producing town of Rosheim – which features ruined ramparts and some of the oldest buildings in Alsace and a Romanesque church.

One of the arches at Rosheim – among the oldest buildings in Alsace.

Refreshed by an ice cold soft drink, my crew battled a couple more hills before a most welcome downhill into the tourist holiday resort centre of Obernai and our comfortable and modern L’Ecurie chambres d’hotes for the night.

After a rest and showers – and with me safely secured in the courtyard – my crew walked into the town to enjoy a lovely relaxed dinner at the Restaurant Santa Maria which served delicious Alsatian food, washed down with a cheeky bottle of local cremant. Perhaps not surprisingly, sleep came easily when they fell into bed!

So a sensational first day of the Alsace leg of Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem covering 24.2 miles with the route brought to life in our Relive 3D video – so take a look below.

Day 2 – Up and down tandeming weaving our way thru the fab vineyards of the Vosges on l’Alsace à vélo!

Me and the “old gal” overlooking the vineyards of the famous Moenchberg Grand Cru at Andlau.

Sunshine again greeted my crew as they awoke after a sound nights sleep at L’Ecurie chambres d’hotes in Obernai – but my dynamic crew had a bit of a worry about the day’s tandeming ahead given the hills which suddenly appeared yesterday afternoon! Today was a route of over 30 miles tandeming thru the vineyards of the Vosges – and over breakfast they realised that means the certainty of a few more tough big climbs! It could be a long day in my saddles!

The Halloween-themed entrance to our suite at L’Ecurie chambres d’hotes in Obernai

Check out the details of our Day 2 route by clicking on the Strava map below.

Before leaving Obernia my crew explored the town – including the square with its fountain with a statue of St Odile. The “old gal” also took the opportunity to replenish picnic supplies – including some still warm freshly baked bread and a trip into a fromagerie to stock up with some cheese. This turned out to be the most expensive piece of cheese my crew had ever bought as the “old gal” selected a mature 7 year old Comte without registering the price and ended up paying 22 euros for the slab!

My dynamic crew at the start of day 2 in the tourist town of Obernai.

Off we pedalled and after a few wrong turns, quickly picked up the Veloroute du Vignobles d’Alsace and headed out of town and almost immediately into more spectacular vineyards. In general we found the l’Alsace à velo network to be well signposted – but today we came across some interesting directions … with one signpost pointing both left and right to our destination for lunch! Looking closely at the map one went a hillier route – so we chose the slightly shorter distance!

Confusing directions! 12km to Dambach-la-ville to the left and 13 km to the right!

Heading out of Barr we faced the first serious climb of the day but were rewarded at the summit by being able to see the grape harvest in full swing. I was even able to join in for a photo with baskets of grapes while my crew got their breath back!

Joining in the grape harvest! Two newly picked buckets of grapes … in tandem of course!

Another climb – on which my dynamic crew could have done with a handy supply of oxygen – took us to a spectacular viewpoint and photo spot above Andlau – right at the heart of Riesling country and home to three famous vintages including Moenchberg Grand Cru. High above the vineyards at the viewpoint, is a stone statue of a fat monk – with a wine barrel on his back. This is said to be Saint Vincent de Saragosse, who is recognised as the patron saint of winemakers. The “old git” whipped out his extendable tripod and bluetooth clicker to take a couple of pictures of my dynamic crew together!

My dynamic crew with the statue of the monk who is patron saint of winemakers above Andlau.

Tandeming thru the paths with vineyards groaning with ready-to-be-harvested grapes not surprisingly put the “old gal” in the mood to continue the quest for wine! Happily the “old git” spotted a sign for a tasting in the village of Blienschwiller. Again this turned out to be a great stop as my dynamic crew found themselves in a family wine house, Jos Straub fils, and were treated to an explanation of the production methods and some tastings of their Winzenberg Grand Cru Riesling which was being sold at the unbelievably cheap price of just 11 euros a bottle.

The “old gal” enjoying a personal wine and cremant tasting at Blienschwiller.

My crew were only able to carry one bottle so selected a very refreshing rose cremant which was then strapped safely in to my la bouclee wine carrier. Amazingly the owners of the wine house had never seen one before and were impressed!

My la bouclee – complete with a bottle of rose cremant – was much admired at the wine house.

From the wine tasting it was just a couple of miles to the renowned wine town of Dambach-la-ville with its timber framed houses and three historic town arches. It is also home to the Frankenstein variety of vintage Alsace wine. But you wouldn’t know today. It was like a ghost town as it was Monday and everywhere was closed! So it was just as well the “old gal” had bought picnic supplies earlier!

Just as well we had a picnic at Dambach-la-ville as everywhere was closed!

Fortified by another fabulous sunshine picnic my dynamic crew tandemed out of the town – stopping for a chat at a crossroads with a couple on solo bikes from New Zealand who were doing  a similar trip and were even more heavily laden than Team Tandem Ecosse!

Wishing each other good luck we climbed another steep hill before the cycle route seemed to plateau out and we enjoyed some gently undulating cycling thru some amazing vineyards and picturesque wine villages including Chatenois and Kintzheim.

My dynamic crew couldn’t fail to be impressed by the beautiful wine villages between the vineyards.

Some welcome downhill took me and my dynamic crew to the pretty small wine town of Ribeuville – nestling at the foot of the Vosges – and a pit stop for a coffee and refreshment. The town is famous for its Riesling and Gewurztraminer wines – so it would have bee rude not to continue the quest and do some sampling … all in the name of research, of course!

Ribeauville at the foot of the Vosges provided a pretty place for the last stop of the day.

The “old gal” was feeling a bit drained and suggested buying some tasty goodies and supplies to have a quiet dinner in the room of their chambres d’hotes  – to which the “old git” eagerly agreed – as both were starting to feel the effects of colds which had hit them.

Here I am beside on old wine cart in Ribeauville – famous for its Riesling and Gewurztraminer wines.

Fortunately the last few miles to our base for the night in the village of Beblenheim was fairly flat and some 8 hours after we set off my dynamic crew were happy to arrive at Domaine Mauler – a wine house which also runs chambres d’hotes in their half timbered 18th century home right on the edge of their vineyards.

I had a nice airy courtyard all to myself as my crew showered off the dust of the day before settling down to enjoy a gorgeous dinner in their room – washed down with that rather nice rose cremant. Bliss! Sleep wasn’t far away either!

So a long but fun day tandeming 32.1 miles in glorious sunshine with some amazing scenery on some serious climbs up the slopes of the Vosges on the second day of the Alsace leg of Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem – with the route brought to life in our Relive 3D video – so take a look below.

Day 3 – True meaning of recycling and recharging our batteries on a short run thru more Alsace vineyards

My dynamic crew found a perfect spot for a picnic in Kaysersberg on their recharging day!

The third day of the Alsace leg of Team Tandem Ecosse’s Euro Tour 2017 was always planned as a kind of rest and recharge day – with fewer miles built into the busy schedule. And my dynamic crew were particularly glad of that as they wakened feeling a bit rough with both the “old gal” and the “old git” suffering the effects of heavy colds.

So over a  yummy continental breakfast – with fresh croissant – my crew were looking forward to a day of gentle tandeming, relaxing stops and wine tastings in the villages and towns amongst the vineyards … with a distance of just 15 miles to be covered as we weaved our way to Colmar. It was going to be a day when – in the word’s of my Team Matilda’s motto – it’s not the miles that count – but the smiles!

Our fabulous Domaine Mauler chambres d’hote on the edge of a vineyard in Beblenheim.

Check out the details of our Day 3 route by clicking on the Strava map below.

As my crew checked out of our wonderful homely Domaine Mauler chambres d’hote we were offered a post breakfast wine tasting by our host Claudine Mauler. As mentioned, we were situated right on the edge of a renowned vineyard in Beblenheim – so it would have been rude not to! I’m not sure that even the “old git” and the “old gal” thought that this was the best time of day to be finding out about the unique differences and specialties of the local wines – but the true professionals that they are, they battled thru in their quest to find the best wines! They even selected a bottle of Premier Cru Riesling for today’s picnic – which we were told was ideal for country buffets!

There was time for a post-breakfast wine tasting before we headed off from Beblenheim!

The next step was stocking up on picnic goodies and bread at the fantastic village shop – which was a million miles better than our local Coop back home! The “old gal” also spotted the local village hairdressers and jokingly checked it out as a potential overseas expansion for her hair salon business! She particularly liked the sign which read “Coiffure espirit nature” which translates as hairdressing with nature! No blue rinse ladies here obviously – just free spirits!

My dynamic crew at the local cooperative for vineyard owners! Bit different from our local Coop!

The “old gal” checking out a potential overseas expansion for her hair salon business!

As we left Beblenheim behind we immediately hit a series of sharp hills as we climbed out of the village on the Veloroute du Vignobles d’Alsace. But as any cyclist will try to joke – for every uphill there is a downhill! And for that my dynamic crew were eternally grateful – except here in the heart of the Vosges there was occasionally a sign warning about a hazardously steep descent!

Sometimes on reaching a summit the downhill can be dangerous!

It was however a fabulous free wheel down the side of one of the many vineyards – where we managed to clock a top speed of just under 34 mph. It was a real thrill for me as an “old lady” tandem – but I can’t understand why the “old gal’s” eyes were closed!

First stop today for Team Tandem Ecossee was the attractive town of Riquewihr – a medieval town right in the heart of the Alsatian vineyards which is classified among the “Most Beautiful Villages in France.” As such the entrance to the town is a bit like Disney, but we quickly pushed thru that to admire the scenic beauty of the town which prides itself in looking as it did back in the 16th Century.

Here I am at Riquewihr – a town that looks today like it did in the 16th Century.

The town was quite touristy and this display of macaroons caught my eye!

Even tho it was relatively early the town was very busy with tourists and I was attracting lots of attention as a “double velo”! The “old git’s” research had revealed that the key attraction was the 13th Century Dolder – or defensive gate. It seems you can climb up four floors to the bell tower for great views over the rooftops – but unfortunately it was only open weekends out of high season. So the “old gal” had to make do with a photo opportunity, or two!

The attractive dolder offers great views – but sadly it was closed.

The “old gal” and me in one of attractive Riquewihr’s medieval streets.

It was lovely to wander round the cobbled streets which were also home to a community of local artists. The “old git” was particularly taken with the stylish sculptures of ladies in their erotic underwear on display in the windows of one of the many art galleries!

Eye catching sculptures in one of Riquewihr’s stylish art galleries!

There was time to people watch as my crew had a cofee from a mouth drooling patisserie – where they sampled a tart au myrtille – which was a gorgeous blueberry tart! They also picked up a small quiche to add to the picnic supplies. Leaving the tourists behind in Riquewihr we tandemed on back out into the vineyards and found Kientzheim – a much quieter but equally quaint medieval wine village which offered a colourful photo stop in the charming Schwendi square, with its renaissance fountain and beautiful mansions. Kientzheim is home to the headquarters of St Stephen’s Brotherhood, the official body controlling the quality of Alsatian wines.

The picturesque village of Kientzheim offered a colourful and historic photo opportunity.

It was a lovely warm sunny day and my dynamic crew were in good spirits – and not just from the wine tastings! It would need to be said that they were delighted that I had been performing like a finely tuned tandem and had avoided any mechanicals. As always when those thoughts come to mind, reality strikes and my chain slipped as the “old git” slowed and changed down gears to pull into a lay-by to check the route. Despite jamming itself between the gear cogs and my frame the “old gal” – in her role as chief engineer – calmly forced it free and we were on our way again.

Now as you know my dynamic crew are big fans of a picnic lunch – in fact it is the very essence of what Team Tandem Ecosse is all about. Today the”old gal” found a wonderful spot in pretty Kaysersberg – where the vineyards come right down to meet the town. It was all rather special, as can be seen in this video of them outlining the merits of a picnic du tandem Matildas Musings style! Click below.

As my crew enjoyed their picnic goodies in the shadow of the ruins of the medieval castle the “old gal” discovered that France had named Kaysersberg as its favourite village in the country in a recent tv show. It is famous for its half-timbered houses and quaint cobbled streets reflecting its history. Together with the rest of Alsace, Kaysersberg was part of Germany between the Franco-Prussian War and the First World War.

My dynamic crew are serious about their picnics – turning the concept into a bit of an art form!

As previously mentioned this was a day for recharging my crew’s batteries – a bit of a recycling (of energy) day, if you’ll excuse the pun! The “old git” however found a whole new meaning to the concept of recycling when visiting the loos in Kaysersberg with eye-catching urinals for beer, wine and whisky! There was even a kiddies one for cola!

Bringing a whole new meaning to the concept of recycling! The loos at Kayserberg!

I found a new friend with this bit of street bike art in Kaysersberg!

After picking up a few presents in the tourist shops – and another wine tasting – Team Tandem Ecosse meandered on pedalling back into the vineyards .. and up a few more hills! But despite the deliberately slow progress the scenery was just fabulous – never being more than a few feet away from the grapes.

After lunch there were a few more climbs in bright sun up thru the vineyards!

A downhill stretch took us to the colourful ancient town of Turckheim, complete with its three fortified gateways. It is the last town in Alsace where a night watchman walks the streets carrying his lamp and horn, stopping and singing on every street corner at 10pm. Clearly it was too early for that spectacle so my dynamic crew made do with a coffee stop.

The ancient fortified town of Turckheim offered a pretty coffee stop.

Before we left Turckheim, the “old gal” made the rather dubious decision to buy six of the traditional green coloured Alsatian wine glasses as a souvenir of our wine tastings! They were well packed to survive the bumps, but let’s just say it made for an interesting re-arranging of my pannier luggage!

A nice flat ride took us right into the historic centre of Colmar – the Alsatian wine capital, and enjoyed its charms of half-timbered houses, canals and the flower-decked town centre. We quickly found our Cour du Weinhof chambres d’hotes, ideally situated in the shadow of the imposing St-Martin cathedral.

I had the honour of being parked up in a 14th Century garage before my dynamic crew enjoyed showers and relaxed in the comfort of their room before heading out to dinner. The owners had recommended a fish restaurant amongst the canals in an area known as ‘Little Venice’ called Aux Trois Poissons. They were not disappointed enjoying the culinary delights of the Gourmet Menu washed down with a bottle of perfectly chilled Sylvaner wine! A perfect end to a perfect day!

So a more relaxing third day of the Alsace leg of Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem covering just 14.9 miles as my crew recharged their batteries. The route is brought to life in our Relive 3D video – so take a look below:

Day 4 – Incredible tandeming along Canal du Rhone du Rhin back to Strasbourg to end Alsace tour

If Carlsberg did cycle paths! … my dynamic crew thought Eurovelo 15 was fab!

So a fairly straightforward itinerary today as Team Tandem Ecosse plan to leave the vineyards of the Alsace behind  and tandem the 40 odd miles from Colmar back to the centre of Strasbourg along the Eurovelo 15 cycle path which run along the canals. And the good part for my dynamic crew is that canals means no energy sapping hills!

The “old git” and “old gal” felt somewhat refreshed today after a less frenetic day in my saddles yesterday. Their colds had improved and the sun was shining which all meant it was going to be a good day! And even my crew can’t get lost cycling along a canal … I mean they can’t … can they?!

After a lovely breakfast I was retrieved from my posh resting place in the medieval garage at our fantastic Cour du Weinhof chambres d’hotes and my crew headed to the local covered market to pick up food and drink supplies for today’s canal side picnic.

The medieval courtyard and garage at Cour du Weinhof.

Check out the details of our Day 4 route by clicking on the Strava map below.

Our hosts Rachel and Hubert at Cour de Weinhof really couldn’t have done any more to make us feel at home and comfortable – but then went the extra mile this morning (literally) when Hubert cycled out with us to show us the way to the start of the canal path! Maybe he had heard about my dynamic crew’s ability to get lost when following the simplest of directions!

Hubert, the owner of the chambres d’hotes, cycled out with us to get us on the canal path!

Safely on the side of the canal our route firstly took us a few miles along the banks of the Canal de Colmar, which dates back to 1864. This was a great warm up for my crew and a great taster of things to come later when we joined the main Canal de Rhone au Rhin. Conditions were ideal and my crew were in jolly spirits as we soon got into our stride, quickly eating up the miles.

The route to Strasbourg initially took us along the scenic Canal de Colmar.

Just at the join of the two canals we saw the first of several bike repair stations – complete with a variety of handy tools and a tyre pump. This just underlines the whole focus on cycling in France, and the fact that (unlike it would be in the UK) the repair station was in perfect condition and not vandalised shows the ethos of wanting to make cycling easy.

An amazing bike repair station on the canal cycle path shows the focus on cycling.

Now if the Canal de Colmar was impressive – when my dynamic crew joined the Canal du Rhone au Rhin at the village of Artzenheim they felt they had just moved up to the equivalent of motorway standards of cycle paths. Or as the “old git” said – if Carlsberg did cycle paths ….!

The canal path was part of Eurovelo 15 which you can cycle all the way from Rotterdam to Nantes or Budapest. To show just how perfect the conditions were for long distance tandeming on the canal, my dynamic crew shot a short video which you can watch here by clicking below:

The tandeming was so enjoyable – being so flat, easy to cycle and scenic on the eye! A good bit after passing the half way mark to Strasbourg my dynamic crew decided it was time for lunch and the “old git” found another idyllic spot at one of the deserted canal lock gates – Lock 78.

Cheers! The “old gal” enjoying our perfect picnic spot at a canal lock gate.

Canal Lock 78 was deserted and was a great spot for our picnic lunch!

To prove picnics don’t come much better than this the “old gal” shot an impromptu Matildas Musings video which you can see by clicking below:

The cycle paths said 19km to go to Strasbourg, but my crew were happy to get back on my saddles to complete the journey – after a photo shoot to show me off at my classic tandem best beside the canal under a bright blue sky and warm sunshine!

19km still to go – but easy tandeming on the sensational Canal du Rhone au Rhin.

Because my dynamic crew were self sufficient with plenty of supplies,  we didn’t actually leave the canal path – but the regular signposts show minor diversions are available into nearby towns with food shops, bars and cafes.  With the sun at its warmest the “old git” was quite happy to find the route went into a lovely shaded section on the final run into Strasbourg.

The canal offered some lovely shaded sections on the final run in to Strasbourg.

The dedicated cycle path emphasises it green credentials all along the route.

For the last two miles the route switched back on to the Canal de la Bruche. Incredibly after less than 4 hours cycling the whole 42 miles along canal paths we were back bang in the very heart of Strasbourg – exactly at the point we left four days before. Right in front of my crew on the Place d’Austerlitz a glitzy gin bar appeared like an apparition – so there was only one thing for it … time to celebrate finishing leg 2 of Euro Tour du tandem 2017 with a refreshing gin and tonic!

Team Tandem Ecosse’s return to Strasbourg was marked with a celebratory (and costly) gin and tonic!

Appropriately called Supertonic this was the ideal place to sample one of the 60 gins on offer – but they also charged super prices with the bill for two gin and tonics and two soft drinks coming to 30 euros! But the “old gal” says it was worth every cent!

Team Tandem Ecosse then checked back into the welcoming La Celistine, our chambres d’hote in the city where we spent Sunday night. With me safely stored in an internal courtyard, my crew enjoyed a relaxing snooze and showers before dinner. Our host Claude surpassed himself with his recommendation tonight – which took us to Au Pont Corbeau – which turned out to be one of the most famous and renowned restaurants in Strasbourg.

My dynamic due enjoyed a real culinary theatrical experience at Au Pont Corbeau.

Fortunately it didn’t have prices to match it’s reputation but my dynamic crew enjoyed an amazing evening of a real culinary theatrical experience of a lifetime where the owner was at the very top of his game. The Michelin rated restaurant was absolutely mobbed with hardly room to lift your elbows because so many customers had been squeezed in. And the service was the opposite of what you would expect from such an establishment, with the staff treating customers like they should count themselves lucky to be there at all! Incredibly people were being moved tables between courses to make way for bigger groups! But all this didn’t stop the place being queued out the door because of the incredible locally sourced Alsatian food that was served. It really was an amazing night!

So a simply sensational final day of the Alsace leg of Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem covering 42.4 miles, with the route brought to life in our Relive 3D video – so take a look below.

As a quick overview of the second leg of our Euro Tandem Tour 2017, Team Tandem Ecosse had some amazing sights and experiences on their trip in the Alsace. Total distance covered was just short of 125 miles and although we hit some challenging hills in the vineyards, it was a fabulous trip overall – with my crew fuelled along the way by some fantastic food and wine. The overall conclusion from my dynamic crew is that they wouldn’t have missed it for the world!

The final leg takes us to Champagne but before the three hour drive there was time for my crew to sample some of the sights of Strasbourg, which is the intellectual and economic capital of Alsace. The tourist highlight is the famous Gothic Notre-dame Cathedral which traces its history back to 1015. The cathedral’s most popular feature is the Astronomical Clock – the oldest in the world being built in 1550.

My dynamic crew saw the world’s oldest astronomical clock..

My crew were lucky enough to get tickets to see the daily performance as it chimes at 12.30pm – half an hour behind normal time. As part of the movement the 12 Apostles pass in front of Christ who blesses them as a cockerel flaps its wings and crows three times, a reminder of Peter’s denial of Christ.

The “old gal” enjoying a quick drink at lunchtime.

A quick refreshment followed in the busy Place de la Catherdrale – which is a UNESCO World Heritage site – before my crew managed to squeeze in a guided boat trip on the River Ill. This offered great views of many of the city’s key sights including the romantic ‘Petit France’ area of the old town and the Strasbourg base of the European Parliament.

The Strasbourg base of the European Parliament viewed from a river trip.

After an enjoyable few days in Strasbourg and the Alsace it was time to head to Matilda Transport and drive to Champagne for the final leg of our Euro Tour 2017!

Euro Tour 1st leg – tandeming the dykes of Holland

The historic working windmills of the North Holland peninsula were a truly awesome sight!

So after a day for my dynamic crew to familiarise themselves into the Dutch way of life – and of course sample some local food and drink! – it was time to begin our three leg two week Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem. The first of three legs was a three day tour of the North Holland peninsula. It was the first visit for Team Tandem Ecosse to Holland – having been persuaded to give it a try by recommendations about both the scenic and flat landscape, and of course the fabulous network of brilliantly signposted cycle paths.

The “old git” had selected a route which promised “Holland at is flattest” with the peninsula tour “fitting the image that most foreigners have of Holland – with its dykes, canals, clogs, cheese and windmills.” The route selected was a 90-odd mile loop from Amsterdam to Marken and Vollendam before crossing inland to Alkmaar, then back down to Amsterdam through the historic River Zaan settlements.

And in a break from previous years, Team Tandem Ecosse was going completely self sustained and self-guided. Instead of booking through a tour company – which offered step-by-step tried and tested routes and daily luggage transfers – my dynamic crew had booked all their own overnight stops, checked out the routes, and were carrying everything they needed in four panniers!

It was certainly interesting – particularly the routes part … which threw up lots of opportunity for “discussions” about what was the correct way to go!

Day 1 – Tandeming the dykes from Amsterdam to Marken then boat to Volendam

Bright eyed and bushy tailed! My dynamic crew before Le Grand Depart!

My dynamic crew woke feeling very sprightly – all bright eyed and bushy tailed – in preparation for the actual Le Grand Depart of the Euro tandem tour 2017. Excitement was palpable over the brilliant breakfast buffet spread at  our Amsterdam base – the superb Westcord Art Hotel .

The “old gal” looking somewhat perplexed at the electronic bike charging point!

A final check of my panniers and Team Tandem Ecosse were ready – but only after the “old gal” looked somewhat puzzled and perplexed at the electronic bike charger units in the hotel car park – I mean classic tandems don’t have battery power for goodness sake! But it does underline the fabulous infrastructure which exists for bikes in Holland. There was also the matter of taking the “start of tour” picture” for posterity – then we were off!

All smiles and thumbs up at the start of Euro Tour du Tandem 2017! What could possibly go wrong!

Check out the details of our Day 1 route by clicking on the Strava map below.

The first part of the ride was retracing our steps from yesterday along the amazing cycle paths – down by scenic canals – to the front of Amsterdam’s Centraal Station for a ferry across to the north of the city. This was an amazing experience as there were bikes everywhere queuing up for the short five minute crossing to Buiksloterwerg. Clearly this was a very busy commuter route as most people seemed to be heading to work. There were four ferries continually heading back and forth across the water to meet the demand – and whats more it was free! It was actually difficult for my crew not to stop and stare at the scene before them.

Actually I think it was the commuters who were staring at my dynamic crew as they looked somewhat “tourists abroad” with a tandem and all kitted out in their Tour de France King of the Mountain cycling jerseys! However one or two friendly locals did get the joke as the “old git” and “old gal” had deliberately chosen to wear those jerseys because the terrain was so flat!

The “old gal” recorded a short video which captured some of the eye-catching scenes at the ferry which you can view by clicking here:

On leaving the ferry, and all the commuters, we quickly found the cycle route we required – LF7 and pedalled off. It really is quite difficult to describe the incredible network of cycle paths without experiencing it at first hand as it is something which my dynamic crew have never seen before. All the paths are very clearly signposted and intersections with other paths are clearly flagged up. Essentially all you have to do is take a  note of junction numbers and follow your route that way! Easy! And the paths themselves are a real joy – flat, with great smooth tarmac surfaces ideal for road bikes.

My crew easily found the next route – LF21 – which would take us all the way to our destination of Marken. It was fantastic tandeming as we headed along the dykes taking in the spectacular scenery of Lake Markermeer and the village of Durgerdam.

The “old gal” taking a breather to take in the scenery and stylised houses at the village of Durgerdam

Opposite the houses there is a marina for all the villagers boats on the canal.

We pedalled on thru Uitdam – stopping for a coffee in what was essentially someone’s front garden … complete with dedicated bike parking spot! – before heading along the causeway and onto the former island of Marken.

The views were truly spectacular tandeming along the dyke at Lake Markermeer.

The coffee stop in someone’s front garden – complete with bike parking spot!

Good tandeming friends Jane and John – who hosted Team Matilda for the recent Tour de New Forest and who have their own blog Travelling in Tandem – said we had to visit the lighthouse known as the Paard van Marken – or the Horse of Marken in English. Although not open to the public it offers a great spot for some spectacular photos and was well worth a short diversion off the route to the town.

The Paard van Marken lighthouse offered a great scenic spot for photos!

The “old git” even got his remote control bluetooth camera gizmo to work!

Time for lunch and a handy supermarket provided the perfect ingredients for the first picnic of the Euro Tour du tandem 2017 – some freshly baked bread, grapes, ham, local cheese, salads and the obligatory bottle of prosecco which cost the princely sum of just three euros!

We pedaled into the quaint fishing village of Marken for lunch which prides itself in maintaining the authentic atmosphere of the old days – and found a perfect spot at the edge of the harbour wall … even if we did have to fight off some rather aggressive sparrows who were keen to share our picnic!

The “old gal” enjoying the first prosecco picnic of the Euro Tour du tandem 2017 at Marken.

The sun even decided to come out to play allowing the “old gal” to bask in its rays!

A sculpture paying homage to the local fishing community near our picnic spot at Marken.

After lunch there was time to explore more of the village of Marken with its small alleys, drawbridges and closely built houses which sit on top of mounds to protect them from floods. A souvenir shop allowed the “old git” to tick the requirement to get a silly photo wearing giant clogs!

Tick! Silly shot of the “old git” wearing giant sized clogs!

The next part of the trip involved a 30 minute ferry crossing from Marken to the village of Voldendam – which was to be our base for the night. There are regular crossings on the Volednam-Marken Express ferry service which offers a special cyclists ticket which included a welcome coffee and a slice of home made apple pie! Oh if you insist!

Here I am on the back deck of the ferry to Volendam enjoying the sun!

Yum! Apple pie and coffee was a key attraction for the “old gal” on the cyclists ticket!

Volendam is a bit special – its definitely a must see tourist fishing village offering what it describes as “an atmosphere of geniality and romance.” The locals say here are 16 million Dutch citizens and 22,000 Volendammers in Holland – as that sums up the different nature of the local people who are renowned for their hard work and hospitality.

Hoping that the “old git is holding me tight right at the edge of Volendam harbour!

A quick tandem around the village and the harbour saw today’s tandmeing come to an end with a beer at one of the many bars overlooking the picturesque harbour. There is clearly money here given the expensive nature of some of the boats tied up.

My dynamic crew then checked into the historic Art Hotel Spaander which dates back to 1881 – happy to be booked into a room with a balcony overlooking the IJsselmeer.

Time for a bit of relaxation and showers for the “old gal” and the “old git” before a fabulous meal of different types of mussels dishes in a traditional pub setting on the edge of the harbour! Bliss! I can officially say that Team Tandem Ecosse are enjoying their first Dutch experience!

So a great first day of Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem covering 21.9 miles with the route brought to life in our Relive 3D video – so take a look below. (Remember if you are reading this on email, you may need to click on the blog first – via the link at the bottom of the email – to view the video.)

Day 2 – Cheesy but fab ride from Volendam thru Edam to the historic windmills of Alkmaar

One piece of history beside another! Here I am beside the windmill museum.

After a night of deep sleep my dynamic crew were up early and out on the balcony of their room to take in the amazing views over the water with the sun already shining brightly. Clearly it was going to be a spectacular day with a tandem ride to taste Edam in Edam before heading further up the coast then turning in land thru historic windmill country to the city of Alkmaar.

My dynamic crew up early on the balcony of their room taking in the views

Check out the details of our Day 2 route by clicking on the Strava map below.

Team Tandem Ecosse pedalled off leaving Volendam behind with a short tandem of just three miles to our first stop of the day – the historical town of Edam, famous for the cheese which bears its name! My dynamic crew were immediately taken by the beauty of this town which dates back to the 12th Century, and enjoyed taking in the views of some of its many narrow canals and pretty bridges.

Me and the “old git” on one of the many bridges over the canals in scenic Edam.

Now the main aim of visiting this town was for the “old git” and the “old gal” to tick the bucket list item of sampling the world renowned Edam cheese in Edam. They quickly found Henri Willig’s specialty cheese shop based in a 16th century building in the historical centre and popped in to taste some of the many varieties on offer.

The “old gal” – who has a particular fondness for cheese – thought she had died and gone to heaven as the samples kept coming! Eventually my crew decided to purchase three different flavours of Edam – hazelnut, pesto, and the star attraction … truffle.

Sampling Edam in Edam – tick! The “old gal” with a cheese cart!

After taking the tourist must-do pictures with the cheese cart, my crew stocked up with goodies for today’s picnic at a wonderful deli which insisted in packing everything in picnic friendly tubs and recommended a bottle of “local” slightly sparkling vinho verde for me to carry in my la bouclee wine carrier  – emphasising the Dutch-Portugal connections!

Edam was beautiful and offered the perfect stop for a morning coffee.

After a morning coffee it was noon as my dynamic crew set off with nearly 30 miles still to go! But it was truly sensational tandeming again with the sun beating down as we pedalled along the dykes up the coast towards Warder and Schadam on LF21 where we headed inland – to cycle almost right across the peninsula from east to west to Alkmaar, all along the one fantastic cycle path, LF15.

The “old gal” and the “old git” were both hugely impressed with the signposting on the cycle path – particularly the “old gal” who could relax a bit from her map reading duties and just follow a series of junction numbers, all clearly flagged up in big green circles on signposts with direction arrows.

The signposting for the cycle paths was brilliant – just follow the numbers!

The landscape changed as we cycled away from the coast, with us pedalling past neatly lined polders – which are small pieces of low-lying land reclaimed from the sea or a lake and protected by dykes. It was amazingly scenic and my dynamic crew revelled in cycling along a long flat tree lined avenue which seperated two banks of polders. Not surprisingly the miles just flew past with ease!

Tandeming at its best – a long straight flat tree lined path!

We were promised historic windmills on this route and just as my crew were starting to get peckish, windmills suddenly sprung up before our eyes! What a magnificent sight they were. We had arrived at Schermerhorn, the site of Museum Molen or the windmill museum.

A picnic bench in the shadow of the only windmill of the Golden Century which is accessible for visitors offered a perfect spot for my dynamic crew’s late lunch. The whirr of the four mast windmill as it turned in the wind made the experience all the more atmospheric.

What a perfect picnic spot in the shadow of the working windmill museum.

After refuelling there was time for a tour of the windmill – including a great display and video explaining exactly how the windmills were used to raise and lower the water levels in the fields. The big highlight for my crew was being able to go inside the windmill to see it as it would have been all those centuries ago – and to be able to climb up very steep ladders right to the very top.

The “old git” and the “old gal” pose for classic Dutch photo!

The “old git” was virtually speechless – and that doesn’t happen very often! – but back on ground level he regained his composure to shoot a short video of the “old gal” standing in front of the impressive sails as they turned effortlessly in the wind – which you can watch by clicking here:

The visit finished with a couple of purchases in the museum shop – including … yes you’ve guessed a pair of clogs! But these weren’t your normal tourist clogs – oh no! These were authentic clogs – as worn by a Dutch farmer which are going to feature as a garden decoration back at Matildas Rest! The only slight problem was that my crew had to find a place in the panniers to carry them!

And time for the “old gal” to do the silly giant clogs pose!

There was even time for the “old gal” to pose for a silly photo in the decorative giant clogs before we had to leave just before the museum’s closing time and pedal on to our overnight stop in Alkmaar.

Buoyed by such a fantastic history lesson experience, the pedaling was easier than ever – helped by the fact that within two miles of the restart we came across a run of another three of the windmills in a row by the edge of the cycle path. The curator of the museum had told us to look out for them as they had been converted into luxurious homes – and she and her family stayed in the first one.

It was an almost surreal experience and certainly one of the best sights my dynamic crew have ever seen from a cycle path! The “old gal” quickly switched her phone to video camera and shot some footage as we tandemed past, which you can watch here:

The last few miles into the city were a joy despite arriving at the height of rush hour as the bike is the key mode of transport here. We pedaled along very busy cycle paths alongside lots of commuters who were showing great interest in me as an “old lady” classic tandem. One of the best bits was the cycle traffic lights which held up the cars on the dual carriageway to let all the bikes cross in safety – with clear priority over vehicles. The very last stage – right outside our hotel – was a roundabout for bikes on the perimeter of the main vehicle roundabout … and again bikes had priority. The infrastructure for two wheeled travel was simply gobsmackingly awe inspiring!

After checking in to the Amrath Hotel in Alkmaar – and making sure I was safe and secure in the car park – my dynamic crew set about some mundane tasks of life as tandem tourists – with a washing being high on the agenda to ensure cycling clothes were fresh. A handy washing line over the shower in the bathroom helped the process!

Washing done! One of the essentials of tandem touring to keep things fresh!

Washing done it was time for my crew to head out to sample the delights of Alkmaar by night. The “old gal” spotted a rather nice looking Italian restaurant in the shadows of the impressive Grote Sint-Laurenskerk church – and they savoured a reviving gin and tonic before ordering what turned out to be massive pizzas washed down with a cheeky Italian red wine! Yum! Perfect for recharging those batteries before some much needed sleep!

Huge pizzas for my dynamic crew as they refuelled in an Italian restaurant.

There was one rather amusing final act of the day when three Dutch ladies accosted the “old git” in the hotel lift after spotting the flags painted on his toenails and in unison shouted: “S – e – x- y”! Oh how it made his night!

So a sensational second day of Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem covering 29.7 miles with the route brought to life in our Relive 3D video – so take a look below.

Day 3 – Alkmaar cheese market and getting very lost in rain in windmill country on ride back to Amsterdam

The canal networks in Alkmaar have a key role to play in the weekly cheese market.

The final leg of our Holland taster part of Euro Tour du tandem 2017 and Team Tandem Ecosse were taking in the historic cheese market at Alkmaar before the not insubstantial matter of a near 40 mile ride through the beautiful River Zaan area back into Amsterdam in plenty of time for a risque night out for my dynamic crew in the Red Light district! A straightforward schedule surely with the flat landscape and the great cycle path signposting! Surely …. ?!

Check out the details of our Day 3 route by clicking on the Strava map below.

Without doubt, the Alkmaar Cheese Market is the main attraction in the city. And the “old git” and the “old gal” were in luck as this was Friday – the day of the weekly market where cheese is traded according to a tradition that is centuries old.

A cheese market has been taking place in Alkmaar since 1365 and it was certainly a colourful spectacle full of folklore which met my crew in picturesque Waagplein square in the centre of the city which was mobbed with tourists as the bell rang at 10am to mark the beginning of trading. Some 30,000 kilos, or 2200 whole cheeses, were lined up and waiting for customers.

The impressive cheese market building on the Waagplein in Alkmaar.

Fortunately my dynamic crew found a space on the tiered seating and were able to take in all the atmosphere of the spectacle – including watching the  ‘kaasdragers’, or cheese porters, carrying the whole cheeses on their wooden sledges on straps from their shoulders, wearing their traditional outfits of white clothes, straw hats and bow ties – all surrounded by girls in traditional pretty Dutch costume. The sledges carry eight Gouda cheeses, each of them weighing 13,5 kilos. Due to the weight the carriers walk with a special “cheese carriers’dribble” – a particular walking rhythm to make it easier.

The kaasdragers carrying the whole cheeses on the wooden sledges.

Girls working as cheese sellers in traditional pretty Dutch costume.

The “old gal” – who in a classic understatement is known to like a bit of cheese – somehow managed to catch the eye of one of the traders who was sampling the huge round cheeses who gave her a lesson in how to inspect the cheese. This involved more than just looking at its exterior – the cheese is knocked on and then a special cheese scoop is pushed into the cheese to extract a piece, which is then crumbled between the fingers and smelled. And, naturally, it is tasted to assess the relation between taste, and the percentages of fat and moisture. The “old git” managed to video the “old gal” doing the sampling – which you can watch by clicking here:

Not wishing to be outdone, the “old git” had to get involved and found himself being the subject of a weighing in the Waaggebouw and proudly got a certificate saying he was the equivalent weight of 105 kgs of Gouda! Naturally there was a cheesy photo – complete with straw hat!

The “old git” in cheesy pose – weighing the same as 105kg of Gouda!

Surrounding the cheese market was a whole range of market stalls and some sketches of couples on bicycles from a local artist – called Sietse Wiersma – caught the “old gal’s” attention. Obviously she asked if had any drawings of tandems and sadly he didn’t. But on buying a couple of his prints, Sietse quickly drew a personal greeting on the wrapping – complete with a tandem image!

The “old gal” with local artist Sietse and his quick tandem sketch!

As time marched on, my dynamic crew had to pull themselves away from the cheese market – and after a coffee beside one of  the canals, and picking up some picnic supplies, we pedalled out of Alkmaar at 12.30pm confident we would be back in Amsterdam at 4.30pm at an average of 10 mph.

Then it all started to go a bit wrong and got a tad frustrating for my crew who became a bit less than dynamic for a spell! We found the cycle path to leave the city ok and hit the first point of Helios and then headed for the town of Limmen where all of a sudden the route numbers bizarrely disappeared!

At this point we were lost in a housing estate which resulted in several repetitions of a process of asking for directions, interpreting confused looks, cycling on a bit, and getting lost again! Oh and it started to rain … heavily! So much so that my crew’s fetching blue ponchos and my snazzy pannier rain covers made an appearance! Oh how the “old git” and the “old gal” laughed! Not!

No shots of my crew in ponchos – but the rain was heavy – as seen from my back saddle!

After seeking refuge in a cafe, and getting a useful bit of advice from a local cyclist, we headed off with fingers crossed and with a bit of luck rejoined the cycle path and its junction numbers. Why there was a stretch where they were missing is obviously a mystery. But it made my crew feel lots better when we saw several groups of tourist cyclists bemusedly looking at maps and scratching their heads as they found the same problem in the opposite direction.

We had lost nearly two hours shuttling back and forth in frustration – but the rain started to clear as we pedaled through pleasant open countryside – on our route – and into Wormerveer. A quick check that we were going the correct way and we headed on with the “old gal”  and the “old git” impressed to suddenly find themselves tandeming in the sunshine thru the fabulous Zaanse Schans – which is an inhabited recreated neighbourhood in the style of this area on the River Zaan in the 17th-18th Centuries – with its beautiful dark green wooden buildings, bridges and windmills.

This is a favourite shot of me and my dynamic crew as it sums up the Holland experience!

This area was a real highlight although it was clearly a major tourist attraction. Fortunately my crew stopped at a small cafe at the first windmill – where it was still fairly quiet and had a reviving hot chocolate and ate their picnic as a (very) late lunch. Again it was fascinating to discover the heritage here – with these windmills originally being used as industrial windmills for uses such as sawmills.

Another shot of the fabulous windmills in the Zaanse Schans neighbourhood.

Refreshed after some sustenance my crew were feeling more dynamic and embarked on the last stretch of the route back with gusto – enjoying cycling thru scenic parkland around Landsmeer and then along the banks of a canal back towards the Buiksloterweg ferry to cross back to Amsterdam.

It was late into Friday night rush hour now  and the cycle paths were as busy as motorways with people rushing to get home for the weekend. At one junction such was the congestion of bikes that we had the almost unbelievable experience of having to queue and wait with other bikes for three repetitions of the cycle traffic lights to cross a main dual carriageway!

Team Tandem Ecosse finally arrived back at the Westcord Art Hotel just as the sun was setting after a long, but – in the most part – fabulous day on my saddles!

As I was safely locked up in the underground car park, there was time for a quick but very welcome shower for my crew and a quick change before catching the bus back into the city centre for an evening in the Red Light District! They tucked into a hamburger meal before wandering around the narrow streets and canals with their eyes wide open in amazement as they took in the scene and the window displays!

For a laugh my crew decided to pay a visit to the Red Light Secrets museum and the “old gal” even had the opportunity to experience how it felt to sit in one of the windows!

The “old gal” posing in a window at Red Light Secrets!

After an entertaining evening of people watching a quiet drink in a side street brought the evening to an end as my crew returned to the hotel for some much needed sleep.

The final day of the first leg of Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem covered 38.7 miles but there was a Strava recording error due to a mobile phone battery running out. The app still recorded the correct distance but very wrongly had us cycling for nearly nine hours at an average speed of just 4.5 mph. The trusted old fashioned milometer on my handlebars recorded the same distance but in an actual cycling time just short of four hours at a more respectable average of nearly 10 mph. As always the route is brought to life in our Relive 3D video – so take a look below.

So to conclude the first leg of the Euro Tandem Tour 2017, Team Tandem Ecosse really enjoyed their taster tour of Holland with its highly impressive cycling infrastructure – and because it was so flat!  We covered around 100 miles and despite the minor mishap of getting lost – which to be fair was probably the fault of my dynamic crew! – I am told we will certainly be back!

Meanwhile it is time to drive to Strasbourg and tackle the Alsace a velo!

Le Grand Depart pour Euro Tour du tandem and Dutch warm-up ride!

On arrival there was time to stretch my pedals around the canals of Amsterdam!

It’s Tuesday (19 September) and “Team Tandem Ecosse” – the name used by Team Matilda on foreign soil! – have arrived safely in Amsterdam in Holland and are already sampling the local produce!

Between them the “old git” and the “old gal” drove to Hull to catch the overnight ferry to Zeebrugge – then drove to the Dutch capital, arriving early afternoon in the bustling city which is the start point for a 3-leg two week Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem.

My dynamic duo were almost deliriously happy when we first set wheels on Dutch soil as we drove off the P&O ferry, as that meant we had finally arrived for our Euro Tour – after almost a year of planning.

It seems a long time since Saturday night when I was a star attraction at a wedding before a frenzied day of packing on Sunday. My crew were so busy they didn’t even have time to toast the trip – but am sure they will make up for that over the next two weeks as we tandem thru Holland and France!

There will be loads of time for tastings as we pedal along through the Dutch and French countryside – particularly on the last leg which will be in Champagne where my dynamic crew will have to do lots of strict taste tests to see it is up to standards!

Matilda Transport fully loaded and branded up for our Euro Tour 2017.

So Monday dawned and after some much-needed sleep, the alarm was duly set for 7 am and, after much checking, double checking and even triple checking, we set off at 9 am. My crew quickly ate up the miles on the M74 and on to the M6 before a stop at the fantastic Tebay services – where they stocked up on a few additional items for the picnic further down the motorway. Although it was a long trip I was very comfortable in Matilda Transport, I was ratchet strapped in so that my ageing frame was protected from too much shaking en route! You know, the old dears really do look after me like the “old lady” that I am!

The “old git” and the “old gal” travelling in tandem in Matilda Transport! All very comfy!

As you know my dynamic duo are so committed to the cause of tandeming, that in order to fit me into the vehicle, they have to sit in tandem while driving, with one occupying the driving seat, and the other sitting in the single “back seat” that is usable. It is actually all very cozy and comfy and all three of us really feel part of the team. The “old gal” can drive, while the “old git” has a chill and a snooze – and then they swap over every two hours.

The first bit of the journey flew past and we soon arrived at the Port of Hull to catch the P&O Ferries “Pride of York” evening sailing to Zeebrugge Port. This was all very exciting as it is the first time that Team Matilda has been on one of the big overnight ferries and my dynamic crew decided to use the North Sea crossing as the official start of their holiday!

So fairly soon after Matilda Transport was safely parked up, the “old gal” and the “old git” were up on deck having their first cocktail of the trip as we departed from Hull and sailed out into the Humber.

Cheers! The first cocktail of the Euro Tour 2017 to help my crew find their sea legs!

The “old gal” taking in the sea air as the Pride of York headed out into the Humber.

After celebrating our departure, next up was finding our cabin for our overnight stay – and it was actually quite luxurious with its en-suite facilities and even a port hole to see what was going on outside! Fortunately the sea was calm as the “old git” is not known for being the best on the high seas, so he took his anti sea sickness tablets just to be sure! And there was the obligatory bottle of prosecco to be opened just to help them settle in!

The “old gal” getting comfy and settling into the cabin for the overnight crossing.

Those anti sea sickness tablets were probably a good idea as next up on my dynamic crew’s schedule was a pre-dinner gin tasting! And amazingly they were the only people to turn up to the shopping area for it – so it became a private gin tasting – hosted by the wonderful (and the “old gal” said very good looking!) Bruno! He imparted his knowledge of all things gin and went through an informative series of tastings of some of the main – and lesser known – brands.

My dynamic crew with Bruno – their host for the private gin tasting on board!

The highlight was being introduced to Whitley Neill Rhubarb and Ginger Gin R