Tag Archives: holiday

Visit the Outer Hebrides (Iain)


There comes a time in every man’s life when he has to confess something to his partner. He’ll have struggled with the confession for weeks in advance. He’ll spend ages trying to get the correct phrasing. In the weeks leading up to it he’ll use bribery and flattery to get his partner in the right frame of mind to hear him.

But… eventually… he’ll just have to confess – “I’m going on a biking holiday!”

He’ll then try to explain to his partner how his week long “training” trip to Mallorca or the Canary islands wont be fun. He’ll claim – nobody will be drinking!  He’ll say – we’re not going anywhere near Shagaluf…sorry Magaluf.  He’ll state – it’s all about the hills.

A few years ago, I went on a week long “training” holiday to the famous Lanzarote resort of Club la Santa or as  I prefer to call it, Prison Camp la Santa. The accommodation was so spartan the film 300 was filmed here. (I might have made that last bit up).

The accommodation, at that time, was terrible (and subsequently has been upgraded) The room was tiny with old broken furniture. I had to pay a small fortune for food and drink and there wasn’t much to do once I’d been for a spin on the bike as Santa is miles away from any big town. What made it worse was discovering someone else was staying in a 5* all inclusive hotel near by which was half the price!

This year, instead of an overpriced training camp on a windy, desolate, overbearingly hot island I went to a  windy, desolate, cold island – the Outer Hebrides.

During the week, I was able to bike a different route every day on virtually car free roads.

Tour De Harris – https://www.strava.com/activities/1099040596

One of the greatest cycling routes in the UK. The road hugs the coast around the Isle of harris. On the west side I passed golden sand beaches and amazing views across to small islands. On the east coast I biked through a rocky landscape that wouldn’t be out of place on the moon!

Tour De Point – https://www.strava.com/activities/1102079723

A flat out and back route to a lighthouse. From here you can watch whales pass by. On the way back a small detour will take you to a 15% hill climb! It’s short but hard. I needed a quick rest at the top!

Tour De West Side – https://www.strava.com/activities/1103897867

A great way to see some of the island’s best attractions. The route takes in the ancient stone circles at Callanish as well as visiting the blackhouses, the Broch and some of the best beaches on the west side.

Castle Grounds Mountain Bike trail – https://www.strava.com/activities/1100545590

If you tire of road biking then a recently completed mountain bike trial has been constructed in the Castle Grounds. An area of forestry next to Stornoway.  I hadn’t tried it before and was pleasantly surprised at how good it was. There’s no major hills but lots of undulating tracks. It was a great way to pass a few hours.

As well as cycling there’s great places to swim, to run run, and to go on walks.

It’s one of the most beautiful places in the UK and everyone should visit at least once. If your partner asks about the pubs then you can says that the Outer Hebrides has the highest rate of abstinence in the UK! Just don’t mention that the one’s who don’t abstain love to drink…a lot! 🙂

A short history of my bikes – part 5 (Iain)

There’s one quote I live my life by:

“If at first you don’t succeed… make sure no-one else finds out!” 

Unfortunately I told lots of people about (failing to) ride a stage of the Tour de France. https://norseman2016.wordpress.com/2016/10/24/a-short-history-of-my-bikes-part-4-iain/ 

That didn’t put me off attempting it again the next year. This time, I didn’t tell anyone!

Andrew wanted to ride his own bike but I decided to hire one so like a pauper at a whorehouse I paid for one ride only. This was bike 6. This was the first and only time I rode it.

The stage was a loop starting and ending in the Beautiful french town of Annecy. It had never been used as a Tour de France stage before so there was no information other than this map.


On the way to the start – Andrew got a puncture! Was this a sign of drama come ? Unfortunately – yes! It wouldn’t be the last time that day I’d be stuck by the side of a road repairing Andrew’s bike.

The initial section was flat and easy as it winds it way along Lake Annecy. The weather was nice and sunny so we made good progress. The first climb was a steady incline but we felt good as we reached the summit of Col de Leschaux.

After this point the road widened so we rode side by side. Occasionally Andrew would drop behind me. I didn’t worry about it as he would appear again a few minutes later but just before the next climb Andrew dropped back and then didn’t reappear!

I stopped and waited. Hundreds of riders passed me but there was no sign of Andrew.

Eventually he turned up. His gears were broken. The chain was consistently slipping off. I tried to fix it but the problem persisted. Someone else stopped to help but they couldn’t fix it either.

Andrew decided to wait for a motorbike mechanic. I decided to head on.

The rest of the race was hard. The two climbs were long and there was barely any shade from the hot sun. On one climb I was going as fast as I could but I still got passed by a Frenchman wearing sandals on a bike with a basket full of his shopping! Lance Armstrong was right when he said – its not about the bike!

I completed the stage and received my medal. It felt good but it would have been better to finish with Andrew.

Andrew was waiting for me when I got back to the Hotel. His race had been ended by the mechanical problem. The mechanic had been unable to resolve it.

If every cloud has a silver lining then Andrews would be geting back in enough time to see Andy Murray play the Wimbledon final. The one he won!

Unfortunately his cloud had no silver lining. It was thunderbolts and lightning.  The hotel wasn’t showing the tennis so he had to sit bored out of his mind waiting for me instead!


A short history of my bikes – part 4 (Iain)

One of my ambitions in life is to appear on Channel 4’s Grand Designs. I know I’ll die happy if Kevin Macleod looks at my plan to self-build an eco-pyramid with an underground swimming pool and says: “Well, I admire your ambition!”

One of my other ambitions was to do a stage of the Tour De France. In 2012 Andrew and I signed up for “Le Tour D’etape”  a closed road sportive held every year on a stage of the Tour de France. It was a tough mountainous stage that would challenge the best cyclists. People train for years to get to the level required. I had six months and I didn’t own a road bike.

So, I purchased Bike 4. A cycle to work scheme road bike. I knew very little about bikes so I didn’t check out what gears it had – or even attempt to ride it beforehand. I bought it because I liked the colour.

All we knew about the route was this map.


The stage is 197KM from Pau to Bagnères-de-Luchon over 2 Haute Categories climbs and two Cat 1 climbs. The only cat I knew about goes “miaow” so the terms meant very little to me. But, I now know HC means “holy crap – how can this road keep going up!”

Over the next 6 months we trained harder than we’d ever trained before. Looking back I can see it wasn’t even close to how hard we should have trained.

At the start of race we hoped for the best but expected the worst.We positioned ourselves in the start pen for slower riders. This was a mistake as the sweeper van leaves as soon as the last pen leaves. The slowest riders, the ones who need the most time, are the ones who get the least time.

I started cycling but disaster struck as I crossed the start line  – my pump fell off! I had to stop and go back for it. The sweeper van waited as I picked it up. I was nearly swept up before I’d even got going!

I restarted and crossed the start line successfully. Andrew hadn’t stopped so it took a while to catch up. The first section to the base of Col D’Aubesque was fine. Our speed was ok. We then hit the climb….and it the road went up and up and up and….

It took us over two hours of climbing to get to the top. It was the hardest biking I’d ever done. What did we find at the top? Nothing! The weather was so wet and cold we couldn’t see anything. Which was annoying as the previous day had been beautifully sunny and warm.

The ride down the hill was torture. I’d never free wheeled for such a long distance. The lack of moving meant my hands and body were freezing cold. By the time we reached the bottom I was F**KED!

No time for a rest as we now had to start the long climb of Tourmalet. Unfortunately the sweeper wagon wasn’t far behind us.

We did our best but got swept up on Tourmalet. If a picture paints a thousand words then this picture sums up my Etape experience.


Looking back I can see where we went wrong – lack of fitness, preparation and knowledge but there’s one thing you can’t fault:  if asked I’m sure Kevin McLeod  would have said “Well, I admire your ambition!”

Gran Canaria (Iain)

Last week I went on vacation to Gran Canaria. I did some biking, running and swimming.

Some athletes would claim this is winter weather training but why train in the sun when 90% of Scottish races are in the cold and rain?

If I want to race faster I should go somewhere I can train in weather worse than my planned events. Then, on race day, I’d wake up, see the bad weather but be relieved that it’s not as bad as the time I trained in hailstones and a gale in the the Arctic circle.

So last week wasn’t winter weather training, it was a holiday!


Gran Canaria is very hilly! Be prepared for long ascents. The road surface is great because they don’t get frosts that break up the concrete.

http://www.free-motion.com/en/gran-canaria/ is a great place to hire a bike.  Although, minutes after receiving one, I accidentally dropped it against a concrete column. I spent the rest of the hire period worried I’d damaged it! Thankfully it was OK.

At home I use a 11-25 cassette. On vacation I used 11-32. What a difference it made to climbing hills. I’ve now ordered an 11-28 for my own bike so that I can change it depending on the event.

Electric bikes are amazing! I set a speed and then started cycling. The bike takes my pedalling speed and then then gives the bike a boost to get the speed up to what I’d set. I wasn’t aware of the boost whilst cycling on the flat but as soon as I reached a hill I could feel it kick in. It meant I could race up hills without breaking a sweat. If you’ve ever worried about getting sweaty biking to work then get an electric bike. You’ll never sweat again!

Spanish roundabouts are lethal! You go round them on the right but cars seem to come onto them at high speed. I found it easier to stop and let the cars clear before crossing when it was empty.

Spanish pedestrian crossings are even worse than roundabouts. They don’t have traffic lights so you step out onto the road and the cars will stop. That’s the theory but in practice I ended up eyeing up the driver hurtling towards me and only starting crossing if they registered they’d seen the fear in my eyes. A number of cars didn’t and failed to stop.

Once I’d left the main town the roads were very quiet and I’d hardly see any cars.


By the end of the week I’d cycled, ran and swam further than any other week this year! So this week I’ve done bugger all. Training is all about balance!