Moulton Tour d’Ecosse 2013

2013 was a different time. I had only really been into bikes for a few months, and yet somehow this unfolded. The text was published in The Moultoneer (I forget which issue), attached with pictures below.


The Moulton – Grand – Tour D’Ecosse


To be perfectly honest, I have no idea how we got here.


I had been a designer & photographer, never really been into any kind of sport and I had a bicycle. It was an Ikea bike which I had modified, somewhat. Lauren is a musician and academic: she was away in Austria at a conference, and had planned a treasure hunt for Valentine’s which pushed me to ride the ‘Blue Donkey’ out of town, my first ride on Strava and probably three times the distance I’d ever done, at 35 km.


I liked it. I felt accomplished.


A couple of months later, I had an odd-shaped bit of metal in the flat: Lauren thought it was a dog. Paul had shown me something and I had settled on Moulton being the apex of small-wheeled cycling – something I understood as the Donkey had 20” wheels. Somehow, it was decided that we would do a cycling tour – circumnavigating the coastline of Scotland on Moultons – as soon as Lauren had handed in her PhD thesis.


The build was difficult. I had never built a bike, and planned some major modifications to the Deluxe and Mini frames which we had acquired. Brian Perkins was incredibly helpful with the Mini and a couple of other parts. I took it upon myself to fabricate carbon fibre racks, Lauren was building the luggage, and the bikes had been rebuilt with 8 speed derailleur gears. We had a few days of false starts (mechanical) but finally…


Day 1: Friday 13th September, 2013


By the time we made it to the foot of the Forth road bridge, we had almost settled into the fact that we were finally off. We stopped at the Three Bridges Cafe for a bacon roll and a coffee. The owner chatted to us about how he sees a lot of cyclists, and how he had once done a long tour, but had contracted Lyme disease which had impacted his health greatly…


Cycling a mile over water – reaching the top and knowing we were finally out of Edinburgh’s reach, and entering Fife. What a moment! We reached Callendar near dusk. We’d done it! We’d started our tour. We’d covered 91 km: the first time either of us had ridden a Moulton; the first time either of us had ridden with luggage; and the longest distance either of us had ever ridden.


Day 2


Despite the distance covered, we were not too badly fatigued when we woke. First night sleeping on the 10mm roll-mats, and we weren’t even too cold in our £21 double sleeping bag and tenner’s worth of silk liner. Packing, however, took us a while. It was our first start with a wet tent, so we didn’t get on the road before 11. The sun was out, and our objective was to make it well onto NCN Route 7.


We bought food in Strathyre, at THE shop. It was my first experience of the peculiar nature of a THE shop, as in a one-shop that sells everything, or sells everything that can be bought in the town and is also the Post Office, but really sells not very much, as they have one broccolus, one pack of chicken breast, and a couple other odds and ends in a fridge.


Route 7 near Loch Earn is magic, running through the Glen Ogle estate on the bed of the late Callander and Oban Railway line. We camped by the side of the path, where we barbecued our chicken breast before bedding.


Day 3


We woke wet. Our disorganised unpacking meant that we had bags stuffed in all corners of the tent, making contact between the rain-sheet and the inner tent, so rain was dripping on us. Later on we had our first mishap on the ride, as one of the three bolts holding on Lauren’s front rack disappeared. We noticed and I replaced it opposite the Killin Gun Club, which I thought was hilarious.


My feet were frozen. I was having trouble stopping, as I couldn’t feel the ground when I put my feet down. Standard SPD shoes and neoprene overshoes were not even vaguely waterproof, and hardly warm either. We decided that we needed to address the issue and go shopping in Fort William. We caught a train at Tyndrum, arriving at Lauren’s parents’ in Banavie just after dark.


Two days later, we set off. I had bought Shimano MW81 boots, and Lauren had acquired Gore-Tex socks. We lunched at Glenfinnan, and must have looked rather amusing to the throngs of Japanese tourists who were scrambling around in mud to look out from observation platforms above us. The next day we crossed from Mallaig to Skye. On the 20th we traversed Skye: looking at the map this was a wonderfully epic day. We lunched mid-afternoon at Saucy Mary’s amongst the first (motor) bikers there for the big rally. Just after we’d got off the Skye bridge, Pete drove past us at the very moment that he was telling his tour about his silly friends who were touring the highlands on tiny bikes, to the point that he just was able to add “… and there they are!”. We camped next to a war memorial on the coast.


The next day started with heavy pushes uphill, followed by incredibly long and EPIC downhill runs reaching what seemed a million MPH! We stopped for lunch on Loch Carron. My rear rack had started to wobble, so we went to Lochcarron to the amazing Spar shop, and got some gardening wire to brace it with. We camped in the enchanted forest of Achnashellach Lodge.


Day 10: Hell of the North followed by Paradise.


Yes, we started on a trail that Google had suggested as cyclable, and then followed what was sign posted as a Forestry Commission diversion, putting us on the old pony trail which involved a couple of hours carrying our 30+kg bikes up a muddy bank which was barely hikable. The struggle reminded me of old footage of 1930s cyclocross races. More recently a friend was telling me about this most amazing mountain bike loop he’d done up north – “Oh right” being the answer to my comment that we’d done it on the Moultons.


Once we got over onto the Coulin pass, however, it was bliss. We were atop an endless glen with no civilisation in site, slowly negotiating a rocky estate trail on heavily laden bikes with tiny wheels. We found a loch, and pitched tent. We declared it paradise. Lauren read and I had an unsuccessful attempt at fishing.


We had a day of rest in Paradise. Woken by the chomping of two white horses eating grass near our tent. We spoke to the head stalker and found that the Coulin estate belongs to W. H. Smith.


We pushed on, covering many a mile through stunning landscapes and the beautiful road flanking Loch Maree. Later in the day we struggled to find any flat ground, which probably forced us on 15 miles more than we would have liked. We were on Loch Ewe, a rather important naval hideout in WWII. The only place we found to pitch ended up being near Aultbea in one of the many old Anti Aircraft batteries. And of course as we were scouting the best place to pitch, we found a hatchet and machete on the ground. We had an uncomfortable night.


I happened to be wearing my team Coast bibs when we rode through First Coast and Second Coast. I can’t say they were towns, but they were signposted.


Day 14


Atop the Dundonnell estate (which belongs to Tim Rice), we were faced with stunning glens and rather unusual lochs, seemingly stacked like staircases, when you felt that water should only be at sea level.


We made it Ullapool Post Office at around 3, where we collected our package of spare spokes sent up by Dylan at Yourspokes, and a great gift/saviour pack from Jamie at Koo Bikes. We stayed at the Ardmair campsite. The owner gave us a lift with the Moultons in his pickup into Ullapool so we had a wonderful opulence of oyster at The Seaforth, with a lovely pint of local ale.


The following day we crossed the border into Sutherland, saw our first sign for John o’Groats and saw a woman burning a heap of wool in Elphin, which made us feel as though we had entered Wickerman territory (and to be honest, we were not even geographically far from Summer Isles). We camped near prehistoric caves and a place where fish spawn is fertilised and sheep are dipped. Lauren enjoyed the chatter of stags, as their season of rutting had just begun.


We cycled against a big road race. As we pushed, almost each and every racer waved and smiled. We had soup and a sandwich at the Maryck tea room, near Unapool, which was pretty magical with its doll museum on a landscape that looked more like Hawaii than anything I was familiar with. We had dinner at the Scourie Hotel, both eating venison in vengeance for the loss of sleep due to rutting.


We passed a place called Badcall. We didn’t stop there. We stopped for lunch at the London grocers, which was closed but we used their picnic bench. We pressed on to Kinlochbervie, had coffee at the hotel and purchased a fishing license for the following day. We made it to Sandwood Bay for an amazing sunset.


Riding to Sandwood is possible, but I guess it is not ideal when you have a lot of luggage. About half the trail is relatively smooth, then it gets pretty hard going as there are a lot of large stones to keep the path from eroding.


The landscape here is insane. One of the most remote pieces of coastline in Europe, and clearly a geological mishap. There are small lochs in the middle of bog, which have sandy beaches at about 100m altitude, with a sheer cliff to the ocean. The beach itself then has a view of the huge sea stack which – of course – was framing the setting sun as we arrived.


Day 18: Monday 30th September, 2013


A windy awakening. Another flawlessly sunny morning, we walked to the nearest stream to get water: Sandwood was the first place on the entire trip where we struggled to find drinking water, and this stream was a good 20 minute walk from our camp. We had breakfast on a micro-loch beach. We finally got our wetsuits, Kindle and fishing gear and headed to beach. Windy, and sand stormy. Finally went in the water. Lauren thought we were in the water a bit too long, as I stalled the retreat, my reasoning being that I thought it was a good idea to bring up the fact that I thought it would be a good idea if we got married, seeing that we had – at this point – been in the most extreme form of company/isolation that either of us had ever experienced, and still liked each other. Gleefully, Lauren agreed, surrounded by waves and tiny surface rainbows, bright sun and, yea, freezing water. After all, this is the North Atlantic. We were facing towards Canada, and regions that are relatively uninhabited. Though the wetsuits kept us warm, they were short-sleeved, and both of us were starting to realise our hands were stiffening up. We headed back out to Sandwood Loch, tried fishing and reading. The reading was successful, but the fishing proved less so. Having not really planned ahead, I used a small red zip-tie to fashion an engagement ring of sorts. Lauren now wears a palladium cast of the zip-tie which bears a small diamond, bezel mounted where the ratchet was in the plastic original. Magpie Jared did a stunning job of making this a reality, and the ring still has “CHINA” written on its side, as proof of its humble origins.


Day 19


Exiting Sandwood was only the beginning of our day. We saw waterfalls coming out of the tops of fields, and our first sighting of peat harvesting. As the sun was setting, we had the most incredible descent which felt endless, and looked out upon a texture and colour that looked like cinema’s martian landscapes. We’d made it to Durness for a very windy, sleepless night


We managed to find a B&B so we could sleep the following night, but were faced with less than a week free in our calendar and 30 mph headwinds which were not expected to calm.


Day 21: Thursday 3rd October, 2013


We cut our losses and chartered a bus to Lairg, as the bike-bus had stopped running a few days previous. Train to Inverness and then we arrived in Edinburgh Haymarket in late evening.


It was at this stage that we knew we were cyclists.


We weren’t able to finish our Moulton Tour d’Ecosse in 2014 due to other commitments, but did complete the 55 mile route of L’Eroica Britannia on them, much to the amazement of many ‘serious’ cyclists. We plan to complete the tour in 2015.



Tobias Feltus: