Eurovelo 12 St Andrews to Dunfermline

80 km 1100m gained 1050 lost

Technically only half of today's route was on the Eurovelo which I think is Eurovelo madness. Why St Andrews is not on the route seems bonkers, it's on the North Sea (the theme of the Eurovelo 12), it's a beautiful city, and has some great pubs. The only downside is that getting away St Andrews inevitably involves heading west and that tends to be where the wind comes from. Today we had a 20 mph wind in our faces for half the route and, with 1000m of climb to contend with, it made for a tough ride. It's the end of Day 3, we still haven't crossed the Firth of Forth, and we're feeling a little knackered.

I shouldn't complain however. The countryside in Fife, although a little on the bumpy side, is very pretty. Everything is incredibly green, the trees are huge and beautiful, the roadsides are dense with wild flowers, and even with the wind in your face it's hard not to enjoy the ride.

Following the Sustrans Route 1 we went west tracking in a rough and ready way what I guess is the spine of the Fife peninsula, the Lomond Hills, although we didn't actually cross them until near the end. It was a really mixed route and included wide open farmland, painful in the wind; a long trip along a wooded sheltered gorge; and some great cycling up along the edge of a ridge with huge views to the north. Coming the other way, wind assisted, were dozens of cyclists involved in a sponsored ride adding to the feeling that we were battling with the tide.

It was 2 hours before we could find anywhere open for a cup of coffee. We found one together with home made shortbread in a hotel at Freuchie. We were desperate and couldn't wait for the next village, Falklands, nestling under the highest point of the Lomond Hills and a particularly quaint and picturesque place.

Turning southwest, with the wind now from the side, things got better and we enjoyed a nice ride on gravel paths around Loch Leven. With the mountains behind it, looking back from Kinross, it looked a particularly pretty place, although Mary Queen of Scots perhaps didn't appreciate it as much when she was locked up on an island in the middle.

The last stretch included a 200m climb over the ridge and a lovely descent to Dunfermline. We're staying just off the route on the edge of town, a place you wouldn't automatically choose as a holiday destination. At the end of our cycling range we didn't we want to press on to Edinburgh, and crossing the Firth of Forth is tomorrow's challenge.

Eurovelo 12 Arbroath to St Andrews

63 kilometres

It's only day 2 of our Eurovelo mini adventure and we've already parted company with the main route. Instead of cutting across the Fife peninsula from the Tay to the Forth, we continued around the coast and tonight we're staying in At Andrews. Last night we belatedly discovered that, apart from one room in the St Andrew's Premier Inn, every hotel and bed and breakfast for miles around is fully booked. At vast expense we reluctantly opted for the Premier Inn in Scotland's premier university city. It means we're now a little off​ the pace and a day behind our schedule, but we had a lovely day nonetheless.

We got away from Arbroath early and cruised down a glorious bike path along the coast. It was Saturday and everyone seemed to be out - the path was crowded with walkers, joggers and other cyclists. This can sometimes cause friction but not today, quite the opposite, with best wishes and friendly greetings hitting us from all sides. People here are very friendly, take an interest in what we're doing and are quick to offer helpful advice.

Turning the corner after the castle at Broughty Ferry, the run into Dundee along the northern banks of the Tay was particularly interesting. Dominating the scene was a huge oil platform in the process of being decommissioned. To get into the docks themselves we had to go through some security gates, a bit of fun which meant we had the whole place to ourselves until we got to other side.

Crossing the Tay Road Bridge was also good fun. Access is via a bike lift and the route runs through a central passage for 1.8 miles across the bridge. There were suicide hot lines everywhere to discourage people from jumping from the bridge into the Tay but I suspect you'd get killed by the traffic first.

On the other side we turned east directly into a cold wind. After lunch in the community cafe in Tayport we embarked on the worst part of the day, on a trail through the Forestry Commission owned headland on the southern side of the Tay. The surface, lumps of sharp rock rather than gravel, made the ride really uncomfortable.

It was drizzling as we arrived in St Andrews but thanks to brilliant navigation on my part we made it to the hotel in quick time and were soon exploring the town on foot. Its a lovely place, lots of medieval buildings, a beautiful ancient high street and of course the ruins of its cathedral near the sea. When the Scots abandoned Catholicism they did it properly and left the buildings to rot.

St Andrews is at the opposite end of the wealth spectrum to Arbroath and has some splendid bars and pubs. We found one serving fabulous locally brewed beer, lingered in it a little too long, and got soaked in a thunder storm on the way back to the hotel.

Eurovelo 12 Aberdeen to Arbroath

95 kilometres

It's only two weeks since we got back from Spain but we're on the road again, this time heading south from Aberdeen down Britain's east coast. We've completed our first day and are recovering in Arbroath, home of the famous Arbroath Smokies.

It's been a great day and we had glorious weather, but we did have some issues. I blame the train.

We got the Caledonian Sleeper up from London to Aberdeen, and while the bikes were comfortable in their special cabin we didn't get much sleep in the Sleeper. The website for the service is very flash and had left me with the impression when I booked that we would be traveling in comfort. We didn't, particularly as the electrics on the ancient carriages failed, which meant no breakfast and no water for a wash. I guess we did get a little sleep but we hardly noticed.

Still we were in Aberdeen before 8am, in good time for a whole day's cycling. As everything was shut we decided to set off straight​ away and get breakfast en route. This was probably a mistake. Scotland isn't Spain and finding open cafes is like finding hen's teeth

After cycling for 15 miles we were in Portlethen Village and starving. We asked a lollipop lady were we could eat and ended up in the Asda cafe eating reconstituted omelette. Worse still there was no where to charge my phone which, after an electricity free night, on the train was now as dead as a dodo. Christine dismissed my concerns saying the route was well signed and we didn't need the phone.

Christine's​ approach to navigation is that any route that's not in the right direction must be wrong so when the signs started taking us north they were instantly treated with scepticism. She argued that we must be heading back to Aberdeen. I argued that we came from Aberdeen on a different route so couldn't be going back to Aberdeen. The result was an impasse which involved cycling from Porthleven's in various directions and back again in search of decisive information. Anyway after messing about for over an hour we finally opted to go south to Inverberie on the side of the dual carriageway, a terrible ride but at least in the right direction.

In a sunny cafe in that lovely little seaside town we got the phone charged up, studied the map and learnt some useful things.

Firstly the Eurovelo doesn't follow the Sustrans signs in a consist way. I've got the Eurovelo on my phone and had assumed it followed Sustrans route 1, which is well signed, but it doesn't. So the signs we were following weren't necessarily the Eurovelo.

Secondly although my application of logic was correct the detour, designed to miss the horrible ride down the side of the dual carriageway, was massive and Christine's scepticism, if not her logic, was understandable.
Anyway after Inverberie things picked up. Armed with a functioning gps, with our faith restored in the signs, we followed a really beautiful route along the wild low coastline, very close to the shore, passing tiny little fishing villages all the way to Montrose. A little tired we thought about stopping there, but it looked busy with a music festival (we hadn't booked any accommodation) and decided to press on the 15 miles or so Arbroath.

Cutting inland and following quiet roads through rolling countryside, the last 90 minutes of the trip seemed a long way. The scenery rewarded us however -it was illuminated by a beautiful late afternoon light, reminding me a little of Wiltshire.

Unlike the countryside around it, Arbroath doesn't feel prosperous. Its rundown centre was full of charity shops, and the Wetherspoons in the old Corn Exchange had just about destroyed the former pub ecosystem. Still we did find a man preparing some haddock for smoking and he was more than happy to let us take his picture.

Day 32 The Big Iberian Tour - Gijón

80 kms 2304 climb 2605 descent

Guest blog by Christine

Today was immense: a mix of beautiful and awful in equal parts.

The first thing we learnt was the importance of conditioning expectations. Neither of us had really studied today's Ruta de la Plata itinerary and I had foolishly assumed, on the basis of yesterday's road signs, that it was a 40k gentle roll downhill to the coast at Gijón. How wrong can you be?
No sooner were we out of the hotel door when we turned off into a tiny side road climbing vertiginously up the mountain side. After a terrible hour of bottom gear (or, in my case, some walking), past tiny mountain hamlets and disused iron mines, we got to the top. A road sign then explained that we were on some mad Spanish cycling endurance route. Thanks for telling us!

Day 31 - The Big Iberian Trip - Pola de Lena

85 kms, height gained 1754m height lost 2276m

What goes up must come down and getting closer to the north coast of Spain we are finally beginning to surrender height we've held onto for the last 10 days. Crossing the Cantabrian Mountains, from Castile y León into Asturias, today's numbers look impressive. But in fact the day turned out to be relatively easy, a long way from the nightmare I was anticipating.

I spent most of yesterday's rest day in Leon worrying about today. The climb looked tough, there are few significant places to hang out, and the weather forecast was dreadful. We have become regular consumers of Spanish weather forecasts and the only conclusion you could draw from last night's was that the chances of significant rain with thunder today were high and it would get worse as we climbed. The only thing that gave us a glimmer of hope was that it was supposed to rain in León and didn't so perhaps the forecasts were a bit on the negative side. The Ruta Vía de la Plata website was also off-putting about this stretch of the route. As well as a massive climb and lightening they had me worrying about tunnels and lorries

Day 30 The Big Iberian Trip - León

99.3km 903m gained 801 lost

Yesterday we arrived in León from Benevante completing a tough but excellent day's cycling. Today we are resting up, doing some sight seeing and resting up for tomorrow and what promises to be the toughest day of trip, the day we cross the Cantabrian Mountains.

Now you can get from Benavente to Leon along the N630, it's not the recommended route, but is shorter. Christine, who prefers the straightest line between two points, had her misgivings. The promise that we would adopt a two stop strategy, one involving a proper lunch, was however enough to clinch the deal.

Day 29 The Big Iberian Trip - Benevante

68kms 700m ascent 620 descent

Benevante isn't in the same cultural heritage league as Zamora or Salamanca but it's a nice place with a Parador.

Paradors are a hotel chain owned by the Spanish state and typically located in beautiful historic buildings which would otherwise perhaps have fallen down. It's almost a Spanish version of National Trust but instead of preserving a building as a visitor attraction they preserve it as a hotel. They can be quite expensive but we noticed that with the long Spanish Easter finally starting to disappear the price had gone down so we've booked our first stay in one, here in Benevante, and have another in León tomorrow.