Daybreak was clearing - not much drizzle in sight. In fact, even the threat of sunlight! I didn't know whether to be perversely sad that we weren't rained out (my legs would have been happier with another rest day), or pleased that we were able to travel.
I readied my gear and bike for pedaling south to Arbroath - 50 miles away. My muscle aches abated considerably overnight and although my legs felt as if they might fall off after a single flight of stairs (my hostel room was on the 3rd floor), I felt that I could handle today's plan. No strenuous hills loomed on the map.
We navigated through the early morning commuters. Occasionally I was in the lead, snaking through traffic and circling the 'round-abouts. Crossing over the River Dee, we paralleled it on a scenic "B" road. The sky remained high coastal clouds with an occasional glint of sun. Behind me to the northwest were darker clouds. A small arc of rainbow crested over Aberdeen.
Along the way, a man tended acres of rose bushes. Dead ravens entwined through the barbed wire, heads down, were a deterrent to future ravenous raven rendezvouses. It was a gruesome sight.
We planned to meet 20 miles down the road at the TI in Stonehaven. It was a relaxed ride. No one pushed or pulled me along. We all were in good moods. Traffic was minimal, the weather nearly perfect - not too warm and not raining. I pulled into Stonehaven just 15 minutes behind the guys, ready for my morning tea and a pastry, so we popped into a bakery with an upstairs tea room. The small square room was filled with tables for two or four, replete with white linen table clothes and porcelain tea pots. A display case held a mouthwatering variety of intriguing breads and cream-filled pastries. Choices were difficult. I opted for the home made whole wheat scones. Excellent! I ate two, plus something short-bready with purple berry jam. We consumed two large pots of tea while enjoying the morning respite.
Onward to Dunnottar Castle, one of the most famous castles of Scotland - a truly impressive building situated on an easily-defended windswept promontory, a wonderful castle ruin where the most recent movie version of "Hamlet" (Mel Gibson) was filmed. For about an hour we peered into rooms, nooks, and crannies. A barely detectable deep musty hole in the wall of an inside room hid the Scottish crown jewels in the 1600's. The malt room, grain room, wine room, silver room all were there - rooms necessary for provisioning a small community. In the "master bedroom" overlooking the ocean, a sundial was carved into the wall, close to the chimney. Most unusual. I pondered how its vertical plane could possibly be useful. Outside, a flower garden full of tall red blooms lined one dilapidated gray stone wall. Sheep scampered up and down the steep hills while school children played on the rocky beach below.
As we left, ready to regroup in Montrose 22 miles down the coast, a few raindrops spatted. The dark sky to the south was foreboding. I pedaled, reveling in the scenery. This was a busy "A" road; I concentrated most of my attention on my biking skills. Coastal villages came and went. Occasionally the High Street paralleled the beach, and at other times it scribed the inland edge of a town. My pedaling took me directly into those gray clouds.
[As I write, the ever-present gulls call in the distance - they seem close by.]
I added layers rain gear as the drops grew larger and more insistent. At last I pulled over, propped my bike against a gatepost under a spreading protective oak tree, and put on the "Final Event, Real Rainstorm" gear - neoprene booties and gortex helmet cover. My complete outfit consisted of a blue Burley ultrex biking jacket outlined with silver reflective tape, coated nylon yellow rain pants, also Burley, the aforementioned neoprene booties, and gortex helmet cover. At least if I were going to get wet, I'd be warm! I popped a gallon-sized zip lock bag over Rufus, stuffing his legs and feet up to fit. I was concerned about Tracy. He has had more faith in the favorable weather gods and his lack of rain gear belied this attitude. I was glad I left him a plastic garbage bag for his sleeping gear as I didn't think his sleeping bag compression sack was as waterproof as he thought it was.
Five miles north of Montrose those charcoal clouds were directly overhead. Rain stormed. I was not a happy rider - I didn't relish the thought of ineffective wet brakes or hydroplaning problems on the highway. A very pleasant Scotsman pulled over in his white van, opened the door, and asked if I wanted to put my bike on board. He was going to Dundee. I did a quick assessment - coat, tie, white shirt, clean vehicle and thought, "Dundee. That's where we're headed by tomorrow. Hmmm. Maybe we could fit two more bikes in there besides mine." I thanked him profusely and said that I was only going to Montrose to meet my riding companions. In other circumstances, and in this weather, I might have accepted his offer.
I arrived in Montrose dripping water from my feet, hands, and off the tip of my nose. I had removed my glasses earlier since I couldn't see through them...they needed miniature windshield wipers scraping across them. Contact lenses must be advantageous in rain. I was relatively dry inside, although my hair was wet, and my cycling gloves were soaked. My feet squooshed in my shoes as I walked along. I asked a young woman the whereabouts of the TI, and we chatted for quite a few minutes about my bike tour. She, too, biked. Everyone commented about the awful weather. The wettest June and July in the weather records.
The TI co-exists with the town library, and Tracy and Earl's bikes were parked under cover at the entrance. No sleeping plan had yet been devised. Another day of scrambling for a bed! Well, only 4 p.m - what to do in the rain but to resort to that wonderful custom - tea! Into the Coffee House on the town square we went for a pot of tea and, for me, a late Ploughman's lunch: bread, chunks of excellent cheddar cheese, chutney, cucumbers, tomatoes, and lettuce. I tried to share our tale of "touring by bike in this rain - nowhere to sleep" woe to a few interested folks, but was unable to elicit an invitation into a garage for the night. Desperate means necessitated desperate measures. I considered the nearby church. Locked. A kindly older woman walking along noticed me, inquired as to my plight, and then tucked me under her umbrella and walked me to another church explaining, "I'm English and also Presbyterian. But I don't go to the Church of Scotland (Presbyterian) because they always have it locked. I don't understand why they do that!" She walked me two blocks to her Anglican Church and told me it was open and might be a good place to stay. I looked for someone to ask - but found no one. The entry foyer did look comfortable with its carpeting. More importantly, it was dry!
[As I write, it's 10 p.m. and church bells peal loudly nearby - we don't know why.]
Although there was camping nearby, I didn't want to pitch my tent in the downpour. I didn't need to prove, again, that I could do it. I headed for the police station. If not a church, maybe a jail cell. I got lost ("never lost, only exploring"), found the post office and a phone booth. The police station was "unattended" according to the handwritten sign. Must not be much crime in Montrose. Tracy and Earl checked out the train station.
We all struck out. Tracy and Earl were ready to bed down at the ScotRail station. Not I. Using our TI info sheet, I began calling B&B's to find a place for me and for "my son and son-in-law" (both of whom would merely sleep on the floor, not using linens, nor partaking of breakfast). There was quite a B&B network. Each woman gave me the phone number of someone else. The first B&B was on a third floor walk-up over a beauty shop. Our bikes would have to remain downstairs, and could not be secured. The second B&B didn't have enough room for all of us. Discouraged, I slipped the phone card into the slot again. The third call was the charm and the B&B was only 100 yards from the phone booth. I was willing to pay £9; Tracy and Earl would pay £2.50 each (the cost of a tent site) for floor space in a warm dry room. I got breakfast, they would not.
We straggled our dripping bikes, wet gear and bedraggled bodies down a narrow wynd to the corner house. My hair hung in wet strings along the side of my face. My feet squooshed with every step. I felt, looked, and smelled like very wet dog.
The B&B was a nice Victorian, attractively decorated with a "homey" feel. Pleasant. The rental rooms consisted of one family sized room (ours) with two double beds, and a single room, rented by the month to a man from the UK phone company. The room was big - I had a bed and the guys were on the floor. Our wet biking gear was piled high on the radiator; damp clothes dangled from every available hanger and hook in the closet. We asked if the heat could be turned on overnight. Jan graciously agreed to do this. With luck all would be dry by morning.
I wanted hot food tonight - so ate at The George Street Hotel Bar. The bar didn't appear, inside, as "pubby" as others we have been in, having less smoke, more women, and even a female bartender - an unusual sight. The food was acceptable. I sipped my usual accompaniment - Guinness stout on tap.
Back in our room, Tracy and Earl curled up on the floor in their sleeping bags while I luxuriated on the large bed. As my mother used to say, "There are some privileges in being an adult." (And in footing the bill.)
[As I write, the gulls are pervasive - they sound so "sea like" - more so than our gulls at home.]
Other than the weather, today was good. We each rode at our own pace and saw interesting sights. Pedaling along the North Sea. It seems so very far from home!