Thursday, June 21, 2007

Girvan, Scotland

Friends: The ferry from Belfast to Scotland deposited me at the small port of Stranraer, 85 miles south of Glasgow, the largest city in Scotland with an urban sprawl of two million. Most of the passengers and vehicles, however, were headed south to London, 400 miles away, so I had the fabulous coastal road north almost to my self with the bay of Loch Ryan to my left and wide open grazing land and spots of forest on the hillsides to my right, plenty of breathing room after the comparative density of Ireland.

Ireland appeared to be in a state of rapid growth with construction projects everywhere, both residential and commercial, and baby carriages streaming down the sidewalks, many of which were pushed by teen-aged girls, who didn't look like much like nannies. Pushing a baby carriage is such a national pastime that toddlers freshly graduated from them could be seen tagging along with their mother pushing their own miniature version with a baby doll wrapped in a blanket. A contributing factor may be that abortion is illegal in the Irelands, forcing some 50,000 Irish women to cross to England every year to have one.

Ireland also distinguished itself by offering the best roadside scavenging I've encountered anywhere, perhaps due to the density of population and high rate of alcohol consumption. Bulbous, vein-lined, red noses were as common as pubs and baby carriages. I may have just benefited from a fluke lucky stretch, as 48 hours and 150 miles don't provide data enough for truly viable conclusions acceptable to the scientific community, but, nonetheless, I did harvest more worthwhile stuff in my brief visit than I've collected the past four years in France, other than during the Tour de France.

I came upon two pairs of socks, one of thin wool that may prove handy as I proceed to the north of Scotland. I've already had days no warmer than 60. I've been wearing my rain jacket more often for warmth than to keep dry. I also came upon a tin of tuna and a canister of chocolate cookies and also a pink ten euro note. I was back to euros and kilometers in Ireland, but miles and pounds in English-controlled Northern Ireland. There was no indication of the border between the countries other than a sign saying, speed limits were now in miles when I crossed to northern Ireland. Nor was a passport required upon arriving in Ireland via the ferry.

Similar to England and Wales, Ireland was devoid of the picnic and rests areas along the road that are so common in France and are a touring cyclist's delight. But that deprivation has been more than compensated for by the great luxury of town libraries, comparable to those in the US, and open more than a few paltry hours as those of the token, facsimile libraries of France, and with free Internet. Food is much more expensive here, so the Internet savings is most welcome.

The British Isles have also had better town toilets than those of France, and nearly always stocked with toilet paper and soap. The toilets are almost an institution. One English community was in an uproar because there was a threat their town toilet was going to be closed due to budgetary concerns. There were signs and banners all over the town proclaiming, "Save Our Toilets." Other towns had signs of "Save Our Hospital," another social service under threat.

Now its on to the highlands of Scotland. I can continue north for four days before I need to head
back down to London for the start of The Tour. The opening ceremony is two weeks from tomorrow. There is much to see along the way. I'll have to save much of it for another time. Its just nice, as always, to be out on the open road, riding through terrain fresh and new. When its this exceptional, its hard to stop, whether for noteworthy sites or to sleep or eat. It was still light at eleven last night when I finally forced myself to quit riding.

Later, George

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