Biking from Canterbury to Belfast
Bob Moen's Tour de U.K. 1998
Friday, June 19th, 1998 - Dispatch #6
Yesterday was the end Tour de U.K. and Ireland, 1998. I'm quite
pleased with how well everything went. There was a bit too much rain,
but on the other hand the people have been wonderful. Not once
have I had to "cop an attitude" to get me through an unpleasant
situation. Not once has a driver honked at me in anger, nor did I
have any close calls with cars or otherwise. My bike performed
perfectly, as did my weary body and legs. I had only one flat tire.
Altogether, I traveled 975 Bob-miles from Lands End, where I started
Twenty-five days ago, to Inverness Scotland. Bob-miles are not
as-the-crow-flies miles nor do they include train or ferry travel.
Yesterday I rode into Inverness, boarded a train and am now in
Edinburgh sitting in the Web 13 cyber cafe. (My first cyber cafe of
the day, Cyberia, had such bad equipment I had to relocate after
losing about an hours' work.)
As you probably know, I had planned to make it to John O'Groats, the
most northern part of the UK. Sorry to let you down, but I decided
I'd rather see more of historical central Scotland and less of its
As with England, Wales and Ireland I found Scotland a lovely place for
a bike tour (gee, I starting to speak like a Brit -- "lovely" is the
most often used word here). Like Ireland, glaciers scored deep
valleys through the mountains, making Scotland ideal for bicycle
riding, since there are few long, steep summits.
Scenery in Scotland is spectacular. I would not surprised if it has
more coastline than the U.S, given its many islands and lochs. Even
more so than Ireland, the mountains in western Scotland soar upwards
from the ocean. Plus, unlike the other areas I cycled through,
Scotland is not cut-up with a patchwork of hedgerows or stone fences,
so it has more sweeping views.
While here, I made it a point to visit Oban, where my great
grandfather was born. I had the faint hope I could learn more about
him, but mostly I just wanted to commune with the ghosts of ancestors
past. I had little to go on, other than he was born in Oban in 1852
and was a member of the Glenshellach branch of the Campbell clan. But
I found much more than I had expected.
Upon arriving in Oban I first visited the old church cemetery. There
I found many Campbell headstones. I also discovered the founder
of the church, John Campbell, died in 1852. Was my great grandfather
named after him? I'll probably never know. Still I took comfort in
knowing that I was probably related to some of those long dead
Next, I went to the tourist office and asked if "Glennshellach clan"
meant anything to them. Unfortunately, I was speaking to a 20 year-old
kid who was too young to understand the "ancestor" thing, plus he
seemed too focused on that afternoon's match in the World Cup,
Scotland vs. Norway. At least he didn't have his face painted blue,
as some fans do.
He did manage to give me a lead: There was a road name Glennshellach
Road, which I quickly found. It led me out of town on a one-lane road
up into a small, grassy valley inhabited by grazing sheep. There, I
figured it out: I was in a glen named Shellach, hence the name,
Glenshellach. Duh. At about that time a car came down the road. "Do
you know anything of the Campbells of Glenshellach," I asked.
"Never heard of them. But in the farmhouse up the road a lady lives
who has been here all her life." Within a few hundred yards I found
the farm house. An 80-year old lady with clear, sky-blue eyes came to
the door. "Yes, I knew a Mary Campell who lived farther down the
road, but she died many years ago and the Campbells no longer own
So down the road I rode to the next farm house, except now rather than
a farm, it is a commercial camp ground. There, Mr. and Mrs. Tye, the
owners were friendly and extremely helpful. They had purchased the
property in 1966, twenty-years after it had been sold by the Campbells
to someone else. I learned that originally it had been a small
crofter (farm) cottage, built of stone probably more than 200 years
ago. Today, after many additions, it is a lovely, modern home. I
couldn't believe it. I was probably standing in the house where my
grandfather was born!
Then I really hit pay dirt. About five years ago a married couple from
Edinburgh dropped by, just as I had. The man had been related to Mary
Campell and, in fact, for part of his life had been raised in the
cottage. Perhaps, he was my cousin, several times removed, I
wondered. The couple had sent to Mr. and Mrs. Tye photos circa 1940
of an elderly Mary Campbell and her sister, Kate, standing in front of
the cottage. The Tye's gave me the pictures along with a sketch of
the original floor plan of the cottage and its outbuildings! With the
sketches I was able to stand in the court yard and visualize how it
used to look.
Last night I called my mother in the U.S. She dug out a family tree
drawn by her cousin had many years ago. It showed that John Campbell
had two sisters, Katherine and Mary. Could it be? Were the pictures
in my hand, my Mother's grandfather's sisters? Unfortunately, we'll
never know. Today, when I tried to call the man who had been raised
in the cottage, I found from his widow that he had died several years
ago. But she did give the phone numbers and addresses of two of
his cousins, so the search for my Campbell ancestors has not yet
reached a dead end.
As long as I am discussing the Campbell clan, let me mention one other
thing. And that is: I didn't do it. Don't blame me. I know nothing
about any missing rings. Get over it.
I'm getting tired of hearing about the Glencoe Massacre every time I
mention that I am a "Campbell." Frankly, I think the Campbell clan
needs the same PR firm the handled that Pearl Harbor problem the
Japanese used to have.
As I understand it, in many ways the massacre--well, known, but not
well understood--is Scottish to the core, involving not just betrayal,
oppression and suffering, but also survival.
Here's the unvarnished story from the book "Scottish Clans" by Pitkin.
Let the pieces fall where they may:
"In 1692 it was decided that all clan chiefs should take the oath of
allegiance to the King not later than January 1. Those who refused
would be met 'by fire and sword and all manner of hostility'."
"All the clan chiefs, but McDonald of Glencoe, took the oath by
January 1. He took it on January 6. At last King William had someone
to make an example of. So 120 men from the Earl of Argyll's
(unfortunately, a Campbell) Regiment under the command of Captain
Robert Campbell (oops, another Campbell), went to Glencoe to be
billeted in the cottages there. The troops were received with the
legendary Highland courtesy and for 15 days they shared friendship,
food and drink with the Glencoe MacDonalds. Captain Campbell
particularly enjoyed playing cards with old MacIan and his sons. Then
on February 12 the Captain received an order authorizing the massacre
of the MacDonalds, 'putt all the sword under seventy, you are to have
a special care that the old fox and his sones doe upon no account
escape you hands.' The slaughter was to begin at 5 AM, the following
"That evening Captain Campbell played cards with MacIan's sons and
said how much he looked forward to dining with the chief the next
evening. But as the long dark night of February 12 gave way to the
morning of the 13, the soldiers began their work. MacIan was shot in
his bed and his wife had her rings wrenched from her fingers by a
soldier's teeth. Then 39 clansmen were attacked in their sleep, bound
hand and foot, and murdered in the snow. Their cottages were put on
fire as fresh snow began to fall. As the other clansmen realized what
was happening they tarted from their beds and ran towards the caves.
Many died in the snow; about half the clan survived. Not only was
this hideous crime, but it was a deliberate mockery of that Highland
tradition whereby hospitality was offered even to an enemy."
So what does it all mean? Given my blood lines you'd better think
twice about inviting me over to spend the night.
I've got to find a B&B for the night, so let me make a few quick points:
Its time I sign off. I hope you've enjoyed these dispatches. They've
certainly added an interesting twist to my bike tour. Perhaps, when I
get back to the U.S., I'll have the time to do a wrap-up type
- Castle Campbell in Dollar, Scotland is the best. It is not a large
mansion as are so many castles, but a real defensive stronghold,
perched high on a rock. Dollar is a neat-as-a-pin village situated at
the foot of a mountain range. It's my new "wish I lived there"
location in the U.K.
- The town of Oban is lovely, too. Worth a visit. But Fort Williams,
down the road, is ugly and a waste of time. Perhaps, my best day's
ride was between the two. The road was fast and essentially level as
it followed the coast. Traffic was extremely light, due to the big
match (which ended up in a tie -- leaving Scotland still in the
running. Go, Scotland).
- Glasgow surprised me. It has many architecturally impressive 19th
century sandstone buildings. But if you have visit only one city in
Scotland, visit Edinburgh.
- Too many tourists go to Loch Ness. The roads are crowded with
tourist buses. Frankly, I wished I could have avoided it.
- The hundred year old Forth Railway Bridge is HUGE. It may not be as
graceful as the Golden Gate Bridge, but it is just as impressive.
- Haggis tastes pretty good. Just don't tell me what's in it.
- I didn't much care for Stirling. Maybe it was the rain?
- The studies are in. British football (and the World's Cup) is more
spectacle than substance. It is not as interesting as American
football. Study #1: The 95% male pub audience stand around visiting
until someone attempts a score. Only then do they focus on the game.
Study #2: The expert commentators almost exclusively discuss scoring
attempts, too. I heard very little discussion of offensive/defensive
strategy or mid-field plays. Study #3: The nightly news' replays show
only the scoring attempts. Never, do they replay a mid-field pass or
whatever else that happens there. Here's my suggestion to improve
the game: Shorten the field so every play is a potential score. This
will increase the scores and make the game more interesting.
- I had the "treat" of hearing three high school bagpipe bands
warming up for a parade. Whew! Even the birds were leaving the area.
But of course not everyone agrees. According to the Highland Music
Museum in Inverness (www.balnain.com), "The Highland bagpipes using
only nine notes, a simple drone, and no variation in volume, its
subtlety and refinement represents a triumph over limitation."
- I averaged £22 a night for lodging and about another £18 pounds a
day for lunch, dinner, snacks, museum fees, etc. Roughly about $60 a
day or $1800 altogether. When you add, the $600 plane fare and
another $600 for train and ferry fares and bike box shipping, I spent
$3,000 for the trip (excluding cyber cafe and film costs). Be your
own judge, but I think that is quite reasonable for a one-month
foreign country vacation.
1999 Bike Tour
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