Not every touring cyclist gets a personal local guide to start their trip. But we did. Matt from Aberdeen had already reached out to us when he learned about our planned bike tour. And this morning he met us at our hotel and escorted us around the airport, through the construction zone and to the start of a bike trail. What a great way to begin not only the day but three weeks of cycling!
Knowing we'd still be a bit jet lagged and unaccustomed to riding on the left side of the road, it seemed fortuitous that we could spend our first day of cycling on a bike path. With the sun shining down and the temperatures warming well above normal temperatures, it was an idyllic day. Not having to worry about traffic, we cycled through the countryside with ease. Spring was well on its way, with numerous varieties of wild flowers blooming, and trees ranging from nascent buds to full green.
The first “purple cow” of the trip presented itself along the way. Prominently placed trailside was a wicker manikin, compete with a laced bodice down the back. She looked decidedly pregnant to me, and definitely worth a photo stop.
The scenery en route was mostly rural farmland and pastures dotted by cattle or sheep, including adorable baby lambs. The scent of fresh manure lingered as we rode. Sometimes the trail was low between high banks of yellow flowering bushes. Other times it was high above, and we could see down into the back gardens behind homes. Our progress was frequently punctuated by gates. At first we were able to sail through them, but soon the openings were narrowed by bars that lent credence to the “Cyclists Dismount” signs.
We were following the railbed of the old Formartine and Buchan railway, last used for trains in 1979. What started out as a paved trail soon morphed into crush rock. From there it varied from a rough two-track dirt road to a packed dirt trail with rock impediments. It was pleasant but slow going, and required constant attention to the surface conditions.
Following a rest stop and soup in the newly re-opened hotel bar in Maud, we decided to leave the bike trail and take our chances on the road. Cycling on smooth pavement was a treat, and our speed dramatically increased. We soon learned that once cycling on the left side of the road, it was easy to stay there. “Keep left, look right” became our mantra. I'm still trying to perfect the technique of using my rear view mirror on the right hand side, but presumably that will come with practice. We found the local drivers to be very courteous, which was fortunate as the road was narrow with no shoulders.
Peterhead was our destination, a moderate 41 miles for Day 1. Once installed in a guest house, we took a walk to the harbor and sought some dinner. With limited dining choices, Rich indulged my desire to try the Nazma Tandoori restaurant, which turned out to have wonderful food. Even Rich admitted as much.
There has been universal agreement among all the locals we've met that this weather is unseasonably warm and sunny. So we accept it as a wonderful send-off gift, and are thankful for today's Scottish sunshine and trails.