Cycling Scotland with Jayne Thompson
Hi Jayne, Would you introduce yourself to our readers?
My name is Jayne, I live in Wimbledon and I have been a software developer for the last 10 years. I’m currently semi-retired, having quit my job back in May to go on a solo 12 week bikepacking tour of the Scottish Hebrides. I love to challenge myself and enjoy hiking, running and cycling; basically anything that gets me outdoors and away from a computer screen. I’m also a bit of a bookworm and am addicted to reading about other people’s adventures.
Nice to meet you Jayne. If you had to pick, which activity would you say is your favourite?
At the moment I’m really into my cycling. Having not ridden a bike since my teens, 2 years ago a colleague sold me his wifes old Specialized Hardrock mountain bike and told me to try commuting to work on it. At that time my commute was about 8 miles over Wimbledon Common and through Richmond Park and I became completely addicted. I started to take part in charity events and organised bike rides and became a total psychlopath. I found my way into bikepacking and haven’t looked back since. I love the feeling of carrying everything I need on my bike and being self sufficient whilst riding out in the countryside.
Psychlopath! That’s brilliant! You mentioned a 12 week bike packing trip, tell us a bit about that?
After reading so many books of other peoples trips I was longing to do a big adventure of my own. It took me a while to come to the decision to just go for it and towards the end of last year I started to tell people that I was going to do a 3 month bike trip of the Inner and Outer Hebrides islands. It is one of the best ways to ensure that you follow through with your plans as people continued to ask me if I was still going to do it – once I’d told everyone I couldn’t go back! Prior to this my longest trip had been only 4 days and that had included only one rather scary solo wild camp night and the rest was staying in hostels. My plan for Scotland was to wild camp most nights and stay in hostels once a week to wash and recharge my battery packs. It was a pretty big leap and was going to be the challenge of my life.
I made the decision to leave my job, which was one of the most liberating experiences I’ve ever had. It went completely against my sensible attitude of always having had a new job to go to but as soon as it was done I felt free and ready to take on my adventures. On the first of May I started my journey from Sunderland, up the north east coast to Edinburgh, across to Glasgow and down to Largs on the west coast to start my island adventures. What followed was the most amazing 12 weeks of my life. Stunning coastal scenery, white sandy beaches, wonderful mountain vistas and a feeling of complete and utter happiness that oozed out of every big cheesy grin that crossed my face. I became accustomed to the routine of waking up to amazing views, packing my life back onto the bike, pedalling the day away and then finding a wild spot to spend the evening. I felt at home outside, was never scared camping wild and embraced the days of dirt – although my stinking feet did sometimes get the better of me, I felt wild!
What an amazing experience! It must have been so different to what you had been used to living in London?
The people I met along the way rekindled my faith in humanity. After years of living in London I had become a city hermit. Head down, no eye contact and god forbid, no casual conversation with strangers. It wasn’t who I was, I was brought up in the north east where people are friendly and chatty. It only took a few days to revert back to my inner northerner and every day I met and talked to people from all over the world and different walks of life. I never felt lonely, travelling solo I took joy from every wave or casual hello from the people I passed. I experienced acts of kindness that I could never have imagined. Whether it was people buying me a cup of tea or giving me free cake, every little slice of kindness warmed my heart.
When on the Isle of Skye riding out to a bothy on the north coast, I came off my bike and went over badly on my left ankle. Within 5 minutes there was an egg sized lump and I couldn’t walk on it it was so painful. Seeing people approaching along the track I asked them if they would help me to get back to the road which luckily was only a kilometer or two away. Freewheeling down to a house where I had been only an hour ago to ask for some water I was hoping that they would be so kind as to give me some ice for my ankle. Andy and Jan were amazing. They gave me a bucket of iced water for my ever increasing cankle and fed me tea laced with Talisker whisky. After agreeing that I could pitch my tent in their garden it came apparent that my ankle was really quite bad and they insisted that they would make up a room for me to stay in.
Here I was in the home of two strangers who were going out of their way to help me – it was truly humbling. I spent a very comfortable night with a bag of peas on my ankle, was fed and watered and actually had a lovely evening chatting with my hosts. The next day they even put my bike in their van and drove me 50 miles to the A & E department in Broadford, refusing to accept any money for their hospitality or the petrol. I was overcome with gratitude and what started out as the worst part of my trip actually was one of the most inspiring experiences of my journey. Luckily my ankle wasn’t broken and I spent the next 4 days resting in a hostel nearby. There were so many other times on my trip where I encountered lovely people who went out of their way to help me and it made my journey so special.
I arrived back in Sunderland 84 days, 28 islands, 47 wild camp nights, 6 bothy nights and 8 distilleries later, a different woman. There is such truth in the saying that it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey and mine felt life-changing.
I also fell in love with Scotland, had a wonderful cyclists tan (yes it was sunny!) and feel that my life is now only just beginning.
That sounds like the most empowering and amazing adventure! What challenges have you faced trying to adventure while living a fairly normal life?
I’m used to people not understanding why I want to go out and camp in a field for days without a shower, for me the biggest challenge was overcoming the perceptions of what I ‘should’ be doing as a successful adult rather than just doing what makes me happy. Realising that I am not like other women in their 30’s; married with kids, and embracing it has been the making of me and my adventures.
You left your job to embark on your adventure, do you have plans for another adventure?
Honestly, I have no idea and now I’m actually fine with that, the unknown. It’s a bit scary but at the same time it’s exciting not knowing what I could be doing next. I am trying not to go back to software development which is difficult as it is all I have ever done career wise, so it will be interesting to see where I find myself in a few months time. Travel wise, there is always a long list of things to do. I’d like to do the Pennine Bridleway as a short trip and then a longer one would be to bikepack the Wild Atlantic Way in Ireland.
What Advice do you have for ‘Average Joes’ looking for adventure?
If you don’t try you’ll never know – don’t be scared of failure. On my first attempt of bikepacking along the South Downs Way I ended up dislocating my thumb and having to call my boyfriend to come and rescue me and my bike! It was very disappointing but I realised that it’s always better to have tried and failed than not to have tried at all. I also think that trying to find like-minded people is one of the best things you can do, even if it’s just a Facebook group or forum. I have learned a lot from reading about other people’s experiences and talking to people with a similar mindset.
Another thing that it seems quite common as a female is to be a bit nervous about solo wild camping. I struggled with this for the last year before my trip, wanting to go out on my own but being scared that something bad would happen. I think that going somewhere rather remote to wild camp definitely helps. Being within a mile or so of civilisation I always knew that there was people nearby but once I was in Scotland and in really remote areas there really was nothing to be scared of. I used to beat myself up about being afraid and it did used to get me down so try not to be so hard on yourself if you feel similar to me – it used to make me feel better when most of my male friends would say I was crazy to camp alone in the middle of knowhere as they wouldn’t do it, take strength from that, haha!
What great advice! Lastly, what words do you live by?
Live, Laugh, Love.
You can follow Jayne’s adventures over on her blog: www.lifesadventures.co.uk or on Instagram: @bikesbothiesandbooze