Well the Cairngorms and the scorching weather did their best to kill me but I made it and am now chilling out in one of the most beautiful places I've ever been to.
My first day's cycling from Stirling, after leaving the declining camp and the last few stragglers from the bike ride group, was relatively light - about 60 miles but no killer hills. I camped in a farmer's field just outside of Blairgowrie against a spectacular sunset and spent the evening readjusting to my own company.
The next day will go down as probably the best and worst day of the whole trip so far. I'd decided to do two days in one in order to be able to spend more time up here, which meant doing nearly 70 miles and climbing four hills marked with chevrons on the map (for those uninitiated with OS, read: bloody steep!).
The first, known locally as 'The Elbow' as it climbs up around a big mountain, was a toughie - you know you're in for hard work when you see the signs offering ski hire! This took me to Braemar in the heart of the Cairngorms, where I stopped for lunch and had an amazing swim in an impossibly beautiful river. The next hill after lunch was as long as it was steep, and the following one was a 1:5 gradient that felt like cycling vertical. It was nearly 7pm by then and I was wondering how I'd make it up the next one, but it never came! I'd already climbed it thinking it was part of one of the others (my map's not very detailed...) and just sailed down hill all the way to a great youth hostel, a shower, and a real bed!
The next day, a mere 40 odd miles, was still pretty hard work - legs tired and battling the coastal wind coming off the Moray Firth I was rapidly approaching. I had a great evening of doing nothing when I arrived in Forres at the house of my former English teacher who has very kindly let me use it while I'm here...
So now I'm spending a few days getting to know the Findhorn community and local area. I was lucky enough to meet the artistic director of the arts centre here when I was in Edinburgh, and she was also at Stirling so I've had a good introduction already and everyone has been exceptionally welcoming and friendly. The community began with two people, a caravan, a garden and lots of meditating and grew rapidly in the 60s when all the hippies heard about the amazing garden that had flourished and started moving here. There are now about 180 people in the community itself and many hundreds more in the nearby village who work and volunteer for the foundation. So far I have seen various different meeting/meditation/ritual spaces, a community centre, arts centre, cafe, amazing shop, and an out-door wood-fired hot tub! I'm meeting someone today to talk about the sustainability side of things in more detail but I've also noticed wind turbines and a 'living machine' that processes everyone's sewage and grey water (shower, washing etc) using natural mechanisms like reed beds. They even have their own local currency! Accomodation ranges from 70's prefabs to caravans to houses made out of old whisky barrels to the very latest in eco housing technology. And the people, and their spiritual practices, are even more diverse than the dwellings they live in, although meditation is a common thread that links everyone here. It's a fascinating place, and one I'm glad I've given myself a decent amount of time to explore properly. There was a big pot luck dinner at one of the women's caravans here last night, and when I mentioned I hadn't decided when I was leaving yet they all replied 'yeah, that's what we said too!' So if you don't see me some time soon, you know where to find me...