It was early September 2017 and I’d just cycled 1100 miles. I was 60 miles away from the finish line, one day away from successfully cycling the entire length of Great Britain. Earlier that afternoon I’d seen the North Sea and it was like mate, this is absolutely ridiculous. I’ve come as far North as the land will take me. I was flying up the hills by this point because after a month on the road my fitness was strong and the finish line was so close I could smell it. And it smelt like victory.
Having woken up in a bush that morning after listening to foxes screaming all night – I never knew before this trip that foxes make such ridiculous noises – I was getting a bit bedraggled as the day went on and suddenly it started pissing it down. Right, its 3 o’clock in the afternoon, I can chill for the rest of the day and smash out the final 60 miles tomorrow. Wild camp? Find a campsite? Actually I guess its the last night why don’t I treat myself to a hotel somewhere! Get on Google. All the hotels in a 10 mile radius are pricey as fuck. I’m talking over 100 quid. On one hand, I’ve earnt it. On the other hand, its my last night on the road, surely I can rough it for one more night before heading home? The heavens open a little more and suddenly I’m drenched.
Thats when she came hurtling around the corner in her big blue van. A guardian angel coming to my rescue. She pulled up beside me, rolled down the window and there she was. The most attractive older lady I’d ever set eyes upon. Blonde hair, blue eyes, big smile on her face. “Are you looking for somewhere to stay?’ she asked me cheerfully “I own a B and B a quarter of a mile down the road and I’d be happy to have you. I don’t usually pull strangers in off the street but you look a bit lost!” Maybe it was the lack of sleep, or the long days of cycling, but I couldn’t stop staring at this bright and beaming blue eyed beauty, just thinking to myself, wow. I told her that I was trying to decided whether to camp somewhere or whether to treat myself for my final night. She replied by telling me that she had a B & B which was more like a home really because she lived in it for 20 years, and has moved next door because her mums got dementia but I’d have the whole place to myself and it wasn’t just the bedroom, I’d be welcome to cook whatever I wanted in the kitchen, chill out in the lounge, watch TV, and use the washing machine if I needed to. It would cost £50 but there was a big fry up included for for breakfast. I nodded at her and said that sounds amazing. I then cycled down the road, following her big blue van to a little higgledy piggledy cottage on the North coast of Scotland, looking out at the North Sea.
It was a beautiful little cottage, quirky and full character, little paintings and ornaments dotted all around the place with rugs covering the floor. There were kittens, dogs, horses, sheep and chickens wandering freely on the grounds of the cottage, and in the garden and by the river next to the window and amongst the fields stretching out towards the sea. We talked for a long time about our lives. She told me that she’s lived up here her whole life and has met some real characters passing through this remote area of Scotland staying in her little B & B. She said she doesn’t advertise it online because she prefers people to stumble across it the old fashioned way. She told me stories about the real characters she’d met on their travels as they stop in her small village for a night or two. She had a warm, friendly and confident with a twinkle in her eye and I couldn’t stop thinking how bloody beautiful she must have been when she was younger. She was easily 60, maybe a few years younger, maybe a few years older but she really did look incredible. I’ve literally never been attracted to someone of that age. I wanted to go for it, and as we carried on talking I began to wonder if she was thinking along the same lines, but I wasn’t sure so I didn’t muster the courage to do so. I should have, of course. Whats the worst that could have happened? But its always easier to think this way in hindsight.
She told me about how much she loved the beautiful scenery she was surrounded by and how much she loves seeing it change with the seasons year after year. By this point I had fallen head over heels with Scotland and was completely enchanted by the beauty around me. My mere mortal mind could not comprehend how stunning it was. As she spoke with passion and enthusiasm about the small slice of the country she inhabited, I started daydreaming about moving up here and spending the rest of my days living with the horses and the sheep and helping out at the B & B. She spoke about her daughter, she spoke about her Mum, she spoke about her pets. I noticed the absence of any husband or boyfriend being mentioned.
She told me about how she worked with horses on the beach for 20 years. Teaching people how to ride and taking tourists on rides down the beach. She said she loved it and it was her passion for a very long time and then one day a few years ago she realised she was fed up. She looked at the horses and thought “If I’m fed up of doing this, you guys must be really fed up” and decided in that moment to retire them all. I asked where they were now and she explained there was a couple of miles between here and the beach they live on and all 19 horses roam freely between the house and the beach. I asked if she was concerned that they might run away or that she’d lose them, and she said they love her too much to do that. Every day they stroll up to the house and look around just to touch base with home and check everything’s okay, before returning to their wild roaming on the beach. If she wants to ride one, she explained, she goes to the gate and whistles and whichever one turns up first she throws the saddle on and goes for a ride.
After talking for quite some time, she left and explained that she’d be back in the morning and what time would I want breakfast. I wished she would stay. The conversation was flowing and I feel we could have talked for a much longer time. I asked if 7 was too early and she said she gets up at 5 every day because she loves early mornings. When she left the higgledy piggledy cottage I lay there and thought what a lovely night it had been and how it was the perfect final night to my trip. I also thought about the fact that I’d never fancied someone so much older than me.
When I got up the next morning she was already there and had set up a little table in the window of the living room looking out at the river which meandered into the North Sea. A few of the horses were grazing in the field directly outside. The sky was grey and the rain was drizzling down but I didn’t mind. This was the final day of a 32 day bike ride. Nothing could dampen my spirits.
She sat with me as I ate breakfast and we talked the whole way through. I told her about my thoughts on life and some of my upcoming plans and she said we’d have to stay in touch on WhatsApp. When she said that, the penny dropped that maybe this wasn’t a one way thing. She then asked if I had a girlfriend or a friend waiting for me at the finish line. I told her no, it was just me. I finished my breakfast and packed my bike up ready to go.
When we left we had a hug. It wasn’t a long hug, or an emotional hug, but it was definitely one more hug than a B & B proprietor and a customer needed to have. As I was pushing my bike out the conservatory door I said to her, “I didn’t get your number yet, did I?” and she replied “No, no I don’t think you did?” We both knew full well we didn’t get have each others numbers. She gave me her number and I added her to my phone book. With that, I cycled away, along the North coast of Scotland and towards the finish line of my month long adventure.
I sent her a text message a few days later and we’ve spoken several times since. Of course I have entertained the idea of making the journey back up to the North coast of Scotland but something intuitive tells me to leave the situation as it is. It was an effortless connection between two people who had an instant spark between them. I’m happy with that connection being my memory of the final night from my trip.
Maybe one day I will pop by and say hello again, but for now, I think we are at different points in our lives.