Sultan’s trail (part 1): Austria – Slovakia – Hungary

Distance covered: 497km (to go: c2000km)

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Having recovered from the long hike in Scotland for a week in London, i took myself and my bike 🚲 over to Vienna to ride the Sultan’s trail. The route takes me some 2,500km from Vienna to Istanbul. In total 7 countries lie on my way (Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey). Fingers crossed the bike and rider can keep it all together. After all the only long distance cycling experience i have was one day in Russia last year…

The sultans trail… On Ottoman footsteps 👳 ⚔

The ottoman empire under suleiman the magnificent tried to take austria twice in the 15th century. Both attempts failed. The route now follows the path the sultan took to reach vienna with the Stephansdom, whose bells are made from melted turkish cannons, as one starting point (the other being istanbul of course).

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For planning and orientation purposes i mainly used the detailed routes from a dutch couple taking care of developing and promoting the trail (link). Dank je wel! I will follow parts of this route that takes you away from busy roads and passes by many landmarks, but partly will revert to faster/shorter options to keep on track.

Getting to Vienna

After a weekend with last-minute fixes to the bike, I loaded my panniers with a full set of kit including repair stuff, camping/cooking equipment, rain gear and lots of other stuff. Turned out pretty heavy at close to 50km including the bike. Good training i guess! First i needed to get all stuff this to vienna though. A quick 6km morning cycle from home to London victoria, where i put the bike in a carton transport box for bus and plane transport purposes (it’s actually quite hard to travel with a non-folding bike in london!).

On the other end i reassembled it all and cycled 20km into vienna (almost ending up on the motorway initially). For the first night i had booked a hostel near the center booked and enjoyed a fun evening out with other travellers from italy, canada and spain. We were in bed early though. I needed some sleep after a short night with laura who left for colombia early doors ✈👸🏻 🇨🇴.

Day 1: Vienna to Bratislava

I got up first in my hostel room and had breakfast just after 7am. The cathedral was only 10mins ride away through a slowly waking Vienna and soon i had reached the ‘trail head’. From here a bit of city traffic and past the belvedere palace with its stunning architecture and views over the city.

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From there i quickly hit the countryside. The route was generally quite different from i thought. Rather than simply following the (paved) Danube cycle path along the river, i was mainly on dirt roads. In fact, the first time i spotted the river was an hour before bratislava. The weather was kind and at times blatantly hot. Quite a change from Scottish summer.

On the way the route passed through many villages including Haydn’s birthplace, a former coliseum /roman training camp and loads of fields and forests.

Early afternoon the first glitch – lost a screw for one of the pannier holders. I have spares and it was quickly fixed.

By the time i got to the hostel it wa night and i had covered 105km. Time for a shower and the nice vegan curry that was offered as a communal meal.

Even though i knew i shouldn’t, i signed up for the pub crawl. After the first pub disaster stuck, as i received a message that some idiot had burgled my flat in london. In the end it turned out not too bad. Just some tech stuff and my wooden figure from papua-new Guinea gone. All replaceable i guess and no-one hurt. I guess a few more drinks were in order now…

Day 2: Bratislava to Zlatna na Ostrove

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My day started with a slight hangover and all a bit late. Sleeping in was also not an option as one of the girls (sharing her bed with her girlfriend) was snoring. So i left Bratislava after 10am. The road conditions were kinder now as the GPS tracks took me along the official cycle path for quite some time under the blazing sun. Early afternoon the switched to the left (northern) embankment again and was back on dirt road mainly along a danube dam.

After 90 km arrived at the small village of xxx again by nightfall and was lucky to catch last orders in the hotel. Delicious and cheap. Great combination. Outside a group of slovakians were drinking wine and singing traditional songs including one my uncle Jon used to play at family parties. Memories…

Day 3: Zlatna na Ostrove to Budapest

I left well rested and reasonably early. Following the road for a while speeded things up in order to make my dinner appointment with my good old friend Raul in Budapest. Sun was brutal yet again and i felt a sunburn is not far away now. The route was pretty flat throughout… Until i hit the final stretch where initially i followed uphill roads and eventually steep forest trails. The reward was a very long stretch downhill into budapest… Everyone out of my way! … Cycling like a 🚀! After 115km i had reached the capital of Hungary.

I met raul in his chic apartment. We had loads to catch up not having met for 5-6 years. Italian dinner was also welcome. Thanks for the great hospitality Mr Costa.

Day 4: Budapest to Dunaföldvar

The GPS tracks suggested 160km for the next leg initially on the west of the river and than back to the east side. Not for me today. I just followed the river straight south headed for the serbian border in 2 days time. No time to waste.

Once out of Budapest i was initially again on the road. Not too nice. Soon i found a nice cycle path along the river, be it dirt roads at times. Very pleasant cycling through villages and the great southern plain. 97km after leaving Budapest i called it a day.

I camped first time in Dunaföldvar in some seemingly deserted place. But they had hot water and given no one was at reception either at night or in the morning, it was free. In the village they had some sort party on with load rock music blasting from the stage. I was only interested in food (sausage, goulash), sampled a hungarian Pinot noir and went to bed. Exhausted.

Local youth sadly use the campground as meeting place… So 2 hours more loud music unwillingly before i finally managed to rest.

Day 5: Dunaföldvar to Baja

The sky was covered in clouds this morning. So jacket on for the first time. The path was again south towards Baja – the last bigger town before the serbian border. I began on offroad tracks and on a dam along the river, then roads. It was saturday and not very busy on route 51.

My breakfast was a tasty goulash followed by pizza volcano for lunch. One is so hungry on the bike. All the time!

While heading for the town of Kalocsa i bumped into another cyclist. A german as it turns out who decided to offload his weird life story and views on me. Glad he had to stop in town as it was not enjoyable to be honest.

Once in baja i headed for the camping again. I had covered 90km and that was it for me. I was tired. So i guess it was not surprising in hindsight that after a shower i fell asleep at 6pm. No sightseeing for me in baja beyond the ride through town before putting up camp.

Tomorrow the first border crossing awaits. Off to serbia. The first and only country on my tour i have never been to.

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London: Home sweet home, school & sightseeing

It was nice to be back in London after a month up North in Scotland. Sleeping in your own bed is just different than in your own tent. But it was busy. As usual when i am back home there is a host of things to take care of. First up cleaning all the gear!

Alex was staying over as usual and brought loads of homework with him on top of his busy club schedule – piano, scouts, russian school, football, sunday church… You name it. There was also a new person to be met for all of us… My lodgers girlfriend. We did it in style over a good raclette dinner.

For laura it was the second time in london, but the first one with a bit of time at hand to explore london. Arguably far from everything. But we managed Greenwich & canary wharf, cycled through the west of town, camden lock market, the regents canal by boat, buckingham palace, natural history mueseum and explored tower bridge and its surroundings. I also manged to show some of my favourite hangouts – in particular the world’s best pizza at the Oak in Notting Hill.

Time went past in a heartbeat before laura returned to colombia and i made my way to vienna to start cycling the sultan’s trail (more of that in my next post).

Scottish National Trail: Arriving at Cape Wrath (day 20/21)

Today: 35km | Total: 755km

Over the finish line! We made it from Edinburgh to Cape Wrath covering 755km in 21 days. Arguably with some public transport or hitchhiking at times to stay on schedule, but still walking every day 25-30km. Conditions turned out ok though the trail is not for beginners especially once you hit the later sections (cape wrath trail, rob roy way etc). Looking back, the month up in Scotland was nothing short of amazing and i can only recommend others to come and visit. 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 ♥ Well done to 👧🏻 for pulling through (she was one of the few girls to arrive at the Cape).

I now look forward to a week in London with Alex, a shave and to recharge before the next adventure begins… 🚲 🇦🇹 🇸🇰 🇭🇺 🇷🇸 🇭🇷 🇧🇬 🇬🇷 🇹🇷

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Laura’s comment: Finalmente lo logramos!!! Estoy muy feliz por este nuevo logro de Ronny y por supuesto mío también. Puedo decir que no fue fácil, caminar durante tanto tiempo, con terrenos difíciles, aveces el clima no era el mejor 😓 … Pero valió la pena, cada momento, cada sonrisa, cada lágrima, todo. Escocia realmente conquistó mi corazón. ♥ Ahora una pausa en mi país, con mi familia y tiempo de preparación para nuestra próxima aventura! 😎

A night in the camper

We ended up spending a fair amount of time at the Rhiconich hotel bar. Chatting with locals was fun and covered issues like the ownership of estates (like the Danish guy buying up all property he can up here and then getting rid of all deer) to 9-11. On the latter the local fire brigadier believes the story while the local policeman doesn’t and is like me in the conspiracy camp 🌁🗽✈️👳🏽‍♂️.

Talking of the police guy… He is the only one up here and in charge of the largest area in 🇬🇧. Nice guy. At the end of the evening he offered us to sleep in his camper (the station was literally opposite the pub)… We gladly accepted of course. It was still raining outside and it saved us putting up the old NEMO tent.

While at the hotel we treated ourselves to pheasant 🦃 casserole for dinner. It was decent though i remembered it much better from a trip to 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 years ago. Well, better than pasta again.

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Heading to the beach

Next morning started with ☔. Glad to be in the camper 😁 (two Belgian guys had camped out and now prepared their day in the public toilets to escape weather and midges). By 9am we were on our way to Sandwood Bay, the last stop before Cape Wrath. The path was almost entirely alone single track roads (as they are so typical up here). We stopped for a second breakfast (bacon & black pudding roll 🤤) and again for a Spar supermarket in Kinlochbervie for a few last supplies.

By 3pm we got to the bay. It was cloudy and windy. The waves came rolling ashore. We, however, hid with our tent behind the dunes where there was no wind and a sweet water lake. Off for a 🛀 and then hot soup. Delicious.

No chance we move further today. Tomorrow the final 12km to Cape Wrath and the ordinary society shall have us back. Instead we had time to read (half way through my book ‘the subtle art of not giving a fuck’) and play monopoly deal).

Are we gonna get shot 🔫 💣?

From Sandwood Bay it is only 13km to Cape Wrath. But the trail requires a last good effort across pretty wet ground, several river crossings, some steep ups and downs… Challenging. We were lucky with the weather though, as the ☀ was out. Beautiful.

One final challenge was crossing a live firing range of the military. You can get info in advance and when shooting is going on they put up red flags along the outer perimeter. We relied on info we got from team belgium that we would be fine this weekend.

However, the flags were up 🚩 🚩 🚩. Damn it! 6km from our destination and we can’t get further? Tough on your mind when you had mentally almost arrived already at the cape. We consulted with dutch hiker marike (and her dog) and a group of Scottish hikers. Conclusion – they probably just left the flags up.

So we climbed the barbed wire fence and marched for Cape Wrath together with the Dutch lady and her dog. The path was wet, loads of deer about (to the very excitement of the dog) and by 3pm we finally made to the Cape.

Arriving at Cape Wrath

755km and 21 days after we set out in Edinburgh we had arrived. It felt great to see the lighthouse appearing against the blue sky. Memories of the 3w tour are plentiful and will take some time to sink in. What an amazing journey we had.

At the cape a couple runs a small cafe. There we met team Belgium 🇧🇪 again – Chris and his son Sam and a more senior hiker (also Chris) tackling the trail at a tender age of 69y. We all enjoyed the odd beverage and a whole evening of conversations. Chris gave me some super handy tips for my upcoming bike trip as well. Safe travels to all. Was a pleasure!

Cape Wrath is the most northwesterly point of the UK mainland. Wrath literally means turning point. It is fitted with a by now automated light house and, weather permitting, has sunsets to die for.

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Back to civilization

From cape wrath you can either walk back to catch a ferry towards Durness or get a seat on the only bus service that is permitted to service the cape. We opted for the latter and by early afternoon pitched our tent one last time before hitting the pub. Chris (UK) and Marike (NL) were also about. Quite gezellig 😉

Scottish National Trail: Hanging out in the hills (days 16, 17, 18, 19)

Today: 124km | Total: 720km

Four more days lie behind us and we are now in touching distance of Cape Wrath having completed more than 700km. The last few days were kind weather wise with lots of sun and only occasional showers while walking. By now we are hanging out in the largest hunting estate on the island owned by the Duke of Westminster (the largest overall estate is owned by a Dane though) and deers have become a normal sight for us.

 

Laura’s comment: Desde nuestra salida de Ullapool el viaje se tornó un poco difícil, llevar comida para 6 días no fue fácil, por lo cual sólo podíamos caminar pocos kilómetros. En el segundo día encontramos un hermoso Bothy para pasar la noche, mi primera vez en este lugar, y fue una experiencia muy agradable, el lugar es muy cálido y lo sientes como un pequeño hogar.
Cada vez el camino se hace un poco más difícil, pero las vistas son increíbles y a medida que avanzamos al norte a nuestro ultimo destino, sé que será aún mejor. 😉

Leaving Ullapool with a heavy load

Having learned the art of hitchhiking on my way into Ullapool, we used that skills to get us the 7m to our trailhead. From there on foot. In our bags we had food for the remaining 6 days given no further resupply options on our route. Man were they heavy! First stop after 1km (seriously). Red wine had to go first 😂.

 

After a healthy lunch the path continued up before eventually a new valley came into sight and we decided to sleep near the river. Walking by now was completely off trail, hard, wet and slow. Anyway, great camping location, but loads of midges! Thousands and thousands! At first no firewood in sight (no forests about), but then we found some. Life saver!

 

Cutting through the hills

The next day started with… Midges. No fire this time. RUN!!! We were looking to reach one of the two bothys on the path for lunch and did so after a tough bit of hiking. No path, up and down, wet… Lunch was great and had the bothy had firewood we might have stayed. Eventually we opted to move on to the next bothy – the schoolhouse.

 

The path by now was more like an off road track and good for hiking. The sun was out too. By the time we reached the bothy it was not too late in the afternoon. A group of mountain bikers were in the house and we briefly chatted before they continued to our lunch bothy.

 

We in turn had time to sort gear and ourselves with a refreshing river wash before retreating to the bothy for a little time in a lot of space after all the nights in our tent. We even had a movie handy. Great.

Hitching on…

The third day started with good weather though late as we enjoyed the comfort of the bothy. We had some 7km to walk to the next village where a pint of lager was waiting. From there we hitched further north.

 

First with an older english couple. Then, after a brief time in proper rain, with a young english/scottish couple. They dropped us off at the only bar/restaurant in Kylesku. Nice views from there while we sat out the rain.

 

But we had to move on and find a camping spot. We did, eventually, somewhere on the estate of the duke of Westminster – the richest english man. Thanks dude. Really great views from our campsite on the hill to which we rescued ourselves amidst ☔.

Exploring the rich man’s lands’

We managed our latest start yet.. At midday! Rain was constant all night. Tent held up. Same in the morning… So we just waited with breakfast and a movie in our campsite with a view. Nice.

 

As we hiked up the hill we met two fellas part of a hunting group. They told us a few things about the duke & his family. You can at times hunt here yourself. £500 a stag. You pay on success only. Not a bad deal i think. Loads of deer about.

 

From there we went off track down the hill, through the forest, across rivers… Amazing time. Thankfully with lighter bags now.

 

Back on the road we hitched to Rhiconich. First with two older anglers (well-connected guys to get permission for that here) and then with two dutch ladies from Eindhoven. A little practice for my Dutch. Dank je wel for the lift!

Now off to the pub! 🍻 🍲

Scottish National Trail: Tough terrain, great views (day 14/15)

Today: 110km |Total: 596km

Tired. Satisfied. Blistered. Wet. Happy. Some of the words that just came to mind after two truely demanding days covering 57km over from Morvich finished off with a train ride and two hitchhikes to Ullapool. But another 110km closer to Cape Wrath and now close to the 600km mark and ‘only’ some 160km to go to Cape Wrath.

I left my campsite around 9am yesterday and hiked 6km to resume the trail. Unfortunately my phone was dead and solar charging not an option on this grey morning. So i stopped at a hotel half way to get a charge. As usual, very helpful the scottish people.

The first half of the trail leads you up the hills with great views of the valley (fog permitting). Down on the other side you’ll find the falls of glomach. Quite cool. Conditions were wet throughout though.

Just before the fall i met Celia, a french solo hiker. She had already completed the west highland way and was now, at least for a bit, on the cape wrath trail. We continued the hike together.

As usual when you walk with others, time goes past quicker. No difference today and so we made good ground amidst talking about theatre (her chosen field of studies), hiking experiences (iceland etc) and other travel stories such as her time in india and china. It was nice to talk to someone about the latter, as i haven’t met many travellers that have been there.

By 6pm we reached the Maol-Bhuidhe bothy. Sadly no firewood to dry clothes (boots were completely wet… again), but still nice to have a roof over the head instead of a small tent. Dinner, few more stories and it was bedtime early.

The next morning looked surprisingly good and the sun was out. We hit the trail already 8am after a slightlty restless night for me (as so often up here). Views and colours to die for!

Three hours into the hike our trails separated, as I headed alone to Craig. Quick selfie, all the best and goodbye! Alone from here.

I was admittedly pretty tired and my wet feet hurt. I changed socks twice (having one pair drying on the go) and was glad to reach craig by 3.30pm.

From here i had to find a way to Ullapool to meet laura. Hiking would take me two more days and we wouldn’t make it to Cape Wrath. Thankfully i met two walkers and their dog that gave me a lift to a station in Achnasheen and hence made it to Garve by train.

No more public transport from here on Sunday! So hitchhiking. First two cars that stopped went to other destinations and so i walked a bit. Soon though a man from Ullapool had a heart for hikers and gave me a lift to Ullapool. Quite cool conversation. Most interesting was the story about the East German Klondykers. Have a look here.

Once in the hostel to usual routine kicked in… shower, washing, some care for feet, dinner, sleep…

Off to Cape wrath!