Saturday, 25 June 2011

Day Eleven: The final day - Dornoch to John O'Groats...

It seems incredible that our trip is almost over; the past ten days have really been a blur of riding, eating and sleeping; of happiness and frustration, of determination and realisation. One thing is for sure though we will all remember this for a long time.

I was up early this morning, wakened by a golden daybreak. I wanted to walk on the beach and just savour every moment of this, our last day. I took some photographs and collected some pebbles and a piece of driftwood. The sea was an incredible painted blue, the sky clear and diamond bright, another dazzlingly beautiful day was ahead of us.

We set off on the A9 at a steady pace, each road sign counting down the miles to our final destination. It is just so beguiling around here, and the sudden sight of the sea on a summer day such as this, can only be likened to a vision of the promised land. It is the most beautiful sea. The water gently undulating, kingfisher blue, intense and bright. The strands of light hitting the surface glow like a neon net laid out to catch our dreams. It is calm, the wind is flat and gently kisses us as we rise, it is all I can do to remind myself to keep my eyes on the road.

Water is the earths most skilful engineer; water and the tidal moon are our keenest architects. And the coast on this final stretch of our journey is sculpted and smoothed into an ergonomic, rhythmically satisfying aesthetic. Every shell, fin, stone and scale; driftwood and all the flotsam of man's manufacture is eventually whittled down and worn into this coastal beauty.

This singular road is all there is between us and John O'Groats a few more miles is all we have left to complete our mission - that thought keeps bouncing back to me as we climb more hills and negotiate steep, fast descents.

Breakfast beckons and we know that finding the van will be easy today - there will be nowhere to hide - we are hoping for a spot with a view, it would difficult to find anything else around here. Onwards through Dunrobin, Brora, Lothbeg and Portgower and then suddenly, quite unexpectedly and without warning, there's a huge hill in front of us. It has caught us unexpected, we have been lulled into a false sense of over confidence - surely we had seen the worst, suffered the most, this last bit will be easy?... No.

The road up from Helmsdale
Helmsdale sounds like it should be in Yorkshire or the Peak District, it sounds pretty and gentle, a place to stop off and enjoy a cream tea with your Mum. Not this Helmsdale; this is an evil place set out like a trap to snare unfortunate cyclists who think they're done with the End to End.

Hard climbs!
The road climbs into the distance and snakes around corners, increasingly steep and foreboding. It's like an alpine stage of the Tour de France, it makes us sweat as we jerk and haul ourselves wearily upwards. The burn in the legs has returned now, and the mouth is dry. My heart beats like a voodoo drum, this must be what it feels like to drown, to suffocate, its impossible to suck in enough air! Then at the side of the road overlooking the sea is the campervan - the girls are there taking photo's - I'm grateful. It means a stop, a rest, the chance to recover.

What a spot. We sit on the barrier overlooking the sea. The view is magnificent, the sea is fickle, ethereal, moody and restless as it ebbs and flows, hissing and slapping at the rocks, then whispering and alternatively booming. It's colour changes from a cool gunmetal blue to bright silver, shining like oil on steel. All this from the roadside as we sit and enjoy tea and sandwiches of egg and cheese. Soon we were off again, rejoining the struggle to the top of the hill - now made even tougher by the feeling of fullness after lunch. We pass through Dunbeath and Latheronwheel (what a great name! - Sweatonwheel would have been even better) and then on to Bruan, Whaligoe and Ulbster - We had been in the sun so long our legs were the colour of a masochists bum, and then we were at Wick. We saw the train to our right, a rather pitiful two carriages, including the engine - and passed the big Tesco store. Not far now.
Our lunchbreak stop

We were on the final dozen or so miles now, we passed a cottage with a banner saying 'Happy 18th Birthday Suzie' I got to wondering what young people do up here, where do they go, what is there for them? - come to think of it, what is there for old people?  It is a desolate landscape, bereft of any meaningful features, the land looks wild and in the main uncultivated, with grassy tufts and dark heathery patches. We passed a field with two palomino ponies and seaweed hung drying on a wire fence. And then we were there. First there was a hotel, it needed a lick of paint. We took a few photo's and carried on. We had the idea of riding into the centre of town and performing some sort of victory salute - like crossing the finishing line of a Tour stage - arms stretching up to the sky... after a couple of practice attempts we decided this might result in an unfortunate trip to A&E, so we practiced riding with one hand whilst holding each others hand with one arm aloft - this seemed feasible.

John O'Groats takes it name from 'Jan de Groot' a Dutchman who obtained a grant for the ferry from the Scottish mainland to Orkney in 1496. In 2005 'Lonely Planet' described it as 'a seedy tourist trap' whilst in 2010 it received an award as 'Scotland's most dismal town' I don't think we'd argue with that - as a destination it was disappointing, but for us this was more about the journey.

In the centre we performed our 'victory salute' and dismounted close to the fingerpost. The town seemed quiet, not many people around, most of the little shops and cafes appeared to be closed. The John O'Groats House Hotel, which stands on the site of Jan de Groot's house, has been described as one of the UK's most famous landmarks. It is closed and in total disrepair - it seems a shame.

Made it!! - John o'Groats
We organised a photo at the signpost and then managed to find somewhere for a coffee - we had a bottle of champagne which had travelled with us in the van - we cracked it open and sipped at the fizzy elixir from paper cups.

Then we saw two other riders arrive; it was Graham and Ola who we had met way back in the Lake District. They had travelled a totally different route and arrived here from the North via Thurso. It was good to see them again.

So that was it really. We finished our coffees, polished off the Champers, put our bikes in the van and we were off. We needed to start the drive back and find a campsite. Some quick research located a site back at Dunbeath and so we headed there. The site was adequate but the shower block was fantastic, divided into 'rooms' each containing a shower, a seperate WC and hand basin. The lady who owned the site recommended the restaurant just across the road for an evening meal - 'It doesnay look much, but it's wonderful inside' she said. We decided to give it a try. She was right. From the outside this looked like the worst transport cafe you've ever seen - I can't imagine it attracting much passing trade. But inside was different; the menu sounded tempting, the staff were friendly and helpful and the restaurant area had a most magnificent panoramic window overlooking the sea. Gary and I, having spent eleven days on our bikes had a rare thirst. We drank like fire engines taking on supplies. We had done it. Lands End to John O'Groats - 956 miles in total. We still couldn't quite believe it.

After a wonderful meal and a pudding the girls wanted to get back to the camp site. Gary and I decided a 'wee dram' would be in order, in way of celebration. We got chatting to the owner who was something of a Malt Whisky aficionado. He had 109 bottles, all different, on display and had a tale to tell about everyone of them. He was a man whose face displayed the pallor of a life lived on the edge of a bar stool, who was happy with his lot. He seemed a little impatient and certainly he had an opinion on everything. We brought a couple of Malts and offered to buy one for him too. This offer seemed to lighten the atmosphere; he joined us and then quickly reciprocated by recommending another, a local offering, we gladly received. Then our turn again... and so it went on.

Sampling the Malts!!
Half an hour later we needed to sit down. Then we found we were sitting down already. It transpired that the bar owners Grandfather had owned a distillery in Dumbarton - and, (it gets a bit spooky here), his father owned a pub at Old Kilpatrick (where we'd met on day 8) It was in the 60's and his father renamed the pub 'The Telstar' (after the Joe Meek record - remember day 3, Newent), also his father's ashes had been scattered underneath the Rowan Tree, growing out of the rock at Glen Coe (See day 9) - these coincidences seemed amazing - we sampled another couple of malts to think it over. In the end we decided we were in some sort of 70's hammer horror film, and if we didn't get out soon, someone would come and kidnap us and we would end up in a whicker man and they would set fire to us.
But just before that, one last malt. This one was a special one he said. £200 a bottle, 100% proof - I don't remember the name but I do remember the taste - it was the Vindaloo of malt whiskies, it took the enamel off my teeth and melted my throat. It was great. We wobbled back to the site in a haze of whisky fumes. Thankfully there were no naked flames. It seemed a fitting end to the journey.

Dornoch to John O'Groats - 79.2 miles
Max Speed: 42.1mph
Time on bike: 5hrs 53 min
Ascent: 4219ft
Calories used: 3881

Friday, 24 June 2011

Day Ten: Spean Bridge to Dornoch

Last night we became aware of a group of hikers arriving at our campsite. They looked a motley crew, bedraggled, unkempt, cold and hungry. Much the same as us really. Gary thought it would be a nice gesture to offer them a beer - we had loads that we never seem to get around to drinking. We walked down towards the shower block where they had made their camp. There were three of them, all dressed in similar, tired, brown cloths. One of them had a net over his head, covering his face like a veil. Another wore a balaclava, the third wore spectacles. They were eating tuna, straight from the can. Gary held up our beer bag - "Would you like a beer?" he asked, in a friendly tone and with a smile. "No" came the answer from the balaclava as he continued teasing scraps of tuna from the can using a knife. We asked spectacles if he would like a beer "I am on medication" was his answer. The netted one just sat behind his net in a surly uncommunicative way. We managed to find out that they were German and walking The Great Glen Way - We considered, for a moment, bringing up the subject of the 1966 World Cup Final - Probably best that we didn't.

It was a beautiful morning. An infinite, cloudless, azure sky with the piping calls of, I think, Oystercatchers, circling around the adjoining field. The stone walls were clothed with ivy and pink and white dog roses. All felt good.

We were on the road by 8.30am and made fast progress, cycling alongside Loch Lochy to Laggan and on to Fort Augustus, the roads are clean and clear with a good surface. There's the delightful whispering sound of tyres moving at speed over tarmac, the synchronicity, man, machine and road is gratifying. Yesterday and today have been my favourites - I mentioned in an earlier post how it seems that so many places these days look and feel the same. The homogenous institutionalised spread of banality is clearly a twenty-first century epidemic, but not here, not Scotland. If I woke from a coma here I would know where I was - It would be impossible to mistake this landscape with anywhere else.

Loch Ness
Now, we're cycling alongside Loch Ness and the Great Glen, this is a particular zenith, it sparkles, cherished by the faithful sun, the vastness, the deep blue colour of it.... this is an iconic place in the journey and captures the essence of classic long distance cycle touring. We push harder now, inspired by the surroundings and the grand weather, we are pedalling through utopia. I feel I don't want to reach the end, I'd be happy for these roads to go on and on. This is truly a place to sooth any wounded soul.

We stop for our breakfast break, after three hours riding we are ravenous. For the whole of this trip our mid-morning hunger has been exclusively sated by none other than 'The Butcher' - yes, him that gave us a sound thrashing at the Mercia Cycling Club reliability trial last January!! But he's a nice chap and, very generously, he donated a big box of bacon, sausage and black pudding for our store cupboard - Thanks Tim! - you'll be pleased to hear that we've munched our way through it - today being the last time that we'll sit back with a mug of tea, a big thick doorstep sandwich and say "I wonder what Tim's doing right now?" Oh well, Cornflakes tomorrow then.

The bridge at Inverness
We set off again with Inverness our next destination, the capital of The Highlands - I got in front of Gary on this stretch and just kept going, It was one of those occasions when everything is just right on the bike, legs feel strong and light, pedals just seem to turn themselves without any effort, the whole thing is perfectly balanced and you seem to be flying...
I got to Inverness about a half hour before Gary and I pottered around. I ended up lying on a grass bank by a stream with my shoes and socks off, just enjoying the warmth and the day as a whole. Interestingly Inverness has an oceanic climate, it has the longest summer days of any UK city and temperatures regularly reach 29C.

Only 109 miles to go!
Soon we are back together and crossing the bridge from Inverness to the Black Isle. The roads here were surprisingly busy with lots of fast-moving traffic. We faced a few niggling climbs but nothing too taxing. Ahead of us lay a bridge, a kind of causeway, and it was here we spotted the first signpost for John O'Groats - 109 miles to go, almost there! - In that moment as I gazed up at the sign and took a photograph I felt a wave of emotion; firstly, could it really be that we'd cycled all this way? - the length of the UK?  Secondly; I didn't want it to end.  Then I slipped on the grass and landed on a thistle, the spiky, hairy, thorns penetrating my lycra shorts and their remnants annoying me for the rest of the day.

The beach at Dornoch
Our camp for tonight is at Dornoch, to be precise 'The Royal Burgh of Dornoch', this is the place where Madonna married Guy Richie. Unfortunately, Skibo Castle was fully booked, so tonight it's a large campsite with a clubhouse, a restaurant, a bar and good facilities. It's situated next to a beach and the sea, just over some sand dunes. The sky is huge and dramatic with amazing cloud formations. We get showered and decide to eat at the restaurant - and this proved the only disappointment to a memorable day. It seems difficult to understand how a supposed 'restaurant' situated in an area with some of the best, world renowned sources of fine, fresh food could serve up the kind of rubbish we were offered tonight. Everything was dull and tasteless, originating from a packet or a tin. What a pity. But I refuse to let that dampen my enthusiasm for the day.



The campsite - Dornoch
Writers tell us, and bands play us the most precious and memorable things we hear, but what of the things we see? - where do they rank in our chart of memories?
These last couple of days have been amongst my most memorable.

Spean Bridge to Dornoch - 101.9 miles
Max Speed: 36.5mph
Time on bike: 7hrs 1 min
Ascent: 3848ft
Calories used: 4629

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Day Nine: Tyndrum to Spean Bridge...


Nine days on the bike; It was with the tense precision of a Romanian gymnast that I lowered my posterior onto the saddle this morning. The heavy beat of rain drumming onto the campervan through the night had woken me a couple of times and I felt grumpy.

By 7.30 it was clear. The stream adjacent to our campervan gurgled and hissed, the grass dancing along it's bank. The pine trees were fragrant; sweet and fresh, the sunlight passing through them casting jewels of brightness onto the ground. There are red squirrels in these parts (didn't see one), toadstools (nope), grouse (er, not today) and deer (saw one!) and the occasional man in a kilt.

We got going at about 9.00am - heading up towards Glen Coe. This one was going to be massive. Not long after we set off we nodded to three cyclists heading towards us, soon there was a further group of eight or so, then another ten. For the next hour there was a constant procession of cyclists heading South towards Glasgow. They all had numbers so we knew it was some kind of organised event. We passed into Glen Coe climbing constantly and consistently. The high hills were shrouded in a veil of rolling mist, we were pedalling through an anthem's worth of scenic wonder. This remote landscape, dazzlingly beautiful, forests of pine, heather and misty glens with a backdrop of mighty hills alongside glittering waterfalls and tumbling rocks.
Glen Coe

And then, as if to add to the effect, and with perfect timing, came a distant haunting sound, reedy and strained. At first I thought it was Gary wheezing as he made his way up the slopes, but no, it was a Highland Piper - in the full costume, sporran, kilt, plaid, those white spats... We pulled in. Gary became immediately tearful - and I have to admit - it did bring a lump to my throat. I know it sounds corny, but out there, in that atmosphere, it worked like magic. We were high up now, standing on an outcrop looking back down the valley. It wasn't difficult to imagine this scene 250 years ago - the Highlanders would have been up here looking down on the approaching Redcoat army... We had a chat with the piper - he seemed a nice man, but he complained of a coach load of Japanese tourists who had lined up for photos and videos but didn't add a single penny to his collection pot. I quickly threw in a fiver and got Gary to take a photo.

All this time the cyclists were still tipping down the mountain. There seemed no end to them. We carried on upwards, slowly, steadily, painfully. We spotted a couple of the numbered riders at the side of the road and we pulled in to find out what was going on. The first thing one of them said as we stopped was: "I'm not sharing my banana" They told us they were riding The Deloitte Challenge - John O'Groats to Lands End in 9 days. There were about 650 of them and they'd set off 3 days ago. They were riding 120 miles per day the whole thing supported by motor cycle outriders, caterers, medics and mechanics, not to mention the complete tented village that each day has to be assembled and dissasembled, rigged with tents, beds, toilets and showers... for 650 - An event like that will succeed or fail based on its plumbing and waste management efficiency. Imagine you are rider 649 getting into camp - will there be hot water?... food?... and what condition will the lavatory be in?

The two guys we met were of the type who 'thrust ahead of the curve', at the cutting edge, cool, 24/7 city whizz kids. Their mission, as I imagined it, was to show the world the one-upmanship associated with the best carbon fibre that money can buy - and the finest, most expensive lycra apparel, not to mention their top of the range waterproofs. This was a bankers bonus on full display. I wondered if they had experienced problems with their waterproof glove? Unlikely I suppose, for surely they were wearing humanely reared SealSkin gloves - no harpoons for them!

As we were wishing them well and about to depart something strange occurred. From out of nowhere an old man appeared. Grey, with a small moustache, he had a vague likeness to Hitler, perhaps a distant relative. And he was German. He broke into the conversation and with a full-on, Colditz guard accent, informed us that there was an excellent photo opportunity just along the road. It transpired that this gentleman had been visiting Glen Coe every few years for the past thirty or so. He came to look at, and photograph, a Rowan Tree that was growing maybe 20 yards from where we were standing. "Ze tree, it growz from ze Rock, not ze earth" he said frantically gesticulating towards it - "From ze rock!!" - he was excited now. We had a look and it was true. The tree was indeed growing straight out of a rock - its trunk rising straight and true from the absolute centre of it. Quite amazing.

We finally got away and headed into Glen Coe village where we stopped for lunch - then we were off again with Fort William our next destination. By now the weather was brighter and warmer, at last the June air seemed to have been clotted with the intoxification of summer. We met in the centre of Fort William and had a brief wander around, took a few photos, all a bit touristy really. We forged onwards to Spean Bridge. Now the weather had turned nasty again, the rain was stinging my face like riding through a swarm of wasps - it was grim, but at the same time invigorating. I felt alive, free and so happy to be in such a wonderful place, it reminded me of a Turner painting; gritty and misty, grey and brown, muted and swirling it was rain, steam and speed in real life.

The Commando memorial
Passing through Spean Bridge village we noticed 'The Commando Bar' - I quipped that to get in you have to abseil down from the roof and swing in through the first floor windows. It made Gary laugh anyway. Soon we were at the Commando Memorial where we stopped for a few photos and from there our camp site was just a mile down a narrow winding lane.

The place seemed deserted on arrival, no sign of life at all. We stood around for a while and spotted a ramshackle house in a far corner reached by some steep steps. Gary went to the door, a woman with brown bobbed hair answered the door and came out to show us our pitch. She had the squint-eyed, tuber features of the north...
'Do you have WiFi?' Gary asked...
'WiFi?... WiFi?, what's WiFi' she answered... 'We have devil worship on a Monday, goat sacrificing on Wednesday's, but I n'er heard o' WiFi'.
Well she didn't actually say that, but it was definitely what she should have said - it was that sort of place.

Tyndrum to Spean Bridge - 59.5 miles
Max Speed: 25.7mph
Time on bike: 4hrs 46 mins
Ascent: 2571ft
Calories used: 3144

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Day Eight: Strathaven to Tyndrum...

There was a herd of cows in the field adjacent to our start point this morning, it seems they wanted to investigate us as we made our last minute adjustments before setting off, they came ambling over, gathering around the low hedge and craning their necks to get a closer look. None of them asked for autographs though and so we pedalled off, heading for Glasgow and our route over the Erskine Bridge.

This was easy riding, the vile weather and freezing cold of yesterday had morphed into something much more acceptable, at least for Scotland. We looked up at a ragged, mixed sky with a delicate hint of blue the clouds scudding across the hills in the distance. The land coloured with raw pigments; ochres and umbers. The roads were smoother too, relatively pot-hole free, everything was looking promising. Revitalised by an excellent evening meal and a good night's sleep we negotiated our way through Glasgow finally spotting the Erskine Bridge rising above the trees and looking ridiculously high from our viewpoint. The bridge spans the River Clyde and is the tourist gateway from Glasgow to the Highlands. As we approached we noticed that the cycle lane was closed, no option then but to mix it with the traffic. Riding over the bridge it was remarkable how steep the rise to the apex was, of course the inevitable wind made things seem harder as we edged our way across. Gary, who was riding behind me, was alarmed by a car that came very close to him and skidded slightly as it swerved to avoid him, so much so that his quick risk assessment resulted in him lifting his bike over the barrier and onto the closed down cycle lane, figuring he would be safer there. I didn't see any of that and carried on along the main road. As we approached the end there was a grumpy, constipated, sour-faced Scotsman - wearing hi-vis clothing and looking official - he was waiting for Gary and proceeded to give him a lecture about the fact that the cycle lane was closed. Gary agreed that he knew the cycle lane was closed but considered the risks were more favourable on that side of the barrier! We were over the bridge and moving on.
The Erskine Bridge


On the road!
We had arranged a meeting for breakfast at Old Kilpatrick, some misunderstandings over the exact location caused a minor delay to that plan, but we sorted it in the end. Our next step was to join the cycle trail heading to Loch Lomond, this kept us off the busy A82 and made for an enjoyable traffic-free section. The path snaked through wooded glades and followed a river up to the Loch Lomond Shores National Park, we rejoined the main road there. The wind had dropped and we now felt we were in Scotland proper. The scenery was of course magnificent, majestic hills all around, steep sided valleys with pine woods, the impossible blueness of Loch Lomond itself. These were views to remember and linger over - but we still had a long way to go. Onwards through Luss and Inverbeg with rich and seemingly never ending woodlands, the verges strewn with wildflowers and grasses. We reached Tarbet and then on for a short stop at Inveruglas. So far this had been a great day, we were making progress and yet totally aware that we were travelling through some of the most memorable scenery in the British Isles.

Our campsite at Tyndrum
The final section of the day led us to Ardlui at the head of the Loch, then continuing along the A82 to Crianlarich and to our campsite for the night at Tyndrum.

Tyndrum is the smallest town in the UK to be served by more than one railway station, it seems a slightly strange outpost, a meeting place rather than a community, a crossroads on a journey rather than a destination. Our camp site was good, with a pine forest behind us bordered by a trickling stream. Gary said that the showers here were the best he'd ever experienced. They were certainly the most powerful, the jets emitting a blast that was capable of inflicting a bruise!

A fish and chip supper was just the thing and then straight to bed - another big day looming tomorrow.

Strathaven to Tyndrum - 81 miles
Max Speed: 36.4mph
Time on bike: 6hrs 19 mins
Ascent: 3493ft
Calories used: 4167

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Day Seven: Gretna to Strathaven...

It's dark, drizzly and damp - Mark who is alternating between running a marathon and cycling LeJog was on the same campsite as us last night - he got in long before us and had managed to get into Gretna for a Chinese take-away! - We had a chat, he said he was riding only 50 miles today - he didn't fancy being out too long in the bad weather.

It was with a grim determination that we ventured back onto the bikes today. For the first 15 minutes or so we were unable to find the road we needed, we rode around Gretna Green, past The Old Blacksmith's Shop - for a moment we considered getting married, but Gary's already married so that wouldn't work. As we paused to consult the map two cyclists passed - a man and woman, she was dressed in a flowing floral skirt with lycra leggings underneath, he in a t-shirt and baggy shorts, not at all suitable for the weather.  Both were laden with panniers, surely they were going where we needed to go?  We shouted out to them "John O'Groats" - "Yes" came the reply and we tagged along. It surprised us how quickly they were moving with a full load - we had our work cut out to keep up. Then, suddenly, I had a puncture - but at least we knew we were on route.

Soon we were off again, steadily making progress, it was windy but the early rain had subsided now and it was a tad warmer. Then, just after we had stripped off our rain jackets, the weather changed again - more rain, heavy rain, soaking rain, thick and syrupy, creeping into every orifice. I was wearing a pair of Seal Skin waterproof gloves - unfortunately the seal in question must have been harpooned because my hands were soaked, it felt as though my gloves had filled with water and my fingers were swimming - add to that the wind chill factor and you can imagine how uncomfortable it felt! I think it couldn't have been any worse if i'd dipped my bare hands into a bucket of iced water and held them there for two hours.

Breakfast and Gary looks in trouble! (No, I think he's asleep)
We suffered. Think back to the days of Scott of the Antarctic, Shackleton, Dr Livingston etc - we trudged and drudged our way along grey roads with grey skies, grey verges, grey houses - even the trees looked grey. The roads were easily the worst we had encountered, torn, gouged and bumpy - it was if they had been pebbledashed. Some of you may have heard of the famous French bike race, The Paris-Roubaix, which is raced over cobblestones each year in Northern France - it is known as the 'Hell of the North'. We had our own Hell of the North today, not in France, but on the rotten roads heading for Glasgow.

After three hours of torture we arrived at a road junction and the sun appeared. Not bright, not strong - more subdued, as if held behind a cloth sheet - it was a reduced warmth perhaps depleted along with everything else in this recession. But it didn't matter to us - it was a thing of great beauty - it kissed and cuddled us in our hour of need. I held my hands up to the vista as if before a warming fire. Gary was in tears at the very sight of it.

We decided to celebrate with a chocolate bar from Gary's cavernous back pocket confectionery selection. However our revelry was somewhat dampened when Gary found himself unable to open the packet, his fingers damp and numb from the cold, unwilling to respond to his wishes. He passed the bar to me, to no avail. My fingers too felt like they belonged to someone else. I could see the chocolate infront of my eyes but my fingers wouldn't work. This made us laugh. We stood there, two men at the end of a dirt-track road somewhere near to Glasgow - giggling - unable to open a bar of chocolate because our hands were frozen - in June.

As we moved on we noticed a charity bike ride - an organised event from Land's End to John O'Groats with six riders riding as a relay team - each one spending an hour riding then five hours resting/sleeping - they were riding non-stop. One of their riders came past us, wearing racing apparel, and riding a bike with aero-bars that gave him that 'superman' pose that the time triallists use. He didn't seem to be going very fast though and I decided to see if I could catch him - I chased him for maybe two miles and, more or less, caught up with him - I like to think if he had been through what we had he wouldn't have been so quick!

Now we were back in civilisation - at least a town anyway. We passed through a street with people in kilts and as we approached what seemed to be the town centre we stopped at the roadside to check our position and to speak to our support, we needed to know where the camp site was. As I looked around I saw a young man unconscious on a bench - his head resting on a foam take-away box, a pile of empty bottles and cans scattered around him, in front of me I could hear loud music and see people milling around in the streets, spilling from pubs, everyone appeared to be drunk, the whole place was a scene from a Hogarth engraving - I suddenly felt like I didn't want to hang around - it seemed a very aggressive place to be. We left, double-quick and arranged for the support vehicle to meet us.

Premier Inn - luxury!!!
When we finally met up and loaded our bikes into the van we asked what the camp site was like. I had visions of something awful, such had been our luck so far today. We were told that this would be the best yet. And soon after that we rolled up to The Premier Inn at East Kilbride, the girls had decided that we all needed a decent night, in a warm bed, with good food and perhaps a bottle or two of wine.

Gary and I were happy that night after all.

Gretna to Strathaven - 82 miles
Max Speed: 32.8mph
Time on bike: 7hrs 32 mins
Ascent: 4000ft
Calories used: 4970

Monday, 20 June 2011

Day Six: Cabus to Gretna Green...

What a beautiful morning, the best start so far - we sat out in the sun for breakfast and fed the ducks with the remnants of my homemade focaccia bread. This campsite was in a superb location and spotlessly clean, there was even piped music in the showers, plus they gave us a discount because we were collecting for charity - so many thanks to Claylands Park.

We finally got on the bikes at about 9.15am the camp site led us straight out onto a busy road and a lone cyclist pedalled past us, once we had managed to get across the traffic we followed him for about 5 miles, finally catching him and overtaking him on a rise up towards a large traffic island on the A6 - unfortunately we got our exit roads mixed up and by the time we'd sorted ourselves out the lone cyclist guy had caught up and gone in front. A short while later as we cycled into Lancaster we spotted a camper van with a 'Help for Heroes' banner. It turned out to be the cyclist from earlier. His name was Mark and he was doing LeJog with his girlfriend Jackie as his support. We got chatting and felt good that he had started out a day earlier than us. Our pride was short lived - it transpired that he was alternatively running a marathon one day and cycling the next - his cycling days consisting of 13 and 14 hours in the saddle to make up for the short mileage on his marathon days! - Bloody Hell!!!! - Well done Mark.

We left Mark and Jackie enjoying a well earned breakfast and sped on through Lancaster which we thought had an excellent cycle friendly town centre. Our next target was Kendal and we can see the outlying hills of the Lake District. A sense of fear and consternation dims the conversation as we contemplate what lies ahead.

Gary with Graeme & Ola
As we approach Kendal we come across two cyclists at the roadside, Graeme and Ola, they are riding LeJog collecting for cancer research but have been thwarted by an unfortunate series of punctures. We stop and offer help, they have run out of spare inner tubes and seem to be struggling with patching the latest hole. I offer them a spare tube which they are grateful for. Whilst we are chatting I take a look at Graeme's bike - it's a touring model, steel frame, robust wheels and two oversized orange panniers on the back stuffed to bursting point. I decide to check the weight by trying to lift the bike - impossible!!! - I wonder how we would cope trying to move machines like that? - It's bad enough on our lightweight carbon models!

We leave them and get back on the road, we're almost in Kendal now and our next challenge will be Shap Fell - one of the testing hills we need to negotiate on this stage of the trip. We weave our way through Kendal, the 'Auld Grey Town' so called because of its many grey limestone buildings. I wonder whether we should stop to buy some Kendal Mint Cake to fortify us for the toil ahead, but decide not. We carry on.

In the days before the M6, drivers heading to Scotland were forced to negotiate the treacherous climbs of the A6 over Shap Fell where they could experience all types of weather. They nicknamed the area "The Jungle", and the infamous Jungle Cafe was founded there in the 1930s. This was the principal route to Scotland from the western half of England until 1971 when the M6 finally bypassed it, because of the devilishly long climb (and descent when coming home), many vehicles didn't make it, particularly during winter. There are a number of vicious bends and this was (and is) a legendary piece of road to many. Gulp!!!

Suddenly we were there, slipping into the lowest gears possible and grinding our way upwards - it was a case of just trying to turn the pedals, just keep going, try not to look at how much further to go and suffer!! - Soon it seemed we were up it - I thought it wasn't too bad but then I realised we hadn't really started - the initial effort was just a precursor to the real climb just around the next corner - and it was tough - 1400ft upwards over a 15km stretch! - at least the weather was good though, the sun had remained with us and it was so warm I had to take off my helmet as the heat and sweat became a problem. Up and up we went, legs burning and breathing hard and heavy - and then we were there! At last, the summit!!

After a brief pause we set off for Shap Village - this was going to be easy, a descent, not much pedalling needed and a chance to clock up some fast speeds. But then the weather changed. Suddenly the sun and warmth was gone. Now we were riding in hard rain and hail, the temperature had plummeted - we were freezing and soaked. We rode on hoping to get through it, finally we paused between Shap and Penrith to seek refuge in a bus shelter - we stood there grateful to be out of the rain but literally trembling with cold - we had to remind ourselves, this is June, it shouldn't be like this!

Enjoying the fire! - The Beehive
Back on the road - Penrith
After fifteen minutes or so we decided to press on and try to find a cafe or somewhere warm where we could thaw out and get dry. As we approached a crossroads I noticed a pub 'The Beehive' with smoke rising from the chimney. We pulled in and entered, dripping, into the bar. What joy! - a roaring coal and log fire and draught Black Sheep! - We ordered a couple of pints and shuffled over to sit as close to the fire as we could. We apologised to other people in the bar, they understood and questioned our sanity for being out there in these most unfriendly conditions. Gradually we stripped down, jackets off, shoes, socks, gloves - all laid out in an arc around the fire, steam rising up like a scene from some Dickensian washhouse. We got chatting to a couple from Teeside who were on holiday, he was a walker and she a fisherwomen - a friendly couple who donated £5 to the fund! Gradually our clothes were getting dry and we were warm now , crouched next to the fire. Another pint would make sure though! We called our support and the girls joined us for a drink as well. It was 5.15pm before we set off again, we needed to get beyond Carlisle - and into Scotland.

Made it to Scotland!!
By now it had at least stopped raining - we made reasonable progress through Penrith and on to Carlisle, a couple of steep hills but nothing to worry us after Shap! - At last we reached Scotland and paused to get a photo - then we headed for Gretna Green and our campsite for the night, we finally made it at about 8.30pm - totally exhausted and ready for bed!

Cabus to Gretna - 91.34 miles
Max Speed: 38.5mph
Time on bike: 6hrs 47 mins
Ascent: 4622ft
Calories used: 4585

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Day Five: Market Drayton to Cabus...

This morning the journey did not start well as we took the wrong road, but at least we were still heading north.  We decided to cut across parallel – Cox Bank, Hankelow and Nantwich on the way we passed a Pub, The Raven, sadly boarded up and totally neglected. It was clear that at some point this had been a fantastic coaching inn,  it was half-timbered, boasting once proud diamond leaded windows and many period features. It sat on a large plot with a huge car park and gardens now overgrown with cow parsley and wild margueritas - it seemed such a sad reflection that this once grand and stately building should suffer such a decline.

We carried on through Nantwich at 17mph zipping through the traffic heading for Winsford. When Gary was working for the Coal Board he had visited Winsford to look at the rock salt mine there which to this day remains the largest producer in the UK.

From there it was onwards and upwards to Warrington – we refrained from visiting the Bianchi Bike shop we spotted!  Warrington looked like a genteel northern throw back, a quiet pretty town with lots of bridges.  We have a good friend who originates from Warrington and sings with a close harmony group “Eu41A”.

Arrival at our camp for the night
Then we passed through Haydock – no sign of the racetrack, before passing though Leyland and then Preston heading for Garstang – we were further north now than Blackpool! We passed a modern style Wind Farm/Windmill at the side of the road – almost as if in someone’s garden.  We stopped to look at it – silent in operation, graceful and somehow calming.  Back on the road we reach our location for the evening 'Cabus'  - sounds like we have hit Afghanistan. 

This was our best camp site so far - with our own family of ducks (mallards – including 4 babies) - quite tame and waiting to be fed - a bit like us really!

Some of the ducks!
Market Drayton to Cabus - 96.5 miles
Max Speed: 32.8 miles per hour
Time on bikes: 7hrs 32minutes
Total ascent: 4,000 feet
Calories used: 4970

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Day Four: Newent to Market Drayton...

At the start of day four we find ourselves twenty-five miles behind schedule.  We set off with urgency, attempting to make up the deficit, but once again the hills are tougher than expected and our progress is stifled.  The weather shifts from strong sun to stinging rain, then wind and back to sun - it was as if we had witnessed the years’ seasons in one day.

We passed through Dymock then Trumpet and head towards Bromyard. The countryside is pretty and welcoming – it all feels good at the moment and we just sit back and enjoy it. But then we encounter some painful, steep climbs - thigh burning and lung busters – hard work!!

On one snaking descent Paul suffers a puncture, not only another unfortunate delay but also a break to the rhythm that had been established.  When you’re riding long distances, finding and holding a rhythm is important, like the drum-beat of a pop song, it sets the pace and pattern for the day.

Not long after we’re back on the bikes, we pass some workmen resurfacing the road - immediately Gary has a puncture (why are all the punctures in the rear wheel?).  The idea of catching up on our schedule is now diminishing – bad luck I suppose.


Roadside meeting with a 'JOGLER'
We meet the girls at our scheduled 'breakfast stop and while we are enjoying tea and toast we see a group of three riders pass - they are loaded with panniers and one of them has written on it 'JOGLE' John O'Groats to Lands End - Gary dashes out of the caper van and runs towards them shouting - two of the riders glance back and speed up to escape the oncoming madman - the third must have been too tired - he waited and we had a chance to talk to him. They are on an 18 day trip and have suffered horrendous weather in Scotland. On one particularly bad day the hail was so bad, combining with wind so that the barrage was continuous and horizontal, that the three riders dived into a ditch to take cover - 'it was like a scene from the Somme' said the rider. We wished him well and waved him off as he was eager to catch up with his friends.

As the day wore on progress remained frustratingly slow and by now we are also growing weary. We arrive at Bridgnorth and notice the distinct smell of steam trains drifting over from the Severn Valley Railway. Our original intention of pausing here to take in the market town with its historic cave-dwellings, charming Hightown and Lowtown and the famous vernicular railway has to be rescheduled for another day – we simply don’t have time – we have to press on!

By now we are men on a mission; we speed through the town centre with almost careless abandon – it is 5.00pm and so far we have covered only 50 miles. Our next target is Telford, not that far in miles but unfortunately involving a tedious uphill climb, long and irksome with the added irritation of rush-hour traffic which constantly threatens us on its eager journey home.

We skirt around Telford via Shifnel, Donnington Wood and Preston upon the Weald Moors. Paul’s friends Dave and V came over to meet us for a quick visit and after a brief pause we were away again, once again heading north, this time towards Nantwich – now we are on the Cheshire plain and the cycling is easier, roads smoother and terrain much flatter - but then the next problem! – Gary’s GPS system stopped working (flat batteries).  We passed through a small village having to ask for directions to Market Drayton. A couple out walking their dog gave us directions but seemed amazed that we intended to get there before dark.  The man’s parting words were “good luck”

After a long day and as darkness approached we arrived at Market Drayton and  our campsite for the night – there has to be time spent on a shower and eating but then it’s straight to bed. Not even time for a single beer!!!!

This trip is becoming a Temperance Society outing.

Newent to Market Drayton - 91.8 miles
Max Speed: 35.8 miles per hour
Time on bikes: 7hrs 37minutes
Total ascent: 6,146 feet
Calories used: 5024

Friday, 17 June 2011

Day Three - Burnham on Sea to Newent

Day three started off slowly, we were late leaving, probably because we went to the pub last night instead of getting to bed early!.

We were now down on the Somerset Levels so progress was good, the wind was still in our faces but we managed to race through Weston super Mare and made our way up on to the Avon (M5) road bridge. We had never noticed that this bridge was also a cycle and footbridge, even though we have both travelled over it many times.

Amazingly, as we paused at the top of the bridge to gaze across at the Severn estuary view, a beep of a horn alerted us that our support vehicle was passing along the M5 at that very moment, and Cate, the driver, happened to glance across at the footbridge and spot us! - we both waved wildy back.

The Severn Bridge
After this we rode down through Portishead then over the Severn Bridge. Going over the bridge was quite an experience, the wind was incredibly powerful and made staying upright on our bikes quite a task, there were particles of sand and debris whisked up by the wind and stinging our faces - really quite painful. The massive steel cables ached and moaned under the strain, the whole bridge moving in the wind. It was quite a steep rise up to the apex, then an easy roll down to the Chepstow side. There were workmen on the bridge, kitted out with survival suits and goggles to be able withstand the weather.

We carried on into Chepstow. Bonnie Tyler sang about being lost in France, we were lost in Wales and spent half an hour trying to find a way back onto the GPS route.

After asking for help we finally got back on course and set off in the direction of Gloucester, before heading North towards Bromyard. This route took us through some pleasant archetypal English countryside. I'd commented to Gary that many of the streets we were travelling along could easily have been the ones back home - it seemed that most places look similar, if I'd woken from a coma and Gary had said we're in Burton on trent I would have believed him.

As the day wore on and taking into account our late start plus time 'lost in Wales' we realised that we would not be able to reach Bromyard that night. Our support team organised a camp site near Newent instead. While we waited for an update and directions we enjoyed a pint of beer in The Red Lion at Newent.

Newent market place
Now there's some interesting info we need to share with you about Newent - for a start it has the largest cul-de-sac in Europe!!! - good job we didn't go down there. Also, it was the birthplace of 1960's record producer Joe Meek, he of 'Telstar' fame.

Burnham to Newent - 80.8 miles
Max Speed: 48.5 miles per hour
Time on bikes: 6hrs 21minutes
Total ascent: 4,361 feet
Calories used: 4189

Hello - we're back!!!

Arrived back late this afternoon - I must apologise to all of you people who have been looking out on this blog for new posts - it just didn't work out for us, the problem of finding a reliable WiFi connection, downloading/uploading images, compiling notes etc - it just became a big problem - quite often we were riding until 7.00pm, by the time we'd had a shower and eaten all we wanted to do was sleep!!!

But I am proud to tell you that we achieved what we set out to do - we did the ride - and we'll be posting from now on to get everything up to date - hopefully we'll update once a day, okay it's a bit retrospective but i'm sure you all understand! - and thanks again for all your support and especially your kind and generous donations.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Day Two: Holsworthy to Burnham on Sea....


We had a lie-in this morning, not setting off until the lazy hour of 9.30am. We headed north and more or less immediately found ourselves crawling up hills. Then there were more hills, and more.... progress was slow and conversation nil, all breath and effort was needed to claw our way upwards.

We passed through some pretty villages and beautiful country lanes; the verges dotted with an amazing array of wildflowers and ferns. The sun is dazzling, the air feels warm and everything indicates that today we will make good progress. Then, just as we arrive at Cleveden, the sky darkens and the heavens open - within a few minutes we are soaked through and struggle with the rain dripping into our eyes. And then, as quickly as it came, the rain is gone and we are in sunshine again. Within a few miles we are dried out. We swoop down pretty lanes passing beautiful thatched cottages and spot an interesting looking pub - The Beer Engine - it has a brewery on site, and, with the sun shining and people sitting outside sipping away it is too much to resist - we stop and sample a couple of halves!
Paul and Gary about to depart - Day 2
We're soon back on the bikes though, by now working our way through the Quantock Hills to Tiverton then Taunton and on to Bridgwater.

Finally we find the campsite - Greenacre Park. The owners, upon hearing of our endeavour, donate the fee for a nights stay to our fund! - Thanks a lot Greenacre! Waiting for us on our arrival is Gary's mum and sister, they've travelled up from Plymouth to give us some support!

We quickly shower and get changed - then it's a visit to a local pub for a meal - when we arrive there we find it's quiz night - but its okay - we enter the quiz as 'The Land's End to John O'Groater's' and finish 4th - not bad!

We enjoyed a starter and main course but the portions are vast - the only one to completely finish her plate was Val! - Gary and I are flagging - the days efforts catching up with us - and so we make our way back to the campsite and bed.
a welcome cuppa at the end of day 2


Today we have crossed Devon, seen the North and South Coast and passed into Somerset.... our journey is moving on.


Holsworthy to Burnham on Sea - 99.28 miles
Max Speed: 42.2 miles per hour
Time on bikes: 7hrs 34minutes
Total ascent: 6,019 feet
Calories used: 4992

In the pub!

Monday, 6 June 2011

Day One: Land's End to Holsworthy



Do you remember the days of the Apollo Space Missions. There was always a time near the end of each mission when the space craft would re-enter the atmosphere. This was the time when the radio link was lost, the controllers waited at mission control, huddled anxiously around their computers and people waited at home with baited breath, eager for the first crackly, distorted words that signalled all was well....

So it is for us.... these are our first 'crackly words'...... that is not to say that all is well, but we can report that we are safe and reasonably well, and pressing ahead.

Apologies for the delay in getting this 'Day One' post up - we have had some connection issues.

Our first day of riding started at about 5.00am - we didn't sleep - possibly the howling wind buffeting the camper van at our pitch at Trevaylor Camping Park, Botallack - or maybe it was the excitement (or nerves) at the task facing us.

We had arranged to get to Land's End at 9.30 to have our photograph taken at the famous fingerpost - this went according to plan and we also met a couple of cyclists who were setting out on 'Le Jog' as well. They were being more sensible than us though; taking three weeks to complete the expedition - and they were self sufficient, carrying all their gear with them.

At Lands End - in our new shirts
We finally got started at about 10.00am - at last!! - after almost a year of planning we were on our way. The first few miles to Penzance were easy enough, then on to Hayle where we stopped for the loo! We met another two cyclists, a man and woman, who were loaded to the gunwalls. Gary asked the man if they were going far - he replied 'Yes'...... nothing else, no attempt to elucidate at all! - strange???

We got moving again - this time heading for Redruth. I remember saying to Gary that the hills weren't as bad as we perhaps thought. That turned out to be the kiss of death. Pretty much immediately we faced a big climb and there were many, many more to follow!

Our route took us well off the main roads. We were cycling down a very narrow leafy lane where we found a very old wizened gentlemen sat astride a bike. It looked like he was trying to do something to his bike, we stopped to ask if he was OK, he replied that he wasn't. Gary acted as interpreter at this point, as Paul being a 'Brummy' didn't quite understand the local "Pirate" dialect. He said "I'm stuck on my bicycle, I can't get off !?! We wondered if the broom stick tied to the cross bar was part of the problem, but it wasn't, all it needed was for Gary to hold the bike so that he could balance to get off.

We asked if he had far to go, he said that he only had to go to the next village. We told him we were off to John O'Groats, "Never" he exclaimed, "I hope you've had a good lunch"

It's a pity we didn't get a photo of him - he looked like Bilbo Baggins' long lost Uncle.

There was plenty more climbing to concentrate on after that - long, twisting lanes that went up and up as we rounded each corner, muscle trembling, lung bursting efforts that left us red faced and hurting.

Finally we made it to our first camp site at Holsworthy, close to Bude. It was good, quiet with decent facilities and plenty of hot water for showers. Darren, the ex keyboard player from our band 'Simply Crap' came to visit us in his camper van. He only lives a couple of miles away and it was great to see him, plus he was able to sort out our problems with a dodgy mains hook-up cable - thanks Daz! Darren has been kind of doing his own thing since leaving Simply Crap, a bit like when Robbie left Take-That. But it was interesting to hear that his job means he is now back in the Midlands once a week - over a couple of beers we got him thinking about rejoining the band!

There's so much to try to put onto this page and those that will follow - it's probably best to keep it as brief as possible at this stage, so that's it - no more! - I'm not sure when we'll get the chance to add another post - but keep looking - remember those radio silences!!!

In the meantime, for those that are interested here are some stats for Day One:

Lands End to Holsworthy - 92.68 miles
Max Speed: 37.9 miles per hour
Time on bikes: 7hrs 7minutes
Total ascent: 7,322 feet
Calories used: 4695


Saturday, 4 June 2011

The Night Before..........

Thank you James for your donation.

We have finally arrived at our camp site. We had a great journey down here, but collecting the motorhome was a bit fraught, but all is well now. It may come as a surprise to most people that know us, but we are now in the campsite bar having a beer. We have been forced to do this in order to get a WIFI signal. A great thing this modern technology.

I need to mention my Mum, I received an e mail from her today, her first. She is now on t'internet for the first time via her new IPAD. A silver surfer (A bit like me), well done Mum !!!!

It's a bit chaotic in the camper van......can we find anything....No......Have we brought everything....we don't know yet

Paul speaking now...

I had a couple of messages from my daughters - good to know that they are worried about me!!!

Also a message from my old mate Darren - ex keyboard player in the most excellent and, world famous band.. Simply Crap. Darren turned his back on the fame, adulation and wealth to leave the band for a simpler life in Cornwall some years ago - but he's going to meet up with us tomorrow evening at the end of our first day of riding, at Holsworthy - which is a few miles away from where he now lives in idyllic exile, contemplating what fame and fortune he might have enjoyed with 'The Crap' - (ha ha) - see you tomorrow Daz!! - bring your money!!!

Okay - back to Gaz....

Thanks to all who have left messages of support.

A special thanks to Greg and Bob. Good to hear from you Bob, hope you are having a great time living in France. Do you remember the training for the Three Peaks, when you hurt your leg and could only walk in circles. Happy days, I think you aged about ten years over that weekend.

AND so the journey begins............


We're on our way...

...well, almost.

It's 8.30 Saturday morning. The last items have been packed and added to the burgeoning piles of 'stuff'. How on earth would we manage to do this if we had to carry all our gear each day? - Hat's off to those people who are able to streamline their travelling paraphernalia, for me it seems impossible! Then there's the niggling feeling that something has been forgotten - I'm sure i've covered every possibility, not least because it seems I'm taking more than I'm leaving.

Anyway, this is it - today we'll travel to Lands End and start the adventure - I didn't sleep too well last night, mulling over the effort and possible pitfalls that face us over the next ten days or so. We met at the pub last night for a couple of pints and to talk about the trip. Our friend John joined us and said that we should be mindful of the task and not take any unnecessary chances - if we have a problem, if we are suffering too much, if we pick up an injury we should abandon. Of course he's right. There wouldn't be much point in trying to complete this if either of our bodies is breaking down. There's no real way to train for this sort of day-after-day exertion, we just have to hope that the work we have done will be enough and that we can pace ourselves in a sufficiently sensible way.

The sun is shining, its already potent and so, as the excitement and anticipation mounts, at least we have good weather for the first part of the journey. For those of you reading this, we will be attempting to keep you informed of our progress as we go - please keep looking, and thank you all for your kind wishes and support so far.

Bye for now.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Countdown.....

We're getting close now. I admit to feeling a few butterflies in my stomach! Everything is packed and my bikes are ready. I just need to finalise the toolkit and spares and I'm done.

As I write this it's incredibly warm here, the sun is strong and the sky is a perfect summer blue. This sort of weather would be a little too hot for us I think - we need it to be dry and warm but not too warm!!. In terms of weather I've always been incredibly fortunate when taking holidays - I often think, when I'm going away somewhere, that my luck can't hold out; the odds are against it, but somehow I always seem to get away with it.... or at least that's how I remember it, which may of course be entirely different! 

The forecast for the first couple of days sounds okay - after that we have to wait and see - but we're expecting to experience some 'adverse' conditions somewhere on the route. And whatever happens I can't imagine anything will be as bad as the conditions we rode through over the last winter. Yesterday I picked up the shirts we've had made - they're okay, not exactly as the design but the limitations of the printing process meant we had to compromise a little. When we start the ride we'll get some photos and I'll try to upload them.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Matching Piles.

Enough said.......

Thanks....

A big thanks to Jules Storer for his kind and generous donation - we'll do our best to get past the first pub!

Piles of preparation....

With just a couple of days before we set off its been a time for making lists. And then assembling the items from the lists into suitable, packable sized piles.

I have a pile for cycling clothing, a pile for normal clothing, a pile for tools and spare parts, a pile for energy/gel bars, a pile for bike cleaning and lubrication and a pile for cameras/video and associated battery chargers plus wires/cables etc, then there's a pile for first-aid emergencies and not forgetting my pile of bottles of beer!..........
There's a big pile for food, quite a big one for bedding, toiletries and towels... There might even be an additional pile or two that I haven't thought of yet?

I've also cleaned my main bike this morning. We've decided we're riding on the not so 'new' bikes. I've stripped mine down and cleaned, degreased and polished it. I've lubricated all those little spots that are hard to get to - the brake and gear cable bits, the cable routers underneath, all the little springs and cables on the rear mech - it's been enjoyable and the bike looks great now - I even cleaned the handlebar tape, which being white shows the dirt - everything looks like new.

The bike's ready - and I think I am too.

Good Luck messages!....

We've received a few cards today - Good luck messages from friends and family.

A couple of funny ones from Ian & Mary - hope you can see the images - one is of a camper van with a couple of naked women cleaning it!.... the message inside says "If you know where to look some camp sites offer an excellent valeting service"

The other card has a cartoon of Quasimodo at a bar - and he's pointing to the spirits saying 'The Bells, The Bells' - This one is a bellringing joke!!

Then there's a nice message from Gary's Mum - 'Will be thinking about you all the way - Enjoy the challenge - remember, no pain, no gain! I am really proud of you for attempting it!

Thanks for those kind thoughts and messages.

Checking out The Chequers

Our last 'beer ride' before setting off saw a last minute change of plan. With the elders of the cycling club away in France there were only three of us for the usual Wednesday evening ride. Gary, Barry and me! - The scheduled ride was to be The Holly Bush at Church Broughton, but because none of us were confident of the route we decided to ride to the pretty South Derbyshire village of Ticknall instead to visit The Chequers Inn.

The Chequers at Ticknall
Ticknall is surrounded by beautiful well-wooded countryside and the magnificent Calke Abbey. Originally the Harper-Crewe family built Ticknall as the estate village to Calke Abbey. However following the sudden death of Sir Charles Harper-Crewe in 1981, while out setting mole traps, the estate was handed over to The National Trust.

The Chequers is one of those increasingly rare pubs. Seemingly unfazed by any notions of modernity. It's proper - a good old fashioned local, old beams and a cosy fireplace, no food or music, outside lavatories - not even a till at the bar! - the takings are held in a simple wooden drawer. It's quaint and real and welcoming. We enjoyed a few pints of the most excellent Timothy Taylor 'Landlord' before setting off via Hartshorne and Woodville for home. 26 miles ridden.