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

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