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....
|At Lands End - in our new shirts|
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.
|Paul and Gary about to depart - Day 2|
|In the pub!|
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|
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|
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'|
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.
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|
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!|
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|
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|
|Made it to Scotland!!|
Cabus to Gretna - 91.34 miles
Max Speed: 38.5mph
Time on bike: 6hrs 47 mins
Calories used: 4585
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)|
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!!!|
Gary and I were happy that night after all.
Gretna to Strathaven - 82 miles
Max Speed: 32.8mph
Time on bike: 7hrs 32 mins
Calories used: 4970
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!|
|Our campsite 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
Calories used: 4167
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.
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|
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
Calories used: 3144
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.
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|
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!|
|The beach at Dornoch|
|The campsite - Dornoch|
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
Calories used: 4629
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|
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|
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!!|
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
Calories used: 3881