Day1 – Land’s End to Wadebridge 28th April 2014
Hello and Welcome to the first daily blog of this mad trip to the top of Scotland. I awoke this morning at 7am to a bright day. The Land’s End Hotel room looked out towards Longships Lighthouse across a gorgeous blue expanse sporting a few small white horses from the slight North-Westerlies blowing in from Southern Ireland. It had been a brilliant sunset the previous evening so I was half-expecting a clear and more importantly, dry start. Following packing, unpacking and repacking of panniers (several times!), breakfast was sought in the dining room. It was hoped that I’d be getting under way at around 8 this morning but as it turned out, the chef doesn’t do early mornings so the full English didn’t appear until well after the start time. However, it didn’t disappoint and made a good start to Day 1.
Laura my partner helped out with the starting line photo-shoot and with heavy heart (and panniers) we said our goodbyes at just after 9am as I turned the pedals for the first of what would be several thousand times. A quick glance at the Garmin gadget on my handlebars told me today was going to be an ‘easy starter for ten’ with a relatively short day of just under 60 miles ending in Wadebridge. This was planned as such due to the somewhat persistent and, at times somewhat unforgiving hills Cornwall has to offer the mad cyclist.
As I pedalled away and Land’s End disappeared behind the brow of the first incline, I wasn’t entirely sure how I’d be feeling. It was a real mix I have to say. There was excitement as finally, the day had come to put all the training into practice and to be finally ‘doing it’ after what seemed like an eternity of planning. There was also (I freely admit) an element of sheer dread! What if the training I’ve done isn’t enough? What if the bike suffers a major fault? What if there’s an accident? Lots more ‘What ifs?’ went through my mind and as Laura overtook me a quarter mile from the start line, I suddenly felt very alone and a little (I’ll admit this one too!) scared. The feeling I can only liken to when I was five years old and going to school for the very first time.
However, as the first few miles ticked by, I started thinking about what was ahead of me that day, and that day only. It was pointless worrying about the Scottish Highlands or Shap Fell or the climbs around Helmsdale in the far North-East of Scotland. I’d read countless accounts online about these areas – some good, some bad. But, these were days and miles away and not worthy of my concern. I promised myself to take it a day at a time and when it came to the ride, I just took things ten miles at a time.
The first ten miles went by in little more than 40mins which was a tad alarming as I know I couldn’t keep that pace up all day. It was probably a combination of adrenaline, worry and the hotel breakfast that made me cover these miles so quickly (for me anyway!). However, things were soon to change as I left Penzance on the National Cycle Network Route 3 (NCN 3) coastal path. The problem being, there was little coastal path to speak of. The storms on Valentine’s Day some weeks before had washed a sizeable section away between Penzance and Marazion which meant walking the bike precariously along a sandy ledge until the path resumed. The first photo-opportunity appeared here with a cracking view of Mounts Bay and St.Michael’s Mount in the morning sunshine.
Soon after Marazion on a backroad up to St. Erth, a text message on my phone from my boss wishing me luck came through. I’m not one for talking and riding but as it was quiet and there was really no hurry, I called him back for a brief chat and promised to keep them at head office posted with progress. These little daily messages of support from friends and family were good to receive and had given me a boost at the start of the day.
Hayle came and went and then a couple of nice hills took me onto the bustling conurbation of Pool, Camborne and Redruth. Nothing much to speak of in this area until I got to Dales of Scorrier – the local Renault Dealer. I’ve bought cars from there for a good few years now and they were very generous in their sponsorship for this ride. I had a quick coffee stop in there and a picture taken with the ‘guv’nor’ before continuing NE on the A3075 up towards Perranporth on the North coast before taking a sharpish right at Goonhavern, to then weave my way up to St. Newlyn East (locally pronounced ‘Noolin Eeess’). I remember this pretty village from the days of cricket during bygone Cornish summers when the sun shone on a regular basis.
St. Newlyn East (the locals drop the St. and some even drop the East too!) is named after St. Newlina, the patron saint of the parish church. She was a welsh saint believed to have been martyred by her father and the village itself is famous for the East Wheal Rose mining disaster in 1846. After a freak thunderstorm lasting an hour and a half on July 9th that year, the mine very quickly flooded drowning 39 miners. Most of which were inhabitants of the village. Cheerful stuff eh?….anyway moving on…….Well, as it was lunchtime and there was a village shop, odds on they would be selling hot pasties and let’s face it, it would be rude not to really. Although pastry does result in pretty bad indigestion for me, I had to indulge and there I sat, outside the church on a moss-ridden bench in the spring sunshine, devouring a pasty. All cyclists know what a ferocious appetite one can work up through pedalling for hours at a time and pasties are amongst most foods that barely touch the sides in these situations.
The final leg of Day 1 was spent scaling some horrible hills interleaved with peppery burps and occasional stop to wheeze and take on water. Just after St. Columb, I braved the A39, which wasn’t busy in the slightest. This took me past Winnard’s Perch before taking a lane that would descend all the way down into the back end of Wadebridge where, at last my first Bed & Breakfast awaited me at The Tremill B&B. The problem here was that when I got there, there was no answer at the door and I had to wait an hour or so before anyone turned up. Once in though, there was a lovely welcome to be had.
So, that was day 1. A fine yet tiring start scaling the Cornish hills. Tomorrow will be more of the same as I leave Cornwall behind and have a crack at crossing Devon.
The Day’s Stats
Tot. Miles. 59.9
Feet Climbed 3808ft
Flies Swallowed. 14
Species of Roadkill 8
Lejog Day 2 29th April 2014
Good Evening. This is the BBC Home Service. Here is the news…………
A mad man in a bright green jacket with even brighter white legs was today seen leaving Wadebridge in a bid to cycle up and down every hill that Cornwall can throw at him!
Last night I was guest at the Tremill Bed and breakfast in Wadebridge. A cosy little affair with good facilities, a very friendly welcome by Jo who then this morning produced a protein – laden breakfast of sausages, eggs and the best bacon this side of the North Sea. All served with lashings of tea & coffee. Oh and the toaster and bread was within arms length too (my kind of place!).
Wadebridge sits astride the River camel and is probably famous among the cycling fraternity as an access point to the camel trail cycle route to Padsow. This was a railway link to Cornwall’s North coast up until 1960 when Mr Beeching thought it good to close it. The town’s name was actually Wade due to the fact that crossing the River Camel back then was a bit of a chore until someone in the 15th Century said, ”Let’s build a bridge!!” and so it came to be that the town’s name became Wade-Bridge (try and keep up).
I set off shortly before 9am this morning and fought my way through Wadebridge’s rush-hour that took all of 3 minutes only to be greeted with the first of many hills that day. The weather although dry, was far from warm. The first hill took me up to rejoin the A39 which was surprisingly quiet and I was in two minds whether to stick to it or follow my pre-planned route of veering off through some back lanes. I chose the latter and soon left the main road to be met with the first of many steep descents to cross the first of many rivers – the first being the River Allen near the village of St. Maybn. This parish was named after a St.Mabyn (or Mabena) who is traditionally said to have been one of 24 of Brychan, another welsh saint and King of Brycheiniog in the 5th Century. 24 kids? Blimey, he was a busy chap! All that washing!
One thing you find in these parts is that a steep descent is usually met with a steep ascent! More back lanes were to follow which were all pretty much traffic-free up to St. Tudy where I joined the B3266 and passed a lay-by occupied by a burger van and a gypsy-type chap selling ornamental garden animals intricately carved out of old tree trunks. I considered stopping for a burger but was concerned the gypsy might do the ‘hard-sell’ thing on me and I end up cycling to John O’Groats with a 3ft oak goat strapped to my crossbar!
Within a few miles, the A39 and civilisation reappeared at the peculiar named Valley Truckle. I tried to research a little bit on the origins of this but all I could find on Wikipedia was:
‘Valley Truckle is a hamlet on the A39 road south of Camelford in Cornwall, England, UK. Its name probably derives from a corruption of Cornish “Vellan draeth”.’
…..you’ll have to work that one out for yourself!
The now-busier A39 provided yet another descent, this time down into the town of Camelford. And, yep! You guessed it! An even bigger climb out town was to follow. By Camelford there was about 12 miles on the clock and already way over 1100ft had been climbed. At the top of the hill, the temperature had dropped and the mist descended making it a pretty grim place to be. I stopped for a protein bar (this would be my last as they are the most hideous thing I’ve ever eaten).
Once more, I was tempted to remain on the A39 as there was very little traffic but decided to play safe and trust the pre-planned route. Davidstow was next which didn’t look too exciting in the greying mist. At Hallworthy I took a left which took me down a long very fast descent through Warbstow before yes, another climb up the other side. Familiar signs were now starting to come thick and fast – Launceston, North Petherwin, Tregadillet and Holsworthy and at North Tamerton, I ticked of the first of 20 or so counties and said a fond(ish) farewell to Cornwall.
Holsworthy was the planned lunch stop. I’d read about the Viaduct Café at the end of the Ruby Way cycle path so opted to stop there and it really didn’t disappoint. (I did read in July that the tenant was giving up running the place so am not sure whether it is still open).
The Ruby Way is the old track bed from the railway line that used to run through these parts. I’d never used it before the LeJog but glad I did instead of the road as the A3072 can be a fast road with HGVs passing you at 50-60mph in places. However, if you’re on a road bike, stick to the tarmac as the surface is far from good.
The path takes you past a little place by the name of Anvil Corner where, in the middle of nowhere stands a memorial plaque where, nearby in 1944, a Halifax bomber crashed during a training flight following an engine fire at 20,000ft. All six crew members (aged between 19 and 24) lost their lives. Memorial services are now held there every year.
Anyway, soon I was back onto the A3072 at Brandis Corner on familiar roads that I’d been on a few times during training. Also, it was mostly downhill all the way through Highampton to Hatherleigh which gave a welcome break after the morning climbs.
Following a quick tussle with the HGVs on the A386, it was again onto quieter lanes to the very picturesque village of Jacobstowe where I rejoined the A3072 and yet more damned hills. The last of which seemed to go on forever but the reward at the top was something spectacular with the most amazing views to the south from the hamlet Sampford Chapple. All uphills for day 2 were now conquered and a quick descent down a manure-strewn Chapple Lane took me into Sampford Courtney village to the home and Bed & Breakfast of Avril and Mike Flanagan. They were my hosts for the night and greeted me with a cream tea on arrival.
In the evening, I was able to meet up with my partner Laura and the kids and other family members at the local pub the New Inn for a slap up feast and a few pints of the local brew. I have to mention a little bit about this village as it’s seen a bit of drama in its time.
In 1549, the government introduced a new Book of Common Prayer which was printed in English. The book was something out of the ordinary to the common people, who had, for generations been used to hearing their church services in Latin. Its impact in Cornwall was far worse as many people still spoke Cornish, a Brythonic language not dissimilar to Welsh. The replacement with an English service stirred many cultural and religious sensitivities and in June 1549, Cornwall exploded into rebellion and thousands congregated at the fort of Castle Canyke near Bodmin. Very soon, any remaining loyalists were captured leaving the county very much opposed to the Crown.
The Cornish protest soon spread across the Tamar into Devon and in Sampford Courtenay, local worshippers insisted their priest wear his traditional garments and preached in the old Latin format. The priest duly obliged (due to death threats no doubt!) whilst a local yeoman tried to oppose this and was duly murdered.
Word soon spread of this and very soon a powerful ‘army of Cornishmen were marching towards Sampford to join forces where they would march on to Exeter in a bid to besiege the city which was very much loyalist. The siege lasted 6 weeks and famine was rife within the city.
On the Government’s orders, John Russell, 1st Earl of Bedford assembled a powerful army to engage the rebels on the Eastern side of Exeter. After many bloody battles and the deaths of many, a final battle was fought back at Sampford Courtenay where the insurgents were finally quelled.
……it’s that religion thing again!!
Tomorrow sees more of the same until Taunton in Somerset where the last 20 miles or so are beside the Taunton to Bridgewater Canal. Thanks to everyone that has sent me messages of support today. It really means a lot.
Total Mileage. 114.6
Total Elevation. 7959ft
White Van Men
with no brain. 8
White Van Men
with half a brain. Don’t be ridiculous!
Recurring catchphrase of the day:
“this route looked quite flat on the map!”
My Lejog 2014
Day 3 Sampford Courtney – Cossington
Distance: 69.05 miles Elevation: 3044ft
Good Evening All!
Well that’s Day 3 nicely in the bag as it were. Cornwall’s been conquered and I’m done with Devon!
Yesterday saw one mad cyclist arrive at Sampford Courtenay at Weirhouse B&B (link) owned by Mike and Avril Flanagan. On arrival, I was met by Mike and I was soon devouring a cream tea in the conservatory overlooking the beautiful garden. The building has stacks of history and has been transformed by Mike and Avril over many years. Breakfast was a sight to behold and tasted even better!
OK, day 3……….Obviously, cycling on your own for hours on end each day, you tend to think about stuff, look at stuff and draw certain conclusions. Today’s summary is this………….There appears to be 2 types of tractor in the Westcountry – The Devon S**t hauler and The Cornish Idler. Let me elaborate on this….
On Monday and part of yesterday, I traversed Cornwall with the majority of the mileage being on country lanes thus passing many farmyard entrances. These places of ‘work’ appear to be deserted except for a solitary tractor sat there, unmanned with its engine running. It’s like the Marie Celeste of agriculture. I don’t think there’s a farmer there at all. He simply sleeps there at night and by day, he’s a stockbroker in the nearest city. He just starts the tractor up on his way out of the yard each morning to give the impression something’s happening!
Then, after crossing Devon (Wooohooo!), it appears that these tractors are actually in use hauling great trailers of malodorous slurry around the country lanes. They don’t take it anywhere, they just prowl the lanes at speed unnerving cyclists! Today, I lost count of how many I saw. ‘Twas a most peculiar thing!
Anyway, I had a bit of a later start this morning as I wanted to avoid the rush-hour (yes, it does occur in rural Devon!) and finally hit the tarmac at about 945. The weather was a little on the misty sidebut that very soon lifted just as the hills very soon carried on from where they left off yesterday. However these climbs yielded good rewards with stunning scenery to be had in all directions. The first sign of any civilisation after leaving Sampford Courtenay was North Tawton – A seemingly bustling village of modest size (although it’s more of a town in my view). Apparently the Romans set up garrisons here nearby on the road between Okehampton and Exeter. Nowadays tho, there’s a haulage firm, a creamery and a pet wholesaler. How times change! The locals were very friendly as I pedalled through and all set good morning – mostly in local accents although I did pick out some Glaswegian in one and another was definitely eastern European.
As the town/village is on the River Taw, again there was another bloody hill to climb before descending once again before climbing. Much the same as the previous 2 days really. Lots of lanes, hedgerows and hills and all interspersed with those damned foul-smelling tractors. Soon I had descended down to Lapford where my route crosses the A377 Exeter – Barnstaple road. The Rail link also shares this valley with the road and yes, it meant another climb out of Lapford to progress east to the South of Witheridge with Tiverton becoming ever closer. Eventually, I came to a massive downhill strewn with that manure stuff again called Tombstone Lane (sure there’s some history there!) bringing me onto the superbly named Longdrag Hill where I sped down into the town with a grin knowing that the next good few miles were on the flat beside the Grand Western Canal. This was borne out of the idea to link the port of Bristol to the English Channel via an inland waterway and was to join the Exeter and the Taunton-Bridgewater canals together but for many reasons, the project was never finished but the canal has been preserved and makes for some lovely cycling in some beautiful surroundings.
A sudden attack of hunger was to be had at Sampford Peverell village which sits on the canal and Lunch was taken with some rip-off fayre from the local convenience store. There I was, sat beside the canal on a bench eating a malformed sandwich (£3.49!) when an old lady stopped to say hello and asked where I was going. I told her all about this jaunt to the top of Scotland and how it was for charity etc and on that, she reached into her purse and said in a very gentle and well spoken tone, “I’m so sorry, I only have a pound with me but please do have it to put towards your cause”. A gesture like that just made my day!
Following lunch and a call to my work colleague Mark for an update, I carried on beside the canal passing Burlescombe village and then the canal path stopped and it was back to the Tarmac and some more of the hilly stuff once more. I then suddenly realised that I must be somewhere close to the Somerset border. I never saw a sign unless it was during an uphill bit when my eyes had misted over through oxygen starvation!!
Langford Budville was going to be at the top of the day’s final climb with only 41miles covered there was still another 28 to go. I thought I’d scour the internet for some historical gems to bore you with but there was the usual stuff regarding the Norman Conquest and Saxon occupation etc. However, I did find this which made me smile…….
‘Thirteen Langford Ladies enjoyed a leisurely stroll along the banks of the Grand Western Canal on Wednesday 21st May. Between Burlescombe and Holcombe Rogus there was much to be seen, from old lime kilns to a family of swans with ten cygnets, and traces of otters. At the end of this stretch of the canal a surprising but most welcome break produced home made biscuits and a drink, courtesy of the two organisers Margaret* and Wendy* Later a good meal was had at the Prince of Wales in Holcombe Rogus. Many thanks to Julie and Alison for a wonderful evening.
Next month a visit to Venn Cross Railway Gardens, near Waterrow. Meet at the Village Hall, 7.00pm. Small admission charge £4, tea and cake available at £2.50. ‘
(*the names have been changed to protect the innocents!)
The next few miles were now almost all downhill through Nynehead and Bradford-on-Tone and a welcome coffee was to be had at Bishop’s Hull on the outskirts of Taunton where I sat quietly grinning inanely inside knowing that the worst was over as the next 20 miles to my B&B were pan-flat along the Taunton-Bridgewater canal. This made for some very easy miles with plenty of beautiful scenery and some stonking cake that is worthy of a small paragraph.
My partner Laura has a step-father who’s a bit of a whizz when it comes to baking. Roger, still a keen cyclist at the age of 74 has turned out some of the most sublime cakes and pastries one can taste. The legendary chicken slicing – pie every Christmas Eve is a joy and is far better than the turkey that is suffered the following day!! Roger spoke to me some time in January after the idea of this LeJoG was born and offered to make a bonk-busting, calorie-laden Christmas cake (sans icing!) for me to take with me. The cake was soon made and contained various types of alcohol and required at least 12 weeks to ‘mature’. The result was spellbinding! It packed a calorie punch and helped with the hills in during the past three days. The only problem was that after 3 days, I’d eaten over half of my 14 day ration because it just tasted so bloody good!!!
I left the canal path shortly before Bridgewater to cross both the River Parrett and the railway line at the same time at Somerset Bridge. This saved a few miles and after skirting Bridgewater, I found myself back on the A39 for a short while before once again, taking more lanes finish the day in the little village of Cossington where I was met at Brookhayes Farm B&B by Susan who plied me with cake and tea on arrival. A long day but a wonderful feeling to have Devon and Cornwall in the bag. Tomorrow is a jaunt across the Somerset Levels and then across the Severn into Wales enroute to Monmouth. But, that’s tomorrow and I’ll think about that in the morning.
Many thanks to those who have donated today. The online pot is now approaching £1000 and thanks to all those who have sent me messages of support so far on this trip.
Total Mileage 183.65
Total Elevation 11003ft
Recurring phrase of this morning: “Oh look! Another bloody hill!”
Highlight of the day: Almost touching 40mph down Long Drag hill into Tiverton
Low light of the day: Tiverton!
My Lejog 2014
Day 4 Cossington – Monmouth
Distance: 69.03 miles Elevation: 1693ft
Hello and welcome to this, the 4th gripping instalment of a greying, 40-something’s quest to go it alone to the top of Scotland on a British-deisgned, Taiwanese-built bicycle.
Last night, I was a guest at Brookhayes Farm B&B in a sleepy little village by the name of Cossington where the welcome was as warm as the cosy’d pot of tea and variety of cake that awaited my arrival. The feeling of relief for getting to this point and getting Devon and Cornwall under my belt was great and with the legs not feeling too bad, my mind was staying somewhat positive and to my surprise, very relaxed. I’ve never been a great possessor of self-belief and have always had a nagging doubt about succeeding at this end-to-end quest but after the Devon/Cornwall thing was out of the way, I did feel markedly better about things. It’s silly really because living in Devon, these hills were just another everyday ride.
Up until now, the weather couldn’t have been better. A little damp here and there but mostly sunny spells and light winds (favourable ones too!). Last night I checked today’s forecast and with prolonged rain, it was going to be a ‘jacket-on’ sort of day. I then started looking at the planned route across Somerset into Avon which was to head across the levels towards the Mendip Hills and then go ‘off-piste’ onto part of the Strawberry Line from Axbridge across to Yatton. The alternative would’ve been the A38 which can be very busy with heavy goods traffic at times so this little gem from Sustrans was the preferred option. However, not knowing anything about this cycle path, I was unsure of the surface and with the forecast rain, there was concern about conditions ‘under tyre’. So, last night, I borrowed a laptop and made some last minute amendments to avoid that route and also the damned Mendips too.
Instead, I’d be taking in the delights of that little westcountry gem, Weston Super Mare.
The day started with a mad dash to dry some kit on the aga that Sue (the lovely B&B lady) had kindly washed for me and then, with waterproofs donned, it was time for the off. This part of Somerset is literally pan flat with umpteen waterways and flood channels that bisect the roads at regular intervals. The route zig-zagged its way north towards the coast, crossing over the M5 somewhere north of Highbridge. Here I met the lovely A38 and played with the traffic for a mile or two. The spray from the HGVs was grim and came with complementary grit!. It was with great relief that I could turn off onto the quieter A370 at East Brent which skirts around the end of the Mendips before arriving in the picturesque suburbs of Weston. I can’t really comment much about the place from a tourist’s perspective as my route took me through countless housing estates and a retail park although I did see a sign somewhere for the seafront.
Sometime after crossing the M5 again, I found myself sheltering from the rain in a bus shelter near Congresbury. The rain was lashing down so I sought solace in some of the fruit cake. After checking my phone, I also learnt that the tracker had stopped some miles back and I was shown to be stationary near the M5. My dear Mum in France has been monitoring my whereabouts like a deranged stalker since Monday morning and was beside herself with worry when the tracking ceased!
At last the rain all but stopped and signs of brighter weather were afoot. The route now took me onto the last part of the Strawberry Line and my suspicions regarding its surface were soon realised when it got somewhat muddy. Another few days rain and this would’ve been all but passable. The line ends next to Yatton station which is on the Great Western main line between Bristol and Taunton. It’s a smallish village and I was going to entertain you with historical gems and trivia about here and the surrounding area. A brief read brings up the usual Iron Age settlements nearby, Roman Villa and coins found and a 14th century church. However, I did stumble on this little gem regarding a one George Lukins, also known as the ‘Yatton dœmoniac’. Poor George was famous for his somewhat alleged demonic possession and the exorcism that followed in 1788. A quick gander at Wikipedia gives the following passage:
‘The Rev. Joseph Easterbrook, the Anglican Vicar of Temple Church, was summoned on Saturday, 31 May 1778, by Mrs. Sarah Barber, a woman who was travelling in the village of Yatton, Mendip, in the county of Somerset.] The woman told the that she came across a man by the name of George Lukins, who had a strange malady “in which he sang and screamed in various sounds, some of which did not resemble a human voice; and declared, could do him no service.” Mrs. Barber, who formerly resided in Yatton, attested to the clergyman that Lukins had an extraordinary good character and attended services of worship, where he received the Church sacraments. However, for the past eighteen years, he had been subject to atypical fits, which Lukins believed resulted from a supernatural slap which knocked him down while he was acting in a Christmas pageant. George Lukins was consequently taken under the care of Dr. Smith, an eminent surgeon of Wrington, among many other physicians, who in vain, tried to help George Lukins; moreover, after his twenty week stay at St George’s Hospital, the medical community there pronounced him incurable. Members of the community began to think that Mr. Lukins was bewitched and he himself declared that he himself was possessed by seven demons, who could only be driven out by seven clergymen. Rev. Joseph Easterbook contacted Methodist ministers in connexion with Rev. John Wesley who agreed to pray for George Lukins’
Nothing to do with the local cider then?? A supernatural slap indeed!
Anyway, back to it. The sun came out which made for some lovely cycling along lanes between Clevedon and Portbury before crossing the Avon river on the M5 bridge (there’s a cycle lane!). After a quick tour of Avonmouth docks and a Shell Garage lunch (another gastronomic delight!), the Severn Bridge beckoned to take me into welsh Wales. After cycling 52 miles today, my first real hill approached as I made the climb up towards Chepstow, passing the famous racecourse before making the most scenic descent through the Wye Valley into Tintern, home of the famous Tintern Abbey. This was founded by the Lord of Chepstow, Walter de Clare (nice name!) in May 1131. He was cousin of the Bishop of Winchester who had introduced the first colony of Cistercian monks (White Monks) at Waverley, Surrey in 1128. The Tintern Monks however came from Chartres, France (I wonder how they got on with understanding the local Chepstow dialect!). The monks lived by the Rule of St. Benedict which laid out the basic principles of obedience, poverty, chastity, silence, prayer and work. Much of which is still very much alive and kicking in nearby Newport!
The remaining 10 miles on the A466 followed the River Wye through beautiful woodland countryside with very little traffic until a rush hour arrival at Monmouth to my digs at the Bistro Prego. An Italian restaurant that did the B&B thing on the side. Another warm welcome was to be had and an offer of kit washing was quickly taken up.
My brother Nick drove down from Worcester this evening and joined me for dinner in the restaurant which was nothing short of superb. A good but damp day in all with another nigh on 70 miles in the bag. That’s day 4 folks!
Tomorrow, I’ve got company in the form of a one John Davies. A giant of a man from nearby Usk. He’s accompanying me as far as Leominster and has his own ride planned for the near future – A circumnavigation of the UK coastline! That’s about 4000 miles with some hilly stuff thrown in too. But that’s tomorrow. Let’s hope it doesn’t rain.
Observations of the day: if you were to draw an imaginary line down through the centre of a lamb’s ears, those two lines would meet at the centre of his head and be exactly perpendicularr (as you can see, all this solitude is depleting my sanity).
Total Miles. 252.68
Total Elevation. 12696ft
Highlight of the Day: The Wye Valley
My Lejog 2014
Day 5 Monmouth – Much Wenlock
Distance: 66.1 miles Elevation: 3927ft
Before I witter on about today’s ride up into the Shropshire hills, I just wanted to remark to anyone reading who doesn’t cycle but is thinking contemplating doing so. England (well not just England) is blessed with the most beautiful countryside which is made very accessible these days by a comprehensive road network. So far this week, I’ve cycled a little over 250 miles across 5 or so counties and seen so, so much. The first two days in Devon and Cornwall, I cycled roads that I’d driven many times yet by bike, I saw them in a completely different way. Whilst driving, you’ve got your eyes on the road and can only afford quick glances at the scenery. As a passenger even, it is whizzing past you at 50mph or more. Then there is the conditioned air that we enjoy sat in the comfort of our velour seats. There’s no wind blowing, no birdsong, no natural smells even. On a bike, you get everything; the sights, sounds, smells and all at a speed where you can enjoy it and not miss a thing. Ambling along at a steady 10mph gives you the time to look around at what’s on offer. It also gives you time to stop and admire a great view, listen to a cuckoo’s call, see the spring lambs, and also, this I normally do halfway up a hill to get my recover my breathing and to alleviate the incapcitating pains in my legs from the last hill! Seriously though, It’s just the best! Some years ago, a colleague and I embarked on a 3000+ mile roadtrip in the USA by car. It was an amazing experience but now, I think I’d like to have done the whole trip by bike. It would’ve no doubt taken 10 weeks as opposed to 2 but who cares? If the time allows then why not take your time?
I awoke to overcast skies this morning but luckily, the Monmoutshire rains from yesterday were long gone. Now, this place I stayed in last night, is primarily an Italian bistro that, primarily turns out some beautiful authentic Italian cuisine. The food I had here yesterday evening actually surpasses anything I’ve ever had in Rome and I’ve been there on numerous occasions. Either my choice in Roman eateries is poor or this place is Monmouth is just better. Are all good chefs from Rome working over here in restaurants like this one? Is the chef here Italian? Only, if he is, he makes a damned good bowl of porridge too! I kicked the cooked breakfasts into touch on day 3 as the carb-steeped ‘porridge-toast combo’ seems to work better in all ways. The daily protein fix, I’ve kept to the evenings.
After settling the heavily discounted bill, I left the bistro and immediately met my Sherpa John Davies who was to accompany me up to Leominster. I was really glad of the company by now as I was starting to get a bit fed up with talking to myself.
Immediately there was a climb out of the town and like yesterday, the route continued on the A466. Very quickly the vast countryside resumed with plenty of woodland (and flies) which made for some good cycling on undulating and relatively quiet roads with some terrific views of the Welsh hills to the west. One could say almost perfect conditions for cycling. John and I chatted about cycling, training, his proposed circumnavigation of the UK, my Lejog, work, cake, the meaning of life etc etc. The time certainly passed and before I knew it, we were heading close to Hereford on the A49. Just a quick mention about this road to anybody route planning through this area. Three words: STAY OFF IT! I was told about this road by several cyclists and that it is a ratrun from Ross-on-Wye to Shrewsbury and beyond and is extremely busy. I’m pleased to say that I was only on it for a short while and that was quite enough. Hereford came and went very quickly as we headed north on much quieter roads once more through picturesque (and expensive looking) villages such as Sutton St. Nicholas, Bodenham and then Leominster. Having a quick scour of the internet, I thought I’d avoid the usual stuff about Iron Age settlements and forts and stuff, and see if there was anything juicy worthy of mention from the parish website. However, either it’s the dullest place on earth to live or their Webmaster doesn’t have an internet connection! The calendar for now and the previous months is empty! So, I will have to say that yes, it has an Iron Age fort that was occupied from 350BC to AD200 and legend has it that Offa, King of Mercia built his palace there where Ethelbert, King of the East Saxons was murdered in AD794. Clearly Offa wasn’t afraid of the odd slain ghost prowling the corridors whingeing about his untimely and somewhat inconvenient death! Or was it because planning permission was easy to acquire due to recent goings-on.
Leominster was up next which meant coffee time! It’s always nice to stop for coffee I find. Coffee and a Danish pastry and all is well in the world. We chewed the fat with a few of the locals in the coffee house and then John and I said our goodbyes as he headed south for home and I, north towards the hills of Shropshire and my destination, Much Wenlock. When planning this route, I tried to be a bit savvy with the latter half of the journey due to the terrain and I’m glad I made the efforts in my preparation. All around me were hills whilst I cycled lovely country lanes whilst climbing very gradually until the last climb into the town itself.
Much Wenlock of course, as well as having a pretty name is a pretty place to visit with its timber-framed guildhall, markets and corn exchange. There’s two theories regarding the origins of its name but I won’t bang on about it here. If you’d like to know, then I’m sure that wiki thing will tell you all. What I will say though is that here is where the very first Olympian Games were held in 1860.
On arrival at my destination, the Coppice View B&B, I was greeted by Sue and Malcolm Price and given a lovely welcome. They told me that a local newspaper photographer was on his way and that my ‘story’ would make tomorrow’s press. Hardly frontpage stuff but nice all the same.
The accommodation itself was a sight to behold. A shepherds hut! – Ever heard of one? I hadn’t either. This had en suite accommodation and under floor heating. Sleep very soon became very, very appealing.
Tomorrow sees the longest day and we’re not talking equinoxes here either! A 90+ miler up through Cheshire and Lancs finishing somewhere (I hope!) north of Wigan.
Total Miles. 318.78
Total Elevation. 16623ft
My Lejog 2014
Day 6 Much Wenlock to Heskin
Distance: 87.9 miles Elevation: 2795ish ft (Small issue with Garmin GPS)
Good Evening and Welcome. It’s Day 5 here in the North West of England and what a day it has been. Lots of miles, a temporary problem with the GPS and a route-plotting nightmare where my proposed route was on a private (and closed) road. Thanks Google! OH! And a pie like no other!
The day started with a blinding breakfast of homemade granola, toast and coffee that had kindly been prepared at some ungodly hour by mein hosts because I wanted to be on the road by 630am.
The sun was shining busily burning of an everso slight frost but plenty of blue skies which made a nice change. After an initial climb up to the main road there was immediately a fast descent down into the Severn Valley a few miles upstream from the famous Ironbridge Gorge made famous by……yep a bridge. Made of…….yep, iron!. It was here in the Severn Valley that my dear friends at Google had omitted to tell me that my planned route involved travelling on a private thoroughfare from a hamlet called Buildwas. My plan had been to take a more direct route north via Little Wenlock and avoid the town of Telford. However this wasn’t to be, so a more hillier road was taken with a 450ft climb up into some Telford suburb. That certainly warmed up ‘me cockles’ but wasn’t the best of starts considering this, to me was a make or break sort of day given the distance I was required to cycle. As I cycled through an area called Lawley (my daughter’s nickname) I was met with a terrific view ahead of me. Clear skies and almost an open plain of flat land to the north that I supposed was the remainder of Shropshire and Cheshire. Here my spirits lifted as I began a relaxed (if chilly) 8 mile descent onto the flatter stuff. The road conditions were excellent once again with the air temperature rising nicely into the mid 60s and there being little traffic so early on a Saturday morning. Villages on the A442 passed by quickly as my average speed was up slightly due to the lack of hills and a few long gentle descents here and there. This was lovely cycling and a nice change from earlier in the week. Yet again the scenery in all directions was beautiful. 24 miles into the day, was breakfast time. This was nothing extravagant – an overpriced Shell Garage pastry. Still, it filled the gap and was well received. What wasn’t well received was the ill-mannered harridan/hag/battleaxe serving behind the counter. Her customer-service skills made her about as approachable as a shark with toothache! Pedalling away from here and burping, I noticed the Garmin had locked itself up and wouldn’t respond to anything. This, I thought was a ‘bit of a bugger’ and used a few let’s say, anglo-saxon phrases to express my annoyance at such an event. So, out with the phone and a quick look at Google Maps. A ‘guestimate’ needed here: Stay on A53 towards Market Drayton and then left on A529 toward Audlem. I was now almost ‘cycling blind’. Well, I wasn’t but it felt a bit like it. 8 miles later, I got to Audlem and the bloody Garmin was still locked.
Audlem is another picturesque village. I’m guessing this area has it’s fair share. This one oozes affluence. Lots of big property set in well manicured grounds where in each one sits an expensive German 4×4. I can imagine the conversations between the designer yummy-mummies at the schoolgates each morning trying to out-do each other with detailed reports of weekend shopping trips before jumping into their ‘Chelsea-Tractors’ – 4-wheel drive vehicles that they just cannot park and the only time these things go off road is when they clip the lawn at the start of the school run! Anyway, moving on……
Just after leaving Yummy-Mummyville, with a shrill beep my friend and ally, the Garmin kicked back into life once again and together, we resumed our journey north to the top of Scotland. When things like this occur for no reason, you do tend to lose faith in electronic equipment and wonder if it would have been better after all to stick to the paper maps.
Next up, was Nantwich. As I pedalled through the outskirts, like Audlem, there was plenty of cash, good housing, nice cars, housing estates boasting ‘4/5 bedroom detached- From Only £400,000.’ Spacious dwellings, again sat in plenty of land. This was the nicer end of town. Once through the other side, the contrast was all too stark. Housing was smaller, tightly packed, little or no garden, the odd burnt out car and youths on BMXs, although only 13 or 14, intimidating to the core all the same. Getting out of there and into open countryside was a great relief. Within a few miles I was back into the money-lined villages dotted with horseboxes, beamers and Jags where the only sofas were the lavishly overpriced type inside a conservatory and not in t’front yard with t’stuffin’ burstin’ out!
As I made my way upwards on the map, again I was getting hungry and started to contemplate the nearest bakery. The village of Worleston was next and riding through, it was clear it had nothing to offer until, right at the end of the village opposite the Royal Oak pub, sat a little grocer’s shop. A family owned concern trading here on the site since 1878. Not only are they a grocer, but to my delight I soon discovered they bake………..pies! Well, this is the northwest and like Cornwall and the pasty, it was rude not to indulge.
John Hulse bought the building in 1878 for £200 with his wife Clara. They set up a bakery and delivered bread to the local area. Soon John expanded the bakery to incorporate a shop and with the village expanding after the railway came John’s sons were employed and with business booming, in the 1930s a ‘modern’ motor car replaced the soon to be outdated horse and cart. Nowadays, the shop is run by John’s great-grandaughters.
Anybody planning a Lejog/Jogle, incorporate this road in your route and stop here for t’pie! You’ll not be disappointed believe me!
With ‘cafe-legs’ I remounted my bike and continued on this slog. Over 50 miles still to go. The sun was out and it was warm, I was full of pie and coffee and really didn’t want to pedal anywhere. A park bench would’ve done me for a good hour at least.
Winsford and Northwich soon passed and then it was all to change. It was as if, when ‘they’ built England, they started in the south and made their way up but someone in the purchasing department got their estimates wrong. They seemed to have underspent on the trees, grass and fields and gone all out and bought way too much concrete, tarmac and steel. Everything became noisier, grimier, smellier even. The world around me suddenly became busy. The farmer became the retailer, country parks became retail parks. Everywhere busy. Drive-ins, drive-thrus, fast food and slow traffic. Such a contrast to what I’d seen earlier.
Soon I was past Wigan and was then met by another online cycling buddy Steve Salmon. He did his Lejog after me in about 7 days I think. His bike weighed less than a small packet of tobacco and he had thighs like steam-hammers so there’s no surprise there! Steve rode with me to my destination at the Farmers Arms in Heskin. This area is Steve’s home turf and he knows it well. We had a couple of pints this evening and he’s meeting me tomorrow morning here and will sherpa me through Lancashire as far as Lancaster. Again it’ll be nice to have some company again.
Total Miles. 406.68
Total Elevation. 19418ft
My Lejog 2014
Day 7 Heskin to Kendal
Distance: 65.4 miles Elevation: 1652ft
Hello and Good Evening from Kendal in Cumbria. A very different day today folks. That wet stuff that falls from the sky started the minute I left the B&B this morning and didn’t stop until I arrived in Kendal. My sherpa Steve Salmon was already sipping coffee in the bar when I emerged for breakfast. ‘This bloke’s keen’ I thought. ‘A darn sight keener than me to get out on a wet, dull Sunday morning!’
The roads were quiet this morning. Everybody else had the right idea which was to stay ‘sous-la-duvet’ as the French might say. One thing on my side though, was that it was pan-flat up here. Lancs wasn’t an area I was familiar with and always had associated it with the Pennines which were way over to the East I’m glad to say.
After about 32 miles we arrived in the town of Garstang and Steve suggested a coffee and bacon ‘barm’. To those south of the West Midlands, a barm is apparently a large flat white bread roll, cut in half, heavily buttered and then filled with bacon and other such items. Me, being from the south and ignorant to such local cuisine, misjudged the word ‘large’ in the explanation and duly ordered two. Five minutes later, I was presented with 4lbs of white bread and 3 parts of a pig! These things were immense. I have to confess to removing the best part of half a pat of butter from said barms in order to conserve my arteries and give me a fighting chance of finishing the day on the bike and not finishing my days in an ambulance for want of a stent!
Pedalling off out of Garstang with gluten poisoning, the rain was still falling and my cholesterol still rising. Traffic was increasing which was no surprise as this was the main ‘drag’ into Lancaster. We stopped just outside the town and Steve and I shook hands and said goodbye. Hopefully, I will see him again in Devon during his Lejog in a few weeks.
Ten minutes later, I was in Lancaster itself and had taken the wrong turn and not crossed the River Lune which meant doubling back. I don’t know what went wrong but I took a couple of wrong turns and zig-zagged my way across the town. Once out of Lancaster and back on the A6, my Dad phoned and asked if all was ok. He’d been following me on the tracker and wondered what hell was I doing? My reply was short and to the point and involved references to being easy for him, sat at home, no rain or traffic etc all interlaced with some good old to-the-point anglo-saxon.
Bolton-le-Sands and Carnforth both looked uninspiring in the Sunday afternoon drizzle and mist as I followed the West Coast Mainline Railway for a while until the bloody weather forced me into a truckstop 14 miles from Kendal. Soaked through and pretty much pissed off by now, I sought solace in a cup of overpriced coffee and a Mars Bar. I got talking to the chap behind the counter who started telling me about his ‘career’ as a cyclist when he was younger, ‘back when t’bikes were solid iron and right ‘eavy!’ His accent was extremely broad and I think I averaged an understanding of about 1 word in 3. In recent decades however, he’d adopted an unhealthy interest in cigarettes and anything under pastry. You could tell he was a heavy smoker. As yellow as a kipper he was. Either that, or he had a liver complaint. His laugh was more of a wheeze and would result in 15 seconds of uncontrollable coughing where his complexion would become almost puce in colour. It was alarming at first and one was unsure whether to call a doctor or a priest!
Back into the rain went I leaving my truckstop-kipper friend to light up another t’fag and then proceed to disgorge yet another piece of lung whilst turning seven shades of purple!
The remainder of today’s ride was pretty much uneventful. The countryside here is as beautiful as I’ve seen anywhere so far since leaving Land’s End. That seems so far away now when I think about it. Anyway, the Highgate hotel is tonight’s resting place.
Kendal is a big touristy place these days. There’s lots of history here and of course there was a Roman Fort and castle etc. Nevermind that though, the mint cake thing is more interesting. Kendal Mint Cake was actually discovered accidentally by Joseph Wiper during his search for a clear glacier mint. How the hell can you discover a cake? Or search for a mint? I found a Polo down the back of the sofa last month! Anyway, Joseph’s great-nephew made the very smart decision to market this ‘discovery’ as an energy-rich food and it was used in numerous expeditions to Everest and also on Ernest Shackleton’s Trans-Antartic Expedition between 1914-17.
I also found out that they’ve been producing tobacco and snuff here since 1792. Maybe the truckstop-kipper I met earlier is their biggest patron!
Anyway, sleep beckons so I will bid you a good evening. Tomorrow sees one insane Englishman pedal across the border into Bonnie Scotland but first, there’s the infamous Shap Fell to conquer. However, that’s tomorrow so I’ll cross that border when I come to it.
Today’s Miles. 65.4
Total Miles. 474.18
Today’s Elevation. 1562ft
Total Elevation. 20980ft
My Lejog 2014
Day 8 Kendal to Ecclefechan
Distance: 67.1 miles Elevation: 3432ft
Good Evening or should I be saying ‘Guid Eenin’? The border betwixt Bonnie Scotland and England has been well and truly crossed. I am now warmly ensconced in the Carlyle Bed and Breakfast in the beautifully named village of Ecclefechan. This house sits opposite the birthplace of Victorian essayist and historian, Thomas Carlyle. I won’t elaborate on this chap but suffice to say, he’s quite a big fish in literary circles in his time.
Well, today was eventful from the outset. Even before setting foot out of the B&B in Kendal, things got a tad heated at breakfast and I’m not referring to the kippers! Being a small place, the dining room was let’s say, ‘compact’ with the tables a little close together. I was second to arrive and sat just along from a young couple who, it transpired, were newlyweds and were touring the Lake District. I offered my congratulations and we chatted over our cornflakes. A minute or two later, in walked a pair of ladies, I would say were in their late 60s. Television cooks, the Two Fat Ladies immediately sprang to mind. Whilst they helped themselves to fruit juice, Mr Newlywed and myself continued in our conversation and he asked me what I was doing in Kendal on a May Bank Holiday. I explained that I was pedalling to John O’Groats from Land’s End for charity.
“Which Charity?” asked he.
“Cancer Research UK” answered I.
No sooner had the acronym ‘UK’ left my mouth, one of the Fat Ladies at the table in the window, sat up like a meerkat and in a somewhat raised and acid tone,
“Cancer Research?” she scoffed! “Pah! What a waste of time! Corrupt load of shysters!”
Her opening statement seemed to shake the building. The dining room fell silent. All that could be heard was the ticking of the clock in the hallway. As she spoke, droplets of saliva had been ejected from her mouth that then rained down on her companion sat opposite. My first thought was that it’s a blessing that we’re having this conversation ‘pre-muesli’! It was one of those moments where nobody had a clue what to say in reply. She obviously had her reasons so after about 10 very long seconds, I plucked up the courage and with a stutter, I asked, “Wh..what makes you say that?”
Her retort was one that almost made me fall of my chair! Her opening statement was,
“Moles!” <silent pause> “Had two of the buggers!” <another pause, only longer> “Doctor said it was touch and go and needed off!” <getting louder now> “Not a chance I said! No scalpel-happy quack is coming near me!” She grew more passionate as each sentence was spoken and with the increased passion came more saliva! Her poor friend meanwhile was weathering the storm as the conversation continued. There was a pause as myself, Mr and Mrs Newlywed and now another couple who had since arrived, awaited the conclusion of her story. She then necked her grapefruit juice and continued. This time even louder and with more passion,
“Diet! Dairy! Bloody dairy’s a devil!……..Olive oil!…….Lots of it! And fish!” Each sentence becoming more passionate than the last,
“Bloody fish! Bloody oily Fish! Sick of it come the end! Cancer Research? Pah! Bloody doctors!”
And that was it! The room once again fell silent as she tucked into a massive bowl of muesli with…….wait for it…….milk! I looked at Mr Newlywed and he looked at me. We said nothing. What can one say after an outburst like that? Her counterpart wiped her face, crockery and cutlery with a napkin as the waitress brought their coffee.
Anyway, the ride started well with overcast skies and very little breeze. As I pedalled out of Kendal, I was met with more of the same beautiful surroundings as yesterday. Spring lambs were out and about and I stopped several times just to take in the view. Shap Fell was the first and only real challenge of the day. It was only 11 miles to the summit of Shap Fell but 1200ft of climb. All in all it wasn’t too bad at all and I was amazed that I’d got to the summit without any pain. I didn’t hurry of course as the views were like nothing I’d seen before. I celebrated the climb with a second Mars bar and promised myself a large coffee at the next convenient stopping point. The next 16 miles were pretty much downhill so I donned my jacket and gloves and sat back and enjoyed the ride. The roads once again, were quiet all the way to Penrith where I dined heartily on a meal-deal from the Esso Snack and Shop in Bridge Lane – I know how to live!
Signs for Carlisle were coming thick and fast and me and the A6 were getting on very well indeed with the gradient falling very gently which made for some very relaxed cycling. The only downside since the descent from Shap Fell were these horrible flying ant things that seem to flourish in these parts. What they were I don’t know but I swallowed a fair few. I must learn to cycle at speed with a closed mouth.
Carlisle came and went as I negotiated the city centre before a stopping for a coffee. It’s amazing what effect this stuff has on the legs in the middle of the afternoon not that it was really required today as this has been probably the easiest day so far. The run out of Carlisle was lovely and followed the River Eden for a while before slowly descending ever so gently, first crossing the West Coast Mainline and then the cycle route takes you right beside the M6 with stunning views of the Solway Coast to the west.
In the afternoon sunshine I stopped beside the B7076, kicked down the bike stand and took a few paces back. To my right on the opposite side of the road was a building proudly boasting ‘Last House in Scotland/First House in Scotland Marriage Rooms in big, bold white letters. On my side of the road was the sign I’d waited all day to see and that was ‘Welcome to Scotland’. This was the famous Gretna Green -famous for runaway marriages. It all started back in 1754 when Parliament enforced Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act that forbade a minor (person under 21) wishing to marry IF the parent of the minor objected. Scotland remained unaffected by this new act which wasn’t ideal given that at the time in Scotland, it was legal for boys to marry at 14 and girls as young as 12. So, with the village of Gretna being the first settlement in Scotland, it was natural thing that when Seth the 19 year old farmhand had had it away with the nubile 16 year old milkmaid in the next village, they had no choice but to hotfoot it to across the border to tie the knot before the bump became noticeable and her father found out!
The rest of the day passed without incident on the B7076 that runs alongside the A74(M). All in all a good day with yet more great countryside. Tomorrow sees a slight change of direction to the north-west as I head for Glasgow and Scotland proper!
Many thanks to everyone for the messages of support today. Keep them coming!
The story so far in Figures…..
Total Mileage. 541
Days Ridden. 8
Average Daily Mileage. 67.6
Total Elevation. 24392ft
Average Daily Climb. 3049ft
Hours in Saddle. 48
Average Speed. 11.2mph
My Lejog 2014
Day 9 Ecclefechan to Glasgow
Distance: 85.6 miles Elevation: 3269ft
Good Evening Folks, Yes it’s time for another all-consuming, thought-provoking and dare I say, sleep-inducing instalment of one man’s quest to pedal to the top of the UK. I’m currently holed up in the aptly named Glasgow Guest House in Dumbrek Road just up the hill from the famous Ibrox Stadium. I’m told there’s an Asda nearby too. It doesn’t quite carry the same status as the home ground of one of Scotland’s arguably best football teams but it suits my needs better.
Today was one of more scenery, some dodgy road surfaces, a bit of company and a stark realisation of how big Glasgow really is. The day started with a more relaxed, peaceful and less ‘shouty’ breakfast than that of yesterday in Kendal. I was the sole guest at Carlyle house last night and so had the dining room to myself. The place has been kept in-keeping with the Victorian era. By this I don’t mean that it’s freezing cold, damp and all the kids in the house are bandy with rickets. I’m just referring to the decor and furniture. The place is beautiful throughout and a credit to its owner. The porridge too was beautiful and a credit to the owner.
Outside, the day was calm. A few clouds here and there masked an otherwise blue sky. The temperature was nothing to write home about but that didn’t matter. The main thing was that the winds were still blowing from the south and were let’s say, favourable. Before leaving what appeared to be a deserted village, I stopped in at the local shop and relieved them of most of their muesli bars. I’ve found on this trip that these seem to be best for keeping energy levels topped up. You do however resemble a cycling Albert Steptoe as you pedal along trying to clear your teeth of oats and other grains with your tongue! Dr Samuel Johnson once wrote,
“Oats. A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.” Well, it’s certainly supported me these past 9 days
The trip today would resume on the B7076 slightly northwest towards Glasgow following the A74 (M) pretty much all the way. A fellow cyclist from these parts contacted me last night on Twitter and said he would look out for me today and keep me company for a few miles which was good. It’s always nice to have a bit of company every now and then. More than 48 hours on my own and not only do I start talking to myself, but disagreeing with some of my answers too! Paul soon tracked me down not far from Ecclefechan and together we pedalled along my planned route. I have to say that, everything to do with the route was prepared on Google Maps and uploaded to my GPS unit. So far, it has been pretty flawless (except for a ‘lock up’ in Cheshire on Saturday). However, what Google doesn’t and cannot ‘yet’ tell you is the sort of road surface to expect. I’m guessing that the B7076 was once the A74 main drag from Carlisle to Glasgow but since the motorway was built, the road has been downgraded along with I suspect with, its maintenance budget. The surface in places is shocking and for the first time on this bike, I’ve had pins and needles in my hands and wrists. As for the traffic here it is pretty sparse in places except for heavy goods traffic. This area is referred to as the Southern Uplands and Central Lowlands which is obviously a bit hilly. High hills at that! Where there’s high hills, there’s wind. And here, where there’s wind, they plant a wind generator in the ground. They’re everywhere! Monstrous white structures peppering every second hillside it seems. I know there are many who are opposed to them but then that’s only if they’re put up nearby. If they whack a couple up over the road from someone in the next village then that’s ok!
Just north of the village of Beattock, we stopped for a breather and Paul produced some homemade cake! What a guy! This was good fuel for the final slog up to Beattock Summit where the A74M and the West Coast Mainline cross. Just before the summit, Paul had had enough of my banal chattering and I think he was also a bit peeved that I’d eaten all the cake. We said our farewells and went our separate ways. Just after the summit, the road becomes the A702 but that’s the only change. The surface still appalling and the scenery quite the contrary. The next place up was Crawford. I wasn’t sure how far it was until the next town so I decided to stop off here for lunch. I wasn’t really that hungry. I just had a hankering for coffee. It really does the trick. So with 38 miles to go and with a huge cup of caffeine, I kicked back in the cool sunny air for half an hour with the knowledge that there was still 50 odd miles to go.
Rejoining the B7076 once again, the countryside took on a more familiar moorland air except for the ever-present traffic noise from the nearby motorway. That said though, it was beautiful out there. Barely any cars, even less people and just one lunatic cyclist bound for Glasgow, dreaming of a hot bath and large duvet!
Civilisation returned in the form of the peculiarly named town of Lesmahagow. The theory goes that the town derived its name from the translation – ‘Les’ – meaning an enclosure or walled area like that of a monastery or fort and the enclosure being that of St. Machutus. Now, this particular saint was born way down in Wales and may have originally been known as ‘Mahagw’. What he was doing so far north is anybody’s guess. Suffice to say he wasn’t there for the hot summers and mild winters! This bit is true because he soon immigrated to Brittany in France where he became known by his Latinised equivalent St.Malo. He then saw an opportunity right there on the French coastline and opened a ferryport. (As I said, it’s merely a theory.)
Other pointless trivia about this place is Alexander Muir, composer of the Canadian patriotic number ‘The Maple Leaf Forever’ was born here in 1830 before emigrating as a ‘wean’ (small child) – Another bloke that emigrated. There’s a pattern emerging here! The renowned centre half Jim Holton was also born here although it seems he played most of his football outside of Scotland including a 4 year spell in the USA before injury put paid to his career after moving back to the UK. He ended his career due to injury playing for Coventry in 1980. There he stayed and ran a pub for a number of years. He sadly died of a heart attack at the age of 42. Who says these blogs aren’t educational???
The Glasgwegian suburbs were soon in sight and the place looked immense as I dropped down through Larkhill and Hamilton. Just a few quick trivia facts regarding Glasgow ‘cos I know you’re interested!!
Fact! Glasgow is Scotland’s largest city and second largest in the UK.
Fact! Glasgow’s underground railway is the 3rd oldest in the world and is commonly known as the ‘Clockwork Orange’ due to the colour of its trains.
Fact! Glasgow had a police force 40 years before London did!
Fact! Glasgow is twinned with Jerusalem
Bored yet? I know I am!
Time was pressing on and by the time I was in Glasgow proper, it was rush hour and every sodding traffic light was red! I fought my way through whilst relying 100% on my Garmin for guidance. This kit really is worth the £200 and has saved so much time in stopping to read maps. At about 545pm I arrived to a lovely welcome at the Glasgow Guesthouse. The bath was hot and the duvet large!
Many thanks today for all messages of support folks. Tomorrow is a further navigation out of Glasgow where we then go ‘Lochside’ for a wee while before the cllmb up into the highlands. Thankfully, through shrewd planning and the fact that there’s fewer places to choose from to stay, it’s also a short day of a mere 58miles.
Total Mileage 626.78 miles
Total Elevation. 2796ft
Day 10 Glasgow to Tyndrum
Distance: 58 miles Elevation: 2313ft
That’s Day 10 complete and what a soggy one it’s been. 10 days! I’ve never in my life ridden 10 consecutive days before. Especially these distances. Today was purposely planned as a shorter day because once out in the highlands, the availability of accommodation reduces greatly and Tyndrum was about the only place to stay for miles around. In hindsight it was also a good plan as with the rainfall seen in these parts today, I really didn’t want to turn the pedals any more than I had to once I’d reached 58 miles.
After a cracking Glaswegian fry-up breakfast, I heaved my bloated frame onto the bike and rolled down the hill towards Ibrox Stadium in search of today’s first objective, the Clyde Tunnel. Google Maps, which I’d used to plot all the routes on this ride didn’t consider the pedestrian tunnel, only the road one in which bikes were prohibited so it was a bit of a job to find it. I did ask one of the locals for assistance and they gave me directions but unfortunately it wasn’t in a language I understood. She was native to this area and spoke the broadest Glaswegian I’d ever heard. I did consider asking her to repeat herself but could see no point. I just smiled and expressed a very English thankyou and pedalled off. Eventually though and after much swearing, I did find the tunnel but had to be let in and let out after a request through an intercom to a control room somewhere. I guess this keeps loiterers and other such people out.
Back in broad daylight, the next bit was simple. I just had to find the Forth and Clyde Canal cycle path that would take me through to Dumbarton on the edges of the city whilst avoiding that local speedway they call the A82. I had been advised to avoid this road like the plague.
After a couple of wrong turns and crossing the canal twice, I finally found it. This was a case of not trusting the GPS and not paying attention. I think the rain was quickly washing away any enthusiasm that I’d started out with. I stopped for coffee as soon as I could as the weather was worsening but that didn’t make me feel much better. I think all cyclists get the odd day where they really don’t feel like riding and today I was having my odd day. Two hours in and I’d only covered a paltry 15 miles. I was soaking wet, cold and bloody fed up. I really needed to have a word with myself if I was going to get through the rest of the day. I guess this can happen when cycling anywhere of any distance alone. At least with a third party/ parties, you can chivvy each other up if you start feeling a bit low. Through the town of Renton and onto Alexandria beside the River Leven, I sought shelter in an Esso garage where I refilled on overpriced sandwiches and coffee. The lady behind the counter took pity on me and let me use the staff facilities as there were none available for the public nearby. Shortly after lunch, I took yet another wrong turnand ended up in a deserted car park at the Loch Lomond Bird of Prey Centre. Thoroughly wet and cheesed off at this latest of today’s blunders I braked a little too hard just as the front tyre was on a white line which resulted in the bike going over onto its side with me following landing half in the verge and half in the gutter with a pannier across me chest. I summed up the entire situation with one word – ‘Bollocks!’
At last, I found the cycle path that followed Loch Lomond and A82. From here the scenery improved no end with some beautiful cycling even with the crummy rain still falling at full pelt. Still, there were some great views to be had ‘Lochside’ across to the opposite bank with the small islands in between. 17 miles on, the cycle path ends at Tarbet where the road splits – one to the North and one to the West. Here I took a right and continued on flattish roads besides the top end of Loch Lomond through the settlements of Ardlui where the Loch ends and the River Falloch runs into it. Here I stopped for a drink and met up with some French motorhome enthusiasts who were on a highland tour. In excellent English and sub-standard French, we conversed about where we were going and where we’d been. I think I understood them more than they, me but they did invite ‘aboard’ for coffee. However, due to my ‘irriguous’ cycling trousers, I daren’t sit down on anything fabric for fear of ruining it. Besides, I was getting cold now that I’d stopped and I just wanted to get the day finished. We said our ‘Au revoirs et Bon Voyages’ and they retired to the relative warmth of their home on wheels as I pedalled off to face more of the same.
With a mere 47 miles covered on pretty flat terrain so far today, I was then met by a 4 mile climb of 600 feet up to the village of Crianlarich. The name Crianlarich derives from the Gaelic for ‘low pass’ – it didn’t seem very bloody low after that hill- and the village lies in the shadow of several of the Munro Peaks. A popular area for hillwalkers according to the interweb and there were a few rucksack-laden soggy specimens milling about as I heaved my way through the village. Everything I wore by this stage was steeped in the Scottish rain. Stuff I thought was waterproof and bought because they claimed it was waterproof all suffered the same fate. I quietly prayed that my B&B had a drying room.
Tyndrum appeared over the final hill at last. Today was by far the worst so far in this trip. My spirits weren’t dampened, they were dissolved today in this rain. Hopefully tomorrow will see a change in the weather as it takes on a very big ‘highland’ theme with a climb up through Glencoe and then the descent down to the Lochs en route to Forts William and Augustus.
The Tyndrum Inn was tonight’s place of rest. A frosty reception was to be had from my hostess although she did allow me to keep my bike locked inside a disused dining room. The hotel itself is undergoing some long overdue refurbishments but with a big drying room and pub on site, things aren’t so bad. That’s day 10 over with and a bloody good job to! Many thanks for the support once again. See you tomorrow for more of the same, only drier (I hope!).
Mileage. 58 miles
Total Mileage. 684.8 miles
Total Elevation. 29974 ft .
Hello and it’s day 11 of this mad bike ride which means only 3 days to go!
Today’s miles were from Tyndrum out through the beautiful Glencoe then onto Fort William and finishing the day at the edge of Loch Ness just East of Fort Augustus.
The rain stayed away today which was handy as there was plenty to be seen. Visibility was excellent with only the very peaks of the hills being shrouded in cloud. After a brief climb out of Tyndrum, it was the proper Highlands. The stuff you see on the telly. I was expecting Mel Gibson to emerge from the wilds, fully tartan’d up shouting “FREEEEEDUMM” in a very dodgy scots accent.
Several long climbs were to be had followed by a few slight downhills and these were what I call ‘Scots downhills’ where the bike just will not roll down them. You start checking for flat tyres and binding brakes and in some cases you end up having to change down a gear because pedalling down this sodding hill is becoming an effort!
Anyway, the final long climb was at Glencoe where following that was a fast 1000 ft descent down to Loch Leven at Glencoe village. Then pressed on to Fort William where a quick lunch stop was to be had with 45 miles down and 33 to go. Pressed on towards Spean Bridge and climbed up past the Commando Memorial then just followed the A82 alongside the Caledonian Canal to the end of Loch Ness and a very welcoming B&B. Fingers crossed for another dry one tomorrow but the forecast isn’t looking too clever.
Mileage. 79.1 miles
Total Mileage 763.88 miles
Elevation. 2683 ft
Total Elevation. 32657 ft
Good evening people. Well it’s day 12 and the end is in sight. Less than 100 miles to go to John O’groats now with a dryish forecast for the last big push up to Wick tomorrow.
Today started at Fort Augustus with a ride along the length of Loch Ness. Well it rained today. Boy, didn’t it rain! I think I would’ve got just as wet swimming the length of the damned thing! That together with trees segregating the road from the loch, didn’t leave much opportunity for photographs.
The A82 is the only main road through this region so gets very busy with HGVs so it was a relief to get onto the Caledonian Canal towpath for a few peaceful miles before hitting the centre of Inverness around lunchtime. I weaved my way out of the town and over the Kessock bridge and then climbed and climbed until a big descent down to the Cromarty bridge. The wind changed direction today and we are now enjoying an easterly breeze that is forecast for tomorrow which might make things a little harder going.
Well the rest of the miles were pretty uneventful, windy and a tad painful with this knee problem. Never mind. One big push tomorrow and it’ll nearly be over.
Mileage. 74.3 miles
Total Mileage. 833.18 miles
Total Elevation. 35190 ft
Well I’ve just realised it’s Friday so I hope everyone has a good weekend ‘cos I know mine’s gonna be ace!
Hello Folks and welcome to this, the final instalment of this blog ( thank goodness for that eh? )
Day 13, the penultimate day was supposed to be a 63 miler from the pretty village of Dornoch ( Madonna apparently was married nearby and their child christened in the cathedral – yes the cathedral! ).
Now, I had it on good authority from a work colleague that the remainder of the trip now was pretty flat and easy going. Let me tell you now that that certain someone doesn’t own or ride a bike……..
The day started well with a relaxed ride beside the Dornoch Firth on a country lane that led to the main road. Soon after crossing the Firth the slopey stuff started coming thick and fast and after passing Dunrobin Castle in the coastal town of Golspie, the climbs became steeper and longer with the pretty village of Helmsdale presenting a climb of some 640 ft of climb which gave many an opportunity to stop for breath, admire the sea mist and swear profusely.
This pattern pretty much continued for the next 30 miles or so and the Nordic winds did blow with much vigour bringing with them rains of the stair rod variety and at many an interval, said winds were steeped with phrases of Anglo-saxon origin!
About 10 Miles from Wick, like an angel sent from on high came a small Italian sports coupe being driven by my son Matt with the words shouted ” Allo stranger! “. I couldn’t believe my eyes. This lad, a sports science student in London had got a train to Liverpool the night before to visit a friend who very kindly leant him his Car. Matt then drove the 470 odd miles across the border and across Scotland without me knowing so he could meet me at the finish line. Now that is some son! Matt, if you’re reading this, I’m bloody proud of you my boy for doing such a thing mate and you’ve made this whole experience even more memorable than it already is. After a brief chat, Matt went on to his B&B in Wick and I carried on. The terrain started to flatten and the slight change of direction away from the coastline had all but diminished the headwinds and speed was up to a decent level for the first time in hours. It was then that I considered pressing on to finish this ride a day early. A quick call to Matt and he met me north of Wick with a Tesco sandwich. 10 minutes later, and the final 16 miles were quickly passing by. So too were the final climbs of the journey and with adrenaline and the sandwich kicking in, they went quite unnoticed. Reaching the summit of the final climb gave a brilliant first view of the North coast of the British Isles with the Orkneys visible in the light sea mist and there to the North East was the place itself, John O’Groats. It was quite literally downhill from now on and I put the bike into top gear and stood up on the pedals and hammered downhill passing through the village and down to the harbour and the famous sign.
I’d bloody done it!
After a day of 79 miles and climbing just over 4000ft. A grand total of 917miles in 13 days averaging 70 miles a day with a total climb of just over 39000ft ( Passenger jets cruise at 37000!)
The Lejog is complete. It has been a remarkable journey both emotionally and physically. There have been a few lows but bucket loads of highs and I have met some wonderful people whose generosity and nature has restored some of my faith in the human race.
I’d like to thank everyone who has donated to Cancer Research UK. I’d also like to thank my partner Laura for all of the support she has given me and the messages and words of encouragement. Also to my parents who have followed me daily and phoned every time the tracker packed up to see if I was ok. To all of mine and Laura’s family who have offered support and to everyone on Facebook and Twitter for all the support. It was always good to read during the saddle breaks. Thanks also to John, Paul and Steve who rode with me as ‘sherpas’ – thanks gents, it was a pleasure to meet you. And finally to my brilliant son Matthew for going the extra mile ( travelling more than a thousand of them) to be there at the very end. You’re a top man!
Steve Pullan’s Lejog
28th April – 10th May 2014
917.6 miles in 13 days
Unlike many fundraisers, I don’t have a story and thankfully have never suffered from Cancer. Many I know have or have a family member or someone close that has. Hopefully, a couple of thousand pounds will be winging its way to Cancer research very soon which will go towards finding a cure and better treatments. £2000 may not be a great deal in the whole scheme of things but it all helps and I’ve had the time of my life going the distance to raise it.
If someone were to ask me if I’d do it again. ………..you bet your life I would!