Saturday, 31 May 2003

Day 7 (and a bit) - 'Day off' around Windermere - 29 miles

Spent the evening around Lancaster, possibly having too much to drink, and ended up playing pool against pub regulars - always a risky business, especially if you win.

Woke to find that the pub/B&B had been broken into (luckily the bike was missed!) and the 'statuesque' landlady had confronted the intruders starkers - a terrifying image in itself and enough to send even the most hardened burglar running...

After in the saddle, I've decided to have a day off, um, cycling with Clare around Windermere. As it's the weekend we decide to head for the quieter side of the lake. It's very beautiful, if rather hilly, and my legs are feeling a bit stiff. Hawkshead is a lovely village and I would happily stay around here. Lunch in Ambleside before we head to Windermere itself.

Cycling on the roads is impossible, there's just too much traffic, especially motorbikes. So we stick to the cycle paths, which are much better. Take the ferry across the lake - which only costs 40p - but there are some very tough hills back to the car and Clare ends up pushing her bike most of the way - I'm just enjoying not having the panniers on. And she's got a bad heat rash too boot. Good job she's driving, rather than cycling the main route!

The Lake Windermere Ferry

We head to Morecambe on the way back to look out over the bay. It's a dump and seems very down at heel. Lord only knows what it's like off-season...

Friday, 30 May 2003

Day 7 - Chester to Lancaster - 78 miles

Another lovely day, leave much earlier today and join the road north. I'm starting to find the going a little easier, especially when the road is flat. The first 15 miles through Cheshire countryside and small towns are delightful, but then I reach Runcorn and Widness and it feels like a different planet - dual carriageways, chemical plants and a very hairy river crossing.

I love the smell of Runcorn in the morning...

After Warrington things improve and I have my lunch by Wigan Pier- made famous by two Georges, Formby and Orwell. George Formby sang about it, ironically I assume, while George Orwell's Road to Wigan Pier catalogues the deprivations of the northern English poor (and it wasn't even there by the time he visited, much to his disappointment). Brighton and Clevedon it certainly isn't!

The road to Wigan Pier...

Amazingly I managed 50 miles before lunch, which means a far shorter afternoon. The last 20 miles are hilly, but still feel fine.

Arrive in Lancaster and find the pub we are staying in - don't think Clare will be impressed. Tomorrow is a day off too!

Today's route:

Bike route 288538 - powered by Bikemap 

Thursday, 29 May 2003

Day 6 - Ludlow to Chester - 69 miles

Started very late after staying overnight in Birmingham - not on the road until 12.30.

Not holding out much hope for today, but the ride turned out to be fantastic. Ignored the guidebook I've been using (which does tend to recommend rather circuitous B roads) and took the A49 towards Shrewsbury and Whitchurch, then the A41 to Chester.

The road was busy, but followed a river and train line, so avoided hills even though it passed the Long Mynd - the hills seemed to disappear as you approached them and the road threaded between.

Weather sunny, but not too hot. Stopped in Shrewsbury for a drink and chatted to a former double bass player from the CBSO (City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra) which Clare and I see regularly.

A great afternoon too, feeling really good. My first visit to Chester and find it really charming, walking around the pretty half-timbered centre before heading to my B&B.

Chester's Eastgate Clock - Not hard to imagine WAGs shopping here...

Today's route:

Bike route 288528 - powered by Bikemap 

Wednesday, 28 May 2003

Day 5 - Monmouth to Ludlow - 66 miles

Started at 9.30, but needed suncream as it looks sunny. Hilly coming out of Monmouth. Although pleasant it's always annoying to slog up them only to shoot straight down again. Soon in Herefordshire, almost perfect countryside - green, lush hills, sheep and streams.

Green fields and rolling hills in Herefordshire

Take a small detour to have lunch at Hay-on-Wye with a friend from Channel 4 who's at the book festival. A lovely setting and very nice elderberry wine, although stopping early means that the afternoon is longer than I would have liked.

It's hot in the sun, but the route manages to weave between the hills - one of the reasons to ride old coaching routes, which avoid steeper gradients which would tire horses.

Unexpectedly came across a toll bridge in Whitney over the River Wye, which charges me only 5p to cross. What a sweet idea!

Meet Clare in Ludlow to have a night back in Birmingham.

Today's route:

Bike route 288519 - powered by Bikemap 

Tuesday, 27 May 2003

Day 4 - Wells to Monmouth - 68 miles

Drizzly start to the day and hills out of Wells. Then a clear run to Clevedon (which I'd never heard of) on the way to Bristol. Sadly a shard of glass gives me a puncture in Cheddar and an old chap comments on seeing me fixing my 21st Century bike in the shelter of a 15th Century market cross. Clare drives back from Cheddar Gorge with the pump.

Stop at Clevedon, which has a sweet and gossamer thin Victorian pier jutting out in the Severn estuary. Clevedon means cleft in he hill, and so it proves as the road cuts through the range of hills south of Bristol.

Pretty route through Portishead before heading through Avonmouth, a few mils downstream from Bristol, but a horrible industrial area - and almost impossible to find a cycle route through. Finally disgorged on the other side at the Severn Bridge, which is a terrific sight and has a pedestrian/cycle path separated from the traffic and a lovely view over to its companion bridge as I cross over to Wales.

The Severn Bridge with its companion in the distance

Up past Chepstow the hills feel steep, but then there is a fantastic ride down past Tintern Abbey to Monmouth.

Meet a Cross-Penine group of cyclists, also riding to John O'Groats and two of whom are in their sixties. Arrive in Monmouth - I'm staying in a pub which is a bit of a dump, although 'characterful'. Wanted to go out for a wander, but too tired.

Today's route:

Bike route 288518 - powered by Bikemap 

Monday, 26 May 2003

Day 3 - Crediton to Wells - 65 miles

Retrieve the bike and 3 spokes on the front wheel are completely loose, leaving the wheel wonky. To be honest, it's not exactly a surprise with road wheels and disc brakes, especially when they are only tensioned by machine in the factory - I think it's something to do with 'torsion', but I'm not an engineer. Manage to wobble along to find a bike shop in Crediton to sort it out.

For such a small place, there's a terrific bike shop and the mechanic sorts the wheel out for a fiver. Top man! And he tells me that there's only one more hill before the Somerset Levels. So, much happier, I head off.

There do seem to be dozens of hills, but perhaps they have a different idea of what counts down here. Lunch in Taunton with Clare, who's sticking around until tomorrow, but feeling pretty grumpy with exhaustion.

Finding facing the afternoon difficult, by it turns out to be the best yet. Speeding over the Levels to Glastonbury through beautiful villages. There is a lovely abandoned church on what must have been an island in the marshes and then Glastonbury Tor appears on the horizon, seeming to glower.

Pretty villages, and churches perched on islands, in the Somerset Levels

Cycle on to Wells, where we are staying with Clare's cousin James, who works at the cathedral school. A much needed bath to ease my aches and pains and we are treated to a great meal thanks to James's mum, Clare's Auntie Eileen!

Today's route:

Bike route 288509 - powered by Bikemap 

Sunday, 25 May 2003

Day 2 - Wadebridge to Crediton - 66 miles

Up earlier and out of Wadebridge (where we stayed last night, 5 miles from Padstow). Continuing over rolling countryside, including some biggish hills. Swinging to the east, the wind is suddenly right behind me, which makes such a huge difference - I'm shooting along at 25mph past wind farms and sheep, feeling like Lance Armstrong!

Morning break ahead of schedule at Launceston and carry on to Okehampton for lunch. Then a series of hills past Dartmoor, feeling that I'm starting to get to grips with climbing. The local stone, and the soil in the fields, is a deep, sandy red...

Rolling hills in Dartmoor

At lunchtime there are lots of cyclists around (it's Sunday and most are, sensibly, just out for a potter). Clare saw a large group leaving Land's End just after me, including a tricycle. I do hope I'm not bumping into them all the way up to John O'Groats. I'm not a huge fan of other cyclists at the best of times, and a lot of touring cyclists are nice, but can be terribly dull - and a tricycle is an even more worrying sign of 'eccentricity'...

Only 20 miles to go to Crediton and the sun comes out for the first time and the landscape is beautiful - the dark granite and bare hills of Cornwall are long gone. Devon is far more rolling, with pretty thatched cottages.  The people seem friendlier.  And there are lots of location signs for Down To Earth (the town-to-country drama starring Pauline Quirke).

Tonight we're staying in a very strange farmhouse run by a woman who seems to be completely mad and with extremely dull fellow guests - I do hope we aren't turning into them...

Today's route:

Bike route 288500 - powered by Bikemap 

Saturday, 24 May 2003

Day 1 - Land's End to Padstow - 67 miles

As usual it took a while to get going in the morning so we didn't arrive at 'The Land's End Experience' until 10.30am. What a dump! £3 to park, £10 for the (ahem) 'attractions' (a sub-Madame Tussaud's diorama of pirates) and £8 to have your picture taken by the Land's End sign! We end up taking a shot from the wrong side of the barrier, like most other people, I hope. Mixed weather forecast, hence the full sou'wester...

£8 to pose for a photo?! You're havin' a giraffe!

Set off and realised the road was a lot hillier than it looked by map or car, hugging the coast and dropping down to every inlet (and going back up the other side). And the wind is blowing right into my face - the idea of starting in the south west was to have the prevailing wind behind me. Already getting very hot in my waterproofs...

Settling into the ride I start to pass some of those classic Cornwall names - Bojewyan, Bottallack, Kelynack, Woon Gumpus Common and Boswednack.

Things going pretty well until just before lunch, when the really serious coastal hills start. There's really nothing quite as depressing on a bike as shooting downhill at 35 mph, knowing that you will have to climb up a 15% gradient on the other side any minute.

Had lunch with Clare and wonder if I've made a terrible mistake deciding to do this...

Am I there yet?

By Newquay the hills appear to be straight up and down and the town is full of 'Race To The Sun' idiots driving around in their souped-up Vauxhall Novas.

Finally made it to Padstow for a drink and fish & chips by the harbour, accompanied by Morris-style dancers with accordians and drums (no-one blacked up, thankfully).

Here's a map of today's route (which confirms the amount of climbing today - 4,000 feet is a lot for me!):

Bike route 288494 - powered by Bikemap 

Friday, 23 May 2003

Land's End to John O'Groats - Day 0 - London to St Ives

The day before I start cycling and I catch the train from London Paddington down to Penzance. It's a beautiful journey, but took 5 1/2 hours and seemed to stop at every farm after Exeter.

Clare very kindly travelled down from Birmingham with the bike and gear - she's going rendezvous with me for parts of the route. But she's slowed down by the Bank Holiday traffic, but eventually meets me at the station and we make it to a friend of a friend's cottage in St Ives. Unpack, wander around the town and watch first night of Big Brother...

Thursday, 22 May 2003

Land's End to John O'Groats - Background

I always cycled as a kid, as it was the only way to get around before I had access to a car. That stopped after I left university until I bought a bike to cycle round the canal towpaths in Birmingham where I was working. Eventually in 1999 I rode down to London on the canal towpath. I wouldn't recommend it, it's rather bumpy!

But it did give me a taste for cycling and I decided to commute to work in London - more because it was actually quicker and more reliable than getting a bus and tube.

So when a colleague at Channel 4 set off on a round Britain ride, it started me thinking about cycling from Land's End to John O'Groats - one of those classic routes you hear about people doing for charity.

After quizzing my friend on his tips, buying a book with routes and tips, and poring over maps of Britain, I decided to take the plunge.

The world record for the route (which comes in at around 950 miles, depending on which way you go) is under 2 days. For goodness sake, the record on a Penny Farthing is 5 days and 10 hours!

I won't be challenging that - my route will take 14 days, averaging around 70 miles per day. I didn't initially have the idea of doing the ride for charity, but my wife Clare persuaded me that I should use the opportunity to raise some money, so I'm doing the ride for Multiple Sclerosis and Motor Neurone Disease.

It's all new to me, so will have to see how it turns out. Here's the rough route...