Sunday, 8 June 2003

Land's End to John O'Groats - Post-Ride Thoughts

Having just typed up my notes from 2003, I'm struck by how clear some of the memories are. I don't look that much older to my eyes 6 years on, as long as I squint...

I'm also reminded how little preparation I'd done for the ride (and yet I seemed to do OK) and by how kind it was of Clare to drive out to meet me during the route - it must have been really boring for her a lot of the time.

It was also incredibly lucky to have only 20 minutes of rain in two weeks - particularly fortunate considering I had no back mudguard on the bike. Since then I've received at least one total soaking on every longer tour - bad luck, or climate change, I'm not sure...

And it's also sad to see pictures of my lovely Cannondale Badboy Ultra. I loved that bike! It was completely impractical for this, or probably any other, cycling duties, but it did look great in black! Depressingly it was stolen from outside Sainsbury's in Islington in 2004 on my way home from work. I suppose it was my own fault, I locked it with the same crummy cable lock you can see in the pictures, although it was all of 10 feet from the entrance, with a security guard stood outside.

It turned out that Islington police, and I assume Sainsbury's themselves, were well aware of an organised gang of bicycle thieves who targetted bikes left outside the shop. Apparently they use proper bolt cutters, apparently stolen from the local Fire Brigade. Sainsbury's don't even have a security camera and yet these people are stealing from their customers. Surely they should do something about it - and the police could help their crime figures by pouncing on them. The worst thing is my bike was probably given a terrible paint job and sold for a song...

I felt absolutely gutted as I walked the 2 miles back to Stoke Newington, the pasta and pesto I'd just bought weighing particularly heavily in my bag.

Saturday, 7 June 2003

Day 14 - Golspie to John O'Groats - 67 miles

It's the last day and though I wake with a twinge in my hip, it seems fine on the bike.

The forecast said a cloudy morning and wet pm, but the day starts very sunny. I get 15 miles on the flat before reaching Helmsdale and two consecutive steep hills, which I've been dreading for some time after reading about them in my (discarded) guidebook. The first hill is very long, but gentle. Then it's down at a vertiginous gradient (enough to need run-off gravel strips), before having to ride right back a similar hill on the other side - it's like Cornwall all over again. I spot - and hear - some kind of traditional music being played on a mound - very charming.

Highland fling in progress?

After that it's still up and down, but far easier - the last 10 miles before Wick for lunch are very easy.

So there's only 17 miles left to do after a late lunch. Sadly now is the time the weather decided to change, with a 20-minute rainstorm leaving me cold and wet. Then a wind springs up, blowing the clouds away, but also directly into my face. The last 10 miles are a real struggle, which is a shame after having such an enjoyable trip.

Make it to John O'Groats convinced I couldn't go another mile and Clare is there waiting for me with a medal and a mini bottle of champagne to celebrate! Take the card that was issued and stamped at Land's End in to the local pub and they stamp it in turn, take a picture by the post (you don't have to pay here) and head the 3 hours back to Fort William before the drive back to Birmingham tomorrow.

That's all folks!

And despite what it says, my route was 964 miles, not 874...!

Today's route:

Bike route 288569 - powered by Bikemap 

Friday, 6 June 2003

Day 13 - Fort Augustus to Golspie - 85 miles

Wake up working out how we could buy a 6-bedroom B&B next to Loch Ness, but obviously realise it's not practical.

It's the penultimate day of the ride and the longest by a considerable margin. So as Clare's pootles off for a short ride along the Caledonian Canal, I head off along the banks of Loch Ness. Perhaps that would be the solution - take a picture of 'Nessie' and retire on the proceeds!

This is the best I can do - sadly I think that's a boat...

Loch Ness Monster?

Carried on through Inverness, even if it is worth visiting, I simply don't have time today. Crossing the Cormarty Firth I see the unusual, if strangely beguiling, sight of oil platforms moored in the sea loch, which is where they are repaired, I think

Oil platforms at rest in Cromarty Firth

Stop for lunch at Alness after 55 miles. It's a delightful part of the country and the wind is behind me, which always gives everything a rather more rosy glow. Carry on over the Dornoch Firth and decide to continue to make tomorrow a shorter day and finish at Golspie up the coast, by Dunrobin Castle and wonder whether it is owned by an ex-crook...

Dornoch very sweet, you can see why Madonna and Guy Ritchie got married here last year. Walk out towards the sea, past the desolate golf course and through the dunes...

Today's route:

Bike route 288568 - powered by Bikemap 

Thursday, 5 June 2003

Day 12 - Oban to Fort Augustus - 76 miles

Another proper day ahead, so I try to get started a little earlier. Up a hill straight away, but after that it gets easier.

Today will take me along the Great Glen, a series of lochs which cut the highlands in two, running South West to North East. It marks where two tectonic plates are traveling in opposite direction - Northern Scotland is actually heading towards Norway!

Castle Stalker on the Great Glen - the kind of thing tourists love!

Crossing over some lovely bridges the wind is behind me again and means I can almost coast along. It rains for the first time on the trip, but it's only a shower. The route takes me through Fort William, where I have lunch, and past Ben Nevis.

Onwards to Fort Augustus, which is a lovely little place where the Caledonian Canal joins the southern tip of Loch Ness. You couldn't wish for a nicer place to live, if you could find a job to suit - it certainly wouldn't fit with commuting to London.

Fort Augustus - the Caledonian Canal on your doorstep

We're staying in the old bank house with the owner Joann, who bought the house for a song and has done it up beautifully.

Sadly we bump into to some rather horrible Geordies in a pub who are happy to sponsor me 'as long as the money doesn't go to Pakis'. Clare is really cross and I try to point out that MS and Motor Neurone Disease aren't great respecters of race...

Today's route:

Bike route 288566 - powered by Bikemap 

Wednesday, 4 June 2003

Day 11 - Brodick to Oban - 73 miles

I start the day with a massage, which the B&B owner does as a sideline. It's not exactly a 'sports physio' session, more whalesong and smelly oils, but it can't hurt. Funnily enough my legs feel pretty relaxed anyway.

What with that and getting into a generally lax frame of mind after the short day yesterday, I didn't leave until 11.30 to cycle across the island to Lochranza to catch the ferry to Kintyre, to the north over the Firth of Clyde. Miss the planned ferry thanks to the unexpectedly large climb across the hills - the descent into Lochranza was almost scarily fast. But it' a lovely spot, and far quieter than Brodick.

Lochranza on Arran, a pretty spot to wait for a ferry

The ferry to Claonaig is absolutely charming and drops us off on an almost deserted quay. There's another cyclist, a Ducthman called Peter, and as I faff around sorting out the bike, he's off like a rocket, even though he's got about 6 panniers on. Stick with him for about 10 miles until Tarbert.

The day gets sunny and hot and there are a couple of pretty tough hills. I find it a bit of a struggle from Kilmartin - perhaps I've gone soft with the short days and flat country. Finished off by the last hill into Oban. But once we find the B&B and tidy up I feel a lot better and we walk up to McCaig's Tower, a folly with wonderful views over the bay.

The B&B is pretty horribly decorated and has polyester sheets, which give me a really uncomfortable night's sleep.

Today's route:

Bike route 288547 - powered by Bikemap 

Tuesday, 3 June 2003

Day 10 - Sanquhar to Arran - 51 miles

An easy day today, which is a good job as I wake up with a hangover. Start off by going on a search for the post office in the village which claims - my Dad would love this - to be the oldest in Britain, dating back to 1712.

The ride up to Ardrossan feels incredibly easy and pretty flat, following a river down to the coast. I stop for lunch by a ruined castle...

Continue to Ardorssan, but I'm so ahead of schedule for the ferry to Arran that I end up having to kill time in a part of Scotland that I doubt is on the tourist map, getting my back wheel fixed, having a drink, etc

I still arrive 90 minutes early, but I'm left chewing my nails as Clare has to race against the traffic to catch the ferry with only 10 mins to spare.

But then we can relax; it's a gentle hour-long journey across to Brodick, a delightful village where we are staying for the night. After finding the B&B we head back to find somewhere to eat - fish - what else...

Today's route:

Bike route 288544 - powered by Bikemap 

Monday, 2 June 2003

Day 9 - Carlisle to Sanquhar - 66 miles

Overcast as I set off in the morning and soon reach the Scottish border - the famous Gretna Green where everyone used to run away to get married, I think it was something to do with parental consent not being required in Scotland.

Cheer up, you're in Scotland...

Then turn west towards Dumfries and into the wind, although the sun comes out. Reach Dumfries in time for lunch (a pie from Greggs to celebrate being in the land of deep-fried food). Is there any difference being north of the border? I'm not sure there is really...

Returning to my northerly route, and with the wind behind me again, my bike computer conks out and my knee begins to twinge. I also meet a chap, who I would guess is in his seventies, walking from Land's End to John O'Groats. He's doing 25 miles per day, which is pretty fair going at any age - but it's going to take him 6 weeks.

I've done most of my riding before lunch again, so there's only 25 miles to go to Sanquhar, and it feels as if I'm being pushed along it's so easy. There are a few spots of rain, but consider myself lucky as the forecast said it would pour today.

Easy Street to Sanquhar

Reach the pretty village of Sanquhar, but I'm more interested in getting some liquid refreshment and find a tiny pub in which I don't understand a word anyone is saying.

Then another few hundred yards to my hotel, where I've been given an enormous room. Stayed up late chatting in the bar to a bloke called Mark from Devon who is in the area for the fishing.

Today's route:

Bike route 288543 - powered by Bikemap 

Sunday, 1 June 2003

Day 8 - Lancaster to Carlisle - 66 miles

Wave Clare off (she's been really good driving to-and-fro to see me during the trip and I'm meeting her again in a couple of days for the Scottish end of the trip) and head out, with the weather fine.

Funnily enough my legs are feeling rejuvenated and don't mind having the panniers back on. I've driven the first 15 miles from yesterday, so no surprises there, it's as easy as expected.

I decide to ignore my planned route via Windermere. I'm finding the guide book I've been using increasingly irritating - the guy who wrote it seems, for better or worse, to have a pathological hatred of A roads, however bucolic, and will find routes of almost comical circuitousness to avoid them! I suppose we all want different things, it's just I'd prefer to finish before old age takes me...

Apart from a few sections of dual carriageway and motorbikes occasionally screaming past (you probably get them everywhere around here, especially at the weekend), the A6 is a pleasure to ride along.

After 20 miles I'm at Kendall and don't feel like stopping, so carry on. I admit that I've done what I can to avoid hills on this route, but Shap Fell is unavoidable. It runs next to my favourite section of the M6, the highest bit of motorway in the country. This is the route people had to drive up to Scotland before the coming of the motorways, which shows you that not all modernisation is a bad thing.

Shap Fell - Slow but steady

The hill is long, but steady and not too steep, and I'm at the very top before it gets too bad. Dropping down the other side, I continue to Penrith for lunch.

After that I realise that my calculations seem to be wrong and there's only 17 miles to go to Carlisle. It's getting hot, but the wind turns against me, which helps I suppose.

Relaxing in a pub for a well-earned drink I read about a chap who lost control of his car, killing a family in an oncoming car, after trying to reach for some polo mints whilst driving...

Here's a map of the day's route:

Bike route 288364 - powered by Bikemap