My motivation to do LeJog started a couple of years ago when Paul & Dave completed their LeJoG ride in 2016. They did it in 13 days and although they admitted to it being pretty tough in places, they were very positive about the overall experience. However they were not so positive about the company that they did it with.
I did some research and found out that there were about 10 companies that offered supported tours – namely accommodation/breakfast/lunch included and support vans to ferry your baggage and provide brew stops along the way. The duration varied from 9 days to 21 days. So I put out some feelers to see if anyone else was interested in doing it. There was some interest , but nothing concrete so I put the idea to the back of my mind.
Roll forward 12 months and Garnett did the ride with a company called Peak Tours. He was also very positive about the overall experience of the ride but importantly he felt that the tour company – Peak Tours – were very good.
We chatted about it on the way back from Tatton Park in September last year and he told me that he had booked a double room for single use and it worked well. However he also mentioned that he found the 10 day duration was a bit tough (understatement methinks!). My interest was rekindled.
I had already decided that if I did the ride, I would do it to raise money for a charity. I decided upon Brain Tumour research as I had seen firsthand how devastating this was for my brother.
After checking again that no-one was interested in doing the ride in 2018, I booked on the ‘Way of the Roses’ Coast to Coast ride with Peak Tours as a trial for the big one.
Rob Wardle and I did that in May and we wholeheartedly agreed with Garnett’s +ve assessment of Peak Tours. Significantly, I didn’t suffer too much from 3 days in the saddle doing 170 miles with 8000 ft of ascent.
So I booked the 14 day LeJoG with Peak Tours.
However that meant that I needed to get some training in, if I wanted to complete the ride and not fail around Dartmoor as others have done. David Roberts told me about his regular training ride before his LeJog ride.
From Chester out to Cefn Y Bedd, up the Steps around Brymbo, over Minera mountain, past Worlds End and up the Horseshoe Pass past the Ponderosa.
I tried it out with Ian – it worked. We even put in an extra climb of 900 ft thanks to advice from a helpful dog walker!!
I then planned a couple of Tuesday rides over the Horseshoe Pass as well as some Thursday/weekend rides with willing supporters (Ian, Holger, Chris and Rob). At least I think they were willing??
I hadn’t factored in the weather and I must admit that the 29c day over Minera mountain was tough.
I did my last big training ride on Thursday in Snowdonia with Ian & Maz (see attached); https://www.relive.cc/view/g23529774720
Monday 13 August :
It’s now only 5 days away from the start and I’m feeling a bit nervous.
My bike has a new chainset, cassette, chain, disc pads, bottom bracket and pedals and other moveable bits like the headset and seatpost have been cleaned and lubricated.
I thought it was already working Ok.
This has mainly been done via Maz at Bren cycles, who even opened up at 9pm on Saturday to sort out a sticking brake disc as I had to drop my bike off in Glossop on the Sunday.
Root canal surgery is planned for tomorrow and I have a final physio ‘sports massage’ booked in for Wednesday.
Next stop is Penzance via British rail on Saturday – fortunately not operated by Northern Rail.
To be continued ….
Friday 17 August
Well the final evening has arrived. Laurie is here to give me moral support
and we have just demolished 2 meals for 2 – each!
I have still got some packing to do (below), I don’t believe in packing light.
Will it all fit in? Well I can now admit it didn’t. But pillow, Ovaltine and Hobnobs did make the cut. Who needs overtrousers in August – or spare shoes, jersey, pair of trousers?
A few of you have asked about the route. It takes me from Lands End, up through Devon & over Dartmoor, over the Severn into Wales just outside Bristol and then up to Shrewsbury. I have a brief stop near home with an evening meal booked at the Maypole on the 24th before heading up to Lancaster. The part from Shrewsbury to Lancaster is quite flat so if anyone wants to join me for a few miles then you would be most welcome. I’ve added the route below.
Just send me a text or an email the night before and I can let you know
Holger is kindly joining me in Shrewsbury up to Hatchmere.
After Lancaster it is up through the Lake District to Penrith, on via
Carlisle into Scotland and up to Edinburgh. After that it’s big hills until
I get to Inverness with 2 long days to finish. Phew!
I’m hoping that there is wifi on the train as it’s 8 1/2 hours to Penzance,
so at least I could listen to the test match. Next post should be with a photo of Lands End.
Sat 18 August
Maintenance works at Crewe meant it was bus service – arriving after my connection to Birmingham. So instead of taking this, a rerouting via Shrewsbury on a 2 carriage Arriva train meant a packed train and no services on the following 3 cross country trains that I had been routed on to. Who’d travel across the Uk by train at a weekend.
However I did have my packed lunch, hot cross buns and a bottle of water – never one to travel anywhere without food. I also met up with another LeJoG cyclist who had worked for Shell at Thornton ( Ronald Bakker) so it wasn’t all bad. Alli , one of the guides, met me at Penzance station off my delayed train and whisked me off to my accommodation at Cape Cornwall. I just had enough time to drop my bags in my room before the first briefing of the tour by Johnny – Alli’s husband. We also met Reece who was to be our mechanic & extra guide for the tour.
Day 1 : Sun 19 August
We set off from Cape Cornwall at 8.15 in a heavy sea mist and I promptly lost my way – using Google maps instead of the Garmin. Fortunately we met a local who redirected us past Lands End international airport and on to the start point. We gathered together in the gloom for the team photo : you can also see a selection on Relive.
The weather steadily improved although we missed seeing St Michaels Mount because of the mist, which should have been one of the highlights of Day 1.
Lunch was a fairly sparse affair of a few sandwiches – not enough for me, so I raided the Peak Tours van for a banana, some Soreen and a crunch bar. Finally satisfied I set off. The sun was now out so I stripped down to just 2 layers and no sleeves.
Water Tower on the Trelissick estate.
It wasn’t long before we came down to King Harry’s ferry ( one of only 5 chain ferries still in operation in the Uk) and up a very long steep hill on the other side.
With Miles, waiting for the ferry.
We only had 10 miles to go to the next Brew stop for some cakes and cups of tea before heading off in the sun ( now down to one layer) towards St Austell and Fowey.
I had met up with Miles from Banbury and Tony, an English expat living in California, and the three of us cycled together after lunch. We get on so well together that we have booked dinner at the Galleon ( excellent and large portions) and will ride together again tomorrow. However all these Brew stops have an effect on us, so frequent nature stops are needed.
It’s a slightly later start and we get another ferry out of Fowey – thank goodness – as the streets out of Fowey are VERY steep.
Day 2 Monday 20 August
We met at the ferry at 8.45 and paid our £2.00 fare to leave Fowey – worth it to avoid the steep hill out of the town. The weather was misty again as we went through all those pretty Cornish villages such as Polperro, Looe and Seaton – unfortunately too gloomy to take good photos. A quick brew stop at Seaton set us up for the ‘glorious ascent’ of 500 ft ; it doesn’t sound much but the steepness made up for this.
We then had a fairly easy run down to Cremyll for lunch at the Edgecumbe Arms – a carvery, so everyone was happy. The weather had picked up so we sat outside opposite the Royal William Yard in Plymouth, the largest collection of Grade 1 listed military buildings in Europe. As we ate lunch, just to prove its military connections, a Naval submarine went past, flanked by 2 tugs to help it turn in the narrow straits of the Plymouth Sound.
After getting the Cremyll ferry across to Plymouth – another £2.25 each – we followed Sustrans way 27 across Plymouth. It was interesting to say the least, especially crossing the wet cobbles by the harbour front. I was very wary after my recent experience in Llangollen. We cycled past Plymouth Hoe and eventually came onto a cycle path through the woods outside Plymouth, aptly names Drakes Way. I got lost again following my Garmin and cycled on a parallel path (muddy track) to the main cycleway until I came to a large viaduct above me. Cyclists were going along there! Fortunately there was a path with steps up to the cycleway – it just meant carrying my bike. Reece found me at this point and we cycled together at a high pace to eventually catch up with Miles & Tony.
The cycleway lasted for about 7 miles until we found ourselves back in open countryside. The brew stop was a further 6 miles but unfortunately it was on top of a steep long hill in Dartmoor NP. We had been climbing steadily since leaving Plymouth but this last rise of about 500 ft was steeper than the rest. We were also exposed to some headwind and some drizzle so it was quite tiring.
By the time we got to the brew stop I was starving and consumed 2 Eccles cakes, half a Jamaica ginger cake and 2 sponge cakes even before I got my tea. That brew stop was needed! We then had a relatively easy ride all the way to Moretonhampstead with a few ups & downs and some close-ups of the wildlife up there – ponies, sheep and Highland cattle – who didn’t understand that they should not be standing in the road.
I stayed at the White Hart Hotel that night, an old coaching inn with creaking floors but porridge for breakfast. They also had a drying room so I was able to dry my washing overnight.
Ride details are here:
Day 3 – Tuesday 21 August
We set off from Moreton Hampstead in light drizzle and headed into Exeter. We saw the cathedral in the distance as we skirted around Exeter which was surprisingly drab and uninteresting – not the historic city I was expecting.
Leaving Exeter we headed for Broadhembury which is reputed to be the village with the most thatched roofs in England. Lunch at the Drewe Arms was a choice of beef stew or chilli – guess which I had! The chilli of course!
The weather brightened up as we left Broadhembury but we still had 40 miles to go so we cracked on. There was a big climb straight after lunch – great! – however once that was done the rest of the day was relatively easy cycling over the Somerset Levels.
We passed by Burrow Mump known locally as King Alfred’s Fort (he of burnt cakes fame).
After a brew stop the land became much flatter with so much much water and canals that you could be forgiven if you thought you were in Holland.
I was dawdling by now as I was taking so many photos and Johnny, our guide, caught me up.
We cycled along small roads until we found ourselves in the lovely village of Street (where the shoes are made) and our stop for the night. We just had time to walk to the edge of the village and see Glastonbury Tor before going for a lovely meal of Portuguese Salty Cod – delicious!
My ride details are here:
Day 4 – Wednesday 22 August
We set off from Street on our way to Monmouth. Glastonbury Tor was on the horizon as we left Street and we quickly dropped down into Glastonbury itself and cycled past the ruins of Glastonbury cathedral – sacked during the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII.
From here it was only 7 miles to the city of Wells, the smallest in England.We spent about 30 minutes walking around the Cathedral grounds and Market Street, as there was a market in full swing with street entertainers dressed in mediaeval clothes. Wells cathedral was largely untouched during the dissolution, mainly because the king’s chief minister, Thomas Cromwell, was lay dean of Wells. It was he who ensured that most of the cathedral treasures and the contents of its library were removed to London for safe keeping.
Realising the time, we quickly cycled to the first brew stop of the day at Chew Valley Lake. It was a stunning location and a real haven for birds. Some steep hills followed before we hit Bristol.
We cycled over the Clifton suspension bridge and stopped to take photos of the Avon Gorge below. We could spot some climbers on the rocks – it looked pretty scary.
Heading for the Severn Road Bridge, which would take us over to Wales, we went through Blaise Castle Estate where we were held up by tree surgeons who were felling a dangerous oak above the cycle path we were going along.
After a 15 minute delay we set off again for the Severn Road Bridge. When we got there it was so windy that cyclists were restricted to 15 miles an hour only. I didn’t like the fact that my crossbar was at the same level as the safety rail.
Having crossed the bridge we went past Chepstow race course and on to Tintern Abbey for a brew stop. A great location. However Henry VIII had made his mark here as well as the Abbey fell into ruin after the dissolution.
From there it was just a short 11 mile ride into Monmouth where we were all staying at the Old King’s Head. We had air con, heated radiators for drying our clothes and feather pillows – sheer luxury. The three of us capped the day by going for a meal at a lovely Bangladeshi restaurant.
The ride over the bridge was lovely and I could see a fly fisherman below.
My ride details are here:
Day 5 – Thursday 23 August
We left Monmouth on the A466 and climbed a long hill, not ideal for first thing in the morning. However there were roadworks ahead and the road was blocked for traffic so it was not busy. At St Weonards we met the roadworks. Unfortunately they would not allow cycles through so we had to divert down a very muddy lane.
However the weather cleared up as we went North and the scenery became more stunning with the Black Mountains in the distance. We went through the outskirts of Hereford and passed by the renovated statue of a woodpecker. The statue had been commissioned by local cider maker Bulmers to celebrate their ‘Woodpecker’ brand and unveiled by Peter Scott , the famous ornithologist, in 1969.
We went through Weobley, a beautiful old ‘black & white’ Herefordshire village.
A few miles further on we stopped for lunch in Pembridge, another pretty Herefordshire ‘black & white’ village. They were coming thick & fast. The ‘New Inn’ dates back almost 700 years, presumably there was an ‘Old Inn’ before that. Across the road in front of the 14c church there was a very tame flock of sheep. The nearby octagonal detached bell tower predates the church and is reputed to be one of the finest in the country.
We had a hearty lunch of soup, sandwiches, fresh fruit and their own ‘Eton Mess’ dessert. We do eat well on this ride.
By now Shropshire was in our sights. We had packed our wet weather gear in the brew van as the rain appeared to be over for the day and made for the little hamlet of Brampton Bryan for our brew stop. We arrived at our brew stop which was by a churchyard surrounded by the longest manicured Yew hedge in Britain, reputedly.
Three riders on cobs arrived and we spent about 15 mins talking about our travels with them. I fed the horses with slices of apple which I had stuffed into my back pocket at lunchtime. However those 15 minutes just delayed us enough to get hit by a big shower 15 minutes from Clun. Why did we leave our raingear in the van? We arrived soaking wet – admittedly the first time on our ride so not bad for an English summer. Our pub accommodation was a bit basic but at least it had a radiator for drying shoes & clothes.
My ride details are here:
Day 6 – Friday 24 August
It started off raining, and Tony got dressed for the occasion.
This was a brilliant day for me. It was the longest day of the ride (82 miles) but I had company from my Cheshire cycling friends.
Holger met me near Church Stretton and cycled with me all the way to my overnight stop in Acton Bridge. We stopped by the river in Shrewsbury, it was very picturesque.
Four others surprised me by joining us at the lunch stop in Burlton (north of Shrewsbury) – Mike Evans, Richard Stradling, Ian Slater and Dave Britton.
At the afternoon brew stop in Cholmondley, Laurie Mason and Allan Samuel also joined us and then Andy Waring joined shortly afterwards. I can’t describe how nice it was to ride and chat with friends and how appreciative I felt that they had given up all this time to support me. Thank you guys! We had a few showers during the afternoon but managed to dry off in the sun afterwards so overall remained dry.
Physio with Sarah, dinner at home with Sue, washing done and case repacked meant I was set up and ready for the next day’s ride.
My ride details are here:
Day 7 – Saturday 25 August
The ride was only 73 miles but not that scenic as we weaved through the Manchester-Liverpool conurbation. However, one surprise at the start of the day, was to come across two riders ( Matt and Mike) on penny farthings. They were members of Cheshire Wheelmen. Imagine cycling 1000 miles on one of those!
There were a number of busy roads to negotiate, but the best part of today was meeting up with and being cheered on by Spike, an old college friend of mine, and his lovely wife Trish. Spike, who is registered as blind with only 5% visibility, walked solo from Land’s End to John o’Groats a couple of years ago with only his white stick and a phone, raising money for charity on the way. His achievement was absolutely awe-inspiring and I was thrilled he came out to spur me on.
Lunch was held at the Rock Inn, Tockholes above Darwen. It was another plentiful affair with cottage pie and apple tart & custard to follow. We needed sustenance as it was very cool in the wind up there on the moors. We came across another ‘road closed ‘ sign; this one said no access to pedestrians or cyclists for safety reasons. We reasoned that it would not be a good idea to ignore this so we headed back to the last crossroads. Here we met our guide Johnny and explained why we were going the ‘wrong way’. “No problem” said he, “the old route goes this way”. So we followed him down into Blackburn. Scores of people were heading down the hill towards Ewood Park. It was 2.30 – Rovers must be at home today.
We went past the Wainwright bridge, an iconic structure named after one of the most famous residents of the town.
John Lennon’s report of the roads in Blackburn seemed to stand the test of time. There did indeed seem to be 4000 potholes in Blackburn, Lancashire. Going past a cycling repair shop we saw a recycled cyclist on a tandem – a very colourful way to advertise his business..
Our ride finished in Garstang – close to Lancaster. I know Lancaster well as my son, Andy, studied for his PhD there. In the three years he was there he realised that Lancaster must be one of the wettest places in England. The following morning before setting off I sent him the weather forecast for the day. He promptly made me jealous by sending me the weather in Fort Collins which was sun, sun, sun and 30 degrees!
My ride details are here:
Day 8 – Sunday 26th August
BLACK SUNDAY : We were heading through the lake district to Penrith which, when the weather’s nice, is beautifully stunning scenery. It started off with a mild drizzle which wasn’t too bad but Lancaster did not look it’s best through the mizzle.
Up on the hills above Lancaster the weather had not improved.
We had an early brew stop and then followed the Way of the Roses route for the first 15 miles which I had been on three months previously with Rob Wardle, so I knew it quite well. This route is normally very scenic but today we just had heads down to get to the next stop and out of the rain. After 15 miles we headed north and that is when the bad weather really hit us. Lunch was at 50 miles so we had to have two brew stops to keep us going – at the second one they had a erected a tent up to help keep out the rain!
In Arkholme we stopped to pay our respects for a cortege of tractors (more than 60 in total) which were paying respects to a local well-respected farmer, Andrew Deeney, who had passed away.
The route took us along some narrow, single track roads with lots of cattle grids and one of our party misjudged a corner and went straight into the hedge and then fell back onto the road. It really was an awful day and, although we had temporary respite when we stopped at the hotel in Tebay, there was nowhere to dry off so after a quick lunch of soup and sandwiches we were off again, in the rain, on our way to Penrith.
I arrived at the B & B in Penrith to be greeted by a list of rules of the house from the landlady. I had one question – ‘have you got any drying facilities?’ “No” was the answer, “you can hang things up in the shower and they will dry”. I gave her my glove which was dripping through her fingers and asked ‘what about switching the radiators on’. “We don’t switch the radiators on in the summer”. “This wet weather is really unusual’. (In the Lake District – REALLY? I thought). Fortunately I had a complete spare set of clothes, shoes, gloves etc and I was able to wear these the next day and pack my wet clothes in a separate bag carried by the Peak Tours van until we reached Moffat.
The stay in Penrith was capped off by discovering in the morning that I had a split wheel rim, probably caused by the last cattle grid. This meant borrowing a Peak Tours road bike with drop handle bars and a strange shift mechanism.
It really was a black Sunday.
My ride details are here:
Day 9 – Monday 27th August
This was the second Monday of our trip and a Bank Holiday in the England but fortunately not in Scotland as the cycling shops were open there. This allowed Reece to buy a new wheel for me and have my bike ready the following morning in Moffat. The weather started off relatively benignly which was good because I had to get used to riding a different bike and a different sized frame. The one good thing about the bike was that it was much, much lighter. However it did mean bending over a lot more! We quickly left the Lake District and skirted the city of Carlisle on new cycle paths next to the busy roads. Leaving Carlisle we soon crossed the border into Scotland.
We had made it to Gretna and lunch. Here’s a picture of the signpost with my substitute bike propped up against it:
Note: The distance from Land’s End shown on the signpost was not the distance we had cycled!
We had a good lunch at the Gretna Chase Hotel which fortified us for the ride up to Moffat. Along the way we stopped at the Devil’s Porridge Museum which commemorates the largest munitions factory in the world during the First World War.
Riding the new bike and leaning over was taking its toll on my back – it needed a rest – as you can see from the picture below; the wind was against us and this section was the hardest of the whole two weeks for me.
We headed on up into Moffat where in the middle of the town is a large bronze statue of a ram commissioned in 1875 because of the town’s long association with sheep farming and the wool trade.
Arriving at the B & B the landlady could not have been more welcoming and her first words were, ‘Have you got any washing you’d like me to do?’ The complete opposite of the Penrith experience! My wet clothes were quickly handed over – and returned dry & clean 3 hours later.
Details of my ride below:
Day 10 – Tues 28th August
We were sad to leave Moffat as the landlady there was brilliant, as were her breakfasts. The day started with a gradual climb out of Moffat taking us up to 1400 ft. We had a long descent and the brew van was waiting at the bottom of the hill by a local school. It was break time as excited squeals and laughter could be heard. This was about 25 miles into our ride. My back had started aching with ‘mini spasms’ whenever I was climbing so I was really hooping the physio in Kinross could sort me out.
Because we were going through Edinburgh and over the Forth Road Bridge we were going to have an early lunch stop. We made good time getting to our lunch stop in Leadburn and arrived at 11.50 am. On entering the pub we were surprised to see the speedier members of our group (8 in total) were still there. Normally we never see these people throughout the day because they are so far ahead of us. It appeared that communications had gone awry and lunch was booked for 12 noon onwards – they had been there 40 minutes! So for the first and only time of the week we all had lunch together. It was a good lunch – pasta, chips and pudding – so plenty of carbohydrates to keep us going.
Our next stop was Edinburgh where we rode through the centre past The Meadows, over Lawnmarket (where the street performers from ‘The Fringe’ perform) and then dropped down past the Scottish National Gallery onto Princes Street and past the Scott monument.
After going down a few cobbled streets we finally came to the cycle path that took us out of Edinburgh and towards the Forth Road Bridge. I misread the Garmin and missed a turning to take me on to the Road Bridge but saw there was another route that I could follow. Unfortunately, what I didn’t know was that this route took me 50 ft under the cycle path. Looking up I saw our guide, Reece, cycling over the bridge. I called out and after a brief discussion he explained the way up to where he was. The views from the Road Bridge of the old Rail Bridge were stunning.
Unfortunately whilst going over the bridge I noticed that my back tyre was slightly soft. Reece, our guide/mechanic, used his mini track pump to put a bit more air in which lasted until the brew stop two miles after the Bridge. When we got there, Reece quickly slipped off the back tyre, found a tiny thorn, removed it and put a new inner tube in and the tyre back on – all this before I’d finished my cup of tea. I would have probably taken 15 minutes to do what he did in 3!
Leaving the brew stop I had to put a spurt on because I had a physio appointment at 6 o’clock to sort out my back with some acupuncture, ultrasound and manipulation. It seemed to do the trick because the next day my back lasted through until about 4 pm before starting to ache. I had been having serious reservations about whether I’d finish the tour before that physio appointment.
We stayed overnight in the Green Hotel, Kinross, which used to be one of the top hotels and leisure resorts in Scotland. I had a lovely room with views of the surrounding hills and a kingsize bed to stretch out in. The meal there was also wonderful.
Details of my ride here:
Day 11 – Wednesday 29th August
Leaving the Green hotel in Kinross we headed through the town and headed north towards Perth. We dropped down into Perth and our route afforded us some glorious views from above the city.
We passed by the palace at Scone (of the Scottish coronation … stone) and into Blairgowrie and across the River Ericht.
Leaving Blairgowrie we headed up towards the ski slopes of Glenshee on the A 93. We were to follow this road for most of the rest of the day – about 50 miles.
Lunch was held at the Glenshee Pottery Centre and it was very substantial. I had two bowls of lentil soup, the ‘platter’ and ordered a very large piece of Dundee fruit cake which went into my saddle bag for eating at the guest house that night!
We were fortunate that the wind was behind us as we went up Glenshee as the gradient was the longest and steepest that we’d met on the whole of the ride. My back was holding up and I managed it without any walking – although I did stop half way up to take some video of other cyclists cycling past.
Before leaving the top at Glenshee we put on an extra layer of clothing as the descent to Braemar was pretty rapid and I clocked 45 mph!
We continued on the A93 until we turned right for Balmoral. We stopped outside the gate to take some pictures and to explained to Tony, our American ex-pat, about the Royal connection. Security was tight and I was told to move away from the gates by a policeman when I was taking photos. I subsequently found out that HRH was ‘at home’ as she had arrived early for the Braemar Highland games. No wonder he wanted to move me away. Surprisingly, the road surface within 10 miles of Balmoral is absolutely perfect with no hint of a pothole!
It was an easy downhill ride into Ballater and we finished the day with a lovely Indian meal at a very top-notch Indian restaurant.
Details of my ride here:
Day 12 – Thursday 30th August
It was an early start because we had a long ride ahead of us. The sun was shining and we all started off in good spirits, although slightly fearful of the challenge of ‘The Lecht’ ahead. This was going to be the toughest day of the whole ride with a 20% climb. We had an initial tester of a climb which appeared to go on for ever and at the top my companion Tony asked “Was that the Lecht?” I told him “No, it’s much longer and steeper”. He was thinking he’d done it.
The Cairngorms really welcomed us today. The heather was out, the hills were multi-coloured and even the smooth roads were a pastel shade of grey. We descended a big hill, turned a bend and there it was – the beginning of The Lecht.
It’s 2 1/2 miles long and 2000 ft at the summit. After a couple of mini hairpins we came across the standing stones where I stopped to take a photo (and regain my breath). I’d just climbed the 20% gradient section. I followed the advice on the stones ” Take a moment to behold as still skies or storms unfold”.
Setting off again up the remaining two miles I just pushed on, grinding slowly up the hill with my fellow cyclists. On reaching the top we met the brew van and celebrated together. The worst was over. We still had another 60 miles to go and another 3000 ft of climbing that day but none of it was as challenging as what we’d just completed.
We passed by signs for Glenfiddich and Glenlivet distilleries – no time to visit those. We stopped at the pretty village of Carrbridge where the 17 century packhorse bridge crosses the river.
The signs of autumn were already in the Cairngorms as the bracken was starting to go a stunning amber-orange colour contrasting with the purple of the heather.
We stopped in Nethy Bridge and had another good lunch (soup and spag bol). A few more ‘undulations’ followed before we came into Tomatin. The brew wagon was there by the village hall and in its back garden the rail bridge for the Highland main line made for a pleasant view whilst we were enjoying our mug of tea. Two ladies stopped to ask Alli what we were doing and, when they heard I was doing the ride for charity, handed her some money for my charity. People are very generous.
From Tomatin it was only 15 miles to Inverness and our guest house for the night on the bank of the river Ness. I had a room at the back overlooking the backs of other houses, however better that than at the front; their views were lovely as they looked out across the river towards the city but my fellow riders were woken about 5.30 by the seagulls flying along the river.
Details of my ride are here:
Day 13 – FRIDAY 31 August
The weather was absolutely beautiful today – with a bit of a following wind which helped us along our way.
As we left Inverness there were stunning views of the Beauly Firth. We followed the water’s edge on the cycle path for 8 miles before heading up to the hills.
Before long we came to the picturesque town of Dingwall.
Nearby the farmers had been out cutting the fields, leaving massive rolls of hay dotted around to be collected later.
After 18 miles, just past Dingwall, we had our first brew stop of the day. We could hear the brew stop before we could see it as Reece had created a rave type experience for us all to enjoy in the autumn sunshine. Alli had left the previous evening for a wedding so Reece was our new brewmaster; the water was hot and the bananas and nibbles were out, and he was fixing a bike as I arrived as well as running the brew stop. They do work hard on this tour.
After leaving the brew stop we climbed up to the moors and passed by a plaque, placed there by the AA, which indicated the highest point on the moors. This was Struie Hill – a stunning landscape with impressive views over the Dornoch bridge and Firth as far as the Tarbat lighthouse 30kms to the east.
We cycled for about 25 miles in this moorland landscape, appreciating the wild beauty all around us. Over the past couple of days I had seen quite a number of wind farms. This continued today with the white windmills appearing often on the skyline.
Turning a corner as we descended a steep hill we were greeted by the most amazing view of the inner reaches of the Dornoch Firth below. This is known locally as the ‘Million dollar view’.
Leaving the viewpoint we dropped down to our lunch stop at the Ardgay Store and Highland Cafe. Here we sat in a roped off gravel area next to the car park at the roadside on fairly flimsy chairs. It was odd to be sitting outside in the sunshine on metal bistro-style chairs but the staff were really, really welcoming and once we had sat down we were served with soup, loads of sandwiches, quiche and – because I’d asked for no cheese – I got 4 chicken kebabs and salad, followed by a large scone with jam and cream. An incongruous lunch in the surroundings; we could eat as much as we wanted and in fact it was too much food. Tony fell asleep in the sunshine and we had to wake him up in order to be on our way.
Leaving our lunch stop we crossed the river into Bonar Bridge. Here there is an impressive war memorial with a statue of a Scottish soldier commemorating the fallen from this district in the two world wars.
We then started climbing again for the final brew stop and the group’s destination – The Crask Inn.
We detoured to Shin Falls where, from the visitors centre, we walked down to see the salmon leap. I’m sorry I couldn’t get a photo of the salmon actually leaping, but here’s photo of the falls.
Heading down towards Lairg we came across an AA box, the like of which I haven’t seen for 50 years! Apparently the AA are still very busy in the north of Scotland! Perhaps it is to deal with all the accidents from the many potholes.
Our final brew stop was in Lairg by the side of the Loch. One of the 10-day LeJog cyclists suddenly appeared from nowhere, apparently we will be seeing him and his companions on our final day at John o’Groats because they finish the same day as we do.
From the brew stop it was only a further 10 miles to The Crask Inn. It became clear that it was the final destination for only 21 of our group. The remaining 4 had to cycle a further 8 miles to the tiny hamlet of Altnaharra in order to give the ‘slowest’ riders a head start on the others so we could all reach John o’Groats together. Guess who was one of the remaining 4! Tony was with me as well so at least I had one of my travelling companions.
A short distance after The Crask we passed by a clan marker stone meaning that we had entered Mackay country; this area (basically all of mainland Scotland North of Lairg) has the lowest population density in Europe and is the traditional home of Clan Mackay.
On our way we came across a lone sheep munching happily away at the grass at the roadside, oblivious to the cyclists going past.
We 4 are staying at the B & B in Altnaharra. The nearest shop is 19 miles away in Lairg and Lairg has just lost its final cash machine, so the proprietors were very glad that we paid for our evening meal in cash!
Details of my ride are here:
Day 14 Altnaharra to JoG (and the journey home).
We had a lovely, albeit brief, stay in Altnaharra, which has the lowest recorded temperature in the UK at -27.2c. Mandy, our host, cooked porridge just as Tony & I like it with lots of milk and fortified us further with scrambled eggs and bacon. The bed was a super king – my first of the tour – with feather pillows plus we were allowed a late start at 9.00 am. Luxury!
Although it is only a tiny hamlet of about 20 dwellings and over 20 miles to the nearest shop, it has an internet speed of 100mbs thanks to having a local primary school – one of the SNP’s election pledges.
It is also reputed to be Scotland’s midge capital. Home to the Highland midge, clouds of them descended the moment we left the BnB. So I hastily attached the Garmin and saddlebag and Tony & I cycled off to avoid being bitten.
We cycled around Loch Naver, quicker than midges could fly, towards the nearby (29 miles) town of Bettyhill for our first brew stop. The recurrent question being asked every day on tour has been, ‘how far to the brew stop or lunch stop’; they really are lifesavers as they allow us to fuel up as well as rest our legs for a short while.
We passed by a plaque for Rosal on the Strathnaver trail. It had been a small community in 1814 until the local factor of the Sutherland estate, Patrick Sellar, emptied it of all its inhabitants as part of ‘The clearances’. These evictions were witnessed by Donald Macleod who went on to write of this to the newspapers of the day and eventually to publish a book entitled ‘Gloomy Memories’. Today over seventy ruined buildings sit quietly on the hillside overlooking Ben Loyal and the empty, open lands of central Sutherland.
Near to this plaque we met some of today’s residents. They were staging a sit in and dirty protest against the LeJoG cyclists encroaching upon their habitat. However we carefully negotiated a safe passage in a far more harmonious way than Patrick Sellar had done, although the route was a bit messy by then.
The scenery in this part of the tour was unassumingly beautiful with sunlight glinting on the water on one side of us and golden bracken and purple heather on the other. It made for very scenic viewing.
I had noticed during the tour that our trio, Tony, Miles and myself, cycle about the same pace as the majority of the group (17 in number) averaging 12.4mph over the 14 days (there are about 8 speedsters) but we regularly come in about 15 – 30 minutes after everyone. After a quick analysis of my Garmin data it transpires that we spend 3 hrs per day average on brew stops, lunch stops and calls of nature. There must be a correlation there! I’m sure that my photo taking doesn’t hold us up as I’m like Sam ( our border collie) on his walk – rushing on ahead to take a photo and then pedalling like mad to catch them up again.
Back to Bettyhill. We got our first glimpse of the Pentland Firth with the Orkneys in the distance beyond. Although it was a bit gloomy it was motivating to see the Northern coastline of Scotland, the final section of our ride.
Leaving Bettyhill we headed towards Melvich and our last lunch of the tour. There were a number of ‘undulations’ along the way which would have been testing earlier in the tour, but by now we took them in our stride. Fraser, one of our Scottish riders, had dressed for the day and made a colourful picture in his Scottish shirt and kilt.
We passed by more wind farms, their arms turning slowly in the wind – I was reminded of Don Quixote – it was the last day and my mind was wandering. An abandoned phone box came into view followed by an old postbox in a wall, signs of some prior civilisation coexisting with today’s wind farms.
We reached the Hallandale Inn in Melvich and were treated to some hot soup, two large baguettes filled with chicken and a generous slice of coffee cake. No problem in consuming these in 15 minutes and setting off again, our stomachs were used to such challenges.
About 10 miles outside Melvich – and some more undulations – we turned a corner to see a large golf ball structure and several grey featureless buildings surrounded by a tall wire fence. Must be military we thought.
Sure enough as we got nearer we saw a sign for Dounreay, the nuclear research establishment. We were a bit concerned about the rust on the outside of the golf ball until we found out it is being decommissioned. The grass around it looked amazingly green though.
We then came across what appeared to be a tourist exhibition of sheep dog handling with about 30 people with cameras standing on a farm trailer watching two collies do their work. We could have done with one of those earlier in the day to move those sheep.
Carrying on to our last brew stop of the tour we met up again with some of the LeJoG 10 day riders. Peak Tours were combining both groups for the last stop. They were a far younger group than us and apparently there had been a 6 hour difference in finishing times between the earlier and the latest to finish yesterday.
Yesterday, when they went over both Glenshee and The Lecht (we did it over 2 days), one of their party was starting his descent at 9.00pm! No such gap in our group with about 2 hours being the longest time difference in our finishes.
We started the last leg. There was one last treat as we came across some Highland cattle grazing by the side of the road. These were more road savvy than their Dartmoor cousins and remained off the road but near enough to photograph.
Passing through Thurso several of the party stopped at the local bank’s ATM machine to stock up on cash. We could not pay for our dinner in JoG by card. We stopped at the main traffic lights in the centre of town for what seemed ages, which allowed me the time to nip across the road and photograph the imposing church of St Peter & St Andrew with its central square gardens and a large war memorial. It struck me that almost every town and village that we had passed through in Scotland had a well tended war memorial.
It was now less than 20 miles to our final destination so we all cycled quickly to the finish. We could see Dunnet Head in the distance, the most northerly point on the Scottish mainland, but there was no appetite amongst us to visit here as well. We arrived within a couple of minutes of 2 other groups with six riders still behind us. Despite all our stops we had not arrived last, so were not holding anyone up. Once everyone had arrived, Johnny got us to cycle the final 800 yards ride from the hotel to the JoG signpost for a team photo and the champagne. The underage riders (and me) had a can of Ginger Beer instead.
After the team photo we had several individual photos next to the signpost before cycling back to the hotel.
It had started to drizzle and I was getting cold so I dropped my bike off (to be collected by Peak Tours and taken back to Glossop) and checked in. Five minutes later I had set the alarm for 7pm and crashed out for an hour’s sleep. The next thing that I remember was the alarm going off. I just had time for a few photos of the John O Groats coastline before going in to dinner. We were having our final dinner at 7.30 followed by the presentation of certificates and a speech from one of the riders to thank the guides for their sterling work and give them a well deserved financial thank-you.
The following morning was an early affair. Breakfast was at 6.45 for an 8.00 coach to Inverness and rail or air journeys back home. I tucked in to porridge and a cooked breakfast for the first time on the tour. After all it was going to be a long journey home. I arrived at Inverness station 2 hours before my train; I had a cheap ticket (£5.50 to Glasgow) so I knew it would be impossible to use it for an earlier train. Four of us went to find a coffee shop in the sun and wait the 2 hours. The time passed quickly as we exchanged stories and talked about what we’d do on our return to normality. There was to be one last twist, our 12.30 train to Glasgow was diverted via Edinburgh – more Sunday rail works – resulting in us arriving after our train south had departed.
Fortunately we were able to use tickets for a later train (30 mins delay) and I got home at 9.00 pm. It had been a long day.
On the journey home I tallied up my stats for the tour; I had cycled 1014 miles in 81 hours, climbed over 60,000 feet (more than twice Everest), spent 39 hours at brew, lunch & nature stops, taken over 850 photos, used a tub and a half of Chamois cream and raised almost £5000 for the Brain Tumour Charity incl Gift Aid.
I had also slept an average of 6 hours per night.
It was definitely time for sleeping in my own bed with no alarm set for an early start!
Details of my last day’s ride are here:
A SUMMARISED RELIVE FOR THE WHOLE RIDE IS BELOW