Lands End to John O Groats Challenge
The Last Bits
Well Oban was a nice little seaside town ... but wet! The day started with less cloud aall nd gave us hope for a better day ....... and it was a better day ... no rain! Beautiful countryside also and we stopped for coffee overlooking Castle Stalker. Some miles later saw some bike maintenance as the chain was getting a little mucky.
This route was taking us to Fort Augusta as the bottom of Loch Ness. We stopped briefly at Fort William for Paul to buy gifts for his better half and then off we went past Ben Nevis which is supposed to be Scotlands biggest mountain, but doesnt look that big at all! Evening saw us at Fort Augustus and we sorted out accomodation and dinner booking before Paul arrived at 7 pm. Dinner on the shores of Loch Ness, but Nessie didnt grace us with a visit unfortunately.
The next day my first visit was to the tourist information office as we were worried about getting accomodation in Bonar Bridge. They can check on line for £4 and book for you. We were offered a hotel 10 miles north of Bonar Bridge which we had no choice but to take. The route took us up the West shore of Loch Ness and then West over the hills. A slight detour for us to Inverness for a new gear cable, but the trip over the hills was wonderful and then a long hill down towards the Moray Firth and Bonar Bridge. Its then we discovered that the hotel was 23 miles away, and thirteen of that was down a one lane road alongside Loch Shin. Hotel was nice, on the loch side and we splashed out on a steak in a tartan lined dining room.
Next day we had to drive back to Bonar to start the day where we finished yesterday. This was a lovely route over the moors, but it seemed to go on forever and there was absolutely nothing but a few crofts along the way. We headed to Tongue as we were concerned again about accomodation. Tongue consists of a couple of hotels, a post office store and two B&B's, and we were lucky enough to hit lucky at the first B&B we came to. That having been sorted we bought sandwiches and loads of chocolate and headed back over the moors to meet Paul for lunch. So we sat eating Sandwiches in the dry in the middle of nowhere in perfect silence. Paul set off after half an hours break, and needless to say the clouds burst and he was soaked again in minutes. Story of the trip really.
Tongue was done by 5.15, and after dinner it was an ealy night. the guys in the pub said the last day was flat and easy. They were locals. They were being economical with the truth.
Toungue to John O Groats. The final push. The locals said it was easy. No problem then.
It was in fact almost as bad as Cornwall according to Paul. Out of Tongue he encountered the first hill, and then after that they came one after another as we climbed up the coastline. We met a couple that we had breakfast with about a third of the way along and they said they were struggling. Speaking to Paul, he was having the same problem. The last day, but a difficult one and with nowhere open. I hadnt seen a fuel station since Bonar Bridge and was running short so we drove for Thurso where we knew there was a garage. Having fuelled up we found a Lidl that was open and stocked up on two day old Chicken salad sandwiches and flapjacks and headed back to find Paul. We found him after about 15 miles and it wont surprise you to know he was attending to another puncture. Ive lost track of the number .. maybe seven or eight. After that we stuck pretty close to him for the rest of the way, as they tyre just kept going down whatever we did to it. Amazingly it lasted (with numerous pumpings) right to the last, when we arrived at JOG in the mid afternoon. At that point the tyre gave up the ghost and completely deflated. Ive uploaded the picture of Paul throwing his bike in the sea.
One mystery we never solved .... we were alongside a tandem couple for days and days. We last saw them on the moors above Tongue, and they were supposed to finish at the same time as us. Never saw them again, so if anyone discovers a tandem pair cycling around Scotland, please give them our regards.
Well that was it. 1095 miles. We got to see some magnificent countryside, enjoyed excellent hospitality throughout.
I'm gutted that after all the hard work and expense that I didnt get to finish it, but I am glad that "the team" finished and managed to raise money for a worthy charity.
I'm off to the doctors shortly for a knee transplant, and when I am able to I will continue cycling in Spain but I have made a mental note never to cycle ever again in Devon or Cornwal.
Many thanks to all of you that contributed to the charity. We were overwhelmed that people we really didnt even know felt able to do so and we are tremendously grateful. Thanks also to the three B&B owners that contributed and to Nicola Dorian and Ann that put us up and fed us in Burnham on Sea and Shrewsbury.
When I am back in Spain I will upload more photos. If you want to see more detail of the trip go to www.orris.eu.
The last week and the wonderful British weather
Well, here we are in Oban on the sunny coast of Scotland ..... except of course if you have been watching the news, it isn't sunny
Over the last few days we have experienced the tail end of the hurricane that crossed from the USA, and it has been extremely wet and windy. Paul is getting on well in difficult circumstances and we have been staying close providing dry clothes and help whenever necessary.
We have been through some wonderful countryside, but unfortunately havent been able to appreciate it due to the low cloud and driving rain.
Thank you to the kind B&B owners who have contributed to the cause by making generous donations. Thats something we didnt expect.
Probably one of the most frustrating periods was between Slaidburn and Carlisle when I think Paul had three or four punctures. Two of them were within 100 yards of the guest house in Carlisle, and soon afterwards we had to purchase a new front tyre. We were lucky as it was Sunday and we managed to find a Halfrauds that was open.
So as I type this (at the first Internet cafe I have managed to find for a week) Paul is on hos way from Loch Lomond and we are about to head back towards him from Oban.
The weather is looking slightly better today. Its still raining but the wind has died down a little and I actually saw blue skies for a while earlier
Unfortunately my knees are still in a bit of pain and I have brised ribs from the accident which are painful. I think it's a trip to the doctors when we get back to the Midlands :-)
Apologies for not updating the blog before, with the terrible weather we just couldnt get around some of the towns to find an internet cafe
We expect to be in John O'Groats on Saturday afternoon, and will then be driving back to the Midlands afterwards. Hope to get on the internet again before then if we can find an internet cafe in the highlands!!
It was cloudy to start with, but we made it up onto Bodmin moor by just before lunchtime, and then the heavens opened. The winds blew up and there we were in torrential rain that lasted through to the early evening.
The hills were far worse than the day before rising to 1000 ft elevation and both my knees were beginning to feel the strain. Several times we were a little lost in country lanes with no road numbers or signs, and because of the terrible weather we had no one to ask. It became obvious that the map software had not given Paul the correct mileage and in the early evening we found that we were still around 22 miles from Exeter and the light was going.
So at some point we diverted again onto the main Exeter road which is a dual carriageway and very busy. Eventually it began to get dark and we were again riding left of the side white tram line keeping away from the traffic ..... but the darker it got, the less I could see with our cycle lights. I guess it was about 9 pm when we still couldn't see the glow of Exeter lights in the distance, and Paul ran over a piece of glass on the roadside and got a puncture. I'm not quite sure how I manged to miss it. So in the dark on a busy dual carriageway after 9 at night we had to change the tyre.
I think then we must have done another 10 miles or so before we made Exeter, but I'm afraid by that time I was concerned that my LEJOG participation was probably over as both my knee joints were very painful.
We got to the hotel in Exeter by about 10.30 and of course on a Sunday night there was nothing open for food so we didn't eat until breakfast the following day. We had travelled around 84 miles and had been on the road for 13 and a half hours.
So in two days we had fallen off the bikes twice between us, had one puncture, the rear cogs dismantled themselves from Pauls bike, and we had encountered gale force winds and torrential rain
I decided overnight that it just wasn't going to risk of doing further serious damage to my knees, so the following morning told Paul that I was stopping. It just wasn't worth the risk.
I cant begin to tell you how horrible those first two days were, but even so without the knee problem I would have carried on, on the basis that sooner or later the weather would get better.
However one of us continues, and I am taking over as backup, which to be honest was seriously needed due to the circumstances. The papers are now predicting 65 mile hour winds.
We are through to Hereford at the moment having managed to get over the Severn Bridge as there was talk of closing it due to high winds. Tomorrow is a shorter run from Hereford through to Shrewsbury.
Hoping that the weather improves slightly, although the forecast is not particularly good for the Western side of the country
On Saturday morning at 9.30 am we arrived at Lands End and set off. Weather was a little cloudy, but it didn't look threatening.
It was very very hilly, and constantly so. We finished climbing one, and a short distance later another arrived! After a couple of hours though we felt confident that we could cope ......... and then it began to rain. Slight shower at first, and then it turned to a torrential downpour. Shortly after that, the howling winds started and it wasn't long before we were soaked through. The winds and rain continued right through the morning, and all the way through the afternoon ..... and the hills got bigger and more regular.
By later in the afternoon the country lane roads we were using were slippery and running with water and we decided we had to divert onto the main road to try and recover time. It must have been about 4 pm when, trying to keep behind the white tram line along the side of the road in terrible weather conditions, that I caught a slippery uneven piece of tarmac and the front wheel slid from under me and threw me off the bike onto the road.
Unfortunately I was wearing cycle cleats that attach you to the pedals and was unable to disengage quickly enough. That resulted in a cut leg, bruised ribs and a few abrasions, but after a motorist stopped with some plasters we were on our way again after a bit of cycle maintenance.
Arrived in St Austell at around 6.30 pm, so about 9 hours riding, and my left knee was really quite painful because of the constant hills and maybe a bit of bruising from the fall:-)
So we had managed to pick the worst spell of weather that they have had in this area for some time now, and the next few days are supposed to be getting wetter and more windy
Last minute adjustments
Well, heres the final definite route .... unless we get lost along the way of course. I managed my first ride in the UK today, around the hills of Warwickshire and Stratford upon Avon. It's certainly different coping with the huge drop in temperatures, but at least I'm not a sweaty heap by the time I get back to the house now!
The bike more or less survived the flight and arrived at the right airport, although the special bike protector bag I bought has been ripped in several places.
Friends and family have been kind enough to give us a roof over our heads in Weston Supermare and Shrewsbury (thank you), and we have managed to find a bike carrier who will take the bikes from John O'Groats back to the Midlands when we have finished. We still havent got accomodation booked for Exeter, so we may end up sleeping under a hedge somewhere.
When we arrive South of Glasgow we cut over and take a ferry to the Isle of Arran which I am looking forward to. Then, after riding up Arran, another ferry takes us back to the mainland, thereby avoiding the Glasgow traffic.
The final route then starting Saturday 3rd September
1. Lands End to St Austell - Saturday
2 St Austell to Exeter - Sunday
3 Exeter to Weston Supermare - Monday
4 Weston Supermare to Hereford - Tuesday
5 Hereford to Shrewsbury - Wednesday
6 Shrewsbury to Northwich - Thursday
7 Northwich to Slaidburn - Friday
8 Slaidburn to Carlisle - Saturday
9 Carlisle to Kendoon - Sunday
10 Kendoon to Ardrossan (inc Isle of Arran) - Monday
11 Lochranza to Oban - Tuesday
12 Oban to Fort Augustus - Wednesday
13 Fort Augustus to Bonar Bridge - Thursday
14 Bonar Bridge to Tongue - Friday
15 Tongue to John O'Groats - Saturday
The time is getting closer
Well, I have finished my last 85 km ride in Spain, even though it was so hot towards the end of the ride I almost rang home for an emergency airlift!!! It is no fun riding in 33 degrees of heat, I can assure you. I'm strangely looking forward to cooler rides in the UK.
The bike has been bagged up for the airline, and I’m just hopeful now that they don’t send it off to the other end of the world by mistake.
Paul in the UK has been putting in many more miles, but has been hampered a little by work commitment. The Bank Holiday weekend is coming up fast though, so time for last minute training.
I keep looking at the weather forecast in the UK and see the word “rain” figuring prominently. I guess it is bound to happen at some point, I just hope it’s not all the time! The first night in St Austell is booked, and I’m hopeful it will give us a relatively easy first day as I know the second day in Cornwall & Devon is going to be horrendous.
We haven’t managed to book accommodation in Exeter yet, which is our second stop. We’re staying with one of my relatives the following night in Weston-Super-Mare, so that will make things just a little bit easier.
Thank you for all that have contributed so far to the Rifles Care for Casualties Charity. It’s much appreciated . For those that are still thinking about it, please dont think for too long
Well, this is really a lesson in not going into pubs at Christmas and discussing stupid things with old friends. You know the problem. A couple of beers and you can end up agreeing to more or less anything.
My oldest friend Paul who I met at college when I was 17 was talking about doing what is commonly known as LEJOG, as he was fairly certain if he didn't do it now then he never would. Well, I said, I might be interested ... and the wife has hardly spoken to me since. It's basically a bicycle ride from one end of the UK to the other covering over 1000 miles, and it is to be achieved in 14 or 15 days.
We started training around March / April time. I'm South of Valencia in Spain, and Paul is in Stratford on Avon in Warwickshire. I started with 10 to 12 mile rides on the flat on an old 6 gear Raleigh Activator mountain bike, and I was absolutely shattered. Had to stop every 2 or 3 miles just to recover. Paul told me he was so exhausted after one hill that when he reached the top he had to lie down and have a rest.
Well, we upped the pace and now I have done one 50 mile ride to Xativa on my new Hybrid bike, and I am doing 30 to 35 mile rides every other day. Paul is in the unfortunate situation of having to work for a living, but is still putting in all the miles by riding to work and back, and long weekend rides in the Warwicksire countryside. We're both trying to achieve 15 mph average speeds, but it's not easy.
We decided to support Care for Casualties - The Rifles Regimental Trust (http://www.justgiving.com/jon-jones0/) after a conversation with an ex Rifleman in our local bar, and on investigation it is a very worthwhile cause for our injured servicemen and women. Please support them if you can.
The date is set as 2 September, and so with not so very long to go we are pedalling furiously on a regular basis trying to ensure that we are not tremendously embarrassed at the very first hill we arrive at in Cornwall.
So really this is the story of two long standing friends in different countries, who aren't really cyclists but decided to take on the challenge. It's going to be a struggle, of that there will is no doubt ... but we are determined to give it our very best shot
Some info for those of you interested in LEJOG
Pauls bike: Dawes Galaxy Tourer
Jons bike: Btwin Riverside 7 Hybrid
Day 1 - St. Austell - 52 miles
Day 2 - Exeter - 74 miles
Day 3 - WestonSuper Mare - 61 miles
Day 4 - Hereford - 76 miles
Day 5 - Shrewsbury - 64 miles
Day 6 - Northwich - 64 miles
Day 7 - Giggleswick - 76 miles
Day 8 - Carlisle - 76 miles
Day 9 - Castle Douglas - 53 miles
Day 10 - Androssan (Lochranza) - 84 miles
Day 11 - Oban - 65 miles
Day 12 - Fort Augustus - 76 miles
Day 13 - Bonar Bridge - 71 miles
Day 14 - Tongue - 49 miles
Day 15 - John O'Groats - 64 miles
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The last week and the wonderful British weather
Last minute adjustments
The time is getting closer