Category Archives: Travel

Day 14 (and last) – LEJOG 2021 – Crask Inn to John O’Groats

81 miles and 1,118 metres climbed

(A little unusual to start the blog with ending but it seems right.)

The weather was beautiful first thing at Crask Inn. At 8am it was T shirt weather as we pushed off and left Elsa to lead her horses south and the lean Belgian cycling couple to pack up their tent and head north (at a gentler pace than ourselves.) I said goodbye to my favourite soft toy – a ‘Heeland coo’.

The terrain fell toward the coast but it seemed that long descents were balanced by demanding little climbs. We lost 200 metres of altitude with little pleasure. They were resurfacing the road on one section and I had to plead with the highways crew to let us through, a detour today was not desirable! After over a couple of hours we’d reached the coast.

The fun was now going to start…not. A headwind blew for 50 miles going east. It was expected as the coast usually has this wind but frankly it became gruelling as some steep climbs came along with darkening skies and falling temperatures. This wasn’t going to be a victory lap. With modern cycling Sat Nav devices you can receive a lot of data about the ride as you go along. One key piece of information is how many miles to go. When you’re climbing for about two hours the distance covered seems to stop and I look at my device feeling I’m getting nowhere.

About halfway along the coast the endless steep climbing ended with around 1,000 metres worth of ascending bagged. I could seldom see the coastline as the coastal road was set back from this rugged shore. It wasn’t, in this weather, attractive. This just left me to concentrate on the headwind. On my right on the coast I found the Dounreay nuclear power station site.

This image just shows a small part of the site and in fact it appears much of the work is taking place in a 65 metres shaft or off the coast. They are decommissioning the site and dealing with the radioactive waste. The whole activity is going to cost £2.9 billion and take 300 years to return it to a brownfield site. Over 1,000 people work on the decommissioning. Who says radio active waste doesn’t pay!?

Historically there have been accidents, bad practice and emissions: there is much work to do. It had started to rain and after 30 miles I came to the one major town on the north coast, Thurso. Peter, ahead of me, had stopped to eat, and I joined him in the cafe, sodden and not a little low on morale. He trundled on to take in a detour and I demolished a hot steak pie and then a cheese and tomato panini. Restored, it was just another grind for 19 miles to reach that sign post.

Tony was a sad boy

By this time the rain had stopped but was replaced by a sea fret…. so much for Peter getting revealing photos of the most northerly point of the British mainland!

Slowly but surely the distance elapsed and John O’Groats arrived. I’d been here twice before and felt there was little to achieve apart from some photos and then back to Thurso. We didn’t have some excited friends or relatives cheering us and so we asked a passing couple to do the honours with our respective phone cameras.

Note this is the location for folk who’ve traversed between Lands End and John O’Groats

To climb off the bike would have been a keen desire but we had to get back to Thurso. Waiting for a potential bus lift could take some time and so we turned around and enjoyed the tailwind back to our hostel. This meant over 100 miles for the day; my first ‘century’ of the trip.

This hostel had all the facilities open with none of the YHA lockdown restrictions. The warden went into a well worn patter about keys, cereals, access etc and then was gone. We showered and went out to a booked restaurant.

Jay then appeared and we met up in a pub for a drink. At this point it got very silly and to report how much beer and scotch was consumed would not reflect well on us. It is not amongst our finest moments and was punished by having to get up before 6am to start the long train journeys south. We had separate trains (a long story all due to ScotRail).

Loaded. You cannot imagine how protracted it was to arrange this simple act

I was scheduled to get to York at 15 minutes past midnight due to bike space restrictions and to go via Aberdeen! A casual enquiry at Inverness and some very kindly ScotRail staff managed to rearrange matters so I could get to York for 19.30. It meant spending another £54 but that was, in reality, a bargain. I did get to say goodbye to Peter but not properly as I literally ran for a train and he departed to Morrisons to eat everything he could see.

He was a great companion, worryingly cheerful throughout and not least a fine cyclist who’d have maybe done this in a day or half a day less without me. He got up every hill with ease and chose to ascend more brutal climbs than necessary and he pulled strongly on the flat. However, he did get to keep the cat: I can fall off a steep hill as dangerously as anyone.

I shall think through an epilogue and write it up talking about hints and tips on how to do this iconic ride more easily and, hopefully, useful logistic tips. It should be worthwhile because a lot of British cyclists do this route. The final tally was 1,013 miles (72 miles a day) and 16,788 metres climbed (1,199 metres a day).

As always thank you for taking the time to follow me and read this. You’re all very generous with you time and I’m truly grateful, it certainly keeps me going.

Hasta la vista.

Day 13 – LEJOG 2021 – Inverness to Crask

67 miles and 1,038 metres climbed

The Inverness YHA was in an earlier life a student accommodation block and so had greater space. The staff here seemed more enlightened and had a flexible attitude to the guests. It was a much better experience. We ate our porridge and hit the road north. Then a remarkable thing happened…

We met Jay a fellow Lejogger from Cheltenham. He’d started off camping, then had his wife support him and now was by himself for the last couple of days. Unpicking his route, equipment and logistics brought up more questions than answers but he was, like other younger people, learning and on a great adventure. We suggested a coffee as we got to Dingwall. On a Sunday it was a ghost town bar the large Tesco that seemed to be the local hive of activity.

Jay was a tall strapping lad on a road bike. With flimsy wheels his weight and his luggage were quite a burden. It seems he’d struggled from the start of his ride with spokes breaking. At Tesco it happened again, not a convenient problem on a Sunday in a small town with everything shut. However Jay was game to sort it himself. Peter volunteered to help but was turned down; in reality he was lucky to have Peter available to help. This was until the very end when Peter’s offer of help was accepted and the wheel sorted (we hoped.) From here he was up and running and heading east to Helmsdale on the coast whilst we were going due north to Crask.

After meeting one Lejogger then came Chris from Bradford, riding 100 miles a day for the Woodland Trust charity. He looked all in and complained of several ailments: at least he was now close to the finish.

Leaving Dingwall we climbed and climbed and the view of the Cromarty Firth was impressive.

Soon we were wending our way through Ardgay, Bonar Bridge, Lairg and heading high up into the heart of Sutherland. The weather was still in the late teens and unlike the rest of the UK not a drop of rain. We were now on single track roads bobbing in and out of passing points as locals and tourists in their cars trundled through.

Eventually we reached our hotel, literally in the middle of nowhere at Crask.

What an oasis, exceptional hospitality from Douglas, the host, and a comfortable billet. Despite the location the wi-fi or 4G was superb and we relaxed prior to dinner. Amongst the small band of residents were two Belgians on bikes camping in the adjacent field and a woman in the early stages of riding and leading two horses from John O’Groats to Lands End. We asked Elsa about the logistics and timescales; it seemed daunting yet the adventure of a lifetime. I’m up for a challenge but this was out of my league. She was hoping to complete it in a couple of months. Take a look –

https://www.facebook.com/theclimateride/.

So tomorrow is the last day and amongst many emotions I shall miss greatly my personal assistant. I paid in advance for all the accommodation and whilst Peter gave me a ‘sub’ he was still, in effect, in arrears. The arrangement was that he’d pay for all food, drinks and incidentals and we’d reconcile later. Straight forward of course but this also meant that Peter would settle all the restaurant bills, buy groceries, go to the bar and get the beer and, of course, source and procure ice cream. Shortly I will have to do these things myself again. How will I cope. Also if Peter had a pound coin for every time he’s had to say “don’t forget your face mask” he’d be a very rich man.

So ninety miles or so to go and then the challenge of getting south starts. I’m looking forward to that selfie at the sign at John O’Groats.

Day 12 – LEJOG 2021 – Glencoe to Inverness

89 miles and 1,118 metres climbed

The inconsistency of how establishments control social distancing and reduce the risk of infection is never more contradictory than at the YHA. Glencoe had all the self catering facilities out of bounds but after having a shower and toilet allocated to us exclusively I still found a plonker showering in our bathroom. He didn’t absorb the rules when explained to him at Reception. I did after hammering on our washroom door and explaining it. The YHA also don’t sell food at the moment either, so why is it safe in a hotel, B&B or pub?

Granted there are different rules between England and Scotland for reasons that can only be explained by the Scottish government wanting to energetically demonstrate they are different.

Each YHA is manned by organised millennials who carry out all the rules to the letter. Peter was apoplectic about denied entry to the YHA when arriving before me. Entry was apparently denied until the actual person who booked the room checked in. Peter asked the receptionist to waive this but she said “no”. Peter then embarked on a well worn routine of challenging this mindless bureaucracy, as only he can, with various arguments. The millennial held firm against the 59 year old. When I arrived, to the team building comment from him of “oh I thought you’d be longer”, Peter ran through the long list of arguments he put to her including “If you’re worried, ask your boss.” “I am the boss.” (You have to love her don’t you!) I did think he’d met his match when his last compelling argument was that he’d been to this hostel 43 years ago!

Undaunted by this setback Peter then decided to tackle the local pub’s decision to not allow diners to eat in an empty dining room inside. Rejection and counter arguments came and went with another millennial on the bar like watching a rally at Wimbledon. Eventually Peter hit on a winning strategy of playing for sympathy. His vulnerability to midge bites was a risk to his physical and mental well being he said. (This was despite wearing more Skin So Soft by Avon, the ultimate midge repellant, to immobilise a small colony of the hateful insects in any case.) He won them over and we ate inside.

An early start saw us cover the 15 miles from Glencoe to Fort William for breakfast. The cafe owner was English (remember this, there’s a theme developing.) That done it was basically all about following the Caledonia Canal to Inverness.

This 19th Century triumph of waterway engineering linked the east and west coast of Scotland by water.

You can it’s vital statistics below.

It was mainly lochs connected by canals with many locks. The road occasionally came down to the canal, here we had a chat with one of the lock keepers (English) who gave us some details about the canal users: it’s mainly commercial but all ultimately for pleasure. Maximum speed on the canal was 6mph but on the lochs I imagine they go faster.

Something else, with a view!

The Guide had us following a lovely rising and falling set of roads on the north bank until inexplicably it turned into a hard mud track with embedded stones. If that wasn’t miserable enough for my 28mm thick tyres then that highway of joy disappeared to be replaced by loose aggregate. I usually end up on this type of steep horror surface when I’m plotting my own route up a Continent not when I’ve bought a bloody guide!

Along the horrid track I came across the second wild eyed English male camper/walker of the day. They seem to be hiking by themselves, look dishevelled and often appear lost. You can envisage them being alone for days emerging out of the forest like Amazonian Indians. My second chap, a stocky Lancastrian, resplendent in heavy boots, bushwacker hat, shorts and large rucksack asked how far to Fort William? I lied that it was a mere stone’s throw. Why hurt him with the fact it’d take him a day to reach? Never use the truth unless it serves a useful purpose I thought.

However, as he was going in the opposite direction to me on this deserted track he did have an unforeseen pleasure coming his way. On this bike destroying surface I not only got a slow puncture but also managed to dislodge two bananas freshly bought in Fort William. He may have taken this discovery as Divine intervention?

This track slowed me along with puncture repair and to make progress I took the main road, the trusty A82 to Inverness. My progress was excellent and my frustration of motorists was complete as they all crawled behind me in first gear as I dealt with the hills. The road surface was remarkable. If this has all been done with European Union money then I may well have voted Remain. (Only joking.)

Carpet

I was resuscitated with tea and a sandwich in Fort Augustus and applied myself to the remaining 40 miles to Inverness. It was great cycling but a long way. The famous and very large Loch Ness was on my right. No monsters were spotted.

The very large Loch Ness

In Inverness I wasted over 30 minutes on trying to find the hostel by going in the wrong direction. At some traffic lights I asked a Geordie taxi driver who was listening to the radio what the Denmark vs. Czech Republic score was? We both went on to agree that for England ‘it’s coming home’.

Lamb Tikka starter

After ablutions we took a taxi to enjoy a splendid Indian meal in Cradlehall and then we returned to see England’s fourth goal. ‘Result’, as they say.

Day 11 – LEJOG 2021 – Balloch to Glencoe

67 miles and 910 metres climbed

There are few British men who are not delighted to receive a Full English breakfast: eggs, bacon, sausage, baked beans, mushrooms, grilled tomato and maybe a hash brown plus buttered toast. However after 10 mornings and probably eight cooked breakfasts the thrill has gone.

I asked our landlady, Amanda, if all the cyclists on our long distance jaunt still ordered the ‘works’ or opted for something lighter. “Och aye” she started in her beautiful Paisley accent “there’S plenty that just want porridge and toast”. We’d nearly reached that stage.

Eating in our room as they’re refurbishing the dining room. (Peter’s too poor to afford a jersey with sleeves or rear pockets.)
A bit of air in my tyres

We were quickly onto the reviled A82 that would be our companion all day. The road is the main artery to get north and west. It took all types of traffic: cars, trucks, buses, camper vans, motorcycles etc. All usually on the road at the same time.

I stopped to take a number of photos of Loch Lomond. It looked quite tranquil unlike the road beside it. That being said the road surface was sensationally new and smooth.

When I was 17 years old I came to Scotland on an A Level Geography field trip. We did lots of things including a visit a hydro electric power station. I doubt it was this one but when I visited in 1972 this station would have only been 22 years old. Today Loch Sloy Hydro Electro Scheme is 71 years old. The Queen Mother, when Queen, opened it. This is sat on the west side of Loch Lomond. (Apparently 21 people died in its construction.)

We reached Crianlarich and had a sandwich and some Cullen skink. This is a Scottish soup of smoked haddock, potatoes, onions and gallons of cream. Delicious. When leaving Peter saw the portly chef and complimented him on the broth. The chef commented on our cycling and mentioned his brother was driving the Mavic wheels service vehicle at this year’s Tour de France. We were impressed again. If that was a surprise he went on to say he had an ex-Sky Pinarello bike. Frankly his weight issues demanded a three wheeler!

The following photos, hopefully, show a wonderful landscape, however, from the road we rode it was often a ribbon of speeding vehicle not allowing any drinking in of the view unless you pulled off the road and well out of harms way.

Note the road!

As the sun played on the slopes the definition of the rock became more majestic. It is certainly one of Britain’s most wonderful terrains. If I had to sum things up then imagine eating a brilliant sumptuous meal at the worst restaurant possible.

It was a toil to get to Glencoe and the YHA. But it was quite a quick day on the road. A local pub sufficed and we returned to a very hot hostel to get our 40 winks

Day 10 – LEJOG 2021 – Moffat to Balloch

78 miles and 886 metres of climbing

The B&B landlord and landlady were from Kirbymoorside in North Yorkshire. As part of a midlife crisis Mark was sick of being a car mechanic and Dawn was restless; so they bought the B&B after an extensive search. Moffat was delightful as a location but also affordable and when the property turned up they bought it. They were a chatty couple and interesting hosts. The flow of LEJOG cyclists was a nice little earner along with other regulars. In the garage where we stored our bikes he was putting a new engine in an old car for a friend. The ‘friend’ had done them some favour and this barter system seemed to be a way of getting things done round here.

Getting ready to go

It was climbing from the start although nothing like the Cornwall and Devon hills. We were soon high up in a green and unspoilt landscape. It was terrific. The morning was fresh, dry and bright.

Eventually we fell a 100 metres or more and met up with our old friend the M74 and the old road beside it. We rode that and it rose and fell. It was quite hard work. Peter had alerted me to Scottish road surfaces and in places the surface was nearly unrideable, a bit like going over cobbles. The road wasn’t damaged: it was the use of very large aggregate/stones as part of the top dressing. I feared for my bike as I clattered along. One sign depressed me though…

Not even two thirds done! 😬

Hell fire still so far to go! However with the severity of the gradients easing I was not suffering as much and moving well. I record my times and distances and with these heights and distances as a comparison I’m going well. However, for Peter there’s still dawdling to endure by staying with me but on occasion he’ll depart and properly stretch his legs.

In line with the English theme we met up with two cyclists and engaged them in a conversation. They were expats from Morecambe! We didn’t often speak to other cyclists. It was great to talk.

Lots and lots of wind turbines in this landscape. Today all becalmed in this glorious weather.

We ate up the miles and started to enter south east Glasgow. The traffic picked up and the sun came out. Oh boy did it! Soon it was sweltering at 28°. On went the suntan lotion! The natives were out in the sunshine looking frankly a little pasty and white. This type of weather doesn’t happen here often I guess. Being a large conurbation we cycled through the suburbs of Larkhill, Hamilton and Cambuslang. The traffic was demanding, switching lanes was always a challenge and the traffic lights came thick and fast. Help was at hand as we turned off to find the Clyde river and a cycle trail.

Before that we’d been searching for a cafe. After over four hours on the road we were parched and I needed a sit down. We stopped to ask a jogger. Yup, he was from Harrogate! We didn’t find a cafe until we were well past the centre of the city. Clearly the Scots don’t do tea and sandwiches.

The trail was quiet, shady and lovely. We eventually entered Glasgow Green, a park.

Built for Nelson, the entrance to Glasgow Green
Some painting along the trail
The Clyde

The river broadened considerably and you could smell the brine.

At last we found food, maybe not what we really wanted but it was vital calories.

It might be harsh but it does appear the locals like to fry most stuff and it involves red meat.

Leaving the centre the National Route 75 kept heading west toward Loch Lomond. From the grand buildings of the centre we now had old and empty factory units, bus depots, car body repair workshops and a large BAE site where I nearly hit someone on a zebra crossing! The 75 started to follow the Forth and Clyde Canal. It was no longer a freight barge proposition but looked lovely and had many pleasure craft.

Perpetually snapping away on his phone

Eventually it was necessary to leave the tow path and head north at Dumbarton to Balloch and ‘the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond’. This had many teenage school children milling about as they enjoyed the sun and their holidays. I’m not sure if it was them but often during the day I smelt cannabis as I cycled along.

Amanda at the B&B volunteered to wash our kit and that means some cleaner clobber for the next couple of days. (Our hand washes are successful but not as good.) Balloch was busy but we found a restaurant eventually and had great food.

Three cheese macaroni with shrimp

A bit like on holiday in the Mediterranean we had then windows open as we went to sleep and could hear the surrounding residents still making a din. In the end sleep came…zzzzz

Day 9 – LEJOG 2021 – Keswick to Moffat

76 miles & 915 metres climbed

The YHA at Keswick was ‘intimate’! Peter kindly volunteered for the top bunk bed and I didn’t argue.

In fairness to the hostel about the size of the rooms then having a balcony was a bonus and the view was delightful.

Also this was the best view at breakfast so far.

Another Full English!

So after this plateful it was time to hit the road. Yesterday had been tough with awful legs and I’d been to Boots for various lotions. How would today go? The first five miles were rolling, the sun was out and the temperature was fresh. As we moved away from the Lakes the hills became less dramatic until there was a fork in the road to ‘go climbing’ as per the Guide’s route or the option to stick to the A road and get to Carlisle by a longer but easier route. Peter ascended and I pedalled off on the flatter roads.

In fact I encountered light traffic until nearer Carlisle and got there feeling quite sprightly: a real relief. (By the end of the day I’d clocked up 616 miles with around 10,000 metres of climbing without a rest.) How could I feel so good? Lunch was taken in the square at Carlisle after we met up again. The weather was glorious.

Continuing north we met the M6.

So many times I’d driven up and down this motorway, on my way to Scotland, to do business either as a sales director or in charge of installation sites and the operation to deliver the service. Often I went up after work in the dark in fearful weather. To think that had I known I’d be cycling up in the mid 20’s Centigrade on a bike around 15 years later I wouldn’t have believed you.

Soon we reached the border and after numerous selfies and a brief trip to the Blacksmiths, where the famous early age weddings took place, we continued.

We trundled north on the old A74 that ran beside the motorway. It was a great road albeit fairly dull but mainly with small gradient ascents and descents.

A major town in the area was Lockerbie. I was aware that in 1988 flight Pan Am 103 exploded over the town killing all 270 of the passengers. A senseless and tragic loss of life. A disaster that changed air travel and it’s safety protocols for ever. We visited the memorial. As you might imagine there were some very touching plaques and inscriptions.

That done it was about completing the last 16 miles to the B&B in Moffat where a Yorkshire couple ran this establishment. We were given a very warm welcome including cups of tea and cake. We were taken aback at their hospitality.

Dinner was our usual calorie feast and this dessert rounded things off nicely.

It’s up to Glasgow tomorrow with accommodation booked on the banks of Loch Lomond. Sounds lovely doesn’t it, although the 85 miles to get there doesn’t!

Day 8 – LEJOG 2021 – High Bentham to Keswick

59 miles and 991 metres climbed

A question posed each morning at a B&B is “what time would you like breakfast?” We reply “7.30” and they say “8 O’Clock is the earliest”. So it was at The Black Bull Hotel. It’s not with a little irony that the brewer’s truck turned up at 6.45am and there began the symphony of metal casks being dropped, rolled and manhandled in ways that maximised noise as they emptied and then loaded the cellar. This extra time awake was therefore deployed in blogging, shaving and stretching. (The plan is to loosen up all muscles around the knee to put less strain on it.)

The weather looked bright and dry and so lay ahead a trip into the Lake District as well as the later event of England vs Germany for a place in the Euro Quarter Finals.

The start was chilly but the route was all downhill as we continued to enjoy The Forest of Bowland. Discreetly placed new housing developments were visible; who wouldn’t want to live here? Everything looked well cared for and smart.

Wellington
Part of my history on show as I worked for Ford Tractor in Basildon
Who wouldn’t fancy a pint here?

So far we’ve met few other cycling tourers. The only one we know heading for John O’Groats we met at Land’s End. I expected to see a few others given the time of year but no! If you look at social media then it’s mainly bike packers who tackle the project. That is, cyclists on racing/road bikes with minimal luggage. Maybe we will eventually meet a few?

Just off the M6!

Kendal was our first port of call and it was blisteringly hot and sunny as we ate a sandwich and muffin outside in the town centre. The streets were busy with day trippers, like us. Truth be told Peter’s still very strong and I’m going well, but a lot slower. A proper rest day was essential. Heaven knows why I didn’t schedule one as I’m paying for it now in many ways. However, there’s no time for navel gazing; it’s simply all about getting on with it.

Mine was tuna salad….

I opted to go directly to Keswick on the busy A road. It was a shorter distance today and I wanted to get it done. The road went up and down and the traffic was heavy but, frankly, I’m comfortable with that and avoid danger.

There was, however a lot to see as we entered the Lake District proper. Windermere was resplendent in sunshine. Of course there were many tourists delighted to be allowed out after lockdown and mingling. Lots were on the narrow road.

Lake Windermere
Lake Windermere

However, these tourists were courteous and kept their distance in their cars. As I’d created 40 metre long convoys I pulled over regularly to let these patient folk pass and continue their holidays.

After Windermere came Ambleside and then Grasmere. After this the road went vertical but the traffic dropped off. Keswick got closer and about 9 miles away there was a scenic route around Thirlmere. I’d originally cycled past the turning but turned around to take this detour. This is a reservoir created by Manchester City Council to supply the needs of that city. As you can see it’s been there a long time.

Thirlmere

The YHA wouldn’t let us check in before 5pm and so Peter took me into town for an ice cream in the town centre. As I only specified ‘vanilla’ I noted, with chagrin, that I got one scoop but he’d chosen two. (Clearly he hasn’t forgiven me for the trip to McDonalds.) Again the sunshine had brought out hundreds of people. In the town my phone couldn’t get a proper 4G signal but Peter could back at the hostel and we listened to the England game via the BBC App as we drank a beer and embarked on our nightly laundry.

Later it was back into town for a beer and a pizza.

We encountered a few worse for wear football fans who’d obviously imbibed too much. They may be drunk again after Saturday night as well.

Day 7 – LEJOG 2021 – Reddish to High Bentham

63 miles and 1,561 metres climbed

After a sort of rest day I set off in trepidation wondering if I had actually recovered a little from that half day. The route was up through Manchester City centre. In fact the ride was quite fast despite the rush hour traffic, rubbish road surfaces and infrequent cycle lanes. After all the media exposure of Manchester’s mayor, Andy Burnham I would have thought a bit more action and a little less talk would be a good idea on transportation.

The condition of British roads, their maintenance and adaptation to be cycle friendly would take many £ billions. Looking at Manchester then to restore the road surfaces is an enormous project, to redesign layouts for bicycles means reducing space for motor vehicles (no votes in that) and large capital investment and then keeping it all in good condition necessitates a dramatic expansion of the Highways Department and it’s budget. It’s not going to happen.

Any urban road system is maintained by that town or city council. They’re always strapped for cash. Think of the many statutory obligations they have to fulfil with their taxes. Filling potholes is not a priority. Major highways are maintained by The Highways Agency and they’re well funded, look how good a condition major A roads and motorways are. Lastly many out of town but local roads are maintained by the County Council Highways Departments. You’ve often seen repairs up country lanes and scratched your head as to why city residential streets carrying thousands of cars are potholed ruins yet blokes are mending unused roads in the middle of nowhere; now you know, it’s a different organisation and budget. The whole system, responsibility and funding is a shambles isn’t it. Feel free to ask me questions, I spent six months visiting councils and analysing their Highway Department’s performance in my last job. Who says I’m dull?

Another observation about Manchester is the diversity. When I was a student there, over 40 years ago, it would have meant a few scousers, Irish and southerners mixed in. Today it is much farther afield with mothers and daughters abounding in hijabs as they headed to school, folk who were African, in ethnicity, by origin on their way to work and then in North Manchester Orthodox Jews in their strict dress code often pushing buggies with young children in ‘western dress’. Quite a mix.

The road rose from the centre of Manchester. The Sat Nav directed us hither and thither:

This was a routing mistake we followed the canal for 20 metres,
A tight fit

In Bury, much to Peter’s horror our second breakfast was taken. I enjoyed the Egg McMuffin but I was made to confirm that this would be our only visit to McDonalds on the trip! Hard I thought.

Yum

I was not expecting much from Darwen and Blackburn but bathed in sunshine they were splendid. I apologise.

A memorial erected to commemorate that the folk of Darwen during WW2 raised money for their own, in effect, Spitfire.
A happy hunting ground for Leeds United
Blackburn Cathedral

Climbing up from Blackburn we started to experience some serious gradients but the views around Whalley were exceptional before we came to rest for a spot of lunch.

Quiche

Peter in his desire to sample local delicacies asked for a local cake and received Manchester tart. This is basically a custard tart sat on jam. The helping was served up and cut into two halves. I got to my portion first because Peter likes to savour his food and enjoy the taste. I’m more from the labrador dog school of eating where all food is good when served and must be consumed in the minimum number of unsightly gulps.

So I ate my cake but unfortunately Peter’s half was blown off the table in a sudden gust of wind. Peter doesn’t really ‘do’ bad temper but with this tragedy he came very close. I tried to cheer him up by saying I didn’t enjoy it. I lied.

“Ah” I hear you ask.. “is he still banging on about the traffic?” No, after he lost the plot in Crewe and devised a scoring matrix for drivers between minus three to plus three based on how they behave around cyclists electro shock therapy was administered and now he just corners drivers he views to be in need of a lecture for misdemeanours. A frightened chap, in a car, in north Blackburn actually apologised when his error was discussed! I was there.

The Sat Nav should have sent us west of Clitheroe but not mine! Clitheroe was fabulous with its castle, I’m glad I visited, but OMG what followed was inhuman as I ground up at the pace of a glacier from Clitheroe to Waddington. It was painful on the knee and horrifically slow. Clitheroe wasn’t on the Guide’s route: I know why.

Clitheroe Castle

I was now aiming for High Bentham, back in Yorkshire (yippee!) and I was up on the Fells. The scenery was awesome. The going was slow and as you can see the total climbing was enormous for today. Traffic was nearly non existent.

Leaving Slaidburn
These clouds made it muggy. The temperatures were above 20°C.

I was mainly by myself as Peter chose an earlier detour but as I closed on the destination Peter hailed me from behind after he’d caught me up and managed an additional ten miles for the day.

The hotel/pub was our lodgings for the night. A splendid room, great grub and a very nice pint of Thwaites.

Tomorrow should be easier. I may have said that before and even I don’t believe it.

Day 6 – LEJOG 2021 – Crewe to Reddish

37 miles & 343 metres climbed

We set off toward Knutsford. Peter lived there many years ago and wanted to visit and then weep at the gates of his former home knowing it would now have appreciated sufficiently for him to be able to buy a large yacht and qualified crew to man it.) Knutsford was and is a very up and coming place; very smart. So were the bountiful millennials on their expensive carbon bikes out for early morning rides and zipping past us.

We passed over the canal and admired how the skipper steered the barge under the bridge

Today was about riding to the Favourite Eldest Daughter’s home near Stockport to meet the family, dine royally, clean bikes and do our laundry. Peter was also attempting to rehabilitate his Garmin Sat Nav that has been behaving peculiarly.

First, however, we were aiming for Wilmslow to meet Harry, the Favourite Youngest Daughter’s partner. He was joining us for a spin to Reddish. On our other rides my fitness and lighter bikes had given me a telling advantage over him. Here, on a much heavier bike and with my legs like rhubarb Harry was considerably more lively. Later asked why he didn’t get his own back and humiliate me with the odd sprint past he kindly said he didn’t want to be unkind given my earlier days riding. He was told by Peter and me that when on a bike the chance arises to ‘kick a man when he’s down’ you should do it with alacrity!

Harry is the man in black

On reaching Reddish we were restored with sandwiches and soup and set about our various ‘rest day’ chores. I put some frozen peas to good use. I’m hoping an aching knee doesn’t dramatically hinder my future progress.

Anna had driven across the Pennines with items I wanted for the rest of the trip, they were gratefully received. Katrina and Matt’s lunch was remarkable and a few glasses of red helped us all relax. It was the youngest’s birthday next week and so, in advance a cake was presented and the candles blown, several times in fact as Peter kept relighting them!

Matt, Katrina and the Birthday Girl

It was lovely to see everyone and regrettably too soon the day was over and the serious business of getting to the north of Scotland was on our minds again.

Day 5 – LEJOG 2021 – Hereford to Crewe

93 miles & 1,414 metres climbed

Given the absence of the hosts I did wonder how the breakfast would be served? Would R2-D2 crash out of the kitchen brandishing plates of bacon and egg or would the host emerge wearing a deep sea diver suit?

In the end a human being, without a mask, brought the fairly mediocre Full English. Given the requirements of cycling then cereal or porridge would have been preferred. However at breakfast were two ladies (Katrina…women) attending a wedding later in the day nearby. One lady’s husband had ridden across the USA and so that was a common interest and the other lady was originally from Arkansas and so country music was discussed. Bliss! Venturing outside the day was overcast but the horror drenching of last night had evaporated and whilst a little cool it was not uncomfortable. It was goodbye to Hereford Cathedral.

Herefordshire was delightful and whilst the hills were hard they didn’t, unlike Norman Hunter, bite yer legs. There was also the surprising courtesy of drivers who stopped and let us pass on narrow lanes. (Clearly all the higher IQ Cornish had relocated here.) There was an obvious level of prosperity and some attractive properties.

Shortly we’d crossed the border and were into Shropshire and at Ludlow. This town was known to me by name but was a complete delight to discover. Like Monmouth this was another treasure found on the ride. If you travel slowly by bicycle she certainly absorb the sights and sounds.

It was flooded with tourists who were milling about and not least enjoying the Saturday market.

A future gift for Peter….

From here it was back into the countryside that was initially beautiful with interesting sights. Things changed!

Despite an expectation that the climbing would diminish Shropshire bared its teeth and combined with the vicissitudes of the Garmin Sat Nav Peter and myself were briefly parted. This was down the soil and gravel strewn precipitously steep lanes. At one point having lost Peter I stopped by a farm to check Google Maps and had a strange sensation on my leg. It was the farm dog having a snuffle!

If that sensation was unusual then near bowel shattering moments occurred for us as we swooped down the lanes at big speed. This is all part of a competition hence the cat (pussy) trophy. There is always risk as the hedges and vegetation are high, the road wet or covered in loose gravel and the twists and turns of the road unknown. First myself and then Peter hurtled down 40 metres and round a corner at between 30 and 40 miles per hour to find in the middle of the road a car coming towards us. Grabbing indifferent brakes and searching for a space either side of the car we avoided carnage….just. I can well imagine the drivers being seriously shocked and probably dining out on the story for a long time to come.

An overdue lunch stop was made at Greggs yes, I had a vegan steak bake, and we then continued north.

Acton Burnell
Clive and it’s remarkable church on the hill

This was a day of considerable mileage and I’d feared the worse for my condition. However, I felt great and bowled along at a good pace, helped by the eventual flattening of the road. This was an error in retrospect and I should have eased off but it was heartening after all the slogging to actually move more quickly. (Day 6 has made me pay.)

The Travelodge was conveniently sited near a large and tasty pub/restaurant but the room was a tad small for the cyclists and their bikes! Peter arrived separately choosing to clock up a century of miles for the day. As it was Saturday night and the weather had now improved dramatically in temperature it was busy and we didn’t eat until after 10pm. For me at least sleep was not delayed as I fell into a comatose state.

Tomorrow offers a short mileage and some exceptional hospitality from the Favourite Eldest Daughter and Matt, her husband. The Favourite Youngest Daughter will join us to open her forthcoming birthday presents and Harry, her partner, will join us astride his bike along the route. Anna will come across from York. Lovely.