Category Archives: Travel

Pilgrims Progress – A Bike Ride in Devon, Dorset & Hampshire

What the hell was I thinking? The first two days of the LEJOG in July, over a similar brutal terrain, in the West Country were memorably difficult by any measure I can think of. So would you schedule a bike ride on similar roads and climbs? It should have been the last thing on my mind, surely? It seems that when the legs recover and the excitement of an adventure lies ahead intelligence takes a back seat. I had put together a ride for two friends who despite advance warning of the severity both still turned up.

Martin Appleyard was certainly my peer on two wheels but set off with a ticking bomb of a problem that eventually came to be a considerable handicap and burden. He needs considerable praise for coping with this problem, albeit he’ll not receive it in this blog as I have a reputation to maintain!

Tony Franco or ‘Franco/Frankie’ as he eventually got called throughout (even by Martin!) had passed his ‘physical’ up in Yorkshire in July when he was assessed for this ride by a saunter around the North Yorks hills. We’d toured in England and France before and knew the routine of my planning, grumpiness and desire to move along. However, whilst surviving this ride up until Bournemouth he had an overall experience that seems about as draining and pleasurable as chemotherapy. It’s only his grit and indomitable personality that overcame the challenges of hills and a bike that weighed about the same as an Aga range cooker. His bike is a top of the range US touring bike by Surly but something lighter was compelling for this jaunt. Given he was the youngest member of the expedition I think it safe to say that on his end of trip feedback form he’ll report that his tender years were noted ie. the elders provided all navigation of the route, food stop decisions, accommodation choices, most cultural exchanges and provision of nutrition. Granted, not all of this came with an equitable and friendly delivery…

Having set the scene for a memorable trip then let us begin, you may need to pull up a chair as this is a longer read than usual!

An easy drive to Abingdon placed me at Chez Appleyard and together we cycled off to Reading to catch a train to Plymouth, the start of our tour. Martin was anxious to win the Prologue and start the proper Tour de Pilgrim’s Progress in Yellow. He set off for Reading Station like a getaway driver escaping the scene of a crime. As I’m hanging on behind him my mind wandered onto the days ahead and whether Martin had failed to realise that some holding back might be in order. However, you can’t under estimate youthful enthusiasm, after all Martin isn’t 60 years old until later in the year. Inevitably our train to Plymouth was delayed; sadly (seriously) someone had died on the train’s earlier journey by stepping onto the railway line. Gulp, not a propitious start.

Plymouth started the abandonment of directional control of our ride to my Garmin Sat Nav device. Although not human it had a mind of its own. We headed north in the city to discover we should have headed south to the seafront. On arrival we discovered our landlady was a cyclist and owner of some interesting books.

Bedtime reading
A stroll to the marina in search of an evening meal

She was a participant in the imminent Tour of Britain starting in the city and was leading out the peloton with other fellow women cyclists. This select group got to lead out all the professional cyclists for 500 metres, which is about 480 metres more than I could have accompanied Mark Cavendish on a bike. A stroll around Plymouth was enjoyed with beef stroganoff and then back to our accommodation to read the book.

Lighthouse on the front

Next morning Tony Franco arrived at our lodgings. He’d spent the night elsewhere at Bev’s. Bev, his old friend, became an omnipresent figure for us all over the day as we proceeded through the county. It transpired that all things Devon for Tony had her mark upon them. ‘Oh this is Bev’s favourite beach’ and ‘Bev used to live here’ etc. She quickly became an important Devonian (born in Derby) but I would wager that her navigation skills were not taught to young Franco as we trundled along the narrow single lane roads all bordered with high hedges. These lanes went up and down and often involved frustrated motorists stopping when reaching a head to head jam with another car and having to reverse to a passing spot. Our navigation decisions were troublesome and Franco volunteered we should ‘follow the sun’ at one point as a solution. This ensured that his thoughts on the route weren’t sought for the rest of the trip!

The peloton. I’m already looking worried. Martin’s not wearing a colostomy bag but a holder for a large mobile phone!

By way of consolation after some early arduous and wrong detours I did entertain as, senior elder and guide, stopping for a cup of tea but time pressures were always a problem with a long way to go; we remorselessly headed east. Accidentally we were following the route of Day One of the Tour of Britain and some of the climbs were horrendous. Even for elite athletes the severity of the climbs will have been memorable. A feature of these ascents was the steepness up until the brow of the hill. None of your usual tapering off but a steely 12% gradient until you breasted the summit after intermittent sections at 16%. Oh how we laughed. 

Martin, still luxuriating in the glow of his Stage win the day before, started to feel the pace. He was not riding a bike that facilitated riding up these hills slowly. By this I mean he hadn’t got low enough gears and had to ride up the climbs with a lot of expended energy whilst others might go more slowly by spinning and saving their legs. For those of a technical nature he only had a 28 tooth cassette, whereas Franco and myself were sporting 34 teeth on our rear wheels. He knew about this issue before the start line but his bike was not fitted with the other correct components to fit a 34 tooth cassette. A future solution lay in a new bike we agreed. After flirting with the Tour of Britain route we dropped into Salcombe for lunch. Immediately the peloton were seduced by a pasty and a cake; in the hot sunshine we found a spot to rest and munch. 

A cycle path Frankie managed to miss despite much shouting. He had proceeded half a mile down a no through road sign.( As we had to chase him down and then wait for his weary return to the correct turning it felt appropriate to take a photo of me and the sign for the blog.)
Devonian pasty

Salcombe was enjoying a busy end to the season with staycation holiday makers. In fact a feature of the whole ride was how busy it was. Staycations may have latterly boosted tourism down here but I imagine a lot of these British visitors will be across the Channel next year. If the chance to get our faces around a West Country delicacy wasn’t enough pleasure then another cyclist’s delight awaited: a ferry. This wasn’t the ordinary ‘roll on and roll off affair’ it was a sort of large rowing boat with an outboard motor on the back. The bikes had to be denuded of their luggage and lifted awkwardly into the craft. Aga boy nearly went overboard during this manoeuvre.

A descent into any of the resorts we visited was precipitous and inevitably the climb out of the resort, this time on the other side of the Kingsbridge Estuary, necessitated a slow grind up over 100 metres of height to get to the cliff tops. Here followed a stop-start trundle along these hill tops dodging camper vans, home delivery vans, cars and an outbreak of bin wagons. We were loosely following cycling’s National Route 28 and we fell to Torcross. Here there was a memorial which featured a US Sherman tank they’d retrieved from the sea some 40 odd years after its submergence. It found its way down there when a D Day training exercise went badly wrong in April 1944. Tragically 749 US soldiers lost their lives. Firstly friendly fire and then attacks by German E-boats, passing through Lyme Bay who had stumbled upon this exercise, accounted for the total. The incident at Slapton Sands is one of the biggest military tragedies of WW2 on British soil.

Note camouflage jersey meaning you could never see where he was. Still smiling however.
Taken out of the bay in 1984
Slapton Sands. An unusual sight…. temporarily flat

We were enjoying riding along the spit as it was flat but all good things come to an end and up we went in pursuit of Dartmouth and another ferry. Martin was still going well albeit drooling over my 34 tooth cassette and young Franco was now starting to struggle badly. This didn’t mean he wasn’t gamely spinning onwards but all fight seems to have gone and as soon as the road slanted vaguely upwards the lowest gear was engaged and progress still achieved but slowly. Two ferries in a day is a treat and the Dartmouth ferry was a ‘roll on, roll off’ affair. If the day had been devised to be shorter then I would have wanted to pop into Dartmouth it looked very attractive. In line with the script a long climb followed, albeit less unreasonable than earlier crampon specials. At the top I urged Martin to pedal on the remaining 25 miles to get to Dawlish, our destination for the night. Later Franco appeared at the top. I would lead him home.

Ferry across the River Dart

In front of us were the busy towns of Paignton and Torquay. It was early evening and the rush hour was frantic with cars bumper to bumper. It wasn’t fun. The route we chose was the most direct as the day was quickly expiring and darkness would arrive at 8pm completely with developing gloom after 7.30pm. On imparting the urgency to Tony concentrate and move as quickly as he could to avoid darkness Franco nonchalantly countered that he had bike lights with him should night descend! With several 25 to 30 mile an hour descents ahead then having a small beam to guide you down a potholed road with distracting car head lights in your face was not safe. 

As Martin zoomed off to a shower and a chance to put his feet up I went up every hill as slowly as I could and waited. Along came the boy Franco only to be nagged by me to eat. In fact a mantra I imposed on the peloton throughout the ride was to eat, eat and eat whilst riding. This was not to be a weight losing couple of days. The sugary the better and to eat at least once an hour. This can become difficult as exhaustion starts to rob you of your appetite. Hook by crook we got to Dawlish. It was ten minutes to 8pm (or 7pm if you believed what we overheard the boy Franco tell his wife on the phone later!)

Arriving so late made a mess of my laundry chores as nothing had enough time to dry. Poor Martin nearly got a hernia when he volunteered to put the bikes in the B&B’s basement, I think the Aga nearly made its own way down the narrow staircase as moving it was difficult.

Day One – Plymouth to Dawlish – 70.5 miles and 6,631 feet climbing

So rightly you’re thinking with a 70 mile day and over 6,600 feet (2,000 metres) of climbing involving nearly 7½ hours of cycling that I was wrong to do this to Tony? I agree I felt like a small mean child pulling the limbs off an insect.

So rather than torture him again we should devise Plan B? Maybe he could only ride half the next day’s distance? (Our destinations were already decided by paid for accommodation.) Train the difference? This part of the coastline is not well served by train lines and so this didn’t work as a fix even for half the distance planned for Day Two or if it did work Frankie wasn’t interested. The route wasn’t particularly amendable as it was already a straight run along the coast but, as it happens, we did omit certain planned plummets into various bays to see twee resorts such as Beer. So it was agreed that he would trundle on albeit with the condition that he would have, at some point, need to allow me to depart and leave him to his own directions (or ‘follow the sun’) as I needed to get to Weymouth to wash and dry some kit. Don’t worry, I had a speech prepared to give to his wife when I broke the news of his brave demise on the Devon coastline by himself. ‘When last seen he had had a smile on his face and a Mars bar in his hand as he took his last bite for sustenance.’

(Dawlish, you may recollect had its rail line’s collapse into the sea some years ago after destructive gales and construction workers are still at work developing sea defences. I did comment to Martin the next morning that it must be a spectacular train ride through the resort as it is on the seashore. He confirmed it was and that I had actually done it the day before. Senior moment indeed!)

After such an arduous day a late meal was procured but neither Martin or Franco made a fist of their main courses. They were too pooped. A stern bollocking was administered by the chief nag/nutritionist (me) but to no avail. To add to Franco’s exclusions, firstly from deciding directions he then added not paying the future restaurant bills for the rest of the ride. He’d tipped the waitress 20%. It’s Devon not Manhattan.

Given that Day Two was a longer day an early start was a must. However, Baby Jesus had designated this day as Sunday and the B&B didn’t serve breakfast until 8.30am. It was worth the wait.

If that was a blow then at least the route was initially flat. We trundled to Starcross where a ferry transferred us across the estuary to Exmouth. As the railway line ran along the coast you had to cross it by a footbridge to reach the ferry landing. Unfortunately for the boy Franco he didn’t have Pickfords on speed dial and transporting the Aga over the bridge would have constituted a workout for lesser mortals.

Exmouth looked quite elegant and gentrified as we cycled out heading east. It seemed well worth exploring on a more leisurely visit as we only skirted the front and never entered the town. The hedgerows groaned under the weight of blackberries. Budleigh Salterton was passed and the Garmin was, surprisingly, finding direct and delightful routes. This included asphalt paths through woods and small settlements with thatched cottages. Devon was beautiful. The first climb of the day came as we headed skywards to reach Sidmouth. This was a long and increasingly vicious climb that invited the assailant to dismount as they did the last 80 metres of 16% gradient before literally parachuting down to the cove where Sidmouth lay. I didn’t get off and push but it crossed my mind as yesterday’s climbing was very much in my aching legs.

Budleigh Salterton

The weather was sensational – hot, sunny and dry. In fact we avoided rain on the whole trip and this made progress a lot more pleasurable and easy. September was truly delivering an Indian summer.

Sidmouth was heaving with Sunday sunbathers and looked wonderful. The peloton found a tap to replenish their water supplies and we continued east. The National Route 28 shortly after Sidmouth headed toward the heavens and after 150 metres of grinding up to meet St Peter I thought there must be something less steep and we headed inland to pick up the main road. I was completely wrong.

The pebbly front at Sidmouth
Some Fords on parade at Sidmouth

The A3052 out of Sidmouth was awful  due to its gradient and heavy traffic. It really was in the heat of the midday sun and a climb where each pedal stroke might have been your last before getting off. Again the thought of dismounting was discounted by the prospect of getting hit by a Waitrose delivery van and then run over by the long line of tourist cars following it. The road, putting to one side Sidmouth, was fast and smooth and great progress was made after reaching about 160 metres height at the top. Franco was going well and luncheon was planned for Lyme Regis. Martin during the discussion did look skyward and drew in breath through his front teeth making the kind of whistling noise a plumber would make after being asked if he could resuscitate a 25 year old boiler. He advised on a deep descent and an even more grim ascent out of the town. Hunger and a desire to see some of the resorts on our ride over ruled his misgivings and as always Frankie, our masochist extraordinaire, was up for anything.

Martin was right as we swooped into Lyme Regis but at the very bottom was The Pilot Boat. It turned out to be a wonderful stop and we all ate like kings. Martin had sea bream, I had hake and the boy Franco, noting my displeasure at his avoidance of porridge at breakfast, had some fortifying pasta with a ragu sauce.

Replenished we went our separate ways to complete the remaining 25 miles to Weymouth. The run on this busy road, which became the A35 to Bridport was not an easy ride with lots of traffic and several steep descents and ascents. A common scenario was to find yourself pedalling slowly up a hill with a convoy of vehicles stranded behind you. If the immediate vehicle behind you was a truck then I can confirm few lorry manufacturers make their gearing for moving at 4mph on a 10% gradient. Martin and I reached the Bridport turn to Weymouth together. The traffic soon melted away as we proceeded down a less popular route. The road still rose and fell but the coastline looked superb and inviting. 

Abbotsbury was chocolate box pretty and after the day’s travails the cycling was hard but pleasurable. I was coming back to Dorset with Anna after this cycling holiday and made a note to revisit. Weymouth arrived and the lodgings were found. I arrived at 6.28pm and Martin shortly afterwards. We were staying at a pub and as I arrived first I bagged the double bed whilst the youngsters were left to fight for who had the bottom bunk. Given the pub didn’t serve breakfast Martin and I went to a local Tesco to buy provisions and look for dinner solutions up the street. A takeaway was the only option.

Luckily Frankie had a head for heights (and a strong bladder)
Franco was suspected of bringing this mollusc into the room

Meanwhile Tony F arrived at his favourite time (7.50pm) and was told to shower whilst a Chinese and beer would be procured for his consumption. He was still smiling and viewing his remarkable achievement through the same lens that Neil Armstrong must have used when making his first steps on the moon. It was a remarkable effort.

62 miles and 5,502 feet of climbing (maximum descent speed 48.8 mph)

Day Three saw us away by 8.30am and all feeling sore. After 3,700 metres of climbing in two days our legs had every right to complain. Leaving Weymouth was by cycle path and after a couple of errors from the Garmin I was frustrated and not too clear on where we should be headed. As I struggled to the top of a hill a group of chattering Sunday cyclists span past. They didn’t look across and acknowledge me and I thought how rude. Coming to rest at the top of the hill near them I commented loudly to Martin on the absence of courtesy and kindness of Dorset cyclists. Martin attempted to become invisible by melting into a hedge! However one of the party came across to say hello, shamed by my observation. This introduced us to Les.

(Martin in a moment of unsolicited candour did allude to my intolerance in various other matters including motorists I found blocking my way or going too slowly. Apparently I had been overheard shouting at them. Also inconsistencies in my assessment of situations was also brought to my attention. Apparently on one descent he was chided by me for hanging onto his brakes demonstrating a lack of back bone but I had at another time, apparently, been recorded sympathising that his lightweight bike was unstable at the front and caution on descending was prudent. Do you believe any of this? No, quite…)

Les, the font of all navigational knowledge
Can’t be true, can it?

Les helped us find a direct route east. What a star. I must admit his instructions included the mind numbing advice to ‘turn left at the tea shop’, ‘Over the level crossing’, ‘Past the Black Dog pub and then right at the telephone box’ that type of direction usually loses me after 30 seconds but we hung on to enough of Les’ advice to make great progress. Franco was till in tow but was going slowly. I decided to sit behind him for a few miles, probably not something he would have chosen and debated equitably the appropriate capital punishment for those who had lobbed plastic bottles and food packaging out of their car and van windows which ended up on the verge. Remarkably he still had enough breath to join in the conversation even though I was adding that he should pedal hard at certain sections or not touch his brakes on a descent. Martin sat in behind me but in a vote of confidence to Franco (not) suddenly blurted ‘Sorry, I can’t ride at this speed’ and disappeared up the road. 

We had planned to stop in Wool and we enjoyed out daily intake of fried bacon and eggs: a definite boost for morale before we headed into the Isle of Purbeck. This was my first visit to this part of England/Dorset and it was very pleasant. The sun was now out and it was a hot day. A lot of holiday makers were on the road but we cycled through fairly flat heath land with ferns and grass but few other distinguishing features.

On arriving at Swanage I delivered on a promise to buy the peloton an ice cream. We sat just behind the beach and watched a Punch and Judy act fail to find any audience despite the reasonable fee of £2 each. It struck me that the parents of the children he targeted probably had never seen the show and without parental enthusiasm he stood no chance.

From here it was another spiteful hill before a short ferry ride to Sandbanks. Franco had decided to get a train from Bournemouth to home, a good idea for a man who’d probably exceeded any expectation he may have entertained before starting in Plymouth.

Martin and I had a still demanding ride to north Southampton and it was late afternoon when we alighted from the ferry. Martin’s brother was hosting our visit and preparing a meal; being timely was our courteous objective. However after his epic struggle it seemed an appropriate last act of kindness to chaperone Franco to Bournemouth Station where he’d catch a train back to Clapham. So we wended our way along the front during a Red Arrow display above us toward the railway station. Folk were engrossed in the fly pasts and progress was exceptionally slow on the promenade. It had crossed my mind why hadn’t we left the youngster to switch on his Garmin and make his way there, after all he was in good time to get to London.

This slow progress eventually involved me getting to the Station without the peloton who I think were busy taking photos of the Royal Air Force. I hung around for some time for Martin to eventually appear but no Tony? He’d dived in the Station and caught a train. I assume, in retrospect, as I was lent against the station car park wall, he’d put his trotters up and was cruising back to London. In fairness a WhatsApp message followed.

New Forest

Martin was concerned at our heading north rather than east. I had entrusted our fortunes to the Garmin and after leaving Bournemouth we were heading north through some delightful but indirect country lanes. As always the Garmin routing was mainly about avoiding roads with motor traffic. The evening sun was warm; it was dry and the New Forest was a treat to ride through. In fact a brilliant cycling route.

Wild horses

However, we were tired and the endless cycle paths near and within Southampton were energy and time sapping but eventually the time elapsed and we were nearing our destination. Meanwhile WhatsApp dispensed a cheery message that Frankie was back at home in Tooting feeling very happy with himself. Back on the road we met another roundabout or set of traffic lights. Poor Martin was quite shot and even over shot the turning to brother Andy’s house. We were pleased to arrive at 7.30pm. Martin had bought a surprisingly good bottle of red wine from a Tesco Express and along with some delicious ragu and pasta we relaxed for the night knowing there were still 70 odd miles to go tomorrow before we could hang up our cycling shorts.

86 miles and 3,963 feet of climbing

Day Four saw a quick bowl of porridge, a heartfelt thanks to Andy for his hospitality and then into the north Southampton traffic.

All night Martin practiced for the vacant seat in the Rolling Stones

Much of the early route I recognised from my many visits to B&Q’s offices in North Baddersley when I sold furniture to them. However despite a brief stop for Martin to repair a broken rear rack we were soon into the countryside of the tranquil and scenic Test river. It was idyllic and beautiful and despite having two stumps of pain instead of legs the hills weren’t too monstrous and we made good progress heading due north. A feature of everywhere we rode was prosperity, whether that was the coast with its tourism and second homes or now, more inland, in these smart and manicured villages.

A statue to British Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston, in Romsey

As the morning expired we reached Whitchurch and some brunch was called for. Martin demonstrating fatigue with fried food went for a tuna mayo baguette whilst true to the code of the road I had a sausage and egg one. As we’re eating a commotion was heard from across the street where we’d left our bikes. Some ladies, two brandishing watering cans, were gesticulating and spitting teeth at the destruction of some flower stems by a badly parked bike.

In fact one of the ladies moved the bike. Martin has got ‘previous’ from bringing out fury in local villagers. On his recent trip to Yorkshire there was nearly fisticuffs over his language and cycling. Martin nonchalantly ploughed on through his sandwich enjoying the kerfuffle. I thought we ought to go across and make reparations. So across I strolled to make a donation of a fiver to restore the broken flowers. Initially they resisted the money but when I pointed out it wasn’t mine but Martin’s they saw sense and took the money.

War zone

After Whitchurch a miserable climb materialised that brought back to mind the climbing of the earlier day. Martin complained that a Toyota had appeared out of nowhere on this high hedge road to nearly take him out but other than that the traffic was light.

Another route check

With that hill behind us and considerable height gained it was one final push to get to the very top and then a fast descent into Wantage. A cold drink was bought and the final miles to Abingdon covered where I was to meet Anna to head back to Dorset. On this last run the entertainment wasn’t over though as an Open Reach transit van overtook us. That was fine but less safe was the motorcycle with ‘L’ plates and its loony rider who was riding alongside of the van kicking it! The rider was young and unfazed by the oncoming traffic he faced by riding in their lane! Clearly there was a dispute.

73 miles and 3,084 feet climbed

On arriving back at Martin’s house a shower and a quick beer was consumed and then after packing the bike we left to leave the Appleyards in peace (and no doubt to discuss the necessity for Martin to get a new bike.)

Dumfries & Galloway – Week 33 : 2021

Anna is booking a number of staycations and the latest adventure took me back to Scotland and to Dumfries & Galloway. I say ‘back to’ as it isn’t more than a few weeks ago that I was trundling a few miles to the east of here wending my way from Gretna to John O’Groats on my LEJOG trip.

She booked a house for four nights just outside Kirkcudbright, or as the natives pronounce it ‘Kirkcoobry’! The house’s location was fabulous on the banks of the River Dee estuary and could sleep six. It was therefore very spacious!

This was one of a few homes in the area not covered in the ubiquitous grey Scottish pebble dash wall covering (why do they do it?)
Not a bad view from the front garden with the tide in
View from a bedroom window
A view back to the house at low tide

The first observation was that the area made its living from tourism and livestock farming. There was no industry or major settlements. The tourism is very low key with lots of discretely hidden sites for caravans and camper vans. There are attractions but they come in the form of forests, beaches and walks. Dog walkers abounded and if there were children they were all young and enjoying the beaches and simpler pleasures.

I say simpler because the 4G reception was patchy throughout the area and our property didn’t have wi-fi; this was a considerable bind. Everyone uses Google to establish, say, opening times of attractions or the nearest cafe. You’ll be unsurprised that the present Mrs Ives received a severe reprimand for this inconvenience and was told to ensure it never happened again or it would unfortunately have to go on her file.

A ‘Beltie’

Famous residents of the area are the Belted Galloway cattle. This chap or chappess has the distinct white band around its middle. Anna made me stop on a dangerous busy road so she could capture the above photograph. In fairness most fields of cattle were not Belted Galloways; you had to stop when you found one. They are not common throughout the area nowadays. Just as you might entertain a small child with a car journey game I found Anna was easy to occupy with the task of reviewing every field full of cattle, of which there were many, for the Belties. (Google tells me that their beef is top quality, something unlikely to endear the animal to my vegetarian wife.)

We visited beaches, other than the one across the road, and they were all fairly empty. Water sports or BBQ’s were often underway. Below is Bayhorse Bay which was shallow for a long way out.

Bayhorse bay.

I was allowed to take my bike and clocked up 120 miles over the three days. Up toward Galloway Forest the views and tranquility were sublime. Cycling was popular whether road cycling or mountain bikes. This is a snap I took as I laboured up a track.

Anna was lured out one evening for a route she picked. Sadly, she didn’t work out the amount of climbing she’d elected to do. However, after 270 metres of severe climbing, it seemed to meet Baby Jesus, she was allowed to turn her bike around and quickly descend toward a pub in Kirkcudbright where she was rewarded with a gin and tonic.

(This image was vetted for approval prior to inclusion by Anna)

It has to be said that the road traffic was light to non-existent on this night and on my other jaunts. The Scots can have a very unattractive road surface in places, this consists of a thick gloopy tar that is very uneven and peppered with large chunks of aggregate. On a later ride I lost the feeling in my hands through the vibrations over such roads. You’ll be unsurprised to learn that being a hero I battled on.

Scallop fishing boat in Kirkcudbright. The estuary was tidal and exit to the open sea was by a very specific channel.

Kirkcudbright was an attractive settlement at the top of the estuary. We had a wander around and used the supermarkets. Most of the area hasn’t started to cater for the idle elite who want artisan bakeries unless this type of Snickers bar and shortbread combo is big in Islington. I must admit a shop with a loaf of sourdough would have been a treat but what you lose in sophistication is gained in peace, quiet and exclusivety.

We drove about and visited the local towns including Gatehouse of Fleet, Wigtown, Newton Stewart and Castle Douglas. We did drive into Dumfries but it was busy and didn’t seem to have a lot of charm; so we drove along the Solway and out toward Dalbeattie. All the towns were ‘working’ small settlements with their own character but little to detain you. Wigtown has a reputation for books and there were several second hand book shops for those attempting to find some old mighty tome.

The weather was always mild and up until the last day it was dry but there again you don’t go to Scotland for the weather. I’d like to go back and head further west to Stranraer next time and then have a look up the west coast.

LEJOG – Epilogue

I know how iconic the bike ride between Cornwall and the Highlands is and wanted to record a few final thoughts:

The Challenge

The climbing is considerable throughout the 1,000 miles. The difficulty doesn’t arise in the ‘hard’ north but rather the ‘soft’ south. The first three days are often busy with traffic, much of it intolerant, and the climbing is, frankly, severe, with lots of over 15%, gradients. Despite my rides to different continents or through the many countries of Europe this ride was tough, day after day. I’m genuinely in awe of inexperienced cyclists who have completed the ride and said they enjoyed it!.

I must add as an important condition of this ‘awe’ then Peter and myself carried our luggage and rode everyday for two weeks. One lithe millennial who I saw arriving on a lightweight carbon road bike at John O’Groats with no luggage missed the point for me.

The Route

In talking with riders we met or before we set off there was no consensus on the best route. Our Nick Mitchell Cicerone Guide came with GPX files and was well presented. However, I wouldn’t use it again if I was trying to find the flattest route. Any Lejogger does need to research in detail the route that suits them. There are many route planners on the internet or Apps to peruse.

I also wouldn’t have gone from Inverness to Crask Inn (as unique and lovely as it was). I’d have gone via the A9 to Helmsdale and then straight up. Any cycling from west to east on the top of Scotland invites a headwind.

I would have researched more thoroughly the north of Cornwall and the north of Devon. We went via the brutally hilly south and whilst Exeter provided a fab bike shop to fit a lower gear then neither that town or Plymouth were very interesting.

I made a mess, or my Garmin made a mess, of leaving Clitheroe. I was sent up a kneecap shredding hill to Waddington and then Slaidburn. Check your intended route against the direction your device is sending you. Devices have a mind of their own. I should have checked and my climbing was ridiculous for the day.

Equipment

I was sceptical about bike packing originally. That is, a road bike with minimum luggage but it does seem the way to go. However you’d still need a compact group set and at least a 34 tooth cassette gear on the back. A steel touring bike is a more leisurely steed but you’re guaranteed to lose an average couple of mph. The route goes through towns with bike shops to sort out any problems. I took a mechanic with me, which I would also recommend!

We washed our laundry but a couple of jerseys, socks and shorts are just about all that’s required daily. The need for more kit comes with the weather. However the reality is that you could end up carry things for much of the journey and not needing it. Maybe a stopover at a relative or friend where you can collect and dispose of items is a good idea.

Fitness & Nutrition

Some ride the route as an endurance exercise. I didn’t. If it’s a sprint then there is a whole different set of thoughts on bike, kit, nutrition and route planning.

For my ride then stuff like having a harden butt is probably more important. A good base of having cycled a lot of miles is important but probably more valuable than cycling lots of miles is the ability to ride consecutive days comfortably. Clearly knowing the bike you’re riding and having steered it up and down a few steep hills is a good idea. The reality is that you’ll get fitter the longer you go on.

For me riding with someone so much fitter and talented than myself made me push myself occasionally too hard. In fact I was feeling so good on the ride into Crewe I got my head down and raced. Idiot! The next day I was a shadow of myself and I was only saved from a pitiful glacial progress by it being a very short day! Pace yourself; stop for that coffee, ice cream and photo opportunity. You’re probably never doing this ride again; see Britain.

Eat all the time. Energy gels, sugary sweets, protein bars and other things you like and can indulge yourself with. You’ll lose weight on this ride. Stuff your face: science says you should be eating every 40 minutes. You’ll burn over 3,000 calories a day on this ride. Make sure you have the energy. Hydration is a no brainer and doesn’t need discussing. The route, unlike many of my others, offers opportunities to stop and buy food usually hourly. You don’t need to carry much to start with.

Accommodation

My selection of Youth Hostels in a Covid epidemic was a poor one. They were neither overly comfortable or cheap. The heat at the one in Glencoe reminded me of being on the beach in Miami! Facilities were closed and food solutions were variable even with hostels that were part of the same group eg. YHA. If it is your preferred solution then I might add that the one at YHA Lands End and SYHA Inverness were fine but the others didn’t match up to a B&B. Budget hotels such as Travelodge or Premier Inn were great value for money and the rooms were clean, spacious enough to take a bike or two and near other food solutions and pubs.

Best Of….

Best Breakfast – The Old PostHouse Moretonhampstead, Devon. Along with the obligatory Full English it came with porridge, soft fruit and cereals. Truly delicious and fabulous cycle aware hosts.

Best Lunch – Katrina & Matt Ives in Reddish – a wonderful Sunday roast with all the trimmings. We ate ourselves stupid!

Best Dinner – Saffron Indian Restaurant at Cradlehall, Inverness. So delicious and high quality that I may cycle back just for the lamb.

Best Accommodation -Crask Inn, Lairg. It was so unique and in the literal middle of nowhere. An interesting selection of guests were in the dining room and the vistas were superlative as we drank our pint outside. The next morning, in a little heat, we set off amongst the heather and stunning views

Best Scenery The Wye Valley was stunning and new to me, the Trough of Bowland was another feast for the eyes. All the lochs were lovely but inevitably attracted car traffic on their banks.

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.