Category Archives: Travel

Portugal Holiday – November 2021 – Part 2

Expeditions along the coast have been the order of the afternoons and the first trip was to Carvoeiro, five miles east from Ferragudo. This is an old established small resort popular with the British, Germans, French etc judging by the languages you hear as you perambulate along it’s narrow streets (and the range of sports being shown on the bar TV’s.) It also has a wealth of restaurants with photographs of the food they serve. Who doesn’t know what a burger in a bun looks like? If there was ever a signal not eat at a restaurant then photos of its dishes is it.

I can imagine at the height of the season it’s prettiest hellish although I note above the town just to the west the villas and settlement in general are a lot more luxurious and well healed.

Carvoeiro

A longer drive to the west brought us to Salema which we last visited some time in the last century. Anna reckons it was the in mid 1990s. It’s proverbially off the beaten track with a wonderful beach and the restaurant we fondly remembered is still there. We revisited and the lunch was as good as my memory recollects.

Continue reading Portugal Holiday – November 2021 – Part 2

Portugal Holiday – November 2021 – Part 1

You could tell everyone had been up early judging by the grumpiness of the passenger behind me as we taxied for seemingly miles along the runway before we took off – “What’s he doing? Warming the tyres up?” Otherwise our Jet2holidays flight to Faro, Portugal was thankfully uneventful. However less happily the car rental centre at Faro Airport was some way from the terminal and whilst there were trolleys, for a reason I can’t remember, we dropped ours at the terminal building and I lugged my heavy bike case over my shoulder several hundred yards.

Despite a prior internet booking I spent about 15 minutes in the rental cabin poking buttons on a screen to enable me to wrestle the car off them. As I’m providing lots of meaningless information such as ‘What’s you favourite food?’ ‘What colour underpants are you wearing?’ and ‘Who will win next year’s Eurovision Song Contest?’ a bloke from the rental company ambled across to ask how I was getting on? Error.

Continue reading Portugal Holiday – November 2021 – Part 1

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…

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

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?)
Continue reading Dumfries & Galloway – Week 33 : 2021

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.

Continue reading LEJOG – Epilogue

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.

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

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.

Continue reading Day 13 – LEJOG 2021 – Inverness to Crask

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.

Continue reading Day 12 – LEJOG 2021 – Glencoe to Inverness

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.

Continue reading Day 11 – LEJOG 2021 – Balloch to Glencoe

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…

Continue reading Day 10 – LEJOG 2021 – Moffat to Balloch

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.

Continue reading Day 9 – LEJOG 2021 – Keswick to Moffat

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
Continue reading Day 8 – LEJOG 2021 – High Bentham to Keswick

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
Continue reading Day 7 – LEJOG 2021 – Reddish to High Bentham

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!

Continue reading Day 6 – LEJOG 2021 – Crewe to Reddish

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.

Continue reading Day 5 – LEJOG 2021 – Hereford to Crewe