Lands End to John o’Groats

I’m looking back at some of the journeys I have done to add to the “from the archive” section to this blog.  Back in May 2009 I rode Land’s End to John o’Groats and I always intended to write up my experiences.  I had started the ride with high expectations of documenting each day but the reality of the ride was much more difficult than the expectation.  As I sit here thinking about how to write up my experience I realise that I don’t need to give a “how to” for others to follow.  Land’s End to John o’Groats is a personal experience and whatever I say will only be for my own reflection rather than a valuable resource for future End-2-Enders.

My Land’s End to John o’Groats; LEJOG; (also known as “End to End”, E2E) was planned and executed within a 12 month period as I knew if I talked about “one day I’d like to do LEJOG” I would never actually do it.  To give myself the additional incentive I promoted this as a fundraising effort for CentrePoint, a charity giving homeless youngsters a second chance.  I now ride long distances for fun rather than to raise money mainly because I can’t imagine anyone sponsoring me to have a holiday on my bicycle.  But back then I had set myself a target which was going to stretch me and most people I knew realised what a stretch it was.

My goal was to ride LEJOG in 10 days and to take a route which would add up to at least 1000 miles.  I outlined a fast paced touring holiday of 100 miles per day and wanted this to be completely self supported, so I wanted my own luggage but I wanted to keep light.  As part of the fund-raising I paid for all my own travel and accommodation so that none of the sponsorship would be spent on me having a holiday, and I kept the budget to 10% of the fundraising goal – otherwise it seemed like a lot of effort for very little fruitfulness.

The tools I chose for the job were:

  • Thorn Audax Mk3 Bicycle.  Bought for lightweight touring and with strong wheels.  I was led to believe that “Steel is Real” and that this was the best bike for the job.  It worked well.  However, I gave it away shortly afterwards because I never really became good friends with it.  Perhaps it was simply a setup tweak but my hands used have shooting pains down the back after a long ride – this isn’t something I experienced on any other bike.  I’m not a fussy rider and I don’t need a fussy position – but I must have had the setup for this bicycle wrong and no tweaking ever resolved that.
  • Carradice Barley saddle bag and Ortlieb handlebar-bag.  This carried everything, clothes for on and off the bicycle, tools, spares, camera, phone, wallet… everything.  I packed light and chose clothes which packed small.
  • Assos bibshorts.  At the time I had a San Marco Rolls saddle.  With the Assos shorts this was bearable.  I now know the alchemy for a good ride is actually Brooks & Assos mixed 1:1.  If in doubt, just hang about at the beginning of a 600km audax and check out what the majority of experienced riders are kitted out with.
  • Gearing; Shimano 105 groupset with 12-27 rear and 30/39/50 front.  I used almost all these gears over the 10 days.
  • Most useful item of clothing… Rain-legs.  I ended up wearing these most days and they did a great job of keeping my crotch and thighs dry.
  • Most useless item of clothing… Montane Featherlite Velo.  It was the wrong jacket for the wrong weather.  As it rained most days after 5 days it turned to papier-mâché and I threw it in the bin.

15th May 2009 – Day 0

I hired a car in Teesside and loaded the Thorn for a one-way journey to Penzance, this worked out more cheaply than a train and with less bicycle ticket hassle.  I had a relaxing afternoon in Penzance at a waterfront cafe before cycling to the YH at St. Just.

Day 1 – Land’s End to Bude

Set off nice and early into a howling headwind down to Land’s End.  Struggled along the driveway to the hotel and then messed around trying to get my camera to balance on a small tripod to take a self portrait.  Watched rain blast in from the Atlantic.  Turned my back to the weather and was helped along for the rest of the day.  The target is a 100 mile per day “touring holiday”, so I immediately took a detour to Mousehole.  With a cute name like Mousehole it was bound to be picturesque, and it was.  The added benefit was that once I had descended to Mousehole I remember it being easy to get to Penzance and onwards.  My route traced B-Roads and country lanes and I used pages torn from my road atlas as a navigation aid.  Rather than plan the route in detail I just set location goals and tried my best to navigate on-the-fly.  This saved me the anxiety of being “off-route”.  The route avoided the A30 and the A394 and was therefore quite scenic and indirect.  It also required me to do a fair amount of orientation at each junction, the road atlas wasn’t always obvious enough.  One sure-fire way to know I was going in the correct direction was to consider the direction of the gales.  If I was struggling into the wind, I was probably going the wrong way.

I became a little disorientated at Falmouth, and spent too long cycling the wrong way, but eventually I found the correct direction and made it to Truro for lunchtime.  After the peace and quiet of the countryside I found Truro distressing.  I didn’t want to lock up my bicycle and leave it alone, so I found a cafe where I could sit outside.  The cheese toastie was poor.

Feeling a little dejected and keen to move on, I headed out of Truro, yet kept off the A390, and managed to avoid the A39 until St Columb where I gave up my struggling navigation and got my head down for some fast paced cycling through Wadebridge.  On the descent to the high level bridge over the River Camel, with the gale blowing me along, and with a fully laden bicycle I achieved a high speed of 53mph… something I’ve still not passed at the time of writing.  Even descending from Fox Crosses on the BCM in 2013 I didn’t beat this top speed.

Just outside Wadebridge, at St Kew I stopped for a squall to pass over, and found a shop selling Cornish Pasties… and they were delicious.  I had two.  And watched the hail stones bounce off the cars outside.

When the brief storm had blown over, I continued along the A39… keeping a brisk pace towards my target town of Bude.  Just before I arrived though I had to stop for an accident.  Sadly two cars had collided, one making an overtaking maneuver had hit an oncoming car.  I spoke to the traffic officer for a while and he talked about the dangers of excessive speed.  I reflected on my 53mph antics from earlier.

And finally, just as I arrived in Bude an almightly hailstorm hammered down, drenching and battering me to pieces.  I arrived at my B&B (no YH in Bude) tired and ready for some food.

The beginnings of a routine would form for each evening, I had to change out of my cycling clothes into my casual wear, get my clothes washed and hung out to dry, carry out bicycle care, find some food.  I don’t know who said it, but I do remember “Look after your horse, and your horse will look after you”, I was sure to take care with the Thorn, checking the tyres, wiping down the chain and adding some light oil to disperse the rain water.  I made sure the bicycle was well before I worried about my food.

168km in 7hrs 8mins (saddle time).  Wind, sun, rain hail.

Day 2 – Bude to Cheddar Gorge

An early morning start, about 7am.  Only a light breakfast because there are some hills ahead, I’m supposed to be doing Exmoor today.  The sun is shining and the wind is still to my back.  I enjoy passing signs pointing south to Holsworthy as I head for Great Torrington and South Molton avoiding anything that looks like a main road.

I was going to only dip half my wheel into Exmoor, but on a short climb near South Molton I felt a pain in my left knee which made me cry out.  It was as though someone had sandwiched my knee between two bricks, the pain was incredible.  I sat at the side of the road on the morning of day 2 wondering how on earth I was going to carry on.  I admit to crying in frustration and disappointment.  After about 10 minutes of fretting I decided to limp on, using just my right leg.  I found a church in South Molton and as it was Sunday, and 10am, I locked my bicycle up and went into the service. I sat at the back and prayed.

Leaving the church I spoke to a few people and they agreed to sponsor me for the ride, and feeling a bit tender still I looked at the map for a flatter route onwards.  I decided to take the B3227 to Bampton.  As time progressed I had a little food and kept riding, taking it easy and using a bit more effort on my right leg.  When I passed Wiveliscombe and Bishop’s Lydeard I saw a hill in front of me, but I assumed that the road would turn right at the bottom and follow the line of the valley to Bridgewater.  I was wrong.  The road went up.  This was the Quantock Hills, but I was so under-researched I had no idea.  It was only after climbing and climbing that I eventually found a sign saying “Welcome to the Quantock Hills”, pretty much at the top just before an massive descent into Bridgewater.

Having climbed through these hills without dying, I was quite bubbly with joy, so I ploughed through Bridgewater at speed, as it was Sunday I realised I couldn’t call in at SJS Cycles and talk about the Thorn Audax Mk3 and my End-to-End plan… so I rolled on.  The ground was flat and I was picking up speed, my knee had stopped bothering me and I found myself tucked in and speeding towards my goal of the Cheddar Gorge YH.

Bike / Clothes / Food; the usual routine.  I was really happy to have made it despite feeling like I couldn’t go on that very same morning.  It was difficult to remember that this was the same day.

I spoke to Carol and we agreed that I needed rest and a plan to take it very easy the following day.

170km in 8hrs 50mins riding.  Sunshine and wind, then rain.

Day 3 – Cheddar Gorge to Leominster

Another lovely morning and another early start, 6am.  The absolutely quiet and abandoned road up Cheddar Gorge was a wonderful thing to ride up, no cars, no noise.  Except one lone rider singing the Lord’s Prayer and weaving his way up the incline without a care in the world.  The climb is easy, and all my fears of yesterday melted away.  My knees were great, my strength was good and the weather was beautiful, if slightly windy.  At the top of the climb I saw a herd of deer cross the road ahead of me, one large stag stood in the middle of the road while the others ran across, and then followed them.  It was a wonderful sight and I’m glad there were no fast moving motorists out at this early hour.

From Cheddar I rode around Bristol to the South, then East, then North; via Chew Magna and Keynsham.  The traffic was a bit of a culture shock on the short sections of A road I occasionally found myself using.  At Yate I stopped at the Bike Station where I bought a couple of cycling specific energy bars and the gentleman in the workshop let me check my tyre pressures with his track pump.

There was not much choice but busy roads now, and I found my way through Alveston near Thornbury and down to the cycle crossing over the Severn.

So far the weather had been gloriously sunny, and although a bit windy it was warm and enjoyable.  I could see the black curtain of rain falling on Wales from where I was in England.  I stopped just before the bridge to eat some sandwiches I’d picked up earlier.  I put my coat on.  I put my rain-legs on.  I put my overshoes on.  I prepared for battle with Wales.

What a torrential downpour awaited me, no sooner had my front wheel touched the Welsh side of the bridge than I was soaked.  From Chepstow I followed the climb of the A466 towards Tintern.  The descent was treacherous in the wet and I kept the lights switched on to help drivers spot me in the rain.  At Tintern Abbey I stopped to admire the ruins and work out where to go next.

Instead of the obvious Monmouth route, I mistakenly thought that St Briavels and English Bicknor were the easiest way North.  So what followed was some of the steepest climbing on the whole LEJOG, the road wound up and the whole climb involved out-of-the-saddle effort.  My left knee whispered to me to take it easy… I wasn’t mashing my way up fast, I knew that if I paced it easily I should be okay.  I think this was a time when I began to listen to my body while cycling.

The descent into the Wye Valley was really rewarding, and accompanied by the sunshine making an appearance again.  Then I found a private road along the river for miles, avoiding any traffic at all.  I passed through Hereford and after this followed the A49 to Leominster.

Bike / Wash clothes / Eat.  I found a pub just round the corner from the Leominster YH and enjoyed a couple of pints with the locals.  Offers of sponsorship poured in.  Baked potato and chili… and beer.  I was in a shared dorm and I was never going to be popular after that dinner.

189km with 10hrs in the saddle.  Wind, sun and torrential downpours.

Day 4 – Leominster to Pickmere (near Knutsford)

No sleep.  Leominster YH is next to Leominster Cathedral.  The clock strikes every 15 minutes.  Aargh.  I set off at 4:30am.

This was the flattest, fastest and easiest ride of the whole trip.  I was enjoying the countryside which passed and enjoying the wildlife.  I passed through Much Wenlock and stopped for lunch in Ironbridge.  I crossed over the iron bridge in Ironbridge because I felt it had to be done.  I also searched out a bicycle shop to repair a rattle on the rear mudguard where the retaining bolt had fallen off.  Leaving Ironbridge was the only climb I remember from the day, and at the top I joined the A442 to Telford.  I heard Telford was the centre of everything and expected to see some of the town as I cycled through.  On the day there were roadworks and the dual carriageway was down to a single lane, but with the slightly downhill gradient I was able to blast along fairly fast, probably just over 30mph all the way, which thankfully meant I did not hold up traffic.  I didn’t get to see Telford though, the dual carriageway was separated from the town by embankments and hedges, I was out the other side without ever seeing the town at all.

I remember sticking to fairly main roads through Market Drayton and Audlem up to Nantwich, but I might have used some back roads occasionally, I do remember moving fairly fast.  The sun came out and I stopped to take off my rain-legs in a layby, which caused raised eyebrows from passing traffic.

I stopped for some food in Nantwich, but got a little lost leaving the town.  I was relieved to be on much quieter lanes North of Nantwich as I found my way to Middlewich and eventually to the tiny village of Pickmere.  I was booked in to a brilliant B&B in Pickmere; Pickmere Country House.

Bike / Clothes… and then for some food.  A friend and colleague from PerkinElmer, Barry Oakes came to say hello while I was close to his home.  We ate together and I couldn’t stop talking.  After so long without company my whole experience was flooding out.  Barry was so helpful too, he’d brought a track pump and some cleaning bits and bobs so I was able to thoroughly look after my bike.

170km in 7hrs 56mins riding.  Wind, sun and heavy rain.

First few days of cycling from Land’s End to Knutsford
Day 5 – Pickmere (nr Knutsford) to Kendal

A wonderful night’s sleep and a gentle wake up.  I felt great and had a nice cooked breakfast before hitting the road at 8am.  Today’s target was Kendal in the Lake District and I had a big climb ahead, crossing the Forest of Bowland.

Firstly though I found some beautiful little lanes and crossed over the Manchester Ship Canal at Warburton.  There were also plenty of motorways to cross over or under today.  Even though this was one of the most built up sections of the ride I found the countryside empty and scenic.  It is difficult looking at the map now to remember exactly the route I took. Partly because there was very little official planning, but also because it seems impossible to pick a green and pleasant route through the apparent metropolis on the map.  I did have a quiet ride until I reached Accrington and on the way to Whalley I found myself on some very fast roads.  Eventually though, navigating on the fly, I reached Clitheroe and stopped at a Garden Centre for lunch.  There was another cyclist here and we talked about my route ahead.  He advised that I avoid Waddington Hill and that it was easier to go round, I listened to him and followed his advice, but looking back at the map I can’t see anything that ought to have caused me difficulty, especially given the real climb that was ahead.  The climb to the Cross of Greet.  I had to climb past Slaidburn reservoir and I recall a moment of believing I was half way.  I was not.  The road went up forever, although I am fortunate that I was climbing the easy way.  I prayed at each pedal-stroke., “Thank you God.  Thank you God.  Thank you God.”  I was exhausted by the time I reached the top and I was rewarded with the heavens choosing this moment to empty on me.

From the cattle grid at the top, all the way down through Bentham, the heavens emptied everything they had and I was very nervous on the steep slippery road, wondering if my brakes were good enough.  My coat (the lightweight Montane Featherlite Velo) turned to mush and melted in the rain, plastering me with wet papier-mâché, although to be fair this was day five of heavy rain and it is only supposed to be a light rain jacket.  I passed through Kirkby Lonsdale and Old Hutton into Kendal.  I kept looking for signs to Kendal because I was so disorientated that from Bentham I thought I was on the outskirts.  It felt like an especially long way, expecting to be there “any moment now” and in the pouring rain.

On the bright side, when I arrived in Kendal the sun came out, and two good friends, Stephen Latif and Jonathan Turner had driven over after work to see me.  Bike clean, clothes clean… and out for beer and curry.  Another evening of two stunned faces while I spoke non-stop of the experience. Stephen tells me that I looked exhausted, but I didn’t feel it.  A late night ensued and I’m really grateful to the guys for being there to keep me company that evening, I know it was very late by the time they made it back to Teesside.

173km 9hrs 36mins riding.  Sunshine and warmth while going uphill, torrential rain while going downhill.

Day 6 – Kendal to Hawick

I had a private room at Kendal YH but I still woke early and was on the road by 6am.  There is a long climb from Kendal and I was aiming for Tebay services.  I got a little lost and needed to double-back when I saw the sign to Shap, my route was intended to be more interesting and I wanted to have breakfast at Tebay.

I was halfway from Land’s End to John o’Groats, and I was completely drained.  Taking the A685, it had drizzled with rain from Kendal to Tebay services and damped my enjoyment of the descent to cross the M6.  When I sat in the service station I was at the closest point to home on the whole ride and feeling melancholy.  Home… just along the A66… I called Carol.  I wanted to stop and go home; I had the longest day, 200km, ahead of me and it was raining again.  I was also aiming for Peebles with a crossing of Eskdalemuir; I was a bit overwhelmed by the task ahead and said so to Carol. With only the love and care a closest friend can offer, she told me to pull myself together and just get on with it.  A great piece of advice that came with it was to spend £5 on a fleece from the petrol station and keep warm.  I later discovered how concerned Carol was about me – frantic and unsure if she’d told me the right thing to push on.  She sent me encouraging texts all day, which hid her concern.  Carol: you did the right thing, I love you.

From the deepest depths of giving up, to the highest heights of enjoyment: The Eden Valley in the sunshine.  I understand that the Eden Valley is sheltered by the geography of the Pennines and the Lake District… possibly the most gorgeous place in the UK and under-visited by tourists.  I thoroughly enjoyed myself and crossed over the Coast-to-Coast route at Langwathby.  There were loads of riders taking on the route from coast to coast and it was really lovely to see cyclists again – I’d not seen many on my ride so far.

When cycling a long way the scenery moves past in a wonderful way; the hills ahead of you will be underneath you, behind you and lost from view by the end of the day: and your legs will have carried you through it all.  It is a fantastic way to see the country.

I remained in the shelter of the Pennines up to Brampton for lunch in a lovely little cafe, with more offers of sponsorship for Centrepoint.

On the way between Newtown and Longtown I had a front wheel puncture; downhill on gravel.  When I caught my breath I gave thanks for staying upright.  Although the sun had disappeared it wasn’t raining and I was able to find a little shelter from the wind to replace the inner tube.  I checked the tyre for the cause, but couldn’t find anything.  It is much more reassuring when you do find something, but I inflated the tyre and carried on.

In Langholm it was 5pm and my next route was to go over Eskdalemuir to Peebles.  I decided that flexibility was the better part of heroics and changed my target to Hawick.  I phoned Carol and asked if she could help find somewhere to stay and I called the B&B in Peebles to cancel my stay.  I followed the A7 from Langholm to Hawick which was another ride of two halves: uphill in the warmth and sunshine, downhill in the rain and hail.  I arrived at Hawick and was warmly welcomed by Sonia at the Bridge Guest House.  Bike clean, wash, food….  The attached restaurant also run by Sonia provided delicious pasta and some bottled ale.  She was a good host.

167km in 8hrs and 45mins riding.  Sunshine, then rain, then hail.

Two days in the North of England

Day 7 – Hawick to Pitlochry

Getting up early was becoming a habit and I was on the road by 6am again, today I chose to follow the tourist route in to Edinburgh along the A7 the whole way; I couldn’t get lost and it appeared to be the best route anyway.  Through Selkirk and Galashiels – I remember being overtaken by an articulated lorry somewhere along this road and later passing the driver sat having a mug of coffee in a layby, he waved hello to me, acknowledging the distance I’d covered, but unaware of the full story.  It made me smile to think back on how far I’d traveled and that less than a week ago I’d been setting of from Land’s End heading to Bude.

I followed the A7 the whole way to Edinburgh and then round Dalkeith, but along Old Dalkeith road into the city centre.  On the way in I punctured and stopped to fix this, but immediately punctured again, taking my last inner tube.  I patched this and hoping for the best set off again – uncomfortable that I’d not found the source of the puncture.  I was now looking for a bike shop for spares, and at the same time I was noticing the Thorn had really suffered from the unrelenting rain of previous days.  The brakes were sticking; I’d pull the STI levers to brake, but then have to “push” the levers to release the brakes… the chain was making a grating sound, despite nightly care.  I found one shop but it was very busy and didn’t have a mechanic available to help, they did have raincoats though and at £120 I bought the most expensive coat I could find; a Gortex Paclite “ray-of-sunshine yellow anti-rain device”.  Cycling further I found a cycling co-operative shop, and was immediately invited in to have my bike fully serviced. Before you read the service list, remember that I had prepared for this ride and had new or nearly new equipment:

  • New brake cables.  Both front and back had become slightly rusty and were sticking.
  • New gear cables.  As above.
  • New brake blocks.  All worn out.
  • Chain cleaned and lubricated.
  • Two new tyres; I swapped the originals for Gatorskins which I was assured had survived Edinburgh’s cycle paths.
  • Four spare inner tubes to carry, all spares had been used.

All done on the spot and I was able to see what was worn and replaced.  I couldn’t believe the battering my bicycle had taken so far.

Leaving Edinburgh I found the crossing of the Forth Road Bridge and headed into Kinross and Milnathort before climbing Tulloch road and turning East to reach the Bridge of Earn and the A912 to Perth.  In Perth I saw a lovely looking bicycle shop and although I didn’t need to stop I popped in for a look around.  I talked to the staff about my ride and had more offers of sponsorship.  I had a bite to eat and then made to leave Perth.  The city of Perth is really nice, but I made the mistake of joining the A9 northbound at rush hour.  I don’t think a single driver gave me more than an inch of space, and there was an unrelenting stream of cars and trucks as it became a dual carriageway and I took the Luncarty slip road.

After leaving the main A9 I was rewarded with beautiful quiet backroads weaving alongside it all the way through Dunkeld and on to Pitlochry.  In Pitlochry the Youth Hostel rule of only having property at the top of the biggest hill applies, however I was so happy to be here I zoomed uphill with a wide grin plastered across my face.  Bike clean, clothes clean… off to the pub.

I had been recommended the Moulin pub, next to the Moulin brewery and I relished the chance of a fine pub, great food and local beer.  As did everyone else in Pitlochry!  It was absolutely packed and I had to insinuate my way to the bar where I ordered a pint for now and a pint for next.  I asked about food and the barman said I’d have to find a table.  Behind me were two women at a small round table and with a spare-looking stool.  I smiled, and asked if I could join them.  They were not really in a position to object, the pub was cheek to jowl with people.  I turned back to the bar and the barman gave me a wink and smile – clearly impressed with my choice of table.  A brief conversation with these two women was all that I needed to know they didn’t cycle.  They turned subtly sideways on to me, indicating the conversation was over.  I waited for my food and ordered a quart more ale.  I’m sure the barman would have given me the beer free of charge if I’d asked, misreading my masculine ability to find the two prettiest women in the pub.

209km, 10hrs 12mins cycling.  Sunshine all day.

Day 8 – Pitlochry to Nigg

Up early and into the cold dawn; a 5am start setting off northbound from Pitlochry, past Blair Atholl in the misty chill and heading for Drumochter pass.  The sign said “Danger of Death! Beware cyclists daring to go any further, the snow will fall, the wind will blow and you will die!”  I was quite rightly worried.  I’ll not dwell on the terrors of Drumochter pass, suffice to say that when I reached Dalwhinnie I was a changed man.  For a start, I was hungry and found a welcome breakfast at the first place I could find.

From Dalwhinnie I made my way on lovely quiet roads all the way to Aviemore – which after the isolation was a shock to the system  I couldn’t stop even though I’d been looking forward to it since breakfast.  i thought it would be like an alpine town, but it was more like a shopping strip.  I don’t think it is really as bad as I’m describing,  I suspect that the culture shock of moving from isolation to a crowded place was more than I wanted to handle, so I kept going.  At Carrbridge was the interesting circular old bridge which could be seen from the road; but mainly I was alone with my thoughts and empty Scotland.  I wasn’t stopping.  My mind was turning to a new and interesting development… Carol and the kids were coming to Scotland for a week long holiday, so were my parents; we’d rented a big house in Nigg and after my ride I was going to spend a few days recovering with them.  I was now getting text messages from my Carol who had been driving north for hours.

At Inverness I stopped on a bridge over the A9, convinced that I’d see either my parents, or Carol and the kids drive underneath.  I followed the cycle route into Inverness which took me round the industrial estate to the cycle path over Kessock bridge.  Here I met a roadie who was riding LEJOG as part of a massive team event, with a van carrying luggage and providing transfers from location to location.  He’d fallen off the back of the group and was lost, we rode together for a bit and chatted about the route ahead, but he was a bit distracted by not knowing where his friends were.  I was following back roads next to the A9, he headed back to the A9 to continue his relentless bash along main roads.  It takes all sorts… I know that many people will think my ride was crazy, but in my defense I’d been sightseeing as well as covering a good distance.  I like Great Britain and I like seeing the countryside and (sometimes) the towns.

At the very next roundabout I saw Carol come past in the car, I waved madly and they pulled off the road.  There was a lot of joy in our meeting, big hugs with the kids and loads of excitement.  Apparently they thought I’d finished because when Carol set off again, leaving me and my bike by the side of the road, they were surprised I wasn’t coming.  I followed in the sun on the A9 to sweep fast downhill and cross the Cromarty bridge.

I’d had two days of lovely sunshine.  It couldn’t last and it didn’t, the dark clouds rolled in and then the rain started.  Enough to fill the gutters and overflow.  Enough to form deep puddles at the side of the road, and spread slowly towards the middle of the road.  Imagine my amusement at being drowned by passing motorists spraying me with fresh fallen Scottish rainwater.

I pulled off at Invergordon and found shelter on the railway platform, calling Carol.  I’d had enough.  She picked me up and took me to the holiday home in Nigg.  Bike clean, clothes clean and home-cooked food.

198km in 8hrs 48mins of cycling.  Mainly sunshine until the torrential downpour at the end of the day.

Day 9 – Nigg to Strathy

Carol drove me back to Invergordon where she’d picked me up, even to the point I insisted at the railway station.  I waved goodbye and settled back into the saddle for this day.  I knew Carol had left the Katherine and Edward with my Mum and Dad for the day, she would be joining me in the very north of Scotland for a night and we’d all meet up the following day at John o’Groats.

At Tain I left the A9 and headed for Bonar Bridge.  The touring part of this ride required that I ignore the fastest way to JoG via the A9 coast road.  It was still too early for lunch at Bonar Bridge and I kept going to the B864 to pass the Fall of Shin where Carol met me and we stopped for a bit. The life-size life-like statue of Mohamed Abdel Moneim Al-Fayed in a kilt welcoming us into the gift shop was a bit weird.  On the way out of the cafe we overheard some elderly people getting off the coach:

Elderly person one, “Shall we take the walk to the falls?”

Elderly person two, “Yes, otherwise we’re just lurching from tearoom to tearoom.”

The ‘walk to the falls’ was a 20m level tarmac path through a glade to the edge of a river to see the famous “Falls of Shin” waterfall.

Beyond this was the crossing to Lairg and beyond that was Crask Inn.  We didn’t stop, but one day I hope to come back and visit.  The afternoon was drawing on and a descent was next on the cards.  I rolled for what felt like ages, all the way down to Altnaharra and I turned right onto the B873 alongside Loch Naver.  I was passed in the opposite direction by a stream of classic motorcycles, so I smiled and waved at as many as I could.  It was a lovely smooth road, undulating generally downhill alongside the River Naver towards the sea.

At Bettyhill we were on the northern coast of Scotland at last.  There was still light in the day and I met with Carol to discuss tactics.  We had booked into the Youth Hostel at Tongue, so I could cycle as far as I like in towards John o’Groats and then we’d drive back to for the night.

At the Strathy Inn I called it a day.  There was a car park and pub, so we stopped for a drink and some food.  I had about 60km (37 miles) left and we talked about finishing off, but decided that my parents and kids would like to be there at the end to celebrate, so why rush to finish?  We headed back to Tongue, where the Youth Hostel was excellent and the views were stunning.

152km cycled in 5hrs 59mins.  Sunshine all day long.

Day 10 – Strathy Inn to John o’Groats

Carol dropped me back at Strathy Inn and headed East to Thurso on the A386.  What a horrible road surface.  It didn’t matter, I was on the final run and stopped for breakfast with Carol in Thurso even though the supermarket had only just opened.  We’d called Mum and Dad, Katherine and Edward so they knew I was nearly there.

Nearly there… it was 20 miles into a headwind, so took another hour and a half.  I saw a group of people by the side of the road and in the distance I waved frantically at them with a big smile on my face.  Thankfully I think that these people waiting at a bus stop hadn’t noticed my odd behaviour.  When I did finally get to John o’Groats I was confused by the road layout and ended up swooping in through the car park and bunny hopping the curb to brake to a halt right behind where everyone was waiting with a banner to welcome me in.  Slight consternation that I’d arrived from the wrong direction was quickly replaced with joy at being together again.

The Welcome Wagon!
68km in 2hrs 55mins in the beautiful sunshine.
The last section, weaving through Scotland

It didn’t feel this pointy!

Woo!  Cycling from one end of mainland Great Britain to the other!
1,665 km (1034 miles)
21 kph average (13 mph)
80hrs, 11mins and 29secs cycling
9.5 days total

Estimated energy: 52,344 kcal

We posed for photographs and paid the gentleman who owned the sign-post.

It was 10:30am so I felt justified in claiming to have ridden LEJOG in nine and a half days.

I sometimes tell people that cycling LEJOG is a wonderful experience that everyone should have a go at.  It doesn’t matter how you do it, supported or alone, in a week, a month or a year: it is a great way to see Great Britain.  However I have to come clean; I found it an emotional rollercoaster, but I do think I’ve become stronger for doing it.  That was back in 2009 – this year (2013) I cycled BCM mainly alone and had a lovely time… I think I grew a lot during LEJOG. All that remained now was to have a Scottish holiday

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