Thursday, 17 April 2008


My John O'Groats to Land's End trip was many years ago. Even so, I decided to post the account as I'm sure it will be of great interest!

Here it goes, as a sort of pre-amble to the main feature of Land's End to John O'Groats and Back.

May/June 1994


I had planned on an End-to-End ride some years before, but really wanted to go both ways. The problem with arriving at the ‘End’ after your one-way trip, you have to get home! And so has your bike! So Both Ways has it’s merits. Here you are at John O’Groats, needing transport home, when guess what? You’re sitting on it! Just turn around, and head on south!

11 days each way is about right, but 3 weeks is required to do a round trip. Sadly, my boss would only stick his neck out so far, so I had to make do with only 14 day’s leave.

My trump card was that the ship I was on at the time, HMS Argyll, just happened to be undergoing trials off the North West of Scotland and then due to arrive in Portsmouth a couple of weeks later. I wasn’t going to be much missed during the trials, or even while the ship was travelling south - so my leave was granted. I had ‘free’ transport to Scotland via HMS Argyll, and had ‘Forces Discount’ on the railways, only a relatively short hop up to John O’Groats.

I began planning. I joined the YHA and booked myself into hostels up and down the country. I produced sponsor forms, collecting for The Plymouth and District Cardiology Fund (now Heartswell) based at Derriford Hospital in Plymouth. (When all the sponsorship monies were in, I’d raised nearly £1,000!)

The charity was the main beneficiary for Albaston FĂȘte that year, so I figured that I could swell the coffers even more with my efforts. The leading light of the Cardiology Fund was Monica Pearce, a larger than life character, and she was delighted. My boss wasn’t. He wanted me to support a ‘Naval Charity’, I wasn’t interested - I just wanted to ride my bike, and I felt I’d rather support a local charity and Albaston, than the Royal Navy. Actually, it was about the time that I’d started to become disillusioned with naval life. This seemed like a good escape!

Another stroke of good fortune was that our very good friends, Val and Loz lived in Helensburgh, about 15 miles from where I pulled myself away from the Argyll. They could put me up for the night, and then get me to Glasgow in time for a train north.

My plan was to make John O’Groats by train on the first day, then cycle my way south to Land’s End. Hilary could meet me and drive me home to Gunnislake. I’d then hire a car to get back to Argyll in Portsmouth a day or so later. Simple!

The following is basically the diary of my trip. I took notes as I went, and tried to recount each day’s journey in the evenings. It was a rather jotty and fragmented work, and I’ve tried to amplify and rearrange the words with the hope of making it more readable. Don’t forget that 1994 was a time before mass use of computers, the Internet and mobile phones. All I had was a BT Chargecard, YHA membership, money and Mars Bars.

Enjoy .....

May/June 1994

HMS Argyll arrived at Faslane Submarine Base on the Clyde at llam. I set off on my fully-prepared bike to Helensburgh soon after 3, via the married quarters where we used to live. The ride tested the bike, my luggage racks and my stuff packed into the four panniers, and it also gave me a chance for a look around and to reminisce. I arrived at Val and Loz's house, with no bicycle problems at all.

After tea and much conversation over a couple of glasses of wine through the evening, Loz and me stripped the panniers off my bike. We removed the wheels, and fitted the frame and the separated wheels into my home-made cycle carrying bag. We loaded the whole lot into Loz's trailer in his garage, ready for an early start in the morning. I was in bed and sound asleep by 10.30.

Loz and me were up bright and early at 5am. I was eager for the off, with an early train to catch! After breakfast of cereal and a cup of tea, Loz drove me and my stuff to Glasgow Queen Street station.

I boarded a very crowded 0710 for Inverness, glad of my cycle bag - I could stow it all as luggage and keep an eye on it. Modern trains sometimes don’t carry bicycles due to the lack of Guards’ Vans. My bike was now just ‘luggage’! The train arrived on time at Inverness at 1040. Luggage and me survived.

I crossed the station for the Wick train, not without a little confusion about which train for Thurso and which for Wick. I believed the train I boarded was the right one, and I also believed I had to change at Georgemass Jnct. (Wherever that was!) Anyway we departed on time at llam. I tucked in to pork pies and cottage cheese I’d brought with me, and bought a couple cups of tea from the buffet car at 70p each. With lots of snow on the mountains and wildlife on view from the windows, including a large herd of Red Deer, it was a very beautiful and memorable journey.

The train arrived at Wick at 2.45pm. I didn’t have to worry that I was on the right train, as at Georgemass the train split - one half going on to Thurso, the other to Wick. After re-assembling the bike, and tying the now empty bike-bag onto the top of my panniers, I was on the road by 3pm, wending my way northwards for the 17 miles to John O'Groats. The weather was very windy and chilly, but very sunny. There was a head-wind all the way to the hostel at Canisbay. A difficult but good ride. I noted that as it was very windy and bleak so far north here, I'd wrap up warm the following morning on my way south.

I arrived at the hostel at 4.15, but there was a notice on the front door announcing that the hostel wasn’t going to open till 5.00. As there was a phone-box just a little way down the road, I phoned home and gave Hilary an update on how things were going promising that I’d phone again later after I’d settled in.

There was a small Post Office-cum-shop nearby, I parcelled up the bike-bag into an already prepared brown paper parcel, I stuck it all down with sticky tape and called in to get it weighed and to post it home. The Post Office bit of the shop was closed as it was Saturday! There was no way I was carrying it all the way to Land’s End, so I asked nicely if they’d weigh it anyway, charge me the postage, and hold it until Monday. Thankfully, the chap behind the counter said he could do it.
After buying a very expensive loaf of Mother's Pride for 72p, I checked into the hostel and met three other cyclists, two of which were from the Faeroes. They were cycling from the north of Shetland to the Isles of Scilly. They appeared not to be too well prepared route-wise, or anything else, let alone their clapped-out bikes, the two younger ones had never been south of the Scottish border. I got the impression that the three of them were related, maybe the older one was a father or uncle. We chatted for a while, with them asking lots of questions about the geography of England and what the hills were like. We poured over maps.

I unloaded the panniers, picked a bunk, locked my bike in the shed, had a shower, then ate. I’d come stocked up with food for a few meals, so I got started with smoked fish, dried mashed potato, bread and Primula - a strange concoction, but very tasty. I went out to the phone box again and phoned home, then phoned Val and Loz to say thanks for helping me out. Monica Pearce from the Cardiology Fund had phoned the hostel during the day and left a message wishing me luck.

I mooched around a bit for the evening as there was no telly or radio, so read some bits of National Geographic in the lounge and then got turned in with a Peanuts cartoon book. I was fast asleep by 10.15.

During the night the fire alarm sounded - false alarm thank goodness. The warden, a Scouser, apologised and said that is was because it was made in Britain! He added that to get a faulty smoke detector fixed, he would need to get the engineer from Inverness, 120 miles away. Also, when the VAT comes on fuel, he reckoned that the place may have to close because it would make a loss. What a shame.

Up bright and early at 6.45 and eager for the off. After a wash and dressing into my bike gear and a cup of tea, it was beans on toast. I chatted over breakfast with my Shetland friends, and asked one of them to take my photograph outside the hostel.

I was on the road at 8.25 and followed my nose the few miles to John O'Groats proper. I reset my cycle computer, and took a couple of photographs at the signpost. The place was deserted, maybe it was because it was early on a Sunday morning. Off I pedalled south towards Wick on the A99, the same road I’d travelled the previous afternoon.

I made Wick at 9.40 with the wind over my left shoulder and joined the A9 at Latheron. The route became progressively hilly, with the last 10 to 15 miles very difficult, I felt that I should have re-geared the bike with even more low ratios for the journey. The worst bit on this first day was definitely the steep ‘Braes of Berriedale’.

As it turned out, the gearing was fine, though I did worry about the route from Inverness to Pitlochry, or even the Scottish Borders and Cumbria.

The day’s ride was only 52.2 miles and I’d only spent 4 hours in the saddle. It had been a difficult first day and I wasn’t completely confident that I could keep to my schedule.

I arrived at Helmsdale at 1pm, the YHA wasn’t going to open until 5, I was hungry - desperately hungry. I found the nearest hotel advertising bar meals, and entered the Belgrave Hotel. It was friendly and chatty, and the barman came from Wiltshire! I started to think that the Highlands were populated by Southerners!

I felt that I’d had a good introductory first day’s ride, though I was very tired due to a lack of training and the very steep hills. I knew I'd improve as the miles progressed. At least the weather was OK, very sunny though with a bitterly cold wind. I was wearing tights, T shirt, cycling top and jumper, not to mention the blasted helmet I’d promised to wear!

I chose the Steak and Kidney Pie, Chips and Peas for £4.50 and washed it down with 3 pints of McEwan’s 80/-. Very nice and relaxing. I left there at 2.45, for a short sight-seeing tour, then lay down on a grassy bank near the railway station and promptly fell asleep in the sunshine. I awoke an hour later to the sound of Westminster Chimes from the monument clock. I phoned Hilary to let her know all was ok, and that I was fed and watered. Then a bit more sight-seeing in a park by the river whilst awaiting 5pm for YHA to open.

I bought milk and eggs for tea and for the following morning’s breakfast from a little shop just before it closed, and booked in to the YHA at 5pm prompt. There was only cold water for a wash, and I climbed into ‘normal’ clothes and made a cup of tea. The hostel was very spartan and arranged in a communal way with open plan kitchen and bench seats and big tables, and sadly, no telly or radio.

After phoning Hilary again, my Shetland friends had arrived so we had a long chat about the route so far and how we we doing. They had been very slow compared to me (as expected). I was invited to join them with their ‘Faeroe Fruit Soup’. It was very good, much like a tin of fruit cocktail heated up, with banana, peach, pear, apple, sultanas, and more - very nice and different.

Also in the hostel there was a young law student from Exeter University cycling to Land's End off-road! God knows what route he followed or how long it took him.

The five of us walked down to the town for chips during the evening. I turned in at 9.30 and slept like a log.

I was up at 6.30 with boiled eggs, toast, Primula, chicken roll and two cups of tea - nice breakfast! Went on to a good clean-up of the hostel’s bunk areas, bathrooms and kitchen etc, then got my stuff organized ready for the off.

I left with lots of good-byes to all at 7.50. It was a slow, hard ride out of Helmsdale southwards, some hills, but mainly because it was very wet with that awful Scottish rain - all thin and drizzly. It was a good job I was well wrapped up against the cold and damp. I stopped a couple of times in the first few hours for chocolate and water, wondering if this weather was going to be the way of it, all the way to Land’s End.

I made the little town of Tain, half way to Inverness, and got stuck in to Mars and peanuts whilst sat on a park bench. An elderly man gave admiring glances to my bike, so we had a chat and he told me he used to race Mercians in his younger days. I told him of my adventures, and was off again by 10.45.

The wind and drizzle was really getting to me, and the A9 was more and more busy, so I took a left turn to follow the B871 through Invergordon on the Firth of Cromarty. It was a level route and quiet - thank goodness - but still very windy.

I cracked the first 100 miles of the journey at 12.15 in Alness, just south of Invergordon and re-joined the busy A9. I was cold, damp and tired, and my spirits were low. I found a small cafe next to a garden centre, propped my bike up, went in, and ordered quiche and salad - very welcome, but not as welcome as the large pot of tea! Not bad value for £3.80. I was very wet and cold, so I took my time over the tea and I warmed up, all the time studying my maps and hoping I’d make Inverness soon. It was still raining as I left the cafe at 12.45.

I arrived in Inverness at 3pm. The 20 miles from Alness were difficult because of rain, wind and heavy traffic over the Black Isle. Eventually, I had to don my cycling cape as the rain was really lashing down. I wished I'd done it earlier, and I kept it on right up to entering the hostel. Mind you, I walked round the town a bit looking for the hostel and had to ask the way at a police station. I found the hostel right in middle of town opposite the castle.

After checking in and finding a bunk, I phoned home and spoke to Beverly, and told her I’d phone again at 6pm.

I went out for a spot of shopping, bought four bars of Dairy Milk, sausages, bread rolls and milk. I decided to have soup and finish off the Mother's Pride for tea, but popped in for a Macdonald's to keep me going. The weather cleared up for the evening - better late than never!

My Shetland friends arrived at 5.30. They'd not booked but luckily there was just enough room for them. Again, we chatted about our routes and the mountains. I said that I was taking the shortest most direct route over the Grampians, they favoured the ‘Great Glen’ A82 via Loch Ness and Rannoch Moor - flatter, but further. I warned them that Rannoch Moor was 30 odd miles of nothing but bleakness, and they’d have to tackle the city of Glasgow.

I phoned Hilary at 6, then went into the lounge to watch the weather forecast at 6.30 - but it was a Bank Holiday. I chatted to other hostellers, and discussed sightseeing in the North West of Scotland with a couple of leather-clad German motorcyclists.

I had the soup, bread and a cup of tea, then checked my bike over and discovered that my front tyre was a bit soft.

The hostel was quite luxurious, almost like a hotel. It used to be a large mansion house at the turn of the century. The weather was still clear, but quite windy. I caught the late weather forecast at 9.35 - it didn't look too good. I turned in at 20 to 10. I’d spent nearly 6 hours in the saddle for the 69.8 miles from Helmsdale, making a total of 122.1 miles so far.

It had been a hard day again, although my stamina was increasing as I'd expected. The next day would be even more difficult over the Grampians, I hoped desperately that the weather would be good to me.

I was awake at 6 and up at 10 past and washed and dressed by 25 past. Trouble was, nowt was open in the hostel - no telly lounge, no reading room, nothing. Not even the kitchen! Couldn't even make a cuppa! So I sat down on the stairs in the foyer.

For breakfast - eventually, after they'd opened up, - I had sausages, bread rolls, chocolate biscuits and cups of tea. All done by 7.35.

Out at my bike, I replaced the front inner-tube with a spare, I couldn’t be bothered fiddling with it, for I was eager to get going and tackle the mountains, so I stuffed the punctured tube into my bags to be operated on later.

I left Inverness at 8.10 not before saying a cheery good-bye to my Shetland friends. The older chap handed me a little red New Testament and wished me well with my travels. I thanked him and shook hands with the three of them and wished them good luck. I never did find out their names, and I didn’t see them again. I often wonder how they got on.

The wind was still blowing, but this time from the west, and thankfully, the sky looked fairly clear.

The first 18 miles out of Inverness were very much uphill and very hard work, but the weather was still pleasant with strong and variable winds, none of them seeming to be against me. I hoped it would stay like that. I tried to get off the main A9 as often as I could and followed the ‘old road’ that still existed along some stretches. The dual carriageway was very busy with lorries and heavy traffic - no fun on a bike. I made the first 23 miles over the ‘Slochd Summit’ (1300ft) to very pretty place called Carrbridge at 10.10 and took photographs of the so-called famous bridge. Then more drinks and chocolate.

I pedalled straight through the ski-holiday resort of Aviemore and reached Kingussie at noon. I stopped for lunch of eggs I'd hard boiled, rolls and biscuits, also finished off my water, and made a mental note to fill up before I left. I sat on a sunny bench at the side of the main street, it was lovely and warm, but still very windy and turning southerly again. I took 45 mins off, chatting to passers-by and even some tourists from Nottingham having a coach stop on their Scottish tour. I left at 12.45 via an Esso station for a trip to the loo and a fill up with water.

The A9 went up, and up, and up. Another 18 miles of it! Also too, too windy.

Eventually, I made the top of the Drumochter Pass at 2.40, (1500ft) 62 miles out of Inverness - now that's what I call a hill! From there it goes down hill all the way to the River Forth. Wow!

After freewheeling for a massive 10 miles at a steady 35 mph, I turned off the main A9 again and entered Blair Athol. I phoned Hilary to give her a progress report.

I arrived at Pitlochry at 4.15 and checked into the hostel. I showered and changed - goodness, I needed that! Then checked over my bike and locked it into the shed. I was very tired despite having freewheeled for so long. After all, I’d cycled all of 86 miles right over the Grampian Mountains, and been in the saddle for nearly 7 hours. It had been a hard ride let alone carrying all that weight. Mind you, my morale was increasing, I’d cracked the first 200 miles! I aimed to be in bed early again.

I took a gentle stroll into the town centre to devour some fish and chips. I rounded it off with a couple of pints of Bass at a nearby pub. There didn’t appear to be many shops here to speak of except tourist stuff: kilts, woollens, pottery jewellery etc. Eventually, I found a normal shop and bought bread, cheese and a tin of beans.

There was no sign of the Shetland lads, I felt they'd probably made the decision to go the longer route via Fort William and A82. Anyway, good luck and best wishes to them. Also no sign of the off-road law student!

I was still hungry, and I decided to have beans on toast or something later. My hunger was something to behold, and I wondered if my waistline was going down, I doubted it! I’d caught the sun during the day, my face and arms were burning slightly. I turned in at 9.45, and found that my soap had been nicked from the bathroom!

Up at 6.30 - still no sign of my soap. and so had to wash with shampoo. I was feeling quite tired, and could do with a day off. My arms were sore with sunburn, so I hoped it wouldn’t be too sunny for the day’s ride to Edinburgh. There didn't seem to be any wind as yet, though it was forecast. I took the step of wearing shorts rather than tights, and just a light top.

Cup of tea and breakfast of cheese on toast, beans and a further two cups of tea set me up for the 70 mile ride to Edinburgh.

I left the hostel at 7.50 and after a couple of water stops, reached Perth at 9.50 having done 26 miles, I was glad to have finished with the A9.

I bought two small bottles of Kia-ora and had a sit-down by the river for a Mars. The weather was blustery, but quite warm.

Kinross came at 11.45 via many road changes and stops for map readings, my navigation skills were good, and I’d done a great deal of research. I bought a hot mince and onion pie, and ate it and a bar of chocolate in the park by Loch Leven where we used to go with Katy-Daughter and Sally-Dog all those years ago. It brought back memories! I lay down on the grass and rested a while.

The weather and me became a little chilly, so I put on my jumper, then was back on my way by 12.30, and decided to call in on my old friend Tam Duncan at his house in Crossgates. Sadly, after finding the house, he wasn't in, so I left a message. (It turned out that I'd only missed him by 15 mins or so.)

I made Inverkeithing, and phoned Hilary, then bought sausages, Flora, milk, corned beef and a couple of bananas. I crossed the Forth Bridge, and stopped for half an hour at the services south of the river for an 80p pot of tea.

Edinburgh 3pm with the noise and heavy traffic. I got off my bike and found the general area of the hostel, but had to ask a policeman for the exact location. I still couldn't find it, so I asked again at a shop.

After finally finding the Hostel, I booked in, price inclusive of Continental Breakfast (7am) and had a welcome shower with just shampoo. (I forgot to buy soap!). I unpacked a bit then went downstairs for a cuppa and loads of chocolate biscuits.

I found Riery's Pub, recommended by the hostel receptionist, and sank a few excellent pints of McEwan's 80/at £1.56, plus a chat or two with folk about my travels and ‘Life’ in general - typical pub stuff.

Back at the hostel for nosh of 5 rounds of bread and Flora, a tin of corned beef, and a tin of sweetcorn. Very nice - I was starving! I phoned Hilary at 6.15, then checked out the punctured inner-tube I’d taken off at Inverness. The valve fitting was coming away from the tube, so I ditched it - I had more spares.

The weather had definitely become warmer after leaving the Highlands and dropping down into the Forth Valley, I even saw bluebells in flower just south of Perth. I’d been cycling just over 5 hours and covered 70.8 miles during the day. I’d ridden a total of 280 miles in four days - 70 miles a day! My morale was high.

I was up at 6.45 after a good night's sleep but still feeling tired. My Continental Breakfast consisted of Alpen, bread, cheese, ham, orange juice - quite nice, and made a change. I started my nosh even before the staff had set up properly, the hostels didn't seem to cater for the early riser.

I was on the road at 7.45, all loaded up and looking forward to the long journey to Carlisle and England. Edinburgh was full of traffic and noise again - euch!

I left the city on the A7 and climbed into the Moorfoot Hills of the Southern Uplands. It was lovely scenery and the weather was quite good, but still a little windy for me. I took a few minutes off at Stow, a very pretty and quiet village, I’d done 20 odd miles and had a need for chocolate.

I went straight through Galashiels and stopped for lunch in the town of Selkirk on a bench in the town square. Why build a town half way up a mountain? The hill was awful. It was steep and narrow and busy with traffic. For lunch I had cheese, cold sausage, bread, banana, and more chocolate. As I’d found a pound coin on the cobbles beneath my seat, I decided to buy more chocolate soon. It wasn’t that I had a sweet tooth, I just had a great need for calories! Anyway, after an hour I was on my way again, 39 miles from Edinburgh, 50 odd to Carlisle.

It was still uphill out of Selkirk, but down a bit to Hawick I didn't stop, but tried to think of a limerick: “I was up in the hills above Hawick, Whilst cycling along on my bike”............. anyway, I pressed on south and uphill.

The top came at 63 miles from Edinburgh at Teviothead. When the road eventually went downhill towards Langholm and Carlisle, I still had to pedal because of a very strong southerly wind.

I flopped onto cool green grass in a park by the river in Langholm. I rested for a while with more chocolate and also fed some birds with my spare bread. I tried to phone Hilary, but there was quite a queue outside the call box at the entrance to the park, so I pressed on south again.

Over the English Border at 4.15 just north of Longtown. I got quite a move-on as the wind became favourable. The hedgerows became even more spring-like as I approached England and came down out of the mountains, and I saw a great many primroses. Then the A7 started to feel more urban as I approached Carlisle, and the traffic increased tremendously.

My hunger became almost unbearable. Just in time, I spotted a chip shop. Trouble was, it was across four lanes of stop/start rush-hour traffic. I got off my bike, navigated me and it across the road on foot, bought steak pie and chips, then sat down on a bench in a grassy area next to a bus stop back on the original side of the road! My goodness was I ready for that nosh! I just absorbed it!

Whilst eating and calming down, I tried to work out where I was in relation to my little map of Carlisle so I could find the hostel. Then I realised that I was sitting just opposite the right road! I fought my way across the four lanes of traffic yet again, and set off on the last few hundred yards of the day.

I arrived at the hostel at 5.30 to be reminded that I'd booked myself in for the evening meal! Oops! (and breakfast the next morning.) Anyway, I knew that I could still eat a horse even after the pie and chips! I’d spent over 7 hours pedalling, covering 92.8 miles during the day - I needed food!
I phoned Hilary and unloaded my stuff. I claimed a bunk, showered and changed. Then it was a meal at 7 pm of barbecued chicken and roast spuds, followed by fruit and yoghurt - at last, I was full up! I went and had a lie down and promptly fell asleep not waking till 9 pm. Then I walked to a nearby pub, phoned Hilary again, and had a couple of pints. Back at the hostel I went straight back to bed!

FRIDAY 3rd JUNE 1994
I awoke at 6.00, but lay there till 6.45, my in-house breakfast wasn't booked until 8.00. Rain had poured down during the night and was still bucketing down as I started breakfast. Oh well, only 55 miles or so today. I hoped Arnside Hostel had drying facilities, not to mention a decent washing area, as I was getting low on clean gear.

Anyway I was away at 10 to 9 after a lovely Full English Breakfast. The weather was trying to clear up, but it turned out to be basically rotten. Wind, rain, more wind and even more wind and rain. The A6 seemed interminable.

Shap Fell was great, and a fantastic achievement to get over, though I was glad I was going south as the Fell is an escarpment, the road being very much more steep on the southern side. I sheltered in a shopping arcade in the middle of Penrith out of the heaviest of the rain, and chatted with passers-by who were sheltering too. It was so nice to hear ‘real’ accents again.

I had many stops during the day for ‘cape-on’ and ‘cape-off’, water, and more chocolate. I called into a little shop in Shap village, and was welcomed by: “Are y’all right luv?” I was tired, wet and bedraggled, I must have looked quite a sight. I bought a good old Northern meat pie, more chocolate, and bacon and bread rolls for the following day’s breakfast.

The weather continued to be rotten.

I turned off the A6 and made my way along B roads via Milnthorpe to Arnside Hostel, arriving at 4.15. I wasn’t able to check in as they weren't open for business till 5, although most of the communal rooms were open for us weary travellers. I phoned Hilary, then got stuck into a snack of bread and bananas.

What a lovely hostel it was, very comfortable, friendly and yet private. Also clean and bright - and dry! The dorm overlooked Morecambe Bay and the rotten weather. I managed to do some washing, drying it on the old fashioned radiator in the dorm that was nice and hot. I also aired my towel, shorts, shoes and cycling mitts.

Arnside YHA was noted for it’s Whole Food cooking - the dining area was open to the public, and was packed!. I’d booked an evening meal and really enjoyed it, it was very filling and nourishing - steak pie, spuds and all the trimmings. Apple pie and custard for afters.

I shared the dorm with two lads cycling to John O’Groats, it appeared that Arnside is just about half way. They had left Land's End on the same day that I had started out from John O’Groats but they were taking 13 days and going via Fort William and Loch Ness. (the route my Shetland friends favoured). We swapped notes and distances and I discovered that Wrexham may be further than I'd calculated. They reckoned it was well over the magic 100 miles, not the 90 that I’d calculated.

After swapping cycling stories, I got to bed at 9.45. I’d been cycling for 6 Hours and covered 61.1 miles.

My total so far was 434 miles.

Up at 6.00, wash etc then down for four bacon rolls - lovely! The weather looked lovely too - blue skies, birds singing - but still windy. I tried to be away by 7.00 but was unable to get my bike out of the shed as the warden had the only key. He didn't start work till 7.30!

Along B roads, then joined the A6 again, reaching Garstang at 9.25. That was 26 miles non stop - I was feeling good and strong. The wind was across from the west and from the north a bit, helping me on my way. I pushed on straight through Preston and joined the A49, calling in at Charnock Richard church to visit Mum and Dad’s grave.

At 11.30 I’d made it to Standish, and called into a chip-shop for steak pudding, chips and gravy, and big mug of tea, all for £1.79! T'riffic! It made me feel naughty and decadent, mind you it was good! I’d covered 50 miles at an average speed of 13.8 mph. I was going great guns!

The weather was still fair, but ever so windy, and thankfully just about on my side. I kept up a good speed, and was aware that my appetite was stabilising, I wasn’t craving chocolate and the like all the time - I must be getting used to all this punishment. The route became, for the uninitiated, very complicated, but for me, straightforward, knowing the area. It was strange cycling through Wigan again, after all these years.

For a while, I cycled alongside another chap through the town. He was out for a training ride for the afternoon, we swapped cycling stories as we negotiated all the traffic lights and roundabouts. He peeled off to the east, I pressed on south.

I made my way through Warrington, Frodsham and Chester, and into Wales. I was tired, but strong. The roads were straight and flat, and the weather bright and clear. I kept to the main roads, some of them dual-carriageways as they were more direct than the B road route that I had planned. I was conscious of the mounting distance and time, but my spirits were raised because I’d cracked the first 500 miles.

After over 7 hours in the saddle and 100.3 miles, I arrived at Pene’s house. My calculations had been definitely out. Richard was at Pene's shop, so I spoke to him on the phone, he said to get a bath and help myself to the home-brew! Both the bath and the beer were really welcome, I'm not too sure which I enjoyed the most!

Richard came back with Angela at around 5. It was very nice to meet her, but I was sad that Pene was away with Pete for the weekend at a beer promotion and festival for traders. We had spag-boll for tea, then went out for a couple of pints in the town. We had all eaten too much, so couldn't manage many beers, though we enjoyed the walk and atmosphere of Wrexham throbbing on a Saturday night!

I was in bed by 10.15.

I was up at 6.45, then had a fry-up breakfast with Angela and Richard. Afterwards, I prepared my bits and pieces for the day's ride and checked and rechecked the mileage to Malvern. After all, if I could make a mistake once, I could do it again. I made it just over 90 miles.

The rear tyre was rather soft, so pumped it up and made a note to keep an eye on it. My wheels and tyres were taking a great deal of punishment with the miles and the heavy weight of me and my stuff.

As I left, Richard kindly handed me £5 for the Cardiology Fund. I was on the road rather later than I wished, and after 16 odd miles the rear tyre was soft again. I changed tube and planned to repair it in the evening at Great Malvern. That made two tubes consumed so far, I would have to assess my spares situation.

I made my way south from Wrexham along the A528 to Shrewsbury, and then followed the A49. Noon came, and I’d made the 40 odd miles to Church Stretton, so I took a breather with a can of Coke and a Mars. I was quite tired because the wind had been against me again. Although sunny, it was quite chilly. My rear tyre was still OK, but the tread was wearing alarmingly.

The day’s halfway point came at Craven Arms, and I stopped at a little cafe for a bacon toastie and tea, very nice. I was on my way again at lpm after trying to phone Hilary - no reply. Ludlow was lovely. It was a Sunday afternoon, and the flea market was in full swing. I took a sight-seeing ride around the town, and really felt that we had to come back and stay over some time.

I had to keep referring to my maps as the route became quite complicated, changing roads every few miles in an effort to make my way south-east from Ludlow, through Bromyard to Great Malvern.

Half way between Tenbury Wells and Bromyard disaster struck. The rear tyre blew out with a loud bang! I stopped on the side of the road on a grassy bank to survey the damage. A middle-aged couple passing on bikes offered help, but they were only able to sympathise and to chat. The blown-out tube was completely irreparable, but luckily the tube I'd taken off earlier that morning wasn’t too bad.

After sticking on a patch, I was on my way again. Actually, I should've changed the tyres over front-to-rear, as the rear one was almost worn out. All was well until I was within 100 yards or so of the hostel when it blew out again. This time it was repairable, thankfully, and this time I changed over the tyres. I suppose I could have walked and pushed the bike to the hostel, and fixed it all later, but that would have been cheating!

I arrived at Malvern Hills YHA at 5.20 and booked in for an evening meal. Nice nosh, a chat or two, checked over my tyres and tubes situation, then got to bed by 9.20. I’d been in the saddle for nearly 7 hours, done 92 miles since Wrexham and completed a massive 626 miles - 78 miles a day!

Up at 6.30. I immediately checked out the worn-out tyre on the front of my bike. It was still OK and inflated nice and hard.

A wash and a cuppa were followed by smoked sausage and buttered toast. I would have to buy more food and chocolate for Street and beyond. Whilst cooking breakfast in the consevatory kitchen, a fox crossed the garden and into the trees outside the kitchen windows, how pleasant! The hostels are certainly in lovely surroundings.

I was on my way by 7.45, but phoned Hilary from a box just up the road and regaled her with my stories of inner-tubes and tyres! Gloucester came at 9.30, and I called into a cycle shop and bought another spare inner-tube. There were another 30 odd miles to Bristol down the A38. The weather was drizzly at first, though it brightened up by 10.00, and then became hot and stuffy.

I stopped at Thornbury for a lunch of chicken and mushroom pie, chips and can of Coke. Quite nice, but a bit of indigestion afterwards, I probably drank the Coke too fast.

Eventually, I made it through the busy city centre of Bristol and stopped for a breather at Whitchurch at 2.05 (60 miles). There was too much traffic, roundabouts, smelly busses and lorries, and you-name-it. I couldn’t wait to find the A37 and get out towards Midsomer Norton and Wells.

I made it to Street YHA at 5.30, not before getting lost in Glastonbury by taking the wrong road. I asked the way at a grocer’s shop, and took the opportunity to buy yet more chocolate, a tin of beans and a loaf of bread. They were good directions from the grocer and I found my way back to the right road with no trouble at all. I decided to do my time/distance calculations by subtracting the miles I’d done on the wrong road, as if I hadn't gone wrong. I’d officially done over 7 hours pedalling, and covered 85.1 miles.

The hostel was really lovely, just like a Swiss chalet, all wood with verandas. Had nosh, fully self-catering here, of meatballs, soup and wholemeal bread. Very tasty.

A couple more End-to-Enders came in during the evening on their way northwards. They said that they were going the CTC approved route up the A82/Fort William/Loch Ness, and then via Tongue! I explained that it was miles out of the shortest route and that Tongue was right up on the top-left of Scotland, but they’d not listen. Those CTC people need their bumps feeling! One of the lads had a broken spoke, (perhaps that's a metaphor) my spokes are fine.

I studied the maps for the route to Gunnislake, and tried to put mileage and times to places - difficult, but provided I left by 7.30, I would meet up with Ray, landlord of the Cornish Inn, in the outskirts of Okehampton at around 2.15. He had volunteered to meet me on his bike and escort me home to Gunnislake. (and the Cornish Inn!)

It had been a very difficult day all told. I was tired, I was worried about the tyres, my right ankle ached a lot, and my bum and legs ached of course, but the worst thing was the wind! The Somerset Levels are a windy place.

I was in bed by 9.00

Up at 6.30 - breakfast of beans on toast. It was an overcast and muggy morning, and by the look of the trees it was windy too. The weather could upset my schedule - I was concerned.

The front wheel was rather soft at the outset, it had the worn-out tyre originally from the rear. I pumped it up and was away on the road at 7.40, forgetting to pick up my YHA membership card from the warden, mainly due to the fact that I left before he turned up. I left a message pinned to his office door asking him to post it to me.

Five miles out I phoned Hilary, but as I hung up I noticed that the front tyre had the tube poking out, the tyre had worn so much. Again, it was puncture outfit time, and I stuck a patch on the inside of the tyre to plug the hole. After it was all back together, the tyre went down, so off it all came again for more repairs. This time I was successful, but it was all very frustrating. I had to buy new tyres as soon as possible.

I stopped at Taunton but couldn't easily see a bike shop, I felt I didn’t have time to hang around, I phoned home to keep Hilary in the know, and pressed on for Wellington. There, I found a shop on the main street and bought two 23mm Michelins on offer at £5.50 each, not brilliant tyres, but they’d suffice and were a good price.

Out on the pavement, I changed the front tyre, coiled up up the other stowing it neatly on the rear pannier rack, and then unceremoniously dumped the worn out one in the nearest bin. I was away shortly after, down the A361.

I made Tiverton relatively easily at 42 miles, and then phoned Hilary again. I found a small roadside cafe for pasty and cup of tea for a well-earned lunch break. I chatted to an ex-bus driver about my travels, he knew Gunnislake very well and warned me of the hill out of Bickleigh, saying it was worse than Sand Hill Gunnislake! I decided to wait and see, but he was right! What a morning it had been.

I felt I was still ok to make Okehampton for 2.30, after all, it was only another 30 more miles, but I hadn't reckoned on the Devon hills. Tiverton to Crediton was very, very difficult.

Eventually I got to Okehampton an hour late at 3.30. Ray met me on the outskirts of town, and we chatted and plodded on together towards Tavistock and Gunnislake. It was so nice to have a welcome friendly face and someone to pace me.

We arrived at the Cornish Inn at 5.30 to a reception committee headed by Hilary of course! Many congratulations came my way with pats on the back and amazement at my achievement Then I got stuck into a pint or two. I could've stayed there all night telling everyone my tales of adventure on the roads south!

I tore myself away, off-loaded my heavy panniers into the car for Hilary to transport up Sand Hill, then set off for home on a much lighter bike, and then straight into the bath!.

I was home at 10 past 6, it had taken me 8 hours and 93.8 miles. Then after a meal, it was off to the Queen's Head on foot for more beer and more congratulations, and then home for bed by 10.00.

Up at 6.30, wash and unpack panniers and remove the racks and mudguards from my bike and replace the rear tyre. Then it was breakfast of sausage sarnies and saffron buns, chatting with Hilary reviewing my journey so far. We arranged for her and Beverly to follow in the car later, and where they should catch me up. I worked out that we could rendezvous at St Austell, or at the farthest, Truro.

I was away at 7.45. It was so easy cycling without heavy panniers, so got a good move on. The weather was sunny with a fresh, favourable wind across from the south. I reckoned that I should make Land’s End by 4.30 or so.

As expected, Hilary and Beverly caught me up just beyond St Austell. After a quick chat, water and Mars, I was off towards Truro, Hilary and Beverly forging ahead, looking for a pub for our lunch. They discovered Probus and the Hawkins Arms at 41 miles, which was about half way to Land's End. I wasn’t far behind, and pulled in at 11.45.

We stopped for an hour over lunch. I had ham egg and chips and a pint. My ankle was still hurting quite a lot on leaving home and after lunch, but it felt much better as the afternoon progressed. We had a couple more stops en-route for teas and coffees and chocolate, all very welcome.

Sean Horan caught me and Hilary up on the Penzance by-pass, taking my photograph as I sped by, pulling a face. Sean, Hilary and Beverly pressed on to Land's End, though not leaving me till I'd had another compulsory Mars!

I arrived at Land's End at 4.20 to a reception committee fronted by Monica Pearce and friends of the Cardiology Fund, and had an official photograph taken at the famous signpost - a good shot too. Hilary presented me with a lovely rose and Beverly with a card. I signed the End-to-End register at the hotel and had a well-earned cuppa.

Gunnislake to Land’s End had taken me just over 6 hours in the saddle, for the 83.9 Miles.

I was sad it was over, I’d enjoyed it, even though at times, especially in the early days, it had been tough. But actually, when I thought about it, I felt supremely fit, I could easily have turned right round and gone all the way back!

We loaded my trusty bike into the back of the car, and, as Hilary appeared more tired than me, I drove us home! It was weird driving after all that cycling. The journey home was uneventful, arriving home at 10 past 7. I had the Thursday off to reIax, then collected my hire car on the Friday to re-join HMS Argyll as planned over in Portsmouth.

80.8 - Average miles per day
9.9 mph - Average speed including stops per day
11 full days travelling
71 hours and 10 minutes in the saddle

889.3 Total Miles John O'Groats to Lands End

The End

or is it?

Saturday, 3 February 2007

Land's End to John O'Groats and Back

JULY 2006

INTRODUCTION - The Bit before the First Bit

This account should carry a health warning. It’s full of places, roads, and directions, complete with descriptions of hills, cafes and pubs between Land's End and John O'Groats, and unless you have a good road atlas in front of you, you just won’t understand, and your head will explode! You have been warned!

My ride was given the name of ‘Mick’s Mega Bike Ride’ because it was a mega bike ride. A long way. Quite a long way. I cycled a massive 1789 miles.

I’d cycled from John O'Groats to Land's End in ‘94, as some of you may know, and a few of you have read. That was a long way too. But only half as long.

The account I wrote of my ride in ‘94, reads like a list of places, mileages, food and it’s cost, Mars Bar consumption, and a complete gazetteer from End to End including cafes, chip shops and accommodation. I’ve tried to make this account a little more interesting and descriptive, hopefully I’ve succeeded. But it’s still a complete gazetteer from End to End (and back, of course) including cafes, chip shops and accommodation.

When I made it to Land's End in ‘94, one of my comments at the time was that, “I could’ve turned round, and gone all the way back!” Easy, I thought. But it’s like running a marathon, and finding it easy, so running another straight away.

I was elated when I reached the top of Scotland at John O'Groats in July of this year, getting back to Land's End, I expected, would be easy! Oh no it wasn’t! Tiredness set in two or three days after the turn south, perhaps at about 1100 miles or so. I was absolutely knackered by the time I set out to Land's End from home here in Gunnislake for the big final push, let alone when I’d finished.

Never-the-less, I enjoyed the ride, and I’d do it again tomorrow. Honestly. Though it would be wrong to tap you all for the dosh again.

Thank you for all your support, and your donations for The Alzheimer’s Society, from the bottom of my heart. Thank you, all.

November, 2006

JULY 2006

Cast List:
ME. An idiot who’s good at cycling.
HILARY. Wife, Lover and Mentor. My Best Friend. Very, very sensible.
BRIDGET. A very good friend and neighbour. Works her socks off for Ginsters, the Pasty People. No idiot either.
PENE. My sister. Certainly not an idiot, but brews lots of beer!
SUZZANE. Daughter of the above. My niece. I don’t think she’s an idiot either.
JAN and GED. Sister of Hilary, and her husband. Not idiotic at all. Well, not often.

CHAPTER ONE - The First Bit

Monday, 3rd July - LE to Gunnislake
We were up at 4.30, woken by the alarm on the mobile phone, after a poor night’s sleep. I had tossed and turned all night, hardly able to relax as my head was full of stuff, and I had a body desperate to get cycling.

After a hurried breakfast and a quick walk of the dog, we left to collect Bridget, and had a fast and uneventful car journey the 80 odd miles to Land’s End, arriving at the carpark at 7.30. All preparations had been done the day before: Bike (with wheels removed) and Trailer with empty Suitcase all stowed in the back of the car, with saddlebag stuffed with Mars Bars, water and sandwiches, maps and navigation information for me to get back to Gunnislake. Let alone the maps for Hilary and Bridget to get back home in the car! We had a joke about who would get back first as Hilary isn’t the best long-distance driver in the world!

In the carpark, I assembled Bike, and connected Trailer with an unsecured Suitcase on board, whilst Hilary and Bridget investigated the Land’s End complex to find the Finger Post and staff, and also to see if we could get some refreshments. I rode Bike, and found my way through the complex, picking my way gingerly over the cobbled area, meeting them for a sit down on comfy chairs with tea and coffee in the hotel lounge.

Hilary led me over into the foyer where the Land’s End log-book was kept, and she took photographs whilst I scribbled some inane comments and signed my name. There, we met other End-to-Enders: a couple of lads, and a couple of Canadians. We chatted and compared notes. The lads had no particular plans, had no accommodation booked, and weren’t in suitable cycling gear - hey, they had sleeping bags! The Canadian couple were hoping to get to St Agnes today. I laughed, and thought they were taking their time, and it would take years to get to John O’Groats at that rate!

Shortly after, it was down to the finger post for official photographs with Trailer connected, and me pretending to eat a Ginsters pasty. The lady photographer fussed about getting my position right and re-positioning her ladder to get a decent angle. At one point, she braced herself to lift Trailer and Suitcase a little to the left or right, and was amazed it was so light! It was only a prop for today! Bridget had brought the pasty especially for the occasion, and straight after the photographic ceremony, I ate it! Then it was back to the car to off-load Trailer and Suitcase, and I was off, cycling away on the first leg to John O’Groats. Hilary took more shots of me crossing the start line, and I headed off into an awful headwind.

The weather developed into a very hot day. I was nervous and wound-up, feeling that the ride back to Gunnislake was not really the start, just the preamble for my Mega Bike Ride. Not having slept well, I was tired before I started, the heat of the day and the Cornish hills took their toll. It was awful - Penpillick Hill, the Town of Redruth, Connor Downs, and the long hills up to St Ive and Callington were just a few of the low spots. There was little or no shade.

I tried to take my time, but adrenaline and the feeling that I just wanted to get this leg over with, made me press on. My first stop was at Camborne with the first 24 miles done, then Truro with 38 miles under my belt. Whilst sitting on a bench in Lemon Quay, I texted Hilary, to find that she and Bridget had left only minutes earlier after stopping off for coffee. I left, then went straight through the half way point at Probus, and on and on and on.

I made Lostwithiel at 60 miles, hot tired and sweaty, then took a turn down into the town away from the main road, hoping to find somewhere to refill my water bottles and grab a well earned rest. I saw a butcher’s shop and knew they’d have water, so walked in and asked. The butcher was a cheery soul, and said for me to help myself at the back of the shop. He showed me a massive sink with equally massive taps. I filled up and drank a load too.

St Ive came at 76 miles - I was very tired, and felt I couldn’t carry on much further today. The heat was awful, and I had to continually hunt for shade - travelling east in the heat of the day made all the shady spots on the wrong side of the road. I’d cycled all that way in full sun. As I reached the top of Hingston Down above St Ann’s Chapel, I had to stop, I’d had the last of my water and was desperately thirsty and exhausted.

I phoned Hilary, and asked her to meet me at the bottom of our Lane with water and my sandals, so I could walk up the very steep hill - I knew there was no way I could cycle up it. She met me as requested, and had to push Bike home for me, I was all-in. Hilary and Bridget, on the other hand, were well rested. They had been shopping, they’d had a pub lunch, and had a relaxing and enjoyable drive in air-conditioned comfort.

After a shower, we were off to The Rising Sun Inn for beers. I’d looked forward to it, but rather than taking up my normal position at the bar, I had to sit down on a chair, I was dog-tired and in fact, a bit depressed. The ride had been purgatory. Deep down I felt doubtful that I could complete my Mega Bike Ride, and felt relieved that the following day was booked as a day off! After the beers, we were off home for food, but all I fancied for tea was beans on toast. My appetite was poor and I was subdued. I flopped into bed, and was fast asleep by 9.

Tuesday, 4th July - Day Off
I had a leisurely day, a complete contrast to the day before. I felt so much better after a solid night’s sleep, I was refreshed and in high spirits - a magical change.

The major problem yesterday had been my inability to take in fluids in all the heat. We’d heard of the term ‘isotonic’, so looked it up on the internet and the dictionary. Basically, we learnt that water doesn’t get absorbed into the bloodstream quickly unless it’s mixed with salts and sugars. Maybe I was dehydrated yesterday.

Final packing, sorting and re-packing and re-sorting occupied most of the morning, and we managed to fit in a shopping trip to Tavistock. As I’d had so much trouble with food and drink the day before, we called into Boots to speak to the pharmacist regarding isotonic drinks, in the hope that we could buy an additive for water in a powder form. The pharmacist was very unhelpful and disinterested, so we went away to see what was on offer generally, and called into Superdrug and came away with bottles Lucozade Sport and a box of Tracker Bars. We then planned for me to take some table salt and a bottle of Lemon and Barley Water with me to add to my drinks bottles.

Back home, Bike had a thorough going over, and I fitted wider ratio gears to help me pull the weight. Trailer and Suitcase were finally packed and secured with home-made velcro straps, and Bike and me were ready to go. I was feeling confident and happy, all doubts about my ability to do the Mega Bike Ride had completely gone.

After a relaxing evening and a few drinks, I was in bed early again.

Wednesday, 5th July - Gunnislake to Bridgwater
Up early, with the very final packing done, I had a good breakfast, then it was slowly off into Gunnislake village with Hilary walking beside me, camera at the ready to take a shot of me on my way north. As we reached the village, there was only time for a quick kiss and a cuddle, because before we knew it, the traffic lights had turned to green, and I was gone.

I took it slowly and steadily, it was a long way to Bridgwater, my first destination, and I had the Devon hills to conquer. The morning was cool and damp with the threat of rain. I wore my cycling shorts and red short-sleeved top, aware that if the weather deteriorated, I could don my yellow Goretex top.

Trailer followed faithful and true behind me, I knew it would take a lot of getting used to, but other than the drag factor, it was easy. I started to ignore the trundling and jiggling sounds behind and instinctively took corners wider to allow for the increased length. The weight wasn’t too bad, momentum kept the whole rig going quite well, but the drag factor up hills really slowed me down. I was glad I’d re-geared Bike, and also glad I had good brakes for the downhills!

As I reached the top of the long hill up into Blackdown above Tavistock, the rain came on and it was much cooler. I paused briefly to put on my yellow top. In fact, I stopped lots. The first was at Okehampton 20 miles in 2hrs. I phoned Hilary and apologised for not saying good bye properly! I had lunch of another of Bridget’s pasties at Copplestone, then was straight through Crediton town centre and into the difficult stretch to Tiverton. I remembered how hard it had been in ‘94, and the difficulty of Bickleigh Hill. By the time I reached mid Devon, the weather cheered up, thankfully.

Near the town centre of Tiverton, by the bus station, I met up with four young lads. There was a patio area with benches surrounded by ornamental trees, our bikes were leant up, and we chatted away. They’d left Land’s End on Tuesday heading for John O’Groats and come straight up the busy dual carriageway trunk road A30 to Launceston! They laughed about it, and I told them that they should’ve come via Tavistock, there’d be no way I’d cycle on the A30. We swapped notes and compared plans.

They were trying to secure accommodation in the Bridgwater area, with their next stop at Stroud. I understood that much of their accommodation wasn’t already booked, I said that I’d booked all mine weeks ago. They looked at each other, a little concerned. One of them kept nipping off to the phone box and to the nearby Tourist Information Centre, but returning with bad news. I suggested The Admiral’s Rest where I was staying, but that too was fully booked. How they got on for the night, I don’t know.

Tiverton to Wellington was along a busy dual carriageway towards the M5, but as I approached Wellington along the A38, I found the road had been closed all day due to a fatal road accident. There was a man in a yellow jacket diverting the traffic, and there was a long tailback as he talked to all the drivers. I leant Bike up against a post and walked over to him to ask if a cyclist could get through. It appeared that the diversion was via the M5, and non-motorway traffic would have a long alternative route. He let me through, he didn’t have much choice, saying that I’d better see the police further up the road as they’d just about cleared up. As I neared the scene, I asked the officers if I was ok to pass on my way to John O’Groats. They were more than happy to let me go, and wished me luck. The road was completely traffic-free for mile after mile.

In Wellington I met a group of 16 year-olds lads riding from Essex to Land’s End. I’d already ‘met’ them on the internet. They’d asked for advice on route planning down through the West Country on the Cyclist Touring Club website. I subscribe to the site, and posted my advice and thoughts. In actual fact, they never revisited the website, so sadly, never got my advice. I reiterated my thoughts to them whilst sitting in the town centre. One of their bikes had a broken rear axle, and they were looking for a cycle shop in the town. We chatted for a while, then I was on my way again.

Taunton was very busy with traffic, and the weather had deteriorated. Rain came with a vengeance. I pressed on to Bridgwater.

The traffic became worse, stop and start at traffic lights and roundabouts, and all clogged up. I pulled off from the melee into the carpark at Morrisons supermarket and sheltered from the rain in a bus-stop. I phoned Hilary to let her know I’d made it to Bridgwater, wet through but safe and sound.

I really didn’t know whereabouts I was in the town even though I’d taken the precaution of getting a map of the accommodation location, but with the traffic and the rain, it was quite difficult to keep my bearings. I took a gamble and headed off in a likely direction, but very shortly after, I just knew I was wrong, so asked for directions to Taunton Road. Even when I found the road, I was at the wrong side of a huge junction, and had to double back through four lanes of stop-start traffic. I eventually found the Admiral’s Rest Guest House hardly 100 yards from Morrisons! I checked in, stowed Bike and Trailer for the night, and went straight up to my room to get out of my wet gear, hang it up and have a shower. My stuff would dry very quickly.

In all the traffic, I’d had to squeeze though between railings and walls to get past vehicles, and I’d badly scratched my left elbow on a wall. I had to dab it gently - it was going to be sore.

The Admiral’s Rest was a typical B+B. Clean, and well decorated, thick carpets and a friendly mistress of the house. She showed me up to my en-suite room, and chatted continuously. She knew I’d be hungry, so suggested I turn right outside the front gate, and there’d be a few cafes and takeaways up the road a short walk away. Quite rightly, next thing on my agenda was definitely food, so I trudged up the hill in the teeming rain for steak pie, chips and beans and mug of tea at a large steam-filled chip shop. Wonderful!

I wandered back through the rain to the Admiral’s Rest, and into my room for a relaxing lie down in front of the small telly and prepared for tomorrow’s ride into Wales. The weather forecast for tomorrow looked good on the BBC. (Ha Ha)

I phoned Hilary a couple of times during the evening for a chat, and watched telly for a while longer, whilst drinking tea and picking at some mixed nuts for supper. It was noisy with traffic outside, and still raining heavily, so I shut the window and put on the electric fan, thoughtfully placed on the dressing table. Perhaps the owners knew that the traffic was noisy and guests wanted to be cool.

Thursday, 6th July - Bridgwater to Welsh Bicknor
I had a poor night’s sleep - even with the window closed, I could still hear the noisy traffic - and even with the fan running all night, I was too warm. I was awake with the telly on and watching Countdown at 5.30 with tea and biscuits. The weather was still very wet outside, so much for the BBC weather forecast! Mind you, it did say it should be better later, and good tomorrow - my fingers were crossed, and my elbow was sore showing no signs of healing.

After breakfast and settling my bill, I was away and heading off into the relentless rain following the busy A38 northwards. I hid from the rain in bus-shelters along the way quite regularly for Mars Bars and drinks, cracking the first 200 miles just south of Bristol. I’d obtained maps of the area, so followed them and the road signs and landmarks, making my way west as I reached the city. My plan was to stay at sea-level around the city by the Severn bank and thence to the Old Severn Bridge. As I was on my way under the Clifton Suspension Bridge on the A4 for Avonmouth, I was confronted by a diversion - the road was closed and all traffic diverted up an awful hill toward the city centre.

The hill was very steep, the traffic and heavy lorries made the hill even worse, and still the rain came down. I was so wet, I didn’t even bother steering around puddles, there was no point, I couldn’t get any wetter. Whilst sheltering again for the umpteenth time in a bus shelter (near Bristol Zoo), I met two chaps from Gloucester on Honda 50’s trying to get to Newquay, they’d given up because of the rain and were headed home. They looked as soaked as me! We laughed and joked, especially when I told them that the weather was great in Cornwall. They decided to try again next week. I felt the same about my ride!

I stopped at Catbrain near Cribbs Causeway just north of Bristol proper, at a Harvester Pub. I wouldn’t naturally aim at a place like that, but I was hungry again, it was on the right side of the busy road, and lunchtime.

The rain had just about stopped as I pulled in to the patio area, leaning Bike and Trailer up against a picnic table. The whole patio had massive parasols over huge tables, so there was plenty of shelter if the rain came back. I entered the pub, after taking off my sodden yellow top and soggy mitts and dripping helmet, and got stuck into chicken in BBQ sauce on a bap, with mushrooms and melted cheese, I washed it down with a pint of Guinness. It was a modern place, clean and friendly, and filling up by the minute with ‘older people’ with walking-sticks and zimmer-frames. I didn’t have to worry about the security of Bike and my gear outside! The food menu was comprehensive and reasonably priced. When I left, thankfully, the rain seemed to have stopped completely, so I stowed my now fairly dry yellow top.

The change of route through Bristol wasn’t much of a problem. Apart from the hill away from the A4, the way was much shorter, and I reached the Old Severn Bridge, finding my way easily. I couldn’t find the entrance to the cycle-way as it wasn’t signed very well at all and had to ask my way in the cafe at the Aust Services. I got the impression that they are asked for the same directions from every cyclist! I entered the cycle way and started crossing the bridge taking photographs on the way, and I made it into Wales.

The rain came down again as I climbed through the Wye Valley, but not for long. After I reached Monmouth, I started to tackle the A40 dual carriageway: the traffic was awful, the road uphill, and I was tired. I pulled off at a junction to assess my progress, and phoned Hilary. As I was on the phone, a friendly postman in a van who’d seen me struggling, stopped and showed me an OS map of the area and directed me off the main road, and an easier way to the YHA hostel. It was a bit further, but on quiet country roads, well away from the noise and fast traffic.

The route worked a treat, and I reached the village of Goodrich and called into a pub for a pint, wheeling Bike and Trailer around the back into the beer garden. Sadly, the beer I chose wasn’t too good, and there was no mobile signal at all. I used the call-box in the foyer a couple of times to phone Hilary.

From the village, the way was up a rotten steep hill. At the top, the view was magnificent. The River Wye could be seen wending it’s way through the green countryside, hills and trees completed the scene, and my phone had a strong signal! - I phoned Hilary again and had a better chat not having to keep half an eye on my 20p coins.

Then I was off along a narrow lane, and then down a long rough track to YHA Welsh Bicknor. The track was completely unmade with potholes and broken stones, there was a sharp U-turn halfway down, and sheer drops to the side. I made a note that I would walk up the track tomorrow morning, there’d be no way I’d put Bike with it’s narrow racing wheels through it, if I fell off, there’d be nothing but trees to stop me tumbling down to the river.

The YHA building was in a beautiful setting overlooking the River Wye just along from the famous beauty-spot of Symonds Yat and its rock. Down below, the river bank was littered with campsites and picnic areas, and canoeists paddled up and down in the clear water. The stone-built hostel was centred around a courtyard containing tables and chairs surrounded by the members’ kitchen, utility rooms, and the dormitories. Baby swallows twittered in their nests high in the eaves and their muck was splattered down the windows and walls.

I checked in just after 5pm, locked Bike and Trailer away, then showered and tried to get my stuff aired from my suitcase. Most things were quite damp. I ordered an evening meal of carrot soup, followed by faggots, spuds and peas, and enjoyed it in a solitary way in the dining hall, most people seemed to be self-catering out in the courtyard. After the meal, I made myself a hot chocolate and chatted to the other hostellers. As usual, some people admired my bike, they’d seen it down in the lock-up.

I chatted to Hilary on the phone, then retired for the night at around 9.30. I was tired again, I’d cycled 245.42 miles from Land’s End.

Friday, 7th July - Welsh Bicknor to Wrexham
I was up and dressed at 6.30, then got stuck into a couple of cups of tea. I’d slept like a log. Drizzle greeted me as I finished my tea in the patio area.

I was joined by other early-risers, and chatted about this, that and everything. I was asked if I wore a helmet for cycling. I replied that although I did, I wasn’t completely convinced about whether it was a waste of time or not. I cited different opinions on the subject that I’d read, and one lady said she used to work for the HSE and was involved in encouraging their use. As you would expect, she was pro-helmets! Me? I’m ambivalent, but promised Hilary I’d wear it.

I studied maps and checked on the day’s route, and planned to keep Pene informed regarding my expected arrival time at her place in Wrexham, then checked on my damp gear and started to pack it away anyway. I could have put it all in the drying-rooms overnight, but it would have been just about all my stuff, and anyway, the rooms were full of drying washing.

The YHA staff were due in at 7, with breakfast at 7.30, I decided to collect Bike and Trailer from the lock-up as soon as I could, to make an early getaway up that horrendous track.

I chatted over breakfast with a young music graduate from Essex. He’d just landed a job in Ross-on-Wye with a coffee firm, learning the intricacies of coffee-roasting! It appeared that the country’s foremost coffee expert is based in Ross. The chap couldn’t get a job in the music industry as it was full of ‘technicians’ and he actually wasn’t very proficient at any musical instrument, so decided to have a complete change of direction. He was staying in YHA accommodation whilst he tried to find somewhere proper to live.

After breakfast, I loaded up and checked out. I was away on foot up the track into the morning drizzle, and away cycling at 8.30, making Hereford half and hour later. The weather developed into a cool and overcast morning, with only occasional light drizzle. I decided to stop regularly and pace myself up the A49 - Leominster - Ludlow - Church Stretton - Shrewsbury.

I bought a cheeseburger for lunch in Ludlow, and sat on a bench in the town square near the market stalls. A class of school children with clipboards were asking the general public questions about tourism, and why they were in Ludlow. A couple of groups spied me and asked me their questions and I answered with my usual dry humour. Their first question asked if I was a Local or a Tourist! I asked them what they thought, considering that I had all my luggage with me! Other questions were if I liked Ludlow, what I liked about it, and if I’d ever come back. The attendant teachers, ever alert to their charges, just smiled.

The A49 went on and on, some of it modern and straight, some old fashioned and curvy. Often the road surface was pitted and worn from the constant traffic. It jarred on my hands and arms. There was a very big hill south of Leominster, but the rest of the journey was just gently undulating with a stiff breeze from the west.

Shrewsbury was quite difficult to find my way through. There were too many dual-carriagways and roundabouts. The roads were busy and there was little or no signage towards the town centre. Eventually by following instinct, I found the centre then sat on a bench in a cobbled square at the top of a hill. I texted Pene and rested a while, people-watching and absorbing the atmosphere. It was then that I found there were no signs to get out of the town, so I just had to follow my nose and instincts again and assess which way was north. Finally out, I followed signposts, off the A49, and made it via Ellesmere to Wrexham, and arriving at Pene’s, at 5.30. It had been a boring, uneventful and tedious ride. I’d done 101 miles.

At Pene’s it was straight into some beer, followed by straight into a bath. My muscles ached a bit, my legs and back needed the warmth of the water. It was so relaxing, so much better than a shower. Pene prepared a lovely meal of fish, mashed spuds and peas with loads of cheese sauce. Suzanne was there too and the three of us tucked in, Suzanne was amazed at how much I could eat - I even had seconds! Pene’s friend Pete popped in for a chat later, and congratulated me on my journey so far. They all listened intently to the recounting of my adventures, whilst Pene washed and dried some of my clothes, and aired out stuff that was still very damp from the torrential rain the previous day.

I checked Bike over and chatted to Hilary on the phone. We discussed my meeting with Jan and Ged in Lancashire the next day, and how they had suggested The Pines on the A6 near Preston. I studied my maps, not wanting to deviate too much as it was over 100 miles to my next stop at Arnside as it was. I decided that the Euxton Mills pub would be the easiest place to meet up, it was on the A49 south of Preston, and I’d be passing its front door. I said I’d text Jan at Standish with an ETA, and Hilary said she’d phone them during the evening.

Before bed, I sorted the maps for Cheshire, Lancashire and into Cumbria, the route was quite complicated between Chester and Wigan, and also through Preston.

Saturday, 8th July - Wrexham to Arnside
Pene and I were up at 6 am and eating breakfast soon after. Pene was off to Shrewsbury quite early to see a chap to do with her beer and brewing, and had to be away as soon as she could. I left at 7.30 with a little map she’d drawn for me to find my way north out of Wrexham, and on the old road via Gresford and Rossett and on to Chester.

All was ok, and I made Frodsham by 9.20, and Wigan a couple of hours later. Wigan looked so good, they had a street market in Standishgate taking up the whole pedestrianised road, the stalls bustled and the shops were busy. I’d been brought up in Wigan, and I sat down on a bench to take in the atmosphere and chatted to passers by. One couple took an interest in this strange chap with a bike and a funny trailer with an orange suitcase. I told them all about myself, and they thrust a £1 coin into my hand for the cause. Aren’t people nice? I called in at St Michael’s Church for old time’s sake, and chatted to a couple of ladies - one of whom had attended the now demolished St Michael’s School, she was in her late 50s and we worked out that she must’ve been the same age as my cousin Malcolm. Like me, they remembered the Vicar, Mr Thorburn, of all those years ago.

Time was marching on, and I pressed on to Standish, calling in at Somerfield supermarket for the toilets, and buying some Mars Bars, then it was pie and chips for lunch at the chippy opposite. I’d done 51 miles so far and I was starving! I texted Jan as arranged, saying that I’d be to be at Euxton Mills by 1.30. After Standish and my chips, I was away and off to Charnock Richard church, and said hello to Mum and Dad’s grave, and sat on the nearby bench. I phoned Hilary.

I arrived at the Euxton Mills pub a little early, so bought pint and sat outside at the tables whilst waiting for Jan and Ged. They turned up on time with their daughter Elaine and her husband Matt. I was given cuddles, kisses and many pats on the back. They took photographs, and Ged got out his infernal video camera. Jan gave me a packet of sandwiches, Mars Bars and some bottles of water. It was so nice to see them, I was so far from home, and it was a terrific achievement to get all the way to Lancashire.

Ged met a mate at the pub, and he regaled the chap with my plans and distance travelled, and they discussed at length the best route for me to get through the city of Preston. I was lost before they started, and just kept saying that I’d follow my nose. The mate was having none of it, and he and Ged kept discussing the pros and cons of particular junctions ......

I was off and away soon after 2 pm, Ged took a video of me as I left, and despite well-meant directions, I went straight through Preston with no trouble at all with barely a thought, and joined the A6. My next stop was Garstang an hour and a half later and Lancaster soon after that. The wind was with me, the terrain flat, and I flew! The weather became a little drizzly, and then developed into rain as I approached the hills towards Carnforth.

I left the A6 at Yealand, and onto little roads and up into the hills. The rain came down, and I pulled on my yellow top hoping I’d make Arnside soon. The route became rather complicated, and I had to consult my little map quite a lot. I struggled to find Arnside YHA in the rain, and had difficulty with the sudden steep hills both up and down, but eventually found the village sea-front, and asked the way to the hostel. I was pointed up yet another steep hill, but I was past caring. I arrived dripping wet and worn out at nearly 6 pm.

I checked in, joking with the office staff that the last time I was in Arnside, it was raining too - what was wrong with the place?! I locked Bike and Trailer into the shed, and booked an evening meal. I chose trout and spuds and salad. There was no signal on my mobile, so I phoned Hilary from the call-box in the foyer to let her know I’d made it safe and sound - though thoroughly wet again. Happily, though, as it hadn’t been raining for too long, all my stuff was still dry in Suitcase!

I showered and mooched around waiting for meal time. I had lots of chats with people, some tourists, some hikers, and even a cyclist. He and I discussed riding styles and distances travelled, as he was an ex competition cyclist and now involved with training and physiotherapy. The place was packed with kids and families, and was very very noisy. Also the dorm I was in was full.

Arnside is a lovely, old-fashioned seaside resort, or should I say bay-side. It’s not a bit like Blackpool, or Brighton - it’s small, pleasant, very quiet, with no funfair or gaudy lights. Positioned on the shores of Morecambe Bay, the hills of The Lake District on one side and a wide expanse of sands on the other, the town boasts a railway station, a promenade, some little shops and tea-rooms, and a couple of pubs. A curious hill called Arnside Knott is nearby, famous for it’s butterflies. The buildings seem of Victorian and Edwardian design, and the Youth Hostel fits in well with this, situated high above the sea-front on a residential road. Large-scale OS maps of the bay area are displayed around the place depicting (amongst other geographical features) safe(?) routes over the sands to Barrow-in-Furness.

It was still raining after tea when I checked over Bike and Trailer in the shed. I pumped up the tyres and lubricated the chain, then locked it all up for the night. I made myself a hot chocolate and tried to phone Hilary again, wandering round the corridors, staircases and rooms in an attempt to get a signal. I managed to find one, but only just, in the busy common room. I had to sit in a particular chair in a corner by a window, it was very inhibiting to talk, but at least it was contact with home.

It was still raining when I turned in. The day’s ride had been another long one. 102 miles, and it’d taken me over 10 hours. I was out like a light again, but not before grinning to myself. I’d made it to the halfway point of the first half of my Mega Bike Ride!


The Bit before the Second Bit

Well, there I was, halfway to the halfway point. I was in high spirits, even though the weather wasn’t good. The weather ‘Down South’ was glorious, they were stuck in a heat-wave, blue clear skies. Oh well.

My next leg would take me over the 1500ft Shap Fell and to Carlisle, then the next would take me over the border and into the Southern Uplands of Scotland and thence to Edinburgh.

Bike and Trailer had performed brilliantly with all my gear and me. I felt so lucky: doing what I wanted, in charge of my own destiny, and being self-reliant. I was in my element!

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, so to speak, Hilary kept up the communications, and updating everybody on my progress. We had spent hours making display boards proclaiming my itinerary and progress, these we positioned in three of our local pubs. We had a map of UK with the route drawn in, and Hilary routinely moved a map pin northwards day by day as I pedalled along. There was a steely picture of yours truely, complete with Bike and Trailer, and an update of funds raised so far.

The local public found the idea of my Mega Bike Ride absolutely fascinating, and they couldn’t get over how momentous the ride was! They were generous too, Hilary went round with sponsor sheets, collecting donations almost daily. The money and pledges poured in.

Anyway, on to Part 2 .......

CHAPTER TWO - The Second bit

Sunday, 9th July - Arnside to Carlisle
The weather continued to be rotten overnight, and showed no sign of improving as I awoke. Breakfast was at 8.00, and after sorting my stuff, I went down and sat in the same seat as at the last evening’s meal, and I chatted with the same people. My cyclist friend got stuck into a large bowl of porridge, saying that it was the best thing ever invented to prepare the body for a day’s cycling. I can’t stand porridge, so I skipped the cereal course in favour of a couple of glasses of fruit juice, followed by a Full English with lots of toast and mugs of tea.

After breakfast, the rain seemed to be easing off, but as the weather was still cool, windy and overcast, I decided I’d still need to wear my Goretex yellow top again. My gear had dried yet again, and I hoped the weather would cheer up soon, after all, it was glorious down south! I managed to text Hilary a couple of times from the chair in the common room, then I was off through Arnside, headed towards Milnthorpe and northwards. On next to the A65 and north again into more rain and drizzle, and up hill. I reached Kendal at 10.15, and although it was still raining and damp I had a favourable wind at my back.

Up and up and up on the A6, all the way to the top of Shap Summit. The south side of the fell was really long and steep with absolutely no shelter. It rose up and up through Cumbrian farmland, had a false summit, down again, then up and up with a total disregard to poor cyclists! The weather was atrocious. I had to stop a couple of times on the way up, and all I could do was keep my back to the howling wind and the torrential rain. Again, I was soaked.

I took photographs in the noise and the sideways torrent, and phoned Hilary whilst sheltering behind the Summit Monument in a wide lay-by. Even though I was sheltering, I had difficulty in making myself heard above the roar of the wind and rain. I was, remember 1500 feet above sea-level, no trees or buildings, walls or shelter. I didn’t hang around long!

Then it was down, basically all the way to Penrith via Shap Village. The wind eased considerably, but it was still raining in Shap. I stopped in yet another bus-shelter and ate a Mars, a Tracker Bar and one of Jan’s beef sarnies. The weather dried as I came out on the north side of the village over a little bridge, and I continued up the A6. The terrain opened out as I headed north via Penrith, still dry-ish, and with a favourable wind. The roads were undulating, but with some hard climbs and good downhill stretches, and I reached the 500 mile barrier just as I arrived in the southern approaches to Carlisle.

I found some public toilets, then tried to work out where I was in relation to my little map of the town. Then after cycling around and trying to get my way through the heavy traffic, I gave up and had to ask the way, and I found the hostel fairly easily after that.

I entered the hostel complex at just after 3 pm - the ride had been a short one of ‘only’ 59 miles. I half expected that I may not be admitted until the regulation 5 pm and have to kick my heels for a while, but the manager was about, and another cyclist called Alison had just arrived too. The manager and her were talking as I turned up, and as he was allowing her access, he had no option but to let me in too, especially as I’d paid in advance.

Alison and I were issued with two keys each. She’d already locked her bike away, so showed me where the lock-up was, then we made our way to the dormitory block. The key arrangements were: that one key was a ‘master’ for the front door, inner doors and communal rooms, and also doubled-up as the bike lock-up key. Obviously, the individual room keys were unique.

My room was private, single and reminiscent of senior ratings’ accommodation at Naval Barracks. The hostel itself was actually student accommodation during term-time, but taken over during the summer break by the YHA. It was a lovely and quiet hostel, and a great pleasure to stay there. I knew I would relax, and easily get a good night’s sleep.

I locked Bike and Trailer into the dusty garage-like lock-up. Loads of bikes were strewn against the walls and locked to the tubular hoops cemented into the floors. Old settees and armchairs were stashed into the corners with studenty nick names written in felt pen on paper labels, stuck on with brown parcel tape. Trunks and boxes were labelled in the same way, and piled high between the bikes. Perhaps the Carlisle University students might get back to all this lot next term ...... ?

I showered, then went straight round to the nearest pub for a pint or two. I found an old-fashioned city-type pub called The Globe, and sank 3 wonderful beers, whilst chatting to the locals, the landlord and his wife. It was a warm and friendly place, though rough and ready in a city sort of way. A pool table and jukebox sat in a room in the back, both unused at the moment, and a small TV sat high on a wall, showing the Wimbledon men’s final. The clientele kept a half-interested eye on progress.

People listened to me during the Wimbledon lulls, as I told them of my adventures so far. They offered advice and encouragement regarding the route to Edinburgh and further north. I made sure they knew that I’d be back in a week’s time on my way south. I was told that there was cafe 100 yds down the road that opens at 6 ish for breakfast. That’ll do me, I thought!

Then it was back to the hostel for the rest of Jan’s sarnies, some nuts and raisins, and Baby Bells, washed down with a hot cup of soup. I was stuffed! I phoned Hilary and prepared my maps for tomorrow’s 90 odd miles to Edinburgh over the Southern Uplands via Hawick and Galashiels and up the A7.

I wondered if the trip-distance on my cycle computer would reset to zero when it reached 999.99 miles, or just get confused and stuck. I should reach the 1000 miles point travelling southwards between Inverness and Pitlochry I calculated, or perhaps even before Inverness. I’d only done 509 miles, but it was best to be prepared!

Monday, 10th July - Carlisle to Edinburgh
I was up at 6.00, and round at Purdies cafe for breakfast like a shot. I devoured a ‘Small’ fried breakfast of: bacon and egg, two sausages, a slice of fried bread, and a mug of tea and slices of toast, I was back at the hostel less than an hour later and ready to pack.

I took my time packing. I was relaxed and well-rested and well-fed. It was a sunny morning, but cool with only a few clouds. I checked out early, before reception was open, and left a note with my keys and bedding by the office door.

After texting Hilary, I was out into the Carlisle rush-hour traffic, heading northwards yet again, hitting the Scottish Border just north of Longtown, and taking a photograph of myself with the camera balanced on a fence-post. The day warmed up and I felt that summer had properly arrived at last.

Into the hills I went, through the Scottish Borders, with steady climbs past lush upland farms. Langholm was the last little town, then it was into open hills punctuated with stone walls and sheep.

At Hawick, after a long climb and descent, I was hungry. I’d done 43 miles, I expected to be hungry! I doubled back through the town and busy traffic, and found a ‘Baguette-to-go’ bar’. Leaning Bike up against an iron bollard, I ordered a roast chicken baguette with mayo and salad from the cheery ladies behind the counter. I walked outside, and leant against Bike to eat my feast, it was lovely and I devoured it! Then I was off again, not before finding the public loos complete with a proper old-fashioned wash-basin. I was able to top up my water bottles!.

I climbed the hills around Selkirk and entered the town, but didn’t stop. Perhaps I should’ve done and got my bearings, because I missed the main A7 north, descended a long hill unnecessarily, and then had to ask the way. I made Galashiels less than an hour later.

I expected it to be downhill to Edinburgh from Galashiels, but the hills kept coming, steadily climbing for mile after mile. Many a time, I would look behind me to check that I was indeed going up hill - it just didn’t ‘feel’ like it. I was pedalling hard, but the road looked flat! Was I too tired and worn out? Those strange optical illusions where the road looks like it’s going down, when in fact it’s going up abounded. It was weird!

The ‘real’ top of the hills came near Stow after 18 miles of gentle climbing. From there, I could see the city of Edinburgh and the Forth valley way off miles below. At last, I was heading downhill!

Edinburgh was mad with really bad traffic. I’d followed the ‘Historic’ A7, expecting it to lead me straight through to the city centre, but I was confronted by a wonderful new roundabout and by-pass. It was not well signed as far as I was concerned, and a by-pass was not what I wanted. But on to the by-pass I went.

I followed the road with loads of busy traffic, and eventually found my way onto the ‘right’ road, and made it to the east end of Princes Street through horrendous traffic. I’m sure I went further than I should have done to get to the city centre, but my problems didn’t end there. I was confronted by a ‘No Entry Except for busses and Cycles’ sign half way along the street, and felt quite elated at the thought, but it turned out to be a rubbish idea. As I cycled along the street, I had to force my way between busses trying to pull out and pull in at bus-stops, they were at all angles jockeying for position to pick up and drop off people onto the absolutely teeming pavements. It was awful. As I got to the other end near Haymarket, it was so bad, I had to get off onto the pavement. I texted Hilary whilst sitting on a bench and changing out of my cycling shoes. I then walked. It was nearly as hard navigating Bike and Trailer on the pavement as it had been on the road, squeezing past the suited business men and women on their way home in the mad rush hour, and tourists gazing around at the busy city scene.

I glanced at my street map of the city, and set off away from Princess Street to find Eglinton Crescent, the address of the Youth Hostel. I’d been there before, of course, so knew I’d recognise it when I saw it. But it wasn’t there! I was tired and very grumpy, and in my rush had found the wrong crescent, they’re identical in the New Town area of Edinburgh. I phoned Hilary to check for the correct address and realised I’d turned off the main street one turning too soon.

After finding the place 10 minutes later, I checked in, stored Bike and Trailer into the basement lock-up down some little stone steps, claimed a bunk, and showered.

Edinburgh boasts four Scottish Youth Hostels to cater for the many thousands of tourists visiting the city. Number 18, Eglinton Crescent is a massive city town house with two great staircases up to the dormitories, a basement for the kitchens and dinning rooms, and a sumptuously furnished ground-floor for the lounges, TV rooms and reception area.

Within an hour of arriving, I was out to Ryries Pub, only a five minute walk away for a combo of Cajun chicken, steak, chips and peas and salad, plus 3 pints of McEwans 80/-, my change came in Scottish money. I’d been there before, back in ‘94 and found the place to be just I’d wanted. This time, it was a matter of ‘any port in a storm’ and a bit of a disappointment. The pub was busy, noisy, and obviously popular, but not really my choice of pub - but it would do.

After my meal, I texted Beverly, Katy and Jan, then went back to the hostel and prepared stuff for tomorrow’s ride up into The Highlands, then I went down to check over Bike and Trailer, lubricating the chain and tow-hitch. The instructions that came with the trailer said NOT to lubricate the stainless universal-joint system at all, as it would accelerate its wear, but the whole unit had been squeaking for miles and it was driving me mad! So I took the plunge and used little oil very sparingly, and crossed my fingers.

I had a mug of hot chocolate, a few nuts and raisins. I was in bed by 9.30, and slept like a log again.

Tuesday, 11th July - Edinburgh to Pitlochry
I was awake early, and up and dressed shortly after 6.00, and the morning was sunny and breezy. I made myself a cup of tea, breakfast was at 7.00, so went back upstairs to pack ready to get a quick getaway for the day’s ride. I was off and away through the streets of Edinburgh at 7.45.

I left the city over the nearby Dean Bridge and out towards the Forth Road Bridge, past Cramond Bridge, and on to the A90 dual carriageway. It was then I noticed big yellow signs stating that pedestrians and cyclists were forbidden to use the road. There was no information to say what else to do. I pulled over to the hard shoulder, and scratched my head, somewhat miffed. I knew I was only a few miles from the FRB and heavy traffic and dual-carriageways hold no fear for me. I thought that I’d better do as I was told though, rather than incur the wrath of the Edinburgh police!

Just next to where I’d stopped, was a steep flight of steps up from the road leading to a minor road above, and so I had to climb up with Bike and Trailer. The only other option would have been to go against the traffic, and find a proper exit. So up I went with Bike and Trailer, and me with my grumpy head on! I really hadn’t a clue which way to go at the top, but luckily, there were a couple of passing cyclists, so I hailed them and asked the way to the FRB. They pointed, saying that the cyclists’ route was marked, and the pavement is the way to go. Me? Cycling on a pavement? With a trailer? Stupid, but off I went, still grumpy.

It was a poor route as I expected. After a few hundred yards, the pavement turned into a path high up on the embankment above the A90. It was overgrown with weeds, including bramble and nettle, and the surface was broken and bumpy. An elderly man on a bike was coming towards me, and I let fly at him about the shortcomings of the situation. He just smiled and in a soft Edinburgh accent, agreed with me entirely, and gently suggested that I write to Edinburgh City Council, because he, and many others already had. The chat with the old gent diffused my anger somewhat, and I resolved to write a snotty letter after I returned home.

Eventually, I had to negotiate a rough and muddy track across a cornfield, would you believe, which led into the back of a housing estate. I must’ve missed a turning and/or one of those little blue signposts for cyclists. I knew the route I followed couldn’t be right - not across a field! As I battled my way out of the housing estate and onto a main-ish road, there was a chap waiting for a bus, so I pedalled over to him feeling rather stupid, and asked the way. He put me right, and I arrived at a big roundabout above the A90 just in front of the FRB

I made my way over the roundabout and down the slipway onto the A90 northbound, and headed straight towards the left-hand toll-booth and the service road. It was then that I found my path blocked off by a barrier stating that cycles and pedestrians had to use the road on the southbound side of the bridge. This one was closed for maintenance. No warning signs in advance - nothing. Very frustrating. My grumpy head reappeared.

I had to get Bike and Trailer down a couple of long flights of steps, along a passage under the dual carriageway and then up similar steps the other side. By now I was very grumpy, but crossed the bridge with no further problems, and made it into Inverkeithing a little calmer. I stopped for a drink, and to text Hilary, then was off on quiet roads to Kelty, Cowdenbeath, and Kinross. The heavy traffic coming out of Edinburgh and the A90 was far away and using the motorway M90. It left me to admire the scenery and enjoy the ride for the first time since before Edinburgh.

In Kinross, I took a ride around the lochside park to visit the loos, only to find them closed, so I followed the edge of Loch Leven to a cafe at the anglers’ area and used theirs. I pressed on north, starting to feel hungry. It was lunchtime, and as I arrived at Bridge of Earn, saw a likely cafe/bar next to the road. I leant Bike against the front wall where I could keep my eye on it, went in and sat down. I ordered a meal of cheeseburger and chips, with salad and a big pot of tea. Wonderful!

Too soon it was time for me to tear myself away, and I set off through Glen Farg and headed to Perth. I paused there only briefly. The town was bustling and I found it hard to find the beginning of the A9, but after asking, I was on my way again.

The A9 becomes very busy north of Perth. The M90 ends there, so all the northbound traffic goes onto the A9 dual-carriageway. I tried to follow the old A9, but it was not well signposted - every now and again I’d see ‘Route 7’ on the little blue signs, confirming the cyclists’ route that I required, but it wasn’t easy to navigate, often I would stop to check my maps.

Eventually, the blue signs directed me left in the little town of Birnham, through a lodge gate and towards the Hilton Hotel, Dunkeld. It was a wonderful tree-lined drive, and staff and guests were walking to and from the hotel in the sunshine. I asked a few, but no-one seemed to know whether the road would get me north, or if it was just a scenic trail all the way to Inverness, catering for for off-road cyclists. As I half expected, it was a dead end for me, there was no way as a road cyclist I was going to Pitlochry along a riverbank! The route led off through woods and down, so I went back, and off this time in my original direction. Not long after rejoining the road, I saw more ‘Route 7’ signs confirming I was ok.

As I climbed into the foothills of the Highlands, steep hills and even more confusing directions abounded. The old A9 wound this way and that, whilst the new A9, roaring with heavy traffic just through the trees, followed a route as straight as it could be. As I entered the little village of Ballinluig, heading for Dalcapon, I found the road was a dead end. I asked a lady walking her dog, where on Earth the road was to go, she pointed me back the way I’d come, and to take a tiny road up a hill by the school, and then left - it should get me to Pitlochry, she said. I arrived at Pitlochry at 4.15, unscathed. I checked in and stowed Bike and Trailer into the shed around the back.

The hostel was fully booked, and including me, all the four beds in my dorm were occupied. I chatted to a chap who was on a cycling holiday, and he kept complaining about his sore bum and aching feet. He said he used to race, (I doubted it) and he told me about all the problems he’d had with his bikes actually breaking, and all the accidents that he’d had, and he kept going on and on and on ........

I showered and changed, then went down into the town, and found the nearest pub. I chatted to a bloke from Skye called Andrew who used to be in the haulage industry. He was a large chap, quite loud of voice, nicely spoken and held court by the bar. I joined in with conversation, and people soon realised I wasn’t the usual sort of English tourist. After explaining myself and why I was cycling all that way, Andrew melted a little and showed he was very sympathetic to my cause and thrust a £10 note into my hand, he then went on to buy me a couple of beers. I thanked him profusely, but he wouldn’t accept a single drink from me in return. I had to tear myself away because I had to go and eat, and I’m sure I could’ve stayed there until closing time with him. I left with apologies and thanks.

There was a large chippy across the road, so I collected haddock and chips, taking them back to the hostel to devour whilst watching telly in the common room. I followed it with a cup of tea and a chat with the staff. Many of the YHA staff are American or Australian, perhaps the British employees are in USA and Oz! Then it was the usual preps for tomorrow, and a mug of hot chocolate.

I’d done nearly 75 miles from Edinburgh, making my total since Land’s End a massive 670 miles. I felt very proud of myself, I was feeling strong, fit, totally confident, and looking forward to attacking the Grampian Mountains. And the weather was good!

Wednesday, 12th July - Pitlochry to Inverness
I was up early again, but had to wait for the bathroom. In the dorm were two chaps on a driving and climbing holiday. They were off to Rannoch Station shortly, to leave the car, and then climb a munro or two. The other chap (the one with the sore bum and bad feet) was still asleep , thank goodness. After the driver/climbers had left, I crept out of bed, had a quiet wash and brush-up, and went downstairs to the dining room, hopefully not disturbing Mr Boring. I scoffed a filling Continental Breakfast, then had a chat to Hilary on the phone.

I re-checked my maps for Inverness and the Pass of Drumochter, comparing my notes and information with the large-scale OS maps displayed on the walls of the hostel foyer. The old A9 was indicated, and seemed to be intact all the way, or just about, to Inverness. I really didn’t want to go on the busy and noisy dual-carriageway very much at all, even though the route would be easier going.

I was away and gone at 7.45, and climbing almost straight away. There was the odd downhill, but it was mainly up, and then it was up again. Where the old A9 roadbed was still intact, the route used it. This was by far the majority of the length of the route, but at other places, the new A9 had obliterated the old road’s existence, and a new route had been built.

No matter how far you were away, you could hear the constant roar of the traffic on the new A9, and I was glad I wasn’t there with it. Sometimes, though, the track ran along the side of the A9, just the other side of the crash barriers with lorries thundering past.

The way was mostly easy, but at other times it was just a steep and narrow gritted track, crossing over little wooden bridges and through sheep gates. Around were mountains and steep slopes, a few scrubby trees, and a river far below. The surface was good, even on the track, but sometimes, the old road suffered with lumps and potholes from lack of use and maintenance, and of course, the Highland climate. Trailer overturned at one point and scratched Suitcase a bit after negotiating a rather big bump. My fault really, I should have been more careful! No real damage though.

It was easier than I expected to get over the 1500 feet of Drumochter Pass: perhaps Pitlochry is at a fairly high elevation, perhaps because the way was varied and interesting, the time and miles passed quickly, also the wind was extremely favourable. The air was cool and bright and clear. The old road, the new A9, and the main railway line all follow the same basic route over the Grampians, as do the electricity pylons, so the general direction I was to take was easy to see from a quite distance away. I made it to Dalwhinnie, the other side of Drumochter, and continued north.

Trailer overturned yet again just north of Dalwhinnie on the A889 whilst I was negotiating some roadworks. I misjudged the closeness of a traffic cone, and was very lucky not to have caused an accident with the following vehicles as the cone rolled around!. The roadworkers were having lunch in their lorries, and one jumped out to rescue the cone and check that I was alright. He looked shocked and concerned, but as all was ok and I grinned and said “Oops, sorry!”, and he just grinned too! Suitcase got well scratched again, but there was no other damage except to one of my maps strapped down on the top.

At Kingussie, I bought a Ginsters pasty from the Co-op, eating it in a shady, but rather too cool spot on a bench by the Town Hall. I reached the busy resort of Aviemore for another sit-down and did some people-watching, having the odd chat to passers-by. It was becoming a habit. Then it was off north again via Carrbridge and the Slochd Summit. Carrbridge has a seventeenth century bridge over the River Dulnain, now broken and incomplete, and is now a small tourist attraction. The Slochd Summit at 1300 feet is the highest point on the railway system, and there’s a large and rusty sign proclaiming the fact right next to the line. From there, it is basically downhill all the way to Inverness.

Just before I reached Slochd Summit, I spied a group of cyclists in obvious difficulties in a lay-by. The group consisted of a father and his two teenage daughters, one with with a broken bicycle chain. They were Dutch, and dad was trying to fix the chain with a pair of pliers, and understandably wasn’t getting very far. We were miles from anywhere, so I lent assistance with my trusty tools. I’d come prepared for any mechanical eventuality, so I had all the right gear. They were staying at a campsite at Moy toward Inverness, a good ten miles or more away, it would have been a good walk. The father spoke very good English, (all the Dutch seem to) and we chatted whilst I let him fix the chain with my tools, though he didn’t have much of an idea, so I finished the job for him. The girl’s bike now had a shorter chain than it should have, as a couple of links had been taken out, so I made sure they understood that her gears would be somewhat restricted. She needed a new chain as soon as possible. Then, I was off again, and we waved farewell.

I arrived in Inverness at 4.15, after giving up on the old road and cycle track, because the route seemed longer out of the mountains. I’d passed Moy and its campsites, and come down long winding hills. I could see Inverness in the distance no more than 2 or 3 miles away, but the little blue cycle signs were saying 11 miles! The signs wanted you to go via the tourist spots like the Culloden battlefield and some ancient cairns, so I did the last few miles on the dual-carriageway, a wonderful, long, straight, downhill stretch. I found the Youth Hostel easily, not far from the main A9 intersection. I’d cycled nearly 90 miles over the Grampians!

When I arrived at the hostel, there was some confusion regarding bookings. One list had me booked in, another had no mention of me at all! I knew I was ok because I’d paid, and I had a receipt! It was eventually sorted, during which time I’d lubricated Bike’s chain, checked the tyres, then locked Bike and Trailer into the bicycle shed. I was supposed to hang Bike up by the front wheel on special racks, but I didn’t trust their hanging system at all. I wasn’t putting my frame and expensive wheels through that trauma, so I leant Bike up against the wall with Trailer locked to it. The other bikes were hanging unnaturally by their front wheels - not mine!

Inverness Youth Hostel is a modern, purpose built affair, to the west of the town with a large carpark at the front. The place was busy with all nationalities, even the desk staff consisted of French and Australians. It was clean and polished, the rooms bright and airy. I explored, finding TV lounge, kitchen and dining rooms.

When I returned to the reception desk, all had been sorted with many apologies. I think someone made a cock-up somewhere. I took my stuff up to the dorm, showered and dressed, then put on long trousers, as it was chilly outside in the gathering evening. There was a pub called The Chieftain, just round the corner on the main road, and I sank some real ale there at £1.50 a pint. It appeared that they’d ordered the wrong sort of beer and had cask conditioned delivered, when they wanted actually wanted keg, so then had to shift it quickly. Lucky me! With the beer, l ordered gammon steak, chips and salad. It came with a dish of the usual sachets of sauces, but with a bottle of white vinegar! I’d forgotten that in Scotland, vinegar is usually white and not malt.

After the beer and food, it was back to the hostel for preparations for tomorrow’s ride to Helmsdale. There were two more chaps in the room when I returned, and we passed the time of day as I studied the maps, busying myself with Suitcase and my gear. Soon afterwards, I went downstairs to the TV lounge with a mug of soup, and slobbed out in front of the box for an hour or so, then it was time for bed.

Thursday, 13th July - Inverness to Helmsdale
I was awake before 6.00 and listening to the news on my little radio. Then I packed some of my stuff away and headed downstairs for a couple of cups of tea. At 7.00, I devoured a Continental Breakfast of muesli, juice, rolls, cheese, sliced meats and a little jam. (Not all at once, you understand!) It was lovely and filling, and set me up for the day’s ride.

After texting Hilary, I loaded up and was away just before 8.00, but I had to negotiate a large coach, parked very inconsiderately right at the front of the hostel, blocking the pathway. There were suitcases strewn around everywhere and a few foreign students chattering and milling about. I had to ride across the grass and bump down a kerb to get away. Neither the driver or the kids seemed fussed about my obvious displeasure. I left the city, past The Chieftain pub, on to the A9, and over the windy Kessock Bridge full of noisy traffic, then up the hill into the Black Isle.

Further up the road, I met three blokes cycling up to John O’Groats on very nice Campagnolo-equipped bikes. They’d little gear with them, and had left Land’s End only six days before, doing around 130 miles a day. They had a support vehicle ahead of them, they’d need supporting to maintain that speed! We took time off for a chat, and compared bikes, routes and notes. They flew away from me as we departed, and I plodded on with Trailer in tow.

There was a good downhill stretch out of the Black Isle, but there was little cheer as the weather became quite dismal and overcast with a strong and damp crosswind. I crossed over the Cromarty Firth, buffeted this way and that by the sideways wind and spray. The heavy traffic didn’t make it any easier, either. As I left the bridge, I followed the A9 along the shore of the firth, and caught up with the three fast cyclists, as they’d stopped again. We rode along together for a few miles but they turned off the A9 and went on the B road to go via Evanton and Alness. I knew that the main road was an easier route, so pressed on further, turning off to go through Invergordon.

I rested for a while at Invergordon, and took a gentle ride round the town. It had been a small naval town many years ago, and was the scene of a famous mutiny in 1931 where around a thousand sailors actually went on strike to protest about a 10% cut in pay. Invergordon is now a centre of oil-rig maintenance and building, and the rigs dominate the shoreline.

I rested again at Tain, and then crossed the Dornoch Firth taking me into Sutherland, only Caithness to go! The wind and drizzle were still a problem, though thankfully, it was mild.

As I arrived at Golspie, I found a chippy and called in, leaning Bike against the window where I could see it. To one side, through a door was a nicely table-clothed cafe area where I sat down and ordered haddock, chips and peas with bread and butter and a pot of tea. The fish and chips were excellent, the tea perfect, and all good value at only £6.00.

I made it to Helmsdale at 2.45, I’d done 70 miles in the day, and checked into the Belgrave Hotel. I was welcomed in, and I stowed Bike and Trailer in the beer cellar behind the bar, and was showed to my room. It wasn’t en-suite, though there was a wash-basin, a telly and tea making stuff. A single bed, a wardrobe, and little table completed the scene, and I just knew I’d be comfortable there for the next two nights.

I put my phone on charge, and had a cup of tea and a few complementary biscuits, then got stuck into washing some nicks and socks. I hung them up to dry on the window ledge, south-facing and bathed in the bright afternoon sunshine. The weather had cheered up at last.

I was concerned about the Orange mobile signal, as for long stretches there had been no signal at all, and was non-existent in the room or elsewhere in the hotel. I spent quite a few minutes trying to get a signal, and eventually got one (just) in the front carpark standing on a wall! I phoned Hilary for a chat and let her know I’d checked in and was fine.

I needed a bath. Showers are ok, but there’s nothing like a hot bath! There was a small bottle of bubble bath and a large bath towel on the heated rail, so I just indulged myself. Great!

Next, the bar beckoned. Beers, and a meal of roast venison and all the trimmings was washed down with more beer. I chatted long at the bar with a couple of locals who seemed mainly interested in fishing and boats, and they were amazed that I was going to tackle John O’Groats and back to Helmsdale all in one day. They tried to put me off, telling me about the hills, but I stood my ground and laughed them off. It would be something over a 100 mile round trip. My plan was to get an early breakfast, sprint up to the top, lunch, then sprint back in time for tea. I explained that I’d be back in the bar between 5 and 6.

Before going back to my room, I checked over Bike and Trailer, then it was telly on, feet up and relax. I reviewed my progress so far and checked over my route to John O’Groats. I’d lost my little route plan of Inverness to Helmsdale somewhere after entering the Black Isle. Thinking about it, I could remember it threatening to come out a couple of times from my back pocket and pushing it back in. It was a shame, but no actual problem really, I hoped to find it on way south on Saturday - I’d keep a lookout.

Friday, 14th July - Helmsdale to John O’Groats, and back to Helmsdale
I was awake before 6, and I’d had a brilliant night’s sleep. My nicks and socks had dried nicely on the open window sill, and I tidied up, washed and dressed ready for my early breakfast, booked for 7am. It was a gorgeous morning. The good weather that had started all that time and miles ago down in Cornwall, had finally made it to the top of Scotland.

Hilary and me swapped texts a couple of times, and I was away at 7.45, for a fast run to the top. I’d had a lovely full breakfast and I was feeling strong and eager to get going. Strange, it was, without Trailer for company, all I had with me was my small saddlebag, stuffed with extra bottles of fluids, money and my phone. I’d eaten all the Mars and chocolate, so resolved to buy more during the day. Bike felt ever so light. Trailer and Suitcase had to sit this one out whilst me and Bike got all the glory!

There were some long climbs away north from Helmsdale and up Navidale, then over the Ord of Caithness. The notorious Breas of Berridale were not too hard, but I made sure I had a rest at the bottom before attacking the zig-zag up the north face. Dunbeath had a long downhill stretch on a modern single-carriageway by-pass. The rest of the journey was fairly flat and open, with a stiff breeze at my back. I flew!

About a third of the way to John O’Groats, I needed chocolate, so I stopped at Latheron, a small village at the junction on the A9 where the A99 leads off to Wick and the north. I called in at the little post office and a tiny old lady came to the counter asking if she could help me. She spoke in a quiet highland sing-song accent, but she sold nothing. It was just a post office - no chocolate!. Next door, there was a very attractive lady sitting on a bench in the morning sun, who took pity on me and offered me a couple of Kit-Kats. She sat at the front of her cottage in bare feet with a little broderie anglaise blouse and brightly-coloured full skirt, she too had a sing-song accent. We chatted in the sunshine, as her little boy cycled up and down the road and I scoffed the Kit-Kats.

I was off again, with no time to spare, via Lybster and other places ending in ‘-ster’. Later, I saw a group of cyclists in the distance coming towards me, and guessed they must be ‘Sheila's Wheelers’. I had been looking for them since leaving Helmsdale. I’d had many a ‘virtual’ chat with ‘Two Tubs Gazza’, the leader of the group, on an internet cycling forum about our respective rides, so felt I knew him quite well. Strange, we actually recognised each other in the flesh! They were heading south, and we stopped and had a ‘real’ chat, wishing each other luck, I know he’d been amazed at my plans for a double End to End. They were supported, and only going the one way, and would be at Land’s End on the 26th - so I might see them again.

I arrived in Wick at 10.30, phoned Hilary - I had a good signal, and then pressed on northwards again, through Reiss, Keiss, Nybster and Freswick.

I arrived at John O’Groats at 11.30 and noted that I’d covered 891.44 miles since Land’s End. I scanned around the place and made my way to the finger post. A chap in the nearby kiosk stood up and asked me if I wanted an official photograph taken. I declined, explaining that I was only half way through my trip, and anyway it’d be another £10. I supposed I couldn’t be bothered with it. I propped Bike against the post and asked a passing tourist to take a photograph of me with my camera instead, then took a few myself. I texted Hilary, and as it happens, there was no signal anywhere else!

I looked around the touristy area and was saddened by how shabby it all looked. The carpark was pot-holed and scruffy, and the photographer’s car was parked right near the post, thereby stopping a decent long-shot of the area. An ice-cream van was in attendance, a small gift shop was nearby, and the famous John O’Groats Hotel was looking run-down and in need of visitors. There was hardly anything to attract tourists at all to John O’Groats, other than its position and it’s name. I know that some people prefer it to the commercialism of the Land’s End complex, saying that it’s quiet and unspoiled, but I just feel that it’s shabby, poorly run and under a great need of development, considering how many visitors it should get.

Land’s End, on the other hand, is a large commercial enterprise, full of kids’ entertainment, museums, ‘experiences’ and touristic tat. It’s had a great deal of investment, it’s well-run, clean and tidy, bright and cheerful, and complete with a super hotel. Some like Land’s End - some don’t.

I entered the small wooden building called the Groats Inn, in the corner of the carpark to grab some lunch and to sign the End to End book. It’s a pity that the book isn’t in the main hotel. Why is that? The Groats Inn was a dump. MTV blared out of two televisions high on the walls, the seats around the bay window were vinyl covered and repaired by gaffa-tape, pictures on the walls were askew, the tourist info sheets were in disarray in their holders, and to top it all, the only food they did was pizza! I ordered a pot of tea, which came with UHT milk - I ask you! - and a ham and pineapple pizza.

The John O’Groats complex, if you could call it a complex, was very quiet. It was the height of the season, there were no coaches, and only a couple of cars in the carpark. One or two people wandered around outside. I was the sole customer in the Groats Inn. I know that John O’Groats is a long way up north, but if something was there for them, the tourists would come and money would be generated.

I tried to text people about my achievement in reaching my half-way point, but had no signal in the bar at all, so I saved them to send later.

I was away south at 12.45 into a strong headwind. The weather had turned hot despite the wind. I was glad to leave the place, it felt depressing. I stopped at the top of the hill above the coast, sent my texts, and admired the view of The Orkneys off away beyond the Pentland Firth. As I approached Keiss, the road was dead straight, and in the far distance you could see high mountains. Later, I looked at my maps and found them to be The Knockfin Heights of Sutherland, an Area of Special Scientific Interest.

Then south, and on. The phone rang halfway up the long hill of Dunbeath, it was Hilary, and we chatted whilst I sat on a broken wooden bench.

I had decided to take my time on the return journey, as I now knew the terrain well. I could pace myself, and mind you, it was hard work into the headwind. I stopped and chatted to a couple of cyclists on their way north, and called in to the village of Lybster, and bought 3 Snickers and a Boost at a little shop.

The ride south was tiring. I’d turned the corner on this Mega Bike Ride, and felt so relieved. I was supremely fit and strong, and in fine spirits, but none of that helps the steepness of the hills and a strong headwind! I rested a while before the Braes of Berridale again, they’re much steeper going south with no zig-zags.

I made it back to Helmsdale as expected at 5.30, and immediately texted Hilary, outside on the wall of course. Then I was in for two or three beers and a chat, telling people “I told you so!”. Afterwards, it was Bike away, and a well-earned bath.

Helmsdale is a sweet little town, tucked between hills in the Helmsdale valley, with the Belgrave Hotel being in a square near the main road. The town made it’s fortune with fishing, and was once home to the largest herring fishing fleet in Europe - the industry has long since gone. I believe they even had a Gold Rush there in the mid 19th century!

My total mileage for the day was a massive 106 and I noticed that I’d acquired an interesting suntan. Underneath my cycling mitts, my hands had become a little strange and pasty from the constant wear, but my finger-tips were brown and weathered. My arms well bronzed, but because of my cycling tops, only from just above the elbows and down to the wrists. I had white ankles and feet from shoes and socks, whilst my legs from below the shorts line, and especially the knees, were very brown indeed. Naked, I looked like patchwork!

I washed some more of my gear, and hung it by the open window again in the hot early evening sun. Then it was downstairs for more beer and a big portion of mince and onion pie, with chips and veg. I phoned Hilary from the front wall again, then went back to my room with breakfast booked for 7.30. I flopped on the bed, watched the telly, and faded into sleep.

Well that was it. First leg over. Every pedal stroke would get me south to Land’s End. I felt very, very pleased with myself.

Introduction to Part 3
Well, I'd got there! Now all I had to do was to get back! Easy? No, No No!

Read on ........

CHAPTER THREE - The Bit Before the Last Bit

Saturday, 15th July Helmsdale to Inverness
I was awake well before 6.00. It was broad daylight and the sun was up shining brightly on the sea. I watched a bit of TV whilst having a cuppa and packing my stuff into Suitcase. I’d brought plenty of warm gear with me, as you never know what the weather has in store so far north, but cycling tights, thermals and warm tops weren’t needed after all. No doubt they all enjoyed the ride! My face was a little burnt, so knew I had to slap on the sunscreen.

After breakfast, I finished the packing and vacated my room, and paid my bill. B+B at £20 a day, plus beers and evening meals came to just over £70. I considered it a bargain: I’d been very comfortable, it was a friendly place, and the food was great. I thanked the staff and said how good the stay had been, and was off smack on 8.30 just as the town monument clock chimed and struck the half-hour.

I was on my way home. I maintained a steady ride as the morning progressed, up the hill through the village of Portgower, and headed south. It turned out to be a very hot day as the sun began to beat through the morning air. I added sun screen as I went, stopping a few times for quick drinks, and I eventually a long chat with Hilary with a good mobile signal at last.

I kept half an eye on the sea and shoreline. The road south followed the beautiful Sutherland coast with sloping grassy fields, farm houses, and rocky shores. The calm sea glistened in the morning sunshine, fishing boats could be seen miles off, seals were playing, and seabirds wheeled around. It felt good to be alive, and I felt privileged to be part of this wonderful, idyllic scenery.

At about mid morning I was passed by the lads I’d met in Tiverton on their way up to John O’Groats. We hailed each other from across the road and wished each other good luck, but didn’t stop for a chat. They seemed well, fit and cheerful.

I left the Sutherland coast and crossed the Dornoch Firth, all was calm, warm and quiet, not a bit like it had been only two days before. Even the traffic was quiet, no lorries - it was a Saturday. Half way to Inverness, I was hungry, so I stopped at Tain and called into a little chip shop, but sadly no chips were available till 12.00, I just couldn’t wait the half hour or so, so I settled for a steak pie and a mug of tea. Good though it was, I should have waited, or moved on to somewhere else as it really wasn’t enough.

I called into Invergordon again, finding some shade on the north side of a tall hedge near a bus stop. Looking for shade was to feature large on my way south from now on, the heat was hot and the sun was sunny. Fluids and shade became my number one priority, closely followed by food! I took another ride around the town, and found some loos, with another old fashioned wash-basin to fill my bottles.

The magic 1000 miles came at 2pm, just north of Cromarty Firth, and was relieved that my cycle computer went from 999.9 to 0, and then started counting up again. I pulled over into a lay-by, and chatted to a family who’d had to stop with their overheated car and caravan. They were on their way to Tomintoul, and the heat was getting to their elderly Cavalier. By all accounts the car overheated regularly, so they had lots of water to re-fill the radiator. I regaled them with the news of my mileage and they were suitably impressed, even the two kids!

It was a very, very long climb up into Black Isle from the firth, and it was hot and stifling with little shade or breeze. Luckily, about half way up I found some trees on the other side of the road, so I hid in the shade to try to cool off. My feet felt like they were burning up inside my shoes, and my legs felt like they were roasting. I crossed over the Kessock Bridge into Inverness, and went straight into the Chieftain Pub for a couple of pints! I never found my missing route plan, although I think I saw it flapping in the breeze on the other side of the road whilst going down a fast descent out of Black Isle. I couldn’t be bothered to stop and turn round.

I checked into the hostel and sat outside at a picnic table in the cool shade with a drink. I was tired and grubby and sweaty, and really wanted a shower straight away, but Bike needed maintenance. It had covered over a 1000 miles without a grumble, so it was in need of TLC. Everything had a tired look about it (like me!), so I checked the security of nuts and bolts, lubricated gears, cables and chain. I’d brought a new tyre with me, so in an effort to equalise the wear, I set about changing the rear with the new one, leaving the front alone. Afterwards I stowed Bike and Trailer into the shed only to find that the new rear tyre had gone flat! So I removed the rear wheel, kicking myself for obviously damaging the tube in the hurry of fitting the new tyre and took it up to the dorm leaving Bike sitting down with a sad look about it! I removed the tyre and repaired the self-inflicted puncture with a patch, refitted and pumped it up just a bit, then showered, giving the tyre time to see what happened.

The rear tyre wasn’t my only problem. I found that my sunglasses were broken! I’d worn them all day, so I knew I’d not sat on them, they just fell apart as I took them off with the frame splitting allowing a lens to fall out! After my shower, I called in at the front desk to ask if the staff had any Super Glue. No. So I walked over to Morrisons a short way along the road towards town, and bought some glue and also a bumper pack of eight Boost Bars. The repaired tyre was still ok when I returned, so I fully inflated it, then repaired my sunglasses. Twenty minutes later, the tyre was still nice and hard, so I went down and replaced the rear wheel onto Bike making it whole again. I needed food, so it was back down to the Chieftain for beer (still cheap) and Scotch pie and chips.

During the evening back at the dorm, I was trying to relax, but some kids were shouting, thumping and banging in the rooms above. I went downstairs and complained to the staff in the office and they said they’d get something done. I complained a total of three times before they shut up - Spanish teenagers!

I listened to my little radio for a while. Then it just packed up, just like that. Never to work again. Today, things were breaking, but at least there had been three things!

Sunday, 16th July Inverness to Pitlochry
I was up at 6.00 after a hot and sweaty night, my legs were sunburned, so I decided to make sure I slapped sunscreen on to them too from now on. After a cup of tea, I checked over Bike and Trailer, finding the rear tyre still inflated nice and hard, thank goodness! Then it was time to start packing away my stuff, and getting some breakfast down me. I wanted as early a start as I could get, as I knew it was going to be a hot day again. I decided to head straight up the A9 as it was early on a Sunday morning, and was unlikely that there’d be much traffic on the roads. I knew the hill south was a long and steep one - and I’d be slow.

The A9 was as quiet as I expected, and the hill went up and up and up - for 3 and a half miles. I didn’t turn off and go through Moy, but carried straight on the dual carriageway into the gathering heat. I pulled off on to the cycle route on the old A9 as I climbed to Slochd Summit, keeping an eye on the terrain so I could get back on to the main road at any time to take advantage of any long downhill stretches. I had a difficult time of it as I came over Slochd, as the wind increased and turned against me, so I returned to the A9 and sped along as fast as I could, downhill most of the 10 miles or so to Aviemore.

The weather was very hot and sunny and Aviemore was swarming with tourists. I tried to call into the public loos, but was put off by the 30p charge! Even so, holidaymakers queued outside, but I knew I’d find a hedge further along that I could hide behind. And it would be free!

I pressed on to Kingussie. This time, instead of a pasty from the Co-op, I called in at a cafe for lunch, and devoured bacon and egg on a bap with a mug of tea. Then pressed on again to Newtonmore and Dalwhinnie, sheltering in a bus-shelter out of the wind. (It made a change from rain!) The wind was making the day’s journey really difficult in this open and bleak countryside.

I eventually crossed the Drumochter Pass at 3.30, 60 odd miles from Inverness, and started the long decent out of the Grampians through Glen Garry past Dalnaspidal, Dalnacardoch, Calvine, and by-passing the villages of Blair Athol and Killiecrankie. I was just too tired to think about navigating. Staying on one straight road was the easier option - I didn’t have to think, and it was still relatively quiet. The wind had dropped as I came away from the pass, but I was very tired and hot, and I looked forward to Pitlochry and a good rest.

I checked into the Pitlochry Backpackers hostel after finding it thanks to Hilary’s instructions by phone and text. The YHA had a sign pointing the way to their hostel in the middle of the town, but no sign at all to the backpackers’ place. As it turned out, I found I was only a couple of yards from the front door. I suppose I was too tired to think and use my common sense properly - the heat of the day and 90 miles of mountains had taken it’s toll on me. Bike and Trailer were duly locked away for the night yet again, and I hopped straight into a shower.

Food and beer were the next thing on my agenda - I was both hungry and thirsty! I walked out into a main street absolutely packed with tourists of all nationalities, and found the chippy I’d used before. I ordered haddock and chips again, but sat outside the shop at the tables in their patio area with loads of others eating away. Then beer from the nearest pub, and sat outside again.

I watched all the tourists coming and going by coach: some Japanese, others obviously German, and some very obviously American, and still others Asian. I suppose some others may have been Scottish, or even English. Coach-loads in, and then coach-loads out. It was early evening on a Sunday, and the tour operators were certainly packing in the holidaymakers! After another beer or two, I walked back to the hostel, had a chat on the phone to Hilary, then a sipped mug of veg soup.

The hostel was really good. It was friendly, quiet, and well-equipped, and in a central location in the town. I had long chats with the staff and a fellow traveller for an hour or so, we debated about YHA versus Independent hostels. The chap said he runs a website about hostels, but I doubted what he said, he never offered a website address. I complained generally about having to book accommodation so long in advance because in the old days, you could just ‘turn up’. We agreed that times had changed, and that YHA was trying to be all things to all people.

The dorm I was in had four bunks, with only me and another chap. It was at the front with a large bay window overlooking the main street so I did a bit of people watching for a while. It wasn’t long before I turned in, and was fast asleep.

I was tired, and I knew it. I didn’t appreciate though, how tired I was.

Monday, 17th July Pitlochry to Edinburgh
I was up, washed and dressed by 7.00, reviewing maps for the next leg back to Edinburgh, and texted Hilary. I’d had a brilliant night’s sleep, the room was airy and peaceful except for some noisy revellers in the street outside very late. They didn’t disturb me much at all. The street-cleaners with their machines were up and doing their stuff quite early as the town has to look it’s best every day. If the amount of tourists I saw during evening is an indication of the way it is all the time, this place will need some cleaning!

Breakfast was simple affair, all self-help with toast, spreads, cereals, fruit juices. Mix and match was the way. All for £2 in an honesty box.

I slapped sunscreen on every part of skin I had exposed, and left Pitlochry at soon after 8.00, off to a flying start down the A9. I decided to stay on the main the road as much as possible again, as it was definitely faster than the cycle way and old A9. It was still downhill. I pulled off at Dunkeld and Birnham for a change of scenery from the busy modern road, but only stopped for a drink, some chocolate and to refresh my sun screen. I arrived in Perth only 2 hours after leaving Pitlochry and sat in the shade in a park for more drinks, more chocolate and to text Hilary.

I crossed the River Tay, and continued south, and stopped at Kinross for lunch. I found a cafe and scoffed a ‘Half Breakfast’ of Lorne sausage, black pudding, haggis, beans, toast and a mug of tea. I was lovely, but perhaps I could have managed a ‘Full Breakfast’!

Whilst plodding up the long climb through Glen Farg, I saw, two flat dead red squirrels. It was sad to see them like that, but I reasoned that if there were enough to be killed on the roads, there must be enough still in the trees.

I made Inverkeithing at 1.45, and sat on the same bench as before in the shady square for drinks. It had been my first stop since Kinross, meaning I’d done nearly the whole of Fife in one go. The road surfaces in Fife were the worst I’d seen, and Kelty being the absolute worst - more potholes and patches than actual tarmac!

From Inverkeithing, I followed the roads down to the Forth Road Bridge only to find I had the same problem as before with lane closures. This time, it was the other track! As I rode up the slipway, the track was just being roped off by a bridge maintenance worker. I complained to him that there were no diversion signs in place earlier up the road, but he said that all he was doing was doing as he was told, and it wasn’t his job to put up any signs. He seemed sympathetic (just) to my problem, and I asked him to promise to take my concerns to his boss.

I bumped Bike and Trailer down the steps. On the north side of the bridge, there’s a road underneath leading down to North Queensferry, so on to the road I went. A chap walking past said that I should be able to ride under the FRB and up to the other track via a carpark. As the chap said, all was ok, and off over FRB I pedalled, anticipating further problems with the cycle route to Edinburgh.

The cycle way was not well signposted as I knew. I reached the housing estate feeling that even if I could find my corn field again it would eventually get me to the city, but I had to ask my way. A chap washing his car told me where the correct way was, NOT over the field, and off I went ever hopeful.

I entered an industrial estate, as directed by the cycle-route sign, but found nothing but a dead-end. I rode round and round trying to find my way, but none was obvious, so I backtracked to the last sign I saw and tried to work out what it actually meant, thinking some wag may have moved it. It was not clear at all, but in the end, I followed the pavement around the outside of the industrial estate, pass some barriers, and lo and behold - there was the cycle-route! Even then, it wasn’t the end of my troubles. Two elderly ladies were walking side-by-side fully occupying the path, I rang my bell repeatedly, but to no avail. It was downhill and I was motoring. They couldn’t hear me until the last second, then they really didn’t know what to do next! I nearly ran them over! Then it was into the busy streets of Edinburgh.

I arrived at the Eglinton Crescent hostel at 3.15, hot, tired and thirsty. As I checked in, I booked a cooked breakfast for the morning, then had drinks and a shower. It was wonderful to be out of the hot sunshine and under cover in the cool.

Ryries Pub again, a short walk away for pints of beer, and nosh of steak pie, gravy, chips and peas. The beer I chose was poor, probably bad cellar management in the heat, I suppose. The food was cheap and nasty city pub fare yet again. But it filled a hole.

I’d run out of Lemon and Barley Water, so called in a shop on the way back to the hostel and bought a bottle of Kia Ora, there was nothing else suitable. I was too tired to go shopping anywhere else.

Back at the hostel, I mooched around a bit and chatted to Hilary a couple of times, I was too hot to be comfortable, so lay down on my bunk and eventually drifted off to sleep for a while. I awoke later, then went downstairs to watch the telly, and chatted to some Americans who were in charge of young lads going to a Scout Jamboree at Blair Athol the following day. The scouts were all well behaved and respectful to the other guests, such a difference to the Spanish at Inverness!

I met three blokes doing Land’s End to John O’Groats the easy way, that is taking the train to different areas of the route and cycling only the interesting bits. They were taking the train to Dunfermline, rather than tackling the Edinburgh traffic and the FRB! We chatted about bikes and cycling in general, and Mercian frames versus other makes. They added that they’d seen me on the way to Okehampton, and I’d overtaken them even with my heavy load!

Also, we discussed the different routes from Land’s End to John O’Groats, and cycling in the Scottish Highlands. I complained about all the ‘Scottishness’ everywhere you went. They agreed with me, and one of the chaps said that the Scottish Tourism Industry is overpowering, and that everywhere one went and looked, it was thrust down your throat. I could do nothing but agree with the sentiment.

Back at my bunk, I slept like a log.

Tuesday, 18th July Edinburgh to Carlisle
Today I get back to England!

I’d had a solid night’s sleep, but I was still too tired. I was up just after 6.00 as usual, and got stuck into a couple of cups of tea preparing myself for the route south to Carlisle

Breakfast was due at 7.00, but the chef hadn’t turned up on time, so all I could have, if I didn’t want to wait, was a small Continental breakfast instead. It was hardly sufficient, but it would have to do, I wanted to get away for as early a start as I could, knowing about the horrible Edinburgh traffic, and the heat of the day to come. The staff refunded my breakfast money as I checked out.

I was away at 7.40 into the melee that is Edinburgh traffic, getting slightly lost, don’t know how, but followed my nose in a south-easterly direction. As I reached the suburbs, I asked a chap walking his dog if I was on the right road out of the city. I was, but not a usual one, but it would get me out to the Gorebridge direction and the A7 with actually little problem at all.

My spirits were high, but my flesh was weak. I was tired before I’d got going.

My mind dwelled on the fact that I was so tired. I wasn’t looking forward to the next few days, so different from before. I started to hatch a plan. My problem was that the route to Carlisle was going to be hard, the route to Arnside through Cumbria, though shorter, would be hard too. It was then to be followed by two 100 mile days down to South Wales. I doubted I could do it without being exhausted. This ride was supposed to be a pleasure.

I called Hilary, and asked if she could organise for me to add another day to my ride by stopping over at Jan and Ged’s house in Leyland, then delaying the night’s stay at Pene’s in Wrexham, and the YHAs at Welsh Bicknor and Street. I would then finish at Land’s End a day late. She thought it a great idea, and set about fixing it all up. I felt as if I’d failed just a little, but never-the-less relieved at the prospect of an easier ride, and I cheered up.

The weather became hotter and hotter as the day progressed. I made Galashiels at 11.00 and Selkirk soon after, getting through my water and juice at quite a rate. Just before Hawick, I stopped at a burger van in a lay by. The only shade for miles around was behind the van! I bought a cold can of Irn Bru and chatted to the owner and a young man driving an air-conditioned tractor. The temperature gauge in the van said 30 deg C. I was boiling!

I stopped in Hawick at 1.30 for a chicken baguette again - yum, and filled up water my bottles in the public loos as before. I made top of the Southern Uplands just south of Teviothead, stopped for a rest in Langholm, and then crossed over the border into England. The day was even hotter and I was still tired and slow. Time and time again, I had to hide in the shade and rest, then drink, drink, and drink.

Silly Signs - The A7 on the way north was labelled every dozen miles or so with huge brown tourist signs stating “A7 - Historic Route to Edinburgh”. Fair enough, I thought, but aren’t all main routes historic? But on the way south, the signs said “A7 - Historic Route to M6 and Carlisle”! M6? - Historic?????

I took a photograph of Bike and Trailer leaning up against a post next to the ‘Welcome to England’ sign, and there was by a little house separated from the road by a thick hedge. A dog barked constantly as I positioned Bike and lined up the shot, and the lady in the garden tried desperately to shut the thing up, probably not knowing I was there! I smiled to myself at the joke, and smiled at the thought that I was back in England.

The last few miles to Carlisle were terrible. I was hot, too hot, and tired, too tired. As I entered the town, I took a wrong turn at some traffic lights, went down a hill, and then HAD to stop. Weak and fading away, I climbed off Bike and crumpled into a heap under a large ash tree at the bottom of the hill, obviously on the wrong road. I just couldn’t think straight.

I phoned Hilary. I was distraught and almost in tears, she could do nothing of course, except offer sympathy and keep talking to me. I fished inside my saddlebag for a Boost Bar. It was melted, so I just tore the wrapper and sucked it through the end, then slowly I felt much better. I must’ve used up all the calories available in my body, I was washed out. I was suffering with what cyclists call ‘The Bonk’ or ‘Hunger Knock’. My blood-sugar level had fallen, bringing about dizziness and the shakes. The complex carbohydrates of the chocolate bar sorted me out by redressing the balance. I found my way back up the hill to the traffic lights, read the signs properly, and turned towards the town. I felt much better.

Then I found a chip shop. It was the same chip shop I’d found all those years ago on my way south in ‘94. I called in, cutting across all the traffic like I had before, and drank an ice cold can of Fanta, following it with a meal of steak pie and chips, sitting in the shade on Suitcase. I felt so much better. The owner saw I was famished and gave me a packet of Refreshers - so kind!. Afterwards, I phoned Hilary again, to tell her I was ok, fine and well fed.

As I was on the right road and thinking properly, finding my way was easy, and I arrived at the hostel tired and sweaty, so went straight into the shower! I felt much better, I was back in England, and I was nearly home.

After a lie down, I was off to the Globe for a couple of well-earned pints. It was such a nice pub and the people in there were full of congratulations. The ladies darts team were chucking their arrows, and one or two of them came over to talk too. The beer went down so well, but I was aware that I’d better not drink too much, I needed to sleep well and wake without a hangover.

One chap I talked to asked me what I thought about Shap Fell. I said that although it was hard, all you had to do was plod on up, it was ‘only’ a hill, after all! We chatted for a while about the fell. The hill is quiet now. The lorries used to have a very hard time of it, getting over, especially in the winter and bad weather. Half way up on the southern side, there’s a caravan sales company now where a large cafe used to be. It was called the Jungle Cafe, and they had huts and caravans there to accommodate the lorry-drivers when the road was closed with storms and snow, sometimes for days on end!

Much as I wanted to stay, I left for the hostel, not before the landlord had changed my Scottish money back to English for me. He explained that there are many places around Carlisle and the far north of England that won’t take it. He’d get it down to the bank with the rest of the takings in the morning. He also gave me directions for the easiest way out of the city, and south onto the A6. The whole place wished me well for the rest of the journey.

Back at the hostel, a cyclist had just arrived, and we chatted for a few minutes. He was carrying his stuff towards the accommodation, and I could see he only had one arm. He was cycling from John O’Groats to Land’s End and we discussed his route, he was doing it all ad hoc in the hope he could get accommodation along the way easily. I wished him luck knowing how full the hostels had been. His bike had been modified by Mercian to allow for one armed operation and I took a look at it later, in the lock-up. It was nicely built with all the gear controls and brake levers on one side! I wondered how he got on and off with only one arm, and how he managed to signal at junctions!

Back in my room, I chatted to Hilary, and she told me that all was ok for the re-scheduling of the rest of my ride, thankfully. The pressure was off me, and I knew I could enjoy the more relaxed pace for the next few days.

So my itinerary became:
Tomorrow Carlisle to Arnside as planned - 60 miles.

Followed by:
Thursday Arnside to Leyland 40 miles
Friday Leyland to Wrexham 60 miles

Saturday Wrexham to Welsh Bicknor 100 miles
Sunday Welsh Bicknor to Street 94 miles
Monday Street to Gunnislake 94 miles
Tuesday Gunnislake to Land’s End 85 miles

Hopefully, the weather wouldn’t continue to be as hot, and by doing 60/40/60 for three days, rather than 60/100/100 it'd give me ‘time off’.

Again, I slept like a log.

Wednesday, 19th July Carlisle to Arnside
I was up as usual soon after 6.00, and feeling very tired, not looking forward to Cumbria and Shap Fell. The weather looked like it was going to be another hot one. Whilst packing and preparing, my sunglasses fell apart yet again, this time on the other side, so the Super Glue came to the rescue once again.

I phoned Hilary, then walked round for a large breakfast again at Purdies cafe down the road. I collected Bike and Trailer and checked out of the hostel at 8.00 leaving shortly after, and headed directly into the City Centre as directed last night by the landlord at the Globe. The way was easy to follow, and I found the A6 out to the south, into the undulating terrain up into the Cumbrian hills.

At High Hesket I rested on a shady bench and chatted for a while to a passer-by walking his dog. He went on a bit about the speed of the traffic around and about the Carlisle area, and wondered if I’d had problems with it all. I just shrugged my shoulders, sort of agreed with him, and wished he’d go away and continue walking his dog. Penrith came, and I rested on the cool stone steps of Natwest Bank, I bought a pork pie and a big bottle of Lucozade in Shap Village and devoured them whilst watching swifts wheeling about in and out of the rafters of a house across the road.

After the very long climb, I reached the top of Shap Summit. I sheltered yet again by the monument. Last time I used it to shelter from the wind and the sideways rain, this time it held the only relief from the relentless burning sunshine! How completely different the weather can be. It was a long way up the fell, let alone in all that heat and the run down was so welcome, I can tell you!

On my way down to Kendal, I met a father and son on their way to John O’Groats, and I pulled over for a chat, passing the time of day with them and cooling off in the shade of the trees whilst they had a spot of lunch. The young son, of about 14, looked tired, though his dad was cheerful and bright. They asked me about the road up the fell and how much climbing was involved. We watched a lorry going up, and traced it’s progress over the false summit, then saw it reappear on the main climb. I commentated as it went, explaining the layout of the hill for them.

I made Kendal at 2.00, and popped into a likely bar - but they’d finished doing food, so just I just had a glass of ice cold Stella instead. Then outside again, I found cafe across the street, popped in and found they had air conditioning! Wow, so cool! I ate a local Cornish pasty and a mug of tea, the pasty was quite good, but it had peas in it! Strange place, Cumbria.

I arrived at the Arnside hostel at 3.50, very hot, but not as tired as I’d expected. I’d taken my time, maybe that had something to do with it, or maybe because the pressure was off me for the next couple of days. I booked an evening meal and a breakfast for the morning. The office chappy recognised me, and we chatted about how I’d got on. I remarked on the weather!

He placed me in a dorm right on the top floor and I was the sole occupant. I hoped it would remain like that. It was peaceful and silent up there. I chatted to Hilary on the phone with just barely a signal in the room, on the top floor the signal must’ve been better there than anywhere else in Arnside.

I emptied my saddle bag, and sorted my stuff, taking out the last Boost Bar that I’d bought in Inverness and placed it on the window sill. It was as molten as the one I’d eaten in Carlisle the day before. I hoped it would solidify over night.

I took a shower and put my feet up on the bunk. Whilst lying down, relaxing and reading, I found a spot on a rather intimate position on the left side of my bum, I wondered why I was so uncomfortable on the saddle during the day. I’d put it down to an unfortunately positioned seam on my underpants! I hoped that whatever it was would go away.

Unlike my stay on my way north, the hostel was quiet, I thought, and under subscribed that day, I thought. The peace was not to last. I sat at a table for our evening meal with an older couple on a driving and walking holiday in the Lake District. We had 3 courses, (I had pasta) surrounded by, it felt like hundreds, of 10 - 11 year old boys and girls. The noise was deafening. It was like being thrown into a school dining-hall. The couple and me just smiled weakly at each other, unable to chat much above the din.

After the meal, I checked Bike and Trailer over, lubricating the bike chain and checking the tyres, then mooched around the communal rooms and read old cycling magazines and looked at the maps on the walls. Then I watched the telly for an hour or so in a lovely quite hostel whilst the kids were out at the beach, then retired to bed at 10 ish. The kids must have come back later, but as I was way up on the top floor, I heard nothing. Bliss.

That was it. I’d done three-quarters of my Mega Bike Ride. 1328 miles. I was tired, and my bum was sore.


Thursday, 20th July Arnside to Leyland
As usual, I was awake at 6.00, it was becoming habitual. It was cloudy outside, so I hoped it might be cooler at last. As I was contemplating the weather, it started to rain! The day’s ride was only 40 odd miles, rain would be a welcome change, and I knew it would feel like a day off!

My bum was still sore, the spot seemed to be just part of the problem, I believed I had Nappy Rash from having been constantly sweating Down There. I sort of dreaded getting back in the saddle. My elbow, on the other hand, was healing nicely with a large chunky scab that would be ripe for picking in another week.

The Boost Bar that was molten yesterday that I placed on the window sill the previous evening was solid, so I ate it, hoping it wouldn’t put me off my breakfast. Whilst scoffing the chocolate, I sorted my maps for the ride down into Lancashire to Jan and Ged’s in Leyland. I decided to text Jan from Preston, that is, about an hour from their place. The rain came in heavier by 7.30, so that meant I wouldn’t need any sun screen today.

After breakfast, I phoned Hilary from my room, then was away at 9.15 through the countryside to Carnforth in slight drizzly rain. It was nice and cool - lovely, but my bum wasn’t. It was quite sore, but I sort of got used to it, adjusting my position occasionally for a better ‘fit’. No wonder babies cry with sore bottoms!

I took the day slowly and steadily, reaching Carnforth as the drizzle finished, and Lancaster city centre soon after. I sat on a bench by a huge Queen Victoria Monument in a paved area to eat and drink. The atmosphere was humid and airless, but bright, as a little sunshine had started. I wandered around the monument and studied the murals on the sides of the massive plinth. They were covered in carvings of all the notables at the time of Victoria and her Empire: writers, scientists, engineers, politicians, philosophers. You name them - they were there.

In Garstang, I stopped for a pint. It was a lovely town, with a street market in full flow, I rode up and down the main street, and found a likely looking pub. I chatted to a couple of old chaps at the bar for a while over my drink and they asked me where I was cycling to. Obviously I filled them in with my adventures so far, and one of the chap’s ears pricked up at the mention of Shap Fell. He said that when he was a kid, his dad had a mobile cafe at the top in the lay-by. They did a good trade in those days, before the M6 came. It’s all different now, though.

After my beer, I plucked up the courage and popped into a pharmacy along the street, and bought some sore-bum cream. I quietly asked a lady behind the counter if they had anything for Nappy Rash. I explained why, and she recommended a tube of cream that she said that ‘old people’ get on well with (!) if they’re incontinent or have urinary infections. There was no mention of ‘cyclists in the prime of their lives’ on the wrapper! I found some public loos, and applied the said cream to the said part of my body, with wonderful results! Heaven! AHHH!!!

Just outside Garstang, I stopped for fish and chips, and ate them sitting on the comfortable and cool grass by the side of the road. The day warmed up as the sun started to shine brightly. Bum was feeling so much better.

I texted Jan just North of Preston city centre, and followed my nose on the A6 and aimed for Chorley, then found the A49 at Walton-le-Dale and Bamber Bridge, then followed the road signs for Leyland. I didn’t know the route, and there was no way I could remember Ged’s mates instructions, I just used common sense and maps as usual.

Jan welcomed me with hugs and congratulations, asking if I wanted tea, beer or wine. I chose beer, but only after Bike and Trailer had been put away, and Suitcase up in the bedroom. Jan offered to do some washing for me, I accepted and handed her some smalls, a cycling top and a pair of shorts.

We chatted over beer, Ged wasn’t due in till 5.30, and we’d eat soon after. I went up for a bath -wow, my bum! - and soaked for a while, then downstairs again for another beer or two, and waited for Ged. Jan showed me round their new conservatory, and we sat in there talking and drinking.

I spoke to Hilary on the phone, then it was teatime as Ged had come home. More chats followed over the meal, and by that time, I was on the wine, but not too much, even though Ged kept trying to top up my glass. I had to be in bed early and fairly sober, I needed my beauty-sleep.

I’d completed 1375 miles so far, with more than 400 miles left to do. I felt so much better than only a couple of days ago, I had ‘rested’ on my ride to Leyland, was being looked after with some homely TLC, and I was off to Pene’s at Wrexam tomorrow on another short trip.

My bum felt good - I’d applied more cream - I snuggled into bed, and I went out like a light.

Friday, 21st July Leyland to Wrexham
I had a lie-in. I woke at 6.30 and read for a while. My bum was good and ready for the saddle. I was up and washed by 7.20, and packed away my clean dry gear. The day looked cloudy and overcast.

During a slap-up breakfast we talked and talked, and the time for me to leave came too soon. After final packing, I was away whilst Ged videoed me again with his infernal machine, and I didn’t say good bye properly just like me and Hilary in Gunnislake! The weather had brightened up, so just before I left, I slapped on sun the screen. Jan handed me some more sandwiches and a couple of Mars Bars.

My route from Leyland was easy, through all the places I knew. After all, I was brought up round there! Through Eccleston and Heskin, past Camelot theme park, and then over the M6 and onto the A49 at Charnock Richard. Then Standish again. I phoned Jan and Ged, and apologised for not saying good bye properly with a kiss. Then on to Wigan again, too. I felt so much better and rested, and bum felt good, so good, I forgot about it and I really got on a pace. Lancashire was behind me, and into Cheshire I pedalled. I stopped just past Frodsham and sat in the shade and tucked into Jan’s sarnies. It was very hot and sunny again, but providing I could get some shade when I stopped, I didn’t feel too bad - perhaps I was getting used to the heat.

Then I was off towards the Welsh border finding the B roads to Gresford and Rossett easily, and into Wrexham.

The house was empty. I expected it to be. Had I arrived the day before as planned, Pene would’ve been in, but now she was away for a couple of days. I had a set of keys that she’d given me just in case, so let myself in and phoned Pene as planned to let her know I’d made it, and she told me about three bottles of beer in the kitchen with my name on them, and that Steven (her future son-in-law) had repaired my old automatic Seiko watch for me. I played with it for a while, resetting the day and date, it was wonderful to have it back, and I decided to wear it for the rest of the journey.

I made myself a cuppa, and phoned Hilary, then went up for a bath, followed by the beers whilst I checked over Bike and Trailer. Soon after, one of Pene’s lodgers arrived and disappeared upstairs. I had another long chat with Hilary, then walked out into the town for something to eat.

I wandered around, trying to think what I could do for nosh, so called into a couple of pubs to see what was on offer. It was too early really, so I just got stuck into a few pints. I was hungry, so bought a large pizza from a takeaway, and walked back to Pene’s. I studied a map of Shrewsbury whilst I ate it (no wonder I had so much trouble cycling north through the centre!) and made a mental note of the layout. I wouldn’t need the map on the way south, as it seemed quite straight forward in the southerly direction.

It had been an easy ride from Leyland of only 59 miles, that and there were no hills to speak of. I was feeling fit and well, and ready for the 100+ miles down to Welsh Bicknor.

I was in bed by 8.00! The alcohol had taken effect, I was drowsy, and knew that I only had me to consider in the morning, so I could get up very early and leave when I wanted.

Saturday, 22nd July Wrexham to Welsh Bicknor
I awoke early, very early, and was up at 5.00. It looked like it was going to be a good day again, and wanted to get out as soon as I could. Cups of tea - breakfast - pack my stuff - go.

I used Pene’s new grill for sausages, bacon, eggs and toast and wrote a note to her, thanking her for the use of her house, beer, breakfast and facilities, and added much thanks to Steven for repairing my watch. I was away at 6.45 into a cool, even cold, early morning - lovely!

I got a good move on. The roads down to Shrewsbury through Ellesmere and Overton were quiet and easy, and I reached Shrewsbury in just over two hours. On to Church Stretton and to the day’s half way point at Craven Arms.

I stopped at Ludlow, 8 miles short of 1500 miles and found a little cafe tucked away in a corner just off the town square and asked for the menu. Bike and Trailer were just across the alley-way, and I lifted off the computer from the handlebars to check on mileage and averages etc. My pot of tea arrived and I put down the computer onto the metal table and slid it to one side. The electrical contacts on the bottom of the unit registered a connection, and interpreted it as a speed of 134mph! Surely, it must have been the highest speed ever attained on a bike computer!

My meal of a “Shropshire Panino” arrived. It was divine - steak and Shropshire Blue cheese with a salad. An absolutely great lunch.

Off again, and south following the A49 and climbing the big hill just south of Leominster, and on to Hereford. The afternoon was very hot and stuffy. I stopped occasionally to slap on the sun screen, but eventually the weather presented me with a few spots of rain as I crossed over the A40 at Goodrich, but cleared up again shortly after. I popped into the pub in the village and sank 2 pints of real ale, and it was wonderful! Quite different from the last time I was there on the way north. There was still no mobile signal there of course, so I phoned Hilary from the box in the foyer. I chatted to the barman and a chap at the bar, and to a few people all dressed up having been to a wedding.

Then it was up the steep hill, along the little road and down the awful track to Welsh Bicknor Hostel, arriving at 5.30, having covered 101 miles. I booked an evening meal and a breakfast, stowed Bike and Trailer away, then showered and had cup of soup in the courtyard, watching the baby swallows, getting bigger now, being fed continuously by their parents. Even more muck was splattered on the walls and windows.

I had chicken kebabs for starters, followed by steak and ale pie, and washed down with cups of tea. There were too many kids in the hostel for my liking again, but at least the evening weather was good and they were outside in the grounds, or down by the river.

Sunday, 23rd July Welsh Bicknor to Street
I was up at 6.00 after a poor night’s sleep. The hostel was full, and there were too many in the dorm, making it hot, sweaty, smelly and airless.

I drank a couple of cups of tea outside, it was a cool morning and a little cloudy, and I checked my maps and route to Street. On the way north, Street YHA was fully booked on the day I wanted it, so B+B was the answer then. It was going to be somewhere around 70 to 80 miles to get to Street down in Somerset, and I decided to tackle the dreaded A40 to Monmouth direct, counting on it being quiet on a Sunday morning. It would be about 40 miles to Bristol, the city could present me with a problem or two, as I’d have to cross it from the northeast to the southwest, and I’d have to find somewhere for lunch. I would reach that Harvester place at Catbrain too early I thought, so I’d have to find lunch as I left the city.

Rain started as I ate breakfast, and it was still raining as I pushed Bike and Trailer up the track towards Goodrich. I was cycling away at 8.45 to Monmouth down the dual carriageway. The rain cleared up and the sun came out. Down the Wye Valley, I stopped at Tintern for a rest and to text Hilary. It was then that I noticed my bike computer’s main function button was stuck. All seemed to work ok, but I couldn’t change the display from the trip mileage for the day. I hoped my total mileage wasn't lost, but it didn’t matter too much because I’d kept a log of each day, so it would be relatively easy to add up for the next few days.

I made it over the Severn Bridge and into Bristol city, and, as expected, I reached Catbrain too early for lunch. I stopped at the top of a very steep hill in Clifton Park and sat in a wooden bus shelter for a Mars Bar, then followed my nose into the city centre. I arrived in a huge paved square with monuments, flower beds and seating areas. The square was surrounded by cinemas on one side, and a bus station on the other. I had no idea exactly where I was. I cycled round the square, and stopped by a chap on a bench, and asked if he knew the way out of town towards Wells. But he was a foreigner! He had a small tourist map of the city, and seemed to know our location, and could speak a little English, so we chatted about our maps, though he was very vague. Anyway, I used my common sense yet again, and headed in a likely direction, south I guessed, and then found some sign posts for Wells A37 and A38. Off I went.

In Whitchurch, just south of the city, I found a pub. It was 1.30, I was starving, and ordered a pint of Guinness and a rib-eye steak with pepper sauce, salad and chips. I sat outside at a table with a big parasol with Bike and Trailer nearby. I texted Hilary, checked over my maps, and got stuck into the food. It was delightful, cheap and filling too. Lovely, really lovely.

Then it was off south into the big hills of the Mendips, long and steep, more ups than downs, and a stiff cool breeze from the west. Although the day was very warm, the air seemed to be cooling somewhat. I stopped lots of times in shade to rest. I was getting very tired, not in an exhausted sort of way like at Carlisle, but just very tired and weary.
Eventually, I found a very, very, very long downhill stretch into Wells out of the hills. Wonderful! Wells to Glastonbury, then on to Street, arriving at the hostel at just before 5.00, tired and hungry and sweaty.

The hostel is in a lovely wooded setting, high on the hills just south of Street and Glastonbury. It’s surrounded by National Trust land, and is off the main road a hundred yards or so across a grassy area. The architecture is reminiscent of a Swiss chalet, with wooden verandas and outside staircases. The hostel has the honour of being the first purpose-built Youth Hostel in the country back in the 1930s, but the facilities have been modernised of course - central heating, fully equipped modern kitchen, and electric lighting!

The hostel was very quiet. Great. As I arrived, a young man called Mike was playing a computer game on his laptop, and sat at one of the tables in the common room. We talked about computer games, and discussed the ins and outs of laptops. Later, another chap arrived, also called Mike, who was touring the area and visiting all the old houses and churches. Fun. A mum and dad, plus 2 kids arrived still later, and sadly none were called Mike. They were from London. Mike was from Preston, originally, and Mike was from Warrington. Mike said I could help myself to his milk in the fridge. The family had the family-room, and Mike, Mike and me had a room each. Bliss. Quiet. Peace.

The place is a fully self-catering hostel, so I cobbled together some of the last of my victuals, and had a strange meal of instant rice, soup, a large smoked sausage and followed it with a hot chocolate! Yum!

I chatted to Hilary, and discussed my arrival at Gunnislake. She suggested we meet in Tavistock at about 5.00 and eat, then she could take Trailer and my camera and precede me to Gunnislake New Bridge - the crossing into Cornwall. It sounded fine to me. A reception committee had been decided upon to welcome me home to Cornwall.

Afterwards, I took a look at my bike computer, and fixed it! Wonderful things - penknives! The main button had come adrift from its fitting inside, so I gingerly removed it, and replaced it properly. I think I caused the problem by stabbing too hard with my finger whilst cycling along - something that the instruction manual says not to do. Oh well.

I chatted to Hilary again, and checked my maps to try to predict my progress and time of arrival at Tavistock. Having cycled from Street to Gunnislake before, I knew it was 94 miles, and should take me nine and a half hours. If I left at 7.30, I should be at Taunton at 10.00, Wellington 10.30, Bickleigh 12.30 and Okehampton 3.00. That would leave me two hours to get to Tavistock. I decided to leave at 6.00, to give me an hour and a half spare.

I slept very peacefully.

Monday, 24th July Street to Gunnislake
I rose soon after 5.00, and had a breakfast of cups of tea, the last of my mixed nuts and raisins, and the last two Baby Bells, planning to buy a proper breakfast en-route. I left at 6.25 into a chilly and misty morning, with a watery sun trying to break through. I arrived in Taunton less than two hours later, and dropped into a street cafe for a small pot of tea and a Mozzarella Panino, sitting outside in the busy street.

At the same table was a rather overweight chap, and after a little chat about Bike and Trailer, he became very interested in my cycling feat. He thrust a fiver into my hand, and asked me to promise that I’d send him some newspaper cuttings about my return. Although kind and interesting, he was actually very boring, and went on about his business connections and his wealth. He gave me the fiver in an offhand sort of way, almost showing off that he had enough money to give away. I thanked him profusely, and bade him farewell, and was off and away to Tiverton, but I had to find my way out of the town first - I had to ask the way twice!

I arrived at Tiverton well ahead of schedule, and sat down on the benches by the bus stops again. I drank, and ate some chocolate, then texted Hilary. I rested for a while, as here is where the bad Devonshire hills begin, I needed to be ready and strong, and planned to stop at Bickleigh prior to the worst hill between Land’s End and John O’Groats. Off I went, but I didn’t stop like I should’ve done.

The trouble with Bickleigh Hill is that it starts all of a sudden, steep and awful. Half way up, I had to stop, and I pulled over in a little lay-by on a bend, I was breathing heavily and my legs ached. I kicked myself for not stopping at the bottom first. The problem with my pedals and shoes, is that it can be difficult to get clipped in instantly first time. So after resting, I mounted Bike and pushed off. As the hill is steep any forward momentum I imparted first with my right foot was completely used up by the time I tried to get my left foot on to the pedal too. I failed to engage my foot, Bike stopped, and me and Bike fell to the ground! No damage, except that the tow-hitch was bent a little. Actually, the hitch was bent so much so, that Trailer wouldn’t detach, but I didn’t know that then, and carried on to Crediton after making a successful second attempt at a getaway.

In Crediton at just after 12.00, I called into a cafe and had Full English Breakfast and a pot of tea, I was hungry! Then off again, and plodded on to Copplestone, Bow and Okehampton, arriving at 2.40, still well ahead of time.

I hung around in Okehampton, sitting on a bench in the cool shade next to the church and ate the last Mars Bar and the mixed nuts and drank more water, texting Hilary.

On the other bench sat three young girls about 14 or 15 years old, talking loudly, giggling and swearing unashamedly. A old lady crossed the street and sat next to me. The girls were very annoying and getting worse, so I told them to stop in a loud and strong voice. The old lady smiled sweetly. Soon after, one girl swore again, so I told her off again, and that time they stopped.

The old lady and me exchanged a few sentences about how hot the weather was, and she thanked me for telling the girls to stop swearing. Soon after, she left, and soon after that, the girls left leaving all their litter lying on the street too. What is it about youth? !!

I left Okehampton at 3.00 for a slow ride to Tavistock. On arrival, I sat on a wall by the post office in the shade. It was 4.45 and I rested and waited for Hilary. It had been a very hot day again, and I’d drunk lots of fluids, in fact I’d finished all I’d got with me, so was grateful that Hilary was due to bring me more water. I’d taken my time from Street, but I was still very tired and knew that I’d be slow getting back to Gunnislake.

I saw the car arrive, and shortly after, I was being cuddled and kissed. ‘Jack and Jills’ chip shop was closed, as it was Monday, by the time we got to Dukes cafe, it had just closed, so we had to make do with pasties sat on a bench near the market. We waited until 5.30 before I left, to make sure I arrived at New Bridge for the crossing into Cornwall, and entry into Gunnislake for 6.00. Hilary went by car, I set off, deciding to keep Trailer and my stuff - I’d got used to it!. I paced myself, taking my time on the hills and pausing at Gulworthy to arrive at the bridge bang on time.

A Reception Committee to be proud of met me at New Bridge. Such a crowd! I had no idea of the pride in my achievement that the whole community felt.

As I crossed the bridge, I saw them all there, and all I could say as I approached was, “Look at you all!” I shook hands, kissed, had slaps on the back, was congratulated , cheered and clapped. Happy, foot-stomping music came from the cheery folk of the Rubber Band, and lots of cameras clicked and whirred. I walked round the throng of about 50 people of all ages, all smiling and chatting in amazement at this sun-tanned cyclist, that had been away for three weeks up the Far North and back. I was overwhelmed at the strength of the welcome, and can hardly remember much of what was said, or exactly who was there!

Hilary beamed and sparkled. She, most of all, was the most proud!

Then I was off to the Rising Sun, up the hill, pedalling away with Trailer still behind me, for drinks, music, more drinks and more photographs. There were large blackboards proclaiming my arrival, and telling the world how proud they were of me. The blackboards usually told of the beers available, or the entertainment and music planned for the month, but this time it was just for me.

I’d calmed down enough to chat coherently with people, and told them of my trials and tribulations on the road, the beer flowed, no doubt I became quite lucid!

I detached Trailer (with a bit of trouble. I had to remove the QR skewer and leave the bike part of the hitch still connected to Trailer), loaded it into the back of the car with Suitcase, and I pedalled the last couple of hundred yards of the day, uphill to home and into a bath. All my stuff went straight into the washing machine!

I’d done 95 miles from Street, I was tired and well oiled. And guess what? I slept like a log!

Tuesday, 25th July Gunnislake to Land’s End
I was up and about at 6.15, and walked the dog round the woods, then made cuppas and woke Hilary. It was a very slow start to the day, I was stiff and tired. I’d relaxed completely on getting home, all the adrenaline had left me. All I had to do was cycle to Land’s End, and it would be all over!

I wasn’t sure when to set off, as we didn’t know when Hilary could get to Land’s End to meet me, not knowing when she could finish work. As I was knew that Gunnislake to Land’s End was 80 odd miles, it must take eight hours. By looking at my log, I knew that I’d averaged 10mph each day so far, so if I left at 10.00 ish, I’d arrive at 6 ish. That timing and schedule seemed most appropriate.

Hilary made some sandwiches for me, and I re-geared Bike up to its original ratios, and removed the mudguards. I wasn’t going to take any more weight down to The End than I had to! Don’t forget, Trailer wouldn’t be needed for the rest of the journey. I wheeled Bike outside to give it a well-earned wash down and a cleanup, it looked manky.

Horrors! The front gear cable was very badly frayed! Thank goodness I made it home! After some time of thinking and fretting, with Hilary trying to suggest that I went into Tavistock to buy a new cable. I thought and thought what could be done, because I didn’t feel like there was enough time to get a new cable, I even considered delaying my trip back to Land’s End for another day. There was certainly no way I could get to Land’s End with less than half my gears! I had a mind just to carry on regardless - after all, I’d no idea how long the cable had been like that, it could’ve been days! But then again, It could’ve been only minutes!

In the end, I reverted to the old-fashioned system of having the gear changer on the downtube, thereby allowing for a shorter cable, I still had all my old fittings from when I installed the new system on the handlebars. So it was tools out, do the job, and Hey Presto, gears again!

Other than my self-inflicted puncture at Inverness, that was the only problem with Bike. Reliable, or what!

I set off at 9.45, feeling very strange without Trailer, and having a funny gear-changing system - one set on the handlebars, the other on the downtube. Anyway, I was off and away up the 1 in 8 Sand Hill, and headed towards Liskeard.

Dobwalls was thick with traffic, though still moving. I stayed in the coned-off centre lane as much as I could up the hill, as slow lorries are difficult and dangerous to cycle next to. I made it through the village and off down the A390 westward, resting a while at Lostwithiel before its hill. I called in at the Tourist Information Office for a fill up with water, and sat on a bench by the side of the road. The hill wasn’t too bad, If you can get up Bickleigh Hill and Sand Hill, Lostwithiel is no problem! Going down the long Penpillick Hill, I had to do an emergency manoeuvre as a truck had stopped in the carriageway on a left-hand corner. The car in front of me stopped suddenly, and I moved out to the right over the white line, good job nothing was coming the other way!.

Next stop was at St Blazey and I sat down by the level crossing near the turn-off for The Eden Project for a lunch of the sarnies Hilary had made me. Then it was out to St Austell. It was a hot day again, but I had lots of shade on the left hand side of the road this time, not like on the way from Land’s End.

I stayed on the main road rather than going into Probus, the halfway point for the day, then made my way to the city of Truro sitting down at Lemon Quay. I texted Hilary, and had another Mars and rested. There was a gardner chappy with a long hose watering the many large planters, I eyed him up and wondered if his water would be ok to drink after it’d been through a long blue hose. I was thirsty, and just about out of water. I knew that the public loos only had those vandal-proof hand washing systems where you stick your hands in a machine and press buttons. Not good for filling water bottles! So I asked the chap, my bottles were filled, and it tasted ok too! Next stop: Redruth.

I was getting very tired and was even overtaken by kids on mountain bikes riding on the pavements- I hadn’t the energy to care one way or another.

I made Hayle at 4.20 and sat on a window sill and ate my last Mars Bar. I texted Hilary again, and then off for the last push, feeling just a little stronger.

The afternoon traffic through Redruth and Camborne had been awful, and on the Penzance by-pass really awful. I found it hard and very frustrating to have to keep stopping and starting and avoiding the traffic. If you stop, it takes a lot of energy to get going again, I was so tired and had just about used all my energy up, I need as much momentum as I could get. Hilary texted to say she’d made it to Land’s End, and I phoned her from Crows-an-wra to say I was only a few miles from away from The End.

I crossed the finish line at Land’s End at 5.45, eight hours after I left as I’d predicted, to photographs and kisses from Hilary, she went to collect stuff from the car and presented me with a lovely yellow rose.

I made my way down to the finger post and all the people moved out of the way as I approached, congratulating me and clapping thinking I’d cycled from John O’Groats. They were absolutely amazed when Hilary told them I’d done BOTH ways! They clapped even louder, and some took photographs, and some asked questions. The official photographer fussed and arranged me and Bike, with me wearing the Alzheimer’s Society t-shirt complete with a Ginsters sticker on the front in the hot evening sunshine. The audience of tourists milled about, getting the best view of me at the post, chatting and clapping all the time. I felt so proud!

Then we went into the hotel for me to sign the Land’s End Book and leave some more inane comments, then I changed into normal clothes and loaded stuff and Bike into the car.

I was feeling drained, stiff and emotional. I’d cycled 1788.97 miles. All by myself. Unsupported. Quite an achievement, eh?

Hilary drove. We followed the roads out of West Cornwall, planning to stop en-route for food, and decided on the ‘famous’ Welcome Stranger chip shop at Lanivet, near Bodmin for a lovely meal and cuppas.

I navigated, Hilary continued to drive, and we made it straight to the Rising Sun! ..........

I’d done it! Land’s End to John O’Groats and Back again.


Land’s End to John O’Groats
Total Time 87 hours 6 minutes
Mileage 891.44
In the Saddle 68 hours 58 minutes
Overall Av Speed 10.25mph

John O'Groats to Land's End
Total Time 94 hours 25 minutes
Mileage 897.53
In the Saddle 73 hours 17 minutes
Overall Av Sp 9.5mph

Land's End to John O'Groats to Land's End
Total Time 181 hours 31 minutes
Mileage 1788.97
In the Saddle 142 hours 15 minutes
Overall Av Sp 9.86mph


The Bit after the End Bit

My weight had many people guessing. I was weighed before the start at 13st 2lb. At 50p a guess you took a stab at my finishing weight. I can reveal now that I lost a little. I was weighed in at 12 stone 11 and a half pounds. Not much of a loss I know, but I bulked out on my legs, and muscle is heavier than fat. I lost a bit around my face, neck, shoulders and tummy. The sweepstake raised £24.

Even after my Mega Bike Ride, sponsor money still came in, a fund-raising and Welcome Home Do at The Queen's Head, a BBQ Evening and Raffle at The Rising Sun, and another raffle at the White Hart continued to swell the coffers.

So, on Friday 25th August, Hilary and me presented a cheque to a representative from The Alzheimer's Society for the wonderful sum of £2666.21 at our local pub, The Rising Sun, in the presence of loads of people and the press. The money raised was earmarked for the local branch of The Society, as they are desperately short of funds. The money donated on-line, £229, went straight to the central fund.

Even then, that wasn’t the end of the dosh! Money continued to trickle in, and in early November, the final cheque was posted for another £93. That made the Grand Total raised by Mick’s Mega Bike Ride a massive £2988.21. Wow!

And on Dec 14th, Hilary and me attended an Alzheimer’s Society meeting in Plymouth, where we were welcomed and thanked personally for our mammoth fund-raising efforts, whilst I regaled them with my adventures. They listened in awe to my story.

I can’t finish this story without mentioning my sponsors. Ginsters Pasties, Hansons Aggregates, and two other very generous individuals, who wish to remain nameless, paid for all my expenses and accommodation. Skinners and Sharp’s Breweries donated oodles of beer which were raffled off to lucky winners. And Bridget, of course, who donated loads of Mars Bars and pasties. None of this would have been possible at all, if it were not for our local pubs, especially The Rising Sun, and the entire community! I thank them, one and all, wholeheartedly.

And of course, Hilary. Without her unending support, love and encouragement, I could never even have contemplated the ride.

Anyway, there you are. I did it. I'm no athlete - never have been. Some of you may think I'm super-fit - I don't think so. All it took was guts and determination.

And a good bike!

Thank you, all.

Mick Fairhurst. February 2007