LEJOG – Days 13 and 14

Mission Accomplished!

I am very pleased to report that at 4pm on Saturday, after 14 days and over 1,000 miles in the saddle, Stephen and Peter finally arrived in John O'Groats! This is a truly epic achievement by the two Titchmartians and one which – thanks to Stephen's notes – we've been able to follow all the way.

Day 13: Inverness to Crask (two houses, one a pub – middle of nowhere)

72 miles, 900m of ascent. Another beautiful sunny day with just enough high thin cloud to moderate the scorching!

We left Inverness over the Kessock Bridge onto the Black Isle (the peninsular being so-named because of its very fertile soils).  Our road firstly followed the north shore of the Beauly Firth then turned north at Muir of Ord  to Dingwall (7th/8th century seat of Viking government of this part of Scotland).  

For some reason (over-enthusiasm?) I managed to miss the  "tea stop" at Dingwall so "led" the party for a while (by a margin of 20 minutes or so!).  From Dingwall we first followed the north shore of the Cromarty Firth before turning inland and climbing over low(ish) hills to Ardgay and Bonar Bridge.  Lunch at the Caley Cafe at Bonar Bridge (smart bridge too…) provided a welcome respite before we headed off towards Lairg via Invershin and the spectacular Falls of Shin – with attendant leaping salmon.

Loch Lairg

Stopping at Lairg only long enough to specify our evening meals we pushed on through relatively flat but bleak country to Crask, an amazing two house settlement in the middle of absolutely nowhere. The skylines were amazing – Munroes wherever you looked.  

Relaxing at Crask in the sunshine with beers or orange juices (according to taste), we passed the time with some tourists from New Zealand who had forsaken their tandem for a hire car (I can understand that!).  Looking at an antarctic beech tree in the Inn garden (tiny beech leaves), restrained against the wind by some very heavy duty webbing, we pondered how the location would feel in the teeth of one of the northwesterly gales that the shape of the trees suggest are fairly common thereabouts.  

Eventually even our tour guides patience began to wear thin and we bid a temporary farewell to Crask.  Our guides took us back to Lairg in the van for dinner and our overnight accommodation.  

After dinner I walked to Lairg station, about a mile and half south of the town/village.  As anticipated the last train had departed, so there really is no escape from tomorrow's 83 mile final leg of our journey…..

The van departs for Crask at 08:30, thence we cycle to John O'Groats – the final leg.

Day 14: Crask to John O' Groats

82 miles, 900m of ascent. Having been "vanlifted" from our overnight accommodation in Lairg to rejoin our bicycles at Crask, we set off in yet another superlative Scottish morning.  The inland weather was fantastic: warm, little wind, and hazy sunshine.  

Although serious mountains were visible around our horizon the initial route was through flatter countryside.   Following Strath Naver (strath = broad-based, "U" shaped valley, Naver = river Naver) we skirted the shores of the extremely picturesque Loch Naver before arriving at our "tea stop" outside the smartly painted corrugated iron church at Syre.

In Victorian and Edwardian times churches like this one were supplied as "flat pack" kits and exported to the far flung corners of the British Empire – including, as it turns out, the Naver Valley in NW Scotland…….

More pleasant riding in sunshine brought us to Bettyhill on the far north coast of Scotland and an almost immediate 8 or 9 degree temperature drop due to the breeze from the sea; cue for all to put on extra clothing layers.

North Coast

The next 14 or 15 miles were pretty arduous as the coastal road alternately dipped into shoreline villages and then climbed the headlands between bays.  I was certainly rather relieved  when we arrived at the village of Melvich, for our planned lunch stop at the Halladale Inn.  

Having consumed "restorative" sandwiches and orange juice(!!), we continued eastwards, pasing close to the Dounreay nuclear power development facility (now well in to a decades-long decommissioning programme) before cutting inland through rolling agricultural land to Thurso.   

I popped into the station there in a vain attempt to see a train before joining the rest of the party at The Tempest Cafe on the harbour front – a haunt of cyclists and surfers apparently, though there weren't many surfers evident during our visit…….

The final (fairly flat) 20 miles to John O'Groats took us past the Castle of Mey, favourite of the Queen Mother and now Prince Charles (so I was informed).  We didn't pop in for tea!

Arrival at the famous John O'Groats signpost was accompanied by champagne, much taking of photographs, and much mutual congratulation – well, we thought we'd deserved it!  

After a shower and a change into "civvies", and still in a state of some elation, we descended on the bar at the Sea View Hotel to sample the products of the John O'Groats brewery (yes, there is one!).  A quick review of the statistics from our electronic route guides revealed I'd cycled 1034 miles over the last 14 days.   Mysteriously Peter had managed 1043 – I'm saying nothing about navigational skills…….

So ended the day and our leg-powered journey up the length of Great Britain.  

The Just Giving web site tells me my sponsorship has reached £970.  That's just shy of the £1000 target, but I'm sure that'll be topped over the next day or two – to the benefit of The Railway Children and our local Northamptonshire Air Ambulance.  Many thanks to those who've generously sponsored me.

Tomorrow we'll wake and not have to don cycling lycra – what luxury (though I'm not so sure about the 3 hour mini-bus ride back to Inverness).  Presuming the bus and various trains run reasonably to time, Peter and I should be back in Titchmarsh by 22:30 on Sunday – there to resume more normal village life. 

Well done lads!

 

Donate to the Warwickshire & Northamptonshire Air Ambulance

Donate to the Railway Children

LEJOG Diary – Day 8 to Day 12

From Kirkby Lonsdale to Inverness

After more than 10 days in the saddle, Peter Dunn and Stephen Barber are closing in on their goal. In recent days their grueling journey has taken them across the Forth Road Bridge, through Peebles and on to Perth. They have just reached Inverness – which means John O'Groats is a mere 163 miles away! The only problem is that they are now in the highlands which promises some of the toughest terrain of the entire adventure. Luckily for us, Stephen is keeping notes along the way. Here's the latest so far…

 

Day 8: Kirkby Lonsdale to Talkin/Hallbankgate – 59 miles, 1,215m of ascent

Very much a day of two halves: having studied the weather forecast carefully we woke and breakfasted expecting a fine day.   

We bid farewell to Mike, heading for Lancaster by taxi, and sent best wishes to Julie who was due to have her broken elbow operated on today.  They will return home on Tuesday or Wednesday for her to convalesce  (and doubtless plan their next attempt at LEJOG!).

Brampton

Despite forecasts and expectations, the Cumbrian weather decided not to play ball after all and the morning was spent cycling in persistent fine drizzle.  This made the morning's climbs around the upper Lune Gorge a little less than inspiring – lots of hard work and no worthwhile views………

The "tea stop" at Orton (a nice village just beyond the head of Lune Gorge and familiar from my Coast to Coast and other walks) was accompanied by church bells and offered some respite prior to a further climb over the watershed between the Lune and Eden valleys.  At the top the rain finally cleared giving us a lovely undulating (and generally downhill) run through Crosby Ravensworth, Maulds Meaburn, King's Meaburn, and Culgaith to lunch at Langwathby.  All these villages are off the "tourist track" and the first two are particularly worth a visit.  Culgaith and Langwathby brought us alongside the Settle and Carlisle railway line but with no trains visible.  

A generous and tasty picnic lunch on the Green at Langwathby was followed by a climb to the small village of Renwick and a ride at "broadly constant" contour round to Talkin where refreshment (aka beer) was taken at the Blacksmith's Arms.  

Peter continued directly for the last couple of miles to our inn at Hallbankgate but I decided on a detour to Brampton.  Having been halted for a train at a level crossing over the Carlisle – Newcastle line, in Brampton I found marvellous "arts and crafts" stained glass in the 19th Century church ,and a bustling little town centre (on a Sunday afternoon!).  

Climbing out of Brampton (after chocolate cake) towards Hallbankgate on roads I know (but off our prescribed electronic route) I was a little disconcerted as the "to go" distance on my electronic route tracker increased continuously up to 4.5miles.  At that point I rejoined the prescribed route and "to go" instantly changed to 0.3 miles (glad I held my nerve).  

We're now installed at The Belted Will Inn (a reference to the 17th Century Lord William Howard who actively developed industry and agriculture in this area), our last night's stay in England.

On to Scotland tomorrow and through the Borders to the town of Peebles.  The weather forecast looks fair and hopefully it'll be more reliable than today's.

 

Day 9: Hallbankgate to Peebles – 81 miles, 1890m of ascent: a lovely day and a great cycle.

Passing through Brampton, coasting past the beautiful Lanercost Priory, crossing the line of Hadrian's Wall, and then a switchback of short sharp descents and climbs brought us to the Scottish border at Liddel Water near Rowanburn.  

In broken sunshine and through more of the same countryside we found Langholm and a well earned tea cake at Pelosi's Cafe.  

For the rest of the day our party sampled "Scottish climbing" (longer, slightly gentler, and more even gradients) and Peter and I found it made the uphill going both faster and more enjoyable (and the downhills better for sustained speed).  

We had a picnic lunch in warm sunshine just outside a Buddhist Temple(!) at Eskdalemuir (allegedly the wettest village in Britain).  The colourful temple buildings and deities in the grounds contrasting with the rather sparse but grand countryside surrounding. Eskdalemuir also boasts a "community shop" and I couldn't pass without popping in and comparing notes with 

The scenery was truly spectacular and more good climbs and exhilarating descents followed, firstly to Mountbenger and then on to Innnerleithen, 6 miles from our destination.  Our final stretch was pedalled on the cycleway which follows the course of the old North British railway line into Peebles, and through an unilluminated tunnel close to the town!

My evening was further brightened by a visit from my sister Kathryn who lives in Moffat (roughly 35 miles SW of Peebles) – always good to catch up with her.

 

Day 10: Peebles to Perth – 70 miles, 1095m of ascent

Forth Bridge

Another good day's cycling in fine Scottish weather.  We left Peebles on the A703 following Eddleston Water before turning northeast to cross the watershed into the South Esk valley.  Onwards then through Bonnyrigg and Loanhead and into the centre of Edinburgh.

We crossed Royal Mile, The Mound (location of the Scottish National Gallery), and Princes Street to arrive in the "New" Town, north of the historic city centre.  There was little sign of the impending Edinburgh Festival but the city was bustling and we avoided trapping our tyres in the new tram tracks!

We cycled west to Haymarket and then followed good cycleways virtually all the way the South Queensferry where we lunched in the shade of the Forth railway bridge, watching the trains go by. 

After lunch we cycled over the original Forth road bridge (still the only one open!).  There followed a sustained climb through Inverkeithing, on to Kinross, and (finally)  to a summit a couple of miles north of Glenfarg.   Payback was a super(fast) descent over the next 4 or 5 miles to Bridge of Earn and an easy run from there for the last few miles to Perth.  

In the evening I introduced Peter to a couple of my Perth-based ex-colleagues, now good friends.  We chatted for an hour or so over a couple of beers and managed not to mention cycling!  The tour group rounded of the day with a great Italian meal at Grand Italia in the middle of Perth: the staff's strong Italian accents contrasting with their tartan waistcoats!  The restaurant is thoroughly recommended if you're ever in this part of the world. 
 
Tomorrow should see an intially relaxed run North followed by the somewhat more taxing ascent of Glen Shee.

 

Day 11: Perth to Ballater – 68 miles, 1285m of ascent 

Perth

The weather was lovely, sunshine and broken cloud.  We set off from Perth for a pleasant pedal through leafy low-lying Perthshire to Blairgowrie, a pretty Highland Town.  To provide some "contrast" that was followed by a long grinding climb up Glenshee, to the Glenshee Ski Centre at the Devil's Elbow (the second highest Highland A-road pass).  With the steepest part of the climb at the end it was just exhausting!  

After picnic lunch at "the top" I made the most of the long sweeping descent to Braemar (max 42 or 43mph I think), albeit in places a strong headwind meant I had pedal reasonably hard to maintain momentum downhill.  Even fine weather in Scotland can be "interesting".  

After Braemar our route followed the tranquil Dee valley, passing the Balmoral estate.  We arrived in Ballater in mid afternoon, and apart from a quick look round the specialist book shops there I (and others) spent the rest of our day recuperating, ready for day 12's challenges.

 

Day 12: Ballater to Inverness – 73 miles, 1764m of ascent – 3 climbs (ouch)

After an excellent breakfast at the Auld Kirk (our rather stylish lodgings for the night), we left Ballater under a cloudless sky – weather that was set for the day.  We made a stiff climb up through Glen Gairn and Glen Fenzie before dropping down to Cockbridge.  Any pleasure from making that descent was dimmed by the sight of our next challenge on the opposite mountainside: the climb up and over the Lecht Pass.  

The ascent to the Lecht ski centre was probably the hardest climb of the trip, and I confess that for the steepest section (20%, 1 in 5) I got off and pushed (interestingly almost keeping up with the cyclist in front of me!).  

At the summit we stopped for a well earned "tea-and-cake-stop", before the steep descent to Tomintoul.  The Cockbridge to Tomintoul road is a barometer of Scottish winters and often features in "roads impassable" reports: the Snow Gates we cycled past give a bit of a clue.  

Enjoyable as the descent to Tomintoul was (45mph), it was followed by yet another steep climb at Bridge of Brown.  By this stage climbing was becoming something of a chore, so another refreshment stop was made at Grantown-on-Spey: we were the group of tired cyclists spread out on the town green in front of the nice bakery/cafe!  

A further, thankfully gentler, climb took us out of Grantown up to Dava and Aitnoch through some very bleak but majestic countryside with views westwards into the Western Highlands and northwards over the Moray Firth.  Great to be there on a beautiful fine day, but in poor weather it would be distinctly unpleasant.  

We ate a rather late picnic lunch at Dulsie Bridge, a beautiful shaded spot where our country lane crossed the River Findhorn (running in a rocky gorge, about 20m below).   

The final 23 miles into Inverness were through a mixture of forestry and livestock farmland – it would have been easy cycling if I hadn't lost something of "my edge" in the pre-lunch climbs.  We passed Cawdor Castle, had brilliant views of Culloden viaduct  (Highland Main Line), and went "off piste" through the site of the Battle of Culloden (1746).  

The latter has been thoughtfully provided with cyclable paths and information points by The  National Trust for Scotland.  The Trust's work has made it possible to see how the battle was fought on-site.  Poignantly, the site of each of the mass graves for the clans' dead (each clan was buried together), and for the English soldiery who died in the battle are marked by memorial stones.  There are also memorials to dead of the French and Irish regiments who fought for Prince Charlie.  

Inverness, a very attractive city, welcomed us with more warm sunshine, lots of (international) tourists, and what looked to be vibrant nightlife.  However the last two days' cycling and the highland passes in particular meant that there wasn't much energy for partying in our group – all just too tired!! 

LEJOG Diary – Week 1

Stephen Barber and Peter Dunn's Epic Bike Ride!

Villagers Stephen Barber and Peter Dunn are cycling all the way from Land's End to John O'Groats (LEJOG). They have only 2 weeks to complete the journey – a whopping 1,000+ miles – often travelling off the beaten track along B roads and country lanes. Their winding route passes through some of our finest countryside with the occssional pause to take in the sights. It all sounds like a great adventure – so it's good to know that Stephen is keeping a diary along the way. Here are his first 7 entries…

 

Day 1: Land's End to Bodmin – 74 miles and 1700m of ascent

Super day, Cornwall at its best, sunshine, light south-westerly tail wind, bucolic lanes, seaside and spectacular sea views (both coasts at once at the summit of one climb). Lunch in an old churchyard in the middle of nowhere.  Plenty of hills but blessedly few aches or sore bits – so far………

 

Day 2: to Tiverton – 83 miles and nearly 1600m of ascent

Ferocious ascents followed immediately on from our departure from Bodmin – very picturesque but the steepest hills I've ever cycled up.   I did stay on my bike – but I think walking may have been faster!  Crossing the edge of Bodmin moor was accompanied by rain and 18mph winds, (a little too close to a headwind for comfort). 

The ferocity of the ascents (but not the number) eased after we passed Launceston and crossing the border into Devon, then on to Oakhampton passing the road to Meldon Quarry (a railway reference).  Cycling companion Al and I decided to cycle the hill up to Oakhampton station (Summer Sundays only service) and found a tea room!  

The weather eased for our picnic lunch at North Tawton leaving us 25 miles or so to cycle on good roads to Tiverton.  Unfortunately for me that journey was "punctuated" by a puncture (manufacturing defect in my new front wheel).  Then, less than two minutes after fixing it, I came off my bike on a damp slippy patch of road – producing a skinned knee which will accompany me for the rest of the trip: bike ok though, thank goodness.  

The weather today has been in marked contrast to yesterday's sunshine, and looks set to continue for the next couple of days at least – pity really, I could use some sunshine.  

Now cosy in our Tiverton hotel – until tomorrow morning anyway! 

 

Day 3: Tiverton to Wells – 63 miles and nearly 800m of ascent

Following the Exe valley out of Tiverton and then looping round to the North of Exemoor through Wiveliscombe took us through beautiful East Devon and, before traversing Taunton, into Somerset (true cider country!).

From Taunton we rode across the Somerset Levels with a number a short but stiff climbs over the ridges that now carry the West to East main roads – easy to see how the area became heavily flooded in 2015.

We're now in the lovely city of Wells with its beautiful medieval cathedral.  For those who remember, Wells was the setting for the film "Hot Fuzz".  (I'm almost tempted to stop here for the rest of the fortnight …..)

Overall it should have been a relatively easy day and would have been if it hadn't been for another puncture – a hawthorn this time – changing an inner tube in the rain – what fun! – and then the valve in the new tube was defective………

A big day tomorrow, moving from the West Country to the Welsh borders at Hereford (and all in appalling weather).

 

Sign Post

LEJOG signpost

Day 4: Wells to Hereford – 84 miles 1550m of ascent

The combination of distance, ascent, and weather probably made this the most challenging day yet – but we (and importantly our muscles and lungs) are  slowly becoming acclimatised to the lifestyle.  The tea and cake stops help too…..

The scenery – Cheddar George, Mendip Hills, Chew Valley Lake, Ashton Court (Bristol), Clifton Suspension Bridge, Severn Bridge, Wye Valley, and Monmouth should have been spectacular.  And in truth we did get little bits of it between the cloud and rain, but the best was the last 15 miles into Hereford.  Once the rain stopped and the cloud lifted we had a panoramic 360 degree skyline including the Malvern Hills and Brecon Beacons, and Forest of Dean.  

The photo is of a special LEJOG signpost just south of Hereford – don't believe the distances though, our route so far is some 60 miles longer than that shown on the sign!  (Also apologies for looking like a nerd but the clothing really works!)

 

Day 5: Hereford to Ironbridge – 57 miles and around 900m of ascent

A leisurely day by recent standards! We made a 10:00 start from Hereford, allowing me to attend early morning service in Hereford Cathedral (a beautiful building in its Cathedral Green) and to be wished well for the journey by the congregation there.  

The day took us through Leominster, Ludlow, and Much Wenlock (all bustling looking good in the spring sunshine), and through rolling Herefordshire and Shropshire countryside before arriving in Ironbridge in the bottom of the deeply incised upper Severn Valley at around 16:30.  

Travelling companion Peter and I then climbed almost to the top of the valley side to visit Dave and Ali, old college friends of Peter.  Dave returned to the valley bottom with Peter and me to join the rest of our party for the inevitable beer and chat – all very sociable.  And no punctures today!!

A big day tomorrow – 85 miles to Standish, just north of Wigan.  We climb "The Wreakin" early in the day with the rest of our time spent on the Cheshire and South Lancashire plains.  Moving out of the Midlands and firmly into the English North country…..

 

Day 6:  Ironbridge to Standish – 85 miles and 700m of ascent in broken sunshine made for a very pleasant day's cycling

The route started with a hard pull out of the river Severn valley, up and over The Wreakin (a "must do" climb for keen cyclists I'm told and a significant proportion of our day's climb).  Views westwards into Welsh hills and eastwards over Birmingham were our early reward, followed by a "gently" undulating ride through North Shropshire and into Cheshire.

We pushed the bikes through the pedestrianised pretty half-timbered centre of Nantwich (there was "unpretty" 1970's concrete too I'm afraid) and once back in the saddle passed canals and narrow boat marinas before finding industrial Cheshire.  Evidence of ongoing salt and related chemical processing is clearly visible.  

We visited the structurally imposing Anderton boat lift, a Victorian oddity built to lift narrow boats from the river Weaver, 50 feet up to the adjacent Trent and Mersey canal.  Now restored and operating, the structure stood derelict for nearly 20 years until restored and opened to the public in 2002.

Navigating what was the southern end of Lancashire has never been easy and we fought our way, in very slow moving traffic, over the Manchester Ship Canal and through Warrington (some unexpectedly pretty buildings in the old town centre) and Wigan.  

A final uphill pull out of Wigan brought us to our rather imposing Victorian hotel on the outskirts of Standish (for railway enthusiasts – a village on the West Coast Main Line). 

Tomorrow we escape industrial landscapes and traverse the Trough of Bowland east of Lancaster, before following the Lune valley (I hope) to our destination, Kirkby Lonsdale.  (Another longish day with more climbing than today – hey-ho!)

 

Day 7: Standish to Kirkby Lonsdale

Devil's Bridge – Kirkby Lonsdale

Completing today's ride gets us to the halfway point of the journey in terms of time, and slightly over in distance (511 miles done out of the advertised 1006) – something of a milestone.  

Quite a tough day: leaving Standish for an almost immediate ascent of Winter Hill (in the sunshine) giving great views over Lancashire, virtually to the coast.  Turning north we then threaded our way between Preston and Blackburn through pleasant, if hilly, countryside.  

Crossing the Ribble valley at Whalley took us, via another significant climb and descent east of Longridge Fell, over to Slaidburn in the beautiful Trough of Bowland.  Unfortunately at this point the sky clouded over and rain followed, somewhat dampening our picnic lunch there.  

St Andrews church in Slaidburn was well worth a visit, surprisingly large, very well cared for, and with some unusual features including box pews with seats all round and some nice Victorian stained glass.  

The niceties of lunch over we faced the biggest challenge of the day: the climb up out of The Trough and over Carlow Fell (in the rain) – it just about finished me for the day! Fortunately the climb was followed by a long descent to High, and then Low, Bentham and a final gentle 10 mile run into Kirkby Lonsdale via the picturesque (and relatively flat!) valleys of the rivers Wenning and Lune. And as we approached Kirkby Lonsdale the rain abated and the sun reappeared, so the riding day concluded on something of "a high".

I had a wander around the bustling town centre (and a relaxing beer in The Snooty Fox) before cycling the last mile to our accommodation: The Pheasant Inn at Casterton (a lovely pub/ restaurant last visited with the Titchmarsh Village Walking Group on a tour in 2010). 

Late news is that one of our cycling companions, Julie, slipped off her bike in the rain at a cattle grid and has broken her elbow (no other serious damage).  She's currently in Lancaster Infirmary.  Unfortunately that means we're likely to bid farewell to her and husband Mike tomorrow.  

Tomorrow also sees more climbing as we cycle over Shap on our way to Talkin, just outside Brampton to the east of Carlisle – another location familiar to me (through family holidays) and the last stop in England.   

Titchmarsh Nature Reserve

Our Own Green Oasis

The Nature Reserve is a little green jewel in the Titchmarsh crown. It sits in a hollow on the other side of the A605 on the farthest edge of our Parish. At this time of year it provides one of the best walks in the area. The path around the central lake is about 3 miles long – half the distance of the forthcoming 10k. Indeed, if you’re thinking of taking part in this year’s event, twice around the lake is a lot more fun and no less taxing than running on the road! I’ve been down there a couple of times this week accompanied by my pooch, Bingle. I’m trying to get us both fit for an impending trip to the Lake District. Thankfully the terrain is very easy-going – like a walk in the park – and a quick lap around the water takes no more than 50 minutes.

It’s a great way to step out and see some stunning countryside into the bargain. It’s also incredibly peaceful. The fact that the reserve sits in a hollow means there’s very little noise and almost no wind. Apart from the occasional goose or swan, the only thing you’ll hearĀ is the buzzing of bees. People are also fairly thin on the ground too. In two outings this week I’ve passed 4 people and as many dogs. It’s truly a little green oasis.

If you’re looking for somewhere different to walk or just want to soak up a bit more of our glorious countryside, then the nature reserve is a delightful place to be.