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).
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.