Day 1…

…was rather severe! We had been largely dismissing the weather warnings on the radio and on the road matrix signs on the way up, but it turns out they were quite accurate.

As we were getting ready to set off for the start point from our B&B a guy on a skateboard came past the window, with a support van following, lights a-flashing. A bit of research told us that he was Jon Holder doing #thebigskatedown. We assumed that we would catch up with him at some point.

It was blowing a bit of hooly as we gathered at The Signpost in John O’Groats, the one that points towards lands end, the one that thousands of others had stood beneath to have their photos taken at the start of a journey; and even more at the end, I think.

Also at the sign was a couple who had finished their End to End the night before but it was too dark for photos. They had done it much quicker than we were going to!

The plan was to start off with Levi in the trailer, ride for an hour or so, giving Becca and Mum chance to go and pack the car. Then they would meet us on route and take him off to warm up! The wind wasn’t too bad, so we set off. The slight incline was nothing to our fresh legs, even with the trailer. It was certainly windy, but nothing terrible. Be caught up with a couple of girls and chatted briefly. They had also completed their End to End the day before and were now headed back to the train station as quickly as possible to avoid the ‘big storm’!

Having slept for most of the 90mins in the trailer, Levi was collected from a spot on the high road with spectacular views over the sea. It turns out that timing was good as shortly after that the rain started, the wind picked up. It was still the start of our trip, though, so our spirits remained high and as we descended into Castletown we stopped for a walk up the dunes to see the sea!!
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Sadly no castle to see, but a brief escape from the wind as the cycle route took us through the town. Then climb out of the town back to the high road. The rain started with a vengeance and as we descended into Thurso we were cold and wet, and my waterproof socks gave up! We had packed a lunch but what we needed was a welcoming warm cafe- but it was Sunday! Nothing was open, so we huddled outside a music shop and ate our pack-up.

It was another climb out of town and then a steady up and down along the high road. It was pretty bleak. Cold, wet, windy and we just put our heads down and pedaled. The scenery remained impressive, but we were too bedraggled to care! Occasional stops for a drink and a snack were brief.

Then, all of a sudden we saw a sign saying ‘Camping’ only 1 mile ahead, despite Melvich being a few miles ahead and uphill! Much to my joy it turns out the Halladale Inn was just before Melvich. We parked the bikes and headed in to dry off and warm up. We had beaten the support car, though, so I had nothing dry to change into. I had to settle for shedding some of the wet clothes, a warm drink and some chips.

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We hadn’t passed the skateboarder!

After an hour or so the car arrived. We set about putting the tent up, but what turned out to be 60mph winds (apparently) ripped a couple of guy ropes off! We decided it wasn’t going to work and since the site had some empty pods we opted for a second night inside. All of us, that is, apart from Mum. She was planning on using my tiny one-man which was made for strong winds, so she was up for trying it out!

 

 

By the time we had settled in, the sun had come out, although the wind hadn’t died down. We headed out for a walk to the local beach before dinner and bed.

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Day 0

I couldn’t remember what I have done previously about the day before the cycling journey starts; where we are traveling to the starting position. On this occasion, we actually had two days traveling to get there. We set off last night, later than we had planned to, as our two days planning and packing had been hijacked by an ill niece, so instead, we had a couple of hours- which explains why we forgot lots of things!

We arrived in Gretna Green, having squeezed far too much stuff in the biggest car we could find, and also finding a roof-bag to fit the rest in, and squeezing Jonny into the small seat at the very back! We borrowed my Mum’s big car, and so my Mum also joined us! We arrived after midnight and found that we were the first people to stay in the AirB&B.

Although we had arrived late and made as early a start as possible, we thought it rude not to visit the famous Blacksmith’s shop, so made a quick detour there on our way back to the Motorway.

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The day was a pleasant drive up through Scotland, we were going as far North as we could, so wanted to make some good progress. We stopped briefly for some late morning breakfast in a service station, then ploughed on.

Up into the Cairngorms we were keeping our eyes peeled for Golden Eagles from the A9 and excited to see our first Black Grouse. It was a bit too late when we decided we wanted lunch and places were not forthcoming. We stopped at an indoor play area but it was so busy we moved on. The Highland Cafe has space, though, and served us some gorgeous soup!!

Not knowing what to expect further north we did a bog shop in Inverness and then kept going. Darkness set in and the confines of the car were getting unpleasant, especially for Jonny in the back! The windy (winding around the corners), windy (strong winds) roads up the coast made it interesting, but we could see nothing, so we were glad to arrive at our B&B. We had hoped to camp, although the ‘Severe Weather’ warnings on matrix signs on the way up made us glad we weren’t. However, the campsite at John O’Groats closed that day, being the last day of September!

We were thankful a warm B&B with a fully equipped kitchen, hot showers and a lovely welcome basket!! The weather warning was on our minds a little as we considered the start of the cycling the next day- but we were tired so sleep came quickly.

 

 

 

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JOGLE (1)- 2017

I am writing all of this trip 6 months later (Feb ’18). There was just no time for blog writing in the evening for a number of reasons. In fact, this trip was quite different for many of the same reasons!

From a cycling point of view, Jonny and I didn’t have much holiday to take from work, and Jonny’s work limited the timing options. We had talked about doing a Lands End to John O’Groats expedition at some point, but I have never felt compelled by the endurance race; 100 miles a day, head down, cycling in pain. That is just not my kind of cycling, and I am not nearly fit enough. I’d like to travel from one end of the country to the other, taking in the view along the way, maybe even some culture. Stopping at a point of interest or to watch the wildlife. So, we decided that we could do it in stages, and fancied a trip to Scotland this year so John O’Groats to Lands End was decided.

Another factor in our decision-making was the arrival of our son in January. At nearly 9 months old I didn’t want to abandon him and my wife for a week on her own with him so they were coming with us. But she certainly did not want to cycle, he wasn’t really old enough to spend all day in the bike trailer and she wasn’t all that keen on camping, either. So we had a backup vehicle and we agreed on a mix of camping and B&Bs.

We planned to drive up to JOG and then set off for around 40 miles a day, expecting a fair bit of Highland climbing. We followed the National Cycle routes most of the way with only a few detours for accommodation or places of interest. We aimed to be in Inverness in five days.

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Day Five…

…is being written about a year later! This has accidentally become somewhat of a tradition. The last day, the arrival day is always just too exciting to then stop and write a blog post about it. I end up doing what we went there for and the journey stops being important, perhaps? So here are my memories of that day almost a year ago (30th Sept 2016)…

Day Five was wet, but fun. The campsite owners description of the route totally under-estimated the climbing; there was a lot more than he said! I learned yesterday that Jonny understood from my ‘complaining’ that I wasn’t enjoying myself. I am finding some the cycling difficult, but that doesn’t mean I am not enjoying myself. I am just expressing the difficulty I am feeling, where Jonny hides that away. So today I am trying not to express any negative thoughts or feelings. This does change the dynamic quite a bit and makes it quite a lonely experience. Jonny enjoyed the quiet, whereas I was suffering in silence, which I am not used to!

We hadn’t planned lunch and hoped to find somewhere to stop, but lunchtime came and went and we didn’t spot anywhere. We reached the top and started what promsied to be a long fast decline into Dollgellau. Not far down the hill we saw signs for the Forest Visitors Centre with a cafe, so we detoured.

Slightly damp and cold, we appreciated the food and warmth of the cafe. We also discovered that the forests were littered with Mountain Bike routes. One of the routes seems to head down the hill in the direction we were headed so rather than go back up to the road we chose to follow the Mountain Bike trail. Fully loaded on our touring bikes this was eventful. We probably took some of the jumps slightly slower than most, but the switch backs were no problem. It was a delightful decent through the forest and before long we were at the end of the estuary.

It was still raining but since our destination was soon within sight that didn’t matter. We were quickly along the old railway line and across the bridge into Barmouth and to our destination. My wife and another freind were meeting us there for a weekend of fun, but they were arriving later in the evening. We had time to shower and have a walk around looking for some entertainment! We found something like entertainment!! The small local theatre had an ‘entertainer’ calling himself ‘The Funny Man’. It was one of those performances that make you slightly embarrased to watch. Obviously a skilled performer, but from a different time; about 100yrs ago. Jonny got volunteered to go up on stage which made it slightly more humourous, but only slightly!

Barmouth was a great host for the weekend, and a great destination.

 

 

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Day Four…

…has been remarkably similar to yesterday; we can’t resist a castle atop a hill!! Our campsite was above Llangollen, half way up the hill. At the top of the hill was a castle ruin, so this morning before setting off, we walked up to see it. Spectacular views all round and interesting remains of a 13th Century castle which was only used for 17yrs!!

The cycling began late morning with a steady jaunt along the canal before carrying our bikes up some steps and starting to climb. And climb we did for pretty much the rest of the day! Thankfully it was at a manageable incline, although there were a few bits where my legs just hurt.

There is not much more to report on the cycling.
It was windy and therefore quite cold, so when we stopped for some lunch by the lake in Bala we got blown around like crazy!

I was expecting a bigger climb out of Bala, but actually, we carried on following the gentle incline of the river. That is where we camped, right by the river.

Ty Cornel is by far the best campsite we have stayed in. As we arrived the owners were so thrilled to have ‘proper’ cyclists staying. They had done some touring so we got chatting about that. The showers are hot and free, everything is clean, everything is well organised and the area is beautiful; surrounded by Welsh hills!!

We pitched the tent and headed up the river for a walk. The river is fast flowing white water used by the water sports centre, upstream, so kayak gates hang above the rapids. We saw another dipper!

It was cold, and the campsite offered wood burners for hire, so after cooking tea we sat by the burner enjoying the stars. Turning around occasionally to warn our backs up.

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Day Three…

…was both shorter than yesterday and less hilly than Monday, which is just what I needed!

There is a fine line to be had between holiday and endurance event. I suppose this line only appears when you choose to go on holiday by bike but that’s us!! It can get to a point where the hard work of cycling is no longer enjoyable, but thankfully we have not yet reached it. Good planning and good company both account for that, I think.

We started the day with a bit of a climb and then choose to do an optional big climb up to two castles, which we saw in the hills!! The first castle, Beeston Castle, turned out to be English Heritage and Closed. The second was Peckforton Castle, a luxury hotel and home to the Land Rover experience. A spectacular castle, but we are not sure it is a real castle, it looks very new!! [Research after getting home confirms that it is a ‘A FORTIFIED HOME IN THE STYLE OF A MEDIEVAL CASTLE’ built between in 1842 and 1851, and lived in till 1939]

The villages round here are very well kept and have huge houses. Much of the wood finishing is painted red, perhaps part of an estate, like all the building in the Chatsworth Estate have a certain blue.

The hills rolled and I climbed a bit slower than yesterday but enjoyed it, apart from the wasp sting. As we got closer to Wales there was a ridge of hills ahead, would we have to cross them?

We were looking forward to talking pictures beside the Welcome to Wales signs, but we got to where the line is on the map and nothing. Very disappointing. I began to wonder if the map want quite right, but then the road signs started to include Welsh instructions so it seems to have been correct!

Before that, though, we did have to cross a picturesque Bridge over the Dee in Bangor-is-y-coed. It it a one way bridge coming into the Village, but we opted to go against the flow and anger some drivers!

We continued to head straight for the hills, but then just as we started to climb our course veered left and instead we went down, towards the river.

The maps I printed from Google are not that detailed so we had some trouble finding out way from the main roads into the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. An amazing structure carrying the canal across the valley. I have been before, but it is no less impressive. A shame we didn’t actually have to cross to go where we were headed, but good to visit.

The last stretch was along the canal, just in a different direction. And what was meant to be a final dash turned out to be a push against the wind! Once in Llangollen mistaken route planning meant climbing a huge hill twice, but again worth it for a delightful campsite in the hills, with sheep sharing the field!!

This is the first day that I remembered to turn on my bike computer at the start, so the first day that I have accurate stats…
Total time cycling 3:38:32
Distance 34.67 miles
Average Speed 9.5 mph
Max Speed 33.2 mph

We then had plenty of time to head back into town for a look around and some food by the gushing river, before the best nights sleep yet!

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Day Two…

…was not wet, but looked like it would be all day. It was grey and it had obviously been raining all night. When carrying few clothes the only thing to do is put the wet ones back on- either it’ll rain again and they’re already wet so it doesn’t matter, or they’ll dry out in the sun!!? Actually what happened is that we ended up still damp because although it didn’t rain, neither was it sunny.

The plan was to do more miles than yesterday but the terrain was easier. This proved to be the case, although my legs still feel sore.

We also leaned that Google maps counts bridleways as cycle paths! Quite soon after coming out of Leek we turned into a muddy path through a field. Thankfully this turned into a proper path after a while, and followed the river! Then we turned onto the canal, again marked as a bridleway, but with a locked gate at the start!? We lifted the bikes over, and we are glad we did because what followed was a few miles of well kept canal tow path, through beautiful woodland and glimpses of the river below us. This was only interrupted briefly by the path coming to an end! Thankfully a dog walker directed us to another canal just a couple of hundred metres down the road which went the same way and meets up with the original one further down! We rose and fell with the locks along the canal, trying to avoid puddles but usually failing. A kingfisher flew along with us for a few bursts!!

After the canals came the country parks. Today is very urban, passing Stoke and Crewe, but more often than not we were following a brook or woodland through a country park. Delightful.

It seems we have timed our trip with Hawthorn cutting season. Almost all the way there have been thorns scattered across the road by the hedge cutters. Jonny succumbed today and got two punctures!!

After passing the cities we were back on country lanes and starting to climb a bit. Only a bit, but at the end of the day it feels worse on your legs! We soon made it to the Shady Oak campsite just behind the Shady Oak pub, which looked like it served good food. It did!! We enjoyed the warmth and comfort of the pub, as well as their food, before heading back for our first night in the tent. Poor Jonny.

We travelled about 43 miles today and overall dropped by about 250m

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