Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Day 8 – Launceston to Land’s End (83 miles)

We awoke to a drizzly morning, and another buffet breakfast. After a brief batch of puncture fixing (a legacy of riding on the hard shoulder of the A30 yesterday), all seven of us set off for the last stretch of the ride. The route sheet made clear this wasn’t going to be an easy procession to the finish though – there was more climbing crammed into today’s 80 miles than all but one other stage [check] – and the drizzle we’d started off in soon turned into an apocalyptic downpour as we crossed the edge of Bodmin Moor.

With a train back to London to catch and progress again slow in the wind, Jon S reluctantly hopped into the support van somewhere along the Cornish coast, to be followed not long after by Paul and Jon N when conditions failed to improve. It was not a day for admiring the scenery, and if we hadn’t been in touching distance of the end there might well have been more takers for the broom wagon.

The rain finally ceased sometime after we passed Newquay, then after a brief mechanical stop when Dave snapped his chain, we hit Redruth and Camborne. Here, a welcoming committee of Pat and Dave’s better halves had already arrived at our hotel for the night, and bade us good luck for the last 20 miles down the coast before whizzing off to meet us there.

We filled our bellies with one last cake stop, then pressed on for the final stretch in the intermittent company of a fellow end-to-ender in a bright yellow raincape. In our frazzled minds we seemed to ride through a series of picture postcards – a watchful egret surveying the beautiful Hale estuary, a stunning view of St Michael’s Mount, and pirates in Penzance high street (well, drama students advertising a play). There were a few perfunctory hills coming out of Penzance, but this close to the end either our legs didn’t feel them or our heads didn’t care - there may even have been some ill-advised sprinting.

As if by magic, the clouds began to clear and we were greeted by blue skies and sunshine as we crested the last rise. We rolled gently down through Sennen to Land’s End, four abreast on the empty road, resplendent in our pink team strip for the eager gaggle of photographers. A flurry of hugs and handshakes; a pat on the saddle for our long-suffering bikes; Champagne popped, cameras flashed and it was over. Eight days, nearly nine hundred miles, a heck of a lot of climbing and a mountain of food – we had done it, together, Brothers of the Wheel.


A combination of post-ride euphoria, sea air, and several glasses of champagne helped the van ride back to the hotel in Camborne pass in a flash. A shower and one last recovery drink had us feeling vaguely human again before we sat down for our last supper, several moustaches having disappeared in the interim. Tonight there was no tomorrow to fuel up for, but we ate well anyway, and with no early alarm call we drank well too. We drank to the puncture fairy who’d looked after us, to the beauty of the country we’d travelled, to every last inch of tarmac we’d covered, and to friends old and new.

Day 7 – Bristol to Launceston (118 miles)

The penultimate day started with the long distance cyclist’s two favourite words - buffet breakfast! After we’d finished gorging ourselves it was time to don waterproofs and head out into the unpromising weather. The heavy rain overnight had apparently been the worst storm to hit the Southwest in 50 years, so we counted our blessings that it had mostly passed, leaving just the odd squally shower and a brisk headwind to contend with for most of the day. Mercifully, the first part of this stage’s route was pretty flat across the Somerset levels, so we took turns to share the windbreaking effort in our little peloton as we passed Weston Super-Mare and Bridgwater.

When we refuelled at a burger van (at Pat’s request!) the couple serving warned that the road would get hilly soon, and unfortunately they weren’t wrong. Our route led us around the edge of Exmoor, and before long we were on some narrow back roads with grass down the middle, gravel all over the place and some excruciating gradients which left us scrabbling for grip. The roads got better as we passed Bickleigh Castle and Crediton, but the hills kept coming thick and fast. At least the weather had improved by this point so we could briefly enjoy the views as we crested each rise.

Although we were still in Devon, the support van came to the rescue with some great Cornish pasties just before Okehampton. With time ticking on, and our average speed lagging somewhat, we decided to take our chances on the busy A30 for the last few miles of the day to Launceston. This turned out to be a bit of a grind – the hills were a little gentler but the headwind just as biting, so Evo and Jon S decided to return to the back roads when the opportunity arose. Pat, Dave and Mark pressed on for a couple more junctions, and eventually made it to our accommodation for the night at a golf resort just outside Launceston, followed soon after by Evo and Jon, who’d ended up in the town. We managed to stay awake just about long enough to cram down some dinner and watch most of the England v Sweden football with some rowdy golfers, before falling asleep like babies. Still, only one day to go, how bad could it be?

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Day 6 – Shrewsbury to Bristol (113 miles)

After cursing our alarm clocks again, we were pleased to find we’d been joined by the second of the “glory hunters”, Neil Evans (aka Evo), who had arrived late the previous night. Another round of porridge and we were underway, through Shrewsbury town centre and then on mostly quiet lanes down past Church Stretton and Much Wenlock. Church Stretton sits at the foot of the Long Mynd, and while we didn’t go up the Mynd itself (home to some great mountain biking), there was a fair bit of climbing and some lovely views before things flattened out towards Ludlow.

Ludlow was a very pretty little market town, and our support crew had found a cracking café where we enjoyed probably the best breakfast of the trip so far, during which we received an impromptu local history lesson from one of our chattier fellow customers. Leominster and Hereford both looked similarly photogenic and historic as we passed through (a couple of times for those of us who got lost in Leominster’s one way system).

Somewhere after Hereford it started to get hillier again, and with the smell of a chocolate factory hanging in our nostrils we climbed a seemingly endless procession of short, sharp hills until we reached Monmouth, having crossed the Welsh border somewhere along the way (no signpost though). Another unplanned tour of the town centre courtesy of some bad signage and we were whizzing alongside the river Wye towards Chepstow when the heavens finally opened, as they’d been threatening to do for most of the day. A long and sapping climb just after Tintern Abbey tested our resolve, until we finally freewheeled down towards the (old) Severn bridge, where Jon Springett’s aversion to heights ensured we crossed briskly back onto English soil.

The worsening rain made the last ten miles of the day feel like a thousand, and spirits were low as we traversed a series of muddy backroads until joining the city traffic on the outskirts of Bristol. We eventually found our way up past the imposing merchants’ houses of Clifton and across the magnificent suspension bridge (another one for Jon S to enjoy), before rolling into our hotel filthy and ravenous. Luckily our hotel deal included a three course dinner, which it goes without saying we took full advantage of!

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Day 5 – Ambleside to Shrewsbury (135 miles)

 Today stood out on our itinerary as the longest day of the trip, and with lots of fiddly navigation through the towns of Lancashire and Cheshire the mileage could easily grow if we took wrong turns. Thankfully, this wasn’t something we had to worry about for the first 30 miles, so we pedalled out of the Youth Hostel with porridge in our bellies and sunshine on our faces, through the rolling hills of south Lakeland.  After a brief hold-up due to some cows in the road we headed down the peaceful and blissfully flat Lyth valley and eventually to Lancaster, where we refilled our bellies with Sainsbury’s breakfasts. The terrain stayed fairly benign along the A6, evidently a popular road for end to enders as there was a steady stream coming the other way. Unfortunately Jon’s knee was giving him trouble so he had to take a break, but did a great job helping Bill out in the support van. 

Things got a bit tedious as we passed through Preston, Wigan and Warrington, with traffic lights, map checks, a few light showers and the odd wrong turn to slow our progress. Instead of admiring the scenery we turned to stadium-spotting (Deepdale, the DW and the Halliwell Jones stadium were all ticked off). As the showers got less light and more frequent, Paul wasn’t feeling too great so decided to call it a day and join Jon in the van. With four riders left and a lot of miles to go, morale was pretty low, but eventually the weather cleared up and we hit some nice quiet roads as we crossed into Shropshire. Progress wasn’t exactly brisk, but with help from Jon Springett’s fresh legs and some over-exuberant through-and-off in the last five miles (where did that energy come from?) we eventually made it to the rather posh Mercure just outside Shrewsbury, where the masseurs were ready and waiting for us.

Day 4 – Lanark to Ambleside (116 miles)

A pattern seemed to be emerging as we started the day with another big Scottish breakfast, packed the van and headed off for another day in the saddle. Some bottoms were getting a bit sore by this stage so chamois cream was becoming as much a necessity as food and drink at stops.

After a fairly traffic-free morning rolling along the old A74, we had eventually found a café in Lockerbie for lunch, then continued along flattish roads towards Gretna Green. Here, we indulged in a couple of photo stops, as well as the usual food and hedge-watering, before crossing the border back into England - thank you Scotland for a lovely ride. Pat and Dave spent the first couple of miles south of the border discussing the relative merits of Scottish and English sheep.

The roads were fairly flat for quite some time as the Lake District came into view and got bigger and bigger. Mark noted that it was "like Scotland but with better beer". Not all of us tried the beer but the scenery was certainly dramatic.

As we entered the heart of the Lake District, we had a choice of routes – either the steep climb up the imposing Kirkstone pass, or a slightly longer but less steep route past Thirlmere and Grasmere. Dave was determined as ever and had set his mind on taking on the Kirkstone pass. Mark was more than willing to keep him company, so the two set off to bag the highest point of the route in the soft evening sunshine. By this point in the evening the roads were almost deserted from the usual tourist traffic and the wind had died down so the ride alongside Ullswater and up to the bottom of the pass was eerily serene. Before long though, the gradient got brutally steep (up to 20% in places) and admiration of the scenery had to wait until the Kirkstone Inn at the summit of the pass. A quick shot of espresso sharpened up nerves before the 50mph descent down to Ambleside and our accommodation for the night at the Youth Hostel.

Meanwhile, the rest of the team followed a scenic detour along the lakes, taking their time for plenty of photos of the views of hills and houses reflecting in the still waters. With the distance taking its toll, Paul reluctantly considered calling it a day, but managed to press on following a bit of encouragement from his "brothers of the wheel", and the knowledge that Ambleside was not too far away.

When we reunited at the hostel, the group had grown as we were joined by Jon Springett, the first of the two “glory hunters” joining us part way through the trip. We passed the rest of the evening telling tall tales over a takeout curry and looking forward to having some fresh legs in the bunch tomorrow.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Day 3 - Glencoe to Lanark (125 miles)

After a damp arrival into Glencoe the previous night, we collected our now dry clothes, ate porridge, had tea outside with the midgies, quick picture with an amazing back-drop (I know I said it before but it is fabulous), and then off again.  A couple of us struggled to find our legs, but they were soon discovered when we needed to climb, climb and climb out of Glencoe and up over Rannoch Moor. What goes up must come down, however, and there were some quick and stunning descents before our breakfast stop in Tyndrum - another round of full Scottish breakfasts please!

The morning continued with more climbing and descending through the Trossachs, constantly reminding ourselves to look around and enjoy the views and ignore the pain. Then, all of a sudden, the hills seemed to disappear as we entered Stiring, made our way to a great Italian place for pizza and pasta for a late lunch, stocked up on energy drink at the local bike shop  and then headed onto the interesting delights of Falkirk. Just as the mountains had disappeared, the rolling hills appeared and we were back into the countryside, lovely and quiet, although a little chilly as the evening drew on.

Finally, when we had only a few more miles to go we came across a cement mixer on its side blocking the road so despite doing our best to sweet-talk the policeman into letting us past, we had to take a detour which added a few more miles. We then rolled into the B&B, crashed into our rooms, got a take-out, watched the England v France highlights and then slept like logs.

Faff of the day: Le Patron forgetting his glasses, not once but twice!

Day 2 – Dornoch to Glencoe (124 miles)

After a hearty Scotch breakfast, day two began with the same good weather , well dry at least and favourable wind.  Legs were a little stiff but we soon warmed up and were soon flying down to Glenmorangie then inland to Beauly where we met Mark Murray, a friend of a friend who rode with us for much of the day. There was  a good climb on the way over to Drumnadrochit and a fast descent during which young Pat reached his age in mph (54 that is).  And then the first of the day's Lochs – Ness - in all its splendour. 

The scenery was amazing, trying to concentrate on the road whilst taking in the sights, and how insignificant we are in the bigger picture of things – literally! We then headed through Fort William, where the Downhill MTB World Cup weekend was just wrapping up, said good bye to Mark Murray and said hello to the rain for the remainder of our journey.  We headed into the hills / mountains and stayed at the Glencoe youth hostel, where we were the nearest to anything resembling youths. Pat felt  very at home.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Day 1: John O'Groats to Dornoch (77 miles)

Our journey began at 5.30am as Mr and Mrs Pat drove us to Luton airport.  A punctual flight and we were soon hurtling (literally) north in the comfort of our Inverness guide, Gavin’s Land Rover. Nervous and excited in equal measure we were given an excellent guide to the area by Gavin as well as getting a sneak preview of the climbs in store.  Meanwhile Mark and Bill were already in Scotland and after a rendezvous in the hire car lot set off up the A9 in the support van to join the rest of the group.

A general team “faff” ensued in the John O’Groats car park as we took an hour to get changed, set up bikes and so on.  Well, technically we took half an hour and Pat took a further half hour.  He managed to puncture without actually mounting his steed and then faffed about with at least two other tubes before finally settling on a long valved version.

A quick photo by the harbour and finally we were on the way.  A fairly gentle start and we made good progress waving enthusiastically at the other end to enders who were completing their journey.  We gave up counting at about 20 which only took 30 minutes.  There is a beauty to the bleakness of the landscape, however the first big hill at Dunbeath soon focussed our minds.  The second climb at Berridale Braes was a real sharpener at 13%. This slowed us considerably and having started after 3pm we were in a mad dash to be at the hotel in time for dinner.  Bill, our soigneur, driver, photographer, bag carrier and chief supporter was doing a sterling job stopping every 10 miles or so to refill bottles pass round flapjacks and keep us all going.

Despite the steep hills (max height 758ft) and the 76.7 mile afternoon ride we managed 15.7 mph. Not bad considering the 5.30 am start in Kesgrave!  We settled in for a quick meal at Trentham Hotel, good “home made” food, rooms also a little “home made” (needs a little TLC, but did the job).

Faff of the day winner: Pat for his car park tyre-change marathon

Thursday, 7 June 2012

the journey has begun

The Bikes have reached Carlisle
Hoepfully Bill is tucked up in bed before his second day on the road to Inverness
Chapeau Bill

Saturday, 2 June 2012

last proper training ride

last proper training ride on sunday ... and it will be in the rain!  Good old Blighty!

I'm (Patron) not sure if i am ready, but at least my tash is...

Friday, 1 June 2012

last training ride

Who's out this sunday ?last chance for a training ride before the grand depart?
The Patron and I are both about we could meet the Essex contingent at Manningtree station
any takers??