Wednesday, June 10, 2009

One Week Later

Blimey, can’t believe it’s been a week since we crossed the finishing line at John o’Groats! The train journey home was long and boring, it was more painful being sat down on the trains for so long then it was cycling every day. And the cycle facilities on Pendolino trains is pitiful, each station invited us as being an NCN interchange yet the provision for cycles on the trains is pathetic.

So what did we learn from 17 days cycling the entire length of the country? It’s quite an achievement, around 2000-4000 people a year do it by various means apparently, this makes it much rarer than completing a marathon for example. The train journey really puts it into perspective just how far you have cycled.

To be fair though, in my opinion if you’re reasonably fit and have done a decent amount of training and are happy to cycle 70 miles, get up in the morning and cycle 70 more then it isn’t as hard as you might imagine it to be. Carrying all of the camping gear and fully laden with four panniers, a bar bag and a tent is heavy (we were told we were mad more than once) and tough work. I would not want to do 100 miles a day laden like that, 70 was enough.

The first few days we were excited and didn’t really notice the up and down nature of the cycling, Cornwall and Devon have many short steep hills. Once you get further north and certainly into Scotland the terrain is much more one or two big climbs per day and nothing else. Also after each day in the beginning you are tired and want to sleep, the length of my blog posts reflects this I think. In the mornings you feel a bit sluggish and we set off later as we prepared for the day ahead. It took us about 3 or 4 days to say to each other, right we know we can do this now. You need to get those first few days under your belt and get into the routine, stick at it if it gets tough as it definitely gets easier.

By the time we got to Scotland we had definitely got fitter, we were tired after 60ish miles and glad to reach the campsite and stop but after a shower and something to eat, we felt fine again and were up and ready to do another 70 miles in the morning.

I’m glad we did two short days to start, that was perfect planning. Get off the train and cycle to Land’s End. Do what you need to do there and then do 20 miles and camp. That left us 50 miles to do on Day 2. This was much preferable to camping at Land’s End and then doing 70 miles on the first day I think. It got us into the cycling a bit more gently.

Would I change the route we took? I had spent quite a bit of time tweaking the route, using various online sources and routes. I think it was spot on for 95% of the trip. We avoided nearly all of the main roads, and barely touched an A-road until we got to Scotland by which time they were so quiet it didn’t matter anyway. I would definitely avoid Bristol if I were doing it again, much better would be to cross the Avon using the M5 bridge and go through Avonmouth. Bristol was busy and hilly, by far the hilliest city/town we went through. The only other change I would make would be to use the A82 along Loch Lochy rather than the Clunes forest track, that was harder work than necessary.

I don’t think we could have bettered the route we used through the northwest from Cheshire to Clitheroe. That was absolutely perfect. Also the route through Glasgow from southwest Scotland cannot be faulted. Don’t use the A82 alongside Loch Lomond north of Luss as you would miss out on what is IMO the best cyclepath I have ever ridden.

We knew we were nearing the end when we got to Lairg so the 40 miles through the desolate hills of northern Scotland seemed a lot further than they were. I’m not sure I would enjoy starting a JOGLE that way though as it would instantly show you the scale of the task. Nice gentle cycling though.

We set ourselves No Pushing and No Ferries rules and we kept to them both. I don’t really remember any hill where I thought I might get off and push, the Clunes forest track came closest probably, mainly due to the surface. We even went back to where we had dismounted in Carlisle rather than walk all the way through the city centre! The No Ferries rule was mine, I’m not sure why but it just felt like I wanted to cycle the whole way and ferries felt like ‘cheating’, I know they aren’t really any different to using the Severn Bridge though!

It was very useful to have a general idea where we were going to camp each evening. The only two times I wasn’t sure before we set off were near Kilmarnock and Bonar Bridge. We generally ended up in campsites I knew existed before we started. The only exception was Dumfries where it has closed down and we had to use Google Maps on my mobile to find an alternative. The hardest place to find a campsite was in Ayrshire and we ended up in Troon, the three campsites shown on OS maps near Kilmarnock are all static caravan parks now.

In general the roads were in good shape. The only two times that stick in my mind where the roads were far from adequate was the A683 in Cumbria and the A-roads in Ayrshire which were universally disgraceful. The only time traffic was an issue and the road felt dangerous was between Nantwich and Middlewich in Cheshire on the B5074 and A530. The vast majority of drivers are courteous and overtake correctly, they are most polite in Scotland. I only shook my fist at one driver who overtook into an oncoming vehicle and nearly sideswiped me with the caravan he was towing! I nearly got knocked off in Market Drayton on a double mini-roundabout.

Work out tea and lunchstops each day. Have a town/village in mind, don’t skip it even if you still feel fine as inevitably there won’t be anything else for miles when you really want it.

The thought or sight of what lay ahead was always without exception worse than the actuality. For example we knew we had to climb through Glen Croe and dreaded it the evening and morning before. In fact it was brilliant and one of the highlights of the entire trip. So glad we did the first rest day in Clitheroe as the following hilliest day would have been a nightmare without that recovery time. I think we could have finished OK without the second rest day but the weather was fab and we needed to do our washing!

We were very very lucky with the weather, apart from some downpours in the southwest we saw no other significant rain and timed our passage through central and west Scotland with a heatwave! We only had one day with a bad headwind from Carlisle to Dumfries. Some of the sections of the route would be much more difficult in bad weather, the B3306 in Cornwall and the road north of Lairg are two examples.

Would I do it again? Not this route, it’s been done and it’s a once in a lifetime achievement I think. It wouldn’t hold the same attraction a second time. A JOGLE might be good though! There is also a strong element of getting from A to B on this ride, we knew we had to be in certain places on certain dates which makes you do it a bit quicker than a true holiday tour. There’s no packing up after 40 miles because you found somewhere nice to camp!

Overall it was brilliant, I keep remembering little snippets of the ride and more tips and stuff. I’ll edit this post as I think of them again as I’m bound to have forgotten stuff. Some people have asked me to detail the technology I used to keep the live tracker working and the blog so I will post about that too. I have a list of thank yous I want to post too!

Friday, June 05, 2009

The Stats

I’ve now gone through the GPSr traces and both agree on the mileage of 1084 miles. The daily ascents are calculated using compacted GPSr data and SRTM elevation data and are likely to be reasonably accurate. I’m going to do a summary blog post soon. Today has been a bit odd, a bit loose endish without any cycling to do!

Click on the day number to see a map of the route, an elevation profile and to get a GPX file of the route. There is also a zipfile containing all of the GPX files available.

DayDestinationDistanceAscentTime CyclingAvg Speed
1St Ives19.6 mi509 m1h47m11.0 mph
2Harlyn Bay51.5 mi1114 m4h58m10.4 mph
3Okehampton67.4 mi1449 m6h33m10.3 mph
4Huntstile72.2 mi1127 m6h28m11.2 mph
5Tidenham Chase68.7 mi1326 m6h21m10.8 mph
6Ludlow62.2 mi1185 m6h04m10.3 mph
7Middlewich77.1 mi787 m6h37m11.6 mph
8Clitheroe70.9 mi861 m6h22m11.1 mph
9Temple Sowerby63.8 mi1631 m6h25m9.9 mph
10Shawhead77.1 mi795 m7h40m10.1 mph
11Troon68.6 mi1029 m6h42m10.2 mph
12Ardgartan73.9 mi733 m6h05m12.1 mph
13Benderloch56.2 mi1110 m4h42m11.9 mph
14Fort Augustus69.6 mi1028 m5h53m11.8 mph
15Evanton57.9 mi1183 m5h20m10.8 mph
16Bettyhill77.1 mi1157 m7h11m10.7 mph
17John o’ Groats50.1 mi785 m4h39m10.8 mph
Total   1083.8 mi
(1744.2 km)
17809 m
(58428 ft)
99h47m 10.9 mph
(17.5 kph)

In addition to this there were 14.7 mi (23.7 km) and 338 m (1109 ft) of cycling from Penzance to Land’s End plus 21.4 mi (34.4 km) and 345 m (1132 ft) of cycling from John o’ Groats to Wick via Duncansby Head.

Highest speed attained was on Day 9 at 41.3 mph. Highest elevation was also attained on Day 9 at 426.8 m (1400 ft) at the Cross of Greet at the top of the hill above Slaidburn.

The furthest cycled in a day was Day 16 but only very marginally as remarkably three days were 77.1 mi. Day 16 was just 0.08 mi further than Day 7. Average daily mileage (including the end bits) was 65.9 mi (63.8 mi without).

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Day 17.1 - Wick

thumbnail imageHas it sunk in yet? No! What a day.

We were so anxious to get started we were both up before 6am packed and ready to roll at 7am! There had been a couple of sharp bursts of rain during the night but the morning was trying to be bright but with the niggly but not strong northerly breeze still.

We were headed east though so it didn’t bother us too much. We have been very very lucky with the weather. The last two days would be very tough with bad wind and/or rain. Our friend Sam who we shared a day with back in Devon had the wind so bad from Bettyhill it actually knocked him off of his bike and he had to push for a short stretch.

The A836 is wide, smooth and almost deserted. Great cycling road with views of the sea to our left. It’s hilly for the first 20 miles though. It climbs headlands between little sandy bays 4 or 5 times. Quite tiring but nothing really too bad or steep.

Before Thurso it flattens out with just one small climb before the descent into town. We didn’t linger and cycled straight through. According to the welcome sigh the only thing it’s famous for is being the birthplace of the founder of the Boy’s Brigade.

After Thurso it was just a case of getting the job done. We were on mileage countdown, each sign greeted in despair when it only indicated one more mile done when it felt more like three! The weather was getting sunnier and sunnier, we’d had two very brief bursts of rain during the ride. Too chilly to take off jackets though.

It’s a pretty flat easy run in and soon we could see the dilapitated hotel and we rode side by side down the slope to the finish line. A punch of the air and we’d done it!

We got the required photo done with Andrew’s cycle computer mileage of 1071 miles which has been reading a little under. My Geko GPS reckons 1083 miles but who cares we’d done it! I’ll go through the GPS trace when I get home and get ‘official’ distance, ascents and average speeds.

After ringing home we had a coffee in the café got our sheets stamped for the last time and signed the end to enders book.

JOG doesn’t have a lot to offer though and after a stroll around the gift shops and a few photos we left.

I wanted to do the extra two miles to Duncansby Head just to get to the end of the road in the northeast of Britain. So we did, a little climb and a few photos.

Then the dreaded 17 miles to Wick. Which needn’t have been dreaded at all. With the wind behind us for the first time in days and the easy, fast and quiet A99 to cycle on we tore up the miles. In fact we posted our fastest average speed of the entire trip! Including the diversion to Duncansby Head we did 21.38 miles at an average speed of 12.6 mph.

Good campsite very close to the station for the early train in the morning.

So that was that. Totally brilliant adventure. I want to do a summary blog once my mind has settled plus a huge list of thank yous.

One huge thanks now though to our wives, without their support this wouldn’t have been possible. To our children, sorry we’ve been away, we miss you and love you and we’ll be home soon.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Day 17 - John o’ Groats

thumbnail imageWe finished! Best feeling ever. OMG that was so ace! Hard morning but the sun is shining and life is FAB!!!

I’ll blog properly later. We need to cycle to Duncansby Head and to Wick this afternoon.

Distance : 50.13 miles
Time cycling : 4h39m
Ascent : 770 m
Average speed : 10.8 mph

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Day 16 - Bettyhill

thumbnail imageNearly there! Just fifty miles between us and JOG.

Phew what a tough penultimate day. We were both exhausted as we got to Bettyhill.

The day dawned grey and overcast but still. Much much cooler too, definitely not a shorts day. We got away at 8am and stocked up on food in Evanton. We made steady progress across Easter Ross on the B9176 which was basically one long climb for many miles, a couple of descents knowing you would have to regain the lost altitude.

The hills were hidden in low cloud but we did glimpse the A9 bridge over the firth. The descent from the top was exhilirating. A smooth windy road which was so much fun.

By the way the NCN route alongside the B-road to Alness is nuts. Basically a rough path in the woods that crosses the road several times. Why would anyone choose to use it instead of the quiet road?

Anyway, the A836 to Bonar Bridge and Invershin was easy and quiet. To Lairg it’s a steady unsteep climb and descent. I expect the B-road NCN alternative has steeper gradients. We also saw the NCN cross the Kyle of Sutherland adjacent to the railway bridge via three flights of steps!

Lairg, the last bastion of civilisation north. We stopped for tea and cake.

The single-track A-road north was fun for about five miles. Flat, quiet and quite scenic. After about ten miles it started to get a little dull. After twenty miles we started to go a little crazy. By thirty miles we were talking to the rocks. By forty miles we’d had enough.

We felt a little sorry for the JOGLErs that past them, what a depressing way to start the journey south. Hour after hour of nothing.

You round a corner expecting something new and you’re faced with the road snaking into the distance for another few miles. Very desolate. Rocks and heather and heather and rocks. Great views and vistas though, very very quiet as well. We stopped for lunch beside the road at Crask. Two houses in the middle of nowhere. One of them a pub.

At the throbbing metropolis of Altnaharra we turned onto a B-road that looked identical to the A-road except it went alongside Loch Naver which added some interest. We bought ice creams at the most isolated Caravan Club site there must be. Looks like midge heaven staying there.

Onwards we plodded alongside the River Naver. We were getting weary. North of Syre the road becomes a little undulating too but more dwellings and farmland.

At last we got to Bettyhill and camping. Tired but happy to be on target to finish.

Tomorrow’s plan is to start early and try and finish at lunchtime. Get the necessaries done, relax a while. Then cycle out to Duncansby Head to get to the most extreme northeast point. Then onto Wick to camp for the train home on Thursday morning.


Distance : 77.46 miles
Time cycling : 7h11m
Ascent : 1075 m
Average speed : 10.8 mph

Page 1 of 9  1 2 3 >  Last »

Supporting :

WaterAid Macmillan