Huge congratulations and chapeau to CRCC club members Debbie Sampson-Scott and Wacky Jacqui who completed the iconic Lands End to John O’Groats cycle ride, raising money for charities St. Helena Hospice and The Cystic Fibrosis Trust.
“I’ve cycled 1,000 miles (well maybe a little more) 🚴♀️ climbed 69,289 ft from one end of the UK to the other !! 🚵🏽 I still can’t believe what I’ve done. Such an epic challenge completed and thoroughly enjoyed it 😃 Thanks to everyone for all your kind words and support for St Helena 💜”
“Well! we smashed this challenge- Lands End ➡️ John O’Groats cycle ride for Debbie Sampson-Scott 60th birthday! 🥂🥳 we had 6 days of sun, 7 days of rain and wind also pot holes along the way…. We had our ups and downs in these conditions- but we made it to the very end. 🥰 we have met some wonderful people along this journey who between us kept each other going… great memories made! 🚴♀️🚴♀️☀️🌧😩😂😭🥳🥂 I would like to thank all those who have supported me during this journey with your messages, calls and words of wisdom. I would also like to thank all those who have donated kindly to my charity page which closes at the end of August 🥰😘 It’s been an amazing journey and if your looking for a road bike please message me 😜😂😂😂😂”
1000 miles ahead of us over the next 13 days. At first it was cloudy but warm. As the day went on it got more and more sunny. No rain! No headwind! How lucky we were on the first day.
The route took us back to Penzance via Newlyn. We then hugged the coast through Longrock and Marazion. We took in great views of St Michaels Mount. Then inland to Goldsithney, Relubbus, Leedstown, Penhalvean, Stithians, Penweathers and through the centre of Truro. Tracking the River Tresillian for a while then through Probus and St Mewan before St Austell then on to Luxulyan and Lanlivery before descending into Lostwithiel. 65 miles of fantastic, fairly hilly, Cornwall. Mainly on very quiet roads and very few potholes. Steve managed to get stung by a bee but the bee came off worst. David had to stop on a hill as he was feeling a bit under the weather but was back to his usual self by the end of the ride.
We are getting to know the other riders in the group. They are from all over the country and a very nice bunch.
So all in all a successful first day – finished with a meal in the hotel and a couple of pints for those who needed the medicinal benefit.
Day 2: Lostwithiel to Tiverton, 74 miles including Dartmoor!!
We woke up to bright sun and blue skies in Cornwall. After breakfast we set off with some trepidation. Most of the group were feeling a bit stiff after the first day effort and today is billed as the toughest day of the tour with 7077 feet of climbing over 74 miles.
We left the pretty town of Lostwithiel, traversing the River Fowey via the 14th century arched bridge. We passed a garden centre run by the Duchy of Cornwall but didn’t see any Royals buying their bedding plants, On through Fairy Cross, a brief stint on the A390 and then back on lovely quiet roads through the countryside, passing King Doniert’s Stone which dates from the 9th Century. The stone commemorates a Cornish King in the days when Cornwall was a separate Kingdom. I wonder what he would make of 21st Century Britain! On through Higher Tremarcoombe, Crows Nest, Kelly Bray and the pretty village of Gunnislake. We crossed the River Tamar, leaving Cornwall and arriving in Devon, on through the historic market town Tavistock and into Dartmoor National Park.
Dartmoor was not how I had imagined as I had the mistaken impression it was a bleak moor. How wrong i was! We climbed up one of the iconic cycle routes which goes through the middle of Dartmoor and a majestic panorama unfolded. What a beautiful place: stunning scenery and the famous wild ponies scattered in groups. No wonder it’s a mecca for cyclists and walkers. The climb was in phases and it was great to reach the top without collapsing en route!
There were plenty of descents to reward us for all the climbing and we continued through the lovely Devon Countryside to our resting place on the outskirts of Tiverton.
Days 3 and 4: Tiverton to Much Wenlock. 179 miles
Day 3 started well. Glorious sunshine, legs stiff but not too bad. Coming out of Devon was pretty hilly, but then some relief as we traversed the flat Somerset Levels. In the distance the Mendip Hills loomed large and we had to climb them through the iconic Cheddar Gorge. We resisted picking up cheese in Cheddar Village and negotiated the hordes of staycationers at the start of the gorge. As the crowds thinned and we started climbing, the impressive gorge rose around us providing a dramatic backdrop to the climb.
As I got to the top of the climb, I thought that the day’s work was pretty much done. A relatively short run towards Bristol and a nice rest awaited. Unfortunately, I took a wrong turn, got separated from the others, my phone lost its charge, my backup charger was flat and I was soon completely lost. My phone sprang to life long enough to see where the support van had stopped and I headed in the that general direction. I had a panicky 90 minutes cycling aimlessly around Somerset until I met a cyclist who managed to work out where I needed to be and he took me there. Never was I so glad to see my fellow Sprockets who had waited for me. I was in a dishevelled state so I rode at the back of the peloton as they carried me to Bristol via the impressive Clifton Suspension Bridge. At dinner, I was greeted with a round of applause from the other cyclists and Claire from Ipswich presented me with her spare Garmin……maybe I should’ve got one after all. Fancy turning up on this kind of thing without a garmin – fortunately Claire had 2!
The other dramatic event of the day was my brother Mike ending up in Bristol Eye Hospital with an impressive reaction to an insect hitting his eye. David G had administered first aid and recommended a trip to hospital. Pleased to report he’s much better today following anti-histamines, antibiotics and several pints of beer last night.
Today was a mere 94 miles. Thankfully not too may hills and no big ones. Highlights included crossing the Severn Bridge into Wales, then a fantastic ride down the Wye valley passing Tintern Abbey and then rolling hills to our overnight stop in Much Wenlock, Shropshire.
Somehow, in the past 4 days we’ve managed to cycle about 318 miles and climbed over 22,000 feet.
Day 5: Much Wenlock to Bollington (Cheshire), 73 miles
Luckily today was pretty flat. First stop was Ironbridge. It was only 5 miles into the ride so we got there nice and early and beat the crowds. We crossed the world’s first Iron Bridge (built by Abraham Darby III in 1779). Our fellow Sprocket Alan, who is not on this trip, would love this bridge as he is an industrial history buff. He can probably remember it being built.
A steep climb out of Ironbridge, and then ride leader Martyn had assured us it was pretty flat and relatively easy cycling. Martyn plans the LEJOG route meticulously, sticking to nice quiet roads when ever possible and avoiding rough tracks not suitable for road bikes. He’s got a geography degree and a love of maps. It was a bit surprising when the route diverted into some serious off-road cycling across a field. We ploughed on (literally across the farmland) but Steve B came a cropper in some actual quicksand. Martyn explained it was an experimental section of the route to test our our off-road cycling skills. We showed how little off-road skills we have so he’s going to stick to good old tarmac for the rest of the trip.
Inevitably, there are stretches on busier roads. Martyn stressed the importance of riding safely in groups of 2-3 cyclists, leaving gaps for cars to overtake and pull in. He’d noticed the 6 Sprockets had been trying to stick together as we try to get behind Mike DF as he is a very effective wind break. Learning to ride safely in a group is really important and we are getting better every day. Debbie from Harwich is a qualified group-cycle leader so she is teaching us the way to ride safely.
The route took us through Shropshire. Compared to the other counties we’ve been through so far, Shropshire has got a significant pothole problem. The bigger ones have a nicely yellow painted outline to at least give you a little bit of warning. Rather than painting them, why not just get them repaired? Hitting a pothole at speed is no joke – David G hit one yesterday and he flew though the air like an Olympic BMX rider, twisting in the air before a perfect landing. A lesser skilled rider would’ve been unseated.
Day 6: Bollington to Skipton, 66 Miles
It was a mistake watching the weather forecast this morning as it looked like heavy rain and thunderstorms along our route. Over breaky we said all the usual things that cyclists say about the rain. “It’s only water”, “It will make us feel like real cyclists”, “I love being at one with nature”.
It was heavy drizzle when we set off. David, our leader, said we had to split into 2 groups of 3 as it would be much easier and safer in the wet conditions. He initially suggested the 3 members of the Hanley family form one group, but he saw the look of horror on Olies face that he was going to have to supervise his incompetent Father and even more incompetent Uncle. David revised the groups to: Mike DF, Steve, & Olie with David joining Mike and John.
The route today took us east of Manchester past Staylybridge. The van stop was next to Hollingworth Lake. Then on to Todmorden and into Hebden Bridge. The hill out of Hebden Bridge ascended for about 4 miles. Great views from the top. We reached Skipton via Keighley and a few villages in North Yorkshire. There were plenty of Dark Satanic Mills on the route – now converted into flats or industrial units. There was intermittent heavy/horizontal rain along the way.
The North West is famous for only 2 things. Rain (which we got) and the Mancunian sense of humour. This was in evidence as we passed through. Outside a school three was a big banner which read “No Parking. Keep your Children Safe” Then underneath “That means no dropping off ever or even stopping for 20 seconds”. I noticed a red danger triangle sign in a garden with two elderly people with walking sticks – underneath it read “Danger, Conga line starts here”. The best one was a van advertising a car breakdown service: “When your car is fu**ed, call this truck”. It’s spotting amusing things along the way that keeps you going especially in the rain.
David was in his seal/frogman outfit, but today he had shorts on revealing his legs. He looked like a mythical half man/half seal beast. My brother has the odd habit of packing loads of snacks and gear into his cycle shirt back pockets to the extent that there is a massive bulge which looks a bit like a camel’s hump when he’s cycling along. So, with all the rain it looked a bit like the animals trying to find the Ark.
We arrived in Skipton late afternoon, in time to go to the bike shop to get some bits and pieces. We had a few pints and a curry and resisted the temptation to explore the pubs and night clubs of Skipton. The best pub in Skipton was closed as all the staff had been pinged. A reminder that COVID is still around.
Day 7: Skipton to Haltwhistle, 94 Miles
We left a dry Skipton, and we wondered if somehow we might be lucky and miss the showers……
The Sprockets started off as a tight 6 man peloton as we figured that this was the day to ride more effectively as a group, as we had nearly 100 miles to cover and two massive hills to negotiate. This was day 7 and amazing to think it was already a week since we set off from Lands End on this epic journey. Today was also an emotional day for the Sprockets as we were heading home to our beloved Northumberland. In addition several family members were coming over to meet us in Haltwhistle. We couldn’t wait to see them because we are missing them so much and more importantly they were bringing some clean clothes and taking away some of the washing that was accumulating in our bags and becoming a bit offensive. A bottle of WD40 had leaked in my rucksack so all my clothes had a whiff of oil which was not masked even by my triple strength deodorant.
Within a couple of miles of leaving Skipton, the rain started. Sunshine and showers, some pretty heavy then persisted on and off for most of the day. We travelled on through the beautiful Yorkshire Dales, passing near Grassington and through Kettlewell. At first the route was gently undulating with occasional short steeper climbs and great views into Wharfedale. This was good warming up for the first big climb of the day – Fleet Moss. Tackling this climb south to north involves continuous climbing for nearly 2 miles with an average gradient of 8% and some very steep segments. By this stage the Sprockets 6 had split into 2 groups with Mike DF, David and Olie ahead of Mike H, John and Steve. The forward 3 negotiated the climb in heavy rain which thankfully had passed by the time the slower group tackled it.
On to Hawes and the first van stop. The atmosphere was buoyant as everyone had made it up the big climb and in a weird way had actually enjoyed it. On to Kirkby Stephen and more lovely Dales scenery before crossing into the North Pennines and the imposing rise of Hartside Pass. Again the advanced Sprocket trio tackled this in lashing rain which had passed before the following group ascended. The wind was behind us and as we climbed it was almost as if a cycling God was pushing us gently towards the top. Hartside is another iconic climb. The top part is on the C2C route and several riders had done it before. From the top you can see Helvellyn, Great Gable, Skiddaw, and in Southern Scotland – Criffel. Unfortunately that’s only on a clear day! We saw a lot of mist and rain coming in again. So no time for enjoying the view. On to Haltwhistle!
The whole group of cyclists has a certain pecking order in terms of arrival times with the trio from Bath usually finishing ahead of the rest. There was no way the Sprockets were going to allow this to happen on our home turf, So the advanced trio hatched a plan. A mile or so outside Haltwhistle, the route crossed the South Tyne. The Bath trio were spotted stopping to admire the great river views. David said to Olie – “offer to take a photo on the bridge” and while they were distracted, David sprinted off to secure the first stage victory for the Sprockets. He did a victory celebration, riding down Haltwhistle high street with is arms aloft shouting “Yes, Yes, Yes” much to the bemusement of the smokers outside Haltwhistle WMC.
Day 8: Haltwhistle to Peebles, 81 miles
Haltwhistle is the Centre of Britain and the main group stayed in the Centre of Britain Hotel. Some visited the Centre of Britain Launderette and I am sure the whole group will never forget where the Centre of Britain is. The Sprockets stayed in the Grey Bull B&B and were delighted with the breakfast which included fried bread for the first time in the trip.Yummy.
We received a morale booster as we were joined today by Sarah (Davids better half) and her cycling chum Anna. They are joining us for a couple of days. So with 2 Sprockettes we became an 8 person peloton. Sarah and Anna also brought delicious home made cakes which were donated to the van, now run by John the Second and Caz, so we looked forward to them at the first van break.
The weather followed a similar pattern to yesterday with intermittent downpours, some heavy, with lengthy periods of dryness. So overall not too bad. At least it wasn’t cold even though we were drenched at times.
We set off at a brisk pace, keen to impress the Sprockettes, with our cycling prowess. This lasted until the first hill out of Haltwhistle as we all found that the reserve in our legs was minimal after all the climbing yesterday. Brother Mike was slowed by a pain in an unfortunate place (left one). There was no swelling or tenderness and GP David reckoned it was referred pain from his sacro-iliac joint. John reckoned it was just attention seeking in the hope he could negotiate a massage. Steve produced some Ibuprofen and that seemed to do the trick.
The ride was magnificent. Hardly any towns or village – just beautiful countryside. You know you are in a different country as the architecture changes, the place names are distinct and the potholes are awful (come on Nicola – get them sorted)
The first van stop was eagerly anticipated. Sarah’s cakes had already been gobbled up by the first arrivals but we had Anna’s delicious chocolate orange cakes which melted in the mouth. Caz and John the Second did a great job on the van.
The day whizzed by. Some long descents and great chats with the other cyclists. When you are riding in a big group you tend to ride alongside different people in the course of the day. I’ve learnt a lot on this ride so far. I can now distinguish between a cow farm and a pig farm, thanks to Mike DF pointing out the distinctive aromas which he learnt about in his life as a veterinary scientist. Steve keeps us going with stories about life in Yorkshire and David tells us about the best Leeds Utd game he ever saw, then the second best, then the third best and so on. A highlight today was a chat I had with Julian. He has already featured in an earlier blog (see blancmange edition) with his friend Mike. As well as many previous long distance cycles, what I hadn’t appreciated is their other incredible achievements. Julian has waterskied across the English Chanel and if that wasn’t enough, Julian and Mike were part of an 8 man crew who rowed across the Atlantic!!!!! And broke the world record for time taken to do so. Wow! That is quite something.
We arrived in Peebles in the late afternoon. We are staying tonight at the famous Peebles Hydro Hotel. The only issue i’ve got is achy legs and slight saddle soreness. John the Second suggested that I should try wearing 2 cycle shorts to provide a greater cushion, so i might give that a go tomorrow. If nothing else it will make it look as if i have enormous glutes. Kim Kardashian eat your heart out.
Day 9: Peebles to Kinclaven, 78 miles
After all the rain in the last few days we are now a bit indifferent to the forecasts of Mike DF, the Sprockets chief meteorologist. He was a bit reticent in his predictions today but donned his waterproofs as we set off from a cloudy Peebles. Sarah and Anna, the 2 Sprockettes, were planning to cycle with us as far as the Forth Bridges and then return to Wylam by train. So we had a group of 8 as we set off. The first part of the day was a fairly flat run towards Edinburgh on busy roads. David, our leader, suggested the Sprockets split into 2 groups of 4 for the first part of the ride. He chose Mike DF and the 2 Sprockettes to go with him to form the “fast group” that left John, Mike H, Steve & Olie as the “slow group”. After faffing around getting the bikes ready, the slow group set off last and we meandered along in our usual casual way. After a mile or so it started raining and there was a significant headwind. The slow group chatted about the options and we decided to try to work as a proper mini-peloton. The effect was dramatic. We basically gave a masterclass in how to make rapid progress by working as a team, with each rider taking a turn at the front to drag along the others. The miles were chewed up and along the way we sped past the “fast” sprocket group as well as most of the other cyclists. We would’ve been first to the van if there hadn’t been a torrential downpour which forced us to stop under a bridge. As we sheltered everyone sped past so we limped into the van stop last, as usual. Mike DF and Anna got detached from the group due to a minor wrong turn. Anna then had a puncture. Mike DF sprang into action and offered to fix it. Whilst he was fannying around trying to find some tools, Martyn (ride leader) appeared from nowhere, took control and the tube was changed and inflated in about 30 seconds. Martyn didn’t need tyre levers to get the tyre off the wheel – he did it with his bare hands which requires enormous strength. His hands are like spades with ripped muscles even on his fingers.
Even though the morning ride was on busy roads, there were great views of the Pentland Hills and we skirted round some of the Edinburgh estates made famous in the Trainspotting films. The van stop was at the Forth Bridges with the iconic railway bridge as well as the new and the old road bridges rising out of the mist. After refreshments, departure was delayed by another deluge. We said our farewells to Anna and Sarah, and we were back to 6 Sprockets.
When the rain subsided a bit, we set off to cross the bridge over the Forth. The old bridge is now used by cyclists and pedestrians. The crossing was a bit of a damp squib as it was blowing a hoolie as they say in these parts. We got to the other side and continued into Fife. Very quickly it stopped raining and the sun started to flicker a bit. We were soaked though but gradually dried out as the day progressed.
One of the chats i had today was with cyclist Matt who is on LEJOG with his wife Becca. They live in Cambridgeshire. Matt is a water engineer and Becca is a physics teacher. She studied physics at Manchester Uni and was in the same class as celebrity physicist Brian Cox who couldn’t hack it as a normal teacher, so went into music then TV. They are raising money for Water Aid and a development charity called Mission Impossible. Matt reckoned they have raised about 6K so far. Great Effort. Matt has an unusual surname and he says he often gets sniggers down the phone when he is speaking to Scots people and tells them his name is “Pluke”. In Scottish slang a Pluke means a spot, as in “Yae’ve git a wae pluke en yer noose, Jimmy”. Sure enough I started sniggering and he rolled his eyes in resignation. He’s actually got Scottish ancestors – the Drummond-Hays. That’s a nice name but nowhere near as funny as Pluke!
The afternoon was panning out quite well. The 6 Sprockets stuck together initially but as we ploughed through Fife, heading for Perth, 4 pulled away and brothers John and Mike lagged behind. The roads today were pretty bad with lots of potholes and ridges. Sometimes a lot of ridges leads to terrible juddering and vibration and adds to the difficulty of the ride. Mike hit a big-ish pothole and immediately noticed that something wasn’t right and pulled up abruptly. On close inspection there was a problem with his back wheel which seemed to be rubbing on the frame. We then noticed the reason why – a big crack in the frame. This is in the category of catastrophic mechanical failure or more accurately “utterly f***ed”. Fortunately, Martyn arrived and managed to use his superhuman strength to manipulate the wheel into a rideable position. Mike then rode very slowly to the van which was only a couple of miles away. He’s now using Martyn’s spare bike. So the Hanley brothers are now using Martyn’s bike and Claire’s garmin. Apart from that we are fully independent.
Day 10: Kinclaven to Ballatar, 66 miles
The roads were pretty traffic-free and as we climbed there were great views to the east towards Dundee with the Sidlaws rising in the distance. This was all in hot sun! Our luck wasn’t going to last as a couple of miles before the only van stop of the day the heavens opened. It was proper Scottish rain – you know the type that bounces off the road. It was very heavy. The Sprockets stopped under a tree and initially it seemed like a good idea but soon the tree became saturated and we were getting drenched so we ploughed on to the welcome van stop where the lovely Caz and John the Second, had soup and all the usual delicious stuff all ready. We had a quick change of clothes then on to the big climb. As usual the cycling gods were kind, as the climb was rain-free. What an amazing place. We passed the meeting place of Clan MacThomas and you could imagine the gathering of the clans in ancient times to sort out the nasty English.
The climb up Glenshee is tough, but worth it when you get to the top. Amazing views. There is a cafe at the top which is part of the Ski Field. Also some of the ski lifts are open if you fancy a trip even higher than the highest road in the UK. Fellow cyclists Debbie and Wacky Jacqui (from Harwich) decided to go up in the ski lift. They were a bit disconcerted to be offered a concessionary tickets. Jacqui explained to the ticket guy that she was only there in her capacity as Debbie’s carer and surely, as a key worker, she should get a free ride. Anyway, they said the view was great and Debbie is thinking about getting a ski lift installed for the stairs at home which have become a bit of a struggle.
Martyn (ride leader, super human strong man) promised that from the top of Glenshee there would be a 25 mile descent to the hotel. The ride did not disappoint. Along the way we stopped at Balmoral to see if we could catch a glimpse of anyone famous. The armed police on the gate said the Queen was in residence but she didn’t carry money so wouldn’t be able to make a donation to FareShare North East. As we were hanging around getting threatening looks from the armed police, we got chatting to 2 lovely ladies who were the carers for a lad called Sammy. Turned out they were form the North East. They had overheard that we were raising money for FareShare, Judith (Hood) whipped out a tenner and pressed it into David’s hand. The generosity of the Geordies never ceases to amaze me and thanks to Judith!
With all the down hill cycling we got to our hotel early for once. The Sprockets unwound using the pilates video our fellow Sprocket Angela McClintock made a special video for us to use on LEJOG. Thanks Angela – without you we would never have got this far!
Day 11: Ballater to Strathpeffer, 94 miles
We set off in the sunshine, winding our way alongside the River Dee then crossed the River Gairn twice. Following the second bridge there was a sharp hill, this was only the warm up for what was to come. Very little traffic and magnificent scenery in all directions. The first mechanical issue of the day struck Claire form Ipswich who managed to snap her gear cable. Martyn (ride leader) as ever, was rapidly on hand. He reckoned to would take a while to fix so quickly gave Claire his bike and travelled ahead in the van an got to work on the repairs at the first van stop.
Climbing further, we crossed the River Don and soon the Lecht climb began. The first part is possibly the steepest challenge we have had on LEJOG. The Sprockets managed to get up this unscathed. There is then a flat bit before the final climb up to the Lecht ski field. At the start of this climb, John found he couldn’t shift his chain out of the highest gear, so had to walk up. He was in good company with a couple of guys on a tandem who also had to dismount.
John messaged ahead and Martyn was ready when he got to the van. Fortunately, after the slog of pushing the bike up the Lecht, the bike was rideable for the descent to the van. On arrival Martyn was just finishing wok on Claire’s bike, replacing the gear cable and resetting the derailleur. He then got to work on John’s bike. What followed was nothing short of a masterclass in bike mechanics. Martyn diagnosed the problem quickly (without getting too technical, the nipple on the gear cable had migrated. Martyn said he had never seen a nipple in such an unusual place so nice to give him a day to remember) and then worked at a frenzied pace to fix it. His hands were moving so fast between bike and tool box that they were a complete blur. If you imagine the Tasmanian devil cartoon, that will give you an idea of the speed. Within minutes the gears were sorted and moving better than before.
David, Mike DF and Olie had used this delay as an excuse to lounge around for an hour or so in a warm coffee shop. The Sprockets reformed and continued in the rain. Mike DF had confidently predicted that we might miss the rain, so we had all donned our heavy waterproofs and soon the rain was falling. We continued through the Cairngorms via Tomintoul, Grantown-on-Spey, past the Culloden battle site and on towards Inverness.
4 Sprockets were slightly ahead on the descent into Inverness. Mike H and John were bringing up the rear. Cycling in the wet is always tricky. The roads are slippy, cars come closer as they have less visibility and hazards are less obvious. John hit a large pothole and came off his bike. The hole was full of water and he just didn’t see it. He was probably doing about 25mph at the time. He landed hard on his bottom and has a large swelling to prove it. The head followed the bottom and the impact cracked his helmet. The cycling gods were with him as the car nearest to him stopped and out jumped Student Nurse Samantha who administered first aid. The accident happened right outside a house and when the householder, Alistair, saw a cyclist bouncing down his drive, he rushed out and provided an umbrella. Martyn, Claire and Mike H arrived on the scene and John was whisked off to hospital by the lovely Samantha. Amazingly the bike was fine and John was unscathed apart from a few cuts and bruises and an impressive swelling in his shorts. Raigmore hospital A&E did a great job of checking for serious injury and the support van manned by Caz and John the Second picked up the bedraggled cyclist and went back for the bike. Alistair had captured the incident on CCTV and the clip makes impressive viewing!
One minute you are cycling along happily, the next you are flat on your back. What a great display of human kindness – passers-by, fellow cyclists, NHS staff. Once again the safety net kicks in when it is needed.
Potholes are. menace to cyclists and other road users. Maybe rather than wasting money on HS2 and Trident, the potholes could be sorted. Food banks are another example of a necessary safety net which shouldn’t be needed if only our priorities were in the right places.
Day 12: Strathpeffer to Bettyhill, 87 Miles
The penultimate day of the epic bike ride. After yesterday, we were all hoping for an uneventful day. I threw back the curtains and was pleased to see blue sky and sun. Mike DF had confidently predicted no rain today and for once he seemed to have got the forecast right. Breakfast was a rapidly delivered buffet. There are subtle differences in a Scottish Full breaky including delicious potato scones and haggis, obviously. It set us up for the day.
The Sprockets agreed that a tight peloton was the best way to shield me from further damage and off we set in bright sunshine. The ride today was nothing short of spectacular. The further north you go, the nicer it gets for cycling. Very little traffic and fantastic scenery. We headed through Dingwall and took in great views of the Cromarty Firth, turning inland for a stretch then alongside Dornoch Firth. We crossed Bonar (pronounced Boner by my brother to great hilarity) Bridge then alongside the Kyle of Sutherland. Then on through Lairg and the magnificent Loch Shin. The road was gently undulating with the occasional sharp, short climb. Quite abruptly, the road changed from single carriageway to single track with passing places. This was real wilderness territory.
We stopped at the famous Crask Inn for a wee dram to stiffen the resolve and ploughed on through the spectacular landscape. If you have never been to this northern part of Scotland, don’t delay – it’s completely different to any other place I have been in the UK. The landscape and the skies. Mountains all around in the distance. Truly stunning.
The final part of the ride took us through Altnaharra then alongside Loch Naver and the River Naver finally crossing the latter and following the road to Bettyhill.
The intrepid Plukes went for a swim in the sea – due North no land until the arctic. The beach could’ve been in the Caribbean – beautiful golden sand. Great meal in the evening and a few beers. Only 50 miles tomorrow – what could possible go wrong? We said goodbye to Alan and Louise from Bath who have to start early tomorrow as they need t get home for a wedding.
The day has been an amazing experience – the best day of the trip in many ways. We have been in a bit of a bubble for the last 12 days and tomorrow is the final day. On one level, i don’t want the journey to end, but on the other hand, I can’t wait!
Day 13: Bettyhill to John O’Groats, 50 miles
Amazingly we are on the last day of LEJOG. It’s been such a great experience, in some ways we didn’t want it to end. In other ways we couldn’t wait to finish!!
Some of the Sprockets were a bit groggy this morning as they had overdone the celebration of completing yesterdays stage a bit too enthusiastically. Looking at today, a paltry 50 miles, after completing much longer stages we thought today would be a doddle. Suddenly, at breakfast, there was a collective “oh sh*t” moment when we realised we still had a job to do to get to the end of LEJOG.
As ever we were relying on Mike DF, Sprocket weather man, to guide us about what weather to expect. Mike had got up early to look at the skies, wind and clouds, as well as collating all the BBC weather and other online weather information. He then puts all the information into his own weather prediction algorithm and finally he pronounced “It probably won’t rain”. Wow! That was great news after all the wet weather we had endured. Mike was right – we had, perhaps, the best weather possible for the last day of the ride: No rain, plenty of sun and a breeze which was never a proper headwind and mostly behind us. The cycling gods had won the battle over the rain gods for our triumphant procession to John O’Groats.
We set off from Bettyhill and soon were cursing Betty as her hill was a pretty steep one to start the day. If you have never been to the very North of Scotland (as most of us hadn’t) you must make the trip. Especially on a bike, you have time to notice and appreciate the scenery.
The route took us across the top bit of the map with stunning views out to sea, to our left, for most of the journey. You need to be tough to live up here and I was surprised to see how populated the area is with loads of farms and small villages. Plenty of sheep on the roads. Cyclists don’t pose much of a danger to animals compared with other road users. “Kill your speed, not our lambs” was a good reminder about the importance of driving sensibly.
We went through the most northerly town in Scotland, Thurso, and crossed the River Thurso for the final stint of our journey. The last van stop at the 25 mile mark was the first of the poignant moments of the day. The van had become our friend and saviour (literally for some) during the trip. About every 25 miles, just as we were flagging, we would see the van with the bright red ACT lettering on the side. It was always a welcome sight and the van guys (Anne and John in the first week and Caz and John the second in the second week) were there with much needed banter and refuelling for tired legs.
The worst hills were in the first 25 miles of the ride, so after the van stop, we started to relax a bit as the realisation dawned on us that we were actually going to make it to the end! Fortunately there were no mechanical problems or falling off incidents on the final day. The last part of the ride was truly spectacular. Great views of the cliffs facing north into the sea and stunning windswept scenery all around.
As we approached John O’Groats, Martyn (ride leader, bike mechanic extraordinaire and all round very strong good egg) gathered the whole group together so that we could cross the finishing line en masse. We got a glimpse of what it must feel like to arrive on the Champs-Élysées at the end of the Tour de France. What a feeling – relief, exhilaration, a twinge of sadness that it’s all over. Whatever we were feeling rapidly turned to unbridled joy as we celebrated our arrival with all our fellow cyclists. Hugging and shaking hands, a champagne cork popping and the iconic photos of the entire group and individual shots with bikes held aloft at the sign marking the official end of LEJOG. We had done it!!!!!