Friday, 13 June 2008

A Grand Tour


A germ of an idea came into my head a year or more ago. I’d cycled JOGLE and LEJOGLE, I’d driven a van in support of others, and I felt as though I’d become somewhat of an expert on the route. My germ took the form of doing the best bits rather than the whole route yet again.

As a member of the Cyclists’ Touring Club and its attendant on-line forum ( I asked a few questions about other people’s best bits but received few comments beyond my own opinions.

My germ still grew. I decided to do a Grand Tour. All the bits I wanted to do, taking in new terrain, new challenging hills and mountains, visiting places of my childhood holidays and generally covering the whole country! Sadly, by the time I’d picked out an all-encompassing route it added up to 4 or 5 weeks away and 2500 miles - far too much! So I had to trim it down.

Hilary, my lovely wife, was very supportive. By the early part of the year a plan and itinerary evolved. The CTC forum chaps inserted their ideas, and I joined a new on-line community in the far north of England called the Coast to Coast Forum. I asked them for ideas on accommodation and routes in an area I knew very little about. I had the idea of combining my tour with a C2C ride from Workington to Wallsend. Again sadly, time became an issue and although some of the route could be done, not all of it would be possible.

Hilary had the brill idea of getting the train to take the strain, to get me at least part of the way into the north. This would enable me to have more time cycling in the area I wanted to be. So with a bit of research, a First Class single ticket for me and Bike and all my luggage was purchased for the grand total of £50 to Edinburgh! Great value. If I’d wanted, I could have had Standard Class for only £26.

So by February of this year, my route sort of firmed up. All I had for definite, was getting to Edinburgh on 17th May, so what I needed, was to book accommodation. I rejoined the Youth Hostel Association and booked hostels where I could, and where I couldn’t, altered my route slightly or found B+Bs instead. It was hard work. On-line bookings and telephone conversations finding the best deals took up hours a day over a week or so. In the end, all the bookings were complete.

My route still wasn’t definite, and as it turned out, wouldn’t be until the day of cycling. I had a start point and an end point for each day, so the routes could be flexible.

Trailer came out and Suitcase too and I started thinking about what to pack. Lists were made and stuff bought and assembled. Things came together ready for the off. In the past, Suitcase had been strapped to the flatbed of Trailer, but this time I wanted something a bit better so bolted it down using wing-nuts.

Anyway, enough of the boring preamble stuff. Let’s get on to the Tour; where I went, what I saw, and what I did.

My ticket was bought for the 8.25am on Saturday 17th of May from Plymouth on a Cross Country train direct to Edinburgh. I was worried about the bicycle stowage on the train. I knew the bikes had to be hung by their wheels and knew Bike wouldn’t be happy like that. I planned on hanging it by the rear wheel as I felt that was a kinder way than the more usual front wheel.

Three weeks before the off, I drove down to the station to meet the 8.25 on a Saturday morning. I knew the train started from Plymouth, so I knew that I’d have plenty time to investigate the bike stowage and where my seat would be. The staff were helpful, and allowed me freedom to look over the whole train. I saw the “butcher’s hooks” that the bikes had to hang from. I also noted the fittings on the bulkheads for the dangling wheel. I set on making sure I brought padding and tape to hold Bike steady and knock-free. It was a good exercise and put my mind at rest. I wasn’t happy, but at least I knew the enemy!

We went shopping and bought Robinson’s Barley Water, chocolate bars, peanuts, mixed nuts, Baby Bells, tea bags, packets of soups, and microwaveable rice. I assembled spares, tools, and all my bike kit. A pair of shorts and casual trousers and a couple of shirts, making sure that none of it minded being scrunched up in a suitcase. Wash gear, razor and towel completed my kit list.

I’d become addicted to my new Garmin Edge 305, a GPS enabled cycle computer. It would record everything about my ride - route, speed and altitude accurately and even my heart rate, and it would be able to calculate the calories consumed! All I would need would be a computer to upload all this information. The Garmin wouldn’t store more than a few days at a time, so I really needed a computer, so I resolved to take my MacBook along with me. Never mind the extra weight - I would cope!

At last, the day came. We were up at dawn, everything was packed and ready the night before. Hilary had made me a huge packed lunch, and off we went. Car was parked, Bike, Trailer and stuff unloaded, and we picked our way across to Platform 8. Down a service lift, through the underpass and up another lift and on to the platform. Although the train was there, it was empty and cold. No staff. We were too early. We plodded up and down the platform until the staff opened up and started the engines. Then it was Bike on and strung up, Gaffa tape and padding, and a flexi lock too. Bike’s ticket was stuck to the seat-post, and then Trailer and Suitcase trundled along the platform to the opposite end of the train to a suitcase stowage near my seat. Only one other bike occupied the bike compartment, the chap hanging up his bike was only going as far as Exeter. We chatted briefly.

Me and Hilary parted. Kisses and cuddles and good lucks and asking whether I’d got everything, and she was gone. A few minutes later, I was gone too.

Newton Abbot, Totnes, Exeter, Bristol, Cheltenham, Birmingham, Derby, Sheffield, Leeds, Darlington, Newcastle, and Alnwick - I may have missed some out - but the train arrived on time at Edinburgh at 17.14

As a First Class passenger, I was entitled to limitless teas and coffees, but I didn’t want much and even Hilary’s packed lunch was only half-eaten by the time I made Edinburgh. As I approached my destination, I asked the train manager to make sure the train didn’t leave Waverley until I’d unloaded everything, explaining my problem about Bike at one end, and me and my stuff at the other. No problem was expected, and I unloaded Trailer and trundled aft as planned, re-boarded the train into the bike stowage to collect my beloved Bike. Travellers bustled away from the train, and I felt a little out of place, going against the tide to the back of the train, but I battled through and retrieved Bike and united it and Trailer pushing them together along the platform and out onto Princes Street.

I had a basic street map of Edinburgh showing Waverley Station and the whereabouts of the SYHA just off Leith Walk. Luckily, I had a working knowledge of Edinburgh, and I wasn’t too much a fish out of water, and found the hostel without any problem. The streets were busy with early Saturday evening people and traffic. Edinburgh is a busy place, pavements and roads alike. I walked all the way, pushing Bike with Trailer in tow through the mad crowd.

I was wound-up and tense, and I had been for ages. There was no way I was going to leave Bike and Trailer unattended, so when I arrived at the SYHA, I impatiently pushed them both into the swing doors leading to the foyer. Even though the two of them wouldn’t really fit through the doors, I forced them, having to disconnect half way. We made it to the desk. The foreign staff were unperturbed, but one showed me that I could have come through a normal door had I pressed the button first! Why are YHA staff often from abroad? Are all the British staff somewhere else? Have they done a job-swap?

I wheeled Bike outside and down into the basement bike lockup, then I wheeled Trailer though the foyer and up a lift to the landing to where my dorm was situated. In I went to find a small room with two double bunks. Both bottom bunks were in use, though not occupied at the time, and I picked one of the top ones. The bottom one below mine was a wide, almost a double. I wished I’d got in earlier, I’d have bagged that one! Trailer, complete with wheels, was parked out of the way in the corner by an unused door, and Suitcase unzipped.

I showered and sorted my stuff, then down to the foyer to ask the staff where the nearest pub was. I needed a pint! The young lady pointed to the Windsor Buffet. She added that it wasn’t a pub she would recommend, saying that I would need to walk up the hill back towards the city centre. I didn’t listen anymore. I was off to the Windsor Buffet!

Great place! Busy and throbbing on a Saturday evening. I fought my way to the bar and bought a pint of Deuchars IPA, sank it, and had another. Then another. Great.

Back at the hostel, another occupant was in. He was asleep, or pretending to be, but the chap underneath me in the double bunk still hadn’t returned. I climbed up the ladder and sat up and scoffed the rest of my packed lunch whilst reading maps and seeing if I could get a wireless signal on MacBook. I could, but at a price. So I didn’t bother. Later on, I wandered round the lounge and foyer, thinking about pushing coins into the internet machines, but didn’t bother. I went and had a hot chocolate.

Back in the dorm, I climbed into bed and went to sleep.

The following morning, I awoke at 5am. I reached for my glasses to read my mobile phone. The mobile was my clock. I hadn’t bothered bringing a watch with me on the trip - I had a phone and I had my Garmin. I checked the time, put down my phone and then dropped my glasses. They fell from the top bunk and rattled down by the wall past my mattress and down somewhere by my bunkmate’s pillow!

I peered down. Obviously with no glasses on, I couldn’t see much, so I climbed out of bed and down the ladder, then tried to look under the bottom bunk. Remember it was a double bed, I could see nothing.

My bunkmate woke, and I explained my problem. He had a look in his bedding and behind his pillow, but found nothing, so I squeezed underneath his bunk. I was wearing nothing except a pair of underpants, but under the bed I went. It was a tight fit. My chest scraped on the nylon carpet but no matter how far I could reach, I couldn’t find my glasses. My bunkmate looked again. He pulled his mattress back. I went under the bunk again an tried harder, and at full stretch eventually found them right behind the far bed-leg!

I struggled out. My chest was very sore and red, also my back from the bed slats above. I resolved never to be in a top bunk again, and if I were to be, not to use my glasses! I dressed into my cycling gear, packed my stuff away, zipped up suitcase and left the dorm.

A cup of tea later, I collected Bike from the basement and connected up, then away through the early morning light into the streets. No breakfast for me, I was stuffed full of Hilary’s packed lunch. Energy abounded within. Legs powered me north, out of the city and out to the River Forth.

...... and BEYOND to PITLOCHRY
It was 6.30 in the morning, and I picked my way through the Sunday morning streets of Edinburgh. I’d booked a breakfast, but thought better of it after waking, and claimed my £3.50 back as I checked out. I just wasn’t hungry. I followed my nose westerly towards the Forth Road Bridge. Some road closures in the city for roadworks impeded me a little, but out onto the A90 I rode. I entered the dreaded cycle track just beyond Crammond Bridge, and remembered my anger about not being allowed to ride on the dual carriageway during my double E2E in 2006.

The cycle track led me to Dalmeny, and then to the Forth Bridge. I knew the way, and I could see how strangers could get lost as I had done a couple of years previously. The signs were obscured behind trees and hedges, even when you could see them clearly, they were ambiguous. Anyway, I made it.

I’ve asked it before, and I’ll ask it again: Why don’t the Bridge people tell you that the cycle lane/access road is closed before you get to it? I made it round the roundabout above the A90, and went down the slip road to get to the northbound side of the Bridge. I moved over to the left to get onto the access road, only to find that due to maintenance the route was closed! Instead of hauling Bike and Trailer underneath the main road to the other side as I’d done before, I turned round and headed up the slipway the wrong way back up to the roundabout. I turned left, and then went down the wrong way down the southbound slip road and onto the eastern/southbound access road. To be honest, I used the pavement part of the way down, but it was narrow and difficult. I was fuming, but at least I half expected the problem. How people get on when they’ve never been there before, I don’t know!

Over into Fife, I sped straight through Inverkeithing, Cowdenbeath, Kelty and Kinross. I freewheeled down through Glen Farg and into the village, stopping to phone Hilary and to get stuck into some peanut brittle. Off again and straight through Perth onto the A9. It was quite quiet as it was Sunday, and I made it to Pitlochry before 1pm. 73 miles- easy!

As I arrived in Pitlochry, I was confronted by traffic cones and ‘road closed’ signs mentioning about cyclists or something. What was going on? I asked myself, but carried on regardless. It appeared that a bicycle race was just finishing. I asked an official if I could get through, and he beckoned me through the cones on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. I was met with racing cyclists freewheeling towards me having just finished and relaxing after the race. I carried on towards the town.

I asked one cyclist what was going on, and all he could say was that he didn’t know, but they were giving out medals or something. He had answered the wrong question as I hadn’t asked the right question! I actually meant: What’s going on in Pitlochry today with all you cyclists? He thought I knew, and was even part of it!

The mistake was carried on. As I approached the finish line, spectators were clapping me and urging me on! People were taking photographs and cheering! Me! Why?

I forced my way through to the left of the finish line, dismounted and walked to the nearest pub. I leant Bike and Trailer up against the wall and entered the bar, full of sweaty cyclists and various hangers-on. I bought a beer and sat down next to some of the least sweaty ones and repeated my question. I received a similar answer, but as I still looked puzzled, a conversation sorted me out.

It was the tail end of Etape Caledonia, an 81 mile cycle race over closed roads around the lochs to the west of Pitlochry. As I sat there over my beers, more and more cyclists were finishing. It seems they had started at about the same time I’d left Edinburgh, done a similar distance, and finished at about the same time I’d arrived. Basically, I’d done 73 miles fully loaded with Trailer, up steeper hills and through towns, FASTER than some of them had done it racing 81 miles!

Later, with chats and cycling stories ringing in my ears, I left to go the few hundred yards to the Pitlochry Hostel only to find the reception desk closed until 5pm although all the public rooms were open. I wheeled Trailer into the foyer, unzipped Suitcase and made myself a cuppa whilst writing my log and uploading Garmin on to my MacBook. I was hungry, so I rode back to the town leaving Trailer and Suitcase in the foyer, and then to a pub for food - Steak Pie and chips and another beer to pass the time, then back to the hostel to await 5pm.

After checking in, showering and sorting my stuff, I lounged about, studied my route on the laptop, then wandered down into the town once again and into the chippy. Rather disappointing Fish and Chips, a visit to the cash point and a wander back to the hostel was about it for me, so I was in bed at 8.30 and fell peacefully asleep.

The route to Pitlochry was boring really. It held no excitement for me whatsoever. I’d done it all before. I even found out that Pitlochry is only a couple of hundred feet above sea-level, I always thought that it was high up in the mountains! Good thing, Satnav.

My brain was full of more distant destinations. I had to get over the Grampians to Inverness, then head west before I could begin to get really interested.

I was concerned, however, about my forthcoming stay at Arisaig. I’d booked a B+B on the west coast, after my journey through Skye, and back to the mainland. I’d been unable to confirm. Every time I rang, there was no reply, not even an answer phone. Hilary and me had been trying on and off for a fortnight or more. I resolved to try again first thing in the morning.

Profile of Edinburgh to Pitlochry

I awoke to lovely Highland morning, and was away towards Blair Atholl by 7am. No breakfast again, other than a couple of mugs of tea. The Old A9 winds its way uphill almost as soon as you leave Pitlochry. The morning, though sunny and bright, was quite chilly. I was wrapped up warmly.

I followed the cycle track that the Old A9 eventually becomes, and reached the Drumochter Pass summit. It’s a wonderful route, completely away from the main road except for parts where it is nothing more than a few yards from the traffic but on the other side of the crash barrier. Either way, safe, interesting, and fun. Cuckoos called in the distance, and curlews too. Primroses and foxgloves filled the hedgerows interspersed with dog-violets. A wonderful scene.

I had 89 miles to ride that day, and was anxious to get it over with. So when the road started to descend, I changed over to the main carriageway and hurtled along at speeds in excess of 30mph. I turned off for Dalwhinnie and rode through the village past the distilleries and visitor centres and off right by the railway bridge onto the long road to Newtonmore and through to the halfway point of the day at Kingussie. I stopped there and found Pam’s Coffee Shop. I sat down and devoured a Full Scottish Breakfast and a pot of tea. Fantastic! Sausage and bacon, lorne sausage, mushrooms, egg, black pudding and toast. £2.60 the lot!

Away again, through the tourist trap of Aviemore and on to Carrbridge. I was getting tired. 24 miles to go and Slochd Summit to get over yet.

The Old A9 comes into it’s own again, rugged and crumbly in places, through farm gates and into the wilderness. Through Tomatin and back to a cycle-way alongside the A9, then you’re supposed to cross over and follow the track to Moy up the B9154. I couldn’t be bothered, so I entered the main carriageway and pedalled along with the heavy traffic. There are two steep climbs from there before the wonderful downhill stretch to sea level at Inverness. I looked forward to it, the hills were very tiring.

A few miles short of Inverness, I spied another cyclist on the other side of the road going south. I waved and shouted a greeting above the traffic noise, he returned the greeting, but added, “Mick?”

I shouted, “Yes!” He obviously recognised me because of my trailer and orange suitcase. I make a big issue of my luggage when I’m chatting on the CTC Forum. My fellow cyclist obviously reads the forum too! I grinned all the rest of the way to Inverness! (I found out recently that the cyclist was ‘KeithW’ - we’ve swapped messages on the forum since. He was on his way to Land’s End.) With the greetings passed between us across the busy road, we were gone, speeding on our respective ways.

As I reached the bottom of the hill, I couldn’t make my mind up which exit I needed. As I passed the first one, I realised it was the one I wanted, so I rode on to the next one and had to follow my nose to backtrack to the area of the hostel. I hadn’t bothered bringing maps with me for Edinburgh to Inverness, I didn’t feel it was necessary. Perhaps I should’ve!

Anyway, all was well and I popped into the Chieftain pub for a beer! I needed and deserved it! Soon after, I made my way around the corner and up the hill to the hostel. I knew it well, it’s one of the best ones. I checked in and stowed Bike in the shed. They have a hanging system similar to the trains, and last time I was there I was able to lean Bike against a wall, but this time there was no room, and only one hook left. So yet again, Bike had to hang.

I showered and put on trousers and shirt, then walked down to the Chieftain for pie, chips and beans washed down with another couple of pints. Yum!

Back at the hostel reception, I booked a continental breakfast for 7am and made myself a drink and wandered into the lounge. Lots of chatty folk, a motorcyclist, some walkers, a couple from the Wirral, a German girl, and a cyclist LEJOG’er! We talked in-depth about routes and time scales, swapping stories but involving the others, the motorcyclist talked about the northwest of Scotland, and I listened intently regarding his descriptions of long empty roads!

I tore myself away, phoned Hilary, then turned in for the night only to find my dozing disturbed by kids banging away upstairs. They seemed to be jumping off the bunks and running about and shouting. I went down to reception to complain, not before going upstairs to tell them off myself. They were a little quieter after that, but not silent. Either way, I drifted off into a peaceful sleep, dreaming of long empty roads.

Profile of Pitlochry to Inverness

NEW HORIZONS - Go west, young man!
I was up soon after 6am and downstairs for a cuppa or two. I listened to my little radio before getting out of bed and tuned into the weather forecast. It appeared it was going to be a dry, chilly day.

I shared the kitchen with a couple of chaps cycling JOGLE called Mike and Rudy from Essex. Rudy, the older of the two was suffering with cancer and was being accompanied by his friend who was very attentive to his needs. They were cycling as far or as little as Rudy could manage each day, but complete the route they would! They aimed at Kingussie for the day’s ride, about 40 miles. We swapped stories and information, they both knew of me and had read my blog about my double End to End in 2006. It felt nice to be famous! They asked me all sorts of questions, and I answered them all. They ate their breakfasts as I drank my tea. I wished them luck as we parted.

7 o’clock came, and the dinning room filled up with other breakfasters like me. I got stuck into more tea, a couple of fresh rolls, cheeses, sliced ham and a potato cake. Orange juice finished it off. Cereals and milk were on offer too, but I declined - I didn’t have room!

Over breakfast, I studied my maps. My plan was to go west out of Inverness and over to the far side of Scotland. I had a B+B booked at Lochcarron, a village on the northern shores of Loch Carron. From there I was going to tackle the infamous Bealach na Ba, or Pass of the Cattle. I’d driven over it many years ago and always wanted to cycle it. Now was my chance.

The Pass winds it’s way up right to the top of 2000 odd feet before winding back down to sea level to the village of Applecross. I knew there was a pub there for lunch, then I could work my way north, to the southern shores of Lock Torridon, and thence back to Lochcarron to stay another night. I could leave my luggage in my room, and just take the bare essentials for a day’s ride. Simple! Then it was time to get ready for the off. I’d given Bike a good checkover the previous evening, so was happy to get it out, connect up and go.

As I busied myself with Bike and Trailer outside the front of the hostel, other cyclists were getting ready too. Mike and Rudy sorted their panniers, whilst more JOGLE’ers did the same. There must have been half a dozen of us, all chatting away mainly about my trailer and the pros and cons of trailers versus panniers. I was the only one going west, all the others were on their way south. We parted, and off I went.

I planned on getting out through Beauly and Muir of Ord, then over to Achnasheen to get southwest to Lochcarron. The route looked simple enough and I headed west out of the city.

The terrain was flattish along the Beauly Firth and to Muir of Ord and the roads very quiet, then on to Marybank. I crossed a very low area prone to flooding, according to the warning signs, and uphill over a narrow bridge and onto a busy A835. The lorries thundered past and the road surface was rough - not a pleasant ride at all. I stopped at Garve, hoping to find a shop for a choccy bar or even a cafe for a cuppa or something.

Other than toilets and a tourist information board, and a very quiet railway station down the street, there was nothing there, only little houses and a hotel that didn’t seem to be occupied. I rode on, and turned left onto the A832 away from the traffic on its way to and from Ullapool and beyond.

The A832 follows Strath Bran, a long and wide valley. The road went on and on. It was uninteresting and boring but every now and then, the old road could be seen. It seems that modern Scottish highway engineers pay scant regard for the “feel” of a road. They just plough on regardless of scenery and interest, much like the philosophy of a motorway. A to B by the shortest route. Sad, the old road had little bridges, corners and curves. Anyway, I plodded on through the chilly sunshine.

I was hungry. I wanted a sit-down meal in a cafe. The next place on my map showing promise was Achnasheen. There appeared to be a roundabout at a fork in the road. Hopefully, there would be something there. I resolved to stop there anyway, even if it was going to be only mixed nuts and Baby Bells washed down with water!

I was not disappointed. Just off the road, there was a hotel, a railway station and a craft shop with cafe attached! Wow!

I propped Bike against a fence near to two other bikes, took off my sweaty helmet and entered the cafe. It was bright and cheerful with loads of food on offer. I asked for a menu and ordered a pot of tea (first please!) and a baked potato with cheese and coleslaw. On a window-seat sat a couple of cyclists, may have been man and wife, just finishing their lunch and we chatted away as I drank my tea. They were on holiday from Exeter and had ridden the 20 miles from Torridon that morning. They were seasoned cyclists and tamdemists, and had cycled most of the country and loads of places abroad. They were interested in my tour, and offered advice regarding the West of Scotland.

My potato arrived, and I tucked in hungrily. Gosh, food! I gobbled it down and felt so much better. My acquaintances left, so I sat alone studying maps and my Garmin. I was over halfway to Lochcarron - I only had 60 odd miles to ride, and no real hills to conquer, just long drags on modern roads.

Off I went again, and turned off onto the A890 to follow the railway down Glen Carron. The road remained modern and boring until I reached Achnashellach Lodge by Loch Dughaill where it goes under a low and narrow railway bridge. From then on, the road was narrow and winding with passing places. Much better! I hope they don’t change it, but they will no matter what. It was a little frustrating to keep slowing down to let traffic pass, but it was certainly better than long straight and boring roads. A police car, an ambulance and a fire engine came screaming past me at one passing place, sirens blaring. I didn’t mind giving way to them!

Lochcarron is a long ribbon of a village. I heard it said that it’s the longest village in Scotland. I believe them! There's a golf course as you enter, and then houses and bungalows dashed and dotted on the shore-side of the road. As you enter the village centre, there are larger houses and guest houses, a few pubs and restaurants, a shop or three and a petrol station. The Spar shop has had awards for its service and stock levels. Village Shop of the Year, I think.

I had a little map of Lochcarron, showing the whereabouts of my B+B on Park Road at the far end. I found it easily, but as it was only mid afternoon, I didn’t want to check in, so doubled back to a likely place for a beer or two. The Lochcarron Hotel was a warm and friendly place with tables outside the front. I leant Bike up against one, and went in to order a beer. Bateman’s was on a hand-pump, so I downed one of those sharply enough whilst chatting to a few locals and the barman. I bought another, excused myself, and sat outside writing my log for the day. The village is in a beautiful setting. Glass-like loch with hills beyond, and pretty houses framed by hills behind. Blossom on the trees and birds twittering completed the scene, and it was peaceful and quiet with the smell of the seaside.

Every now and again a heavy lorry would spoil it. I learned later, that the lorries were carrying fish food and stores for the many fish-farms about. The locals don’t like the lorries, but the farms give them work and employment. Precious little employment is available out of the tourist season, so it’s looked on as a necessary evil.

I returned my beer glass and decided to come back later to eat. The menu looked interesting. Skate Wing in Black Butter Sauce sounded just up my street. Off I went, back to Park Road and into Mrs Brenda Forshaw’s B+B.

The little bungalow was tucked away on the right, next to a bubbling stream. Brenda loves her garden and it was strewn with planters both front and rear. Bird feeders were everywhere. Brenda was bright and friendly, as Scouse as they come, and fiercely independent. Her daughter lives a few miles away, and that’s why she came up to the the far northwest from her beloved Liverpool.

She loves sport, particurly football, and especially Liverpool FC. She talked endlessly about this and that. She was a great talker, but not quite so good at listening! She had nowhere for Bike to sleep undercover, but it didn’t matter, the garden was so lovely! I put on the saddle cover, removed the wheels from Trailer and placed them beside Bike.

I showered and flopped on the bed, and uploaded Garmin into my laptop. Brenda was due to have another guest later, so I had her room, and she was going to sleep in the living room on a put-you-up bed. I dressed and wandered along the footpath next to the loch, and ambled into the Lochcarron Hotel. I was welcomed back warmly, and sat down with another pint of Bateman’s and ordered the skate. It was huge! It came with piles of new potatoes and vegetables with this wonderful buttery sauce with capers and herbs. Yum! I cleared my plate, except for the bones of course! Another pint later, and I wandered back to the B+B whilst chatting to Hilary on the phone.

As I arrived, I found out that there had been a change of plan - and room. Her other guest had cancelled - no problem, he was a regular that worked locally. He’d be back some other time. So Brenda had moved all my stuff into the other bedroom, and hoped I didn’t mind. I couldn’t mind really - it’s her house!

I sorted my stuff for the next day up over the Pass and phoned Hilary again.

Profile of Inverness to Lochcarron

The route so far

OVER THE TOP and back again
I was wide awake just after 6, and I made myself a cup of tea, Brenda had thoughtfully left all the fixings on the bedside table for me, kettle and all - biscuits too. I pulled back the curtains to reveal a bright and clear morning, though chilly, I was sure. Even chillier at 2000ft too no doubt, so I decided to wear my tights rather than shorts.

I reviewed my journey so far. I’d done a shade over 230 miles from Edinburgh, so that made about 1200 to go! From Lochcarron I planned on travelling south to Skye, Mull of Kintyre, Arran and Dumfries before tackling Northern England. Lots more to do and see!

I ate a slap-up breakfast, chatting to Brenda whilst the news was on the telly. She was going on nineteen to the dozen about the troubles in the world, what’s wrong with the BBC, football, her daughter, how she loves living in Lochcarron, her garden, the birds ...... endless! Anyway, I was away at 8.30 pedalling away to the west without the encumbrance of luggage. Bike felt light and responsive, and I sailed up the hill out of the village towards the biggest hill of my cycling career.

It was as chilly as I thought, even though the sun was bright and powerful. As planned, I wore my tights with a base layer under my long-sleeved top - I needed them. I’d rather be a bit too warm than a bit too cold.

I stopped and added more air to the rear tyre, or should I say CO2. I carried pressurised cylinders for tyre inflation. So easy and effortless. I put a quick squirt into the front too, and Bike felt even better. I flew down the hill towards Kishorn, and round to the junction where the Applecross road leads off, stopping for the obligatory photograph with Bike leaning against the huge warning sign about the Pass. I was nervous, but eager to get going, I was under no illusions about it and resolved to take my time and not burn myself out. I’d driven it years before when we were on holiday up here, and knew the monumental task I was undertaking.

The Pass, high up above, was obscured by the mountain and I couldn’t see the course that the road followed. The incline started off innocently enough, quite gentle really, winding it’s way round the mountainside. I climbed steadily, in bottom gear and looked out over the countryside as my elevation increased. I could see the fish farms in the distance, way down below in Loch Kishorn, and the isles of Skye and Scalpay in the pale blue of the sea. I rose up and up and up.

Cars and vans populated the road. They would wait patiently in passing places for me to grind my way towards them, or I would pull in to let them pass. I was surprised that the road was so busy, no doubt the cars were full of tourists coming up to marvel at the Pass and the scenery - just like me!

I stopped quite a few times. I was in no hurry, this was a holiday after all, and I wanted to enjoy it. Each time I stopped, I took a photograph and kept an eye on the vehicles that had overtaken me as I wanted to see the profile of the hill and the route the road took. The scale of the place became difficult to comprehend. The road looked so thin and insignificant, me on a bike too! I felt so small. At places, there was a sheer drop for hundreds of feet to my left, a safety barrier was there, thankfully. Even so, I didn’t like looking down as I fought against the steepness of the narrow road. The first zig-zag came at over 1500ft. It was an achievement, but I had more to do. The passing places and the hairpin bends gave a sort of relief as parts were almost level. At one bend, the road was wide enough for a parking area, so I leant Bike up against the rock face and took more photographs. Wow! The views were magnificent!

Then it was more plodding up and up and up .....

The top came at 2080ft (according to Garmin) where there’s a car park and viewing area with a cairn, and a plaque pointing to all the distant landmarks and islands. I breathed deeply in the decidedly chilly air, and bright almost cloudless sky, and rode over towards the cairn and received a round of applause! Some of the tourists that had overtaken me were taking in the view, and were amazed that a chap on a bike could ride all the way up! One lady offered to take my photograph, I returned the favour by taking one of her and her party. We chatted about the Pass, and I told them about the last time I’d been up here back in 1984 with Hilary and the girls.

A short while later, I was off down the other side to Applecross. It was hard work going down, my arms ached from holding the brakes so much. A car ahead of me was going too slow, so I had to keep braking behind him. I pulled over into a lay-by to let him get further ahead, and to let my brakes cool down. The other side of the Pass is less spectacular, but no less steep. It winds it’s way down and down, and all too soon, I was back down a sea level and turning into Applecross village. It was 11.30, a little too early to eat, and besides, I wasn’t very hungry after Brenda’s breakfast. I entered the Applecross Inn and surveyed the beers on offer. I chose an Isle of Skye Red Cuillin, a strong dark beer. Very nice. One of the vans that overtook me on the way up was an Isle of Skye Brewery van, obviously delivering my beer!

The pub didn’t do food until 12.00, but I checked out their specials board, packed with fish and seafood dishes all sounding wonderful. I didn’t want a big lunch, sadly, so I wasn’t sure what to do. I took my beer outside and into the little garden opposite and sat at one of the many tables, chatting to the sightseers. They asked me lots of questions, and I answered them whilst they stared open-mouthed at where and how far I intended to ride over the next couple of weeks. They wished me luck - I needed it! As usual, Bike took some attention, some recognised the maker’s name, others the componentry. There’s always a conversation when you ride a good bike. So many people appreciate a good thing when they see it.

I decided to have a simple lunch, and ordered a cheeseburger as the staff poured me another Red Cuillin. I sat at a little table by the window as a coach-load of people came in. The pub was bursting at the seams. They must do a roaring trade in the tourist season, but I’d imagine that the winters are dead. My burger arrived - it came with all the trimmings - chips and a huge salad. I may not have felt too hungry, but I scoffed the lot. I could have stayed all afternoon, I’m sure, but I had miles to pedal. Only an hour after I’d arrived, off I went around Applecross Bay and north along the shoreline. The road linking Applecross and Shieldaig was only built in the 1970’s, before that, Applecross was a cul-de-sac. The new road must have brought prosperity to the area, and coach loads of people.

I stopped a great deal on that ride north. The hills were tough and sudden, and I couldn’t get into any rhythm or constant gear ratio. I didn’t mind stopping, as it gave me plenty of opportunity to take in the stunning scenery and fantastic views of the sea and islands. The main island along there is Raasay, and further north, Rona. Skye still dominated the southern aspect and the far distance into the haze. Onward and north I went.

Eventually, I rounded the corner at Fearnmore and headed SE towards the Shieldaig road. I started to tire, and tire quite a lot, and I longed to see the main A896 that would take me back to Lochcarron. I passed through Arrina, Kenmore, Ardheslaig, and above the shores of Loch Shieldaig before dropping down a steep and tightly-cornered hill and onto the A896. I rested there and ate a Tracker Bar or two.

Then away south. What I hadn’t bargained for, was the hill. Four miles of it! Steadily rising up past Ben Shieldaig. Up and up again! Thankfully the hill wasn’t too steep, and after the top, I descended to the junction I’d left that morning with the warning signs. Funny to do a complete loop like that. My morale increased and I climbed again to the hill above Lochcarron then freewheeled into the village. I stopped my Garmin as I passed the B+B and recorded 55.05 miles. It may have only been 55 miles but it was a HARD 55 miles! I went straight into The Lochcarron Hotel for a beer! I was very tired. The beer was refreshing and relaxing, but I needed to get back to Brenda’s for a shower and a lie down.

An elevation profile of my trip over to Applecross.
Total assent of 5933ft in 55 miles.

Back at the B+B, Brenda was busying herself in the garden, filling planters and complaining about the lack of rain. By all accounts, it hadn’t rained in Lochcarron for over five weeks. Almost unheard of in the West of Scotland! I showered, made myself a cuppa and flopped on the bed to write my log, upload Garmin and review my ride. Then I began to feel hungry, so I dressed and wandered into the village.

Brenda had recommended the little Bistro nearby, she reckoned the chef there was brilliant, so I popped in only to find the place packed. The waitress suggested I came back later, but I couldn’t wait, so off I toddled back into the Lochcarron Hotel yet again. Bateman’s first, then food.

I saw what I can only describe as odd on the specials board - “Squid and Blackpudding Salad”. I asked what it was like, and was told it was wonderful! So I ordered it! And it was wonderful! Honest! The squid was in battered pieces, deep fried, and the blackpudding sliced and fried. The whole mixture was on a bed of a lovely salad tossed in a dressing. Yum! I cleared my plate! I had another pint, then made my way wearily back to the B+B and sleep.

This was fifth day of cycling. I planned to get to Arisaig via Skye and catch the ferry from Armadale to Mallaig back to the mainland. Luckily, I’d managed to get through to the B+B to confirm that I was still arriving. The lady at Nightingale House in Arisaig village had been walking St Cuthbert’s Way in the NE of England. She apologised for her absence and thought she really ought to get an answer-phone. I agreed!

Breakfast was at 7 again, but I was awake long before that, packing my stuff and sorting through my maps. I checked on the ferry times from Armadale - I’d brought timetables with me - and aimed to catch the 1425. That would give me plenty time to get lunch somewhere and not arrive too early at Nightingale House.

Brenda chatted relentlessly over breakfast again, and told me of the cycle races that they have over the Pass, following the same route I did. She said that all the cyclists found the most difficult part was the ride north out of Applecross. I certainly did! She went on and on about all kinds of stuff, got out photographs of her family, and even showed me photographs of Liverpool footballers. I politely listened as I ate.

Bike had spent the nights outside in her garden with Trailer’s wheels for company, so after breakfast I went out to check things over. All was perfect as usual, and I went back inside to finish off my packing. It was a chilly, bright sunny morning again, so I wrapped up warmly making sure that I had a change of top and shorts at the top of my packing. Then I carried Suitcase outside to reunite it with it’s wheels and towing arm. I’d felt very tired the previous day, but felt good and fit this morning, and eager for the off. Today I head south!

Off I went through the quiet village. It was only 7.30 and no-one was about. The place was silent. Even the award-winning Spar shop hadn’t opened yet. I pedalled off into a headwind, actually I was happy about that, because I was heading north to make my way round the loch, before turning south down wind! Great! Passing the golf course I’d passed a couple of days previously, and then turned right at the head of the loch.

I had studied an Ordnance Survey map of the area, on the wall in the Lochcarron Hotel and knew I had a steep hill to climb on the other side of the loch, and before long, I found it. Not only was it steep, but it was long too. I pulled over at one point to rest. The problem with stopping, is you have to get going again, and with towing a heavy load, momentum becomes a problem. I had to have both feet on the pedals before pushing off, so I needed somewhere to hold on to. There was nowhere on this hill except trees! I stopped near a likely-looking pine tree and rested. My legs relaxed and my breathing calmed down, then I grabbed a branch and very unsteadily mounted Bike. Push, and go. It worked! Wobbly, but it worked!

Further up, not yet at the top, I found a picnic area over to the right, so I rode in and sat at one of the tables for a while. From there, it was easy to get going, and I carried on up the hill, making it all the way from there. The downhill stretch was very welcome, and I hurtled down at quite a lick.

I pulled off the main road to pay a little visit to Plockton, a little village on the coast. Very pretty place with a sheltered bay surrounded by houses, shops and pubs. We visited there in ‘84 with the girls, we all went paddling in the sea, marvelling at all the brightly coloured little fish swimming around our toes. The water was very warm and shallow, perfect for big and little kids alike. I sat at a table and surveyed the place. Nothing seemed to have changed. (but perhaps a bit) Then off I went again, to visit more memories of that holiday.

We had rented an RN married quarter in a little place called Erbusaig, a mile or two inland from Kyle of Lochalsh. We spent a few days there and hardly used the car, we’d walk down into Kyle or to the little pub called the Tingle Creek. The village was quiet and peaceful, we had a wonderful time. Outside the front, there was a tiny tumble down farm with chickens running about. They had lived in an old and rusty split-screen Morris Minor traveller. We hardly saw a soul about.

Anyway, into Erbusaig I rode.

What a shame! New houses, the little pub turned into a hotel, the farm gone and a modernised building in its place. The married quarters were obviously private dwellings now, all tarted up and with nice gardens. I tarried a while, and made my way down to Kyle along the road we used to walk.

Euch! Another disappointment! The road engineers had been at it again. The corners and profile of the pretty road had gone. It had been widened and straightened, obviously to take all the extra traffic. Cars and vans overtook me at a rate, the peace and tranquillity I remembered had completely vanished. I wouldn’t want to be a pedestrian on that road now, let alone with two little girls in tow.

So had the Kyle of Lochalsh I remember too. I was met by a throbbing and bustling town full of tourists and locals alike. Cafes and shops everywhere, traffic lights and big road junctions, car parks and commercialism everywhere. No doubt all the locals think it’s brilliant - prosperity and jobs, but what a shame it is that people want it like that. It was so sad, though actually I wasn’t surprised that things had changed. The place seemed to be ruined.

I left, and made my way along the modern road to the modern bridge over to Skye, not expecting to be impressed at all. I saw where the Skye ferry used to berth, and could only guess how Kyleakin on the other side of the water must be like a ghost town now. We had been foot passengers over there, and wandered around the town sitting on the grass eating our ice creams. So long ago!

Kyle of Lochalsh and Skye Bridge

The bridge was steep both up and down, with no toll. I remember reading about the furore of the toll charges when the bridge first opened, and how the local people boycotted them, some were even prosecuted and fined huge amounts. After the authorities wound their necks in, fines and compensation were sorted out, but I’m sure the people concerned have bitter memories. All seemed to be forgotten as I rode into Skye. I stopped at the first roundabout to get my bearings and look at my map. I didn’t have time in my schedule for much of Skye, I’d have needed another day or two away on tour to see the far end of the island - it’s a big place. Instead, I rode out along the A87 for just a few miles, before turning south on the A851 for Armadale.

The A87 was an awful road, busy with thundering traffic, and straight and boring. I had no particular preconceptions or ideas what Skye was going to be like. I was expecting hills and scenery I suppose, but there was precious little of it - where I was, at least. It was open farmland and barren moorland, fairly flat and uninteresting. Oh well, I just carried on, found my right turn, and headed south.

The A851 was equally as awful - as boring and straight as the A87 but with less traffic. Worse still was the very evident old road that this new one used to be. This road had been modernised with no regard whatsoever to the countryside that it was passing through. No doubt the drivers of the lorries and delivery vehicles like it, but I’m sure tourists don’t. Such a shame. The old road was blocked off with huge rocks to stop anyone using it, I did consider squeezing Bike and Trailer through, but I wasn’t sure if I would have been able to get out at the far end! The old road snaked this way and that, over little stone bridges and up and down the hills, sometimes crossing the new road and reappearing on the other side. All the time, the huge boulders blocked the entrances and exits. The new road just went straight on, regardless. I went straight on too, getting grumpier and grumpier about the stupid waste of scenery.

The new road was still under construction further south as I approached Armadale. The villages of Ferrindonald, Kilmore and Kilbeg were like motorway construction sites. Traffic lights populated the rough terrain, trying to regulate the traffic. They didn’t succeed too well, as the delays seemed to be all wrong with traffic coming to a standstill halfway through. I carried on, even through red lights, bumping my way along the half built and half dismantled roadway. The villages were busy with local traffic, kids played in the school playgrounds, everybody seemed to be going somewhere though this construction site! It was quite fun to watch, but sad to see the character of the villages being wiped out before my very eyes.

I saw the ferry at Armadale across a bay as I rode along, I guessed it was the 1255 and wondered if I should put a spurt on and get there in time, but I thought better of it, wanting lunch instead. I only had a dozen miles to ride at the other side, so I had bags of time. I rolled into to Armadale and found the ferry port easily - you can’t miss it, it’s down by the sea! Cars were starting to arrive and queuing up ready for the 1425 ferry. I looked about and saw a cafe with picnic tables on a gravelled area, and a patio area on decking as well. They were bathed in the early afternoon sunshine. Great! I wheeled Bike and Trailer over, removed my helmet and mitts, and clomped onto the wooden decking and bagged a small table overlooking the sea and jetty. It was a bit blustery, but quite warm enough in the sunshine. I’d stopped and changed half way through Skye as I was a little too warm, donning my light top and shorts, however as I sat there at the cafe, I pulled on a warm top .

As I busied myself getting comfortable, a couple on the next table were being served their lunch. It looked wonderful, so I decided to order what they were eating! I went into the cafe and asked a pot of tea and “one of those that that couple are having.” The waitress smiled and said, “A seafood salad and a pot of tea, that will be £11 sir.” Not cheap, I know, but worth every penny. It was gorgeous. Prawns, squid, a little crab, pasta, and a green salad. I cleared my plate (becoming a habit!) and ordered another pot of tea.

As I arrived at Armadale, I stopped my Garmin computer, ready to restart at the other side on the mainland. The trace on my laptop should appear as a straight line on the map - instantaneous travel from one side to the other! No mileage and no time.

The ferry came in, cars started their engines and I rode over to take my place in the queue. It was only then that I found out that I had to buy a ticket before I boarded! I just expected to pay onboard. Silly me! I paid for me and Bike, and rejoined the queue, not before chatting to a chap in a rather posh vintage Bentley, there two Bentleys, one black and one a dark red. I was informed that they were 1959 Bentley Continentals. The black one was the last they made and the red one, the second to last. They were absolutely perfect and well looked after, and I congratulated the chap for having such a great car. I added that I expected that cars like those must cost a fortune to run and be serviced. I was answered with a knowing look down at Bike, with the acknowledgement that a bike like mine must cost a fortune too! He was right, it’s all a matter of scale. The gentlemen and their ladies were on a driving holiday, and were popping over to Arran for a day or two. I said that I might see them again!

We boarded- I had to walk on and I was asked to place Bike and Trailer over to the right against the bulkhead, well out of the way of the motor vehicles. I had the only bike on the ferry. I leant Bike up very carefully and stood next to it, hanging my helmet on the handlebars with my mitts inside. I looked at the view of Skye and over to Mallaig in the distance, knowing it would only be a half-hour crossing and planning to stay outside with Bike. It was not to be.

Bentleys on the ferry.

A uniformed chap came over and told me that passengers weren’t allowed to remain on the vehicle deck during the passage, and I’d have to go up to the passenger seating area. I obeyed, but I wasn’t happy, so I clomped up the metal stairways in my cycling shoes, holding on to the hand rails for fear of slipping. My cycling shoes aren’t build for walking much, let alone on steel stairs!

Bike and Trailer on the ferry.

Just before I walked away from Bike, a chap in a yellow hi-viz jacket and a bump-hat came over for a chat. He was a keen cyclist, and we chatted about this and that and all things cycling. Yet again, Bike was a magnet to the interested.

We met again up in the lounge area and continued our conversation. He is a road engineer and had been onto Skye to see how the road improvements were getting on. I didn’t let my feelings out to him, I didn’t have to, he let them out to me! He hates the way the countryside is being raped by modern roadbuilding. He said that the new roads are the way they are because of the EU standards for roadbuilding. They have to be built with gradients not exceeding a certain figure, same for the minimum radius for bends, consequently new roads are boring! Sad but true. Still on the subject of roads, he advised me to get on the new road out of Mallaig, as the old one has a very steep gradient. Ironic, or what!

The ferry docked a few minutes late as another craft was in the way, or something. Anyway, off the ferry I went. I wasn’t allowed to ride during disembarkation either, so pushed Bike and Trailer up the steep jetty and onto the road, then out on my way to Arisaig, restarting Garmin as I left.

The road to Arisaig.

Arisaig was only a short hop down the road, so I rolled into the village not long before 4pm. I couldn’t actually find Nightingale House, so asked a lady in a garden, she pointed the way and off I went, only to find that I’d passed it earlier! Opening the gate, I discovered a note on the door saying that “Susan” was out walking and would be back by 4.30. I unhitched Trailer, left it by the front door and rode down into the village to find a pub.

I found a pub all right, the trouble was, the bar was closed! So I sat outside chatting to some other disgruntled people. It appeared that the bar was actually open, but the only staff there at the time didn’t know how to change a barrel, so they’d gone off to find someone who could! Good grief!! Anyway, I only had less than half an hour to wait before Susan would be back. I left at 4.30, still without a beer, and made my way up the hill to the B+B.

Profile of Lochcarron to Arisaig

My route from Inverness to Arisaig

People have asked me Things. Some before the ride, some during, and some after. Here. I’ll try to answer a few.

An ever-present problem in the West Of Scotland! They didn’t present a great difficulty to me, but were very annoying, nonetheless. There were many times I whizzed down through the trees, and the blighters would splatter themselves all over me. They’d be rattling on my helmet and glasses, they’d stick to my sweaty arms and legs, and then some would bite. I had little spots and lumps thanks to them. Euch! I took insect repellent with me, but didn’t use it because I never react too badly to the bites.

When I stopped, it only took a minute and they’d be all over me! I changed into shorts and a light top during my ride through Skye, I didn’t hang around much! Stripping off behind bushes away from the road is NOT to be recommended because of the swarms of the little sods!

Bike Reliability
Perfect. Except for the front gear-changing and a puncture. The front gears were a constant problem. I have a triple chainring system, and every now and then, when changing from the middle ring to the small ring, the chain would come off! Very aggravating, especially when I was about to climb a hill and needed to keep going. I’d have to stop and refit, luckily a quick and easy job, but I wished it wouldn’t didn’t happen. The defect was easily sorted, but it needed time and concentration in the quiet of an evening. It wasn’t just a matter of adjusting the limit-stops, but more of an alignment problem, and I couldn’t be bothered, so just put up with it. In hindsight, I should have done something. All repaired now of course!

The puncture was almost self-inflicted. Tyres lose their pressure over days, especially very high pressure tyres like mine. The front became a little too soft, but I actually liked the softer ride. The trouble was, I went over a particularly sharp and rough cattle grid, and the rim bottomed out on the iron rails so I stopped to see if there was any damage - all seemed ok, so carried on regardless.

Two or three days later it went BANG!

Yes, there were some days when I started tired, but generally I was very ok indeed. My strength increased as I went. I was fit and strong before my tour, but by half way through I was Super Fit! I lost nearly a stone, and as my Garmin had a heart-rate monitor, I watched my average heart-rate fall day by day.

Sore bottom?
Not much at all. I made sure I used antiseptic cream every day to stave off infections, and had a lot of rests either standing up on the pedals or getting off for a proper rest. I have a good saddle, it’s rock hard, but fits my bum perfectly.

More FAQs later!

I’d left the Arisaig Hotel without a beer, if you remember.......

I arrived at the B+B to find Susan had returned from her walk. A middle-aged couple had arrived too, and we all introduced ourselves to each other. Susan took us up to the kitchen for a cuppa. and she offered us a variety of teas, but we guests were happy to have “normal” Afternoon Tea. She chatted as she made the tea. The other guests had been walking on the Isle of Muck and stayed over there for a few days, it seems that Susan knew their hosts over there. The view from the kitchen had Muck and Eigg in the distance lit up by the sun. A wonderful scene.

Nightingale House was a detached property with a wide wooden gate leading to a gravelled drive. The garden was mainly shrubs with a small wildlife pond to one side. There was no garage or shed, so Susan asked if I’d mind leaving Bike outside around the back in the shelter of the eaves. No problem, I had my saddle cover. No I didn’t! As it turned out, I’d left it at Lochcarron! Oh well.

Nightingale House
My bedroom was bottom left under the veranda

Inside the front door, there was a large hallway with polished wooden stairs curving up to the left, and three downstairs bedrooms with a large loo and shower room. The kitchen and living rooms were on the first floor. The well-equipped kitchen was large and set at an angle to the downstairs, with large triangular windows on two sides and a veranda led away through some glass doors. A large dining table was in the middle of the room, and we all sat around.

After our tea, I excused myself and wheeled Trailer right into my room, unzipped Suitcase and sorted my stuff. Straight into the shower! And what a shower! The glass doors were heavy and large, the water as hot as I could stand, and what a deluge! Great! Nice big fluffy towels too.

I crashed out on the single bed, and wrote my log. Then got out my MacBook to upload Garmin’s information. It was then I found out that Nightingale House had a wireless broadband connection that didn’t need a password. My MacBook just joined the network, and I started to receive emails! This is good, thought I.

I checked our Hotmail account and checked into the CTC Forum. Hilary had kept abreast with the goings on, especially the comments regarding my Grand Tour. People were asking how I was getting on, and Hilary was keeping them up-to-date. Now it was my turn!

I dressed, and walked back down to the pub. A young Australian girl was behind the bar, and I ordered a pint of Deuchars, asking if I could start a tab because I was going to eat. I sat down in the bar and surveyed the menu. Not much suited my taste buds, but settled on Chicken a la Creme. The beer wasn’t good, but the nosh was quite nice. The girl asked me if I wanted chips or rice, I replied rice (it made a change from pub chips), but she came back a minute or two later quite embarrassed. It only came with chips! She just expected it could come with rice. So did I, it would fit better and would’ve been nicer. Anyway, as I say, I enjoyed it.

I ordered another of the rather mediocre beer, paid up and walked around, looking at the pictures and things on the walls. It was quite a big place, though only a few people in, and none of them eating.

I wandered back to the B+B via the village and harbour area, then into my room. The mobile signal was weak or non-existent and I managed to text Hilary, but only just, so I rounded it off with an email, and uploaded photographs too, courtesy of Nightingale House.

I was asleep before 9pm.

ARISAIG to OBAN (the easy route)
I woke early, as usual, and I could hear rain. The pond in the garden wasn’t far from my bedroom window and I could hear the plops plopping constantly. I looked out, and felt a little crestfallen. It was going to be the first wet day so far - all the way from Edinburgh - five full days of cycling done in fine weather, but now there was a change.

I’d fretted for a day or two about my route down to Oban. I had planned on a scenic ride toward the Ardnamurchan peninsular, turning right at Lochailort via Moidart and the north side of Loch Sunart via Strontian and Glen Tarbert. I chickened out. I was frightened of the hard ride that I expected it would be. Eighty-odd miles on the coast, and up and down the hills. Instead I chose a ride staying on the main road at Lochailort, and going via Glenfinnan, but turning to the south of Loch Eil onto the A861 leading to the west side of Loch Linnhe. That ride should be 10 miles shorter, and far easier.

Now, with the prospect of a wet day, I was definitely going to take the shorter easier route. In fact I felt better about it, the weather had made the decision for me!

I’d asked Susan for an early breakfast, so at 7am I climbed the stairs into the kitchen. I’d packed my stuff, and prepared my gear with my Gortex top all ready to wear. The kitchen was strewn with everything a good B+B should have at breakfast time. Bowls of fruit, boxes of cereals, jugs of milk and fruit juices, and the table set and laid out beautifully. Susan and I chatted about the weather and this and that, whilst I tucked into a bowl of muesli with a large pot of tea. I followed it with egg and bacon with a couple of rounds of lovely home-made bread.

I was away at 8am, up the hill and south-east out of the village. After I’d switched Garmin on it said that I was 20 odd feet below sea-level! I stopped, switched it off and on, let it settle down, and pressed Reset. Still the same! Odd! So I carried on regardless.

The road away from Arisaig
(taken in the evening, before the rain in the morning!)

A few miles out along the A830 near Kinlochnanaugh, Garmin still wasn’t right, I worried that the thing was broken or something. I switched it off and back on again but forgot to press Start as I moved away, only remembering 3 miles further down the road! Never mind eh? I only lost a bit of data. But anyway, after that, all seemed well, and I powered along the road into the drizzle and damp. Why Garmin thought I was below sea-level remains a mystery.

Although it was damp, it wasn’t cold and I felt fit and well. I whizzed past the Glenfinnan Monument that marks Bonnie Prince Charlie’s uprising, then turned to the right at Kinlocheil onto the A861 as I planned. I should then find my way to my second ferry crossing at a narrow bit of Loch Linnhe. The Corran Ferry is only a short hop across to the busy A82. It’s free for bicycles and foot passengers.

The A861 is a wonderful road. Totally flat and level, almost like a rail bed. Goes on for miles to the south of Loch Eil then bends south along the west side of upper Loch Linnhe. Not only was the road flat and level, it was almost empty of traffic. I hardly saw a soul despite riding through hamlets and settlements along the way. Sixteen miles of absolute joy. The scenery was great looking across the lochs despite the damp. At one point I spied a steam train on it’s way to Kyle from Glasgow on the West Highland line puffing away.

As I turned south, I could see the rotten heavy traffic on the A82 across the loch. Great! No traffic here! All too soon, my solitude would be broken by the ferry crossing, and then back into throbbing noisy traffic. This was not be until after I’d called in at the Inn at Ardgour on the peaceful side of the ferry!

I leant Bike and Trailer up against a wall under an overhanging part of the roof, took off my wet mitts and helmet, shook myself off and wandered in. Beer was what I wanted, but it’s difficult riding any distance after a couple! So like a good boy, I ordered tea and sandwiches. Very welcome, I can tell you. Tuna Mayonnaise and a pot of tea - wonderful! I chatted with the landlord and his wife about Kyle of Lochalsh. It seems they were brought up there, and talked about how it was a wonderful place to have been a child there. They had so much freedom and the place was so friendly and quiet. Not so now! They agreed with me that the place had changed out of all recognition. Sad.

A chap came in, a regular I think, and we all chatted about how the West of Scotland was so different now. I complained about the road building techniques, but the chap disagreed with me completely, saying I didn’t have to live here! The transport drivers want a need a more efficient route away from the narrow bridges and corners. He was right in a way, really. Though I didn’t agree completely.

The drizzle hadn’t completely gone by the time I’d finished lunch, and I boarded the next ferry. The day was brightening up by the hour. Mile after mile of busy traffic passed and overtook me on the A82. It’s a road I always tell LEJOG’ers to miss out, and no wonder! Awful, but I had no choice in the matter.

The Ballachulish Bridge across Loch Leven was a bit difficult with the traffic and crosswinds, and a part of me wondered whether I should go on the Old A82 right around Loch Leven via Kinlochleven, but the extra mileage stopped me. It would’ve added a dozen miles or more. I remember the bridge being built in the mid 70s and how it helped to modernise the West Coast Route.

From there I joined the A828 towards Oban. The traffic levels decreased somewhat, but it was still busy. Luckily, the rain had completely gone, and the wind picked up behind me. I flew! Top gear for miles! I was in fine fettle, and enjoyed the fitness and strength surging through my legs.

Even though the weather was in my favour, the road dragged. It seemed ages since I left Arisaig, and after all the distance I’d done, I’d not passed through a town or any large habitation. By effectively by-passing Fort William, I’d by-passed everything. There were hamlets and collections of houses and the odd hotel, but I was going through an area that everyone wanted to pass through! I stopped a few times to attack my rations, and tried to text Hilary. Either there was no signal, or the midges would home in on me before I’d got a few lines down. I HAD to keep going.

Eventually, Oban came nearer. The ride had been boring, really. I knew that the the A861 had been idyllic and the A82 and A828 were busy, but the ride was still boring. No towns to explore, no hills to challenge and admire, no scenery to gawp at, and nowhere to rest and put my feet up without being infested by the midges. Oban couldn’t have come soon enough as far as I was concerned.

The Connel Bridge over the mouth of Loch Etive was very difficult. The roadway was narrow and controlled by traffic lights, so I mounted the pavement that was labelled for cycles too. It was very narrow and about a foot above the roadway with regularly spaced lamp posts, or was it stanchions, that I had to get around. Difficult enough with a large bike, but with a trailer too, it was very difficult. Even more difficult was the fact that a family of cyclists were coming towards me on the same side! To their credit, the mother shepherded the three children into the side to let me pass. There was no way at all that any of us could have moved out onto the road with that drop. I gingerly made my way past, and thanked them profusely. Off the bridge I rode, and onto the A85 into Oban.

I rolled up the drive of the Youth Hostel at 4.15. The place is a stone-built house right on the esplanade overlooking Oban Bay and the Island of Kerrera. The sun was shining, and CalMac ferries to the Isles plied their way in and out. Next door to the Oban Youth Hostel was a large hotel. I smelled beer! So I did a U-turn and rode into the front carpark of The Oban Bay Hotel. Helmet off, I clomped up the steps across a patio and into the bar. I ordered a pint of Highlander at 4.5% at £3.30! Good grief! It’d better be worth it, I thought. I clomped back outside and sat at a round table and drank deeply.

A couple were sat at the next table drinking Champagne ( I wondered what THAT cost!) and started chatting. They had come across from Northern Ireland and driven up from Stranraer. It was her 40th birthday the following day, and her husband had treated her. We chatted further, or should I say, she chatted further. It appears they’ve both been married before, and she couldn’t express how much she loved her new man, he just sat and smiled. as she complemented him all the time. It was so sweet. He’d been in the Royal Marines, and really missed the life and we swapped stories about our respective service lives. They supped their Champagne, and I finished my beer, so I got another. The chatting continued in the lovely surroundings. They offered me another beer when I got to the bottom of my second, but I declined. 4.5% is too strong for me after a long ride. I was hungry and the beer was going straight to my head.

I tore myself away, and left them to their celebrations wobbling my way back next door to the hostel. I checked in and locked Bike away round the corner. I hauled Trailer up the stairs and into the dorm. Other than at Brenda's at Lochcarron, I’d managed to get Trailer and Suitcase as a complete unit into my rooms. Much easier like that. As I locked Bike away, I saw a lovely Holdsworth bike in the lockup, all Campagnolo equipped like mine. I wondered if I’d be able to recognise the owner, and if we’d meet. I admired it, (then admired mine too). I never found out who owned it, and it was still there when I checked out the following morning. How can you recognise a Holdsworth owner?

The Oban Bay Hotel with Oban Youth Hostel beyond

I showered, went downstairs to the dining room and scoffed some fruit and nuts washed down with a Lucozade recovery drink. I was very hungry as I’d not eaten very much since the Inn at Ardgour, and that was only sandwiches. I made my mind up to go down to the town and find a chip shop, and a cash point too.

Fish and chips wrapped up tight, I wandered back to the hostel and sat in the lounge and devoured them. Wow! That felt better! Over my repast, I chatted to a couple of cyclists touring The Isles, they were off to Harris and Lewis the following day, I wished them luck and Bon Voyage. They were very interested in my Grand Tour and we swapped notes and information. By the way, neither of them were the owners of the Holdsworth.

I phoned Hilary on her mobile, she was at the Rising Sun as it was Friday, and we chatted later when she’d returned home. Meanwhile I wrote up my log, charged my phone and uploaded Garmin into MacBook.

I was fast asleep by 9pm (again).

Profile of Arisaig to Oban

Before I retired, I’d asked for a breakfast as advertised at £3.50. I also asked about the time it would be served. “What time do you want it?” came the reply.
“Six o’clock?”
“Yeah, if you want.”
“You can have it now, if you want.”
“It’s a packed breakfast and available any time, we’re on duty 24 hours here,” the warden explained.
“Shall I pay now?” I asked.
“No need. Pay when you get it.”
“Ok, see you later.” and I went upstairs to bed.

I was awake at 5.30, and sorted my stuff. The morning was glorious. The room looked out over the bay, and was bright and clear for a good cycling day over to Arran. Then I went downstairs to the foyer and saw the same warden as the evening - how many hours do these chaps work? - and handed over my £3.50. He returned from the back of the office with a small carrier-bag.

I walked into the dining room and opened the mysterious package and peered inside. It contained sachets of tea, coffee and sugar, muesli, a blueberry muffin, a carton of orange juice, a Kellogg's Nutrigrain Bar and a half-pint polystyrene jug of milk. Great value and I scoffed the lot except the coffee, the Nutrigrain Bar, and some of the milk. I decided to pack away the coffee and the bar, but give away the milk - a chap had turned up in the kitchen, and I gave it to him.

I’d had a good night’s sleep, but had awoken during the night with cramp in my right thigh. Painful, or what! I jumped out of bed, stood up, and flexed my leg for a few minutes to relax it. It was a sensation that would repeat itself during my tour.

An interesting finger-post!
Carved from a tree, I think, at the side of the A816 at the junction of B8002 to Ardfern

I left Oban before 7am, heading south down the A816. The road was flattish and easy-going, and the wind was in my favour once again, even though people had been saying that the prevailing winds will blow me north! These winds were blowing me south along the coast - great! I went along the side of Loch Feochan and through the hamlets of Kininver, Kilmelford and Kilmartin, then made my way down to Lochgilphead. It was lunch time, so I stopped there and called into a cafe for a bacon roll, and ate it at the park area looking over the loch whilst sitting on a bench. A crow kept an eye on me and the rubbish bin near by, as I polished my roll off with my breakfast Nutrigrain Bar. Still, the crow kept an eye on me.

We used to drive to Lochgilphead for a day out when the girls were little, and I pictured them playing on the swings and slides. Not much had changed there and, daydreaming as I was, I absorbed the atmosphere of the place, and realised I’d left the tranquility of the West and was nearing the bustling cities of Southern Scotland. I could hear the accents and watch the mannerisms of the people about. Glasgow wasn’t far away.

Then came Tarbert. It was a lovely and picturesque fishing village absolutely spoiled by the loud music from speakers booming out over the harbour. There was a market of sorts, with cheap and nasty stalls selling stuff I wasn’t interested in out of what looked like Portakabins. Some commentary was on for something I couldn’t see. The atmosphere was disappointing in a place that should have been great - maybe I didn’t like what was on offer! I stopped and ate a Tracker or two, and drank some water.


I rode down through the village, past the shops, looking for a likely cafe or something. Nothing took my fancy, and I carried on to see a bit more. I wasn’t impressed, so turned round and headed south further into Kintyre, looking for the right hand turn along West Loch Tarbert for Claonaig and the ferry to Arran.

Arran in the distance

The ride had been both easy, and hard. The wind had definitely been in my favour, but the hills had been very steep, especially as I made my way over from one coastline to the other across The Mull. The area from Kennagcraig to Claonaig was in desolate countryside over windswept moorland, and I descended into Claonaig for the 1350 ferry.

There was nothing there except the jetty for the ferry: completely unlike Armadale on Skye. No cafe, no shop, no amenities, no nothing! I boarded the ferry and bought a ticket for Arran in the little office just off the cargo deck. I didn’t have to leave Bike and Trailer and go up to a lounge on this ferry! The ticket chappy suggested that I bought a Hopscotch Ticket as I was going to leave Arran the following day. The ticket cost £9 odd including Bike. By all accounts, I’d save a few bob by buying two ferry journeys at once.

Bike and Trailer on the ferry to Arran

I arrived at Lochranza at soon after 2pm. As before, I’d stopped Garmin as I embarked on the ferry, restarting as I arrived on the island. I rode away from the jetty and realised that I hadn’t remembered to check where the Youth Hostel was with respect to the ferry terminal. I knew it wasn’t far, but had to ask my way, as it turned out it was only along a bit and on the left.

Lochranza Bay

The sun was shining in a mid afternoon sort of way, the hostel was closed although the public rooms were fully open I unhitched Trailer in the front garden and wheeled it into the foyer next to the a bench at the bottom of the stairs, then rode back down the road. Another cyclist, a local, was passing, and I caught him up and asked where the nearest pub was. We rode together for a short while whilst he pointed out the Lochranza Hotel. That’d do me!

Lochranza Castle

In for a pint or two of Deuchars(again) at £3.20 a pint to wash down a rather nice Sausage Casserole, then back to the hostel for 5pm and opening time to check in and lock Bike away. I wasn’t happy with the bike shed. The door wasn’t lockable, no problem really, and the walls were rough, no problem either. The roof was just corrugated and draughty, no problem too. The problem was that there were a dozen bikes in there, squashed inside a rough shack, all leaning against each other. I moved one aside to lean Bike up against a clean bit of wall. All the value of the bikes in there didn’t add up to anywhere near the value of even the Mercian paintwork of Bike!

I hauled Trailer up the stairs into a large dorm. Another chap was in there, he was on a walking holiday on Arran, and we chatted about the scenery on the island and hillsides we could see out of the dorm window. We were the only occupants of the dorm.

I showered, dressed, charged and uploaded Garmin, then walked back down to the hotel for more beer, despite the price. It was a boring pub, the barman was unfriendly and inefficient, it was understaffed and expensive, but it was busy in there - holidaymakers and locals alike.

Back at the hostel, I looked in at the bike shed to check all was ok. Horrors! I saw there were even more bikes in the shed, and two were leaning on Bike! I moved them out of the way, and wheeled Bike right out of the shed, into the hostel, and carried it upstairs and into the dorm, leaning it against one of the many empty bunks near mine. My room-mate understood completely. I breathed a sigh of relief and went downstairs and made myself a hot chocolate and drank it back upstairs lying on my bunk. I calmed down and drifted off into a relaxed and drowsy state.

A short while later, six burly chaps bustled in and instantly disturbed the peace. They all selected bunks and offloaded their rucksacks onto them, talking and laughing loudly. All of a sudden, this dorm was full! I jumped up off my bunk and offered to move Bike. The nearest chap said, “There’s a bike shed, you know.” I replied that I did know, and there was no way I was going to leave £2000 worth of bike in that place! He shrugged his shoulders, and I had to make up my mind what I was going to do.

I thought quickly, and managed to fit Bike through the gap above my bottom bunk and below the top one, into a bay window area. Bike leant up against my bunk, and I breathed a sigh of relief and got back to my relaxing, paying scant attention to the melee around me. The six blokes were on a walking/boozing/climbing/cycling/boozing holiday, and were off via the ferry to Claonaig tomorrow morning. I briefed them on the route. They weren't particularly interested, so I left them to it, sorting their stuff and the plans for their whisky they’d brought with them. The bottles sat in a corner “for later”. Then they all left, off down to the Lochranza Hotel. I fell asleep, expecting to be woken later.

Profile of Oban to Lochranza

I awoke very early, perhaps 5.30, and went down for a cuppa, ate some nuts and cheeses, then back up in the dorm, I quietly busied myself packing, marvelling at the fact that they hadn’t disturbed me during the night. They were all snoring. Good.

At 6.30, the door opened, and in came one of my room mates, rather drunkenly, he apologised to everybody, even the ones still snoring. One of his mates asked where he’d been all night. He explained he’d remained at the pub, discussing politics! I smiled to myself as he climbed into bed and wondered what time they were going to leave today. No early getaway for them!

Bike had spent a peaceful night next to my bunk, and Trailer was ready for the off. I planned on a short ride direct to Brodick over Glen Chalmadale which is one of only two decent hills on the island: one across the middle, and this one from Lochranza to Brodick. I’d ridden Arran some years before and wasn’t really interested in cycling it again. Some folk say that it’s “Scotland in Miniature.” I’m not so sure. It’s picturesque and wonderful alright, but when I rode around it, I did it in just half a day.

I wanted to get to Brodick and have some breakfast. I expected that there must be something there like a cafe or snack-bar. Anyway, I finished sorting my stuff and got Trailer and Bike down the stairs and into the little garden out at the front.

By the time I was leaving, the warden, a young lady of foreign extraction, was just opening up the office and she saw me bringing Bike downstairs. She commented: “We have a bike shed, you know.”
“Yes, I know,” I replied, “But I don’t want to stow £2000 worth of bike in THAT place! It’s awful!”

Then she said something that left me speechless:
“Why do you want to bring such a valuable bike on holiday with you?”

I said Good Bye and Thank You, and left for Brodick. The road went out through the village and into the countryside, then up over the 660ft climb. It was windy and cool up there, but dry and sunny. I felt fit and well, finding the hill just tedious. I climbed easily and steadily, making it into Brodick only an hour after leaving Lochranza.

I was hungry. Brodick was empty of people and traffic, let alone cafes. It was a Sunday morning at 9 o’clock and Brodick was still asleep. I rode into the ferry port expecting a cafe and lounge area, but the building wouldn’t be open until 10am, one hour before the first ferry of the day. I tuned round and went back to the town to find something - anything!

A Co-op supermarket was the only thing open, so I went in to discover a Hot Counter, picking up a hot sausage bap. I stood outside next to Bike and Trailer and devoured it. It wasn’t nearly enough, but I guessed that the ferry port would have a decent cafe when it opened.

Back at the port, I waited for 10am. A few other people waited too, and then the doors opened. Seats, warm surroundings and a ticket office was all that greeted us. No cafe, no hot drink machine, not even a packet of crisps! I’d got quite cold since arriving in Brodick, the wind picked had up and I chilled right off, so I was very grateful for the warmth of the port building but not the lack of grub.

The place started to fill up with travellers, some came on coaches and some in cars, and all the seats were eventually taken. I stood about, reading the posters and looking at the photographs hanging on the walls, plaques too telling when and who had opened the ferry port, even a photograph of King George IV and Queen Elizabeth’s visit to Brodick. I already had a ticket of course - my Hopscotch ticket I’d bought on the last ferry, so there was no queuing for me. People sat about, I wondered where they all came from and where they were going to. They were all probably Glaswegian and been to the island for the weekend.

The 11.05 ferry eventually arrived, it was far larger that the others this trip - Armadale/Mallaig and Claonaig/Lochranza. This looked like it meant business even though it would be only be an hour’s crossing. I queued up with other cyclists, none of whom were touring, they were all trippers.

Bikes were only allowed on board last after all the cars and pedestrians, and we all followed directions from the staff. I kept back, and positioned myself last into the bike stowage area. Following meant that I could see what was going on, and not be hustled. Bike and Trailer stayed connected, and I leant Bike VERY carefully against another bike or two and used the ropes and straps that the others were using. I made light of the experience to the others, but underneath I was rather anxious. At least by being last one in, I’d be first one out, and master of my own device.

All the bikes on the Ardrossan ferry

I clomped my way up two flights of stairs into the passenger decks. People were queuing up for food. Great! That’s what I need! So I joined their queue.

I’d been up for hours, I wanted some good wholesome food, but all that was on offer was Scottish Breakfasts. I didn’t want the full list of items, so just chose bacon and egg and a roll with a mug of tea. The chap behind the counter asked if I was sure that’s all I wanted. I nodded, then he asked if I wanted a paper. “No thanks.” I paid up an sat down, looking about at the other passengers and what they were eating.

Most, if not all, had a big fry-up each, a mug of tea or coffee and a Sunday tabloid. How very ‘Scottish’, I thought. If they’d allowed smoking, they’d all have had fags hanging out of their mouths too. I got the impression, that that’s what these people always eat on this ferry on a Sunday, the place was clean and well-kept, but very, very cheap and nasty. It wasn’t the most salubrious of surroundings!

The ferry docked at Ardrossan a few minutes late. I was anxious to get going, it was 12.15 in the afternoon, and I had 60 miles to ride to my next night’s stay, the SYHA hostel at Kendoon. Kendoon is high up in the hills of Dumfries and Galloway just north of St John’s Town of Dalry. I had to get through the conurbations of Irvine, Troon and Ayr first, and I made my mind up to get out of the place as soon and as quickly as I could. So I chose a dual carriageway route on the A78.

The road was as good as I’d expected, though busy, and I was out of the area like a rocket, shooting my was south-east, but I was still hungry! I wanted lunch so I turned off the A78 and found my way into Ayr and the first pub I could find that looked promising. I ordered a pint of Guinness and a steak pie and veg. The service was slow, Bike and Trailer were locked up outside on the pavement and I was nervous to leave them for too long. When the food eventually came it was just what I wanted. Great scoff! It really sorted me out. Much better value and much better for me than a greasy Full Scottish on a ferry.

I was away again soon after, and cycling southeast on the A713 towards Castle Douglas. The wind became a problem, it was still a north-easterly, but it was a bit confused. Sometimes across me, and sometimes against me. I fought on regardless. The worst thing, however, was the road surface. It was pitted and coarse, Bike vibrated under me, and the effect was to slow me down considerably. I had to negotiate the rougher bits, and watch out for manholes and drains too. Awful.

I rolled up to the hostel in the middle of nowhere, at the top of a windswept hill. It was a low single storey wooden affair, accessed by an iron gate in a stone wall. The place was desolate and wild. There was a house opposite and nothing else but farms in the distance. The air was cool and dry, the sky blue and clear. Swallows flitted in and out of the eaves.

I leant Bike up against the hostel wall, and clomped inside. Margaret and Geoff greeted me as “the volunteer wardens” and I signed in. They were both down-to-earth types from the North of England, and were chatty and interested in my ride. Geoff was a cyclist, and he took great delight in leading me round to the bike shed at the rear, all the time chatting away, admiring Bike and telling me of his cycling adventures. In the shed, he had his pride and joy, a road-bike with all the latest Shimano kit on, all carbon fibre and aluminium. (Sorry, but I can’t remember the make and model!)

There was only one other occupant at the hostel, so I had a room to myself. The little rooms had two double bunks in each, and I wheeled Trailer in to fit snugly between and under the window. The hostel was totally self catering with no pubs or eating places for miles, but as I’d eaten a good meal in the late afternoon, I didn’t need much for the rest of the day. I had nuts and cheese, soups and rice. A feast!

I showered and changed, sorted my laptop and Garmin, wrote my log, and went into the kitchen for a cuppa. I had tea bags, but no milk, so I asked very nicely if I could borrow a splash of milk from Margaret. She said ok, and I went into the lounge area to study the maps and pictures on the walls. Then I felt hungry, so chose my Uncle Ben’s Special Rice to microwave, and finished it off with a hot chocolate.

Two LEJOG’ers arrived at about 8ish, one came from Plymouth. They were taking a scenic route and they pulled out their annotated maps to show me and Geoff. We all chatted for ages about where they’d been and their route to come. I passed on advice, but I feel they’d made up their minds where they were going, so any advice from me regarding route was a waste of time!

I was in bed before 10pm, and no doubt asleep soon after.

Profile of Lochranza to Kendoon

Route from Arisaig to Kendoon

(Well, the Northern Bits anyway)

Awake early again, and listening to the swallows up in the eaves above the dorm window. The morning was fine and dry, but still with the strong NE wind. My route would be NE away from Kendoon, so I expected a hard ride up over the hill. Geoff had suggested the best route for me down to Dumfries, and assured me that the hill, though long, wasn’t difficult. I bowed to his local knowledge.

Into the kitchen for a cuppa (without milk) and review my plans for the day. Geoff and Margaret had suggested I would find a cafe in Moniaive, an hour or more away, and I reckoned I’d have a 6 hour ride to Longtown. I’d wanted to stay at the YHA in Carlisle, but it’s student accommodation generally, and only available during the summer holidays, so I found a B+B - Briar Lea in Longtown.

I was hungry, and all I had was more mixed nuts and, so I ate a handful or two with my cup of tea, then washed, dressed and left into the morning sunshine. Geoff very closely guarded the bike shed key, but as I wanted to be away before he and Margaret would be up, he very kindly left it for me, provided I promised to lock up properly and return the key to it’s rightful place on the hook. I did as I was bid, and I was gone.

The hill was as Geoff described, and it went on for five miles, up to a line of pine trees, then down at last into Moniaive. Cafe? Shop? No! Nothing open anyway. The only sign of life on that Monday morning at 9am were kids off to school standing in the bus stops. It was the Late May Bank Holiday, but that only applies to England, I was still in Scotland! It didn’t help with the shops and cafes though, all closed. Oh well, I plodded on to Dumfries dreaming of breakfast. The scenery became softer and greener as I left the hills and I drifted down the B729 through a tree-lined countryside. The school bus overtook me as I neared Dumfries.

I arrived there at 10am even more hungry, and found a cafe at last. Straight in and ordered a pot of tea and a “Guid Breakfast”. (Say it in a Scottish accent!) - Sausage, fried potato, egg, bacon and toast. Great! I walked out of the cafe a far happier cyclist than when I walked in!

I rode away and into the town square to phone Hilary and my mate Garry. He is a long-standing mate from yonks back when we were in the Royal Navy together. He and his family lived a few doors away from us back in the 70s. We lost contact with each other over the years, but the wonders of the internet got us together again. So I was going to meet him again after a gap of nearly 20 years. Me and Garry had a quick chat, and I gave him an ETA of 3pm for Longtown. He’d text later to say which pub!

I headed south towards the Solway Firth, following the B roads into Annan. It was very, very windy making it hard going. The wind was confused and blustery and the sky was clear and bright. I didn’t stop in Annan for anything in particular other than a rest and water. I was making good time, despite the wind, and tried to pace myself to get to Longtown at the right time.

I arrived in Gretna, still ahead of time, so called into a large pub on the corner of the main road. The wind was dreadful, and people only just managed to sit outside on the picnic tables without being blown away. I had a great deal of difficulty leaning Bike and Trailer in a suitable place. Just as I’d get it steady, the wind would gust. Eventually, I got it right, and clomped in through the heavy double-doors pushing hard against the wind. Up at the bar, I bought a pint of Guinness, and went back outside again.

Mistake! The wind was so fierce, I had a devil of a job getting out through the doors, and when I made it, the wind blew the head off my Guinness all over my front! I gave up, and went back inside to the relative peace and quiet. The place was an eating pub, and it was filled with diners. It would appear that Gretna observes English Bank Holidays, but kids going to school in Dumfries don’t. Strange.

Away again, and I rode around to find the “Old Blacksmith’s Shop” where the Gretna marriages are performed. I took a photo or two and texted Hilary asking if she’d marry me! She accepted of course!

Gretna Green

Guess where!

As I arrived at Longtown, a text came through from Garry and Barbara, Garry’s new partner, saying they'd be in The Graham Hotel. Typical navy man, first pub on the left! I rode round the back and locked Bike and Trailer to some wooden railings, and clomped in. Garry hadn’t changed a bit, well of course he had! So have I! We’re older and grey with a few wrinkles, but just the same inside. I was introduced to Barbara, and we chatted nineteen to the dozen about old times, the children, the navy, my ride, his life since we last met .........

Garry and Me

All too soon, it was time to go. We parted with hugs and fond good byes, and we went our separate ways - he and Barbara off home to Workington, me to find the B+B across town on the Brampton road.

Briar Lea is a large detached property with a gravelled drive all around. The gravel made it too difficult to cycle on, so I walked/scrunched my way round to reception, and checked in. It was a lovely place with gorgeous well-kept gardens and a large garage and workshop. I was shown up to my room, it wasn't en-suite, but the bathroom was just across the landing. I humped Trailer upstairs, unloaded, then went straight in for a bath! Wonderful! Cyclists with achy muscles and tired bodies need hot soapy baths! After that, I was hungry, so I dressed into shirt and trousers, then rode Bike back into the town to The Graham. I noticed that the menu looked good when we were in earlier, so guessed I wouldn’t be disappointed. I ordered a beer and “Roast of the Day” - pork with all the trimmings. Super! I sat at a table bathed in the early evening sunshine, and as I ate, I absorbed the atmosphere of a typical towny pub.

What I did notice, was something I’ve thought about a lot since. I’d spent 9 days cycling in Scotland, and even during the last few miles to The Border, I felt I was in Scotland. The pub in Gretna was very Scottish, with Scottish people in it. Gretna was very Scottish of course. But the thing is, Longtown is in England and only three miles from Gretna, but I couldn’t hear one Scottish accent. There was no tartan to be seen. No pictures of highland cattle. Nothing Scottish at all. I could have been three-hundred miles from Gretna! It was as if none of the locals - Scottish or English alike - migrate back and forth over the border. Odd.

Back at Briar Lea, I chatted to the owners about breakfast and check-out times and locked Bike away for the night, then wrote up my log and uploaded Garmin. I tried to access the Briar Lea WiFi system, but it wanted a password. Boo!

The following day, I was off to Grinton YHA high up in the Northern Pennines. There I was to meet up with a fellow CTC Forum member, ‘Asdace’. or his real name: Martin. He and I had exchanged info prior to my ride, and he’d offered to ride with me over to Whitby, a route I really wasn’t too sure about. It looked very complicated to keep away from Darlington, Stockton on Tees and Middlesbrough. Martin could take charge and shepherd me, showing me the sights. I phoned Martin to give him my ETA at Grinton. He’d already booked his stay there, and at Whitby too. He’s a local lad, and knows the area well. I would be in safe hands.

I surveyed my route to Grinton. It would be difficult, I knew. I’d aim for Brampton, cross the A69 and then start to climb up to Alston, supposedly the highest market town in England. Then up and over into Teesdale and to Barnard Castle, then on unclassified roads over more hills to Reeth and Grinton.

I slept peacefully, I needed to. I had a hard ride ahead of me.

Kendoon to Longtown

I was up before 6am. I packed and checked out my stuff whilst watching BBC Breakfast. The weather forecast was noncommittal but the wind was very much in evidence. It didn’t look too good outside.

Downstairs, I tucked into my breakfast. I’d booked an early one at 7am, they don’t usually start until 8am, but I asked nicely! Soon after, I checked out and pedalled away SE down the A6071. Brampton came and went, and I started to climb up the A689. The wind made it very difficult initially, but as I turned south at Halton Lea Gate, it was more on my left shoulder. Up and up to Alston. It got colder and colder as I climbed, and the weather started to have serious thoughts about rain.

In Alston, I took a wrong turn, and headed downhill. I guessed I was wrong, and pulled into the little station serving the South Tyneside Railway. I wandered around the platform area to have a look-see whilst I ate a couple of packets of mini cookies. It’s a narrow gauge diesel railway, and the train was in, with people getting on for the ride. The train and station were brightly painted and well looked after. Quite a nice place. I was wearing shorts and long-sleeved top, but I needed more. I donned my tights over the top of my shorts, then took my top off and put on a base layer, my top again, then my Gortex jacket. Much better.

Alston is a pretty place with a steep cobbled street running up through the centre which was where I had to go. The steepness wasn’t too much of a problem, but the cobbles, as you might expect, were uneven with big gaps in between. I nearly got off and pushed, but decided to ride on the pavement next to the carpark. Naughty, I know, but it was the only way! Off out at the top, and away onto a good surface on the B6277. Up hill again. Alston was at 1000ft and I still had another 1000ft to go, before crossing into Durham and dropping into Teesdale. It was hard going.

Middleton came, and I called into a steamy hot cafe. I was drenched through. The rain wasn’t lashing down, but it was a constant heavy drizzle, and with the wind, it was unpleasant to say the least. I removed my Gortex and aired it out on a chair next to me, whilst I ordered a pot of tea, and sausages beans and chips. I tarried a while there, whilst drying out and enjoying the food, taking my time with the tea.

Away again into the wet and misery. I say misery, but I was enjoying every pedal stroke really. Good weather and bad weather alike, make cycling the fun it is. Man and machine in perfect harmony against all that the Met Office can chuck out!

Middleton was still quite high at 800ft, and there were more hills to come as I carried on SE towards Barnard Castle. I was getting tired, and it was mid afternoon as I rode through the town. It looked a nice place, but I kept on going. I turned south and headed for the A66, having to go west along it for a few hundred yards. That road is a trans-pennine route for heavy traffic from Scotch Corner on the A1 getting over to the M6 corridor and SW Scotland. It wasn’t pleasant turning right across 4 lanes of traffic thundering by. Thank goodness for a central reservation. Dual carriagways are only a gnat’s whisker away from a motorway, and I had to negotiate a couple of lanes, waiting for a suitable gap to get across to the middle. This was repeated to make the other side. Surprisingly, it wasn’t too difficult, but I wouldn’t want to do it too often! I turned south and onto an unclassified road. This road had chevrons shown on the map. So with a deep breath, off I went.

I would say it was the most difficult road I’d ever cycled on. If you combine the facts that I was tired, it was windy and cold, I was pulling a heavy trailer AND it was steep, you can see what I mean. I stopped lots. The further I got, the more tired I became. The higher I climbed, the wetter and windier it became. The area is called Stang Top. I don’t know what ‘stang’ means, but I can guess! It was basically open moorland with forests of pines, and completely inhospitable climbing the 8 miles from 400ft at Barnard Castle to 1700ft at the top. Difficult, is putting it mildly.

Eventually, I dropped down and down into Reeth, and pulled over into a market square. I asked the way to Grinton YHA from a couple walking by, and they pointed me in the right direction. They also said there was a pub at the bottom of the hill called the Bridge Inn. Sounded good to me! It was raining heavily as I arrived at the pub, and called in for a much-need pint.

I was worn out and wet, and although I could have had another beer or two, I needed to get to the hostel to dry out and relax. I also needed food! I planned to come back to the pub later, but when I saw the last hill of the day, I thought better of it. The hostel did food, so it would be better to eat in, rather than walk out down the hill in the rain, only to have to walk back up again!

So off I plodded, up a 1 in 4 or so, and over a cattle grid. That grid was nearly the end of me and my tour. The grid was on a steep slope, and as I rode over the wet slippy steel, my back wheel lost all traction and it slipped. I came to an abrupt stop and nearly fell right off. Luckily, my front wheel had made it to the other side, and where my foot went down to stop me falling, landing only just on the tarmac. Had I been just a few inches further back, my foot would’ve gone right through between the rails. Broken ankle? Ambulance? Damaged Bike? I even don’t want to think about it!

No damage, Thank God, and on I plodded, eventually arriving at the hostel at 5.45pm. It had taken me 10 hours and 77 miles to reach Grinton from Longtown, and I’d done a total ascent that day of nearly 7000ft. I was all-in, soaked, inwardly bad tempered, and bedraggled.

As I checked in, the warden told me that Martin had already arrived, and that he’d got us in the same dorm. I booked an evening meal and a breakfast for the following morning, and I locked Bike away in the shed. I say shed, but it was a room in the gatehouse. Grinton YHA is a old shooting lodge, so there’s a cobbled courtyard, coach house and stables. Bike was wet and manky, and I determined to check it over later. Tyres were getting a little soft and chain certainly needed lubricating.

Up at the dorm, Martin and I greeted each other. Funny, knowing someone, but never having met before. We chatted about this and that, and plans for tomorrow. I showered and changed, hung my wet gear over the radiator, and went back down to give Bike the once-over. Poor thing. I gave the chain a good dousing with chain-lube, and decided to do the tyres prior to leaving in the morning.

We ate down at the dining room, having asked for a later meal than most of the other inmates. It wasn’t too good, I suppose the food would have been better had it been freshly made rather than being kept warm for us. I had lasagne, Martin a steak pie.

Back at the dorm, I went through the normal routine of log-writing and uploading. I phoned Hilary and then settled down for the night. I was dog tired.

Profile of Longtown to Grinton

Breakfast was booked for 8am - a lie-in! I had a solid night’s sleep, and awoke fresh and ready to ride. I went downstairs for a cuppa, then back up to pack. The zip on Suitcase gave me a bit of trouble, jamming and not lacing up properly. With a bit of fiddling and running it back and forth, all was well. It wasn’t the amount of stuff in there that was a problem, rather the fluffy fleecy jumper I’d brought with me. It’s loftiness was pushing against the zip, putting too much strain as I closed Suitcase.

Martin and I breakfasted together. Although we were first into the dining room, the food wasn’t very hot. I can’t understand why kitchen staff allow food to chill off, and why they don’t get the plates hot, it really annoys me. I had a full cooked breakfast: bacon, sausage, beans and scrambled eggs. The weather was still poor, the drizzle remained but at least the wind had dropped. Hopefully, it would cheer up.

Final packing, collecting bikes, loading up, and we were off towards Richmond. Martin had a large-scale cyclists’ map with all the routes and byways marked so he took charge of the route whilst I followed our progress on my map too.

We tracked along the Swale valley to Marske and then Richmond and Brompton on Swale and crossed the A1 to Scorton, then the A167 at Great Smeaton. We chatted endlessly as we rode along, sometimes Martin in front, and sometimes me. There were few hills to start with, but when one came, Martin would seem to sail up effortlessly, and me with the heavier load load sadly behind.

The weather brightened up considerably during the morning, and we stopped to take off layers. Later on, I even stripped down to shorts and short-sleeved top - such a change from the miserable weather of yesterday.

Next came Hornby, Appleton Wiske and Crathorne across the A19. Martin really knew his stuff. We avoided the big roads completely, following unclassified roads and finding quiet villages. I really enjoyed myself, I handed over to Martin totally and I just sat back, pedalled away, relaxed, and revelled in the scenery. Bliss.

After Hutton Rudby, we aimed at Great Ayton. Martin had told me about a pie shop there, Petch’s Pies are famous locally, he said. We called in at the village, and Martin treated me to one of the nicest pork pies I’ve ever eaten. Wow! Thank you, Martin!

We sat on a park bench by the trees opposite the shop and devoured our pies whilst reviewing the trip so far and discussing the route to come. Then we were off again, heading SE out of the village to Easby and Battersby and entered the North York Moors National Park. We avoided a big hill by following a rough track from Commondale to Castleton. The track was too rough for the narrow skinny tyres on Bike, but I took it very carefully and slowly. Martin sped on ahead and we met up again further on when tarmac reappeared, cycling together again through Danby and Houlsyke. Then came Lealholm.

Off Road!

I wanted to get onto the A171 for the final leg into Whitby, so Martin chose the route from Lealholm north and east to the main road. What he and I didn’t allow for, was the hill! My goodness! It went on and on and up and up and up! Good Grief! I ground my way up very slowly, taking the outside of the bends, even if that meant being on the wrong side of the road. It didn’t matter, the village was quiet with very light traffic. I zig zagged too, to lessen the hill. I made it without blowing a gasket, and found Martin sat on the grass at the top. He’d probably been there ages waiting for me! From the top of the hill, it was a short ride to the A171, but with a steep hill after a cattle grid at the bottom of a little valley.

On the A171 we joined the fast traffic heading on the north/south highway between Scarborough and Middlesbrough. The ride down to Whitby was fantastic. Four miles of freewheeling at 30mph or more!

We entered the town, Martin leading, he knew where he was going. I’d not been to Whitby since 1973, and that was only to drive through. Before that it had been 1959 as a seven year old on a family holiday! Through the traffic lights, over the swing bridge and round the quay to the first pub we saw. We leant or machines against the picnic benches outside the front, and clomped in for a beer each! Wonderful! It was nearly 5 o’clock, we’d cycled 70 miles and we were thirsty! Then up the very steep hill, past the abbey to the hostel perched high above the town.

We checked in to an old building that was very modern inside. We were each given a swipe card and told where the bike shed was. The instructions to get to it left a lot to be desired, but we worked it out in the end. The shed was a low building hidden round the back and down a gravelled slope. The swipe cards let us in, and the light came on automatically as we entered, and we settled our bikes for the night.

YHA Whitby

These swipe cards were just waved in front of a magic eye, not the usual design where you pass the card through a reader on the doors. A very clever idea. The same card would get us in through the front door and into our dorm. Hi-tech stuff.

The dorm was a two part room with a couple of double bunks in each part. Between the two halves there were en suite facilities - a loo and wash room, and a shower room. Very swish and modern. We chose a bottom bunk each in the far end that overlooked the gardens.

Unpack and shower were my first tasks, accomplished in double quick time. I relaxed on my bunk and stretched out. The bunks all had double sockets next to them, so laptop and Garmin got a good charge. I made sure to charge my camera and phone later in the evening too.

Then food rose to top of my agenda. We walked down the steep steps from the abbey and into the town. The Duke of York greeted us at the bottom of the steps, so in we went. I ordered a Courage Director’s and studied the menu. I immediately set on the brisket and veg. When it arrived, it was huge! Great, just what the doctor ordered! I devoured it hungrily, Martin had a steak pie and chips and ate as heartily as me! We had another pint each, then trudged back up all the 199 steps to the hostel.

Steep steps?

I made us both a hot chocolate, and we drank them in the dorm whilst I uploaded Garmin and reviewed the day’s ride. We chatted whilst we drank and discussed the hills and roads we’d come along. Martin had initially been going to cycle home to Stockton on Tees the next day, but he decided to stay another night. He wasn’t sure what he was going to do with his spare day, but probably go for a ride down to Scarborough or somewhere.

I lay down and drifted off to sleep, recalling the day’s ride, and knowing that the following day was going to be a holiday for me. I’d booked two nights there, to give me a day of relaxation and the ability to catch up on domesticity. Bike needed some TLC, I had a large pile of dirty washing to do, and I wanted to see Whitby.

I slept like a log.

Profile of Grinton to Whitby

The route from Kendoon across to Whitby

I was awake and up at 6.30, looking forward to breakfast. The price of a stay here includes breakfast, so I was going to make the most of it. I made myself a cuppa and looked around the place. There were plenty of rooms downstairs, dining room, lounge, TV room, conservatory, and even a conference room with a huge table. I also found the laundry room with a huge washing machine and an equally huge tumble drier.

Breakfast consisted of a self-service buffet, everything you could possibly wish for was laid out. I’ve no desire for cereals, so got stuck into a full cooked breakfast with toast and a couple of cups of tea and I was stuffed by the time I’d finished.

Next thing was my washing. I bundled up my smalls and cycling gear and took them to the laundry. The machine was massive against my small load. The thing even wanted money from me and washing powder! There was a big sink there too, and I went next door into the ‘members’ kitchen’ and took a good squirt of the washing-up liquid back to the laundry in a cup and used that in the sink for a hand wash. It was free, and I left it all to soak for a while, whilst I made myself another cuppa.

I rinsed everything out, it was quite clean! Aren’t I clever? Then I wrung it all out, shoving it into the dryer. That took a quid off me, and I set it going whilst I found a bucket and cloth to go and wash Bike.

It was lovely and sunny outside, and I spent a happy half-hour washing and cleaning all the grime of my precious steed. The wheels were caked in dark grey aluminium from the brakes, and the shiny paintwork streaked with road-muck. Soon, Bike was like a new pin, gleaming in the bright light. I checked all the cables and fittings - all was good and tight. I lubed up the chain and checked all the gears. The front changer was still giving me grief, allowing the chain to come off if I wasn’t careful. I couldn’t see anything wrong, and I didn’t want to get into a strip down situation, so I just left it alone.

My washing had finished in the dryer, but it wasn’t what I called dry, I really could have done with a spin dryer first. Any road up, the dorm was bathed in warm sunshine, so I laid out my washing on the window sill to catch the rays for the day. The socks were the main concern, they seemed to be the dampest. Anyway, they had all day and all night to dry!

Domestics done, I grabbed my camera and left for the town. First, I found the entry to the abbey, £5 to go in! When I was last there, you could just walk in! No wall, and sheep all over the place. It’s only some ruins, I thought £5 was a bit much, I wasn’t the only one either. Folk stood around discussing the price, and some, just like me, deciding not to bother.

Down to the town

I followed a footpath down the hill that brought me out not far from the pub that Martin and me had found when we first arrived. It was only about 10.30, too early for beer yet, so I carried on into the town centre over the swing bridge. The roads were packed with pedestrians, with cars squeezing their way through. I stood away from the crowds and just looked. What a place! So busy with tourists, all wandering about. It was teeming like an ants’ nest.

I took some photographs and tried to remember what it was like in the late 50s on holiday here. Certainly not like this. It was Blackpool without the piers and funfair. Gift shops, chip shops, amusement arcades, candy floss, ice cream, pubs, open topped busses, boat trips, the lot! There was a Count Dracula centre, burger vans, kids fishing for crabs, dog poo, litter ............... People actually come on holiday here, just like we did all those years ago. It was nice back then.

Whitby now has a bypass to the south of the town. The main A171 used to come straight into the centre and over the old iron swing bridge spanning the harbour mouth. I remember it as quite a bottle-neck when we used to come through on our way further north to Staithes. There’s no through traffic now, but still the bridge holds up what traffic there is. The main traffic now is pedestrians, and every now and then a boat needs to pass through, and a couple of chaps have to close the gates at either end of the bridge, and press the buttons that make the bridge swing out of the way. People gather round to watch the spectacle and gaze down at the boat passing beneath them. Such fun!

The Quay

I found the slipway down to the the beach where my sister and me used to play, when the tide was in all those years ago. I spent a few minutes there, reminiscing about our childhood.

Big Sis and me - 1959

I wondered if there was a bike shop in Whitby, and looked about me. I saw a police lady and asked her if there was one. “No, sorry.” came the reply. “Do you know,” she added, “There aren’t any real shops in Whitby. There’s a Co-op and a chemist, but that’s about it. Someone asked me the other day if there was a camera shop. There’s not! Imagine a tourist town like this, you’d expect a camera shop.” I sighed, and walked off to find a pub that took my fancy.

More Quay

A couple of beers later, I was hungry again, and found a butcher shop with a large display of pies and pasties in the window. I recalled Petch’s in Great Ayton, and wanted to recapture the moment, so bought a pork pie. It was lovely, though not as good as a Petch Pie, but lovely nonetheless. I walked in and out of the narrow streets as I ate, but then turned back to the butchers. The pie didn’t fill my tum, so I went in for another!

Another pub, and another beer or two, and another walk around, and I found a Whitby Jet jewellery shop. I popped in, the place was filled with all sorts of trinkets with polished black jet, and I selected a rather nice necklace for Hilary. I knew she’d love it, and she does!

I wandered back to the hostel via the church at the top of the hill taking a few moody pictures in the graveyard overlooking the town.

Moody gravestones

Back at the hostel, I phoned “Thirdcrank”(real name Mick) another of my CTC Forum mates. He’d volunteered his services to help me during my ride over the North York Moors the next day. My next destination was Ripon, and I wanted to climb Rosedale Abbey Chimney Bank reputed to be one of the steepest hills in the country at 1 in 3. There would be no way I could climb it with a trailer on the back, so as Mick lived in Yorkshire, he had suggested he could travel to Rosedale Abbey by car, meet me in the village and ferry Trailer and Suitcase to the top! I jumped at the chance, and we chatted on the phone discussing this and that, and my ETA at Rosedale.

In the late afternoon, I walked back into town and found a large fish and chip cafe. I sat down with a plateful of battered cod with a pile of chips squeezed in for good measure. A large mug of tea completed my meal, then afterwards walked back. I was actually quite bored with Whitby and wanted to get back to cycling. I needed the day off physically, but I didn’t have enough to do mentally, so I’d been kicking my heels for most of the day.

I lay on my bunk and fiddled with the laptop and looking at the photographs I’d taken so far on my Tour. Some of them were excellent. I reviewed my routes over the last 11 days, and studied my maps of routes to come. Martin came back, and we chatted for a while. He’d had a good day out. He'd taken a spin to Robin Hood's Bay and up to Sandsend, and planned on getting the train most of the way home the following day, and cycling the rest.

I went downstairs to look at the OS maps on the walls of the corridors, paying great attention to the contour lines and chevrons- I’m was going to have some climbs! I looked forward to it with relish.

After a chat with Hilary on my mobile, I turned in.

I slept well again. Breakfast would be at 7.30 then I’d be off and up into the hills of the North York Moors. I was reviewing my progress as I packed up and I realised that I’d make the first 800 miles today, that meant that I would be just over the halfway point of my estimated mileage of 1400. I felt pleased with myself. I was well rested after my Whitby Sojourn, and was eager for more exploration and more hills.

I ate breakfast with Martin, did my final packing and lugged Trailer and Suitcase down into the foyer and said my good-byes. Bike was fully prepped for the day, all that was left was for me to collect it and check the tyres. I failed at the first hurdle! My swipe key wouldn’t open the door, so back to the foyer to grab one of the staff. The key worked everywhere else, just not the bike shed. The chap muttered something about the lock playing up and opened it with his master key. It was with relief that I wheeled Bike out into the morning light and round to the front door, to be reunited with Trailer.

I used my CO2 inflator and got the tyres nice and hard, making a mental note to buy some more cylinders. I was away out through the courtyard and onto the road behind the abbey, then down the steep hill into the town. As I reached the T junction, a loud bang rang in my ears and the front tyre immediately flattened! I wheeled Bike over to a bench by the side of the road, and disconnected Trailer so I could lie Bike down on the grassy bank. Front wheel off and a good check out. No damage to the tyre, thank goodness, (that I could see anyway), so I took out my tools and removed it. The inner tube had a huge split where it had exploded and was beyond repair.

As I was getting stuck into my investigations, Martin came round the corner to lend assistance. He had a good look at the inside of the tyre and found nothing amiss, and I got out a new tube and my pump. I guessed that what had happened. The other day, I’d gone over a fairly nasty cattle grid. I remember it happening, but not where it was. I’d let my tyres get a little soft being too lazy to pump them up. The trouble was, the tyre had bottomed out and pinched the tube, weakening it. My extra hard tyre and tube this morning couldn’t take the strain!

Martin rode off with a cheery wave, leaving me to finish off. I was well prepared with stacks of spares and tools, and he had a train to catch. 5 minutes later, I was away too.

I climbed the long hill out of Whitby along the A171 looking for a left turn to take me to Egton and then to Rosedale Abbey. The day was damp and cool and getting misty as I climbed away from the coast.

I wasn’t prepared for the steepness of the hills at Egton. I knew Rosedale Chimney was a 1 in 3, but Egton has a 1 in 3 too! It was as steep going down as getting up the other side, I took it very steadily downhill and through the village and then to Egton Bridge. The 1 in 3 climb was very hard with the load behind me, and I had to stop a couple of times to let my legs relax. The hill wasn’t too long, but long enough! There were high banks either side to lean against which assisted me to get going again. I was overheating, so I used one of my stops to take off a layer or two and unzipped Suitcase to put stuff away. It was then that the zip packed up completely. I’d brought a couple of webbing straps with me, so I wrapped them round Suitcase as tightly as I could. There was a gap all round, and I hoped it wouldn’t rain because my stuff had little protection. My fingers were firmly crossed.

Egton Hill

I made the top of the hill and spun along up over the moor. Egton may have had a steep hill, but the road just carried ever upwards up to over 1000ft. The weather took a turn for the worst with the mist closing in more and more. No rain, just damp and humid.

I arrived at the pretty village of Rosedale Abbey. There’s no abbey there, never was either, just a priory that was dissolved by Henry VIII. There is a little cafe and a village green, and I parked looking around for Mick. I was just about on time, and he said he’d be there, but no sign of him yet. Not that I knew what he looked like, I’d never met him in the flesh, just on the internet. I’d no doubt he’d recognise me though! Mercian bike, trailer and orange suitcase make me fairly distinctive.

I spied a chap waving to me from across the street, and I knew straight away that it was Mick. We shook hands warmly, and chatted away nineteen to the dozen. Then he walked round the corner to his car at the bottom of this famous hill. His wife, Susan climbed out of the car, and we introduced ourselves as I disconnected Trailer and lifted it into the back of their car. Then photographs of me at the warning sign at the start of the hill, and Mick and Susan led the way to the top.

The start

I set off in 3rd gear, and took it very steadily. The hill went over a little bridge, round a left hand bend, then started to climb. I changed down into 2nd and felt quite elated. No heavy luggage behind me, I had difficulty in taking my time, I wanted to sprint!

The steepness increased around a tight right hander and I went into bottom gear. (For the technically minded, my bottom gear is 30t at the front with a 29t sprocket at the back, giving a ratio of 27 inches.) My legs felt good, and I breathed deeply. The hill is as steep as you can imagine, not steeper than any other 1 in 3 hill, and no steeper than our lane at home. But where Rosedale Chimney scores is in it’s length of steepness. About a mile rising from 450ft to 1030ft. Quite a climb!

Then came a left hand hairpin. I took the outside route - the hill was shallower there - and I strained at the pedals with the front wheel lifting off the road as I struggled to keep my weight forward. The road straightened out, but was no less steep, and I had to zig zag back and forth across the road just to keep up the momentum. The road was empty except for me, thank goodness - I was taking up the whole road!

Nearly there!

The hill eventually tails off it’s steepness at the top with a lay-by on the right hand side. Mick and Susan were waiting for me there and taking photographs as I climbed.

Rosedale Chimney Bank

I did it! I’d climbed the famous Rosedale Chimney Bank, and lived to tell the tale! I was justifiably very pleased with myself.

Done it!

Mick and Susan congratulated me, with handshakes and good byes, we parted. Just like that!

Off I went, south towards Hutton le Hole and Kirkbymoorside through the mist. Mick had said that the views were fantastic - not today! I flew down off the moor, nearly 6 miles of fast riding. I pulled in at one point to text Hilary about my progress, and Mick and Susan drove past tooting the horn and waving. I heard later that they had a job keeping up with me, I was doing nearly 40mph in places, had I not pulled over, they would’ve been behind me for miles!

I took a wrong turn in Kirkbymoorside in trying to go through the town. Sadly, I had to double back, but no matter, the A170 to Thirsk was a good road, though a little busy. The sun came out as the mist cleared away, and I pedalled happily along. As I arrived in Helmsley, I saw a couple of cyclists sitting on the monument steps, there was a cafe and cake shop across the road, and the two of them were eating their purchases suggesting I should get some too. They looked after Bike and Trailer, and I returned with a minced beef and onion pie. Yum! It was a bit messy with the gravy, but wonderful nonetheless. We chatted as we ate. They were father and son, one from Whitby, the other from Robin Hoods Bay, and were out for a day’s ride together. We swapped cycling stories, and they listened intently to my adventures. Then I was off again heading west for Sutton Bank.

I’d had an idea of going down Sutton Bank then back up again for the hell of it, but thought better of it, it seemed such a silly idea. The Bank is quite a famous hill rising high above the countryside with a couple of hairpin bends. It must be one of the most difficult hills in the country on a main road. Caravans are banned from using it, and you see warning signs for miles on the approach. Before I could reach the top ready for my descent, I had to climb from Helmsley. The road leveled out a bit through Sproxton then climbed again, up to 1000ft, before plunging down towards Thirsk. I hit 40mph, just after the second hairpin, and whizzed my way into town.

I remembered Sutton Bank as a child on our way to the Yorkshire coast. I also remembered the views and the stunning layout of the road - the approach to a hairpin looking up to where you have to go. I’d driven it many years later, perhaps in the mid 1970s.

It’s changed completely now. The hill is the same, the road is the same, but the view has completely gone. Trees line the sides of the bank, no doubt there were trees before, but in those days they were maintained. These have been left to just grow. They spoiled the whole effect for me. No longer can you see round the bends, no longer can you see the view and marvel at the geography. All hidden. Sad.

In Thirsk, I stopped briefly for a drink and a Tracker, and away again to Ripon. I’d booked a room at The White Horse in the town and found it easily using a little map I’d downloaded. The pub was a typical town pub with locals sitting at the bar. It was mid afternoon and I was thirsty! I ordered a pint and introduced myself to the barman. I told him I was in no rush for the room, I’d have a couple of beers first!

I entered into conversation with a couple of chaps on the bar stools. We hit it off almost immediately and were chatting away. It turned out that one was an ex-marine and the other an ex-chief stoker. We had lots to chat about - old comrades together! They were interested in my ride, so cycling stories and naval yarns got mixed in together. Funny old world.

Another, rather drunk, chap offered advice on my best route to Skipton, and he went on and on about avoiding this and avoiding that. His preferred route for me was to go via Pateley Bridge. I listened patiently and politely to him, knowing I’d make up my own mind.

The barman handed me my room key and showed me where the room was. The pub has an annex of rooms off a courtyard at the back. I asked the barman if there was somewhere for Bike. There wasn’t but they had no problem about my taking it inside the room with me. I was very happy with that, so Bike, Trailer and me squeezed ito my little en-suite bedroom. It was a tight fit, but we managed!

The room smelled very, very strongly of stale cigarettes. I think the room must have been a smoker’s room before the ban. Perhaps there was a long-term occupant there once. Either way, it wasn’t pleasant so I left the door wide open and opened the widows for good measure. The room was clean, well decorated and very comfy. Other than the smell, I knew I’d be happy there.

Suitcase though, wasn’t happy. The zip had become derailed (if that’s the right word) all the way round. The zip had two slidy-things, one from each side that met up in the middle at the front. The starboard one had been difficult over the last week or more, with the port one having to go right round to the other side. Now it too gave up the ghost.

I emptied everything out onto the bed to get to grips with the problem. By pulling away the lining, I could get at the zip’s start and was able to thread the slidy-things back on both edges of the zip. Lo and behold, it worked! The starboard one still wouldn’t go far, but the port one was back in action. I exercised the whole thing with Suitcase still empty, and everything worked well. It was the bulkiness of my stuff, especially my fleecy jumper, that was putting too much strain on the zip whilst I closed it. I resolved to take my time with the packing in the morning and do it properly.

I showered and dressed, then walked into town. It was then I saw a Chinese take away. Good idea for later, I thought, then wandered about a bit more before going back to the White Horse. All the drinkers had gone when I returned, so I had a quick one whilst asking about breakfast for the following morning. I booked it for 7.30.

Back down in the town again and into the Double Luck Chinese take away. I ordered a “special chow mien”, and carried by little bag back to my room to settle down in front of the telly. The meal was awful! It seemed to consist of stir-fried vegetables and sliced meat with Bisto gravy poured on top. The noodles were greasy and tasteless. I ate it because I was hungry, not because it was nice. Such a disappointment. The telly wasn’t disappointing, though. The Vicar of Dibley - first episode. Very enjoyable.

After uploading Garmin and phoning Hilary, I settled down in the nice big bed and fell peacefully asleep.

Profile of Whitby to Ripon

I was up and packing with a cup of tea for company soon after 6am. I wanted to make doubly sure that Suitcase would stand up to the pressure, so I packed very carefully and methodically. I worked wonders with it, saving as much space as possible with everything I put in utilising every nook and cranny.

I studied maps and routes for a while, then made my way down to the main building for breakfast. I sat in a window seat and was served a full breakfast and a huge pot of tea. Just what the doctor ordered! I chatted to a young American man on the next table who was over here touring Europe having finished university.

After my breakfast, I went back to my room, did my final packing, and left with Bike and Trailer separately to connect up in the car park. I handed my key back at reception and settled my bill. The chap at reception was the barman from last evening, and he was intent on telling me that the drunk with the good ideas for my route was telling me a load of rubbish! I put his mind at rest as I explained that I’d guessed that he was talking tommy rot, and I was making my own mind up, but had just been polite.

Then I was off.

My route took me out of the town past the Double Luck, and onto the A61 heading south to Harrogate. I had a mind to find Spa Cycles somewhere in the town. I had no address or even a map of the town, but there was enough slack in my time for me to explore.

The road to Harrogate was easy enough, and I felt good and strong. I powered along and arrived in the town at around 8.45. After following my nose and really getting nowhere fast, I asked a traffic warden to tell me where Spa Cycles might be. He grunted something in Harrogate-ese and pointed down the road. Sure enough, it was a cycle shop, not Spa, but Boneshakers. I dismounted and leant Bike up against the window. It was bang on 9am on a sunny Saturday morning, and they’d just opened for the day, so I entered into an Aladdin's cave of cycling stuff. I never tire of being in bike shops, no cyclist does I suppose. I proffered a CO2 cartridge and asked if they sold them. They did, so I bought a couple of double packets. I reckoned on needing a maximum of two cylinders. I already had one left, so I had plenty spare. Even then, I still had my manual pump.

Then off again, retracing my route out of the town to the A59 and headed west to Skipton. The road climbed as I left. Six miles of it, a steady climb in 3rd or 4th gear. The morning traffic was quite heavy and the road not that wide, so I gingerly made my way avoiding the big drain covers that seemed to populate the roadside. Two cyclists overtook me on the way up, and we exchanged greetings and complaints about the hill as they passed. At the top there was big lay-by and the two cyclists had stopped and were chatting. I pulled in and joined in. They were out training, prior to some charity ride in the area. I think they said 70 miles. They only had a few weeks before the off, and didn’t really feel they had enough time. I explained that I was doing about 70 miles every day with luggage too. They suggested I must be fit! I warned them that they may have overtaken me uphill, but I’d be flying past them on the way down.

They left first, they were turning back towards Leeds further on and as expected, I caught them up, but had to keep applying my brakes behind them. I picked my moment, and shot past. I never saw them again, no doubt they did their ride thinking about this strange chap with a trailer that left them for dead on the A59!

I didn’t stop much. The weather was great, I was feeling great, Bike was performing great, and I pedalled along at a great speed! Skipton, Clitheroe and Whalley, I just passed through, only pausing for drinks, cereal bars and a Kit Kat.

Lancashire Border (Passport required?)

My destination that day was Brother-in Law’s and Sister-in-Law’s place just south of Preston. They were expecting me of course, and I told them I’d text or phone with an ETA during the day. The A59 had been a boring road with little to commend it, so by keeping going, I was getting over it quickly. Having been brought up in the area, I didn’t need a map to find my way through Preston, and aimed at Bamber Bridge, the top of the A49. I found it easily and to on to Leyland. I’d texted earlier as promised, and also our daughter, Katy. She lives in Manchester and was coming across to meet up with me.

I was welcomed warmly of course and went in to find Niece Elaine and her husband Matthew with their little daughter Eleanor. Kisses and cuddles and I was offered a can of Carlsberg. I accepted, (it would be rude to refuse wouldn’t it!) then I phoned Hilary to let her know I’d made it. Bike had been safely stowed in the garage with Trailer. I undid the wing-nuts and carried Suitcase up the stairs, unpacked and went for a shower. Down in the garden, Brother-in-Law Ged was setting up for a BBQ, Jan had done all the salad and stuff. Drinks and chats with me sprawled out in an easy chair in the conservatory. Daughter Katy arrived soon after me, and quite a party atmosphere developed. Later, Nephew Stephen and his wife Alison arrived with their son Rune. The party continued!

As the evening progressed, the young families left with the children leaving the four of us to carry on. Katy was stopping the night, so there was no pull on her to go back to Manchester, so the drinks kept on flowing, then I suddenly realised it was 11.30! I need my beauty sleep! I can’t stay up late boozing, when I have 70 miles to cycle the following day! I excused myself, and left the last three to it.

I flopped into bed, and was out like a light.

Profile of Ripon to Leyland

I had a hangover.

I knew I would have, and I was right.

I was up at 6.45, and was packed with Bike and Trailer ready to go by 7.30. Packing was so much easier without my fleece. Jan had agreed that I could leave it behind, as they’d get it to me in a few weeks time when they came to visit us down in Cornwall.

I had a light breakfast with Ged- cereal - not my fave, but it was all I fancied! Jan came downstairs with a thick head, and Katy followed soon after. They’d all stayed up far later than me, boozing and chatting away. I was glad I’d retired when I did, the idea of cycling into North Wales with a rotten head didn’t bear thinking about.

I had decided to visit a hill of my youth on my way south. I used to ride up it to school, I remembed it so well from my early memories. Parbold Hill overlooks the Southport Plain, and from the top on a clear day, you can see right over to Blackpool with it’s tower and beyond, to Morecambe Bay to the north and Southport to the west. A fantastic view and a renowned beauty-spot. Half way up the hill is Parbold Parish Church and the old primary school. The hill used to be cobbled, as I remember, but was tarmacked over in the late 50’s. The profile was changed in the late 60s to make it less steep at the top. It’s still a ‘good’ hill nonetheless, and I was going to cycle it for the first time since 1969 - this time pulling a heavy load, not just a school satchel.

I was away soon after 8am, with lots of hugs and kisses, and left the town for Parbold via Croston. In Rufford, I turned left off the A59 and took the back roads of my youth into Hill Dale and down The Common into Parbold, past the W.I. hall where we used to go to discos, and the chippy where we hung out with our bikes. Then I turned right by the Stocks Tavern where we drank Walkers Bitter, then up Parbold Hill.

The hill, like so many others, starts off innocently and quietly, but gathers steepness the further you go. Bottom gear came early, and I took my time enjoying the ceremony. I climbed steadily and smoothly, and reached the summit, load and all, with hardly a strain. In the old days, I had a three-speed Sturmey Archer hub gear but had modified the system with a two speed derailleur as well to give a super-low bottom and a super-high top. I can’t remember the ratios it used to produce, so it was difficult to know how my performance compared to 1969. Anyway, I made it!

At the top, by the cafe, I phoned Hilary to give her an update of my progress,and also Jan to thank her again for their hospitality, then sped on my way, hangover free, down the other side of the hill to Wigan.

Wigan has changed immeasurably since I lived there. The old town is still the same in a way, but new main roads skirt the town centre and new buildings are everywhere. My old school has gone completely to be replaced by housing. Most of the back-to-back terraced houses have long since gone too. I rode straight through and on to Golborne to pay a quick visit to see my new Grand Nephew, Noah. Niece Lucinda and husband Steven had sent photographs of their new baby but I’d not yet met him in the flesh.

I stopped for about an hour, long enough for cuddles with Noah, tea and cake, and long enough for the rain to start. The day’s weather wasn’t promising from the moment I first looked out of Jan’s window, and I’d expected it to rain sooner or later. On leaving Lucinda’s, I dug out my yellow Gortex top and pedalled away into the wet towards Newton le Willows and Warrington.

I was staying with my sister, Pene in Wrexham that night. She’d told me she might not be in until 5 ish as she’d be at a farmers’ market in Stockport. She brews beer for a living, and usually has a stall there. As I had a front door key for her house, I was under no tight schedule to keep me going, even though I knew the distance would be 70 odd miles. It was far enough in good weather, but the rain made me keep plodding on regardless.

By the time I made it to Frodsham down the A56, the rain had eased, but the roads were still awash. I was thoroughly damp. I’d taken the precaution of packing my stuff in plastic bags, especially my laptop, in an effort to keep out the wet, so I wasn’t too concerned about the rain.

I carried on into Chester and off on the B5445 through Rossett. I was born there, just over the border into Wales. Mum, Dad and Big Sis lived in a little cottage high up in the hills above Wrexham in a little place called Gwynfryn. I’d be visiting there tomorrow.

I arrived at Pene’s house at 3.45pm, and as I was unhitching Trailer and opening the front door, she turned up! Kisses and hugs, and she plied me with a bottle or two of her finest. In the kitchen by the Aga were tubs of brewing beers and stouts, and boxes of bottles conditioning in the warmth, prior to going out into the cool for finishing. She brews under the name Jolly Brewer ( and her beer is wonderful!

We sat in the kitchen, and I related my stories so far, and how Whitby was so different from when we were there as children, she fished out the old photographs and we poured over them giggling and laughing. She also showed me holiday snaps from our trips to Criccieth, another place I was going to visit. I was last there in 1960, I think.

Then it was time for a bath! Nice and hot and deep!

Meanwhile, Pene was preparing a stew, and Niece Suzanne and her boyfriend Mike arrived to join us for tea. Loads of chats over a great meal, and I regaled them with all my stories again. The photographs came out again too.

I’d had an easy ride, though wet and miserable. My gear had stayed dry-ish in their plastic bags and Suitcase’s zip had stood up to the strain, but I knew that Suitcase wouldn’t be long for this world. My cycling gear that I’d been wearing was hung up above the Aga including my shoes and mitts. I gave Bike a good look over and lubed the chain. Bike was nice and clean when I left Whitby, and remained so until Golborne when the rain started. Now it looked a mess again. Oh well.

I was tired even though it had been an easy ride. The excesses of the previous evening had taken their toll, and so I retired to bed soon after 8pm, lying down to write my log, upload Garmin, charge batteries, and sort my maps for the next leg into Snowdonia. I phoned Hilary for a short chat, and then drifted off into sleep.

Profile of Leyland to Wrexham


Do you enjoy being by yourself?

Not particularly. It’s just that if you cycle alone, you can ride at your own pace, stop when you want to, and go where you want to. You don’t have to consider anyone else. I’m never actually alone. I have myself for company! Also, I meet nice people along the way and always have a chat. And I’m only a phone call away from home.

Did you make that trailer yourself?
No. It’s a Carry Freedom Y Frame, made by a wonderful company in Ayrshire. It comes with a flat load-bed that you can strap or bolt anything you want to it. I bought this suitcase. I also made a plywood box to fix to it that turns the trailer into a utility trailer that can go to the shops or the recycling dump.

That’s a lovely bike, have you had it long?
I had the frame made for me by Mercian in 1986. For it’s 21st birthday, it went back to them for a check-up and a respray in the original colours. I love it to bits, and will never part with it. All the components are top quality Campagnolo. I think the whole machine would cost around £2000 to replace.

How many gears have you got on that thing?
30. A triple front with a 10 speed cassette on the rear.

How far have you come?
So far to Wrexham, I’d ridden just short of 1000 miles. I should hit the 1000 by mid afternoon tomorrow.

Are you doing this for charity?
No. I’m doing this for ME! I’ve done Land’s End to John O’Groats to death. I’ve raised thousands for various charities on rides between both ends of the country, I even did a 500 mile charity ride in the USA. I’ve done enough for now.

How can you afford the time to do this ride?
I’m retired from the Royal Navy, the kids have grown up and flown the coop, the mortgage is paid, and I don’t work any more. My wife Hilary goes out to work - I don’t!

Does she mind?
No. We miss each other terribly, but Hilary has no intention of cycling like this. We’ve been married 35 years this year, and she supports me in everything I do. She’s an absolute star! She rides a bike, but she ain’t no cyclist!


I woke at 6am to a lovely sunny morning. I’d had a long and solid night’s sleep and felt ready to conquer the mountains of North Wales. Even though the weather looked promising, I resolved to pack everything in the plastic bags again inside Suitcase. I went downstairs and made myself a cuppa.

Pene was up at soon after 7, and we breakfasted together. She would be in all day but very involved with brewing another batch of beer - a busy day for her, and I was anxious to get going. I was away at 8.40 onto the Ruthin road and uphill towards Bwlchgwyn, I peeled off to the left and followed signs to Gwynfryn via Minera. I cycled past the little school where Pene attended, and saw our old cottage up on the hill above.

Although I was barely three when we left Wales, I have one or two vague memories of the place. I remember walking across the fields and over styles to collect Pene from school, and walking down to the little shop in the village. I also remember the kitchen in the cottage, but that’s about all.

I turned up the steep hill to the cottage, I was at 1000ft having climbed almost constantly since Wrexham, I’ve seen photographs of the place when we lived there, and it really doesn’t look anything like it any more. It has been extended over the years and half the garden has gone. The view down to the school was very different to the way I remember it. The green fields were overgrown and neglected - I remember short green grass with no trees. I tarried awhile, and took in the quietness and scenery. I doubled back, and followed my nose down to Llandegla and Corwen to join the A5.

The view from the cottage, down to Gwynfryn School

I expected the A5 to be busy with heavy traffic, but it wasn’t, it was quite pleasant really except for the rough road surface. Bike vibrated under me and I had to keep an eye on where I was riding, avoiding the ruts and holes. Every now and then, the surface would improve and I’d breathe a sigh of relief, but all too soon, it would be rough again.

I was on the same route that my mate Paul and I had taken back in 1968 when we cycled from home in Wigan as 15 year olds on a camping expedition to Snowdonia. We must have ridden 80 odd miles on the first day down through Chester and on towards Betws-y-Coed. The following day, we’d moved on to the foot of Snowdon and camped in a field near the Snowdon Ranger YHA. We climbed the mountain the day after that.

The road weaved it’s way into the mountains with stunning scenery all around. I tried to think about any memories I had of the route when me and Paul rode it all those years ago, but I recognised nothing! I couldn’t even see where we camped the first night even though I knew approximately where it was.

I arrived in the tourist capital of northwest Wales, the famous Betws-y-Coed. I dropped down and down for some miles into the Conwy valley and entered the village. It was full of tourists and coaches and hotels and outdoor shops, but I was hungry and fancied a chippy. I pulled over into a carpark to survey the place, and decided to cycle through slowly, and be ready to find one. I wasn’t disappointed, and crossed to the other side of the road, leant Bike up against the window where I could see it, and sat down at a table.

After a huge piece of cod, and a plateful of chips, washed down with a mug of tea, I was off again climbing the long hill to Capel Curig. This is the place where Paul and me turned off for Beddgelert, I wanted to follow the same route, but hadn’t been able to get accommodation at Snowdon Ranger YHA, so had settled for Llanberis instead.

The A4086 weaving it's way towards the Llanberris Pass

The road continued upwards to the Pass of Llanberis. At the top it’s 1200ft, quite a climb over the 12 miles from Betws-y-Coed at only 100ft. On the climb from Capel Curig I stopped lots, not because of the hill, it wasn’t hard at all, but to admire the fantastic views. They are views I will never forget, with the mountains in front and to the side, with the road down to Beddgelert off into the distance. The weather was fantastic and I felt glad to be alive and utterly privileged to be there.

Climbing to the top of Llanberis Pass

What a view!

At the summit of the pass there is a visitor centre and large carpark. I pulled off to find some shade - I was hot! The loos were on my agenda too. I chatted to a couple of tourists as I drank my water under the shade of the low roof of the centre. I answered questions about this and that, but mainly about my unusual trailer.

Then it was down, down and down into Llanberis. the road twisted and turned through the mountains strewn with fallen rocks and craggy summits. Climbers and walkers populated the slopes on the less crumbly sections, and the small carparks were so full I didn’t have anywhere to pull over myself! I sped down and into Llanberis.

Over on the other side of Lake Padarn, old slate quarries dominate the mountainside. These are now the National Slate Museum telling the story of slate mining in North Wales, and attendent visitor centres. They even have a railway system - The Llanberis Lake Railway, and tours are available of Dinorwig, a pumped-storage hydroelectric power station. The place was really busy with tourists, and the Snowdon Mountain Railway station was packed with throngs of holidaymakers. I was half tempted to ride the train up Snowdon as it was early afternoon, I’d have plenty time. The day’s ride had only been 58 miles. In the event, I didn’t.

I followed the sign in the town towards the YHA. This was yet another one at the top of a steep hill! As I rode along, I passed a lollipop lady at her crossing, and she was chatting away to the mums and children in Welsh. I heard the kids chatting to each other in Welsh very naturally. I called across to the lollipop lady about how nice the afternoon was, and she replied in English in a cheery way. Wonderful.

I cycled up the hill to find the hostel closed, and not open until 5pm. It was only 3, so I was a little flummoxed about what to do. The sun was shining, it was a lovely afternoon, so I decided to go exploring, and find a pub. I unhitched Trailer, stood it up next to a wooden fence and secured it with my long flexible lock. Then I rode back down into the town past the lollipop lady again. Despite riding up and down the main street, and round the by-pass and along to the Snowdon Railway Station, I couldn’t see a ‘pub’ sort of pub. Just a hotel or two. Oh well.

Back up at the hostel, I dug out my laptop and logbook and sat in the sunshine on a little seat overlooking the valley. The view was wonderful and I could see the slate quarries and their workings quite clearly. I drank some water and ate a couple of cereal bars whilst reviewing my ride and writing up my log. I’d cracked the 1000 miles as I expected, with an estimated 400 to go. The day had been perfect for cycling - not too hot, sunny and dry, with just a little breeze.

As I was sat there, the laundry van arrived and the chap off-loaded clean sheets and bedding, then picked up the dirty washing left for him on the steps by the front door. I went over for a chat, and we passed the time of day. He was English.

At 5pm, the warden arrived, and I checked in and booked a breakfast for 7.30 for the following morning. Bike was wheeled down a few steps and into an unused basement room. It had a whole room to itself!

As I was sorting Trailer, a minibus-load of children arrived and the peace was shattered! They all appeared to be 11 to 13 year olds, well-behaved but noisy. I hoped their dorms would be far away from mine!

Anyway, after a shower and change, I asked the warden if there was a pub nearby. He said to go to the Gwynedd Hotel on the main street. So off I walked down the hill, and into the hotel to sink three pints of Flowers IPA. Lovely,but £2.60 a pint. I could have eaten there, but I wasn’t hungry enough for a big meal, having eaten so well in Betws-y-Coed. For early evening, the pub was doing a good trade, and four or five old blokes sat in a corner chatting away in Welsh. I didn’t have a clue what they were talking about, but whatever it was, they were very involved! I have read later that there is a huge percentage of people in Llanberis with Welsh as their first language.

Back at the hostel, the kids were eating. That would slow them up, I thought! Thankfully, I was the only occupant of the dorm, with the kids well over the other side of the building.

I loafed about for a while and chatted to one of the adults from the children’s group. They were from a school in Birmingham somewhere.

After their meal, they all went out to play in the large carpark, bathed in the early evening sunshine. Just about all the boys were playing football, and I watched the spectacle from my dorm window. I didn’t understand the rules of the game they were playing. Only one goal but two teams, some sort of Attack and Defence game I suppose.

I went down to the kitchen and made myself an instant soup and took it outside and had a chat with the lads to show a friendly face. I didn’t stay long - the midges were attacking! The lads were wafting them away from their faces as the ran about, but I couldn’t stand it, so went back in.

I was still the sole occupant of my dorm so spread my stuff out, and relaxed for the rest of the evening, drifting off into peaceful sleep.

Profile of Wrexham to Llanberis

Route from Whitby to Llanberis

These Welsh place names played havoc with spell-check on the computer, not to mention predictive text on a mobile phone!

I was up at 6.15am and ready for breakfast. I’d had a solid and quiet night’s sleep and packed up my gear, waiting for 7.30 and food. My breakfast was great. The chefs did a stirling job feeding me and the school party, I was first in and tucked into egg, sausage, bacon and toast, closely followed by two pains au chocolat. I was stuffed!

The children ate and chatted noisily over on the other side of the dining room. I suggested to the adults that they were going to have their hands full today! They replied that they were going to the beach today, that would tire them out!

I was away by 8.30, and down the hill into the town. The lollipop lady was there again and I wished her a good morning. All around her were children off to school with mums and dads with push chairs. They were all chattering away in Welsh, even some of the little boys on seeing Bike with Trailer laughed and pointed and commented to each other in Welsh. Their language is alive and thriving in Llanberis!

Caernarfon Castle

I arrived in Caernarfon only half an hour later, riding around the town and taking photographs of the castle. Then I was off south down the A499 for Pwllheli.

Roadworks peppered the road just about all the way. It seemed the Welsh road builders had been taking lessons from the Scottish. The profile of the road was being altered and widened and frequent traffic lights impeded my progress, however the scenery was fantastic. Mountains on one side and blue sea on the other, and when the road turned away from the coast, mountains on both sides. The road rose steadily to 500ft, then I descended into Pwllheli. I pressed on to Criccieth.

Criccieth was another of my childhood holiday memories. We went there two or three times in the late 50s and very early 60s. It’s still a lovely place, and I took a few photographs texting my sister Pene letting and her know I was there. It didn’t appear to have changed much, and I rode round and round the places I remembered. There were more cars and carparks of course which I knew were modern additions. I tarried awhile looking out to sea and across Tremadog Bay to Harlech.


And After

Then I found something that shocked me. I rode up the hill past the castle to the right, and down the other side into another part of the village that I have no recollection of at all! Criccieth to me was the beach I remembered, the Castle, the guest houses and the sea shore. Criccieth is actually far bigger! There’s a promenade, another beach, parks and benches, pubs and restaurants, cafes and a chip shop, hotels. Wow! I just don’t remember any of it! Perhaps I never visited that part.

Criccieth Beach

I called in at the chip shop and bought a chicken and mushroom pie. Quite nice, typical chip shop style pie. I ate it sitting on a bench looking out to sea. The weather was fine and sunny, with a cool breeze. I was certainly enjoying good cycling weather on my tour and I felt rather lucky sitting there. A chap came up to me admiring Bike. He’d done some riding in his younger days and knew what he was looking at, commenting on my Campagnolo components and joining the long list of Bike’s fans!

Shortly after, I was away through Porthmadog and alongside the Ffestiniog Railway line. The Welsh Highland Railway is being extended, and it will join the Ffestiniog line soon. Roadworks and traffic lights disrupted the flow of traffic over the new bits of line in the town where the line crosses the road. Concrete and iron rails set diagonally make a dangerous combination for the unwary cyclist, so I picked my way gingerly over them.

I turned off the A487 and rode across the Pont Briwet toll bridge over Afon Dwyryd - no charge for bikes - and onto the A496 and south towards Harlech. I continued right through and up a couple of quite long steep hills just south of Harlech. The scenery was lovely along the coast and down to Barmouth, a nice town but with the approach spoiled by a veritable city of caravans and chalets down by the sea. The weather still held fair and I pedalled along very happily indeed.

Shortly after Barmouth, I followed the road inland and along Afon Mawddach to cross another toll bridge, the Penmaenpool Bridge - again, no charge for bikes - and out onto the A493. The roadway on the bridge was made of railway sleepers arranged in a herringbone pattern and was very grippy, thank goodness, as he weather warm was dry, but the gaps between the planks gave me cause for concern. It was a delight to cycle over even though I had to pick my way across very carefully.

Penmaenpool Bridge

Penmaenpool Bridge (again)

The scenery was beautiful through both sides of the estuary. Thick woodlands, blue skies, gorgeous coastline, with quietness and peacefulness everywhere, and I turned west again looking for the left turn up to Kings hostel. Suddenly it was there! I over-shot a little and had to do a U-turn. Yet again, another YHA is up a steep hill. I changed down into bottom gear and wound my way up and through a couple of hairpin bends. The gradient lessened off and I found my way into a steep-sided wooded valley with a stream running though. The road went up and down and left and right, and I became more and more disillusioned with the remoteness of the place.

Peaceful and quiet it might have been, but actually it was remote and deserted. I found the hostel in a grassy and open clearing. The road carried on to goodness knows where, perhaps just farms. I sat down at a picnic bench next to a bonfire site overlooked by the hostel. It was 3.30 in the afternoon, the hostel was completely locked and shut and here was nothing I could do. I could’ve ridden back down to the main road and found a cafe somewhere, but it seemed to me to be a deserted bit of coastline, and anyway, I’d have to cycle up the steep hill again. So I sat there in sunshine and solitude.

I had an hour and a half to kill before the warden would arrive, so I tried to phone Hilary for a chat and a moan. No mobile signal! I was grumpy. I had begun to hate YHAs and the fact that they tend to be unmanned during the day and they are often in remote settings. I couldn’t stand this waiting about, so resolved never to stay at a youth hostel again after this trip.

I took out my MacBook and uploaded Garmin to review my ride. I’d cycled 73 miles with a full load of luggage, and it was all over by 3.30. Gosh I was fit! I should have taken my time or taken a longer ride and it made me think about the plans for my final day. I was due to stay at Cheddar YHA because Street YHA would be closed. Street is 90 miles from home, but Cheddar is 106! I had thought that as my last day would be a Saturday, I could always phone Hilary to come and get me if I was too tired, then she could meet me half way or so. As I felt so strong, I was in no doubt that 106 miles with a full trailer would be easy enough. Superman, that’s me!

I wrote up my log whilst eating a cereal bar or two and drank some water. Then I did a bit of maintenance on Bike and also Trailer’s tow hitch. The universal joint hinge screw needed tightening.

Eventually 5 o’clock came, and a 4x4 skidded to a halt outside the hostel. It was the warden! I checked in and wheeled Bike down to the wooden bike shed near the annex. It was the bunkhouse section, then a school party arrived soon after 5, occupying the place. I was to watch later from the dorm window as the kids played on the grass whilst the adults built a bonfire and lit a BBQ. Not too noisy, but they had a great time.

The warden was great. He couldn’t do my breakfast before 8am, but as I wanted an early getaway he let me have all the fixings necessary to cook it myself. If he was happy for me to DIY, I was happy too. I collected bread and butter, sausage and bacon, and an egg, and a huge jug of milk, and anything I didn’t use, I was to leave in the main fridge. It sounded good to me, and more importantly, he even left me the bike shed key.

In the foyer there was a little cubicle with a pay phone. I shoved my 20p coins in and had a quick chat with Hilary, planning on doing similar later, and then she phoned me back. This place was boring. Nothing to do, no TV signal, no mobile signal, no nearby pub - nothing!

I made myself a cuppa soup and finished off the mixed nuts and the last of my Baby Bells, followed by a hot chocolate. I hadn’t eaten a great deal during the day - a large breakfast at Llanberis, a pie in Criccieth and the odd tracker and cereal bar - but I wasn’t that hungry. 73 miles sounds a lot, but I’d completed it in my stride. I found it difficult to understand how fit and healthy I was.

I was in bed by 9pm and no doubt sound asleep very soon after. I was woken during the night by the light coming on in the dorm when two blokes came in apologising for the lateness of the hour (I still don’t know what time it was!) but I just rolled over and had to grin and bear it. This was yet another reason why I won’t be staying with YHA again.

Profile of Llanberis to Kings

I’d had yet another good night’s sleep, despite the intrusion, though I woke to feeling rather achy in the back of my neck and upper arms, mostly the left side. I had four days to go. I looked forward to getting home - my Grand Tour was almost over now and I felt a little bored with it all. I’d done what I’d set out to do, completed all my challenges and visited all the places I had on my itinerary and visited my childhood haunts. I wondered whether 3 weeks and 1400 miles was too much, perhaps it would have been better with 2 weeks and 1000 miles, also perhaps I should have planned on getting the train home rather than cycling all the way. My brain hurt from thinking and my body ached from cycling.

I packed, fairly noisily as I remember, in punishment to the chaps who’d woken me, then went downstairs into the kitchen to retrieve my breakfast stuff from the fridge. I drank a cuppa whilst cooking the sausages and bacon. The frying pan was dry and the food didn’t fry too well, so I found a tub of cheap margarine in the fridge and added a bit to the pan. I didn’t want to add much for fear of spoiling the flavour of the meat, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to fry the egg in it, so boiled it instead. I toasted the bread and buttered it with the little butter that the warden had given me. Anyway, it all went down very well washed down with another cuppa.

I wanted to get going, I was eager for the off despite my aches and pains. Kington YHA was my next port of call with another 80 odd miles to pedal. I was away at 7.15 after my home-cooked breakfast, and down the hill onto the main road into civilisation. I pulled over into a lay-by and phoned home.

I made it through Dolgellau and onto the A470 with a little difficulty, initially taking the wrong road as the sign posts were a little confusing. Then I started to climb. I hadn’t studied this part of the ride much and paid scant attention to the route. I planned on the shortest route I could take down through Mallwyd, Cemmaes Road, Commins Coch, Talerddig, Newtown, Llanbadarn Fynydd, Penybont, New Radnor and then to Kington.

The climb continued. 7 miles of it! At the top there was a big carpark with a display board telling you about the summit. I learned that I was at the top of one of the highest passes in Wales, 1200ft. It wasn’t steep, just long. The name of the place was Bwlch Oerddrws - “influential meeting point”. Owain Glyndwr had fought his battles there in the 14th century and it was also important as one of only three places where the King’s Council called assemblies to enforce justice. The pass also served as a lookout post and refuge for the Gwylliaid or “Raiders”. One particular place was known as Llety Lladron, “the thieves cauldron”. These bandits roamed over this remote area 300 years ago.

The information sign at the top of Bwlch Oerddrws

The view looking east

Then it was down, down and down through wonderful scenery and high mountains either side and the weather was glorious again - fantastic! The road surface varied somewhat, but I reached speeds up to 40mph where I could. I turned left at Cemmaes Road and carried on down the A470 to join the A489 for Newtown.

I was hungry, and Newtown was a good place to stop being bang on the halfway point for the day. I leant Bike up against a large cast-iron litter bin next to a bakery/cafe and walked in, sitting at a table by the window where I could keep an eye on them. I was just getting myself comfortable, when a mother and little girl rolled up. They hung around outside whilst a friend went into the bakery and joined the queue. The little girl was moaning and grumping, and started playing up, and proceeded to sit on Suitcase! I shot out and said in a loud and stern voice not to touch my bicycle please! The mother almost ignored me, but the girl got up, thank goodness. I went inside and waited to be served still very unhappy about the girl, I was relieved when they left.

I ordered a beef and onion bap with mustard and horseradish. Scrummy! I washed it down with a mug of tea. I felt so much better! As I was eating, my eyes were on Bike and Trailer all the time, and I watched a steady trickle of folk walking about the town, one or two stopping to gaze at my transport. One chap stood for a while looking very intently. He was huge, maybe 20 stone with a big fat belly, I wondered whether he was genuinely interested, or dreaming of loosing enough weight so he could ride a bike!

From Newtown I was back up into the hills and down towards Penybont following the Llandrindrod Wells road. Not long after leaving the town I was climbing, the summit came some 8 miles later at 1200ft. The road twisted and wove its way up, and I turned the cranks steadily and purposefully, reaching the top and admiring the views. Then it was steadily down hill for 14 miles. Fantastic! I took a wrong turn in Crossgates going on the A44 heading for Aberystwyth. I noticed my mistake all of a sudden when I saw a sign post, but not before I’d gone down a steep hill. A U turn later and a climb back to the junction, and I was back on the right course. That’ll teach me to pay attention!

I had 18 miles to go to the town of Kington and the YHA. I was bright and strong, but on a mission to get home. I’d done my Grand Tour, all I was doing now was cycling home. That was it. All done. Something that only struck me after getting home, was that I’d never took anymore photographs.

I arrived in Kington after crossing the border into England near Old Radnor, at about 4pm. The YHA wasn’t open, but the pubs were. I rode round the back of the Burton Hotel, parked up in the beer garden and went in to sink 3 pints of London Pride. I was ready for them! An hour later (3 pints in an hour!!) I rode down to the YHA and checked in. It was a lovely place, modern and bright in an old brick-built town house. Bike was locked away in the bike shed and I showered and changed and went out to the nearest pub - The Oxford Arms for a (single) pint and a “Surf and Turf”. The plate arrived with scampi, rump steak, salad and chips. Very nice and filling. I chatted at the bar after my meal, then wandered back to relax and upload Garmin, then review my progress and plan for the next day’s ride.

The dorm was modern, more like a hotel room, but with two double bunks. There was a telly on a bracket on the wall and fully en suite bathroom. I was the sole occupant and I spread out my stuff, then fully opened Suitcase’s zip to check on it. I put a few drips of oil on it in an attempt to make it work better. I exercised it back and forth and it felt better.

The day’s ride had been the hardest to think about and plan. It was through an area I knew very little about and at the time of planning my tour, was so far into the future I found it difficult to get my head round. I’d played it by ear, and took whatever the route would chuck at me. I’d climbed over no less than three peaks, each of over 1200ft - a hard ride, and a long one. I needed a couple of easy days next, and luckily that’s what I was going to get. I had to store up my energy ready for the last day from Cheddar to home - 106 miles. My shoulders and arms were aching terribly, though the powerhouse of my legs and bum were in fine fettle. It was the top half of me that was feeling the strain.

I wrote my log, lay back, and fell asleep.

Profile of Kings to Kington

I was awake at 6ish. I washed and dressed, then walked through the main street to the Regency Cafe. The hostel warden had brokered a deal with the lady who runs the cafe for YHA members to get a special price for a special breakfast. I sat myself down at a table by the window and I was served with: two sausages, four rashers of bacon, fried mashed potato, a fried egg, two doorsteps of buttered toast, and all sat on a bed of baked beans. With a mug of tea, it came to the princely sum of £3.50. It was a huge breakfast and should’ve set me up for the day, but it was too big and sat in my stomach for too long.

I waddled back to my room to pack and prepare for my ride. I reviewed my maps and planned my route to the next YHA. I wasn’t looking forward to Welsh Bicknor. I can’t stand the place, I’d originally hoped to go via Gloucester and stay at Slimbridge, but they were fully booked. With hindsight, I should’ve found a B+B instead.
I had planned on heading for Hay-on-Wye then over the Black Mountains over the Gospel Pass and down through Capel-y-ffin, and head out via B roads to Goodrich and Welsh Bicknor. 50 odd miles, shouldn’t be too bad.

I left Kington very full of breakfast and could I still taste the food, a sensation that would last. I didn’t snack or even feel the slightest bit hungry all day! I was tired and sleepy, and lethargic from over-eating, almost wanting to go back to bed. My arms and shoulders ached and I wasn’t at my best at all.

Other than the aches and pains, it was easy pedalling, and I arrived at Hay-on-Wye just as the town was setting up for their Thursday market. It was a pretty place, and I wished I could have been there later in the day to see the town in full swing, but after pausing only briefly, I made my way uphill out of the town and into the mountains. For the next seven miles, I climbed. I wore only shorts and a light top, but as I climbed, the weather turned cooler, colder, and then drizzly. Near the top of the pass, I realised I was going to get quite cold despite the stiff climb, so I pulled over and put on another layer and my Gortex top. Feeling better protected, I pressed on.

Even through the drizzle, I could see the magnificent views to my right down into the valley below. I didn’t stop, but kept on up to the top of Gospel at 1800ft, and down the other side towards Llantony. More clothing layers weren’t enough and I continued to feel the cold. Freewheeling, I wasn’t doing any work at all, and I started to get really cold. My fingers were going blue, I was shivering, and my feet went numb. I felt “slow” and “distant” - I was suffering from exposure, I suppose, and verging on hypothermic! I stopped and tried to warm up waving my arms about to get some blood flowing, resolving to go a little slower so as to prevent wind-chill. I started to feel much better, mainly because I was aware of my condition and also that I was down off the mountain and into sheltered roads. My colour returned and I was warm again.

I popped out of the mountain area at Llanvihangel Crucorney and crossed the A465 making my way SE through tiny narrow lanes to find Cross Ash on the B4521. The road signs left a lot to be desired, and at one crossroads I’m sure someone had turned the whole of the finger post round at least 90 degrees! Garmin proclaimed I was heading SE, so I believed it, not the signs! Even so, I still went the wrong way, but found the B4521 near Llanvetherine turning east.

The sun came out! That cheered me up no end, so I stopped for a while, stripped off my extra layers and basked in the warm sunshine. Much better! I crossed the A466 (Hereford/Monmouth road) and headed to St Owen’s Cross to join the A4137, recognising it straight away as part of my LEJOG route. I felt almost at home. Turning south, I headed for Goodrich.

Knowing the area I was going to had little or no mobile signal, I stopped beforehand and tried to text home. Hilary hadn’t been in contact all day and I wondered why. I hadn’t received any delivery reports from my texts either. As I picked my phone out of my back pocket, I found a voice mail symbol, and called the Orange answer phone. It was Hilary telling me that Orange was out of order. I hadn’t heard the phone ring, so I must have been out of range or something. Now I was in a fix, we couldn’t contact each other! I tried again and left a message. I knew that at the very top of the hill above the YHA, there’s a small area where you can get a signal, so I waited until I knew she’d be at home and make sure I was there at the right time. That meant I had an hour or so to kill. So I went into a pub!

“Ye Hostelrie” is an old stone-built pub in the middle of the village. and I leant Bike up against the front wall and clomped in for a couple of beers. The place was very quiet with a couple of old gents at a table near the bar. We chatted a while, then they drank up and left, leaving me as the sole customer. Sitting at a table, I wrote my log.

Then up out of the village onto a steep hill. I stopped at the top and phoned home. Orange had got it’s act together now and I received a stream of delivery reports! Hilary and me swapped stories of our respective days and I made my way down and down the other side and into the valley. The road stops, then splits three ways, the left of which goes downhill and turns into a rough track with a sharp hairpin bend a couple of hundred yards further down. The track then continues to the hostel and it’s carpark. It’s an awful road on a steep gradient. NOT good for cycles. I rode down slowly, pulling on the brakes and picking my way through the best of the surface. Trailer jiggled along behind.

I arrived at the foyer and checked in, asking for an evening meal, only to be informed that I wouldn’t be able to have one as a school party was taking up the dining room. They are not allowed to mix school parties and guests! Anyway, they suggested I ate at the village pub. “Oh no I can’t!” I replied, “They aren’t doing food now, there’s a notice up saying so!” I was told to try the ‘Forge Hammer’ across the river. The warden explained how I could walk along the footpath and over the bridge to reach it.

I wasn’t happy.

I asked about breakfast. I wouldn’t be able to eat until AFTER the kids had eaten, that would be at least 8.30. I blew my top! I explained that I’d already paid for this meal, and expected it at the normal time. They were sorry, but that was the way it had to be, so I demanded a refund and told them where to shove their breakfast!

We parted amicably in the end. They had their hands tied over the school party situation. If it wasn’t for school parties, the hostel would have to close, it wouldn’t be able to make ends meet with real hostellers. I agreed that no-one could make money out of cyclists and walkers any more, and had to branch out.

I locked Bike away, then showered. I was in a dorm with a back door facing west, so I opened it to let in the late afternoon sunshine, airing out my towel and stuff hanging on the back of a couple of chairs. Shortly after, whilst I was lounging on my bunk, a young cyclist came in. We passed the time of day and I found out that he was on his way to John O’Groats. He told me that he’d had an accident during the day, when a farmer on a quad-bike reversed out of a farm gate and they’d collided. No damage to the bike or anything, but the chap was bruised and badly scratched on his arm. I saw his bike later, it was an expensive Trek in aluminium and carbon. Both he and his bike were very lucky.

Later on another chap came in, and that made three of us.

Next thing on my mind was food, despite the gigantic breakfast I’d eaten, 57 miles make one hungry! I followed the directions I’d been given and made my way down a leafy footpath towards the river. I climbed onto an old rail bed near where it emerged from a tunnel. Nearby, a wartime pill box survived.

Crossing an old iron railway bridge over the River Wye, I turned left past a disused factory and out onto the road. I took the first right up the hill, not really sure where I was going, when a lady in a car stopped and asked if I wanted any help. I must have looked lost! I asked her about the pub, and she offered to drive me. How nice of her. After only half a mile or so, she dropped me off outside the Forge Hammer.

In I went, bought a beer and asked about food. The barman told me they’d just opened their new restaurant and specialised in curries and Indian cuisine. So I gave it a go. Wonderful! The nicest curry I’ve ever had! It was rich, and spicy, and meaty, and very well presented with poppadums, relishes and sauces. Don’t ask me what it was called, I can’t remember, but it was lamb based and not too hot. I had another beer and really enjoyed myself, sort of making up for the poor show at the hostel.

I walked back following the same route the lady had driven, and soon found the path to the river by the disused factory. I crossed it just as the school children were paddling canoes under the bridge. I paused a while to watch, glad they were well occupied so the hostel would be nice and peaceful. After checking on Bike and lubricating the chain, I crashed out on my bunk, studied my maps, wrote my log, and drifted off to sleep.

Profile of Kington to Welsh Bicknor

Day 20 - My penultimate day.

My plan was to go down the Wye Valley, over the Severn Bridge, through Bristol and down the A38, tackling Cheddar Gorge downhill into Cheddar itself. Easy! Only 77 miles!

I sat in the courtyard at Welsh Bicknor drinking tea without any milk. There was none in the fridge for me to ‘borrow’. Never mind. As for breakfast, I’d get something en-route. I sat and watched the swallows flying in and out of their nests high up in the eaves, remembering them from my last visit a couple of years previous.

I was away at 7.30 as the warden opened up.

I walked up the awful rough track to the road, then pedalled away down the A40 to Monmouth. The road was busy with heavy traffic, but as it was mostly down hill, I kept up a good pace and wasn’t in too much difficulty. I turned left at the lights and onto quieter roads.

Other than for traffic lights and junctions, I didn’t stop for nearly 25 miles. I approached the Welsh side of the Severn Bridge on the A48 and spied a sign pointing the way for cycles. I peeled off and sped down a hill through a housing estate. At the bottom, at a T junction, there was no sign telling me which way to turn, so I asked a man walking his dog. He pointed me in the “right” direction, under the main road I’d just come off and told me to follow it and turn right further on. Off I went, rather miffed about cycle direction signs being ambiguous, and promptly got lost. I asked another chap who knew what he was talking about. The next thing I knew I was back where I started on the A48! So I took no notice of the cycle sign this time, and stayed on the main road. Then it struck me what the sign meant. It was supposed to indicate that cycles should get off the road, and go on the pavement! To me, the sign indicated a side road! Anyway, I stayed on the main carriageway to the bridge, and then onto the service road, and into England proper.

I knew the way, well I thought I did, but because I’d gone wrong earlier, I’d lost a bit of confidence. Along the A403 on a flat and featureless road, I powered on looking for a left turn for Pilning and the road home. Home is where I was headed, and Home I was going to go. The only thing in the way of me and Home were miles and miles of road. My legs carried on almost automatically.

Pilning came, then Bristol, and by using memory and instinct, I passed the gates of Bristol Zoo. The gates were a landmark to me. From here on in, I knew the way home. From the zoo, I followed the road down the steep hill to the River Avon, onto the A4, under Clifton Suspension Bridge and away into Bedminster. At Bedminster Down and the start of the Bridgwater Road I found a pub. Not the best pub in the world, but it advertised food, so I ordered a beer and chicken breast with bacon and cheese, accompanied by chips and salad. I ate outside under a canopy watching the traffic going to and fro through the traffic lights. The beer and food were not the best in the world either, but I was grateful and well nourished none-the-less.

Then I was off south on the A38 past Bristol Airport and up into the Mendips. At Churchill, I turned left onto the A368 and headed east, turning right in Burrington and up hill. I climbed from 200ft to over 900ft in only four miles. Then it was down and down and down into Cheddar. On the way up, I’d seen a chap on the other side of the road, trudging along the grass verge carrying a heavy pack. He was dishevelled, dirty and unkempt. I assumed he was a long-distant walker, probably walking JOG to LE. I wanted to pull over for a chat, but a heavy lorry was up behind me having terrible problems selecting the right gear, it crunched and groaned behind me. The moment passed and I was further up the hill.

I dropped down through the Gorge. I’d driven it a few times, both up and down, but never cycled nor even walked it. WOW! The views and scenery are fantastic! I slowed right down and took in the spectacle and even stopped a couple of times. No wonder people go on about the place. It never did anything for me before, it does now. I took a long way round and had a hard ride to get to Cheddar from Bristol, but it was worth it, not least to see the herds of munkjack deer populating the verges. The top end of Cheddar was only populated by tourists. These tourists weren't road-savvy like the deer, I had to do a couple of emergency swerves and verbals at the people as they just walked blindly out into my path whilst gawping at the shops and tourist tat, completely oblivious to anything else.

I found the hostel in the main part of the village just as the local primary school were chucking out. The children were far better at crossing the road than the tourists! The YHA wouldn’t open for a while, but an annex across from the main building, housing the members’ kitchen was. I disconnected Trailer and wheeled it inside and into a clear area to the left of the door. I knew it would be safe there, and rode off into the village in search of a pub.

Two pints of Old Speckled Hen later at the Bath Arms, I knew that the hostel would be open. Bike had been leant against an unoccupied table as I arrived, but got moved as the place filled up. I went over to it and a chap apologised for the move, and he hoped I didn’t mind! “Of course not.” I did really, but I knew Bike was ok outside. I chatted to an old chap who admired Bike, and he told me of his old bike that he’d attached some sort of engine to. He’d paid £200 for a conversion thingy and he got 93mpg from it and was very pleased.

I cycled back and checked in. Others were checking in at the same time, and a car turned up with three trikes on the roof rack. One chap chatted to me about my Mercian, and was very intuitive regarding its new paint-job. He could tell that the modern bottom bracket had only been installed after the paint had been renewed, and that when the frame had been built, that sort of bracket hadn’t been invented! Clever chap. Of course, he was right

After a shower and a stretch out, I wrote up my log and had a cuppa. I walked back down to the Bath Arms and got stuck into a T bone steak with all the trimmings. Great! I splashed out for my final meal, and it was well worth the money. The steak was done just the way I wanted. Fantastic.

After my meal, I had another pint and mooched about inside looking at local photographs and reading the posters about Cheddar and its world-famous cheese. The pub was busy, it was a Friday evening and the weather was glorious. Most people were sat outside on the many tables laughing and chatting away. A great venue for a summer’s evening.

On my way back to the hostel, I saw a couple of chaps looking over an old Mini. It looked in very good nick, and being a Mini enthusiast, I wandered over to join them. They were out for a test drive and the younger of the two was thinking of buying it, the older one knew about cars. As I arrived, the older one was on a mobile phone getting advice from a Mini expert who was telling him what to look for under the rear subframe. I put in my two pennyworth, and we ended up having a good old chin-wag. I spotted that the passenger door hinges were loose, but also complimented the respray job. It was a very nice car - all new carpets and trim, and the chrome work and wheels looked fine. It was going to be a good buy.

I tore myself away and they drove off, then went up to the dorm. As I opened the door, I was consumed by the smell of sweaty feet! It was the JOGLE walker! We talked for a while, and I mentioned his feet! They were covered in plasters and looked very sore indeed. Also his shoulders where the straps from his rucksack had dug in. He was a sorry sight. Despite the fact that he was only in his twenties, his appearance on the road was that of an old man. He recognised me from the hill earlier in the afternoon. I told him of my intentions to get across the road to him, and he remembered the lorry. He told me that not only was he walking from JOG to LE, he was also climbing the Three Peaks - Ben Nevis, Sca Fell and Snowdon and he reckoned he would be the first walker to do it. It had taken him eight weeks so far and had a couple more to go. I wished him luck.

I went downstairs for a hot chocolate, drinking it in one of the common rooms whilst talking to a Mr Boring from Stockport. He went on and on about something and nothing, and I nodded my head and tried to be polite, then went to the front desk to grab the key for the bike shed. I wanted to check Bike over ready for the long haul home, and to go back to the dorm after the smell of feet had died down. The warden couldn’t find the key! She said she’d have to look, but it wouldn’t be far away, anyway she was busy right now and would look later. I kicked my heels for a few minutes feeling quite frustrated. All I wanted to do was check Bike over and get to bed, so I pressed her for finding the key asap. Eventually, she worked out what had happened. She’d given the key to a new arrival, and he’d not returned it. So off she went to see the chap. He came downstairs with the key and handed it over, not realising that there was only one. He was under the impression that all cyclists staying there would have their own key!

Anyway, Bike was fine. I lubricated the chain, and squeezed the tyres, then patted the saddle and said goodnight. I locked up the shed and returned the key, making sure the warden understood that I would be leaving VERY early, wanting the key to be available for me. She promised it would be on the shelf next to the office door.

Back up in the dorm, the smell had abated somewhat, mainly because Mr Smelly Feet wasn’t there. I snuggled down and slept like a log.

Profile of Welsh Bicknor to Cheddar

CHEDDAR to GUNNISLAKE - The Last Bit, at last!
I was up soon after 5am. No alarm clock - my brain knew the time! I’d fretted all night about whether the bike shed key would be where the warden had agreed it would be. I was downstairs like a shot, and picked it up, holding it tightly. The front door had a combination lock, and although the code was written on the inside of the door, I wedged it open with the doormat and retrieved Bike from its prison. Both Bike and me were very relieved.

The morning was bright and fair, though a trifle chilly so early. I couldn’t make my mind up about what to wear, and resolved to make a decision at the last moment before leaving.

I made myself a cuppa with borrowed milk again, did my final packing and crept out of the dorm with Trailer hardly making a sound, not wishing to wake anyone. I connected up and was away to the A38 and south. I decided on a short-sleeved top as I knew the day would warm up, it was only 6.15, but the day was promising with sunshine.

I had to get my head round the fact it was a Saturday. Today I was to get back home and civilisation and normality and domesticity. It was my 21st day since leaving home, I was fit as fit could be, and was looking forward to conquering the last leg of My Grand Tour. I had over 100 miles to ride today, and was eager to fly!

I’d had no breakfast, but didn’t feel particularly hungry, maybe it was because of the adrenaline coursing through my body, I didn’t know. Either way, I decided to get to Taunton before stopping for food. I flew down through the Somerset Levels, arriving in Taunton at 8am and leaning Bike up against a lamp post outside the Cafe Nero selecting a cheese, ham and tomato panino. I asked for it to be toasted and ordered a cup of tea too, then sat outside watching Taunton start its Saturday morning.

All too soon, I was away rocketing south towards Exeter. I planned on going down the Old A38 (now the B3181) through Cullompton, then the Old A30 from Exeter to Okehampton. This route is a little further than my usual route home through Tiverton and Crediton but less hilly.

Wellington came, and I stayed on the by-pass, reaching Waterloo Cross and the start of the B3181 following the signs for Cullompton and Broadclyst. I sped on. I felt strong and very, very fit. I’m sure I was cycling at such a rate that it would be difficult to appreciate that I was pulling a trailer-load of stuff. I went like a train, and the miles piled on.

I followed my nose through Exeter city centre, I have a reasonable knowledge of the place, so felt intuitive about the directions at junctions. I had Garmin for confirmation ensuring I headed south or southwest.

I popped out of the bottom of the city, navigated round the huge roundabout over the river Exe and turned west to find the start of the Old A30. This was the bit I wasn’t sure about and pulled over near a bus station to confirm. I was right, and off I went again, ticking off the villages en-route. Tedburn St Mary, Cheriton Bishop, Whiddon Down all came and went, I stopped a few times for a rest and a Kellogg's cereal bar or two or just a drink of water. The weather was sunny and warm and I was in high spirits, though starting to tire.

At Sticklepath I pulled over and sat on a bench in a bus shelter out of the sun. The hill out of the village is a bit of a long one, so I needed to gird my loins for the task. Funny, but it was easier than I’d remembered it even though I had a heavy load. Gosh I was fit! Tired, but fit!

At Okehampton I needed a meal. I’d planned for the last hour or two to get something to eat there, knowing of a few cafes in the town. I chose the one on the main street and leant Bike up against the window, choosing a table nearby where I could keep an eye on things. I was becoming a dab hand at cafes and leaning Bike somewhere safe! I ordered beans on toast and a mug of tea, and devoured them, wishing I’d ordered two plates! I made do with a second mug of tea. I bided my time as I was ahead of schedule for reaching the Rising Sun in Gunnislake. They open at 5pm, and I knew that the ride from Okehampton to Gunnislake would take me less than 2 hours for the 20 odd mile trip.

Then I was off and away on very familiar territory heading south down the A386 for Tavistock. The road is a very hard slog even without a load as you have to climb up to over 1000ft over Black Down, a wing of the western fringes of Dartmoor. I plodded on, and flew down the other side through Mary Tavy. I made the 100 miles as I passed Kelly College on the northern outskirts of Tavistock.

I was still a little ahead of myself, so rested for a good half hour in the town before the final push over the hills into Cornwall.

At five minutes to five, after 106 miles, I leant Bike up outside the Rising Sun with a flourish, just as the landlord was opening up! Good timing, or what? A few minutes later, Hilary walked in. By that time, I was ready for my second pint, having guzzled the first one straight down. Hilary and me embraced and grinned at each other, then I went outside and unzipped suitcase and fished out her Whitby jet necklace. I got another kiss, and Hilary grinned even more!

Profile of Cheddar to Home

The locals arrived, and I regaled everyone with stories of my travels, welcoming me home and patting me on the back. I was tired, people thought I looked haggard and drawn, and I paced up and down, not wanting to sit down.

I’d done it.

1400 miles in three weeks.

My Grand Tour.

Hilary and me walked the few hundred yards, pushing Bike and Trailer, up the hill and back home.

Snowdonia to Cornwall

Distance - 1412.08miles
Average Moving Speed - 11.43mph
Average Speed through the day - 8.7mph
Total Climb - 80,050.5ft
Average Heart Rate - 117bpm
Energy consumed - 86,054kcal
Time cycling - 123 hours and 26 minutes

Duration of My Grand Tour - 21 days

There you are. Thank you for taking the time to read this, and I hope it stirs you and inspires you to follow in my pedal strokes. I found the whole thing completely and wonderfully brilliant and I’d still be cycling now if I could afford the time. I wholeheartedly recommend a Grand Tour for everyone.

Thank you.


The full route

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