Woke up this morning to blue skies, sun and not a breath of wind. Would you believe it? Call it Sod’s Law if you like but we were thinking of some of the poor souls we saw last evening as we drove south. They were still slogging northwards into that bloody wind. One pair, on mountain bikes, looked pretty grim. They had that haggard, haunted look and the bikes were wobbling around on the road. We hope they get a beautiful day to finish.
Just before we get the polish and dusters out and give the bikes a well deserved clean we thought we’d just put a few reflections together before too much time passes and we forget the relevant bits and pieces. Or at least those bits and pieces that we might want to forget.
So, on the morning of the day after finishing the overwhelming feeling is one of delight, tinged with a certain amount of relief. We cycled a total of some 960 miles with an incredible ascent of somewhere in the region of 44,000 feet. We’re not too sure how accurate that is but it’s what Garmin tells us so we’ll take it as a fair approximation. Amazingly, the toughest days in terms of height gained were the first 4 or 5 days. Almost 20,000 feet of ascent in five days over 330 miles. That’s why we were so knackered in Cornwall, Devon and Somerset. We did initially have this vision of stopping every few miles for a cream tea in the sun but it wasn’t to be - it wqas pretty much full on cycling, head down and cursing the hills that went on and on and on…
The weather was pretty mixed, it has to be said, but started off reasonably, other than a very wet start from Land’s End. We even had cycling shorts on for a few days but I think we probably had at least some rain most days, including a spectacular hailstorm near Boscastle and another one near the end just outside Wick. We had snow on one day, mixed with sleet and we had wind in our faces every day. That was the biggest surprise of all. We had deliberately gone from south to north to take advantage of the normal prevailing wind but that certainly wasn’t the case this year. On about half of the days the wind wasn’t really a big problem. We were either sheltered from it or it was so light it was merely an inconvenience but on other days, particularly the final three days, it stopped us in our tracks in places and was, occasionally, a real safety hazard. I was blown onto the barrier on the Kessock Bridge ands Hamish, while performing his regular buttock de-clenching, was brought to a rolling stop on several occasions.
The wind certainly slowed us down. We had hoped for an average speed of between 10 and 12 mph for the entire trip but ended averaging just over 10mph. We had also originally planned 70 mile days over two weeks but ended up with a slightly shorter average of 64 miles over 15 days. Bearing in mind neither of us had ever cycled much more than 70 miles in a day before I guess that wasn’t too bad.
We felt fairly happy with our choice of route. Initially we followed the CTC route plan and while it did avoid the busy main roads it did have a penchant for seeking out the steepest hills and out of the way side lanes. I’m sure it was pretty scenic but we were too busy trying to keep the wheels turning to notice many of the views. About half way through we chose our own route, largely because Hamish had scouted out the route in the north of England previously and I was pretty familiar with the landscape in Scotland.
The breakdown of the route was as follows;
Land End to St Columb Major - Great Torrington - Bridgwater - St Arvans (near Chepstow) - Ludlow - Nantwich - Clitheroe - Sedbergh (Hamish’s hoose) - Longtown - Peebles - Perth - Newtonmore (my hoose) - Conon Bridge - Helmsdale - John o Groats.
We used B&B accommodation virtually the whole way, other than a couple of overnights at our own houses, two nights in a Travel Lodge and one night in a Premier Inn. In the TL and PI were were allowed to take our bikes into the room with us and this was an issue with booking B&B. We felt it was important our bikes were under a roof and locked away for the night and some of the B&B we tried to book didn’t have this facility. All the B&B were very good indeed and some were excellent. We only booked a night, or maybe two nights in advance, simply because we weren’t sure where we might be several days down the line. I used an iPad to check availability and we then booked in advance by phone. On the only day we didn’t book in advance (Bridgewater) we couldn’t find any B&B’s at all, or hotels and it was only by good fortune that someone said there was a Premier Inn just along the road. That saved our asses from extra miles cycling. The only other area we had difficulty booking accommodation was in the Dingwall area. Everything was booked solid, mostly by firms involved in the oil and renewable energy sector and by squads of workman on various projects in the highlands. Later in the season, when the LEJOG numbers really build up, it might be an idea to book everything in advance and not risk ad hoc booking along the way.
We visited three bike shops en route, Brenin Cycles in Market Drayton, Rock to Roll Cycles in Brampton and Mike’s Bikes in Aviemore. Brenin Cycles kindly fixed a cleat in one of my shoes - I had lost one of the screws, and refused to take any money. Robin Clark from Rock to Roll Cycles really went out of his way to help us out of a real jam when one of Hamish’s tyres blew and he even took the trouble to give the bike a thorough going over. In all three cases the bike shops were welcoming, encouraging and very attentive. My thanks also to Alpine Bikes of Perth and Inverness for servicing and advice and Hamish would like to thank Ghyllside Bikes in Ambleside; Marie Raynor of Sole to Soul in Bentham for keeping his body upright and moving, and Shaar Holroyd of Kendal Alternative Nutrition for advice and freebies.
Thanks to Edinburgh Cycle Cooperative for the bits and pieces of kit they gave me - it all worked superbly well (especially the Revolution Leader waterproof jacket which was superb and the Revolution Forsa windproof jacket which was a Godsend)and I’ll blog about the individual items later, and to Rohan for sending me some of their new cycling range.
The bikes, who actually did all the hard work, performed superbly. I was using a Ridgback World Panorama touring bike and it performed admirably. Nothing went wrong and I can’t fault it in any way. It has been cursed and abused and yet it did its job day after day without complaint. Hamish used a customised hybrid bike, a Marin San Anselmo, which apart from the tyre blowout was a cracking wee workhorse.
Finally, many thanks to all of you who helped and encouraged us on the way - the wee guy in Somerset who let us shelter from the train and offered us a couple of glasses of cider - the lady from the post office in Brampton who found a cycle shop for us - the guy near Wick who complained the Scots still had a thing about Culloden - everyone who politely and patiently gave us directions when we were temporarily misplaced - all the waiters and waitresses who fed us cakes and scones and tea and coffee - and all the other End to Enders we saw passing in the opposite direction. We hope they have as great a time as we had. And of course we couldn’t have done it without the support from our nearest and dearest, a constant source of encouragement.
And many thanks to all of you who kept in touch through this blog, through Twitter and Facebook. It was really great checking in every night to read your comments, but we haven’t yet mentioned the great secret of End to Enders, and long distance cyclists in general. A truly heartfelt thanks to the makers of Soreen Malt Loaves - this fabulous energy source is appetising, comforting and absolutely delicious in a yummy, sticky, gooey sort of way. Highly recommended.
So what’s next? Well, we’re looking at an End to End through Ireland for next year. The thought of all those Irish pubs with Guinness and folk music and of course, the Irish craig. Can’t wait…