Lie back and think of England!
(and parts of Wales and Scotland too!)
Le Jog 2004 by recumbent tricycle
This particular trip is something which I had never dreamed of doing until we took delivery of a Trice Classic Recumbent in our Spinal Injuries Centre in mid 2003. This will allow our patients with spinal cord injures to get some good exercise and possibly some other health benefits at the same time. It has a few modifications from standard, especially an extra chain driving a drum which will be fitted with a rotary shaft encoder. This will enable us to fire the electrical stimulation to the paralysed muscles at precisely the correct time, allowing them to pedal 'normally'. I thought it might also be a great way to raise some funds for a partial weight-bearing treadmill we are hoping to buy for the early rehabilitation of some of the Patients at the Centre.
The Author on one of the many 'test flights' (the shaft encoder drum can be seen just below the chain-rings)
I had done about 100 miles on the Trice by November 2003 and was really impressed with the way it handles. It's not much good if you are shy, as almost everyone stops to stare. Car drivers (the ones that see you at least!) are generally quite patient and seem to think its about 8 feet wide, but I am very conscious (and hope to keep it that way!!) that you are even more vulnerable than on a normal bike. The other thing I noticed very early on is that my ears are at exactly the same height from the ground as a fully grown Alsatian's gob. Secondly it's about as close as you can get to a human-powered submarine, when it's raining. A pair of front mudguards, should help there though.
So the big day drew ever closer (May 8th) for me to set off on my epic 1000 mile ride up the British Isles. If I had a pound for every time I was told I was going the wrong way, cos' it's uphill all the way - the sponsorship pot would be overflowing. I'll tell you more about the reasons and other info. later.
Day Zero, May 7th 2004
Following a wonderful full English breakfast, Christine and I set off in bright sunshine for the long trip south to Land's End, with the half dismantled trike in the back of her Honda Civic. This was a deviation from the original plan, which went awry as soon as we contacted our insurance company to insure a Renault Kangoo Van, which had been offered to us for the trip by our great friends and first class vehicle dismantlers David and Pat Willingham. It seems that insurance companies have great difficulty in helping anyone with a request which the their computers cannot handle. I was quite prepared to pay, but it got very involved and messy, so they were told (politely I think!) to shove it where the Sun don't shine - hence the use of the Civic. There had also been a slight hiccup in obtaining spare spare tubes for the front wheels too, long story but promised by one company who had none when we went to pick them up. So at almost the eleventh hour I had to contact the trike suppliers in Cornwall (ICE HPV) who kindly popped a pair in the post to the Hospital for me to have the following day. Er, no, not the next day or the next day either! So it was off 'darn sarf' without them. We had a great traffic free trip and stopped in Moretonhampstead where I managed to get a tube with the wrong valve (Schrader instead of Presta) and a 6" round file and handle to open out the hole in the rim if need be.
We arrived in Sennen, about 2 miles from Land's End and found a great B and B place which, it turned out was run by a couple of Yorkies (like myself!) who had both worked at the Spinal Injuries Centre in Lodge Moor Sheffield - the first of many strange coincidences and spooky happenings. Christine set about making a well earned brew (where's mine then?) whilst I put the trike back together and gave it the once over. We strolled along afterwards to the First and Last fish and chip shop (don't you just hate it? I can cope with Last, but who the hell sails into Land's End these days for it to be the First?) The meal however, was fantastic so I didn't care really.
I felt it was best to turn in reasonably early, as I had a little cycling trip planned for the following day - and the next, and the next.....
Sennen Cove on the evening before the trip
I trundled off just after 9 the following morning only to have the chain jam in the front changer a few hundred yards before 'Tacky Rip-off on Sea', oops, I mean Land's End, but just a couple of see-saws back and forth soon sorted that out, with no further recurrence for the rest of the trip. Following the usual stampings of sheets and photos, it was off on the ride of a lifetime.
A very good place to get away from - May 8th 2004
I made good progress on the A30 toward Penzance and then used a fairly quiet stretch to Leedstown, where a fellow tricyclist was coming towards me with a cheery wave. "That's a funny looking bike" he remarked as we both stopped for the inevitable natter. He had recently retired from the NHS and lived not too far away and asked if I knew the Guys at Trice. "Only by phone and letter" was my reply, and it turned out that he had been at the Factory only a day or so previously. "Bugger!" said I. "If only I had known I was going to bump into you, I could have got you to bring a spare tube" And so I related the story of the lack of spare tube with the correct fitting. "I've got a couple of spares in the pannier, you're welcome to one of those" he said and insisted that I took one as 'sponsorship'. Many thanks, Bill, I owe you a pint sometime - it really lifted my spirits even higher.
I pressed on and met Christine for a picnic lunch just past Redruth and then picked up the A390 towards Lostwithiel (it's not really lost as I found it very easily) This is where strange happening number 2 occurred. The A390 is quite a pleasant, if a little busy, road and in the distance in a short line of parked cars a young blonde girl next to a sports car flagged me down to stop. "Ambush!" flashed through my mind, but there were plenty of other folk around , so I stopped. "It's Ian, isn't it? I'm Alan's Daughter, Elanor" Now Alan, whom I had worked with at the Hospital had said to Elanor (who now lives in Cornwall) that She should look out for a strange chap on an even stranger three-wheel contraption - and here we where! I chatted for a while before we were interrupted by a chap on a racing bike who stopped to look at the trike. No offence to the guy, he was very enthusiastic and polite, but I wanted to talk to Alan's Daughter and perhaps take a picture of this bizarre event, but I had to press on eventually, as Lostwithiel was to be my rendezvous with Christine and our next B&B.
Christine about to send me off from the delightful little farmhouse in Restormel, Lostwithiel for my second day
She had decided to spend part of the afternoon at the Trewithen garden centre, buying a few plants and enjoying a very pleasant walk around the grounds, and it was outside the impressive entrance that I met her for an afternoon break. We met again in St Blazey quite by chance, as I took on water in a little lay-by and then it was onwards and upwards to Penpillick Hill which turned out to be nowhere near as arduous as the local ‘Job’s Comforter’ had indicated as Christine and I stood chatting. I made good progress to Lostwithiel, where she was again waiting so that we could find accommodation, but I started to feel quite chilly as I waited in a pub car park until Christine had done a little trawl of the town for B&B, and on her return there appeared to be nothing much on offer. We were about to continue towards Tavistock, when a young chap approached and asked if we needed help. If you think about it, it’s rarely much use asking local folk where the nearest accommodation is, as they already have somewhere to stay – do YOU know where the best bed and breakfast can be found in your area? Anyway, as luck would have it, his Sister-in-law ran a farmhouse B&B about a mile away, so we duly made our way along the track and found this little haven of peace after only ten or so minutes. There was even somewhere to store the trike, which pleased me greatly as I was acutely aware of the fact that I was totally responsible for its safety.
Another very bright and warm day greeted us as I packed the trike and set off from the farmhouse in Restormel (Lostwithiel), retracing my route back on to the A390 in the direction of Tavistock. I was beginning to get into a rhythm by now and taking on water and food at about the right intervals, as well as finding timely occasions to vent some of the waste products. As I approached the magic 100 mile point I felt quite happy with myself that all seemed to be going according to this very vague plan. The weather had been fantastic so far and I even got my legs out for a short time as the afternoon sun bathed the whole of my selected route.
Well that's Cornwall done then, now let's have a go at Devon!!
There is a fantastic down-hill section approaching the Tamar Bridge which divides Cornwall from Devon, where I reached 40.6 miles per hour, and with your arse so near to the ground, that’s bloody quick I can tell you! Needless to say, what comes down must go up and I was now faced with a bit of a climb into Devon and on to our next rest halt at Tavistock. We had not really intended staying there but as I approached the town centre and had parked up on the pavement for a quick drink, I spotted Christine walking towards me. She too had stopped at this delightful little town and although it was only about 4 o’clock, we decided it would be a great place to have our last evening together before she had to head for home. A few minutes later we had found a suitable spot to lay our heads and although there was no easy place to leave the trike, I was allowed to secure it, out of sight, to the front wheel of a very large 4 by 4 belonging to the owners. I just had to hope that he remembered it was there if he had to go out unexpectedly! We strolled across into the town and found a lovely little place for an evening meal, but perhaps due to the fact that I would be on my own from now on, I had difficulty eating very much. Even the following morning I struggled to do justice to the wonderful breakfast put before me. I packed the trike and bade my farewells and set off for the long, slow climb up onto Dartmoor and stopped after an hour or so for refreshment where Christine caught up with me for our last little break together.
It was difficult to watch her disappear into the distance without the appearance of a bit of a lump in my throat – this really was it now, man and machine alone in the wilderness – well, you know what I mean!
Fantastic views around Dartmoor and even the Ponies stopped for a picture!
I had a very pleasant trip over Dartmoor and down through Two Bridges before coming once again to the cosy little village of Moretonhamstead, where we had been the previous Friday afternoon. I negotiated the outskirts of Exeter using the GPS and at one of these brief pauses, a chap came walking towards me wanting to look over the trike and during the conversation it turned out that he himself had thought about building one. I spotted his T-shirt with pictures of Citroen 2CV's and we had a good old natter about cars, bikes and the like. It was not long before I joined the A38, and the traffic was surprisingly light and the air had that wonderful fresh smell after the earlier downpour, which had occurred as I chatted to the 'Tin-Snail' man . I was joined along this next stretch by a local cyclist, who tagged along at my somewhat relaxed pace as he made his way home from work enjoying a distracting conversation. It was one of those strange days when you feel that you could go on for ever and I triked on until around 7 when I spotted the Halfway Hotel in Willand, not far from Cullompton. Thinking that there would be accommodation on offer, I parked up next to a sign which read ‘Bicycles Only’ hoping that the village pedant was away for the day and entered this very pleasant but deserted country pub. The Landlady gave me the bad news that they didn’t do accommodation, but also a phone number of a farm which did, and was ‘just up the road’.
Another wonderful breakfast again the following morning, and I was ready for my next battles with my three arch-enemies; drag, friction and gravity, although by now the countryside was beginning to flatten out as I edged my way along through Somerset with a stop along the side of the Bristol Channel planned for that evening. This particular day was quite uneventful and I felt that I had left most of the steep climbs behind for a while and made good progress along the relatively flat landscape stretched out before me. I had been criss-crossing the M5 for some time and was now heading for Cleveden for my next stop over.
Rest for the night in Clevedon near Bristol
The just-about-acceptable breakfast was served up by a stern-faced young Czech girl who also fleeced me of the cash for the stay and I struck up a conversation with a retired military man and his wife from the US as we ate; the lady was originally from Austria, a country we have visited many times, so that passed a bit of time before it was time again to load up and head off. Somehow or other you have to cross both the Avon and then the Bristol Channel to follow the route up through Wales and it might surprise you that you use the Motorways! There is a good, if slightly well hidden cycle path alongside the M5 and also one alongside the M48 over the old Severn Bridge.
The old Severn Bridge
The latter being found only after a false start on another track, which ended abruptly at the foot of a flight of a dozen or so steps – not too easy with a fully laden trike and no chance in a wheelchair. So today’s route took me along the docks at Avonmouth with lots of very well mannered truckers assisting my safe passage through and then it was over the second of the two aforementioned bridges to drop me into the Principality on the A466 for my trip up the Wye Valley. Sometime around two in the lovely warm afternoon I spotted an inviting butty Van alongside Chepstow Racecourse, and sampled my first bacon sandwich of the trip, to be washed down with yet another cup of tea, served up by Vicky and Sarah of Torah catering.
Victoria and Sarah at the Butty Van outside Chepstow Racecourse - Thanks for the very kind sponsorship
Tintern Abbey in the beautiful Wye Valley
I spotted the ‘Old Rectory B&B’ as I entered Welsh Newton, which seemed to beckon me in an instant. A lovely black Labrador came shuffling towards me as I parked up and rang the bell to be invited into an equally lovely old house with a single en-suite room just for me. I unpacked and took my things upstairs and had a very relaxing bath before coming down again to sit outside on the trike whilst making some notes and ‘phone calls for the day. A little later I strolled along to the small church of St Mary the Virgin, which to my surprise was open and sat for a while at one of the oak pews.
I returned to the B&B and sat once more in the lounge reading for a while, and listening again to the regular one-second swing of the pendulum clock – what is it about that type of timepiece which seems to deliberately make you want to take your time?
I awoke once again to a brilliant blue sky and the sound of bird-song through the open bedroom window. I showered and made ready for another mystery trip, with nothing more than a vague route known to me. I really enjoyed the breakfast and was in no real hurry to leave. I eventually paid, collected my things and packed the trike once more. I wanted to stock up with some more provisions today, especially fancying bananas and oranges, and it was with this in mind that I pulled up not so long after setting off, in the quaint little village of St Weonards, being enticed by the Village Store and Post Office, which reminded me of Arkwright’s place in ‘Open all Hours’. I was by now in great need of a stop to do the usual bladder-emptying thing and found an eminently suitable spot at the entrance to a field, but no sooner had I stopped the trike when a couple of chaps on bicycles pulled up to chat. They too were doing the ‘End to End’, but just for the hell of it, or so it read on one of their T-shirts. We took a few photos and they eventually sped off into the distance and I managed at last to pay my call of nature.
Thatch in the peaceful Shropshire countryside
The next part of my route was a little complicated as I made my way through Shropshire and on to my next overnight in Bishops Castle, but again the GPS came to the rescue. There were very few real hills to contend with by now and the countryside was dotted with small farms and a few thatched cottages. Bishops Castle is a wonderful place, but since the demise of the rail system not particularly well visited. I spotted the ‘Old Brick Guest House’ and turned up the lane next to it. The guest house has a CTC sign outside, which I didn’t notice until I returned from the Six Bells where I’d had a fantastic evening meal.
The lovely rooms in the Old Brick Guest House in Bishops Castle Shropshire. Rosie and Norman certainly know how to look after folk (website too!)
There was not much of Shropshire left and I was soon into Cheshire, which wins the first of my prizes for being the County with the highest concentration of arrogant and ill-mannered motorists so far encountered. Most seemed to be piloting the latest, very clean four-wheel drive vehicles taking Tabitha, Ptolemy and Sebastian to and from private school, before venturing ‘off-road’ into Tescburys supermarket car park. Invariably, there was a scrape on the nearside of the front bumper, where they just didn’t quite miss the gate post of Arsehole Towers. Biased? Me? You should try it sometime, I was glad to get away from them – all of them.
I thought about carrying on all the way back home to Southport, but without any real pressure, called it a day quite early on, very close to the Oulton Park racing circuit at the Red Lion, a charming little pub opposite the Church in Little Budworth. This was a very sunny Friday evening and I had a most pleasant stroll around the village before returning to the pub for an excellent evening meal. There were only a few of us at breakfast the following morning and I gleaned that there was a days racing at Oulton Park as I struck up a conversation with one of the Competitors and his Wife. He was racing a Piper GT, a very much admired sports car from the 60’s and he also turned out to be a very useful contact for parts for a Jaguar ‘D Type’ replica which I am building.
Red Sandstone Church in Little Budworth Cheshire - not far from Oulton Park Circuit
The run home to Southport was not particularly interesting, except that I was harassed by a bunch of idiots in a Citroen Xsara on a number of occasions who were hurling abuse as I made my way towards Warrington. I was mentally working out a route which would drop me in the direction of Ormskirk and thence to the Hospital, where I would leave the trike for the remainder of the weekend, before starting out again on the Monday morning. I pressed on through Ormskirk and rang Christine at around two, as She was coming to meet me at the Hospital to take me home until Monday.
I had a very relaxing weekend at home with Chris, rambling on about my ride since that long climb onto Dartmoor, from whence she had left for home on the previous Monday morning. I was quite surprised how well I felt after over 400 miles in a week on the trike, no aches or pains and really looking forward to the second leg. I thought I ought to spend a couple of hours back at the Hospital on the Sunday, checking the bike over and lubricating the chain and controls in readiness for the push North on the Monday (17th May). The only small repair needed was to replace the small screws which attach the toe clips to the pedals, as I had lost one of those back in Devon and had effected a simple repair with a ubiquitous cable tie. I had neglected to Loc-tite these particular screws, something which I had done with all other fixtures and fittings (pannier frame, mudguard brackets, etc) to prevent them shaking loose on the trip, so I had only myself to blame. Chris did us a wonderful meal and we managed a glass of wine or two in the evening and generally just 'chilled out'.
I was due at the Hospital again on the Monday morning for yet another photo call and to exchange pleasantries with whomever might be around. One of my colleagues and cycling companions from previous fund raising and 'Last of the Summer Wine/Men behaving Badly' trips, had decided to escort me out of town and have a bit of a ride along with me. I'm not sure how we got our wires crossed, but Malcolm was nowhere to be seen when it was time for me to leave the Hospital.
On my own again, I trundled up the A6 in the very pleasant sunshine aiming for Carnforth, where I intended to head out towards Arkholme on the Kirby Lonsdale road, and on to my next stop with Paul Airey and his family. Paul is a patient of ours who has a spinal cord injury from a motorcycle accident some years back and when he heard of my forthcoming trip, he offered me (on behalf of his Mum and Dad) lodgings for the night. Paul's Mum had prepared a fantastic meal and we sat for a very long time filling ourselves with home cooked fare and downing a glass or two of wine.
Paul's Dad's tinkering shed
I had a very pleasant time with them all and turned in quite late after a rather full day. Sleep came very easily and before I knew it, it was time for breakfast before packing the trike with panniers and top bag for the long climb over Shap and on to Carlisle, which I reached slightly later than planned, but had phoned to let them know and John was waiting for me at the end of the drive with his arm in a sling!
Over the big granite lump
He’d told me of this earlier and had just come out of hospital following a shoulder operation. It was rather overcast when I awoke the following morning so after a hearty breakfast and preparing the trike, I took the precaution of donning my waterproof trousers, which, as ever proved unnecessary and they were swiftly removed a mile or so down the road.
Scotland at last!
From Dumfries the road heads in a little more northerly direction, so the strong head-wind I had experienced from Carlisle was now desperately trying to push me into the passing traffic as I pressed on to Sanquhar. It was approaching 5 o'clock as I squeezed my way through the busy main street, with the now familiar assortment of seemingly abandoned vehicles littering the otherwise picturesque road edges. I spotted a small sign on my left, enticing me down a narrow alleyway for B&B at one side of a cobbled yard. I was quickly shown to a very pleasant en-suite room and informed of the possibility of a wonderful evening meal, which sounded fantastic to me after a day in the 'saddle'.
I shared the table and a few stories with a couple from Hertfordshire who were doing the End to End in a very civilised but casual way on a Tandem. It appeared they had set off some time last year and did one stretch, then returned home. This was followed some months later by another large section, before returning home again. Now they intended doing the whole of the remainder in however long it would take. I know nothing about the intricacies of Tandem technology, but when Derek told me that the front chain had suddenly become very slack and had jumped off a time or two, it was out with the 'Bicycle Repair Man' outfit to see what could be done. The breakfast was up to the high standard of the previous evenings fare and was taken at a very leisurely pace whilst our hostess Josie told us of a forthcoming trip to a garden party at Holyrood House at the invitation of Her Majesty no less! Which was in recognition of the charity work she and her Husband Angus are involved in. As a little bonus for me, I got to see his motorbikes in the shed too – a Honda 550 Four and a dismantled Ducati, which apparently had recently spat out its dummy.
Derek and Audrey with their tandem
The B&B leaving ceremony followed by now accepted practice and included hand shaking, email address exchanging and yet more photos. Turning left along the still fairly quiet A76, I settled into my rhythm but had difficulty deciding what best to wear; there was a slight chill to the early morning air, although I was putting plenty of effort in, which raised my own temperature slightly. I've never quite got that bit right.
I really like the A76 along Nithsdale and was rewarded today with a slight following wind which increased the speed somewhat. Eventually I began to encounter the Glasgow overspill and on the outskirts of Kilmarnock, was further reminded of my proximity to that (in)famous City by having the good fortune to be 6 inches too far back to collect an egg which had been thrown out of a passing vehicle.
I pressed on towards Irvine and out West to Ardrossan, where on a whim I had decided that a ferry trip was needed to add a bit of variety. I had been perusing the map during the evening before and figured that taking the Caledonian-Macbrayne ferry to Arran, then riding from Brodick to Lochranza at the northern end, followed by the short crossing to Clonaig would be a ‘Topper’ idea and would put me on some interesting roads in the general direction of Inveraray. I felt that I ought to ride for an hour or so after doing nothing much at all for the last couple of hours, but in the event found what seemed to be the ideal place to rest my head, and so it was that I drew onto the gravel drive of the Allandale House, which is less than half a mile from the terminal in Brodick. The crossing had taken about an hour and the single ticket, which included tomorrow’s ferry from Lochranza, was only £8.50 for the trike and rider.
I soon unpacked, showered and enjoyed the stroll down the hill and along the almost deserted front. As I had already eaten onboard ship, I settled for a pint of lager in one of the slightly forlorn looking sea-front bars, and was once again treated to the suspicious looks from the locals – perhaps I had been sitting in old Hamish’s seat, even though he’d probably been dead for twenty years, at least that’s how it smelled to me.
It had been raining during the night and after a wonderful Dutch version of a Scottish breakfast, I once again set off with my over-trousers on, only to take them off again five minutes down the road when the sun came out. The views across to mainland Scotland and up along Arran were so spectacular that I rode in a very leisurely manner for an hour or so just drinking it all in.
Brodick Bay on Arran
There is a fair climb on the way to Lochranza, but you are admirably rewarded with a gradual but exhilarating descent to the Arran Distillery, along which I was followed at great speed by Volvo estate, its driver appearing quite content to stay behind me. I decided to turn into the Distillery car park and lo and behold! – so did the Volvo. Although I am not a whisky drinker, I knew that I could gain some Brownie points if I could buy a bottle and have it sent home to Christine.
I arrived at the slipway in Lochranza to check on ferry times and figured that I had enough time for something to eat, and having passed a little village store a few minutes ago, made my way back there to see what was on offer. I love these cosy little places in Scotland and due to their often isolated position, stock all manner of things which would normally need about four shops in a town.
I ended up being the only passenger on the floating skip to Clonaig and just sat pressing buttons on the GPS unit. I discovered that it has a ‘Man Overboard’ facility, whereby you press a button which marks exactly your position, so that if and when you reach land, you can alert the emergency services of the whereabouts of your lost seaman (see! spell-check does work!) The system I eventually settled on was a Garmin G60CS and was bought new from the States via eBay for less than half the price of the identical unit in our local high street shop. It’s a 12 channel unit and is about the same size as a mobile phone. We use it for walking, cycling, motorcycling and in the car – brilliant!
The little single track road from Clonaig on the Kintyre peninsula was splendid, so once again I just savoured the moment and took my time. There were some black clouds approaching but I could see lots of blue sky behind them, so I stopped for a while, leaving the trike on the grass bank, while I sheltered under the cover of a few large trees with my waterproof leggings in my hand. Hopping around on one leg with broken branches underfoot, I actually managed to put them on just in case and then it hammered down with rain for a good five minutes, but stopped just as quickly as it had started.
This next stretch of road was one of the worst I had encountered in Scotland, renowned by all of us motorcyclists for its better roads and the birthplace of Robert Macadam himself, but to this pedal pusher it was horrible. The surface was very open and huge craters and pot-holes were everywhere. I could see in the distance a crater at the leading edge of a metal grid, but in view of the car and caravan about to steam past me I had to keep my course, rather than change it to avoid the pot-hole. The two front wheels cleared it alright, but the central rear wheel whacked the edge of the sharp metalwork and the tyre went down immediately. I hurled abuse at the caravanner as loudly as I could for squeezing through and not waiting until the oncoming car had passed, but he was no doubt too busy adjusting the graphic equaliser and answering the phone, to hear me. Bugger! Thankfully the rim was not damaged; the tyre had one small nick in the sidewall, so it appeared that the tube was the only real casualty. I had a spare and some levers somewhere in one of the many pannier pockets; in fact everything necessary to be on my way as quick as Michael Schumacher on race day. I had stopped in a field gateway which had plenty of room and a reasonable surface to sort it out. Unusually, I remembered to put on a pair of disposable gloves before I started work and then set about removing the top bag and panniers, quickly followed by the rear wheel. The tyre came off easily, as did the tube, making the ‘snake-bite’ easily visible.
The Lochgair Hotel seemed welcoming enough and they had a room for me and space around the back for the trike.
I repaired the damaged tube in the comfort of the hotel room, to use as a spare, but in the event that was to be the one and only deflating incident on the whole trip. Once again in holiday mood, I opted to visit their excellent restaurant and fitted myself around the outside of a lovely peppered Aberdeen Angus steak. At the risk of mixing grape and grain, I washed this down with a couple of glasses of Merlot, which joined the earlier thirst-quenching lager shandy, with no ill effects.
Saturday morning arrived with a flush of bright blue in the sky and the prospect of a swift ride to the north of Oban. Onwards to Inverary and out through the Arch, then onto the A819, I felt at peace with the World, and the traffic was almost non-existent. I have travelled this road many times before, by motorcycle and in the car but it looked unusually beautiful today, the sky being a very vivid shade of blue and the gorse exceptionally golden-yellow in the early afternoon sun.
In need of further sustenance, I pulled into a lay-by where there was just one other car and caravan, this was soon joined by a small saloon with a couple from the States, with whom I struck up a very interesting conversation. This peaceful situation was soon brought to an abrupt end when 3 cars pulled in, spilling their occupants out into the afternoon sunshine. All three cars had their radios blaring out the same ‘music’ as they proceeded to drag all of their children, plus accoutrements out along the shore of the Loch to ‘enjoy the peace and quiet’ of the afternoon, radios still blaring.
As I left Connel and headed out towards Benderloch, I made the decision to look for somewhere to stay on the road to Kiel Crofts, and as this was Saturday, thought it best to do it sooner rather than later. Spotting a sign down to the Hawthorn Cottage and Restaurant with accommodation, I headed down the long drive towards them. Following an excellent meal, I had a bit of a sort out of the panniers, put the 'phone on charge and washed my cycling vest again and then called it a night, giving in just after ten.
I awoke very early on the Sunday morning and hoped to get to Spean Bridge at a reasonable time to meet up with Roy Moss, one of the patients from the Spinal Injuries Centre. Roy had chatted to me many times before the start of my trip, and I met him on my way back into Southport for lunch on the previous Saturday.
I washed and changed and wandered along from the Chalet to the Cottage for breakfast, where I was met by the wonderful aroma of eggs and bacon being fried. On entering the breakfast room, I sat with a couple from the Netherlands before being joined minutes later by another couple, this time from South Africa and two chaps from the States. This early start I had hoped for soon began to evaporate as we all chatted over our excellent Scottish breakfast. When one of the two Yanks turned the conversation towards ‘Eyeraq’ and George 'Dubbaya' Bush I thought it prudent to make my escape.
I was particularly looking forward to riding through Ballachulish and over the big bridge which many years ago did away with the little ferry, which had itself saved a huge detour around Loch Leven. There is a tea room now at the golf course on the south side of the bridge and it seemed a suitable place to sample a toasted sandwich and tea, at a table outside, sheltered from the midday sun by a huge umbrella. There was an Eagle high up in one of large trees which kept me transfixed for some time - I began to understand the fascination which Orville and Wilbur Wright must have had for flying.
Not far from here I had my one and only incident which nearly ended the whole adventure of the End to End ride; in the distance on the road stood a group of sheep, as I approached, all but one scurried off to the left over the grass verge to get away. The one remaining decided to run away at some speed in the direction I was travelling, obviously frightened by this weird mechanical contrivance approaching. I was travelling along quite nicely at about 15 mph with a good rhythm going, but was not making much ground on this wayward beast, which was darting about all over the place. With the benefit of hindsight, I ought to have stopped to let it clear off somewhere, but in the event, as I was already pedalling quite quickly, I went for a higher gear so that I could put some more effort in and speed past it. What actually happened was that I accidentally selected a lower gear, causing my feet to spin wildly and throwing my left foot from the toe clip, thus allowing it to hit the road with considerable force before being dragged back and under the cross rail of the trike. This resulted in my leg lifting the machine off the road before I somehow managed to drag it out from underneath.
The sheep by this time had made a dash for it over a low wall and into a field - it's probably still there now! I had a searing pain in my leg, but had the wherewithal to glance in the mirror and slow down to a stop and into a gateway on the opposite side of the road. Stupid things go through your mind in a split second at times like these - the first was that I had done close on 800 miles and was not going to let this stop me, secondly, I had my mobile phone with me and as long as I could get this broken leg plastered up, I would be able to carry on without a problem - weird or what? When the pain began to subside and the nauseous feeling went, I realised that I had not actually broken anything, I felt much better and had a drink and some more oatcakes and then decided to rub the back of the calf with Germolene from my little first aid kit. This probably helped more by the massaging process than from the effects of what was in the cream, but I was able to bear weight on the leg after 15 minutes or so of rest. Eventually I tentatively pedalled away, using the right leg much more than the left and everything seemed good enough to carry on. Apart from a slight tenderness in the calf, which was still evident for over a month, I never really had any more trouble with it.
I arrived in Fort William later that afternoon and visited the 'hole in the wall' to replenish the dwindling stocks of Scottish funny money and then pressed on to Spean Bridge, where I would start looking for accommodation for myself and Roy, who was due to join me later that evening. I was attracted to a professionally painted sign for the Spean Lodge and when I approached it down a long gravel drive, immediately felt that this was to be the place.
The wonderful Spean Lodge
I showered and changed in time for Glen to bring out tea and shortbread to where I was sitting in the spectacular grounds - this is the life! Roy arrived about seven and after the introductions, we were off in his Jeep to the Stronlossit Inn in the aptly named Roybridge for our evening meal. Roy’s Jeep (a new Grand Cherokee) is quite high off the ground, and having spent almost two weeks with my backside only 4 inches from the road, it reminded me of sitting upstairs on the front seat of a double-decker bus when I was young – a very strange experience!
There was a tiny bit of drizzle as I was getting the trike ready the next morning, but it had gone altogether as I climbed the hill past that wonderful Commando Memorial, which had swirling mist around the legs of the Soldiers – very ethereal. Roy passed me some short time later and we had agreed on contact at around four in the afternoon. I made good progress in spite of a little discomfort from the left leg following the sheep incident the previous day. I thoroughly enjoyed the trip along Loch Ness and on to Drumnadrochit, where I turned North and headed for Beauly. This takes you up a fairly steep section, which was described in a book by Phil Horsley as a ‘punchy little climb’, yeah, right! This valuable little resource was lent to me by Peter Gawthorne, another Hospital escapee who had himself cycled the End to End the previous year. Somewhere near to the top of this section, which goes on and on for ages, with many false summits, I met another lone cyclist coming the other way and we just coasted to a halt for a well earned rest and chat.
Monday’s traffic was much lighter, free from weekenders and caravans thankfully were few and far between. I have a friend who used to have a sign in the back of his car which read ’Keep Yorkshire Tidy – Burn a Caravan!’ Roy phoned me around four to say that he had found a great place to stay in a bungalow between Beauly and the Muir of Ord, and asked if I thought I would make it there; as I was only about five miles away, I let him book it and met him just a few hundred yards from it about half an hour later. It was a magnificent place and this time there were only a couple of steps for Roy to cope with in his chair. Our hosts Pat and George made us feel very welcome in their home and following the usual shower and change, we were ready to go in search of food. The Lovat Arms back in Beauly seemed about right, so Roy parked on the front and we made our way into the very sumptuous looking dining area. We were quickly served by the very attentive staff, who by their accents were from Eastern Europe, probably for the experience - or am I being naïve? Anyway the food was great and it was good to relax again even after a relatively easy day. When we got back to the B&B, the owner, Pat joined us in the lounge and we had a very pleasant hour or so talking about this and that.
Just outside Beauly
The following morning after another wonderful breakfast, Roy took some pictures of me with the trike next to the Ross and Cromarty signs, something which I had been doing at each county boundary since the beginning - no, I don't know why either! I cruised into Lairg a little earlier than expected and started looking for suitable accommodation for the two of us. The first place I spotted looked ideal as it was bungalow, but when I asked, they had no vacancies; they were kind enough, however to suggest a few others. The one I chose was just across the bridge and right, alongside the Loch (Shin) and when I enquired was shown a choice of rooms in a very 60's style place, run as best she could by a charming old widow. The house was quite cold and a little damp and I believe we were about the first guests of the season, even though it was late May.
Bicycle repair man at it again!
We were very pleasantly surprised at the breakfast the following morning, rating as it did amongst the best that I have ever had - just goes to show, you must never pre-judge! Our revised plan today was to rendezvous for lunch at the Altnaharra Inn and this was achieved without drama at around 12.30. When it was time to move on we had a little discussion about possible routes, Roy picking the more isolated track up past Ben Hope, easily negotiable in his four-wheel drive Jeep, whilst I opted to turn right along Loch Naver and then follow the river Naver to the North coast at Bettyhill (or Benny Hill as it became known from now on!) This was a real gem of a road and for me the sheer tranquillity of it all made me take frequent stops just to savour the whole thing. At one point there was a kestrel wheeling about overhead, a cormorant fishing from a rock, the occasional sound of a cuckoo and once again, a brilliant blue sky with bright golden gorse all around me. I saw hardly a soul along that stretch, which made it all the more memorable.
The end of Strath Naver near Bettyhill
Just before I reached the North coast which at the point where you meet it, is actually West facing, I encountered two walkers and slowly trundling past them on an up-hill section, exchanged a few words. Mike was walking the End to End for a Prostate Cancer Charity, a disease to which he had lost his Father some eighteen months previously and had been joined for this section to Bettyhill by a friend whose name I didn’t catch. He had set out over ten weeks ago but expected to be in JOG by the Sunday of that week, it being Wednesday today. It was good to talk to them for a few minutes, but I didn’t want to break their all important rhythm, so I pushed on some more. As I headed East with the azure blue sea to my left and the eagerly awaited words ‘John O’Groats’ on each sign I passed, I spotted a board for Elizabeth’s tea rooms – half a mile, and wondered if Roy might spot that too and be waiting there. It was approaching four o’clock and our normal contact time, so instead I rang him and suggested we meet there.
He was waiting in the gravel car park as I turned in and was ready for a brew and something to eat as the hosts Graham and Elizabeth welcomed us into their tea-rooms, craft shop and Tourist information centre. Graham asked where we intended staying that night, to which we replied that we would just stop when I felt tired and find somewhere then. He rang around a great number of places and eventually found us a place at the Strathy Inn, which although it would provide another challenge for Roy and his chair, access-wise, was about all that was available. They certainly went to a great deal of trouble to try to prevent us from having any. We were really glad that we had taken his advice, as we didn’t see anything at all along the very often hilly section to Strathy, and I doubt I would have enjoyed cycling all the way to Thurso, probably arriving at ten in the evening or even later! The Strathy Inn was just what we needed; a very friendly couple running it and a gang of workmen working on a water-pipeline, staying long term B&B. We had a great evening with fantastic food and company, before making our way up the narrow, winding staircase to bed – if the ‘risk assessment’ people had seen our antics, I would have been sacked on the spot, it’s a good job Roy’s chair is very light in weight.
Another fantastic full Scottish breakfast awaited us in the morning and then this was it – the last bit!! I was to meet Roy just on the outskirts of Thurso for Lunch as he thought that there would be little opportunity for me to find adequate sustenance and he had certainly been busy at the Safeway store there – sandwiches, chocolate buns, a new flask, tea bags/coffee, and he had even blagged some boiling water from the café – what a star that man is! As we sat in the leather-covered comfort of the Jeep, enjoying this magnificent feast, Roy was getting as excited as I was at the prospect of arriving at John O’Groats later that very same day. I wanted to have a photo at the sign for Dunnett, which I very nearly had.
One more rendezvous at Gills, then it was a gentle roll into the finish. The man at the photo booth who puts all of the letters on the sign board appeared to have difficulty with spelling – perhaps a strange choice of occupation!
That's it then!
The very kind Lady in the tourist goody shop signed my log sheet to say that I had finished my epic ride and then it was time to load the trike into the back of the Jeep for the trip South. This was not too difficult in itself but where can I put Roy’s chair and wheels? A bit more sorting and all fitted in without a problem. Roy then pulled out a Congratulations card and a bottle of Champers – see, I told you he was a star!
The original end-plan was that my Sister Janet, who lives near Aberdeen, was coming to pick me up and take me back to her home for a few days, before Christine would come up to pick me up. Roy’s visit meant a much simpler plan had now been hatched. He would take me back to Janet’s, have a few days there and then take me back to Southport. At this point I must explain a bit further; my niece Rebekah, who now lives in Cleveland Ohio, USA married Steve who himself has a high spinal cord injury and is confined to a wheelchair. When they visit my Sister and brother in law Jim, there is a special wheelchair friendly bedroom, which Janet and Jim have fully equipped with all of the necessary adaptations, so Roy could make himself at home there.
Eventually it was time to head home again and we chose the rather more scenic route through Braemar and Perth to get to the M74 and down towards Carlisle, to pick up the M6 and on towards home.
So a little about the trip, well I had covered 1035 miles and had cycled 18 days, the trike was a fantastic way to see our beautiful countryside and certainly helped raise a few more pounds along the route, as well as relieving me of a few. I actually lost over half a stone and felt all the better for it. Would I do it again? is the often asked question and my answer is a resounding 'NO!' The reason being that I enjoyed it so much and had near perfect weather, I really don't think it would ever be the same another time. There are however, some really great long distance rides to tackle in other places.
Finally, a few facts about the trip: I covered 1035 miles in 18 cycling days which took me to the following overnight stops:
Day 0 Sennen
Day 1 Lostwithiel
Day 2 Tavistock
Day 3 Cullompton (Willand)
Day 4 Cleveden
Day 5 Welsh Newton, Herefordshire
Day 6 Bishops Castle, Shrewsbury
Day 7 Oulton Park, Cheshire
Day 8 Southport
Day 9 Southport
Day 10 Carnforth
Day 11 Carlisle
Day 12 Sanquhar
Day 13 Brodick, Isle of Arran
Day 14 Lochgair
Day 15 Spean Bridge
Day 16 Windhill, Beauly
Day 17 Lairg
Day 18 Strathy
Day 19 John O'Groats
The GPS told me that I had averaged 10.4 mph when cycling and that is just a tad short of 100 hours pedalling, but unfortunately it also gave me the bad news that I spent almost 67 hours talking, eating, drinking, peeing and all other activities when not a pedal was turned. I switched off the GPS at each day’s end, so at least it didn’t catch me sleeping! It’s probably obvious, but on a trip like this, you have a lot of thinking time; and during one relatively uneventful spell in the Scottish Highlands, I got round to wondering how many times I had actually turned these pedals. I selected a relatively flat section together with a ‘sweet’ gear for a comfortable 15 or so mph and counted the total complete crank turns for a mile. I repeated this on a few occasions during that day at different speeds and came up with a surprisingly consistent answer. Bearing in mind that I was sometimes pedalling very slowly uphill and other times like a man possessed, this would approximate to some sort of average and not be very far wrong. It transpired that over each and every mile travelled, I had turned the pedals 500 times, so therefore over the whole End to End trip, I had turned them Half a Million Times. I was quite surprised at that figure and it makes you realise just how big a number a million is.
Another relatively useless but nonetheless interesting pieces of trivia to some, is that the GPS also records the total height ascended, in other words, as you ascend hills it records cumulative increments of height gained, but does not subtract the downhill bits. It was therefore of great wonder to me that I had climbed over 66,000 feet (3 Mt. Everests!) on the trip.
Obviously, in travelling the whole length of this wonderful island of ours, there is a huge choice of routes available; I opted for a basic route using relatively main roads in view of the fact that the trike is quite large and unsuitable for anything off-road. This was obtained from the CTC and was used as a framework on which to hang my own little deviations and detours and as outlined previously, a Southern start was preferred, hopefully to take advantage of the prevailing wind. With hindsight, I am really pleased with that original decision, as I would have hated to leave the tranquillity of Northern Scotland behind, in order to head for increasingly busy places. Another early decision was to seek accommodation as I progressed, rather than pre-booking anything, which was fine at that time of year, but could perhaps have posed a problem at the height of the season. Carrying a mobile phone and the GPS was comforting, and both items provided very worthwhile insurance psychologically. I also took a digital camera with a spare card to store a few memories of the trip.
Having two large panniers and a top bag meant that I could take a fair amount of spare clothing and waterproofs and having toured by motorcycle for many years, I have become accustomed to estimating the correct amount of gear to take. I have no objections to buying an odd item or two or even to discarding unnecessary stuff. As the trike is somewhat more complicated than an ordinary bike, I had to be a bit more conscious of what tools to carry – obviously spare tubes for each end were needed and a puncture repair kit (2 in fact) were carried. I felt it necessary to carry chain lube, tyre levers and a multitool which Malcolm picked up for me with allen keys, a chain splitter and even a gadget for removing boy scouts from girl guides knickers!
I feel that I must add a brief note by way of a thank you to all of the very kind and generous people who donated money to this worthwhile cause – the money (almost £5000 to date) has been added to existing funds earmarked for the Gait Re-education Project and I can now report that the Partial Weight Bearing Treadmill has now been ordered with a promised delivery date of early in 2005.
This recent update includes a précis of the book which I have just finished writing about the trip, and it will be printed in the early part of 2005. It's an A5 paperback of just over 100 pages plus a few photos and will be sold in order to add a bit more to the pot. Early indications suggest that it will be priced at around £10; so if you would like a copy, then please email me at the following address:
ianstallard at hotmail dot com (please change the 'at' and 'dot' to make a sensible email address - it avoids spam!)
and I will put your name on the list and inform you when it becomes available. I might even be persuaded to sign it for an extra quid!
It's now available from all good bookshops or direct from me, with the title 'Lie Back and think of England (and parts of Wales and Scotland too)'
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