I am very pleased to let you know now that, thanks to such generosity and after the final count, we raised over £5000.00. The money raised will help our special club to keep going.
The ride itself could not have gone any better with hardly any technical problems along the way. That is not to say the ride was easy. I have written a short account on each day to share our adventure with you.
Friday 30th April
Gordon our legendary support van driver and fellow volunteer for Matlock Mencap collects Ben, bike and supplies from work in the transit van and we head down to Penzance where we will be staying at the youth hostel. I realize our 6 hour journey down there will only be just over a 3rd of our total distance and although full of enthusiasm I felt a pang of nervous and doubted myself with the amount of training I had done. I had never covered over 100 miles in a day before! If we were going to stick to our schedule every day except the last would be well over that number. I made a mental note when we passed Okehampton as that is where we were staying after the first day if we made it. We were still travelling for a good 2 hours on duel carrige way before we arrived in Penzance and the sheer scale of the task dawned on me.
An experienced cyclist texted me on the journey down to wish us luck and also to let me know that we were doing it the wrong way as the wind would be coming from the North East all week and the first three days we would be battered with 25 MPH heads winds. Great! We met the other two Cyclists that evening in Penzance. Jim Corrigan and Robin Hutchison. Jim had flown over from South Africa where he works and hadn’t done any training. He had however run the Goby dessert a few years earlier so we didn’t doubt his endurance capabilities. Robin had completed the Berlin Marathon a few weeks prior and was ready for his next Challenge.
1st May (It begins)
We got down to Lands End around 8 a.m. It was a bright sunny morning with a light wind which put us all in good Spirits. We went to have our picture next to the Lands End post but the mileage signs had not been put up yet. The janitor told us people kept pinching them so they didn’t put them up until it opened at 9!
The first 20 miles felt great as we wound down country lanes and took in the scenery. As soon as we reached Penzance we were back on the main road and it soon dawned on us that the route we would follow for the first day was mainly duel carriageway to Okehampton. As soon as we hit the A30 the wind seemed to pick up and we would be tackling the 25 MPH head wind for the rest of the day. Robin Had a puncture 10 miles out of Newquay and a poor repair job meant the tyre went flat again after a few hundred yards. Next stop was Halfords in Bodmin for a new tyre. Not the best start but we pressed on and made good time. Gordon was waiting for us every 15-20 miles up the road and we all dived into the back of the van and indulged in our supplies. The rest of the day went without trauma apart from I was almost blown off my bike when a Tesco lorry came passed me only a foot away. I was beginning to realize how little respect motorists have for cyclists on the road and was looking forward to getting off the duel carriageway.
When we finally reached Okehampton we realized we had only just covered 100 miles and the target had to be around 120. It was around 5 p.m., the wind had died down and it was a sunny evening so we decided we would get to Crediton 20 miles further, then head back to our Youth Hostel in Okehampton. It was a relief to be on quiet country lanes and raced along quite happy with the extra distance . We reached Credition well chuffed with ourselves having covered 120 miles and we felt in good shape. We loaded the bikes back in the Van and made our way back to Okehampton.
The next day we woke up to drizzly rain and one or two aches and pains. The drive back to Credition was quite rewarding and we were relived we had decided to cover the extra distance the evening before. We were aiming to get to Monmouth and had another 120 miles + to cover. We put whatever water proof clothes we had on but we were soaked to the skin and freezing 5 minutes down the road. It was quite a relief that there were some big climbs out of Crediton heading for Tiverton as it kept us warm but our progress was slow as the rain and wind got stronger. By around midday we had only covered around 40 miles and we knew it was going to be a tough day.
By early afternoon the rain had stopped but the wind got stronger and we had to peddle down hill or the bike would stop. It was one big push but when we eventually saw Bristol in the distance we knew we were on track and at last it had stopped raining. After we passed Bristol Airport it was nearly down hill all the way into Bristol, which was well earned after all of the climbing we had done. Cycling through Bristol around 5 pm we realized how far we had covered in just over a day and a half . The Severn bridge was a welcome sight and awesome to cycle over. Over the other side we headed for Chepstow. After a steep climb up past the race course were some of the best roads I have ever been on and we felt we were really making ground touching speeds of 50 MPH! As we raced down the roads we could see the Severn bridge far away in the distance. We eventually passed through Tintern and stopped to look at the Abbey, which is an impressive structure. From then on it was winding forest roads and far stretching meadows all the way to Monmouth. By the end of this day the aches, Pain and chaffing were beginning tell!
We set off from the travel lodge before 9am with one of the longest days ahead. We were aiming for Warrington 140 miles up the road. We set off in sunshine and started the steep assent out of Monmouth and headed for Hereford. Everything ached on this day but the constant banter and stunning scenery seemed to ease the pain. Gordon was always busy backwards and forwards and as we were often at different paces he would go to and fro to each of us to make sure we were ok. The amount of food we were consuming through the day was extortionate probably around 10,000 calories and a litre of fluid an hour. This day seemed relentless as we passed through Herefordshire, Shropshire and Cheshire. As we passed through Cheshire the rain clouds gathered and the heavens opened on us again. I really enjoyed this final stage of the day and smashed down on the pedals as the rain soaked us through to my skin for the last 30 miles arriving at around 8.30pm. One hundred and forty miles….DONE!
Each night when we had arrived at our destination everywhere had stopped serving food so we had to resort to Kebab houses and found ourselves eating Pizzas out on the street pavement. This night was no exception apart from we found an Italian restaurant that were happy to rustle up some Pizzas to take away. Pizza and cans of Guinness back at the hotel room was our reward for that days feat.
We left our b&b early and made our way through Warrington. After the beauty of the Herefordshire and the Cheshire countryside our surrounding would be more industrial especially for the first part of the day as we joined the rush hour traffic and negotiated endless traffic lights and roundabouts.
After Warrington we made our way through Wigan, Preston then up to Lancaster. Although this was one of the shorter days at just over 100 miles we knew we were in for serious climbs and the Cumbrian Fells loomed up before us as we looked out over Morecambe Bay. Our next stop was Kendal and we enjoyed the last descent into Kendal before we hit the steep climb that would eventually take us to the top of Shap Fell. This was an arduous 8 mile ascent and my lungs and legs were bursting when I finally reached the top but it felt good to stand on top of the highest road in the country and look back down at what we had just come up! We flew back down the other side of the fell in what seemed like mid-winter temperatures and the wind chill was painful. A few miles later we were slumped over well earned pints of Guinness in our b&b in Shap village. This night in particular we felt the accumulative effects of the last 4 days. Increasing chaffage, rashes and other unmentionable sores were the main topic of conversation!
My cycling shorts hadn’t dried over night after their daily wash and I hobbled to my bike in wet shorts that morning. We all felt shattered but set ourselves up on the usual breakfast of scrambled eggs on toast. The object of this day was to reach Lanak and we all looked forward to crossing the Scottish boarder later on that day. We enjoyed the rest of the Cumbrian countryside as we wound our way around the M6 and the A6 and made our way up to Penrith carrying on the A6 and through the centre of Carlisle. After a few unintentional de tours we finally crossed the Scottish boarder and rode into Gretna Green.
Although people kept on telling me we should have gone from North to South we had all agreed it would give us something to look forward to reaching the highlands of Scotland rather than waving it goodbye after 4 days. I felt we had made the right choice despite the constant head wind and we spent the rest of the day winding our way around the A74 in breath taking scenery. We passed Kirk Patrick, Fleming, Ecclefechan, Lockerbie. I noted Abington some 40 miles away up the road and decided to get my head down and push hard until I reached there. The faster I cycled the more the pain seemed to ease away and the scenery inspired me to get round that next corner and see what was next. Just as I had nothing left to give and the constant hunger I was getting used to reached climax, Gordon's tuck shop drove past me just as I reached Abington. I jumped in the back and regained my energy levels. Rob and Jim showed up soon after and we regrouped, ate some more chocolate bars and set off on the final stretch to Lanak.
This time something stirred in Rob and he made a break at an uncatchable pace for the final destination of the day. I didn’t see him again until I made it to Lanak and he was sitting on a wall looking very pleased after his stage win! Jim turned up shortly after and we piled all the bikes into the back of Gordon's van and made our way over to Jim’s Auntie and Uncles' who had kindly offered to put us up for the night. I thought just the sight and smell of us would have been enough to be turned away but we were made very welcome and enjoyed some home cooked food and Scottish hospitality.
Waving farewell to Jim's Auntie and Uncle, Gordon drove us back to our landing spot the night before in Lanark. We headed out of the town on a steep ascent and made our way towards Carluke and around the outskirts of Glasgow. We rode through mainly built up areas as we made our way to Stirling. On reaching Stirling we had our picture taken with William Wallace on his horse and then pressed on through Bridge of Allan and Dumblane. We left the beaten track and after hours of busy roads we were relived to find ourselves back on quiet country lanes that would eventually lead us the scenic way to Crieff.
I passed numerous dream houses you would be happy to retire in for the rest of your days with far stretching views and reclusive quietness. Once again I got the bit between my teeth and left Jim and Rob having a more leisurely ride behind and peddled as fast as I could towards Crieff. I raced down a long descent past a small village of Muthill and past Drummond Castle. On reaching Crieff, I cycled up the steep road leading into the town and Gordon was parked at the top. By now Gordon had established a sixth sense as to where we all were and who needed fresh supplies the most. As we all cycled at our own pace we were usually spread out and he did a great job all day long to help us. I don’t think he relaxed for a minute!
After a short stop and quick glance at the map I decided to press on, as I was feeling good and was ready to tackle the A822 just out of Crieff which looked like the next mountainous climb. Unbeknown to me I set off in completely the wrong direction! I charged on through roads with high peaked mountains either side and felt happy at the progress I was making. I started to doubt myself as, after a good 5 miles, I still hadn’t seen a sign for the A822 which didn’t look that far on the map. Enjoying myself I pressed on hoping I would see signs sooner or later. Eventually I reached a village called St Fillians at the start of a far stretching Loch. I asked a local if he know where the road was I was looking for. He confirmed what I was starting to worry - that I was going completely the wrong way! Feeling slightly dejected I started the long trek back to Creiff. I called Gordon on the way back and said “Good Creiff Gordon I've gone the wrong way”!. He came to the rescue but I was frustrated, as I had worked hard to make progress and peddled a good 20 miles out of my way knowing I had a big climb ahead of me. He dropped me back where I had set off at the top of the high street and I set off with my chin up. By now we had all become accustomed to the aches and pain of relentless cycling and we felt confident we could just keep on going as long as we stayed focused on the task.
When I reached the A822 a short way out of Creiff, Rob and Jim were long gone and the climb I had anticipated was long and remote. Our destination was Pitlochry and a sign post told me I was around 35 miles away, as I started the ascent. I worked hard all the way to the top and Gordon was only ever a few hundred yards away up the road. Probably worried I was slightly delirious and may head out he wrong way again! When I finally reached the top I enjoyed a well earned descent, albeit freezing, down winding roads in the evening sunshine with fabulous views until I eventually reached the distillery town Aberfeldy.
I felt back on track now and enjoyed the ride, as I made for the A9 that eventually got us to Pitlochry. The short stretch on the duel carriageway reminded me how much I had enjoyed being off it all day. As I rode through main road in Pitlochry a friendly chap doing the gardening waved me over and told me I was staying at his B&B. Jim and Rob had asked him to look out for us. Our hosts asked us where we were heading the next day and we told them we intended on reaching Golspie 140 miles up the road. They shook their heads and said
"no chance"! This only spurred us on even more feeling like they had challenged us. Once again too late to find anywhere to go for a meal we ended up at the local Chinese take away and demolished some chips and curry!
We knew the penultimate day was going to be a slog. We looked at it on the map and the gap between our start and destination looked daunting. We set off in cool early morning sunshine the air was damp and fresh after rain the night before. Our route would take us on the A9 all the way to Golspie. The first few miles of the day we ran along side the A9 on quiet B roads before joining it again at Bruar. We then cycled hard all the way to Dalwinnie a good 30 miles up the road before we had a first break.
A good friend of mine from Fort William came and joined us here and paced us for a good few miles up the road before eventually heading back to find Jim who was trailing behind and paced him also for a good way before heading back to Fort William. Lovely to receive such support.
We noticed the disused A9 running along side and in certain places we could ride along until we found the road further along near Newtonmore where it was still in use. After a morning of high head winds and lorries buffeting close by us we were glad to get off the busy road. We were able to enjoy more of the scenery this way and white capped mountains loomed all around us. At this point we met up with another team of cyclists on the same mission as us, only they had allowed a few more days to complete. Their support vehicle was an extremely noisy quad bike piloted by a large well weathered chap in a bright orange high visibility suit. We became well acquainted with this chap as he passed us dozens of time over the remainder of the ride. He will have covered the distance twice of nearly 2000 miles by the time he got home!
I was surprised at how much snow there was around and as we reached Aviemore there was word that people were still skiing up in the mountains. After a short break at Aviemore we started a long ascent passed Findhorn viaduct then onto Moy. As we approached some road works Rob braked slightly harder than I expected in front of me and caught me off guard. I lossed my balance and went straight over much the amusement of roads workers and people sat in traffic. I lay there motionless for some time trying to work out how to unclip out of my pedals in a dignified manner. Rod rode off into the distance unaware of my embarrassing situation!
Finally after hours of remote Scottish highland we made the long descent down to Inverness. We hadn’t seen Gordon since Dalwinne but he now caught up with us as we arrived in Inverness at around 5pm. Jim was many miles behind us on his steady but consistent pace and Gordon had stuck with him. Rob and I decided to press on as we still had over 50 miles to cover with many bridges to cross if we were to reach Golspie that day.
We joined the rush hour traffic over the bridge passed Inverness onto Tore then eventually down another long descent to the second bridge at Findon mains. After the bridge we were heading North East along the coastal road, which hugs the east side of Scotland that would eventually get us to our final destination. We seemed to be heading in this direction for hours battling a strong head wind. We lost some time as Rob had a puncture after hitting a pot hole. We were running on empty by this time and after a quick puncture repair and refuelling on a few dusty sweets we found at the bottom of our rucksacks we were off again and didn’t stop again until the third bridge we got to just after the Glenmorangie distillery. We stopped and sat on the bridge for a breather. It was a fabulous evening and an incredible sunset. We stared inland and the sunshine burst through low lying clouds casting beams of light and a golden haze all over the mountainous land, the water back up the estuary was a deep orange colour creating one of the rare moments you seem to get a glimpse of heaven. It was worth cycling over 700 miles so far to see that sight. We only had one more bridge to cross before the final few miles. We now headed in a more Northerly direction. Wild deer sprung up in the fields in the remote country side and dashed off as they caught sight of us. We passed over Cambusavie platform and after another five miles rode into Golspie just as we were losing the light around 10pm. We found our B&B on the other side of the Golspie. We were excited to see it was a small pub buzzing on a Friday night. Once again we had missed last food orders but the landlady took pity on us and went off to cook us some dinner. Jim and Gordon rolled up like heroes 2 hours after us. Jim looked as broken as Rob and I were but was soon revitalized with a few well earned pints of Guinness. Jim had endured 15 hours in the saddle that day as opposed to our mere 13! It felt like a celebration that night after covering 140 miles and leaving us with around 80 to go.
We set off around 10 am to begin the final day. Although we had a shorter distance to cover we had been warned about the undulating coastal roads and the steep descents and ascents of the small towns of Helmsdale and Berridale. The coastal winds battered us once again from the beginning and our tired legs, knees and saddle sores seemed to ache more than ever. The beauty of the coastal scenery and the thought of the finish line drove us on. We passed ancient castles, which stood proud on cliff edges staring out at the North Sea. The coastal towns were as described and we flew down steep descents and laboured back up the other side. We reached Wick and left The A9 and headed up the A99 the final road to our destination. The landscape is quite flat and open around Wick and for the last sixteen miles the wind was stronger than ever. It seemed it was trying to make the final stretch as difficult as possible and we really had to earn the last few miles. We passed some cyclists coming the other way and they shouted over that the last mile was down hill. This was a welcome message and when we had cycled up the final hill and stopped to take in the view we all coasted down to John O' Groats with Gordon following just behind.
A large crowd cheering us in would have been nice but we all beamed with a sense of achievement as we rolled into an almost deserted John O' Groats at 4pm. It was a strange feeling as every day we hoped we would reach the finish line but now it was over I felt quite sad.
As it didn’t appear that anything was happening in John O'Groats, we decided to go and have a small celebration in Wick. The next day aching but happy we piled into the van to make the long journey back to Derbyshire. It was rewarding to think we had cycled all this way and the journey home gave us plenty of time to consider what adventure to do next!
Thank you all again for your sponsorship.