Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Day 15, the Last Post!

Well here I am back in the comfort of home with a bike to service and kit to sort out.  I had a long lie this morning as the alarm was set for 07:30, but not as long a lie as I shall have tomorrow  The day was the best possible on which to complete the journey.  Sunny, tailwind, and still quite fresh (my arms haven't seen the sun since Cornwall!)  The last 21 miles was a dream with good tarmac and gentle hills on quiet back roads (and with panniers that had been virtually emptied into the car).  The last 10 miles to John O'Groats provided no cover for a comfort break whatsoever (no trees up here) so the first thing I had to do on arrival was find Anne for a 20 pence piece ... nothing is for free at this spot!

After a quick morning coffee-and-cake picnic, I changed, loaded the bike into the back of the car, and we headed home to Inverurie.

So this is it.  All over.  Back to normal life, or as normal as it's likely to be whilst the next project is carried out (a total kitchen refit).  So what have I achieved?  I've covered 1045 miles of some of the best cycling territory that Britain can offer.  I've sat in the saddle for 94 hours and 52 minutes making an overall moving average of 11.02 mph.  I've climbed 16,187m of ascent (and it feels like most of that was in Corwall & Devon).  I've been shown great consideration and kindness (like when Ian from Slochd Hostel drove out to chase me down and return to me the water bottles I'd left on the step); and I've seen some real idiots in control (possibly) of cars and trucks.  I've been nearly run off the road twice and had my butt slapped once.  I've had generally fantastic weather for cycling except for the day traversing Inverness and Beauly Firth, with happily no heatwave.  The only item on the packing list that was not touched was the sun-screen.  I've stayed at quite a range of B&B establishments from the full spectrum of standards.  All hit the spot and provided exactly what was needed at the time, and the hosts have all been great.  Special thanks must go to the Hermitage Cottage in Market Drayton for a really pleasant evening of their company and a great standard of accommodation too.

Hewitt Cheviot SE

My trusty hand-built Hewitt Cheviot SE has performed absolutely faultlessly for the entire trip.  It was self-serviced before the journey with a new chain fitted and has been brilliant.  It's taken some big hits both on the road and on the tracks, but the wheels still run perfectly true.  Thank you Paul Hewitt and all at Hewitt Cycles for turning out such a gem (and to Hewitt's Gethin who is the inspirational record-holder mentioned in the intro to this blog).  I have had no punctures at all.  I can say that now.  The p-word is an unmentionable subject amongst cyclists on tour.  (The only time the subject came up was when I was asked by an obvious non-cyclist, one breakfast time, if I'd had any yet.  He also asked the other question that gets my hackles raised : "How many gears has your bike got?" . "27 actually".  Happily this wasn't followed by the second most banale question that is generally asked : "Do you use them all?"  And in case you're wondering, yes I do; I paid for them, I'm damn well going to use them!). 

1045 miles polishes the rivets!

Happily I discovered Sportful Tour cycle shorts before this trip and thay have been brilliant.  I can really recommend them to anyone contemplating a long trip.  They're the best shorts I've ever used.  These and my ace Brooks B17 Champion Special have kept my 'contact points' in good shape for the duration.  A little bit of Ischial Bursitis (Google it!) was the only slight discomfort during the entire trip but this is probably due to my lack of natural padding!  (Easily controlled with anti-inflammatories)

View from the cockpit

A lot of planning went into this trip by both Joe and me.  It paid off.  All the routes were planned, refined and uploaded to my Garmin GPSMap 62s.  It has behaved faultlessly for the entire trip. The rolling OS mapping was a huge benefit when closed roads were encountered and diversion routes needed in a hurry.  The only problem is that the past-actual, and yet-to-come height profile display can be pretty depressing when you see a big hill looming in a couple of miles.  If anyone wishes to use the route that was finally followed then I can let you have the .gpx files of every day's track.  There is virtually nothing I'd change in retrospect, unless Leigh, the most depressing place I've ever ridden through, could be avoided.

I have to say big thanks to wives Anne and Maeve without whose support this trip could not have been contemplated by Joe and me.  Their encouragement and support, both moral, logistical, nutritional, and accommodational, was invaluable.  Corwall and Devon, in particular, would have been a harder place without their bag-carrying assistance.

The low point of the journey was inevitably Joe's unscheduled medivac at Nantwich.  He was, and still is, gutted.  Happily all is now well with no lasting effects and it was an event that could happen to anyone, anytime, and was not necessarily triggered by the exercise.  LEJOG, for Joe, remains unfinished business!  It was fun riding with Joe, we were well matched, it's just such a shame that it didn't continue until the destination.

For me, I look forward to no alarm clock tomorrow!  I'll have a day off to sort out my stuff, then I might just go for a bike ride.

Thanks to all who have been watching our progress on this blog.  It has provided additional impetus to the journey, and has certainly meant that we couldn't slack off and get away with it.  I hope you, in turn, have derived some entertainment from following the story as it unfolded.  I know that I shall enjoy re-reading it and reminding myself what we've done ... it all tends to merge into a blur after a while!

Adios, until the next adventure ...

Phil Keeble

Day 15 part 1, Thurso to John O'Groats

Made it!

Job done by 10:45 and what a beautiful day to finish on!

Full account to follow later, but stats for the day : 20.9 miles at 13.0 mph avg; 1hrs 36min saddle time; 216m ascent.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Day 14, Lairg to Thurso

It's getting closer!

The forecast was good and so it turned out to be. After an early breakfast at the excellent Saddler's House B&B, I exited Lairg at 08:00.

Heading north, I noted yet again a pleasant tailwind ... it all helps! There was not much chance of getting lost as there was only one road north out of Lairg. The logging lorries that I'd been warned about were out in force and that was one vehicle I was more than happy to pull over for!

At Altnaharra (no more than a pub and a few houses) the NCN1 bears left and follows the 'A' road to Tongue. I really don't know why. I forked right and followed the single track road all the way to Bettyhill along Strath Naver. This is a truly beautiful ride with easy gradients, such as there are, and little traffic. It also stays much lower than the Tongue road, and makes the route a wee bit shorter. It also results in having to cycle less of the hilly, windy coastal road

Getting closer to the north east tip, more and more cyclists were evident, clearly doing the end-to-end the wrong way round. (German cyclists can always be recognised by their matching 5-piece Ortleib pannier sets, by the way).

Snack stop and lunch break were both provisioned from the food Anne left with me when we met up at Inverdruie/Slochd. The weather stayed fair with plenty of sun but was still a bit nippy. Jacket and windshell were worn all day. Two miles south of Bettyhill I ran into the coastal wind. This then acted on me as a head wind all the way along the north coast towards Thurso. This, combined with the repeating long, bottom-gear grinds up the switchback coastal road really dropped my speed. It was every bit as tough as Joe had warned! It was a great relief to roll down finally into Thurso to rendezvous with Anne for the last night's B&B before journey's end. After a, what can only be described as adequate, meal in Scrabster we had a stroll around the sea front in Thurso (don't book a week's holiday here) by which time I was ready for some shut-eye.

Only 22 miles left!

Stats for the day : 75.2 miles at 11.1 mph avg; 6hrs 46min in the saddle; 907m ascent

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Day 13, Slochd to Lairg

Blog Day 13

Slochd to Lairg

The advantage of staying in a hostel is that you are not restricted on breakfast times so can get up early. Only problem is that you have to creep around in semi-darkness because of others in the dorm. That done, a hearty non-fried breakfast ensued from provisions out of Anne's red-cross-parcel. Then, of course, you have to clear up - a disadvantage of hostel living. Being early, the shed wasn't open so I had to warily ring Ian, the host, but got a friendly reception, happily. Swiftly changing into waterproofs before leaving, on account of the threatening clouds, I loaded up and sped off thinking what a brilliant place this was.

I completed the climb to Slochd Summit then plummeted down the other side. At Tomatin I was hortified to notice that I'd left both drink bottles on the hostel step, but with a long day ahead, bad weather brewing, and the prospect of reclimbing Slochd, I decided to leave them and continue. This was with some anxiety as it was a Sunday and I may not be able to find bottled water. 8 miles down the road I was overtaken by a wee 4x4 with man waving a bottle. It was Ian who had spotted the bottles and chased me down! What a star!! A service well beyond the call of duty; I was terribly grateful. Thank you Ian.

Not long afterwards as I approached Moy the rain came on, slowly at first, then the heavens opened! The approach to Inverness, crossing the city, passing over the Bridge, and riding up the Beauly Firth was all a blur literally. It absolutely bucketed down and only eased off as I reached Conon Bridge. My run of good weather-luck had truly ended. Feet squelched, eyes stung as 2 weeks of accumulated sweat-salt leached out of the helmet padding and ran down, and all thoughts were focussed on pedalling hard to cover some miles and to keep warm. A bus shelter past Conon Bridge was my morning snack stop, and a gateway near Evanton was my lunch venue.

Slowly the weather improved as I climbed up after Alness, the sun actually came out briefly and it warmed up by mid-afternoon.

By the time I reached the Falls of Shin the rain started again. I passed Carbisdale Castle and crossed the river via the railway bridge viaduct (see picture) before riding the final few miles to Lairg where I was welcomed, dripping wet, at the B&B with a cuppa and toast and syrup!

Everything is now dry and it should stay so tomorrow so long as I get to Thurso by 18:00 (according to Met Office). There's motivation for you!

An early night is called for ... I've been really needing the alarm clock the past two mornings!

Stats for the day : 79.0 miles at 11.6mph avg; 6hrs 47mins in the saddle; 877m ascent.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Day12, Blair Atholl to Slochd Summit

Woke up to a grey day, but no rain and little wind. After a big breakfast and a stop at the Blair Atholl corner shop for sandwiches, I left town at 09:00

Again I kept to NCN7 and climbed steadily into the lowering clouds. The mist turned to drizzle then turned to
light rain as I climbed higher towards Drumochter, so I stopped to don waterproofs. This had the usual effect of stopping the rain almost immediately and the weather started too improve from that point on.

I soon met up with John, a retired KPMG man who was also doing a lone LEJOG and we rode together for quite a while. I was going to stop for a coffee at Dalwhinnie, but there was no coffee shop, so continued.

The winds were at our backs, the track was well surfaced and the gradients all now downhill so we made excellent progress. Roadworks north of Dalwhinnie had closed the cycle track and we were told we were supposed to phone Recovery for a lift along the road on the breakdown truck. Aye, right! 2.1/2 miles? All downhill? Brand new asphalt? Single lane with no overtaking allowed? No-brainer! We hit the A9 with gusto and beasted it down the road with a tour coach and tailback in hot pursuit and cracked it in around 6 minutes. I left John in Newtonmore as he took a break and I carried on apace as I was meeting Anne for a picnic lunch at Inverdruie. I covered the 52 miles to there at a pleasing average of 12.7 mph (and remember, all you who scoff, that this included Drumochter Pass with a full pannier load) By this time the sun was shining strongly and the knee warmers came off (donned today for the first time this trip)

After dumping some dirty washing and eating my fill (and dumping my rancid old cycling mits - Anne brought my new ones over) I left my good lady to go for a walk and continued towards tonight's abode : the Hostel at Slochd. This a) got me an extra 4+miles past Carrbridge; b) lowered my average accommodation cost; and most importantly c) got the climb to Slochd Summit over on a comparatively short day. Tomorrow is c78 miles but the first 23 are virtually all downhill to Inverness. The hostel is brilliant. I can get my own breakfast as early as I want and get cracking. Good find, Anne!

Anne picked me up after a shower and we had a meal at Carrbridge's Cairn Hotel (CAMRA pub of the year 2011, coincidentally) then we split until Thurso.

The end is getting closer!

Stats for the day : 68.6 miles at 12.0mph avg ; 5hrs 40mins saddle time; 798m ascent

Friday, 24 June 2011

Day 11, Callander to Blair Atholl

It didn't rain all night and it didn't rain at all today, so hooray for Scottish weather! Sunshine and clouds with favourable tailwinds was the theme, but it remained cool in temperature. I don't think my arms will see the sun this trip!

I left Callander at 08:55 and hit the NCN7 again which took me by traffic free track and some country lanes to Killin. A tea and bacon butty stop at the burger van just before the descent into Killin was a life-saver, and I took the time to oil the chain in the sun. The NCN7 is a brilliant ride, well recommended, especially the scenic stretch above Lochearnhead (see picture).

The descent from the burger van was great and just clips the southern end of Killin before routing you along the switchback lane that runs the length on the south side of Loch Tay. A great ride and virtually no traffic.

I tried for a lunch at the new poncey bar/restaurant by the bridge at Kenmore and fell about laughing at the price of a sandwich, turned on my heal and departed. I had a much more reasonable toastie at The House Of Menzies near Weem ( and ate most of my 'insurance' pork pie bought yesterday in Aberfoyle).

Cracking on, I soon joined the route we followed on the Etape Caledonia and got to Pitlochry at 16:20. This was a good thing as I was under strict instructions to get Anne some Smartwool arm warmers from the bike shop there. I also got my tyres pumped up for free!

5 miles to go and I arrived at the Ptarmigan Guest House in Blair Atholl at 17:20. After a shower and kit-wash, a stroll to the Atholl Arms was in order. Haggis, neeps and tatties followed by sticky toffee pudding, washed down with a couple of pints of Braveheart completed the calorie balance for the day. Well, I'd earned it hadn't I?

Tonight is the most expensive (but far from the best) B&B so far this trip, but tomorrow will be the cheapest. Watch this space to find out where...

Stats for the day : 70.9 miles at 10.8 mph avg; 6hrs 34 mins in the saddle; 1056m ascent

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Day 10, Cambuslang to Callander

Blog Day 10

Cambuslang to Callander

I know, I know, I'm starting to sound like a stuck record, but it really did rain all last night and was clear this morning. After another full fry (I'm really going to have to detox when this is over!) I was packed and ready to leave by 08:15.

I wended my way back to NCN74 and followed the march of the giant hogweed (Genesis, 1975?) all the way along the River Clyde Walkway (see picture). This was a mixture of quite good to brilliant tarmac that had me at Glasgow Green before I knew it (apart from a slightly confused diversion around some of the Commonwealth Games redevelopment work).

From here I followed the NCN7 all the way to, well, Callander actually. Again, the track was traffic free through town and along the canal all the way to Bowling where I had a tea stop. It was then largely traffic free following the river to Balloch. From Balloch it reverted to country lanes and track (where I stopped to eat yesterday's 2nd sandwich pack) to Aberfoyle where I had another tea break in the sun.

Aberfoyle was the originally planned stop point for day 10, but because: a) I'd banked extra miles yesterday; b) weather today has been fantastic - cloudy blue skies with plenty sun and light winds to aid progress and; c) the Aberfoyle to Callander stretch is a tough, rough, steep offroad section that I'd rather do at the end of today than the start of tomorrow, I was keen to push on a bit.

I spoke to Anne at lunchtime and she duly found me an excellent farmhouse B&B on the outskirts of Callander at which I arrived around 17:45

It's been a great day cycling and I'm feeling good. No aches and pains, legs feel strong, and even my 'contact points' are holding up OK! It's great to be back in the Scottish hills in the sunshine. Tomorrow looks good, but it looks like a good soaking for me on Sunday. Or not, if my run of luck continues.

Stats for the day : 66.7 miles at 9.5 mph avg (Glasgow traverse and a lot of offroad); 7hrs 01min pumping pedals; 952m ascent