Three weeks in which I Cycle 1,904k, Run 12k and do not Swim
There’s almost too much to fit into one blog, covering as I must the past 3 weeks, the majority of which I spent on the road with Paul cycling from Land’s End to John O’Groats. It’s brought my daily cycling target right down from 34.2 to 24.9 k a day, but at the expense of running (up from 1.94 to 2.17 k/day) and swimming (0.27 to 0.32 k/day). Still, the cycling is the hardest discipline to keep up with so on balance it’s been a good three weeks for my overall target.
Departing from Land’s End at about 10.30am on Friday 7th August, we reached John O’Groats on Thursday 20th at about 6pm – a total journey time of around 13 days and 8 hours and the total mileage on my odometer was 1046, giving an average speed of around 3.25 mph, which I’ll admit doesn’t sound very fast.
I decided to travel as light as possible – taking no rainwear and only a single change of clothes to change into if I got wet. In hindsight that was a bit risky but I got away with it as, fortunately, we were only rained on twice in the whole journey even though floods and downpours were occurring all over the country – but mostly where we weren’t. My other permanent luggage comprised a tent (though Paul shared the carriage of this), sleeping bag and cotton liner, Thermarest mat, washbag, bike tools and lock, sunglasses, glasses, wallet and some reading material and maps. Food and drink supplies waxed and waned as we either passed supermarkets or picnic sites.
Mostly we camped wild in my little two-man tent but stayed at friends’ in Bristol, Manchester and Kendal and also had a night at Paul’s place in Birmingham. On two nights we stayed at B&Bs, and it would have been more if they had not been sometimes few and far between and if the evenings had not been so glorious. Although we were cycling anything from 50 to 90+ miles a day we stopped fairly frequently and rarely pushed ourselves, except when we had friends waiting for our arrival and we pretty much completed the ride in about our expected time (actually a day early, but we had allowed for a spare contingency day which we didn’t need). Sometimes we had to use major roads to keep to schedule, which was rather wearing, and had we a couple more days we could have stuck to minor and more attractive routes, but Paul’s holiday leave was limited.
Our first night’s campsite (Photo:P Gaynor)
More of a challenge for me was not travelling on my own and always being able to suit myself. Paul and I are somewhat different creatures and tolerance and compromise are not my strong points. Still, we survived without major conniptions – I explode when I need to but am fine again within a few minutes and Paul sulks, which, since I am not sensitive enough to notice, poses no interpersonal difficulties.
I’ve never travelled before with Paul in less-than-Mediterranean weather and by my standards he is inordinatelly sensitive to cold – he had a wardrobe that would be the envy of Ernest Shackleton. Days were often punctuated with many costume-change stops as he alternately froze on descents and overheated on climbs. He also needed to stop to pee with a frequency that would make many a dog proud. I prefer to blast through a fair number of miles in one go and then have a good long rest at the end. Consequently we had many short stops for Paul and longer ones for me to ponder maps and drink coffee, which made for long-ish but gentle days. The main difficulty on these trips is if one rider is fitter or faster than the other, but Paul and I seemed quite evenly matched and the superiority of his bike was somewhat compensated for by his heavier load.
At no point did we skimp on food. Coffee breaks regulated our days and I would alternately panic-buy at supermarkets and then spend the next day or two trying to eat my load light before repeating the cycle at the next major town. I never seemed able to just buy enough to avert hunger and trust that the next county would have just as many cafes and shops as the one I was in.
Mechanically and health-wise there were no breakdowns – not even a puncture between us. Paul broke a pannier clip on rough ground and my gears were permanently out of synch and deteriorated as the trip progressed but not to the point of serious inconvenience.
Thursday 6th August. Had a 3k run in the morning (my last for a while) before entraining with my bike for Penzance and a night in a Backpackers’ (14k by bike).
Fri. Met up with Paul and left our bags in the hostel while we cycled to Land’s End, took the obligatory pictures and picked up our panniers on the way back, cycling as far as Megan Porth on the north Cornish coast where we camped with a wonderful sea view (see pic above). 112k.
Sat. Padstow for breakfast and a then long day of hills in the sun. Didn’t find a camping site that suited Paul before nightfall so we ended up in the corner of a recently-cut cornfield just before Crediton. 129k.
Sun. Lots more hills until the luxury of the Somerset Levels, where we ran into Mark who invited us in off the bench we were picnicking on for a cup of tea and biscuits. Then a long slog in gloom, light rain, noisome traffic and hills again to Bristol, where Paul’s friend Martin put us up for the night. 151k.
Mon. Breakfasted until the rain blew over and followed both big and little roads through Gloucester and Tewkesbury. Waiting for nightfall to put up our tent we were found and adopted by Zena, who offered us tent-space in her garden and use of her kitchen and loo. Gratefully accepted. 96k
Tue. Paid a trip to Memory Lane in the villages of Kemerton and Overbury, where as a much younger man we used to weekend sometimes in the cottage of a now-dead friend’s parents. Then a short but fatiguing ride to Paul’s in Birmingham for a decent meal, bed and some bike-maintenance. 79k.
Wed. An early start and long day to Paul’s friends Andy and Fiona’s place in Manchester where a warm welcome and delicious dinner awaited. 147k.
Thursday 13th August. Through Bolton, Chorley and Lancashire to Glasson Dock and via a disused railway line and canal towpath to arrive in Kendal at Rosie and Phil’s place just as the first drops of rain and night were both falling. 146k
Fri. Waited all morning for the rain to blow over, eventually setting off at 2.30pm in light rain which became heavier between Shap and Penrith but had dried out by the time we reached Carlisle and checked into a B&B. 83k.
Sat. Sunshine and a following wind! Into Scotland on small and quiet roads. Coffee in Annan and lunch near Dumfries on the banks of the Nith, finally coming to rest in a bumpy cow-field near Kirkconnell. 123k
Sun. Found our exit from the field was blocked by a very, very large bull so had to heave bikes and luggage over a couple of walls before we were underway. A long morning and a lazier afternoon through Irvine and Ayrshire to camp among midges by the Firth of Clyde near Gourock on public land. 125k
Mon. Caught the Gourock ferry to Dunoon for breakfast. Pleasant flat roads and plenty of sunshine round the hills and lochs through Inverary and across Connel Bridge to Benderloch, where we camped in woods near the seashore. 140k
Tue. More sunshine. To Fort William and the Great Glen partially via the Caledonian Canal towpath and a rough woodland track that wrecked one of Paul’s panniers. Nightfall caught us on the road and a rough camping-spot just off the road before Drumnadrochit. 133k
Wed. Drumnadrochit to the rescue! After an unsatisfactory night we arrived to find a newspaper shop open – one newspaper, two cups of coffee and two flapjacks later the world looked a lovelier place. Lunch was in Dingwall and at Golspie we found a very cosy B&B to sleep under a roof and see a tv for the first time in 5 days. Just our luck, too – it rained overnight. 117k
Thursday 20th August.The sun was back out for us in the morning. A long but enjoyable day with the end in sight, on the A9 and empty back-roads to John O’Groats – mostly flat with a tail-wind but on one downhill I touched 38.8mph. Celebrated the end of the ‘LeJog’ part of the journey with good coffee and a delicious gluten-free brownie before battling back into the wind in a fruitless hunt for a B&B vacancy. One kind owner let us camp in their garden, but the top of a windy hill proved a bad choice for a night’s sleep. 131k
Fri. A filling breakfast before Paul and I split up – he to get to his B&B in Wick and me to dawdle around sightseeing and kill a day, since we had finished with a day in hand. Wick was a depressing place but Tesco did a nice cream tea for £2.49. Ate two of them and met up with Paul in the evening before going on our separate ways – a bed for him and a bench in the railway station for me, to be sure of catching the 06:18. 77k
Sat. Got to Dundee around 2pm and cycled to my friends Dave and Wendy’s place – a lighthouse cottage on the other side of the Tay (8k). I haven’t seen them for several years and it was a delight to catch up and to see their younger daughter again, who in seven years has metamorphosed from a shy little girl into a delightful young woman.
Sun. A lovely sunny and relaxing day with Dave & Wendy. We cycled into Tayport for breakfast and later on went out for a picnic and so managed 26k. Without luggage, cycle shorts or gloves this was just leisure-cycling for pure pleasure. It made such a change to have a lazy day to fill for the first time in weeks.
Mon. The train from Dundee to home. Just 11k cycling to and from the stations.
Tue. A wet day but getting in food supplies and some circuits put in 27k on bike. Evening run of a gentle 3k to test out the legs after nearly 3 weeks of not running.
Wed. More wet weather putting the dampeners on everything. No real stiffness from yesterday so risked a 6k run plus 29k of cycling in the park.