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Paula’s LeJog



PAULA’S LANDS END TO JOHN O’GROATS RIDE – 29TH AUG-11th SEPT 2017.


This is just a “short” diary of my recent Charity Ride in aid of Breast Cancer UK with Global Adventures. A challenge I had always wanted to do!

Day 1; Land’s End to Liskeard – 82 miles – 7000ft elevation- Cycle route 3, B roads, some main road into Liskeard!

Tom & I stayed the night before the event at the Gurnard’s Head pub so as to be closer to the start as Registration was at 730 – it had been a very hot Bank Holiday weekend so it was a relief to find the forecast for Tuesday a little cooler –in fact Land’s End was very misty when we all met at the Visitors Centre! Some friends from Falmouth had come down to see me off which was lovely and it then it was a relief to get started at about 9am after signing the Lejog book in the hotel and taking photos at the signpost and Start Line! I had been very anxious before the trip as I had never cycled such long days consecutively! There were 16 of us in total in the group with Global Adventures who I hadn’t met before, all raising money for individual charities, 6 girls and 10 guys ages 35 to 63, and we had two Ride Leaders Jade and Alex (male); Ralph in charge of the van and luggage; and Bryd the mechanic in charge of day-bags and bike repairs.. of which there were many!! Stuart & Ian replaced Alex & Ralph for the Scottish half of the trip. All went well until the hill out of Lamorna where Laura’s chain broke so we had some time to wait at Mousehole and grab a quick coffee by which time the sun had come out! Stops were in the region of every 20 -27 miles every day with hot drinks provided plus lots of snacks! We had a late lunch at Threemilestone and then on via Sticker, St Austell, Lostwithiel and finally got to the Elliot Hotel in Liskeard at 8pm after a long, hot, first day and many hills! I had my own room for the whole trip, which was lovely and after a shower and a good dinner we were all in bed for 21:30! Our leaders were great with a front and back rider with the routes on their Garmins and so there was no chance of getting lost or left behind!

Day2; Liskeard to Tiverton ( Bickleigh) – only 60 miles – 6906 ft- through Tavistock and crossing the exposed Dartmoor hills!

Set off at 08:45 after a big breakfast, leaving Cornwall behind -weather not looking good, dreary and drizzly but after coffee it cleared and turned into a beautiful day – stopped at Tavistock and then on up to Dartmoor – just before Two Bridges my gear cable broke in the handlebar bit (I had had my bile serviced twice before the trip!) but luckily Bryd was at the junction so I was able to use the spare bike he carried to get the 12 miles to Moretonhampstead, for lunch in The Horse, where he managed to fix it for me - then on up and up over the moors, then undulating roads via Crediton – then another mega-hill followed by a 10km descent to the lovely hotel at Bickleigh, by the River Dart – I found this hot Devon day the hardest of the whole trip as there was so much climbing, 20% hills, lots of bumpy wee lanes on tired legs!! We all had to push two of the hills!!

Joke.. What do you call a dinosaur that’s cycled form Land’s End to John O’Groats??? ….. Mega-sore-ars!!!

Day 3; Bickley to Tintern - 94 miles – 3907ft - following the River Exe north on quiet wee roads and on towards the Severn Estuary.

After a huge breakfast and after some bike-servicing we left slightly late, through quite hilly roads to drinks near Taunton –another lovely warm day! Then through Bridgewater and the beautiful Somerset levels to lunch in Mark – so much easier riding! - after lunch a more undulating route with one climb before tea-break at 17:30 in the forest – then the last leg took us along some main roads leading up to the crossing of the Severn bridge in the evening sun, and the last 10 miles up past Chepstow Racecourse to a lovely family run hotel in Tintern in the Wye Valley. Arrived 8pm so quick showers and dinner, and bed! Richard had a mechanical problem with his derailleur falling apart and had to use the spare bike for a day as a new part needed to be ordered on-line to be delivered to Shrewsbury our next stop! A long day but great, taking in 4 Counties, Devon, Somerset, Glos, Monmouthshire –still warm and no sore bits yet!!

Day 4; Tintern to Shrewsbury – 85 miles – 4124 ft - following River Wye, climbing to Church Stretton and on to the bustling town of Shrewsbury.

Sunny forecast again and light winds so morale high, but it was quite cold in the valley when we left the hotel at 07:30 for the first flattish leg along the river, 22 miles to coffee then a gentle climb up and into beautiful countryside and undulating, very bumpy, roads following the Welsh border.

With the roads slightly wider we naturally formed 2 groups – the faster “Wolf pack” and 10 of us in the “Tourist group”! It gave the faster 2 younger guys and 2 girls Laura and Michelle, a chance to race a bit and a married couple, Stuart & Wendy, and John, dipped in and out of the groups – After lunch in Kingsland the latter part of the day was up and down, then we had a big climb up through the forest before the tea stop/ drinks at the bottom of the descent at the Marshbrook Bike Centre, and then the last 16 miles all downhill passing beautiful old Shropshire houses and on to the bustling market town of Shrewsbury, where we were staying in the Premier Inn – we had a lovely meal and free drinks to go with it and an old school-friend Gill popped in to meet me for a drink after dinner.

Day 5 – Shrewsbury to Preston – 93 miles – 3481 ft – following River Severn on minor roads & Cycle Routes

It was cold again when we left the town, 07:30, for a nice flat 17 miles following the River Severn to Tilstock for coffee and then on into the really nice flat county roads of Cheshire- cycling in the sunshine yet again it was starting to feel more like a holiday!! We passed many large & beautiful houses owned by the Duke of Westminster! Lunch was in the forest park of Delaware where Sue got a phone call saying she would have to return home to Nottingham to look after her 16 horses, as the lady who was looking after them for her mother has died - Ralph took her to the station in Preston and naturally she was very disappointed!

The afternoon we rode 47 flat miles passing through Lancashire, our 9th county, and the working towns of Warrington, Wigan, Leyland and then into Preston, which did have a very nice town centre – it seemed a much easier day and we arrived at 6pm so time to do some laundry and have a more relaxed dinner! Bryd managed to repair Richard’s derailleur – he missed today due to his ankle & Steve had 4 punctures!

Day 6; Preston to Carlisle – 97 miles – 4107 ft – north to the coast for some sea air through Carnforth – climb Shap summit and the lakes!

We left at 07:30 for another long day – Steve had a rest day as he had a bad throat infection and was on antibiotics –we started on flattish roads to the coffee stop in Lancaster near the castle by the river and then on through the lovely Cumbrian villages following Cycle routes to lunch, for refueling, in Kendal, before the long 9 mile climb over Shap summit, 1500m, –incredibly still dry and sunny as it was raining heavily in Falmouth today! – I think the God’s were looking after us! Stunning views over the Lake District and an amazing descent down to the village at Shap to regroup –some had reached 50mph downhill –needless to say not me!! The route after took us through more lovely villages via Askham and then the last 15 miles followed the most incredibly wide flat Roman road all the way into Carlisle – oh for something like that in Cornwall!! We went through the city centre - old Roman walls and cobbles- to the hotel for a hot bath, dinner, chat, sort kit and early night! It only started to drizzle 5 miles before the end – our first rain in England! Still feeling good & with lashings of Chamois cream no sore bits! (sorry boys!)

Day 7; Carlisle to Fenwick just north of Kilmarnock – 112 miles- 3196 ft – crossing the border on mixture B roads and Cycle Routes

Up at 06:00 as early breakfast and departure – dry and overcast but not good forecast! - We left the city behind to head north 12 miles to Gretna and stopped to take photos at the border to Scotland – great to be back after living in Edinburgh for 20 years! The first half of the journey complete! It started to rain 30 miles into the ride through Dumfries & Galloway and into the heart of the forest of Ae and by the time we reached the cosy pub in Moniave for lunch, at 55 miles, we were all quite damp but not cold and the open fire cheered us up! Set off again revived but still in constant light rain as we passed by Loch Ettrick and a steep climb after Tynron – a shame as the Border country is so pretty on a good day! We had a last water stop to break up the afternoon before the last 16 miles via Kilmarnock, East Ayeshire, & to a lovely little hotel in Fenwick arriving at 19:45! – my first 112 mile ride and luckily the hotel was warm and cosy and had good radiators to dry shoes and wet kit! The 3-course dinner was delicious but I had to retire straight after as shattered and had to write my diary and catch up on texts and emails etc! There wasn’t much down-time on this holiday!!

Day 8 ; Fenwick to Inverary – 82 miles – 3196ft –crossing Erskine bridge – Cycle routes to Loch Lomond – heading for the Highlands !

After breakfast a steady climb for 19 miles crossing open farmland to a country park for coffee just before Paisley – a few showers but not too bad weather today and on through Paisley central –it’s changed a lot since last time I was here! Then 16 miles along the Clyde Cycle path to lunch in Dunbarton where we were given the sandwiches due for a funeral wake instead of our pizzas! Leaving still hungry we headed up and on the west side of the famous Loch Lomond on the main road, very busy but which luckily had a cycle lane alongside – regrouped at the Tarbet Tea Rooms and refueled with hot drinks and delicious cakes outside in the sunshine before tackling the next leg, up and over the pass - “The Rest and Be Thankful”, another long and windy climb of about 7 miles for a much needed rest at the top to take photos and recover! Then the final 17 miles down to Loch Fyne passing my favourite Oyster Bar and alongside the loch in the evening sun to Inverary arriving at 18:45 – the roads were very quiet and scenery beautiful and 85 miles seemed a much shorter and easier day! We all stayed in 3 different hotels and I was in The George, a very old and family run hotel next to Inverary Jail! We all ate there in the restaurant, by far the best meal of the trip! Great day and good to get back to some proper mountain scenery …slept very well in my spacious room in the turret!

Day 9; Inverary to Fort William – 75 miles – 3110 ft – following the River Aray north to Loch Awe, by-passing Oban over the Connel bridge and following the lochs and coast road to Fort William and The Highland Region.

Later departure 08:45 – a lie-in! A long climb up and over the headland, 8 miles but steady and not too severe followed by lovely scenic descent to the banks of Loch Awe – some short showers after coffee but interspaced with blue sky – followed the road by Loch Etive and crossed the Connel Bridge admiring the whirlpools and then along to lunch in a lovely pub on the Loch side at Creagan –there’s a new Cycle Route 78 all the way from Oban to FW now so we dipped in and out of it depending on the traffic – afternoon tea stop at Kentallen by Loch Linnhe for photos and Russell did a dip in the Loch for part of his Charity Fundraising! From there we crossed the bridge at Ballachulish into the mountains of Glencoe but took the main road north to Fort William in the afternoon sun, again on the Cycle Path – arrived very early at 17:30, a luxury, and went on to the SYHA Hostel 2miles up to Glen Nevis with views of Ben Nevis bringing back memories my many “Munro-bagging” expeditions! My old friend Ali drove up from Alexandria to meet me there and have a cuppa and a catch-up followed by a huge supper of Spag-Bol and cheesecake provided by the Hostel Staff and of course you can now buy wine and beers!! Slept well (with ear-plugs) in our girls dorm!

Day 10; Fort William to Tain – 105 miles – shortened to 87 due to the weather conditions – 4280 ft – passing Spean Bridge ,alongside Loch Lochy to Fort Augustus and Loch Ness where we may get a glimpse of the monster and entering Easter Ross & the NorthWest Highlands.

Early departure again as a long day ahead with undulating terrain but as we left the Hostel the heavens opened and the rain was torrential –knew our luck couldn’t last! We were soaked through by the time we reached Invergarry at 26 miles and the temperature had plummeted – more memories! At the coffee stop we had lots of hot drinks and food and the rain eased off slightly but some folk were now mildly hypothermic so our leaders decided to forego 17 miles and a big climb and shorten our day - we then continued further up on the road on the south side of Loch Ness and after having changed out of some wet clothes and refueling and with some sun now to warm us morale was higher and we had lunch in a great wee tea-shop in Foyers where there was a friendly tame deer for company and photos! The road by the Loch was beautiful and then undulating to Inverness where we crossed the bridge to North Kessock again on Cycle paths to have tea by the banks of the Moray Firth – the last 37 miles the sun was out and we had a short break past Dingwall where we took the B road and really pretty Cycle Route 1 across lovely countryside and descended into Tain at 19:45 where we stayed in The Royal Tain Hotel , again cosy and warm and managed to dry our wet gear and had a late dinner and well-earned pint of lager !!

Day 11; Tain to Bettyhill on the north coast – only 70 miles –2556ft - around the Dornach Firth , pretty country roads with dry stone walls via the Falls of Shin and up the beautiful road through the middle to Altnaharra and the north coast – my most favourite part of Scotland , Sutherland and Caithness.

After a later breakfast we left at 08:10 to cycle past the Dornoch Firth on lovely flattish roads before climbing after Bonar Bridge up the gorge to the Visitor’s Centre at the Falls of Shin for coffee – weather much more settled, some slight drizzle but sunny spells too – after Shin the road was so quiet with wide open moors and the heather in full bloom –we climbed steadily to 800ft passing The Crask Inn and Ben Kibreck – followed by a gentle descent to the Hotel at Altnahara where the midges were out in force due to the still and damp conditions! The roads are devoid of traffic when you get north of Inverness apart from a few mad locals so it was so relaxing and the cycling seemed no effort at all! After a fabulous lunch of smoked salmon sandwiches, homemade soup and cakes and tea and coffee we headed off on the B road from Altnahara alongside Loch Naver to the coast and final 2 miles and one last big climb to the Bettyhill Hotel arriving at 16:30 – a luxury to be there early and have time to chill out! I popped to the Post Office to see some old friends, the owners, who moved up from Edinburgh 16 years ago – we were hoping to have a swim but the beach was way down the hill on the way out of town so settled for a beer in the cosy lounge instead! We also had our own dining room overlooking the bay for a 3-course dinner and even saw some mild Northern Lights as it was a beautiful clear night - today was definitely the best for me, scenery / terrain and now only one more day to go!

Day 12; Bettyhill to John O’Groats – 63 miles – following Cycle Route 1 hugging the coast with a detour to Dunnet Head Lighthouse, the most northerly point of the mainland!

We thought it was going to be easy for the last day but it started with several climbs over headlands following the coast with stunning views – 14 miles to the coffee stop at Melvich and a further 19 easier miles to lunch in Thurso where it was raining lightly – an amazing lunch was provided in the pub and set off again in the dry for the last stage, which involved a 5 mile ride into a headwind and climb out to the lighthouse which seemed the hardest part of the whole trip!! Then after photos a flying descent back to the main road and for a regroup at May near the castle before heading off to ride the last 7 miles to the end of our journey…it was a scene I’d pictured in my head on all the long training rides and it seemed surreal to think we were almost there! We arrived in John O’Groats at 15:30 in the sunshine but a cool wind was blowing at the sign-post where we took lots of photos with our medals and celebrated with champagne and hugs and some tears!! It was really emotional and we all felt such a sense of achievement - Then had 45 minutes to change, grab a coffee, and shop before getting on the mini-bus which was taking us down to Inverness for our last night and celebration party! It was nearly 19:45 when we got to the Premier Inn so had a quick shower and sort-out and then hit the bar and had lovely meal to finish off a wonderful day! Our leader Jade gave fun awards and speeches followed, and finally went to bed at midnight after a great party!

Day 13; Final breakfast and farewells!

We all shared our last breakfast and said goodbyes to fellow riders and new friends, who came from all over the country, so folk had made their own plans to get home the cost of which wasn’t included in the price of the trip – it was sad to leave everyone as you do get very close to people spending 12 days together and going through all the highs and lows of the trip! The ages ranged from 35 to 63 and a real mixture of jobs! We covered over 1000 miles in 12 days and climbed nearly 49,000 feet on what was an amazing journey and raising monies for all our different charities made it even more worthwhile and memorable. I had arranged for my bike and big bag to be collected by courier, using a company called John O’Groats Bike Transport a friend had recommended, after breakfast so I was just travelling light when my old friend Jan from my days in the WRNS met me at the hotel and I stayed with her & family in their new house in Beauly for a “rest day” before heading down to Edinburgh on the train the next day to have a night and another party with a crowd of my old friends there! Then flew down from there to Newquay on the Tuesday where Tom met me in the afternoon – it was good to see him and be home again in sunny Cornwall!

Thanks to all at Global Adventures who were excellent; great food, accommodation and organisation – only a few minor accidents mainly cleat-related and punctures! Many, many thanks to all the girls, especially Liz, Sonia, Kath, Jo & Sheila and the Breeze Club and Wheelers Members who have helped me in the training rides – I am so glad we had the Cornish hills as training ground! Thanks to Tom who has given me so much support and encouragement and to all those who have donated to my Charity Raffle – I hope to have made in the region of £1500 for Breast Cancer UK - lucky winners will be notified after the next meeting!!

Cheers

Paula x

 



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