Saturday, May 30, 2015

Outer Fife: Penzance to Thurso Via Land's End, Lizzard, Dunnet Head, John O' Groats, Dunscaby Head and various other points along the way

The Start

Where do I start? At the Start I guess, but where is that? Is it in the planning, the ride to the station to get the Sleeper, is it Penzance or is it Land's End its self? Maybe I should just ride the bike...


The planning is pretty boring, all I did was get hostel guides, look at various maps, buy NCN and OS Tour maps and then buy a 100k road atlas to fill the gaps and then wonder why I hadn't done that for the whole route since it was by far the best mapping I used all trip!

Ride 1 - House to Leuchars

I suppose all the riding starts here; a cold wet rainy night saw me head from home to Leuchars to catch the sleeper to London, I don't know why I chose Leuchars because Dundee is closer and the sleeper is one of the few trains where the bridge makes no real difference to the ticket cost. But anyway...

If you have a bike you join the train at the guards van at the back of the set, so have to walk through the seated accommodation and lounge carriage in your cycling shoes carrying your bags and then along the narrow corridor to your berth. I was the only bike booked on and probably could have left my rear panniers in the guards van.

Highland Sleeper Locomotive 87002 at Euston

Ride 2 - Euston to Paddington

From Stephenson's formerly ramshackle now brutalised terminus to Brunel's Industrial Cathedral; once loaded up and wheeled out of Euston I had some route options on a map, but instantly spotted a wee blue sign telling me it was a suggested bike route to Paddington, I decided to trust Boris on this and spun along fairly deserted roads towards my Westward connection, which I missed the entrance to and had to double back at a junction.

I was looking forward to this journey along the Great Western Main Line and then over the Tamar Bridge and along Dawlish, which was why I took a daytime train for this leg of the journey rather than a late train to London and onto the Night Riviera Sleeper. These are great feats of Engineering, but somehow they just didn't live up to it, I didn't even feel a need to run to the door window to take a picture of either.

Statue of I.K. Brunel with appropriately branded HST behind him at Paddington
GPS Trace

Ride 3 - Penzance to Lizard

This was to be a pretty hard ride due to time constraints, and I'd originally planned to go along the coast to Land's End, up to St Ives and then head down the Lizard from St Erth, but as the train got in at half 3 and I needed to be at Lizard for reception closing at 9 I reduced the route; After 2 hours of bumping along the hilly coast through nice wee fishing and piracy villages to get the Land's End, I realized that the A30 was deserted at this time of day so used it to get back to Penzance, I was content enough to just take a photo of the bike at the sign post, but someone who was setting off the next day, pint in hand offered to take my picture.

I shot off down the A30 and made Penzance in about 20 minutes, this would be a recurring theme when following NCN routes; always discovering a more sensible and all but deserted road. From Penzance Station the NCN route then took a rough and sandy (not a good idea on a loaded bike) path along to St Michaels Mount and then I was left to my own route choices on the slightly busier roads of the Lizard.

I was in plenty time at Lizard and probably could have taken my original planned route; but I had been going hard on a heavily laden bike something that definitely could not be continued.

As the night rolled in so did the mist, I hadn't really considered it when booking a hostel next to a lighthouse, but there was this funny repeating noise I kept hearing at regular intervals, other residents looked baffled and were delighted with the free ear plugs that I just couldn't keep in, Oh well!

Land's End
Lizard Point

Lizard Lighthouse
GPS Trace

Ride 4 - Lizard to Tintagel

A nice ride up to the Helford Ferry where the ferryman kindly pointed out the climb out of the village! It was my first walk of the journey, but certainly not the last, after a bit of bumping around I found myself needing lunch somewhere near Falmouth, so I dropped into Penryn as an attempt to find some lunch but found no pubs at all, and climbed back up to find myself at a busy road junction, and a wee sprint alogn the busy road and onto Ponsanooth where I did find a decent Sunday carvery in the pub before carrying on to Truro. I lost the NCN signs somewhere near Truro, they just plain weren't where they should be, and when they were I was going too fast to be able to even spot them, however that cut me a ridiculous corner on route when I look on the maps I have but I had no idea where I was and there was no sign telling me how to get out of a huge bowl in the land, so I ended up climbing a big hill into Truro on the A39; that was not fun.

I then missed another critical sign on the climb out of Truro; can't blame speed for that one as I was crawling and ended up on the A39 again, joy!  I eventually refound my way onto the NCN 32 just in time to abandon it for an obvious cut round Newquay before hitting a deserted B road to Camelford which I chose to use rather than climb onto Bodmin moor before making an absolute howler of a navigational error and descended to Trebarwith Strand instead of Tintagel Hostel! I pushed the bike back up the hill I'd just enjoyed descending and got back on route.

This was a rather nice hostel without a fog horn, the volunteer running the hostel encouraged me to take in the views, looking down onto the sea crashing against the cliffs. He was so clearly taken by it but to me it wasn't anything particularly special.
Bike on the Helford Ferry
GPS Trace

Ride 5 - Tintagel to Exford

Rather than return to Camelford and carry on the relatively flat ground, I set off for Boscastle, and Widemouth Bay where I enjoyed a tasty burger after pushing up a 30% hill before cutting in land at Bude, I also didn't bother with the NCN Routes to Bideford because there was a shorter looking route marked on the map, at Bideford the route picks up an old railway line to Barnstaple which was a chance to get a good bit of speed up and rest before the climb onto Exmoor especially at the ice cream parlour at an old station!

It was somewhere on the climb up onto Exmoor the tingling in my arms indicated the sun had been out for the later part of the day; and I didn't have sun cream on and when combined with peely wally scottish skin the result is inevitable. This would cause some discomfort for a few days that would affect my sleep.

I've always thought of a moor as being like Rannoch or Tents, flat and barren, but it seems a South Western Moor is more like Landward Fife, agricultural and bumpy to boot.
The Exford Hostel is run by the Hotel just over the river and I had an amusing moment wobbling allover the road between hostel and hotel without bags on the bike.

Babcock Appledore Shipyard
GPS Trace

Ride 6 - Exford to Street

After 2 days of over 2000m climbing and some epic sunburn this was going to be a relatively flat easy day. Once I had escaped the moor and hit the Somerset levels that was; coming down off the moor I found a deserted B road that headed the way I wanted to and an NCN sign pointing me over some tracks and lanes, stupidly I took the NCN route; with most distance traffic in this area able to use the M5 the B road really was deserted and I needlessly followed small farm tracks with high hedges and all the undulations you could ever want, but hey ho; "Virtually traffic free" sounds good doesn't it...
After 1.5 hours and losing the route I found myself back at the B road, so I joined it and covered around the same distance in the next 40 minutes to Taunton.

Finally on the levels the NCN route started to make sense, zipping along the Bridgewater canal was awesome, the only real complication being making sure (or hoping to hell) there was no one coming the other way at the bridges as there really is no where to go other than in the water especially when you've got the bike cranked at an angle, ducked right down in order to get under said bridge; really the paths tow ponies would have taken up and over the roads would make much more sense; but it wasn't an option. Oh and the Oil Seed Rape, that made any stopping a misery so I had to crank on!

From Bridgewater it was mildly undulating, rather than head straight to the hostel I popped into Street as I knew it was a bit out of town and needed to do a bit of shopping. I then didn't enjoy climbing up to the hostel on a busy road, it turns out there is a back route in along a permissive footpath.

When I arrived at the hostel the manager Anthony greeted me with "You look like you're cycling; here have a towel, free of charge; you don't want to be carrying a wet towel when you're on a bike!" in a voice very similar and with the same delivery as Pete from the Dundee Mountain Club, thankfully (or sadly, I can't decide) there was no Guitar or Pirate songs to be heard.

I was sharing a room with another cyclist  (hostel managers seem to like putting cyclsits in rooms together) Glyn who had been there a few days, unfortunately I've not kept up with professional cycling as he was really into it but he shared the same view as me (and may others) of Vincenzo Nibali; great rider, dodgy team! There was also a group of Spanish women staying in the hostel, while I sat and ate my tea as they moved tables around, I noticed Anthony and Glyn disappear outside and I was left wondering what they were doing as they recited words one of the others said and generally ran around. Once tea was eaten I shuffled off too...

Later on Glyn told me they had arrived late the previous night, he was the only person in the hostel when they arrived and he'd been told not to let them in if they arrived late... Finding the hostel locked they proceeded to run up and down the external stairways, knocking on doors making lots of noise and eventually found a way in!

The building is actually really interesting, set off a surprisingly busy road with an amusing name just outside Street and was built and remains owned by the Society of Friends (Quakers) for a purpose very similar to the YHA's in the 1930s, and is one of the oldest hostels in England.

Street Hostel
GPS Trace

Ride 7 - Street to Bristol

I couldn't decide where to go today, should I crack on into the Marches or have a short day and stop at Bristol, eventually I decided on Bristol and I'm glad I did, as I climbed Glastonbuiry Tor and did what the sign at the Elphin Cavers hut says to do and went to Priddy, where I stopped at a Farm Shop selling "Priddy Nice Pies" I didn't try one as they had Tunnocks tea cakes and Fentiman's.

I also took in a lap of Wells... I didn't mean to but once again I missed one of the silly wee blue stickers on lamp posts.

I got a wee bit lost on the way into Bristol as well, you'd think with this being the home of Sustrans and in fact a hub of cycling the signage would maybe be up to scratch, oh well bombing down the roads during rush hour worked well enough anyway!

The hostel is right in the middle of town, a nice conversion of an old warehouse, but was very busy, this was the first time I discovered that the YHA now do all the bedding work for you, no need to strip the bed, the Volunteers in Cornwall were obviously out of touch!
Glastonbury Tor
GPS Trace

Ride 8 - Bristol to Welsh Bicknor

As I wheeled my bike through reception at the hostel I overheard someone saying rain was forecast, right enough within an hour of starting it got drizzly, then as I made my way to the Severn Bridge it got rather wet, and then as I entered Wales... Oh god.

Once again I got lost somewhere between the bridges, a double back is required to find a bit of tarmac that was once a road now abandoned by the M4 it runs alongside, not one sign indicating to me to make this turn, I only found it after I turned back when I ran out of road at the side of the Severn; and I found one of those signs felating over Sustrans having secured a traffic free route. Even 2 of those bloody stupid lamppost stickers would have done but no the budgets been blown on blowing their own trumpets.
Note: I've looked on Good Street View since, and it appears the signs have been completely overgrown by vegetation.

I grabbed lunch in Wales, largely due to the Marstons chain pub at Chepstow being the first place I found after the rain condition turned to bucketing. After hiding from the rain as long as I dared I dropped into town, the old bridge over the Wye was looking like the quietest route into the Forest of Dean (which on the Sustrans maps is hidden by the map key!!!) unfortunately it's closed, so I was forced to go back up the hill and onto the main road before climbing up into the Forest on a reasonably quiet B road in the pouring rain.

It was this day I discovered the value of bus shelters to the touring cyclist, not only do they provide a suitable night time shelter for the more dedicated skinflint, they are also great for hiding in to put on extra layers because you thought it was a shorts day, and also for phoning round hostels looking for a bed.

The Wye Valley hostel in Welsh Bicknor (not in Wales) required a bit of a double back in the forest from Goodrich but is excellently set by the river and was well worth the climb and descent, as there was a School group in the main building and a meeting of store management from Cotswold Outdoors in the Camping field, I found myself in the Annex building, which was probably once the stables, I shared a 12 bunk room with 1 other person. The staff member running reception when I arrived was also the chef and cooked the dinner and breakfast, he also advised me there was a very good drying room, which there was, what he didn't say was that it would be switched off at night, so my kit never completely dried out.

I was planning my route in the lounge for the next day when some of the Cotswold managers arrived having consumed their tea, A game that looked similar to Jenga, and had rules similar to Jenga but using much larger blocks and 4 blocks on a layer was present and moved into the middle of the Lounge in amusing manner, they dubbed it "Slightly Oversized Jenga" and the rules were made up and modified as they went along, I wasn't for joining in because I was knackered, but it was rather funny to watch.
The Severn Crossing from above the Toll Plaza
GPS Trace

Ride 9 - Welsh Bicknor to All Stretton

Today's route appears to be mostly uphill, but more importantly it was dry! But the kit in my bags was still pretty damp, including cameras, notes and films, my Olympus XA jammed today so that was the end of film photography for the trip (It now appears to have fixed itself.).
I stopped at the bike shop in Ross on Wye and obtained some more Chamois cream, I hadn't realised there was "Wet Conditions" cream, which is more like Vaseline in consistency than the more normal Moisturiser, this seems much more suited to long distance cycling as well as it doesn't soak in and worked impeccably for the rest of the trip.

A pretty boring day passing through Hereford, Leominster and Ludlow largely on the "National Byway" route, which is better signed than the NCN but still does weird things like take you down small footpaths at Craven Arms.

 I stopped at the Englands Gate Inn near Bodenham for a rest and got speaking to someone who was planning to ride LeJog in October; I looked at him like he was a mad man, committing to cycling in Scotland at the end of October. Crazy!
I got a wee cheer from people sitting out the front of a pub as I climbed through the gates in Ludlow before taking a rest at the top of the hill, where someone else took interest in my bike, and in the wee shop in Craven Arms, If found Irn Bru on sale!

I had a small issue finding the All Stretton Bunkhouse as I failed to spot the Independent Hostels sign on the village hall wall, but eventually headed up the Batch Valley bridleway and caught a sight of the Long Mynd; The Bunkhouse had only one other guest Charlie who was taking part in an Ultra Marathon the next day, he had only entered the 50 mile race because he'd done a 100 miler the previous weekend.
We talked about Endurance sports particularly cycling and running and he gave me a couple of cereal bars as he had plenty from his sponsors, this probably should have triggered something in my mind about how good he may actually be. It turns out that the race was called the Apocalypse 50 and that he won it by 42 minutes...

Welsh Bicknor Church is right next to the hostel
GPS Trace

Ride 10 - All Stretton to Fishpool

Charlie left around 5am, I waited till a more leisurely 9am before setting off, today's aim was to get to one of the camp sites marked just south of Runcorn in Delemere as there are no hostels in this part of England not even in Chester.  I took in a lap of Shrewsbury by choice and even had an ice cream, before stopping at a pub at half 11 where I waited around for them to open as I feared there would be no more pubs for some distance as all the villages on the route ahead looked tiny; English pubs don't open until 12, what's that about! As it turned out every village had a pub and a shop but the pub and shop in Upton Magna were decent so can't complain.  Although a bit shorter than I had planned I stopped at the first campsite in Delamere I found at Fishpool.

As I was sitting making my tea another heavily laden cyclist rolled in, "You're not doing the same as me are you?" was the question I blurted out, Martin it turned out was doing the same as me but by a much more conventional route. He'd run a highlighter along the main road route and was then finding the quiet roads and just taking what ever accommodation he could find at the end of each day.
Can't remember where this was, it might not even have been on this ride
 GPS Trace

Ride 11 - Fishpool to Arnside

It was only just over 100 miles, I had originally planned to stop at Garstang and then head into the lakes the next day, but it had come together so well, it was a Sunday, the weather was nice, in fact a bit of a tail wind, so I decided to hit it.

6am and I was on the road, climbing up through Delamere and the signs were out for "Race for Life", in a few hours time these roads would be packed, thank feck! I rolled into Frodsham and spotted a small shop already open for the day, where I stocked up and chatted to the owner for a bit before setting off for the Runcorn Bridge; I was aware it's a bit of a maze, but I had no idea just how wrong my route went until I loaded the GPS when I got home, really take a look at the map!

I must have lost an hour there, but I did get a McDonalds breakfast in a retail park, this was the 1st of many times in the day I would talk to people about my ride as many locals were curious about me and the bike; I'd forgotten that the North West of England is pretty much the home of Sportsman's clubs and Professional Sport; where Rugby League and the Football League took sports from being the past times of gentlemen, to the weekend leisure activity of the working man and on to being professions in their own right.  Every stop I made there was people to talk to, and the roads weren't as busy as feared either. On the way into Preston I was drafted down the hills by someone on a Late 70's Peugeot that kept dropping its chain; before failing to twig that the rather tall spire indicated an obvious place on the map to use as a navigational aid!

Eventually I got to Lancaster where I picked up a canal tow path again, more ducking and hoping under bridges and a narrow boat holiday looks erm... relaxing? Certainly much less effort than this cycling lark. The canal took me to Carnforth where I briefly stopped at the station and then continued over the dale to Arnside, the wrong side of Morecambe Bay for most lakes visitors and a really nice hostel now owned privately.

I was of course absolutely knackered after this, so I thought I'd change plans for the following day slightly.
Brief Encounter at Carnforth Station
GPS Trace

Ride 12 - Arnside to Carlisle

I struggled over to Windermere from Levens, I'd obviously not eaten enough, even though I'd been stuffing my face incessantly the previous day or maybe it was just the effort telling.

My original plan had been to do Garstang to Windermere or Ambleside this day and then climb the Struggle to the Kirkstone Inn but that's really steep; so instead I climbed the main route of the Kirkstone Pass from Windermere which is only pretty steep, despite having engaged the lowest gear available on a few climbs already I was determined to ride all of the Kirkstone Pass, I may have stopped a good few times, but I did not once walk the bike, well except from the road side to the bench at the Inn I suppose but that was necessary! After a baguette and Coke, the descent to Patterdale was fairly tricky, twisting, turning, steep and fast! I dragged the brakes most of the way as well, After that it was a matter of a small climb to Troutbeck and then Hutton Roof before a mostly easy descent into Carlisle, where I stayed at a small hostel that was also the owners house.  I found town to be pretty devoid of much, I couldn't even find a Wetherspoons and after practically inhaling a Pizza from Pizza Express went to Sainsburys to obtain even more food in the form of a Rustlers burger, clearly I had a bit of a protein deficiency.
Climbing above Windermere and Ambleside  on the Kirkstone
GPS Trace

Ride 13 - Carlisle to Carsphairn-ish

Leaving Carlisle I took the quickest route to Gretna where I stopped for some photos on the border, and then carried on to Annan where I hid in a door way while eating my lunch as home heavy rain and hail showers passed, the hail was particularly bad when it hit out on the road as I was wearing shorts and had a habit of being able to get through the gap between by sun glasses and face so took a few in the eyes as well, being pelted by hail on bare skin is not fun!

I then tried to dodge round Dumfries, after stopping at an Ice Cream parlour where I really should have taken on more food but didn't because I thought there was a petrol station at Collin, then as I bumped round through wee villages I realised I was starting to have a protein crash, this was pretty obvious as I was dreaming about Steaks, big juicy sirloin, Medium-Rare, no sauce, onion rings, coleslaw, chips and fried tomato...

Unfortunately I got to the tea room at Auldgirth after closing time, and also before the pub opened for evening meals.  I did manage to get a sandwich and banana in the shop but I was struggling, eventually I found a pub in Moniavie advertising "Lunches, Teas and Rooms", I entered to be told this was lies, but there was an Italian restaurant further up the road and another pub a bit further up; the Italian was all pasta and little meat, but the other pub...

I parked up next to a Honda Goldwing and staggered into the George pub,
"I nearly ran you over with the bus earlier, that's some speed you're going if you've got here now!" said Local 1;
"He's not even the bus driver, how can I help you" said the Bar Man;
"I'm starving and I've been crawling up the road!",
"Wow how fast are you normally" said Local 2;

A menu was presented and I ordered the biggest plate of mushed vegetables and roast steak I've ever seen; I couldn't actually finish the potatoes, and as I said, I was starving.  I stuck around for a wee bit, it was the sort of pub where everyone talked to everyone, the 2 locals were joined by other locals with a distinctivley German accent, and then a Ska band turned up, I'm not sure if it was Mockney they were speaking or if they were really from London.  I was offered the pub garden for a tent pitch but declined as I was heading up onto the moor to camp out so I could be as close to Ardrossan as possible in the morning.

I sent a mate Dan a text for his amusement as he's from just down the road, the response that came back was along the lines of "What the hell are you doing there!"

I carried on now feeling much better, and daftly passed by 2 perfect flat campsites, until I realised I was nearly at Dalmellington and light was starting to run out, I pitched tent in a small wooded area with seriously rough ground, I managed to find a way of curling up on my therma-rest to get as flat as possible between tussocks; and then it started to rain; joy!
Two very different Touring Bikes
GPS Trace

Ride 14 - Carsphairn-ish to Ardrossan

I seemed to sleep well enough though as I had a good bit of energy in the morning, I stopped in Dalmellington at a Snack bar and petrol station to stock up; I checked the menu, it offered Sausage and Link... So I knew I was properly in Scotland now and ordered a Sausage and Tattie scone roll; With more chat about the ride in the snack bar while my Lorn and Potato roll was scoffed.

It was also almost all Downhill into Ayr, ok there was a couple of big bumps to deal with but overall it was downhill; then I hit the flat land along the coast, It's a bit like St Andrews round here, only with a Weegie Accent, I sat outside eating my lunch at a small snackbar in Prestwick before carrying on past the airport and Troon to Saltcoats which was much more like Arbroath.

I rolled into Ardrossan harbour just as the MV Isle of Arran was getting underway, I've sailed on her before so this was no disappointment and I knew the MV Caledonian Isles is the other boat in service on this route. Unfortunately on enclosed car decks it's hard to hear what the deckhands are shouting at you and I got in a wee bit of trouble for heading the wrong way and never noticed the "Cyclists" sign that pointed at where to lash my bike. However once on deck I settled down for a rest in the observation lounge and watched the island approach.
Just missed it (Good)
GPS Trace

Ride 15 - Brodick to Lochranza SYHA

I arrive on the 2nd island of the trip and my first ever visit to "Scotland in Miniature", Goat Fell towers over the island but it's a nice flat ride out of Brodick, I stopped at the bike shop which appeared to be staffed by a Great Dane as I was wanting to stock up on electrolyte tablets, but the real owner when he appeared clearly only had bike parts for sale, if you want a 9 speed MTB wheel with brake track, fine, a new cassette and chain great, anything for you? nah!

As I headed north I realised I had a hill to cross that I hadn't really noticed on the map, "The Bouglie" hits you after Glen Sannox and presents a nice wee challenge before plunging you into Lochranza on a deserted single track road; It was an awesome descent spoiled only by light drizzle and a slight head wind.

At the hostel I got chatting to another cyclist, an Ayr Roads CC Man he knew the Ayrshire roads well, knew the route I'd taken down and bemoaned the loss of the Kendoon hostel, he had a really nice Kona MTB frame built up to be a tourer, as an Audaxer and regular cycle tourist seemed to know all the roads in Ayrshire; he also claimed he used to race and that I may struggle to make the 1800 ferry at Oban, warning of a nasty hill at Kilmartin. but I now suspect he was talking of following the NCN route rather than just hammering it up the main road from Lochgilphead as one route is 100 Km while the other is 100 Miles, you can probably guess which is which...

Facing the "Bouglie" on Arran
GPS Trace

Ride 16 - Lochranza SYHA to Lochranza Slipway

Well it is a ride isn't it!

With myself, the Ayr Roads man, 2 Canadians and 2 other guys at the ferry slipway there were more bikes on the ferry than Cars and I got the impression I was the only one not heading to Islay!

The Canadians had toured all over the world, and were finding it weird to be touring in an English Speaking country; I tried dropping my speech into full on Fife, but it didn't come, they were delighted I was giving them distances and speeds in Kilometers and suggested it would be good if we switched sides of the road... I wasn't so sure on that!
They were from the far north of Canada as well, like right next to Greenland, they had stopped at Iceland on the way to Scotland and were heading for Dublin, they had found a boatman who could take them to Northern Ireland from Campbelltown and were asking about the roads in NI; I deliberately steered them towards spending time in Islay and not so much Campbelltown but couldn't advise them much on the NI roads for Cycling but reckoned as it's Road Race season there may be a lot of Motorbikes around!

Ferry arrives at Lochranza

GPS Trace

Ride 17 - Clonaig Slipway to the Maridon Guest House (Oban)

I set off from the ferry leaving the others behind after the start of the first hill, well except for the 2 other guys, who I only passed when one spotted something at the roadside on the way up the hill; this is Kintyre, it was part of Norse Kingdom of the Isles due to some Skulduggery by King Magnus Barefoot so I suppose I could claim this to be Island Three since you can sail a Norse King and his Longboat over the small spit of land separating east and west loch Tarbert, but no; I'll not claim it.

Things seemed to be going well, my average speed was up, I passed another heavily loaded tourer shortly before I stopped for lunch and then got to pass her again shortly after that; and as I climbed into Kilmartin on the climb I thought the Ayr Roads Man had warned me about I realised it was no where near as bad as he'd made it out to be; I stopped to use the conveniences but not look at the village which is aparently worth it and then started the long fast descent, but when I put the brakes on on the way into a corner I got a worrying clunk off the back,

I assumed the pads had come loose as I'd changed them at Arnside so at the bottom of the hill I stopped and had a look; the pads were fine. I span the wheel lightly in the air and applied the brake, no clunk; I did it again, Clunk, I was standing on the nearside of the bike and only really saw the offside yoke of the canti wires shaking on the clunk, I span it again faster and looked over the other side, clunk clunk clunk, Fuck!

Staring straight at me was a cracked rim; and then it started to rain. Double Fuck!

40Km from Oban, in the pissing rain, with a rim with a failed weld, if I batter it over a pot hole it might split completely, if I ride it with too much weight on it (i.e. go up hill) it might fail then, or it may just fail just standing there, I could find someone with a welder, but the rim is Aluminium so it'd need to be Tig, no chance.  I carried on carefully trying not to weight the back wheel too much and as I pushed up one of the steeper hills I was offered a biscuit by a passer by in a car, briefly chatting about the problem; I was now utterly soaked.

I finally rolled into Oban and discovered a massive queue of traffic which due to being soaked and cold I just went up the outside of, every car, bus or lorry in that queue had passed me in the last 2 hours!

I was only aware of the 1 bike shop in Oban and with it being half 3 (i.e. I was 2 boats earlier than targeted), the owner being a 4th day cyclist and it being Thursday, he was shut for the afternoon.  Triple fuck!  I didn't know about the Oban Cycle Shop at this point in time, I could have gone there too if I'd known, I phoned the hostels but they were full so I went to the Tourist Info Centre.

"Hi how can I help you",
"I'm soaked, cold and the hostels are full, can you find me a B&B",
"I can phone places for you which will cost you 4 quid, or can show you places to try on the map", "I'm soaked, can you phone for me",
"Ok just fill in this form".

As an indication of how soaked and cold I was I couldn't grip the pen; THe woman at the counter filled the form in for me, despite this being Scotland she managed to get every single part of my name spelt wrongly! I nearly had to resort to signing the form authorising them to provide their 4 pound booking service with the pen in my teeth, but I managed some sort of squiggle.

The B&B was really nice and at £36 quid for single occupancy of a double room wasn't bad really, only double what I'd have paid a hostel. I think it was worth it that night though, good comfortable bed, good shower and good breakfast to look forward to.
I warmed up, showered, put my stuff on the radiators and then went into town for a fish supper and found the "Oban Cycle Shop" 20 mins after they had closed for the day.

Quadruple Fuck.

Game Over for this wheel
GPS Trace

Ride 18 - Oban Cycle Shop to Oban Ferry Terminal

I wheeled my bike down to the 1st Bike shop for opening time at 9am, the owner looked at the wheel, asked the size, and then looked at the stock of wheels hanging from the ceiling.

26", Brake Track, 7 Speed Freewheel... Nope
700C, Brake Track, 9 Speed Freehub... Nope
26", Brake track, 8 Speed Freehub... Nope
Sorry; there is another bike shop in town...

Thoughts of having to lock the bike up at the station without the wheel, shove the bags in left luggage and either get a bus to Fort William for another bike shop or even go home to get another bike/wheel raced through my mind again.

I wheeled the bike round to Oban Cycles and waited for them to open,
"Hi, I've a bit of a problem with my bike, I've broken the rim..."
"Oh shit... bring it round the back and we'll sort it, come back in 30 minutes"

Absolutely spot on service from them, 26" rims with brake tracks are an increasing rarity due to the proliferation disc brakes and different sized wheels (if it wasn't for the rear rack I would have a disc brake on the back in seconds) but they sorted me out in those 30 minutes and I was on the midday ferry to Craignure.
The MV Isle of Mull and The Queen Mary 2
GPS Trace

Ride 19 - Craignure to Tobermory

Out beyond Kerrera was anchored a rather large Cruise liner, I didn't really get a good comparison photo showing the MV Isle of Mull against the RMS Queen Mary 2 but as we sailed past I realised just how small this, CalMac's 6th largest boat really is.
Sadly as I was eating my lunch I had to make do with photos through the lounge windows rather than from out on deck. But the CalMac Venison burger was worth it.

Landing at Craignure for (Real) Island 3, I daftly had forgotten that it's not all flat to Tobermory, If I had remembered the climb from Salen I may have taken the Glen Aros road to Dervaig for more interest and time wasting, As it was I got to Tobermory with an hour to spare before the hostel opened, so I sat around and planned routes and texted Andrew and Berenice who were on Skye to arrange meeting up the next day.

I could have carried on, on the ferry to Kilchoan and then onwards but I didn't know of any accommodation on route. It was a good relaxing afternoon anyway and an easy day at last. I even had a chance to watch the telly!
Obligatory Tobermory photo
GPS Trace

Ride 20 - Kilchoan to Mallaig

This was another big ferry chasing day, and I wasn't sure if I was going to make it in time or be camped or hostelled in Mallaig, I had ridden Ardnamurchan before on a 210Km ride so knew the hills, maybe evidence that ignorance is bliss. However according to Strava I beat the times from that day both up and down hill; which is quite impressive given I was on a light sportive bike for the 210Km day not a 50Kg loaded touring rig!

At the Salen Hotel (Salen on Sunart, not Mull obviously) I stopped to use the facilities, an older couple were there and were asking about my ride, then they pointed to the Tandem on their car! The first time they'd ridden in the area it was just dirt tracks, and the road I was about to cycle hadn't been built. They'd done some epic rides before as well including a Tandem Le-Jog.  They were so into Tandems that they had delayed their holiday by a couple of days so they could keep track of a Tandem Le-Jog record attempt. (The record had stood since 1966 and was smashed by 5 hours down to 45hrs 11min 2sec)

I also managed some epic speeds, seeing over 70Kmh at times, it's been a long time since I've ridden a bike that fast, the extra weight really helping on the descents.

I made it into Armadale again 2 ferries early and as Courisk sailed Bow first to the linkspan the rain started falling; there were plenty of other cyclists there as well, some were going to the same bunk house that Andrew and Berenice had got us a room in and others were heading out for the bank holiday weekend further into Skye. The first hint that this wasn't going to be the smoothest of passages was the motorbikes being taken on first and lashed at the "Stern" with cycles lashed at the "Bow", the second was the master turning the Courisk in Mallaig Harbour; Courisk is built so she can sail Stern first in good conditions, if she's turned to sail Bow first then it means it's at least a wee bit bumpy.  The rain was now chucking it down and although far from the worst conditions I've sailed in, Courisk was wobbling at all sorts of angles, and regularly shuddering as waves hit side on, nothing particularly uncomfortable though, just slightly disconcerting.

Courisk arriving Bow First at Malaig

GPS Trace

Ride 21 - Armadale to Kilmore (Flora McDonald Hostel)

As I pushed the bike up the linkspan at Armadale for Island 4 I saw Andrew filming, he didn't seem his usual jokey self, Berenice quickly filled me in on the situation, he had eaten some sandwiches in the pub the previous Thursday and they had been up the In-Pin with Andrew feeling rather unwell; like throwing up unwell. I kept my distance...

I got a proper soaking on the way to the hostel, only a 20 minutes ride but my kit was soaked through; after tea in the hostel I chatted to the other riders about what they were doing and then went across to the lounge where Berenice and Mr MacDonald were talking; he then advised us that the other riders were "Going to Hell!" by which he meant they were going to Rassay on a Sunday!
Andrew simply lay in bed and didn't say much, totally out of character.

GPS Trace

Ride 22 - Kilmore (Flora McDonald Hostel) to Aultguish

The plan had been that Andrew and Berenice would ride with me as far as they felt they could go before returning to their car; however even though Andrew was clearly feeling better with the jokes flying, he didn't feel up to riding, so instead it was a one way ride for Berenice to the Kyle of Lochalsh for lunch and then onto Stromeferry where we'd get Hot Chocolate at the hotel via the Plockton road. It turned out the hotel in Stromeferry was long closed and in a state of redevelopment.

It was great to meet up with people I know along the way especially after just over 2 weeks on the road alone; I carried on from Stromeferry with the aim of maybe Ullapool but with other options along the way, I went past the hostel at Achnashellach far too early in the day; and I stopped at Ledgowan Lodge making do with an afternoon tea because they were no longer doing "All Day Food" despite their sign saying they served it, but it was too early in the day to stop and use their Bunkhouse.

At Garve came the commitment to take the west coast route rather than the more conventional A9/A99 route (not that my route had been at all conventional so far!) I carried on to the Aultguish where I decided that was enough for the day, and anyway it was one dig up to the top of the dam and then almost downhill all the way to Ullapool so would be an easy fast start to the day.

Shortly after Garve I spotted a cyclist hunkered down at the side of the road; it turned out he had been up in the hills the last 2 days doing that part of the Highland Trail 550 route in reverse to cheer on the nutters doing that! He was also hopelessly lost trying to figure out from a photo of a map he had on his phone which direction would take him to Dingwall... Rather worrying since he'd got out the hills ok but on a road that only runs East/West he couldn't figure out which way Dingwall was!

I decided Ullapool would probably be too far and I knew the hostel was full there anyway, I didn't bother checking if there was space in the bunkhouse at the Aultguish as I knew there was a good spot for putting up camp for the night from Allan's last Munro weekend as Justyna, Simon and Dave had camped there for it. I did however use the pub for the food, bog and warmth.
On Skye with Berenice
GPS Trace

Ride 23 - Aultguish to Scourie

The climb up to the dam wasn't too hard, but after that the one thing I hadn't properly considered proved to be a major issue, the wind was a Nor'Wester!  I had to pedal downhill into Ullapool, I took an extended rest and ate 2 lunches as despite a Venison pie the previous night I was feeling a lack of protein again, I had hoped the new MV Loch Seaforth would dock while I was there but a check of the timetable shows I'll just have to leave my first sight of her for another day.  I knew it was about to get hilly as well as I've ridden Ledmore to Elphin and Elphin to the Stac Polly junction before but in the opposite direction from today; at Elphin I stopped at the tea rooms for another rest, and was talking to other customers, one of whom had encountered someone doing the Highland Trail 550 at their B&B the previous night. (They had done their leg in, so were retiring, taking a B&B doesn't really fill the ethos of the HT550)

Carrying on I had broken the route down into sections by each town or junction, Elphin, to Ledmore, to Kylesku, to Badcall (maybe turning left at Garve was...), to Scourie, to Durness; I really wanted to make Durness, but it was so hilly and I was really really feeling a lack of energy now that I knew all the carb sources I was carrying just couldn't fill.  I stopped at the Campsite at Scourie which had a café on site, the menu was limited but it did have exactly what I was needing.
Scourie Bay
GPS Trace

Ride 24 - Scourie to Kyle of Tongue Hostel

The wind had turned slightly overnight and was now dead westerly, I was going mainly east except for 1 inlet where I'd have to face the wind; I was so glad I'd stopped at Scourie and not carried on in the evening.
The map shows a big climb over the side of Foinaven, and a wee climb before it, I walked the wee climb but rode the shoulder of Foinaven with a couple of stops, my jaw dropping at the scenery, it was so changeable as well, Rocks, Glens, Straths, Coastal, Brutal Head Winds and Tail Winds. I could not have ridden this the previous day, and even if I had the descent off Foinaven would not have been enjoyed as much as it was, nearly 10Km of descent on all but deserted single track road.

I stopped at Durness and went to Chocolate Mountain Café on the assumption they would sell more than just chocolate, but after a Hot Chocolate they claim to be the best anywhere (sorry, I've had a hot chocolate in Budapest) and truffles I was on my way again still with a need for actual food; I stopped at Smoo Cave but decided not to take the tour as cycling tights and cleated shoes really aren't right gear for a trip on an inflatable boat; oh and did I say my jaw was on the bars with the scenery?

As I ate my lunch at the Smoo Cave hotel I learnt of a large group of cyclists coming down from Thurso, I've since seen many of them in the Strava Fly By and their rides are all titled along the lines of "Brutal Head Wind", they appeared to have been on a supported anti-clockwise loop of the NW 500 route. In fact all other cyclists I came across that day were heading West into the wind, funny that. As I battered back up against the wind at Loch Eribol they told me it wasn't for long, they were right of course as it was the opposite for them!

I saw the various groups with vans and cars for support, there were also many, many motorcyclists out on BMW and KTM touring motorcycles (i.e. Not Honda Goldwings), I think this is the only area I've ever received encouragement from Motocyclists, and motorhome and lorry drivers too!
Nods, Thumbs up, even a lorry driver pretending to cycle up a hill as he waited in a passing place for me, a real morale booster to go with the scenery, it's just awesome.

I stopped at the Kyle of Tongue hostel, now privately owned, the hostel is situated with a fantastic view over the causeway from the sitting room, and the causeway has a fantastic view of Ben Loyal and Ben Hope, a very relaxing setting.

Late on a cyclist arrived and was put in my room, he was doing the full coastal loop of Great Britain, having started in London 3 weeks before! We briefly discussed rides and kit and the trouble of having to carry everything, except he had 2 items more than me... A Climbing harness and full trad rack, just in case he bumped into anyone wanting to climb on the way! Nutter!

Did I say about the Scenery?

Ben Loyal from the Kyle of Tongue Causeway Slipway
GPS Trace

Ride 25 - Kyle of Tongue Hostel to Thurso (Sandra's Hostel)

The coaster was still in bed when I set off, he had indicated he liked to start late and finish late in the day so this didn't surprise me! I knew I could finish that day but wasn't sure if I would return to Thurso and either use the hostel or camp at the municipal camp site, or I could carry on down the coast to Wick, I couldn't get a proper phone signal and there had been no indication of Hostels or Campsites at Wick in my guides or maps, there was the JoG Campsite and I didn't know of the bunkroom at the hotel just up the road from JoG either so didn't have enough cash or food with me...

I stopped at the 8-day shop at Betty Hill and stocked up on basic food, i.e. sweets. I carried on, the scenery not as stunning as Scourie to Tongue was, but still impressive, I stopped at a pub in Melvich for lunch, the owner expected I was doing the North Coast 500 as that's what most people going past would do.  He had a sign up saying that Dogs were welcome but owners needed to be on leads; I didn't comment on the fact that his dog had let him off his lead! It didn't seem to care, just sleeping in the corner and occasionally nosing around.

I managed a good bit of extra speed on this ride even though it was slightly more climb than descent, and I got to Thurso in good time, unfortunately Thurso is the only town I've ever been to where the station isn't signed from the main road, so I completely failed to find it, and by the time I was out of town there was a traffic jam to get back in. So I didn't do what I should have and gone to the station and booked my trains. I could also have got a room at the hostel and dropped my bags off to make the final leg easier, but the last leg of an epic journey is not time to relearn how to ride an unladen bike just remember Exford.

This ride was never about just Lands End to John O' Groats, Neither actually being all that geographically important, the Lizard is the furthest South, Dunnet Head, the North-most and Dunscaby head the Northwest-most points of the Island of Great Britain, I was 12 miles from Ardnamurchan, and 12 Miles from Cape Wrath as well but didn't bother including them, particularly since the East-most and South-east-most points are in the South East of England and I couldn't fit them in; remember the coaster was 3 weeks into his ride and not even halfway!

So I set off to Dunnet Head, a local was hill training on the climb, he passed me as I passed a dog walker so I commented on his unfair advantage, on the way into the car park I hit the cattle grid a bit hard and the bike slid quite badly at 15Kmh, I'd been hitting them at over double that the last few days without a care or problem. At the marker post a motorbiker took my picture for me, before I carried on to John O' Groats where another helpful motorbiker took a picture, I used the facilities before it started pouring with rain which I hid from along with people waiting for the bus in the shelter of the toilets verandah, amazingly the bus stop has no shelter, I then completed the ride at Dunscaby Head where again someone else taking in the spot took a photo for me. The End to End was complete!

JoG has improved significantly since I was last there, it was just a gravely car park, the house, the mill shop and the run-down hotel back then. At least now there's bogs and a Tourist information centre to hide in when the rain comes on.

Of course now I have to ride back into the wind to get to Thurso, and the rain was pouring again. Not fun, especially now that the main aim was complete the reason to keep going was diminished, thankfully/sadly no one with a pick up or van offered me a lift so I cycled into Thurso and instantly found the station just down the road from the Hostel.

When I got to the hostel in Thurso there was a nice tandem undercover, I got chatting to the riders Jim and Helen in the hostel, it was Jim's (the captain) 4th Le-Jog! Only his 2nd on a Tandem though.

They were going to compleate their ride the following day and were sorting out a van in Inverness as the only trains in the UK that can take Tandems are the West Coast Main Line Electric trains. We discussed routes, the issues Tandems have with hills, both up and down, and then the next morning at breakfast, with them in their club gear, there was this niggling thought; I swear I had passed them somewhere on route!

Dunnet Head

Some Dutch blokes old house

Dunscaby Head

GPS Trace

Ride 26 - Thurso (Sandra's Hostel via Shops) to Thurso Station

I was booked on the lunch time train from Thurso, so had plenty of time to spare. once I'd done this ride which took me around the shops to obtain some food I sat in Thurso station for the remaining 3 hours, only to be told the train was cancelled, thankfully if you have a reservation Scotrail will now actually help you with your bike, and a bus was hired that could take the 4 bikes that were booked on the train; when it arrived with 2 already on board and 3 bikes at Thurso the driver was a bit worried but we got them all on, even though one guy who hadn't even reserved his bike space so could have been thrown off, was complaining about getting scratches on his bike, and encouraged the driver to make good time...
The other guy getting his bike on here had a wee grumble to me about him, and suggested I should claim I couldn't squeeze my bike on top of his in order to get the other guy thrown off, but nah... You'd think he had a tight connection to make at Inverness or something; I'd already worked out that even with the bus going to each of the stations on the A9 we'd be earlier than the train is scheduled at Inverness by about an hour! So I was rather amused to see him get off and put his bike in a van at Tain!

With 4 hours to kill in Inverness instead of the expected 3 I did things in the wrong order, I took the bike to find tea and then put the bags in left luggage and the bike on the rack... So instead of finding a decent meal in Inverness, I sat and watched my bike get rained on from the eat-in seats in a Dominoes outlet. I then took a wander around town to find a small shop (There seems to be very few small shops in Inverness City Centre) and then sat bored in the station watching the arrivals / departures board, and feeling a bit odd as the Sleeper was sitting there and I wasn't going on it.

GPS Trace

Ride 27 - The Bank Bar Express

I got on the train at Inverness and sat and watched the daylight fade, I was concerned about the 4 minute connection time at Perth for the train to Dundee, yes I can cycle home from Perth if need be, yes I can get a lift from Perth if need be, but Berenice had suggested I try and make the pub; so I texted Jim "Think I might make the pub tonight", 5 minutes later there was an e-mail on the club list saying I would be at the pub encouraging people to come down and stay late.

2 minutes late at Carrbridge, this isn't looking good,
4 minutes late at Pitlochry, oh dear
5 late at Dunkeld, I phoned dad for lift from Perth.

We actually rolled into Perth only a minute late, and I wheeled the bike across Perth station as fast as I dared, I thought the door lights were off on the train as I approached it but a second look showed I could still get on; I phoned Dad again to advise of the pick up location being the Bank Bar and phoned Jim to say I'd made the train.

5 past 11 at night, as I wheeled my bike into the bank bar; Fiona apparently had said it was ok; Jim's sitting there alone... "I told them to wait, but nah, bastards eh!"

I clocked Berenice holding a camera behind the pillar,
Hold on if Berenice is here the Andrew must be here and...

Yes a fair few had stayed up late to welcome me back with a hand made card... well Folded piece of A4 paper,

Thanks Paul!

GPS Trace

The End

Really it is.

Here's some map traces
Full Route

Lost in Runcorn!

You can see a full set of photos here (The film Images will be added when I finish the film off and get it processed)