Sunday 24th June – Inverness

After the elation of arriving at John O’Groats we swiftly loaded up all the bags int a bus and hoofed it to Inverness for the night. Some of the guys were a bit tired!

It was astonishing how long it took to drive – we have come a long way! We passed Dunrobin Castle and the Sutherland memorial and revisited the Cromarty Firth where we had the distillery tour two days ago.

Finally arriving at the hotel we had a chance to stroll around Inverness before dinner – quite novel really!

Inverness is regarded as the capital of the Highlands. Its close to the site of the Battle of Culloden which took place on Culloden Moor about three miles from the City.

The Battle was the final confrontation in the Jacobite rising of 1745 where Bonnie Prince Charlie was spanked by the Hanovarian English and killed the aspirations to the English throne of the House of Stuart. It was decisive, 1500-2000 Jacobites were killed or wounded compared to about 300 government soldiers.

The battle was over in less than an hour despite similar numbers on each side when an unsuccessful Highland charge was routed. At Culloden the undernourished and unpaid Jacobites were outgunned and outmanned by the disciplined regular troops of the Government. Poor choices by Charles Edward Stuart also contributed to his defeat when he played into the enemy’s hand.

The Highland charge was a quick charge downhill using soldiers armed with a lighter sword than the traditional Claymore. It was developed in response to the arming of opposing soldiers with firearms and required ‘a high degree of commitment’ (classic understatement if you ask me) as the first musket volley would be guaranteed to cause some casualties.

According to Wikipedia the Highlanders quite often removed their lower garments for speed. Frankly a charge of half naked (and lets be clear, not the good half!) Scotsman would be guaranteed to strike fear in me…

After the Battle Charlie legged it back to France disguised as ‘Betty Burke’, Flora MacDonald’s maid, an idea he got after reading about Toad’s escape from gaol in ‘The Wind in The Willows’ by Kenneth Grahame.

There is a ‘Clootie Well’ in Culloden Woods where brightly coloured rags are hung as offerings from people wanting to be cured of ailments. Sounds a bit Wicker Man to me, I think Ill pass if anyone wants me to investigate the disappearance of anyone here.

Inverness is apparently the happiest place in Scotland and the second happiest in the UK. Harrogate is allegedly the happiest.

Inverness is an important centre for bagpipe players. The inverness cape, a garment worn in the rain by pipers the world over is not made here.

Karen Gillan the actress from Doctor Who is from Inverness and Mr Egg, an acid house musician are two notable Invernessians.

We finished the day with a grand gala dinner! I had booked a piper to pipe us into dinner and Gus the Piper did us proud. Very nice man who drew the winner of the Outil D’Or (well done Amy!)

Final awards of the Outil D’Or went to Mike for failing to lock the bus WC door and the DA team for being frankly awesome! All very emotional!

Now back to reality…what on earth am I going to now?


Enjoying the blog?  Please take time out and sponsor us!  Maurice and I are riding in support of Fresh Start – new beginnings, a treatment service for survivors of childhood sexual abuse.  My just giving page can be found here and all donations go straight to the charity (my ride is 100% self funded).

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Saturday 23rd June – Day Twelve

Was a morning of mixed emotions – we had a long hard ride yesterday with a definite feeling of arrival as we came down the North Coast. That said it’s been an epic journey and I’m tired!

We left the Park Hotel in Thurso early and set of in light drizzle (hardly even call it that) to Dunnet Head.

Dunnet Head, also known as Easter head, is the most Northerly point of mainland Great Britain. It’s an RSPB sanctuary and has spectacular cliffs. There is a light house and yes James Hurrell is a child!

Then the signs to John O’Groats came thick and fast!

I didn’t want the end to come too soon so James and I went to see the Castle of Mey. Built from 1566 it was effectively a stately home which the queen mother bought in 1952 and restored.

James thought it a bit twee but I liked it.

Then is was just a few short miles to John O’Groats. I tried to be strong but felt very emotional running in to the final signpost.

John O’Groats is 690 miles from London, 280 miles from Edinburgh and 2,200 miles from the North Pole.  It has a population of 300.  The settlement takes its name from Jan de Groot, a Dutchman who once plied a ferry from the Scottish mainland to Orkney. People from John o’ Groats are known as

“Groaters”.

In 2005 Lonely Planet described John O’Groats as a

“seedy tourist trap”

and in 2010 got a Carbuncle Award from Urban realm magazine for being Scotlands most dismal town.  All seems a bit harsh to me.

In actual fact it has definitely improved and there are some attractive holiday homes, a boutique hotel and John O’Groats house looked in good nick.

John O’Groat’s House was an ancient house believed to be situated in front of the present hotel, deriving its name from John of Groat, or Groot, and his brothers, originally from Holland, said to have settled here about 1489.

The house was of an octagon shape, being one room, with eight windows and eight doors, to admit eight members of the family; the heads of different branches of it.  To prevent their quarrels for precedence at table each came in by his own door, and sat at an octagon table which of course had no chief place or head.

John O’Groats is not the most Northerly point or even the most North Easterly.  These are Dunnet Head and Duncansby Head respectively however it is the traditional end to our journey.  I’m told there used to be sand dunes however all the sand was removed during  the war and spread on the fields to improve the soil.

All we did was hug, pose for photos and congratulate each other. It’s been a superb ride – we have been exceptionally lucky with the weather, for the purposes of this blog I’m going to say no rain (torrential downpour in Wigan doesn’t count! That’s normal!) and no punctures. Great company and a great team all riding for different causes and reasons…such a wonderful experience!


Enjoying the blog?  Please take time out and sponsor us!  Maurice and I are riding in support of Fresh Start – new beginnings, a treatment service for survivors of childhood sexual abuse.  My just giving page can be found here and all donations go straight to the charity (my ride is 100% self funded).

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Friday 22nd June – Day Eleven

Today was the longest ride of the whole trip -106 miles up to Thurso across some of the least inhabited parts of the UK. To gird our loins we had eggs and haggis at the Novar Arms Hotel, was really good!

We were in midge country – James was taking no risks in getting bit…

The day dawned bright and clear, cold but with a forecast of sun later on. I rather unwisely took this at face value and donned shorts and a short sleeved shirt for the ride and was pretty cold for most of it…despite it being just past midsummer temperatures didn’t rise above about 13 degrees all day.

We started today from Evanton which overlooks the Cromarty Firth. This had seven oil rigs parked in it, presumably spares from the North Sea, quite a sight. The views over the Firth were spectacular as we pedalled out towards Dornoch Firth,

The entrance to the Cromarty Firth is guarded by two precipitous headlands (151m and 141m high respectively) which are called ‘The Sutors’ because of their resemblance to shoemakers hunched over their lasts. Sadly our revised route no longer takes us past the headlands. Cromarty Firth is one of the safest anchorages in Scotland and was the scene of the Invergordon mutiny.

The Invergordon Mutiny was industrial action by 1,000 sailors in 1931.  The crews of Royal navy ships at Invergordon were in open mutiny for two days – one of the rare military strikes in British history.  The mutiny caused a run on the pound and panicked the stock exchange forcing the UK off the Gold Standard.  The mutiny was caused by the Government reducing sailors pay by up to 25% as a response to the Great Depression.

We missed out Dunrobin Castle on our revised route as well as the Sutherland memorial. It’s a pity because it’s a massive monument that several (I assume Scotsmen) have tried to destroy in recent years!

The first Duke of Sutherland (George Granville Leveson-Gower) was responsible for some of the most notorious highland clearances. These involved moving crofters (subsistence farmers) off his estate and into coastal villages to make way for sheep production. He is a divisive figure, there is a mahoosive monumental him on the summit of Beinn a’ Bhragaidh built in the 1830’s. It’s more than 30m high and can be seen from several miles away.

An attempt to dynamite the memorial was made in 1994 and stones were removed from the base in 2011 in an attempt to topple the statue. Not a popular man by any stretch of the imagination…

The Sutherland estate was the largest private estate in Europe at that time and the Sutherland clearances are considered the most dramatic and best known removal of families across the Highlands and Islands.

We did however see a number of memorials to the clearances as we cycled up to Bettyhill including one to Mr Macdonalds ‘gloomy letters’.

We headed into the first of the hills – the cycling was good, and although was now a bit slow climbing the hills (my legs are tired, James however seems to be batting stronger every ride, he’s obviously sucking the life force from me!) the riding was easy.

James stopped for a bit of roadside chalking…

We got to a position overlooking the Dornoch Firth and it was a spectacular sight, sadly none of my images do the views justice! Phil the DA tour leader was in the lay-by checking everyone was making good time so was good to see the crew were on top of us…

Then it was a long exciting sweeping descent to Bonar Bridge, we stopped for coffee only to find every other LEJoGer on our trip had the same idea! So far it was bright but very cold so coffee warmed us up.

Bonar Bridge was the scene of an important battle in the Jacobite rebellion. The Duke of Sutherland attacked Clan MacKenzie at the bridge and captured most of the officers and killed the men, the Jacobite army at Culloden therefore failed to be reinforced – it’s doubtful however if this would have made much difference to their comprehensive defeat at Culloden.

In 1812 a dangerously overloaded ferry took on water and capsized at Bonar Bridge and 99 people died…the subsequent fundraising effort built the first bridge there.

Apparently every August the village elects a Salmon Queen.

Joe Strummer’s mother lives in Bonar Bridge – the world is a poorer place without him!

Despite these important bits of history we did not stay long – the next climb began and it was onto Lairg and Loch Shin! Another county!

Lairg was a very prettytown however as we went further on it was clear we were getting further from civilisation -petrol was being billed as the last for 44 miles going north….

Pic of Loch Shin in Lairg- does not do it justice, however at least you can see me in the corner….

Lairg is unusual if not unique in the Highlands in that it is a fairly large settlement (a mahoosive 891 people) located away from the coast. It used to be known as the crossroads of the North – it had four roads! Apparently it’s the site of the fifteenth largest (25 Miles in diameter) impact crater on earth – and I thought there was very little here! It hosts the largest single day sheep sale in Europe (whoop whoop!).

Alastair Bruce of Crionaich K.stJ OBE VR, Fitzalan Pursuivant Extraordinary lives in Lairg…his claim to fame is that he is the historical advisor on Downton Abbey….

Loch Shin is 17 miles long and is, according to my neighbour, rife with midges the size of pigeons! I’ve got a net for my head if I have to stop…James and I held a drill just to make sure we were prepped!

As it turned out the stiff breeze blowing meant no midges! Result! Maurice is covered in bites (I have none – must be immune!). The day clouded over and the wind really picked up.

We left civilisation north of Lairg and the road turned to single track with parking places… it was very bleak (if you have seen Skyfall the landscape was just like where the Bond family seat was located…barren and windswept).

I took pictures but it does not show how desolate this part of the country is…it was hard going, wind in your face and very cold..

It was very hard however respite was reached at the Crask Inn where we had a cup of tea and met about a hundred other LEJoGers all heading to Tongue.

The Crask Inn is a well known stop for End to Enders doing LEJoG and JoGLE. It’s been proving bunk house and bed and breakfast accommodation for many years. It’s recently been sold by the owners to the Church so it’s a place where you can now get a pint and a church service if you want.

The Landlord was miserable as sin though…all we got was complaints he wasn’t expecting us…plainly did not appreciate the trade!

After we had tea we grudgingly left the warmth of the Inn and found to our joy the wind had dropped. Cresting the last hill before lunch we dropped down nice and fast internet Altnaharra and had a chilly lunch on the banks of Loch Never.

The DA crew were working under difficult conditions but soup and sandwiches along with tea revived us no end. The day was gradually brightening and because we headed North west the wind was at our quarter which was slightly easier.

When we were out of the wind it was warm! In the wind I was worried bits were going to snap off. Lunch was only half way and the day started to bite – it’s been a long ride and this last day was really quite hard.

The final century milestone was good to reach….mixed feelings now as the end of the ride started to come in sight…

Finally we reached Bettyhill on the North coast…we were turning right here and then toddling into Thurso…. at least that was what my head was telling me (reality was a bit harder!)

We past the first sign for John O’Groats – 55 miles left…this was a sober reminder of just how far we had come. Some of the team were very emotional seeing this however I have a heart of flint! Actually I was just knackered…think tomorrow will be a good time to finish this ride!

The first glimpse of the sea was awesome… the beach looked idyllic and the sea was a spectacular shade of Azure! We were assured it was not always like this!

The final 25 miles were very hard! Sorry me very steep climbs along the coast which lessened as we went closer to Thurso however I was struggling (James rather disgracefully seems to be thriving!).

Eventually Dounreay came into sight…a massive installation in the middle of nowhere.

Dounreay is the site of five nuclear reactors – three civilian fast breeder reactors and two Royal Navy ones.  The site was used for the development of fast breeder technology and submarine power plant reactors.

The civilian reactors were all shut down in 1994 so no power is now produced.  Decommissioning is going to take until 2058 meaning that loads of people are still employed there. It’s a lonely spot!

There are all sorts of environmental problems with the site.  The operators originally disposed of waste in a 65m shaft that wasn’t designed for this purpose.  This means that coastal erosion is threatening to expose this in 300 years’ time.

Apparently, it was normal for workers to fire rifles into this shaft to sink polyethylene bags floating on the water surface.  Its also not a good idea to go swimming here as there are plenty of irradiated particles on the sea bed.

In 2012 a 2,000,000 becquerel particle washed ashore.  I’m not sure how this would affect your health but 2,000,000 is bad and I for one will not be finding out!

Of more concern for our health was nearly being hit by a driver exiting the site – classic not looking! Fortunately our shrill screaming alerted her to the risk of a manslaughter prosecution and we escaped death!

Finally – desperately tired – we rolled into Thurso…

Thurso is a surprisingly large town of about 8,000 people and has a Category A listed ruined church (Old St Peter’s Kirk dating back to 1125, sadly our route does not take us past it…) It is the most Northerly town on the British mainland.

Old St Peter’s Kirk used to be the principal church for the county.  The church held hearings against criminal activity and determined how those caught should be punished. In 1701, a woman who had a relationship with a Dutch sailor had her head shaved and was publicly shamed, she was paraded through the town by the local hangman (best to stay away from the locals).

Thurso’s history dates back to Norse times and evidence has shown people have been settled here for over 5,000 years.

In 1649 the Irish attacked the town but were chased off by residents. One of the locals killed the Irish Commander Donald Mullach by pulling off a button from his coat, loading it into his musket and firing it at the invader. Best not upset any of the locals that’s what I say!

Linen and fishing were the main industry here until the Dounreay Power station came along and there is also a big BT call centre – jobs for everyone.

Anne McKevitt, the interior designer who used to be on ‘Home Front’ is from Thurso as was Major General John Charles “Jock” Campbell VC DSO MC.  He won his VC fighting the Italians south of Tobruk.  Three weeks after he was promoted to Major General he was killed when his jeep overturned on a new clay road.  His driver was so appalled at what he had done he considered suicide while waiting for medical help.

Final day tomorrow…end of a fantastic experience!

L’Outil D’Or was won by Roly. He had stopped and purchased some Radox bath bubbles to ease his aching limbs only to find out his room only had a shower….

Illuminated Glasses of Awesomeness were won by Debs – 106 miles on practically no sleep (she was dealing with an issue with one of the other riders). Good job!



Enjoying the blog?  Please take time out and sponsor us!  Maurice and I are riding in support of Fresh Start – new beginnings, a treatment service for survivors of childhood sexual abuse.  My just giving page can be found here and all donations go straight to the charity (my ride is 100% self funded).

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Thursday 21st June – Day Ten

Today dawned bright but cool,we only had 60 miles to go so it was an easy day along the banks of Loch Ness and the Cromarty Firth with a distillery tour booked for 3pm in the afternoon – simple! What could go wrong?

We made a late start as the miles were fewer and leaving the hostel we headed to Fort Augustus. The six man room was a bit of a shock after the comfort of the Loch Fyne Hotel and some of the brethren who are best left unnamed snore like a badly maintained buzz saw!

DA cooked us a meal last night and breakfast was a simple affair of cereal and toast plus porridge for anyone who wanted it. Loch Fyne provides whisky to mix with the porridge yesterday but no such luxury today!

The bustling metropolis of Fort Augustus has a population 646.  When we rolled through it the number practically doubled! Stopping to take a picture of the sign we heard the bells go and realised we missed getting over the swing bridge,

This allowed us to observe the work of the lock keeper at close quarter. Bawling insults at the ineptitude of the day trippers going up the loch staircases of the Caledonian canal was pure entertainment! Some other enterprising fellow sparked up the bagpipes and the chaos had a soundtrack,

Originally Fort Augustus was named Kiliwhimin so the new name was an improvement. The original Fort used to belong to the Benedictine Monks who ran a school then a heritage centre and finally sold it to Terry Nutkins – he owned the Lovat Hotel too, never had him down as a property magnate.

Having just looked Terry up on Wikipedia it turns out he is dead! When did this happen?

Terry famously moved in with the naturalist Gavin Maxwell (who wrote Ring of Bright Water about his otter called Mij) when he was 15 Terry subsequently lost the ends of two fingers to Maxwell’s pet otter.

We pushed on, the scenery was marvellous and Loch Ness is huge! It was a long but fast ride down the Loch side to Drumnadrochit…today was going to be a milk run. We rode with Amy and Mark and had some jolly sights to take in on route.

Apparently Amy’s posse read the blog so big love to the Chester massive!

Loch Ness is the second largest loch (behind Lomond) in surface area however because of its significant depth it’s the largest by volume.  In fact, it contains more fresh water than all the lakes in England and Wales combined, it’s a big one!

Loch Ness stretches from Fort William all the way up to Inverness and our route follows the side of it as far as Drumnadrochit. A good chance to indulge in monster spotting.

The monster does not of course exist, it started as a hoax in the 1930s against a big-game hunter, Marmaduke Wetherell, who went to Loch Ness to look for the monster. Wetherell claimed to have found footprints, but when casts of the footprints were sent to scientists for analysis they turned out to be from a Hippopotamus.

A prankster had used a hippopotamus-foot umbrella stand to make tracks in the mud to fool him.  Humiliated he responded by (probably) faking the famous ‘Surgeons photo’ which was published in the Daily Mail in 1934 (this was in the days before anyone had heard of photoshop and photographic evidence was rarely doubted).

Loch Ness lies in the Great Glen, a big fault line that bisects Scotland, which has been excavated by glacial erosion.

Urquart Castle is midway along the Loch and very pretty. We passed the 800 mile mark just before we reached the castle…we could not believe the progress we have made over the last ten days – a sad reminder that this trip will be over very soon!

Drumnadrochit is a popular tourist destination with ‘Nessiland’ capitalising on people’s desire to believe in monsters.

We stopped for water in the car park of the tourist information centre before heading up the last major climb of the trip – ‘Up the Drum’ we went.

My training programme had been very effective – I have been very comfortable on all the climbs so far so was confident this would present no challenges…how wrong could I be?

The Drum rises nearly a thousand feet in two miles, it was 15% for 3/4 of a mile…it was truly horrible! James and Amy out paced me and my lovely bicycle started to make horrible noises of which more anon.

It went on for what seemed an eternity! Bend, sharp rises, bend, sharper rise! I saw bright lights as my heartrate went through the roof, angels sang and through the mist I could see dead relatives beckoning me to join them!

I took a breather – not impressed, I was expecting to get up this in one go but I was damned if I was going to walk. After a few mins rest I got up to the top – the hardest climb of the tour and everyone felt it!

Heading into lunch at the Muir of Ord we were pushing into the strongest headwinds of the whole trip, even the downhills were hard work.

There were a lot of tired faces at lunch – everyone had suffered in the climb and quite a few injuries were playing up as a result. The cancellations for the distillery tour started to come in!

We were not going to cancel though, we had a brief lunch and set off. I had noticed that after the Drum my middle chain ring looked as if it was bent…it was only after we had set of after lunch that I could see the whole crank parting company from the chain rings – disaster!

I sent James and Amy on and wheeled back to the DA crew – a godsend, A quick inspection showed if lost three chainring bolts – something I’d never heard of happening before, you need a special tool to tighten/remove them so without the support crew I would have been stuffed.

They removed one of the inner crank bolts and popped it in the middle of the missing three and I searched desperately for a bike shop – I would be riding the god awful ‘spare bike’ tomorrow if I couldn’t get it fixed…the distillery tour looked as good as dead for me.

Fortunately Orange Fox bikes were close and the lovely mechanic there dropped everything and stripped the cranks, reassembled the whole and replaced the missing – what a guy! He then refused to charge me – WHAT A GUY! Highly recommended and saved my bacon.

He did this all in the space of about 30 mins and I left about 2 pm… I might just make the tour if I pushed.

Peddling like a demon I rolled onto Evanton, phoning James on route he told me which room we were in, where to stick the bike and when he would send the taxi back to me…top fellow.

I zipped past other groups taking in the lovely views of the Cromarty Firth and screamed into Evanton like a looney! In to the room, quick change and our again I hooked up with Amy and we were off to the Dalmore distillery!

The distillery tour was held for me and we had a fantastic time doing something that wasn’t cycling. The distillery is on the banks of the Firths with some stunning views over the water.

Because half the people who had booked on the tour had cancelled we had double whisky tasting at the end…some delicious 12, 15, 18 and 20 year old malts were sampled including the King William Alexander – a snip at £160 a bottle! Lovely!

Maurice said it wasn’t a patch on Irish whisky but I’m not sure he is that objective a critic…

Then it was back to Evanton to our lovely little hotel – the Novar Arms who did us a top meal in the evening.

Evanton was named after the founder, Alexander Frazer’s son and has grown in recent years due to the Scottish oil boom. Evanton was the scene of a riot in 1846 when despite near starvation in the village the authorities continued to export grain. A poor show indeed! Out of the 1600 residents 74 still speak Gaelic.

Evanton is famous as the location where the ‘Naked Rambler’ Stephen Gough was reported and arrested. He walked LEJoG wearing only a hat backpack and boots and I think the authorities took a dim view sending him down two months later! Will have to warn Maurice to keep his clothes on later…

The glasses of awesomeness were won by Michael Burland for his stunningly fast ride up the Drum….honestly don’t know where he gots the energy from but seriously well done!

The Outil D’Or went to Amy who lost her phone for the second time in two days. She borrowed mine to check the cab company before finding it in the pub…

A busy day and some tired faces! Today was much harder than anyone anticipated and tomorrow is a beast of a ride at 106miles over some very empty parts of Scotland.


Enjoying the blog?  Please take time out and sponsor us!  Maurice and I are riding in support of Fresh Start – new beginnings, a treatment service for survivors of childhood sexual abuse.  My just giving page can be found here and all donations go straight to the charity (my ride is 100% self funded).

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Wednesday 20th June – Day Nine

What an amazing day! Never seen any thing so lovely…I’ve never been to the highlands before and it was fabulous!

Here is a picture of me at the start – I’m wearing a Elliot Wood cycling shirt – some lovely friends of mine and a very generous sponsor. See their website here, if you need a top structural engineering solution these are the boys for you!

The day was low cloud but the wind was blowing and we set off in beautiful fresh weather.

Heartbreak hill turned out to be more ‘She-stood-me-up-outside-the-Knutsford-Civic-Hall-but-I-didn’t-like-her-very-much-anyway-slope…it was a worrying start but the gradient settled down and it was a lovely gentle climb up to views over the glen (the low cloud got blown away but Lordy it was cold, you could see your breath on the air and I was wearing what I would normally wear in October..

On the other side we had amazing views of Ben Cruachan. I had seen this last year when James, Fergy, Chris and I had climbed from Loch Awe to Inveraray. Ben Cruachan is a looming mountain with a dam that provides hydro electric power.

Of greater interest is the position Ben Cruachan provides as a symbol of the Campbell homelands…

“Cruachan!”

is the battle cry of the Campbells – the mountain dominates their birthplace.

Ben Cruachan is a very striking mountain which is even more impressive when you realise they hollowed it out to create a turbine hall for the hydroelectric power station powered by the Cruachan Dam.  Thirty-six men died in its construction (fifteen when the roof of the turbine hall roof collapsed) – unthinkable today.

Shock and awe – it was Loch Awe! Stunning!

We stopped for a cup of tea at the visitor centre (tea is awesome! It powers good cycling…) It was also time to mark another century off – 700 miles!we are getting close to the end…

The scenery changed all the time, fantastic mountains, fast straight Loch side roads…the riding was easy and the weather was dry…we were very lucky with the views we had and the marvellous changing scenery without getting wet.

We rolled over the Connell bridge – just lovely. We saw highland cattle! After a water stop pushed on towards Fort William.

We took the Cycle path and had a fantastic view of castle Stalker – dates back to 1200s and is typical of a sea castle created because land routes were few and far between. Very Game of Thrones…

We did not get a chance to detour to Glencoe – we had 90 odd miles to go today and the extra time was just not available, a fact I’m now rather glad of.

It is the location of an infamous massacre of men women and children of Clan MacDonald in 1692 by the Campbells.  The Campbells behaved particularly badly by betraying the tradition of highland hospitality.  Thirty-eight men were killed by soldiers billeted amongst the clan, and another forty women and children died of exposure after their houses were burned down in the middle of winter (the shame of it!).

Regardless of its sad history and being most famous for the massacre there, Glencoe is said to be one of the most stunning pieces of scenery in the highlands. Our route and timetable just didn’t allow us the opportunity to visit so definitely one to stick on the bucket list for the future.

(Glencoe above, not my picture!)

We stopped outside Fort William for lunch but were delayed – incidents and logistics! It actually let the rain pass over, we were very lucky!

We stopped at Fort William to pick up wine – no bar at tonight’s accommodation.

Ben Nevis dominates Fort William but to get a good view you need to pass through and look back, truly stunning! Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in the UK. Its 4,411 ft above sea level.

The summit is actually the collapsed dome of an ancient volcano. Apparently, there is fog on the summit 55% of the time this time of the year – true from my views of it!

In 2006 a piano was discovered buried on the summit…its believed that it was carried up as a charity stunt by removal men from Dundee in the 1980’s (those crazy Dundonians!).

Fort William is the second largest town in the Highlands, Inverness (where the virgins came down from) is the largest.

Fort William is named firstly after William of Orange who ordered the original fort to be built to pacify the Clans and then after William Duke of Cumberland. The Duke was also known as ‘Butcher Cumberland’ (they occasionally suggest changing the name of the town because he was a rank bad hat).

Close by is the Glenfinnan Viaduct which is famous as the Harry Potter viaduct – featuring in the films.  Sadly our route does not take us past it…

(Again not my photo!)

We did pass the Ben Nevis distillery though…it’s one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland…we didn’t stop in, we are off to Dalmore tomorrow.

We had a great route out of Fort William…over the Caledonian Canal and up the valley overlooking the Great Glen and the canal – just beautiful!

The waterstop was by the canal and was awesome! We did not tarry long, it had been a long day and the hostel was close… on route however was the commando memorial.

The commando memorial is a mile north of Spean Bridge village and overlooks the training areas of the WEII Commandos.

The Commando Training Depot was established in 1942 at Achnacarry Castle.  The statue is 17 feet high made of bronze and listed. It’s a famous tourist destination but when you see it there you see why.

It stands overlooking the wild highlands and you get a sense of how hard the training was to become a WWII commando, even in summer the landscape dominates all.

The site was chosen because it was on the route from Spean Bridge railway station to Achnacarry Castle.  Prospective Commandos would disembark after a 14 hour rail journey, load their kit bags onto waiting trucks and then have to speed march the seven miles to the castle in full kit which weighed thirty six pounds.  Anyone not completing this feat in 60 minutes were immediately failed and returned to their unit (they were hard men in those days).

It wa then a fast and easy descent to Laggan…

Laggan’s main claim to fame is that the TV show Monarch of the Glen was filmed here.

The ‘battle of the shirts’ was fought at Laggan between Clan Macdonald and Clan Fraser assisted by the Cameron’s and the Grants respectively (pick a side!). It was 500 Macdonald’s versus 300 Frazer’s with only eight Macdonalds and five Frazer’s surviving! Not sure who could claim to win that battle (the Macdonald’s did).

Traditionally the name of the battle is said to have come about because the day was so hot that the boys threw off their tartan plaids and fought in their shirts (jumpers for goalposts?) It’s probably more likely a mistranslation of the Gaelic and should be titled the Battle of the Swampy meadow.

Apparently the Chiefship of the Macdonalds was in dispute and this, coupled with what Angus said about Morag at Christmas led to the battle and the death of nearly 800 men…

Laggan is at one end of Loch Lochy (not to be confused with Loch Loch which is elsewhere and named by someone with real imagination!). Loch Lochy is the third deepest Loch in Scotland.

Folklore tales mention ‘a supernatural being’ called the River Horse (affectionately christened Lizzie) which was said to emerge from the lake and assume a horse’s shape before feeding on the loch’s banks.

The River Horse was also known as the Lord Of The Lake and the Water King and would overturn boats and ‘entice mares from their pastures’. Spooky!

Accommodation was in the Great Glen Hostel…a bit of a change from the Loch Fyne Hotel. DA did a blinder of a meal (however curry was a brave choice when all were sleeping in rooms of six middle aged men in bunk beds…)

L’Outil D’Or was won by Maurice and William who took three goes to find the road out of Inveraray… mind you I took two goes and I’d been there before!

The glasses of awesomeness were won by Jono who entertained us at the lunch stop with his fabulous piano talent…

A great day…sadly the trip draws to a close….


Enjoying the blog?  Please take time out and sponsor us!  Maurice and I are riding in support of Fresh Start – new beginnings, a treatment service for survivors of childhood sexual abuse.  My just giving page can be found here and all donations go straight to the charity (my ride is 100% self funded).

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Tuesday 19th June – Day Eight

We started from Kilmarnock fairly early today, although the day was a bit shorter it was still 80 miles and rain was forecast for the afternoon. It was warm in the Car Park of the Park Hotel (very spiffy hotel next to the footy ground) but I was not fooled, was going to be a chilly day.

We had haggis on toast for breakfast which was great – very lovely!l

As I said I had looked at the temperatures for today (which were decidedly cool) and went for long trousers, undershirt, thermal winter shirt, gilet and full finger gloves…and I was not wrong, it was decidedly chilly once you you’ll out of the shelter of the car park and rode into the wind towards the coast.

Some of the more optimistic brethren were riding shorts and shirts with no under layers – brrrr! Not for me!

Almost immediately we rode through the 600 miles milestone! Some clever artwork was called for…

Joe had been promised ice cream yesterday and had been bitterly disappointed by the fact that the water stop was billed as an ice cream parlour but actually was on the A76 in a lay-by with views across the field of the ice cream place!

The first rest stop today was next to a famous ice cream parlour which hopefully allowed her to scratch that itch!

After a bit of riding we reached the coast at Ardrossan and we turned up the road to Lairgs with the sea to our right and the wind a manageable cross wind – much more preferable to yesterday.

The ride up the coast was great! We had lovely views of Arran to our left, although it was a bit misty you had a real sense the landscape was finally changing to the spectacular.

We regrouped at Lairgs, the ferry terminal was apparently windswept and cold and not a good place to wait! (Mind you Phil the organiser was dressed in t shirt shorts and flip flops, no wonder he was cold! Get some clothes on!)

There were some jolly photo ops at Lairgs…

Phil eventually allowed the first group of ten cyclists to head up to the ferry terminal, we had to cross in groups of about ten, and we all enjoyed the Callimac experience.

Simon Fisher is on our ride and we believe this is just a pseudonym – he’s clearly Phill Tuffnall!

I took the opportunity to have a couple of protein shots…

Then a few pics while we crossed the loch…

Mark Haggerty is too tall!

We rolled off the other side and the change in pace and scenery was fantastic! Quiet roads, beautiful tree lined riding on sheltered roads – all was amazing, suddenly we felt like we were in Scotland!

Sadly we didn’t get to see Dunoon, it’s a well known place for most Glaswegians and has a memorial to the Dunoon Massacre that I would have liked to see (it was unfortunately a three mile detour and we were close to lunch).

The history of Dunoon is dominated by two Clans – Clan Campbell and Clan Lamont. The Earls of Argyll (Campbells) were hereditary keepers of Dunoon Castle paying the exorbitant rent of a single red rose to the sovereign annually.

In 1646 Clan Campbell massacred members of Clan Lamont in the Dunoon massacre.

The Campbells seem to make a habit of massacring people and I’m not sure I approve – we will pass Glencoe in a few days and that is another shameful family incident!  Will have to keep my head down and my identity quiet.

Dunoon used to be a destination of the Clyde steamers which brought Glaswegian holidaymakers to Dunoon – a journey known as going:

“doon the watter”

Billy Connolly once said:

“…there was a competition in a Glasgow newspaper, the first prize was a week in Dunoon, and the second prize was a fortnight in Dunoon.”

The Rev Dr Donald Currie Caskie was a notable Dunoon denizen.  During WWII he helped an estimated 2,000 Allied sailor’s soldiers and airmen escape from Occupied France.  He became known as the Tartan Pimpernel (what a top fellow).

All I know was that the riding was good, the weather clement and everyone relaxed after the previous stressful day.

Lunch (as usual very awesome, tomato soup and munificent spread provided by Ed and Larcen) was great and served in a barn in the Botanical gardens. Forecast was threatening rain but all kept dry and we rolled along the banks of Loch Fyne with stunning views over the water.

Interestingly at one point we were two kilometres from our hotel however this would have involved swimming the Loch! It was a 32km ride around the loch to get there…we chalked this fact on the road to advise the others!

James and I had promised ourselves we would have some oysters when we arrived at Inveraray, so we stopped at Loch Fyne where, with views of the Loch, a half doz n each was the order of the day…

They were awesome!!! Delicious, I know oysters generally only taste of what you pop on them but they were really nice. We were going to have a glass of fizzy wine with them but sadly eating oysters in the restaurant, which was licensed, was a lot more…so a glass of lemonade and oysters in the deli was what happened…it’s two feet from the posh bit!

He is enjoying them honest!

We then finished the last 8 miles into Inveraray, rain was due and we timed it perfectly arriving just as the rain started.

Inveraray means the ‘Mouth of the Aray’ (imaginative!). It’s the ancestral home of the Duke of Argyl who is the head of Clan Campbell. I’d normally be delighted about this but having read up about the Dunoon and Glencoe Massacres I’m feeling a bit uncomfortable with the Campbell Clan history.

The town’s motto is (bizarrely):

 ‘May a herring always hang to thee’.

The castles a bit special, it’s really a big Georgian Mansion House and played host to Queen Victoria and other Royalty.  It looks just like a Scottish castle should with the beautiful circular turrets topped with conical slate roofs. There is a fabulous view of it as you cycle over the bridge before you arrive in town.

The Duke rebuilt the town too, some of which (Inveraray Inn and the Argyll hotel amongst others) was designed by John Adam. The town, to the Campbells credit, became an attractive and prosperous place with accommodation for estate workers, a woollen mill and a pier to export herring.

Loch Fyne means Loch of the Wine (they must have known I was coming) is the longest of the sea lochs and is a sight to be seen in fine weather.  Loch Fyne kippers are big deal so we will look out for them at breakfast…

All in all a great day! Really made up for the horrid day previously…looking forward to the Great Glen and Fort William tomorrow. First climb is a horror though!

A fabulous dip in the pool and jacuzzi in the (rather posh) Loch Fyne Hotel finished the day before dinner. Dinner was very special -smoked mackerel, fish bouillabaisse and cheese! Score!

Mark won the spectacles of awesomeness for taking a dip in the Loch (he wasn’t about so Phil, who also swam, took them in his absence).

The Outil D’Or was taken home by Joe who carefully filled her water bottles then popped them in her rucksack which promptly disappeared off to lunch!


Enjoying the blog?  Please take time out and sponsor us!  Maurice and I are riding in support of Fresh Start – new beginnings, a treatment service for survivors of childhood sexual abuse.  My just giving page can be found here and all donations go straight to the charity (my ride is 100% self funded).

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Monday 18th June – Day Seven

Today started well with everyone up and looking forward to a ‘flat day’. Weather was cool but fairly bright with a stiff breeze.

Will all headed off to cross the border into Scotland. A lovely lady I met told me it’s traditional to sing Bonny Banks of Loch Lomond as you cross, turns out none of us know more than two lines….

Will Notcutt turned out to wish us well and spent his morning leapfrogging us and providing moral support – I am so lucky to have such lovely friends!

Gretna is one of the most popular wedding destinations in the world, who knew it gives Las Vegas a run for its money?

The blacksmiths were able to perform marriage ceremonies under Scottish law and as such became ‘Anvil Priests’.  Richard Rennison apparently performed 5,147 ceremonies.  The Old Blacksmith’s shop built in 1712 has been a visitor attraction since 1887.

We toasted entering Scotland with a wee dram…9am was not early but we are warriors!

Douglas Adams defined Gretna Green as:

“A shade of green which makes you wish you’d painted whatever it was a different colour.”

we pushed on and came across a rather worrying sign!

Apparently it was the site of a nine mile munitions factory in WWI that got its name from the highly explosive mixture that the young girls used to mix up to make cordite for shells.

We rolled on and passed several sign for Dumfries.

Dumfries is known as The Queen of the South! People from Dumfries are known as

“Doonhamers”

Apparently in 2017 Dumfries was named the happiest place in Scotland. Dumfries is a Roman town – probably of some note as apparently digging anywhere turns up Roman artifacts, a problem for any local developer in my experience as this immediately stops the job and a load of work-shy history loving hippies move in for nine months to excavate the site with a teaspoon and toothbrush (actually I would defend to the death the archeologists but it has no comic potential publicly admitting this!)

In Chester I heard that a local construction company employs a special foreman to evaluate any potential roman remains unearthed…he apparently turns up, takes one look, pronounces it not Roman and immediately horses onto the area two tonnes of ready mix concrete!

King Arthur is reputed to have fought a battle here (local historians claim this, ie they made it up!)

In 1659 ten women were accused of diverse acts of witchcraft by Dumfries Kirk Session. The Justiciary Court found them guilty of the several articles of witchcraft and on 13 April between 2 pm and 4 pm they were taken to the Whitesands, strangled at stakes and their bodies burnt to ashes…witch hunting seems popular in the North of England (Lancaster hosted the Pendle witch trials, see note in yesterday’s blog).

Bonnie Prince Charlie stayed in Dumfries for three days, one of the hotels has a Bonnie Prince Charlie room with tartan carpets. Charlie demanded £2000 and 1000 pairs of brogues when he stayed here, rather puts you off hosting royalty really.

A rumour that the Duke of Cumberland was on his way made the young pretender leg it to safer places taking only £1000 and 255 pairs of shoes for his kilted Jacobite rebel army…

John Laurie came from Dumfries- he was Private Fraser in Dads Army

“We’re Doomed!”

The cartoonist who drew Fred Bassett is from Dumfries, other notable people include Bill Drummond of the KLF.

I have lots of other useful factoids about Dumfries but unfortunately our route was A76 for the whole day and it avoided Dumfries altogether! Shocker! Imagine having all that good useful information about a place and then not riding through it!

The A76 is a horrid road, it’s a triple threat – poor surface, lots of lorries and other traffic and the worst kind of agricultural smells along its whole length. We had a miserable ride, I kept asking myself that surely there was a quieter, less smelly and better surfaced route available. It was Warrington to Preston all over again.

We saw a jolly roadside tableau and, after propping our bikes in there, had a realistic representation of us! We are obviously well thin now…

To cap it all we were huffing into a headwind all day! James and I pushed on through to Sanquhar with the minimum of fuss – we were feeling strong!

On the way we had a jolly rest stop with the others and saw Will again….

Sanquhar claims to have the oldest working post office in the world. It was established in 1712. Sadly we didn’t see it! No idea where it was…maybe it’s shut?

We had to stop to let James express his allegiance to the Covenanters…

The Covenanters signed their renunciation of their allegiance to the King in Sanquhar – they opposed the Episcopaliastion of the Church (something to do with it being governed by the Bishops – I think!) which is memorialised in the high street.

I think he thought episcopaliastion was something to do with fishing rights, still he looked happy…

The toll booth in the centre of town is the only surviving one of its type. It was designed by William Adam, a noted Scottish architect.

My rear wheel had been making very worrying noises for the last 24 hours…Uncle Phil, the tour leader, had looked at it and advised me to get it checked on a jig at a bike shop.

I looked up bike shops in Kilmarnock and phoned them to see if a mechanic was available, one was so the horror began. Any interest in photography ended at this moment.

We worked out that if we took 30 mins, no more, no less, we could make it to the bike shop for the mechanic to review and carry out any work necessary before they shut.

The wind had picked up, we rode and rode – after I had pedalled for an hour I was done! The wind was in our face the whole way and I was fading badly. I had led James most days up til now but seriously without home looking after me I would have been found a week from now rocking under a hedge!

James nursed me to Kilmarnock then led me to the bike shop where a lovely mechanic popped my rear wheel onto a jig and did the best he could with it. Unfortunately I think it needs a rebuild, that said, after he had worked his magic, he informed me that it would likely last the remaining distance!

He then refused to charge me! What a guy!

For the record the bike shop is Sprockets in Kilmarnock and their website can be found here… lovely people and a tasty showroom full of nice bicycles – great service guys many thanks!

We rocked on to the hotel, I would have liked to see more of Kilmarnock but I was finished!

Kilmarnock is mostly known as the home of Johnnie Walker Whisky, Johnnie Walker was a Grocer in Ayreshire (presumably before he started presenting Sounds of the Seventies on Radio 2) and started selling his own brand of blended whisky. The bottling plant was moved by its new owners Diageo in 2012 amid howls of protest.

There is a famous museum in the Town called The Dick Institute. That’s all I’m saying about that (*snigger*). The building is listed but sadly our route does not take us past it…

Kilmarnock was immortalised by two of the most important poets in Scotland (The Proclaimers) they titled a song “The Joyful Kilmarnock Blues”, (no I’ve not heard it).

The Sweet, a ’70s Glam Rock Band, were bottled off stage in 1973 in Kilmarnock.  This inspired their song The Ballroom Blitz.

Once ensconced at the hotel I had a hot bath and slowly started to feel better. The phone rang and Derek Hamilton, a highly esteemed and jolly decent Ex-colleague had arrived! Was great to see the man again. What a guy!

The dinner was a bit subdued – others had had accidents and also had witnessed a road accident on route…

Speed rebel won the Outil D’Or, he had ridden into a pigeon which had rather horrifically bounced into Roly’s wheel….right in front of a bus stop full of school children. He’s starting work with the RSPB when he gets back…

James won the spectacles of awesomeness for looking after me…what a guy!



Enjoying the blog?  Please take time out and sponsor us!  Maurice and I are riding in support of Fresh Start – new beginnings, a treatment service for survivors of childhood sexual abuse.  My just giving page can be found here and all donations go straight to the charity (my ride is 100% self funded).

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Sunday 17th June – Day Six

We had a great days cycling today, James and I were well rested and really enjoyed the day despite the highest climb of the tour at 1245 feet climbed.

We set off early, We are not pushing the pace because we like to stop, see the things of note on route and take pictures of town and county signs – these really punctuate our journey up the country.

The weather was cool but dry and the winds favourable, it was a joy to ride to Lancaster.

The most famous Lancastrian is of course the Duke of Lancaster, more commonly known as HRH Queen Elizabeth II…when I attend formal livery dinners in the City many of the bods toast the Duke of Lancaster instead of the Queen. Bit pretentious if you ask me but since they are all richer than me I say live and let live!

The Lancaster Assizes used to sentence to death more people than any other town in the country outside London which earned Lancaster the soubriquet ‘The Hanging Town’. A popular hobby in Lancaster was suppressing Catholicism, there is a memorial to the Lancaster Martyrs but sadly our route does not take us past it…

Wikipedia tells me there are a number of notable bands from Lancaster but sadly I have not heard of any of them so won’t waste your time by name checking them…

Lancaster was the location of the Pendle Witch Trials in 1612 when twelve women and men were tried for witchcraft, ten of them being subsequently hung with an eleventh dying in prison. The accused came from two different families that appeared to make their living by posing as witches. The two groups made a series of accusations against each other which went against them at the trial.

John Richardson (comedian) and the bloke who coined the word dinosaur come from Lancaster.

We really wanted to stop for a cup of coffee but unfortunately very little is open at 9.30 on a Sunday morning in Lancaster – we didn’t fancy McDonalds! We gritted our teeth and push on into Cumbria!

It didn’t take long for us to reach Kendall, we were making great time and the countryside looked gorgeous, not particularly clear sky’s but dry and very lovely to look at.

Kendal

Kendal is famous for mint cake and snuff, two staples of all right thinking LeJoGers. Kendal’s nick name is

‘Auld Grey Town’

after the local grey limestone used to build the town.

Early travellers to Kendal complained of eight miles of

“nothing but a confused mixture of Rockes and Boggs”

…I was hoping that the roads would have improved a bit since then however there was some rough bits of road riding. My wheels developed an annoying tick every revolution and I’m not sure what is wrong. I really don’t want to break a spoke – would be very inconvenient, especially when we are enjoying ourselves so much.

Kendal mint cake was discovered accidentally by Joseph Wiper during his search for a clear glacier mint. It’s been used by notable explorers Earnest Shackleton, Edmund Hillary and Maurice McQuitty.

John Cunliffe comes from Kendal, I need not explain who he is as all the world knows the name of the creator of Postman Pat. Some dude called Wainwright who liked walking also lived here.

The pace notes only had one climb on it and it’s one of the biggest of the ride up Shap Fell. It was billed as 9 miles long, 2 false summits and was 9% at its steepest.

The climb went went really well, long but steady. James looked strong and we had favourable tail winds. It helped that the views were stunning! This is a beautiful country and a joy to ride through

Shap is famous for its pink granite (used at St Paul’s Cathedral) and its shockingly long road climb up to the top of Shap Fell before leading us to its three pubs and one fish and chip shop.

Shap’s biggest claim to fame however was that it featured in Withnail and I:

“We want the finest wines available to humanity. And we want them here, and we want them now!”

Uncle Montys cottage is located near Wet Sleddale reservoir. Sadly our route does not take us past it…

We stopped at Shap bowling club where we had some awesome chilli cooked by the top fellows from Discover Adventure – those guys take great care of us!

The weather turned a bit damp but not excessively so and the run into Penrith was all downhill – free miles!

Penrith is lovely – very pretty town with a prosperous looking high street. It looks a nice place to live.

One of the most notable things about Penrith that I discovered was the fact that an 18ft fibreglass statue of King Kong once stood in the Skirsgill Market. It’s too bad it’s gone – I would definitely change our route to see that…

Charlie Hunnam, the British actor who starred in the Sons of Anarchy TV programme (Jackson Teller) was born in Penrith.  He says it is just about the absolute worst place you could hope to live. He’s wrong, I once lived in Swindon.

We had three milestones today – after Shap Fell we had climbed more than the height of Everest – pretty cool! We also passed through the half way point as we left Penrith – 483 miles! We saw a chalked line noting this on the road, put there by some nice chaps no doubt!

Who could have done such a thing?

Carlisle was established by the Romans of course, it was established to serve the forts of Hadrian’s Wall. Carlisle’s nickname is ‘The Great Border City’, they were not very imaginative in those days.

Carlisle was cursed by the Archbishop of Glasgow in 1525.  The curse runs to 1,069 words, beginning:

“I curse their head and all the hairs of their head; I curse their face, their brain (innermost thoughts), their mouth, their nose, their tongue, their teeth, their forehead, their shoulders, their breast, their heart, their stomach, their back, their womb, their arms, their leggs, their hands, their feet and every part of their body, from the top of their head to the soles of their feet, before and behind, within and without”

He was a bit upset that Carlisle was home to the border Reivers who enriched themselves at the expense of their enemies (i.e. everyone else including the Bishop of Glasgow).  Its carved on a 14-tonne stone in town.

Shortly after it was installed Carlisle suffered terrible flooding, foot and mouth disease and a drought of goals for Carlisle FC. There was discussion on removing it because it was felt it was bringing bad luck.

According to Wikipedia the only notable band to emerge from Carlisle was ’70s rock outfit Spooky Tooth (nope I’ve never heard of them either!).

Further on we passed our third milestone – 500 miles! Not the best end of town to be chalking a milestone but we did not hang about!

We arrived at the hotel just in tone to miss the rain – a perfect day all round! The Premier inn has an empty swim pool to stash the bikes….Roly and Speed Rebel took joy in cycling round the inside of the pool and were promptly told off by our tour leader for not wearing a helmet!

All in all a great day!


Enjoying the blog?  Please take time out and sponsor us!  Maurice and I are riding in support of Fresh Start – new beginnings, a treatment service for survivors of childhood sexual abuse.  My just giving page can be found here and all donations go straight to the charity (my ride is 100% self funded).

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Saturday 16th June – Day Five

Legs were very tired this morning after the distance and the Shropshire hills yesterday. James H was looking very grim this morning before we set off, however once we started he cheered up a bit.

It was drizzling as we set off and after an hour I was cursing not leaving my overshoes and full finger gloves inaccessible on the van. James called a stop and, with the rain seeping into my shoes and my fingers chilling in the cool rain, watched him struggle into his shoes and carefully slip on his warm gloves.

The rain was not that cold, by the time we got to Whitchurch it had stopped and the day warmed up!

Whitchurch is the oldest continuously inhabited town in Shropshire. Last time James and I were here it was a very wet cycling experience. There’s over 100 listed buildings in Whitchurch – another lovely town on our route.

Whitchurch is home to Powell’s Pork Pie Shop which won the Great British Pork Pie Bronze Award.  Definitely a place to look out for…sadly our route did not take us past it…

Henry Hotspur Percy is buried in Whitchurch…after he lost the battle of Shrewsbury they dug him up and chopped him into four…Also from Whitchurch is Joseph Bromfield (died 1824) a notable English plasterer (loads of money!)

It was a shame that our route took us up the A49, the main road showed none of the Cheshire lanes and villages I knew and loved as a child.

Day what you like about the A49 though, it was quick, we ate up the miles and passed through Tarporley quickly.

Tarporley is home to the oldest surviving hunt club in England, notable residents include Steve and Alex Davies – Hi Steve and Alex!  Sadly our timetable did not allow us to call in on Steve and Alex and blag a cup of tea.

Steve and Alex live near Peckforton Castle, most famous for having an owl that attacked the best man at a wedding held there (the owl was employed to fly the rings to the groom!)

We rolled on to Weaverham. Weaverham is notable as home of one of the other comprehensives in Cheshire I used to play rugby against as a callow schoolboy…a right rough and dodgy bunch they were too who regularly spanked us 64-0 with my position as wing or flanker (depending on how many men we were short that week) probably contributing to our defeat.  I seem to remember finding half a pair of scissors embedded in the Weaverham school field.  Bit hardcore in Weaverham…

We made good time into Warrington, not far from James H’s home in Lymm. We got an opportunity to stop and meet a friend of James’s called Tim and admired the Manchester Ship Canal – really cool. It’s an impressive waterway!

I always used to consider Warrington as a rather run down area close to the Mersey when I was growing up nearby.  It was however redeemed by the incredible sophistication of having the only roller skating rink in Cheshire.

That said Warrington was a fulcrum in the English Civil War – who knew! Ollie Cromwell used to crash at the Cottage restaurant on Church Street when his warts were playing up. The dents in the parish church walls are the result of Cannon damage and not, as is true in other places nearby, by the vandalism of local scallies.

We did not manage to see the church but there was a unique statue of Ollie which we admired.

Warrington was a big deal in WWII as it had the largest USAF base outside of the United States.  Humphrey Bogart and Bob Hope used to visit Warrington all the time…Frankly if you’ve ever seen the Golden Gates of Warrington Town Hall you can see why those guys flew all the way from Hollywood to see them. Sadly, our route does not take us past them…

What? You think I’d ride all the way to Warrington and not see the town hall gates? No way Jose!

That’s me gasping in amazement, they are a sight to see!

It’s this sort of exciting history that obviously made Warrington the location of choice of Ingvar Kamprad for the first IKEA to open in the UK.  It’s plainly a crime they were overlooked for the City of Culture in 2021.

We also went and viewed the memorial to the two little boys killed by the IRA when they bombed Warrington, very well done and very touching.

Notable residents of Warrington included John Harrison (inventor of the marine chronometer that established Longitude), George Formby (who is buried in Warrington cemetery), Burt Kwok (Cato in the Pink Panther) was born in Warrington, Martin Roberts (from Homes under the Hammer) and James Hurrell (reluctant LeJoG cyclist).

We stopped at Newton Le Willows for lunch, another triumph by the team! James’s parents, his wife Fay and his two boys along with my Mum turned up to cheer us on! Great to see them all! We drank wine…

Bidding them all farewell we pressed on. The weather had improved so James H carefully stowed his booties and full finger gloves before moving on.

Fergie had joined us at lunch and it was great to have most of the old team together. Fergie is a very strong rider – I was concerned as we had four hard days under our belt. The boy did good tho, Sheparded us northward like a trouper.

Before long we made Wigan, the A48 was a very dispiriting ride, very busy and horrible to ride. The road surface was dreadful too.

Wigan is home to Wigan Pier…made famous in George Orwell’s book ‘On the road to Wigan Pier’ and by a running joke that regularly formed part of George Formby Senior’s act.  It was actually a coal loading stage on the Leeds Liverpool canal.  Sadly our route does not take us past it…

Ha! No way am I going to Wigan and not seeing the Pier! I recall it had been extensively refurbished in the 1980s so was excited to see the vibrant waterside destination that was created. It was however tragic, bankrupt, shuttered and weeds growing out of the cobbles. All for sale – I could see the opportunity….

There are 216 listed buildings in Wigan – you don’t immediately think of it as being an attractive or particularly historic place – so was interesting to see what it was like as we passed through great development potential!)

Wigan is of course the home of the famous Northern Soul all-nighters which originated in the ballroom of Wigan Casino between 1973 and 1981.  Other notable bands from Wigan include the Verve and Kajagoogoo.  I guess they had to originate from somewhere however I always associated Limahl from somewhere less hard…

On a less cerebral note Wigan is the home of the annual World Pie Eating Championship…thank goodness for that, I was thinking it was going to buck the northern stereotype for a moment!  Mind you a vegetarian option was added in 2006, obviously a sop to all those softy southerners wanting to have a go…

Shortly after the heavens opened! James was swearing repeatedly and colourfully! No booties! No gloves! The rain hammered down, we got drenched!

The riding was horrible, cars drenched us repeatedly, we were miserable. The water stop 10 miles from the finish was at a bike shop which took the prize for being unhelpful! One lady was advised she had brought the wrong group set as a bit of advice (not helpful considering she was in possession of it and needed adjustment!)

Finally we arrived in Preston. Preston surprisingly dates back to Roman times; its name derives from the old English of Priest’s Settlement.  It really came into its own during the Industrial revolution and Richard Arkwright who invented the spinning Jenny was born here.  When it was assessed for taxes as part of the Doomsday book in 1218-19 it was the wealthiest town in the whole country (fancy that).

Preston is exactly halfway between Glasgow and London so was it very popular to have battles here (Battle of Preston in the English Civil War and the Battle of Preston as part of the Jacobite uprising).

Preston was the first place outside London to be lit by gas, the Preston Gas Company was established in 1815 by, amongst others, a Catholic priest called Rev. Joseph “Daddy” Dunn of the Society of Jesus.  Not sure I’d be happy to hang out with a Catholic Priest who wanted to be called Daddy, but those were different times…

One of the many notable landmarks is the Grade II listed Preston bus station built in the popular 1970’s brutalist style (designed by BDP, engineers were the legendary Ove ARUP and Partners)…sadly our route does not take us past it.

Yeah right! Like I’m going to ride all the way to Preston and not admire the brutalist masterpiece that is the bus garage? No way Jose! It’s currently being refurbished and will be well spiffy once complete. Highlight of my day!

Nick Park, animator of Wallace and Gromit was born in Preston, they’re going to bung a statue up of Wallace and Gromit as soon as they’ve raised the £100,000 it will cost.

Finally dry in the hotel we realised we had missed the 400 mile celebration…better late than necessary I guess!

Later that night the glasses of awesomeness went to Brian and Mike for getting a full light Police escort through Warrington (they charmed a very nice female constable!)

Outil D’Or went to Sean for trying to get into his room with the key from the Lion Hotel in Shrewsbury!


Enjoying the blog?  Please take time out and sponsor us!  Maurice and I are riding in support of Fresh Start – new beginnings, a treatment service for survivors of childhood sexual abuse.  My just giving page can be found here and all donations go straight to the charity (my ride is 100% self funded).

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Friday 15th June – Day Four

A glorious day cycling today – it was a very long stage and I think the mileage is starting to bite on some of the team. However it was a fantastic route with some lovely sights to see on the way.

We left as early as we could, a 7.30 start allowed James and I to get going and not worry too much about the time we took to ride the route. After a short time we reached the Severn Bridge, crossing it by bike never gets old!

The Severn Road Crossing was built in 1966 and took three-and-a-half years to construct at a cost of £8 million. Before this there used to be a ferry.  It’s almost a mile long (1.6KM) and is 445ft high.  Its longest span is 3,240ft or 988m.  It was inspected in 2006 and now heavy loads have to be restricted.  I’d sent the others on first, I’ve been hitting the pies pretty hard…Its Grade 1 listed believe it or not…

Ode on the Severn Bridge:

Two lands at last connected

Across the waters wide,

And all the tolls collected

On the English side.

(Harri Webb)

Originally it cost 12.5p to cross the bridge, its now £5.60 however as cyclists we don’t have to pay.

We pushed on past Chepstow, we didn’t hang about as we had a long way to go. Chepstow is the home of The Widders Border Morris Men, so called because the members, some of whom were Bikers, claimed they looked like the ‘Black Widows’, the biker gang from Clint Eastwood’s masterwork ‘Every Which Way but Loose’ (where our Clint was upstaged by an Orangutan).  The team’s foreman Mick Widder has described the group:

“We’re from the dark side of Morris dancing. We’re the punk rockers of the Morris world. We are drinkers with a dance problem”.

Chepstow’s chief claim to fame is that it was the centre of production for artificial ski slope material – who knew!

Chepstow has been a centre for tourism since the late 18th Century when the Wye Tour became popular (the Grand Tour was unfeasible at this time because the Napoleonic Wars meant continental travel was impossible). Visitors took boats from Ross on Wye and Monmouth down the river visiting and sketching the ‘picturesque’ views on the way.  This was of course before they discovered the internet.

The Wye Tour usually comprised Ross on Wye, Goodrich Castle, the Iron Works at New Weir (again no internet), Symonds Yat (in 1983 James and I once got spectacularly drunk on Scrumpy Jack at a ‘backwoods’ scout camp, oh the japes we had) and onto Monmouth.

The next day the pinnacle of the tour would be reached in the form of Tintern Abbey (of which more later).  After the Abbey the tourists sailed further down the Wye noting the cliff ‘Lovers Leap’, the ‘picturesque’ plains of Piecefield before rocking up at Chepstow.  They used the word ‘Picturesque’ a lot…

Sounds pretty good, reckon we could do that next year…

We joined the Wye Valley and soon came across Tintern Abbey – it looked glorious in the early morning and is truly stunning.

The original Wye Tourists would be awestruck by Tintern Abbey, marvelling at the bare columns and walls of what was once a massive structure, overrun with vegetation and decay. It was considered to be an impressive, although ‘imperfectly Picturesque’, ruin.

During the 18th century, the Abbey was purchased by the Duke of Beaufort who had immediately attempted to “restore” the Abbey. The Duke’s restorative efforts, which included hammering bronze letters into the brick floor, introducing plants that compromised the structural integrity of arches and hallways, and other such harmful practices, ultimately did more damage than good to the ruins.  Bloody vandals everywhere…

Big Billy Wordsworth wrote a poem about Tintern Abbey called Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey.  I’d reproduce them here but its very long so just follow this link.

My friend Chris who studied English at Oxford tells me most poetry is rubbish, so we will move on.

We had a gorgeous ride down the Wye Valley, it was truly stunning, the road had been recently resurfaced and the gradient was forgiving, a real ride to remember and Monmouth arrived all too soon.

We crossed over into Wales and tarried in Monmouth…It’s all rivers around here, Monmouth is situated where the River Monnow meets the River Wyre. There is a really cool medieval stone gated bridge which is the only one of its type left in Britain.  Sadly our route didn’t take us over it…

like I would pass a medieval bridge and not see it! It was even better in the flesh and James H filmed himself quoting poetry in Welsh in front of it (it sounded melodic, but was all about poo….check out his Facebook page for the footage!)

Monmouth was where they sentenced the last man to be hung drawn and quartered (1840)…best not to commit treason while we are here! Russell Grant is from Monmouth so it seems treason is still popular here (if being an astrologer isn’t treason then his taste in fashion must be).

We pushed on….we had a long way to go and arrived in due course at the water stop. Discover Adventure really look after us and we recharged on peanuts, jelly babies and raisins with tracker bars and bananas to fill in the gaps.

Shortly after this we got a great photo opportunity, the road is on a well trod LEJoG route and a local post office had set up a sign post with the various mileage’s!

In due course we rolled into Hereford…James H overshot the sign, he was focussed on getting up the hill…not many county signs in this part of the country!

Hereford has a stunning Cathedral and a superb statue of Sir Edward Elgar…we mimicked the pose and, looking at the Cathedral I felt strangely emotional. The church looked amazing, the weather was fine, it was perfect.

We pushed on, my satnav strangely misbehaving…I blame the MoD jamming the signal.

Hereford is home to the SAS…Apparently some days you can hear them shooting on their practice range.

Frank Oz, puppeteer for the Muppets (Fozzie Bear – Wocka Wocka Wocka!)  and Star Wars (Yoda – Hmmm cycle you do?) was born in Hereford and lived here for first five years of his life.

We had lunch at a lovely little Cafe north of Hereford, we’d ridden about 60 miles and felt great. We had a lovely bowl of soup and some pasta before heading on…

The mileage was starting to bite now a for many of the team this was the longest distance they had ever ridden.

DA had very jollily moved the water stop to the exact point where the overall mileage reached three hundred miles – a great milestone!

At this point we were very tired and the only categorised climb of the day went vertically up from the water stop! It was brutal – very redolent of the last time I cycled to Bishops Castle… which James pointed out was because we were on the same route!

The last time I was at Bishops Castle I was sinking pints of coke trying to get enough energy into me to complete the leg to Shrewsbury. It’s got the steepest street in Christendom. Turns out the town also has the oldest brewery in the UK – The Three Tuns.  Sadly, our route did not take us past it…we were now in no condition to drink beer, the miles hung heavy on our legs and James H had stopped talking….a very bad sign!

No one famous comes from Bishops Castle!

A fabulous surprise was to roll across Marion and Malcolm. This stalwart pair of troupers had driven Maurice and I down to Cornwall and now waited patiently at the roadside to cheer us on.

Maurice was too fast for them but I saw them and was so good to see them, say thanks and take a picture. Marion is connected to Fresh Start – new beginnings, the charity Maurice and I are supporting. The fundraising link is at the bottom of the page if you fancy donating.

After some difficult final climbs we topped out to fantastic views over Wales and Shropshire – we were so lucky with the weather it’s been glorious.

Finally we fooled into Shrewsbury just as my satnav died! We were so pleased to get there…

Brother Cadfael lives in Shrewsbury…now that was quality entertainment! Shrewsbury’s name evolved from Sloppesberie which came from Scobbs Fort. Shrewsbury’s big charm is its unspoilt medieval street plan…it’s got over 660 listed buildings.

Henry IV and Henry ‘Hotspur’ Percy fought the battle of Shrewsbury just north of the town – immortalised in Bill Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part 1 – a top piece of drama I once saw at Stratford upon Avon, was really good!

“[Thou] mad mustachio purple-hued maltworms!”

William Shakespeare, Henry IV: Part 1

The first skyscraper in the world, The Ditherington Flax Mill, is in Shrewsbury (I’m not making this up so pay attention). This was the first iron-framed building in the world and was Grade 1 listed in 1950, its importance to the world recognised.  The town is also home to Lord Hill’s Column, the largest free standing Doric Column in the world. Sadly our route does not take us past it…

Shrewsbury is of course where John Peel went to school.  He hated the place.  The 1980’s band T’Pau was formed in Shrewsbury too.

Shrewsbury is famous for its bridges, immortalised in another piece of dodgy poetry:

High the vanes of Shrewsbury gleam

Islanded in Severn stream;

The bridges from the steepled crest,

Cross the water east and west. 

(AE Housman)

Shrewsbury is famous for Shrewsbury cakes, immortalised by William Congreve in his play The Way of the World:

” Why, brother Wilfull of Salop, you may be as short as a Shrewsbury cake, if you please. But I tell you ’tis not modish to know relations in town”

No I don’t get it either but it had them rolling in the aisles in those days…

No doubt you know Shrewsbury is twinned with Zupthen in the Netherlands – a twinning inspired by the fact that Sir Philip Sidney, an alumnus of Shrewsbury School was shot and killed there in 1586.  Go figure!

Great days cycling and some fabulous things to see. Really good day (I worry we have broken James!)


Enjoying the blog?  Please take time out and sponsor us!  Maurice and I are riding in support of Fresh Start – new beginnings, a treatment service for survivors of childhood sexual abuse.  My just giving page can be found here and all donations go straight to the charity (my ride is 100% self funded).

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