Congratulations to Anne Campbell, Peter Russell, Paul Quirk, Rob Quane, Lesley Joyce, Paul Rowley, Angus Alexander and Mike Gardner. They cycled over 900 miles from Land's End to John O'Groats in 10 days from 29th June to 9th July 2017. 'LEJOGgers' turned bloggers each evening - read about their epic adventure here.
Thursday / Friday
Having disembarked from the ferry in Liverpool on Thursday evening, we picked up Chloe (our masseuse for the trip) from the ferry terminal and then drove down to Stafford for the night. An early start on the Friday morning meant that, despite a heavy traffic jam in Cornwall, we made it to the hotel in Hayle (about 19 miles from Lands’ End) by 2.00pm. The weather at this stage was not ideal (!) – heavy rain and 40mph winds. However, by 4.00pm the rain had stopped and, having already put the bikes together, we headed down to Lands’ End. After the obligatory photos, we set off for the 19 miles back to Hayle. No dramas, and with the wind out of the NNW – and we were heading East – it was a relatively easy trip back.
An early start saw the group on the road by 7.50am having re-packed up the van, and much better weather saw the group in good spirits for the 80 mile trip to Okehampton. Despite the relatively low mileage for the day, there is copious amounts of climbing, making this one of the hardest days of the trip. However, everybody made good time with most of the group arriving at the hotel by 4.30pm.
Given the lack of restaurants in the immediate vicinity (apart from Little Chef), we all piled back into the van to eat at a lovely pub restaurant (the Fountain) in Okehampton.
A full 100 mile + day was in store but luckily the decent weather was still with us. Pete Russell won the award for the first (and second) puncture of the trip. Lovely morning coffee stop in Tiverton
(Mainly cos it was the only one open on a Sunday) followed by a quick sandwich stop in Bridgewater.
The sting in the tail of this ride is the climb up Redhill just as you arrive at Bristol Airport – a tough finish to a big day. The significant climbing for the day meant that it was a relatively late finish in Bristol, hitting the rush hour just as we were trying to get to the hotel. However, no incidents and we wandered across the road for an Italian – plenty of pasta being the order of the day.
Knowing it was going to be a big mileage day, we opted for a really early start of 7.00am, also intending to avoid the rush hour getting out of Bristol. Historically, finding our way to the Severn
Crossing has usually resulted in us getting lost on the way out. This year, however, we tried a new route to the bridge which whilst being more direct, added an extra 6 miles to an already long 106 miles – still, there’s no charge for the extra miles!
This is one of the prettiest rides of the tour, across the Severn on the old bridge – all 1.5 miles of it – and then up the Wye Valley through Chepstow, Monmouth and up to Hereford. From there though, we pick up the A49 which, whilst direct, is a busy main road with a lot of heavy traffic. Early coffee, and bacon and egg baps from a greasy spoon next to Chepstow racecourse meant we were all fully fuelled for the next leg of the journey Finding a fantastic cafe in an Arts Centre right opposite the
Hereford football ground gave us some renewed strength for the final push up to Shrewsbury.
A final tally of 112 miles meant there were some very tired bodies around, making Chloe very busy for the evening.
Unfortunately, the group are beginning to decipher the tour leaders’ vocabulary:
“Lumpy” – a bit like saying the Alps are ‘slightly hilly’
“Flattens out a bit” – there are some flat bits, but also some monster hills which would make Mount Ventoux seem like Barregarrow Hill
“Big day” – they’re all big days!
Individuals are beginning to show their true colours:
Anne has been reprimanded for language unbecoming of a lady – although, to be fair, that hill was not easy. Still, it was hardly Mike’s fault.....
Rob is struggling to find the right medical expression for all the ailments which are affecting his nether regions. His singing hasn’t improved either;
The ‘Terrible Trio’ of Paul (Q), Paul (R) and Pete are holding up Manx honours by drinking any (and usually, many) of the local brews both after AND during the rides and still managing to be first ones in to the hotel in the afternoon, despite other members of the group letting the side down by being tee-total, herbal-tea-drinking, honey-consuming, vegetarians (no names mentioned).
An easier day (another misnomer from the tour leaders) in that the route is flatter (see definitions above) but unfortunately some rain forecast later in the day. However, today’s route is marred by the heavy built up areas that need to be transited – Warrington, Wigan, Standish, Preston – before hitting Lancaster for the night. The numerous roundabouts, traffic lights, pedestrian, crossings, etc really impact the average speed and trying to get a group of 5 through in one piece is a challenge.
Still everybody made it in one piece......except Angus who has left some skin on a road near Warrington for posterity having touched wheels inadvertently. Could be a blue plaque there in the future....
The now compulsory LEJOG breakfast in Tarporley was as good as ever, leaving everybody well fed and raring to go (well, perhaps not raring.....let’s go with resigned).
Weather forecast for once was right with the ‘main group’ having a bit of a soaking in the last 10 miles or so, whilst the ‘Testosterone Three’ fared even worse (serves them right for being so fast).
Some seriously hurting individuals out there in Lancaster tonight – we’re at that stage where every part of the body is aching, particularly any area which contacts the bike. Still, nobody said it would be easy......it’s not called a challenge for nothing. Chloe will make a great physio.......once she’s learnt that she’s supposed to ease our pain, not inflict even more. I’m sure it’s doing us good (ouch).
Wednesday (day 5)
Woke to a damp start to the day - not exactly raining but roads very wet from the previous evening. Mike was cracking the whip for his usual early start as we've got 110 miles to cover (and that's before getting lost and trying to cycle on the M74) and the formidable Shap climb to conquer. So on the road for shortly after 7.30am.
Getting out of Lancaster was busy but manageable before joining the A6 for the slog northwards and up to Moffatt. Sure enough, the drizzle arrived early and was on and off all the way to Kendal (only 22 miles) where we'd scheduled our "2nd breakfast" stop, principally because after Kendal, there is very little in the way of refuelling options until Penrith, about 45 miles from Lancaster. Suitably refreshed - mainly scrambled eggs and smoked salmon - we headed for Shap. This climb really isn't as bad as most cyclists make out but for some reason, it has always struck fear into most of the Children's Centre Lejoggers over the years. Nonetheless everybody made it to the top in good time before enjoying a well-earned descent into Shap village.
The big miles for the day meant that we had to make up some time before our lunch stop so the groups variously headed for either Carlisle or Gretna for a late lunch. Passing into Scotland is always a significant moment; it's hard to believe that you've cycled the length of England in just 4.5 days. Despite Gretna's obvious charms, no-one felt the urge to tie the knot.
From there it’s a bit of a slog along the B7076 for the final 35 miles into Moffatt. This road is "heavy", mostly straight and with limited views and there is little in the way of interest to break the tedium and stir the tired legs. Most people made it to Moffat by 6.30pm though, with only the back markers taking til 8.00pm. A hearty meal in the Buccleuch hotel soon raised spirits before an early-ish night in preparation for another day in the saddle.
The Troublesome Threesome were very subdued today - we initially suspected their next delivery of EPO had failed to materialise - but it turns out the Indian restaurant they'd eaten at the previous evening didn't serve alcohol. This had devastating consequences:
Paul R was beaten into 2nd place by at least an hour up Shap....well, perhaps not an hour but certainly 2 or 3 minutes - by the Manx vulture (aka, Mike G);
Paul Q was complaining of housemaid's knee - a complaint his wife maintains that would certainly never happen at home;
And Pete R had a bad case of the Tynwald Day blues, struggling to raise a smile never mind his heart rate. Advocates, eh...never happy unless they're raising bills.
Angus (understandably) was still feeling battered and bruised after his "off" the previous day, whilst Rob continues with his morbid fascination of the local roadkill (he is from Ramsey though, which might explain things). Mike G took some time off from chaperone duties to get the KOM points up Shap, whilst Lesley - God bless her - cycled the full 112 miles on flat pedals and wearing soft-soled trainers without once using the big ring - much respect!! Anne is slowly losing her grip (on the handlebars as well as reality) from the constant vibration through the handlebars (not uncommon), which must be sore but at least gives everybody a laugh as she tries to cut her food up at dinner. How she's going to hold scissors and a hairdryer when she gets back to work, goodness only knows - you wouldn't want to be her first appointment!!
Meanwhile, the support crew continue to do sterling work in their usual unassuming fashion. Chloe manages to transform tired, battered and bruised, middle aged men into spring chickens by the following morning without once using class A drugs. (Mind you, the constant stream of MAMILS in various stages of undress knocking on her hotel room door throughout the course of the evening, plus the moans and groans from inside the room, must raise one or two eyebrows with the hotel staff.) Whilst Harry continues to be...simply brilliant Harry.
Heavy rain forecast for tomorrow morning; oh joy.
Thursday Moffat to Dumbarton 76 miles
A relatively short day today, so breakfast - for once - is taken at the hotel. The first half of the route is on a quiet country road, although there's a steady climb straight out of Moffat which tests those cold legs.
The early starters (Mike, Angus & Lesley) get a good getaway, but are joined at the morning coffee stop (Cairns Lodge Services) by the remainder of the middle group who have been flying along. News comes in that the Gruesome Threesome have got lost and are now in Biggar, well off the route, although they are supposed to be trying to get back to the right road.
The second half of the route is through Glasgow using the cycle pathway that runs alongside the Clyde - not that easy to find. However, a convenient van stop in Hamilton results in the Lost Boys fortunately joining the rest of the group having added an extra 6 or 7 miles to their day. From there we join Cycleway 74 into the middle of Glasgow - traffic free, which is good, but slow going. Plus, recent Rain makes some of the pathway slippy and, perhaps inevitably, we have a faller - Angus again! No serious damage except to pride.
After lunch in a pub in the middle of the city, we head out on cycleway 75 / 7 all the way out to Dumbarton. But again, frustratingly slow going and the hoped for early finish is rapidly slips away. A stop to check directions results in Pete falling over while standing still, having been unable to unclip due to his cleat coming unscrewed from his shoe. Unbowed, he continues on but we have no way of releasing the cleat from the pedal so he has to finish the journey with one foot permanently attached to his bike which made climbing off the cycleway onto the road again up a flight of steps particularly interesting!
Still, traversing Glasgow is no easy feat however you do it and the pathway is probably safer than most. Dinner in the Brewers Fayre next to the hotel where an all-you-can-eat curry buffet seems to keep most people happy!
Friday, Dumbarton to Fort William 86 miles
Widely viewed by the group leaders as the best day of the tour for scenic value, the route goes passed Loch Lomond before climbing up to Rannoch Moor, then descending through Glencoe and on to Fort William. The weather isn't great - low cloud and mist and the intermittent rain means frequent stops to put on / take off rain jackets.
Roads are reasonably busy but good progress is made to coffee at Crianlarich for some, slightly earlier on the banks of Loch Lomond for others. This despite an early puncture for Mike.
Given that today's navigation is straight forward - it's the A82 from door to door - the support crew are let off the leash to do their own thing - much to their delight!! The scenery is stunning and the miles pass quickly, with most riders at the Glencoe Visitors Centre for 1.30 for a well-earned bowl of soup and a sandwich. The descent from the top of the Moor looks as though you should fly down, but a strong headwind means that you end up pedalling hard downhill to make any headway at all. That wind can be cold too, despite it being July.
Still, from the Glencoe Visitors Centre, it's just 17 miles to Fort William, and a fantastic run in it is too, alongside the edge of the loch (Loch Linnhe). Most of the group are in by 3.30pm - probably the earliest finish we've had - giving time to sort out luggage and catch up with emails (or a couple of pints) - with the last ones coming in a couple of hours later.
Paul R has seized the initiative and booked us in to the Chinese restaurant next to the hotel for tonight's dinner - I hope they've plenty of rice in because there are 9 hungry cyclists (and Harry!).
Just 2 days to go and tomorrow is another cracking route up the Great Glen to Inverness and on to Tain.
Saturday, Fort William to Tain 101 miles
Just 2 days to go! Fort William dawns bright and clear and the forecast - for once - looks to be right. A chilly start sees all riders set off at the now usual 7.30am start at a leisurely pace to get limbs warmed up.
The route is another extremely scenic one, passing Loch Ness (no monsters seen), Urquhart Castle, and into inverness before joining the A9, crossing Cromaty Firth and up to Tain - a straight forward 101 miles.
Early coffee stop (32 miles) is at Fort Augustus, gateway to Loch Ness, and everybody loads up given the early start. Lunch is planned for Inverness, but a strong following wind sees the front runners decide to push on a bit further before stopping. However, keeping the pace high is so relatively easy that some decide to go straight to the hotel - a full 70 miles from coffee -without stopping at all (apart from the odd comfort break) arriving before 3.00pm for a really early finish.
Passing through Drumnadrochit there's a running event on. Mike slows down to chat to one of the runners and it turns out they're running Fort William to Inverness, a total of 72 miles..........and we thought we were mad!!
Whilst the route is easy to navigate - it's the A82 to Inverness, then the A9 to Tain - Lesley manages to get lost in Inverness, causing some consternation. However, a few phone calls and nervous moments later, we manage to reunite Lesley with Rob. Subsequently, though, as the wind has picked up by this time, crossing the Cromarty bridge has become trickier, and Lesley gets blown over (she should eat more pies like the rest of us....there are times when it helps). Nothing more serious than a bruised hip and slightly ripped shorts (plus dented pride), thankfully, but it's a trip in the van to the hotel as a precaution. At least it wasn't Angus again......
An untried hotel in Tain this year - the Morangie House Hotel - and very good it is too. The restaurant was excellent, and the staff really helpful despite our bikes cluttering up their 2nd (unused) dining room and us also turning it into our physio room - that certainly entertained the rest of the hotel guests! However, the Peroni costs a rather stiff £6.20 a pint (I'm reliably informed) which stings a little.
Final day tomorrow! 'Only' 86 miles (and right past the Glen Morangie distillery) and it's all over (although there are 2 big climbs in the way too, which will hurt). Forecast is dry til 3.00pm - fingers crossed they're right.
Sunday, Tain to JOG 87 miles
Forecast has improved slightly - rain not due in JOG until 5.00pm so hopefully it will be dry for us. Lovely early morning in Tain, and after breakfast (which the hotel has kindly pulled forward for us) we steadily roll out over the Dornoch Bridge. First couple of miles, we seem to have a head wind, but as the day gradually warms up and we start to head NE, the wind becomes a definite bonus.
There's some nervousness out there - partly the two climbs to conquer, partly some concern whether the bike will break down at the very last hurdle. But things roll smoothly and by shortly after 10.00am we're at Helmsdale for the coffee stop at our favourite cafe. Refuelled, we're back on the road by 11.00am for the big hills - first, there's a drop down from Helmsdale followed by a very long ascent which goes on for miles. Mike's briefing suggested it was only around 4% - wrong again (never trust an accountant where numbers are concerned), as it's probably nearer 6.5%, but hey, with less than 50 miles to the end, whose going to complain? Well actually, they all did.......
The second climb is Berriesdale Braes and follows hard on the heels of Helmsdale. Again, a steep descent (13% - signposts for Escape Lanes, and low gear warnings are never good signs) before a right hand hairpin sucks any momentum out of the descent. And you're straight into a 13% climb. This continues for about the length of Rest and be Thankful before easing to a more manageable (what??) 10% for another mile or so. Nonetheless, all good things must pass...... (masochist).
And from there, it's rolling terrain all the way into Wick and with a following wind it's a pretty quick final 10 miles to the outskirts of the town. Look at a map and you have to ask "why" - this is one lonely outpost, and being a Sunday, there’s not much happening. But Morag's café offers cheap and cheerful scrambled eggs on toast (who's going to complain at £2.99 for a plateful?) and the cakes are surprisingly good.
And then......The final 17 miles to JOG. Sounds easy, doesn't it, but those final miles are hindered by a cross/headwind (as always) and the rolling terrain doesn't help. Mike also "forgot" to mention the final climb over the headland - a last sting in the tail - but as we crest the hill, the sun breaks out and the view across Stroma to the Orkneys is simply stunning. And the last 1 mile is downhill.
Regrouping at the Seaview Hotel, we all gently roll down the last quarter mile to the finish line for hugs, photos, and a glass of fizz to celebrate. Those who thought they couldn't do it were proved wrong; those who were hurting were suddenly healed. And all were thrilled with a job well done.
Returning to the hotel, bikes were re-packed and loaded into the van before the final celebratory meal. It's a long journey back to Heysham tomorrow, but for now, nobody's really bothered.