Some of you may have remembered reading that on Day 7 of LEJOG we attempted to ride from my Aunt’s back to Bristol in one hit, bagging R’s first 150km Brevet Populaire and another badge.
Well we just fell short as the prelude had been hills through Cornwall & Devon on preceding days and not to mention the 2hr jumpathon on the trampoline before our depart. At about 140km R said he was really tired (it was close to midnight) so I called it a day, we rode 3km more to the main road and waited for Mummy to pick us up. During the wait R had a second wind and I believe could have easily finished.
Since then R has regularly asked me when he could try again. So last weekend with the amazing (scary if you think about it) weather we’ve been having I checked the weather guesscast and it was more of the same this weekend; the end of March. So…
I said “how about next?”
R said “ok.”
I dropped in “if we do another 11km it’ll make it 100 miles!”
He said “ok then.”
It was on!!
Saturday 30th March
I’m round to pick R up from Mummy’s at 08:00. R is still gobbling food and tucks into one of his brunch sandwiches. I have a coffee and pick and pack a few items of clothing for the day. There was a morning mist and it was chilly but you could see it would burn off pretty quickly.
30 minutes later we are out the door.
In the run up R had talked about a ride finishing off with pizza at the White Hart in Cheddar then back up The Gorge. This would have given us a lot of time on the flat which I don’t think is conducive for an easy first longer ride. Instead I sorted a route with about the same amount of climbing that went straight into The Cotswolds then enjoyed the rolling flattish countryside of the top of the Thames Valley before dropping down to The Severn for the final stint; much more opportunity for freewheeling and the wind would be behind us on the first and final leg as it was forecast to swing in the afternoon.
First leg: Bristol to Blunsdon
So first things first we head out of the city on the Bristol to Bath Railway Path, fork left and head north west to Pucklechurch and on. R knows this route and was easily up Coxgrove Hill and Hinton Hill. The cloudy mist dissipates and in a few moments we’re in the sun, still a little chilly though.
Sandwiches devoured as we approach Malmesbury. I know of a surprise so we stop briefly much to R’s delight.
We spot another teeny 🔺 shortly after, I’ve never seen that one it must have been buried under the road surface which has recently been redone. We grab some more sandwiches from a shop; R devours those as well, I have my breakfast. Then onwards. Layers removed we enjoy the sun and flash our club colours. Another hour and a bit and we’re at Swindon & Cricklade Railway’s Blunsdon Station and the Whistlestop Cafe. I take the opportunity to chat with Anne the manager about my upcoming events; I have 3 that’ll be using the cafe as a control.
As we eat our grub a steam train trundles by being driven by a member of the public as they do experience days.
R leaves his chips for me, he wants the cake; Victoria Sponge one of his favourites.
Second leg: Blunsdon to Black Shed
Back west we head. A gentle headwind and a slow ascent back to the edge of The Cotswolds. Through Minety. R logs this village for later exploration having spotted a teeny triangle of teeny 🔺s!
It’s glorious. R keeps telling me he’s loving it. A friend recently asked me if I was pushy. I don’t think I am. I egg R on but would never force him to do something he didn’t want to do or something I didn’t think he was capable of. The pushiest bit is getting him out the door, soon as he is everything changes no matter what the weather; though he did say on the ride he prefers the sunshine. Who doesn’t?
I turn round and R has stopped and is half on the verge. I hear a “Grrrr!” Uh oh. But no, R begins, catches up and starts laughing. He’d just ridden into a drainage gully. His own anger at himself was quickly replaced with amusement; another small achievement.
Soon, in the late afternoon we’re approaching what is colloquially known as “The valley that time forgot” (see header photo). A hidden gem before a short climb up to Kingscote.
Then we are descending Frocester Hill. R rode up this on our Forest of Dean & Cotswolds cycle camping trip a year and a half ago (I’ll write that up too when I get the chance). Going down is a lot easier. A tanker is behind us patiently waiting, but then again we leave it behind on the corners!
Into the Severn Valley. R is constantly recognising places from other rides, one being Paul’s recent Jack and Grace which we did in January, the other Pete’s Skirting the Cotswolds back in September shortly after LEJOG; both 100km Brevet Populaires by Audax Club Bristol organisers.
Final stop is The Black Shed. This cafe was recently refurbed (rebuilt I think) and stays open late on a Saturday as a bar. Curry for me. Sausages & chips for R; only they did chicken nuggets, realised the mistake as they served and then brought out some sausages too, extra fuel for the tank!
Final Leg: Black Shed to Bed
Just after 19:00 we set off on the last 40km. The sun has set quick and the chill is back in the air. Layers are back on as are lights.
The wind is gentle on our backs again and R is flying. Then we hit the edge of Thornbury. 143km passed, a new biggest bike ride from R. He turns to me, has a little wobble and says “I should be in bed.”
It’s 20:30, not the latest or longest R has been out cycling, but he rightly points out last time it was summer and the days were longer and the clocks forward (which happens tonight). I hadn’t factored that in, the circadian rhythm. The street lights of Thornbury pick him up, I ask if he wants to carry on or we try and get a lift. “No, I’m going to finish it!”
We chat away as I keep his mind occupied, something to focus on other than the letterbox of light just ahead of us as we leave the lights of Thornbury behind to pick up The Old Gloucester Road (not A38).
He asks “can we go for a ride next Saturday?”
“I’ve got my event on.”
“Awww 🙁 how about Sunday?”
“A normal ride though Daddy, about 60-80km.”
😀 – I’m not the one doing the pushing!
After a little climb there is another wobble. “Are you all right R?” “Sleepy Daddy, my arm feels all weak.” I tell R that I think of Maths things to help me stay alert. He says “that’s funny Daddy I was thinking of my Maths homework.”
We’ve just passed 150km, the main goal for the day. It isn’t far now, the glow of Bristol is nearing and R says the street lights will help. Sucking my wheel is out so I put my hand on his shoulder, steady him, and provide a little extra motive force. We move like ice skaters gliding around the potholes and rough surfaces. 5km to go to the beginning of the street lights.
A car waits behind us even though it has ample chance to pass on the straights. R is chatting away to me as I keep an eye on him. Lots of blinking. I ask if he can still see okay or if his eyes have begun to wander. He says he’s fine. The car behind turns off and gives a little toot.
A few minutes later and we’re at the first edge of Bristol. Street lights, R picks up the pace. Almost there. No street lights again but R doesn’t need my hand any more and is flying off the front.
Knowing we were near has given him a boost. Street lights again now till the end. We cross the ring road, easily sailing along and mainly downhill. A quick stop at Tesco for Mother’s Day provisions then a 5 minute hop to home.
100 miles, the Imperial Century, in 13h40m. A 150km Brevet Populaire badge in the waiting. What a star, I tell R I didn’t do my first 100 miles till in my 30s, he smiles!
Bikes away and we’re up stairs. We have a Rock & Limpet cuddle. Changed and teeth done I tuck him up. He’s asleep in 5, me in 10…
Almost there now, we have 5 days of cycling through some stunning countryside to John o’Groats. That is after…
DAY 25: Day off – into Fort William we go
Time to relax… We pootled into Fort William to go for a swim, if you remember R noticed it when we arrived. The first pool I’ve ever come across where the lifeguards require young swimmers to take a competency test; 2 lengths in 2 minutes and 1 minute of treading water. R is fine at swimming but the drains make him anxious and distract him. Whilst he completed the lengths, and the treading water which was new to him, he wasn’t allowed to go out of the shallow end as he hesitated looking at the drains whilst swimming to the deep end. Oh well, we still managed an hour of splashing. Underneath the surface though my legs were aching!
Then on into Fort William we go. I hadn’t had a chance to glue my seat post so have to get a new one. R spots a few 🔺s on the way. The pattern of this one is his favourite.
Back in Off Beat Bikes, where we stopped Sunday afternoon, I go about swapping the seat post over saving me digging round in my tool bag later. Obviously the bamboo catches the attention of the owner and staff and we chat about the build and adventure whilst I fettle. Thanks guys, it got me to the end and further.
It’s gone lunch time by now so after a quick shop for supplies we indulge and stop at a cafe in the railway station. Bonus for R as there are lots more 🔺s in the car park! Then head back to the campsite. R gets some swings in. There are other kids there so I hang about. It begins to rain and just in time as R struggles with all the new faces. So we head back to the tent then do some laundry ready for the final leg. R does some colouring in his book. An older gent sheltering in the warmth of the laundry spots it and mentions his grand daughter would like one. Anyway we get talking, he spends 6 months a year up in the hills walking all over The Highlands, he is modest but I get the impression he may be a bit of a legend from some of his stories, I don’t ask his name and he doesn’t give it, happy just to recant tales of the great outdoors.
Time ticks on, we do the campsite restaurant again as it is bucketing down. Then early to bed.
🔺s = 23 | Total = 682 9km around | 70m of bumps
DAY 26: Glen Nevis – Carn an t-Suidhe, nr Fort Augustus
All refreshed we bid farewell to the mighty mountain, again shrouded in a veil of cloud. Today we’d be following the Great Glen north to Loch Ness mainly using traffic free paths: the Caledonian Canal, Clunes & South Laggan Forest track and the old Spean Bridge to Fort Augustus railway. Firstly on the tow path we cruised along the canals edge between Loch Eil and Lochy, occasionally with the views of the latter river meandering to the sea. The Great Glen is a geological fault line but also carved out by glaciers at the end of the last ice age; another tick for the I Spy. The going is easy, for the moment, with there only being a 35m difference in water heights between sea level and the highest point; the later canal section from Loch Lochy to Oich. The path is bathed in dappled sunlight as we pass trees lining the canal bank.
Always to our right the clouds swirl around Ben Nevis. A large butterfly flies ahead of me and settles on a bush not far ahead. I screech to a halt and call R. He comes racing back but just before he’s there it flutters-by up into the trees. It was a Red Admiral, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen one not pinned to a display board. OK we’d better keep our eyes open from now on. I see several at height but we only get a brief glimpse of one at close range for R to see its markings. It is also in the I Spy book.
Whilst the canal path is flat, there obviously is no canal when there is a loch. Passing the length of Loch Lochy you have two options as a cyclist; the A82, a busy trunk road, or a quiet forest track. Of course we went for the forest track even with its bumps and lumps. Stopping at a bird hide for lunch hanging our feet over the edge of the steep bank to the loch below. A couple of walkers who we’d passed earlier were walking the shoreline below us when R shouts ‘BOO!’ I’ve never seen humans with fully laden backpacks jump so high! Fuelled we jump back on our bikes.
After the boo came ‘I need a poo!’ In the middle of nowhere there is only one thing to do. Typical! It is at that moment with R leaning against a tree that someone decides to ride past. Sod’s Law.
Soon we are off the forest track, make use of some holiday pods’ swings and cross to the other side of the Glen. More canal path at Laggan Locks and a stop at The Eagle Inn on the Water; a converted barge with bar and cafe. We enjoy some refreshments and chat to the current custodians, an American couple who get free board in return for some of their time during the week. R plays with some Lego, I sample the proprietor’s hot sauce (I’m a chilli head, if it makes me hiccup I know it’s good, it did!) and purchase a small tub for later.
The tow path ends, no dazzling diamond drains spotted, now to use the old railway path starting at Invergarry station. We fly along passing Lock Oich with a ruined castle and shipwreck on the opposite bank and several groups of DofE (I presume) teenagers marching the other way and setting up camp between the trackbed and loch’s shore. We get to Aberchalder swing bridge just as it begins to swing. Plonking down on a picnic bench we do more food. It is getting on a bit now, about 17:00 with 20km to go and the biggest climb (on our bikes!) of the entire ride. We watch a steam boat chug smut as it heads south, then clean said smut from our eyes.
More canal path. Rainbows on the hills above the Glen and we arrive at Fort Augustus, the head of Loch Ness. Quick stop for provisions and we bimble on to the climb. I’ve done a lot of climbs in the UK, this is steep but not the steepest by any means, but it is the biggest gain all in one go; 450m in 9km. R happily sails up it. This is part of General Wade’s Military Road and at the top the view is spectacular even in the diminishing light.
Admittedly the final bit was pushed as we threw our bike over the fence and followed a path to the summit of Carn an t-Suidhe where we’d be wild camping for the night at 450m!
🔺s = 15 | Total = 697 64km forwards | 1021m of up
DAY 27: Carn an t-Suidhe to Cromarty
What a view! The sun was out, the wind blowing over the edge of the ridge that we were nestled behind.
There had been ‘a curious incident of the bog in the night’ and we’d have to make a brief stop at a laundrette later, first a wild wash for R with chilly water! I decided then to take a slightly different route for the day and drop down to Loch Ness at Foyers and find a cafe for breakfast. We came across a lovely one on the outskirts, Camerons Tea Room and Farm Shop, CTC Highland’s 2015 best cafe, the walls were adorned with cycling jerseys.
We set about devouring our food. Full Scottish for me, pancakes, bacon and maple syrup for R. Then we get wind that they are rearing a deer in an enclosure outside and Blossom likes nothing more than being fed grapes!
Off we go again and what better way to help your food go down than a quick blast on some swings?! Followed by a walk down to the Falls of Foyers.
With Loch Ness now to our left we carefully make our way north. Even though part of the National Cycle Network it is quite a busy and narrow B road impatient holiday drivers that I have to constantly manage to avoid close passes. But we did spot another red squirrel and this time I managed a photo as it perched motionless in the tree trying to avoid our gaze.
Inverness, we ride around trying to find a laundrette. The first is more of a service, “you’ll get it back in 3 days”, we move on and find a traditional one with attendant. It is heaving so there is a wait but not too long. The attendant pours what seems like a bucket load of powder in. After the wash I pull out the sleeping bag and even after a spin it is dripping. The attendant explains that is usually the case because of the material, gives me a basket and tells me to go and stand on the pavement and wring the excess out. Bubbles everywhere! It is still full of soap (a cunning ploy?) so I chuck it through again without any powder. The machines won’t do rinse only so it’s another 40min wait for a full cycle (another cunning ploy?). R has done drawing, eating lunch on the pavement, more drawing, some Lego game and is now bouncing around making snorting noises. The attendant asks R to sit down, he just snorts at her, she flips as the wash ends and orders him out. We go outside and wring the sleeping bag again. Much better! I explain that for the moment R will have to wait outside whilst I go inside and load the tumble dryer. The attendant mutters something about “if that was my kid they’d have seen the back of my hand”. “Well he isn’t!” and I tell her a few truths, her face set changes and I get on with the drying before joining R on the pavement. I assure him and tell him not to worry, even though he’d got fast not every one understands and it would be nice if he comes in and apologises. After calming himself down with the aid of a big cuddle he does. The attendant apologises to R too and after we have collected our stuff wishes R all the best with the rest of his trip. I hope that in that instance I may have changed one person’s views on the challenges others have in life. And I think that her reaction may have helped R too in understanding sometimes his actions may be interpreted wrongly.
Leaving the city behind we stop quickly at Halfords. I’ve had battery issues so pick up a new one, going for the largest capacity as it had a good amount of charge to last us a few days. R is out in the car park 🔺 spotting; the Inverness Halfords’ Triangle of 🔺s! Then crossing the Beauly Firth on the path adjacent to the A9 we look back the way we came seeing the peak we spent last night on. I thought we would as last night I could see 2 red lights on the horizon that I guessed were atop the bridge!
We pass a lay-by and a man comes across asking us if we were Family ByCycle as he was following their adventure on Twitter; I say no, tell him we are also on an adventure and think no more of it.
After the protracted stop in Inverness we begin to cross the ‘Black Isle’ to Cromarty in the early evening. R is sucking my wheel and day dreaming, he clips it and takes a tumble. Anger at himself ensues. Big cuddles, a large plaster to cover a small scuff to the knee and a little time and everything is OK. Then we start planning. R has ideas of a campsite in the future and he is laying it out in his head: cafe, drains, door handles, job roles, car park, signs, lights, no caravans or motorhomes but yes to campervans, pods, activities etc etc. He wants to lead bike rides for kids! Time is pushing on and the sun setting.
I consult Google Maps for a restaurant in Cromarty rather than faffing with cooking. We find one and pick up the pace, luckily downhill from here! We get there and it is packed. Luckily the owner allows us to usurp her teenager from the ‘window bar’ and we get our order in just in time, PIZZA!
The atmosphere and staff at Sutor Creek are amazing. As we wait R nips outside for a few more 🔺 pics and to call Mummy. I follow, we chat to the owner and let on what we are doing. She is amazed. There is a birthday group on the other side of the restaurant, they get wind of the feat and soon R is holding court! I leave him to it and enjoy a beer.
Gone 22:00 it’s time to leave so I go to pay, it’s been covered, I don’t know what to say apart from a massive ‘thank you’. What a great bunch of people, one of the highlights of the trip!
In the dark we make our way to the mouth of Cromarty Firth to wild camp, as are several campervans and motorhomes, with the sound of the sea lapping the beach not too far away.
🔺s = 91 | Total = 798 87km forwards | 790m of up
DAY 28: Cromarty to The Crask Inn
We wake with Cromarty Lighthouse just behind us and R enjoys breakfast on the beach with the legs of oil rigs towering the other side of the firth’s outlet. Cromarty Firth is a hotbed of oil rig refits, which the group R held court with last night were involved in. Once packed we have a short trip across to Nigg on the other side via the ferry; as it was a very low tide we embark from the beach.
An easy beginning to the day unfolds as we make our way to Invershin having stopped at a bakery in Tain and skirted Dornoch Firth with obligatory breather on some swings in Ardgay. Here we turn from the main road and head to Culrain along the signed NCN 1; a sign warns of steps ahead. Leaving the quiet roads we join a path adjacent to the railway with views of Carbisdale Castle before crossing Kyle of Sutherland with the steps. These are an addition to the railway bridge and I do wonder why a ramp wasn’t considered. I unload my bike and hump it, R’s and the panniers down the first flight, load up then unload for the second flight on the other side.
A bit later we approach Shin Falls and see a train trundle along way above us on the side of the gorge. We’d be up there coming the other way in a few days.
Before going to peek at the falls we have lunch in the playground by the visitor centre. As we finish pssssst! I’ve got a puncture. R goes on playing as I do my thing. I find it isn’t from an intrusion, I run the bomb proof Marathon Plus tyres, but the old tubes. Reused from the bike I striped down before our depart. A small tear on a seam, I should’ve replaced them when I got home but they are still going, for now. Down to the falls we go. Noticeboards inform us of jumping salmon. I snap away. Obviously we only see a jumping salmon when I’m not. Back home I notice that I did actually catch one with the first snap.
Very slowly climbing we head to Lairg. Another cyclist pulls along side, he’s doing LEJOG as part of a larger group with full support, he says a few will be staying at The Crask Inn but he’ll be stopping in Lairg. With words of encouragement to R he heads on.
Lairg to The Crask. Oh my this was lovely. Big skies and that northern sun contrast sublimely with the beauty of the wilderness around us and the mountains in the distance (see header photo). Every so often a logging lorry would trundle by. A couple of large birds of prey circled in the distance; later we discovered they were probably Hen Harriers. Not in the I Spy book but an exceptional spot!
After the ‘steepest’ climb of the gentle 30km incline we spot our destination. The Crask Inn, an infamous stop for those taking the scenic LEJOG route. After a few games of dominoes, a peppermint tea for R and a pint for me ‘we’ set about pitching the tent in the garden for a small donation. I say ‘we’ as very quickly I send R back inside with his colouring book. The air is saturated with another infamous Scottish feature; midges! I cover myself in Smidge (the new Avon Skin So Soft), get the tent up as quick as possible and cook. We eat inside. The sub group of the cyclist we met earlier begins to arrive, again word has spread and R regales them with tales of our adventure whilst slurping noodles and drinking more peppermint tea through a straw!
They go off to dinner as R finishes his. We sign the visitor’s book then I rush outside to get the wash kit, luckily the swarm has subsided. We were going to shower but being in the middle of nowhere The Crask doesn’t have mains water and relies on a small loch. They’ve actually had a drought up here and it is incredibly low so no shower tonight. More reading of Swallows & Amazons, 2 chapters and R drifts off. I go back inside to imbibe ale and fine whisky.
🔺s = 24 | Total = 822 83km forwards | 790m of up
DAY 29: The Crask Inn to Halladale Inn, Melvich then an audacious dash to Thurso!
If I thought the midges last night were bad I knew nothing. This morning they were fittingly a biblical plague! My skin was black and I was scraping them off my eyes. Whilst the Smidge worked the shear density meant it also stuck the blighters to my skin. I sent R inside again whilst I cooked and packed up, I trapped loads of them in the tent ready for our last night of camping. Eating inside again we enjoyed tea and coffee for me this time.
Bidding our farewells and thanks for the hospitality we head off. The clouds were back hanging on summits in the distance. After a short climb it would be gradually downhill all the way to the coast; about 50km away. Passing a plantation of firs off to the left I notice it gives an interesting echo so we begin shouting at the trees; “RED”, “fart brain”, “bum bum poo head”, “stop it!”, “you started it”. Then to each other; “we’re almost there”, “where”, “the end, John o’Groats”, “Daddy can we cycle back?”, “where to Red”, “Land’s End” – I have to admit I welled slightly at that. Red the Rocket in his red jacket is amazing!
We begin the descent stopping in Altnaharra first to use the facilities at the hotel then for a swing on some red swings with Ben Klibreck hiding in clouds having been the back drop since the top.
Then into Strathnaver we turn with it loch, forest and valley extending to the sea. This is steeped in history as a notice board points out referenced as far back as the 2nd Century.
R is lagging, I get a feeling it may be intentional, I don’t think he wants it to be over! We grab a couple of cakes from a small campsite’s shop and munch, sat on a stone overlooking the loch before onwards and downwards.
At the mouth of the Naver it is a quick climb to Bettyhill where we stop for a late lunch at a picnic table. We are joined by a cheeky cockerel scavenging for crumbs much to R’s amusement!
From here we’ll be on the main road along the coast. Plenty of ups and downs ensue. As do the occasional stream of identical cars interspersed with lone campers and motorhomes. For now we are on the North Coast 500, made popular by Jeremy and crew on Top Gear.
With views of rocky headlands, sandy beaches and the Orkneys in the distance we continue on our way. R is asking about tomorrow, the distance, where we’d be staying and tonight’s dinner. The plan was to use the campsite and cook at the Halladale Inn. R I think is fed up with pasta and comes up with a plan. If we eat at the Halladale Inn can we continue to Thurso? I get in touch with Jon, a Warmshowers host, and check if we can arrive a night early, that’s fine. So we stop for food and fill up. We won’t have to deal with the midges trapped in the tent after all!
It is gone 19:00 and we have an unplanned 25km to do to Thurso. This will take the pressure off tomorrow of cycling past where we were going to stay for the final stint. R is on form and shoots off like the proverbial rocket. A couple more climbs confront us but at a much gentler grade. Like a night train we move with R sucking my wheel. We arrive in Thurso and find Jon’s. His place is a work in progress, not that we mind, and we set up our sleeping area in the other room. After a short chin wag I get R into bed before having a proper chat.
Jon likes touring, with his tuba, we enjoy a few beers, talk about life, bikes, doing up properties etc. I think R’s age took him a little by surprise. R liked him and Jon accommodated his eye for details like light bulbs, switches and how many screws were in each door handle. Tomorrow he even showed R round his other house that he now rents as an AirB&B. Jon kindly offers to pick us up from John o’Groats if we cook dinner for him and some guests in the evening. Sounds like a plan!
🔺s = 24 | Total = 846 102km forwards | 1050m of up
DAY 30: Thurso to Dunnet Head to John o’Groats
With Jon kindly offering to pick us up and because we were now starting 25km along from where I intended to we now had a much more relaxing day, so we decided to head to the northern most point of the UK mainland; Dunnet Head with a lighthouse built by Robert Stevenson (the elder, grandfather of Robert Louis Stevenson). In hindsight we should have gone to The Lizard in Cornwall as well for the most southerly point.
It was a schlep up over the headland but it didn’t matter as the sun was out. The wind was too and there was a stiff breeze in the air. On our way back heading east we stopped at Windhaven Cafe, which we’d passed earlier, to have some lunch. Lovely little place and the owners had only just taken it on a couple of weeks before. The North Coast 500 not only has bought more people to the area but also more business opportunities. Jon told me even a Premier Inn was in the planning for Thurso!
The owner said we could walk round back, the cafe was perched on the cliffs and there was a path down to the beach where we may see some seals. We didn’t. But we did spot another Red Admiral and this time I got a picture.
Scrambling back up our sandwiches were ready. I’d forgot to ask for no marg/butter on R’s so a few minutes later out popped take 2. We chat a bit to a couple of other patrons who are doing the NC500 then head on along the coast. The wind picks up even more, we are so close, the final push against the headwind is along the main road and there it is in the distance.
We were going to go to Duncansby Head to see the lighthouse there and sea stacks for the I Spy book, but we’d already seen a few along the coast so with the excitement we decided to go straight to the end.
I’m sure you don’t want this to end at the very end so I’m going to insert this here. That evening after cooking for Jon & co we got ready for our morning depart. It was an early train and would take all day. We had no seats booked with just a generic bike reservation and managed to wing it all the way back to Bristol in one day. We watched Scotland and England roll by. It was emotional at times; R wants to do JOGLE and would’ve liked to do it straight away. We talk about future plans. Eventually we arrive back at Temple Meads late evening, cycled home and knocked on the front door. Big hugs from Mummy.
OK, back to the end. Just before we make our final turn we spot a couple shoot past from the south with two young girls on tag-alongs behind them.
This was Family ByCycle. Tom, Katie, Ruth (now the fastest on a tag-along) and Rhoda (now the youngest to cycle). They arrived seconds before us. They had just done LEJOG too by a more direct route. We had a good chat. A week or two later they invited us to a lovely festival at the end of September where they’d be giving a talk; Yestival (unfortunately R was struck down with a bug whilst we were there so we missed the talk). Hopefully we’ll get to ride with them all in the future.
And then it was our turn to stand underneath that finger post; the last of them that epitomises the LEJOG journey. It still makes me emotional. I can’t describe the feelings I had but they were over whelming. I’m so amazed by and proud of my boy, he was proud of his achievement as well. R stuck an Audax Club Bristol sticker to the post.
Then we had the most amazing Rock & Limpet hug ever. Here’s to more wonderful adventures!
🔺s = 11 | Total = 857 50km forwards | 445m of up Stage: 396km | 3900m Adventure: 1,821km | 17,980m
R had been getting excited; for several months now. As I’ve mentioned he has a thing for mountains but we’d never walked up one. Well today was the day. Or was it?
After the restaurant last night we ducked into the shop to look at the forecast for tomorrow before bed; it didn’t look good. Low-level cloud was predicted rising later in the day, with a small chance of intermittent sunshine, oh and drizzle on and off, and cold. A few climbers also checking were grumbling which didn’t bode well. ‘Perfect’ for our first attempt at conquering Ben Nevis.
Morning, up we sprang, heads out the door. Grey. Like the hideous yesterday. Mizzle in the air. Quick check of the weather on the phone and it is still the same. No rush then we slowly get ready, do breakfast, I pack a pannier. We’d give it a go and see how far up we’d get before it became atrocious. 2hrs later and it had changed, the cloud base was rising, people were making a bee line to the paths, it was on!
We set off just gone 10 o’clock. Cross the River Nevis at the YHA and ascend a steep and windy path hewn into the side of the Glen’s lower slope. Soon we are just down to T-shirts. I was prepared though with all the layers we’d need: extra tops, jackets, gloves; and food and water. And R had his emergency whistle from Nana just in case.
We joined the Mountain Track and the gradient levelled out. Later we found out that a Model T Ford was driven up this track to the summit in 1911. We were stomping. Occasionally we’d stop for some water or a snack and join that big caterpillar of the ascending throng.
I’ll let some photos do the explaining….
As you can see the cloud cover just kept rising. It was warm and sunny. Loads of people were out, some already descending. R had a few moments where he didn’t want to continue but after I told him we wouldn’t get a chance to try this again for a long time he would plough on. I’d read the amount of climb left off my nav app so he knew how much we were closing in on the summit.
Obviously the higher we went the cooler it got. It was at about the beginning of the zig zags R donned some extra layers. It was still clear but looking up you could see the bank of cloud buffeting up against the south eastern face, spilling cloud around and over the summit. We were nearing the top, moving between the cairns. Colder still R added the final layer, one of my tops. We’d be in cloud then it would be clear. With a few hundred metres to go R stopped. He’d had enough. No matter how much persuasion he didn’t have the beans to make the final bit and steep climb up the scree to the summit plateau. No option then. I grabbed him and swung him over my shoulders like a sack of potatoes and practically ran it!
We were surrounded by cloud. 2 cyclists who’d passed us earlier carrying their bikes were attempting to ride back down. Then it cleared. We were stood next to a gully and had views over to the Carn Mor Dearg (CMD) arête.
In planning our route up Ben Nevis I’d chatted to my friend Robert who enjoys hill walking. He suggested scrambling up from the mountain rescue post below the North Face to the CMD and use the arête to the summit. If the weather forecast had been more favourable we would have done this; splitting off from the Mountain Track at Halfway Lochran and traversing the North Face before the final assault. Something for another time…
Then we were there and I dolled out the hug and got a big squeeze back from my Limpet! We were so lucky having views across The Great Glen [see header photo]. One of my brothers has climbed Ben Nevis 3 times, Grandpa Pom once; neither had had a view! We queued to climb the trig point. Now we were on top of the UK!
And just in time as the cloud set in. What do you do when you are on top of the UK? Call Mummy of course! #braggingrights
We took the time to have lunch, as did many others, in amongst the ruins of the old meteorological observatory; it had a hotel annex back in Victorian times! We were probably there for about half an hour, not moving much. The chill began to set in so we set off back down; this for me was the toughest part and I would feel it in my legs the next day. R just floated down like some mountain goat!
And as we went down the more layers came off. Rather than climb back down to the YHA we followed the gentler ascent of the Mountain Track; all the way to the Ben Nevis Inn for some much deserved food, a beer or 2 for me and of course a peppermint tea with a straw for R, in a GLASS!
8 hours climbing one way or another, then having sat down for an hour I hobbled back to the campsite as R danced like a sprite and shot off to the swings in the playground. Enough said really. Apart from me mate Rob says Ben Nevis is one of the hardest peaks to climb, there aren’t that many that achieve that amount of elevation gain from starting point (practically sea level) to summit.
What a fantastic day!
19.8km walked | 1320m climbed (& carried) up then stumbled/floated down
Bit of a long one this so hang in there! We’ve been on another adventure too mid writing (which has been confounded by WordPress’ new editor) and I’ve had a big Great Western Randonnées event plus others upcoming hence the long wait!
DAY 16: Grizedale through The Lakes to Hawksdale.
Did I say it rained last night? It did. Tremendously! We packed our bags in the damp of the morning thankful of the pod then make our way down to the cafe for breakfast. Below in the camping field there’s a small lake, other campers haven’t had such a great night waking up in the morning with their beds floating. Lots of disgruntled campers; due to this the cafe opened early without us knowing and we were lucky to get the last breakfast baps. Refunds were being offered as rage was directed at the proprietors who explained nothing like this had ever happened before. Got to love global warming!
We head back to Hawkshead through Grizedale Forest. R starts the tally again. B road to Ambleside. Lots of disgruntled campers impatiently trying to escape The Lakes. Cloud hangs low obscuring the peaks. R has a thing for mountains ever since we drove between The Brecon Beacons and Black Mountains; always questioning “is that a mountain?”, “no R, it’s a hill.” This time though a blanket of cloud had obscured the tops since we arrived and would stay as we left. Just before Ambleside we turn off following a quiet road north but not before a quick stop in the park. R finds £1.20 under the zip slide. I bank it for him later. I’d planned to join the main road at Rydal but instead we follow the cycle route. It isn’t long before I realise why I’d chosen the main road as the route ahead turns into a track/path with ample families walking along and up and down; fords included. Round Rydal Water and cross the river stopping for an early snack.
Rather than enduring the path any further we then humped our bikes back up to the main road. A minor inconvenience for easier progress ready for the long climb from Grasmere to Thirlmere. Again we join a path, this time metalled but a right rollercoaster as we descend. The Beast from the East flattened the trees above the quiet road around Thirlmere and work was still being undertaken to make safe the hill side above so back onto the main road, luckily it isn’t too busy and we’d soon be turning off again. All the while the blanket hangs above us.
After a quick stop at a community cafe in Trelkeld we come across a large octagon. Another oddity. I’ve only spotted one of these previously in Penrith on a garage forecourt. I knew R would love it so took a photo only to find out later the camera had again said no and not saved it. I mentioned it to him and thought nothing of it. Several weeks later he reminded me, we found it on Street View and I then went about calling the garage to ask the staff to take a photo and email to me. R was going nuts in the back ground and the lovely lady realised she was going to make a young boy very happy so sure enough, later that day, a photo arrived! We spotted 4 of these this time and as we headed around Blencathra on a lovely lane with plenty of gates I pondered and asked Grandpa Pom if he had a good descriptive word beginning with ‘O’. To my surprise R piped up ‘outstanding’, so there we have it, outstanding octagons!
Leaving The Lakes behind us the cloud began to lift offering a peak of some peaks. R is bouncing between me and the old man chatting away. Finally we have a long descent with views to the right of The Pennines and I point out Great Dun Fell; R has recently asked me which is the highest road in England which is this, he also wants to go up it one day! Ahead in the distance past Carlisle, Scotland awaits us on the horizon. First to find our not so wild wild camping spot for the night. I’d planned a field next to the River Caldew in the shadow of Rose Castle but with the knowledge of company just before we left I contacted a new cafe en route if we’d be able to use their garden. Mike and Debs of Woodside Welcome Cycle Cafe were unable to ‘help’ but kindly organised with Andy of Thornfield Camping Pods next door to use a square of their grass for free! Their aim is for a small camping area once facilities are in place. The pods looked great with their hottubs but all were full. After dinner and a bottle of wine kindly provided by Mike we settled in for the night. Fantastic hospitality!
🔺s = 7 | Total = 488 71km forwards | 1090m of up
DAY 17: Hawksdale – The Border – Auldgirth
The fantastic hospitality kept coming! In the morning we are treated to a fine breakfast by Mike and Debs and we chat about the cafe and pods which Mike is the groundsman for; reed bed filtration, bromine hot tubs, council basically begging them to set up the cafe all whilst being an ex-farmer and working at the police station part time as a civilian.
We bid our farewells and head off to Carlisle using a cycle path in the Calder Valley from Dalston right into the centre. I take a moment for some peace and quiet and let Grandpa Pom and R chat away without worrying about traffic. Passing the castle we continue to the border and do the obligatory photos and stick a sticker. The going is easy with the wind on our backs. 2 stops in quick succession for a roll; one in Arran, the other climbing a gate to dine in a field.
Flying west along the Solway Firth coast R jumps off spotting a new one for the books; a small square with oval, it’s the little things in life eh?
We’re making good time, R and Grandpa Pom chat away (see header photo) as we turn inland for the one ‘hill’ of the day as we approach Dumfries. Rain! It’s held off all day but we get a sprinkling now as we navigated through the town past Robert Burns’ house before exiting on an old railway line. R is suddenly flagging even though topping up with a bar shortly before. He’d speed up and slow down or stop. I tell dad to go on and we chat, he’s tired, we’d done 75km, about 15km left. When it gets like this I’d break it down to R into recognisable distance; about the same as The Bird in Hand to home along the Bristol to Bath Railway Path. This does the trick. Me and R ride side by side as I tell dad to drop back so there is no distraction. We finish off our day’s journey to Auldgirth and the lovely Open Gate Campsite; up one final hill which finishes R and Grandpa Pom off; they both walk it!
There is only one other tent there, a mum and her daughter, slowly making their way home to Germany having been to see family. First things first we get the fire going in an old BBQ. Then pitch tents. Much to mine and R’s amusement it takes us 5mins but dad 20! R kicks back as I make dinner. Fine dining tonight; pasta, veg, chorizo and pesto, followed by marshmallows, yum yum. Owls hoot in the distance and a train rushes past us below.
We spotted a pub on the way up to the campsite so in the dark with R on my shoulders make our way down. Closed. Bugger! Back up we go. A few more marshmallows, into the tent for Swallows and Amazons and bed; I turn to kiss R goodnight but he is already asleep!
🔺s = 41 | Total = 529 91km forwards | 550m of up
DAY 18: Auldgirth to Sundrum Castle Holiday Park
After breakfast we chat to the owner’s mum. They have recently bought the place and the campsite is new. We check out the bunkhouse too and I note it as a possible audax overnight location for the future. Off we go down the hill faffing on a cycle path next to the A76 that abruptly ends. “R, where are your sunglasses?” Uh oh, worry creeps across the lads face. “Keep going” I say to dad & R as I turn round and race, fully loaded, back to the campsite. He had them on his head in the farm yard so I have a quick scan there to no avail. I knock on the door and ask to look around the bunkhouse. Nowhere to be seen. All but given up hope when the owner’s mum overturns a sofa cushion and we find them tucked away there. Back I go and the relief flows across R’s face as we head on leaving the main road behind, for now, following the Nith Valley through the Southern Uplands.
A quick divert into Thornhill for supplies; bars and snacks of various sorts. R resists spending his £1.20 again so I say I’ll double it for the future. Now we head off to Drumlanrig Castle, described as Scotland’s finest. When we get there R states it is more big house than castle. Still we go and do an early lunch in the tea rooms. On exiting one of the wardens has spotted our bamboo bikes so I chat. R is eager to go and starts circling out front. I chat. R circles. I chat. ARGHHHHHHHHH!
R has overcooked the circle and his front wheel has gone from under him on the sprinkling of stones coming down hard on his arm. I rush over and extricate him from his bike, Grandpa Pom joins me. Tears aplenty. I check him over and asked him to squeeze my finger. All good. Then I ask him to raise his arm and rotate it. All good. A few light scrapes on his leg. Tears turn to anger. The Castle’s first aider comes over but I’ve figured R is more pissed with himself than injured; I get a whack. I hold him close and tell him he is fine and explain why it happened. Foot to the shins. I give him a big kiss and amongst a few tears and lots of grrrs we put ourselves back on the our bikes and head off. I asked Dad to go ahead again and just give R some space. Sulking ensues as we leave by the main drive.
Not far after as we leave the drive R says his arm hurts. We stop, I peel off his top and sure enough he’s removed some skin. Cleaned up and a big plaster applied and all is well. R is now peeved he’s torn his club jersey. Not to worry I say, one of my jerseys got torn too when I fell off. Knowing I’ve fallen off helps the situation. Soon the tumble is forgotten as we begin the easy climb up the rest of the Nith Valley. R bobs between me and Grandpa Pom. Eventually we pop out onto the A76 again. Not particularly busy but there are lorries and fast cars. We have 11km until we turn off, uphill to start. I get R to ride in front with me on the outside in the middle of the lane, Dad behind. I’m happy controlling our space in situations like this; any way the road isn’t wide enough for a vehicle to pass safely whilst one approaches if we were in single file. R though is yo-yoing back and forth between us. We’re just chugging and I ask him to stay ahead of me. Then off he goes again, this time clipping my back wheel and tumbling onto the verge. We pull ourselves over off the road. Anger again. I tell Dad to go on, the turning is in 8km, we’ll meet him there. I have words with R and explain that what he was doing was unsafe, then try to get to the bottom of why. Grandpa Pom was a distraction, he wanted to talk to him, and didn’t know where to ride. Mine and R’s dynamic on the road is great. Together I’m happy with his riding but I had noticed a gradual deterioration with R coping with 2 voices. We sit and chat. I told R I needed him to focus on this main road; it was probably the fastest we were on of the entire ride. We set off again; R in front, me on the outside. We smashed it, R was in the zone! We whistled past Grandpa Pom as he’d stopped in a layby, I signal for him to wait there for a bit. The climb was out of the way just rollers left. We stop in a layby ourselves for a pee. No sign of Grandpa Pom, R is concerned so we wait. I tell him his cycling is super. “I love you Daddy, you’re the best Daddy in the World.” “I love you too Red, you’re the best son in the World.” – that happens a lot! Grandpa Pom catches us up and I wave him on again. Not going to break this roll. We give it a min or two and again smash it to New Cumnock and off the A76 joining back up with the old man round the corner. Quiet minor and B roads now as we reach the final peak, then all down hill to our night’s rest.
A quick stop for this spiderweb drain and soon we’re at Sundrum Castle Holiday Park. Unloading our panniers we stash our bikes in an exit to the building that isn’t used; we’d be having a day off tomorrow with no bikes. Tents are thrown up; well not quite for Grandpa Pom so we leave him to it and head to the bar/restaurant, avoiding the loud and bright flashing lights of the arcade. R makes full use of the park before and after dinner before bed. Me and Dad kick back for a pint or three. He tells me how he admires the bond me & R have. I do my best!
🔺s = 15 | Total = 544 83km forwards | 755m of up
DAY 19: Day off – no bikes!
Not too much to write here. A holiday park isn’t my idea of fun. Whilst planning I noted the lack of campsites or spots to wild camp in the Ayr area. To break the ride up as it would have been a long stint of day on day riding I tensed, groaned inside, and hit ‘book’. We made use of the facilities; 3 swim sessions and no cooking. I even gave R a haircut with the first aid scissors; a couple of girls asked me if I was a hairdresser, “no!”, “well you look like one!”….
After dinner R is back out in the playground. He comes running in saying the boys are fighting. I tell him not to worry about it and to just stay clear. Off he goes again. Shortly after the two girls that accused me of looking like a hairdresser come in and tell me R has hit one of them. I’ve taken my eye off the ball; Grandpa Pom is a distraction! Outside I scoop R up and get a thwack to my back. Lots of tears from being removed from the playground and Red doesn’t see that he is in the red. We to and fro with reasons why I’ve removed him; this goes on for a while as I struggle to get him into his pyjamas. He tells me he’s had enough and wants to go home. I call his bluff and say we’ll get the train back with Grandpa Pom tomorrow. “NOOO!!!!!” More tears. I know his heart is in it, reassure him that if he does want to continue we will, then carry him to the toilet block to brush teeth. Then bed, Swallows & Amazons and a ‘bed cuddle’. Eventually R settles. It is now late. Back to Dad I neck my lukewarm remains and get another couple before calling it a night too.
DAY 20: Sundrum Castle to Lochranza
More grey & wet! The three of us pack our kit and plonk our panniers and bags outside the restaurant and wait for it to open. Once inside we order then go retrieve our bikes from the other side of the building. Brekkie done we head to Ayr. Grandpa Pom would be leaving us today. He had all the train times from the stations along the coast to maximise his time with us. We meander through industrial and housing estates following the signed cycle route; with the occasional stretch along a promenade or sea wall with the Isle of Arran to the west, mine & R’s destination for the day.
Morning slips away and soon we are at Irvine. Grandpa Pom has decided this is where we’ll say our farewells. I also book a train ticket for mine and R’s eventual return as I can also book generic bike reservations. Outside it gets emotional. I think Dad would have liked to do more (cycling in general not just on our adventure).
A quick bite follows before we wiggle our way out of Irvine along more shared paths. Rain jackets at last are removed and we enjoy the sun when we can as the clouds whizz past ahead. spotting a toad and a giant concrete Lego brick…..
Soon we are back on the sea front again and closing in on Ardrossan, making the ferry with about 15 minutes to spare; perfect timing!
After a brief spell on deck fighting the wind we make our way into the front observation lounge to continue watching showers in the distance race across the ever looming island ahead. The crossing takes about an hour and as well as one eye on the weather we tuck into a few pastries from earlier, do a bit of colouring and tick a few more I spy boxes off.
Arran – a big rock reaching for the sky with a strip of flat land around its perimeter. We were heading north along the coast with the climb of the day over to Lochranza. A few stops en route ensued; first supplies, second swings, third 2 RED SQUIRRELS – we’d just stopped to don waterproofs again as the heavens opened and as we set off these 2 hopped across the road in front of us then perched on the wall watching us whilst I fumbled too slowly for the camera, and finally The Corrie pub for another break from the rain. We chat to others hiding and after an hour it hadn’t let up so we decide to go for it, up and over to our campsite.
This climb from North Glen Sannox to Glen Chalmadale would now become the toughest R had done after Cheddar Gorge; sea level to 200m in 5km. He bosched it like a pro winding up that strip of tarmac as it stretched out in front of us to the top of the pass.
Summiting as evening began to set in and grey skies above darkened, his red waterproof and rear light stuck out against the encroaching bleakness.
Something very magical in the still of the evening with wind buffeting us as we begin the descent, which was fast. A lady from The Corrie on her motorbike passes us waving as she goes. We arrive at the campsite and no sooner had we began setting up the tent when again the heavens open and it stays that way. Luckily there was a ‘kitchen’ so we leg it there and set about cooking; late it is now 20:30 and dark. The lights on the verandahs are motion activated. R goes round in circles screaming for joy setting them off, dodging rain drops crossing from one to the other and stopping briefly for a mouthful every few laps.
Exhausted we fall into the tent and listen the the continual patter of rain before zzzzzzzzzzzzz!
🔺s = 71 | Total = 615 72km forwards | 510m of up
DAY 21: Lochranza to Nether Largie
Rather than rush for the first ferry off Arran we amble through breakfast and head for the slipway not too far away passing the castle on a spit jutting out into Loch Ranza for the second. We spot the only 🔺s of the day by the ferry waiting room. A half hour hop back to the mainland and we arrive in Claonaig, sit in a bus shelter and snack again. First things first it was up over the Kintyre peninsula. R didn’t take too kindly to this, it wasn’t a gentle ascent, it takes him a while sometimes to get the legs wound up in the mornings. No prizes for hill climbing today, descending to West Loch Tarbert was another matter though; what goes up must come down, quick!
Bundling into the Marine Bistro on the harbour front of Tarbert we settle down for lunch and cake. It is popular with cyclists with several groups coming and going as we wait. R and Mummy chat on the phone as I nip across the road to the shop. Most days we have a chat and R updates all the 🔺s spotted along with the I spy items. The 2 red squirrels from yesterday get some air time. As does yesterday’s rain!
We then have a long stretch along the coast road of Loch Fynne. One of the group from the bistro passes us. Then we pass them as they wait in a layby. Then again a few pass us. One of the ladies in the group starts chatting. R shouts out “I’m doing Land’s End to John O’Groats”. Obviously she seemed a little shocked then R shot off to the front and led the train for a while before they headed on.
Leaving the road behind in Ardrishaig we join the Crinan Canal path; this canal once was a vital link from The Clyde to the Inner Hebrides. Luckily it is fantastically surfaced for its entire length so we lazily pootle as we jibber jabber. I spot a Peacock butterfly on the path, this is a high scorer in the I spy book; I seem to remember seeing loads as a kid but have to admit this is the first one for me for a long time. However it has reached the end of its lifecycle for whatever reason so I carefully pick it up to show R and we examine it.
Half way along the section of canal we were using we stop by some locks and swing bridge; obviously at a pub…. ….with a cafe lounge for tea, crisps and cake. We stay there for a while and end up chatting to another family and a couple of friends who haven’t seen each other for years; they bring a dog in as R is in the toilet, I have to say that R may not react too well, he has a thing for dogs and gets quite fast. However he handles it well and is happy to now tell everybody what we are up to, again everyone is amazed before wishing us the best on our onwards journey.
As we finally leave the canal path I hear a fervent cry from behind. Yes! More #drainspotting. This time a diamond. Is it a coincidence the only other one we have ever seen like this was also close to a canal? The Kennet & Avon at Avoncilff. These are now dazzling diamonds!
This is the talking point as we head north across Moine Mhor towards what I think is The Highlands. You are always learning. I thought The Highlands referred to the higher altitude land around Ben Nevis. Later in the journey though I discovered it was the higher latitudes; defined by historic demographics and geology. We’d been in them since crossing to Arran. R is asking if we’ll be on any more canal paths hoping to see more diamonds!
Tonight I’d picked a fantastic wild camping spot, a car park for the Nether Largie Stones and Cairns. On arrival we find it closed to vehicles as the footbridge opposite to the ancient monuments is being repaired. Bonus for us we put up the tent and start on the cooking not having to worry about any visitors. Except R’s super hearing notices I’ve put the tent right next to a wasp nest at the base of a tree. I quickly move things around. We do get a couple of visitors later after dinner as we tried home made blackberry juice having squashed them in a bowl; not quite the desired outcome we were after being full of bits but a bit of fun before bed. Something we’d been meaning to do since Cornwall I think….
🔺s = 2 | Total = 617 55km forwards | 780m of up
DAY 22: Nether Largie to Dunstaffnage Castle
Right, first things first, after breakfast and packing down of course so perhaps third things third, we head to Nether Largie Stones and Cairns, a collection of standing and stone circles and ancient burial monuments dating back over 4000 years. We walk amongst their presence and peak inside a couple; luckily we don’t have a Sixth Sense.
We then head further up Kilmartin Glen to Carnasserie Castle, a commanding ruin over looking the valley, to have a nose around. We bump into the group of cyclists that R led after Tarbert, but R is gone; off up & down the spiral stairs, through darkened corridors and across railinged walkways. I can’t keep up. After a time I call out and there is a scurrying from different corners until R pops back out into the surrounding gardens. He’s hungry, I go back down to the bikes to fetch some food and set about lunch sat on a bench with view dropping away below us. We chat to a couple of Yanks over for some golf who’ve gone exploring. Needless to say R announces his journey, later they grab a photo of us with the bikes as we’re all leaving. Before that though R races to the top of the castle again for one last photo!
Onwards we go, it has gone noon and we still have 55km to do with several fairly big climbs. We’re main roading it today, no other option really without going the long way to Oban. Luckily the traffic is light, the two old friends we were chatting to yesterday pass us waving as they go. We pass several Lochs, climb a couple of those hills. R needs a poo, me too. I see a sign for Loch Melfort hotel a few miles off so we head there. It has a cafe too. And the most amazing view!
More chatting. A dad is asking about when me and R started cycle camping together and how we did it. I gave him details for the FollowMe tandem that we used to use. R and his boy set about swinging, picking blackberries, sliding, running, slurping tea till we were all done. We bid our farewells and wish them luck for their future adventures.
Still 40km to go we make haste in a lazy way, enjoying the warm afternoon sun and admiring the views across the loch to some of the isles close by. I spot a large caterpillar in the road. When I say large I actually mean ENORMOUS! I try to pick it up to move it out of harms way but it is a tough wriggler about the size of my thumb and breaks free, instead I nudge it to the verge. I know of a large moth so take a punt later when doing a search, it is the caterpillar of an Elephant Hawk Moth. Time ticks by as does our progress; busy talking about mountains, where we’ll be camping tonight (I still wasn’t sure) and what we’d do for dinner. Food! 20km to go we do one more stop and climb down to Loch Feochan’s edge to munch on cereal bars. The rocks higher up are covered in tar. I explain to R about oils spills, how it affects the wildlife and remains present in the environment.
On our way to Oban we wait at some roadwork lights, 2 Germans pull up on their motorbikes, more chatting, they do pedal powered cycles as well, we see them several times over the next week as we head north as they are off to Fort William and then on to do the North Coast 500 which we’d be on sections of nearing the end of our journey. You ‘bump into’ more people repeatedly the further north you go. I suppose as the choice of ‘things to do’ narrows as the wilderness widens so common goals are shared. The lights go green and we begin the descent to the hustle and bustle of Oban with CalMac Ferries going this way and that. We ride around and settle on a pizza restaurant on the harbourside much to R’s joy; plus there is a 🔺 on the quayside!
I had two camping options here. Either south along the coast to a proper site or north and wild camp near the railway on a very back road on the way to Connel; me & Mummy had walked this track years ago. However I decided to go for another option to avoid the pitfalls of both, extra overall distance or extra climbing.
Instead we headed out of Oban past its castle and on to the grounds of Dunstaffnage Castle near Dunbeg. It has begun to rain again. I find a spot in the woods with the sound of the sea tumbling over the pebbled beach below and rain drops on the canopy above. Looking at the area now there were probably a few spots where we could have got up closer to the shore, perhaps next time!
🔺s = 6 | Total = 623 62km forwards | 830m of up
DAY 23: Dunstaffnage Castle to Glen Nevis
OK, so it began to rain last night, it didn’t stop! I checked the route forecast in the morning and it was looking like rain all day and pretty intense. We hastily make breakfast and I pack as much as possible with R still in the tent until the last minute. I had hoped to have a look round the castle and grounds but it is so wet we agree to just get a move on.
I’ll make this brief as it was a disgusting day. We crossed Connel Bridge and thanks to the tide were able to see the Falls of Lora. Initial plan was to use the main road being ‘flat’ but it was so wet the spray was intense. Instead we resigned ourselves to NCN78. This isn’t quick being a windy lumpy brute with many access points. But quiet using a mixture of an old railway line, road side paths (not many thankfully as you would get a soaking), back lanes and a bat shit crazy path scaling the lower slopes of Creag Ghorm; with stunning views but the steep climb was unnecessary on a day like that, if I’d have known we would have suffered the road spray for 2km! On a pleasant day this whole section would have been lovely and we’d have probably have got the ferries across and back and followed the quite route down Loch Eil. Instead, with 55km of sodden soul stripping cycle paths behind us, we rejoined the main road. 13km to Fort William. R had had enough and nailed it pumping out an average 20kph for 40 minutes through the pissing rain; that boy can move!
Not only was today Day 23 it was a Sunday. ‘Everything’ had been closed probably intensified by the weather. We’d only managed one stop at the Scottish Sea Life Sanctuary for warm food, we didn’t see any of the wildlife and luckily we got into the cafe before the lunch bulge. Also I’d only bothered with one photo!
What I hadn’t planned on was this autumnal weather in August. We both only had sandals. Now I could get away with it but I put R’s feet in some plastic bags too to keep the wind chill off. Then there were gloves. R had just his fingerless cycling ones and I had none. And finally to top things off the bracket holding my saddle had begun to swivel on the seat post, perhaps the rain had got in and destroyed the bonding. So in Fort William we sought out a bike shop and got our selves some gloves. Not much we could do about sandals, at least we had warm socks. New seat post I put off hoping to find some glue to fix it with once I’d had a proper look. Oh, and Smidge, the new Avon Skin So Soft (they changed the formula), as last night and this morning I was eaten alive!
The last stretch through the town to Glen Nevis campsite throws up a plethora of 🔺s much to R’s delight. We pass a swimming pool which R banks for later. Tent up quickly we go to the site restaurant to warm up and fill up ready for tomorrow.
On paper the ride doesn’t look to bad with the highest point about 45m above sea level. But there were loads of little sharp ups and downs, gates, road crossings, and the wettest, coldest day of the entire adventure. It was horrible!
🔺s = 36 | Total = 659 75km forwards | 890m of up Stage: 511km | 4680m Adventure: 1,425km | 14,080m
This is officially R’s birthday but we made the most of the weekend.
Mummy joins us for the next part. She doesn’t do cycling like we do but did go for a few warm up rides in the run up. This time she’ll have panniers donated by ACB El Presidente. I’ve got most of the kit. She has her clothes and a bit more food. Whilst making our way to Bristol a couple of inflateable matts arrived too so no more folding ones. I also ditched R’s rack in favour of a saddle bag. He sets off again in bikepacking mode carrying the essentials:
Wind up torch
Emergency whistle (present from Nana)
Bunny & Blubell
We head off through north Bristol to join the A38 briefly before bombing down Fern Hill, through Tockington, Olveston and edging Aust to get to the Old Severn Bridge; Mummy’s first time across by bike. On the way there though we stop at mine and R’s usual spot for some early snacks; not sure if we were really hungry at that point more the habit. R notices the church clock is octagonal.
Once across the bridge…
It is actually 2 different bridges one after another. Firstly the Severn Suspension which last year we got to go inside when off on another cycle camping trip. Very noisy which didn’t sit well with R, and strange to think only a few inches of steel separated us from tonnes of vehicles whizzing overhead. Secondly the Wye crossing, a cable stay. Both pass above the old ferry slip and on until reaching land again.
…we head up the Wye Valley to Tintern and begin the second stage swing appraisal with the ruins of the abbey as the backdrop. Making use of the picnic tables we all do lunch as well.
Tintern was one of the first places me and R visited when cycle camping; being towed that time using a FollowMe tandem we camped at Beeches up above the valley; we stayed there again last year and as we walked down to Tintern through the woods I couldn’t remember which way to go when the footpath split into 3, my innermap was on the blink.
R said “right Daddy!”
I asked “how do you know?”
He said “I’m using the map in my head, it has buttons to go forwards and back, it’s always updating.”
That’s my boy!
R’s innermap is again at work and he picks out the hexagons and 🔺s as we leave heading to Monmouth. Diverging from the main road we shortly join an old railway track to The Boat Inn to celebrate R’s birthday with crisps and other snacks. An elder ‘child’, having finished his pint, initiates stick races in the stream coursing down the gully edging the lane. R is entertained. Mummy enjoys the breather. I sup my pint. A few more kids join in. Every effort is made to stop the sticks making the final plunge into the drain.
Crossing back across the Wye using the old railway bridge we soon arrive at Monmouth and do a quick shop. I rush back in for marshmallows before we cross the old Monnow Bridge and head to the campsite. The original plan was to camp at Three Castles but having called over the birthday weekend to check I discover it is no kids; well that’s 2 of us ruled out! Instead we are staying at Meredith Farm on the main road from Monmouth and a popular LEJOG stop I find out when there. Rather than suffering the long slog on busier roads we used the lanes. Several very steep involving that extra gear; more walking!
Bonus being via Skenfrith so a stop at the castle was called for before arriving to set up camp and quickly cook. A lovely family on the other side of the site gave us a load of wood so as the night darkens and the stars sparkle we toasted those marshmallows. Then all squeezed into the 2 person tent. I begin Swallows & Amazons; which I mentioned in the other post but on writing this remember R was fast asleep last time before I was half way through the first chapter…..
🔺s = 22 | Total = 293
72km forwards | 1035m of up
DAY 11: Meredith Farm to North Lydbury
Main roady to start I cycled infront with R on my inside and Mummy behind. Not far from the campsite we discovered another finger post.
We continued in this formation for some time becoming more lax when off the main road, once again cross the Wye and do some swings; Mummy isn’t doing well. It’s a brief stop but then we stop again at a pub a few miles on. Mummy sits outside in the sun where it’s quiet; shoulder muscles aching and migraine! Me and R eat. Time ticks by. Mummy isn’t recovering. Me and R begin to worry. None of us knows what to do. After several hours I suggest, as Mummy thinks, that she makes her way to Hereford and gets the train on to Chester whilst we press on; R doesn’t want to give up. Lots of tears later and me and R head off. It’s late afternoon now and we still have 55km to go. Heads down we nail it. There’s just a couple of hills and one steep one to slow us down. Luckily the downs were fast and long and we rock up at the Powis Arms at 20:00. Throw the tent up and head inside for dinner. As we wait we call Mummy, she is ok albeit a little upset she couldn’t have kept going with us.
Back inside we play Connect 4 and R has an olive bread horse for starters. Again I’m playing to win; first game to me, second to R, third is a draw, he’s catching on and beginning to play an offensive trap stratergy as I do. After a wonderful dinner it’s back to the tent, a quick shower, 2 more chapters and sleep ready for the morning.
It has been a strange day, not only did we loose Mummy but…..
🔺s = 0! WTF? | Total = 293
89km forwards |770m of up
DAY 12: North Lydbury to Chester
So far this year R has accomplished three 100km+ rides (one being the 150km attempt on day 7). Last year R was the first ever to claim the newly formed Brevet 250 Audax UK award. This year he had his sights set on the Brevet 500; 5x 100km rides. Today would be the forth. From the pub we had a steady climb nestled in the valley between the Long Mynd and Stiperstones in the Shropshire Hills AONB. It is a grey morning with the odd shower but suprisingly warm. After the long trek up we emerge on the edge. Beneath the low clouds hanging in the air the path ahead stretched out before us; bar a few hills we’d be in for a quick journey north to Chester.
R needs a poo! We stop outside The White Horse at Pulverbatch. It’s 11:40, not open to noon. An Australian couple are there on their bikes having a break. We chat, they are touring and hopping round the country via trains, impressed with the bamboo bikes and R’s daily distance. At this point I’m not mentioning our actual aim as keeping it as off the radar as possible. R is doing a little dance, the door opens and in he rushes. It’s lunch time now so we might as well do the pub and tick off a few more I spy specimens whilst we are at it. Neither takes long and soon we are back on the road. The clouds are dissipating but the wind is up, behind us and gently pushing us on to Ellesmere where we dine again this time on pasties, cake and olives; the perfect combination?! As we plonk ourselves on a bench we notice the trees, bollards, even a bike have been yarn bombed.
A couple of 🔺s spotted and on again. For the 100km to be validated it has to be within a certain time. I’ve never mentioned this to R and don’t need to now, when he gets going he is gone! Wild/dog rose for the I spy book. Many of the items we see all the time but it enables actual identification; I’ve just got to remember what’s in the book. Horse Chestnut. After pushing our bikes over the Dee at Farndon bridge which is closed to traffic and undergoing extensive stone work repair, we turn west briefly head first into the wind; thank goodness it has been behind us!
We arrive, tonight we’d be staying with Warmshowers hosts Rob & Wendy; Mummy has also just got there. I stayed with them in 2017 whilst doing a nutty 1635km via every hill I could find. Lovely couple and they lay on a fine spread. Me and Rob chat about bikes, LEJOG with kids, theirs is grown up now, I offer our home if they ever give it ago in the future. New surroundings and people make R a little unsettled, we make use of the washing machine and shower, get a few paragraphs into the next chapter and decide to call it quits for the night.
🔺s = 94 | Total = 387
101km forwards | 805m of up
DAY 13: Chester – Mersey Ferry – Catterall
Rob and Wendy have gone to work. Mummy decides she can’t continue without holding R up. I faff with the garage door; no key seems to work so I call Rob who pops back from work. In the mean time with some jiggling and nifty handle wobbling the door opens just as Rob arrives. I apologise for dragging him away. Bikes loaded we part ways with Mummy outside in the presence of two covered octogans with inner circles.
Heading off into Chester a little later than anticipated we find the toy shop. Mummy had picked out a Lego set yesterday as R had been missing his bricks; it started off that he was missing home but I narrowed the reason down! I’d also promised he could choose one himself. There was actually a deal on so R used his birthday money from Aunty M & Uncle W, now there were 3 in total for the rest of the journey; after assembly, one done last night, they are bagged and wrapped in his blanket to be transported in his saddle bag, coming out most evenings. We pass under the old clock and between medieval timber framed buildings. The cathedral stands in dark reddy brown stone beside us. Mummy, being a tourist yesterday, had told us of a Lego model. I thought it wouldn’t be open as we passed but thanks to the garage door we were in luck. R was excited. Rather than leave the bikes outside with all the kit on we asked to leave them just inside the door. Making our way under vaulted ceilings, over intricate tiled floors and past the splendid organ and choir we arrive at a half built Lego replica of Chester Cathedral. It’ll be the largest Lego model in the world once complete; it has taken 3 years thus far with another 3 predicted to complete! We pay our donation, £1 each to add a brick, not to the main model but a module that gets added on later. We also get a sticker each which are added to our mudguards. The model is amazing, the details fantastic. We spend a large amount of time just staring at it; then some more time staring a bit closer. If any one has a kid between the age of 0 and 99 it is well worth a visit to add your piece.
Finally we drag ourselves away and collect our bikes from the entrance. There is quite a bit of interest in our bikes and I chat to the Dean about our exploits; the gathered throng thought the bamboo was some type of protective wrapping until I set them straight.
Leaving the city we head out on the Shropshire Union Canal to avoid the hustle and bustle before heading up The Wirral avoiding the main drag as much as possible; an old railway path here, high street there and Port Sunlight to get to Birkenhead ready for the ferry.
Dazzled it was in vibrant colours; a modern take on the monochrome dazzle paint jobs the old ships of wartime were given for camoflage. After a short wait we board and enjoy that timeless Gerry & The Pacemakers classic; I don’t envy the staff, must be the worst earworm ever….
Liverpool – the splendour of the Victorian dock front buildings soon give way to latter industrial blandness as we exit north through Bootle. No other way than the main road, we seem to hit every light at red. As soon as we can we leave this melee and follow the coastal route. It’s bright with big billowy clouds. The wind whisks the World’s largest offshore wind turbine farm in a fanned frenzy. Lunch on the sea wall watching waves crest over heads, midriffs and feet of Gormley’s ‘Another Place’ (see header picture as well). Through dunes, across golf courses (whoops, we didn’t get off to walk) and a wooded forest track to Southport and its sea wall. We sail along, literally; feet off the pedals catching as much wind as possible we cruise along the coast’s edge in freewheeling bliss. Stopping once more for fuel sheltered behind the wall, then past countless greenhouses and fields of neatly rowed lettuce and other salads in rich soils. Approaching Preston we follow the old main road through Longton where all of a sudden I spotted a 🔺 on the pavement; there was another round the corner.
No ordinary, teeny or special, but a super special! I have only seen two of these in the past not far away in Standish; total now 4.
The initial plan was to wild camp here in the nature reserve. Having found out the Windermere ferry wasn’t operating and the campsites around the lake were full I’d made other arrangements. So to keep the distance down tomorrow, as it involved a few more hills, I’d chosen Catterall village playing fields; this also meant R could get his final 100km+ ride in for the Brevet 500 making use of the flat terrain.
Before we get there though we dine once more à la Pub. Connect 4 again to start; Daddy 2-2 Red, he’s getting better at this!
🔺s = 94 again! | Total = 481
115km forwards | 650m of up
DAY 14: Catterall to Grizedale
We’re woken by the sound of the groundsman at 06:30 mowing the lawn on a Friday morn? Yawn! Luckily we’d pitched on the river defence of the Calder so were out of reach. R heads off to the corner to test the swings; they function well. I prep breakfast and pack our kit then test them out too, enjoying the large ‘basket swing’ together. Not long after setting off and the grey has returned, staying for the day cycling through various shades, becoming ever more ominous and heavy.
The wind is still there pushing us along. We stop at the lovely Cafe d’Lune for cake and to avoid a bit of moisture falling from above before heading into Lancaster on the old railway line next to the Lune Estuary. Another snack stop on the city edge. R entices the seaguls off the mudbanks on the otherside with a few morsels before they return to whence they came; repeat. I had to call it quits after one roll had been consigned to the dustbins of the sea/air. All very amusing for R!
Through the city we go and join the Lancaster Canal as it snakes along the coast. Darn! We’ve left a water bottle back at the bench, luckily we haven’t gone far so we get to ‘appreciate’ the route a little bit more, and we spot an extra 🔺, well worth it! The canal path quickly deteriorates but it is quiet, has a swing stop and a pub which we dive into to escape more rain, the clouds are getting ever more ominous.
With views of The Lakes, well the hills surrounding them, shrouded by clouds in the distance there is no escaping the rain now. Not heavy but an all present never ceasing light deluge; the stuff that gets into everything. R doesn’t mind the rain, it makes things quieter; my phone on the otherhand gets grumpy so no more pictures for the day. Entering The Lake District the A590 is at a standstill next to us. We weave our way adjacent to it on the old road, restricted to one lane in places to stop it being used as a rat run. That hasn’t worked today though as we were continually affronted by a steady stream of vehicles coming the other way to beat the traffic. To avoiding a massive loop we had to tackle what was probably the toughest hill of the adventure; a narrow lane with gnarly bends at a persistent 20%. We walked all 800m of it, going up 120m. Even a 4×4 was skidding on a bend! Going down we tracked the main road again, crossing it several times to follow the old road to Newby Bridge before quiet lanes to the campsite passing Force Falls; mountain waterfall, another tick in the I spy book. Just after 20:00 we arrive and set up, in the rain, on a level area amoungst the pods in the woods and go about dinner, fire and marshmallows, Lego set building, it was all very damp!
🔺s = 22 inc another super special! | Total = 503
87km forwards | 910m of up
DAY 15: Day off – to Windermere
It’s still raining on and off. We head down to the camp cafe in a teepee for breakfast. Welcome baps and hot drinks without the hassle of cooking in the wet. We arrived late last night so hadn’t really checked in properly. The proprieter tells us there is a storm on the way tonight, lots of people had left and there was a spare pod at a discount rate if we wanted. I jumped on the chance. At least I could dry the tent out and other items during the day. After breakfast me and R go about packing up and moving to the pod, even higher up in the woods. It takes a while but once we’re done we hop in the shower ready for our day off; which would still involve a bit of riding as we were on the otherside of a hill and the lake to Windermere.
I’m thinking of dinner later so book a table at The Eagle’s Head in Satterthwaite as we pass before climbing up through Grizedale Forest and whizzing down to Hawkshead. We follow the NCN to Wray Castle to catch the bike ferry, but not for long; unless you are on an MTB and perpared to stop every 200m to open a gate don’t bother! At the castle I pop into reception to ask where the bike boat leaves from as there are no signs about, we get instructed down to the Boat House jetty where we wait and queue with others. Luckily not for too long as once it arrives and we’re about to board the crew member says “no bikes”. Huh? The bike boat is further down the lake, I ask the best way to get there and we’re directed to follow the path on the left. That didn’t end well, R is thrown from his bike and tears ensue and anger mounts; it was actually a footpath, up and down with rocks and roots. He isn’t hurt but can become frustrated with himself which is transfered to others, mainly me. I give him a big cuddle and hold him tight as he squirms for a few minutes. We push the bikes till back on the proper path to the Bark Barn landing for the bike boat; thanks Wray Castle staff and ferry crew for the practical advice, not!
After that fiasco we arrive on the other side of the lake nearing 15:00, much later than expected so we race to Windermere. R is excited as we’re meeting Grandpa Pom off the train, he’ll be joining us for the next few days. Quick break in the town and we head back for the last ferry.
The two young chaps that crew this boat are great. On the way over they hooted the horn and told us how deep the lake was; 67m at its max – I just asked R if he remembered as I wrote this, he got it bang on before I wikied to check. On the way back I notice one of them was zeroing the day’s count by clicking all the way though the numbers rather than press the zero button. As we disembark he spots our Lego stickers and we chat about Chester Cathedral. He likes designing vehicles in Lego Digital Designer then building them; R builds cities. As he talked he would close his eyes. R asks why. I suggest he is clearing his mind the way R uses his ear defenders sometimes when it is too noisy, the chap smiles at me and says “exactly!”
Back we go. An easier route to the road than the way we came but still up and over the hill in Grizedale Forest; Grandpa Pom is off walking, R joins him to show solidarity. We arrive at The Eagle’s Head 45mins after our booked table. There is no space and are told there is now an hours wait for another. We opt to sit outside in the cool evening air as we will be served straight away and order their ‘pie special’. What an utter rip off! £13 each for a frozen shop pie with frozen peas, shop oven chips and gravy with as much substance as powder mixed in hot water…
***It looks like they’re under new management now so hopefully will have upped their game.
We waste no more money here and head back to the campsite. Loose Grandpa Pom for a bit as he hunts for wood, then R as he goes looking for him! Get a fire going and toast marshmallows before bed.
It rained that night, a lot!
🔺s = 0, well a few but they’d be on tomorrows route | Total = 481
41km forwards and back | 750m of up
Stage: 505km | 4920m
Adventure: 914km | 9400m
Early on I noticed that Red the Rocket, as he is now called but I’ll refer to as R for ease, was exceptional on his bike. Perhaps as I liked the long distance stuff I egged him on. He didn’t mind as long as cake or Marmite crisps were involved!
Around the beginning of 2017 I thought it’d be wonderful to do Land’s End to John o’Groats (LEJOG) with him. We’d been on several short cycle camping trips as we call them and R loved them. Like I said, I thought, no more than that, something for the future.
Then in July 2017 a lady from the US kipped on our floor. She was staying to do one of my events to keep an award going; the Plains, Trains & no more Automobiles 209km audax. She was over in the UK to do the London Edinburgh London 1400km audax a few weeks later which I was also taking part in. In the meantime, to while away the time, she was also doing LEJOG. R picked up on this and came to me in my office under the stairs to ask what it was. I showed him on my map of the world behind me (I love maps), and he asked if we could do it. I rubbed my hands together. The seed was sown!
Route planning began early. I wanted to come up with an interesting but sympathetic on the legs as possible route. Cornwall and Devon were the hardest bits. Many people think the Highlands is going to be the killer but actually it is the beginning with it’s short, sharp, steep ascents. I came up with a route that was as interesting, quiet, and low on the SSS ascents as possible. It still had some of the latter but the plan was to do short days to start. I fettled this route right up to the last moment.
R was rapidly growing out of his bike. I didn’t have a bike that was suitable without brazing new bits on, new components as they were worn, etc. So I decided to add an extra dimension to the adventure; build Bamboo Bikes, on the kitchen table of course!
Also I have future ideas so who better to test those DIY skills on than yourself and your son?
Everything was coming together, mainly in the last week or two, before our Grand Depart. We were going to travel heavy and unsupported using campsites or quiet spots for wildcamping (see header picture, wind was pretty noisy though), plus a few stops at family, home and with Warmshowers hosts.
It’s Friday, it’s an inset day for R, we begin the day with the usual stuff like making road templates that match Lego ones so we can paint the floor with a big city layout. We then poke our heads in the fridge and decide what we’re going to need for tomorrow’s ride.
Left over pasta ✔
Egg mayo sandwiches – need eggs
Snack bars ✔✔✔
So we head off, on our bikes of course, and stock up along with a few other household essentials. On return egg mayo is made ready for the morning.
Play date in the afternoon. A few of the bars disappear, a den is made and bunnies arranged. Then the changing of the guard occurs. I do a little further planning whilst R and friend head off in the heat to the park with mummy.
Saturday’s event, being an Audax, is open to interpretation; that being there are nominated controls/checkpoints that must be visited but even though there is a suggested route it is advisory. This would be R’s biggest solo to date so I shave off a few kms here and there (mainly near the start) and chose the odd ‘faster’ section avoiding bumpier lanes. Nothing drastic, just something to give R a better chance especially with the lumpy section around Pensford. Happy with it I send the route to my phone.
Saturday morning we’re up early. Coffee and toast for me. Pasta and pesto for R. Make sandwiches and pack bag. Water bottles filled. Bikes loaded onto van and we head off to Cleeve Rugby Club for the start of The Avon Cycleway 130km organised by Rob Baird of Audax Club Bristol (ACB); a resurrected event circumnavigating Bristol on NCN Route 410. We arrive a little earlier than everyone else but Bairdy is there to hand us our cards which I swap for the ACB finish stamp.
There’s a steady breeze from the NE which stays with us all day, a headwind to start. Light cloud cover cools the way so rain jackets are on; we must have acclimatised to this heatwave as at any other time we’d have been roasting! Deviating through Chipping Sodbury we stop for 2nd breakfast. Across open commons into the headwind collecting the info answer at Horton we turn west for the leg through Wetmoor Wood, Wickwar & Thornbury. Tailwind now and the clouds are burning off. R eats another sandwich on the go and inhales a snack bar, rain jackets stowed and we cruise along Route 410.
With our early start and deviation the first few riders pass at Wickwar. Shortly after Thornbury Mark rolls along side. R hops on the front and Mark & I suck his wheel. We discuss upcoming events for next season now I can organise up to 600km. Mark, like me, likes hills! We all roll into the Littleton upon Severn village hall control together. R gets his card stamped by Luke & Steve, has some jelly sweets from inside the hall; the only non chocolate item, R doesn’t do chocolate, a parents’ dream. Then tucks into another sandwich as I have a strong (decaf) coffee……
Up until now the ride, whilst fantastic, hasn’t scored high on R’s 🔺 tally. After crossing the M5 Avonmouth bridge to Pill things begin to change. R has an eye for triangular manhole covers and can spot them from a mile off or lurking out of sight.
Several hexagons were also spotted which is a bonus. The lane from Portbury to Clevedon is usually quiet but today we were plagued by cars. Perhaps as the M5 on the hillside above us was slithering at a snail’s pace. Drivers would passively agressively edge past in their quest to reach their destination, usually to meet another driver coming the other way. Stop start it was till they conceded our pace was actually quicker, ‘aggressiveness’ subsided and they passively towed the line. Scarlett’s in Clevedon was quickly approaching. R needed refuelling and had been popping dates for the past hour. One hill to the seafront left to contend with. And an angry driver! Beeping, passing, then stopping immediately in front of us. Tirade about highway code, single file, dangerous etc. I explained I was an NSI cycle instructor and knew all about correct road position and my decision to ride 2 abreast with my son at that point, also that he should go and check the HC he scanned 40yrs ago to pass his licence; giving him permission to drive a vehicle on the highway…..
The eyes of a cornered animal glared at me as his lips began to curl. I suggested he move on as he was obstructing the road and putting us in danger. Off he shot only to slam his brakes on again. Half a dozen cars were now queued up behind beeping horns, a local resident was marching over. The angry driver reluctantly accepted defeat and sped off. The rest of the day was driver contention free.
In general during my time riding with R, teaching him the best riding position etc motorists have been extremely accommodating. There have been occasions where a car of youths has screamed past shouting encouragement from an open window whilst giving loads of space. It is few and far between that any issues arise; usually in the sticks where a driver really can’t comprehend why I would be protecting my son’s space when it would be unsafe for a vehicle to pass as another approaches.
We arrive at Scarlett’s. R gets to do the stamping of some cards aided by the 2 flamingoes: Telbert & Jon.
Lunch is ordered. I hear screams from outside and see R chasing Daniel round with an inflatable flamingo. Flamingoes are invading our space. I challenge any one of you to go a day without spotting one!
It’s gone 2.30 by now and it is hot. R wants to go to the beach and DNF (did not finish). I suggest we come another time with mummy. “Not in the van. Mummy needs to do some training for our cycle camping” pipes R. Many long distance cyclists not only have to fight the physical aspect of the ride but also the mental; I certainly do. I break down what is ahead for R:
50km to go – a medium ride at any other time and about 20km further than just getting home
One long big hill and one steep one, with several others of inbetween status
Ultimately it’s R’s choice to finish the route or head home. I have confidence in my boy. Home is the same way as the route so I apply another layer of suncream and we say good bye to the 2 flamingoes and ACB president Paul. Everyone else has now left with just one still to make it to the control. We hit the headwind again heading over Kenn Moor so I gently apply a hand until we are sheltered by hedges. We get to the junction; onwards to home or right for the route, I explain the long hill is not far away. R spots another 🔺 and one in the distance. The decision is made!
Soon we have climbed Brockley Coombe and are weaving our way through lanes to and beyond Chew Lake where the second info is. It is really hot.
R enjoys a good squirt of water. We soak in the ford at Chew Stoke as 🔺s galore unfold in front of us. 106km done, R surpasses his biggest solo ride to date. He is very proud of himself. I’m very proud of him too!
Under Pensford viaduct we pass [see header image]. The next section is probably the toughest with a few short sharp climbs in succession. We stop at Publow church by the Chew to use their tap to fill up our bottles. A water fight ensues and we are both dripping, laughing and a lot cooler! The final climb ramps up round a corner. The first time I rode it I got off and walked. R just kept on going, it’s got to be his gear ratio of course……
A lovely downhill follows to Saltford, the Mecca of 🔺s….
….and final control The Bird in Hand. A favourite of ours as they always have a supply of Marmite crisps; R ate my packet too! A quick stop and chat to Reg & Brian whereupon the final rider Nigel on his recumbent also arrives. We train it altogether along the Bristol to Bath Railway Path back to the Arrivée.
All in all a great day. Thanks to Bairdy and all my fellow ACB members for making it a wonderful memory. R is proud of himself and I exude the stuff amazed at what the limpet can achieve. R ranks the ride as ‘good’ as after a slow start we finished on exactly 1🔺/km. 134 in total. ‘Good’ in R terms is excellent.
On arriving home R nails dinner and we put the tent up in the garden. We make the decision that he can stay up late and we’ll all go watch the new railway bridge span at Stapleton Road station being manoeuvred into place at 10pm. On arrival we’re told it’d be more like 11 so mummy went home and we stayed.
By midnight they were running late and the day had caught up with R as it had with me. I bimbled home with R on shoulders then slumped into the tent together, sparko in seconds.