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
Saturday 4th August and we are up early. Half the kit was packed the other half spread out on the living room floor. I knew where it was all going and quickly stuffed it in the relevant panniers and bags. Collected up the last few bits and bobs we’d need and loaded up the bikes.
Bikes ready we scoff our breakfast, fill our bottles and say our good byes to Mummy. This was going to be hard on Mummy and it was only the first leg so we’d be home, all going well, in a week. She put a brave face on, took photos, dished out the cuddles and waved us on our way to the train station.
08:15 train from Temple Meads, arriving in Penzance 12:35. Over four hours to while away. Connect Four begins: Daddy 2-1 Red. No more playing, R gets the hump. I play to win. Harsh? May be but read the rest of the adventure. I also point stratergy things out to R as I’m playing. R keeps a vigil on the roads out the window as we pass through villages, towns and citys; the 🔺 #drainspotting tally has begun and will continue throughout the adventure, not to mention a few other shapes not commonly seen.
Suddenly a head pops up from under the seats.
R is a little bemused but soon enjoying the company. She’s off to St. Ives for the day with her Mum and sister, luckily the clouds are clearing the further south west we go. One more stop after Hayle where they alight and we are there, the beginning of the prelude, Penzance!
We head off through the streets, first things first I needed to go to the hospital! In making the bamboo bikes I threw a Stanley knife at my thumb (more details in the bike post when its done), it required stitches and I hadn’t had the chance to have them out. On arrival I was told to expect a 2-3hr wait, I asked for some tweezers and a scalpel for some DIY, I was quickly seen and soon we were off, proper job!
Negotiating our way to Land’s End R was struggling with his bike due to the custom design’s geometry not being ideal (again bike post when done) and this being the first real test of the bike. He was finding it difficult when coming to a stop, I’d have to grab him and give him a bump start. His rack setup also put the panniers high and wide adding to the instability. We had a few steep toughies to contend with, this added to R’s troubles and there were a couple of spectacular dismounts at slow speed. I knew there’d be more to come over the following days in Cornwall & Devon.
Having arrived at Land’s End we made our way to the finger post. It makes a good income for the owners now with you having to pay for photos within the fenced area; cash only, I had £2.45 in my pocket so we resided to photos on the other side. Later that evening I was dismayed to realise I had ample change in my pencil case that I was keeping the important stuff and the adventure’s receipts in 🙁
We don’t stay long, all a bit commercial with arcade plazas, food stalls and the likes. 15:30 and we begin the trek to the other end!
But whilst we’re here what kid doesn’t like the beach? Via Sennen Cove it is for a couple of hours building dams, making lakes, destroying dams, building more, adding sand castles, more destroying, repeat! I do manage a few minutes of respite but enjoy the building too; leaving the destruction to one more qualified…….
For the first night we’d be staying at a regular haunt of ours, St Just’s Rugby Club. Before arriving we stop in the town for a pub dinner then make our way down, I pop my head in the club house to pay our dues for the night and we make our way to the other side of the field to pitch our tent. R got stuck in putting the poles together and sticking in the pegs ready for me to finish off; this was the modus operandi for the rest of the adventure.
It’s getting late, the rooks are hopping from tree canopies to power lines then swooping over head producing a cacophony of squawks. Not content with the day’s ride R wants to do a night ride to test his lights…. ….and go find some more 🔺s! I happily oblige. R has with him a nature I spy book, collecting points for everything from trees, to rock formations to butterflies. After the little extra excursion we tick off the common pipistrelle bat; whilst almost impossible to identify a shadow in the dark they are the most common and the area matches their habitat range. I tuck R in, he is soon asleep, I make my way to the club house for a pint!
🔺s = 29 35km forwards and round and about | 570m of up
DAY 2: St. Just – St. Day
Blue skies. Noodles for breakfast, they become a staple. Quick shower. I take a few minutes to address R’s panniers. I’d stuffed my top bag in at the last minute just in case, transfer the bulk of his clothes over and rejig my panniers. I stripped out most of the weight but the draw back was R had to take the sleeping matts on top of his rack so couldn’t swing his leg over at all now. A not ideal compromise but better. We have some good friends in St. Just who we thought we weren’t going to get to see, lucky for us CKM&F got back from holiday early so we head up in to town to see them, saying good bye to the RFC. Coffee consumed RM&F settle down to a couple of hours playing. The adults chat about the usual things; the world of Beatrix Potter vs Hill Top cottage, moving kitchen cabinets, bikes, knocking down false walls, maps, festivals, an out of action ferry in The Lakes which luckily I found out about during planning as it was going to be our route across Windermere, etc etc. It’s getting on so I extract R and we say our goodbyes, promising to sort a proper visit out soon; I must sort the campervan interior out!
Back to Penzance we go, no messing we main road it over the Penwith Peninsula straight in and back to the station to pick up the coastal cycle route along to Marazion. Stopping to have lunch perched on the sea defence rocks with St Michael’s Mount in the distance we bask in the sun. A cheeky 🔺 is spotted on the path. A quick paddle by the mount. Then inland we head to find a spot to camp. Aiming for St. Day RFC this time, not official but tucked out the way wild camping. We stop en route late afternoon and climb up to an open reservior’s edge; swallows and swifts skim the surface, the way we came being spread out behind us having gradually climbed from the coast. We continue on passing through Redruth to St. Day in the warmth of the late afternoon. I’m being lazy and decide to go for a pub dinner again stopping at The Star, very much in Vogue just before the village. It has swings which is a bonus, and a large field out back. After enquiries we’re camping there for the night for free, less dinner and a couple of pints once R is asleep; that is after we chat to Mummy and explore the village, well I thought it was a village but R rightly points out it has a market place and sure enough it used to be the thriving prosperous district town when the mines were at their height!
🔺s = 22 | Total = 51 48km forwards | 630m of up
DAY 3: Vogue, St. Day – somewhere on the Camel Trail
More noodles! Take it as given that it is noodles for breakfast every morning we are camping unless otherwise stated. Packed up and ready to go we set off to Truro our first port of call for the day. Today is a longer day, later the climbs a bit easier but to start we are off a couple of times in the first half hour to push the steep corners; again R struggles to find his footing. We then run between watersheds before joining the National Cycle Network into the city. Grumble time; I do wonder sometimes how parts of the cycle network are selected, on paper this narrow lane would look like the ideal quiet route in between larger roads. It turns out to be rat run particularily for delivery vans. Negotiating a couple of short steep climbs with big banks either side and a van up your arse with one waiting ahead is annoying for all parties involved!
Truro and pasty time. R notices a few 🔺s and looking round rightly notes that he spotted them out of the window of the train – #superbrain & #innermap!
After we claw our way out of the centre up another hill we stop for a quick swing sesh, then on. Talking about our route before hand, another Audax Club Bristol (ACB) member noted we’d be using a Time Trial route up to Indian Queens. Must be conducive for that type of riding as suddenly R drops down into his aero position and smashes it; drying my shirt that little bit more in the process!
🔺s. Not as ubiquitous as squares, rectangles or circles. But there are several types; the standard having flattened corners for the hinges but with several pattern types atop. We are in Fraddon and suddenly R is shouting and pulling over. We stow our bikes against a wall and cross the road. One happy chappy!
Just up the road we spot a special but the camera says no, maybe you’ll be indulged with one of those later 😉
Ever since reading R the Peter Rabbit books Old Brown has induced lots of owl queries. Several had been brought into school by a local conservation sanctuary. On other cycle camping trips we’ve heard them in the woods. I knew The Screech Owl Sanctuary was on the edge of Goss Moor and we would be passing it so as a suprise we stop off for a couple of hours to look round. R tentatively gave a little hawk owl a stroke which we then got to see later in an aerial display. Named a hawk owl as they hunt their prey on the wing rather than capturing on the ground. Quite amazing its skills; abandoned by its mother after 6hrs it was raised by hand at the centre, it taught the handlers a thing or two as they realised after it wouldn’t take food from the glove but small birds above the centre that they’d have to adapt. On launching its food high in the air it settled for this easy option rather than dismembering the local bird life in front of unsuspecting visitors. Ingrained natural instinct at work!
Crossing Goss Moor on the now closed old A30 and on to Victoria we have a lovely long descent to the Camel Trail; a popular shared path on an old railway line. Again time is getting on so we go for a pub dinner once more, to top it off it also has a play area so R is happy. I leave him too it and enjoy the afternoon sun. Occasionally, especially with new people, R struggles with social situations and things can become overwhelming. I’ve always got one eye on him hoping he finds the means to get through it himself. All good. Dinner munched. Back he goes to the park as I imbibe the last of my beer. The kids are collecting fallen apples and launching them down the slide creating a massive applefall. I hear a siren, high pitched and piercing. R make’s a great siren, it cuts through the skull, it also tells me things are too much so I beckon him over to finish his drink and we set off. Back to the Camel Trail to look for a spot to wild camp, after a couple of false starts we find a great place next to the river with a couple of picnic tables. We set up camp and tuck in for the night. As we’ll be in The Lakes later I’ve borrowed Swallows and Amazons from another ACB mate so begin the tale as R snuggles up against me for the night.
🔺s = 29 (inc the teeny) | Total = 80 66km forward | 665m of up
DAY 4: nr Wenford Bridge – Lifton
Finishing off the Camel Trail we climb the western edge of Bodmin Moor. Stopping first half way up for another swing sesh; its amazing how 15mins on the swings revitalises R. We continue our appraisal of swing facilities for the length of Britain!
Second stop after the big climb and it is elevenses, with pasty in hand we settle into a very large deckchair.
All fueled we head on around the edge of the moor crossing an old airfield before another long run down to Launceston through the wooded valley of the river Kensey, home of a narrow gauge steam railway. We get to the station in the centre of the town just as the train departs; fiddlesticks! It’s another hour till the next one which is the last so no option to alight at the half way adventure park which I don’t mention to avoid disappointment. We have some afternoon tea from the old waiting room then set about looking around the station and its outhouses with classic cars, motorbikes, an old Royal Mail underground train and other odities.
The last train isn’t busy and we settle back into the open air carriage for the 40min round trip. Watching the valley we’d just ridden down pass us by to the clickety clack of the track below. This was once part of London & South Western Railway’s Atlantic Coast Express route to Padstow.
The final part of the day’s ride sees us pass over the Tamar and into Devon. We’d be wild camping again tonight and I’d found a village recreational ground with en suite swings in Lifton. At dusk we tick off Canadian Geese from the I spy book; twice as first they went one way then an hour later just as R was nodding off they went the other; he scrambled over me and out of the tent to watch their distictive formation make a vee-line for the horizon…..
🔺s = 17 | Total = 97 49km forwards | 635m of up
Day 5: Lifton – Newton St. Cyres
The road out of Lifton is the old A30. Easy, not very busy but boring old main road. We turn off and head to Lydford through quiet wooded lanes. It’s overcast and there is the odd shower. Arriving in the village we stop at the pub for crisps, coffee for me and lime & soda for R. We look around the castle next door and have an early lunch on its banks.
We head on and pick up The Granite Way, another old rail trail, skirting aound Dartmoor. Clouds darken (see header photo) and race overhead pushed by the stiff south westerly breeze. We stop atop Lake Viaduct, admire the view, ogle the map and eat another roll.
The sun is still glinting through as we continue on with heavy rain seen lashing it down on distant hills to the north. Soon a grey, almost black, heavily laden monster of a cloud catches us up. The heavens open and we quickly don our jackets. It is belting it down, no point hanging around we grin and bear it pushing on, no chance to stop at Maldon Viaduct, whizzing past the eerie train carriage graveyard at the adjacent quarry, into Oakhampton where we find some indoor cover (pub). Others however had different ideas, families out with little provision for the weather huddle under bridges waiting it out, it was going to be a long wait as it was atleast a half hour indoors before it finally subsided. Chancing our luck we leave using the old A30 again to get to Whiddon Down; a little busy until we pass the new A30’s Oakhampton junction then quiet, our luck hadn’t lasted long and again it was pouring down. As we pass over the new A30 the relentless splatter of raindrops ceases just as we begin another joyous long descent towards Crediton; we avoid it heading to the south to our destination. Newton St. Cyres and a proper bed at Aunty M & Uncle W’s cottage nestled away off the beaten track. They have a trampoline covered in green, and a fiery Fallow who R entertains for the evening.
🔺s = 26 | Total = 123 68km forwards | 975m of up
DAY 6: Day off in the woods and across fields
Proper bed! I lie in but R is up early and downstairs in the garden on the trampoline jumping to his heart’s content. Where does he get the energy from? For me travelling at the slower speed than normal is actually quite exhausting!
Once up and breakfast is done R and I set about giving the trampoline covered in green a good scrub. Judging by the size of some of the lichens there is a few good years growth on it. It comes off easily and M&W book us in for a refresh next year 😉
We mosey about, on and off I join R on the trampoline, if we don’t hold hands we make a static spark with a good pop when we touch each other or the frame. Reminds me of the old cricket nets at school; astro turf and polyester socks, if you grabbed hands the one at the end would get a big jolt! Anyway as we bounce we pick apples from the brimming tree behind. Big succulent sweetly tasting ones. R says they’re much better than shop ones and he is spot on. We take a few with us when we leave tomorrow. I gain access to W’s hacksaw and set about fettling R’s front mudguard reducing the toe-overlap; another of the custom design’s cock ups….
In the afternoon we go for a wonder down to the stream, back through the woods and across some fields. It’s relaxing just wandering not having to think about getting somewhere, what we were going to do for food, having to put up a tent etc.
Late afternoon we head into Crediton with W to grab supplies (thinking again) for the following day and provisions for the evening; food, beer and wine. It doesn’t take long and pizza is ready shortly after we get back. Between the trampolining and everything else R has been designing a cityscape with M in the sitting room over several sheets of paper all stuck together, he continues after dinner before I persuade him it’s bed time. We need a good sleep ready for our big day tomorrow….
DAY 7: Newton St. Cyres – Home, Bristol
Before we started I talked through the route with R. The beginning through Cornwall & Devon were going to be tough days but shorter in distance than mainly planned later. One option was to spend a night at M&W’s then do a two day leg back home. The other, more bold, was what R decided upon; day off then go for 150km back. I’d picked out a route minimising hills and using quite a few lengths of canal paths, it did however have Cheddar Gorge and the last blip into Bristol at the end both of which R had done before. We agreed we’d stop at The White Hart in Cheddar to gorge on pizza for dinner! His longest ride to date had been 134kms and he’d been full of beans at the end so I thought 150km was within his grasp.
We’re up early. I begin packing, R goes trampolining. The morning ebbs away. After 2hrs of almost continual bouncing I convince R it is time to leave. Hugs and kisses all-round we leave M&W’s and begin. First we have a quick stop in the village; you remember the special 🔺 I mentioned before? Well we knew there were 2 so we get a quick photo of 1. Perfect equilateral with rounded corners and concentric patterning. R spots a normal that we hadn’t noticed previously.
The beginning of the ride sees a little bit of climbing as we make our way to Wellington. Showers on and off. 🔺s here and there. Coming into Halberton we spot another special, “and another one, and another one” shouts R as we roll across them. 15 specials in one village, a record! We pick up the first of the canal paths.
Whilst flat they are a bit bumpy and slow us down; however knowing the landscape around us it is probably still quicker. We stop for lunch under a big tree on the lawn of an old church now Wellington art centre. Soon after we are done, with most of the hills behind us we get to Taunton. Again another canal path, this time a very long stretch into Bridgwater; in hindsight I should have sacked it off and found some roads as the surface was eating into our average speed. The time ticks by, it is looking like a late finish. I start thinking perhaps we will need to camp somewhere after all. There aren’t many sites en route, one at Cheddar. It is early evening and we get onto the Somerset Levels.
The flat is easier but the westerly wind is strong. Mainly riding with it beside us it is just an inconvenience, I lend R a hand on the odd occasion we turn head on into its full force. The showers stopped hours ago and the sun blazes with fluffy clouds racing in the fading light. 20:15 we are stowing our bikes outside the pub and go about ordering pizza, twice in 2 days :D. We discuss what to do. R says he is back to 100% and feeling awake. I’m thinking ‘can we find a wild camping spot on top of The Mendips?’ Having chatted to a group of bikers about the bamboo bikes they wish us luck as we depart, it’s about 21:45 as we begin the gorge in the dark!
Music on to give us a beat to ride to. The boy racers are out spinning cars in the car parks adorning the side of the road. Every so often a few would race pass, having waited till it was safe to do so, giving plenty of room and cheering R on! For those that haven’t done Cheddar Gorge it is an iconic climb; slowly building up to a couple of steep corners at about 20-25% (which this time we push) flanked by sheer rock faces before leveling out. Here’s a pic at the steepest section in daylight from another time.
As we speed up R tells me his energy is going up; by the top he is at 15000%! We’re moving quickly now over the top, the glow of Bristol on the horizon. I’m worried about the steep descent on the otherside in the dark but R assures me he is wide awake; his brain is quiet and he is focusing. Love him!
We pass Chew Lake in the silence of the night. I continually ask him if his brain is tired? Can he see ok? Having done many multiday rides involving riding through the night I know the markers to look out for. He is on the ball, he is picking out 🔺s and keeping the tally. Not far now but we have slowed, we pass through Chew Magna and begin the final climb. We are crawling now. Norton Hawkfield and I ask R his levels; 50% and dropping fast. I call Mummy, they have a chat, I request the van. Midnight is fast approaching. We make our way to Whitchurch on the outskirts of Bristol. We sit under a lamppost and wait, R is still happily chatting away. I should have curtailed the trampolining in the morning sooner. He want’s to give a 150km ago another time, I agree, but not after several days through Cornwall & Devon would probably help! The lights of the camper loom, big cuddles from Mummy I load the bikes and we head home for bed ready for the Birthday Weekend. However Red the Rocket is again full of beans and duvet diving doesn’t happen immediately!
🔺s = 148 including 20 special | Total = 271 143km forward! | 1005m of up Stage: 409km | 4480m
DAYS 8 & 9: Birthday Weekend
A family affair. PIZZAAAAAA! Thrice in 3. I’ll leave it there!
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.