Hot on the heels of the first Bamboo Bike post comes this short one for Bamboo MK2.
Design & Build
Using RattleCAD I resigned R’s frame. Using the replacement kit I set about building. This time however I used a less sticky messy method to form the ‘lugs’. I got the idea from Calfee Design’s DIY kits. I used pre-impregnated casting tape. It hardens on exposure to water. You can dip it and squeeze or wrap it on ‘dry’ and allow the moisture in the air to harden it; I tried both methods, they both work equally as well. From my initial experience I’ll go with dry in future but then wet my gloved hands half way through as the epoxy begins to get sticky. You have about 5 minutes to work the roll of tape before it goes off.
I then sanded down the lugs to remove the odd fold of tape or where necessary simply cut any excess off with a Stanley.
Calfee then used body filler for any voids and prepare for painting. I however used the epoxy from the kit. I’d bought red tape but on curing this went a day glow pink. Not what R was after. So I purchased an epoxy colour – signal red. Wow! The colour was great and the advantage of using epoxy over just a filler was it soaked into the interstitial spaces of the tape weave which I expect has made it stronger overall . Final coat covered most of the tape texture. I grabbed the clear coat spray and gave it several layers, then realising it was satin not gloss so it took a little of the vibrant red edge off.
Finish & Ride
With no time to get some gloss clear coat (shops had closed) I dismantled the original MK1 and transferred it all over to Bamboo MK2. New cables done and it was ready!
The following day R tried it out on the Randonneé 100km Brevet Populaire organised by Audax Club Bristol member Izzy.
Verdict: “it’s really good, I really love the red!”
Observations: no toe overlap so more confidence on the hills; lower BB so R is on and off with ease and not teetering when stopping.
Just need to get my old rack modded by the welder down the road and we are good to go for the summer!
What cyclists doesn’t yearn for n+1? Bamboo MK2 was created to solve the issues of the first; it is a tourer and general use bike. The internal hub gear is excellent for this but is like a brick! Plus I’ve probably over engineered the ‘lugs’ looking at other bamboo bikes. R wants to go further and faster. As such I’ve started designing ‘The Red Rocket’. Wheels are built; with a little help 😀
Carbon forks acquired. I’ll use an old 105 11s cassette I have that has seen only slight use. Cranks will be from MK1 as I purchased the next length up for MK2. Carbon seat post from a bike a rarely use any more. I have just enough bamboo from the previous kits left over, these err on the small and light side which is why I didn’t use for the tourers but will be perfect for a racer. I intend to reuse the dropouts & BB shell from the MK1 if I can cut them out of the epoxy.
10s cassette £20.99 – Tiagra 11-32 (depending if a 10s RD is donated)
11s MTB to Road cable pull adjuster £29.99 – JTek Shiftmate 8 (depending if an 11s Road RD is donated)
And this is where I’m on a begging mission. I’d prefer not to do this as there are people out there with much more worthy causes and needs. But at the moment due to changes in life circumstances I’m unable to fuel my son’s passion further. So should you think that this is a worthy cause I’ve created a pool for people to chip in.
All parts can be reused as I intend to upsize with bamboo frames as R grows requiring just new rims and spokes for bigger wheels, cranks and handlebars. Any help towards parts, or donations of similar (please comment below), will be much appreciated.
A while back I’d come across Calfee Designs. Their bikes looked amazing! Then I plonked ‘bamboo bike’ into the Internet and let the cogs spin. They’d been around for ages and came in many shapes and sizes, adaptable to the application, most sensible but some crazy. I also had an idea for a green machine (still just an idea) and thought bamboo would be the ideal material because of its credentials.
From the search I also came across the Bamboo Bicycle Club (BBC); I wanted to go on one of their weekend courses but couldn’t find the time.
Then came LEJOG. Up to now I’d been using my 1984 Claud Butler Sierra. This was my first road bike and my workhorse. It was getting tired. It was worn out. And it wasn’t ideal for loaded touring as the frame had no fittings for racks it was a bit whippy. R was fast out growing his Islabike, a well proportioned steed for a kid’s geometry. So I decided to make bamboo ones to my spec. First I went about determining all the components I’d need. Then measured my bikes for reference and all R’s dimensions I thought would helpful: height, inside leg, effective leg length. He was growing quick so allowed some growing space for the future, from this I determined his crank length.
I got hold of the BBC and ordered 2x home kits with custom design having given every dimension I could think of: the components, the purpose of the bikes (tourers) and all the extra add ons.
Then I waited.
I go about ordering. The first wave arrived, the running gear; rims and hubs. Alfine 11 and Shimano dynamo for me with 622ERD (700c) rims. Nexus 8 hub and 507ERD (24″) rims for R. I also sourced a rollerbrake for him but quickly realised this was unsuitable so upgraded to an Alfine 8 hub for discs. This was tricky as it needed to be 32 spoke holes to match the limited supply of available rims of decent quality in that size; eventually finding a great price from an obscure online German shop with the aid of translation. I also had an old Shimano Deore XT disc hub for the front which needed a new axle and bearing cones. With all components in hand I went about measuring and ordering the spokes from Ryan Builds Wheels and picked them up a few days later from his new workshop.
I’d spent a long time planning the wheels. Both mine & R’s would use an internal hub gear (IHG) for the ease, the ability to change gear whilst stationary would be incredibly useful especially for R as kids don’t always plan in advance when they stop, for me being able to do so whilst fully loaded seemed a no brainer. The rims I chose for mine also had a 3mm spoke hole offset, know as asymmetrical, this along with the dynamo for the front meant I could build my wheels with zero dish. This makes for strong wheels ideal for loaded touring. The spokes for each wheel would be the same length and at the same tension either side. R’s had to have some dish as like I said, quality rims at that size are hard to come by, and after scouring the Internet I could not find any offset. Anyway he wouldn’t have as much weight on his.
Once done I order most of the other parts and continued to wait for the bamboo. I gave them a call and they apologised for the delay. They said they had reservations about R’s design. I said he was a growing lad and with all the dimensions supplied it should be OK. In hindsight I should have asked for the design to check, but as they offer a custom design assumed they knew what they were doing, but more of that later.
Part pitfalls (R’s bike):
The light weight Schwalbe Kojak tyres I’d spec’d for had been discontinued in that size. Other options are heavy sods. I bite the bullet and get the last 2 I could find, they were now considerably more than last year being as rare as unicorn shit. I recently purchased another pair of old stock from ebay costing a third of one of them!
Cranks – kid specific short ones. Again the ones I was after had been discontinued and shot up in price. Internet search threw up a set at the original price from DCCycles but with no buy button. I give them a call. He checks with suppliers and can get a set and luckily honours the price even though he won’t make anything from it, diamond!
After another couple of weeks the kits arrived. I’ve got things to do now so don’t immediately make a start. In fact I don’t start until 3 weeks before our depart!
A0 design template
Bottom bracket shells
Seat post tube
‘Braze on’ screws
Glue, epoxy & hemp fibre sheet
2x bamboo beer to celebrate when finishing
The additional ‘braze on’ screws spec’d
What you need:
Large flat surface that holes could be drilled into for the jig
Disposable gloves for epoxy
Brown paper, masking and electrical tape
The Frame Build
Time to get in the workshop. Well I don’t have one, or a shed. So I repurposed the kitchen table.
I started on R’s first. Followed the instructions. About 15 minutes to sand a mitre apparently for a pole to fit. My arse! After hours of sanding I finally got the front triangle done after several days interspersed with collecting R from school, dinners, sorting events etc. and set about gluing it all into the jig. Now the rear triangle. I quickly realised our depart date of the beginning of the school holidays was going to be close so reschedule for the 3rd week (more details).
Any way I complete the first stage of R’s build involving everything in place and glued. Then comes the wrapping of epoxy soaked hemp strips. This was the messy stage. It was very warm so I had to work quick. 6hrs it took from start to finish with all after wrapping with electrical tape for the compression but then it was done ready for the final finish.
I was going to build bamboo forks as well but after the main frame wrapping discovered I just wouldn’t have the clearance for the front disc brake rotor so frantically sourced a fork. There aren’t that many that size suitable for discs with the right clearance for selected tyres and mudguards that weren’t the heavy MTB suspension type, two in fact; some stupidly priced aluminium ones with cheap squashed ‘dropouts’ for some obscure utility bike or some carbon MTB race ones, slightly cheaper but quality representative of price, so I quickly order and wait.
In the meantime I first give the BBC a call to ask for mitre sanding shortcuts. “Oh we use a tube cutter, we can post you one to borrow if you like?”
I do a preliminary assemble of R’s just piecing together the main components. It is looking like there will be some toe overlap; where with the pedal forward your toe catches on the wheel when turned; this is not ideal for a kid’s bike or touring. This combined to give a fairly short wheelbase (small turning circle normally found on a racer). And to top it all off the BB is looking way too high, not far off an adult’s bike. This will result in either R having his saddle too low for efficient pedalling (what you need on a tour) or at the correct height but not being able to put both tiptoes down when stopped (what you don’t need on any kid’s bike). I contact BBC, they haven’t taken into consideration all the components which I’d spec’d!
Back to mine, with the tube cutter in hand I start. A few hours and the main triangle is mitred, sanded and glued. I sort of lined up the Surly Long Trucker Disc fork I’d be using and mark an approximation of where the axle will be, then measure the wheel base and other dimensions as best I could. The wheel base is fractionally shorter than my Claud’s with the chainstays slightly longer; it’s looking like toe overlap again. I adjusted the rear triangle layout to put the dropouts further back along the apparent axle line; this wouldn’t affect any toe overlap but the longer the wheelbase the more flowing the turning; plus I would avoid any heel rub on the panniers without having to mount them behind the rear axle (this can lead to the front end lifting on hills). That mod done I complete the rear triangle and glue it all into place. One day to do, much quicker! Next day and it is wrapped. That was the hardest day as I chose probably the hottest of the year and the epoxy was beginning to go off in about 15 minutes instead of 25-30. Sticky!
That evening, 13 days before depart, I had an issue. Removing the frame from the jig I unwrapped the electrical tape. Then I had to remove bits of the jig plates. The wooden discs from the BB were well and truly stuck so I par them off with a Stanley knife. I inadvertently slip and throw the blade straight into my thumb. A neat cut. A few seconds later the blood comes. I know it is deep! Grabbing some toilet paper I make a wad and wrap it tight with electrical tape and head to A&E; on my bike of course, my 1953 Raleigh Sports as I’ve removed the tyres from the Claud to use on the bamboo.
Cycling through town with my hand on my head to keep it elevated, blood oozing out and down my face a car passes. I see the passenger staring out the window. Later I pull along side at some lights. “He has, he’s chopped his thumb off!” I hear as they pull away. Not quite but the amount of blood would certainly have given the impression. It’s Friday night. I expected a wait. 3hrs pass before I have it stitched. They’d need to be removed a week Friday, the day before our depart!
Next day I clean up the frames with one thumb bandaged up. Most would sand down the epoxy lugs for the final finish. I start but soon decide not to as the green credentials were at risk with epoxy dust flying everywhere so keep the raw look. Give the frames a spray over with clear coat to protect against the rain and hang to dry for a day.
Nearly all the odds and sods have arrived and I go about the proper assembly.
We do R’s first. With headset in place properly, everything tightened up, cranks, pedals and toeclips on the toe overlap on his is very apparent even without the mudguards fitted. I fit his rear rack. There aren’t many for 24″ wheels but I find one that is adjustable up to 700c wheel and disc specific. There is just a few days now before we depart. I didn’t need a disc specific rack as the callipers are below the rack mounting, this and the lack of space for the rack mount eyes puts the rack high and wide which we find out on the first part of our LEJOG adventure amplifies the poor design dimensions. I ditch the rack entirely once we get back to Bristol.
Then mine. It goes together well. Fitting the rear rack and mudguards was a faff due to much of the dropouts having cutouts ‘to save weight’ (the least of my problems). I settle on using mudguard brackets for a QR mount by drilling them to fit the rack bolt. Forks in place wheels fitted. I was right. Even though I’d specified all the components I had toe overlap too. I’d guessed that, so was using my old 35mm Marathon Plus tyres from my Claud, I’d returned the 40mm Marathon Plus Tour that I’d hoped to use.
I send an email to BBC expressing my disappointment about both of the custom designs hoping they’ll learn from it. My main point was the design template you are provided to lay the jig out with. It is self referencing with no datum. It needs to show intended forks and their rake, wheelbase, BB height etc. Being a custom design I think this is imperative. Digital mock ups to be provided before hand for checking would be ideal so any customer concerns can be raised. I was too trusting in their design credentials. So if you do fancy a Bamboo Bike and want a custom design be warned; see the designs, make sure the dimensions don’t just reference the frame but a datum that you can compare with your own bikes, check your specs have been incorporated etc etc.
The kit? I can’t fault it for what it is, some of the sundries were missing but posted on when available. Instructions were clearish, the mitre sanding was a little misleading. The jig did what was needed. The satisfaction of building something from scratch with just a few hand tools immense. The epoxy, well it’s epoxy, and I’m sure anyone who has worked with it knows it’s a sticky, filthy, but necessary, mess and does the job. The frames were light (mine slightly heavier than my 531 Claud) and stiff yet comfortable. Bamboo has a comparative tensile strength to steel weight for weight. Volume for volume it is less but as it is so much lighter the poles are thicker and thus comparative. Obviously they sound quite wooden when you knock the frame though.
The design? Well I’ve already mentioned my concerns regarding R’s BB and our toe overlap. Additionally I’d personally look at a larger front triangle on mine with a taller head tube.
And the build? I went for some high end stuff where needed like the IHGs, racks, forks, brakes etc for the parts doing the ‘work’ and cheaper for things like handlebars, seatposts (perhaps I should’ve spent a little more to save some woe on this one). As R grows and eventually needs a larger frame I’ll use the good parts and rebuild his wheels with larger rims; and front dynamo as he wants one of those for night riding.
Aesthetics? Whilst raw and unpainted they still look good and turn heads. I’m constantly having to chat with people. Quite a few don’t believe it until I tell them we’ve ridden the length of the UK on them fully loaded!
The follow up – the reason this post has taken time
After that email with advice for BBC we just got on with it. Did some 100km Brevet Populaire Audaxes, little trips, about town etc. R would ‘grow’ into his bike. But would he? Every time he grew, the saddle needed to go up too. Getting his tiptoes on the floor remained elusive.
We did a few days over to Pen y fan in the Autumn half term. He took a tumble on a steep hill because of toe overlap. Both our bikes’ mudguards got stuffed with leaf litter in minutes when using a canal path; as the clearance is set to virtually nothing it is nigh on impossible to effectively clear them. I’ve fashioned a tool now – I carry the end of a sturdy 12.7mm wide cable tie!
Every time he stopped he’d have to wobble from side to side over the saddle. Fine if you are messing about at home on an older sibling’s bike, but not every time you stop on your own bike when you are doing long distances. This continues. It isn’t safe. I adjust his saddle lower for about town at home as whilst it was spec’d as a touring bike it was also spec’d as his normal every day bike. However at a busy set of lights he gets his weight distribution wrong and goes the wrong way spilling onto the road next to me. This frame isn’t fit for purpose with the potential of being dangerous.
I contact BBC again seeking a replacement kit to rebuild. I send a load of photos as requested and wait to hear back. In the mean time he’s done his first 100 miler and ridden back from Snowdonia; both have their moments due to these identified problems. Still no reply after the latter. I give them a call, it rings out, later I get an email.
Basically James of BBC has replied explaining the whole frame is wrong because of the components I’ve used; I spec’d for a touring bike and used MTB parts! Well any one reading this with an ounce of bike knowledge is probably now intrigued. Firstly from the outset I’d spec’d all the parts, wheel & tyre size etc. Secondly the forks I’d selected mitigated to an extent the BB height problem had I used his recommendations. Thirdly 24″ road vs MTB wheelsets are comparable in size using a large rim small tyre vs a small rim large tyre respectively.
To me his email read as case closed and an abdication of responsibility response. I replied. I outlined everything and referenced the emails we had. Including the one where he admits he should have taken the time to check his BikeCAD calculations and apologises for the mistake. The next day I get another response. Apparently James’ finger waving was to open a discussion; I thought that had kind of been opened several months ago after our LEJOG adventure. He goes on to lay claim to helping 1000s of happy people build bamboo bikes, I don’t doubt that, but perhaps the customer service needs to be improved for when things do go wrong and responsibility for ones mistakes are humbly accepted rather than trying to blame someone else with ridiculous accusations. I call James and we have a chat to sort things out.
Outcome & Future
I’ve accepted another kit to rebuild R’s frame ready for this Summer’s expedition. Requesting the BikeCAD design to manipulate myself James tells me there was a break in and his computer stolen with all historic designs. So I redesign using RattleCAD, an opensource frame design program similar to BikeCAD.
I’ve also sourced a supplier of bamboo for future builds who are au fait with bike builds. I’m going to try a different wrapping technique. I’ve had a chance meeting with a metal working guy who collected a load of topsoil from me; he loved the bamboo and has love of bikes too so I’ll consult him for any lathe work. Found a local water jet company for future dropouts with the help of Chris an ACB member who was able to convert the dropouts from the replacement kit into CAD drawings. I’m now in the middle of building R’s MKII tourer frame, in amongst house renovations, once done I’ll build him a faster bike too when I have time – fork sourced and hoops are ready to go! Perhaps redo mine to get rid of my toe overlap and for a bigger frame? My old Claud is stripped awaiting for a complete overhaul requiring some tlc at Argos Cycles; but then again for the cost of that I might as well make a bamboo audax bike too. Then there is the green machine, it’s all in my head, I just need a workshop…
This is a quick write up of our microadventure up Scafell Pike during half term.
Having spent the weekend camping for a friend’s 40th near Llanthony Priory me and the boy Red headed to Abergavenny Sunday evening, did a spot of wild camping ready for an early train Monday morning.
Word searches and sudoku followed, Red Kite spotting, a change of train and then the mountains of The Lake District loomed; arriving in Windermere late afternoon.
No faffing we got some supplies and headed to Great Langdale campsite. Set up, I cooked as R played with the other kids; not quite as shy this time so he’s getting there. Scoffed food, went to the pub, came back and dived into bed ready for the morning.
I’d been enjoying that great British past time of checking the weather in the lead up. We were here for one thing only, we had one day to do it, it wasn’t looking good, fingers crossed!
Time for it. The last of Great Britain’s highest peaks. We’d gone about them in reverse starting with Ben Nevis last summer whilst doing LEJOG; then Snowdon at Easter now Scafell Pike. The weather was now looking OK but with heavy showers in the afternoon, the summit in and out of cloud. It’ll do, kitted up we set off, with plenty of bacon rolls!
I’ll skip the words, keep it brief and go straight to the photos…
The top, 978m up in the air, even though we started at about 100m above sea level there had been a fair bit of ups and downs from Rossett Pike to Esk Hause to the summit, all after the lovely glacial valley of Mickleden to begin. I offered to take a photo for a family, they returned the favour as we stood on the large stone platform at the top, but R was having none of it. I got a little cheeky one at the trig instead (see header photo).
Meh to the weather! We’d had a 10min hail shower nearing the top and that was it for the rest of the day. Cloud level was high. Views stunning with Scotland to the north, Wales (just) visible to the south and The Isle of Man to the west. Okay, I have to admit, I forgot about this island and told R it was Northern Ireland we could see with its highest peak Slieve Donard; DOH! Still, we’ll have some views of that another time, it’ll be the 5 of 5 Highest British Isle Peaks. But hold on, Snaefell on the Isle of Man, we’ll have to make it ‘of 6’!
Lunch in the shelter of the top. Then the descent. We retraced our steps over the rock fields to Esk Hause then took the ridge to Esk Pike and Bow Fell.
I have to say this ridge was probably more spectacular than the up with stunning views to the south, back to Scafell Pike and down Mickleden to the campsite. Every so often we’d hear the rush of a jet or two low level flying and spotting them in the distance. Then before Bow Fell the noise echoed up Mickleden; we watched as one lone jet rose up over Rossett Pike skimming the ground (well, almost) across Esk Hause not far away, before disappearing down Wasdale. A few minutes on Bow Fell soaking up the views with just one other person and we begun the final descent to the campsite.
What a wonderful day. But R admitted that one was the toughest of all 3 so far. The bare rock fields around the summit were hard going even for me. There were a couple of moments on the way up especially with the worry of a storm when sky darkened and the hail hit. 2 passing climbers gave R the extra encouragement and that was all that was needed.
To finish the day: food, more playing, more pub and to bed.
Rain! After a late start we pack and meander back slowly to Windermere off the beaten track that is the cycle route. Late afternoon train with 2 changes arriving back in Bristol at 20:00.
So 2 peaks left to conquer; Eire’s Carrauntoohil at 1038m and Northern Ireland’s Slieve Donard at 850m; plans are afoot, watch this space. Oh, and then there is the Isle of Man’s Snaefell at 621m; can we fit that in too?
This one had been in the ‘planning’ for a while, since we did a little excursion to Pen y Fan last Autumn half-term which I still have to write up. Easter holidays were late this year so it’d give a good chance of scaling Snowdon. Train tickets booked about 6 weeks before to Betws-y-Coed nestled on the eastern edge of Snowdonia National Park. A few return routes shaped; all had hills, no escaping it, #thisiswales! A campsite south of Snowdon was identified to tie in with the planned ascent on the Watkin Path; no other camping plans made just ideas, we’d see how it goes. Saying that, after R’s 100 miler I did log two distances of 100 & 150km with the regional DIYxGPX audax coordinator, just in case.
DAY 1: Bristol to Betws-y-Coed to Llyn Gwynant
A quick hop to Newport on the train, then the long slog to Llandudno Junction, then another short hop to Betws-y-Coed. Connect4 ensues, I still play to win but R fights back often forcing me to loose once all other options have been played out; 7-6 to me. Alighting the train at our last connection I ask a member of staff which platform for our change, a sharp inhalation of breath occurs. “Bus service, no bikes I’m afraid, it’s been advertised for the last 3 weeks, the track was washed away in the floods.” Well, I bought tickets before that, we have seat reservations for it, and no mention was made of it on the train from Newport otherwise we could have changed for Porthmadog instead. “Nothing I can do sir, you’ll have to make other arrangements.” Seriously? Me & R stare at him.
Outside we head to the bus replacement area, again the train rep there is “no bikes”, I look to the bus driver…
We spot repair works to the track just after Llanrwst as we travel up the Conwy Valley. Whole sections of embankment had gone!
We get to Betws-y-Coed before the train would have as there was no waiting for the connection. Last minute shopping. R needs some new waterproof trousers and I need a lighter for the stove; I get a fire stick so no worrying about wet flints any more. Then off we go. A short ride today with one long climb to Pen-y-Gwryd.
The road splits here climbing higher to Pen-y-Pass, a popular point at which to start the climb to Snowdon’s summit; we descend 300m to Llyn Gwynant campsite. Book in for 2 nights and pitch by the river. Plan was to go to Sygun Copper Mine this evening but by the time the tent is up we’d be close on time so I suggest Wednesday morning as we leave, no go is a go. So I cook up some noodles as an appetiser and wait for the site’s new Pizza Shed to open; winner!
In the mean time we have a little stroll on the other side of the river, spot birds of prey, bugs and butterflies, then wander round the site. There are groups of other kids here and there playing. R says he wants to play too so I tell him to go say hello. “I’m too shy Daddy.” He finds socialising with new faces difficult, I try and help him by giving hints as to what to do but he doesn’t have the courage. Back to the tent we go, R is close to tears, I’m crying inside understanding his struggles, I give him a big hug. We resort to Connect4 as we wait for the Pizza Shed to open.
Nooooooooo…. the member of staff at reception didn’t realise the site’s owners have diversified and Monday nights, as of now, is Pieminister night; shipped in from Bristol…
We’d been waiting for pizza, it’s too late to do any cooking, R is not amused and I have to cajole him with promise of pizza tomorrow.
The microwaved pies are all right, I paid the extra quid for mash, a golf ball scoop that had the texture of Smash, meh! I pass on my disdain the following night. The caterers agree, they are pizza people, the quantities for the pie stuff is set when they had their Pieminister training, even the mash, frozen peas and cheddar is shipped in.
A disappointing evening. I finish off the remaining chapters of ‘Voyage of the Dawn Treader’ then bed ready for tomorrow’s ascent of Snowdon.
🔺s = 19 21km forwards | 340m of up
DAY 2: Snowdon Sygun Copper Mine & Beddgelert
Up early I’m prepping for Snowdon. The forecast had actually been right for several days. Drizzle and cold. Still we were going to go for it hence the new waterproof trousers. Pasta & pesto for breakfast is whipped up, packet stuff we’d used a few times on our LEJOG & Pen y Fan trips. R tucks in then stops, “I don’t like it.” Huh? After to-ing and fro-ing it’s the sauce. I tell R that, and the other flavours, is all I have, he can’t climb Snowdon on an empty stomach. He tries again but wretches. I make up another flavour which he chooses; leek, cheese and ham, this was going to be lunch. I’d have to juggle the flavours for mine. He’s questioning himself as to why he doesn’t like the first and getting worked up asking over and over if we can climb Snowdon. Next flavour done and he tucks in, again a wretch, he doesn’t like this one either. It all escalates as I tell R we can’t climb today if he hasn’t eaten anything. Tears are flowing, R is asking himself over and over “why am I like this? why don’t I like it?”
Not a good evening, not a good morning!
I jump into the tent with him and give him a cuddle. My cogs are whirring. Plan B is forming.
“Do you want to go to the mine today? After we can go into Beddgelert and do some shopping, bacon rolls for breakfast tomorrow and climbing Snowdon? Anyhow the weather is supposed to be sunny tomorrow.”
Things begin to brighten, not the weather but R’s mood as Plan B is approved, it’ll mean another night here and one less day to get back. He has a few cereal bars and we get ready. I box the pasta for my dinner later.
A short ride to the mine, ‘donation’ extorted, hard hats on and in we go!
It’s about a 45 minute trip, starting at the bottom adit and popping out from the ‘Victoria Level’ adit, the most productive and named after HRH; there are 45m of workings further underground that are now flooded and over 125m above that aren’t accessible to the public. Commentary and noticeboards give the background. The mine was the last industrial workings in the Snowdonia region but one of the first in the world to use floatation to separate the ore; which is still the most popular method today.
Back down the path we go passing the panning area to hire a pan from reception. The panning area is a tank of silty sand laced with minerals, crystal flecks and gold (fool’s) that is replenished daily. We set about prospecting. You keep what you collect in the provided vial. This entertains for another half hour and gives me a sore back in the process of the process. We collect quite a lot and it is all shiny with some malachite, amethyst chippings, plenty of iron pyrite along with a mixture of other minerals. By the time we get home something has reacted with something and a black sludge has formed staining everything.
Lunch in the cafe. Swings in the playground. Then the back road to Beddgelert to go looking for a shop. Bacon and rolls acquired. As is packet rice that R wants for future dinners and more noodles for breakfast. Then off to Gelert’s Grave, or Bedd Gelert. A local legend debunked by experts as there are similarities with various stories from other cultures across the world; or perhaps domestic animals go above and beyond and pay the price of their master’s doubt more often than we give credit?
Following the river path we stop to throw stones, attempt a dam and watch a Welsh Highland Railway train pass over the bridge, then return to the village for a pub snack before back to the campsite.
There are fire pits dotted about and I notice others walking back with nets of wood so me and R set off to reception to grab one.
As we wander over there are a few kids playing football, some playing rounders, others just running about. Again R wants to join in but is too shy to say hi. I suggest I say “hi” for him. No, that won’t do. I give him a squeeze, tell him to be brave, give it a go as I head off to get the wood. On returning, R is standing in the middle of the field twirling himself and his hair. I walk over to the 3 boys playing football as R shouts “no Daddy!” and introduce him, tell them R is a little shy but would like to join in. They’re cool. I tell R to get stuck in and go back to the tent to set a fire leaving him to find his feet.
I pop back every so often and peak round the hedge, he’s not the most proficient football player but he was a lot happier! The fire picks up.
Pizza, take 2, for 1!
Wandering back I drag R away from his new friends and we go order. He is all a chatter. He eats half then shoots back to play. There is a convenient shelf under the fire pit where I keep it warm as I tuck into my cold pasta…
Later I go to extract him again, the first group has disbanded and he is now playing with others 😀
But it grows dark so I entice him back and he finishes the pizza, offering me a slice after I beg, as we read a few chapters of the next Chronicle of Narnia ‘The Silver Chair’ in front of the fire, then in the tent, before he’s fast asleep.
🔺s = 13 | Total = 32 20km forwards & back | 290m of up
DAY 3: Snowdon
No rain, bright skies with a Spring haze, perfect. Noodles devoured. Bacon cooked, a roll each for breakfast, the other 6 for the climb; along with bars, apple and plenty of water.
Just after 9 o’clock we head off over the footbridge and follow the path to Hafod-y-llan before the climb really begins. We spot a Peacock butterfly as we climb past waterfalls ( another 2 later) before joining the main path passing old quarry workings. The going is easy and we reach Gladstone’s Rock from whence the PM did give a speech to the inhabitants of Snowdonia, along with MP Sir Edward Watkin who’s path we were scaling.
The air is a buzz with birdsong, a few walking parties dotted here and there; some following the Watkin Path, others splitting off for the South Ridge & Bwlch Main or to cross to Rhyd-Ddu. Steps are set into old quarry piles, we stop for a drink. One of the groups quickly scatters and begins frantically chasing their terrier that they thought was to well behaved to chase the sheep that they’d ignore all the signs saying keep your dog on a lead. This goes on for at least 10 minutes as we watch the distressed sheep and their lambs running over loose stones with the dog jumping at their quarters. Idiots!
More climbing on the graded path, in places marked by cairns, but otherwise very distinct. A few stops for bacon rolls, more water, a bar or two and just a rest before we reach the ridge between Bwlch Ciliau and the final scramble to the summit; Cwm Llan falls away below us with the path clearly visible.
Before the scree we head to the other side of the ridge with views to the PyG and Miner’s Paths on the other side of Glaslyn from atop a sheer drop. It makes our tummies feel a little funny, we stay back from the very edge…
…that feeling doesn’t go so we move on for the last part of the ascent. This is the hardest part; a steep 140m up climb to Bwlch Main just below the summit involving patches of snow, clambering up rocks, a quick stop, and sliding on the scree as we hug the edge of the mountain before eventually reaching path upgrades that are in progress.
R finds this a challenge to begin. We pass another family with two girls, one who is desperately clinging to a rock terrified to go on saying it is too steep. Immediately R is telling me the same. It is a brief doubt as I tell him to look up and put my hand under his foot to help him on and out of ear shot.
Then it is the top, the tourist trap, teeming with them, swamped with guls looking for morsels to eat as we polish off our rolls and take a rest, ravens ripping discarded sandwich bags apart for the last crumbs, disposable BBQs and a queue for the summit…
…which we join for all of 2 seconds then walk round the other side to the highest part of the mountain we can find, not some human construct for a few more feet, and ask someone who has queued for who knows how long to take out photo!
We don’t hang about and set off before the throng decides to descend too. Down the PyG we go forking off onto the Miner’s Path. Hundreds are still ascending; we queue at the pinch points. The Watkin Path is described as one of the tougher routes. Depends what you call tough really. A sparsely populated climb with fantastic scenery and a challenging scramble at the end? Or a well kept path with 300m less climbing but you have to move with the flow of hundreds of others, or not as people constantly stop for photos/food/drink/breath, and surrounded by a cacophony of dialects overshadowing Nature’s symphony of solos? We chose the right path!
The views are spectacular. But if I was ever to come back I’d stick to the south face with the Watkin and path up Bwlch Main and avoid the summit; or if R was older and we were both more experienced perhaps give Crib Goch ago with its knife edge arête, perhaps…
We get back to Pen-y-Pass, we were going to dine here but it is early, we grab a cake each and a drink then set off back to the campsite deciding to pizza again. Did we just see a Red Admiral? Crossing a stream, or Afon Trawsnant to be precise, we mess around by the footbridge building dams. R hands me his tooth, it only became wobbly yesterday. After a bit we continue back on the ‘flat’ to the campsite. “Look Daddy!” R says as I see a badger amble across the path into the bushes, in broad daylight, bold as brass it then pops back out and ambles along ahead of us for a while before popping back in and disappearing. Remember that I Spy book? Well, other than fossils, the badger is R’s last thing to collect, and the highest point scorer there is.
Back at camp R is off playing football and continues as I order pizza, I have to drag him away to eat. This isn’t normal but I smile and let him pop in from time to time for a slice before story and bed as the sky darkens. “Can I put my tooth under my jacket for the Tooth Fairy?” I explain she can’t get in the tent as there are no gaps, save it for home!
🔺s = 1 | Total = 33 24km forwards | 900m of up, 140m straight up, total 1040m
DAY 4: Llyn Gwynant to Machynlleth
It’s an early start, well as early as possible, as we are down a day for our return. R wants to know the distance, I’m giving options and suggesting we just see how the day goes as we’ve just been up Snowdon and there are some lovely Welsh hills ahead of us! Tuesday we’d popped by the Welsh Highland Railway’s ticket office at Beddgelert and I’d enquired as to bikes on the train for an easy start to Porthmadog. As such we arrived in Beddgelert over an hour before the train would depart and Porthmadog was actually about half the distance we would have saved on the train off the route, no way to avoid as getting back onto the route involved a bridge across the Dwyryd estuary. So we just rode.
A fairly easy route. In amongst the mountains of Snowdonia there are some lovely benign valleys with a smattering of short, sharp, steep bits; over quick and you are on your way. We head to Harlech. I suggest we take the low road and try its claim to fame. A killer of a hill recently contesting the steepest signed street in the world; 40%, actually 36%. R declines and we take the high road and stop to look round the castle, the 40% sign winks at me but not today!
Then on round the coast. A long slog on a main road with a steady headwind. I get R to suck my wheel on the flats & ride in front on the hills, only one driver shouts through the passenger window for us to use the ‘cycle path’ opposite, probably more annoyed at all the other courteous drivers holding him up by waiting and giving us space.
But hold on why didn’t we use the ‘cycle path’? Because it wasn’t one, it was a pavement signed as part of the National Cycle Network (NCN). Barely wide enough in places for my laden bike without it overhanging the road into oncoming traffic, not to mention the occasional dog walker on it. Provide proper infrastructure and it will get used. Label unsafe routes as part of the NCN and cyclists get vitriol from motorists for not using!
When it is fit for purpose we do, and drop down to Barmouth promenade for a stretch, then the iconic Barmouth Bridge before following the Mawddach Trail to Dolgellau, an old railway path. This bit is scenic, the next brutal. Climbing out of the town we’re delighted with what must be an old road closed to traffic, crossing the A487 before the final assault into Cwm Hen-gae; it’s steep and narrow, R struggles a few times as his toe-overlap prevents him from zig-zagging effectively (Bamboo Bike post – still to finish). Then we summit and descend through woods to the village of Corris. It is a metalled path with numerous gates. At one point we here a loud roar and I glance back as a fighter jet banks in the valley below us, I shout to R, seconds later another whizzes past. This is part of the Mach Loop, the low altitude training circuit for the RAF. Minutes later we hear the echoing rumble as they return along the Dyfi Valley.
Into Machynlleth we make our way, it is getting late. Stop at a pub for water. Grab some chips, beer and peppermint tea whilst we’re there. Then head back to where the NCN crosses the river to wild camp.
Earlier in the day R had wanted to go further. The climb had put pay to that, and that one was just the beginning…
🔺s = 42 | Total = 75 92km forwards | 1250m of up
DAY 5: Machynlleth to Tyllwyd, Cwmystwyth
I’m up early. R snoozes. Not surprising really. That last hill was tough, he’d only done one similar to that before and we finished at the top. I get cooking breakfast whilst he begins to stir.
Late morning we’re off. Quick stop in the town for water and relief and R does some #drainspotting.
A very short distance away we stop at Cors Dyfi – home to the Osprey Project. I have cycled past here so many times and always wanted to stop, with R in tow we dive in. I hire some binoculars. R is in stitches marching along the broadwalk towards the hide with them stuck to his face. We stop occasionally to read the info boards and try and spot the wildlife; it has more sense to hang about feet from the path when it has acres of marsh land to kick back in unperturbed by noisy people. In the hide though there is a gathering all staring at ‘one’ thing; some through their binoculars, telescopes, cameras, others using those provided. Two osprey and their nest, Monty nesting on the 1st egg and Telyn, more egg(s) expected. This is closely watch not just by us in the hide but web cameras as their every move is live streamed.
One of the wardens is a statistician, he has been collecting data crowd sourced from the live stream. Monty is an atypical male spending more time nesting the eggs and feeding the chicks. Also last year they built a very small nest, it was a scorcher, they’ve done the same this. Do we have a new Punxsutawney Phil?
Back to the main road before we turn left into Llyfnant Valley. This is where the ‘fun’ begins! Yesterday’s climb was tough, but all on metalled roads. Today I wanted to introduce R to a bit of gravel and The Cambrian Mountains. We’d be climbing from pretty much sea level to about 175m on the road, and what a road it was; the valley and the stream within are beautiful. Lots of butterflies too, R spots one with orange tips on its white wings, I don’t know what it is! Then after the road to just over 500m on forest tracks with switch backs in places, drop offs to the sides and stunning views back to Snowdonia. At the top we pass lakes, delve into the depths of forest enclosures and then join the road again north of Nant-y-Moch reservoir.
It was exponentially tough. The gravel took ages. The push bikes lived up to their name. Not sure how much R enjoyed the rough stuff at the time as it took it’s toll physically; but after he ranked it at number 3 of the top 5 things of the trip (climbing Snowdon & the mine were #1 & 2 respectively). It blew me a way. I chose it also to check it as it’ll be an alternative route segment for my planned Super Randonnées 600; a route that is 600km long, has 12,500m climbing, to be completed in 60hrs. All with one aim, to be a constituent of the Audax Club Parisien Randonneur 10,000 award.
Back on the road we enjoy the ‘smoothness’ round Nant-y-Mock reservoir, then cake at Hafod Hotel, Devil’s Bridge, before one final climb to ‘The Arch’ (header photo) and descend into the magical upper end of the Ystwyth Valley passing old mines to camp at Tyllwyd; another location I’d often passed and banked for later. It has swings, R becomes a pendulum as I pitch and cook. We scoff quickly. It has been a long day and is now night. I read to R as he looks out of the tent door with the river metres away. The moon rises over Banc y Wyn (The White Bank) that hides the Elan Valley, tomorrows treat.
🔺s = 2 | Total = 77 62km forwards | 1220m of arduous up
DAY 6: Tyllwyd to Erwood
Today was going to be an ‘easier’ day. One main climb up into the Elan Valley then we’d be cruising down it, later joining the Wye Valley; obviously there will be a few bumps along the way but nothing like the last couple of days. R agrees on about 70km.
R is back on the swings recharging himself. Once packed we set off. Straight into the main climb. There is one short steep bit but other than that it is a fairly easy ascent to the head of the valley. As the river turns to the left you turn right, climb a few more metres and you are then in the Elan Valley; if find this transition from one to the other sublime, it is one of my ‘happy places’.
There quite a few vehicles out today being Easter weekend, I feel sorry for those within as it is a beautiful day; stop, get out, enjoy the sunshine! We are passed by the odd cyclist, some solo & some in groups, who all give a wave or nod. We cross Craig Goch dam, leave the road and join the path on the old railway; built entirely for the construction of the dams. There are some blue water company barriers with a tatty bit of A4 affixed saying the path ahead was closed at a cutting. We risk it.
We get to the obstruction. There is a group of cyclists faffing. I ask if they managed to get past. They say if we go round the fence on the right and push our bikes round the other side of the cutting on the hillside facing the reservoir it is passable. I get to the fence, the right way looks a trek with a loaded bike so I open the ‘gate’ on the left and we lift our bikes the 2m between the cutting edge and rock fall, exit by the further ‘gate’ and continue on our way. Simples!
Safety & Risk. The works sign referred to this section being closed since November, opening latest in late May once a suitable safety inspection had been undertaken before work clearing could commence. I got a few looks for taking the route we did. The rock fall had happened, in all regards the cutting was now probably safer than before or carrying the same risk of a further fall as when it looked ‘normal’. Likelihood unlikely.
A stop for lunch ensued, we sat soaking up the sun looking across the Penygarreg dam, before continuing the long descent to the old junction with the Cambrian Railways just outside Rhayader; the tunnel through the hill and cutting leading up to it was a nature reserve so we had a short sharp climb before the town and the resumption of 🔺 bagging. Then peppermint tea & cake at The Old Swan tea rooms.
We don’t follow the NCN8 south of here to begin. We deal with the main road and it’s holiday traffic. R doesn’t like the loud motorbikes. Why didn’t we use the signed cycle route? 1. We would have back tracked (I’ve noted a ford and footbridge that could be ok for future) 2. Because it routes along an old byway on the side of a hill halfway between Llanwrthwl and Newbridge-on-Wye which from past experience is an awful potholed muddy shite fest where you carry your bikes (that was with an unladen bike too); Sustrans didn’t use their negotiating power to use the old railway track bed running parallel on the valley floor that already has a flat path (farm drive) along it. The same could be said for parts of this railway after Builth Wells as one oscillates along the Wye’s edge viewing the gently inclined path of the railway through the trees and across fields a short distance away. It would be wonderful if all this old railway was a path but most of the bridges over the Wye have been removed.
After Newbridge I decide to fork right once again following NCN8 and avoid the noisy traffic. R appreciates that, plus he spots a few more butterflies. I make a note to ask my dad about the old Collins Gem books we had as kids. Whilst off the main drag it is a slightly hillier and longer route but the final descent into Builth is worth it, plus we actually go through the town rather than next to so R has more #drainspotting to do, and we can stop at a pub quickly…
But I see R is flagging on the hills. Perhaps I’ve finally broken my son? We’d already talked about possibly getting the train back from Abergavenny as we lost a day for Snowdon; this is now the wise choice and R readily agrees, just ‘one’ big hill left tomorrow!
Later, after the aforementioned oscillations, the road switches between the former trackbed and the old road until we reach the former Erwood station. It has been preserved and is now a gallery & tearoom, no moving trains but one sits on a short section of track at the platform. I must incorporate it into a Great Western Randonnées as I’ve heard the cakes are great, it was closed when we got there! From here the road is the old trackbed. We pass over an old bridge and I spot a stile and footpath sign. I call R to stop. Down below is a patch of bare ground by a river, a good place to camp I ask? Now how to get down there. The path here is quite steep, I notice on the map a track runs to the road a bit further on so we go explore there. Sure enough, and it has a gate which makes access easy. We set about looking for a spot as we make our way back. There is a nice patch by the river so we ‘Wye-ldcamp’ there. Later we watch the silhouettes of bats dancing through the trees before bed.
🔺s = 16 | Total = 93 72km forwards | 910m of elegant elevation gain
DAY 7: Erwood to Abergavenny
The final day, not too far now that we’d be getting the train back, but we would be going over Gospel Pass, the highest road in Wales. R had known about this pass for a while as The Black Mountains and Brecon Beacons were where his fascination began.
We gently roll down the Wye Valley in the glorious morning sun with Gospel Pass ahead nestled between Hay Bluff and Lord Hereford’s Knob. Stop at Glasbury for a pre-hill cake. Then begin. This is a signed cycle route. The lower hills are easy and soon there is a flatter section. I spot a Comma and R stops to admire briefly before it flutters by. Onwards and upwards we go then ‘BOOM!’ the wall hits us. Years ago I cycled this part of NCN42 and I walked it. I get off at the bottom and start to push. R makes it further than I did back then before doing the same. We cling to the side of the hill with our toes. I forge ahead to the top then belay back to R to give him a fighting chance. 10 minutes later we’ve done 400m. Short flat bit then repeat. 7 minutes for 300m. 75m going up gained. The funny thing is there is no warning of this hill at the bottom, enticing those on bikes in to the point of no return. From the top though they have put signs; I’ve done 20%ers before and these two feel more!
It is all worth while though as now it levels out more and the road becomes more Alpine when needed. R is enjoying this bit and picks the pace up and soon we are on the final bit with views across the Wye and north into the hazy distance. R nails it to the top and we stop for lunch looking out at the view and spotting buzzards twirling on the thermals. I haven’t broken him it would seem!
The thing about Gospel Pass is it is steep up from the northern side, then a long descent on the southern. We whooooosh down the hill. R calls out “VAN BEHIND!” at the top of his lungs. “Don’t worry” I say, we were going just as quick down and there would be plenty of other vehicles coming up, some too fast, the single lane with passing places to slow them down on the flats. I was right, 12km later it passes with a toot! And that is with a quick stop in Llantony for an interesting drain!
We’re nearing the end. So we stop once more at a pub and enjoy the afternoon sun, some cold drinks and some crisps. R is off spotting more butterflies, another Buzzard, and I see a Swift and watch where it dips up under the eves of the pub. I test R’s knowledge and ask if he remembers where the Osprey go for winter, “Africa”. I tell R Swifts also migrate from Africa and they sleep on the wing, “huh?” A couple sat on a bench next to me tell me they actually winter in South Africa, they have an Africaans accent.
Not far now, a few more little hills, then we descend to Abergavenny where R picks out the 🔺s he’s seen before and another. Then make our way to the station and as luck would have it there is one in 15 minutes; but we’re told it’s a bus from Newport to Bristol Parkway, I’ll have to try our luck again. We get to cross the track, under supervision, as the bridge is being repaired and the temporary one’s steps are a little too awkward to carry. At Newport again I have to resort to asking the bus driver direct…
🔺s = 4 | Total = 97 51km forwards | 720m of up Riding Total: 319km forwards | 4285m of up
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. Its sandwich theft failed!
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
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.