COLOUR KEY TO MILEAGE FIGURES:
miles rode that day / total miles rode to date /
plus/minus previous day / average for days so far
To convert miles into kilometres multiply miles by 1.6093
MAP REFERENCES refer to the Philip’s Motorist Britain 2009, Bounty Books, London (2008). If Page number (e.g. P42) is highlighted click to view Map. Map will open in new window – close that window to return to this page. If places names are highlighted click on them for more information.
Notes in red were written by myself and based on texts/phone calls Brian sent/made to me each day during the ride. Notes in blue are from Brian’s daily log he kept on the ride.
Day minus One
Friday 1 May 2009
Start: BEBINGTON End: CURY
Brian and his wife Linda drove from their home in Bebington on the Wirral to Cury in Cornwall where he spent the night at a friend’s house.
Saturday 2nd May 2009
57.71 / – / – / –
Start: LAND’S END End: NEWQUAY
Via: St. Just, St. Ives, Hayle, Portreath, St. Agnes
P2 F2 St. Just, Cornwall
P2 E4 St. Ives, Cornwall
P2 F4 Hayle, Cornwall
P2 E5 Portreath, Cornwall
P2 D6 St. Agnes, Cornwall
Having arrived at Land’s End by car from Cury, Brian got a lift this morning to Land’s End to begin his bike ride at 10.45am, taking A30/B3306 through St. Just and onto St. Ives and nearby Hayle. Then via B3301 along coast to Portreath and St. Agnes, before taking the B3227 and A3075 to Newquay. The route was difficult with some horrendous hills that sometimes required Brian to get off and push his bike. Despite this the route was picturesque with some lovely countryside and fishing villages along the way. Disappointed by slow progress he abandoned the B-roads returning to the A-roads to catch up time before ending the day at Newquay, staying overnight at the Jacobethan B&B run by a Scottish/English couple.
Got lift to Land’s End having stayed in Cury the night before. Disappointed with Land’s End as it’s a bit of a dump. Visitor “attraction” includes a Dr Who exhibition for some reason. Fantastic views out to sea and along the coast though. Got official photo taken at signpost (£9.50 – but got two for the price of one as it’s a charity ride). While I was getting ready two cyclists and a walker arrived having done the journey in reverse. Got official form stamped in hotel, said my goodbyes and off on my way! They do make a bit of an effort at Land’s End with a proper start/finish line on the road. I decided to take the B-roads up the coast as these would be more picturesque and a nicer ride than just going straight up the A30 through Cornwall. They WERE a lot nicer, but very hilly as the road goes down into all the little coastal villages then back up the other side. Fell off bike coming up hill out of St. Just and decided never to use the cleats on the pedals again. Got talked into getting them by the guy in the bike shop and regretted it ever since. Just couldn’t get the hang of them, and fell off in Liverpool the week before the ride, cracking a bone in my hand (which I didn’t find out util after the ride … I thought I’d just sprained it!) Luckily I’d opted for pedals with cleats on only one side, so could flip them over to use as normal pedals. What I lost in power I made up for in stability. Had a bit of a stop off in St. Ives and went down to have a look at the harbour. It was very nice, but immediately regretted it as then had to ride all the way back up the road. The roads were quiet and the scenery absolutely breathtaking … some of the villages were gorgeous. Had to get off and push up some of the worse hills. I’d thought the worst hills would be in Scotland but up there the roads tend to go around the hills, while in Cornwall they just go straight over. Got as far as St. Agnes and decided I’d have to come up onto the A-roads after all if I was to stay on schedule. I’d arranged to stay with my friend Charlie and her family in Minehead on the Monday so I knew I had to be there by then. It wa handy as Monday is a bank holiday so I wouldn’t have trouble finding a place to stay. Once on the A3075, zipped along to Newquay. I had hoped to reach Padstow but still not bad for the first day. Stayed at Jacobeathan B&B (£25.00 – very nice) and dined in the local Burger King.
Sunday 3rd May 2009
64.76 / 122.47 / +7.05 / 61.23
Start: NEWQUAY End: CLOVELLY
Via: St. Columb Major, Wadebridge, Camelford, Bude
P3 B8 Padstow, Cornwall
P3 C8 St. Columb Major, Cornwall
P3 B8 Wadebridge, Cornwall
Started from Newquay, intending to go to Padstow via A39 but changed his mind and used minor roads to St. Columb Major. From there, used A39 again heading north towards north Devon, passing through Wadebridge, Camelford and Bude before reaching the coast and ending the day in Clovelly. Stayed at a B&B overnight. End-2-End by Brian Nulty.
Set off along the coast road again as it was a lovely day, but got as far as Treguarrian and decided it was taking too long again, so cut up through St. Columb Major (pretty town with a nice old church) and stayed on the A39 through Wadebridge and Camelford. Passed the 100 mile mark outside Camelford cemetery! Would’ve loved to popped down to the coast to see Tintagel but didn’t have time so pressed on. I’d always said that I wanted to enjoy the ride and see some of the country rather than just ploughing through it with my head down. As a rule of thumb, if I saw something on the map that looked interesting and it was within 5 miles of my route I’d take a detour. Any further than that and I’d give it a miss. For what seemed like miles all I was seeing were signs for Boscastle, so didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere. It was a relief when they finally stopped! Bypassed Bude and through Kilkhampton (more nasty hills). My original plans had been to reach Bideford by the end of Day 2, but it was getting a bit late so I stopped in Clovelly mainly because I’d heard of it before. Turned off main road and went down horrendous hill to find a Portmeirion-style village all closed up. Looked like it’d bee worth a visit another time though. Had to push bike all the way back up the hill, tried a couple of B&B’s but no joy. Went further up the hill almost back up to the main road where I remembered seeing a B&B. Lovely old farmhouse called Easy Dyke Farm (£28.00). Landlady was really nice. Made me a sandwich and gave me a bottle of cider and refused to take any payment, saying it was her bit for the charity. B&B had a bath too which meant I could have a good soak … much better than a shower.
Monday 4th May 2009
61.15 / 183.62 / –3.61 / 61.20
Start: CLOVELLY End: MINEHEAD
Via: Barnstaple, Blackmoor Gate, Exmoor National Park, Simonsbath
P6 C4 Barnstaple, Devon
P6 B5 Blackmoor Gate, Devon
P7 B8 Minehead, Somerset
Started in Clovelly, north Devon, went via A39 through Barnstaple and on through Blackmoor Gate. Then, wanting to avoid Britain’s steepest hill, Porlock Hill, Brian went over Exmoor National Park on the A39/B3357 passing through Simonsbath. Then along the B3223, B3224, A396 and A39 to Minehead where he ended the day. He spent the night at a friend’s house (Charlie). Today was a rainy day and Brian suffered a puncture but nevertheless reached his target destination.
RAIN! Started raining as I arrived in Barnstaple so had to stop to put all the rainproof covers on. Barnstaple looked a bit of a dump, but DID have the first cycle paths I’ve found so far, so it can’t be all bad. Steep bridge over river to get into town, then long steep climb over river to get out of it. It must be bad here, as the bridge was covered with Samaritans posters trying to talk people out of throwing themselves over the edge! Was planning to take the coastal road to Minehead but noticed on map that’d take me over Porlock Hill. I vaguely remember reading that it’s the steepest road in Britain so decided to go over Exmoor instead as I thought it’d be flatter. My mistake! Took B3358 across the moor. Scenery was beautiful but looked really bleak in the rain. You can understand how people get lost over here. Passed through town called Simonsbath so stopped for a photo in honour of Simon. Was pushing the bike up a ridiculous hill in Exford when a policeman told me there were a couple of more hills like it to go, but then it was all downhill to the coast. Going up the last hill my back tyre went! Pushed bike up to the top of the hill and off the main road and managed to change the tube in the rain. Back on the road, turned left at Wheddon Cross, and sure enough, managed to freewheel pretty much all the way. Passed through Dunster, a beautiful little town, and onto the coast road. Had to phone Charlie for directions to house but arrived OK. Had lovely stay with Charlie and her family. Had nice soak in bath and Charlie washed my clothes. Had turned up wearing an Elmo (Sesame Street) T-shirt in honour of Charlie’s little lad Elmo, but he wasn’t feeling well so didn’t see much of him. Lovely to see Charlie again though.
Tuesday 5th May 2009
60.50 / 244.12 / –0.65 / 61.03
Start: MINEHEAD End: BRISTOL
P15 H11 Glastonbury, Somerset
Started from Minehead on A39 through Bridgwater. Intended to turn off and head for Glastonbury but changed his mind and continued on A39 and A38 straight through to Bristol. He suffered another puncture heading into Bristol, and spent night at the Bristol Youth Hostel.
Left Minehead early as was going to try to meet up with Linda and her friend Karen on their way back from Cornwall. Was hoping to get to Bridgwater so they could just come off the M5 and meet me there. The A39 took longer than I thought though, so couldn’t make it on time. Was a lovely road, through loads of beautiful little villages, but didn’t get much time to appreciate them properly as was rushing through. One of my original plans had been to take an extra day to continue on the A39 to Glastonbury, visit the festival site and loop back up through Cheddar Gorge. As I’d arranged to meet Linda in Shrewsbury on Thursday though I didn’t have time so turned off for Bristol instead. As I was pulling into Bristol, had my first sight of the Clifton Suspension Bridge. I felt the back tyre go. Another puncture! Took all the bags off at the side of the road and changed the tube again, for the second time in two days. Puncture fixed, I headed into Bristol and immediately got lost in the city. Asked for directions and a guy pointed me towards the Youth Hostel. It was a lovely old renovated warehouse right on the canal. Got booked in and ended up with a bunk room to myself. Showered and had wander round town. Really nice around the canal area.
Wednesday 6th May 2009
40.12 / 284.24 / –20.38 / 56.84
Start: BRISTOL End: MONMOUTH (Trefynwy)
Via: Alveston, Severn Bridge, Chepstow (Cas-Gwent), Wye Valley, Tintern Abbey
P16 A2 Tintern Abbey, Monmouthshire
From Bristol headed for Severn Bridge via A38 but then broke a wheel. Brian lost 150 minutes getting the wheel fixed (costing him 20 miles in the day’s ride, plus £90 for a new wheel). Then returned to A38 and headed for Alveston in South Gloucestershire – passing under the M5 and over the M4 motorways on the way. Then took the B4461 over the Severn Bridge into Monmouthshire (Sir Fynwy) in Wales and then a cycle path from the bridge to Chepstow (Cas-Gwent). Brian was panning to stop here, but having lost time he pressed on along the A466 through the Wye Valley passing Tintern Abbey to end the day in Monmouth (Trefynwy). Another hard day on the bike, which has no suffered two punctures and a broken wheel in three days.
Went down for breakfast and it was fantastic. Basically as much of anything as you could eat. Took a few bits with me for the journey too. The chef was a big Scottish guy who I was chatting to. Told him my plan to go around Glasgow rather than through the city and he said he didn’t blame me as they’d probably nick my bike while I was still riding it! Met a small group of cyclists who were touring the area and were asking about the trip. Lost my way again trying to get out of Bristol, but eventually found the road out. Saw a Banksy painting on a wall above a shop. Quite a famous one too, that I’d seen pictures of. Started to notice signs giving directions for BRI and thought that was very considerate of them, but eventually realised they were for the Bristol Royal Infirmary! The rest of the city wasn’t as picturesque as the centre, and as I was heading out of town my back tyre went again! Examined the wheel and saw that part of the wheel rim had broken and come away. It was probably that that had been causing the previous punctures but I hadn’t noticed it when I’d fixed them. Couldn’t ride any more so had to wheel bike back into city to find a bike shop. Eventually found one after about 40 minutes and he took one look and said I needed a new wheel. Had no choice, so had to shell out £90.00 for a replacement, and was stuck in shop another three quarters of an hour. Eventually set off again, way behind schedule now, and headed back towards Severn Bridge. Passed through town called Alveston and thought of Simon, as one of his favourite songs was “Galveston,” and while he was in hospital we’d rewritten the lyrics and renamed it “Cunningham”! Turned left onto B4661 to the bridge, which as a nice quite country lane. As I approached the bridge I lost my bearing as the signs for the cycle path over the bridge were very confusing. Eventually got there and pulled over just before the bridge to admire it. It looks fantastic up close, really graceful. And worryingly it didn’t look strong enough to take the weight of all the traffic! Set off across the bridge, and immediately felt the wind as it’s so high up and exposed. The cycle path is right next to the road on the lower level, and it’s a bit disconcerting to have a huge drop on one side and traffic going at 70 mph a couple of yards away from your left shoulder! Still a great experience though, and quite a steep climb up to the centre of the bridge. Stopped in the middle of the bridge to take a few photos, then freewheeled all the way to the other end. Nice cycle path on the far side of bridge. Briefly in Wales, headed to Chepstow. The road bypasses the main town, but fancied a bit of a look so cycled down into the town. Looks really nice – an old market town with a medieval gatehouse. They’ve got a really nice thing where along the high street they’ve got metal plaques set into the pavement outside all the shops showing all the proprietors of each shop going back to the middle ages. Bumped into the cyclists from the Youth Hostel again and chatted to them for a while before heading back up out of town, past Chepstow racecourse. Passed Tintern Abbey which is spectacular. Didn’t have time to go in so just had a look round. Got chatting to a couple of American tourists and got them to take my photo. Saw my first highland cow in a field over the road – a lot earlier than I’d expected. The Wye Valley is really beautiful with the road following the river all the way up to the Welsh borders. Decided to stop in Monmouth as it looked nice. Couldn’t see any B&Bs but a woman I asked said they had rooms at the pub, the Green Dragon, just over the bridge. The bridge is Monnow Bridge, which is the only surviving medieval bridge with a surviving gate tower and was built in 1270. Cycled over the bridge and asked in the pub. They showed me to a self contained house attached to the pub, which I had to myself for £40.00. Had soak in bath and went out to explore the town. Had tea in Indian restaurant on the high street which was empty apart from me. The meal was lovely but the waiter stood over me the whole time watching me, which was a bit unnerving. Strolled up to see the castle, but there’s not much of it left. To get there you have to walk across the courtyard of the barracks, and as it was getting late I could see a lot of curtains twitching wondering who it was. As it was getting dark by now I couldn’t see much of the ruins, but apparently Henry V was born there. Walked back down through town and across the churchyard. There was a choir practising in the hall next to the church and they sounded really good from outside so I hung around and listened to them for a while before heading back. Passed a lovely little old cinema, the Savoy Theatre, but it was too late to go in and they were only showing Monsters & Aliens anyway so gave it a miss. Got back to the pub. As the building was really old, it was creaking all night and there was a narrow corridor to the bathroom that looked like something out of a ghost story, really spooky but got a good night’s sleep.
Thursday 7th May 2009
75.26 / 359.50 / +35.14 / 59.92
Start: MONMOUTH (Drefynwy) End: SHREWSBURY
Via: Hereford, Leominster, Ludlow
P26 C1 Leominster, Herefordshire
P33 D2 Shrewsbury, Shropshire
Today has been a better day for Brian after three days of rain, punctures, broken wheels, and lost time. After his brief visit to Wales behind him he crossed back into England on the A49 into Herefordshire. He continued north through Hereford and Leominster and then into Shropshire and onto Ludlow. After breaking his wheel yesterday, he was planning to meet Linda who was planning to drive down to Ludlow in order to take some excess luggage from him (thus reducing the weight on his bike). They changed their plans to meet in Shrewsbury instead and Brian continued north on the A39 in an attempt to make up the 20 miles lost yesterday. He reached his overnight destination, Shrewsbury, completing 75 miles today – making up 15 of those lost yesterday.
Had breakfast in the bar of the pub. Had noticed a bike shop on the roundabout just outside the pub so popped over as my pedal cranks had been clicking and slipping. He tightened them for me (no charge) and got me to sign the “End to End” visitor’s book on the counter. Today’s ride was a bit of a rush as I had to get to Shrewsbury by tonight to meet Linda. Got to Hereford, which looked really nice then stayed on the A39 all the way. Passed through Leominster and Ludlow which both seemed like lovely places but didn’thave much time to stop and admire them. Arrived in Shrewsbury and eventually found the station, where I’d arranged to meet Linda. Linda was waiting in the station car park and had booked us into a B&B.
Friday 8th May 2009
54.72 / 414.22 / –20.54 / 59.17
Start: SHREWSBURY End: STRETTON
Via: Whitchurch, Tarporley
P33 A11 Whitchurch, Shropshire
P43 D9 Stretton, Cheshire
In use of roads, today has been a simple day as Brian’s been on the A49 throughout. He said goodbye to Lind and left Shrewsbury heading north passing through Whitchurch and into Cheshire and the town Tarporley. He then headed to his finish point for the day at Stretton in Warrington. This is the closest he will get to his home on the Wirral throughout the bike ride – at around 35 miles away.
Said goodbye to Linda who was heading back home and then off on holiday to the Isle of Man. Had sorted through my stuff and decided on some things I could without, so Linda took them home with her to lighten my load a bit. I was back on the A49 for the next stage, which was taking me the closest to home I was going to get. At one time when I’d been planning the ride I thought I might go home for one of my overnight stops but it was just too far out of my way. Headed up through Whitchurch and into Cheshire. Passed signs for Beeston Castle and felt a bit homesick. Definitely felt different psychologically riding past, as up to now I’d felt like I was riding home but now it felt I was riding away. Now approaching the stretch of the ride I’d been dreading the most – through the industrial northwest, so I thought I’d stop just short of Warrington and hopefully get through the built up bit all in one day tomorrow. Found a Premier Inn in Stretton so I thought I’d give it a try. The girl on the desk was really nice and gave me a donation for the charity. She gave me a ground floor room and let me take my bike in so I didn’t have to leave it outside. Room was really nice with a big bath. Premier Inns are usually built onto existing pubs so had tea and a couple of pints in the pub. Not much around as it’s just off the motorway, but there was a really nice old church down the road so had a bit of a wander round there.
Saturday 9th May 2009
49.27 / 463.49 / –5.45 / 57.94
Start: SRETTON End: BILSBORROW
Via: Warrington, Wigan, Preston
P49 G5 M6/M65 Interchange
P49 F4 Bilsborrow, Lancashire
Left Stretton, still on the A49, and passed through Warrington and over the M6 and through Wigan in Greater Manchester before passing over the M6/M65 Interchange outside Preston. He then used the A6 to go through Preston, bypassing Chorley, before passing under the M55 and reaching his overnight stop at Bilsborrow in Lancashire. Brian lost some time today due to heavy traffic in the urban areas he was passing through, especially while passing through Wigan.
Girl on reception at the Premier Inn told me their breakfasts were really expensive, so gave it a miss and headed off. Found a sandwich shop in town so got a couple of egg toasties there. Hadn’t been looking forward to this stretch and turned out I’d been right. The road crisscrossed the motorway and through loads of industrial towns with lots more traffic. Stopped off in Wigan by Wigan Pier and the Orwell Pub and it wasn’t bad round there. Headed on through Preston, which wasn’t enjoyable, particularly as it’d started pouring down! By this stage I needed a break from the traffic so I took a detour on the B5269 to the village of Goosnargh. Really pretty little village with a nice pub, so called in there for a shandy. Headed back onto the main road and rather than searching round for a B&B, just booked myself into a another Premier Inn in Bilsborrow. Room looked exactly like the one in Stretton, down to the bedspread and the pictures on the wall! Was nice though. Had tea in the adjoining pub, which was tasty though the pie I had was more like a bowl of soup with a crust on top. After tea wandered over the road to the river and watched the boats for a while. Really peaceful and relaxing.
Sunday 10th May 2009
66.27 / 529.76 / +17.00 / 58.86
Start: BILSBORROW End: PENRITH
Via: Garstang, Lancaster, Kendal, Shap Fells
P49 E4 Garstang, Lancashire
P49 C4 Lancaster, Lancshire
P57 F7 Shap Fells, Cumbria
P57 C7 Penrith, Cumbria
From Bilsborrow went north on the A6/A6430 through Garstang and back on the A6 through Lancaster, both in Lancashire. Then via A6070/A65 into Cumbria, passing through Kendal. Brian planned to stay in Kendal but pressed on over the Shap Fells – which lie at 1400 feet above sea level – reaching his new overnight stop at Penrith. Best day for miles since Day 6 and second best on ride so far.
Far better day today. Still going through quite a few towns, but nowhere near as industrialised as yesterday. Garstang was nice … allegedly the first fair-trade town in the world, whatever that means. Then through Lancaster, who’s sign said they were “celebrating cycling”, though I didn’t see much evidence of it. After Carnforth, crossed over the M6 and saw the motorway and the canal right next to each running parallel underneath me – the new and the old. As I was leaving Lancashire I noticed someone (not me, honest!) had changed the boundary sign from “Where Everyone Matters” to “Where Everyone Natters”! Now into Cumbria and feeling like I’m making good progress. Saw a church up on a little hill at the side of the road and headed up there to have my lunch. Fantastic views all around, and a really nice semi-overgrown cemetery. Passed the 500 mile mark just as I entered Kendal. Thought I might stay over in Kendal as it look really nice, but as it was only 5 o’clock I decided to press on over Shap Fell and get to Penrith. Shap Fell is one of the hills everyone had warned me about so I thought I’d be better attempting it now instead of tomorrow when it could be pouring down again. Headed out of town and saw signs warning of an altitude of 1400 feet but feeling good to carry on. Road was absolutely beautiful. The higher I got the better the views were. The road was long and steadily rising, but not too steep. I stopped a few times for a breather and admire the view, but it wasn’t too bad. I kept waiting for the really steep difficult bit round each corner, but reached a cairn that said I was at the summit! Had a gloat and a drink and freewheeled all the way down the other side, through the village of Shap and through a little village called Clifton – the site of the last battle on English soil (1745). Just missed it as it was 19.20 by this time. Then on into Penrith. Found nice B&B on the road into the town centre, got cleaned up and headed into town. Town centre is beautiful, with lots of the old original buildings still standing. Nice pub, the Board and Elbow dating from 1624. Couldn’t see anywhere serving food so went to chippy in town square and had chips with a mushy pea fritter! Food of the Gods! Sat in the old medieval shelter in the square and ate my tea before heading back to the B&B. Have to go and look at Penrith Castle before I leave tomorrow.
Monday 11th May 2009
61.48 / 591.24 / –4.79 / 59.12
Sart: PENRITH End: DUMFRIES
Via: Carlisle, Longtown, Gretna
P61 G9 Longtown, Cumbria
From Penrith, north on A6 through Carlisle and A7 through Longtown before leaving England for the last time on the bike ride. Brian decided to head West on A6071 in order to skirt around Scotland’s biggest city, Glasgow, later in the ride. Passed through Gretna and continued on the A75 westerly into Dumfries – both in Dumfries and Galloway.
Set off early to have a look around Penrith Castle. It was a beautiful morning and the castle was spectacular. Only ruins left but it’s fantastic. Couldn’t stay as long as I’d liked as had to get back on the road. Took A6 out of town … what a great road! It climbs up onto the hill that runs parallel to the M6 all the way to Carlisle. Before the motorway was built, this used to be the main route north so it’s a nice wide road but really quiet. There are garages and hotels dotted along the road which have been closed down as there’s no more traffic, so it’s quite atmospheric. All the way up you look down into the valley to your left and see the busy M6. The only noise up here is the crows. There are loads of them in all the trees, and as you ride past a thicket they all raise up into the sky at once making a real racket. The other thing you notice on a bike ride is the wildlife. Lots of rabbits who don’t hear you coming and dart off through the hedge at the last second, and birds of prey sitting on fence posts. Reached Carlisle, where my brother Steve (who did this website) was born. Stopped to give him a ring from the town centre. Went to have a quick look at Carlisle Castle, which is really impressive but again didn’t have time to go in. Got chatting to a girl who was sweeping up outside and she took my photos in front of the castle. Next step Scotland! Got to border and took some photos of the border sign. Met some cyclists coming the other way who took my photo for me. The Scotland sign was really nice, with flowers and a place to stand or put your bike for a photo, but the England sign on the other side of the road was terrible. Rusty and neglected Made you proud to be English! Cycled up the road to Gretna Green and took some pictures round The Old Blacksmith’s Shop where people used to run away to get married. Took a photo of my bike under the wedding arch. Load of tourists looking at me as if I was an idiot. Headed into Dumfries and scouted around for a B&B. Have worked out that around the railway station is usually the best place to find them. Saw a couple that were full, and stopped at one to ask. The woman was really nice, but said they only had one big room left but couldn’t let me have it as it was being kept for someone. Just as she was saying this her husband came out and started admiring my bike. He said he had a Subway 1, with the disc brakes. He was chatting away for ages and eventually let me have the room! Dropped off my stuff and walked into town. Tea in Wetherspoon’s again.
Tuesday 12th May 2009
65.47 / 656.71 / +3.99 / 59.70
Start: DUMFRIES End: KILMARNOCK
Via: Thornhill, Drumlanrig Castle, Sanquhar, New Cumnock
P60 D4 Thornhill, Dumfries & Galloway
P60 D4 Drumlanrig Castle, Dumfries & Galloway
P60 C3 Sanquhar, Dumfries & Galloway
From Dumfries, headed north-west on the A76. Just after Thornhill took a short diversion to visit Drumlanrig Castle, still in Dumfries and Galloway. Then back on A76 through Sanquhar before entering East Ayrshire, passing through New Cumnock to final destination for Day 11 at Kilmarnock. Today Brian passed the 1000km mark.
Left the B&B and cycled down to have a look at the river. Another lovely day, and it was really nice down there with an old stone bridge and weir. Even saw a heron. Was just about to head off when the B&B rang as I’d forgotten to drop off the key. She thought I was already away and said her hubby was driving up to Kilmarnock so he was going to look out for me on the way, but I just cycled back up there and gave her the key back. Finally set off on road to Kilmarnock. This second is going out of my way, but the the plan was to skirt around Glasgow as I didn’t want to ride through a big city. Passed turnoff for Drumlanrig Castle so thought I’d make a detour to visit it It was a couple of miles off the main road but a lovely ride down little country lanes ending in a long straight avenue of trees leading up the castle. Told the lady at the kiosk that I didn’t have time to go in, so could I just have a quick look around the outside without paying? She was fine, and even took my photo and looked after my bike while I had a wander. The castle looked really good and in the ground they have the Drumlanrig Sycamore which is meant to the oldest, biggest sycamore in the country. It certainly looked huge. Cycled back up onto main road and carried on to Sanquhar. Not much there but they have a sign pointing to a castle. Left bike parked on road and walked over the fields to have a look. Not much left though and what there is in a poor state of repair with wire mesh fences all around to keep people out. A real shame. On way to Kilmarnock saw weird Gothic sandstone tower at the road junction. Turns out it’s the National Burns Monument commemorating Robert Burns. Looks interesting, but closed. Couldn’t find a B&B in Kilmarnock so eventually ended up in a pub/hotel. They stuck me on the top floor, up a rickety staircase and the room was very poor – tiny and grubby. The shower was awful. Worst accommodation on the trip so far. Went for a walk around the town centre, but not much there – looked like any other town centre. The railway station looked nice at the top of the main road – a proper old Victorian station with a big floral clock outside. Reluctantly went back to the pub.
Wednesday 13th May 2009
61.93 / 718.64 / –3.54 / 59.89
Start: KILMARNOCK End: ARROCHAR
Via: Barrhead, Paisley, Erskine, Erskine Bridge, Dumbarton, Balloch, Loch Lomond, Tarbet
P68 C3 Erskine, Renfrewshire
P68 D2 Dumbarton, Dunbartonshire
P74 G5 Arrochar, Argyll & Bute
A day of five Scottish counties, today began in Kilmarnock in East Ayrshire from where Brian took the A77 and minor roads to Barrhead outside Glasgow in East Renfrewshire, then via the B774 through Paisley, Renfrewshire. From there he went on the A726 through Erskine (going over the Erskine Bridge) into West Dumbartonshire on the A82 and continued northwards on the A813 towards Loch Lomond and Balloch. He planned to stay in Balloch, but pressed on west of Loch Lomond on the A811/A82 and the West Loch Lomond Cycle Path to Tarbet and then nearby Arrochar – both in Argyll and Bute. He finished his 12th day at Arrochar.
Surprisingly, breakfast in the pub was really nice. Was planning on taking the A735 north to stay clear of Glasgow but local taxi driver outside the station advised me to go on the A77 running alongside the M77 towards Glasgow as it wasn’t as hilly and was “bike friendly”. But hairy getting onto it as right up to the last minute it looks as though you’re going onto the motorway but once on it it was fine – nice cycle track. Only thing spoiling it was the wind. Absolutely terrible. Took me over 2 hours to do 8 miles – could’ve walked it faster! Had to stop a few times and every time there was a gust of wind it was like being slapped in the face. Turned off and onto minor roads to Barrhead and got first sight of Glasgow. Got lost looking for road to Paisley and had to ask directions a couple of times. Eventually saw a sign for Erskine and no problems after that. Just before Erskine Bridge saw a sign for Erskine Beach so cycled down to have a look. It’s a nice little country park with a proper sandy beach under the bridge. Fantastic view of the bridge. Headed back up to road and over Erskine Bridge. Releived to see there was a separate cycle path as the wind was terrible – literally couldn’t breath at one point! Stopped in middle of bridge to take photos and could feel the bridge juddering in the wind, which was quite scary. Was glad to get over the bridge as I always think this is where the Highlands begin. Once off the bridge I turned left onto A83 towards Dumbarton. Road was REALLY busy. Pulled into Tourist Information but only open Fri/Sat/Sun. Was sitting having a rest when 2 cars pulled up full of a couple of Indian families. Their English wasn’t great (though better than my Urdu!) but eventually managed to explain why the information office on the main road into the Highlands wasn’t open all week, and they had a good point! Had been thinking of stopping in Dumbarton but there were loads of B&Bs in the information office window listed in Balloch so thought I’d head up there instead (it also got me off the busy A82). Balloch looked like a run-down council estate, so as it was still quite early I thought I’d press on up to Loch Lomond to Tarbet and try there. Back onto the A82. Not as busy as before … a lot of traffic must’ve been heading for Dumbarton. First views of a “proper” Highlands – mountains looking beautiful. Had been cycling up the A82 a couple of miles when I noticed a cycle track on the banks of Loch Lomond so went over. It was fantastic! The West Loch Lomond Cycle Path, running all the way to Tarbet. It’s completely separate from the road, with stunning views over the Loch. For a stretch it goes down onto the old road. You can still see the faded white lines and the catseyes even though only about the middle 4 or 5 feet of the road is still showing – the rest being reclaimed by nature. Bits of the road were quite spooky. You could imagine all the holidaymakers over the years driving round there. At times you can faintly hear the traffice from the road above echoing down through the trees and you half expect to see a ghostly Morris 8 com motoring around the corner! Got to Tarbet after a lovely ride up the banks of the Loch and tried a couple of B&B but no joy. One sign pointed up the hill and said vacancies, but when I’d cycled up for ages up the steep dirt track she said she didn’t take singles! I could’ve punched her! Tried next town along the A83, Arrochar at the head of Loch Long, and got into a beautiful B&B – the Ballyhennan Toll House (£30.00) run by Jim and his wife. The building is the old Toll House, over 400 years old. Apparently Queen Victoria once stopped there to pay the toll! Excellent view out onto the hills over the road, and first porridge of the trip for breakfast.
Thursday 14th May 2009
92.19 / 810.83 / +30.26 / 62.37
Start: ARROCHAR End: OBAN
Via: Glen Kinglass, Loch Fyne, Inveraray, Lochgilphead, Kilmartin
P74 G5 Glen Kinglass, Argyll & Bute
P74 G3 Inveraray, Argyll & Bute
P73 E7 Lochgilphead, Argyll & Bute
P73 D7 Kilmarton, Argyll & Bute
Brian planned to head for Glencoe today but, as he was ahead of schedule, he decided to make a detour around Argyll & Bute and head for Oban. He left Arrochar on the A83 and headed up through Glen Kinglass and a long hill with a place at the top called “Rest and Be Thankful.” This is at the northern en of Loch Fyne. He then headed south along the A83 to Inveraray and onto Lochgilphead. At this point he had miscalculated his distance. He’d already travelled over 50 miles and still had 40 more to reach Oban. Despite the hilly terrain and windy weather he pressed on up the A816 through Kilmarton and finally reached Oban. Today, unlike yesterday, his entire route was in just one county – Argyll & Bute, but he travelled a record 92 miles and was exhausted.
As I was a bit a had of schedule, I decided to make a loop out to the cost and through Oban rather than heading straight up to Glencoe. Cycled back to Tarbet after breakfast to have a bit of a look around the cruise boat jetties on Loch Lomond, as we usually stop here on our way up to Scotland on holiday. Then cycled back past the B&B and on the A83 up through Glen Kinglass. Jim at the B&B had warned me about the hill and he was right! It climbs right up into the mountains but the scenery is really beautiful. When you eventually get to the top there’s a place called Rest and Be Thankful. Not much there, just a car park and picnic area, but the views back down the Glen are amazing. Coming down the other side was great – freewheeling all the way. At the foot of the Glen, the road loops round the top of Loch Fyne, past the famous Oyster bar and down the banks of the Loch. Headed down the Loch to Inverary, a nice little harbour town with a pretty shopping street and a famous historic jail. Rode up to have a look at the castle, but it’s one of those “stately home” castles that don’t interest me as much so didn’t stop long. On the ride back down into town a car pulled alongside me with a couple of Australian girls and we had a chat on the way back down into town. Probably not very safe! They were asking where I was riding but had never heard of Land’s End or John o’Groats and only knew kilometres (and I’m a mile man) so it was pleasant but a bit of a waste of time! Carried on down Loch Fyne but by now most of the road was back from the Loch, through woodland and up and down all the time as it goes over various headlands. Went through village of Furnace, which was founded by iron workers from Lancashire. Got down to Lochgilphead and had already done over 50 miles, but not signs yet for Oban. When I reach the A816 it said Oban was another 38 miles! Realised then that the scale in the atlas was different for the Highlands than the rest of the country. By this stage I was judging a day’s ride by eye, but because the scale had changed, what I thought would be about 60 miles was actually a lot longer! Had to press on or I’d leave myself too much to do tomorrow. Had planned on having a good look around the standing stones at Kilmartin but only had time for a quick visit. Thought about staying in Kilmartin overnight but didn’t really have time. Carried on to Oban but the road was really hilly and the wind kept gusting. Just put my head down and ploughed on, but the last 20 miles were pretty grim. Passed the 800 mile mark though. Had to get off and push up one hill, for the first time since Exmoor. Eventually arrived after 8pm and felt great freewheeling down into the town centre. Got room at the Wellpark Hotel, where we’d stayed before on one holiday (£40,00, but gave £10.00 back for the charity!) Dropped bags off and road back into town for curry and chips (avoided the pizza, deep fried in batter!). Ate my meal in the harbour looking at the beautiful sunset. Had read loads before setting off about the importance of eating peroprly and taking in plenty of carbs etc., but I’ve just been dining in pubs and chippies the whole time and feel great. Couldn’t get over how light the bike felt without the panniers … felt like I was floating!
Friday 15th May 2009
54.27 / 865.10 / –37.92 / 61.79
Start: OBAN End: CRIANLARICH
Via: Glen Orchy, Bridge of Orchy, Tyndrum
P74 D5 Glen Orchy, Argyll & Bute
P74 D5 Bridge of Orchy, Argyll & Bute
For the second day running Brian’s planned final destination for the day was Glencoe. However, weather intervened and his plans had to change as the day went on. He left Oban on the A85, heading back eastwards across Argyll & Bute. The wind was terrible and he decided to take minor roads through Glen Orchy and Bridge of Orchy. He hoped to stay there but no rooms were available and he was still 24 miles from Glencoe. He turned south down the A82 to Tyndrum – the wind at this point was the worst he’s experienced. He was blown off his bike and even when walking for a while his bike was being lifted off the ground by the wind. There was also no rooms in Tyndrum so he continued on the A82 to Crianlarich. Although he covered over 54 miles today, the weather-induced diversions meant he actually finished today only 20 miles from Arrochar where he finished two days ago.
Left Oban but it was really windy. Met a couple of guys doing the same trip who’d been waiting in Oban for 2 days for the wind to die down. Lightweights! Thought about taking the A828 straight up the coast to Fort William, which is the most direct route, but really wanted to experience riding down through Glencoe. Didn’t make my mind up till I got to the turnoff at Connell. Decided I couldn’t miss out on Glencoe so headed inland, eastwards and straight into the wind. It was a lovely road but I was struggling against the headwind the whole way. Went through the Pass of Brander which is a bit more sheltered (and sounded like something out of The Lord of the Rings) Popped in to look around St Conan’s Kirk – a lovely old church just past Loch Awe power station – at least it got me out of the wind for a while. The guy at the petrol station recommended I take the B8074 up through Glen Orchy as it would be a lot more sheltered and would cut out the big hill to Tyndrum. It was a lovely road and a lot more sheltered than the main road. It follows the River Orchy right up to Glen Orchy and comes out on the A82 by Bridge of Orchy. The Bridge of Orchy Hotel has a space in the bunk room but all my stuff was soaked as I hadn’t put the pannier covers on it time, so I wanted somewhere I could dry my stuff out. Decided to ride down into Tyndrum to find somewhere. It was only 6 miles but the wind was howling down through the Glen and was horrendous. At one point I was blown right off my bike! Had to stay off and push, but the wind was lifting the fully-laden bike off the ground so had to bend over it to hold it down. Then it blew over and trapped my legs against the barrier at the side of the road and I couldn’t move. Was stuck half hanging over the edge and was really scared for the first time on the trip. It wasn’t a cliff, but it wasn’t far off – it was a really steep slope right down into the Glen and I remember thinking that if I went over the barrier, that was it. Managed to get upright and pressed on, still pushing as too windy to get on the bike. Saw a sign in the distance that I though as the Tyndrum boundary but it was just an advert for the Green Welly Stop, a shop – only 2 miles. I nearly cried. Eventually got down to Tyndrum but nowhere to stay. Rang a few numbers in the tourist info window, but they were all full. One said they had a room but when I got round there they wouldn’t answer the door as they’d obviously looked out of the window and saw the state of me. Had no choice but to carry on down the A82 to Crianlarich, going another 6 miles out of my way. The ride was a bit more sheltered and not as windy. Finally got a room at the Crianlarich Hotel (£44.00 without breakfast). Not great, but at this age I would have paid £100.00. At least it had a bath so had a good soak and clamed down. Ate the few bits I had in my bag – crisps and raisins for my tea.
Saturday 16th May 2009
57.63 / 922.73 / +3.36 / 61.52
Start: CRIANLARICH End: FORT WILLIAM
Via: Tyndrum, Bridge of Orchy, Glencoe, Ballachulish
P74 D6 Tyndrum, Perthshire
P74 D5 Bridge of Orchy, Argyll &Bute
P74 B3 Ballachulish, Highlands
A better day than yesterday. Although it rained on and off, the weather was much improved from the horrors of Day 14 – and Brian finally made it to Glencoe. He left Crianlarich on the A82 passing through Tyndrum and Bridge of Orchy – both passed through yesterday as well. He continued north on the A82 over Rannoch Moor, finally leaving Argyll & Bute and entering the Highlands and onto Glencoe. Brian found Glencoe strange without Linda, as they’ve visited there together before. He then passed through Ballachulish south of Loch Leven before passing over the bridge that crosses over the boundary of Loch Leven and Loch Linnhe, then north on the A82 to Fort William.
Didn’t realise I’d left my helmet in the hotel reception and when I came down in the morning someone had put it on the statue of the dog in the lobby! Was loading my bike up in the pouring rain as a coach arrived and I could see them all looking at me like I was an idiot, and they were probably right! Left Crianlarich dreading the ride back to Bridge of Orchy, but was a different place. Was pouring down but hardly any wind. Stopped off at the Green Welly Stop in Tyndrum for fried breakfast and to stock up on food and drink and resisted the urge to throw a brick through the window of the B&B who’d ignored me last night. Passed the spot where’d I’d been cowering yesterday and it was a really nice ride. Made it to the actual Bridge of Orchy that the place is named after (MORE temporary traffic lights!). I’d been dreading the climb up to Rannoch Moor, but it was fine. Stopped in the car park to admire the view and got my photo taken with the piper. Rannoch Moor was bleak but beautiful. Climbed the hill to the summit (1142 feet), no problem – was starting to get cock now, that was two climbs I’d been warned about the most – Shap Fell and Rannoch Moor – and neither of them had been that bad. Now this was the bit I’d been looking forward to and had caused me all that trouble yesterday – the ride down through Glencoe, and it didn’t disappoint. Coming down into the Glen is awe inspiring. As you get closer, Buchaille Etive Mor towers over you, getting bigger and bigger and it seems to take forever to get past it. Then The Three Sisters came into view, their tops in the clouds. Couldn’t see much of the view down the Glen because of the weather but in some ways I prefer it like this to when it’s sunny. Called into the visitor centre and had a look round, then down into West Laroch and Ballachulish. Stopped off at Crafts & Things for a coffee and peppermint slice cake and to shelter from the rain. I was absolutely soaked … when I left there was a big pool of water around my chair and they had to mop up! Called into the Co-Op to get some new batteries as camera had been playing up on Rannoch Moor, then past Craigavon Cottage where we go on holiday. Felt a bit strange seeing someone else’s car parked outside. Went to the churchyard over the road and admired the view of the Pap of Glencoe and Loch Leven. My first view of the Pap had been at exactly the 900 mile mark! Felt a bit sad being here on my own and having to rush off. Headed off overBallachulish Bridge and up the coast road towards Fort William. Rained on and off the whole time but a really enoyable stretch of road. Was singing Jeff Buckley songs (Corpus Christi Carol) at the top of my voice – luckily there was noboyd else around! Had seen on the map that there was a Premier Inn in Fort William so I thought I’d treat myself, but it was £75.00 a room. Stopped at Morrisons to get more crap for tea and cycled back out of Fort William the way I’d come for a B&B. Got a room at the Innseagan House Hotel (£40.00, reduced to £35.00 for charity).
Sunday 17th May 2009
70.75 / 993.48 / +13.12 / 62.09
Start: FORT WILLIAM End: INVERNESS
Via: Spean Bridge, Loch Lochy, Invergarry, Caledonian Canal, Fort Augustus, Loch Ness
P80 E4 Spean Bridge, Highlands
P80 D4 Loch Lochy, Highlands
P80 C5 Invergarry, Highlands
P80 C5 Caledonian Canal, Highlands
P80 C5 Fort Augustus, Highlands
P87 G9 Inverness, Highlands
Leaving Fort William, Brian took the A82, A830 and B804 to Spean Bridge then the A82 north alongside the Caledonian Canal and the east side of Loch Lochy – a route that provided great views of Ben Nevis. Passed through Invergarry and Fort Augustus befor etaking the B862 and B852 east of Loch Ness north through to Inverness. In terms of mileage, today’s ride was the third best on the ride so far.
Left Fort William. Walked through town centre but most of the shops were shut as it’s Sunday, which was strange for a tourist place. Cycled up to Inverlochy Castle and had a look around the ruins. Inverlochy was the old name for Fort Williams before the English got there. Decided to take the B8004 up along the Caledonian Canal rather than going up the A82. Really hilly to start with and struggled for a bit to get along – legs felt really tired. Fantastic views over to Ben Nevis range for most of the road – the mountains still have snow on top. Stopped to have a wander up and down Neptune’s Staircase, the lock system on the canal – a real feat of engineering. The road finished at the Commando Memorial at Spean Bridge so had a bit of a breather there. This was here the Commando regiment was founded and where they did their training. As well as the fantastic monument there’s a memorial garden where people leave tributes to loved ones who’ve served in the Commandos. There are loads from WW2 but also quite a few more recent ones from the Falklands War, Afghanistan and Iraq. Very moving. Rejoined the A82 up the side of Loch Lochy and passed a placed called The Well of Seven Heads. Seven murderers were executed here in the 17th century before having their heads chopped off, washed in the well and presented to the clan chieftan. There’s a gory memorial statue there with the seven heads carved on top. Carried on through Invergarry to Fort Augustus and had a bit of a rest at the bottom of Loch Ness. Had always planned to take the B862 up the east side of Loch Ness rather than the A82, but was having second thoughts as pushed for time. Spoke to a local guy who seemed surprised that I was aiming to get to Inverness that evening, but he said the B-road was very nice if could get up the first hill! Decided to stick to my original plan as I knew how busy the A82 got, so set off up the B-road. The hill was absolutely horrendous. Really steep and winding and just went on and on. Got off and pushed most of the way up which slowed me down even more. Once on top I met a cyclist coming the other way who assured me it was all downhill after the next short climb to the summit. It was really beautiful up there, with views right back to Ben Nevis, though you couldn’t see much of Loch Ness because of the trees. The road descended into Foyers to join the A852, one of General Wade‘s old military roads. The waterfalls at Foyers looked really good but didn’t have time to stop. This road was right down on the banks of Loch Ness and the views up and down the Loch were spectacular. Noticed that the back tyre was getting soft – I’d got a slow puncture. Had to stop to pump it up and for the rest of the day I had to stop every couple of miles to re-inflate the tyres. Was freewheeling down a hill when some kind of insect him me on the cheek, got caught in my chin strip and stung me on the cheek bone. It started really hurting and I was starting to have visions of going into anaphylactic shock in the middle of nowehere! Starting to get late now, so started sprinting for Inverness. No signs around saying how far there is to go but thought it must be about 4 o 5 miles – then saw a sign saying 7 miles when I rejoined the A862. Put my head down and cycled for ages than passed another sign saying 6 and three-quarter miles! By this time the sun was going down over the hills on the other side of Loch Ness and I felt like the coach driver at the beginning of Dracula trying to get through the Borgo pass before sunset! Passed Castle Urqhuart on opposite bank but couldn’t really see much. Finally reached outskirts of Inverness and found a nice B&B – Moray Park House (£35.00) near the town centre. Had quick shower and walked into town to dine in McDonald’s and have a walk along the river. City looked beautify at night with all the lights reflected in the water. Checked on bike when I got back and tyre was completely flat. Have to get it sorted tomorrow.
Monday 18th May 2009
55.66 / 1,049.14 / –15.09 / 61.71
Start: INVERNESS End: GOLSPIE
Via: Moray Firth, Tore, Cromarty Firth, Tain, Dornoch Firth
P87 G9 Moray Firth, Highlands
P87 F9 Tore, Highlands
P87 E8 Cromarty Firth, Highlands
P87 C10 Tain, Highlands
P87 C10 Dornoch Firth, Highlands
P87 A11 Golspie, Highlands
From Inverness Brian crossed the Morary Firth on the A9 and rode onto the Black Isle (actually a peninsula) and via minor roads and cycle paths to Tore. It was while between Inverness and Tore that Brian passed the 1000 mile mark. He continued on the A9, crossing the Cromarty Firth and heading north to Tain. From there he crossed his third river of the day – the Dornoch Firth and pushed onto to his finish point for the day at Golspie.
Had to find a bike shop to get puncture sorted before setting off. Pumped tyre back up and found a place called Highland Cycles just over the bridge. Had a new tube fitted, but the lad working there was rubbish. He punctured one tube trying to lever the tyre back on but got it done eventually. He gave me a big thorn he’d taken out of the tyre. Must have picked it up coming up Loch Ness. Pouring down with rain as I left Inverness on the A9. I was now further north than I’ve ever been in my life! Crossed over the Moray Firth then took cycle track to avoid horrendous dual carriageway. The track took me round various nice country lanes until I reached the village of Tore, then back onto the A9. During this stretch I passed the 1000 mile mark, but as my mileometer only went up to 999 miles it went back to zero. The next stretch is called the The Black Isle, and it’s pretty bleak – just flat, featurless farmland. Really dark heavy clouds seemed to be following me. See first sign for John o’Groats – only 111 miles to go! Another bridge over the Cromarty Firth and on the A9 along the banks of the Firth. Nice view of the oil rigs. Turned inland towards Tain. The map shows a couple of abbeys so I thought I’d visit one to break the monotony, but neither of them was signposted so couldn’t find them. Probably just as well as getting pushed for time, with the late start and cycling into the wind all day. Passed the Glenmorangie Distillery and on over the Dornoch Firth. Debated going into Dornoch town as it’s meant to be a nice old seaside resort, but carried on along the main road. Had originally hoped to get to Helmsdale, but starting to get late and it’s still a fair way off, so phoned Linda and asked her to look on the internet for the next couple of town, Golspie and Brora. Golspie looked more promising, so stopped there and found a lovely B&B on the road into town, the Glenshee Guest House (£27.00) – a nice detached house built in 1896 and run by a nice old lady called Nan. Walked into town for a portion of chips which I ate on the beach.
Tuesday 19th May 2009
57.93 / 1,107.07 / +2.27 / 61.50
Start: GOLSPIE End: WICK
Via: Dunrobin Castle, Brora, Helmsdale, Dunbeath, Latheron, Hill of Many Stanes, Cairn of Get, Wick
P93 J11 Dunrobin Castle, Highlands
P93 J12 Brora, Highlands
P93 H13 Helmsdale, Highlands
P94 G3 Latheron, Highlands
P94 G4 Hill O’Many Stanes, Highlands
P94 F5 Cairn of Get, Highlands
P94 E5 Wick, Highlands
From Golspie Brian took the A9 to Brora and Helmsdale, visiting Dunrobin Castle en route. He then continued on the A9 over some seriously steep hills – some of the worst on the ride – to Dunbeath and Latheron. Then heading north up the A99 Brian visited two historical monuments. These were Hill O’Many Stanes (hundreds of foot-high stones arranged in rows) and Cairn of Get (a 5,000 year old burial site). He finished his penultimate day on the ride at Wick, where he’ll set out on his final day to John O’Groats tomorrow and from where he’ll catch a track back home on Thursday.
Left Golspie on the A9, and called in to look at Dunrobin Castle on the outskirts. Looks like a French chateau. Walked down to the shore behind the castle, and lovely views of the castle looking across the ornamental gardens (or as much as I could see over the wall … didn’t have time to pay to get in). Carried on up the coast past Brora to Helmsdale. Beautiful yellow gorse everywhere along the roadsides. Left bike by road and hiked over the hills to the coast to look at the remains of the highland clearance village of Badbea. When the highlanders were evicted from the glens by the Earl of Sutherland, some of them set up home on the cliffs. Was a bit of a hike to get there but well worth it. Just the remains of the cottages are left now, but what a bleak place to have to live. Looks nice on a beautiful day like today, but to live here all year round must have been terrible. There’s not a flat piece of ground in the whole place. The only reason they were allowed to live here was the landowners thought it was too dangerous for the sheep to graze there. Met a Scottish guy eating his sandwiches who said the English had a lot to be ashamed of. “Not this time son, the Earl of Sutherland was a bastard, but he was a Scottish bastard, which makes it worse! The hill out of Helmsdale was one of the worst on the whole trip. Gradients of 12% and 14% and going on for ages. Managed it eventually with a few stops, but it was hard going. This stretch of coast was similar to Conrwall, with the road dipping in and out of all these little harbour villages. Made it to Latheron, and my last road change of the whole journey! Onto the A99 towards Wick. Actually it was only the name of the road that changed … it was just a continuation of the A9. The road that branches off towards Thurso was still called the A9, but that was a completely different road. Strange. Met a guy in 18th century uniform walking the other way, and turned out he was an ex soldier walking from John o’ Groats to Land’s End in full historical Pikeman uniform for the charity Help For Heroes. He’d been going 3 days and expects to take 71 days to finish! Made couple of detours to visit some prehistoric monuments. The Grey Cairns of Camster I had to miss as they were 5 miles off the road, but I visited The Hill o’ Many Stanes, a group of small stones laid out in rows and patterns on the hillside, and the Cairn of Get, a nice burial cairn, still in great condition, probably as it’s in the middle of nowhere. Had to hike half an hour over a bog to get there! Both monuments are over 5000 years old! Passed 1100 mile mark, though mileomter now back to showing 100 miles! Made it into Wick, which is a lot bigger than I expected. Went straight to the station to see about the train home, only to find it’s got the most precise opening hours in the world … 10.10am to 17.14pm! Will go back when it opens tomorrow. Linda has found a couple of B+Bs on the internet, so went down to Harbour Guesthouse. No bell, so went into hall and rang bell on desk a couple of times, but still no reply. Huge family portrait photo on wall of a couple with about 8 kids, and big picture of Jesus in hall. All seemed very strange, and there was a bit of an odd smell. Was quite relieved to leave. As I was walking back up the hill, I met a guy who asked me if I was looking for accommodation. I said yes, and then realised he was the guy in the photo! We walked back to the B+B and he put me in a poky attic room (£25.00) with a bathroom down the hall. There was still a strange smell. He blamed it on the new carpet, but it didn’t look new to me! There were certificates and frame proclamations everywhere from the Church of Jesus Christ and the Latter Day Saints… I knew it! Had shower and wandered into town for meal at Wetherspoons. Town centre seemed nice, and harbour area was interesting … all old granite buildings and narrow streets. Might explore properly tomorrow morning before going to station.
Wednesday 20th May 2009
48.75 / 1,155.82 / –9.18 / 60.83
Start: WICK End: WICK
Via: Noss Head, John O’Groats, Duncansby Head
P94 E5 Noss Head, Highlands
P94 E5 Castle Girnigoe, Highlands
P94 C5 John o’Groats, Highlands
P94 C6 Duncansby Head, Highlands
Brian’s final day of his marathon bike ride began in Wick where he booked his train ticket back to Merseyside for tomorrow. He’ll leave Wick tomorrow morning at 6.20am and arrive back in Merseyside after 6pm. This morning he took minor roads the short distance to Noss Head, visiting Castle Girnigoe, before returning to Wick. He then took the A99 north to John o’Groats. At this point he’d travelled 1,134.11 miles (1,825.12 km) since leaving Land’s End 18 days ago on 2nd May. Although most people say that John o’Groats is the north-easterly tip of mainland Britain, the actual point is just a bit further north. It’s called Duncansby head and Brian visited there next. Scots say that John o’Groats is the northern point of Britain, but Duncansby Head is the northern point of Scotland. Brian finished his day by riding back down the a99 in the rain to Wick.
Went to railway station as soon as it opened to book a ticket home. Had heard horror stories about people having to wait 2 or 3 days before they can get a train, but had no problems at all. Lady was really helpful and got ticket booked for tomorrow. Met an older guy at the station doing the same thing. Turned out he was going on the same train as far as Edinburgh. Had plenty of time now as not far to John o’Groats so decided to cycle out to the coast to see Sinclair Girnicoe Castle. Had seen it on a postcard and asked the woman in the shop for directions. Nice quite road out there past Wick airport and the castle was fantastic. It’s built on top of a rock stack separated from the coast by a narrow causeway. It was hard to see where the rock finished and the castle started. From the castle I could see right up the coast round Sutherland Bay towards John o’Groats. Looked like a lovely ride and a nice blue sky. Cycled back down to Wick and set off. Lovely weather and nice quiet road with great views out to sea. Met the guy from the railway station on his way back from John o’Groats as he’d set off a lot earlier this morning he probably had the right idea as the weather was starting to close in. Got to John o’Groats with no problems, but they don’t seem to make much of an effort. At Land’s End they had a start/finish line on the road, but nothing here. Looks a bit of a dump. There’s a really nice hotel but it’s derelict and surrounded by wire fences. Went to the cafe to get my form stamped and had a wander round. Got my photo taken at the signpost and bought a T-shirt and a few other souvenirs in the shop. Saw a woman looking at me and vaguely recognised her. Went closer and realised it was a woman from work! Travelled all the way to John o’Groats and met someone who works in the same building. Stood looking out to Orkney, but only when I turned round I got a real sense of achievement. I had a real sense that I was looking back down the length of the country that I’d just travelled up, and could picture the whole country laid out before me. As I was still OK for time I decided to cycle out to Duncansby Head, which is the real north-west point. Cycled up a narrow lane for a couple of miles. There’s a lighthouse there and a sign pointing back down over the fields to the Duncansby Stacks – a series of rock stacks just off the coast. Left my bike and walked off to have a look. They are amazing – really spectacular. There’s also a huge cleft in the cliff where all the seabirds nest. The noise is deafening and there are thousands and thousands of birds crammed onto every ledge. There were meant to be puffins there but couldn’t see any. Was just starting to rain so headed back to pick up bike. Had intended to head up to Dunnet Head just to the east of John o’Groats, which is most northerly point on the mainland, but the clouds looking nasty so decided to head back to Wick. Looked back to John o’Groats as I was leaving and there was a lovely rainbow over the Orkneys. Looked back ahead and could see Wick in the distance over to the left, round the far end of Sutherland Bay. it was in bright sunshine under the lovely clear sky. Unfortunately the weather straight ahead that I had to go through to there looked absolutely awful. As I set off, the heavens opened and I cycled all the way back to Wick in the heaviest rain I’d experienced the whole trip. Got back to B&B but it was empty again. Landlord had said they were going to a family do. Got dried off and went for something to eat. When I got back to my room later the landlord came knocking on the door for payment for tonight’s stay as if he thought I was going to do a runner. Told him I didn’t need breakfast as setting off early, but no discount in price.
Thursday 21st May 2009
Via by train: Thurso, Edinburgh, Wigan, Liverpool
P94 D3 Thurso, Highlands
P42 D6 Bebington, Merseyside
Having completed his bike ride yesterday Brian began his long journey home – via four trains and changing three times at Inverness, Edinburgh and Wigan. This journey took over 12 hours. Indeed, the first train between Wick and Inverness took four-and-a-half hours as it winded around the extreme north of Scotland through Thurso. Had Brian known this, he could have stayed in Thurso last night saving a couple of hours on the train and the ride back to Wick from John o’Groats in the rain yesterday. There were other people at Wick who had also just completed the end-to-end bike ride and Brian shared the train with some of them. He finally arrived back at Liverpool Lime Street Station at 6.30pm. I met him there and took a couple of photos before Brian walked to James Street Station and got the train back to Spital on the Wirral. From there it is a short distance to his home in Bebington.
Headed up to station early, but when I got there I realised I still had the key to the B&B. Cycled back down to drop it off (it was only a couple of minutes down the road) and got back in time for train. Got train OK but then realised it looped up north to Thurso before coming back down south so could’ve stayed up in Thurso yesterday. Would’ve have avoided the ride back in the rain and a second night in the B&B in Wick, and might’ve been able to get up to Dunnet Head. Never mind! Train journey was fine. Changed at Inverness and Edinburgh. Passed through Penrith and as the castle is right next to the station, I could see where I’d been a few days earlier. Changed again in Wigan and eventually arrived back at Lime Street in Liverpool where I met by Steve. Walked through town with Steve to James Street as part of the underground was closed for repairs. Got the train back to Spital then a short (final) ride home.
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