I want to thank you again for your support and bring you up to date. Knowing about everybody’s extraordinary generosity has made all the difference, and when the thought of hopping on a bus or getting into the support van has seemed overwhelmingly tempting, it has prevented me from doing so.
We are now north of Edinburgh and, as you might expect the country has opened up, becomes expansive, grander, wilder, emptier and, frankly even more beautiful.
Why is it LEJOG (Land’s End to John O’Groats) and not the other way around, JOGLE? Four reasons. First, it is easier this way. The prevailing wind in Great Britain is south-west so if you are lucky, you have a tail wind. We have been broadly lucky and sometimes felt the wind pushing us up hill. There have been strong westerly cross winds a couple of days and that is bearable but a headwind is brutal thing. Even worse than heavy rain. Second, when you are cycling it always feels as if you are going uphill. The ground is never level and the downhills – inevitably – take much less time than the uphills. So going uphill – northwards – makes sense. Third, I thought that the country couldn’t be more beautiful than Devon and Cornwall. I was wrong. It definitely gets better as one goes northwards. Lancashire, the brief corner of Yorkshire that we traversed through, and Cumbria were magnificent, spectacular and much emptier than anything further south. And now Scotland is well, a different country. It is much emptier, the great aristocratic estates are on the whole well looked after with magnificent mature trees, good stone walls and plenty of animals in the landscape. And then there is the open moorland. It is immensely rewarding. It would probably be rather dispiriting to go in the other direction.
One of the great pleasures of this trip has been – perhaps improbably – some of the bridges. There have been lots of beautiful bridges, eighteenth and nineteenth century, and some twentieth, over small rivers as well as some superb railway viaducts. The first great bridge we crossed was Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Clifton suspension bridge. Recently restored, it is the most magnificent sight with spectacular views across the Avon. Definitely worth the detour. And to then to cross the old M4 bridge over the River Severn into Wales is a great treat for one day. The fourteenth (or possibly even thirteenth?) century Devil’s Bridge at Kirkby Lonsdale is a miracle. Delinquent youths have probably been throwing themselves off it into the river Lune for six or seven hundred years. I tried to stop just such a set of youths. Inevitably I failed, perhaps like many before me. I didn’t hang around to see them break their necks.
The best bridges, however are those over the Forth, the Forth rail bridge of 1884, the road bridge of 1964, which we crossed on bikes, and the new 2017 road bridge which opens next week. As it says in South Queensferry, this is the home of single, double and triple-span bridges. What a great collection. House building may be a crap enterprise now without flair or imagination, but bridge building is magnificent and the new bridge is a sight worth beholding.
Crossing Edinburgh, the first huge city we had been through since Manchester, was strange. It is a city that no one can fail to adore and it was at its best with the Festival. With all the buzz; the crowds and a startling number of dogs, the traffic lights, the endless stopping and starting, it was an incongruous experience on a long bike ride through the countryside. It was a reminder of how very different it is living in the countryside from the city. Another reminder was that throughout this journey we have seen far too many English flags and Union Jacks. They are not welcome to my eyes: almost certainly marking the homes of at best Brexitreers and at worst UKIP supporters. A depressing sight. None of that in the big cities.
Finally now that we are in Scotland I can confirm that the weather is no worse up here than down south. But the real enemy of the cyclist is not rain anyway; it is those headwinds headwind.
I’m not sure I would recommend consenting adults to go on holiday with siblings or aged parents (children, of course are never given any choice). There are reasons why one doesn’t often see large extended family groups on holiday. But watching my dad contending with 50, 60 or 70 miles a day every day at the age of 89 is pretty amazing. I’m more impressed than I want to admit. And we are all getting on very happily.
One last report to come from John O’Groats. Thank you again for your support, encouragement and most generous donations.