What a privilege to be able to cycle from Land’s End to John O’Groats; to be able to afford the time and the cost and to have the fantastic support that we have had along the way. Wonderful that we have been able to raise even more than our target of £100,000 for the great causes; and we have been so lucky with the weather too. It has all gone fantastically smoothly and we have all completed the 1,030 or so miles. We have even been lucky to hardly meet any midges in Scotland at the height of the midge season.
Sometimes it seems hard to remember all the good things about the ride as there have been so many, some of which have been covered in the daily blogs.
A good place to start is with the group which after slight wariness at first meeting and wondering if I was going to be left behind by racers we quickly formed up into a mutual support group. If someone was struggling then someone else would stay with them and encourage them along. When people had problems with their bike there was Mark or one of the guides to fix it. Of course, there were differences in our natural paces, and for the first two weeks on every ascent Jamie and Lucy would overtake me and on every descent I would pass them. At the start of the trip Julie and Andrew Stokes were often found at the back, but by the end they often led the way.
It was great having the Garmins showing us the way with their purple lines, but it did mean that I barely looked at the maps which could be slightly dislocating at times, not being aware of what was in the next valley, but it does mean that you can concentrate on the cycling and the views and really not have to worry about the navigation at all. Saying which, still managed to fail to follow the line occasionally, usually by not looking when a junction was up ahead and I was really in the groove enjoying the cycling. The result of that plus a few deliberate detours (notably to see our cousin Rob and to take in Dunnet Head) is that I actually cycled 1,080 miles.
Having found the first three or four days quite tough day five was very tiring with the accumulated tiredness of the previous days so that it seemed hard and I thought we would never finish it, but then it got easier again; even if the days were quite tiring. Our fitness was clearly growing and turn by turn of the pedals it seemed more feasible to achieve. Until we did it I was worried about the longest day through the Scottish Borders to Peebles, though knowing that Saddle Skedaddle had got many other groups through buoyed me up – they wouldn’t set a challenge that they thought many people would fail.
Most of the route was absolutely fantastic with quiet roads and stunning views through largely unspoilt countryside. Obviously, we sometimes had to go through duller bits or alongside main roads (for instance to cross the Severn and Forth). There are huge amounts of wonderful countryside that I have never seen before, and I look forward to exploring bits of the country that have been opened up to me on this journey.
I don’t want to reprise the daily blog so instead I will make some general comments that the journey revealed (even if some of them are pretty obvious). In the South most of the harvest was already in, with a small number of fields of wheat still awaiting the harvester, and as we moved north the proportion of harvested fields fell. In the far north of Scotland I even saw a few fields of rape awaiting harvest, whilst in the South they were long gone. The result is that the North is much greener than the South. One of the notable things cycling in the UK compared to my journey down the Mosel last year is the lack of bird song. Our hedgerows are much less vocal than they were even in my youth, but I have seen large numbers of buzzards throughout the length of the country and more swallows than I remember seeing almost everywhere, so long as there are some eves for them to nest in. Are swallows a bird that has benefited from humans providing nesting sites?
It is wonderful that we could cross the country most of the way on such quiet roads that whenever a car passed you could smell it for some time – but what does this say about our cities where we barely notice the smell any more as it is there all the time?
The most demoralising time is when struggling up a steep hill and Norman overtakes saying something like “this is easy isn’t it?” or “it’s not very steep”. But it is wonderful to see him cycling along seemingly without a care in the world. And it does impress people to say that an 89 year old is cycling LE JOG.
I am really glad that I did it, and it was much more manageable than I had feared as it was broken down into chunks. Each day looks manageable and is broken down into three of four stages with elevenses, lunch and afternoon tea. And given all the cycling we needed the energy. Huge breakfasts with porridge and cooked; energy bars cake and fruit mid-morning and afternoon and a decent sized lunch either an excellent picnic provided by Peter and Rob or a café stop.
I don’t think I’ll do it again. I will either explore some corner of the country in more detail (the Cairngorms or North West Scotland appeal) or do another trek elsewhere. I would certainly use Saddle Skedaddle again with their excellent planning and attention to detail and the support they provide throughout is brilliant.
Many thanks to Saddle Skedaddle, Peter and Rob, all the other cyclists and my Brother Andrew for suggesting it. I had a wonderful time.
And many thanks to all our wonderful sponsors.