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Day 15 – Bridge of Cally to Tomintoul

Today was probably the toughest day of the trip, though not the longest and not a huge amount more of climbing than other days, but each of the climbs was long and in places fairly steep.  The last climb being the toughest of all.

Anyhow, the day started with an 18 mile climb, though the first 12 of these were pretty gentle

And it was only the last three or four up to the top at Cairnwell that it got to 12% (1 in 8).

Most of us stopped for coffee in the cafe at the top, and some had cake.  Others continued to Braemar at the bottom for coffee there. One (Andrew) had cake at both the top and the bottom.  The weather, again, was better than the forecast with mostly cloudy and some sun and the most fantastic tail wind pushing us up the hill.  When we got to the top we were just about in the cloud and it got quite cold so everyone togged up for the descent.  Descents are cold as there is the wind from the speed and no work being done.

We continued down the Don to lunch near Balmoral Castle (and they never offered us tea even though we pay our taxes).  Beautiful views everywhere, and at one point four stags up on the horizon posing for us (but too far away to photograph).

The second climb was quite gentle, but fooled us by having a long down in the middle followed by more up; then a long descent to tea break at a great cafe at Colnabaichin and the final and toughest challenge of the day was the climb up the Lecht which started off with a 20% (1 in 5) climb.  This turned out to be more than the motor on Norman’s bike could cope with so his children plus Rob and Peter took turns to push him up the steepest bits in order to help the motor along.

The result we all cycled and walked all the way up, and then a final 7.5 mile descent to Tomintoul.  Many thanks to Pete and Rob for their most fantastic help which went well beyond the call of duty.

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Day 15 – Andrew

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.

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Day 14 – Kinross to Bridge of Cally

Today was the easiest day so far, just 39 miles and a mere 600 metres of climb.  This meant that we had time to visit places, divert from the route and generally take things easy.  Even so, it was breakfast at 07.30 and be ready at the bikes for the briefing at 08.45 for a departure at 09.00.

Pete and Rob are very good and efficient and everything seems to just work and we are all ready and on time and ready to go.

So a nice gentle rolling 15 miles to Perth for elevenses

which unfortunately didn’t include this

and on to Scone Palace.

Somewhere along the route Sam’s best man Tom Lamb turned up and cycled with Sam for the rest of the day. Using Tom L’s local knowledge we cycled a different route along some of Tom Lamb’s favourite lanes. It was really good to ride together again and catch up on each others news.

Norman, Andrew and I went to Scone Palace which is a neo-Gothick country house a couple of miles from Perth.  Fairly grand with a terrible collection of Victorian ivory and papier-mache vases.  Andrew and Norman enjoyed it, I less so.

From there Andrew and I deviated from the purple track on the Garmin and headed back into Perth and along the river.  There was then a horrid stretch alongside a dual carriageway, but once we left that it was much better and in Stanley we dropped down the hill to visit the mill.

This was set up by Arkwright in 1786, and at its height employed about 850 people who lived in the model village above the mill.  It continued to water powered (water wheel, turbine, on site hydro electricity until the 1960s and only closed in 1989!  They are again generating electricity on the site, but now for the grid.

From there to a late lunch via the tallest hedge in the world (100 foot high beech hedge) and stone circle,

and so via a nice decent to Bridge of Cally – one of those built by general Wade to suppress the Highlands.

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Day 13 – Peebles to Kinross

Is this day 13 or 14? Yesterday was a rest day and I am only counting cycling days, but to make things more complicated Andrew did half today’s ride yesterday.

We stayed in the Tontine Hotel in Peebles, which I can thoroughly recommend.  Great service and excellent food, and this is the view from my bedroom

and the dining room

Today started fairly cold and blustery and got worse through the morning, with a heavy shower while we were in Edinburgh, but by the time we had finished that was long gone and we completed the ride in glorious sunshine.

The ride out of Peebles was beautiful and flat but along a busy road which made it less pleasant until we turned off to climb up the Moorfoot Hills (or more foot hills as I like to think of them as they are not very high, but some fantastic views.

Anne was having serious problems with her gears, but road on until the tea break where Rob and Pete sorted them.

Pete showed us what he considers to be the best view in Scotland (compare to what Ruskin considered the best view in England)

And so to Edinburgh

And on to Queensferry and the Forth bridges

and past Benarty Hill

to Kinross

Another lovely day with easy cycling and some fantastic views.

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Day 12 – Hallbankgate to Peebles

The longest day! and one of the hilliest.  78 miles and 1,300 metres of climb (don’t you just love the mixed imperial metric units?).

The first couple of miles we were led by Rob as the route started from the other hotel in Talkin, with the two routes merging in Brampton.  The advance party (ie us) decided not to wait for the other group, but to continue following the purple guideline

We each have a Garmin GPS on our handlebars, which is accurate to within a few metres and shows us exactly where to go.  You only have to remember to glance at it as you see a junction up ahead, and maybe check when you have gone past it to make sure that you are on the correct road.  Though, sometimes when you get into the spot and are just cycling along it can be easy to forget – I think we have all been saved by a friendly shout from another cyclist, though Norman has managed to go several miles off piste at times.  But, as Pete said in the initial briefing, “If you can’t see the purple line then turn round and go back until you find it again.  We do also have printed maps with the route marked on it as backup.

Anyhow,  after Brampton we stopped briefly to look at Lanercost Priory

The nave of the original priory is the parish church and the rest of the buildings are in ruins.

From there we had a series of steep up and downs that were tiring until our tea stop on the Liddel Water and across it into SCOTLAND.

We watched Scottish Fire and Rescue togging up for a practice rescue in the river which took them over 20 minutes – I hope they do it faster for real.  You can also see Norman cycling into Scotland with his typical panache

more ups and downs to lunch beside the Buddhist monastery at  Eskdalemuir – a weird thing to find in the middle of nowhere.


From there we had a series of gentle, but very long, ascents followed by the most fantastic descents that went on and on and could be taken at speed

and so into Peebles with one final ascent.

Friday is a rest day.


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Day 12 – Norman

Wednesday we left Kirkby Lonsdale and climbed up with good views of both the Pennines and Lakeland to Orton, a small village in Westmoreland.  We had the morning break there before climbing from Lonsdale. The climb was long but easy, unlike the first which had some very cheeky ascents, where I had to dismount and walk.  My bike is very heavy, so pushing it up hill is difficult.  However the bike has a twist grip on the handlebar which will generate full power up to 6 mph.  This I use to pull me up the hill, and usually have to stop after 15 meters to get my breath back.

After the long fast descent from the pass the track was quite flat through Maulds Meaburn and Kings Meaburn (where there was a plaque explaining that the King had had executed the feudal baron who was one of the 4 knights who killed Beckett in 1170 and then rebelled in 1172.  Half the land was given to his widow by the King while the rest remained the king’s property.

I then went on, but shot past the turning we should have taken (through not studying my Satnav).  I was just turning round to get on track, about 2 miles off the route when Sam phoned me and I rejoined my three sons who were hunting me.

Down to the railway line where we stopped at a disused station at Culgarth for a very good lunch.  On through Langwathby where we climbed up to a ridge where we got marvellous views of the Lake District in the distance.  The shape of Blencathra (aka Saddleback) was particularly  noticeable.  On and up to see Long Meg and her daughters, a 12 foot high monolith outside a ring of about 70 stones.  Long Meg is to the South West, where the sun sets at mid-winter.  Of course there is a belief that she and her daughters were turned to stone for dancing on the Sabbath.

We now rode across the streams feeding the Eden, up and down a lot until we came to Hallbankgate near Brampton where we spent the night in a pub called Belted Will, who was an Earl Howard who lived locally.  Half the party stayed in another pub 5 miles away.

In the morning we set out, to meet the rest of the party at Lanercost Priory.  We looked at the church, which was open to the public.   The transept and chancel had been unroofed by Henry VIII and the East end of the Church had a huge window where one could see the ruin.

Reunited we rode across the grain of the country up and down to the Border at a stream where we stopped for our morning snack.  Photos were taken.  Still cross country, up and down with some quite cheeky hills (all blessedly rather short) to Langholm, where Tom and I stopped at a bakery to buy some cake.  We now climbed steadily up the glen to Eskdalemuir, and on a couple of miles to a Buddhist-Tibetan monastery for lunch.  We looked at the monastery, and saw a few bonzes and some clearly identifiable followers.  The monastery is about 20 years old and the temple is heavily gilt and red paint.

On and up the glen again (which is a steady climb, for which my bike is really suited, and on past Ettrick (James Hogg C18. Poet the “Ettrick Shepherd”) up another glen, to the pass and a 6mile run down to a pub where we stopped for tea.  One of my fellow riders had told a group of elderly ladies about our trip and about me.  They insisted on photographing me and gave a donation to the 5 causes.  One was 82, and talked about cycling again.

Another climb up to a pass and descent, like the others, green fields and trees at the bottom, with cows in the fields, giving way as we climb to sheep moorland and dry stone walls, together with Forestry Commission pine forests (and very heavy lorries which squeeze us off the road, they are so big.  Off the B road onto a by-road to bypass Innerliethen to Peebles where we spend two nights.

Blessed rest, but my tablet is wonky.  I took it in to a computer shop in Peebles, and he could not mend it.  The jack to the USB is damaged and he does not carry stock.  So this may well be my last blog.

The group are now well integrated and seem to understand each others’ foibles, and cycling ability.  They all seem to try and help me, which is nice, but possibly unnecessary.

One silly incident was outside our hotel in Peebles where we stopped to cross the road, but I took my foot off the pedal to put down on the ground.  But the road had a heavy camber, and so I started to fall.  It was slow, and I rolled off my bike, landing on my bottom with my legs going up in the air.  It looked very dramatic, but I was totally unhurt, surprised, but not shocked.  Passers-by rushed to assist but it was not necessary.

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Day 11 – Kirby Lonsdale to Talkin or HallBankgate

Last night we stayed in the Pheasant Inn, Casterton just north of Kirby Lonsdale and the food was superb.

Today was a fantastic day, or as Andrew put it “A perfect day’s cycling. Perhaps the most beautiful of my life.”

We were threatened with rain for the first two hours, but it stopped before we even set off with low dramatic clouds that have been getting higher and higher throughout the day until very little cloud in the evening.

From Kirby Lonsdale we went up the Lune for a while before crossing over it and having our first, of many, climbs of the day.

Then crossed under the M6 and a massive climb round the back of the hills, but the sound of the M6 pursued us a long way, drop down, climb up and down again and again until back over the motorway

to our morning break at 20 miles in Orton in a bus shelter.  From there the sky lightened

From there to Long Meg

and on and on and on

Andrew stopped short this evening to stay at Talkin, while the rest of our group continued on to Hallbankgate to stay in Belted in, and so got our first views of Scotland across the Solway Firth

Once again a huge thank you to Pete and Ron and Saddle Skedaddle for the wonderful planning and support.  They truly make the trip more than just manageable to be very enjoyable.



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Day 10 – Andrew summary

We are now more than halfway between Land’s End and John O’Groats and I thought you would like an update.  That is, we have cycled 560 miles through Cornwall, Devon, Somerset, Bristol (is that still Avon?), Monmouthshire (Wales), Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, Shropshire, Cheshire, Greater Manchester, Lancashire and now God’s Own County as Sam insists we must call Yorkshire.  We have cycled between something over 40 and 70 miles a day and how tough it is depends on the wind and the hills.  As we move north it is getting hillier, though Devon and Cornwall were hardly flat.  The cycling adage that each day’s cycling is training for the next day is sort of true.  Sadly the last three days have been on a bicycle.  Caroline fulfilled her threat and left after seven days at Ironbridge to finish her book.  Actually a bicycle is livelier, friskier, more responsive and altogether easier to cycle than a tandem.  But I liked the companionship of a stoker. Norman is doing astonishingly well and, powered with his electric bike is always first up the hills.  Absent a disaster, he is definitely going to complete the ride on two wheels.  The rest of us too.

And what have we seen?  The hedgerows and trees look to be in pretty good shape throughout the country but there are far too many cars on the roads.  Some drivers are slow and patient, some are careless and aggressive.  It has been impossible to discern a pattern except that shiny, fast, expensive cars tend to be the worst.  Lorries, vans and old beaten up cars can be patient and courteous or cruel.  There is also a depressing amount of litter along the sides of the busier roads.

Cycling north I am struck by what staggering builders the Victorians were.  Every village and provincial town is, at heart, now Victorian and what great things they did.  There is also an amazing amount of building going on now.  But almost all the building is for ‘prestigious, exclusive, unique or luxury’ housing.  Often little pockets of 10 to 20 buildings on prime land at the edge of villages or towns.  Suburban creep.  We have seen absolutely no social housing and precious few attempts at reviving some of the poorer and more dispiriting places we have cycled through.  These new developments are imposing great homogeneity on the landscape.  Much of England is still staggeringly beautiful.  Achingly so often.  There are incredible views, beautiful gardens – though far too many garden centres which turn out to be something of a misnomer.  They have useful loos but are really just a way of spreading out of town gift shopping developments.  One of the enduring pleasures of the ride has been the smell of fresh-cut grass.  All the usual farming smells too. And it is true that as you move north the country becomes more beautiful, and outside the nineteenth century industrial and mining centres, less ravaged too.  The real north and Scotland comes now.

John Ruskin described this as ‘probably the most beautiful view in England. And therefore the world’.  Perhaps he wasn’t much of a traveller.



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Day 10 – Norman

Today from Gartang, Lancs to Casterton, by Kirkby Lonsdale .

Set off with a cloudy sky and the tops of the Pennines covered with fog.  A gentle climb with a couple of short climbs (both quite short) which the Geordies would call “Cheeky”  The result was that the ride seemed tougher than Cornwall, which the enthusiasts say is the worst part.  Then a steady climb up to Bowland Trough and round the edge of the Forest of Bowland (which is treeless)  The weather was not too bad, but some of the climb was tough.  My worst part of the day seems to be the second mile, when I have not settled down and my muscles start to ache, but it then improves.

The roadside plants have changed as we go north.  No more wild Montbretia which was rampant in Cornwall, and no policeman’s helmet which is a serious weed in the Midlands, to more ragged plants, and of course, nettles and ragwort every where.

We came down to Slaidburn after a long ride over the heather covered moor.  It was good to see fields and trees again. We had lunch at the top of the hill beyond Slaidburn and it came on to rain, but soon stopped  Up some more then a long descent down to High Bentham, we we had tea in a shop,  On along the river to Kirkby Lonsdale, where we rode over the Devil’s Bridge into the town and looked at the church, which had some good Norman carving, and on to admire what Ruskin called the finest view in England, over the Lune across green grazing well wooded, and the hills at the back.

The fifteen travellers all seem to be middle-aged and middle class, and make good companions for the ride.

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Day 10 – Garstang to Kirby Lonsdale

A fantastic day, that included a large detour through the Forest of Bowland, so a huge amount of climb and the most fantastic views but very hard work.

Some of the climbs were so steep that they had some of us walking up

and a beautiful picnic break

then more hills to climb before lunch

By lunch we had ridden what Sam likes to call a Tenzing Norgay; that is climbing to the height of Everest to celebrate we had some Kendall Mint Cake as eaten at the top of Everest.   We have a similar amount of climb still to do.

more downs and ups after lunch

Sam, Anne and Andrew stopped at an erratic (a stone brought from a different geological area by glaciers)

On the way down from Bowland we stopped for tea in Bentham, and then on to Kirby Londsdale stopping to see the Devil’s Bridge

and what Ruskin called the best view in England and therefore the world.

which we admired

We also met some of Sam and Anne’s friends there.