LEJOG 28th May to 6th June 2015
Carl asked me if I would join him and 3 others on a ride from Lands End to John-O-Groats. It was to be part of his celebrations for his 50th birthday.
Having had a couple of health scares, stents in 2012 and then AF and an ablation in 2014, I thought ‘if I don’t do it now at the age of 62, I never will!’. Little did I know I would need a triple bypass within a year, after doing the ride!!!
Carl organised everything with Peak Tours and Lois, Carl’s daughter, designed a team top which Carl sent away to be made.
We decided to do the ride for charity, which was decided to be the British Heart foundation and St John’s Hospice on the Wirral.
The day arrived to leave for the adventure, and we met at Enterprise car hire in Northwich at 8.30am. I was the last to arrive of the four of us, the four being Carl, Warren, Jason and myself. We left Northwich at approx 8.40am in a 7 seated VW. for the long drive down to Penzance, making a couple of stops for refreshments. Once we got to the car hire destination, they took us to our hotel at St Just, arriving at about 4.45pm. The weather had been pretty good, dry and sunny, turning cloudy late afternoon.
Once settled in the hotel, we sat, then walked around and indulged in couple of beers whilst waiting for our bikes to arrive. The bikes had been brought down separately by Peak Tours. We were also weighing up other riders as they arrived! A couple of riders turned up with tri bars on their bikes so we said we would keep away from them, or definitely don’t ride behind them!
Next to the Hotel was a shop called Warrens Bakery and when Sam the young tour guide arrived, Warren told him it was his shop, to which Sam very quickly replied you must be a master baker, this inevitably ended up being a bit of a joke for the rest of the trip(!)
The whole group sat down for the evening meal at 8pm and the tour guides – Nigel, Lizzie and Sam, introduced themselves and give us a briefing for what was to come.
It was very much a mixed bunch and we all retired at about 9.45pm eager to get started the next day.
Day 1. St Just to Lands End / Lands End to Plymouth.
Breakfast was at 7.30 and the days briefing outside to hotel was at 8.15.
Using the Peak Tours track pump I broke off the screw end of my rear wheel valve, but it stayed up so I left it (a great start). Off we rode for 6.2 miles to Lands End for the obligatory Photo’s to be taken, which took some time and we eventually left Lands End at about 9.20.
We started with a much appreciated tail wind, deciding that we would stop at every tea stop, which would be around 25 miles in the morning then lunch at around 50, then another stop at around 75 miles. This was the schedule for each day.
We stopped at St Michael’s mount for a photo, then onto the first stop for tea. While we were having our tea, bananas and Jelly babies etc one of the group over shot the stop and in his efforts to stop came off and hurt his shoulder, which I think slowed him down a little. The next stop was at 47 miles at Tregony, at the Kings Arms for lunch. The food was excellent, with plenty of pasta.
Typically after lunch you get the obligatory café legs. I was certainly feeling the affects of all the climbing. Some of the lanes were very narrow and you had to be very careful on the descents as there was lots of loose gravel which the rain had washed into the roads. Carl and Warren were like mountain goats, which needless to say left me standing on every climb.
The first ferry crossing was the King Harry Ferry over the river Fal (https://www.falriver.co.uk/ferries/king-harry-ferry) which was a lovely place, but on the other end of the crossing there was a big climb. Then on to the Polperro before the decent to catch the Boddnick Ferry.
The final tea stop was 20 miles to go, by which time I wished my legs belonged to someone else.
After the tea stop Carl and Warren went of for a play and Jayson and I rode the few miles to the Plymouth Ferry where we caught up with Carl and Warren. There were a couple of Royal navy ships in the Harbour which looked very impressive. Riding off the ferry we rode the final 4 miles to the hotel together arriving first at 6.05pm.
104 miles covered with 8,067ft of climbing. Absolutely knackered!
Evening meal at 7.30. 3 pints of Guinness. Bed by 10 pm.
Day 2 Plymouth to Glastonbury
Up at 6.30, breakfast 7.15 to 7.30, briefing at 8.15 and on the road by 8.30.
This was the format for the whole of the ride.
As we started, it was drizzling and by the time we got to Exeter it was torrential and the roads were like rivers with lots of traffic.
I was glad when we were out of the city, climbing up over Dartmoor which wasn’t as bad as I was expecting, but the wet conditions made descending a bit hairy. We stopped for a quick brew but wanted to push on to the lunch stop which was the Drewe Arms at Broadhembury, which was a lovely little village full of thatched cottages (https://www.visitsouthdevon.co.uk/places/broadhembury-p1247813).
There was a very welcome log fire in the pub and we took advantage of getting there first, having our wet clothes steaming in front of it before the others arrived.
We eventually managed to change some of our kit when the van arrived. We eventually set off after a one and a half hour stop.
Out of the pub we went straight into a 17% climb for about a mile before the gradient got a bit easier, by this time the other 3 were out of sight but the rain had stopped and I was quite happy in my own little world.
The road continued up and down until we hit the Somerset levels. We re-grouped again but Carl and Warren turned the wick up again. Nigel, one of the tour group latched onto my back wheel and we were not hanging about heading for Glastonbury. I had to make a sudden left turn and unbeknown to me Nigel was on his tri bars on my wheel and unfortunately he hit my back wheel and came off, but was unhurt.
Jason was riding strongly and coping with the ride much better than me, I did feel a bit guilty that I was holding the other 3 up and spent some time wishing they would just leave me to ride at my own pace.
I was smashed but managed to hang on for the last few miles into Glastonbury and again we were the first to arrive just as the bag van dropped of our bags at the guest house. The Pilgrims Lodge wasn’t the best place we had stopped, as the four of us shared a cramped loft room, but who cares – it was a bed!
We went out into Glastonbury to a local hostelry for our evening meal and more Guinness, one or two odd people walking around the town. Could be the hippy culture(!)
99.3 miles covered 6,700ft climbing at an average of 15.6 mph.
Day 3 Glastonbury to Ludlow.
We had a good breakfast at the Pilgrims and what was looking like a fine day in store.
Same format as the previous day with get up, breakfast times, etc, and we rode to the meeting place for our briefing before setting off.
We went off course within the first few miles, but eventually found our way back ok heading towards Bristol. Riding through a hilly park in Bristol I could hear the pitter patter of some runner coming up behind and at one point I thought I was going to have the indignity of him passing me, but I managed to summon a little spurt over the top of the hill and on we went to the Clifton suspension bridge and for another photo stop. Over the bridge we went onto the tea stop in Bristol. Legs still not feeling great. We then carried on onto the Severn bridge for another photo stop. I called Ann and Jim to ask where they were, as they were coming to meet us at Ludlow. It was pretty windy and cold on the bridge but a great view. Carrying on navigating through Wells was a bit of a nightmare and we got split up. I stopped at the Cathedral which is spectacular, for a couple of photo’s . Having lost the others I pushed on out of Wells up a big climb thinking that Carl, Warren and Jason had gone on but only to be passed near the top of the climb by Carl and Warren, I stopped at the top and waited for Jason and we rode on together. Carl and Warren waited for us and we rode together to the Lunch stop at Tintern Abbey.
After lunch we had a nice ride down the Wye valley but we were not hanging around. Onto the tea stop at the junction of the A49. we were the first to arrive as usual. We had rode on a lot of cycle paths today which had made navigating a bit iffy but with only 20 miles to go I was wishing we were there as I had nothing left in my legs. We stopped at the Ludlow sign for a photo, then we were split up with the accommodation Jason and I got the short straw as our accommodation was a bit crummy but it didn’t matter as I was too knackered to care.
110 miles covered today at an average speed of 16 mph and 6300ft of climbing.
It was great to see Ann, Helen and Jim who had arrived earlier and we all met up at 7pm for the evening meal.
Day 4 Ludlow to Leigh
Water proofs on this morning and Nigel was taking the mick out of my rain coat as he had never seen one like it before, he thought it looked like a dress. Quite appropriate as I was feeling a little delicate. Jimmy was joining us today on his new Dave Hinde and my thoughts were ‘great, another wheel to hang onto!’.
First climb of the day we went over Wenlock Edge and I was struggling already and I told the others to go and leave me to it I would be far happier riding at my own pace. Off they went and within a mile of being on my own I punctured which made me feel pretty low and sorry for myself. As I was mending the puncture Jim came back for me and we rode into Shrewsbury together to the tea stop.
My head had completely gone at this point but we were all back together riding through the lanes heading for the lunch stop.
Jim then shouted ‘there’s the club’ which lifted my spirits and I managed to ride in the group with the club to the lunch stop.
There was about 20 riders which I wasn’t expecting given the poor weather conditions which made me feel very emotional to think so many would turn out to support us, It just shows what a great club we are – thank you to everyone who showed up on that day. Sarah Tim and the grand kids also turned up at the pub and considering they had only just got back from holiday at 5am that morning it was great to see them. Obviously we had to have the obligatory group club photo just outside the Queens Head at Sarn.
We all set of from the lunch stop as one big group which really lifted my spirits, and it was fantastic to have so much support. Ann and Helen pushed on to the ice cream farm at Great Budworth which was our next scheduled stop to see everyone’s Family.
Coming into home territory through Delamere the club members started to peel of and we went off the planned route to go to the ice cream farm where everyone’s families were waiting. A few club members joined at the ice cream farm where we had free tea and cakes and a photo was taken for their notice board. On leaving Great Budworth Jim and Rob Dacey rode up to High Leigh garden centre with us and the peeled off home. I think Jim rode 112 miles that day and I would like to thank him for his support which kept me going.
Martyn Bracegirdle – one of my customers – who has run LEJOG and back for charity met up with us at the Jolly Thresher near Lymm for a quick chat as he wanted to make a donation to our charities.
We then carried on to Leigh as a foursome, 104 miles covered, 4,600ft of climbing at an average speed 15.6 mph.
The Greyhound Hotel was pretty good and all our families joined us that evening for the evening meal.
That evening Peak Tour asked us for the route we took from Chester which they now use on the LEJOG rides.
Day 5 Leigh to Windermere
Usual time up and for Breakfast, a quick briefing then on the road by 8.30.
Nice morning this morning and feeling a bit better than yesterday morning. Leigh is not the best place to ride through in a morning. We carried on to West Houghton which is a place I haven’t been too since I was an apprentice with Metal Box back in the early 70’s
Then over Winter Hill, which give us some stunning views over Manchester and Cheshire, and I obviously got dropped over the climb. As I dropped into Blackburn and again some lovely countryside round there, I caught up with the others at the tea stop.
A couple of the others from the group latched onto us from the tea stop but they obviously didn’t like the fast 40 plus mph docents and went out off the back pretty quickly.
Riding over to Garstang brought back memories of riding the 10 course there, and we were tanking along through Cockerham – another RR circuit – and stopped at the Stork Inn, Conder Green – again some great food,
Whilst having lunch it started raining and this persisted all afternoon.
One of the ladies working in the pub got stuck behind us in her car for a while down the lanes and commented that it was impressive following you at 30mph. Needless to say you can guess it was Carl on the front.
After Lunch we went through the centre of Lancaster onto a cycle path, following the signs for Heysham Morecambe and Carnforth then over the Millenium Bridge.
We carried on through Carnforth , Warton and Silverdale near Milnthorpe and we stopped at the tea stop in a deer park. Still raining I managed to change my gloves but I was soaked through my 4 layers of clothing. Off we all set again and we had about 10 miles to go to the next big climb, I got dropped and Nigel, one of the other group members, caught me up and we rode together into Bowness. I had to stop and ask Lizzie, one of the guides to point me in the direction of the hotel.
When I got off the bike I could not stop shaking from cold. I couldn’t even turn my back light off or remove my Garmin. Carl did it for me.
That night the Lady running the B&B did a load of washing for us all which was very much appreciated.
90 miles today 3,645ft of climbing.
Day 6 Bowness to Moffat
I decided to ride at my own pace again today or with people of same ability. The weather forecast was showers today.
We rolled out through Grasmere with some stunning views towards Thirlmere reservoir and on we went towards Keswick. After Keswick, there was a tough climb over the moors toward Caldeck. On the moors it was very windy and I was on my own right at the top of the climb, and I punctured and had to shelter behind a brick wall to repair it. I struggled to get the folding tyre off so it took some time. Just as I was about to climb back on the bike one of the support vans – which was on its way back to the other van because it was stuck on the grass verge and needed a tow(!) – asked if I was okay. I said I was and we both went on our way.
Not sure what happened then to cause my Garmin to freeze but I could not reset it, so I pottered on riding blind heading for Carlisle. I saw Sam – one of the guides in the van at Dalton and asked him if anyone had stopped but the answer was no, so I carried on towards the outskirts of Carlisle. With no Garmin I missed the turn and got a bit lost, seeing the sign for Hexham I thought this must be wrong so I rang one of the guides and he pointed me in the right direction.
I got back to the turning I had missed and stopped to see if I could reset my Garmin again but while I was stopped 3 other riders rolled up behind me so I rode with them to Gretna which was the lunch stop.
Carl had heard that I had punctured and got lost and was about to come and look for me, but in all honesty he didn’t look that great at the lunch stop. I think Carl and Warren had been having play on the moors and Carl looked knackered.
We all set of as a foursome and stopped at the Scotland sign for a photo. I only lasted about 10 miles with them into a strong head wind to Annan. Jayson Joined me and we rode the last 25 miles together both of us having to stand up to give our backsides a rest as we were both getting saddle sore, Jason was also suffering with an Achilles’ problem.
Really found it difficult after lunch with nothing in the legs and very uncomfortable sitting in the saddle.
Jason and I stopped for a brew with 15 miles to go and then slowly rode into Moffat.
Another tough day 97 miles 5,600ft of climbing
Day 7 Moffat to Perth
Set of today riding on my own at my own pace with 2 pair of shorts on, a big long climb straight out of Moffat and a bit on the cold side. If you took the time to look back, the scenery was lovely. Eventually arrived in Edinburgh and joined up with one or two riders from the group which was good because it wasn’t easy following the cycle route through the city. Stopped in Princess street for a picture of the castle, I had not been to Edinburgh since I took an American friend there back in the 80’s. Arrived at the lunch stop at a hotel near the Forth bridge. I ordered my lunch and there were still plenty of riders to arrive. My apple pie arrived but no main course, by the time it did we were about to leave, so no main course for me, this was 1 ½ hours after arriving. We had to go because we were meeting Paul Lawson and Paul Rigby. After the dinner stop we took the cycle path over the forth bridge which was spectacular. I couldn’t get over the vibration on the bridge from the volume of traffic, maybe that’s why they are building a new one alongside of it. Stopped again for photo’s.
We met Paul Lawson on the south side of Kelty and then within a short while we were at the brew stop where Lizzie presented me with a sandwich because I had missed my lunch. Off we set again as a group of five and very quickly met up with Paul Rigby and we all rode together into Perth. It was good to see both Pauls and have a chat. Paul Rigby was carrying on with us to Lands End but Paul Lawson had a good 25 mile ride home into a strong head wind.
The Royal George Hotel was very nice, we went out for an Italian that evening I had spag bol and the obligatory 3 pints of Guinness. Felt better today.
97 miles 4,500 ft of climbing and arrived at the hotel at 4.50pm.
Day 8 Perth to Grantown on Spey
At the briefing this morning the guides said this is going to be a tough day. Boy, were they right! Two pairs of shorts again today in the bid for a bit more comfort in the saddle.
We had a steady start with 5 of us setting off together until I punctured again. I had hit a large stone in the road. That’s the trouble riding on someone’s wheel, as you don’t always see things like that until it’s too late – especially if you are chewing the handlebars!
I told the others to go on but unfortunately they waited.
We got going again but within a couple of miles we came to a climb and I got dropped but it didn’t bother me, and I caught up with them at the brew stop. Again we set of together but I was eventually on my own to the lunch stop at Cally. We did not stop for long as we knew what was coming, I rode with the others for about 10 Miles until we started climbing up through Brown and up over Glenshee. This was one of the toughest climbs I can ever remember doing as it was windy and raining and all you can see for miles is the road disappearing into the low clouds. I stopped at the top for a quick photo and was excited and looking forward to the decent, soon to realise it wasn’t going to be much fun.
Putting on two more layers so I had 6 top layers on I set off down but the road which had recently been resurfaced with large loose chippings and the excess had not been removed, with the wind and rain it was horrendous and dangerous but thankfully the tea stop was near the bottom of the decent. Riding the last 25 miles on my own I can honestly say I have never ridden so many hard climbs in one day before and my 39 x 29 was not low enough When I arrived at Grantown I went to the wrong guest house and when the lady opened the door she must have felt so sorry for me, she took me in for a brew and a warm, then she rang round the other guest houses to find out which one I was staying at. I was smashed.
When I arrived at the right Guest house it was very nice and the people were great. I can highly recommend the Rossmor in Grantown on Spey (https://www.rossmor.co.uk/).
96miles covered 7,624 ft of climbing.
The room and food was great and in the morning was the first time I ever had porridge and rhubarb together. It was lovely.
Day 9 Grantown on Spey to Lairg
We left Granton about 8.45 as a group of 5 and stayed together most of the day, the roads were a bit more rolling than big climbs. It started raining at about 30 miles and we thought it was in for the day. We rode through Inverness and over the Kessock bridge then followed a cycle path along the river to the lunch stop, The Mur of Ord.
We arrived at the lunch stop about 1 ½ hours before they were expecting us so we had to wait for a while to get lunch ready which again gave us the opportunity to get warm and dry in front of the log fire, when the day bags arrived I got a full change expecting the weather to continue in the same vain but surprise, surprise the sun came out to play and I went from being cold to being too hot as I had put on full bib tights.
There were some long drags between lunch and the tea stop in the afternoon, Nigel the tour guide had picked a great spot for the tea stop with some stunning views. We all set off together following a cycle path, with about 5 miles to go I dropped out of the back but not by much and we regrouped at the Lairg sign for a photo. We arrived at the hotel at 4pm.
91 miles covered 3,087ft of climbing at an average speed of 16.7 mph.
In the evening all 25 riders and the guides sat down for a meal together in a local hotel which was one of the few occasions we had all been together, a good night was had by all before our last day.
Day 10 Lairg to John -o- Groats
Well this is the last day. Weather pretty good and a tail wind. Just as we were about to go Carl decided he needed the loo, so Jason and I decided to potter on, leaving Carl ,Warren and Paul. We set of slowly but with the strong tail wind we started to go quicker and quicker. Jason said to me ‘What are you doing?’. I smiled and said ‘Come on!’ I think in my mind I had been dropped so much, now I must have thought ‘It’s my turn’ (every dog has his day)! We were bowling along 5,10, 15 miles no sign of the other 3, then at about 18 miles there was a long gradual climb and I looked back and could see them a couple of miles back. We got over the top and battering down the other side of the climb Carl came past at about 40 mph and never spoke and carried on, he had left the other two. Jayson said it was my fault, thinking that Carl was in a mood.
When we got to the brew stop Carl was laughing and the others rolled in behind us. Another lovely place to stop. That first 28 miles to the brew stop the scenery was fantastic and a great tail wind.
After the stop we rode together and stopped at Betty Hill, with a view of some lovely white sandy beaches with not a soul on them. After Betty Hill it got a bit gusty and some big rolling hills and I ended up on my own with about 7 to 8 miles to go to the lunch stop. We got to the lunch stop at 58 miles in 3 hours and with another puncture.
The wind got up even more after lunch and became very gusty in places but we were rolling along at a steady 25 mph with some heavy rain showers. Peak Tours wanted all 25 riders to do the last 7 miles together and had arranged for us to meet in a pub.
At this point we had done 88 miles at an average speed of 19 mph with 5,050ft if climbing.
As we waited for the rest to arrive we had a couple more pints of Guinness.
All 25 riders set of together on the last 7 miles to John-o- Groats.
When we arrived Peak Tours broke out the Bubbly and we got very cold and wet waiting for photo’s to be taken.
A quick visit to the only shop open, then ride back to the hotel.
That evening we had a group meal together and a presentation of certificates and needless to say a few more beers.
Next morning, a bus down to Inverness which kept overheating but we still made the airport in time for the flight to Manchester.
Peak Tours were driving back the bikes for collection in a couple of days.
All in all it was an experience I will never forget, 979 miles with 55,173 ft of climbing in 10 days and a big thank you for Carl asking me to join him on his 50th birthday ride and to Warren, Jason and Paul for putting up with me.
And a very special thank you for everyone’s support and in total we raised over £8,000 for the charities.