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Sunday, January 21, 2007

Saturday June 10 2006 Distance 20.9 miles - Av Speed (AVS) 10.9 - Max Speed 28.7 - Time on Bike 1.5 hrs

Paddington to Lands End
Great touristy day cycling from Victoria through Hyde Park to Paddington - first Cappuccino sitting outside a cafe in Paddington listening to Jim chatting away in Italian to a bunch of tourists from Rome as if Italiano is the every day parlance of Penge. We met Mick in the station and onto the train for Penzance. Arrived @ 15:00 in deep dank sea mist - more Cappucino and onto the bikes for the hilly coastal ride via Mousehole to Lands End - Cappucino in the Pub then on to the St Just YHA (Kelynack) - excellent meal - gorgeous sunny evening and a walk down to the beach with the biggest pebbles in the whole world...And so to bed.

I think we are going to get on - provided I put a stop to the old codgers stuff about National Service (clearly a bad thing) and people they knew who are dead or probably on the way...

Sunday June 11 2006 Distance 59.44 miles – Av Speed 12.0 – Max Speed 37.8 – Time on Bike 5 hrs

St Just to
Good veggie breakfast with added bacon.. and off in the sun for a quick ride to Penzance - on via CTC route from Marazion to Star Inn @ Porthellis for coffee (you can buy it for 450K and rescue the landlord who wants to return to Kent! - a Blackheath Boy so one of the best). Great country scenery and no traffic. Met a road race twice as it looped around our route and dropped down to the Norway Inn outside Truro where Jean, a real sweetie and old friend of Mick's met us for a drink and chat about old times.

Continued on the A39 round Truro and a long drag with fast traffic along the A390 to St Austell. Final 5 miles a tired struggle via Tyvardreath to the YHA at Golant. Cheered up with a really good shower and some excellent bottled beer followed by their gourmet dinner with the mad polytunnel kids from Brum. Raining away outside but a superb setting.

Monday June 12 2006
Distance 62 miles – Av Speed 10.9 – Max Speed 43.8 – Time on bike 5 hrs 40 mins

Golant to Mortenhampstead
Cheery weather and a good breakfast so hit the track at 9:36 and onto Liskeard for tea and teacakes. Very busy on the A390 but a great drop into Dingwall although a hell of a climb out. Partook of lunch in Tavistock behind the market (Quality House) and chatted to a Michael Palin character plus dog - a biologist specialising in environmentally friendly pest control.

Departed @ 15:00 and Dartmoor loomed. Abandoned by Jim who disappeared up the tough steep hill onto the moor so Mick and I took a more relaxed approach taking pictures – me and prison – Mick and prison - and eventually caught up with Jim at Two Bridges. Chased down to Postbridge for a cream teas outside the village shop. On and up some hideous climbs to Mortonhampstead but every down was so steep that it took us up the other side – fantastic. Arrived well ahead of Jim and Mick at 18:15 (YO!) so we had a slow pint in the Bell before attacking the final hill to Steps Bridge YHA….
Ace YHA - wooden huts sitting log cabin style high up in the woods – like being in the 1930s. A real Brian of voluntary warden so we were well looked after and talked at – Jim cooked us Italiano style for dinner – a gorgeous warm evening.

Tuesday June 13 2006 Distance 76 miles – Average Speed 14.1 – Max Speed 40.5 – Time on Bike 5 hrs 23 mins

Steps Bridge YHA to Wedmore
Breakfasted 1930s style with Italian trimmings bacon and poached eggs on ciabatta. Off at 9:30 and hit by steady rain just before Exeter. At this point I needed some retail therapy so conducted a raid of assorted camera shops for a lightweight charger and extra memory card. Mick and Jim are not members of the consumer society and stood about forlornly till we pressed onto Columpton in increasingly heavy rain.
Gear performed well (Assos – what else?) so I was cheery unlike Jim who went into serious and immediate depression. Stopped at tea shop in Columpton for a welcome if mushy Cornish pasty and did a quick change in the shop – towelled down – on to Taunton as the rain eased and the sun emerged.

So after visiting the amazing Tudor building hosting the Café Nero in the centre of town we were thoroughly dried out and pleased with life. Onto Bridgewater and then, bliss for Jim, the Somerset levels. Pretty – very – but the real attraction was straight B roads and excellent tarmac. By now over 60 miles and Jim put his head down and drafted Mick into the distance at around 20 mph whilst I faded to a steady 12 mph. But by the time I reached Wedmore we were booked into the George Hotel.

The George is an old Inn which was all tied up with Alfred the Great and the treaty with the Danes plus a few years later Judge Jeffries busy hanging 300 locals. Those left in the bar weren’t very sociable to lads in lycra so we split into the dining room for supper and toasted the judge.

Wednesday June 14 2006
Distance 63.55 - Average Speed 11.5 – Max Speed 30.2 – Time on Bike 5:30

Wedmore to Monmouth

Full English and set off at 9:45 and on for a sniff in Cheddar before turning back and following the Sustrans route to the lovely village of Axebridge on to the outskirts of Bristol. Then via a complicated and meandering Sustrans route to reach the M5 Bridge. The second part of this route from Avenmouth to the Severn Bridge along Sustrans 41 was very convoluted – past dodgy looking council estates and chemical plants – yuk. Light rain on this part. Missed coffee and lunch! Crossed the Severn Road Bridge (M48) then followed Sustrans 41 to Chepstow for tea. Excellent/essential/reviving teacakes and lemon drizzle cake. Then onto Monmouth following the superb Wye Valley via Tinton Abbey. The A466 is a wow of a road made up of fun ups and long downs and I put the pace up and left Jim to look after Mick (who was down to 4mph on the hills – revenge for the levels!). Arrived at Monmouth at 5:20 and we booked into the Queens Head Pub. Jim and I went out for an excellent supper at “Bobs” in town while Mick ate the S African special in the Pub including fried grubs smuggled in. Monmouth is a great town but cut off from the river by an Ernie Marples dodgy deal dual carriageway (apparently his mate didn’t want it on the other side of the river because he already had the railway…and was the big local landowner – wouldn’t happen today, would it?)

Thursday 15th June 2006
Distance 62 miles – Average Speed 12.5 – Max Speed 38.3 – Time on bike 5 hrs. The only puncture!

Monmouth to Little Stretton
A hot day started with a steep climb and then a rolling 20 miles or so to Hereford for Elevenses. Then we joined the A110/4111 for a steady paced flat 35 mile ride to the Mortimer Arms at Mortimer Cross for an excellent sandwich lunch in the garden. By now it was 77deg F. A route discussion with a couple of cycling locals took us around Craven Arms avoiding the A49 and coming back in at Church Stretton. Quite a long route so gave up on Shrewsbury and ended up covered in dead flies in a very upmarket B&B (The Mynd) in the classic English village of Little Stretton. Out to dinner at the Ranliegh Arms – lovely local pub with excellent food – quiet and restful.

Friday 16th June 2006 Distance 72.5 miles – Average Speed 13.4 – Max speed 29.4 – Time on bike 5:23

Little Stretton to Warrington
Good breakfast and left at 9:45 but I forgot to hand in key so Jim charged back whilst Mick and I relaxed in a field. Lovely route initially to Shrewsbury but rejoined A94 too early – loads of lorries and very tight. It took ages to work in and out of Shrewsbury so after 2 hours we had only covered 20 miles. Then we picked up the less crowded A528, a quick and pleasant run with a pub stop at Wen on the B5476 (Hammer Hill). But we had still only covered 25 miles! Another 45 miles to go and with a further stop I reckon 19:30…. Continued on rapidly to Whitchurch a lovely small town and stopped for coffee and chocolate cake at Fosters in the High Street—entertained the staff with our Lycra and then joined the A49 for a Jim style and fast ride on good tarmac with heavy traffic in places. Some of the lorries were amazingly careful. Arrived in Warrington ahead of schedule at about 18:00 and put up in a Travelodge 3 person room after extravagance of yesterday. Warrington is Chav city but the girls in the Travelodge were great (they stored the bikes in their staff room….Oh – and said I looked normal compared to the other two … well they did ask! ). Out for an OK curry locally and to bed at 23:00. No major hills today. Weather sounds ominous for tomorrow.

Saturday 17th June 2006
Distance 76 miles – average speed 11.9 – Max Speed 38.2 – Time on bike 6:15

Warrington to Ingleton
Day dawned bright and sunny. Into Chav city for breakfast at the Rhode Island Coffee House in Golden Square – surprisingly the whole area alive with continental café culture and sat out for breakfast. Rudest female baristas in the universe – but didn’t detract from ambiance and sunshine. Bring on the weekend breaks in Warrington with a Ryan Air Chav special. We left about 10:10 and followed straightforward built up route via Winwick and Golborn on A573 to Wigan.

We rolled out on a pleasant and straightforward run onto B5735 via Shevington and onto B5250 onto Leyland then onto a horrendous dual carriageway route into Preston for lunch. Preston is a 5 star Chav city hot and humming with the bar version of café culture. We couldn’t work out how to get out of Preston but eventually found the B6243 - a long undulating beautiful ride through the countryside via Grimsargh and Hurst Green to Clitheroe. We had a Pub stop and then tackled the “Slaidburn Challenge” up onto the moor. I had misjudged the profile and the climb continued WAY beyond the lovely village of Slaidburn with its truly inviting pub and YHA to the top Tatham Fells about 8 miles from High Bentham and 12 or so from Ingleton YHA. We arrived knackered at 20:00. Recovered in a good hostel – Jim cooked steak pies – tinned tats and peas with gravy for supper. Feeling chipper we stepped out to the pub and made the mistake of hitting the local YOOF venue – loud music – loud and aggressive guys and young fit women all stirring the pot to build up to the early hours riot – so a quick drink discreetly observing life in the garden before bed at 23:30 ish. YHA guy hung up all our washing! Complemented on my route finding! – can life get better than this? - slept like a log.

Sunday 18th June 2006
Distance 42 – Average speed 12 – Max Speed 31 – Time on bike 4 hrs

Ingleton to Penrith
Very slow start with Mick doing a sideways roll off his bike before we even turned a pedal. Slowly onto Kirkby Lonsdale and then the A683 past Sedbergh up past Firbank for a steep climb onto the moor. An overcast start developed into heavy rain and by the tops it was wet and cold with Jim cowering behind a wall while we waited for Mick who confidently turned right at the T junction before dropping on the A685 into Tebay. My focus was survival as we dropped into the valley and then a final struggle to the George Inn at Orton. Full strip change in the toilets and decorated a quite smart pub with our gear round the fire followed by an excellent full roast beef lunch. A true pub – they didn’t bat an eyelid. This was a pre-planned meet with Mick 2 (Mick Coward) and his dog Bonny - a former Clarencourt man now living in Shipton. Lots of chat and very tempted by the B&B vacancies in the pub…. However the rain stopped so we set off under a very threatening sky. Jim wanted to “do Shap” and stick to the fast main road tarmac, and Mick and I worked out a route following minor roads along the river Lyvennet valley into Penrith. A tough climb up to the Moor for Mick and I looking back over superb glowering skies and then we turned down into the valley for a superb dry ride to Penrith meeting Jim at the war memorial. At this stage he had already been conned out of £10.00 by Aberdeen Angus “Ill post it to you”. Booked an excellent B&B off the notice board and noted that the C2C route runs through the town.

Penrith is a 1950s throw back where all day drinking is proving very popular and there is no sign of the cappuccino café culture. Body swerved the first pub where clearly they anticipated some sport with three lycra lads and so had a pint in a pub called “Last Orders” which was at least friendly but worrying – if you know what I mean - at least 3 rows broke out whilst we were there. However the landlady of B&B directed us to the safe part of town for a good evening meal in the Lowther, a genuine cosy and inviting pub – we relaxed whilst Jim worried about the 5 day forecast…. Returned to hotel to find landlady has completely washed and dried all our kit – brilliant!

This ride - It’s a bit like life.

Monday 19th June 2006 Distance 75 – Average speed 12.6 – Max Speed 31 – Time on bike 5 hrs 51 mins

Penrith to Mountbenger

Usual “English” and departed Penrith at 9:30. We reached Carlisle for coffee under overcast skies with light rain after 20 miles. Then on through Longtown and into Scotland and by now with Jim way ahead. We were in the land of grim drizzle…. We all had a pub lunch in The Douglas Hotel at Langholm after 39 miles. By this point the sky was very threatening. We struck out across the Esdalemiur Forest following the valley of the Esk from Langholm to Ramseycleuch (Ettrick) on the B709. This proved a superb tough but enjoyable run with classic Scottish weather as the showers swept across followed by sunshine to reach Mounther at 18:30. Jim well in front and Mike well behind gave me time for photo stops at the weird Tibetan Centre (Sammi Ling Tibetan Monastery) and elsewhere. We hoped to stop at the Tushielaw Inn, but no room so a climb up to Berry Knowe then a superb run down to Mountbenger, which consisted of one pub/hotel, the Gordon Arms, where luckily Jim had secured accommodation. Mountbenger is a spot in the middle of nowhere on the river Yarrow famous for Sir Walter Scott and James Hogg meeting and having a pint. We were well looked after in the Pub with a good home cooked meal. The landlady sorted out our kit, and her Westies guarded the bikes from the sheep. Early to bed!

Tuesday 20th June 2006

Distance 54 – Average speed 12.1 – Max Speed 26 – Time on bike 4 hrs 46 mins

Mountbenger to Kinross
Usual English and departed a bit later at 10:00 in cool weather under a very threatening sky. We rode 14 miles through minor roads and pleasant but not outstanding countryside to the attractive town of Peebles for coffee. Then the big push to the outskirts of Edinburgh with a very strong wind behind us. The hotel key appeared out of Jim’s pocket which left Mick as the only reliable “keeper of the keys”.

After lunch in a café on the Edinburgh fringe set off for the Forth Road Bridge – in the rain – via a nasty route inside the main ring road but we were on a segregated cycle route for the worst bits. Rescued by a Mountain Biker who squealed to a halt in the opposite direction fully hyped up and Ipod plugged full on who gave us excellent directions to the bridge. We did around 11 miles to get across the bridge then on a B road to Kinross in the pouring rain. I thought it great fun steaming along with the wind behind us. Jim thought otherwise!

Stopped at the first B&B, the Roxburgh and cowered in the hall whilst the landlady rang round and booked us into the Kirklands hotel which was surprisingly comfortable given its rundown exterior and due to my snoring the previous night I achieved the bonus twin room on my own. Down to the in house Italian restaurant for a very entertaining wine fuelled dinner. Here we are opposite Loch Leven – a real achievement.

Wednesday 21st June 2006
Distance 52 – Average speed 12 – Time on bike 4 hrs 15 mins

Kinross to Pitlochry
We woke to rain and very strong wind. Usual full English and left the luxury of my room at 9:35 and on the road by 10:00. We headed off over the fells into heavy rain so on with the waterproof pants! But it eased and after 17 miles we rolled into Perth for coffee. By this stage Jim was very depressed with the weather and decided to take the train home so I set to and convinced him m that he could pull out at Pitlochry or Inverness and we popped into the tourist office to check out the five day forecast (not good) and set of for Dunkeld for lunch. We found a good route away from the A9 but the weather remained very windy and threatening rain. Dunkeld is a delightful small town. Only 13 miles to Pitlochry under an overcast and threatening sky. We followed a superb cycle route through the grounds of a large old conference centre past rhododendrons and woods alongside the Tay but it dumped us back on the A9 (YUK) then off for a steep climb via Guay – great views then a run back onto the A9 (YUK YUK) for the final 5 mile run to Pitlochry. We arrived around 17:30 and I booked us into the Athol B&B Hotel opposite the tourist office. We had a small twin which I shared with Mick as Jim was in “I want to be alone…” mode. Went out for a cuppa and it was a lovely evening and so Jim perked up and put the full £20 into the kitty hopefully demonstrating commitment.

We had an excellent meal out – Haggis – wine – liqueurs coffee….and so to bed.

Thursday 22nd June 2006
Distance 57 – Average speed 12.1 – Max Speed 27.9 – Time on bike 4 hrs 42 mins

Pitlochry to Aviemore
Slept very well but woke to steady rain and an overcast sky which cleared up over an excellent breakfast – porridge – haddock – poached egg. We left at 10:00 following the Sustrans route via Blair Atholl. The sky was black with the threat of rain and it was cold but we pressed on through beautiful scenery until it poured down and the wind turned against us.

Great fun chasing Jim as fast as I could and we dropped dripping into Dalwhinnie after 31 miles. One of the advantages of carrying your kit is the ability for a complete strip change – carried out in a spacious disabled toilet. Excellent Hoosh. A couple of LeJoggers (our first!) we had passed on the way in arrived and we discussed routes and they decided to join us in the run to Aviemore. It was still raining on and off as we left but cleared up gradually. Mick and I stopped for tea and cakes on the way. With Jim long gone Mick and I did a fast 12 miles into Aviemore and swerved into the SYHA 1st on the left! Off to dinner at an expensive “boil in the bag” Italian with a bottle of Montepulciano – and so to bed. Slept well.

Friday 23rd June 2006
Distance 57 – Average speed 13 – Max Speed 34 – Time on bike 4 hrs 30 mins

Aviemore to Dingwall
We had breakfast a la Jim and hit the road 10:06 but pushed on a full 38 miles or so to Inverness using a nice country Sustrans route although it remained overcast most of the time and not at all warm.

We had some much needed pasties in Inverness Station before trying and failing to sort out the trip home. We were greeted with the phrase “bikes are difficult” in a station full of people with bikes followed by “the computer says now’t on bikes – must be a glitch” But its clearly reasonably straightforward from Wick to Inverness (Bikes by van) then the overnight Caledonian sleeper to London which has space for five bikes, all bookable if the computer can be made to work. Our options are to visit the last manned station with a computer link (Dingwall) or phone the call centre in India…!!! So onto Dingwall (20 miles) but by the time we arrived the station closed till the morning. We took tea in the pub (part of the station…) and attempted unsuccessfully to book the Carrbridge Youth Hostel. In the end we took Mick’s advice and stayed put to try and book the train and get our hands on the paperwork – always useful if you are pushing a bike.

So overnight in the National Hotel in Dingwall which was a big run down pub/hotel beloved of Saga coach trips and reps. Friday so off for a Curry at an excellent Indian restaurant – the Indian Café – a real surprise to have such a superb meal in a modern and well designed venue with not a Chav in sight. Suffered the classic Scottish drunk in the corridor in the early hours on his mobile with cigarette smoke coming in under the door – really unpleasant and a poor nights sleep.

Saturday 24th June 2006
Distance 84 – Average speed 12 – Max Speed 31.4 – Time on bike 6 hrs 50 mins

Dingwall to Bettyhills
Down for breakfast – pretty poor plus a coach party of overweight elderly Scots saga travellers – depressing… Off to the station at Dingwall where the station master took it on as a real challenge after the initial and I suppose accurate “bikes are trouble” on Scotrail. He fought the computer and won and we emerged with the paperwork that would see us onto the sleeper from Inverness via Wick with the bike reservations for the van and the sleeper. Our success gave us a remarkable sense of achievement for something that should have been absolutely routine if Scotrail ever sort their computer system out.

Away by 10:15 – a late start for the distance we have to do, but the weather is sunny with some clouds so happy Jim! We eventually find the right road out of Dingwall and climb over a steep but attractive lump of a hill 20 miles or so down to from Allness past Beinn Tharsuinn (692m) to Ardgay then over the bridge into Bonar for an excellent light lunch at a café overlooking Dornoch Firth. Time moving on and not much distance covered so moved on via A386 to Lairg (a bit of a climb) and spotted Carbisdale castle on the other side. On up the A836 to Altnahara where the road became single track but still Jim standard tarmac because of it’s A-Road status. We stopped and spent 20 minutes watching sheep dog trials – dogs and shepherds from all over Scotland yet on a small enough scale for us just to wander in. Pressed on until we came to the brilliantly positioned Crask Inn – right in the middle of nowhere and just when we need tea and home made cake. The Inn is a cottage with a bar in the living room, peat stove and a genuine Dickensian swinging Inn sign. The bar was full of Frenchmen organising a weeks local fishing/shooting so we made a varied bunch in such an out of the way place. Onto Altnahara circling Ben Klibrech and looking back to its dark corrie as we set off on the B783 for a fantastic sunny evening ride along Loch Naver which must have one of the best caravan club sites in Scotland – small, discrete and set into the hill running down to the loch. Jim hammered on to sample the top quality tarmac and evening sunshine. Mick and I checked out the numerous plaques commemorating the clearances. Then back into the headwind along the banks of the river Naver before the steep climb into Bettyhills. I eventually arrived at the hotel at around 19:45 with Jim a good half hour ahead and Mick came up later on. We ate an excellent dinner (Haggis Neaps and Tatties) and imbibed a good bottle of SA Merlot but kept well away from the local football derby where the aftermath was being played out in traditional fashion in the bar behind the pub.

Sunday 25th June 2006
Distance 68 - Average speed 13.4 – Max Speed 34.7 – Time on bike 5 hrs 3 mins

Bettyhills to Wick (Via JOG!)
Usual full English and although it rained in the night we started the final push with a clear sky. The initial stretch consisted of steep ups and downs from Bettyhills to Melvich but superb countryside. We started with a fit young American couple on a tandem who were doing the N Sea coast route – next stop Norway! Predictably Jim was soon well ahead and then the tandem overtook Mick going up the first hill so I pressed on with some superb downhills and eventually caught Jim up before Reay. We pushed on past Dounreay and into Thurso for lunch after an enjoyable 30 miles. It rained a bit during the last 5 miles but sunny when we stopped for lunch at a bar in Thurso. Thurso dead on a Sunday… The Tandem arrived first then Mick. We set off for the last hit to the Groats and stuck to the A Road along the coast and in excellent weather to Dunnet for a photo of the headland, which is the most northern point on mainland Scotland. Onto the Groats at a fast pace – I was well ahead but Jim and Mick chased me down but, unfortunately for them, I spotted them in the trusty mirror and held them off at which point the tandem linked in from Sustrans 1 at Canisbay. Carried on in a line with the tandem behind to the JOG sign and then turned left and tootled down to the village harbour and ferry point. Plenty of people and we received a good welcome. Photos taken (although we didn’t pay to access the fenced area around the sign!) and met a couple of weightlifters due to start from JOG tomorrow – one driving the support van – hopes to do it in 8 days! Over to the Groats hotel for photos by the finish/start line and then postcards etc at the Costa Coffee shop and a chat to the two tandem riders who were in our hotel in Bettyhills the previous night. They are both from Wisconsin USA and are teachers in Bangladesh. They do short term contracts in different parts of the third world and have no base in the US. They are currently cycling the N Sea coast route on their Cannondale tandem made for them in Ohio – with two sets of break joints so they could pack it small. Good fast run down the A9 and I led out most of the way, as Jim seemed tired!! (about time…) Rolled into the centre of Wick approaching 18:00 and booked Mackays hotel close to the station. This proved an excellent family run business class hotel completely at odds with the run down state of the rest of town. Sat down for the works at dinner including a bottle of merlot for £13 followed by port and brilliant selection of Scottish cheeses plus liqueur coffee. And so cheerily to bed.

Monday 26th June 2006

Wick to London
Home James! Good breakfast and we left the hotel after a wander around the town at 12:00. The van was waiting to pick up the bikes at Wick station and we joined the slow train to Inverness. Graham and Steph joined the train at Thurso having sent their bikes back by Courier. We reached Inverness at about 17:30 and collected our bikes from the van – Mick negotiated them into the left luggage – and had pasties on the station bar. Off for an early evening wander in the sun around Inverness ending up in Harlequin Bar/Rest. Back to the station where the Caledonian awaited – bikes into Guards van (wheel hangers) then couchettes Down to the restaurant car and settled into a bottle of Chianti and a meal of Haggis, Tatties and Neaps with excellent “Moniack Blackcurrant and Whisky Sauce for Haggis”. The views from the train as the sun set are superb particularly as we ran through Aviemore. We arrived at Euston at 7:30 and home just after 9:00 in the morning.

Expensive, complicated to arrange, but well worth it!