Land's End to John O'Groats 2011

LeJog Blog August 2011

This is a blog of the Land's End to John O'Groats cycle ride undertaken by Dave Heath, Richard Guy, Robin Guy, Roger Keeling and Glenn MacDonald-Jones in 2011.

Thursday 18th August
Two days to go and getting nervous now. Travelling down tomorrow and staying in Helston about 20 miles from Land's End. What seemed like a brilliant idea in the pub months ago seems now rather daunting and frankly mad! How do you train for a nine day cycle ride averaging 100 miles a day! Whatever training should have been done is now irrelevant - we've all done what we could in the time available so I guess all we want to do now is get on with it!

Thanks to everyone who has sponsored us. £275 raised so far! If you're feeling generous you can donate at: Cheers, RRRGD.


LeJog Day 1 Sat 20th August: Land's End to Oakehampton
his is the day. No internet connection at the hotel - thanks to Premier Inns for that - so
no blog last night. Which is probably just as well. Nervous as sticky stuff this morning.
Driving from the M5 at Exeter along theA30 was a sobering experience - miles and miles
of long, straight and busy dual carraigeway with loads of interminable hills which we will
have to cycle tomorrow. Anyhow, off for breakfast and then the short drive to Land's End
and then we're off!

Ps. Matt who is driving Dave's car back is not at all surprised there is no internet - this
Cornwall after all. In fact he is surprised they have electricity and a McDonalds - but he
is from Devon and therefore might be slightly prejudiced?

The day starts grey and overcast as we walk over from the hotel to breakfast. But by the
time we are driving to Land's End its raining. There is a brief respite as we uoad the
bikes and prepare for the start but by the time the photo's are taken its rainingagain not
the most heart-lifting of starts. But as the miles roll by it clears again and 10 hours later
we've arrived.

One day gone and 8 to go. Probably one of the most difficult days with endless miles of
hilly dual carriageway along side of which is what vaguely passes for a cycle lane. In fact
it's a tatty strip of tarmac of arbitrarily variable width - wide enough one minute then
disappearing to almost nothing the next - covered in stones, debris and crumbled bits of
rumble strip. Its a nightmare to navigate a safe way through. But at least if you keep
your eyes on the ground you can't see the hills ahead! Everyone found these less of a
challenge than we had thought but the endless stream of traffic racing past got us all
down eventually. And most caravan drivers have absolutely no understanding that a
caravan is wider than the car towing it. Main points of the day were that Dave a) fell off
his bike in Bodmin (unhurt but annoyed), and b) broke his chain an hour or so later.
Bicycle repair man Richard was on hand to fix the chain although it probably needs
replacing sometime soon. Devil of a job finding the Travelodge but all safely here by
7:00. We won't mention that Richard and Robin overshot by 2 miles will we. Showers all
round then off to the culinary delights of the Little Chef - and no bloody pub!!!!! But
what's this on the otherside of the road - a pub! So we all illegally crossed the dual
carriageway to get to it. And mighty glad we were too. The delights of the Little Chef will
have to wait till breakfast.



LeJog Day 2 Sunday 21st August: Oakhampton to Bristol.

The day starts grey and drizzly – dreach as Sandy would say. But after absurdly named Little Chef breakfasts - the Olympian for example - we off and the the weather clears. After the pain of yesterday's A30 we head down gloriously quite B roads through Oakhampton and Coppleston . But after a few miles we are stopped by one of north Devon's famous herd of roaming wild cows crossing the road!


And then after 5 miles Dave is off his bike again, the bent chain at fault - allegedly not the first time Dave has found himself in trouble with kinky chains.
After a few more miles and several more chain slips we pull over for Bicycle repair man
Richard to take charge and extract another link. Happily there is a handy copy of the
Daily Mail to ensure that there are no leaks of oil onto the village pavement. The front
page photo of Geoffry (bastard) Archer has a wonderful oily blob on his nose. And the
repair works like magic. Stopped for coffee in sleazy pub in Crediton. The landlord warns
us that the next section is plagued by manic drivers and dragons - OK, I made that last bit
up. Lots of ups and downs to Tiverton, well mainly ups actually. Then piled on the miles
to Taunton with the sun beating down. Lunch at the culinary mecca that is Tesco's coffee
shop. The other coffee shop customers all looked like they had already eaten but out of
generous support for the institution, they were willing to force down just a little more
pie and chips. Do say 'I expect you're just big boned', Don't say 'Wouldn't you be more
comfortable with a second chair'.

Another highlight of the day was the Cycle Friendly Zone in the village of Highbridge in
Somerset. This is not a specially set aside space where bikes can get together and enjoy
friendly banter comparing the merits of Shimano and Campagnola over a couple of cans
of silicon based chain oil. Rather, it consists of a) 6 red triangles painted across the road
within two of which - inexplicably why only 2 - is painted a white picture of a bike,
and b) 4 lots of 100m or less stretches of cycle path painted red in the curb, littered with
the usual stones and other debris - why they can't pay someone to use some amazingly
technical and expensive piece of equipment like, oh I don't know, a brush to keep it clear
is beyond me . These short lived cycle lanes are helpfully labelled Start and Finish at the
start and the finish - just in case you didn't notice. This sort of half hearted attempt to
cater for us cyclists is frequently repeated at roundabouts where the cycle path just stops.
Its as if the planners/engineers / whatever just give up, In Highbridges case perhaps they
just ran out of red paint - or ran out of the will to do a proper job. I've just run out of any
patience to think charitably about these cheapskate, tokenistic and pathetic attempts to do
something half way bloody decent.

But I did write a poem, called The English Cycle Path.

We stopped for afternoon coffee with 18 miles go and Dave dutifully phones Lynne to
tell her things are going well. Starting the call with 'Hello Sexy' is one thing but going
on and on at the end about his endearing love and devotion had a few eyes rolling for
those of us unfortunate to be overhearing. From now on, any further demonstrations of
OTTPA - over the top public display of affection - will not be tolerated or else Dave will
be buying all the beers.

The final 18 miles were described in the guide as 'undulating'. Which bit of the
word 'undulating' does the author have difficulty with? It usually refers to terrain that has
some downs as well as ups. And the slog across the Mendips including the 3 mile long
Redhill was all ups!! The only credible down bits were on the last few miles into Bristol
and they were a joy. Checked in at the Premier Inn and ready for showers, beers and over
the top carbo loading.




LeJog Day 3 Monday 22nd August: Bristol to Shrewsbury

Ache of the day: Quadraceps.
Trite saying of the day: hills are only in your head, the important thing is to keep them out of your legs.

The day begins with another monster breakfast. At Premier Inns its like a designer affair - eat as much as you like and ask for seconds if you want. So do say 'I'll have another of your finest Glamorgan sausages my good man'; Don't say 'I'll have another breakfast banger my lovver'.
The opening highlight of the day was Richard hits a bus. Not Richard got hit by a bus but after an altercation through the streets of Bristol a bus cuts him up and so he cycles alongside berating the driver and then punches the bus! OK he might not actually have made contact with his fist but he nearly did. Then he hurls abuse at a lorry carrying scaffold poles. Later on the road out from Avonmouth to the bridge over the Severn, Richard was cycling 2 abreast - Richard on the outside. Not that drivers were inconvenienced by the 2 up cycling as the road was pretty quiet. It was that they needed more room to overtake than normal due to the width of his calf muscles.

As we approached the bridge we saw its white towers majestically rising from the low lying mist. Crossing the bridge was an weird and awe-inspiring experience, seeing the bridge close-up, the whole structure vibrating and shaking as the traffic thundered past. Just after the bridge we lost Roger from the group due to a puncture although I thought he'd probably got lost when the rest of us shot through a red light at a pedestrian crossing and then ignored a series of road closed signs - Roger is far to much of a gentleman to fall in with our lawlessness! But actually, the problem was a puncture. We know this because we did what is natural in such circumstances - sent Robin back to investigate and help out.!
Everyone felt uplifted by the cycling until the climb out of Chepstow - Dave and Richard grumbling their way up the hills.

As with other days, the redoubtable Trevor was on hand driving the support vehicle. On the back is a rack carrying Trev's bike which he bought for 8 quid at a garage sale. The site of this on the support vehicle certainly adds a certain sense of professionalism to the LeJoG venture. But as Trev leaves the bike unlocked there is a growing suspicion that he hopes someone nicks it so he can claim on the insurance!

Trev has generated a certain amount of sympathy amongst us cyclist as a bad back has made for sleepless nights. But today it emerged that as we stopped for coffee in Tintern that Trev was on his fourth coffee before we had even got there! So no wonder he can't sleep.

After an absolutely fabulous descent into Tintern for the aforementioned coffee stop we cycled on to Monmouth where we bought bar tape for Glenn. 8ar tape gives/you extra cushioning and grip on the handlebars by the way. It is not stuff you might use in a pub to stick on the glass to remember which is yours. Then we proceeded onto the A49 into Hereford where we walk into the town centre for lunch at a church with a space age super loo at the back where the font used to be. Then of for the grind along the A49 to Leominster and Ludlow. It was nice now to be on a 'local' road especially when the Clee hills came into view. But as we now know, to know a road is to cycle it and we also now know that this road is rubbish - worn out bobbly surfaces, potholes, crap repair work and various grids and drains placed by workers who clearly have inordinate difficulty with the term 'level'. Some time along this section Rich, Robin, accompanied by today's guest pacemaker - Roger's son in law, Ben - pulled ahead while Roger, Dave and Glenn took a more leisured and coffee-breaked pace finally arriving in Shrewsbury at 7:30 a good half hour after the others. Waiting to meet us were our families who helped prize us off our bikes and then have a celebratory meal and drink. But most importantly of xourse, they took away our dirty cycle clothes to be washed ready for the next day.


LeJog Day 4 Tuesday 23rd August: Shrewsbury to Preston

An overcast start to the Shrewsbury to Preston leg. Lynne, Ben, Claire and Benita arrive bringing supplies and freshly laundered cycle clothes for Dave, Roger, Robin and Richard. Helen bringing Glenn's tonight. Petite first breakfast of day at Starbucks then off along the relatively quiet A49 to Whitchurch.

Stopped for second breakfast at the Raven cafe just short of Whitchurch where a notice warns us not to ask for a discount as being told to bog off might cuase offence. Most interesting breakfast item of the day: rice pudding, much enjoyed by Roger with his egg on toast.

Interesting sign of the day: Prees Green Methodist church: this is a brown tourist sign so presumably in addition to whatever else goes on there - don't get me started - they also have a small campsite, craft shop, restaurant, museum and an audio tour.

On the way we note drains built into the kerb and inspection covers in the verge so there is an absence of ironwork in the road itself - it's an idea so good it'll never catch on.

Whitchurch is clearly so desperate to halt its declining population that although they signpost the way into the town centre but not the way out. So after a mile of signless cycling around the town we ended up 100m further along the bypass from where we had left it. Due to bridge works the A49 was closed north or Whitchurch - not that we pay any attention to that sort of things. They had gone to great trouble putting up cabins, portaloos, mobile generators, barriers and a temporary bridge for local farm traffic and even had a security guard who tried to persuade us to turn back until Richard used his diplomatic skills to blag our way through. No actual repair work going on though.

It was great to cycle along the virtually empty A49 due to the bridge closure. Really good road surface for a change but then it deteriorates into the usual hazards plus a new feature:: round holes 4 to 8cm across for no apparent reason. Lots of cyclists today mostly in the other direction and presumably some doing the LeJog the wrong way round. But for them, they have done the majority of the miles.

Near Tarporley, Dave got cramp in his calf muscle. We all stopped but Dave concluded that Richard's massage of the effected area was far worse than the original problem. A little while later we stop for a coffee and a rest at the Cherry Cafe which spookily was the flavour of the jelly Richard was eating today. When we say jelly we mean the concentrated packaged stuff, not the made up wibbly wobbly on a plate version. Yeah gross!

Lunch was at a cool Turkish restaurant just outside Warrington and then on through the nightmare that is Wigan's road system which includes cycle paths which lead you diretly across the face of oncoming traffic, and at least two A49's. Rich and Robin took one of the and the rest took the other. Eventually we met again and continued on to Preston. Not being entirely sure of the location of the Travelodge we stopped and asked a local who warned us to lock up the bikes when we got there as the hotel is in a red light district - what prostitution and bike theft have in common I have no idea but lets hope we don't find out. The hotel receptionist informs us that there is no room for the bikes in the room but Richard counters with 'I think you'll find there is' and guess what: there was!

It isn't at all clear if the Travelodge gives Preston a bad reputation or the other way round - but that's another story.


LeJog Day 5 Wednesday 24th August: Preston to Carlisle.
Sign of the day: 'Drivers of high sided vehicles must phone for an escort - let the phone ring three times and ask for Betty or Samantha' OK I made the last bit up

Regarding the conjunction of prostitution and bike theft, perhaps there is the possibility that the bike thief could start a cycle hire business and in future the two businesses may merge in which case the sales pitch would be along the lines of 'wide range of rides available.' Sorry, but that's what all this cycling is doing to my brain!

The day starts with a quick bit of bike maintenance which reveals a semi broken link in Roger's chain. Rob removes the link but this doesn't solve the problem he is having with the front mech. We resolve to get a new chain fitted at the first opportunity and set off, soon leaving the congestion of Preston behind.

Its a sunny ride out from Preston through delightful villages with names like Bowgreeve, Cabus, and Bonds.

We also pass an establishment where the signs read 'Marstons home of the monster onion'! The sky turns cloudy and it gets cooler as we approach Lancaster. Its quite fun passing the long queue of cars heading for an open day at Lancaster University although one lady driver had her vocabulary considerably widened when Richard let fly a stream of expletives when she cut him up at a traffic island. In Lancaster we go into a crap bike shop which can't be arsed to look at Roger's bike. The guy takes longer explaining where we can find another shop than it would have taken to put a new chain on. Unanimous conclusion: dickhead. But we find a brilliant bike shop which sorts it all out: 12 New Street Lancaster

Great riding out from Lancaster through rolling countryside but a little cooler now . A few spots of rain but then it clears. In the queue of traffic through Carnthorpe Richard explained to a lady driving a red Toyota that if she would graciously see her way clear to move out into the centre of the road just sightly, she would allow more room to for him, his bike and his enormous calves to pass. He managed to communicate all this through the medium of banging his fist on the roof of the car - amazing!!

A little later a car holding up the traffic whilst waiting to turn right into the driveway of a house was kindly informed by Dave that he was 'a wanker' - something that without Dave's piercing observation he would have remained ignorant off for maybe many years to come.

Worst bit of road so far: the narrow one way stretch of the A6 close to Levens Hall. Absolutely diabolical.

Nice lunch at the union jack café in Kendal. Left just as a light shower had set in but after a couple of miles it was absolutely pissing down - just as we start the 10 mile slog to the summit of Shap. The rain eases off as we approach the top. Dave has had a storming ascent but Richard takes it more leisurely. As he approaches the top Dave is on hand to offer helpful words of encouragement such as 'hurry up you lazy bastard we're getting cold waiting!'

We stop at a nice arty café called No 15 in Penrith. Dave and Roger pass a professional eye over the work on display whist we gradually warm up and dry off.

Good riding along undulating road fairly untroubled by traffic towards Carlisle. At a motorway junction we suddenly become disoriented and Robin points in a direction he swears is north. The rest are not convinced so we send Roger all the way round the massive roundabout to check. Soon after we find the right road we enter Carlisle. The city welcomes as all conurbations do with snarled up roads, pointless traffic lights, cones on bus shelters, smell of curry in the air and tool hire centres and hand car washes housed in once majestic buildings. In the queue into town Richard decides to introduce himself to the driver of a bus who has taken upon himself to drive out from a side road and blocking our way causing a panic of breaking and swerving bikes. As will be no surprise by now, he does this by banging on the bus and questioning the driver's parentage.

Off through the outskirts of the city to the night's stop - a Travelodge on the M74 with no pedestrian or cycling access!! So we cycle to a bridge over the motorway, haul the bikes over the barrier, scramble down the embankment and then cycle like hell along the motorway sliproad to the hotel. Oh the joys of LeJog!!!


LeJog Day 6 Thursday 25th August: Carlisle to Airdrie
An early breakfastless start from the Travelodge cycling the wrong way up the motorway slip road and climbing the embankment to the road. An easy but cold 4 miles got us to Gretna and so into Scotland. Nearly finished then! Finding everything still closed we head on to the Gretna Hall Hotel for breakfast which featured silver coffee pots, folded napkins, porridge and haggis. The hotel imbued a declining splendour as did its customers - couples of a certain age who look like they are on a never ending coach tour and practised the fine art of not talking to each other all through the meal. The lady at the next table us said that her husband is a cyclist although to look at him the past tense might have been more accurate. It turns out he was something of a star in his time and came outside to check out the bikes and wish us well.

Brilliant cycling down the B7076 parallel to the M74 virtually traffic free and with a wide and pretty smooth cycle track. That's the thing about cycle lanes, they are at their best when you least need them and non existent when you need them most - like bike shops and cafés at 5 in the afternoon and waitresses able to establish eye contact.

Glenn stops for a pee and then hurtles to catch up only to hit a stone and puncture the front tyre. Makes an absolute bollocks of inflating the new tube from the CO2 capsule but the Robin cycles back to the rescue. We catch up with the others and have coffee and cake in a sunny outside table at a café in Lockerbie - strange to be in this quiet and peaceful place just as Gadaffi is getting his ass kicked in Libya.

Robin applies the suntan lotion just as it clouds over as we leave. Great cycling along the B7076 through brilliant scenery till we meet up with Helen, Charles, Ben, Holly and Abbey at the hotel in Abington. Wait for the slowest and quite probably smallest jacket potato in catering history but leave refreshed and head off on the road through Lanark to Airdrie.


South Lanarkshire Council welcomes you with 'Thriving on Driving' which is just rubbish as a strap line. There was another of Richard's very own driver education incidents when another lady red car driver thought it was a good idea to cut him up in the traffic into Lanark. The lesson lasted a good couple of miles as he cycled in front of here waving his fist and refusing to let her pass. It must have worked as she gave us a very wide berth when she passed us a little later. Stayed at a nice B&B just north of Airdrie all a little nervous about tomorrows ride.


LeJog Day 7 Friday 26th August: Airdrie to Kingussy.


A very early breakfast at the B&B. Off at 7:15 and negotiate our way through B roads that have been promoted to A's and A's to motorways. Been cycling an hour and see kids walking off to school. Robin seems to think we need to go to Falkirk but we get ourselves reoriented in Bonnybridge with the help of the locals and Google maps. We enter the city of Stirling to the smell of toast past the Bannockburn centre. We stop on the bridge and take photos of the castle. Signs completely fail to point to Dunblane, our next destination and Stirling's closest town - as if its ashamed of having it as a neighbour. We find the road through Bridge of Allan which looked charming and then cycled on to Dunblane where we had nice coffee and cake at the Beech tree café where Robin had best scone in his life.


We cycle on along a lovely lane through pastures and bracken to join an A road at Braco. Then on to Crief along roads we used to call hilly. Really long, straight section brings to mind Roman roads but they didn't get this far north so somebody else must have copied their idea. At one point the road fools us into thinking we need to cycle another hill but instead the road swerves round to the right and we coast down through glorious lake district-ish scenery to Muthill. This lovely village must clearly be the winner of the hanging baskets of the year competition.


We leave Richard and Dave to bring up the rear on the uphill sections – this way they can turn the air blue all by themselves.


By now its getting warm enough to take off waterproofs but in another few miles its starting to drizzle. And then on to Amulree where we stop for lunch brought in the the support crew. Getting cold now we've stopped and the sound of thunder down the valley a bit worrying.


Then we find some real hills. There is a 3 mile pull up from Milton and then a glorious descent into Aberfeldy. The rain makes visibility and the road surface a bit treacherous - not that this seems to slow anyone down very much - especially Robin. Next comes a level section out of Wheem but then another steep ascent and a wet and stone-strewn descent to Tummell Bridge. The third ascent of the day is sharp and unforgiving for the next three miles until mercifully, there is a short descent into Trinafour. Here Richard ignores brother Robins instructions to turn left but heads of down a nice level road instead. Robin hares after 'our kid' and points him in the right direction – up the fourth and probably steepest climb to meet up with the A9 at Dalnacardoch. We regroup and try the dedicated cycle path alongside the busy dual carriageway but give up as it is impossible to get any speed going – and we still have nearly 30 miles left to go. So the dual carriageway it is. We regroup at Dalwhinnie and forgo coffee in the village as this would mean a detour. So we blast out the last 17 miles as quickly as we can. Leaving the A road with 4 miles to go is a great relief and there is sunshine and a rainbow as we pass through Newtonmore. But by the time we enter Kingussie, our stop for the night it is drizzling once more.


Sign of the day: 'The Ceramic Experience'

Pointless sign of the day 'Uneven Road Surface'


LeJog Day 8 Saturday 27th August: Kingussie to Golspie 98 miles

The day dawns without the forecast rain and we get a lie in as breakfast isn't served till 8:30. Breakfast is served by a kindly yet flustered lady for whom the expression 'how hard can it be?' was probably invented. It didn't seem to matter what you ordered you just ended up eating what was put in front of you. 'Oh so ya want egg as well as mushrooms, aye well, I doon't know about that.' (has to be said with the accent really).

A bit of light mechanics on the bikes then we say goodbye to Charles who has resigned his support team duties and is catching the train to Glasgow to meet up with friends.
At the start of each day we tend to split into two groups: a pair of us trying to keep pace with Robin, and the other pair taking a more measured approach. On various days we have all been in either group but today it is the turn of Glenn and Roger to be Captain Cautious and Sgt. Sensible, and Dave and Rich are Marshall Macho and Corporal Keen.
Despite this, its the hardest start to an day so far and I feel rubbish. My ipod isn't helping as its shuffle has gone into miserable mode - all Ben Folds and Wuthering Heights.

We eventually level out and choose to bypass Aviemore. Quote of the day from Rich 'There goes Aviemore, the only ski resort in England'. We adopt a restrained pace thereafter along a level and well surfaced A9. Then up the long, long drag for the next 8 miles. The support crew stop and dish out tea and biscuits and then on we go. The climb is interminable and we're getting cold. The improbably named Slochd summit is reached at 1328' and we all stop for photos. As you will no doubt know 'Slochd' is the Gaelic word for 'knackered' although Dave was certain the true translation read 'absolutely f@@ck@d'.
Then we descend into a north easterly headwind cycling hard to Tomerton where we stop in the village shop taking an age to choose cakes as an excuse to stay in the warm. Large Cherry Bakewell tarts is today's main cake of choice supplemented by slices of millionaire shortbread. Coffee is Nestles finest and we drink it on picnic tables outside.

We climb to Daviot village where the guidebook says the route now descends to Inverness. A mile and half of uphill descent later the road finally starts to go downhill and we get stunning views over Loch Ness and the Moray Firth. Inverness somehow disappoints and we don't get much further than the out of town car sales and commercial areas when we stop for lunch. Off again over the suspension bridge then over the Black Isle with wind against us.

We stop at the Storehouse overlooking The Firth and meet up with Richard Gilbert.

We push on like trains alongside the Firth of Cromaty with views out over the Firth and a couple of huge oil riggs in the distance. We are maintaining an average of over 20 mph for about 14 miles and wonder what was in the Storehouse flapjacks. We then turn north and cycle much slower up hill on the road bypassing Tain as the clouds gather and the rain starts. Yes, the rain round Tain was certainly a pain. But soon it cleared only to be replaced by a howling north westerly wind as we struggle to the head of the bridge over Dornock Firth. Here we refuel on whatever bars and gels we have left. With the wind sometimes helping, sometimes hindering we pick up a bit of speed only for Glenn to hit a stone and get another front wheel puncture. But everyone rallies round and it's soon fixed. We whiz round the beautiful bay of Loch Fleet where Robin takes a video as we pass before an uphill slog and then wind-assisted descent into Golspie, our stop for the night.


Word of the day: cyclogically


Lejog Day 9 Sunday 28th August: Golspie to John O'Groats 74 miles

Our stay overnight has been at the Culmarron B&B which was great and we ate well last night at the Golspie Inn at the other end of the village - our landlady phoned ahead to book us a table. Golspie has a fish tackle sale - now on in the village hall, and an award winning beach which we didn't get to see.

On the map it looks like we can divide the day into four: Helmsdale at 17 miles for coffee, 20 miles on to Latheron for lunch, 17 miles to Wick for afternoon coffee and then 17 miles to John O'Groats.

At breakfast, no one can remember what they had ordered the night before. It is eaten in sombre mood as its raining and blowing a gale. As we head on our way its not raining too hard but as we leave the shelter of the village the wind kicks in. Its sideways on as we lean into the wind just to keep going straight on. We sit low and try to benefit from shelter but gaps in walls blow us to centre of road. There are lots of very scary moments and worries about being hit by traffic from behind unable to predict our unpredictable wind-enforced swerves. This goes on all day and our bodies are rigid with the tension of trying to stay on our bikes.

Turning uphill into Bora and the wind is straight head on and we are out of the saddle in lowest gear just to keep moving. As we go through Portgower on a welcome downhill section there is a sharp left bend where Glenn nearly looses it. The same thing happens to Dave a little later on.

We stop in Helsmsdale ( which bizzarly has a Stafford Street and Lilleshall Street) for a coffee. The café looks closed but as Robin tries the door it opens and we are welcomed with towels and Swiss tarts! Outside its getting worse and as local info says it will clear a bit around lunchtime we sit it out indulging in more coffees, cakes and soup. As we leave it does seem to have eased off and we cycle the next three miles uphill accompanied by amazing sounds as the wind whistles through gullies at the head of hairpins and makes the overhead electricity cable whine. There is a nice descent but we catch sight of Berriedale hill on the other side - about a mile of seriously steep climb which we all manage pretty well. After the top we pass a sign for Newport - only half a mile away!

We plan to stop in Dunbeath but feel we should press on so we text the support crew to meet us in Latheron. After a good descent and short climb out of Latheronwheel, we reach Latheron where the A9 meets the main road to Thurso. But all the town has to offer is a care home and the North Shore Pottery Centre (closed on Sundays) so we plod on thinking lunch might be another 18 miles away in Wick. Miraculously we only have to go another 2 miles and stop at the Portland Arms in Lybster. It looks a bit posh for a bunch of soaking cyclists so Glenn goes in to sus it out. Initially the response isn't promising as the lady behind the bar clearly has to finish writing an essay in a book before it is possible to acknowledge the presence of a potential customer. But after this little establishment-of-authority ritual has run its course we are allowed into a side room where there is an Aga. We take off our wet things including the plastic bags we had wrapped round our feet to keep them dry. But Glenn's bag had so much water in it there was a goldfish! We have coffee, then soup and then a main course whilst we gradually thaw out and get changed into warm clothes when the support vehicles arrive. We are just getting ready to leave when the fire alarm goes off and we frantically check to see if any of us have left something smouldering on the Aga.

By this time the wind and rain have worsened and we have a miserable time fighting our way up the hills into Ulbster.

Thought for the day:'Why are coastal roads so hilly?'

The Royal Burgh of Wick announces its rather pretentious presence a good mile and a half before we get into the town. Very annoying. Wick has a retail park with a Homebase, Superdrug and an Argos and not a lot else. And as its Sunday everything is shut. So despite the cold in our bones we give up any idea of a warm café and take to the road for the last 17 miles. These are the longest 17 miles ever ridden on a bike. The weather is atrocious. The 3 miles to Reiss are straight into the wind and then we turn slightly north as the road begins to curve around Sinclair bay - not that we can see the sea or anything else for that matter. The landscape is bleak and, foreboding and it feels as if you are not meant to be here. Roads and fields are flooded. The wind either pushes us off or pushes us back. But we will not give in. We climb on to Keiss and pass a wonderfully tended cemetery and war memorial - these young men really did die a long way from home. Cattle in the next field have their backs to the wind and they are watched by what is probably the most northern bull on the mainland.


Just after Freswick, we regroup in a bus shelter and force down any carbo's on offer steeling ourselves for the last 4 miles. Ticking of the miles one tenth at a time we carry on climbing - how can somewhere at sea level be so much up hill!? But then we reach John O'Groats and pass through the village and downhill to the harbour and the end of the ride 874 miles completed in 9 days. As its is still pissing down and we are freezing there is not much ceremony at the end. A quick photo by the harbour and then we rush to get the bikes packed onto the vehicles and drive off to the hotel in Thurso. There isn't really the opportunity for slap on the back celebration of what we all have achieved - just amazement and relief that we made it through the day. And a desperate need to eat and get warm again. But we will all remember. Its not easy to put into words but for the 5 of us only one phrase will do, the phrase of the day, the phrase of the whole 9 days, which is 'And what do you say Dave?' - you had to be there.

We are pleased to find that entrance to the toilets at John O'Groats is accomplished by the insertion of a 20p coin into a turnstile machine - just the sort of small change you are likely to be carrying in your pocketless cycle shorts. Just as Glenn decides to climb the barrier a small and bespectacled jobsworth rushes out 'you'll have to pay, you'll have to pay' so after telling him where exactly he could shove the current Caithness visitor welcome policy we all went round the side of the building and peed up the wall.

John O'Groats