Sunday, 29 December 2013

Route and suggestions

It is some time since our LEJOG ride was completed and I have been re reading the entries and have taken the opportunity to include a picture on each entry showing our route and information on our accomodation.  Reading the blogs of other LEJOGGERS and the questions posted by those thinking of undertaking the ride I thought some comments on our experience might prove helpful to others.

Our route  We chose a direct "western" route as this worked with our time constraints and targeted average of around 75 miles per day. We did not plan a specific, mile by mile route. Rather we set out a general plan based on our over night accomodation and adapted the route day by day to suit our mood, traffic and weather. For maps we simply used relevant pages torn from a motoring map (light, cheap and disposable) supplemented by phone maps for tricky bits through towns. Also very handy for pinpointing position when looking for turnings. 

Cornwall is tricky as the A30 is no place to be on a bike. We took the A30 (still quiet early in the morning) from Lands End to Penzance, and then cut up to Hayle using cycle ways. From there we followed the coast to Portreath, then through the lanes to Goonhavern, dropping back to the A30. This route has the added benefit of avoiding Camborne and Redruth which are both busy and hilly. A short stretch on the A30 takes you to the next roundabout and from there you can track alongside the mainroad using lanes until Indian Queens. This route may appear very "round the houses" but in fact worked out very well. I would follow it again as it was a very pleasant days cycling through one of the more challenging sections for cyclists.

Lanes north of Monmouth
At first glance the A49 following the Welsh borders seems an obvious route but, like the A30,  it is no place for a cyclists, narrow with heavy traffic, and to be avoided. However, we found we were able to shadow it easily enough and through some lovely countryside. The main problem in this section of the ride was finding accommodation. For some reason B&B's are thin on the ground so for a couple of nights we resorted to motels, but these worked just fine, if not very picturesque.

In Scotland we took the route from Fort William to Inverness. There are plenty who will advise against this route, but apart from the head wind which made for  a really hard days cycling, it was fine. The traffic was not a problem, at least when we did it. The main problem so far as I was concerned was the lack of refreshment stops alongside Loch Ness. The only place to stop is Drumnadrochit.

On our final day we simply headed up the coast but the A897 looked an interesting (and very remote)  route when viewed from the comfort of Wick to Inverness Train (yes, it really is a very round about train route, 4 hours long and worth every magical minute of its £6) The A897 would probably add a day but I would be tempted.

1930's cyclo/Sturmey Archer combo
Gears.  My 1938 Holdsworth is fitted with an early 3 speed derailleur gear and 3 speed Sturmey Archer combination, giving 9 gears in all, which was perfectly adequate. My lowest gear was 36", and found this just fine apart from a couple of real killer hills.  In fact, 95% of the ride was done on just three of the nine available.   The point being, unless you are out break any records, just take your time and enjoy.  If you really need a 20" gear to get up a hill its probably quicker to walk anyway..

Clothes.  You will see from the photos that Steve and I have forsaken the tight fitting Lycra look.  We saw plenty of other riders that would be well advised to follow suit.... 

Luggage.  Travel as light as possible consistent with comfort. The saddle bag you see on my bike held everything. Two pairs of underclothes and socks which were washed out alternatively in the evenings (you can always buy new on the way) and a lightweight pair of slacks and shirt to feel civilized in the evenings.  Shoes can be a problem as you can feel a bit of a dork walking into the local pub with cycling shoes and lugging around a separate pair just adds weight and takes up a lot of room.  I used traditional black leather cycling shoes that looked fine in the evenings, with no pedal cleats  as I also used old type pedal clips.   I find this combination still the best for touring. 
Tyres.  The potential for punctures to slow progress was something that concerned us and so we fitted both cycles with puncture resistant tyres, in my case Schwalbe Marathon Plus. I have to say that I find them harsh to ride and the road holding iffy in the wet, but you can't argue with the results. On the second day I managed to ride directly over a broken beer bottle without so much as a cut on the tread.  All I can add is that they are still on the bike..

Mudguards. This is the UK. Unless you are very lucky, it will rain at some point! I simply don't get touring without having mudguards fitted. I was amazed how many bikes we saw on the route not fitted with them. Even if you don't mind the discomfort yourself, consider your cycling companions. It's no fun being constantly sprayed with muddy water. 

Accommodation   I strongly recommend that you pre-book accommodation. It gives you a plan and target for the day and will avoid wasting a lot of time at the end of a tiring day looking for somewhere for which you end up paying top price. Do make sure you have clear directions to each. I made some assumptions about addresses which resulted us having to double back a couple of times, having ridden straight past our stop.

Getting home.  At the end of the trip we stayed over night in Wick before catching the Wick to Inverness train and then Easy Jet flights back to London for Steve and Bristol for me, about £45 per head. We dropped the bikes off at a local bike shop, Highland Bikes. 29-31 Shore Street, Inverness. IV1 1NG.  01463 234789 who run a courier service for £35 that returned the bikes back to our respective addresses. Both bikes turned up well packed, undamaged just two days later.

The Wick to Inverness train journey is a joy, going north first to Thurso and then back south to Inverness. What looks a short trip actually takes 4 hours through wonderful scenery. I recommend booking in advance as room for bikes can be limited, and even if you have booked make sure you get there early as the station is unmanned so its first come, first served.  I think the cost was £6 per head, including bike. Brilliant.

Hope you enjoy our blog. (I haven't worked out how to reverse the sequence of blogs, so you need to scroll right down to the first day.)

Friday, 17 May 2013

Day 15

 Accomodation:  Impala B&B 

Arrival at John O' Groats
Arrived after a day of riding into head winds. Exhausting

Well, we made it. No thanks to the weather it has to be said. We woke to find a brisk north wind blowing in our faces and combined with two very hard climbs along the coast road, legs were quickly aching.  Plus I missed the only coffee stop (Steve not happy about that..)  which meant that it was not until Wick, just 14 miles from JOG  that we had the chance of a hot drink.

A couple of stiff climbs on the last day....

The final drive to JOG was REALLY  hard against a strengthening wind but we finally arrived at 3pm, taking mandatory photos and having a well earned cup of tea. It was really good to bump into others we had seen along the way,  the lone rider who we met entering Scotland, the four riders in Monmouth,  the young couple met by Loch Lomond and the three very well kitted out riders who shot past us near Fort William.  Quite a reunion!

So, was it worth it?.  You bet...

The journey

Sheltering from the wind with a welcome cuppa
There can be few better ways to appreciate the wonderful British countryside than to undertake this trip on a bicycle.  Yes, it took a fair bit of effort but at no time did either Steve or I  feel the trip was beyond us. Only Devon forced us to walk a couple of hills.

Favourite bits? Difficult to say. For Steve it was the day that took us up Loch Lomond and the valleys beyond to Inverlochy.  I enjoyed so many days it is difficult to pick a particular one.  Devon is hard work but rewards with its lovely patchwork of fields and quiet lanes. Axbridge to Monmouth via the cycle paths and Wye valley fascinating with warm sunny weather and the climb up Shap was dramatic.
But we both agree that the best accomodation was the B&B at Tiverton.  Thanks Barbara.  Great rooms and a marvoulous breakfast. We forgive the impossibly steep climb to the house.
Obligatory shot of the signpost

and my daughter, Stephanie in 2011

The bikes

Both bikes recieved a tremendous hammering from road surfaces that desperately need urgent repair, particularly in Scotland. Even the guy from Belgium, home of the cobbled street,  thought they were bad!
Steve had picked up his Dawes bike new and had only riden limited miles on it so it was impressive that it performed faultlessly.

The Holdsworth proved equally up to the task. The only failure was the new bottom bracket set I had fitted prior to the ride as a I was worried that the original would not last. I need not have worried.  All the 70+ year old components performed faultlessly!

Thanks Steve for agreeing to join the ride, thanks for the laughs and helping make it such a success.

Jane and Marina
Thank you to Jane and Marina for your support and encouragment even though you both thought it mad. Now, for the next ride I thought..... (only joking)

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Day 14

Note on my entry last night. I was too tired to mention it at the time, but if you ever have the idea of cycling
through Inverness at rush hour, don't.  It's a nightmare of congested traffic, roadworks  and badly marked cycle ways.

View from our last nights accomodation

Anyway, having got that off my chest,  Jill, owner of the Dinsdale B&B/farm (along with her husband)  did us proud for breakfast, more than making up for the previous nights missed dinner.  Even better, the sun was out, the wind behind us for the first time in days and we had just 60 miles to cover to Helmsdale.

Open vistas, all the better for the head wind!!!
We stormed the first 25 miles, taking advantage of the helping wind to arrive at Tain for coffee. We did not have time to explore extensively but Tain looked to be a really interesting little town with some nice looking buildings.

After coffee the wind had put its "contrary" hat on again and we once again had to push against a head wind,  although more gentle than previous days.
There's really only one way up the coast along what is mostly the narrow A9 and it might be expected that the traffic would be really heavy. In fact this wasn't the case and as always we found the majority of drivers very patient. In fact,  this has been true of the entire trip. Maybe more people cycle these days which makes them more bike aware.

Taking a rest from riding into the wind
We stopped at Golspie  for a light lunch as we were saving ourselves for a fish and chip restaurant in Helmsdale that had been recommended by Gill that morning.

With only 15 miles left we arrived by 4.30 only to discover that we had passed the B&B 2 miles back!!

Entering Helmsdale

Never mind, we went for the fish and chips, which was well up to their billing, followed by a pint. Needless to say, progress back to the accommodation was conducted at a slow pace.
So tomorrow,  our final day.

Lands End seems a long way off and we have to remind ourselves of all the places we have visited so far. Weather looks to be ok so a prompt start tomorrow. 
Followed by a pint

Fish and chips in Helmsdale
Accomodation:    We both thought the accommodation here was rather half hearted, which was a shame for the last night as all the others we had used had been very good. 

Jutta's B&B

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Day 13

Accomodation:   Kildun Cottage B&B

When planning this trip I had thought of this day as
being a fairly easy one, following the banks of Loch Lochy and Loch Ness. In fact it turned into one of the toughest,  largely because of the wind that shifted yet again over night to provide us with another day of pedaling into a head to winds.

As a result of the wind we kept to the low, main valley road, which is probably the least attractive option. The original plan had to follow a higher route parallel to the main road, 

Leaving the B&B in Fort William

At least it didn't rain. Leaving Fort William a steady climb takes you up past the Commandos Memorial and then on to Loch Lochy which sits surrounded by dramatic hills and cliffs.

Climb to Loch Lochy

Between the two large lochs sits the smaller Lock Oichy and it was here that we stopped for morning coffee.  Here we met another couple also on LEJOG,  planning to finish on Saturday.   At this point of the journey route options narrow down and you are constantly bumping into other riders. 

Coffee stop by Loch Oichy
After a brief stop at Fort Augustus, busy with day trippers it was on then to Loch Ness which looks rather ordinary after Lochs further to the west. Its also long, around 30 miles, with very few places to stop for refreshments.

Eventually we pulled over at  Drumnadrochit for a well earned snack and pint of lime and soda, our preferred refreshment when riding.

Fort Augustus

At this point we had intended to take the high road to Dingwall where we were staying for the night but the continuing northern wind persuaded us to take the low road via Inverness.

As we navigated Inverness I had second thoughts about the wisdom of that decision, the wind on top of the hills seeming at that point a lot more attractive than cycling through the town center at rush hour.

In all we covered 83 miles today, mostly into the wind and I was well knackered and looking forward to a pint and a meal. Sadly we were foiled by the local pub/restaurant that shuts the kitchens a 8.00pm!!!

Still, we are staying on a working farm and breakfast promises much.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Day 12

Accomodation:  Myrtle Bank Guest House

One correction and some additional info from yesterday.  First Inverlochy is on the A85, not the A82, but then I am sure that you all appreciated that....

Secondly, the nephew of the chef who cooked our meal last night was the guy who cycled none stop around the world (on TV a while back) Thought you would all like to know that..

Anyway, so much for editors notes. Today has been quite a mixed bunch of weather experience.  We have had winds ( the wrong direction type) , rain, hail and, thank goodness,  sun.

There must be a coffee and cake shop somewhere?

First we headed West alongside Lake Awe, against the wind, to Connel where we turned north and we started  to get hammered by heavy rain. Clearly it was time for a coffee break. Over the last few  days I have grown fond of the chocolate caramel slice whereas Steve definitely has a preference for carrot cake. To each his own..

Wet start, and yes, that is snow on the hills

Naturally,  the landscape remained the star of the trip. If you have never visited this part of the world before put it on your "to do" list.  You don't have to be on a bicycle, but its a great way to see it.After coffee we continued north along the coast, experiencing further bouts of heavy rain before the sun came out as we finally turned east, rejoining the
A82  for our final 10 miles to Fort William.

Despite the weather Steve and I continue to enjoy the trip immensely. Legs are holding up well, although a bit creaky for the first 30 minutes of each day.

Tomorrow will be a long day as we head up to Inverness so we are keeping our fingers crossed for benign weather.

Miles so far  757

Monday, 13 May 2013

Day 11

Accomodation:  Craig VillaGuest House

Steve was not a happy bunny, and who could blame him. In Spain people would now be on the beach and here he was on the outskirts of Glasgow contemplating how another layer of clothes might be accommodated.

As we made made liberal use of the "all you can eat" breakfast buffet we finalised our days route, dropping down to the banks of the Clyde,  following the cycle route to Loch Lomond then up the west side of the Loch before turning West onto to A82 and descending to Inverlochy for the night, 70 miles in all.

Belgium cyclist on LEJOG. Impressive luggage!

Stiff legs from the previous days exertions made for a slow start but once we had made the the cycle path by the Clyde our spirits soared.  A well surface path, it follows the banks of the River Leven all the way to Loch Lomond.  On the way we met a young Belgium guy, also a LEJOG'er, loaded down with an impressive array of cycle bags that made our load seem puny in comparison.

By the time we arrived at the Loch heavy rain made an appearance, forcing us to take refuge in a McDonald's.  This was the days low point. (both the rain and the McDonald's)

After the rain had passed we set off once more. We made the mistake of initially following the main road but quickly joined the cycle track alongside the Loch.  Now the problem was to resist stopping every 100 yards to take pictures of the stunning scenery, which included snow capped hills.  

A problem not to keep stopping for pictures
Following the twisting path means that some 20 miles alongside the lake   were covered before we stopped for lunch at around 2.30pm. While there we met another LEJOG couple also planning to finish on Friday.  If everyone we have met makes it as planned it should be quite a reunion.

The wind was still blowing hard, with occasional burst of hail when we turned westward onto the A82 to our final destination.  This leg would normally have been easy as it was an 8 mile decent to Inverlochy.

Cycling hard down hill!
However, the wind was blowing so hard it was tougher than riding uphill.  Seriously.  It took over an hour for us the DECEND 8 miles to our overnight stop where we arrived just past 6pm.

The B&B is a lovely old house set on its own and 5 minutes walk from the local hotel that served up an excellent beef pie and local vegetables, followed in my case by apple crumble and custard. We deserved it after today's exertions. ...
Distance covered  72 miles
Total distance.  Sorry, forgot to check.

Accomodation:  Craig VillaGuest House


Sunday, 12 May 2013

Day 10

Accomodation:  Premier Inn
The weather reports for today looked rather dire. Over breakfast Steve and I decided that we would cover as much distance as we could before the rain and wind caught up with us. (because of this I am afraid that todays blog is a bit short of pics)

The previous evenings curry did not slow us too much as we climbed away from Moffat.  At this point the cycle track continues to follow the old  B7076 adjacent to the M6. Very few cars use this road which is great. Not so great is the appalling surface. On closer examination (I had plenty of time for this) I could see the problem. In England half inch stone chippings are spread on the tar, in Scotland they use small rocks. The result is almost unridable in places.

mountains hide in heavy cloud
The road climbed steadly for 20 miles over the Scottish low lands before dropping to Lanark where we stopped at the service station. By this time it was raining steadily and the opportunity to dry out and warm up was welcome.

Things had improved slightly by the time we left and so we got our heads down to some serious pedalling and arrived in the outskirts of Glasgow by 1.00pm

Looking for somewhere for lunch we must have found the most expensive pub in town as we were charged £6 for two sodas...  (the New Inn in Bristol gets the award for cheapest at £1 for two!!) Needless to say we gave their sandwiches miss.
Moving on the expect deluge had still not arrived when we checked into the hotel in Milngavie just to the north of Glasgow centre.  The highlands rise up to the north of the hotel, lost in low cloud as we enter the final stages.
I have been rather remiss in entering miles over the past days but total to date is 659. 

Accomodation:  Premier Inn

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Day 9

Accomodation; Moffat B&B
No doubt about it, today was our toughest yet with steady rain and blustery head winds. It started well enough, leaving Shap and sweeping down towards Penrith. We originally had thought to to follow a route to the west of the M6 but the old A6 was so quiet that we decided to stick to that route.

However,  before I go any further I should just mention that today was also Steve's birthday. As the day unfolded I think it can be said with some confidence that it  probably counts as one of his most uncomfortable  but congrats to Steve and thanks for sharing the trip.

Heading into deteriorating weather
As we made our way along the A6 it began to rain heavily and by the time we arrived in Carlisle we were both well and truly soaked. The rain did not afford Carlisle any favours and our impression were not good but we found an acceptable stop for coffee and to dry out.
Once we felt sufficiently rested and dry we set of once again to cross into Scotland at Gretna Green, known by all of a certain age where young lovers went to get married, so avioding the English age rules.

Wet but happy
Naturally we stopped to take a picture on entering Scotland, assisted by a lone LEJOG rider who happened to arrive at the same time and the continuing along the A6 in more rain and increasing head winds. There can be few things more demoralising than cycling into a strong head wind, apart, that is, from Devonshire hills...
A word about road surfaces. 

After a week of LEJOG you form strong opinions on the subject. You yearn for the smooth rolled tarmac ( sadly rare) and hate with a passion the "hot tar with stone chipping slung down" so beloved by Authorities in these straightened times. Scotland has developed a particularly brutal version of the latter.  I'll be surprised to have any teeth left at the end of this trip. 

After arrival in Moffat for the night we went out for an Indian meal in celebration of Steve's birthday. Truth be told, the culinary delights of Moffat are thin on the ground but the Indian meal worked out well.
And so to bed. Signs are tomorrow is set to be on the damp side as well but whatever,  the journey continues to be every bit the adventure anticipated. 

Accomodation; Moffat B&B

Friday, 10 May 2013

Day 8

Accomodation;   New Inn Lodge
Checking over the days route at breakfast I thought that I had miscalculated the distance. I had planned on
around 70 miles per day, but the distance seemed closer to 50. Then I remembered that tonight we stayed at Shap, a 15 mile climb out of Kendal and surely that would slow us down.In fact, that proved not to be the case, but I get ahead of myself.

First the cake shot. I have not included one for a few days lest it be thought that an excess cakes were being consumed but it was a particularly nice cake and and should be shared

A very welcome stopped and chance to dry out

It was our first stop at 20 miles after passing through Lancaster and cycling through a steady mizzilly rain and low cloud. We were pretty sodden when the welcome sight of a cafe by a fishing lake hoved into view. We had been following a national cycle route through quiet bye  lanes just to the east of the M6 and continued this way after coffee.

Start of the Shap climb

We eventually joined the A65 for the last few miles into Kendal,  arriving around 1pm. In anticipation of the coming climb we retired to the Partners Tea Rooms in the high street for a pot of tea to summon our strength.  Our confidence took a futher knock when the waitress offered the opinion that Shap was "meant for riding down, not up...'

Keep going

We decided that the best strategy was to take the climb at our own individual  pace and agreed not worry if we got separated, but just to meet up at Shap.
In fact, the climb was an absolute delight. Yes, its long, but not so steep as to upset a steady pedal rhythm and as anyone who has visited the Lakes will  know, come rain or shine they never look anything less than stunning.

Top of the climb
I stopped to take a number of pictures so Steve arrived well  ahead of me and I eventually caught up with him by a hotel in Shap.
He looked worried. The hotel was having its septic tanks drained and the smell was appalling and apparently the landlady had a face to match.    Fortunately we were booked into the New Inn Lodge at the other end of Shap which is very comfortable with a pleasant bohemian atmosphere. Check it out at

We have  spent most of the evening exchanging experiences with walkers doing the Coast to coast walk in front of a cosy wood burner that provided a welcome warmth in the still unsettled weather.
Breakfast booked for 7.30 tomorrow for a prompt start that will see us finally cross into Scotland.

Accomodation;   New Inn Lodge

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Day 7

Accomodation;   Royal Oak Hotel
The weather was forecast today as very heavy rain and winds of up to 40 mph. Plus, we needed to navigate
the urban areas around Runcorn and Widnes so we would need to proceed with caution.

We set out from Frodsham after another fine breakfast, both Steve and I agreeing that the standard of cuisine in the UK's small hotels has definitely improved over the past ten years with much more use of local products.

Cumbrian hills and weather turning for the worst
We headed first to Frodsham and then via a small estate road that delivered us directly to the Runcorn bridge and then into Widnes where,  having covered 20 miles we stopped for morning coffee and cakes.  We felt very pleased with ourselves having navigated this tricky section so easily.

Once out of Widnes we chose a route via lanes towards Preston through squally rain and strong winds that thankfully stayed mostly on our backs. We have found that if we get 50 or so miles completed before lunch it allows for a fairly relaxing afternoon and we found a very nice welcome at the Farmers Arms at Heskin about 10 miles south of Preston.

Both the rain and wind intensified over lunch and,  learning from previous days we resisted the temptation of getting too comfortable, Donning our rain gear we set out for our overnight stay at Garstang, propelled by strong winds, maintaining 15 - 20mph for the rest of the ride.

Excellent accomodation at the Royal Oak. Garston
As we apprpach the half way stage both Steve and I are feeling strong and are really enjoying the experience.  The main problem for Steve is, having lived in Spain for so long, he stuggles to stay warm. So while I am comfortable with a couple of layers up top, Steve has 4, maybe five.

By the way, we both nominate Preston as the most bike hostile town so far. Few bikes lanes and rubbish road surfaces. More on road surfaces tomorrow....

Accomodation;   Royal Oak Hotel

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Day 6

Accomodation;   Forrester Arms  
As expected, peering out of the window this morning we were  greeted with dark clouds and blustery winds from the South so we did the obvious and retired to Sams cafe for breakfast and a route conference.

Avoiding the A49 once again we headed first to Much Wenlock intending to skirt Shrewsbury to the East. It was during this section we bumped into another group of four riders also heading for JOG. Its the first time we have met other LEJOG riders so it was good to have a quick chat. They also plan to complete the ride on the 17th so hopefully we will see them at the finish.

Bottom bracket problems!!
By 10am the rain had eased off and the skies were brightening.  However, things were not feeling right on the Holdsworth bottom bracket. For those of you not versed in these things that's the axle at the bottom of the frame that the pedal cranks are attached to. I have included a photo. Let it not be said that this blog is not educational.

We decided that a visit to a cycle shop in Shrewsbury would be advisable and so amended our route and headed into town. First things first, and we called into a coffee shop where over an excellent coffee and cake were directed to Stans cycle shop.

Beeston Castle
At Stans we met Simon. Simon is, as luck would have it, also a vintage cycle enthusiast and immediately offered to rebuild  the bearing while we waited. Steve glazed over a little while we discussed the finer points of Bates frames and "curly" Hetchins but he handled it well...
Forty minutes later we are back on the road, Steve replenish in a pair of new gloves that he purchased as a displacement activity.

From Shrewsbury we headed to Whitchurch and then, picking way via quieter  roads passed by Beeston Castle to our accomodation in the Forresters Arms in Tarporley. 

Once again, a wonderful days cycling through beautiful countryside, but it is noticeable how many small villages no longer have a pub, victim of recession, supermarkets and changing lifestyles.  Its sad to see one of the institutions that makes english village life so special on the endangered list.

Total miles covered 382

Accomodation;   Forrester Arms   Tarporley