A Visit to Middle England

. . . . but where is Middle England? Coton in the Elms is furthest from the sea. Meriden, near Coventry, has been the traditional centre of England for a long time. However, the Ordnance Survey has now calculated the exact geographical centre, defined as the centroid of a flat outline of England. I don't know if, or which, islands are included. Anyhow, the OS say it is in a field at Lindley Hall Farm, in Fenny Drayton, Leicestershire, 10 miles from Meriden, OS Grid Reference: SP 3503 9685, Latitude/Longitude: 52.56840134,-1.48453446. So we were about 15 miles north of the exact middle of England. I claim I was in "Middle England".

It was my great good fortune to be in Ashby de la Zouch and New Swannington, both in Leicestershire, on Thursday, May 23rd and Friday, May 24th. The reason for the visit was to meet the children of New Swannington Primary School and ride our bikes together. Mrs Carr, the class teacher, and I had been trying to find a suitable date and the end of half term was considered to be a Good Idea. So daughter Beth and I booked into the Clockmaker's House B+B in Ashby de la Zouch for the Thursday night. Now Mrs Carr is Bethany and my daughter Beth is Elizabeth. I feared total confusion but I was mistaken; all was clear on the day.

If you have read earlier entries in this blog, you will know Mrs Carr had used Land's End to John o' Groats as an inspired way of pointing out the counties of UK in the teaching of Geography. She had contacted our website and asked if the class could write me letters asking about my recent LEJoG cycle trip. I was delighted to receive 20 beautifully written letters on special notepaper, asking me a variety of questions on training and difficulties and why, etc. Naturally, I had to write individual letters back. I was so overwhelmed by all of this - what a privilege to make contact with young people and to receive real letters, not emails or texts, but written by the human hand, eye and brain. Very rare nowadays, I guess. I conceived the idea of visiting the School, meeting the Class and their very on-the-ball teacher.

On arriving in AdlZ, Beth (daughter) and I unloaded the bikes, changed into biking gear and had a tour of some of the interesting-looking places I had looked up on the web and the OS maps. Ashby and New Swannington are on different OS sheets, of course, so I had to buy two maps to cover the ground. (Why is everywhere on the corner of four OS maps?). First visit - Ashby Castle, in the middle of the town. Looks more like an abbey then a castle to me. Maybe it was both? It was a last stronghold of the Royalists in the Civil War and was "sleighted" (ie partially demolished) by Parliament after the War. . We then cycled to Hick's Lodge Forest Cycle Centre; the routes of which definitely need grit bikes, not the road bikes we were on. I thought it might be worth recommending to the School, if they wanted to do some biking at the weekends. Nearby was a village called Moira. Had to go and take some pictures to send to my Edinburgh friend, Moira! Moira Furnace is a very early iron-making blast furnace on the banks of the Ashby-de-la-Zouch Canal. It was built in 1804, a formative period of the Industrial Revolution. The building is now a museum featuring lime kilns and craft workshops. I learned why pig-iron was so called from the information display. (I'm not telling you why pig-iron, find out for yourself!) From there, we cycled over to Calke Abbey and parklands. We couldn't find the official entrance, so we cycled against the tide of exiting traffic, taking to the grass when necessary. It is a cross between an abbey and a baronial hall, really. Then back to Ashby. I thought Leicestershire would be as flat as a pancake but some of the climbs were real testers!

Beth, Beth and I had dinner in Ashby de la Zouch ( - do you know what a Zouch is, by the way? You will learn later.) and talked about what was to happen the next day. Mrs Carr and the Headmaster had gone to great pains to arrange a very special day. We were to arrive at 0930, to avoid the traffic jams on a narrow country lane and park in the School carpark. Bethany had arranged for the press to be there and for a Bikeability Instructor to come and do a session with all the school. We had a very pleasant evening and the weather was perfect both on Thursday and Friday.

When we arrived the next day, there were cycles and helmets everywhere! The parents had obviously taken up the suggestion with enthusiasm. It was great to see such parental support. We were conducted through the security formalities, which have sadly become necessary at schools, and to the classroom. I chatted with the children, thanked them for their letters and mentioned each one by name. Some had missed out for various reasons and wanted to write as well; all sorted out and these will arrive here in the fullness of time. I'd prepared a short Powerpoint presentation detailing the route and with a few maps and pictures. Amazingly, there in the classroom were the computer and large white screen to do the show. No problem with the technology at all! Hope the show was as good!

Then I was interviewed by a panel of students in front of the whole School Assembly. Bethany had set up some of the pupils to ask me a series of questions about the bike ride and Guinness World Records. It was an excellent way of having their questions answered, instead of me doing a boring blurb. It also set limits to the length of the session, leaving time for the rest of the normal school assembly. I enjoyed it a lot - what a great way of having an ego trip! Hope they enjoyed it, too. Questions - how did I learn to cycle, have I any other challenges, what advice for anyone wanting to attempt a Guinness World Record, do I think exercise is good for you, etc.

A Panel of Six Pupils and me in front of the School Assembly

A Panel of Six Pupils and me in front of the School Assembly

And so to the actual cycling. The school playground was big enough to accommodate the oblong of cones set out by the Bikeability Instructor. There were so many cyclists we had to split up into two groups. But first the photocall and a chat to the Press photographer. He took a group photo, with one pupil holding the Guinness Certificate, and me on the bike in the middle. Then the Bikeability session began with cycling round the lap of cones. All ok. Then a bit more advanced - turn into the lap of cones and out of the other side. I had the job of picking who turned in and who didn't. I chose every two or three bikers.

Look at all those bikes, which turned up - there were an equal number cycling in another playground!

Look at all those bikes, which turned up - there were an equal number cycling in another playground!


And this was my downfall. I had not given my life-long and severe motion sickness problem a thought. However, after about 15 or 20 minutes of pointing and turning my head through 270 degrees to follow each cyclist, I began to feel ill. Couldn't understand what was happening at first and then the awful truth dawned. Having just about made it to the end of the cycling session, I staggered over to the car, loaded the bike and began to change for lunch with the School. However, it soon became apparent that this was not just a headache but full-blown motion sickness, which is totally disabling. Anyone who suffers from this will appreciate how bad it is.

What a disappointment to have to miss the lunch and instead attempt to drive for two hours home as soon as possible. In fact, I just made it by following Beth to the nearest Premier Inn, a few miles away, where we were fortunate enough to be able to take a room and stay overnight. As usual with these sickness events which plague me, after a few hours sleep, everything slowly returned to normal. I was able to drive home ok on the Saturday. It was very fortunate my daughter was with me to supervise things.

Despite this ignominious ending, I had enjoyed the whole visit and the day so much. Meeting Bethany and the Class was a joy. I'll remember it always.

Maintaining Bike Fitness

The weather this winter hasn't been too bad. In Darlington, there have been just a handful of days when frost, snow or wind stopped me going out. It's Spring at the moment, with beautiful warm, sunny days. Very different from winter 2017/18, when I recorded zero miles for the whole of December, 2017. It was very hard recovering even reasonable fitness again. The memory of that made me re-think fitness and the bike.

I am developing the principle that I should keep fit for cycling, rather than cycle to keep fit. It was partly the memory of inactivity last winter and partly the result of talking to cyclists who also row. Needless to say, they were super-fit and very strong on the bike. They are in no doubt that rowing and cycling are complimentary sports. My policy now is to develop the leg muscles and do lots of cardio-vascular.

In Riccione, I met a double-sculls pair of ladies, strong cyclists, who spoke of how rowing and cycling help one another. During the 17 days of LEJoG in 2018, I spoke to another rower/cyclist, who was an excellent advocate for both sports. Susan had been an Olympic-class rower in her University days and had returned to it as a top veteran/masters competitor, after having a family. She recommended blending the two - biking and rowing - and also adding interval training and hill reps.

Last year I went somewhat over the top when it came to long and short tours cycling - 9 weeks in total. So, this year I tried to turn the wick down a bit but you know how things get out of hand? Italy training week in April is a must. In June, Jenny and I have booked a week in the Isle of Man, taking the bikes, of course. Then I kept on seeing must-do trips - two short ones with Peak Tours (Hadrian's Way and Way of the Roses), a week or ten days in Provence (including The Ventoux from Sault), a one-week trip to Mallorca with Club friends and a week in Tenerife organised by Love Velo. Only six weeks in total but it's still all go again this year, trying to bring fitness up to standard. But this year with the addition of an indoor training routine.

The usual three or four outings weekly with the Club will be the backbone of the steady cycling and "getting the miles in", which everyone advocates. However, the indoor routine has developed into three half-hour sessions:-

i) Up and down the stairs (36 of them in my house) with 10 kg of weights in a rucksack. (Jamie calls this "single leg work"). While the rucksack is on, I do a few sets of squats and heel raises for the leg muscles. That gets things warmed up.

ii) This is followed by half an hour on a Concept 2 Rowing Machine. My grandson Jamie just happened to have one in his attic not doing anything, so he has loaned it to me. If you haven't tried a C2, don't. They are two things at the same time - an invention of the Devil for high-level training/suffering and, curiously, a machine which gives immense satisfaction after a blast. I operate at just inside 10 minutes per 2-kilometre pace, giving 6 km for the 30 minutes. Technique is all-important, and I'm still style, rhythm and breathing. Maybe I will write more on this at a later date, as I get used to it.

iii) After the rower, comes 40 minutes on the turbo-trainer. I have been using one of my bikes on a Halford's turbo-trainer, which does the job. However, my son-in-law John has found a high-class proper spin trainer, a Schwinn, at the back of his garage, which he is lending to me. Grandsons and sons-in-law are very useful.

This indoor training routine, when the weather precludes cycling, or when I only have a shorter time available, is settling down nicely after nearly two months. I think I can feel the benefit on cycling days already - although it may be a triumph of imagination over reality - rather like hope over experience? I have a theory of old-age fitness. Part of the joys of growing older includes wrinkles, shrinking muscles and a slower maximum heart rate, among other lovlies like a smaller heart and things of which we will not speak. My lung capacity is still about 4 litres. My maximum heart rate is probably 135 to 140 beats per minute, using the various published formulae .Now, if you are cycling with a squad whose max HR is 180 or 200, my maximum blood flow to lungs and muscles is two-thirds of theirs, or less if my heart is smaller. Solution - increase breathing rate deliberately high, hence increasing oxygen concentration and supply to leg muscles; a sort of natural EPO. So, on the indoor training, I am concentrating on increasing my breathing rate/lung capacity and trying to apply that principle to cycling when extra effort is required. Hope it works. If you hear me hyper-ventilating, ignore it.

There is another puzzle about how athletic ability diminishes with age. In fell running there is clear evidence of a parabolic, second order decline, or a very steep drop after 50 or 60. However, the hour records in cycling decline linearly with age. I haven't got to the bottom of this yet, or looked at masters track and field records but I intend to.

Well, that was a tirade. The intention is to keep the Blog going for a while yet but we will see. Depends on the result of the GWR application, probably, and we are still waiting.

February 9th, 2019 Reaching Out

It’s been a long time since I last wrote in this Blog. We - Robbie and I - decided to keep the website alive, at least until we heard from Guinness World Records on the result of our application. They contacted Rob to upload the gpx files and routes taken again but there was no explanation why. Many people keep asking “have you heard from GWR?” but we can only wait; and hope they haven’t forgotten us! My standard reply is “they haven’t said No, yet”.

But this missile is about a very lovely message we received recently - so the website is still performing the function we had hoped it would and reaching out to people. This message was from a very enterprising Primary School teacher in Leicestershire. As a means of bringing interest and immediacy to her geography teaching on the subject of the UK, she used Lands End to John o Groats . Would I mind if the students in her class wrote to me to ask questions about my “Challenge”. What a super idea! I was so pleased to say “Yes, of course”. And so 20 very neat, and very thoughtful, handwritten letters arrived on special notepaper. I never dreamt we would be reaching out to youngsters, as well as oldsters! Well, each letter had to be answered individually, of course. They were all individuals, who had thought about what to ask and how to compose the letters.

So . . . . . . I sat down with a big notepaper pad, 20 envelopes, a large cup of coffee and did the job. One thing I kept re-iterating was how interesting it is to receive a handwritten letter in the age of texts and emails. The questions were about were I slept and what I ate and did I train hard. Another theme was what I missed while I was away. The students would have missed their friends, their rooms, their dog and, I should have known, their family. I used those remarks to suggest a challenge for them to have a go at. Maybe a short ride around Swannington, where the school is. Or maybe train for a Coast to Coast with friends or family. Maybe climb the highest peak in Leicestershire?

Mrs Carr, the teacher, made a big display with the letters and my replies and a photo of me being silly at John o Groats. I hope we can put the photograph Mrs Carr sent on this web site.

Who could have predicted such an outcome? It’s just so lovely. It has made my last few days very pleasant indeed. We have a germ of an idea for me to take my bike to Swannington and we can all go out for ride. Maybe too difficult to find a suitable moment and a mutually convenient date. I do hope we can pull it off.


The Fundament Qustion

Please forgive me for returning to The Basic Question. I’ve had a revelation and a revolution on the Road to Darlington. It was quite a shock to have bum problems on the last three days of LEJoG. Never had serious problems before but 17 days in the saddle probed my weaknesses. This is despite riding Dover to Durness and France North to South earlier this year before LEJoG. The puzzle was “why and how to change things to improve matters?”. After long thinks and talks to my son-in-law, John Booker, I have stopped using the mountain bike shorts as first layer, threw them out, and adopted the “buy good shorts, with a well-designed pad, and wear only them next to the skin” approach. So I bought a new pair each of Endura, Chris Boardman and Castelli shorts and threw all the well-used ones out. This has worked so far on uninterrupted 50km rides but has yet to be tested on 100-120 km, all day, routes. On the basis of experience so far, confidence is rising that the new regime will work.

It may be that all you guys and gals out there knew this all along but I have the feeling everyone has to come to their own conclusions, based on one’s own anatomical set-up. In any case, it may be a necessary route to perfect comfort to do a bit of deep thought and experimentation. I’m reading Mark Beaumont’s book on his 80-day epic round the world. Yes, my little rides can’t compare to his 240-miles-per-day. However, he does mention this area of discomfort from time to time. Does everyone have discomfort on long rides and just accept it or has someone found the perfect comfort zone? Maybe it is very personal and there is no single solution for everyone. Intriguing - but can’t find any evidence on this. If anyone has found a serious study, with statistics, please let me know.

And . . . . the subject of draughting keeps running round in my head. After lots of searching the internet, I can’t find a serious scientific study giving the assistance benefit from a rider in front versus speed and distance from said rider. You Tube has lots of trials with power meters and somewhat confusing tests, which I have not found to be entirely satisfactory. And never the graph I am looking for. Again, any assistance in this area welcome.

Another Last Blog on LEJoG

We (The Royal We) have now submitted The Application to Guinness World Records - a lot of work for grandson Rob, thanks a zillion, Rob - and in his words “now we wait”. The standard time for a response is 12 weeks, unless the applicant opts for a rapid, 5 day, response at some cost of which I didn’t enquire. Whether Donald Wells, the 87 year old compleater, has put in an Application we don’t know. However, the current recorder holder on the GWR web site is still Tony Rathbone, of Keswick, at 81 years young. I looked at the 2019 Guinness Book of Records the other day but this particular record I couldn’t find in the the “Oldest” section. Very understandable, I think. The complexity of the Guinness Record system is byzantine - a bit like the application evidence document! - so to include everything would need a very large book.

So, stand by, all my readers and supporters. All will be revealed as soon as we know. A word about all those who have contacted us so far and contributed to the Facebook page. Many thanks for all the support. Some very thoughtful words received with pleasure. One motive for all this stuff, as I intimated in the beginning pompous philosophy section, was to flush out some of those anonymous 60, 70, 80, even 90 (?) year olds on their bikes week in and week out, doing amazing things and just getting on with it, without thinking about publicity, fame and ego, unlike me. Chris Ellison, the CTC LEJoG Tour leader, told me that when he did the tour using hostels, years ago, there were lots of old geezers doing LEJoG. Maybe just retired or recently bereaved and inspired to do something with a challenge. On the led tours I have done this year alone, I have met some inspiring 70++ year olds, turning in amazing performances going from France North to South and Dover to Durness. In Darlington Cycling Club there are some extremely fit 70++ year olds, burning the rubber up the climbs. One of our 70 year old members, the Amazing Mal, this year cycled across North America, 4,000+ miles, two months in the saddle! Nil Illigitimus Carborundum, guys and girls. We can do it!

Darlington, 10th October, 2018. Last Blog on LEJoG

The Bike

My Ribble Sportive 365 performed very well, with minimal attention. Didn’t pump the tyres (Schwalbe marathon extras) up once in the 18 days. Put some oil on the chain every few days. Didn’t wash it once! The mountain bike gearing (see the website) was just right for me and most changes were impeccable. Shipped the chain going on to the small ring a couple of times but that was my incompetence, I think.

The Bum

No problems until the last two or three days, when a painful spot developed near a pelvic bone. Luckily, it was kept under control with nappy rash treatment, lots of lubrication and standing up frequently. This is a show-stopper, of course, if a bad pressure sore develops. I guess these things are the same as “bed-sores”, which sometimes hit hospital patients. I thought the Spain week (which followed on with a three-day break) would be a beach holiday but in fact the lubrication treatment and Castelli shorts saved the day. All ok now.

The Body

This ancient frame managed 60 and 70 mile days remarkably well. Cardio-vascular capacity was equal to all the demands made of it. Walked twice on steep hills, surprisingly in Derbyshire, not Scotland. Hips, knees and ankles were no problem. Careful attention to lip-salve kept that area in good condition, despite wind, sun and rain. No skin problems of any kind, whether in shorts and short sleeves or full bad weather gear.

The Route

Chris Ellison has spent a long time honing the route details, to keep main roads to a minimum and pass along lovely, leafy lanes, through wonderful scenery. I enoyed the route very much. The gpx files and Garmin navigation worked well – didn’t get lost once, which is a record for me. The Garmin Edge 800 I used runs out of battery on long days, so I had a top-up battery in the cross-bar bag to keep it going. I am told the 1000 and later models have bigger capacity batteries; must buy one.

The Accommodation

Chris had arranged the hotels so that we all stayed at the same place each night. This contributes to the cohesion of the group and the enjoyment of the whole thing. For me, the comfort of a hot shower, good meals and a comfortable bed are essential ingredients. How the hard men and women do it camping or sleeping rough, I will never know – because I’m not going to try it!

The Weather

Detailed memories of the weather tend to fade away, I find. My recollection is of good weather in the first week and then cold and wet in the second. The big event was Storm Ali, of course. We were in Abington on that Thursday, which should have been a ride to Stirling, then a rest day. I opted to take the rest day on the extreme-weather Thursday, staying with my son in Kirkpatrick Durham. He then took me back to Abington and supported me and my grandson, Jamie, on the route to Stirling. From then the memory is of cold weather with full bad weather gear deployed on most days. The winds were largely from the south-west, with some periods of north, ie head-on, winds. Anyhow, the bad weather gear worked very well.

The Challenge of 60+ miles per day

There were seventeen days in the saddle and one rest day. The average mileage on riding days was 63. We covered 1060 miles, I’m told – I haven’t totted it up yet – and 10,000 metres of climb. I thought before the trip that this would be hard to maintain but not so. With coffee and lunch stops and plenty of time to reach the hotel before shower and dinner, it all worked out well. Leaving at 0900ish in the morning and arriving at 1700ish in the evening was a comfortable 10mph average, overall.

The Clothes

As alluded to above, the bad weather gear proved to be adequate for the conditions. I had vest, short-sleeved shirt, long-sleeved shirt, cycling shorts, windproof, good waterproof, arm warmers, leg warmers, over-trousers and overshoes. One spare set of cycling gear, clothes for the evening and toilet bag and creams and stuff were in the suitcase in the van. There was also a lap-top, chargers for all the electronics, log books, witness books, uncle tom cobley and all. All proved to be adequate and not too much in the weather conditions which prevailed.

The Companions

Most of the time there were seven of us on the road and at the hotels. This made for a very compact group, who were able to get to know one another. Bigger groups make it difficult to become familiar with everyone and remember all the names. Dinner conversation was very inclusive and entertaining. I felt I knew everyone by the middle of the trip. As usual on these tours, one meets like-minded, and very likeable, people. My room-mate, John, and I got on very well. Sometimes we stayed together on the road and sometimes we were strung out or within sight of one another.

The Leader

I can’t praise Chris Ellison’s planning and support enough. On the road the van was always in the right place to help with tricky turns or café stops. His pep-talks in the evening gave us full confidence we could do the next day. The support when the mechanicals and bike problems arose were essential and tour-saving. How the tragic accident could have been dealt with, without his experience, I don’t know.

The Aftermath

When I reached home, I had two days turnaround to prepare for a cycling holiday in Calpe, on the Costa Blanca, Spain. That all went well and we had a great time in perfect weather. The ancient body performed well and kept going. I have lost 2.5 kgm in body weight. Having reached home, I now feel very tired. I guess that, once one stops doing these things, the body goes “flop” and shouts for attention. Early nights and late lies are the order of the day for a little while. Then there’s gardening to do and bike maintenance and so on. Grandson Robbie has all the evidence I collected and he recorded and stored on the website for Guinness World Records and the application will go in soon. Then we wait . . . . . . . .

Darlington, Thursday, September 27th, 2018 - Immediate Thoughts

And so we said goodbye to a very windy John o’ Groats and to our companions of the 17 days spent riding northwards, ever northwards. The return journey south is an awful long way - two days driving. First along the east coast on the A9 to Inverness, where the road then more or less followed, or was near to, the route we had cycled. Lots of cries of “we were there” and “remember the rain squall on the Kessock Bridge” and such like. A stop in Newtonmore at Jenny’s car (all safe) and on to Falkirk, with the Oil Refinery and the Kelpies. On, ever south, Glasgow, Carlisle, Penrith, A66, the wind becoming slightly less but not much. Plenty of sunshine now, though and strange lenticular clouds, denoting high winds at high altitude. Darlington by 1700 hours today, more than 12 hours driving equates to 17 days cycling!

Down to domestic reality with a bump - washing all the gear, oh crumbs look at the lawn must cut tomorrow, think of something for evening meal (freezer and microwave save the day). Gather together all the stuff for The Guiness World Record Application - witness book with signatures for individual places along the way and a section for the whole journey, written log book, maps, route descriptions, official-looking pro formas (?? my Latin isn’t good enough for the correct words!) signed up by my companions (thanks guys) at JoG verifying my bona fides (more rubbish Latin). I guess this web site, representing so much work and support from grandson Robbie, will form part of the application evidence, too. If you look at the section on the Rules and the list of evidence required, you will see what I mean.

So many people to thank. Chris Ellison the CTC Tour Leader, who had planned the whole route and hotel bookings, gave very close support on the road, kept the show together when the mechanicals came thick and fast and provided evening pep talks describing what tomorrow would bring. All my companions on the Tour, who gave so much moral support and good conversation; there were seven of us, which made dinner conversations very inclusive. John, my room-mate, ensured we started the day on time - we got on so well and I will remember him as a true gentleman.

In a week or so’s time, when I’ve had a chance to review things from a greater distance, I may attempt a bit of pompous Philosophy, similar to the first entry in this Blog. For now, goodnight (it’s 2359 hours) to all my readers. I’m told I was wrong about the “if any” - there are quite a lot. Thank you all for your moral support.

Day 18, Tuesday, September 25th, 2018 Arrived at JoG!

Bettyhill to John o’ Groats, 83 km, 829 m climb, average temperature 9C. Departed Bettyhill about 0900 for the 50 miles to JoG, our final leg. There was a theoretical option to go to Dunnet Head - most northerly point - but the weather forecast was not propitious. Winds of 25 mph+, increasing during the day to 40 mph and rain at 3pm. Any thought of Dunnet Head…

Day 17, Monday, 24th September, 2018. JoG tomorrow

Today Tain to Bettyhill, 113 km, 734 m climb. Temperatures 2C in the morning and 9C in the afternoon. It was also very showery in the morning, with a vexacious wind. The weather cleared up in the afternoon. Once again, a day of two very different rides. Jen and I made an early start, about 0830, and pressed on in clothes not suited to the unexpectedly low temperatures. Add the gusty showers and we were cold. In addition, Jen had the misfortune to pick up a piece of glass in her rear tyre. We, Jen, John and I, fixed the puncture quite quickly and made Lairg at 1130.


Drinks and food and off again; still no extra clothes, hoping for a warm-up as forecast. Made the Crask Inn by 1300 ish and took the chance to don extra waterproofs and leg cover, as well as more food and drink. The section after The Crask Inn to Altnaharra didn’t seem too long but the right turn improved the situation dramatically. We turned downwind, the showers went away, the sun came out and blue skies brightened up. The ride from Altnaharra along Strath Naver was a joy. Jen and I bowled along in complete agreement that this was just great - “better than watching tele and dribbling down your cardigan” says Jen.


Jen was going really well and I am so proud of my daughter. There have been two 70-mile days, which have tested even very experienced touring cyclists and she has dug in and done it! Not fazed by the puncture or writing off her telephone by dropping it down the toilet - it was in her back cycling pocket and . . . . . . What a girl! Her climbing of the steeper hills is accompanied by a shout of “Drumvargie Hill!”. For the third time, I’m truly proud of her!

Arrived at the hotel in good time but no van visible and no bikes. Oh, dear me. Are we in the right place? Must be. It turned out the van was at the front and the bikes in the store. The view from the front of the hotel is sensational. I took some video and a photo, so it may appear on the blog.

Day 14 or D Day-4, Friday, September 21st, 2018

Stirling to Pitlochry, 98 km, 1,420 m of climb. Most of the climb was up on to Sherrifmuir. My friend Keith Burns joined the group at the bottom of the climb and accompanied us to Pitlochry. Great to see Keith and on a solo bike, for a change. Weather coolish, which brought out the leg warmers and big gloves. Wind north of west but no bother in the morning. A day of three halves (!!!). Morning, just a nice ride for a third of the total distance, from Stirling to the first cafe stop at Crieff. Lunch to coffee stop at Aberfeldy somewhat more challenging. Northish wind funnelled through the Sma’ Glen, making life hard. Didn’t actually lie down on the grass and cry but thought about it. Made my bum hurt for some reason - psychosomatic?? Fabulous whizz down to Aberfeldy. The Rhino Cafe has shut down, so we coffeed and caked at the Cinema Cafe. Third section just wonderful, with blue skies and sunny, dry roads. Keith, Rick and I kept together as a mini-group, discussing the route etc. Stopped at a lovely bridge over the Tay, with white water rapids. Three interests i) a very skilfull canoist honing his skills in the white water ii) an Archimedes Screw hydro generator to admire and discuss, iii) good photo opportunity. There followed a heated discussion on the route to follow. Rick and I were adamant that we were on Chris’s gpx route, Keith, knowing the area well, saying it was all wrong. We stuck to the gpx and it gradually made sense to Keith and would be in plenty of time for his train back to his car. All ended well - a super ride on a sustrans route avoiding the A9. Arrived Fisher’s Hotel 16.45. Bikes and bags to room, shower, and now about to go for a beer before dinner. Goodnight to all my readers (if any).

Day 12, Wednesday, September 19th, 2018

Today was the day of the extreme storm, Ali, which covered all of central Scotland with winds up to 70 mph and heavy rain. For various reasons, I opted not to ride today, but to treat it as the rest day, which should have been in Stirling after riding there from Abington. Instead, my son (whose short name is Ali!) picked me, bag and bike up at Abington and conveyed me to stay at his house in Kirkpatrick Durham, near Castle Douglas. He will take me and my grandson, Jamie, to Abington early tomorrow morning and we will ride to Stirling supported by him. On reaching Stirling I will stay overnight and re-join the group for the rest of the journey to John o Groats. (My grandson Jamie and his partner Ruth were to have accompanied me from Abington to Stirling today but . . . . . ).

The rest of the group carried on with the ride, despite the drastic conditions. We saw them at Carnwath and they were determined to reach Stirling. Having experienced the roads from inside a car, with deep floods, debris and fallen branches littered everywhere, my admiration for their bravery, cycling skill and fortitude knows no bounds. Chris is also to be congratulated for his determination to support them, following in the van. A later call brought the news they were past or at Falkirk and would complete the route shortly. Susan, Martin, Rick, Peter, Phillip, John and Chris you are heroes all.

Day 11, Tuesday Sept 18th, 2018

A long and varied day, 114 km and 850 metres of ascent. Weather started off very windy and wet - not so much rain as heavy drizzle. Waterproofs conditions, anyway and a relatively late start, 0930, for the journey from Wetheral to Abington.

We had collectively decided, after advice from our local companion rider yesterday (Derek), to take the Annan, B723/B725 to Dalton and then Lochmaben and Beattock. The rest of the route from there is in the gpx tracks - A74 all the way to Abington village and the M74 service station. And so, in windy and wet surroundings, we trundled to Gretna and crossed the border into Scotland (with suitable photo opportunities).


Then on Annan, past the Devil’s Porridge Museum, for morning tea and cake stop in Annan. Robyn, Robbie’s wife, and little Orran (5 months old, my lovely great-grandson) met us in the cafe. The route then turned north, with shelter from hedges and gradually improving weather. Lunch stop at Graham’s Bakery, Lochmaben, allowed the rain to go off and a hint of the sun to appear. From here things went well and progress was quite speedy, with the following wind. Robbie had the drone with him and did remarkably well to take several minutes of video, which we are all dying to see (edit: link to a rough cut of some of the drone footage added below). Lots of other photos, too, with the phone. I had a dib with the GoPro, both on the road and as we came into the motorway service station. A long traffic holdup at the entrance to the service station was explained by the news that a fight had broken out between two (male, of course) motorists. The police arrived soon after we had parked up. Robyn was here to meet Robbie and we said fond goobyes. A very enjoyable day and a very long one for Robbie. Well done, my grandson!!


Occupying all our thoughts tonight is the drastic weather forecast for tomorrow - very high SW winds and heavy rain. A dinner-time conference and discussion followed and Chris’s experience of these things led to a decision to set off as early as possible and “hole up” in the middle of the day, during the worst of the storm. My grandson Jamie and his partner Ruth are joining me for this section. My son Ali is supporting with his large vehicle, which can pick us up if necessary. So . . . .  give it a go tomorrow and decide what to do after experiencing the wind effects and whether it is safe to continue. If not, plans B, C, D may well be needed. I’m so pre-occupied with all this that other matters for the Blog will have to wait.     


Day 10, Monday, September 17th, 2018

From Hawes to Wetheral, 96 km, 1000 metres climbed. Back to good weather, little wind, a superb route and sensational views. Late start because breakfast was 0830. Met Derek as planned; he and Wendy had been staying locally and Wendy waved us off. From Hawes to Garsdale Head is an undulating uphill climb to meet the Carlisle/Settle line. Turned right and rode parallel to the railway, noticing that we went up and down and the railway didn’t. Sadly, we noticed a dead red squirrel on the road. Pendragon Castle caused a photo-opportunity to break out; I think we all sensed this was a relaxed day to enjoy to the full. Lunch at Kirby Stephen, where Phillip’s big brother joined the party. Relaxed ride across towards Appleby, with the Warcop ranges ahead, under the new bypass to the very nice cafe by the level crossing and garden centre, now closed. Photos and witness book duties were easy today - Derek did it all! Then a relaxing ride across the country between the A66 and the Northern End of the Pennines, with super views of the Pennines and Lake Dustrict. Two hours later we were in the Crown Hotel, Wetheral, relaxing.

My Garmi electronicals, I have deduced, are due to deteriorating contacts in the plug. So when it is on charge on the move, funny things happen. By deploying Garmin 2, all was well. Do I splash out on a Garmin 1000+ at enormous expense?

At this point, those of a nervous or prudish disposition should switch off and not read further. Tonight’s homily/discussion is about bums. I think it is safe to say cyclists think about this part of the anatomy, worry about it, treat it with great respect but rarely, for understandable reasons, discuss the best protection procedures. I have been watching a number of very intimate and detailed YouTube films on this subject (does this constitute watching pornography?), which are very detailed about the exact points of contact between all our weight and the saddle. I am not going to describe in detail what I learned, I leave that to you. However, the point is the two pelvic bones, which do all the support with very little area of contact, need looking after well. Also, the skin in the surrounding area needs TLC and absolute cleanliness. My method - wear a pair of mountain bike under shorts (very thin pad), buy Castelli shorts (very expensive but worth every penny) and apply Sudocrem liberally. So far, this strategy has been successful in keeping bum discomfort to an absolute minimum. Has anyone willing to pass me advice/experience on this subject or come across advice from Tour de France riders, who do ridiculous mileages without a break? I read somwhere that TdF riders used to put a thick beefsteak between them and the saddle.

Day 9, Sunday, 16th September, 2018

Outlane to Hawes, 103 km, 1700 metres of ascent. By far the hardest day for me. It was very wet and very windy as we set off from Outlane and so it continued until well after lunch. The hotel is at the top of quite a high hill. On the descent I was very nervous and apprehensive about grip of the tyres on the road and was lacking confidence. Why? Is it lack of practice in the windy/wet conditions, or some irrational fear of . . something? Don’t know, never felt like this on the bike before. Had to wag a finger at myself and say ‘get on with it scaredy cat’. The feeling took several hours to wear off. The feeling persisted throughout the big climb over Wadsworth Moor and the descent to Sowerby Bridge. Pressed on to the cobbled hill in Haworth, where we stopped for mid-morning coffee and cake. Another big climb was needed to reach Skipton and the lunch stop. Feeling a bit better by this time and a stop for sustainance steadied the ship somewhat. I guess the rain and wind relenting helped but spirits gradually rose and the feeling of engaging with the ride and beginning to gain confidence began to return. After lunch the weather improved a lot, the rain ameliorated and the wind became less pestacious. After Skipton the climbs became easier (was that in reality or because I had cheered up?) as we passed through Grassington to the afternoon cafe at Kettlewell - Zarina’s cafe there. Stocked up on tea and cakes ready for tackling Langstrothdale Chase. It took me 2 hours for the ride to Hawes, walking at least three times on the very severe gradients. Big views though - Pen y Ghent over to the left, Ingleborough and Whernside there, too. Arrived Hawes at 1730.

Lovely meet-up with Georgina and Ellie and family, who had driven over from Weardale, where they were on holiday. Wendy and Derek, Robbie’s in-laws, were also there, so it was a delightful extended family chat. More on why Wendy and Derek were there tomorrow.

Weather forecast for the next stage looks good and climbs look a lot less challenging. No mechanicals to report but my electronical with the Garmin repeated itself and the report is in two halves again. Oh, well, the Strava record looks ok. Today was a good test of my system for keeping the phone and Garmin charged up in wet conditions. All worked well. I was very worried about this before setting off.

I may pluck up courage and discuss a basic, fundamental, foundation problem connected with (dominating?) cycling. Watch this space and all will be revealed; well not exactly revealed but talked about.