John O’Groats – Land’s End: Duncan Pike, Anthony Egan and Richard Price
Glasgow – Gloucester: David Long
Wigan – Gloucester: Jim Wynn
Wigan – Hereford: Andrew Sanders
Transcript of daily updates by Duncan to his family WhatsApp group.
Day 1 – John O’Groats – Thurso (45km / 355m)
Just a couple of hours today and 45km / 28 miles to Thurso. I thought it would be rather bleak up here but it was a surprisingly beautiful ride and the sun was shining. Dunnet Head, the most northerly point in mainland Britain, was a lovely spot and worth the 8 mile detour. The wildlife is amazing and I have already seen a golden eagle, deer and all sorts of other birds, butterflies and fauna. Unfortunately no ospreys as we passed Dornoch Firth on the drive up from Inverness.
Tonight, we plan to eat something straight off a local boat and rehydrate on something carbohydrate-based.
Tomorrow, it starts properly, up for a 7am breakfast before a 140km / 90 mile run down to Bonar Bridge. We head west along the coast to Betty Hill and we then hang a left down the centre of the remotest part of Britain. I am really looking forward to it.
The sleeper train was excellent with a great lounge car. I woke up at 6am and went and sat in the lounge and watched the lovely scenery unfold as we headed through the Cairngorms.
Day 2 – Thurso – Bonar Bridge (140km / 1274m)
140 km completed today through the most amazingly varied landscape. It started at 08.30 this morning with a 50km run to Bettyhill along the finest stretch of coast road I have ever ridden. Any people with time on their hands should do the NC500. Google it.
We turned left off the coast road and started to head south for the first time. It felt good, the sun was shining again and the scenery just stunning. Again, the wildlife didn’t disappoint. Sheep everywhere.
We saw about 3 cars during the following 50km and stopped for a picnic lunch at Loch Naver. We eventually got to the Crask Inn where we devoured a pint of shandy and a bowl of parsnip soup. The landlord informed us that today was the best weather Scotland had experienced in 47 years. We were blessed - it was simply stunning. The final 40 km took us down to Bonar Bridge via Shin Falls. Our B&B is like Fawltey Towers and the barman at the local pub has one eye but all is good.
Tomorrow is a 120 km run to Fort Augustus - down to Inverness and along the south side of Loch Ness. Forecast in the morning is very wet but the temperature is holding.
This beats work.
Day 3 – Bonar Bridge – Fort Augustus (126km / 1502m)
We got pissed on today. Really pissed on. Six and a half hours of Scottish rain. We were dressed appropriately so it wasn’t too bad for the first 100km, until we arrived at the Dorres Inn for afternoon tea.
We opened up with a long climb up to 1200 ft from sea level and then dropped down into Dingwall, home of Ross County FC (The Staggies). The wee ground is a lovely, homely place with very friendly people. We were introduced to Scott Boyd, ex-Kilmarnock, Staggies legend and new sporting director and photos with him on the pitch, still trying to work out who he actually was.
We then crossed the Moray Firth Bridge, which was a bit hairy due to the strong wind coming off the North Sea, straight to our second ground of the day, Inverness Caley. Not quite the same welcome but we walked through the gate into the ground for photos.
The drizzle continued and by the time we hit Loch Ness my waterproof socks were like wearing bin bags full of water.
The Loch-side ride turned into a 400m climb up Glendoebeg. Basically like climbing half way up Snowdon. We then dropped down to Fort Augustus where we are now enjoying fresh fish and a few pints.
Tomorrow, the weather improves and brings in Spean Bridge, Fort William and a stopover in Crianlarich.
Despite the rain, it beats work.
Day 4 – Fort Augustus – Crianlarich (137km / 1247m)
A lovely day today; the weather improved as we rode and the scenery was pretty darn good. We got an early (for us) start and were rolling by 08.15. We cracked on down to Spean Bridge to visit the Commando Memorial, where I doffed my helmet to Dai, a fondly remembered old family friend of the Pike family. He fought in Burma with the Commandos during WWII and as a result resolutely never purchased anything of Japanese provenance.
We then hurtled down the hill to the village for yet another Scottish Fry when my glasses flew off and were run over by a 16 wheel lorry. We stopped at a bike shop in Fort William to replenish our tyres with air and I replaced my squashed specs with a new groovy pair of cycling spectacles. We looked for Ben Nevis but she was cloud-covered. The bike shop owner said that she had lived in Fort W for 30 years and had never seen the mountain.
We got to the end of Loch Leven and then headed up Glencoe and into the mountains. A long tiring climb that went on forever, however every turn brought a fresh view and none of them disappointed. Rannoch Moor was as bleak but beautiful as I remember it, even though it was bathed in sunshine. We reached the summit and had the most glorious descent back down to Bridge of Orchy. We arrived just as Buttler was out and the game was lost.
There was one final climb and then a 16km downhill run into Crianlarich where we are now pitched for the night. We have a cottage to ourselves with a pub next door and I am about to tuck into Cullen Skink. Sweet as a nut.
I wasn’t especially looking forward to spending the whole day on the A82 but it was surprisingly ok and a lovely road surface on the whole.
Tomorrow should be great. The forecast is as good as we could wish for, we head down Loch Lomond to Glasgow and plan to have mid morning coffee and cake in Luss. At lunchtime we meet Longy at Glasgow Central. He is joining us until Hereford. We overnight in Crawford, somewhere off the M74. It will be a good day.
Day 5 – Crianlarich – Crawford (155km / 1000m)
I am late tonight, a late finish and straight to dinner. Gordon Bennett, what a long day, arriving at our B&B at 7.45pm. We are in Crawford, sandwiched between the M74 and the West Coast Mainline (WCML) but it is a quite idyllic spot. Feint hum of the motorway and lambs making their presence known.
Today is our longest ride distance-wise of the trip 150km / 94 miles. We have seen a lot today. We left Crianlarich bathed in sunshine and midges at 08.30am and descended through the remaining mountains to Loch Lomond. We followed the shore down to Luss and stopped for a quick coffee but it was full of tourists (the worst kind), so we hastily moved on towards Glasgow.
We wove through Dumbarton and along the canal into central Glasgow. The canal bike path is fantastic and took us to the Clyde from where we continued to the railway bridge. Here we met Dave by the Spanish Civil War memorial. Glaswegians were out in force, enjoying the sunshine and had many interested parties, including a guy in a (very) retro Celtic top who inquired as to our wellbeing, before face planting into the grass verge. At least it was after midday.
I won’t lie, it was a drag coming out of Glasgow, lots of farting about to ensure we stayed off the East Kilbride expressway and the motorways and it wasn’t until we were past Larkhall that we felt safer speaking in an English accent.
The last 30-40km along the old A74 were just glorious, even though our legs were heavy and knackered. They have converted one of the old carriageways of the road into a lovely smooth cycle path. The sun was beating down and we were nearly home.
Our B&B is another quirky one but the landlady had dinner and cold beer ready for us on arrival.
I have just Face Timed the family and whilst the kids were more interested in Love Island than me, it was great to see their faces. I am missing them all. BUT I am having a great time. There low moments when hips, knees and backs are complaining. Sometimes I mentally feel fatigued but that soon disappears when conversation turns to something different. The lows do not last long. We have had many, many hilarious moments. I have listened to a bit of music and Test Match Special, especially when we are heads down, trying to get some miles racked off.
Tomorrow, we leave Scotland. We have loved it beyond expectations and will miss it. The people have been amazing; interesting and interested. Today, we were outside a Co-Op and a guy popped out of his house with a bottle of ice cold squash for us.
So tomorrow, we head down to Lockerbie, Gretna, Carlisle and finish in Penrith. We view it as a bit of a rest day as it’s only 120km / 75 miles, mostly downhill.
Good night all!
Day 6 – Crawford – Penrith (125km / 765m)
It was pretty bluddy hot today but we cannot complain. This weather is totally unexpected and means we can jettison some kit from our panniers tomorrow.
Our B&B provided another hearty breakfast. We have had Scottish fries every morning up to this point but today I broke and had porridge with fruit - black pudding has its limits. We spun quickly down to Lockerbie for mid-morning coffee and cake. I had a cracking Victoria sponge (not as good as my daughter, Alice’s, obvs) whilst being entertained by a bagpiper in full dress whilst smoking a cigarette.
We reluctantly re-mounted and followed the old A74, criss-crossing the WCML and the motorway all the way down toward the border. We were aware that we were edging towards our last moments in Scotland. It is such a pity that Gretna was our last staging post in Scotland as it is a shit hole and an unfair reflection on such a beautiful part of the world. You can probably tell, we have been quite taken by the beauty viewed from the bike and the hospitality extended to us.
Anyway, we mopped our brow and continued down to Carlisle. A surprisingly nice town with some pleasant Victorian streets. We passed close to Brunton Park, so we decided to have a look. Their academy director was there and he invited us into the ground for photos. A very friendly club and quite a nice little ground.
We exited Carlisle via the racecourse and into the country. We were now off the A-roads and on lanes with the northern Lakes as the backdrop. The sun was beating down and it brought it all alive. The birds were fluttering around us, butterflies and bees were doing their business and yet more lambs were baa-ing. It was lovely. We then ducked down into Penrith, where have stationed for the night in The Station Hotel. It is rather rudimentary and smells like a deep fat fryer but we have a bed. Dinner was in a rather good Italian in town.
Each day has its own landmarks. Today was crossing the border. Yesterday was meeting Longy. Tomorrow we head to Wigan and I am going to my first ever Rugby League game. Anthony’s dad lives in Burnley and he is popping across with a parcel we sent up. That means fresh kit and pants etc. We are also joined by two more riders in Wigan, Jim and Andrew. So we will be peloton of 6 for 2 days until we reach Hereford, when they all go back to Surrey and work. We will then be a 3 again.
We also reach the half-way point tomorrow, just after Kendal.
Day 7 – Penrith – Wigan (144km / 967m)
Myself, Tony, Dave and Rich rolled out at 7.30 and got stuck straight into Shap. What a lovely climb. It was a steady 4 or 5% all the way up. Our Penrith hotel was not great so left breakfast until we hit Shap village, about half way up. The scenery got better and better with every turn. I recommend anyone belting up the M6 to take time out and come off at Kendal and take the A6 over Shap instead. It’s worth the detour.
Lancashire was kind to us - idyllic villages and country lanes but it gave us a taster for Devon and Cornwall. There were sapping, short, sharp climbs before we had to get back on the A6. We stopped at Garstang for cake and then clobbered on towards Preston with lovely views across Morcambe Bay.
As we entered Preston, we unfortunately had to make a stop at A&E - Rich was not feeling well. After a few hours of deliberation and sorting things out, we are a man down. Rich has had to pull out and he is now safely back in Chester at his mum’s house. The rest of us pushed on to Wigan and we have another 145km under our belt. We’ve met up with Jim and Andrew in Wigan they will be with us until Hereford.
After that it will be myself and Tony. I cannot tell you how sad we are that Rich has had to pull out and I will fill you in with the details later.
Tomorrow, we continue and will finish this for Rich. We are down to Shrewsbury tomorrow night to visit mine, Rich and Jim’s seat of learning and a few other old haunts. It’s a 125km run past Crewe and Whitchurch and it will be warm.
One upside is that Tony’s dad came across from Burnley tonight and dropped off fresh kit for us, which is very welcome.
Onwards and upwards and I promise I post something more positive tomorrow night.
Day 8 – Wigan – Shrewsbury (135km / 778m)
We feel like we are moving down the country quite quickly now. Makes us realise how long Scotland is.
We stayed in a Wetherspoons Hotel in Wigan last night. Dinner, B&B cost me a shade over 40 quid. For a stopover it was fine and my gammon and chips was actually ok.
Anyway, we were trying bounce back from yesterday’s events. You may have guessed but Richard was knocked off his bike by a car. It was coming in the opposite direction, turning right, in front of us. Anyway the driver did not see 4 cyclists coming down a busy road and pulled across into Rich’s path. Net result is that he is very lucky to have got away with a broken collar bone. We had an off duty copper as a witness and he sorted everything out for us, going well beyond the call of duty.
So today, we set off gingerly but soon our confidence started to return and the laughs emerged again. Once we were out of the south Lancashire / Manchester conurbation, the Cheshire countryside was very nice. Full of white Range Rovers but still nice. We made our way past Warrington, Middlewich, and across the top of Crewe, where we crossed the WCML for the last time. We have followed it all the way down from Glazgee and have become quite attached to it so it was sad to see it disappear from view.
We caught a late lunch in Whitchurch, once we had crossed the Shropshire border. We have got into the habit of buying stuff from a local deli or bakery and eating it in a local park. We also afforded ourselves a 30 minute snooze in the shade.
Once we hit Shrewsbury, we headed for the school for some photos and discovered that we were intruding on Speech Day. Plenty of strange looks as we posed next to Sir Philip Sydney.
Whilst in the Town of Flowers, I have just been to see my Aunty Beth, which was lovely. She was very pleased to see me and have a visitor. Beth is on fine form.
So yesterday saw us pass the half way mark at Kendal, today we went through four counties and tomorrow we visit our third country. We have now done 990km / 618 miles. Physically I feel better than I did on day 2 or 3. We have certainly not been without incident and losing Rich and the circumstances around it has been a massive blow but today really felt that we are bouncing back and we are really looking forward to seeing my in-laws in Chepstow tomorrow night.
It’s gonna be a long day with plenty of climbing over Wenlock Edge and the south Shropshire Hills and down through the Forest of Dean.
Right, I am off to the Boaty...
(The Boathouse Inn)
Day 9 – Shrewsbury – Chepstow (150km / 1816m)
The was a lot going on today but the net result is that Tony and I are in Chepstow after 1800m of climbing and 150km / 94 miles.
The whole day was undulating terrain with some nasty little lumps and bumps to negotiate. We lost Longy for a bit due to him taking a wrong turning whilst on the phone to his wife, sorting out their Wi-Fi.
South Shropshire is the best part of the county and we had great views of the Shropshire hills, including Caradoc, The Lawley and Stiperstones.
Andrew, Jim and Longy departed in different directions around Hereford and Tony and I became a two, which we will remain until the end.
If there is one thing about Herefordshire that will stick with me, it is the smell of cow shit. It is a unique blend and continuous. The type that hits the back of the throat. The smell changed to a more pleasant version in the Forest of Dean. I have to say, despite previous advice to the contrary, I didn’t see a lot in the FoD that would draw me back. Maybe it was the horrendous climbs that we encountered but the scenery didn’t wow me. We had a much needed pint of shandy before the final descent down into Chepstow.
It was lovely and fantastic to meet up with the in-laws last night. It has been a real boost to us and it has certainly given us a spring today. Anyway they treated us to some great pizza, ale and wine. Unfortunately Tony and I were flagging rapidly as the cumulative tiredness is kicking in, so I was in bed and asleep within 10 mins of leaving the restaurant. I am really grateful for your visit, Pete and Penny. It has meant an awful lot.
At the moment, we are lunching in Cheddar having crossed the Severn and got past Bristol and a lot of Glasto traffic. Tiverton tonight.
Day 10 - Chepstow – Tiverton (150km / 1854m)
A tough day, only because it was another 150km and 1900m of climbing ticked off.
As I said previously, cumulative tiredness is becoming a factor now and it was difficult getting out of bed at 6am this morning. Anyhow we were on the road for just after 7am and were soon on the old Severn Bridge. It was a bit of a seminal moment as it was the first bit of salt water we had been in contact with since Bettyhill, well over 1000km ago. We had seen Morecambe Bay from the Lancashire hills but that doesn’t count.
We followed the Severn down to Avonmouth and took the M5 bridge across the Avon and then on past Clifton Bridge. The cycle infrastructure around Brizzle is very good and we were rarely on roads until we were out of Ashton Park and heading towards Chew.
We were feeling good as the weather was cooler and, although slow going, we were beyond Bristol, our last major city to negotiate.
Soon we were in the Mendips, the first of the bitch-climbs of the day. It was also one of the designated routes out of Glastonbury, so there were plenty of hungover and stoned drivers to be wary of, coming in the opposite direction. Our reward for climbing to the top of the Mendips was the gorgeous descent down Cheddar Gorge. I stand corrected but I reckon it’s the first time I have been there and it was quite spectacular to ride down it. Glad we routed it in. We stopped in Cheddar for lunch but the cafe we stopped at for lunch only had one dish on the menu that contained cheddar cheese. So we both ordered it - a Cheddar and Branston sandwich. Turns out the cheese was from Ireland.
Next up were the Somerset Flats... which was flat but we had a horrible headwind, slowing our progress towards the Quantocks. Now this really is a lovely part of the world. Rolling (steep) hills and lovely chocolate box villages. I will bring the family back here as it’s stunning. There was one lane that was just teeming with many species of butterfly and the birdsong was vociferous. Loved it.
We struggled to find our now traditional pub for a shandy to see us through the final 15 miles. A good job as the final climbs were brutal, however we soon descended into Tiverton for our stopover.
We were both starving so the only option was a curry. Found a great place in town and got properly stuck in. We both went safe, no vindaloos, as the repercussions could have been dangerous.
Tomorrow is slightly shorter ride but 2000m of climbing. We head to Okehampton, where I have earmarked a great café us Pikes stopped at recently for lunch and then on to Bodmin for a nights rest. We touch both Dartmoor and Bodmin Moor. It’s gonna be another long slog but we are entering my favourite part of England and we can smell the end.
Day 11 – Tiverton – Bodmin (122km / 2095m)
We climbed over 2000m today and went through Minions, the highest village in Cornwall, equating to climbing Snowdon twice from sea level.
We crawled out of Tiverton towards Crediton. Straight away we were climbing. The route took us mainly on country lanes, up and down dale. There were some big percentages in terms of gradient and we found a great cafe on 40km for a late breakfast. There was less faffing today, no Bristols (not Cities) to negotiate so it was about keeping going. I have to say today was the first time I felt less than 100% and was struggling a little bit. Tony was the same yesterday but was fine today. We have found this all the way down. Yesterday’s sore hips turn into tomorrow’s sore feet etc.
We stopped at a lovely pub with a chatty landlord in Horsebridge, where we crossed the Tamar. This meant we had crossed the border into Cornwall. Another big moment as we are now in our final county.
Climbing up to Bodmin Moor was a right bugger. Climbing wise it was two steps forward, one step back, and repeat. Minions was a lovely village and we tucked into a cream tea. The over-chatty cafe owner bollocked us for doing cream first but we protested innocence, claiming we were from Devon.
The final 20km into Bodmin was flipping hard work but rewarding when we arrived at the hotel. It has an authentic Vietnamese restaurant, so we are fed, watered and ready for bed.
Tomorrow, we head towards Perranporth and then follow the coast road to our finish. I cannot wait and then I can get pissed, go home and sleep for 24 hours.
Day 12 – Bodmin – Land’s End (112km / 1776m)
The previous two days were really hard work because of the unforgiving steep hills and they were long rides. Whilst the countryside was lovely, it was difficult to admire it at times. We were heads down, ticking off the miles. This morning we woke up much revived and looking forward to the day. It was slightly shorter than our standard days but still plenty of climbing to do.
Our first target was to get to the coast at Perranporth on 40km. We got going at 7am, so this was our breakfast stop. The first “proper” sea for the first time since Bettyhill. We travelled on some of the lanes on my “regular” loop I ride when down in the area, most recently in May, so there was some familiarity for myself, at least.
After a final full English we followed the coast through Aggie, Porthtowan, Hayle and then climbed above St. Ives to the cliff top. By now there was a ceremonial feel to it as we revelled in the spectacular coast line, teeming with wildlife.
Our final cake stop was at a hut in a field with a commanding view over the cliff-top and sea. We could have taken a much shorter route into Land’s End but we wanted to keep the sea on our right hand side so followed the loop of the peninsula around the top. This furthest, remotest tip of England is very similar to what we found 900 miles further north.
Finally around 3pm we rolled into Land’s End and we were done. We paid a tenner to have the sign personalised and our photo taken and then fought through the hordes of ignorant Americans and other sundry nationalities to get back on the road and cycle the 9 miles to Penzance.
But, honestly, what have they done to Land’s End? They’ve tried to make it a mini theme park and it fails on all counts. Do not go there unless you have a reason to do so, is my advice.
In overall summary, I have absolutely loved it. It’s made me realise what a beautiful country we live in and don’t appreciate enough. Generally, lovely people and cyclist-aware drivers. We had a crushing blow in Preston with Richard’s crash. I have replayed this many times in my mind and it could have been so much worse, so we feel lucky. There was another incident where a coach almost wiped me out in Glencoe. I have the coach company’s details so they will receive my wrath shortly.
I swallowed countless flies, a good source of protein. Generally they go straight down but there was the odd one that got stuck in the throat.
Cow dung. It comes in many different flavours as you move down the country. Herefordshire was the most pungent. Proof that the pasture does determine the nature and quality of the produce.
Hub caps. They are a big pollutant, I saw thousands in the hedgerows. Litter. What on earth motivates people to chuck their shit into the hedges? It is a disgrace. Fly tipping is a similar problem that needs addressing. I must have seen over fifty dumped fridges on my way down.
Wildlife - this country is full of hidden life that we normally don’t see. This is one of the things I love about cycling, you get to see and feel it all. We had a relay of hedgerow birds following us down and there was a flourishing population of birds of prey above us. We saw deer, red squirrels and loads of rabbits. Wild flowers are perfectly in season at the moment. I have also earmarked many places that I would like to go back and visit.
Camaraderie - this has been a significant theme. No arguments, always going in the same direction. I guess that is why I chose to do this with the people that I did. Richard was sorely missed in Penzance.
I have had many different aches and pains during the past 12 days, each repairing themselves as we went on. I have certainly got fitter, my heart rate has dropped about 10-15 bpm whilst on the bike. That is significant. The jeans I am wearing now barely stay up without a belt. They were snug when I started. It was strange yesterday when we finished. Our ride back to Penzance was remarkably difficult. It was like our brains had told our bodies to go into shutdown. It was the same rolling down to the station this morning.
Whilst we have pushed ourselves by doing this in eleven and a half days, I wouldn’t have liked it to have taken any longer. The average is 16 days, apparently. I will do it again, the other way, but it won’t be for a while. Get training, Anne, because you are coming with me!
Many people have sent lovely messages citing what an achievement it has been. Honestly, I don’t see it that way. At no point did I think I could not do it. I didn’t get off the bike once, even on some 20% climbs. Not once did I not feel like getting on the bike in the morning. I looked forward to every day. I see it as a privilege to have done it and that is why we didn’t do it for charity.
Best of all though, I didn’t have any mechanical issues with my bike and not one puncture. It needs a good clean, though.