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LANDS END to JOHN O'GROATS CYCLE FOR SAM

DAY 8 - Ingleton to Gretna (94 Miles)

PhotoA Fab day - best yet!

I LOVE riding in shirt sleeves! After days of wearing my Goretex, it felt great to air my kit in the early morning sunshine.

Breakfast was a basic, friendly and substantial affair. We set off from Ingleton with me leading at a great pace. Smooth roads and sunshine make all the difference. We stopped at Sedburgh and I was asked to slow the pace down (bit of a regular thing now). We then haad two fab, long, steady climbs over the Yorkshire Dales. Quiet roads along bubbling streams. Loads of cyclists out today and the only time I've regretted not having a camera with me, but even the best camera would've struggled to capture the amazing vista.

Just after Kirkby Stephen Di announced that her tyre was getting flat again. We put some air into it to see how it would go. When we stopped in Appleby-in-Westorland to check the map, we decided to change Di's inner tube. Appleby is another town worthy of a revisit and we sat by the river and enjoyed the sun while I changed the tube – the strong smell of fish ‘n' chips was almost tempting. As we set off again, having been distracted from the map check with the tube replacing I missed our turning off the main road. Fortunately the complex system of roads meant I was able to get us back on track without any major drama's.

The stage from Appleby to Brampton is a long slog with hills that are just long and steep enough to test tired legs without breaking them. Brampton is a welcome sight, as are signs for Carlisle which suddenly make you realise that you are now really far North and you start to recognise how far you have been able to ride. Unfortunately Brampton also signalled the start of the battle against the wind! All the way to Gretna the wind was in our faces. Nige was absolutely knackered by this point so I led the long flat road. This is quite a picturesque part of the world with some wide and mineral rich river heads.

The signpost for Scotland is an emotional point of the ride – almost as emotional as the John O Groats sign. If you didn't feel very ‘North' before, you certainly feel very North now!

I was absolutely taken aback as we rode into Gretna to see how many wedding parties there were. I know this sounds obvious – Gretna – weddings, but it really is the most significant thing that you notice about the town. That, and the fact that the people at the Days Inn hotel are entirely ignorant! Nige spent the evening eating his body weight from every food outlet at the service station – Eat-in – Burger king – KFC – WHSmiths…..

 

DAY 9 - Gretna to Cumnock

Another rubbish day of navigation trying to follow the guide book.

The guidebook gave great directions for leaving Gretna. Unfortunately the Gretna services aren't actually in Gretna they are further North, making the guidebook useless. The guidebook also tries to keep off the busy roads and onto B Roads where it can. Tired and irritable cyclists sometimes just want to get on with cycling and not worry about the damn map!!!

Unfortunately the mistake I made was to stop using the OS maps that I had printed to get us through England. To get the mapping software for Scotland was going to cost another £90. At the time I was also buying loads kit for the bike and £90 seemed like a cost too far, especially when a road map would probably be good enough. On reflection £90 would've been a small price to pay to avoid the frustration of the next two days!

When we eventually stopped faffing with the B Roads and I dramatically ripped the map holder from my handlebars – the relief was HUGE, a new pair of legs wouldn't have boosted my morale more. Every time I looked down at the handlebars for the rest f the day – no map! No responsibility other than turning the pedals! The pay off for this was that we had to follow a fairly busy A Road, which wasn't too unpleasant, until the headwind got up. Nige really hated the wind and called it every name you could think of. Without the map to hinder me I decided that we should take it in turns to lead and we worked really well as a team and took 15minute stints at the front. I now realise that this was probably too long and we probably should've swapped more frequently.

Niges frustration finally boiled over at Ayreshire when he had the tantrum of all tantrums “I'm not going to Ayreshire – it looks rubbish”. I almost cracked a rib laughing! 10 minutes later we got a great boost when Coach Chris arrived with the van, hot tea and hot crossed buns! We hung around at the van for a while and chatted to Chris before Nige realised that we could relieve ourselves of the panniers! Into the back of the van they went, along with all the tools, spares, warm clothing and anything else that might be important in an emergency! Fortunately we didn't need any of it – but it demonstrates how tired and blasé I was becoming!

The final stretch from Cumnock to the B&B at Ochiltree was quite torturous, at one point I asked Di to slow down as Nige was getting left behind and he didn't need anything else to moan about!

The farmhouse B&B at Ochiltree was brilliant. They lent us a hose so we could get the bikes cleaned and serviced while the lady of the house made afternoon tea in the breakfast room. We were joined for tea by two older lady guests (quite well-to-do) who told us that they were ‘doing' one of the local gardens. They didn't look like the landscaping types so I had to interrogate further to find that ‘doing' the local garden meant ‘visiting'.

Before supper I had the mother of all showers, now equipped with shaving kit and clean clothes I was able to step out to the pub like a new man! According to Chris that is why I joined the Navy – ‘to feel a new man everyday'. Nice to get off on the right foot with my new room mate!

The pub the landlady recommended was excellent and the only scary moment of the evening was when Chris looked as though he was going to stoof my precious van into another car in the pub car park!
Sharing with Chris proved to be entertaining and we chatted for a while. Ex-squaddies and ex-matelots will always get along as they have a common enemy – the RAF! Chris has also spent a lot of time in my beloved Snowdonia around Tywyn so we have plenty in common.

 

DAY 10 - Cumnock to Ardlui (73 Miles)

Unfortunately again we started from a different place to the guidebook and not wanting to retrace our steps back to the main road we tried to cut a corner off through some local lanes. The B&B landlady gave us loads of good advice, which we didn't follow and got lost. We came across a farmer and his dog, Dougie who tried to help us get back on track. I must admit that I didn't really listen to his advice either as I was too busy marvelling at his ability to stay completely dry and toastie warm in his dungarees, woolly jumper and german army cap. Goretex is clearly for Beefers… we managed to get to the town on the main road that we were looking for but then I made a grave error and we headed out of town in the wrong direction again – resulting and a small rage! Nige and Di were brilliant and cheerily retraced our steps finally making back to the main road. We successfully circled around Kilmarnock and through Stewarton, and found a fab road into Johnstone which is a burb of Glasgow. Not the nicest of areas if has to be said.

Getting from Johnstone to the Erskine Bridge was a challenge and we opted to take the main A737, the worst section of road of the whole trip (for me). It was a heavy dual carriageway with a few on and off slip roads to worry about. The rain was pretty heavy by now too making conditions treacherous for both driver and cyclist. We were glad to get off this road and head to the bridge past Glasgow Airport.

We crossed the bridge and just as we started looking for a way down onto the cycle route I heard a noise from my back wheel. On investigation I found a spoke had come loose. Unsure what the impact of this would be, I taped the poorly spoke to its neighbour and tried to ride again before finding that the wheel was badly buckled and the spoke wasn't actually damaged, it had been ripped from the rim – disaster! Or at least it would have been if we hadn't had Chris in support with the van. We sheltered near the Kirkaldy train station, I phoned Lisa at home and asked her to find a bike shop in Glasgow (that would be open on a Bank Holiday Monday) and Nige phoned Chris to get him to come back. Lisa text me the bike shop details and we waited for Chris, and waited, and waited. Getting cold now I urged Nige and Di to continue without me but they opted to stay until Chris arrived. I phoned Chris who was lost – Nige had told him that we had broken down ‘just before the bridge', imagining that Chris would be coming from North. Chris thought that ‘just before the bridge' meant we were the other side coming from South. So Chris had gone back over the bridge looking for us. By the time he got to us we were freezing. Bless him, when we had phoned him he was only 2 minutes from the train station.

After making a brew Chris then drove me into Glasgow with my poorly bike and Nige and Di cracked on to Ardlui. No nav was now really required they just needed to follow the A82 north. The bike shop in Glasgow were brilliant (Alpine Cycles) and within 40 minutes I had a brand new pair of wheels and I also indulged in the purchase of the century – a pair of skinny warm gloves and a pair of leg warmers. The plan then was for Chris to drop me back at the train station and then catch up with the guys, I would then pedal alone. We joked about him dropping me off just around the corner from the B&B in Ardlui – as the rain and wind lashed the windscreen and the van's heater started to make me cosy – I have to admit that there was probably more seriousness to the joke than I wanted to admit!

Chris dropped me at a car park near the Kirkaldy train station. I crammed some food in, topped up my juice bottles and just before setting off, a rush of good sense hit me in the head like a cricket ball and I grabbed a spare tube and set of patches from my pannier before throwing it into the van.

Setting off alone, lightweight and with my new gloves and leg warmers I felt great. The rain eased and I found a cycle route just as I left Kirkaldy which was signposted for Lock Lomond. I blasted along this, through Dumbarton and caught up with a pair of cyclists who were riding to Inverness and had done the end-to-end years before. We chatted all the way to Alexandria at the foot of the Loch when we parted company and I headed up the west side. The A82 was another horribly busy road and I was glad to see a blue sign for a cycleway that runs between the new road and the Loch side. Just before the small village of Luss I got my first puncture. I was quite concerned about this because I'd fitted Armadillo tyres which are extra tough. I repaired the puncture with a new tube and cracked on. When I arrived in Luss I found that the tyre was going flat again. Still in good spirits I found a brilliant little café, got a sarnie and mug of coffee while I now repaired the puncture with a patch. I found that the puncture hole was on the inside of the tube, the side against the rim, had a quick look for an obstacle but found nothing. The route followed the Loch to a town called Tarbett, and then turns left towards Ardlui which is at the head of a sea loch, 2 miles from Tarbett. 1.5 miles from Tarbett I noticed that my tyre was flat again! I tried in vain to put more air in, knowing that there was only a couple of miles to go. I also expected to find Chris at Tarbett and as we would be coming back there in the morning from Ardlui to continue North, I made the decision that Chris could drive me to the B&B. I'd still have cycled the whole distance, but miss riding the short detour to the B&B. I could live with that after such a long day (it was now around 6pm). Still wanting to make a ‘good show' and worried that walking was cheating, I started to jog and jogged the 1.5 miles into Tarbett - no Chris! Nothing for it but to walk the remaining 2 miles to Ardlui. About a 0.5 mile from the town Chris found me and threw me and my bike into the van!

When I finally arrived at the B&B it was late. Nige and Di had arrived at 3.30pm having had a traumatic ride along the A82 (they hadn't noticed the cycle route signs). They also told me that Chris had been really worried about me and had sat outside the B&B for over an hour before getting so worried that he had to come and look for me. Such a simple act of kindness will probably have gone unnoticed by him but will stay with me forever!

 

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