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Barry's Big Bike Ride News

Monday 14th July - Delamere

published: 20/07/2008

How do you get home after an End-to-End? Unless you pay £160 or so to be conveyed as far as Inverness by a specialist company or someone is coming to collect you, the train is the answer. Nearest station is Thurso, 20 miles back along the A836. So you get back on the bike and hope the N Westerly has abated as you head west. In fact, I was in luck, the weather had improved considerably and the wind dropped to a very light westerly. It became a pleasant Sunday morning ride and I was able to see the landscape clearly for the first time in days; Dunnet Head, the huge panorama of the Flow Country ringed by distant peaks and views of the Orkney sea cliffs. I was tempted to divert to Dunnet Head (an extra 8 miles or so) but was equally neurotic about missing the one train today leaving Thurso for Inverness and the night train, so pressed on and had loads of time to spare in Thurso (which is not exactly full of excitement and interest on a Sunday morning, or any morning probably).

The train ride closely followed my wet and windy route of 2 days ago and I could identify the hard won climbs, the bit of woodland huddled into out of the wind for lunch and realise how steadily the road climbed over most of those 40 miles. The largely empty countryside, seen in sunshine, is a stunningly beautiful area of wild desolation, more reminiscent of north Scandinavia than the usual British Isles scenery. The whole route back to Inverness was familiar and I was able to look over at the Black Isle and wonder if the port engine was running yet...

Once on the night train the reprise of my route continued, up to crossing the Pass of Drumochter in the last of the light and getting glimpses of the cycle track and other remembered landmarks. The train rolled on through the night with frequent stops and got me to Crewe at 06.00. I had naturally offered to ride home from there but Jill insisted on coming to pick me up, so that was another bonus in what proved to be a pleasant and easy journey home in under 24 hours.

Saturday 12th July - John o'Groats

published: 12/07/2008

Only 30 miles left for today, plus an optional detour to Dunnet Head (the actual northern most point of the mainland) and the early rain had stopped before I got on the road. Still a very gusty wind, cold and thickly overcast: couldn't face the 5 miles uphill to Dunnet Head, into the wind, so I got to John o'Groats at 12.30, did the ceremony of the photograph, chatted to a couple of guys just setting off to go the other way, and went for a coffee. Later, after booking into the hotel, I walked out to Duncansby Head (the most easterly point) and managed to lose the last of the day's maps to the wind.

Excited, smiling, happy... no, but a sense of satisfaction - just relieved to be here and looking forward to getting home.

Friday 11th July - Reay

published: 12/07/2008

I met another End-to-Ender yesterday, carrying camping gear and struggling along the same stretch of A9 in the wind and rain. He had a month off between jobs, had thought, It's the summer, I'll go for a bike ride, "and I haven't had my waterproofs off for the last three days". That just about says it all... Today, up and then sort of down the two Straths linking Helmsdale and Melvich - Kildonan and Halladale; bleak and hostile at the moment but, I would think, astonishingly beautiful under better conditions. Fighting against the strong northerly wind in cold weather gear has been exhausting, doing only 6 mph in bottom gear even downhill at times, and with rain as well for the second half of the day. I'll be glad to finish tomorrow. The real extension to the trip would be to cross to the islands and ride to the northern tip of the Shetlands - as a pair of Russians had done who'd stayed at tonight's B&B, before crossing to Oslo and riding home. It would need better conditions than today's 60 miles, so I don't think I'll do that until the weather improves - if it ever does up here...

Thursday 10th July - Golspie

published: 11/07/2008

An extraordinarily messed-up, wet, windy day full of delay and dismay. The precipitating factor was deciding to go for the Nigg Ferry (to cut out several miles, all on the A9) having phoned them and been told that it was running OK. So, over 20 miles from Inverness into rain and a head wind I arrived to see it limp into the harbour at Cromarty: "Bit of trouble with the port engine - be fixed in half an hour..." One and a half hours and lots of pestering later it was mooted that one of the fishermen might take me over; they, however, for reasons I never understood, couldn't shift their boats either. Eventually one of the fishermen, Alec, having nothing better to do, offered to take me round to the equivalent point on the other side of the bay in his van for the cost of the diesel. Fine - he apologised for the smell of fish, and with his dog and a Forrest Gump friend we went back down the Black Isle, on to the A9, crossed the bridge over the Cromarty Firth - and ran out of fuel... He managed to limp into Alness where I got the bike out, found a Morrison's petrol station and, looking somewhat out of place in Lycra and bare knees, bought a can, filled it with diesel and made my way back with it dangling from the handlebars. After all this it was gone 5pm when Alec dropped me off on the A9, leaving me to ride the last 15 miles into the wind and rain to Golspie, finishing at 7.15pm. 51 miles today - and only half of the nine hours I was out actually spent in the saddle.

Wednesday 9th July - Inverness

published: 10/07/2008

From the quiet and solitude of the Pass of Drumochter to the tourists and high-speed hurly-burly of Inverness - 64 miles in 5 hours 18 minutes. A steady climb from Carrbridge to the Slochd Summit at 1300' to help digest lunch, only to be misled by Sustrans while trying to get into Inverness without riding down the A9 dual carriageway. Their signage is OK if you keep your wits about you, but fails completely on the edge of this city, dumping you in empty, anonymous countryside after confidently sending you down minor (uphill) lanes. The problem was being on the edge of my map, so after taking their enticing deviation for four or five miles, and anxiously following compass and common sense for 45 hilly minutes, I finally found myself on a main road still four miles outside Inverness, but - hey - it was all downhill anyway and I was in my B&B in the centre of town by 4.30pm. A good day overall, cold at the beginning but the heavy cloud lightening as the day wore on - and dry!

Tuesday 8th July - Pass of Drumochter

published: 09/07/2008

The promised rain didn't materialise though I kept everything covered in waterproofing just in case. On cycle route 77, then 7, all day - hurried through touristy Pitlochry and, after Blair Atholl, got stuck into the long, gradual 1000' climb to the Pass of Drumochter; slow going but not difficult despite the panniers (49 miles in a ride time of 4 hours 46 minutes). The cycle path, being what's left of the old A9, is quite flinty in the upper sections and I did a thorough inspection of my tyres on getting to the B&B - Balsporran Cottages, at the top of the Pass and the only house visible for miles (and very comfortable and cosy).

At separate times during the day I met two other riders going north to south, discussed route choices and gave general encouragement to each other. The owner of the B&B has a collection of odd sightings of End-to-Enders, being right on the path: the man walking carrying a door over his shoulder, and the woman walker who twisted her ankle and bought a child's scooter to support it, so she could continue. He'd also seen the same man on a skateboard that we'd seen a couple of days before in Falkirk and commented scathingly on the traffic problems such eccentric End-to-Enders cause on the A9 by having slow vehicle escorts; apparently Ian Botham had a particularly large entourage for his trip in 1999.

A fantastic evening here of cloud and sun, and the option to do seven Munros from the front door... but I think I'll leave that for another time.

Monday 7th July - Bankfoot (Perth)

published: 08/07/2008

I should be ending today feeling uplifted, getting closer to the the end of the trip, but I'm not. It was a messy day of roadworks, main roads, poorly signposted cycle tracks and, in the afternoon, torrential rain again. Not much climb and another 63 miles covered, but the forecast promises heavy rain for the next three days - getting started each morning will need a stern psyching-up. I'm on the edge of the Highlands, in Bankfoot, ten miles north of Perth and have to climb the Pass of Drumochter tomorrow, presumably enveloped in waterproofs.

Sunday 6th July - Falkirk

published: 07/07/2008

A day that started fairly easy taking gentle gradients to Beattock Summit ["A steady climb"] on near empty B roads. On towards Falkirk the hills grew steeper and more frequent, the drizzle turned to heavy rain, and the light east wind to buffeting head and side gusts. Consolation was that Jill stayed in support and the B&B, after 62 miles, was welcoming and luxurious. Later we drove to look at the Falkirk wheel - amazing. Tomorrow, Perth and the Highlands. Alone.

Saturday 5th July - Beattock

published: 05/07/2008

A very different day today - blustery east wind, rain starting at 11 and not letting up and, worst of all, no-one to share these pleasures with. The bright sunshine and superb valley runs of yesterday were all the better for having the company of Debbie and Bob. Today, after the last of the bumpy bits around Kirkoswald, it was quick wet flat running up to Beattock. The panniers still in the car and Jill finding the best coffee stops made the poor conditions much more bearable - and she's agreed to stay on for tomorrow!

58 miles, 4h 20m.

Friday 4th July - Kirkoswald

published: 05/07/2008

By our special in-the-saddle reporter.

Barry was well ahead of schedule overnight, so Jill drove him from the B&B to his previous day's finish at Caton. From there he cycled on to Kirby Lonsdale, wondering when his helpers would turn up.

Meanwhile, Debbie and Bob set out from Frodsham by train with their bikes (and 12 separate tickets for the bikes), and arrived at Lancaster station at 9:30 to be met by Jill, who loaded their bikes onto the back of the car and drove on in pursuit of Barry.

Thanks to some slow-moving traffic and a fast-pedalling Barry, he arrived in Kirby Lonsdale first. This was good for the helpers, as it meant less distance to ride.

All three cyclists then had a glorious day following up the Lune valley, through the gorge to Tebay, then steeply up and wildly, undulatingly down to the A66 at Temple Sowerby. Lovely countryside, delightful villages, and sunshine. The day was enlivened by Jill, who kept popping out of lay-bys with camera in one hand (photos to follow) and customised laminated maps and route directions in the other. Jill has been doing an amazing job of route selection, distance and height calculation, and accommodation booking all through this trip.

From Temple Sowerby we cycled on to Langwathby, where Barry carried on to the B&B in Kirkoswald, while Debbie and Bob, off the edge of their map, did a map memory route back to Penrith for the trains home. This bit contained a surprise final climb, just in case we hadn't done enough already.

Day's total for Barry was 62 miles in 5h 22m of cycling. He's well past the half-way mark now.

Friday 4th July - The Plan

published: 03/07/2008

The plan is that Debbie the Triathlete will meet Bob Elmes at Frodsham Station, from where we will go by train to Lancaster, to be met by Jill who will drive us (with bikes) to meet Barry and to accompany him on his day's ride to somewhere near Penrith.

Debbie the Triathlete will, we think, restrict herself to cycling, which she will doubtless do at some scary speed, dragging Barry along in her wake and doing his average no end of good. Bob hopes that he will be able to keep up.

Bob spent most of Thursday morning cycling from Frodsham to Runcorn Station in order to book Debbie's and his bikes on the neccessary trains to get to and from Barry's start and finish points. Not sure which was more difficult - navigating the Runcorn cycleways, including National Route 5 which has a habit of disappearing in the middle of Runcorn New Town; or persuading Runcorn ticket office to book bikes on trains between Penrith and Lancaster. I could write a book.

Thursday 3rd July - Caton (Lancaster)

published: 05/07/2008

Easy, easy day 71.5 miles, not a drop of sweat and feeling quite offended by the least gradient. Warrington, Preston and the Lancs plain readily covered, the only glitch being an hour or so torrential downpour early afternoon. So good in fact that having got to the B&B I went on to knock 9 miles off the following day's run. Jill met me in Caton as she is going to be supporting me on the road for a day or so. Friends to ride with tomorrow, but a return to the hills.

Wednesday 2nd July - Home Sweet Home

published: 03/07/2008

A change of tempo today. After 12.5 miles through Ludlow I met up with Jill and Andrew and exchanged my 10 ton panniers for a saddle bag containing no more than spares and lunch. We had the least climb of any day so far and whizzed along quite nicely past Much Wenlock, Telford and Market Drayton, to skirt Nantwich and and grind our way over the dreadful lanes (flat but corrugated) leading to Oulton Park, Cotebrook and home. Heavy rain for the last hour found all the weak points in my kit and made us doubly glad to finish the day having put just under 90 miles away in 6.5 hours ride time (9 hours for the day, the balance taken up with rest, food, and navigational debate). Thanks to Andrew pacing me along the average mph was up from my previous 11.3mph to 13.3. [Hope Barry doesn't expect me to pace him that quickly on Friday - Ed.] From now on, it's hilly up north - but there's always the Eccles cakes.

Wednesday 2nd July - on the road

published: 02/07/2008

Will Jill give him the Comfy Chair when he gets home?

Top coaching tips: in order to avoid regression into old habits, and so as to build on the bike-acclimatisation so far achieved, we recommend putting a training bike at the dining table for Barry's use. Wine should be served in a drinks bottle.

Tuesday 1st July - Brimfield (Ludlow)

published: 01/07/2008

An easier day, 58 miles from the Severn estuary to just south of Ludlow. Sunny weather, the friendly south wind that has pushed me on since day one, and lovely bucolic scenery through the Forest of Dean and the Wye valley well made up for the occasional long climb. Half an hour spent in Ross-on-Wye drinking coffee and making sure I did not descend the wrong hill was well spent. I began to realise I was passing through the wine producing region of England as brown signs indicated one vinery after another; global warming can't be all that bad, I guess. Jill's meticulous route planning meant I was on small empty lanes for most of the day, the only drawback being that there was almost never anybody about to check directions with.

A comfortable evening with friends will hopefully set me up for the long ride to home; Jill is bringing Andrew Williams to meet up with me early on and will relieve me of most of the luggage, so it will be 'interesting' to see how I manage some straightforward day riding with a friend to pace me who has not got 5 days and 330 miles in his legs. However it goes, I will still be well less than half way to the north tip of the UK.

Monday 30th June - Alvington (Forest of Dean)

published: 01/07/2008

A long day, six and a half hours ride time for 77.5 miles, but a sunny one - nearly ran over a Somerset adder, ambling across the warm tarmac. Still finding the climbing painful but hoping to find the strength to cope. This afternoon it was the Bristol suburbs, following a tortuous but useful cycle path over the Avon and then the Severn bridges. Whizzed through Chepstow wishing I'd got the time to look around, but was happy to press on for the B&B, at the foot of the Forest of Dean.

Sunday 29th June - Meare Green (Glastonbury)

published: 30/06/2008

A gloomy start due to misty weather, several long steep climbs on the main road and rain mid-morning. More acceptable climbs after that, then, 10 miles after South Molton, a wonderful swooping run down to the Exe and a sandwich lunch in sunshine by the river. According to the map this was Exebridge, though it didn't appear on any signs or seem to exist as a place at all. An easy run down to Taunton after that and four miles on the canal path out of the city centre, full of Sunday strollers. Another four to the B&B at Meare Green, in the Somerset Levels - a last-minute change to the schedule as the catering at the YHA at Street seemed to go only as far as Pot Noodles and Mars bars! 62 miles

Saturday 28th June - Great Torrington

published: 29/06/2008

Great Torrington, 59 miles in 5 hours. An easier day today, dry, and some quick runs at times (7 miles Whitstone to Holsworthy in 30 minutes). Most climbs gradual, and finishing on the Tarka Trail (all tarmac, no cars, just little kids and harassed parents) was a bonus. The only problem is that the knees haven't really got into the spirit of things yet. They'll go along with the gradual climbs if I go into the lowest gears as soon as they start, but anything that rears up in front of them and they go into an immediate alliance with the lungs to make me stop and pretend to be very interested in the map - and then push...

Comment from the landlady of tonight's B & B: What do you call a collection of long-distance cyclists? A crank!

Friday 27th June - Wadebridge

published: 28/06/2008

A fast satisfactory morning despite the mist, followed by a wet afternoon full of mistakes [Blame the Planner - Ed], ending up with a quick charge down the A39. Got to Wadebridge at 4.15, with 60 miles done today.

Thursday 26th June - Penzance

published: 27/06/2008

Barry got a taxi out to Land's End and biked the scenic (ie.hilly) route back to his B&B in Penzance: 12 miles en route by 5pm - and it wasn't raining!

  Rear view of Barry's panniers Barry at the top of a hill