Jul 29, 2011

7 days, 7 interviews…

You may remember from my previous entry that I wanted to complete a short photo assignment on the trip.  This was mainly as a backlash against the feeling that we would be traveling so damn swiftly through two amazing countries, with little experience of the characters that give these trips colour and life.

Well, I managed it!  Despite the fact that it ate into valuable R&R time, I’m so glad I did.  I met some fantastic characters along the way and found out a little bit about their lives in various parts of the land.

I asked each person the same questions as a way of tying these encounters together.  I also tried to photograph them in a similar way for the same reason.

Thank you to all those who were kind enough to give me a little of your time.  You gave my trip soul.

The (not very original) questions were as follows:

  • What’s your most vivid/inspiring dream?
  • What’s your biggest fear?
  • What would you do if you won the lottery?
  • What’s in your pockets?

Here are the people I interviewed, in the order in which I encountered them on the journey…


Tony Lee (aka Martins’ dad, trusted and ever reliable supported driver)


Ever humourous Mr. Lee, giving it the wry smile.

  • Myself, my wife and my kids to continue to enjoy life throughout their fazes.
  • A traumatic event, like a Tsunami, having an impact on my family.
  • An Aston Martin for myself and a Mazerati for my wife… and helping the kids with houses of their own.
  • The VW camper van keys (leaving them in the van is another of my worst fears, because it auto locks); two wallets (normal/trip expenses); 33p, a comb and an umbrella sock.


Dorte Kopke

A traveller from Germany, she was heading south with husband and boards for some serious windsurfing.

  • To live a satisfied/ happy life (like I am now, everyday).
  • Being ill or unable to move.
  • I would travel round the world, see as many interesting places and meet as many interesting people as possible.
  • A handkerchief.


Cherry Mason

Photographed outside her Inn, 'The Red Lion', Norton, Gloucestershire.

  • To retire to somewhere like the ‘Red Lion’ (the pub she owns with her husband).
  • Water!  Drowning!! (the pub became semi submerged in floods recently).
  • I would make sure all my family were ‘ok’.
  • A brass hook.


Isabel Scott

Photographed at her camp site, Gretna Green.

  • My most inspiring dream would be to win the lottery!
  • Spiders!!
  • If I won the lottery, I’d go on holiday to think about it.  I wouldn’t want to rush into any decisions.
  • A handkerchief and a bunch of keys (for doors on the site).


Sandy Martin

Photographed at Luss camp site, on the banks of Loch Lomond

  • My most inspiring dream would be to win the lottery.
  • My biggest fear is drowning.
  • If I won the lottery, I’d buy a restaurant.
  • House keys and a bank card.


 Ffion Golding

Photographed at the Loch Ness YHA

  •  My most inspiring dream would be to not end up like my Gran! (ie. to not be materialistic).
  • Sick!  People being sick.
  • I’d set up a commune for the homeless and those with drug problems.  I’d build a farm and each person would be given an animal to care for.
  • My phone, a lighter, a bit of fluff and always, always a 5p piece.


John Carey

Photographed outside his B&B 'Careys', Wick.

  • My most inspiring dream would be to have my own business, like  have now!
  • I don’t have any fears.
  • I would but a hotel in the Highlands.
  • A phone and a handkerchief.



Jul 20, 2011

7 days to John O’Groats, done

As you may have read in Dan’s post we made our goal of riding from Land’s End to John O’Groats in 7 days. We arrived at a completely desolate JOG car park at around 10:15PM after a 12 hour day, 7 hours of which were in the most miserable icy cold driving rain.

There were points later in the day where I really thought we would have to throw in the towel and finish on the Sunday but thanks to sheer bloody mindedness and a quiet day on the roads we soldiered. The visibility was so low that I lost sight of Dan if was more than 20 meters ahead, and as his lights weren’t working it was lucky the cars were few and far between.

The day had started fairly well, if a little labored on my part, but as usual Dan was a constant figure in front to keep me going. I thought the final day was going to be all smiles and joy as we got ever closer to the goal but to be honest it only seemed to get further away as the weather closed in and the climbs on the A9/A99 kept on coming. A couple of the ascents were amongst the biggest tackled during the 7 days followed swiftly by some very fast descents in the wettest conditions yet that were more than a little hairy at 35+ mph.

But it’s done! Even 3 days after the finish it still hasn’t sunk in and there was a strange emptiness. At the end of almost 900 miles of cycling, the fact that we had such a tough last day meant the focus was really on getting back to our B&B to get warmed up and get some sleep. We were truly knackered.

But looking back now it has been an amazing experience, people have been behind us all the way and we have already flown past the target for our chosen charity. The fact the last day was so arduous has made it all the more memorable and even more of an achievement to be proud of.

Jul 17, 2011

The final push to the sum

I never know their names, But I smile just the same
New faces…Strange places, Most everything I see, Becomes a blur to me
And I’m wasted because, The fast pace is too much
Here at the final push to the sum
If my old life is done, Then, what have I become? What have I become?

Granddaddy – The Final Push to the Sum

The day got off to a slow one. We’d come so far and yet there was still, potentially, our second longest day in the saddle ahead of us. We’d also had a wee dram or two the night before. Yes, we were already celebrating before the line – always an ill advised move.

We headed towards Inverness knowing we were behind schedule and that all our stops today had to be fleeting ones.

Into the ‘Black Isle’ and we used a dedicated cycle path some of the way until it petered out and we were back on the notorious A82.

We kept passing signs to John O’Groats which counted down our mileage with frustratingly small increments. At lunch there was still 80 miles to go.

Another couple of hours in the saddle and another pit stop with ‘our man in the van’. The weather had closed in, creating a complete white out. With more traffic it would have been too dangerous to carry on.

At our last opportunity to take on food at around 7pm, we still had 35 miles to go and it was now raining hard. We wolfed down soup and rolls, donned an extra layer to fight off the cold and wet, re-mounted our steeds and put our heads down. This was going to be tough!

The 6 days of sweat which had built up in my helmet was now dissolving, and this salty solution was became a constant, infuriating stream running into my eyes.

At first I couldn’t understand why my eyes were suddenly stinging so much. I thought that it must have been the sun screen washing off. When I figured it out I ended up taking the helmet off, finding a deep puddle in Wick, and plunging it in, much to the amusement of a group standing outside the nearby pub.

It was truly awful weather, but we were going to finish that night, no matter what. I started singing random songs at the top of my voice to keep the cold, the stinging eyes and the fatigue at bay. None of it made any sense, just a way of zoning out. Martin was doing the same, I later found out.

Finally, at 10.15pm, we made it! Tony had caught up in the van having found us a B&B in Wick and was filming the grand finale. We congratulated each other down the final stretch of road, with hand shakes and back slaps, before pictures in front of the famous sign (which had been taken in because we were well after hours).

The days total was 137 miles, our second longest and definitely our hardest. A fitting way to end this adventure. Now shoot me if I ever get on a bike again…

Jul 16, 2011

If only Frodo and Sam were on bikes

After the day before mood I was hoping I could face today with a bit more of a positive spirit, but I shouldn’t have worried. On leaving basecamp at the Luss camp site we first followed the A82 along Loch Lomond, or as Dan had named it Lac L’Mond, and straight away the way the day was going to present itself was apparent.

First of all, magically, my cycling legs were back and the roads were being kind so we made really good mileage. I was constantly spurred on by the great views of Loch Lomond and then after an arduous climb the views just kept getting better as we headed through Glencoe. Stopping for a quick look back at the 30 or so miles we had already travelled that morning we met up with William Bushell, a generous soul that not only took the photo above but also on hearing our cause gave us a donation.

On the other side of that climb we then headed through some of the most Epic scenery in the UK and this continued to keep my spirits higher than they have been all week, never mind the dark day before. The only dampner on the day was that the weather began to change for the worst, but you can never get away with coming to Scotland without a little rain and we had been so lucky with the weather up till now with sunny days all the way through. The ride down to Glencoe was great and I had a chance to let my new wheels from Strada fly on some lovely and welcome downhill section, they gave me just as much confidence in the howling rain as they have all week in the dry.

Once we reached Fort William the rest of the day was in the shadow of Scotlands largest fresh water pond, Loch Ness and again the views continued to push us both on to the end of the day at end point Drumnadrochit. All in all, the words above do not begin to describe what a great day it had been, even with rain right through the afternoon and evening.

And it’s almost (I say almost) with sadness that we now head out on our last day on the road. By the end of this day, all being well, we will have completed our goal in the alloted time. Fingers crossed for another trouble free day.


Jul 15, 2011

Glen Coe, 120 to go!


Woke up to a gloriously sunny morning with the light glinting majestically off the Loch water. After another successful interview on the camp site, we headed off on the A82 towards Fort William.

At 40 miles we met up with Tony in a lay-by, surrounded by the sublime geological amphitheater which is Glen Coe. We were both on a high from riding through this incredible landscape.

Having eaten everything in sight in the van and donned waterproofs, we ploughed on into the increasingly inclement weather, racing down the enormous valley at break neck speed.

We’d been duelling with the traffic all week – waving gratefully at considerate drivers and occasionally shrinking into ourselves as the odd one came that bit too close.

On the outskirts if Fort William I had a real scare. A truck driver cut in far too soon, and even after the cab had whistled past with feet to spare, I was wondering how it could possibly avoid hitting me with it’s enormous trailer. Somehow it didn’t and I was still upright but furious at this idiot’s stupidity.

Body and soul restored with tea and cake in Fort William, we blasted onwards towards Loch Ness, taking a short cut from the A82 onto a lovely quiet and smooth backroad, which took in the SAS Memorial at the end.

20 miles to go along Loch Ness with only the odd incline. A great end to another full day in the saddle. Tonight we’re living it up in a Youth Hostel. We know how to have fun!

Jul 15, 2011

Into the heart of Scotland

I managed to get an interview with the Camp owner first thing, so I’m still, tenuously, on track with interviewing 7 people on the 7 days of our ride.

It was a beautiful morning. We’ve been unbelievably lucky with the weather so far. It looks like it could break tomorrow, but with only 2 days left we’re due a change of fortune.

Saddle sores are a, er, real pain in the backside. No matter what you think about. No matter how happy your happy place (for this is where one has to be on a trip like this), the pain clouds everything.

On the plus side, the landscape here is gorgeous. We were following a deep sided river for the whole morning, and kept catching glimpses of clear silvery water through the trees.

The quality of the roads veered from extremes of silky smoothness to cracked and lumpy, with not much variety in between. A bit like Tony’s porridge (ha ha, only joking!).

Tony did make the saltiest soup for lunch I have ever or am ever likely to taste. It was incredible! You could almost feel yourself shrivel up once it was inside. It did keep the cramp at bay though, which was the main thing.

Having crossed the Erskine Bridge and caught wonderful views over Glasgow, were now in the land of the midge on the banks of Loch Lomond.

Left knee was a little swollen last night, it won’t get worse today, or I’ll be watching from the van. Having come this far, this is the last thing I want to happen.

The first thing I did when we got to Luss on the banks of Loch Lomond was strip down to the essentials and sit in the water. Just me and nature after a great day on the road. I couldn’t have been happier.

Jul 15, 2011

Struggling through day 5


Now that I’m back in Scotland you would think I’d be riding with a smile and a spring in my peddling. Unfortunately that’s not how I was yesterday, it was the first day where getting to the end if the day was a drag rather than a joy for me. Not that the views weren’t awe inspiring or my bike wasn’t running as smoothly as the Fonz in a room full of 25 year old hotties.

No, the problem today was mostly to do with my focus, and that’ not my bike for the mote observant of you. My head was in a dark place, making every movement a struggle. The progress was slow because my body was also in a mood. I have to give big thanks to Dan as he put up with my grumpyness and just hot in with his own ride and left me to it and a well timed ice cream treat from our support driver (my dad).

I had a mini second wind on the way through Glasgow as we neared the end of the day, it was finny to cycle through my brothers old neighbourhood Newton Mearns. The Erskine Bridge was a great thing to ride over.

The midges are out in full force here though, which didn’t help me break out of my dark mood. There just so damn aggressive in large numbers!

Hopefully today will be better as the views on the ride from Loch Lomond to Loch Ness are sure to be Epic.

Jul 13, 2011

Fighting to get back on track

So to start with we were both gutted we didn’t make our goal last night if getting to the campsite in Ormskirk. We got so close, but a mixture of a couple of wrong turns and tired legs meant we had to throw in the towel for the greater good of the entire trip with a mere 15 miles to go. we resolved over night to do our best today to catch up that difference.

Any other day and it would have seemed fine to find an extra few miles in our daily schedule. Day 4 however was the day that we faced the Lake District, specifically a massive climb out of Kendal that was going to take us up to 430ft.

We redesigned the route slightly but started from the exact point that we were rescued from last night. Even though we hadn’t finished the day in the correct place we had covered a full on 147 miles, the furthest either of has ever cycled in a single day by some margin. This in mind our legs were creaking to day the least, but on we went with the knowledge that we had an equally big day. It started off fairly steady but on nice roads, eventually getting to our route du jour the A6. All was looking lovely until we got to Carnforth where we stopped for lunch, from here you can see the majesty of the Lake Districts peaks spreading out in front of you and we knew our road had to find a way through.

After a plate of carbonara we headed out and the scenery just became more and more stunning and with that it also started to get a little more hilly but we new the worst was to come. Once in Kendal we took the opportunity to take some mint cake to get us through the imminent climb. Off we went again.

We quite quickly once clear of Kendal could see where the A6 was taking us and it didn’t look pleasant. The climb started in earnest and kept going, and going, and going. The climb was only broken up by passing another group of fully laden End to Enders and my second puncture of the trip. There is also a false peak to make the pain last that bit longer. Dan and myself tried to push a race up the final stretch if the hill but in true amateur style I put too much effort in early on only to see my lead slowly but surely ebbed away by Norwood, I had nothing left to give do had to just watch him go past. Once at the top the views all around were amazing and dad was there with some light refreshments.

The reward was a long and enjoyable downhill sprint followed by more rolling climbs. Our next stopping point was Penrith and to be honest we hadn’t worked out where we were in the day yet, once we met up with dad again about 6:30 he told us we had a pithy 25 miles to get our campsite for the might. That was just the target we needed and made the decision there and then that we had to do it.

Probably the toughest 25 miles I’ve ever ridden but the goal was set and the climbs and descents kept coming one after the other. We finally got to Carlisle which is so close to where we need to be you could almost smell it and after meeting a friendly local for directional advice we attempted the final 7 miles. Nice they were too, both of us found a second wind and even found some time to snap a shot on the edge if Gretna (below).

So we made it, we caught up the whole lost amount. And more importantly we made it to Scotland at the end of the fourth day and are back on schedule!


Jul 13, 2011

127 to Gretna


The fact that we had to return to the spot where we were picked up yesterday was probably why we weren’t particularly inspired to get back on the bikes early this morning.

It took us an age to get ready. But despite the dithering, it was a great morning to be out on the road, and we finally left St. Helen’s around 0930.

All was well once the legs were moving in their restricted rhythm. Martin came up with a great analogy the other day: ‘the body is like a Sat Nav- as long as one keeps persevering, ignoring the easiest route, it will find a way though.’ I thought that was brilliant.

We had a near miss where MIJ’s front wheel was almost taken out by the ‘classic’ car turning right across a line in traffic. We both also dropped our beloved shades at in-opportune moments, but kit and body are, thankfully, still intact.

Gorgeous scenery and relatively quiet roads up here. We saw a few pelotons on a mid week jaunt. We also passed a few ‘End to End-ers’, on slightly more sedate missions.

After the ubiquitous photo at the Gretna sign, we raced the last few hundred metres to the Camp site. A good sign for the next few days (despite needing ice on the knees).

Weather not looking so good for the Highlands. Best get out the tartan long johns…

Jul 12, 2011

147 to St. Helens

MIJ was in awesome form today, setting a quick pace along the flattest roads so far.

Now, having scoffed half a large pizza each and applied some hastily found ice from the Pizza Hut bar, were in the battle bus heading to the camp site.

Sorry to say we ran out of time today and didn’t make it the last 12 miles. At the pace we were going it would have taken another hour, and we need to keep in mind the bigger picture.

We’re going to be dropped off tomorrow where we were picked up today, so there’s no question we cycled the whole thing.

Looking forward to the Lakes and Gretna Green tomorrow.



Links and information

  • Just Giving charity page We have set up a page to raise money for The Alzheimer’s Society, please donate if you can
  • Map of our route We initially used Google maps to plan the route, here it is in it’s entirety.
  • Mule bars for energy These yummy natural bars will be keeping us going all the way up to John O’Groats
  • Strada Wheels These guys hand built a new set of hoops for Martin to ride for the trip

Our photos

RehydratingRiver WyeFlaked out in GloucestershireBeer, protein shakes and Mule BarsThe first puncture, CornwallOne down...to goCelebratory breakfastBristol docksThe evening ritualCaloriesAn ice bath substitute in Loch Lomond'In or oot'Tartan rug hiding stuff, on the drive homeCooling off in Loch LomondYachts off InvernessThe morning afterFeet up 2Feet upPuncture!Silhouette on the Erskine Bridge