Day 9 Kyle of Sutherland to John O’Groats

The final day of the ride, a short 104 miles to John O’Groats with the ride profile showing lots of climbs and descents across the top of Scotland.

It was an early start from 6 am to make sure everyone got to the finish in plenty of time. Lights on in the dark as we set off. I started at 0624 with Stu W who I had cycled in with the previous day and had a met on the RAB Training Day in April. We shared the work up the first long draggy climb with me occasionally having to ask Stu to ease up – the 870 miles in the legs were having an effect! Near the end of the climb the wind started to pick up creating a horrible cross wind. We then turned the corner for the descent into Altnaharra and the first pit stop of the day.

WOW! What a descent! A steady drop and increasing wind behind us. We covered five miles in a flash and ended up doing the first 30 miles in 1 hour 50 minutes. We arrived at the pit stop to see staff hanging from the gazebo roof braces to stop them blowing away – it was a full on gale but without the rain.

Pit stop at Altnaharra


The road from Altnaharra alongside Loch Naver

If I thought the descent into Altnaharra was good, descent out was even better and the route took us alongside Loch Naver, full of white horses created by the wind. Once we hit the coast road after going through Bettyhill, we were able to take full advantage of the wide roads and lack of traffic. I really enjoyed the even better descents although lighter riders and riders with deep section wheels hated the cross winds. On the up slopes I even felt the wind pushing me up hill near the crests – definitely a time for sitting up straight and making yourself as big as possible.

First sight of the sea north of Scotland
The obligatory photo at John O’Groats

The gale force wind made it the fastest day of the 9 as I completed 100 miles in less than 6 hours moving time and the whole 104 miles in 6 hours 9 minutes (only 7 hours after leaving the Kyle of Sutherland).

After queuing for the photo by the sign post, there was more queuing for a shower (we got seriously cold at this point) and a coach ride to Inverness. I had a pizza with some friends who had the overnight sleeper train to catch to London. They didn’t have time for pudding so when I had checked into my hotel I went out to the restaurant next door and ordered two puddings and a pint – the waitress said it was the strangest order they’d had for a long time!

Highlights of the day:

  • Gale or storm force tail wind
  • All the terrific descents
  • The finish at John O’Groats
  • Two puddings and a pint in Inverness

I have now cycled 972 miles from Land’s End to John O’Groats. I had a lift in a mechanic’s car for 10 miles after my crash at Preston which wrote off my cycle helmet.

The questions I expect everyone to ask at work – does your bottom hurt ? can you sit down? The answers are “A little bit” and “Yes, very easily”. The injury to my thigh has been causing more issues – something for a separate post.

You can still help me raise even more money for Dementia UK by donating on my Virgin Money Giving page here Let’s see if I can top £5,000 !

Day 8 Strathdon to Kyle of Sutherland

The day started very cold and very early. It is the first and I hope the only time that I have scrape ice off my saddle before setting off for a ride!

Well below freezing!

This was a second new route for the Deloitte Ride Across Britain (along with Day 7). I knew it would be tough but I didn’t know how tough. Within 10 miles of the start we had The Lecht with gradients of up to 28%. I made it up the first “ramp” and had to start zig zagging to keep moving. Unfortunately I zagged a bit too far with my front wheel going into the sand at the side of the road and I toppled over onto a soft tussock of grass! I had a short 100 m walk to a lay by and then managed the rest of the climb to the ski station.

The Lecht Ski Station

The descent off the top was fantastic. Very fast and quite scary at times. Definitely a time not to be riding in a group! We went through Braemar before we hit the huge sting in the tail of the final climbs within 15 miles of the finish, when we had already ridden 100 miles. The ride profile showed two climbs. You can only imagine the words when we crested a very steep climb to see the climb continuing up the valley for another two miles to the left – it was a false summit!

Again the scenery during the day was stunning. Scotland and the Cairngorms were certainly living up to billing and exceeded my expectations. I will have to put a slide show together with all the photos.

The base for the night was a field in the Kyle of Sutherland. My first night in a tent for over 16 years. I’d forgotten that you can actually roll off a camping mat! It started to rain as I went to bed (at 9 pm!) and later that night a huge rain storm came through. It turned out to be the second best nights sleep of the trip, beaten only by the Double Tree by Hilton in Edinburgh.

Bit different from the Double Tree!

Highlights of the day:

  • The descent off The Lecht into Braemar
  • Getting to the finish line after my longest ever ride in terms of time and distance

Day 7 Edinburgh to Strathdon

Wow! What a ride. My longest time in the saddle at 7 hours 38 minutes “moving time”, so not including time spent at junctions and traffic lights, taking photos and stopping at the two feed stations. A total time from start to finish of nine and a half hours.

An exhausting but rewarding day with my first climb up to a ski station at Glenshee followed by three more tough climbs in the last 20 miles of a 112 mile route. We were so lucky with the weather after a rainy start in Edinburgh as the sun came out. We did have a very cold wind either blowing us along or trying to blow us off our bikes when it became a cross wind.

It was also a bit of an emotional day as the route passed the road leading to the Dalmunzie Castle Hotel where my parents spent lots of wonderful holidays when ferrying my sister to St Andrew’s University. I took a moment out of the the ride as I had to sit on a rock to pull myself together!

Descent from Glenshee
Remembering John

Early on in the ride I heard the sound of a lament being played by a solo bagpipes player as we passed close to HM Prison Perth which I have to admit I found slightly surreal.

I’ll update the post with photos next week when I am home as the internet connection I have will not let me upload photos. Also I need to get to bed very early – another 0530 start tomorrow for the ride to Kyle of Sutherland, a monster 119 miles up the infamous Lecht climb.

Highlights of the the day – the Cairngorms in their full glory – magnificent!

No blog post expected tomorrow as I have to camp with all the other riders and I doubt if I will have an internet connection in a field!

Day 6 Penrith to Edinburgh – Welcome to Scotland

Today we entered our third country (all of three miles in Wales) when we crossed the border into Scotland near Gretna Green. As far as I know, no one nipped off for a quick wedding on route and we didn’t have to produce passports!

Scotland gave us a great welcome with a strong, very cold westerly wind, horizontal rain and a tiny bit of sunshine at pit stop 2. By that time it was so cold that one rider admitted later to eating his sandwich while in a portaloo as it was the only warm place he could find – I’m sure he breached all Threshold Sports’ health and safety rules ( but perhaps it was OK if he used the hand sanitiser!). The road surface was challenging with harsh tarmac on the old A74 running alongside the motorway making for a bone jarring two hours even with the Trek Domane. Another comment from a rider was that the only training that would come close to that section was sitting in his cycling gear on top of the handle of a pneumatic road drill for a couple of hours (a slightly edited version of his actual words!).

Again, it was meant to be an easier day. However, I think all the riders found it challenging – exactly what we signed up for in order to ride the length of the UK.

I rode with Carl W from Wales for the first section. The rest of the ride was spent with Nick, riding to tick off bucket list and to the end of the ride with Nienke, a young lady from the Netherlands working in London and a very strong rider at the end when I started to flag. It is really useful to share the work when riding into the wind. We were helped by a tailwind and a mainly downhill route to the finish which meant completing the 115 miles in just under seven hours moving time and eight hours elapsed time.

Tomorrow we have a 112 mile route to Strathdon via the Glenshee ski resort and Braemar. Lots of climbing so a tough day coming up.

Highlights of the day:

  • Crossing into Scotland
  • The Clyde Valley
  • The flowing descents

Day 5 Haydock to Penrith

This is a very different post to the one I did think I would write before starting off from Haydock Park Racecourse.

In one incident 24 miles into the day:

  • A cycle helmet probably saved my life
  • I thought my Deloitte Ride Across Britain journey could be over

This all sounds rather dramatic but it felt very real at the time and possibly why I am writing this post at 3 in the morning when I should be sleeping ready for the 115 mile ride to Edinburgh in Day 6.

The route took us across a little used railway crossing. We had been warned to take extra care in the rider briefing the night before, particularly if it was wet. It had been raining the night before (thank goodness I chose the “Plus” hotel package rather than the “Classic” camping option!). Even though I took the crossing very gingerly I still crashed down with a great thump, landing in the same place on the same thigh as Day 1 – ouch!

My initial reaction, after “That hurts!”, was “Is the bike OK?”. It looked like the rear derailleur was knackered so a call to mechanical support was required. My second reaction was “my helmet feels very loose” and I saw that the internal sizing mechanism had come undone.

First things first, get the bike off the road and try to ensure that not too many riders had the same fall; some success but there were still a fair number of fallers, all uninjured but probably with some nice bruises.

The Threshold Sports mobile mechanical support team turned up, checked the bike and said it was OK – “Phew”. The helmet was a different matter as it had a crack in the polystyrene where it had hit the road. I hadn’t felt a thing regarding my head. A call to a mechanic picking up spares in a local bike shop and a new Kasc helmet was on its way to the first pit stop, so I got a ride in the mechanics car for 10 miles or so (couldn’t ride without a helmet). Fantastic support from the mechanical team.

The rest of the day was uneventful. We had the climb up Shap Fell (the highest point of the route) – long but primarily with a tail wind. Fantastic views through the countryside in sunny weather and some brilliant descents. I just felt relieved to be riding and continuing the Land’s End to John O’Groats experience.

Day 6 sees us leave England and enter Scotland on a 115 mile ride to Edinburgh. Lots of teasing the foreign riders in camp that they’ll need to show their passports at the border! I’m pretty sure there will be a huge “Welcome to Scotland” sign.

Why am I doing all this, riding while the bruises turn a fetching shade of yellow and I take more skin off my right arm? Yes, it’s a personal challenge, but I really want to raise as much money as possible for Dementia UK to allow them to support families coping with dementia. See my post on 26 June for my personal reasons for choosing Dementia UK. You can help me raise money by donating on my Virgin Money Giving page here

Oh, my highlight of the day, very easy, being able to get back on my bike at pit stop 1.

Day 4 Ludlow to Haydock (a ride between race courses)

Today started overcast and then started to rain within 10 minutes of leaving the start! It then rained or drizzled for a good two hours which resulted in slippery roads and tricky descents. I didn’t crash!

The route took us up a very steep climb over Wenlock Edge, horrible and very busy with lots of cyclists struggling up and a great big tractor and trailer coming down – we really made the tractor driver’s day, followed by the drivers of several large flat bed lorries wanting to use the narrow lanes. The lanes were single track with gravel and mud in the middle – there was a lot of bike washing at the end of the ride.

I ended up cycling with a Netherlander and a South African (Menno and Louis) who both work in London. Although I did some work on front I’ll be the first to admit they pulled me along most of the way. The ride was the flattest of the nine days and meant to be the easiest. However, I found it tough probably due to the pace we set. We left at 7.30 am in the last 50 or so riders to leave Ludlow and got to Haydock just before 3 pm with no more than 50 bikes in the bike park, a distance of 107 miles. I was really flagging over the last 10 miles.

Haydock Race Course is great (except for the noise from the M6!). This photo gives you an idea of the scale of the Deloitte Ride Across Britain. There is usually another huge marque with the catering and medical/massage area as well. We used all of the main race course building instead. Tomorrow is our last day in England when we ride 107 miles to just north of Penrith. We have an eight mile climb up Shap Fell to look forward to!

If you would like to sponsor me to support Dementia UK you can click on the link here

PS I forgot to mention my highlights of the day

  • The Finish Line
  • The long, hot shower at the hotel
  • The sports massage from Claudia, one of the students from University College Birmingham Sports Sciences department (doing the trip unpaid to gather their treatment hours)

Day 3 – Bath to Ludlow

Today was a good day’s cycling. No, actually it was a GREAT day’s cycling. We started early from University of Bath’s Sports campus in an effort to miss the Bath commuter traffic. I think 800 cyclists still annoyed an awful lot of car drivers round Bath, the first climb seriously slowed everyone up and the road north of Bristol was particularly busy, very stop start for everyone and a difficult crossing of a busy main road.

We entered Wales very briefly at Chepstow for the first pit stop at Chepstow Castle. It was a great shame that the Welcome to Wales sign on the old Severn Crossing was missing. Some of the overseas visitors doing the ride must have wondered if they were welcome or even visited Wales!

We had a couple of tough climbs but we spent a lot of time riding along the Wye Valley – absolutely stunning in the sunshine. Photos to follow. After the second pitstop we had rolling roads and I eventually managed to get in a group of riders and bowled along at 18-19 mph. I ended up on the front quite a bit as I felt really strong on the bike. I hope I don’t pay for it tomorrow.

The highlights of the day:

  • Crossing the old River Severn Crossing Bridge (my first time on a bike)
  • The Wye Valley with a welcome tail wind
  • Coffee stop at Ross on Wye after 60 miles – a welcome caffeine boost
  • The group ride into Ludlow

Tomorrow sees us head to Haydock, another racecourse after Ludlow. A flat day (the flattest of the nine days) and 107 miles. Rain is forecast for the start of the day – we’ll have to see.