Day 16. The End

Lanhydrock Golf Club provides a beautiful 18 hole course which is set in mature parkland complemented by contemporary 45 bedroom accommodation with conference and function facilities. (well that’s what it says on the website)

It’s been developed by a local family who have other golf courses in the South West and, by the number of people attending Captain’s evening, is extremely popular.  We pitched up at about 4.30 after the biggest climbing day of the trip but feeling quite chipper.  I think having others cycling with you  makes a difference and is was nice to have been able to chat with my Godson James as we made progress. Rich and I dined at 730pm on fish and chips and burger respectively: I must say that the burger was particularly tasty, and washed it down with a couple of pints of Doombar.

We sussed out that breakfast was served from 0700 and that there would be someone on reception to release the bikes from their overnight security in the Gym that is currently unused for that purpose. The beds were comfortable and the shower powerful so full marks for the hotel. We were down at 0658 and first in to breakfast, so we were quickly dealt with and enjoyed a full Cornish that didn’t vary at all from what is available elsewhere in the UK.  As we had a train to catch in Penzance at 1615 it seemed sensible to start as early as possible to allow for any problems we might encounter, so we were on the road at 0747.  We started by climbing up the front drive that we had come down very much faster the previous afternoon and then turning onto a minor road that ran close to the busy A30 which we crossed after four miles. Our route was designed to follow the A30 without actually going onto it and all went well as we crossed the Goss Moor Nature Reserve

having passed under the iconic steel railway bridge that used to hold up all the traffic heading further down the peninsula before the A30 was widened and rerouted.

We carried on through Indian Queens, whose name comes from a pub that used to stand beside the road, Fraddon and Mitchell, all now quiet having been by-passed, before being forced onto the A30 for about four miles because of the closure of a short section of our route for further road construction.  It was not a pleasant experience but, as if to compensate, we then entered the high banks and hedges that typify Cornish lanes

as we wound across country north of Truro. The bike motor certainly helped me out but Rich had to grit his teeth and commendably made his way up some very steep and long pitches without apparent difficulty.

We emerged into civilisation at Chacewater and diced with traffic queues as we took to the pavements through Scorrier, Redruth and Camborne. We made our way towards the north Cornwall coast at Hayle, the tide out in Copperhouse Pool,

before we crossed the estuary and took a cycle path to St Erth and onto backroads that threaded over the hill to Marazion and views of St Michael’s Mount.

We, at first, missed the cycle path that joined up with the South West coastal path just short of Penzance and cursed our luck when we found it closed.  Short of turning back three miles and making for the A30 we had little option but to bump our bikes down steep concrete steps and onto the beach for a 200 metre trudge on loose sand and shingle that robbed us of valuable time, now becoming short.  Having extricated ourselves we went through the middle of Penzance and re-joined the A30 for the final dash to Lands End. It’s a hilly road and I had the bit between my teeth to the extent that I left Rich far behind by using the motor at full throttle.  He phoned, I missed the call: I phoned, he didn’t answer and after what seemed like an eternity of waiting I thought the only sensible thing to do was to continue to my destination as fast as possible, take the picture and return on the A30 to see what had happened. After all the main purpose of the trip was to get to Lands End and if I failed to do that I would have felt robbed.  So I carried on at full belt and arrived just after 2pm, found the signpost, which had a queue of people waiting to have their picture taken by the official photographer for £10 and persuaded a passing cyclist to swap pictures. 

He was just about to start his trip to JOG and I had, finally, finished.  Now all I had to do was find Rich and all would be well.  I pushed my bike back to the entrance and there he was. Phew! After the “where the hell have you been?” he agreed that I had adopted the only sensible approach and we looked for ice cream.  The queues were so long that we gave up and started back for Penzance and the train.  I had mapped a slightly different return journey which took us past Greeb Farm where ice cream was being advertised.  Unfortunately all that was left in the freezer was Vegan Raspberry Ripple and Vanilla, not great but better than nothing.  We washed it down with a very nice glass of orange juice.  Hugely expensive but worth it.  We had a lot of climbing and descending to cope with on our way back to Newlyn where we came down the steep hill behind traffic which made for an interesting braking experience but we got to the bottom unscathed and carried on past the Newlyn Art Gallery and along the promenade.  I spotted a Co-op and dived in for some sandwiches, cake and Lucozade as we had had nothing since breakfast.  We found the station in plenty of time and our train was waiting.  I collected my tickets from the machine and, after a bit of a struggle we managed to hang up the bikes and settled down for some refreshment.

The train started on time but shortly after we left we were informed over the tannoy that there were problems up the line and we would be running at least ten minutes late. As that was the length of time we had to change trains to the one from Exeter to Templecombe it looked as if we would be waiting an hour for the next service, but fortune favoured us when, having humped the loaded bikes over the railway bridge we got to Platform 1 at the same time as the train pulled in. So it’s 9pm and after a two mile ride home in the dark from Templecombe station we’re home

It’s been an interesting journey, hindered by bike failure but generally enjoyable, particularly the last couple of days with a companion.  As with all my long trips I wonder if I will ever do it again but come the New Year I shall probably plan my next escapade.

Day 15. Across the Moors

When I arrived at Patrick’s house in Sandford at about 415pm Rich, who is to be my cycling companion for the next two days, was already there.  I performed the usual offices and had a cup of tea and a natter and later P drove us to Belluno, an Italian restaurant in Newton St Cyres.  Housed in a former pub it provides everything one would expect from an Italian restaurant and we ate and drank well – a pleasant evening.

This morning we were in no hurry to get away and breakfasted on scrambled eggs and bacon before leaving at about 10 am, having arranged to meet James, P’s son at the Castle Inn at Lydford for lunch.  The route to Okehampton rises and falls and we were slightly behind schedule by the time we climbed from the centre of town up to the railway station and the start of the Granite Way, a mostly tarmacked path across the edge of Dartmoor.

  There is a strange 230 yard section in the middle that has not been adopted and is a permissive path that winds through the undergrowth before joining with the next section of tarmac.  We crossed the impressive Meldon viaduct high above the valley below and with magnificent views of Dartmoor to our left. 

We were able to make good speed along the well maintained path, meeting several cyclists going in either direction and arrived at the pub 5 minutes later than anticipated.  James and P were already there and we each had a pint of Proper Job and a very nice ham sandwich on sour dough bread before we said goodbye to P and carried on westwards.

The road drops sharply from Lydford village and winds on for a couple of miles to Lydford Gorge, owned by the National Trust and a popular visitor attraction.  It was interesting to see how my electric assistance performed against a young fit cyclist like James and I was able to keep up with him for most of the time.  I think he was quite impressed by the way it performed and thinks it is the way for P to get back to cycling.

We hit some very steep climbs that made us all work hard and passed Brentor church, high on its volcanic plug,

and at 235pm we entered Cornwall by way of Horsebridge and stopped in the middle of the bridge to take pictures. 

There was a Golden Retriever paddling in the water below with no sign of an owner but it seemed quite happy and we continued. 

In front of us was a girl riding a horse and leading a second one.  We stopped to chat.  Her name is Elsa Kent, aged 22, and she has ridden all the way from John O’Groats and will make it to Lands End in a week or so. 

She is riding to raise awareness of Environmental issues and to try to make it a core subject in all schools, having spent time working at Kivukoni school in Kenya, which has a world-class sustainability program. If you search for the Climate Ride you will find more details of what various people are achieving. One of the secrets to such long distance riding is not to treat the second horse as a pack animal to ensure that it gets a proper rest before it is ridden in turn.  What a great thing to do.

We continued to climb up onto the edge of Bodmin Moor where James turned off to head to Plymouth where he is staying on holiday. 

Rich and I made our way towards the A38 at Dobwalls.  It was very busy in both directions and it took a little time before we could turn onto the road.  Fortunately the main direction of the road from that point is downwards and so we were able to move along quite fast and not hold up the traffic too much.  After about 6 miles we turned off up to Bodmin Parkway station where we lost the way slightly before entering the Lanhydrock Estate by a path surrounded by magnificent trees.  We crossed the River Fowey

and then hit the steepest climb of the day before joining the road that took us to Lanhydrock Golf Club, our hotel for the night.

Day 14 Over the levels to Devon

The Bridge Inn at North End Brister is a Hungry Horse eatery with an attached Lodge.  Neither seemed very busy. There was no one on reception when I arrived so I went through to the bar where the barman told me some one would come around and book me in and I was duly allocated the ground floor room nearest to the front door which suited me well. I went in and plugged in the bike and stripped off ready to have a shower when there was a knock on the door.  I grabbed my shorts and put them on to find the receptionist with my wallet in her hand.  I must have taken it out of my pocket and put it on the bar when I was talking to the barman and it had been handed in by another customer. Disaster averted.  Once cleaned, I had a bowl of soup and a  large Tikka Massala to replenish the energy.

The hotel is about a mile north of Yatton and, at the still operating railway station, is the start of the Strawberry Line cycle track which runs along the path of the former Bristol and Exeter Railway Company line from Yatton to Wells.  GWR took it over and it became an important freight line that was used to transport the strawberries from Cheddar all over the country, hence the name.  Closed in 1964 it fell into dereliction before the Council bought much of the track bed and laid a hard surface

which now runs between Yatton and Cheddar with a couple of road crossings in between, particularly where the new Thatchers Cider Factory is being extended.  The orchards around the factory are full of fruit ready for pressing.

Co-incidentally, as I am staying the night at Sandford, near Crediton, the Strawberry Line passes through an altogether different Sandford

before going under the hill at Winscombe through the short and unlit Shute Shelve tunnel and eventually emerging on the A38 just short of Axbridge.

I was now about 10 miles into my journey and had to cycle along the A38 for a couple of miles before turning off across the Moors and Levels, as the name implies, flat and easy cycling though there was a bit of a wind in my face. 

I passed through the villages of Mark and Yarrow before crossing a couple of smaller rivers and the River Huntspill, a wide basin with a pumping station. 

Up the hill into Cossington necessitating a short blast of motor and then down a strange off road path to Bawdrip, soon crossing over the M5 and back onto the A38 through Bridgwater, staying on it most of the way to Taunton where I had planned a route through the middle of the town along canal and cycle paths through the Parks. 

This worked well and I eventually found myself back on the A38 at Bishops Hull where the traffic increased somewhat and I passed Sheppy’s Cider factory and was glad to stop at the World’s End pub, owned by Hall and Woodhouse, for sausage and mash and a pint of Fursty Ferret.

Refreshed I continued on the A38 past Wellingon before turning onto side roads through small villages, once again crossing the M5, through the larger village of Uffculme, advertising its annual show on 5th September and recrossing the M5 north of Cullompton before heading west down some very small country lanes, through Brithem Bottom and Butterleigh, easy and enjoyable cycling with a few hills that needed the motor.  I crossed the River Exe at Latchmoor Green, a fisherman trying his luck upstream

and then up a closed road, Hulk Lane, with the brambles spreading almost to the centre of the track.  I passed the imposing gates of Shobrooke Park and the road wound obligingly around the perimeter of the Park that was being enjoyed by walkers.  Only a couple of miles from my destination at Sandford, staying with one of my oldest friends Patrick, sadly not in the best of health, and being joined here for the rest of the journey by Rich, an even older friend with whom I cycle every week at home.  We are taking P out to dinner and tomorrow I shall be pleased to have company as we set off across Dartmoor and Bodmin Moor for the penultimate and most arduous day of the whole trip.

Day 13. Back to Somerset

Wetherspoons gets a bad rap in many quarters, tending to attract the “wrong” sort of person but you’ll be pressed to find anywhere that sells food and drink so cheaply.  They own the Royal Hop Pole Inn in Tewkesbury, a town famous for its medieval and Tudor buildings, and this is a beauty.  The inside has been extensively refurbished but retains a number of interconnecting rooms for eating and drinking.  Upstairs on two further floors are bedrooms and I was allocated a single room on the first floor.  Getting my bike up some steep stairs and through five fire doors with vicious springs was no easy task but once inside I found a space for it and was left enough room to swing a cat.  The washing was done and I hung it in the wardrobe and leaving the door open pointed the fan at it and left it going whilst I went down for some food.  The simplest way of getting food is to order by the App and I did so.  As if by magic a pint of Greene king IPA appeared followed quickly by some chicken nuggets with a dipping sauce and haddock and chips with mushy peas.  I went back online to order apple crumble and custard and another pint.  All was delivered speedily and with good grace and charged to my credit card.  It is hard to see how they can sell a pint for £1.59 when most pubs will be charging at least double that, but I suppose the turnover of the Group is huge and they can buy cheaply.  Food is about two thirds of the cost of other pubcos.

I stayed at my table making some notes for the blog and people watched.  A middle aged couple walked in with masks on.  She opened her bag and took out disinfectant wipes to thoroughly clean the table.  When the food arrived they un-masked, ate, re-masked and departed. A couple of lairy 40-ish chavs came in shouting and cussing, upsetting the family across the way and I thought it time to go upstairs and do some writing.  On the way to my room is a medieval hall, believed to date back to 1380 that has been conserved

  and the ceiling above my bed was ornate

Some of the bedrooms contain medieval wall paintings and JDW have done a good job retaining the character of the building which also gets a mention by Dickens in the Pickwick Papers.

Breakfast was available from 7am even on a Bank Holiday Sunday and I was one of a handful of people there at 8.  I had scrambled eggs on toast and a couple of sausages, a bottomless mug of tea and a pint of orange juice for just under £7, all very good.  I was packed up and struggled to get the bike and kit downstairs by 0930.  It was a bit early for most people and I left the town on an empty A38 which I intended to follow all the way to Berkeley.  As much of the traffic heading north to south and vice versa now goes on the M5, the A38 is little used.  It is wide and has bike lanes marked on the road for much of the way between Tewkesbury and Bristol, so makes for very easy cycling.

  It goes up and down a bit but not exhaustingly, so I made very good time to Gloucester where I passed Kingsholm, home of Gloucester rugby

and went right through the city centre, along pedestrianised Deansgate and Eastgate and out the other side. 

I started to meet a bit more traffic but most of that disappeared towards the motorway.  I passed a very well attended Sunday morning Gymkhana in the middle of nowhere

until 25 miles into the journey I branched off into Berkeley and, as I struggled up the hill into the town the motor/gearbox of the bike was making horrible noises and basically packed up and I had to continue under my own steam.  Fortunately I have seen this coming for the last few days and had arranged for Rob to deliver my Specialized pedelec bike to the Hotel in Yatton where I am staying tonight.  Even more fortuitously Tom, who I had arranged to meet for lunch in Thornbury about 6 miles up the road had been in Somerset the previous night and offered to bring the bike with him.  So it was that we met at the Anchor Inn at about 1245 and made the swap before sitting down to a very nice Sunday roast. Tom went back to his home in South Bristol with the Boardman bike and various other bits of clothing and stuff that I will not need for the last few days and I carried on down to the Severn estuary on the Specialized Vado E, past a massive incinerator

looking back at the old Severn bridge that I crossed and recrossed on my Welsh trip last year, and along the coast to Avonmouth where I crossed the river on the same bridge as the motorway but on a wide cycle track completely separated from the roadway.

From there it was cycle paths and back roads through Portbury and the outskirts of Clevedon to my hotel just north of Yatton.  It’s been an easy day of cycling helped by a nice lunch with my son and, for the last 20 or so miles, a bike that works. I’m staying in a Green King Inn, the room’s on the ground floor and the bike is with me.  Perfect.

Day 12. Old friends and mechanicals

The Spread Eagle at Gailey is a Marstons Inn and a typical pubco hotel and restaurant at the junction of the A5 and the road from Stafford to Wolverhampton.

I arrived at about 7.30pm after my difficult day on the canals and was efficiently booked in and given the disabled room nearest to the front door which suited me very well.  The room was a similar size to Premier Inns so the bike was easy to store and I unpacked the pannier that had been for a swim in the canal with a certain amount of trepidation but, in fact, it was the one that contained my clothes rather than electrical equipment and very little water had got in.  I have my clothes packed in plastic bags anyway so there was little evidence that they had been for a swim.  I was told that the carvery ended at 8pm and they stopped serving all food at 9pm so I got myself washed and put everything on charge and went over to the restaurant.  The fare was typical pubco with no sign of fresh vegetables and chips with nearly everything.  I went for carrot and coriander soup, chicken wings, sausage mash and peas and finished with a chocolate sponge and ice cream.  It was all perfectly nice but unexciting.  I took the computer with me and sat and composed the blog after I had finished eating, drinking 3 pints of Pedigree whilst I was at it.  Not that long ago if you went into such places there was always a side dish of fresh vegetables available but no longer, presumably because few people ordered them. Unfortunately it illustrates our poor eating habits as a nation.

I went off to bed at about 11pm expecting the same sort of comfy bed that you always get in Premier Inns.  I think that it was the most uncomfortable bed that I have ever slept in and having tossed and turned trying to sleep, I eventually resorted to putting the spare pillows under me to provide a bit of a cushion. I think the floor would have been just as comfortable.  I complained about it to the Manager at breakfast so I hope that the beds may be changed.  Breakfast was help yourself to cereals, tea and  juice with croissants and toast available.  Full cooked breakfast was substantial and good and at £8.95 reasonably good value on top of the £45 for the room.

I had originally intended to follow the canals that run through the Staffordshire and Worcestershire countryside but after yesterday decided main roads were preferable.  I had a lunch date with old friends about 40 miles into my journey so, knowing that my average speed was likely to be less than normal, I got going at 0930 hoping to be there by 1pm. I was on A roads but they were generally quiet, being a Saturday morning and I soon arrived in Wolverhampton where I passed Molineux, home of the Wanderers, one of the founding members of the Football League in 1888.  A statue of Billy Wright, their most famous player who captained England a record 90 times and was the first player to win more than a century of caps for his country, stands outside the main gate.

A little further down the road is Banks’s brewery with that distinctive yeasty aroma as I cycled past. It’s now part of Carlsberg Marstons Brewing Company and Banks’s ale was on draught at the Spread Eagle last night.

The main road carried me to towards Kidderminster: I had my head down so did not take in much of the countryside and the road was wide enough to avoid traffic problems.  I skirted the town and crossed the River Severn at Stourport which was en fete with a music festival and fairground.

  I was now in quite familiar countryside having spent three summers whilst at Cirencester Agricultural College haymaking at Cob House Farm which was my lunch destination.  I met Willy 52 years ago when we both started the Estate Management course at what is now the Royal Agricultural University and we have been friends ever since: the sort of friend that you don’t see for years but carry on where you left off.  He and Annie were hosting their family for the Bank Holiday weekend: daughters and sons and their children and it was great to catch up with them all and enjoy a good lunch with some green stuff on the table.  I stayed for about 3 hours and left in a rather erratic manner as I wobbled up the drive in the wrong gear.  Once I got going all was well and I made my way across country in the general direction of Worcester but skirted it to the south on the very good bypass network.  I stopped for a pee by fields of asparagus, their fronds waving gently in the light breeze

and then recrossed the River Severn at Upton which was also staging a festival with thousands enjoying the sunshine and music.

The gear change on the bike was getting worse and with about 6 miles to go I suddenly lost all drive and stopped to find that the derailleur had completely fallen off.  Although I ride my bike most days I’m not a great expert when it comes to complicated mechanicals so I rang son Rob to find out what I should do.  “Take the chain off completely, and then see if you can screw the fitting back onto the hanger”  This I did successfully but couldn’t see how it all went back together, so we had a fractured conversation by phone and pictures to right the problem.  Rob was becoming increasingly exasperated by my ineptitude but eventually it started to make some sense to me and, amazingly, I got going again and made it to the Royal Hop Pole Inn in Tewkesbury where I am staying the night by about 7.15, over an hour after I expected to be there.  However it’s a Wetherspoon’s pub which serves food until 11pm and the beer’s cheap so I sha’n’t go short.

Day 11 Pottering though the Potteries

With Premier Inns you get what it says on the tin: a supremely comfortable king sized bed, a room large enough for you and the bike, an in bath shower and food for the masses.  The receptionist booked me in very efficiently, gave me a chit to present to the Table Table restaurant next door which would allow me a two course meal and a drink of choice( I chose a bottle of Doom Bar as there was no draught on offer) and unlimited breakfast in the morning and all for £72.99.  Food choices are not exciting and there is a distinct lack of fresh vegetables available. In the event I went for mushroom soup and Beef and ale pie with mash and green beans. I had some garlic bread and another pint of  bottled Doom Bar and paid an extra £9 or so.  The pie was disappointing with rather tough pastry but it filled a hole and I decided against a pudding and went blogging. As there was a fan in the room I washed my kit and stuck the fan on full blast and it was virtually dry by the time I went to bed.  I turned the fan down to low overnight and this morning it was ready to wear.

Breakfast this morning was good: help yourself to cereals, yoghurt, croissants, fresh fruit etc and a fried breakfast of choice. It was all nicely cooked and presented and I set off with a full stomach at about 0930. Annoyingly I have left my 4 foot bungee that doubles as a washing line somewhere.  I know that I had it at Lockerbie but, as I did no washing at Ings I can’t remember if I had it there.  Anyway it’s missing and so, as I was going through the middle of Warrington I dropped in at Toolstation and bought a replacement.  Going through almost any major town nowadays is easy: cycling on pavements is almost universally allowed and you can dodge traffic lights and queues with ease.  I made my way through the town and crossed the Mersey by a new and almost imperceptible bridge and, shortly afterwards, the Manchester Ship Canal by something that looked as though it came out of a  Meccano set

and which had a nice cycleway.  I made my way out of town and branched off towards Hatton where I was threatened with road closures. As these seldom refer to bikes I plugged on and found myself in the middle of the Creamfields music festival which is an electronic dance festival that runs for four days over the bank holiday weekend.  If you’re into Carl Cox, Deadmau5, Chemical Brothers, ANNA and dozens of other EDM luminaries this is where you should have been.  The same 3m green walls as at Reading surrounded the site and there were a lot of yoof with packs on their backs on the roads.

It was overcast with not much sun all day but the wind was light and cycling through the Cheshire countryside was enjoyable.  I cycled past some very des res’s and an intriguing and unexplained major construction project that had the road closed to most traffic, round Cuddington and Winsford where the geese and swans were enjoying the Bottom Flash

and shortly afterwards joined the Shropshire Union Canal for a short section of well surfaced towpath. 

Round Sandbach the Wheelock Rail Trail provided more well surfaced off road cycling though the pedestrian traffic slowed me down somewhat. 

At Rode Heath I joined the Trent and Mersey Canal past locks

for about ten miles of slow and bumpy progress, mainly downhill with some steep drops under low bridges.  This was taking me through the Pottery towns of Tunstall, Burslem and Stoke and Midleport Pottery

Shortly after passing Etruria, famous as one of the sites of Josiah Wedgwood’s potteries. I hit a large tree root and there was a bang and splash as one of my panniers parted company with the bike and ended up floating in the canal.  Fortunately this proved that the panniers are largely waterproof and they float! In the panic to retrieve it I missed the photo op! I repaired the damage to the fixing but this was the last straw and as it was already past 5pm I decided to abandon the canal and make for my destination on the roads. 

I made my way out of Stoke on the London Road, making for the A34 which gave me the most direct route to Stone and Stafford.  I had no idea what it would be like but almost anything was better than the canal.  In fact it proved excellent, a wide dual carriageway with relatively little traffic, most of which is taken by the M6 and I made very good time to Stafford even though the gearing on the bike has gone awry and I can’t get the two highest gears which means I can’t get up to maximum speed though I had sufficient battery to boost me a bit.  As the route was largely downhill I was going well until I hit Stafford and lost my way badly.  Having described a circle around the town I eventually found the Wolverhampton road that took me to my destination The Spread Eagle pub and hotel at Gailey, owned by Marstons after nearly nine hours on the road, the longest day so far. The map below misses the first 5.5 miles because Rita was playing up and Gary Garmin ran out of battery before the journey ended. I can’t, this late at night be bothered to stitch the two together. Anyway the best part of 77 miles, a mixture of enjoyment and frustration.

Day 10. Lakes and Canals

The Watermill Inn and brewery sits beside the main road from Windermere to Kendal and the hotel and restaurant does a thriving trade during the summer months, with no tables available when I arrived and few until about 9pm

The owners had an ambition to have a micro brewery on site from the time they obtained the licence in 1990  but waste treatment was a problem and it was not until 2006 that they started brewing and they now produce eight different beers.  I can attest that their Bit’er Ruff is an extremely palatable full-bodied golden brown bitter with an ABV of 4.1%, so palatable that I managed four pints of it.

The waiting staff were attentive and efficient and I had mushroom and stilton soup, very good haddock and chips and a mango and raspberry cheesecake, but not up to the standard of Somerton House the previous night.

The room was small and the single bed rather uncomfortable so I did not sleep well. This morning I came down at 8am expecting breakfast but was told that they served between 0830 and 0930 so I went and packed my bags and got everything ready to leave.  Breakfast was a help yourself to cereals and croissants and I enjoyed a full breakfast, again not as good as Somerton House but perfectly acceptable.  My bike had been housed in the brewery overnight and was soon extracted and packed and I left at 0932.  It was a glorious sunny morning with virtually no wind and I knew that I had some early climbing to do to get over the hill to Levens.  I followed a gated road, rapidly climbing about 300 feet and was glad that I had the motor. Opening and closing three gates gave me a  bit of a rest so I reached the summit feeling pretty good.

The  road undulated a bit but it was mainly downhill for the next six miles when I had another stiff climb for a couple of miles, enjoying the stunning vistas,

before hitting the A6 at Levens Hall which is a private house famed for its topiary garden.

I had planned to take a route that avoided the A6 but decided that as it is a wide road with a lot of cycle lanes I would stick with it for about 16 miles all the way though Milnthorpe, Carnforth, Lancaster and Preston and the traffic, though noisy, was not a great problem.  Of more concern was the mudguards which were rubbing the tyres.  I stopped and did a bit of fettling on the rear and that seemed to fix it.  The front was much more difficult and having put up with the noise until I had passed Lancaster I pulled over and removed the mudguard completely. I managed to stow it in one of the panniers, though would gladly have chucked in the hedge. What bliss not to have the constant rubbing for the rest of the journey.

At Preston I was directed through the centre of the town to Avenham Park which was being enjoyed by many people in the sunshine.  The road dropped steeply towards the muddy watered river Ribble and then crossed it by what must have been an old railway bridge

because the well surfaced path then continued past Bamber Bridge, through woods and fields before crossing the A6 and continuing to Lostock and joining up with the Cuerden Valley Park trails

all the way to Whittle le Woods where I rejoined the A6 and a short section of minor road which crossed the M61 before I turned onto the towpath of the Liverpool and Leeds Canal which I followed for about 12 miles. 

The surface of the towpath varied considerably. Short sections were tarmac or brick, most was hard packed dirt but there were some sections that were muddy and rutted with raised tree roots so it was not easy going and my speed dropped considerably. Iwas also having to cope with several gates which were not designed for a fully loaded bike and several times had to remove the panniers to get through them.  After turning off the canal as it decended 200 feet through a series of 21 locks at Wigan

I was directed along even smaller paths through the woods around Ice-in-Makerfield and lost my way several times because the paths were so indistinct.

Eventually I emerged onto public roads with about five miles to go, so from leaving Preston I had travelled across country for about 20 miles hardly touching a road. There was a penalty which was the time taken, and I arrived at Premier Inn, Golborne at about 630pm, an hour later than I had expected at the start of the day. The early part of the day in the Lakes was most enjoyable but schlepping along canals is wearisome and by the last 10 miles I was gritting my teeth.

Day 9 Kirkstone Pass

The Somerton House Hotel in Lockerbie is a family run hotel set in a  Victorian red stone house with decorative Kauri wood panelling in the main rooms. Designed by Alexander “Greek” Thomson in, as his nickname suggests, the classical style it is a comfortable Victorian villa which has been sympathetically converted internally.  Apparently a schooner from New Zealand was wrecked close by and its cargo of Kauri wood was bought by a local doctor who used it in his new house.  The building has been extended with a rather ordinary PVC conservatory to provide extra dining areas and there are a fine pair of sandstone Lions, nicknamed Livingstone and Stanley, that guard the front door.

Brian, the duty manager, greeted me warmly and asked after my journey, before showing me to the ideal room for an itinerant cyclist.  It was on the ground floor of an annexe, of good size and with a decent shower room.  I took the bike into the room, put everything on charge and washed myself and my clothes. There was plenty of room to rig up a washing line to dry my kit before I went across to the hotel for food and drink.  Sadly the beer was cold Scottish pish but better than nothing: however the food was something else, excellent broccoli soup with garlic bread followed by tasty sea bass with vegetables, all well cooked and presented.  I finished with a sticky toffee pudding and ice cream.  Certainly the best meal I have had on this journey.

This morning dawned fair with sunshine flooding through the window at 7.30.  I went across for breakfast at 8 and struck up a conversation with another singleton at the adjacent table. George, I discovered, manufactures and sells Agricultural machinery from his base in Saxmundham under the name of Simtech-Aitchison. In the car park, on the back of a trailer, was a direct seeding drill that he had been demonstrating to a local farmer before taking it down to the Scottish Agricultural college near Dumfries for an open day.

 He drives about 70,000 miles a year demonstrating his kit to anyone who is interested, but, at the age of 68, with a wife who is showing signs of dementia, he’d like to slow down but not stop.  A most interesting conversation that set me off on the right foot. It is interesting to see the different approaches to breakfast in Scotland. At Helmsdale, Blair Atholl and Premier Inns it was largely help yourself whereas at Somerton House everything was ordered and served to the table.  The adherence to masks also seems somewhat haphazard.

I got going at about 0930, shadowing the Motorway all the way to Gretna where I crossed into England.

  Beyond Gretna I went across country, crossing the River Esk and skirting the River Eden at Rockcliffe where I hit quite a steep hill that I managed to get up without the motor.  Knowing that I had a lot of climbing to come I was keen to save the battery as much as possible.  The road wriggled around Carlisle crossing the river Eden

and I made a couple of false moves before I found a cycle track which should have taken me through the city and out the other side.  Unfortunately the powers that be had chosen to dig it up and provided no obvious diversion.  I set off in the right general direction, but without certainty, and then spotted Lidl and thought that I would stop for lunch.  Having bought supplies I was pleased to find that I was right next door to the cycle track that I had left earlier which took me all the way out of the city and up to the racecourse.

  The way was now generally uphill, but not steep and took me past the village of Unthank which struck me as an interesting name.  A bit of research shows several villages of this name and the probable etymology is that in Old English it denotes an area of land that has been unlawfully occupied.

Past Greystoke and the Boot and Shoe Inn that I had provisionally marked out for lunch I was heading into the hills and the Lake District.  The road reared up and the motor came on and I climbed up to Matterdale End where I dropped down to Ullswater, passing the Aira Force waterfall.  It was hard to believe that I had done so much climbing that the drop to Ullswater was so steep and long.  I was now on an A road with considerable traffic and as the road wound along the shore and rollercoasted up and down I was aware that I was holding it up.  There were masses of people enjoying the water and the sunshine and Glenridding and Patterdale were busy. 

Leaving Brotherswater on my right, I was about the embark on the main climb of the day up Kirkstone Pass.  The road sign claiming 20% gradient was perhaps alarmist,  Gary Garmin showed a maximum of 17% and he usually over reads.  Anyway it was definitely bottom gear and maximum motor that got me to the top.  I stopped to take photos

and then descended rapidly towards Windermere.  (QI fact there is only one lake in the Lake District and that is Bassenthwaite: the rest are meres, tarns or waters!)

Before reaching Troutbeck Bridge I hung a left that involved another climb over the top and then down to Ings, briefly joining the main road from Windermere to Kendal which was very busy.  Fortunately there was a cycle path which took me to my hotel, the Watermill Inn which also boasts a brewery, so I should be well set for a good evening with my bike safely locked away inside the brewery building.

Day 8 – Lost in Livingston

Premier Inns, close to the airport at Edinburgh, contacted me a couple of days ago to say that there would be no evening meal available at the hotel on Monday night.  I had booked and paid for dinner bed and breakfast and one of the things that is essential for my journey is that I get fed every night.  There was nothing I could do about the lack of food at the hotel (and Premier Inns have refunded the payment) and, as it was one of their Thyme restaurants, I wasn’t missing much but I needed to find an alternative.  Googling restaurants within walking distance of the hotel came up with the Bridge Inn at Newbridge or Macdonalds.  The former appear to operate on an irregular schedule and Monday night was not a food night.  Macdonalds for a  breakfast bun is one thing but to make it my main meal seemed beyond the pale.  I quizzed Duncan who was operating the bar but he confessed that he wasn’t local and couldn’t make any suggestions.  I had a pint of Belhaven whilst I considered the situation and was gratifyingly amazed that it only cost £3.15.  More Googling, this time for local food deliveries, came up with Dynasty Chinese in Broxburn and, for the first time in my life, I ordered a meal to be delivered to the hotel via a company called Scoffable.  A few minutes later a confirmation email popped up saying it would be delivered in 1 hour 10 minutes and so it was. The delivery driver phoned me from outside the hotel, I went outside and collected it and gave him a tip and Duncan provided the crockery and tableware. Bosh!  The sweet and sour pork, egg fried rice, vegetable chow mein and spring rolls were extremely good but very generous and, unlike me, I actually had to leave some of it.  For £24 including delivery and tip I thought it was good value. Another pint of Belhaven to wash it down was essential.

This morning, after a restless night, probably through over eating later than usual,  I had the usual help yourself to as much as you like breakfast and set off into a rather murky morning at 0930. 

The initial journey had a shared pedestrian/ cycling footpath which, curiously petered out and I found myself dicing with traffic for a couple of miles.  After that it was cycle paths alongside rail tracks and through parks, including crossing the river Almond (synonymous with Avon, so another River River),

for about 6 miles which sounds great but, unfortunately involved so many twists and turns through residential areas that I became thoroughly lost.  After much swearing and cursing and stopping every few minutes to consult the navigators, I finally broke out of Livingston and into the Pentland Hills above Edinburgh.

The bike has been noisier and noisier over the last couple of days.  I put this down to mudguards catching on the tyres and my shoes which seem to start squeaking after a couple of days.  Today I narrowed it down to the fact that the noise only happens when I pedal: so it can only be my shoes, the chain drive or the bottom bracket which, on an electric bike is the gear box.  I thought I would stop on the top of the Pentland Hills and investigate.  This also allowed me to dry the clothes that I washed the previous day  and I put them out on a large tree trunk to dry in the late morning sun.  I looked closely at the bottom bracket and saw, to my concern, that the two bolts holding it were loose, to the extent of almost falling out. And one of them was so proud that it had started wearing into the chain ring.  I carry various tools but most of them are hex keys and these two bolts were Torx heads.  Mercifully on my Topeak multitool I found the only Torx driver I possess and it was the right size.  It’s caused a bit of collateral damage but not serious and, having tightened the bolts, I found myself cycling quietly ( except for the squeaky shoe).  I hate to think what would have happened if the bolts had fallen out but all now seems well.

The sunshine and lack of wind made for a very pleasant ride over the moors, studded with barely moving wind turbines, and onto more intensively farmed land, mainly grazing but with the odd field of barley ready for the combine.

The road went up and down, occasionally requiring the motor, until I crossed the River Clyde by the Thankerton Bridge at the incongruously named Jacksonville. 

The Clyde rises high in the Lowther Hills of South Lanarkshire and flows northeastwards until it turns to flow west, providing the power for the initial industrial revolution in Scotland in such towns as new Lanark, Motherwell and Hamilton before widening at Glasgow to provide the perfect setting for shipbuilding.  Sadly most of this industry, especially the shipyards, of which only two remain, has disappeared, destroyed by cheap imports.  There is now a Clyde Valley Route that is being touted by Visit Scotland, that takes visitors past the main sights.

I was now climbing to join the A73, a former trunk road, that is now little used and was a joy to cycle along.  I stopped to take some pictures of coos

and just before I joined the busier A702 stopped to stretch my legs and allow the clothes to dry completely. Onwards the road started climbing more severely past Abington Services where the A74(M) appears from the south and for a further 10 miles or so until it plunges steeply down towards the English border. 

This road, which I have now travelled three times and has been largely superseded by the A74(M) which it closely follows, has a marked cycle lane for most of the ten miles down to Moffat but it has been allowed to deteriorate to the extent that it is better to cycle on the Highway for most the time. Beyond Moffat there is some dedicated cycle path and then back to the rather poor cycle lane all the way to my destination at Lockerbie.

Lockerbie is, perhaps, most notorious for being the unfortunate town below the path of Pam Am Flight 103 which blew up in mid-air on its way from Frankfurt to Detroit on 21st December 1988 killing all on board and 11 residents of the town. The Libyan Government eventually accepted responsibility for the atrocity and paid some financial compensation.  The 270 casualties make it the most deadly terrorist attack in UK history.  There is a poignant garden of remembrance in Sherwood Terrace where some of the wreckage fell onto houses, killing residents.

I’m staying at Somerton House Hotel and was warmly welcomed by Brian when I arrived, exhausted, at 545pm.  It looks very nice and I shall report further tomorrow.

Day 7. Setting Forth from the Highlands

The Atholl Arms at Blair Atholl is set back from the road opposite Blair Castle, which, next weekend hosts an international horse trials.  It is everything you would expect from an rather faded country house hotel from the Baronial Dining Hall with minstrels’ gallery

to the avocado bathroom suite and paper thin walls between rooms: but the welcome from Zoltan was warm, if stiff, with a (perfectly reasonable) firm request to don a mask before he booked me in.  Unusually for me I had booked directly, rather than through, and had agreed a price for Dinner bed and breakfast.  Having done the usual wash and change I went down to the Bothy Bar at the side of the hotel which was full of diners.  Outside there is a marquee and I was sent out there until there was space in the bar. To my great surprise when I asked about beer I was offered real ale.  The Moulin brewery, just down the road in Pitlochry, brews four types of ale, including the excellent Braveheart which is a 4.5% ABV IPA and I quickly downed a couple of pints.  As a table was now available I ate an excellent meal of thick Scotch Broth, chicken breast stuffed with black pudding in a cream sauce and a cinnamon apple crumble with custard.  For a bit of variation I finished off with a pint of 3.8 ABV Light Ale which was also very good. The double bed was comfortable and the bathroom adequate but the snorer in the next door room kept me awake for a bit.  This morning the Full breakfast was well cooked and efficiently delivered and I had a bowl of porridge to keep me stoked for the day.

As I left I met husband and wife cyclists who were on their way from Land’s End to JOG.  Their journey was much more relaxed, a maximum of 50 miles a day but they had obviously enjoyed their trip and were hoping to be at JOG on 28th August.

My journey today was largely downhill to Perth but, as I was following National Cycle Route 7 there were some quite steep climbs to keep me off the A9 which flows straight down the Tay valley.  I cycled past Killiecrankie, the site of a famous Jacobite victory over Government forces in 1689,

where the National Trust for Scotland has a Visitor Centre and on to Pitlochry where I crossed the River Tummel by way of a pedestrian suspension bridge and looked upstream to the dam that houses a hydro-electric station and has an ingenious water ladder so that salmon can bypass the dam and make their way upstream to spawn.

The road then climbed away from the valley and I found myself playing cat and mouse with the bin lorry. After a while he stayed ahead of me and the road was clear.  Despite some quite steep pitches I didn’t use the motor.  Eventually the road descended and I crossed the Tay viaduct at Logierat

and followed a B road down the Tay Valley.  Just short of Dunkeld I took to the A9, which was pretty unpleasant and I was glad to be able to find an alternative which took me most of the way to Perth.  There is a good cycle track that runs through parks and past a well manicured golf course on the banks of the River Tay, by now a significant river. 

I continued through an industrial estate where I spotted the Tower Bakery and stopped for an extremely unctuous macaroni cheese and an iced bun. This also seems to be the place that Perth’s fridges go to die.

The road climbed steeply out of the Tay Valley and equally steeply descended in to the next valley before crossing the eponymous river at Bridge of Earn.  Then came the big climb of the day, not particularly steep but it went on and on and I had the motor going at its lowest setting for about six miles before looking down on Loch Leven.  I now had about 25 miles to go and the next 10 were up and down through large villages and housing estates before I joined a good cycle track that took me most of the way to the Forth crossing.  There are three bridges across the Firth of Forth.  The original is the rail bridge which was built in 1890 and is probably the most iconic Scottish emblem. 

The second is the Forth Road Bridge that was opened in 1964 but exceeded its capacity so much that a third bridge, the Queensferry crossing now carries most traffic on the M90 motorway.  It was the Forth Road Bridge,

now open to only buses and taxis, pedestrians and cycles that I crossed in pleasant still conditions before making my way to my overnight stay at the Premier Inn on the edge of Edinburgh airport at Ingliston. It’s been another hard day with significant climbs but I don’t feel quite as tired as yesterday.