John o' Groats to Land's End
On Tuesday 22
September 2009 Stephen Murton was at the far north of Great Britain just
before setting out on a journey to the far south. He cycled from John o'
Groats to Land's End to celebrate his retirement and to raise money for
Prestbury and Pittville Youth.
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Whenever he could, Stephen emailed home with a brief summary of his
progress. Here is an extract:
Tuesday 22 September 2009 - Thurso to John
o' Groats to Thurso
Ride from Thurso
Youth Hostel to John O'Groats in the morning was a whizz with following wind
(!) but back was a hard grind. 40mph plus headwinds all the way - the ferries
to the Orkneys weren't running today because the wind was too strong / sea too
rough ! (see picture above)
Wednesday 23 September Thurso to Altnaharra
Another hard slog against the wind today; bad for morale to
see those doing the run the other way zooming along, but of course I'll stick
at it! So much for any plans to average 14mph (ha!!) but at least I
finished still in daylight! Have to pedal hard even downhill in the teeth
of the gales.
Today was Thurso to Bettyhill along the north coast, then
south along the B871/B873 along the River Naver valley, leading into Loch Naver,
and to Altnaharra for overnight. Quiet, and very narrow road with passing
places at regular intervals. Saw a few people fishing for salmon. Lots of pine
forests and associated logging going on. Not wanting to go on about the wind
but the waves on the Loch, whipped up by the wind, were big enough for surfing!
Thursday 24 September Altnaharra to
Well the wind eased up a bit today, at least it
was either sideways on to my essentially southbound route from Altnaharra, or
even occasionally slightly behind me.
Some more monster hills out of
Altnaharra, which seemed to go on for miles (actually, not "seemed", they
did!), and you almost dread a nice downhill run because it means that there
will be an equally "nice" uphill one to follow.
The A9 wasn't fun. After
very little traffic on the so called "A" road from Altnaharra, it was full of
juggernauts and fast cars. But at least the run into Inverness was all downhill
after a seemingly endless climb beforehand over the Black Isle. Tops of legs
complaining and lungs bursting !
Friday 25 September Inverness to Fort
Off to Fort William/Ben Nevis along Loch
Ness. The route is to the south west, from where the gales have been coming !!
Saturday 26 September Fort William to
Ben Nevis invisible in mist. Glorious
scenery over from Fort William to the overnight stop at Arrochar, half way down
Loch Lomond - and reasonably unwindy. Lots of lodges for rent on the banks of
the Loch, which will be beautiful out of midge season, as well as little
marinas, boat launching slipways and boats for hire or sale.
Sunday 27 September Arrochar to
Long day today (70++ miles) to Westoun (near
Coalburn, a former mining community in Lanarkshire if you manage to find it on
the map). Very nice B&B. It's remarkable how many people make a living out of
B&B in the most out-of-the way places (this one is is at the very end of a no
through road) but rely on advertising on the internet - and word of mouth
thereafter. Apparently they get lots of custom from people doing JOG-LE or
LE-JOG, as well as other visitors.
Monday 28 September Coalburn to
Another long day (70 miles) but wind half behind
me, so made good progress along a fairly quiet “B” road which tracked the
A74(M) almost all the way to Carlisle. Here, as elsewhere, need to keep alert
for potholes, glass and other debris in the cycle lane. Tactics: ride on the
white line - it’s smoother! Passed through Lockerbie, making a detour to the
Memorial Garden for the 1988 airline crash victims, and later met a cyclist
going in the opposite direction who (wildly optimistically) thought he would
get to Fort William that day!! Either he can’t read maps or……… Also, by chance,
the route took me past the renowned Marriage Room at Gretna Green where English
couples would elope over the England-Scotland border to get married.
Memorial to the
Lockerbie crash victims
The Marriage Room
at Gretna Green
Tuesday 29 November Carlisle to
Basically, all A6 – which was thankfully fairly
traffic-free (most of the heavy traffic was on the adjacent M6). Made a detour
at Kendal down to Windermere/Bowness on Lake Windermere – both of which had
been rather spoilt by commercialisation – so as not to completely pass the Lake
District by. Going up and down Shap Fell was “interesting”; think I was more
scared going down, holding onto the brakes to prevent myself running out of
control, than I was puffed going up! Think I could have run up to 50mph if I
had let go, but when you can’t see what’s coming round the corners……..!
a bit wet on the way to B&B in Conder Green just south of Lancaster but a
couple of pints of Black Sheep put that right.
Wednesday 30 September Lancaster to
Main challenge today was not getting lost on
the way through the Liverpool-Manchester jungle of built-up area, a not
terribly picturesque journey of ring roads, large roundabouts/intersections and
sprawling shopping plazas; the whole area was full of famous names from the
world of Rugby League. Managed to locate Wigan Pier (fortunately not too far
off the Wigan ring-road), immortalised in George Orwell’s novel “The Road to
Wigan Pier”. Not, of course, a pier in the seaside meaning but a canal wharf.
And I didn’t manage to find the Vladivar Vodka factory!! Very unreasonably, the
B&B was at the top of a very steep hill but it was positively luxurious!
Wigan Pier, as in
the George Orwell novel "The Road to Wigan Pier"
- not of course actually a
pier - as in Brighton Pier - but a canal wharf
Thursday 1 October Weaverham to
A relatively short day today (only 50 miles)
and pretty uneventful; bowled along nicely, via Whitchurch – a nice old
Shropshire market town with several black and white timbered buildings –
reaching Ironbridge (now a World Heritage Site) early enough to have a
reasonable look round the various manifestations of its industrial history:
iron-making (including of course the famous iron bridge itself, built by
Abraham Darby III), clay pipe-making, Coalport China, Jackfield ceramic tiles
and the fascinating “inclined plane” – a railway-like track down the steeply
sloping side of the gorge used to lower barges from the Shropshire Union canal
at the top to the River Severn at the bottom. Gorge sides so steep that there
is virtually no mobile phone reception at the bottom.
The world's first
iron bridge built over the River Severn
at Ironbridge, near Telford,
Friday 2 October Ironbridge to
Seemed longer than the 65 miles, probably
because I was keen to get home! Passed through Bridgnorth – another nice
Shropshire market town, on a hill - and found time to locate the Severn Valley
Railway which runs between Bridgnorth and Kidderminster. Unfortunately the
trains weren’t running that day due to an earlier derailment, but at least I
saw some of the locomotives simmering gently in the railyard – including
Erlestoke Manor and Kinlet Hall (visitors, I think)
Quick turnaround for Frances to wash and dry clothes and a sleep
in one's own bed!
Erlestoke Manor at the Severn Vally Railway, Bridgnorth
Saturday 3 October Prestbury via
Frampton-on-Severn to Bristol
morning photoshoot with the Gloucestershire Echo outside the Prestbury Pavilion
with several people from PPY and other well wishers. 10 people (young and
older) accompanied Stephen to Frampton-on-Severn (see
picture below). We were met there by Diane Lyle
with trailer to bring back bikes and cyclists to Prestbury
(3rd from left) with several supporters
who rode with him to
Frampton on Severn via the Gloucester Docks on
Saturday 3 October
Sunday 4 October Bristol to Taunton
Fairly short day today, which gave me time to visit the Clifton
Suspension Bridge and take in the views over Bristol and the Avonmouth gorge.
Amazing amount of traffic on the A38 for a Sunday; where are they all going in
their cars??! Had a rather late (12:00) coffee stop and was sorely tempted by
the pub’s Sunday carvery which had just got underway, but I had sandwiches
already made up. Cycling along, minding my own business, when an Easyjet
aircraft passed about 50 feet over my head and I realised that I was skirting
Bristol Airport. B&B tonight was a nice old farmhouse just outside Taunton;
dairy herd of about 60 cows, plus assorted farm cats. Village pub was
unexpectedly shut, so the farmers kindly knocked up a meal for me themselves
Clifton Suspension Bridge
Fireplace in old farmhouse B&B,
Monday 5 October Taunton to Teignmouth
Had the first really sustained wet weather today since
starting - amazing really. Got pretty soaked between Taunton and Cullompton.
Called in there for a coffee and left a small pool of muddy water on the floor
under the table in the coffee shop - lino fortunately, so they could mop up.
Bought a nice pasty there too for lunch which I later stopped to eat sitting
under a motorway bridge to be in the dry! Cleared up later though and
most of me was dry on arrival in Teignmouth - apart from soggy shoes and socks.
Panniers seem to have lived up to their advertising as being waterproof, so I
won't have to sleep in wet pyjamas.
As warned by Taunton B&B, there
was a huge hill out of Exeter on the A38/A380 and another before descending
into Teignmouth, but otherwise not too bad today.
View of Teignmouth
Tuesday 6 October Teignmouth to Liskeard
Not really complaining because I have had it pretty fine
until these last couple of days but today was another wet one - horizontal rain
in the wind, which has decided to put in an appearance again. Left another
puddle of muddy water in a coffee shop in Totnes, but they did have a nice
selection of pasties. Lunch today was spent in a conveniently situated bus
shelter somwhere on the road into Plymouth - well at least it was under cover.
Arrived a bit later than expected in Liskeard because I briefly lost the road
signs at Totnes and spent some time in Plymouth on the Hoe before crossing the
river on the Torpoint ferry - an interesting affair which pulls itself
backwards and forwards across the river on chains driven through cogs on the
Chain drive mechanism on Torpoint
Arriving in Liskeard after a day in the rain
Wednesday 7 October Liskeard to
The morning weather forecast said heavy rain BUT
(highly unusually) wind from the North East i.e. right behind for the first
time on the whole journey – hooray. Got thoroughly soaked, with spray from
lorries and cars determined to add to the wetness but at least I was making
brisk progress with the following wind – 20mph+ regularly on the speedo. But
somewhat scarily, I was running out of brakes – having given them a real
hammering on the many descents over the past two weeks. Fortunately there was a
bike shop still open in Penzance when I arrived so I was able to buy some new
brake blocks. Very nice YHA in Penzance with good drying facilities, so I was
able to get everything pretty much dried out by next morning.
Thursday 8 October Penzance to Lands
End and back
After the appalling weather yesterday, today
was completely cloudless for the final hop out to Lands End and back (20
miles), with several hefty hills still to negotiate. Glorious sunshine, the sea
at Lands End looked really blue and, with plenty of time to spare before my
train, I took the coastal “B” roads back to Penzance in order to visit the
open-air cliff-side Minack Theatre at Porthcurno. Although Lands End was the
goal, I didn’t relax or feel that I had really finished until I settled into
the (soft!) train seat in Penzance for the journey home.
Minack Theatre, Porthcurno
How blue is that sea?
The harbour at Penzance
Stephen arriving at Land's End
(notice the lack of white