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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

Sep 22, John o' Groats Sep 22, Thurso Sep 23, Altnaharra Sep 24, Inverness Sep 25, Fort William Sep 26, Arrochar Sep 27, Westoun near Coalburn Sep 28, Carlisle Sep 29, Lancaster Sep 30, Weaverham Oct 1, Ironbridge Oct 2, Prestbury Oct 3, Bristol Oct 4, Taunton Oct 5, Teignmouth Oct 6, Liskeard Oct 7, Penzance Oct 8, Land's End
  Use your mouse
  to point at the red dots
  on the map to show
  his overnight stops

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  Inverness
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 William
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  Arrochar
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   Coalburn
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  Carlisle
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   Lancaster
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……..!
Got 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.

Lake Windermere

Wednesday 30 September     Lancaster  to  Weaverham
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  Ironbridge
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, Shropshire

Friday 2 October     Ironbridge  to  Cheltenham
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
Early 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

Stephen (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, Taunton

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 boat.

Chain drive mechanism on Torpoint ferry


Arriving in Liskeard after a day in the rain

Wednesday 7 October      Liskeard  to  Penzance
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?  Porthcurno beach

The harbour at Penzance


Stephen arriving at Land's End
notice the shadows!)

(notice the lack of white horses!)


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