Day 11 – Troon

What are we doing in Troon you may wonder. And no it wasn’t so we could have a quick round of golf. All will be revealed.

After yesterday’s slog against the wind and scenery today was fab. One of our best days. It rained overnight and was raining steadily when we awoke. Luckily the campsite had a kitchen so we could breakfast in the dry. Apparently we had just missed a cycling rally held there with 450(?) cyclists. Shame we missed it… not. Sounded busy.

So we packed up in the wet and donned our waterproofs and headed into the dull drizzly morning. We needed to head back to route on the B729 at Dunscore where a shop supplied us with drinks and snacks for the day.

What absolutely superb cycling road, almost completely devoid of traffic, no steep gradients and a good surface.Even the short stretch of A702 was the same. From the pretty village of Moniaive to Carsphairn I counted a total of 16 vehicles in 15 miles. Most were going the other way.

This is Scottish scenery as it should be. Loch, moor and hill. Beautiful, even on an overcast day.

The road from Moniaive was basically one long steady uphill to the watershed for about 7 miles followed by 7 miles of downhill on the other side. At certain sections it was like cycling through a grotto.

We timed it perfectly to arrive in Carsphairn for lunch at the Stag Tea Room where there was a signed photo of the Hairy Bikers who had benn there before us. Strange they never asked us to sign a photo to hang next to it.

The drizzle had stopped by the time we had finished lunch and it tried to brighten up for the rest of the day. We still had a bit of a headwind but we had more shelter and better scenery so it didn’t bother us as much.

The A713 towards Ayr was a little busier but still practically deserted. Again it was a climb of several miles to the watershed and the Ayrshire border above Loch Doon. The descent to Dalmellington was in a pretty glen with stream. Sadly Ayrshire clearly don’t spend any money on their roads as the surface was shocking. So bad was it that it shook Andrew’s front pannier rack loose and we had to stop for a roadside repair.

God only knows why they have speed humps in Dalmellington as if you drove at 30mph on those roads your car would probably fall apart. Joking aside, all the A-roads we encountered in Ayrshire were terrible. It makes progress slower, more painfull, more frustrating and more dangerous than it should be.

Luckily the B-roads were much smoother and the B730 past the grey village of Drongan to Tarbolton was brill. Our first attempt at camping near Tarbolton was thwarted as they no longer take tents. They sent us on to a place near Dundonald which was just statics. We rang a place at Cunninghamhead which was the same. All three show as campsites on the map.

The guys at Dundonald told us to try the place in Troon which only shows as a caravan park on the map. They takes tents they insisted. And the way there was just up and over the hill on Old Loans Road. Could they not see we were on bikes?

Climbing hills is fine when they are hills we need to climb to get to JOG. Climbing hills in totally the wrong direction is a teensy bit annoying. Ah well, it was steep but the views across to Arran from the top just about made it worthwhile. We’ll avoid having to go over it again tomorrow by using the A-road alternative.

The campsite is near the railway (a bit noisy) but can take a few tents. The guy who runs it used to play football with an old OUFC player and follows the fortunes of the team! We had a long chat about football in Oxford in Troon, as you do!

So that’s the story of how we got to Troon. We’re a few miles off course, we should catch them up OK tomorrow. So good to have a fandabidozi (sp?) day after yesterday. Glasgow and Loch Lomond tomorrow. Ace!

And not once have I said Donald where’s me troosers.

Distance : 69.02 miles
Time cycling : 6h42m
Ascent : 1476 m
Average speed : 10.3 mph

Day 10 – Shawhead

thumbnail imageThis was, on the schedule, the least hilly day on the entire route. It should therefore have been the fastest day. Sadly it was the first day we failed to beat the 10mph average. Doh!

Why was this? It was flat, very flat for large sections. It was because of the darned wind. We’ve been lucky so far and had tailwinds or light winds which didn’t matter. Today was a strong blustery northwesterly veering westerly later. It also brought a few hefty showers.

It was straight into this wind we started the day in on the undulating road following the River Eden and Settle-Carlisle railway towards Carlisle. In Lazonby we stocked up on drinks and snacks and had a chat with three women doing the Coast to Coast. I also saw my first Google Streetview camera car here.

The wind made it slow going as it negated all the downhills. Having to pedal downhill should be against the law! But we eventually got to Carlisle and the hunt for the gas cylinder began. Millets didn’t have any so they sent us to Trespass who didn’t have any. Repeat process 3 times and eventually in the 4th shop we could buy a cylinder. So many camping shops, so few cylinders.

We had lunch in Carlisle whilst we were there. We used NCN 7 and the new road alongside the new M6 to get to Gretna, a smooth fast road without a headwind.

Scottish border! The first house is a lot rundown from what I remember. Picture taken it was off westwards to Annan and Dumfries. Lots of very straight, very dull roads which were hell in a galeforcd westerly wind. Stupid unnecessary loop in the NCN route at Annan to Newbie added on some pointless distance. The diversion to Powfoot is possibly worth it though the road is rough in places.

We struggled on and eventually got to Dumfries to find the only camping site marked on the map had closed down. We had to do another 5 or so miles to the next one near Shawhead which is very nice.

Afraid the day was spoiled by the wind, but as I said we’ve been lucky up to today. Better luck for tomorrow hopefully although the forecast is for rain apparently. BTW I lost about a mile or so of data due to GPS battery failure.

Distance : 74.52 miles
Time cycling : 7h40m
Ascent : 1205m
Average speed : 9.7 mph

Day 9 – Temple Sowerby

thumbnail imageFirst things first. We’ve had literally a few emails and texts asking us about chaffing. Let me assure you that neither of us (as far as I know) have issues of that nature.

Thanks to my Udderly Smooth chamois cream (or as my wife dubbed it Udderly Butterly, you can’t spread a better bit of butter on your #%$*) and Andrew’s daughter’s Sudocreme we’re well sorted. Please let me know when it’s TMI. And apologies to my daughter’s school if you are now having to explain what chaffing is to the children!

Let me tell you about hills. Bloody great big ones that go on forever. I thought everone said Cornwall and Devon were worst for hills, they were easy peasy compared to today.

We left Clitheroe via Bashall Eaves and a nice steady climb followed by our fastest descent yet, I clocked 70.0 kph on my Geko. Whatever that is in proper money. Up and down again into Slaidburn.

Oh. My. God. The next hill went on and on, mile after mile. It even had the audacity to show us its entire length just to rub it in how long it was. That just about did our legs in and we coasted down the other side into Bentham where we collapsed on a bench. It was not looking good for beating the 10mph average. We were down to 7.

The community shop in Burton in Lonsdale sorted us out with some hot sausage buns though. Thanks to us it is now officially the halfway shop for end to enders as we had our photo taken outside for the shop’s website.

The pick me up got us along the flattish A683 (please could someone fill the potholes in along there?) to near Sedburgh. This is where the second nightmare climb started up to above the M6 above Tebay. That was really tough, the legs were very tired.

We dropped through the famous cutting to and through Tebay to Orton. There was a village festival in progress and the guy in Burton had warned us about the hill out of Orton so we stopped for a cream tea in the church and a rest. We put our names on a couple of balloons and saw them released. Mine’s a winner I tell you.

I’m not sure what they put in the tea in Orton but we were back on track, the hill was steep but not too long and we were soon looking back along the day’s route.

The drop from the top made all the day’s hardwork worthwile. Through amazingly picturesque villages by streams, fast smooth cycling in the sunshine. Brill! We even managed to get the average up from 9.4mph at the top above Orton to 10.0 at the bottom! Ace!

Nit a bad little campsite near Temple Sowerby just off the hideous A66 but far enough away not to be too noisy. We tried to eat in the depressing village of Kirkby Thore without success. I know you have lorries thundering through constantly ignoring the 40 limit but you need to learn to love your village again.

We ate sandwiches and stuff from a BP garage. Sad innit?

So rwas a hard day, glorious scenery. A few long hills rather than lots of short ones. Think we found the latter easier.

Officially halfway (as everyone we met since Clitheroe insisted on telling us) and Scotland tomorrow.

Distance : 64.19 miles
Time cycling : 6h25m
Ascent : 1826 m
Average speed : 10.0 mph

Rest Day – more

Cut off again, weird. It shouldn’t do that! Tch, you just can’t get the staff…

Worst road : No competition. The B5074/A530 between Nantwich and Middlewich Just awful for cycling. The old A30 between Launceston and Okehampton was pretty grim too, but it was pouring with rain.

Worst hills : Bristol. Avoid. Should have stuck with the more westerly route through Avonmouth I had originally planned.

Summary : We are both loving it. There’s no pretending that it isn’t hard work. It is physically demanding and tough at times. Fully laden with kit even small gradients see us down into the lowest gears, you just have to let the gears and legs ease you up the hills. But it’s fab all the same. We are measuring progress by regional accents, it’s amazing how much they change each day over relatively short distances!

It’s been odd not to cycle today, kept touching the bikes, can’t wait to get going again in the morning.

Rest Day

Our first day off just short of halfway. We spent the morning washing our clothes (everything I have apart from what I was wearing). The weather was warm and sunny, great for drying and solar charging everything.

We also gave the bikes some TLC. New rear brake blocks for me, now fully adjusted I might have good working brakes for the first time since Devon! Andrew cleaned, oiled and adjusted his gear indexing. Mine got a wipe, oiled and derallieur degritted and lubed (ooer).

In the afternoon we lazed, ate some lunch, stocked up on chocolate and gatorade. We then spent some time people watching next to the river sat in the shade on a bench. Having somewhere to sit with a back is nice occasionally. I may or may not have had a go on the little train ride.

I though I’d do a halfway summary.

Best campsite : Clitheroe, for facilities, friendly staff and location. Huntstile close 2nd with best hosts.

Worst campsite : Middlewich. Easily.

Best shower : Okehampton Filter House YHA. Proper bathroom and a shower that could knock you over.

Worst shower : Ludlow, more a dribble in a cold stone floored room.

Best road : Lots to choose from in the southwest. We’ve both picked the Cheshire Cycleway between Northwich and Lymm though. Smooth, flat, quiet with good scenery. B4361 between Leominster and Ludlow was hillier but also good

Day 8 – Clitheroe

thumbnail imageWhy does my schedule say 59 miles for this day? That’s what we were expecting but ended up doing over 70 again!

This was a day I hadn’t really been looking forward to. Getting through the cities and towns of the northwest can be tricky. But in fact I loved it, Andrew was less keen on the cycling through the gritty towns as I was.

We did have our earliest start today, probably as we were both woken by 5am by the traffic noise. Nice old couple that run the site, but it has seen better days I feel.

First stop was Northwich (after an unplanned visit to Middlewich due to a missed turning). I wanted to get my bottom bracket replaced. The first shop (Grays) had closed down so I rang the other (Dave Hinde) to confirm that they could do it.

They are a specialist racing frame builder but kindly stole a bracket from one of their very expensive showroom bikes to fit to mine. Thanks guys, much appreciated.

Just as I was paying up my mate Red (Martin, and yes I realise that none of my friends appear to have proper names!) came with his Dad to say hi. He’d brought tea and chocolate with him which were very welcome. The choc kept us going chunk by chunk all morning. Red’s Dad runs a caravan park near Barcaldine and will be able to sort us out some camping nearby when we stop there. Thanks for coming to see us guys, it’s great that people are taking the time and trouble to wish us well.

After getting back on route we had a quick look at the top of the Anderton boat lift and headed into green leafy flat Cheshire lanes. Superb cycling country. The roads were very quiet too, it was good that we were here on a weekend. We crossed the Manchester Ship Canal by a wonderfully rickity looking bridge.

It wasn’t until Leigh that we encountered any built up areas. I thought Leigh seemed a nice enough town. Westhoughton was far less attractive. We only cycled the outskirts of Bolton.

Up to here I can’t see how you could improve on the route we took. Fast, smooth and quiet.

We had our first real proper hill since Bristol onto the moors above Bolton The contrast in scenery was stark from the morning. This was proper bleak moorland. Long climb through Belmont where I had the pleasure of overtaking a guy puffing away on his unladen racer.

We were pretty tired above Blackburn and took a few minutes to recover. We lunched in Glazebury before Leigh by the way. The drop down into the town was spoiled somewhat by stupid speed humps.

Blackburn was OK, a very cycle aware town with proper lanes and markings. The oneway system was a bit of a pain though. We didn’t dally and made our way to Whalley and the much further than expected stint to the Camping and Caravanning club site in Clitheroe. Proper clean facilities and a laundry. A laundry, bliss. I might have to go naked tomorrow as I need to wash everything I have!

Much needed rest day tomorrow. My neck and shoulders our causing me most discomfort but our bums will be grateful for a day off of the saddle.

Distance : 71.50 miles
Time cycling : 6h22m
Ascent : 1388 m
Average speed : 11.2 mph

Day 7 – Middlewich

thumbnail imageStill exactly on schedule. Pretty mean planning I reckon.

Longest daily ride so far but also the least hilly. It was also the hardest first 20 miles for me. I was cold and tired and had doubts about making the distance. Weather today was steadfastly cloudy and pretty chilly. Wind is still with us. Occasional light showers which were barely enough to wet the road.

The picture shows the way ahead. Beyond Andrew eating his gravel the Corve Valley curves to the northeast.

The valley road on the east side offers good fast flat cycling. We joined the B-road at Shipton and this is where I started to feel very tired. Andrew was fine though.

We stopped for chocolate at the quaint village store at Brockton and on to Much Wenlock for a proper break. An expensive and empty caf

Day 6 – Ludlow

thumbnail imageHello blog peeps. Third of the journey done already. It really seems quite surreal that we are now in Shropshire when just a few days ago we were on a beach in Cornwall!

BTW contrary to what some people may think we have actually camped every night. Even at the YHA in Okehampton we pitched the tents in the rain and slept in them in the rain. We did use the nice warm lounge to eat and relax in though smile

So today. Three different counties in a day. Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Shropshire. Not bad, not bad at all. Well Herefordshire was a bit grot!

We started the day, dear reader, climbing through the Forest of Dean to Coleford. Pretty scenery along the way, we saw several JOGLErs along here. Beyond Coleford we descended to Ross and a teabreak at the Pots and Pieces teashop and gallery. We had a lovely chat with the owners who kindly put some money into the sponsorship kitty. We had just missed a downpour as well luckily.

After Ross we had a very undulating minor road right next to the Wye at times. Pretty but tough. We got diverted at Brockhampton onto the B4224 due to a closed road. Probably just as well.

We skirted east of Hereford and were in a lunchbreak hunt. We did not pass a single shop or eatery until Bodenham. Even then it was just a very odd Post Office and a garage. Do people not eat around here?

We bought some bits and bobs and ate them sitting on a stile up the road. We quickly got to Leominster and out again (probably for the best) and made it onto the B4361.

Let’s hear it for the B4361. What an ace cycling road. Quiet, smooth, a little undulating but fun and great views! Ludlow was the target for this day and we got there, a crazy steep ascent to the campsite but worth it for the fantastic views.

We walked down into the very pretty town and ate at the Thai recommended by the Pots and Pieces guys way back in Ross!

A good day, weather was excellent. Cycling was good. Neither of us have any major physical issues so far. I have a bit of a sore neck and Andrew has sunburn.

PS I photographed 3 cut marks and a rivet today. Benchmarktastic!

Distance : 62.72 miles
Time cycling : 6h04m
Ascent : 2243 m (it felt like it)
Average speed : 10.3 mph (result)

Day 5 – Part Deux

Hmm, seems like only half of yesterday’s blog made it through the ether. Here’s the rest of what I writted…

Very soon after Andrew broke another spoke. Tch, how careless! Thank goodness we bought spares in Crediton. A repair later and we were up onto the Severn Bridge. This isn’t something you do every day, cycling high above the water. It was pretty ace but we were getting tired.

Chepstow is rubbish. It meant we did a few miles in Wales, but it had no open shop for food and no camping. Luckily we found a shop in Tutshill and made our way on the unplanned east side of the Wye Valley to get to a fab campsite Tracey had found for us in Tidenham Chase. A hilly end to a long day in the saddle.

A tired blog post today. Should be a shorter day tomorrow. Wind is picking up outside. Night night blog followers.

Distance : 69.33 miles
Time cycling : 6h21m
Ascent : 1632 m
Average speed : 10.9 mph

Day 5 – Tidenham Chase

Tough day today, we think probably due to getting our breaks all wrong. We really only had one proper break at lunchtime. We must do better. The weather was better though, warm and sunny. No rain! Yippee!

We had our fry up at the farm, very yummy, and payment for the camping was waived! Such fine hosts.

We quickly made our way to and through Bridgwater, probably quicker than the cars. A couple of surprising small climbs were negotiated before we descended onto the levels.

Very, very flat. A little like the Vale of White Horse back home. I half expected to see the horse on the Mendips ahead. The pace was good and the weather good enough to ditch jackets and Andrew went down to shorts!

All too soon though the levels were done and we got through the gap in the hills ahead to Congresbury for lunch.

After lunch we headed for Bristol with a long tough climb up Ashton Hill. We stopped for an ice cream on Clifton Suspension Bridge which was narrow so barely saw the view.

Bristol is hilly. Some nasty steep climbs over Clifton Down and beyond before we descended into Henbury and a diversion towards junction 17 on the M5 due to the bridge at Hallen being shut.

At Pilning my Bristolian mate Chowny (Stephen) rang as he was out looking for us. He eventually found us at Northwick for a brief hello and good luck. It was great of him to make the effort to seek us and say hi. Cheers buddy