When Caroline first suggested that we make the End to End our major cycling objective for 2008 we both agreed that it would be good to have all our accommodations booked in advance. Also having our luggage transported and some form of back up in the event of a major mishap would be really good. Caroline discovered that a small specialist company, Bike Adventures, covered all these requirements and also offered a superior B & B option that guaranteed your own room and bathroom throughout the trip. By signing up for their July fifteen day trip and paying a deposit before the end of January we obtained a worthwhile 10% discount. As part of the deal they also had two leaders who rode with us doing a sweep up job and provided transport from Penzance to Lands End and John OGroats to Inverness if required.
With Bike Adventures providing route details all we had to do was follow the instructions and ride our bikes. As far as possible main roads were avoided and as the ride was spread over fifteen days our longest day would only be 85 miles. Mind you, 85 miles into a headwind can be a long way!
Our route proved to be a real cycling challenge with some tough climbs, exhilarating descents, and even some flat roads! With 18 riders of differing abilities it was natural that we split into groups of similar standards. We rode mainly with Peter Masters from the Isle of Man and as on a number of occasions we arrived at our destinations early we became known as the A team. At approximately 9.30am on Saturday 12th July we set off from Lands End to discover that the west coast road was quite hilly. Eventually we headed inland to Bodmin for our first overnight stop and rest before tackling the hilly route over Bodmin Moor and Dartmoor.
We spent a lot of day three in the Devon and Somerset lanes which led us eventually to a long and steep climb over the Quantock Hills. The next day we crossed the Somerset Flats before heading into Cheddar and the climb through the Gorge. From there we headed to Avonmouth, The Severn Bridge, and Monmouth. Day five saw us heading through the Welsh Borders with attractive villages like Bagwy Hydiart, Bridge Sollers, and Staunton on Arrow. Staying mainly in small lanes we passed to the west of Shrewsbury, east of Chester, and then to Frodsham to complete day six. Our next objective was Clitheroe in Lancashire and our route took us west of Manchester and in rather wet conditions through Blackburn.
A wet start to day eight made the long climb onto the moors quite difficult. Caroline was obviously feeling strong as she flew up the climb and then stopped to take photographs of the rest of our struggling group! The poor conditions meant that we missed out on some great views but luckily, as the day progressed, the weather improved and we did get to see some fantastic scenery in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. The three mile climb past Dent Station proved a real tester but fortunately only the first mile was at 25%.
Our overnight stay was in Kirkby Stephen which was our last stop in England before heading to the Scottish Border which we reached in a small lane as we crossed the River Sark. Riding ever northwards we arrived in Ecclefechan. Next morning we set off on a 85 mile ride that would take us through Lockabie, Moffat and a seven mile climb to enter the Scottish Borders Region, Biggar, Kirkmuirhill, and Motherwell. The first part of day eleven was spent on cycle paths along the River Clyde taking an east/west ride through Glasgow. Once we reached Clydebank we were soon out into countryside and heading to Loch Lomond, Loch Fyne, and Inveraray.
To get us started on day twelve we commenced with a 13% climb and the road continued gently climbing for a further seven miles. A long descent took us to Loch Awe to pick up the A85 to Cannel. From there we followed the A828 along Loch Linnhe to Fort William. The next day as we headed towards the famous Loch Ness we had to endure a seven mile stretch of gravel tracks with a few tricky descents. Soon we were back on proper roads and headed through Fort Augustus, Drumnadrochit, Dingwall, to end the day at Evanton on the Cromerty Firth.
The penultimate day saw us heading through Bonar Bridge and Lairg to the lonely Crask Inn for a lunch stop. We continued northwards to Altnaharra, along Loch Naver and the beautiful River Naver valley to Bettyhill on the north coast. Our final day took us along the coast to Thurso, Dunnet Head, the most northerly point of the mainland, and finally to John OGroats where Bike Adventures provided champagne to celebrate the completion of a wonderful cycling challenge.
I should mention that I did use my ride as an opportunity to raise some funds for St. Michaels Hospice. The amount raised was 1,037 which with gift aid on a large part of that sum meant that the Hospice will receive 1,245. If you supported my ride thank you very much. Alan.