Day 26 The Day After: John O’Groats to Tewin

We woke up the next morning and remembered that we didn’t have to get up early. Would our lycra-accustomed skin come out in a rash on contact with cotton? Did Malcolm still have to do the dead beetle exercises, of which I had only lately learned?

He lies on his back with his legs in the air, sometimes propped against the wall and that allows the blood to drain from his legs. He says that he has been told that this will aid the recovery of his gammy leg but I think it might be a secret yoga training regime. He certainly scooted up those hills yesterday. Why else since they have been sharing a triple room, have Andrew and Jeff joined in? As I believe Malcolm’s yoga teacher might say “Fab workout, boys”.

Sheena did not let us down with the final cooked breakfast and Alastair regaled us with tales of his racing wins.

Lindsay from Ticket to Ride arrived early to pick us and our bikes up to take us to Inverness Airport. Before we had time to offer assistance, he had secured two of our bikes on a very nifty roof rack with the aid of a ladder and a remotely controlled securing arm in a one man operation, which contrasted sharply in efficiency with our multi-team efforts to load the Horsman-mobile bike rack. Time for a final team photo. We bade au revoir to the support car; Anne and Mike are spending a week touring Scotland, when unhindered by pesky cyclists, they should be able to fit in at least 4 castles (royal or otherwise) and a couple of churches a day before returning home via Annie’s in Edinburgh.

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All aboard the very comfortable VW Caravelle. Lindsay runs a very efficient service built from scratch over the past few years, initially to supplement his bike hire shop in Inverness – now it’s almost the other way round with c. 100 transfers a year.

Jeff wishes it to be recorded that not once did he did need to stop the bus to visit a hedge throughout the 126 mile journey. However, he did need regular handouts of tablet. We followed the A9 coastal road back to Inverness and did not meet the route we cycled until late on: we were glad not to have cycled the A9 direct route which may have been shorter but not only was quite busy even on a Sunday but also had some wickedly steep hills.

I am being egged on by my fellow travellers to continue this blog but who really wants to know about our 4-hour wait in Inverness Airport – the Easyjet flight back to Luton was only 5 minutes late departing, we were just there very early because the journey from JOG was so straightforward.

Malcolm did provide further excitement scurrying back to the bus because he thought that he had left something behind: it was a false alarm but a master faffer has to put in the practice to keep his skills honed. I had to prove my hand luggage was not oversize by squeezing it into the luggage gauge, which apparently was amusing. I however passed straight through security with the good wishes of the security officer whereas the other three needed to be detained for one full luggage search and two full body frisks. Perhaps more worryingly than having such dodgy travelling companions was the fact that Jane’s titanium hip did not set off the scanner alarm, which it always has in the past.

That really is enough travelogue, otherwise I will have to give vent to my full Victor Meldrew on the state of customer care in this country. I have been challenged again on the size of my holdall. Maybe it has spontaneously expanded on the trek from check-in to embarkation desk? No, once again I squeeze it successfully into the luggage gauge. Don’t they know that my doctor is concerned about my blood pressure? They only let me on the plane when I promise not to use my water bottle a la Gerard Depardieu (these receptacles were put to such use in 2003 but as this a family blog you will have to ask Mike for the full details).

Andrew carries out a risk assessment at Luton baggage reclaim and decides it is necessary to don his cycle helmet. Then at the arrivals gate Clan Allen is out in full strength complete with Joanne waving a congratulations banner to welcome home their Clan Chief Sir Stilllimpingabit and his fellow returning knights (surely at least OBEs must be in the post).

Heidi was in the car park with Pug Alfie to pick up those whose name was not Allen and kindly return us to Tewin.

And so now all there remains to do (for those bored by Oscar acceptance speeches please look away now) is to thank all of you for your support, kind comments, messages and donations. We have certainly beaten our fund-raising target thanks to the overwhelming generosity of friends and family. We still have quite a lot of cash contributions to collect and cheques to count on top of the current JustGiving total: I will add a postscript of our final total in due course. Thanks again to our support crews and I hope it doesn’t offend Richard, Paul or Anne if I give special thanks to my favourite support crew member, my best pal Jane, who has been a real brick for allowing me out in the first place and without whom I probably would not have made it at all. Thanks to the Gnome for her technical support, without which the blog may never have seen the light of day (and no thanks at all to Vodafone for your pathetic 3G coverage and to the woeful wi- fi coverage in British inns, which nearly did see off the publication). And finally (you can put the tissues away now) thanks to my fellow riders Graham, Ian, Will, Mike and (short but sweet) David and particularly to Sir Stilllimpingabit, Sir Eatalot and and Sir Talkalot for their companionship, support and good humour, even after reading this blog. We had a good time.

I was welcomed home by the Gnome and her sister (Louise and Laura) who must have inherited their father’s sense of humour because their idea of a Father’s day present was the following:

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But they redeemed themselves with a delicious dinner of roast pork and a wonderful decorated apple pie:

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Now I wait for the call from Hollywood to negotiate the film rights. In your cinemas next year starring Meryl Streep as Support Driver, Anne Horsman and Robin Williams as Andrew Swift….. Tewin Cyclists -The Movie. In the hours you will have available as this blog closes down, if you really have too much time on your hands you can play a parlour game to cast the other players. I hope we do not have too much trouble finding Malcolm’s stunt double.

Answers to FAQ:
Q: Did you enjoy the trip?
A: Yes

Q: Is 3 and a half weeks a long time time to be away?
A: Yes, too long

Q: Did it all really happen?
A: Yes, we really did it. All the characters are real and all the events recorded actually occurred, although a little blogger’s licence may have been occasionally applied to artificially enhance the reader’s experience.

Q: What distances were you cycling?
A: An average of 52.5 miles per day (not counting the car ride across Dartmoor)

Q: Would you do it again?
A: I would like to drive it, particularly the Scottish sections, in my Speedster because it would be a fantastic road trip and I would like more time to visit some of the sights but life’s too short to take another 3 and half weeks to repeat the expedition on a bike. We’ve won the right to the Tshirt now and there are other places to see.

Q: When will you get back on the bike?
A: Not sure not because I experience a Steve Redgrave “shoot me if I ……” moment but because there’ s so much else to catch up on, but soon and surprisingly my behind is not too sore to discourage me even today although the rest of the body is feeling a bit rickety.

Q: Will you do another cycle trip?
A: Yes, we will definitely have more cycling holidays but with lower daily mileages to have time to stop and stare.

Q: Where did you get your team kit?
A: Shirtlab (www.shirtlab.co.uk) supplied the polo shirts and they were brilliant; the cycle shirts were equally good quality but the Portugese based supplier (www.carvalhocustom.com) failed miserably in their customer care when delivering XL shirts with chest measurements 6in wider than advertised and then quoting a 3-4 week replacement delivery period despite knowing our trip dates, which means that they will probably arrive sometime later this week!

Q: What are you going to do now?
A: Catch up with my life. This expedition rather took over with months of planning and then for the past month I have done little but cycle, eat, drink, sleep and blog. Not opened a newspaper in 3 weeks nor turned the TV on, other than to watch the weather forecast when sharing a room with Jeff obviously. Sibling needs a bit of support with the funeral and other arrangements (Tuesday 26 June, Orpington Methodist Church).

Over and out from the Tewin Cyclist.

In Memoriam
Paul Tipper 1951 – 2009
Graham Horsman 1951 – 2010
Pamela Marjorie Room 1926 – 2012

Day 25 The Final Push Part 2: Bettyhill to John O’Groats

“Where did you stay in Bettyhill?” “Oh, at Mrs Mackenzie’s, she must be well on, she was old then”. Well to be fair her porridge was very good and she cooks a mean breakfast, even if she has a bit of difficulty remembering what you ordered.

My Legionnaire’s was brewing up nicely but they strapped me back on the bike. Jeff claimed he had a sore throat but the speed he accelerated up the first hill indicated that he wasn’t doing too badly. To keep traditions up we had an unscheduled 25 minute pre-ride preparation before four Tewin Cyclists set off. Mike had ridden this leg in 2003 and decided that he had an important appointment to keep in the Tearooms at the Castle of Mey, which necessitated supervising the Support Drivers in the car.

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I think that this sign was erected specially this morning

When in Perth, Jane had caught up with old friends Malcolm Buckney, Helen Whittet and Jim and Hilary Young. Jim and Hilary were setting off on a cycle trip round the Hebridean Island of Coll the next day and being the keen alpine enthusiast that he is Jim wanted us to look out for a rare primula near Bettyhill.

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Some may see rugged beauty but in a wind, it looked desolate to me and Jim, I am afraid I could see no sign of that primula

What can I say positive. It wasn’t raining. And, give me a minute and I’ll think of something else. Oh, I know, the easterly wind in our faces wasn’t as strong as on Dartmoor. I know I was far from on top form but the first 20 miles were hard. Hill after hill, which rather broke up the peloton. Desolate landscape. And it was cold. Jeff even hid in a telephone box when we stopped for a breather to escape the wind. But a little way past Dounreay, after two and a three-quarter hours and 25 miles, we found an oasis of civilisation at the Forrs House Hotel, a very civilised oasis of civilisation which dispensed cafetieres of coffee and shortbread biscuits. Whilst I slowly recovered some strength, Andrew researched the full life history of the very charming young Australian Jewish manageress.

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Dounreay

We pushed on the short distance to Thurso and were recommended the Cafe Tempest at the Harbour by a couple of cyclists who had just completed LEJOG. A good recommendation. A big bowl of Cullen skink and a cheese scone took the edge of Jeff’s appetite before he started on the cake.

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Photo – courtesy of M Allen
The toffee cake before a Jeff attack

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The cake under sustained attack

Jeff wishes it to be recorded that he doesn’t spend all his time eating cake. He spends it eating lots of other things too!

The peloton reformed in closer formation and sticking to the coastal A road, ground on. It wasn’t as hilly, the landscape softened a little and it even warmed up a bit, blue sky was occasionally spotted but this really was a day for getting from A to B. It was not a leisurely ride. We declined the option of an extra 8-10 miles detour via Dunnet Head, the most northerly point in Scotland. After all, we had not started at The Lizard, the most southerly in England.

And then soon after the little hand had reached four and the big hand had passed the top of our watches, our destination hove into view. In fact, the End was not actually signposted and we ended up arriving through the car park and not the approach road which rather took our official photographers by surprise. But we had made it and the flash bulbs flashed. Hands were shaken, cheeks were kissed and all that sort of palaver, followed by more photographs. There were two different End points, a post which appeared to be the official point but today only had a sign that the photographer did not work Saturdays and then the mileage post, as used in our official photograph. There was a surprising lack of newspaper hounds there to cover our story so Malcolm and Jeff didn’t put on their outsize team shirts but a very kind Welsh couple, Iris and Ken Meredith made a donation to our charity box.

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In front of the other post

Tea and a scone were reward enough for most of us. Sir Eatalot lived up to his reputation and demolished a hot dog as well. Malcolm and I had our log sheets stamped at the tourist information centre and signed the record book. Amazingly, the preceding entry was for a cyclist from Orpington riding for a cancer charity; my Mum lived in Orpington.

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A hot dog? Who me?

And that was that. Our little bike ride was over. Twenty five days after arriving in Penzance, twenty two days in the saddle and 1,152 miles (not including the 20 in the car on Dartmoor) and we had finished. It wasn’t an anticlimax as such but there was a bit of “what are we supposed to do now”. So being the imaginative chaps that they are, Andrew, Jeff and Malcolm got back on their bikes and cycled the couple of miles to Duncansby Head, which is the most easterly point in Northern Scotland. I was too bushed to do other than to cycle the mile up the hill to our B & B, the creatively named John O’Groats Guest House, where there was a warm welcome from Alastair and Sheena and an ensuite bathroom.

After a hot shower and a lie down, I was ready to be ferried down in the support car to the Seaview Hotel. The bar was rammed with John O’Groats football folk celebrating their 6-0 victory in a local derby with Tongue – good natured but noisy. Pints of Orkney Ale were soon ordered and then Malcolm ordered a bottle of champagne on Joanne’s instructions. Glasses were raised and toasts made. Thank you cards were handed over to Anne and Jane and Jane threatened to cry but relented.

Just to show what an open-minded fellow I am, I celebrated with a full Scottish menu – haggis tower, Orkney salmon and Orkney honeycomb ice cream. A certain amount of discussion ensued about the state of the metabolic storage tank and when Andrew and indeed the rest of us needed to reduce our rations. The male members of the party thought that sudden changes in diet might be bad for them and that perhaps a gradual weaning might be wise; in any event nothing drastic should be essayed until after the cooked breakfast in the morning. This was no time to be listening to medical advice: how much experience do the resident doctors have of dealing with highly tuned athletes anyway?

I did not have the stamina to join Andrew and Malcolm with the Gaelic coffees nor the walk back to the B & B they enjoyed with Jeff. Instead I gratefully accepted a lift back and was packed off to bed with Anne’s cold remedies.

Day 24 Tales from the Crask: Lairg to Bettyhill

We had a spectacular view of Loch Shin from our bedroom.

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I awoke suffering from a bad case of Legionnaire’s Disease, which has obviously been incubating since Edinburgh. My personal physician refused to confirm this diagnosis, thinking that it might only be a cold but she rarely appreciates the severity of my ailments. I thought that her bedside manner could have been more sympathetic but thought it best not to mention this. Far worse, I seem to have caught faffing disease. As we prepared to go, I realised that I had packed my maps and route instructions and had to half unpack the support vehicle to retrieve them from my holdall, which of course was at the bottom of the luggage in the boot.

Jeff had already commented on the size of my breakfast, not realising that you have to feed a cold (in any event, a more definite case of the pot calling the kettle black would be hard to find!). Maybe he was getting his retaliation in first but he didn’t know then what I would be saying here tonight.

Jeff has three main hobbies in life in addition to cycling – watching the weather forecast, eating buns (preferably from Greggs) and watering hedges. He made a particularly early start on practicing the third this morning – after only 3.67 miles, this could be a record!

We set off north up the single track A836 – is there any other single track A road in the country with only passing places for mile after mile? What it lacked in width, it made up for in surface quality, which as you should now know is a crucial factor for your discerning road cyclist. It was cold again, sub 9 degrees and a chill breeze and then the drizzle started. To think that only a fortnight ago, we were worried that riding in the same direction all the time our suntans were a bit one sided; our knees have not been exposed since Hertfordshire, that is except for Mike, who seems to ride in shorts whatever the weather – either the Scottish blood immunises him against frostbite or he is in secret training to be a postman.

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We took refuge in the Crask Inn, which really is in the middle of nowhere – it was the first building we had passed in 10 miles. Mike Geldard the landlord also farms 2,500 acres (originally from North Yorkshire, he was a shepherd in Evanton, which we rode through yesterday, for 20 years before moving to the Crask 15 years ago – it is amazing the information which Andrew extracts from people in no time at all – he is almost in the class of my Auntie Frances – but I bet he doesn’t recall the details with the same precision years later like she does) which just about supports 150 sheep and 12 Highland cattle – which tells you everything about the conditions up here . Two plus points are that the road despite its isolation never closes – up here if it snows, it is cleared without fail overnight (Hertfordshire Highways, we are talking proper snow here not the few flakes which brings your roads to a standstill) and the acidity of the soil means that the sheep do not suffer from footrot. Mile also told us that there were probably on average about a dozen LEJOGERS a day going past his Inn plus more than a few large charity groups and the occasional LEJOG walker.

After warming ourselves in front of the log burner, for which Mike cuts his own peat, and drinking several cups of coffee, we eventually made our way outside again to find that the drizzle had stopped and that there was a strange orange sphere in the sky. It didn’t stay out for long.

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The yellow spot in the distance is Jane

We tried to be considerate and stop at the passing places to let cars past. About 50% of the drivers returned the compliment and acknowledged us. Most slowed a little but some obviously thought we shouldn’t be on the road – however in the morning it was only the Range Rover driver who flashed a V sign because I had the temerity to ride towards him. Later in the afternoon, two locals took it a stage further and tried to drive me off the road. First a woman with no neck – with the appearance of half woman half sheep – drove her Land Rover with trailer filling the width of the road at me where there was a passing place only a few yards in front of me – I swear she was smirking but it’s difficult to look closely when you are taking rapid evasive action. Then a gas van man stood on his gas pedal as he approached. I appraised them loudly of their lack of parentage.

Andrew spent lunchtime at the Altnaharra Hotel talking fishing stories with a couple of trout fishermen from Prestwick. There was no chef at the inn today but they managed 7 bowls of pretty acceptable vegetable soup ok.

Jane had joined us on Anne’s bike for the first 21 miles and enjoyed the fresh air and exercise. Anne had opted to ride the second half of the day on the grounds that the profile showed a lot less hills. What she had not bargained for is that in less than half a mile from Altnaharra we turned east up Loch Naver straight into drizzle and a howling gale. I am not exaggerating when I say that our speed was reduced by more than half because of the wind. It was like riding up a steep hill when you were actually on the flat. We were following the Strathnaver Trail and eventually as we turned north following the River Naver the wind abated.

We passed tourist trail signboards detailing the history of the Highland clearances and a particularly savage expulsion at Rossal carried out on behalf of the Duchess of Sutherland in 1815. Apparently Bettyhill is named after her because that is to where her tenants were expelled if they escaped being shipped out to Canada. One of her fiercest critics, Donald MacCleod, who wrote Gloomiest Memories (sounds like a page turner) about the clearance, found himself relocated to Ontario. All the protagonists in this story were Scottish and so they cannot pin this one on the English.

Bettyhill has a very attractive sandy beach but no buildings of architectural merit whatsoever. Dunveaden House is the most basic accommodation we have stayed in – it might have been modern 50 years ago. Two bathrooms, one of which has a jug for hair-washing and not even a shower attachment, shared between about eleven rooms – it must be just namby pamby sassenachs who take a bath more than once a week!

We had a fish supper a mile down the road, the haddock was freshly cooked but the cafe was unlicensed and so no beer! The male contingent of the party then watched England try to lose to Sweden. Is this the best preparation for the final push in the morning? Our weather watcher is worried about the wind (and it would be so puerile to make jokes about the beans, which he had with his fish, chips and peas, adding to the problem I wouldn’t dream of it). Tune in to the final instalment tomorrow to find out if our hardy band of Tewin Cyclists make their final destination. But perhaps I should warn you that if they do, beer may come before blogging and the final post could be delayed even if they have wi-fi in the northern extremities.

Day 23 Three Firths and a Kyle: Inverness to Lairg

It’s absolutely perishing. The temperature is 7 degrees and doesn’t rise above 9 all morning. At least it’s keeping the midges indoors.

Sir Eatalot had us on parade for 8.30 and soon had Sir Talkalot and Sir Ridealot crossing the Kessock Bridge across the Moray Firth. No sentries or troublesome Jocks impeding the cycle path this morning. We crossed the Black Isle without discovering why it was named either Black or an Isle.

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Cromarty Firth

The drizzle hit us before we reached Conor Bridge and full wet weather armour was donned but the rain did not last too long; however, the chill breeze and the cold persisted all morning as we rode through Dingwall and Evanton north east up the Cromarty Firth and we were pleased to make the late morning pit stop rendez-vous at Harry Gow (baker of the year) in Alness, where hot coffee and pies were the the order of the day. The support team plus Malcolm and Mike (who were still taking it easy in the car – or backseat driving, depending on who you believe) had arrived earlier to secure tables. Some of the other customers saw our team shirts and not only took an interest in the ride but also made generous donations to the cause. Thank you Barbara, Margaret and Pat.

We then cut inland along the remote Scotsburn Road to Tain where we met up again with the support group in Sunflowers Cafe, where, not only had they pinched the best bike parking space, but they also had the best table where they were tucking into lunch as if they had actually done something active that morning.

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The support crew top up their calories

Andrew remembered that he had forgotten to pay for his lunch half a mile down the road and so had to return to make his excuses and settle his bill before he had the rozzers on our tail. Mike joined him on the naughty step when he failed to pay for Anne’s post dinner dram of Glenmorangie (we passed the actual distillery earlier in the day) despite signing the honesty book in the B & B. We expect to hear the sirens before we reach John O’Groats.

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Dornoch Firth

Malcolm reports that he had undergone a pre-breakfast medical examination and was declared fit to cycle, at least for part of the day. Cleverly he elected to cycle the later part of the day, after the worst of the hills had been done. So it was that he and Mike arranged to be driven to the lunch stop and then set out before the all day cyclists had eaten. The A Team eventually caught them shortly before the Falls of Shin visitor centre where we all convened for tea with our support team. Malcolm was very happy to be back on the bike!

One of our party described the falls as just another river, rather missing the point that this was a salmon run and Jane, Anne, Andrew and David were thrilled to see just as they arrived at the viewing platform a large salmon leap high although ultimately unsuccessfully up the falls. Unfortunately none of us was quick enough on the draw to record this event for posterity – you will just have to take my word for it!

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Can you see the salmon?

In spite of the weather, this was another great day’s ride. To reach the Falls we had cycled up the south side of our third Firth of the day, Dornoch Firth and then crossed Bonar Bridge, up alongside the Kyle of Sutherland (no relation to Kiefer) and then into the Achany Glen, which was all very picturesque. We arrived at Park House in Lairg, a very comfortable B & B on the south east bank of Loch Shin, the loch stretching 20 miles up to the north-west.

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Jeff and Andrew enjoying a roadside break

Park House had been built in 1925 as a game lodge for a banker (rogues even then according to the current owner!). Someone had forgotten to book dinner at the B & B and so we repaired to the Crofters Restaurant at the nearby campsite, where a lovely mature lady produced a very tasty home cooked meal, including haggis and neeps for some, with bottled Cairngorm ales and a wee dram or two (Laphroaig and the Famous Grouse). After dinner she did a very good sales job for Avon Skin So Soft as the ultimate midge deterrent and she just happened to have a shelf full of bottles, so we all made a purchase just in case.

As a nightcap, Andrew offers the following “disconnected jottings” (his words) for those feeling the technical side of our expedition has been lacking:-

“Something about our bikes:
Some of us (like Mike) use their bicycles for up to 5,000 miles per year. It is what is known as a light touring bike as it is equipped with a rack for carrying two side panniers and/or a smaller goodies bag but has quite narrow racing tyres (less pedalling effort than wider section tyres but more uncomfortable). It also for lightness and simplicity has no mudguards making it have more in common with a racing bike than a touring bike, as this means in wet weather the cyclist can get very wet from spray! Mike’s bike in common with the others has pedals with cleats that allow the riders special shoes to be clamped to the pedals for greater pedalling efficiency.

Both Jeff and Malcolm have touring bikes, [a Dawes Super Galaxy and Trek 520 respectively] which have very strong steel frames, mudguards, racks for panniers, and are slightly longer than racing bikes because that makes them more comfortable over longer distances; David has an Enigma Etape touring bike but because it has a frame made of titanium it is lighter. It also has a top of the range Brooks saddle and is said to have the quality, comfort and cost more in common with a Rolls Royce.

All the bikes have either 20 or 30 different gears which can be selected at will, The lowest gear is known as a ‘granny’ gear, which is used for the steepest of hills. The higher gears are selected for cycling on the flat with the highest being used for the suicidal descent of steep hills. These gears are selected by gear changers known as Mechs which are made by only a few manufacturers and are very technical. Most of us have Shimano, but Andrew’s Shorter Rochford bike is a racing bike with an uncomfortable short frame, only twenty close ratio gears and (in his opinion) the best ‘mech’ in the world, a Campagnolo! The result is that he hasn’t any ‘granny’ gears for steep hills and has to push it up the steepest! One last comment is that over the distances that we are travelling no amount of technical gizmos will get an unfit rider through up to 70miles of riding a day and climb up to 5000feet in height. Fitness and up to 5000calories of food a day are essential”

Day 22 Following the Old Military Road: Grantown-on-Spey to Inverness

I was granted a short lie-in this morning and we didn’t set off until 10.00 a.m. This was to be a relatively easy day of only 40 miles and a cumulative ascent of about 2,000 feet. Jeff was feeling off-colour – he had passed on the cooked breakfast, so we knew all was not well – Jeff never refuses food. Now he was puffing after the slope up out of the hotel car park. Malcolm was still unfortunately hors de combat but Mike was back in the saddle.

Andrew alone has powered on unscathed, with his pony tail flowing behind in his slipstream. He is a continuous fountain of good spirits albeit one where the sound button is permanently stuck in the “on” position. He has also an enviable talent for being able to recharge his batteries by taking 5 or 10 winks anywhere anytime and of course he is a godsend to a copy hungry blogger.

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A 20th century historic monument

We are almost in sensory overload on impressive Scottish landscape, so the first noteworthy feature passed today was an old-fashioned AA box at a fork in the road in the middle of nowhere. Then for the second day running Jeff overshot a turning, this time by some way and I had to go racing after him for nearly half a mile to bring him back. We then turned onto a really minor road initially not much wider than a cycle track: this was the Old Military Road, built in the 18th century by General Wade to sort out the troublesome Scots (according to our tame Scottish historian). Any further comment would be superfluous.

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Wow views

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Tablet supplies personally delivered to Sir Eatalot and his shower-capped retinue

This was a fabulous ride across remote moorland populated mainly by curlews. It was a cold morning although it warmed up a tad in the afternoon.

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I hope you enjoy this view from Dulcie Bridge – stopping brought a standing start up a 14* hill

We arrived in Cawdor for a late coffee/early lunch at Darcie’s Tea Rooms. No thanes spotted, just a support crew. And not any witches either, when I could have done with some of their hazel to treat my undercarriage. Out damn’d spot!

We continued on through broom and gorse flaming yellow in full bloom and then gaining wonderful vistas of the Moray Firth as we approached Culloden Moor. Best not essay any humour about the management of the Scots in case it provokes trolls from the North.

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Has someone moved the Digswell Viaduct to Drumossie Muir whilst we have been away

We had a slight involuntary route deviation on the approaches to Inverness (alright I took us the wrong way as we left Culloden but we were never actually lost) but we still arrived at Strathness House Guest House overlooking the River Ness before the luggage bearers. They had been to Cawdor Castle, which despite the disappointing lack of mobility scooters, they declared more interesting than Balmoral.

Dinner at the Waterfront Restaurant didn’t start well for me when it took an age to get served a first drink. They didn’t man the bar despite it claiming to be a pub restaurant and the manager and staff blithely ignored my tongue having out. However I was told to behave myself by she who must be obeyed, so I wasn’t allowed to give full customer feedback to the manager. Cairngorm bitter and Pimms when it did finally arrive were good. So was the food, although rather over-battered. The only item not deep fried in the Highland Tapas was the smoked salmon. Haggis, Morangie Brie, Scallops all battered and tasty but the venison sausages were not improved by being deep fried! Malcolm’s seafood main course consisted mainly of batter but other dishes escaped the frier.

“Would you like to see the dessert menu?” Others um and ah, I always say yes and it’s funny how many then pitch in with an order. This evening the rhubarb crumble, which came in a portion which would serve at least three in our house, even defeated me, and nobody could remember when that last happened!

Day 21 Mobility scooters sound a better bet: Braemar to Grantown-on-Spey

Today’s blog is briefer than usual because I only had about 3 hours sleep last night. Not the best preparation for a visit to Balmoral. Perhaps it’s just as well the invitation had not arrived in time because I had not even had time for a shave.

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The weather in Edinburgh was a lot better than it was down south but a darn sight parkier. But I set out of the drive of the Braemar B & B at just after 1 and immediately had to put my overtrousers on as the drizzle started. The first 9 miles to Balmoral along the Dee flew by but then the climbing started. At least 5 big climbs, the highest to the Lecht Pass at 2,250 feet (see profile below) – where the ski cafe was shut. This would have been a challenging ride on a good day but with the wind blowing hard in your face, it was particularly tough. I made it in by 6.30 fuelled by a constant supply of cake and other goodies by my personal driver attendant, who having had even less sleep than me did a heroic job; and a good deal of bloody mindedness. But I had promised my Mum I would finish the ride for her and you must not let your Mum down, must you.

Andrew and Jeff had arrived two and half hours before me and had a very welcome pint of Belhaven’s Robbie Burns ale waiting for me. Bottled because there was no draft real ale but it tasted good to me.

I discovered at dinner that Mike had taken a rest day in the car for a spot of castle visiting – he already has the LEJOG T- shirt – and did stop by at Balmoral, although not by invitation, more as a paying guest or at least a bus pass flashing guest. He and Malcolm both played the gammy leg card and toured the estate in mobility scooters! Phil was not on hand to give carriage driving lessons but they enjoyed themselves m nonetheless.

I nearly feel asleep into my apple and raspberry crumble and so the day ended.

Day 20 : Two soups: Perth to Braemar

Another of those random coincidences at breakfast. One of the other guests was a lady from Inverness. She turned out to be Val McKinnon, the mother of Lindsay who runs the bike taxi service booked to collect us from John O’Groats. She also told us that the Olympic torch relay had passed her front door yesterday.

Our route took us down South Street, across the Tay, past Scone Palace and through the berry fields to Blairgowrie. Jeff took advantage of an offer at the roadside kiosk and filled his panniers with three punnets of strawberries. We also passed the Meiklour Hedge, allegedly the highest hedge in the world: planted in 1745 by a laird who promptly got himself killed at Culloden fighting for Bonnie Prince Charlie and his widow left for Edinburgh leaving the beech hedge to grow and grow. It’s now between 100 & 120 feet and trimmed once every 10 years.

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Andrew in front of the Meiklour Hedge

A coffee stop in Cargills by the River Ericht – scrumptious scone – and also a chance for Jeff to prove the worth of his tool-kit. I had already had to stop to adjust my front mech – credit due to Andrew’s new Topeak multi-tool – because it had moved on the seat tube and was scrunching my chain. We found that it had well and truly crunched a link in my chain and this needed a replacement – thanks Jeff.

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The River Ericht at Blairgowrie

Then we faced a 25 mile climb up Glenshee to the Cairnwell Pass, at 2,250 ft the highest road pass in the UK. The first 22 miles were laborious but relatively steady as the landscape became ever more impressive. The next 2 miles were tougher as the gradient increased and the final mile, rising to 12% & then 13% into a headwind, a complete beast. A careless white van man who came too close gave me an anger-fuelled burst of adrenalin to reach the summit.

We collapsed into the Glenshee Ski Cafe Station for 2 hot soups each and a rest before enjoying the descent into Braemar. I was a bit distracted by news from home and am therefore sorry that there are no photos. Cranford B & B looked super but Jane and I didn’t get to enjoy it. We had a 2-hour drive to Edinburgh Airport – I couldn’t believe I had cycled this in just two days – for a quick overnight return visit to my Mum in the Princess Royal Hospital, Farnborough (Kent). Back on the first flight from Gatwick in the morning.

 

Day 19 : Sallying Forth: Edinburgh to Perth

Sunday morning outside the nunnery, surely it cannot be time to get back on the bike. Oh, yes it is! Oil, check. Air, check. And how many happy cyclists do we have here? Andrew, David, Jeff, Malcolm, Joanne and who’s this unusual looking person on a nice Trek bike – someone who looks good in Lycra. Anna, for it is she, is Andrew’s niece, who only lives just round the corner in Edinburgh and is living proof that the Swift genes are not entirely bereft of intelligence and beauty. She has kindly got up this morning to pilot us out of Edinburgh.

We also now have the benefit of two support vehicles, both with a medic on board. Find us a personal masseur and we could almost be professional.

First stop – West Castle Street, where we pick up Mike, drop off Joanne (who is returning to Tewin by train later in the day) and are waved off by Annie; she counted us in on Friday and now counts us out on Sunday.

Edinburgh doesn’t seem to be really awake this early on a Sunday and we have a very easy ride across the city centre, other than road works blocking our route, to join the cycle path route 10 miles out to the Forth Road Bridge.

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Five (plus pilot) Sally Forth
I was going to make a resolution not to be unkind to Andrew this week but he likes the attention really. I have to be (quite) nice to Jeff because he is carrying the mobile toolkit and Malcolm’s been poorly, so it wouldn’t be fair to pick on him. Anyway it was his niece who said that the new helmet cover he bought yesterday looks like a shower cap. He obviously took to heart my earlier fashion advice to work on his accessories – it will look great with his cape!

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A proud uncle with his niece

I warned Anna that I have a tendency to seek out the unflattering for this blog but she is very unpromising material, so we bade farewell to her at the Bridge after photo opportunities. She can be our pilot any time she wants.

I am not keen on heights, so it was with some trepidation that I faced the Forth Road Bridge. It actually has a very good cycle path on the side, separated from the road lanes and all was going well, I even managed to dodge the charity walkers walking 10 abreast across both the foot and cycle lanes but then ran into some of Scotland’s citizens who made Rab C Nesbitt appear couth – not looking where they were going and blocking the path whilst they arsed about: my knowledge of the local customs was obviously lacking but I learnt that the Scottish response to “excuse me” is to eff and blind. I could have done with that lance!

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Andrew arriving safe in Fife

It was cold all day and windy but the rain stayed away. Our progress was slow, despite the lack of traffic. It was not Malcolm’s morning. First he came off the side of the cycle path, no damage done fortunately except to his ego and a muddy jacket. Then he got a slow puncture and we limped off route into Dunfermline centre to find a coffee shop, where the puncture could be repaired whilst we refuelled.

Eventually we found the Cafe by the Park, where we were welcomed by a very friendly host, who offered us free soup appetisers, so we decided that it was actually lunch-time and ordered our first stovies (a Scottish variant on shepherd’s pie). Yum yum.

Our journey through Fife and Kinross was uneventful, occasionally picturesque with views of Loch Leven and later the Tay but the cold cloudy day made it seem fairly bleak.

We made it to the Heidl B & B by 5.25. The landlady welcomed us and told us that today’s weather was quite balmy for her because she was from Orkney. She had only taken over 3 months ago and had clearly spent some money on refurbishment – a very comfortable stay.

We walked down to Perth City Centre and had a good meal at La Grande Italia in George Street. Moretti’s beer – lager boys for one night only. Mike ordered an Italian artisanal (cloudy) beer but soon joined us on Moretti. I couldn’t keep my eyes open and so to bed.

Meanwhile Malcolm was receiving a two doctor consultation on the state of his leg – who diagnosed a soft tissue infection and sentenced him to the support vehicle for the immediate future. Anne took him to Perth Royal Infirmary to acquire the appropriate antibiotic and they didn’t get to their beds until 2 a.m.

Day 18 Resting in Edinburgh

We have been in the saddle for 15 days and this is our second rest day. We have pedalled over 800 miles to date. On the one hand it seems a while ago since we started at Land’s End, on the other it feels like we have crossed England under our own steam quite quickly.

This morning my body aches more than any day so far. I think we pushed quite hard yesterday so that we didn’t miss that champagne. For those of you who have asked (none so far but I know you want to know really) the bottom, after a few complaints at the beginning of week 2, is holding up remarkably well. Sudocreme really does have magic powers. I hope that isn’t tempting fate.

Malcolm appeared at the breakfast table and no doubt was immensely cheered by my wife remarking that he looked a bit rough. Her bedside manner maybe just wasn’t at its peak.

The group took a well-earned break from each other. Andrew and Jeff didn’t climb Arthur’s Seat “because it was raining”, did visit the park cafe, the Scottish Parliament, and lots of bike shops. Jeff also discovered that there were 31 Greggs in Edinburgh but Andrew isn’t saying whether they had a steak bake in every one. They also met Dorothy Walton, an 88-year old lady in the nunnery garden, who was so impressed with our expedition that she came back to give Jeff £5.

Malcolm and Joanne took life easier and visited the Royal Botanic Gardens.

Mike and Anne visited brother Graham’s grave and his memorial star in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. As for the next generation of Horsmans the trail has gone cold other than unconfirmed reports of Will having been refused nightclub entry for being too old or possibly too English.

Jane and I, after picking up the hired No 2. (support) support vehicle, spent the whole day at my cousin Sheila’s in Linlithgow. Peter and Sheila are always good company and Sheila an excellent cook. This time not only did she excel herself on the culinary front – “more fuel for the cyclist” – until I had roast gammon coming out of one ear and sea bass out of the other, but also facilitated 3 or 4 loads of dirty cyclist washing and was very tolerant of a cyclist who spent too long on their PC updating his blog instead of hearing about all the details of their daughter Julie’s wedding a fortnight ago. Their younger daughter Emily mixed a mean Pimms from limited ingredients and made delicious fairy cakes and ice cream. Emily was recently back from an 8-month ” gap” tour or Oz and SE Asia, spending some of her Pfizer redundancy cheque and we heard amongst other things about the ease of free Internet access in Vietnam and elsewhere. [English hotels and B & B s please note that installing the cheapest router from Argos does not entitle you to claim free wi-fi!]

We had a very relaxing day and thanks to Sheila, Peter and Emily. We drove back to the nunnery in torrential rain & roads under water, rather fearful for the morning.

This ride has taken an even more personal turn for me as my mother is seriously ill in hospital with a return of her uterine cancer. My sister when not jousting verbally with the Gnome has been reading her extracts from the blog and so I crave your indulgence to send her all my love. Mum, we are thinking of you.