Welcome

Welcome to the LEJOG blog of Karon and Bob Bending. We updated the blog daily (most days) as we rode through the wettest summer on record, from Land’s End to John O’ Groats over five and a half weeks. In that time we managed to raise over a thousand pounds for our chosen charity, Arthritis research UK, donated by relatives, friends, work mates, cycling buddies and well-wishers along the way. We were even given a small donation by two very inebriated ‘gentlemen of the road’!

Below are the daily entries – of course, the earliest is at the bottom, so you’ll need to scroll down the list of routes on the right to find our first day. Happy reading.

If you’re planning and easy LEJOG and want to know more about our trip, you’re welcome to email me.

Thank you

After arriving at JOG, we took the following day – a Sunday – off. It felt a bit strange having breakfast then wondering what to do, rather than load up, mount up and push off. We walked the half mile down to the harbour area and took another look inside the ‘First and Last’ kiosk, had a coffee then wandered around the rest of the little businesses that have sprung up around this landmark. Back at the Seaview we had lunch then sat in the bar for much of the afternoon, catching up on blogs and writing cards etc.

Monday we were up and breakfasted early to take a day trip to the Orkney Islands. As we walked along the harbour wall for the ferry, we were treated to the sight of a small pod of killer whales close to shore. They were in no hurry and the ferry crew almost had to pull the passengers onboard as they stood and watched with cameras clicking away. The trip around the Orkneys was a good day out and one worth doing if you have a day after arriving at JOG. On the way back, we met the whales again, though they were well away from the shore by now.

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Tuesday was the start of our ride/drive home. We had arranged for us and The Beast to be collected by John O’ Groats Bike Transport along with another tandem couple and a solo rider. JOG transport arrived with a VW minibus and big covered trailer to ferry us all back to Inverness. We were going to split the Beast (a useful feature) and stick it in the back of a hire car to drive home, while the others were catching trains. The bike transport company would clean up their bikes then courier them home to save them having to squeeze them onto trains. We drove home over a couple of days, calling in to see one of Karon’s cousins and my sister, with whom we’d left some stuff we weren’t using on the way up.

So, we’re all done and back home now. There’s loads of emails and post to go through. All the gear we took with us needs sorting and washing (several times!) too.

A big thank you to everyone who donated to Arthritis Research UK. We currently stand at around £900 but maybe, with a few more donations, we’ll make the £1000.

In the coming days I’ll create a gallery page and post some photo’s of our trip and I’ll put in a link to some YouTube clips from the little video camera we took.

Thurso to John O Groats

Our last day ‘in the saddle’ and there are blue skies above! Not too far today so we take our time over breakfast and then I rescue The Beast from the meeting room in the hotel – the only place other than outside. We left on the A836 towards Dunnet Head, a gentle climb out of the town then a dead straight road to Castletown a few miles away. The following wind and gentle gradients made the cycling easy and a pleasure. Folks here are obviously very aware of how important their patch is to End-to-Enders. We had several toots and waves as we passed through Castletown and Dunnet on our way to Dunnet Head.

Near Dunnet Head.

Near Dunnet Head.

We turned off the main road and took the lane towards the headland. It became the peaty highland moor that we’d seen a lot of over the past week or so, but there was the odd car to keep us company. A couple even stopped for a brief chat. The road twisted and climbed up to the top car park but we just kept pushing up to the viewing area, leaving the Beast almost at the end of the road. We climbed on foot up to the high point and met the occupants of one of the cars that had stopped on the lane below. The views were amazing – no camera could do them justice – along the coast the way we’d come, inland to the distant peaks, East to John O Groats and across the sea the Orkney Islands and to cap it all, the sun was still there! As we passed through the car park we met a chap on a loaded bike who was riding around the mainland coast. 6 weeks ago he set off from Lytham St Anne’s. He was ahead and in view for the first few miles after leaving Dunnet Head but we stopped for some chocolate energy and he was gone. I hope it’s dryer for his adventure.

Dunnet Head. We were surprised at how close the Orkneys were. That's Hoy in the distance.

Dunnet Head. We were surprised at how close the Orkneys were. That’s Hoy in the distance.

After Dunnet Head the wind picked up and we made good speed across the low rolling countryside along the straight roads. As we neared Castle Mey, Karon was telling me how it used to be the Queen Mother’s escape and, on passing, we saw it was open to the public. Better still, there was a tea room! 10 minutes later we were supping tea and stuffing cake. Afterwards we decided we had time to take our sketchbooks into the grounds (for a small fee). We wandered through the walled garden then settled on a bench to sketch the house.

Castle Mey. The Queen Mother's hidey hole.

Castle Mey. The Queen Mother’s hidey hole.

As we were leaving we got chatting to a guy who had (mid life crisis) bought a second-hand Bentley and was touring Scotland after touring Europe in it (is the Bonny Land part of Europe or no?) he took our photo to email to us and took a video as we mounted up and left.

The ride from Mey to JOG was a real pleasure. No hills as such and a good strong following wind under almost clear skies. Such a shame more of our ride hadn’t been like this. I am sure we missed some awesome scenery because it was shrouded on drizzle and mist. Out to the Orkneys we could see a couple of showers but we were not in their sights, they passed to the east.

Ahead I recognised the Seaview Hotel and realised we had almost come to our journey’s end. Right outside it, we turned towards the end of the road, towards the small complex of touristy buildings that erupt around these key points. We turned into the car park, expecting to see some formal recognition of the importance to End-to-enders, pulled back out then rolled the last few yards to the harbour and there it was: a kiosk with big lettering ‘The First and Last’.

There were a bunch of guys having photos taken so we waited our turn. I recruited a couple of riders with bikes to take our photo then did the same for them. They were just setting off – for Thurso. We chatted, I took an enormous camera from a Japanese gent and snapped as they stood by the sign. We popped in to the kiosk and bought some cards them headed back up the road to The Seaview. In our room was a bottle of Moët on ice and a little card with a barcode link to a great video all courtesy of The Stream.

We drank the champagne as we sorted our stuff and showered then went to the restaurant for some food.
When we were in Cornwall, struggling up the hills, I seriously doubted whether we could do this. But we took each day as it came and we were never too ambitious in our mileage. Of course, the real hero in this is Karon. With all her health problems, she never really complained, even on the foulest of days. There were never any tears. She accepted her lot, just hunkered down and got on with it. She’s tough and she’s a fighter and I love her for it.

Two seasoned Lejoggers – five and a half weeks and 1,206 miles.

Two seasoned Lejoggers – five and a half weeks and 1,206 miles.

Bettyhill to Thurso

Well there was blue sky when we got up but by the time we’d got the bike out the shed and loaded up, it had gone. The climb away from Farr Cottage was a hard start to the day but it was a small price to pay for the hospitality we had enjoyed and the mesmerising view of Farr Bay and the coast beyond.

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Drizzly rain blew across the high ground and, as we were now running along the coast it would be a bit of a roller coaster ride for the first part of the day, long climbs up over headlands followed by fast descents. Each time we got up high the drizzle was waiting and, as we pulled off the road to put waterproofs on again, we got our first puncture in over 1140 miles of cycling. This meant unloading and overturning the Beast. 20 minutes later we were rolling again – downhill fast and taking the bends sidecar style, hanging out to try to keep the bike more upright so the stand and low bags didn’t drag on the road. So glad we didn’t get the flat there!

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The Orkneys in the distance

 

This first part was quite bleak but every now and then we caught glimpses of the sea and the towering cliffs of the Orkneys. At Melviche we stopped at the pub to get some lunch. By now the weather was starting to clear a little and as we refuelled, blue patches of sky appeared over the sea, heading our way. Conversation in the car park as we readied to leave: “where y headed today then?” “Thurso today, John O Groats tomorrow.” “Och, that’s downhill all the way then.” “I’ve heard that one before!” (looking and pointing at the long climb over the other side of the valley). “Oh we’ll, there’s a wee climb there but you can see the top and then there’s the one past Dounreay, but otherwise it’s downhill all the way.”

The Scots seem to have problems with discerning up from down, and their sense of distance is often a little erroneous too. On our ride to Inverness, we passed road signs over the course of six miles that insisted it was 26 miles, then it went to 24 and back up to 26!

The climb away from Melviche was long, but at least it was easier than those we’d tackled in the morning. The landscape had changed from steepish, high headlands to lower, long rolling hills. The sun was finally shining. Now we could see the huge orange box and white dome that forms part of the Dounreay nuclear facility. Why orange? It sticks out like a sore thumb! As we cycle past, about 3.00 pm, a shift must have been finishing. There was an almost constant blast of cars bombing past on the dead straight road. It seems there must be some kind of time trial that most of the workers are involved in… Maybe the prize for the first back to Thurso is an even bigger, noisier exhaust for their type R or souped up Nova. Interspersed was the odd soul who slowed and gave us a considerate amount of room as they passed. We pulled up the long slope, leaving the plant way behind and the traffic flow stemmed, then we crested the rise and Thurso and the bay lay ahead, the coastal cliffs rising out of the grey-blue sea stretching away to Dunnet Head. With a wonderfully long sweep that curved down and into the town, we hardly needed to pedal the last couple of miles.

I’m writing this at breakfast after a broken nights sleep. An earlier coffee and bar music till gone 12 didn’t help. Today we make our way out to Dunnet Head and then on to John O Groats. Weather forecast for the week ahead?

Sun. Someone’s havin’ a larf!!

Altnaharra to Bettyhill

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Started the day with a photograph of the two of us and The Beast to send to Arthritis Research UK. Zoe there has been sending out press releases to some of the local newspapers and needed a photo with the both of us in and hopefully, a nice Scottish backdrop too. It’s a problem with only two of us. One is always behind the camera. Anyway, we recruited one of the hotel staff to snap us on my phone camera – that way I can email it to Zoe. After sorting that out we set off, turning almost immediately to run along the northern shores of Loch Naver. It provided us of some lovely views of the loch and Ben Klibreck, 3,152 feet with its head in the clouds. There were a surprising number of people driving along the little road though several were fisheries vehicles. I would imagine poaching for the big salmon in the Loch is a problem here.

Loch Naver. Despite some showers and a few climbs at the end of the day, it was a good days riding, first following the loch then the River Naver to the sea at Bettyhill.

Loch Naver. Despite some showers and a few climbs at the end of the day, it was a good days riding, first following the loch then the River Naver to the sea at Bettyhill.

Gradually we left the big hills behind and, by the time we reached the far end of the Loch, the surrounding hills were much lower. Now we turned almost due North to run alongside the river Naver. There were more houses and farm buildings along here and immediately we felt like we were back in civilisation. But this valley was the scene of brutal clearances, when the families in several small villages were evicted by the landlord and the houses set on fire. In at least one case there were elderly or infirm people inside and they were left to their fate. There’s little evidence now of those old communities but we saw a memorial and a few piles of stones that were once buildings.

By now the rain, which had already made a few feeble attempts to get going, finally succeeded so we pulled over to get covered up, eat some chocolate and talk to some horses in a roadside field. We were in the lee of some low trees so were in no hurry to move on. When we did we started to encounter a few bigger climbs and in the distance, the hills were shrouded in a light mist, which I thought might be sea spray. The river, too was wider and more sluggish and the rocky banks had gradually given way to ones of sand. Then I saw a ‘T’ junction road sign up ahead and knew we had reached the end of the valley. We turned on to the coast road to head East and dropped to cross the river. As we climbed away and on towards Bettyhill we got our first glimpse of the grey waters of the North Atlantic.

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We were ready for lunch by now so pulled in to the Bettyhill Hotel but it was closed for renovation. We found a corner shop to buy a bottle of wine to have with our evening meal at our B&B and asked if there was a pub. “Down the hill”. Down the hill we saw the Bettyhill cafe and pulled in there, not seeing a pub. It was a bit chaotic and there was a sign on the menu saying ‘no fish’. Still, we managed some food and hot drinks. Our B&B was just beyond Bettyhill on the next headland. It was a bit of a climb then drop to get to Farr Cottage but the views back to Farr Bay and Torrisdale Bay is stunning.

So, tomorrow we have a climb straight away to get back over the headland and it’ll be a day of quite big ups and downs as we run along the coast to Thurso.

Lairg to Altnaharra

A dry start today, though the grey cloud covering looked ready to off-load at any moment. Today’s ride would take us out into the wilderness, or as close to it as we have come on our journey from south to north. At only 37 miles away, it would have been nice to have ridden all the way to the north coast but with the weather the way it’s been over much of our journey, we decided to play safe with a stop over at Altnaharra – a hotel in the middle of nowhere that happens to reside at the end of a loch. Very popular with fishermen and deer stalkers judging by the amount of fishing regalia and pictures of stags around the walls.

From Lairg we ran alongside Loch Shin for a while before leaving the A838 for the A386. The label ‘A’ is a bit of a misnomer as this is a single track road with passing places – albeit a well surfaced one. The feeling of isolation developed very quickly as we headed North. There was conifer forest to our right. Old trees, draped in lichens and moss while to our left was open space, stretching away to big hills in the far distance and you had the feeling there was nothing in between. Following a small river, we climbed gradually and almost constantly for about 10 miles. By now the inevitable rain had started to fall and we were both hoping it wasn’t too much further to a little oasis – The Crask Inn. As we neared a crest, an ancient motorcycle overtook us, luggage piled high behind the ride, almost dwarfing the labouring single pistoned machine. We continued and the Inn was there on the slope after a stream crossing, about half a mile ahead. As we pulled in, there was the motorcycle – an old Motobecane 125.

The Crask Inn. An eccentric Frenchman on a 1940's motorbike, a cycling hill climber, four Lejoggers from Yorkshire, us and the Farmer/Landlord – all in the middle of nowhere.

The Crask Inn. An eccentric Frenchman on a 1940’s motorbike, a cycling hill climber, four Lejoggers from Yorkshire, us and the Farmer/Landlord – all in the middle of nowhere.

There were also four road bikes with luggage and a couple of their riders checking out the motorcycle. This was being ridden by a slightly eccentric youngish Frenchman who had driven to Scotland with the bike in the back of his car before embarking on a tour aboard the old bike. The riders were Yorkshiremen riding Lejog, en route from Bonar Bridge to Tongue. They were drinking tea or coffee but as it was now gone 12 we felt we’d earned something stronger. We chatted for a while with the other riders and the landlord (who doubles as a farmer), admiring and conversing about the old motorbike and our mount. The Frenchman was first to mount up, though I needed to remind him to take his crash helmet. He set off very unsteadily going up through the three gears, changed with a lever beside the petrol tank.

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Then the other Lejoggers left and we chatted with the farmer/landlord for a little longer before pushing off too. It wasn’t far to the watershed and another 7 miles to Altnaharra but it was primarily down hill.

We arrived just in time to dump the bags and get some soup before the kitchen closed for the afternoon. Then we checked emails etc. in the library before going up to our room (no wifi due to thick walls) to change etc.
Weather looks as if it may be better tomorrow, which will be good as we have to continue our ride across the wilderness to the North Coast. Almost there!

Tain to Lairg

Woke up and peered out of the window in the vain hope that it wouldn’t be raining. No such luck. Chatted over breakfast with other guests and was given another £5 to add to the collection of en-route donations.

Not far after leaving Tain we saw the signs for the Glenmorangie Distillery and decided to take the tour. Our ride was less than 30 miles today and the room not available till 4.00 pm so we had time on our hands and you can’t sit and paint when it’s pissing down. Good excuse for another tour and taste! Much better value than the Dalwhinnie tour.

Near Tain.

Entrance to the Glenmorangie Distillery, near Tain. Rain clouds loom.

So, an hour or so later we were back out in the rain and heading for Bonar Bridge along the Kyle of Sutherland. The road followed the water most of the time and wasn’t busy except for the huge timber trucks using it. Each time one passed it was scary and we got covered in spray.

At Bonar Bridge we stopped for lunch. I took advantage of the stop to change my soggy top for a dry one. Karon thought a ploughmans would suit her small appetite. It came: salad, ham, three cheeses, three pork pies and chips!

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My burger was equally generous. On leaving the pub we had discussion with a couple of locals about the best way to get to Lairg. If we stayed this side of the valley, there was a big climb. If we swapped sides, just after Invershin, it was flatter and we could take in the Shin Waterfalls.

We did the latter. Quiet road, not too much traffic or climbing. We reached the falls visitor centre and parked up. I changed tops again then we walked down to the waterfalls and stayed for about 15 minutes, watching the big salmon and smaller sea trout trying to scale the falls. The midges were out too, so we wore our midge nets until we got back on the bike, though only needed them now and then when we stood in the same place for too long. Back on the bike it was another half hour or so to get to Lairg.

We pulled up outside a shop to figure out where we were staying – I couldn’t remember the name of the place and just had a phone number. The shop keeper came out to look at the bike and ask if we needed help. I explained and rattled off the phone number and he gave it some thought then said “that’ll be George in ‘Lochview’.” off we went to find Lochview, not far away and sure enough, it had a fine view of the loch. We were welcomed with tea and scones with jam after we’d got changed and put our stuff in the drying room. Later, after a shower we walked to the local hotel for food. The Highland Hotel again (must be one in almost every town). Not a patch on the Tain version.

Inverness to Tain

We rescued the Beast from the hotel lobby and loaded the bags outside, watched by a couple of bemused Americans. Getting out of Inverness was relatively straight forward as we just headed for the water, a couple of streets away. A cycle path ran alongside it to the Kessock Bridge to cross to the Black Isle. Not really an isle at all, just a big ‘sticky out bit’. In fact, we could have ridden along it to Cromarty and then taken a ferry across the Cromarty Firth which would have put us within a short ride of Tain. However, I’d planned to go through Dingwall then follow the coast along to Allness then on to Tain.

We spent most of the ride to Dingwall running next to main roads. It was a fair climb to cross the ‘neck’ of The Black Isle but the run down towards Dingwall was good. Once in the town we headed for the high street to find a lunch stop as it was just before noon and we were riding 40 miles today, so refuelling was important. The climb out of Dingwall was the hardest we’d ridden since skirting the Lake District but once up on the slopes above the Cromarty Firth, the views were the reward.

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Looking back across the Cromarty Firth towards the Black isle

 

We dropped back off the high ground to Allness where we stopped in a cafe to top up. Another climb back up to higher ground followed but it was easier going than the earlier one. Once up we contoured along the ridge until we were a mile or so from Tain then had an enjoyable descent to the town.

The views from our B&B are across the Dornach Firth to the NE coast stretching away into the distance. Spectacular.

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View from Golf House

 

A short walk into town to find food (again) and we both polished off a good meal – one of our best yet.

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Fresh lobster – it’s tough doing Land’s End to John O’ Groats!

 

Tomorrow we ride to Lairg. Not as far as today’s ride. Just a few more days riding after that.

Will arrive in JOG on the 14th July. Resting 15th. Day trip to the Orkneys 16th. Leave for Inverness Airport to pick up a car for the journey home on the 17th.

Carrbridge to Inverness

Breakfast at Fairwinds hotel and we watched a red squirrel scampering over the bark of a huge redwood tree near the conservatory where we sat. That and the rain. By the time it came to pull the Beast from its overnight stable in the disused church, it had turned to a fine drizzle. Leaving Carrbridge over the new road bridge, we were treated to a view of the remains of the old bridge straddling a very violent river Dulnain, swollen by the night’s rain.

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The River Dulnain in spate

 

We left the town behind and the trees closed in on both sides to border the road for the long but relatively easy climb to the Slochd Summit some six miles away. For a while we followed a B road running right next to the A9, then left that to join the old road, now a cycle path. By now we’d left most of the trees bind and the hills were bare except for heather. No shelter from the elements that were doing their best to spoil the day. From the summit there was a long descent to Tomatin where we stopped at the village shop for hot drinks and chocolate shortcake. I changed into a dry top too as I had only been wearing my lightweight waterproof which had given up trying to be waterproof by then.

Slochd Summit between Carrbridge and Inverness.

Slochd Summit between Carrbridge and Inverness.

Refreshed and a little dryer we headed on towards Inverness. A few miles short and at the bottom of a fast descent, we came to a skidding halt, nearly missing the national cycle route ‘detour’. If we hadn’t turned off we would have ended up on the A9 into Inverness. Not nice. Probably similar to trying to ride along the A34 Newbury bypass. So, we took a little lane that climbed and ran along the side of a ridge for a fe miles. We stopped to make acquaintance with a foal in a field we passed. Very friendly little fellow let Karon give him a good scratch then, when we moved on, he ran alongside us, just for fun. We dropped off the ridge to cross a river and paused to check out some kind of stone-age settlement, the Clava Cairns. Then there was a climb away from the river up onto Culloden Moor, where, conveniently, someone had built a pub/restaurant. Lunchtime – steak pie (Kaz) and fish and chips (Bob).
After lunch we dropped back off the moor into the community of Culloden and made our way through a residential area then picked up a cycle path that took us into the centre of Inverness. No room in our hotel to store the Beast, so we left it in the entrance lobby.

Inverness. If Carling did bike sheds....

Inverness. If Carling did bike sheds….

Up to the room for a bath and Wimbledon. Never mind Andy Murray, there’s alway next year.
Tomorrow we head for Tain. Let’s hope it’s a wee bit dryer and warmer!

Newtonmore to Carrbridge

Very low, grey skies and a much colder day greeted us as we loaded up the Beast for the day’s ride. We left Newtonmore along the main road – many smaller Scottish towns have little more. The road ran reasonably level up the North side of the Spey. The national cycle route actually switched to run along the Southern edge of the wide valley but the wind was coming from the north and carrying a fine drizzle, so we stayed on the road and close to the trees for shelter. A mile or so up the road, there was a parallel cycle track for a while, which we took to, as the road wasn’t exactly quiet.

Instead of cars we had to contend with walkers heading out for the day but it made for some interesting manoeuvres and cheery ‘hellos’. We passed through Kingussie and under the A9 onto a B road which was immediately quieter. It threaded its way through low conifers and silver birches towards Avimore some 15 miles from our start point. The drizzle gradually transformed into ‘proper’ rain and on reaching Avimore we were both ready for a coffee, cake and chance to warm up a little. Traffic through the town was busy so we headed for the cycle route nearby.

The track, though almost Disneyesque in the way it rose and dropped and curved through the trees, was really more suited to mountain bikes than tourers. It ran quite close to the railway along which an old steam train carried lots of grinning tourist passengers. Unfortunately I couldn’t get the camera out quick enough! At Boat of Garten our mileometer passed 1,000 miles and started again from zero. We stopped briefly by the station in a little bike hire shop to talk Tour de France with the owner then headed up the road for our last 4 mile stint to Carrbridge.

The National Cycle Route after Avimore.

The National Cycle Route near Boat of Garten.

We found our B&B but, on the advice of the landlady, went straight back out and down into the town (not far) to get food at the pub before they stopped serving. Then it was back to park the bike – in a disused church!, bath and catch the remaining ladies final on TV. Our B&B provided a really nice evening meal and afterwards we sat with a coffee and chatted (well, actually, I did most of the talking) with a couple of ladies from Buckie, who were interested in our adventures.

Tomorrow we head for Inverness, 35 miles away but with a few climbs in between and, if the weather doesn’t improve, it could be a hard day on the bike.

Blair Atholl to Newtonmore

As I looked out of the window at the little station of Blair Atholl it started to rain. This was the last thing we needed for our ride over the Drumochter Pass. Fortunately, by the time we’d had breakfast and loaded up, it had stopped. This helped cool the air but it was still quite humid as we set off.

Our first stretch was along the B road to Calvine. Ahead I could see a pair of cyclists on loaded solos. As we came to the village the road climbed – I labelled it the Calvine Climb. Boom boom. Not far after we left the village we turned onto the old road, now a dedicated cycle path. At first the road switch backed a little over the contours but as we headed further up the valley and into the hills, it ran to a steady climb across open land for a while. The following wind helped make it easier still. As we crossed a little burn the two riders I’d seen earlier sat on the parapet having a smoke. We exchanged hello’s as we passed. A little further on we stopped to drink and take on some chocolate and we re-taken by the other pair.

Drumochter Pass warning.

Drumochter Pass warning.

For a long stretch the cycle path ran right by the road – presumably the old road was buried under the newer one. This stretch was not quite so easy as the path dropped and rose in a series of switchbacks. The overcast sky had cleared a while back and left just the big clouds with large patches of blue. It was so nice feeling the warm sun on my back as we rode along in the little strip between road and railway/river. The big hills either side provided a spectacular back drop, their size emphasised by seeing the distant trucks on the A9 dwarfed by the landscape.
At the high point, over 1,500 feet there was a layby with a snack wagon. Very convenient! Tea for both of us and a loan sausage roll for Kaz and chips with curry sauce for me. Our biking buddies were there too, just collecting their orders as we placed ours. They were heading for Avimore and they left as we were busy refuelling. We didn’t see them again. Karon had been chatting with a car full of ‘Barlows’. Granny at a sprightly 90 last week was being shown around Scotland from her home in Glasgow. Just before they left, they gave us a fiver to put in the kitty!

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Looking South-ish from the Drumochter Pass. The chuck wagon on the A9 layby was a welcome sight.

 

We left to continue our passage between the A9 and the rail line – at this point, the highest network rail line in the country. Gradually we started to head down after the watershed and a while later, in the distance, we saw the unmistakable shape of the Dalwhinnie Distillery. We pulled in and parked up right by the door and having covered the seat, she’d gloves, helmets and other cycling accessories went inside to take the tour. You pay for the tour plus the number of tasters. The tour includes one – a Dalwhinnie. We settled for four in total 🙂

Tour over we sat and sampled the other three: a Glenkinchie, Oban and Talisker. Each accompanied by a chocolate truffle to complement the flavours. We drank a few glasses of water too, in an attempt to reduce the effects of the spirit.

When we left to head down the road the nine miles or so to Newtonmore, the wind has swung and strengthened. It was against us and on the exposed road, it was hard going, requiring pedalling downhill sometimes. A few miles from our destination we came across a cafe, obviously popular as a coach stop and full of Dutch when we arrived. More refuelling: coffee for Kaz and large drinking chocolate for me both with a large choccy biccy. It made the rest of the ride that little bit easier and the Glen Hotel was one of the first we came to. Up to the room just in time to watch the bulk of the Murray semi-final.

Bankfoot to Blair Atholl

This morning it was humid and dry. So, for the first time I think, we started off in short sleeves. The cloud was low and grey but at least there was no rain. As we left the village of Bankfoot, we passed a parked car with a bike on the back. A little while later it passed us and then pulled in up ahead. The driver was acting as support for ‘the 3Gs’, 3 Grahams riding Lejog. We had a chat for a while then took our leave to carry on. The road was quiet and pleasant as it wound it’s way through landscape that was almost alpine, with steep sided high hills and crags looking down on us.

At Dunkeld we took to cycle route 77, which started off ok but soon turned into a track. It was very pleasant, running alongside the River Tay through woodland but there were a few muddy sections that had us sliding. Not good when there’s a steep drop into the river on one side. We passed through the grounds of the Hilton Hotel. Very nice. A little further on we turned off the track and up beside the A9 to double back across a bridge over the Tay then onto a lane that ran along the edge of the valley. By now the sun had burned through the thin misty cloud and we had patches of blue sky and sunshine. The lane climbed and dropped and had us working hard but the views were good and it wasn’t long before we recrossed the Tay into Pitlochry over a narrow, long, bouncy footbridge. We were both ready for lunch and stopped at the first place we came to for lunch. Roast beef for Kaz and a baked tatty with haggis n cheese for me.

Riding through the rest of the touristy town there we’re quite a few people on the street and I felt like they were all watching us and the Beast as we rode up the main street. Out along the main road and we were climbing a 14% gradient for a while then were rewarded with an 8% drop back to the river and then ran along a B road running alongside the A9. It took us into Blair Atholl and on to our hotel. With the Beast away in with the beer kegs we bathed then washed a few bits of riding kit and undies. So our accommodation looks more like a Chinese laundry than a Highlands Hotel room.

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Blair Athol

 

Kinross to Bankfoot

A pretty gloomy start but at least it wasn’t actually raining. It was humid too, so at least I was determined to leave off the waterproof. Karon seems to tolerate working under waterproofs a lot better than me and can ride with one on most of the time, just putting the hood up under her crash helmet if things get really damp.

We left Kinross riding up the main street and into the adjacent community of Milnathort where, pulling over to check where exactly we needed to turn off, we were chatted to by a lady who had overtaken us just a little earlier. She was running a church community shop and was really taken with the bike. When she found out we were Lejoggers she asked us to sign the visitors book.

We pressed on, leaving the busy main road and, crossing the M90, climbed away between fields of crops. The lane never strayed far from the motorway or main road and as we rejoined the road for a short stint, finding it a lot quieter now, we decided to stay on it into Perth rather than ride more hills. This proved a good choice as the main road went down through Glen Farg, a long winding descent following the river between steep sided hills. We were spat out the other end onto a wonderfully flat flood plain that the road ran across, straight to The Bridge of Earn. By now we’d ridden far enough to earn our cake so cruised the main street to find a cafe. We found a bar/restaurant that served carrot cake as a dessert, so tea and carrot cake was the order of the day. Back on the bike we followed the main road right into Perth. Having made good progress we decided we had time to wander the shops and stop for a coffee and more sustenance. For a while it was even SUNNY!

From Perth we followed a cycle path alongside the River Tay for quite a while. When the threatening clouds opened again we sheltered under a tree for 10 minutes rather than get togged up. At Almondbank we left the cycle path and headed out across the low hills for the last few miles into Bankfoot.

The Bankfoot Inn was easy to find and welcoming. The landlord let me park the Beast in the beer cellar out the back and helped lump our bags to our room over the bar. Showered, changed and with a brief spell of Andy Murray v Ferrer, we went down to the bar to enjoy the food, beer and company of a family from Georgia, US. Good day despite the rain and another 30 miles closer to our goal.

The Obney Hills near Bankfoot.

The Obney Hills near Bankfoot.

Edinburgh to Kinross

For once the sun was pushing through the weak cloud cover as we sat and ate our porridge. It was so nice not to be cocooned in full waterproofs as we said our goodbye’s to April and headed off to find the cycle route that would take us out to the Forth Bridge. It was warm and a little muggy but dry. As we neared the Forth Bridge area the cycle path, that had been following an old rail track stopped abruptly and we made our way through some housing estates before running down the side of the A90 towards Dalmeny. From there we threaded through more housing then to the approaches of the bridge.

As we crossed the bridge and climbed gently to its apex, the views over the Forth to the rail bridge were spectacular. From the apex we coasted down the bridge and into Fife. We stopped off in a little cafe in Inverkeithing for a cuppa and small cake. Our intention had been to take the main road to Kinrossto avoid too many hills, but it was very busy with loads of HGVs so we opted to follow a national cycle route through Dunfirmline and Townsend then climbing over the Cleish Hills. It was a hard climb and just as we came out through the trees at the top, to enjoy the twisty decent down to the fields, we saw a rain shower heading our way. It gave us plenty of time to don the waterproofs before it hit but it made the decent a face stinging ordeal rather than the blast we’d looked forward to. By the time we hit level ground it had stopped so we pulled over to shed the wet gear and eat a choccy bar each as we were both feeling in need of more energy for the remaining few miles into Kinross across the fields.

 

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Having crossed the Nivingstone Crags, Karon got a bit low on sugar reserves.

Once in town our B&B was easy to find but it was a pretty overpriced and dismal affair. Two beds crammed into a box room and an ‘en suite’ that one needed to be a contortionist to squeeze in to!

Went for a walk after a cramped shower (such a contrast to the nice big ‘rain shower’ at April and Tony’s). Found a nice hotel with friendly staff who looked after us all night. Nice meal and bar – the Kirklands Hotel.

Penicuik to Edinburgh

What’s the first line of that Supertramp song? “Oh it’s raining again”.
I find myself singing it to myself again as I peer out the window after getting out of bed. We breakfast and get ready to battle the rain again. Today is a short ride into Edinburgh to stay with Karon’s cousin April in her lovely home. We set off down the main road out of Penicuik. There’s still a fair bit of traffic but for most of the ride we’re in the bus lane. On the outskirts of Edinburgh we pass a small mobile home park where one of Karon’s aunties live and though we think she may have moved, we call in to say hello. 10 minutes later we’re supping tea, chatting and providing a warm lap (if a little damp) for her two King Charles Spaniels.

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The Beast outside our lunch stop in Edinburgh

 

We manage to find a gap in the showers to take her leave and continue into the heart of the city to Princes Street so Karon can get some essentials from M&S. Then we find somewhere for lunch – lets go Mexican. On account of a very sweet but rather dizzy waitress lunch takes a lot longer than it should but at least we’re dry again by the time we leave.

Karon has found a cycle route that passes very close to April’s house on her iPhone and suggests it’ll be safer than just going down the main road. The route it a little tortuous and takes us down the steep cobbles into Dean Village. Very pretty but it has an equally steep climb out again! After a few more twists and turns we end up at the top of a flight of steps. Some cycle route. We manhandle The Beast down the steps and half cross the road then mount at a red light to get through the rest of a busy junction. Fortunately all the drivers around us are quite tolerant of our antics. At the top of another flight of steps I finally decide to take over and navigate the rest if the route rather than trust the cycle route any more. As it was, we were only a few streets away from April’s.
So, the Beast is locked in the shed, our soggy and smelly stuff has been washed and we’re showered, changed and have enjoyed catching up with April over drinks and cheese n biccies.

Tomorrow we head over the Forth Road Bridge into Fife and up to Kinross, then the day after it’ll be on to the start of the Drumochter Pass – which we’ll have to clear pretty much in one stint as there aren’t really any places along there to stay unroll you get to Dalwhinnie. It’ll be nice if we can squeeze in a trip round the distillery 🙂

The Tushielaw Inn to Penicuik

The bar come restaurant at the Tushielaw overlooks Ettrick Water at the back and as we sat eating breakfast were were entertained by a family of wagtails on the far bank. Later, as we chatted with the landlord (we were the only overnighters) an otter trotted along the bank too. Good start to the day!

Tushielaw Inn. At breakfast, we saw an otter amble along the far bank.

Tushielaw Inn. At breakfast, we saw an otter amble along the far bank.

We were, once again, climbing from the word go but the gradient was gentle – it just went on for two miles. At the top we were over 1,000 feet up. There followed a 2 mile decent and then the whole process was repeated. On this second round, several cyclists passed us heading the other way. Just at the start of our decent towards Innerleithen and Peebles, a trio of riders came up the hill and stopped for a chat. We all stood on the road and the topic ranged from the bike, to the trip and weather and finally what tea shops we should look for once we hit civilisation again. Then the long, flowing run down to the Tweed just outside Innerleithen. We have come to enjoy riding the glens. Before we got to them, when the hills were still distant and looked foreboding, we were apprehensive about tackling them, but so far they’ve been gentle giants and it’s been the wild weather on them that’s been the issue.

As we approached Peebles alongside the Tweed, we were both tired and hungry from the two hour ride through the hills. So after finding the local loos we went off to cruise the main street and suds out all the potential eating places. The Crown Hotel won as it had free Internet which would allow me to find and pre book another night’s stop after Edinburgh. The food was good too and not overly expensive.

We left Peebles on the A703 for Penicuik. There was really no option but to use the main road. It was wide and most folks gave us a wide berth but there were a few that passed uncomfortably close. Our stint was broken by a brief stop to shelter under some trees while another heavy shower passed. At least out here you can see them coming and prepare. After that we continued the easy ride. No hills to speak of except the drop off the moor into Penicuik. All in all, a good day’s ride, despite the rain.

Langholm to The Tushielaw Inn

Woke up this morning to bright sunlight streaming through the windows. No, not really. It was raining again. Oh well, maybe by the time breakfast is over it’ll have stopped. One of the problems we’ve encountered on this epic is the temptation to go full English or Scottish every morning. But what one really needs rather that a plate full of fried stuff is porridge or muesli and banana – low fat, carbohydrate loaded food for the effort ahead. Today we were both good and had porridge. I added a banana to mine then chased it with I bowl of muesli with another banana in it. Toast and honey to finish off set us up for the mornings work.

Before we set off we popped in to the cake shop next door to the B&B to buy some sandwiches and a large sausage roll for lunch. We were heading out into forestry land with very few communities and didn’t know if there would be any tea rooms or cafes on our route.

First up was a big long climb away from Langholm. We were heading up Eskdale and for the most part the road followed the river, making the climbs long and easy but there were a couple of places where it headed over the top rather than go round. The consolation for the harder work getting over these hills were the wonderful long downhills back to the river on the other side.

Eskdale. Sheltering from a heavy shower. At least in the open country you could see them coming.

Eskdale. Sheltering from a heavy shower. At least in the open country you could see them coming.

At about 15 miles we came across the Samye Ling Tibetan Centre. We pulled into the place to have a look at the temple but noticed they had a tea shop too, so parked the bike and went in. Karon tried a Yak butter tea while I enjoyed a ‘revitalising tea’. We had cake too and rested a little longer than usual to let yet another shower pass. Soon after we climbed a nice gentle gradient that took us up to the watershed. Now we were really exposed and I looked over my shoulder to see very dark clouds above heavy rain bearing down on us. Up ahead was a solitary stand of a dozen or so trees at the entrance to a farm lane, so we raced the rain and got there to shelter from the worst of it. 10 minutes later the sun was shining and we were already on our way. From there it was pretty much downhill all the way to the Tushielaw Inn. It must be the only pub between Langholm and Innerleithen but has spectacular views of the Scottish Lowlands which Karon and I are now enjoying, sat in the bar looking out the window.

Sleetbeck to Langholm

With a short ride today at least we had the luxury of waiting for a while to see if the rain would relent. It did and we loaded up the bike, donned waterproofs for the umpteenth time, hugged and said our goodbyes to my sister and brother-in-law then pushed off.

Goodbye Cumbria, Hello Scotland.

Goodbye Cumbria, Hello Scotland.

Sleetbeck is way out in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by moorland and forests. There aren’t too many big hills as you’re already up quite high. Nevertheless, we had a climb first to warm us up inside our waterproofs. After about 20 minutes I looked at the sky and decided it was going to stay dry for a while so rolled up my jacket and stowed it on the back of the bike. Karon wasn’t so confident. After reaching the high point, we were rewarded with a lovely long descent of a few miles. A little further on we crossed the Lidder Water, a river along which the Scottish border runs. We had another climb away from the river, the first part of which had us pushing the bike. Up top, another long downhill to enjoy and then a few more ups and downs as we moved from moorland to forest. All the time the rain held off, though the low grey clouds threatened. We even saw our shadow a few times!

On our way to Langholm.

On our way to Langholm.

As we entered Langholm it started to rain so we stopped to put jackets on again, though it didn’t really get going. We cycled right past our hotel while dodging one of the many timber lorries that lumber (sorry) through the small town. The some Spanish tourists took an interest in the bike and chatted and took photos.

We’re now lunched at relaxing. We only rode 14 miles today but in contrast to yesterday, I feel I could ride a similar distance this afternoon or maybe more. The only problem is that the next place to stay is 30 miles from Langholm and quite remote with some heavy terrain too. Probably not manageable for Karon after this morning’s efforts.

Brampton to Sleetbeck

Another wet start. We togged up and wheeled The Beast out into the rain, mounted up and headed out of Brampton, North towards Lanercost where Hadrian’s Wall passes close to Brampton. We then ran parallel with the wall, or remnants of, Eastwards towards Walton, for a while the rain eased, prompting me to lose the waterproof jacket for a while – I was getting hot anyway. It wasn’t long though before the rain started again, really heavy. The nature of the landscape wasn’t helping either as most of the rivers, and there are quite a few, have deep gullies, so the road drops steeply with a hairpin or two to a little stone bridge then climbs back. These climb outs are usually too steep to cycle, or if you do, they take a lot out of you. Coupled with dealing with the rain, we found it really hard going. The rain just seemed to get heavier as we got nearer to Sleetbeck. A couple of times we stopped under trees to see if it would let up. Nope. So we pushed on and by the time we got to Sleetbeck where my sister lives we were like a pair of drowned rats. Geoff, my brother-in-law, had left the garage open so we rode straight in then took the luggage off the bike under cover. We stripped off and showered and our wet stuff all went into the washing machine. So, only 13 miles but it felt like 30.

Appleby to Brampton

Another wet start. We don’t have a choice really, we just have to get togged up and get out in it. Map reading is difficult in the wet as I can’t have my iPhone mounted on the bars for quick reference. It’s tucked away in a waterproof pocket in the bike seat. When we need to check our position or the route, we have to pull up under trees or some other cover. This is probably why I missed the turning we should have taken on leaving Appleby. Instead we headed in almost the complete wrong direction. After a few miles I was uneasy. We seemed to be heading into the hills, not away from them. Eventually we stopped and I checked. Worst error of the ride so far and it meant back-tracking so we probably added about 6 or 7 miles to our tally. In the rain this is doubly irritating.

Once on track we made steady progress but it was hard work. No major climbs but no real flat bits either. By the time we found our first cafe about 2 hours in, we were both soaked to the skin. The station cafe at Langwathby was a very welcome sight. We both disappeared into the loos in turn to change into dry clothes as the rain had eased to almost dry. Tea and cake in place we continued towards Brampton, most of the time on the B road but with a good stretch on lanes. That was when we encountered our first ‘flood’ with water across the road for a fair distance. It was too deep to just ride through without removing the lower bags so we plonked them on Karon’s seat and I rode through while Karon walked along the side bank of the lane.

Flooded lane. Time to kick Karon out of the 'Princess' seat and move the low bags up out of the water.

Flooded lane. Time to kick Karon out of the ‘Princess’ seat and move the low bags up out of the water.

It wasn’t worth mounting up immediately as there was a short, sharp climb away from the stream where the water SHOULD have been flowing. It was no longer raining and it was quite humid so as we struggled up the slope, the flies became a real pain. Normally, at a reasonable pace they are no bother, but slow to a walk on a long climb – which also generates quite a lot of sweat – and the flies home in. I decided that hell must be to come back as a cow or horse in summer! After that all the climbs were rideable, but a couple only just. Lunchtime came and went without anywhere presenting itself as a watering hole so by the time we were only a few miles from Brampton, Karon’s blood sugar was low. And the rain was back. We stopped to cover up and Karon took a gel to get some sugar, with a couple of jelly babies for good measure.

After all that, we still arrived in Brampton too soon for our B&B, so found a pub in the town centre. It was too late for food, so a packet of crisps sufficed. Karon boosted her blood sugar even more with a Crabbies Ginger Beer and I enjoyed a pint of Wainwright Ale. Then we went to find our B&B. After being immersed in cold water for most of the day, it was nice to immerse in hot. We were just getting dressed when my sister and brother-in- law turned up to welcome us to their home patch. So we went back into town for food and a catch-up. They drove off after loading up with our damp and dirty laundry!

Short ride tomorrow as we cycle out to their place to collect our laundry and stay the night before moving on to Langholm – another shorter leg. After two days of quite hard riding, I don’t think either of us is too upset.

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