I'm back!! Please excuse the self-indulgent trip report and skip straight to the cliffs if you wish!
Let me preface this trip report by saying that the planning that went into this trip was minimal. It was all planned at the last minute, I was literally printing out maps the night before we left, and we (me and my housemate) changed our plans multiple times during the trip. The only training either of us had done was a 3 mile cycle into college and neither of us had ever cycled more than 20 miles in a day. The plan was to cycle 100 miles every day for 9 days, so needless to say not many people believed that we would complete this on time!
We awoke at 5am on the day that we were to travel to Scotland. It was meant to be a 12 hour train journey, since the highlands of Scotland are really remote and the last 100 miles were meant to take 4 hours. There was also a 20 mile cycle to reach John o'Groats from the nearest train station. Unfortunately, a mix up with bike reservations meant that we were (almost literally) thrown off the train due to arrive at 6, and had to wait 4 hours for the next train. That left us with a 2 hour cycle in the dark, before setting up our tent for the first time at midnight at the top of Scotland in the pouring rain. Needless to say, we were miserable...
It was meant to be another 5am start on Saturday, but we gave ourselves another hour after the previous day's problems... We were behind schedule already with 100 miles to go. Before we got up, we heard a large group of cyclists who seemed to be heading to Land's End too. Without realising it, we had literally set up the tent within pissing distance of the famous signpost (there are signposts at either end of the country which mark the start/finishing points for anyone going from end to end.) Unfortunately for us, pictures by the sign are only allowed by a professional photographer, so the picture we have is by a stick with the signs removed, since they obviously weren't operating at 6.30am. The picture was taken by a random cyclist who said he was scouting the area for a cycle ride he was going to do in a few weeks. At 6.30am??? WTF?
Anyway, once we got going it wasn't too bad. However, after a few hills and around 70 miles we were both feeling miserable and sore. This feeling intensified when the rain returned with a vengeance, totally crippling our enthusiasm, breaking our phones (albeit temporarily) and music players and soaking our tent. I insisted that we pushed on to reach our target through the rain, so we got to Invergordon and made the decision to get a hotel for the night so that we could let the tent, the sleeping bags and also our clothes dry out.
On the next day our fortunes changed massively. Lee Jones was smiling on us as the skies brightened, the hills flattened and the incredible scenery spurred us on. It was a comparitively easy day of cycling so I'll just let the pictures do the talking...
Invergordon is the location of a dock to repair oil rigs, which is a pretty surreal sight.
Me on the Loch Ness Monster Loch Ness pictured below
The old chinese lady who took this pic for us was really lovely, but afterwards she told us to enjoy our holiday... We couldn't help but laugh, this didn't fell much like a holiday
We reached Fort William (our scheduled stop) at around 7.30, but we decided to push on to Glencoe, a village at the foot of the highlands where we set up camp for the night.
Glencoe in the morning (camera ran out of battery so phone pics..)
The lack of planning came back to haunt us as we left Glencoe on Monday morning intending to get breakfast in the next village. Unfortunately, 20 miles, 3 hours later after constant climbing, we had exhausted our food supplies and were still miles from the next village... But it was another spectacular day and we powered through.
I also saw a hitch-hiker getting picked up in a hummer by a dodgy looking man which was an entertaining experience
We reached Glasgow and pushed on about 10 miles south-east into Hamilton, where the local dickheads tried to play hoopla with cyclists (and almost succeeded...) We got another hotel as rain was forecast overnight and we were exhausted.
Early the next morning we made a decision that should have been made before we set off....
Yep. Tent and everything in a skip. We should probably have taken it to a charity shop but I was going completely bonkers carrying that much weight around and couldn't cope with having to carry it any longer.
There was more spectacular scenery and more horrible hill climbing between Hamilton and Carlisle on Tuesday, but by now our primary focus was on getting there not on sight-seeing! When we stopped in Carlisle for food, I somehow miraculously lost the bike lock key between the back of the pub and the table. This meant we lost about an hour while we searched and called out the locksmith who kindly cut up the lock with a circular saw (free of charge when we told him where we had come from!). But we really had to work to get back on schedule, and we ended up cycling until 11.30 in the dark and the fog along dangerous country roads to Penrith.... Scary stuff. We were literally diving into the bushes whenever we heard a car coming. When we got to Penrith we found that the hotel I had booked was another 5 miles away, but thankfully there was somewhere with a cancellation nearby. I did not want to go back onto those roads before sunrise!
Soon after leaving on Wednesday morning, we were greeted by this welcoming sign.
Oh well. It actually wasn't too bad since we had ditched a lot of the weight and we had come so far already. We also knew that we were coming home!! Wednesday night we reached a local bar in Machester to meet a bunch of friends and that really pushed us on, making that our fastest 100 mile day! We had to get out of the bar quickly though as everyone seemed intent on buying us shots to sabotage our ride! It was great to sleep in my own bed again for the night.
On Thursday, we planned to go for 115 miles from Manchester to my uncle's house near Hereford. We did have a bike problem for the first time, a puncture in Shrewsbury, and with us both being bike novices who had literally never changed an inner tube before we were a bit worried, that was until we saw a bike shop literally just across the road who sorted us out for free!! Running good at bike rides!! It was a long day, but we knew it was fairly flat so it was doable and we were greeted with a cold beer and a big fry-up! Heaven!
On Friday we had a pretty spectacular day, including going past Tintern Abbey in the Wye Valley,
and crossing the old Severn Bridge, which unfortunately I have no pics of, only a vid which I haven't uploaded yet. But anyone who knows the bridge knows it would be pretty special, it's suspension bridge about a kilometre long with huge towers and marks the crossing from Wales into England.
We managed to push on to Taunton, leaving us way ahead of schedule, and Jon's parents came with a caravan giving us relief from the bags and a guaranteed place to stay overnight, for which I am eternally thankful!!
Throughout the trip we'd been going past cyclists doing the trip in the opposite direction, as well as being overtaken by some more serious cyclists going our way, some of whom cycled alongside for a chat which was really nice. On Friday night we met a group of 3 cyclists and their support driver, who turned out to be one of the nicest people I've ever met! Now that we didn't have the bags we were able to pretty much keep pace with this group despite our exhaustion, and he was always there to fill our water bottles and cheer us up! He even took this picture of us, one of my favourites from the trip
We got past the Bodmin moors on Saturday, leaving us only 45 miles for the final day. Way ahead of schedule! It was our first stress free day really, the end was in sight and the hills, although ever present and annoying, just seemed to fly past!
We reached the finish around 1.30pm and celebrated in style! Jon's parents had created a large banner for us and showered us in bubbly which was amazing FINISHED! In 8 days, 8 hours, complete with comedy sunburn...
Here we are with one of the other group. The camaraderie between cyclists was really special and something I will remember about the experience.
I don't have the picture by the sign yet, it should be in the post from the professional photo company, and it will take pride of place on my wall for a long time to come!
Overall we raised about $2k for charity, and we managed to avoid paying the 10% of the total raised from our own pockets per day we were late, which could have become expensive pretty quickly!!
It was an awesome experience, I'm not in a particular rush to do anything like it again for a while because I'm still sore, but I'd defintely recommend it Adam! You can just plan/train as you go :P
Made it back in one piece and on time.