Lands End to John O'Groats!

English version of this page

Joff hat diese Tour als Training für seine Hochrad-Weltreise gemacht.
Hier sein wortreicher aber leider bilderloser Bericht:

Standing under the famous sign at Lands End in the poring rain had me bursting with anticipation, the ride to the other end of the country on my Penny Farthing was about to start. My first port of call was the village of Sennen which is the most Westerly in the country. Wheeling away from here the undulating landscape rolled me onwards between stone walls, guiding me down moss covered lanes, with a view out over a boisterous sea. The falling rain hadn't dampened my spirits, but it had made the roadway rather slippery, the long pushes up the hills were fine, coming down on the other hand was proving to be quite an exciting experience! Passing through the bay that is St Ives I rode onwards through the damp afternoon and ended up 55 miles from Lands End in the town of Trencreek, and placed my soggy self in my tiny Bivi tent. I bypassed the surfers paradise of Nequay in the morning, riding along the coast to Padstow which is a roller coaster ride of dips and valleys, producing somewhat aching muscles in most parts of my legs. Taking the small ferry across the water to the town of Rock, I wheeled onwards until a coffee stop was internally required. Leaning the Bicycle against the wall of a cafe, a good deal of interest was shown by the owners as I told them of the Penny and of my trip, to the point of not having to pay for my coffee, most generous indeed. My next port of call was the fabulous Camelford Cycle Museum, a wonderful collection owned by John and Sue Middleton, who treated me ever so well during my visit, definitely a "not to be missed" place on the itinerary of any End to Ender. I crossed the river Tamer and entered Devon which significantly for me was my first new county, on the tiny lanes I became hopelessly lost, and at days end knocked on the door of a farm house to ask permission to camp on there land. An hour later, full with coffee, I found myself sitting in a holiday chalet situated on the farms land, with all mod cons at my disposal, again most generously given to me for free. Some fine and splendid pulse inducing downhill wheeling was had in the morning from Bratton Clovelly , leading me around the narrow and steep lanes on the edges of Dartmoor. While foot riding up one of these roads I noticed some rather alarming cracks in the Penny's headset, the potholes and surface over which I had been wheeling obviously having taken there toll. One more downhill and I am sure disagreeable disaster would have occurred, which did make me quite happy to have spotted the problem. I stopped at the next garage and had them weld up the frame for me and also put in some reinforcement pieces, all again most kindly without any charge. Lost again in the afternoon I stopped outside the Beer Engine pub in Newton St Cyres and was instantly lured inside by fellow touring cyclists Rita Bryan and Paul Collins, where splendid conversation, food and ale set me up perfectly for the rest of the day. My day finished in a farmers barn, the bivi pitched on a bed of straw which I shared with a dead rabbit, and a most lively mouse, and owl. I crossed into Somerset on the next day, missing the photo at the sign as I was heading down a hill in the poring rain, so was quite unable to stop in time. Passing through Taunton and out onto the Somerset flats the miles were now really flying away beneath me, having crossed the M5 I saw ahead a lone figure walking towards me, from his appearance I instantly knew his occupation, and we both said "End to Ender" when we met. This walking fellow had been on the road for six weeks, ski poles in hand he was soon on his way, I guess not wanting to loose his rhythm. I passed the Glastonbury Tor on the horizon, pushing on now too Cheddar Gorge, I was disappointed with both the caves that I visited, one of them being especially tacky with wizards and goblins strategically placed all about. Taking the wrong road out of town I found myself with an hours footing up and over the Mendip hills, the benefit being the long freewheel back down the other side. The end of the day found me sleeping in a horse ridding paddock having again been plied gratefully with more food and coffee. I wheeled over long flat roads in the morning which bought me to the Avon bridge, this proved to be too steep to ride so I ended up with a fair push looking down on a mist covered river. Rolling onwards along my route after a few "getting lost" diversions I came to the Seven bridge which was to deliver me into Wales. The ascent here was happily quite shallow so I was able to ride to the centre and eat the celebratery chocolate bar I had been saving for the occasion of crossing into Wales. Passing by the the expanse of Chepstow racecourse, I wheeled onwards to reach the start of the lovely Wye Valley, miles I then rode following the course of the river, with my machine and I encased in the lush trees of the valley sides. The ruins of Tintern Abbey appeared out of the foliage, the imposing structure standing strong amongst well kept lawns, here I met an old South African fellow, still carrying ice cream on his lip from a previous meal. The peace of the Abbey seemed a long way from the troubles of his country, though looking at its ruined walls it has also seen a good deal of strife before finding its current state of peace. Monmouth appeared with a great deal of charm, and from here I was once again on the tiny back lanes, placing me amid a thick forest with only the sounds of nature and my gasping lungs for company. These were real 20 step hills, to explain, I could only manage 20 steps of pushing my machine and then would have to stop to regain my breath. The sun was now low in the sky as I left the forest and came across the wonderful Skenfrith castle, I had been gratefully directed by a lady in the forest to the home of Tony and Lorraine Webb, who's wonderful hospitality I enjoyed for the evening. The Webb family sent me off in the morning with a full stomach and a happy smile, this carried me to the start of what is locally known as the Golden Valley following the course of the river Dore. I wheeled down the verdant lanes to reach the lovely 14th century town of Pembridge, then crossing the river Arrow the heavens once again decided to open and treat me to another good soaking. By the time I had reached the remains of Hopton Castle thankfully the rain had stopped, and it was now time for me to do the same, calling at the local farm soon had me ensconced in a wheat barn with the bivi tied between a tractor and wooden pallet. The town of Bishops Castle appeared in the morning, the 13 century buildings all seemed unblemished by any modern structures, even the goods being sold within the shops appeared to be in keeping with the town, the townsfolk are obviously proud, and keen to keep it this way. The countryside now became a rolling greensward, the hills staying either side of me as I headed along the valley floor towards Church Stoke, and by lunchtime the flat wheeling had given me over 30 miles on the clock, so I stopped and treated myself to a good hours lunch as a reward. When the afternoon came I found myself lost once again, this time in the town of Oswestry, I stopped in a pub for directions and a girl by the bar set me straight. Unfortunately her confidence was not all that high, so she checked with a group of rather merry "old boys". We then had a mass discussion of about 10 very complicated routes, and so I had to surreptitiously leave them arguing as I wheeled away ! When the day ended I found myself in the White Lion pub in Wittington on the premise to ask permission to camp in there beer garden. The sea of friendly faces which met me was a real pleasure, and so I just sat and chatted for an hour, then Llew a member of the Ctc and fellow cycle tourist offered me with great generosity and kindness a bed and meal for the night. Llew sent me off with a lovely full breakfast inside in the morning which was most pleasant, a truly splendid fellow. The long and agreeably winding road then took me to the village of Beeston, here I met a family who were sure my accent was Cornish, but when finally giving in directed me up to the fabulous ruins of the castle perched high on a hill overlooking the surrounding lands. The next day I had planned to be one of few and easy miles, this to take me to Knutsford for the Sundays "Great Race". Unfortunately my other pedal crank decided that it also would now choose to break so the morning was spent going from town to town in the attempt to find a fellow with a welder. With this eventually accomplished I wheeled on Northwards and found myself in the afternoon arriving in Knutsford. I headed down along the highstreet and located the Penny Farthing museum and its owner and race organiser Glynn Stockdale. There I also met Nicky Armstrong the woman's Australian Penny Farthing champion who had just ridden 1200km across Germany on her Penny complete with trailer and large Penguin ! Here also was Robert Kniefacz one of the group of wheelmen from Austria I had met via the Internet who had just flown, and ridden in for the race. The race day on the Sunday dawned with heavy poring rain, and this theme it kept up for the rest of the event. The competition for the 76 riders was started by David Soul complete with blunderbuss, my stripped down Penny now feeling so light having shed it load. The first hour and a half of the race I had the leaders in my sights, but from this point onwards I started to struggle, and by two and a half hours I was dying in the saddle. As the clock wound round to the 3 hour mark it was all I could do to stay on my machine, I have really never been so close to passing out due to physical effort. At race end I had covered 42 miles in the 3 hours, the winners must have covered at least 50 miles, and I take my hat off to them as they were still going strong ! Nicky won the ladies section and very nearly won the whole event, coming second in the final standings. I think I probably came in the top 15 (there only being 15 solo riders, the rest were in teams) and Robert likewise finished in a similar position. The Knutsford race had been the most exhausting thing that I have ever done, but looking back, was a truly fantastic event, meeting so many wonderful fellow riders was a real pleasure and is something I will not forget for a long time. The next day I wheeled to the east of Warrington and immediately noticed a strong change into a Liverpool ish accent, and when only 26 miles appeared on my clock I chose to stop for the day as my weary body was still aching. Besides I bet none of my fellow competitors had been riding there machines the day after the race! As another first, my slumbers were spent in the Forman's office of an open cast coal mine, which thankfully was dry and warm. Arriving in Up Holland I felt it was time to retreat from the poring rain, stepping into a garage within five minutes of chatting I had a cup of coffee in hand and good conversation in mind. This set me up well for the ride onto Preston, coming into this city from the green highways and byways so far encountered did seem quite strange at first, the archetypal Northern houses standing out to my Southern eyes. I stopped in a cycle shop to buy some spare cotters, these again were given for free being the last of there stock. When I was out of the city I managed to once again become completely lost, and a severe lack of road signs also didn't really help the situation. Then a lady called Nancy stopped her car and asked what I was doing, then with a little cajoling she had me wheeling to the local primary school to show my machine to the children. Goosnargh Oliversons Primary School gave me a very warm welcome, and I gave a talk and answered lots of questions from the very lucid pupils, a quick spin for a demonstration around the playground, and I was out of the gate and once more on the road. The afternoon started to draw in, so stopping at a dairy farm I was kindly offered an old box trailer to sleep in, this was very fortunate as the rain turned into an incredible thunder storm overnight, which I was glad I wasn't camped out in. Lancaster came and went in the morning, surprising me as I had expected the city to be a good deal larger. After Lancaster Carnforth came and the scenery started to change from the rolling flatlands to stone walls and the start of the Lake district hills. As I edged my way towards Lake Windermere, mountains started to put in a very obvious appearance on the landscape, which also caused a good deal of footing to be used to climb this new beautiful spectacle. The sky had now come down from it accustomed perch, bringing with it copious amounts of water, the roadway now becoming a river which did seem quite strange to wheel through, and spotting and avoiding pot holes proved quite difficult. Streams running down to the lake formed waterfalls from all directions, the forest to one side and the lake to the other closed in and held me in its natural grasp. At Dunmail Raise I pushed for 3/4 of an hour to reach its summit, then downhill through the weather, for I was truly within it, the occasional cars lights showing me the way ahead even though it was only 3 o'clock in the afternoon. I finally came down into a valley and stopped at a hotel, here leaving a trail of water in my wake I stumbled in and hastily downed some revitalising coffee. I ended up having a splendid chat to two David's and there respective spouses, one of whom was David Dodsworth a well known artist. I also gave in and took a room in the hotel as the rain was still poring down in unabated fashion, and showed no signs of giving up. I partook in a huge dinner like breakfast in the morning which happily came free with the room and helped to justify sleeping inside for a night, and this feeling of being full set off again into the falling sky's of the day. I reached the A66 and then turned off onto a tiny lane which led to Mungrisedale, this was very muddy with short sharp climbs, and gates placed across the road around hidden bends to try and catch out the unwary wheelman. This nearly happened when a gate appeared at the bottom of a short hill, wet and muddy brakes not working, had me leaping from the machine as the only way to stop in time and avoid a heavy connection with the obstruction, the only witnesses to the near calamity being the many perplexed sheep by the roadside. Carlisle was reached just after lunchtime and I was extremely perplexed by how silent the city seemed, I crossed an old wooden floored bridge which is now part of the Sustrans cycle route, and performed a tricky negotiation of a cycle gate with the help of a lady cyclist. Once out of the city the wheeling was happily rather flat and at this moment I saw the sign which said "Scotland". Crossing into a new country is always special and this was no different, it is always something to be remembered. I pulled into Gretna Green and there waiting was a horse and carriage and full Scottish piper, though awaiting a wedding party and not me. Also visiting was Swassie, a larger than life character with handlebar moustache and only one leg, who was a fellow End to Ender, and had completed the trip in May in 44 days in his wheelchair, an amazing achievement. Wheeling west I arrived in the town of Annan, finding the campsite closed for the winter I was fortunate that a Penny Farthing sized hole existed in the surrounding fence which gave me access to the empty camp. When I passed through the town of Sanquhar I started to notice how many of the small towns seemed to be based about the one passing long main road, and were all constructed of inward facing single story houses. A headwind had been making itself felt during the day so I stopped in a tiny bar to get a revitalising drink. When I entered the smoke filled and dimly lit establishment the clientele fell silent, a few smiles and hellos later half were to be found outside checking if my story was true, and the other were treating me to free drinks! The new day started with a good hard ride over the rolling countryside up to the port of Ardrossan just as the ferry to the Isle of Arran was leaving. Thankfully I only had to wait a couple of hours for the next sailing, and with an hour at sea I was on the stunning Arran. This I felt was the Scotland of my dreams, glorious mountains rising up every way you looked, your only way into there hidden delights is via the Glens they have given you for this purpose. I fell asleep that night watching shooting stars, listening to a rushing stream, and breathing the freshest air you could imagine. In the morning I mounted my machine and wheeled along the East coast towards the town of Lochranza, the roadway initially followed the coast line then headed inland along the floor of another beautiful Glen. Here I had to start to footride for over an hour to reach the summit of the pass, as my height increased the temperature came down and so did the clouds to surround me. The small northern island ferry took me away from Arran, and I said a fond farewell to this lovely island. At the once prosperous Herring fishing port of Tarbert, I stopped and bought some stamps from a rather butch deep voiced lady who was in need of a visit to the shaving parlour, "she" then gruffly directed me to a pub where I could procure some Haggis. This I most definitely enjoyed even though I wasn't to sure of its contents. With the wind on my back I flew along the banks of Loch Fyne making a splendid pace, the rain then came again with a torrent, soaking me immediately to the skin, but strangely this I didn't mind as looking at the occasional dry cocooned motorist I felt that I wouldn't have swapped places with them for any amount of tea that China could supply. The new mornings mist kept company with heavy rain as I set out on the roadway, and the friendly wind of the previous day had changed allegiance to gust upon my face in an energy sapping manner. I then started a roller coaster ride through forested mountains with switchback bends taking me in all directions, craggy outcrops breathing life into the rushing streams which were my companions for the day, not so the few cars which passed, housing people shut off from the wind, rain and powerful beauty of the surrounding nature. While wheeling down one hill I rounded a bend to find myself enveloped by a group of smiling Germans. Cameras clicking and a lure of Glenfidish whiskey pulling me to a halt, a boisterous chat with these splendid fellows, and a swig of there bait helped me acquire the energy for the rest of the day! When reaching the pretty town of Oban the rain ceased its downward course as I had a coffee in a small cafe, In came a group of people who said they had passed me earlier in the day in the storm and thought that they had been seeing things! At Barcaldine I stopped and had some more coffee and biscuits with some people who were driving a camper van and had kindly thought I could probably do with the sustenance. There one legged dog then tried to get himself run over which was strange as you would think he would have already learnt his lesson. The rain outside and the condensation inside my bivi tent had made everything thoroughly wet by the morning, and the rolling up of the sleeping bag had to be done in the campsites loos to keep the mud away from the bag. The wind had thankfully changed direction overnight and now lay its gentle hand to my back, assisting me in my course for the day. I arrived at a rather steep inclination at Portnacroish and spent a goodly time pushing the Penny up and out of the forest, the scene before me when I broke the cover of the trees was truly superb. Looking out across Loch Linhe you could see a tiny island upon which Castle Stalker had been built, its solitude and defiance against the elements gave it great power and beauty. Stopping at a Fort William cafe for a celebratery coffee and Haggis, four old ladies entered and sat down. The shouted conversation consisted of the cost of cabbage and who's turn it was to go to the toilet, I even managed to meet the youngest one trying to find the oldest one in the gents! Following the roadway around to the start of Loch Lochy, I found myself sweeping down through the rain and mist to the shoreside, my machine still spinning well even after all the abuse that it had been subjected to. Along the banks of Loch Oich I then wheeled, and at the end you are able to then take a canal path on to Loch Ness, coming down the hill to the swing bridge where the pathway starts I was, as usual unable to stop because of the machines wet brakes. By the time I had come to a halt the barriers had come down trapping me within, the far side was closest so these I found my way around, and not wishing to wait for the boats to pass through took the empty road on to Loch Ness. When I reached the most famous of all the Scottish Lochs I looked and called but unfortunately no monster of the reptile kind answered my calls, though two Tornado jet fighters did suddenly appear and then were gone, as quickly as to be missed by any slow moving beasty photographer. The road surface along the banks of loch Ness were also causing a few problems, my tyre was finding the course tarmac rather rough, the constant vibration making spinning the wheel a good deal harder, and would probably make my teeth fall out if I wore the false variety. At Urquhart Castle a huge amount of construction work was being carried out and they had also placed a horrid modern unit in the grounds which looked totally out of place. I was approached by some gleefully happy people who while taking photos of my machine explained the reason for there glee. They had seen me a few days before descending a hill with legs off expecting an accident, I had apparently survived but they had missed the photo. So now they had proof of there story to take home, and thought it was even better than seeing the monster! Before reaching Inverness the two current broken spokes were joined by another so I stopped and replaced these by the roadside at the base of an enormous oak tree. I saw the Kessock bridge first off in the distance spanning the Moray Firth, then entered and left Inverness by the main route up and onto the bridge. Dismounting was the order of the day as a howling wind was blowing, which would easily take a wheelman to his watery grave as the guard rail was only just below knee height when mounted! The mornings ride out of Mulochy had me feeling the first disagreeably cold winds of winter on my person, and a stop had to be made to find my gloves as my hands had become quite numb. Heading for the Northern point of the Black Isle had me wending my footsteps for a goodly time up a large hill just outside the town of Fortrose, when this was completed my reward was given in a splendid freewheel down to the town of Cromarty. Upon arrival I discovered that the only ferry was now on winter time, and a wait until 4 o'clock in the afternoon would be in order. In some locations being marooned for a day would be rather annoying, but thankfully the Tea houses, Pubs and people of Cromarty made me feel extremely welcome for my days sojourn. At the designated time I set foot on the rusty and small ferry with some trepidation as the sea had now taken rather a brutish swell across its stage, the captain assured me that his vessel was unlikely to sink and 15 long minutes later I was happily deposited on the opposing shore. In Lower Pitcalnie I stopped in the B+B of Richard and Sabine Cross, who treated me with great kindness and warmth, I couldn't recommend this B+B more highly. The new morning found me wheeling along the surprisingly quite A9, and being surrounded by almost Essex like countryside proved no problem to the pace of my wheeling. The Dornoch bridge directed me safely across the ever so still and beautiful Dornoch Firth then on to the town of Golspie. Here my machine and I once more joined the line of the coast and its gently rising mountains, and were rewarded for our efforts with stunning views out over the North sea. When reaching the town of Helmsdale an enormous long climb appeared before me, the grade of which I knew would be impossible to ride and filled me with a certain degree of dread. Up and up I pushed for an age, and around every bend the roadway seemed to go on ever upwards towards the clouds. When finally the summit was gained, the way fell downwards in a wondrous decent, passing the sign for the Berriedale Braes I held my breath as this had been the location of many a cropper of wheelmen of past times. Down my wheel and I flew with brakes full on and fingers stinging while holding there levers, thankfully we arrived at the base complete and unscathed. A short yet very steep switchback series of bends then bought me back to the top of the mountains, and here the steering damper broke. This caused quite a commotion with the steering of the bicycle, nearly pitching me straight to the floor by the roadside. The only cure, bar a new damper, was to transfer as much weight to the front of the handlebars as possible to prevent the shimmying, this helped and at least allowed me to ride, although only with a great deal of caution. I took my departure from Dunbeath in the morning with a very jaunty machine beneath me, yet the excitement of possibly reaching my goal on this day had me ignoring the difficulty. As I wheeled onwards the miles ticked down to Wick, the cold grew colder and the wind grew stronger, yet I knew the only halt I was going to make during the day was going to be my final one. The signs in Wick, when I arrived, said 17 miles to John O'Groats. Each hill crested had me searching the horizon, then tormenting me the road gave more grades to push up, on we travelled and then finally a sign appeared, one that I had ridden a long way to see, "Welcome to John O'Groats". My machine and I had covered 1100 miles in 22 days, and we had loved every minute of it, roll on the world!

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