Wednesday 27 June 2012

Consett to Edinburgh

A big day ahead (little did I know) I set off at 7.30 without any breakfast (bad mistake) to cycle the 88 miles to Lauder.
The pattern was set straight away. A huge hill that went on and on and was so steep that I had to engage my 28th gear for the first time (but not the last) To say that the A68 is undulating does it no justice - it is seriously hilly.
By 10 o clock I was on the point of collapse. I really needed food but there were no towns or villages. I stopped a man getting out of his range rover who told me that the nearest shop was 5 miles back down the huge hill that I had just climbed in about 10 sections including several bursts of gear 28 or 14 miles further on.
I could have cried. I was getting close to knocking on a door to beg for food when I came to the sign for Sally's roadside cafe. 

 Sally was lovely. She could see that I was exhausted and passed me over her bar stool while she rustled up bacon and eggs and coffee and a large slice of "millionaire's shortbread" She asked me about my trip and said that she thought it was amazing. She refused to accept payment and sent me on my way with a warm glow.

After the next series of huge hills I was beginning to seriously wonder if I could reach the border let alone Lauder.

But at West Woodburn (huge hill down bigger hill up) I was able to stock up with bananas and an isotonic drink and the terrain finally began to flatten out a little. 

As I was resting at the top of one of the less flat sections a Chinese student from Nottingham appeared pedalling furiously in an insanely low gear. He was doing Lands end to John o' Groats the hard way - zig zagging his way up the country by way of the major cities ( he had come from Newcastle and was heading for Selkirk) We rode together to the border which lifted my spirits somewhat because he was finding it as hard as I was. 

The two mile climb up Carter Bar to the border saw the end of the serious hills. We took pictures at the top then he set off on the Hawick road and I freewheeled most of the way to Jedburgh (slight exaggeration but it was mostly downhill or flat) 

Suddenly Lauder didn't seem impossible any more. I stocked up on more bananas in Jedburgh and began to make such good time along a by now surprisingly flat A68 that I began to contemplate making Edinburgh which was signed at 49 miles. Home tonight? Was it possible? 

I made Lauder by 6 and decided to go for it - only another 30 miles. It didn't take long for my mistake to become evident. The sky got darker and darker and then the heavens opened. It wasn't the rain that concerned me particularly but my lack of visibility and vulnerability to the traffic. 
But I was making good time until I came to a set of snow gates. My heart sank. That could only mean one thing. 
A serious hill.
 It was!
 It was longer than Carter bar and just as steep.  Then the rain really began - it was sheeting down and beginning to make the road slippery. Help! I was still bowling along but I could scarcely see a thing. Maybe I missed a sign. Maybe there wasn't one but when I got to the end of the A 68 in torrential rain it joined straight on to the city by pass with no other outlet ( and bikes aren't allowed on the by - pass. the planners had helpfully made a cycle crossing so that cyclists could cross and retrace their steps. 
Five miles or so and I was back to Dalkeith. To say it was dispiriting is an understatement but nothing was going to stop me now. Through a slippy Dalkeith into Gilmerton, Liberton, Newington and finally Waverley Station.

I caught the 9.07 train to Ladybank and by 10.30 I was out of my dripping wet things and showered and safe and warm sipping a glass of red wine feeling  quietly satisfied that I had completed an epic journey with an epic last day.
To borrow the words of Steve Redgrave when he won his fifth gold rowing medal "If I ever again suggest riding on the A68 take me out and shoot me!"

Harrogate to Alensford (near Consett)

After chatting for longer than I had intended I finally set off at 8.15

There was a hint of wind against but nothing serious but the hills were a different matter. If I hadn't succeeded in not needing my 28th gear (walking)  to date I might have succumbed several times today.

To date I had mentally split the big hills into three and stopped for a rest after each third but today it was more like sixths or sevenths.

Still I was tent pitched showered and sipping a pint of Guinness in the Derwent Manor Hotel  by 6.30. I can't however pretend to be fresh for tomorrow - I 'm knackered - but we'll see what tomorrow brings.

A strong wind against and I don't think I can do it!

Was that a stray negative thought?

Barnsley to Harrogate

After a great night's sleep and a huge breakfast ( thanks a million Jodie and Stephanie ) Jodie, Stephanie and Elaine arrived and we went to collect my trusty steed from the other Barnsley Premier Inn (where they had kindly agreed to store it overnight).
After a round of photos and much well wishing I set off for Harrogate a mere 36 miles away.
"3 hours. What a doddle. It's like another day off."  I thought, foolishly as it transpired.
Immediately there was a series of huge hills and a tricky gusty strong headwind which slowed progress and made the downhill sections treacherous, as the gusty wind caught the bike and pushed it across the road.

Not an enjoyable trip to Harrogate  but Susan and Geoff made up for it with their friendly welcome and excellent hospitality.
I felt immediately at home with them and the reality lived up to expectations created by our e mail correspondence.

We watched England tiptoe out of the European Cup.  Susan kindly rose early to make breakfast and see me off and Geoff added his support.

Susan suggested that I left what I didn't need anymore and they would transport it home for me so I left more than I kept including all of my under utilised cooking paraphernalia which should help with the big days ahead.

Saturday 23 June 2012

Barnsley - " are ye alright??"

The day dawned bleak and with an angry sky but it was to be a good day.
I contacted Jodie and after a brief mix up over hotels I left my bike with the very helpful staff at the Premier Inn in central Barnsley and went off to meet Jodie at the station ( travel interchange )
We went to meet Elaine and Mel (Jodie's great aunt and uncle ) who were lovely and very welcoming. John and Alistair (two of Dave's friends from London were arriving for lunch along with Stephanie. Lunch was an easy going affair with lots of laughter. Elaine did us all proud.

We then went for a walk in the nearby Wentworth estate which was lovely and remarkable for the fact that the whole village was painted green ( doors, gutters etc)
It was like being on a film set - a bit surreal. Then a pint was enjoyed in the sunshine (which hadn't seemed remotely possible at the start of the day.)

We said goodbye to Alastair and John who had their own things to do and we were joined for dinner in the Elephant and Castle in Tindlebridge,  by Margaret and Steph (another Steph) It was dinner with a swing and whilst the singer wasn't Michael Bublee he was certainly entertaining.

I was embarrassed when Jodie had him announce why we were there but the pub owner put a bucket on the bar and by the time we left nearly £100 has been added to the fundraising total.

It was a good night which ended well for me when I collapsed into a soft warm Premier Inn bed.

Off to Harrogate tomorrow to say G'day to our Australian exchange partners Susan and Geoff.

Dry please!

Friday 22 June 2012

Coalville to Barnsley

I have finally made it to Barnsley.
Although I put on a confident air I was never entirely sure that I could do it particularly with the time restriction. It is a strange feeling because this is only goal 1 I have still to make it back to Freuchie by Wednesday afternoon.

Today has not been a fun ride. It has rained nearly all day and this afternoon a dangerously gusty strong wind got up making each of the many descents tricky. Through the centre of both Derby and Sheffield was never going to be easy (but there was no realistic alternative)

The entry to Derby was exceptionally busy and then I saw the horse drawn hearse and the crowds of onlookers. At the time I thought that it might have been the funeral of  a soldier from Afghanistan but it turned out it was the six children who had died in a house fire.

Sheffield was horrible! The road surfaces were appalling and the drivers behaved as if they had never seen a bike before - perhaps they hadn't because there were no bike lanes and precious few allowances for bikes.

The road from Sheffield to Barnsley was steep and horrible made worse by the sign that announced that I was entering Barnsley fully 6 miles and several very steep climbs before the town centre.

Putting up a tent in this weather was out of the question so I have allowed myself the luxury of a Premier Inn room for the night right in the centre of Barnsley. The receptionist was excellent and suggested bringing my bike up in the lift (4 floors up from the car park) and she stowed my bike and gear  in a spare room next to reception.

A hot shower beckons and then off to explore Barnsley - centre ville..

Thursday 21 June 2012

Oxford to Coalvile

It rained all night again and yet again I packed everything away wet.

It was a foggy, drizzly, murky morning as I set off towards Oxford centre. I had decided that it would be easier to go through the centre than to do battle with the lorries on the ring road.

At the first set of lights I stopped alongside a guy with a rucksack on his back. I asked if he was going in or through and was pleased when he agreed to let me follow him through the centre. We got chatting and he was heading for Bicester - a 75 minute commute. Mutual respect was established and I see tonight that he has donated on the web site. Thank you very much!

It (the weather) gradually cleared up over the course of the morning. The day was uneventful but the road was very busy and I had to maintain my concentration. My lovely Brooks saddle which had gradually become too soft had got wet overnight and was in need of attention ( I didn't have the right tool). In Southam I came across a local bike shop so I stopped to see of they could help. The boy in the shop said that his mum was riding London to Paris for charity next week so I was able to sponsor her as payment for his help. He turned the screw at the front of the saddle which stretches the leather and makes it firmer.

My seat is now as good as new. On to Barnsley tomorrow and the weekend.

Wednesday 20 June 2012


I awoke to a beautiful sunny morning - the tent was roasting. It must be at least 10 I thought but it was only 6.30! Up and at 'em by 8, I took the bus from the park and ride which was  immediately outside the campsite.

Everywhere you turn in Oxford there is some gothic spire or some medieval tower. The students just take it for granted but the Japanese tourists were all over it like the bridge on the river Kwai.(not very pc I know)
 I strolled, I took a few photos I strolled some more - frankly I was starting to get bored(you can have too much of a good thing) when I noticed a huge amount of security around and an inordinate number of police.
I asked one of them if Oxford was always like this. He explained that it was a special graduation day and that Aung San Suu Kyi was being presented with an honorary degree. I decided that this piece is serendipity should not be wasted so I took up my place in the waiting hordes to try to get a glimpse of this famous lady.
I was rewarded a few minutes later with a beaming smile and a fabulous demonstration of serenity and dignity amid the pomp and splendor of the parade.

The crowd cheered whenever she raised her hand to wave and it was evident that the crowd was gathered for only one purpose. Some animal activists had tried to hijack the event for their own publicity but they were drowned out by the cheering for the diminutive Burmese lady. It felt a touch Orwellian to see the police videoing the animal rights protesters who sounded more like debaters than activists.

On the way back I enjoyed a pint at the Head of the River which I recognised from Morse.

I decided that punting could remain unexplored.