The day-to-day of cycling 1000 miles up the country
If you missed my adventure in September/October this year when I cycled the length of the country, here’s a summary of my Facebook posts during that time, plus a few extra bits I missed out en-route.
It’s the day before the adventure begins. I’ve packed up my trusty hybrid bike and having cycled through a beautiful autumnal London I’m now on the train down to Penzance.
This is where the excitement begins — less than 24 hours until the first of 1000 miles up the length of the country.
Monday 26th Sept : Lands End to St Day (32 miles)
And I’m off! With a very strong tail wind behind me and only a little bit of drizzle I’ve made it past Penzance where I stopped for lunch and I’m heading north towards Redruth.
It was wonderful to have such warm and friendly hosts last night. Their home was full of adventurers sharing stories and one might even join me for a leg today or tomorrow. That’s the beauty of adventure — you meet some awesome people!
However it did start to rain in the afternoon — a lot. For the most part that didn’t matter too much, until late in the evening when I started to get cold too. At that point it was time for a cup of tea!
Tuesday 27th Sept : St Day to The Eden Project (32 miles)
I’m now making porridge for breakfast before heading back out on the road.
While Cornwall may be endless, very steep, ups and downs when you hit the sea there’s no denying the calm that washes over you. The gentle crashing of waves and scenery that just makes you want to stop and linger.
I stumbled across this beautiful little cafe right on the sea front on my way to Portholland this afternoon. It turns out they don’t have cash machines on the beach (must remember to get cash) but luckily the welcoming lady running the Shallikabooky cafe took pity on me and let me have a cup of tea on the house. The kindness of strangers has been abundant thus far.
Once Malcolm, my morning cycle companion, had left me at the ferry crossing just south of Truro I got chatting to a retired lady who was also following National Cycle Route 3. Throughout the afternoon we would cross paths as, it turns out, the National Cycle Route has several different options at various points. I’m glad to say she reached her destination of St Austell in time for a home cooked meal from her hosts, despite a growing resentment of the Cornish hills!
This afternoon also involved a little section through some woodland that was particularly fun.
Wednesday 28th Sept : The Eden Project to Pensilva (25 miles)
Wednesday turned out to be all about wrong turns (which means double the hills!) and loosing the pannier cargo net I’d borrowed from a friend, which I was using to hold my tent and thermorest onto my rack. I lost over an hour looking for it in the morning before finally giving in and hitting the road with a makeshift replacement using a bungy cord someone lent me from their kayak.
Once it hit 5pm the fog and drizzle started. I had hoped to get closer to Tavistock that night but ended up about 3 hours away. I was directed to a local pub that couldn’t have been more welcoming. They might have only had one thing on the menu but it was huge and they even offered me their garden to pitch my tent.
Thursday 29th September : Pensilva to Sticklepath (37 miles)
When I woke up this morning the rain and high winds were still lashing my tent, as they had been all night. I rolled over and decided to only get up once the rain had stopped. According to BBC Weather this would be in around half an hour and as if by magic, a little snooze later and calm was restored.
I packed up and headed out down the country lanes as the sky began to clear and bright blue peaked through.
What a beautiful sight to mark the end of Cornwall — this river runs along the boarder. I am now officially in Devon, and have made it to Tavistock just in time for lunch.
The sun is out, it’s bright and warm, the perfect weather to hit Dartmoore after lunch.
Now the vertical hills have given way to a beautifully flat, well paved cycle route along an old train line through Dartmoor. The views were amazing and the ride was such fun!
That night I ended up at my friends in Sticklepath where I was glad for a warm shower and proper bed!
Friday 30th September : Sticklepath to West Monkton (60 miles)
Yesterday I started out expecting a down hill all the way into Exeter but unfortunately that wasn’t quiet the case. At one point I had an option between a flatter but main road, or a country road, which I was told was just one big hill and then down hill all the way. I made the mistake of taking on the fears of other people. I cycle regularly and am happy on main roads (not ludicrously busy ones but I don’t mind a bit of traffic).
I opted for the one big hill against my instincts and it turned out to be that hill plus a further 3, which was very frustrating. Add to that being tired and hungry and a big hug from my lovely friend Sarah was definitely in order.
Following a great catch up in Exeter I said good bye to Sarah and pushed on. The B road between Exeter and Taunton is great. Wide, quiet and relatively flat which all adds up to covering distance in an enjoyable way. Once in Taunton there’s a lovely cancel side cycle path that got me to the other side of the town where I had my sights on a pub in West Monkton. It was as far the other side of Taunton I felt I could get before dark that looked like it would serve nice food.
I love the feeling of rocking up to a pub and when I stumble in on my own with my panniers, handle bar bag, tent and thermorest, probably looking pretty bedraggled, the locals always great me with intrigue and a warm welcome.
It was no different at The Monkton Inn. Not only were the locals welcoming but the food was great and Peter the owner (on the left below) couldn’t have been more helpful. He let me pitch my tent in his garden, gave me a couple of bottles of water and even gave me a key to the pub so I could freshen up in the morning. The kindest of strangers is wonderful!!
Saturday 1st October : West Monkton to Bath (53 miles)
Saturday was a great day with a pretty flat start before a steep climb around the Mendip Hills, just north of Glastonbury, and then the longest downhill section so far into Bath — great fun!
Sunday 2nd October : Bath to Cheltenham (57 miles)
The next morning I was joined by the legendary Andy Bartlett who recently SUPed 3000 miles along the length of the Danube from source to sea. Before we set off for the day Emma who’d given me a comfy bed the night before in Bath, gave me a rose that made it all the way to our next sleeping spot — Andy’s parents house.
Sunday was one of busy cycle paths and glorious sunshine. What better way to round up the weekend?
*Also note my tent on Andy’s bike! It was a nice break to have him navigate and carry some of my heavy gear for 2 days.
Monday 3rd October : Cheltenham to Birmingham (57 miles)
Monday continued in a similar vein with amazing weather and lovely company. Andy and I stopped off at Halfords in Cheltenham for a quick chain check as mine was getting a bit squeaky.
The terrain between Cheltenham and Birmingham was low rolling hills, with a huge climb into the city. Birmingham is on one hell of a big hill and my bed for the night was seemingly on top of the highest point.
On the way my left knee really started to play up. It wasn’t keen on 8 straight days cycling without a break. As a result I reached my hosts a little late, but as soon as I arrived they had a lovely meal in front of me and even made me a cooked breakfast the next morning — lovely people who couldn’t have been more welcoming.
Tuesday 4th October : Birmingham to Red Bull (58 miles)
Tuesday was almost exclusively about canal paths. Small muddy tracks, grassy verges and the occasional smooth Tarmac section.
At one point my overwhelming fear of falling in the canal almost came true. A very low bridge coupled with a slippery track and a momentary lapse in balance culminated in me falling towards the water. Luckily I just managed to brace myself in time but my heart was in my mouth. I went pretty gingerly from then on.
One upside of canal paths is that they got me away from the streets of Birmingham. Ever since Andy left me the night before to head back to London, van drivers and general boy racer types driving aggressively seemed to be the norm and they even shouted out of their car window at me. And I’m not usually one to feel vulnerable on my bike. I’m quite comfortable cycling around London and don’t shy away from holding my own amongst traffic, but I was glad for a quiet escape route on Tuesday morning.
Another benefit of the canal path was that it gave my knee a good rest. I’d been well fuelled by Megan’s lovely parents providing me with a cooked breakfast that morning and I’m sure taking it easy combined with a plentiful supply of fry ups and cake will help my knees cope with another week and a half of cycling.
On Tuesday night I camped out at my third pub. This time I was pitched next to the canal which meant loud running water all night. It also seemed to be the place to hang out for the local youth who sat themselves down on the bench which I had locked my bike to. Lucky when I popped my head out to make sure they weren’t tampering with it, they scarpered pretty quickly.
Wednesday 5th October : Red Bull to Chorley (56 miles)
Wednesday was again pretty flat with the odd rolling hill thrown in. These are the kind of hills I like, where you can get up some speed on the down hill from one to push you up the next.
After my first ever puncture, not just on this trip but in the last 4 years with this bike, I comfortably arrived in Chorley by around 6:30pm. There’s a great off-road cycle path from Wigan, through forest and along wide canal paths that takes you all the way to Chorley with little need to navigate. That night I embarked on my first Warm Showers stay. My hosts, Andrew & Sheila, couldn’t have been more welcoming and it was lovely to hear about their cycle trips across the world over dinner.
The season is also now clearly changing as red tones have started to pepper the landscape. I do love Autumn.
Thursday 6th October : Chorley to East Marton (41 miles)
Thursday morning kicked off with a lovely visit to Anderton Primary School near Chorley. Their students were very enthusiastic about cycling and had a great time trying to lift my rather heavy fully loaded bike.
After that I had what I now feel is becoming a mandatory second breakfast. I weighed myself last week and it looks like I might have lost a stone already so I now feel obliged to eat everything in sight!
The terrain from Chorley north towards East Marton was increasingly hillier, the flat days are definitely over for now as I head towards the Yorkshire Dales. Despite this I wasn’t dreading the hills as much. They were more gentle going up and the down hill seemed to go on for much longer that the up hill so in the main they were pretty fun.
Friday 7th October : East Marton to Leyburn (35 miles)
Between East Marton and Layton on Friday, it was all about the 1 in 4 incline and beautiful villages.
The scenery was stunning and while I pushed my bike up the 500 meter 25% incline, the down hill was pure joy as I whizzed through the Yorkshire Dales knowing that a rest day was ahead of me.
Saturday 8th October : REST DAY!!!!
Saturday was my first rest day after 12 days of non-stop cycling and well over 500 miles in the saddle.
Boy was I tired. But after midday snoozes, a relaxing visit to the local waterfalls with friends and an early night I was ready to hit the road again.
Sunday 9th October : Leyburn to Newcastle (60 miles)
I expected Sunday to be my longest day yet and so I set off around 7:45am en route to Newcastle. Amazingly I got there by 4:30pm, a good 2:30 hours earlier than planned — only the second time I have ever arrived anywhere early on this trip. My hosts for the night, Andrew and Julie, were super welcoming, particularly given I’d asked to stay just 24hours before.
I have to say the friendliness I felt in Newcastle was lovely. Not only were my hosts wonderful but I met Emma and her colleagues from Campus North who showed me around and we had a great chat about what they’re up to. Check them out if you’re ever in the area. Plus a cafe owner let me store my bike and gear in his cafe while I went to stock up on warm clothes at Cotswold Outdoor.
Monday 10th October : Newcastle to Doxford (45 miles)
Buoyed by an unbelievably quick arrival in Newcastle, I left a little later on Monday which unfortunately meant a 2 hour ride in the dark to find my Warm Shower for the night near Chathill.
Country roads are not great for night riding. They may be free of traffic but it was almost impossible to make out the difference between pot holes, shallow puddles and mud despite having 3 front lights.
I eventually arrived around 9pm to a lovely warm welcome from Jonny and Jamie, with the fire roaring in the background and dinner waiting in the oven. On Tuesday I hoped to stop off at Holy Island after a recommendation from my friend Brian, and as it turns out Jonny helps run the Pilgrims Cafe on the island where they roast their own coffee.
Tuesday 11th October : Doxford to Dunbar (60 miles)
After a good nights sleep I head off on Tuesday morning to the causeway but unfortunately didn’t head across to the island as planned for fear of running out of time again and having to cycle in the dark.
Later that day I hit a land mark and made my way across the boarder — I’m now in Scotland!!!
Wednesday 12th October : Dunbar to Edinburgh (31 miles)
I arrived in Dunbar after an hour cycling in the dark, which validated my decision not to visit Holy Island. This time the night riding was smoother going with a cycle path taking me all the way into the town.
I camped out at my Warm Showers host last night as they didn’t have a spare bed and come morning I headed off for a short ride into Edinburgh.
It’s great discovering little independent cafes en route. The staff are often so friendly and interested to know about my journey. The Loft was a great cafe and bakery in Haddington. Clearly the most popular place in town with a delightful selection of cakes and a warm atmosphere. Perfect to hide away while the drizzle passed by outside.
I arrived in Edinburgh with plenty of time to spare for an afternoon stroll around the city. I met up with my Warm Shower hosts for the night, dropped off my gear and headed out to stock up on more warm clothes and some food.
Thursday 13th October : Edinburgh to Pitlochry (76 miles)
This morning I left Edinburgh and I’m on my way as far north as I can get before the light fades. It was drizzling on and off all day, alternating with bursts of bright sunshine. The road was smooth and the scenery beautiful. I made it to Pitlochry just as the sunset. I was feeling a little damp from the drizzle, although not soaked, and really didn’t fancy a night in the tent. Luckily I stumbled across a sign for a hostel which proved to be a wonderful place to stay for the night. They had a secure bike shed, a comfy bed and welcoming staff.
I have to say Pitlochry is very picturesque. Imagine a quintessentially British rural village. Pretty buildings, sparkly Christmas lights and quaint independent shops with coach loads of tourists seemingly in endless supply.
Friday 14th October : Pitlochry to Inverness (87 miles)
Friday was full on Tier 3 fun* — i.e. not fun.
The day started well. I’d covered 76 miles the day before and was feeling good about what would be my longest day yet at 87 miles today.
From the moment I woke it was raining heavily. I headed out around 8am and made good progress for the first two hours. The terrain was relatively flat and the road smooth. Despite being soaked to the bone I wasn’t feeling cold, yet.
An hour or so later after having taken a wrong turn that led to a steep, very long climb which I had to push my bike up for over half an hour, I was now freezing. As I pushed on to try to find shelter and some warmth, my hands went beyond numb to being painful just holding on to the handle bars.
As the path joined back up alongside the A9 I desperately prayed that just around the corner into the next valley there would be signs of live. As I came round the bend and nothing but empty wilderness stretched out before me I started welling up.
I’m not one to give in, and being in the middle of nowhere the only thing that’s going to get me to somewhere warm is to keep pedaling. After an hour of cycling on in the still heavy rain, crying as I went for most of that hour, I decided the plan had to change.
I came across a B&B who kindly let me in for a cup of tea by the fire. The rain showed no sign of stopping and I still had a good 60 miles to go in just 5 hours, plus I still hadn’t stopped shivering. It was then that I made the decision to get a lift to the station and get the train to Inverness where I had a hostel booked for the night.
Everyone I spoke to on the journey kept telling me how it was downhill all the way from that point to Inverness and that it hadn’t rained in ages. But today it was not meant to be. Sometimes you have to know when to give yourself a break and change the plan.
*Tier 1: having an awesome time and look back on it with fond memories. Tier 2: didn’t enjoy it so much while on the adventure but looking back, glad you did it. Tier 3: hated it while doing it, not glad you did it.
Saturday 15th October : Inverness to Invershin (56 miles)
After the heavy, non-stop rain on Friday, and with another full day of rain forecast for Saturday I made the decision to change my plans further and take a rest day.
Now into the highlands of Scotland and coming to the end of the hotel season, there wouldn’t have been anywhere warm for me to stay Saturday night, had I carried on in the rain. While I desperately wanted to complete the full length on my bike, the prospect of hypothermia is not a sensible or fun one.
Sunday 16th October : Invershin to Thurso (86 miles)
As I’d taken a rest day and there was no train directly to where I would have finished the Saturday leg had I cycled, on Sunday I decided to just cycle a loop up north from Inverness along Route 7 and back again, covering around 50miles. This is the start of the route I would have taken on Saturday and it was great to have done at least some of it.
I then jumped on the train north to Thurso where I joined back up with my planned route for the next day.
Monday 17th October : Thurso to John O’Groats (20 miles)
On Monday I jumped back on the bike for the final stretch and in the afternoon I made it to John O’Groats!!
It was awesome to have made it to the end, although I did have slightly mixed feelings. I’d really enjoyed the journey and discovering more of our country than I ever had before. It felt great to have come so far, but I was sad to be ending the trip and at the same time glad to be going back to a comfy bed and seeing friends at home.
In all I’d cycled around 1000 miles, over 20 days in the saddle, had 6 Warm Showers hosts, spent 4 nights camping, had 2 days with the lovely Andy and had a wonderful time speaking at Anderton Primary School. What an incredible journey it’s been!
I can’t wait to get out on my next adventure and see what I discover next.
I’d love to hear about your own journey, please do share them with me on Twitter and let me know how it went! @Fiona_LQ
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