Day 20 – We made it!!

Thurso dep

Here we are, raring to go for the last 20 mile push to John O’Groats. We forced ourselves to eat yet another massive cooked breakfast and somehow felt as though we had super-charged legs for the last stretch.

Leaving Thurso

As we left Thurso we picked up a fifth member of our team – a funny little German chap on a motorised bicycle who decided he was going to ride along with us to John O’Groats. He spoke very little English, let out a little giggle after everything he did say, and took it upon himself to stop with us each time we paused for a drink or to look at the view. Long roadOn the hills (of which there were more than we’d expected) he whizzed on past us, at one point laughing ‘Sorry, I’m going too fast’!

Sea view

Boats

At 7 miles out from John O’Groats, we just had ‘a lap of Richmond Park’ left to do, and the boys switched to turbo mode. We rode our socks off to get to the finish, and persuaded our friend Hans to take this photo after roughly 1005 miles.JoG 1:4

At the last minute we agreed we had to go to Duncansby lighthouse, which is the further east point, so that was another 2 miles on. The boys raced ahead, but at the final push they reached the gates at precisely the same moment. Jamie tried for a sneaky overtake but I pointed out that I’d been waiting for him up the last hill and it wouldn’t really have been fair….

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3 + bikes

Biscuit moment
Joe didn’t manage to finish his celebratory biscuit before the photo

Once we’d admired the view (lots of sea) from the lighthouse, we had to turn round and ride the 2 miles back to John O’Groats – that last hill almost defeated us and I genuinely thought I might have to get off and push – funny how the brain works. This is the picture that it was all about:

Final

We met the lovely Helen who had collected our car from London and driven it to John O’Groats to collect us. We were so happy not to have to make the ride to Wick (16 miles away) to catch a train home, and it was great to be able to put our bikes on the roof and drive away – all done!

We dropped off Helen and her son Gregor in Doune, then drove on to Linlithgow to stay with our wonderful friends Louisa, Pascal and Gordon. They had prepared an amazing feast for us to celebrate, complete with champagne and sticky toffee pudding. A truly memorable evening and a brilliant way to end an extraordinary adventure.

Totals: 25 miles, 1,114 feet of ascent; topples from a stationary position: 1; number of people laughing at the topple: 4; completed end to end cycle trips: 1 (1005 miles!!!)

Our route profile:Screen Shot 2016-08-06 at 10.19.13

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Day 19 – Scottish sunshine


Every day Jamie gets a text from this app from Viz; most of them are unrepeatable in polite company but this one is so apposite that I had to include it.

First of all I’d like to correct the mistake I made yesterday about the mileage – we actually rode 54 miles but due to the awful weather I managed not to re-start my recording device after the Crask Inn. 

Here are some pics Jamie took last night of our hotel and the walk at dusk – what you can’t see are the hundreds of midges.

This morning the weather was truly awful – heavy rain with a 20 mph wind from Iceland.  The good news about rain is there are no midges. So we left our hotel at 10.30 in the hope that it would clear up, but two hours on it was still horrible. We took shelter in a weeny church for a snack – hoping our devotions might change things for the better, but no luck. At some points I thought that if I stopped pedalling I would go backwards. 


24 miles on we arrived at Bettyhill, freezing and exhausted, and the Bettyhill Hotel saved us. We ordered hot chocolates, followed by lunch, and in the two hours we were there we were able to pretty much dry out. From there it was another 30 miles but the rain had stopped so although it was windy it wasn’t so difficult. 

 

Hill number 3 please

There were 5 hills to get over before we reached Thurso. None of them was too bad but the combination was hard. 

 The final county..

Dounraey nuclear plant. 


We arrived at our B&B around 5.30 to find that Mum and Dad had arranged for a bottle of champagne to be waiting for us! What a special treat that we all enjoyed, despite looking ( and feeling) a bit worn out here!

Totals: 54 miles, 2,871 feet of ascent; swearing about the Scottish sunshine: 4; corny songs to try cheering ourselves: 5.

Day 18 – North to the South

Sleepy headsFeeling rather exhausted at breakfast this morning I suggested that we might pack it all in and go home, to which Hamish replied ‘that would be unthinkable’. Instead we enjoyed another massive breakfast, including haggis and black pudding for some, scrambled egg and smoked salmon for me. The kittens in the garden provided entertainment as we ate.

Evanton church

Cemetry

Before we set off, we visited the ruined church beside our B&B (which was originally the manse). The cemetery included the Commonwealth graves of several WWII pilots – Ed told us that these were the ones who did not survive being given the controls of a plane after only two days of training.

Once we’d stocked up on snacks at the Co-op in Evanton, we were on our way again. The early morning mist cleared to produce some glorious sunshine and we were lucky all the way up to Lairg. Tain

At the top of the climb we met the support car for a tandem End-to-end couple, who have just started out from John O’Groats. We met the pair themselves half way up a seriously long hill that we were very happy to be going down.

Summit

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This was the view half way down – the others were going too fast to stop and look – as usual. At the bottom we found this unusual tardis.

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Soon we were heading into Sutherland – the “Southern Lands” of the Norwegian Vikings who had ruled this part of the Highlands from their base in Orkney in the 13th century. SutherlandWe stopped for a coffee at Ardgay village store, where I saw this poster for the highlight of the social calendar. My favourite bit is the fact that you might buy a duck just for the race.

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Lairg church

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imageThe route through Bonar Bridge and on to Lairg was gently uphill and quite easy for our seasoned legs. We stopped for sandwiches at the Lairg Spar before the long climb to Crask. That’s when the rain started.

We finally made it to Crask Inn, with much cheering because the rain had become ridiculously heavy. It’s in the middle of nowhere but the tea was hot and served with shortbread biscuits – of course.

Crask Inn

Crask view

The rest of the run was pretty much downhill with the rain easing slightly, 7 miles in to Altnaharra. There was a herd of rather elegant deer just outside our bedroom window, and venison on the menu.

Totals: 46 miles, 2,443 feet of ascent; midges: 723; raindrops falling on my head: 1,439,054 (possibly more).

Our route profile:

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We are here (blue dot) – the end is in sight!f5501985-c7ad-40b3-b71d-11fe62cead7b

 

Day 17 – the longest day

img_1057Last night we had dinner with our lovely friend Gill Mather who came from Kincraig to pick us up. We ate a delicious meal at the Boat House and we watched the sun go down over Loch Insh which was beautiful.img_1056

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ArdenThe lovely Norrie, from Arden House in Kingussie, recommended that we stay on cycle route 7 this morning, instead of going along the busier B road that we had planned. This was the source of a few grumps in some quarters because it made the route a bit longer but in my humble opinion it was well worth it for the gorgeous forest road we rode along, pretty much all the way to Aviemore.img_1065Castle

Once in Aviemore we tried to find suitable extra layers to keep us warm in the rapidly dropping temperatures as we head north, but despite there being 27 outdoor clothing shops to choose from, neither Hamish nor Jamie was able to find anything sufficiently stylish and functional. Joe and I are, on the other hand, now suitably cosy.

A few miles further on the boys were again racing to see who could get the highest speed downhill, so much so that they missed the views of Findhorn Bridge. It’s a good job one of us is sensible enough to stop and admire the view. img_1050

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The weather has continued to be amazing, despite most of the rest of the country experiencing torrential downpours. However I did notice that at one point the head wind was so strong that I had to pedal quite hard even though we were going downhill.

img_1067Tomatin was our chosen lunch stop – the boys didn’t think they could hold out for the 24 miles to Inverness and they did a good job of persuading us that they didn’t want to eat in a big city… Tomatin is clearly not a metropolis, but it does have a distillery and a part time church.

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More narrow cycle paths followed and after one particularly wiggly section I found myself getting intimately involved with some bushes, much to the amusement of everyone else. Luckily there weren’t any nettles or thistles.

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We had a couple of quite scary stretches of the A9 to contend with, but luckily there was a cycle path on the bridge across from Inverness, and the bridge over the Cromarty Firth, which was very windy.
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We’re staying the night at Kiltearn House in Evanton which is lovely. Ed and Nel who run the place have looked after us very well, even calling ahead to the pub to book a table for us (just as well because lots of people were being turned away) and giving us a lift up the road, as I didn’t feel I could manage the mile or so walk uphill. We did walk back home though and the late evening light was fabulous on the roadside flowers and the beach.Kiltearn house

Purple flowers

BeachTotals: 67 miles, 3,103 feet of ascent; grumps due to re-routing: 5; close encounters with bushes: 1; drops of rain falling on our heads: none; bridges crossed: 2

Our route profile: Screen Shot 2016-08-02 at 22.16.21

 

 

Day 16 -Highland uprising

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Another great day of weather – from the forecast it looked as though this is the only place in the country to escape the heavy rains; we have been extremely lucky so far, only one day of rain.

The route took us along some lovely cycle lanes, nearly always by the side of the A9, one of the most dangerous roads in the country, so we were very pleased to have only a half mile stretch on the road itself.

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We stopped for coffee in Pitlochry – a busy town, full of walkers and various holiday makers, and one of the most beautiful cappuccinos I’ve ever seen!

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The route was pretty flat for the next 10 miles or so, and after Blair Atholl it looked as though there were no more villages until mile 45 after the biiggg hill. So we stopped at Bruar to find some lunch. We were surprised to find an amazing food hall, the boys said it was Harrods-esque, where we bought pies, Scotch eggs and scones for a delicious if somewhat heavy lunch. As you can see, everyone had a lovely time, Jamie putting safety first and keeping his hat on.

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Fully fuelled, we felt ready to tackle the 20 or so miles of climbing up to the Drumochter summit. None of it was very steep but the path was quite stony and bumpy in places, and it just went relentlessly upwards. Finally we made it and then found that we were officially in the Highlands. The scenery was stunning and various wildlife completed the picture – bunnies, ponies and some lovely cows!

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From the top it was pretty much all downhill in to Kingussie, but still some stony paths to challenge my saddle sores. We whizzed past the Dalwhinnie distillery – I had expected a slightly larger town as home to such a famous distillery, but it is weeny.

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We stayed in Arden House, and were really well looked after by the lovely Norrie, who not only served us a wee dram on arrival (most welcome) but also hung out our washing in the late evening sunshine – what a star!

Totals: 59 miles, 3,044 feet of ascent; large blocks of solid sugar consumed (disguised as fudge and macaroon bars): 2; drops of rain falling on our heads: 3

Our route profile:

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Day 15 – The Fellowship of Fife

Our weekend hosts were fantastic. Katie and Kevin looked after us brilliantly, taking in their stride our many requests for washing machine, tumble drier, vast amounts of food, spare clothes, hair straighteners and even the loan of a handbag. We had a great time meeting up with all Jamie’s school friends and their families – a long boozy lunch yesterday was the perfect antidote to hours spent in the saddle. Raheela and Martin were also generous hosts yesterday evening and it was so lovely to see all our kids getting along as though they’d seen each other last week.

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Back on the road this morning, and we were joined at South Queensferry by Louisa, Pascal and Alan, which gave us all a boost.

Coffee

Here we are at the Rail Bridge cafe, where there was a crazy Harley Davidson meeting going on, which made our coffee stop a bit noisy!

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Before we set off Louisa showed off her fabulous Tour de France outfit, proving her cycling credentials.IMG_1015

 

 

We were excited (some more than others!) to see the new bridge that’s being built over the Forth, especially as there are currently some impressive gaps in it.

New bridge

Riding over the Forth road bridge was a bit windy but some fab views.

Two bridges

Crossing

Once we got through Dunfermline we rode along some lovely off-road paths,  and we took our time up the rather too numerous hills.

L & C

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We rode past Loch Leven and saw the castle in the distance (below), Louisa impressing us with her historical knowledge – this was where Mary Queen of Scots was held prisoner in a ‘toaty wee’ tower for almost a year, until she escaped in May 1568 (just filling in a few of the gaps Louisa, thanks to Wikipedia).

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Team

I nearly caught a rabbit in my spokes as we careered down a hill, whilst Joe and Hamish racked up an awesome (but extremely reckless) top speed (it’s that big number beginning with a 5…)

Speed check

We arrived in Perth around 3pm where it seemed that someone had organised a band to greet us. Alan very kindly treated us all to a late lunch, and we were joined by his wife Zoe and son Jamie.

Perth

After lunch we parted company and team Lister were just 4 again. Another 17 miles took us to Dunkeld, partly along the gorgeous river Tay  and through more beautiful countryside.

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The Royal Dunkeld Hotel was really welcoming but we declined their offer of dinner, still feeling full of lunch. Instead we foraged in the local Co-op and found golden syrup porridge and bananas – a very healthy supper!

Totals: 59 miles, 3,119 feet of ascent; max speed: 39.8 mph (me), 51.1 mph (Joe and Hamish), Jamie’s too cool to measure his speed…; Jelly Babies eaten: one whole bag, number offered to me: none🤔

Our route profile:

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Day 13 – Dash to the heart of Midlothian

We just loved our night at the Balmoral Hotel in Moffat. We had a little cottage in the stable block out the back and we were so well looked after. It also gave us the chance to do some much needed bicycle maintenance after the ravages of the rain yesterday.

The route today was the simplest one yet – the A701 all the way to Edinburgh, which is billed as ‘the scenic route’, and it certainly lived up to its name. The first 6 miles were uphill but our seasoned thighs weren’t too challenged by that.

Jamie was excited to see the source of the river Tweed…the rest of us just rode on by.

We were riding at quite a pace as we were all keen to get to Edinburgh, but the Laurel Bank at Broughton beckoned us in for tea and amazing Malteser cakes.

The views were fab all day but some of the road surfaces were shockingly bad, particularly for those of us with saddle sores. The roads through the villages were the worst, and it felt like a hundred little hills every hundred yards.

It didn’t seem too long before we were in the outskirts of Edinburgh and Arthur’s Seat was in view.

First stop was with our lovely friend Sara, who very kindly provided sandwiches, fruit cake and chocolate biscuits. Great to catch up with Sara and see her lovely place in Morningside.

Jamie was on a mission to get to Kevin and Katie’s and pedalled in double quick time, leaving me breathless at the back. The cobbled streets in the New Town were especially hard in the bottom department. Here we are going past Jamie’s old school, me having a grump because I couldn’t keep up. img_1002

On arrival in Blackhall Katie broke out the Prosecco and later in the evening, the takeaway curry hardly touched the sides.

Totals: 57 miles, 2,374 feet of ascent; flies swallowed: at least 5; dead flies fished out of my shirt: 8; saddle sores: some but not a dignified subject for discussion

Our route profile:

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