Monday, 30 July 2007
The ground was very damp when we got up, but the rain had passed and the skies cleared quickly.
Sunny weather, not too hot, just right for cycling.
Sadly Len and I had to turn back here, because of other commitments, with Lands' End so close.
Although Somerset remained level, the hills became frequent and steep in Devon. The party camped overnight at the Betty Cottles Inn on the Tavistock Road outside Okehampton.
Photos show the boys pushing Bertha out of the mud, their departure from the Cornish Touring Park in Taunton, and finally Len and Sue Hutton posing with Adele and Harriet Jarrom and Harriet's friend Charlotte, outside Sainsbury's at Taunton - the support handover.
Another easy day with less than 40 miles to Taunton, but on a busy Saturday in the summer on the A38.
The M5 was congested so a lot of traffic took the alternative route.
No hills to speak of and a smooth ride into Somerset.
It was different with the camper van. The Alternator V-Belt broke as we were leaving the drive of the Brook Lodge Farm campsite, and we spent the next hour awaiting the Green Flag man in a layby a mile distant where Timothy's Breakfasts served up the best ever eggs and bacon.
Fortunately, Derrick, who had sold me the camper van, was very thorough, and had put a spare belt in the back. Thus the van was fixed rather than having to be towed to Taunton and await repair on the Monday.
The Cornish Touring Park at Taunton is excellent. Both Adele, who was taking over from us as support, and the boys had arrived before us. Rain clouds were gathering as we pitched camp.
Looking for good food in the area? Look no further than the White Hart Inn in Corfe. The food is tremendous. Freshly cooked just for you.
Paul Wicks joined us again and treated us all to dinner. Thank you Paul!
Photos show lads about to depart from Brook Lodge Farm campsite, Bertha being put on a towing vehicle, Bertha being repaired in a layby and all of us pitching camp at Cornish Touring Park in Taunton.
This was an easy day. With less than 30 miles in prospect to the next destination, the lads were more relaxed, and didn't leave until close to 1 pm.
The rain had cleared. Again, it was cloudy but dry.
Taking back roads, we arrived at the Brook Lodge Farm Touring Site opposite a Holiday Inn on the A38 just south of Bristol Airport.
A brook at the edge of the field had overflowed on to the lower levels the previous day, but had returned to normal levels even though it was silt-laden and flowing fast. We were asked not to take the camper van on to the grass, and so were cramped on to what little gravel we could find. Even though the boys were given pitches on supposedly dryer ground, it was distinctly damp.
Good food at the Stag and Hounds Inn in Churchill with two-for-one meal deals just down the road.
Photos show Josh Knowles with his Grandma and Grandad, the departure from Chipping Sodbury, and all the boys with the Knowles family.
It rained overnight. The forecast had been for rain, and I hoped that it had been and gone. But I was wrong. The weather set in around 9 am and the rain became heavier and persistent.
Hopes that it might pass were in vain, as John struggled with mending a puncture beneath the shelter outside the Youth Hostel. The Hostel had once been part of the old Priory buildings, and original stonework is still visible in one wall. In the nineteenth century, it had been a workhouse.
The boys set off in heavy rain for Gloucester, which had suffered serious flooding less than a week previously.
Len and I drove forward, enjoying a very substantial and high quality lunch at The Beauchamp Arms at Dymock, a community owned pub. Ominously, a road here was already closed.
Once we arrived in Gloucester and missed the first turn to Stroud over the Severn, we turned back only to find that the police had closed the road in the interval. Not even the A417 from Ledbury was open. We urged the boys to press on through the rising floods on the road from Leominster.
The Tesco loos and cafe were closed in Gloucester because of the lack of water. A pumping station had been flooded.
But they got through eventually, and found the road to Stroud joining the A46 south to Chipping Sodbury northeast of Bristol. This was not an easy road. Lots of climbs and steep sections. At least it stopped raining in the early part of the afternoon.
Len and I went before to meet Josh Knowles' Dad, Mark, at Chipping Sod. Forewarned, he built up a huge log fire in front of which the lads could warm themselves and dry their clothes and shoes.
A huge barbecue appeared which was totally consumed. Thank goodness for parents!
Photos show John mending a puncture, departure from Leominster, flood on road to Gloucester, The Beauchamp Arms, and a water bowser in Gloucester.
Although not particularly sunny, the day was bright and dry. Tom had to remain behind with Len and me, while we went in search of a new bike.
There wasn't a suitable bike in the shop at Whitchurch, but the proprietor recommended Stan Jones Cycles in Shrewsbury.
We were also unsuccessful in getting the washing done. There was no laundry on the Prees campsite, and the launderette in Whitchurch closes on Wednesdays.
George, John, Josh and Josh set off while we were away, so I have no group photo of them for this day, but Len and Tom posed at the gate before our departure.
Tom picked out a bike but we had to wait for his Dad to arrive from Cheltenham with the cash to pay for it. Little did we realise how difficult the roads were, after the torrential rain of a few days previously.
While we were waiting, Tom discovered the art gallery and museum across the road from the coffee house accommodated in William Rowley's magnificent Elizabethan timbered house. Rowley had also added a very substantial brick house next to the timber dwelling. Len and I went over there too. The displays could do with a bit of revival. I was looking for the Geology of Shropshire which I remembered from my first ever Physical Geography field trip based at Church Stretton, but the descriptions were too brief and not local.
On the other hand, I was very impressed with the remains retrieved from the Roman town of Viroconium at Wroxeter, just five miles east of Shrewsbury and have resolved to go there when I can. Viroconium was the fourth largest Roman city in Britain and was probably established as a military base on a route leading to Wales.
We didn't set off from Shrewsbury until almost five pm and discovered that the rest of the party had arrived at Leominster Youth Hostel before we had. This was a good hostel with the usual cooking facilities, a laundry, which saw heavy use night and morning and a free wireless network for the Internet. Everybody gathered round my laptop that evening to check their email.
Photos show Tom and Len at the gate to the Green Lane Farm campsite, Tom choosing a bike at Stan Jones Cycles in Shrewsbury and the swollen waters of the River Severn flowing beneath the Welsh Bridge.
It was a sunny day mostly. An undulating ride, with no really sharp hills. The route took the boys out of Preston via Wigan and Warrington, into Shropshire close to the Welsh border at Whitchurch and on to the Green Lane Farm campsite.
There'd been more rain here in the previous week and it was squelchy underfoot in places. There was a new toilet block with large showers. A Grandma and Grandad had brought some of their grandchildren for a few days's camping, and they seemed to be the only others on the site. The kids were excited at the prospect of some company.
There was a play area, football net and basketball hoop.
The lads turned up at 7pm. The cross bar on Tom's bike had sheared shortly before their arrival, making the bike unrideable.
We were too late for the food at the Raven Inn, where the kitchen had just shut at 8.30 pm, but Peppers, the Indian restaurant next door proved a thoroughly good substitute.
Photos show the departure from Preston, a large Wendy house at the Prees campsite and John relaxing on a swinging chair at the campsite.
Kendal Youth Hostel serves a good breakfast as part of the price of the overnight stay, and we were able to cook a good meal in the evening.
Kendal was the first place since John O' Groats where I was successful in getting a photo off to the local press via the Internet. Full marks to Kendal Library, housed in the red stone Carnegie Library at the end of the high street.
The one way system is difficult, and Kendal mint cake is not on offer as much as I thought it would be. We bought bars for everybody when we finally found a shop.
Weather continued cloudy, but dry, and cheered up by the afternoon. From Kendal, the lads joined the A6 once more and travelled south through Carnforth and Lancaster to Preston.
They avoided the infrequent heavy showers, one of which caught Len and me while we were waiting for John Kay, a colleague from Oman, at Levens House, just south of Kendal. We went inside and had a good lunch in The Buttery.
The Royal Umpire Caravan Park at Croston gave them a warm welcome and a free pitch, as they were riding for charity.
It was a bit wet under the tents and the washing didn't get dry by morning. The good news was that there was a 2 for one meal deal at the restaurant over the road, and the restaurant at the hotel next to the campsite, had free wi-fi in its public rooms. So Len and I had a very nice and reasonably priced steak each there while checking our email.
Photos show departure from Kendal Youth Hostel on Highgate, the Carnegie Library and the boys' arrival at Royal Umpire Caravan Park southwest of Preston.
Starting bright and becoming sunny and warm. The campsite at Hoddom Castle, on the shores of Annan Water, is large and well-established. There's a restaurant and a bar and a games room.
Our pitches couldn't have been further from the toilet block and showers!
Mary Queen of Scots was a friend of the castle owner in the sixteenth century, according to the free history booklet which you can get at the shop.
The route continued gentle and undulating over the border to England (hooray!) and beyond Carlisle and Penrith. The village of Shap lies at the foot of a steep climb to the edge of the Lake District.
The ascent to Shap Summit took the boys no longer than half an hour. They accepted the reward of doughnuts with alacrity, arriving at Kendal Youth Hostel within the next hour.
Photos show the boys ready to set off outside Hoddom Castle, a landscape looking east from Shap, the ascent to the summit and the boys enjoying their doughnuts with Len and Paul Wicks, who caught up with us there.
Clear if overcast. This was a lovely day for cycling. The rain stayed away, the roads were gently undulating at the most, and there was a good cycle path for most of the route.
New Lanark Youth Hostel occupies part of the Mill complex in the New Lanark World Heritage Site, sponsored by Unesco. Started by David Dale and Richard Armitage in the late eighteenth century, Robert Owen, who married Dale's daughter, and was an esteemed mill manager by the age of 20, cast his shape on the site in the early nineteenth century.
He treated his workers fairly and established a school for the children, in which no harsh punishment was allowed. He believed that to treat children kindly was to foster the better parts of their character.
Notably, New Lanark is the home of the foundation of the Cooperative Movement. Many mill owners used to provide shops for their workers, but usually over charged. Owen ensured that prices were fair.
You can see the various mills, the Clydesdale Falls just upstream, the weir, the water mill, the school and Robert Owen's house.
The boys had to walk their bikes uphill. The hills descending to the Clyde were very steep.
The photos show the boys outside the row of houses in which Robert Owen lived, with the school behind them, a mill, the Clydesdale Falls, and a stop in the village of Abington where they had their lunch.
Grey start, but the rain kept away as the route took us all past Loch Lomond. Len and I met up with Paul and Mamie Glachan at The Tarbet Hotel for coffee.
This proved to be the hardest day of the journey. The lads had to negotiate Glasgow on their way south.
We'd found a map of the cycle route running alongside the north bank of the River Clyde on a website sponsored by Glasgow City Council, but first of all, nobody could find the access point, then the route was disrupted by unclear diversions, and then both Tom and Josh Wicks suffered punctures.
Once they did get clear and on to the A72(?), the road was hilly and windy. They didn't get to New Lanark Youth Hostel until after 10pm, but we had a meal waiting for them, and at least they didn't have to set up their tents.
Cloud had covered Ben Nevis overnight, but there was no rain as the lads set off up Glencoe and over Rannoch Moor. They all agreed that the continuous climb was the hardest part of the ride so far.
Spectacular scenery, bathed in dappled sunshine.
Meanwhile, Len had succeeded in contacting his friend and former student, Keith Hoole, who was spoken of highly by the manager of the Lochy Holiday Park, since he had advised him on the extension of the wastewater system from the caravan park. Keith had retired from the Water Department a year previously, but now finds himself Project Manager of Lochaber Geotrails for those interested in viewing the amazing geology of the Highlands. There are loads of trails and leaflets, so contact Keith's office if you're interested in following the trails. Or pick up leaflets at the Tourist Information Centre in Fort William.
I continued to be frustrated at getting a photo of the boys at the John O' Groats start line off to the local paper. Internet cafes won't let you download anything on to the hard drive, in the understandable fear of contracting a computer virus or worm, and the webmail refused to send any file over 1Mb in size. Keith let me try using his office, so I was at least able to transfer files over the hard drive, but I still hadn't understood the file size limitations of the web mail.
Keith reckoned that we had reached the most westerly point of our trip at Fort William.
The sun even came out as we crossed Rannoch Moor, and I would have loved to get out of the van and take photos, but we had stayed a long time in Fort William and were anxious to catch up with the boys, which we finally did eight miles short of Beinglas Farm, Inverarnan.
We camped overnight in two wooden wigwams at Beinglas Farm which lies on the West Highland Way, an old drovers' road, just north of Loch Lomond.
Beinglas boasts a campers' shelter where you can cook, and also a licensed bar and restaurant. Full English breakfast in the morning was excellent. They even sell midge head shields for walkers in the campsite shop.
Grey and overcast to begin with, but the sun finally came out and it became warm.
The road to Fort William followed the western shore of Loch Ness and Loch Lochy, where the boys jumped off their bikes to skim stones across the water.
We passed the Caledonian Canal, which links Loch Ness with Loch Linnhe, at Fort Augustus, and by the time we reached Spean Bridge which boasts the Commando memorial, we were all in full sunshine. Ben Nevis, standing above the Lochy Holiday Park campsite, stood clear of cloud.
We recommend the Lochy Holiday Park at Fort William. Good, well-organised facilities.
17th July 2007
Overnight rain had passed although it was damp for the departure from Helmsdale at 10.30am.
Len and I managed to leave earlier too, since the hostel closes at 10am. Youth hostels, as I had pointed out to George, are not hotels. You're supposed to get out earlier and go do that walking or cycling that you'd planned to do.
We stopped at Dunrobin Castle, the ancestral home of the Earls, and later the Dukes of Sutherland, on the Sutherland coast. Our impression was that the family had been closely linked to royalty throughout its history. The Duke in the nineteenth century was said to be very keen on machinery and even drove his own steam engine. Was this the same man, or his father, who was responsible for much of the Highland clearances? Deserted crofts dot the landscape of northeastern Scotland.
The sea lies beyond the main wall of the garden, and two beautiful formal gardens, one of which is a rose garden, are carefully manicured. We watched a falconry display on the lawn, with Goldie the eagle and a large Harris owl and a falcon. The speaker explained the different modes of hunting of each bird and had them flying close over the heads of the audience. Hunting birds were reared and used all the time before guns became reliable, but have fallen out of favour since. Falconry is still a sport of royals though, in the Gulf sheikdoms of United Arab Emirates.
After lunch at the castle, we motored on, bickering a bit about how long we should stay at the Glenmorangie whisky distillery near Tain. Len was anxious to overtake the boys who had made good headway the previous day, so we compromised and I was able to go and buy some 18 year old Glenmorangie from the shop.
As it happened, the lads had already slackened their pace and we overtook them on the A9 before Dingwall, where there was yet another Tesco to stock up on bread and milk. Beauly (Beau Lieu), west of Inverness, was our destination for that night, at the Lovat Bridge campsite
There were some beautiful views of lochs and forths on the route. Two heavy showers drenched the boys again before they arrived at the campsite by the end of the day.
The campsite was basic, but set by a fast flowing river and very scenic. The boys were told off for trying to use the games room. Why does a group of 17 year olds strike panic into the hearts of people? We did manage to wash and dry all the clothes in a local launderette, which meant a good start for the next day in dry clothes.
John, who had lost his wallet on the road earlier on, reacted badly to a balti curry taken in town. Not a very good day for him.
July 16th 2007
Weather overcast as rain theatened from the south. Departure finally at 10.30 am from the Start/Finish line outside the Groats Hotel. We didn't use the signpost for which there is a charge for photography. The signpost is removed by its keeper each day at 6pm to prevent illicit snapshots.
From left to right at the start line: Josh Wicks, John Jarrom, Josh Knowles, Tom Chambers, George Hutton.
After Len and I had finished packing Bertha, and taken a few sneaky photos with the signpost in the background we got underway too, stopping at Duncansby Stacks very near John O' Groats. These are two formations similar to the Old Man of Hoy on Orkney, in layered Old Red Sandstone. A lighthouse stands at Duncansby. We took the footpath to see the stacks passing an incredible seabird nesting sanctuary. Fulmars, gulls, cormorants and even puffins can be seen nesting at different levels down the cliffs.
Down the road from the huge, new eco-Tesco at Wick, we stopped off at the Caithness Cheese production point, a small dairy where a man and a woman make the cheese from whey and compress it in cylinders. Herbs and spices are added to the curds by liberal shakings from Schwarz catering products. We tasted some of the fresh cheese and bought 3 mature ones. A four year old boy standing outside in an oversize sweater proved very pleased to see us. It's rather deserted up there. As the old man said, there's no jobs and the people have to go away. But the social security is good!
They bemoaned the new Tesco. The small shops that used to stock their cheese locally for sale to tourists, were finding it hard to make ends meet as a result of the competition from the new store. They were going to have to find other marketing outlets for the cheese. Government regulations meant that they couldn't use all the spare milk to feed the calves and a lot has to be thrown away.
Dark clouds had been threatening all morning and heavy rain began to fall halfway between John O' Groats and Helmsdale, so we were all pleased to get to Helmsdale Hostel.
Helmsdale Hostel is now independent and has been refurbished by an enterprising lady called Irene Drummond. She had heard that the Scottish YHA intended to close it, when it would have been pulled down and the land used for building flats. The place has character.
Don't believe anything you might hear from the Scottish YHA about the hostel being closed. It is well and truly open and hospitable.
The lads were soaked by the time they reached the hostel at 3.30 , but Irene had stoked up a roaring log fire, the beds in the dormitories were made, and there was an amply furnished kitchen with settees, books, games and a very large table to sit and eat and or talk. Which we did, with Jamie and Tim who were biking the other way and expecting to finish at John O' Groats the next day, and with Ian, who had been panning for gold in them thar hills.
Two en suite family rooms are also available.
We found a tremendous and possibly unusually furnished restaurant in town called Le Mirage. Look out for the mixed grill. Photo shows the guys consulting the menu beneath a pink fringed umbrella!
Every year, an unspecified number of people get the urge to cycle, or walk, or just generally travel from Lands' End at the southwestern most tip of Cornwall in UK to John O' Groats in Scotland, the most northeasterly settlement on mainland Britain.
George, John (who celebrated his 17th birthday the day after his return), Josh, Josh and Tom, all 17 year old students at Hind Leys College in Shepshed, decided to do it the other way around, from John O' Groats to Lands' End since they reasoned that it would be like going downhill.
All the advice is that you should start in the southwest and travel north, since you are likely to get the prevailing westerly winds behind you, a real boon in Devon and Cornwall, but this didn't deter the Famous Five. Hence, John O' Groats to Lands' End: JoGLE.
I'm not quite sure how the idea emerged to cycle the JoGLE. Requests began in April for new bikes and tents in order to do the trip. Two lads, John Jarrom and Josh Wicks want to go on a Conservation field trip to Honduras with the school next year and each need to raise £2000 to cover their costs, so I suspect that the JoGLE was proposed as a fund-raising idea. As for George Hutton, Josh Knowles and Tom Chambers, the challenge was the thing. They chose to direct their fund-raising to Cancer Research.
They were influenced in this choice by the fate that had befallen one of their former team mates at Loughborough Rugby Club. Tom Walker developed a very aggressive sarcoma in his right upper arm last year and had to have the arm and the shoulder blade amputated shortly before Christmas. Sadly, the cancer had already spread to his lungs, and at the time of writing, the prognosis is not good.
On a much happier note, their schoolmate Alex Tranmere is in remission from cancer after chemotherapy.
If you would like to donate online, the website address is http://www.justgiving.com/joglers
It's one thing to decide to undertake the JoGLE. It's quite another to get it underway.
Although it had been a matter for discussion since April, none of the boys seemed to have sat down and planned the route and what they would do about accommodation on the way.
I gave George an ultimatum in mid-June when I went away for a weekend. Have the route planned out by the time I get back, with stopping-off places, or the JoGLE doesn't get underway. He did. It did mean that I had to spend three days on the phone booking hostels and campsites, but that was something that had to be left to me, because campsites are extremely wary about giving space to all-male parties, especially when they're under 18. It was the last three stops that had to be changed, because one hostel was full, one campsite refused to take the party full-stop, and then Adele, John's Mum, got this terrific offer of Embla farm to R&R on.
In late June, parents met to oversee the plan and to organise everything needed for the journey. On the weekend of 14th-15th July 2007, everyone travelled north. George and John rode with Len and Sue Hutton in the support vehicle, variously labelled Big Bertha or the Starship Enterprise, with bikes on the back, while Josh, Josh and Tom took the train following their bikes forwarded by courier earlier in the week.
A word of advice, book your train ticket for yourself and your bike as soon as you can to get a reasonable fare. Only four bikes are currently allowed on a train, and some operators don't allow bikes at all. The parents of the three boys had to pay almost £400 to get three bikes to John O' Groats via courier. We had read on a Scottish Youth Hostel site that Interlink was recommended, but our experience was that Interlink was not helpful, and would not have taken the bikes in any event because the packages would have been too large.
At the John O' Groats campsite, not large, but very well maintained and on a lovely piece of real estate, the manager told us that people arriving from Lands' End often take their bikes up to the Post Office to obtain packaging and actually POST their bikes home!
This is a photo record of the start points on the JoGLE, which can be used by the lads to prove that they did it.
The first photo shows George and John mounting their bikes on Bertha just before we set off for Scotland. We stayed overnight en route to the north in a fantastic B&B called Ciar Mhor at Dunblane.
The second photo shows all the lads at the shore edge at the John O' Groats campsite on Sunday 15th July 2007.
The third photo is a panorama taken from the shore edge of the John O' Groats campsite looking across the Pentland Firth towards the islands of Orkney. A beautiful, translucent light.