by Les Holmes
For Sadie, our little Westie, who waited patiently at the gate for me to return. Sadly, a month after completing my ride, her cancer returned and she had to be put to sleep. We miss you.
It was a wonderful feeling to have completed one part of my journey and the support and sponsorship I received left me feeling quite humble. Nobody expected any more from me. I had been worried about not completing the full challenge, but everybody kept saying that I didn’t have to do the other half. But when I was handing the cheque for £3,500 to my chosen charity I made a promise to myself that one day I would finish what I started.
The timing was a snap decision, as I’d had a chest infection so wasn’t able to do much cycling. However, during the last week in May we decided that I was fit enough and because of other family commitments, now was the right time to go for it. Train tickets and B&Bs were arranged within three days, and Thelma was able to book with all the people we’d had to cancel with in 2011. That pleased me, as this was just one of the many End-to-Ends I’ve completed and in the past I’ve always tried to stay at the same places.
My bike was prepared for the journey by John (owner) and Mike (head mechanic) at College Cycles, one of, if not the best cycle shops in the North West. We sent it by courier to my first B&B in Scotland, and on the day of departure my good mate Oz kindly offered to give me a lift to Wigan station.
When taking on any challenge I feel that much is needed – willpower, strength, determination, tenacity and a fighting spirit – and that’s just for the train journey to Wick, never mind the 1,000 mile bike ride! On 1st July, my alarm went off at 4am and I was up, showered, fed and watered and waiting for Oz to pick me up at 5. The train took me from Wigan to Haymarket, then I changed for Perth to Inverness and finally Inverness to Wick. You can imagine what it would have been like dashing with the bike and full pannier bags from one platform to another, with perhaps only a few minutes between trains; hence the use of the courier.
On the train I met a gentleman who was visiting every National Hunt Race course in Britain and he only had two more to visit. I bet he has a nice rose garden! The journey from Inverness to Wick was long: 4 hours, 24 minutes. I noticed a female cyclist on the train and wondered if she was doing a JOGLE also. The train arrived bang on time at Wick and I had a 15 minute walk to my B&B to be reunited with my bike, hopefully in one piece! At least I knew that the bike had arrived, as I’d received a kind telephone call from my hostess Mrs Leask to confirm this. I had an early night, and dozed off listening to the raindrops on the bedroom window.
Day 1, Destination Altnaharra
I was up early and in no time at all the silhouettes of the JOG complex appeared in the distance. Having made my way to the famous signpost I met Walter Mowat, a local man with a great sense of humour. From his business card it seems he has a hand in most of the businesses within the complex. He obliged me with a photograph and then showed me over to a signpost painted onto the wall of his gift shop. He told me that this sign was older than the other one, and proceeded to take another picture. “Thanks,” I said, and then made my way to the Seaview Hotel to have my verification sheet stamped to mark the start of my journey.
I was soon at the Castle of Mey (former holiday residence of the late Queen Mother) and stopped for a drink and a bite to eat. Well, I did get a drink but it was the midges that got the bites! Before long I was pedalling up the road, minus a few pints of blood (well, you know) and heading for Thurso. After riding through the town and then some undulating but scenic countryside
with magnificent views across the many bays, I stopped to take a photograph of the Scrabster ferry terminal. When signs for Bettyhill appeared, I decided to have tea and tab nabs at the Information Centre and Café on the road to Syre. I’d stopped here before and remembered how friendly the staff were. When parking my bike I noticed another one next to mine which I recognised. Sure enough, sitting in the café was the girl I’d seen on the train to Wick. I introduced myself and asked if she was doing JOGLE, to which she replied “No,” but went on to tell me how she travels on trains then cycles to different places. Quite a nice way to see the country, I thought. On leaving, she said that she might see me on the road tomorrow, but I never did.
I was soon at Lochinver and was impressed by how lovely the scenery was; it gave me a good feeling to be riding in such beauty with the stunning colours of the flora. At 5:45 I reached the hamlet of Altnaharra, my B&B, and a warm welcome and tea from Mandy the hostess. I’d covered 93 miles, with the last stretch from Bettyhill being traffic free. I showered, and tucked into a super chicken dinner and had a good chat with Mandy’s husband.
Day 2, Destination Fort Augustus
|View from Struie Hill|
There are more wonderful views as you ride through Bonar Bridge, Alness, Dingwall, Muir of Ord and then Drumnadrochit. I stopped at Urquhart Castle for a photograph. Built on a rocky peninsular on the banks of Loch Ness, the castle has a somewhat chequered history. Founded in the thirteenth century, the castle changed hands many times from Edward I, Robert the Bruce (1300) the Earl of Morey (1346), Clan MacDonald (1400) and more, until it was left in ruins in 1692. It is now run by the National Trust and has a first class visitors centre.
The tour guide, in a kilt, was having a laugh with the visitors and I heard him say, “There it is over there,” referring of course to the famous Nessie. I chipped in with, “Aye mate, I’ve seen it three times you know” (joking of course), to which he replied, “Oh aye, so what have you got in your water bottle then?” Everyone had a good chuckle. In 1977, a bloke named Anthony Shields said he saw Nessie from a place close to the castle – but I don’t suppose anyone believed him either.
Before long, I reached Fort Augustus and was greeted by my B&B hosts Phil and Clare. I ate a fish and chips tea sitting outside by the canal lock gates; it was a nice evening and loads of people were doing the same. The ladder of locks lowers vessels from the Caledonian Canal to the level of Loch Ness. Following a vessel through the locks is an ideal way to understand how this simple process works. On my way back to the B&B, I noticed some ornate structures behind the house.
Day 3, Destination Crianlarich
Clare told me the structures I could see from the breakfast conservatory were the supports for the viaduct that carried the Invergarry railway, and showed me a postcard of them. After a wonderful breakfast I was off in the rain, heading for Crianlarich. I was soon through Invergarry and arrived at Spean Bridge, wet but undeterred. I usually stop here to pay my respects at the Commando Memorial and today was no exception. Despite the horrible weather conditions there were lots of other visitors too. After paying my respects, it was ten miles to Fort William for my next stop and something to eat. When I arrived, the rain had stopped so I walked through the shopping centre parallel to the A82. This meant that even though I was walking, I headed in the right direction.
I had a conversation with an overseas tourist who like me, had unsuccessfully tried to use a public payphone. Although there were four boxes side by side, nothing was working. We just laughed over the matter and she said in very good English that she’d try further down the road. Don’t hold your breath, I thought: I’d travelled from JOG and still hadn’t found one working. Sadly, this would continue until I arrived at Penzance!
The Memorial at Spean Bridge
The rain started again and so it was back on with the waterproofs and onward and upward, literally. Usually as you travel through Glen Coe you hear the sound of bagpipes and are greeted by a piper, but not today. I can’t blame him, as it was pouring with rain and if he had any sense he’d be sitting at home enjoying a single malt! However, I missed hearing the sound of the pipes as I have always loved them, ever since I was a small child. I find it to be very stirring, especially in the glen and for the first time, when you are not expecting it. I have ridden through Glen Coe many times and I always sense an eerie feeling in the air. Perhaps it has something to do with its history of feuding between the Campbells and the MacDonalds, and particularly the heinous crime of 1692, when the Campbells slaughtered forty of the MacDonald clan.
Soon the road started getting steeper; I was climbing up onto Rannoch Moor. Despite the heavy rain, I stopped to take photographs of this wild and beautiful place. It’s hard to express the feeling you get when you are in this particular spot. No matter the weather, it’s nature at its best, with the mountains and colours. This is the part of Scotland I love.
Approaching Tyndrum followed by Crianlarich, I had my Frank Spencer moment: I’d stopped to have a drink and text home, but there was no place to lean my bike, so I leant it against my body. I needed my glasses out of the pannier bag to see the text I was about to send. After retrieving them I opened the case, took out the glasses and put the case on the carrier. Then to my dismay, the lens fell out of the glasses and slipped between the slot in the seat, so I put the glasses down on to the carrier to reach for the lens, the bike moved, and the glasses fell off the carrier. In an attempt to catch the glasses, I knocked the case off the carrier and into the water. Meanwhile, the midges had found me and I watched in horror as the case was floating away. Now I did what I should have done in the first place: set my bike on the ground. Phew, some mothers do ’ave ’em.
Having solved my problems, I cycled on, arrived at my digs and met my hosts Phil & Wendy. I’d completed a good 86 miles, surrounded by some of the most beautiful scenery in the whole country, and despite the rain I really enjoyed it. Tomorrow would be a comparatively easy ride, or so I thought!
Day 4, Destination Troon
The following morning I was off like a shot heading for Loch Lomond with a bacon sarny tucked in my saddle bag. Again the views were stunning and the rain was on and off, as were my waterproofs, but who cares? The roads were quiet which enabled me to set a steady pace. I was soon having tea and tabs at the cruiser moorings at Tarbet. Whilst here, I took some nice photos of the distant hills across the loch; boy it makes you glad to be alive. I was soon pedalling away again to approach and cross the Erskine Bridge and find Cycle Route 7 for a traffic-free ride to Troon, but I nearly did not make it!
Having crossed the bridge, I travelled along the A737 looking for my turn-off to Johnstone, but for some reason I turned off too early and found myself on a little trading estate. I turned around to head back, and was waiting at the junction to turn right when suddenly I saw a grey car heading straight for me. It was being driven by a young man who had cut the corner turning right into the junction, but obviously did not see me even though I was wearing a high viz jacket. I tried to move to my left but he clipped me, causing me to lose my balance, bounce off the bike and bang my head on the ground.
My immediate thought was: that’s the end of my ride, but miraculously, I was ok. I stood up, but the man drove off. That hurt me more than anything. After checking my bike, I rode on to the A737. I did not tell anyone about the incident, especially my wife Thelma, until I had finished the ride, as I knew she would have tried to stop me carrying on.
I continued to the next junction at Johnstone and there was the entrance to the cycle route. Yippee! There were quite a few people using the path and as I stopped to take a photograph of the bike sculpture, a lad and his dad out walking came over for a chat, asked where I was going, and wished me well. The rain had finally stopped and the sun came out as I made my way into Troon to a lovely welcome from my hostess Mrs Mathieson. I have stayed here a few times before and have always been made to feel at home. I was pleased to have arrived safe and sound, and I enjoy Troon, as it reminds me of where I live on the coast. The views out to sea from the front window are lovely, plus the path to the cycle route is just across the road from the house.
I enjoyed a nice tea and after my experiences today decided on an early night. Although the 83 miles covered today had been an easy ride and the scenery beautiful, the incident with the car made me feel a bit wary.
Day 5 – Destination Kirkcudbright
Next morning, I was somewhat taken by surprise when Mrs Mathieson asked, “Would you like this?” holding up a beautiful Remington 5 portable typewriter. In an earlier conversation I had told her about my typewriter museum at home. “I would love it” said I, “but can’t fit it in my bags.” She just laughed and said she would post it on to me. How kind was that!
I was soon speeding along Route 7, heading for Kirkcudbright to stay with my friends Rod & Barb and their young family. Most of the route today was coastal until I reached Girvan. I stopped in Ayr to take a photo of the birth place of one of the town’s famous sons, Robert Burns.
I left my best wishes with his very able assistant and made my way to Newton Stewart through 18 miles of traffic-free nature reserve. Wonderful! You see so much when cycling, with no engine noise to frighten the wildlife: a fox was racing ahead of me; I think it had spotted some geese for dinner! I was glad when the Kirkcudbright turn-off appeared and I arrived in the town centre at 8pm. I was soaked through, and starting to feel the cold.
Like a lifeboat, my friend’s van appeared and there was Rod’s wife Barbara waiting to transport me to their home. I’ve stayed with Rod and Barb a few times in the past. It is such a lovely place, and I have always been made to feel so welcome. This time was a little different as I was introduced to their new family Brooke & Bailey who were wonderful, and not a bit shy. After a bath and a lovely meal it was nice to sit and chat with the whole family before bedtime. I’d travelled 94 miles today, mostly in the rain.
Day 6 – Destination Penrith
Next morning, Rod said he’d ride with me to Penrith and take the train back to Kirkcudbright. The children, with Barb supervising, rode with us to “the bottom gate” where we said goodbye. It was good to have Rod’s company and he set a steady pace heading for Gretna and the road that ran alongside the M6 which took us to Carlisle and then Penrith, virtually traffic free.
The weather and banter we shared along the way were good and we stopped in Annan for tea and pies which Rod kindly bought. We met a young lady who was doing the End-to-End and had taken the wrong turn, so we suggested she follow us for a while to get back on route. She had no panniers on her bike and I subsequently found out that she was doing a hundred and thirty miles a day – wow! No wonder she didn’t have panniers. It is likely that she was accompanied by a vehicle because after leaving us to bomb ahead we passed her again and she appeared to be on a mobile phone. Of course this was pure supposition but at least she was on the right road.
We were soon through Carlisle, the weather was fine and Rod found the road alongside the M6 to Penrith. It was a good day’s ride, and we both enjoyed the conversation, the views, and cycling traffic-free. The company was a welcome, unexpected change. I rode up to the station with Rod where he was able to buy his ticket on the train. We said our goodbyes, and I had a look at the castle opposite the station, which is set in a public park. It dates back to the early 14th century, and was founded by Ralph Neville to be used as a defence against Scottish raids. In 1471 it was expanded and made into a royal castle by Richard III, enhancing the interior and adding a strong North gate.
After a shower at my B&B I treated myself to an Italian meal out. I began talking to a lady at the next table who owned a B&B in Drumdrochit and had come down to Penrith to pick up and ride home a 750cc motorbike she’d bought. Amazing! It was then back to my digs. The following day I’d be covering 100 miles taking me over Shap, then a nice easy ride home to Hightown. It would be good to see my wife and our little Westie, Sadie.
Day 7 – Destination Hightown
I enjoyed a massive breakfast, and bid farewell to my hosts Allan & Moira. I stopped in Shap village for a drink and then set off for the steady climb to the top of Shap. I was getting fitter, and was heartened by the fact that I would soon be on the last bit of the climb. In the distance was the monument dedicated to lorry drivers who, before the M6 came into being, used the route in all kinds of weather, as they brought goods and food supplies to towns and villages further north. I always stop and take a photo here and think about my Dad who was a lorry driver himself and often travelled this route.
Despite the fine rain and mist which is nearly always present at the top of Shap, the scenery was wonderful, wild and rocky with different coloured heathers and trees. The monument and the phone box were all the things I expected to see, but what I did not expect was someone shouting, “Les! Les!” In the distance I could see two riders approaching. I could not believe my eyes: it was my good friends Jim & Sue Thomas from Formby. What a lovely surprise! The amazing thing is that we had all arrived at the top at the same time – how spooky. A big fuss was made and photographs taken.
|Jim Thomas and Les Holmes at Shap|
|Sue, Jim and Les in Kendal|
Day 8 – Destination Affcot, Shropshire
On my rest day John & Mike checked over my bike at College Cycles – thank you. It was nice to spend some time with Thelma and Sadie who is in remission after being diagnosed earlier in the year with bowel cancer. I gave some thought to how I would get from Hightown over to Birkenhead. In the past I’ve tried a few ways: riding through the Mersey Tunnel at 5am, and also over the Runcorn bridge. This time I decided on the luxury of getting a lift through the tunnel and once again my mate Oz obliged.
The weather was perfect for riding and being a lot fitter, in no time at all I was passing through Chester. It helped that the traffic was light and there were no hills to climb. I aimed to reach Broxton on the other side of Chester by lunchtime. There is a super café there where I always stop for a snack. At Church Stretton I was only half an hour’s ride away from my stopover at the Affcot Lodge so I had a walk around the shops. We’ve stayed in this area for holidays over the past several years, and I called in at the bike shop where I met the owner five years ago when it first opened. After a nice chat, and telling him what I was doing, he wished me well for the rest of my journey.
Next stop was the ice cream parlour. Seeing me in my cycle gear with the bike and panniers, the lady behind the counter asked where I was going. After telling her the story she said, “Good for you, going to finish it! Have the ice cream on me.” What a nice gesture, I thought. After my refreshing break, I was soon at Affcot Lodge, where I’ve stayed on several occasions, and was made to feel very welcome. In the dining room later I had a brilliant three course meal. What a good day it had been, and 87 miles further.
Day 9 – Destination Chepstow
|A Church near Hereford|
The scenery along the Wye Valley was as picturesque as ever with the pines, birch trees and rhododendron in full bloom. Boy, did it make me feel good inside! I was now heading for Chepstow and soon arrived at one of my favourite places, the ruins of Tintern Abbey. The place has a special tranquillity about it. Founded in 1131 by Walter Fitz Richard de Clare, the Earl of Chepstow, it was run by the Cistercian Monks and was the first such Abbey in Wales. It is now in the care of English Heritage. I asked a motorcyclist if he would mind taking a photograph, and he kindly obliged.
|Les at Tintern Abbey|
A mile or two along I passed a bad accident involving a motorcyclist and car. Paramedics were in attendance and I didn’t stop and gawp. There were loads of people around, and I could hear the sirens in the distance. I just hoped that it turned out okay for the injured parties. I arrived at Chepstow and was welcomed by my hosts, Elizabeth and Rod. We spent a while chatting and I gave them the diaries of my 2009 and 2011 rides. They both had been kind and sympathetic in 2011 when I had my accident, and I’d promised them a record of my journeys.
Day 10 – Destination Moretonhampstead
The next morning I was up bright and early for… yes, you’ve guessed right: a full English breakfast. I’ve always enjoyed staying at this particular B&B and think it must be one of the best in the country. The accommodation is immaculate, the food first class, and you’re always assured of a warm welcome. I was soon on my way, passing the racecourse and onto the Severn Bridge, with a quick glance at the spot where I came off my bike in 2011.
I went under the Clifton Suspension Bridge onto the A38, passed the airport and then it was a steady damp plod to Bridgewater where I stopped off at a garage for a coffee and a bite. The bloke at the garage must have felt sorry for me and treated me to the coffee which was much appreciated. Although these little stops I made along the way were only for a short time, they were a necessity and gave me the calories I needed to continue with the journey.
I was soon through Taunton and Wellington heading for Cullompton and then, oops! I took a wrong turn at the roundabout and was heading for Tiverton. By the time I realised, it was too late to turn back. “It’s only 7 miles,” I said to myself, and was soon at Tiverton, heading to Exeter. It was quite a hilly area but with some lovely views.
I was now only a few miles away from the city centre and had completed 105 miles with just 12 to go before Moretonhampstead. I knew what to expect now. As soon as you reach the B3212 there’s a climb which is probably only 100yds but it makes your legs burn, especially when you have pannier bags. “Well done!” a guy shouted who was working in his garden. “The last time I did that I was on a post bike,” I replied. “How did you manage that?” he marvelled. I went into the Co-Op for a pint of milk and two bananas to give me some energy, and then onwards and upwards with climb after climb.
On arrival at my destination, it was a warm welcome from my hosts Richard and Ann, a long, hot soak in the bath, and food! Then it was off to bed, having completed 117 miles in the rain, but with just one more ride ahead of me to Lands End.
Day 11 – Destination Land’s End
I was excited about the completion of my challenge taken on four years earlier. Would I make it? Richard asked about my route, and I told him I’d be going the same way I used on the post bike ride in 2009, across the moor to Tavistock and then to Land’s End. He was a bit surprised that I’d go all the way in one day. I’d stayed with Richard when I did the 2009 ride and he knew that on that occasion I had stopped at Redruth. “That’s a long ride. Mind you, once you get to the top of the moor its not too bad… but as you already know, lots of climbing to get there. Anyway, good luck!”
On top of the moor, I once again marvelled that even in these dank conditions, how wild and beautiful this place is with its rocky terrain, and rugged landscape of bushes, wild flowers and the many shades of green. This time I did not see any wild ponies but taking into account the weather conditions, they probably had more sense than I did. I saw very few cars and even fewer cyclists. I needed to be wary of the sheep wandering all over the road, and the many cattle grids, especially in these wet conditions. A farm animal transporter came zooming around the bend and I hoped he was aware of the sheep. Then I heard the blast of a horn. Aah! So that’s how you get them to move on – much better than the bell on my bike.
Later, I noticed a light coming towards me and eventually five bikers emerged out of the mist. They gave me an encouraging shout, “Keep it going, mate!” and then disappeared back into the mist. Having panniers on my bike must have indicated I was heading for Land’s End. It was nice to see other people on the moor; I think they were club riders. It gave me a bit of a boost.
On my descent from the moor, although it was still raining, visibility began to get better. I picked up my pace and saw the signposts for Tavistock. I rode into the main street and recalled that I had to make a right turn at the statue of Sir Francis Drake who was born in 1540 and brought up here (Just thought you would like to know that). I passed through Liskeard and St Austell and the signs for Truro appeared. I kept having my usual stops at garages and shops en route to fill up with water and food, and my spirits were high getting closer to Land’s End. I had been feeling really good throughout the trip, and although some nights I was tired, I never felt I wouldn’t be able to make it, and I am very thankful for that.
Before I knew it I was out of Truro and heading for Penzance. I knew my final day’s ride was going to be long, with a late finish, and had brought lights with me which I now switched on. I was wearing my high viz cape, and just needed to keep left of the white line at the side of the road and I would be fine. The traffic was light and drivers in this area are very tolerant of cyclists, knowing where you are probably heading and giving you loads of room. It was pitch black once I had cleared Penzance and I could only just about make out the centre line of the narrow road with my small front light. I was nearly there, and despite this being my tenth trip, I was as excited as ever.
When I arrived at Sennen it was in complete darkness apart from the odd light here and there in the slate-roofed houses. There was the bus stop on the right where I stopped to help the boys with the tandem back in 2009. The ancient church of St Sennen was on my left, then a pub which is probably the last pub on the mainland, and then it was a right turn. My heart was beating faster. I wanted to shout out “I’ve made it!”
Within ten minutes, I was crossing the finishing line. It was 00:45. I wandered around the complex hoping that as in the past when I arrived late, I would find the night porter, but I was disappointed. It would have been nice to let someone know, there and then, that I had done it. All I could do was take a photograph of my bike outside the deserted restaurant door. There was no signal on my mobile phone to ring home or my B&B, and I’d have no sleep, if I didn’t put a move on! So I got on the bike, and headed back to Penzance.
It was hard to see the bends in the road, and was I glad to see the lights of the prom at Penzance approaching and a phone box that actually worked! I only had a £2 coin on me but I got through to the B&B. It was 2:30 but Chris answered the phone. He had kindly waited up for me, and it turned out that I was only 5 minutes away from his front door. I was so pleased that I’d managed the day’s 134 miles, and at last had completed my challenge.
After a few hours’ sleep I was up again, feeling relaxed, and again thanked my host Chris for waiting up for me. It was a short ride to the station and the train for home. I reflected on my ride, the ups and downs (literally), the incident with the car, and the weather. I had cycled 1,052 miles in 11 days, not bad for an “old fella.” I felt elated.
When I arrived home, Thelma pointed out that my foot was very swollen and bruised. I hadn’t noticed this during the second half of my ride and was very puzzled as to what could have happened! Then I remembered that during my rest day, I stood on a garden table to reach something, as you do, and the table collapsed and I’d ended up in a heap on the floor! Mystery solved! I couldn’t believe that I had ridden over 400 miles with a badly sprained ankle - pity the table wasn’t as strong!