Category Archives: UK

Thursday May 7, 2015. Day 24


Bettyhill to John O’Groats: 80km

We awoke to hear rain against our window, a howling west wind and the sight of huge North Atlantic breakers.  The favourable weather forecast (which we had checked at least 16 times to confirm) seemed to have failed us, but then the rain ended and a small patch of blue sky appeared! Miraculously, with the exception of one short hail shower, the sun was out for most of the rest of the day, and the chilly wind was at our backs. Whenever the road turned north, the gusts were so strong that it was difficult to stay upright. At one point, Paul was pushed almost to the centre of the road.

Out of Bettyhill, there were four stiff hills,  but then the terrain was undulating, as we sped along the spectacular north coast, so amazing to see clearly on this last day. At one point, the NCN #1 veered off to the south, but we decided to stay on the A836. We soon realized that the #1 was avoiding the Dounreay nuclear facility, which dominated the coast for a time.

Before we knew it, we were in Thurso, where we dropped our panniers at the B&B, had a quick lunch, and then headed off on the final 30 kms. With the wind still at our backs, and without the weight of our panniers, we literally flew, adding to the exhilaration of nearing our goal.

As we cheered our arrival in front of the well-photographed mileage sign at John O’Groats, Sarah appeared to congratulate us and take our photos. She had arrived earlier and was having tea in a nearby cafe with another cyclist, Steve, who had also just completed the LEJOG. Sarah was riding to raise money for leukaemia and lymphoma research. We joined them and shared stories until Steve’s parents arrived from Newcastle and our mini-van taxi arrived to take us back to Thurso.

It took almost a couple of hours to pack up our bikes (with the aid of a YouTube video) and we got to the Red Pepper Bistro just before closing.

Land’s End to John O’Groats by car: 1348km
Our route, by bicycle: 1442km


Wednesday May 6, 2015. Day 23

Lairg to Bettyhill: 72km

How many times do a doctor and a lawyer have to get their feet wet before they implement creative solutions? The answer? Too many. (Partly due to an irrational adherence, in the face of repeated failure, to the belief that the expensive gear we have purchased should actually work.)

The proprietor of the Park House B&B in Lairg told us that the Land’s End to John O’Groats (LEJOG) run is referred to locally as the “rat run” (or, in our case”drowned rat”). This morning, we decided to encase our feet in plastic bags. (Lois’ idea). This was not a perfect solution but did delay the eventual soggy socks.

It rained again almost all day and the wind was either in front or to the side. Lois decided she was receiving free microdermabrasion from the sting of the rain, today from the other side!

The NCN#1 is on the A386, which, just north of Lairg, becomes a single lane with passing places, but, fortunately, with little traffic.

The highlight of our day was our coffee stop at the Crask Inn, miles from any other habitation. The bar was warm, but empty, so we rang the bell and the delightful landlady appeared and offered us coffee. She ushered us into a lounge, with a fire, where Janet, a woman from Warwick, who is walking the opposite route (“JOGLE”), (and mostly staying in bothies) was sitting reading, enjoying a day off after her first 6 days. We were chatting when suddenly two men walked in and went immediately to the grand piano in the corner of the toom. One of the men, who was wearing bike shorts, launched into a wonderful rendition of “Summertime”, while being videoed by the other. Another man then arrived in bike shorts and only one leg, who followed with a little ragtime. In the bar, we met the rest of the team of three legs, 2 bikes and 1 piano who are on the JOGLE raising money for “Wings for Warriors”. Sarah, a young British woman living in Berlin cycling from Lands End had also stopped to warm up.

AN alternative to the #1 was a slightly shorter and gentler route north along the Strathnevan Trail. Many of the sights/ sites were off the road but we stopped to look at one about the clearances, which were especially brutal here, and also the possible burial ground of the Red Priest. This pile of stones could easily be missed, but has historical significance.

Our destination was the Bettyhill Hotel, which gives a commanding view of the North Atlantic. Luckily. we could eat dinner in the hotel where delicious Cullen Skink was on special.

Tuesday May 5, 2015. Day 22

Inverness to Lairg: 102km

We knew today was not going to be fun – the forecast was for heavy rain, cold, and gusty head winds from the east. But, no snow! And Paul’s day was made when he identified a pair of Red Kites!

We rejoined Route#1 which we had last followed out of Edinburgh. The cycle path across the Hessock Bridge gave us a good view of Inverness and the Beauly Firth. The rain started just before Dingwall where we found shelter and espresso in the Courtyard Coffee Shop.

Paul remarked on a field of black sheep all facing the same way with their backs against the wind, only to observe Lois, similarly averting her face from the needles of rain.

Cycling high above Cromarty Firth, in the misty distance we could make out the oil rigs in for repair in Invergorden.

We sought refuge again in a cafe in Tain. We had asked for directions to any tea shop from an older woman. She pointed one out, but said that if we did not find anything open, she lived at #9 such-and-such a street, and that she would make us a cup of tea “and I’m serious”!

After tea, we headed north-west which gave us some relief from the wind, but not the rain. In passing, we noticed that the primroses were coming out, as they were in Cornwall when we started the trip.

The Park House B&B at Lairg was a welcome site. Apparently, they are used to shooting parties (deer-stalking and grouse) and wet clothing, so immediately whisked away all of our sopping gear which was returned dry and ready the next morning.

Too tired to venture out again, our evening meal was sandwiches from our panniers and two shots of Tomatin Scotch. The forecast is for more of the same tomorrow.

Monday May 4, 2015. Day 21

Aviemore to Inverness:59km

As we cycled out of Aviemore, Lois tried to remember where the spa was where she and Helen B. had saunas on our visit here in 1978. Lois was 6 months pregnant with Chris, and Paul’s parents had stayed on in Leamington after Christmas to look after Maritia (Lois recalls that first separation keenly!) Paul remembers drying cross-country ski socks on the radiator in our B&B (that has not changed), while Helen has reminded us that for breakfast, Paul was given two eggs, while Lois and Helen were given one each. (Helen, we are each being served 2 eggs in Scotland now!)

It was a bit warmer today, with no rain, and the sun came out in the early afternoon. We took the busy A95 out of Aviemore and were glad to join the NCN Route#7, alongside the A9 to Moy. The trail went through Carrbridge, with it’s 18th century packhorse bridge.The climb to the Slochd Summit (406m) was steady and along old sections of road and good paths. The road then passed through the small village of Tomatin. There, we visited the Distillery where we sampled a 12 yr old single malt while watching a short video about the making of whisky! Unfortunately, they did not serve Gaelic coffee.

The #7 then took us away from the A9 and along side roads. Just before Culloden, we came across the pre-historic cemetery of Balnuaran of Clava. This consisted of stone “passage graves”, a central ring and surrounding standing stones. It was a quiet and fascinating place.

We then passed the Culloden Battlefields Centre and on into Inverness. Unfortunately, we lost the cycle route and ended up on the with a lot of traffic on the A96. Dinner was good at The Kitchen, overlooking the Ness River and Inverness Castle.

Sunday May 3, 2015. Day 20

Blair Atholl to Aviemore:81km

Today was the most challenging day we have had cycling, only because of the cold! At the end of the day we were glad to find that our B&B was warm, had a fire in the lounge and also a drying room. We left out shoes there overnight! Even our foot coverings and water-resistant gloves are not sufficient for driving rain!

The ride was relatively easy with a climb along the River Tilt and then a 24km ascent of the Drumochter Pass, where we entered the Highlands. The sign on the bike path warned of bad weather, even in summer, and a lack of snow clearance! The NCN Route#7 was well signposted and mostly had a good surface on the old main road and newly surfaced trails. The volunteers of Sustrans should be congratulated.

It had started raining heavily in Blair Atholl, turned to snow up the pass and continued until we got to Dalwhinnie. We must have looked quite a sight entering the Toll House Cafe after about 4 hours on the road, water dripping everywhere, with numb fingers and toes and feeling slightly shell-shocked! Miraculously, there was a roaring fire in a stove and the servers had no problem with us drying our gloves (and socks!) draped over it! We left each with a change of socks, and slightly drier shoes and gloves. On passing the Dalwhinnie Distillery just past the cafe, we seriously considered abandoning the rest of the ride and spending the afternoon doing Scotch tasting (and catching a train to Aviemore 3 hours later). For some reason we decided against this?  We soldiered on in the rain to Kingussie, where we again found respite for frozen toes and fingers (and conveniently situated radiators for non-conspicous placing of socks and gloves) at the Duke of Gordon Hotel.  Finally, the rain let up and although we were still cold, the rest of the ride through Newtonmore and Kingussie was straightforward. The spikes on the temperature chart were our stops for lunch and tea!

On leaving the Winking Owl, after dinner, we got a stunning, clear view of the Cairngorms under a waxing full moon. We are looking for an improvement in the weather tomorrow.

Saturday May 2, 2015. Day 19

Perth to Blair Atholl:61km

It was a sunny morning as we left Perth (and our wonderful B&B, The Townhouse), but the temperature felt close to zero. The NCN 77 took us on a good trail for about 10 km beside the River Tay. A bike path then ran alongside the A9 until we got to Dunkeld. We realized that we had just past Birnam, famous for its wood (Macbeth). A stop at Palmerstons cafe provided good espresso and award-winning jams, which Lois enjoyed with her rock cake. Dunkeld is where Beatrix Potter wrote “The Tales of Peter Rabbit”.

Taking the advice of a local, we avoided a detour on Route 77 through the extensive grounds of a Hilton Hotel,  and followed a shorter B road instead, which turned out to be an alternative NCN Route #88. The road took us high above the Tay and the main road, then dropped down, crossed the river, and included several Cornwall-like steep ascents and descents before Pitlochry. This is a tourist town and being May long weekend, the caravan park was full despite definitely unseasonable weather.

After lunch, we met the River Garry south of Pitlochry and then joined the River Tilt into Blair Atholl. Although we arrived mid-afternoon, we were too late to view the castle and  we walked in a blustery and cold wind to the Atholl Arms for a beer (Moulin) and dinner. On our return to the B&B, the radiator in our room had not heated up very much and we were provided with an electric heater. Uncharacteristically, the owner decided the keep the central heating on all night. We are finding the practice of switching on the heat for a couple of hours in the morning and a few hours in the evening a challenge in this particular weather!

Friday May 1, 2015. Day Off

We walked past St Leonards-in-the-Fields Church, with it’s impressive spire, to meet Martin and Grace at Blend Coffee. After a good cup of espresso, we walked across the River Tay (the largest volume river in the UK) and on by car to Branklyn Garden. Once a private garden, now owned by The National Trust for Scotland, it was an impressive display of rare plants, including many varieties of Rhododendron and Himalayan poppies.

Scone Palace was our next stop, primarily for lunch. In the grounds, 38 Kings of Scots were crowned, the last in 1651.The stone of scone, on which the early kings were crowned, is now in Edinburgh Castle. The grounds contained a “pinetum” which contained many Douglas Firs. David Douglas was a gardener at Scone before travelling to the Americas as a botanist, bringing back seeds and introducing the species (and many others) to Britain. A plaque referred to his canoe capsizing at Fort George (now Prince George, B.C.) He later died in Hawaii, under mysterious circumstances.

Thursday April 30, 2015. Day 18

Edinburgh to Perth: 72km

Our breakfast this morning was enlivened by an interesting conversation with Gareth, the proprietor of the Faoch Guest House, about the Scottish referendum, the Scottish National Party and the current election campaign. It seems clear that the Labour Party did not recognize the “distinctness” of Scotland and the SNP will likely gain accordingly.

After a few kilometres on Ferry Road, we joined the NCN Route 1, which included newly surfaced separate bike/ walking paths. Soon, we could see the Forth Rail Bridge (1890) and the Forth Road Bridge (1964). The latter is being replaced, while the former is still going strong! The rail bridge was the largest single cantilever span in the world until the the Quebec bridge was constructed in 1919.

It was a bit warmer today and there were frequent sunny periods, but the strong north headwind was bothersome at times, especially crossing the Forth.

After the bridge, we left the NCN route and took B roads for a while. Paul replaced his “booties” at the bike shop in Inverkeithing and the server directed us to a restaurant in a gardening shop in Dalgeny Bay for lunch (and decent espresso). We continued on B roads, through Cowdenbeath, which was an important centre for coal mining in the 19th Century, and on to Kinross. There, we had tea before joining NCN Route 775 to Perth. There was one extended downhill section, but, inevitably, we were greeted by a hill coming over the rise before our destination. Our B&B is on the north edge of the South Inch! A day off tomorrow, the first since Berkeley! Friends Martin and Grace will be coming from Dundee for a visit.

Wednesday April 29, 2015. Day 17

West Linton (where Helen and Wayne met) to Edinburgh: 31km

It was an easy ride into Edinburgh on the A702, A766 and A701, despite the cold and rain showers. We were assisted by a good tailwind and a bike lane approaching the city. On the way in, we had great espresso and an almond croissant at the Coffee Angel. The stately Fraoch Guesthouse greeted us with tea and shortbread and a spacious garden suite.

Edinburgh is an enchanting city, deserving of more than a 1/2 day visit. We did go to the National Gallery of Scotland, specifically to view the Scottish collection, including paintings from the early 20th Century. It was very interesting to see the development of painting here, having some knowledge of the English, French and Canadian Schools of the same era.

Along Princess Street, we viewed the Scott Monument and admired the heights of the Edinburgh Castle. Regrettably, it was too chilly to walk around to do more sightseeing. Some shopping was required, however, in order to buy extra gloves! An early dinner was had at Hendersons, an up-market vegetarian restaurant where we sampled a version of haggis with oatcakes (made with lentils and very tasty!)

Tuesday April 28, 2015. Day 16

Moffat to West Linton: 57km

On the way in to Moffat yesterday, we both noticed a signpost indicating 53 miles to Edinburgh, along a ” scenic route”. This immediately signalled a change of plans, as this would mean 60km less and two shorter days! (We had been planning to follow the NCR north and east to Edinburgh, via Airdrie.) We chatted with the owner of the local bike shop, who confirmed our decision. So, this morning, we headed past the Moffat Ram, which celebrated the importance of the town in the wool trade, and took the A701 to the NE.

It was a VERY COLD ride, so we were doubly grateful to have shortened the distance, but definitely scenic, as the route took us through the Borders region of Scotland. As we made the long steady ascent to the top of the Moffat Hills, approximately 10 kms, rain turned to wet snow, then to fluffy snowflakes. Fortunately, the traffic wasn’t too heavy and the large logging trucks gave us a wide berth. The sun came out briefly at the top, as we overlooked the Devil’s Beef Tub, but it turned to rain again as we descended. Riding now through the Lowther Hills, we stopped to view the marker of the source of the River Tweed, which forms part of the historic boundary between Scotland and England.

By the time we got to Broughton we were freezing cold and very relieved to find the Laurel Bank Tea Shop, recommended by our B&B in Moffat. We must have looked desperate, as the server placed us next to one of the radiators! We gradually warmed up over an extended lunch of smoked haddock chowder/smoked haddock and bean gratin and cake and good coffee. Reluctantly back out in the cold, we then had a short ride, mostly dry, along the A710 and a side road to West Linton. The precipation had turned to hail by the time we arrived at our B&B. We had time to visit the tea shop, in an old toll house, and look through a second hand book shop before repairing to the Gordon Arms for beer and food by a roaring fire.

Monday April 27, 2014. Day 15

Carlisle to Moffat: 68km

It was -1 this morning. Since Lands End, we have experienced swings in temperature from 28C to 7C , back to 23C and now down to freezing! Today, we cycled in most of our layers.

Our departure from Carlisle was straightforward and we joined the National Cycle Network Route 7 high above the Eden River. The trail followed along side the motorway for much of the day, at times on the site of an old Roman road.

At Gretna, we crossed the border into Scotland. When Paul was young he heard stories of young couples eloping to Gretna. In Scotland, marriage is legal at the age of 16 without the parents’ consent. Previously, the age in England was 21 and it is now 18. Gretna is still a popular place to get married as it is steeped in a history of solemnization carried out by blacksmiths or “anvil priests”. We stopped for coffee (unfortunately awful) and Paul got some of the history from a piper who was playing the bagpipes for tourists and posing for pictures.

The B7076 and NCN Route 7/74, took us past Lockerbie and through Ecclefechan, the birth place of Thomas Carlye. He is one of the people that we think that we should know more about. Our path was generally flat and had a bicycle lane for most of the way. While the quality of the surface varied, it was welcome nonetheless and allowed us to put on our music. This was needed to distract us from the nearby motorway sounds and the cold wind from the west which continued to buffet us. We were caught in a rain shower, but apparently avoided another hailstorm. Shortly after arriving in Moffat, wet snow began to fall!

Sunday April 26, 2015. Day 14




Kendal to Carlisle: 75km

The ascent to the summit of Shap Fell began soon after we left Kendal, first on side roads and then on the A6 (which we followed for the rest of the day). It was a fairly steady climb for 20 km. The weather was cold and clear and it remained chilly for the whole day, with a very strong wind on the top of the fells. From the Greyhound Hotel in Shap, where we stopped for coffee, we noticed patches of fresh snow on the hills in the distance. The forecast for tonight included the possibility of more snow.

In Penrith, we found a delightful bookshop which included a small tea room , the “Sconery”, where we enjoyed lentil soup and freshly-baked scones. We mentioned to the proprietor that Susan Musgrave’s family lived nearby and we were directed to the Musgrave Monument in the centre of town! Taking a wrong turn leaving the town, we also found ourselves at the end of Musgrave Street! (We suggested that the bookstore might want to stock some of Susan’s books.)

Although Google Maps showed a gradual descent to Carlisle, we still faced a number of hills. South of the city, we could see some “weather” ahead.  We learned later that this was a hail storm that we had missed.

We spent the evening visiting with friends Tim and Caroline. We had both known Tim from Birmingham, where he had taught Paul epidemiology during his community medicine training.  It was good to see that Tim was doing relatively well compared to last year and it was a delight to meet Caroline for the first time.

Saturday April 25, 2015. Day 13



Preston to Kendal: 76km

Today, we had to cycle through rain for the first time on this trip. After a memorable breakfast (because of the porridge) we headed to the A6, which led to the NCN Route No 6. The route crisscrossed the M6 several times as well as the mainline rail line and the Lancaster Canal. We joined the canal after passing though Scorton, where we took advantage of public washrooms that scored gold in the 2015 Loo Awards! The rain was constant by the time we got to Carnforth, where we found shelter and hot soup at Booth’s Supermarket.

Departing from Carnforth, we passed the rail station which we realized was the location for the 1940’s movie “Brief Encounter“. We lost Route 6 and rejoined the A6 only to find Route 6 again for a few short climbs, good views of the Lake District in the distance, and our descent to Kendal. We will be looking for Kendal Mint Cake in the morning, but given that it will be Sunday we may be out of luck.

Friday April 24, 2015. Day 12


Cheadle Hulme to Preston (11km cycling plus a few kms by train)

Deciding we didn’t need the stress of navigating the Manchester conurbation, and in order to have a bit more time with Nathaniel and his parents, we travelled to Preston by train and then cycled the short distance to our B&B near Woodplumpton. Jack, the  owner of the lovely farmhouse has offered us a lift to the local pub for dinner.

Thursday April 23, 2015. Day 11


Leek to Cheadle Hulme: 39km

Today was a fairly relaxed blend of peaceful cycle paths, busy main roads and suburban streets. After peering into the Leek Oatcake Shop, where traditional (Staffordshire) oatcakes were being made on a large griddle (pancakes made with oat flour), we headed off on an old railway track which leads to and travels along Rudyard Lake. Kipling’s parents named their son after the body of water, a reservoir which feeds the Caldon Canal (opened 1779). There is a small steam train that runs part way up the lake.

We then joined the A543 which led us to Macclesfield. This town was once home to no less than 71 silk mills. It now has at least one very good bakery and coffee shop. (The toasted Bath buns were delicious!) The Middlewood Way follows another old railway line north from the town. It passes through Bollington, which used to be home to mills producing the “finest cotton in the world”.

We left the Way and followed google maps back to the A543.  At one point we were led to a very narrow foot bridge where we had to remove our panniers to cross over! At this point, we stopped for a roadside lunch of Peakland Blue and Lincolnshire Poacher cheeses and Derbyshire oatcakes. Luckily, the rest of the journey to the home of our niece Catherine, Jem and Nathaniel was more straightforward.

Our arrival was early enough for us to go to Bruntwood Park with Catherine and Nathaniel for tea and a visit to the playground.

Wednesday April 22, 2015. Day 10

Derby to Leek: 55km

We had a good ride today. It was chilly at first, but soon warmed up and the sun shone brightly. Getting out of Derby was straightforward, thanks to Marius and Helen’s helpful suggestions. We took Long Lane, an old Roman road, and after turning north, found good espresso at the Shire Horse in Elkaston. The owner is a 66 yr old road cyclist who still covers the miles.

Stopping next at Ashbourne, after taking a wrong turn on the cycle path, which took us through a long old train tunnel, we were excited to meet up with old friends, Moira and Bill, who had travelled from Burton-on-Trent for a visit and great lunch in the deli cafe in the Market Place.

The back road to Borth led to the A543. We had been warned about the climb on the main road and there was no way of avoiding it on the side road. However, the view at the top towards the Peak District made it worth it. The A road was OK, but there were still too many trucks. We were soon descending to Leek, an ancient market town that appears to have a vibrant centre. In Ashbourne, we had bought some local cheeses as well as some Staffordshire oatcakes. On our walk to the Roebuck for dinner (live accordion and mandolin music, and Titanic beer) we noticed an Oatcake shop that opens at 0545h and another serving oatcakes for breakfast. We are looking forward to trying these local delicacies.

Tuesday April 21, 2015. Day 9

Birmingham to Derby: 76km

After a short time navigating rush hour traffic, we took a couple of side streets and descended some steps to the towpath. The Gas Street Basin is the junction of at least three canals. The centre of England’s industrial revolution was the Midlands with Birmingham at the hub. The canals were very important to this development. The network is large and complex. When Paul was first there in the late ‘60s, the Basin was run down and neglected. It is now bustling with restaurants, pubs, commuters on bikes and tourists on barges.

We followed paths along the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal which traverses the centre of the City through tunnels and locks, under bridges, and behind and beneath buildings, finally flowing under “Spaghetti Junction” – tiers of motorways piled above the waterway. A towpath took us towards Fazeley, but at times we had to come up onto small and major roads, to avoid the very narrow track which passed perilously close to the water’s edge.

Google Maps took us to the Kingsbury Water Park (cafe closed) and thence by towpath and road to Amington for a pub lunch. We got onto the B5493, cycled through Newton Regis and No Man’s Heath and on to Donisthorpe. Moira was next. Before Repton (the ancient capital of Mercia), we had a welcome stop for tea and lemon cake at the Cygnet Tea Rooms, while Marius and Helen changed a flat tire.

We stopped in Findern for a view and guided tour of a Victorian Cottage which Marius and Helen are renovating and which will soon become their new home. Passing the old cooling towers close by, Paul looked out for Peregrines that nest on top. The towers cannot be removed because of their avian residents.

Arriving in Derby, we spent the night as guests of Marius and Helen in the current home, which used to house a paper shop and was also renovated by them over a number of years. We have enjoyed their company over the last four days and very much appreciate their willingness to accompany us and to travel at our (more leisurely) pace.

Canals around Birmingham
Canals around Birmingham

Monday April 20, 2015. Day 8

Leamington Spa to Birmingham: 45km

Paul was particularly looking forward to cycling along the towpaths into Birmingham today. But first, a great breakfast and espressos at Bill’s, which included “porridge” (not oatmeal) with maple syrup, bananas and roasted hazelnuts. Marius and Helen arrived from Burton Dassett and we cycled down Willes Road to have a photo op with Jane – us on our bikes, more publicity for OWL – and then to ride past 11 Farley Street, our first home.

Our intention was to just look at our old house, but our next door neighbours from the early 80’s were still there and had just bought #11 (the other half of their semi-detached). They were in the process of opening up walls between the two houses. We were given a tour and were interested to see that, apart from decorating, not a lot had changed. The garden was totally different, however, generally for the better.

The canal beckoned and the path was pretty good until the long flight of locks at Hatton, when it became increasingly narrow and bumpy. We came off onto the Old Warwick Rd, but rejoined the waterway after a pub lunch. Again, we had to leave the uneven path and followed a route through the southern suburbs of Birmingham. At Kings Norton, we found the canal again, cycling now on a very good path past Bournville and our alma mater, the University of Birmingham. Some old buildings such as the clock tower and the Great Hall were instantly recognizable. Finally, we saw Paul’s old hall of residence and were soon at the Blue Piano, our B&B.

Friends Sharon and Charles joined us at the Blue Piano for an exceptional meal and a wonderful evening.

Sunday April 19, 2015. Day 7

Evesham to Leamington Spa: 52km

The skies were overcast and the persisting north winds made for a chilly ride. Soon after leaving Evesham, we joined a cycle trail on an old rail line into Stratford-upon-Avon. Being Sunday, we shared the trail with many other cyclists, as well as runners, horse-riders and dog walkers. After a couple of hours, we crossed the river Avon on a footbridge and entered the town and the familiar surroundings of the theatre precinct and canal basin. A stop for good coffee and pastries at an Italian cafe gave us a chance to warm up.

Climbing slightly, we passed through Loxley, where we saw one of the oldest churches in the country, then on to Charlecote House, to meet up with Helen’s parents for lunch in the Orangery. After lunch, we left Helen and Marius, who will spend the night with Helen’s parents, and continued on the Stratford Road into Warwick. It was exciting to view Warwick Castle from the bridge, as we remember doing long ago when we lived in Leamington.

In the evening, we met up with old friend Jane Knight and the current chair of OWL, the long time link between Leamington Spa and Bo, Sierra Leone, which we had been involved in setting up in the early 1980s. Paul shared his recent experiences and ideas. Paul’s work on Ebola and his early association with the link had resulted in local publicity for OWL and some unexpected financial donations.

Jane and her husband, John, the current mayor of Leamington, later treated us to dinner at a local Italian restaurant, where the discussion continued.

Saturday April 18, 2015. Day 6

Berkeley to Evesham: 72km

We can highly recommend the Perrots House B&B, for cyclists; the rooms are off a courtyard where we kept our bikes, there is a lovely garden and we were served a hearty breakfast. The proprietor was very supportive of our ride, as her brother also completed the route. Her passion is competition horse riding. After leaving, we went just around the corner to the Berkeley Arms where U of B friends, Tony, Louise, Robin and his wife Meow, were waiting to say goodbye as well as to confirm that we were actually cycling!

It was a beautiful day and great to have “Team Twite” along. Following the path along the Sharpness and Gloucester Canal, we saw lots of narrow canal boats and rowers out practicing. At the very pretty village of Frampton on Severn, we found good coffee. The cafe was close to a village pond and green where the cricket pitch was being prepared. Back on the canal path, the trail, which deteriorated at times to a single or double narrow rutted track, eventually brought us to the Gloucester docks. Once a hub of the grain trade, the many warehouses now accommodate a number of shops and restaurants, one of which served us for lunch.

We cycled through the town, past Gloucester Cathedral, and on to Tewkesbury. We decided to take the A38 to avoid a long diversion on the NCN route, but, although the road was flat, a strong headwind prevented rapid progress. The Abbey in Tewkesbury, which Paul could remember seeing in the distance from the motorway, was impressive up close. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to stop and go inside, knowing we could be there for hours. We decided to remain on the main roads and took the busy A46 the rest of the way. With the increasing headwind and the noise of the traffic, we were relieved to arrive in Evesham.

We had arranged to meet Chris and Sally at the Horse and Groom in Broughton on the Hill, which we got to by taxi. Chris was a medical student with Paul in Birmingham and they live near Flaxley on the edge of the Forest of Dean. The evening was delightful. It was lovely to share experiences and ideas over great food.

Friday April 17, 2015. Day Off

Berkeley is a small town with a 12th century castle, which is impressive from the outside, but closed on Fridays! It is where the imprisoned Edward II was murdered, but now serves as a popular venue for weddings. Also of note are the 13th century church (damage to the front entrance dating back to the civil war still apparent) and the home of Dr Edward Jenner, who first documented the benefits of vaccination against smallpox.

Our friend, Rod, drove over from Cheltenham to see us. We had a stimulating visit, catching up over coffee, lunch and tea, alternating between the two cafes in the town. Although the Edward Jenner Museum is closed on Fridays, we had arranged a private visit (with Rod, another long-time public health colleague) so, while Lois had a pedicure, Rod and Paul spent a fascinating time in the house and grounds.

Marius and Helen arrived later with their tandem. “Team Twite” will be accompanying us for the Berkeley to Derby stretch of the trip. We all spent a very enjoyable evening drinking and dining at the Berkeley Arms Hotel with a number of Lois’ International Studies cohort from U of Birmingham, who had travelled to Berkeley to meet up with us.

Thursday April 16, 2015. Day 5

Uphill to Berkeley: 85km

It was a much easier ride today, with few major elevation changes. However, the use of the cycle network routes will continue to lengthen our riding time.

With our food bag stocked with homemade cookies, fruit and cheese, kindly supplied by Liz, we set out on national cycle route 33. It was a cool 8•c.

The route took us on bike paths and minor roads through the towns, villages and countryside of the Somerset levels. The Strawberry Line Cafe at Yatton Station (thanks, Liz, for the tip) provided good coffee and great flapjack. Leading up to the Avonmouth Bridge, the trail went through some pretty villages, although the motorway traffic noise was always audible.

The Avonmouth and Severn Beach environs were less attractive, as we cycled through industrial estates, including past the immense Seabank gas fired power station, currently under construction. Nearby, we discovered a lovely little park, an unexpected refuge in which to have our lunch.

After leaving the views of the two Severn bridges behind, we passed through the pleasant rural landscape of South Gloucestershire, before arriving in Berkeley for a day off.

Wednesday April 15, 2015. Day 4

Hatherleigh to Morchard Road Station: 22km

Lois’ observation: It’s amazing, the amnesic effect of cycling. You can have days, or parts of days, where you HATE the hills, you HATE your bike, you HATE bloody Cornwall (substitute any other county/country) and then wake up the next morning loving it all again!

After a full English Breakfast at the Tally Ho!, which included vegetarian sausages for Paul and instant coffee, we headed to the Cafe de Ville for espresso and latte! The ride from Hatherleigh was not devoid of hills, but was a very pleasant traverse of the Devonshire countryside on a lovely sunny day, with a view of Dartmoor in the distance to the south. We gradually descended to the valley of a tributary of the River Exe. At Morchard Road, we caught a train on the Barnstaple to Exeter line, which, after a couple of changes brought us back to Weston- super-Mare.

On the way to Liz’s house in Uphill, we cycled along the promenade past holidaymakers huddling in the mist, donkey rides and giant sandcastles. We now have clean clothes (thank you, Liz), have had a wonderful home-cooked meal (thank you, again) and are all set to get back on the trail again tomorrow.

Tuesday April 14, 2015. Day 3.

Bude to Hatherleigh: 44km

We decided today to change our plans. Our itinerary, based on 80+ km/day, is proving to be difficult to achieve, at least while we are still jet-lagged and traversing hilly Cornwall and Devon (Marius, you were right!) We are also spending a lot of time stopping to consult maps to determine the best routes and, of course, there is much to see and to photograph.

We are trying to follow National Cycle Network #3, which takes us away from busy roads, for the most part, but the downside is frequent long, steep hills and mixed surface. Because it shows up irregularly on our Garmin, it is difficult to know for certain the distance to a destination. Today, by noon, we had only gone 16 kms! Over lunch in Filter Through Coffee, in Holsworthy, we realized that we were not likely to get to Tiverton before 9 pm, again. This was confirmed in the afternoon, when we made little progress following the NCR #3 to Okehampton.

We eventually switched to the A386, a busy road with no shoulders. Stopping at Hatherleigh for a break, at 5 pm, we decided to call it a day. The plan tomorrow is to cycle to just north of Exeter, where we will take the train back to Uphill, and continue our trip cycling to Berkeley on Thursday. Although we can expect fewer hills after this, our itinerary may require further tweaking, to make for more manageable days.

We are staying in an old country pub (with 3 rooms), the Tally Ho!


Monday April 13, 2015. Day 2

Mevagissey to Bude: 87km

After a wonderful breakfast prepared by Howie and Andy at the Little Pisky Cottage B&B (named after the Cornish Little People), we took a short walk around the picturesque fishing village and bought Cornish pasties for lunch from a Frenchman, who also served a very good espresso.

Our first stop was Paul’s birth place in Trewoon, just outside of St. Austell. The house is unremarkable, but we had to see it! Through the town and on to Bodmin, the long lasting effects of the china clay mining industry are very apparent, with huge empty pits and conical hills of waste. During a good ride up the Camel River Trail, we saw clay kilns next to the old rail line.

The cycle over Bodmin Moor was very enjoyable, especially as the wind was behind us and the sun was shining. We had to stop for sheep, were distracted by all the newborn lambs and saw many ponies roaming over the hills.

As the day wore on, the effect of jet lag and the constant steep descents and climbs were taking their toll. Once again, at the end of the day we had to use our lights. Knowing that the restaurants in Bude stop serving at 9PM, we stopped to eat at a pub on the way to the B&B, only to find that their chef was off for the night! The bar tender kindly invited us to have a drink and order take-out. So, with the help of other patrons (who enthusiastically offered advice about the pros and cons of available take-out restaurants) we ate pizza with our two half pints of very good, and welcome, local bitter. We eventually go to our lodgings after 10pm. The host still offered us tea and would have given us the cream tea that she normally provides. The scones were there for the next day.

Sunday April 12, 2015. Day 1

Land’s End to Mevagissey: 102 km

Today was a lot longer than planned! We left our very comfortable and well provisioned (fresh fruit, granola bars, chocolate, etc., in addition to a large choice of breakfasts items) self-catering private room at the Lands End Hostel and B&B to cycle down to where where the Atlantic meets the English Channel at Land’s End. Despite the commercialized development of the area, it was an exciting point to start our trip. With a fierce wind blowing, and the knowledge of a long first day’s ride ahead, we didn’t linger.

Over many miles through narrow lanes with high hedges we saw an abundance of wild flowers, pheasants, a buzzard and rabbits. The route led us to the crashing breakers of the south coast and the calm estuaries of north and south Cornwall. Near Camborne and Redruth, we cycled through an area of old tailing mounds and the remains of tin and arsenic mining operations, converted to a reserve, although numerous signs warned of the dangers of persistent contamination of tailing ponds. We read that one of the mines “employed” 1000 men, 800 women and 500 children.

Our travels were assisted by treacle tart with Cornish clotted cream, cheese and vegetable Cornish pasties and a late meal at the Maharajah in Mevagissey.