Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Day 18b: Duncansby Head and Dunnet Head

John o' Groats is the most north-easterly settlement on the British mainland, but there are points geographically more remote that are worth a visit. So, after half an hour or so looking around John o' Groats, I set off on a short 2-mile road to the east, leading to Duncansby Head, the most north-easterly point on the British mainland. Here stands a short lighthouse (being just 11m tall). A short walk south across the clifftops led me to some great views of the Stacks of Duncansby (pictured).

I then set off back along the A836 towards Thurso. About half-way along, I took a road going north-westerly, through the village of Brough and out onto the peninsula of Dunnet Head. The road gradually rose to a high point of just over 100m after about 5 miles, where I found another lighthouse - this one situated at the most northerly point on the British mainland. I ate a pleasant lunch here with spectacular views of rainbows framing the island of Hoy (one of the Orkneys) beyond the lighthouse.

Finally, I set off back to Thurso, with a couple of unexpected and fierce showers to remind me of the vagaries of the Scottish weather. The sun was shining again when I arrived back in Thurso, however - a wonderful end to a fantastic holiday!

Distance: 31.9 miles
Total ascent: 488m
Interactive route map and profile: http://ridewithgps.com/trips/2190

Day 18a: Thurso to John o' Groats

A great start to my final day, with a mixture of clear blue skies to the north and cloud to the south providing a lot of sunshine throughout the day. From Thurso, the A836 followed the coast quite closely and was pretty flat, with just a few undulations every now and again. The road seemed fairly busy for the first few miles, but got a lot quieter at around Castletown (where there is a B-road to Wick).

The going was pretty easy, especially with a slight south-westerly breeze to help me on my way, and I arrived into John o' Groats at around 10:15am, just under 16 days and 23 hours after leaving Land's End! That's only about 15 days and 3 hours over the current record - hmm, maybe next time ;-)

In fact, I was a little too early getting to John o' Groats as the "official" signpost wasn't yet set up. So, I had my photo taken against a "fake" sign by one of the gift shops. After a little wander around, admiring the excellent clear views across to the Isle of Stroma and the Orkneys beyond, I was done! Or was I? - read on to the next entry...

Distance: 19.8 miles
Total ascent: 231m
Cumulative distance: 1038.7 miles
Interactive route map and profile: http://ridewithgps.com/trips/2189

Monday, 31 August 2009

Day 17: Altnaharra to Thurso

After an excellent breakfast including home-made venison sausages, I left the friendly folks at the Altnaharra B&B for my journey to Thurso. On their advice, I'd decided to change my planned route to continue following the A836 north before heading east at Tongue. This would be a few miles longer, and slightly hillier, than the B-roads going north-east, but considerably more scenic.

I definitely wasn't disappointed - the landscapes were just as stunning as yesterday, with the added bonus of passing by several lochs. The weather was cloudy, but dry and still - the only annoyance being the hordes of midges descending on me every time I stopped for a photo. Having not encountered a single midge before today, I had been beginning to wonder what all the fuss was about, but this certainly showed me!

After great views over the Kyle of Tongue, the road curved east, still single-track. It also began to get noticeably hillier at this point, with the largest hills being just before and after Bettyhill - the first settlement since Lairg yesterday large enough to boast a shop! The road continued east from Bettyhill as a proper two-track road (although still extremely light in traffic). Here it ran closer to the coast, with the occasional glimpse of a beach or bay, although mostly the sea was hidden behind hills to the north.

In the large but unexciting village of Reay (just before Dounreay), the route left the A836 to cut across inland for the final 10 miles or so to Thurso. I was surprised to find myself going through proper cultivated farmland on this road - something I had not seen this far north so far. I arrived at my slightly tired-looking hotel just after 3pm, happy in the knowledge that I was now only just over 20 miles away from John o' Groats!

Distance: 59.0 miles
Total ascent: 1208m
Cumulative distance: 1018.9 miles
Interactive route map and profile: http://ridewithgps.com/trips/2101

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Day 16: Dingwall to Altnaharra

Much better weather today - rather cloudy but with quite a lot of sunshine from time to time. Above all, the wind was much lighter; it was generally pretty still, with just the occassional lightish breeze which didn't hinder me too much.

I set off out of Dingwall taking the high road, which meant a bit of a climb at first but this soon gave some great views over the Cromarty Firth. It was also a great relief not to be within sight or sound of the A9 for a change - this road (and all the roads today) was extremely quiet. After skirting the firth for a while, the road headed off north through the mountains and some truly spectacular scenery. At the road's summit, the Dornoch Firth came into view and there was a wonderful fast descent around to the small town of Bonar Bridge.

After a couple of miles at sea level, the road rose again alongside the River Shin. At the top were the Falls of Shin: some impressive waterfalls, which were a perfect place to eat lunch. Some people claimed to have seen salmon leaping a little earlier, but I didn't catch any glimpses. After this, the road got quieter still until reaching Lairg, "the cross-roads of the north". I continued by the side of Loch Shin for a short section until a junction where the A836, which I was following, suddenly became a single-track road with many passing places, but hardly any cars to use them! This was a fantastic road through the mountains, with beautifully wild and lonely landscapes stretching out everywhere. Sometimes I would stop and listen to the blissful silence, punctuated only by the sound of the very occasional insect or bird.

The approach to Altnaharra saw some of the best scenery of the day, as I rounded the impressive mountain "Meall Nan Con" (standing some 961m high) to see Loch Naver stretching out before me. Altnaharra itself turned out to consist of about 3 or 4 houses (plus a closed-down hotel), so the friendly B&B owner usually provides evening meals as well, and I was glad to have booked this ahead. Unsurprisingly there is no mobile phone coverage here at all, but being used to a succession of cyclists doing the end-to-end and writing blogs, the B&B owners have thoughtfully provided a PC with internet connection!

So, 16 days done - tomorrow should see me end in Thurso, from which it's just a short ride to my final destination!

Distance: 60.0 miles
Total ascent: 996m
Cumulative distance: 959.9 miles
Interactive route map and profile: http://ridewithgps.com/trips/2008

Day 15: Kingussie to Dingwall

I awoke today to blue skies and sunshine, a promising start. However, by the time I left it had started raining, and the weather would continue to be very changeable - intermittent sunshine and showers, with several rainbows to be seen throughout the day. The one constant was the cold northerly wind. This was probably as strong as yesterday, but (especially in the morning) I was generally not heading straight into it or was going through more sheltered parts so it didn't seem quite so bad.

Early on I passed some imposing ruins labelled "Ruthven Barracks" on my way out westwards along the quiet B970 (still following NCN 7 from yesterday). This was a pleasant ride through forested country with masses of heather all over the place. Some time after passing by Loch Insh, the road turned into Aviemore, which for some reason was besieged by hundreds of leather-clad (motor-)bikers. They were everywhere, filling every available pub and guest-house car park, as well as many more on the roads than there were cars. I even spotted one, which had obviously had some kind of engine trouble, being doused by a fire-engine! On the very busy (and distinctly un-Sustrans-like) A95 out of town yet more bikers were arriving from the north.

Thankfully, NCN 7 soon left the A95 onto a B-road to Carrbridge (at this point the flow of bikers reduced to a slow trickle). Then came a steady climb up through the pass of Slochd. The route here was parallel to the A9 and, like yesterday's pass, the wind was incredibly strong. Luckily this was a much shorter climb, however, and soon followed by a rapid descent to more sheltered parts at Tomatin.

Early in the afternoon, I passed through Culloden, site of the last battle to be fought on British soil. Unfortunately, signing here (both general road-signs and NCN signs) was pretty poor, and I missed seeing the battlefield location itself - the only sign mentioning it had been a couple of miles before the town. So, I was soon threading my way through Inverness (now following NCN 1), eventually crossing the Moray Firth on the bridge carrying the A9. Passing Inverness somehow made me feel that I'd finally made it to "The North"!

The last few miles across the Black Isle to Dingwall were again a bit of a struggle into a very strong wind, but I arrived at last to my B&B. This was not in fact the one I had originally booked; I had received a call at the top of a mountain in Lancashire to say the owner had been called away, and giving me details of an alternative. I think I did well, however, as the one I've ended up in is right on the edge of town with fantastic views across the Cromarty Firth.

Distance: 66.7 miles
Total ascent: 1202m
Cumulative distance: 899.9 miles
Interactive route map and profile: http://ridewithgps.com/trips/2009

Friday, 28 August 2009

Day 14: Pitlochry to Kingussie

This morning, I sat eating the best breakfast I've had so far with the depressing sight of rain pouring down outside. Fortunately, by the time I'd bought some sandwiches in the town and was ready to leave, it had just come to a stop. I set off along NCN 7, which I was following all the way to Kingussie. Initially, this was along the B8079, running roughly parallel to the A9. Much earlier than expected, I came to a bridge crossing the River Garry, so took the opportunity to get some photos of my namesake. The road continued running alongside, although the banks were heavily wooded at this point (and also a railway line between the river and road) so it was not easy to catch many glimpses.

At the Falls of the Bruar, NCN 7 left the B-road and onto an old unused road running mostly parallel and quite close to the A9 - presumably, this had been the main road before the current A9 was built. The route would continue to use this old road for most of the rest of the day, sometimes switching to a stone path running alongside or just below the A9 when the old road disappeared. Overgrown cats-eyes and unused lay-bys were also occasionally to be seen. Soon, the trees began to thin out and the road became more exposed as it gradually climbed higher into the Grampians. This gave some excellent views of the River Garry wending its way through Glen Garry!

As the road rose higher and became more exposed, the headwind I'd been experiencing got steadily stronger and stronger, making it quite hard going. The wind also made it feel pretty cold, and intermittent rain added to the misery! Nevertheless, around lunchtime I'd made it half-way to my destination and was already higher than at any point previous on my trip. I ate my sandwiches in a slightly (but not very!) sheltered spot when Loch Garry had just come into sight to my left. This was a great view, with mountains surrounding me on all sides.

A mile or so further on, I reached the summit of the Drumochter pass, said to be 462m above sea-level (although my GPS claimed 468m), the highest I will reach in my entire trip. From here, I gradually began to descend again, still battling the wind, although this was beginning to ease a little. The route then diverged from the A9 along ordinary roads, passing through Dalwhinnie and past its distillery. From this point the winds dropped considerably and, together with a wonderfully smooth road surface, I really began to pick up speed at last.

The last few miles were a fast and easy descent into Newtonmore, where at last some sunshine was provided. Shortly afterwards I arrived into Kingussie and checked in to my hotel, where I found I'd been upgraded to a magnificent room with the holy grail of ensuites - a bath! A long, hot soak and a delicious (if rather expensive) meal in the hotel completed a satisfying day.

Distance: 44.8 miles
Total ascent: 749m
Cumulative distance: 833.2 miles
Interactive route map and profile: http://ridewithgps.com/trips/1972

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Day 13: Kinross to Pitlochry

Sunshine again today, and somewhat of a slow escape from Kinross, since the council had decided to resurface about 3 miles of the main road out of town all at once. I had a much brighter view of Loch Leven from the north than I had managed yesterday, but unfortunately Leven Castle could not be seen from this side. The journey to Perth was fast but pleasant, initially along the B996 and then the A912. For a few miles the road followed a river flowing down through a narrow, winding wooded valley. Traffic was light except a short section connecting the A913 with the M90.

In the centre of Perth, at the main bridge over the Tay, I joined NCN 77 towards Pitlochry. This route largely followed off-road paths, starting with paths along the banks of the Tay and then the Almond for the first few miles. After a few more miles along empty country roads, it then took to a path shadowing the busy A9, arriving into the attractive town of Dunkeld. Here, I ate a relaxed lunch on the banks of the Tay, looking up at the town's impressive main bridge.

After lunch, I passed Dunkeld Cathedral and continued on the NCN 77, which was again following pleasant off-road paths. This first continued along the Tay, before crossing back over and then rising slowly through woodland. A couple of miles from Pitlochry, I had a great view of the town nestling on the forested lower slopes of the mountains. I arrived around 2:30pm, and spent some time looking at the hydro-electric dam and its "fish ladder", provided to allow the salmon to migrate upstream past the dam. I'd last seen this about 25 years ago, when it seemed much larger and steeper!

Once I'd checked in to my hotel, I wandered back down to the high street for a while. I realised how lucky I'd been with the almost unbroken sunshine throughout the day when a torrential downpour suddenly began - the rain continuing for most of the evening. I took shelter in a nearby pub, treating myself to a meal of haggis, neeps and tatties - one of my favourites.

Distance: 51.8 miles
Total ascent: 1013m
Cumulative distance: 788.4 miles
Interactive route map and profile: http://ridewithgps.com/trips/1954

Day 12: Traquair to Kinross

In contrast to yesterday evening's sunshine, the rain was torrential as I had my breakfast in Traquair. After putting on my wet weather gear, it had eased off slightly, and I set out towards Peebles. Luckily, this road was quite sheltered from the rain, mostly being surrounded by woodland. From Peebles I joined the main A703 to Edinburgh. Although much busier (and much, much flatter!) than most roads I've taken so far, it was by no means heavily trafficked, with plenty of long quiet gaps. The rain gradually lightened, until it stopped completely a few miles from Peebles.

Before getting to Penicuik, my route forked off towards Bonyrigg, in order to avoid the busiest approaches to Edinburgh. As I began to curve back round to the west, I found that the planned route was trying to take me along a very narrow muddy woodland trail. On the Brompton, especially in the rain (which had now started again) this didn't seem a good idea, so I continued on the main road until I crossed the A720 ring road and found my way back to the route, following the B701, part of the designated inner ring road for cyclists.

With the sun occasionally shining, I travelled through the pleasant leafy suburbs to the south of the city, before going through some of the less-affluent areas to the west. At Barnton, I joined NCN 1, a mostly traffic-free route that took me up to and across the Forth Road Bridge. This was just as impressive as the Severn Bridge (although thankfully with no strong winds), with the added bonus of great views of the magnificent Forth Rail Bridge. I ate lunch just over the bridge in Inverkeithing, next to an interesting and detailed map of the region's cycle routes.

After an initial climb out of Inverkeithing, the final part of the day was spent on reasonably flat and quiet but uninspiring A- and B-roads through Cowdenbeath and Kelty to Kinross. The rain came down briefly again a few miles from the end, giving a misty look to Loch Leven as I passed by. My B&B was easy to find, on the high street, and close to an excellent Indian restaurant where I ate far too much! Sadly, internet connections and phone signals were non-existent here, hence the delay to this installment. I suspect this may become a recurring feature as I venture further north.

Distance: 62.2 miles
Total ascent: 1128m
Cumulative distance: 736.6 miles
Interactive route map and profile: http://ridewithgps.com/trips/1953

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Day 11: Brampton to Traquair

Today was another gloriously sunny day, right from the outset. My planned route for the morning took me across the line of Hadrian's Wall just a few miles out of Brampton. However, I'd been misled by inadequate research and an inaccurate map; it turned out that there were no easily-visible remains in the area (despite the village's promising name of Walton). Two friendly locals told me that the nearest place to see anything was a few miles to the east, near Lanercost. Off I went, glad that I had my paper maps with me, since the GPS wasn't showing any of the roads at all, and a signpost at a T-Junction only had directions back to Walton. Nevertheless, the section was definitely worth a visit, having a partial turret and spectacular views to the south, as well as the nearby ruins of Lanercost Priory.

I returned to Walton the same way, as the map I was using didn't show all the lanes either, and I didn't much fancy getting lost. The detour had taken exactly 10 miles, and here I was only about 3 miles from Brampton and it was already nearly half-past ten! The rest of the morning was spent on lots of empty lanes which constantly undulated up and down, making it very hard going. Eventually I made it over the border at just past midday, and at last I was in Scotland! A while later I arrived into Langholm, feeling pretty tired and still with 42 miles left to go. After a chat with a fellow Brompton-enthusiast, I had a relaxing meal at the first pub I came across. Then I picked up some food for the evening (guessing I'd be too tired to venture out) before setting off again.

The road from Langholm to Traquair (the B709, although with only extremely infrequent passing traffic) was in stark contrast to the lanes of the morning. This was a well-surfaced, mostly straight road which had steady climbs followed by long relaxing descents (usually of several miles). The scenery along the road was spectacular as well, with striking mountains, huge forests (much of the infrequent traffic being logging trucks) and the River Esk for much of the way. The biggest hive of activity seemed to be at the unexpected Tibetan building complex located about half-way up the road.

After the fifth and final long climb on the road, it headed downwards for several miles until I finally reached my destination of Traquair at about 5:45pm. It had been a long and quite tiring day - no more 10 mile diversions for me from now on!

Distance: 77.2 miles
Total ascent: 1893m
Cumulative distance: 674.4 miles
Interactive route map and profile: http://ridewithgps.com/trips/1910

Monday, 24 August 2009

Day 10: Ingleton to Brampton

A bright and sunny start this morning, which began with a quick ride west along the A85 to the edge of Kirkby Lonsdale. I then followed a mixture of narrow, quiet A- and B-roads and country lanes. This took me north along the western edge of the Yorkshire Dales, with some stunning scenery to be admired. After a while, the road neared the M6, passing directly under it and then rising steeply to a height of over 300m, well above the motorway which soon disappeared behind the landscape. There were some great views from here, as the road continued for a while along the top before plunging quickly back down again, eventually re-crossing the M6, this time above it.

The route then left the Dales behind, continuing north through a succession of small villages. This was an extremely quiet part, and generally pretty flat as well. Shortly after lunch I passed under the busy A66, which curiously was not shown on the GPS map, leading me to worry at one point whether the left turn I was due to take was actually going to be the A66 itself!

Whilst descending the final big hill of the day, I had to come to a stop just outside the village of Croglin, where a large flock of sheep was being shepherded down the road to new pasture. Unlike the herds of rather docile cows I've often seen wandering the lanes of Wiltshire on their way to be milked, the sheep were extremely noisy and excited, obviously in a rush to find the best grass!

The last section of the route leading to the bustling Cumbrian town of Brampton was a little busier, but easy to cycle. I found my accommodation on the way out of the town, a large imposing Victorian house in huge grounds (complete with its own sheep and other livestock) and with a suitably long and winding drive. After an excellent meal, I'm now getting ready for my final night in England before crossing the border tomorrow morning.

Distance: 66.8 miles
Total ascent: 1372m
Cumulative distance: 597.2 miles
Interactive route map and profile: http://ridewithgps.com/trips/1909

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Day 9: Leigh to Ingleton

Last night was not the most relaxing ever. There was no air conditioning in the hotel, and the room was sweltering so it took quite a while to get to sleep. Then, at around 1:30am I was awoken by a party of wedding guests, who had obviously decided to continue their celebrations in the corridors after the main bar had been closed. Luckily, my ear plugs came to the rescue; some of them were still at it by 6:45am...

The morning ride was also not the most inspiring, passing through the dreary towns of Leigh, Westhoughton and Chorley. The constant proximity to the M61 (over and under which I passed several times) did not help, and I developed a splitting headache for most of the morning.

Things began to improve at last with a climb through the pretty village of Mellor, followed a while later by a couple of fantastic straight descents into Whalley. I ate lunch before setting off through the Forest of Bowland, which offered some wonderful landscapes despite the grey skies. Several long but gradual climbs took me to over 300m above sea-level; the highest on the trip to date had been around 260m.

Nearing the end of the day, rain set in as I slowly climbed up a deserted (except for sheep) road to the highest point so far - 426m. Over the crest of the hill, the rain dissipated and I had a long easy ride down the far side to High Bentham for 3 or 4 miles, feeling thrilled to see the sign announcing I was passing into North Yorkshire on the way. A few miles further on I checked into my B&B in the picturesque village of Ingleton. In the nearby "Craven Heifer" I had a delicious meal washed down with the appropriate local beer, "Lancaster Bomber"!

Oh, and by the way, I'm now over half-way to John o'Groats :-)

Distance: 64.0 miles
Total ascent: 1853m
Cumulative distance: 530.4 miles
Interactive route map and profile: http://ridewithgps.com/trips/1858

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Day 8: Shawbirch to Leigh

A gloriously sunny day today, which helped improve my view of the pleasant but unremarkable Shropshire and Cheshire countryside through which I was cycling. The most impressive sight to be seen during the morning ride was looking back at the Wrekin, over which I'd come yesterday. The roads were again pretty deserted, except when travelling through the towns of Market Drayton, Nantwich and Middlewich. The route was almost completely flat, which made for an easy but unexciting ride; the main points of interest coming when occasionally crossing the Shropshire Union Canal.

I ate lunch quite early (I was getting hungry due to the pathetic and extortionately-priced "breakfast bag" obtained at the Travelodge: a cereal bar, about 12 cornflakes and by far the most appalling tea I've ever tasted - quite some feat considering I've travelled by British Rail back in the day); nevertheless, I'd already covered about two-thirds of the day's route.

The afternoon saw some slightly busier roads and generally less interesting (but still flat) countryside. Instead of canals, I was now passing over motorways (the M6, M56 and M62). The highlight of the afternoon was undoubtedly crossing an impressive iron bridge over the Manchester Ship Canal, about 10 miles from the end. I arrived into my hotel just before 3pm; after a long hot soak in the bath, I had a filling meal in the attached restaurant. Hopefully a good rest will leave me feeling prepared for the much harder day ahead tomorrow.

Distance: 69.7 miles
Total ascent: 753m
Cumulative distance: 466.4 miles
Interactive route map and profile: http://ridewithgps.com/trips/1836

Friday, 21 August 2009

Day 7: Burghill to Shawbirch

I set off this morning with mostly grey skies and a bit of very fine misty rain about, which came as a bit of a disappointment considering only half an hour before the breakfast room was flooded with sunshine. Still, this cleared up within the hour and I made quick progress along the mostly flat, empty and well-surfaced roads through the Herefordshire countryside. Early on I passed through Leominster, stopping at a cycle shop to pick up some new mitts, having managed to leave mine at Bristol (together with some socks). The shop owner was obviously familiar with end-to-enders, as he immediately assumed this was what I was doing, only wondering in which direction I was making the trip!

At around 11am I arrived into Ludlow, an extremely picturesque market town with some great architecture. As I was making such good progress, I wandered around for an hour or so, visiting the large castle in the town centre, dating back to Norman times. The weather by this time was extremely hot and sunny. It therefore came a bit of a surprise when, two miles further down the road, there was a sudden heavy shower, with lighter rain persisting for another hour or so.

The next 20 miles or so took me through some very sparsely-populated areas, with only a handful of tiny hamlets throughout. After the longest climb of the day, I came to the large village of Much Wenlock, where I was relieved to be able to buy some lunch, as it was now after 2pm. Shortly after this came a fantastic descent into the Ironbridge gorge. At the bottom I crossed by the Iron bridge itself, which was open to cyclists and pedestrians. After a brief stop was a long and occasionally steep climb up the other side of the gorge. Eventually this led through the village of Little Wenlock.

Passing through the Wrekin hills there was then another fast descent to the town of Wellington. Shortly afterwards I arrived in Shawbirch, just north of Telford. Due to the V music festival, I had found it impossible to book a B&B in the area for a single night, so I was staying at the local Travelodge, making this by far the most expensive stop on my trip (more than twice as much as last night, and with no breakfast provided!) Still, at least the carvery next door was cheap (£3.50) and convenient.

Distance: 61.0 miles
Total ascent: 1478m
Cumulative distance: 396.7 miles
Interactive route map and profile: http://ridewithgps.com/trips/1814

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Day 6: Bristol to Burghill

Today started off a little badly. There were just a few light spots of rain in the air when I set out, but by the time I got to the end of the road (less than 100m!) it had started to rain heavily and I had to deploy all my wet weather gear. When I reached the Westerleigh Road, I glanced down at my GPS and found that I'd forgotten to set the route for the day (something I'd have noticed immediately on any other day, when I didn't know where I was going). I fixed this, and a few minutes later, after going through Kendleshire, I realised that my progress was no longer being logged - setting the route had stopped the timer! Finally all fixed up, I set off through the back lanes of South Gloucestershire towards the Severn Bridge.

In Olveston I rather foolishly followed a sign towards the Severn Bridge for cyclists, rather than relying on the GPS. This took me miles out of the way on a rather circuitous (but quiet) route. Eventually I did reach the bridge and crossed it using the wide cycle/walkway. The cross-winds were pretty strong, and continued for a while on the other side until well past the bridge. I then took the relatively quiet A466 to Tintern, where I stopped for a short time to look at the abbey ruins. By this time, the skies were blue and the sun was shining, as it would for the rest of the day.

From Tintern I crossed the Wye and took a long steep country lane up the other side of the valley. At the top this joined a B-road, skirting along the western edge of the Forest of Dean. I was then off again across another valley on rough lanes before joining the B4234. I stopped for lunch at a small picnic site on the banks of the Wye, and watched some novice canoeists being instructed before setting off on the river. A good view of Goodrich Castle was just a short distance further down the road, and shortly after I came into the pleasant town of Ross-on-Wye.

I left Ross by quiet lanes following the course of the Wye. This was extremely picturesque, but a bit hilly. Then I joined the busy and hilly B4399 into Hereford. By the time I arrived I was getting pretty tired and, knowing that my B&B was pretty much in the middle of nowhere, decided to pick up something to eat on the way through. My route followed cycle paths through residential areas, and it wasn't until I was almost out of the town that I finally found a corner shop. A couple of miles further on, after one more hill, I arrived at the B&B, a big old house on the reasonably quiet A4110.

Distance: 67.6 miles (and a bit more, not logged)
Total ascent: 1704m
Cumulative distance: 335.7 miles
Interactive route map and profile: http://ridewithgps.com/trips/1799 (part 1)
Interactive route map and profile: http://ridewithgps.com/trips/1800 (part 3)

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Day 5: Glastonbury to Bristol

I was expecting another fairly easy day today, as it's one of the shortest distances planned. The weather was also fantastic today, with blue skies and sunshine all day, which made a change from the last few rather grey days (although the sun had made an appearance yesterday, but only as I was coming to the end of the ride).

After leaving Glastonbury, I re-joined NCN 3 where it ran alongside the A39 for a short while, before turning off across the levels again. About 5 miles on, the terrain became slightly hillier on the approach into Wells. I arrived there just before 10am, and wandered around for a while admiring the beautiful architecture of the city, particularly the cathedral and its surrounds.

A couple of miles out of Wells, just past Wookey Hole caves, was the long steep road leading up into the Mendips. Slightly worryingly, this was marked with a "Road Closed Ahead" sign but, having no alternative plan to hand, I decided to press on. At the top (with some wonderful views back across Somerset) it became clear that the road closure was actually going to be in the village of Priddy, for the Priddy sheep fair. I was able to cycle most of the way into the village, and only had to dismount to walk through the fair itself.

The route continued across the top of the Mendips for about 10-12 miles, and was generally pretty flat. About half-way across was Charterhouse, where there were various remains of a Roman settlement to be seen, including lead workings, an ampitheatre and a small fort. I wandered around the ruins of the fort for a while before pressing on.

Half-way down the descent from the Mendips were some excellent views of Chew Valley Lake to the north, and these were repeated at the top of another hill just to the west of the lake. Around here, my route left NCN 3 and soon joined the Avon Cycleway (Regional Route 10). I'd cycled this several years before (although in the opposite, clockwise, direction) so it was familiar in places. After a few more hills I was in much more familiar territory, and stopped off for a pint and a pie at the "Bird In The Hand" in Saltford, a popular pub backing onto the Bristol to Bath cycle path.

Following lunch, I joined the path for the final few miles. Having lived in Bristol most of my life (and at times within a few metres of the path) this was extremely familiar to me. I finally arrived into Bristol just after 3pm, to stay with my parents for the night. It seems strange to now be back where I started from, almost as if I haven't really gone anywhere yet! However, it's good to know that I am actually now just over a quarter of the way through the trip.

Distance: 46.1 miles
Total ascent: 1219 m
Cumulative distance: 268.1 miles
Interactive route map and profile: http://ridewithgps.com/trips/1785

Day 4: Bampton to Glastonbury

(NB: Sorry for the lack of update yesterday - I couldn't get a reliable internet connection.)

The route for today was simply to follow NCN 3 all the way to Glastonbury, and it started directly outside the pub at which I'd been staying. The first hill out of Bampton was the longest and steepest of the day, but even so not too difficult. I followed quiet country lanes for the first 15 miles or so, with a few occasional small climbs.

After this, the route gradually dropped down to the Somerset levels, and entered Taunton at about the 20 mile mark. This time, NCN 3 was well signposted through the town, and despite a short section being closed due to some construction works, I managed to avoid losing the route. Near the centre of town, the route joined the towpath running alongside the Bridgwater to Taunton canal, and stayed with it almost all the way to the outskirts of Bridgwater, with just a couple occasional diversions off onto country lanes. I ate lunch midway along the canal at a peaceful spot, occasionally interrupted by surprisingly-frequent high-speed trains on the railway running nearby.

I got slightly lost at Bridgwater, as my GPS route disagreed with the NCN 3 signs. I decided to follow the GPS, which turned out to be a mistake as I ended up at a dead end! After backtracking I found a way back onto the 3, and continued on my way. This soon left the riverside, going down country lanes. At this point, the Somerset levels spread out in all directions, with the only hills far off in the distance - a very strange experience!

The road rose slightly again at about the 43-mile mark, and skirted around the edge of the levels. This gave great views over them, and also across to Glastonbury and its Tor in the distance. Towards the end of the day, the route dropped back down to the levels and finally entered Glastonbury, going through the town centre and round the base of the Tor to my B&B, which was about a mile-and-a-half out of town. My room was basic and small (with a shared bathroom) but had a great view of the top of the Tor and its tower.

After a quick shower, I walked up the Tor for the most amazing views of the levels. I then investigated the town and had something to eat before returning to the B&B. With all the walking involved, my legs were now in far worse shape than when I'd arrived, so I decided to give them a well-earned rest and had an early night.

Distance: 56.4 miles
Total ascent: 949 m
Cumulative distance: 222.0 miles
Interactive houte map and profile: http://ridewithgps.com/trips/1761

Monday, 17 August 2009

Day 3: Bude to Bampton

A much better night's sleep last night, followed by a delicious full English breakfast cooked by the friendly B&B owner. I could really get used to this ;-) After stocking up on provisions at the local Sainsburys, I finally set off from Bude at around 9:30am.

The route led out of the pretty adjoining village of Stratton, a fairly steep climb on quiet country lanes. After a while this flattened out to very gently rolling farmland (and some very muddy lanes). Crossing the border from Cornwall into Devon after about 6 miles left me with a real sense of achievement!

I joined the lightly-trafficked B3227 at the village of Stib Cross. A long fast descent into Taddiport was great fun, but this was soon followed by an extremely steep climb to the picturesque town of Great Torrington. I ate lunch at the top of a hill a little further on.

Early afternoon saw a number of relatively steep but short hills. After this the road joined the A361 for a less pleasant mile or so, before splitting back off again. Following a gradual climb to around 250m, the road was flat and fast for several miles, with great views of Exmoor to the north. Then one more fast descent was followed by a final big (but not too steep) hill before I arrived into the quiet and pretty town of Bampton at around 4:15pm. Here I was staying in a pub, so only had to go downstairs for a superb meal (washed down by a couple of pints of Doom Bar) in the attached restaurant.

Distance: 59.3 miles
Total ascent: 1727 m
Fat hairy caterpillars crossing the road: 6
Cumulative distance: 165.6 miles
Interactive route map and profile: http://ridewithgps.com/trips/1746