AJoG – Day 5 – Dunoon to Fort William – 173km

Plan: https://www.routeyou.com/en-gb/route/view/6309644/race-cycle-route/ajog05-dunoon-to-fort-william

Actual: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/3847318136

The hotel breakfast was meant to start at 7:30, but no one turned up until close to 8, so it was a late start to the day.

I’d been looking forward to this point in the trip, finally cycling off into the wilderness. It didn’t disappoint, despite starting off in the rain.

Rain!

From the previous days experience, I decided to put on the thermal wet-weather tights (they didn’t come off until JoG) and didn’t regret it.

The roads from Dunoon to Inveraray and on to the A85 and Dalmally were all well surfaced, wide and quiet.

Out of Dunoon, I had good views of Loch Eck and the mist shrouded hills.

Then I hit the firth, where I could see Inverary the other side, but knew I was going to have to go the long way round.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0206.JPG

Having joined the A83 and rounded the end of the firth, I started to see loads of heavily laden cyclists coming the other way. I tried to get a picture of some of them, but rain drops all over the lens make them abit pointless. This also put paid to several pictures of Inveraray castle.

I stopped at a petrol station in Inveraray to stock up on pills and had a couple of chocolate bars while I was at it. I was tempted to find other food, but it seemed early and only 20 miles to the next possible food stop.

The A819 between Inveraray and A85 was another excellent road, quiet and smooth with a great descent.

A819

A819

The only shame was that the low hanging clouds completely obscured the view of mountains opposite I should have had.

The A85 was a little busier, but I knew I wasn’t going to be on it for long. I had intended to stop at the Glenorchy Lodge Hotel, but I was dismayed to roll up and find it closed. Who doesn’t open for lunch?! Fortunately, I spotted signs off the A85 to the Highland Critters Gift Shop & Tearoom, so I had some sandwiches and cake.

After lunch, I turned off the A85 onto the B8074 into Glen Orchy, which turned out to be really excellent. The surface wasn’t great, but I had it almost entirely to myself with only the noise of the river for company, including the Easan Dubha waterfall.

I emerged onto the A82 only having seen about 2 cars in the past hour. For a while the A82 was also deserted, but with a good surface and a tailwind! It was nice to spot yet more cyclists coming the other way.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0233.JPG

Road to myself

Fellow travellers

I felt strong on the ascent up out of the valley to the Loch Tulla viewpoint.

After my photo stop, I kept climbing for a while before the route flattened out. I assumed I’d soon be descending into Glencoe, but the “top” went on for ages. Also, at the same time, the beautiful tailwind somehow turned into a vicious headwind, the surface fell apart and loads of traffic turned up. I’m not clear where it all came from at 3:30 in the afternoon as the road has no turn offs!

The moorland was suitably barren with the clouds closing in on the surrounding mountains (yet again denying me the view).

Across the moor

I finally got to the descent into Glen Coe only for the rain to arrive (or did I just ride into it the other side of the mountain range?).

I didn’t feel I was going very quickly, probably because of the headwind, so I dived off the main road onto back roads through Glencoe.

Glencoe back road

The final 25k to Fort William was un-inspiring, apart from the Ballachulish Bridge.

Ballachulish Bridge

Traffic was heavy, surface was in-consistent and there were no views to speak of.

The random cycle paths now returned, with various sketchy bits on either side of the road, with cyclists expected to cross every few hundred metres. I tried one or two when I was feeling particularly tired, but the chopping and changing annoyed me more than just plugging along with the traffic.

I was glad to roll into Fort William and take a picture of Ben Nevis (well, what I could see anyway).

The Premier Inn had a secret drying room, so I was able to do a little washing (especially socks!). I even got let in by the night porter to re-arrange my stuff at 3am!

I can’t remember what I had at the attached Brewers Fayre, but it did involve a large pile of chips!

Day 6: https://cyclingcoder.wordpress.com/2019/07/11/ajog-day-6-fort-william-to-lairg-185km/

AJoG – Day 4 – Lockerbie to Dunoon – 150km

Plan: https://www.routeyou.com/en-gb/route/view/6385414/race-cycle-route/ajog04-lockerbie-dunoon-short

Actual: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/3847318044

Woke up to mist and rain over the lake outside and went into the service station next door for several McDonalds breakfast muffins.

The forecast was for rain, but fairly muggy, so I went for shorts with leg warmers rather than thermal trousers. This turned out to be a mistake because the temperature never made it above 15 degrees and the rain was much heavier than forecast.

My original plan had a route over the hills to Kilmarnock https://www.routeyou.com/en-gb/route/view/6308663/race-cycle-route/ajog04-lockerbie-to-dunoon, but I had late on, planned the slightly more direct route that cut close to Glasgow in case I felt really tired after the previous three 200k+ days. I did feel tired, but I held this as an option until I reached the turn-off and saw that the hills to the West were completely hidden in cloud, which would have made the scenic road to Leadhills rather pointless. So, instead I continued the steady grind up the B7078 in the ever increasing rain.

Rain 1

Rain 2

The B7076 became the A702, then the B7078. All along thing stretch (since Carlisle), there were an intermittent collection of cycle paths. Sometimes nothing, sometimes a lane at the side of the road, sometimes a segregated ditch and sometimes a rather nice looking segregated path. You wonder why they went to the effort on a road that is pretty much deserted anyway. I avoided most of these paths because they looked dreadful. Finally, there was a section that looked ok and it was up-hill, so I wouldn’t lose so much time jumping on and off.

Mainly the video shows how much it was raining!

The clouds did lift enough at one point for me to get a good view of the Clyde valley.

Finally I was away from the M74 and on fast, rolling B roads towards Strathaven. This included another immaculate piece of segregated cycle path for a few km.

Path

In Strathaven, it was getting towards mid-day and I spotted a chip shop (Cafe Q?) I could wheel my bike into. I felt like I was really in Scotland when I ordered a deep fried pizza supper. Fortunately, the owners let me sit in a corner to eat out of the rain.

Powered up with the chips, I enjoyed the country lanes to Newton Mearns. After this, it seemed like an age of fiddly navigation through slightly grim suburbia. It was less than 20km but seemed to take hours as there were no stretches to get a rhythm and I took wrong turns quite a few times. I did get a picture towards Glasgow from Barrhead. It looked better in real life when you could ignore the houses in the foreground.

During this bit of urban navigation, there were about 5 closed roads, all of which I ignored. The most significant was the road past the Balgray reservoir. There were alot of “road closed” signs on the way in, but I didn’t notice any reason for the closure while I enjoyed my peaceful ride around the reservoir. The far end of the closure looked abit more substantial, with a fence across the road under a bridge. Fortunately, there was a small gap that I managed to squeeze through. I see now on Google maps, that there is a cycle path around the reservoir the other side, which could have been an alternative.

I finally ended up on a great cycle path out of Elderslie towards Greenock. It must have been an old railway line to be so wide and smooth. It was at this point that the steady drizzle became torrential rain.

The end of the cycle path looked abit fiddly on the map and I’d had enough of “navigation”, so I dived off onto the B788 which was a nice road over the hills to Greenock. This ended with a long decent in a strong crosswind (also not forecast).

It was amazing to have a view of the Firth of Clyde on the way down, but by the time I got to the bottom, I was really cold. I had then planned in some more faffy navigation off and back onto A roads to get a ride along the promenade when I really could have done with just blasting along.

Greenock Promenade

It felt good to get to the ferry terminal and get a cup of tea from a vending machine. This didn’t really warm me up and my temperature wasn’t helped by having to wait in the wind while the ferry was delayed by police having to deal with a drunk standing on the edge of the harbour.

Taking a ferry trip as part of a ride felt like a true adventure as it’s not something I usually do.

I hadn’t really researched the location of the ferry port in Dunoon (the ferry on the other version of the ride coming in a few miles further North) and I managed to set off in the wrong direction, up a hill on freshly ripped up road before stopping to check my phone with shivering fingers.

Finally into the Argyll Hotel and straight into the shower! I was extremely glad to find that the room had a heated towel rail AND a radiator, so I could actually dry everything (and even wash some).

I had a small wander around the town before an excellent curry in a deserted restaurant. Chatting to the proprietor, I found out that he commuted from Glasgow every day (kind of an inversion of London).

For a “short” day, it hadn’t felt particularly easy, so I was glad the days were a little shorter from here on in.

Day 5: https://cyclingcoder.wordpress.com/2019/07/10/day-5-dunoon-to-fort-william-173km/

AJoG – Day 3 – Preston to Lockerbie – 200km

Plan: https://www.routeyou.com/en-gb/route/view/6308645/race-cycle-route/ajog03-preston-to-lockerbie

Actual: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/3847317949

An early hotel breakfast set me up for the morning and riding past the queues of cars trying to get onto the motorway out of Preston.

After getting across the motorway junction, there was a km or so of nice cycle path to the A6. Well, this cycle path was great, apart from the fact that at one point, someone had put down vicious speed bumps and “slow” signs which had the effect of bouncing malt loaves and cereal bars out of my handlebar stash. This was all because of a side road that had priority over the path. This kind of highlights what’s wrong with cycle infrastructure in this country, build a cycle “superhighway”, but make sure the cyclists have to stop any time it might inconvenience motor traffic and warn them of this fact by throwing them off their bikes.

The ride down the A6 was busy, but fast and the road was wide, so people could overtake easily. I peeled off the A6 through Garstang and got mixed up with school traffic and realised I should probably have stayed on the A6. After exiting Garstang, my route should have taken me down the B5272 to Lancaster, but I decided just to keep on the A6 as it was 1 mile shorter and probably quicker. I knew the rest of the day through the Lake District was not going to be fast! It would have been more scenic to go via the B road, but it definitely wasn’t unbearable.

Lancaster seemed like a very pretty town, with another dedicated cycle/pedestrian bridge.

Then it was back onto the A6 until Carnforth. I could have again remained on the A6 instead of taking my planned detour via Yealand, but this one went through an ANOB, so I was inclined to take it. While it looks like a tiny bump on the elevation plan, these were some serious hills! A quick Google tells me I did 150m more climbing over 10km than sticking on the A6. It was indeed very beautiful though.

I had a quick brunch & cake stop at Milnthorpe (never on a “normal” ride would I think it necessary to stop after 50km), then onto the Lake District. I count this as the point where I turned off the A6 and I was onto quiet smooth roads. They were flat for the moment, but with hills on the horizon.

The A5074 is a road I would ride again even as is started to get lumpier. I had planned a detour (same length) off the A road to navigate an ascent on a smaller road. This resulted in a short, but very steep climb. However, I was rewarded afterwards by a great view.

Back onto the A road and a fast descent to Windamere, somewhat spoiled by a van that overtook when the gradient was shallow, then dawdled.

Lake Windamere was unsurprisingly pretty, but the road getting out was lousy and busy until I hit the Kirkstone pass. It still felt abit busy during the ascent, but that’s not really surprising when I’m going 5mph. The ascent was slow, but not too hard and I got some good views back down to Lake Windamere.

When I finally got to the top, it was time for my new GoPro to do its thing, so here’s a video of the descent.

It looks incredibly slow on the video, but it felt terrifying zipping between stone walls, you can hear my brakes cooking. I did manage to catch the car in front though after giving it a minutes head start, you might even hear me swearing over the wind noise as they brake sharply for no apparent reason!

The descent to Ullswater was great and felt really alpine, with chalet style houses lining the valley. I stopped at the Fell Bites Cafe in Glenridding and deeply enjoyed my ham, eggs and chips. It was slightly depressing that I was only just over half-way, but I knew most of the climbing was done for the day.

The climb away from Ullswater was much easier than I had thought, then it was an excellent ride to Carlisle, on quiet, nice roads, all slightly downhill!

Road to Carlisle

I got some good views looking back at where I’d come from.

Including this mysterious set of antennas.

During this section, I met a roadie out for a day ride who’d come over the same passes. We had a good chat about nothing much until he had to turn off for home. Nice place to live for day rides. While we cycled together, I managed to hit another bump and this time scattered ibuprofen all over the road from the handlebar pouch.

Road to Carlisle 2

Once I’d got through the rather dreary outskirts of Carlisle, it was actually quite refreshing to be riding through a town centre feeling very commuty. I had originally thought to stop for food in Carlisle, but with 45km to go, I thought I’d just push on. However, I did stop on a country lane leaving Carlisle for a pee & snack stop, where I was watched very intently by a rabbit.

Then, a road I’ve been curious about for ages. This is mainly the B7076 that parallels the M74 all the way to Glasgow. I always like small roads that run alongside big ones as they tend to be very quiet. This was indeed quiet, with a few trucks and tractors. However, as I’d seen from other LeJog reports (especially one by Idai Makaya, who did it both ways on an EliptiGo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=25qRe_Rob_8), the surface quality left something to be desired. Some was just not very smooth, other parts were gravel (where they were trying to re-surface I think) and some were awful lumps of tarmac stuck to a base that was also falling apart.

B7076

I would actually have appreciated the Vagabond 29er tyres on this stuff and I think it would have been quicker!

It seemed to take a long time juddering down these roads until I reached my hotel at Annandale Water services. Unfortunately, this was my most disappointing accommodation of the trip. The hotel was fine, with a nice view over the eponymous Annandale Water lake. However, there was no attached pub / restaurant, only a motorway services, where the pnly things open after 8pm were McDonalds and WH Smiths. So, Big Mac, chicken burger and cheeseburger it was! Also a bottle of beer from Smiths, only to discover there was no bottle opener in my room and the reception didn’t have one either. Fortunately, they did have pliers in lost-property and I managed to prise it open to counteract the 2 litres of coke I’d drunk.

I went to bed feeling very tired and rather shaken up from the bumps while watching the rain closing in on the weather forecast…

Day 4: https://cyclingcoder.wordpress.com/2019/07/09/ajog-day-4-lockerbie-to-dunoon-150km/

AJoG – Day 2 – Hereford to Preston – 238km

https://www.routeyou.com/en-gb/route/view/6379077/race-cycle-route/ajog02-hereford-preston-v2

I tried to make an early start knowing this wold be a long day. The hotel had no breakfast facilities, so I had tea and biscuits in my room and assumed I’d get something out on the road.

The ride started out with a nice cycle path through Hereford, including a picturesque river crossing.

Hereford cycle path

Hereford cycle path

River Wye

River Wye

River Wye

The A4110 heading North was scenic, but hilly and my legs were struggling after the previous days 200k, especially with a light headwind. A country lane detour off the A road gave a good excuse for a stop and photo opportunity.

Eventually I joined the A49 heading towards Church Stretton (where I knew there was a Subway). I had previously planned to stop at a small tea room beyond Church Stretton, but a quick investigation the previous night told me that the tea room was closed on Sundays (perhaps a poor business model!). The A49 was busy, but smooth and I made good time, only to discover that the subway in Church Stretton had not yet opened! Fortunately, there was an attached Costa, so I could at least have a toastie.

A49

Then, back onto the A49 to Shrewsbury. Again, busy, but fast. On the way into Shrewsbury, I ducked into a Halfords to re-stock on inner tubes. Then, onto back roads and a cycle path which included a very picturesque river crossing where there were doing a Dragon Boat race.

The roads out of Shrewsbury slowly got quieter and quieter until I was cycling through deserted countryside in the sunshine.

Good rocks

Good rocks

Lanes

Lanes

Lanes

Distant mountains

Distant mountains

The only downside was that the country lanes were of vary variable quality, often covered in dired mud and stones. I was feeling tired and the miles were ticking by very slowly. I knew there was a pub up ahead somewhere, but I couldn’t see it on my map. It was at this point, having got some good speed up well surfaced road into Tallarn Green, that I saw the route detour off down a gravel track. A quick check on the cycle computer told me that the track re-joined the “main” road about a km ahead, so I stayed on the real road. Before I got to where the track re-joined, I came round a corner and spotted a nice looking pub with a beer garden (http://www.queensheadsarn.co.uk/) as I cycled past. After a seconds dithering, I decided that this would be as good a place as any to stop, there was even another bike resting against the fence.

Having ordered and enjoying sitting in the shade with the river running past, I noticed more and more cyclists turning up, until the beer garden was full of bikes. A Lynskey pretty much the same as mine had even been parked next to it!

Pub garden

Pub garden

LEJoGers

LEJoGers

Lynskey brother

Lynskey brother

I asked some of them where they’d come from, assuming it was a club ride out from a local city. However, it turned out they were doing Land End to John o Groats! They were doing it over 10 days (my LEJoG would have been 8) and had a van driving their luggage between locations, so they were impressed by my solo effort.

I was enjoying my sit down, but I was only just over half way and the afternoon was getting on, so reluctantly, I departed and set out into the afternoon heat.

Red brickwork

The roads were still quiet, with good views onto Welsh hills. While stopped to take a picture of some of these, a group of LEJoG cyclists passed me. I assumed I would not see them again, because of my grinding pace and the fact they were doing a shorter distance with no luggage, but after 20 or so km, while skirting Chester I saw them up ahead and managed to catch them up before they avoided a blast down the A54.

The road through Helsby and Frodsham was busy and rough, the highlight being I saw the LEJoG group being services with tea. The offered me a cup, but I was feeling good at this point and reckoned I’d keep putting in the miles. However, immediately after that I stopped to take a picture of “industry” across the Mersey.

The route into Runcorn and the Mersey crossing was a strange mix of winding cycle paths alongside dual carriageways, residential roads and roadworks. All slow, but not difficult.

Fortunately, as I had researched, the Silver Jubilee bridge was open to cyclists and pedestrians. There was a “cyclists dismount” sign, which I paid attention to long enough to take a few pictures, then ignored because everyone else was.

The ride from Runcorn to St Hellens was un-memorable and very urban. I stopped for a phone call, when suddenly a masked scrambler bike rider emerged from a side road and rode across the pavement towards me. I feared for some sort of Londonesque moped mugging, but they veered off into the traffic a long way off. Maybe he could smell me…

I passed a Subway in all this and thought about having a snack, but it was “only” 50km or so to Preston.

I had been looking forward to the cycle path along side the A570 and indeed it was a nice path (though into the wind). However, I was distracted by my GPS / satnav shutting down and refusing to re-start! How was I going to navigate the next 6 days? I tried taking out the SD card, which had previously caused problems, but to no avail. In the end, I save / re-set the activity, which seemed to do the trick. I had been planning to record the entire ride as a single activity, with “laps” for each day. This seemed to give it a wobbly, as can be seen from the fact the activity actually seemed to end at my lunch stop: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/3847317604, not when the GPS shut down.

The ride from A570 to Preston started scenic, but got more and more urban. I had another mechanical problem on this stretch when my cleat came loose. I feared it was the pedal at first, but fortunately a quick tighten with an allen key sorted the problem. Strangely, while I was stopped on the verge, someone honked at me. Can’t quite see what the objection was, but people are weird.

After what seemed like an age, I reached the start of the cycle path into Preston that I’d been looking forward to. Unfortunately this optimism was misplaced as the path was really rough because of tree roots and actually had a fair number of hills! The ride through Preston to the hotel seemed to mainly involve dodging broken glass and navigating roadworks. It was with great relief that I rolled into the Ibis hotel at 7:30 hungry and tired.

The missed subway meant that I was happy to have a “Quadzilla” burger, followed by cheesecake and didn’t feel too full!!!

Day 3: https://cyclingcoder.wordpress.com/2019/07/08/ajog-day-3-preston-to-lockerbie-200km/

AJoG – Day 1 – Aldershot to Hereford – 198km

https://www.routeyou.com/en-gb/route/view/6378921/race-cycle-route/ajog01-aldo-to-hereford-v3

My route was adapted from my original LEJoG plan, just in case I changed my mind and wanted to add on the initial stretch. Therefore, my first day ended in Hereford (would have been coming from Tiverton).

I had aimed to leave at 8am, but as I expected faffing with kit and goodbyes meant it was closer to 9am before I set off down the road with the children running after me.

I took it very easy in the sunshine while I settled down with my packing arrangement. Several cereal bars and malt loaves popped out of my handlebar pouch on the first set of bumps I hit. Then after retracing my steps to pick everything up I was behind a couple of cyclists and two cars. The car directly behind the cyclists was being very patient and waiting for a section without road furniture, the second car (BMW) however was not. After swerving around looking for an overtake, they started tooting. If this had been a commute, I would have overtaken him, but this day I was happy enough to simply menace.

Hampshire

Hampshire

All want well until I had just passed under the M4 (leaving “The Shire”), when I noticed that my rear tyre was very soft. I stopped and took the wheel out┬ábut couldn’t see any obvious hole. Whether to just pump it up and carry on or make the change? I decided to change inner tube as I was stopped anyway. This flat worried me, because I had switched to lighter, fast rolling tyres for this ride, compared to my commuting tyre and I only had 2 inner tubes. Fortunately this was the only flat I had on the entire trip.

Oxfordshire

I stopped in Farringdon at a convenient cafe that turned out to be abit too cool for me. Everything was vegan / gluten free etc. The food was tasty, but rather small portions and pricey, while the owner wandered off upstairs to do some mixing of jazz or something.

Clouds gather

Glousctershire

The clouds gathered and darkened as I navigated the lumpy lanes towards Gloucester, but fortunately there was no rain, because the descent into Gloucester was terrifyingly fast. I could easily have topped 50mph, but I feathered the brakes, so ended up only just over 40. I had worried about the long drag into Gloucester being very busy, but it turned out to be fine and the centre of Gloucester was quite relaxing, despite being a navigational challenge. On my way into Gloucester, I spotted a Subway, so helped myself to a 12″ sub.

I had sub-consciously got into my head that there wasn’t that much riding after Gloucester (maybe because I was worried about the city traffic), so it came as abit of a shock to first have a long busy B-road, then (after the M50 junction) a quieter, but hilly B-road with a terrible surface. Here was the first real point where my slow speed (compared with a 10 mile commute) and bigger distances out in the country started to hit home. So, it was with some relief that I trundled into the Hereford South Travelloge and had a slap-up meal in the adjoining pub.

I felt prety tired and sore on the hands and the bum, so I was a little concerned that the next day was…

Day 2: https://cyclingcoder.wordpress.com/2019/07/07/ajog-day-2-hereford-to-preston-238km/

Aldershot to John o Groats – Into

With my 40th birthday coming up, I was looking to do some sort of cycling adventure. I’ve done a 600k Audax and I knew I didn’t want to do a longer continuous ride. A multi-day adventure would be something new, that I’d never really tried before. I’ve always thought about doing Lands End to John o Groats, but after much planning, I decided that getting down to Lands End was too much of a faff (and used up too much holiday), so I decided to start from home. I also like the idea of an adventure starting at my front door.

I was planning to use an extra day in the north of Scotland to take in and extra ride in very different surroundings, but we’ll come to that.

2018 Roudup

Mileage & trip counts:

2016 2017 2018
Miles Count Miles Count Miles Count
Sirrus 24.8 2
Linskey 3793.61 161 2863 149 2647.14 154
Khatmandu 23.43 2
Khatmandu – ice 17.12 1 113.53 7 62.88 4
Raptobike 19.24 1 58.04 2
Vagabond 215.65 14
Other 18.4 2
TOTAL 3848.37 165 3082.8 162 2925.67 172

The mileage drop continues from the highs of 2013 and 2016.

However, the arrival of small devil no3 in January:

meant the whole of February working at home to support the wife. Whether this would have resulted in much more cycling is a moot point as it coincided with the Beast from the East. It also turned out that he was not a “car sleeper”, so someone had to sit in the back to entertain him. Not a good recipe for me doing a long ride to somewhere while the family drove up after.

I found myself lacking motivation to do circular rides from home, so the numbers are made up almost solely from commuting.

On the plus side, the acquisition of the Genesis Vagabond (post to follow) and the discovery of some new routes has made the non race bike days much more enjoyable than using the Khatmandu. This means I’ve not taken the car to work for months.