Day 10

Ecclefechan to Motherwell

I’m not going to make a habit of this etymology thing, but Motherwell does not refer to your mum’s state of health, but to a well originally dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

The ride

Our cycling party was split into two last night, and I was fortunate to be placed in the rather fancy country house hotel. My room was spacious and had a huge sofa, a desk, and everything I needed (except decent wifi, so I couldn’t finish writing this, or post it, until now). The staff were helpful, and when we arrived they gave me and Nigel a bucket and some cloths to clean our bikes (I am very bike-proud). Here is the hotel and my bike shortly before departure:

IMG_4386.JPGBike outside hotel—a study

The morning was overcast, and the first part of the ride headed north (obviously) towards Moffat, passing close to Lockerbie, one of those names like Hither Green that for my generation will always sound sad. There were lots of cows and sheep in the fields as we cycled along. (What a boring sentence. It belongs in a beginner’s English-as-a-foreign-language text-book. Nevertheless, there were plenty of cows and sheep, and to be honest there wasn’t much else to look at for a while.)

DSC00223.JPGCows and sheep

DSC00224.jpgClose-up of the same cows and sheep

And the clouds were low over the hills.


As I cycled into Moffat I came across Father Paul, who was trying to get his bike working. He had a bad case of road-rash, and it turned out that he had had a disagreement with a car. I didn’t get the full story, but it involved Paul, who is used to cycling in America, veering the wrong way when he met a car in the middle of the road—that is, he steered towards the car rather than away from it.

The axle of the rear wheel of Father Paul’s bike had been dislodged from the drop-outs and wedged between the chain stays, so the wheel didn’t turn. I managed to fix this, but I wasn’t able to fix his pedal and cleats, so he limped into Moffat where Rob took him to a bike shop and as well as selling him new shoes, pedals and cleats, they cleaned up his wounds—yesterday’s as well as today’s. That’s what I call service.

After Moffat we had the climb of the day, from about 22 to 27 miles, and after that it was a slight downhill gradient all the way to our hotel. You can see the climb in the profile below.

Screenshot 2018-08-13 21.41.16.pngThe profile

This was my kind of climb. No more than 5%, so I could just sit in the lowest, or next-to-lowest gear and just keep going. Here is a view on the way up (I love the way clouds hang over the hills) and another one from the top. If you looked carefully, you could see someone had dumped a car at the bottom of the valley.

DSC00226.JPGOn the way up the A701 to Peebles

DSC00244.JPGAt the top

DSC00242.JPGI should have put this on

And then we entered the Borders, on a downhill run which would have been more fun if the wind hadn’t been against us. I reached Broughton for lunch at about 1:00pm, and met up with Allison and Lisa. A quick Diet Coke and a sausage sandwich, and we were off—38.5 miles to Motherwell.

In the cycling vernacular, we put the hammer down for this part of the ride, so not many photos. We saw a bull in a field, our passage was interrupted briefly by some cows (again), and as we cycled into Strathclyde Country Park, where we are staying, we saw a nice view from a bridge.

DSC00262.JPGA bull in a field

DSC00263.JPGSome cows, having just got out of our way

DSC00264.JPGA view from a bridge

We checked in, and I had my first dinner at a Carvery. It cost £5.95 for virtually all you can eat. And on which subject…


I have to admit that I was hoping to lose a couple of pounds during this ride, so that I could fit a little more easily into my dinner suit. But how many calories do you use when you cycle? Might I realistically expect to lose some weight? Simple questions, complicated answers.

I first turned to Strava, the app that records every detail of your ride, and you can look at today’s ride here. You’ll see that we did 84.27 miles, and climbed 4062 feet. By most people’s standards this is quite a long bike ride, but Strava tells me that I consumed only 625 calories. That’s the equivalent of fewer than seven Milk Chocolate Hobnobs, or two-and-a-half Mars Bars, and I can assure you that to make sure I get through the ride I’m consuming much more than that—just at breakfast!

My anxieties were reinforced by Rob, who said (at lunchtime, of all times) that most riders return home a couple of pounds heavier.

But people who know better than I have been more reassuring. Ellie, a very experienced cyclist, works on the basis of 500 calories per hour. I don’t cycle as hard as Ellie, but on the other hand I am heavier, so my figure can’t be terribly different from hers. This would give a figure of 3200 calories for today’s ride of 6 hours 25 minutes. Even I cannot add the equivalent of 35 Chocolate Hobnobs or 14 Mars Bars on top of my usual diet, so on this basis I would lose some weight.

In addition, Matthew Freeman gave me a link on Twitter to an article in Cycling Weekly (as opposed to cycling weakly, which is what I do). This says that someone cycling at 13 mph (which I was) and weighing 75 kg (which is  a few kg more than I am) uses 600 calories per hour, so this is similar to Ellie’s estimate, and I think I can feel reasssured. Of course, as the article points out, the actual figure will depend upon aerodynamics and wind resistance, the width of your tyres, the road surface, and so on. I suspect it also depends on temperature—if it’s cold outside you’ll need to use energy to keep warm.

So which is right? Everyone I have spoken to says that Strava’s numbers are too low, but Strava know my gender, age, weight, height, resting heart rate and so on; they also know my cycling speed at any point, the gradient I’m climbing, and my heart rate. Can they really get it so wrong? We’ll have to see if that suit fits when I get back.


Having mentioned wind resistance, I should mention that we discussed one more thing over dinner—the vexed question of shaving one’s legs. The serious cyclists in our group all shave (or wax, in one case—no one electrolyses, or will admit to doing so). But why do they do it? Everyone was adamant that it has nothing to do with aerodynamics. Rather, there was a view that if you have a massage after a race, then the hairless appendage is easier to pummel. As an additional advantage, if you take a tumble, like Father Paul, it is easier to remove grit from a smooth leg than from a hairy leg. There is a third reason, of course, which is that people think it looks good, and I suspect this is the main reason most people do it. I did ask one of the Whippets how far up he shaved—was it to just above the shorts line, or did he adopt the cyclists’ version of the Brazilian? There is no need to record the answer.

Finally, I’m not convinced about the aerodynamics answer—I think shaving might well make a difference, and I propose to test the idea by shaving just one leg. My theory is that I’d then tend to cycle to my left or my right, depending on which leg I shaved. A bit like the way James Anderson swings a cricket ball. I’m sure it’s an experiment worth doing.


You can see my stats on the Strava link above, but for the record…

Screenshot 2018-08-13 22.16.16.pngNumbers

Screenshot 2018-08-13 21.17.52.pngHow far we have got. I can imagine we’ll get to JOG some time!

Day 9

Ravenstonedale to Ecclefechan

Ravenstonedale to Ecclefechan…who wouldn’t love typing that? I looked at the etymology of Ravenstonedale on Wikipedia, but all it said was “The origin and etymology of the name are obscure. An alternative spelling may be Rausyngdale”. Fortunately, Wikipedia is more forthcoming on the etymology of Ecclefechan, saying “The name Ecclefechan is derived from the Brythonic for ‘small church’ (cognate with Welsh eglwysmeaning church and bychan meaning small, which has the form fechan following a feminine noun). After Gaelic later spread in the area, the belief arose that the name derived from the 7th century St Féchín of Fore.” Much better!

Wikipedia also points out that Ecclefechan is the birthplace of Thomas Carlyle, and that the ‘The Arched House’, where he was born, is a tourist attraction. (Tourist attractions are almost invariably described as being ‘popular’, so I was intrigued to see the adjective missing in the Wikipedia article. Is it an unpopular tourist attraction?)

The ride

We spent Saturday night in the Fat Lamb in Ravenstonedale, and the name and the weather and the landscape and the look of the pub reminded me irresistibly of the Slaughtered Lamb—the pub at the beginning of John Landis’s An American Werewolf in London. I didn’t go out on the moor last night, and I hope there are no newly-created lycanthropes amongst my cycling colleagues.

DSC00197.JPGThe Fat Lamb

It rained during the night and in the morning, and I was cross with myself for leaving my waterproof cycling overshoes in the Wellcome building—especially because everyone else seemed to have a pair. But the rain eased during breakfast, and was a mere drizzle by the time we set off.

Rob had warned us to be careful out there. As any regular TV watcher of the Tour de France will know, whether from Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen, or from the more measured tones of David Millar, the rain makes everything slippery, but especially white lines and any metal grids we might encounter.

The beginning of our ride re-traced the end of yesterday’s—winding, but this time downhill rather than uphill.

DSC00196.JPGSetting off this morning

I went fast (for me) through Soulby and then Burrells, passing a sign for Musgrave. This reminded me of the Sherlock Holmes story The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual, which is remarkable not only for the story but for the fact that it was narrated by Holmes and not Watson, and that part of the ritual itself was adapted by TS Eliot and used in Murder in the Cathedral. I wonder if Conan Doyle knew a Musgrave, or if he took the name from the village.

Our first stop, albeit brief, was in Appleby-in-Westmoreland, where Allison met some members of her cycling club, who were there to support her efforts to raise money for the Teenage Cancer Trust. That’s Allison on the right, with her guardian angels. Allison, her friends and Lisa formed a mini peloton together, and I went ahead as best I could.

DSC00200 2.JPGAllison and her friends raising money for the Teenage Cancer Trust

The rain was just about holding off as we approached Newbiggin, and I think I took off my rain jacket at about this point.

DSC00204.JPGIf I take photos of signs at least I know where I was

Next stop was Langwathby, which Ian will remember from our C2C ride many years ago (Ian, how many years was it?). This village marks the beginning of one of the most challenging climbs in UK cycling: Langwathby to Hartside. I remember it as being really really tough, but Rob said at our breakfast briefing that we had already done climbs tougher than Hartside. I was inclined to believe him, but he also said that we had to watch out for the wild Haggises when we got into Scotland, that a Scottish mile is a different length from an English one, and that the Scots have their own banknotes. What to believe?

DSC00205.JPGA C2C direction arrow in Langwathby

DSC00206.JPGA signpost in Langwathby

During yesterday’s ride I managed to miss several steam trains, including (apparently) the Harry Potter Express. As he passed me in the van, at some point after Langwathby, Rob told me that the Express might be coming down this line soon, so I took a photograph of it. I can always Photoshop the train later.

DSC00209.JPGWaiting for a train

The excitement at Armathwaite was a very big puddle, and because my bike was still clean, I walked around it. Just before I did so a train passed over the viaduct to my left.

DSC00211.jpgTrain over a viaduct

DSC00210.JPGBig puddle

My attempts to keep the bike clean were for naught, however. At about 60 miles (out of 77.4) we turned onto a rather attractive cycle path, whose surface was (for me) highly treacherous. Here is the beginning of the path.

DSC00217.JPGBeginning of the path

Here is a cow laughing at me after I fell over and landed in a clump of nettles.

DSC00218.JPGLa Vache qui Rit

And here is the path afterwards, when I rode much more carefully.

DSC00219.JPGPath with bridge ahead

Here is the view from the bridge you see above.

DSC00220.JPGView from the bridge

It wasn’t long after this that I found myself on the A7, with the sign you see below. Rob had told us at breakfast that this sign didn’t actually mark the border into Scotland, and that it is really a few miles further on, just over the River Sark. He also said that he, Rob, had marked this with a Bike Adventures sticker. I regret that I missed Rob’s sticker, and succumbed to popular opinion by taking the classic A7 selfie.

IMG_4380.jpgThe gateway to Scotland. Note helmet hair

I was now tonking along as fast as I could, but I took a photo of the church below (and I can’t remember the name, I’m afraid) because I got chatting to a couple of German guys who were clearly doing some full-on cycle touring involving front and rear panniers and so on. They were using the Mark 4 version of the Sony RX100 M6 that I was using, and we had some serious gear conversations. I’m sure Al Downie will be able to contribute if he sees this. (The zoom range of the Mark 6 is impressive!)

DSC00221.jpgA test photograph of a church

Then it was the final six miles and into Ecclefechan. I found the hotel, cleaned my bike (it really needed it), and settled into my well-worn routine. Tomorrow is an even longer day: 84.1 miles.


Here they are:

Screenshot 2018-08-12 21.11.36.pngMy data

Screenshot 2018-08-12 21.10.13.pngWhat we did on the day

Screenshot 2018-08-12 21.10.49.pngPutting it in context


Day 8

Clitheroe to Ravenstonedale

The ride

Yesterday’s southern softie worries about aches and pains, and about the difficulties of today’s ride, turned out to be nothing more than the worries of a southern softie, and therefore to be discounted. It was a great day—the best yet.

True, there was some climbing. We went up 6673 feet—even more than day 2. This is 1.26 miles; it is the height of 646 London double-decker buses stacked on top of each other (Ian suggested this as a measure); and it is the height of Bâlea Lake, a glacier lake in the Făgăraș Mountains of central Romania.

Rob divided the ride into four climbs, as below.

Screenshot 2018-08-11 17.45.51.pngThe climbs

To make up for the climbing, the ride was pretty short. I forgot to switch my Wahoo on at the beginning of the ride, but the official length was 54.5 miles. It still got us into North Yorkshire and then into Cumbria, though:

Screenshot 2018-08-11 17.56.27.pngWhere we are now

In reading what follows, bear in mind that I can’t always match the location of the photo with exactly where we are on the ride, because my camera doesn’t have GPS. But I think my guesses aren’t too bad.

So here is the first climb. That’s Lisa leading the way and Allison behind. The following photo shows what lies ahead.

DSC00163.JPGLooking down the hill…

DSC00164.JPG…and up

And here’s Justin riding tempo for other members of the team later in the climb:

DSC00168 2.JPGJustin leading the way

You can see from these photos that the weather was really good. Not too hot for going up the hills, and not too cold when we were able to blast down them.

The descent from the first climb took us to Newton-in-Bowland and then to Slaidburn, and St Andrew’s Church:

DSC00170.jpgSt Andrew’s Church, Slaidburn

I didn’t know it at the time, because I didn’t stop to look inside, but the church is known for its “quantity of good early woodwork”. It struck me that if you were so inclined, a more leisurely ride along the route we are taking would be a wonderful opportunity to inspect churches the length of Britain.

The second climb passed this ruined house (I’ll photograph anything during a climb, in an effort to break the work up into more manageable chunks) and it finished with us meeting Rob at the top. He counted us out of Clitheroe, and he counts us at strategic points during the day’s ride. With him doing this, and Tim playing the role of broom wagon and lanterne rouge, they can be sure that everyone is accounted for and that no one has the opportunity to take the train, should that unworthy thought ever spring to anyone’s mind.

DSC00171.JPGThe old house on the hill

DSC00172.JPGPart of the climb

DSC00173.JPGRob (far right; green shirt) meeting us at the top of climb number two

On the very fast way down we saw this building and some sheep.

DSC00176.JPGBuilding and sheep

At about 25 miles we reached Ingleton, where we stopped for a scone and admired this bridge in the distance, before we embarked on climb number three. We also admired the stocks you see below.



The third climb, and its descent, were undoubtedly my favourite part of the day and indeed my favourite part of the trip so far. I didn’t take many pictures on the way up the first part of this climb, because it was so intense, but the descent was fantastic. Why would one holiday anywhere else?

DSC00180.JPGFantastic descent, part of climb three

The hard work really began in the second part of climb three, where we went through a gate and climbed and climbed and climbed out of the valley. Here is the beginning of the effort and the beginning of the descent.

DSC00181.JPGAbout to begin the big effort on climb three

DSC00185.JPGThe early part of the descent

DSC00188.JPGLater in the descent

The descent was very steep and challenging, and we had to open and close some gates on the way. The most exciting bit was the 30% downhill approach to a closed gate, where it was easy to hit 30mph if you weren’t careful, and similarly easy to hit the gate at that speed. We all made it, though, and there was easier stuff further down, where I reached 40mph, according to Wahoo.

Finally, the less said about climb four the better. The ascent from Dent (where I had a ham sandwich) to Dent station was gruelling, and Lisa and I both ended up walking. Oh well! But then the downhill stretch was an opportunity to maintain 30mph for a few miles before we reached the hotel, handed our bikes over to Rob, and finished our brilliant day.

Here are my stats:

Screenshot 2018-08-11 21.06.38.pngStats

Changing the subject to cycle shorts…

I don’t want to tempt fate, but things are going pretty well in the part of me that makes contact with the saddle. Abbie Taylor at Wellcome had suggested I bring with me a packet or three of these, which I did, but I have had no requirement for them yet.

DSC00058 2.jpgThe cyclist’s friend

One reason that things are going so well is that I have some excellent cycle shorts: a pair of bib shorts by Assos, and normal shorts made by Pearl Izumi and (the best, these) by Rapha. What makes the shorts so comfortable is their padding, and there is a little story to this.

At the end of my last blog I referred to Van Morrison’s song St Dominic’s Preview, with its opening lines:

Shammy cleaning all the windows
Singing songs about Edith Piaf’s soul
And I hear blue strains of no regredior
Across the street from Cathedral Notre Dame

Shammy is chamois leather, which was made from the skin of the chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra), a European mountain goat. When I was young, chamois leather had two uses. One was indeed to clean windows, and my father used shammy to clean the windows in our house (everyone cleaned their own windows in those days). Shammy must have been really expensive, because I remember very well how cross he was with me when I somehow lost one of his leathers.

The other use was in cycling shorts, as padding, and shammy was first used for this purpose about a hundred years ago. This was particularly important because cycle shorts were not the tight-fitting lycra or spandex items we know of today, but were made of wool and tended to bunch up and cause friction. The shammy insert must have been a godsend. Nowadays we use synthetic padding, of course, and very good it is too. Men of my age have often been ridiculed for wearing cycle shorts, and described as Middle-aged men in lycra, but I can assure you that the shorts are remarkably comfortable, and after a while you get used to having breakfast with seventeen other people, men and women, similarly attired.


Into Scotland!

Day 7

Acton Bridge to Clitheroe

An omission

I begin by rectifying an omission. On Day 5 I really should have shown a photo or two of Hopton Castle, which we visited about an hour before arriving at our hotel in Wentnor. It’s a perfect little structure. It was founded in the 12th century as a motte and bailey castle, with a keep (perhaps wooden) built on a raised earthwork called a motte, which was surrounded by a courtyard, or bailey. The stone version of the keep was built in the 1260s. The history is outlined in the Wikipedia article above, and in the castle’s own site here. The castle was an important stronghold for Parliament in the west of England in the English Civil War. In 1644 Hopton Castle was besieged by a Royalist force of about 500, led by Sir Michael Woodhouse. The thirty Roundheads, commanded by Samuel More, eventually surrendered, perhaps following a breach in an unusual garderobe chamber.

I was very impressed by the energy of the Hopton Castle Preservation Trust, and by how much of the history was inferred from work done by a TV archaeology programme called Time Team.

DSC00122.JPGThe keep of Hopton Castle

DSC00127.JPGThe remains of the bailey

Today’s ride

The plan for today was to get to Clitheroe, a name I am most familar with from listening to The Clitheroe Kid, a radio programme that I think was broadcast on Sunday lunchtimes, before or after Round the Horne. My dad loved both, and they were required listening for our family. The Clitheroe Kid was quite funny all those years ago, but I don’t think it quite holds up now. See what you think of this example.

The day wasn’t meant to be too taxing, but the weather was changeable and I was beginning to feel a few aches and pains. My right shoulder hurt, making it harder to look behind me as I was cycling; as a result I would veer wildly to my right whenever I checked the traffic. My knees (especially my left knee) were beginning to give me some pain, especially uphill. I tried to decide whether it was better to have fewer pedal revolutions, by using a higher gear, or less exertion per pedal stroke, by using a lower gear. I went for the latter. And then a bloody bee stung me through my shorts, in the back of my left leg. Ouch.

Oh well. It was never supposed to be easy.

Two-and-a-half miles after setting off we went through the attractive village of Comberbach, where they have converted a phone booth into a mini library:

DSC00144.jpgComberbach library

And it wasn’t long before we crossed the M6.


At 13 miles we reached the Manchester Ship Canal, a 36-mile waterway which links Manchester with the Irish Sea. Construction began in 1887, and it took six years to complete; that sounds pretty quick to me. I had always thought the canal would be pretty industrial all along its length, but not a bit of it. The first photo below shows me taking my life in my hands by standing in the middle of the bridge to take a picture. The second shows the view from the bridge.

DSC00149.JPG The bridge over the Manchester Ship Canal

DSC00151.jpgThe view from the bridge

Refuelling is (as I have said before) very important, and we all joined Rob at a café in Glazebury for coffee, tea and cake. Here is a photo of me, with Allison in the background. I was wearing a jacket at this point, so it was getting pretty cold.

IMG_4372.jpgMe. Note red nose

And here is Father Paul, taking some photos for his own blog. Those are The Whippets in the background.

IMG_4370.jpgPaul photographs The Whippets

On we go—through Hindley and a road to Wigan Pier (probably not the road…).

DSC00153.JPGA road to Wigan Pier

Lunch was in Rivington. A cheese and ham toastie and a diet Pepsi, and then back on the road again. It kept changing its mind as to whether it was going to rain—when it wasn’t raining the countryside looked pretty good.


We crossed the M65 near Blackburn, and the tiny sign that you can’t read below says Ewood Park, the home of Blackburn Rovers Football Club. They play Millwall tomorrow in their opening game of the Championship. With Blackburn in mind, I am cross with myself for not taking a photograph of a hole, so that I could make a joke about the Beatles song A Day in the Life. Maybe next time.

DSC00156.JPGThe M65

Then it was across the River Ribble for the first time. The river was beautiful but I was too tired to take any photos. (I confess that I had only heard of the river because I know of Ribble Cycles, who make really good, and good value, road bikes.) But as we came into Clitheroe we crossed the Ribble again, and I was able to get a photo after all.

DSC00159.JPGThe Ribble, near Clitheroe

I got to the hotel at about 4:15, and having described my routine yesterday, I immediately diverted from it. I cleaned my bike, so that it looks shiny and fairly new. Then I showered and washed my kit, but instead of writing this blog I went out to buy some ibuprofen gel and tablets for my shoulder and knee, and some anti-histamine for my insect sting. And also some DEET for the midges in Scotland in a few days. Only then did I rest, eat, and, now, write. And in a minute, I’ll go to sleep!

Here are my stats, our route for the day, and our overall progress. We are getting closer!

Screenshot 2018-08-10 18.51.33.pngStats

Screenshot 2018-08-10 18.48.35.pngProgress today

Screenshot 2018-08-10 18.49.31.pngProgress overall

Looking at this map reminds me that Lisa and I were discussing today the familiar Mercator projection and the Gall-Peters projection, and how much of our ride is in England and Wales and how much in Scotland. More on this later.

And more soon on cycle shorts, introduced by another great Van Morrison song, St Dominic’s Preview (and here and here and here too).

Tomorrow is a very tough day. Wish us luck!

Day 6

Wentnor to Acton Bridge


This will have to be short because I only just finished yesterday’s blog, because dinner calls, and because I have some work stuff to do tonight. So I’ll save my discussion of cycling shorts for another time, and instead describe my daily routine for this two weeks of cycling.

The day begins early. I wake up at about 6:30, think about going for a run, decide not to, and look at BBC news or read the paper on-line before having a shower. I have already packed and laid out my cycling kit of choice (see below), so there’s no panic.

Breakfast is usually at 07:30 or 08:00. This is when we load up for the day, and although I am not usually a big breakfaster, I do try to get some calories in. So do my fellow cyclists, although Father Paul was frustrated this morning when the kitchen misinterpreted his request. The hotel had given us a list of breakfast options the night before, asking us to tick the boxes alongside our choices. Father Paul made it clear how he wanted his eggs done (poached) and, so as to experience as wide a cuisine as possible, made his mark in all the other boxes as well (hash browns, sausages, black pudding, tomatoes, bacon…you name it). Unfortunately, the hotel interpreted his Xs as ‘no thanks’ rather than ‘yes please’, and he was served just three rather lonely eggs rather than the hoped-for very full English breakfast. The chef did eventually return to the kitchen to cook everything else, and, replete, Father Paul was able to set off for his ride.

During breakfast Rob describes the route, after which we give him our bags, blow up our tyres, give our bikes an anxious once-over, and set off. We all go at different speeds (obviously). The three whippets (known to us all as ‘The Whippets’) set an impressive pace that the rest of us cannot hope to match. Rather, we sort of pootle along, like Fotherington-Thomas out of the Molesworth books, saying hello clouds, hello sky…

We variously stop for coffee, for elevenses, for lunch, for coffee, for cakes, for tea, and for much-needed snacks—in case we get famished before dinner. We labour up the hills or coast down them, we grit our teeth as we cycle into the wind, and we keep looking at our cycle computers. Why won’t it switch from 40.4 to 40.5 miles?

And eventually we get there. Today’s ride (see below) was 69.2 miles with 3205 feet of climbing—what Rob called an ‘easier’ day. He met us at the pub where we have rooms, took our bikes, gave us our keys, and pointed us towards our rooms, where he had already taken our bags—what a saint.

I enter my room, and immediately demolish any biscuits the hotel may have provided. Then, after ten minutes of lying on the bed in the recovery position, I have a shower. Now this is important, because the evening shower is also the evening clothes-washing session. One’s cycling kit, and any dirty non-cycling stuff, is thrown into the shower basin, and the shower switched on. I step in, admiring my cyclists’ tan lines, and as I wash myself I march on the spot as if I were treading grapes. It may not match the sophistication or delicate action of Hotpoint’s finest washing machines, but it gets the job done.

The great thing then is to dry your clothes, and there are various techniques:

  • Roll them in a towel and stand on it for a while. This gets rid of most of the water pretty quickly
  • Let it drip into the bath overnight. This is hopeless
  • Hang it out the window. This is surprisingly effective when the weather is OK, but there is the risk of (i) ridicule and (especially if you are on the ground floor) (ii) theft
  • Play a fan on the damp clothes. Slow but effective
  • Use the heated towel rail in the bathroom. Less effective than you’d think
  • Use the room’s electric heater if it has one. Works well with the first of these

This is also the opportunity to charge your Garmin/Wahoo, laptop computer, phone, watch, iPad, bicycle light and camera. I also rinse out my water bottles, and generally make ready for the next day: which cycle shirt and shorts should I wear, have I got the right maps in the map-holder, have I scraped the dead insects off my sunglasses, and so on.

Then, and finally, I do some writing (this blog) and emailing, and have dinner. Dinner is when one hears our companions’ tales of the road—the triumphs (such as getting up a hill without walking), the mishaps (punctures), and the tragedies (falling off). It’s good fun, unless someone does get hurt, and we are forming quite a tight-knit group.

And after dinner, more writing and reading, and then bed.


So that’s the routine. What of today? I left alone, following The Whippets but not making any serious attempt to catch them. I looked at the scenery, and I looked out for anything else of note. The fact that there is a village called Thresholds might appeal to Lewis Wolpert, James Briscoe or Jeremy Green:


And I found this tree rather attractive:


Lunch was fun because we all managed to congregate at the same place, at the Old Fire Station in Malpas.


At one point after lunch it got slightly colder, and I put on my arm-warmers for a bit. I felt like a real cyclist then!

This photo captures a typical road on our trip. Narrow with little traffic—great for cycling.


It’s almost pointless posting a photo of a church whose name you don’t know, but this was quite attractive.


As was this castle hewn into the rock


And finally, Rob warned us of a bridge with a really steep gradient leading up to it. He didn’t add that it was a weak bridge, and one doesn’t need the sign to deduce that. The gradient is so steep that it can be hard to change down quickly enough to get across it, and it’s easy to take a tumble.

DSC00143.JPGWeak bridge


Here are the data as usual. I was disappointed to discover on Strava that cycling uses fewer calories than I thought—just 515 today—so I am definitely over-doing the eating!

Screenshot 2018-08-09 21.07.08.pngStats

And this is what we did today…

Screenshot 2018-08-09 21.06.01.png

And this puts it into the context of the whole ride.

Screenshot 2018-08-09 21.06.32.png

Until tomorrow!

Day 5

Tintern to Wentnor


When I’m cycling, or running, I sometimes sing to myself (this might be too much information, but for some reason singing does help me focus on the task at hand). At about 40 miles today (out of 80) there was a distinct smell in the air, and because I was singing Van Morrison’s Summertime in England (which, with its mention of Wordsworth and Coleridge, is actually about the Lake District and not Hereford and Worcester) I was instantly reminded of his song Redwood Tree, and the lines “And it smells like rain/Maybe even thunder”.

Sure enough, it started to rain, and I got a chance to try out my new Gore ONE 1985 Gore-Tex Shakedry jacket which, in spite of its name, is pretty good. But mostly I was reminded how sensitive our noses are to petrichor—the earthy odour produced when rain hits dry ground (or, because it wasn’t even raining when I first detected it, perhaps simply when the humidity is high). The word petrichor was coined in 1964 by Joy Bear and Richard Thomas. It comes from the Greek petros, meaning stone (from which the smell is derived), and ichor (referring to the blood of gods). I learned from Kathy Weston’s biography of David Hopwood that in fact the smell is that of geosmin, a chemical derived from the soil bacterium Streptomyces. Members of the family of bacteria to which Streptomyces belong are the source of most of the anti-microbial drugs we have today, so as Kathy says, not only do Streptomyces smell good, but they have saved millions of lives. With my Wellcome and biomedical researcher hats on, let us hope that worldwide efforts to solve antimicrobial resistance are successful.

I was singing another Van Morrison song later in the day, and this will provide the introduction to my thoughts on bicycle shorts at some point. Watch this space.


With 80 miles ahead of us, it seemed sensible to set off early, and Allison, Lisa and I formed our little breakaway group as we had done yesterday. I took a photo of the church next door to our guest house just before we left. It looked good in the morning light.

DSC00094.JPGChurch in Tintern

I should be honest and say that the trip today was long, but it wasn’t quite as challenging, dramatic or eventful as previous days. The Wye Valley was beautiful and verdant, but it was by no means as steep or relentless as implied by this download from my Wahoo data. (In contrast to most people on the trip I use a cycle computer made by Wahoo, not Garmin. The screen doesn’t look so fancy, but the battery life is better.) To use an expression borrowed from famous cycle commentators Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen, I didn’t have to dig too deep into the suitcase of courage to finish this ride.

Screenshot 2018-08-08 19.11.47.pngToday’s data

Perhaps because the trip was so uneventful there were fewer photo opportunities, but I liked this sign to Abergavenny because I always enjoyed going to Abergavenny with my school some 50 years ago.

DSC00097.JPGTaking a trip up to Abergavenny/Hoping the weather is fine

However, we did have the chance to hang around a sign outside a shop in St Weonards that purported to show how far we had come and how far we had to go. All I can say is that we must be taking the long way round; our journey is a lot longer than 863 miles! You can see more photos from this stop on Allison’s Twitter feed.

DSC00098.jpgKaren and the sign

We stopped for a snack by Madeley Parish Church (that’s my bike there), fuelled by snacks from the Spar grocery on the other side of the road…DSC00112.JPGMadeley Parish Church

We continued to see some great views, and we visited the fanciest dovecote I have ever seen…



As usual, the day ended with dinner, and it was great to meet new friend Sally and to discover that for many of us on the trip the famous six degrees of separation can be reduced to just one or two. Father Paul, for example, studied with the son of the cellist Raphael Wallfisch, with whom I was at school and still see occasionally. I’m sure there will be more links to come.

And to finish, a map of our ride today…

Screenshot 2018-08-08 19.12.24.pngEighty miles

And a map to put the trip so far into context…

Screenshot 2018-08-08 19.09.19.pngProgress!

Postscript: I’m late posting this because the hotel had no wifi—it may mean tomorrow’s post will be a bit shorter.

Day 4

Bridgwater to Tintern


Our ride this morning went swimmingly for the first five miles but we were then held up for perhaps twenty minutes by a great many cows on their way to be milked. Any advantage my little group may have had (and yes, I do know it’s a holiday and not a race) was wiped out as we all walked slowly behind the last cow wondering when they were finally going to turn off into a field.

DSC00079.JPGThe back ends of some cows

DSC00080.JPGThe back ends of a load of cyclists

But the photo above got me thinking about what you wear when you ride a bike (or what Rapha, the high-end bicycle clothing company, would call cycling apparel). When Ian joined me yesterday he was wearing a very sensible bright orange T-shirt, but my companions and I are nearly all wearing a tight-fitting collared jersey with a full-length zip and three pockets at the back, sometimes advertising Sky TV or a bicycle manufacturer. Why this particular style? Do we get any marginal gains from such attire?

I admit that I gave quite some thought beforehand as to what I would wear during this ride. For my top half I quite liked the idea of having no advertising and no artificial fibres, so I went with Roadrags: “A line of cycling wear which is not only remarkably stylish and comfortable, but also breathable, odour-resistant, and environmentally sustainable.” It sounded unimprovable, but as a friend pointed out, the merino jersey had an alarming tendency to droop whenever you put anything in one of the back pockets—a mini pump, energy gel, phone or wallet. This not only looked silly, but it was a real nuisance when the back of the jersey got snagged under your saddle. Evidently, Roadrags are really good for posing moodily in cafés—and road cyclists really enjoy posing moodily in cafés—but they aren’t so good on the road.

So instead I went to Bon Velo, my fantastic local bike shop, and bought one of their jerseys. The great thing to remember when buying bicycle jerseys is that the sizes are based on the average person in the peleton of the Tour de France; they are not based on the average person on the street. So what might be a medium on Chris Froome (height 1.86 m, weight 68 kg) or Geraint Thomas (1.83 m, 71 kg) might be a little tight on you or me. With this in mind, although I am a medium in almost everything else, I went for a large, and I’m pleased to say that it is only slightly too snug.

Since then, however, I have discovered the wonderful Fat Lad at the Back cycle wear. Now you’re talking. It’s sized for normal people, so I am a medium again, and it is cut for what you might call the fuller figure—for those of us who may have acquired a little avoirdupois in later life. It also eschews the flamboyant logos that I hate so much. It’s not made of merino, but that does mean the pockets don’t droop and you can carry everything you need. And the style minimises wind resistance and makes you look as if you’re a cyclist. So of course you go faster too!

Over the next few days I’ll have a think about cycle shorts…


Returning to why I’m here, I should say first that it was a fantastic day. I cycled with Allison and Lisa, and I am grateful to them for helping keep me going. The first section was on the Somerset Levels, and how nice it was to hear the word ‘level’ applied to part of our ride.

Screenshot 2018-08-07 17.52.34.pngIllustrating the Somerset Levels at the start of our ride

This flat section was followed at about 20 miles by Cheddar Gorge. I had been slightly nervous about this, because it’s another long climb, but it worked out pretty well. Am I getting fitter? I doubt it. But it was impressive and beautiful. Why have I never been here before?

DSC00082 2.JPGLisa cycling through Cheddar Gorge

Lunch followed at about 40 miles, but not before Allison had been stung by a wasp and later had serious chain trouble, only to make the cardinal error of wiping her oily hand on her face:


Then it was over the Severn Bridge and into Wales. The bridge was incredibly windy. I lost a camera case when i was trying to take a photo, and almost lost my rain jacket.

DSC00087.JPGLooking east on the Severn Bridge

DSC00089.JPGYour jacket is about to fly away!

DSC00090.JPGInto Wales

From the bridge it was a fairly easy run into Tintern, but we were all feeling pretty tired by then. Not so tired that we couldn’t take a photo of our bikes and the Abbey, though:

DSC00091.JPGTintern Abbey and my bike

I was reminded of the times I came to this part of Wales with my school, and indeed with old friends like Ian. We would visit the castles at places like Chepstow, Raglan, Grosmont, Abergavenny and Usk.

As in previous blogs, here is today’s ride, followed by how far we have come so far:

Screenshot 2018-08-07 17.50.48.pngToday’s route

Screenshot 2018-08-07 17.53.22.pngHow far we have come, and how far we have to go!

Tomorrow will be 80 miles—the longest yet. Will we make it? I expect so.