Day 5—Inveraray to Motherwell

Let me begin by thanking Pen Rashbass, who identified the castle in the last blog as Kilchurn Castle, on Loch Awe. I hope that my realising that people are actually reading this stuff will inspire me to up my game a bit.

Not such a long ride today (much longer tomorrow!) but this was a tough one because of the drag of getting through Glasgow. There were lots of twists and turns and it seemed for a while as if the conurbation would never end.

To begin at the beginning, Carl, Les and I had stayed in our own guest house in Inveraray, and the first thing we did was to roll down to the George Hotel (past the town jail—rather like a wild west movie) to meet everyone and to hear Rob’s instructions for the day. His advice was as pithy and informative as ever, and, as ever, I found myself remembering not a word. This doesn’t usually matter, luckily. As long as one’s cycle computer has sufficient resolution it’s simply a matter of following the bread crumbs.

Nessie taking a break in Loch Fyne (you have to look hard, near the bottom of the photo)

We set off with Carl, Les, Amardeep, Jamie and John leading the way. We passed over a bridge controlled by traffic lights, and as I waited I was astonished to see that Nessie had decided to take a short break in Loch Fyne! No wonder we didn’t see her/him in Loch Ness itself.

Inevitably it was raining. I am reminded of John Self in Martin Amis’s Money: “Unless I specifically inform you otherwise,” Self says, “I’m always smoking another cigarette.” Just substitute “it’s raining” in the second half of the sentence, and you’ll have a pretty accurate idea of what life is like on the ride so far.

We rounded Loch Fyne and the eponymous Oyster Bar HQ and headed for the Climb of the Day. I had been waiting for this, because it was such a fun climb when I did LEJOG in 2018. This was from the other direction, of course, and it is in this other direction that it features in various “best 100 cycling climbs in the UK” lists. Irrespective of direction, however, the climb is called “Rest and be Thankful”, so named because the soldiers who built the military road inscribed these words on a stone in 1753. The climb resonates with my LEJOG friends of 2018 (when it also rained, hard), and for them, here is a view from the top. Pretty spectacular.

Jim at the top of Rest and be Thankful

I went down the other side of the hill with Andy. We couldn’t go terribly fast because of all the traffic, but it was good fun, and it took us to the banks of Loch Lomond. It was great to cycle along a path, but it was less good that it was still raining (obvs) and that the path was not in great shape. Denise went down, and two others came a cropper later today. Our worst injury day so far.

(I might add that Rob has a huge store of stories of trips like ours, some of injuries and other ailments, but also some that are fruity to say the least. We might write a book together. “Confessions of a Bicycle Tour Guide Leader” sounds a bit tame, but boy, it would make good reading!)

The rest of the day involved heading for Glasgow, and passing through it along the banks of the Clyde. A measure of the complexity of these manoeuvres is that this segment of JOGLE requires 10 Bike Adventures route sheets (usually three or four suffice). The weather was still pretty unpleasant, so I didn’t take many photos, but here are some examples.

There was a dovecot (or a doocot, as they call them around here), an angler, a rainbow and a bridge, and as I passed the last of these I got close to our destination—the Holiday Inn Express in the Strathclyde Country Park. We left our bikes in the manager’s office and toddled off the the Toby Carvery for dinner (and the least said of this the better!) The rooms were equipped with an electric heater of unusual power, and this made short work of drying our clothes.

Finally, stats:

I did 76 miles in 6 hours and 23 minutes moving time. Climbing was 2,753 feet, and I used 1,835 calories.

Until tomorrow!

Day 4—Fort William to Inveraray

I am running with a 24 hour delay on my posts at the moment! I hope I catch up soon.

Today was defined by rain. It rained as we left the Distillery Guest House, and it rained for most of the first half of the ride. I was one of the first to set off, and this meant that I was able to take photos of members of the group as they overtook me. Here are John, Les and Carl (moving so fast that the pictures are rather blurred).

As always I took a photo of the landscape to justify the fact that I had stopped. This is Loch Linnhe.

View of Loch Linnhe
Abandoned platform

The weather was bad enough that I didn’t take enough notice of my surroundings, so, unforgivably, I missed Castle Stalker. I did see it on my LEJOG trip, and there are some photos there, but it was irritating that I didn’t see it this time. What I did see was the abandoned station near the castle, a station that was closed in the Beeching cuts. Here is the old platform.

We had our first break at the Creagan Inn, which I have visited on previous visits to Scotland. It was still raining hard, and we sat on our jackets so that we wouldn’t soak the chairs in the café. John kindly bought me a coffee and a cheese scone, and I took the opportunity to put my arm-warmers on—it was cold as well as wet. The view from the Inn over the loch was as spectacular as ever (see below).

The view from the Creagan Inn

It was still raining when we left the Creagan Inn, but it eased off during the rest of the ride. As usual I can’t remember exactly where I took different photos, but the first one below was before lunch, I think, and the second after lunch. If anyone knows the name of the castle, I’d be pleased to hear it!

Lunch was at about 53 miles, at the Cruachan Power Station visitor centre. It was good. I had a very filling leek and potato soup, and this set me up for the rest of the ride, which included quite a climb before heading down into Inveraray (see below). Les, Carl and I were in a different guest house from the others, but we joined everyone for dinner at the George Hotel. I was so tired when we finished that I failed to write this blog, so I hope, 24 hours later, that I have remembered everything of note!

Here is the route, and I’ll put a few stats afterwards.

We covered 120 km in five hours 51 minutes moving time, and climbed 1002 metres (I’m going to juggle between units, I’m afraid, but I’m sure any reader can do the conversions). My weighted average power was 108 Watts today and I used a feeble 1,835 calories. The images below show the elevation at different points in the ride and my heart rate.

More tomorrow!

Day 3—Evanton to Fort William

I’m a day late writing this, because I was tired by the time we got to Fort William and because we didn’t have anywhere set up for dinner, so some exploring was required. And Fort William, for all its many virtues and its proximity to the Highlands and all that stuff, is not well served for restaurants. But I did manage to find somewhere eventually, and it was fun to eat with Denise, Donald and Sonjia, who I hadn’t spoken much to before that. (I am writing this in a hurry, so grammar is going out of the window, I’m afraid.)

Carl taking a photo of Les

Anyway, we set off at the start of the day from Evanton’s Novar Arms Hotel at about 08:45, but not before Les recorded a message to his many fans and was photographed by Carl. It was not too cold, but we all wore rain jackets because the weather has been so changeable. You’ll see in photos later that it really warmed up as the day went on.

It was scheduled to be our longest day yet: 81 miles and over 4000 feet of climbing. We set off through Dingwell heading for the Great Glen at Drumnadrochit, a town noted for its enthusiastic embracing of the Nessie myth. The route at this point was (as cyclists say) lumpy. There was a long steep climb followed by a shorter very steep descent. The climb revealed how green fields are in Scotland. Quite a difference from the south of England. The descent was fantastic. I had climbed it four years ago from the other direction (stopping just once, I think), and I can’t believe I actually managed to do that. Going down was fun, and if there hadn’t been an over-cautious car in front of me I would have got to 40 mph easily.

Green fields

Drumnadrochit, at about 27 miles, was where we stopped for coffee. I am beginning to like the rhythm we are setting up: a good chunk out of the ride before coffee, get well over half-way before the lunch stop, and then blast on to our destination. This was a good chance to catch up with everyone, and in my case to ask Rob to take my waterproof jacket and swap it for my packable rainproof Gore jacket. It was now pretty hot, and all I was wearing was a ‘base layer’ and a short-sleeved cycle shirt.

The route now followed that of the Etape Loch Ness, passing the remains of Urquhart castle and heading towards Fort Augustus. I took a few photographs along the way, and I’m showing them all here because if any reader happens to be looking at that view in real life and sees a pair of sunglasses—they’re mine. I put them down when taking a picture and forgot them. Bother!

We stopped at Fort Augustus for lunch. I phoned ahead to Fort Williams’s bike shop to ask when they closed, to see if I could buy a new pair of sunglasses, but they said they didn’t sell them. I was surprised, because expensive sunglasses are de rigueur among fashionable cyclists, but on reflection I suppose the sun shines but rarely in Scotland. I also made an appointment with my optician to get a new pair of regular glasses as well as shades—it seems to have been a long time since I have been to the optician.

I had a quick lunch and headed off along the Caledonian Canal before reaching Neptune’s staircase (the flight of sea locks that takes ships onto the canal) and then Fort William. As I cycled I passed a French (as it turned out) family who reminded me of a famous photograph. Does any reader recognise my feeble reproduction? (I did ask the family’s permission to take the picture.)

I want to discuss cycling equipment at some point, and the question of whether one should do LEJOG/JOGLE in 15 days (as I am doing) or 9 days (as Julian Hutchings did). But for now I’ll stop with my stats and go out for some food. I’ll write today’s blog after that.

First, here is the route

Note the climb

And we cycled 130.15 km with a moving time of six and a quarter hours, climbing 1,224 metres. Average power was 122 W, and I used 2.449 calories, according to Strava’s algorithm.

More soon!

Day 2—Bettyhill to Evanton

I took to heart today the advice I received from Julian Hutchings: Eat before you’re hungry; drink before you’re thirsty; carry food even if (especially if) you think you don’t need it. I also vowed to cycle well within myself at the beginning of the day, and together these measures made for a great day. Rob tells us that it is his favourite leg of LEJOG, and I think he likes it in the opposite direction too. Maybe the only disadvantage of heading south rather than north is that one reaches the Crask Inn before lunchtime, although this does mean that their excellent selection of cakes is available…

But I am getting ahead of myself. The hotel in Bettyhill stands over a beautiful beach which, if it were on the south coast of England rather than the north coast of Scotland, would be packed. But it’s not, so it’s deserted. This was the view that met us as we set off this morning.

On leaving Bettyhill we turned south, and the landscape was breathtaking. We tonked along pretty quickly, with just a gentle climb, for about 25 miles. The first target was the Crask Inn at 32 miles, but before then we came across a private bridge across the River Naver, intended solely for the use of anglers, according to the sign. Many of us, however, padded our way across the muddy field nearby to look at the view from the bridge, which was impressive.

Soon after we set off I realised that I hadn’t taken many photos of my fellow cyclists, so as a first step I took one of Jamie Pocock (who gave me the video in Prologue 2) as he crested a hill. Jamie is one of the strongest cyclists among us (and the youngest).

I got to the Crask Inn at about noon, and following Julian’s advice I had a large slice of cake and a cup of coffee. By this point we had gained some altitude, but the gradient was so slight that we didn’t feel tired at all. It was then lunch at Lairg (carrot and parsley soup) and yet more beautiful scenery.


Five miles on, and we arrived at the Falls of Shin, where, having made their way to the rivers of their birth, we could see salmon making their way upstream to spawn. It was quite a sight, and here is a movie of one of the fish battling its way up the falls.

Watch that salmon jump!

After the Falls of Shin it was a matter of girding the loins for the climb to the hills over Dornoch Firth. This was no joke (my Wahoo showed a maximum gradient of 12.4%), but we all managed well, and here is a photo of Rob bringing up the rear (he was Lantern Rouge today) and of Sonjia preceding him.

The views over Dornoch Firth were pretty spectacular, and they inspired us for the final run into Evanton, which I reached at 5:05. We checked in, and I showered and went through my usual post-ride rituals.

This was a good day for me as a cyclist. I am not a super-enthusiast, but on finishing today’s ride I found that my Eddington number had increased to 50. I discovered this from swinnynet, who explain that a cyclist’s Eddington number is E if she or he has undertaken E rides of at least E miles. The idea for the Eddington number came from cyclist and astrophysicist Arthur Eddington. It is not to be confused (and is unlikely to be!) with the other Eddington number, NEdd, which is the number of protons in the observable universe. Eddington originally calculated this as about 1.57×1079, but current estimates make it closer to 1080. Scientists of all persuasions will see similarities with the H-index, where H represents the number of papers you have published that have been cited at least H times. In this case H is Jorge Hirsch, an American physicist.

And finally, stats. Here is the route, and you can see the gentle climb during the first part of the day and the more challenging ascent later in the day.

We covered 123 km, climbed 994 metres, and I used 1898 calories. Average speed was 23.3 km/hr, I cycled for 5 hours 17 minutes, and my average power was 100 W. Perhaps one other piece of data: maximum speed was 60.6 km/hr (37.7 mph).

See you tomorrow!

Day 1—John O’Groats to Bettyhill

The road from our hotel to the JoG sign. I think

And we’re off. Rob had made a good job of assembling my bike (of course), and I had only to adjust the angle of my handlebars and pump the tyres up to 70 psi before setting off. But it was misty: I don’t think I could see much more than 50 metres, and this didn’t augur well photographically, at least.

We few, we happy few

The plan was to cycle the 600 metres to the famous sign and then to take photographs before beginning the formal element of the ride. This went smoothly. The sign was in place, and it was free of the stickers that adorned it four years ago. We bravely removed our jackets to reveal our Bike Adventures jerseys and Andy (who works with Rob) took the picture. Here are all ten of us (three dropped out through illness or injury before the start), and here too are Rob and Andy.

Dunnet Head. This is a colour photo, not that you’d know it.

I am not one for faffing, and I set off quickly, partly to keep warm and partly because I didn’t want to hold everyone up by being too slow. I followed the route, previously uploaded to my cycle computer, to Dunnet Head, the most northerly point in mainland Britain. When I visited Dunnet Head in 2018 I was quite awed by being as north as it is possible to be, but this wasn’t the case today. I was still cold, it was still misty, and there were midges, of all things! I had a quick look around, a quick chat with Andy (who had driven there in the van), and then turned round to return to the A836 and the road to Bettyhill. I met some other members of the group as I left, and heard that poor Les had had perhaps the earliest puncture ever experienced by a Bike Adventures tour, at just four miles.

This might be the point to ask why one would want to cycle from John O’Groats to Land’s End (JOGLE) having already cycled the more familiar Land’s End to John O’Groats (LEJOG) in 2018. Why not do something more exotic, especially because there’s such a high risk (especially in Scotland) of having such horrible weather? One answer is that I had booked an Alpine tour and a north-to-south tour of Portugal in 2020 and 2021, and these, of course, had been cancelled. But Rob and I agreed that travelling from B to A is not simply the reverse of travelling from A to B, even if you take the same route. In fact, they are completely different experiences. I cycle to the lab and home from it along the same roads, but I don’t imagine one route as the reverse of the other. Each gives me different views and different impressions, and they only exist as views and impressions in the context of the journey. If you gave me a photograph of Camberwell Green or of Waterloo Road near St George’s Circus, I’d be hard put to identify them, but if they’re viewed as part of a journey I’d know them immediately, but only in the context of which direction I was going.

Another way of illustrating this is to do with the feeling one has (well, the feeling I have) when travelling in an unfamiliar direction at a familiar station. For example, I quite frequently go to Herne Hill station to go to St Pancras. I take the stairs in the morning to go to platform 1, and when I return in the evening I arrive at platform 4 and walk under the track, past the stairs to platform 1, and out of the station. All I know is that on the rare occasions that I go straight to platform 4, to travel southbound rather than northbound, it feels very strange, even though I am in a completely familiar environment.

This is to say that I think JOGLE is more than just LEJOG in reverse, and I think it’ll be a different experience. We shall see!

A Highland cow

Returning to the trip…as I left Dunnet Head I photographed a Highland Cow, and then met Rob and Andy at the junction with the A836. Rob’s job, while Andy drives the van, is to remain at the back of the group, as Lanterne Rouge, but with Andy going to Dunnet Head he decided to skip this northern loop. At this point I joined up with John and Jamie, and we headed off to Thurso. I had hoped to revisit the cafe where I’d had a cheese scone four years ago, but we, and most of the gang, ended up at the Messy Nessy Playcentre, where I had a cup of coffee and should have had lunch but didn’t. I should have had lunch because it was getting on for lunchtime, but I didn’t because (i) it was a bit early and (ii) the ‘Messy’ is a playcentre and not a café: I thought we could do better. Unfortunately, the lack of food led to my ‘bonking’ later on.

We set off, and the weather improved a bit. It was still quite verdant, and we went over a bridge and then passed the Dounreay Nuclear Power Development Establishment. I commented on Dounreay in my 2018 blog, and referred to the way in which it is being decommissioned. I now see from the Secret Scotland website that the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority took ownership of the site in 2005, and the idea is that Dounreay should reach an interim state of care and surveillance by 2036, and be a brownfield site by 2336, at a total cost of £2.9 billion. Yikes!

View from a bridge

We carried on, and reached a great café at Halladale where I should have had lunch. But now we were only an hour and a half from Bettyhill and not too far from dinner, so I just had half a flapjack. Mistake! As we entered the final stage of the day’s ride things were getting hilly (see below), and I bonked with ten miles to go. I had a gel and an energy bar, which helped a bit, and I caught up with John and Jamie, who had stopped to admire the view, and we headed into Bettyhill together. On the way we passed a nasty-looking bike accident, worked our way around a traffic jam, and watched Jamie repair a puncture.

Then, into our rooms, wash our clothes, write our blogs, and have dinner.

I’m quite tired after the first day, so this is a short-ish entry today. I’ll end with my Strava data, as I did in 2018. First, here’s the route. We did 94.7 km with 1000 m of climbing. Cycling time was four hours 32 minutes, my average speed was 20.9 km/hr, my average power was 113 W, and I used 1822 calories.

Our route. Notice how hilly the second half is.

And finally, another view of the elevation, my speed, and my heart rate.

Until tomorrow!


To Gatwick today and thence to Inverness and John O’Groats. I hadn’t been on a plane for a very long time, and my flight today was a far cry from the trips I used to do with the Wellcome Trust, where more often than not I would turn left as I entered the plane and then sip (alright, quaff) champagne and try to work out how the seat converted into a bed. No: today I was in a middle seat of an easyJet flight, masked up, and trying to make myself as small as possible lest I transgress inappropriately onto my neighbours’ armrests. At least I was in row 3, and so guaranteed of a quick exit.

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The view at take-off

Once airborne, my view from the plane (or as much of a view as I had from the middle seat) was of a land where the grass was yellow and the temperature in the mid-30s. It looked ominously like the beginning of some post-apocalyptic movie, with citizens going about their sweaty business apparently unconcerned about the future. In this film, the director would go on to depict things going wrong: it would start with hosepipe bans, then reservoirs would dry up, there’d be wildfires, crops would fail, and tempers would flare. When rain did fall there’d be horrific flash floods, people would drown, property would be destroyed and disease would spread. This is the inevitable narrative in such a film and it feels all too likely in real life. To mis-quote Philip Larkin in another context: Why aren’t we all screaming? I sometimes think of future archeologists arriving on earth from some far-distant exoplanet, wondering why the Anthropocene ended so abruptly in the middle of what we call the 21st century.

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The yellow yellow grass of home.

Sorry, that was a bit of a distraction, perhaps brought on by my guilt at being in an aeroplane, by my irritation at the state of our lawn, or simply by a general malaise after a hot and sleepless night.

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Inverness from the air

Anyway, we soon approached Inverness, where I was expecting the land to be greener than in the South. To my surprise, the view from the air wasn’t terribly different from London, but as we landed it did begin to rain, and after the drought in London I felt a little like Robert Benchley reporting back to The New Yorker from Venice: Streets full of water, please advise. It wasn’t quite that bad, of course, but it was raining and 18 degrees, which was wonderful. I had a brief panic that I hadn’t packed enough warm clothing, but 18 degrees is still pretty comfortable, so I think I’ll be OK.

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It’s raining!
Flooded road near Inverness

My bag appeared surprisingly quickly on the baggage carousel. I had just over an hour before being picked up to go to John O’Groats, so I had a toastie to tide myself over to dinner and met fellow cyclist Amardeep in the restaurant, where we compared cycling experiences, said what we do for a living, and so on. Our cycling gang was scheduled to leave the airport at 3:30, but the weather had changed suddenly for the worse. Our coach, which had picked a few people up at Inverness Station, managed to reach us at the airport, but did so in thunder and torrential rain. This also delayed the arrival of Carl and Les’s plane, which had to circle three times before landing. We managed to leave shortly after 4:00, but the flooded roads slowed our journey to John O’Groat’s, which we only managed to reach by 8:00 pm. To give a sense of the weather, Jamie Pocock made a video of part of the journey from the station to the airport. Quite a change from the drought of London.

I said in my last blog that I’d describe the unpacking and re-assembly of my bike, but Rob did the lion’s share of this work before we arrived, and I only saw my machine after dinner, at 10:00. It still needs a few adjustments, though, and I’ll describe these tomorrow. For now…bed.

JOGLE—Prologue 1

I wasn’t sure whether I was going to write a blog to accompany my ride from John O’Groats to Land’s End. I had written one during my 2018 trip in the opposite direction (which you can download here, should you be interested), but I didn’t do any typing during MizMal (Mizen Head to Malin Head) in 2019, and nor during the North Coast 500 in 2020. I think this was because MizMal was physically harder than LEJOG, and I was more tired at the end of the day. And I cycled the NC500 in a state of permanent exhaustion thanks to a couple of broken ribs, which made it too painful to sleep at night. Both were great rides, though, and I take this opportunity to show photographs of two of the greatest cycling climbs I have ever undertaken: the Mamore Gap in County Donegal and the Bealach na Bà in Wester Ross in the Scottish Highlands.

The Mamore Gap
The Bealach na Bà

But today two people asked if I was going to write a JOGLE blog, one making the (very good) point that doing so would encourage me to take more notice of my surroundings. It’s also true that writing down what happens every day makes it much easier to remember it all in the future. So this is the first of two prologues—this one describing my preparation and packing. I know this sounds boring, but be grateful that I’m not going to do any unboxing videos, or describe the best way to apply chamois cream. And in case you think I’m being facetious, I can tell you that if you Google ‘how should I apply chamois cream’ you get 5,240,000 hits. I just hope that Google doesn’t find this blog and make it 5,240,001. (If we do get to that number, and if someone should alight on this page in search of advice, I would only say “don’t double-dip”.)

I’m going with the excellent Bike Adventures again, and Dominic, who works in their office, tells me that the ride will be led by Rob, who shepherded us from Land’s End to John O’Groats in 2018. As readers of the last blog may recall, Bike Adventures make it as easy as possible to cover 1052 miles in 15 days, not least by carrying our luggage from hotel to hotel and by checking us all in before we arrive, so that all we have to do on getting to our destination is shower, eat, and sleep. And, for those so inclined, write a blog.

Bike Adventures provide us with all we need to know before we set off. Of particular importance is the route, which comes as fifteen .gpx flies that we can download to our Garmin or (as I prefer) Wahoo cycle computers. We also get instructions on how to pack our bikes, ready for transport to the start line. My correspondent Julian Hutchings—author, cyclist and YouTuber; check him out—describes in his own LEJOG book how he wasn’t keen on the Bike Adventures approach of packing one’s bike in a flimsy cardboard box, and he instead opted for a (sorry, Julian) Byzantine approach involving his mate Northern Jon and a hire car. I could see Julian’s point: I too have a £500 SciCon bike bag that I am loath not to use. However, the Bike Adventure scheme worked well for me four years ago, and I didn’t want to impose on my friends, so a cardboard box it was. Having said I won’t do any unboxing videos, my next blog will describe the re-assembly of my Mason bicycle from the cardboard box kindly donated by my local bike shop Bon Velo. Fingers crossed!

So Bike Adventures will take my bike to John O’Groats. But how do I get there? I had planned to take the train to Edinburgh on August 13th, to spend the night there, and then to take another train to Inverness on Sunday the 14th, from where Bike Adventures would drive us to John O’Groats. I booked the train tickets and reserved a very expensive room in an Edinburgh hotel (all the cheap rooms had gone—something to do with a Festival going on). However, as I entered Bon Velo to pick up my cardboard bike box, my phone pinged with the news that was to be a rail strike on August 13th. My plans were scuppered. I briefly considered renting a car and driving to Inverness, but in the end, and reluctantly, I decided to fly. Reluctantly, I should say, not because I fear flying but for sound ecological reasons. Oh well—at least I saved quite a lot of money: the flight was much cheaper than the train tickets and I didn’t have to pay for the hotel. Perhaps this will justify my ‘investing in’ a GoPro camera or something.


I haven’t mentioned training yet, but at this point it was so far so good. I had done the Etape Loch Ness earlier in the year, I took the 100-mile RideLondon in my stride, I had circled Richmond Park so frequently that I was on nodding terms with the deer, and I had accumulated enough (ahem) XPs on Zwift that I was (ahem again) Levelling Up rather well. But then I got COVID. It was on 38 degree Monday, the day that preceded 40 degree Tuesday (that is, July 18). I cycled home from King’s Cross to Herne Hill, and although I was feeling a bit ropey it was nothing I couldn’t put down to the heat. Then, as bed-time approached and I was feeling no better, I reached for the LFTs. I was astonished. Two and a half years of negative PCRs and LFTs, and within 10 seconds of applying the fourth drop I could see a positive band. Bother. I told my son to keep away from me and retreated to my room for a week, emerging only for essentials. I wasn’t feeling too bad, but was terribly tired all the time and slightly short of breath. It was such a good job the Tour de France was on—I couldn’t concentrate on anything else.

Negative at last

It took 12 days for me to test negative, and I managed a little walking and some short rides towards the end of that time, but not much else. I was trying to weigh up the risk of losing fitness with that of delaying my recovery, and I think I was right to err on the size of caution. I take solace in the fact that the JOGLE ride is a holiday and not a race! I still feel tired three weeks after seeing that positive band, but I have managed a few rides to work, some Zwift rides, and some short runs, so I hope this will be enough!

And finally, packing. I am a precision packer. Everything fits into its place, everything is folded neatly, I have everything I need and nothing I don’t. Precision packing is particularly important for cycle tours, where there’s not much chance of buying anything you have forgotten. So for every trip I keep a detailed note of everything I’ve taken, and I use these notes as the basis for what I should take on the next one. I realise that I am setting myself up for some ridicule here, but I do think this makes sense. As a user of tubeless tyres, for example, the last thing I want to forget is the little thing that allows you to remove the core from a bicycle valve so that you can inject extra tyre sealant. You’ll be pleased to hear that I’m not going to publish the JOGLE list (unless the comments section below is particularly vociferous in this regard), largely because the number of pairs of underpants I take is, I believe, a matter for me and me alone.

So I set off on Sunday, flying to Inverness, and then (no doubt) to be photographed on Monday morning at the sign that marked the end of my LEJOG trip four years ago. I hope that time has not been too unkind, that the wind is in my favour (unlikely!), and that the succeeding two weeks will be fun. I’m sure they will be.

The end of LEJOG; the beginning of JOGLE

MizMal Day 0

Herne Hill to Cork

Setting off

The next adventure. I was up at 5:00 am to shower and finish packing before the taxi arrived at the anticipated 6:00. I am always a nervous traveller, and I was anxious that the car I’d booked wouldn’t come, or that Addison Lee would send a Mercedes or some kind of limo rather than the people-carrier which was necessary to carry my bike as well as my person. And my fears were justified, because at 05:55 I got a text from Addison Lee to say that they were exceptionally busy, and my car would be allocated within 15 minutes. Nothing about when it would arrive—just that it would be allocated.

A helpful text from Addison Lee

I waited until 6:15 and called them to learn that they might have allocated a car by 6:30. Yikes! I rather bad-temperedly cancelled the booking and installed the Gett app on my phone. This is the one that allows you to call a black cab. It’s utterly brilliant and I don’t know why I haven’t used it before. Within four minutes the charming Anthony had picked me up and we raced away to LHR T2. He took a brilliant route and we had a good chat about (obviously) Addison Lee, Anthony Joshua, cyclists and everything else under the sun. We left Herne Hill at 6:20 and were at Heathrow by 7:10. Fantastic.

I was really disappointed by Addison Lee! Some time ago daughter Kirsty introduced me to Not3s’s breakthrough song titled (rather improbably) Addison Lee. In rapping the company’s praises, Mr Not3s notes that Yeah I could’ve got an Uber/It might’ve been there sooner/It might’ve been way cheaper. He was dead right, and today Addison Lee were far from a peng ting.

Having arrived at Heathrow the next step was to check in and get my bike on the plane. I have never travelled by air with a bike before, so I was worried that (i) they wouldn’t take it; (ii) I’d never see it again; or (iii) it would be irreparably damaged by the baggage handlers. Even if the bike were superficially OK once it got to Cork, I was worried that the disc brake rotors would be bent, or the brake fluid would have leaked, or that the rear derailleur would be knocked out of shape.

Boarding the plane

Well, Aer Lingus were happy to take the bike, so that was good, and I did meet up with it again at Cork Airport (where Van Morrison’s Real Real Gone was playing over the PA). From there it was a short walk to the Cork Airport Hotel, where we were meeting to register, re-build our bikes, have dinner, and write our blogs. Bike assembly was fairly painless. Nothing was broken, although the front brake rubbed a bit and I have lost a retaining clip that keeps the front brake pads in place should a screw come undone. I fixed the brake rub, and I can keep an eye on the screw as I ride, so that won’t be a problem. I think I may have to re-index the gears, but let’s see how that goes.

Me and my MizMal jersey

We were also issued with our MizMal cycling jerseys, which we shall wear with trepidation tomorrow and with pride (I hope) in a week’s time.

And then to dinner. I had a portentous bottle of Howling Gale Irish Pale Ale and then soup and chicken. During the meal Paul Kennedy patiently explained how we are to meet for breakfast at 07:00 tomorrow, get our bags loaded, and then drive for over an hour to Mizen Head. Highlights will then include Fastnet Rock, Bantry Bay, Molls Gap, Black Valley, the Gap of Dunloe, and Kate Kearney’s Cottage. We cycle eighty four miles, starting at about 10:30 and finishing (probably) about 19:30. Watch this space. I can’t wait.

The weather forecast

LEJOG: final thoughts

And in the end…

I hope it’s obvious that I had a great time on our LEJOG trip, and I am hugely grateful to the motley crew of cyclists you see below for helping make it such fun. One of the pleasures of the trip was that I was taken out of my biomedical bubble, and the motley nature of this band of brothers and sisters was a big part of what made it a success.


DSC_0073 copy.jpg

(Motley is not to be interpreted here, as it sometimes is, in any pejorative sense! Here is what Wikipedia says of its etymology; it’s an interesting word.

Motley from 13th-century Middle English means composed of elements of diverse or varied character. In the 15–16th centuries came the “motley”, the official dress of the court jester. The jester was an important person in court circles, who could speak the truth without punishment even when it was contrary to the king’s or senior officials’ opinion. Their uniforms were generally lively and multi-coloured.)

I have covered our trip in some detail in my daily blogs, but one of the things that struck me quite forcibly, and James Briscoe said the same thing this afternoon, is how long we spent in Scotland.


We got into Scotland on day 9 of our 15-day trip, having covered 588 miles out of a total of 1051. Thus, 44% of our time and of the distance we covered was north of the border. This is a lot, especially when you bear in mind that we were going north-east, rather than north, at the beginning of the ride. So the message is that Scotland is big! The map below, from the Bike Adventures web site, kind of makes this point, but it is still a little hard to credit.


There is a web site that discusses the size of Scotland and how it is depicted on maps. In agreement with my statement that Scotland is big, it makes the point that the land area of Scotland is 30,414 square miles, while that of England is 50,346. Along similar lines, it points out that Scotland is almost exactly a third of the area of the entire UK.

The site says that a few years ago the BBC weather map used to depict the UK as if from a wide-angle lens floating above northern France, and that this vantage point emphasised south-east England and diminished Scotland, both because of perspective and because of the curvature of the earth. This misrepresentation has now been fixed by the BBC, but it provides an example of the potential geopolitical effects of cartography. At the time, this was relevant to the referendum on Scottish independence. How could such an apparently small country make its own way in the world?

I had wondered in a previous blog whether the nature of the map projection—Mercator versus Gall-Peters—might influence the apparent sizes of Scotland and England. It doesn’t, significantly, but the use of the Mercator projection does exaggerate the size of the United States and countries in Europe and it under-sizes Africa, and this led to an earlier controversy about the political implications of map design.


Having got through Scotland, I’m back in one piece. We all love giving advice, so what advice would I give someone taking a supported tour of the kind Bike Adventures do?

The bike

  • Do get some bike riding in before you go. This is partially for fitness, of course, and in my wisdom I would say you should, at the very least, be comfortable doing two 50-milers on consecutive days. But it is also to hone your bike-handling skills. Most of the accidents we had were from mistakes rather than outside agencies.
  • Service your bike (or have it serviced) before you go. A bike in good condition should be able to handle a thousand miles easily enough.
  • Stick to Shimano. You may love your Speedplay or Crank Brothers pedals, or your Campagnolo Chorus groupset, but if anything breaks you’ll find it much harder to find replacements or spare parts in provincial bicycle shops. All you’ll be able to do is get Wiggle to express something to your next hotel!
  • If you insist on using something weird, take spares. I took spare spokes for my Hunt wheels, so naturally it turned out that I didn’t need them. And of course, take some spare inner tubes, a pump (or CO2 cartridges), tyre levers and a multi-tool.


  • Don’t take too much in the way of clothes, but make sure that what you do take is of good quality. Bike Adventures said I didn’t need more than two cycle jerseys, two pairs of shorts and two pairs of socks. They were right. But they do need to be good. My Rapha shorts, I have to say, were terrific. The same advice with respect to quality goes for arm-warmers, leg-warmers, shoes, over-shoes, gloves and a waterproof jacket. And a ‘base layer’ (vest).
  • You don’t need much for the evenings. I wore a light T shirt, Ron Hill Tracksters and running shoes. In colder weather a sweatshirt would be useful. I am very fastidious, but even I felt the need to wash these only once every three days.


  • Eat well. Breakfast is the important meal. I found that as long as I had a good breakfast I could keep going with a light lunch and an energy bar or two and then really chow down again in the evenings.
  • That said, do make sure you have some extra food with you in case you’re stuck in the back of beyond in the pouring rain for a few hours
  • Make sure you have plenty of water, too. I added electrolyte tablets to my bidons, but more for the taste rather than for any concerns about hyponatremia.


  • Keep a record. I persuaded myself to do so by writing this blog. I took a decent camera as well as an iPhone, so the photos are of high technical, if not aesthetic, quality. But the camera (a Sony RX100M6) doesn’t have GPS, so I don’t know exactly where I took the pictures, which is a pain. To overcome this I could have linked the camera to my iPhone, apparently, but this would have drained the iPhone battery. The alternatives are to use a notebook, get a camera with GPS, or just take photos with your phone. Or (complicated, this) I could have used the time at which the photo was taken in conjunction with my Garmin/Wahoo data to see how far along my course I was when I took the picture. First world problems…

In my end is my beginning

A crew less motley at the end of the trip…


What next?

I have caught the bug, and next on my list, if I can persuade Ian and Oli to join me in the Spring, is Mizen to Malim, the end-to-end of Ireland. It’s about half the length of LEJOG, but looks like great fun.

And then, in the Summer, to Europe. I quite fancy the Alps, and there is an interesting tour that takes in some of the classic cols, including Semnoz, Forclaz, Tamie, Madeline, Glandon, Croix de Fer, Mollard, Telegraph, Galibier and Alpe d’Huez. That’ll be a challenge!


Thanks to my fellow cyclists and to everyone who read and commented on this blog!


Day 15

Bettyhill to John O’Groats

Avoiding tempting fate

I am writing this on the train home from Inverness, and there are two things I have not said until now for fear of tempting fate (I know this is not a very scientific approach to life, but it is a little-known fact that scientists are also human beings).

The first is that my bike has been brilliant. Others have had problems great and small, from punctures to pedals to spokes to cassettes and to derailleurs. My new Mason has been faultless, and I have not had a single puncture with my tubeless Schwalbe Pro One tyres.

The other concerns that part of my anatomy that contacts the saddle. The combination of my Brooks saddle and the frequent and liberal application of Assos chamois crème has, I am sure, made all the difference. I have used Brooks saddles for many years, but this is my first foray into chamois crème, and I am grateful from the bottom of my…well, bottom…to the person who gave me a tub.

DSC00371.JPGGreat stuff!

The ride

The first thing we all noticed when we woke up was the wind. It was strong and, to our relief, it was blowing from west to east. I can’t imagine how much more difficult our final day would have been had we been cycling into the wind rather than having it at our backs.

Our bikes had been held secure for the night in one of those containers that go on big ships, and it may have been that they were packed a little too snugly, because Andrew had a broken spoke, and Nigel B a recurrent puncture (as soon as you repaired it, it blew again). I didn’t realise this, and set off first, assuming everyone would follow in short order. Here is a photo taken as I climbed out of Bettyhill.

DSC00372.JPGBeginning the final leg

As I cycled I got talking to George, who was doing the North Coast 500, and who had bivouacked overnight. In this weather, rather him than me.

I began to get suspicious that no one was following me when I was held up by a herd of cows coming down the hill in front of me. The farmer made it very clear that these animals were frisky, and that on no account should I try to speed past them. I moved to the grass by the side of the road, but rather than acknowledge my politeness with a grave raise of the hand, as do (some) motorists, they continued to bear down on me.

DSC00375.JPGAre you looking for trouble?

Rather than go further down the valley to my left, I toughed it out, and eventually the animals saw sense and returned to the road. Some of them were pretty big!

DSC00381.JPGA big cow

To my surprise, no one had caught me during this hold-up, but I carried on anyway, past the Dounreay nuclear power station, now long decommissioned and in the course of being cleaned up and demolished.

DSC00386 2.jpgDounreay

I would be letting the side down as a blogger with an eye for the ironic if I didn’t also show a photo of the nearby wind farm.

DSC00388.JPGWind farm

Eventually, at Thurso (at about 30 out of 58 miles), Rob caught me in his van. His hands were covered in grease and oil, and he summarised Andrew’s and Nigel’s woes. If we were all to arrive in John O’Groats at about the same time, it would be sensible for me to take a break! So Rob and I headed for the Café Tempest where I had a cheese scone and a coffee, and quite soon along came Max and Andrew (he of the broken spoke). Rob offered to have another go at Andrew’s spoke, but he was frustrated by not having a spare nipple and by not having a spare spoke of the right length. Even when he just tried swapping wheels, the spare could only hold ten cogs, and Andrew’s bike ran on eleven (or it may have been the other way round).

Nigel B, meanwhile, he of the recurrent puncture, was in better shape, because Rob had lent him his own bike.

While Rob and Andrew tried to fix Andrew’s wheel, Max and I set off for Dunnet Head—we had agreed that most of us would make a short detour to visit this most northerly point in mainland UK, and if Andrew were delayed too much, he would just skip it.

It was great cycling—the wind was behind us, and Max set a really good pace. It wasn’t long before we turned off north for Dunnet Head (see map below).

Screenshot 2018-08-19 15.08.21.pngThe route and the diversion to Dunnet Head

There were quite a few of us at various points on the ride to and from Dunnet Head. As well as me and Max, there were Allison, Dan, Jack, Karen, Lisa, Michael and Father Paul, and also the Whippets, by now well ahead of us all (and there may have been others as well). It was unbelievably windy! As we cycled north, we all had to lean far to our left to avoid being blown off course and off our bikes completely. And the other way round as we returned.

But it was worth the effort, and in fact I found Dunnet Head more fulfilling, in some way or another, than getting to John O’Groats. The power of the wind, and the view, made everything seem very elemental.

DSC00389.JPGMy bike at Dunnet Head

DSC00391.JPGThe lighthouse at Dunnet Head

DSC00393.JPGLooking west from Dunnet Head

But enough of this romantic stuff. Having returned from Dunnet Head, and failed to find Andrew as arranged, it was full speed ahead for JOG, and I covered the remaining 10 miles or so in about 30 minutes, I think. On the way I passed Andrew, who wisely had been nursing his ailing rear wheel. I could see it oscillating quite dramatically as I approached him.

And then it was into John O’Groats. Photographs, congratulations, champagne, and more photographs.

DSC00396.JPGMade it

We had coffee, and I took some photos of people who have not featured much in these blogs…

DSC00399.JPGAnn and Justin


DSC00397.JPGJack, with Nigel behind

DSC00404.JPGAnd roomies Allison and Lisa

Immediate aftermath

No sooner had we finished than we cycled the 400 yards to the hotel that most of us were staying in. Our bike boxes were produced, and it was pedals, saddles and front wheels off before we squeezed our machines into their boxes. I managed to add a few more bits and bobs too, to make my other bags that little bit lighter for the journey home. Most of us were staying in the John O’Groats Hotel (apparently the only licenced premises in the whole of JOG) but Andrew, Max and I were in a guest house another half-mile away, and very nice it was too.

We met for dinner, we had a few more drinks, and we went to bed. I, for one, was very tired.


And this morning, Sunday, we set off for home!