Day 14

Alness (roughly) to Bettyhill

The ride

The penultimate day of our ride. As I said yesterday, we didn’t stay in Alness but in Evanston, so to get onto the official route we couldn’t just use our Garmin/Wahoos, we actually had to listen to instructions and obey them. The instructions were simple enough: turn left out of the hotel, turn left at the T junction, and then you’ll be fine. I did manage this, but when it’s two miles to the T junction, and then two miles (at least) before you pick up the route, and it’s a bit hilly (downhill, so if you’re wrong you have to go back uphill), you do begin to doubt yourself.

Fortunately, Dan was behind me and, with the confidence of youth, reassured me, and we did soon get on the right track.

We started by cycling through Ardross and climbing towards a beautiful view over Dornoch Firth. Here is a view from the climb.

DSC00325.JPGClimbing up to see Dornoch Firth

And here is me at the top, taken by a German tourist (I have met lots of German tourists in Scotland; I hope they continue to come in the future).

DSC00328.JPGJim turning his back on Dornoch Firth

I have been conscious throughout the ride that I am clad mostly in black, either in black cycle shirts or in the rain jacket you see here. The rain jacket, apparently, is like the Ford Model T—any colour you like, so long as it’s black. According to Cycling Weekly “the highly sophisticated Active Gore-Tex fabric can actually only be manufactured in black”. This is why I bought the helmet light that you can see in some photos, which I kept on during the day, and it’s why I think I’ll get some daytime running lights. There is a very persuasive Global Cycling Network (GCN) video about these.

DSC00332.JPGA view of the Firth

The benefit of all climbs is the descent afterwards, and the following ride down to the Bonar Bridge was brilliant. Here is a view from the bottom of the descent, at three different focal lengths.

DSC00341.jpg24 mm equivalent focal length (EFL)

DSC00340 2.jpgAbout 50 mm EFL, in black and white

DSC00343.jpgAbout 200 mm EFL. The little white arc in the middle of the hill is the road we came down

So far so good, and we headed towards Lairg. On the way we all stopped for coffee at the Falls of Shin, an amazing sight. The great thing at this time of year is to spot salmon heading up the falls, and we all congregated to see what we could see.

DSC00345.JPGThe Falls of Shin

DSC00349 2.JPGSalmon watching…

Fake.jpgSalmon leaping?

And we did see some! Karen saw three, I think, and I definitely saw two and maybe a third. It was hard to believe that any fish could have made it up past the falls, but I guess many do. We tried really hard to get a photo or video, and Dan captured one on his iPhone. As for me…see above.

As a scientist, I want to make it perfectly clear that the image above has been Photoshopped, deliberately badly, for comedic effect. Max and some other cycling chums will appreciate the significance of the joke.

The river was really impressive, and provided great photo opportunities.


And then it was north again, through rather bleak and desolate open moorland and young forest. It wasn’t clear where the road was going or even why it was going there. But we were heading for the Crask Inn, perhaps Scotland’s most isolated Inn, a place that gets great reviews, and where tradition has it that Bike Adventures customers take lunch. By the time we got to the Inn the weather had turned again, and it was raining pretty hard.

DSC00353.JPGThe road to nowhere, but which leads to the Crask Inn

I took a photo of Father Paul, and he asked me to take a photo of his soup (what?). Here it is, Paul.

DSC00358.JPGFather Paul in the Crask Inn

DSC00359.jpgPaul’s soup

We left the Inn in the rain, and I was keen to get shifting. I met Jack and Pete at a photography pointDSC00361.JPGJack and Pete

And then, for the last 20-odd miles I went as fast as I could for Bettyhill. As I have said before, I like the run-in to our destination, and I find I can get up quite a speed, so I really enjoyed this last part of the ride, especially as it was drying out by now. Although during this last section I didn’t increase my maximum speed, I did manage to increase my maximum average speed for a day, up to 15.8 mph. You can see from the stats below that my heart rate was increasing quite a bit during this period, and especially at the very end, during the steep-ish hill up to Bettyhill. (I realise this is of interest only to me!)

Screenshot 2018-08-19 12.27.05.pngStats. Note increasing heart rate towards the end

Profile.pngThe route and the profile. You can just see the climb into Bettyhill at the end

Bettyhill is a beautiful place at the mouth of the River Naver, made more beautiful by the fact that it is so close to John O’Groats…

Screenshot 2018-08-19 12.38.43.pngGetting there!

Here are a couple of views from the Bettyhill Hotel, where we stayed.

DSC00367.JPGBettyhill from our hotel

DSC00366.JPGBettyhill from our hotel, zoomed out

After a shower and my usual clothes-washing rituals I settled into the bar to finish yesterday’s blog, and enjoyed a large Highland Park. The mobile cinema was in town tonight, showing (I think) Mamma Mia. I was surprised, but nevertheless pleased, that in these days of YouTube and Netflix there is still a place for mobile cinemas. We had dinner in the hotel itself, perhaps the best food of the trip so far.

Bettyhill (and another excursion into etymology)

As for Bettyhill itself, the orginal village in this area was Farr, about a mile to the east; Bettyhill was only built between 1811 and 1821 and came about as a direct result of the Highland Clearances. The Strathnavar valley to the south of Bettyhill formed part of the one-and-a-half million acre estate of Elizabeth Leveson-Gower, Countess of Sutherland, and her husband, the Marquess of Stafford. During the Clearances, the by-then Duke and Duchess of Sutherland employed Patrick Sellar as a ‘factor’ (a trader who receives and sells goods on commission). Sellar cleared 15,000 people from the area as he forcibly replaced the old-style crofting communities with a much smaller number of sheep farmers. This accrued much higher rents, and at the same time greatly reduced the estate’s administrative burden.

In response, and ususually, the Countess Elizabeth had a replacement village built for the displaced crofters, on a hill at the mouth of the Naver. Hence Bettyhill.

Day 13

Fort William to Alness (nearly)

I first heard the expression “If you don’t like the weather in New England now, just wait a few minutes” when I was a postdoc at Harvard Medical School. The person I was speaking to attributed the remark to Mark Twain (most bon mots are attributed to Mark Twain or to Oscar Wilde, in my experience). It turns out that there is rather little evidence that Mark Twain did actually say this, and indeed many US states seem to have appropriated the expression to suit their own needs. Will Rogers, for example, is said to have said “If you don’t like the weather in Oklahoma, wait a minute and it’ll change”.

Anyway, whoever said it, and about where, it’s certainly true of the Highlands of Scotland. We had breakfast at 07:30 in the Wetherspoons beneath our hotel, and on my way inside I had to sprint the 10 yards from the hotel to the door of the bar to avoid getting drenched. After an overly hearty breakfast, Rob assembled us outside at 08:15 for our morning briefing (below), and by this time things weren’t too bad, although you can see we were prepared for it to be cold and wet. I felt snug enough in (i) arm warmers; (ii) over-shoes; (iii) Rapha Pro team winter hat; (iv) clear shades; and (v) (a new one this) my Rapha base layer, worn beneath my cycle shirt. The last of these is what my mum would have called a vest, but that’s a bit prosaic for the 21st century cyclist.

IMG_4398.JPGMorning briefing

We rolled out at about 08:30, following a slightly complicated route to get us eventually onto the A82 to Inverness. We went alongside the railway and here is a photo of the bridge, with moody clouds in the background.

DSC00302.JPGRailway bridge

It struck me as we were leaving (this is a slightly extended and muddled metaphor, so forgive me) that we slightly resembled a mutlicoloured train, a little like Lance Armstrong’s Blue Train. If this were right, Tim would be the caboose, who would sweep up members of the autobus, or gruppetto, who found it impossible to continue. (Not that anyone is allowed not to finish in our adventure!)

So onward and upward in our journey. After a few miles we were on the open road, heading east. That’s Lisa and Allison putting the hammer down.

DSC00303.JPGAfter two or three miles. Weather not too bad

It wasn’t long before we were cycling along the Caledonian Canal, parallel to the River Lochy, and we quickly made a right turn and a left to follow the eastern bank of Loch Lochy. And it started to rain. It rained buckets. It rained, to borrow an expression from Levon Helm, speaking about The Band’s concert at Watkins Glen, like a cow pissing on a flat rock. My jacket did its job pretty well, but my hands were cold and wet and my feet shipped water from below, up through where you screw in the cleats, and from above, with moisture seeping down my legs and into my over-shoes. I have no photos of these weather conditions, because my camera was misbehaving, and I didn’t want to exacerbate things by getting it wet. And because I didn’t want to stop.

But then, suddenly, the rain did stop, and as I cycled I could feel the water evaporating from my body rather than accumulating on it. I can’t remember distances or times, but I felt a strong need for a cup of coffee after about 25 miles, and found a hotel which didn’t mind my leaving the bike in their entrance and having a sopping wet cyclist sullying their sophisticated decor. As I sipped I saw The Whippets go by (one of them had had a puncture) and then I saw the main peloton, so after a few minutes I jumped on my bike and headed up the hill behind them. I didn’t want to join the autobus.

Cycling relatively quickly I came to the cycle path along the Caledonian Canal. This was excellent riding. The surface could have been smoother, but it was so tranquil I had no desire to go terribly fast. Besides, there were walkers and cyclists coming the other way, and there was a speed limit of 15 mph. Here is the beginning of the path. You can see that it’s still a bit overcast, but it brightened up very quickly.

DSC00307.JPGCaledonian Canal cycle path (1)

And here is a photo taken further down.

DSC00309.JPGCaledonian Canal cycle path (2)

From here it was an easy ride, past an old bridge, through some beautiful weather on the banks of Loch Ness (no, I didn’t see it), past Urquhart Castle, and into Drumnadrochit.


DSC00312.JPGWeather on Loch Ness—how it changes

Drumnadrochit is a rather undistinguished village, but it makes the most of its proximity to the Highlands, to Urquhart Castle, and (especially) to Loch Ness.

DSC00314.jpgNessieland. Give me strength

But then! It was The Climb Of The Day. You can see it on the profile below, at 55 miles. The profile is slightly exaggerated—it’s not quite straight up—but it’s 15% or so for 1.6 miles, and it’s no joke.

Screenshot 2018-08-17 06.41.12.pngToday’s ride, with profile

I was determined not to walk up this hill, and I succeeded, although I did have to stop at one point. At the top I took a break to take a photograph, of course.

DSC00315.jpgThe view from the top of the climb

Nigel soon joined me, saying that the other Whippets were on the way. And then a very nice woman in a very nice car stopped and said that if we were waiting for our friends we’d have to wait a while, because they were walking. I have no further comment to make.

I continued, adopting my usual strategy of going faster at the end of the ride (I don’t know why I do this). I did stop to take a photo of a Highland Cow.

DSC00320.JPGHighland cow

And later we passed Conan road and rail bridges.

DSC00321.JPGConan Bridges

And then the Cromarty Firth and the very impressive Cromarty Bridge.

DSC00322.JPGCromarty Firth

DSC00324.JPGCromarty Bridge

We were supposed to go to a hotel in Alness, but there was some sort of misunderstanding about accommodation, so we ended up in Evanston. As the end approaches, we are having more and more fun at dinner…


IMG_4404.jpgFather Paul

It was a long day but a good one.

Getting fit

Rob says quite frequently that by the end of LEJOG we cope with hills much more easily, or begin to look at a ride of 75 miles as routine, because we are getting fitter. Is this right? Can we really get fitter in, say, ten days?

I’m not sure we can, and indeed my sense is that after ten days the ravages of cycling LEJOG—shoulder and back pain, numbness in the hands and fingers, knee trouble, saddle sores—make us less able, physically, to cope with the challenges of long rides.

However, I confess I don’t have much real data about how long it takes to get fit, beyond personal experience (marathon training, for example), a scan of the internet (for example, this), and the understanding that what counts in getting fit is rest days, when the body can recover (we have had no rest days on our trip). Maybe Bike Adventures should collaborate with a sports science department to take measurements from its customers every day, to find out what the truth is. I’m sure there is some excellent science to be done.

For what it’s worth, I think it’s all in the mind. I don’t feel much fitter, and I am so tired by the evenings that even writing this blog is sometimes beyond me (I am writing this part of the blog the morning after our Fort William to Alness ride the afternoon after our ride to Bettyhill because I fell asleep with my laptop on my lap and had to go to bed). I don’t think I have lost any weight, and I certainly don’t have muscles like steel hawsers. But I do know I can do long rides now, and I do know I can get up some steep hills, and I do know that I can hold a particular level of intensity for a particular time, and I think it is that knowledge that keeps me going.

If anyone reads this I’d be interested to know what they think.


Here are my data. Top speed of the trip so far, at 42.5 mph.

Screenshot 2018-08-17 06.42.18.pngMy data

Day 12

Inveraray to Fort William

We are on the home straight now. Here is what we did today (in red), with our next destinations marked: Alness, Bettyhill and John O’Groats. A casual glance would suggest that tomorrow is a long ride, and the casual glance would be correct. It’ll be our longest yet, at 84 miles with 4209 feet of climbing. Friday and Saturday come in at 74 and 58 miles respectively.

Left.pngWhat’s left

Today was another wet day, but not as bad as Tuesday. It started with a long cold climb (see profile below), but I am getting used to long cold climbs now, so I wasn’t phased, especially because the descent was pretty fast and fun. At first the route took us along the banks of Loch Awe, and the views were as wonderful as always, if you like moody images of clouds hanging over the tops of hills and mountains.

Screenshot 2018-08-15 18.00.41.pngThe profile of today’s ride

DSC00286.JPGA moody view over Loch Awe

As I went round the head of the loch (I was riding alone today) I crossed the famous Bridge of Awe. The original bridge, completed in 1779, was destroyed in floods in 1992, and I rode over the concrete replacement, built in 1938. It was a sad day when the old bridge was lost. I understand from Wikipedia that it featured in the 1959 film The Bridal Path with George (‘Minder’) Cole and Gordon (‘too many films to mention’) Jackson. Actually, I will mention some of Gordon Jackson’s films and TV appearances, because they were so great. His films included Whisky Galore, The Navy Lark, Mutiny on the Bounty, The Great Escape, The Ipcress File, Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie; his TV work included Upstairs Downstairs and The Professionals. Here is a photo from the 1938 bridge.

DSC00287.JPGFrom the bridge of Awe

As I went on, I reached Connel, where we had a family holiday two years ago. We stayed in one of the cottages on the right-hand-side, looking over the estuary.

DSC00288.JPGHoliday destination, August 2016

It was pretty gloomy today, but the photos below, from 2016, show that the sun does shine sometimes.

IMG_1872.jpgA view from the cottage

IMG_1904.jpgA sunny holiday panorama

I met fellow cyclist Jack here; he was hurrying to get to Fort William before 17:00, when the bike shop closed. The hub on his rear wheel was giving him serious trouble and I think he’ll have to get a complete new wheel. I’ll find out at breakfast tomorrow.

From this point I was following Sustrans Route 78, the Caledonia Way. Sustrans do a great job—everyone should support them. Here is a typical view of the cycle path. It’s such a good way to see parts of the country you’d never otherwise see.

DSC00292 2.JPGTypical section of cycle path

I soon reached Appin, and the remnants of its railway station, a victim of the Beeching cuts.

DSC00294.JPGAppin used to have a railway station

But the great thing about Appin is Castle Stalker, known to Monty Python fans as the Castle of Aaargh. You just can’t take a bad photo of Castle Stalker (well, you can…). Here it is with a wide-angle lens and then zoomed in.

DSC00296.jpgWide angle

DSC00297.jpgZoomed in

The weather was getting grim again, so I took one more moody shot of clouds over hills, and with 25 miles to go I put the hammer down/dug deep into the suitcase of courage/got on the rivet/went as fast as I could (choose your own description) to get to Fort William.

DSC00298.JPGFinal moody photograph

Most of the ride was on the Sustrans route, and very nice it was too, but there were a few points where I felt distinctly uncomfortable. The first was crossing a road bridge—I have no idea where it was because I was going so fast (for me) and because I was concentrating so hard on the road immediately ahead. The cycle path was narrow enough that a wobble to my left would have taken me into the path of oncoming traffic, and a wobble to the right would have brought me very close to the edge of the bridge and a watery grave. The path was similarly narrow at other points on the way to Fort William, and it was all a bit scary.

Not as scary as when the cycle path ran out, however, and we were sharing a narrow two-lane road with lorries and trucks and fast cars. My tactic was to try to minimise the difference in velocity between me and the cars by going as fast as I could, but it really wouldn’t have mattered if I had been doing 10 mph or 25 mph; being hit by a lorry doing 60 mph would have been curtains.

Anyway, I made it early into Fort William, and went immediately to the bike shop. Waterproof over-shoes, a helmet light that flashes to front and rear, and some gels and energy bars to see me through the next few days. Fort William is an interesting place—it’s clearly the hiking centre of Scotland, if attire is anything to go by. If you’re not in Jack Wolfskin or North Face, you’re in Berghaus or Craghopper.

And now, as soon as I post my stats, I’m off to see what food it can offer.

Screenshot 2018-08-15 19.32.28.pngMy stats

Day 11

Motherwell to Inveraray

It wouldn’t be LEJOG without a spot of rain, and the few spots we had on Day 5 in Wales didn’t really cut the mustard. But trust Scotland, and Glasgow, to do the business. It bucketed down!

We set off early from our hotel in Strathclyde Country Park. The hotel wasn’t brilliant, but they let us take our bicycles into our rooms, which is always appreciated.

55587201338__7C6D298B-32EA-4E3A-A37E-2F52B02ECA41.JPGMy bike in my room. Note how the saddle is moulding itself to me

Breakfast was early, at 07:00. I’m not sure why, unless it was to allow Rob to give us our instructions for the day without scaring everyone else in the dining room. He spoke of confusing junctions, places to eat, potential hazards, and things to look at along the way.

But before we went anywhere we had to get into, and out of, Glasgow. This was not simple, and it took four of Rob’s famous yellow A5 sheets to cover the intricacies of the route. We spent a lot of time following the Clyde:

Screenshot 2018-08-14 21.18.19 copy.pngFollowing the Clyde

We saw several bridges…


And as Rob predicted, we saw a very big bicycle.

DSC00270.JPGA big bicycle next to my own machine

It was during this time that it began to rain. I quickly donned the aforementioned Gore ONE 1985 Gore-Tex Shakedry jacket, and we carried on. I desperately wished I had a pair of waterproof overshoes, though, as my feet began to get very wet indeed. I also discovered that hydraulic disc brakes are very good (if a little squeaky sometimes), but that in bad weather you can sometimes get something jammed in the mechanism, which makes an extraordinarily annoying noise as you go along. I eventually realised you can fix it by taking the wheel on and off. A bit like everything else in life.

Soaked through, we had lunch on the Maid of the Loch, a paddle steamer now being restored at Balloch. Here is a picture taken below decks.

DSC00274.JPGBelow decks on the Maid of the Loch

And here is a view from the deck. Boy the weather was ugh.

DSC00273 2.jpgThe view from the deck of the Maid of the Loch

The rain eased off (briefly, as it turned out) as we left the Maid of the Loch, and we headed up the west side of Loch Lomond. It was wet, but it was beautiful. We cycled parallel to the main road, and I remember thinking how lucky we were to be so close to the loch and to travel at the right speed to appreciate it. Even if, by now, it was tipping it down. Here are two shots of the loch.

DSC00277 2.jpgEarly in our ride along the loch

DSC00278.jpgA little later

Loch Lomond behind us, I broke away from the group. It was still pouring with rain, and I was drenched; I couldn’t imagine being any wetter, so it really didn’t matter any more. I soon reached Ardgartan, and began to go up towards Rest and be Thankful, the highest point on the A83 (just by the small lake in the centre of the image below). This was a tough climb. Long, wet, windy, and unremitting. The traffic came past too closely, and the traffic on the other side of the road kept spraying me. One car came really close, and he when he stopped at a roadworks traffic light a few hundred yards later I thought of having a stern word with him. But then I thought better of it.

Screenshot 2018-08-14 21.58.51 copy.pngToday’s climb

At the top I stopped and had the breakfast bar I had taken from breakfast at last night’s hotel forgotten to eat that morning. This was a real case of having to re-fuel; I was starving.

Here is a view from the top, looking back the way I came.

DSC00284.JPGView from the top, looking back

And this is the beginning of the downhill stretch. The lake is the one at the centre of the map above, and is in the photo on this web site, referred to above.

DSC00285.JPGLooking downhill

From this point, 14 miles from the hotel, I went for it as fast as I could. There’s very little to report from the perspective of the cyclist with his head down and his bottom in the air. I do remember, though, a period of calm when I was doing about 22 mph with a 22 mph wind behind me, and all I could hear was the noise the tyres make on the road. That was pretty cool.


I really liked the rain today. And I especially liked the wet slog up the A83 towards Rest and be Thankful. I felt like an extra in the Rapha web site. And check out Allison’s Tweet for a photo of Inveraray.


Screenshot 2018-08-14 22.46.53.pngNumbers

Screenshot 2018-08-14 22.54.54.pngProgress!

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.