John O?Groats to Lands End – Tandem Style

JOGLE: John O’Groats to Lands End
LE JOG: Lands End to John O’Groats
JOGLERS: Those who partake in the above ventures
TOP UPS: Frequent stops on the bike which invariably involve cake, water and coffee
ARSE BREAKS: Frequent occurences, particularly later in the day, when one pulls over on the side of the road and stands astride ones transport for a few short minutes, often interspersed with cries of Ahhhh

The Finish!
The Finish!

Having spent a week in the Outer Hebrides last summer doing the Heb Challenge, we were quite enthralled by some of the beauty and tranquillity that Scotland had to offer, so it was suggested, upon leaving, that it would be nice to spend a little more time biking around there in the future. Still buzzing with the post race endorphins on the journey home, the idea of John O’Groats to Lands End emerged (Phil?s silly suggestion). Having also ran up various mountains in the Hebrides, and with those endorphins still flowing, the idea quickly evolved to involve getting off the bike and climbing the three highest peaks, which would also give us a route down. (Sam?s silly suggestion!)

It was on returning, and having had nearly a year to contemplate and plan the trip, that we then decided that to do it on a tandem.

So nearly a year had passed and we had had many a conversation regarding our proposed trip, but by April we were not really any closer, as we had not purchased a tandem. Both being relatively tall (well taller than Ian) we had to make sure that the bike suited both of us as it was a long way to ride if you are not comfortable. Ebay to the rescue and, after a little research, we managed to buy a tandem that not only fitted us both well but also, according to those in the know, was actually quite a good bike. There it was a Dawes galaxy twin ……. circa 1990s.

The next problem was getting us and the bike to John O’Groats. Again via the beauty of the internet and several forums, we found out that, although the trip is fairly well travelled by literally thousands of bikers each year, John O’Groats is not actually that easy to get to especially with a tandem.

The train option initially looked like the most effective, however, as you may have read from Nick Harvey?s account, it was going to take a long time to get there. We also discovered that, on getting to Edinburgh, we would have to find an alternative way to get the tandem any further as Scottish rail refused resolutely to carry it…..

Eventually we found flights from Bristol to Inverness that gave us a good window to catch a train to Thurso (the nearest train stop to John O’Groats) then hired a car to get to Bristol airport and arranged for a local courier to transport the tandem to Thurso. We organised with the surf shop in Thurso to accept our tandem for us (I had bought a wetsuit from them a few years back!!!)

Finally, organised and packed, we left Cornwall on Friday 19th of July (just five days after the UK 70.3) with four well-packed panniers and a light-weight 2-man tent, to start the trip that we had talked about for so long, with one bag slightly heavy than the other ……… read on………..

Day 1 ? Thurso to John O’Groats to Helmsdale
75.37 miles,
1 proposal of marriage and consent
Max speed 31.9mph
Average 13.4mph.
Ride time 5hrs 36mins

Day 1 John O'Groats
Day 1 John O'Groats

After a night in a hostel in Inverness, we caught a train at 7am to Thurso to meet the bike. After an hour or so putting it together, lunch, coffee and cake at the surf shop cafe, we were ready for the off and the 16 mile ride over to John O’Groats.

On arrival at John O’Groats it was not exactly what we had thought and was very much underdeveloped, with some areas in a state of disrepair, so didn?t really do itself justice as the most easterly point in the UK that it deserves.

Having our mandatory photo at the official signpost, we hung around long enough to make one of the panniers much lighter by the shock production of an engagement ring and proposal of marriage mumbled at the harbour side. On cloud 9 we started the adventure,hoping that the next 12 days would not test the relationship!!

On to the ride.
John O’Groats to Helmsdale followed a coastal road via Wick, where we stocked up on vital supplies (cake) and to let Sam (Mrs Wobble) have a go up front on the bike. Yep, as suspected,100 metres later we swapped back with a sigh of relief as I was back in control.

The road was long and sweeping with a relatively good surface and generally undulating, giving us a good first day and generally covering more miles than we had expected. Still being a bit new at this tandem lark we were pedalling like true roadies and were averaging a reasonable speed both up and down hill. With Sam on the back, generally unaware how scary it was up front at speed, the odd shout of ?get off the brakes? was called as we shot down the coast road. We made our first novice mistake when, having descended a 13% gradient downhill using our third brake (drag brake), we started pedalling furiously up the opposing 13% gradient hill on the other side, our first major challenge. Not to be beaten so early on we pedalled until our thighs burned and had to ashamedly admit to defeat. Getting off the bike we started pushing, but we couldn?t push it either, only then did we realise that Sam had left the drag brake on full!! I think we were both slightly relieved to find the reason for our apparent inability to climb!

We finally decided to call it a day at 9pm, managing to find a free camping spot above a beach at Helmsdale, getting into the tent after a midge-surrounded but well deserved meal at 10.30pm…… Oh what a start.

Day 2 – Helmsdale to Drumnadrochit
Distance 85.9miles,
Av 13.7mph
Max 35.3mph
Ride Time 6hrs 15mins

Funny clouds
Funny clouds

Good sleep all things considered, on road by 7am in clear blue sky and sun and no wind. A roadside breakfast outside the spar at Golspie and a supply of cake with some water, saw us on our way to our next point Tain. This road really seemed downhill most of the way, so was quite fast and saw us spot, reel in and overtake (couldn?t help ourselves) some other Jogglers on road bikes. We then entered the town for a quick top up (more food) and for Sam to phone her folks to tell them marriage news.

Again, with the sun shining, we left and headed out on a long haul down to Dingwall on the A9, spotting some seals basking in the shallows of the Cromarty Firth, covering almost another 30 mile or so before stopping at Tesco for another refuel (pasta and cake) and a little lay down on a grassy spot. The next step from here was the 22 miles to the edge of Loch Ness, with our fist navigation error made, but quickly resolved by Sam. At this point the hills started and continued for what should have been only a short time, however, seemed like ages. Finally, with a massive downhill to finish, we entered Drumnadrochit to find a campsite. Bearing in mind this place is on the edge of Loch Ness, there seemed to be as much Loch visible as there was Nessie and we only really saw the Loch on the map…. where was it? Food that night was a traditional pub meal of bangers and mash with extra mash requested by Phil ready for tomorrow?s early ride down to Fort William.

Day 3 – Drumnadrochit to Fort William
Distance 53,53miles + Ben Nevis
Av. 13.8mph
Ride time 3hrs 52mins
Max speed 29.9mph

Day 3 Ben Nevis summit
Day 3 Ben Nevis summit

Super early start today and on the road at 5am to get around Loch Ness. (Dave and John Prady had warned us that this was not a nice road to cycle with the traffic, so we decided to get out ahead of the worst, great decision!) The Loch is now not a myth as we did finally see it with the narrow road running the length of it and with the light traffic (just a few big lorries). It was great fun, and we set a smooth and high cadence. A few hours in, and getting busier by the minute, we made it to Fort Augustus, then Invergarry, covering a surprising distance in what felt like a short period of time, stopping at a village just short of our goal for sausage roll with the last 10 miles to Fort William pretty flat and fast. We arrived at the Tourist Information by 9.35am, bought a map and got a list of campsites. Eager to climb Ben Nevis we had pitched the tent by 11.30am and on our feet at the bottom of the mountain by 12 noon.

The campsite had a voluntary safety policy where you could log in and out of the reception if you were walking /climbing. We asked how long it would take and she said the average times for Ben Nevis were 6-8 hours. We filled in our form and she asked us if we had compass (tick), safety bag/blanket (tick), waterproofs (tick), torch (tick), whistle (tick), spare thermals (tick), crampons!!!! What.. for Ben Nevis in Summer? No, ice pick!!!! Nooo we smiled!

Again with our race heads on, we seemed to have to catch up with every other person who was walking up the mountain, walking through several different thermal climates, changing from really hot on the bottom slopes with leggings and t-shirts, to coats and hats by the time we had reached the top slope – and then we found Snow. (Ahhh, that?s what the crampons and ice picks were about!!) We made it to the summit in fairly thick mizzle and cloud and with no view, but we had a Mars bar each and thermal mug of coffee before turning around.

Leaving the summit, with its distinct smell of urine behind, we headed down to see all the people we had overtaken on the way up. We walked and partly ran down in recognition of our fell running attempt at The Heb Challenge last year. We finished the climb in four-and-a-half hours with fairly tired legs but big smiles. We returned to the campsite for a shower and meal and half a lager in a local bar to plan the next day?s route.

Day 4 – Fort William to Lochgilphead
Distance 85.9miles
Av 13.9mph
Ride time 6hrs 10mins
Max 31.2mph

Day 4 Connor Bridge

Another early start, we seemed to be getting in the swing of things now, we prepared some porridge today as we knew it may be long one.

We headed down towards Oban via Connor Bridge. With a few arse breaks we had our first proper stop at Connor Bridge at the edge of the river. The view and river was fantastic, with a tremendous flow and volume forming eddies and whirl pools, that really did look spectacular. Lunch was Pot Noodle, biscuits and bananas. On this occasion there was a pub just over the road and, as like most grown male adults can eat over half my body weight in cake in one sitting, a call of nature was needed. On these occasions there must not be any time delays or distractions as when you have got to go you have got to go, and being the polite person I am, I asked the barman whilst running through the bar if I could use the loo, not giving him the opportunity to say no… 15 minutes and 4 flushes later (the toilet was not very good it wasn?t me honest) I re-convened to the bike, where we packed up and moved on.

At this stage we had started to get a few problems with the bike gears and the top ring, so upon arriving at Oban, we paid a visit to the local bike shop to get the top ring sorted out and gears re-tuned. We extracted some local tips on the route planning and then moved on out of the hectically busy little town. The bike shop owner had warned us that the route would be undulating with three main hills, each getting steadily worse. The first out of town was manageable, the second was difficult and, then not to be beaten, we tackled the third, with a never ending hairpin section of steepness, which left us in a sweaty mess, exhausted at the top and ready to stop for the day.

The next section was a beautiful ride, stopping briefly for a soda and a sit in the shade, at a town called Kilmarten, before a final tiring but stunning ride along a valley and small lochs to our camp destination, Lochgilphead. We arrived in the sun giving us time for a good stretch and cup of tea whilst pitching the tent. Chips and pie for tea in a chippy ,we were looking forward to tomorrows ride and ferry trip over to the Isle of Arran.

Day 5 – Lochgilphead to Arran to…………………….Puncturesville!
Distance 55.99 miles
Av 11.3mph
Ride time 4hrs 50mins
Max 32.1mph
Punctures 4!!

Day 5 Fletchers Cafe
Day 5 Fletchers Cafe

Having had a good feed and a good night?s sleep we again were the early birds and still keen to get some miles in. We were heading around the edge of Loch Fyne to Tarbet and then Claonaig to get the ferry over to The Isle of Arran. Planning to catch another ferry over to Ardrossan with the aim of getting around Glasgow as easily as possible.

The ride along the loch was flat, fast and reasonably quiet as it was only 6.30am. We rode the 22 miles at good pace, arriving to confront a rather irresistible coffee shop with fresh bacon sandwiches for breakfast and the best latte. The proprietor, David Fletcher, was talkative and intriguing and great company and we were quite slow to move on, but we wanted to try and catch the 10am ferry to Arran. The 10 miles or so on the map looked simple enough but actually involved a difficult up and over to the other side, but we made it with time to spare.

The ferry journey was short, about 20 mins in duration. On arriving at Arran we were faced with a massive hill from Lochranza over the pass. We stood at the bottom, watching cars wind their way up it, and were a little deflated before we set ourselves pedalling. On a tandem you cannot stand to climb hills so it is a true grind, especially laden with four panniers. We beat the hill and started to feel unstoppable (how wrong we were going to be…) The scenery was fantastic on Arran, with huge mountains and that special beauty and remoteness that we had experienced in the Outer Hebrides, and we would definitely visit again. The downhill to Brodick and the ferry port was worth the climb up for sure.

The ferry was about an hour from Brodick to Ardrossan on the mainland which gave us time for a quick snooze and some food, which was much needed due to the early start and strenuous ride so far.

The roads leaving the ferry port were pretty busy so we followed a cycle route down the edge of the coast heading to Irvine and from there we had hoped to make good progress down and inland through Ayrshire.

Due to the nature of cycle touring and tandems, when we built up momentum we couldn?t manoeuvre or stop as quickly as we would on a normal road bike, so when the first crack in the cycle route rapidly approached it was do or die, and we unfortunately did the latter. The front wheel was reasonably easy to un-weight however the back hit it at full tilt, and with a massive thud, gave us our first puncture……..

It was the first time we had taken the back wheel off, which involved unstrapping the tent, removing the panniers and removing the rear drum brake. The spare tubes had also, over the last few days, made their way to the bottom of the panniers, so we had to empty everything out on the cycle path. The weather was baking hot but a huge black cloud was looking ominous.

Puncture fixed, though with a fair amount of effort, particularly pumping enough pressure in with a dubious pump, we set off, not too deterred, by the small setback.

Just a few miles later the rear was flat again. We went through the same procedure (though a little quicker) and set off……………. Then flat again, we got our third tube out, checked the tyre, checked the rim, checked everything, pumped in as much pressure as possible with the pump, Phil red in the face with exertion and by now just a little cross!

We got to Irvine and reached Tesco, within 10 minutes the tyre was flat again – number four!!!!!!!

We were totally disheartened with it all and the day drew to a close with us stood outside Tesco, with an unrideable tandem, mystified as to why we couldn?t fix it, though suspecting it may be due to lack of pressure. Seeing our faces, a local biker walking past, stopped to chat and informed us of his friend?s bike shop who would be able to help us out. Obviously we would have to wait till the morning though.

The conciliation prize was a night in a B&B recently refurbished, but we only glanced at the towel rail and it fell off!! and you could have played skittles the on suite….. it was rather strange.

Day 6 – Irvine to Gretna
Distance 100.12 miles
Max 32.5mph
Av 13.4mph
Ride Time 7hrs
Head wind south easterly and pretty strong

Day 6 Bike saviours
Day 6 Bike saviours

After a night at the strange B&B we called a 7-seater taxi, squeezed in with the tandem, and were taken to the recommended bike shop at Kilmaurs. Walkers Cycles were great. Although they were not officially open at 9am, they let us in and started work on the bike straight away, looking at the back wheel on the builders jig. To our surprise it was straight, only having a loose spoke. That was soon rectified, along with a new, highly recommended, indestructible touring tyre and a new pump, so we could inflate it to 110 psi. We were on our way in just over an hour a few ?s lighter.

Back on the bike, with a lot more tyre pressure and confidence than the day before, we headed west on a mission to catch up on what we had lost yesterday (it is amazing that, although on holiday, we had this little demon on our shoulders to go faster and further and get to the finish). The next step was to Dundonald, then Tarbolton on which were, to be honest, pretty boring roads. From here we aimed for Carsphairn and, by now starting to feel the miles, it was quickly renamed arse pain.

Sam was navigating on the back by tucking a page of the map folded into the right place in the back of Phil?s cycling top and shouting directions at various turnings: highly recommended, available at Halfords etc, ?Sam Nav?!

Having started the day later than we had done previously, we were already behind and ready for a long day in the saddle, but both being pretty focused and prepared for the task in hand, we cracked on… Apart from a small lunch break in a pie shop we headed straight on toward Moniave via, what can only be describe as, a locals back route. it was a single lane road and started with a long slow uphill into the headwind and it was really exposed, but the final downhill was super big smiles on faces as it was the correct gradient to not have to hit the brakes and it swept down in alternating cambered corners, brilliant!!!

Next few miles were down to Dumfries for rush hour (oh my god) to keep motivated we broke the ride into five mile sections, allowing ourselves a few minutes off the bike to walk around and a drink before the next stage.

Having been concerned about negotiating Dumfries at rush hour, we were pleased that it was nothing more than a busy Truro, so relatively easy. ?Sam Nav? and local knowledge prevailed, we had been advised to follow the signs for the hospital, which help us massively, as they went from the north side of the town to west side by the easiest route.

The sun was setting and we were failing with still around 30 miles plus to go, we made the decision to give it a go and made it to Annan. There were some pretty random distance markings on the signposts, which can be pretty confusing and demoralising when you are tired, and the first one says 15 miles and the next 20 miles, and you wonder if you are pedalling backwards! Arriving at Annan, and managing to go past every chip shop, we rode on, in the now rapidly setting sun, to arrive at Gretna Green at 10pm. To our surprise, after all the hype, Gretna really wasn’t a very nice place to arrive at, and gave us both a bad vibe, however it did have a good chip shop, which after our first 100 mile day, was much needed. The only issue we had was the lack of campsites. We had arrived at gone 10pm to a town with didn?t have the campsites that were shown on the map (2009 edition!) Sitting on the bench outside a motor caravan site, the owner took pity on us and let us in to pitch for the night.

Note to self….no real need to visit Gretna Green again and knock it off the list of potential places to get married. (That puts Vegas further up the list!)

Day 7 – Gretna to Southwaithe
Distance 46.9 miles + SCAFELL PIKE
Ride Time 3hrs 57mins
Max 33mph
Av 11.8mph

Day 7 On the road to Scafell
Day 7 On the road to Scafell

Up early at Gretna and on the road for 6.30am. We had advice from the local chippy to take a road that followed the motorway and would not be on our map as it had only just opened, it would take us right to Carlisle with no hassle. Great tip, it was flat and fast with virtually no traffic and we made it to Carlisle before the morning rush hour.

Through Carlisle with ?Sam Nav ? on and no issues, we took a straight road out of there and headed to Keswick at the top of the Lake District. Encountering some great landscape and reasonable, but long climbs on the way, on very little breakfast as we had left Gretna at pace.

We finally arrived at Keswick around mid morning to a coffee and panini at astronomical cost, chose the expensive cafe by mistake in our hunger! Keswick was nice, a bit like Truro, but loads of outdoor and walking shops.

Having topped up our glycogen stores and food supplies at Spar, and had some holiday R+R with a map from the tourist info, we headed to another local bike shop and bought a new front tyre as we had noticed some serious cracks in the wall. Then we headed to Southwaite and a campsite at the base of Scarfell Pike our next little challenge.

The campsite was as basic as it gets but picturesque nestled in the mountains at the foot of our climb. We started it in the mid afternoon and found ourselves to be the only people going up and many groups coming down (no one to chase).

The climb took five hours up and back, and needed a little navigation with compass etc at the top, as the cloud base was pretty low. It was hard to make out the summit as the clouds were so thick and it was weird hearing voices of other walkers close by but without being able to see them. There were really nice views on the way down out of the cloud, which we think would have been even more picturesque if the sun was out.

We returned to the campsite both smelly and sweaty, so had a quick shower in a basic concrete outhouse, then made a run for the local pub a mile away only to have a disappointing and expensive feed. On the up side, it did save us from the midges at the tent, which were really bad and in their millions.

Day 8 – Southwaite to Ormskirk
Distance 112.84 miles
Ride time 8hrs 16mins
Av 13.6mph

Shadow cycling
Shadow cycling

Again on the road early as we appreciated the quieter road in the morning. We packed up camp trying not to disturb the long grass and wake the midges from the night before, which seemed to come up in clouds from the grass if it was disturbed. We were dreading the road out to Keswick, as we had ridden it the day before and it was pretty undulating and with the slope not to our favour. To our surprise, though, we covered the ground quickly and got back out to Keswick at warp speed leaving us ready to shoot down to Windermere via Ambleside. Both were really nice towns with loads of walking/outdoor shops and bustling atmosphere on the edge of the lakes.

Having had a nice latte a couple of days previously, we decided that would be nice to do the same again. We planned for big bowls of porridge as the best idea for breakfast so, therefore, opted to make our own lattes on the stove and sit in the park at just after 9am with our breakfast.

Off again and refuelled, heading for Lancaster, with the terrain getting flatter and faster all the time, we covered the next 20 miles well. Despite feeling, at one stage, that we weren?t progressing, having spent more than 30 minutes passing signs saying 20 miles to Lancaster, despite our direct route and constant progress. We negotiated Lancaster itself easily by this time and, gaining in confidence, were getting a bit of a rush ducking and diving through the traffic.

Out the other side of the town we whistled past a nice pub and then turned round and returned for a well-deserved sandwich lunch which also allowed us to plan the route down to Preston.

Getting tired, Preston was a little more tricky to navigate as our map really wasn’t that detailed, we got through Preston and soldiered on with the thought of a friendly Tesco to get some more food.

Ormskirk was another 16 miles on, so braving a busy A road out of the city, we went for it getting to just outside Ormskirk in good time for a supermarket refill.

Campsites today were again the only real issue. Having spotted three on the map, which was our main reason for picking Ormskirk as our destination, we were disappointingly turned down from the first as they were full. Turned away from the second as it was now a static site with no provision for tents and the third didn’t actually exist. We then tried a Holiday Inn but they were full too.

Trying to remain positive, though feeling desperate as we had already done well over 100 miles, we spotted a few tents in a paddock on the side of a road, so Sam was pushed (physically down the drive with Phil behind!!!) into asking the lady in the front garden if we could pitch up there. Fortunately she turned out to be really nice and restored our faith in human nature. The lady even let us stay in one of the other pitched tents which was a real result as it was massive and allowed us to cook our pasta and wayfarer packet meal on the stove inside as it rained. We have since sent her a Cornish hamper with loads of goodies as a thank you.

Day 9 – Ormskirk to Betws-y-Coed
Distance 92.38 miles
Av 13.1mph
Max 31mph
Ride time 7hrs 3 min

Day 9 Camping Betws-y-Coed
Day 9 Camping Betws-y-Coed

The day started early with the bonus of not having to pack up the tent. We left on the bike by 6.30am to get down to Liverpool to catch the ferry cross the Mersey to Birkenhead and on to Wales. Again it was quiet. OK it was Sunday and with the early morning most of Liverpool was still asleep and therefore made it easy to navigate and ride the tandem down to the docks.

We got the first ferry over to Woodside (Birkenhead) really valuing the colour of our Cornish water along the way.

We negotiated Birkenhead well and headed onto Neston and Leahurst (veterinary campus) one of Sam?s student haunting grounds.

We made it to Flint before we stopped for a refuel of sarnies and cake, we also had a tweak of the bike here in a locals house as again the gears were playing up.

The coast road to Prestatyn was pretty fast but sooooo busy, with Sam?s idea of hell at Rhyl with caravan park after caravan park, and hoards of rather large people and amusement parks surrounded by cheap booze shops. Although it was hellish it provided some entertainment, when we turned up at some lights (there were about 40 sets of lights), with a soft-top BMW in the next outer lane. Inside were a couple and their Chihuahua. After asking us for directions to the beach and me challenging the chap driving to a race off the lights, the lady in her leopard-print dress and cigarette asked where we were cycling to. Sam answered Lands End, to which she answered in a broad Scouse accent ?wheeerrre?!!! You should have seen the look of disbelief on the face of the Chihuahua, even with its tiny brain!!!.

Heading out of Rhyl, we opted for the smooth looking coast road and dual carriage way towards Colwyn Bay, where I thought we could really cover some ground, but after five miles, and the road generally turning to motorway, it all got a little scary, so we headed back to the coastal A road.

Having reached Colwyn we decided to get off the coast and head inland to Llanswst.

THE HILL …… In Newlyn there is Paul Hill. ………………………..In Colwyn there is one steeper, and 10 TIMES longer, in fact over 30 minutes of pure torture and grinding until we reached the top, having climbed four miles straight up. It was bloody awful but we were not beaten, it made the hills at Ironman 70.3 look flat. It was a really hard 12 miles to reach Llanswst, undulating and windy and then our first heavy rain shower while riding making it a little cold and unpleasant. When we got there we decided to ride onto Betws-y-Coed only two miles more.

Here we had the best chips of the trip followed by a really nice campsite and another pasta ready meal. We figure that we could justify two meals after the hardest ride of the trip so far.

Day 10 – Betws-y-Coed to Snowdon then Betws-y-Coed to Llangollen
Distance 59.82 miles + Snowdon
Time 4hrs 22 mins
Max 35.3mph
Av 13.3mph

Day 10 Snowdon summit
Day 10 Snowdon summit

We decided to leave our panniers in the tent at the campsite and cycle to Snowdon without them, which took a bit of getting used to the lighter balance. To our surprise Snowdon was closer than we thought as we were able to attack it from the south side, the Pyg track, rather than cycling a further 10 hilly miles to Llanberis. This was possibly some of the nicest cycling of the trip. The ride from Betws-y-Coed to Snowdon was brilliant, past Plas-y-Brynin outdoor centre and then gradually uphill along the Pen y pass.

We had breakfast in the cafe at the base and up we went leaving the bike chained to the bus stop. The climb itself was my favourite with a well-laid out path and loads of gully’s and interesting places to stop. Around half way up you begin to see how high it is and how steep the last section of the walk is from this side. You also hear and see the steam from the train going up on the other side, it really is quite surreal. At the top we stopped for a quick photo celebrating summit number three, then straight into the cafe on the summit, which is also quite surreal and a marked comparison to the thick cloud and boulders on the summit of Scafell Pike. We had a nice coffee and cake. Heading down we took another track called the Miners track, which took a little longer but was a great alternative down.

The walk took around five hours and then we were back on the bike. The ride back to the campsite was as good as the ride in with a free-wheel down the Pen y pass, which Sam managed to video while on the back. Then we were back to the tent to pack it up and head off again.

We re-loaded the panniers and then headed off toward Llangollen. Straight on, leaving Betws-y-Coed, we faced another massive hill and then a fairly easy undulating road to Llangollen. We arrived to another closed campsite at 7.30pm. Fortunately we found another campsite near a pub for some grub another couple of miles up the road, so all was good.

Having now done the three peaks we now had the map in hand to plan our attack of the last bit home.

Day 11 – Llangollen to Ledbury (“Shrewsbury 18.5 miles”)
Distance 104.03 miles
Time 7hr 17mins
Average 14.2mph
Max 37.8mph

Another straight road
Another straight road

The day started well with our departure at 7.30am, which gave us a good early run…, but with no breakfast we got quite low on power reasonably early, which caused a few minor tiffs between us. The saviour of this was a quiet coffee shop and cafe where we managed beans on toast with extra toast, a couple of lattes each and two rounds of cakes each with the final bill being nearly ?20, however it was hugely needed and we were back on the bike in just over an hour.

For the next three hours every sign we passed said Shrewsbury 18.5 miles which was really frustrating, as if we were in Groundhog Day. I guess we must have done a perfect circumference around Shrewsbury but in fact had covered nearly 40 miles in the three hours, which was a relief. We stopped in a town called Craven Arms for a brisk snack break and to call a friend, who we had met 10 years previously windsurfing in Tarifa Spain, she lived in Presteigne and we would be cycling past within just a few miles.

Not managing to contact Nicky we headed on to Leominster, visiting yet another bike shop for a quick gear tweak and then on towards Gloucester. That day we got to Ledbury and finally found a nice campsite that we again stumbled on by chance. Nicky contacted us and drove down for the evening, where we caught up over a pasta meal, fruit and custard and cups of tea.

Day 12 – Ledbury to Taunton
Distance 101 miles
Av 13.8mph
Max 37.3mph
Time 7 hours 15mins


Being very tired and struggling to get up we finally got on the road about 8am (a late one!)

Now Bristol to Gloucester in a car just always seems to be short but, trust me, on a bike on A roads it was quite slow and hard with quite a distance between them.

We headed down the A417 to the west of Gloucester and then the A38 turning off to Chipping Sodbury to get around the outside of Bristol.

Only one minor mishap on the way through Gloucester being on a major roundabout with a ” mis-communication? between us, Sam got her leg caught between the rear handlebars and the frame, but with me a little more concerned about the cars and lorries on the roundabout I continued pedalling, therefore making the situation safer, but not necessarily less painful, for Sam.

Eventually we reached Chipping Sodbury for a pub lunch, then onto Chew Magna (very weird name) via a steep hill which seemed par for the course as we were getting further west.

The heat today was intense and was literally cooking us so, therefore, we decided to down tools and pop into a pub and get a blackcurrant and soda for some time out and to catch up with the tennis. I actually recognised this road, as it was just outside Bristol airport, a journey that I had made many times.

Away from the airport and down some massive hills we then rejoined the A38 and headed toward Bridgewater and eventually ended up at a campsite just outside Taunton.

Mission accomplished.

Day 13 – Taunton to Wadebridge
Distance 104.53 miles
Ride time 8hrs 16mins
Max 38.5mph
Av 12.6mph

Day 12 Welcome to Cornwall!
Day 13 Welcome to Cornwall!

Yet again we found it very hard to get up having gone pretty hard yesterday.

I had eaten the last of the porridge for extra tea last night so fortunately, after two miles in the saddle, we came across Asda with its cafe. Due to Health and Safety and Driving with an Empty Stomach Regulation Act 2009, we thought it would be safest if we went in for breakfast, so embarked on a veggie fry up followed by two rounds of toasted tea cakes and a coffee. What a start to the day.

The roads from here were very windy and across country and seemed to last forever but we eventually arrived at Okehampton at 2pm, to another lunch time feast at Vicky Pollard?s cafe…… (description of the staff!) There we met another couple of cyclists, one who had done a JOGLE before twice and another who was on his way up. It was great to meet these guys as they told us about the old A30, which was a brilliant and quiet road, which no-one seems to use. As we left it really started raining and so we put on our coats and overshoes for the first time on the trip and realised the rain was letting us know we were getting close to Cornwall. We took the old A30 all the way down to Launceston, where we dipped briefly on to the main A30 but found it again was too fast and dangerous.

Arriving at Launceston it was clear that the next few hours would be a hard ride as we didn?t want to risk the A30 in the rain and heavy traffic on the tandem, so we took the only other option out of Launceston to the coast in a westerly direction along more back lanes.

The back road seemed to go on for ages and took us a further two hours to get to Camelford, where we had chips yet again. This fuelled us to make it to the last night’s camping just outside Wadebridge.

Day 14 ? Wadebridge to Lands End
Distance 60 miles
Ride time 5hrs 45mins
Av 12.3mph

Day 13 Nearly there!
Day 14 Nearly there!

We awoke to a dry morning and what sounded like a fair amount of traffic on the coast road, but when we eventually got on to it at 6.30am, it was pretty quiet. We soon passed the town and went over the Camel River and on to Wadebridge tri route, that we knew so well but obviously not going quite as fast. Coming down the hill from Tesco there was a lowly bike and rider tucked in their tri bars really going for it in the opposite direction. She soon turned round at the Wadebridge roundabout and overtook us again heading towards Newquay… With a little bit of race envy we obviously couldn?t keep up but were satisfied with our 13.5 mile an hour average as we had travelled well over 1000 miles at this stage. Heading in from the coast, we travelled towards the old A30 via Indian Queens and arriving at McDonalds where we opted to go on the actual A30 as it would save us time. (We knew this road really well so just wanted to get down to Lands End as fast as possible.) We kept on the road all the way to the Chacewater roundabout, where we went down through Blackwater and then on past Bike Chain Ricci towards Redruth and Camborne. Here we went through the town and followed the road to Hayle via Connor Downs. At Hayle we were reluctant to visit home, as we might not have made the last few miles, so instead joined MBH member, John Saville, for a quick coffee where we asked him if he could bring us back from Lands End. Deal struck and timing arranged we headed off on the last hour and a half to Lands End.

Funnily enough we had been dreading the hill at Drift for the whole journey and it had come up in the conversation more than once. Along it came and down we sat… grind, grind, grind,,,,,, yes another hill conquered and it wasn?t half as bad as we had remembered it. In fact it was a doddle. Anyway, at the top of the hill John was waiting with the camera. Soon after that Ian and Sue passed us and after that Yvonne in her work truck. We were getting excited that we were nearly there. Having reached the flowing flat sections our race heads came back on and we dug in for one last flyer……..?Hi guys, how are you doing?? shouted Sam Hill, as he passed us on his road bike, also on his way to Lands End to see us in …….. he soon disappeared and left us on the last downhill to the finish where we passed Liz, also heading down to the finish ….

We had done it; and there was a great reception from many MBH members who had come out to see us in, Phil?s parents also came out and were amazed about the amount of support we had. Thanks guys, it was great to see you all after the ride we really appreciated it.

Having chatted with the MBH posse we walked the last 200m to the infamous post where we had our photo taken and popped some champers supplied by John (we owe him big).

Total Miles 1140, + the three highest peaks in the UK and two sore arses.

We did it!!
We did it!!

After thoughts
Well we reckon the tandem was the best way for us to do the trip as we worked together and seemed to be going faster than the other tourers we met, possibly because we were sharing the pannier weight between us rather than cycling fully laden on individual road bikes. It also meant that we stayed together where we would have, otherwise, been separated on the hills particularly and we struggled pedal stoke for pedal stroke together and were able to chat away quite easily.

Touring is great fun and it is amazing how far you can push yourself and ride in a day. You just have to eat loads on the way. Steel bikes are also comfier and smoother to ride than our race bikes.

We can recommend the trip to all bikers and it is well achievable in two weeks, whether you camp or B+B on the way and, judging by the weather, it is best to do it in June as it hasn?t really stopped raining ever since we have been home.

The Trip has made us stronger and fitter but possibly not faster on the bike? Yet to time trial! However, it has allowed us to venture into the unknown, dig deep and arrive home smiling having enjoyed the whole experience.

Thanks to John Saville for his bike panniers, texts and updates along the way and for saving us the journey back home after Lands End. Also thanks must go to all the guys and girls (Liz for the cake, and John for the champagne, and Ian and Sue who came straight from Gatwick with no sleep) not forgetting Yvonne for skiving off work, not forgetting speedy Sam Hill and Phil?s parents at Lands End. It made the end of our trip a real climax, as we really didn?t expect you all to be there.

Having done it, we have to appreciate and say a massive respect to Nick?s efforts of 4.5 days …he?s a tough fella…

As for the next little adventure, watch this space………………….

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