I thought it was tough cycling from Land’s End to John O’Groats but Russell Smith from London completed the trip in August on a scooter. No, not one of those with an engine, a real scoot along one.
Russell completed his 975 mile route (with over 14,000 metres of vertical ascent) in 21 days, averaging a little over 46 miles a day and believes he has set two world records, one for the longest distance travelled on a 16 inch wheel scooter and one for the longest distance in 24 hours.
The steep hairpin climb at Berriedale Braes on the A9 is the last really major effort that those heading north have to face before John O’Groats. Its hairpin bend and then relentless slog up past the cemetery will be indelibly burnt into the memory of anyone who has completed the route. But it looks like that might all change.
It appears that the hairpin bend causes more problems for trucks than cyclists and a new route has been proposed. You will note that the new route (see below) is slightly longer but consequently might help to take the sting out of the climb.
When the changes will take place is unclear and the local authority has been accused of dragging its heels over the plan.
Incidentally, when I last cycled through in 2014 there were traffic lights before the hairpin, which were a complete pain.
Today I managed to reach St David’s! No big thing – it was only about 4 miles down the road. Or perhaps up the road. From the door it was immediately up a 10% climb. In fact 100 metres of climbing in the first mile. Not the best wake up for tired legs.
With a strong headwind from the turn onward I was anticipating slow progress and I was right. 110 miles took 12.5 hours, about 9 mph. I set off at 6:30 so still got in early evening, hence time to type this after washing kit, eating etc.
The 75 miles from St David’s are by far the hilliest on the whole route. In fact, other than a the odd hill and a cluster of hills around Bristol and Chepstow, it contains all the hills. So cycling it both ways in two days has been pretty rough. Not so much the total Climb but the steep gradients, most touching over 10%, many over 15%.
Bloody Right – ARAF
In contrast, once you drop out of the hills it is virtually pan flat for miles, all along the sea front on wide cycle paths. Yesterday easy riding bring up my average speed with very little effort, thanks to a strong tail wind. Today, with the wind still in the same direction my speed was quite a bit less for more effort.
Hobbit Home with Magnificent Sea Views
I routed one way using Sustrans route 4 and the other using Google. Some of it was the same but where there were differences I have to say Sustrans won. Google was more direct involving a shorter distance but the route was not so cycle friendly. Sustrans is virtually traffic free.
Bizarre Sign: Presumably Firearms are Fine Up to this Point
Sadly a family crisis means I have to stop the journey early and have to head home on the train tomorrow. Fortunately I did complete the main mission of cycling from Lowestoft to St David’s.
Really long tough day. Only the tailwind got me here I think. Too late and too tired to type much else. Weather again glorious but really cold in the wind for the first three hours. Welsh coast mighty fine but very steep hills.
200m Around the Point
May Have Gone off Route
Looking Back Towards Swansea
Spent most of the day fantasising about getting on a train home. Only a few miles to St Davids first thing tomorrow and then need to make a decision to carry on cycling home or find the nearest railway station. The reality is, I am not fit enough for the trip. So tired…
A day of contrasts. The first 17 miles were fast on flat lanes with a strong tail wind. The rest of the way to Bath was mainly on canal paths, which is normally good news. But the path was very poor in places. In fact in places there was no path, just field. At times I thought I must have lost the cycle route but then signs would appear showing I was on route.
World’s Biggest Haystack? Note bike at base.
My back wheel was developing a considerable sideways wobble. The canal paths and rough track had completely trashed the cones. I stopped at a bike shop but they had no suitable wheels but directed me to a shop in Bath. It took a bit of effort to find it, not having a map on my sat nav and all the people in the city seeming to be tourists but when I did they were able to fit a new back wheel there and then.
Putney Bridge, Bath. Shops like old London Bridge
The whole exploit took about 45 minutes out of the day though so I pressed on towards Bristol. Unfortunately the path was closed about 4 miles out of bath. With not diversion. I tried to follow as close to the pink line as possible and ended up on a footpath. I then hit river which turned me around in a circle. Two miles on a footpath with 11 kissing gates involving having to lift the bike over head height, to get back to where I started.
I eventually found the other end of the closed path but it had cost me in time and distance: an extra 6 miles and another hour lost.
The path into Bristol was excellent. The path through was hard to follow. The path out had a couple of really stiff hills where I discovered my gears did not work after the wheel change. More time lost trying to fix, still not quite right.
Old Severn Bridge Crossing into Wales
The rest of the day was spent chasing the clock. Highlights were crossing the Severn bridge, fast lanes in Wales with tailwind and the Newport Transporter Bridge. Lows were very steep hills and blown legs. Total distance was 10 miles more than expected at 130. Not looking forward to the hills and even longer distance tomorrow.
The day did not start brilliantly. After losing the routes I managed to download them all apart from the first few miles to Hampton Court. No problem, I could just get the sat nav to route me. Good plan. Except the factory reset seemed to have wiped out the map! Even though it was on a micro SD so should not have been reset the sat nav would not recognise it. With no map, no routing.
I tried to follow the signs for route 4, which in theory should take me all the way to St Davids, but either I kept missing signs or they just were not there. In the end I loaded up the next bit of the route, from Hampton court to Newbury, which gave me a triangle to show where I was and the start of the pink line with a lot of white space in between. I took roads that headed in the right general direction and followed route 4 every time I found it. Needless to say I got there. I then had to just follow the line, literally, just a pink line on a white screen. Weird but it worked really well. Maybe better than with the map – less distractions.
Red Deer in Richmond Park
There was a lot of non tarmac today. Some of the paths were rough and would have been very tough in the wet. In particular the canal paths along the Kennet and Avon were hard work on a road bike. By the end the bikes ticks had escalated. It now has more ticks than an A* pupils maths paper. I think it is the back wheel hub. There is quite bit of play, side to side.
What the tow path is really for
One of the brackets holding the mount for the saddlebag to the seat post broke after 35 miles. The bag started swinging around and cropping down onto the back wheel. After 45 minutes with a stone as a hammer and a fence post as an anvil I somehow managed to fix it and it has stood up to the many miles of rattling on the canal paths. On the positive side it went in great Windsor park, so the scenery was excellent. Strangely the speed limit in the park is 38 mph. A bit precise.
Great Windsor Park
The day was virtually pan flat apart from two long, steep climbs. In typical Sustrans fashion they were both dirt tracks! I thought it would be an easy day – 97 miles of flat. Turns out it was incredibly tough. So much stopping and starting and rough terrain. My average speed was right down to 9 mph, although 45 minutes fixing the saddlebag didn’t help.
Tomorrow is 115 miles, which means an hour and a half longer. Tonight’s hosts have kindly offered to make breakfast for 7am, so that should give me one hour over today. Hopefully there will be more tarmac to make up the rest. I was certainly cycling 2-3 mph faster on the tarmac than the dirt track (the good dirt track).
Today was a much better day for the mental. I set off much more positively and had a much better day. The lanes and paths were extremely quiet with barely a car to be seen. There were a lot of bikes though. I guess you should expect that on a national cycle route but I have been on others with very few.
Windswept Wheat Fields
A large club run went by in several batches. The first group whizzed by, full of young, lean riders, stern of face with no response to my cheery hello. The composition of the groups became steadily older and chubbier and slower but their responses more joyful as each went by. The true MAMILS were at the back, serveral minutes behind, having a good chat about their latest super light kit.
There was more off road today but nothing too bad. The paths along the river Lee into London were great. It was hard to believe I was moving through London at all. The only problem was the mass of humanity using it. The last 20 miles took FOREVER.
I have discovered that humans in London are like sheep on Dartmoor: bloody stupid. If I lived in a place full of lethal dangers I would look before stepping out into the road.
I had trouble navigating in London. I kept losing the r4 signs and the sat nav kept losing satellites because of the tall buildings and all the interference. With 500 m to go it froze completely. The only way to unfreeze it proved to be a factory reset. The downside was I lost all my routes! I had to get my wife to email me the routes and then beg computer access from the b&b hosts to download them to the sat nav. It seems to have worked. The only one I do not have is the first 10 miles tomorrow to Hampton court. If I cannot pick up r4 I will have to use the sat nav to route direct to Hampton court.
No WiFi access tonight so this will have to be posted tomorrow:-)
Well, I’ve made it to the end of day 1. Well I didn’t think I wouldn’t make it to the end of the day there were a few moments when I doubted the wisdom of the whole venture.
My first piece of excitement I was finding that my train from London to Norwich was running late. This was a problem because I only had 5 minutes in Norwich to make my connector to lowestoft. Train announcer told us that we could leave the train at Ipswich and take a slower train to Lowestoft from there. The problem was only gave the announcement just as we were pulling in to Ipswich. That meant a race down the platform because my seat was at one end of the train and my bike was at the other. Once I had removed my bike and the train was pulling away the guard on the station informed me that I had better hurry because the train to Lowestoft was leaving in two minutes. I had to charge all the way back platform drag the bike up the steps comma across the track, down the steps then the length of the platform again 2 jump on the train just before is left.
When I arrived in Lowestoft I was faced with the second dilemma of the day. I loaded the route for the day onto the Garmin so that it could direct me to the actual start point at Ness Point only to find that it had corrupted and the map was frozen. After a moment of panic I decided to try and cycle to the Ness Point to see if it would work from there.
At Ness Point I stopped to take some photos. Strangely, there were a whole bunch of photographers in the vicinity all seeming to be taking photos off the ground and the walls. The next thing I knew they were all taking photos of me! Well, actually of my bike. in particular detailed things like my derailleur and cassette. It transpires that they were a local photography Club and they were taking fine detail macro photos for a project.
I Reloaded the route but it still did not work. A second moment of panic ensued but then I remembered that you can set a course to display permanently on the map without actually following it. You cannot get point by point directions but you can still follow the line. A couple of minutes playing with the settings and I was off.
It was an incredibly windy day. Sadly it was a South Westerly wind and I was cycling in a generally South Westerly Direction 🙁 The route was incredibly flat but the wind made it feel like I was climbing all day. Progress seemed to be very slow and my legs were protesting. It didn’t help that I was feeling tired due to lack of sleep. By the time I had covered 30 miles I was starting to feel I had had enough.
The day was pleasant apart from the wind. Out of the wind it was quite hot, up to 23 degrees. But the wind was cold. At times I was tempted to put my arm and leg warmers at on.
The route was very quiet and apart from 1 section of hard pack, tarmac throughout. There was one dodgy lane; narrow with nettles overgrowing each side and rocks and mud in the middle. But on the whole the Lanes were excellent. They were straight and flat with lots of wild flowers like poppies along the edges. There were many traditional looking house and quaint green triangle junction. The only problem was it never varied. 95 miles of the same views grinding into the wind. I am sure I passed exactly the same quaint Saxon church 15 times and I am sure I wasn’t going in a circle. Maybe I was, the day did drag.
I need to get my mental sorted for tomorrow. I need to put my touring head and legs on in the morning rather than the commuting ones. I can’t cycle 100 miles in a couple of hours so I shouldn’t be concerning myself with how long it is taking.
But I am tired and not feeling fit. The wind didn’t help nor the batch or viruses and infections I have been afflicted with for the past 6 weeks. I felt a bit better today but I was still leaving a trail of snot in my wake, like the slime trail of a giant slug. In fact that is how I felt all day: sluggish.
Part a of stage 0 now complete. I have made it to London on the sleeper train from Plymouth, crossed the city by bike and am now pulling out of Liverpool Street.
The nights sleep on the train was not deep. I had all the slightly dizzy and headachy feelings I normally suffer when trying to sleep on a plane. I always thought it was pressurisation but maybe it is just motion and constant background droning noise. Good value though, £79 Plymouth to Lowestoft – sleeper to London with breakfast, 1st class to Norwich with free drink and biscuits and bikes reserved.
Met Paddington at the station on arrival. He didn’t have much to say. In fact he was a bit brassed off. (that will make more sense once I add a photo of the statue).