Dino's blog for mini adventures and endurance challenges

Pushing it

July 20th, 2015 | Posted by Dino in UK - (0 Comments)

Lazonby to Loch Ken

Distance: 123km

“How far are you doing each day, a hundred miles?”

Oh, you pig. Start low and be impressed when we give a higher figure.

“Today we’re doing about 75 miles,” my Dad replied. The man grunted. He had started chatting to my Dad outside the gents’ bathroom. Mr 100 Miles wanted to do Land’s End to John O’Groats. I wanted to point out that 75 miles on a fully loaded touring bike up the hills is a blinking long way and he should cheer with approval, not just grunt, but decided to let him discover the truth for himself.

In contrast, the woman I met in the ladies changing rooms who asked how far I was going, replied: “Blimey, you must be fit! I did 45 miles each day in the Netherlands and it nearly killed me. Good for you!”

75 miles on four day old legs (ie no rest day since Herefordshire) is pushing what is doable on a long summer’s bike touring day. And today we had to push it a bit more. Let me explain…

In order to carry the minimum amount of stuff through Devon I gave bits of my kit to Ruth (who came out to visit us on our rest day in Herefordshire) and to my Mum (who will be joining us in Scotland). Before I left I counted out how many contact lenses I would need. I gave a pack to Ruth, a pack to my Mum and packed a week’s supply in my pannier. Ruth arrived with fresh supplies of clean undies, midge spray, snack bars and … No contact lenses. They had vanished. Eek.

Ruth, lovely and kind person that she is, collected some contact lenses from home and post them first class delivery to the campsite in Loch Ken. All is good. Except now we have 75 miles to cycle to the campsite before the reception closes.

It was a warm, bright and beautiful day. In fact, it would have been perfect cycling weather except for the head wind.

We set off at 8am. Push, push, push.

The morning was beautiful as we followed the Eden Valley. Green, luscious with low stone walls and plenty of sheep. All was going well until… Clunk. My gear skipped. I’d had an inkling before that all was not quite right with my gears. Clunk. It can’t have helped that cycling round flat, flat Belgium I was basically in one gear the whole time and that gear was now longer going to behave itself. Clunk.

I thumbed into a lower gear and stood out the saddle to push up the hill. Pain. A long, sudden pain pulled down my quad into my knee. That would be a pulled muscle then. Less than 20km down and now with gear and leg problems, there was nothing to do… But push on.

We nipped into Carlisle just long enough to stock up on food for the day and for my back wheel to get stuck in a drain cover (why!?) We hastily swallowed snacks outside the shop and then hopped back on our bikes. We pushed on.

Welcome to Scotland! We stopped for a quick photo of the signpost next to the Gretna Green marriage hotel. A signpost opposite pointed out that we were closer to
London than John O’Groats. Still so many miles to go. We pushed on.

We stopped for a humus sandwich picnic down by the coast. A white washed cottage nearby was called Skiddaw’s View, very appropriately as the land faced over the Solway Firth towards the blue, whale shaped outline of the Lake District peaks. We pushed on.

I cycled in a vest top, enjoying the warmth all the more after so many days of rain. We took turns punching the wind as we followed the road past tiny village, hay bales and highland cows. We ate lots of sugary things to keep our legs going and pushed on.

I love the views. You can see for miles and miles. There are mountains in the background and lush green fields full of cows and hay bales in the fore. The road winds up the hill to reveal a new vista: cottages, a farmhouse and a new blue line of mountains in the distance. Where is that? How far is that?

We’d been cycling for just over seven hours by the time we pulled into the campsite. We’d been on the road all day and arrived at the reception with just half an hour to spare.

“Ah, yes, you have post!” The man handed over my neat package, containing six pairs of lenses and two small chocolate bars. We stopped. And then we ate.



In the wet

July 18th, 2015 | Posted by Dino in UK - (0 Comments)

Chester to Garstang

Distance: 129 km

Watch any TV document in which a celebrity lugs their ailing body from Lands End to John O’Groats for charity and there will inevitably be a segment on the “tough bit” in which they cycle along the A59 in the pouring rain. Trucks splash past. The camera zooms into a close up of their mud-caked legs whirring away. Their socks are soaked. Their teeth gritted.

“The day started grey, desolate and wet. And it didn’t get any better.” That was my Dad’s rather accurate assessment of the day.

We could have enjoyed a nice ride this morning as we cycled through Rock Ferry on the way to catch our ferry across the Mersey. This is where my grandparents and great aunt used to live and where my Dad grew up, so many of the places held memories. “Once I cycled a whole mile along this road without touching the handlebars,” my Dad reminisced, though he wasn’t tempted to repeat his childhood trick on a fully-laden bike in the rain.

Oh, rain. Rain, rain, rain. Plus on a bicycle you get the splash from the puddles, the splosh from the cars and the splattering from the wheel of the cyclist in front.

Waiting for the ferry across the Mersey we caught a small bit of warmth after seeing an inviting sign for cake and coffee. The ferry itself had a very, very loud tannoy which, despite the gloom and wet, boasted loudly of Liverpool’s greatness. Not just home to the Beatles, did you know that Liverpool was once home to the longest floating landing stage in the UK? Now, there’s an achievement.

Out of Liverpool we cycled along the dock road. There was more smell than colour. All around us: grey road, grey trucks, grey concrete, grey industrial blocks and grey sky. The smells told the journey better: adhesives and paint, newly sawn wood, fried food, instant coffee and the Sandon Dock sewage works. We turned onto the bike path along the canal. In the sunshine I could imagine this to be quite nice as moorhens squeaked and plopped into the water. In the rain, we fought with wet cobbles and a damaged pathway that threatened to topple us into the canal.

We meant to follow the canal for a lot further but, erm, there was no path. On the map our path was marked in blue not because it was a Sustrans bike route but because it was a line of water. Oh dear. A bit of last minute re-routing let us to the A59 and our classic TV “rough bit.”

The highlight of the day was halfway down the A59 where I slowed down to give room to a duck and four fluffy ducklings which were waddling down the path on the side of the road.

The lowlight of the day was pushing our bikes the wrong way up the slip road of a busy dual carriageway after the bike path into Preston was closed and we diverted the wrong way.

The wet of the A59 was outdone by the drenching gloom of the A6. It was 6pm as we approached the A6 to Garstang. We’d been on the road for over 10 hours. We were soaking wet. Could barely see beyond the water smears in our glasses (oh, that’s another story… How I lost my contact lenses…) and yet we still had 13 miles to cycle. I downed both my emergency caffeine gel and an emergency mini packet of Haribo, told my Dad to cling onto my back wheel and sped off. Yes, it was rush hour. Yes, three men lent out their car windows to yell abuse. But thankfully the wind whipped away their words and we carried on pedalling.

To add misery to misery we overshot the campsite because there was no sign visible from the way we came, and had to stop in the rain to call for directions. We weren’t grumpy AT ALL by this stage so it was fine, really.

But genuinely, we were relieved to find a nice campsite which – joy of joys – had a breeze block lean-to with hot showers, a dry picnic bench and a kettle. A kettle!!! We erected an indoor washing line to air our garments, drank tea and, hopefully, forgave each other the grumpy moments of the day.

Please pray for sunshine.



Sunshine and showers

July 17th, 2015 | Posted by Dino in UK - (0 Comments)

Mortimers Cross to Chester

Distance: 137km

A rainy Sunday morning. What do you fancy doing? How about an armchair, a purring cat curled up on your lap, a worn paperback and a cup of tea. Sit and watch the raindrops dribbling down the window pane. That is what I fancied doing. It’s what Ruth fancied doing too. Ruth had fallen in love with Mr Ginge and Domino, the campsite cats, but sadly we didn’t have the armchair, the time or the indoor space for the rest of it. With only four weeks to go to our wedding, I spent my morning cycling north in the rain while Ruth drove home.

Ruth had driven out after work on Friday so we could spend our rest day together. Yesterday we (my Dad, Ruth and I) had spent a very enjoyable day wandering around the food markets of Ludlow, sampling slices of local cheese and sips of cider before comingy back to the campsite for a slap up five course meal in front of the campfire. (We hadn’t intended it to be a five course meal, we’d just sort of forgotten how much we’d bought…) No sooner had we dampened the fire and zipped into our tents when the first splashes of rain fell on the tent.

This morning the showers came heavily and frequently. My freshly laundered socks didn’t stay dry for long as the water soaked through my shoes. On our right, Long Mynd looked blue and beautiful despite the cloud and rain. The roads were empty. Barely a car passed us all day – presumably all sensible folks were safely inside with cats and paperbacks (and/or watching the Wimbledon final).

At our mid morning tea stop, my Dad and I both made use of the customer toilet to wring out our socks in the sink. By lunchtime the showers had disappeared and the sun came out. I tried to dry my socks further by letting them flap in the breeze. I stuffed the brown paper bread bag into my shoes to try to dry them out and, surprisingly, it almost worked. With drier feet, the afternoon was a lot more enjoyable.

We left the Mynd, Stiperstones and the Wrekin behind as we descended the hills towards the flatter land of Bagley Marsh. We wiggled in and out of Wales on quiet, bumpy roads as the miles ticked away. The church bells chimed at 6pm as we stopped to observe the “road closed at level crossing” sign blocking our path. Bummer. A small detour along an A road brought our total mileage up to 137km (that’s 84 miles!) before we could flop at the campsite.

Now my very smelly socks are hanging on the line. It’s been a long day and I am very ready for bed. Tomorrow we have an early start and another 78 miles to do before dinner.



Rainy morning


Sunshine for lunch!


Part of the five course campsite meal...

Part of the five course campsite meal…

Golden Cycling

July 17th, 2015 | Posted by Dino in UK - (0 Comments)

Tintern to Mortimers Cross

Distance: 104km

The locals in Peterchurch are very friendly.

Before we’d entered the shop we were approached by a pink, whiskered man in a checked shirt and braces. He’d stopped to ask us where we were going and, sensing kindred spirits, had shared his own adventures of bivvying up Welsh crags with his daughter.

We popped inside the shop to get our drinks and ice cream. It was thirsty work, cycling in the heat. The shop assistant asked us where we were headed. She looked like she might faint from the exhaustion of hearing about cycling 60 miles a day. “I don’t even cycle to work. I only live a mile away,” she said apologetically. Two minutes later she rushed out the shop clutching a postcard of the local area which, bizarre, had a signpost with the miles to and from Lands End and John O’Groats. “It’s only 60p!”

Rose had also popped into the shop at the same time as us and overheard our exploits. “Right,” she said, putting her change back into her purse, “I’m off to the pub then for a pint and a fag.”

She turned down the road towards the Red Lion while up strolled the vicar wearing a summer boating hat and a cream linen jacket over his dog collar. “And you involved in the race?” He began, while leaning over my bike to post a letter.

Hearing we were not local and did not know about the race, he started to explain. “My daughter, Sarah, she knows all the details.” Duly she appeared, marching purposefully across the road, bike race poster in hand. I’ve sip from my can of raspberry lemonade as Sarah explains the various distances, hills that are en route, and the pro riders who are coming for the elite race in the evening.

“Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish and Chris Froome will all be riding. Yep, all of those pros will be here,” she said, holding the poster out in her hands and tucking her chin down into her chest.

Though I love the idea of all these champion riders cycling through Herefordshire in a couple of months time, I can’t quite believe it. Though these local hills are undoubtedly good terrain for a good day’s bike ride, whether you’re a Tour de France winner or a humble cycle tourer

Goldilocks cycling, my Dad called it. Not to steep, not to flat, the road swept through the hills past barley fields, potatoes, orchards and grazing dairy cows. The Black Mountains were visible to our left as we followed the rivers, the Mono, the Dore, and the Wye north along the Welsh border and into the Golden Valley. The descents here are worth the effort of climbing: the Tarmac is smooth enough to go fast and the bends are tight enough to be mildly (but not too) terrifying.

Why is it called the Golden Valley? We wondered whether it might be because of the barley fields. Later we read on Wikipedia that it was because the river, Dore, was mistaken to be the French d’or. But I reckon it’s worth the name a for the golden cycling on offer.





Different Britains

July 17th, 2015 | Posted by Dino in UK - (0 Comments)

cheddar to Tintern

Distance: 86km

Climbing Cheddar Gorge is a good warm up for a day’s ride. We’d set off early before the sun was high enough to reach through the high walls of the gorge, offering us a quiet, cool road to climb. Goats wandered across, nibbling at the grass, the cats eyes, the white painted lines, indeed anything they could find to nibble.

Forget the famous climbs of the UK, someone should really compile a list of the top 100 descents and the one from the top of the gorge should be on the list. It felt like my ears were going to pop. We covered miles in minutes as we swooped down past grassy fields towards the Yeo valley. Home to yoghurt and sunshine. Finally, after days of rain we had glorious, glorious sunshine.

For most of the morning we followed the Strawberry line towards Bristol. This old railway used to take strawberries from the south facing hills of the Mendips to be sold in Bristol and London, but now in takes a mix of young and old cyclists past mini nature reserves and round suburb parks. We followed the Sustrans bike path behind Bristol, up and over the M5, past the landmarks that we see from the motorway that are still as unexciting up close: a bridge, a car park full of brand new imported toyotas, Gordano service station etc.

We cycled past thick grasses and wildflowers, ditches and hedges full to life. Behind, the concrete towers of a chemical plant, or a quarry full of dust. The bike path weaves together this patchwork of lives, the urban and the wild. The old and the new.

We had a relaxed lunch stop on a funny looking bench under the shadow of the Avonmouth bridge. I dried out my tent as we munched plenty of cheese and biscuits while we watched the cyclists go by. Two folks from Birmingham who were cycling to Cornwall. A Mamil out on a day ride who looked at us enviously. Only when we got up to leave did I notice the celebratory plaque which marked out that we had been sat on a sculpture rather than a bench.

I will skip over the bit about cycling over the Severn bridge. Because I am terrified of cycling over big, high bridges with strong cross winds. Needless to say, it was big, high bridge and there was a strong cross wind. Thank goodness that’s now over.

We then made my shortest ever trip to Wales. It lasted for two miles before we turned right into Chepstow and pedalled over the river Wye and up a massive hill towards the campsite.

The Wye is wide, fast flowing and deeply set in its forest-covered valley. The valley is so deep such that, perched on our campsite at the top of the eastern hills, we could not see the river but looked straight across to the fading hills on the far bank.

After dinner we set off down the hill to see the ruins of Tintern Abbey which sits opposite the Wye. The light was failing as we walked back through the woods. First I heard the scurrying noise of fast footsteps through the bush. Then the badge runs into the clearing on the path ahead. Stops. It’s head turns ninety degrees to look at me dead on. White and black stripes. Then it turns and run off. In the time that I can yelp to my Dad, another comes running out the woods and dashes across the path and disappeared after the first badger. In all my life I’ve only seen roadkill badges or, just once, some glowing eyes staring out from behind the bushes. In all the bridges, hills, buildings, and power plants it’s easy to miss and forget about this nocturnal life, hidden in the undergrowth, silent and yet unmistakably as much a part of the country as the landmarks of the day.

Now sat outside my tent, I watch the last bit of rainbow light fade. A few whisks of cloud on the horizon sit over over the hills. There is a faint smell of woodsmoke. The air is silent like a pool of tranquil water, each sound – a bird calling, a bell tinkling, a sheep baaing – is like a droplet falling from a stray branch that breaks, just briefly, it’s perfect stillness.


A change in the weather

July 13th, 2015 | Posted by Dino in UK | Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Distance: 118km

One of the things I love most about cycle touring is seeing a country and a landscape change. To see it shift from one region to another and observe the geology and nature transform mile by mile.

Today the swoop down the hill into Taunton marked the change from the densely-packed contours of Devon to the smoother terrain of Somerset. The long, smooth, wet road hissed under the bike wheels as we freewheeled down the hill, hunched over our handlebars as our waterproofs flapped in the wind.

It rained all morning. My mood was brightened by the discovery of salted pretzels. Once upon a time, my heart belonged entirely to M&Ms but then, half way around my Ironman marathon, I started eating pretzels and I’ve been in love ever since. Who cares if it’s grey and rainy, I have pretzels!

For lunch we cowered under a very large sheltered picnic table. I usually spend a great amount of time while touring fretting about the dampness of my tent, so I was feeling slightly smug about the fact my tent was flapping dry in the wind despite the fact it was raining. But then the wind picked up. And then, specifically, the wind picked up my pretzels and scattered them on the floor. That was, what you might call, a Low Moment.

The leg warmers went back on. They are partly for warmth, partly for protection, but mostly for morale. My mum gave me some good bike touring advice: “do whatever you need to do to not be miserable”. It is good advice, because it makes you focus on what is making you miserable (my tent is wet, I’m hungry, my pretzels are on the floor) and it helps you find the solution.

I scooped the pretzels off the floor. Who cares, I ate them. My tent dried out. We cycled on.

Slowly the sun emerged as the clouds parted and the Somerset hills flattened. We headed across the Somerset levels. On our right I spotted Glastonbury Tor which stood, shimmering with light, as the sun broke through the clouds. Are we here already? The shape of the landmark is unmistakable. Only a few months ago, I’d come to Cheddar for a weekend of walking and cheese. And here I was, again. It seems unreal that this morning I was in a green, rainy Devon and this evening I go to bed with a clear, crisp sky opposite the face of Cheddar gorge.


View across the levels towards Glastonbury tor


July 8th, 2015 | Posted by Dino in UK - (0 Comments)

Distance: 56 km

I am sure that the views of Devon are very beautiful. It is just very hard to see them over the giant hedges. When you are only five foot three and a half and riding on a small bicycle then you have to enjoy glimpses of the landscape where the hedge breaks to make room for a gate.

Mostly today I admired the hedges. Hedges ram-packed with species of bramble, nettle, gorse, elder, beech, foxglove, butterflies, and an occasional old fence post that has been taken over and reclaimed by nature such that it is now alive again.

We cycled along twisty little lanes that were narrow enough that if you held out your arms straight you could have brushed the brambles on both sides with your fingertips. I didn’t though. Because my fingertips were either tightening around my brakes on a descent or gripping onto the handlebar as I pushed up yet another hill.

This is my fifth bike tour in Devon. Which is silly really because there’s plenty of good cycling to be had around other parts of the UK but other than one trip through the Cotswolds (wonderful) and another through mid Wales (very wet but still wonderful) I have only cycled in Devon. I know what I’m getting now: a downhill scudding down a tiny lane so steep you fear you’ll topple over the handlebars. You can enjoy a bit of a swoop but then as the speed kicks up you come to a sharp, gravelly corner and brake. Another sharp bend, 90 degrees this time, you brake again. Hop over a small stone bridge and then crunch through all the gears on your bike as your speed quickly drops to a crawl for the ascent. Crawl, about 3mph is good, for fifteen minutes while contemplating the number of species in the hedge. Rinse, repeat.



Follow that Camel

July 6th, 2015 | Posted by Dino in UK - (0 Comments)

Distance: 86km

I was expecting it to be awful. Wet, grey, hard, relentless. Miserable. Previous cycling trips have taught me not to be overly optimistic about cycling through Devon but, joyfully, today was not that bad.

Many LeJoggers reckon that Cornwall and Devon are the hardest parts of the whole trip, because of the constant up and down of the many short steep hills. The prospect of 17 traffic-free level-ish miles would have been reason enough to camp at Padstow even without the magnificent views of Rock across the Camel Estuary and the lure of the Stein chippie.

The Camel Trail follows the track bed of the old railway upstream through Wadebridge to Bodmin. From just outside Bodmin, we took the northern branch which winds its way up the increasingly narrow river valley to Wenford Bridge, to find the delightfully-named Snail Pace cafe. Delightful too for possessing the first cycling-your-own-smoothie machine I have ever seen for pedal-powered puréed mango. Having more than enough miles to go we opted for the more sedate tea, coffee and organic carrot cake to fortify ourselves for the ascent of Bodmin Moor.

We climbed up the side of the moor on classic Cornish knee-crunchingly steep lanes that were lined thick with gorse and foxgloves. At the top, the open moor was quiet save for the rasp of the southerly wind and the bleat of a lamb.

National Cycle Route 3 took us to within sight of the famous Davidstow creamery, and past herds which we assumed were responsible. We stopped for lunch a stone’s throw from the creamery and filled our chunks of bread with, of course, Davidstow cheddar. It would have had very few food miles had my Dad not purchased the cheese in Waitrose last week and had I not carried it on the train and hauled it for miles across Cornwall.

There were plenty more ups and downs to tackle in the afternoon as we flicked up and down through our gears. One rise took us up over the crest of a hill with a view of Launceston below and the jagged peaks of Dartmoor beyond. Tomorrow we will take to those hills and I don’t expect another inch of flat ground before Somerset.

Camel trail

Bodmin moor



It’s not about the bike

July 6th, 2015 | Posted by Dino in UK - (0 Comments)

Distance: 96km

It was barely 8am when my thoughts, naturally enough, turned to dinner.

Truth be told, cycle touring is not really about cycling. It’s about eating.

Fish and chips. That’s what I needed. Proper fish and chips. Which are only proper fish and chips if they come with mushy peas on the side and the screeches of seagulls overhead. Our destination for the day was Padstow, home to a school of Rick Stein eateries and renowned for fresh fish and good chips. It was worth cycling to.

The day started under dark grey clouds and proper English rain. Within three minutes of the skies opening, my about-to-be-packed tent was completely sodden. Thankfully though the wind was blowing in the right direction and it gently blew us up over the hills, along the coast, and further in land. By 10am the day was getting progressively sunnier. We’d covered a good 25 miles so stopped for an essential pit stop to grab a Cornish pasty. Now there is a good bit of food. Originally concocted to be eaten by Cornish tin miners, the pasty makes a fine snack for a hungry cycle tourer who, without threat or danger of arsenic poisoning, can eat the crimped pastry as well as the rest of the pasty.

As we moved further inland the hills became sharper and we searched for yet another gear to help us up the inclines. We were rewarded with the views: sparking sea and white surf dashing on the rock, wildflowers bobbing in the breeze and butterflies fluttering out of the hedgerows and into the sunshine.

At lunch we met a man who asked us where we were going. He waited just long enough to pretend he was interested in the answer before mentioning he’d done Lands End to John O’Groats himself three years ago. He inspected us, our bikes and kit while demolishing a chocolate feast ice cream.

“This is the hardest bit,” he explained, taking another chomp out the ice cream. “There’s one hard day in Scotland but otherwise it’s just Devon and Cornwall. The rest is easy.”

That’s encouraging, yes. But am I really to believe that there is no so much as a bump between the West Country and Scotland? I think not.

We made good progress in the afternoon. By good I mean we arrived at Padstow in sufficient time to demolish a whole punnet of strawberries at the campsite before joining the queue outside Rick Stein’s takeaway for dinner as soon as it opened. It was worth it: salty chips, generous helping of fish and very, very mushy snot-green peas.

Holiday makers mingled by the bandstand, licking ice cream cones and stroking their dogs. The busker picked out classics on his guitar. After a final hunt for snacks we watched as the ferry boat to Rock, done ferrying for the day, pulled into rest in the harbour. And then headed back to the campsite rest ourselves.

Cornish pasty






Land’s End

July 4th, 2015 | Posted by Dino in UK - (1 Comments)

Distance: 12 miles

And so it begins. In the sunshine, with a strong southwesterly and the taste of Cornish ice cream: Land’s End.

Apparently I had been here before, or so my Dad told me, back in 1991. My four year old self, though I loved my pink bicycle with teddy bear strapped on the back seat, would have failed to foresee that I would be back some 24 years later with my Dad for another ice cream. This time though I didn’t have to suffer in the backseat with two brothers kicking and poking me while I felt sick from too much Ribena. This time I would cycle from Penzance station until one of us, my Dad this time, would call out in the way we had on family holidays for years and years: “I can see the sea!!”

That beautiful, dark blue smudge on the horizon became sparkling and white foam smashing against the rocks as we approached. In touristic mode, we parted with £10 in order to have our photograph taken under the “famous Land’s End signpost” and celebrated the start with the first ice creams of the trip. Here it begins, where the rock meets the sea. Over a thousand miles lie ahead before these two Rocks will meet the sea at John O’Groats.


Lands end selfie