Tuesday, 15 July 2008

What it was like

The map below shows the actual route we took, as recorded by my GPS device, and the places we stayed in overnight.

(To be completed)

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

What I took

So, what did I take with me on the ride?

The bike

I rode an Airnimal Chameleon. This is a unique bike in that it combines the characteristics of a fast road bike (or lightweight tourer) with the use of a foldable frame. The Chameleon range consists of five different bikes: I chose the Performance Sport because it had dropped handlebars, which I find essential for riding any distance.

I bought this bike about a year before the ride from Ben Hayward Cycles in Cambridge who fitted a rear rack and quick-release mudguards (which for the duration of this trip I secured with plastic cable ties).

I didn’t make use of the folding capability at any point on the trip, since folding it a rather laborious process requiring the removal of rack, bottle cage and front wheel, and the result is rather big and ungainly. When taking it on the train I stored it, unfolded, in the offical cycle space. Nevertheless it was reassuring to know that I could have folded the bike and taken it on any train if it had been necessary.

A month before the ride I took it back into Ben Hayward Cycles for a consultation on gearing with the very helpful owner Rob Turner, and a few days later he personally replaced the 39/53 teeth cogs on my front chainset with a 28/40/50 triple, as well as putting on a new chain and giving it a general checkup. I kept the existing set of ten gears at the rear; these range from 11 to 25 teeth. According to the gear tables on the CTC website, for my tyre size of 25-520 this reduces my bottom gear from 35” to 25” and my top gear from 108” to 102”.

What this means in plain English is that I converted my bike from one that was only suitable for speeding unloaded along the flat East Anglian countryside to one suitable to carrying a heavy load up Shap.


I bought a pair of Ortlieb Classic rear panniers especially for the trip, mainly because my existing panniers were a bit scruffy and I thought it would be nice to have these elegant, waterproof panniers. Which it was.

I also bought an Altura Handlebar bag. This was invaluable for keeping my valuables together, both when on the bike and off it. However it did foul the gear cables a little which was slightly disconcerting and caused wear on the side of the bag. It also prevented me fitting a front light. On the two occasions I needed to use lights I took the bag off and slung it over my shoulder.


Everything I wore (apart from in bed) was specifically designed for cycling:
  • Thin short-sleeved top (for use as base layer)
  • Normal cycling jerseys, short sleeved x2
  • Thicker cycling jersey, long-sleeved (to wear over base layer or normal jersey or both)
  • Lycra cycling shorts x3
  • Cycling tights
  • Short socks x2
  • Waterproof "SealSkins" socks (though they turned out to be of limited use on a long tour because they took ages to dry)
  • Shimano cycling shoes with SPD cleats
  • Overshoes (I bought the best I could find)
  • Waterproof GoreTex jacket (I bought the best one I could find)
  • Cycling cap (for sun, rain, bird-poo protection and because I like wearing one)
  • Padded, short-finger cycling gloves
  • Nightwear
I washed my top, shorts and socks in the washbasin each night and hung them up in the room to dry. It would take two nights for them to become completely dry.

Personal stuff
  • Travel wash for clothes (used daily and replaced along the way)
  • Pocket tissues
  • Simple first aid kit (plasters, antiseptic wipes, wound dressings) (unused)
  • Sunscreen (little used)
  • Wet wipes (little used)
  • Reading glasses and case
  • Lightweight travel towel (unused)
  • Wash kit (Hairbrush, floss, toothpaste, toothbrush, lip balm, shower gel, shampoo)
  • Camera
  • Nokia N810 hand-held computer (for GPS and on-the-road blogging capability)
  • Nokia E65 mobile phone
  • Nokia charger for phone and computer
  • Spare battery for N810 (a full charge wouldn't last all day)
  • CatEye Cycle "Computer" (set to zero at Land's End)
  • iPod nano and earphones (used only on the train)
  • Five OS 1:250,000 road maps covering the whole route (which I threw away after use)
  • Chain lubricant (White Lightning) - Re-applied every 4-5 days
  • Tyre levers x3
  • Small pump
  • Set of allen keys
  • Rags
  • 24" inner tubes x2
  • Patches x6
  • Tie-wraps
  • Disposable gloves
  • Hand wipes (Muck-off) x5
The only mechnical problems I had on the trip were:
  • My right-hand pedal becoming unscrewed twice during the first two days. Each time I used an allen key to tighten it. It hasn’t been a problem since.
  • Front changer a bit clunky but I never found it necessary to adjust it.
  • Chain came off front chainwheel twice
Otherwise I had no problems - and no punctures!

I started the trip with new tyres. By the end the rear tyre looked pretty worn, and in fact gave me a puncture a couple of weeks after my return.

  • Plastic Water bottle 0.75l, for bottle cage
  • Aluminium water bottle 1.0l, stored in pannier (little used: I drank a lot of corner shop orange juice instead)
  • U-lock
  • Front and rear lights (used twice: to get to the pub at Sennen and to ride home from Cambridge station at the end of the trip)
  • Knife, fork and spoon (little used)
  • Notebook
  • Pen and pencil

What did I take which I could have done without?

I could have probably managed without my heavy U-lock. There was only one night where we had to leave our bikes in a public place overnight. This was in Ludlow, where we left our cycles against some railings in a quiet spot behind the pub and other bikes were locked on top of mine. On every other night we were given a room, garage or private yard to store our bikes and a lighter cable lock would have been fine. And we rarely left our bikes unattended during the day. However we couldn't have known that in advance, and so I never regretted taking the U-lock.

What should I have taken but didn't?

It would have been worth taking my driving licence. Geoff would not have been able to make his dash back home in a hired van on days 1 and 2 if he hadn't had his driving licence with him.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Thank you!

It's time to give an update on how much money Geoff, Tom and I have raised for our chosen charities.

At the time of writing I have raised £667 for Derbyshire Association for the Blind (DAB Sight Support), Geoff has raised a stunning £1500 for Cambridge Cancer Help Centre and Tom (our radio star) has raised a stunning £2000 for Headway Cambridgeshire

We are all delighted that, due to the generosity of our sponsors, our chosen charities have received a total of over £4000. Thank you to everybody who made a donation.

For me, however, raising money for charity was not the main purpose of the ride and I don't want to give the impression that I put myself through 14 days of misery in order to raise money. On the contrary: I had a wonderful time. I did the ride this for pleasure; because I love cycling and because it's the perfect way to see the towns and countryside of Britain.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Where we stayed

Apart from the first night in Sennen we didn't book our accommodation more than a few hours in advance. Usually we arranged it earlier the same day.

We used a variety of means to find a place to stay. In many cases we phoned or visited the local Tourist Information Centre. In other cases I used my phone or handheld computer to perform a Google search. In just one case (Chepstow) did we simply spot the hotel as we went past.

Here is a list of the places we stayed:

0. Sennen, Cornwall
Sunny Bank Hotel, Sea View Hill, Sennen, Cornwall TR19 7AR
01736 871278

Small hotel less than a mile from Land's End. A locked garage was made available to store our bikes. We went to eat in the First Inn in England about half a mile away in the middle of the village, but were too late to obtain food.

1. Camelford, Cornwall:
Penlea House Bed & Breakfast, Station Road Camelford PL32 9UR
01840 212194

Pleasant comfortable guest house on the edge of the town. Cycle storage was in a locked garage. We walked for 5-10 minutes into town to eat.

2. Bampton, Devon:
The Swan Hotel, Station Road, Bampton, Devon EX16 9NG
01398 331257

A rather run-down pub in the centre of town with virtually no customers and rather tatty rooms. However we were made very welcome and were offered a safe internal courtyard to store our bikes. We ate in the excellent and rather upmarket Quarrymans Rest pub a few minutes walk away.

3. Chepstow, Monmouthshire:
Chepstow Hotel, Newport Road, Chepstow NP16 5PR
01291 626261
http://hotels.yell.com/wl/servlet/xmlbrochure/index.do?hotelid=33961 (third party site)

A standard business hotel. The manager suggested we store our bikes in the first-floor ballroom, which was absolutely fine. We ate in the hotel bar.

4. Ludlow, Shropshire:
The Church Inn, The Buttercross, Ludlow Shropshire SY8 1AW
01584 872174

Very attractive historic pub with nice rooms in an extremely central location next to the church in the very heart of Ludlow. The downside was that they had absolutely nowhere for us to store our bikes, which meant we had to leave them locked to the church railings in an alleyway behind the pub, which caused us some concern. We ate dinner downstairs in the pub.

5. Northwich, Cheshire:
Pickmere Country Guest House, Park Lane, Pickmere, Knutsford, WA16 0JX
01565 733433‎

I found this by searching for "guest houses" on my phone's Google Maps application. This was quite a find. Pickmere is a suburban village a few miles north of Northwich on the route north. We were all taken aback by quite how beautiful this house was, both in the public areas and in our rooms. We stored our bikes in a locked shed at the back of the house. We ate in one of two pubs close by.

6. Milnthorpe, Cumbria:
The Cross Keys Hotel, 1 Park Road, Milnthorpe, Cumbria LA7 7AB
015395 62115

A comfortable pub with rooms in the middle of the village. We were offered the use of a function room to store our bikes. We ate in the bar downstairs.

7. Dumfries, Dumfries & Galloway:
Hamilton House, 12 Moffat Road, Dumfries
01387 266606

The tourist information in Penrith found this for us (the TIC in Dumfries was closed on Sundays). A large and smart guest house in a residential area of Dumfries. We stored our bikes at the back of the house, which was outdoors but which seemed safe enough. We were recommended to eat at a nearby Italian restaurant.

8. Largs, Ayrshire:
This was one of the two places where we had to split into two groups. This is where four of us stayed:

Broom Lodge, 5 Broomfield Place, Largs, Ayrshire KA30 8DR
01475 674290

This was a small, simple house in a great location right on the sea front close to the centre of Largs. We stored our bikes in the locked garage. We had a five minute walk to the town centre for our evening meal. We were too late to eat at any of the bars so had a curry instead.

They only had enough rooms for four of us, but the landlady happily found another guest house around the corner for the remaining two of us.

9. Inveraray, Argyll:
This was the other place where we had to split into two groups. This is where Geoff and I stayed:

Creag Dhubh, Inveraray, Argyll PA32 8XT
01499 302430

This was on the edge of this tiny town, about half a mile south along the A83 and overlooking Lock Fyne. The place was immaculate as if it had only just been refurbished, and our room had a beautiful view over the loch. We stored our bikes in the garage.

There seemed to be a good supply of accommodation in Inveraray, and the other half of the group had little difficulty in finding a place near the town centre, with a pub nearby where we all had dinner together.

10. Fort William, Inverness-shire:
Stronchreggan View Guest House, Achintore Road, Fort William, Inverness-shire PH33 6RW
01397 704644

A modern guest house in a long line of guest houses along the main road into Fort William, facing Loch Linnhe. We parked out bikes round the side of the house, but they seemed safe enough. We ate a very large and filling three course set meal in the dining room, which saved us a trek into town. The landlord gave me a lift to Morrisons to buy wine to drink with the meal.

11. Beauly, Inverness-shire:
The Priory Hotel, The Square, Beauly Inverness-shire IV4 7BX
01463 782309

A small hotel in a convenient location right in the middle of town. We stored our bikes in a yard at the back of the hotel, which was less than ideal but probably safe enough. We ate in the hotel bar.

12. Lairg, Sutherland:
Lairg Highland Hotel, Main Street, Lairg, Sutherland, IV27 4DB
01549 402243

A rather spartan hotel in the centre of the town, in the process of renovation but comfortable enough. We stored our bikes in a locked garage at the back. We ate in the hotel restaurant.

13. Bettyhill, Sutherland :
The Bettyhill Hotel, Bettyhill, Sutherland KW14 7SP
01641 521352

This was the only place we found in the CTC's End-to-end B&B list. A large and very spartan hotel with an atmosphere closer to a youth hostel than a hotel. We stored our bikes in an unlocked storeroom outside. We ate in the hotel restaurant.

14. Wick, Caithness:
Queen’s Hotel, 16 Francis Street, Wick, Caithness, KW1 5PZ
01955 602992

Small hotel just south of the centre of town, close to the station which was handy the next morning. We stored our bikes in a locked garage. Dinner was in the hotel restaurant.