John O'Groats sign

LEJoG Day 14 – Finishing at John O’Groats

John O'Groats sign

John and Dave join James at LEJoG finish at John O’Groats sign

It was the last day and I still felt fresh. How could this be? I really expected to be in pieces by now but, as I got on the bike for the last 52 miles from Helmsdale to John O’Groats, I thought to myself that I could continue like this for many more weeks to come.

Immediately after leaving Helmsdale, the A9 took a distinct and steep turn upwards and, just as abruptly, I changed my mind. I was glad it was the last day. And especially glad that I didn’t have to cycle the further 20 miles from John O’Groats to Thurso as the invalids had the car.

It was a cool, clear morning and, as I cycled up the first hill at a speed just quick enough to stop the clouds of midges from eating me alive, I had time to take in the great views across the North Sea towards two distant oilrigs.

The A road was relatively quiet and I made good progress for the first couple of hours. I passed several people cycling either as individuals, groups or supported teams and they were either on their last day, like me, or coming in the opposite direction – their adventures just beginning.

I had my first stop at 30 miles at an old church just outside the small town of Thrumster. Time for a drink and what must have been my 1,000th flapjack of the trip. I can tell you now that it’ll be a while before I eat another flapjack!

I soon passed through Wick and, as the guys in the car stopped for a coffee, I continued northwards, knowing that the ride’s end was only an hour’s ride away.

North of Wick, the landscape was that of open farmland – with sheep and horses in the fields and small lonely farm cottages dotted here and there. I can imagine this would be a very bleak place if the weather was bad.

I came over the crest of one final hill and out stretched a view of the north coast of Scotland and across to the Orkney Islands. Slightly to the right, I could make out the small town of John O’Groats – only a mile or so away now.

My mind then turned to the invalids in the car as they had yet to overtake me. I’d last seen them in Wick, as they stopped to find a coffee shop. Were they still there? Had they managed to find another road to overtake and be waiting at the finish for me? Were they actually thinking of being at the finish at all?

I continued on the bike and took my phone out to video the “Welcome to John O’Groats” sign as I entered the town. Just at this point, the guys in the car passed me. Talk about cutting it fine!

I rounded one final bend and freewheeled down through the car park and straight to the famous sign – which was surrounded by some very bemused Japanese tourists.

With almost exactly 1,000 miles on the clock, I’d finished. Months of preparation, training and two weeks on a bike all for this moment. I’d cycled from end to end and I felt great! It’s just a shame that John O’Groats itself is such a naff place. There’s a derelict building which has been painted lurid colours and the gift shops sell tat to the coach loads of tourists who get bussed in every day. But for me, the actual finish at John O’Groats wasn’t the point. It was the experience as a whole that made it. And incredible scenery throughout Cornwall, Devon and up through the lake District and Scotland more than made up for the hell hole that is John O’Groats.

The signpost at John O’Groats is actually chained off and you must pay to have an official photograph. But, with the proprietor asleep in his hut, I confused the Japanese tourists even more as I held the bike aloft for a photo against the sign that read “Your town?” There’s always Photoshop to change that message.

John and Dave joined me at the sign for a group photo and it’s this that I’ll treasure the most. The trip was a team effort. They were each gutted when their knee injuries forced them to retire. But they did everything to help me complete the ride when they rejoined me in Scotland with the car.

The guys produced a bottle of champers (which went straight to my head!) and I opened a package that Jude had posted up which contained personalised medals for the three of us. I was on a high after finishing the ride. I just wish the invalids had been able to share that feeling too.

We chatted to a group of JoGLE cyclists who were just setting off and then threw the bike in the car and headed to Thurso where we packed it up ready to be posted home. We spent a few hours watching the caber tossing at the Highland Games in Halkirk and then drove to Inverness before we flew home the next day.

Garmin stats for day 14
51.91 miles.
2,854ft ascent. 2,835ft descent.
Fastest speed 44.2mph.
Average speed 16.3mph
Average Heart Rate: 131bpm
Max heart rate 174bpm.
Average cadence 80rpm

James Davis

Broken spoke on LEJoG

LEJoG Day 13 – Inverness to Helmsdale and a broken spoke

Today, the invalids made it out of bed just in time to wave me off at 10.30am and, as I headed out of the city via the Beauly Firth Bridge, they headed to Morrisons to find breakfast at the café.

It wasn’t long before I disturbed them from their soggy bacon rolls. Just 9 miles into the day’s ride I heard a ping and looked down to see a rear spoke had broken! I pushed to a safe area to wait for the car, whilst phoning round various bike shops in the Inverness area to see if they were able to fix it.

We locked the bike up on the spot, threw the wheels into the car and headed to Dryburgh Cycles in Dingwall, where my wheel was fixed within about half an hour. Thanks guys! The invalids then dropped me back to the bike, near the Village of Munlochy, and saw me on my way. All in all, I’d lost about 2 hours.

Broken spoke on LEJoG

Broken spoke on LEJoG

I continued on the A832 (to avoid the main A9) and, in the distance, I could see the Cromarty ferry, which I was due to catch, nearing port. Although the ferry ran regularly, I didn’t want to miss it because of the morning’s delays, so I increased my speed. I was enjoying a nice 35mph descent towards the town and swung round the final left into the Cromarty itself at a decent speed – straight into the path of a funeral cortege walking up the hill on the opposite side of the road! I slammed my brakes on and sheepishly drifted past the mourners.

I had a 20 minute wait for the ferry to, so I stocked up on drinks and put in a call to the invalids. They told me they were walking hand-in-hand along the beach but would be with me soon. Not soon enough, it turned out, because they missed the ferry by minutes. I gave them a “friendly wave” from the top deck and enjoyed the quick crossing to Nigg where I continued northwards.

When the invalids did get the ferry, the vehicle turntable on the deck caught them by surprise! Drivers must drive onto the ferry and park. The marshal then flicks a switch and the car turns to face the stern. Although this is all quite freaky if you’re not expecting it!

I rejoined the A9 at Newfield. It was a lot quieter on this section and I’m glad I did a detour to avoid the busy stretch north of Inverness.

I crossed the Dornoch Firth Bridge and continued north past Loch Fleet and Dunrobin Castle. (The invalids had time to stop at the Castle). The road stuck to the coast and there were good views across the water and I was glad that it wasn’t as hilly as I was expecting. 8 miles from the finish, I stopped at a grass verge for a breather and to try and regain feeling in my feet but was immediately swarmed by midges, so I was quickly back on the bike to Helmsdale.

We stayed at Kindale House B&B which had the best shower in the world and headed into town for possibly the fastest fish and chips I’ve ever eaten; the midges devouring us as quickly as we were scoffing the chips.

After a pint to “take the edge off”, it was back to the B&B to see who could get the most bandwidth out of the B&B’s lousy WiFi.

Garmin stats for day 13
67.34 miles.
2,507ft ascent. 2,464ft descent.
Fastest speed 36.4mph.
Average speed 16.7mph
Average Heart Rate: 127bpm
Max heart rate 160bpm.
Average cadence 78rpm

James Davis

LEJoG Day 12 – Nessie Spotting

The legs were a bit tender after yesterday’s Ben Nevis climb, so I felt I deserved a slightly later start than usual. Full with porridge and over-poached eggs, I headed out of Fort William, towards Inverness.

The simple route would have been to head straight up the A82 but, soon after leaving town, I veered onto the B8004 to avoid the traffic. The road ran adjacent to the Caledonian Canal but, when it climbed a little, I had good views of the lower parts of the valley. It was a cool, misty day which was a complete contrast to yesterday’s flawless weather and I was glad I’d put the extra effort in on the bike in the morning which afforded John and I to make the quick hike up to a very rare cloudless summit of Ben Nevis.

I stopped quickly at the Commando War Memorial, which dominates the landscape near Spean Bridge, before I rejoined the A82. The A road took me alongside Loch Lochy into a stiff headwind and towards the drizzle. A quick call to invalids in the car gave me two surprises. Firstly, they were awake and had left the B&B and, secondly, they were actually 10 miles further along the route than me. They’d possibly passed me when I’d stopped at the memorial. Maybe they were feeling a little guilty for only catching up with me on mile 44 yesterday? We met soon after and I sat in the back of the car, out of the rain, whilst I was fed bananas and flapjacks and my bottles were replenished. Great service!

At Fort Augustus, the route ducked off the main A82 and onto the B862. The first job was to tackle a long, steep climb up to 1,242ft. I passed a couple of mountain bikers who were struggling but got the top in one piece and was rewarded with great views across the quiet valley. After a such a hard climb, I was hoping for a good, fast decent but, unfortunately the wind was into my face so the best I could muster was a lousy 35mph.

Close to the town of Foyers, I saw a Google Streetview car and gave it a big wave, hoping that I’d get on the next update.

The road passed the Falls of Foyers and descended back down to Loch Ness. At this stage, the constant rattle of the invalids’ diesel engine as they followed close behind was starting to bug me, so we agreed they’d go on ahead to Inverness. This left me with a 20-odd mile pootle along the shores of Loch Ness and, as I sang the theme tune to The Family Ness and looked out across the glistening water to try to spot Nessie, it occurred to me that one way of catching the monster would be to use all the road kill I’d seen on the day’s ride as bait.

Our night’s accommodation at the Inverness YHA gave us a chance to appreciate the diversity of the human race (that’s a polite way of saying that the guy in the dorm’s 4th bunk was a weirdo) and we headed into town for a well-deserved feast.

Garmin stats for day 12:
3,530ft ascent. 3,530ft descent. (bizarrely the same!)
Fastest speed 38.1mph.
Average speed 14.2mph
Average Heart Rate: 120bpm
Max heart rate 174bpm.
Average cadence 73rpm

James Davis

LEJoG Day 12 – Fort William to Inverness

Today’s route takes me north east in the A82, passing Loch Lochy and Loch Oich. At Fort Augustus, I’ll turn off the A82 onto the B862 which skirts the Eastern shores of Loch Ness. This route is not the flattest by far, with a climb up to 1,266ft. Legs ate stuff from yesterday’s mountain climb too!

Bike route 1114985 – powered by Bikemap

LEJoG day 11 – Inveraray to Fort William via Glencoe

Another day of perfect weather. I’ve been incredibly lucky. Although, as I write this I can hear rain outside. Let’s hope it won’t turn into the deluge that we experienced in Cornwall and Devon!

As my newly-formed support crew, John and Dave, wrestled themselves from bed to see me off at 08:45, I was still mulling over my decision to ditch the panniers. You see, I’d had in my mind that it would be cool to keep the panniers all the way to JoG (as we would have done if injuries hadn’t forced the retirement of two thirds of our team). However, temptation gave way and I set off with the bare minimum. Now, before you question this decision, I’d like you to imagine having 2 crates of beer strapped to the back of your bike and then cycle to Scotland. The panniers were that heavy.

So, without panniers, the bike felt weirdly light. I flew up the 15% hill out of Inveraray on the A819. I got to the 20 mile mark in under and hour. I had a text from my support crew who were just tucking into a full Scottish Breakfast. Thanks for your support, lads!

Soon after, I turned off the A85 and took the B8074 towards Bridge of Orchy. This road was stunning. Flat for the majority, it ran adjacent to a small river – with huge mountains either side creating the valley. Still no sign of the support car.

I turned left into the A82. With such good visibility, I wasn’t concerned about the fast traffic – although I wouldn’t have liked to cycle on the road in the rain.

The A82 runs through some of the most spectacular scenery in the country as the road heads through the deep mountain valley of Glen Coe. With only a light breeze in the air and the climbs not as taxing as expected, it was a true privilege to cycle there. My GPS showed I’d done 44 miles before my “support” crew turned up. Just as we were refilling bottles, a fighter plane flew through the valley and buzzed the elevated parking space we were standing in.

Halfway through the valley was a great decent – but a pot hole caused a bottle to fly out of the cage. At the bottom, I got my new support crew to go and retrieve it.

I was still munching through the miles and it occurred to me that, if I got to Fort William early enough, there could be time to climb Ben Nevis! Better get a wriggle on!

I followed the support car into Fort William to complete my day’s 66 miles – arriving just before 2pm. After dumping bags, John and I set off to climb Britain’s highest mountain.

We got to the summit in just over 2 hours. The views from the top were stunning! And, unlike most UK mountains, there weren’t any clouds to spoil the view. The descent was sore for John’s knee, but we did the round trip in 5 hours.

After food in Fort William, I’m hitting the sack. Exhausted.

Garmin tats for LEJoG day 11: target=”_blank”
2,828ft ascent. 2,848ft descent.
Fastest speed 40.5mph.
Average speed 16.9mph
Average Heart Rate: 137bpm
Max heart rate 172bpm.
Average cadence 78rpm





LEJoG Day 10 – A Fyne day

A perfect day’s cycling!!!!

It was a beautiful still morning on Arran as I caught the Lochranza – Claonaig ferry. Once over the other side, I had just over an hour to do the 13 miles to Tarbert, where, I was due to catch the 11.15 Tarbert- Portavadie ferry. I managed this with 15 mins to spare – time used to get extra drinks on board.

I’d chosen the second ferry hop in order to avoid the A82, and it was probably the best decision I’d made on the ride. It allowed me to cycle up a quiet road that hugged the eastern shore of Loch Fyne. The road was in reasonable condition so I was able to churn through the miles.

The weather was perfect too. It was hot, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky but, most importantly when you’re on a bike, there was no wind! Cycling was a pure joy along this stretch of road. The views across the loch were stunning.

I stopped for lunch (flapjack and banana) at Old Castle Lachlan and, from my vantage point, watched the sailing boats tack to and fro to try and find what little breeze there was in the air.

Having toured along the whole length of Loch Fyne, I eventually made it to the loch head, where I joined the A83 for the last 15 miles run in to Inveraray. I had time to have a quick stop at the Loch Fyne farm shop for a couple of fresh oysters.

Later in the evening John and Dave joined me, having travelled up without their bikes. Both are still limping from their knee injuries, but they’ll be supporting me for the rest of the ride. It’s good to have company on the long road north again. It’s just a shame they’re unable to ride.

It was truly a spectacular day in the saddle in a stunning part of the world. A day which I’ll remember for a very long time.

Stats for LEJoG day 10:
3,264ft ascent. 3,287ft descent.
Fastest speed 39.3mph.
Average speed 13.7mph
Average Heart Rate: 121bpm
Max heart rate 157bpm.
Average cadence 73rpm