01 June 2010

Day 19: London to Dover

I wasn't looking forward to my final day. The forecast was for showers, followed by heavy rain, followed by showers.

Well, the forecast was wrong. It was heavy rain all day. So today was just a long, long day at the office, into unremitting grey drizzle, with lorries booming past on the A20 in a chaos of spray, and with no visible scenery.

Above, for example, is the stunning view of the sea and the cliffs at Folkestone. Yes, exactly.

Still, it was fun watching the bike computer tick over the miles. Somewhere in Maidstone the tripometer - set to zero at Cape Wrath - reached its limit of 999.99 miles. It would go no further, and just flashed in protest, so I had to reset it to 0 again.

Anyway, I reached Dover about 7pm.

After a brief photo session on the seafront, I celebrated with a beer at Wetherspoons, and dripped steadily over the floor of the 20.45 train back to Victoria.

It's been great spending time with biking chums over the last few days - big thanks and respect to Mark, Si and Sue, John, and Nigel, for their enthusiasm, good company, routefinding, bonkers suggestions and boundless good humour - and quite a few ideas for further trips have come up.

Who's for Barmouth to Yarmouth and Poole to Goole later in the summer...?

Miles today: 85
Miles since Cape Wrath: 1050

Punctures: 5
Friends who joined at various points: 5
Nights camping: 9
Muffins eaten: 18
Awesome views: 473
Best road: Golden Road, Harris, Hebrides
Worst road: A20 into Dover
Max speed: 36.1mph, down Jeffrey Hill, Lancs
Best dinner: Spaghetti and chicken pasta thing, Whitwell, Rutland Water
Worst beer: Most of Scotland
Best beer: Wantsum Dynamo, Wetherspoons, Dover
Total cost inc all transport, accomm, food: £560
Value: Priceless

31 May 2010

Day 18: Cambridge to London

Delightful, fast, rural tailwind cycling on a grey day. It was drizzly as we left Cambridge. In a nod to the city's role in bioscience research, the cycle path is adorned with a representation of the sequence of the gene BRCA2, which is linked to breast cancer, and Great Shelford.

From the top of the hill on the Cambridge-Essex border, it's said, you can see two counties on a clear day. But it was drizzling so we couldn't. Still, we cycled by one of Britain's most curious cricket grounds, in the village of Langley: a road runs straight across the middle of the pitch, from roughly deep point to fine leg. There's also a telegraph pole at deep third man. It's probably more use than I ever was in the field.

In one of Essex's pretty little villages we saw this horse and trailer. Careful, I said to Nigel. It could be a trap.

Staying at home tonight. Feels strange to have arrived in London not by train, but by cycling down from Cape Wrath via Ayr, Stockport and Epping Forest. Striking out towards Dover tomorrow. Might sneak my passport with me just in case.

Miles today: 70
Miles since Cape Wrath: 965

30 May 2010

Day 17: Rutland Water to Cambridge

Round a bit of Rutland Water this morning. The reservoir was still farmland when Abba were in the charts. Now it’s England’s largest lake in its smallest county, and it has a bike track all around it, as well as a half-submerged Italianate church that looks as though it’s taking to sea.

It was windy enough today for it to do just that. But luckily the electric-assist gale was right behind us, and the bike computer was ticking over as if by itself. The day was a delightful scoot through pretty honey-stone Northants villages, such as this ambitious one. Yes, that's what the sign really says.

As I was going to St Ives, I met a man with seven wives. He has since been arrested on six counts of bigamy, and his wives charged with 392 offences of cruelty to animals.

From St Ives to Cambridge it was all along the Guided Bus Track, a showpiece bus-tram hybrid, and Britain's biggest such. Or at least it will be when they stop wrangling over what’s caused it to overrun and whose fault it is, and actually get it going.

There’s a farm track by its side, too gravelly for most cyclists. So, while the tram-bus chimerae are still in their packaging, the concrete track itself provides a smooth, if excitingly narrow, alternative.

Miles today: 65
Miles since Cape Wrath: 895

29 May 2010

Day 16: Derby to Rutland Water

It rained today. All day. Luckily we were cycling in the frankly dull country round East Midlands Airport, so there was no scenery to miss.

We found brief shelter from the rain in this curious bus stop in the village of Kingston on Soar, which has its own two-seater library.

As you enter Melton Mowbray, where we had lunch, the sign describes it as 'Rural Capital of Food'. This rather ambitious claim seems to be largely based on its being the origin of (a) Stilton and (b) Pork Pies.

I came here on my Lands End-John O'Groats trip in 1997, so this is where my two End to End routes happen to cross.

Here's Nigel just as he entered Rutland, and just before he left Rutland.

Miles today: 54
Miles since Cape Wrath: 830

28 May 2010

Day 15: Hathersage to Derby

I was staying at Mark's last night, which means an early start was always going to be unlikely. We went swimming in Hathersage's delightful open air heated pool, joined by Nigel, who'll be cycling with me to London, looked at some local gardens, chatted over tea and toast on Mark's balcony, and waited for the traffic lights to change.

It was gone noon when Nigel and I set off, so it's just as well we had a short day, just as far as his parents' house outside Derby. Clearly there's some sort of bike equivalent of Parkinson's Law: however short a day trip you plan, it always ends up taking all day.

And it was a day for dawdling: fine May weather, a light tailwind, and lovely Derbyshire hills. They say that on a clear day from the panorama point here near Crich you can see eight counties. We don't know about that, but we did count three major power stations.

Miles today: 39
Miles since Cape Wrath: 775

27 May 2010

Day 14: Wheelton to Hathersage

Another very early start, hacking out into the Lancashire road system at a drizzly half seven. But with a big tailwind, firmly track-pumped tyres, and all my camping gear left at Si and Sue's for shipment home and hence half-weight luggage, it felt like the bike was pedalling itself. Maybe I just hadn't woken up yet.

I slid over the toll bridge crossing the Manchester Ship Canal - a surprisingly uncrossable waterway - en route to meeting up with my brother John at Chinley in the afternoon.

That's John, negotiating the bizarre collapsed old A625 road that used to go over Mam Tor. After constant landslips, the roadbuilders abandoned it to the elements in the late 1970s. It now looks strangely like an earthquake zone in Chile or a Road of Death in Bolivia, instead of a Peak District path near Castleton's tea shops.

Miles today: 78
Miles since Cape Wrath: 736

26 May 2010

Day 13: Dent to Wheelton

Three big, big climbs over the roof of England today, from Dales Yorkshire into Lancashire: up and out from Dent; up from High Bentham to Slaidburn; and up Jeffrey Hill.

The effort was worthwhile (a) because of the long, life-affirming downhills and (b) because of the splendid evening at Si and Sue's of curry, vodka, beer, and a huge hot foaming bath.

This phone box is not just the 100,000th outdoor shower cubicle to be installed in the UK: it is also at the very geographical centre of Great Britain. If you balanced the entire country on the point of a pencil, Dunsop Bridge, in the Trough of Bowland in Lancashire, is where it would sit in equilibrium.

Here's me and Si being silly in that very phone booth. (The strict centre is apparently in the middle of a field nearby, but the phone box is the best option for a signposted, photographable spot.)

The location is appropriate: when Si (and Mark and others) did Land's End to John o'Groats in 2008, their route also passed through Dunsop Bridge and this very phone box. There's a sort of geometric inevitability about their bottom-left-hand-corner to top-right-hand-corner route, and my top-left-hand-corner to bottom-right-hand-corner route, passing through the same spot - that spot being a phone box at the geographical centre of the country.

Thanks to Si and Sue I now smell of mango and jojoba bath essence, instead of damp tent.

Miles today: 57
Miles since Cape Wrath: 658