UL Handbells in Trafalgar Square 8pm tonight

STOP PRESS: The University of London Society of Change Ringers are ringing carols tonight in Trafalgar Square from 8pm to 9pm to raise more money for this appeal.

Keep the money rolling in!

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Day nineteen – completion!

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The pressure was off, since I only had a bit over thirty miles to cycle before catching a ferry at 6.30pm. Also I had had a few to drink at the Newmarket Bar in Thurso the night before, so was a bit sluggish getting going, and it was gone half past ten when I left the campsite.

There were nice views of Dunnet Head from Thurso, and all around Dunnet Bay, where the wind was whipping the sea into big breakers. The weather was sunny with a strong wind and occasional squalls. At a quarter past midday, after 14 miles cycling, I reached Dunnet Head lighthouse, the most Northerly point. I found someone to take my picture, ignored the danger notices to get some good pictures of the cliffs, and admired the view of the Orkneys. Then got back on the bike to push on to John O’Groats.

I reached John O’Groats, a rather flat and uninteresting place, at a quarter to two. Here I took it in turns, with a couple who were just starting out in the other direction, to take each other’s picture. Then I signed in and got my stamp for completing the End to End, before having lunch at the Journey’s End Cafe.

But it wasn’t quite journey’s end for me, as I still had the two mile ride to Duncansby Head, the real Northeasterly point and the furthest place on the mainland from Land’s End. This I reached at three o’clock after 31 miles cycling today, and 1,310 miles since leaving Penzance station on 29th April.

I was quite emotional as I got there, and had to fight back tears of emotion to enable me to check in on Facebook, and send emails letting people know I had finished. There were very few people around, so the photograph was taken with the self-timer on the camera.

I then returned to John O’Groats, trying to take in what I had just accomplished. There I had several more hot beverages, one with a group who had just arrived from Land’s End. There were several of them around, including one who was limping with his knee strapped up. He was on the phone home and sounded about as emotional as I was. I seemed to be the only one who was solo and did not have a car there waiting for my arrival. I wrote a few postcards, bought the obligatory t-shirt and generally filled in time until it was time to cycle back to Gills bay for the ferry to Orkney, and my promised holiday!

The ferry took me to St Margaret’s Hope on South Ronaldsay, from where it was about an hours ride up the East side of Scapa Flow to Kirkwall and the Orkney Hotel where I had a room booked.

So at about a quarter past nine in the evening I was able to tuck into a celebratory feast including fillet steak and cheeseboard, washed down with a nice bottle of claret. Afterwards I continued celebrating in the public bar with the local produce: a pint of Dark Island and a dram of Highland Park Eighteen.

It has been a fantastic experience. It has made me appreciate even more, this green and pleasant land in which we live. I’m very thankful that I have been granted the ability and opportunity to achieve this very special journey.

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Blog Delays

Apologies to those of you who are waiting for the final installment of the ride blog.

I spent yesterday evening in a hotel in Kirkwall, Orkney, celebrating in suitable style. I felt it unwise to try to write a coherent blog post afterwards.

Today I will be seeing some of Orkney before catching the ferry back to Thurso this evening. I hope to post yesterday’s installment from Thurso.

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Day eighteen – strong winds, but the end is in sight

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The promised strong winds did arrive, and the first ten miles, which included cycling South along the Western shore of Loch Eriboll, took two hours, although that included a very welcome stop for coffee and cake. I was struggling in first gear on the flat, and got blown onto the verge three times.

But having rounded the head of Loch Eriboll, the wind was behind me, and for most of the day it was a great help. Despite the strong winds, the cloud was high, and there were plenty of sunny intervals to see the views.

The roads were fairly easy, and the views of the mountains were good. I made it to Tongue for lunch, which left a large number of miles to do to my intended destination of Thurso. But with the wind behind me this was not a problem, and I made it to Thurso at about 7.15pm. I found the Thurso Bay Caravan and Camping Park and camped with a good view of the bay and Dunnet head, the most northerly point and my next objective.

Having cooked supper at the tent I ventured into town and am currently in the Newmarket bar, drinking McKewans and Highland Park.

I’m very pleased with today’s progress, which sets me up for completing the Big Ride tomorrow, including the N and NE point as well as John O’Groats. I am camping within site of the Northern tick.

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Day seventeen – an upbeat start, but then an unsatisfactory NW tick

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For the first time in several days, I had a dry tent to take down this morning. I had slightly overslept and managed to get away just after ten, and then stopped for provisions in the shop at Scourie, before setting off for Keoldale and the ferry for Cape Wrath, which was twenty five miles away.

The weather was the best it had been since I had been in Scotland. I was able to see mountains at last, and in this part of Scotland the mountains are more spread out and easily defined. This meant frequent stops for photographs, but the wind was behind me, and the roads were easier than of late, and I managed to arrive at Keodale at 12.45 in a very upbeat mood.

The next ferry was not until half past one although I had been under the impression that they were on demand. I had calculated that I needed four hours to comfortably make the return trip from the ferry to the lighthouse, but if I couldn’t do that before the last ferry I had the option of camping rough on the other side.

When the ferryman came, he told me that the last ferry back was at four, and that there’d were strong winds forecast for tomorrow, so they might not sail. I didn’t have enough food or time to be stuck on the other side of the loch for a couple of days so I reluctantly made the decision to visit the NW point by minibus from here. I was very disappointed by this.

So I embarked on the minibus excursion only to find that, because there were more people than the minibus would take, they were going to do another run. This meant that the last boat back would be after six, which would have given me plenty if time. This was a real low point, finiding out that I could have done it after all but it was now too late. As if to match my mood, the weather closed in again and it rained well into the evening.

Cape Wrath itself was quite thrilling. It is perched on the highest cliffs of all the points I’m visiting, with even higher cliffs not far up the coast.

After the personal disappointment of Cape Wrath, I decided to spend the night in the campsite at Durness, because otherwise I would probably have to camp rough further along the coast.

The constant rain prevented me from cooking, but there was a pub next door where I was able to get food. I stayed a bit longer in the bar and unfortunately attracted the attention of the local drunk. He did buy me a double whisky though.

So really I am quite frustrated by today. Only 27 miles cycled, and a failure to get to one of the points by bike, although I was only following advice that was available to me at the time.

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Day sixteen – pressing on North

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The hospitality of Jean and Pete at The Old Manse was second to none. As soon as I arrived, Jean was insisting on taking my wet clothes to dry them out. When I asked about evening meal, which they don’t offer, she offered instead the use of their garage for me to heat up my evening can of food. Breakfast was at eight and was superb.

I had found good phone reception and power, so caught up a bit with uploading pictures. But the effect of this was that I was a bit slow in getting away, and did not capitalise on the opportunity that not having to wash up or take down a tent should have offered.

It was wet again. The road North from Garve climbs for fifteen miles to reach its summit between Lochs Glascarnoch and Droma. At the top it was very windy and the wind was driving the rain into my face. But I still managed to make fairly good time to the Corrieshallock Gorge, where I stoped to look at the Falls of Measach, which were very impressive with all the rain water from the mountains.

I made it to the Ferry Boat Inn at Ullapool for a lunch of beer battered haddock washed down with Crofter, a local ale, and followed by strawberry trifle. Once again I had the use of a power socket, and bandwidth on the mobile was good, so I got right up to date with picture uploading, but at the cost of another half an hour. Then I went to the chemist for more drugs, and to the supermarket for provisions, so did not get away from Ullapool until about half past three. I had quite a lot of mileage to cover.

Once again I forsook the meandering coast roads to make up ground on the larger highways slightly inland. There were a few big hills to contend with, though the weather had improved and was dry for an hour or so before turning to showers for the rest of the afternoon.

My Target was now the camp site at Scourie, the only one on the route this side of Cape Wrath. At Ledmore I had twenty five miles left and it was now about five, so it would be a bit of a slog, but it was feasible.

The road kept going up and down in fairly long, big hills. Long pulls up being rewarded with relaxing decents. I even managed to break yesterday’s top speed just freewheeling down one at nearly 46 mph!

Nine miles from Scourie I crossed the Kylesku Bridge. I remembered coming here at a very young age on a family holiday, before the bridge was built, and crossing by ferry. Today I found a plaque commemorating the opening of the bridge in 1984, so I must have also used the ferry when I cycled this way in 1983 from John O’Groats to Land’s End.

Then there were nine more miles of slog to go. The hills had got smaller, but there were more of them. One appeared when I calculated that I was two miles from my destination, and I thought to myself, “just get over this one and it will be a gentle descent to Scourie”. However, someone must have moved the village another mile further north, and in the process put in three more hills, the last of which was quite sharp. So I was very relieved when I finally got here and found a sheltered pitch quite close to the sea at about 8.15, after cycling 77 miles today.

It’s been a long day, partly down to my own procrastination. The weather in the afternoon has been better than yesterday, and in fact it hasn’t rained in the four hours since I pitched. It’s really been a day of getting the mileage done, in anticipation of hopefully making it to Cape Wrath sometime tomorrow.

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Day fifteen – more rain leads to shortcut

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It rained constantly from some time in the night until nearly midday. This meant no breakfast in the tent, because I can’t have the door open to cook. This probably helped me get away in good time at about nine o’clock for the seven mile cycle to Mallaig. I arrived in time to buy provisions at the co-op before getting my ferry ticket and boarding the 10.30 sailing for Armadale on the Isle of Skye.

Once across I attacked the road with a certain amount of vigour.  My father taught me the expression “a wee scotch mist”, to describe the situation when the cloud cover is just about at ground level, and although the rain is not torrential, it is persistent and very wet. That sums up the weather for the morning, and hence why I just pressed on as fast as I could because there were no views to enjoy. Having been this way several times before in better weather, I knew I was missing out on some dramatic mountain scenery: the Cullins, Knoydart, Kintail. The roads were good though, and I had the wind at my back, so within ninety minutes of arriving on Skye I was leaving again via the controversial Skye Bridge. I had not been here since it was built against the wishes of many local people.

I then pressed on to the lovely lochside village of Plockton for a lunch of Venison stew in the Plockton Hotel. The cloud had lifted slightly, but it was still obscuring the hills, and the tide was out, so it was no where near as pretty as it could have been.

After lunch I continued to Stromeferry and then along the very tiring road along the south side of Loch Carron. There were several serious bottom gear hills, but I did manage to hit 43.4 miles per hour coming down one of them.

From Strathcarron I had intended to turn left down the north side of the loch and round to Kishorn and Torridon. However I made a decision not to do this for two reasons: the cloud was still low so I would not be able to see the views, and the low mileages of the last two days had put me behind. So instead I took the easier, and ultimately shorter route up Glen Carron and on to Achnasheen and Garve, where I will turn north again to pick up the planned route before Ullapool. This cuts nearly fifty miles off the route. The roads are good and the wind was at my back so I was able to make good progress and despite the ferry taking up a chunk of the morning I managed to complete 87 miles by Garve.

The steady rain had come back within a few miles of Strathcarron and stayed with me for the rest of the day. I stopped for a breather and refreshment stop half way up one of the hills. As I was eating, I happened to glance into the glen and spotted a group of four deer fairly close. I decided to stop at Garve since the road to Ullapool from here is fairly bleak and there is very little there. There being no camp site, and the continuous rain putting me off the idea of camping rough, I sought out a B&B, and I am staying the night comfortably at the Old Manse, Garve.

Tomorrow, with no tent to pack up, I should be able to get a prompt start and hopefully put in a good mileage. I have decided to cut out another coastal section to hopefully enable me to visit Cape Wrath on Tuesday. To do this I need to stay somewhere no more that a morning’s ride from Durness.

So all in all it’s been a good day’s progress, and an important decision has been made about the route, which has put me back on target. It is a great shame about the weather and lack of views though. I hope this changes soon.

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