Day 9: Chester to Bispham Green

Distance: 47.12 miles
Time: 4 hours 05 minutes
Average speed: 11.4 m.p.h.
Distance from Lands End: 445.75 miles
Distance to John o’Groats: 574.25 miles
Number of bike shops visited: 1
Number of bike shops which had the part we needed: 1
Number of rest days after today: 1
Unsolicited donations from the good people at the Grosvenor Place Guest House: £10.00

After a fairly late arrival yesterday we settled into the Grosvenor Place Guest House, before heading out for dinner. We travelled the vast distance of 150 yards to a very pleasant tapas bar, where good food and beer/wine was had in moderate quantities, before we flaked out…

We awoke to a bright sunny day, definitely the warmest so far. After breakfast we pushed the tandem through the pedestrianised area of Chester towards The Edge Cycle Works, feeling slightly apprehensive that they might be unable to fix our transmission problem. We should not have worried, they did indeed have the new chain ring, and we left the tandem with them for an hour so that they could fit it.

That gave us time for a pleasant wander through the streets of Chester, and a coffee. The galleried rows of shops on Northgate Street were most impressive, and before long the hour was up and we returned to the bike shop. Fantastic – we were restored to a full range of 27 gears, to our immense relief. We’re grateful to the guys at the bike shop, who despite being busy moving to new premises, found time to get us back on the road again.

By now it was already 11 a.m., a very late start, and getting very warm. We weaved our way onto the Frodsham road – an ‘A’ road all the way to Runcorn, but as it was next to a motorway, it was relatively quiet. We made good time, and before long were turning onto the streets of a suburban housing estate in Runcorn. No, this wasn’t a mistake on the part of Gary the Garmin, it was part of our planned route intended to avoid the “Expressway” around Runcorn, which sounded to us like cycling purgatory. So avoid it we did, cycling circuitously around Runcorn, until we arrived at the Runcorn Bridge.

We’d been slightly dreading the bridge, but it was great! Good views in both directions, and some cheery encouragement was shouted from a passing white van … Gary, having behaved well up to this point, threw in the towel and navigated us onto a fairly unpleasant route through Widnes, all major roads and industrial estates.

We soon stopped for lunch – not the greatest of pubs so it will remain unnamed. Suffice to say that we felt forced to keep a close eye on the tandem while eating in the beer garden, and soon set off on our way again. By now the temperature was really high, and we were drinking a lot of water. Continuing across the M62 and on to Rainhill we were getting a few strange noises from the bike, which was worrying – in particular a rhythmic creaking noise gave cause for concern. It remained with us as we climbed to Up Holland, dropped down to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal and then climbed again up to Appley Bridge. On reaching the top we knew that the remaining two or three miles to our destination was downhill – a lovely, swooping descent to Bispham Green.

Here we’re staying with Jonathan’s (other) brother, Phil, and family. Phil knew exactly what was needed and his son John poured us large glasses of water as we set about giving the tandem a little tender loving care. Whilst cleaning the chain Jonathan found the reason for the strange creaking noise – a small piece of wire had become entangled in one of the chain links. Once removed, all was well again, thankfully. The tandem, now in pristine state (thanks, Phil!) has been consigned to the shed, where it will remain for a whole day, as we have a rest day planned for tomorrow.

So after a day at leisure tomorrow, we will be aiming for Windermere, the half-way point of our journey, on Monday. All being well, Wednesday will bring us to the Scottish border – then we’ll really feel we’re making progress.

Day 8: Ludlow to Chester

Distance: 74.83 miles
Time: 6 hours 23 minutes (ouch!)
Average speed: 11.7 m.p.h.
Distance from Lands End: 398.63 miles
Distance to John o’Groats: 621.37 miles
Number of international (ish) borders we’ve crossed today: 2
Number of minutes spent in Wales: 38
Number of mechanical breakdowns: 1
Number of bike shops visited: 2
Number of bike shops which were any good: 1
Number of bike shops which had the part we needed:0

What a day! Mechanical problems, unscheduled trips into Shrewsbury, navigational errors… But more on that story later…

Ludlow was really lovely, and we enjoyed an early evening
walk around before dinner. The castle is very spectacular, surrounded by high walls and lime tree lined walks, and we had a great view of it from our apartment. Ludlow is very ‘black and white’, presumably Tudor, and reminded us a little of Stratford, but without all the American tourists.

We had dinner at a Thai restaurant, which was very good, and we decided we must now be in ‘Archers’ country – a man telling off his slightly over-excited son sounded exactly like Will. Or is it Ed? Can’t remember which is which.

We slept well, and since the apartment was above a bakery, we were gently woken by wonderful smells of baking bread. We got away in good time to meet Steve, Ann and David in Church Stretton at 10, and we knew we had two climbs to get over first, one over 800 feet. Although they looked a little steep on the map, the lady at the Tourist Information Centre yesterday told us it was much gentler in the direction we were going, and she was right. It was lovely, winding up through little lanes, a gentle climb in intermittent sunshine, and we crested the first climb and glided down through the forest. A quick water break, and we started up the second climb – a little steeper, but fine, and we arrived in the station car park at Church Stretton and shared a bit of malt loaf with Steve, Ann and David, before off-loading our panniers to Ann for an ‘alpine-style’ day.

We headed off all together, and we made great progress along the lanes, enjoying the sunshine and the quiet roads. We spotted a black cat up ahead, and hoped (superstitiously!) that it would cross our path for luck. This has happened for the past two days, strangely, and today made a third. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, as we set off across the first of a series of roundabouts around Shrewsbury, the gear change from the small to the middle chain ring just wouldn’t go in. All the usual pedalling backwards techniques didn’t help, and suddenly it was obvious that the middle chain ring was seriously bent out of shape.

No problem, we thought, we’ve planned for just such a situation, and dug out our list of bike shops. Gary flawlessly navigated us 2 miles into Shrewsbury to the nearest shop, who were USELESS – no ideas, except to direct us to another shop. The second shop obviously knew what they were doing, but just didn’t have a replacement ring. What to do? We knew we could ride in the big ring, but that neither the middle nor the small ring would go into or stay in gear. For the uninitiated, the small ring is the one you use for climbing, whereas the big ring is good for bowling along on flat terrain or downhill. We also knew that there weren’t any significant hills between Shrewsbury and Chester, so we reckoned we could make it to Chester in the big ring all the way, and hopefully sort it all out there.

We pushed on to Ellesmere for lunch, slightly further than we would all have liked, but it was the first place with a pub! It was interesting that the accents of the locals in the Red Lion had suddenly switched – after so long with south-western voices it was quite a contrast to pick up an increasingly scouse twang. The man behind the bar told us we were nearly in Cheshire, and we set off after lunch with 49 miles on the clock, and around 24 miles to go.

We had given Ann all the details of the part we needed (with the help of Ruth at JD Cycles in Ilkley, who gave us the exact part number), and a list of bike shops in Chester, and she soon had the part located and reserved for us. We knew it was unlikely that we would get there by 5 to have it fitted tonight, but just knowing that it was set aside for us was so good.

We crossed briefly into Wales, where Gary went bananas, and so we made a couple of navigational errors, but managed to get back on track with the help of our backup paper maps. We were really disappointed to have to walk up a couple of short uphill-ish sections we would normally have cruised up with a full set of gears, but at least we were still on the road, and making good progress towards Chester. We were all getting pretty weary, but David passing his previous personal best mileage gave us a boost, followed shortly after by Clare passing her previous tandem mileage record.

It was well after 5 when we met up with Ann on the outskirts of Chester, but we knew we had under 3 miles remaining. It had been really great to have Steve and David’s company today, and it had really helped to get us through the long day. We collected the panniers, and headed into Chester, where we’re now settled into a guest house opposite a tapas bar we might try later, if we can stay awake long enough!

The bike shop is expecting us at 9:30 tomorrow – fingers crossed for our repair!

Day 7: Newent to Ludlow

Distance: 40.95 miles
Time: 3 hours 40 minutes
Average speed: 11.1 m.p.h.
Distance from Lands End: 323.80 miles
Distance to John o’Groats: 696.20 miles
Number of counties we’ve cycled in today: 4 (Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Shropshire)
Contributions from the good people of Newent: £22.00






We spent a pleasant evening at the George Hotel in Newent, watching Yorkshire score 34 runs in 4 overs against Lancashire, before rain sadly brought an end to proceedings. There was some or other international football match going on as well, but we didn’t watch that 🙂 We were delighted to note, however, that the local news magazine programme was “Midlands Today”, so we’re definitely officially in the Midlands now!

On anxiously opening the curtains this morning we were relieved to see that the rain had ceased – it was still cloudy but the weatherman was predicting that we would see some sun today. The tandem was in a filthy state after our unscheduled forest excursion yesterday, but ten minutes with a hosepipe and soft brush saw it returned to presentability.

We were keen to get away early in order to meet Clive – our former boss, a valued early client when we set up on our own, and a good friend. We’d planned to meet at lunchtime in Tenbury Wells, and we set off in good time on quiet-ish roads towards Ledbury. Soon we passed the “Three Choirs” vineyard to our right, sadly even if the sun had been visible it would have been several hours short of the yard-arm, and we haven’t yet had a wine rack fitted to the tandem, so we cycled on.

Soon we arrived at Ledbury, an attractive looking town which, like Newent, has an interesting tudor-style market hall elevated on wooden stilts above street level. We carried on towards the first of today’s three main climbs, one of 400 feet and two of 600 feet. The climbing was relatively gentle, however, and the scenery growing progressively more beautiful as we headed towards Worcestershire. Soon we reached Bromyard, and as we paused for a drink at the side of the road we spotted a gentleman decorating the outside of his house. We asked him how far it was to Tenbury Wells. “Dunno”, he replied in a strong local accent, “I don’t think I’ve ever been there!” For the record, it’s 11 miles!

We topped the final main climb of the day between Bromyard and Tenbury Wells before descending into the latter, trying to look nonchalant and cycle quickly in case Clive spotted us en-route to the Pembroke House pub, our designated lunchtime stop. In fact he pulled into the pub car-park just as we arrived. He took a couple of pictures of us with our trusty steed. “Great”, we said thirstily, eyeing the beer garden. It was not (yet) to be, Clive had been spotted by a group of people engaged in some sort of reunion. Noting his evident prowess with a camera they asked him to take pictures of them, thrusting camera after camera into his hands as we watched, parched, from the beer garden! We understand his services are now available for weddings and bar-mitzvahs…

It was great to see him after what had been quite a while, and the conversation meandered pleasantly, assisted (in the case of the Captain) by some excellent local beer. We ate well (thanks CT!) and enjoyed the sun-bathed beer garden. All too soon it was time to leave, cycling as swiftly as we could manage while Clive videoed us from the bridge.

We left Tenbury Wells on Clee Hill. When we noted how steep it was we laughed as we gleefully turned left after a few yards … onto another hill of equal steepness. Still, the afternoon’s cycling was idyllic – rolling green pastures to either side of the road, and warm sunshine. Aware that we only had a few miles to go, we backed off, pedalling lazily, determined to enjoy the lovely conditions and fantastic views.

Even at a slow speed, though, we soon arrived at Ludlow, a very attractive town, where the Tourist Information office succeeded in finding us some accommodation right in the centre of town. Better still, we’re staying in a self-catering apartment with several rooms. This means that we can establish a buffer zone between ourselves and our cycling shoes, a consideration becoming ever more important by the day!

Tomorrow we face the longest day of the whole trip: 72 miles, including two steep climbs at Wenlock Edge and Church Stretton. Steve and David (Jonathan’s brother and nephew) plan to join us at Church Stretton for the rest of the day (looks like it should be mostly downhill), finishing at Chester.

Day 6: Bath to Newent

Distance: 55.27 miles
Time: 5 hours 8 minutes
Average speed: 10.8 m.p.h.
Distance from Lands End: 282.85 miles
Distance to John o’Groats: 737.15 miles
Number of navigational errors in the first 5 miles: 427
Number of counties we’ve cycled in today: 3 (Somerset, Wiltshire, Gloucestershire)

We had a lovely evening with Emma and Rob, good food, good company, and a wonderfully efficient laundry service! Drink was taken, but in remarkably restrained quantities, with thoughts of big hills and early meetings today.

But what a performance getting out of Bath. We’d planned what we thought was a reasonably simple route out, including a short section on the canal towpath, but had to make sure we crossed the river at Batheaston. We missed a turn within only about a mile, then, when we found it, we agonised about whether to go down it, as it was marked “Unsuitable for motor vehicles”, the rain was lashing down and it was a 25% descent. Several cars went down so we decided to give it a go, and it was fine.

We were soon onto the canal towpath, which is not our stoker’s favourite. All you can see from the back is the hedge on one side, and canal water on the other – very scary. The towpath was really wet, with lots of puddles, and we had to walk for a hundred yards or so before the towpath opened out sufficiently to ride. We had to keep ducking under overhanging branches heavy with rainwater – if you missed one you got an unexpected shower of cold water down the back of the neck… We had a bit of trouble finding the point at which to leave the towpath, partly because Gary the Garmin is set up to follow roads and doesn’t like towpaths very much, but we located the tollbridge eventually and rode across – bikes are free!

Then we made our big navigational error – turning off the B-road too early (twice, in fact), and heading up the day’s big climb on completely the wrong road. Now we weren’t really sure where we were, and it was still raining really hard. The Garmin’s display shows a little dotted line which represents your route so far, and we could see we were roughly parallel with the road we should have been on, so we pushed on up the climb.

The road wound up through a forest, culminating in a really steep section joining another road, which almost had our dotted line meeting our original planned route. With no signs in either direction, we had to guess, and almost immediately our choice felt wrong. We’d been going for over an hour and a half by now, and had done barely 7 miles. When we turned and tried the other direction, though, it quickly took us to a more major road, our dotted line converged with the purple ‘route’ line, and suddenly morale lifted and we were back on track. We had also completed the big climb, and we amused ourselves for a while by making up implausible back stories for thè spooky secret ‘prohibited area’ behind barbed wire alongside the road.

Things really improved after that, we stayed high and flat and ate up some miles, and it even stopped raining. We started to pass through little Cotswold villages, with houses made of honey-coloured oolitic limestone (our geological correspondent explains), and we stopped briefly in the village of Sopworth to share an oat bar and drink some water.

We piled on towards Stroud, and enjoyed a long gently gliding descent for several miles, through Nailsworth and almost all the way to Stroud. Now we were making really good time, and managed to get to Stonehouse, north of the slightly complex navigation around Stroud, for lunch at the Woolpack.

We were just 9 miles short of Gloucester now, our original target for today, but it was only 2:30, and we both felt we had a few more miles in our legs, so we decided to push on, and do some of tomorrow’s miles early. We have a lunch date tomorrow in Tenbury Wells with an old friend, so pushing on today also means we can spend more time tomorrow enjoying lunch and catching up!

Navigating around Gloucester was a little tricky, but we were soon heading out on the Newent road, and arrived in Newent village ready to stop and find somewhere to stay. The George looked the most likely, and once they’d assured us that the “Disco tonight” sign was just left over from the weekend it was a done deal.

So it’ll be a shorter day tomorrow, barely 40 miles to Ludlow, and only around 10 of those left after lunch. That’s good, as the following day will be a long one, over 70 miles, which is further than we’ve done in a day before.

Day 5: Taunton to Bath

Distance: 49.45 miles
Time: 4 hours 22 minutes
Average speed: 11.3 m.p.h.
Distance from Lands End: 227.58 miles
Distance to John o’Groats: 792.42 miles
Number of times we ever want to visit Taunton again: 0
Unsolicited donations from the lovely people at the Slab Inn: £10

Not the most interesting of evenings in Taunton, sadly, as our neighbourhood consisted of the Premier Travel Inn and the accompanying “Chef and Brewer” pub. We ate there – it was as close to a factory as to a restaurant, we were surprised not to find Soylent Green on the menu. There then followed an intermittent night’s sleep, as the traffic noise was considerable.

So all things considered we were glad to get away this morning, although we were only just leaving when we were overtaken by a white stretch limousine, the window of which wound down. An arm emerged, clutching an alco-pop bottle, and there was a chorus of cheers. All this before 10 a.m!

At last we popped out onto the Somerset Levels, like a cork from a champagne bottle, freed at last from the Devonian hills. Very flat, Somerset, and all the better for it. Gary the Garmin GPS mucked up our route out of Taunton, and we ended up cycling on A-roads for the first ten miles or so towards Othery. We didn’t mind too much, as we were achieving an average speed as yet undreamt of on this trip, and the road took us past Barrow Mound, an interesting ruin on top of a small hill, visible from a long way off in this flat terrain. By-passing Glastonbury we took a series of minor roads through the peaty levels, with distant views of Glastonbury Tor. A fully laden tandem passed us going in the opposite direction – we were going too quickly to stop, sadly, perhaps they were doing John o’Groats to Lands End – if so they were nearing the end of their journey.

Near Henton we turned onto the Wookey road which was to bring us through a series of attractive villages to Wells, a most attractive city. Here we faced a dilemma – the delights of Wells were awaiting us but we’d made such good time that we fancied getting the climb to the top of the Mendips out of the way before lunch. So climb we did, rapidly gaining 800 feet from the sea-level Somerset flats. A local advised us to head to the Slab House Inn, near the summit of the climb, for our lunch, and very good it was too, washed down with a couple of glasses of something local. Strange name – the menu explained that during the time of the Black Death, farmers and traders would leave food, drink and other produce on a large slab outside the Inn for locals to come and collect. A friendly family at the neighbouring table donated a tenner on seeing our shirts – we’re really glad we went to the trouble of having them printed now.

A long morning meant that we only had 18 miles remaining to Emma and Rob’s house in Bath, the first major milestone in our journey. The steady descent from the top of the Mendips towards Radstock was easy and enjoyable. Near Clandown we spotted a jet-wash where some friendly Eastern Europeans helped us to restore the tandem to something approaching cleanliness, and refused to accept payment.

Finally we turned off onto lovely narrow lanes near Carlingcott, and tackled a couple of short but punishing climbs through Englishcombe to Bath. Here we intend to restore all our clothing to sweet-smelling loveliness before a relatively short day tomorrow to Gloucester. This will be our first day travelling due north. Progress!

Day 4: Okehampton to Taunton

Distance: 53.44 miles
Time: 5 hours 10 minutes
Average speed: 10.3 m.p.h.
Distance from Lands End: 178.13 miles
Distance to John o’Groats: 841.87 miles
Number of county boundaries crossed: 1
Unsolicited donations from the lovely people of Bradninch: £15

We had a chaotic, but very good curry last night in Okehampton, having decided that the White Hart was just too noisy – for some reason it was full of blokes celebrating and/or mourning Leeds losing their football play-off final against Doncaster. They were obviously locals, judging by their accents, so quite why they would care so much either way was a bit of a mystery. So a curry it was, chaotic because they were busy and understaffed, but very good all the same, especially the butter chicken.

We didn’t wake until the alarm at 8 again this morning, and after a quick breakfast and a little on-going tandem TLC we set out into the drizzle. There was a very strong headwind (grrrr), and an early leg-stretching hill to contend with, but the rain was not as bad as we’d feared, and we were soon into little green lanes. It seems to be a feature of the lanes around here that they are bordered by really high green hedges, at least 8 feet high, which gives you the feeling of cycling through a maze. It can really help to shelter you from the wind, though, which is good.

We’d heard and read many warnings about the hills around Crediton, and so we decided to gird our loins with a cup of coffee there before heading out. It also gave us a chance to dry out after the sudden two-minute torrential downpour which arrived as we coasted down into the village.

The hills didn’t really live up to their fearsome reputations, and we enjoyed cycling through the green lanes, popping out every so often into little villages with thatched houses. We arrived in Bradninch at around 1:30, and the White Lion was still serving food, so we parked up and went in. What an amazing place. It was quite small, and there were six or seven locals in, chatting with the landlord. In some pubs like that you could expect to be treated very much as an outsider, but everyone was so friendly and interested in how we came to be passing through their village, and completely without any prompting we were given donations and helpful advice for the next part of our route. Really lovely people.

After Bradninch it was up a more fearsome hill, although still not as bad as we’d expected, through Cullompton and a good flat section, then over the M5 for the first time, and back into little lanes until we recrossed the M5, and rode into Somerset. It was raining quite hard now, and we decided to cut our losses and take the A38 into Taunton for speed, and since all the traffic would be on the M5. It was a good call – we sped into Taunton at a good clip, earlier than expected, and started looking for somewhere to stay.

Taunton – what an odd place. Maybe we didn’t find the centre, it was difficult, as the place seems to be constructed almost entirely of roundabouts. Eventually we stopped to ask in a petrol station, where it seemed as if we were the first people ever to try to stay in Taunton! Very helpful people though, and we are now settled into a Premier Travel Inn – probably the first time they’ve stored a tandem in the laundry room…

So we survived Devon and Cornwall, and we are pretty much on the Somerset Levels now. Mmm – level – what a lovely word that is! We’re heading for Bath tomorrow, with just the small matter of the Mendips between here and there.

Day 3: Wadebridge to Okehampton

Distance: 51.18 miles
Time: 5 hours 5 minutes
Average speed: 10 m.p.h.
Distance from Lands End: 124.69 miles
Distance to John o’Groats: 895.31 miles
Number of county boundaries crossed: 1

“a lovely room at the Swan”… As we sat in the bar enjoying a pre-dinner drink, in rolled the live act for the evening, with roadies bringing in enough huge speakers to play for a festival, let alone a small inn. “Oh dear” we thought, or something similar, as we headed off to the Glasshouse for a pizza. The waitress at the Glasshouse directed us to the one square metre in Wadebridge with a mobile signal so we could check mail and upload yesterday’s entry, and then we had a good meal before returning to the Swan. In the bar the Ded Heds (for it was they) were just about to start their first set, but we discovered we could barely hear their Nirvana-light sound from our second floor room, so that was all right.

We slept really well after the days exertions, and after a good breakfast and an interesting chat with a couple from Brisbane, we were ready for the off. The forecast for today had been rain, but clearing north later, and that’s pretty much what we got, leaving in our rain jackets in a light drizzle.

Wadebridge is really well set up for cyclists, with lots of cycle lanes, and we headed out towards Okehampton in our own lane up the hill. Today’s ride had looked quite daunting, starting with 1000 feet of climbing, but actually it was spread over 20 miles, so not too taxing, and with a few coasting downhill sections to rest the legs (and bums). There was just nobody around, no other cyclists facing the weather, and we spotted just one pair of soggy walkers .

Soon enough we crested 1000 feet and started the long descent into Launceston, where we had an excellent lunch, and received lots of encouragement from the locals at the White Horse. We had been congratulating ourselves on making such good time to Launceston, and after lunch we climbed back out and almost immediately crossed the county boundary into Devon. Devon wasn’t going to welcome us quite as lightly as Cornwall had let us go, though, and threw a succession of sharp hills at us, culminating in a ‘hill and a half’ out of Bratton Clovelly. We were cycling in beautiful little green lanes in the sunshine now, though, with great views of the much lusher inland Devon hills. The hedgerows are different since we left Cornwall and the coast, too – there they were full of gorse, sedums and bluebells, here they are extraordinarily green, with lots of flowering cow-parsley.

At last Okehampton was in sight, and after a few last ‘take that!’ dips and climbs we arrived in the town centre and found the White Hart, which had been recommended by the Australian couple we talked to at breakfast. The man who checked us in reckoned we were completely mad, but put us in the special four-poster room as a treat. Haven’t checked yet whether there’s a band on tonight though…

Tomorrow we face a few more sharp climbs, we’re told, on our way to Taunton. We’re hoping that the dreadful weather forecast is wrong…

Day 2: St Ives to Wadebridge

Distance: 53.51 miles
Time: 5 hours 5 minutes
Average speed: 10.3 m.p.h.
Distance from Lands End: 73.51 miles
Distance to John o’Groats: 946.49 miles
Number of cheery waves and supportive toots: 15 (approx)
Number of times Jonathan had to shout ‘OI’ at inconsiderate motorists: 2

St Ives was a pleasant surprise – elegant and well-kept, not at all the tacky sea-side resort we’d been expecting. We stayed at the St Eia Hotel, whose proprietor made a generous donation to the Macmillan fund. A pre-dinner drink in the evening sunshine at the harbour was quaffed hastily as we left to avoid the occupants of a neighbouring table, whose collective aim seemed to be to get steaming drunk in a new world record time, bizarrely with the elderly parents of one of them in tow. The elderly parents were NOT joining in the record attempt, we felt very sorry for them. We ate a good meal at the Ocean Grill before walking back around the harbour and up to the hotel.

After breakfast this morning we set off up the gentle hill out of St Ives, perhaps the only hill deserving of that description today! Unfortunately the wind was blowing in precisely the wrong direction, slowing us down all day. So much for the prevailing south-westerly… We cycled on main roads through Hayle, before turning off onto the coast road towards St Agnes. We soon encountered our first fellow ‘End-to-Enders’, two blokes cycling fully laden with camping equipment and multiple panniers, and looking somewhat less than cheerful, it would have to be said. One was wearing an ‘Ardbeg’ T-shirt, though sadly carrying none.

We encountered the first of several steep ‘down-and-ups’ at Gwithian, which set a pattern for the day. The decision to take the quieter coast road inevitably meant that we encountered a steep valley each time we crossed a river or stream. This meant a lovely glide down to a seaside village, admiring the golden sands on the beach and feeling envious of the people bathing in the sea, then noticing the road on the other side heading back up at a steep gradient. After thirty or so miles we headed up a particularly steep hill near Cubert and, feeling in need of food and refreshment, fortunately happened upon the Smuggler’s Den pub, virtually at the top of the hill. Lunch was declared and enjoyed, with the exception that the chef seemed unable to distinguish between the terms ‘char-grill’ and ‘nuke-in-microwave-until-tough’. Still, the beer was good, and soon we were refuelled and set off towards Newquay.

If St Ives was a pleasant surprise then Newquay was the opposite. The roads were filled with what one could only term ‘clarksons’ – petrol-heads and boy-racers in under-silenced chav-racers. We did our bit by setting off the speed warning screen coming down the hill at just over the 30mph limit, which made us grin! It was a relief to get through the town and turn off on the Padstow road. There then followed a series of steep valleys, sapping what energy we had left as we passed through Watergate Bay and Mawgan Porth. We were fairly tired by this point but knew that once we arrived at Padstow we could join the Camel Trail for six final gloriously flat miles to Wadebridge, our destination for the day.

There were lots of walkers and cyclists on the Camel Trail, and we stopped about halfway along for the last bottle of water, and to enjoy the view down the Camel estuary. We heard “Not far to go then!” in a familiar accent, and had a good chat with a couple from Wakefield who’d read our ultimate destination on our shirts. We arrived in Wadebridge at 4:30 to discover that the Tourist Information Centre shuts at 4 on a Saturday (of course, because there won’t be any tourists on a Saturday…), but fortunately we’d come armed with some addresses of possible places to stay, so we were soon settled into a lovely room at the Swan Hotel.

Definitely a tough day, although we knew that the first few days would be hard – it is likely to remain hilly until we reach the Somerset Levels. Our target tomorrow is Okehampton, a slightly shorter day but with some substantial climbs.

Day 1: Penzance – Lands End – St Ives

Distance: 30.03 miles
Time: 2 hours 38 minutes
Average speed: 11.4 m.p.h.
Distance from Lands End: 20 miles
Distance to John o’Groats: 1000 miles

After what seemed to be a very long train journey from Bath we arrived in Penzance at 1.15 feeling slightly nervous. It had been fairly cloudy on the way down but when we stepped out of the train we realised it was warmer than it looked.

We donned our cycle-wear (shirts kindly designed for us by Roger Pugh) and headed to the Cornwall Cycle Centre, where the tandem was waiting for us, freshly serviced and ready to go. As we walked up to the shop we were accosted by two men from a support team for another group of cyclists starting LEJoG today. “Ah”, they said, “you must be the tandem”. Spooky! With an exchange of “Good luck” and “See you on the road”, we set off up the hill out of Penzance. We had ten miles to complete before the start of the journey ‘proper’, to Sennen and then Lands End. There were a few small hills to climb but the journey was swift and enjoyable; the tandem running very smoothly and the scenery getting progressively more impressive as we neared the end of the peninsula.

We’d been warned about Lands End, and indeed there was a general air of tackiness about the complex, which thankfully diminished after we cycled past a mocked-up Tardis (why?!) to the famous signpost. We had our picture taken, then set off back up the road, cheered off from the ‘Start’ line by a friendly group of hikers. A few friendly toots on car horns sent us on our way, and soon we turned left off the A30 onto the road to St Just. This was a lovely, rolling, scenic road, goats to the left, Belted Galloway (we think) cows to the right. The traffic was light and the hills relatively gentle – a perfect warm-up for the journey to follow. We passed a tin mine at Geevor, operating for the benefit of tourists, and lots of ruins with chimneys, which were presumably something to do with Cornish tin mining. Soon we passed Zennor (where D.H. Lawrence lived with Frieda von Richthofen for a while) and climbed the final hill of the day before a rapid descent into St Ives. We were just in time for the tourist information centre and found accommodation fairly easily.

So, a good start, warm weather and quiet roads – just what we needed. Tomorrow we travel via Padstow to Wadebridge.

Of PTT (pre-tandem tension) and other matters

Only a week to go now until we catch the train down to the South West. We’re both a little nervous but also very much looking forward to the challenge ahead. So this week we’re not spending quite so much time on the tandem. Instead we’re spending a great deal of time working out the absolute minimum quantity of items we absolutely must carry in our panniers. Style is being sacrificed to function, so glamorous evening wear is out. Some might say that’s our usual style anyway, but that’s neither here nor there.

The route is finalised, and if you have Google Earth you can click here to see it. If you don’t have Google Earth, here goes:

Land’s End, St Ives, Padstow, Wadebridge, Launceston, Okehampton, Crediton, Taunton, Wells, Radstock, Bath, Nailsworth, Gloucester, Ledbury, Bromyard, Tenbury Wells, Ludlow, Church Stretton, Shrewsbury, Ellesmere, Chester, Frodsham, Widnes, Whiston, Appley Bridge, Bispham Green, Eccleston, Preston, Garstang, Lancaster, Windermere, Grasmere, Keswick, Mungrisdale, Hesket Newmarket, Carlisle, Longtown, Gretna, Annan, Dumfries, Moniaive, Carsphairn, Dalmellington, Patna, Tarbolton, Stewarton, Barrhead, Glasgow, Balloch, Ardlui, Crianlarich, Tyndrum, Bridge of Orchy, Ballachulish, Fort William, Fort Augustus, Drumnadrochit, Muir of Ord, Dingwall, Tain, Dornoch, Brora, Helmsdale, Reay, Thurso, Dunnet Head, John o’Groats.

Sounds a long way when you put it like that! So this week we’re watching the Giro d’Italia for inspiration, refining our packing list and covering the last few training miles before our tandem is shipped to Penzance. We’ll be following on the train, and plan to start on May 23rd. Fortunately the weather has at last improved, and our recent outings have reminded us just how enjoyable cycling in the sunshine can be.

Finally, a big thank you to all those who have sponsored us at JustGiving. We’re fast approaching our initial target, which is tremendously motivating. We will try to update this blog every evening during our trip, so watch this space…