Bridgnorth to Audlem 54miles/2269ft of ascent
I did as much as I could under canvas in the morning which meant that I was late in creeping away that morning. Perhaps the 90 miles in high temperatures had something to do with that as well? The ride to Telford was along the Silkin Way which is a beautiful trail which relates back to and celebrates the trading history of this area.
My objective today was to keep hydrated in the rising heat, get my phone, lights and power bank all charged and plan a new route to keep me moving through temperatures forecast to reach mid to high 30s. In order to do this I made my first call to Alison, my wife’s Crew Manager back at Grantown Community Fire Station. Little did I know that within a week I would be referring to her as my ‘Trail Angel’. Laura then greeted me at Wellington FRS in Telford and got back to me to tell me that it was going to be alright to call in. When I arrived I was shown up to the crew room where I was given a brew and told by Crew Chief Darren to make myself completely at home with the understanding that if they got a shout I would have to leave the building and hang out in the yard. Alison had also told me that The Fire Fighter’s Charity in Penrith would be delighted to host me at Jubilee House for a night so this confirmed to me that I needed to plan a route up the west side of the Pennines from here instead of my original plan to take The Second City Divide from east of Manchester. I knew from experience that out in the open, high up on the hills pushing or riding up steep terrain in 30 + temperatures was going to fry me and potentially shut me down. Al had suggested that I employ similar tactics to his on the Tour Divide and to ride through the night/early morning and shelter up from 1000 to 1500 - I certainly kept this in mind.
In the end I spent an hour or so using my Komoot account to plan shorter days which would take me through the swath of motorways, industry, housing and general urban-ness that is Liverpool, Warrington and Manchester. I reckoned I could keep moving then take shelter in filling stations, supermarkets and the like to resupply whilst cooling down. So that was plan A.
While my devices were finishing off their charge cycles I took a walk to the nearby Dominos Pizza which felt a little strange in the middle of a hot, hot day as well as using my feet to walk not pedal! The lunch special was ingested at the usual speed and I headed back up to the station. There I thanked everyone and also got a photo of some of them with my bike, beside a fire engine. Once again my route took me along a lot of quiet lanes but a wee bit flatter. It was exciting to start to see some hills as I approached Audlem. There I rode straight towards a pub where I was greeted by two friendly families who recommended that I had a pint of Landlord as well as giving me directions to the local campsite. In no time I found it, got pitched, had a shower and made a fresh dinner with vegetables I had bought at a farm table. My usual sleeping system is a mat, a down quilt and base layers. This evening I barely needed any of that as it was still roasting at 9:00pm. Little did I know that I was going to get moved on by the managers as I had pitched at the wrong campsite and was going to be re-pitching by the canal towpath around 10:30pm!
Audlem to Chorley 77miles/2012ft ascent
I woke around 6:00am and immediately discovered that my air mat had sprung a leak during the night. Further up the towpath I sorted all my kit out at a bench and had some coffee and a bar before setting off. Nantwich was a bit like a ghost town when I pulled in there at 7:30am. As I rode around looking for a cafe I came across The Nantwich Bookshop and Cafe. A couple of months ago I had got in touch to tell them about our great bookshop here, The Bookmark run by Marjory Marshall and of the inspiring title I bought there called…Bookshops of Great Britain and how I thought it would be cool to visit as many of them as possible on my ride. Steven, Catherine and the staff there welcomed me in and treated me to a delicious breakfast which I then transferred into my running total of cash donations to The Fire Fighter’s Charity. I also got a nice bookmark. My strategy for dealing with the heat was to keep my heart rate in zone 1, always stop in the shade and if I stopped do more than two things to make it worthwhile, eg. take onboard some fluid, a snack, adjust my bandana which was around my head for shade, or even check the map and take a photo. Basically what I used to drum into clients or rescue team colleagues - ‘Don’t be doing nothing!’
The rest of the day was fairly unremarkable until I got to Chorley. There I picked up some food for dinner and bars for tomorrow’s ride. A local suggested that I head down the hill a wee bit to find a ‘nicer’ pub which I never found. So I climbed back up the hill, not to be the last time and pulled in at what looked like a more ‘local’ establishment. I locked the bike outside and headed in to order a pint. Intuitively when I got outside a couple of guys in fluorescent work clothes wanted to keep themselves to themselves when I asked for directions. Fair enough. Once another customer left they became a lot more friendly and soon we were enjoying beers together talking about KTMs, travelling through the UK and how folk fit in. Two sound blokes who made me feel very welcomed - Thanks.
I headed down the hill again, then back up for the second time as I had forgotten my diary. Finally I made it into the campsite at dusk to be greeted by a family from Enniskillen where my grandfather came from! Almost immediately a beer was put in my hand and Ruairidh & Sally shared their company with me before they and their two sons all headed off to bed. What a great ending to another day on this amazing journey. I wonder if the Fitzpatricks did work out if they knew anyone related to my grandfather…
Chorley to Arnside & Silverdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty 53miles/3013ft ascent
Away by 7:00am and straight away it was noticeable how much hotter it was today but with a similar strategy to yesterday I got through it. Under a tunnel on the towpath I was able to have a phone call with Rachel which was always a boost to me! Route 45 led me into the main town where I knew I needed to continue north but by this point I really needed my second breakfast. Fortunately for me some workers at the bin lorry sent me to ‘All You Knead’ cafe which provided more friendly, tasty and fun service. I had a very one-sided conversation with a gentleman who kept referring to where he had heard people ride when going from one end of the UK to another - he meant well and was interested enough in the charity aspect so that was enough for me.
By now I had worked out why my GPS device seemed to be chewing through batteries. I had thought it was the heat and me checking my location a lot more when in urban areas for junctions and the like. No, the reason was I had bought alkaline batteries by accident instead of Lithium. I still had a pair of the alkaline ones and gave them to another customer to make better use of than me.
Because the cafe was so friendly and welcoming I was able to leave my bike there and nip across the now busy road to pick up the correct type of batteries and some more isotonic drinks which went straight into me and my drinks bottle! When I got back I settled up my bill, accepted another cash donation from the staff and set up a photo of them with my yellow bike. We said goodbye then just before I left a customer waiting outside said to me that she wished that she could be doing what I was doing. We got speaking and it turned out that she had a couple of young kids and unsurprisingly, didn’t want to leave them to go and do something that is, let’s face it, pretty selfish. I said to her that she should plan to do this adventure as soon as she could as who knows what life can throw at you to get in the way sometimes. As I rode off I felt a bit more grateful than usual for having this opportunity to ride my bike every day for three weeks.
Until late afternoon I stuck to the plan: keep my heartrate in zone 1, stop in the shade, drink plenty and rest up if it gets too much. With around half an hour to an hour of riding before camp I stopped at a big supermarket in Carnforth before heading into the Arnside & Silverdale AONB for some beer as I had everything I needed for my dinner, breakfast and snacks the next day. Ten days into the ride I had a reasonable (for me) beard, I had lots of suncream on which collected dust, grime, oil and goodness knows what else on my skin, my riding clothes were filthy as I did not have a change with me. The two tins of flavoured ale came to £4.70 so I carefully handed over four £1 coins, three 20p pieces and a 10p to the cashier. She gave me a very dismissive look down her nose as we made this simple transaction. Inside I felt like saying ‘Do you really know who I am and what I am doing?’ but I left it with her probably thinking I was someone having a bit of a hard time.
There was a lot of tricky navigation to reach Gibraltar Farm by Morecambe Bay. Tricky in that I did not want to ride down the wrong hill or road to find that I had to retrace my steps at the end of the day in this heat. Suddenly I was aware of a small explosion near the front of my bike. This could have been my front rack coming undone after a wee mishap at home, or one of my tires blowing. The spray of liquid on my legs suggested the tire was losing sealant but when I stopped and looked down it was worse than that. My cans of beer had slipped off my rack and had simultaneously smacked into the rack and done a synchronised ‘Shotgun’! There was only one thing to do - I quickly got the still spraying cans out of their bag, opened them with the ring pull and sat at the side of the road to drink what was left.
There was as expected still a lot of undulating road before I reached Silverdale. At first I was disappointed as there appeared to be no pub however I spotted that the local golf course was open to the public. I had barely got into the car park before Club Captain, James Vernon greeted me in true Cumbrian style. Turned out his son in law was a Firefighter and that James had been until recently a teacher like me. James assured me I would be made welcome at the Golf Club for a pint. I parked my loaded bike beside the golf bags and enjoyed a pint while the golfers honed their skills on the pitch to the green from the beer garden.
Once I had written the day’s blog I left Silverdale Golf Club and headed to the campsite. There I was treated to a warm welcome and to be told that my stay was free as I was riding for a good cause. Throughout my whole ride I was constantly reminded that people are kind, friendly and helpful if you are in return open minded, friendly and make the effort. As promised my friend Roland came over later from nearby Milnthorpe with some beers for a yarn. We both enjoyed the massive views out across the campsite to Morecambe Bay and beyond before agreeing to meet the next morning outside Milnthorpe.
Arnside & Silverdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty to The Fire Fighter’s Charity, Jubilee House, Penrith 56miles/4129ft ascent
I was up and on the go shortly after 5:10am so was pedalling away from camp by 6:30. My route retraced yesterday for a while and I was treated to some beautiful early morning sunlight through the trees on the quiet road. Eventually I met Roland as planned where he kindly gave me some cake, swapped my gas canister for two smaller ones and suggested an iconic route to Penrith. Over to Windermere via Stavely then over the Kirkstone Pass before riding along the side of Ullswater to then connect up to Penrith. I thoroughly enjoyed every mile of the route and it was nice to be taking a route recommended by a friend and not one that was just copied from a route website, or my navigation app. I fully embraced the busy honeypot of Windemere and headed right down to the lakeshore to see the tourists and tour boats before getting established on the correct route up to the ‘easier’ side of the Kirkstone Pass. This was a beautiful climb where there was no hassle from rude drivers and I was able to take in the views as well as pick the best line on the riding. Unfortunately the pub at the top was closed so I had to settle from what juice I had in my bottles and food in my bags. Today I was definitely feeling ok on the bike and was not extended too much on the climb, or the undulating sections by Ullswater and to Penrith. I swear that it almost took me as long to negotiate the roundabouts and crossings at the Penrith motorway junction as it did to climb the Kirkstone Pass!
At Jubilee House I received a warm welcome and was shown to my room which was right by reception which made life very, very easy indeed. Once showered and after my third cup of fresh tea I was able to put almost all of my clothes into a washing machine before tumble drying them back into clean, comfortable and fresh smelling belongings once again.
At night I joined the company of some residents for dinner and a few pints in the dining room and lounge. A few years ago my wife had stayed here to receive treatment for her shoulder injury so it felt pretty special to be there part way through a ride to help raise funds for this organisation. That night the Guinness went down well with lots of laughs as well as reflection on getting on with things.
The Fire Fighter’s Charity, Jubilee House, Penrith to Hamilton 114mile/4300ft ascent
I was in no mega-rush to get away quickly this morning as I wanted to say cheerio to the residents I had been with last night. Also I wanted to spend some time with the managers who had made it possible for me to stay and looked after me so well. We also arranged a large group photo of the staff along with me and my bike.
In Penrith I picked up some snacks for the ride, food for dinner and a cheap sleeping mat to replace the one that had got burst on the towpath near Audlem. The lad at the checkout was pretty cool when I asked if it was going to be ok to take my knife to it in the foyer of the outdoor shop to make it more lightweight!
The route I selected was parallel to the M74 in order to get me heading up the road efficiently. I had a loose plan that Lockerbie, or Moffat would be a realistic place to camp after all of the admin in Penrith. Carlisle from the south by bike appeared to be pretty run down until I reached the main town and had lunch in PizzaExpress. The place was deserted and I was given very personal and first class service and food. By this point I thought that I would definitely press on past Lockerbie.
Somewhere north of Gretna I was picked up by an immaculately clad road cyclist called Martin. He showed me quieter backroads and the miles passed quickly as we talked about what riding bikes meant to us. There were also times where I was working a lot harder than I would have liked to but he always made sure I got back on. Martin took me all the way to Beattock and as we said cheerio he replied that it was a pleasure to help get me within striking distance of Glasgow and to stop my mind from wandering. My arrival at the pub after 51 miles or so was nothing short of perfect. I had time to sort my drinks bottles and feed bags before heading in at 4:00pm. The atmosphere in the pub was busy and welcoming at the same time. Two cans of ginger beer went down in no time, as did some KitKats and crisps. Before leaving I ordered the same again and stuffed them into my jersey pockets and got ready to hit the road which climbed over Beattock summit.
In January for the first time ever I started following a training program I had purchased from a well respected ultra-cyclist in the States. My reasons for this were preparation for this ride and later, some unfinished business a little further afield. The activities and hours were aimed at preparing from multi-day/multi-week bikepacking rides such as The Colorado Trail Race, the Great Divide, or in my case a hybrid Lands End to John O’ Groats. I joked that the program was not designed for those who had a full time job, or a family! With this in mind I aimed to follow 50-60% of it and meticulously recorded ride times, ascent, time, average heart rate as well as other activities such as trail running, skiing, weights and yoga. By Easter this regime had given me the confidence and knowledge to stop looking at big numbers on a long day and simply focus on keeping my heart rate at a rate I could sustain for hours on end. The variety of rides, eg. short/hard/varied or long/easy/simple had also shown me what was possible. The yoga and encouragement and advice from our local gym staff improved my flexibility and core strength.
With this in mind, I was confident that I was going to be pulling into my wife’s parents house 53 miles or so away in another four hours. I used one hour blocks of riding for taking on food and drink plus checking on progress. The ‘magic’ banana from Jubilee House also helped I’m sure.
When I did arrive in Hamilton I was pleased with how I had ridden this part of the route and enjoyed the reaction that I got when I arrived. The only negative aspect of the ride was that today was the first time in over 650 miles that I encountered any unpleasant driving or comments from drivers of cars.
A zero day. However we did walk from the car to a cafe for some coffee & cake. I refused to walk much further though.
Hamilton to Braco 53miles/3128ft ascent
I was given a lovely send off, not to mention some tasty sandwiches and more bananas. Originally I had planned to get onto the trails of the West Highland Way, then the up/down route through Tayside before pushing and panting to Loch Ossian via Ben Lawyers and Innerwick. However a few days ago an old friend of mine from my student days in Aberdeen had got in touch to say that if I was passing be sure to call in. This was too good an offer to pass on so instead of riding trails that I had already done on a recce in Easter I found myself passing through where I used to live in Viewpark, near Uddingston. From there it was interesting, engaging and varied back road riding past wee places like Glen Mavis before a fast descent to Cumbernauld via a weird road semi-blocked with two crash barriers.
Proper rain today but I had put on, zipped up and fully embraced my waterproofs and was safe, comfy and happy inside this wee Gortex life support system. I even managed to film another Reel to post, hoping for sympathy donations as I was seen riding in the rain. One great thing about riding in the rain is that I do not stop nearly as much as usual so I made good time through Denny and then started to pick my way towards Stirling. Here I was pleasantly surprised with how quiet and pretty the riding was to Dunblane and eventually Braco. I even managed to ride some off road trails somewhere near Dunblane before arriving in Braco to meet some tail end traffic from their summer show. The guy in the local shop was very friendly when I popped in to buy my supplies for the next day and a bottle of wine for my hosts.
My pal and his wife lived at the end of a very quiet road and to begin with I was unsure which house was theirs. I am sure to some folk it looked a bit strange as this cyclist went up and down, then round and round until homing in on the right house. There I was treated to a big hello after 26 years hug! My stay in Braco was another lovely, unexpected surprise on the ride and emphasised to me once again how going with the flow sometimes is the best thing to do.