The Bicester


A blog from Bicester Hotel, Golf and Spa

Day 10, the final push

October 19th, 2010

Day Ten. There is almost a feeling that we are winding down with John O’Groats only a couple of days away.

The weather changes from moment to moment, one minute bright sun and the next dark clouds laden with rain but at least the visibility is quite good since the clouds rolled away quite early on.

Graham and Maggie stopped half way down Loch Ness, not to look for Nessy as you might imagine but to look around Urghart Castle which has been there since 1200.  The Scots have so much history it is almost too much to absorb but the castle was esthetically stunning and beautiful kept up.

Always believing one should pass on the best part of an experience rather than the negative I complimented the grounds man and a conversation developed.  As we were leaving Ian Mcwhirr thrust some money in our hands for Helen Douglas House.

I am amazed at the spontaneous kindness and generosity shown by the people we have met on our journey, especially north of the border – who said the Scots were mean, it must have been an Englishman.

Through Inverness, over the Black Isle and up the Cromarty Firth we see signs of huge rigs at Invergordon giving an indication of the contribution to the economy that the off shore oil industry makes.

There is a narrow mouth out to the North Sea over which the Nigg Ferry (taking all of two cars a time) sails.

Showers develop after lunch and Tain, a quaint hillside town on an otherwise flat coast comes and goes.  It could be a result of the volatile weather or if you believe in fate it must be a positive sign that we have been followed by amazing rainbows this afternoon. Not just one or two but at least six.

Tain was a landmark for Lawrence on his first trip but the boys want to try and get a few more miles  nearer their goal and will push on to either Brora or Helmsdale.  It very much depends on the weather which has now become constantly wet and the winds have picked up considerably.  It can’t be nice for them on the bikes and apart from the discomfort it is much more dangerous.

I for one am beginning to look forward to the conclusion of this mammoth task and I know that Lawrence has commented that this time around, although the journey has been physically easier (he did’nt have a back up team last time!) he has found it physiologically more challenging due to the fact that he has responsibilities at home.

At about three in the afternoon it was decided to reduce the target to Brora, however as things turned out we could not find a bed anywhere for less than £80 so pressed on to Helmsdale where we were warmly welcomed at Ruorn guest house.

The Mirage restaurant is not to be missed and well known throughout the area. We had a fish and chip supper here which seemed quite appropriate on our last evening together as our first night was spent in a similar venue, the only difference being the absence of the fifth member of the group

Graham Payne

Quick photo opportunity at the start of Day 10

Quick photo opportunity at the start of Day 10

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Day 9, a day of close calls

October 18th, 2010

Day Nine.  Breakfast included this morning and with the prospect of nothing between here and Fort William  gratefully eaten, the trade off of a slightly later, back to 8.15, start seemed worth it.

Talking to some fellow travelers they were full of admiration for our boys and gave a donation to the Captains charity – I gave them two raffle tickets as a thank you for their really spontaneous generosity.

Lawrence’s vivid recollection of his last ’end to end’ highlighted Glen Coe as the worst day possible, so today is the day we face his bête noir – the mighty Coe.

In actually fact it was not so much the actual glen itself but the long torturously slow but relentless incline up The Mount to the glen that was so physically and mentally demanding. With driving rain, low cloud and road kill littering the verges the boys hit an all time low.

A bus came too close to Lawrence, close enough for him to bang on the side of it, and almost knocked him off.  The level of concentration demanded to ride safely is very high.

Dropping down to the valley the views are stunning.  Meeting the water the boys turn right and proceed to Fort William.

In the shadow of Ben Nevis the rain lifts for  a brief period.

The roads worsen, becoming very narrow, bad surfaces and crumbling at the edge with very heavy, fast traffic.  The rain returns intermittently and Adam is sucked into the back draft of a passing vehicle that knocks him against the kerb which in turn throws him off his bike.  The following car misses him, doesn’t stop  but at least blares its horn at the offender.

No permanent damage is done and the target of Fort Augustus is reached in plenty of time to bath and have an exquisite meal at The Lovat.

I was aware how vulnerable cyclists on the roads are but today’s experiences have certainly made me make a conscious decision to treat them with even more consideration.

Graham Payne

Checking the route with Maggie

Checking the route with Maggie

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Day 8, to the bonny, bonny banks of Loch Lomond

October 17th, 2010

Day eight. With the target of, to quote a line of the famous song ‘the bonny, bonny banks of Loch Lomond’ the boys get a good start at 7.45, 10 miles back up the road where they left off.  They will stop off for breakfast at the next motorway service station.

The road into Glasgow provides ideal conditions with the cycle path very often running alongside the road.  As the buildings become more frequent the nature of the ride changes with even hecklers on the road side at Hamilton.

Traffic, lights, volume, fumes make the boys pedal faster to get through the city and out to the A82 which will lead them to Loch Lomond.

The backup team spent the morning learning about the cotton mills of the 17century and walked up the Clyde to Clyde Falls – all at the world Heritage site of New Lanark (  which meant we could catch up the bikers by taking the motorway right through Glasgow within a matter of minutes.

The mileage covered was excellent and with the lift that this gave the riders and the beautiful sight of the hills rising around the loch they decided to push on to Crainlarich some 9 miles north of the last of Loch Lomond.

They came in as light had faded at around 7.00 but it will at least give them a good start before Glen Coe tomorrow.

This must have been one of the longest days in the saddle 11 ¼ hours with a mega 100 + on the clock.

We were invited to join a Ceileidg in the Crainlarich Hotel after dinner but despite Graham’s enthusiasm and compliments from the locals, one Gay Gordon’s was enough to make us sleep soundly through the night.

Graham Payne

A route with a view

A route with a view

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Day 7, crossing the border

October 16th, 2010

Day seven. We relaxed so much last night it had diverse effects, the backup team arose fresh and rested but the riders enjoyed their beds too much and found it difficult to rise.  Back to an 8.15 start!  Scotland here we come.

Penrith past without incident and we were tempted to stop in Carlisle and see the large castle and beginnings of Hadrians Wall but a serious accident involving a jackknifed lorry meant we needed to crack on to the border and Gretna Green. Famous for elicite unions, couples in the past would leave England and its restrictive laws and cross the border into Scotland where it was easier to wed.  The local blacksmith performed the ceremonies and the smithy is now a museum to those days which have not so long passed.

In the local area there is also the local Devils Porridge Factory.  So named by Sir Arthur Canon Doyle (creator of Sherlock Holmes) when he visited the factory in 1916 and saw the explosive paste of nitro-glycerine and nitro-cotton being mixed by hand and stuffed into shells and bullets.  30,000 workers of both sexes came from throughout the world to work to produce the ammunition for World War 1 that turned the outcome of not only the war but history itself.  As a result of this increased population the well planned town of Gretna grew up but was not referred to nor on any maps as a result of its sensity nature.

There is also a large retail shopping outlet that would be very familiar to those of you that frequent Bicester village as,  behind the tourist information centre the Ralph Lauren shop is the focal point. Even the car park looks familiar and Graham told me the centre was originally set up by the same people behind our own village.

At this point the boys decided to alter their route slightly from the A75 to Dumfries to follow a B road directly north which follows the M6 motorway as the milage is less and on the assumption that the motorway will follow the line of least resistance.  Not knowing what this road would be like it was a bit of a gamble, but one that paid off,  as wide as many an A road, gently rolling with very little traffic.

The road passes through the town of Lockerbie  which brings back memories of the tragic aircrash some twenty years ago that has been in the news again recently.

We took a diversion to LochMaben to walk round the remains of a castle that has connections to Robert the Bruce in the far distant past (c1200) and Edward 1 (c1300).  The Bruces museleum is in nearby Dumfries where there are tributes to another famous name connected to this area – Rabbie Burns.

The scenery and accents are definitely Scottish now and passing Moffat there is no sign of habitation for a further 15 miles until Abington where we book into the local hotel for fear that there will be no more hostelries until we reach the outskirts of Glasgow.

We have to drive back 10 miles to pick up the boys who ran out of daylight at 6.00.

Graham Payne

A brief chat with fellow cyclists at the border

A brief chat with fellow cyclists at the border

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Day 6, a surprise visit

October 15th, 2010

Day Six. The boys decided to break the habit of an 8.15 start and, hyped up by yesterdays mega miles, wanted to leave as soon as daylight to get in a further 5 miles. One of the  back up team was suffering from a sleepless night with an upset stomach so they did not get going till much later.

We ploughed on the A49 leaving Warrington for Wigan – ribbon development with hardly a green space to be seen. Bad signage took us past the rugby league stadium in Wigan which was absolutely massive.  Pushing on Preston emerges and recedes without any particular impression.

The road grinds  on to Lancaster where we planned to stop but  the bikers had gone through and were well on their way to Kendal so we made do with sightings of docks that must have been the home of great trade in times gone past and large bold stone homes.  The stone is losing its pink hue and turning grey and some impressive buildings point this to being an important town.

Kendal is also important but on a different scale.  The gateway to the Lake District the town is buzzing with activity and a plethora of  shops selling ‘outdoor’ gear.  A very friendly and helpful tourist information centre gave us a list of hostelries between Kendal and Penrith and knowledge of the road ahead – the question will be, can the boys make the five mile hill between the two, or do they leave it till tomorrow.

A surprise phone call  has left the evening full of promise!

Well since last writing we took up a post in a layby at the top of said horrible hill with a view right down the valley south towards Kendal and awaited sighting of the now familiar two luminous yellow jackets.  Unnoticed a silver Volvo drove over the brow of the hill and joined us.  Our captain, Paul Brain, had driven all the way from Bicester to give moral support. He was a very welcome sight especially as he informed us there was a Best Western just down the hill before Shap.  He hid in his car so as not to distract the boys coming up the hill and we cheered them on loudly with news that the day was almost at an end.

Another flat tire had resulted in two very oily bikers and Adam had comically wiped his hand all over his face.

The hotel was a gem a mile off the road through moorlands with roaming sheep and nestling next to a stream.   We enjoyed Paul’s company at dinner before he tackled the long drive home and we smiled overhearing an after dinner comic entertaining a coach party of guests.

Graham Payne

A suprise visit from the golf club Captain, Paul Brain

A suprise visit from the golf club Captain, Paul Brain

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Day 5, downhill all the way

October 14th, 2010

The Travel lodge at  Ludlow, does not (along with other niceties) include breakfast so the boys decided to have a little lie in, normally 6.30 and start a little earlier than normal and stop for breakfast on the way.  Things seldom go as planned.  They were both exhausted so slept even longer than 7.00 and that meant we were back at the magic start time of 8.15. With the cold and thin daylight and discomfort of the blister and saddle meeting again the first hour was long and unrewarding.  However a rhythm was soon set and the self imposed regime of dividing the day into 2 hour slots paid off.

We went into Ludlow for the market and a walk and in the car park spent awhile talking to a local who was attracted by the van and wants to bring his golf team to play at Bicester!

The whole day seemed to have a downhill slant and they took full advantage of this and covered a tremendous 92 miles far over reaching their target of Northwich.

Heavy traffic in Warrington hampered the support vehicle to the extent that the bikes whizzed on through and because of failing light the boys had to do the bed finding.  A roadside pub called the Pied Bull (as in pied piper, pied ball pony presumably meaning muticoloured) was found not a moment too soon.  A real pub full of locals and smoke from the pre-smoking ban but comfortable beds and huge bathrooms!

Graham Payne

Time to move out

Time to move out

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Day 4, doubts, challenges and inner tubes

October 13th, 2010

Day Four and the boys start by carrying on with their downhill cruise into Bristol.  Their route took them along the banks of the great River Avon, which was a mud V with a minimal amount of water running in the bottom.  It is obviously tidal and rises to a great depth at high tide.  Whilst they cruised down to Avonmouth we headed with all the commuters of the workforce, into town to drop a very downhearted Ian at Temple Mead Station so that he can limp, literally, home.  We will miss his presence and very positive contribution to the team.  It is not a good start to the day and questions as to why we are here at all are raising their heads and causing everyone to be downhearted.

Crossing the Severn Bridge and leaving the hills of the south brings loads of promise and the sign Welcome to Wales is gladly passed.  Monmouth provided a challenge for both bikers and car travelers with diversions everywhere.  At least we saw the place. The Wye Valley is stunning turning autumnal colors and Tintern Abbey nestling in the valley floor looked enchanting.  The backup team spent most of the day in Hereford, looking for inner tubes that we had failed to get yesterday.

The bonus was passing the beautiful cathedral.  The Travel Lodge at Ludlow  bypass is right on the A39 and seemed the obvious place to stay although the boys again wanted to progress but sense and lack of light once again prevailed and we settled in for the evening.  Lawrence has a blister that is giving him some trouble so this will need dressing before tomorrow’s departure.

Graham Payne

Flying over the Severn Crossing

Flying over the Severn Crossing

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Day 3, to Bristol

October 12th, 2010

Day Three  we planned an early start but, despite getting up earlier, we only departed the elegant Taw Vale guest house at 8.15. again.  Ian’s pulled muscles have prevented him riding further so he is in the support vehicle today.

Heading on the 3072 we left for Tiverton.

Passing Knighthayes and  what looked like a wonderful walled  vegetable garden we cracked on to Taunton and Hestercombe gardens, with only a short stop at a cider factory to refresh ourselves. We did not have time to visit the gardens as we had to go to Halfords to replace an inner tube because Adam had a flat tyre seven miles south of Taunton which cost about half an hour but they are still positive. We also asked about getting a further gear fixed to Adams bike as he is finding the hills hard work. This is not possible so he will no doubt continue using Ian’s bike which he has borrowed today.

The sun shone in the afternoon and the boys were flying.

We descended down into Bristol with a beautiful view of the Clifton suspension bridge on our left and a very conveniently situated B&B right on the A38 opposite a pub and petrol station. What a location. We literally had to stand by the road and flag the boys down as twilight descended but they still wanted to carry on.  Sense prevailed and we slept soundly.

Graham Payne

Words or encouragement from locals

Words of encouragement from locals

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Day 2, Cornwall into Devon

October 11th, 2010

Day Two saw an earlier start at 8.15 but the winds, although dropped were still very evident.

Passing Camelford – reputed to be the base of Camelot which is a possibility bearing in mind the close proximity of Tintagel Castle which was supposed to be where King Arthur had his round table and Merlin his magician – The team followed the A39 north to Stratton/Bude and then turned inland to rise to Holsworthy, a quaint  town that allegedly used to be a port. A tiny town square looked deserted on a Sunday but no doubt buzzed on market day.

The patchwork fields took on a different hue as the soil became dark red with hints of mauve in the shade and turning the roads pink where the tractor wheels had spread the soil. The extreme hilly terrain took its toll and by lunch time only 30 odd miles had been covered.

Ian battled on with his bad leg but the pressure this put on his other leg meant that he struggled throughout the day.

The time to the next town of Hatherleigh was considerably improved and as the conditions improved the boys cracked on to Crediton were it was decided to spend the night.

Very early settled Crediton with evidence of farms as early as 909 AD and the birth place of Bodiface the missionary who spread Christianity to Germany and the Netherlands has the most impressive church built of rose stone that echoed the colors of the surrounding fields.  It was the seat of the Archbishop for Cornwall and Devon before the base of the church moved to Exeter as a result of a number of social and economical reasons including fires which burnt down the town including the looms on which the weaving had been done to make the town one of the foremost producers of it s time.

Supporters drove down from London and joined us for an evening of pasta but left before a strategy meeting before bedtime.

Graham Payne

Making progress from Cornwall into Devon

Making progress from Cornwall into Devon

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Day 1 in the saddle

October 10th, 2010

Day 1 and the bikes took longer to adjust and actually get on the road and despite a good weather forecast the start at Land End was marred by mist and early morning uncertainty.  This developed into strong winds and a resolve to start earlier tomorrow and resulted in the team only managing 6 miles in the first hour.

With spirits dashed they made a tremendous effort to tackle the unrelentingly  up and down terrain.

Road works at Redruth prohibited cyclists on the dual carriageway and further time was lost as they struggled to make head nor tail of the English diversion signs that very often seem to loose interest having taken you off the main route.

Having increased the average to 10 miles an hour the team descended from the worst of the A30 hills down to the A39 and arrived in Wadebridge at 4.30 in good spirits and without any major mishap.

Wadbridge is a stop on the Camel route which is a very well used cycle and walking pathway following the disused rail route that runs north to Newquay and south.

However the only physical damage sustained is the reoccurrence of a previous groin injury of Ian’s.

A fish and chip supper and comfortable bed at Tremill Bed and Breakfast was just what was needed and bed by 9.00 was welcome.

Graham Payne

All ready for the off at Lands End

All ready for the off at Lands End

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