LEJOG Day 19 (the photos)

Unable to post these yesterday:

Bridge to the Black Isle from Inverness

Oil and gas rigs in Cromarty Firth

Dornoch Firth

Bonar Bridge

The Kyle of Sutherland

The emptiness of the road to Altnahara

Altnahara Caravan and Motorhome Club site and Loch Naver

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LEJOG Day 19

Left the Caravan and Motorhome Club site at Culloden earlier than the usual start today to take account of the longer mileage. Still wary of the A9 I had decided to continue to follow Sustrans Route 7. This worked well as far as Inverness but on the second lap of the town I decided to seek other guidance. Some poor chap who’d been sent out to try and sort out the chaos which followed a traffic light stuck on red directed me and I fairly quickly found my bridge northwards.

We had debated whether I should take the A9 northwards across the Black Isle to Cromarty Bridge. The conclusion had been that I was better off tired and lost than as road-kill. The debacle in Inverness caused to me to eschew caution and go for it. The Cromarty Bridge is functional but not pretty and I was soon burbling along the north shore.

There are quite a number of rigs in the Cromarty Firth and they were clearly visible. A threatened shower, which had darkened the sky as we came north from Inverness, passed over and by the time I turned off the A9 at Alness it was bright sunshine. I picked up Route 7 again as it offers a short cut to Tain. It climbed but nothing we couldn’t handle, the old Rudge and I, and with a following wind we were making good time.

I’d arranged to meet Barbara by the A836 turn off from the A9 and having seen a sign offering John o’ Groats at 108 miles was seriously wondering about changing plans and continuing on the main road and finishing today. B’s sensible head was on and she suggested we stick to our original plan. So the A836 it was.

The road was quieter immediately running on the south side of Dornoch Firth. The hills to the north, bathed in sunshine and gilded with gorse contrasted with the brilliant blue of the inlet below and the sky above. Expectations of another day’s exceptional riding were ended when the cable, bodged at Stafford, finally let go. I lowered the engine on to the wheel and bolted it down tight. With a considerable mileage still to do it was neccessary to press on. Bonar Bridge is a slended structure at the top of the Firth and the A836 continues up the north side of the Kyle of Sutherland. The road, previously around sea level began to climb. The Mini Motor/Rudge team settled into a steady grind upwards. It was warm, despite the blustery wind, and reasonably pleasant allowing for the exertions. Then the Mini Motor suddenly called time.

A chance once again to take off the waterproof jacket, although not with the lightness of heart of yesterday. Was this terminal? It seemed mostly likely to be electrical, although since the pit stop with Barbara at the roundabout fuel was leaking rather copiously. In fact at one point when I had stopped so much smoke had been coming off fuel falling on the exhaust port I thought it prudent to restart and hopefully blow out any inclination to flames. I let the engine cool a while and finished my sandwiches enjoying the peace and the sunshine. The plug had indeed whiskered (built up a small sliver of carbon between its electrodes) and once cleaned wombled back into something like life.

Luckily Barbara had stayed around and when I caught her up at Lairg I asked her to play leap-frog with me the rest of the way as it was clear that the Rudge was in a difficult mood. I re-filled the tank again as we still seemed to be losing rather a lot of petroil. After Lairg the A836 becomes a single track road. It must be one of the most deserted roads in mainland Britain. Although there was other traffic, there is almost no sign of habitation for mile after mile. This is a big landscape from which most of the forest appeared to have been felled and endless-seeming moorland ended in a vista of high hills with large snowfields still showing on their upper slopes. For the first miles the road rose gently and with the following wind and steady pedalling there was time to look at the nothingness that surrounded us.

The village of Crask consists of one house and a pub. There was 19 miles of emptiness to Altnahara and a further four or five miles alongside Loch Naver to the Altnahara Caravan and Motorhome Club site. It is the remotest site in the network, 20 miles from the nearest shop. That’s why there are no photos accompanying today’s blog – the internet here is not up to it. We wanted to see it as it is a favourite destination for Uncle Bob’s daughter, my cousin Sue Langford and her husband Phil. I’m pretty sure Uncle Bob’s bike has not been here before.

I set to and changed the cable made for me by J.J. Cables after Stafford and generously posted to Barbara next day delivery at no extra cost before she left to join us at Melrose. A couple of fellow campers stopped off to chat and generously put a donation in the tin. (https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/raleighrudginit)

It was 93 miles today, the longest day by quite a stretch and I am glad we have experienced this amazing wild landscape. Tomorrow is Dunnet’s Bay and I’m hoping I’ve done enough this evening to keep the Rudge and Mini Motor in one piece long enough to finish the excursion. We shall see.

LEJOG Day 18

Conflicting feelings this morning, I know I’m going to miss this when I’ve done but now I’m only a few days from the finish I want it over. Partly because I want to know if I manage it and partly so I can stop getting up every morning and wondering if either the Rudge or I will break down today.

I’d psyched myself up for the petit depart when a) the Scottish mizzle came down spoiling the first dry day in a while and b) as I did pedal away the Mini Motor refused to fire up. There is no more dispiriting start than pedalling back to the van. The engine had not even coughed so I suspected the electrics. When I pulled out the spark plug it looked like it had been buried in a bog, wet and peaty coloured. I put the spare plug in and a new plug in the Brooks toolbag and gave things a little try. We were on.

It was damp as far as Ruthven Barracks, an impressive ruin on an old castle mound, destroyed by dispersing Jacobites after their defeat at Culloden, today’s destination.

From here the roads were dry and the cyclemotoring was superb. The road wound sinuosly over the contours of the hills neither falling nor rising too much for the old Rudge. There were deciduous and coniferous plantations, the silver white shanks of birches interspersed with the spires and steeples of the pines. Lichen covered branches grasped the air with hairy green fingers. The sound of the exhaust echoed off the dry stone embanking in the narrower sections. Friends, you had to be there. To the north Loch Insh came and went.

After Rothiemurchus the roads became a little busier and, Oh my, wasn’t that the sun? At Boat of Garten (named because there was a ferry across the Spey there before the bridge?) there was a stiffish climb up to the B9153 but nothing the Rudge and I couldn’t handle in the sunshine. I had a most unusual out-of-waterproofs experience at the top. Carrbridge’s skeletal remains provided a photo opportunity to rival your Uncle Reg’s old album: “Here’s your Auntie Di in front of Blackpool Tower, here’s me and Blackpool Tower and look there’s the two of us with the tower in the background.”

For a short section on the A9’s second summit as it skirts the Cairngorms it is necessary to use the cyclepath but the surfaces were much better than yesterday. A curlew took off from the path in front of me as I approached.

The Inverness side of the A9’s hinterland is generally softer with more villages. There are a mixture of Scottish traditional cottages and some interesting new builds in timber, stone and glass. The railway takes the same route as the roads and we rode with it for long sections of the route. I came across the last remaining timber railway bridge in Scotland at Moy Viaduct looking like something out of a cowboy film.

The final section was down the south side of the river Nairn towards the impressive Culloden Viaduct – long enough to make a goods train progressing along the skyline look like a toy.

I took the risk of stopping off at Clava Cairns. Three neolithic cairns surrounded by standing stones in a ritual landscape. Will Long Meg’s puncture curse have been telepathically transmitted this far?

Shortly after the sign to the Culloden Battlefield (visited later on foot) was the Culloden Caravan and Motorhome Club site. I can write, without hesitation, it has been a good day.

Tomorrow the longest daily mileage of the trip to Altnaharra. We hope.

LEJOG Day 17

For once it dawned dry. In the little information centre in the Chapter House of the Cathedral it said that Dunkeld viewed itself in the 19th century as ‘the gateway to the Highlands’. More interestingly up to the mid 18th century the town had a frontier like quality with Gaelic spoken to the north and the plaid worn and to the south Scots and trews. So as far as I’m concerned today started the excursion into the Highlands. The actual sign that says so is stuck in the middle of nowhere on the A9.

Sustrans has been good to me today as I’ve followed their well sign-posted route 77 to Pitlochry and route 7 the rest of the way north. The A9 is just too busy and fast to be safe on a cyclemotor. Route 77 took me out of Dunkeld down a private road which turned into a well made unsurfaced track. This was good practice for what was to come later.

The track led to the A9 and a cycleway that allowed the cyclist to double back over a bridge over the Tay and pick up a B road running parallel. The ride was in two halves – roads parallel to the A9 as far as Calvine and then a cycle track alongside the A9 for most of the rest of the way. At Logierait we said goodbye to the Tay, crossing it on a private bridge.

We then followed the river Tummel on its south bank as far as Pitlochry. Although it was dry, at one point during one of these sections a steeper hill caught me out and required a little pushing. We crossed into Pitlochry on a pedestrian suspension bridge opened by the ‘Red’ Duchess of Atholl who, although she sat as a Conservative MP, supported and raised funds for the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War.

The route then took us over the pass at Killiecrankie where in 1689 the protestant forces of Scotland defeated an army raised to help the deposed James II. All this was in the dry so plenty of time to look around. Blair Atholl was our next transit and then shortly after the Highland Museum at Bruar we started on the A9 cyclepath.

I knew from the map there was 20 miles of this and that it went over Drumochter Summit at 459 metres so I was hoping that the dry surface would contine. The path is sometimes on the old road, sometimes on purpose built tarmacked paths and sometimes on paths that are compacted. I’d read that its surface was degraded at some points. It was at times slow going as some parts of the cycle path have become loose shingle. I have long since developed a trials rider’s on the pedals stance to spread the weight between the two wheels on poor surfaces and had to ride like that for quite long distances. Its not difficult when no pedal assistance is required although the bicycle with so much weight above the rear wheel does not feel completely secure on loose surfaces. And then it rained.

As the roller was dragging on the tyre yesterday I’d undone the cable adjuster a few turns. It hadn’t stopped the tyre rubbing but it had lost almost all traction in the wet. The climb to the summit is very gradual but the cycle path falls and rises alongside the road and there was a lot of pedalling to do. It was colder up here. There were quite large snow patches on the hills and I could see my breath.

Feeling I was becoming tired I stopped and put the few turns back onto the cable. The improvement was immediate although I think by this point I must almost have been past the summit (which is not marked on the cycle track).

It was a relief when the A889 took over from the cycle track. With the wind behind us, a dry almost deserted road and a general declination the Trojan sang itself up to 20mph. As we re-entered the cycle path on the A9 I saw the sign to ‘Invernahavon Caravan Site 1 mile’. Another day completed.

Tomorrow more cycle path and A9 parallels to follow to Culloden.

More generous donations have taken us up to almost the current £1500 target. If we do reach that I will raise the target to £2000. Thanks to everyone who has contributed. (https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/raleighrudginit)

LEJOG Day 16

I adjusted the chain on the Rudge yesterday and blew up the tyres but otherwise things seemed to be holding together so I left well alone.

Of course, after three days rest when it had been fine mostly and even sunny, the day of the resumption began with rain. The ride from the Edinburgh Caravan and Motorhome site to the old Crammond Brig was uneventful and from there along the cycleway of the A90 was similarly straight-forward. A slightly strange day today as, although we are a long way from home, because of our visits to various sub-groups of the Clan Monce South Queensferry and the section from Glenfarg to the Bridge of Earn are familiar territory. Dennis, husband of Barbara’s cousin, had spent some time showing me how to get to the south end of the old Queensferry crossing. This worked wonderfully until Sustrans Route 1 directed me into a housing estate and abandoned me there. Some time later normal service was resumed. Unfortunately it began to rain on the bridge but the three bridges are a magnificent sight. The new one with it’s three sets of cables looking like three yachts astern is a worthy addition. My favourite, however, is the original railway bridge, used by Francis Barnett in their advertising.

The motorway journey to Perth seems to be mostly flat but approaching and going around Dunfermline on the Rudge seemed to involve a number of wet inclines. One or two had me off and pushing. Then I turned off into a smaller road going north. It started to rain properly and by the time I had my waterproof trousers on I was soaked. I seemed to have entered the Lost Domain.

Rain dripped down through the vents in my helmet. The road, its surface pock-marked with tarmac acne, went constantly upwards at a slight angle except when it kicked up steeply. Pines obscured the view aided by a shroud of mist that drifted down between them. If this was a metaphor for an insentient future it seemed unnecessarily cruel. Eventually we came out of the trees at a height and began to descend in a series of long curves. Loch Leven was in the misty east. We seemed to have been travelling quite a long time to have only got this far.

At Glenfarg the roads began to dry. The long slow drop through what I assume is Glen Farg with the river running to the left in a tree lined valley seemed to go on quite a lot longer than in a car but beyond that the roads were for the most part dry. After Bridge of Earn we had no more trouble with losing traction. Perth was a little bit difficult as the more inflated rear tyre was catching on the roller even with the roller disengaged and I had to turn the engine off at each traffic lights. Coming out of Perth on the A85 the wind was in our teeth and the road was slightly uphill and I wondered if all was well in the Trojan department. Turning off to Almond Bank skewed us away from from the draught and we made good headway. One section of the road was lined on both sides with flowering gorse and the perfume was delicious if slightly cloying. The spring flowers here are at their best.

Although there were hills, in the dry our joint efforts coasted them. The A9 was gingerly crossed as a pedestrian before the last mile or so into Dunkeld. Thomas Telford’s 1809 bridge over the broad and swiftly flowing Tay is the entry into the town.

Tomorrow we ride to Newtonmore on by-ways parallel to the swiftly flowing A9.

LEJOG Day 15

Today was bound to be easy. Barbara was around with the van and spares, the load in the panniers was lighter now the dirty washing had gone, I was in holiday mode with the prospect of three days off and Edinburgh was basically just over that hill.

First job of the day was to oil and re-route the throttle cable which had been sticking yesterday and re-fuel the bike from the can in the motorhome. The route I have been using went through Innerleithen but I had diverted off to the Caravan and Motorhome Club site at Melrose. The task therefore was to ride to Innerleithen to rejoin the route. That’s 15 miles and the knowledge that it was part of a diversion made me impatient to get there. Unfortunatly some way before Walkerburn there had been a recent shower and the road was wet. The roller lost its grip and I had to pedal to keep forward motion. It wasn’t particularly hilly however and we were still making progress.

At Innerleithen I took the recommended B709, like yesterday’s run, another route across the hills. The sign said ‘Edinburgh 38 miles’, the road was wet, a strong cold wind was blowing down the valley and, looking at the size of hills that had been along the north of the road to Innerleithen, I was apprehensive. 😯 I have found during this (prolonged) excursion the thing to do is not to think: “I am never going to be able to pedal this (insert favoured swear word)ing thing for 38 miles uphill in the wet”. No one must be positive: There will be dry patches where the roller can get a grip, Edinburgh is near the sea, roads that go up have to come down, there will be sheltered stretches et cetera, et cetera. How much you can convince yourself depends how gullible you are. I wouldn’t bother lying to yourself. Once you’ve caught yourself out the whole exercise will have been pointless.

In this case it worked. The road followed a river up what I suspect is a glacial valley, wide bottomed and only gently sloped. The roller slipped but in second and third gear we made steady forward movement by assisting each other. Further up the dry patches started and, by veering from one side to the other whenever one appeared, speed was improved. About half a mile from the low summit of this climb the road was drying out and less assistance was required.

We topped the little pass in sunshine, perhaps that was it? As the road dropped we gathered speed and all was well. Except that ahead and to the west the hills were shrouded in what looked like a mist. Drizzle began to fall and before long I had stopped to put on the inevitable wet gear. Then it began to hail. Hail is shy and doesn’t like its photograph taking but hail it was.

There was nothing around and once back on the bike progress continued. The hail storm was short and sharp but the (costly) waterproofs had done what they said on the tin. And then the road started to rise, steadily but continuously. “Oh fishcakes!” I said to myself. I could see the road ahead continuing to rise around the hill using the contours to keep a constant gradient. I dropped down to first and tried to keep to 10mph with the Mini Motor chuntering to itself behind. It seemed to go on and on. My thigh muscles hurt and hurt and carried on hurting but I thought if I stopped to rest it would be difficult to get back up to this pace where the motor and I combined were fractionally more powerful than the gravity dragging us back. Finally we round a corner and there below (phew 😊) still at a considerable distance (naw!😢) was Edinburgh.

We both relaxed on the downward slope and then turned off down some lanes on Sustrans Route 1. ‘Edinburgh 23 miles’ the sign said. There were further ups, some damp, but more downs. I had my sandwich by some abandoned mine workings. The countryside was still lovely and the sun was out.

In Edinburgh the roads were dry but busy and atrociously surfaced, a dangerous combination. I shook Dr Death’s white bone dice a couple of times swerving into the traffic to avoid another spoke fracturing fissure. Some drivers waved or at least I think that’s what they were doing. Finally after what seemed like a lifetime on the B701 I turned down to the Firth of Forth and the Edinburgh Caravan and Motorhome site. Like Melrose another of our favourite locations on the network. The three days break has started.

Totals so far: the Garmin is telling me that the old Rudge has done 767 miles since Land’s End and that my travelling time (which is total time each day between leaving and arriving and includes breaks, sightseeing and breakdowns) is something over 50 hours. Total collected so far is £1138 on the internet (https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/raleighrudginit) and a further £95 collected in cash since Stafford making a total of £1233. Thank you to everyone who has so generously supported the ride.

The excursion into the Highlands begins on Wednesday 2nd May.

LEJOG Day 14

After yesterday’s failure with the magic from the stone circle, which turned out to be a malevolent puncture curse, Louise, a former colleague at Thomas Rotherham College, sent me a gaelic blessing: ‘May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face; the rains fall soft upon your field and until we meet again may God hold you in the palm of his hand.’ Would this work any better?

After a hearty breakast at the Cornerways Guesthouse in Carlisle, I loaded up and headed to a garage. The tank was almost dry and took nearly two and a half litres of petrol and the necessary oil. The A7 was nothing like as dangerous as the A66 the other evening but the surface was very rough. It was about 6 miles north of Carlisle that I finally entered Scotland after crossing the River Esk.

Apart from at traffic lights, this section had involved no pedalling at all. I turned off up the A6357 which goes through Liddesdale. After Canonbie Bridge I had to start earning my ride. On one section of 1:8 (12%) I was off and pushing. The hills had started again and we were in Reiver country.

The modern statue of Lang Sandy, a tall member of the Armstrong clan stands in the village of Rowanburn.

Further along the road stands 14th century Milnholme Cross put up by the Armstrongs. What you can’t hear in the picture is the call of a curlew overhead. The noticeboard gives a date of 1611 for the hanging of the last chief of the Armstrongs in Newcastle. Lang Sandy and his 11 sons met the same fate. Once James VI of Scotland came to the English throne the usefulness and opportunity of the border raiders was at an end. Like the cyclemotorist they became redundant and failed to adapt to the flow of history (although I’m hoping they’ll stop short of lynching us). Further on I photographed another obsolescent mode of transport.

It was the day of the farmyard animal. I saw goats grazing freely on an unfenced section, the cutest litter of piglets, highland cattle and fields of ewes with lambs. This a sign of how far we have come. Lambing was already just about finished in Devon.

A number of people have been very kind about my supposed stoicism in undertaking this but in reality I do worry and the A6399 had been a focus of concern since I arrived in Carlisle. The map shows precisely nothing by the side of this road except the peaks of some quite lofty hills. Would there be too many steep inclines? Was there a phone signal if I broke down terminally? Would anybody find me crying by the side of the road if all else failed? The real stars of this show are the almost 70 year old bicycle and the 66 year old engine (and, of course, anyone who actually cycles the whole of this). As Churchill said unkindly and untruthfully of Attlee, I have a lot to be modest about. I am like the guest at a wedding who has to tell anyone who will listen that he was the one who introduced the groom to the bride.

The throttle started to stick on before I turned onto the road. This can mean that the cable is fraying inside the outer and will jam so I decided to stop and investigate. It seemed to be a stickiness in the throttle lever itself. Then I dropped the set screw out of the centre of the lever and it hit a spoke and pinged off into the dust. Curses!! Eventually we were all re-assembled in order and restarted.

In reality the A6399 is a delight. It climbs steadily up a stream course to the summit and then down another stream course towards Hawick. The little motor fairly sang up the steady slope with some light pedal assistance from me. At the top was a small railway museum.

The Borders are lovely and it’s a privilege to be out in an almost sunny day in them. The map showed the Melrose road (A6359) going around the Eildon Hills and I’d expected it to be quite high.

I was not disappointed and it was the hardest, longest on-the-saddle climb of the day. Coasting down into Melrose I thought to myself that the gaelic blessing seemed to have done pretty well. The motorhome was where it was supposed to be. My support was back.

I started the ride with the hope of raising at least a thousand pounds for Alzheimer’s Research UK, although I put the initial target at £500. Now the £1000 target has been met and I’ve put target up to £1500. I would like to thank everyone who has donated so far. If we could make this next step and get to raise the target to £2000 the project would have far exceded my original expectations. (https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/raleighrudginit)

Tomorrow Edinburgh and a rest.