Postscript 1

It’s a week today since we returned from LEJOG.

We had a day off on the Monday and saw some of the sights around John o’ Groats: the Castle of Mey, holiday home of the Queen Mother (well, Barbara had driven all those miles so I swallowed hard and kept my peace) Dunnet Head, the most northerly point on the British mainland (and it felt like it) and Mary Anne’s cottage, a croft that was worked until 1990. A lady volunteer at the croft, hearing what we’d been doing, gave us a donation which was very nice of her.

We put in 200 miles on each of the first two days back. Our first night was at the Maragowan Caravan and Motorhome Club site near Killin at the eastern end of Loch Tay, a very beautiful area. Our second night was in the woods amongst the picturesque ruins of the old powder factory at the Kendal Caravan and Motorhome Club site. The wild garlic and bluebells were out in the sunshine shafts coming through the fresh green of the new leaves. We dropped off the spare wheel and cable that Peter Moore had leant me, thanks again Peter, and were back in Barnsley. It was finished.

When you have been away for a month there’s always plenty to do but, as I’d been warned, there is a slightly vacant feel to everything after the rather obsessive preparations which have dominated my life since October and the intensive activity of the ride itself.

The good news is we have reached our target of £2000 thanks to the generosity of Fiona and Dennis Clarke, Barbara’s cousin and her husband. Indeed, thanks to Lee Speight and Richard Nuttall, we have exceeded that amount. We started out hoping for £500 and have been able to raise that target three times thanks to everyone’s participation. Now LEJOG is finished I don’t intend to raise the target again but the donation page at: https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/raleighrudginit remains open for three months after the end of the event. So, if you have found your way here and feel like contributing to Alzheimer’s Research UK to fund the work they are doing to combat the condition, please be my guest.

It would be really good to see it go all the way to £2500.

Advertisements

LEJOG Day 20

After a warm day yesterday came the rain and the Scottish mist. My original route had been to carry on with the road to the Altnahara Caravan and Motorhome Club site (B873/B871) but seeing that Sustrans Route 1 (not Route 7 as I wrote yesterday) went the other way I did wonder about cutting back. One of those impulsive moments led me to opt for the B road unsupported as Barbara was definitely going by the more motorhome friendly A836. I was encouraged on my way by donations to ARUK from the wardens and other campers at the site. The road was wonderful, the weather less so. We followed the River Naver from the Loch to the sea.

The wet roads meant that I had to put a couple of turns on the engine engagement cable to try and get some traction and with that done the route was not too difficult. To ride to the sea felt quite special because once there John o’ Groats was just along the coast.

‘Just’ did not turn out to be the correct word. The coast here consists of sheltered bays interspersed with what must be high cliffs. The road went down and then with a sinking feeling up. The road out of Bettyhill (I should perhaps have guessed from the name) was hard, very hard. I was off pushing twice for extended periods. The high points were wild moorland, very sombre at this time of year.

I was off several more times before Strathy and wondering how today was going to go. However, after Reay the scenery changed, lower hills and greener, more pastoral landscape. The headwind, which had been a problem all day, was not abating despite the lower altitudes. I entered my last county.

Barbara was leap-frogging me along the road again and before Thurso she was waiting in a lay-by. The engine engagement lever was not easily pushing down on its clip and a little adjustment was necessary. We agreed to meet in Castletown.

The wind, still directly in my face and cold, continued to be the discouraging factor. Thurso, dour-looking but the first considerable town seen for some time came and went. The Rudge-Mini Motor combination was going well with some continuous light pedal assistance to counter the draft. The conflab at Castletown decided that we were going for it. The original plan had been to stop at the Dunnet Bay Caravan and Motorhome Club site and then to travel the last 12 miles tomorrow. It was 2.30pm, the Mini Motor was on song what was to stop us? Well the cold, the headwind and the threat of rain…

To be fair, it was not a difficult last section. The bike reached John o’ Groats pretty much as it started from Land’s End, under its own power but much, much dirtier. It was relatively level and the pedalling was more to counter the wind than the gradient. It is softer here that in some parts we had experienced but bleak. At Bridge of Forss there had been trees and you realised that unkowingly you had missed them since Strathnaver. They disappeared and did not come again. The Island of Stroma was hull down to the left in the Pentland Firth. Quite suddenly the sat-nav was displaying the little chequered flag that marks a finish. Not ‘a finish’ this time but ‘The Finish’. The countdown to John o’ Groats had been going on since Bettyhill. 55 miles, 37 miles, 20 miles (at Thurso) ‘1/4 mile’ it said at the left turn. I’ve read quite a lot of criticism of John o’ Groats in my planning stage. These are ends of the earth places and that it is their appeal and what they mean, lonely start and finish posts on the edge of oceans.

The old bicycle frame and the old engine had done well. They had carried me 1100 miles with intermittent pedal assistance and the occasional push. The replacement motor had remained in its box and the total repairs were: one new spark plug, one replacement spoke and a truly brilliant trueing of the wheel at Ironbridge by the tandem shop, one new inner tube, a couple of tightenings of the exhaust manifold, two adjustments of the chain tension and assorted tightening of various nuts and bolts.

Finally my thanks. Barbara has provided great support throughout both in the planning and execution of LEJOG. I expected that but I did not expect to receive such support and encouragement from our wider circle of family and friends. Thanks to all of you. My thanks too to friends and acquaintances in the motorcycle clubs to which I belong, the NACC, the BTSC and the VMCC. Thanks also to members of the EACC who have donated to ARUK. (https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/raleighrudginit)

I’d also like to thank the staff and owners at the various hotels and bed and breakfast establishments where I have stayed for their help and kindness. The Caravan and Motorhome Club have been our hosts on many of the stopovers and have always provided their expected standard of accommodation. I would also want to thanks all our colleagues in the Club’s staff who have provided encouragement and support and ditto to my former colleagues at Thomas Rotherham College. If you feel missed out in these thanks, don’t. All the support has been appreciated and has been a most important part of what has in total felt a wonderfully affirmative experience. Enjoy your own adventures.

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.