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Compass Point Challenge

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The idea came to me over a few beers after a 4 day C2C ride when my riding partner and I were discussing what would be the next big challenge. I rejected LeJoG on the grounds that 'everyone does that!' which was clearly alcohol fuelled bravado but put it out of contention nonetheless. This was the next idea and it stuck!

What am I doing?

On the 24th June 2016 Ken Flewitt set out on a gruelling cycle ride, the Compass Point Challenge to raise funds for Derian House Childrens Hospice in Chorley. Here’s his story…
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My cycling challenge is to ride around the N, S, E & W points of mainland UK. I set off on 24th June and will be doing it solo and unsupported. I'm travelling light and utilising B&B's as well as calling in favours from friends.

Why this?

I've cycled since my teens, racing very unsuccessfully as a junior and 3rd Cat before deciding that I was the wrong shape and concentrating on my rugby instead. But, inevitably it seems, knee injury cut that short and cycling became my passion again. I pulled out my old steel Dave Lloyd racing bike and got started. Soon afterwards I entered the world of carbon and never looked back!

Why me?

Why now?

I'm 54 yrs old and beginning to feel I'm approaching the "now or never" years.  I recently retired as a Police Inspector and after 30yrs of shiftwork with Lancashire Constabulary I find myself with the time and opportunity to bring some of my dreams to fruition. I have a very supportive and understanding wife who has been amazing in pushing me to do this knowing how much it means to me. It felt very wrong to undertake something like this and not have it benefit someone other than me so I am using the opportunity to raise money to help a local children's hospice - Derian House in Chorley. It is an amazing place keeping a very positive and happy outlook for children suffering life shortening or life limiting conditions. But more than that, it helps families deal with their situations and the  often inevitable loss if a child.
If you have enjoyed Ken’s diary and would like to support his fundraising, Ken has a JustGiving page set up at www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Ken-Flewitt. Every pound donated will help make a massive difference to the charity so if you can help it would be greatly appreciated. Only 9% of the £3.75m needed for them to function comes from the state so they really need all the support they can get. Thank you!

Day One - Lowestoft (Easterly Point) to Tendring

Day 1 completed and after a good nights sleep and having eaten like a horse "in preparation" - any excuse! I took a lovely 65 mile trundle through the Suffolk Wolds which, the previous day had been subjected to torrential rainfall. On one section I followed a Range Rover through water above my cranks but on a day with temperatures in the mid 20's it was quite pleasant to get wet feet! Beautiful little villages all the way to my first coffee stop at 45 miles in Tuddenham where a charming lady at The Old Stores tearoom donated a cream tea to my cause! Onward and a surprisingly attractive Ipswich greeted me before the final few miles through Manningtree to my stop at an old friends house near Tendring in Essex.

Day Two - Tendring to Houghton Conquest

Day Three - Houghton Conquest to Oxford

Day Four - Oxford to Avebury

Leaving Tendring, 83 miles felt a long way to my next stopover with my cousin in Houghton Conquest Bedfordshire....and it was! The day started well and meandered through rural Essex but as I approached Stanstead, everything bad that I had in mind about cycling in the South East was proved true. Busy roads, inconsiderate drivers, they were all there. I'm used to 'B' roads being relatively quiet but not down here! However once past the airport and onto unclassified roads hitting quaint villages I began to enjoy it once more. The last 20 miles or so along the A507 and A6 were again busy but soon over and a pleasant evening with my cousin and his girlfriend (along with a pub visit - well it was his birthday!) had me hitting bed very happy.
Up the next morning and into what I laughingly thought of as a rest day, being as it was only 47 miles. But complacency  proved my downfall. There was more climbing than I had given it credit for; also I'd probably under-eaten the previous 2 days and I certainly did today. I became embroiled in amongst the 'Tour de Vale' sportive and it soon hit me I was fading fast but was saved from the brink of bonking by my trusty Trek Cocoa Chaos bar until I managed to get some real food at a roadside hostelry. Chapeau to all the Tour de Valers. On then into Oxford and my first B&B of the trip with lessons learnt!
Another short day today but a big chunk of it would be off road on The Ridgeway & I knew it would be slower. Unfortunately, before I even got to it I punctured negotiating as small cycle track. I was really looking forward to riding The Ridgeway having read about it in several accounts and also having a bit of a fascination with the ancient and mysterious side of our country. It started well with a tough little climb up White Horse Hill and onto Dragon Hill Road past some ancient sites and the views from there are magnificent looking North. The track was fairly good to start with but after 7 miles it was evident I'd under-tired with my 'roadie' 25mm slicks and it wasn't long before I suffered a pinch-flat. That repaired I cracked on through deep rutted tracks until finally very pleased to hit Avebury. Riding through the stone circle I soon reached the haven of my B&B only to be met with a bathrobe, slippers and free use of the hot-tub! Brilliant!!

Day Five - Avebury to Somerton

A very pleasant start to the day exploring the ancient stone circle at Avebury. A more English scene, I can't imagine; Thatched roofed Red Lion pub, stone chapel and all on a green surrounded by an ancient Henge. I set off and visited the old airfield and RAF base where my dad trained on the first mobile Radar units in 1944 taking some pictures for him to reminisce over. I then found my route and went well until the rain hit me together with the expected headwind. Either me or my Garmin then had a 'moment' and I was all of a sudden soaked and several miles off course. A bit of frustrating stop-check map-start again and I weaved my way through the Mendips into Castle Cary and on to Somerton. I was met by the most fantastic B&B at Cleer View Farm where the wonderful Dot has donated my night's stay. Thank you Dot!

Days Six & Seven

Leaving Cleer View Farm was quite a wrench, being possibly the best B&B I've ever stayed at. But leave I did and headed into uncertain weather and that pesky headwind once again. I diverted from my planned route when I realised it contained a number of off road sections of dubious quality and my mixed experience with The Ridgeway was still fresh in my mind. So, turning to trusty Google Maps I selected a new route and headed off. It proved very successful even listening to the turn by turn directions through an ear-piece. Very 'Pro'! I knew I'd hit a steep escarpment as I approached Exeter and kept my eye on my ascent metres but I was pleasantly surprised and it proved not as much of a barrier as I'd thought. Sometimes, the bark is worse than the bite. It was the best day so far with beautiful scenic roads and great little villages. I was still pleased to head into the city though and the welcome waiting for me at the gates to my friend's road was just brilliant!
Day seven was to be my first venture into Cornwall on two wheels and it had a reputation that it lived up to. Many End 2 Enders I know had said Cornwall was the hardest and today promised almost 5000 ft of climbing over 55 miles. I skirted the north of Dartmoor and tracked the A30 along far more attractive roads. I had a message from an old workmate who was travelling the south coast with his parents and made an impromptu lunch stop to meet him which was a real lift for me. Soon into Oakhampton and onto the Granite Way; a well surfaced cycle way which follows an old railway line all the way to Lydford and was a really peaceful way to travel. Then it was over The Taymar river and the climbing really kicked up all the way to Minions which is the highest village in Cornwall at 995ft. A few miles down hill and my next overnight was waiting with a hot shower, cake and loads of coffee!

Day 8 - Two down & two to go!

Excited to get to my first "Compass point" after leaving Lowestoft, I waved goodbye to Redgate Smithy and set off on my 65mile journey to Lizard Point. Again, I know I should be used to it by now, but the relentless up & down of Cornwall's beautiful lanes was notable and really saps the legs. Avoiding the obvious and busier route, I headed west to St Neots and then skirted Bodmin to the south before heading to Truro. Passing through a small village I caught a whiff of fresh fish and chips and just HAD to stop for some.  I've learned that if there's food available, there needs to be a good reason to avoid it when you don't know if there's any more ahead! They were great and fuelled me on for the rest of the journey. Soon afterwards I came across the first person to ride with in over 400 miles! Gary rode with me for a number of miles and dragged me over the final few hundred feet of climbing to Rame before peeling off and leaving me to roll down over some bleak moorland and in to the craggy coastline of The Lizard. East & South points done!

Day 9 - Almost a Rest Day

Today was only a 30 mile jaunt across Cornwall from South to North Coast and boy do I need a rest after sharing my oven-hot Lizard  YHA 'dorm' with the two snoriest guys you can imagine. So very little sleep. Stuck to the A roads past Naval Air Station Culdrose and hit the B roads at Helston all the way to Redruth, then across the A30 and onto the cute little town of St Agnes. The Penkerris B&B was very welcoming even if it's old world charm leaves you thinking you're in a 1970's sit-com. My evening meal at a fab little restaurant called "Taste" was profitable with a donation to my charity from a couple of customers.

Day 10 - North Cornwall Coast

A really sunny day to leave St Agnes with fluffy clouds in a blue sky. It couldn't be a better backdrop for the scenic North Cornwall Coast and all the postcard villages along the route. First place I hit out of St Agnes was Perranporth and a quick photo of the beach before climbing out to the top of the cliffs and on to Newquay. Just outside Newquay, at Watergate Bay, I came across a bunch of riders who'd completed 300 miles in 24hrs for @keepthebeatuk charity from Leicester. We'll done guys!  Following the undulating coast road and enjoying the spectacular views I dropped into the bustling little harbour at Padstow were I found time for a pasty and ice cream before hopping on the ferry across to Rock. It was then onwards skirting Port Isaac & Tintagel and finally at Widemouth bay I turned inland to be faced with a nice little 30% sign! The first time on this trip the gradient got the better if me and so it was a short walk before completing the final 10 miles or so to Chilsworthy.

Day 11 - Long Day, Tyre failure & a Mechanical!

I'd been a bit worried about the next 3 days. All reasonably lengthy & 2 of them with around 5,000ft of climbing. So I set off steadily and monitoring my form. This day took me right across the spine of Cornwall through Sheepwash, Hatherleigh, Winkleigh & Lapford. Along the way I lost the use of my front derailleur and it felt terminal. Luckily, with a bit of climbing ahead it was stuck in the small chainring so I had use of all my lower gears and enough big ones to keep me happy. I was happily trundling along on the usual ups & downs that I'd become used to when I was directed by Gary Garmin down a beautifully resurfaced steep descent with about 35 miles to go. Unfortunately, at the bottom of this hill was a small bridge and then......nothing really other than a muddy rutted track heading deep into some woodland. Faced with a steep climb out and 10's of miles to find my road, or struggle on, I chose the latter and after crossing a small stream I began to climb up again on a rocky track which later developed into a real scramble over big rocks. At the top I bumped into a lady recovering her wheelie bin who delightfully informed me Garmin was right in referring to my rock climb as a road because it was, in fact, the Old Tiverton Rd!.....That's OK then. Back on tarmac and I felt a rhythmic bump from the rear end. Inspection revealed an egg shaped lump in the tyre and it clearly needed changing soon. Thankfully by now, I was only a couple of miles from Tiverton and as I gingerly rolled into the town I immediately spotted "The Bike Shop". I bought a new tyre and asked if they could take a look at my gears. The owner of the shop, Jay Cowley, happily obliged and he worked like a Trojan to locate and fix the problem despite a very busy shop and a 6pm finish. Jay was about to set off to compete in the world BMX championships and deserves every success in my book! Good luck Jay! After that and it was a push on to cover the 25 miles left into Taunton and on to beautiful Aginhills Farm B&B on the banks of the Taunton/Bridgewater canal, a late meal out and....bed!

Day 12

The last of the 3 days from St Agnes that had been concerning me but the last two had been OK in the end so I set off confidently. I also knew tomorrow would be a rest day and that gave me something to look forward to. Signage confused me a bit out of Taunton but after a few miles on the Bridgewater canal I was soon into my stride again. A few lumps and bumps done I headed out across the levels with reasonably favourable winds before taking a brief rest stop in Mark. While having a bite I was passed by a couple cycling through who later found me on Strava and have been following my progress since. Thanks Lee. Technology is brill! From there I rode north following the line if the Severn estuary towards The Mendips. Avoiding the bigger climbs of Cheddar Gorge I found a brilliant route along The Strawberry Line disused railway; even going through a tunnel! That took me up to the run in to another landmark I'd been looking forward to - The Clifton Suspension Bridge. Having learned about it at school but never visited it I was looking forward to riding over it. Unfortunately it was shut to traffic that day due to repairs but I was able to walk it and get some pictures. After that I enjoyed a really pleasant ride around Clifton as I rode through parks and tree lined roads out towards the Severn Bridge. I've previously ridden The Humber Bridge & would ride over The Forth later in this trip so wanted to do The Severn.  I like being on the big suspension bridges and feeling them move under the weight of the traffic. Again a few photos and a sunny ride over the Severn brought me into Wales. Climbing gently away from The Severn and up through Chepstow I took the more minor lanes through Hewelsfield and St Briavels, Sling and Coleford before swinging west and taking the steep descent (25%) into Symonds Yat. Turning the hairpin bend to bring me parallel with the river Wye I was met by one of the prettiest placed I've been as I rolled gently into the small collection of buildings and campsite that make up Symonds Yat. The Royal Lodge hotel at the end of the road would be my home for two nights and it was especially good to be met by my brother who'd travelled down on his motorbike to meet me for the night! A great place for a rest day.

Day 13

I thought it would be hard to leave Symonds Yat after such a good rest day which saw me go to Gloucester on the back of my brother's motor bike and visit Headleys cafe whose owner had been following my progress on Twitter. He wasn't in but we had great coffee and cake and his lovely staff had a whip-round for Derian House. Thanks girls! However, once I jumped on my bike and began pedalling it just felt like business as usual. Unlike my descent to the River Wye the climb up the valley was far more gentle, rising towards Goodrich before turning through Marstow & St Owen's Cross. I then hopped onto the A49 for a few miles to make up some time before sliding into Hereford for some refreshment. It was then back on more minor roads through Sutton St Nicholas and tracking the route of the A49 without ever hitting it all the way to Ludlow. Then onwards, skirting the Shropshire hills to my friend's house near Much Wenlock. 64.5 miles and 3450 feet of climbing.

Day 14

The previous evening I'd discussed with my friends whether I should stay at The Hollybush pub as arranged near Northwich and get home the following day or push on the 100 miles or so to get an extra day off at home and when I set off I was still unsure but I posted all my spare clothes home anyway, telling myself that if I did stay out an extra night, I'd manage in my riding kit. However, not long into the ride I received a message from the Hollybush stating my booking had been cancelled! When I called them to ask how they knew I was thinking of cancelling, it transpired I'd booked for the night before. Generously, the very nice lady there saw the funny side and agreed not to charge my cancellation fee in lieu of a donation to Derian House. Thank you Hollybush! My journey started as I left Much Wedlock on the A458 before turning directly North at Cressage heading cross country to Admaston. I was having to navigate "on the hoof" as my planned routes took me to and from The Hollybush which would now add unnecessary mileage. I kept on minor roads crossing the A53 north of Shawbury before hitting the A49 for a short distance. I took advantage of this by stopping for a doorstep sandwich at The Midway transport cafe. I researched my route while I ate and headed again on minor(ish) roads to my next stop at Nantwich. More pleasant lanes and I was soon riding through Northwich where I found signage a bit tricky. From here on in roads began getting busier, potholes more frequent and deeper and people decidedly less pleasant! I think I've shut out much of the rest of the journey and as a resident of NW England I'm disappointed with how little I enjoyed this part of the ride. However as I saw the back of North Cheshire, Warrington Lynn & Leigh and felt myself getting ever nearer to Chorley I allowed myself a touch of excitement as I realised I'd got through the first half of my Challenge and I was about to see my family again! After 105 miles, 3600ft of climbing and over 7 hours in the saddle.........Ahhhh, my own bed!

Day 15 - Start of the Northern Leg

After a great couple of days at home which included attending one of my twin daughter's graduation ceremony (unfortunately the other was in Bristol making it impossible to get to - she has forgiven me!) it was a very exciting morning as I readied myself to set off from my younger son's school. When the whole school had gathered in the playground I followed the head in saying a few words and thanking them for their support and off I set. I was joined that day by two friends called John and northwards we headed through Preston. Just north of Preston we were joined by another friend and ex work colleague, Nathan, who guided us through the lanes to St Micheal's where I bumped into my brother and his wife retrieving their escaped dog! Small world. Up the road a bit and we were ready for coffee and cake before pushing on to Lancaster where Nathan headed back to Blackpool, one John caught his train home and the other headed home to Clitheroe. Alone again, naturally! But only for a few miles to Carnforth where I met another friend, Ian, in the station famous for being the location used for filming 'Brief Encounter' and the heritage cafe has been retained to look just as it did then. Ian and I then followed the Lancashire cycleway through Warton, Dallas Tower grounds and over Heversham levels skirting Milnethorpe before climbing over Grayrigg where Ian peeled off and left me to roll down for a brew stop at Tebay motorway services. One of the only ones privately owned in the country. With only about 10 miles left but a bit if a climb over Orton Scar I set off full of coffee and cake and was met a few miles out by my host for the night, an old college friend and farmer in those parts. Chris led me through the lanes and villages to Kings Meaburn where some great hospitality awaited me. 74 miles & 4,258ft of climbing.

Day 16

I left the beautiful farmhouse of friends Chris & Caroline descending into the Eden Valley and followed the river into Temple Sowerby along the old road. Turning at Culgaith the road heads up again out of the valley crossing the A686 Penrith to Alston road near Melmerby. I then headed due North along a series of minor roads skirting the villages of Kirkoswald and Lazonby before eventually descending into Brampton after almost 30 miles & stopping for my first refreshments just as the rain became a bit heavier (perfect timing!) After the usual soup, coffee and cake I got back on the bike and still in fairly damp conditions set off again. This whole trip has had the usual kit dilemmas that all British summer cyclists face....waterproof on = dry but boil in the bag, waterproof off = temperature controlled but you get wet and eventually get cold too.  I did take a gilet with me which proved useful when combined with Lycra arm warmers as a good "half-way-house". So it was on with the gilet and arm warmers into the afternoon mizzle.  Thankfully it didn't last too long and as I began to climb again towards Newcastleton where I tracked the border on the English side for a few miles before making my move and dashing North into Scotland at Kershopefoot. I think I got away with it, without anyone noticing! Then into Newcastleton down a lovely steep descent, into the town where, not wanting to go out again after getting showered and changed, I bought food for the evening. But.....I couldn't find my b&b where I'd marked it in my route plan. After some investigation I found it was about 1 1/2 miles out of the village up that lovely STEEP hill again! Still, once there it was worth it and I had a great evening catching up on the Tour de France before a comfy bed and great breakfast at Sorbitrees!

Day 17

At breakfast this morning I met the only other guest at the Sorbitrees, a guy called Adam who works for Bradford City Football club youth development team. He was interested in my adventure and very kindly donated generously to my cause, as did John & Sandy, the proprietors of the b&b. Thank you very much guys. After goodbyes, it was off again in better weather heading Northeast to my eventual destination at Dalkeith. On the way I was to meet my wife's cousin's  husband Bruce; a keen cyclist, & having just completed La Marmotte in a good time, a lot fitter than me! I made reasonable time flying down that hill (again!) and through Newcastleton, this time picking up daytime food supplies before heading out towards Hawick but veering around the town through Bonchester Bridge and into Denholm for coffee and cake once more (2 pieces this time!). A quick catch up with Bruce to see where he was likely to meet me and off again through Minto and Midlem and onto the A7 for a mile or so over the Tweed and onto minor roads once more. I then followed the course of The Tweed for several miles on good cycle track and forest trail on the opposite side of the river to the main A72 and thought my road was a bit hillier, it was infinitely more pleasant. As I neared Innerleithen I checked my directions with a guy on a little shopper bike heading the opposite way along my route. He regularly cycled in the area and I thought he was probably in his late 50's but was amazed when he told me he was 78! Cycling is definitely good for you!! Into Innerleithen then over a quaint little bridge and find my next cafe. The No.1, Peebles Rd. it was and busy with mountain bikers. Hardly surprising perhaps given the MTB centre at the end of the row! I met Bruce and his wife Becky, who had transported him and his bike, and after more Coffee & Cake (there's a theme here!) I gave Becky my bag and Bruce led me through his training country to Dalkeith. We headed up the valley of the Lethen Water Valley past houses decorated with banners and ribbons which Bruce explained was all for The Common Ride which is an ancient Borders towns tradition going back to the days when Reivers, or robbers, would steal cattle from the townsfolk in outlying areas so the local Lord appointed riders to police the areas to deter the crimes. The tradition remains and many border towns make quite a day of it. So on over the lumps and bumps of The Borders through Colquhar, North Middleton, Temple & Carrington until we reached the edge of the escarpment from which we had a great view of the Eastern 'Central Belts of Scotland and the city of Edinburgh. A roll down the hill and into Dalkeith where I was made very welcome by my wife's Aunty & Uncle and cousins. Great Scottish beef dinner consumed and another fine night's sleep, perhaps aided by several glasses if vino!

Day 18

Breakfasting with family we discussed the weather which was looking distinctly 'dreich' as they say a lot in these parts. Wet and miserable later in the day but maybe I could "get over the bridge" seemed to be the general consensus of opinion and thought to be quite important it seemed. So with this in mind and goodbyes said I once again headed off; my target today being Perth which wasn't too far which I was thankful for given the forecast. I hit the A7 towards Edinburgh for a couple of miles before thankfully turning off onto some of the older routes into the city. It wasn't long before I recognised the road over South Bridge & then onto North Bridge over Waverley Station. It was a lovely day at that time and I took time out to get a selfie with the Castle before crossing Princes St & headed onto St Andrews Street. I'd received loads of calls & texts that morning and I usually ignore them until I take a planned stop but it was so warm and pleasant that I decided to stop a while and take an early coffee on the grass on St Andrews Square where things were being set up for a jazz festival. Calls made, coffee drunk and sun enjoyed, on I went just as the first drops of the promised rain began to fall. I followed the Sustrans routes through some unfamiliar but elegant cobbled streets and was signposted into the main entrance to Edinburgh's Royal Botanical Gardens, which was odd because a few hundred metres into the gardens I was politely stopped by a gardener and informed there was no cycling in the park. Still, a nice little walk later I hopped on and rode across Inverleith Park, where I was allowed to cycle, and on towards the Bridge. By the time I reached it, it was bucketing down but thankfully still no wind to speak of so the ride over the Firth was a bit grim but not perilous! The rain continued so a cafe stop was required and at Kinross I filled my reserves with Macaroni Cheese & Chips and a pleasant chat with the proprietor before heading out again on drier roads for the final 20 miles or so to Perth shadowing the course of the M90 on much more pleasant rolling roads to The Arisaig Guest House for a warm welcome, hot shower and a burger the size of a house at a nearby pub!

Day 19 - Perth to Kingussie

I was joined again today by my Cousin-in-Law, Bruce who was getting the train from Dalkeith to Perth and I was to meet him at the station. I was, of course, late after munching my way through a big breakfast and chatting with other guests at the B&B and as I rode away towards the station I had to avoid a family of swans lying in the road and from the noises he was making,  I'm not sure dad was a cycling fan! We were on our way northwards again though and every day now I could say that I'd never travelled this far north before. It felt like 'real' Scotland up here. The route took us along the banks of the River Tay on a well surfaced track and we continued to follow Sustrans route 77 as it turned away from the river, still following a tributary, to Almondbank and Pitcairngreen. After a good few miles of flattish route the roads became a little lumpier but very pleasant with it and infinitely better than the slightly shorter A9 route. However,we were to experience some if what that road had to offer later in the day! Our route to Pitlochry though, was looking good and the rise and fall kept it interesting. Route 77 signage became a little confusing as we approached the Tay Forest and while we stood scratching our heads with a couple of Mountain Bikers we were approached by a chap I now refer to as South African Dave. He was as a man with immense local cycling knowledge, despite obviously not being local, and he led us, literally out-of-the-woods. At first he seemed a bit overbearing, (he told me off for the way I pronounced Kingussie!...."There's no double G!") and I wasn't sure I wanted him as a long term riding companion but I soon came to like him and understand his manner as good humoured, friendly and open. The three of us rode together to Pitlochry through the lumpier stuff that came and we were soon settling down for coffee (and of course cake!....Great cake!!) at the cafe attached to the Escape Route cycle shop where I also took out a mortgage and bought a spare tyre. I don't think I've ever paid RRP for one before and it came as a surprise! There we said goodbye to SA Dave with Bruce making arrangements to ride with him again soon and an invitation to visit his winter home in South Africa. On from Pitlochry which was a lovely town, things continued to look good as we went through Blair Athol, of which I had heard but was disappointingly nothing like I imagined, until we hit the cycle track which tracks the A9. Some of this is the old road and is brilliant riding but some feels like you're on the dual carriageway's hard shoulder. Either one, when it faced West into a strong prevailing wind was uncomfortable and at times the combination of wind and road noise left us unable to speak to each other. But, I had come to learn that if the pedals keep turning, whatever is bothering you will end soon, and it did. We called into a very old fashioned cafe (not in a good way) just outside Dalwhinnie and briefly rested our ears before hitting Route 7 again which would take us to Kingussie. Soon after we left the distillery town the pace rose and the noise fell as we turned northeast and felt the wind on our left shoulders. 28mph plus for the last few miles felt good and we hit Kingussie very happy. The lady at Greystones B&B was soon telling me that as that year's first 'charity' guest they wouldn't charge me as long as I donated the £40 tariff to my charity, which of course I have gladly done. Thank you. Bruce's wife met us there & after a meal at the local, took Bruce on the two and a half hour drive home but we would ride together again before this trip was done!

Day 20 - Kingussie to Inverness

Today I had been expecting Rob, the friend of a workmate to meet me. He lives in Cullodden near Inverness and was riding with me the whole way from Kingussie. He'd offered me a bed but as I had booked all my stops in advance, I had to decline. What a surprise it was, as his wife drove him into the driveway of my B&B that my workmate was with him, kitted up for the ride too! My workmate, Jonny Shaw, had just completed a 3 month crossing of Australia from Sydney to Perth on a bike often carrying several days worth of water in his panniers along the Great Central Road and is a seasoned cycle adventurer. He'd done the last few hundred km with a broken wrist and I thought he was still not able to cycle, but here he was with wrist strapped up and ready for a ride! It was great to see him. So these three blokes of a certain age set off riding past the historic Ruthven Barracks, a legacy of English quelling of The Jacobite Rebellion, and heading ever northwards at a nice touring pace chewing the fat and catching up on all the news. My wife's cousins had regaled great tales of The Mountain Cafe in Aviemore which at about 12 miles would normally have been too soon to stop but made an ideal first stop on this steady 50 mile day in which good conversation and friendship meant more than mile munching and bursting lungs. We were not disappointed with the recommendation even with the short wait to be seated in the busy Mountain Cafe. Enormous tasty cakes and great coffee! Bellies full we hopped on the bikes again with weather looking 'changeable'......that's a term often used which really just means lousy! But once again the rain sort of held off with only a couple of "jackets on......jackets off" moments. Rob's route took us on the old main road, pretty much parallel to the new A9 and kept us in the western fringes of The Cairngorms with a nice rolling profile. A slow pinch puncture caused by me hitting the threshold on one of the cycletrack bridges a little to quick forced  a short stop and my first experience of Scottish midges!! Then back on our way and outrunning the little blighters. Ha! I was soon having the Culloden battlefield pointed out to me and getting my first view over The Moray to The Black Isle before heading down past the Golf Course into Inverness! Rob even knew where my B&B was...how good is that! Quick shower and picked up by Rob's wife to be taken to their house for dinner and drinks and a happy homely evening. Many thanks. After arranging to meet Jonny again in a few days I was returned to sleep off my meal ready for a solo day again tomorrow.

Day 21 - Inverness to Brora

I was looking forward to today. Having had great company for the past two days, and I really did enjoy it, there was an appeal in riding solo again which I know my companions would understand. I headed out from my lodgings through Inverness. It wasn't the best weather I'd had but at least it wasn't too wet. On route I called in to a bike shop for new cycling mitts as I'd worn my last pair out so freshly gloved I followed the river Ness out to the Moray bridge and crossed it under grey skies onto The Black Isle, which people will happily tell you is neither black, nor an island! I had a route planned which would have taken me directly North across the Black Isle to cross the river at Dingwall circumnavigating Cromarty Firth to the west, but Rob had informed me the previous evening that The Cromarty Ferry, which had not been operating for a few years (and hence forcing the bridge crossing at Dingwall) had resumed this summer so I deviated and rode due East down the centre of The Black Isle straight to Cromarty.
This was a beautiful ride on great roads and was a taster of the fantastic Scottish roads to come. Cromarty is an appealing little town with quaint lanes and shops and an authentic fishing harbour. I found the ferry slip and confirmed times before heading to a lovely little cafe for a bowl of home made soup. Refreshed and with the weather perking up a bit I hit the ferry queue! The crew skilfully guided two cars, my bike and about 6 foot passengers onto our transport and off we sailed. This was hardly Townsend Thoresen but it did the trick perfectly and after a little maneuvering and a walk across the sand I hit the road again into Nigg. I meandered the lanes through Ankerville, Hill of Fearn and Lochslin into Tain where I grabbed another quick brew before moving on to Glenmorangie passing the famous distillery. Unfortunately, then I was forced to take the A9 across the bridge over the Dornoch Firth which was narrowed due to some maintenance work making it even less pleasant than it would have been. Also unfortunate was that the weather had closed in again reducing visibility over what was clearly a very picturesque stretch of water. It was then off the main road again through Dornoch itself, Fourpenny and Skelbo before reaching the shores of Loch Fleet where I was treated to the sight of a seal pod 'sunbathing' on sandbanks and playing in the water. Back onto the A9 which was much quieter now and through Golspie to Brora where, knowing my digs were a bit out if town I stocked up on food from the Co-op. Sandwiches, peanuts and cake for tea! Mileage today - 65 with 2,289ft of climbing.

Day 22 - Brora to Dunnet Head

The best weather of the whole tour today. Clear blue skies, temperatures in the mid-twenties...Glorious. Other parts of the country were having a bit if a heatwave and cyclists in the south were struggling the heat but I was looking forward to a perfect day on beautiful quiet Scottish roads. I set off along a short stretch of the A9 until I found my turning at Lothbeg onto a single track road and a short stab of a climb. It was marked as a bridleway on some maps I'd seen but confident that it was OK to ride having checked it on Google Street view I happily continued past the sign declaring the road was closed. I made the right decision. It took me through a steep sided valley gradually climbing as I followed the river. The road closure was valid for motor vehicles as work was being done to some drainage but no problem for a lone cyclist so with a wave to the workers I happily continued. One of the best moments of the trip was riding through a bowl shaped section if the valley past a ruined cottage and having no more company than the occasional small swooping bird and a large dragon fly keeping pace with me along the road. Not even the obligatory sheep. Fantastic!
In the distance I saw two joggers coming towards me who didn't even speak as we passed despite my cheery greeting, which all seemed quite surreal so far from anywhere?! I was keeping a lookout for my mate Jonny, who after climbing a nearby hill yesterday and camping overnight was due to meet me on his bike and ride together back to his car. But, as I neared the edge of the bowl I had been in, my phone went berserk; obviously having just picked up a signal again. I'd had two missed calls from my parents and with them both being in their 90's and having had recent spells in hospital I was naturally concerned. I called them and was immediately met by my mum apologising profusely for fussing but feeling she had to make sure that I had plenty of water and some sunscreen as it was going to be a hot day! After explaining as patiently as possible that being 54 and having experienced some cycling in warm weather I was completely prepared. With mum reassured I was able get back on my way. I guess, once a mum, always a mum!
A few miles on I saw a lone cyclist waiting at the junction with the A897 Helmsdale road which, following the river of the same name, continued to be both beautiful and spectacular in equal measure. Riding along gently climbing was brilliant, with Jonny pointing out all the Munros, Corbetts & Grahams along the way and with me forgetting their names immediately! Jonny remembered an old station house which sometimes opened as a cafe from when he had walked the JoGLE route and, sure enough we were able to spend an hour soaking up the sun, tea & cake on offer at Forsnard which is also the site of a new RSPB centre causing local controversy. From there we continued another few miles to Jonny's car where after another quick brew we said goodbye. The landscape there, known as the "flows" levels out and quite honestly, for me, becomes a bit dull and merges into the windswept North Scotland coastal area and when I emerged onto the much busier A836 to Thurs, I was in a mind to just push on and get to Dunnet. The one engaging feature was the constant presence of the Isle of Hoy, across a short stretch of water to my left and had me searching for the famous Old Man which I think I glimpsed when the angle was right. So I pushed on into Thurs for a quick coffee stop before heading to The Northern Sands hotel at Dunnet. Knowing that today's weather would be a much better than tomorrow I quickly unloaded my pack, jumped back on the bike and made for Dunnet Head, about 5 miles from the Hotel. It was a pleasant undulating little ride that took me past some scenic lakes and hills to reach the famous lighthouse. There seemed to be a gathering of nations there all looking out to sea and looking for the numerous species of sea birds that populate the area too. Photos done and 3 compass points completed it was back to the hotel in the evening sunshine for good food and rest before a soaking tomorrow! Today’s totals: 78.5 miles & 3,492ft of climbing.

Day 23 - Across the top!

As expected today started wet and got worse.  I am so glad I rode out to the Head last night - it would have been a truly miserable trip this morning. After breakfast and a quick bike check (I think it was just a way to avoid the weather a bit longer actually) I hit the road heading due west along the top of Scotland. The morning weather forecast had me expecting the rain to be carried on a strong westerly wind into my face but in actual fact it seemed more Southerly and almost in my favour at times which made getting wet far less unpleasant. Also after experiencing the busy A 836 yesterday and because I now had a shorter day than planned, having gone up to Dunnet Head last night, I had researched a slightly longer route which kept me off the main road for a few miles and made the morning ride actually quite a cheery event. There were short stretches when the rain died down a bit but there was always water in the air and I was constantly reminded of what had been forecast whenever I heard the thunder rumbling in the distance. Back onto the main road and traffic seemed lighter today than yesterday as I headed further west but the rain increased. As I neared the top of a rise in the road, and dripping wet, I saw another cyclist taking cover in the only shelter in sight so I stopped and asked if I could share her bus shelter!  A smiling Polish lady who lived in London happily agreed and we had a 20 minute chat over shared Scottish shortbread biscuits while she told me of her journey following Sustrans Cycle Route number 1 from Shetland back home to London.  She was far better protected from the weather than I was with full waterproofs and overshoes but I think I would have boiled in all that clothing so it was me, my shorts, jersey and gilet that hit the road once more when the rain eased a little. Only about 5 miles further on I noticed a café hidden in a dip at Bettyhill and immediately headed in for sustenance and shelter. It was clearly 'that kind of day' and the café was full but the staff were efficient and I took on board a lovely bowl of soup and loads of coffee. When I stepped out I was pleasantly surprised to see the cloud had lifted and the rain had eased further. Knowing I only had about 15 miles left and seeing the weather improve I felt really re-energised as I climbed back on my bike. This last leg was really stunning, firstly looking across Bettyhill's gorgeous sandy beach and then following the valley of the river Naver and then further on as I turned southwards along the eastern coast of the Kyle of Tongue (pronounced TUngue) and looking out across the water.  The little islands in the kyle were shrouded in mist as the warm weather and heavy rain did their thing and reminded me of the floating islands from the film Avatar. Soon after I descended into the little village of Tongue where I enjoyed a great evening eating and drinking in the local pub and a good night's sleep at Tigh nan Ubhal B&B (Translated as The Apple House). Totals: 52 miles & 3,286ft of climbing.

Day 24 - Tongue to Alness

I woke up this morning to find yesterday's rain was a thing of the past and set off with light cloud cover and a spring in my step (or pedal stroke) especially after only doing a short 50 miler the day before. Retracing my route for a short way I climbed out of Tongue before turning onto single track roads up to a great viewpoint over The Kyle of Tongue, the causeway bridge heading west towards Durness and Cape Wrath (........for another day perhaps?) and with great views of Ben Loyal & Ben Hope and the ancient seat of The Mackay Clan at the 1,000 yr old Varrich Castle. Onwards I meet the A836 again which takes me southwards straight through the middle of Scotland back towards Inverness. I'd been told of a couple of places I could stop on this route but it looked pretty isolated to be honest and I was quite happy with what I had with me for the day and looking forward to another day on my own. Riding the road sandwiched between the shores of Loch Loyal and the slopes of Ben Loyal I was passed by a lone female cyclist at quite a pace and my natural bike rider reaction was to catch her wheel until, reminding myself of my desire to have a 'lonely' day I eased off the gas and continued at touring pace.  However the nature of the roads in this part of the world being what they were (i.e. - 'A' roads being single track with passing places) I found myself catching her as she pulled in for the occasional car and I was very glad that I did because Rhoda and I shared the next 40 miles (and our life histories) with her dragging me along at a decent speed. Great roads and great company! We shot through Inchkinloch, Altnaharra and Crask Inn - all the places I'd planned to look at as a stopping place but having company I found I didn't feel the need to stop and just enjoyed the ride. Rhoda was visiting family in Lairg before heading back home and that is where we parted company with me then settling into a feast at The Pier café on the banks of Loch Shin - Well recommended!!
Sharing the café was a group of lads doing LEJoG and were very generous in sponsoring me when I told them of my journey - thanks guys! They also told me about a spot on the River Shin where they saw salmon jumping which became the next stop on my journey as I branched of the A836 onto the even quieter B864 and although I didn't manage to catch any leaping fish on camera I did see plenty and it was fascinating having only seen it on TV before. A few miles on from the leaping salmon I caught sight of a woman in a funny hat walking while pushing what looked like a big wheelbarrow.  It struck me I had seen her before as I headed North but I couldn't quite think where and as I rode past her I just felt the need to ask her what she was doing so I turned around and went back to her.  It turned out that Angela Maxwell has an amazing story having been walking for a couple of years now and has traversed Mongolia, Vietnam, Italy, Australia and many other places. You should take a look at her on SheWalksTheEarth.com. After a very motivating few minutes chatting to this amazing woman and offering her accommodation if she was ever down my way, I waved good bye and headed off south again. Following the River Shin I rejoined the A836 at Invershin and then followed the River Oykel to Bonar Bridge where tea was calling me. I had thought to stay here overnight when planning the trip but I'm glad I didn't. (Nuff said).
Over the bridge across the Kyle of Sutherland I knew there was a steep climb coming but it would cut a corner off and save me a good few miles - besides a climb is only an upside down descent so with some eager anticipation I turned away from the Kyle onto the B9176 and up the 1.5 mile average 6% climb that is The Struie which I have to say I really enjoyed and the view from the layby near the top is stunning. Over the top and just a few little lumps and bumps before I was heading down the valley into Alness and to be met by a great host and cute Dachshunds at Tullochard B&B offering me the choice of Whisky or G&T as a welcome drink was just brilliant. Thanks Alastair! That evening as I tucked into a curry at the local Indian restaurant I began to feel a bit melancholy as I realised the ride was nearly over. I was looking forward to seeing my family the next day with a 100 mile effort down the Great Glen but I also knew that would be the beginning of the end and the day after it would all be over. In so many ways I could have just turned North again and headed off for a few more days / weeks. I definitely get what keeps Angela (SheWalksTheEarth) finding the desire to keep going. Daily total: 65 miles & 2,936ft of climbing. PS - on the photo with Rhoda, I'm not doing a Wiggo impression - they're called Cats Ears and reduce wind noise. But they do look ridiculous!!!

Day 24 - Penultimate Day, Alness to Glenfinnan via The Great Glen

I woke up far more positive about today than when I had gone to bed the night before. I was to meet up with my wife and son in Glenfinnan where we were going to have a week R&R after the event was over and I began to feel excited about seeing them as well as about the journey ahead. I knew it would be quite a long one of almost 100 miles and that part of it would be on tracks which, having checked with Sustrans, I believed to be quite passable on my set up. I packed up, said good-bye to Alastair and the pooches and set off towards Inverness.  Given the length of the ride, I decided to hit the A9 for a few miles which seemed to be the shortest route but - was that a mistake!!  When I turned off at the Tore roundabout after only 5 miles or so, I felt glad to be alive and would NOT recommend it to anyone venturing that way. But once back on civilised roads I was soon crossing The Moray in better weather heading South than on my way North and I was encouraged that the day's forecast would be in my favour. I stopped in Inverness this time for refreshment and, despite some reports of it being a bit of a dreary place, I found it to be a really buzzing town centre with some quality buskers to enjoy while sipping on my coffee. Off again, and onto a leg I was really looking forward to....riding alongside the famous Loch Ness. Full of the stories from childhood about Nessie it's impossible not to keep one eye on the water as you ride along but apart from monster-watch it is a spectacular piece of water set amongst magnificent hills. I took the B862 along it's Southern banks and this is a beautiful quiet road even in the height of summer it seems.  I think it has a few more lumps & bumps than the much busier A82 on the north side but rolling along in and out of wooded areas it was a great place to be.  At Foyers the road veers away from the water and climbs quite steeply but it was all manageable and before long I reached the Suidhe Viewpoint almost at the summit of the road. From there I descended into the bustling Fort Augustus where food was high on my agenda once more and an interesting little café (with the most grumpy staff I've ever encountered) satiated my appetite. I even had a nice game of being as pleasant and polite as I could to the waiter so I could laugh at his reaction. (I've obviously spent too long on my own!!). In my original plan I had arranged to stay here and I'm sure it would have been a good overnight stop but the 'homing pigeon' in me had once again kicked in and the draw of family only 45 miles away was too great to contemplate stopping now. A few photos of the locks and I was off again - this time following the Caledonian Canal towpath and the banks of Loch Oich.  It was a well surfaced gravel track and made for great traffic-free riding all the way to Laggan Locks.  From there, alongside Loch Lochy, the track becomes far less civilised and despite Suntrans reassurance this was no track for road tyres! So it was feet on the ground, on and off, for the next few miles as the track got rougher and I became more unwilling to risk a pinch-puncture until I hit tarmac again at Clunes.  On the B8004 I continued to track the route of the Caledonian Canal as I made up some lost time for the earlier walking section before joining the A830 at Banavie and into Corpach alongside Loch Eil. As usual those last 10-12 miles seemed endless along the wide but not too busy A road until I finally reached the Glenfinnan Monument to Bonny Prince Charlie and, having rung ahead to give Wendy notice of my arrival, I was very happy to be met by her and my son Jacob on the little track leading to the log cabin on the banks of the River Shiel that was to be home for the next week. Beautiful. Also waiting for me was Wendy's uncle, aunty & cousins and we were joined later by Bruce who would be my company on the last day tomorrow! Stats - 98.7 miles & 4,667 ft of climbing

The last day!! - Glenfinnan to Ardnamurchan

After a few beers with family and a big meal the night before, and with only 55 miles or so to do we had a leisurely breakfast before a mid-morning start.  Weather was still looking good and it was nice to be able to unload my bike of its pack and travel with the normal spares & a waterproof. I was riding with Bruce again today and we set off along the A830 heading west which is a big road and reasonably busy as it is the main road through to Mallaig and the route to the Western Isles and which undulates nicely for about 10 miles up to the turn off onto the A861 at Lochailort. From here the undulations grow a little as we followed the coast of Loch Ailort with its beautiful views over the water and passed numerous salmon farms. Apparently Scotland's oldest being among them. The wind was very much in our favour and we were happily smiling as we bowled along at 20+ mph for many a mile.  If you live anywhere south of Scotland you wouldn't believe we were on an A road - It was picturesque, well surfaced, littered with sections of single carriageway and passing places and with only light traffic all the way it was an absolute joy to be riding there.  After about 7 miles the A861 turned us due South across the Ardnamurch peninsular and we hit some of the steeper climbs of the day with Glenuig and Kinlochmoidart being most notable. We'd spied the village of Salen as a likely rest stop but just before reaching there at about 28 miles we passed an interesting looking little café at the wonderfully named Acharacle.  I couldn't believe just how busy it was so far away from anywhere with people waiting for tables but I could see why as I tucked into great home made soup and cake! I would have been happy staying for a while longer but I knew we had a welcome party waiting for us at the end, though the fact that I was coming to the end of my ride hadn't quite sunk in at that time. Anyway, off we set again and through Salen where we hit the southern coast of the peninsular and once again headed west, this time leaving the A861 and taking the B8007.  I remained confused  by the wind as it was forecasted as a westerly all day but we hadn't felt it against us at all after leaving the A830. I suppose the hills and lochs must cause it to swirl or something.  Either way I wasn't complaining!!! Along this equally magnificent south coast the road undulated quite gently and allowed us to take in the fact that we were cycling in such a beautiful place.  Only as we turned northwards inland again for a few miles did the road climb significantly. Passing Loch Mudle on our right we reached the highest point of the day at about 580ft before once again heading west to skirt Ben Hiant on it's lower southerly slopes.  From here on in we began to feel that westerly but it only reminded us gently that we were almost at the most western tip of the mainland with very little between us and the coast of Canada! A very welcome 3 mile descent took us off the hills to the village of Kilchoan, from where you can sail to the Isle of Mull and it was here that I began to feel 'the beginning of the end'! That last 7 miles seemed to pass really quickly in contrast to most of the final miles I'd done each day.  Bruce and I were chatting happily with Bruce regularly reminding me of what I had done and asking me really difficult questions like "What has been your favourite bit?" My stomach churned when I saw the sign for Ardnamurchan lighthouse and the ride up the drive was a real thrill as I could see Wendy & Jacob with her uncle, aunty & cousins holding banners and Champagne. After sharing the finish with Bruce I rode on my own upto the lighthouse itself to start the celebrations and then enjoy a chilled week at Glenfinnan with my family. Stats - 56.9miles with 4,176ft of climbing. There are many people who deserve thanks in getting me through this challenge and making it as enjoyable as it has been.  I have thanked most of these people personally but there are a couple of mentions I would like to make here. Thanks most go to Wendy & Jacob who encouraged and motivated me throughout the planning and completion of the ride. To all those who rode with me & who met me on the way. To all those who sponsored me and allowed me to give to Derian House. And I have to say thanks to CrotchGuard who provided me with some of their great oil to keep my "saddle area" totally unscathed! I can't recommend the stuff enough!! TOTAL = 1,698.4 miles & 84,676ft of climbing. £2,576.64 raised for Derian House Children's Hospice
Our huge thanks and congratulations go to Ken on completing this epic challenge! It truly has been a pleasure and a privilege to follow your ride and we’re sure Derian House are thrilled with the amount you’ve managed to raise for them. I’m sure this won’t be the last we hear from Ken but for the moment, take a bow, completing your challenge really is a fantastic achievement!