Johnny's blog - One old man losing his tummy Sunday 2nd June, Day 1 We arrived in Penzance on Saturday evening to lovely sunshine and were able to visit the town centre to see the statue of my riding partner Tony Lederle’s great x3 uncle Sir Humphrey Davy the world’s first anaesthetist. Tony has come from Johannesburg to ride with me, he recently completed the Iron Man championships in South Africa and was the 6th fastest for SA over 60s! We arrived in Penzance yesterday morning in thick mist and left before it cleared which meant we never saw the sea…it did clear later. The first half to King Harry’s ferry on the Fal was quite straight forward. However from there to the Crown Inn in Lanlivery was a huge challenge one hill was 28 degrees! It was if someone had turned Cornwall on its side. Apart from a gentle tumble into a bank made it to the pub. I am pleased to say restraint shown, but the Crown is the oldest pub in Cornwall and the beer excellent! The stats were 64.76 miles covered with 5496 feet climbed in 5hrs and 28mins. Monday 3rd June, Day 2 Set off in a hail storm and it lived up to its billing as one of the toughest days of the route. We stopped at a pub for coffee after 30 miles and met a fellow lone biker, who unbelievably grew up in the village I live in Essex, I pass the family home every day on my commute. The proof how small our world is! Going on to Dartmore was as long an uphill that my well practiced friend has ever experienced. There is an ice cream van at the top and I don’t think I have eaten a large 99 quicker. Had very good coffee in Mortonhampstead. When you go into a town on a long downhill you know what happens the other side…numbingly difficult climb after 65miles! My chain came off 6 miles to go and got stuck, managed to free it after quite a lot of tugging and arrived at a charming hotel the Hartnoll. The Stats were 85.26 miles climbed 7593 feet in 7.10mins. Tuesday 4th June, Day 3 Again the weather bad for the first hour. A few hills to begin with then long flat run out of Devon into the Somerset levels. Never did I think I would find flat lands beautiful…. Much prettier than the fens…more cows. Plenty of muck on the road and no mud guards we looked like two mud bikers. Today was a problem with satnav navigation, we are slaves to our courses and if off key completely lost we even managed to loose ourselves and had to reconnect by phone. Once ended up in a muddy lane… not our fault but the guide. Another highlight was a tea shop with two kind ladies dishing out scones and clotted cream!. Crossed the Avon on a bike track next to the Motorway extraordinary. Never biked 100 miles before! The stats were 106 miles 2100 feet climbed. Wednesday 5th June, Day 4 Apparently this was our rest day. Rest day my foot!! Started trying to fix the noise in my gearing….Called Steve Foster of Aerocycles in Haverhill who was very helpful but we were not able to sort. Went to Gloucester on the way and had it seen to by Paul of Striking Bikes. Had a lovely day cruising through Gloucestershire – Berkeley Castle and Slimbridge. Went through Worcestershire and Herefordshire stopping in Ledbury for a coffee next to the Bra Boudoire…. They are a bit racy in the West! Speeding down a hill shortly afterwards had my water bottle bounced on to the road due to poor road surfaces (Shropshire council beware!!) I stopped too quickly lost balance and fell through a hedge into a ditch. No damage except once again damaged pride – Tony was most concerned too!! Arrived at one of the hare teams (we are the tortoises) houses – great dinner and top hospitality in the most wonderful countryside. The stats were 74 miles and 3770 feet climbed. Thursday 6th June, Day 5 We set off in glorious sunshine into Shropshire…possibly the most beautiful route so far. The Tortoises slightly ahead for the first time and it was not long before the hares caught up and I made the bad mistake of leading the peleton. Tony spotted I was struggling and took over. After the break we let them go first and settled into our rhythm but it was a bit tricky for me to feel on it for an hour or two. By now torrential rain then we joined the others in Shrewsbury. From Shrewsbury north all a bit flat and samey with rather more cycle tracks around main roads. One puncture for Nick Wright – the original perpetrator of this tour – was dealt with. It was noticeable as we neared our hotel , the Mere Court, that we were in footballer country –cars to note beforehand were a DB9 an old XJS and a jag old car dealership in Cornwall old S320s and XJ6 and an EType. Actually a non V8 FType did pass us, a V* would have sounded better. Now we saw white Bentley Bentayga a couple of Contis Merc s Class coupe and some M Bms a 2 ,3 and 4. Just in case there is a fellow car bore out there. The stats were 94 miles and about 3500 feet climbed. Friday 7th June, Day 6 Started in sunshine going over Manchester ship canal. Began feeling not quite on it and lagged behind poor Tony more than usual. However in Belmont we found Lotte’s coffee shop…an absolute revelation. Lotte is the boss but she is two and her mother does an excellent job of being her stand in. Delicious coffee and bacon butties as we had set off at 6.30 to avoid some rain. Some rain avoided possibly but after Bolton and Preston it tipped down consistently until Kirby Lonsdahle. In the Forrest of Bowland (which is moorland) we found another fab coffee shop PuddleDucks in Dunsop Bridge. The next 6odd miles we hill climbed with little respite….very hard but actually quite rewarding despite the rain. My South African friend much less trusting of our dear weather had his complete wardrobe on so survived. The Royal Hotel in Kirkby Lonsdale was a welcome beacon of hospitality The stats were 84.7 miles and 5,714 feet climbed. Saturday 8th June, Day 7 No one will claim this to be a flaming June….started in rain and for the first day no let up for the whole route. One feature of this route was that in every town or village there was a tortuous 200 yards or so of steep uphill. Two ladies having a fag and a pint outside one pub had a happy conversation about how they were enjoying watching me creep by “we would never cycle up this hill” …thanks but you aren’t going to Scotland!!! I was called by controller Doug who said the hares were winging about a series of hills so we could go on a diversion, yippee I thought and was now thinking of what treat to buy him, when my bloody Yaapie friend chirped up that we were not going to be winging Poms and we had come here to climb hills. Crest fallen I gave in and heard the words I have come to fear “come Smith don’t be idle”. When finished I actually had a great sense of achievement 15 degree plus hills in a narrow lane but even in the rain beautiful. Slightly marred by the roar of the M6 when we approached. A scone in the pub at Teebay was a welcome treat..for me and Leds. The last 30 miles were a series of switchbacks which even I managed to keep in top gear for – great route but into a head wind. I have told Doug this was not the plan would he please sort – we (me) needs a following wind which it is meant to be at this time of year. The stats were 62.71 miles and 4814 feet climbed. Sunday 9th June, Day 8 We started in sunshine – wahay – quite cold and Doug nearly fixed the wind it seemed to be in my face but Tony insists it was behind us most of the time. We went straight past Hadrians wall without noticing but did at least stop at the Border. On to lunch in Hawick which is a lovely town. Tony left me on a long incline to stretch his legs, he went soaring past the hares who were really quite startled – he loved it. Of course he rode back to find me and guide me in. There is no quick way to get as fit as he is – 6 years of hard biking 5 days a week! We arrived in Clovenfords Inn well in time to welcome some local friends for drinks. The fact that they had offered all of us a night in their incredibly comfortable castle and I was sharing a room with Tony and the window does not open is by the way. We all blamed Doug but it was not his fault….one of the hares! The stats were 70.31 miles and 4944 feet climbed. Monday 11 June, Day 9 The sunshine continued almost all day. Rain for 20 minutes near Falkirk only whereas the South was swamped! Oh well small mercies, still a north Easterly and not even Joburg winter warm yet!! This day was spent on tiny roads going through beautiful Lowland farms. Flattish and a little tricky route which at one point found us in a field of freezians. The two coffee shops were the best ever….delicious scones in Peebles (with lashings of cream) and then fab hot dog 50 miles in. A donation by one of the Patrons which was very kind. Karen Mcclure runs the best tea shop in Scotland! Up till then I was getting a bit idle but picked up until meeting Doug in Stirling at a guest house in Victoria Square in Stirling….to be highly recommended as well. No sharing here! The stats were 81 miles and mainly flattish. Tuesday 12 June, Day 10 Again we avoided the worst of the weather but cold and windy and fighting straight into a north easterly is hard going. We went to another excellent coffee/delicatessen in Comrie then onto the road that goes for the huge sea that is Loch Tay which goes up and down forever before reaching Kenmore. I called a friend who lives near Pitlochry to see if they were about and learned they were on holls however when I said we were staying in the Athol Palace Hotel he said there was no palace in Pitlochry!! A very grand entrance and visible from the A9 I have always wanted to stay here and never thought I would arrive by bike. Sadly it is much less grand than it would appear and all our rooms were more like boarding school accommodation (in the old days). The hares lost their last guest biker yesterday. They had Tom Riall for 6 days who was inspiring followed Mark Wiggin one of the original perpetrators but too busy running Strutt and Parker to spend too much time. Lastly Rob Fanshawe a fanatical cyclist. They are now back to the original four of Harry Marriott, Simon Marsh, John Nesbit and Nick Wright. The stats were 84 miles 5023 feet climbed. Wednesday 13 June, Day 11 The route had been changed by Doug to be slightly more direct and Glenshee was to be avoided given that the boys in Hereford were not aware we were training for selection (that being the term used for candidates for 22 SAS – 2022 SAS was still not appropriate!). We set off in sunshine with my daughter’s comment that “The girlie route is still 68 miles Dad” set in my head. Not long after leaving the most un Palace like Hotel in the world – tin coffee pots with queues for slops. Tony, with his wife Glenda run Glenda’s one of the best restaurants in Johannesburg, reckoned his seared salmon could only have been that hot in the middle by micro wave!! We approached Athol a proper castle where my godson was married to the daughter of the house twelve years ago (Tony quite impressed), skirmished the House of Bruar as potential wallet destroying and headed off into the highlands. Our average speed into an arctic gale was genuinely tortoise like. By the time we got to Ralia where I had a very spoiling holiday last year and tried to bore Tony about it but we could not hear much and he was a mile ahead most of the time with his head firmly down anyway – we were beyond knackered. Large double shotted coffee in the café did help. I must tell the Findlays that the lady in the shop has no manners and was rather direct about us having our bikes at our table!! 38 miles to go so nearly done. Spirits restored we made the rest of the way …slowly to meet Doug at the Muckrach which looked nice. Fergus Laing kindly scooped Tony and I up for a hot bath and delicious supper. The toughest day weather wise but Day 12 might be worse! The stats were 70.14 miles and 3412 feet climbed. Thursday 13 June, Day 12 We stayed with Fergus and Scilla Laing on Wednesday night and set off back to meet Doug after an excellent early breccy (thank you Scilla). The car temp read 5% and Fergus cheerily but sadly said his golf was cancelled due to weather…ugh! It was a very cold morning reaching a high of 7 degrees and wind strong and still in the north. We went past more places I recognized from early family holidays Clune and Tomartin and last year’s trip to Dingwall (I caught a 15pounder). Tony was apparently made very sleepy by my local knowledge but hey ho. It was a long old old day and if slightly warmer by 2pm it rained until the end. Beautiful coming down to Bonar Bridge (slightly misty), then Lairg appeared - a very welcome sight! The stats were 88.88 miles and 4562 feet climbed. You can make a donation to my page here. Friday 14 June, Day 13 I am writing this 3 days later and I don’t think it has all sunk in yet as the routine is broken. I had a strange sensation on the tube this morning where I kept seeing Tony saying “Smith stop being idle”! The last morning heading away from the salubrious surroundings of the Lairg Hotel with motor bikers as only fellow residents, we were in good spirits but I was still nervous I could hack the last 95 miles. The first 20 odd miles to Altnaharra Hotel were magical. We set off a little ahead of the hares and were eventually overhauled but with the wind in our backs going north west on fabulous rolling hills in the Scottish bush with Tony reveling in the Natal like scenery – it was the best moment cycling I have ever had (not that I have any other experience). We had a break at the hotel which is full of history and set off the next leg of 50 odd miles to Thurso. Things changed as we headed east virtually straight into a head wind and down into many north coast bays with the inevitable climb out of them. It was horribly painful and I began to doubt Thurso would ever appear certainly not before the others had left there. All was well in the end and our lunch of cheese toasties was waiting for us and the last of 100 irn-brus I had developed a thirst for (strange things happen on tour!). John Nesbit’s brother and sister-in-law, David and Carol, were on holiday up there and came to see us off on the last leg which was really appreciated. The very bad news was I had to ride with the hares a moment I had been dreading. 20 miles to go into the teeth of what was now more like a gale than a head wind. I put my head down just so I could see the frontman’s (who was now changing in a disciplined every 5 minutes) wheel and suddenly it was 7 miles to go and there it was a slightly scruffy bunch of white houses with a certain sort of tourist destination feel to it – very like Lands End but at least the sun was out! We rode in a line down towards Doug – a very special moment. The rest was a bit of a blurr. So comes to an end thirteen days of hard slog but with real moments of sense of achievement. I would never have made it without the massive commitment of my great friend “iron man” Tony Lederle. He was so so patient and also enormously good company – we were still talking important rubbish on the last day! There were three blow ins Tom Riall, an absolute inspiration both on and off his Ferrari equivalent bike, Mark Wiggin the original perpetrator, who is a life enthusiast of the old school and Rob Fanshawe a borderline pro cyclist and charming with it. However one of the most important feature was the incredible esprit de core of the four man peleton. They are all individually irascible and as naughty as is viable – just incredibly good fun to be with. The metal basher farmer Nick Wright, the property entrepreneur coco grower Harry Marriott, The property mogul John Nesbit and the Bloodstock expert who has the most influential horsey friends, Simon Marsh. My sincere thanks to all of them for including me and “my horse” Tony on this epic trip. Lastly this was John “Doug”b Faulkner’s first tour and we all would like to thank him for his amazing attention to detail done with a languid charm which would be impossible to emulate. He kept us going and altered the route when we required in such a brilliant way. Always with the van and flack jacks. His immortal words were “ about 10 miles more and net downhill”!!! I can not reccomentd his company Packhurst Bespoke Cycling Tours more highly.