Mr Wragg's Charity Travel Diary - Complete!
Keep up to date here with the progress of James Wragg's 4,000 mile cycle for charity! You can read about the challenge in our previous news story here. We will be updating this article weekly and continue showing our support as James continues his incredible challenge. Go James!
All diary entries are taken directly from James’ Facebook page - @cycleforchangejames
What a first day!
Southwold to Happisburgh, not a bad start. I had hoped to get a bit further but #stormarwen had other ideas! (Starting the day hearing "threat to life" warnings in the radio wasn't ideal) 😬 A rough day with tough conditions but glad to finally be on the road a making progress!
Huge thanks to everyone who has donated so far, every donation is a huge boost for me and makes a real difference on the ground in the rainforests of Laguna Grande, Guatemala!
Happisburgh to Sculthorpe, not bad going given the conditions!
Today has been a shocker! Non-stop northerly head wind, sideways sheet rain, hail, snow, rain and -3 windchill! I'm pleased to have travelled over 60k in such awful conditions. I was hoping to reach King's Lynn but the weather had other ideas!
Thank you to Pete and family who let me camp in their garden last night, sorry for creeping out before seeing you this morning. Thanks also to Terry and co of Trimington Hall for letting me freshen up in your bathroom and filling my flask!
Today's weather was gladly interrupted at times by stunning birdlife, herons, kingfishers, swans, pheasants lapwings and enormous V's of geese overhead! It really is a bird haven around here!
Huge thanks to today's heroes Chris and Emma Wigley in Sculthorpe who have kindly let me stay in their guesthouse. Truly a welcome sanctuary in the storm! I'm living in luxury this evening with a hot shower, bed, radiators to dry kit and even a TV! Tomorrow's plan is to go a bit further, hopefully around 70k+. That should take me to the Boston/Kirton/Spalding/Holbeach area.
Thanks also to everyone for donating, posting, sharing and commenting with words of encouragement, it all helps to keep me going knowing I'm not alone.
Guys Head to Old Leake, 56.3k.
Today started brilliantly. I woke up in the beautiful gardens of Steve Goodwin's farm. He is a lovely chap and took great pleasure in showing me around his amazing grounds with an enormous fish pond and classic tractor shed. It was the cool metal bike sculpture outside his house that told me it may be a good spot to camp!
After that the going was flat, really flat, which made for good progress and easy on the knees. Before too long I had worked my way up and over the river Welland and into Boston with its impressive bridges, waterways and sculptures. Soon after I was in Fosdyke where I topped myself up with some lunch. This was also the point where I discovered The Marloe Watch Company had launched their competition in support of my challenge. Huge thank you to Oliver, Steph and Gordon, you are all amazing and so supportive of the project. If you want to win a beautiful Marloe Haskell Field Standard watch (just like mine), a £10+ donation puts you in with a chance to win! Head to Marloe Watch Co Instagram bio or website www.marloewatchcompany.com to find out more!
I pressed on northward until the light began to fade and found myself outside a pub with a sheltered bit of grass. After a short chat with the staff, Debbie and Richard, I was not only offered camping but also a hot shower, dinner and even a pint! Huge thank you to them!
Now in my tent, warm, well fed and a bit sleepy I wonder what tomorrow will bring!
So, today, Old Leake to Chapel St Leonards, 50.1km
Another tough day! For these reasons:
- Route planning day by day is tricky, especially when you accidentally plot routes that lead to dead ends after half an hour or promenades that are covered in sand!
- Winter, coastal touring is savage, the bike takes a lot of punishment (bumps, deep puddles, road spray, mud, sand, salt etc) as does the rider!
- Cold and wet conditions mean a lot of time taken to keep things dry, stopping to change gloves/clothing, re-packing bags etc.
- Knee problems, thankfully getting better but had to stop to buy/fit new pedals.
- Winter, coastal touring is SAVAGE! (did I say that already?)
While I may have covered 50k, some of it was retracing my steps, some was going out of my way to find a shop, other bits were dead end roads. But still, progress is progress so I'm thankful for that.
Skegness was a bit of a milestone as it's a well known coastal town. That said, there are few places as lifeless and desolate as a UK seaside town, in winter, in the rain!
As always, there are silver linings. Today I met some lovely people. A lady and her two labradors named Ronnie and Reggie (gangsta labs!) who were very pleased to see me. Later on I met Camilla and Donald walking their dogs and they were very interested in my challenge. It was great to meet you and your dogs. My dog Arthur is at home, no doubt confused as to why I'm gone. I miss him terribly and can't wait to see him again.
I'm hopeful that tomorrow, combined with better planning and new pedals, I'll make better progress. That said, the weather looks even worse tomorrow so perhaps not. We'll see! Until then, please keep following, sharing and donating! I'm putting myself through some seriously tough days out here and every donation helps get me through. Thanks to anyone who has sent messages of support and encouragement, I read every single one and they all really help, thank you
Tonight I'm camping in a garden/campsite near Chapel St Leonards, update to come tomorrow.
61k, Chapel St Leonards to Cleethorpes.
Firstly, thanks to Julie who took pity on me and let me camp at her little @campandcaravan campsite despite it being closed. Julie (an NHS worker) is awesome and her husband Tony woke me up at 6.30am with a hot coffee. Legends!
What a mission! Today was an intense, long, cold, windy, wet slog, with seemingly no end. This morning's difficult decision, when faced with an awful weather forecast, was to stay put in the tent and have a rest day, or to pack up, face the weather and press on. 'Press on' was decided! I seized a break in the clouds and made my escape which led me into a slushy ride north into a strong, biting headwind.
Thankfully, despite the cold, the sun was shining which at least made me feel better (if not warmer). Sadly the weather that was forecast worked its way south and hit me head-on... like a train! Driving snow, sleet and hail with super strong N/W gusts made progress tough. Thankfully by Sutton on Sea the worst was over and I got a brief moment of calm by the sea. What remained afterwards was a cold headwind all the way, 40k north to Cleethorpes.
I stopped off on the way at the Veg shed Rimac, an awesome little veg/plant market, seemingly owned by a cat (who, judging by the honesty box, can't handle cash). Stocked up with Broccoli and Jam, I continued my slog north.
With a cold, sore windblown face and ears I ended up in Cleethorpes at dusk (4pm) with no accommodation. Fortunately, I've blagged an awesome camping spot (thanks to a chap named Gary!), all will be revealed in the morning.
Tomorrow... Humber Bridge?
Rest Day! Cleethorpes. The benefits of a Rest Day...
Following Monday's icy road incident, my front left @carradicebags pannier suffered a snapped buckle and a broken rack clip. (Breaking a Carradice bag takes some doing. I managed it in 3 days! ) Fortunately having a bit of spare time meant I could break out the McGyver skills again and utilise some D-rings stolen from a drybag, some paracord and cable ties to fix the problem. Let's see how long it lasts!
I also managed to shed a fair bit of kit which is now in the post back home:
- Emergency Shelter
- Touring Pedals
- Toe Clips (straps now tie-downs on a pannier)
- Kickstand (Mostly useless)
- Fleece shirt, love it but it's bulky.
- 1 set thermals
- Sweat bands (serve as wrist warmers)
- Sleeping bag liner
- Photobook (It's ok, I took photos)
- Thermarest Chair (somehow I thought I'd be sitting outside in the evenings! )
Bike is now 3kg lighter…but still super heavy!
I also got to enjoy a walk around, stretch my legs and reflect on the craziness of the past 6 days. Ironically today has been calm, dry and fairly warm. Tomorrow rain and wind are forecast, typical!
Thanks also Woods Cycles in Cleethorpes for sorting me out with a discount on some new shorts and a few hints and tips. All useful knowledge! Thanks again to Premier Inn Cleethorpes, the world's most helpful hotel staff!
Right, time for bed, ready for more fun and games in the winter weather tomorrow.
Cleethorpes to Swanland (Nr Hull) 48km.
What a day! After an extremely useful rest day, I was pleased to make a cracking start this morning by covering over 30k before lunchtime! Looking back at the photos it's hard to believe it was all a single day.
It began with a sunrise over Cleethorpes bay, which, despite the cold wind, was stunning. Soon I moved on with an early cruise into Grimsby. Not wanting to get entangled with morning traffic I chose a direct route across the outskirts of Grimsby. Well, as you can probably imagine, a cold winter's tour of the power stations, industrial dockyards and fishing docks of Grimsby was as scenic as it sounds! (I didn't hang about to take photos).
Soon after I rolled into Immingham where I was greeted by a strong sense of wartime remembrance, not just with ‘Tommy's’ sculpture but from numerous murals and landmarks as I passed through. Immingham was also where I met Mark and Sam and their pet ferrets, Butterscotch and Cinnamon, who were very interested in me!
Then came the incredible Thornton Abbey and Gatehouse which I almost cycled past. I'm very glad I looked over my shoulder as it was such an incredible thing to behold!
I proudly rode on to the ancestral home of my mum's family, Barton-on-Humber and the mighty Humber Bridge. Riding the Noble Steed across this monster was an experience I'll not forget in a hurry.
Once across the bridge I spent a frustrating hour cycling around Hessle looking for a good camping spot, although this was where I met Gary, an awesome postie who didn't have any camping suggestions but gave me a £5 donation, #legend! By a stroke of luck I found an amazing couple who initially offered their garden to camp in but then put me up in their conservatory, fed me and have even prepped lunch for me tomorrow! #luxuryliving! More riding tomorrow. Possibly to Bridlington! (And yes, I've seen the forecast !)
Swanland to Bridlington, 54.75km.
Firstly, thank you to last night's heroes, Alan and Jenny who let me sleep in their conservatory. Lovely people, thank you!
Today, despite the recurring rain showers (standard issue nowadays), was a great little tour across the country.
I decided to make up some ground by skipping Hornsea and aiming straight to Bridlington. Granted, this isn't exactly coastal riding but it's my adventure so I make the rules! The detour was worth it as I got to take in the many sights of Beverly and Tickton.
Although a relatively small town, Beverly held a surprise which was Beverly Minster. Seeming to appear out of nowhere was an enormous church. Now I'm not much of a 'churchy' person but even I was impressed by this one! I later discovered it is one of the largest parish churches in the UK, larger than one-third of all English cathedrals and regarded as a gothic masterpiece!
Upon leaving Tickton I found an un-mapped but amazing little footbridge on which featured a stone reading : "Each vefsel before pafsing this bridge to pay one shilling". I didn't have a shilling so I risked it and crossed for free!
At the other side a poppy wreath sat beneath a plaque which read "Dedicated to the aircrew of 78 squadron who lost their lives following a collision in fog between two Halifax bombers over Hull Bridge, Tickton. 1943" Simply incredible.
My journey eventually led me to Skipsea Castle (or rather, the site of) where I sat amongst the earth walls and moats to eat my lunch. Not sure if I was the King or the Dirty Rascal today, either way I enjoyed my sandwiches!
I eventually rolled into Bridlington where I have an enormous campsite pretty much to myself. Naturally most folks are smart enough not to camp in December! Their loss I guess. Hopefully tomorrow leads me through Scarborough and North towards Robin Hoods Bay! Wish me luck!
Bridlington to Staintondale, 46.81km
I'm glad that day is over! What started as a beautiful sunrise ("Red sky in the morning, shepherd's warning") ended up in a cold, wet afternoon. After some long but peaceful roads into the hills, I worked my way North towards Cayton Bay and enjoyed the views of the surf.
Sadly as I rose over the hill and into Scarborough the rain began to fall, bringing with it cold, icy temperatures. I'm pretty quick with the wet weather gear now as I don't want to be cold AND wet. Cold is bad enough! The rain poured and poured, flooding roads and over-spilling drains. At one point I followed a very bumpy cycle path called the "Cinder Track" through a few inches of what smelled like sewer water. Nice!
Eventually the rain slowed but this was where the hills began. Welcome to the North York Moors! I maxed out my gears but kept peddling and as hard as this was on the knees, it was good as it got the blood pumping and warmed me up!
After about 2.30pm I was done and started meerkating for a camp spot. Fortunately I came across Meeting House Farm Holiday Cottages where I spotted a camping field. After offering to let me camp, the owners amazingly then offered me their camping pod for the night! Thank you Ben and Wendy! Shelter, lights, power-points and a bed, what more could I want! They even have hot showers on site. Luxury!
As for tomorrow, who knows what is in store as Storm Barra is headed this way and apparently bringing with it 50-80mph winds! Perfect!
Storm Barra got in the way of things but I stayed out of the way. I hope you all managed to stay safe out there? So today wasn't exactly a day wasted but it wasn't exactly productive either. Yes, I got some kit sorting done and yes I did some social media and website admin but it still felt like a loss in mileage terms. On the upside, my decision to stay put for the day was justified by the crazily strong wind and rain battering my camping pod all afternoon.
Whilst it may feel unproductive, these moments give me time to reflect on what it means to do a long duration expedition. It isn't constant progress. It isn't a perfectly executed plan. It isn't predictable conditions. It's a process and you need to constantly adapt.
Some days you move forward, some days you re-think, some days are enjoyable, some days are painful. It's tiring, it's hard work and it's unforgiving but these things all contribute to the final outcome. It's also important to remember the focus of this adventure.
It's a project to raise as much funding and awareness as possible for the World Land Trust and a privileged opportunity to make a real difference, to fight back against climate change.
It isn't a survival exercise, but at the same time, it isn't supposed to be easy.
Yesterday when I was freezing cold, aching and couldn't feel my hands, part of me wanted to give in. But I couldn't, I knew I had to keep going.
HOW CAN YOU HELP?
For this challenge to be a success I need your help in 3 ways:
- Support me through inspiration and motivation to push me forward. Comments, messages, playlist contributions, all make a massive difference to me.
- Share, follow and like my posts to help them reach as far and wide as possible. The further we reach, the more rainforest we protect.
- Donate and encourage others (friends, family, colleagues etc) to do the same, however you can, at www.justgiving.com/fundraising/cycleforchangejames
Tomorrow's forecast isn't great but at least it isn't another storm! Hopefully I'll get some miles in!
Staintondale to Lythe, 24.1km
A slow but stunning day! My journey today took me up some very steep hills, over the coast roads, down another very steep hill, into and out of Robin Hoods Bay and along the disused railway 'Cinder Track' to Whitby. A particular event along this journey was cycling over the top of the Larpool Viaduct, something I wouldn't have done had I not listened to some local walkers advice about taking the scenic cycle route.
Emerging into Whitby I found myself on a mini seaside break for one and cycled my way as far as I could onto the harbourside, right up to the storm gates.
I followed the seafront to Seasend Bay where I bought a coffee and sat by the sea to enjoy it for a change while chatting to a few locals and travellers about my adventures. "You're mad" seems to be the most popular response!
Sadly the price of today's holiday excursions was an immensely steep hill out of Seasend leading up to Lythe. Gone 2.30pm (my "find a campsite" time) I peddled right past a seemingly open, yet deserted campsite. Despite nobody being home I pitched my tent, had a shower, cooked dinner and settled in for the night. Hopefully I won't be woken up by a grumpy campsite owner in the night!
Lythe to Hartlepool, 67.73km
13, unlucky for some, me included! It started out so well with a beautiful sunrise and blue skies as I set out over the stunning Yorkshire moors. I stopped in at the shops in Guisborough (along with everyone else!) to replenish food supplies. The Christmas queues cost me almost an hour!
Then, with an offer of accommodation in Yarm (West of Middlesbrough) I decided to turn it down (respectfully) and take a gamble. The plan was to push on and get through Middlesbrough and Hartlepool before sundown… then my chain broke! Gamble failed!
After a quick chain fix I was back on the road but I immediately realised my schoolboy error of mis-threading the chain through the rear derailleur! Unable to undo the chain again I ended up doing some sort of messy, greasy, fumbled bike surgery on the rear derailleur and jockey wheels. Eventually I reassembled the mess and got back on my way. Now it was going dark!
As the sun lowered I made a break for the other side of town, over the river tees and bound for Hartlepool. I stopped in at an awesome RSPB site (Saltholme) to ask for advice where one of the visitors recommended a nearby nature reserve as a campsite. This turned out to be hopeless as the nature reserve was a marshland! On the upside I passed an estuary where I saw a seal!
Eventually upon reaching Seaton Carew seafront I realised there were no suitable wild camping options (no safe or legal ones anyway!) so I headed for Hartlepool and reluctantly checked into a hotel. I say "reluctantly" because whilst it may seem like luxury, staying in hotels is the opposite of my plan for adventure in the great British outdoors. It's also expensive and a massive Covid risk which jeopardises the whole challenge!
I'm hopeful that tomorrow will prove useful in avoiding germs, repairing the bike and resting my achy knees!
Please donate if you can at www.justgiving.com/fundraising/cycleforchangejames
Servicing day in Hartlepool.
A busy but vital day, first off was a visit to the legends at Wetrocknride.co.uk to get the noble steed back in tip top condition. Thanks a million guys! While this was going on I was having my knee checked out by physio wizard Martin Davies at Active PhysioCare. Thank you Martin!
The great news is that the Noble Steed is back up to speed and my knees are all good with no long term problems, just a bit sore!
That was the morning taken care of which left the afternoon to do some Hartlepool sightseeing! War memorial, awesome brick buildings, historic marina, big bronze chimp and even an ocean rowing boat. After yesterday's frustrations and downhearted finish, today was a welcome break from the grind with some massively positive outcomes and a greater experience of a historic town I'd never seen before. Funnily enough that's pretty close to the reasons I took on this adventure in the first place.
The incredible generosity shown to me by both the bike shop and physio was a wonderful reminder of the far reaching, positive impact of my journey and their genuine gratitude for what I'm trying to achieve.
Tomorrow I'll be back on the road, Northward bound where more adventures await (hopefully the sun keeps shining).
Hartlepool to Whitley Bay, 62.5km
Awesome day! Covered a fair distance and felt good doing it. As lovely as Hartlepool was I felt very much ready to leave and press on North towards Newcastle. Knowing I had some mileage to cover before reaching the built up areas I didn't hang about and took a fairly direct route along the A roads. My route led me through an almost time-travel like journey, taking in the coastal mining towns of Blackhall, Peterlee and Easington.
Blackhall brought a smile to my face with the simple yet effective street names "First Street, Second Street, Third Street" etc, all the way to "Eleventh Street". (I was hoping for an 110th street but sadly not). Onward to Seaham and into the outskirts of Sunderland as the town grew busier and the traffic increased. Before long I had crossed the river Wear and found myself nearing South Shields.
In need of a comfort break I pulled into a local museum which turned out to be jarrow hall, an Anglo-Saxon museum with a focus on the first documentations of British history by Venerable Bede. Upon leaving I noticed the inscription "Devote yourself to learn the sayings and doings of the men of old". Who knew a bathroom stop could be so interesting!
A short cycle away I discovered what was to be the highlight of my day, the pedestrianised tunnel under the Tyne! This incredible piece of infrastructure allows walkers and cyclists, for free, to take a lift to sub-ground level and then travel through a very clean, purpose built tunnel beneath the Tyne estuary. Amazing!
Arriving on the North side I cycled along past Royal Quays Marina and round onto the lovely seafront of Tynemouth. For a very pleasant change I was able to cycle along the seafront round to the gorgeous surf spot of Long Sands beach and eventually Whitley Bay.
Tonight I'm fortunate enough to say I have been offered accommodation by a lovely family friend. A dry garage for the Steed, and a hot dinner and warm bed for me! Tomorrow the plan is to push North to Alnwick, let's see what happens in the morning!
Whitley to Alnwick, 67km
A stunning day on the North East coast! Why does nobody talk about the North East coastline? At least nobody I know anyway. It's absolutely stunning around here. So much so it's actually challenging to make progress because I keep stopping to take photos!
My journey today took me through the amazing coastal towns and beaches of Blythe, Cresswell, Amble and Warkworth. Blythe impressed me with it's sustainable power plants. Seeing wind farms in action and turbines being made is a brilliant sign of potential progress.
I was fortunate to meet some interesting people today. A lovely lady called Odette who loved my project and has since donated (thank you Odette!). Thanks also to Wendo, Dave and dog Flo for chatting to me in Amble, and for your donation! Later I met a group of cyclists from a bike recycling project called WATBike. They were at a cafe called Charltons Bar Cambois Beach which is apparently formerly owned by Bobby and Jack Charlton!
Moving Northward into the golden sanded beaches of Cresswell and Amble felt reminiscent of the Cornish coast. The surf looked good too!
My ride led me past the impressive Warkworth castle before leading into sight of the small but stunning town of Alnmouth. A short ride away I found my way to my accommodation for the evening, (the parents of my good friend Karl Cranswick) in the historic town of Alnwick.
Tired, but warm and dry, I'm already looking at the maps and deciding how and when I'm going to reach Scotland! Exciting stuff!
Alnwick to Budle, 42km
Another stunning day on the North East coast. You don't often get to start your day in a fairytale castle but this morning I got to stand outside the gates of hogwarts (alnwickcastle). I also stopped by the historic barter books Alnwick before heading out on my ride. I had a slightly delayed start as I tried to visit a drop-in vaccination centre to "get boosted" as we were advised last night. Sadly the centre was closed so there was no booster for me.
I also dropped in to The Bike Shop - Alnwick to use a pump, not only did the owner Adam pump up my tyres for me he also stocked me up with some complimentary energy gels and bars for my journey. Thank you Adam. Good man! And yes, I also bought a new pump from him too as mine was rubbish!
From there it was a fun but muddy and hard going cycle path along the coast from Boulmer to Howick. I got there eventually albeit a bit muddy but thoroughly enjoyed the scenery. From there it was a more stunning coastal road up past Craster, Bradnell and Seahouses leading eventually to the impressive Bamburgh castle.
Sadly towards the end of the day my left knee started to hold me back a bit, hopefully just an awkward twinge. Luckily this was beside a basic but perfectly located farmers camping field (a field with a tap!). Did I mention it also has a stunning view over Budle Bay with Holy Island and Lindisfarne Castle in the distance!
Warm and cosy back in the tent again, let's see where I end up tomorrow (knee allowing)!
Budle to Tweedmouth (Berwick), 28.16km
Sad to leave the amazing view behind. I chose to have a late start to rest my knee. I packed up camp just before 10am with a plan to take a gentle ride and see where I ended up.
5 mins later I was at the side of the road in a ridiculously cold, windy spot trying to fix a mystery flat tyre! It took me a while to remove the panniers, take off the rear wheel, tyre, tube etc and then try to fix the puncture with numb fingers. It was hopeless trying to locate the puncture in the wind so I replaced the inner-tube, reassembled and packed up the Steed, ready to move on.
This was a frustrating setback as it cost me almost an hour and made me freezing cold. It was also annoying as I'm running Schwalbe tires Marathon Plus Tour tyres which are the best in the business and virtually puncture proof. For this reason my spare inner-tubes were buried at the bottom of a pannier!
In no way do I blame the tyres. It should be noted that Schwalbe have been immensely supportive of the project and sent me tyres, tubes and tools before I left. The tyres have been epic so far and after 18 days of cycling over all sorts of terrain they haven't faltered once!
After the tyre problems, I then struggled against strong side/head winds for ages. I then encountered road closures due to fallen trees and had to divert to the A1. Something I don't recommend as it's very busy, fast and scary in places!
Eventually I reached Berwick/Tweedmouth and found a few closed campsites. Third time lucky was the amazing @maguirescountryparks site in East Ord. Not only did they let me camp for free, they also upgraded me to a camping pod with a heater which means I am once again the world's biggest hobbit! Thank you so much! Also, having stayed in hundreds of campsites in the UK and abroad I can safely say this site has the cleanest and most impressive washrooms I've ever seen!
Sorry, photos are a bit dull today as I spent much of my time avoiding massive trucks and fighting the wind! More interesting photos to come soon, promise!
Berwick upon Tweed to Thorntonloch.
Leaving the comfort of my Hobbit Hole this morning was difficult, not because of the comfort of warm, dry accommodation but because today is my son's 9th birthday. I miss both my boys dearly and finding motivation was hard but with Scotland just within reach I knew I had work to do.
Within less than an hour of leaving I had made my way across the Tweed, aimed North-West (avoiding the A1) and found myself at the Scottish border. Standard border crossing photos taken, I then cycled on.
As I travelled along it was clear just how devastating Storm Arwen had been up here. It was as if every other large tree had been pushed over and seemingly every other roof had been removed. In one area I saw a whole woodland seemingly flattened, not a tree standing in sight.
My short cut across country brought me out to the coast overlooking Pease Bay where I saw the most stunning rainbow over almost the whole horizon.
Cycling along this coastline, whilst very hilly, felt special as I realised this was the first piece of Scottish coast I had seen. As 2.30pm drew near I started to look for a suitable camping spot.
To my surprise I actually found a sign informing me that wild camping was permitted! Whilst I knew this was the case in Scotland it still surprised me as I'm so used to the frustrations of the English "no camping" signs in every coastal car park or sea front.
With my tent pitched a stone's throw from the beach I feel confident about the days to come. Tomorrow, possibly Edinburgh, maybe beyond!
Thorntonloch Bay to Dunfermline. 88km
I wanted to get some mileage covered today as I have an important meeting tomorrow. With that in mind it was a solid day of riding with a bit of sightseeing along the way.
First stop, Dunbar, with its beautiful harbour and rugged rocky outcrops. Quick sip of coffee, photo, then move on!
Next up was a long ride through to North Berwick to rejoin the coast. It was here I came across the impressive hill, named simply "The Law" which rose up dramatically from it's flat surroundings. I resisted the urge to clamber up it, maybe next time!
Onward I rode along the winding coast to Musselburgh with it's brilliant coastal cycle paths. These led me all the way to Portobello Beach just outside Edinburgh. I never knew Edinburgh had a seaside but now I do and it's lovely! With the sun shining it could almost have been summer, the seafront was busy, dog walkers and runners scattered everywhere and even a few brave swimmers!
I topped up with another coffee at the @portobellobistro and then cracked on past town centre. This is where things got interesting!
A lovely man asked about my journey, complimented the Noble Steed and offered some route advice. In his words "follow the seafront cyclepath, you'll come to a few steps but not a problem".
(See photos to see what "a few steps" means in Scottish!)
Fortunately, after taking the route advice, I met local cyclist, @tomoftheday who cycled with me along the cyclepath. Fortunately Tom was up for the adventure and helped me manhandle the steed up several flights of stairs and down some even steeper, treacherous steps on the other side!
Tom, you are a legend, thank you!
Shortly after Tom's departure I met another cyclist called Kenny (also a legend) who advised me of a flatter route to the Forth Road bridge and then accompanied me all the way across and told me about the bridge's history along the way. Thank you Kenny!
Safely across, I headed for Dunfermline where I agreed on a camping spot with a local @scouts campsite (with showers, yay!). Another huge thank you!
Dunfermline to Kinross, 24km
A short but simply stunning day! As you can see from the photos, today's weather was definitely on my side. This was an absolute pleasure too because I planned to have an easy going, slow day. After all, I had a meeting booked later on.
My morning began at Fordell Firs Scout campsite where I had kindly been given a pitch for the night. Waking to a chilly and very damp tent, my journey for the day first took me along a short ride to Lochore Country Park where I had been offered a shower at the @outdooredfife centre. This awesomely located centre was brilliant and very supportive of my challenge. Not only was the shower good, but the sun was shining and the lake was as still as a millpond.
From here I had a short but sunny ride to my meeting at the offices of Cycle For Change partner, @marloewatchco. This was quite a special meeting as Marloe have been a part of my project since day one and have supported me through the whole journey.
Not only have they provided me with a beautiful watch for me to wear but they have also set up a competition for those who donate to be entered into a prize draw to win a Marloe watch just like mine. Marloe's ethos of creating their own unique watches based on an event or story, plus their attention to detail and environmental ethics echo everything my project stands for. It was brilliant to meet Steph and Gordon who came out into the cold to greet me and the Noble Steed, they even gave me a gift bag full of goodies to help make my camping evenings more homely! A huge thank you to the whole Marloe team, I'm so proud to have you on this journey with me.
To finish the day, while looking for a campsite I was greeted with the most incredible misty sunset. After setting up my tent I then met a lovely couple named Sue and Woody who are living in a caravan near my pitch. They kindly charged my power-pack for me, we chatted about my challenge and Woody told me of when he once cycled from Scotland to Munich! Amazing stuff! Yet again, Scottish hospitality knows no bounds.
Kinross to Falkirk, 53km
Scotch mist and changing plans. Today was a bittersweet point in my adventure. Following the awful weather during the first 2 weeks and the realisation that winter cycle-touring is seriously rugged, my original schedule went out the window ages ago. I had to face facts that despite my hardest efforts I was almost a week late arriving in Scotland which is a week deeper into winter.
Remembering that this is an 'awareness and fundraising' challenge and not a 'survival test', I have made the difficult but safest decision to cease travelling North and instead aim South for Glasgow along the Forth and Clyde canal with a view to then head South along the west coast.
I was gutted about this decision, even though I knew it was the right thing to do, it still meant dramatically changing my plans and adjusting expectations. Still, that is the reality of expeditions. They don't always go to plan and it's vital that you remain flexible and willing to adapt. On the upside, getting to see the amazing Kelpies and incredible @falkirkwheel was a pretty awesome consolation prize.
Huge thanks to Shirley, Peter and puppy Angus for buying me a coffee at the Kelpies, it was lovely to chat with you beneath those amazing sculptures.
As a canoe coach I have paddled on many rivers and been through many locks but the Falkirk wheel is something else. A true marvel of engineering and aesthetically an absolute masterpiece.
Today may have had many other visual wonders but the freezing cold, heavy mist refused to lift all day. I did meet a few feathered and woolly locals though.
I'm sure my fingertips are still there but I haven't felt them since about 7am this morning. Maybe tomorrow they'll return (although doubtful whilst wild camping by a very chilly canal towpath)!
Falkirk to Glasgow, 33.1km
Well today was a day of purpose and little more...
- Wake up.
- Cycle to Glasgow.
- Go food shopping.
- Hide from millions of people!
The cycle to Glasgow started off well with a pleasant ride along the Forth and Clyde canal, saying hello to Herons, swans and kingfishers etc. Unfortunately I then had to turn off the canal and follow a monotonous A-road in the freezing cold mist for about 25km to the centre of Glasgow. This was highlighted occasionally by the odd relic of ancient Scotland, such as the old stone bridge hidden under 2 progressively newer bridges!
I have been very generously offered an apartment to stay in through a good friend, Laura Smith (thank you)! When I arrived here I couldn't feel my feet or hands so a warm, dry apartment was very welcome (although getting the steed in the lift was tricky)!
I'd not really paid attention to just how long I had been on my journey but 3 weeks away from life around lots of other people is quite a long time. Venturing out into the heart of Glasgow was a little overwhelming. Lots of people, loud music, frantic Christmas shopping and the looming fear of Covid made for a fairly unpleasant experience.
Fortunately I made a swift attack on the shops, grabbed what I needed and returned to the apartment to do some much needed washing and kit prep ready for tomorrow.
I should add, despite the crowds, Glasgow has some epic architecture and amazing painted murals all around the place. Combined with the Christmas decorations it was pretty impressive. Also, huge thanks to the D&B / hip hop legend that is Dynamite MC for putting a post out about Cycle For Change. Only a week before leaving home my good friend Neil and I went to see Dynamite MC perform with Roni Size and LTJ Bukem DJ. I posted about it afterwards joking it was the "Unofficial Cycle For Change Launch Party" and Dynamite MC has been following and supporting the project ever since. Always amazing when artists show genuine support back to their fans. Thank you so much!
Right, now time for rest, recovery and readiness for a big day tomorrow. Ayr here we come!
Glasgow to Ayr (ish), 85.6km
Well that was a long, hilly day, but actually quite enjoyable. On my way out of town I did try to stop in at a vaccination centre for a booster but yet again, I was denied. I can't book one in Scotland either, presumably because I'm English, which is a bit frustrating. On the upside I did meet a chap called Dougie who was super supportive and even posted about my challenge. Good lad Dougie. (Not a wasted detour after all!)
The cycle out of Glasgow (logically enough) was quite the opposite of the cycle in. With each pedal stroke the air felt cleaner, the traffic thinned and the horizon broadened. It felt very much as if I was cycling up-hill for most of my journey today, however there came a moment, where I was peddling less and rolling more. It felt like a long, smooth, enjoyable roll all the way down to Troon where I found myself gladly back at the sea.
Troon was also where I met local hero Russell Conway. Russell and I got chatting after I spotted him litter-picking by himself at the side of the road. I've seen my fair share of road-side litter and fly-tipping on this journey and it is a real concern but I've been trying to steer my posts in a more positive direction. Russell's story however deserved mention. He told me how he does this regularly every week and walks in a circuit which must have been about a mile long. He collects any roadside litter he finds and takes it to the local dump. Not because he has to but because he wants to make a difference. Well done Russell, what a legend you are!
If this trip has taught me anything it's that no matter how small the difference is that you're making, the difference is that you're making it.
After a long cycle into the darkness I found a suitable wild camp spot overlooking the ocean and bedded down for the night. Tomorrow I'm aiming for Newton Stewart (corner cutting I know but needs must)!
Ayr to Newton Stewart, 69km
Now, when looking at the map you may realise that my route today was not exactly ‘coastal’, but this was for a good reason.
With new covid warnings popping up all over the place and a big push on booster vaccines, I have tried to get boosted in several places but repeatedly get turned away because, obviously, I'm not from Scotland. I have however been able to book myself in for a booster in Carlisle on the 24 December but I need to get there first. With this in mind, I'm taking a direct-ish route whilst still following the coast as far as possible.
On the upside, my route today took me cross-country and through some incredible (although seemingly endless) forest roads. This was a lovely change of scene and felt very atmospheric for the most part. It was also cold. Very cold!
Upon entering Dumfries and Galloway I found myself yearning for the cost once again. I still have a way to go in the morning but I may see some coastline before tomorrow is through.
As for tonight I was kindly offered a place to stay by a chap called Jason who got in touch via Twitter and Facebook and said "I've done some bike rides and have some tools you can use". Turns out he's @jasonupnorth and actually a pretty solid bike rider with a full on bike workshop! He has also fed me and let me sleep in his garden office for the night, amazing!
After spending a few hours using his workshop I have got the #Noblesteed looking lovely and shiny again with fresh brake blocks, un-squeaked squeaky bits, cleaned drivetrain and tightened spokes. All set for the onward journey tomorrow. Massive thank you to Jason and family for accommodating me, it has been so helpful and perfectly timed!
Tomorrow, on to Dumfries!
Newton Stewart to Dumfries. 97km!
Today shall forever be named, BIG WEDNESDAY!
This morning I had a plan, leave Jason's house, Noble Steed all shiny! Then, follow a simple route plan as far as I could towards Dumfries and camp wherever looked suitable. Yes I knew it was a long, hilly day, but what I didn't/couldn't plan for was the weather. As of 10am the rain started and it never really stopped. 3⁰c, icy cold, continuous. Hence the lack of photos!
The hills were not ridiculously steep but they were incredibly long and relentless. Just as one hill finished, another seemed to begin.
The good thing about uphills is that you get nice and warm, however the trick is not to get too hot. If you get too hot, you sweat. Then, when you reach the top of the hill, the sweat starts to cool. As you then race down the other side, the windchill hits you and freezes you to the core!
The closer I got to Dumfries, the fewer camping spots I could find. I decided to push through Dumfries and camp on the other side. Unfortunately, darkness descended and the road I was following turned into a dual carriageway!
Not willing to dice with death and lorries in the dark I turned around and walked the Noble Steed back up the verge. With no viable camping spots I was stood next to an A-road services and a cheap hotel. I didn't want to use the hotel just as a place to sleep but I checked my GPS and realised I had just cycled 97km with 1068m of uphill! That's only 17m short of the height of Snowdon!
Decision made, I checked into the hotel and took a bath (with my thermals and shorts)!
Today wasn't all rain and hills. Early in the day I was joined by a very brown looking fox (I named him Charlie). He trotted ahead of me for about 5 mins but whenever I stopped to take a photo he darted into the hedge. Clever lad!
Later on, when I was exhausted and low, a red squirrel, the first I'd ever seen, darted across my path and into a tree! Amazing.
Dumfries to Gretna Green, 43km.
What a horrible day. Not much to report today other than endless rain, busy roads and a few bike mishaps. The rain hasn't stopped since around 10am which has made today decidedly miserable and hard going.
It has been quite warm, around 8⁰c, although this sounds good it actually means it's very hot when riding meaning I got wet from rain and then from sweat too. This makes it very cold as soon as I stop. Whilst I passed a couple of lovely, coastal spots, Powfoot in particular, these were short lived as I had to get moving as soon as I stopped otherwise I got too cold.
At one point the Steed was squeaking. This turned out to be a loose pannier rack bolt. All the rattling and jiggling occasionally shakes things loose. Unfortunately a bigger problem occurred later when I found a large pothole in a huge puddle. I heard a loud 'clunk' as the back wheel dropped into the hole. I looked back and my rear pannier had fallen off! One of it's clips had snapped in half! Thankfully no lorries drove over the bag and I was able to retrieve it and strap it back on to the rack. Pretty scary moment in the horrible conditions!
After this I was freezing cold and pretty fed up. Water had finally found it's way past my armour and I was getting wet underneath. After being turned away from a few potential camping spots I managed to find a half-suitable wild-ish camp next to a park behind a hedge so I quickly put up the tent, hopped in and changed into dry, warm clothes. Bliss!
Hopefully (but doubtful) tomorrow will be drier so I can head to Carlisle to get my booster jab and then seek out my Christmas Eve accommodation!
Day 28 - Christmas Eve
Gretna Green to Carlisle, 20km
After yesterday's monotonous downpour and very soggy, damp camp, today was a simple mission:
- Cross border back into England to Carlisle.
- Find the vaccination centre, get boosted.
- Food shop.
- Check into a hotel.
- Dry and sort kit.
Surprisingly, the day went very much to plan. I was able to get my booster and do a quick mini Christmas food shop.
I also managed to locate a kit shop and buy some reproofing spray for my waterproofs. The kit provided by @sprayway and @trekmates has been amazing but after a month of relentless abuse they are starting to suffer from the ill-treatment, as would any kit!
When I returned to the #noblesteed, not only was I relieved to find it still locked up where I left it but it was now in the company of an awesome looking, re-worked little Raleigh shopping bike. The owner said it was a fun project and he was planning another to make it a shopping style BMX! After a mutually complementary chat, we, and our steeds, said goodbye and on I went.
I then swung by a bike shop to buy some Christmas treats for the steed but we'll have to wait until tomorrow for Santa to deliver them!
Then it was the joyous task of getting to my hotel, checking in, sorting out and drying, re-proofing and airing all my kit.
With all that done, I now look forward to finding a chip shop, putting my feet up and enjoying the simple comfort of a Christmas movie and a glass of wine.
Tomorrow, REST DAY!
Day 29 - Christmas Day
Spending Christmas on my own, away from my home and my family has certainly been strange. Not being there to see my wife, boys, dog and the rest of my family on Christmas morning was a tough one but with the help of video calls and technology it was certainly made easier.
After putting on a brave face I soon settled into the day and tried to have a fairly normal Christmas day. Nice breakfast in the hotel restaurant to start, followed by opening cards and little gifts in my room. I treated myself to a cheeky tipple while watching The Snowman which made me feel very festive.
I then took myself on a nice, fresh walk around the local park and checked out some of the scenery. Whilst I didn't really do any major sightseeing it was nice to get out and explore a bit.
I was then treated to a lovely, plant-based pub lunch, drink and dessert courtesy of the awesome staff of @premierinn Carlisle (thank you Karl and Steve) and @brewersfayre. I felt very spoiled to be so well looked after at Christmas time.
Since then I have mostly been nibbling on snacks, having a glass of wine (not too much mind), and watching a film or two!
Not a bad Christmas Day after all.
Also, it has been amazing to see the @justgiving total raise to £5649! We are now tantalisingly close to the £6000 target. If we can hit that by the New Year that will be amazing!
I would say that as lovely as this day has been, it has definitely given me a sobering insight into what it feels like to spend Christmas alone. I can only imagine how it must feel for those who don't have a home or a family, to go through this year after year. I don't feel I have ever taken Christmas for granted but I will certainly look upon it with even more thankfulness in the future.
I hope everyone had a lovely day. Tomorrow I hit the road again, aiming South West, back to the coast!
Day 30 - Boxing Day
Carlisle to Allonby, 42km
What a lovely way to spend Boxing Day. Cruising through the Cumbrian lanes and villages as I near the Lake District.
With a view of SW Scotland to my right and the Lakeland Hills to my left I cycled along without paying too much attention to the day's mileage or duration. Before I knew it I was almost at my destination and I'd not long had my lunch!
The journey, whilst short, was still impressive and punctuated with little gems of interest, such as the cloud shrouded mountains, the inquisitive donkeys and a rare glimpse of a Starling murmuration. The latter is something I have always wanted to see and have only caught sight of once previously whilst driving on a motorway. For the first time I was able to stop and marvel at the flock swooping and swarming over the moorland.
Whilst this may have only been a small example it was still a sight to behold.
Soon after this I arrived at my destination, Old Kiln Farm campsite where I was planning to camp. To my surprise and delight the owner came out to greet me and then offered me their camping trailer/cabin for the night! This brilliant little cabin has amazing views of the hills, is insulated and has a bed, power points, heater and even wifi! What a luxury! There are also some lovely bathroom and shower facilities on site so I couldn't be happier!
My evening plans, now that my admin is complete, include eating dinner, having a shower and making the most of the wifi with a Christmas movie or two! Well, it is Boxing Day after all!
Allonby to Bootle, 67km.
That was a tough day! It all started well with a gorgeous sunrise, smooth cycle paths and amazing sea views. As the day moved on and I progressed further south, things got a bit more tricky.
As I have learnt in the last few weeks, when route planning I am at the mercy of the interpretation of whoever approved or added cycle routes to Strava/Komoot etc. I use these to plan my routes and therefore have to trust that they are correct. 95% of the time this is fine and works perfectly, today it was the other 5%.
Some cyclepaths went from paved roads to gravel, to grass, to mud and eventually a rutted farmers field! By this point I had gone so far I refused to turn back.
Another cycle path led straight to the front gates of Sellafield! That's right, the Nuclear Decommissioning Plant! No cycling allowed in there! Later my GPS tried to lead me over a railway bridge across an estuary at Ravenglass. Fortunately I spotted this before going there and instead had to take a long, very steep road to go around it. I have since discovered that there is possibly a passable cyclepath over the estuary at low tide in summer, no use to me today!
Whilst this was all very frustrating and tiring it could have been worse. I met some lovely people on today's journey, Jonty, a local photographer, James, the sculptors assistant and two cyclists, Allan and Nancy, who joined me for a while before I got lost at the Nuclear plant!
All this whilst being shadowed by the incredible backdrop of the mountains of the Lake District. I can't complain about that!
Tonight I've been given a wonderfully cosy, self catering cabin to stay in which is a welcome relief after a tough day. Huge thanks to Sarah Chapman.
It's a beautiful 'Tiny House' with a mini-kitchen, bathroom, shower, double bed and lounge. Everything you could want for an escape in the lakes! It's available on airbnb if you want to check it out https://www.airbnb.co.uk/rooms/32186445
Tomorrow I'm hoping to make the long journey to see a good friend in Storth near Kendal, with a little luck I'll make it, if not, it's another wild camp!
Bootle to Storth, 88km
What an unexpectedly incredible day! When faced with a forecast of 96% chance of heavy rain for most of the day I had my doubts about today's ride. Amazingly, after an early start I had virtually no rain whatsoever. Instead I was greeted by colourful cloud formations, patchwork quilt fields, a sunrise over the mountains, reflecting lakes, wildlife sightings and a beautiful sunset. All with the back-drop of the stunning Lake District mountains beside me.
My ride today took me past and through some lovely towns including #foxfield, #kirkbyinfurness , #dalton, #barrow and #Ulverston and eventually #storth. I was careful to take my time and not rush things today. As a result it didn't feel like 88k at all. Unfortunately I must admit I did feel the 856m of incline. My knees were not happy about that!
I'm pleased to say that tonight I am staying with a good friend of mine Ben Kirby in Storth. Not only is this an ideally placed overnight stop, it is also brilliant to catch up with an old friend and his family who I haven't seen in far too long.
Tomorrow I'm hoping to make my way to Blackpool. I'm looking forward to it but today will take some beating!
Storth to Blackpool, 77km
Firstly, huge thanks to my buddy Ben Kirby for having me stay last night. It was brilliant to catch up and reminisce!
I was hoping today would be quite easy going with not too many hills. Whilst this was mostly true the day started with heavy rain for about 2 hours and then the wind picked up to around 40kph, all headwinds! This made progress incredibly difficult and hard going. Every single kilometre from Storth to Blackpool was hard work whether on flat, uphill or downhill. The wind didn't let up at all until I reached the seafront.
I also had a few nerve-wracking moments on the roads today with several drivers (in both cars and trucks) getting way too close for comfort and some very badly timed overtaking going on. All in horrendous weather causing very poor visibility. Not fun!
Despite the frustrating headwind, morning downpour and scary traffic there were still many enjoyable moments in the day. Seeing a Kestrel dive into a field right beside me was awesome, as was spotting a small gathering of deer grazing in a woodland as I rode past.
Arriving at Blackpool seafront was such a change from the rural landscape of the lakes. If classic British seaside towns are your thing then Blackpool surely has all the lights, piers, arcades, roller coasters and chip shops you could ever want. The sense of nostalgia in Blackpool is amazing and it seemed wrong to pass through without stopping off for some chips and a blustery sea view. The chips were eaten in under 5 mins, any longer and I'd have been too cold to cycle again!
With hands frozen, teeth chattering and body shivering I set off for my evening's accommodation in nearby Wrea Green. Thankfully it was a little easier heading away from the coast as the wind was now in my favour (for all of half an hour)!
Thank you to Julie, Paul and family for reaching out and inviting me to stay. Earlier in the year they cycled the Coast to Coast for World Land Trust raising £661!
Not only have they given me a bed for the night, they have also fed me, and Paul even cleaned the steed for me while I was having a shower! What lovely people!
Tomorrow I'm hoping to reach Formby. Fingers crossed!
Blackpool to Formby, 59km
Well at least it wasn't as windy as yesterday. Unfortunately it was wetter. A LOT WETTER!
The rain started at about 9.30am and it's still going now at 8.40pm! What makes it worse is that it has been about 11⁰c most of the day (it shouldn't be this warm in December) which means I've been getting soaked on the outside from rain and wet on the inside from sweat. Grim!
Once again shout out to Sprayway and Trekmates for keeping me warm and dry as possible! Also thanks to Leaping Fish the fact that my hands and bum are still in one piece after 34 days of Winter cycling is incredible!
Despite the endless rain, today hasn't been all bad. I had the chance to see the incredible Lancashire black soil fields and the bleak but beautiful birdlife haven of #rspbmarshside at Southport. Today I also had the chance to meet the awesome Tim Butcher from SIGG. Tim got in touch and arranged to meet me as I passed through Tarleton. He was ready and waiting to greet me with hot coffee and cookies! Tim and Sigg have been super supportive right from day one and it was brilliant to finally meet in person. Thanks Tim!
As I neared Formby I cycled through some woodland where I was joined by a cyclist called Trevor who was riding a lovely looking fat-bike. We had a good chat about my ride and then Trevor guided me across Formby to my accommodation, complete with a who's who of premiership footballers houses! Trevor also made a donation this evening to my Just Giving page. What a nice chap. Thanks Trevor!
I'm very lucky to have a garden to camp in this evening thanks to a family friend, Linda. She not only let me camp but also provided a shower and hot dinner for me. Luxury! Huge thanks Linda!
Tomorrow I'm hoping to head to Liverpool and cross the Mersey on the Ferry and then enjoy a bit of a nostalgia tour around the Wirral peninsula to finish off 2021.
Day 35 - New Years Eve
Formby to Liverpool, 22km.
Today comes in two parts, one part North of the Mersey, then a second part to come from South of the Mersey.
Todays journey first took me to #thepebble at Crosby beach where the sun was shining and the cycle path was smooth! Further along the bay I was very happy to see the amazing #ironmencrosby. I had heard about these incredible sculptures but didn't know where they were. Julie and Paul who accommodated me on Wednesday told me they were here.
The iron men are awesome, standing motionless, staring out to sea. It was hard not to stop and take more photos but I had a ferry to catch! Definitely on the 'come back again' list.
Crossing the Mersey was another pivotal moment in my journey. It took me on to the Wirral peninsula which holds great significance to me and my family....
Liverpool to Ellesmere Port, 54km (76km total)
A cycle down memory lane! The Wirral peninsula is a very important place to me and my family. My grandparents lived there and my Mum and Dad grew up there, so my sister @philippa_cakes and I spent many Christmases, Easter’s and school holidays there.
Once off the ferry I headed North to circle the coastline via #wallasey and #newbrighton and then heading South towards #westkirby where we used to visit with our grandparents for a walk around the boating lake or a trek to #hilbreisland.
I was expecting it to be cold here but our crazy winter weather was doing it's thing with sunshine and +14⁰c breeze!
I made my way past my Nannas old house where Dad grew up and then past #pensbyhighschool which my grandad helped to build.
I continued my nostalgia tour to Neston via my other Nanna's house where my Mum grew up. This was often a scene of many large family gatherings! After this my end destination was #ellesmereport to stay with my Auntie Clare, Uncle John and Cousin @alex_ashington. A perfect end to a perfect day!
Currently in a 50/50 decision of whether to continue into January or to finish after New Year. I'm immensely proud of what I have achieved so far and as stated previously, I'm considering anything after Christmas to be a bonus. After the first week of being battered by storms I didn't ever think I'd get this far and cycle all the way through December. Thank you all for your support so far.
The weather in Wales (and S/W England) for the next few weeks is looking awful and without guaranteed campsites or accommodation options it may not be possible to carry on. Covid concerns are on the rise and I 100% respect people's decision to shield themselves where they can. With this in mind I completely understand if people are cautious about letting me in their homes. It's something I am wary of too.
The big question, is this my last day? The answer... I don't know!
If this is to be the last day then I can't think of a better way to end the journey than a tour of the Wirral and watching the sunset with a bag of chips at Parkgate!
There are many reasons to stop and many reasons to carry on, for now I'm going to enjoy New Years Eve and I'm taking tomorrow as a rest day. I'll be researching accommodation options, looking at maps and watching the news and making a decision tomorrow.
Day 36 - New Years Day
Happy New Year everyone, welcome to 2022!
Today was a restful but stressful day full of decision making, staring at maps, trawling the internet for campsites and phoning round accommodation options.
- Have I come to a decision?
- Will I carry on?
- Is Cycle For Change finished?
After much deliberation I have decided I'm not finished, not just yet!
In my last few posts I spoke about accommodation difficulties due to covid concerns, lack of wild camping options, increasingly sore knees and forecasts of horrendous weather. All of which were weighing on my mind and I was leaning towards bringing my journey to an end. Also, cycling around the Wirral and having a day of nostalgic family memories made me miss my own family more than ever and would have served as a fitting end to my journey.
Despite all the above, something doesn't feel right about stopping at this point. There's nothing significant stopping me, I feel good physically (knees excluded) and I'm now feeling comfortable with the routine of living on the bike. Above all, now just doesn't FEEL like the right time to stop.
I have been trusting my instinct and ‘going by feel’ for most of this journey and it has served me well so far. After my last few posts I received loads of positive comments and messages of encouragement. I started my challenge by saying "I'll need the inspiration and motivation of those who follow the project to spur me on." I can't go back on those words and now that I'm receiving even more encouragement it's time to use it to push me a bit further!
So, I plan to head into Wales tomorrow morning, hopefully reaching Colwyn Bay. With a little luck I'll be able to reach a bit further into next week if my knees and accommodation options work out. I'm pretty sure I'll be finishing soon as my knees won't be happy with me as the Welsh hills start to ramp up!
Until then... game on! Wales here we come!
Ellesmere Port to Colwyn Bay, WALES! 71km
Leaving Ellesmere Port this morning I was very pleased with myself for deciding to carry on for a bit longer. Yes, covid is looming, yes accommodation is proving difficult and yes my knees are about to give up but there's still a bit more fuel in the tank and while that's the case I'm carrying on.
Crossing the Flint Bridge into Wales was a brilliant moment, it meant I had reached another personal milestone. Once on Welsh soil I followed the coast West, passing through Flint and on to Prestatyn where the remnants of the mining industry can still be seen in landmarks and relics.
Continuing West I passed through Rhyl, stopping for a 5 minute beach visit where the rain did it's best to turn me around. When leaving the beach the heavens opened and sheet rain gave me a proper soaking! After hiding in a bus shelter I pushed westward through Abergele and Llanddulas towards Conwy.
I arrived at Colwyn bay, a bit bedraggled but in one piece. Tonight's accommodation is @travelodgeuk. After calling every campsite in the area and finding they were all closed, this was the best option. With some daylight still available I took a walk on the beach. Oddly I haven't done this much on my journey. It was nice to walk in my Mum's footsteps as this was where she and her family often came on holidays when she was a child.
I have spent a lot of time in Wales over the years, although usually walking up mountains or paddling on rivers rather than cycling my way around it. I've logged many mountain days here and have had my nerves shredded on several outdoor qualification assessments. During these times I have experienced much of Wales's weather. I've been sunburnt, frozen, blown off my feet and soaked to the skin. Sometimes all in one day!
It is because of these experiences that I was so wary about heading into Wales without accommodation sorted in advance in some way. Thankfully I've managed to sort most of this week which should get me to mid-Wales.
Colwyn bay to Waunfawr, 60km (with 1007m incline!)
A long, hilly day full of strong wind, stunning views and old friends.
I left Colwyn Bay feeling ready and excited for the day ahead. The sky was blue and there was a bit of a breeze but nothing too serious. Little did I know! Once out on the open road the wind picked up and the gusts started to push me around a bit. By the time I reached Conwy it was pretty awkward to cycle in a straight line!
Fortunately I was distracted from the wind by the incredible Conwy Castle which stood at the head of the river Conwy bridge, as if guarding Wales itself. This impressive castle looks fit to be in a fairytale or mythical story, in fact I imagine it probably is!
From here my route led me along one of the most impressive cycle paths I have seen to date, snaking its way around the rugged coastline of Conwy Beach towards Bangor. It was along here that I was greeted by stunning views but also winds so strong that I struggled to simply stand up, never mind walk or push the Noble Steed along.
I battled the wind and made my way to Bangor, following a lovely cycle path beside the Menai Strait to my right hand side all the way to Caernarfon. Here I was greeted by my good friend Giles Elliott and his lovely family, all on bikes ready to escort me to their beautiful home in the hills.
The ride to their beautiful house was very hilly but incredibly scenic, nestled amongst the Snowdonia hills. They even left me mince pies and Welsh soap as a welcome gift.
It has been lovely to catch up with Giles over dinner (a very tasty plant-based meal) and also to meet his family who I have never previously met as we haven't seen each other in so long. At least 10 years! It's been brilliant to battle the coastal winds and to be rewarded with stunning views and great company for the evening.
Tomorrow I'll be making my way South towards Barmouth where hopefully I have a caravan for the evening!
Should add, the broken bit is a pannier rack mount which gave up after a large pothole. It was squeaking all day and drove me mad. Found out it was busted when I arrived at Giles house. Thankfully I should be able to get by without it.
Waunfawr to Llanbedr, 45km
I have had many amazing days on the Noble Steed over the past 6 weeks but today has been something a little special. When talking about today's route with Giles and his wife Emmer this morning they reminded me how lovely the Beddgelert and Nantmor valleys were. I was 50/50 about taking the mountain valley route or heading back to the coast.
I'm so glad that I chose the mountain valleys!
The roads through Rhyd-Ddu, Beddgelert and Nantmor are amazing at the best of times but on a sunny, crisp Tuesday morning on a bike with virtually empty roads they are simply magical. This is an area where I have spent a lot of time over the years. Learning about life in the hills, gaining skills and qualifications and enjoying the many adventures that the Welsh mountains have to offer. To come back here and experience them in this way on the penultimate day of my journey is something that I'm struggling to find words to describe.
Finding the hillside throne beside Harlech Castle was the perfect location to make a short video about finishing my journey tomorrow. In some ways it feels a shame to end the journey yet in many other ways it feels like the perfect time. Again, this is something hard to explain and it's a culmination of many things, all of which are signs to me that it is the right time to end. I'll try to explain in a video tomorrow.
Huge thank you to Bob of Tyn-Y-Pant campsite who has let me stay in his empty caravan this evening. His site is closed, but he kindly said I could camp and then later offered the caravan. Yet again another amazing example of generosity. Thanks, Bob! Tomorrow I make my way 87km to Aberystwyth where a hotel and imaginary finish line await me! Mixed emotions at the moment, but overall feeling humbled, privileged, excited and proud.
Day 40 - Final Day!
Llanbedr to Aberystwyth, 87km.
What a day! 87kms of everything from sunshine, hail, rain and sleet with roads varying from downhill to flat and uphill to almost unridable! The day has been such a mixed bag of emotions including excitement and elation to sadness and doubt. Should I be stopping? Should I have carried on? Have I succeeded?
In the end it has been key to focus my thoughts on what I have achieved over the past few weeks and to take pride in the knowledge that this experience will last a lifetime. As I have said before, I have no regrets whatsover and finishing my journey today was 100% the right decision. I know that because I feel it. Nothing more.
Passing through the coastal havens of Barmouth and Aberdyfi today was an absolute joy. Their setting, surroundings and position before the ocean was astounding. By some fluke of good fortune I seemed to pass through without too much bad weather although the rain and hail showers caught me once or twice.
After passing through Machynlleth the road led to the coast where I made the mistake of thinking I could see Aberystwyth. This was infact Upper Borth. Between Upper Borth and Aberystwyth lay some of the steepest and most unforgiving hills I have come across on my entire journey. Even with 4km to go I was faced with a snaking path of steep switchback roads which went on and on! I certainly earned my passage through today's route, and I wasn't getting an easy ride for my last day!
With knees throbbing and sweat pouring I finally descended into Aberystwyth and rolled up to the seafront just in time to witness a welcome performance in the form or a spellbinding starling murmuration. My journey was complete, my hotel awaited and my heart was full.
Thank you to everyone for the ongoing support, donations and compliments, it has meant everything to me and inspired me onward.
As of 11 January 2022, James has raised £8,073 for World Land Trust, smashing his first and second set targets! Well done James! You can donate here, https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/cycleforchangejames?fbclid=IwAR25a1a8Q54dmgPXXRINQgi-F_dvZ6mNH2ekpCNQmZNUGMEYM5poU8mRX5U
Sixth Form students selected to be a part of the prestigious 'Take the World Forward Fellowship'
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