Day 13 Altnaharra to John O’Groats

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There was supposed to have been a second person in the LEJOG cabin where I was staying but they hadn’t turned up by morning which is always a bit of a worry. I asked the hotel owner if they’d heard from them (not that I knew the person who was supposed to be there, but it’s part of the camaraderie of cycling) and they hadn’t. I hope that they’re OK and just decided to stop at Lairg or something.

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Anyway, I was quite excited to get going that morning and took a tip from the hotel owner to take the right hand turn at the cross roads just after leaving Altnaharra to bypass Tongue and one of the climbs of the day. It turned into a really quiet road filled with roaming sheep although I did feel like I was getting eaten alive going past those lochs. There was nothing you could do to avoid those midges!

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Once past Bettyhill there were a few long climbs which seemed wholly unnecessary for the final day but once past those you were flying along. I bumped into the red support van I saw the day before quite a few times and when I stopped for lunch at a tiny pub there was a congregation of the cyclists with that trip. Turns out it was their official pit stop for lunch and they had a set menu of soup and sandwiches. Thankfully since I was by myself I was allowed food off the normal menu and had a brilliant lunch of chips and sausages while the pub labrador looked up at me with begging eyes and a sniffing nose. This must’ve been precisely what my engine needed (plus the can of full fat coke) to power me to the end. My fear at the day being hilly was a misinterpretation of the profile since any undulations from this point on really weren’t bad at all. Once I got to Thurso I let my parents know I was about 20 miles away and I would be a maximum of two hours (not knowing entirely what the terrain would be like). Apparently I did it in about 1 hour 15 minutes, thankfully they had anticipated my increase in speed.

I got to John O’Groats just after 3pm, took some photos, got a hug off one stranger and a handshake off another. The two guys I’d met at Lands End and bumped into just outside of Glasgow turned up about half an hour later which was a lovely circular way to wrap up a trip.

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Day 12 Inverness to Altnaharra

I set off in good time today since I knew the milage would be 80ish and I still struggled to get to the hotel just after 6pm. The tank is so definitely empty! I saw a few cyclists out on the road today all of whom looked like they were on their way to JOG. As I passed through Lairg with 20 miles to go I saw a van emblazoned with “Lands End to John O’Groats trips” on the side and I was jealous of (a) them finishing for the day and (b) having support. The jealousy has gone now since I can be so proud of myself for being able to do this self supported.

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Those last 20 miles to Altnaharra are some of the most desolate and remote I’ve ever been to in my life. A head wind kicked in just as the land opened up and the incline increases just enough to be an effort. This bordered on the same level of mental torture as day 2 in Devon as the miles crawled by with no identifiable landmarks and a headwind bringing you down to 9mph. Finally I went over the top of the hill and started a speedy descent topping out at 30mph in my desperation to get to the hotel.

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I’m so remote and in a valley that there’s no phone signal so now I’ve updated everyone on my existence and presence at the hotel its a very quiet evening of detachment from the real world before the last (hilly) day tomorrow and then the return to reality. Back to work on Monday…

Day 11 Fort William to Inverness

What a bloody good but hard day. It’s amazing how a day can switch from being very bad to incredible. Overnight my knee had hit a new low. I couldn’t lift my leg onto the bed without lifting it with my hands… but I had the best 10 hour sleep. I was staying in a backpackers hostel in a dorm of 6. I’d chosen it for the price (£17.50) and when I got there I was slightly worried about how well I’d sleep but I had fallen asleep early at 9 and barely woke again til 7am even when others came into the room. Sleep definitely aids general recovery!

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I stopped at the Commando Memorial just past Spean Bridge to pay my respects, take a few photos and appreciate that it has the most stunning view of Ben Nevis. The Wikipedia article on this memorial is an informative read specifically on why it’s place where it is.

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The knee pain brought me to tears at 20 miles when I had sat on the ground in a layby and I tried to stand. So once I got to Fort Augustus 10 teary miles later I bought some strong Ibuprofen and some cheesy chips in an attempt to bring me back up.

I’d recommend 400mg of Ibuprofen to everyone about to tackle General Wade’s Military Road because my knee pain disappeared and I got up it without getting off and walking. I went from not being able to put any weight on that peddle at all to climbing up almost 1200ft. It’s the hardest, longest, steepest (in places) climb I’ve ever done and the euphoria I felt when I got to the top was unlike anything I’d felt on the bike before. I celebrated to loudly with a fist pump that a man in a car parked at the top celebrated with me. It honestly felt left everything I had done om this trip up until this point was to prepare for that climb. Happy hard times. The rain had started to fall half way up so I put on a fleece under my jacket to descend quickly down the other side. According to the data that climb took me an hour and 10 minutes (for about 5 miles) so I needed to make up the time.

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From then on I took the road which followed the Loch (there’s the B road option which takes you away from it but it all joins up before Inverness).

The road following the Loch takes you past the Falls of Foyer which was a lot of steps down a hill. I debated it for a few seconds and decided there was no way I could go past this and miss it since I’m supposed to be seeing the country so down I went. It’s very beautiful and I recommend the stop if you pass (it’s free).

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It was still raining so I pushed on towards Inverness. There weren’t anymore major climbs but plenty of undulations to take me back down into the small chainring. At one point I noticed the time felt wrong and upon closer inspection I realised the Garmin had frozen 20 minutes earlier. I panicked, restarted it and kept my fingers crossed (and anger at bay) that no data would have been lost again like in the Lakes. Looking at Strava I dont think anything was lost but as a precaution I’m no longer using the map function for the rest of the trip once I’m out of Inverness tomorrow.

Oh, as a welcome to Inverness some small dick of a boy racer overtook me with about an inch to spare. There wasnt anything coming and it was a long straight road I can only assume he’s been lied to about how big the couple of inches actually is. Dick. Don’t jeopardise my trip because you’re selfish. The driving I’ve experienced on the 840 miles so far has been largely brilliant. It’s a shame the worst happened on a day which had brought me up to such a high. Anyway, a good dinner and a good sleep and a big push to Altnaharra tomorrow.

Day 10 Glasgow to Fort William

The longest day is finally upon us! I had company today and since there are only two trains back from Fort William a day we *had* to be in Fort William by 5pm. I made the decision to leave home at 6am and meet him along the NCN7 where it was best for him and on we continued for the 108 mile journey.

This is my favourite route I’ve ever cycled (having done the exact route as training). The road through Glencoe is just unbelievable- watch out for the footage once I’m home.

The route is pretty much flat until Tarbet half way up Loch Lomond so the first 40 miles went quickly. On such a huge day its so important to remember to eat and drink regularly as you don’t want it to get to the point where youre starving or with dry lips because then it takes time to digest and recover.

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From doing the route before I knew where we should be by when to keep good time for the train (plus 45 minutes leaving at 6am rather than 6.45). We were an hour ahead of ourselves getting to Balloch (at the bottom of Loch Lomond) and an hour ahead at lunch at Tyndrum. Time was massively lost in the second half of the day from Tyndrum to Fort William but not enough to be a worry. My knee is requiring painkillers now and my friend kept getting cramp so the stops became more regular. The A82 can be very busy but most road users were really respectful and overtook really well (except the odd idiot). Well done everyone!

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The last 15 miles were the longest of my life especially once your Garmin hits 100+ miles and stops showing decimal point progression. But we got there and powered through and ended up at McDonalds before I went to check in at my hostel.

Fantastic day but going to be really nursing my knee all the way to the end now. 231 miles and 3 days to go…

Day 9 Moffat to Glasgow

Because of my move to Glasgow after planning this trip, instead of being one of my longest days it became the shortest. Once I got back onto roads I knew I sped up, skipped lunch and got back home at 14.30. The bigger motivation to get home asap wasn’t putting on a proper wash of my clothing but was seeing my boyfriend who was up from Leeds to see family and hopped over to Glasgow to see me on my way through.

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Its quite a boring ride up the B7078 so the only notable thing which happened was bumping into the two men who took my photo at Lands End. They hadn’t had a day break and were being supported by the wife of one of them and so sped up ahead of me after our parting but it was surprisingly good to see them. They recognised me and hailed me down to a stop. We’re due to finish on the same day so itll be funny if we meet again at the end, though they’re so much quicker than me I doubt it.

Day 8 Keswick to Moffat

It was a tough long climb out of Keswick to start the dayand without breakfast that’s no mean feat! My hostel was just a room (though it did have laundry facilities thankfully) so I had planned to have brunch in Carlisle, though that was 27 miles away.

My body was used to cycling on no food as I used to eat when I got to work when I commuted in London. I plodded along, nursing my knee which flared up again today taking in the scenery. The rain clouds hovered and I could see further up the valley a mist which brought me rain for the first time on a cycling day on this trip. 7 days without rain and mostly wall to wall sunshine was never going to last! The joy of being on a single track road up in the Lake District is seeing great wildlife. Today I saw a red squirrel! A very rare feat for a southerner like me and the first wild one I’ve seen in my entire life. He (or she) ran out in front of me, I slammed on the brakes and tried to take a photo. He was just as inquisitive about me as I was about him so he poked his head up over a rock to look at me and then scurried away.

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Full of happiness I carried on through the (annoying) gates about every few hundred metres along the road. It made for slow progress as in the rain and with the heavy bike I needed to dismount each time.

The road started to descend into Carlisle and I spotted a Sainsburys just in town with a cafe. Perfect brunch. The rain had also made me really cold so I put on the light fleece I had with me to wear in the evenings. As this would then be unwearable later on, I purchased a brilliant wooly knit. It’s so warm, I’m glad of the swap.

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Onwards to Gretna and the border of Scotland – a much better welcome than Wales gave. I followed either the NCN7 or NCN74 all the way to Moffat which is essentially a 30 mile climb running parallel with the motorway. My knee and undercarriage was killing me by the time I got to Moffat so a shower, good dinner and early night was on the cards before the climb up to Glasgow tomorrow.

Day 7 Cleveleys to Keswick

The rest day really helped with the knee pain I’ve been experiencing since Hereford and my legs felt tired but in great form once back on the bike.

When staying with my friend we actually left Cleveleys and went east to a caravan park to get some quiet to have a real catch up so when I left in the morning my route was about 5 miles shorter than planned but that’s not a total disaster. It was a quick and fairly flat start and I cheekily tucked in for a half a mile behind a group from Cleveleys cycle club until the road started to undulate and I fell back. Even though my knee felt better I wasn’t going to push my luck.

I soon got to Lancaster (stunning- another one to return to), pumped up my tyres in a local bike shop and carried on through.

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I had another route fail with a non-cyclable canal path so I detoured through hillier countryside to Kendal. These route changes aren’t a problem in fact it makes it more exciting. It’s useful to do some problem solving to break up the solitude in your head.

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Lunch in Kendal marked just past half way through the trip on mileage so I had some cake too but like the seemingly commom pattern of the last week I couldn’t finish it! What have I become?! I couldn’t finish a piece of chocolate fudge cake. Disaster.

The last 40 miles were going to be tough going into the Lakes, through Windemere and up to Keswick. The cycle path comes and goes along here and the road can be busy but so long as you take the lane and signal for people to pass when it’s safe then you’ll be ok. The views are stunning and I can’t wait to look back at the footage.

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My Garmin crashed around Rydal/Grasmere and lost all data from Kendal up to there which is a shame but I didn’t let it bother me as much as I have in the past since I couldn’t do anything about it. I knew how far the day was so I could keep a tally.

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Not far after Grasmere you get your first taste of the long dragging hills to come further north in Scotland. I avoided Shap by going into the Lakes but this is still a good challenge for the legs and the mind. Thankfully I’ve done some good training on the Scottish hills so I got a good pace on and kept my head down, not looking up to tempt or torture yourself with how far there is to go. Just get those legs at a good cadence and keep going. It’s so worth the view at the top.

Bikes are directed west of Thirlmere and I’d recommend taking this advice. I came across 3 cars and it’s pretty much flat so a great way to pick up some speed again if you can resist taking photos of the fantastic view!

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From there its not far into Keswick. What a beautiful little gem of a place!