For the doubters

Here’s a photo I couldn’t have downloaded:

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Some might say that Dunnet Head or Duncansby Head are further north or north east but I’m not sure they have a post in the ground and I’m not planning to cycle to them to find out!

In some ways making the journey from LE to JOG in fourteen days is a simpler task than using public transport to get back to London in two.

JOG is 35km from the nearest train station.  Just one train leaves that station on a Sunday.  It is formed of two coaches and there are no free spaces to reserve for a cycle today. Oh dear

Day fourteen

The black pudding and haggis for breakfast at Lairg was the best I’ve ever had (and I’m not saying that because I was hungry, I’d stuffed my face at dinner last night). My legs were tired from the previous day but I set off.

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The weather has been great the last two days.  Without that I wouldn’t have made it so far

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Seems the Scots farm fields of trees rather than wheat:

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At Tongue I saw the first sign for JOG. That’s also when the coastal undulations similar to those in Cornwall started.

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It was a long day, the end felt so close and yet so far.  Happily this far north at this time of year,  the sun doesn’t set until gone 10pm so I managed to make it to the sign and take a photo.

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Job done

The steed (part three)

The cadence meter. Went on the blink but seems to be back. I think I’d kicked it by accident when uncleating. The heart rate monitor has run out of battery but even if I could find a replacement, it requires a tiny screwdriver

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Mudguards
They must feel a bit unloved as they get a kick almost every time I uncleat and the weather has been reasonably good.  To install this bracket to hold the rear mudguard properly away from the tyre requires pliers. I’ve been carrying the bracket around expecting to have to sort it out in a bike shop but actually, after a week’s worth of squeeling, the mudguards have settled into a good place.

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Derailleurs. Have worked perfectly so far.  I’ve been oiling the chain regularly but it needs a deep clean

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Pannier rack. The last time (/first time) I tried cycle touring the bars holding the rack to the frame were not shaped correctly and the rack fell off at Westferry Circus.

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The falling rack broke the derailleur off.  This is held on to the frame by a derailleur hanger, a weak piece of metal designed to sacrifice itself in an accident to protect the more complicated rear derailleur. Sounds like a good idea but almost every bike requires a different design and so it’s often easier to replace the derailleur. Having learned my lesson, I now carry two spares around with me.

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The steed (part two)

I compromised on the cleats.  I consider cleats to be a compromise to begin with; having your feet attached to the pedals brings several disadvantages.  I prefer three bolt mounted cleats to avoid hot spots but the two bolt setup allowed for recessed cleats in mountain bike style shoes which saved me having to carry another pair of shoes.

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Many people think gel seats must be more comfortable as they’re softer. It’s not intuitive but I find leather better. An example of modern cheap products and marketing reversing the direction of progress

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The silent heroes so far. Zero punctures, which is outrageous given what they have rolled over. Looking a bit ragged now.  Hope I haven’t jinxed it and they hold out

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Brakes. A bit too soft.  I think they need bleeding

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The steed (part one)

The bike has performed so far.  I’m always surprised by how fragile bikes look and yet what they put up with.

They can make strange sounds.  Around Bristol a regular cracking sound started – to my imagination it sounded like cracks in the carbon fork being stressed and slowly growing. That faded but in Scotland has now been replaced by a regular clacking sound, as if a bolt is slowly being undone. I can’t find which one it is.

This is how the bike looked two weeks before I left for Penzance

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And this is how it looks now

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This bit fell off early on. I’ve never understood what a reflector on the side is for really.

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The handlebars. The horns are good for hills but otherwise, despite looking ergonomic, this design puts pressure on the nerve that runs up the inside of the wrist which leads to numb hands. I used to like the upright position in London traffic but I’d go for drops like on my carbon bike in future, initially less comfortable they’re better in the long run.

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Day thirteen: Lairg

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This is the Skye Bridge linking the island with the mainland.
Other than that I was cycling all day, cycling, cycling, cycling. I finished in Lairg which leaves me as well positioned as I could have hoped for. The east has more settlements but as I headed north, again the isolation became apparent.  There is just one place large enough to support a bike shop between here and John O’groats now. One final push required tomorrow.

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Day twelve: Isle of Skye

I met Jon this morning.  He rented a bike at Fort William and will be doing the 3 Pistes sportive on Sunday. That’s 100 miles in one day with 2,700m of climbing over three ski resorts in Scotland, they claim that it’s the highest cycle sportive in the UK and I’m not going to argue.  Good luck with that Jon!

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We headed out west to the Isle of Skye. The quality of the tarmac has been exceptional up north.  I would complain that we pay the EU bureaucrats a great deal of money to shield them from short term political and economic reality and take long term strategic decisions, adding a supranational layer to overcome the individual self interests of nations and instead they lay smooth black tarmac in the middle of nowhere to encourage us to destroy the countryside that still remains.  This week I’m loving the tarmac.

Going west is the wrong direction really. It means I’m going to have to put in two huge days and hope that the weather is kind and the bike holds up. All the advice is to avoid the A9 on the east coast so I had planned to go up the west coast for the scenery.  Sod that, I just want to get this done now. So I’m going to take a shorter route by going inland. The advantage is that it’s shorter and nearer civilisation (better phone signal and more places to stay), the downside is that there may be more gradient.

Day eleven: still in Fort William

A rest day in Fort William

I can understand why the telecoms companies don’t build masts in isolated locations but I don’t understand why people live like this.  Maybe the people that do find high density cities like London equally difficult. Fort William is an oasis in the desert but since Glasgow I’ve had only very occasional internet access and it’s made me realise how much I rely on it: finding accommodation, supermarkets, restaurants, routes, counting calories/ protein, uploading this blog, etc. Life is much harder without it. The most popular supermarket around here is a specialist in frozen food (but not the chavvy one you’re thinking of) and that perhaps shows how long people go without visiting a town centre. It’s jerry can country.

Given the isolation it’s striking to find that the majority of staff in hotels (at least front of house) are from eastern Europe. I can’t imagine that anyone moves to the edge of a loch to find a job, the hotel owners must be mandating a recruitment agency or engaging in a recruitment process that deliberately searches further afield and entices people to move here. Increasingly we’re in an international labour market and that is going to keep wages suppressed.

The independence debate is raging in Scotland. Alex Salmond is a canny operator and it’s interesting that part of his plan to deal with an increasingly elderly population is to encourage further immigration. I’d consider moving but it would have to be to Glasgow or Edinburgh.

Day ten: Fort William

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5km ahead of schedule is not enough to allow me to visit the isles of Islay and Jura and perhaps that is for the best, whisky tasting and cycling don’t sound like a great combination. Studying the ferry timetable it looks like the frequency of the service is related to the number of distilleries so my idea to visit the Outer Hebrides isles of Harris and Lewis is looking equally unlikely.

It proved difficult to find somewhere to stay in Arrochar. I ended up in a Fawlty-esque establishment with six coach loads of elderly holiday makers, bag pipes and dancing. The phone network has been intermittent since Glasgow so asking whether they had wifi, I was told “yes we do, but it’s not working”.  Wifi in general has been shocking everywhere.

The rule in Scotland seems to be that it will rain in the afternoon, it may rain in the morning.
This morning the sun was shining.  Here’s a photo of Inveraray Castle:

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I made it to Fort William which is 10km ahead of schedule but I’m going to lose that as I’m meeting Jon here on Thursday.  That gives me a rest day to give my knees a break; I’ve tried all sorts of adjustments but cannot shift the pain from the lower inside corner of the knee cap and sometimes it seems to run down my legs. Maybe it’s just inflamed after so many consecutive days.

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Day nine

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This is a photo of the Glasgow School of Art designed by Rennie Macintosh. The fire has been big news on the Scottish version of the news I’ve been watching. As I walked past, the fire brigade and police were still there as well as an army of people carrying out the contents in crates.

On the way out of Glasgow I found myself by accident on the motorway.  Thankfully after a short trip over the river there was a chance to exit but that was enough time for quite a few kind hearted white van drivers to wind down their windows and explain where they thought I might have gone wrong. Noisier but on balance safer than some A roads.

After three big days on the bike I wanted to have an easier day.  I haven’t suffered any muscle ache since Cornwall (the protein shakes with BCAAs I found in Bristol probably helped) but my knees are hurting.  It all started when I raised the height of my saddle which had a number of implications that cyclists will be familiar with: cleats needed to be adjusted, the saddle needed to be tilted and the additional leaning forwards was causing pain in the lower back and hands. So I stopped at Arrochar, now just 5km ahead of schedule.

The scenery in Scotland is stunning and for the first time since Cornwall I’ve been able to smell the sea. I’m not sure how good it is for swimming in, there is a lot of MOD infrastructure around and this park of tens of caravans:

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