Land's End to John O'Groats 2012

Pitlochry to Inverness - Sunday, 5th August 2012

Haydn was still working on his bike outside as everyone gathered in the dining room, I helped him to reflate and fit his wheel whilst waiting for my full cooked breakfast. The hotel owner's daughters had their photographs taken with the torches. We gave our thanks to James and said good-bye for a second time as he wasn't coming with us to Inverness, catching the train back to Dunfermline instead.

After a warm up session led by Stewart, we saddled up and cycled along the drive to General Wades Military Road turning left towards Pitlochry. As we passed under the railway, I helpfully pointed out a sign to warn Carol about the low bridge, not sure she was that amused! We joined the A924 with the River Tummel on our left and cycled through Pitlochry which seemed to be still asleep. The road then passed underneath the A9 and became the B8079 through the wooded Pass of Killichrankie to Blair Atholl where the nice petrol station lady kindly signed our LEJOG verification forms.

We joined the A9 at Pitagowan where the ascent started up Glen Gary. The scenery was just magnificent, the hills became higher and the valley sides steeper as the road climbed. We passed through snow gates at Dalnacardoch and continued to climb past the point where Loch Garry empties into the valley. The road turned northwards through Drumochter Pass where after 25 miles of cycling we reached the summit at 1,516 feet and stopped in the lay-by for lunch.

photograph - bike at Drumochter summit

Rob had an appointment for a live feature on Radio Bristol. We all piled into the bus to listen and heckle whilst Rob attempted two quiz questions, he failed on both. Stewart made banana and peanut butter sandwiches and we all had an enjoyable time (the 'Ahh Vienna' dancing will stay with me a long time) whilst we ate lunch and contemplated our beautiful surroundings, the little Druimuachdar Pass Station was alongside. There was much reading of maps and somebody suggested an alternative route, not sure why but we seemed to agree on a change based on 'local knowledge' and a feeling that it wouldn't add to the day's mileage.

So it was that we hurtled down Glen Truim to Dalwhinnie and turned off the A9 and cycled around the wonderful Distillery on the A889. We were back on General Wades Military Road and after a significant little climb the long glorious descent started down to Catlodge. We realised that we'd lost Carol as we joined the A86. This was a lovely ride in glorious sunshine, we stopped a few times to take photographs and Haydn discovered perspective, by stepping forward he could look the same height as everyone else!

The road ran alongside the length of Loch Laggan, then the second descent began. We could see a high mountain range ahead and stopped by the road down to Tulloch Station to take photographs of Ben Nevis. We finished the descent through Tulloch, Roy Bridge and Inverroy before arriving at Spean Bridge, where we rolled round to a car park behind the Spean Bridge Hotel.

It started to dawn on me that we'd travelled a long way south and that Loch Ness now lay between us and Inverness, the Garmin said we'd done 67 miles with 55 to the destination and it was 5.00 pm. This was confirmed when Stewart whispered to me "I suppose you already know how far we've got to go". He was right, I did. The team seemed to take the news that we'd be doing 122 miles that day instead of the planned 90 quite well considering.

Gav's family arrived and Carol went off in search of a dozen lattes and returned with milky coffee. Alex fastened his spag bol ready meal to the van's exhaust manifold with some gear wire to allow it to cook on the way to the next stop. We helped to push Christine's car up the car park and bump start it.

We headed north on the A82 with a few climbs over to Loch Lochy and Invergarry. The weather was closing in, the wind picked up as the sky grew darker. The headwind started to affect progress and it became obvious that the extra miles wouldn't be pleasant when it began to rain. We arrived at Fort Augustus in a torrential downpour and I took the opportunity afforded by a Gulf petrol station to duck under the canopy for a 90 mile respite stop. I realised that not everyone had followed but Carol and the others soon joined me for a discussion.

We were under time pressure as Carol wanted to collect David from Inverness bus station, he'd already reached JOG and was on his way back by bus. For some reason, everyone seemed very concerned about me and felt the need to help. The offer of a lift in the bus was met with a swift stern (probably too stern) response, I suddenly felt very much on the defensive. Having made it clear that I would be cycling to Inverness, the others offered to shelter me and 'drag me along' through the aerodynamics of drafting.

Several times during the ride I'd tried this 'drafting' technique without feeling any benefit whatsoever. I'd also voiced my objections doing it in the wet due to wheel spray showers from the bike in front (in truth I inwardly claimed the moral high ground due to having full mud guards). When I once again questioned the effectiveness of drafting, the irony of already being soaked to the skin wasn't lost on me when somebody asked if it was because of the wheel spray. To me it didn't matter whether I cycled close behind someone or cycled alone, exactly the same effort was required.

I have to say that my temper was slightly frayed at the inference I was causing delay by taking this 'unnecessary' stop. I watched as staff at the 'Scots Kitchen' opposite desperately repelled waves of water sent their way in the wake of each passing lorry and felt fully justified in taking shelter. My suggestion that the other three cycle ahead to Inverness and that I follow at my own pace seemed to calm the situation. Carol kindly agreed to stay with me for support whilst Alex and the van drove ahead with the others.

Stewart had originally proposed the road on the south side of the loch to avoid the loops at Glenmoriston and Drumnadrochit, in the event we'd already missed the turning. With 32 miles to go, cycling alongside Loch Ness would have been very pleasant had it not been for the headwind and rain.

I had it in my mind to take things steady with one or two brief stops along the way. Carol overtook me and I caught her up again when she stopped in a lay-by. She asked if I'd prefer for her to follow behind or keep going ahead in 'cat and mouse' fashion. Given that I'd already expressed a wish to cycle alone, we agreed on cat and mouse.

In the event, I made good progress at a not too shabby pace. It was growing dark gradually but thankfully the rain eased. The loop around Glenmoriston added some interest with a short climb. I stopped at Urquhart Castle to take some photographs but couldn't see any sign of Nessy. It became very misty as I rounded the Drumnadrochit loop which actually went a reasonable distance 'inland'.

Carol bought a few things in the Co-op and at our next stop offered me a carton of banana milk. It'd been a long time since I'd drunk flavoured milk, however it was an absolute revelation and I could feel it's energy giving powers immediately. In fact banana milk was all I could think about and I finished off the carton when I next pulled alongside the bus just after Lochend. Carol was on the phone, it appeared that the others had been four miles from finishing, ten minutes ago. There was a short climb by Dochgarroch before the run into Inverness.

It was late, dark and misty as I followed the bus down Glenurquhart Road turning left on Kenneth Street then straight on Telford Street to our B&B. Lyndon Guest House was a hive of activity with Gav's family getting things organised for supper, Haydn told me that they'd been back fifteen minutes. Christine kindly helped me find my room on the top floor which I was sharing with Stewart. Dave had been found and was in the pub.

A long life saving hot shower later and I felt cleansed. I had to step over Rob who was on the floor being worked on by Stewart and leave the room due to the screaming. Chinese takeaway was ordered, collected and later consumed in the lounge washed down by Irn Bru.

There was much banter, Dave told us about his solo journey since Stockton including the unfortunate painful news that he'd lost most of the skin off his back-side. He kindly left the life-saving sponge that he'd bought for anyone else who required it's posterior protection properties. I reflected on the wonders of Savlon which had been my own preferred and effective prophylactic, together with the marvellous comfort of the Brooks B17.

I was falling asleep in my sweet n sour chicken so finished, made my apologies and retired to bed, comatose before my head hit the pillow.


Day 9:
122 miles
average speed 13.9 mph
climbed 4,031 feet
cadence 40,067 revolutions

van - Alex
bus - Carol
physiotherapist - Stewart

To John O'Groats