Monthly Archives: June 2021

Day 30.  Lochranza to Crinan. 55km.

The wind had settled overnight, which meant more midges in the morning (but not as bad as Glentrool which as midge central) so we did not hang about in the campsite but pedalled down to the ruined castle. The small ruins date from the 13th century but there was enough there to get a feel of the  place protecting the harbour and the glens behind from marauders.

Then on to the short ferry ride over to Claonaig on the Mull of Kintyre.  We met a group of cyclists doing the ‘5 ferries’ route from Ardrossen, Arran, Islay, Jura, Bute and back to Ardrossan. One to do another time when we are not loaded wih paniers.  They told us that, on a good weather weekend in the summer, there can be up to 150 cyclists on the ferries and that bikes out-number cars on the ferries.  That is a sign of how cycling has taken off as a passion for men and women here – something that was a marginal activity a decade ago.  We also saw far more touring cyclists weighed down by kit – again showing the growth of this activity in this part of Scotland. The economic impact that so many cyclists have on the local economy must be significant, and it partly goes to explain why buying a new bike is so difficult at the moment. 

Cloanaig is in the middle of nowhere so once the cyclists and handful of cars had disappeared, we pretty much had the road to ourselves as we climbed away from the sea.  The occasional cars we did meet were all very tolerant, pulling into the passing places to allow us to pass rather than the other way round.

Once we were over the hill and heading towards Tarbert the road was busier but soon we were having delicious coffee and second breakfast overlooking the pretty harbour at Tarbert. We were now on the route that we did in Scotland in 2017 and think we were in the same cafe! We discovered that we were not too complimentary about Tarbet then, but we were wrong.

One more headland to cross coming out of Tarbert then the road hugged the shores of Loch Fyne. Flat and with a tail wind, we motored along to Lochgilpead at the end of the loch.

We had our picnic lunch by the Crinan canal, then ambled along the tow path all the way to Crinan – stretching out and enjoying the last section of this adventure.

At Crinan we reached our resting place with our good friends Richard and Sally on their amazing island in Crinan harbour. Loading all our bikes and kit into their little boat was fun!

As always their welcome was warm and generous, the setting spectacular, a fitting end to this journey. We had been here in 2017 when they first moved; but the house has been transformed into a fanastic open space since then, overcoming all the challenges of building on an island. 

We both agreed this trip had exceeded all our expectations. We had discovered and rediscovered so many parts of our own country, had met up with many family and friends after the long drought of  the pandemic. We also discovered that we still loved this form of travel, could still manage it (with perhaps some slight modifications to recognise our advancing age) and, perhaps most surprising of all, still enjoyed the rough and tumble of camping.  There were experiences that we would not have got without camping, including seeing the unbelievable beauty of the sun falling into the sea north of St Davids and early mornings that were so peaceful that we wanted to bottle the atmosphere and re-experience it at a later date.  So that’s the end of this blog but we are already planning our next trip…….watch this space. 

Thanks for being with us for the last month, and for all your ‘likes’ and thought provoking comments.  They are mostly from people we know and they mean a lot to us. Having family and friends ‘virtually’ with us as we tackle yet another 10km of climbing and knowing that they will share the view from the top by a photo somehow keeps us closer to you all.

Day 29: Ardrossen to Lochranza (Arran):  22km and 600m of climbing

Today was a gentle exploration of Arran.  We started with the ferry from Ardrossan which we had taken 5 years before to Campbeltown, but this time we went for the shorter crossing to Brodrick on the Isle of Arran.  It took 40 minutes and cost £8.40 for us to cross – with the bikes being free.  The wonders of subsididsed transport services.

Brodrick, where we wheeled our bikes off, is a lovely village with a timeless feeling.  The accent here is softer than on the mainland and the impression is that life runs at a slightly slower pace here.

We had the choice of 70km or 20km in getting to our campsite on the north west of the island – so opted for the 20km option.   Before cycling we explored Brodick Castle and gardens.  This was a hunting lodge until the middle of the C19th when  a pushy German princess who married into the family that owned the place insisted on expanding it to a large house.  Shen then lived there for 50 years, long after her husband died

and (according to legend) entertaining celebreties of the time (who wanted to do things unseen well away from London and largely having a continuing affair with her gardener.  Her husband had died falling down stairs drunk in Paris after an argument about gambling debts – all a very strange world.

The house was solid Victorian but otherwise uremarkable.  The gardens were lovely, a mixture of local plants and imported species from all over the world.  We ambled for a pleasant hour and then found our bikes – chained up outside the Arran Brewery (how appropriate).   There was lots of information on the family and the use of the house, but none on the fact that they made their money from the highland clearances, including evicting settlers from Arran who had been there for generations.  So a slightly one-sided view of history.

The road from Brodrick north hugged the coast and was mainly flat through a series of villages, none of which showed the demons of modern development.  Planning on Arran must be tighty controlled – preserving the existing feel of the place.  Then we started the climb of the day across to Lochcranza.

It was written up as a devil of a climb but, after Devon and Wales, seemed not too bad.  The hills were barren and beautiful and the road snaked up to a pass.  Unfortunately our timing was crap as we ere cycling inot a strong wind and hit a rainstorm near the top, and came down in driving hail.  We were cold and wet by the time we reached the Lochranza distillery and shop, so ambled around for 10 minutes in the warm to dry out.

Then to the campsite – free of midges at that point as the wind kept them at bay.  We set up our tent and then went for a 3 hour walk along the coast.  There was an important geological feature – Hutton’s unconformity – which showed that the rocks were many thousands of years old and had been formed by seizmic movements.  That theory – later proved to be correct – showed the earth could not be 6000 years old as per the bible.  It is hard to understand how contraversial this was at the time but it left Mr Hutton in very bad odour with the clerics.  He was not the first scientist or rationalist to challenge religious orthodoxy, and will not be the last. 

We walked back to the campsite along the bluff, enjoying the early evening views across the sound to the Mull of Kintyre, where we go tomorrow.    Our plans to explore the whiskies of Arran were stymied by the Hotel being closed (not open until 1 July) so we were in bed by 8pm and read for hours as it hardly goes dark at all here at this time of year.

Day 28.  Glentrool to Ardrossan.  98km. 940m climbing

Today was definitely a day of two halves.  The morning in the hills and the afternoon by the sea.

The morning ride was glorious.  I doubt the road is busy at any time but leaving early on Sunday morning, we only saw a handful of cars for the first 40km. The scenery was stunning – misty to start with then lovely sunshine. Having battled a headwind for the last 2 days, we had turned north and the wind turned to a southerly so we were blown along. Two big climbs but reasonably gentle and the second descent was wonderful – 10km hardly touching the brakes.

We ended up on a pretty main road for a few miles into Ayr but we are getting good at putting our heads down and pressing on through these – there have been very few on the  whole trip. We turned off into Ayr and headed for the sea front. Time for coffee but unfortunately the first place was full so we pressed on – big mistake as we found that most of Ayr is shut on Sunday and so was every coffee shop – in fact that was the only coffee shop that was open all da and we missed our chance (but maybe that was why it was full)!

The afternoon route took us on cycle route 7, hugging the sea shore – only diverting around a series of golf courses, including Royal Troon. The route twisted and turned along paved paths, sometimes shared with pedestrians. Most of the route was pretty built up.

Towards the end we had got fed up with the bike path , which was adding kms to our route, and decided to do the last section on the main road. Wrong decision as we found ourselves riding down the slip road onto a massive dual carriageway! Luckily there was a turn off after only a few hundred meters and we were able to pick up the quiet bike route again into Ardrosssan.

Tonight we were in a ‘traditional’ B and B. I’m not generally a fan of these places but there was no campsite and no other accomodation. This one did nothing to increase my enthusiasm – the owner was very friendly but covid had (necessarily) added to the (long) list of rules to be followed. But the shower was little more than a trickle, the TV failed to work and the ‘breakfast’ was both inadequate and inedible (left out in a paper bag from the night before).

Eating possibilities were limited in the town on Sunday evening so we ended up with a microwave meal, a large bag of tortilla chips and a bottle of wine, which marginally made up for everthing else and a longer than expected day.

Day 27:  Castle Douglas to Glentrool: 83km and 950m of climbing

Today started with goodbyes and thanks to our wonderful WarmShowers hosts, Warren and Esther.  We had a fascinating evening eating in their garden and swapping travelling stories – and much else.  There are some things that are only instinctively known or experienced by those who have travelled abroad by cycle for long periods.  Our collective days cycling pales into insignificance compared to Warren and Esther’s 4 years on the road, but there were so many common experiences, including the incredible kindness of strangers.

The first 12 miles were pretty relaxing , mostly downhill and with little wind.  We reached Kirkcudbright where we had arranged to meet our long standing friends, Malcolm and Pat, who were staying there for a week.  They had just packed up to go home and we saw them for coffee by the quay.  I recall this town featuring in Five Red Herrings, a detective story by Dorothy L Sayers which I must have read 45 years ago.  It was described there as an artists’ community and retains its arty feel today, with gallaries and exhibitions alongside the coffee shops.

We were sad to say farewell to Malcolm and Pat but had a fair way to cycle that day and so were waved off as we cycled around the bay.  The road followed Route 7, around the little villages of the peninsular to the East of the town.  The wind was getting up and parts were hard but we got to Gatehouse of Fleet for a sandwich lunch in a small park – which may have been the gatehouse which gave the town its name.  The sun was out, the riding was pleasant and the gentle rolling scenery of Galloway speaks for itself.

The next section was more of the same – and equally good.  There was a significant climb on quiet roads to show us the interior of the area, and then a descent along terrible roads where the bumps nearly put us into the vegetation at the side.

We stocked up on provisions in Newton Stewart, which seemed a pleasant place, but apart from using the Co-Op, we did not linger.

The last 20km were out of the wind on a lovely valley which followed a river. Stunning scenery and a terrible road surface, which made it quite hard work. However the forest soon got us to our campsite at Glentrool. It was a lovely site but with one drawback – MIDGES!!! They were everywhere on this lovely site and, by the morning, we were bitten all over despite every effort to combat the little b******rs. The last time we cycled in Scoland we had finished by the end of May and avoided the little blighters, but this evening is was full on war (and we lost). C’est la vie.

Day 26.  Port Carlisle to Rhonehouse

This is the second attempt at writing this blog (this time on a phone), as David indicated our tablet died on us.  It may therefore lack some of the nuance of a blog written on the day after but the overwhelming memory of headwind has not been forgotten. 

This day was dominated by Wind – and the capital ‘W’ is intentional.  We were blown along our first 20km along the Solway Firth towards Carlisle.  It felt great but also full of trepidation as we knew we were cycling the other way on the Scottish side – so whatever was in our favour for the first 20km was against us for the rest of the day. We were right to be worried!

We met our first touring cyclists of the trip at a level crossing just outside Carlisle.  And, as these things happen, two others came along like buses in a row!  They were both doing Lands End to John O Grouts. They weren’t camping so were travelling much lighter than us, and soon wizzed on past us.  Over the river Usk and we entered Scotland.  We paused at the ‘Welcome to Scotland’ sign just ourside Gretna and caught up with the touring cyclist couple, and took the obligatory photos.   It did feel like a landmark. They then carried on North while we turned West and into the teeth of the strong wind.

It is difficult to explain to non cyclists how difficult a headwind makes cycling.  Of course you have to work much harder but psychologically my brain keeps telling me that I should be going faster.  It’s like going uphill all day long, but without downhills to rest the legs.

The first stretch was very exposed and after 8 miles from Gretna we pulled into cafe for our first Scottish ‘second breakfast’ feeling windblown and somewhat daunted. This was the Cafe Royal at Annan, in a building where Robbie Burns penned his poem attacking exercemen – tax collectors who collected for the Crown and themselves on the side.  Possibky well informed and possibly somewhat ironic as he was working as an exciseman at the time.

We carried on, fortified by breakfast but knew we had a long day.  On the plus side, the terrain was mostly flat; but the flatness meant there was no relief from the wind.  The predictions were that it would swing from south-westerly (mostly against us) to westerly (totally against us) that day. The predictions were sadly right.

Somewhat fortified we pressed on – we were a bit more inland and there were more hedges and trees for shelter so the wind wasn’t quite so bad but still relentless.  We had a brief respite from the wind as we turned north up a river towards Dumfries – but as that section was also slightly up hill there was still not rest for the legs!

We reached Dumfries after 70km and had our picnic overlooking the river.  The afternoon section was more hilly – nice rounded hills without steep sections – but our legs were already tired so we felt it.  The scenery was lovely though and kept us going.

At last we rolled into Castle Douglas and then the last few kms to our Warmshowers hosts for the night.  For those new to this blog Warnshowers is a hosting website for touring cyclists a bit like couch surfing.  We offer a bed for the night to passing touring cyclists (we live on route 45) and can request a bed when we are touring.  We struck gold with our host tonight. Warren and Esther were warm and hospitable. 

They had had spent 4 years cycling through various countries around the world and understood why we do this crazy from of travel.  We shared reminiscences and had a wonderful meal and great conversation.  The moved to Galloway 4 years ago and had set up a cycle holiday company ( when the pandemic hit and they had had a very difficult year but were impressively up and running again. 

They were also the instigators of a gravel cycling festival this coming October.  Their love of cycling and of Galloway was evident and their entrapeneurial spirit will see them through. We wish them well and cannot think of anyone who is better place to make cyclists get the very best out this wonderful part of the world.

Day 26 (ish): Technology failure

Sorry to report that, after being lugged around for years in a pannier, the Lenovo tablet has finally objected to being treated so badly and has gone on the blink – and hence the only way to post blogs is using a phone.

That is, to say the least, challenging but as this post shows, is not impossible. It also means that the witty, entertaining text Bernie wrote for the last day may have been lost for ever.

So please bear with us – we are working on solving the problems and normal blog-service will resume when we can.

There are sometimes blockages in the roads of life!

Day 25: Day off in Port Carlisle

The G7 was going on today but yhat was far from our minds as we explored the Campfield Marsh bird sanctuary, just to the west of Bowness on Solway. This is moor, saltmarsh and peatbogs -classic wetland with a huge variety of wading birds. We are amateur birders, which is a missed opportunity as we live in a birders paradise in the Wyre Forest. Maybe we should take a course and educate ourselves about bird types and habitats – something for the coming years.
Here those who do know about such things have re-created pools from the peat bogs to support the birdlife, and allowed humans to walk around the outside. We saw relatively few of the wonderful creatures because it was blowing a hoolie, and the birds were far too sensible to come out for our benefit when they stood a chance of being blown to Inverness. But we saw Barnacle Geese, oyster catchers, lapwings, skylarks and some wonderful tiny birds that moved too quickly to be able to identify them.

We spent the afternoon in our airbnb – one room wide and 3 floors up – reading and relaxing, as well as doing a bit of trip planning for the next few days, and planning the next trip. Details will follow if and when it becomes possible, but maybe there will be more blogs later in the year.
Then we walked out to Glasson Moor, and saw even fewer birds. Not surprising given the strong wind. The trees were alive with birdsong but, at this time of year, we could not see the source of the sounds. Still it was peaceful and relaxing.

So that was it – cooked for ourselves, decided the pub did not look interesting enough to visit and watched rubbish TV whilst we prepared for a 100km day tomorrow which will be mainly against the wind.

Meanwhile, in Cornwall, Boris seems to have agreed with everyone on everything.

Day 24: Glenridding to Port Carlisle. 60km. 760m climbing

I had the unfortunate event in the night of my sleeping mat having a slow puncture- the first in its 8 year life and had to blow it up several times. I must have been tired as I managed to get to sleep each time before it fully deflated and only woke when the hard ground became too cold. I can attest to the fact that it was just getting light and the first birds beginning to sing at 3.30am!

In spite of this it was a wrench to leave this lovely campsite but we have clocked it as a place to return to and move on we must. We climbed away from Ullswater and into the last remnants of hills of the Lake District.

This was a wilder area and almost completely devoid of people. I suspect that is because most walkers are attracted to the more dramatic scenery, but there were a few heading off to the Caldbeck Fells. The area had a feeling of remoteness about it which was more reminiscent of the Scottish highlands than the Lake District.

Although ups and downs it was not too steep and a very enjoyable ride. We stopped for nice coffee in Caldbeck in a converted Mill and after a final hill had a magnificent decent into Wigton – a long, long gentle downhill on straight roads (no need to apply brakes as we sped along at 60kph), no cars and no pot holes!

Even though we were 11 miles from our destination we had been told that Wigton was our nearest supermarket and as we were having a day off the next day we had to stock up on provisions. Our panniers were bulging and the bikes felt fairly rocky but we were now into the flat lands making our way up t the Solway Firth. As we had had all morning we had a strong tail wind and we were blown along to Port Carlisle at great speed in spite of being overladen!
We easily found our Airbnb – not difficult as Port Carlisle only has about 20 houses! Ours was a funny little 3 story terrace – each story being one room. Plenty for our purposes and it had a washing machine!

Later we strolled out and looked over to Scotland across the firth. It was slightly drizzly giving misty atmospheric views. Port Carlisle had a the potential to have grand previous history but it started and stopped before it got going. In the brief period of 50 years when the port was operating and before the estuary silted up, a canal was built from there to Carlisle 12 miles away. The plans were for it to become a thriving port, but it seems to stopped before it really got started. The canal was filled in and a railway line built in its place. At this point, if you wanted to travel from Newcastle to Liverpool, you took the train to Port Carlisle and the steamship from Port Carlisle to Liverpool. That method of travel only lasted until a rail line was built from Newcastle to Liverpool! Port Carlisle also became the jumping off point for many migrants seeking to make their fortune in America, but that trade ended in the late C19th when the big ships could not get up the estuary.

All that is left now is a grassy channel where the canal and then rail line had been and the last ghostly ruins of the stone dock. An evocative, interesting and wild place to spend our day off tomorrow.

Day 23: Kendal to Glenridding

I am sitting typing this on a campsite in Glenridding looking out on the fells as the sun goes down, with my sleeping mat folded against a fence and my feet in my sleeping bag. I have an Eccles cake, a herby tea and have just been fed a lovely ‘one pot’ meal by my dear wife (I cooked last time – strict rota). My legs have half a day’s cycling in them in the sunshine (including Kirkstone Pass) and half a day’s fantastic mountain walking, also in the sunshine. It could get better but at this point it is hard to see how.

Today started slowly, owing to the fact that we booked breakfast for 8am. Eggs Benedict was on offer so how could I resist. We are silent fans of Best Western hotels – not sure why but they always seem to do fine, have supportive staff and not make a fuss about the bikes. This one invited us to wheel the bikes through the lobby into an unused function room and then locked it to keep them safe. Thumbs up from us – they could not have been more supportive. They even delicately told us that we had not paid – as if it was an optional extra we might consider. We had assumed wrongly we had paid on booking, but did so – and left with a smile.

The first few miles out of Kendal were gentle – the suburbs ran for a mile or so then we passed through a series of villages which were really more suburbs. Finally, out into the country and the climbing began.

We passed a ‘posh bike shop’ which specialised in taking large amounts of money from men in exchange for bikes they could lift with one finger. We were not their target market, but they did not blink when I asked to borrow a foot pump to check our tyre pressures, and Bernie used the ‘facilities’. There is no doubt that touring road cyclists are now something of an endangered species in the UK. There are many on the continent, many of whom are British, but we have encountered very few on this trip in our own country. The bike shop people looked on as I pumped up our tyres – with a look that would not have been that different if we were riding penny farthings. C’est la vie – they were kind enough not to laugh to our faces.

We did one relatively small climb then dropped down to Troutbeck to start the largest climb of the day over to Ullswater. It was a 350m climb which did not look too bad on paper – but then we did not climb it ‘on paper’ but with its series of 16% mini climbs to begin with. Tough but so are we.

Half way up we looked at the OS map we had bought in Kendal (for walking later) and discovered that this was Kirkstone Pass and is the highest pass open to road traffic (454m high). Apart from the 16% sections, it was OK. The clouds were coming lower as we rose and it all felt a bit gloomy. Then we saw the road down to Ambleside – called ‘The Struggle’. It had 20% gradients and so we can see why it is called that. Hardknott Pass – which we will not do – has gradients of 30%. There are descriptions of people who do those sorts of climbs and they should not appear in this blog.

The descent to Ullswater was magnificent, partly because the sun came out, partly because the wind was behind us and partly because it was not too steep after the first set of vertiginous drops. After doing under 40km, we ambled into the Glenridding campsite about 1.30 and set up camp.

Then we took out our walking shoes and braved the trails. This is the first time we have travelling with trainers which are tough enough for a decent walk. Our cycling shoes have cleats on the bottom so are not great, even though they are marketed as ‘hike and bike’. The walk justified hauling the shoes for the last 1500km. We walked up to Red Tarn – for those who know the area – a tarn below Hellvellyn with striding edge on one side and Swirral Edge on the other side. It sits in a natural bowl – God’s amphitheatre.

The descent was long – muscles used in a different way were objecting – but they were mollified by a short trip to the pub and a promise that we won’t put them through this again tomorrow.

So a half and half day – or two days in one. Another really memorable day.

Day 22. Leyburn to Kendal. 76km. 1000m climbing.

We woke in our pleasant little campsite to a slightly misty morning. I know camping isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but we feel very pleased that we still really enjoy it. We love our little tent, the simplicity of camping and the fantastic locations you wake up in.

As we set off cycling up Wensleydale on a lovely quiet road on the opposite side of the valley to the main road we were soon in tea shirts but the brooding clouds over the moors quickly caught up with us and we had our first rain for a couple of weeks. By the time we had pondered whether to put on the full rain kit including overtrousers and overshoes, the answer was obvious as the heavens opened. Soon the road was like a river but our kit was good and we stayed dry on the inside. After about half an hour the rain eased and we were dry for the rest of the day.

The scenery was stunning and the cycling relatively easy and we could just potter along taking it all in. We had our morning stop in the pleasant town of Hawes. I was fretting that after this our Kamoot route (our route planning app) had us going the next 18 miles along an A road. It usually avoids any main roads but after looking at the alternative options we decided to continue the easier route along side the river. All soon became clear as the ‘A’ road crossed a tiny weak bridge so any heavy traffic had to turn on to the B road and we found ourselves cycling on what must be one of the quietest A roads in the country (although I do recall an A road in the outer Hebrides which was a single track road with passing places).

We ambled up river and eventually climbed out of Wensleydale and over to Garsdale Head. The scenery still fantastic, the road still very quiet as we passed from Yorkshire into Cumbria and were soon cruising down lovely Garsdale. Just before Sedburgh, the Howgill Fells reared up before us. The compacted rock of the fells resisted the glaciers of the ice age, resulting in smooth rounded hills, compared to the limestone rock of the Yorkshire Dales. The Dent Fault marks the geological transition where the earth buckled he rock 270 million years ago. It all made for great views.

The last section to Kendall took us on some tiny roads up ‘get off and push’ hills but soon we were rolling into Kendal and arrived at our hotel about 2.30pm. Although we had done 76km and 1000m climbing, little of it was tough and arriving early felt like a half day. To took the opportunity to rest and relax in our comfortable room (we like camping but also not averse to a decent hotel!). In the evening we found most restaurants in Kendal are closed in Monday evening but we were fortunate that an excellent Thai restaurant was open and had a delicious meal to finish off another lovely day.

Day 21: Bradford to Leyburn – 91km and 1450m of climbing.

Early Sunday morning is generally a lazy time for us but when we are travelling, Sunday is much like any other day. We rose early and packed up. Jane kindly got up to see us off, but this is not a time on a Sunday which works well for her – so thanks for the effort!

The first few km were through the Bradford suburbs, with houses getting larger and the number and size of the cars increasing as we headed away from the city centre. The road ambled up and down, and then we descended towards Shipley, near where we were yesterday. Then up and out onto a farmland area with the moors in the distance. The pictures speak for themselves, but it was stunning country.

After about 15km we came to Ikley, which was just setting up for what looked to be a brilliant food festival – almost as good as the ones we have in Bewdley. There were stalls selling hot and cold food, cheese, wine and pastries. If it had been 15km further on we would have stopped and indulged, but we felt we had only just got going and it was too early to stop. So with a heavy heart, we cycled past all the stalls without stopping. Possibly a mistake? We will never know.

Then we joined a quiet, undulating road towards Bolton Abbey. It was quiet of cars but busy with MAMILS – middle aged men in lycra on expensive cycles, going much faster than us. Some were in ‘trains’ where everyone was wearing the same kit! About 95% men and all fully kitted out, strava was no doubt engaged and heads down. I hope we did not lower the tone too much but there is no doubt ‘Yorkshire cycles’ – we must have seen several hundred cyclists over the morning.

We reached the impressive remains of Bolton Abbey after 30km, and stopped for a bacon and egg buttie and coffee – totally fit the bill. Then we ambled around the site for an hour, but could not go in the church because there was a service going on.

The Abbey must have been magnificent and a rival for the more famous Fountains Abbey (on the other side of the Dales) in its heyday. It was dissolved by Henry VIII in the dissolution of the monasteries in 1519. Once we saw how powerful it must have been, we understood why Henry felt he had to remove this alternative source of power in his country.

Then we ambled through the Dales for the rest of the day. Pictures are better than words at this point, but it was the end of half term and, as we followed the Wharfe valley, families were everywhere having fun in the river, cycling, walking and lazing in the sun. The Dales felt like a playground for the surrounding towns – well used and much loved.

Our route took us up a steep climb but, after seeing a sign which warned of 25% gradients, we decided to take a longer but less challenging route which took us up and into Wensleydale. We searched for Cranberries but saw none – a joke for Pippa.

We finally got to the campsite about 5. Once we had set up we went for a walk and spent 15 minutes watching a group of curlews, flying around, screeching to each other in their distinct call and generally (we assume) protecting their nests in the long grass from intruders (and they may have thought we were in that category). Their flight was low, fast and accurate. It was a total privilege to observe them, but we moved on in case we were the cause of their angst.

A long day but brilliant one which we will always remember for the views of the Dales.

Day 20. Day off on Bradford.

It was great to spend sometime with Jane ‘in the flesh’ so to speak, after 15 months on zoom. We dawdled about in the morning looking out over the amazing panorama of Bradford from her front window, writing up the blog from the last few days now that we had a working keyboard.

In the afternoon Jane took us to Salt Mills, an enormous mill building converted into a shops and arts complex in the village of Saltair. We spent a lovely time browsing through an eclectic selection of books laid out on tables covering art, photograph and a whole range of other arty type subjects. All around the walls were David Hockney paintings, a born and bred Bradfordian.

Some of the books of photographs were beautiful but we had to resist buying – maybe another time. We looked around an exhibition a Yorkshire artist, name forgotten at the moment, who had a quirky take on Yorkshire landscapes (and life in general). We then had walk along Shipley Glen and had ice creams looking over the views.

In the evening we went out to an Indian restaurant in the centre of Bradford (the International), full of families and humming with life. The people watching was as good as the eating – and that was excellent.

A great day off and we really warmed to Bradford – a city without pretensions where the people are the thing. Still being tired from yesterday, we were in bed by 10.

Day 19: The ‘big one’ – Macclesfield to Bradford: 90km and 1800m of climbing

The first thing to say about today is that the title of this blog post is not an error. In all previous cycling days, we have maxed out at 1600m of climbing but today was a new peak, namely 1800m. That is over a mile straight up! No wonder we felt tired at the end of the day. But it was also a magnificent day’s cycling and one we will remember for a long, long time (as will our thighs and calves of course).

We got an early get away from Chris and Marilyn’s and plodded uphill and then down to Bollington and the wonderfully named Pott Shrigley. From there we began one of the classic climbs of the Peak District, namely the ‘Old Brickworks’ climb up and over to Whaley Bridge. It is ranked as one of the best 500 climbs in the UK according to one cycling website – which does not seem much! But at 8am it was lovely in the cool, sunny morning.

We then descended to Whaley and had a look at the house our son, Ant, is buying (from the outside) and were fed coffee and croissants by Chris and Kate Jeffrey as we met their delightful son, Aaran (hope I got the spelling right).

With a heavy heart we left them at about 10 and traversed the outer reaches of the Manchester conurbation, and climbed some really steep hills to Higher Chisworth which gave us amazing views. By the time we got to 1pm, we had reached Greenfield and had done over 1000m of climbing – our usual marker for a tough day. The Greenfield Cafe had everything a cyclist needs – good coffee and an all day breakfast.

That set us up for the next 340m climb up to Saddleworth Moor (of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley infamous recollection). We knew this route so well as it was where Ant climbed most of the height of Everest when doing a charity cycle ride last year. We climbed it once but he did this about 20 times! It was steep at the bottom but then we plodded up at about 4% to 6%, with the spectacular scenery developing with each turn of the pedals.

Not a place to linger on the top, a few photos and then a steep descent into Meltham. We were now into South Yorkshire and passed through a few towns before we spent 20 minutes in the sunshine having tea and cake in Huddersfield. People watching is a fascinating pastime the world over, and Huddersfield is no exception. We sipped tea, felt weary limbs and watched the area’s colourful cast of characters taking a gander at us as the passed by, some arguing with each other and some making up publicly from arguments. In our cycle shorts, bikes with panniers and looking older than we had a right to in lycra, I suspect we were equally part of other people’s people watching afternoons.

Back on the bikes and the last 30km to Bradford was mostly on main roads, with intermittent cycleways. Finally we coasted down the hill towards Bradford city, only to find Jane (Bernie’s sister) lives up a series of steep hills on the other side. It was 2 pretty dishevelled looking individuals who turned up on her doorstep seeking hospitality, but she was welcoming and it was great to see her. A hot shower, a beer and 3 burritos life things were looking up – but we cannot have been the greatest company at dinner!

Day 18. Oswestry to Macclesfield. 99km 380m climbing

Today was our longest but also our flattest day. Very different to our cycling of our last few days – distance is covered so much faster on the flat. It was also a day that split neatly into thirds.

Our first section took us through pleasant back lanes to Whitchurch and a coffee stop.

This was near to home territory for us so it was coffee shop we had frequented on previous rides. The second section took us to Nantwich, which merged seamlessly into Crewe. Having only experienced Crewe train station before I was hoping to be pleasantly surprised but unfortunately this was not the case as we found ourselves cycling along a busy ring road. At least they had cycle lanes so were trying their best to be cycle friendly. After 10 miles of urban cycling we were at last back out into the countryside and had our picnic on a bench overlooking a duck pond. We watched a pair of Moorhens diving down and coming back up to feed their 3 chicks and aggressively chasing away any Mallards that strayed too near their offspring.

Finally, the Cheshire plain petered out and there were hills ahead. We made a small diversion to Biddulph Grange gardens. These were created by one of those creative Victorian eccentrics who built an Italianate villa and gardens to plant his collection from all over the world – so there was a Himalayan section, Japanese section, Egyptian section etc, including fake temples and sphinxes. Utterly bizarre but the gardens were beautiful and the wide range of Rhododendrons in full bloom. The Italianate villa largely burnt down and the central part replaced by the gruffer grey/lack stone that is much more characteristic of the area. It only remained a family home for a few decades then went through various iterations. It was a children’s hospital from 1923-1960 and then an orthopaedic hospital until the National Trust took it over in 1988 and started to restore the gardens. After partaking of the NT tea room (including cake of course), we spent a very pleasant hour wandering around.

Revived we were into our last section to Macclesfield. Our legs were reminded that hills existed but we also had a fun flat section along the Macclesfield Canal tow path – including the Bosley Lock flight.

We did not quite make the ‘ton’ as we rolled up to our friends Chris and Marilyn, clocking 99.1km! It had been a great day and we had another wonderful evening. It has been such a great way to catch up with old friends. We first met Chris and Marilyn in 1988 on a trek in Ladakh in northern India. We were with old friends, discussing issues affecting the world and rediscovering things we had in common as we surveyed the state of nations. Although we have not seen each other a great deal in recent years, we immediately felt at home with them. This trip has been a wonderful way of reestablishing contact with people who are important to us.
It was great to open a bottle of champagne with Chris and Marilyn as an early celebration for their 50th wedding anniversary.

Day 17: Bala to Grimpo, near Oswestry: Not very far and not too much up!

I was woken by the birds at 5.30 and crept up to avoid waking Bernie. I brewed up a cup of coffee and then spent a glorious hour reading on my own, listening to the birds. I was reading ‘The Big Sleep’ by Raymond Chandler and was lost in a world of 1950s America whilst sitting on a stone in a Welsh campsite.

Bernie woke up and we packed up and left within an hour or so. The first part of the day involved a climb up to the highest point of the Berwyns. These are less visited mountains than the Snowden range to the north but are lovely in their remoteness. The top point of the road was 500m up, and the moorland stretched out on all sides for miles. This was the site of a supposed UFO landing in January 1974, but the event is now put down to a combination of a small earthquake, a meteor shower and lights from poachers who were up on the mountain at night. Well, that is the official story at least!

I stopped at the top to allow Bernie to catch up. She had delayed to take pictures on the way up and so it was a few minutes before she joined me. Whilst waiting I was approached by a man who was sitting having a coffee outside his campervan. He was a Polish guy who had lived in the Lake District for 18 years and took himself off to mountain bike in remote parts. Like us, those remote parts outside the UK were cut off from him so he was exploring his adopted country. We chatted, exchanged views on cycling saddles and on life on the road. A lovely encounter – ending with us both wishing each other well in our travels.

The descent was, of course, short but exhilarating as we dropped 300m into the Tanant Valley. This valley is less than 1km wide but it gently drops from the Berwyn mountains into the Shropshire plains. It has a long and interesting history as it was the route for armies fighting between the English and the Welsh over centuries, as well as having religious foundations dotted through the valley. The road was quiet and we motored along in the sunshine, aided by a slightly tail wind and the slightly downhill.

At the end of the valley we re-emerged into England, but with a renewed appreciation of the beauties of Wales. There is so much more to explore in Wales and we look forward to doing so in future years as it is on our doorstep.

We by-passed Oswestry and headed to long standing friends who live in the village with one of the best names in England, Grimpo. We had estimated our arrival time at between 3 and 4pm, so were slightly embarrassed to arrive an noon, but nothing phases them. We then sat in their garden to recover after our 42km ride – not as long as previous days but just what was needed after a few mega days in the saddle.

The rest of the day was a total delight; catching up with people we had not seen for 18 months, swapping stories about what was happening to our lives and theirs, and increasingly what our respective children were doing as they forged their way in the world as adults.

We also did a rationalisation of our kit, sending a parcel home containing the computer, after using it to write the previous day’s blog (we are always at least one day behind). We had ordered a new portable keyboard so we could write the blog on the tablet – but it later proved not to work. That explains the delay in posting this blog – apologies to regular readers. We are now in Bradford (day off with Bernie’s sister Jane), have a keyboard that works and so will spend part of today catching up on the last few days.