THE FOUR MUSKETEERS ARRIVE AT CAPE WRATH.

Having left the North Foreshore lighthouse in Broadstairs, Kent, the most south easterly point of Britain on July 19th, we arrived at Cape Wrath on August 2nd, the most north western point.

The journey ever northwards has not been without unexpected incidents, but unlike so many previous trips, the weather has been near perfect, save for one notable hail, thunder and lightening storm as we crossed The Thames. Resulting in our hotel room being flooded. During our trip the temperature has ranged between 40 degrees to zero. Beads of sweat to shivering with cold, makes for perverse pleasure and diverse entertainment.

Andy, Colin Whitlam, Colin Pickin and I have thoroughly enjoyed our ride, a journey that just didn’t hit the 1,000 mile mark, (reasons explained later). Covering 924 miles or 11,487km (sounds better in km) and climbing over 15,000m or nearly 50,000 ft. (sounds better in feet) of elevation, took us 73 hours of peddling, sometimes at 80km/h (still sounds good at 50 mph) and on one occasion 5km/h as I pushed my broken cycle up a hill.

We have stayed in hotels, bunk houses and bed and breakfast places. Eaten and drank well to replace burnt calories and have seen much of the British countryside, from the pan flat fens of Lincolnshire, to the Yorkshire Dales, the water falls of the upper river Tee and onto the stunning beauty of the Grampian mountains and the far north of Scotland.

We have crossed rivers on ferries and bridges, The Thames, The Humber, The Forth, spanning the Firth of Forth north of Edinburgh and at the time of it’s opening was the longest suspension bridge in the world, outside of the America, at 2,512m. We have ridden passed many cathedrals, such as Ely, where Hereward The Wake stood against William The Conqueror in 1071. Seen castles and bastille houses, walked along pristine sandy beaches and successfully avoided any crashes.

Our minor mishaps did impact on our objective. With only two punctures on the trip, these were the least of our difficulties. Then Andy developed a mechanical problem that was quickly sorted. Then my Jockey wheel malfunctioned and took away the use of my easiest gear, (the one you drop into on very steep hills, when legs are screaming and lungs can expand no more), it also occasionally prevented the next gear from use too, with the chain not engaging in to the rear mech. Having visited one mechanic in Edinburgh, a second visit to Velocity Cafe and Bicycle Workshop, a great community bike repairers in Inverness was needed. Sometimes you just know when people are good at their job, my considerable thanks to you. However no soon had that issue been addressed, the bottom bracket on Colin’s bike started to leak oil. Soon, as he turned the peddles they became loose as we rode the little travelled lane around Ben Hope, the most northerly Munro. Limping into Durness, our journey complete, save for a ferry ride and a 22 mile round trip dirt track ride, it was obvious that Colin’s bike would not weather the challenge. Similarly, the road we had planned to ride to Cape Wrath lighthouse was far rougher than expected. We chose the easy option, albeit, bumpy and went in a mini van through the military firing ranges along the 100 year old track built to bring in the building materials for the lighthouse. As we walked around the Cape Wrath lighthouse we had a feeling of quiet contentment and sense of having accomplished something.

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Sunday- a day of rest, for some!

Today Andy, Colin and Colin and myself were joined first by Martin, John and another Tim, to ride from Ripon in North Yorkshire to Middleton in Teesdale in County Durham. Martin, having ridden with us yesterday into Ripon, branched off after Masham, to climb his way back to Ripon.

The five of us continued to Leyburn, then onto Reeth, where I met Ernie, a good friend of thirty plus years. We all had lunch then cycled through the village that was fit to burst with hundreds of visitors. Not a blade of grass of the expansive village green seemed free of parked vehicles. Within a mile, as is so often the case, the roads were mainly deserted as we headed for Tan Hill, where the highest pub in England is. Oh, that we were going there. Instead we turned off and headed up The Stang.

Now the Stang has earned a reputation in cycling circles, not because it is particularly steep at an average gradient of 7.1% or its maximum at 14% that gains 884 feet, but more for the climbing that precedes it and with our worldly processions for the next nine days strapped to various parts of our bike’s anatomy, we had to work hard. Lungs were opened to their maximum as they endeavoured to deliver oxygen to screaming leg muscles. This was the hardest challenge since leaving Broadstairs, 400 miles ago.

We all made it to the top without a stop and admired the 360 degree views. As much as the assent had fulfilled any masochistic enjoyment, the descent was a delight, as I hit over 70km/h, negotiating some interesting bends.

Sadly, Andy’s gear cable snapped on the descent, requiring him to work hard to arrive in Middleton. He has returned to Ripon to repair it travelling with John and the other Tim, who were kindly collected by Tim’s wife. Andy’s wife has also kindly agreed to return Andy tomorrow morning.

It seems improbable that the four of us were in Lincolnshire on Friday and will be in Bellingham tomorrow evening.

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THREE COUNTIES

Today, again it was hot as we cycled first through Essex, then Cambridgeshire then Suffolk to Ely where we are staying this evening.

We covered a rapid first 35 miles and set into a routine of taking turns to lead, as those followed inches off the back wheel of the one in front. We covered around 80 miles with 833m of elevation in 30 degrees of heat. I drank 5 bottles of water during the day, a rare occurrence.

We past many thatched houses and beautiful buildings, particularly those near Finchingfied, which itself is very easy on the eye.

We cycled near to the last farm I worked on before joining the Fire service in 1978. Manor Farm. I wondered if James Padfield was still the owner.

Tomorrow we travel to Woodhall Spa. 88 miles but so flat with only 88m of elevation. A day to be a sprinter.

Enjoy the photos.

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Day two of Kent2Cape

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KENT 2 CAPE

On Monday July 19th 2021, the capers of ‘quatre’ codgers sur lears velos will set off from Broadstairs in Kent to cycle north to Cape Wrath. A ride of nearly 1,000 miles with over 17,000m of elevation. These four codgers, clad in lycra on their road bikes and with as little luggage as possible, will head up the eastern side of the UK before crossing to the north west of Scotland, through towns such as Canterbury, Ely, Ripon, Bellingham to Innerleithen, Braemar, Inverness Laig and finally to Cape Wrath.

Some of you will remember that my good friend Andy Hill and I cycled across America from Seattle to Boston a few years ago and I have since completed several long-distance trips on two wheels and leg power, not least Spain to Norway in 2018. Andy and I again joined up to cross the Pyrenean mountains from Biarritz to Perpignan, Andy having planned that every possible mountain that could be cycled, was!

Plans for the past eighteen months have been affected by the pandemic. Covid has effected us all, some tragically and irreversibly, others less so and yet others have benefited. Although it has impacted, I have been fortunate. First there was a planned cycle trip that would have started in Athens and finished in Yorkshire where I live. Then a second trip that would have started from Tallinn in Estonia, south through eastern Europe to Bulgaria and then west to Albania and north to finish in Dubrovnik. Both had to be cancelled. However over the last year so many of us have rekindled our relationship with the country we live in. There are so truly wonderful places here in the UK.

So, if you are interested, Andy, Colin, Colin ( yes, there are two) and myself will be mounting up to ride every day until August 3rd, when we retreat from Durness to Kinbrace to catch our train home. I will be posting blogs, and Strava should show our route.

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A CHANGED WORLD

April 27th, 2021

This is the first contribution to the website for some time. Not surprisingly any plans there had been before the Covid pandemic have been ‘blown out of the water’. Like so many, home has never been lived in so much, for so long. Three to four months of most years will find me either climbing mountains or cycle touring. In recent years I have become addicted to cycle touring, aiming to stay off grid, wild camping as much as possible and enjoying anonymity. I have been reluctant to reflect on the past, choosing to concentrate on the future, planning new experiences and visiting new places. However, reflecting on previous adventures has become preferable to planning future trips that the only certain aspect is, the uncertainly.  During the last year I have finally written a book, not about mountain climbing, but the Spain to Norway cycle ride. This trip started on April 1st, 2018, All Fools Day, an apt day. Now the hunt is on to find a publisher. 

This world we live in will never again be the same as it was as 2019 drew to a close. In our new world, when that arrives, there are some aspects that we all sincerely hope we do not reengage with, whilst there are others that we will crave for but will be denied. The effects of Covid are beyond profound, the direct loss of life from all those dying of the virus and the indirect effects of further loss of life from those unable to have lifesaving operations that they would normally have received. And whilst I write this, India is descending into a Covid chaos, a desperate situation that can only get worst.

The unfairness, the chance of birth and personal circumstances have been highlighted. Some have benefited from the pandemic, but most have suffered. Here in the UK, we have been able to progress an affective vaccination programme, whereas in other countries whether it be through population density, finance, or a lack of leadership via denial, arrogance, stupidity, or ignorance, vaccination progress has been less than the necessary. We will emerge from this. The hope is that we do not return to some of our disastrous ways of living. The world climate has benefited from our pandemic, I say ours, because it was humans that through their dubious practises caused it.

Climate change should remain firmly on world leader’s agendas. Not just as a distant net zero target in 2050, so when we arrive at January 1st, 2050, the then world leaders can say, “whoops, we missed the target, because those living before us took little action”. Let us not dress this up in anything other than what it is. Selfishness and greed for immediate personal benefit has caused this mess. We all need to recognise that for the world to continue to be a place where humans and all life can survive, we, the human race, must make sacrifices. I am an optimistic person, but that optimism is fast fading. Zero emissions in 29 years’ time seems an age away. It nurtures a misguided belief that we still have time, we do not. We need targets for this year, next year and the following. And a realisation that a failure this year places greater emphasis on the following year.

In some ways I feel hypocritical. Although I hate much of what we are doing to our world, I love this planet, the natural world, the diversity of nature and differing cultures, all of which are under increasing threat. It is still a fantastic place that I want to travel to see more of. Several years ago, my carbon footprint caused by flying to many parts of the world was not good, hypocritical. In more recent years as I have stopped climbing the high mountains that required this flying, and done more cycle touring, that footprint has improved. How much my diligence with recycling and reducing waste from day to day living offsets my travelling is questionable.  

Most of us who plan expeditions and trip have been impacted by Covid 19. The planned cycle ride for 2020 from Athens back to Yorkshire was cancelled, but only after numerous alterations required as Covid first arrived in northern Italy, then spread worldwide.

I put together a plan for May this year to cycle from Tallinn in Estonia south through eastern Europe to Albania then north to Dubrovnik. With serious thoughts of cycling home from Dubrovnik to avoid air travel. As the pandemic remains so prevalent, this is not going to happen just yet. There is also a possibility that a friend and I may climb the Eiger in September, but again plans have to remain flexible. I am now incorporating different methods of travelling to destinations to avoid flying.

I still have a wish to cycle the length of Japan, to experience both a land and culture so different to what I have previously experienced. But that is selfish, why should my desire, that would cause further pollution and risk of infection be important? Some may say, “one life, live it”, others say, “the impact you would have would be minimal”. Hold on though! What if a million people did not go on that planned trip? Then there is the counter argument. Societies develop through responses to needs. Travel has been a big part of recent history and industries have built to profit from this. A million people not travelling will affect the lives of many who depend on tourism. From the airline industry, hotels, guides, local shop keepers and so many more associated businesses and hence livelihoods.

If in two hundred years there are not to be wars fought over water and millions of displaced people from sea level cities that have become submerged, then we need to wake up and face up.

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Something Happened This Time Last Year!

After returning from the cycle ride from southern Spain to northern Norway in 2018. I chilled out for a couple of months and planned an ice climbing trip to northern Finland, Sweden and Norway. Due to take place in March last year, it never happened.

P_20190627_205551_vHDR_AutoOn February 4th a potential life changing incident happened. Not while cycling or climbing or doing any activity that could result in injury. Sitting in front of a computer, my back went into spasm. My right leg felt as though it would explode. This sounds like a case of exaggeration, it isn’t. Hyperventilating and repeatedly punching my right thigh, the sight must have looked like a dark comedy. Two paramedics filled the small study room where I was writhing around and pumped me with morphine and other so-called pain killers like Tramadol, sadly to little effect. Off to hospital where discussions for an immediate spinal operation were discussed. My mildly deformed Lumbar had trapped my Sciatic nerve. Hours passed, then surprisingly I was sent home, not that I remember. The following day the pain forced me back to A and E and I was put on a ward but only for a few hours before again being discharged. The next day I wanted to amputate my right leg. Taken to a GP, she immediately ordered an ambulance and for the second time was blue lighted to hospital where I was again admitted. The pain killers could not be given fast enough and I craved them hours before the next batch were due. The doctors who visited me talked about operating, however as the days went on nothing materialized, it just fizzed out. I was high on drugs and was to remain so for weeks. My right leg was hardly usable and over the next month would shrivel to half its size with a 28-pound loss in body weight. Sleep was only possible for an hour or so after the pain killers, I had to have a bed tent over my leg, nothing could touch my leg, which for the first couple of weeks, I had to drag around. Without crutches I was immobile. Throughout all this my wife was brilliant, trying to get me to eat, stopping me overdosing on pain killers and encouraging me to think positively.

Anyway, “enough!” I hear you say. So, to round up this misfortune. After six weeks on crutches, things did start to improve. I was angry and frustrated and having been told that exercise would not hinder the healing process, I threw myself into exercise and training. Any amount of discomfort caused by this training was insignificant in comparison to what followed in the weeks after February 4th.

I suppose this tale champions the idea that yes, there is the possibility that you may have an accident whilst cycling, ice climbing or any other numerous sports, but you can also fall foul to injury by just doing nothing at the computer. Ironic! The concerning thing is that no one knows what triggered this and therefore there is no telling if, or when it will repeat itself and that is slightly concerning. I have put a photo of my legs on the website to show the difference between the two. It was taken about three months after the incident.

Let’s move away from this now.

Several of the following trips were planned and or undertaken out of determination that my active life was to continue. I turn 66 this year and certainly have not finished exploring and enjoying this wonderful world we live in.

All the following trips have photos posted in the gallery section of the website.

P_20190510_130244PORTUGAL:- This trip above all was planned spontaneously. As a solo outing it was to be a personal test. I had serious doubts as to whether my leg would be up to the planned climbs in northern and central Portugal. I achieved over 10,000m of elevation in 600km, but the wattage was pathetic. I returned with mixed feelings having enjoyed the country but seriously doubting if my leg would ever recover.

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BAVARIA and AUSTRIA: – My ever supportive wife and I drove to Bavaria for a sightseeing and cycling holiday. We thoroughly enjoyed our time. I took off early one morning to cycle the KITZBUHELER HORN, with its average gradient of 13%, achieving a reasonable placement on Strava and was back for breakfast for our 70km ride together. This was the first time that I had smiled for a long time on the bike, perhaps due to the exhilarating and cavalier descent.

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PYRENEES:- Andy Hill, such a good friend, we have known each other for over 35 years, hiked and climbed together and cycled across America from Seattle to Boston in forty days covering 4,000 miles. It was Andy again who organized a trip across the Pyrenees. Starting at Biarritz, he had, as usual included every possible climb east across to Perpignam. The last couple of days pushed me to the limit. I was thankful for his company because without it my resolve would have failed. Pain can be debilitating.

 

P_20191016_190244_vHDR_Auto_HPSPAIN:- I am working my way through all the cycling climbs in a book called Mountain High Europe’s greatest cycling climbs by Daniel  Friebe and Peter Goding. In which there are three climbs out on a limb in southern Spain. On the back of the Pyrenean trip, I planned a solo trip to do Pico de Veleta, Calar Alto and Sierra de la Pandere. I decided to ‘wild camp’ to give me total freedom. Now there was a light at the end of the tunnel of recovery. Perhaps I would never be able to produce the 400w power again, but I would be able to continue to cycle without compromise. The timing of this trip was spot on! As the plane lifted away from the runway, I saw that the High Sierra had now been plastered with snow.

7ec24f61555878be82c93d9a3dc7b43b50e5d0e7850b736c32d93e6283c32444AUSTRALIA:-  The part of Western Australia we visit is flat, very flat. The tarmac is rough, the weather hot, hotter than usual, the bush fires that were to ravish the country had just started. I rode through smoke on one notable ride. No one had any inclination as to what was to follow. The long flat rides were a pleasure and my still recovering leg benefited from the warmth and lack of hills. The main dangers are snakes on the road and dive-bombing aggressive Magpies.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALAPLAND AND NORWAY:- A departure from cycling, although a ride on a Fat Tyre cycle in deep snow was attempted. Every year I try and find a different country to go ice climbing and this was the trip that had been planned for the previous March. Postponed until January this year, my good friends Neil and Sean came along for a week of excellent ICE CLIMBING and what a week we had. Mickael Backman of Bliss Adventure did us proud. He had been completely understanding when I had had to postpone the trip back in February and during the year we had exchanged numerous emails and before we ever met, we felt as though we knew each other. He could not do enough for us. I have had many guides over the years and many have been so good, Mickael is up with the very best of them. If anyone is thinking of ice climbing in Finland, Sweden or Norway, I would not hesitate to recommend Bliss. In February sunrise was at 10.30 and sunset at 2.30. We climbed in daylight, at venues that were floodlit and we climbed by head torch. With the last couple of days skiing, dog sledding and snow mobiles, this was a special trip. My thanks to Mickael and definitely Neil and Sean.

AND OF 2020:- This year has seen the planning of a cycling trip from Athens back to Yorkshire via 22 cycling climbs in Italy, Austria, Switzerland and France most taken from  the Mountain High book. Incidentally Luke, a good friend, has informed me that a further book containing many more climbs has now been published, is there ever an end….  There is also a possibility that there will be a climb on the Eiger in August.

As I write this the Coronavirus is taking hold of so many countries. No one can know the outcome yet. Maybe there will be no trips this year.

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TARIFA TO NORDKAPP – a cycle ride from Southern Spain to Northern Norway

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is only a short article to accompany the photos that have now been put onto the website. Thank you all for your support throughout my ride. Those of you who know me will not be surprised that several thousand photos were taken during the 8,000 km ride.

My blog, which I wrote most evenings, hopefully sketched a picture of daily events, the joys, frustrations, elation, lows, injuries and sheer marvelment of the diversity of the countries I traveled through and the people I met on my way.

There is talk of a book being published, one that will contain the very best of the photographs and be accompanied with both blog entries and additional humorous and observational anecdotes.

As mentioned in my closing rambles, whilst enjoying the luxuries of a Hurtigruten cruise ferry to Bergen, I have now calculated some figures.

Total days spent cycling = 78

Total distance covered = 7,946.91 km

Total time spent in the saddle = 484 hours and 5 minutes

Total elevation gained = 94,816m (the equivalent to 10.7 Everest ascents).

Total calories utilised = 200,898 (25.2 per km cycled)

Average bpm whilst cycling = 91 (double resting pulse)

Countries visited:- Spain, France, Belgium, Luxemburg, Belgium (I liked Belgium), Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway.

Number of notable climbs:- Fifteen, five of these climbs exceeded 1,000m of continuous elevation and included such classics as Alto del Angliru and Lagos de Covadongo in Spain and Col d Aubisque, Hautacam and Cirque de Gavarnie in the Pyrenees, with two short punchy climbs in Belgium, Mur de Huy and La Redoute.

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Images of Bergen 6th August

Suffering withdrawal symptoms from cycling, however Bergen is a great city.

The hills are very steep.

Indecision is acceptable and understandable.

Nectar comes in glasses.

Warming up on a 140 round a minute anti aircraft gun, wives should be obeyed implicitly.

What no handle bars and a peculiar shaped wheel!

Getting lost amongst the numerous timber houses.

Deep into the Bryggen back streets of Bergen.

Cobbles and timber houses dating back to the 1700’s.

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A Leisurely Return from 71°10’21” to Honningsvag via Skarsvag. 28th July.

Back at my Honningsvag seaside residence, found by Brian (my thanks friend), I had just opened my ‘early’ evening beer, a Mack, remember the most northerly brewery on the world in Tromso, ….

Note the nice little touch on the pull ring.

…. when a man carrying a fishing rod walked through my back garden to the sea. For a fleeting moment I thought of offering him my ‘later’ evening beer, thankfully the moment evaporated quickly. Within fifteen minutes he had caught a sizable fish ‘this size’ that didn’t get away. It would have taken him more time to go shopping for it. These waters must be teeming with fish. Yesterday I took a video of hundreds of fish jumping, creating a sound like waves on the shore.

The anticipated feeling of anti climax never arrived. With the weather remaining perfect, beautiful surroundings, reindeer with calves at foot grazing the hills and a sense of achievement, I was feeling good.

Last night whilst waiting patiently for an opportunity to take a photo, a gentleman offered to take my picture beside the Globe. Frank and I immediately fell into conversation and spent the next few hours happily chatting. You really do meet some great people when you travel. Retired early through hard work and intellect, he had ridden his BMW from his home country of Germany.

Having pitched my tent near the north facing cliffs, I returned to the Globe to wait for the midnight sun. As the hour approached those of us who had arrived in plenty of time were edged aside by the professional late comers who have the ability to arrive at the front of any crowd without seemingly moving. Impervious to any protest, they stubbornly remain allowing others of their group to also achieve pole position. Perhaps the fence on the cliff’s edge shouldn’t be do sturdy.

The visitor’s centre at Nordkapp is impressive, providing information on natural history, historical events and a curved screen video of life at Nordkapp through the four seasons.

Part of the display of birds found in the region.

Here is a brief time line of some events:-

1539 – The Swedish priest Olaus Magnus drew a map of northern Europe. He filled in the undiscovered areas with sea monsters attacking ships. Nothing like instilling confidence in sailors.

1553 -The Knyskanes rock was first named North Cape by the English captain and navigator Richard Chancellor, in his search for his route to China.

1664 – Francesco Negri from Ravenna, Italy visits and is subsequently considered the first tourist to the area.

1873 – On 2nd July King Oscar ll of the Norway-Sweden union unveiled the royal monument to indicate the northern most point of the Norwegian kingdom.

1950 – Olav V, beloved king of Norway visited Nordkapp.

1956 – The road to Nordkapp was opened on 30th June. The first car having visited the previous year to start the Cape to Cape race to Cape Town.

1984 – On 7th June the Royal North Cape Club was founded, with the unveiling of the Midnight Sun Road.

The trusting nature of Norwegians is refreshing, cycles, vehicle snow tyres and other items of value left unattended and rightfully they are proud of their honesty. However with hundreds of other tourists around I didn’t feel comfortable leaving my cycle and gear unattended during the 20km walk I’d planned, so rode back to Honningsvag via a detour, to Skarsvag, which is, guess, yes, the most northerly fishing harbour in the world.

My previous less than complementary comments regarding the competency of some RV drivers was borne out when I heard the sound of metal scraping on tarmac as a RV rejoined the road from a layby at the top of the last long and sustained descent back to Honningsvag. I had stopped to check that my load was secure. Something getting caught in the spokes at 60km/h would have consequences. Turning, I saw the RV drive up the hill with it’s rear access ladder dragging on the road, door wide open and items falling from the vehicle. Any following vehicles would have had to negotiate the debris to be able to over take and advise the driver.

After a brief stop to take a photo with a coach party, both the coach and I set off down the hill. An exciting descent would be an understatement, pure enjoyment. Topped by half the passengers waving and clapping as they over took me as the hill ran out onto flat ground. The driver even touched his horn.

Tomorrow will be a chilling out day in Honningsvag, a town I now know well. Then a 4am rise on Monday to catch the 5.45am departing MS Nordkapp to Tromso, stopping at Hammerfest, the world’s most northerly city!

Honningsvag harbour.

The Nordkapp arrives to take me and Hugh to Tromso. I met Hugh from Bristol, UK as we both waited for her.

An expensive but excellent IPA.

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