Category Archives: Adventures UK 2015

Day 6 – Offa’s Dyke

By the end of this long day, every step I took was agony. I’ve been suffering with a heavy head and then chest cold since we started and it seemed to peak today.  By the time we arrived at our B&B I was feverish and I couldn’t wait to sit down and take my boots off.  Rod really kindly went out to get take away fish and chips for dinner as I couldn’t face moving again today. Not that I could really eat anything anyway.  I spent the late afternoon trying to get warm and going to bed early.

The day had taken us through some lovely countryside.  I was coping OK until probably the last 4 or 5 kms.  We had bits and pieces of rain on and off all day.

Day 4 – Offa”s Dyke

We actually surprised ourselves today.

It was a day to climb to the highest point of the whole Offa’s Dyke walk and a day where we were to walk about 21kms and then be picked up to go the extra 3.5miles (7 odd kms) into Hay on Wye. The next morning we were to be dropped off at the pick up point to walk those final 3.5miles and have the rest of the day to explore the lovely town of Hay on Wye.  Well we arrived at the allotted pick up point but it was a magnificent sunny afternoon so we decided to keep going the final 7kms and in that way give ourselves an entirely free day in Hay on Wye the next day. What a good move.  It wan’t too hard, although my feet were becoming pulp by this stage.  The blister and black toes situations weren’t improving.

What a terrific walk through. The Black Mountains are stark, high moorlands with steep sides and views for miles across the patchwork fields of the borderlands. Lots of highland ponies grazing through the heather.  The lovely town of Hay on Wye is .a book lovers paradise and lovely antiques. Our accommodation is the best we’ve had so far so it is so nice to be in the same lovely place for two nights. My feet really liked the break but unfortunately my blisters on one foot have become infected so I might have to resort to sandals when we start walking again.

A Jolly Little Bike Ride

I woke on the morning of day three and wondered if we were going to continue.  A bad cold courtesy of the flight over, and painful right knee as a result of a poor bike fit, started to play with my head.  Karyn had skin off where the sun never shines and was developing an Achilles problem.  We were struggling.  This was not what the travel brochure suggested.

At the beginning of the journey at Lands End, our lovely guide, Peter, said that the reason we cycle to the North was due to the prevailing winds. “They always come from the South at this time of year”.

After five days of fierce winds from the North and climbs that make Mt Cootha feel like a walk in the park, we were still struggling.  The cold had run its course, but the knife in the knee remained in place right to the bitter end. Karyn, in her usual way was as tough as teak.

I reminded Peter of his sales pitch, and after admitting that the wind direction was a little unusual he said that we should wait until we arrived in Scotland.  “Then you will see the sad looks on the faces of those poor buggers riding South, as they battle against the elements”.

I suppose that part of the reason we kept riding each day was because of our group.  They were amazing.  Some looked like they could not ride out of sight on a dark night, and their bikes were heavy, flat bars, no cleats and loaded with panniers.  But at the end of the each day, they would be there.  I think it was their inspiration that got me through.

Eventually, we did get to Scotland, but the wind remained the same.  It was on the nose in more ways than one.  Scotland was facing the coldest June in over forty years and we were in the middle of it.  On occasions it was difficult to just move forward, even on the flat.

And then came the highlands and the ski fields.  After leaving one peak for the descent, my bike started to wobble out of control.  I stopped three times within one hundred metres to check that everything on the bike was in place.  Finally it struck me that I was cold.  I was shivering so much that it was causing the bike to develop the death wobbles.  With temperatures near freezing, strong wind and rain, I didn’t think that I would get off the mountain.  But I did, and so did everyone else.

Towards the end of that particular day, Karyn and I had convinced ourselves that with only 18k to go, we had completed all the climbing required and it would be down hill to the finish.  We hadn’t counted on ‘The Lecht’.  It is listed as one of the top ten cycling climbs in the UK.  We took it on in horrendous conditions and after a day of constant climbing.

Karyn was off the bike and walking.  Ahead of me, I could see two of our strongest riders walking as well.  At 28% incline, the wind and rain on the nose, and the road disappearing upward into the mist, I threw in the towel and walked.  I was very disappointed.

Back on the bike, we finally made it to the top.  Conditions were poor to say the least.  Visibility was close to white out.  Then down we went.  Karyn, in her usual form, shot off like a canon.  She was keen to finish.  I finally caught up with her just after she arrived at our lovely hotel in the highest village in Scotland.  It has the record of the coldest temperature ever recorded in Scotland. (-29 degrees). It felt a little like that as we finished. An hour or so after Karyn and I were washed and changed and ready for a beer, the last of our riders arrived.  Cold and wet, but all completed the journey and no one got in the support van.  Just amazing.  For me, it was the toughest day of all on the bike.

Things improved after that.  Most of the climbing was completed, the wind eased (slightly) and we headed into Inverness and then on to the North coast of Scotland.  It is absolutely jaw dropping in its beauty.

On our last day of riding (day 19) we turned East to ride across the top of Scotland to our destination of John O’Groats in the North West corner of the country.  For some reason, the ever present wind decided to change as well.  This time it came from the East.  What’s new?

It was a great relief to complete the ride and finally stand under the John O’Groats sign.  We had ridden over 1700 ks and climbed 21,219 metres.  The equivalent of two and a quarter Mt Everests.  We celebrated together in the rain and the wind and toasted our good fortune in completing the journey without any mishap.  Our guides, Peter, Richard and John, from Skedaddle were sensational.

Karyn and I discussed the value or otherwise of taking on such a task over an extended period.  Would a shorter ride be better?  It did become a mind game, and I had to change my thinking to get through each day.

It was in fact a glorious ride with stunning scenery and a wonderful group spirit.  Our good friend Colin from Noosa was a stand out.  He rode strongly each day and kept everyone in good humour.

In addition, once again I learnt to never judge a book by its cover.

Day 3 – Offa’s Dyke walk

A bit longer day today but pretty flat and lots of fields.

My feet are going from bad to worse – not only blisters on both heels but my two big toe nails have turned black (this has never happened to me before in 45 years of bush walking)

Loving the walk though and finding it pretty easy going so far. False sense of security

Day 2 – Offa’s Dyke Walk

Hmmm …  Did I mention I got three blisters on my heels yesterday in the usual place.  It seems it doesn’t matter what I do but I always get them.  I’m accustom to it now but it makes going up hill particularly slow while I try to avoid sharps pushes on my toes that rip the skin off my heels.

Today was a shorter day as we got a lift back to the spot where we’d overshot the mark yesterday – Redbrook.  We had a fine morning but the heavens opened up about lunch time when we were in Monmouth.  Not too heavy though and the walking was easy – even when limping badly.  Monmouth really reveres Lord Nelson.  It appears he visited here twice to check on timber for his ships from the Forest of Dean.

We are out on a farm tonight so even our evening meal was provided for us.  All good.

Day 1 – Offa’s Dyke Walk

Let me firstly mention the achievement to Get To the starting town of Chepstow.

We left the Orkneys by bus and ferry after dropping  our hire car. We seamlessly caught a further bus to get from John O’Groats back on the mainland down to Inverness – 7 hours later, safely ensconced at the B& B in Inverness.  We had a lovely dinner at the little Italian we’d discovered when we rode through there a couple of weeks before.  After a slow morning around Inverness we headed out  to the airport about 12.30pm.  Only to be told that there were no counter check ins with Easyjet – only on line, and as we had not done that our seats were probably gone as the plane was overbooked.  Heart in mouth we waited while the Easyjet man decided whether he could make an exception – which luckily he did!  The plane was late leaving which put us behind time when we landed in Bristol.  We caught a later bus into Bristol which took forever but was also super hot as southern England was suffering their first heat wave for the summer and nothing is air-conditioned – especially not buses.  We finally made it to the bus station and caught the last bus to Chepstow – so hot for an hour.  We arrived hot and bothered about 6pm so decided to catch a taxi to our accommodation.  Ba-boung!! No taxis available for the next hour at least.  We decided to put our back packs on and walk – luckily it ended up being no more than a 15 minute walk downhill. To top it off, our information package and my boots (which I’d posted over from OZ) weren’t there but a quick call to Celtic Tours who’d booked our accommodation and will move our big bags each day and it was all sorted.  We just had time for a cooling beer and our for a quick bite to eat before getting to bed.  Unfortunately this meant we didn’t have much time to read through our instructions for the walk the next day.

So Day 1 starts well.  We decide to post most of my riding gear back to Australia so that I have some room in my pack (now that I’m carrying my big boots) so we didn’t get away until around 10am which is very late for us. The walk out of Chepstow was wonderful.  It its forecast to be the hottest day in the heat wave today but at 30 degrees it wasn’t too bad.  We are walking the Wye valley (well actually the ridge tops most of the time) and it is so pretty and green.  Offa’s Dyke is amazing to behold.  I real feat of engineering  from around 750AD.  Offa was a big English (Mercian actually) chief who built the dyke as a show of strength against the Welsh kingdoms but there is debate about the actual time and use of the dyke. It was about 8m high with a ditch on the Welsh side – altogether about 27m across but now in a lot of places it is hard to discern.  Our route today took us above Tintern Abbey which we had stopped at during the ride.

Now I’ll tell you why I wrote “unfortunately” when mentioning that we didn’t have time to read our notes carefully the night before.  I’d read the guide book which has a walker going through to a place called Redbrook on the first day – about 24kms.  As we descended down to Redbrook about 5.30pm this afternoon, we took out our instructions of where to find our accommodation for the night and found that it was actually about 8 kms back up the ridge to a village we’d passed long ago.  Luckily our wonderfully kind B &B host drove over to pick us up and bring us to their lovely guest house.  Needless to say, we’ve had a better read of things tonight after a meal at pub in a village nearby.

Day 20 – Last Day of Riding

The day was forecast to be rainy and very windy – on the nose of course.  I was dreading it.  But it turned out to be another lesson in living in the moment as we ended up having quite mild wind (albeit on the nose) and it stayed mostly dry and even a bit sunny and warm.  We had lots of up and down as we headed along the north coast across every little creek and river as it reached the coast but it was all fairly gradual – no more than about 13% on the steepest climb for the day.

We rode along with Gale and Ross and Laurence and Lyn and Colin. We arrived a little earlier to our hotel than the others so we headed for the pub to start our celebratory beers while we waited.  The idea was to travel the last 1/2 a mile as a whole group as we’d started.  It meant we could do the group finish photos etc and was a lovely way to finish.

Peter and Richard even broke out a couple of bottles of bubbly.

It was a great  but surreal feeling to finish.  It seems only yesterday we started way back at Lands End.  At the pub I met a guy who’d walked his final leg to John O’Groats that afternoon.  It had taken him four years walking small sections at a time and in some ways this seems like a more epic way to do it.  A big celebratory dinner tonight then a well earned sleep before an early start as we all head off in our separate directions tomorrow.  It feels like a should say something deep and meaningful but I’m just a bit at a loss for words.

Day 19

What a glorious day for our penultimate day of riding! We had an easy day of mainly “downhill” coming down from the Scottish Highlands and starting our final push for the north coast. The area we rode through was particularly effected in history by the barbaric “highland clearances”. This was where the wealthy landlords decided that they could make more money by grazing sheep than from the tenant farmers (or crofters), who had farmed the land since time immemorial. So the farmers were thrown out of their houses with no notice before the houses were burnt to the ground. There was one story I read about on widow who followed her husband around the world to the places he was fighting for king and country. After he was killed in battle she returned to this area of her birth. The landlord’s guards arrived to throw her out of her house and she begged them to give her enough time to get her things out as they were all she possessed. They threatened to start straight away so she could only drag the furniture a short distance from the house. The wind that was blowing took the flames from her house across to her furniture and ended up burning the lot to ashes.

It was such a delight to reach the sea this evening and it almost felt like we had finished even though we still hard 80 odd kms to ride the next day. Our hotel had a view from a cliff above the sea so we could see the rugged cliffs and beautiful sandy beaches in the estuaries.
The weather tomorrow is forecast to turn really bad so i hope this changes overnight.

Day 18

Day 17

Wow how wonderful to not have the wind!!   Today’s ride had no where near the climbing but it was so wonderful without the wind! We travelled to Inverness today.  Quite a mild ride of only about 82km and only about 800m climbed.  Actually more downhill than uphill today.  We are in whiskey territory now but we haven’t had a taste as yet.  We crossed the magical Spey river today which is supposed to give the Scottish whiskey the edge coming through pure high pastures etc.  It was quite cold and wet (althought not actually raining) as we were up in the highland mists for most of the day until we dropped to sea level this afternoon to Inverness on the Moray Firth.  A lovely ride really although anything is better than yesterday.

Wow I can’t believe it, only three more days to go.  We head into some pretty remote territory from now on so I doubt we’ll have the coffee stop opportunities we’ve been having to date.