Sunday, 29 December 2013

21,000 MILES

My bike completed 21,000 miles this evening. Fittingly the odometer clicked over as I pulled into my house drive after dark.
My wife bought the bike for me on 29 September 2007 as a birthday present. She had watched me riding around Dartmoor on my old mountain bike with stubby tyres, then saw me complete my first 100 mile challenge when I finished an hour behind everyone else. She detected my ambition to do more touring cycling and decided the mountain bike was no good.
For several days we went around various bike shops but it was when we met Phil Hoggard of Big Peaks at Ashburton that I knew that we had found the right bike. I have since found that Phil's knowledge and help is invaluable. He is the best bloke I have met.

In the time since my wife gave it to me, this bike has received more punishment than most bikes could cope with. It is a cyclocross made in USA and adopted for touring with heavy tyres. Of course it has seen lots of roads but the ruggedness stands with plenty of load carrying, off road cycling, river crossings, abnormal weather, etc. It has been completely reliable when needed. It is just as happy carrying a full load of shopping as with taking me for a fortnight with all my gear into the Scottish Highlands. Of course it needs servicing. Phil is amazed at how many brake pads I go through, yet the bike has had only two punctures in 21,000 miles and no spokes break at all. For the technically minded the tyres are Bontrager H2 and wheels Trek Race.

My first big ride was lejog and I went through Ireland, cycling 1,050 miles altogether. My bike has enabled me to discover lots of favourite places, many of which I have put into this blog.
Where next? The weather forecast is a bit wild for the next few days but during 2014 I hope to travel through southern France, Spain, go back to Scotland and revisit some of Wales

Saturday, 14 December 2013


My first ride in December took me around Bradford on Avon, Corsham, Melksham and along the tow path of the Kennet and Avon Canal, also NCN 4 of the National Cycle Network. Imagine my surprise at finding 150 Santa's coming the other way at Avoncliff Aqueduct.

A few days later, the evening was mild and I felt a bike ride coming on. The Dartmoor Way is close to my home. I wondered if I could find some Christmas lights if I took this route. The whole cycle route offers a 95 mile circular tour of Dartmoor and there are extra routes crossing the high moor in the centre. My short night journey took me across the valleys of Rivers Erme and Yealm, very interesting and slightly spooky at night. I passed the ancient church in Harford, cycled through some woodlands and passed several moorland farms. These are a few images from my journey:

This is the link for The Dartmoor Way. You can also follow me on Twitter.  Happy Christmas

Friday, 18 October 2013


I cycled past Jura's whisky distillery at Craighouse on the island's only tarmac road. I wanted to watch seals that I knew were just ahead. How did I know this? At 6am in the morning my wife got me out of bed to find some wildlife. It was completely dark. Now I enjoy watching wildlife but this seemed faintly ridiculous. Anyhow I got up and washed with whisky scented soap from the Jura distillery. This is how to get intoxicated without any of the risk. You just wash with whisky scented soap and the aroma stays with you. We set off to find some wildlife with the morning light beginning to appear. Our first encounter was nearly walking into 3 deer obviously with bad eyesight. We discovered a blissful sunrise and lots of seals.

Late in the afternoon, I decided to check these seals out on my own. It was high tide. I watched two seals for several minutes. They swam together, then bumped each other and dived only to come up and do it all over again. Sitting on a rock is a favourite pastime for seals. This is their way to chill out. One such seal was sitting on a rock just underwater. It had its head and tail in the air and looked like Moses walking on water. It sat there imperiously until a few minutes later another seal came along, grabbed it by its tail and pulled into the water. There was great flapping and commotion as it tried to stay on but tumbled off. Two more seals gave a display catching fish.
This is yet another Hebridian island friendly to cyclists and many locals have old mountain bikes.

A road bike is of limited use here as many of the roads are rough tracks leading you to isolated farms and coastal bays. This is however what makes it very interesting on the bike. A cross or mountain bike is best. My Trek X1 is built like a Landrover so it was really happy. The west coast is virtually unaccessible due to the mountainous landscape where the Paps of Jura are almost as famous as Skye's Cuillins but don't be deterred as there is a track to Loch Tarbert. The east is hilly and full of tiny inlets from the sea with several tracks. The whole island is full of deer. It is rutting season and stags are calling all over the place. I had many sightings. What with deer and seals, there are also plenty of otters, salmon, trout and lots of birds.

What should you take home from Jura? Whisky, whisky scented soap and venison. A good place to stay is the Jura Hotel, opposite the distillery where you will receive one of the finest welcomes in the Hebrides

Sunday, 13 October 2013


I will set the scene. I am on a day ride around western Islay. I am looking over a wide view and the sun is shining gloriously. To my right is Loch Gruinart famous among bird lovers for vast numbers of wading birds while behind can be seen the Paps of Jura, a spectacular mountain range on a neighbouring island. In front is Loch Gorm while beyond is Machair Bay where eagles fly. To my right is a whisky distillery.
Islay has eight whisky distilleries and nature so spectacular that it is hard to believe. Moreover cycling is easy by Scottish standards with few hills and very polite drivers.

I met several people who were determined to visit as many distilleries as possible. It is not just Scots and English fascinated by Islay's distilleries as people were coming from Sweden, Germany, France, USA and Spain to name a few.
As for nature, it feels like Islay is a little part of heaven. In fact if you are a whisky drinking naturalist who loves cycling it would be hard to leave this island. On 9 October, 32,000 barnacle geese arrived from Greenland via Iceland. They joined white fronted geese, brent geese, numerous waders, vast numbers of tiddly size birds and various birds of prey including the occasional white tailed eagle which is Britain's largest bird. The corncrakes had just left for South Africa.
As for the scenery, it is as good as anywhere in the Hebrides. It is more gentle on the legs for cycling as there less hills. It has magical machair beaches, a spectacular rocky coastline, fine little white washed houses in the villages and plenty of open moorland. Oh, the motorists are very polite to cyclists and this is another attribute in common with elsewhere in the Hebrides. Here is a small selection of images.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013


Scarastaveg, Horgabost and Seilebost are places I cycled past today. The names sound Scandinavian but they all have wide sandy beaches and are on the west coast of the Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides. The dunes behind the beaches are covered in fragile wild flower grassland known locally as machair. The east coast is granite where the sea goes in and out with little inlets and lochans behind. Man has made little impression on this landscape. A circular tour is 50 miles and these are a few images of the ride.

Saturday, 5 October 2013


Is the climb Belach Na Ba on the road to Applecross summit in the Northern Highlands one of Britain's most challenging for cyclists? It climbs 2,053ft, there are no flat bits, it reaches 20% with several hairpins and the weather is likely to be challenging.
I did it today and here is my story.

Starting at sea level beside Loch Carron, the first mile is easy enough. It is bright but I can see low cloud in the hills. The slope increases and as I turn a corner a head wind meets me. A motorist stops me. He says that it is very steep and nothing can be seen in the cloud at the top. He also tells me to watch out for deer. After another mile I see a herd of deer to my right. The road turns into the hills and I watch the loch getting further away. The wind varies depending which direction the road is going. Two motorists overtake and I receive sympathetic waves.

Half way up the slope is now steep but the wind has ceased. Clouds are now swirling just above me in a steep sided valley. It is time for a snack stop. I perch on a rock, eat chocolate and take a drink. It is quite cold so I do not stop for long. Shortly after my restart, I round a bend and am hit by a fierce headwind. It is now a struggle. My mind wants to carry on but the body is feeling limp. The road looks steep and clouds are swirling fast. It feels dramatic. More cars pass and there are sympathetic waves.

I walk for about 200m. It is too steep and the wind is too strong but then some energy comes back. I am in the saddle again and pedalling where previously I was walking. The chocolate must have kicked in. There are now a series of hairpin bends and the wind drops. However at the third hairpin a mighty gust throws me off my bike. I get back on and hear a stag roaring in the hills above me. What a time to be calling for a mate. I am thrown off my bike by another mighty gust. I resolve to cycle more purposefully.
I seem to be almost at the top and now the wind is behind me. It is now easy cycling although still uphill. A mile further on the summit is reached. I meet a German motorcyclist. He is from Dusseldorf and we swop notes of our rides. He is very worried about colliding with a deer.
There is a small stone pillar to mark the top and it has distance markers to lots of places but none of them can be seen as I am the middle of dense cloud. I want to take a photo of my bike against this pillar but the wind is so strong that it keeps blowing the bike over. All I can do is take a rather boring image as it is impossible to photograph wind.

I have cycled to the summit of Belach Na Ba and I am really happy. I look at a couple in a car. Their windows are misted up and they do not look to be enjoying themselves. I turn round and start to cycle back downhill but the wind is strong and coming straight towards me. I round the hairpins and lady motorist coming the other way stops me. She was totally amazed to see anyone on a bike and made all sorts of flattering comments which I lapped up. Half way down I realised the wind was behind me and it was a joyful ride back to Loch Carron.

Friday, 4 October 2013


The Kylerhea ferry connects Skye to the mainland at Glenelg. It carries 6 cars or 12 bicycles and has a turntable which is pushed manually by two seamen. I was listening to a fellow cyclist who was telling me about his home of self suffiency when a crewman interrupted to tell us that that we had just missed Sean Conway who is swimming from Lands End to John O' Groats. This guy is doing something that has never been done before. He has a great motto "Adventure, in its purest form, is simply a way of thinking".
Well, back to my bike ride today, it climbs a pass close to Ben Aslak then drops an unbelievably steep hill to the ferry. I wanted to see Glenelg and some nearby Brochs.

My journey involved cycling through Glenelg village to Glenelg Brochs where I found the home of my new cycling friend. Sean Conway's website is All I had to do was retrace my route which involved that seriously steep hill.

Thursday, 3 October 2013


Some of the lanes around Broadford here on Skye are just wide enough for a car and bicycle to overtake and most motorists are very polite. There is great waving of hands with saying thank you for waiting.
I was pedalling up a hill on one of these lanes when a minibus stopped ahead of me and waved me through. Well, Bradley Wiggins I am not and I made my best effort to reach the bus in the shortest time possible. As I approached I waved my thank you and as I came alongside, the driver wound down her window and both she and 20 passengers clapped as I passed. I am not sure who laughed loudest.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013


I am on the Isle of Skye in the Hebrides. The names evoke Nirvana and I am drawn to the Hebrides for yet another visit.  My base for 5 days is Broadford and it is just 15 miles across the most stunningly beautiful landscape to Elgol, a tiny coastal village looking west. The islands of Rum and Soay can be seen from here but most importantly the mighty Cuillin Hills look dramatically towards Elgol.

Monday, 23 September 2013


Once in a while, someone comes up with a really good idea for a bike ride. Yesterday's ride was a mini adventure. Our group were told to take flip flops and keep to exact times as we were to cross one river accessible only at low tide and two others as dictated by the ferry men.
Our group met at Saltram Park in Plymouth and headed off to the Volunteer Inn in Yealmpton where the landlord agreed to open one hour early for our group of cyclists. 20 minutes later we were on the road to Ermington, Modbury and our first river crossing, the stunningly beautiful Erme at Mothecombe.

We had to cycle 10 miles to our next river, the Yealm at Newton Ferrers where first we crossed an inlet accessible only at low tide and then a ferry

An unmade road greeted us on the other side where there were a cluster of ancient cottages. As we climbed we had superb views of the Yealm estuary looking out to sea. The Mewstone, a huge rock about a mile off shore, shimmered in the sun while a white mist was dancing tantalisingly around it. The track took us to Wembury where we rejoined the road and headed to a cafe and cream teas. Never have I seen such large scones as at this cafe. Some put their jam on before the cream while others put cream on first. One is the Cornish way while the other is Devon. Our final ferry took us from Mountbatten terminal into Plymouth's Barbican and we cycled back to Saltram

Wednesday, 28 August 2013


Three days riding with Pedal On UK was both a privilege and fun. It was fun because it was I like doing best and that is going on a cycle tour. I was one of a group of 17 Sustrans volunteers who cycled from Newton Abbot via Exe Valley Trail, Sidmouth, Blackdown Hills, Somerset Levels, Wells to Bath and Bristol.  The story is told on Pedal On UK Tumblr.
I was one of the Ride Reporters and my highlights were wide and varied. For me, these were special:
a) We cycled many miles on dedicated cycle/walking paths. These were hugely popular. There were families with young children, older people, disabled people and those who simply enjoyed being out in the countryside in a traffic free environment. The story that had most meaning were the Appleton and Miller families near Chard on the Stopline Way. Grandparents, their children and grandchildren all enjoyed the route. But one child was disabled and the smile on her face was a treat to see. These dedicated paths are genuinely cycling for everyone.
b) Sustrans commissions artwork on all its routes. All tell a story about the local area. Can you see Brunel hiding behind us in the image above?
c) I learned some new IT skills with a new phone that downloaded my stories straight on the website.
d) Last Dr Dawn Harper allowed me to take her picture as seen on the website. She was very friendly and genuinely supportive of Sustrans work.

So, where next? I am off to the Hebrides in October to enjoy fantastic scenery, outstanding wildlife and ride a few miles

Sunday, 18 August 2013


Cycling should be for everyone. It is a wonderful way to experience the countryside and wide open spaces. This is why I passionately support Sustrans, the sustainable transport charity who promote walking and cycling. Their concerns are like mine. There is too much traffic on our roads yet somehow Sustrans is creating a network across the whole country of safe cycle and walking routes.
Last Friday Sustrans linked with London Gamesmakers to celebrate their acheivements over three weeks with Pedal On UK. In its first few days it was on prime time BBC1 and Channel 5. Already Dame Kelly Holmes and Paralympic gold medallist, Dave Stone have joined in. There is more to come across the country.
I am Ride Reporter for Stage 4 Newton Abbott to Bath and Bristol on 24 -26 August. I have received my reporter's pack and have a mixture of excitement with a twitch of nervousness as I report on this ride. Will I meet a celebrity? That would be exciting.
Equally exciting will be cycling with 16 like minded people alongside South Devon's wonderful coast, across the Blackdown Hills, the Somerset Levels, into Bath and finishing in Bristol.
Locally to me Sustrans have worked hard and now Devon has an extensive network. Fellow Pedal On rider, Nicki and myself were out yesterday and again tomorrow training for our ride and, of course, we are on the network.

Sunday, 28 July 2013


Milnethorpe Sands are in Cumbria. My younger daughter, Jo whose second sport is cycling took me here. She wanted to show me where she broke her leg earlier this year. "Why do we want to go there?" I asked. "Because it is a beautiful bike ride" she replied.
When we arrived, she pointed out into the estuary. "It was there" she said "about a quarter mile out. I was kite surfing, misread the shallows and flipped over." I think that it is called a wipeout in kite surfing circles. Apparently she dragged herself back to shore, went into recovery mode and is now better.
Jo kite surfs the world and had just come back from Puerto Rico where she had been taking a kite surfing course. Jo has a website for medium and advanced courses. She does not normally have accidents.
We finished with cakes and coffee.

Saturday, 20 July 2013


Red kites were flying as I left my base at Rhydlewis, a tiny village about 4 miles from the coast. The O.S. map showed plenty of hills. I wanted to discover the valley of the River Teifi, sample the coastline and taste the inland countryside.
Rolling hills not dissimilar to Devon greeted me as I cycled to Cenarth where I met the Teifi and Lon Teifi, the long distance cycle route from Shrewsbury to Fishguard. The river at Cenarth has deep pools that hold salmon and where fishermen used to swing their nets from coracles, tiny boats made from animal skins. Today there is a museum and a few local people still have coracles.
The cycle route meanders to Cardigan following the river. Tree lined water meadows are seen with rolling farmland behind full of sheep and cattle.
The river enters a gorge at Cilgerran and an ancient castle looks down. Further on the cycle route follows an old railway through The Welsh Wildlife Centre and nature reserve just east of Cardigan.
I discovered two outstanding unspoilt beaches cycling north out of Cardigan, Mwnt where there is a tiny church and Penbryn. These are owned by the National Trust and local people must feel that they have two treasures.
The ride back took me through the hamlet of Betws Ifan where a workshop created in 1900 still displays enamelled metal signs that the owner's grandfather installed.

Sunday, 14 July 2013


Today seemed extra special as I cycled through the quiet Devon lanes where I live. I have cycled these routes many times. I left Ivybridge and went to South Brent. A mile south from here is the Cobbly Way at Avonwick. I clung on for dear life as I bumped over the cobbles and peddled off to Harbeton and Totnes.

It took me a while to realise why today was different. The morning was sunny and hot and it was not just me that appreciated the benefits of the weather. There was no traffic but this alone is not unusual. Cars like main roads and leave my little roads alone. What was special was the sound of birds singing, butterflies everywhere, wild flowers in the hedges and the smell of fresh cut grass for hay making.

Monday, 8 July 2013


This is the fifth year that I have joined the Balti Bike Club of Stafford's annual ride to the Welsh coast. Their main rule is that it must be at least 100 miles long passing through Snowdonia. This year it was to be 116 miles to Criccieth and we duly undertook the ride on Saturday.
Our meeting point was at Stafford Castle for a 6am start. Nine bleary eyed cyclists arrived with Andy heading the back up vehicles. He soon wakened us up with his bbc style interviews on his camcorder so our thoughts are recorded for posterity. I hope that I did not make a mug of myself!
Snowdonia beckoned. It was a 40 mile warm up over beautiful Staffordshire countryside to reach the Welsh border where the hills start.

The sun rose crystal clear in the sky and as we left Wem, it started getting hot. I had some factor 30 German suncream from a previous ride and on one occasion I plastered so much on my nose that I was asked by another rider if I had taken tips from Shane Warne. Well no, but my suncream became very popular with some of the others. At Llangollen, I was ringing wet with perspiration and had drunk 2 litres of milk (best drink for these conditions) as well as lots of water.
At Carrog while the others were enjoying lunch beside the River Dee, I cycled up to have a quick look at an old steam engine.

Lots of people have a nostalgic fascination with steam trains including me and I do not know why. Cycling is more fun though and I was relishing moving on.

We left Carrog for Corwen and Bala where by now we were in Snowdonia. The peaks were stunning in the glorious sunshine. How lucky we were with the weather. A wind blew up to cool us off. We had all spread out a bit because of the terrain.

Our fabulous back up crew kept us replenished with home made cakes and water. They always give magnificent support. There was the most enormous downhill through Ffestiniog. It would have been a killer if we had been cycling in the opposite direction. Becky and I whooped with joy as we passed 100 miles then I realised she might have been filming me.
The twist in the tale was at Maentwrog where with just 10 miles to go there was a 1:6 hill that did its best to break us. After that it was an easy ride into Criccieth where we had that mixture of elation and weariness that goes with a good challenge. A hot shower, dinner of roast lamb and a pint of cider soon replinished me.
Balti Bike Club's website can be found here and you can follow me on twitter.
Keep pedalling