Saturday, 2 April 2016

JOGLE, as traffic-free as possible

Hi, I'm Alan Hill

In autumn 2015 I cycled from John o'Groats to Land's End. A week earlier we'd returned from a cycling trip in Slovenia, where we'd biked 400 kilometres from Bled to the Med. We cycled with just spare clothes, camera and drinks bottle while our suitcase winged its way to the next night's hotel! Softies!

On arriving back home home I was horrified to see I'd put weight on over the trip, and this called for drastic action. Within a week I'd hatched a plan to cycle the length of Britain, carrying camping gear, and with a commitment to cycle off road where possible. When the tarmac was unavoidable it would be unclassified roads next, followed by B roads, and A roads as a last resort. I'd been knocked off my bike by a tractor 18 months earlier, and was still pretty nervous on busy roads.

I took out a subscription with the Ordnance Survey; this was well worth doing as I could print off sections of maps for the places with complicated route finding. A torn-up road atlas did for the easier parts. I contacted David Piper for any tips. He was someone who had done the LEJOG several times, and created a route which used a lot of off road sections. I had a bit of inside knowledge on some Scottish off road routes which I planned to throw in the mix.

I did make the occasional route adjustment as I went along, but largely stuck to The Plan. By the time I reached Land's End I'd managed 34% off road, 37% on unclassified road, 18% on B roads and 11% on A roads, some of which were Scottish single lane A roads, and deserted!

Friday, 1 April 2016

Post Mortem

Back road near Okehampton
November wasn't the best time of year, with the short days giving only 9 hours of light. The worst aspect of autumn were the rare days of sun; the flat light and general gloom were a bit depressing. It was good for stealth camping in England though, as I'd often put the tent up as the light was fading, and then be gone at first light. So towpaths and assorted farmer's fields were used with impunity!

I'm not sure if the winds would be more favourable in the summer. I had headwinds every day, and some were absolute pigs! There was a good northerly one day, but I missed that as it coincided with my enforced break in Nuneaton! And Storm Clodagh kindly blew me from Land's End to Penzance where I took a train back to Inverness.  I hardly had to pedal!

The kit all worked fine. I had a pair of rear Ortlieb panniers, an Ortlieb bar bag, and a 12 litre dry bag which fitted along the top of the rack. I took an Ortlieb 4 litre waterbag, two aluminium billies, an MSR 'Pocket Rocket' stove, and a 1 litre plastic measuring jug to use as a mug (perfect!). I slept on a Thermarest 'NeoAir XLite' mattress (350 grams and packs to nothing), and used a medium-weight sleeping bag which was often too warm due to the very mild weather.  In Scotland
Great Glen Way
I used a Vaude Hogan Ultralight for the first three days, then swapped it for a Vaude Power Lizard, only because the Lizard was a sandy colour and would be better for stealth camping. It only weighed 1050 grams, and had plenty of room for one person, and enough space in the vestibule to cook under cover, a big plus in November! It wasn't as stable in high winds as I'd hoped, and the foot of the sleeping bag would often get damp during heavy rain and wind. It easily fitted inside a pannier.

Dundas Aqueduct, Kennet & Avon Canal
I carried a 1/2 litre flask, wrapped in insulating mat to keep it secure in the bottle carrier, and a standard drinks bottle. The flask was great for stops where there were no cafes, but I might not bother with it for a summer trip. I picked up sandwiches for lunch most days, had a late morning cafe stop, and usually avoided carrying evening meal food, just buying it that afternoon if possible. I'd try and fill up the 4 litre waterbag in the late afternoon if I was camping, or buy a couple of bottles of water to see me through to the next morning.

I took 'Middlemarch' by George Eliot, to read, tearing out the pages as I read them, and using them to help dry the boots if they'd got wet. Sorry about that George.

Horse was a Dawes Galaxy Cross, steel, with disc brakes. I thought the brakes would be great, but they wore quite quickly and needed to be adjusted regularly to be effective. I had both sets replaced in Nuneaton, and the rear ones were only worn across 3/4 of the surface, so hadn't been set up properly in the shop where I bought the bike. One of the tyres need replacing at about the halfway point; the side wall was starting to blow out even though there was still plenty of tread left.  I had 12 punctures, all on off-road sections. 10 of these were caused by thorns on canal towpaths; apparently they cut the hedges at the end of the summer and leave the cuttings lying on the path. Next time I'd fit  Shwalbe Marathon Plus. Did I say next time?!! Some of the towpaths were really hard going due to the mud and grass. Obviously they were do-able on the touring bike and road tyres, but knobby tyres would have made a huge difference on the canals, and on some of the single-track sections of the Great Glen Way.

With a combination of very undulating back roads, tortuous progress on the canal systems, headwinds, soakings and pressure of short days it felt like the hardest thing I'd ever done. But I managed to lose half a stone, despite ending up with quads like Lindford Christie!


Ortlieb Handlebar Bag containing:
Diary/Compass/Camera/Phone/Pebble Explorer battery pack/Headlamp/Multitool/Puncture repair kit/Tyre levers/Maps for the day/Folding knife/First aid

Ortlieb 12 litre dry bag along top of rear rack containing:
Buffalo mountain shirt/Spare gloves (I took 3 pairs: fingerless gloves, full finger unlined/full finger lined & waterproof (in theory!)/Overtrousers/Lightweight waterproof shell jacket

Ortlieb rear pannier set containing:
4 season sleeping bag/Ortlieb 4 litre waterbag/two nesting aluminium billies/MSR 'Pocket Rocket' stove/lighter/gas cartridge/Small square scourer/1 litre plastic measuring jug mug/'Spork'/Thermarest 'NeoAir XLite' mattress/Spare maps/Assorted cable ties/Gear & brake cables/Small pack towel/Hand sanitizer/Tooth stuff/Small tub 'Baby Butter'/Vaude tent/Book/Spare clothing/Tea and coffee bags/Instant porridge

1 700ml water bottle
1 1/2 litre flask

Salomon lightweight boots
1 pr short neoprene gaiters (great for keeping the water out of boot tops)
2 prs socks
2 prs thermal undies
1 pr thermal leggings
2 thermal tops
1 lightweight stetch fleece pants
1 Ron Hill-style pants
1 lightweight marino T shirt (pub wear)
1 Vaude soft shell top
1 padded cycle shorts
1 Lightweight cycle shell jacket
1 pr waterproof overtrousers
1 Buff-style windsock hat
1 Buffalo mountain shirt
3 prs gloves
1 wool hat
1 lightweight climbing helmet

I took 2 Ortlieb compression dry bags, one to squash down the sleeping bag, and the other to compress spare clothes

It was unseasonably mild, so I usually cycled in boots/Ron Hills/thermal top/soft shell jacket/unlined full finger gloves.
When the temperature dropped for the last few days, and after a couple of bad soakings, I wore fleece pants, and the Buffalo mountain shirt with nothing underneath. Perfect!

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Day 23 St Ives to Land's End

I woke at 6am and couldn't sleep so went out to check on Horse who'd been locked to some railings all night. Horse was still there, but one of the rear lights had been nicked. I had a leisurely breakfast, and a late departure at 9am. It was a steep hill straight from the pub door, then a descent almost back to sea level before a steady climb to the cliff-top moors. Storm Clodagh was by now having a ball, gusting over 70mph, and I crawled along, occasionally being brought to a halt, and once getting blown completely off the road. The worst sections were as I approached the crest of hills, and my helmet would repeatedly lift up and down as the slack in the straps was taken up. At least on the downhill sections I felt like I
Carn Galver
was covering ground, and occasionally a high dry stone wall or hedge would provide some respite from the wind and there would be a few seconds of blissful calm. Zennor was only 8km, but it took an age to reach. Standing stones and old tin mines were passed, the most impressive at Carn Galver. In the distance I could just see the tops of the cliffs at Bosigran. The last time I'd climbed there was in 1982, just 24 years old. I wondered what I'd have said if someone had told me that in 34 year's time I'd be biking that road into storm force winds?  It was a relief to arrive in St Just and see Land's End signposted as 6 miles away. The headwind became more of a sidewind, then it was onto the A30 through Sennan. If I'd had the OS map for the area I'd have seen an off-road path through Sennan Cove and on to Land's End, which would have avoided the A road.
The last 20 metres were decidedly odd. There was a white stone plinth on either side of the road emblazoned with FINISH. 'Finished off' would have been more approriate as I collapsed over the line. The cheerful figure of Shaun the

Sheep waved from beyond the Grecian-style pillars, and the words UGHNU which had me wondering whether I'd become competely unhinged, until it became THE LAND'S END DOUGHNUT COMPANY. Visitors from the Far East were staggering around with looks of utter bemusement at a helicopter impaled on a girder, a temperance building, Arthur's Quest and the Lost World Experience, all closed. I had the obligatory photo underneath the sign.
'What do you want on it?' 'The Long Way To Little Comfort?' 'Not enough room. About End-to-End?' 'That'll do.
I went into the restaurant and order a Cornish cream tea, and rang Fiona up. "I've made it!', voice almost cracking with emotion. Then I rang the folks.
The end is nigh
'Hello Dad'
'Hello son. What's the weather like in Inverness?'
'Don't know. I've just arrived at Land's End'.
'Yes it's been windy here too. Is Fiona there?'
Heads were turning to see why I was shouting.
'Land's End? Just arrived? What took you so long?'

Day stats 31km    455 Metres of ascent
Off road 0km 
A road 4km 
B road  26km 
Unclassifed road 1km
Well done Horse

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Day 22 Boscarne to St Ives

St Newlyns East

 I popped the last of my super-pills and was away by 7.45am in a brief lull between showers and took a back road to Rosenannon, then St Columb Major where I grabbed some sandwiches. I took the road through White Cross and into St Newlyn East,  a pleasant enough village but absolutely dominated by 100 metre high turbines (more than twice the height of the original ones). Nice one Scottish Power and local councillors. And what have you done with St Newlyn West? I dropped into the village shop which was busy, and had a cup of tea, chocolate, bananas and a pain au chocolat as good as any in France. I was less impressed with the headlines of the local paper: BATTEN DOWN THE HATCHES FOR STORM CLODAGH.
Arsenic Mill, Cornish Coast-to-Coast

Cornish Coast-to-Coast
Then it was onto the NCN32 into Zelah, and down the east bank of the River Allen and into Truro where I took refuge in a Costa as a heavy shower went through. I headed for the Cornish Coast-to-Coast Trail along the very undulating NCN3, and joined the trail at Bissoe, where the friendly bike shop staff told me to take the higher of the two paths to stay out of the mud. Thanks chaps! The trail mainly followed old tramlines and railways; surely they must be flat(ish). I don't think Cornwall does flat. There were lots of spoil tips, chimneys and old mine buildings, and the area has World Heritage Status for its industrial past. Many of the pale white slag heaps are still vegetation-free after 80 years due to the toxic arsenic.
Wacky place names were now back in vogue: Playing Place, Come-to-Good,  Cripplesease, Splattenridden, Goon Gumpas and Wheal Busy. There were a lot of wheals around and I assumed it meant mine; in fact it's Cornish for 'place of work.'
Cornish Coast-to-Coast
 The rain held off for most of the trail, but the wind really hit me as I approached Portreath on the bike/pedestrian pavement. Storm Clodagh was ahead of schedule!
I took the coastal B road, and once up on the moors I felt the full force of the wind, the strongest yet of the trip. The gusts would stop me, and during the lulls I wasn't doing much more than walking pace. St Ives was starting to look very distant. There was a steep downhill to St Gwythian, but with the wind roaring up the slope to meet me I could barely reach 20kph. It was soul-destroying.  By the time I reached Hale it was dark, and I took the St Ives turning which put me onto a horrendous large busy roundabout where I brought both lanes to a halt as the drivers let me scuttle to safety.  I headed along a hard shoulder for half a k, then turned back as this wasn't where I wanted to be.  I dismounted and led Horse around the roundabout of death, back to the B road and into Hale and back on track. There was a bit of off road around the estuary, then into Lelant where I did a wee back road diversion to avoid the A road, and into St Ives at 6pm. I went straight into the nearest pub and had a couple of celebratory pints.
After a couple of no's at B&B's (not for one night sorry) I booked into the Sloop Inn, and had a great night in the bar with good food, company and beer. Just over 30k's to go, into the teeth of Storm Clodagh.

Day stats 95km   1412 Metres of ascent
Off road 14km 
A road 4km 
B road  19km 
Unclassifed road 58km

Friday, 27 November 2015

Day 21 Okehampton to Boscarne

Melton Viaduct
I was away at first light, and onto the Granite Way, initially a tarmac trail following the Dartmoor Railway, then following the old line which skirted the west side of Dartmoor. I was pretty tired and put that down to the traumas of the Okehampton Experience. At least the knee was behaving itself. Despite the low cloud and limited views the Granite Way was really enjoyable, and it crossed two impressive viaducts on its way to Lydford where I traversed the edge of the gorge before heading across the moor to North Brentor on the NCN27. This turned into a bit of a nightmare, a really rough bouldery track where I seriously feared for Horse's health. I cycled most of it through bracken off to the side. Onto the back roads the route went through Longcross and Milton Abbot before passing a cider mill at the appropriately-named Felldownhead, before dropping down to the venerable Greystones Bridge over the River Tamar. The road out of the valley had three V gradient markers, so I set off with some trepidation and after eating some soggy glucose tablets I found lurking in the barbag, and slugging most of the water. The hill wasn't bad in the end and I was almost disappointed. Then it was on to a village with the delightful name of Little Comfort, set on the banks of the Lowly Brook. It lived up to its
NCN27 to North Brentor
name: no shop/cafe/pub/phone coverage. And it started to drizzle. My route then went through several confusingly-named villages all beginning with the prefix Tre, which means homestead in Cornish. At Higher Larrick there was a steep descent and climb past the valley of the River Inny, followed by a bit of B road to Plusha, then an A-road avoiding detour through Trevague, where the drizzle turned to heavy rain and I scuttled into the King's Head in Altarnum. I was too cold and damp for a beer, so had a big pot of tea and a baguette several feet long.
The route now headed just north of west across open moors to Davidstow Airfield, with the wind and rain really picking up. I rejoined the NCN3, and headed direct into the headwind past Crowdy Reservoir. It was grim going, and I put on my waterproof/insulated gloves for the first time. Within 5 minutes my hands were soaked and I'd have to squeeze the handlebars to drain them.The NCN signs were now painted on the road, and I missed a crucial turn-off and ended up taking a long descent down to the River Camel about 3km upstream from where I should have been.   All the way down I'd been thinking 'I wouldn't like to bike up this'. Cursing profusely I re-climbed the 80 metre hill and turned off to Churchtown and St Breward. Thoroughly drenched by now I went into a pub car park and tightened up the brakes which had been reluctant to stop me on the big descent. I asked a chap which way it was to the Camel Trail. He didn't say anything, just shook his head in disbelief and pointed down the road. I stopped at a shop and bought a pasta meal and chocolate. "Oh I've got a pair of those gloves. Great aren't they?" "Well they were for the first two minutes". I resisted the temptation to prove my point by giving them a squeeze.
I descended to the Camel Trail and pedalled furiously to avoid hypothermia. At one point there were four pheasants on the trail and they all flew off except one, which ran down the trail in front of me. After 200 metres I started to feel guilty, but not so guilty that I was prepared to sacrifice any forward momentum and let it escape. Its legs were still a blur after 400 metres, and just as I was starting to wonder if pheasant would go with pasta it shot through a gap in the fence and disappeared.
By now it was getting gloomy so I kept an eye open for camping spots, which were not forthcoming. Eventually I saw a sign which said NO ENTRY OR ACCESS TO THE RIVER. Perfect. It was nearly dark, and I'd be gone at first light. I put the tent up in double-quick time, threw the wet clothes down the end of the tent, chucked the soggy gloves outside in the hope that a passing badger would eat them, made a brew and a meal and must have been asleep by 7pm.

Day stats 93km   1094 Metres of ascent
Off road 28km 
A road 0km 
B road  7km 
Unclassifed road 58km