Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Photo finish

This really is the last posting. I didn't take a camera and found even stopping for phone photos took time and disrupted my rhythm so there aren't that many. One day I took none so Uffculme is courtesy of the local parish council. Giles took some of the Wye valley ones including the mobile interview on the Severn bridge and everyone contributed to the final two days.


Monday, 17 July 2017

The Yellow Jersey

The Yellow Jersey
Guest Contributor: James Strother (jnr)

So Dad beat me to it but I couldn't resist a final round-up of the last stage of Dad's tour...

After much deliberation and his typically pragmatic desire to get the job done, Dad passed up the offer of a performance-enhancing full English to set off bright and early from the Rose in Vale at 8am for the final 39 miles of a trip that has seen him ride 984 miles, savour many a dram (week 1) and pint (week 2) and somewhat suspiciously survive without a single reported puncture.  The weather – in bleak contrast to the party’s spirits Saturday night – was miserable and damp but while the sun was beaming from London to Manchester, the only bright yellow blob lighting up the South West was Dad’s yellow jersey birthday present as he careered through the last of the English and Cornish countryside.

The previous evening saw thirteen of us for dinner at the hotel with plenty of wine but none of the raucousness of Mum and Dad and friends’ famed New Year’s parties, despite a certain Mr Cairns persuading the chaps to head to the local beforehand as only he could. Some lovely speeches and memories rounded off the evening.

L’early d├ępart meant that by 10am he was halfway, the weather was rising and there wasn’t a word of the much maligned toothache. In fact, the only injury being talked about was the  previous evening's crab-inflicted gash to Dave’s hand. Who knew crabs were at their most dangerous, served on a beautifully presented dinner plate? Some nifty plaster work brought a new meaning to the term dressed crab.

No human feat would be complete without a bit of drama and a race against the clock and so as the ‘caravan’ arrived at Land’s End, the worry was whether Dad would hit the 12:30 target arrival time, in order for flights to be caught and traffic to be missed. En route, the support vehicles passed Dad at various points around Penzance which appeared to be going for St Albans’ record of most pubs per capita, only with supermarkets. 12:30 looked in doubt; the course was relentlessly hilly, with narrow Cornish roads accompanied by high hedges; and over 950 miles’ worth of lactic acid only a pedal away. ‘Encouraging’ texts were sent to the Garmin but still an anxious wait looked likely.

But by noon, Garmin was giving us hope. The green dot on the screen and the yellow blob in the lanes were tearing along at a rate of knots Dad could only dream of achieving on the water….  In the end, there was no need to worry, and over the crest of the hill at approximately ten past 12, Dad raced into view to literal shrieks from the welcoming party.  The yellow jersey is usually a procession on the final stage but this was real cycling, as Dad flew down the final straight faster than the champagne into plastic flutes, he arced to a stop in a moment of exhaustion and achievement…

Pictures by the famous sign followed, as did more champagne and hugs from Mum and Granny. While the Land’s End weather did its best impression of John O’Groats, the photos and subsequent pasties attested that after 984 miles, 16 days and 90 hours of riding, Dad had succeeded where the Romans failed, in successfully navigating from one end of the country to t’other.

And so the countdown begins to the next family 60th and whatever challenge will surely be set...
If it’s as inspiring or energising as the last two weeks have been from the sidelines then we’re in for a lot of fun!

Dad, it's been truly inspiring and the next one...I'm coming with you!

Thursday, 13 July 2017

My final JOGLE routes and stats

When people ask how long it took, I tend to say 15 days, as D1 included travelling up to Scotland until I started riding at 3.30pm, and D16 was only two thirds of a day completed by 1215. I did in fact ride on 16 calendar days. 


Miles ridden: 984.2
Kilometres ridden: 1583.9
Miles per day: 61.5
Kilometres per day: 98.9
Total riding time: 89h 48m
Ave. riding time per day: 5h 36m
Total height climbed: 55530ft / 16926m or almost climbing Everest twice 
Max. height climbed in a day: 6825ft / 2080m on D14 Uffculme to Pensilva over Dartmoor or more than Scafell Pike and Snowdon combined
Maximum speed: 42.1 mph / 67.75 kph on D14 on the A390 between Tavistock and Pensilva (On D8 Garmin has recorded 54.4 mph / 87.54 kph which would have been on the descent from Kirkstone Pass. I think this is a recording error as I can't envisage riding that fast, although if I was I would not have been looking at the speedo at the time!)


The links below should take you to a map of each day's ride, with a variety of stats about distance, time, overall speed and moving speed and so on. Please let me know if the link doesn't work or there is any other problem. A couple of days have two links as tech problems split the recording into two. For those interested I tried Garmin, Plot-a-route, Google and at least one other but eventually devised the route using Strava and downloaded each day's ride to a Garmin 820 Edge Explore bike satnav. This then recorded all the relevant data live and sent it via bluetooth to my mobile, which sent it to Garmin Connect, enabling live tracking for anyone who'd asked me to add their email address. The rides are recorded and uploaded for anyone to download and use if they wish.

Day 1 Luton to Inverness by Easyjet, John O'Groats Bike Company to start.
Start to Thrumster
Day 2 Thrumster to Dornoch
Day 3 Dornoch to Whiteridge (Loch Ness)
Day 4 Whitebridge to Glencoe
Day 5 Glencoe to Luss (Loch Lomond)
Day 6 Luss to Abington (M74)
Day 7 Abington to Carlisle (pt 1)
Day 7 Abington to Carlisle (pt 2)
Day 8 Carlisle to Milnthorpe
Day 9 Milnthorpe to Wigan
Day 10 Wigan to Wem
Day 11 Wem to Hereford
Day 12 Hereford to Clevedon
Day 13 Clevedon to Uffculme
Day 14 Uffculme to Tavistock
Day 14 Tavistock to Pensilva
Day 15 Pensilva to Mithian
Day 16 Mithian to Land's End

The final chapter

John O'Groats 24th June - Land's End 9th July 2017

The start
The finish

The party
We had a great party in the Rose-in-Vale hotel on Saturday night and the young ones presented me with a personalised cycling shirt to commemorate the ride and my 60th birthday. Some had to be back in London on Monday so I was up on early on Sunday to make a good start. Prepared for the good weather forecast, low cloud was apparent and I went back for my waterproof jacket, a good move as the cloud level was about 200' above ground level. Once on the road, as with Anthony way back in Devon, 20 miles flew by before breakfast at Hayle, then across the peninsula to Penzance, and abandoning the quiet roads, a blast along the A30 in dry conditions with some sun to Sennen. Then the cloud closed in again but I didn't care and put the foot on the gas to fairly fly into Land's End. There was the welcoming party, champagne at the ready, and a huge sense of relief for me that everything had gone more or less to plan and the journey was over.
Got the T-shirt!

Not too many of those - one more day to go
Sue and Mum on Saturday - not far now

In this final entry I'll try and summarise my JOGLE, but I will sign off with a huge thank you to everyone who contributed through sponsorship (it's not too late!), those who met me en route, cycling or otherwise, and all the friends and family who trekked down to Cornwall to celebrate both the end of the ride and my landmark birthday. I will single out only two people, my Mum who I really wanted to be there for my big event, and Sue who supported me all through the planning and training and came up to Lancashire as well as down to Cornwall for the finish.

Birthday fireworks at the Miners' Arms


I suppose I started planning this many years ago as a young boy when I first heard of Land's End - John O'Groats. However it only became serious last summer when I thought I should do something for my 60th and this came easily into my mind. I did a fair amount of research, including reading other blogs and getting in contact with people who had done the trip to gain from their experiences. Many evenings were spent reading, trying out route planning tools, deciding which kit to buy and to take, where to stay and whether to book or not, and considering many other factors that could make or break a successful trip. 

Some major decisions were - 

North-South / top to bottom or vice versa?
Wind, distance, a sense of coming home going south,
transport links, getting people to the finish line, all were in the mix.

What sort of bike?
In the end I just took the one I had.

The route
Not as easy as it sounds - there are as many routes as people who do LEJOG/JOGLE. I tried to fit it into the time I had with as few main roads as possible, not possible in Scotland but I did manage some canal towpaths and other offroad sections later on.

I chose to travel as light as I possibly could - sawn off toothbrush included! I stayed in B&Bs and small hotels mainly which helped and were generally comfortable.

Alone, with a mate, in a group?
I really felt it was my challenge and just wanted to do it myself. I wouldn't have refused an offer from a compatible friend but didn't go looking.


At the start I wasn't sure I'd done enough training but I must have done because each day after the first few I didn't have any real doubts about managing, as long as the knee held out. Doing a couple of consecutive long trips at a weekend was good for building confidence. I did quite a lot in the gym over the winter, 45 minute high intensity spinning classes where the majority were 30+ years younger than me. As the weather improved 10 or 20 mile evening or Saturday rides increased to 40s and 50s, then up to 60. A painful knee was diagnosed as....a typical 59 year old knee by a specialist, so I used Ibuprofen as a preventative measure and managed a 74 mile ride followed by 51 on the May Bank Holiday without serious ill effects. It was only then that I started thinking I might be able to do the consecutive long days necessary to complete the distance in two weeks. 

The ride

It was varied: challenging, enjoyable, painful, occasionally boring, fun, frustrating, amusing, just about everything really. You see a lot of Scotland, England and a bit of Wales, some of which I knew, other parts I want to go back to, and it makes you want to stop and explore, but you can't as there's a job to be done and a destination to reach. If I did it again I'd take longer and avoid more main roads than I was able to, particularly in Scotland. The weather was dire to begin with but I decided it could only improve and was relieved to find it did. I met a variety of people, mostly interested, indeed fascinated by what I was doing, and some like the dentist in Lockerbie who I really didn't expect to meet (the tooth did finally crack in Clevedon and will have to be removed). There were ex-naval cyclists also on JOGLE and a German national older than me with spoke problems by the roadside "I was hoping to get back to Germany"; the Egyptian and Jordanian trainee pilots living with the Polish and Irish labourers on a caravan site near Bristol Airport and the 80-year old cyclist still riding Bodmin Moor who handed me a fiver for the cause. It was great to stay with my wife Sue and my friend Paul from schooldays in a Lancashire castle, to ride with brother Giles down the Wye Valley, to have breakfast with colleague Darren F in Somerset and the next day ride with Anthony McG from his lovely village of Uffculme to Sainsbury's in Exeter for breakfast (sorry I missed you the next day Dave R). Glencoe and Rannoch Moor in Scotland, not to forget Lochs Ness, Lomond and lazily named Lochy, were special, followed by Ullswater in the Lake District and the single most arduous climb to 1500' up Kirkstone Pass. Crossing the Severn Estuary on first the M48 and then the M5 (cycleways both!) gave way to the wilds of Dartmoor, the hardest complete day as I added 15 miles, mostly climbing out of Tavistock, in order to shorten the following day - but the scenery and experience were magnificent. And then the final run under lowering skies at breakneck speed having ditched my load at the hotel and knowing I had only a few miles to go, from outside Penzance to Land's End itself. 

The end

I'd heard there are people who never want to get on a bike again and some who want to keep going indefinitely. I was at neither extreme, but was quite happy to get back on two feet and enjoy an extra day visiting a tin mine and St Michael's Mount without going near a bike. The courier who drove me from Inverness Airport to J O'G said some people arriving there from the South spend ten minutes taking photos and turn round for home the same day - I would recommend some R&R if you can manage it, partly to let the satisfying feeling of achievement sink in. I did, and it's great!

Routes and stats

Some take a month, more take about two weeks like me, others race it in ten days or fewer, like Sonny at Airwave who also knocked off the highest mountains in three countries as a hiking side-plate to the main cycling dish. I failed to upload all my routes to the blog on the way, so will finish off with a comprehensive list in the next few days.

Thanks again

Once again, thanks to anyone and everyone who supported me in any way or took enough interest to read the blog and wish me well. If you're thinking of trying it don't hesitate to ask me or anyone else who has: I took advantage of others' experience and while it was my unique trip I took something from everyone I spoke to.

Jim (James) Strother
July 2017

With Sue and Mum, still only 59, one day to go

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Done it!

Got here! 12.15 after a quick 38 miles, straight down the A30 from Penzance to save time and caught out the welcoming party despite their GPS tracking!
Happy and relieved.

Last leg

Weather forecast along the route 1% precipitation. Actual: 40 mins of rain, cloud down to 200ft.
Clearing up now as I breakfast on sausage rolls in Hayle, half way there but I expect some climbing before the final descent to Lands End.
Thanks for all the messages of support, birthday cards, donations still coming in. And we had a great night last night.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

A great welcome from the fan club

Up early for a start before 7, knowing that I'd cut 15 miles and a lot of climbing from today's session was a good feeling. First target was Bodmin for breakfast in an old town hall office at the back of a bakery - see pic. Then through the tiny high-sided Cornish lanes, hardly any respite from the rollercoaster ups and downs, to St Columb Major for a doughnut and nectarine stop. After a chat up on the moor with an eighty-year-old cyclist Colin still very active and clearly fit, and who handed over a donation for my causes, I was tracked down by virtue of Garmin Connect GPS to St Newlyn East where the welcoming party kicked off celebrations albeit a day early! A further eight miles and I arrived at the Rose-in-Vale hotel where we are gathering for dinner tonight.
No time now as pre-dinner drinks await, so will post more later, and plenty of photos and a bit of video hopefully.
One remark - apart from thanks for some recent donations, blog comments, texts and whatsapps, if you have replied to the blog auto-emails I don't see anything so please re-send if you can.

Bodmin Moor signpost

....and another one

Unusual and remarkable cafe in Bodmin
Tracked down in St Newlyn East by the fan club

Friday, 7 July 2017

The Culme, Exe, Tamar and Tavy....and Cornwall

The George in Uffculme was a hostelry of contrasts - a welcoming Polish hostess and her husband (with a mouthful of carpet tacks) an excellent prawn tagliatelle that would not have disgraced any Italian restaurant, and one bath without even a shower attachment between the three or four rooms available. Anthony joined me for a chat about all things Devon and a few things Airwave. At 7.30 am on the dot he was outside and we made good progress along the flat route to Exeter, not the main road, not the prettiest but an enjoyable country ride from the beautiful Culme valley and over the Exe to.....Sainsbury's. There I was treated to breakfast, Anthony advised on the best route to tackle Dartmoor, he headed back home and I started to climb. I've driven over Dartmoor but this was different. Probably harder than the Lake District as it was so sustained, it was a few miles solid climbing to Moretonhampstead for a teastop, followed by a rollercoaster of great descents and subsequent ascent, with wild rolling moorland all around, very little traffic and lots of sheep and wild ponies. It seemed to go on for ever, but eventually a superb winding run down ended in the attractive town of Tavistock, whence the River Tavy. Fish and chips by the river, chatting with other visitors on my bench, and investigating an unusual automatic mechanical contraption that somehow sorts baby salmon and ensures they go up (or is it down?) the river and not the canal, and it was time to complete the extra miles I'd decided to add on so as to reduce tomorrow's total.  However I hadn't anticipated the unremitting climb out of Tavistock to the WhealTor hotel, so the added 15 miles were extremely hard-earned. Never mind, I won't regret it tomorrow. The clans are gathering, with daughter Rachel and fiance Rob now in the hotel at Mithian; Mum, Sue travelling down with friends Sue and Lawrence tomorrow. Another earlyish night and hopefully an early start so I don't miss my own party.
I did promise routes and stats the other day but didn't manage it. Today was the highest climbing day at 1437m for the main ride plus an amazing 643m post-Tavistock, but the landlord did say we're at 1000ft here. Mixed measures I'm afraid.
Try this link, mainly Dartmoor
Last big day tomorrow.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Into Devon...three days to go

The vans had gone by time I left at 7.45 and the roads were busy as I headed for Sweets cycle-friendly tea room near Glastonbury for a rendezvous with Darren F of Airwave who looks after police forces across the Southwest. Earlier Gill and Andy C chased me down for a photo-opportunity by the roadside and met us again at Sweets. Lots of chat and a breakfast later off I went, only to miss a turning and waste a good 5 miles. It was hot but the scenery consistently good. Bypassing Taunton, lunch was a quick sandwich by the roadside, then to Wellington and the final approach over Sampford Moor and a good downhill stretch into Uffculme and the George Hotel. A 7% local cider and a bath later and I met Anthony McG, also from Airwave, for a drink and catch-up, and to plan tomorrow. We are to meet at 7.30am and ride to Exeter for breakfast, before I tackle Dartmoor!
An extended ride allows for a slightly shorter one on Saturday, as the table is booked for 13 in Mithian, an appointment I can't miss. Tooth still present if not correct but painfree. Off to sleep now if the George customers go home. My phone died so no pics from me but maybe some from Darren or Gill if they can get them to James.
Goodnight all.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Down the Wye, across the Severn, into the West Country

After the worst night ever in a hotel - the seagulls and the shouting locals only overshadowed by the revving girlracer, the mechanised street sweeper around 5am, followed by a major beer keg delivery - Giles and I left Hereford with the sun already warm and a hot day to look forward to.
Through country lanes, spotting skylarks and buzzards and chatting about this and that, it was idyllic cycling. Away from the main roads the lanes tend to follow the rise and fall of the land rather than cutting through it, and the sudden steep inclines had me wondering about the prospects ahead across Dartmoor and Cornwall.
Then we arrived via Llanwarne (ruined church pic) in the much-disputed town of Monmouth, currently in England, for our morning tea/coffee stop. From there we followed the delightful Wye valley, the river always nearby if not in sight, stopping at the Brockweir bridge (I think) for photos of salmon fishermen in the glorious valley surroundings, and a chat with a couple of slightly older cyclists out for a day trip. Continuing on we passed magnificent Tintern Abbey in its river bend, then climbed away from the water before a rapid descent into Chepstow, its castle and iron bridge (pic), where a Gregg's sandwich by the riverside sufficed for lunch.
Then it was up on to the M48 bridge to cross the Wye outlet and then the main Severn river, with great views upstream from the cycleway. (Pic later from the shore). Shortly afterwards Giles departed towards Bristol City Parkway and his train to Oxford while I continued into Somerset. Not a pleasant experience to begin with as the cycle path petered out and the A403 was a stream of fast cars, vans and lorries heading for Avonmouth industrial and maritime complex. I then had to find my way to the M5 crossing of the Avon. This proved a little bizarre as I stopped to check my route with a pair of young riders who were clearly returning from school across this half mile crossing alongside the thundering motorway traffic. Two other pairs of lower end secondary children were walking across also, alongside the odd adult going to and from work as it appeared. On the other side was a long track meandering round huge industrial or storage facilities and massive car parks of new motors large and small awaiting delivery across the country. A strange environment for me but seemingly mundane for these local youngsters.
Suddenly everything was normal again and I headed into Portishead and along a busy rush hour B-day to Clevedon, and my accommodation for the night. I'd booked into a holiday camp expecting families and young couples but none were to be found. There was a clear divide between the owner-occupied bungalows with their pot plants and little gardens, and my end which was unadorned by any embellishment and seemed to be occupied almost exclusively by male workers presumably servicing local industry, and in their spare time barbequing their evening meal, phoning home to Poland, Ireland or wherever and drinking beer. The Jordanian and Egyptian in the adjoining cabin to mine offered some of their food and said they were training for their UK/EU pilot's licence conversion at a near Bristol Airport facility. I left having used the laundry and cycled into town for some dinner, feeling like a fish out of water, but just found the same sensation at a seafront, well, a  Severn Estuary-front pub full of families and couples in the still bright evening sun (pic). I went back into town and was happy as the sole customer of the Bangla restaurant eating chicken Tikka drinking Tiger beer and setting the world to rights with the owner.
Now back in this potentially noisy drink-fuelled young men's environment it's as quiet as the grave.
More tomorrow as I head into Devon and a couple of rendezvous. And an update on the tooth situation: the ache has disappeared but tonight an errant poppodum seems to have  partially broken off a section of tooth which is hanging in limbo not knowing whether to break clean away or hang on in there.
What fun. More ramblings tomorrow.

Salmon fishermen on the Wye

The Severn estuary from Clevedon

Tintern Abbey

The (new) Severn bridge

Salmon fishing

The Wye at Brockweir

Ruined church at Llanwarne

Stopping for morning tea in Monmouth