LEJOG 2022

Not your usual wedding blog, but it has not been the most usual start of the year for us here!

For the last few years I have wanted to complete the longest cycle journey possible from end to end in Britain.

This year I turned 40, so what better way to celebrate this milestone than fully embracing the mid life crisis, and marking the journey into my 5th decade on this planet by creating memories I will never forget, and experiencing the beauty of the wonderful island in which I call home.

Oh, and fellow filmmaker and Centrepiece Wedding Films shooter, Kathy, joined me on the ride. She is celebrating her 30th birthday this spring. So ten years fresher, and just off the back of winning the National Duathlon Championships! I would have my work cut out to keep up!

Kathy’s parents came along as our support crew, along with 4 month old puppy Lizzie. Billy and Sue were on their own adventure, travelling down to Land’s End in Sue’s brothers campervan. With my bike taken apart and boxed up, I took the train down to Bridgwater where I met the three of them on their own journey from picking up the campervan in Somerset. The campervan seemed like the perfect set up. Bike’s on the back. Places for all of us to sit during the journey. Fridge and storage spaces. And the first night of taking apart the table to create an extra bed was all part of the adventure. We pulled into our well equipped campsite near to Land’s End after dark, and got to bed straight away in order to make sure we were ready for the first days riding.

Day 1 - Cornwall

One of the most beautiful and picturesque parts of the UK. We were looking forward to getting going. Enjoying the scenery. A few tough climbs, but a short day to start with and nothing too taxing.

We woke to fog! On our first day! It was a slow start as we hoped the air would clear.

But we made our way down to our starting point with a sense of excitement, and bit of nervousness about getting going. We had been waiting for this moment for so long and it felt strange to think it was now happening for real.

I had built my bike back together the day before whilst waiting at Bridgwater train station, so I had a little sense of nervousness about how it would ride, as I have gained most of my technical bike knowledge from YouTube videos. We got the bikes off the back of the campervan and I checked the tightness of the bolts. I then began to wind the pedals to check the gears were engaging properly and the chain was running smoothly. The pedals stopped sharp! They were not turning, and the chain was getting stuck. I had a sense of panic. It was the first day, we hadn’t left yet, and this was the last thing we needed! I didn’t want to ruin any of the excitement so I tried to calmly solve the problem, whilst slowly dying inside! As it turned out, the chain simply needed a bit of greasing and everything was fine, but in that moment I saw the whole journey falling apart.

After some mandatory photos at the start, we were off.

58 miles on that first day seemed to fly by and we were feeling good. The ride was a short one full of mizzle (mist and drizzle!), but we had checked the forecast and there were some dry days ahead.

Cornish pasty for lunch, and a very pleasant stay with a fish and chips dinner in Sue’s other brothers pub and hotel which he ran (it was a full family affair!), and we were fully ready for day two.

Day 2 - Dartmoor

Kathy had done all of the planning for the trip. She did a great job, and one of the smartest moves was to give us a shorter day on Day 2 as well. The reason being was that, despite the day being only 60 miles in length, we would climb over 7000 feet. We knew this could be our toughest day, and it would prove to be a big challenge.

As we entered Dartmoor and began a large steady climb up to the National Park, I realised that I would have to let Kathy go ahead on some of these longer climbs. She definitely showed her fitness as I dug deep and accepted that I would need to concentrate on just completing the climb! Every climb and undulation that day was worth every ounce of effort as the views were simply incredible.

The vastness of the moors led to our first taste of wind that made the day even trickier.

We were back in the campervan that night. We knew the campsite was in sight, but what we didn’t realise was the brick wall of a hill that we were going to climb to get there! We were exhausted but pushed on to get to our destination. Success! We made it! Unfortunately the motor home did not fair so well. On the way up we had to cross a small bridge where it experienced a minor run in with a wall. At least we think that’s what must have happened. A small area ripped off from just below the door! But it could have been so much worse. We kept positive as the day was done and a tough ride complete.

Now time for dinner. But this campsite had no electricity and we were unprepared! The motorhome would not manouvere easily around these single track Devon roads, and so the only option was to walk up one mile of hills to the nearest pub! We needed food and plenty of it. We had just finished our hardest day, but tomorrow would be our longest!

Day 3 - Somerset

The day I turned 40! My original plan was to begin the trip after my 40th birthday, but with the wedding season about to get busy, the best plan was to arrange it so my birthday would sit during our journey. And it fell on our longest day. Easter Day. My 40th birthday. And a 90 mile ride!

I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. I wanted this milestone to be met with challenges and for our longest day to fall on this day was perfect.

We completed the ride feeling good. Bodies were spent. Exhausted, but feeling good. We finished our ride with a quick stop at Wells Cathedral, before a lovely evening with Kathy’s family in Somerset. I had a caterpillar cake which Billy and Sue had kindly bought for me, a small glass of wine, and a lot of pasta!

This would also be our last night in the campervan. It had served us well and was a special part of our journey, but we decided the best thing to do was to leave it with Kathy’s uncle in Somerset. In fact it meant we only had to book one extra hotel room for the following night. So we waved goodbye as we began our next exciting day.

Day 4 - Gloucestershire/Herefordshire

A day of places and people we knew very well! It began very early with the challenging and beautiful climb of Cheddar Gorge. We then headed into Bristol, where I was surprised by someone shouting at me out of a car window. It was Ed! My uni mate Ed Bamford who lives in Bristol had come to surprise me with his two boys in the car. He pulled up further ahead, wished me well with some words of advice, and we were on our way through Bristol and over the Severn Bridge. 

They were not the only people I knew that we would see that day. We chose to take a small diversion through The Forest of Dean to get to my home in Lydney, and lunch with my wife Holly, and two daughters Poppy and Daisy. It was amazing to see them. We were only on Day 4, but it meant so much to be with them if only for an hour.

It was then on through Symonds Yat to our stay, just South of Hereford.

Day 5 - Herefordshire/Shropshire

An 81 mile day with just over 4000 feet of climbing.

Not the easiest day but Kathy was flying along. I was struggling a bit this day, feeling slightly homesick after seeing the family yesterday, and the body feeling a bit tired. I needed a rest.

Day 6 - Shropshire/Cheshire

I would get my rest! An easier 47 mile day meant we were done by lunch time. We would spend the rest of the day and night at Billy and Sue’s house. A great bit of planning again by Kathy as it felt like a rest day compared to what we had been doing. I rested, slept, ate (a lot!), and we began again!

Day 7 - Cheshire/Cumbria

A longer 88 mile day felt like a breeze after our rest, and after we had navigated the towns of Wigan, Preston and others in the area, we were out into a beautiful part of the world. Our stop for the night was Grange-Over-Sands.

Day 8 - Lake District and on to Scotland

We were feeling good after our rest, and despite a longer day, Cheshire into Cumbria was fairly flat and didn’t test us too much. Therefore we decided we would take a scenic route into The Lake District taking in Lake Windermere. I didn’t really know how hilly this area would be. I pictured some beautiful scenic climbs that would test us, but be a breeze compared to Dartmoor. We hit our first climb early in the day completely unexpectedly. A long relentless climb. This had passed us by as we planned the route over breakfast, but certainly gave the legs a bit of a kicking.

We knew we had a climb coming up along a road called “The Struggle” later in the day. What a name! We were laughing about this before the ride. We can’t turn down a climb that’s got a name like that! It has to be part of our journey. However, we started to feel a bit more nervous as our support team went ahead of us. Billy gave Kathy a phone call. It was to warn her of the climb that was coming up! He hadn’t felt he had needed to do that on any of the previous days so we knew this must be tough! 

Even the road before “The Struggle” was steep, but as we started going up the well named hill, it became relentless. Climb after climb. And as it flattened out….. a headwind! I felt like I had reached the peak, but as I looked into the distance I could see the climb kicked up again. The climb didn’t look too bad but the headwinds were painfully strong at this point. I kicked on knowing a well deserved rest would greet me at the top. I could see a pub in the distance that looked to be the end of the climb. The final hill that didn’t seem too bad from a distance came ever closer, and reality hit home. I was greeted with a 20% gradient climb to the top. My body was gone but I got out of the saddle and tried to kick on. But the headwind was too strong, and I had to submit right at the last. I couldn’t make the last 50 metres, and for the only time during the trip I had to dismount and walk. I was proud to get as far as I did. At the top we were being battered by the wind. 

Once we had carefully descended on the other side, the climate was completely different, and we enjoyed the rest of the ride feeling warm and enjoying the lakes and some flatter roads. The afternoon was a slog as our bodies were very tired after the earlier climbing, but we finished the day with the knowledge we had now made it to Scotland!

Day 9 - South Lanarkshire

A day we treated as an “efficient” day. A to B. Nothing much to report. Cycle paths and B roads alongside the motorway. The day finished just South of Glasgow.

Day 10 - The Trossacks

Another day where we decided to change our route. Again this meant a harder day but we felt good, and we knew this new route through The Trossacks National Park would be a beautiful ride. After passing through Glasgow and a quick stop to see my old friend Eric Pomphrey for a coffee, we enjoyed a beautiful ride through this part of Scotland.

85 miles and nearly 5000 feet of climbing.

The last 10 miles gave us a little taster of the magnificence of the mountains that were to come.

Day 11 - The Highlands

A day I will never forget!

In perfect honesty, I doubt I will ever cycle this route again. I am content with the day we had.

The scenery was spectacular! Glencombe, Ben Nevis, Fort William. It was breathtaking. One descent in particular I will never forget. It felt like we were flying between the mountains. The road was ours. Our machines giving us the sensation of having wings that allowed us to soar down to the valley below.

But other sections were busy with traffic! This was the only day I felt we were vulnerable. I chose to wear the brightest rain jacket I had (despite no real rain during the day), and I was glad I did. Safety was the name of the game. I loved the sights, but was happy when we reached our hotel at Fort Augustus with the knowledge that the following day would be along quieter road.

Day 12 -Loch Ness/Inverness

The winding roads that took us to Loch Ness was one of the highlights of the trip for me. The day started with a tough but enjoyable climb that opened up to some of the most stunning views we had seen. An incredibly straight descent seemed to plunge us into a new climate as the coldest day we experienced seem to come out of knowhere. But we didn’t care as the journey along a quiet single track road through twisty forest roads that lead alongside Loch Ness kept us enjoying the journey.

That night I enjoyed my first experience of glamping! A good restful night before a longer day that would take us to the north coast.

Day 13 - The Upper Highlands

We didn’t think the journey could get any more beautiful, but The Upper Highlands offered so much more! The scenery was stunning and we were on a high. Eventually we came to an area that felt extremely remote. Riding along a single track road for some time, we eventually came to a pub that was known as the only stop in the area for some distance. We felt like we were nearly home and dry. Only 30 miles to go that day, and with a shorter day on our last day, the adventure was nearly complete! What an achievemnt. We wheeled away after a lengthy lunch stop knowing we could now relax.

However, a few further miles down the road I noticed Kathy slamming to a stop ahead of me. What had happened?! Had she dropped something off her bike. Her phone maybe? But she was looking as confused as me as to what had happened……

A puncture! Ok, not the end of the world. We could deal with that.

 

A double puncture!! Not so great! But Billy and Sue were luckily just behind us. We would get this sorted. But one wheel was proving to be more difficult to change than the other. The only way we could get the tyre over the rim was by using a tool, and we were puncturing the inner tube every time we tried! The clock was ticking and we would run out of daylight if we did not get this sorted soon. Kathy made the tough decision to head back the way we came in our support vehicle to a bike technician who was based around an hours drive away! This would make it difficult to complete the ride that day. I continued on to our hotel as we could not all fit in the car. The other complication was that I HAD to get a train the next day after we reached John O’ Groats as I was filming the day after I would get back. So I carried on. Now very paranoid about riding over any stones or uneven terrain. It turned out to be a lovely ride to the North coast along a very quiet windy road. I arrived at a place called Bettyhill with some magnificent beaches. It felt quite a monumental moment as I had hit the North coast, 13 days after leaving the South coast. Kathy meanwhile had a fully repaired bike, and had decided to complete her ride that day. Billy and Sue returned her to the spot of the puncture, and she completed an impressively quick 30 mile ride back to our hotel.

Relief and happiness. What seemed to have thwarted us at the last moment, was only a minor blip on our adventure. Tomorrow would be a victory ride to our final destination.

Day 14 - John O'Groats!

The last day was a 50 mile trip along the coast.

Our legs were tired. We were tired. Despite a shorter ride on that last day, we still had nearly 3000 feet of climbing to get through, and it was feeling tough! But we knew we had to be completed by lunch time as I had a train I needed to catch, and we wanted a couple of hours to let the experience soak in. We made good time and completed the day with one of the quickest rides of our 2 weeks.

When we arrived some people were asking us what we had just done and congratulated us. It was really nice. I felt quite emotional and I think Kathy did too. It had been an epic adventure, and a huge challenge.

Over the two weeks we completed just over 1000 miles. I haven’t calculated the total amount of hills, but it was a lot. I don’t need a figure to tell me that! And we saw so much. Felt so much. Gained so much. And we learnt so much.

Home

Now I have returned and a busy spring, summer and autumn is ahead of me.

But I feel mentally prepared for anything. My body needs a little rest for sure! But I feel stronger than ever.

The best part of it all….. I got to return to my wife Holly and two daughters.

It was an honour to be able to complete such a magnificent trip, as it is an honour to be a husband, and a father. It’s also put so much of the rest of my life in perspective. I feel so lucky every day. To be able to wake up and be happy with my life, and happy with how I spend my days in both leisure and work.

I feel so lucky, but I realise this is not the reality for everyone. During the trip I have been raising money for the charity Samaritans. If you would be kind enough to donate to this cause, then you can do so at https://gofund.me/ca1925ce

Thank you!

Chris

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