Riding Across Britain
It is now three weeks since Clare and I returned from our ride across Britain and ,discussing it with Bee recently, she encouraged us to put together a short report before the memories become too distant. Some chance, this was by far the best thing that either of us has ever done on our bikes. Mostly a cycling adventure but also a nine day geography field trip across the length of our country with a camping holiday thrown in for good measure, the trip exceeded all our expectations. Starting at Land’s End on September 5th, we covered the 970 miles to John O’Groats in nine wonderful days. The shortest stage was 99 miles, the longest was 127 and our Garmins reported a total ascent of around 50 000 feet.
Each day had its own particular features and we both marveled at the variety of the British countryside as the topography changed in front of us from day to day. A very brief resume. Day 1 was over 100 miles of rolling Cornish countryside (9000 ft of climbing), day 2 took us out through Devon into the Quantocks and the climb of Cheddar Gorge, day 3 began with outstanding views over scenic Bath before leading us over the Severn Bridge and into the Wye Valley, day 4 took us over Wenlock Edge and onto the Cheshire plain, day 5 skirted the Lake District with the iconic climb of Shap Fell, on day 6 we crossed the border into Scotland through Gretna Green, day 7 led us up into the highlands with the spine tingling descent into Glencoe and a camp under Ben Nevis at its end, on day 8 we followed the length of Loch Ness and down into the majestic Kyle of Sutherland, day 9 landed us on the far northern coast of Great Britain before a right turn took us the last 50 miles down the coast road into John O’Groats. It is remarkable to report that, whilst we passed through many towns and villages, the only sustained passage of urban build up was 25 miles through Wigan and Preston on day 5. In short, it is a well kept secret that this island is mostly just a huge farm!
We should admit that the cycling gods smiled on us with the weather. After Paris last year into a force 9 gale and Ride London 2014 under the remnants of a hurricane, we felt we had earned a bit of luck. We only had a few hours of rain (on day 8) and the last 50 miles were into a strong south easterlybut apart from that, the days were still and clear.
You can find more details of the event at www.rideacrossbritain.com. There were around 800 of us in the group which meant that we often had company on the road (often behind us funnily enough!) and plenty of groups formed along the way. Equally, when we just wanted to tap over at our own pace, we didn’t feel hassled. We could not praise the organization too highly, it ran like clockwork from start to finish. Each evening there was a camp in place to receive us with 800 tents (two man versions with just enough room for you and your kit bag), catering marquee (the food was outstanding), hot showers, medical support, sports masseurs, electrical charging points, bike mechanics and even the occasional laundry service. The staff could not have been more encouraging or friendly. By day, there were two obligatory pit stops with a reasonable selection of snacks and a range of support services whilst the route was patrolled by safety and medical motor bikes. You can check out the prices for next year on the website, these may at first may look steep for a bike ride so perhaps a better way to think of it could be as a fully catered nine day camping holiday with free tents and bike support! The event is clearly heavily sponsored by Deloitte with contributions from DHL who truck all the gear around, Halfords and High Five who provide the on-bike nutrition. Despite the initial outlay, when we saw what went into staging the event, we felt it was very good value and the cost is clearly heavily subsidised.
We would unreservedly recommend this event for which the organizers claim over 90% of entrants make it to the end. We trained very thoroughly and this was crucial to our enjoyment. We had a couple of black periods, both between pit stop 1 and pit stop 2 which can be a bit of a grind, but we managed to avoid having a bad day as such. We seemed to finish comfortably in the middle of the pack each day with plenty of time to spare before the cut off so this is a ride very much designed for riders at our level. For us, the crucial point was not to ride too hard but to conserve energy, especially early in the event.
Clare and I hope that these brief notes will encourage some of you to take a look at this and see where it might fit on your cycling wish list and, if you do take it on, we’re sure you won’t be disappointed.