Tuesday, 22 May 2007

How your money will help...

From Arlene Howard

With your generous support in sponsoring Nick and Lester we are able to help a number of very deserving children - a cleft lip operation for a girl called Bin and hip surgery for Qiu. Qiu underwent spinal surgery but has problems with her hip requiring more surgery to make sure her legs can support her.

You are also supporting the physiotherapy program that currently serves over 50 children in Anhui province. Some of these children are in foster care and some in orphanages. Each child now has an individual care plan drawn up with an exercise program. We are busy purchasing therapy equipment for the children in the program so they can practie the exercises at home with their foster parents or with the carers in the orphanages. The foster parents and carers are being shown how the children should exercise. We are purchasing therapy balls and peanut balls, seats for some children, matting and toys to improve cognitive and motor skills, along with some sensory toys for other children.

Many of the children have Cerebral Palsy. Some require help with walking and will require walking aids. Some are now walking and just require ongoing therapy to improve these skills. However some children will require muscle release surgery just to be able to stand unaided. This might seem like a small improvment but as they grow it will make their lives much easier if they can at least stand. Post surgery the children will require several months of intensive physio therapy.

We hope that with fundraising efforts like this, standing and walking (things we all take for granted) will become a reality for these children too. We also hope to be able to arrange speech therapy for some of the children too and also set up a special needs school for the older CP children in one area.

If you are interested in learning more, raising money or in sponsoring a child (about £15 per month), then please contact arlene.howard@btopenworld.com

Monday, 21 May 2007

List of Lists

Before our brains turn to mush, here's how we rated various aspects of the big bike ride.
All lists are rated from lowest to highest

Days' Ride;
1 Redruth - Okehampton. Hard work and very painful morning (many punctures).
2 Combwich - Cheltenham. Hot, with a steady E headwind all day.
3 Tarporley - Kendal. Very urban, plus nearly wiped out by lady in Lancaster.
4 Crawdford - Tarbet. Getting through Glasgow (no map) but Loch Lomond superb.
5 Brora - John o'Groats. Squally, wind from North (hard work!).
6 Okehampton- Combwich. Out of the hills!
7 Cheltenahm - Tarporley. Fantastic distance, very hot
8 Fort Augustus - Brora. Scenery and speed through Glen Convnth, but cold & wet feet.
9 Kendal - Crawford. Shap in the still of the morning, getting into Scotland.
10 Tarbet - Fort Augustus. An amazing day's cycling.

B&B Accomodation
1 Tarporley. Deeply scary pub, room with collapsing furniture, and clingfilm curtains
2 Tarbet. Dogular smells, no TV, no breakfast (but they did our washing)
3 Crawford. His & hers tattoos
4 Okehampton. Noisy locals, but excellent scrambled egg for breakfast
5 Redruth. Bike left outside
6 Fort Augustus. Very homely, lots of books, host from Roytson Vasey
7 Kendal. Lovely Pam spun my washing and was very interested in the China thing
8 Wick. Great hosts, super loaction
9 Brora. Very comfortable, awesome breakfast, washing machine, real coffee!
Not included: one night with my brother's family and one night at our respective homes

1 Crawford. Grim dinner at the truckstop
2 Redruth. Curry that took an age to arrive but very good onion bhajees
3 Kendal. Very average but pricey chinese
4 Fort Augustus. Too much food (Nick's enormous portion(!))
5 Okehampton. Huge bucket of(very nice) soup took the edge off the fish & chips
6 Wick. So-so curry
7 Brora. Italian, fresh and tasaty but we had to ask 5 times for the bill
8 Tarbet. Highland specialities
9 Tarporley. Very good Asian/fusion

... special award in the entertainment category for the Panini stop at Larkhall


Just came across this and thought it might be useful for others who fancy the big ride.

This is what I took, including what I wore at any time.

It all fitted comfortably into a pair of mid-size rear panniers, total weight 9kg.

Bike helmet
SPD-friendly cycling shoes
Rainproof coat (Altura NightVision)
Winter weight l/s cycling jersey
2 x s/s cycling jersey
Winter weight bibtights
Bib shorts
Woollen gloves
Fingerless gloves
2 x l/s base layer
s/s base layer
3 x underpants
3 x socks
lightweight baggy trousers (for non-bike time)
lightweight sandals (ditto)

Bike bits
Puncture kit
2 x spare tubes
Folding tyre
Multi-tool, various other tools
Cable ties
Very small tube of grease
Small craft knife
Front and back lights
Spare batteries
CTC-sourced one-use bike bag for aeroplane

Small bag of toiletries
Sun cream
Iburprofen tablets & gel

Thursday, 10 May 2007

Home at last

Tuesday 8th.
Monday's dinner of curry in the K2, a restful night and excellent breakfast at the delightful Quayside B&B in Wick (www.quaysidewick.co.uk).

Tuesday morning we took ourselves off to the railway station to book the journey back to Inverness. Sadly, all bike slots were taken that day, so another day in Wick, and another evening at the Quayside. This train & bike thing is very frustrating; the train we eventually travelled on was practically empty but could not hold more than two bikes - madness!

Our day was not wasted. In fact, probably needed to start winding down after the ride. We took in the excellent Heritage Centre, visited the RNLI station, and the Pulteney distillery which was fascinating even for teetotallers like me. A short spin up to Tesco's to buy our tea (bikes go much better without the weight of those panniers), and an evening walk along the cliffs.

Wednesday 9th
Morning call back to Cheltenham, as it is my wife's birthday. Thankfuly the kids have remembered where I'd hidden her gifts.

8.13 train to Inverness, down through wild and spectacular moors and glens then back along the coast south of Helmsdale. Into Inverness at 12.13, and it is tipping down so we beat it to Morrisons cafe for a spot of lunch (some movable chairs, but not where we could keep an eye on the bikes). Then off along the narrow and very busy A96 to Ardesier and our final overnight stop. Afternoon spent at Fort George, and an evening walk along the Moray Firth where the noisy antics of a lone jet-skier scuppered our chances of spotting dolphins.

Thursday 10th
Two mile ride in the steady rain to the airport. Nick put his bike in the bag we'd brought along for the purpose. I, foolishly, accepted the offer of a free bike box and then proceeded to break the bike down to it's constituent atoms in order to fit in. Fun for me when I get home!

Flight was uneventful and the weather was there to meet us in Bristol. Arlene (Mrs Nick) kindly drove us back to Gloucester where my wife and kids met us. I have missed them all so much.

Monday, 7 May 2007


Miles: 66 (plus 17 back to Wick) (949 total)
Punctures: 0

Thanks, Annette Strauss, for the marvellous breakfast and chat at Summer Place in Brora. Very nice way to start our day and a great night's sleep.

Off up the A9 for the last time, making good progress under the lowering sky and westerly wind. The odd shower causing us to stop and don our waterproofs, only to take them off again 20 minutes or so later - bit of a bore.

Out of Helmsdale, on the 3 mile drag up, we met another pair of end-to-enders. Berriedale also had a nasty climb. We all stopped at Dunbeath where a very kind lady opened the café for us. Over coffee & bacon rolls we learned that they were son & father-in-law, supported by their spouses in a caravan.

On to Wick and a final dash into Lidl for juice. Only 17 miles to go, but with the wind picking up and backing to the north, these were among the hardest of the whole trip. We sheltered under a hedge at Freswick, had another chewy bar, and contemplated the last 3. Well, the bikes weren't going to cycle themselves, so off we went.

That last hill was a b*stard, and we had to pedal downhill to the little harbour and that famous sign. 3.10pm job done; 932 miles in 10 days. Awesome.

A few pics & then into Costa for hot chocolate and food. We had bridie & beans. A bridie is about the size of a horse's knacker and is wrapped in pastry. It worked for me, but I'm glad I didn't opt for the sausage roll.

Outside, we chatted to another end-to-ender, Dave Horton, who is writing a book about what makes otherwise sane people do what we just had. I think we gave him plenty to write about. Dave also kindly made a donation to LWB.

We thought we could get the bikes on the bus back to Wick but the charming neckless troglodyte behind the wheel put us straight on that hope. So, it was time to saddle up once more and pedal back to Wick. The wind was our friend this time, and in Wick we've found a B&B right on the quayside.

We hope to get the train to Inverness tomorrow. Now it's done I realise how lucky I've been to have the time to do the ride and to have such excellent company in Nick. But now I'm really missing Jo & the girls. Hurry Thursday.

Sunday, 6 May 2007

...into the rain

Miles: 90 (866)
Punctures: 0

After eight days the weather had to break, and break it did. As we enjoyed our breakfast in charming Fort Augustus (served by Mark Gattis' ginger twin) the rain came down in sheets. No dodging it, we had miles to make and so we togged up with booties, gloves & raincoats. Not a sight to inspire.

The rain followed us along Loch Ness to Castle Urquart- quite miserable. At Drumnadrochit we decided to cut a corner and go straight across to Beauly. This entailed going along a minor road with a chevron. A chevron means quite steep, and in this case, up. We gave it our best but a 15% gradient for 1km proved too much. Still, it was nice to walk a bit with the bike. The rain had abated and we had a super freewheel at 40mph+ until another squall forced us into a bus shelter.

With more rain threatening, we made for Dingwall and lunch. A real treat, all we could find was Wimpy. Deep joy, I almost preferred being in the rain, though we could at least warm up a bit. A quick trip to Lidl and we were back on the road, the tail wind letting us hammer it all the way to Tain.

Then across the bridge at Dornoch Firth, a real blast with 35mph side winds. By now, with 70 miles up we were both feeling bushed and my feet were wet and cold. Made it to Brora where we are staying in a holiday flat with a power shower, washing machine, and Sky - a notch or two up from some of our resting places.

Tomorrow we hope to finish the ride and spend the night in Wick. From that, we'll have to work out how to get back to Inverness.

Saturday, 5 May 2007

...into the glens

Miles: 106 (776)
Punctures: 0

Made an early start out of Tarbet - no proper brekkie. The morning mists slowly lifting off Loch Lomond. We got stuck into the steady upslope, stopping at Crianlarich for a banana, Daily Telegraph (me), sausage roll the size of a truncheon (Nick).

The road ground on upward, with a nasty kick above Tyndrum and on over the Black Mount to Rannoch Moor. Spectacular, desolate, and at 1421 feet from lochside, our biggest climb so far. We had coffee and a scone at the Kings House Hotel before the long drop through Glencoe to the sea. Simply awesome scenery, with snow still clinging to northern slopes. Even the caravanning bagpiper couldn't detract from the dramatic beauty.

Over the bridge at Ballaculish, the A82 hugs Loch Linnhe into Fort William. Another stunning ride, fetching up at, yes, Morrisons café. Three days after Nick's customer feedback the chairs are still resolutlely bolted to the floor. Why do we bother? Still, a very nice all-day breakfast & hot chocolate.

Nick said we were entering the Great Glen - as a Spurs fan all I could think was "Hoddle".

We seem to be fated to miss cycle paths, and today was no exception. So we took the road out under a majestic cloud-wreathed Ben Nevis, to Spean Bridge and the drag up to the Commando monument.

When we did find the cycle track it proved to be more track than cycle. Not a good idea on a road bike!

We did the last 5 miles to Fort Augustus along the Caledonian Canal - great fun if you can avoid the potholes and the wiers are dry. In a super little B&B, and dined well in the pub - nick battling with a Desperate Dan portion of fish & chips.

About 160 miles to go, so it's getting close.