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The hare and the micro brewery.

A hare strolled across the road about thirty yards ahead of me. When I say strolled, hares don’t really do strolling do they? Maybe it was the heat but it kind of lolloped slowly looking for all the world like it’s back legs were just too long for it’s body. It reminded me that some things or some animals are made for a particular role and with hares it is racing across open grass land at breakneck speeds rather than strolling. I think I am the same. I’ve got two very different bikes built for different purposes; a sleek, lightweight aluminium road bike with carbon forks and skinny tyres and my trusty heavy steel tourer that is like an old comfy friend. The road bike, like the hare, is built for speed and I never feel quite right on it. I always feel obliged to try and ride as fast as I possibly can to do it justice and I worry constantly that I might be missing something. The bike may be built for speed but I don’t think I am. Today I am on the tourer. I am pootling about on quiet country lanes at something a bit faster than jogging pace. I’m enjoying taking in the roadside flowers, the country smells and the buzzard up above that no doubt has his eye on the hare that has just crossed the road. It’s a slow, lazy day.

Gill and I are aiming vaguely for a couple of pubs about twenty miles from home that we want to check out with a view to eating out tonight. We are meeting up with friends who are cycling from Lands End to John O’ Groats and are passing through Lancashire today. The plan is to pick them up from their B&B later this evening and drive them to a suitable hostelry to enjoy a meal and few pints and to hear their tales of adventure. They are bound to have some, I know.

Unlike them, we don’t have a set route today and when I ask Gill if she fancies ‘doing a bit of meandering’ she is more than up for it. I have no idea who Jacob was but we peel off onto his lane, a narrow, poorly surfaced road that makes up for the rough ride with a total absence of cars for the next few miles. Sadly these almost forgotten lanes probably don’t even feature on the local authority’s list of scheduled maintenance and I suspect that there will come a time when they are the sole domain of tractors and heavy wheeled mountain bikes. In the mean time we can relax and take the opportunity to divide our attention between the badly potholed road and the wide variety of birdlife that is all around us. Gill recognises the call of a greenfinch from the hedgerow which excites us because they are becoming increasingly rare these days, as are the lapwings that we are lucky enough to see regularly in this part of the Fylde Coast. It’s hot like a real summer’s day, the first one this year and finally we have lost the constant cold winds that have plagued us this spring. Everything about the situation suggests we should take our time and drink it all in.

Quiet lanes over even quieter canals

Quiet lanes over even quieter canals

Our route twists and turns like a writhing snake and we find ourselves criss crossing the Lancaster Canal over ancient hump backed bridges as we weave through countryside bursting with the growth of late spring. Twenty miles from home and we are beginning to realise just how unfit we have become but the first pub is an excuse for a sit down and a chat with the barmaid about menus and serving times. It’s a definite maybe for later. It is only another couple of miles to Ye Horn’s Inn near Goosnargh and this time we opt for a beer in the garden.

The Horn's Inn, a fine Fylde ale house run by Mark and Denise Woods

Ye Horn’s Inn, a fine local ale house run by Mark and Denise Woods

I am enjoying a pint of Goosnargh Gold ale which is apparently the product of the pub’s own micro brewery and I am delighted to see the brewer, Mark Woods, unloading barley from a pallet. I wander over to congratulate him on his beer and he is more than pleased to give me a whistle stop tour of the set up. The entire brewery could be slotted into a large garden shed but the quality of the beer it produces is no small achievement. I think we have found our venue for the evening.

Mark Woods, brewer, chef and all round nice guy.

Mark Woods, brewer, chef and all round nice guy.

We have been gradually ascending towards the foothills of the Trough of Bowland during the morning so the first part of the ride home is all downhill and the breeze created by the extra speed is more than welcome. I can see the tar in the road beginning to bubble and my mind wanders back to some of the really hot days of last summer. Days when we spent hours being scorched by the sun on our bikes only to pitch early and find that inside the tent was even more like an oven than outside. There were times back then when I longed for cooler weather but right now, after weeks of cold winds I can’t get enough of the lovely hot sunshine.

Life on the Lancaster Canal

Life on the Lancaster Canal

There is just time for one more twist to today’s ride and looking at the OS map I can see that we can use the canal towpath to link two dead end minor roads. Just as well we opted for the shire horses rather than the thoroughbreds. The going is bumpy but perfectly manageable on touring bikes and the abundance of summer vegetation against the backdrop of the water adds another dimension to the cycling and the wildlife to be seen.

Accessing the towpath

Accessing the towpath

Fishing

Fishing

Go anywhere tourer

Go anywhere tourer

Family life

Family life (unusual white neck for a mallard)

It’s great to meet up with Nick and Bill later and to while away the evening exchanging cycle touring tales and enjoying the warm glow of sunburn on our faces and arms. The Goosnargh Gold goes down a treat, complimenting the duck and the pheasant and three hours flies by in a flash. The dining room setting is quite genteel and I hope it isn’t our increasingly loud raucous laughter that has resulted in us being the last to leave. Dropping our friends off back at their digs we wish them well on the rest of their journey and say our goodbyes. They have another five hundred miles to go before reaching the northernmost tip of Scotland which makes our forty mile ride today seem a little pathetic. But I know now that miles covered versus time taken isn’t what it is about for me. Today was magical for all sorts of reasons, not least for taking the time to talk to Mark and look around his brewery and for taking the road least travelled wherever we could. In fact, maybe the hare had it right after all. Maybe even hares need to just kick back and do a little strolling now and again.

So long South West

Every year hundreds, if not thousands of people cycle from Lands End to John O’ Groats or vice versa. It’s a major achievement in any cyclist’s life and one to be truly proud of. When you talk to these brave souls and ask them how hard it was nearly every single one of them will tell you that Cornwall and Devon were the most trying counties. Much more so even than the hills of Scotland. That is why I left Lands End with more than a little trepidation. It didn’t help that for weeks now I have been getting some discomfort in my left knee and I was constantly worrying that it might get worse and bring the whole show to an end. We are now staying with Gill’s Mum and Dad for two nights and resting up before crossing into Wales tomorrow. Time to reflect on ‘the hard bit’.

The Cornwall and Devon coastline is stunningly beautiful. The reason for this outstanding beauty is the massively high cliffs that plunge dramatically into vivid blue and white churning seas fringed by bright sandy beaches. The roads that follow this splendid scenery seem unable to make up their mind and constantly switch between high and low ground. In a single day in Cornwall I found myself high on the cliff tops then down on the coast no less than five times in succession. I don’t carry anything sophisticated like a GPS or an altimeter but my guess would be that I probably ascended somewhere between four and five thousand feet that day. It was brutal. And there lies the rub. The harder the cycling (or walking for that matter) and generally speaking the greater the rewards. Both in terms of a sense of achievement and the beauty of the landscape. It helped that we were incredibly lucky with the weather for this part of the trip, the blue skies do wonders for the sea views and the heather was in full bloom and decorated with vivid yellow gorse.

Highlights of this stretch are hard to pick out it is so full of stunning and unexpected moments. Descents of up to 30%, climbs so steep I struggled to walk up one or two. Joining in the Ilfracombe Sea Triathlon for about ten miles and exchanging good mornings with about a hundred competitors as they passed me. Dropping down from Martinhoe to a wonderful deep hidden valley and the Hunters Inn only to have to walk most of the way back out. Countisbury Hill; you were right Uncle Richard, it was hard. The thrilling ride down to Porlock on perfectly smooth tarmac with breath taking views that changed with every hairpin. Skies so blue that they looked unreal and with seas to match. The first distant glimpse of Wales across the Severn estuary and the final drop off the Quantocks onto the first really easy ground for three weeks. It was very very hard but magical all the same. Would I do it again? Ask me in a couple of years time.

I hope the pictures below go a small way to give a flavour of what we enjoyed in this lovely corner of Britain.

At Land's End. Bring it on.

At Land’s End. Bring it on.

Old tin mines

Old tin mines

Contemplating a lot more ups and downs

Contemplating a lot more ups and downs

Down we go again

Down we go again

Near Tintagel

Near Tintagel

Descending to Boscastle

Descending to Boscastle

Big cliffs

Big cliffs

Big blue skies

Big blue skies

Towards Lynmouth

Towards Lynmouth

Late summer colour

Late summer colour

I think not

I think not

Porlock Weir

Porlock Weir

Over the Avon. Wales here  we come.

Over the Avon. Wales here we come.

Back on the roller coaster rails

Go to to the first blog post

Is it possible to ride two roller coasters at the same time? Well yes it is actually. It’s also possible to have an adventure within an adventure but more of that in a moment.

We left Penzance last week in a whirlwind of emotion. Gill was no longer riding her bike but driving our borrowed van (which we have christened Vera) and I was now riding alone for the final thousand miles or so of the journey. The emotions were a mix of fear, elation, sadness and excitement. Quite a cocktail to sip on as I rode out of Penzance and the drizzle added yet another layer to play with my mind.

Leaving Penzance. My mind was busier than the harbour.

Leaving Penzance. My mind was busier than the harbour.

First night with Vera

First night with Vera

We were both still coming to terms with the change to our plans and the fact that we would not now be finishing the ride side by side on our bikes. If the only point of this adventure had been to tour the coast of Britain, unsupported and on bicycles, then you could say we had failed. But it wasn’t the only point at all. The idea of cycling the coast came out of discussions we had around a much bigger challenge, that of changing our lives. Of jumping off the merry-go-round whilst it was still spinning, a scary and dangerous thing to do. We both wanted that change and the inevitable fallout that would come from it, whatever that may be, and cycling around Britain just happened to be the means that we chose. For that reason, the fact that we will be continuing with me on my bike and Gill driving Vera doesn’t matter one little bit. The life changing adventure continues.

The next few days involved some of the steepest ups and downs of the route so far. As I ground my way up the climbs and nervously rolled down the other sides of the roller coaster like terrain my mind was travelling it’s own big dipper with equally stomach churning results.

Turning points

Turning points

But it worked. As I came to terms with the periods on my own, Gill gained confidence driving the van and navigating to rendezvous points and slowly a whole new adventure began to emerge from the old one. It was like recycling an original adventure and making a new one from all the old bits plus a few new ingredients. We continued to talk about the bigger picture and that is when I realised that this bike ride around the coast of Britain was actually an adventure within a much bigger and more important adventure in our lives together.

We both began to see the stunning views once more as the curtain of worry and doubt was slowly drawn aside and Cornwall put on a truly spectacular show for us.

Minack

Minack

The riding was as hard as any I have done and it was bliss to find Gill waiting for me by the side of the road with a smile and a sandwich just as I was beginning to flag. We’d plan the next meeting point, reflect on the common sights we had seen along the way, describe the ones the other might have missed and genuinely share the whole experience together. To our delight it really was working and slowly, mile by mile, day by day, all sense of failure faded away and just the journey remained.

We left Cornwall behind in spectacular fashion tackling 30% gradients (on foot in my case) and gawping at vivid blue seas, white sandy beaches and the grandest of vertical cliffs framing both. Devon brought a brief escape from the ridiculous gradients and a very pleasant ride along the completely flat Tarka Trail to Barnstaple and Braunton and  a two day break with family and friends. We reconnected with some amazing people and met some new ones too.

Thanks for the bed Uncle Richard and Fiona

Thanks for the bed Uncle Richard and Fiona

Gill and Georgie on the beach

Gill and Georgie on the beach

The feeling of really sharing our odyssey with others was strong and brought us right back to where and why it all began. A splendid farewell dinner, late night and one too many glasses of wine weren’t the best way to prepare for the rest of the Devon hills but I have no regrets.

Happy times

Happy times

I left Braunton mildly hung over but very content despite the early morning hill climbs. The sun was shining, there was a cool hint of autumn in the air and everything felt right again. Gill would be meeting me at Lynmouth along with Georgie, Annabelle and Sabrina and I was really looking forward to the next twenty five miles. If only I knew what those roads had in store for me.

Out of the darkness

As I write the rain is lashing down outside but I’m happy. Not because I’m warm and cosy inside but because today is the shortest day of the year, the Winter solstice. There is the promise of ever increasing daylight just around the corner and eventually Spring. According to Stephen Fry the Spring moves up the country from Lands End to John O’ Groats over a period of two months so we should catch it up somewhere around the north of Scotland in late May. I shall enjoy watching it make it’s slow but stately progress through Lancashire as we make our final preparations.

In the mean-time there have been several significant events that make our adventure ever more tangible. The first was really a bit of boyish indulgence in the form of a gadget purchase. My Nexus 7 tablet PC was delivered a couple of weeks ago and I am busy getting to grips with it. I don’t want this to turn into a technology review so I won’t bore you with technical statistics but rather simply say that it’s geeky goodness through and through. The high quality graphics and amazing sound quality are, of course, essential features required to enable me to type this blog on our travels and nothing simpler, cheaper or lighter would have done the job.

No going back now

No going back now

The second, and somewhat more concrete development, was the arrival of five hundred printed cards advertising our trip and web site. These are intended to make it easier to pass on our contact details to anybody who is interested but seeing it all in print has a certain “gulp, this is really happening” kind of effect. I have only given one out so far but it had the consequence of making me feel ever so slightly nervous about the prospect of not actually making it around Britain. Multiply that by a factor of five hundred and the pressure is really on. On that subject I read on Bicycle Touring Pro website that the number one fear of all people setting off on a long cycle tour is that of not finishing it. Not rabid dogs or wild axe men as you might have expected after all.

Finally, we had a good friend over for dinner last week to discuss the choice of charities for our fund raising efforts. There are more details on the dedicated fund raising page but essentially we are going to raise a bit of cash for two charities that were close to the heart of our friend’s wife who died recently. I am currently waiting for responses from the charities to ensure we go about it the correct way but I sense that once they have given us their blessing that will turn the pressure screws another couple of notches.

I may have been temporarily deflected from such things as blogging and house clearing by the demands of seasonal work but it doesn’t mean that the trip has been edged from my conscious. Quite the opposite; I’m beginning to feel the tiniest quiver of butterflies in fact. Exciting.