Monday, August 15, 2011

Post Script: maps & elevation profiles showing our journey

The data recorded on our Garmin GPS bike computers has enabled the compilation of a good geographic record to help us remember details of our bike ride from Land’s End to John O’Groats in June & July.

The map below showing our route through Britain was developed by merging the individual GPS files for each of the 23 days we rode (double click on the image to enlarge it).  

There is an elevation profile below the map which confirms that the route was hilly.  Total climbing was 16,900 vertical metres.  The route fluctuated between sea level and about 460m, though curiously the composite profile doesn’t show the several high points that were over 400m and some that were over 300m.  But the bumps are in the right areas.

Detailed maps and annotated elevation profiles for each day are on this separate page:  They are displayed under the headings that were used in this blog to describe our trip but in reverse order.  This means that the map & elevation profile for the first day’s ride appears at the very top of the page followed successively by those for later days under headings that broadly indicate the part of Britain we were in. The places and landmarks we passed through or near are underlined on the maps.   

The URLs to the files stored on the Garmin Connect website are provided above the maps.  By accessing those files it's possible to see more detail about the route we took as well as other information concerning each day’s ride.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Finale: the ride to John O'Groats

Here are some shots of us enjoying finishing our 'end to end' after reaching John O'Groats late on Saturday (the 'official'  photographer's kiosk was closed):

While we had a very nice sense of achievement in finally completing the 'end to end' journey, the arrival at John O'Groats was a bit of an anti-climax - there's not much there apart from a couple of cafes and tourist outlets, as well as the closed multi-coloured hotel.  The landscape is unremarkable, unlike that at Duncansby Head 3 km away, which is the true northeasterly point on the British mainland (more on our visit there later).

Still, we really enjoyed the day's ride to John O'Groats and then on to Wick about 30k south.  We first rode out to Dunnet Head, the most northerly point of mainland Britain, hoping to see the famous cliffs there.  Unfortunately there was a thick sea mist so we couldn't see much, though we did get a good idea of the views from areas where the mist had lifted a few kilometres before and after we reached the headland.

We saw some highland cattle along the way:
Then we visited Jamie at the small Highland Seal Hospital in the village of Scarfesferry.  Jamie is an ex-pat Australian and is a keen cyclist. He invited us to stop in for a cup of coffee after seeing a reference to our trip on the CTC forum.  He looks after orphaned and/or injured young seals, and currentlly has 4 baby seals in his care which live in small ponds of fresh water in the hospital.
We watched while Jamie fed the seals and also listened while he chatted with a vet who visited to check on the health of one of them.  It was fascinating to see the seals close up, to learn about them and to see first hand the great work that Jamie is doing to ensue the survival of those who come to the attention of the small facility run by marine animal enthusiasts.

After leaving Jamie we stopped for a late lunch at the nearby Castle of Mey, which was the late Queen Mother's summer residence.  A visitor's centre was established in 2007 in her memory, enabling vistors to tour the castle and grounds.  Unfortunately we didn't have time to go inside but it was nice to at least see the castle.
Then it was off to John O'Groats in the rain, though it had just about stopped by the time we reached there.  We saw Dunnett head from a distance after the fog had lifted:
As noted further below, our route following backroads and Sustrans routes had effectively been about 1850km compared with the most direct route of about 1400km following A roads.  We spent 23 days riding and had 3 days off to do some sightseeing.
While at John O'Groats we chatted with two other cyclists (& their support vehicle driver) from Reading near London.  They had taken the most direct route and completed the ride in 9 days, averaging about 160km per day (see further below for information on 'end to end' records).
Whle  we admired their athleticism, we much prefer enjoying the scenery in the countryside by taking backroads and traffic-free trails rather than busy roads. Still, they were justifiably pleased with their achievement and had raised a significant sum for charity.
We're glad we are cycletourists and didn't have to rush our journey.  Greg has also done lots of challenging audax 'fast touring' rides, including twice completing the 1200km 'Paris-Brest-Paris' event within the 90 hour time limit. 
After John O'Groats we rode the 3km to Duncansby Head, which is actually the most northeastery point in mainland Britain and has some spectacular scenery.  There are sea stacks similar to the 12 apostles off the Victorian coast, as well as two huge rock crevasses.

Then we rode the 27km to our B&B in Wick, .  We celebrated by having dinner and a few drinks at a nice pub and then enjoying the music of the live band (who played many songs we recognised). [Saturday 9/7: distance 87 km;  climbing: 711 m]

We spent Sunday in Wick, resting, walking around the town and catching up on our washing.  On Monday, we caught a train to Inverness and today (Tuesday) we're taking a long train journey to Kings Lynn to visit some friends (Peter & Judith).  A few days later we'll visit more friends in Braintree, Essex (Norma & Alan), before returning to London late on Friday until we fly home on 22 July.
Here are some statistics for our trip (including the sections totalling about 50km from Penzance to Lands End at the start and from John O'Groats to Wick at the end):
·      total days of riding: 23 (+ 3 days off);
·      total distance: 1909km, at an average of  82km per day (the total is about 450km more than the shortest distance using mainly A roads, about 1400km,  taking into account the extra bits that we rode at either end);
·      total climbing: 18,674m, about 810m per day;
·      total punctures: one on Toni's bike at Bettyhill  (+ one gashed tyre on Greg's bike at Coleford in the Wye Valley - replaced with one of the two folding tyres we were carrying as spares, since our bikes have different sized wheels);
·      weather: we had lots of great weather, particularly in the north, with probably only about two days of rain in total (mainly drizzle & showers) during the 23 days we rode.
End to End records
Further to the comments above about the riders who did a relatively quick time, it's worth noting that the record for cycling from Land's End to John O' Groats is held by UK time trial specialist Andy Wilkinson, who completed the journey in 41 hours, 4 minutes and 22 seconds on a Windcheetah recumbent in 1992 (needless to say, as part of a ride with vehicle and other support). 
The record for rider on a conventional (ie, upright) bicycle is 44 hours, 4 minutes and 20 seconds, set by another noted UK time trialler Gethin Butler in 2001 on a supported ride. 
The Australian Sir Hubert Opperman once held the 'end to end' record, setting a time of 54 hours and 33 minute in 1934.
Garmin data issues
As mentioned in one of our early posts, we were hoping to post maps and elevation profiles of each day's stage downloaded from our Garmin GPS computers.  But for reasons that remain unclear, we were unable to upload to the Garmin Connect site using our new netbook computer even though we can do so on our PCs at home.

This is the error message we get, even after updating to the latest software on the devices and on Garmin Connect:
"UnsupportedDataTypeException: Your device is not supported by this application"

We enquired on the Garmin forum about possible solutions.  It was suggested that we either upload the data manually or try a different internet browser like Firefox, but limited internet access meant that we did't get the time to explore these suggestions.

Anyway, after we get back to Canberra on 24 July we will upload the data and post the maps & elevation profiles.

Many thanks for following the progress of our 'end to end' ride !!
Greg & Toni

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Reaching the top of Scotland

On Thursday we rode through fairly remote country on single track roads (ie, one vehicle width) from Lairg via Altnaharra, Loch Naver & Syre to Bettyhill on the northern coast of Scotland.

We had a strong headwind, along with occasional showers, for about 2/3 of the journey, then a great tailwind when we turned north after the scenic ride east alongside Loch Naver. The road then followed the River Naver to the sea at Bettyhill. We stopped for morning tea at the Altnaharra Hotel then for an ice cream at a remote caravan club location (Grummore) on the edge of the loch.

Grummore was one of a range of locations along an historical trail that focussed on the controversial ‘clearances’ in the early 1800s. This involved the forced removal of peasant farmers to improve the efficiency of rented land by using hardier breeds of sheep that required little supervision and were able to endure the harsh Scottish winter.

The following day we rode past coastal settlements that were originally established to house forcibly removed farmers, who were then expected to live off fishing.

The hilly area around Bettyhill is very scenic, with long sandy beaches, and there are lots of low key historical sites that draw visitors. While it had been very windy the afternoon we arrived, Friday morning was sunny and still. It's a long way north and the winters are challenging. We were told that last winter there was snow on the ground for 94 days, with the river mouth freezing over at one point, and that during one week the temperature didn't rise above -8C. [Thursday 7/7: distance 75 km; climbing 604 m]

.The photo above shows the Farr Bay Inn at Bettyhill, where we stayed.  It was built in 1813

On Friday we rode east along the coast to Thurso, up & down lots of hills that gave a great view of beaches. There was some pretty desolate country, although it became much less hilly and more arable as we approached Thurso. We also passed close by the Dounreay nuclear power plant, which is being decommissioned (a process that apparently takes quite a few years).

At one point we chatted with a Scottish couple from the Outer Hebrides islands off the north west coast of Scotland, who were riding their tandem to Spain and camping along the way. They have cyclecamped by tandem in Austraila, crossing from Perth to Newcastle via the Nullarbor and also going around Tasmania.

Thurso is a large town next to the sea, with a sandy beach close to the shopping centre (though the beach was deserted) and views across the harbour entrance to a ruined castle and, in the distance, to the high cliffs of Dunnet Head, which is the most northerly point in mainland Britain. [Friday 8/7: distance 48 km; climbing 617 m]

The photo above is the old well from which water was dispensed to Thurso's townspeople (the pump is preserved inside the stucture) and which was a social meeting place.  The photo below is of a truck owned by a pigeon racing club in Peterborough, near London, that was ready to release pigeons for the journey back.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Along the salmon run and into the highlands

Our ride from Perth on Monday followed 'The Salmon Run' route through Dunkeld to Pitlochry. This is a Sustrans route, originating in Dundee and generally following the River Tay. It is named after the salmon that return to spawning grounds upriver from Pitlochry. For the first 5 km after Perth the route follows a bike path alongside the river.

Dunkeld is in a nice position near forests next to the River Tay, with a crossing via an 1809 stone bridge designed by the famous British engineer Thomas Telford.   

The busy tourism centre of Pitlochry is significant because the hydro-electric authority built a 'ladder' to enable salmon to get past the dam wall that otherwise blocks their progress upstream.

The ladder comprises a series of rectangular cement ponds each higher than the previous one, which are joined by underwater pipes. There is an underwater viewing platform for the public where two of the ponds are joined (we didn't see any salmon, though). About 5,000 salmon pass through the ladder annually; the counter at the information centre show that about 3,000 have already passed through this year.
After Pitlochry we followed another Sustrans route, the most northern section of 'Lochs & Glens' via Blair Athol (where there is a striking castle) and the Drumochter Pass to Newtonmore in the beautiful Scottish Highlands. The welcome sign higlighted that we were entering the Gaelic language area of Northern Scotland, where many signs are bilingual in English & Gaelic. [Monday 4/7: distance120 km; climbing 1023 m]    

On Tuesday the quiet Sustrans route took us through attractive scenery to Inverness, against the backdrop of various mountains, including the Cairngorms - a series of granite masses that comprise the largest national park in Britain and contain 6 of the 7 highest peaks in Scotland.

We passed through popular hiking and winter sport towns like Kingussie, Aviemore (which has Britain's only downhill skiing resort) and Carrbridge (where there is an unusual stone bridge). Aviemore is the largest of these towns and was crowded with people enjoying the highlands in summer.  Closer to Inverness we viewed Bronze Age chambered burial cairns at Clave.

Inverness is another attractive city, sited next to the River Ness with a castle on a hill right next to the centre. [Tuesday 5/7: distance 85 km; climbing 584 m]

The ride on Wednesday went from inverness north to Lairg via a ferry crossing at Cromarty, following Sustrans route 1. Just out of Inverness we crossed another major bridge, across the Moray Firth.

Then our luck with the weather finally ran out, as it rained for most of the morning - the first wet weather since we were in south west England two weeks earlier. On our way to Cromarty we passed through several coastal villages as well as riding along a ridge with great views.

 In the early afternoon we were very fortunate to get a ferry ride across the Cromarty Firth to Nigg, the service having been suspended in the morning due to bad weather.

We and two other cycletourists (who we'd chatted to in previous days) were the only passengers on the crossing. It was a nice gesture, since due to the strong winds it was difficult for the ferry to dock on the ramp to pick us up and there were no vehicles waiting. This saved us riding an additional 48km that day had we not been able to cross on the ferry.     

After the ferry ride we again passed near the coastline, as well as close to a free range chicken farm.  Later we had a scenic ride from Tain to the small town Lairg, mostly alongside Dornoch Firth. The roads were quite wet but it didn't rain again until after we reached Lairg. [Wednesday 6/7: distance 108  km; climbing 906  m]