Finally though, the decision had been made. Myself and my friend Adam, would cycle from top to bottom, John O' Groats in Scotland to Land's End in Cornwall. It was about the only trip I could afford. All my trips are usually on a super small budget, but travelling the UK would be even cheaper without the need to book long flights home.
I hadn't been home long, having just returned from the walk through Georgia and Armenia, so I was feeling averagely fit. Finances were at rock bottom though, I had to borrow money from Adam to book buses from Plymouth to London to Edinburgh and the train to Thurso (station near John O' Groats). The transport was cheap though; £1 for the first bus to London, £20 to Edinburgh & £7 for a train to Thurso. However, it did mean this would be my last trip for at least a few months and I would have to get one of those job things again for a while to pay off the debts and to save for the next adventure.
After a ridiculously long journey of two buses and a train, we were almost at the start line. We arrived late into the afternoon at Thurso station, with only around 10 miles to cycle to the start line - John O' Groats. The plan was to cycle to Dunnet Head (the most northerly point of mainland Britain), camp near there for the night and then cycle to the start line in the morning. So off we set.
For those of you that have read my blog before, you'll no doubt know how many problems I've had with my bike. You'll be glad to know, that after having him fixed by a professional I was back on the same bike for this trip. You'll also not be surprised (neither was I), that later that morning a rear spoke snapped, after only a couple of miles. My bicycle was failing me again and we hadn't even reached the start line.
Having had this problem before while carrying lots of weight, I knew that it isn't one that can be left alone, things will only get worse, fast. So I was back on the floor in a familiar position..
We plodded along the east coast of Scotland for the next couple of days, getting soaked by the constant heavy rain and always struggling to find somewhere to camp. Although we were next to the coast, there was always a couple of farmers fields with fences or walls blocking any route to the beaches it seemed.
Those first few days along the coast were slow, the weather was miserable and cold, and Adam had started getting a pain in his knee. Not a strong start. Camping was fun as always though, I could happily live in my tent.
I was ready to come off at any sign of danger. Luckily the road stayed almost straight and started leveling off, just before a junction and sharp bend up ahead. A lucky escape. Adam was waiting there for me, and with shaky legs I got off the bicycle and told Adam I'd have to walk it down the hill, any hill in fact.
After Loch Ness, Oich & Lochy (yes, one loch is named Loch Lochy), we came to the impressive Commando Memorial, surrounded by snow-capped mountains.
Adam googled his knee problem and then went off looking for knee supports/straps. I replaced my brake pads and checked our route down to Glasgow.
We stocked up in a supermarket and then headed out of town in the early evening. Still not fully out of Fort William, we stopped for the night to camp; right next to a road and a line of houses, but the beer had made us tired and it was a nice spot next to Loch Linnhe.
We cycled along the road that hugs the side of Loch Linnhe in the morning and then crossed the bridge that took us to the village Glencoe. From there the road began creeping up into the valley. The road was quite narrow and busy, not comfortable to cycle along, but the valley we were passing through was pretty amazing. Half way up we found a nice grass patch for lunch and a lie down for thirty minutes.
A few more days of many ups and downs and Adam's knee was almost finished. The hills finally stopped as we cycled alongside Loch Lomond, about 60km from Glasgow. But the action of turning the pedals, even just on the flat, was too painful for him. We had to stop often. Not a bad place to have to keep stopping though...
It had taken us nearly two weeks to reach this point, which is the average time people take to do the whole route... & we weren't even out of Scotland. Unfortunately we had time restraints; I had a job (yes a job), that was starting a month after we began the cycle, so I only had a couple of weeks left to get to the finish. A days rest was all that we could afford.
Morning came and nothing had changed. His knee was only getting worse with each day and we were running out of time. It was the end of the road for Adam.
We had a look on the Megabus website for transport to London. There was a cheap bus departing in two days time from Glasgow, which was only about 40km away from where we were, and was en-route.
From Balloch, we had a nice flat ride on a cycle path alongside the River Leven. Progress was slow, but then I remembered something - I could tow Adam! That's how I finished the Cornwall to Laos cycle trip; me sat relaxing on my broken bike, while Dan struggled and sweated in the heat, towing me to the finish.
We attached a bungee cord to the back of my bike and another to the front of Adam's and then attached them to each other. We both had to do a big push-off at the same time to get us going, but then we were away. It's a very good temporary fix if you have a broken bike or human, but I soon learnt that it's only useful on the flat; any little incline and it's a real struggle. Luckily though, most of the way into Glasgow would be flat.
We spent a long time in there, hunting for bargains. I found the soon-to-be-expired section, where loads of things are super cheap, as they expire the next day. I've always liked that area, I lived off it when I was in London for a year. Most of the stuff will still be good for another week, often longer. A pack of tasty looking sliced Salami was 19p from £1.50 and there were many packs. I got a bit carried away and ended up buying far too much, including 10 packets of Salami. It was cheap though, totaling about £20, but my bicycle was the heaviest it had been all trip.
Out of Dumbarton we joined the cycle path that follows the Forth & Clyde Canal, which would take us into Glasgow. Camping is always tricky the closer you get to a big city. However, we wanted to leave as little cycling as possible for the following day. That would allow Adam enough time to get to a hostel and sort out a box, for the bicycle's bus journey. And I'd still have most of the day to try and put some miles under my belt.
There weren't many camping options that evening. We stopped a few times searching for one, until finding one that was well hidden enough from view. We had a decent last meal together, using Asda's almost out-of-date chicken to make a curry, complete with naan bread.
I had the new job to get back to in Cornwall which started in 2 weeks time. However, regardless of the job, there was another reason I couldn't hang around. My older brother Tim, at the age of only 10, had walked from John O'Groats to Land's End with our Dad - a Guinness World Record, as the youngest person to complete the route. It took them 34 days, averaging a marathon a day. Not bad for a 10 year old... he peaked early in life.
That was all lovely and wonderful. However, I was still in Scotland on day 16 and the last thing I wanted, was to be beaten by my brother, when he was 10, while walking. I had to start putting some miles in and make sure I was nowhere near the 34 day mark when I finished. With that in mind, I pushed on as late as I could that evening, stopping just before dark to camp.
I took the B7078, that would take me most of the way to the border. I had the road almost to myself most of the way. A motorway had been built right alongside it, which had virtually turned the B7078 into a very large cycle path.
As the road I was using ran parallel to a motorway, it meant occasionally I would pass near a service station. Wild camping hadn’t offered me a chance for a proper shower since the beginning of the trip and soon I would be at the first friends house - Clare and Duncan's in Manchester, stinking out their house upon arrival. With this in mind, I ventured into one of the service stations in hope of finding a shower.
I soon found one, that I think was meant for the lorry drivers (it had pictures of lorries inside, with reminders to turn your engine and lights off). I took in a bag of clean clothes and my towel and began washing off the many layers of dirt. I returned thirty minutes later, feeling like a new man and looking much whiter.
The next day I reached Manchester. My route took me directly through the city centre and then through an area that felt like I was back cycling through the Middle East and then eventually to Clare and Duncan’s house.
Clare proved she could cook a very good lasagne and Duncan proved he was much better than me at his rally car game. I had another shower and then we headed to a friend's house, for some beers.
I'd been forced to make my bicycle into a single speed on a few occasions on previous trips, on much worse roads. This time I had two gears, twice as good. If I could cycle parts of Iran and Laos on a single speed, then the UK on two, should be easy.
Next up, a day later, was Naomi in Shropshire. She was back home from Australia for a week. It was the first time I had seen her in over a year and would be over a year until I saw her again, which I’m sure she didn’t lose any sleep over.
I hadn’t seen my friend Tim, for a good few years. I’d met him in a hostel, about seven years previous while driving across the US, with Dan (Dan from the last cycle trip). He ended up jumping in our car and joining us for a week in California.
Mine and Dan’s trip finished shortly after and Tim went on to backpack around the world. I then came out a few months later to meet him for his last six weeks, in Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. It was probably the funniest month of my life. So when we met again, now in Stroud, we spent most of the evening reminiscing about those days.
The salami, that I'd bought a week ago in Scotland, was still supplying me with lunches. And the packets of pasta and tins of tuna were still making up the majority of my dinners.
I passed through Bristol and on down towards Cornwall. The hardest part of the trip is the beginning and the end; Scotland and the South West, both with plenty of ups and downs. Two days later I crossed into Cornwall & stopped in at Wadebridge to say hi to Dan’s mum.
I made my way down through Cornwall and into Penzance. The last few miles of road was covered in a refreshing, thick sea mist. Lands End was in sight. The last time I'd been here, I was four years old, waiting with a crowd of people and cameras for my dad and brother to reach the finish of their 34 day walk. If memory serves me right, in true dramatic Tim Slee fashion, he sprinted the last fifty metres.
I was faster though.