Highs and lows

Two people yesterday separately asked me the same question, it was ‘what was the low point of the journey?’ and I couldn’t think of what it might be. Now though I’ve had a little time I remember. I was up in Yorkshire coming down off the peaks and I was heading for Sheffield. There was a Sustrans route that took me off a road and onto a path and then onto a steep (very rocky) path, I had to carry my (very heavy) bicycle over each boulder. There was a bend up ahead on the path about 20m, so I thought maybe that was it, then there was another 20m run and another bend, by this time I realised I was committed to the route. A fell runner went by fairly astonished to see me and my bicycle. It went on and on and took me about an hour and a half to carry the bike over maybe half a mile. Enough time to see the fell runner on the way down again. By this time I had been riding on hills for about 8 hours, and so I was pretty exhausted at the top of the path. If there was some kind of ironman involving cycling and fell running (but carrying a printing press) this would be it.

After another 10 miles of riding I was pretty much done. I was outside a pub with a room and would have stayed there if it wasn’t for being committed to getting to Sheffield that night to see my friend Nick Wright at his scissor factory the next morning. So I managed to track down a large taxi in the next village and wrangle the bike and me and the press in and ride the last 15 miles into Sheffield. I remember being fairly terrified at the speed of the taxi and fairly convinced that had I not called him anyhow he would surely have flattened me somewhere on this road with his crazy driving.

Well that was my low point, being half way up a fell runners track in the peak district. 

On the other hand, and a question, no-one yet has asked, ‘what was the high point?’. Well, I think I had a few each day, and they were often being somewhere each day fairly brilliant and it could be in the middle of Birmingham on a canal towpath, or somewhere in the Highlands of Scotland, being alone on a mountainside. It was always connected to a feeling of wellbeing. The other thing was meeting people, some I knew and some I didn’t. Sometimes it would be a fleeting moment like a bloke with a dog in a village and a brief conversation or it could be spending the day with folk I hadn’t seen in eight years: either way I felt a big lift and loved spending time short and long with good people.

I’m on the train now the sea on my left the lowlands of the Scottish borders to my right. I feel very calm and relaxed and still a little isolated from life, and on the other very happy to be heading back to family and friends and getting on with life and thinking about the things planned for the next days and weeks.


Last Day on the Road

Seems a long time ago that I set out from Bristol to head for Land’s End, it has been an epic adventure for me. Yesterday I stayed at the Crask Inn, oddly, the only pub owned by the church. It’s in the middle of a moor in the north of Scotland. The photo of the bar below reminds me of the bar in Local Hero (film from the 80s and filmed near here).

It’s so interesting being on you own, observing our little island from a saddle. It is a very beautiful place and worth looking after as best we can. Our island is still healthy and full of amazing wildlife, the birds are out there singing as they always have (I heard a Corncrake on a Lewis moor a couple of days ago). But much like we are starting to think about looking after each other again (thanks Jeremy C), we do need to look after our islands much better. Cars: blimey, they are everywhere, they are noisy, dangerous and we can’t drive them without going at some crazy speed. 

I’ve met some brilliant people: even just fleetingly; like the old boy walking his dog in a little village who said he’d love to be going to the Crask Inn with me (it was 30 miles away), because there’s not good beer in his village and to take care on the decent of the mountain. Just little moments with people. Also it has been grey and wet and windy quite a bit. It’s an odd thing on a bicycle, things can be a bit in your head. I found myself talking to myself quite a lot, I don’t know if that’s good or not.

Was going to write how I found myself getting a bit crotchety with people asking what an earth made me thing it was a good idea putting a printing press on a bicycle. But now I’m starting to agree with them, so will leave that.

The road surface makes such a difference riding the bike: there are some lovely surfaces to ride on, but bumpy old roads are hard work. The wind in your face on a heavy bike makes for slow going. But when you fly on a lovely road with the world opening up around you, there is no better feeling. And everyday that happens.

It’s the last day now with just twelve miles to ride,  I’m staying with Joanne and Joe who I stayed with and met last in 2009 when I was cycling around the coast. They are brilliant: Joanne an artist and Joe, a mechanical engineer (though these days he helps Joanne with her work more). Very welcoming and it’s like the last 8 years never happened. So nice to spend the last day of riding with them.

I’m printing one last day somewhere around John O’Groats and then grabbing a cycle taxi (yes they do exist) with a bunch of other end to enders back to Inverness. I’m staying in a funny old hotel run by a 90 year old lady, it looks pretty run down, but couldn't resist booking it.

Then the 9.40am train back home to Bristol on Tuesday, arriving sometime around 9pm. I am very aware of all the people who have helped me with this little adventure and will write properly to let you know who they are. But my brain is a little windswept at the moment, so will do that another time.

Here are a few photos from the last two days.