‘Cross the Mersey

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Alan, like he did the day earlier, provides me a cycling escort, this time out of the city. He takes me past Lancaster University where he has a teaching post in music theory. I get to see a clever meeting room nestled in the forest, something that could fit in well at Pearson College.

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It is a beautiful Saturday morning for a bicycle ride. There are far more cyclist on the road through the Bowland Forest than cars. Most are MAMILs. Middle aged men in Lycra. Much has been written about them recently and with Bradley Wiggins having won the Tour de France this summer, he has spawned many more. Packs of them pass me as I head to the Trough of Bowland. The few cyclists I am able to have a conversation with, all clad, indeed, in black Lycra shorts and flamboyant tight jerseys of the same material, tell me that this stretch of road is the best cycling in all of Britain. It is a curious combination of some of the best landscapes I have pedaled through so far. Something additional in this one is seeing hunting parties with their dogs, tweed clothing and men wearing colour coordinated ties. I cannot imagine walking in the mud and muck of these moorlands wearing a collared shirt and tie. But then again, I am not sure why men wear ties anyway.

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Part of the landscape is like a lower altitude mixture of the Lake District and parts of Scotland.

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After the trough of Bowland the landscape flattens out and I pick my way through lots of little towns and villages to the bridge that takes me over the Mersey to Runcorn.

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Construction on the bridge has closed two lanes, and they allow cyclists on one of them. So I get to look up into the bridge structure from an unusual vantage point.

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Stats – for Saturday 15 September 2012

Start: Lancaster
Finish: Runcorn
Distance: 125 km
Time on Bike: 7 hours 20 min
Average Speed: 17.1 km/hr
Distance to Date: 9,087 km

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Alumni Escort

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A treat of a day. I ride from Windermere for about 20 km where I am met by Pearson College Year 2 Alum, Alan Marsden. While there is rain all around me, the sun shines on the route and it is pretty much all downhill to the little village of Sampool Bridge and at the moment I reach the bridge, he reaches it too, after pedaling up to greet me from Lancaster, about 40 km away.

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Alan leads us through farmland on paths hardly used by cars. We stop halfway to Lancaster at a bird sanctuary for lunch.

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We then follow a towpath along a canal all the way to Lancaster. Lancaster is a dream city for cycling. The city was used as a test by the UK government to see how to transform it into a cyclist friendly place. The infrastructure and sign posting is excellent throughout the city.

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Something that has been rare for me, twice in 9,000 km, a flat tire, happens to Alan. But he is an experienced and prepared cyclist and quickly fixes it. He has cycled the UK from end to end.

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We conclude our ride earlier than my normal schedule so I use the time to give my bike and my clothes a good cleaning.

At dinner I learn that Alan was one of the three students who built a boat while at Pearson then set out to sail across the Pacific, which they did successfully. This is one of the big stories in the College’s history that captures the kind of personal challenge and adventure so tied in with the philosophy of Kurt Hahn.

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Inspiring stuff. By coincidence, he was sailing across the Pacific the same summer I was crossing Canada by bicycle for the first time in 1977.

Stats – for Friday 14 September 2012

Start: Windermere
Finish: Lancaster
Distance: 56 km
Distance to Date: 8,962 km

Estimates – the bike computer is kaputt still

Lake District Gales

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Over nearly 9,000 km, there have been many “est” days: hottest day, longest day, coldest day, farthest day, hardest day, hilliest day, loneliest day, flattest day, wettest day and so on. In my two weeks cycling the UK from end to end, I was not anticipating any more. Well, maybe the wettest day. But today was a surprise: the windiest day. I certainly have had lots of windy days but upon reaching the Lakes District National Park today, I could hardly pedal against the wind. It was blowing steady at 50 km per hour with gusts up to 80 km per hour or more. And right on my nose.

Here are some views as I approach the top of the pass from Carlisle to Keswick.

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I am totally exposed to the elements up here with no place for shelter. The driving wind with a bit of drizzle not only works it way into my bones but into the few electronic things I have on my bike. My bike computer stops working as well as my two bike lights. The wind must have blown moisture into the heart of theses things.

The best way to feel it is in video. Take your pick.

In this one you can hear the wind – like a jet engine.

Windblown like never before, I make it to the town of Keswick. Full of tourists but a good base for exploring the surrounding mountains.

I get a great route tip from a local bicycle shop on how to get from Keswick to Windermere staying off the main road. And I also get a few breaks in the clouds along the way.

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I come across a field of black sheep. I wonder, since the term black sheep is usually used figuratively, if there were a white sheep in this field would it be a black sheep?

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Come ride along with me in this final video of the day.

Stats – for Thursday 13 September 2012

Start: Carlisle
Finish: Windermere
Distance: 85 km
Distance to Date: 8,906 km

Estimates – bike computer ist kaputt

English Countryside

All across Canada, wherever I camped, I took a photo of my tent at each campsite. So I realize this morning there has been no UK equivalent since I ditched the tent when I left Canada. So here is the UK equivalent this morning.

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I usually pedal into a town or village around sunset and look for a bed and breakfast with a vacancies sign. This time of year this is working well.

I leave the village of Moffatt with the aim of reaching the edge of the Lake District by sunset.

Outside the village, I come across a sculpture on the side of the bike path. Not sure what it means.

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The morning is a mixture of sun and rain with a nice tailwind pushing me south.

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I like uncovered bales of hay better than black plastic dotting the landscape

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I take a little detour to the town of Lockerbie, well known for the spot where the plane debris landed in December 1988 after it was blown up by a terrorist. I remember the day well as my sister in law was flying from the UK to the USA at that time, fortunately on another plane. I end up spending a few hours in a sunny modern library in the town centre catching up on things that require lots of Internet research.

The remainder of the ride into Carlisle is rural countryside at its best. The trail follows paths not even shown on most maps and now that the sun is lower in the sky, it dips below the remaining rain clouds and shines brightly. These are the moments I dream about when I think of bike touring.

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You can get a better sense in this video of the ride through the fields and farms.

I am sad to leave Scotland behind as I cross the border into England.

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I like the graphics used to warn about crosswinds ahead.

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Carlisle castle greets me as I enter the city, located along Hadrian’s Wall, the farthest reach of the Roman Empire. For those interested in a great walk, there is a walking trail along the entire length of the wall, from the east to west coast.

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Stats – for Wednesday 12 September 2012

Start: Moffatt
Finish: Carlisle
Distance: 78 km
Time on Bike: 4 hours 3 min
Average Speed: 19.2 km/hr
Distance to Date: 8,821 km

Wind Farms

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A day that I understand is typical this time of year. Sunshine followed by rain followed by sunshine followed by rain. The beauty of today’s ride is that the gusty wind that accompanies each little rain squall is a tailwind pushing me sweetly and southerly.

I have a little trouble finding my way out of Glasgow but once I am well out of the city, I begin to pick up the National Cycle Network 75, which leads me to Moffatt, Scotland’s first town – at least that is what the sign says going into Moffatt.

By a curious coincidence, at the same time I am about halfway from the top of the UK to my final destination, Bridgend in Wales, I pass through the town of Halfway.

Here comes another rain cloud.

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The route today winds through wind farm country. These are impressive and hypnotic. Scotland is able to generate about one third of all its electricity needs through wind power and is striving for 100% by 2020. No more stinky coal in the air I hope.

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The views in the rolling hills south of Glasgow extend for miles.

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And even though traffic is light on these back roads, there is a dedicated path next to the road for cyclists. Sweet.

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More wind farms.

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Stats – for Tuesday 11 September 2012

Start: Glasgow
Finish: Moffatt
Distance: 98 km
Time on Bike: 5 hrs 26 min
Average Speed: 17.9 km/hr
Distance to Date: 8,742 km

Loch Lomond & Glasgow

A day full of little surprises. The first one is that the first twenty kilometers out of Crianlarich are all downhill to the shores of Loch Lomond. The A82 is narrow and full of blind curves and of course no shoulder. But the drivers, including big tour busses, coexist with me nicely. The second surprise is that about halfway along the western shore of the lake, a dedicated cycle path appears. This takes me to the end of the lake where I pick up the National Cycle Network 7 path along canals all the way to Glasgow. So more than half the day on bicycles only pathways. Nice and peaceful.

I can’t remember any other surprises although I think there were some. Oh, like how slippery cobblestones are in the rain.

The day in photos.

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Overlooking Loch Lomond in the morning.

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A quintessential cottage.

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My own little private passageway most of the day – or so it feels.

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Clear signage along the way.

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Modern sculpture along the trail.

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And Fiach OBroin-Molloy (PC Yr 26) who I was able to have coffee with, in his anorak ready for Glasgow rain.

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And the city all wet after the sun has set.

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Stats – for Monday 10 September 2012

Start: Crianlarich
Finish: Glasgow
Distance: 95 km
Time on Bike: 4 hours 23 min
Average Speed: 17.6 km/hr
Distance to Date: 8,645 km

Hairpins in the Highlands

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The ride from Fort William starts out curvy but flat, following the shoreline of Loch Linnhe. The drivers seem to love the winding road and most seem to know just how to pass a cyclist and never try to pass me with a car coming in the opposite direction. Reassuring. I am wearing my bright orange vest today. It is so blinding, I take it off when I go into a store or restaurant out of respect to those around me.

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After about twenty kilometers I reach the village of Glencoe. A very different landscape. Here is the place where they filmed parts of the Harry Potter movies. These are the Scottish Highlands.

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Maybe best seen on film.

From Glencoe I begin a climb that may be one of the longest and highest of the trip so far. It requires not only stamina but terrific concentration to hug the white line as there is no shoulder and it is full of hairpin turns and there is a strong headwind.

You can get a sense of the insanity of it all in this video clip.

When I reach the top of the pass, you really do feel like you are in the highlands.

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And again, fun to see in motion.

It begins to rain when I start to descend and I get to see a welcome sign when I look back on where I have come.

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I continue on to the village of Crianlarich and find a bed & breakfast and a hearty steak and ale pie.

Stats – for Sunday 8 September 2012

Start: Fort William
Finish: Crianlarich
Distance: 83 km
Time on Bike: 4 hours 47 min
Average Speed: 17.4 km/hr
Distance to Date: 8,549 km

Great Glen Way

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I start the day on the southern end of Loch Ness, where a 40 km canal begins leading to the town of Fort William. Given the heavy weekend tourist traffic, I decide to follow the gravel pathway along the canal. This is part of the walking trail called the Great Glen Way. While most of it is directly along the canal, the trail veers into the forest in sections and the wooded trail is not really fit for cycling. There is one section with exposed slippery tree roots. I know these can be dangerous because two cyclists pass me covered in scrapes and bloody knees and warn me. I walk my bike over the roots and this slows me down so much that it turns out to be just a 59 km day. But the day is sunny and the vistas along the canal make it a good day for going slow.

Some images from the day.

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Part of the trail follows an abandoned railway track.

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Fascinating to see sailboats navigating the canal, so far away from the ocean.

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Another rail bridge converted into a bicycle path leads me to Fort William.

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I could have pushed on to the village of Glencoe but I was warned route A82 is full of blind curves with no shoulder and very busy at the end of the day. Better to tackle this route on a Sunday morning when many are sleeping.

Stats – for Saturday 8 September

Start: Fort Agustus
Finish: Fort William
Distance: 59 km
Time on Bike: 4 hours 24 min
Average Speed: 13.2 km/hr
Distance to Date: 8,466 km

Loch Ness

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A stunning day for a ride along Loch Ness. All of Inverness seems to be out strolling as I think sunny warm days in September are unusual here and must be treasured.

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I follow another B road south and will take the B 862 to the east and high above Loch Ness.

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I spot a curious sign along the way.

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I cannot see how slow moving elderly folks are any danger to motorists.

Soon I see the northern end of Loch Ness.

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I think it looks most mysterious in black and white.

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I climb about 300 meters above Loch Ness to roll along the moorland again. I get very lucky and have the road entirely to myself as it is closed to vehicles due to construction but open to cyclists.

You can get a feel for the place with this video.

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I continue along gaining another 100 meters or so for this panoramic view before my descent into Fort Agustus. The longest and steepest downhill so far in over 8,000 km.

In Fort Agustus, I am now on the southern end of Loch Ness and since I took a leisurely pace today and it is getting dark, I find a bed and breakfast for the evening.

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Stats – for Friday 7 September 2012

Start: Inverness
Finish: Fort Agustus
Distance: 56 km
Time on Bike: 3 hrs 38 min
Average speed: 15.3 km/hr
Distance to Date: 8,407 km

Highland Rain

I awaken to the patter of rain blown onto my window from the direction I will be riding today. Outside, Mike, the proprietor of The Crask, with help from four sheepdogs, is rounding up his sheep to bring to market. He is not happy with the rain as the sheep don’t show well with a damp coat. From first light well before dawn on the moor, Mike and his dogs have been busy. Here he is leaning against the wind about to drive his flock to market.

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I finish up a country breakfast prepared by Mike’s partner Kai. She treats me like I am her first and only guest. As we look at the rain she says something like: “up here it’s rain at seven and dry by eleven.”. So I ask, should I stay until eleven? “Not today” she replies. So it’s on my bike I go in full rain gear something I never really tested in Canada.

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About half the rain gear works. The seamless, simple, waterproof Showerpass jacket works fine. The fancy Gore Bike Wear trousers that can be zipped in half fail miserably. Water comes through the zipper and the seams. My neoprene booties just soak up the water and bathe my feet in wetness and my gloves do the same thing. My Ibex wool Beanie keeps me warm but for serious rain I would need something else to keep my head dry. Fortunately, by mid afternoon the rain stops. And fortunately my trip has been just about rain free since leaving Pearson College in late May.

Like the day before, I follow the National Cycle Network 1 bike trail all the way to Inverness. It is well marked and takes me up and over more of the Scottish Highlands.

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The trail briefly follows a dirt path for the first time and I get to be close to animals and stinging nettles.

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After coming out of the highlands, freshly cut fields of hay are everywhere.

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Finally, after one wrong turn that adds ten kilometers to my day, I cross the Kessock bridge into Inverness. Here are views north and south.

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Stats – for Thursday 6 September

Start: Crask Inn
Finish: Inverness
Distance: 122 km
Time on Bike: 7 hours 12 min
Average Speed: 16.9 /hr
Distance to Date: 8,352 km