Peter’s 70th Birthday Challenge seems a long time ago and unreal in a weird sense. It is hard to remember all the details as highlights surface and become treasured memories but he did it! I left you with the awful day and the Fall. Whilst there were other hiccups that one remains the worst. That evening we reached Kilmarnock, another Premier Inn, and checked Peter’s bruises after a long soak in Epsom Salts bath. Not the best place we stayed but bike came into the room with us!
Next day Monday 17th September Day Peter set off as usual but cautiously as a bit shaken from the previous day. We planned to meet at Gourock near Glasgow, the route followed the coastline in parts with views over the bays where seals lay on the rocks. I wish I could do the journey as a passenger as I had to focus on the road but took short glimpses. Peter enjoyed this stretch as he could take advantage of the quieter road and watch the seals. The plan was for Peter to take a short ferry crossing thus avoiding Glasgow (justified it to himself as he did not “ride” the whole distance!) but lots of riders take this option. Only took him 10 minutes or so whilst I crossed the Erskine Bridge via a visit to a shopping mall to restock supplies and treat myself to some warmer clothing! Our destination was Crianlarich , my route ran alongside the western edge of Loch Lomond. Sadly the weather came in and obscured the Loch. I am determined to revisit but am unsure if Peter will return to Scotland. The Bed & Breakfast Place was unusual, it did have internet access but only if you sat on a certain cushion on the sofa in the lounge. The couple running it were very kind but it was rather a strange vibe. The pub next door was like stepping back in time but again the staff were so welcoming. We had a very early night but were warm. The surrounding area forms part of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park so great for walking. The scenery is beautiful especially as the heather is starting to colour the landscape contrasting with the various shades of green in the trees. September is a great time to visit before the hard weather settles in, plenty of lochs to discover and not overcrowded with people.
Tuesday 18th September Fort William as our lunch stop. We had both been looking forward to this stretch of the trip as it was through Glen Coe with views of Ben Nevis, in theory! The weather was awful, I met Peter every hour to check all was well plus to pass on extra energy bars and nuts. The route was incredibly steep for cycling but worse was the traffic. At one time I was caught in a traffic jam of tour buses, caravans and motor homes. Whilst everyone is entitled to enjoy these wonderful places I pondered on the effect on the terrain of erosion due to hundreds of footsteps. Sadly rain obscured views but I felt sorry for people who were trekking with packs on their backs soaking wet. I know I would not have the stamina, but they gamely trudged on in a line following the tour guide. In winter the snow is wonderful and the ski resort constantly busy. I arrived at Fort William but a bad day for me as I reversed into a huge Motor Home which had an uncovered lethal spike on the back below my line of vision. I was mortified, not least as my little Skoda was damaged. The other vehicle was unmarked but I pointed out the spike should be covered as it could have been a child who was speared on it! Skoda is booked into the Body Shop next week for costly repair! Worse was the news that Peter twice escaped being crushed against the cliff by drivers not giving him room due to careless driving. He thought it was over! Both shaken we found a little deli with homemade doorstep sandwiches and delicious soup plus great coffee. I will not be returning here! Final destination of the day was Fort Augustus on Loch Ness. Our overnight stop was at the side of the Caledonian Canal but the garden at the back ran down to the River Oich. We had a lovely walk down to the loch alongside the canal, relaxed after an eventful day at a local pub and fell into bed. I want to go back to Fort Augustus as it is a fascinating area and again the people incredibly friendly. Our landlady Claire made the best porridge I have tasted. When I got home we had a request played on the radio and Claire contacted me to say she heard it and was so pleased Peter had achieved his goal although she and Paul, her husband, had not doubted it!
Wednesday 19th September was wet! Peter set off prepared for a tough, long day. The plan was to push on to Golspie in order to cut the final day short and avoid Inverness by going up to a place called Beauly. It proved a tough road for Peter, partly I suspect as fatigue was setting in and the rain was torrential so lots of spray, Beauly proved a haven, I arrived first and seemed guided to the Lovett Arms. I went in to check if there was somewhere suitable for Peter in his wet Lycra to have some hot soup. The staff were wonderful, immediately found towels and prepared an area beside a roaring log fire for Peter to dry out. They brought me coffee and asked what was going on. I explained and they were amazed. I said people did the journey all the time but this didn’t stop their enthusiasm. As soon as Peter arrived the receptionist and waitress were treating him like royalty! The chef bought us a tray of hot lentil soup and homemade bread. Towels were wrapped round Peter and I sat back enjoy the moment. Peter left suitably refreshed, warm and dry. We were due to meet in Asda, at Tain. The staff didn’t want to charge me but I insisted on paying so they gave me a Mars bar for Peter in his break! The sun broke through and things were looking up. I drove across the Cromarty Firth, which is familiar through shipping forecasts and has a sense of romance for me, why I don’t know but I sang a silly song as I drove along! Fatigue, hysteria – not sure! I got to Tain early so waited in Asda watching for Peter relieved that the next day we should be at John O’Groats. The familiar figure in luminous yellow caught my eye so I rushed out to the car. Suddenly, no warning, a gale force wind hit. The trolleys took on a life of their own, people tried to keep their balance and it was scary. Peter accepted that he could not ride, the storm had finally beaten him. Those of you in the US know all about that. We drove straight to Golspie with branches crashing around us. We found The Invictus Guest House, attached to the Fabric Fairy Craft Shop. (This warrants it’s own blog!) Peter was apprehensive about a tough day for his last day but accepted there had been no option. We found Golspie fascinating, an art trail alongside the sea plus great fish and chips. We met Roderick, a local fisherman, who told us about the attempts to topple the statue of the Duke of Sutherland above the town as he was involved in the 19th Century Scottish Clearances.
Thursday 20th September Day 12: The first surprise was the man who ran the B&B was born next door to our home in Melksham! What are the odds? Andy was fascinated to hear about Melksham as he had not been back since he was a small child. We drove back 16 miles to Tain for Peter to restart! Tough moment but he found his inner grit and set off. Almost 90 miles ahead of him but the weather was kind. A South Westerly pushed him along despite the steep hills and kept him optimistic of reaching his goal. But his Garmin sat. nav. stopped 45 miles from the end but luckily there was only one road! I will just tell you he arrived at John O’Groats at 4.05pm smiling, elated, relieved – you name it. I felt so proud I could burst, yes I cried again! An amazing man! Plus we raised over £1500 for my Breast Care Unit.
We headed off to our hotel at Dunnett, the most northerly point of Great Britain. Next morning we drove up to Dunnett Head to mark the “Done It” moment but a North Westerly was blowing so hard that we couldn’t open the door to get out, I was concerned little Skoda would blow away! We set off for a long trek south, in the car, but still euphoric. A once in a life time achievement but Peter is planning his next Big Adventure, me I’m glad to be home.