Frustrated by the lack of triathlon competition due to the Covid crisis, two of the more mature members of Ayrodynamic Tri Club decided to take on the considerable challenge of cycling from Land’s End to John O Groats. Alastair Stewart (63) and Grant Young (69) also decided to cover the 950 plus miles with over 50,000 feet climbing in only 9 days – which left them with the task of cycling over 100 miles per day on nine consecutive days.
Day 1 saw the lads and the rest of their 8 strong group set out from sunny, warm and picturesque Land’s End for the 106 miles to Oakhampton in Somerset. This turned out to be a seriously tough introduction to the trip as the route followed idyllic Cornish lanes with steep banked sides and huge masses of wild flowers, passing through chocolate box villages with many thatched roofs. It also plunged steeply into what seemed like every river valley in the West Country, only to climb out the other side up an even steeper slope. The day‘s climbing was equivalent to twice up Ben Nevis and Grant and Al were relieved to reach their hotel, and start to recover for the following day.
Day 2 headed out through Somerset towards Bath, 110 miles away. The land was less steep than the first stage, with the exception of the highly scenic but demanding climb up through the Quantock Hills, an area of outstanding natural beauty. Tired legs arrived in Bath, glad to be out of the West Country.
Day 3 began with a long and difficult climb out of Bath into the Cotswolds, but the rest of the day was easier and included crossing the Severn Bridge into Wales, and passing through Shropshire along the beautiful Wye valley. The historic market town of Ludlow was the location of the overnight stop, after a ‘short’ stage of ‘only’ 92 miles.
Haydock, between Liverpool and Manchester was the destination on Day 4 and it was duly reached after 102 miles.
Day 5 saw the lads push on to Shap, with the sting in the tail of having to climb from Kendal up the considerable hill of the same name to reach their hotel.
Two huge days were to follow in terms of mileage – Shap to Bellshill ( 118 miles) and the Bellshill to Ft William (121 miles) On day 6 to Bellshill a tail wind gave the group huge assistance, so much so that Al averaged 20 miles per hour over the whole day with Grant on 18 mph.
The good luck with the weather however wasn’t to last, and day 7 which was the longest day of the trip (121 miles) and potentially the most scenic, saw the group set out in torrential rain as a storm battered Scotland. The first climb took them up over the Campsies via the famous Crow climb, dropping sharply into the Trossachs – but it was difficult to see even the side of the road through the driving rain. So much so that some members of the group became so wet and cold that they were forced to stop for a while as hands had ceased to function on brakes and gears. After taking on more food plus several layers of clothing everyone got going again but the deluge continued for 6 hours, and only stopped during the passage through Glen Coe. A very tired couple of triathletes finally made it into a hotel in Ft William after a hideous day’s cycling. Any hopes that things would improve next day we’re quickly shattered as the riders again set out in teeming rain.
Day 8 should again have been a beautiful spin through the Great Glen, with everyone looking out for Nessie, but it was hard to see the Loch never mind any monster. The massive and steep climb at Drumnadrochit added to the misery but the rain did finally stop permitting a dry finish to the day in Tain.
Finally, Day 9 dawned dry and full of anticipation of the finish, but the weather had another nasty surprise in store as the following wind had swung round and was now a cold North wind slowing progress. In addition, after an easy hour on the A 9 and crossing the Dornoch Firth, the route swung off onto a tiny, steep poorly surfaced road, and the rain returned with a vengeance. The first 50 miles seemed to take forever, but finally the lads saw the Pentland Firth ahead, and turned East through Thurso towards John O Groats.
The feeling of achievement – and relief on completing the trip were massive, and both Grant and Alastair are grateful for the great support they received on the way. Grant also has raised getting on for £4000 for Cancer Research UK and thanks all contributors. There is still time to donate on the Cancer Research site under Grant Young.