Thursday, 21 July 2011

                                                 Day 13 Helmsdale to John O’ Groat’s and home
As predicted, there was next to no signal in John O Groat's, hence the late posting of the blog!

Unbelievably, I was first to rise this morning at half 6, mind you, I had slept in a cupboard, so I had some peace and quiet! I think the fact everyone apart from Omar and I had finished off the alcohol we had brought with us, may explain why everyone slept in!
My Cupboard

On arrival yesterday, Steve, the fireman explained that if they get a ‘shout’ the phone in the station will ring once. At about half 7, while Dave was still asleep and the others were eating beans on toast, the phone rang! We went straight into panic mode as several firemen were expected to arrive at the retained station in the next few minutes and our kit was all over the place. Tris, Dave and Omar had slept in the room where the crew gets kitted up, while Paul and Keith had slept next to the fire engine itself. Everyone was running around trying their best to tidy up and hide all the empty alcohol bottles before the watch commander caught us. Ten minutes went by and no one came. It was then that we realised that Paul was not in the room when the phone rang. He denied having anything to do with it. Twenty minutes had gone and still no one came. By the time we left just after 9, no one had turned up, but at the very least it got Dave out of bed! I guess we’ll never know if it was a Davies ‘blag’ or not!
The thing inside the grey sleeping bag is in fact Paul!
The midges this morning were everywhere. Thousands of the little biting things all helping themslevs to an all you can eat buffet at our expense! (Midlanders-yum yum!) We were surprised they were out and about considering how cold it was.
The road had a few sneaky hills and turns before a lovely downhill. The boys got over 40mph going down into the valley, the only problem was, it was a 13% climb back out of it. It was very twisty and full of hairpin bends. Of all the miles they have covered over the last 13 days, they all agreed that that hill was the toughest. They did get some respite however, and it wasn’t long before we reached Wick. Compared to the last few villages we had been through, Wick felt like the size of a city! It even had a Tesco, something that very few places this far north seem to have! (Other supermarkets are available!!)
Wick was 18.5 miles from the finish line, and Bev and Omar thought was close enough for them, so they hopped on their bikes and joined the other four. As much as I admire him for what he has achieved over the last two weeks, it was funny to see Omar and his bandy legs keeping up with the others! He did really well.
Omar, with Dave on his right

There were one or two miles hills for the six of them to conquer before we saw 'it'. We stopped in a layby about three miles away and just stared at 'it'. We couldn't believe that we were finally there and the lads couldn't believe they had cycled to 'it'.The 'it', of course was ‘the end of the country’, the top of mainland Britain, and the finish point that was John O Groat’s. And what a grotty little place it was! All that way and they couldn’t even be bothered to spruce it up a bit! And it was cold! But at least it was dry. Now I would like to say that we all rolled down the last hill into town and crossed the line-job done. But unfortunately I made a bit of an error when I planned the route. If you look at any map of Scotland, you will see that John O Groat’s is about two miles from the very north east tip of the country. Now the challenge is called End2End because you ride from one end of the Britain to the other. However, the finish line was in the John O Groat’s itself, so in fact, we should have called it the End2 two miles from the End challenge. What made it worse was that I didn’t realise this oversight until everyone had cycled those extra two miles to a place called Duncansby Head, which didn’t go down too well with the others! Oops! But at least they can say they have done the full End2End! At just after 2pm, the four cyclists completed their run covering nearly 930 miles (including the extra added on after my mistake) and many congratulations for their achievement! They made it look very easy indeed!
We had a few snaps taken by the signpost, then we were awarded our medals that Mrs S (Aka Keith’s Mrs) had kindly provided for us, before throwing the bikes in the van and nipping back down to Dudley, some 567 miles!
Just in case you were wondering, the signpost isn't actually attached to tris' head!

 We left at 3:15pm and rolled into Dudley station at 3:45am! We retraced our steps through the highlands and back down to Glasgow. The timing was perfect as the sun was setting over the Glens. It rained on and off until exactly midnight! This was also strange because at the exact tine the rain stopped we crossed the border back into good old England! I drove the minibus while Jo, Bev, Dave and Omar took turns in driving the little van. I would have loved it for one of the others to drive the bus, but I was the only insured driver.
Well I will stop rambling on now. There will no doubt be a few more blogs over the next few days and weeks, hopefully with some videos on, so keep checking back. Once again, on behalf of all the Castle Wheelers, thank you so much for all your support, there is already talk about another challenge next year, but I think we all need some rest and recovery first!!

Thank you.

Posted by John

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Day 12 Inverness to Helmsdale
So, the Trivial Pursuit lasted about 7 minutes before everyone got peed of with Paul knowing all the answers to the music questions. I couldn’t even Google quick enough to pose any competition!
Again we were up at 7. It was freezing. About 10 degrees, but I was assured by some of the locals that this was a ‘Scottish heat wave’! Nevertheless, I am still in my shorts, but for how much longer is anyone’s guess. We were a little worried about Keith though, as he seemed to have forgotten what his bike looked like!

 We were fortunate that the Fire Service didn’t get any shouts last night. We were expecting them to as Inverness station is the Highlands & Islands HQ and they’d had a few calls for service yesterday afternoon.
Omar, Paul and I, have being holding a ‘beard off’. Paul was a little dismayed as he admitted never been very good at growing one. As you can see, there is a little bit of boredom setting in!!

Keith, Dave, Paul and Tris, left just after 9. I was still packing the bus when disaster struck once again. The rear of the bus has double doors which need to be shut in sequence and I managed to cock it up and get them jammed. But never fear, Omar and his tool box stepped into the breach! The girls left us to it and for an hour or so, we were the ‘forgotten two’ once more. With a bit of ingenuity and brute force, we had it sorted and began chasing the lads down.
We caught the boys up after about 15 miles. The scenery while Leaving Inverness was quite pretty, but nothing like what we had been treated to over the previous few days. You will be pleased to know that Dave is flying today. The average speed has shot right up. I think everyone can see the end now and is eager to get there! We
arrived into Helmsdale just after 3pm. Helmsdale is a little village and so too is the station. We knew it was going to be small as we had seen it on the internet. However, on arrival, we were contemplating sleeping in the fire truck as that was the only room! Steve, our Helmsdale contact, showed us around, which didn't take long, then left us to it. I don't want this to sound ungrateful, because we are very much honoured that the Highlands and Islands Fire Service are putting us up. It’s just that we have all had a good chuckle trying to work out where we are going to sleep! Within an hour, Paul managed to beak one of the showers, and Omar once again transformed into ‘Chef Omar’ and made ‘Spag Bol ’under the supervision of  Bev and Jo of course!

John O’ Groats is less than 60 miles now. The end is definitely in sight! But as one journey ends, another starts; when we reach JOG tomorrow will have a quick photo session before packing everyone into the vehicles and heading straight back to Dudley. This will mean driving through the night! Google reckons it will take about 11 hours but I guess we’ll see.

 I don’t expect to get much reception tomorrow for the last blog, so we thought we would do this now;

 On behalf of all the Castle Wheelers I would like to acknowledge and thank the following people/groups for their support and co-operation;

Launceston Police station

The people of West Buckland

Matt from Avon and Somerset Police

Shrewsbury Fire Station

The Village Hotel Warrington

The doctors at Hawkshead surgery

Lockerbie Fire Station

The Watermill Hotel Paisley

Fort William fire station

Inverness fire Station

Helmsdale Fire Station.

Travelstar European Ltd

Dudley motor Company

All of our sponsors and everyone who has made a donation to the cause; with either money, or time

The remaining officers of The Castle & Priory team, who have had to put up with us organising this challenge for the last seven months and have been working extra hard covering for us while we have been away.

Sgt Warren Hayward and Inspector Richard Jones, for allowing us to take time off work to take on the challenge and for being very accommodating during the last few months of preparation.

Finally, all our friends and family who have supported us, and in some cases, given us permission to do the ride!!
(Anyone else we've not mentioned!)
But above all, thank you to everyone who has been bothered to read the blog!

Posted by John

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Day 11 Fort William to Inverness.

It was a chippy tea for everyone last night. Paul and I went into the town to get it and I don’t think they get very busy as they had to get in extra staff to cope with our order! By the time we had eaten and got sorted it was after 10pm. The internet signal isn’t very good. I was hoping to get more photos on, so hopefully I will get better service later on to upload them.

We all slept well. I think because we are all so tired now, it didn’t take long for everyone to drop off. Paul, who is normally one of the early risers, had to be woken this morning. The weather has returned to normal-grey skies with the occasional rain shower. We couldn’t even see Ben Nevis, it was that overcast. We made our way out of Fort William, stopping at the ‘Commandos War Memorial’ for a cuppa, and then we continued up the A82 towards Loch Ness. You can tell we’re up north now, we saw a road gritter doing the rounds-its July!

There were a few more hills today but nothing worse than what had been encountered already. We then dropped down onto Loch Ness. It is beautiful. The rain held off just long enough to enjoy it. Bev got her bike out again and rode the last few miles into Inverness. Omar was too busy fixing his punctures!

With Loch Ness being such a large attraction, the roads around it were very busy. They were also very twisty in places, but everyone got through ok. For the last 15 miles Tris went for a burn, cycling ahead on his own getting up to speeds of nearly 40 miles an hour. Meanwhile the rest of the gang decided to sit back and enjoy the scenery at a slightly slower pace.

All five before Tris' breakaway.
Loch Ness

We were all surprised to find ourselves outside Inverness Fire Station at half three. The last few days, we have been finishing at after six, so it was a welcome treat! Unfortunately, the fire crews weren’t expecting us to be that early either. We had our own room to bed down in but it wasn’t available until after half five. the room mentioned is in fact their gym;

But it does the job. We sorted ouselves out and went for a Chinese buffet at Jimmy Chungs. We have been in Scotland now for nearly four days and we've hardly heard any local accents. we are surprised how many different nationalities are about!

As we've kipped in the gym there's no telly, so we've dusted off Dave's Trivial Pursuit! Morale is really high today. Everyone is getting 'blagged' by each other and the jokes and banter is flying around. I guess its because there is only 120 miles left and it'll be job done! 

Posted by John

Monday, 18 July 2011

Day 10 Paisley to Glencoe
The hotel was serving carvery last night, so with the exception of the vegetarians we all tucked into the best meals we had eaten on the whole trip (after Omar’s of course!)
The hotel was quite an old building and because of that, a lot of the doorways and ceilings were very low. I’m 6 ft. 3in and I couldn’t even stand upright in the shower! In fact, this was the only safe way I could have a wash!

After the meal, everyone piled into our room to watch The Apprentice final. Bev went to look out the bedroom window at the waterfall, but didn't realise how close she was to the window pane and proceeded to headbutt it! One too many bottles of wine perhaps?!?! After a traditional Scottish breakfast-which was full of grease and cholesterol- we said our goodbyes and made our way out of Paisley, round the outskirts of Glasgow and over the Erskine Bridge.

The boys had got a bit of a head start, but we soon caught up with them.

Operator, Taxi to Dudley please!

After the bridge, it was the A82 all the way. In fact, we stop on this road until Inverness! The road started off as dual carriageway, but soon went to a single road. The surface was much smoother than yesterday. The lads said how tough it was riding their road bikes on such bumpy roads. I even found some of the roads uncomfortable, and I had the privilege of suspension! The lads have been treated to some flat roads with the occasional downhill. This, I think has boosted their spirits. It has been a couple of days now since they have cycled past me with beaming smiles like they have done today.
The weather has been very kind to us too. The temperature was up into the twenties, with a decent amount of blue sky to boot. It was the perfect weather to view and admire the Scottish scenery. Loch Lomond, in particular, was stunning.
                                          Unfortunately, not all the views were stunning!
A quick break at Loch Lomand

Then after lunch, we witnessed a miracle! Everyone stood with their mouths agape as Omar jumped on his bike and decided to cycle with the other four! Bev had donned her cycle gear too, and for the first time, there were six Castle Wheelers on the road together. I was still in the minibus, while Jo took ‘command’ of the little van. It was a beautiful sight to see them riding together, but unfortunately, it didn’t last long. 5.4 miles in and I got a phone call. It was Omar. ‘I’ve gotta puncture!’ I couldn’t help but laugh-you’ve got to!! I spun round and went back to him. He had agreed with the others for them to carry on while we fixed his wheel. Within four minutes, we had his wheel fixed and back on the bike. We threw it in the van and drove after the ‘pack’. I got in front of them, pulled up and threw him out. It was perfect timing, as by the time he got on his bike and started pedalling, the others had caught him and they were once again back in their six ‘man’ train.
The six Castle Wheelers

Is it getting a little bit too much for Tris?

A few miles later the road started to snake its way up a rather large hill. I pulled over at the bottom fully expecting Omar to put the bike back in the van. He’s not much of a cyclist, but he brought his bike along in the hope of doing a few miles a day. He hasn’t really done any training, apart from a couple of laps around the Wrens Nest in Dudley. So I was very surprised when he said that he was going to ‘give it a go’. And by heck did he! I gave him chance to get some of the way up before I drove after him, fully expected him to be waving me down as I rounded every bend, but I never saw him. I caught him just before the top. He did it! And I’m not ashamed to be eating some humble pie either, as I did not expect him to do it! But nevertheless he did and the whole team is very proud of him. It was obvious that he had got ‘the bug’, as he set off once more with the group.
Unfortunately, I think the poor guy is cursed. He got about three miles up the road before getting another puncture. This time on the front wheel. That was enough for him. The bike went back in the van and he returned under the wing of the support crew. He managed to find other things to occupy his time!

Bev took her support role to the extreme today. Dave is still struggling slightly with his ankle hence his pace is a couple of miles slower than the other three. Bev stayed with him and did a little over 50 miles on his back wheel. The other three were only ever a couple of minutes ahead and made regular stops to regroup. The plan was to stop at Glencoe, 85 miles from Paisley, then drive in the van to our overnight stop in Fort William. However, that plan went out the window when everyone got to Glencoe and felt good enough to do the last few miles to F.W.
In total, today was 103 miles, which is a mile more than the Aberdovey run. Apart from Keith, it was the furthest any of them had cycled in one day. The bonus to that is that it reduces tomorrows ride to Inverness to a ‘measly’ 65 miles. Easy peasy! It has also been our longest day in respect of the hours ridden; 7 hours 50 minutes. I think everyone will sleep well tonight! And what a place to sleep too! We are at Fort William Fire Station. It’s a little over three years old and full of ‘mod cons’. We have a shower cubicle each a big telly and plenty of room to spread out. The last few nights we have been quite cramped, but as we haven’t paid to stop anywhere, we’re definitely not complaining!
The Scottish weather did manage to give us a bit of a slap 6 miles from the end. A torrential down pour came from the coast and managed to soak everyone who wasn’t in the comfort of a van. But it failed to spoil the absolutely amazing views. This part of the world is beautiful and we have been very lucky to have witnessed it on a sunny day!

Finally, I feel it needs to be said once again;

Omar and Bev, you have both done a fantastic job today. You should both be very proud of yourselves and if anyone has their number you should let them know that too!

Posted by John.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Day 9 Lockerbie to Paisley

Well, we are all alive after Omar’s cooking! We have to say that we were all very shocked at his masterpiece! Considering he claims he can’t cook, he knocked up a rather stupendous prawn stir fry with egg fried rice. It was just what we all needed. Bev and Omar had even got us some apple crumble and sticky toffee pudding for afters. It is fair to say that there were no leftovers from dinner and it was by far the best meal we had eaten!

Chef Omar

After dinner, we got the stations over-head projector working and everyone settled down to watch a DVD. I couldn’t tell you what the film it was, as I was asleep before the opening credits! A good night’s sleep was had by all. No one stirred until 7am. Bev did a fantastic job sorting breakfast including crumpets!

As you can see, the firemen had no call outs last night!

By 9am, everyone was back on the road. We got a good 300 metres before the rain started again. It wasn’t as bad as yesterday but still the same result-we got wet. The only time it seemed to stop raining was when everyone was in the van having a cuppa. But as soon as the lads set off again, it started to rain.

The weather has  not helped with everyones spirits. Tempers are a lot shorter and a few words have been exchanged. However, with the rain, the tiredness and the difficulty for the riders to communicate with each other whilst in motion, it was inevitable. But the strength of the group prevailed, and a ‘love hug’ later, everyone was ok!

Dave got a puncture-the first of the whole trip. Nearly 600 miles in and we are all very surprised we had made it so far without any mechanical hiccups. However, a Formula One style pit stop later and he was back on the road. I have been fortunate to have travelled this area quite a few times and the scenery is stunning. Today though, all you could see was black cloud after black cloud. We are very much hoping that the weather brightens up so we can get to enjoy the scenery Scotland has to offer. It will give everyone a morale boost too!

We have built in more stops today. We are over 600 miles in now, and there are some very tired legs. Omar and Bev have been in the little van again today, and they along with Jo have been running around after the cyclists, with sandwiches, cups of tea, filling their water bottles and giving them energy bars. I drew the short straw of spraying various sweaty body parts with Deep Heat. lucky me! The support crew is now a highly trained outfit running almost completely on autopilot (even if I do say so myself!) not many people would go near Pc Davies’ pants, that’s for sure!
The super support crew!

The rain was on and off until we reached the outskirts of Paisley, where it brightened up. In fact it held up long enough for us to reach the hotel. Not long enough to unload the vans mind! The last few miles seemed to fly by, and we all reached the hotel just after 5pm. So bearing in mind we left at 9ish, werealised we do longer hours at work, but I don’t think the lads would appreciate that see it quite in the same light!!

We’re stopping tonight at the Watermill Hotel in Paisley. The hotel is owned by a friend of Paul’s, who ‘sorted’ us with a couple of rooms. There was a slight hitch. One room had four single beds, while the other had two double beds. The support crew drew the short straw, and I ended up sleeping with Omar. So, if the challenge of the four lads doesn’t spur you on enough to make a donation to the cause, the fact that I am sharing a double bed with Omar should! Dig deep because I dread to think what I will have to endeavour tonight!! The hotel is lovely however, and the view from the room is quiet special considering that Paisley is a bit of a dive!
                                                         The view from the room!

Everyone has asked me to say how much they are missing their friends and family. Also a big thank you to Faye. We are still finding you little notes in our kit! How many more are there??


Are there any limits to Omar's talents?
Day 8 Hawkshead to Lockerbie

Yet another early start this morning, but it was worth it as Tris’ mum had made us bacon sandwiches! They were delicious, cheers Karen! Well, the forecasters got it right this morning, because the rain they had predicted was here and it was torrential. Tris, for the first time, wished that he was in the support crew as he was not looking forward to spending the next eight or so hours getting soaked. We all set off just after nine. Everyone was in their waterproofs; Tris, Keith and Dave in their high vis jackets, while Paul opted for a transparent poncho! That’s right, a poncho. He thought he looked cool, but once the wind got underneath it, he looked more like a jellyfish! We had to tape it down at one of the stops, but the only tape we had on it said ‘biohazard’(acquired from work), so off he went up the road with people giving him a wide birth because they thought he was radioactive!

The rain continued until around half 12 when the blue skies started to breakthrough. They lasted for about three minutes, when it persisted it down once again. Today’s ride took them from Hawkshead, through the North Lakes, passing Keswick and up to Carlisle. This meant going up Dunmail Rise. This was the hill that Tris had warned everyone about two miles and was incredibly steep. We waited for them at the top and it was a good job as poor Dave needed helping off his bike. It was his ankle. He had had trouble with it during his training, but the pain subsided and he hoped it would stay that way. But it wasn’t to be. He did struggle on however, but the pace was much slower. With the pain he was in, he did well to get to Lockerbie. With a cold compress and some pain killers, he is optimistic about being fit for tomorrow.

The heavy rain continued up into Carlisle. The ‘best photo’ competition was put on hold due to the elements, which pleased most people as it meant they weren’t stopping every 45 feet!


We agreed to stop at the border and grab a photo. Omar and Bev-who were in the little van today- scouted ahead to find the ‘Welcome to Scotland’ sign. However, they couldn’t find it. I assured them that there was one, but they insisted there wasn’t one. We’ll let the photos do the talking!!

The worst downpour of the day hit us just after Gretna. The rain was so heavy that I had the windscreen wipers on the fastest setting and I still couldn’t see! The roads suffered flash floods, but the boys ploughed on, at times going through water that was two inches deep. The whole support crew were very impressed with their resilience. The last few miles were full of straight, empty roads that never seemed to end. But at half five, the boys finally rolled in Lockerbie. We are staying tonight at the local fire station. It’s retained, so there is no one here unless there is a ‘shout’. But hopefully with the rain, we will all get a good night’s sleep, alarm free! We are stopping in their training room which has a DVD played and a projector, so tonight is movie night! Omar is the chef. He doesn’t normally cook, so heaven knows what we will end up with! (I did see a chip shop on the way into town, should the worst happen!)