During my time riding the GBDIVIDE (https://www.gbdivide.net/) I kept a daily diary over on my Instagram. Reading them back, they’re more coherent than I feared they might be towards the end of the ride, but they’re still missing some parts of the story. I decided to collate them all below, fill in some of the gaps, and include a few pictures of the incredible route. I hope you enjoy my ramblings from the rough stuff.
A question I was asked frequently, and honestly had no answer for, is where I was each day. I rarely had any idea of the location of my stops each night, and the only landmarks I ever got were the major towns and cities I passed through. For some stretches of the ride, these moments of civilisation were days apart. To give some context to my daily reports, I rode between 100-160km a day, and began in Cheddar.
It felt strange to finally roll out onto the route today. I had been building up to this moment for such a long time, that it was surreal that the journey had finally begun. I still had no real idea what lay ahead, and the sheer scale of the ride was suddenly apparent to me.
After only a few hundred metres on the road, I was straight out onto a gravel track. It was only the first climb, but it was already a bit of a shock to the system. After a month of barely touching my bike, I wasn’t accustomed to hiking and biking my way over the rough terrain on a fully loaded bike. That being said, I knew that it would soon become my life.
Today consisted of my first time in Bristol, some premium gravel, quiet lanes, plenty of mud, climbs, a lot of rain, into Wales, more rain, even more climbs, and some stunning off-road sections. It was a strange contrast between the city, the clearly well used bridleways and byways that surrounded it, and then into the complete seclusion of the Welsh countryside. I ended the day with a long, tough, off-road climb into the woodland. It would be my first of many, but it felt good to tick one off.
Given that this was the ‘easy’ part of the GBDIVIDE in Wales, I think the next couple of days are going to be tough. Fingers crossed for some sunshine and views to make it all worth it!
Although I was glad to be on the bike today, the best moment might have been when I found a sweet camping spot to top it all.
I lost signal in the Welsh wilderness at the end of yesterday’s ride, so here’s a catch up. The day started with rain, rain and more rain And wind…so much headwind.
After around 20kms of bike paths, bridleways, and Welsh towns, I began the first major off-road section of the day. I found myself up in the rain cloud with a howling gale. The terrain was difficult enough, but the ground was also wet and muddy, and visibility made following the route a challenge in itself.
It was one of those weird times in a ride when, despite the fact I had only recently left civilisation, I felt completely alone and separated from life. For at least half of that climb up onto the desolate moorland I was questioning why I was putting myself through this, and for the other half I was thinking how awesome it was.
I then got back onto the road and started weaving my way past some lakes and began climbing up towards The Gap. It was here that I passed two equally soaking wet and tired looking riders, and with a smile and a few shared words we conveyed our comradery. I enjoy my own company, but it was a welcome relief to have the solitude broken for a few moments. It’s funny how something so small can lift your spirits up.
I hadn’t ridden The Gap before, but I had heard a lot about its reputation, and all I say is that it was seriously hard. But it was also atmospheric and beautiful.
I rode the entirety of this stretch in the cloud, so I’d love to go back one day and see what views it has to offer. I have a feeling they’d be pretty spectacular.
Although I loved the challenge of clattering and bouncing over rocks, I was happy to rejoin the road after a rather sketchy (but awesome) descent.
As I wound my way around the Brecon Beacons, the rain finally stopped and I was able to warm up a bit and take in some of the views as they slowly revealed themselves from beneath the heavy cloud.
Then it was onto a seriously steep road climb that took me up to one of the most spectacular bits of road I have ever ridden.
The sun finally shone, but the wind continued to howl. I was happy to take that though…the warmth and visibility were more than enough of an improvement on the mornings conditions.
I appreciated every moment of smooth tarmac and brilliant views the afternoon had to offer.
After picking up the pace a little and finally ticking off some kilometres, I felt a lot more relaxed and able to enjoy the ride. As much as I embraced the challenges of the morning, it’s definitely a different kind of fun. And when you’re going as slowly downhill as you are uphill, you don’t feel like you’re making any progress as the hours tick on.
I made my only stop of the day in a little town to pick up dinner, before taking on a final bit of off-road to end the day. I wanted to get over the next couple of climbs and make my way out of the first of many stunning long woodland sections before setting up camp for the night. My legs were pretty tired, but I just kicked back and spun my way up the smooth gravel as the sun peaked through the trees.
Just as I was panicking a little that I couldn’t find anywhere to stop, I spotted a beautiful patch of grass just off the track. It came complete with a stunning sunset and views of the lake. You can’t get much better than that. I sat on the grass and ate my dinner as I watched the sun go down. This is what it’s all about!
What an absolutely beautiful ride this turned out to be. It’s up there with one of my favourite ever days on the bike.
It started with mile upon mile of premium gravel through the forest, meandering trails around reservoirs, and stunning descents through valleys and past waterfalls. Just as I thought there couldn’t be any more woodland for me to ride through, I’d turn another corner and see the trees extended out before me. It was overcast, but it was dry…and finally the wind was at my back.
The climbing was fairly relentless. Just as one ended, another began. But they were smooth and steady. I could just knock it back into my easiest gear and spin my way through the landscape. I’d ridden a few kilometres further than planned yesterday, so I knew that time was on my side today.
Once I’d emerged from the forest, it was onto a beautiful stretch of tarmac. Although it felt like I was in the valley, with vast hills on either side of me, I was still fairly high. The road was narrow, quiet, and breathtaking. But it was by no means easy. The constant up and down started to take its toll just as I created one last hill and saw another reservoir before me.
I started to weave my way around it’s shore, before the road abruptly ended. I’ll be honest and say that I haven’t looked into any part of this route in detail, so every day and every change in surface is a surprise. I’d relaxed into the ease of being on the road, and being able to switch off my brain for a bit. It was time to concentrate again.
This stretch was rocky and rubbly, but thankfully it was almost all rideable on the Lefty. I could bump and bounce my way over the terrain, although it wasn’t exactly a quick process!
The path out ahead of me seemed never ending. Each time I thought I’d reached the limits of the view, I would crest another climb and see more wilderness ahead of me.
Once I finally got to the end of this wild and wonderful trail, it was back into woodland.
A few quick kilometres of descending through the trees with the sun finally peaking through, and it was onto one last bit of road. I meandered down the remaining descent and up a couple of final short sharp climbs before reaching my destination. Perfection!
After ending yesterday with hours of hiking and biking my way over an off-road climb, I had no signal and was far too cold and tired to type this out. So, as they say, better late than never.
Having said that day three was one of my favourite ever days on the bike, today quickly topped that. This is now the best day I’ve ever had on a bike. It was full of stunning and surprising views, and incredible terrain throughout.
It started with a patchy sky and clear views…pretty perfect. I’m so grateful that I got a day of good weather for today, as now I know I’d have been missing some pretty spectacular surroundings.
After an early morning in the forest, taking on some awesome singletrack mountain bike routes, I was already overwhelmed by the beauty of it. And I didn’t yet know what was to come.
I left the woods after a couple of hours, and started meandering through the Welsh lanes. The road was rolling gently through the valley, and I knew I’d have to climb out of it at some point. Little did I know how big a climb that would be.
The road extended out as far as the eye could see, and I could tell this was going to be hard. And I was right. It was both steep and long, but it was so worth it. I stopped periodically all the way up (partly out of necessity, and partly because I wanted to take in as much of this moment as possible).
Once I’d reached the top, I paused and looked around me one last time before cracking on. I turned the corner, and the view ahead was just as stunning as the one I was leaving behind.
I descended through the expanse of secluded beauty, and smiled. I somehow had it all to myself. I rolled all the way down to Lake Vyrnwy, where the short section I was intending to ride had apparently fallen into the water in a landslide. Ah well, riding a lap of the lake wasn’t the worst thing in the world.
Fortunately, the turning I needed to get too was still accessible, so after an extra hour of riding I was back on track. I’m glad I got to spend so much time by the water now. Sometimes a seemingly bad situation becomes a pretty great one if you just go with the flow.
After my unplanned lap of the lake, in which I’d pushed on a little to try and keep as close as possible to my planned timings, it was straight back uphill. I’d got used to breezing along on the smooth flat road around Lake Vyrnwy, so it was a shock to be climbing steeply out of the valley again.
Still, it was pretty beautiful. Who am I to complain!
Just as I was reaching the top of the climb and preparing to descend, the route turned left and continued its climb off-road. It was all rideable, although tough going. The rocky terrain was definitely testing me to my limits.
I stayed up high for a long time, and almost did a 360degree panorama of the view. It felt like I was on the edge of this mountain for hours, and every second of it was simply breathtaking.
I then quickly descended along a much smoother forestry track, and was back onto the road.
After spending a couple of hours back on the narrow Welsh lanes, I turned off onto my final off-road undertaking of the day. I had planned on camping somewhere along this section, but I didn’t plan for it being another massive climb. Some of it rideable, and a lot of it not.
I wasn’t going to risk stopping at the top, so I committed to going all the way over. What an incredible end to an incredible day. The views once again were almost unbelievably beautiful.
I eventually crested the top, and started the descent down the other side. This was somewhat less rideable a surface, and took a bit of concentration. Easier said than done at the end of a long day, but I got through unscathed (and, remarkably, with dry shoes).
I found a good spot to camp in the last of the off-road, and settled down for a cold and windy night. I barely slept with the gale battering my tent, but I didn’t mind. This day had been so good I would happily give up a nights sleep for it.
This was a day of two halves, but there’s not much to say about the second part. It was the beginning of what I’ve been calling the ‘transitional stage’ of this ride; where I suddenly found myself back on the road for long flat kms through suburbs, many towns and villages of Cheshire, before making my way through Manchester. I wouldn’t say this is my favourite kind of riding.
The roads weren’t the busiest, but they were also far from quiet. Fortunately they were broken up by as many hidden bits of off-road and cycleways as I imagine the route planners could find.
The upside of this ending to the day was that it gave me a chance to rest up a bit. It may have been slightly boring, but that also meant it was easy. I have a feeling I’m going to need all the energy I can get for the upcoming days in the north, and then up into Scotland!
The beginning of the day, however, was a lovely goodbye to Wales. I stopped close to the border the night before, so I unfortunately didn’t have much riding left in this glorious country.
I left the breathtaking valley that I had slept in, and was out into little lanes again. Spinning my way up and down rolling hills, before one last Welsh climb. It was fairly steep and long, but nothing compared to the past couple of days.
Then it was out onto some final moorland and woodland, before one last torrential downpour to see me through.
As I left Wales I felt a pang of sadness. This has been some of the most incredible riding I’ve ever done, and I didn’t feel ready to be pedalling away from it. But there are some stunning parts of the country to come, and I don’t have to wait too long. I’m excited to be heading even further into unknown territory!
I ended the day in Delamere forest watching the sunset. The big upside of not being up high on an exposed hillside is that I finally got a dry and wind free night in the tent. It was a welcome change! I still didn’t sleep too much, but at least that wasn’t through fear of being blown away!
The final push through Manchester, and then back into the wild.
After an early start (partly planned, and partly because I was flipping freezing), I headed out of Delamere forest and back onto the road.
I spent the next couple of hours weaving my way through villages, back roads, main roads, and suburbs. It was rush hour, and it was raining, so this part was a bit grim to be honest. It felt like I was heading towards Manchester for an eternity and never actually reaching it.
As someone who’s grown up in the countryside, cities and their surroundings are always a shock to the system. But I trusted the route, and I think it made this day as enjoyable as possible.
I had anticipated the crossing of the city being a pretty horrible part of this whole ride, but actually it was really chilled and easy. I went onto the bike route running alongside the canal, and stayed on this for most of my time in the city. I got to see the changes in architecture and wealth as I moved through each section which was a cool thing to experience in one go.
After a quick pedal on the road to get through the last bits of the city, I was into the suburbs on the other side. From here I went into a long off-road bike route that saw me through the majority of the remaining built up areas.
This was by no means a ride I would be excited to do again, but it was painless and well mapped, so I’m happy with that. It was also easy on the legs, which is a big win ahead of tomorrow’s route.
I got to end my day back on the gravel, and back up onto a massive hill. I had been missing the stunning views all day, so it was a treat to get a snapshot of what’s to come.
I also got treated to another torrential downpour, followed by a couple of hours of steady rain. Hopefully I get some luckier weather in the next few days, but I’m not holding my breath!
The transition is over, and now it’s time to get back to the rough stuff.
This was a strange day for me. I felt oddly relaxed and mellow as I set off, and I’m not sure why. The weather was already pretty awful, and it was only due to get worse. But I didn’t mind. I was in a good mood and spirits were high.
This was the day that took me from Lancashire, through Yorkshire and just into Cumbria. And it didn’t look too hard on paper. Yes, it was hilly and with quite a high percentage of off-road. But it wasn’t as hard as Wales…except that it was.
Not only was this my worst weather day, but it was also a headwind again (a ridiculously strong one) and the ground under my wheel’s was barely rideable for much of the day. Mud, mud, more mud…and so many bogs.
I had to really push on in all of the sections in between these muddy bogs, and I had to hike a lot of terrain that I thought would be rideable. Even still, I was having a great time.
However, 10 hours into today’s riding the novelty had definitely worn off. I stopped being able to keep my own spirits up, and the cracks started to show.
As the night started to close in, I found myself on top of an exposed hill on a challenging off-road section. The wind was so high that riding was impossible, and walking without getting blown over was pretty hard. I was up in the rain clouds, and it was torrential.
This is the first time I’ve really questioned why I’m doing this to myself. I was freezing, wet, exhausted, lonely, and I knew I needed to get down into the valley before I could look for somewhere to camp. Each house I rode by made me wish more than anything that I could just go home. I could be warm, dry, and not coated in a layer of mud and grit.
I eventually found a sheep field that I could pitch my tent in. I clambered over a wall and into the long grass. Headtorch on, tent up, everything soaked…I no longer cared.
I settled down for a windy and cold night, and that’s exactly what I got. As I closed my eyes I told myself to be proud that I wasn’t giving up, and that tomorrow would be better.
As I shivered myself awake at 5am and looked outside, I was right. It was a beautiful day for a ride!
As I rolled down the road to begin today’s riding, the sun was already peaking through the clouds. It was cold, but I could feel that the weather would soon warm me up today. With the gift of daylight and clear skies, I could also finally see the views.
It was a beautiful morning, and I didn’t yet know how much of a pleasure it would be to ride through Cumbria. It was stunning, and it only got better.
I started the day pretty steadily, with the fatigue of yesterday’s ride still burning in my legs. I hadn’t slept much the night before, and I could tell that I wasn’t really awake either. I just wanted to enjoy the landscape as it unfolded before me, and let the kilometres tick off gradually.
The terrain was rolling at first, and as the day went on the hills got bigger.
As is always the case, I didn’t know where the route would take me. But as my first riding buddy of the trip joined me on the road, I began the mountain of the day.
All I can say is that Great Dun Fell is as hard as it is stunning. I was glad to have the company, and the chatter as we climbed, or this might have been a bit of a struggle. As it was I enjoyed every moment of it. The views were breathtaking and bold, and the road was smooth.
As we crested the top, I peeled off onto a rocky path down into the valley. I wasn’t quite prepared for how epic this descent would be.
I spent the next hour or so wading through river crossings, clambering over steep hillocks, trying to gain traction in bogs and mud, and weaving through narrow single-track. If I’d been attempting this in bad weather, then this perhaps wouldn’t have been so much fun. But I loved it.
Just as I was beginning to think that the valley was never-ending, I popped out onto a smooth gravel trail.
I continued to roll through the Cumbrian landscape as it evolved and unfolded before me. From expansive views of the mountains, to narrow country lanes, historical landscapes, and beautiful bridleways, today had it all. And unlike yesterday’s trials and tribulations, this one ended as well as it started!
Although I’ve become pretty tired at this point, but now it just feels normal. The terrain eased slightly and became more gently rolling, along with some long and flat off-road sections. Bridleways were punctuated by unexpected moments of riding that kept it interesting and engaging.
The slippery slope, stairs, and narrow twists and turns that led to this amazing bridge was one of them. I could see it in the distance, and seemed to be heading towards it for a long time. But it was different, and it was fun.
By the time I finally arrived at the top, the view was more than worth it. These are the things I would never have seen that make a journey like this so great.
I ended the day by heading into Kielder forest. A vast expanse of woodland that would eventually take me over the border and into Scotland.
I had originally planned to camp at the beginning of this stretch and take it on in the morning, but my early start to the day meant that I arrived with time to spare.
Instead I decided to push on and try and get closer to the border. That would allow me a couple of much needed ‘easy’ days, with fewer kilometres to fit in, before taking on the rest of the country.
The gravel in the forest was definitely some of the best I’ve ridden. Kilometre after kilometre of smooth trails through the trees, with the views occasionally opening up to reveal its true beauty.
This was a slightly harder section than I thought. Perhaps because I was tired, or perhaps just because it’s a fairly unrelenting landscape. However, I made it to within touching distance of the border.
Just as I was failing in my search for a place to pitch my tent, I came across a stunning lake. I rode down to its shore, watched the sun set as I ate my dinner, and then settled down for the night.
I awoke early to a frozen tent and frosty ground, but Scotland was calling. I packed up and hit the road. Today was going to be a good day!
Through the forest, and into Scotland. I awoke early today, and I was out on the road by 6am. This was one of my earliest starts of the trip, and I would say it was down to my excitement about reaching the border. But instead, it was down to the layer of ice my tent was cocooned in.
Still, it was a beautiful morning. And it wasn’t such a bad thing that I had this extra motivation to get up, pack up, and hit the road. The forecast had been for torrential rain, so I was happy to wake up to a crisp, overcast morning. I would take a slightly cold and drizzly day if it meant I still got to see a bit of Scotland as I pedalled my way into this next phase of the journey.
I’m not sure why it felt like such a big deal to cross the border. Perhaps it’s that this feels like the first finish line of the divide, when really it’s another start line.
I had never really considered the true scale of Scotland until I saw that subtle gateway on the horizon. I quickly went from a feeling that I was nearly at the end, to the realisation that the ride had really just begun.
Regardless, I felt a massive sense of happiness and achievement as I crossed over the border. And I was given a good welcome to the country. Quiet, almost unbelievably remote and narrow ‘main roads’, forestry trails, and off-road climbs over some beautiful hills.
I felt like I had the whole place to myself, with views as far as the eye could see, and not a single other person around. The sheer scale of the landscape is something I had never experienced before, and it was stunning. I was a tiny dot in the vast countryside.
I ended my ride with an easy road section winding through the valley, ready for some tough climbs tomorrow morning. The past couple of days have felt like a bit of a lull before the really hard miles kick in, so I’m glad to be feeling pretty good still. Or maybe I’ve just got used to the fatigue. Either way, I’m happy with that.
I had a pretty lazy start to the day today. I don’t think I rolled out until around 9:30, and part of me was optimistic that (despite the weather forecast for the rest of the day) the rain would pass if I got up slowly enough. As it was, I still set off in heavy rain and a howling headwind.
I was climbing almost straight away today on a smooth road climb. This actually felt pretty easy given all the off-road I’d already undertaken by this point. But as I got higher, the weather got worse. I settled into it quite quickly though, and wasn’t bothered too much by the rain buffeting in my face.
After this first climb I was treated to an easy stretch of tarmac in the valley below, before once again turning onto the rough stuff.
Unbeknownst to me, the following couple of hours were going to be the biggest undertaking of the day. And perhaps the hardest of the whole ride up until now.
I pedalled further and further into the storm as I climbed. This ascent would have been pretty tough in normal weather conditions, but the gale force cross winds and torrential rain certainly made things slightly more challenging. I rode for as long as I could, before it became impossible to stay upright. Then the hiking began.
Pushing a heavy bike up a steep, rocky climb is hard at the best of times. But this was really miserable as well. I managed to keep my spirits up pretty well though, and tried to embrace the obstacles being placed in front of me.
By the time I reached the summit, I was as cold and wet as I could imagine being, and was looking forward to the descent. Unfortunately, I only got colder on the way down. And it wasn’t as easy as I’d hoped it would be. Clattering over rocks, dodging deep water and mud, I slowly made my way back to the trail below.
I was treated to a brief bit of rest on a short road section in the valley, before it was back into the woods. I was happy to be climbing again to warm myself up, and I really enjoyed the next few kms.
Pedalling away from the storm, and back into civilisation, made a nice change.
The end of the day wasn’t the most thrilling part of the divide, and I could tell I was transitioning into the next part of Scotland.
I spent the last few hours of riding predominantly on the road, with the occasional stretch of forestry, along with some nice off-road diversions to get around some towns.
Although the riding itself was far from the best of this trip, it was some of the best weather. I kicked back, relaxed, and enjoyed the sun on my back.
Finding a camping spot was a bit tricky as I headed towards some more built up areas, so I stopped a bit earlier than usual today before I hit the city.
A short diversion off the main road, and I managed to find a nice quiet spot to pitch my tent. It felt odd to be in such a seemingly wild spot when I could still hear the noise of the busy traffic. By this point it was raining again, but I was treated to a nice sunrise the next morning.
I had gone to sleep with the rain pummeling my tent, and had awoken to the same. I sat and ate my breakfast whilst trying to build up the motivation to step out into the elements. And for once, my waiting paid off. By the time I risked a peep out of the door at 7am, the rain had stopped and the sky was blue.
I quickly got packed up and hit the road.
The opening couple of hours of today’s ride consisted of some more weaving around towns, villages, and cities. As is always the case with this route, this was actually a pretty interesting experience. Utilising every bit of off-road on offer, or bike route detour, on offer.
I could feel that this was another transitional period before I headed into the Highlands, and so I made sure to embrace some easier, more relaxed riding.
This was going to be a good day regardless of what the route brought, because I had arranged a meet-up with Kerry MacPhee on the outskirts of Stirling. Aside from a few hours of (greatly appreciated) company along the way, I hadn’t really seen anyone in the previous ten days. This has been an incredibly isolating experience in the best possible way, but I was more than ready to have the solitude broken for a bit.
We chatted away for a couple of hours, and I loved every second of it. Not only did I get great company, but I also got cake, chocolate and a sandwich out of my local guide. Having someone else looking out for me for a bit was greatly appreciated!
Once we parted ways before my next long off-road section, I had a massive smile on my face. The person really did make the place today, and I rode the wave of our time together for the rest of the ride.
After this, I was on a beautiful gravel path for a couple of hours. It meandered it’s way around multiple lochs, and I was gradually climbing as I went. This was another section where I could really kick back and just get lost in my surroundings. The views of mountains expanding out to my right.
As I rode into cloud, then rain, then wind, then more rain, the road also started to really go up. I had been lulled into a false sense of ease today, and it was about to get seriously tough!
I continued to wind my way up and over multiple lochs on the smooth and sublime gravel trail. I was passing walkers and cyclists constantly in the early parts of this track, and then gradually fewer and fewer as it got more remote. The views of the mountains to my right were peeking through the trees as I rode.
During this climb, the weather gradually continued to deteriorate. I had known that a storm was rolling in tonight, but I had hoped I’d get away with a few more hours before it hit. No such luck!
I left this trail, and headed back onto the road. This was another beautiful stretch of tarmac through the valley, although it was quite busy with other people out enjoying the stunning landscape.
For a good few kilometres the road stayed flat, and the weather got worse. But I knew I wanted to make it over at least one of the upcoming climbs before nightfall. I had been warned that the storm would get increasingly worse overnight, and that it would hit its peak tomorrow, so it felt like a good idea to push on a bit further.
As I turned onto the climb, I saw the road twisting and turning up ahead of me. Wow, this was going to be hard. Along with the steep slope, length, and hairpins, I was also being pushed backwards by a strong gale. It had been a long day, and I was tired. But I actually really enjoyed this one. There was something about the scale of the challenge that I was thriving on, and drivers coming the other way were cheering me on.
I crested the top with a massive sense of relief at finally making it, and enjoyed an easy ride alongside the dam for a couple of km’s. Then it was onto the awesome descent.
Although this was equally as epic as the climb, and much more fun, I was also riding further into the atrocious weather already. The wind, the rain, and the cold, cracked me and I knew I needed to find somewhere to camp before it was completely dark.
I spotted a stretch of woodland with the remnants of old campfires visible from the road, and turned off to stop here. As I wandered in between the trees, the wind almost disappeared, and I could no longer really feel the rain. Perfect, or so I thought.
I had anticipated a pretty horrendous night, so I was happy when I awoke from my slumber and had managed to get a good rest before taking on my biggest day yet. But as I sat up I felt a weird sensation below me. Almost as if I was floating on water. Which, as it turned out, I was.
The storm had clearly been as bad last night as predicted, and I had managed to pitch my tent in the exact spot a large flood hard formed. It was completely dry when I put it up, but now it was under a few inches of cold water. It’s a good job that I had lost the will to care about this less than ideal predicament.
Something strange had happened to my mentality, where things that would usually effect me now had little impact. Everything is wet, everything is muddy, lots of things have already gone wrong, and I was at the point where I had grown accustomed to my own fatigue. This has its massive benefits, and I enjoyed one of them this morning.
I packed up my camp as best I could, and shoved all of my soaking wet sleeping kit into my seat pack. It was an early start to the day, but I knew I needed that given what lay ahead.
As I rolled down the road to begin my ride, the rain was already lashing it down around me. And, unfortunately, the wind was still in my face.
With only a short stretch to warm up, I was already onto the first climb of the day. It was seriously steep, seriously rocky, extremely long, and I instantly knew how epic the day was going to be. If this was any indicator of what was to come, this would be my hardest ever day on the bike. And, spoiler alert, it was.
Each mountain pass seemed almost inconceivably long. The further I climbed up into the cloud, the more trail seemed to extend out ahead of me. By the time I eventually grovelled my way to the summit, I was really hoping for an easy descent. But this was never the case.
The terrain was draining, I needed to stay completely switched on in order to navigate the tricky surface, and the wind meant I had to push on even when the road was going down. All this in the first few hours, and the day had only just begun. The best (or perhaps, worst) was yet to come.
I’m sure today would have brought me some absolutely incredible views of Scotland, but I saw very little for most of the day. I thought I’d be pretty gutted about that, and I was a little sad, however the harsh landscape looked pretty epic as the storm rolled through it. The vast scale of my surroundings was still very much apparent!
I managed to find a place in myself today that turned it into a pretty awesome experience. I wouldn’t rush to repeat it, but I did find a beauty in the pain. It would have been easy to find today miserable, and I did have a few dark moments I needed to drag myself out of, but instead it was an incredible challenge.
Most of the dark moments happened when I was in the midst of some of the worst weather, and felt completely alone and exhausted at the top of a remote mountain. But the worst was definitely saved until last.
I was stopping in Fort Augustus and knew I only had around 15km to go. This had been a long, seriously hard, day and I was starting to struggle with the effort into the wind. But I was almost there!
Then I started to climb, and climb, and climb. The wind got stronger, the rain got heavier, the gradient got steeper, the surface became less rideable.
An hour later I was still swapping between riding and hiking up this ridiculously difficult pass. I zoomed out on my Garmin and saw the name of the climb I was on…The Corrieyairack Pass. Oh!
I could barely walk as I reached the top, and felt like I was being pushed back down faster than I was wearily trekking up. One hairpin, two, three. Trying to keep my head together. I finally reached the top! Yes, I thought. Just the descent to go.<
This is where I really lost it for the first time. It was constantly up and down, and seriously rough. Every climb on this descent felt like a sick joke. I was soaking, freezing, and tired.
Then, all of a sudden, I saw civilisation. It had been a while since I’d touched a road or seen a building, and I was relieved. The trials and tribulations of the day were suddenly forgotten.
I had done it, it was over, and it had been an incredible experience. Beautiful and brutal in equal measure!
To my surprise, I woke up today to the sound of…nothing! The rain that I had grown so accustomed to riding in had finally passed, and the wind was calmer than it had been for the past few days. It wasn’t exactly blue skies and sunshine, but cloud and scattered showers was such a vast improvement that I didn’t care. And better than that, I could see for miles and miles.
I turned almost immediately onto a long gravel climb up through the woods, and as I reached the top I could see the mountains out to my left. I was looking back towards the Corrieyairack Pass that I had battled over yesterday, and I could see how vast it was!
I continued to climb up and over another couple of big climbs on the rough stuff. From woodland, to lochs, to moorland, the landscape evolved before my eyes. I absolutely loved this stretch, even though my legs were completely destroyed today.
I was finding myself hiking a lot more than normal, with my ability to power over steep, rocky ascents greatly reduced. But it didn’t bother me at all. It was beautiful, and it was calm. I could finally see Scotland in all its glory, and I made sure to appreciate it!
I barely touched a road all day, and can only recall seeing a handful of houses. It was a bizarre feeling to be in this much isolation for so long, and I knew it would continue into tomorrow as well. It’s something I had never really experienced before, and I was free to just take it all in for myself.
The day also felt long, and I’m not sure if that was down to the quantity of off-road, and the lack of human interaction. It was almost incomprehensible to me that I was riding in the UK in such an untouched expanse of nature for days. I was once again reminded of the sheer scale of Scotland!
As I crested my last long climb of the day, having spent an hour or so weaving my way alongside the river on a smooth gravel track, I started my descent into a valley surrounded by mountains. Everywhere I looked there was another view to take in.
I decided to set up camp for the night, as I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to wake up in a place like this. I felt so lucky to be there.
Well, today was spectacular. I thought I’d missed the best of Scotland during the storms, and maybe I did, but today was just breathtaking. And yet another day that felt like it could have been ten. The landscape and scenery changing so quickly that I almost couldn’t keep up with it!
I woke up in the valley to a beautiful sunrise poking out from behind the mountains. I had a long day ahead of me, and was hoping to get over 100 miles in, so I set off nice and early. It was cold, but once again I was being treated to the views I had hoped for.
I found the initial few hours of the day pretty tough. I could definitely feel the built up fatigue of the whole trip, and in particular the extra effort of the days in the Highlands. It wasn’t just the riding that had started to wear me down, but I think I’ve hiked more in the past two weeks then I had in the past two years before this! Even my arms hurt from pushing and lifting the bike. Regardless, I loved today.
I knew that I was in the last of the really hilly stuff, and I was pretty relieved. It meant I could properly embrace it in the knowledge that I had some easier terrain to come.
Up and over the first long climb, I was confronted with the most astounding views. And this continued to be the theme of the first half of the day. Long, tough climbs, followed by stunning views and awesome descents.
Once I finished my last off-road section of the day, I was back onto ‘main’ roads. Although they were narrow, with grass growing in the middle, and still miles from civilisation.
Starting with one of the toughest road climbs of the trip, I was then into fast rolling terrain. And with a massive tailwind for an added bonus! I sped my way down to, and then around, one of the most beautiful lochs I had seen so far. And then the rain was back.
I fitted in one last long climb up into the cloud to round off my 100 miles for the day, and found a hollow in which to hide from the wind and pitch my tent. I’d made it most of the day without getting wet, but somehow it felt only right to end it this way. One last time outside in the elements, and one last night in a soggy sleeping bag.
The final push! I woke I this morning to my last sunrise of the trip, and my last day of packing up my wet tent. It somehow didn’t feel so bad now that I wouldn’t have to do it again.
I rolled my bike out onto the road, and three massive deer bounded out in front of me. I stopped for a while to watch them run over the moor and into the distance. Just as I set off again, I looked to my right and saw dozens more of them walking down by the loch. I stood and watched them in the silent stillness of the morning, and then it was time to go.
As I rolled down the remainder of the descent I was on, I dropped down to another quiet road that stretched out through the valley. I was weary and tired, but I was happy in the peaceful morning sun.
After a couple of hours, it was back onto the final long off-road stretch. And the smoothest gravel of the entire ride. So fine it was almost like sand, and relatively easy as I went through the twists and turns around multiple lochs.
I popped back out onto the tarmac for one final push into John O’Groats. I had around 40-50kms left, and I naively thought it was going to be easy. Instead, I really grovelled for every one of them.
The headwind I had grown so accustomed too had reared its ugly head again, and the road was draining as it rolled up and down. When I finally saw the sea I was filled with such a sense of relief and joy. One final turn, and it was into John O’Groats.
I rode up to the famous signpost, and spent a while looking out at the sea trying to get my head around this journey being over.
An elderly man wandered over to me and asked if I’d cycled all the way here. I told him about my trip, and he said he wanted to congratulate me. A motorcyclist overheard and also offered his congratulations, before taking a photo of me with the sign.
Five minutes later, while I was in conversation with another cyclist about our adventures, a couple came over with a present. They’d overheard, and wanted me to have something to look at that would always remind me of this moment. And it will.
A journey of solitude was brought to a close by the kindness of strangers. That’s a beautiful thing!