Wednesday 10 January 2024

Winter camping

I'd been itching to go camping for a while,  but it kept on raining ... and suddenly it was 2024.  January first bought the floods and then some dry, freezing weather.  This was my chance!  I packed every bit of warm gear and headed off.   I planned to camp on Leith Hill, repeating my wonderful,  cold night under the stars from two years ago, my first experience of camping without a tent or even a tarp: just a bivi bag.

The route was simple, to try and avoid floods or ice.  Late 11s at Horton, then late lunch at Dorking, before struggling up Coldharbour Lane with my ten tons of camping equipment - mainly sleeping bags.

Around Epsom I met Jennie & David, returning from the Wayfarers A group ride, abandoned  due to ice.   I also saw my first patch of (melting) ice just there too.   There were a few more patches on the climb up to Coldharbour, and plenty more on the lumpy road around the south of Leith Hill.  The track up to Leith Hill Tower was miraculously dry, and free of ice, mud, gravel or sand.


Arriving at Leith Hill Tower,  I was impressed to find the cafe still open at 15.45, when they shut at 3pm.  A few other people were admiring the beginnings of a beautiful sunset.  It was perishing, with snow on the grass and an icy wind.  I found a somewhat sheltered spot within sight of the tower, and made my evening meal while watching a gorgeous sunset over Hindhead(?)   Beef stew with pearl barley: not bad at all, but by the end of it I was very cold and it was getting dark, so I quickly set up my groundsheet, bivi bag, two sleeping bags (Army arctic sleeping bag and Mountain Warehouse winter sleeping bag), two sleeping mats, and got changed into a lot of warm gear for sleeping in. The temperature had dropped from 6 degrees to freezing by the time I got into bed (which is quite a performance with all those layers to organise).  I couldn't stop shivering for some time while I warmed up.   

However, it was a starry, starry night; mostly clear with just a few occasional clouds, and a new moon, so the stars were glorious.   After a while I was plenty warm enough, once I realised that I hadn't zipped up one of my sleeping bags.  I had more than twelve hours to enjoy the stars and some sleep too, as sunrise wasn't till around 8am.   With the help of Google Sky I recognised a few constellations and spotted Venus and Mars.  Saturn was supposed to be visible but it was hiding behind a tree.   Each star could be someone's Sun.   All the stars that we can see are only from our own galaxy (the Milky Way) - there are 200 billion other galaxies too, according to Google.   Mind boggling.

Some of the stars that my phone camera spotted

On this night - on this night of a thousand stars ... I also had time to think about my way home.   The problem with camping at the top of a hill on a cold night is that you have to go down again first thing in the morning.   There is no cafe to loiter in until it warms up, and you can't just stand around either.  The melted ice would be frozen again.  I could walk through the patches on the road to Coldharbour, but there was a longish stretch of water and slush on one of the steep ascents from Dorking to Coldharbour.   I wasn't convinced I could walk down that with a heavy bike.   So I decided to go back along busier roads, which I hoped would be gritted.

Dawn came fast (or maybe I dozed off again) and it was time to brave the cold.   A heavy frost covered my bags, my shoes and helmet (oops - rookie mistake), and my bivi bag.   The temperature had been down to -3 overnight, and had now come back up to -2.6 degrees.  I got dressed as quickly as I could and started to pack away, but my hands were numb so it was tricky to close bags or even feel things in my pockets.   Eventually I set off down the track (no ice), turning right onto Leith Hill Road (no ice), and ignoring Friday Street without any regrets at all, continued to the A25 (again, no ice).   Breakfast in Dorking while I recovered the use of my hands, and then an uneventful ride back home.

I would give it a 5 star rating, but it had to have at least a thousand.

Friday 6 October 2023

Touring Rutland, day 4

Today will be the end of my tour of Rutland.  There was a bit of rain overnight,  but it was dry when I woke in my spartan camp site.  Unfortunately the wind has gone back to its tiresome 17-20mph force, but it's warmer with a bit of sun.

Breakfast in Oakham, and then a 20 mile meander to the north before returning to Rutland Water.  I headed out west, past Whissendine windmill, before briefly visiting Leicestershire on Cuckoo Hill.  Even further west was the vast, flat, plain of Leicestershire.  But appearances can be deceptive.   Melton Mowbray was only six miles, but in the wrong direction for elevenses.  Virtually no cars but several cyclists, one of whom was very keen to tell me about cycling in Jedburgh, where he lives.

Whissendine Mill

Milling in progress (electric powered)

As I despaired of finding a coffee stop before hitting the Water, a rare countryside bakery materialised out of nowhere.  A few miles further on, and I was on the north shore of Rutland Water,  still just as hilly but mostly tarmac this time.   A gaggle of ladies on hired e-bikes stopped me:  "You look professional.   How long will it take us to ride round the lake?"  I appreciated the flattery, and, using all my experience of estimating arrival times, told them I really couldn't say.  I wish them luck.  I'm sure they'll have an adventure. 

The north shore seemed much shorter, perhaps with a tail wind? - and soon I crossed the dam at the Eastern end, before completing the last bit of the southern shore.  I passed a small church built on the water (on a church-sized land peninsula).  Outside were three wind-blown groomsmen, and as I watched the bride and matron of honour arrived in a car.

Normanton church

After completing the circuit of the Water, I headed into southern Rutland, first visiting Rutland's second town, Uppingham  which fully justifies the "up" as it's both on a hill and rather upper-class, with a posh private school and lots of galleries and antique shops.  Nice place with an unusual figure-of-eight one-way system.

It was becoming more hilly as I travelled South.  Down the hill was beautiful Lyddington, a long thin village which didn't seem to have any purpose except to be decorative.  There were a couple of pubs, but no shops, no industry of any kind.  All the houses were built out of dark yellow-brown stone.


Somewhere I must have returned to Northants.  A few more miles and I was entering Corby, my destination.   First I encountered what looked like a massive stadium - much bigger than Twickenham.   Was it Silverstone?   No - apparently it used to be a speedway, but it folded after a few years.  Then I passed loads of industrial units - logistics, engineering, and the Weetabix factory.   Eventually, the actual town, with houses and so on.   It was nicely laid out, but from the look of the shops there isn't a rich area.   However, it was notable that all the people did have very well pressed trousers.

Overall, it's been interesting to see some new places.  281 miles and 3255 metres of climbing across the four days.  I've sampled five counties (Lincs and Leics only briefly).  On reflection,  I liked the towns and villages of Huntingdonshire best, but the roads were mostly B roads, long, straight and quite busy.  Some nice cycle paths though.   Northants was good cycling, about half of it along the river Nene (which incidentally flows into "feeds"(*) Rutland Water).  Quite hilly away from the Nene, but very quiet roads and nice villages.  Rutland is a bit special because of the Water, which was nice but not fantastic on a loaded bike.  It was a lot more fun when I didn't have the panniers, last night.  The roads are similar to Northants, quiet and nice, but more hilly, I think.

Next time I'll study the wind forecast as well as the rain and temperature!

* Edited after info from Dave V: the Nene does not "flow into" Rutland Water, it flows into The Wash, but Anglian Water take some of the river water and feed it into Rutland Water.

Day 1 · 2 · 3 · 4

Day 10 of LEJOG


How lucky have we been, we set off at 8.15, 16°C and a south westerly wind.

Along the A836 past Crask Inn over the river Mudale before turning east onto the B873. With a good tail wind we made fast progress along Loch Naver. The skies gradually darkening overhead and across the Loch.

We then headed north once more, climbing up to Bettyhill where we got wonderful views of the sea. Travelling east again, along the coast for our last and final  46 miles. Stopping at Hallandale Inn at Melvich for lunch.

Our final brew stop was at Thurso ( 75 miles). The sight of the red brew van will be missed, as it has been a big part in breaking the 1000 mile journey into small, manageable bite sized pieces.

With the wind behind us and John O’Groats ahead we made fast progress to The Seaview Hotel where we all met.

The whole group, of the 18 (out of 20) of us remaining, gathered together to complete the last 400 meters as one.

Wow - what an amazing challenge and adventure it has been.

Janice and Fiona

Day 9 of LEJOG


We started the day in a slightly cool Grantown on Spey with wet roads due to overnight rain. However, it was straight up a hill to start so we soon warmed up and in no time the sun burned through and dried the roads.

By the time we were approaching Inverness it was another day of glorious blue skies and warm hot sunshine.

After leaving Inverness and crossing Kessock Bridge we rode on the banks of the Beauly Firth with beautiful views of the Firth and the hills beyond.

Lunch was at Batty’s Baps in Dingwall and by now it was hot so we felt the climb out of town. We were still feeling yesterdays big climbs in our legs and by now most things hurt so the miles after lunch were achieved with willpower.

We had an afternoon stop with one of the best views, overlooking an estuary (2nd photo) and shortly after we descended and crossed Bonar Bridge.

The miles continued but eventually (and gratefully) we reached Lairg, our stop for the night.

91 miles and 4,065 ft.

Day 8 of LEJOG

The morning was misty as we left Perth crossing over the river Tay.

Immediately into climbs along the A93, following the Tay and encountering quite long stretches of smooth tarmac.

By the time we stopped to refuel at 23 miles just over the bridge at Cally, the sun was out.
Climbing upto Glenshee, the temperature also climbed and reached 28 degrees. Jaw dropping scenery, good roads enabled us to reach the top and then cruise down to lunch at Braemar.

After lunch we passed over the river Dee and past Balmoral.

On tired legs we then turned onto the B976 for some brutal climbing up to the ski resort of Lecht. The scenery continued to be stunning but we were in survival mode and less able to appreciate it!

It was then a short 20 miles to Grantown on Spey, with one or two fairly large bumps to keep our legs pumping.

A truly spectacular morning and a truly gruelling afternoon .

Toughest day so far, despite lower mileage and ascent than some other days.

95 miles and 7874 feet climbing 


Day 7 of LEJOG

Day 7 saw us leave Moffat and go straight into a 5 mile hill climb. Sometimes this isn’t information you want to see flashing up on your garmin! Luckily it was long rather than steep so we steadily made progress. 

We’d decided to take it easy today as we have a big day tomorrow but there was a headwind and we had the chance to join in with a larger group deciding that their increased pace was a fair trade off for lesser effort needed in the wind. 

We made rapid progress to Edinburgh where we had our lunch stop. It was chaotic as a cruise ship had just come in but we all managed to eat in the end.

After lunch we had the pleasure of crossing the Forth Road Bridge, with no traffic and spectacular views.

View of The Forth Road Bridge with a cruise ship in the distance

It was onward and quite often upward as we rode mostly minor roads and through small villages, sometimes with a group but we noticed even the fast ones had slowed considerably. By now most people are suffering aches and pains from their saddle, neck, hands, wrists, knees…take your pick!

We cycled through Kinross, a pretty town and finally arrived in Perth, glad to be there. 

101 miles and 4,843ft elevation. 

Day 6 of LEJOG

A fantastic day of sunshine with a high of 28 degrees.

We set off from Crosthwaite in the Lake District, passing through picturesque  Bowness, Windermere on our left and within an hour we were climbing up Kirkland Pass - what an absolute treat, breathtaking views. We had a welcoming committee of friends and dogs at the top.

Descending down was a bit precarious as the road conditions were poor. Our “brew stop” was on the edges of Ullswater. Sunshine and fantastic scenery.

Just 12 miles south of Carlisle, two of our group had a nasty collision on a descent - which required a visit to hospital. one diagnosed with a bruised lung and the other with a fractured collar bone.

The rest of us then continued on to Dalston for lunch where a good lunch of soup, sandwiches and cake was laid out for us.

The afternoon remained sunny as we went along  the A69 before entering  into Scotland.

Travelling through Gretna Green, bypassing Lockerbie, through Annan and finally arriving in Moffat.

A shorter day of 95.5 miles and 5973 feet of climbing. 


Day 5 of LEJOG

We left Haydock in glorious sunshine with a great forecast for the day. The first few miles were through small towns, not far from Wigan and skirting round Bolton. It was busy as it was the first day back to school after the holidays.

We climbed up and then of course had a very long descent more or less to sea level just so we could really feel the benefit of the following 1,400ft hill top. I’m probably exaggerating about the sea level but that’s certainly how it felt as it was a very hot arduous climb. However, the views were of course amazing!

Long descents followed, although there was always a little up to keep the legs working. On one, somewhere near Clitheroe, Fiona was met by friends on holiday in the area. After that we had lunch at Dunsop Bridge which apparently is the exact middle of the UK.

The scenery and sunshine stayed amazing for the rest of the day as we went from Lancashire, briefly into Yorkshire and finally Cumbria. The climbs and descents kept on coming but with them the views. 

We were very tired and after a hard day we arrived in Crossthwaite for the evening. 

95 miles and 7,457ft. 

Day 4 of LEJOG

A long day with over 6000 feet of climbing ( we were all referring to it as our “rest day”! )

We travelled through varied countryside, enjoying the scenery particularly around Ironbridge. Lunch was laid on for us at a village hall.  We then continued to travel north, dipping our toes back into Wales before heading up to Warrington, along cycle paths, underpasses, a beautiful park and finally to our hotel. Where we both have enjoyed a well deserved massage.


Day 3 of LEJOG

Fiona and I had both thought we were in for an easier day as everyone knows the first 2 days are tough. It turned out that day 3 was tough too as we covered 111 miles and over 8,000ft from Glastonbury to Bewdley.

Leaving Glastonbury was almost a relief as it had seemed a very odd place and the final dealings with it at breakfast didn’t disappoint with scenes and a waitress reminiscent of Fawlty Towers. 

We were out into the sunshine and soon passing through the delightful Wells and past the incredible cathedral.

It wasn’t long before we were climbing and as we did we hit the low cloud which turned drizzle into rain which we hadn’t been expecting. After 19 miles we met the ‘brew van’, always a welcome sight!

After that there was more climbing and then the spectacular cycle across the Clifton suspension bridge which afforded amazing views although as we were in traffic we couldn’t stop to take a photo.

It was to be a day for bridges as we then went over the old Severn Bridge and into Wales. I was hoping for a photo of the ‘Welcome to Wales’ sign but there wasn’t a sign so maybe we weren’t?

There must’ve been climbing, the hills were beginning to blur into one, or maybe I was feeling delirious, then happily we had a very long descent for several miles to Tintern Abbey, with a cafe lunch stop  

The afternoon ride was still hilly but the sun came out and the scenery was stunning. We had great views from the top of hills, passed many apple orchards in Herefordshire and then through the black and white town of Ledbury  

Eventually and very gratefully we arrived in Bewdley, our stop for the evening  

It has been a tiring day as there was a bit of a headwind, nothing major but as we were straight into it all day it was quite energy sapping. But memorable for the contrast in weather, scenery and counties.


Day 2 of LEJOG

Starting off from Plymouth, grey clouds but no rain. We quickly climbed out of Plymouth and onto Dartmoor. Stunning scenery and rolling hills.

A familiar sight leading the way through The National Park.
We covered the majority of our 6000 feet of climbing in the morning.
Arrived at the lunch stop at Broadhembury .

Having filled our stomachs it was straight into a steep, long hill climb.
An afternoon of sunshine through the Somerset Levels to Glastonbury. A good second day.

By Fiona

Day 1 of Janice and Fiona’s LEJOG

A couple of people asked if we’d do a blog post each day so here’s Day 1. We’ll take it in turns over the next 10 days.   

After months of cycling the usual rides, longer rides, back to back rides and weeks of getting the bike ready, checking the forecast and planning the packing accordingly, then re-planning as it changed to wetter/drier/colder/warmer weather Day 1 of cycling LEJOG had finally arrived. 

We were relieved to get started despite the rain and fog and thankfully it was fairly warm with the wind mostly in the right direction. 

We’d met the rest of our tour group, about 18, over dinner the night before and then throughout the day at the 2 feed stations and over lunch. By the last few miles we’d fallen in with a small group of similar cycling speed. 

Lands End was bleak but we took the photo. 

I’m sure there were sights to be seen en route but unfortunately the fog meant we couldn’t see them. St Michaels Mount was a gloomy dark shape and not worth stopping for a photo but occasionally the fog and then the rain lifted and once we even saw blue sky for a few minutes! There were 3 ferry rides which made a nice break from cycling  

Overall we cycled 104 miles and 8,665ft (which is the reason this isn’t too coherent)!

We’re looking forward to tomorrow as the forecast is so much better.


Thursday 5 October 2023

Touring Rutland, day 3

I was woken by a swan flying overhead, after a comfortable night, around 7am.  Very civilised, these swans.  For some reason it always takes me two hours to get ready to go, so I was on the road around 9am, enjoying the quiet lanes and slightly lighter winds, as I headed towards the outskirt of Peterborough.  After a few nice villages in that golden stone, I picked up the Green Wheel Way around Peterborough, and was then led astray by a sign to a lakeside cafe and activity centre on - guess where - the river Nene.  Another modern  building, it had a good cafe as well as all manner of outdoor activities:  sailing, paddling climbing, camping, bushcraft, and bird-spotting.


Took another cycleway along the Nene Valley Railway to get away from Peterborough,  and then settled into riding the undulating lanes.  Harvest is over, and the farmers are now ploughing or cutting hedges.  The smell of fresh earth followed me as I meandered north-west.  I accidentally ventured into Lincolnshire and celebrated with 11s in the lovely town of Stamford, on the river ... Welland.  Stamford's a big place, with three High Streets, each one higher than the last.  Plenty of shops, cafes and churches to suit your needs.

Nene valley railway


Stamford is just in Lincolnshire,  but it's bordered on two sides by Rutland, so I finally made it to Rutlandshire!


Rutland Water

The cycling was similar but perhaps a bit more hilly.  I planned to use the cycle route round the south of Rutland Water to the county town (only town?), Oakham.   It was quite a hard ride, rough and hilly, with nice views of the water, which is a vast reservoir for Anglian Water.  From a cafe half way, I watched some dinghy racing over lunch.  When I reached Oakham I was done in, but after tea and cake, I saw some of the sights.  It's a moderately small town with a castle, which someone has razed to the ground.   Also the county library, the county showground, and an impressively ancient grand great Hall, next to the ex-castle.



Great Hall


It was the usual story with the campsite, with a difference.  No answer on the phone, so I cycled there.  It was in a farm on a peninsula in Rutland Water.  The farmer's wife answered the door and told me the campsite was closed.  I was gutted, as it was a long way to another site, but she took pity on me.  I could stay as long as I didn't need hot water, or a shower.  It was an offer too good to refuse.  Nice site, but rather long grass.  I pitched the tent and headed back to Oakham for a night on the town.   

It had been grey all day, occasionally picking with rain, but at last the sun came out as I rode back into town.

Camp site overlooking Rutland Water


Rutland Water

Day 1 · 2 · 3 · 4