23rd August 2021
Days 7, 8 and 9 from mid Wales to the Lake District, through driving rain to beautiful sunsets
– Follow Alison’s stories of what it’s like to be the back-up and support here, as she reports back with a daily MAMILgram (that’s Middle-Aged-Men-In-Lycra):
Day Nine – Slaidburn to Keswick (74 miles) and into the Lake District
This was a good day. They reported that the road from Grasmere to Keswick, although offering spectacular views, was perhaps best appreciated from a car or bus rather than a bike.
The traffic tends to move fast, with some very dubious overtaking-decisions.
The weather stayed dry and it was reasonably warm. The hardest part was a steep climb from Slaidburn up to Cross of Greet, but Neil and Derek found they were distracted by significantly more birds overhead – and much more roadkill below. A few sheep were looking distinctly vulnerable; they would skip into the road at the last minute and then saunter gently across, turning their heads as if to say thank you.
After lunch by the side of Windermere I spotted a sign to Dove Cottage, the first adult home of the poet Wordsworth. Here he lived with his sister Dorothy, wife Mary and growing numbers of their children.
Since I last visited, the site has won a heritage Lottery Award. The house is now furnished as Wordsworth would recognise, and there is a new museum, café and visitors centre. In the cottage-garden were spots where you could download an app to hear relevant poems being read to you. Inside the museum, several of the exhibits offered short presentations, bringing particular poems to life through excellent photography and interviews with local people who had had similar life experiences. The poem on Michael seemed particularly pertinent – his son heads for the city and does not come back, putting the rural life of his parents under threat.
It all made me want to read more Wordsworth – and remember with gratitude Miss Haddow, who taught me the romantic poets at school. I can still hear some of her comments (mostly relating to Coleridge). Teachers’ influence can be life-long, but are sadly often remembered too late.
Tomorrow we are heading for Scotland, and Derek is already anticipating the next rest day, when he will have access to his bath.
Day Eight: Runcorn to Slaidburn (60 miles) – mostly in driving rain!
It’s perhaps a surprise that it was day eight, and so approaching the half-way point, that our two cyclists first encountered rain. Precipitation made up for its previous absence by arriving with particular force. It just poured all morning. I felt rather guilty being in the car, particularly as I passed them.
Having set off in driving rain (with Derek donning some natty overshoes which keep the feet warm, if not dry – they are lightweight rather like those used with a wetsuit), it carried on until after lunch. For Neil, who wears glasses, this created an additional problem of not being able to see properly – and so regular stops to wipe the lenses. To make matters worse, all the traffic lights seemed to be against them so there was quite a lot of standing in the rain too. Both had their bike lights on for most of the day.
But given that they are working to a schedule, and the accommodation is already booked, there was no other option but to get on with it. On the positive side, it stopped raining in time for them to enjoy a picnic outside a 12th century church at Great Mitton, where the church wardens enthusiastically showed them around, lycra does dry quite quickly once the rain stops – and the chance of rain tomorrow is less than it was today (but still around 40%).
In wet weather having good brakes is obviously particularly important. Apparently ‘disk brakes’ are thought by many to be a better bet than ‘caliper’ brakes (the kind most of us probably remember from childhood bikes). And when they did finally stop for the day, they were officially half-way to John o’Groats. Hurrah!
Having both had a fairly mobile childhood (my father’s Civil Service role required regular moves) and then married a soldier, I find I know people all over the place. So having left Runcorn I went to meet our university friend Penny at Dunham Massey (National Trust, Altrincham) where we had a damp walk, a very nice lunch – and I then headed north with a fruit cake she had kindly made for the boys.
Once I had left the M6, the drive to Slaidburn in Lancashire was glorious. Realising I was nearing Pendle Hill I rerouted slightly to see Ribchester, where I spent many happy holidays staying with my godfather Colin, his wife Christine and their family. The subsequent owners have done great things to the garden, clearly abandoning the Scott motto of ‘If it’s green, mow it’.
To support Neil and Derek and donate to their causes please visit their fundraising page:
Day Seven – Bishop’s Castle to Runcorn (75 miles)
The rest day definitely had a beneficial effect on our cycling duo. In fact, Neil commented that he felt like Bishop’s Castle must have put something in the water, so fast was their progress. Today’s ride took me down memory lane.
After Shrewsbury, they proceeded through a series of small villages, largely staying off the main roads until Chester. There was then a dual carriageway to Runcorn, on which traffic was moving very quickly, but happily also cycle route all the way to Runcorn.
The landscape was largely flat, and the weather perfect: overcast but no rain, and a wind behind them all the way. In summary, the fastest day so far – and over the furthest distance (75 miles). The only problem was a dearth of coffee shops to stop at for about 25 miles after leaving Shrewsbury.
While they returned to cycling, I routed to Runcorn via Oswestry, where I lived until the age of 9, and to where my parents retired – and my mother then lived for another 30 years, dying just three years ago. It was looking beautiful, with flowers everywhere – as part of their Oswestry in Bloom campaign.
It’s such an odd experience returning to where you lived as a child. If your parents carry on living there, it’s likely your relationship with the place will become increasingly intense as they age. You will get to know all the local shops, services and support you need to access – and then suddenly have no reason to visit. I wandered around realising that this time there was no pressure on my time – because sadly there was no longer anyone to get back to. I was pleased to meet someone in the church who remembered her.
My visit overlapped with the near anniversary of my father’s death in August 1988. I went into St Oswald’s church, where his ashes are buried in the churchyard, and was very moved to find ‘his’ page was still on view in the official record.
Find out more about Neil and Derek’s cycling challenge from Land’s End to John o’Groats on our dedicated web page HERE.