Thursday, 30 July 2015

We come to the mountains

Yesterday (day 10) was perhaps the most urban of our whole route, as we progressed through Southport to Preston before reaching the Lancaster Canal towpath northwards - very beautiful, but quite slow going on grass. We were further held up by a most enormous ice cream which Jamie took the best part of an hour to enjoy. He is not a lad who believes in rushing anything.

We took to the road for a quick burst of speed to finish, with Harry and Jamie on tandem racing Jamie's other uncle (also Jamie!) who has joined us for a couple of days.  A luxury night in a lovely canalside inn and an excellent dinner felt like a suitable way to celebrate the half way point.

Today we enjoyed glorious sunshine, albeit with a bit of a head wind. We continued by the Lune Estuary (egret?), then back on the canal path (now hard and fast going), through Lancaster over the aqueduct, before meeting friends Pat and Adrian at Beetham for lunch, slightly delayed by a couple of punctures.

The afternoon brought a lovely ride up the Lyth Valley (another corner of England I had never heard of), and so to Lake Windermere and Ambleside Youth Hostel. Dinner of pasta and tomato sauce was eaten by the lakeside with a beautiful sunset for backdrop, and swans for company.

The high hills rise before us, and the next few days will see some hard work. I hope we are up to it.

Great things are done when men and mountains meet;
This is not done by jostling in the street.
- William Blake

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Video 3 - The Heart of England

Join us through Avon, Gloucestershire, Monmouthshire, Herefordshire,  Shropshire, Cheshire... Remember your raincoat!


With ironic timing, the night before we set off, we caught a bit of the act of a certain popular Scottish comedian on TV.  He made a joke at the expense of the Youth Music Initiative, something on the lines of

"My Mum's a crack addict, my Dad's an alky, but I've got a xylophone, so that's sorted."

The poor man is obviously hopelessly misinformed and doesn't know what he's talking about. Come on Kevin, you would never start a beginner straight in on tuned percussion.

We hope we're showing a bit of initiative with our bike ride, but don't forget that the real heroes are the teachers who work year in and year out with their pupils. If we can do even a little bit to help another child to experience the self-confidence, discipline, comradeship and excitement that learning music can bring, we'll be more than happy.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Across the Mersey

Hello from Formby. 

Look how far we've gone now!

Mum and Dad keep bickering about who gets to cycle, or who gets to drive the car, I think us boys will have to set up a strict rota for them to follow. In the end, Dad did the first 50 miles through cold rain showers to the Mersey Ferry, then Mum did the last 15 miles from Liverpool in the sunshine with beautiful seaside views over to North Wales. I guess that gives him the bragging rights but she got a nicer cycle. As for Jamie, he just sat on his tandem and pedalled from 9am till 7pm without a complaint (apart from “I'm starving” shortly before we arrived at a plate of delicious Lasagne cooked by our friends John and Helen).

Enjoying a little boat ride across the river

Jamie takes a break by the beach
Markus is currently slaving away in front of a laptop with bleary eyes... if he stays awake long enough there should be a new video for you in the morning!

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Middle aged spread

Well, you certainly know what the weather is doing when you're on a bicycle.

After Friday's downpours, Saturday dawned bright and fresh, and our ride down the Strawberry Line to Clevedon felt effortless. After a picnic rendezvous at Severn Beach, with a view of the new(er) Severn Bridge, we rode (now with Sarah's sister Katie for company) through a field (not sure why), then on to and over the old bridge. We had about two miles in Wales, then left Chepstow for Gloucestershire and the road up to St Briavels, and its extraordinary Youth Hostel housed in a 13th century castle. In fact they were hosting a mediaeval themed banquet that evening, but we had our own feast, as friends Amy and Malcolm arrived from Cardiff with vast quantities of delicious curry. I had thought we might lose weight on the journey, but so far it seems to be heading in the other direction. Our bedroom was in the East Tower up a steep spiral stair. If the castle ghosts were noisy in the night, we were too fast asleep to hear them.

Sunday reverted to drizzle, not as heavy as Friday's, but enough to leave the cyclists pretty wet by the time they reached Leominster. The video unfortunately missed the moment Sarah was drenched by a passing car, surely worth £250 to one of Jamie's favourite TV programmes. One week accomplished! Legs and backsides are starting to toughen up, now we need to make sure the bikes are not neglected, and keep brakes, gears and chains in good order. A longer day in prospect tomorrow, but - fingers crossed - dry.

A Week on the Road

It's 9pm, and after some pizza for dinner in Leominster team Tandem and Tuba are all just about ready for their beds. It's been another wet day to round off a busy week on the bikes. Here are the official statistics:

Miles cycled so far - 305 (Almost one third of the way to John o'Groats)

Time taken - 6 days, 7 hours

Average speed - 2.0 mph (Sounds pretty unimpressive when you put it like that)

Feet ascended - 12,303 (42% of the way up Everest)

Number of punctures - 5

Pasties eaten - 19 (a good 15,000 calories)

Ice creams eaten - 0

Wildlife - 1 albino ferret, 3 squashed hedgehogs, 5 dead badgers, 4 ostriches rhea, a peregrine falcon, heron, and lots of ducks

And here are a few pictures:

Jamie celebrates reaching Tintagel on day 2

Stopping for coffee (read: lots of biscuits and bananas) on our way to Okehampton, day 3.

Markus, the cameraman, getting some shots at the edge of Dartmoor

The team are joined by Aunty Katie and grandparents Graham and Sheila for lunch by the Severn Estuary, day 6.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Video 2 - Devon

Video #2 in which Joe narrates our progress through the hilly West Country.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Level crossing

No wifi, so just a brief update for yesterday from Cheddar Youth Hostel.

It rained. A lot. Jamie's uncle Richard kept us company from Taunton. We made it across the Somerset Levels. We saw a train at a level crossing. We got very wet and muddy but no-one complained. Well done team! Terrific bolognese, well done Katie and Izzy.

Onward and upward!!

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Well in to Zummerzet

Or, Wellington, Somerset.

The tandem is restored thanks to the superbly helpful Matt at Okehampton Cycles.

We said goodbye to our friends Lidia, Habib and Nelson, who had nobly cycled with us for the first three days.  A long and quite hilly route today, and various body parts are getting sore. We are ready for tomorrow's short flat route and a longer rest to recover. But for tonight, the luxury of white sheets and a comfortable bed in a lovely B&B in Rockwell Green.

Cornwall - Video Number 1!

Jamie's cousin Markus has not only been slogging up the steep hills of Cornwall with us - he's also been making the time to capture it all on camera and produce this great 3 minute film documenting the first county of our journey. Hit play and enjoy the ride!

Wednesday, 22 July 2015


This is the Tandem and Tuba Explorer resuming contact with planet Earth...we are on course and outbound from Cornwall, with a full payload of still and video images, and memories, awaiting upload when we can get organised...

We set off on Monday in thick mist from (we think) Land's End, and arrived fairly damp at Newlyn for a coffee stop. The first sight to greet us in the gallery café was...a tuba! This had to be a sign. A sunny (but hilly) afternoon took us to Perranporth Youth Hostel, in a spectacular clifftop location overlooking the surfers' beach.

Blue sky and a drying wind at Perranporth

Tuesday was sunnier - and hillier. After a lunch break when hammocks were slung and swung in, a weary but determined band of cyclists continued, to arrive at Tintagel Youth Hostel (brake or go over the cliff) in an even more dramatic setting, only enhanced by a peregrine falcon hovering motionless in the gale just over the car park. Some of us enjoyed an atmospheric walk to Tintagel Castle in the dusk at 10pm, a nightjar calling from the undergrowth.

Today (Wednesday) was the hilliest yet, but didn't quite feel it. Just maybe we are starting to get into the swing of it.  The narrow country lanes of Cornwall gave way to broader views in Devon, with a beautiful downhill run to Egloskerry. The tandem suffered on the off-road (read: no road) stretch of Cycle Route 27 on the edge of Dartmoor, but was able to make it to Okehampton Youth Hostel thanks to the long stretch of converted railway line to finish. Repair or replacement of bent derailleur will be needed tomorrow. Tonight we celebrated Harry's 20th birthday with lasagne, chocolate cake and cider!

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Here we go!

Think global, act local - and bike national?

Tomorrow morning we drive for the last time for 3 weeks - the ten miles from Penzance Youth Hostel to Land's End - and then start cycling. The forecast is good, and we are really looking forward to getting started. We are also delighted that our fundraising has just passed £3,000. Thanks once again to all contributors; every bit counts and makes a difference.

OK, it's not quite true about not driving for 3 weeks. Mum and Dad will take turns to drive the 'support car', but we non-drivers (Jamie, Joe, Harry and Markus) are planning to cycle every mile of the route.

We have collected cousin / nephew Markus from Plymouth, who comes with an impressive collection of film equipment. All being well, he will be posting a video diary of our progress. Watch this space!

This Friday's Perthshire Advertiser features a photo of Jamie, tuba and tandem. Here we are yesterday morning about to set off from home...

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Where are we going?

The route!
It should be more or less like this. Click on the links for details.

Week 1 (starts Monday 20th July)
Land's End to Perranporth - to Tintagel - to Okehampton - to Wellington - to Cheddar - to St Briavel's - to Leominster

Week 2 (starts Monday 27th July)
Leominster to Hordley Hall - to Formby via the Mersey Ferry - to Conder Green - to Ambleside - to Longtown - to Ettrick Valley Yurts - to Edinburgh

Week 3 (starts Monday 3rd August)
Edinburgh to Perth - to Blair Atholl - to Aviemore - to Culbokie - via Cromarty Ferry to Helmsdale - to John O'Groats!!

No, we haven't finished the ride yet. This was us (Jamie, Sarah, Harry, Joe) 8 years ago, on our way back from a holiday in Orkney that remains the only one we have ever abandoned prematurely. It was a bit windy for camping. The boys have all grown somewhat since. We'll try to reproduce the same photo on August the 8th to see by how much!

A brisk ride from Perth via Rait to Longforgan and back yesterday - 40 miles, and we set off after 3pm, making it home just in time to watch Andy Murray win his latest match at Wimbledon.