Land’s end to John O’Groats (week 1)

John O’Groats to Land’s End

(Select here for week one report, here for week two, here for week three and here for week four)

Week one (July)

(The Long Way Round or should that be The Long Way Down?)

It’s really hard to know where to start with this first entry. If you have followed what we planned to do then you will know that the plan was to go to Land’s End before making our way back up to John O’Groats. This was to be our final test of equipment before we set off next year. As we come across problems regarding equipment we will write entries on them.

The route we had planned was to change as the floods hit shortly after we set off.

We made it as far as Junction 7 on the M5 on Friday 20th July before everything ground to a halt due to the flooding in the South of the country. Not only the flooding impeded our progress but the bike also decided it had had enough on the very first day of our trip to Land’s End!

Picture of the air camping pillow attached to the pillion seat of the bike with the air valve in the bottom left hand side.

Numb bum solution?

We had stopped for a short break; Cath’s bum was screaming in protest at the enforced creeping paralysis which was setting in complete with massive doses of pins and needles. The picture on the left shows one of the changes we have made already! It is a camping air pillow which has been attached to the bike seat using velcro. You can also see the bead seat I have used for years. It is a cut down car version which certainly does the job for me.

Anyway, the key went back into the ignition after circulation had returned to her sensitive nether region and the starter was pressed, nothing.

(Scratches head, thumbs starter, again nothing, and again, and again).

The rain is falling in an incessant downpour which has characterised the British weather for the last two months as I ponder the distinct lack of starting. The rain has been falling all day and it erodes your good feelings and grinds down your spirits. In the end you are fed up and just wish to escape the cold wetness. You even start longing (hallucinating?) for a cup of the ridiculously over-priced service station coffee.

The rain continues to fall as I pull the tools out of what I affectionately call ‘the torpedo tubes’.

picture of the 'torpedo' tubes. They have been bolted just above the cylinders on both sides of the bike. They are actually stainless steel spaghetti tubes for a kitchen - but they work perfectly as tool containers.

The 'Torpedo Tubes' for tools.

Plugs are taken out and sparks are checked. One sparks weakly and one doesn’t.


Plugs are changed for a new set.

No spark at all now?

Mmmmmmmm (ponders as the rain pounds downwards and makes tap dancing sounds on our helmets).

Looks at rain, looks at bike, looks at puddles of water and river running down road.

Aha, ring R.A.C.

Now I know this is hardly the action of ‘Mr and Mrs Going Around the World’

After all, in downtown Iran or Indonesia you can’t exactly ring the R.A.C and say “My bike won’t start”. I cannot imagine them saying (in a cheery voice) “No problem Mr Smith, we’ll have somebody with you in about 6 days by the time they get to you”. But at this point I didn’t really care about shattering my ‘Mr Action’ image. After all, why lay in a puddle of water if you don’t have to!

Thus the 0800 number was dialled at 8pm and I fully expected the same cheery voice to confirm they would come rushing to my aid. After waiting three hours for an answer my confidence had dissipated somewhat. After four hours on hold I freely admit my balloon of confidence had been completely burst. The final sigh of escaping air could be heard when the – not cheery – voice indicated it would take 6-8 hours (“worst case scenario”) to get to us. It is now mid-night. It seems that, we hadn’t realised, virtually the whole of the South had groaned to a halt in steaming engines as the water took its toll. Engines all over the South were trying to breath water instead of air which wreaked havoc with their internals much to the glee of mechanics who rubbed their hands at early payments of their mortgages. Meanwhile the Insurance industry were calculating by how much they would be raising premiums once the water receded – even though they denied it, initially, no doubt!

And all the time the rain continued to fall.

Picture of Cathy using her wireless micro keyboard to record journal on PDA.

Technology and accessibility.

It was at 9.15 the next morning as we huddled in our foil survival bags that – under the army poncho rigged between the armco barrier and the bike – we realised that the ‘worst case scenario’ was past its time. After an hour and a half the R.A.C eventually answered and the distinctly glum voice told us it would be another 10-12 hours before they could get to us (24 hours after first breaking down).

In the meantime the roundabout would empty as the M5 was opened and then it would fill up as it was closed, then empty, then fill up again. Thousands of frustrated and angry people passed in front of us as we huddled out of the rain with only our feet visible, encased in the foil survival bags, under our improvised shelter.

A coach full of school children pulled up and all the young boys leapt out and ran past us further down the roundabout to find a convenient place to relieve themselves – in other words, away from the girls on the coach. Just as they got to doing what they needed to do, the traffic moved forward – as did their coach. The girls flattened themselves against the windows as they ended up right at the very spot where ten young boys were heaving sighs of utter relief. The girls laughed and shrieked at the, obvious, discomfort of the boys. And then they were gone in gales of laughter as the coach pulled away.

I suppose my abiding memory of this miserable night was of Cathy – about 4am – when we had been quiet for a while suddenly saying;

“It’s a good job it’s summer”.

Cathy restored to normaility.

I laughed and I realised that this showed that despite her being cold, wet and hungry she still retained her sense of humour. At this point I know she would be fine going around the world.

Very early in the morning Cathy nudged me from an uncomfortable cold drifting sleep with some urgency in her voice. The message was “I need to go!” “Go where?” I had muttered not really awake. “I need the loo” she whispered as if it was a state secret. Lifting the poncho I looked around at the jammed roundabout. “Give me a minute” I muttered as I crawled out of the shelter into the rain and went wandering off to try to find a place of seclusion. In the end the only place I could find was right in the middle of the roundabout where thick bushes grew and it was to here I guided her before withdrawing a fair distance to allow privacy. When I heard her call I went back and her beaming face told me that things were now alright as we snuggled back into our covers.

Picture of the sign outside the Swan Pub - it says The Swan, Whittington, A pub with food Open all day.

The Swan

By the lunch-time of the Saturday we set off to explore – finding the ‘Swan’ and eating our first food – did it taste good.

It’s funny how misery seems to stretch time and our perception of it. The cold depressing night seemed to stretch endlessly into the distance.

Once we had this meal, time re-established its normal speed and the whole world seemed just a little better. Even the prospect of another few hours didn’t dampen our mood.

All told we spent 49 hours stuck on Junction 7 (South Bound post nine of the armco barrier on the left). During this time we met lots of wonderful people who passed us drinks, sweets and anything else out of their cars. Three people in particular stood out.

Our thanks to James (a BMW dealer) who launched into dismantling the bike after I had put it all back together – all to no avail.

To Nigel and Joy who offered us accommodation and gave us a flask of coffee when it looked like we were to spend a second night out in the open.

Picture of Cathy and Bernard sat on their armco barrier at Junction 7 on the M5 - we are waiting for the transporter to arrive and we are still smiling.

Waiting to be rescued on the roundabout.

Our special thanks goes to Clive and Sue who took us in for the Saturday night and even gave us their own room. Their kindness and consideration kn

Picture of the bike in Cathy's garage with tools all over the floor. The petrol tank is off and various bits of wire are diconnected. At this point I am still looking for the problem!

Sourcing the problem at home

ew no bou

nds as they defrosted us and dried out everything we had. Their dining area was full of children’s pictures which their twin four year old girls had

done and the house was very much full of love and laughter around the children. Clive picked up all of our equipment in his car, ferried us to his home where we collapsed in a 12 hour coma of sleep. He brought us back to the bike the next day and nothing seemed too much trouble. Our sincere thanks and appreciation.

We eventually arrived back in Warrington on the back of a transporter and the bike was pushed into the garage at 9pm on Sunday.

Monday and Tuesday was spent tracking wiring and various other components to try to find the problem. It also became apparent that the Garmin Satellite Navigation did not like the water at all – it had flooded! I noticed it quite by accident by the goldfish swimming past the screen and I realised they were inside the unit. Looks like the old methods are the best and soggy maps do not breakdown so quickly!

A picture of the guilty coil showing a crack running across the whole unit. The crack was hidden as this side fo the coil bolts against the frame of the bike and so it is not visible unless you take it off the bike.

The cracked Coil

After some time pulling things apart the trouble was eventually discovered to be a bacolite coil which had split where it was bolted to the frame. Myself, the BMW dealer, and the R.A.C had all missed it.

It was so infuriating when I eventually found it.

While this is true, often journeys are made up of so many events. Without the breakdown we would never have met so many kind people. It does me good to remember a saying that I often use when things are going wrong:

“The interruptions are the journey.”

I’m not sure where I got this from – I know I read it somewhere but it is so true. It is also true when I contemplate the other saying I often chant when events are going pear shaped:

“Something will turn up”.

After spending 49 hours on the roundabout and coming home, eventually, both these sayings are still very true.

I suppose a final observation of this event concerns how little help we received when we were surrounded by people in their cars when all the roads were closed in the area. We huddled and shivered through 14 hours of wind, rain and cold with hundreds of people in cars, trucks and buses jammed end-to-end all around us. As the roundabout cleared and the roads gradually opened up did we became ‘visible’. It was at this point were people started to offer assistance; little acts of kindness and acknowledgment of our predicament. Sometimes it is true to say that you truly are ‘invisible’ when you are in the middle of a crowd. So the saying goes…………….

(Select here for week one report, here for week two, here for week three and here for week four)



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