John O’Groats to Land’s End (week 4)
(The Long Way Round or should that be The Long Way Down?)
Lewis to Skye
We woke up to the next day refreshed and it was time to move onwards to Skye which meant packing all of our myriad bits and pieces and riding to Tarbert – where we had talked and worked through – over endless cups of coffee – the ‘mountain goat road’ experiences. I woke up early to the urgent signals flashing between bladder and brain while Cathy slept on for another hour and a half before her eyes fluttered open. Even then she continued to purr in her sleeping bag for quite a while before she ventured forth for the new day.
We are now firmly in a routine and have our jobs to do. Cathy packs up the inside of the tent and repacks sleeping bags, air beds, clothes and all the 100 other things which end up in the tent (largely mine). Meanwhile I trundle back and forth between the tent and the bike packing, tying down luggage, finding space for the 20 things that seem to keep changing places until we find a permanent home for many of them. When the tent is empty, we collapse the Khyam (Quick Erect Tent or ‘QE’ as it is labelled) with Cathy pulling all the tent pegs and bagging them before rolling the tent into its groundsheet. The final item to be packed is the large ‘roll’ bag which sits on the back of the bike. This holds the tent, sleeping bags, air pillows and ex-army cagoules we always carry with us (which, if you recall, acted as our shelter in the first week of flooding at Worcester.
We stopped off (after loading the bike) on the way to breakfast in the Stornoway Library to update this site through our laptop at an internet cafe. The internet cafe did not have Frontpage (our preferred software) and it took a little convincing of the receptionist to let me plug into their network but it worked in the end! So our latest offering for insomniac readers of this site was launched and winged its way off into cyber space.
While we were having many toasted tea cakes and coffee in the Stornoway Library, a little later on, an elderly lady approached us. She was dressed in Tweed with heavy Celtic broach holding her shawl around her shoulders. From the corner of the cafe I had been conscious the group had been watching us from another table where she sat with her friends as Cathy and I munched and talked. As she approached us and moved to Cathy’s side I let Cathy know she was approaching. In a heavily accented voice she asked;
“Are you on a motor bike?”
Cathy nodded, smiled and answered “yes”
“Good on you” she said and patted Cathy on the back before disappearing out the door with her friend.
A little thing but it has proved to be very typical of when people see either the white cane, or me leading Cathy through shops in our motorcycle boots and gear.
It tickled Cathy this small exchange as it seemed to mean so much to the woman as she walked past the Cafe window and waved back at us as she set off down the high street. We wondered if she would recount our meeting to her friends and family, opening the conversation with;
“You wouldn’t believe it. I met a blind woman who was travelling on a motorbike with a young fellow today” well, maybe she might miss the ‘young fellow’ bit but you understand the point we are making? It absolutely tickles people the prospect of Cathy travelling in this way, it really does.
So it was that this chance meeting informed our conversation as we rode to catch the ferry to Uig from Tarbert in Skye, stopping every 10 minutes – or so it seemed – to try to resolve the camera and filming problems which still beset us.
Eventually we worked out the only way we could get the camera to function was to attach it to the small tripod, then jam this tripod between the strapping of a pouch (on my waist) where all the money, cards and valuables were located. This positioned the camera in front of my chest and, for the first time, the camera started to behave itself and footage was achieved ‘live’ as we rode through the landscape!
Arriving at Tarbert and leading Cathy up the many flights of stairs to the passenger deck after we have secured the bike with a length of rope which the deckhands assured me was sufficient – we made our way to the passenger lounge. Dumping bags on the seats either side of us we settled down for the crossing which takes about 1 hour 40 minutes surrounded by all nationalities and ages.
As always Cathy (at every opportunity) reached for her mobile phone and the distinctive sound of the Talks software would invade the surrounding area , becoming mixed with German, French, Italian and Dutch. A few weeks before we had left on this trip Cathy gained a new phone complete with a ‘reading’ facility (called Talks). The phone itself is a standard Nokia E65 which she has fallen in love with due to the keyboard which she found so accessible compared to many others. The Talking software installed is the only addition to what is, otherwise, a standard phone. So it is that she is now able to work completely independently in terms of text messages, diary, memos and whatever other functions there are on the phone. As a communication tool it is a real boon to her.
As always the people around us all looked and some sent off little signs of irritation at the sound of the voice speaking each option selected by her busy thumbs. A couple close by had settled down to read books and papers. They shuffled in their seats in annoyance. And I waited. When I say I waited, I mean for the inevitable comment or looks which may come in our direction. At this, one of two responses would be sparked. Cathy’s gentle and smiling response or my own version (not as smiling and definitely not as sweet).
It took a little while before they eventually realised Cathy was blind and this was the reason for the ‘annoying’ little voice telling the whole world what – and who – she was texting on her phone! It was interesting to note, when they realised, their whole body language became ‘calmer’ as they settled in for the trip. No more signs of irritation could be seen and eventually several messages winged their way off to wherever text messages go to when busy thumbs press ‘send’ (and Cathy certainly has very busy thumbs since she got the phone).
Arriving in Skye in the evening we managed to find a camp site (Torvaig) which is just a little outside of a small town called Portree. The site was fine although there were no facilities for disabled which meant wandering into the lady’s with Cathy or Cathy wandering into the men’s toilets with me. We tend to vary this approach depending on layout.
Sometimes we get to explore the lady’s together so that Cathy can orientate herself and then it is merely a matter of getting to the entrance door and off she goes. Sometimes the toilets and showers are so busy this is not possible and so, occasionally, Cathy becomes the only blind woman in the men’s showers. We have been lucky so far in that we have not had any problems in either the men’s or the lady’s although we both keep waiting! I have promised the ladies we have met in circumstances like this that I will close one eye (I have to keep the other open for Cathy I assure them).
Whenever we have come across this situation we have only ever been met with kindness and consideration as women rush over to her and offer assistance to find the showers, sinks, or dryers etc. We are also aided by having a pair of walkie-talkies with us to see if they would improve matters; which they have according to Cathy.
As a blind person it should be very obvious to people it is very difficult sometimes to have any personal space. Nobody wants another person hovering around the toilet or outside the shower waiting for them. We all like to have our time and space and the walkie-talkies give both of us some sense of space and freedom.
They operate at quite a range and so once Cathy is within the relevant building she can take her time without worrying about me hanging around waiting for her. Before we got them she would rush through matters knowing I was sitting on a wall, or leaning against a tree waiting. I never minded the waiting as I would light a cigarette and watch the world go by or talk to numerous people to pass the time. But for Cathy they have worked really well. Now, she pushes a button to call me when she is ready. The process also works the opposite way. If necessary she can get hold of me if I am not within voice range for some reason.
Once we had set everything up on the site we set off for Portree (about a 20 minute walk) and found somewhere to eat (The Royal Hotel). The pub next door was to have live entertainment on and so that sealed the direction for the evening. Next door, one glass of wine and one pint of Stella Artois please. Let’s settle down now and watch the band.
The band were called Shenanagin (I think this spelling is correct) and they played a mixture of Scottish Folk and a range of songs from Queen (Fat Bottomed Girls played in Cajun style – very strange!) to chart songs. Their banter was outrageous and definitely not Politically Correct but they were hilariously funny.
The bar gradually filled up as the two musicians downed Jack Daniels after Jack Daniels (plus chasers of pints of lager). My own liver was groaning just watching them drink. And all the time the bar filled up with locals and tourists alike (particularly Italians who seemed to have arrived en-mass). The larger the audience the more off-the-wall they went.
“How do you define the Isle of Lewis? 1500 alcoholics clinging to a rock” was met with roars of laughter from the natives of Skye.
“The last time we beat the English at anything was in 1745. Even then we had to attack them while they were asleep” was met with howls from all over the bar. This battle referred to the battle of Preston Pans (East Lothian) where Prince Charles Edward Stuart landed on the west coast of Scotland accompanied by only 9 men carrying a few arms! He gathered together an army of Highlanders (2,400 men and badly equipped).
Gathered at Dunbar was Sir John Cope whose army numbered 3,000 with artillery support. At 4.00 am the Highlanders attacked Cope’s army charging with the rising sun behind them. Cope’s gunners fled, as the advancing Highlanders, with the sun behind them, appeared to outnumber the British army. And so the Scottish beat the English.
Cathy and I are both walkers and love to tramp the hills but we kept very quiet in the next section as they asked;
“Any hill walkers in?”
Several hands went up in the bar.
The bass player looked at me hiding under the speaker by the side of the stage and he said:
“You look like a hill walker?”
I shook my head in denial – a bit like Peter when he denied being a Christian! He went on;
“Hill walking, what the *uck is that all about?”
He looked around the audience before going on on;
“You go all the way up the top where there’s *uck all, then you walk all the way back? What’s the point in that? It’s a bit like the Grand old Duke of York!”
At this point all the locals collapsed in laughter (they were in on the joke) as they supped their multiples of drinks of shorts and pints. He then went on to pull cyclists to bits (a few were in) and then tractor drivers and combine harvesters. By the end tears were running down several people faces (including myself and Cathy’s).
His final salvo concerned the fact that the Scottish got so fed up being beaten by the English that some bright spark thought the only way Scotland could win would be if the Highlanders fought the Lowlanders! At least, then, Scotland would always win – one way or another! He went on to describe various Highlanders Versus Lowlanders encounters which were all based on fact.
We left after the first half and walked back to the camp site with the two of us still laughing after a great evening.
The next day we set off on a tour of Skye which seemed full of German coaches.
We stopped at one view point only to be surrounded by coaches within minutes as they all pilled out and camera clicked everything in sight. We retreated with somebody muttering in a Monty Pythonish voice of “Don’t mention the war!” as the ministry of silly walks occurred back to the bike. Cathy imagined the picture by the erratic contact she had with my arm as I guided her.
The roads of Skye are not as isolated as on Lewis and there is far more traffic although we did manage to find a ‘beaten’ track to take the bike up (North of Dunvegan). The problem was that within seconds of stopping for a rest after bouncing down the ‘road’ for mile after mile, the inevitable cloud of midges appeared. It was as if the jungle drums sounded at the smell of English blood and the clouds of little buggers descended driving us back onto the bike very quickly. I didn’t even bother to get out the cigarettes as the prospect of ending up looking like the elephant man from multiples of bites drove us away as quick as possible.
Oh, by the way, it rained. A surprise we know. But rain it did, continuously once it started, in our loop around the south of the Island back towards Portree and the campsite at Torvaig.
Our evening’s entertainment consisted of going to watch Shenanigen again at the local bar and, surprisingly, Cathy wanted to stay for the second half. I say surprisingly as Cathy gets tired quiet early in the evening. She explains that, being blind, she finds the concentration levels required for interacting with the world and always, always, listening being very tiring. Thus I was surprised when another glass of wine was ordered and she settled in for the second half.
I think the fact that she was also engrossed in a conversation with a handsome New Zealander for ages (I told her he was sheer ugly) probably aided the passing of time. By the time the lads had played their second half (with a request from myself to play Fat Bottomed Girls by Queen – in Cajun style, even more bizarre the second time we heard it!) it was 11.30 and time to head back to the ranch with a 20 minute walk (uphill I might add).
When we arrived back at the camp site we had to move the bike as it was on grass and the weather forecast was a force 6 gale – or so the owner of a shop gleefully told us (so it seemed to me when he found out we were on Torvaig). The gale never materialised even after waking – probably – half the campsite firing the bike up to move it. If anybody had said anything Cathy would have set about them with her stick. But nobody did. Maybe people really do still think that ‘bikers’ eat raw chickens and crunch broken glass for breakfast like Desperate Dan from the old comics? We battened down the hatches (after our experiences in Ullapool and Thurso) and checked all our – newly installed – storm ropes and thick, long tent pegs and waited for it to hit. It never did and we slept like two babies all night although it did rain most of the night.
Skye back to the Mainland (40 minute ferry crossing- Armadale to Mallaig)
The next morning saw us packing up the bike in our routine (between showers of rain) but we were just thankful that the storm missed Skye completely (so we heard later on).
The ride down through Skye was uneventful although very wet (as it seems to be constantly now). Arriving at Armadale for the ferry the rain continued to fall as we lined up with the traffic waiting for the ferry to arrive. Another bike was there bearing an Italian number plate and the two people with it had full BMW suites and a brand new bike (the ever present BMW GS1200) underneath them. We looked like two refugees and our bike looked distinctly ‘worn’ compared to their shiny steed! The thing is that when we appear between several, usually immaculate, bikes it always seems to be the ‘old’ bike people start to talk about. Then numerous questions are usually directed at the ‘blind’ lady who always answers patiently.
The ferry is only a short (about 40 minutes) and, as always, the ride was punctuated by snatches of Italian, German and Cathy with her mobile phone! The sea was calm although the sky was grey and overcast and the heavens continued to convince Noah he should go to the hardware store and buy more nails.
Leaving the ferry we ended up behind a Spanish bike who set a ‘brisk’ pace as we passed car after car in the direction of Fort William. The rain bounced off our helmets in ever increasing amounts as we headed South. If you have ever been to Spain then you may well know that my observation of the ‘brisk’ pace set by our outrider is not an exaggeration! The advantage of this, however, was that by the time I reached the same point people were awake to the possibilities of a motorbike and so, many times, he did actually clear the way ahead.
Arriving at Fort William we headed for the Ben Nevis Campsite and were met by a French receptionist who gave us a map of the site and then took the £11.50 per night fee (and the £5 deposit for the key to THE disabled facility). When we drove through the site we found nothing but flooded areas. People were huddled in their tents or sitting in their cars reading and we had one of those ‘Aha’ moments.
As we had entered Fort William I could see that not a single ‘Vacancy’ sign was anywhere on bed and breakfast or hotel or garden post. Sign after sign declaring ‘No Vacancies’ and it dawned that, perhaps, all was not well with campsites. As we moved from field to field on a gravel (slippery) road we found quagmire after quagmire with miserable huddled people sheltering in cars and vans. The bike was cumbersome and heavy under these conditions as we turned around and around searching for somewhere more ‘welcoming’ i.e. not ankle deep in water.
In the end we found a slightly less flooded area (set higher up) and a little further from the (single disabled) toilet and shower than we would have liked but there seemed nowhere else. All the time it rained heavier and heavier turning the ground into a sodden mess which squelched under foot. Both of us could feel our mood changing and we started getting a little ‘short’ with each other. We just wanted the day to end which is a sad reflection on events. In the end, we exchanged a few heated words for the first time on the whole journey.
Cathy – “I was really fed up. Bernard insisted on going around the site on the bike when I wanted to walk and look for a pitch. The ground under the bike was poor and the gravel was deep and I could feel the bike shifting underneath us, suddenly and violently. The last time we had conditions like this (in Spain the year before) under similar conditions (tiredness) we ended up with the bike on the floor and some damage to it. I was worried. I wanted to get our money back and go look for a B and B but he ignored me. When we got off the bike he was in a temper and his tone of voice changed as we started to argue.”
Bernard – “The site was large and very bike unfriendly with its deep gravel and it was a complete mess. It was obvious it had rained for a long time and with the mountains around the water had to go somewhere – here! There was nowhere near the main shower block – where the single disabled facility was located – everywhere was flooded. The roads are deep, deep gravel and it was raining heavily (as it had been all day). We needed a good pitch higher up otherwise the water would have gone over the ground sheet itself and we would have been lying in water. I was tired, hungry and fed up with the rain. Cathy was being negative and there was nowhere else to go. We needed to be out of the rain with something to eat. I needed the loo and a smoke. The conditions were miserable”.
Cathy – “Often Bernard takes over and makes decisions and organises everything without talking to me. It’s probably due to his work and mentality where he just does it without thinking. It annoys me and gets to me sometimes”
Bernard – “I think part of the ‘problem’ is that I am used to riding alone and making decisions, working on problems and trying to find quick solutions to suit the circumstance. I use my eyes to make instant decisions whereas if I tried to describe everything all the time it would take too long to sort the problem out. I know I am like this and where there is time I try to discuss and work out the best solution. I needed to get us both out the rain and somewhere dry.”
Cathy – “I wanted to look for a Bed and Breakfast or a hotel – somewhere dry and warm with a bed. I got to the point of not wanting to camp under these conditions”.
Bernard – “I had already discounted this option as I had been looking on the drive into Fort William for this option and everywhere was booked as far as I could see. Thus I knew this was not available whereas Cathy didn’t as I hadn’t talked through what I was seeing. I was just concentrating on riding the bike in the rain and getting to the campsite.”
So it was that the tent was set up on something like drainable soil with Cathy sheltering under the trees from the rain. The tent went up quickly. Normally this is a job Cathy does but under these circumstance it was important to get everything set up as fast as possible.
Once Cathy was in the tent sorting out the inside then many cigarettes were smoked by myself as I calmed down from the exchanges which had occurred. Cathy, meanwhile, sulked in the tent.
On this trip it has been apparent that we have crossed swords on two separate occasions and people have asked us on numerous occasions “What will happen if you fall out on the round the world trip?” In answer to this question we have both always answered “We’ll sort it out” although this answer doesn’t seem to satisfy people and so we thought we would include this event in the journal.
On both times we have argued it has been due to the circumstance around the weather (rain, wind and generally miserable riding conditions all day). Cathy agrees that she does not ‘do’ conflict very well as she tends to take things personally whereas I am more ‘situational’ in nature i.e. I know the conflict is a product of temporary circumstances. I am not arguing with Cathy as such and I believe that she is not arguing with me. We are both actually arguing with the cold or the wet or rubbish camp sites. It is not personal. Cathy personalises conflict to a far greater degree than myself. As such we climbed into the tent (after a cooling off period) and we went through what had sparked the conflict. As with all disagreements, the truth is always in the middle. Neither of us was completely correct and therefore both of us were, to some degree, in the wrong. After about 30 minutes of talking (while I crossed my legs as I still urgently needed the loo) all was well again and we set off to find the elusive toilet block.
According to Cathy the toilet block was “three miles away” although this was a major exaggeration and it was more like a few hundred yards but as we walked in the rain (and laughed by then) the world was balanced again. We called into reception and complimented them on their camp site with the comment (from Bernard);
“You have a very nice swimming pool out there”.
The receptionist had smiled sweetly and responded that they knew. We waited for them to offer a discount for the flooded fields but none was forthcoming.
Life moved on as we found our way to the only dry place in the area; a bar and restaurant a short walk down the road where we sat with all the other miserable, wet and depressed people sheltering form the rain and making their drinks last into the night. Cathy eventually started to smile and all was well again until “….we get back to a wet tent” was her final comment before trudging back through the squelching land in the darkness as tiredness drove us out of the warm surroundings.
The rain continued all night in ever increasing strength. It even woke me at one point while Cathy was awake most of the night with its force. I merely popped in some ear plugs and then, bingo, the land of dreams beckoned. In my dreams I lay on a sunlight beach with the waves lapping gently on the shore (probably an unconscious recognition of the rain bouncing off the tent).
Our breakfast was taken in a little cafe not far from Ben Nevis before we climbed on board the bike and headed off to find the local library to update the web site.
The local library in Ben Nevis has no Braille books and no access technology for anybody with a visual impairment. I know as I asked about both facilities. There is no speech software available for anybody with a significant sight impairment and the staff were very apologetic when it became apparent they had no idea – initially – what I was talking about.
So it was that I muttered quietly about the state of affairs while Cathy smiled sweetly as we updated the site on the our own laptop. We did not have any software with us (Dolphin Computer Access will be supplying Access Technology for Cathy for the trip itself) and so this meant talking through the entries in the hushed voices adopted by everybody in libraries. We edited and worked out our entries before saving everything and wandering off for the inevitable wander around the shops (after three hours in the library).
The weather today has been much, much better and when we arrived back at the site in the afternoon it was noticeable the difference the lack of rain made. Later on in the local bar the difference was extremely noticeable and I passed on this difference to Cathy by describing what I was seeing. The previous night people were miserable, quiet and the children were fractious and bad tempered. One day later, with no rain and a little sunshine, the people were laughing and children were playing. Couples laughed at each other’s jokes with little shows of affection. Families were now ‘together’ again all around us.
We talked about this observable difference in light of our recent disagreements and Cathy is starting to understand what ‘life on the road’ may be like; the fact that ‘miserable conditions breeds miserable people’. The important point to be held onto is that these things are transient and eventually they always get better. You just have to ride out the hard times and they will pass. Cathy finds this hard to get to grips with and it may well be that we return to this response many times in the future. She openly admits it may be difficult for her to change, what is, a deeply engrained way of responding to conflict. Time will tell on this matter.
It is 650 miles, or so, to Land’s End from here. We set off tomorrow as Cathy wants her Land’s End to John O’Groats badge and this was one of our aims on this journey.
As we settled into our sleeping bags the rain starts to fall again but we don’t care. We are fed, watered, and we understand things a little bit clearer so life is good.
Fort William to Land’s End (662 miles)
The weather forecast for the trip from Fort William was less than encouraging as it was rain, rain and more rain (with some high winds thrown in for good measure) as we packed the bike. After breakfast (Cathy needs her breakfast before contemplating moving at all) we left the site around 11am – early for us.
The first half of the journey (through to Carlisle) was surprisingly dry before the, inevitable, deluge began. Once it started, it never seemed to stop. It got heavier and heavier to the point as cars passed on the motorway it was as if people were throwing buckets of water at us. Drivers plunged on regardless despite the flashing signs urging caution and 50 mph maximum speeds. Many of the drivers must have been convinced they had the middle names of Jesus Christ as they, clearly, could drive on water (at 80mph) ten foot off the car in front. I was humbled by their driving and I wished – when I grew up – that I could drive just like them (can you spot the sarcasm?)
After eight hours of ‘swimming’ down the motorway on two wheels we gave up at under 400 miles at the Norton Canes Travel Inn which advertised rooms for £53 per night and then charged £68 due to:
Receptionist – “…having to increase the prices due to local events such as the V Festival and a Fashion Show.”
Bernard – “You don’t HAVE TO increase prices, you mean the company WANTS TO increase prices and so make more money?”
The (male) receptionist smiled sheepishly as a previous customer (who had raised an eyebrow but not challenged the charge) looked on at the exchange.
Cathy and I looked at each other and, personally, I would have moved on as exploitation rankles me severely (even if it has very small writing claiming they can adjust prices – below the 6 foot high price of £53!) In the end we stayed and I muttered about it but the facilities were fine.
No sooner was Cathy in her room than she was immersed in the, constant, shower. She even managed to flood the entire bathroom floor although she blamed the – over the bath – shower and curtain rail. As I waded through the 6 inches of water I swear there were fish swimming in it, it is so deep and I described them to Cathy. For some reason she didn’t believe me although I’m not sure why? Pass me my flippers and snorkel please. Anyone got a spare oxygen tank I’m just off to dive into Cathy’s bathroom.”
The next morning we had breakfast and it consisted of the most expensive egg and sausage barm in the known world at £4.70 at the Norton Canes. Ouch, seriously OUCH. Talk about Dick Turpin or banditry. I was waiting for the stockings to go over the staff’s faces as we got to the till but I hadn’t realised we were going to be mugged as well as held to ransom!
Outside, as we ate our fair food (nearly) the rain hammered down on the road and bounced upwards to try again before settling in gigantic flooded sections. There was thunder and lightening flashing through the sky as we rode onwards, great streaks of light and deep rumbles of thunder could be heard above the engine noise. We stopped after a hundred miles just before a tropical monsoon struck which absolutely cleared the car park of the services. Even the smokers dived in foregoing their drag on the nicotine stick which was already being sheltered in their hand to protect it from the rain.
We talked about how angry God must be as before he only sent the rain for 40 days and 40 nights before and yet – from our reckoning – it has been raining more-or-less constantly since the end of May; it is now with middle of August!
The road onwards for this elusive badge which Cathy wants is a wall of spray with very poor visibility and lots and lots of ‘Jesus Drivers’ as I called them from this point onwards. They continued to skate past me on their superior rubber (do you spot sarcasm again?) On many occasions the bucket of water was launched at us as wagons went past in the middle lane and life was fun and frivolity.
Just occasionally, the rain would stop and the sun would break out in little pockets of optimism before the clouds – looking like white fluffy marshmallows – grew dark and angry and swirled in the sky before unloading another torrent on water on us. As we got further South through the country the weather did clear with only small patches of drizzle and by the time Truro was reached (in the South of England near the coast) the weather was largely fine.
The traffic built from this point onwards with miles of slow moving masses all crawling their way along the A30 and at this point my thumbs started to shout at me again. Louder and louder they complained as we passed at least 25 camp sites as Cathy wanted ‘some comfort’ for the last few days (she’s gone soft on me!) We stopped and checked Hotels and B&Bs constantly with outrageous prices of £68 per person per night. This may not seem a lot to you reading this but for me (Bernard) £136 per night?
Pull on the balaclava and put a gun to my head.
As I said to one receptionist;
“I don’t want to BUY the room, I only want to USE IT for a night”.
It could be the Northern mentality I suppose but it did seem ridiculously expensive. Then again, perhaps it was just me. If this is the case then, time after time, it seems that everywhere was charging this price. Onwards we drove past Truro and other places on the way to Penzance with me saying “I’ll just try here.”
Off the bike we would climb, I would take my helmet and gloves off, walk into an (overpriced) hotel only to come back out, on with helmet, on with gloves, on with Cathy and off we would go again. Only to repeat the process time and time again.
We had virtually given up when we were passing through Goldsithney (about 4 miles from Penzance) looking for a camp site when we saw The Trevelyan Arms.
Off with the helmet, gloves (carefully as my thumbs are screaming at me in pain by then), tramps into bar leaving Cathy despairing at every finding anywhere.
Emerges from Bar with wide grin on face (which Cathy can’t see), B&B for £55 per night – now that is what I call a proper price. None of this fancy stuff. None of this pretentiousness about facilities. Honest to goodness value. It even had it’s own back parking facilities for the owners themselves where the bike could go plus a barn to unload the luggage into.
Bernard – “Love it. Fantastic. Done, two nights, Oh, what the hell (with Cathy’s prompting), make it three nights please!”
Cathy – “I knew Bernard was tired and his hands were giving him a lot of trouble. Across the trip I have found he tends to go quiet when things are not going well. His tone of voice becomes more subdued – he sighs a lot more and the sighs are different than his normal ones! Because I have got to know him a lot better I knew his hands were giving him problems. He needed to get off the bike and away from the handlebars. As it was I was pleased he could now relax for a few days and let his hands hold nothing more than a glass!”
Bernard – “My thumbs are, again, very, very sore and extremely painful to move. This is proving to be a real problem on the bike. I don’t know why as I’ve ridden this bike for a few years under these conditions with no problems. It seems to be related to dense slow moving traffic with constant up and down gear changes and braking. I have been trying to work out whether it is the handlebar positioning but I cannot solve it as I have never had this before. I’m puzzled. I think I was also getting annoyed and frustrated with the prices of the Hotels. As I said to one receptionist – I don’t want to buy the room I only want to use it for one night!”
So it was that we ended up with a lovely room and lovely staff taking care of us (our thanks to Heather). We slept like a log on that first night.
The next morning we met the owners Tricia and Mike – and their three soft coated Wheaton Terriers (Lili, Geogia and Flora). Tricia and Mike did everything to make us comfortable; including a breakfast fit for four people never mind two! After we levered ourselves out of the chairs after breakfast – such was the amount of food set out before us – we set off to find the elusive Land’s End / John O’Groats badge (874 miles) for Cathy. We had seen the badges at John O’Groats but she was banned from getting one as you have to do it to buy it (although to be fair she wouldn’t have bought one anyway!)
Land’s End was a disappointment for Cathy in many ways.
Cathy – “It felt so commercialised and it does not feel at the end of the country like John O’Groats. The roads were better than I expected and the whole place does not feel as ‘rugged’ as in the north. It was so noisy and more like a children’s playground than the end of the country.”
Bernard – “It is so tacky and commercialised, God it even has fake rock formations around some of the ‘attractions’. There are long queues for everything and it feels more like Alton Towers than anything else”.
however, find the elusive badges and take some pictures and, as always, I bought a baseball hat (Land’s End to John O’Groats Challenge) before getting away from there as quick as possible and heading for The Lizard (the true most southerly point).
It was at this time I noticed the rear tire was looking a bit sorry for itself and needing replacing (6000 miles) and so on our way back from Land’s End we headed for Kwik-Fit in Penzance (“Sorry we don’t do bike tyres”).
We walked up to Associated Tyre Services (100 foot away) where a very nice person (Tony Hall) told us that they didn’t stock bike tyres but they could order one for me. “Bring the bike back tomorrow and the tyre would be in” (he assured us). So off we went to the Lizard.
The Lizard was much more in keeping with what Cathy expected. Although it had a raft of shops selling mementos, it ‘felt’ very different. By the time we parked the bike the waves were crashing on the rocks and Cathy was happy.
It also had the silence she had expected. We stood for some time on the (non-barrier edged cliffs) and listened to the silence.
While we sat and talked in the pub at the Lizard about the journey and the fact we had (mostly) completed what we set out to do, a dog wandered in with its owner.
As the owner sat down on a bar stool and ordered his drink, the dog popped its front legs up on the bar and wagged its tail.
I recounted this to Cathy as it happened.
The bar maid was talking to the owner as she handed a bag of pork scratchings to the dog, who promptly (but gently) took the bag in its mouth and dropped to the floor where it proceeded to open the bag with its teeth while holding the bag down with its paws. The whole bag lasted about 5 minutes as it crunched through the contents – much to our amusement.
Once the bag was finished, up it popped onto the bar again with its paws – and wagged its tail at the bar maid.
The same process occurred all over again and we heard the owner say “You’re only allowed two!” but the dog had other ideas and, sure enough, a third bag was despatched.
I could see that the dog was vaguely Labrador but ‘not quite’?
As we sat and finished our drinks Cathy wanted to go and meet the dog and so, long cane in hand, we set off across the bar to meet the four legged ‘pork scratching’ addict. As Cathy knelt down in the bar and started to play with the dog the owner told us the dog was derived from Labrador working stock (longer legged, longer snout, and not as heavily built as, for example, a guide dog which Cathy is used to). After playing with the dog for some time I managed to extract her from playing on the floor and we made our way back to the bike.
The bike was facing down a slope and, as in cases where this happens, people watched as I climbed on the bike and Cathy handed me her folded cane (which sits on the side of the tank bag attached to the petrol tank). She then grabs the bike and heaves backwards on the rear rack, pulling the bike uphill (and backwards) with my little legs paddling backwards. So it was we got the bike up the hill enough for me to turn it around. Cathy – by this time – is about 20 paces away standing in no-mans land. At this point what we do is she listens as I give her directions to where I am sitting on the bike (“Five paces forward and two to the side” etc.) On the bike she climbs and off we go leaving people scratching their heads at what they have witnessed. Such it has been throughout the trip so far of puzzled, bemused expressions and anywhere between whispered conversations through to direct approaches and conversations.
On reaching the hotel our water baby friend disappeared into the shower and the evening was spent in the bar where the excellent food was despatched as we talked though the day’s activities and this journal was written.
Friday saw another breakfast to die for and Cathy ate everything in sight (corn flakes, cooked breakfast, croissants) – even drinking three cups of coffee. She blames being with me for too long regarding this last event as I am an ‘intravenous’ coffee addict and would plug myself into the peculator if I could!
While we were having breakfast the laptop was being pounded as we updated the online journals as Lili, Flora and Georgia barked at Cathy for the inevitable stroke she would give them. Mike and Tricia very kindly allowed us to use their internet connection (in the loft) to connect our laptop to so that we could check emails and update the site.
Sitting in our inbox were several emails from India where George Abraham He was very keen to organise events for when we arrive in the region and, across several phone calls, he proved to be a mine of information. We look forward to working with him when we arrive the India. It is gratifying people from across great distances can see the potential for what we are setting out to do.
After answering many emails from around the world (including several from Canada where Cathy is to appear in a book published by the Canadian Council for the Blind) we set off to Associated Tyre Services (ATS) to see if the tyre had arrived.
The tyre had arrived and Tony apologised and told us it was not possible for his staff to actually take the wheel off the bike – they could fit the tyre but not do the necessary spanner work to remove it from the the bike.
So it was that Cathy sat on a tyre in the workshop while I crawled around the bike taking an exhaust off, undoing wheel nuts and brake connections. Eventually I could let the existing tyre down so that the wheel would come out. As the wheel came out of the frame the brake shoes exploded outwards and springs flew everywhere across the workshop! Fortunately we could locate them and while the fitters worked on the wheel I put the brakes back together.
By the time everything was done my hands were black and my tea shirt needed a severe pounding in a washing machine – or kitchen sink! But, with the handful of swarfega and a scrubbing brush in the ATS sink at least I looked something like presentable as we rode away for the short trip into Penzance.
The last few days had seen Cathy enquiring about a whipped ice cream but absolutely none could be found anywhere. We could find the ‘hard’ scoop ice-cream (they were sold every few yards, or so it seemed) but the ‘whipped’ (with a flake of course) had proved to be elusive. Shop after shop was explored for the Holy Grail of The Whipped Ice-Cream with The Flake. Eventually, however, we did find one and we sat on the sea front while Cathy savoured this most elusive of items as we talked across the last few weeks with all the ups and downs we had encountered.
We continued to talk (with descriptions of shops and contents thrown in) as we walked back towards the bike. One poor young man stepped off the narrow pavements when he saw the white cane and nearly ended up on the bonnet of a (going too fast) car. The car driver’s furious honk on the horn and Anglo-Saxon use of language was not befitting the events. To be fair, however, he may not have even realised the reason he nearly had his details taken by the police for a Road Traffic Accident (RTA) involving a pedestrian was due to Cathy. At least I could see that he wasn’t on a mobile phone although he obviously did have a significant hearing impairment by the volume of the music streaming from the – open – windows.
We are both a little more subdued as we write this. The Land’s End to John O’Groats trip is almost over and tomorrow we head home. After being on the road for nearly four weeks we have so settled into a pattern that it is hard to contemplate ‘normality’ as what we are doing has become normal.
It is a mental thing state we are talking about here. You settle into travelling and never knowing where you will sleep or eat each night. It is a state of mind Cathy has adjusted to very well and it has never really presented any problems on its own. We now take each day as it comes and respond to changing events and people as and when they occur. It bodes well for the future given some of the problems we have overcome on this trip.
When we arrived back at Goldsithny Cathy disappeared into the shower (yes, again) while I pulled tools out of the torpedo tubes and did some adjustments on the bike for the 300+ miles home. The intercom system has been playing up for a while and Cathy can only hear me through one ear and so I pulled all the wires apart and re-soldered some bits and then successfully taped it all together again.
Later on we talked about how good it had been to sit still for these few days and take stock of events and talk through our experiences (including the disagreements and bad roads of the previous week).
After riding through the bad weather for so long, putting up tents in the rain, taking them down in the rain and generally being wet throughout the day, it was good to have this little oasis of respite. We could catch our breath and unwind a little and play catch up on a range of things (emails, journals and web site).
When we turned in for the night we were satisfied with what we had achieved and we genuinely looked forward to next June when we set off for what we now call the ‘Big One’.
The next morning saw a fine day with little rain forecast as we said our farewells to Mike, Tricia and the Trevelyn Arms where we had been made very welcome. If you are ever looking for somewhere to stay then both of us would recommend you looking them up. They are considering setting up a small camp site behind the pub and it will be a great place to stay and pitch a tent (good food, drinks and pleasant company, what more could you ask for?)
The traffic on the whole A30 from Penzance was probably the worst I have even experienced in 32 years on bikes as we headed back North. Within 30 miles my two thumbs were causing me some severe problems as we crawled along for mile, after mile, after mile. We only did 130 miles in nearly four hours such was the density of the traffic.
The rain stayed off until we hit the midlands (Birmingham) although the 344 miles (as it turned out) were largely dry until the true downpour hit at Warrington where the heavens opened and dumped on us for one last time! All in all it took us 8 hours to cover the 344 miles. My thumbs are going to be have looked at professionally as they do concern me with 25,000 miles to cover. We have looked at what is going on and we cannot decide whether it is the handlebar layout (never a problem until now) or whether it is a combination of this and age. Whatever the reason, we will have to investigate and try to put it right otherwise we will have to take a few days rest when they hit me – as it seems they will.
It was strange really that in the 2930 miles we covered altogether we only had two ‘serious’ moments. The first was our friend in the Post Office Van in the middle of nowhere on Lewis. The second was on this trip home.
The road was wet and it was raining when a people carrier came out of the services, driving straight into the middle lane at 50mph in order to overtake the car in front of him – who was probably doing 45mph.
Nowhere to go either left or right (cars and wagons all around me) and so the only thing left to do was to brake (as heavily as the rain permitted) and keep my fingers crossed (the ones that were not white knuckled on the handlebars).
Fortunately the bike was stable and (I like to think) the two tyres gave their full money’s worth at this point as I braked very heavily (and prayed). The bearded driver looked at me with not a flicker of acknowledgement as he continued with the conversation on his mobile phone – when we overtook him a few hundred yards later. I suppose he was not even aware of what he had done or the accident he had nearly caused as he went from slipway to middle lane in dense traffic. As I said to Cathy at the time;
“All that way…….and we nearly got wiped out by a 50 mph middle-laner with a mobile phone stuck on his head.”
It was close, very, very close!
If you have not seen the interview broadcast on Sky and Virgin Digital Channels select the picture below to watch the interview.
Select here for week one report, here for week two, here for week three and here for week four.