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The Scottish Ride  (don't mention Macbeth!)               .... Ralphie at it again.           Back to Rides in 1993

In 1992, I bought a book about a cyclist called Ed Tweddell, who broke many records in the post-war years.  One of the records which he attacked was described as the End-to-End of Scotland.

Following my Land's End to John O'Groats ride, I was immediately interested in this, shorter, ride.  Scotland had been a bit of a blur after covering England immediately before, and so I set about finding more information on the RRAS.

In 1993, the job of secretary of the Road Records Association of Scotland was passed into the hands of George Berwick.  It seemed ironic to me that one of the first schedules he must have received was for an attempt on one of his own records.

I had decided that I could attempt this record on my bike, rather than my trusty tricycle.  A particular point in favour of the bike ride was that it appeared to be possible to do the entire performance in daylight.

So it was, that we started looking for southerly winds in June.  To begin with, we were treated to some days of uncertain weather, and then shortly a stable pattern developed.  Unfortunately, northerly winds were not compatible with my attempt, as I had no interest in starting at John O'Groats (luckily, as it turned out).

Eventually, there materialised the prospect of a short period of winds from the south.  With the usual hopeful excitement, I mobilised a team of John Dalton, Andy Burnet and Hedley Stennett to travel in my car.

I started towards Scotland at 10 am on Sunday 27th June, collecting John & Andy before stopping for lunch at the Ram Jam.  We picked Hedley up a little later, and headed for Scotch Corner, and the A66 to Penrith and Carlisle.

We stayed overnight at a farmhouse just south of the border, and breakfasted at 3.45 am.  We were lucky to find a landlady sufficiently interested in my project to make her get up as ridiculously early as the rest of us!

Here goes!

As 5am approached, we were at the start point - the Sark Bridge at Gretna Green, within sight of the famous Blacksmith's Cottages. 

(photos by John Dalton except where marked)

An independent witness turned up in the shape of Jim Thorburn, driving his distinctive motorised tricycle.

(Jim, wearing a sky-coloured hat, sends me on my way)

The first stretch of this ride is slightly more complex than in the past, as the A74 is a motorway where it passes Gretna.  I crossed the A75, then followed a newly classified B-road which shadows the new stretch of A74(M).  Any "real" End-to-Enders will have to do this as well, which will add a little interest to their ride.

Just as I joined the A74 at Kirkpatrick Fleming, I caught sight of my car being driven along the wrong road.  Not bad, I thought, 4 miles gone and I've already lost my vehicle.

Even at 5:15 am, the A74 is busy.  I had to concentrate on holding my line, despite being pushed around by the turbulence from the many large trucks.  By 6:20, I had left this main road, and was passing through the serenity of Moffat.  I climbed positively to the Beef Tub summit, and zoomed down towards the Crook Inn.

(Andy Burnet supplies hi-tech nutrition into my freakish hands)

There seemed to be quite a helpful wind, which took me through Leadburn and Penicuik to the Edinburgh ringroad.  I was 9 minutes up on schedule here, as I arrived at 8:31.  It's not quite the chaos of the M25, but there was plenty of action.  One stretch had a following wind as I was going downhill - the speedo was saying over 35mph for a long time!  Eventually I reached the Gogar roundabout, and a swift manoeuvre took me across and then onto the road to the Forth Bridge, which was crossed at 9:03 (14 minutes up).

(John Dalton gives me a shout as I approach 5 minutes of isolation) (photo Andy Burnet)

Onto the minor roads now, I followed the route of M90, towards Perth.  I had decided to take a shortcut rather than the conventional road through Cowdenbeath.  My special section was using B917 through Kelty instead.  I had been advised that this alternative was "a bit lumpy", and it certainly was.

Despite being 4 miles instead of 5 miles, there were probably 10 sharp climbs thrown in.  I coped, but I'd only been going for 100 miles - I wouldn't recommend it after 600.

Through Kinross and Glenfarg, I descended to the Bridge of Earn and Perth - where I received encouragement from George & Margaret Berwick.  The hill to the M90 seemed much easier than I had remembered it, although the exit from Perth was much slower due to major roadworks.

The Grampians

Onto the A9, and suddenly there was a crowd of about 20 people standing in a layby, shouting excitedly at me.  It turned out that John Murdoch, whose 12 hour record I was also attempting, was taking a group of students on a day out - which just happened to coincide with my ride.  I didn't know this at the time, and so was a bit confused.

Roadworks were a feature of the next few miles, where extensive resurfacing was going on.  Luckily, I didn't have to ride on freshly chipped roads, although I looked forward to the time when the surface would return to the smooth fast stuff which I remembered from 1992.

Unfortunately, the chipped surface is the norm along almost the whole stretch to Inverness - banishing the racing cyclist to the painted white line at the side.

As the sun beat down, I fought to keep the speedo saying 20 mph.  On one or two places, such as the Pass of Killiecrankie, I was forced onto the inner chainwheel - but generally, the climbs aren't particularly tough and I kept fairly big gears moving well.

(Hedley supplies a bottle of liquidised rice & banana - yuck)

I finally reached the Drumochter Summit after 8:08, which put me 25 mins up on schedule.  I soon stopped for a clothes change, and felt revitalised as I hit the tailwind section along to Aviemore.  From 180 to 190 miles took just 23:35, so it was easy to look positively ahead to the climb to Slochd.

The climb was fairly routine - just an immensely long slog - but it was now that I realised that my efforts of earlier seemed to be taking their toll. 

At the summit, I was again treated to the sight of the mysterious coach-load of people screaming encouragement.  I also caught sight of Ian Bishop, who was to time my 12 hour finish.  His first view of me was of a rather sad, slow rider.

He quickly formed an opinion that I was unlikely to get to John O'Groats in that condition - luckily my team didn't pass on this pessimistic view to me.  Had they done so, however, I would certainly have agreed.

I made heavy weather of the various lumps and bumps at Tomatin and Daviot, before the final descent to Inverness.  There was a noticeable temperature drop as I approached the Moray Firth, and I was distinctly unhappy as I climbed over the Kessock Bridge onto the Black Isle.

(on the Black Isle, after Quite a Few Miles of Climbing)

But still, I had managed to remain 22 minutes ahead of schedule.  I was therefore looking at 257 miles in the 12 hour, which would substantially increase John Murdoch's previous record of 240.5.  Therefore, I tried to put in some kind of finishing effort.  However, we were starting to see the first roadsigns for J O'G, and they were talking about 120 miles to go.  This was not good news for someone who was knackered.

Additionally, as I rode down the north face of the Black Isle, I was hitting quite a serious headwind.  A shout from John Dalton of "only sea breezes!" was not convincing.  He was correct, as the problem died away in a few miles - but it was difficult to believe at the time.

Onto the mainland again, and I tried to burn it up for the last 15 minutes of the 12 hour.  After some semblance of a sprint, I passed my 257 mile check just before time ran out.  I briefly stopped before sulkily continuing towards the real End.

The last 100

Despite having just done a good job on the 12 record, I was despondent about the seeming impossibility of ever reaching John O'Groats.  All strength seemed to have left me, and 100 miles more cycling struck me as a joke in poor taste. 

Ruefully, I reminded myself that I couldn't possibly abandon, as far too many people knew that I was doing the ride.  Also, I don't think that I'd have been allowed in the car while still "up" on the record.

Meanwhile, I was still managing 19 mph, and was still 17 minutes up on schedule at the Dornoch Firth.  At The Mound, I was still 16 minutes up after 286 miles, and this was held as far as Brora (296 in 14-09).

I slumped a bit as I approached Helmsdale, where I had a wheel change.  This was to give me a gear of 42x20 for the climbs, rather than 42x17.  Unfortunately, there were technical problems with this wheel, and the change took several minutes.

Additional complications on this section were a large number of road resurfacing crews, which meant interruptions to my concentration, and a certain amount of riding on very freshly chipped roads.  Strangely, though, the road just prior to being chipped was a fantastic smooth surface, which was probably the best I saw all day.

My schedule was rather optimistic over the next few miles, and despite steady climbing to the Ord and out of Berriedale I found myself losing my advantage, and slipping behind my expected times.  At Latheron, 326 miles, I was in trouble and on the way to Wick I started to fall asleep.

Experience told me that it was worth investing a few precious minutes for rest, and so I stopped.  After sitting in the car for a short period, I put extra clothes on, and set out for the final 30 miles.  I seemed to have found a new lease of life, and was able to attack the various challenges still remaining.

We were joined now by Malcolm Gray, a local cyclist, who acted as a mobile marshall to ensure nothing went wrong in the closing stages.  He checked me through the centre of Wick, and at the right turn in Reiss.

I was riding very positively, and was rather disappointed that I hadn't stopped for extra clothes before.  My mistake had been to presume that just because daylight is longer in the North, that the temperature also stays higher longer.  In fact, by 9pm things were getting quite cool.

I passed Keiss with less than 10 to go, and twilight was approaching.  The next thing I was aware of was yet more roadworks ahead.  Suddenly, the signs sent me sharply off to the left, down a slope, and onto unmade surface!  Not what you need at a time like that!  I rode on the cinders for about a mile, before normality returned. 

(taken the day after the ride - this was the unmade road I had to use after 350 miles...)

Soon I was descending at Freswick, and approaching the last climb.  On the way up, I realised that darkness had definitely arrived, and it was a shout from the murk that said "It's all downhill from the top of this hill!"  I was sceptical, and replied "You promise?"

He was right, and as the timekeeper went ahead, I hit the final run-in.  Hedley and John zoomed off to the Hotel, as Andy travelled behind in Malcolm Gray's car.  There was still enough light for me to see that the speed was over 30 mph as I homed in on the finish.  As I made the last swing left, I had to jam my brakes on when I suddenly realised that I couldn't see where I was going!

Once on the private land, the surface became quite poor, and then I noticed that once over the line, I had about 20 feet in which to stop.  It was a good job that my car had not been left parked just over the line.  You can just see the story!

My time was given as 18 hours 16 minutes 17 seconds, which lowered George's time by 1.1.38.  Naturally, I had hoped to beat 18 hours and get the speed above 20 mph, but to take an hour from the record still represents a reasonable improvement.  In any case, whatever the outcome, it was all part of my plan to get fit for the Championship 24.

We were taken into the hotel, and fed a substantial meal.  By 1 am, we had made our ways to bed.  After breakfast the following morning, we strolled around the various tourist traps which surround the hotel.  I was feeling a little queazy, but thought little of it.  After all, I figured that my body was entitled to feel somewhat odd after a major effort like it had been through.

(casual pose with iconic building casually placed in background..)

However, when John said that his breakfast had made him violently ill, I became a little worried.  He looked most unhappy as we prepared to leave, and it was with considerable apprehension that we set off.

The long drive home

Regrettably, we had to stop several times even before Wick, and it became clear that our long journey ahead was going to take a lot longer than we had hoped.  John was the worst affected, but I was also feeling rough, and it was only after a stop in Tain that I began to feel more normal.

I had arranged that we would visit Ian Bishop at Slochd on the journey home.  Instead of arriving in the late morning, we eventually turned up at 4pm - where the promised late lunch became early tea. 

(Ian Bishop's place.  All those years ago I still couldn't resist capturing sign-writing errors)

Our intentions of getting to Windermere by evening were in tatters, and we had to be grateful for finding somewhere to stay in Perth.

Wednesday morning greeted us with rain, preventing an early morning walk around the town.  Thus, we set off on the long haul to the deep south.  We lunched at Ponteland, made a brief stop at Catterick, and then pressed on to Hedley's home at Tuxford.  After dropping him off, we visited the Pursers, and then made short work of the final 150 miles to arrive home at 10 pm.

The final incident in this tale happened when I was unloading my car.  I slipped over, and ripped a ligament in my left foot.  Even with several trips to receive numerous types of physiotherapy, this kept me off the bike for a further week.  It seems okay now.

Back to Rides in 1993

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