Month: August 2022

Mate/Bloke/Chap and Lass

In the busy market town of Bigger, Scotland, (this means there is more than a church, pub, and village store), between the green hills of Bloughton and the green hills of Thankerton, we met a group of mates/blokes/chaps getting ready for an afternoon bike ride. They were chatty and friendly and I asked them the question I have asked several mates/blokes/chaps who interchangeably refer to each other with these jaunty nouns. How do you refer to people who are not men? One immediately said, “My wife is a lady.” Not suggesting otherwise, I pushed on. One bloke, after a thoughtful pause said, well you could say “lass” and another, looking at Jo and me said, “well if you stretch it a bit…” I took that as a compliment.

Our new BFFs…
actually BMCs (Blokes/Mates/Chaps) from Biggar, Scotland.
Merian Webster provides an example of how to use Lass in a sentence, “She’s only a gawky lass now, but she’ll be a beautiful woman someday.”
Maybe if Jo and I wipe the bike grease off our legs we could qualify as a lass!

Actually, I think we will stick with the gender-neutral term “cyclist!”

We came upon a statue in the tongue-twister town of Ecclefecham heralding their local claim to fame, Thomas Carlyle. The description of his life does not even once refer to him as a bloke, mate, or chap. He was a CRITIC OF LETTERS.

Although Thomas Carlyle kicked around quite a bit in his career —he thought about being a minister and a lawyer – and ultimately was an “essayist, satirist, historian, teacher, and critic of letters…,” he had purpose. He wrote, “A person with a clear purpose will make progress even on the roughest road. A person with no purpose will make no progress, even on the smoothest road.”

Smooth roads are definitely overrated.

When not stopping to fix tires (tyres), or meet the locals, we are riding. And riding. And riding. Past sheep and more sheep, and cows and more cows, and green and more green. Scotland is spectacular.

I am ‘thankerton’ to be on this trip meeting BMCs with my fellow lasses (AKA cyclists)!

Wordsworth country

The “romantic poets” were inspired by the lush landscape of Westmoreland, Yorkshire, Cumbria and surrounding counties. The last several days’ green hillsides (emphasis on hills) seem exactly as Wordsworth would have viewed them- just not from a bike!

We have pedaled past the half way point – closing in on 600 miles. Today was a treat putting our “big” hill of the day behind us first thing in the morning. Coming down a steep pitch on a single track lane with a farmer driving up, is an experience.
Cycling through the Forest of Bowland was a spectacular ride. Where are the trees? Used as royal hunting grounds for centuries, the Forest of Bowland is primarily covered in undulating blankets of heather and peat across hills and dales.
Beyond Ingleton we cycled through the Yorkshire Dales before descending into the tiny village of Dent. ,
Jo in Dent, a lovely town that reminded me of a Swiss Village tucked in the Dee River valley.
We watched a farmer and his son herd sheep in the Yorkshire Dales.

Just as we were about to hop on our bikes after our castle exploration, this Tractor Parade emerged from a side road with nearly 200 tractors of every size shape and color imaginable. We were very glad not have been in front of them!

Weather forecasting stone. It works!

We are not far from Liverpool and the Beatles’ heartland. The Beatles (John Lennon) wrote Rain “about people who are always moaning about the weather all the time.” I like rain. The actual thing. And I also like the Beatles song. Each morning, when we poke our heads out of our B&B, the light mist and puddles that greet us seems perfectly lovely for a ride in the UK.

The castle (and all castles in these parts!) is surrounded by grazing animals completely unfazed by Hopton Castle’s (and presumably all castles’) medieval history and bloody English Civil War.

Castles and pubs. We have seen our fair share of both!

If you peer at this photo, you will see the name: The New Inn. We met this fellow in front of a the New Inn about to embark on a drizzly hike along the Welsh border along King Offa’s Dyke, built to protect the English from “the marauding Welsh” as he called them. I asked why it was called the new inn, since he had just told me it was likely built in the 1400s. He said, well, of course, there are older inns!! It also holds a pub. If it hadn’t been before noon, Jo and I would have liked to buy Kevin a brew and keep listening to his stories. He has centuries of them!

Rain is always followed by sun— even in the UK! Today we hollered the Beatles’ Here comes the Sun!

It was perfect weather for a lunchtime picnic before another climb!
And our first farm-fresh ice cream!
Even the cows perked up!
These cows came right up to me to check out my cheddar cheese sandwich. Maybe it came from a friend of theirs?
Now for the signs…
It seems to me whatever your age, young or old, or in-between, and whatever you are, human, sheep, cow, horse, duck, or anything else, a simple sign that says DRIVE SLOWLY would say it best. Aargh! When I saw this I nearly ran over Cindy on her trike!
Thank goodness, this sign doesn’t specify “elderly duck”.
And we are still searching for the right turn!

Keep Calm and Carry On

When I imagined this trip with its “civilised” mileage averaging just over 50 miles/day, I thought we would have heaps of time to stop at cute little cafes, enjoy cream teas (tea+scones+jam+thickly spread buttery cream) and roll into our quaint B&Bs in mid-afternoon with time to stroll through the village. Not on your life. So far we are averaging less than 10 miles per hour, with as much time standing with our bikes leaning on farm gates, wondering if we go left or right at the horse, sheep, or cow. The good news of this slow pace, is that it is easy to soak in the landscape.

Turn right at the sheep with the green markings; left at the blue!

Each morning, we leave right after our English breakfast (or bowls of yogurt after one too many fat sausage, thick slab of bacon, pile of baked beans, fried toast, tomato, and egg). We determine which way is north, and begin to hunt and peck our way, cycling on lanes that most often are the width of a small car that doesn’t mind scratch marks.

Too much of a good thing, Kathy?!
Heading to Cheddar from Stamford Peverell.
Who knew right after this bucolic scene we would need to cross a train track with a train barreling toward us!
This little fellow must have fallen out of one of the hedges!
What a lovely tradition. Every home has a name… usually something like Rose Cottage, Highview Farm, or Ivy Manor.
This house can’t decide!
Reminds me of a friendly argument I overheard yesterday in the grocery store in Wales between eight-year old identical twin boys. The first, “Mummy, are we Welsh? The other, “Mummy, are we British?” Mummy, “Youare Welsh AND British.” She didn’t mention that others have asked before and lost their heads over it! So yes, it is possible to be Welsh and British and to be a manor, a farm, and a cottage!

We feel victorious when we arrive at our evening accommodation in 10 hours. Some inns are lovely, while others offer local color like the one in Wales literally located across from “booze corner” (Welsh for pub)?!

As advertised!
Onward to England and the tiny Tudor village of Weobly where we are staying in this 450 year-old house.
Our lovely B&B host, Sian, with an equally lovely Welsh name, (pronounced Shawn) introduced me to her favorite breakfast sauce, packaged in honor of my heroine, Her Majesty, for the Jubilee!
The nearby St. Peter and St. Paul’s Church recently celebrated its 900-year anniversary!
A one-of -a-kind building, with the end frame cut from one huge split tree.
A different one-of-a-kind reminder that the sun will always shine.

So why are we doing this ride called the LEJOG (Land’s End to John O’Groats)?

My friends and I were charmed by our southern friend, Cindy, who rides a trike with a jaunty flag and says y’all even in England. She proposed this trip to our group. The five of us from five different US states met on our cross-country bike trip in 2014. This time we are riding 1,100 from the bottom to the top of the UK over 22 days (with two rest days), carrying our gear, attempting to follow a route through small Villages, and staying in Bed & Breakfasts.

We are better in our second act, not taking ourselves too seriously. But when we all said, YES, we certainly didn’t know that Cornwall and Devon are England’s Rocky Mountains!

Cindy rolling…
Jo and Kathy on the A30.

Cindy said that the LEJOG ride is famous. The four of us (and likely most everyone reading this) have never heard of this route, first walked by some blokes in the late 1800s. Since then, all sorts of people (Brits mostly) have done it, some naked! Given the temps, we don’t expect to become the next Calendar Girls (originally Yorkshire women who made a name for themselves as feisty philanthropists by delicately positioning flowers over their bodies, in a page-turning calendar that raised LOTS of money for a local cause).

Our gear would be a whole lot lighter if we went this route.

One local woman upon hearing that Cindy was our impetus for this particular ride said, “Let’s hope she doesn’t get a hankering to swim the English Channel!”

My colleague, Joe Coughlin, director of the MITAgeLab, recently published an article in Forbes magazine highlighting research that demonstrates that socialization is good for one’s health— and that women have perfected this healthy behavior.

So here we are eating Nutella sandwiches, laughing, and hoping that we will still be laughing after 22 days when we arrive in northern Scotland.

Always on the lookout for signs that make me smile, I wasn’t disappointed on today’s ride from Tiverton to Cheddar. After climbing ANOTHER mountain (17 % grade) we swooped down into farm country.

By the looks of this curled up kitten, these cats are NOT sleeping over raucous pubs noisy until midnight like two of our Bed & Breakfasts this week!
How much is it fresh?

12,000 feet of elevation? Yikes!

Land’s End, England to John O’Groats, Scotland

Last night our group of five tired riders stayed in a renovated Benedictine Abbey in Tavistock, Cornwall, built in the 10th century. Needless to say, with its thick stone walls, there was no internet and no posting! Not that it mattered as we arrived so late and exhausted from a terrifically hard day of riding: 60 miles and 6,000 feet of climbing in intermittent heavy rain with some grades of 13-15 percent!

Cindy on one of the many cart paths on our rainy ride.
Uh oh! Does anyone know if there is a bike mechanic in the next town? Success! We found Martin-the-Mechanic who didn’t have much business on a rainy day. He adjusted Kathy’s drive train in no time at all with a smile and a wave.

Today’s 60 mile ride offered an identical elevation gain of 6,000 feet. This is a habit we would like to break — soon! Today, in addition to the ubiquitous sawtooth hills with steep vertical climbs and drops, we started the day with a marvelous 6 mile hill in Dartmoor National Park. Just up, up, up at a steady grade amidst extraordinary flora and fauna.

We left Cornwall for Devon and entered the incredible Dartmoor National Park, with its lovely purple-hued moors.
Skittish sheep, wild ponies, and grazing cattle were all curious as we road by.
Thoughout the moors are reminders of ancient Celtic history with solitary stone crosses dotting the gorgeous landscape.

The sun came out and I had a lovely chat with the proprietor of a shop in Postbridge as we left the Dartmoor National Park. He told me stories of mysterious Bronze Age rock circles. And sold me postcards (!) and flapjacks, a locally- made fruit and oat bar that Barb introduced us to. Along with the blackberries growing along every hedge, we are eating everything in site. Of course, until the giant hedge cutter comes along!

Some of the hedges are like The Green Monster at Fenway Park!

It is quite an experience making our way down cart-paths, with wooden sign-posts seemingly pointing to everywhere but the places we are headed. Suffice it to say that we have gotten lost.

This is one road I am NOT ready to turn down!

It’s a long way down!

Land’s End, England to John O’Groats, Scotland

At the start of a long coast to coast ride, the ritual is to dip our bicycle wheels into the ocean signaling the start and end of our ride. Not on your life in Land’s End!

The Celtic Sea is beautiful, but treacherous.
It’s not hard to imagine why this coast off of Land’s End has been the site of so many ship wrecks over 100s of years.

We settled for a morning photo on the cliff at the iconic sign marking the beginning of our journey.

Our first official day started misty and windy as we left Land’s End and headed along the western coast of Cornwall. Even when the fog caused our visibility to shrink and the sea to melt away, locals we passed, emerging like apparitions as we slowly cycles down narrow lanes (barely wide enough for one car and our bikes), greeted us, “Good day, mate! Lovely day!”

45 miles down, and 1055 miles and lots more elevation to go! Our route is longer than the direct route to ensure that we avoid the motorways and maximize those narrow lanes and opportunities to get lost.
Tonight’s accommodations? The wind off the sea will dry our wet clothes nicely!

If you go to Land’s End, plan for rain (of course!)

Land’s End, England to John O’Groats, Scotland: laughing and pedaling with four friends

The train ended at Penzance which is where our bike trip began this morning, leaving from the Queen’s Hotel (!) on the A30 to that elusive southwesterly town of Land’s End. Riding on a narrow road past hedges and cows, signs pointing to spots for clotted cream tea in stone cottages, a light rain falling, mist coating our glasses: exactly as promised in any UK travel book!

Where’s Cindy? We arrived at the Land’s End Hotel ahead of Cindy still tangled in logistics.

I passed an entrepreneurial fellow, Mr.Matthew’s, who can surely build you a lovely made-to-order casket. We hope we have no need for his services.

And I am already so hungry after our first short ride that this see food and eat it sign hit the mark!!

If Queen Elizabeth could do it…

Land’s End, England, to John O’ Groats, Scotland: laughing and pedaling with four friends

Queen Elizabeth was a mechanic during WWII. At 18 she joined the army and trained as a Jeep mechanic and was mighty good at it, too, according to my 98-year old friend, Charlotte who paid close attention to the feats of her contemporary. This is not a surprise to the Brits. Even the Brits waiting in line at Logan International Airport to return home, eyeing my bike box, agreed that if The Queen could work as a mechanic I most certainly could assemble my bike (something I sheepishly admitted I had never done before despite my years in the saddle).

After clearing customs and retrieving my bike box at Heathrow, I parked myself in a corner, and two plus hours later (thank you YouTube instruction videos and my practice session with Ed), I victoriously wheeled my assembled bike onto the train into London.

Once in the hot and bustling city, I tracked down a bike shop open on a Sunday and, for good measure, asked a bike mechanic to check the torque on the handlebar and pedals (not wanting them to fall off mid-ride) and got a thumbs up! First challenge overcome! Today’s intention: I resolve to channel Her Majesty on this journey through the UK, and when in a pickle, remember her indomitable spirit, resolve, and and savvy. If HM can do it, (and I know she could ride a bike 1,100 miles through England, Wales, and Scotland if she wanted to) then I can do it. And she might just do it wearing a jaunty hat under her bike helmet and carrying her corgi in a bike pannier, too.

Successful train ride (in the time of UK train strikes) from London to Penzance where our group of laughing friends is beginning to assemble to make our way to that elusive southern point and dip our bikes into the Celtic sea at Land’s End.

Jo, Barb, and Kathy in Penzance discussing the weather forecast…more to come!