Eight years ago, I cycled 1,000 miles solo from John O’Groats to Land’s End in aid of the children’s cancer ward in the RVI,Newcastle. Last year, I thought about doing another ride and planned to do it in 2018.
In 2017, my sister-in-law battled breast cancer successfully – it was a traumatic time for Nicola and the whole family.
During that time, she was treated in the oncology unit based in Alnwick Infirmary. The staff were incredibly professional but also very kind, compassionate and so friendly. It seemed the natural choice of a chosen charity for the bike ride.
The Percy Farmers Cricket Club had a Sunday lunch in June and we raised £1,000 on the day. Lloyds, Rickerby, Simpsons Malt, Alnmouth and Lesbury Cricket Club, Lance Robson and Amble Dental Practice all sponsored generously. David Purvis from KW Purvis offered 50p/mile which was incredibly kind. Relations,friends and people whom I’ve never met sponsored me. Even though their kindness meant so much, there are too many to mention. But thank you one and all.
I set off from Marshall Meadows Bay on the England/Scotland border on June 25, the bike weighed down with everything I hopefully would need (and more as it turned out) during the heatwave. I travelled through Kelso, Hawick, Langholm and Carlisle, a total of 98 miles and, in hindsight, the easiest day, flatish and little traffic until Carlisle.
The next day, I left early down the A6 to Penrith, over to Shap, Kendal, Lancaster and through Preston – 100 miles and the unpleasant negotiation of large towns in the process but a good day.
The third day was tougher again as the heat and traffic were a big issue. I pedalled through Wigan, Warrington and into Shropshire, finishing at Church Stretton, a day’s total of 102 miles.
The fourth day again was incredibly hot. As per usual, I missed breakfast as I left at 6.30am to make progress before the traffic and temperature increased. Onwards to Leominster and through Hereford and into Wales. All was going well until I left the A49 and then hill after hill until I reached Monmouth, the bike and panniers weighing over 25kg. I had to push the bike up some of the climbs.
At mile 60, I was jiggered until I found a roadside burger van. Cheeseburger and sugary tea consumed, I set off and, at 70 miles, felt great again. Down the beautiful Wye Valley, past Tintern Abbey, Chepstow, over the Severn Bridge into Avonmouth and on to Bristol, passing underneath the Clifton Suspension Bridge on my way.
The fifth day was the shortest but hardest, only 80 miles but so hot. Leaving Bristol, I cycled to Bridgewater, where I had a meeting at Rhino rugby, although I’m a farmer, I also service scrummage machines, too, on a part-time basis. This delayed me but it was great to see some people I knew. On through Taunton and Wellington.
Actually feeling so good, I shouted congratulations to a group of people standing and hugging outside the church. To my horror, just after I shouted and gave them the thumbs-up, I spotted a hearse parked under a tree. – probably the lowest point of my trip. With great haste, I left the village, expecting a group of angry mourners to beat me up.
Then to Tiverton and Crediton, climb after climb, some of which I had to get off and push, which was soul-destroying. Later, I reached West Sandford. My brother Andrew, as on some other days, had found me somewhere to stay, often at short notice as I flagged later in the day. He told my tale and I arrived with the owners offering a discount because the ride was for charity.
June 30 was the sixth day, again in stifling heat but luckily no headwind again. A hard first 24 miles until I reached the A30. I had done that road eight years previously, so knew what to expect.
A massive amount of traffic and hills but manageable ones past Okehampton and Launceston. At that point, I was listening to Alan Price singing the Jarrow Song on my iPod and a Rothbury Motors coach passed on the other carriageway heading back to Alnwick, which made me smile.
Over Bodmin Moor and finishing the day at Redruth, thinking if I hadn’t stopped at the Rhino office I would have finished in six days. Tired but nearly there and in the knowledge that my wife Suzanne was on her way down, courtesy of Andy Harmieson of Northen Rail, who, with help from Cross Country, had also arranged that my bike and I return with a complimentary ticket.
July 1,the first cloudy day but only 35 miles, past Penzance and the nasty 10 miles to Land’s End. I arrived a tired but happy chap to be greeted by Suzanne waiting for me. I can’t thank Andy enough – the last time, I arrived and left alone, feeling a bit flat.
We had the obligatory photos taken and Suzanne caught the bus, but there were no bikes allowed, so I had to cycle back to Penzance as the sun broke through, finishing with a total of 620 miles done.
After I had a shower, we went to the pub, walked around Penzance then visited Mousehole and had a fantastic evening meal with a huge amount to talk about.
We returned to Northumberland the following day, very happy to be home. I’m not sure how much I enjoyed the bike ride but the feeling of achievement and satisfaction of cycling around 100 miles/day in that heat and with so much weight on the bike was fantastic.
Last week, along with family, Andy and some Percy Farmers, I handed £6,393 over to Cath Milham from the oncology unit, meeting her in The Plough in Alnwick.
The PFCC opened a bar tab and we had a wonderful couple of hours chatting to Cath and her partner Nev.
The reality is, as hard as the ride was, it’s only tired legs. The work Cath and the team do at Alnwick Infirmary is absolutely amazing.
It’s an incredibly important local unit as it saves people who are having treatment travelling to the Wansbeck or into Newcastle. Well done to you all there, you do great things – keep up the good work.