The Castle On The Hill

A 420 mile cycling challenge

I’ve ridden 100 miles a few times, even managing over 190 in one go once, although I really don’t know how I did when I think about it. Last year I managed just over 100 once. So when I sent out an email to my friends saying that I wanted to ride from the city of Bath to the capital of Scotland – 4 days and over 420 miles away, I was hoping that they would say no. They all said yes.

Fast forward 9 months and I’m on my bike in Bath alongside a mixture of friends, colleagues and even strangers as a small crowd of four cheered us off the start line. We were off. One mile later and the first puncture occurred. Great!

I was driven to organise the event because of my growing desire to help the charity that is The Cycle. By the time I was in India a few months before the ride, I was fully committed and even more determined to maximise publicity and therefore, fund raising for the event. You can read about that visit here

The ride was a huge success, but it wasn’t easy. I do though have to admit that it wasn’t as difficult as I thought/worried it would be.

Day One – Bath to Telford: 118 miles 5,764ft elevation gain

This was the longest day and it also had a lot of climbing planned – for the last 30 miles. For those reasons, it was the one I was keen to get out of the way. I really enjoyed it, although it was tough in places and for me, particularly around the 70 mile mark as the roads undulated. I was now a little over dressed, too far from the support vehicle and then cold on every descent. It felt like a winter ride at times.

Day Two – Telford to Chorley: 100 miles 4,180ft elevation gain

I woke up after about six hours sleep with a sore throat and the same headache that I had gone to sleep with, despite the tablets. It was a bright sunny day, everyone else was in a great mood so I put my sunglasses on, kept my head down and decided to lose myself in the group for as many miles as it took to shake it off. 70 miles later that I found the answer.

The day though was special and full of beautiful countryside. First coffee stop was a marina sat outside under the sun as gorgeous sausage sandwiches were brought out to us by the canal barges. Today was also the day my old friend Jon would join us as he lived quite nearby and would finish the rest of the event with us. He. guided us to lunch which was about four hours later and in the beautiful setting that is Tatton Park. A quintessential stately home surrounded by deer, oak trees and rolling fields. This is where my headache numbed.

The final part of the day was traffic dodging through Bolton and surrounding area and it was as frustrating as it was slow. And true to form, we had to finish with more steep out of the saddle hills. Lots of them.

Day Three – Chorley to Carlisle: 105 miles 5,669ft elevation gain

I didn’t care about the mileage or the hills, I just wanted to wake up without a headache. As I opened my eyes to a clear head I was relieved. My legs felt OK, it was cold, but I was feeling good and ready to crack on. We had a great ride; a tough one, but a fun one. The head wind was at times ridiculous. I hadn’t thought too much about that aspect as I had paid a lot of attention to the mileage, climbing and the rain forecast, but not the wind. Oh my, this was wind. It felt like it was blowing all day and I spent way more time than my friends would have appreciated hiding behind them as they rode.

Lunch was a lorry service station on the M6 called Tebay and whilst in the queue a stranger gave us some money for the charity. That was quite a strange but beautiful thing. It had happened twice the day before too; once at the Marina when the staff gave us an envelope after having a whip-round and then again at the hotel when a stranger donated £20 in the name of his dog after hearing about what we were doing. Further proof that people are wonderful.

Our destination lay at the end of long and straight quiet road that was cold, lit by the falling sun and mainly with smooth target. Oh boy, we needed this. I felt good – really good. My legs wanted to kick, my hands wanted to slide onto the drops and only the desire to stay with the others held me back at times. I did though use the opportunity to race ahead just to get some power through the pedals.

Day Four – Carlisle to Edinburgh: 94 miles 2,864ft elevation gain

The final chapter and our first rain. We had the long and straight A-road out of Carlisle to Gretna to navigate and this would then take us directly onto our first proper town in Scotland; Lockerbie. This was the calm before the storm, and a long and wet calm at that. The storm was The Devils Beeftub, a 6.4 mile long hill into head winds. It had an average gradient of 3% which was nothing to concern us, but it had been talked about a lot in the morning so everyone was keen to get it out of the way. It was actually really good. Again I felt OK, got some momentum in my legs and dug in to put a reasonable effort in to the awaiting support car at the top. The good news is that I had the descent to look forward to – an 8-10 mile long one at that.

It proved to be false hope. The climb up the Beeftub was easier than the descent down it and only because of the wind. It was horrific! So strong in fact that we were all shattered at the bottom from having to pedal down it. Sure, we could have probably rolled down it, but it would have taken for ever and we had a destination to get to and our legs and faces were now feeling it.

The Castle On The Hill was called Edinburgh and the hill was cobbled Royal Mile. The unscheduled and coincidental bagpipes blared out as we turned our final corner and pushed the wrong gear up the final climb. The next 20 seconds were fun and quite special. Strangers cheered, clapped and some even waved flags. The small group of family and friends that turned up to meet their nominated rider brought smiles to faces and waited patiently for the group hugs to finish before offering their own.

The Charity

When I set out I hoped to raise £15,000 and ambitiously stated £20,000 on all fund raising pages. When seven of the nineteen riders dropped out my heart sank at the thought of failing, and was warmed only by the easier job I had ahead of getting a smaller group there in one piece.

I needn’t of worried. The riders and their loyal donors chipped in magnificently and raised a total of £25,000.

If you want to donate, you can do so here: To find out more about the charity, please visit The Cycle

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