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2013 Land's End to John O'Groats

Day 9: Keswick to Moffat

8th July 2013

I think we all enjoyed Kendall, which is a pleasant town & particularly so in the warm glow of a hot summer’s day & with a British Wimbledon champion in the bag.

The following morning’s breakfast seemed a challenge for our landlady, as everyone seemed to have opted for the full monty & there were lots of ‘full English’ produced for the hungry hoard. Afterwards, Tony gave a demonstration on how to take out a rear wheel & change a tyre. I think he has second sight on such things & sees a puncture or two in the offing over the next couple of days. In any event we all set off in good spirits.

The route out of Keswick is quite dramatic & we climbed for some 17 miles, mostly on a farming community road which was very narrow. There were frequent photo stops as the scenery was truly gorgeous although many of these stops were necessitated by the regular flow of agricultural equipment & 4×4’s. At one point, Ken & I were pressed hard into the hedgerow as a huge tractor squeezed past, the spikes hanging off his back just centimetres from us & our bikes. Ken came out with blood down his leg which I insisted we treat with an antiseptic wipe & antiseptic cream (you know what these farm animals are like for hygiene!). We cycled on a way & I glanced down to see streaks of blood down my own leg, so the process was repeated. By now we’d lost the rest but we carried on as the day became hotter & the climbs steeper. Eventually we came across Rebs & then Tony who was standing at the side of the strangest sight; eight little bodies, strung from a wire fence, just up the road from a farm. We decided they were probably moles, but the reason they were there? To scare off their mates who might dare to create a small mound somewhere on the hundreds of acres? Some sort of pagan ritual? We soldiered on, looking for our two companions. There were a couple of brutal little climbs which took us to the top of this area & a moorland plateau, which led to a junction, but no Paul D or Rodney. So odd, we always regrouped at any major junction. We tried telephoning but no signal. We waited, we conjectured, all in the heat of the day with not an inch of shade. What if those bodies were not moles but dead cyclists? You just never know do you. Eventually we took the inevitable decision & left & started to mentally divide up their possessions. Lo & behold, a short distance on, they were at the van & tucking into goodies. Mild expletives were exchanged & Rodney said ‘I knew we’d be in trouble – I’ve made coffee’. Instant forgiveness, as Tony demonstrated by offering the two of them dried banana. (Note; have you ever noticed how much dried banana looks like dried sheep shit?)

We were now in ‘Ken’ territory as he’s a Carlisle lad. Tony, being an avid crossword doer & quiz night attendee at The Royal, St Martin, was, not unnaturally, full of insightful questions on the area; ‘Where was the wattle & daub factory’? ‘Could one still obtain a knitted suit hereabouts’?

We managed to skirt Carlisle completely, on a road system that seemed new, had a decent cycle track at the side & was very lightly used. It was hot & there was no shade, but we made good progress & of course the inevitable happens when you keep going North in England i.e. you enter Scotland! In fact we didn’t, not straight away anyway although we made a mental note not to miss the Gretna Gateway Outlet Centre at some point in our travels (Not!). We went for lunch at the Gretna Chase Hotel in Sark, just on the border, England side. The Gretna Chase is a very pleasant hotel, lovely patio & gardens & obviously caters for the wedding trade. There was a buffet lunch set up for us, including soup, which seemed a little inappropriate on such a hot day but was in fact very good & very welcome. The barmaid & waitress who served us were delightful & said that business was good & that the number of weddings in the area was pretty constant, year on year. Like Blackpool, this speciality area has obviously managed to keep re-inventing itself & remain successful, not least of all as I believe the age difference that used to make it the place for youngsters to elope to, no longer exists. When Rebs came into the bar, the waitress took one look at him & exclaimed ‘yous knackered’ – priceless! Paul D also came back into the fold as we were having lunch. He’d been abducted a little while back & taken, by Tony, to The Carlisle Physiotherapy Centre to have his hamstring looked at. He was once again taped up in a most impressive way & we all asked if we could be around when these strips of plaster were ripped off his hairy legs (you get your pleasure when you can don’t you). What was impressive was the fact that he’d been used as a guinea pig (good job it wasn’t Chile, they eat them there don’t they?) & had afforded CPD to 4 students. As a result they not only treated him for free, but made a £20 donation to Macmillan. How good is that!

And so we entered Scotland. Had our group photograph taken at the ‘Welcome to Scotland’ sign by an Israeli lady, as we chatted to another & her husband from Queensland, Australia. We then headed off down the side of the Clyde.

The afternoon was pretty relentless. It wasn’t particularly steep but very hot & very long. There was one type of relief that I noted & looked forward to, each time it happened. The countryside was very pleasant, a lovely agricultural area with lots of mature trees. These gave shade to sections of the road & as you cycled through them, creating your own breeze of say 15mph. Add this breeze, your wet, perspiring body & the section of shade & you have God’s own air conditioning. Absolute bliss, but it doesn’t last long & coming out the other side seems doubly worse. We stopped pretty frequently through the afternoon & kept reminding each other to keep drinking. There was mild amusement as we passed through ‘Ecclefechan’ & later through ‘Heck’ (the inevitable ‘What are we doing here, by Heck’!)

We arrived in Moffat at around 5.15 & received the most welcoming reception from our lovely landlady, who was standing on her porch, surrounded by an intricate cast iron fence & with table & chairs that looked so inviting. ‘What took you so long’ she said (inject Scottish accent if you will) with a big smile & a hand shake for each of us. The Woodvale is a great B&B with lots of quaint style, on a nice little side road & overlooking the bowls & tennis club, which were alive with activity as we settled in. Rodney had not had a good day & was very tired (Note to check Big Vern’s Cycle Club Rules on conjugal visits whilst on tour & consider rescinding). I was feeling OK & had not had as much of a problem with my knee as I had the day before, a day when Rodney was on top form. That’s the way it goes, day on day & there’s no knowing how you will cope, in advance. We did decide however that if we sat down/lay down, we’d not get up for many hours, so we had a quick sort out  in the lovely bedroom allocated to us on the third floor, had a shower & headed for town. We had a beer in the yard of a local pub & then met up with Tony & Ken at the Star Inn for dinner (reputed to be the longest/thinnest hotel in the UK – thought you might be interested in that little factoid). Not the finest meal of the trip & we should have been outside on such an evening but by now I was so tired I could barely speak. We slept with the windows & curtains wide open & I can now say, at 06.30 am & with a cup of Rodney’s Tanzania AB Mringa Estate coffee at my side, that I’m ready to take on the day. Given that it’s billed as the ‘Lumpy/Grumpy/Bumpy’ day due to the length, the state of the roads & the inclines, I think we’re going to need all the help we can get!

Rebs & Paul D reported over breakfast that they took time out to visit the Lockerbie memorial & were impressed & touched by the visit. They also said they’d had Euro20 by guys from Kemtiles who they met in the pub & who were impressed with our efforts.

Awards of the Day

The Staff                                                             Carlisle Physio Therapy Centre

The Waitress at the Gretna Chase             Effective/Explicit/Concise expression of feeling

Philosophical thought of the day

My ‘God’s Air Conditioning’ moment made me realise you find joy & relief in such simple things when you strip away all the trappings                               

Vital stats for the day;

Distance                               75.07

Cumulative                       624.50

Average Speed                 13.4 mph

Time riding **                   5 hours 38 minutes

Climbing                               3,103 feet

** I should make a point this is time actually riding, not time out on the road                       

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