Equipment 3: rest of my kit

A few more items that I took with me, with comment

Sun cream (other brands are of course available). Very important: I have the “I am a cyclist tanned skin pattern now (arms and legs to just above the knee brown, rest pale!). Tip: remember to wash hands after applying cream, or the handlebars get covered in cream which makes for not very enjoyable riding.
Insect repellent: I took this with me but in the end did not need it. I guess if I had been camping that would have been different.
Washbag and contents – all essential, including the universal basin plug for those annoying places with inadequate plugs
Medical kit – luckily not used, but necessary. I also took some antiseptic wipes and did not use them either.
Binoculars: a little bit of a luxury, but handy if you want to look for birds in some places
Bungee cord – very useful for holding things onto back pannier rack
Packmate travel bags. These were very good for compressing clothing and keeping things together. I kept one for any slightly damp clothing that did not fully dry overnight. Recommended.
Microsoft Surface Go computer. Totally essential for writing this blog, keeping in touch and doing the navigation. A really nice machine – note also the USC to USB adapter and the card reader for the camera. Very light and ideal for this trip.
A 6 way USB plug. Again essential for charging everything every night – lights, phone, Garmin (and not shown here) helmet. Toothbrush every once in a while too. I started out also with a rechargeable power-pack but found that I was not needing it as I could recharge from the mains every night. If I had been camping that would have been different.
Small bag of USB cables for charging, plus my plug-in bat detector. I used this latter only a little as at the times that bats were out at these latitudes I was usually fast asleep. I did though detect six species on the trip – the majority at Minsmere in Suffolk.
Last but not least, I took several zip-loc bags with food bars. I found that I did not eat these as much as expected. I thought about energy bars and gels, but again did not use them. Jelly babies were good once in a while! I bought a waterproof bag to go on my cross-bar for foodstuffs, but found that my knees kept brushing it annoyingly, so got rid of it after a day or two. Others may find such bags useful.

Equipment 2: Clothing

Continuing the theme of what went on the ride with me, here are a few pictures and comments on clothing worn.

Helmet: this is a first edition Lumos kickstarter helmet – it has lights and indicators and the capacity to have brake lights also (they are coming soon on the next firmware update). Being a first edition it has a few glitches – the padding has frayed and the battery life is not ideal. I tended to use the lights only in cities when the additional indicators were most likely to be of use. I am getting new improved padding to replace the frayed bits.
Cycle jerseys: these are the two given me by the charities that I am raising funds for. I rotated them each day d washed the used one out each night. They dried easily by the morning just hanging in the air.
A common sight in my hotel room! Jersey hanging from a suitable room fitting.
Arm warmers by Castelli. Useful on cool mornings when not cold enough to justify wearing the jacket
Waterproof lightweight cycling jacket by Altura. I bought this en route when I discovered my previous waterproof jacket was not.
Lightweight fleece
Cycling shorts. Possibly the most critical bit of clothing as this is the interface between your body and the bike – if these are not well padded then one can get very sore! Luckily I had two good pairs of shorts – and rotated them every day with a wash out also.
Waterproof hiking trousers (from Rohan). These were genuinely waterproof and ideal on cold wet days (use a bicycle clip too). They are sufficiently smart to have doubled as my non-cycling trousers too
Pair of shoes for when cycling trainers were wet. I did not use these very often – and cycled in trainers (not illustrated) rather than cleated bicycling shoes as my feet are VERY large and I have yet to find a pair of cycling shoes that fit!
Waterproof overshoes from Endura. Very good in the wet – and certainly keep your feet warm too. Bit of a pain to get on and off, but worth it under bad conditions
Gloves and waterproof helmet cover. The latter is well worth it on wet days.
Waterproof over gloves. I found these much easier to use than dedicated waterproof gloves.

Not illustrated are two pairs of underpants, and two T-shirts for use when not cycling, and three pairs of woollen socks – rotated each day and washed out along with the shorts and jerseys.

I took a pair of spare spectacles and a pair of prescription sunglasses too – but never used them

Equipment 1: bike

I thought that it would be useful and maybe interesting to post a few comments on the equipment that I used on this ride.

The MOST important item of equipment was my Dawes Horizon bike – here seen fully loaded at John O’Groats. It is a touring bike, which these days are comparatively rare. It is quite a heavy bike, but the frame rides the rough roads of the UK well while carrying quite a load.
I added a retractable bike stand for this trip. Some argue that there is always somewhere to lean a bike again but I used the stand most days at some point.
I had four bags attached to the bike. My saddlebag was a Topeak medium bag.
My saddlebag holds a compact tool kit, a puncture repair kit, tyre levers, oil, a small torch and a spare inner tube
My main bags were a pair of 35 litre waterproof Altura panniers. These were more than enough to contain everything that I needed (note that I was not camping) and were truly waterproof. They were lent to me by brother Guy, to whom I am very thankful.
My bar bag was also by Topeak and also loaned by my brother Guy. This has many compartments and was very useful for holding things needed instantly – e.g. my small camera. It could be removed easily, so I also used it for my valuables. It is not waterproof, but has a waterproof cover (that sits in the furthest forward pocket. I clipped my front light onto the front of this bag.
Also on my handlebar was (left to right), my Lumos Helmet direction indicator, a bike bell (essential) and a Garmin 1030 GPS navigation unit.

For navigation, I used a combination of a Garmin 1030 unit and routes devised on the cycle.travel website. The latter is strongly recommended (I compared four different navigation methods: Garmin, Strava, Google and cycle.travel; the last won easily. There may be other packages out there that I have not tried). The Garmin unit was annoying in a number of ways – it is very “touchy” – in other words the lightest touches could make it suddenly change. When it was working, it was fine in telling you where to go next, and warning you of forthcoming changes in the track. I have not compared with the many other navigation units that are available.

This mirror on my offside handlebar end is one of the best things that I purchased for this trip. Thoroughly recommended as a way of easily checking if anything is behind you. There is a need not to overfill the offside pannier to avoid losing visibility.
I carried a kryptonite U lock on the frame – sadly also essential and heavy.
I also carried a Kryptonite cable to extend the reach of the lock or to tie in other parts of the bike. I did not use this very much, but might be essential on other routes.
Two water bottles were essential on some warmer days. I would perhaps recommend a bottle with a flip top cover – my bottles did not have one and the mouthpieces occasionally got a bit grimy from road spray.
A small air pump proved essential, though the small bottles of compressed air/CO2/nitrogen may be more compact.
Finally in this post, I took day-running lights in the form of front and rear See-sense Ace lights. These LED lights flash very brightly and are responsive to the light conditions. They could run all day and are rechargeable and very light. There are other day-running lights, but I strongly recommend these. I did not plan to ride by night so did not take any night lights.

Statistics

As usual, I have collected a few statistics on this journey. Here are a few of them.

Distance travelled: 3016 km (1874 miles), in 157 hours, 38 minutes and 39 seconds of moving time. Total ascent: 29,928 metres.

Route that I completed
My average speed increased during the trip, variance caused by wind direction and amount of climbing required. Note some days had more than one ride.

The highest maximum speed achieved was 58.78 kph (36.5 mph) on the way down from the highest point on the trip (Lecht towards Tomintoul). Highest speed depends as much on a reliably good road surface as anything else.

As speed increased, my average heart rate dropped – I was getting fitter!
Cadence (number of times I turned the pedals per minute) increased during the trip`

So far, £8000.93 has been donated by 160 individuals/couples/families and an unknown number of cake eaters in Inverdee House – thank you all. There is still time to add to this total: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/MarkTasker5 !

Accommodation and food cost me just over £2,500. I spent further on equipment but much of this I can continue to use after the ride.

My weight changed from 95 kg to 89.5 kg.

Total bird species seen or heard: 144.

Total mammals seen: 24 (+2 dead).

Total tubs in fields seen: 165 of which 144 were new.

Thanks

I cannot finish this blog without thanking everyone that has helped make this journey happen.

All those who I visited, provided food, bed and generally supported me, especially when I was tired, sweaty, muddy and wet! Judy and Harry, Sophy, Anne, Michael (John) and Jan, Chris, Rick and Bridge, Julie, John, Bill and Bonk, Guy and Jennie, Mum, Dave and Pauline, John and Fi, Pauline and Bob, Colin and Maria, Simon and Jo, Kel and Al, Sonia, Finlay and Linda, Liz and Garry.

I tried to visit everywhere that I had lived and wrote in advance to introduce myself. Several of those who I wrote to invited me to visit their houses: Helen and Alan, Kate Goodwin, Lorraine and Stuart, Heather and Simon.

Aldridge Cycles, Camborne; Cycle Scene, Haxby; Holburn Cycles, Aberdeen all provided exemplary service.

At the time of writing, 160 individuals (or couples/families), plus an unknown number of those working in Inverdee House, Aberdeen have donated their funds to the charities that this ride was for. Kerstin and Claire at JNCC, Aberdeen helped raise funds also.

Many individuals were friendly and very helpful, often beyond the strict requirements of their jobs. These include hotel and restaurant staff, the man on ferry in Plymouth, and the man who lent me binoculars for stone curlews at Minsmere.

On a more general point, councils that maintain their roads properly deserve acknowledgement. I noticed that higher altitude roads generally were better maintained than lower roads! Good and considerate drivers are always appreciated. Friendly cyclists always helped maintain morale.

My partner Anne has put up with a great deal while I prepared for and carried out this bike ride – it just could not have happened without her.

Down Memory Lane: the Highlights

Several readers and others have asked me what the highlights of my trip were. This is a very difficult question, there were many (and as always in these types of things, the most recent things tend to dominate). There are also overlaps between highlights. Anyway, here goes with a top ten …and this might change!

10. Co-incidences

Meeting Rob and his family, Becci and Keith in completely unplanned circumstances was brilliant. It is a small world, but this was amazing!

Meeting Rob

9. Cycle shops and Cycle.travel

I do not have a picture of a cycle shop, but I interacted with three on this trip (and my local shop prepared the bike before I left). All were exceedingly friendly and professional – it is amazing how fast they can get jobs done that would take me hours of fiddling. So a big shout for: Aldridge Cycles in Camborne, Cycle Scene in Haxby, York and Holburn Cycles in Aberdeen.

My track was also devised using the excellent on-line service Cycle.travel, run by Richard Fairhurst from the Cotswolds. The program found some great routes, and despite occasional glitches was superb. Nearly all of the maps that I included in the blog were screen saves from Cycle.travel. If anyone wishes to find interesting cycle routes, whatever you are doing, I strongly recommend it.

Broken rear wheel – replaced in under 20 minutes

8. Newcastle and Dundee cycle paths, with additional mention for all old converted railway lines

I do not know much around the politics and funding of cycle infrastructure (perhaps I ought to!) but there is plainly considerable variance in what happens. I suspect that this variance may be driven by one or two local people who understand what is needed. I think Newcastle and Dundee had the best infrastructure of the cities that I passed through and plainly new developments had taken account of needs well. AS I mentioned earlier in the trip, it is a tragedy that the decommissioned railway line routes were not kept intact – just imagine how good our cycle (and walking) infrastructure would be then. I should mention that cycle.travel makes the most of all dedicated cycle lanes in suggesting routes.

Old railway line
Bridges over the Tyne

7. Strathnaver

I saw a great many scenic and wonderful places on this trip, but the weather and scenery combined to perfection in Strathnaver this time. There were also no midges! I am certain that a few other places could beat Strathnaver had the weather been good there, and that in Strathnaver bad – e.g. Pennines, Salisbury Plain.

Heavy traffic on the Strathnaver Road

6. Curlews (and snipe)

Most of the bird-watching while cycling is in fact bird-listening (this in reality applies to much bird-watching too – initial cues as to the presence of birds is as often aural as visual. If I could hear curlews though, I knew that I was somewhere nice and remote, or at least the agriculture was allowing these wonderful birds to survive. Equally, if I could hear snipe in the evening or by night, I knew that I was staying somewhere fine too. I think that I need to live near curlews though.

Curlew (nicked from the web)

5. English lanes

These were a revelation to me. Anywhere outside a radius of around 100 km from London there is a huge network of barely used lanes. Cycle.travel was extremely good at routing me down these. I posted many pictures of these and appreciated many more. Please do not take your cars down these – get on a bike (or walk) and really appreciate them. It appeared that within 100 km or so of London that there were so many people moving around that quiet lanes have all but disappeared – very sad.

A Somerset Lane

4. Visiting houses that I used to live in and meeting current residents

This of course was part of the purpose of this journey – I spent quite a lot of time beforehand wondering what houses would be like now. Some of my previous residences had been destroyed, but I tried to contact current residents in most houses that I lived in. I did not get an answer from some, but those who did answer were very interesting to talk to, and to learn their life stories and how they interacted with the place. A great way to make some interesting connections – and also to pass on a little history.

Heather and Simon at Old House

3. Sponsors

I have been humbled by the number of generous friends, acquaintances and people who I do not know that have donated their money to the two charities that this bike ride was partly for. Literally as I write this, the total has passed my target of £8000, which is fantastic. Thank you all so much.

Both charities are partly personal – but the Spinal Injuries Association is particularly personal following my sister’s accident before Christmas. I called in to see her in Stoke Mandeville hospital and am in awe of her drive to try to recover as much function of her body as possible – inspirational stuff, and much harder than my bike ride. Just three days ago she messaged to say that during a hard session of physiotherapy she had gone from sitting to standing alone without any harness and not pulling a lot with her arms. This is fantastic progress – long may it continue.

2. Visiting friends and family

This again was another reason to make this long ride. It has been particularly good to see friends that I last saw many years ago. It was though sad that visits were often too short – I wish that had had more time. I recommend taking time to go and see people – much better than writing or phoning!

Visiting Jo in Stoke Mandeville hospital

1. An email

This was a totally unexpected highlight. I received the following as a consequence of an article that the Dunmow Broadcast were good enough to publish (no other newspaper, including my local ones in Scotland, took any interest in my story). I have withheld the name of the sender for obvious reasons.

“Hi Mark
I saw an article in the Dunmow Broadcast (6.6.19) which you were in on your return to this neck of the woods. I wanted to write to you regarding your father Dr Tasker.
I grew up in Dunmow in The Old Manse Childrens’ Home in New Street and your father was our doctor. Twice a year he made visits to the Home to check the health of the children there by weighing, measuring etc which took nearly all day.
He was always lovely and kind. An early memory to share with you was I attended his surgery to have my ears syringed for the very first time but when he produced the equipment for the procedure (having a needle phobia) I would not let him near me and ran around his room. Instead of getting angry with me he reassured me that no needle was involved and merely water was used.
Also I had left the area but was visiting and had a leg wound which another doctor had assured me was fine. On changing the dressing the people I was visiting were concerned enough to suggest a visit to the local doctor. And although no longer under your father’s surgery he agreed to see me at short notice. Once the wound was exposed he called all his colleagues to come and see it and said it was the worse case of septicaemia he had ever seen and that I could have lost my leg. Thankfully, with his advice and treatment that was avoided.
I have very fond memories of your father and tremendous respect for him as he took the fear of visiting a doctor away. He was one of the few adults who treated us with kindness and courtesy in our situation. I am thankful that he was our doctor. You must be very proud.”

This did indeed make me proud, and also left a lump in my throat. If I had not done this ride, I would not have known this story. There are likely quite a few more like it. An outstanding highlight.

Getting home

Having completed the mission of visiting all the places in the UK that I have lived at for longer than a month, I needed to get home. Luckily there is a ferry from Orkney to Aberdeen three times a week, and Liz was kind enough to deliver me to the Orkney ferry terminal.

About to be swallowed by the big boaty thing – still light at 23.30 but not a good idea to take a picture on the move!
The ferry has pods to sleep in at a cost. A bit like a wide reclining aircraft chair, sadly not flat but definitely more comfortable than a normal chair. I slept a little.

There was one further milestone to achieve – to have bicycled 3000 km on this mission. After Orkney, I had 12.01 km to go according to my navigation system, so I set off home on the old Deeside Railway line (by far the best cycle infrastructure around Aberdeen) and at Peterculter went past that milestone.

X marks the spot on the old Deeside line where I passed 3000 km
The view from the above point, over the old Peterculter cemetery to the River Dee are fine, whatever the season. This used to be one of the reasons I enjoyed commuting to work by bicycle

One final twist in the tale…. on my way around the second to last corner from home, there was a sharp clunk on my spectacles, followed by a sting on my nose – yes I had collided for the first time on this trip with a bee. Since the nearest hives to that corner are ours, I guess this was a welcome home from our girls!

Final statistics: Caithness, Orkney and Deeside ride 130.2 km, Overall 3015.1 km (for a number of reasons, this will be lower than actual). Ascent in last two days: 1216 m, overall ascent: 29928 m. More statistics will follow, along with a few further blogs on the whole journey.

I am about £700 short of my target of raising £8000 for my two chosen charities. I would very much like to achieve that target. If you or anyone else that you know (and can persuade) would like to contribute a little more, I would be very grateful.

https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/MarkTasker5