July 2017: End2End, Lands End to John o’Groats cycle trip

 

The three Score Year and Ten tour!

A big thank you to everyone who have so generously sponsored Mark and Clive to cycle this journey in aid of The Sunflower Trust.
If you are inspired and would  like to support us in this, there may be still time to add your contribution at;

https://mydonate.bt.com/events/sunflowerbikeride/436142

Thank you.

Abstract: In case you have no time for the full-blown, ‘long read’ story below, here it is in a nutshell.

Four old codgers set out on a mad cycle ride. Kind people take pity on two of them and give them some money for a children’s charity. They climb some hills, get wet, bond and arrive at the other end of the country. Then they go home and try to explain why they did it to mystified friends. The End.

The Long Read.

Last Morning reflections

We had been cycling for a while since our normal 6.30am start at Altnaharra on our final, fourteenth, cycling day since we left Lands End. The hard, hot, hills of Cornwall that, under the intense heat, were a shock as we started out, seemed a long, long time ago after five days of cold winds and rain in Scotland.

On each turn of this, small, quiet road we are sharing only with the occasional sheep, another magical vista opens up along the deep, dark, mirror waters of the magnificent Loch Naver.

A reverent awe settles over us as we cycle through this intense, silent beauty. The summer northern sun, already high in the sky at this early hour, touches everything with glory, yet the morning freshness and hope of a new day has not left the landscape.

We are silenced by the gravity of nature in her harsh magnificence and newness as the sun brings warmth to the cold damp shadows we roll through. We enjoy the downward gradient of the tiny road as it then follows the rattling stones of the River Naver, imagining the unknown pleasures to be had by our other hotel guests we met last night, some of whom, no doubt, enjoy standing in this running water, fly-fishing.

With, for once, few hills to climb and the end of our long adventure almost in sight, we all have time to silently contemplate what we have done in cycling the length of the country from Lands End to John o ‘Groats.

This was an adventure we had been focusing on and training spasmodically for, over months beforehand, none of us four, Mark, Lee, David or Clive quite knowing how it would be to cycle 55-85 miles a day, over all terrain, for two weeks, at our three-score-year-and-ten, age.

Of course when you get to the end and meet others doing the same it seems a fairly common-place thing to do, and we know that each year hundreds of slightly mad adventurers do it, some even older than us, doing it sometimes in even fewer days, often like us, unsupported by back up vans, carrying all their stuff.

However as we silently slip through the northern landscape I suspect all of us are feeling a sense of mild wonder that we too have actually, almost, done the trip.

There were days when we might well have wondered why we thought it was a good idea to attempt this trip. Yet, thanks  to the camaraderie of the team we four naturally became,  we came through in good spirits.

As so often, it is the human connections and loyalties, built up under hardship and duress, that holds one to the challenge, that pulls from ones legs one more push up a seemingly impossible hill, and keeps one peddling when the cold, harsh, wet mountain weather seems against one even surviving to cycle another day.

Perhaps it is to, once again, test ourselves against the temptation of giving up in the face of inevitable pain and hardship, that was part of the motivation for us to attempt this rather clichéd, but never the less, challenging journey.

To face our suffering and be indifferent to it. To see just what we could pull out from ourselves voluntarily, knowing full well how life will often ambush us with challenge and suffering. These are part of what drives us on.

It may well be those who have prepared and faced hardship in such voluntary increments, who could be best able to face the involuntary and inevitable, suffering that life entails.

While this is a predominately, but by no means exclusive, male way of facing these things, it is often in overcoming the unambiguous entreaties of ones own raw, physical hardship, that one can prepair at least in part, to come against those other often more complex and sometiems abstract, nuanced challenges that can face us, in our modern world.

Soon we would be facing the last few demanding hills that switch back from Sutherland to Caithness and, after lunch in Thurso, the more gentle ride to our final joyful arrival at John o’ Groats. But for now, we could still enjoy the gradient down to Bettyhill on the northern coast deep in our separate thoughts reflecting back over our 900 mile journey.

The South West: the journey begins

If we were fully aware of what lay ahead would we had set off so jauntily? Perhaps not, and yet, at least for myself, a certain trepidation characterised that early morning ride from the western tip of Cornwall to Penzance along the beach past the serenity and beauty of St. Michael’s Mount, from where the real test began.

At our first stop at a village post office the owner set the tone for things to come. Generous and friendly, he told of two, self-described, ‘fat ladies,’ who had dropped in, like us and later sent him a card from John o’Groats on their arrival. Like green, new boys at school, we were as yet, all promise and little to show for it, but heartened, never-the-less, to hear of others who, however improbably, did make it to the end.

Cornwall and Devon are looking their best under an intensely bright and hot sun, great for the beach but less useful when climbing those endless rollercoaster  hills that mark the south-west.

We drink endlessly and sweat even more. Early morning crossings of chain link ferries, wolfing down Cornish pasties and, while visiting one of a country-wide string of helpful and friendly bike shops as we wait to cross to Plymouth at Torpoint, Mark re-appears and saves the day with a delicious bag of juicy fruit to placate our thirst.

Rolling down another Devon hill, my ambitious plans for ‘on-the-go’ reporting to our generous sponsors for our chosen charity, the Sunflower Trust, are dashed as my phone slips to the ground after another jolt over a pot hole and, before I can save it, is crushed by a following camper van!

So often on our trip it has been the kindness and friendliness of strangers that has boosted our way froward. One such was the guy in the bike shop in, an otherwise noisy and less than beatific Plymouth, who saved our weary way by redirecting us up the old Plym Valley Way, a wonderfully gradual run up the old railway track, now a cycle route, that lifts one, via old bridges and a curving tunnel which was cut through solid rock by the Great Western’s legendary engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Thankfully we swapped the ugly roar of the furious A-road, east out of Plymouth, for the dappled shade afforded us onto the foothills of Dartmoor at Yelverton, 35 miles into our 55 mile journey from Fowey to Moretonhampstead.

It might have been this day when we realised that the number of miles each day were no guide to the time nor arduousness of the day, which was much more related to the twin horrors of endless, seemingly vertical, hills and urban speed-ways, of monster metal lumps slicing past us at frightening speeds and proximity.

It is possible that some of those indecipherable cries uttered by young male passengers in need of ego boosts, were simply jolly encouragements, but we will never know, as they were lost on the wind.

It was while sweat-soaked we were struggling pushing our bikes up over the cattle grids onto Dartmoor proper that Clive’s wife Kerstin, and Devon friend Helen, appeared, like angels out of the blue. We had planned to meet that evening at Mortenhampstead but were more than happy to see them earlier under the circumstances. As we discovered later, at a tea stop at Two Bridges in the middle of the Moor, they were to save the day when Lee suffered a chain tangle and was able to put bike and himself into Helen’s little car and get a ride over the moor to our destination, saving the day.

For Clive the chance to off-load all those useful, but not absolutely essential things he had packed came with the meeting up in Devon. Like a sailor throwing out anything that might stop the ship from sinking, a big jettisoning occurred at the characterful Mortenhampstead Back-Packers Hostel. The previous heat and weight up all those endless hills required a reassessment of what we had taken on as well as what it was taking out of us after only a couple of days. All but essentials, and as it turned out, in wintry wet Scotland, some of those as well, had to go.

With Devon left behind we are over the Blackdown Hills and sidestepping Taunton we are bowling along the not so level Somerset Levels to end our day as the sole guests at the unique Street Youth Hostel.

Early on day 4 as we roll along the National Cycle route 3 towards Wells we first catch a glimpse of the stately Glastonbury Tor standing high out of the flat lands and later of the tent city that is the Glastonbury Music Festival before we are in Wells for breakfast and a short look at the Cathedral and Vicars’ Close as Clive goes down memory lane to his school days at the Cathedral School, noting wryly the novel changes, less apparent in his day: food, girls and education!

After another welcome refuelling a stop in Bristol near Brunel’s magnificent suspension bridge in a big old tobacco warehouse turned arts centre and cafe, we endure the unending industrial landscape of Avonmouth before the windswept struggle to stay upright just pushing our bikes crossing the huge Seven Road Bridge into Wales. Cycling up the beautiful Wye valley past Tintern Abbey took us to Monmouth and a good meal and meeting with Andy, Marks old friend.

Turning Northward

Now we were heading due north through the Hereford countryside, the weather was easier and we were, by day 5, more used to the daily routine.

Up at 5.45 and after a swift re-pack we are often on the way by 6.30am for a couple of hours ride to get some useful miles under our belt before a stop for a welcome breakfast. On the few times we did take the often proffered B&B breakfast, it was, at least for some of us, hard to fully enjoy, knowing that the road ahead that day awaited to do with us what it willed.

Often after a few hours in the saddle and some hills conquered, things seemed less daunting and it was easier to swallow those giant, classic English Breakfasts. After more hours cycling the routine search for fuel and respite was reactivated once or twice before that magic hour.

This started when our night’s destination was reached, cycle cast off for the night, sweat, heat or cold placated by the joys of a shower and change out of our sweat-soaked cycling clothes and the promise of another necessary meal before a welcome bed. Even there, to start with, rest did not always come easily as, the body stilled, the mind was still rushing down hills and breaking to avoid pot holes of our imagination, before the balm of sleep over-took us for another night.

On our weary arrival down over the misty wet hills into Clun, north of Kington, on the Welsh boarders, we were first slightly aghast to find that the farm-house we were staying at was not in Clun but a further five miles away.

Once the brain has turned to rest time for the night it is mighty hard to switch it back to ‘battle stations’ to take on more hill climbing and the pain that goes with that. However all was not lost as, with a phone call, we were back on our way along the valley to Matt and Susan’s family farm.

Far from the cold shower-less hovel our imaginations may have feared, it was a delightfully and richly appointed farm with a spectacular garden kept by Matt’s mother, the normal incumbent. It turned out that Matt and his wife lived over the hills in Bishops Castle where, to our delight, we were duly driven to find a meal in the local hotel and, next morning, after a splendid stay, Matt , gave us a hearty breakfast and kindly drove us, and our bikes in his commodious van onto the road, so avoiding the steep and endless hills that we needed to traverse to be back on our path. Thanks Matt!

After the hills of the Border Country and another welcome meal in Shrewsbury we luxuriate in a high-speed 1000 ft downward run through the beautiful Hope Valley, often hitting 15-25mph, (not much for you car drivers, surrounded by metal, but try it on a bike, on indifferent road surfaces) down off the high ground to start the challenging navigation of the industrial landscape around Runcorn and Warrington.

Here after much to-ing and fro-ing, to keep the threesome team together, we ended up in two different places for the night, it’s a long story, suffice to say Mark excelled himself when the cycle path on a vicious A-road gave out and, carrying his bike over many obstacles, was rewarded (is that the correct word) by finally making the delights of Runcorn and a rather dodgy B&B where Lee found him, after some persistent and judicious map reading.

Like  George Orwell in his historic Road to Wigan Pier, his pre-war exploration of the life for the poor, cycling through Industrial Lancashire and the outskirts of Glasgow, Leigh and Larkhall come to mind respectively, were salutary reminders of the often dismal physical surroundings that many people have to overcome each day. And, judging by the warmth and cheerfulness we were often greeted with by loving ladies serving us in ‘greasy spoon’ cafes, overcome they do. But it is sad to see the blighted physical ugliness that surrounds their lives in towns that the metropolitan world of globalisation appears to have forgotten and passed by.

But onward we go, never stopping long enough to do anything but refuel, note, thank others for their kindness, be moved and then cycle on. The ever-present imperative of the road driving us.

And Now we are Four

By the time we had negotiated our way round Bolton and over the top down into Blackburn we had once again lost Mark. Or he us. We arranged to meet up at the bike shop and Lee and Clive spent a happy hour having our tyre pressure checked and ogling the electric bikes with fantasies of effort-free hill climbing, when Mark, the mechanic in the shop, gave us a cup of tea and Lee, always skilled in snatching sleep, took a snooze on their staircase, until ‘our Mark’ was back on track with us ready to take on the tough climb past Clitheroe to Slaidburn in the Forest of Bowland. As we finally rolled into this small hilltop village to the youth hostel our rendezvous with our fourth member of the team, David, we heard that if we wanted to eat supper in the pub, the only food option, we had less than twenty minutes to shower and get in there!

Now we are four and Dave joins us for some difficult and wet terrain as we set off next day over the 1300ft Cross of Greet, all steep mountain roads horizontal wind and rain. Often too steep to ride, pushing bikes into the rain-sharp wind, now it was every man for himself  As Lee jotted in his contemporaneous notes;

“The earlier drizzle turned to serious rain and cold. Breath visible. There are four of us now.When three reached the summit we could not wait for Clive because we would freeze.A terrifying rapid descent over several miles on wet road and little visibility due to rain fog and clouded glasses. Body cold and wet. Hands frozen and cramped from braking. Concentration waning when needed most. Quickly found cafe on arrival in High Bentham. Stripped clothes and poured in hot drinks.”

As hot as Cornwall was, so this was equally cold. It was with considerable relief we arrived in High Bentham the small hill town, and Lee came out to call to Clive as he cycled by looking for the team, into the relative warmth and relief of a small, basic, but welcome cafe, for food and coffee. One of many welcome havens along the way now we felt we had left summer behind and were back in winter, Narnia and the North!

At this point we temporarily diverged from the excellent route we had so far been following in the well researched and compendious book that remained our bible for much of the journey, Cycling the End to End Cycle Route by the indefatigable Nick Mitchell. Ever the optimist, the routes were labeled Easy/Moderate/Hard. however we soon learnt that for ordinary, older, mortals like us, no days were ever what we would call Easy!

A Day of Rest

After a welcome break and feed in the charming town of Kendal at the start of the Lake District, Dave took us on a detour to his Butterwick home south of Penrith. Here we were to have a much-needed day off, but before such unimaginable luxury we had to negotiate the long climb up the A6 to Shap. At 1400 ft, until the completion of the M6 in 1970, this was the busy and hazardous main road linking the industrial north-west with Scotland and its hight and notorious weather conditions often proved a severe challenge for drivers going north/south.

Shap marks a crossing point for Clive where his south to north cycle ride of 2017 crosses the path of his Coast to Coast West to East walk of 2010. see:

https://helixhouse.wordpress.com/2010/08/30/walking-wainwrights-coast-to-coast/

Wet and tired we were overjoyed and, almost in disbelief, that we did not intend to travel on the next day but rather could regroup and rest and not exert ourselves all day. If you want to know how all this feels you can do it at home by banging your head against the wall for 12 hours and then stop, it truly is delightful. Perhaps I slightly over state it, but you get a flavour of our joys at sleeping, meditating and listening to music, shopping for good food in the delightful small Northern chain Booths in Penrith, followed later by good home cooked food and beer.

The meritocracy of the road soon sorts the riders. Mark was always our strongest rider, undaunted by any but the most vertical of ascents, he was less strong on navigation, sometimes disappearing off ahead, missing a vital turning, only later appearing after some hasty back tracking. Lee who was also quite a strong hill rider, had occasional challenges with staying on the bike due to the modern clip-in shoe style of high-speed road bikes. While Clive, surprisingly good on the flat with the wind behind him, would soon lose ground on the hills, his heavy bike and load and, presumably, smaller heart and pumping capacity, soon putting him at the end of the team, even when Dave joined us, with a couple of years more on his ‘clock’, still an impressive cyclist, disinclined to take any cheek from hills.

Into Scotland

The next day we were off again in the rain cycling the 3 1/2 hours to Carlisle for another mammoth breakfast where the kind women running the little cafe put up with these four wet, shivering cyclists dripping all over their cafe floor. Nonchalantly mopping up the floor at our table as we left.

The journey into Scotland up past Lockerbie to Moffat and then on to Glasgow was notable both for the noise of the nearby M6, the slow steady climb, that was do-able but not particularly inspiring along the way. However we make good progress and just put our head down into the rain and plunge on, stopping at one point at a special truck stop off the road. Here a tough, no-nonsense woman, hardened perhaps by years of cooking for truckers, gruffly allowed us into this truckers sanctuary and served us, amongst the ketchup and tabloid paper detritus of a normally ‘truckers only’ pit stop. We were just glad to come in out of the cold.

Glasgow

Our biggest urban challenge turned out to be quite benign once we had found our way onto the brilliant National Cycle Network 75 that runs from Cambuslang along the north side of the Clyde for almost 30 miles along to Dumbarton where we branched north for our overnight stay in Ballock on the southern tip of Lock Lomond. While the only place any of us got a puncture, it was a great ride through the city and beyond.

The Highlands

Our Saturday morning riding the cycle path along the sunlit Lock Lomond could have given us a false sense of security but, by this time, we were hard-bitten End to Enders and knew that sunshine and flat running in the morning would not necessary mean a similar afternoon. And here in the highlands, nowhere was this more significant.

After lunch at the busy Green Welly cafe at Tyndrum surrounded by large, bulky motor bikers out in packs enjoying the fast run over the mountains in ways we could not, the rain set in and the climb to Bridge of Orchy and up again to the Lock Tulla viewpoint pushed us hard and we were glad of refreshments and a welcome breather at a tea-stand on the road side, high in the mountains.

From here on we lost touch with each other and each had to battle on alone. However in the high ground of Glencoe the cold and the wet side-winds buffeting us about was combined more worryingly by the sheer volume of tourist motor traffic that made the whole process that much more frightening as they swish past, sometimes with a hostile honk of the horn, far too close for comfort.

Eventually we find ourselves having to cycle hard down hill against the wind. It was with a huge sigh of relief we arrive at the Glencoe Youth Hostel.

From Glencoe, the next morning, we shiver with cold and a little dread, cycling very slowly with great effort into a westerly wind that seemed to want to push us back to Cornwall, as the road heads west for a few miles crosses the bridge at Ballachulish. But with the turn north-east up the great glen at Inchree the pressure of the wind gives up and there follows a fine, satisfying run along the Loch to Fort William for Sunday breakfast amongst the walkers of the West Highland Way.

Each activity totally changes the profile of its participants. We cyclists are the more delicate of creatures, all yellow rain jackets and long legs, while walkers are slightly bulkier and heavier shod with big rucksacks expanding their backs, but it is the bulk of black clad, ballooning motor cyclists, appearing as impersonal storm troopers from outer space, in their helmets, belaying their friendliness under their forbidding exterior, that almost suggests, erroneously, we have selected our chosen travel style based on our body type.

Around Achnacarry Castle we are off-road along a forest track for some miles free from the noise and fear of motor traffic enjoying the views of the long Lock Ness, remembering the young men from many allied armies who trained so vigorously here during World War 2 undergoing fearsome commando training before going into battle.

After the trials of Glencoe the day before, Lee and I choose to chance our arm with the traffic on the busier, but lower road along Lock Ness, while, undaunted by the journey’s fiercest hill yet, Mark and Dave take the high road out of Fort Augusta up to Lock Tarff on the spectacular General Wade’s Military road. By this time some of us had decided that, however spectacular, the endless climb was sufficient disincentive!

After the homely youth hostels of the south Inverness hostel was vast and a bit of an institution, but we were glad to arrive there and to our surprise both our two split teams ended up arriving together.

Inverness

The capital of the Highlands Inverness has managed to retain its character and attractions with a fine river front dotted with church towers and friendly, northern long, twilight summer evenings. it was with some pleasure, after our usual wash and brush up, we found the recommended Black Isle Pub with it fine array of highland beers and excellent pizzas. With the cool beards and beer, we were suddenly out of rural Scotland and could have been in East London’s fashionable Shoreditch! We had just sat down to our beers, with the bartender taking a photo of our happy team, only at that very second, for Dave to spot old friends from the south.

Narnia and the Far North

Out of Inverness through its industrial district our first challenge of our penultimate day was to cross the high, windswept Kessock bridge. While the vast Seven Road Bridge was so heavily windswept it was unsafe to cycle, at least it was so big one felt somewhat insulated from the drop below. This slightly smaller version allowed only a meter or so for the cycle path with the wind pushing one sideways and the long drop all too visible. So those of us with vertigo tendencies were mightily relieved to get off on the north shore and be away.

As we headed further north the small town of Dingwell was a welcome breakfast stop. Four wet weather clad cyclists seemed out-of-place amongst the gentile ‘Miss Marple’ atmosphere of the provincial hotel. Ever hungry we splashed out on a breakfast with the quiet spoken hotel guests and could only guess at the journey to this small northern Scottish town of the East European waitress who kindly served these rough-looking bikers who ate so much, with such gusto.

Later, as any opportunity for  rest stops become few and far between, we stop in the northern village of Lairg at the Spar shop and clutter up the isles of cola bottles trying to get warm drinking hot chocolate and luxuriating in the delights of succulent peaches attempting to gain some rest perching on upturned shopping baskets.

The further we go north the wilder and emptier the Sutherland landscape becomes. Fields of barley wave in the light sunlight waiting to be turned into fine scotch whiskey and yellow fields of  what looked like rape seed remind us of the couple of months difference between farming seasons in southern England and the very north of Scotland.

The rain has stopped and we ride north into largely treeless country. Eventually after another long day of riding we arrive at the famously isolated, Crask Inn. We had been told it was closed but in the snug warmth of the parlour, by the fire over scones and tea, we learn that it has been left to the Scottish Episcopal Church and is up and running again.

Our New Zealand End to Ender friends arrive to stay but we, un-booked at the Crask, reluctantly leave the cosy welcome of the hearth and head on the last glorious eight miles of stunning country up, over and down to the tiny village of Altnaharra.

This magnificent country under the shadow of Ben Kilbreck stills us with its birds of prey, deer and great beauty. Sitting in this wild northern landscape The Altnaharra hotel is a classic hunting, shooting and fishing hotel.

Somewhat out-of-place amongst the expensive Range Rovers with their fishing rods cleverly attached to the windscreens and hoods, we wheel out bikes to the shed out back and later, rather incongruously, eat amongst the well-healed fishermen from England and Germany, who are drinking expensive wines discussing the day’s catch surrounded by the tartan settees and on the walls lengthy stuffed trout in  glass cases, in the cosy opulence of the hotel dinning room.

John o ‘Groats

Later the next day our magic morning past and the long high rolling hills of the northern coast climbed and whizzed down as fast as we dare, amongst the occasional incongruous roar of the motor bikers doing the northern 500 route, and the subsequent silence of the northern coast as it looks north to the Orkney and Shetland Islands out to sea, we pass Dounreay Atomic Power Station undergoing its long years of decommissioning. We stop for a last lunch in a rather sad Thurso and finally, there we are at our nominal target, the sign post at John o ‘Groats.

Our journey’s end.

Stunned and feeling the full impact of our fatigue we drink a toast to our friendship and achievement. Every year hundreds of mad cyclists put themselves through this strange journey of endurance and self discovery.

Over the subsequent days each one of us tries to slot this experience into our tired brains and, as others ask us what we enjoyed and why we would undertake such an arduous journey, we try to answer them as best we can.

For some there is absolutely no temptation to even consider such a rigorous fortnight. For others with that particular sense of adventure and desire to test themselves against distance, gravity and the elements, the temptation may surface when they least expect it and, one day, they too may find themselves setting out to test their metal against it all, possibly, as Mark and I did, partly with the desire to inspire others to support them for a charity of their choice, such as The Sunflower Trust.

Whatever their reasons, when all those sore legs and backsides have settled down and all that fitness is gradually slipping back to the normal state of modern flab, they will be that little bit changed, for ever, by the experience.

For those brave stalwarts who have read this far, beware, it looks as if you may be the sort with just that kind of the sticking power to undertake such a curious, challenging and ultimately satisfying ride.

Don’t say we didn’t warn you!

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Lands End

Finally, after months of planning and training the the Adventure begins!http://youtu.be/G6dg4PqxP2k

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G6dg4PqxP2k&feature=share

End2end 

Packing https://youtu.be/Gg2Z8VZ5gKI

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gg2Z8VZ5gKI&feature=share

End2End Day-1

The bike is packed, Lee is here, getting ready to go.

End to End:May 2017.

“Cycling from Land’s End to John o’ Groats or End to End as it is popularly known, is a truly British Adventure. It is a challenging long-distance bicycle tour of almost a thousand miles, from the very tip of south-west England to the far north of Scotland, usually undertaken with a two-week time frame, providing a cycling escapade par excellence. Many thousands of men and women, old and young, embark on this journey every year. The attractions of the End to End are numerous; friendship, fresh air, glorious scenery tremendous cycling, interesting history and upon completion, a life-enhancing sense of achievement.”

From ‘The End to End Cycle Route’. by Nick Mitchell

End To End

Thanks to Nick Mitchell and his superb book ‘The End to End Cycle Route’ for this illustration

As you may have seen from our March blog we have a close interest in this End to End thing!

I was sitting in a hotel in Riga, Latvia last summer, where I was examining and lecturing at a medical conference, when my old friend and colleague Mark Mathews mentioned he was thinking of cycling the End to End Cycle Route in 2017 to raise funds for The Sunflower Trust. This is a Charity he set up over twenty years ago to help support the work he has evolved using many of the clinical tools we had both studied over the years.

I was immediately interested in joining him, both because it was an adventure I had always fancied tackling myself and because of my own close involvement in the Sunflower Trust. Many of my patients will know how I bang on about the role of exercise in mental and physical health, so here was another chance to walk my talk.

Getting Started

This is how I found myself trying out various lovely road bikes from all the Oxford Bike shops in the autumn sunshine, later working out in the winter on the dreaded Watt-bike in the gym, and, since the new year, slowly venturing further and further afield into the highways and byways of rural Oxfordshire, often at first light, gradually trying to build up my ageing body to be tolerant of 65-85 mile a day trips. So far I am still at the lower end of that range, but as the weather improves I am really enjoying my forays into the Cotswold’s, the Vale of the White Horse and the flat lands of Otmoor and beyond.

Training

Once out of bed and onto the bike there is an absurd joy in leaving the sleeping city behind and peddling through the buttery fields of rapeseed with the promise of a hearty breakfast in some small market town as I cruise through villages, some of whom I have never been to in 35 years of life in Oxford. In fact, as I felt the other day after a long lonely ride back from the southwestern end of Oxfordshire, my bicycle has  revealed the city of Oxford to be an island in a sea of rural life, the two only tangentially related. The quiet, often empty, lanes are dutifully following the call of the season, whatever the sun or rain, while when I wearily arrive home after six hours in the saddle, and ride through the bustling town, suddenly the city, full of curious visitors from afar, seems closer in spirit to  Rome or Shanghai than Charney Bassett.

Mark’s discoveries

Soon after Mark started writing interesting papers on some of the encouraging results that were showing up with Educational Psychologists after his interventions, I stepped on board and got him to teach me his protocol and eventually helped him teach it to dozens of suitably qualified, interested clinicians, both in the UK and in Germany.

Mark suffers from dyslexia himself, as, to a milder degree, I suspect do I, and so we both had a particular sympathy for children who were failing to achieve their potential as school. The Programme he devised is an innovative, comprehensive approach to improving the health, behaviour, learning and overall wellbeing of children. By better integrating their brain with their body, it helps children to be the best that they can be.

The Sunflower programme

has helped hundreds of children – many with diagnosed health, behavioural or learning difficulties, others who are underachieving at school and some, who for no obvious reason, need a little extra help to achieve their potential.

Whilst we treat the child not the diagnosis, we have had many children go through the Sunflower Programme who are diagnosed with Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, ADHD, Autism, Asperger’s and the like. Other children come to see us because of low self-esteem, bad behaviour, poor concentration, anxiety or when a parent feels their child needs help but they can’t quite put their finger on it. If you would like to learn more, go to http://www.sunflowertrust.com

Soon there were four.

One of my old friends from America, Lee, also signed up to join us, and later still, another friend, Dave signed up. Now there were four older guys, all within a couple of years either side of three score years and ten, facing the prospect of organising both the logistics of our trip, and perhaps more challenging, getting ourselves into ‘saddle-ready’ shape to take on 65-85 miles a day over two weeks of quite demanding terrain.

So here we are a little off the start date on June 19th, with the logistics sorted and, in our different ways, all of us trying to get to be able to do the adventure justice without having to give up with terminal ‘sore-bum-syndrome.’

It is many years since some of you helped the Trust when you sponsored me to walk across the country, see https://helixhwalking-wainwrights-coast-to-coast/

And here I am asking for your help again!

If you wish to sponsor Mark and me cycle this thousand miles, travelling through 23 counties, traversing cliff tops, moorlands, hidden roads and soaring mountains all  in aid of the best possible cause – helping children to be the best that they can be, we would love anything you can afford which can be easily donated at:

https://mydonate.bt.com/events/sunflowerbikeride

We will try to keep you up to date, throughout the trip on the trials, tribulations and triumphs of the whole End to End!

Many thanks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

March 2017: Call for mad cyclists. Plus a new Acupuncturist at Helix House.

End To End with Mark, Lee and Clive Plus New Faces at Helix House

This month I want to highlight two exciting events. One a call to arms… or rather legs, for anyone mad enough to join us on a cycle trip the length of the land.

And the second is to welcome Traditional Chinese Medicine, TCM, trained Acupuncturist Joe Jennings to to Helix House.

Can you help sponsor us, or even better are you up for joining us? Read on!img_1510

The ‘Three Score Year and Ten’ cycle ride: Raising funds for the Sunflower Trust.

Once upon a time young travel writer Alastair Humphreys wanted an adventure but had no idea how to go about it. So he set off with his bike and tent. And, as he said, if you can cycle for a day in the direction you want to go, put up your tent and get up the next day and do it all again, then what is to stop you cycling around the world?

And so he did, all 46,000 miles through 60 countries over 4 years, all at a total cost of just £7,000. Setting off with so many worries he learnt that he was capable of a lot more than he thought. (To hear more about Alastair you can hear his TED talk here):
http://www.alastairhumphreys.com/speaking/

But we are not planning such a long adventure trip. Merely to cycle from the southwestern tip of GB to the northeastern tip, Lands End to John O’Groats, and doing so in a couple of weeks, what could be easier? A little adventure you could have and still be back home before you had been missed…well not much, anyway.

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End to End of the country? Well I better get fitter for this!

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The fearsome ‘Watt Bike’. An hour on there and you might tell all our state secrets!

We are looking for up to three sturdy folk to join us on this challenge and, hopefully, help us raise some much needed for the Sunflower Trust.

You must be able to cycle several hours day, and still be good company at supper with a beer, and want to help raise some money for charity as you do something a bit remarkable and challenge yourself this summer. We hope to be doing it from around June 20th to July 5th 2017.

Starting at Lands End we plan to follow the back roads where possible, stay in Youth Hostels and B&B’s and have a great time, while challenging our ageing bodies to do something a bit difficult and once again learning, like young Alastair, that we are capable of a lot more than we thought! We need to hear from you  very soon if we are to get it planned and book some good places to stay ahead of the crowd. Are you up for it? Do get in touch. You don’t have to be verging 70 to come!

Let us or the Sunflower Trust know if you think you are up for it!
The Sunflower Trust
0845 054 7509
enquiries@sunflowertrust.com
Registered Charity No: 1055712

Back to Acupuncturist Joe Jennings.joe-pic-smaller

If you are not sure what TCM is all about and curious to know if it could help you and your family in any way, now is your chance to find at at Joe’s  Forthcoming Taster Day

Suffer with aches and pain, tension and stress, headaches or sleep trouble, anxiety or depression?
Book your taster session today

Joe Jennings, an experienced and registered acupuncturist, will be giving taster seesions throughout the day on the 1st of March. Get in touch to book yours. (ring us on 01865 243351).
For the special Taster Day, each session will last 30 minutes and cost £20.

Joe is a dedicated practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) with a decade of experience. He works to empower people to understand their bodies and discover the joys of living a more healthy and sustainable lifestyle.

He began studying TCM after travelling to South East Asia. After experiencing the culture and learning about their holistic approach to health care, where prevention is key and emotional and psychological health is an integrated part of a healthy lifestyle, he was intrigued.

Joe completed his bachelor’s degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine at Middlesex University, receiving a 1st class honours as well as an award for excellence from the Association of Traditional Chinese Medicine. He is a member of the British Acupuncture Council.

Joe has a broad range of clinical experience, having treated a large variety of conditions. His main areas of specialisation are; allergies, insomnia, mental ill health, digestive issues, painful conditions and skin conditions.

Acupuncture: Normal fees are:

1st session 90mins – £65
Follow-ups 60mins – £45

Chinese Herbal Medicine

1st session 60mins – £40
Follow-ups 30mins £25
Herbs (100g/1 month) -£50

 

One life, One You: What you can do today to really help the NHS! January 2017

“I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to achieve immortality through not dying”.

Woody Allen

 In 1919, right after the horrors of World War 1, William Butler Yeats wrote, in his powerful poem, The Second Coming:

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold…
…The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity”
.

And so it seems to be with us a century later.

While uncharted political change is in the forefront, demographic and behavioural changes may be where we also need to focus, if our behaviour, much of which is potentially changeable, is not to bankrupt our economies in the decades ahead.

In the years after the second world war Britain was struggling with the challenges of a rising birth rate and how to provide for all those new children, the baby boomers, needing schools. 2017 is the year of the 70th birthday as more of that cohort than ever before hit three score years and ten. Me included.

A recent excellent radio programme, It’s the Demography Stupid with David Willets  explored the way such changes in demographic img_1699profoundly impact our politics.  Best current data suggests that life expectancy has, for most of the last couple of hundred years, been increasing at a rate of three months for every year. That is two to three years of life added for every decade. A ten-year old child in Britain today has a 50% probability of living to 104. Think about that for a moment. If this life extension continues as it has done, half the population will live to be 100. Half.  This increase in life expectancy  has  been achieved as Gratton and Scott point out in their important new book The 100 year Life through three phases.

The first substantial increase in life expectancy came with the successful decrease in infant mortality from the 1920’s onward.

The second phase came in the latter part of the twentieth century as the fatal diseases that were commonly killing most of us moved ‘out of the bowels and chests of infants into the arteries of the middle aged and elderly’, particularly cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Now in the 21st century it is clear that the next substantial increase in life expectancy will come from tackling the diseases of old age. However this, like the other increasing inequalities of advanced modern capitalism, is in danger of dividing nations between those who can establish a healthy and sustainable life-style in middle age, and those, mostly the poorer, less advantaged and educated in society, who cannot. For unlike earlier times, where infectious deseases pounced and killed from one day to the next, many of the primary ills of later life are silently incubated over decades through the choices we make.

While it is certainly true that our National Health Service always needs more money, beds and  an effective, integrated social care service, one thing nearly all of us could do to help it function better would be to take charge of our own health.

Eight our of ten middle-aged people in the UK are either overweight, drink too much or do not get enough exercise according to analysis from Public Health England (PHE)

PHE’s One You campaign is reaching out to the 83% of 40 to 60 year olds (87% of men and 79% of women) who are either overweight or obese, exceed the Chief Medical Officer’s alcohol guidelines or are physically inactive, to provide free support and tools to help them live more healthily in 2017 and beyond. Why not be part of the 1.1 million who have already taken the One You quiz so far?

It is estimated that habits such as poor diet, excessive alcohol, smoking and lack of activity are responsible for around 40% of all deaths in England and cost the NHS more than £11 billion a year.  A worrying 25% of women and 20% of men in Britain fail to get even half an hour of exercise a week! This plague of stasis is driving the three D’s of Disease, Disability and Dementia, which in turn is driving the Health Service into an endless spiral of rising costs and declining services.

Oxford’s Professor Sir Muir Gray, famous both for his long work in Public Health as well as his book, Sod 70 is a great advocate for getting people walking. As he says,

“Over 15 million Britons are living with a long-term health condition, and busy lives and desk jobs make it difficult to live healthily. But just making a few small changes will have significant benefits to people’s health now and in later life”.

screenshot-2017-01-18-17-20-35Two thirds of deaths of the under 75’s are avoidable, such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, obesity, dementia and depression. Modern life-styles and working practices leads us to an over-eating-under-moving life with well-known dire consequences for our health. Perhaps we need to reclassify obesity, as Professor Gray suggests,  as  a walking-deficiency-condition or hyper-sitting syndrome.

For those of us who have to sit so much getting to, and doing, our work, Gray suggests we should try to measure our  enforced  sitting in half hour blocks dividing each one up with 20 minutes sitting, 8 minutes of  standing and 2 minutes of  walking to the printer etc.  Better still try having all your meetings standing up or walking, often we can talk better together while walking side by side.

Perhaps a good start would be free pedometers for all. While 10,000 steps a day may be desirable even 3000 would be a great achievement for many to aim for.img_1510

Whatever we do we need to change the trajectory that is leading so many of us to be in danger of failing to enjoy long and useful lives that most of us can now, thankfully,  otherwise expect.

To live a long life that is enjoyable we need to do the things throughout our lives we know will push back the onset of chronic diseases that lead to both morbidity, frailty and permature mortality. In this way far more of our lives can be productive, fun and joyful, rather than clouded by incapacity. We can have a chance to do the work of our later years, free from too much pain and disability, truly see into our own nature and better realise our true selves.

There are still too many health unknowns that can strike us down, but by far the majority of those ills that can impact on our activities of daily living (ADL) such as walking, bathing, continence, dressing and eating, are heavily influenced by choices we make decades before about what we  eat how much we drink, the drugs and tobacco we consume and when and how we move. Too often it is less, in Yeats’s words, that the centre cannot hold, but rather how much  the centre of our body does hold. For most of us the answer is, too much dangerous visceral fat!

Change these and we can all have a profound impact on our National Health Service. The same NHS that spends 10% of its overall budget already on one preventable disease, type 2 diabetes, could in decades to come, be free to deal with those challenging diseases that seem still to strike out of the blue, as well as look after the very old in the short time of their  compressed decline towards death, while we can deal as much as we can with all those drivers of premature frailty and death that we know we can change with quite small adaptations to how we work and lead our lives.

The fourth industrial revolution is already upon us. As Klaus Schwab Founder and Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum says,

“We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another. In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before. We do not yet know just how it will unfold, but one thing is clear: the response to it must be integrated and comprehensive, involving all stakeholders of the global polity, from the public and private sectors to academia and civil society”.

screenshot-2017-01-18-17-05-55We will surely have enough to cope with without dealing with the problems we already know how to change and solve if only we can get ourselves to change our behaviour.

So take the One You quiz, and act now to reduce that 40% of deaths we know we could reduce substantially and see how you can help change all our futures.  http://www.nhs.uk/oneyou

 

BBC Radio 4 – The New World, It’s the Demography, Stupid!

How is population change transforming our world? David Willetts investigates.

Source: BBC Radio 4 – The New World, It’s the Demography, Stupid!