This cycling adventure is for the benefit of local girls and boys at Tŷ Gobaith in the Conwy valley and Hope House, Oswestry: http://www.hopehouse.org.uk
Written as a daily diary the story begins at Lands End in Cornwall and continues for 14 days along the length of Britain until reaching John O’Groats in Scotland. If you enjoy reading this please share these stories to bring pleasure to others.
Having packed everything I needed for the journey (toiletries, a change of clothing, pyjamas and 6, no 7 packets of jelly babies) I got to Lands End with Bessie my bicycle on several different trains from Harlech to Penzance in Cornwall.
From Penzance railway station a 12 mile bicycle ride through a village named Sennan took me to my overnight stay at Lands End.
Day 1 – Wednesday May 4th: Lands End to Looe
Here I am with Bessie at Lands End, the most south-westerly point of mainland Britain.
The sign reads 874 miles to my destination of John O’Groats which is situated at the most north-easterly tip of Britain. As I will be cycling on quiet roads instead of main roads my journey will be 1000 miles long, not 874.
Not far from Lands End a tall island rises from the sea. The island is called Saint Michaels Mount.
According to local legend it was built by a Cornish giant who made it his home. This giant had a monstrous appetite and used to raid all the farms on the mainland for food. When he appeared people were terrified they would be eaten so ran away and hid. Because the giant was stealing all their food everyone in the land grew very hungry.
A boy named Jack lived at one of the farms. Jack was clever, hardworking and very, very brave. He was also fed up with going without a meal so one day he began to dig a very deep pit outside the entrance to his farm. Jacks neighbours asked why he was doing this but Jack said nothing to them and simply kept digging deeper and deeper into the ground. He then concealed the opening by covering the top with branches, twigs and leaves.
That evening the giant could be seen approaching the mainland from his home on St Michaels Mount. He was going to raid the local farms and as usual everyone ran away to hide from him. But the giant had seen a big plump cow in one of Jacks fields and strode towards it bellowing:
‘MUNCH, CRUNCH, BRUNCH, SCRUNCH
I’LL EAT THAT COW FOR MY LUNCH’
But before he could reach the cow the giant stood on the branches that Jack had laid to conceal the pit he had dug. The giant fell in – never to be seen or steal food ever again. From that day onwards nobody missed a meal and Jack became known as ‘Jack the Giant Killer’.
The people from the mainland were overjoyed that the giant had gone. They crossed the causeway linking the mainland to St Michaels Mount and made a bonfire from the giants house. Flames from the fire could be seen for miles around and since that time fires have been lit in the same place to act as a beacon to warn others of an approaching danger.
In later times St Michaels Mount was the first beacon to be lit in a series that stretched as far as London. The flames were to warn everyone that an enemy was approaching. The enemy that people were afraid of were Spanish soldiers who were sailing inside an Armada of boats. They were coming to invade our land.
At the time of the beacons being lit a Sea Captain called Franky Drake was further down the coast in Plymouth. He was playing in a bowls competition. When Franky was told that the warning beacon had been lit, he informed his team mates that there was plenty of time to finish the game. Franky’s last bowl won the game at the final of a national tournament for his team.
It must have been Frankys’ lucky day. Not only did he win his bowls match but by the time he got to his boat and set sail to defend Britain from the invading Spanish, bad weather had blown their Armada of boats off course. His boss did not know this and thinking the Armada were fleeing from Franky they instantly awarded him a promotion to the rank of Admiral.
Good news kept coming Frankys’ way. Back in Plymouth his bowls team were so pleased that Franky had stayed to finish and win his game, they named him ‘Man-of-the-Match’. Better still ‘Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth 1st’ ( who had placed a large wager on a Plymouth win at the bowls tournament) was so delighted with the match result that she awarded him a knighthood in her birthday honours list. He was then known by the very grand title of ‘Admiral Sir Francis Drake’.
I continued cycling and eventually reached the town of Looe to rest for the night.
Day 2 – Thursday 5th May: Looe to Exeter
This morning I set off from my overnight stay in Looe and cycled to Dartmoor. Dartmoor is a vast and lonely wilderness where wild beasts roam and is the place where people have disappeared for ever into its bottomless bogs. As I cycled across this desolate moor my bicycle satellite navigation screen suddenly went blank. This gave me a scare. Without it I was lost on a deserted road. The skies darkened under heavy cloud and heavy rain made it impossible to see the way ahead.
Suddenly I heard the snort of a horse and saw brightly lit candles shining from the steps of a vardo. A vardo is a gypsy caravan that has a living space which gives warmth and shelter for sleeping and cooking.
A women was standing by the steps. Her piercing eyes were staring into my soul and her gaze drew me closer. When she spoke I froze to the spot. She demanded to know who I was and the reason for cycling Bessie over her moor.
I answered her questions and spoke about the children at Tŷ Gobaith and about the ride ahead of me. She beamed a smile at me in recognition at the name Tŷ Gobaith.
‘Well, Gypsy Etsy at your service’, she said in a velvet, honeyed voice.
‘But there are long roads between here and the far north of Britain and not everyone you meet will be friendly. You will need something to help you in times of danger’.
Gypsy Etsy went to the back of her vardo and returned with a small leather pouch.
‘Take these. They are magic crystals and if you are in any type of danger simply grip the pouch tightly and help will arrive’
She handed me her magic and a picture of herself. As we parted she said:
‘Do stop at the Moretonhampstead tea room. I was there some years ago. Tell them Gypsy Etsy sent you’
I promised to visit the tea room and said my goodbyes. At the very moment I cycled Bessie away, darkness lifted, the sun came out and my bicycle satellite navigation system started to work again. It wasn’t long before arriving at Moretonhampstead where I kept my promise and stopped at the tea room.
What a lovely tea room. The waitress made me a crisp cheese and salad sandwich in soft white bread, followed by fluffy warm scones with strawberry jam and cornish cream – finished off with a plump slab of fruit cake. As she was setting a pot of steaming tea on the table in front of me the waitress asked where I had cycled from.
‘The moor. Gypsy Etsy sent me here . She said to make certain that I tell you that’
The colour drained from the face of the waitress who then took me outside and pointed out the ‘Gypsy Etsy’s Tea Room’ sign that I hadn’t noticed on my arrival here . I thought it was an interesting coincidence but surely this didn’t merit the waitress going into a state of shock?
Returning indoors to finish my tea I then went to pay the bill and noticed picture postcards for sale on the counter. I brought one to send back home.
Walking outside to the daylight I looked closely at its picture and the small writing underneath that said this was of a white witch who opened the tea room over 200 years ago. I then compared the picture on this postcard with the photograph Gypsy Etsy had earlier gifted me of herself and gosh, no wonder the waitress had looked so shocked, they were the very same person – how spooky !
I cycled onwards to my next overnight stay at a lovely guest house in nearby Exeter.
Day 3 – Friday 6th May: Exeter to Wells
After a hearty breakfast of golden eggs, warm bread and a jug filled to the brim with rich creamy milk, Bessie and I left Exeter in the county of Devon. It felt good to put a safe distance between us and the eeriness of Dartmoor.
By lunchtime we had put in a hard mornings cycling and had reached the county of Somerset where the ‘Half Moon Inn’ offered a tasty menu and some welcome shade in a pretty garden.
Here I enjoyed an ice cold ginger beer and a roll stuffed with slices of delicious ham. Ouch !, I felt a severe pinprick on my left ankle. Ouch !, then another Ouch !, Ouch !, Ouch!
What on earth was going on?
Oh dear, the garden was filling up with tiny pixies. They were wearing dirty ragged clothes and pink pointed hats. One of them had fanged teeth. He was the cheeky chappy that kept biting my ankle. Then two of his buddies squealed:
‘We are Snip, Snap and Shredder’ and then chanted:
‘Snip Bessies brake cable, Snap her chain, ‘Shred her tyres!’
I ran out of the garden and cycled Bessie away to safety. I sped along the nearby lanes. Faster and faster I cycled, determined to prevent the pixies from damaging her. Then to my horror Snip, Snap and Shredder caught up and were bouncing on the mudguards trying to bite and puncture Bessies’s tyres. They were threatening to damage Bessie so badly that I might not be able to continue this adventure. What could I do?
Despite panicing I managed to remember the magic crystals and Gypsy Etsys promise that help would arrive if I held them tightly. The crystals were in my pocket. The very second I held them a beefy farmer came striding around the corner with an enormous chocolate coloured labrador dog. He was a friendly old fellow with a pink tongue that hung happily out of his mouth and a tail that wagged enthusiastically. The moment he saw the pixies he gave a yelp of glee and lolloped towards them; Snip, Snap and Shredder saw what was approaching , stopped their naughty antics and fled across nearby fields. I carried on cycling Bessie in the opposite direction.
That night I stayed in the Somerset town of Exeter where I found a town house to stay overnight. The owners said Bessie would be safe in my spacious bedroom. As I drifted off to sleep I was startled awake by the noise of the bedroom window rattling wildly. Snip, Snap and Shredder had found me and were trying to break in. After a while they realised that the window was locked and would not open, so they scuttled around the gravel path and began thumping on the front door demanding to get in. Their noisy antics continued into the night but I clung on to Gypsy Etsys crystals. They kept me safe….for the time being.
Day 4 – Saturday 7th May: Wells to Monmouth
At daybreak I quietly opened the front door. Snip, Snap and Shredder had tired themselves out and had fallen to sleep on the front lawn. They looked just like a bundle of scruffy rags and certainly smelt as bad. Bessie and I quietly sneaked past them and through the garden gateway to cycle through the City of Bristol. Here a high bridge would have to be crossed to get out of England into Walesland.
Just as the bridge came into sight Snip, Snap and Shredder caught up with me. They were leaping into the air with Snip trying to bite Bessie’s brake cable, Snap pushing twigs into Bessie’s cogs and Shredder trying to puncture the tyres.
‘Oh-no, not again’ I said. ‘This is getting too much, it really is’. Once again I reached for the crystal that Gypsy Etsy had given me. At the very moment I touched it a dragon appeared in the sky. Its huge claw gripped Bessies’ bicycle frame and lifted Bessie and me off the ground and over the bridge into Walesland. Gypsy Etsy had sent Draig Coch to our rescue!
Draig Coch stood guard on the Welsh side of the bridge . As Snip, Snap and Shredder approached they had the fright of their lives as Draig bellowed fire from her nostrils and blew them all the way back to England.
Draig then came over to me and I rested Bessie against her side. Draig said that she usually stands guard at Tŷ Gobaith where she protects the children and had flown here because Gypsy Etsy told her we were in trouble. Thanking Draig she flew away to look after the Tŷ Gobaith children.
I continued cycling and reached Monmouth for an overnight stay and noticed a thumb print where Draig had held Bessie to lift us over the bridge.
Not an ordinary thumb print though. This is truly a magical thumb print; it is solid silver and in the shape of Draig Coch.
Day 5 – Sunday 8th May: Monmouth to Shrewsbury
(Todays cycling story is dedicated to little Ruby, a cavalier from Cheshire who we met in Clun. Aged 14 she donated her £5 pocket money to support the Ty Gobaith/ Hope house children. Thank you Ruby)
The naughty pixies Snip, Snap and Shredder were gone forever and after a very good nights sleep I woke up fresh and eager to begin the next stage of my bike ride on Bessie to Shrewsbury.
As I was wheeling along the Shrewsbury road a large group of cyclists on racing bicycles sped past me and took the turning I was heading for. The cyclists were half my age, twice my height, with much stronger pedalling and all rode very light weight bicycles without any luggage. I decided that they would get to Shrewsbury a long time before I would.
Ten miles later I stopped at a lay-by for a drink of coffee and noticed the racing bicycles against the wall of a cafe on the other side of the road. All the cyclists were inside and I could see through the windows that they were enjoying heaped plates of sausages and hash browns. It seemed they had simply cycled here for a quick bite to eat.
Bessie and I carried on cycling and hardly 20 minutes had gone by before hearing the whirling and clunk of gears being changed behind me. The racing bicycles flashed by. They were on the way to Shrewsbury after all.
A few hours later I cycled Bessie through a village called Clun where I saw the racing bikes against the wall of a village pub. Their riders were sitting at nearby picnic tables drinking pints of beer and tucking into huge servings of meat and potatoe pie with chips and gravy. Passing them by for a second time I wondered how long it would be before they overtook again.
The rest of the journey was a peaceful and pleasant ride along the Welsh boarder.
We reached the gigantic ribcage of Shrewsbury’s ‘Quantum’ and cycled through the sculptures archway, grateful to be so close to a good nights rest. Looking behind me I could see the racing cyclists slowly wobbling their way into town and I overheard their astonished comments that I had arrived before them.
Inside my Quantum bedroom the air had a fragrance of lavender and wonderful soft lights swirled colours of gold, blue and magenta around me. Bubble tubes played melodies as I gently floated off to sleep.
Day 6 – Monday 9th May: Shrewsbury to Runcorn
Cycling Bessie towards Runcorn the early start was bright and clear then each passing hour brought worsening downfalls of rain and strong head winds. I wondered if I could reduce the length and amount of time this journey would take by finding a shorter route.
On the outskirts of Chester I came across a man wearing a striped jumper and black eye mask. Over his shoulder was a very full looking sack with the word ‘Swag’ embroidered on it. As he walked briskly in front of me I called out to ask if he new a short cut to Runcorn. He pointed to a few garden walls that I could hop over and then commenting that would be difficult to do on a bicycle ,he suggested an alternative route through a village called Trafford.
‘Beware of the Troll ! ‘ he shouted, as I pedalled Bessie in his suggested direction of Trafford.
‘Beware of the Police !’ I replied, as a police car with armed officers screeched to a halt beside him.
I had no concern about Trolls. My only trouble was the terrible, near gale force head wind that slowed my progress and caused a crackle-rattle of branches as they fell from trees and landed on the ground perilously close to me.
The shortcut through Trafford required a crossing of the river Gowey with its only crossing point, a dilapidated wooden bridge. Its planks rumbled as I cycled Bessie along it.
‘ Who’s that above me?’ roared a fierce voice.
I brought Bessie to a stop and peeped through a gap between the planks I was cycling over. Here I saw what looked like a giant seashell.
The object must have sensed I had stopped and slowly lifted itself out of the water and looked through the deck of the bridge, revealing his hungry eyes. These were as big as saucers. Gulp – this was the Troll I had been warned about.
‘ I am tired of eating fish. I want some meat for my supper dish. I’m coming to eat you instead of fish’ he shouted.
The troll then stepped out of the water and stood in front of me.He held a strange looking spear and intended to put me on the end of it.
The Trolls hairy hand moved in my direction and I began rummaging for Etsy’s crystal, closing my eyes in the certainty that the next thing I would see would be the insides of the Trolls tummy.
ROARRR was the sound that broke into my fear. ROAR, HISS, CRASH, THUMP.
The deck of the bridge shook to its foundation. The river bed trembled as the earth quaked. Noise, heat and bellowing wind surrounded me and then……then there was complete stillness. Absolute silence. I slowly opened my eyes expecting to see the inside of the Trolls tummy. Instead it was Draig Coch who had flown to my rescue from Tŷ Gobaith.
‘The Troll has gone now. He has fled to his Den in Middle Earth. He will never return to trouble you or the kind people of Trafford. But I must fly now. There is a birthday party for one of the little ones at Tŷ Gobaith’
With a single bat of his wings, Draig flew back to his post at Tŷ Gobaith for an very enjoyable afternoon of fun, laughter and games at the birthday party.
How I wished Bessie could be cycled as quickly as Draig can fly.
As I cycled away from Trafford the sky developed an orange haze. This was pollution, the worst I have seen.The noise of motorway traffic grew so loud that it drowned out all other sounds. The air was loaded with diesel fumes.Had I arrived in Hell? – no, Runcorn.
Day 7 – Tuesday 10th May: Runcorn to High Bentham
I got up before daybreak and cycled Bessie across the industrial heart of the North West of England before people set off to work. By 7am we had travelled through the usually busy towns of Warrington and Bolton.
The second leg of todays route took me through the village of Slaidburn and into the beautiful Forest of Bowland. Over recent months this area has been rained on so heavily and so frequently that some roads were washed away. Fortunately an officer from the Lake District National Park gave permission for Bessie and I to use a temporary road that was usually reserved for bus travel and highway maintenance vehicles.
Torrential rain was making it difficult to see or be seen. I was cold and soaked to the skin so decided to push Bessie off the road and into the forest and waited for the rain to stop under the branches of a huge sturdy oak tree.
As the minutes passed by I began to tune in to the sound of low pitched voices that were surrounding me but could not see anyone through the rain. I unwrapped a sweet and began eating it, taking great care not to disturb any tooth fillings. Then a gentle voice from above my head spoke:
‘Are you still wet?
I looked upwards to where the voice had come from and nearly fainted in complete disbelief. The tree had a face. Its wrinkled trunk had two eyes and like everyones favourite Uncle, he radiated a lovely heart-warming smile.
‘ I am a little wet and cold’.
The kind tree then folded its lower branches and wrapped them around me to provide shelter and warmth.
After a while I became captivated by the quiet conversations that surrounded me. But these voices were not coming from people. The conversations were taking place between the forests’ trees !
A hawk carrying a field mouse flew through the rain and gently placed it on the ground beside me and fluttered to the top of the tree, whispering something before taking flight.The magic tree then stooped down and said:
‘ The hawk tells me this rain will continue to fall here for several more days. A Gypsy called Etsy asked him to drop by with Squeaky the mouse. Squeaky will take you away from the rain.’
‘Follow me’ squeaked the mouse who scuttled along a little path through the undergrowth. Bessie and I could only just manage to keep up. Eventually we reached the low entrance of a limestone cave and Squeaky dived in. Bessie and I followed and Squeaky led us into darkness. Luckily Bessie has a very powerful headlamp so I could see and follow Squeaky. We eventually came out of the cave having reached a road on the far side of the forest.
‘Now keep right and you won’t go wrong’, said Squeaky, twitching her nose knowingly. Waving goodbye I cycled away under clear blue skies thankful to Squeaky, to the Hawk, to the magical tree and above all to Gypsy Etsy for taking care of us. A short while later I arrived at High Bentham to stay overnight.
Day 8 – Wednesday 11th May: High Bentham to Keswick
I made another early start this morning and travelled on Bessie towards England’s most beautiful lakes at Ullswater and Grassmere, in an area known as the Lake District.
By mid morning I arrived here and decided to rest for a coffee break. I watched the sun sparkling on the surface of the lake and admired this line of spring daffodils that stretched out into the distance and vanished into the trees behind them. The morning breeze tossed their heads in a sprightly dance.
I remembered Gypsy Etsy on the steps of her vardo in Dartmoor. When she knew my route would be through the Lake District she told me about a chum of hers, Billy Wordsworth. He once lived near this place and kept pidgeons and doves. Billy even called his cottage ‘Dove Cote Cottage’.
She had told me about the letters he wrote. These were long before emails or post boxes were used so people used to write on parchment before sealing the letter with candle wax. Billy used to attach his letters to the leg of a pigeon named Peggy. Peggy was a very clever bird who would then find her way to Gypsy Etsy’s vardo and fly back to Billy with a reply.
One of the Billy’s letters was dated 209 years ago today. The letter described the sight of daffodils and I wondered whether Billy had sat here when he wrote that verse.
Pushing Bessie back onto the road we cycled on towards Keswick. This was going to be my last overnight stay in England. Tomorrow I will cycle Bessie across the boarder into Scotland.
Day 9 – Thursday 12th May: Keswick to Moffat
Hurray, hurray twice ! Firstly because Bessie and I have now cycled 500 miles and that means we have only 500 more miles to reach our destination of John O’Groats. The second hurray is for arriving at the Blacksmiths forge in Gretna Green.
Many years ago young people in England needed their parents permission to marry. When their parents did not give permission some couples ran away to Scotland where the law allowed them to marry. Gretna Green was the first village the couples arrived at.
Marriages were performed by the village Blacksmith who would give the couple a horse shoe as their wedding present and wish them good luck for their future. Since then ‘horse shoes’ as a sign for good luck is the reason why they can been seen on some doorways or gatepost,and why todays wedding confetti often contains horseshoes made from paper !
When resting with Bessie against the Blacksmiths wall the front door opened and two frogs hopped out. They had just got married and were called Fergie and Fergus Frog. Fergus told me they lived in the village pond at the back of the Blacksmiths forge. They were just about to set off for a honeymoon in the City of Glasgow, a place they had never visited before. I wished them well and off they hopped.
It was a hot day and the frogs had only gone a little way when Fergus said to his new wife:
‘We must be nearly there. Can you see Glasgow Fergie?’
‘No’ replied Fergie.‘ But if I could climb onto your back I might be able to’
Fergus turned round and Fergie climbed onto his back. But by turning round Fergie was now looking at where they had come from and not where they were heading.
‘Can you see the City?’ said Fergus.
‘Yes’, answered his wife. ‘ I can and it looks exactly like our village’.
Fergus and Fergie then hopped back home and told the other frogs that as the City of Glasgow looked just like their own village, it was not worth going to.
The newly married couple then decided to spend the rest of their honeymoon and the rest of their lives lounging on huge Lilly leaves that floated on the village pond.
Fergus and Fergie Frog lived happily ever after.
Day 10 – Friday May 13th: Moffat to Loch Lomand
Unlike Fergus and Fergie I did go to Glasgow. It is an enormous City with a wide river, the Clyde, passing through it. Many say the Clyde is the reason for wealth in Glasgow and several beautiful bridges allow people to cross over the river.
Cycling through the City of Glasgow was easy. There is a path specially reserved for bikes where we passed a giants bicycle. Remembering that Jack had deposited the giant into a pit, we were free from danger.
Many miles later we arrived at Loch Lomond and it was here that I met Danny the dragonfly. Danny was clinging on to the head of a flower.
‘Please help me!’ exclaimed Danny. ‘I was playing in the Loch and have lost my Antennae’
‘Of course’ I replied. Antennae are very important to dragonflies. They act as a magic eye to sense where land ends and water begins. No wonder Danny needed to find them.
In the distance I saw an underwater policeman bobbling about.
‘Constable Seahorse, please help Danny, he has lost his antennae’
Constable Seahorse wrote down the particulars on a piece of water weed and used his radio to summon his Seahorse deputies who quickly arrived to help with the search. They looked in and all round the Loch, including the shoreline and water reeds but the antennae was nowhere to be found.
‘Where were you before you noticed that your antennae was lost’ asked Constable Seahorse.
‘I was playing with Crabbie the crab’, wailed Danny. ‘I must find my antennae otherwise Mom will be very angry with me’
Constable Seahorse sent his deputies to Crabbies house and they returned with him a short while later.
‘ Look Danny’ said Crabby very proudly. ‘ Here are your antenna. You left them at my place’
So who said Friday 13th was unlucky?
Day 11 – Saturday May 14th:Loch Lomond to Glencoe
After helping Danny it was too late in the afternoon for further cycling so I stayed at a guest house on the banks of Loch Lomond. The landlady owned a brindle boxer dog named Biffo and a ginger tom cat called Benny who was always taking things and frequently got into trouble.
The following morning Biffo the boxer positioned himself in the doorway of the breakfast room. There was hope in his eyes and room in his tummy for everything on my breakfast plate. The landlady was working in the kitchen and accidentally dropped a smoked kipper on the floor. Benny lived up to his reputation and quickly ran off with it to the nearby Loch.
Benny suddenly stopped running and cocked his head to one side. What had distracted him? I couldn’t see anything but could hear a mysterious sound coming from somewhere out of sight.It was a sound the likes of which I had never heard before and neither had Biffo who let out such a huge howl that a rabbit nibbling a lettuce leaf in the vegetable garden stood up on its hind legs to take a look, and even asked a nearby squirrel if she had heard the noise.
Why wasn’t big brave Biffo the boxer dog chasing down to the Loch to find out what was happening? Looking down on my plate it was empty. Biffo was licking his lips. He had woofed down all of my breakfast.
‘Well, how lovely to see a clean breakfast plate. So many guests leave food. Would you care for some more?’ asked the land lady.
‘No thank you’. Was my reply. I was gazing at the slimy slobber that Biffo had left. To prevent the land lady accusing me of plate licking I used a paper serviette to wipe away Biffos’ mess.
The noise from the Loch was getting louder and sounded more urgent. Then it dawned on me that Danny the dragonfly may have got into difficulties so I rushed to the rescue along with 3 rabbits, 5 squirrels, a mouse, a tawny owl, 2 foxes, 3 goats with Biffo the boxer dog bringing up the rear.
We all arrived at the Loch side together and the mysterious noises were no longer a mystery. The eggs of 2 geese had hatched and the chicks were playing with each other. Their parents were jumping with joy !
Day 12 – Sunday May 15th Glencoe to Inverness
The sun rose and burn’t off the coolness of todays spring morning. I set off to the next Loch, Loch Ness. The road I was travelling on would lead to my next overnight stay in the historic City of Inverness. Inverness is crowned by a pink castle that is lavishly adorned with scented flowers.
Loch Ness is 20 miles long and so deep that if 73 of the tallest people you know stood on each others shoulders, they would still not match the depth of this Loch. Loch Ness is most famous for tales about a monster that is supposed to live in its water. The Loch Ness monster is popularly known at ‘Nessie’.
It was lovely to cycle alongside Loch Ness, following its banks along a very quiet and pleasant roadside flanked by trees. I met a farmer wearing a shabby sports jacket with leather patched arms. He seemed surprised to see me and introduced himself as Percival Mac Pickle-Nose
‘Not many people cycle here’ said Percival. ‘Did ye not hear about the vampires?’
‘Vampires?’ I queried. Percival then explained this was the name he gave to describe flying midges that bite people.
‘They are very common here in the Scottish Highlands, especially by water and even more so by this Loch. The last person who attempted to bike along this road never made it to Inverness. The poor lassie was so badly bitten that only her bicycle survived ‘.
That good news for Bessie was not good news for me and as a distant sound of buzzing from the whirling wings of midges could be heard , it was sensible to move on.
Cycling Bessie away as quickly as possible to get away from the midges, my legs tired and the ‘Vampires’ caught up and started to bite. Their bites were deeper and more painful than any bite from that naughty pixie named Snap, back in Somerset.
When I tried to swat the midges away they retaliated and bit my fingers, hands and arms. So many midges filled the air that the skies darkened. All I could think of was Percival Mac Pickle-Nose telling me about the lady who was so badly bitten that she never made it to Inverness.
I reached into my pocket for the bag of crystals that Gypsy Etsy had given me and held them tightly, asking for help. A warm breeze then stirred from the Loch that grew stronger and stronger until a gale force wind began to develop. The gusts were so strong that it took all my strength to hold onto Bessie.
Eventually it became impossible to continue cycling. Gripping Bessie with one hand and a railing of a fence with the other, I looked towards the Loch as Nessie its monster surfaced. Within seconds her hurricane breath triggering a tornado that sucked all the vampires high up into the air and ‘Over the Sea to Skye‘.
‘Thank you Nessie’ I said.
As she submerged herself back into the Loch, the wind stopped.
‘Sorry people of Skye’ I muttered, then continued to cycle Bessie towards my next overnight stay in the City of Inverness.
Arriving at Inverness I spotted a chap who was sitting next to his friend, fishing. I heard them say that there was no such thing as a Loch Ness monster.
Day 13 – Monday May 16th: Inverness to Altnaharra
Inverness is traditionally seen as the capital of the Scottish Highlands and today I was going to cycle Bessie between soaring mountain tops, deep valleys, lakes and lonely houses where few people lived.
By mid-afternoon I was cycling along a track that had woodland on one side and a small lake on the other.Behind me I heard the click-clacking of horse hooves and the creaking of the carriage it was pulling. The track was narrow so it seemed sensible to wait on the verge and give them room to pass.
The click clack sound of horse hooves became louder as did the creaking and rattling of the carriage as it rounded the bend behind me. As the horse and its carriage passed, the sounds grew very loud indeed and then quieter as it clicked, clacked and creaked into the distance.
But I saw nothing! No horse, no carriage. Only the sounds they were making. A cold shiver ran down my spine and I pinched myself to make sure this wasn’t a dream. Ouch ! it wasn’t. I could still hear the distant click, clack, creak and rattle as they continued in front of me. How eerie.
An hour or so later I arrived at my guest house in Altnaharra. It was a clean, warm and homely place to stay with friendly owners who made me a cup of tea. I told them the story of the horse and carriage and they looked at me very strangely. I never saw them again either.
Day 14 – Tuesday May 17th: Altnaharra to the Castle of Mey
If you have never seen an Elf they are very easy to recognise with their short pointed ears and adorable red nose. Today I came across a pair of them walking in the same direction that I was cycling Bessie, so I called out:
I’m off to the castle of Mey. Would you like me to give you a ride on Bessie?’
The two elves looked at each other and nodded eagerly. ‘Yes please’ they chorused, hopping onto my bicycle bags that were suspended on either side of Bessies rear mudguard. They shuffled around and making themselves very comfortable poured out their story, often speaking at the same time.
‘My name is Jingle’
‘My name is Jangle’
‘ We are off to the castle of Mey and have walked here from Skegness. We have had a caravan holiday in Skeggy and really loved our time there. We stay in Skeggy for 5 months of the year but now we are off to the castle of Mey where there is a sleigh waiting to take us home’.
‘A sleigh? Where’s home?’ I asked.
‘The North Pole’ answered Jingle and Jangle very proudly.
‘The North Pole?’ Their story seemed hard to believe. ‘Surely only Father Christmas (Sion Corn) lives at there’
‘And his helpers’ said Jingle, adding: ‘I look after his reindeers’
‘And I help to make toys in Santas workshop’ added Jangle. ‘Our work starts in early June and a storeroom full of presents is then ready in plenty of time for the children’s letters to Santa that usually arrive at the beginning of December.
‘Do you make presents for all the children in the world?’ thinking it would be a huge job for just two elfs.
‘Not quite. We use our magical powers to look after every child in England, Walesland, Scotland, America, Australia and New Zealand’ said Jingle.
‘Our pals the Leprechauns look after the children living in Ireland. The Yule lads then look after the children in Iceland and the Zwarte Piet outfit take care of the rest of Europe. Others look after the rest of the world.
Jingle and Jangle explained that Her Majesty the Queen had a very gracious mother who was also a Queen. She gave permission for the sleigh to use her garden at the castle of Mey, which was also her summer home.
Having now arrived at the Castle of Mey I realised this bicycle adventure was nearly at an end.
My final destination of John O’Groats was less than an hour away. Over the past 14 days there have been many wonderful experiences.
Now I was saying farewell to Jingle and Jangle who had been great company. Understandably I felt a little sad. To my great surprise someone called out my name. That ‘someone’ turned out to be my protector, Gypsy Etsy. My sadness immediately lifted.
Gyspy Etsys’ vardo was nestled in a corner of the castle of Mey garden. Her washing was pegged neatly on a line between the vardo and the Queen mothers cherry tree. A stew was bubbling on her stove and it smelt delicious.
‘Its lovely to see you, when did you get here? I asked
‘Yesterday’ answered Etsy. ‘Do you remember hearing my horse and vardo?’
I then realised that yesterdays noise of a horse and carriage was nothing more sinister than Gypsy Etsy who was travelling past under a cloak of invisibility.
Gypsy Etsy told me that she visits the Castle of Mey every spring and if the Elfs are a little late in their arrival she casts a spell to get them here more quickly. Today I had been part of todays spell.
Day 15 – Wednesday May 18th: The Castle of Mey to John O’Groats
Today I cycled 7 miles from the Castle of Mey to the finish of my bicycle ride at John O’Groats.
My journey was now over . A short bicycle ride to Thurso railway station and several trains later I arrived back home in Harlech the following morning. I had cycled Bessie 1,026 miles.
If you have enjoyed reading these stories and wish to know more about the work of Hope House and Tŷ Gobaith visit: http://www.hopehouse.org.uk.