Falkirk Wheel

The Falkirk Wheel

Treacherous forecasting

The weather forecast threw a curve ball this weekend, calling for rain both Saturday and Sunday, and thundershowers into the bargain. As it turned out, I could have safely biked on either day, just so long as I was home before about 4 in the afternoon on Sunday. But it was impossible to know that beforehand.

Instead I settled for reverting Kuroko’s rear tire to tubeless, following the somewhat disastrous ride when the tire clearly wasn’t sealing. I didn’t get any further in the maintenance I have planned.

Slipping between the cracks

Meanwhile, today the weather cooperated, between the uncertain forecasts and what is certain to be heavy rain tomorrow and the following day. I took advantage of the break to cycle to work.

GPS record of cycle ride
… and the living is overcast

It was quite overcast and very windy on the ride home, but the rain held off.

Falkirk, meanwhile

The Falkirk Wheel, a marvel of engineering, is only about 20km from Edinburgh. One of my favorite bloggers has documented it here:

Falkirk Wheel

Given the Falkirk Wheel’s proximity to Edinburgh, with the Avon aqueduct en route, visiting it would add perhaps half a day on a Lejog redux.

I can’t help but think of Lejog as le Jog, as if it’s some French fitness fad …

Lejog in literature

Little did I expect when I picked up a graphic novel about the invention of the computer to find a strong parallel to my experience riding Land’s End to John o’ Groats. But there it is, in the source material included at the end of the book:

Are you at Ashley? And is it still convenient with all your other arrangements that I should join you there?—and will next Wednesday or next Thursday or any other day suit you: and shall I leave the iron-shod road at Thornton or at Bridgewater …

Charles Babbage, letter to Ada Lovelace dated September 9, 1843 (as quoted in The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage, by Sydney Padua)

Ashley was Lord Lovelace’s manor at Porlock, and so Bridgewater (now Bridgwater) is the city where Fearless Leader Joe and I got mired shin-deep in mud and then ended up riding in circles in the rain in our attempt to get back on track.

Here’s hoping that when Babbage left the iron-shod road he was not similarly mired and turned about!

Lejog pictures and places: Tourist


From Day 9 through Day 13, I was playing tourist while Fearless Leader Joe continued on solo. He didn’t take many photos, and anyway, that’s his story to tell. I just wanted to include one image of Crask Inn, which FLJ would have passed on Day 12. I found it by tracing the route on Google Street View, and it’s the only thing for miles around. When I asked FLJ if he remembered it, he replied, “Of course!” And then regaled me with stories of what he’d eaten and whom he’d met there.

Crask Inn

(I hadn’t followed that far north as I had to turn around and drive back to London to get Kuroko packed up for the flight home.)

My tourist photos of Carlisle and Scotland are available on Flickr:

"The Cathedral," the still room at Glenmorangie
Carlisle and Scotland

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Lejog pictures and places, Day 9

View through car windshield showing pouring rain

Monday, June 24

Monday morning dawned rainy. I’d had hours and hours of sleep and was eager to get a car and start chasing Fearless Leader Joe. I was soon on the road and apparently so was he, deep into Scotland. The weather forecast was bad and getting worse. When the deluge hit it was of Biblical proportions. The rain came down so hard I had to pull off the road because I couldn’t see where I was going! FLJ meanwhile, thoroughly drenched, had found shelter and a pot of hot tea near Edinburgh at Badgers Brook, Broxburn.

After the weather cleared, we met up for the night in Perth.

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Lejog pictures and places, Day 8

Cyclist standing in front of sign at Scottish border

Sunday, June 23

Sunday morning, over a Full English breakfast, I let Fearless Leader Joe know that he’d be continuing solo. I was sidelined by saddle sores. We made a plan to continue to Penrith, where I would rent a car and continue to follow Joe up through Scotland. Unfortunately, we hadn’t counted on it’s being Sunday, and there were no rental places open when we arrived in Penrith. So we continued on together to Carlisle, where we had lunch and then found lodging for me for the night while FLJ continued onwards. And what a day he had! We’d already done 60km to reach Carlisle by lunchtime (after much faffing about in Penrith), but he put in another 100km before calling a stop for the night!

Thethwaite, Carlisle

Bicycle leaning against signpost in the countryside
That’s fine, but we’re going the other way

Cyclist standing in front of sign at Scottish border
Welcome to Scotland

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Lejog pictures and places: Day 7

Cyclist passing a road sign at Shap Fell Summit

Saturday, June 22

Saturday — our planned day of rest — saw us on the road once more, making up lost time. We said goodbye to the canals here as we headed into the Lake District, but we did so in grand style. First we crossed the Lune Aqueduct, a canal on a bridge over a river, and then I found myself lending assistance to a canal boat whose motor had stopped.

River Lune

Cyclist standing next to canal on a bridge over a river
Canal on a bridge over a river


Man in cycling windbreaker and helmet pulling canal boat by a rope
My life as a canal mule

(Approximate location)

Just jumping ahead one moment: compare my windbreaker in that photo with the result after I’d returned to Tokyo and Nana had had a go with the washing.

Clean windbreaker hanging from hook on wall
The windbreaker after washing

Garnett Bridge

We reached Kendal, our goal for the previous evening, about 5 p.m. I was for stopping but FLJ was eager to take advantage of the remaining sunlight to get a leg up on the following day’s riding. We had quite a climb ahead of us — a Category 2 according to Strava. We passed through the lovely village of Garnett Bridge, but that was only the beginning of our climbing. We finally reached Shap Fell summit at 8:24 p.m. (Fearless Leader Joe far ahead and waiting patiently for me to come puffing up behind) and then flew down the next 10km to reach our lodging in Shap on the dot of 9 p.m.

Waterfall, Garnett Bridge

Cyclist standing on stone bridge
Bridge over the waterfall


Hilly English countryside with sheep
This vista brought to you by your thighs

Shap Fell Summit

Road winding down through hills
View from the top — of a Cat. 2 climb

Cyclist passing a road sign at Shap Fell Summit
Shap Fell Summit

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Lejog pictures and places: Day 6

Cyclist with a Police Community Support Officer

Friday, June 21

In the morning, with Kuroko behaving better than she had all trip thanks to Ben’s ministrations, we ate our breakfast standing in an Asda parking lot and then (after some faffing about) found our way back to the canals.


Wrought iron signpost in a grass field
Canal marker

(Approximate location)

Barton Upon Irwell

With daily shortfalls of our riding goals and the time lost to the broken spokes, we knew we’d have to forfeit our rest day to get back on schedule. With that in mind we were pleased that the day progressed well, despite the coolness of the Manchester locals, and the only incident was another flat. (I’m happy to report it was our last flat of the trip.) As we were finishing up the repair, a community support officer dropped by to see if we needed help, and happily agreed to pose for a photo.

Cyclist in yellow windbreaker fixing a flat tire
Here we go again …

Cyclist with a Police Community Support Officer
Friendly Police Community Support Officer lends a hand

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Lejog pictures and places: Day 5

Cyclist posing with custom blue bicycle

Thursday, June 20

On the morning of Day 5 we started by fitting our panniers. I had new panniers (brought from London by FLJ’s brother) to replace the one I’d broken on the first day, and Fearless Leader Joe had a new bike to fit his panniers to.


Bicycle with bright yellow panniers against brick wall
New panniers!

Cyclist posing with custom blue bicycle
Proud owner of a custom bike

As we set out, my chain was making squeaking noises. I knew the rear derailleur was somewhat misaligned, and all the mud and rain had apparently washed away most of the chain lube. We stopped at a garage and they kindly let us use some oil. It helped a bit. We set out again with FLJ getting used to his new bicycle with its much more upright and relaxed riding position.


Swans in the Severn River, with All Saints Worcester in the background
Swans and All Saints

The Guildhall Worcester
The Guildhall Worcester

At Worcester our route took us through the town center. We got turned around once or twice and were impatient to be moving, but the views were amazing.


Cyclist squeezing wide handlebars through gate
Squeezing through the barrier

Then at Kidderminster, FLJ had quite a time fitting his wide handlebars through this gate (meant to keep motorscooters off the canal path). We’d been working through various styles of gates the whole time, but this one was the most difficult. (I was able to pass through without any problem.)

Wombourne: Look up!

The GPS guided us under this bridge and then seemed to call for us to continue along the road on top of the bridge. We looked around for a way up. Eventually we found we’d passed by a poorly maintained and unmarked path up to the South Staffordshire Railway Walk, a converted rail right-of-way.


Later in the day as we cycled along the canal, my rear derailleur started misbehaving. It wouldn’t shift off the four lowest cogs. We took a break and I used my water bottle to clear the mud out of the derailleur and I fiddled with the adjustment screws. I got the thing working again but I’d made a bad mistake: I’d backed out the lower limit screw. In the evening as we neared Stafford, I shifted the derailleur off the lowest cog and the chain went into the wheel, breaking two spokes and mangling a few others.

Mechanic working on bike in dark parking lot
Ben to the rescue

While I got the broken spokes out of the way so Kuroko could limp into the next town, Fearless Leader Joe worked his phone and found a mobile bicycle mechanic. We secured a room at a Travelodge in Stafford, and Ben showed up in his repair truck to replace the broken spokes, straighten the wheel, clean and lube the chain and adjust the rear derailleur! He’s our hero!

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Lejog pictures and places: Day 4

Cyclist with bicycles on bridge over canal, with boats in background

Wednesday, June 19

Day 4 saw us at a rather slow start as we spent time sponging clay off the bikes from the previous day’s failed detour. But the skies, although grey, did not threaten rain, and we were on the road with sandwiches in our pockets earlier than we had left Hatherleigh the day before.


Two cups of coffee and a muddy bicycle helmet
Cup o’ mud

We rolled into Yatton at 11 a.m., which was too early for the cafés to open for lunch, so we enjoyed some coffee at the station. (As it turns out, we should have eaten something as well, because the sandwiches we’d brought from the hotel in the morning did not see us through the lunch that we missed.)


Cyclist walking across a bridge of palettes
The palette bridge

Cyclist walking across a bridge of palettes
Crossing a makeshift bridge

After leaving Yatton we encountered a local on his bike who gleefully led us towards Portishead and directed us towards our goal: the Avonmouth Bridge. We cycled along a repurposed rail line towards the bridge only to enounter a construction area. Mindful of our experience at Bridgwater, we asked a construction worker for directions. He guided us towards this makeshift bridge — “But you didn’t hear it from me” — and from there we found our way onto the bridge proper after only 20 minutes or so of going off on a wild goose chase in the wrong (but it was right?) direction.

Ingst Hill

North of the Avon, we dodged cows, only back-tracked a little bit, and found ourselves again in rain and mud. But at least we had cell signal to handle those important business calls.

Cyclist on a muddy road
Only a small portion of the mud encountered en route

Ham, Berkeley

Later in the afternoon the skies cleared enough for us to delight in discovering a mailbox! and a phone booth converted into a share library! Shortly after that we rolled into Berkeley. The café we spotted was closed, so we stood on the pavement and enjoyed some convenience store munchies to make up for our missed lunch before continuing.

Cyclists posing in front of mailbox, phone booth converted into library
Mailbox and phone booth library

Splatt Bridge, Frampton on Severn

We’d arranged a slight detour to meet up with Fearless Leader Joe’s brother, who was driving out from London with the beautiful new bike that FLJ had ordered for this tour (and then dithered so long about the paint color that the frame builder had to move heaven and earth to get the thing to us before we’d actually finished the ride). But on our way to the meet-up point we had one more break at a lovely crossing over the canal, where FLJ got involved in a seemingly endless conversation with a couple of locals.

Cyclist with bicycles on bridge over canal, with boats in background
Chillin’ at Splatt


We finally rolled into Staunton just a few minutes ahead of the cloudburst to find that the hotel was full. The staff helpfully assisted us in finding a B&B, but on our way there the heavens once again loosed their barrage upon us. The rain was over as quickly as it started, but we arrived dripping and muddy from head to toe. FLJ’s brother let us know he would arrive soon, and so we retired as we were to the Swan for a very delicious dinner as the sun re-ermerged and started to dry out our gear.

Three men, two in cyclists gear, at a restaurant table
Dinner at the Swan

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