October 6, 2015, by David Greenaway
Life Cycle 5 – From Lochs and Glens to Cathedrals and Minsters
Our final challenge of Life Cycle 5 was meant to be ‘Lochs and Glens’, a 205 mile route from Inverness to Glasgow, through challenging, but scenic terrain.
But it was not for me.
The night before heading to Inverness, my wife Susan was admitted to QMC with acute appendicitis, which turned out to be rather nasty. Nor was it meant to be for Susan Anderson, whose Father was gravely ill; she had to return to the family home in Ireland. We were both disappointed, but were where we should have been.
The other 13 riders got to Inverness and completed the challenge successfully, staying at Blair Athol and Callender (and visiting some iconic distilleries in the process). Despite the malt breaks, it was clearly a tough ride, partly because of climbing, partly because an unexpected amount of riding was on tracks. My thanks and congratulations to that team for completing the task.
But this left me and Susan A with a problem; we had not completed the full range of challenges. Quite aside from personal pride, there was the issue of delivering what we said we would to our sponsors.
So we cleared the first weekend in October, and I devised a challenge from Nottingham, structured around ‘Cathedrals and Minsters’. No lochs, no glens, no distilleries; but lots of places that are good for the soul. Nick Miles volunteered to ride with us to provide additional cover on the road, making an all Celtic team (with a phonetic ‘K’ rather than ‘S’ of course).
We set off on Day 1 from the two newly installed lions, presented to the City of Nottingham by the City of Ningbo to commemorate 10 years of partnership, and which look up to University Park from Highfields.
From there we headed out alongside the River Trent to Radcliffe, a lovely start in perfect cycling conditions, sunny with the lightest of breezes. Our first photo stop was Southwell Minster (seat of the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham) which we reached via Gunthorpe, and took in lunch with Susan G and Julie at the Minster Café (where I had the poshest sausage sandwich I have ever had).
Our overnight stay was in Lincoln, and after Newark we followed Sustrans route 64. It gets there via a dog leg through lovely villages like Collingham, South Scarle and Eagle, fairly flat with a slight incline up to Eagle Moor, and an attractive old rail track into Lincoln. Unfortunately however you arrive at the bottom end of the city, leaving a steep climb to Lincoln Cathedral (which was evidently the tallest building in the world for almost 300 years). But it was well worth it. The front was bathed in late afternoon sunshine showing off freshly cleaned honey hued limestone at its best.
Our first 52 miles were complete, and in pretty good time.
We stayed overnight at the Lincoln Premier Inn Central, one of the best I have stayed in. And there was a bonus, when we set off on Day 2, we simply rolled down the hill for about 300 metres, and there we were on Sustrans route 1.
The first part of Day 2 was quite stunning. The ‘Water Rail Way’ runs from Lincoln to Boston, on the track of a former railway line that closed in the 1970s. The first half runs between the River Witham on one side, and a canal on the other. In the early morning mists it was very atmospheric. But what makes this stretch really distinctive is the clever use of external sculpture, all sympathetically presented to complement an idyllic landscape.
After taking pictures at St Botolph’s Church in Boston, famed for the ‘Boston Stump’ which makes it the tallest parish church in England, we lunched at the Seventh Heaven Café on the market place (inevitably, baked potatoes) before picking our way out to continue south on Sustrans route 1.
At 90 miles, we knew Day 2 was going to be tough, so we did take in a few stretches on the A17 to make time, before dropping on to the A1101 from Holbeach to Wisbech (where we filled up again at Terry’s Diner) then back on Sustrans routes through to Ely.
The terrain for the entire day was completely flat, sometimes interesting, sometimes featureless; but relentlessly hard work. On flat ground you have no opportunities whatsoever to free wheel, you have to pedal all the time, just like on a static bike (but obviously much more interesting). However, having done that for 90 miles solid, by the time we reached the Lamb Hotel in Ely I was spent.
Still we looked forward to an evening watching the second half of South Africa v Scotland, and the full match of England v Australia in the Rugby World Cup…………..
Day 3 began in cool conditions, but as with the previous two days it was bright and fine. After pictures at Ely Cathedral (with its wonderful lantern, making it my own personal favourite of our great gothic cathedrals) we headed for Peterborough Cathedral, a 35 mile pull through the Fens via Chatteris and Whittlesey. We lunched with Susan G and Julie at the Argo Café by the Cathedral entrance. For some reason Peterborough is not as well-known as the other great medieval cathedrals of England, yet it is just as impressive, and with as rich a history, as most. We had our photo shoot and headed off for the final stretch of a 70 mile day.
At this point we were a little anxious on timing, because we still had another 35 miles to finish in Grantham. So we decided on route 1, not Sustrans route 1, but the A15 out of Peterborough and through to Bourne. It is not pretty riding in such fast and noisy traffic. But it got the job done and to our surprise (since it was Day 3) we covered the 18 miles in an hour, which earned us a break in the local Costa.
For the stretch from Bourne to Grantham, the terrain changed quickly from fenland to rolling East Midlands topography. It was nice to have freewheeling opportunities again, especially at the end, where the final mile in to Grantham was all downhill.
So we arrived at Grantham at 1600, and Karen Cox met us with her Camper van, complete with bike rack, to transport us back to Nottingham.
This challenge came in at 212 miles. I was extremely happy to get to the end of it, having cycled so little in recent months (and not having had a single day of more than 60 miles since Life Cycle 4 thirteen months ago). It means Susan A and I have now completed the mileage required for LC5 (and Nick has over-performed!); it also means we have fulfilled our commitments to those who sponsored us.
Susan A and Nick were terrific cycling companions, and we stuck tight as a group throughout; Susan G and Julie were always there or thereabouts, but fortunately did not need to be called on: there was not a single puncture between the three of us, no mechanical failures, and no accidents.
As for our fundraising efforts more generally, we now have almost £240,000 for dementia research, and this continues to climb. I remain hopeful that our target of £350,000 will be achieved.
Finally, this was a somewhat contrived route, but a challenging and interesting one. Judging from what we covered, Sustrans have done an excellent job in the east of England, and there are many parts of this route I would recommend for day rides (or an entire weekend challenge).
Professor Sir David Greenaway