Saturday, 28 September 2013

Day 1 - John O'Groats to Tongue via Dunnets Head

We arrived at John O'Groats early in the morning after a really tiring drive up, I haven't had much slip and poor Jazzy and Bill are very tired.  We had breakfast in the "cafe", it's just a portakabin but the owner known locally as "chef", is amazing.  He is from Manchester and made us feel really welcome, and his breakfast was as welcoming as he was:  Sausauge Square, bacon, black pudding, haggis, beans, two eggs etc..  and great coffee.

In the background Porpoises were swimming HONEST!

The Boomerang Challenge 

Off she goes

The obligatory photo

The obligatory photo part two

The Ferry

Looking back at the Hotel, is it me or does it look
sponsored by united colours of Bennaton...  talk about
out of place

thou shalt have a fishy.. or a crab or a lobster 

somewhere out there were porpoises

We had a nice surprise, there were some porpoise playing in the harbour, a good start to the trip.  After assembling the bike and packing my gear, we took some photos at the sign.  Incidentally, the original sign has gone nearby to a caravan park.  The lease for the site went to someoene else and they put up a free sign.  Probably divided opinion on this one but I think the sign should be free, now it is so I am happy.

The weather was calm but very grey and overcast, the wonderful thing is it stayed that way all day.  I passed a leathery scotswoman on a hill early on and she exclaimed "it's mild isn't it I have too much on", don't take it off on my account please!

As you travel through the coast one of the things that strikes you is the number of maritime churches and graveyards, these pictures are of Canisbay, and typical of the type I saw on my way along the A836.

Typical, they offer soup and sweet lunches and they are closed
when I arrive... No room at the in "im an athiest and they missed a
chance to convert me, I guess I will remain godless.

Surrounded by graves, sombre but an important function
for the locals

Moving on, it looks lonely on it's own

After Canisbay I headed out to Mey Castle, this wasn't intended, I know it's a lot of detours, but this trip isn't about "A to B" as fast as I can.  Mey castle was small but well kept here's some pics:

yet again no teashop open for me, im sensing a conspiracy

Mey Castle

Still feeling good

View from the front

Just about to leave without tea or biscuits

My first major destination was Dunnet head, popular myth has it that John O'Groats is the most northerly point of the country, but in fact it's Dunnet Head.  It was worth it.I would not have felt right about this trip had I not visited the most northerly point, this was a 12.1 mile detour but worth it.

A view of the coast on the climb up to Dunnet Head

More of the same coast!

Heading Straight On
The Picture says it all


Lighthouse History, built by Robert Louis Stephenson
Treasure Island authour.

The lighthouse

a dog called beauty, owned by the sole occupant of
Dunnet Head

 It was a tough old day, I left Dunnet Head and passed into Sunderland, it was a tough slog with a lot of big hills it wasn't raining but the day was damp:

You are now in Sunderland

Apparently Sunderland is Mackay Country
 I amused myself with wondering about the Mackays, I envisioned hundreds of variously endowed mad Scotsman with nothing up their kilts but their bare buttocks etc.. charging around with claymores, or some sort of whiskey drinking Aberdeen Angus breed that picks fights with any cyclist it sees and stamps it's ownership on them and their bike.  As it turns out the Mackay are a clan and just as tough as my ideas, they are steeped in history as a brief search in google will show you.  After reading some of their exploits I will take my chances outrunning the hairy cows (my sisters term for Aberdeen Angus which she adores).  Hmm I must get some good pics of hairy cows for her.

A lonely stretch of water somwhere on the way to Tongue
You have heard of the generosity of the Scots, well I had a real "taste" of it today in more ways than one,  as I cycled on my way to Tongue I asked a local in a large house who was busy cleaning his Boat called "BOB THE BOAT"  if I could top up my water bottles (do this as often as possible).  He was happy to oblige, and then offered me some of his days catch which was a beautiful fresh cod which he filleted.  The first one he offered me was massive, then he said actually that will be to big for you and gave me a more sensible yet still sizeable one.  I have to admit the big one would have been eaten trust me us Newts love fish :-)

Bob The Boat, his owner the purveyor of free fresh fish
true Scottish Generosity

In case you are bored of pictures here's some videos I took towards the end of the day:

To be continued..... when I have downloaded the pics from my camera and finished uploading them :-)

Friday, 27 September 2013


My Journey to John O'Groats begins with a 20 minute ride from home to to the local train station.  After shrugging off my morning torpor the initial ride did a good job of waking me up.  The bike feels good although it's extra heavy with presents for Jazzy & Bill.  It was Bills 65th Birthday yesterday so I wanted to take him something good.
my local station

rear view of the bike
looks heavy 

I arrived at New Street on time and sat with an expensive coffee till the Glasgow train arrives,  New Street station is half way through a rebuild and even though I am a regular visitor it can still be a little confusing, so I decided to head off to the platform early.  The Glasgow train was already waiting on the platform I was right at the front in carriage A so I made my way to the front.

People have asked if I am nervous or worried?  I can honestly say I am not nervous but I keep looking at the rear of my bike and wondering how well those wheels will stand up to the punishment to come (yes and my legs).

The train is amazingly spacious and the journey to Glasgow is proving to be a breeze,  on my way along the platform, the train driver "Richard" spotted me looking pensively and guided me onto the train and to the bike carriage behind his cabin.

Jumping forward the train is pulling off, I guess there is no turning back now :-)

When I first got on the train Richard offered to show me the drivers cabin and I got to sit in the drivers chair (see pics below).  The console reminded me of an 80's starship, I had the feeling of been on the bridge of the Battlestar Galactica, the little boy in me was very happy (I can see why Gosney likes trains..).  After my obligatory photo Richard guided me to my seat and after securing my bike I settled down to the journey proper.

Battlestar Galactica Bridge

Ready to take off


Most of the journey was spent writing my trip diary and watching the scenery go by, I read through some newspapers and a couple of chapters of the Moomins in Midwinter (essential reading).

Penrith Station with a crumbling building in the background
(anyone know what it is?)

Funny it didn't look so dismal passing through...

my bare feet, comfortable but an object of derision :-)

I am about 45min from Glasgow the clouds are grey and it's been raining, no doubt it's also cold outside.  I have managed a few pleasant conversations despite being in the quiet coach.  One of the cleaners sat down next to me and recounted the tale of a suicide the day before on the train track;  I think I must have looked unimpressed as he started to tell me even more macabre train related tales.  Eventually he ran out and I offered him my finished copy of the times purchased on board.  He told me I could come again, wished me good luck and disappeared to the other end of the train not to be seen again.

He did make one funny comment, claiming that, "I wouldn't load a donkey up that much".  I was beginning to feel sorry for my bike, and I am convinced that at some point it will exact it's revenge in punctures and mechanical failures.

There's a little girl keeps telling her mum that I am not wearing any shoes or socks, her mother just smiles and glances at me.  This was obviously not enough of a reaction for the little girl so she asked me why directly.  I told her hedgehogs had run off with them in the night.  This got a giggle from her and she told her mum I was silly; "out of the mouths of babes and all that", still bare feet feel so good :-)

I soon arrived into Glasgow station just time for a quick look round a photo and I headed off to Queens Street for my connecting train to Bathgate.  I passed through Glasgow briefly with a quick shot of the doctors telephone box!

Funny bumping into the TARDIS in the middle of Glasgow

Glasgow Central
A lovely train station

I arrived at Bathgate on time, Bill was waiting with a typically enthusiastic Scottish welcome and his ever present smile.  Jazzy had stayed behind she was concerned that I wouldn't fit my bike and three people for the journey up to John O'Groats.  From the outside it looked like she was right, but their Golf was deceptively roomy.  I had to strip the bags and wheels off the bike and then it fitted nicely with enough room for the three of us.  This was good news as I would have been disappointed leaving Jazzy or Bill behind.

After a good hug with Jazzy, some coffee and updating my blog, I am heading to bed for a rest before the final leg of the journey up to John O'Groats.  We are leaving at 12:00 midnight so that I can get an early start and put in some extra miles tomorrow.  The weather has brightened up, and I am hopeful of a mainly rain free day tomorrow, but the BBC weather forecast doesn't agree.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Noodles and Cheese

I am a fan of noodles, they are quick to cook and can be flavored pretty much any way you want.  So Recipe number one is Noodles and Cheese:

Noodles & Cheese mmmm

Monday, 23 September 2013

New Handlebars & Testing Out My Stove

BB Handlebars:

It's only 4 more days before I am off and my new handlebars arrived, after testing out some butterfly handlebars I bought some off fleabay from another bike nut (I have mentioned him previously).

So I dutifully stripped off my old bars and fitted my new ones, I would like to say it was an epic battle to fit them however it all went just about as smoothly as I could ask for.  I feel like the sword of Damocles is hanging above me....  Something always goes wrong but it didn't.

The new bars fitted like a dream, my body geometry grips were perfect, the gear levers and brakes fitted easily and my Avenir handlebar bag slotted in almost perfectly (a tight fit) but it is now more stable than previously...   The added bonus was I could mount my headlight properly and my Suunto T4c is now in the shade making it easier to read..

I took it all out for a test ride and the position felt perfect, no adjustment necessary!!

The only downside I have found, yep you guessed it... I FORGOT TO FIT THE ULTIMATE PARKING BREAK so I am going to have to remove and refit the brake and gear levers which is truthfully only a 10 minute job.  I am counting this as the thing that went wrong, so if there are any mischevious gods out there with a figure of me on a chess board and a bunch of disasters waitiing FORGET IT!!  this was my disaster, minor or not.

One side of the handlebars almost stripped

Butterfly Bars with the foam and handlebar grips fitted
New Bars fully fitted with handlebar bag, front light and Suunto
T4c fully mounted. 
(missing ultimate parking brake)

Testing Out my Stove:

One of the little pleasures I have when going outdoors are my faithful coleman stoves, I have three of them but for this trip they just weren't right.  I have an MSR whisperlite international which I have only used once before, which was lighter and more suitable for the bike.  So I dusted it out, replaced the pump which had disappeared and took it out for a spin :-)   The pics below show it assemble and outside making a well earned coffee after a rushed evening of fitting the new handlebars.  Incidentally the whole thing took about 2 - 3 hrs, not bad for major surgery on the bike and a coffee making session.

The MSR Whisperlite International
It is actually incredibly quiet compared to my Coleman

Just finished a brew, notice the heatshield
I picked it up from Sports Direct

Without the flash on, the last photograph gives an idea of the warm glow at night.  Off to bed now I think that's enough for one night.  Ohh and I found my mascott, he has been hiding for the last couple of trips, but low and behold he turned up, I will put a pic up of him shortly as he will be accompanying me on the trip.

Travelling Home in our tiny island

I thought it would be worthwhile mentioning for any prospective Jogler that there is no direct train from Penzance to Plymouth L  between Plymouth and St Austell it’s a bus service, and they don’t allow bikes.

For my mind it’s either a Taxi, or a 38 mile cycle.  I have decided that a nice cycle would be just what I need to end a 1200 mile cycle so that’s what I am doing.  Im classing it as a graceful wind down , I am going to give myself plenty of time so I can take a relaxed cycle and then spend a few hours in Plymouth.

I did kind of chuckle to myself though, for such a small island (comparatively) and one with such a rich railway history, that there are still lines that don’t join to a mainline.

All good fun!

Sunday, 22 September 2013


This is my JOGLE page, for those who don't know a JOGLE is a journey from John O'Groats to Lands End  ahhhhh :-)  Also known as an End to End, although I don't think it's truly End to End unless you visit the most Northern and Southern point. (note, on my trip I managed to visit Dunnetts Head and Lizard Point) although Lizard point was touch and go!

I am going to list out my planned route and some other information that may be fun useful and or informative.

Click on the link below or the map to view my planned route, each day is coloured differently and there's links on the side for each day. 

My Route:  Link to route map

View DarkNewtJOGLE2013 in a larger map>

This route was based on one I downloaded, I will update this site with links to the tools I used.   For Navigation I am using a Samsung Galaxy S4 with an external battery mounted in an Avenir 8 litre handlebar bag with a built in smartphone holder.  I am using Co Pilot to navigate and I have converted the .gpx files to the .trp format and I have also used a nifty java utility to join all the days into one route, I will update the details.

Route Plan:

Day 1 - John O'Groats to Tongue

Once I have been dropped off by Jazzy and Bill with last minute checks and goodbyes, I will be straight into it :-)

The plan for day one is to start out at John O'Groats, cycle the A836 and leave that on a detour to Dunnetts Head.  This makes a total of aprox  63.9 miles + 9.1 mile detour to see Dunnetts.

This is the Northern most point of the mainland and if I am cycling an End to End I don't think I would be able to resist it.  So while it's down as an option you can pretty much bet I will be doing it on the day.

Map Link:  Google Map of the route off my main Joggle

I will finish up in Tongue, and 71 miles aprox is a good days cycling.  This will be my first camp out and depending upon the weather and or the daylight I will push on until I see a decent camping spot.

According to Google it has wikipedia it has:  "a youth hostel, a craft shop, a general store and garage, a bank, a post office and two hotels, the Tongue Hotel and The Ben Loyal Hotel." 

Arran Island,

I have added a complete circuit of Arran for my trip as I intend to camp out there for the night.  It's a 60 odd mile trip round however it is still classed as "optional" and depends on my progress.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Helmet or Not

Why I don't wear one:

 I have had a fair few comments from family/friends regarding the fact that I choose not to wear a cycling helmet.  So I thought I would briefly put my thoughts here:

I don't wear a cycling helmet because I find after about 20 minutes i start to get a headache, I get a feeling of dullness can't explain it more than that.  I have tried several helmets and all have the same effect. 

Additionally, as far as I am concerned the jury is still out on the benefits of cycling helmets I won't go into this but both the evidence and the studies around bicycle helmets seem to have only one consistent factor and that is they conflict with each other.

Life shouldn't be risk free, I often get the feeling that the world is turning risk averse, if you don't like risk don't ride a bike...  all  you bike riders and motorcyclists know exactly what I mean, you can be as safe a rider as you like, you can be a defensive a rider as you like (I have my advanced riding certificate)..  but you are still at risk.

Freedom of Choice:

First and foremost I am a human being and an individual, I recognise others right to be the same and I recognise their right for self determination and freedom of choice.  Now we all live in a society and should accept that we cannot just do anything we want, our actions should always be considerate of others.   The problem here is where do you draw the line, well I have my own "indicator" and that is, if your not harming or hurting anyone else or their property by your actions or being deliberately inconsiderate, both they, the government and anyone else should respect your freedom and self determination!!!

I may not approve of what someone is doing and I may look at them and say crazy %^%&  but I would never think I have the right to stop them or legislate their actions to become illegal.

Too often the I wouldn't do that becomes the I am going to ensure you can't either... that is just plain wrong.

My Advice:

Do what you feel comfortable with, consider what you want, and consider your family and friends as well, they are important.  Let's be honest, there's nothing out there as far as I am aware that says helmets make things worse, so if you don't mind wearing one the likelihood is it's going to protect you a little more than my bare noggin.  I actually wear a running cap when I cycle, helps keep the sweat off my eyes and hey if I do come off, it will help with not having some of my hair scratched off.

If you want a list of pro's and cons this is the best I found:

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Inspiration & Support

Two incidents have occurred this week, the first was a visit from a colleague at work we never worked directly together but my job meant on occasion we saw and chatted.   She has retired now but does some part time work.  She came into the office dressed in a red sports top and running bottoms and the first words out of her mouth were "your looking really trim", which was a lovely thing to say, for those of you who don't know I contracted type 2 diabetees through my own fault and have after a few years manage to reverse my condition, the main factors being: exercise, weightloss and diet.

So Carol's comment was a nice reminder for me, well we got chatting a little more and i told her about my Jogle and she fell into that category of positive and supporting.  Much further than that she was very concerned about me getting enough support and made me promise to take her number and email so that if I got into trouble she would come with her husband and drive out to me wherever I was...She said we are retired now so we have plenty of time for this kind of nonsense :-)

Now I am not a weepy type but I can tell you that brought a lump to my throat, she was genuine and insistant and reminded me of how many truly lovely people are out there.  It also made me think again how long I had known her without actually knowing anything about her, during our brief conversation I found out she and her hustband are Marathon runners, she started at 34 having never run before.   She has offered to help me with my next challenge which will include some running and just that conversation gave me so much about her as a person, imagine how much i would have learned from her if I had taken the time to get to know her better.

I know it's not practical to know everyone you meet, but I am saying you should actively try and seek out people who can be a positive force in your life.

The second incident happened yesterday, I have contracted a cold (man flu) I have got the aches, temprature, chesty cough, bringing up evil substances and feeling cold even though hot...  This occurred amazingly quick, I was feeling fine at 3:00 by the time I was home I felt like a zombie.  Yet perversely all I could think was that I am so glad it happened now and not before I was about to leave, you just have to be grateful for small mercies!

 I went to bed with my hot orange juice, sugar and squeezed limes concoction a couple of painkillers and sat with my laptop for some YouTube surfing, when I came across a video of a young lad called George Killick and his video record of a solo unsuported JOGLE in 2012.

He was cold, wet, he had numerous setbacks, it seemed at times he had left a trail of spokes from Scotland to wales, he had puncture after puncture, a broken pannier and a cold at the begining.  But the lad just kept going.    He had a quiet determination, no self pity and even in the face of disaster after disaster was of the disposition, "bugger bugger I can't believe this" and no more than that.  Required watching if your going on a solo JOGLE.

George Killick - 2012 JOGLE

The majority of people I have spoken to have said a variation of the following:

1. you won't make it
2. your crazy
3. at yourage (43 hmm life is over i guess)
4. you will be miserable

Then there are those who fall into the following category:

1. Good luck
2. It is going to be amazing
3. What an adventure

Ive had some time to think about this, and I have come to the conclusion that it is only a small minority of people that would go from contemplation to actually taking something like this kind of challenge on.  I have decided that the first group fall into that and the second group are pretty much the type who see the adventure and the possibility, I also think that what the first group are really saying is "I couldn't do it" or that they would be miserable and they aren't really talking about me more themselves.

I guess some people prefer it comfortable and there's nothing wrong with that, but some of us have also worked out that you can never truly appreciate being comfortable unless you have been uncomfortable, as they say until you have been in the dark you don't appreciate the light.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Ultimate Parking Brake Modification

After scanning the web and coming across lots of posts about parking brakes for bikes to stop them rolling and falling over, essentially this is what I needed to do:

Someone Else's parking brake idea

 I thought I would share my own solution, a sports glass retainer strap:

The ultimate parking brake
please note picture for illustration purposes only,
my one is blue and I found it!

Yes folks, here we have it the ultimate parking brake, simply slip over your front brake leaver and your handlebar, pull tight to engage the brake :-)

Total modification cost £0.00 I found mine on the road while walking :-)


If this is happening to you please check
your parking brake modification.

Love life :-)

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Camera and External Battery Modification

If your going to do a trip of this length of course you want to record it!!  Now I know people who can spend an absolute fortune on camera's devices etc..

Well my experience is that I have neither the knowledge or skill with a camera to justify thousands of pounds worth of camera, so I set off to buy a video camera that would meet my requirments of:

1. Sufficient record time
2. Easy enough to use
3. Not so costly that i would cry if a smash killed it.

Heres what I came up with:

Samsung SMX-K40

I purchased from ebay a second hand Samsung SMX-K40 that has the following specs:

  • Digital Zoom 2200 x (great if I need it)
  • Image Stabilizer Optical  (helps with shaking on the bike!)
  • Widescreen Video Capture Yes (great for capture on panoramas)
  • Supported Resolution 1080p (so looks good after on big screens)
  • Supported Flash Memory SD Memory Card
  • Zoom lens - 2.1 mm - 109.2 mm - F/1.8
  • Optical Zoom 65 x  (again a great spec
  • Features Built-in lens shield (see pics below i added another shield)
  • LCD display - TFT active matrix - 2.7 in - Color
  • Type Microphone - Built-in
  • Microphone Features Wind noise reduction (brilliant for on the bike i also have another trick)
  • Connector Type 1 x USB , 1 x Composite video/audio output , 1 x DC power input , 1 x HDMI output  (the DC input is important you will see why later)
  • Expansion Slot(s) 1 x SD Memory Card  (standard cards easy to get)
This cost me £45.00 inc postage :-)

I went to my local camera shop in Worcester and asked for a UV filter lens to fit on for my project, they didn't have one in stock but the lovely young lady went into the back and said theres two secondhand ones you can have for £3.00  a BARGAIN!  (I won't tell you what the camera shop in Birmingham City Centre wanted to charge me...).   I added a 32Gb SD card.

The only downside with this camera was the short recording time, the battery just ran down to quickly and I knew on a long run this wouldn't work.  But I had a plan:


First of all, I am telling EVERYONE not to do this as I will not be responsible for any mistakes damage fire or injuries I am describing purely for my blog.

Because this camera has an external AC adapter that can be used to power the camera while it is recording I had the ability with some quick mods to add some serious recording time.  Here's how:


  1. Long life external battery with USB output  (I have a 2000 mAh battery) 
    1. outputs at 1 amp or 2.1 amps
  2. 1 USB cable
  3. 1 spare charger for this camera (bought from fleabay £5.00)


  1. Plug the charger in and using a multimeter work out which pin is negative and which positive.
  2. Cut the end of the USB cable strip all of the cables seperately and don't let them join
  3. Use the multimeter to check which one is negative and which one supplies the 5v mine had:
    1. 1 x negative, 2 x 3.3v and 1 x 5v
  4. Join the negative and positive from the USB to the Samsung Charger end. Insulate and join the wires.
  5. Plug into the external battery, and do a final voltage check on the samsung end to ensure your getting the right voltage and polarity.
  6. Plug it into the Samsung Camcorder

The results are that my camera now has the equivalent of an extra 20000 mAh battery so recording limitations are gone :-)  The other major positive is the fact that if i wanted to extend even further I can unplug the external and plug in another one uninterupted because the onboard battery remains charged and auto switches in between battery swaps.

This battery mod is both light and great value for money!!!

Again do not do this yourself, as i will bear no responsibility.

Total Cost = £60.00