South Dartmoor CTC

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Thursday 18 August 1983Tour: Scotland Day 1 Home to Rowardennan YHDry
10 present: Andrew Billington, Matthew Burrows, Simon Haly, Michael Jones, Glen Powling, Kevin Presland, Richard Read, Duncan Scott, Matthew Tewson, Andrew Winstanley
Richard, Andrew B and Duncan on the banks of Loch Lomond near Milarrochy
Writing luggage labels outside Newton Abbot station
Kevin, Matthew T and Matthew B - after a dip in the Loch
Matthew and Andrew W contemplating a swim in Loch Lomond
Rowardennan YH, on the east bank of Loch Lomond
Rowardennan YH
The group outside Rowardennan YH
[This tour was organised by Michael within Torbay CTC, as South Dartmoor CTC was not created until 1985. The report was written by co-leader Andrew Billington.]

The intrepid adventurers met up on Thursday 18 August at 7.45am outside Newton Abbot railway station - all except our fearless leader Mike who, having exhorted us to make sure we arrived on time, predictably failed to do so himself in spite of being the only member of the party to avail himself of the use of his parents' car to get him there! When he arrived at 7.55 he handed round the luggage labels that I remembered so well from last year, on which we were to write our name, address and destination and which were then to be attached to our bikes. This was to safeguard against British Rail being successful in their attempts to separate us from our machines during the journey, although as it happened they didn't really start trying until the return journey, of which more later. At this stage they confined themselves to omitting the carriage on which our seats were booked from the train, which meant that some of us had to stand during the latter part of the eight hour journey to Scotland.

Nonetheless we arrived safely at Glasgow Central station and rode through the centre of the city - which was a far less unpleasant experience than we had anticipated - to Glasgow Queen Street. From here we travelled on a Trans-Clyde train for three quarters of an hour. This resembled the London Underground in that it had automatic sliding doors and carriages isolated from one another, but differed from it in not being underground.

We arrived at our destination, Balloch Central, at about five o'clock and set off for Rowardennan youth hostel, eighteen miles away. For the last few miles of this we were cycling around the shores of Loch Lomond. This proved too much of a temptation for the more aquatically minded among us, namely Kevin, Matthew T and Matthew B, who had to have a dip while the rest of us sat around on the wall by the side of the road and tried to keep the vicious midges at bay.

We arrived at the hostel (which incidentally was an unusually beautiful and picturesque one) at about eight o'clock, unfortunately too late for the dinner provided but we set about feeding ourselves with enthusiasm. We set off for a stroll along the shores of the loch later on, but were soon put off by the increasing smell of sewage and went home to bed.

Friday 19 August 1983Tour: Scotland Day 2 Rowardennan to Trossachs YHSunny
10 present: Andrew Billington, Matthew Burrows, Simon Haly, Michael Jones, Glen Powling, Kevin Presland, Richard Read, Duncan Scott, Matthew Tewson, Andrew Winstanley
Looking back at the YH from Rowardennan pier
Andrew Billington, Matthew Tewson & Richard Read at Rowardennan YH
Arrival at Inversnaid, Loch Lomond
Matthew Burrows on the Loch Lomond passenger ferry
Andrew Billington and others on the road from Inversnaid to Loch Arklet
Disembarking at Inversnaid, Loch Lomond
Loch Katrine from the cycle path
View of Loch Arklet from our lunch spot
Loch Katrine
Loch Katrine from the cycle path
Next morning we had to wait until twelve o'clock for a passenger ferry which would take us up the loch to Inversnaid, so we amused ourselves by skimming stones and dropping rocks in the water to splash each other - rather infantile, but vastly amusing. After the half hour ferry journey we climbed a steep hill and were forced to take a slightly earlier lunch than planned by Richard developing a puncture. Still, he chose a fairly good place to have it, by the side of Loch Arklet.

After lunch we continued to Loch Katrine with the sun shining all the way. We cycled along a road that was closed to motor vehicles, which made for very pleasant cycling indeed. The loch formed part of Glasgow's water supply, so swimming was unfortunately out of the question.

At four o'clock, having cycled nearly all the way round the loch, we arrived in the Trossachs at a grockle - sorry, tourist - area consisting of a car park, tea rooms, souvenir shop etc. After cycling in the heat a cup of tea and ice-cream were very welcome, though not both at the same time. Duncan bought himself a rather smart tartan hat, all the better to attract the local girls we assumed!

At the Trossachs youth hostel we were surprised, not to say disconcerted, to find that our dormitory had a sloping floor, as was evident by the fact that when Andrew W sent Michael's recently-acquired indoor bowls all over the floor they immediately headed for the far side of the room! The manner in which Andrew achieved this must not be revealed for fear that others might be tempted to imitate his bad behaviour, but I can reveal that it had something to do with giving Mike's bunk a hefty kick from underneath in an attempt to send Mike all over the floor.

We were also amazed to find that although the hostel was only a simple grade it boasted a table tennis table, a space invader machine, two pool tables and a television. Matthew Tewson and Andrew B went out for a quick exploration of the grounds in the dark and discovered the place to be crawling with frogs, one of which they took back to the games room: it didn't look too thrilled by this change of environment however so they took it back.

Saturday 20 August 1983Tour: Scotland Day 3 Trossachs to Crianlarich YHSunny start, then showers
10 present: Andrew Billington, Matthew Burrows, Simon Haly, Michael Jones, Glen Powling, Kevin Presland, Richard Read, Duncan Scott, Matthew Tewson, Andrew Winstanley
Matthew B, Glen, Richard R, Kevin, Duncan and Matthew T at Trossachs YH
The group outside Trossachs YH
Water fun at the Falls of Leny
Andrew Winstanley at Trossachs YH
Kevin, Simon and Matthew B at the Falls of Leny
Matthew Tewson at the Falls of Leny
Andrew B, Andrew W, Richard R and Glen decide to watch the water babies from a safe vantage point
Saturday dawned sunny and warm. We set off at a reasonable time and cycled along the side of the loch to Callander to buy something for lunch. We also found time to visit a local amusement arcade: Duncan won four pounds on a lottery of some sort and celebrated by buying himself some very pretty earrings.

We cycled a couple of miles to the picturesque Falls of Leny where we stayed for lunch. We were entertained by the Water Babies (now including Simon) splashing about among the rocks.

When food had been eaten, photographs taken and bodies dried we hit the road again and headed for Strathyre where young Matthew had a puncture. While this was fixed Matthew, Duncan and Andrew B wandered off to sample the local shops and buy the ubiquitous cornettos.

We then proceeded towards Lochearnhead and after a while took a right hand turn as instructed by Mike. Five of us pelted off down the road until the message reached us that we were only taking this road to see some pretty views: we had to turn back and re-join the main road.

After a brief stop at Lochearnhead for refreshments the first rain of the tour broke out with a vengeance. We dived for the shelter of a barn and donned waterproofs before setting off up Glen Ogle. We rode down the other side and along an up-and-down road (thankfully no longer in the rain) to Crianlarich hostel, which was a bit cramped but interestingly situated right next to a railway station. It also boasted solid fuel burners with low stone walls around them that were cunningly situated so as to trip you up as you walked from end to end of the kitchen.

Sunday 21 August 1983Tour: Scotland Day 4 Crianlarich to Glencoe YHSunny
10 present: Andrew Billington, Matthew Burrows, Simon Haly, Michael Jones, Glen Powling, Kevin Presland, Richard Read, Duncan Scott, Matthew Tewson, Andrew Winstanley
Lochan na h-Achlaise
Crianlarich YH
Matthew Burrows, Andrew Winstanley and Simon Haly
An American cyclist chats with us over lunch opposite Loch BĂ 
Glen Powling
Richard Read, Duncan Scott and Andrew Billington
Going up the ski lift at the Glencoe Mountain Resort
On the road towards Glencoe
Returning to the car park on the ski lift
View from the top of the ski lift
Andrew B, Richard R, Simon H, Matthew B and Matthew T prepare for a dip in the cool waters
A water break at Glencoe Falls in the Pass of Glencoe
Matthew B, Andrew B, Kevin P, Matthew T and Simon H on the Glencoe Waterfall
There's nothing as refreshing as in icy dip in a mountain waterfall on a hot day
View down the Pass of Glencoe to Glencoe Cottage
The Glencoe Waterfall from the road
The River Coe near Glencoe
The Three Sisters, Pass of Glencoe
Sunday morning the weather was fine and remained so all day. We took the A82 to Tyndrum, then up a longish hill and down the other side to the Bridge of Orchy. We decided not to stop for lunch but continued past Loch Tulla up a long, long hill. Beef burgers were definitely required at the top, and a kiosk provided them. Fifteen minutes later we stopped by the shores of a loch for lunch. At first we thought it would be a good idea to sit by the loch and eat, but a swarm of hungry midges speedily convinced us otherwise and we beat a hasty retreat back to the road. As we were eating an American cyclist turned up and stopped for a chat. We were particularly interested in his water bottle which was attached to his bike by means of a Velcro fastener.

Continuing on our way we climbed for a while then dropped at a cracking pace for three and a half exhilarating miles. Spotting a sign indicating the existence of a chairlift in the vicinity we followed its directions and found ourselves at the lift. The journey up was pretty hair-raising at first; dangling in mid-air some fifty feet above ground level sitting on a seat without any form of safety belt is somewhat worrying when you're not used to it. However the journey passed safely enough and we all admired the view as we drank tea in the cafe at the top. I must admit though that it was probably the worst tea I've ever tasted.

After an hour at the top we took the return journey back down the hillside, which was considerably less nerve-racking than the upward run. We cycled a few more miles, mostly downhill, until we came to the Pass of Glencoe which boasts a spectacular three-tiered waterfall. This time nearly all of us went in. Even those of us who lacked the foresight to bring swimming trunks, namely the two Andrews, made the best of it and went in in their underwear. It was worth it: for many that swim was the high point of the tour. Splashing about up to your neck in icy cold water with a waterfall pounding down on your head is an amazingly enlivening experience.

Two and a half miles later we reached Glencoe hostel, and what an excellent hostel it was. We were warmly welcomed by the Canadian lady warden and investigation of the dormitories revealed really nice wood panelled bunks with duvets. Soothing music helped us unwind as we prepared our evening meals. This may sound like a ghastly idea, but it was quite pleasant just for a change.

Monday 22 August 1983Tour: Scotland Day 5 Glencoe to Tobermory YHDry
10 present: Andrew Billington, Matthew Burrows, Simon Haly, Michael Jones, Glen Powling, Kevin Presland, Richard Read, Duncan Scott, Matthew Tewson, Andrew Winstanley
Preparing to leave Glencoe YH
Richard, Andrew W, Duncan, Glen, Simon, Andrew B and Kevin with the wardens at Glencoe YH
Matthew B, Richard and Duncan at Glencoe YH
Glen, Simon, Andrew B, Kevin and Andrew W at Glencoe YH
Loch Sunart viewed from near Strontian
The climb through Glen Tarbert, from Inversanda to Strontian
Loch Sunart
Looking back along Loch Sunart from beyond Strontian
Approaching Tobermory harbour on the small 1830 passenger ferry from Mingary
Looking back along Loch Sunart, from near Glenborrodale
Next morning, on retrieving our YHA membership cards, we were surprised to find that the spaces for photographs had been filled! Mine boasted a rather nice picture of a cat and others included cartoon characters and babies. After the usual procedure of photographing the hostel we took to the road and headed for Ballachulish. Once there we spent several hours wandering about the shops and a large information centre, but eventually set off again.

After crossing a bridge to North Ballachulish we took a ferry across the Corran narrows of Loch Linne and had lunch ten miles later. On reaching Strontian we spent an enjoyable half hour playing on swings. Next stop was Salen, where we stocked up with food from a large but rather sparsely-stocked shop. We then took a B-road to Glenborrodale and en route were attracted by a house with a sign advertising homemade cookies for sale. Stopping to sample these goodies the exceptional abundance of midges soon became painfully apparent, and Mike demonstrated his outstanding qualities of leadership by producing a bottle of midge lotion which saved us from further torment.

Further along the road a pottery works appeared that also sold coffee, and Mike decided that we had time to make a short visit. So we did just that. However, it turned out not to be short enough as we realised we were cutting our timing a bit fine if we were to catch the only ferry to the Isle of Mull. So we took off at high speed into the Ardnamurchan Peninsula. The scenery was impressive but we had no time to admire it as we pedalled furiously over the hillside.

We reached the ferry at Mingary with precisely three minutes to spare and loaded our bikes onto it. The boat was only just large enough for us and our machines, and as we travelled across the water we were able to dangle our hands in it and watch the floating jellyfish as we went by. Kevin and Richard almost convinced us that they were not only edible but were likely to appear on the menu at Tobermory hostel - but not quite.

Half an hour later we disembarked and cycled all of one hundred metres to the hostel, which was not particularly prepossessing from the outside but was quite comfortable inside. Being tired Andrew B declined the offer of a walk to a lighthouse later on in the evening, but six of our merry band set off for it and later assured him that it had been well worthwhile: he was happy to take their word for it.

Tuesday 23 August 1983Tour: Scotland Day 6 Tobermory to Oban YHWet
10 present: Andrew Billington, Matthew Burrows, Simon Haly, Michael Jones, Glen Powling, Kevin Presland, Richard Read, Duncan Scott, Matthew Tewson, Andrew Winstanley
Tobermory harbour (11:55)
Tobermory YH, Isle of Mull
Probably view towards mainland from near Tobermory
Probably view towards mainland from near Tobermory, with Andrew B
Matt Burrows walking along path towards Loch Ba
Probably the start of our walk to Loch Ba
The 7pm Oban ferry arrives at Craignure, Isle of Mull
Benmore Lodge on the edge of the scenic Loch Ba
Duart Castle, Mull, from the Oban ferry
Leaving Craignure on the Oban ferry
Arriving at Oban on the ferry
Next morning we were rudely awakened at 6.30 by the sound of a fire alarm going off. It sounded not unlike the sirens on American police cars, only about eight times as loud, and as it was situated in the middle of the ceiling of our dorm it must have taken all of 0.3 seconds to bring us from deep sleep to full alert. As it was pouring with rain outside we did not think it likely that there was a serious fire, and this was confirmed when the siren stopped as soon as we had put our trousers on ready to go and take a look. We later learned that it had been caused by smoke from burnt toast activating the smoke detector in the kitchen. As hostel rules require that silence be maintained before 7.00 we had amusing visions of the look on the guilty hosteller's face when, having crept out of bed, tiptoed downstairs and silently begun to prepare breakfast, the alarm started and he realised that he had just woken everyone in the hostel, warden included.

The torrential rain continued throughout the morning and developed into a thunderstorm. It was almost midday by the time the weather had calmed down enough for us to venture out in it, and as it was still somewhat dicey arguments ensued between those who favoured a long picturesque ride around the coast of the island and those who were keen to reach our destination with the minimum amount of effort and risk of getting wet. A compromise was reached and we set off, stopping for lunch nowhere in particular after an hour's cycling.

Later on in the afternoon an ice-cream stop at Salen turned into a two hour break during which five of us explored a nearby loch having been promised exciting views by Mike. The most noteworthy view, however, proved to be a rubbish dump.

The remaining twelves miles to Craignure were covered at a fast pace in spite of being into a headwind, and we arrived with an hour and a half to spare. This time was divided between sitting in a nearby cafe and making totally unsuccessful attempts to persuade the jellyfish that inhabited the harbour to do something other than just float about by throwing things at them.

The ferry, when it arrived, turned out to be an enormous steamer that was big enough to have had yesterday's ferry hidden in it. On the way back to the mainland Richard claimed to have seen a seal. Matthew immediately began to scour the sea in an attempt to match this achievement and was quite upset when he failed to do so.

We arrived at Oban at 8.15 and soon found the hostel. It was a bit hotel-like and somewhat impersonal, which is perhaps what you'd expect as Oban is quite a large town. It was certainly luxurious however. We met up with Jackie Lofty, who stayed with us for the rest of the tour.

Wednesday 24 August 1983Tour: Scotland Day 7 Oban to Inverary YHDry
10 present: Andrew Billington, Matthew Burrows, Simon Haly, Michael Jones, Glen Powling, Kevin Presland, Richard Read, Duncan Scott, Matthew Tewson, Andrew Winstanley
Preparing to leave Oban YH
Oban YH
Andrew B and Richard on Deadh Choimhead
Probably Glen Lonan valley road from Oban
View to Loch Etive and Taynuilt from Deadh Choimhead
Matthew B and Andrew B on Deadh Choimhead
Andrew B and Matt B on the way down Deadh Choimhead
Matt B, Andrew B, Richard and Kevin on the way down Deadh Choimhead, looking towards the road and Loch Nell
Refreshment stop by Loch Awe near Cruachan
Richard, Mat B, Simon, Kevin and Andrew B returning to the bikes from Deadh Choimhead
Andrew W, Duncan, Richard, Matthew T and Andrew B beside Loch Awe
On Wednesday morning we made a comparatively early start at 10.30. The day's activities began with a visit to Oban glassworks, where we saw paperweight makers at work. After wandering around and admiring the craftsmanship for a while we left and headed for the hills. An hour's cycling brought us to the foot of Deadh Choimhead (a mountain) and as it was now one o'clock we stopped for lunch at a river by its foot. After heated discussion about whether or not it was worth climbing up the mountain, the top of which looked a very long way away indeed, six of us set off to scale the 1250 feet in search of the fabulous views promised by Mike's handbook. This worthy document assured us that tourists found the ascent irresistible. After struggling through bogs, dead trees and all manner of unfriendly undergrowth we found it difficult to understand why this should be so.

It took us well over an hour to reach the top of that mountain, but it was worth it. The views were fabulous as promised; the sun was shining and crags stretched as far as the eye could see, becoming swathed in mist as they disappeared in the distance. The summit, however, was guarded by a swarm of aggressive flying ants which soon saw us off and pursued us down off the top to make sure of their victory.

The journey down was quicker than the journey up but just as perilous, and by the time we re-joined the others we were bedraggled and weary. We set off at a cracking pace, however, to cover the remaining thirty five miles to Inveraray hostel. We stopped at a garage for ice-cream on the way and then covered the last ten miles in twenty six minutes. We nearly cycled straight past the hostel as it was on a downhill stretch and we were moving quite rapidly, but we spotted it out of the corners of our eyes as we were speeding past and piled in to collapse on our beds.

Inveraray is a purpose-built hostel that has been open for six years. It is quite well equipped but the warden was somewhat officious and there were "Keep off the grass" signs up. However it boasted something that very few hostels can lay claim to, namely tennis courts. Kevin in particular was anxious not to let this opportunity pass by and started asking around for a partner. He ended up with rather more partners than he required.

Thursday 25 August 1983Tour: Scotland Day 8 Inverary to Loch Lomond YHDry
10 present: Andrew Billington, Matthew Burrows, Simon Haly, Michael Jones, Glen Powling, Kevin Presland, Richard Read, Duncan Scott, Matthew Tewson, Andrew Winstanley
The group at the Rest and Be Thankful viewpoint near Loch Restil
Inveraray YH
Probably Loch Long
Matthew T, Duncan, Andrew W, Andrew B and Matt B at the Rest and Be Thankful viewpoint
Probably view of Gare Loch from the winding hill near Faslane
And so it was that at seven o'clock next morning six of us dragged ourselves out to take advantage of this unusual facility. Kevin had read that racquets were available from the nearby police houses. Imagining that these would be inhabited by police officials of some description we had no hesitation in knocking loudly on the door. As we stood waiting for a reply however, the private and residential appearance of the houses began to impress itself on us. It occurred to us that a police house was not at all the same as a police station, and probably meant a house that was owned by the police and rented out. Clumpy-down-stairs noises began to come from the houses and a light went on. As the horrible realisation dawned on us that that we had just woken a private citizen from his slumber, the door opened and an enormous bearded man in a nightgown looked balefully down on us out of red rimmed eyes.

"Er, I'm sorry, did we wake you?" asked Kevin.
"Yes," replied the giant briefly.

Fortunately he did turn out to be the tender of the tennis paraphernalia, which he lent to us when we had explained that this was what we wanted, and we left a generous donation in the tennis ball box when we returned it after an enjoyable hour whacking the balls about.

First on the day's official agenda was a visit to Inveraray castle. When we arrived there however, few of us were keen to part with the extortionate sum of money required to gain entrance, so most of us lounged about in the car park while Duncan and Glenn (I think) had a look round the castle. We then set off on the road round Loch Fyne and stopped for lunch in a woodland clearing by the roadside. We were soon joined by a lot of ants.

Lunchtime over we re-joined the road which took us through Glen Kinglas. This turned out to be a very strange stretch of road indeed. It was one of those optical illusion roads that occur sometimes in mountainous regions, appearing to be going downhill when in fact they are going up. So you look at the road sloping away in front of you and prepare for a pleasant bit of freewheeling, then find yourself having to pedal hard to just keep moving. This is, I assure you, an incredibly frustrating experience, and even when you realise what's going on it's almost impossible to accept that what your eyes are telling you is a lie.

After several miles of this we reached the bona fide top, a viewpoint that was aptly named Rest and Be Thankful. We relaxed over ice creams and contemplated the prospect of some genuine downhill cycling. We sailed joyfully down the hill to Ardgarten, by Loch Long, and then rode around the loch to Arrochar where we stopped for exotically flavoured ice creams. We then followed an A-road to Garelochhead along Loch Long, and after four miles turned left up a steep and winding hill. This took us first over a railway line and then past a military establishment, the boundary fences of which scarred the hillside for miles.

Regaining the main road we followed the side of Loch Long until we left it behind and reached Loch Lomond. Realising that this was our last chance we stopped for a dip. After splashing happily about for a while we continued on our way and soon reached Loch Lomond hostel. This really was quite a remarkable building. One of the enjoyable things about hostelling is that you never know what the hostels are going to be like, and this one proved exceptional. A former stately home, it was quite easy to get "lost in". We had to climb about three flights of stairs and navigate endless corridors in order to reach our dormitory, from which there was an impressive view of the surrounding countryside. Most of the evening was spent in the piano room where our revered leader Mike, in a rare display of one of his lesser-known talents, treated us to immaculate renditions of our favourite songs on the baby grand.

Friday 26 August 1983Tour: Scotland Day 9 Loch Lomond to HomeDry
10 present: Andrew Billington, Matthew Burrows, Simon Haly, Michael Jones, Glen Powling, Kevin Presland, Richard Read, Duncan Scott, Matthew Tewson, Andrew Winstanley
Kevin Presland, Andrew Billington and Richard Read at Loch Lomond YH
The group outside Loch Lomond YH
Matthew Tewson, Jackie Lofty and Glen Powling at Loch Lomond YH
Duncan Scott, Simon Haly, Matthew Burrows and Andrew Winstanley at Loch Lomond YH
Kevin Presland, Andrew Billington, Richard Read, Matthew Tewson and Jackie Lofty
The group (with Michael) outside Loch Lomond YH
Matthew Tewson, Jackie Lofty, Glen Powling, Duncan Scott and Simon Haly
Duncan Scott, Simon Haly, Andrew Winstanley, Matthew Burrows and Michael Jones
We arose early on Friday morning, and after posing in the front courtyard of the hostel for interminable group photos, took to the road for the last time. We were heading for Balloch Central station: we were going home. In a way it was sad, for none of us wanted the tour to end, but we'd had a good run for our money and we were as cheerful as ever as we cycled along the back roads towards the station. Little did we realise that today was to be the day of an historical struggle: British Rail and Transclyde vs the CTC in The Battle to Get Home.

Our plan was to catch the 1045 from Glasgow Central which would take us right through to Newton Abbot without the need to change trains once. This was the only such train departing that day, so to be sure of being on it we reserved seats and set off in good time to catch the 9.08 from Balloch, which would arrive in Glasgow at 9.53. This would leave us an hour to cycle through the city centre to Glasgow Central, find the train, argue with the guards and generally perform all the essential preliminaries to catch a train. And just in case the 9.08 failed to turn up, or couldn't carry us all, there was the 9.38 to fall back on which would still get us there on time.

All in all we felt that this was a fool proof arrangement that left nothing to chance. And so it was, but we failed to realise that we were not contending with chance but the combined forces of two hostile rail companies. Arriving at Balloch at 8.45 we were told that due to an "electrical failure" the 9.08 had been cancelled and the 9.38 was running late. A young station official also informed us, with obvious relish, that the guard would never allow us to take ten bikes on it. We considered several possible courses of action, including sending the faster cyclists on to Glasgow by bike and, very appealing this one, staying over an extra night at Loch Lomond. However phone calls down the line ascertained that the train was carrying a large guard's van so we decided to chance it.

When it eventually turned up the train was almost half an hour late, and we learned that it was only going as far as Dumbarton, which meant more delay while we changed trains. Nevertheless we loaded our bikes on at top speed and were soon underway at a speed that felt frighteningly close to twenty miles an hour.

Arriving at Dumbarton we unloaded our bikes as quickly as possible and then loaded them on a train that would take us to Glasgow. This distant ancestor of the HST clattered down the line at its own pace, stopping at everything resembling a station, and it soon became clear that we were cutting our timing very fine indeed. Mike wrote messages saying that we'd only be a few minutes late and could they please hold the train up, and passed them out of the window to officials at every station we stopped at with the request that they be telephoned on to Glasgow. However his efforts were in vain: we arrived at Queen Street station at 10.40 and Kevin immediately dashed off at top speed to try and hold the train, but when he arrived ten minutes later it had already departed. Our only hope of getting home on time had left without us!

Deciding to make the best of it and at least make a start in the right direction we hopped onto a Holiday Special which got us to Crewe by 2.40. There was a departure for Birmingham at 2.44, but alas it was on the other platform, and the station was so crowded that by the time we discovered its existence we were unable to reach it on time and had to watch it pull away. Instead we took a train to Stafford, which is in between Crewe and Birmingham, and arrived there at 3.17. At 3.30 there was a train going to Birmingham, so we carried our bikes up some stairs, across the tracks on a bridge and down the stairs on the other side in order to reach it, only to find that the guard was not at all anxious to have ten bicycles in his van. In fact he flatly refused to allow us to try and load them in. He did however generously offer to take two. We treated this offer with the contempt it deserved and took our bikes across the bridge to the other platform where we waited an hour for the next train to Birmingham, which fortunately had a more amenable guard.

Arriving at Birmingham at 5.05 Mike saw the Area Manager and asked if, considering the circumstances, we might be allowed to take an HST. The Area Manager, with the helpfulness and consideration that British Rail is famous for, said no. We could only take the HST if we left our bikes behind to be sent on tomorrow. Having seen the brutal way with which packages marked "Handle with care" were treated, we had no hesitation in rejecting this possibility out of hand.

Having two hours to wait before the next train that we could travel on, we left the station in search of food. We couldn't find any so we had burgers at a MacDonald’s. We also took advantage of this time to make phone calls home to inform our parents of our expected time of arrival.

A 7.35 train took us to Bristol Temple Meads by 9.21 and at 9.40, as we prepared to board a train to Exeter we thought our troubles were at an end ... but no, there was still the guard to contend with. The guard's van was about the biggest we'd seen all day and was almost empty, but nonetheless the idea of letting us load all our bikes in just like that was obviously more than he could stand. When we'd loaded about half of them on and there was still plenty of room left, he suddenly announced for no apparent reason that that was it and he couldn't take any more. "Why?" we asked dumbfounded. "Well, someone might want to get on further down the line with suitcases," was the reply.

This diamond-sharp piece of logic nearly defeated us, but fortunately Kevin came up with the brilliant suggestion that we remove our panniers in order to pack the bikes together more tightly. This compromise proved acceptable to the guard, and the five extra flesh and blood cyclists were allowed on in preference to the theoretical suitcase-wielding travellers. And so it was that the last obstacle was overcome, and nothing short of derailment could stop us from returning home. Two hours later we were at Exeter and there were various parents waiting to whisk various cyclists off to various beds. Seven different trains had taken us between nine different stations that day and nothing had gone according to plan, but here we were. The tour was over and life could begin again as normal as from next morning.

Still, there's always next year .. .!

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