We are about as ready as we are ever going to be! On Friday, Sarah and I make a start on our challenge to visit at least one castle in every county in United Kingdom in a single continuous loop self-powered (you are doing what now?).
Leg 1 is a jaunt in Cornwall and Devon. On day 1, after a swim in the sea off a Cornish beach, and a visit to Tintagel Castle (and the controversial Merin ‘sculpture’), we will be setting off on our bikes to Trelash and then onward following the Route 329 on the National Cycle Network through Launceston (visiting Launceston Castle) to Lydford (and Lydford Castle).
Tintagel Castle from my last visit in 2006
On day 2, we set off on foot with some friends from Lydford following the historic Lych Way (or Corpse Way) – a historic route across Dartmoor. After spending a night at the Powermills bunkhouse, day 3 involves finishing the Lych Way (at Bellever), then connecting with the Two Moors Way before reaching Chagford Common for a wild camp. On day 4 we rejoin the Two Moors Way following the River Teign to Castle Drogo.
Distance: On the bike 35.5 miles and on foot 32.6 miles
Altitude: On the bike 3030 ft of uphill (and 2590 ft downhill) and on foot 4360 ft of uphill.
Wild Camps: 1
Bellever Tor, Dartmoor
On it’s own I am not too worried about the hiking part. 3 days averaging 10 miles a day and 1500 ft of altitude gain should not be too challenging even with full packs (and thanks to some challenging logistics we only have day packs on day 2).
The cycle part on the other hand has been praying on my mind. A few months ago I did not even own a bike (or had used one in many years)! Even since buying the ‘Rhino’, a prisoner refurbished (as part of a back to work scheme) beast of a bike, I have only really been doing shorter journeys – 10 miles or so over relatively flat terrain (like the Bristol to Bath Cycle Path). Things have got a bit more serious with the purchase of the ‘Gorilla’ (there is an animal theme bike naming convention in this house!) – a low end all-purpose (but lighter) bike. A few weekends ago I cycled 20 miles or so of National Cycle Network Route 6 in Buckinghamshire – some small inclines but definitely a step up.
National Cycle Network Route 6 sign outside Castlethorpe
My concerns are two fold – my physical body and my ‘invisible body’. Let me explain. Physically my body is not used to cycling – I have discovered all kinds of new muscles I never knew I had, my bottom is not completely ‘saddle hardened’, and my legs struggle finding enough power to get up hills (something I also find on the rare occasions I attempt any mountains!). At the end of day 1 (or rather the start of day 2) I need to be physically in a good enough state to put on a rucksack, grab my hiking stick, and hike up some hills. By ‘invisible body’ I mean the symptoms of my Multiple Sclerosis – the tingling, the loss of sensation, the reduced dexterity and especially the fatigue. Cycling is more intensive physically than the hiking I am used to and, at least a few times, a lengthy cycle has left me struggling the following day with fatigue (not just tiredness but mind and body fatigue).
To avoid disappointing friends who are joining us for the hiking part, I decided a test was needed beforehand to see how my body would cope with a decent cycle. On Sunday I set off on a 30 mile loop to the south of Bristol following National Cycle Network Routes 3, 410 and 4. Most useful was the 1650 ft of uphill, mostly in the first two thirds of the route – my first proper test cycling up hills! It went well – I felt stronger on the bike than I had before and it was only towards the end that I started to struggle with muscle pain (partially caused by a badly positioned saddle which I fixed after 10 miles) and tiredness. After a bath and a roast dinner (thanks Sarah) I actually perked up! The following morning (today) I feel tentatively ok – there is a little fatigue, but in manageable levels, and no muscle pain.
So – I think I am ready. It will be a challenge, and I will be exhausted by the end of it, but I should be able to get to the end…..
After my kit shakedown and review, there were a few outstanding items of missing kit. After some to-ing and fro-ing with suppliers, we eventually found some suitable waterproof compression bags for our sleeping bags – a brace of Exped Waterproof Compression Bags (which interestingly compress from the side rather than the top / bottom). Mountain Warehouse have kindly sent me another pair of Extreme Waterproof gloves, as well as a pair of inner gloves with touch screen thingies – these work well as cycling gloves too when it is not too cold!
Other than the Sawyer Squeeze (I can still make do with my existing one), the only outstanding item was a hiking pole. I will be writing a separate blog post about it in more detail, but I am totally in love with my wooden hiking pole from The Stick Man!