Spin up Strath Naver

Managed to mount my trusty steed and having loaded up the carbs at breakfast we needed every last one of them to get up the first hill – a real stinker from the hotel up to the village of Bettyhill. Thereafter we had a super 25 mile spin up the Strath Naver valley, with a well timed coffee break in the Gillies bar at the Altnaharra Hotel. After which, a stretching uphill section to our lunch stop at the elevated and isolated Crask Inn – see profile below! Met a lovely local couple in the bar who gave us a donation on the spot – how kind was that?

With the rain holding off, a 14 mile descent, albeit into an increasing head wind, to Lairg and then on to our final destination of Bonar Bridge. On balance, what I feared would be a difficult day, turned out to be a manageable and enjoyable challenge – the only low point was being involved in an altercation with an RV which wouldn’t budge from the middle of a single track road, resulting in him hitting my elbow with his wing-mirror. Bruised but not battered, it could have been worse!

Route for Day 2, showing elevation to the Crask Inn

Todays ride…

Bry leaving the Farr Bay Inn on a full breakfast…little does he know what’s ahead!

A breather by the shores of Loch Naver – note the snowy peak in the background!

A well-earned lunch stop.

A brief mechanical stop at Lairg and on the loch opposite….a Black-throated Diver!

Our destination – after a 90+k ride.

On the birding front, the species total has now moved up to 63. The highlights of which were a couple of Merlin, Fieldfare, Greenshank, 3 Cuckoo, Dipper, Siskin, Goosander and numerous Common Sandpiper on Strath Naver and on the estuary at Bonar Bridge a solitary Black-tailed Godwit.

There’ll be more blogging over breakfast…..

Day two – the Challenge

The challenge being – can I get on my bike at all! Woke up this morning, after a rather chilly night, with every muscle in my body aching. Bry, on the other hand (old hand) is like  a spring chicken! Today’s ride is only slightly further than yesterday’s, at 89ks, but with less climbing, so should be straight forward. All I need is for my body to start working again!

Route for the ride as below:

Tweets on route, signal permitting.

JOG to Bettyhill

After much anticipation, planning and sheer hard work, today we finally started! We woke to glorious sunshine and a hearty breakfast. Packed our kit and pedalled down the hill to the harbour. The view across to the Orkney islands was stunning, an experience enhanced by the presence of a Tistie (Black Guillemot) just off shore, getting the bird list off to a flying start!

We retraced the final few miles of yesterdays ride before breaking new ground on the NCN (National Cycle Network) 1, which took us first to Castleton and it’s magnificent bay, then on to Thurso – for a coffee stop at Tesco and  onward, through Melvich and some increasingly hilly countryside to tonights destination, the Farr Bay Inn at Bettyhill.

The stats for todays ride speak for themselves, as do my swollen calves! Insult added to injury (literally) by a hike around the  local bay and surrounding area after we’d settled in and freshened up. But in truth the locality is gorgeous.

John O’Groats – the start of our adventure.

Delightful Castleton Bay – three species of Diver, Great Northern, Black-throated & Red-throated and a raft of Long-tailed Duck – not bad for a starter!

Enjoying a well-deserved breather at the Bettyhill view-point.

Bry taking in the view of Farr Bay after a hard day in the saddle.

Todays stats:

For the birders amongst you, total number of species today – 48, highlights of which were: Black Guillemot, a skein of Pink-footed Geese heading out to sea, three Lesser Redpoll, three species of Diver in Castleton Bay and a Sand Martin at Bettyhill.

Details of tomorrows route on our breakfast blog.

Day zero finale

After three fascinating hours on Inverness station -the only distraction being a rather cheeky Herring Gull, we caught the  two o’clock to Wick. On route we decided to leave the train early and cycle in from the west. This turned out to be slightly further than anticipated, 25 miles to be precise, but a great ride nonetheless. We got to John O’Groats in the evening sunshine, checked into the SeaView Hotel and managed to grab the ‘last sitting’ for supper.

The long wait….fifty things to do on Inverness station.

Henry the hungry Herring Gull

Decanting at Georgemas junction

We’re on the way….

…and we’ve arrived. But only at the start…!

Yesterdays route:

Todays route:

For the birders amongst you a few highlights from today, non of which count to the End 2 End trip total, included 2 Osprey, Peregrine, several Buzzard, 3 Short-eared Owl, Dipper, 2 Wheatear, Stonechat, 4 Greenshank, several Swallows, Willow Warbler, Eider and a flock of Whooper Swans. Not bad for a ‘doesn’t count’ day!

Anyway breakfast calls…

Day Zero – more like Ground Zero!

Woke at 5.50 to a hard frost at ‘base camp’. Breakfast, load the kit and away to Perth station. Roads were icy – several car accidents along the route, so Bry takes it easy. Arrived at the station with a few minutes to spare. Feeling good, waiting to load the bikes on the train when I notice the destination board says “train terminates at Aviemore’ – not Inverness! Turns out that there’s been a landslide and it’s a bus service from Aviemore to Inverness, with no guarantee that they’ll take the bikes. As we only had a ten minute transfer window at Inverness to get the Wick train, things begin to look bleak…! As the train pulls into the station we decide that, in the absence of a “plan B’, we’d better get on it and take our chances.

Managed to persuade the bus driver to stow the bikes in the luggage hold and we finally arrive at Inverness ten minutes after the Wick train has departed. We now have a three hour wait for the next one and the prospect of a twilight pedal to John O’Groats and no evening meal.

Things can only get better…..

Bry’s bike, ready to load..

Pheasant in the frost at ‘base camp’.

‘What do you mean, this train terminates at Aviemore?’

What have they got to look so cheerful about?

Blog you later……

The day before ‘zero’

Spent the day checking and re-checking the kit – that’s Bryan for you, and reviewing the route to make sure we keep on the right road and are prepared for any of those nasty hills!

Also managed a few ‘Team photos’ in this mornings sunshine:

The current Official Team Photo…

Big Brother Bry..

…and me.

Turning our attention to packing…

Bryan’s kit, at the final stage of assembly!

…and mine. I always was a tidy little packer – I put it down to my police training!

Managed to get out  for a brief ride after lunch  – a 17.5k circuit from ‘base camp’, including the locally notorious Carrot Hill – it rained or hailed most of the way! An example of the stats we hope to produce for each days ride it given below…we’re working on the ‘technicals’!

Tomorrows ‘Day Zero’ adventures begin with an early morning drive to Perth station to catch the 08.04, which eventually gets us to Wick seven hours later! We’ve then got a steady ride to John O’Groats, a distance of 18 miles.
We should be able to manage that at least. More blogging tomorrow – assuming we make it to John O”Groats that is!

Heading north..!

Day zero, minus 2 – so far so good. A gentle ride to Peterborough, despite the gusting southerly wind. Managed to negotiate the ‘travel with a bike’ requirements of East Coast rail and to effect a near perfect change at Darlington – sprinting the entire length of the platform, because the guards vans were at opposite ends of the respective trains!

All the kit has been safely stowed into two panniers, a rack pack and a saddle bag….and I thought we were travelling light!

Bryan, up at Scottish base camp, assures me he’s in the process of assembling his kit, prior to packing it, and will be at Arbroath to meet me. Our original plan being to cycle back to ‘base’ but the weather being as it is, it’s more likely to be the car. If only those arrangements were possible once we get under way!

It’s very pleasing to report that we are close to achieving 15% of our sponsorship target and that there is a steady trickle of DoNation pledges coming in, prior to our departure. A big thank you to all those who have donated or pledged so far  – please do spread the word!

Over the next couple of days we’ll be hopefully refining the technology to bring you details of each days route and the stats for the individual rides. We’ll also be illustrating the ‘highs’ and ‘lows’ ( and the bits in between!) as they happen.

And to test the theory….

More blogging tomorrow….

The Team Kit has arrived…..

I’m delighted to say that the team kit arrived from Endura this morning. A bit ‘touch and go’, with my long-sleeve jersey still on route to our Scottish ‘base camp’. It’s a snug fit, but should keep us warm! Thanks Endura for completing the job on time – the graphics are excellent!

Well that’s the posing out of the way….back to the packing!

Pictures of Bry, looking equally as stylish to follow – once I reach ‘base camp’ that is.

Visit http://www.justgiving.com/teams/justice to see how the money is coming in.

Terrific Tarifa

This is my last birding blog before the ‘Big Ride’ and is another extract from my back catalogue. This time some pictures from a couple of recent GPOG long weekends to Tarifa, at the extreme southern tip of Spain. Any time between late August and early October can be good for migration but if you are going to ‘max out’ on the raptors you need a period of rain or over-cast weather, followed by fine conditions and light southerlies. We’ve been lucky enough to encounter such conditions on a couple of occasions over the last few autumns.

Getting there is easy – we fly to Jerez from Stansted, hire a car/bus and stay at one of a number of good hotel/hostels in the town of Tarifa – it’s a journey of about one and a half hours. The ‘old town’ is excellent for eating out with plenty of cafes and restaurants in the many side streets and picturesque squares.  On the days when there’s no serious raptor passage you can amuse yourself by visiting a number of excellent birding sites within a 100k radius. Here is a taste of what the region has to offer.

A typical ‘cloud’ of raptors over one of the watch-points north of the town. Mostly Booted Eagle with a few Honey Buzzard, Sparrow Hawk and Black Kite mixed in.

Booted Eagle, three pale and one dark phase

Booted Eagle, dark phase


Honey Buzzard

Red Kite with Booted Eagle, pale phase

a low ‘pass’ by an adult Short-toed Eagle

Amongst the commoner species there is the occasional surprise

This Bonelli’s Eagle was a welcome addition to the ‘trip list’ in 2011.

But the real prize at Tarifa, over the past decade, has been the appearance of Ruppell’s (Griffon) Vulture – a sub-Saharan species which occurs in one’s and two’s amongst Griffon Vulture flocks from August through the autumn

Ruppell’s Vulture are never easy to pick out amongst the large numbers (<500) of Griffon Vultures which can gather along the coast at this time, but their overall size – about 20% smaller, chocolate brown colouration, with a prominent white bar along the leading edge of the under wing and seven visible primaries means that the identification can, eventually, be confirmed with confidence!

A few of the lads enjoying a ‘lifer’ moment!

The nearby wetlands of La Handa can also produce some excellent birding, both migrants and post-breeders

Black-shouldered Kite, breed in small numbers in the area


Purple Heron

Glossy Ibis, and

European Bee-Eater.

Along the coast, towards Cadiz there are a number of sites for two rare Swifts – Little and White-rumped

This Little Swift was one of a small number breeding in the fishing resort of Chipiona. Meanwhile there is always plenty of local interest on the reserve at Tarifa beach

This flock of Calandra Lark appear to be a regular autumn feature

Kingfisher are regular along the coast in autumn and winter

and small flocks of Audouin’s Gull are guaranteed.

Depending on the timing of your return flight, you can explore the lower reaches of the Guadalquivir – head for the village of Bonanza, the salt works, woods and river levees all provide excellent birding with White-headed and Marbled Duck, Azure-winged Magpie and Red-necked Nightjar being the target species along with a whole host of waders. Or alternatively you can try the reserve at Laguna Medina for marsh terns, Purple Swamphen, the aforementioned ducks and just possibly Red-knobbed Coot. Here are a few pictures taken at these sites over recent years.

Greater Flamingo, regular at Medina and in large numbers at Bonanza. We have had a Lesser Flamingo at the latter site on one occasion.

Purple Swampen – look in the reeds in front of the hide or from the approach track, Penduline Tits also breed in this locality.

Whiskered Tern. All three marsh terns occur on passage at Medina.

White-headed Duck – can be seen at Medina or the small lagoon at the entrance to the woods at Bonanza, but numbers vary significantly.

To conclude, a nice shot of Black-tailed Godwits at the salt pans. A little reminder of home (Nene Washes) and abroad!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief resume of the delights of a Tarifa autumn.

Please do visit our e-giving web site and show support for our upcoming ‘Big Ride’

‘Big ride’ – update

With just ten days to go before I head north, here is a brief update on our various activities.

Bry has set up a parallel DoNation ‘donations’ site where you can support us through pledging actions or initiatives which help build a sustainable future and protects our precious environment. So if giving money isn’t your thing (and we entirely understand it if it isn’t) then why not make a pledge that helps in another way? Bry, also doubles as our chief mechanic and navigator, and has been busy finalising the route and kit-list .

Meantime I’ve been working with Interserve, our corporate sponsors and Jayne Evans at the Forum, to generate publicity and step up the pace on the giving front. There was a good article in the Eastern Daily Press, the Thursday before Easter and I’ve done a couple of pieces for radio. I’ve also been trying to do a few training miles – more trying than doing I have to admit!

From today I’ll be Tweeting daily on @TrevorOnTour – so follow us for all the action, as it happens, and if you haven’t visited our e-giving site yet, please do so – just a few quid can make a big difference! 

Thank you for your support, in what ever way you decide to express it. Regards,

Bryan & Trevor