A night to remember…

Throughout every stage of our BikeSplashBike challenge we have been overwhelmed by the generosity of friends, family and complete strangers and our experience of organising our final fundraising dinner and auction was no different.

It was absolutely amazing to have Geoff Holt and his wife Elaine with us to help celebrate Daddy’s life and inspire everyone to give so generously. We are all so grateful to them both. When we first discussed the idea of hosting a charity dinner, we were warned that it was very difficult to make a profit and so we were unsure at first. It was only when Geoff generously agreed to speak at our dinner that we felt sure that we should go ahead! – So Geoff, Thank you!

Geoff Holt

When I first heard Geoff speak at the Winchester Enterprise Lecture, in 2012,  the host at that event summed up Geoff’s attitude to life by reference to a theme from Kaballah, that:

You cannot choose what happens to you, but you can choose how you react: and that choice can be an inspiration“.

Those words really stuck with me and often came to mind as we watched Daddy struggle with his illness and the way he dealt with his condition was certainly an inspiration to us…

Thank’s to this over flowing support and generosity we had a fantastic evening and overshot our £30,000 target. We are still waiting for some payments to clear, but we are pretty sure that the final figure will be over £40,000, which is far more than we ever expected! Thank you ALL so So much!!

We are so grateful to everyone who has helped us get this far and especially everyone who came to support us on November 7th and were so generous in their bidding at the auction! 🙂

In particular we have to thank the Royal Automobile Club for donating their beautiful rooms, Encore Entertainment for getting us all in the party mood, Geoff Holt for inspiring everyone to give so generously, Irene Tyack for creating two paintings inspired by BikeSplashBike and everyone who donated the fantastic auction and raffle prizes…

Thomas Plant did a great job at selling them and I hope that they are fully enjoyed by the successful bidders!

We do have a couple of raffle prizes which were not claimed – if you think these belong to you please do get in touch!

Finally – Thank you all for putting up with us!! This challenge has helped us immeasurably through these past few months by giving us something positive to focus on. I am happy to say that Cancer Research UK have confirmed that all the funds we have raised will be used to fund research into Oesophageal Cancer specifically, which will hopefully mean that less people have to suffer the way Daddy did.

A very kind man said to me at the party that if Daddy was able to fill a room the way the Mountbatten Room was filled on the night of our party even after he was gone, then he must have lived a good life…

Daddy did live a pretty great life 🙂 and I can only hope that he was looking down on us all content in the knowledge that all of our lives were the better for knowing him.

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Lake Windermere: Fell Foot to Wray Castle

10 miles. 9 hours. One huge mental challenge.

As we set off into the mist we had no idea how hard it would be…

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It was without doubt the hardest thing we have EVER done. 

I think both of us doubted whether we would make it and I don’t think we could have done it for any other reason.

The first few miles were chilly, but it seemed like an adventure…

After a few hours, despite the amazing scenery and the fly past from the Red Arrows, it began to seem less fun… actually it began to feel like a hellish nightmare! All I wanted was to lie down on firm ground… At the halfway point I was dizzy and shivering uncontrollably! But Alice and I both knew (and Luke kindly reminded her at regular intervals) “if you don’t swim, you won’t get there”! So we kept going. Actually it was too cold to rest so slow and steady seemed the only way. I tried to deceive my body that it was warm by imagining that I was swimming in a huge vat of chicken stew… it actually kind of helped 🙂

Miles 7, 8 and 9 were the hardest as the wind had picked up and there was a lot of boat traffic so it felt like we kept swimming, but weren’t making any progress and as the water was at it’s deepest I was terrified that i was going to freeze to death! I think I had three mars bars in the space of an hour! Helpfully my paddler thought it would be motivational to lie about the distances – so when I had done nearly 8 miles I was told I had done only 6… Possibly the most demotivating lie I have ever heard!! I was NOT happy!!

Finally the red balloons came into sight and it seemed like we would make it. But the actual finish was around the corner and it took what felt like an age to get there… Mummy was waiting and both Alice and I were sobbing as she helped us scramble out of the water and collapse onto the matting provided for exactly that purpose! I have never felt such relief.

To be honest I think the day was almost hardest for Mummy – she must have been so worried and she had to rush around the lake from side to side to watch us as we struggled along. It actually takes well over half an hour to drive from Newby Bridge to Ambleside, which is some indication of the distance we’re talking about!

It certainly felt like Daddy was watching over us and giving us the strength that we needed. I don’t think we would have made it under any other circumstances…

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There are so many people we would like to thank and so much more to say… but perhaps that is for another day.

For now it is still hard to believe that it is over and we made it… As Clint Eastwood would say

“Let’s not go and ruin it by thinking too much”

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Day 20: Tongue to John O Groats

Miles travelled: 66

Metres climbed: 1175

So, contrary to Alice’s promise, it was NOT “all down hill to John O Groats”! The day started with some of the toughest climbs we’ve had since Dartmoor!! image

But the views were stunning (pictures to follow…)

By the time we reached Melvich we were all lagging slightly, but after a great soup and toffee apple muffin (highly recommended!) at the Halladale Inn, we were revived and happily the road did begin to flatten out a little :).

We went on through Thurso and the beautiful Dunnet bay… 

 We then had a quick coffee in Castletown, which the lovely Laura at the Castletown hotel refused to let us pay for 🙂

And it was just another 16 miles into quite a strong headwind before we finally made it to John O Groats!

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We have all been so touched and grateful for all the support and kindness we’ve received from friends and strangers alike… It’s still hard to believe that we’ve actually made it! Maybe it will feel more real after our “little swim” as Alice calls it… 

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Day 19: Dornoch to Tongue

Miles travelled: 65

Metres climbed: 714

Midge attacks: only one, but it lasted all afternoon!

Today was our latest start, but we were so stuffed from last nights dinner and porridge for breakfast that we made speedy progress. (Actually Alice was especially well fueled after eating more than 20 dried apricots and a few prunes… I’m not quite sure what she was thinking, but she quite quickly regretted it!)

The morning up to Crask was the wildest place we’d been so far. Actually it felt like a bit of a wasteland,  which became a steady incline for the last fifteen or so miles which felt like hard work… 

 But we made good time and reached the legendary Crask Inn before 2pm… Where we had a yummy lentil soup (great for Alice’s tummy – it was a perfect complement to the bucket of dried fruit she had for breakfast!)

Mummy decided (having heard that Tongue was beautiful) that we should push on so that we could spend the night there instead… It was only about a 30 mile detour, but as midges had descended in Crask we were all happy to get going! We sped away into Strathnaver and through some of the most stunning scenery, (with a couple of big climbs…) but sadly there were too many midges for us to fully appreciate it…

We eventually reached Tongue at dusk and luckily found somewhere to stay. We felt like we’d almost made it as we are now on the northern coast of Scotland! It actually seems a little hard to believe!! Especially as Alice seems to think “it’s all down hill to John O’Groats”!!

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Day 18: a magical unexpected Rest Day in Dornoch

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Today was almost like a dream. I think we all feel like someone should pinch us so that we wake up!

If ever we were looking for a sign that Daddy was with us on this adventure it would have been easy to find one today…

Having taken the South side of Loch Ness we had inadvertently bought ourselves a rest day by getting slightly ahead of our itinerary. As a result out accommodation bookings were redundant. We arrived in Dornoch last night and came across a “B&B” close to the beach, which was rather unassuming from the outside or we would never even have knocked on the door. Inside, however, we felt like we had stepped into the Sheikh’s house from the movie ‘Salmon Fishing in the Yemen’, this was luxury as is only seen in movies, Daddy would have loved it! It was totally beyond our budget generally, but certainly not the kind of place we would stay on this sort of trip!

Amazingly, despite (or perhaps, because of) our bedraggled appearance we were welcomed in and the charming hostess insisted that we stay, rest and eat basically for free (the house was experiencing a two day lull between groups of wealthy American Hunters.)

This morning began with a run along the beach and a swim where Daddy must have swum all those years ago.

We then had a delicious breakfast and relaxed on their terrace… When we were brought some tea, the waiter also provided a brand new pack of water-colour pencils and paper… In case we felt inspired to be creative. It was totally unreal and utterly magical!

In the evening, totally unfazed by our lack of appropriate attire the chef cooked us a fantastic vegetarian dinner, which concluded with Mummy’s favourite deserts combined… Carrot cake with Milk chocolate custard!!

Of course it sounds crazy, but the whole day we just felt like someone was looking after us exactly as Daddy would have wanted…
We are all just hugely grateful!

Onwards for the final 120 miles 🙂

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Day 17: Inverness to Dornoch

Miles travelled: 46 miles

Metres climbed: 480

Sea crossings: 3 (as mummy neither enjoys heights, boats or bridges you can imagine that today’s route was right up there with her favourites ;))

In the spirit of never going anywhere directly we decided to head for the West coast of Scotland via the East coast! We can’t totally blame Alice this time as we’d always planned to stop at Dornoch… A place Daddy had visited a couple of times to play golf many years ago and had wanted to show mummy (when we were route planning several months ago this had been on his “must see” list…) coming this way also means we are able to avoid most of the horrid A9 🙂

Alice navigated excellently out of Inverness over the Moray Firth and on to the Black Isle, for our first crossing of the day…

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Once on the Black Isle we headed directly uphill on b-roads for what felt like eternity, but the views weren’t bad…

and after 400m climbing and 10 or so miles it was mostly down hill to Cromarty 🙂 a very quaint town which feels almost at the end of the earth. After a quick and delicious snack at  Coupers Creek we got the tiny Cromarty ferry to Nigg…

After admiring the retired oil refineries we had a lovely flat(ish) stretch for 20 or so miles before we passed the Glen Morangie distillery, and succumbed to the temptation to have a look…

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None of us had realised that Whisky could cost £30,000 a bottle!!

Then it was just a few miles along the A9 and over the bridge accross the Dornoch Firth and into the smallest City in the UK…

It is easy to understand why Daddy loved this sleepy city nestled along miles of the most tranquil coastline… After a quick dip in the North Sea Alice and I are both hoping that Windermere will be at least a couple of degrees warmer!!

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Day 16: Fort Augustus to Inverness

Miles travelled: 37

Metres Climbed: 750

Cheers from passing drivers: too many to count… (Presumably because only crazy people try and cycle hills like this with all our gear! ;))

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On the advice of the charming Natalie (our extremely generous hostess at the Kettle House B&B in Fort Augustus) we opted for the South Side of Loch Ness. She said that we shouldn’t be put off by the “Wee hill” at the start as what goes up must come down. Clearly “wee” is not a word that can be easily translated… Her “wee hill” last 4 miles, and was without any respite every bit as steep as Dartmoor! It took us nearly an hour, buckets of sweat, and over 600 calories to climb… Let’s just say I regretted my pre-breakfast run almost immediately (i’d been told today was an easy day ;))

Although it was Mummy’s decision (with maybe a little subtle manipulation from Alice), I think she thought we were trying to finish her off!

On the plus side, the sun was shining and we had the best views of the trip so far! Glen Mor was majestic, the Scotland we had always dreamed of! When we FINALLY reached the final summit, we met a group of guys cycling the other way… (But these strapping young men were carrying nothing and had both a support truck and carbon bikes!!) they reassured Mummy that we had a nice downhill run back to the lake 🙂

When we reached Dores, we had a quick dip in Loch Ness, (one of the things on our ‘must do’ list) sadly Nessie was nowhere to be seen… But there were plenty of ducks to keep us company!!

The Dores Inn gave us the best chicken burger ever!!

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And we set off fully fuelled for the final few miles to Inverness… Very Happy to have had what was probably the best day of the trip so far!!! And Alice’s favourite view…

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Day 15: Glen Coe to Fort Augustus

Miles travelled: 53

Metres climbed: 384

Near misses: 2

We set off at a speedy pace hoping to keep Mummy warm after yesterday, which seemed to work! (Apparently you have to work hardest at the back – even though Alice and I have been taking a the headwind :))

After a quick coffee in Fort William we popped into Inverlochy Castle for a comfort break (unlike Mummy and me Alice is unable to use the bushes and needs a five star toilet to relieve herself on route ;)) It was a stunning setting though so we were glad to see it 🙂

We then stopped for a snack overlooking Loch Lochy… After I nearly fell into a pot hole the size of Oxford, but was rescued by a soft verge and nearby fence 🙂 Then for a few brief moments the sun broke through revealing the splendid scenery 🙂

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We were touched to receive two spontaneous donations… From Alice Forest,  Sheila Waters and Lyndsay the waitress… Perhaps an indication of how shattered we were looking 😉 Mummy was so hungry we had to supplement our snack with some of the chocolate Cordelia gave us a few days ago!!

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We then pushed on alongside the loch to Fort Augustus… When it wasn’t raining the view was mesmering 🙂

But after the drama of yesterday, and mummy nearly falling off her bike when her coat got caught in her rear wheel we were very relieved to reach Fort Augustus and the legendary Loch Ness in one piece!!

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Day 14: Loch Lomond to Glen Coe

Miles travelled: 54

Metres climbed: 760

Hours of torrential rain, wind and hail: 8

So far our experience of Scotland is that it is every bit as bleak as it is beautiful! The scenery certainly is stunning, it’s just that today we only got to glimpse it through sheets of rain and fog. Apparently the “real feel” temperature today was 2 degrees C, which was definitely a little colder than we’d planned for…

Today at was all about the stops! We planned our route around places where we could shelter from the elements… The first was the atmospheric Drovers Arms for the best coffee of the trip..

Then after a few more soggy hours we stopped at Tyndrum to defrost and refuel… The Real Food Cafe was fantastic – definitely set us up for the afternoon ahead 🙂 I certainly would like the recipe for their Lime Courgette Cake…

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Glen Coe didn’t seem as big a climb as we’d expected, but that was partly because we couldn’t see all that much… Nevertheless it was very satisfying to know that we have reached the Highlands and crossed Rannoch Moor…

It was colder than we’d realised and Mummy was almost hypothermic by the time we reached the Clachaig Inn and my feet were almost frostbitten (sorry for the gross picture!) 😦

image Fortunately a hit shower and a hearty dinner left us all feeling much better!!!

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Day 13: East Kilbride to Loch Lomond

Miles travelled: 45 metres climbed: not many… Weirdly, despite being a pretty short flat day, we all were struggling a but today… Maybe it was the after effects of our bumpy ride yesterday… And I suppose that navigating Glasgow made things a bit more interesting! imagewe stopped at Clarkston Cycle Centre to see if anything did need tightening on our bikes (which apparently it didn’t :)) but mummy did need a new tyre… In fact her inner tube was basically poking out – the guy in the shop couldn’t believe we hadn’t noticed! Oops!! Alice navigated excellently through Glasgow and we eventually found our way onto a cycle path that was actually signposted to Loch Lomond… image The path wasn’t as great as it looked, but was lovely in places…

After 35 miles we were all flagging, but were revived by a MASSIVE lunch alongside the loch… We considered accelerating things by flying the last few hundred miles…

But the plane seemed to be heavily guarded by swans so we got back on our bikes for the last 10 miles along side the loch and then had a quick swim before dinner and bed!! image image Unfortunately we did get a chance to try a deep fried mars bar… Not something I’ll ever be doing again!! Utterly gross is really the only way to describe it!! image

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