I’ve made it back to Brighton! The first disabled female cyclist to circumnavigate the entire Great British coastline!

End of journey film – compressed

Today I arrived back in Brighton, 97 days after setting off on my adventure. I’ve tried my best to summarise my thoughts in the video clip so please have a watch and let me know your thoughts.

Thank you to each and every one of you who have supported me throughout my time on the road. There have been so many amazing times but equally there have been a lot of lows and that’s where you all come in – each comment and message lifted my spirits and enabled me to continue when I thought I could not.

Also I have to say a huge thank you to my husband Danny, and parents Linda and Roger, who have dedicated so much of their time and support to help me achieve this feat and without who I may not have made it all the way around our beautiful coastline.

I would love to say that I have finished now but there is the small matter of cycling 70 miles back to Wokingham tomorrow! Some members of my cycling club are meeting me 20 miles from the end to ride back into town with me and push me over the line (and into the pub for celebratory drinks where other club members and friends and family will be waiting!)

 

 

Day 34 – Greasby (Wirral) to Formby – Back to Liverpool and a half rest day

Thursday 29th March

A bit of a later start this morning, I picked up my parcel from the post office with my summer shoes in and front mudguards. Glyn fitted the front mudgaurds whilst I got ready.  I have to be honest I don’t like the aesthetics of the front mudguards but after over a month of being covered by everything on the road, I have given in. It probably won’t rain as much now and if that’s the case I will happily don the front
mudguards everyday!

I put my feet into my summer shoes and put on overshoes, a thermal and waterproof layer that is usually a struggle to pull over but mine luckily have zips.

A couple of Glyn’s fellow En Velo riders (Allan and Heather) joined me to the Mersey Ferry and to my surprise they told me they would come the whole way to Formby which was great. We went to buy our ferry tickets to find only the tourist ferry was running, this meant a small cruise to give us more information about Liverpool and to play “Ferry ‘cross the Mersey” a few extra times. This gave us more time to drink hot chocolate and take photos.

Liverpool is where I spent 5 years of my life. It was during my second year of University that I first became very unwell and ended up having surgery on the back of my head in the Walton centre. I met most of my best friends in Liverpool and they helped me through the most difficult times. Danny and I also met in Liverpool. So as you can see it has and will always have an extremely special place in my heart. I didn’t let on but I was a little emotional on the ferry when thinking about the journey I had made to get to this point, perhaps the longest and most difficult way to get from our house in Wokingham to Liverpool!

We stopped for a couple of photos in front of the Liver building and Allan helped a gentleman figure out that his camcorder wasn’t working because it was too zoomed in! We cycled away giggling and headed towards Formby.

We cycled past the old brick Tobacco warehouses on Stanley dock which are situated at the end of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal. These are the biggest brick warehouses in the world. The smaller side has been turned into Hotel Titanic where Danny and I stayed for a night a couple of years ago. The large warehouse still lies derelict and vacant but it looked like there was some work being carried out, I believe it is being turned into apartments.

We chatted and cycled onto Formby where we stopped for lunch. This marked the end of my day’s cycling as I had planned it as an easy rest day. I have struggled previously with only having one rest day at a time as it didn’t give me long enough to recover, plan and do all of my washing!

Allan and Heather returned back to the Wirral and I cycled to the local cycle shop where I had booked my bike in to be checked over and for the disc break pads and callipers to be checked and cleaned as they have been very well used on the steep descents!

Tonight I am staying at my sister-in-laws husbands parents house in Formby. Before dinner I had a fantastic leg massage, the tissue around my knees is a little bit inflamed but this is to be expected after they have had quite a lot of abuse!

My toes are still swollen and sore but my summer shoes haven’t aggravated them any more so are definitely the answer!

Tomorrow I have a full rest day to collect my bike, do my washing, organise accommodation and check my route files – it doesn’t sound too restful, but vital things to do!

Day 29 – Llanrhystud to Barmouth – beautiful scenery and a very sore toe

Saturday 24th March

Another morning, another hill, a long one up to Aberystwyth and then another steeper one out. I felt really comfortable, with the only little niggle the fact that I am starting to get a blister, more of a pressure sore on my small toe. You would think that after 29 days this would have happened earlier on. I have very wide feet and have always had a problem with there not being enough space for my toes in cycling shoes but I thought I had figured this out with my Mavic winter boots. After a while of trying to figure out what to do, I forgot about it.

I had been warned of the hills on the coastal road via Borth, but it wasn’t enough to scare me off. The mixture of hairpin descents and steep climbs made for fantastic views and great cycling, although these were not very photogenic on this grey day. I wonder if tomorrow might be the first day I don’t come across a 20 percent gradient sign, today I found a 25 percent!

Once I reached the mouth of the river Dyfi I knew that the tough climbing was over for the day. For the first time in a while the gradient profile on my Garmin was a straight line. Rather annoyingly there is no bridge over this river mouth so I had to cycle 15 miles round via Machynlleth.

This marked the point of entering Snowdonia National Park and it’s 37 miles of coastline, it is exactly how you would imagine! The coastline luckily is reasonably flat, but the mountains are impressive and are a backdrop to all of the distant land views, thank goodness I don’t have to cycle over them! I had the well surfaced roads completely to myself for quite a long time and it felt special, it felt like a real adventure.  The weather didn’t allow for great long distance views but I kept getting glimpses of the Llyn Peninsular that I will start making my way around tomorrow.

My sore legs were still remembering what to do and I was enjoying every pedal stroke, every new place and every view. The miles today were just disappearing, every time I looked I had ticked off another 10. I wish I could figure out what makes some days feel much easier than others, despite being similar in length and elevation!

Luckily there were bridges over the next couple of rivers I came to. Before reaching Barmouth I cycled on a gravel path from Fairbourne, I wouldn’t normally cycle on such a rough surface but the views were worth it and thankfully I didn’t have any punctures. I didn’t much enjoy cycling over the wooden bridge to Barmouth as I could feel the wheels going over every slat, but it was definitely easier than cycling round!

I had a very early dinner and then faced the challenge of cycling up the hill to the bunkhouse I am staying in. This was more than a hill and as I saw the gradient increase to 20 percent I laughed at myself and kept pushing my legs against the pedals. Who an earth would find accommodation after a long day at the top of the cliff?! The beautiful views became apparent from the top and I wish that I had the energy to climb higher than the bunkhouse but the road appeared to get even steeper and I don’t think I could have physically cycled up it.

I took off my cycle shoes to find that my small toe was contorted in a strange way and looking very swollen, I’m pretty sure the bones are in the right place but it’s hard to tell. I’m not really sure what to do about this as adding any extra padding will result in less space and could make the problem worse. I have covered it in SudoCream although there isn’t actually any broken skin. I’ve got one pair of thinner socks so will wear those tomorrow but I am open to any ideas or solutions! It’s a pretty small complaint though considering I have now been cycling almost everyday for 4 weeks! I can believe the progress I am making and how well my imperfect body is holding up!

Day 27 – Herbrandston to Newport (Pembrokeshire) – A new perspective, the hills felt easier!

Thursday 22nd March

I woke up with a bit of a headache, I don’t think I had enough water to drink the day before. I still managed to get going though and was on the road by quarter past 7. I had to cycle around another small river mouth and then towards St Brides, where the small roads then pretty much followed the coast to Newgale. I was constantly cycling up steep hills, just to dip back down them to the next seaside village. The coastline is very rugged, a mixture of bays and headlands, despite the grey day the views were breathtaking. I tried hard to capture what I was seeing on camera but the photos weren’t doing the scenery justice today.

This time of year it’s very quiet as a lot of the homes are second homes and holiday homes, but this was part of the beauty this morning, I felt like the views I was seeing were secret – mine and no one else’s. The roads were very quiet and very well surfaced. Despite the same amount of climbing as the previous day, it felt so much easier.

I stopped occasionally to take photographs and read your messages of support. I was told when climbing a steep hill to think that all of you are with me and pushing me up, this really worked!

I had a text from Peter and Julie, my hosts for the evening asking me to let them know when I left St David’s in the hope that Peter could join me before he had to leave for an appointment in the afternoon. To their delight I was making very good progress and we arranged to meet further along the route.

I stopped in St David’s for a quick hot chocolate and to have a look at the Cathedral. I knew it was Great Britain’s smallest city but it really is village sized, much smaller than the town where I live.


As I continued there were a good few miles of flat riding, I Kept passing stiff peaks pointing along the coastline  and hoped I wouldn’t have to cycle up them, but they looked like rock outcrops rather than hills. Julie drove Peter to my location (at the bottom of a hill!) and we climbed it together. I was going to keep it a secret, but I put my bags in Julie’s car, so the steep hill felt really easy! It’s amazing how much difference carrying luggage makes to the effort needed to lug it up all of the hills. Without it my trike feels like a different trike!

We reached their house on the outskirts of Newport and what a view they have – they look over Newport Bay. I kept looking out staring at the breathtaking view watching those walking along the beach and others practising kite surfing. My cycling day finished early as I hadn’t stopped for long and although I didn’t rush it meant that I could cycle with Peter. Julie made us toasties and gave us cake, I then had time to wash my clothes and my hair and relax for the afternoon. I spent a while rubbing and stretch my sore legs but tiredness won and I found myself lying down.

From when I arrived I could smell the lamb stew in the slow cooker and I was very excited for dinner, this is one of my absolutely favourite dishes. Because I can’t eat onion and garlic I can never usually eat something like this when I am away from home. It lived up to better than expectations and I could have been eating the same stew I make at home, to top it off Julie had cooked a large amount of Kale. I have been really struggling to eat the amount of green vegetables that we do at home, others just don’t eat the same amount as we do and you rarely get served more than a few leaves at restaurants! This was finished off with a fruit crumble – delicious!

After an afternoon of being made to feel at home and relaxing and an evening of great food and conversation I retired to bed (with an electric blanket)  to prepare for more hills tomorrow!

Day 26 – Carmarthen to Herbrandston

Wednesday 21st March

I started out this morning in fog, the beautiful view from the top of the hill had been hidden. It was very cold, so I welcomed the first few hills, cycling up gradients in excess of 20 percent definitely warmed me up. I came to a busy road after an hour of feeling like I was in the middle of nowhere and had a hot chocolate and stood inside to warm up.

I got back on my trike and was even colder than I was before I warmed up, my fingers were burning so much it felt like they were going to fall off, to make it worse the path then went along a river further down into the freezing fog. I was hoping for another hill and luckily didn’t have to wait too long, I warmed up as I continued onto Wisemans Bridge where I hit the sea again. I stopped to take a photo and stood for a while just listening to the crashing sound of the waves. There was support for me on the side of the road in Saundersfoot, we had a quick chat before I continued onto Tenby for lunch.

I had given myself an hours break for lunch, which gave me the time to write down my thoughts from the morning;

Cycling on my own today has given me time to think, they are not new thoughts but have been whirring around in my head all day nonetheless.

This challenge is really tough, my body hurts, my leg muscles burn more than they have ever done before. I have battled all of the elements that have been thrown at me. I spend the majority of the time cold unless I am cycling up a steep gradient. I am tired from spending so many hours on my trike outdoors because I am slow and the miles are taking longer than expected. When I finish cycling for the day I spend hours planning, reading comments, writing my blog and trying to raise publicity. I haven’t been resting apart from the time I have spent asleep. As painful as all of this is, IT IS NOTHING compared to the pain I endured before and at the beginning of the diagnosis of the conditions I have. Nothing compared to the constant 8/10 headache I had for 3 years, the frequent joint dislocations (especially my shoulders from rolling over in bed), the difficulty I had remaining upright for periods of time because of my POTs, the constant chronic fatigue, difficulty digesting food, the embarrassment of not being able to get to the toilet on time and reoccurring life threatening anaphylaxis. On top of all of this and perhaps the worst aspect was the frustration, frustration of not being believed, not being able to achieve and watching my parents and friends question why this has happened to me. This is only a snapshot of what others with chronic illnesses like EDS and it’s comorbidities go through everyday. In getting a diagnosis and help managing my conditions I am now able to do what I am doing, many having to wait much longer than I did to be believed and to get any help. I need to raise awareness to help others!

Having time today to think has been a healthy reminder that the pain I have climbing these relentless hills is easy to endure compared to what I have been through in the past, and I shall remind myself of this when it gets difficult. When I show my positivity, my genuine smiles and my brave face it doesn’t mean that I’m not hurting inside but that I know that it is possible to hurt more.

I love my life, I am independent and strong enough to undertake this massive challenge and I know that I have all of you, Danny, my family and my friends (both old and new) behind me! I will strive to raise as much awareness as I possibly can!

(Todays elvation profile) 

I continued onto Herbrandston the end point of my day.  I cycled past the castle in Pembroke where I stopped and chatted to a lovely lady for a while and then had a stop in Milford Haven where I had a drink at Foam.

I had a fantastic evening in the local pub (The Taberna – Herbrandston), all of the locals rallied around for support, I was gifted dinner from the pub, given a big bag of treats from the local shop and they even called out a local journalist who has written a story about me here: http://pembrokeshire-herald.com/42733/milford-haven-natalies-brave-5000-mile-cycle-along-british-coast/

I gave them all a big hug and thanked them for their kindness and generosity. Unfortunately I was too tired to take a photo, but I won’t be forgetting this village! The best I have visited!

Thanks again everyone at the Taberna in Herbrandston!

Day 25 – Swansea to Carmarthen – finally the sun appears

Tuesday 20th March

Stepping outside the hotel in the sunshine really made it feel like spring has finally arrived, it was still bitterly cold but I had layered up accordingly. I cycled across the harbour area and found the cycle path that went along the seafront all the way to The Mumbles. This is the nicest cycle path I have ever been on, smooth tarmac and a clear definition between pedestrians and cyclists. I’m not sure if it’s just because it was sunny but it was being very well used by commuters into Swansea. You could understand why as at 8am the traffic wasn’t moving!

I reached the Mumbles (the headland of Swansea Bay) and this is where the first hill started. The Gower is beautiful but hilly, the winding country roads are very scenic and the cars were very tolerant. I was supposed to be going all the way around the Gower but I needed to meet others in Llanelli at midday and knew that this wasn’t going to be possible so I cut across the middle, I didn’t manage to avoid more hills though.

I found a cafe/shack the other side and had a bacon sandwich. I then continued on national cycle route 4 to Llanelli. I was to meet Hugh and Mart here, but I hadn’t realised that the place they suggested we met meant cycling off the coast road and into the town. I got quite a few nasty comments from passers by and when I did finally turn up at our meeting point a little early I found out that they only served drinks and not food – this made me more grumpy. So I found another cafe across the road and then met up with the others after I had eaten.

Hugh and Mart both cycle recumbent trikes, Hugh has a self build and Mart a similar but earlier version of mine. We cycled down to the coastal bike path which ran for a few miles to Bury Port. After lots of photos Hugh left and Mart and I to continue onto Carmarthen. I am normally really chatty when I ride but I found myself apologising to Mart that I was unusually quiet. We cycled for a bit on the main road before cutting up some hilly back roads which was much more pleasant. When we reached Carmarthen Mart asked if I wanted to join him to go to a burger van, but I was cold and had been all day and explained to Mart that I still had 7 miles to cycle to my end point and that I would like to keep going. Thanks for joining me Hugh and Mart!

I tried to go to a pub on the way to the hostel for warmth and food but it didn’t open until 6, so I found the steep road up to the hostel and climbed that reading a sign that there was also a restaurant at the top. Unfortunately the restaurant was very expensive and out of the question so for dinner I had some chicken flavoured rice, a tin of tuna and a large bag of Maltesers!

I couldn’t sleep last night and I think this has contributed to my grumpiness along with the fact that my body is tired. My feet have been sore all day and I have been suffering from ‘hot foot’ something a lot of us who cycle recumbent trikes get and it’s like very painful pins and needles that doesn’t go away. I feel ashamed for feeling like this when it has been sunny all day, a little cold but perfect cycling weather.  Hopefully I will get a better sleep tonight as I have a long day on my own tomorrow.

(The view from the hotel restaurant, next door to where I am staying.)

Day 24 – Cardiff (Penarth) to Swansea


Monday 19th March

There was still a lot of ice on the roads but we had to get Danny to the train station to get back to Reading to work and I wanted to get to Swansea. After trying local taxi companies without success Danny walked his bike to the local train station to take him into Cardiff central. My trike was sliding everywhere but it was safer for me to be on 3 wheels than my 2 feet! We walked along the centre of the roads and made it to the station.

It was hard to say goodbye as we knew we wouldn’t see each other for a few weeks. I wouldn’t have the physical and mental strength that I do without having Danny. Danny was the one who helped me cycle again in the first place on our tandem and he supports me in absolutely everything I do. He is spending a lot of his time at the moment checking my route files and publishing things on my website as well as cycling at home as much as possible, he only did 20 miles less than me last week!

I was a little tearful when I left him but had to focus on getting myself to the gritted main road. Once I had found it I got a shout from a passing car “Are you the Zebra?”

Robert had read about me online but was unable to join me because of an injury, he was so pleased to have driven past me that he was happy to stand outside in the freezing cold to have a chat and a photograph. This really cheered me up after saying goodbye to Danny!

I met up with Jackie in Barry, who had unfortunately slipped on the ice before we met but she still wanted to cycle with me, again I was very grateful to have company as it was absolutely freezing for the first couple of hours cycling. We chatted about the rides Jackie has done in the past and the exciting year she has planned. We stayed on gritted roads which unfortunately kept us away from the smaller coastal roads but cycling in the valley of Glamorgan was beautiful, the snow covered hills remained to the right of us and our ride was relatively flat. Throughout the ride the snow was melting quickly and the closer I got to Swansea it was clear they hadn’t had much, if any snowfall. Jackie left me at Porthcawl after quite a substantial distance together, thanks Jackie! I had a cheese and ham croissant accompanied by a cake and peanut butter hot chocolate (one of the best drinks I’ve ever had!)

I cycled to meet Amanda who was going to cycle with me into Swansea on her ICE trike. Amanda has a spinal injury and is just as determined as I am. We cycled side-by-side along the roads and the perfectly sized cycle paths and chatted the whole way. Riding together on trikes was fantastic and I am definitely going to try and come back next year so we can do some longer distance riding together!

There was a network of wide paved cycled paths all the way to the outskirts of Swansea where I would be staying for the night. Amanda showed me around the Maritime Quarter before her husband arrived as a lift home and I retired to my hotel. Tomorrow I’ve got some more hills again cycling around the Gower so I need to get some good rest in preparation.

Day 9 – Back on track: Dorchester to where I got rescued near Honiton when the road turned into rivers. (Now in Plymouth)

Sunday 4th March

I got up at 5am and made the most of my massive bath before having breakfast and getting my stuff ready to leave! I was on the road by 7am! The snow had cleared on the roads but there were still large piles by the side, getting up so early meant that the roads were pretty much clear and felt fast – until I hit the hills! The minor roads were still covered in slush, not good territory for a trike so I stayed on the main A road all day.

It was today that I realised just how much harder it is carrying 15kg of kit on top of an already heavy bike and cycling in a recumbent position! I spent quite a while climbing a 15 percent gradient in my lowest gear whilst trying to avoid the river running down the side of the road. My Garmin kept pausing as I was dipping below the 3mph pause speed that I have set! Unloaded this and all the other hills would be much easier! But this isn’t the point, I like the simplicity that I am carrying everything, even in the recent extreme weather I have had everything I have needed and would have survived a nights camping had it been necessary! Every inch of stress has lifted from me, apart from attempting to remain on schedule I don’t have to be anywhere and I don’t have anything to do other than cycle, sleep (or find somewhere to sleep) and eat, and I guess on top of this cope with the weather conditions – life really is that simple at the moment 🙂

Cycling early in the morning with quiet roads meant that it was easy to avoid the gushing water in the gullies but as the roads got busier I was being forced into the sides and was unable to choose my line when the water crossed the road, however with the sun shining I was cycling along with a massive smile on my face.

Then it started spitting just as I entered a part of the main road with no stopping spaces, by the time I found somewhere to stop the rain was torrential, I couldn’t get my waterproofs on quick enough!

Soaking wet and struggling with the water on the roads I was glad when I found a Starbucks to dry off in. I was 6 miles away from my destination where James was going to pick me up, they were so friendly and I got so comfortable that I cheekily held out until James drove the extra 6 miles! And I am so glad he did the roads after this point wouldn’t have been cycle-able – the water gushing over them was dangerous. We drove past a bad accident on our way into Plymouth where a car had hit water crossing the road and aquaplaned, the car had hit something end on, on both ends, with only the middle of the car remaining! I hope the driver and anyone else involved were okay.

We had a pit stop for fish and chips (something I am sure I will be fed up of at the end of the trip, but for now they were exactly what I wanted) and stocked up at Cotswold Outdoors before finishing the journey to Plymouth.
I am now in Plymouth. I will redo this part of the coastline when it can be enjoyed, either at the end of my trip or in the summer, as it is too nice not to do it justice. Tomorrow I will restart my journey and am splitting the next couple of days up, I will cycle to Fowey and the following day on to St Mawes. I am back on track with my estimated schedule! Please let me know if you want to join me in the next week – I am looking forward to meeting as many as you as possible!

 

Day 8 – On the move again, slowly and not far. Lulworth – Dorchester

Saturday 3rd March

I had made a plan to cycle to Dorchester and get a train (with 1 change) that would catch me up with my route in Plymouth. I would then come back and cycle this part of the coastline at the end or in the summer.

It was now possible to cycle on the B road out of the village but any of the side roads were still too deep with snow/slush/ice for my trike. So once I managed to get on to the B road I would be able to climb the hill out of the village. I was dressed head to toe in waterproofs, but I did it! The pouring rain was turning to ice as I reached the top and it was pounding down my face. I have learnt today that a soaking wet buff is not easy to breath through!

The roads were just about manageable but I hit little piles of compacted snow and ice quite regularly. I made sure I kept my downhill speed to a snails pace! I reached Dorchester which appeared to have had quite a lot of snow and found the train station which I hoped would help me on my onward journey. I was wrong: the train station is an unmanned one, there were no people about and there quite obviously hadn’t been a train pass through by looking the snow on the tracks. I pressed the info button which told me there wasn’t a train in the next 90 minutes 🙁

I had earlier found a BnB online so I headed to that via the town centre. It was nearly impossible to cycle down the side roads and onto the high street. The high street was pretty busy, but hadn’t been cleared of snow or gritted! There was no way I could walk in it so I cycled at walking pace and had to have a couple of pushes to get me through the slush. I managed to get to Boots when I bought some ibuprofen spray for my feet (still bruised from the half marathon), some mountain sun and wind block for my very sore face, and a face mask as my plan for the afternoon was to sit in a bath and relax!

I managed to find the BnB from memory as my phone had died again (the cold weather is affecting battery life) – impressive as I only glanced at its location this morning before I set off. By the time I got there I was absolutely freezing, it was all the stop/starting in the last hour.

When I arrived the next door neighbour exclaimed “I saw you on the TV the other day!” This is something I have been getting quite a lot and is fantastic as hopefully I have raised good awareness for what I am doing and for the charity.

My room in the BnB was perfect, with massive bath with a round circular end. I spent the afternoon relaxing, eating dinner in the pub and making a plan for the next day.

Plan – Get up early, cycle as far as possible on the A35 (it won’t be pleasant but I will be able to cycle). James will meet me in the evening and take me to Plymouth where I will restart my journey on Tuesday morning when it has hopefully completely cleared. I will come back and do this bit of the coastline at the end when the coastal roads are passable.