Erskine Hospital Ltd Charity No SC006609
Erskine Hospital Ltd Charity No SC006609
Jimmy's Ride is a 500-mile cycle ride around the North Coast of Scotland by Veterans for Veterans
It was Mark's 'scenic' NC500 route on the GCN Video 'Bike packing the North Coast 500' that inspired where we went. He kindly agreed to say a few words.
Well we finished our 500 mile cycle ride at about 4.30 pm at Inverness Castle on Saturday 12th after an actual distance of a tad under 512 miles. It is no understatement to say we were tired, but elated too. Our last day was the sunniest yet and passed with very little rain, but a strong wind was our challenge instead. The last 30 miles involve following the coastal road round the Black Isle and the wind was blowing almost a gale right down the spine of the land. So we experienced a fabulous 22 mile an hour ride to Cromarty for apparently no effort, only to have to ride 15 miles back on legs lacking energy into the teeth of a cold wind. How good it felt to finish.
Some people say that giving to charity should involve a degree of pain. As I reflect on the 6 days and the great generosity of each of you, I can also honestly say that each of us cyclists has been involved in a bit of pain. I ache in places I have never ached in before; I am sore in places that I have been saddle sore before, but not this much!
On Day 1 the roads took us west across Scotland and a bit south to Applecross via the 2054 ft Bealach Na Ba pass. Said to be one of the longest steep climbs - and the 3rd highest pass - in UK, it turned out to be 9 kilometres of climb into a strong wind, driving rain and for the last 700 feet thick cloud; and most of the time the road seemed to be about 1 in 5 or 20%! At the end of day 1 it was a shocker and only 3 of us managed the whole climb without being literally blown off the road, or driven off the road by over-cautious drivers who dared not stray from the very centre line. But it was also a transforming moment because nothing that would come in the next 5 days could be as challenging as that - or so we thought.
Day 2 was a relative beauty, setting out round the stunning Applecross peninsular and ending only 72 miles later opposite Gruinard Island. It rained again, but the wind was mostly behind us, and especially for some of the hills, and at Shieldaig we happened across one of the few cafes that seemed to be open; honestly, most of the West and North Coast felt closed. It served us stunning carrot cake and coffee and gave us the energy we needed for the Torridon Pass to Kinlochewe. We had departed Inverness Castle with a message from a past regimental padre (Andrew Totton) offering us the Gaelic Blessing, and it really did seem that as the roads rose to meet us, so too was the wind at our backs. Despite this meteorological relief we ended our day in driving rain on the shores of Gruinard Bay trying to put up tents.
Day 3 A very wet start despite the more promising weather forecast. No morning coffee stop because the only location was Dundonnell Hotel which was restricted to residents only - we nearly booked a room for an hour but decided for 8 blokes it looked a little suspicious. So we rode on and got soaked climbing up the hill through Scotland’s ‘fjordlands’ up to Assynt via the Falls of Measach in Corrieshalloch then had a fast descent to Ullapool and arrived freezing. We were saved again by a hot brew and piles of sarnies from Bumper’s camper in the Tesco car park. After lunch the weather improved and we had a glorious ride on the coast road to Lochinver in the sunshine. Coffee in the cafe spurred us up the last few cheeky hills to Clachtoll, beautifully positioned looking West out to sea. In all 77 miles, and so 240 of 500. And here it is timely to sing the praises of Peter Reid (pictured above). Pete volunteered to travel up from his home in Cornwall to act as Ride Marshall - and more! Without Pete's recces and route marking, things would have been very different indeed and we are all indebted.
Day 4 was our last northern leg in which we cycled the slightly quieter road up to Durness, where Scotland turns a right-hand corner and the coastline heads eastwards towards John o’Groats. To a relative non-cyclist like me this was one of our best days. The rain held off for most of the day and the winds remained fresh and, up to Durness, were consistently behind us.
I started to sense some of the exhilaration of the road by bicycle (albeit fairly busy with an amazing number of camper vans), enclosed by open countryside purple with flowering heather on one side and turquoise water speckled with white horses to the other. We ended the day having been cheered through Durness by the entire Primary School (of 7!) and met at Tongue by the family of one of our brother officers not able to join us with a hamper of good grub. But the final 30 miles involved an almost hellish passage round the shores of Loch Eriboll; a long struggle against wind and rain for 12 miles, but also a reward of having all that on our backs as we returned down the other side.
Day 5. Wowzer, where do I begin? In the tradition of the Sound of Music I will begin at the very beginning. Around midnight overnight the winds freshened and the rain arrived. It was rather nice being snug inside our tent walls even as they bent and swayed with the ever strengthening and blustery gusts. By morning we had over an inch of water inside two tents and one was already being flattened by each flurry.
An hour later and the poles of the second tent gave up the fight. By this stage we had agreed amongst ourselves to depart an hour later in order to see if the wind might drop just a little and the stinging rain cease. As we set out the sun emerged and the wind seemed to abate, and anyway it was largely behind us for the first 20 miles as we rose and dipped along the stunning north coast. Our turn south fortunately coincided with a welcome coffee stop, but an unwelcome realisation that from now on the prevailing winds would be against us.
Where is Andrew Totton when you want him? The road rose into Helmsdale but the wind was at our front. Dampened by showers of horizontal rain, but with spirits untrammelled, up we climbed onto Scotland’s flows. We were admirably welcomed at the beautiful Kildonan Estate for a lunch stop before the last great climb of the trip - 1000 feet over to the A9 which we followed for 3 busy miles before taking, once more, to the back roads to head into the setting sun towards Lairg. It turned into a really very long day because we had reached 80 miles, a normal day up to now, but today we still had 24 hard miles to climb.
We reached our campsite at dusk a total of 104 miles from Tongue. It was proper military camping; although we had cover in outhouses for a squally night there was no running water and the lavatories were closed (actually we ended up sleeping in them!!).
During the ride I gained ever increasing respect for cyclists, an appreciation of the varying qualities of road surface (some very good looking ones are simply awful to bike on) and an awe-inspiring insight to the power of the human body. It is said that ‘If you think you can’t, then you won’t”. I can tell you that thinking the opposite really does seem to make a difference.
Day 6 started cold and clear and at 88 miles was the same length as Day 1. It should have been a ‘cinch’ but as you have read, given the winds on the Black Isle, turned into quite a trial at times.
As I write today I wonder whether I could have cycled on for a day 7, 8 or 9. Amazingly I think I probably could, albeit with a longer warm-up period, but I must admit I am glad I am actually home and back into the warmth of the south and comfort of an upholstered chair.
There is a well known Scottish pop song with the catchy choral phrase ‘But I would walk 500 miles, and I would walk 500 more just to be the man who walks a thousand miles..’ Honestly, I am not so sure about riding 500 more, but with your fabulous support I have completed a life-changing experience, and we have raised almost enough money to pay for 2 of the 3 SCOTS DG veterans currently in the care of the excellent Erskine veteran’s Hospitals. As I write our total - including generous gift aid - is now over £40,000.00 and still climbing. Our EverydayHero pages will stay open until the end of September. I thank you all and I look forward to the day when I can do so personally.
The cyclists represented the glamorous side of the venture. But without the backup of Tam Hobbs and his team - Mick Duncan, 'Bumper' Brown, Rab Anderson and input from Barry Liston and the Chapmans - the show would never have hit the road. Tam and Bumper brought their camper wagons from which meals and other sustenance were dispensed at crucial intervals. Tam booked all the campsites and ensured we got a suitable discount. He and the team pitched camp each night and ensured that all was ready to receive a thoroughly knackered troop of cyclists with a welcome cup of tea followed by a meal fit for an olympian. In the morning a plentiful breakfast of cereals, bacon and egg 'banjos' and suitable beverages was laid out whatever the weather so that we never went without fuel. Bumper ploughed on ahead with Rab and set up, mid-ride, with a sumptuous lunch of sandwiches, fruit, biscuits and drinks. The sight of Bumper and his wagon in the distance was enough to spur on even the most dispirited rider. Suitably refreshed, the peloton moved on through rain and shine to make the evening RV where Tam, Mick and 'Spud' the dog would be waiting to welcome us.
One of the highlights of these early days was having Jimmy Wilson’s daughter Margaret Anne and husband Derek (Jimmy having died in Erskine Hospital last year was the genesis for the fund raising ride) joining us on the Ride. For the first 50 miles each day 'Bella' pedalled on the most amazing E-Bike. By now we had stopped calling the climbs ‘hills’ in an attempt to downplay the promised anguish, but she helped too by breezing past us with apparent effortlessness and enjoining us to pedal just a little bit harder.
Both Derek and Bella were the greatest team-players and were a pleasure to have with us. Utterly reliable and always in the right place at the right time they did Bella's Dad great credit.
Jimmy Wilson BEM was one of the many hardworking NCOs who gave their all after amalgamation in 1971 to ensure that our Regiment would be Second to None. They didn't complain, they didn't question, they just 'got on with the job'. We salute them all for their no-nonsense approach and their old school values.
Jimmy lost his struggle against Parkinson's in June of 2019 while he was being cared for at Erskine, whose care homes are available to all Scottish Veterans. The care given during his stay at Erskine was outstanding and in order to celebrate our Regimental Veterans and to give thanks to Erskine for the magnificent work that they do, we have come up with the 'Jimmy's Ride for Erskine' Appeal. Since the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic, Erskine has been deprived of crucial funds, as events have had to be cancelled during Lockdown. Now they need our help.
Jimmy's Ride for Erskine is a 500-mile bicycle ride around the beautiful scenery of the North coast of Scotland, following Mark Beaumont's record-breaking route of the NC500. Our goal is to raise at least £12,000 for Erskine by the end of 2020 to show our appreciation and to support the work they do. Join us on any part of the route between 7-12 September and raise money for Erskine. Alternatively, you can simply donate to the cause. We owe Erskine a massive debt and we do this in memory of Jimmy and his fellow NCOs who made our Regiment what it is today - Second to None.
With 3 of our Regimental family currently in the care of Erskine you can support the team by donating to the cause. Simply click here to donate.