Days 7-10 of the remarkable Andrew Grounsell Challenge – the final diary entries.

Andrew Grounsell

Luke Westoe and Darren Purvis have cycled to and from Newcastle, and climbed, the Three Peaks to raise funds for us and Maggie’s Newcastle.

It was all in memory of their friend and colleague, Andrew Grounsell, who sadly died from bowel cancer last year aged just 54.

Darren kept us up-to-date with their travels, despite being exhausted from the intense physical demands of the challenge, and the diary entries below are from their last three days on the road or up a mountain.

Our thanks to Darren and Luke – and to everyone supporting them. If you would like to sponsor them, you can do so here.

DAY 7 – Hamilton to Fort William

Another full day on the bike. An early 6am alarm, quick wash and ready and cereal for breakfast courtesy of the contents were carrying in the van (or Thunderbird 2 as we are calling her).

We headed down to check out and then realised that the hotel restaurant was open early for breakfast. Great stuff, breakfast two, full English all round.

We rode out of Hamilton with the early morning traffic to contend with and GPS navigating away from Hamilton. Plenty country lanes today and a bit of time along the canal.

Glasgow was our major city to navigate our way through today. Luke did a cracking job, taking us via the Gorbals. Once in to the city we crossed the Clyde and headed pass some of the cities most interesting buildings.

Once away from Glasgow the hills were soon our focus and just in sight. The climbs were generally steady but lasted some time. A quick stop in Loch Lomond and a refuel point with Phil and the van. On towards Glencoe and then in to Fort William. I think we had 3 stops today? Arrived round 6.15pm to Fort William.

Once checked in I had time for a quick 6 mile run, somehow the cycling is not affecting my running legs? Mind you this is the first run of the challenge.

Carb load tonight, Indian good. A very early ride at 6.20am in the morning. Riding up the back of the resort to the foot Ben Nevis.

Just finishing our night lying in bed, catching a repeat episode of the Inbetweeners. It’s just as funny even when you have seen it before.

DAY 8 – Climb of Ben Nevis (Peak 3) and ride to Tyndrum

The alarm rang out at 5.30am this morning. Luke was first up and as usual I struggled to get out of the bed. We both feel like flat batteries in a morning, but once we had breakfast we had the recharge needed.

A quick pack up of our kit and everything back in to the support vehicle (Thunderbird 2 as she is now nick named). At 6.20am Phil drove the support van a few miles to the Fort William Visitor Centre and Luke and I cycled the route, with the sun beginning to rise from behind the mountains. It was a cold morning so we were fully kitted with jackets etc.

Cycling up we knew it was around 2.5 mile to meeting point, however after cycling so far we realised we had gone too far up the valley. We reached Phil after nearly 5 miles of cycling. It was a quick change in to walking gear and more importantly a second breakfast from the back of the van and we set off to walk Ben Nevis.

Phil joined us for the climb today and acted as our guide and navigated us through the paths, good job as some of the areas are hazardous if you walk the wrong way.

The climb up started gently and then as expected become a stepped ascent in to the clouds, it felt like something from Lord of the Rings. At one point we had a guy walk past us bare foot, clambering the rocky ground? Luke named him ‘Bilbo’.

As we walked through the cloud the temperature dropped. Around 4/5 from the top the cloud cleared and presented us with panoramic views across the Loch’s and mountains, it was a great moment.

We reached the summit after about 3 hours, took our now traditional pose with our banner and headed off for shelter out of the wind. Lunch time sheltering behind the remains of a stone building.

Our descent back to the van took a similar time to the climb. Once back down, we redressed back in to our cycle gear and headed off on our last 50 mile of the day.

Cycling out of Fort William was fine for the first 10 mile or so, but then the climbing began as we headed for Glencoe. Eventually we reached Tyndrum and the log cabin, both exhausted and lifeless from the tough climb through Glencoe pass. We had just climbed over 7000ft on the bikes.

Phil rustled up a great spaghetti bolognaise meal, which we devoured. Carb overload for tomorrow, just what we needed!

Tonight we are all totally shattered, so bed early tonight.

DAY 9 – Tyndrum to Edinburgh

Bleep, bleep, bleep, bleep!!! That’s the alarm call again and another early morning with the alarm sound ringing out at 6am. After a good night sleep we are all feeling so much better. Quick breakfast, bags packed and off we go on the bikes again, leaving at 7am.

A few miles after leaving, Luke and I both felt very cold. We had not appreciated how cold and damp the mountain air was and it was made colder as we hurtled down the roads by bike.

I tried to ring Phil to make an early stop to dress in more layers, but no signal – mountain shadowing! Fortunately Phil soon caught up with us not far down the road and we flagged him down, grabbing the extra jackets and gloves out the van that we needed.

Today’s ride was a shorter distanced than other days, just a mere 90miles so we classed this as a ‘rest day’. We had scheduled stops today to visit places of interest, visiting the Maggies Centre and Forth Valley, The Falkirk Wheel and the original Maggie’s building in Edinburgh.

Maggie’s Forth Valley was in a lovely setting, with a lake close by. The building was closed over the weekend, but we still managed to have a good look around the exterior and peer in to look at the internal spaces. It was nice that the staff had left our AG Challenge posters up on the door with ‘Welcome Luke and Darren’.

As we left the building I got talking to a lady that had been a user of the Maggie’s Centre during her own treatment, thankfully she was a cancer survivor. She was showing friends the building and was delighted to see our support van and branding and was extremely grateful to our challenge raising money for Maggies and the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation.

A few miles down the road we visited the Falkirk Wheel, an architectural/engineering masterpiece as far as Luke, Phil and I were concerned. It was a rather interesting watching the canal boats moving around from one level to another. This was our lunch stop, so we spent a good hour or so at the wheel.

From Falkirk our ride had only 30 miles left. The ride was a combination of canal paths and disused railways before we finally entered the outskirts of Edinburgh. We made a stop at Maggie’s Edinburgh, the very first Maggie’s Centre that was now around 16 years old.

The building was a combination of the old and the new, consisting of an old stable block and next steel and glazed sections. We found Phil had arrived before us and spent an hour in the gardens, sitting in the sun relaxing.

It was clear to see why Maggie’s Centres are so important as a place for patients and their families to remove themselves from the hospital environment. You could understand and feel how the architecture and external landscaped spaces must help users.

Our last stop was made to the YHA Edinburgh. It was a new building that is used as student accommodation during term time. I think we were all impressed by the quality of the digs for the night, with our own individual bedrooms with double beds and adjoining en-suite.

My phone bleeped, a text from Andrew’s brother John to see if we would like to meet up. We were delighted and organise to meet up on Leith Walk and grab some food with John. A quick shower and change and we were ready to go out for food.

My mate Dave arrived, having travelled from Newcastle so that he could cycle with us in the morning. Phil’s sister Caroline and husband Chris also made the trip in to the city to join us.

We all met John for pizza. The last night away from home and what a great way to spend it, with old friends, new friends and recalling memories of Andrew. Tip for next time, don’t get green chillies, they made my eyes water and tongue burn!

DAY 10 – Edinburgh to Home!!!! Final Day….

5am the old faithful alarm rings out, it’s time to get up and get the cycle kit on one last time.

It’s finally here, the last day of the Andrew Grounsell Challenge. Mixed emotions all round with sadness that the challenge is drawing to a close and also elation due to the fact that tonight we will all be back in our homes.

Personally I can’t wait to give up living out of my bags and return to the ease of opening a wardrobe door and finding an item of clothing with ease.

A quick breakfast, bags packed and we are downstairs before 6am. The streets of Edinburgh are quiet, apart from the odd couple of students making their way home after a night on the tiles. The support van (Thunderbird 2) is packed and we are ready to ride.

Phil fortunately noticed Luke’s tyre was somewhat shredded. The tyre was a right off and needed to be changed, so wheel was ‘whipped’ off and a new tyre fitted. This gave some extra time for a little bit more food to be eaten before we cycled.

We were soon on the road, leaving Edinburgh behind us. Today the Tour of Britain also sets off from Edinburgh. Our first section of our route coincidently cycled the same route as the tour, so we had vehicles and spectators arriving along our route as we headed for home.

Some the of hill sections were extremely tough out of Edinburgh and with the strong southerly head wind the ride was going to be tough. Our first stop at the top of the hills in the middle of what felt like ‘nowhere’, meant we had to use the van as a shelter to buffer the wind. We all sat on one side a refused ourselves with food and refreshments.

The ride to Bamburgh was extremely hard, with the head wind slowing our pace and draining our already tired legs. As we approached the last 10 mile to Bamburgh, we had to cycle a section of the A1.

This was a scary section of road to ride due to the speed of the traffic and the force that was created when a lorry or large vehicle whizzed passed, causing the bikes to be pulled towards the traffic whilst we also had to try and avoid the ‘cats eyes,’ which acted as obstructions in the road.

Arriving in Bamburgh was an emotional moment. We had family and friends waiting to meet and welcome us in. Andrew’s wife Jo and two of Andrew’s good friends had also come to meet us and cycle to Embleton.

Our friend and colleague Keith and Luke’s friend Richard, both joined us in Bamburgh for the ride back to Newcastle. The meeting point was St Aidan’s Church (opposite the Grace Darling Museum).

This was the place where Andrew’s ashes were laid to rest, to the west side of the church and close to the stone wall bordering the corn field. Jo and I walked over to the location where Andrew is and I laid a bouquet of flowers. I took a few minutes to take in the view, I think he would very much have appreciated the view overlooking the west side of the church, the beach and Bamburgh castle in the back ground.

After some food we all mounted our bikes and set off to Embleton, roughly a 15 mile ride. The wind continued to be harsh and gusty. We were delighted to be joined by everyone and the spirits were high as we were once again heading for home.

Only a few miles from Bamburgh and the first puncture of the challenge was had by Keith, so a quick change of the wheel and a new inner tube and we were soon ‘on the road again’. Once in to Embleton, Jo and Andrew’s friends dropped out of the ride, we would next see them at Maggie’s in Newcastle.

We were soon joined by my neighbour and friend Ian, who had cycled up from Birtley and tracked our location via our live Garmin tracker. Much to my amazement he found us and we met head on in a small village north of Alnmouth. More fresh legs to the team.

Originally we were going to ride to Tynemouth where others were to ride with us, but as we had confirmation that the other riders were unable and so we altered the route around Seaton Sluice. From here we would change direction and head inland.

We were soon approaching the finish line and the pace was picking up slightly as we entered Long Benton, meeting the Wagon Way with our last few hundred metres left to ride. On turning off left, the Maggie’s Centre was soon in sight and we could see all our friends, our families, colleagues and Andrew’s family outside cheering us in. It was a very emotional moment as I had to wipe a tear from my eye.

It was lovely to see everyone and it was very much appreciated that they had made the effort to turn out to welcome us back. I think it was the first time that I actually realised how big a challenge we had undertaken when we were congratulated at being back!

A memory I will always hold is Allison’s embrace and Sam’s excitement that Dad was finally home. It was lovely to see that Sir Bobby Robson’s wife, Lady Elsie had turned out to welcome our AG team of riders and support drivers home. It was a delight to finally meet Andrew’s mum who was ever so grateful to us doing this in Andrew’s memory.

The flashing of cameras and mobile phones were everywhere. After the photo’s outside of Maggie’s, we headed inside to enjoy Champagne and chocolate cake and the company of all those that had turned up to see us home.

Luke and I presented Andrew and Jo’s son, Henry with one of our Andrew Grounsell branded cycle tops, which was signed by Alan Shearer (one of the patrons’ of SBRF). We handed a second top to Jo for their daughter Amy (who is currently away in India).

It was such a memorable way to finish the Andrew Grounsell Challenge. The 9.5 days away has been tough, exhausting, mentally and physically draining, exciting, entertaining and a true adventure.

Who would have known that you can cycle so far, climb 3 national peaks and raise lots of funds for such important charities all from one conversation between Luke and I at Andrew’s funeral. We have enjoyed every minute of the Challenge, meeting new friends, sharing the challenge via twitter and facebook and to have made so many new friends on route.

Tomorrow morning its another early start and back to the office, although I have the support van to clean out first….another 5am alarm call awaits!