I'm not going to bore you with too many details - the route was a variation on last year. After overnighting in Penrith (for the sake of accommodation for 15 of us!) we were driven to Workington, where we started from this year. Then we rode through Cockermouth and on to Keswick (brief stop) and then for lunch to Threlkeld - a long story... here goes: some of us wanted to watch the Man Utd - Arsenal game. Yep, that one that ended 0-0 (hindsight is a wonderful thing). Mate Ian had googled the Keswick area for a pub that would show the match. He came across The Sanitation (or sumffin like'aat). When we turned up.... there had been a big mistake. Yes, the Sanitation had Setanta... but the match was on Sky Sports (the girl Ian spoke to was either thick, devious or just didn't give a monkeys).
The group at that point split into three - the fitter ones who had arrived to the pub in time for the game and decided to stay anyway; the three at the rear who were in still Keswick when the van got to Threlkeld, and managed to find a pub there that did show the match; and Ian and I who decided not to grace the offending pub with our custom, but to press on to Greystoke for a coffee instead (which we did). Then on to Penrith, where we all met back at the same accommodation.
The second day was the big one. This year we had decided, based on Ian and my advice (from last year's experience) to end not in Rookhope, but 7 miles further, at Parkhead Station. Don't get me wrong - Parkhead Station is an absolutely fine place to stay and I'll happily recommend it to anyone, and we did want to make the last day an all-downhill one, a rest, end on a high note etc. But we hadn't counted on the wind blowing from the East, a strong wind at that. The first day this had affected us a little - on the second day it made going downhill hard work, and going uphill (which you do, a lot) gruelling. The morning was fine otherwise, sunny and reasonably warm, but as we got to Hartside Top Cafe the weather began to turn. Suffice to say, hours later, as we stopped for a life-saving coffee at the Rookhope Inn (where Ian and I had stayed last year) I was cursing myself for having added 7 miles to the second day. It was 6.30pm and the weather was trully foul. We got to Parkhead Station at 8.15pm, wet, cold and shattered after 90' on the open moor under icy rain with bits of sleet thrown in for good measure.
The 3rd and final day should have been a breeze, but my knees were aching after day 2 - the right one seriously so. I limped to Sunderland at the rear of the group. It was a delight to get to the end, but I've not been able to cycle since (it's been a week now) and my right knee still hurts a bit. Watch this space.
Lessons? Larger groups are tricky to manage - navigation can be a challenge, as it is impossible to avoid becoming separated. Training pays off (I didn't do enough). Having bike serviced pays off (well, it cost me a bob or two, but it was worth it as the gears worked a treat).Will I do it again? Yes, I hope I will - or perhaps a different route (Brugges to Amsterdam has been mentioned - all flat and more time for beer!).