Riding The Trafalgar Way - Falmouth to London in 24 Hours
The Trafalgar Way holds a lot of heritage, especially for someone that has grown up near the Victory in Portsmouth. In 1805, when Admiral Nelson died in the battle of Trafalgar, Lieutenant Lapenotiere rode non-stop along this route from Pendennis Point to Admiralty House in Whitehall, London. The journey took him 37 hours and he used 21 horses. I planned to attempt it on a push-bike, in 24 hours.
Joining me on the journey was a team of riders that would do certain legs of the course with me, as well as a support crew in a camper-van and a film crew. It was to be a real team effort.
We headed out of Falmouth, down the cobbled high street and up into the hills behind the town. The weather was mild, and the wind was from behind, all set for a long day in the saddle...
|The cobbled streets of Falmouth|
The historic route largely follows what are now busy A-roads (mostly the A30 in the west country), but we had a superb alternative route planned by our team leader and event manager Jim Bellinger, which took in some of the best roads that the south of the UK has to offer.
The route was all pre-planned, and I was following it on a Garmin 800; backed up when needed by a short range radio to our event comms in the camper van.
I'm not sure what happened in the first few miles, but we had a little navigational slip, and ended up a "fair" way off course (an additional 25kms it turned out). When we eventually realised this, we decided that Charlotte (a keen cyclist riding for Felt Colbournes) and myself would push on down the A30 to make up some lost time, and the other two would jump in the camper when it found them, and catch up.
We made great progress with the wind behind, smashing it through the Cornwall countryside and ticking off town after town. Before long it was lunchtime and we'd ticked off the first 100km. Time for beans on toast in the camper van and a quick social media update.
|Cornish country lanes|
After lunch I headed out alone, keen to see what the legs could do after a quick re-fuel. With the Garmin navigation now all sorted, and the camera crew following in the Land Rover, it was a fast few hours. Eventually I got out of Cornwall and into Devon...
|One county down, only seven more to go!|
The afternoon is all a bit of a blur to be honest, before long I was through Dartmoor and nearing Exeter. There are some big hills in that part of the world, but it remained dry and comfortable throughout. Things were looking good and I was enjoying seeing a whole new area of the country that I hadn't explored on a bike before.
|Rolling green hills of the West Country|
Jim and Oli joined me on the outskirts of Exeter and led me through the busy city with ease. Then we were back out on the open road and heading along the next leg of the three part journey - Exeter to Salisbury.
The sun was setting fast by about 5pm, and there were some looming storm clouds as I passed through Honiton, up the massive hill out of the town, and then blasted down towards Axminster.
|Fading light en-route to Honiton, Devon.|
In Axminster I met the support crew in the camper, and had a brief and encouraging chat, then headed back out onto the road. Keen to get to Bridport and our dinner stop!
I was re-joined on this leg by Charlotte, and she did a great job of lifting my spirits. It was a good job, because some of the twisty debris-strewn lanes and lung burning climbs heading down towards Bridport and the coast were a real killer. I was certainly glad to have the camera crew with us as well, lighting up the road from behind on some of the tricky mud-caked descents!
|Quiet country roads, with some brutal climbs on the way to Bridport|
Bridport was a very welcome break. Paul and Simon our support crew had cooked up a seriously good dish of chicken pasta, and after 12 hours of riding it tasted incredible. Setting me up for a long night on the road.
Charlotte joined me for another hour or so after dinner, and we started to push on towards Salisbury. After passing through Dorchester, the place names started to become a bit more familiar, and we were passing quickly through the deserted lanes. Suddenly the South East of England seemed within easier reach and the challenge far more manageable.
We met the guys in Blandford Forum; Charlotte retired for a well earned rest, and after a quick water bottle re-fill and a chat, I was back out on the road solo.
That leg from Blandford Forum to Salisbury was quick, I think that dinner was kicking in and I was beginning to get that "night riding buzz". Salisbury was a significant point to reach as well; after that is was only 90 miles into London - just a big Sunday ride really?!
I met Nick in Salisbury, and after a very welcome bowl of porridge we hit the road, just as the rain began to fall. Nick is a keen cyclist, and he was fresh, a lot fresher than I was after 14 hours riding. We smashed it out of Salisbury - despite the pouring rain there was no stopping us - I even got a third on the Strava segment from Salisbury to Andover. I also got soaked to the skin.
|Wet road + darkness + fatigue = concentration face.|
Salisbury to Andover, Andover to Basingstoke, Basingstoke to Camberley, Camberley to Staines. All of a sudden we were very close to London. All I can say about that section was that it was very wet. I was glad of a great jacket from Altura, some great lights from Lezyne and some really good protection on my feet, head and hands from GripGrab. At times like that good kit makes all the difference.
Somewhere near Staines we met up with the camper van again; time for a quick coffee and a warm-up before the final assault on London.
As we rode into the Capital the sun was coming up and first light brought a welcome illumination of the roads. We met all the riders in Brentford, and rode into Central London as the Grande Arrivée. Down Kensington High Street, past the Albert Hall, under Wellington Arch and down to Whitehall. The finish. The Trafalgar Way complete in under 24 hours. Mission accomplished.
|The Grande Arrivée|
What an incredible journey. Less than 24 hours to complete the historic route from Pendennis Point to Admiralty House. Of course, I had to make up the mileage to 300 square, so we rode to Look Mum No Hands for breakfast - it tasted seriously good!
A huge thanks to Jim Bellinger for organising everything, to all of the guys in the campervan for their incredible support, to Charlotte, Nick and the others that did a fantastic job of keeping me going out on the road. It was a weekend I will never forget.
I think this could be the first of many more endurance challenges...
Many thanks to Richard Blake at rb-create.com for the fantastic photos