A great game for the neutral

(actual posting date: 30 October)

Match eleven – vs Liverpool (home)

Lost 2-4

15.2 miles

Total mileage 2205.3

 

This week I was invited on to the Holmesdale Radio Podcast (http://holradio.net/listen-to-the-podcast/) previewing yesterday’s match against Liverpool.  It was great to be given the opportunity to publicise my challenge.

I was asked on the podcast for my prediction for the scoreline.  I said there was no logical way to conclude anything other than a Liverpool win; and then predicted Palace to win 2-1. We do seem to have a knack of getting unlikely wins against Liverpool.

In an amazing first half, Liverpool did their best to show why.  Liverpool were clearly the better team and dominated, but twice after going ahead they allowed James McArthur to head Palace equalisers.  It was Palace’s defence who showed the final piece of generosity of the half, however, giving Joel Mitap acres of space to head Liverpool into the lead for the third time. At that stage, 8-5 to Liverpool didn’t seem an unrealistic prediction.  As it was the second half produced just one goal: Palace were the better team for large parts of the half, but it was Liverpool who scored to seal a 4-2 win.  That’s three defeats in a row for Palace – next week’s trip to Burnley (whose home form is very good) now feels a very big game.

It’s also the third longest ride of the season for me.  I am particularly looking forward to it as I will be staying for two nights with an old school friend who I haven’t seen in 25 years: a lovely by-product of the challenge.  As for yesterday’s ride – it was very straightforward and I felt in good form, even if I still haven’t shaken off the last remnants of this cold!

 

A Halloween look for this ride.

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Leicester and, er, Legoland

(actual posting date: 27 October 2016)

Match ten – vs Leicester City (away)

Lost 1-3

274.2 miles

Total mileage 2,190.1 miles

When the fixture list was published in the summer, I quickly checked for clashes with any key family dates.  Both of the kids’ birthdays were clear and the Christmas and New Year games were all within the M25.  But the one clash was with my wife’s birthday.  Janet’s birthday is 23 October; and we were to play Premier League Champions Leicester City away on the day before.  Oh dear…

My original thought – prior to the fixtures coming out – was that Leicester would be a five day trip: two days there, match day, and then two days back. That, however, would mean missing Janet’s birthday completely.

The weekend was also the start of half term, and Janet came up with the idea of taking the kids to Legoland on her birthday if I could meet them there in the early evening to see the fireworks.  It would mean longer days in the saddle for me, but looked feasible and being the generous husband I am, I said I’d pay for us all to stay in the Legoland Hotel on the Sunday night.  Also being the generally useless husband I am, I left it to her to make all the arrangements and book the hotel, while I just provided the money and worried about my journeys to and from Leicester.

My plan became to ride most but not all the way to Leicester on the Friday; do the final 20 or so miles on Saturday morning; ride back to the same hotel on the Saturday night; ride to Legoland on Sunday and then ride home from Legoland (after a day at the resort) on Monday evening.  And when I searched for somewhere to stay on the Friday and Saturday nights I found that I would be returning to Rothwell – where I stayed on the Middlesbrough trips – albeit at a different pub this time (purely because if was £5 a night cheaper).

I’ve been asked a few times whether I get bored on long days on the bike on my own.  The honest answer is no – I love riding; I love watching the countryside go by; and I listen to podcasts, the radio or music for much of the time.  Having said that, my routes have been getting a bit repetitive.  My first and last day’s routes have been pretty much the same for all the outside London games (except for the rather ill-fated first day to Sunderland). Some parts of the route remain a pleasure – the sign for “Winkers Nightclub” in Chalfont St Peter always raises a smile – but some different roads would be nice for a change.

As I wrote on the post after the West Ham game, I’ve been struggling to shrug off a cold as well as having continued problems with my shoulder/back.  The latter still isn’t perfect, but is causing me much less discomfort now.  The cold, however, was affecting my breathing on the trip up to Leicester and I think that was the main reason I found the 103 miles to Rothwell tough going.  Nonetheless, I took encouragement from an unladen road cyclist who, when overtaking me, wished me a cheery good morning and commented on how fast I was going ‘for a touring bike’.  I did 54 miles before lunch – a brie and cranberry baguette at the Queen’s Head in Wing – and 49 miles after at an average of nearly 13 miles per hour.  And, about 15 miles before reaching Rothwell, I passed 2,000 miles for the challenge so far.

I stayed at the Red Lion in Rothwell.  It is about 100 yards from the Blue Bell where I’d stayed on both the way up and way back from Middlesbrough.  My room was a small single room in the attic.  It was fine for my needs, though lugging the bike up three flights of stairs was an effort.

Breakfast was extra and started late, so I sorted myself out with Belvita biscuits and an energy drink before setting off shortly after nine am to cover the 23 miles to Leicester’s King Power Stadium.  As a result, I arrived ridiculously early and after a brief look around I got back on the bike and rode half a mile back to the nearby Morrisons for a second breakfast (a pot of tea and a sausage sandwich, since you ask).

Refuelled, I headed back to the stadium for my 12 o’clock meet up with the Contact a Family representative.  The charity have arranged for someone to meet me at each of the outside London away games, and I really appreciate it after some long rides.  The representative from Leicester City let us into the ground, with the bike, to take a few quick pitch side pictures before ushering us out again.

I then again rode away from the ground to meet a Leicester supporting ex-colleague for lunch – which he kindly paid for.  He was with his daughter who had the enviable record of never having seen Leicester lose at the King Power – in 26 matches.  Could Palace ruin her record?  What do you think?  (At time of writing, it’s now 27 games unbeaten.)

Shall we get the match details over and done with?  For the first 20 minutes or so Palace dominated the match (even allowing for Steeeeeeeve Mandanda’s attempt to gift Leicester a first minute goal).  Had Christian Benteke’s header gone in rather than – for the second week in a row – hit the woodwork, then the result might have been very different.  But as the first half progressed, the balance of play shifted and it was no great surprise when Leicester took the lead shortly before half time.  Two more Leicester goals followed in the second half, including a stunning finish from Christian Fuchs.  Palace, to their credit, never gave up and had more possession and more efforts on goal than Leicester.  But Yohan Cabaye’s late goal was never going to be anything more than a consolation.

After the match, I headed back to Rothwell and – after lugging the bike up the three flights of stairs – I decided to head out to eat rather than stay in the pub as on the previous night. I ended up in the Turkish restaurant where I’d eaten on the way up to Middlesbrough.  At first, I thought I had not been recognised, but when she brought me my menu, the waitress asked ‘Still doing the cycling’?

Sunday’s breakfast was a repeat of Saturday’s, with the addition of a banana.  I got away pretty early – just after 7.30 – and as a result got to see the tail end of a beautiful sunrise.  I had hoped that my destination being Windsor rather than home might have resulted in a different route than previous trips.  No such luck: my planner devised me a route that stuck to by now very familiar roads for most of the day.  The lovely sunrise was, however, a good omen: I felt in much better form than on the way up and it turned out to be a beautiful day for cycling.  The weather – and the fact that it was a Sunday – meant fellow cyclists were out in force and I spent much of the day shouting greetings or nodding and waving at other people on bikes.

I rode 64 miles before lunch – a nice, but overpriced, sandwich in Wendover – at just over 14 miles per hour.  I was even quicker (average 14.6mph) for the post-lunch 30 miles, mainly because overall they were downhill.  As a result I arrived a Legoland earlier than I’d expected at about 3pm.  I was delighted to find that our room themed as one of the ‘Kingdom Rooms’.  I’d assumed this was a coincidence, but later learnt that – of course – Janet had arranged that deliberately.  We were both disappointed that only one member of staff at the hotel commented on the surname/room name link (the woman allocating tables at breakfast).

I had time to sort my stuff out and get changed before Janet and the children returned to the room.  We then relaxed for a bit before heading (back, for them) into the theme park for a quick look around and to get ready for the fireworks.  The fireworks were excellent – especially with the special effect glasses which made bright lights look like Lego pieces. It’s difficult to explain if you haven’t tried the glasses, but they made the fireworks look like a cascade of plastic building blocks.

We returned to the room and eventually got the children to sleep before Janet and I shared a bottle of Prosecco to celebrate her birthday.  I do know how to treat a lady, you know…

We spent Monday at Legoland and in the hotel swimming pool before parting at the hotel car park at about twenty past four: Janet and kids in the car for the drive home; and me on my bike.  A pleasant 26 mile early evening ride then followed – much of it following the Thames – and I was home by quarter past six.  Another away game ticked off, albeit one with a more circuitous return journey than normal.

 

Three flights of stairs later…

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Pre-match

It was 126 miles for me – maybe my route planning is not that bad after all

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Legoland – and they were ready for us

I know how to spoil my wife

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Palace won last time they played at this old stadium

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This was supposed to be an easy one…

(actual posting date: 16 October)

Match nine – vs West Ham (home)

Lost 0-1

15.1 miles

Total mileage 1915.9 miles

 

This was supposed to be an easy one – both for me (just the normal 15 mile round trip to Selhurst Park) and for the team.  Palace had been on excellent form up to the international break, whilst West Ham had looked very poor so far this season.

However, Palace can be relied upon to give a team on a bad run a helping hand at Selhurst Park (look at our games against Sunderland and Aston Villa last season).  West Ham were much the better team in the first half and took a deserved lead.  Palace then squandered a chance to equalise late in the half when Christian Benteke hit one of the worst penalties ever seen at Selhurst Park (and there’s some competition for that).  Benteke almost made amends a minute later, but his header struck the post.  Palace improved in the second half but couldn’t find the equaliser, even after West Ham were reduced to  10 men, while West Ham threatened on the break,  Twice this season Palace have scored crucial goals in injury time, but a great save from Adrian prevented Conor Wickham making it three times and the game finished 1-0.

(Incidentally, it’s not just Palace who show such generosity to struggling teams.  Before the game as Middlesbrough – at which stage Palace were on a terrible run – a Boro fan said they always lost to teams on bad runs: and so it proved.)

It also wasn’t as easy a ride for me as I might have expected.  I’ve been struggling with a heavy cold (aka man flu) since I returned from Everton; and my left shoulder/back is continuing to cause me pain.  So the ride felt much harder work than it should have done, particularly on the way there.  The only good news was that I missed the worst of the rain – it absolutely chucked it down during the match, but there was only light rain at worst while I was on the bike.

Wobbly wheels, punctures and navigation issues but two long trips done

(actual date of post – 6 October)

Match seven – vs Sunderland (away)

Won 3-2

658.8 miles

Match eight – vs Everton (away)

510.5 miles

Combined miles – 1169.3 in 13 days

Total miles: 1,900.7

 

The longest trip of the season (Sunderland) is now behind me as is – subject to fixture changes – the one instance of back to back long distance away games.  That’s also both the 300+ mile journeys done; and (including those) three of the nine 200+ miles journeys.  That should mean that it all gets easier from here on in – though I’m sure the weather, mechanical issues and so on will stop that from being the case.

For this blog, I’ll start with the random observations:

  • the countryside is changing as we move properly into autumn.  The fields of corn had been harvested and replaced with stubble or, increasingly, ploughed mud.  But the country remains beautiful
  • we are blessed to have so many lovely village churches in this country – each time I went past one it lifted my spirits.
  • I know others disagree, but I think wind farms are so elegant and add to the grandeur of the countryside
  • despite the Brexit vote it was lovely to see so many of the signs welcoming you to towns and villages proudly announcing their twin towns.
  • the depressing exception was Warrington, where someone had spray painted over the names of the twin towns (Hilden, Germany and Nachod, Czech Republic, I later looked up) on the two signs I passed. So sad.
  • there are a lot of streets in this country called Main Street.  ‘Main’ is a relative term.
  • there are also a lot of “Station Road”s.  Many of which do not have a station: we can thank Dr Beeching for this, I assume.
  • there are few things more annoying when on a trip and in need of sustenance than a pub with a sign outside saying ‘Good Food’ that turns out not to serve food…

Sunderland 

I started off for Sunderland on Wednesday 21 September.  For the Middlesbrough trip, the start of my route had taken me through south west and west London.  For this trip, I headed off through central London.  It didn’t go brilliantly.  First, when I stopped for a comfort break, the toilet was out of order (but stole my money first!).  I reverted to my normal trick of popping into McDonald’s after that… Second, my Garmin started playing up – saying the distance to destination (ie that night’s B&B) was 199 miles, when the total for the day was supposed to be 112 miles.  I had to stop a couple of times to cure that bug. Then I hit a sunken drain very hard and was worried what damage I might have done to the bike.  The first impact became apparent shortly after – my first puncture of the challenge. In the end I travelled 49 miles in 4 hours 20 minutes before stopping for lunch on the edge of Hitchin.

At lunch I managed to surpass myself and accidentally delete all my routes from my Garmin!  After some aborted attempts to find somewhere to re-upload them (internet cafes have, it appears, been consigned to history) I resorted to the straight SatNav feature on the Garmin and ploughed on.  The route seemed to take me unnecessarily far to the east, but was pleasant enough and I made it to the Old Pheasant in Glaston, Rutland, by about 7pm.  And, very helpfully, Duncan from Wallington Cycles found a neat (if slightly convoluted) work around to enable me to upload the routes to my Garmin without the need for a computer.

The morning of the second day went really well – with 61 miles covered in 4 and a half hours to get me to Retford for lunch.  However, when I wheeled the bike to find somewhere to lock it up in Retford, I notice a rattling sound from the back.  I’d broken a spoke – probably another consequence of the sunken drain on the first day.  The first bike shop I found had closed at 12 (it was, by now 12.30) but the second shop – Discount Cycles – were able to repair the wheel.  It meant a late start to the afternoon, but the ride went well and I made it safely to the motel near Wakefield where I was spending the night.  And I had some company for the evening as my brother Robert, who was staying in Leeds, came over to meet me for dinner.

I got an early start on Friday and made good time.  Much of the early part of the day was spent on roads running next to the A1(M) – not the prettiest, but I was making good time. I then had my first (and as yet only) genuinely scary near miss.  As I went straight on at a roundabout on the edge of Wetherby, a car from the left pulled straight onto the roundabout and very nearly straight into me.  I managed to take evasive action as he – apparently oblivious – continued into my path; and just avoided either being hit or falling off.  I caught up with him as the traffic came to a standstill in Wetherby: I was ready to let rip, but he wound down his window and immediately apologised.

From Wetherby onwards, I rode into wonderful Yorkshire countryside.  By the time I stopped for lunch at the Crown in Kirklevington (near Yarm) I’d completed over 70 miles in great time. With only 35 miles to go, it was surely going to be an easy afternoon…

Or maybe I’d spoken to soon.  Things started well, but then my route took me off road and onto the Castle Eden Walkway: a shared cycle/footpath along the route of an old railway. At first it was fine – not a great surface for a road bike, so slower going than I’d been used to (and a bit more bumpy) but pleasant enough.  But then the Castle Eden Walkway gave way to the Hart to Hartswell Walkaway and the surface varied between mud or large loose stones.  Cycling became near impossible and I had to get off a push at intervals. Eventually I gave up and re-planned to route: this took me from the sublime to the ridiculous with a very nerve racking ride on the very busy A19 dual carriageway.

So a considerably slower afternoon, but I made it to the Mowbray Guest House in Sunderland by about 5.15pm.  I was given a very warm welcome, and secure storage for the bike,  even though the Mowbray is owned by Sunderland fans.  It is definitely the nicest place I have stayed at so far.

And so to match day.  I cycled to the ground for noon where I was met by some people from the charity and Sunderland’s Supporter Liaison Officer.  We were taken into the ground and given a tour – including the chance to sit in the dug out and visit the changing rooms. Following the tour, I had time to kill, so headed back into town to meet a friend for a drink, and then back again to the ground for the match.  And what a match.

Palace looked the better team in the early stages, but a rare error from Joe Ledley gifted Sunderland the first goal.  In the second half, Sunderland doubled their lead and defeat seemed inevitable.  But Palace hit straight back, with Ledley’s effort making it 2-1.  Man of the match James McArthur made it 2-2 and then deep in injury time Christian Benteke won the match for Palace.  After three long days on the bike, I was aching all over – suffering in particular with back/shoulder pain.  You wouldn’t have believed that if you’d seen me jumping around like a little kid celebrating the winner.

In the evening, I headed back into Sunderland town centre to an Italian restaurant for dinner.  Next to my table for one was a table of diners in fancy dress.  It was a lovely surprise to see that one of them was a colleague from my old work.  They were in the area for a 80s themed birthday party in the bar next door – so after my dinner I gate crashed for a quick drink before heading back to the guest house.

Despite the result, the hospitality of the Mowbray Guest House remained excellent, and on Sunday morning I set off on the first leg of the return journey with a hearty breakfast inside me.

Given my experiences from the northward journey, I was worried whether my route planner would again send me on unsuitable alleged cycle paths.  And so it proved – after initially following coastal roads, I was directed onto muddy tracks that were quite simply unrideable.  I tried re-routing, but even with the SatNav set to avoid tracks, I found myself being directed again and again towards the Hart to Hartswell Walkway.  Eventually I made it to Castle Eden Walkway – where I suffered my second puncture of the trip – and on to Yarm for lunch.  There I bought some cleaning wipes from Sainsbury’s to give both the bike and me a bit of a wash, and some heat pads to try and relieve my increasingly painful shoulder.  It had taken me 3 hours 40 minutes to cover 37 miles.

The afternoon started much better and I made good time until another puncture struck. Worse, I found my back wheel had gone out of true – clearly the unsuitable paths had been too much for it.  I repaired the puncture – changing the tyre at the same time to try and ensure no further punctures – and loosened the back brake so it wouldn’t rub on the wobbly wheel; and carried on towards that night’s room above a pub in Castleford.

For much of Sunday I’d been listening to the sport on Radio 5.  As I approached Castleford, I thought I heard them say Castleford Tigers had played and won that afternoon.  What I didn’t realise was that the pub I was staying at was on the other side of the road from the ground, and therefore packed with happy Tigers fans!

The pub was set up as you’d expect for a pub near a ground – not much furniture to give as much room for customers as possible, and a bottle bar in the beer garden.  It didn’t look particularly auspicious as somewhere to stay for the night.  I shouted across to the bar staff to ask where I should check in; and was shown out through a yard at the back and up some stone stairs.  But when I got to the room it was spotlessly clean and very nicely decorated.  At £20 for the night – including a light breakfast – it was probably the best value accommodation of the season so far.  I filled up on a Chinese Takeaway (king prawns in batter and chips, with a pot of sweet and sour sauce: chosen because I could eat it without needing cutlery) and then had a couple of beers chatting to some of the Cas fans.

Priority for Monday morning was seeing if I could get the bike fixed.  I’d found a local bike shop which opened at 9am – so I waited for it to open while having a cup of tea in the cafe opposite.  However, whilst it opened at 9, the mechanic was not going to be in until lunch time.  So I stocked up on inner tubes and CO2 cannisters and decided to risk carrying on with the wobbly wheel. There was an Evans Cycle shop on the edge of town, but when I got there I found it didn’t open until 10 and I pressed on.

A few miles down the road, on the edge of Pontefract, I broke one of my normal rules and decided to risk a Halfords mechanic.  And so, at around 10.30, I set off again with a mended back wheel.  Wallington Cycles had offered to get a new wheel dropped off at my home in case I had further problems and needed a new wheel before setting off for Everton.  But in the end, the repaired wheel lasted the rest of the way home and to Everton and back.

The late start before I could properly get going meant that when I stopped for lunch I still had 71.5 miles to go.  The pub where I stopped said ‘Good Food’ outside, but didn’t actually serve food.  So after a pint (of diet coke) there, I scoffed a tuna bap and a minion biscuit from the sandwich shop next door before setting off again.  Somehow, when I got back on the bike, the distance to my destination had increased to 77 miles!  Who added the extra miles and why?

The afternoon was hard work; the weather wasn’t great and the terrain hilly (I’d known when planning the route that this was going to be a hard day) so it was approaching 8pm by the time I arrived the George in Desborough where I was spending the night.  It was another pleasant evening talking to the locals over a few beers and then wolfing down a takeaway pizza.  After a cooked breakfast the next morning, I headed off on the final leg of the return journey.

I split the final leg into three sections.  First, 45 miles before late elevenses (11.45am) in the form of tea and victoria sponge at Thrift Farm, a rural training centre for adults with learning difficulties near Milton Keynes.  Then another about 20 miles to the Greyhound in Wigginton for a late lunch.  The final 40-ish miles were slower going that I’d hoped, due mainly to the traffic is West and South West London, but I made it home shortly after 6pm on Tuesday 27 September. The longest trip of the season was done…

Everton

… but there was no time for a rest as I had to set off for Everton the following day.

The good news was that, rather than the 100 plus miles per day for the Middlesbrough and Sunderland trips, I would be averaging around 85 miles a day for Everton.  The less good news was that there would be no ‘match day rest day’.  Due to Sky TV, the game had been moved to Friday night.  I would be arriving on Friday afternoon, and setting off for home on Saturday morning.

The shorter daily mileage meant less pressure for an early start on Wednesday morning. That meant I was able to take the kids to school and give the bike a clean and lube before setting off.  I had considered not coming home between the Sunderland and Everton games, but – even though it was only for one night – it was definitely the right decision to get to see Janet and the kids.  They are so wonderful to indulge me and let me undertake this challenge and I miss them terribly while I’m away.

Progress on the first morning was slow but ok and I stopped for lunch in Chesham with 36 miles completed.  The weather in the afternoon was lovely and, although there was a certain frustration about retracing my steps (pedals?) from the previous day, I enjoyed the ride to Northampton and the Langham Hotel where I was staying the night.

It was dark and rainy first thing on Thursday, but the sun soon came out.  Unfortunately, so did the wind.  It made for probably the hardest day’s cycling yet; and I was seriously concerned about whether I’d have the legs for another four days on the bike.  What was more, in the evening I needed to get out on the bike for another couple of miles to find a pub for dinner.  The good news, however, was cycling felt much easier without my luggage, and the Bank House in Hixon was lovely.

Breakfast the following morning at the Common Farm Motel was also a lovely surprise.  £4 for a ‘continental breakfast’ had seemed steep – but unlike so many places this was a proper continental breakfast, with a range of bread products, cakes, meat and cheese: not just a croissant and a piece of toast!  What is more, I was given my breakfast for free and implored to stock up for lunch.  Even better, as I would be returning in two nights and no-one was booked in the room in between, the owner said they wouldn’t bother doing a full clean of the room and therefore charge me less for the second night.

After my worries about the condition of my legs on Thursday, the miles flew by on Friday. Even a diversion due to road works which added about 8 miles to my journey and necessitated some on-the-go route re-planning could not dampen my day.  I arrived at the Breeze Guest House in Bootle by about 2.15pm having ridden over 82 miles.

Once again, the guest house was owned by fans of the weekend’s opposition.  But once again, this didn’t stop me getting a warm welcome; this was another guest house I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend.

After a signed shirt from Middlesbrough; and a stadium tour – with photo opportunities – from Sunderland it was very disappointing that Everton did not offer anything.  It appears they were too busy with all the rigmarole of a live TV game to give any support to my charity efforts.  Nonetheless, it was great to once again meet some local supporters of the charity outside the ground.  After that there was time to return to the guest house and head out for some dinner before returning to the ground for the match.

Although Palace’s winning run came to an end, it was another great performance. Christian Benteke was again the hero, with a stunning headed goal that levelled the game at 1-1.  With different refereeing decisions it might have been even better. Everton’s goal came from a dubious free kick and Palace’s Damien Delaney had a goal disallowed for off-side.  But a draw at Everton was a good result; and Palace would head into the international break in a much better position than they were at the last such break.

Overall, I’ve been very lucky with the weather so far.  But Saturday 1 October – the first day of the return journey – was definitely an exception.  After a dry start, the rain started and didn’t let up all day.  Added to that, I had further navigation issues (where roadworks rather confused my route planner).  By the time I arrived back at Common Farm Motel, at around 5pm, I was doing a good impression of a drowned rat.  I also knew I’d need to head out again to get dinner.

Around 6.30pm the rain stopped, so I headed back to Hixon and the Bank House Inn. Dinner there was, again, lovely; and even the fact the rain had started again by the time I left did not ruin my evening.

I just about managed to get all my kit dry for the morning and, after another proper continental breakfast and with a packed lunch on board, I set off for Northampton.  The contrast between Saturday and Sunday could hardly have been more pronounced.  I had probably my best day’s cycling of the challenge so far.  I rode just under 80 miles and averaged 15mph for all but the last few miles (where the route followed a cycling/walkway followed the route of an old railway).  I was back in the hotel in Northampton by 2.45pm.

The final day’s riding was one that was becoming very familiar; as my route back from all three long distance away games was pretty much the same.  Once again, I stopped at the Greyhound in Wigginton for lunch (though, for a change, I chose chicken goujons for my baguette rather than sausages); and then finished with the familiar – and to be honest rather dull – drag through West and South West London.  I got home around 4.45pm, to be greeted by my children and Janet waiting on the doorstep with congratulatory messages chalked on the pavement.

After a busy September and start of October I get a bit of rest now: an international break, followed by a home game before a ‘mere’ 120-ish miles to Champions Leicester City.  That game is the day before Janet’s birthday, so there’ll be a bit of a twist on the return journey to enable me to celebrate it with her and kids: watch this space.

Finally, a few pictures from the Sunderland and Everton trips.

Some countryside views from the two trips

Too soon?  An off license in Sunderland

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Sunderland

Surprisngly, I was still welcome back at the Guest House

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Great to see places celebrating cycling

The view from the door of the pub where I stayed in Castleford

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A choice of beds in Northampton – heading for the Everton match

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A wise man once told me never to eat somewhere where they have pictures of the food. What about pictures of food that is not included in the meal (not to mention the poor spelling)

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Not on my itinerary for the season, of course, but it was nice to ride right passed Crewe’s Gresty Road Stadium on the way up to Everton.

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Everton

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Are you ready for Christmas?  Cultivating Christmas trees.

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Two of the many wonderful churches I’ve seen on my travels

Time for a bit of trainspotting on the final couple of miles on the return to Northampton

The welcome home