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Memories


John Collins

(Civil Engineering, 2002-06 and President of the Student Union 2006-07)
pedalled 928 miles from John O'Groats to Land's End to raise funds for the Student Union

The student union building in Beit Quadrangle is currently undergoing major refurbishment work to deliver improved facilities needed to enrich student life and provide a broader educational experience for everybody at Imperial College. To date £1.2 Million has already been invested into this project and building work on the first phase of the redevelopment has recently been completed. Future phases in the Building Masterplan will be financed by a variety of sources and this project is now a flagship project of the Collegeís Centenary campaign.

I innocently thought that one of the best ways to raise awareness of this worthy cause would be to cycle over 900 miles from Landís End to John OíGroats. Although I wasnít aware of it at the time, by committing to do this cycle ride I was, in effect, temporarily sacrificing my right arm for the Union! After a publicity build up and an intensive fitness training programme, I departed Landís End on June 21st 2007 with over £2000 pledged in sponsorship in good spirits.

However, just six miles in to my journey I fell off my bike in dreadful weather and fractured my wrist in several places. This was probably one of the most painful accidents I have ever experienced in my life! A titanium plate had to be inserted in my arm and it took my seven weeks to get through the first phase of recovery. I have been told it will take a further 18 months to make a full recovery but by mid August I had been given the all clear to cycle again.

Day one, setting off from John O'GroatsWithout telling most of my family, knowing they would be worried to death if they knew what I was getting up to, on 8th September 2007 I set out from John OíGroats and aimed to cycle to Landís End in fourteen days.
Photo right: Day one, setting off from John O'Groats.

The first and second days were extremely difficult as I had to fight a fierce wind and horizontal rain down the Caithness and Sutherland Coastline. Although I found this pretty demoralising, I was entertained by a bagpipe festival at Wick and a night at an innovative hostel in a converted Railway carriage at Rogart station.

Fortunately the weather improved and I found the following two days to be probably the most enjoyable days of the whole journey. I cruised along the A9 through spectacular Highland scenery and on entering Strathspey moved off piste onto stunning, empty country roads that took me gently through Aviemore and Dalwinnie.

The fourth day was essentially a gentle descent into the lowlands via Perth but finished in a rather unimpressive hotel in Kinross.

The fifth day was characterised by an unorthodox zig-zag route along the back-roads of Fife, West Lothian and South Lanarkshire, taking in the impressive Forth Road Bridge. The locals seemed particularly friendly that day and I certainly needed their help, particularly in the afternoon when a passing cyclist helped me fix my first puncture of the journey.

The journey into England on the sixth day was pretty unglamorous and I noticed a distinct change for the worse in cycle routes when I crossed the border at Gretna. This was my last day with vehicle and moral support so I felt pretty anxious about what lay ahead. Thankfully, the going from Kendal to Bristol over the three days was excellent. Although I was carrying more kit, the relatively flat and direct route through Lancashire, Cheshire, Shropshire and down the Severn Valley was a pleasant ride.

But by Bristol my legs were becoming stiff and the bike was starting to suffer from the declining quality in road surfacing. My journey on the tenth day through Somerset was spoiled by three punctures and in the end I had to walk a mile into Taunton to replace the rear tyre. I managed to make it to Exeter on the eleventh day and set my sights on reaching Landís End by the following sunset. However, the eleventh dayís cycle was, without doubt, the most demanding cycle ride I have ever experienced and marked the lowest point of my journey. After nearly nine hours of gruelling cycling over unremitting hills and through demoralising wind and rain, I was forced to call it a day 48 miles from my destination. With my legs in agony and a cold coming on, I crawled to a tiny railway station, caught a train to Newquay and collapsed in a hotel.

Day 13, finishing his journey at Land's EndOn the final and thirteenth day I caught a cab back to the station and set off in torrential rain towards Landís End. By mid afternoon the rain had passed and my adrenaline finally got me to my final destination. In beautiful, September sunshine, I crossed the line having cycled 928 miles in 93 hours over thirteen days.

I left Cornwall that evening with a tremendous sense of accomplishment. Whilst I was sipping cold beer as the train rolled over the Tamar Bridge into Devon during sunset, I reflected on the journey I had made.
Photo above: Day 13, finishing his journey at Land's End.

I feel enormously privileged to have enjoyed a front row view of Britainís landscapes, cities and people over the last two weeks and I hope this journey has helped to raise the profile of the cause it was made in aid of.

If you want to find out more about Johnís journey and the Beit Building Masterplan project, please visit www.johncollins.org.uk

  © 2007 Imperial College London

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