A new word (v & n); circum-pedal-alba ; to cycle around the perimeter of Scotland. Le Tour de Fringe. A periplus.

Summer 2022 Edition.

In June 2012 and May & June 2013 I managed to do just that and raise £5174.50 for Cancer Research UK  in the process. The sponsorship campaign closed long ago, but you can read about the ride on the blog.  Heartfelt thanks to the very many people who supported me in such generous and different ways. You’re acknowledged all over the place on this site, and in person here.

Although the project which gave rise to this website is complete, I’ve kept the blog running, and the silly name. Writing it became a habit. It’ll remain as an occasional  chronicle of cycling and other outdoor japes, leavened by a random mixture of observation, rant & whimsy. Readers and comments welcome 🙂

Crossing the Spey, May 19th 2013.

Crossing the Spey at Garmouth, May 19th 2013.

On the big ride, I was on a road bike for 25 days, solo and unsupported save for the last two days when my lovely wife Avril drove up to shadow me in the car and bring me home. I was travelling extremely light to maximise daily mileage.  Overnight stops used hostels and bunkhouses where they existed, otherwise B & B or with friends. My natural inclination would have been to camp every night, but I knew that carrying the gear would have cut both my daily range and speed by 30% at least, and I didn’t have that much time. I don’t like riding a heavily-encumbered bike over long distances anyway. Over any distances, in fact.

My route attempted, generally successfully, to stick as close to the mainland coast as I could throughout, visiting the various mulls, points, capes, heads, nesses & rubhas accessible by road, with occasional island and inland forays to get past the bits where there are no roads.

Several people have asked me if this has ever been done before. Well, yes and no; plenty of folk have done much more ambitious projects, like taking several months (or years!) to circumnavigate the entire British Isles on a bike (or by walking, running, kayaking, swimming;  you name it). Some of these trips are fascinatingly documented on the web and elsewhere – follow the FAQ link above for more; there are some truly admirable, crazy and committed folk out there.  The Scottish variant is, I think, well-travelled, but as far as I’ve been able to discover, no-one has done my precise route or in the same manner. Unsurprising, I guess.  Do add a comment if you know something I don’t.

Scotland has nearly 12000 miles of coast, but that includes 800 islands. The mainland coastline is  4174 miles (6718km) . My route was originally planned to be clockwise for just under 2000 miles, the approximate length of the roads which keep closest to the shore and border. That’s more than twice Land’s End to John O’Groats, or roughly equivalent to cycling from home to Athens. Technically,  it started and finished in Gretna on the English border,  thus involving a non-coastal section from the North Sea to the Solway Firth to complete the circle. In fact, it started at my home in Cumbria, some 35 miles south of the Border.  In February 2013 the sequencing for the second and third parts of the route changed from the original plan. (See here.).  It was far from direct; just look at the map and you’ll see what I mean; on some days I could cover almost 100 miles and end up close to the day’s starting point,  and in one case only 7  miles away as the crow flies!

This was a big project, for me at least, and I didn’t have enough time to do all of it in the two weeks available in 2012 without cycling 150 miles every day. That’s a Tour-de-France schedule for professional athletes a third of my age.  I aimed to average 70-80 miles a day in order to be able to enjoy the trip and sustain momentum. In the end the journey took 25 days, the exact number I originally estimated, and totalled 1775 miles (2857km), an average of 71 miles (114km) a day, with a hefty 111,000 feet of climbing – just under four Everests. Three stages were over 90 miles and seven over 80, balanced by four under 60. I promised myself not to make any stage longer than 100 miles, or to be in the saddle for more than 8 hours on any day,  and  just managed it,  with the longest stage being 94.93 miles and the longest riding time (as opposed to journey time including breaks) 7hrs 48 minutes.  The weather was for the most part atrocious, the roads for the most part hilly.  Neither will surprise anyone who knows Scotland. The intention was to split the project into two or three sections over two summers. That’s what happened, though not quite as originally planned, as the Blog reveals,  and with the word ‘summer’ being used here tongue-in-cheek,  given the weather conditions I had to endure throughout.

The Blog page tells you how I got on during Part 1 in June 2012 , Part 2 in May 2013, and Part 3 in June 2013. The Route page sets out the schedule and tabulates stage distances. The whole ride was completed on time on June 27th, 2013.

Kilchoan Pier, Ardnamurchan, June 26th 2013.

Kilchoan Pier, Ardnamurchan, June 26th 2013, 10am. Note the breathtaking midsummer light………

Here’s a link to the secure and ethical online charity fundraising facility.  The campaign ended on September 17th, 2013 after which it was no longer possible to contribute, but the link below remains as a record of all contributions. All money raised is now with Cancer Research UK.

By ‘ethical’, I mean that it did not take a commission from donations, ensured that all money given went to Cancer Research UK, handled all Gift Aid tax relief for those who ticked the relevant box, and made all transactions public and transparent, which also made it clear that none of the money would be handled directly by me. My contribution amounted to the total cost of running the ride, which largely consisted in accommodation and travel expenses. The blog, and my pages at Virgin Giving & Facebook allowed anyone interested to follow the progress of the ride and its aftermath and, more importantly, expanded my feeble little social network on the back of many other people’s extensive ones to alert as many folk as possible to the project and, with luck, raise more money.

The Facebook link is here.  Like the blog, it remains active.

I hit the £3000 target on the donation site in 2012. This, for example, is enough to cover the costs for one patient to take part in a trial to improve treatment for a type of head and neck cancer. The trial is exploring whether a new way of delivering radiotherapy can help reduce hearing loss, which is a common side effect of treatment. If I passed £4000, this could buy a -80 degree C freezer, essential for the long-term storage of vital biological samples used in research.

As you’ll see elsewhere, thanks to fantastic support from all quarters, 2012’s part of the ride did indeed raise over £4000 including Gift Aid. The aim in 2013 was to try to reach £6000; twice the original target. I got reasonably close. The online donation page closed on September 17th, 2013 registering a grand total of £5174.50.  Every penny went to Cancer Research UK.

I was nearly 59 when this started, nearly 60 when it finished. It would be disingenuous to suggest that I did it just to raise money for a supremely worthy cause; I had a good, if  predominantly wet and cold,  injury-but-not-breakdown-free time amid some of the planet’s most beautiful – and my favourite – landscapes, and celebrated the fact that I’m fortunate enough to have the opportunity and, still, the physical capacity to attempt this kind of thing when so many can’t because of illness visited on them through no fault of their own. Hence the sponsorship appeal; there but for grace and good fortune.

If you have been, thanks for reading, commenting, supporting and encouraging. There are a lot of you out there to thank for this.

In peace,

Stuart Johnson.

It's official. I'm OK to do this. :)

It’s official. I’m OK to do this stuff.


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11 Responses to Circumwhat?

  1. Helen Fuller says:

    Oh my goodness Stuart you are to be commended. We have travelled the Bealach na ba in a car in fog and it was one of the most frightening experiences of my life. Good luck, we will be seeing you before then Chris & Helenx

  2. What an amazing plan! We’re very proud of you for doing this! Hurrah! xxxx

  3. Chris Fuller says:

    Stu.We are in Lochinver for a week at the end of June on our fishing trip.If you are. In the area we can probably put you up or at least meet up for a pint. Michael Roux has a new restaurant in Lochinver.


  4. And I thought I was barmy riding Rome to Home (Emsworth). I’m very jealous cos this is going to be a pedal you’ll dine-out on for years to come – and deservedly so !

  5. Paul & Marian says:

    Stuart, what a wonderful ambition! We’ll be with you all the way, not literally of course, that would slow you down rather too much. Even the thought of crossing the country in a day as a warm up challenges the rather leisurely idea we have of what cycling actually is. Bon courage, mon vieux! xx

  6. Brian says:

    Stuart here is your tartan luck,from mckinnons the friendly fish merchants when your broken down.
    Plain sailing (riding) from here on inn.

  7. Anna Hughes says:

    Fantastic!! Well done. Sounds like the entire coast of Scotland is about as long as what I did going round the whole UK – must have cut some corners

    Conquering the Bealach na ba was one of my very favourite parts of the ride. It’s worse in a car!

    Good luck with the rest of it.

    • circumpedalbalator2012 says:

      Dear Anna,

      Thanks for both comments. Much appreciated. I’ve replaced your blog link on my FAQ page, but I haven’t had a look at the link yet. Will do that right now. All best, and thanks for your good wishes – cold, wet winter’s training to go before it all cranks up again. 🙂

  8. barneybear69 says:

    Great riding with you today. I wish you every sucess for your adventure.
    Hope you enjoyed the birthday cake

  9. circumpedalbalator2012 says:

    An entirely mutual feeling, and every success to you too in yours. Loved your blog on Sunday’s jaunt; hope you’ve seen mine. Ride on, brother!

  10. David Gilham says:

    It was good to talk to you today Stuart and what a great thing you’re doing!
    As you know Sara ended radiotherapy on her cancerous brain tumour almost 3 weeks ago and is now profoundly deaf in one ear so the bit in your blog that said, “………The trial is exploring whether a new way of delivering radiotherapy can help reduce hearing loss, which is a common side effect of treatment………..” has special significance to us.
    Take care!
    Dave Gilham & Sara Kitching

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