Not all days are equal you know – and Monday June 20 was most definitely a long one. In fact it was 966.2 miles long.
As my front wheel first touched the road, the GT's glowing orange dash reported back that it was 2:08am, the cloying darkness punctured only by the headlamp's angular projection, with a steady light drizzle passing through the beam. What the hell was I doing? I should be in bed.
But Monday boasted the biggest gap of the year between sunrise and sunset, and it seemed daft not to celebrate that by riding a stupidly long way. To start the ride I wanted to be at Lowestoft's Ness Point for sunrise, and that why I was plunging into the darkness in the middle of the night.
The A47 was thankfully deserted as I carved across the top of Peterborough, heading ever-Eastwards for the coast. A quick refuel at Eye had the GT promising me 300 miles of range – which seemed highly unlikely, but this would be me and GT's first properly tank-drying day, so I was open to being proved wrong. The flatness of the Fens eventually started to rupture into undulations as King's Lynn glided by in the murk, then Norwich, and the distant glow of Great Yarmouth came into view as the skies started to lighten overhead.
I turned right at the coast and headed down to Lowestoft, before doing a lap of the town in search of Gas Works Road, at the end of which is Ness Point – the most Easterly point of the UK. It was 4:11am, and there was no surprise on the horizon, the hoped-for clear skies utterly obscured by the same bank of cloud that had been drizzling relentlessly on me. At 4:31am the sun officially rose. There's no doubt the world got tangibly brighter, but the lack of occasion was also palpable.
After a few photos and some deft avoidance of a few interesting characters who were staking out the Point with some 'orbs' and decidedly more religious motivations, I got back on the GT and pointed it West for Land's End, pulling away from the seafront at 5:03am.
Rather than retrace my steps, I hit the A12, and headed for the M25, well aware that I was going to meet rush-hour at its peak around London's orbital nightmare. I grew up in Kent, so I know its horrors – and it didn't disappoint. Anti-clockwise was ominously stationary as I approached, so I went south instead, entertaining the idea of picking up the M3 and A303 to keep the journey more alive.
But as I crossed the Queen Elizabeth II bridge, the grey skies began to shed their load with increasing ferocity, and by the time I got to the M25/A21 split I was effectively filtering through a car park in torrential rain. Neither the abuse from above, nor the stationary traffic, abated all the way round the 25. By the time I got to the M3 I'd abandoned any desire to go the fun way, and nosed towards the M4 instead.
As the Slough junction passed beneath me the traffic suddenly cleared, marking an end to fifty miles of dodging wing mirrors and texting drivers bored by their confinement. The view ahead was no clearer though, horrendously hard rain mixing with a dense mist of spray from other traffic.
A little shut-eye
Tiredness was creeping in, too. Free from the intense concentration of filtering, my brain decided it was time for nap, and after a few frightening micro-sleeps and shocks of adrenalin, I pulled into Reading Services to give myself a bloody good talking to.
A full tank of fuel was complemented by a bottle of orange juice and two breakfast bars for me, and I felt a little more awake. But I was already soaked to my skin. The only part of me that wasn't wet was my head, my Arai having not let a single drop through. Everything else was saturated, and the best I could do was wring out my gloves at each stop before wiggling my crinkly hands back into them using free garage ‘Diesel gloves’ as liners.
Heading back out into the deluge I couldn't help wondering how long the rain would persist. If I'd known the answer was 'Land's End', I might have been tempted to turn right at the A34 and go home.
The M4 gave way to M5 with few breaks in the monotony, but I was banking miles at a good rate, and it's a route I know so well that it feels shorter than it really is. Passing Exeter, I nudged over to the lefthand lanes and dropped down through one of the best right-handers of any motorway junction exit to pick up the snaking A30 into Devon. The rain was still insistent, but the traffic was light, and when the fuel warning sign took over the GT's left screen I realised I hadn't so much as put a foot down since Reading.
Devon succumbed to Cornwall, and the services on Bodmin Moor replenished the GT's 23-litre tank, which duly promised its 300 theoretical miles to empty (230 is more accurate), and I was on my way again. I passed my usual turn-off onto the A395 for the North coast route, sticking to the A30 for the duration of my Westward push.
Then a miracle happened. All alone up ahead I saw a glint of blue in the sky, just the smallest fracture in the grey blanket. It's stupid, but it really lifted my spirits. A few miles later the sea sparked into view at Penzance, St Michael’s Mount looking like an ethereal film set off to my left as I flitted through the outskirts of the town to climb over the hill towards Land's End.
The end of the world (well, England)
That last stretch always feels disproportionately laborious, but just nine miles or so later I was handing the car park attendant a pound, and planting the GT's sidestand in the gravel at Land's End. It was exactly 2pm, eight minutes shy of twelve hours since I rolled out the end of my drive, and the trip meter read 604.9 miles.
After half an hour of exercising my legs and staring through the mist in an attempt to pick out the lighthouse and rocks of Longships I formed a new target in my mind. I couldn't be bothered to wait another seven hours for sunset, but I could try and be home again before the sun sizzled into the sea at Land's End.
With a fresh pair of dry gloves on I promised myself that I'd stop somewhere for lunch on the way back, and edged out of the car park to head East. The sun was finally burning holes in the cloud cover, and the roads were bone dry again. By the time I got back to Three Burrows I'd decided that I wasn't prepared to miss my favourite section of coast in the UK for the sake of a speedy journey home, so turned left onto the A3075 towards Newquay.
The GT – which felt superb all day – came alive on these dry undulating roads, and with each cove dispatched along the coast I stopped only briefly at Watergate Bay to take a picture and soak up the scene, before getting back to the rise and fall of the road from there to Padstow. After a quick non-stop lap of Padstow town, I headed back out through Little Petherick and on to Wadebridge and the St Kew Highway and A395 back to the A30 near Launceston.
The fuel warning was blinking again as I approached Okehampton, but I missed the turning for the services, and then realised that I didn't know of another stop until Exeter – thirty miles further on. Bugger. I tried to tuck as much of me behind the screen as I could and reduced my speed a little – then caught the sign for Whidden Down services out the corner of my eye, too late to negotiate the stream of caravans blocking a safe exit. Double bugger. By the time I got to Exeter Services the range indicator had read '0' for 12 miles. I got 21.98 litres in at the pump – so I still had a litre left in there – or ten miles, but it had been a nerve-wracking few miles.
In lieu of the lunch I'd promised myself I managed half a Ginsters pasty (I'm sure they used to be edible when I was a kid), and got back on the M5, then M6 and A14, stopping again after 209 miles for fuel at Kettering, before the last blast home.
I rolled back onto my drive at 8:38pm – almost exactly an hour before sunset at Land's End, and 18.5hrs after I'd left. The GT's trip meter read 966.2 miles.
As days go, it was a long one. But it was also fantastic – despite the rain that marred much of the first 600 miles. Would I do it again? Yeah, absolutely – and I'd choose the GT again in a heartbeat. I was amazed by how well it dispatched the relentless miles, and the first time I felt uncomfortable plonking my arse back on the seat was after the last refuel of the day. That's impressive. From monotonous motorway miles to scratching on the coast road, it was nothing short of superb.
What I’m less certain of is my next destination. I’ve ridden to Land’s End to John O’Groats and back again without stopping (1703.5 miles in 30h4min), and now I’ve gone to Lowestoft, then Land’s End and home again without stopping (966.2 miles in 18h 30min). So where next? All suggestions gratefully received.
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