Publicity Officer Pat Smith, 67, has returned from an epic 6,000-mile solo cycle journey around the British Isles.
During the seven months she cycled to the Dingle Peninsula of southern Ireland, then the Hermaness Nature Reserve in Shetland, the island of St Agnes on Scilly and Lowestoftness in East Anglia: the furthest points west, north, south and east of the whole inhabited archipelago. And the bits in between, including Orkney and the Outer Hebrides.
She set off in February when the weather was poor.
“Storm Imogen was doing its worst on the day I started and I had to take the ferry from Pembroke Dock to Rosslare,” she said. “The captain told us not to leave our seats for two hours as the sea was so rough and on the next day I couldn’t even get on my bike.”
Shetland was little better. She had to cycle north against strong winds and rain; when she finally reached Hermaness and turned round the wind changed so she had to fight it again. “I was even pedalling downhill. My average speed was 6mph and I got through four Mars Bars that day.”
But the weather wasn’t all foul. She cycled through East Anglia in a blistering heatwave, swam on the Isles of Scilly and soared along Hadrian’s Wall in glorious sunshine.
“My bike was magnificent. It has 30 gears, so I pedalled up hills until I ran out of gears – and breath – then got off and pushed.”
Pat was often asked why she chose the UK. “I’ve travelled widely but never truly explored my own country. It’s amazingly beautiful, and I visited places I’d always considered too remote to even consider, like the Outer Hebrides and the Isle of Iona.
“There were no language problems and people were so welcoming, sometimes offering me a room for the night. One couple invited me on to their canal barge for a couple of days but sadly I couldn’t spare the time.”
What was her favourite place? “Usually where I was at that moment. But, looking back, it was the remote, high places like the northern Highlands of Scotland. Although they were hard to pedal through, especially in early April, the sense of achievement was immense.”
From May she camped. “I carried all the equipment on my bike and it was lovely to sit quietly at the end of the day and watch the setting sun.”
One night she had to sleep on a beach as all sites were full, and another time she slept in a derelict canal-side cottage. “The owner had just started to restore it. He said I was the first person to sleep there in 10 years. The floor was covered in stones and bits of plaster but I spread out my tarpaulin and had a great night’s sleep. I surprised an early-morning dog-walker when I popped my head out of the door.”
As September advanced this became difficult. She spent three stormy nights in the Lake District, lying in her sleeping bag listening to gales driving wind against her tent.
Her journey officially ended on 28 September at Blackpool Tower with a champagne tea in the iconic ballroom. “My sister flew over from France. It was such a surprise. Friends held up a banner, then dropped it, and she stepped forward.”
So, what next? “Do the washing, stay at home and be a good granny. And there’s the Open Day on October 26th…”