Over the last few years, the challenge of cycling 200 miles across Scotland has appealed to many of our supporters and the next Celtic Challenge will take place in May 2017.
The Celtic Challenge departs the Hospice in Edinburgh and finishes on the tiny island of Iona, taking in some of Scotland’s most scenic and challenging cycling routes. Cycling 50 miles a day for four days, the Celtic Challenge forms friendships, tests your limits and is an incredibly rewarding way to raise funds for the Hospice. Ian Williamson, a volunteer at the Hospice, took part in 2015 and tells us about his experience…
Why did you sign-up for the Celtic Challenge?
To raise funds for the Hospice and to get fit – I like to have a goal to help motivate me!
What was it about the Challenge that appealed to you?
I enjoy cycling, I like a challenge and the opportunity to see some of Scotland’s beautiful scenery really appealed.
Did you have any cycling experience or did you start your training with no experience?
I have some experience – I did the Whitehaven to Tynemouth Coast to Coast ten ago, but prior to the Celtic Challenge I only cycled about town.
How did you find the training process?
The training plan was excellent with clear targets for the weeks and months leading up to the ride. The practice ride was also a great idea as it was an opportunity to meet the other riders and assure us that we could ride hills as well as the next man and woman.
How did you feel the night before the Challenge began?
Excited! The last few days beforehand were frustrating as I was very keen to get started.
What was it like setting off from the Hospice?
Just superb – we all got kitted-up in our Challenge cycling jerseys, had a great breakfast and took over the Iona café. But the best part was that as well as our relatives and friends waving us off there were lots and lots of staff, volunteers and patients wishing us well and counting us down for the off.
How did you find the cycling, did it get easier or harder as the days went on?
Having followed the training plan the cycling was not as bad as I and others had feared. The way the days were set out was excellent, we did the ride in 10-12 mile sections and had lots of refuelling stops. At each stop, we all waited until everyone had a good rest before pushing on.
What were the hardest and most rewarding parts of the route?
Without appearing immodest there were not too many hard parts, apart from my self-imposed alcohol ban until the last night, and watching Hibs lose to Falkirk on TV in Oban was also hard to take! The Rest & Be Thankful was the section we were all dreading beforehand – so when we all managed it and then whizzed down the other side to meet at the layby at the bottom it was magical! Plus, we all got a complimentary Mars Bar from the coffee shack at the top of the hill! Our guides were helpful and encouraged us to enjoy the ride – they were like sheepdogs with a flock of cyclists! As for rewards – great sense of personal achievement, raising funds for the Hospice, making new friends and realising that we all underestimate our abilities – no hill on the route was too steep! The scenery was also very rewarding and totally breath-taking, particularly along the coast of Mull.
How did you feel when you reached the finish point at Iona Abbey?
Brilliant! Friends and families had made the trip to see us over the finish line and having a sweaty hug made it all worthwhile. There were lots of mixed emotions as we had all done the ride for different reasons and many absent friends were remembered.
What was your experience like overall?
It was a marvellous experience. We were very, very lucky with the weather even to the extent that we had an easterly wind behind us on the first day to Glasgow. I would recommend the Celtic Challenge to people of all ages and abilities. The age range was 30-76, there were hybrid and road bikes plus a tandem. Most importantly although it is a Challenge, it is not a race. It is about enjoyment and it was most certainly enjoyable!