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 2019.
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. In 2017, Keith Hatton took part in the challenge with his son, Andrew and has been telling us about his experience…
Why did you choose to support St Columba’s Hospice?
My late sister-in-law Elizabeth Will spent her last months at the Hospice up to May 2016 and, as a family, we were extremely impressed by the compassion, support and care that all of the staff and volunteers offered not only to Elizabeth but to the whole family. Nothing seemed to be too much trouble and the Hospice staff and nurses made Elizabeth’s final months as comfortable and full of dignity as possible. We simply wanted to give “something” back and fundraising for the Hospice was the least we could do.
What appealed to you about the Celtic Challenge?
While Elizabeth was in the Hospice, she told us about one of the staff nurse’s on her ward who had taken on the Celtic Challenge in 2016 (and who we would meet on the ride in 2017!). So when I enquired about fundraising activities at the Hospice, and was reminded about the Celtic Challenge, it seemed like the natural thing to do – and it also meant I had to commit to a training regime! Getting my older son Andrew involved was easy as he too wanted to remember a very special member of the family – although he did find committing to the training difficult as the readers will learn in later paragraphs below!
Did you have any prior cycling experience?
I had undertaken a charity bike ride from London to Paris for the Royal British Legion in September 2016 – so that gave me a good grounding – but Andrew had not been on a bike before other than as a child and then only covering short distances. His inability to commit to any training rides meant that as the day of the start from the Hospice approached he had been on just 3 training rides with the longest of those being just 9 miles and so we were both quite concerned about what lay ahead given we would be averaging 50 miles per day – particularly in terms of sore limbs (etc!!) – but he did (does) have youth on his side (he is 27) and benefits from a good level of fitness from his other sporting activities. In fact Andrew got stronger as the event went on and he seemed to relish some of the hills that we endured, particularly between Inveraray and across onto Mull.
How did you your training for the challenge go?
Training needed to be structured and also needed to reflect the fact that riding in Scotland meant some pretty hilly terrain and, given it was taking place in May, some potentially changeable weather! However, living in Kent meant it was almost impossible for us to replicate the Scottish conditions and so the cycle was, indeed, going to be a challenge particularly once we had completed the first day between Edinburgh and Glasgow and started our climb into the Trossachs.
What was it like setting off from the Hospice?
In a word – wonderful! The volunteers at the Hospice offered all the participants a hearty breakfast of porridge and/or bacon/sausage rolls to help us on our way. There were plenty of introductions not only as most of the participants were meeting each other for the first time but we were also introduced to the Sport Ecosse team – who were all absolutely brilliant throughout. A local primary school turned out to wave us off and a good luck banner was unfurled and we were all applauded up the road as we made our way on our bikes to our first rendezvous point at Cramond.
What were the hardest and most rewarding parts of the route?
The hardest part was trying to cycle up the “Rest and be Thankful” – as anyone who has tried to get up it will know – the hill seems to go on and on (and on) and as the climb is near the end of the second day it certainly does take its toll. Choosing the most rewarding part is difficult but for me it was the cycle on Mull at the start of the last day. We arrived by Ferry from Oban and the weather was overcast but with glimpses of sunshine. We stepped off the ferry and met up with the Sport Ecosse crew and were reunited with our bikes and set off at our own pace along the side of the sea for the next 20-odd miles. Andrew and I rode this leg almost exclusively together and the scenery was absolutely breathtaking. We did have rain by the end of the morning and into lunch, but we were all left feeling exhilarated and very pleased with ourselves as we regrouped for our sandwich lunch.
How did you feel crossing the finish line at Iona Abbey?
Crossing the line at Iona Abbey was a mixture of relief and exhilaration and it was a very emotional experience. Some of us had family and friends there who had made the trip to greet us as we came across the line. We were also met by some very kind and hospitable people at the Abbey who fortified us with cups of tea and homemade cakes. Those of us on the ride who wished to participate were also offered a short service in the Abbey, not only to give thanks for our safe arrival but also to remember the loved ones we had lost and who had been cared for at the Hospice.
How was your overall experience of the Celtic Challenge?
Andrew and I really enjoyed the overall experience. The camaraderie we enjoyed from what was a relatively small group was outstanding and having a common goal gave us all a focus. There were people of all abilities and with lots of different life experiences and of very different ages – almost from 18 to 80!! There was something for everyone and nobody ever felt like they were being left behind or were holding up the group and for that we were all extremely thankful for the skill and patience of the Sport Ecosse team.
What advice would you give to someone signing up for the 2019 Celtic Challenge?
Structure your training rides, embrace the personal challenge and enjoy the experience.
Places for the 2019 Celtic Challenge are selling fast. If you would like to take part, or would like to find out a little more info about the event, please do get in touch! You can contact us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling us on 0131 551 1381.