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Cycling is just one of the ways you can help us reach our goal!

Rutland to Dover by pedal power

If you’ve been following the website recently you’ll know that at the end of last week a team of six of us – myself, Tim Mackrill, Michelle Househam, Lizzie Lemon, Lloyd Park and Chris Ditchburn – replicated the first leg of the Ospreys’ amazing migration by cycling from Rutland to Dover, to raise money for the Osprey Flyways Project. It wasn’t easy, but at lunchtime on Saturday we peddled into Dover. Here’s the full story of how we got there.

We began our challenge at the Lyndon Visitor Centre on the south shore of the reservoir and, as we arrived just after 8 ‘o’ clock on Thursday morning, the nerves and excitement were obvious all round. We organised our gear and prepared our bikes before Tim took us through the all-important warm up routine and I explained the intricacies of the route to our support driver for the day, Lloyd’s brother Philip.

After a few laps of the car park to loosen up, we set off up the hill to Manton Rd. Having never ridden together as a team, we took it easy and tried to find a suitable pace and learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses. I found that I lacked the confidence of the others on the downhill slopes and as I hung on for dear life, Lloyd would fly past with his tongue out and tail wagging while ex-RAF man Chris would zoom by in an attempt to create a sonic boom. Other peoples’ weaknesses resulted in frequent toilet stops.

With fresh legs and a trial ride under our belts, we had been looking forward to day one as the easiest day. Unfortunately, the usual prevailing winds from the west were replaced with a fairly strong southerly wind which, as the day progressed, brought with it light showers and then heavy rain. This made for fairly miserable cycling and by the time we reached the busy roads of Huntingdon we were soaked through and hunched over our bikes grimly counting down the miles until it was over.

Our waterproofs were tested to the limit on the first day!

Our waterproofs were tested to the limit on the first day!

Our scheduled lunch stop in St Ives was short-lived as we didn’t want to get cold and we quickly set off on the 12 mile guided bus way to Cambridge, which on training rides I found to be uphill in both directions. The weather didn’t improve as we negotiated the shopping streets of Cambridge, passed Addenbrookes hospital and made our final climb of the day close to the Wandlebury ring. Finally we rolled into the Abington service area and, with much relief, completed the first day’s ride. We were stopped from diving into the showers by the return of Corporal Mackrill and his warm down drill. Then it was time to get clean, change our clothes and head for a nice cuppa at the apparently world famous Comfort Café. The strict cycling diet was momentarily ditched as we devoured cheese and ham toasties. Well, we’d had a rough day!

We said farewell and thank you to Phil who was quickly replaced by our evening escort, In Focus’ Mike Willis, who earlier that day had ordered a pub chef in Sawston to cook us Lasagne. I hope Mike wasn’t looking for a lively night out as the day’s weather had taken its toll and we were back at the hotel by nine, most of us snoozing soon after.

Day two arrived with unknown territory for most of the team, consecutive days of long distance cycling – with wet shoes! Liam Tate was the driver of the day and Mike was back to wave us off. We were pleased with the weather forecast, cloudy and warm with no rain, and after a few miles to stretch the aches out of our legs there was a silent confidence in the team. We knew we had to get on with it with 75 miles to cover and that’s exactly what we did. South Cambridgeshire soon turned into Essex and we progressed steadily together in a single line, wheel to wheel through Chelmsford, Billericay and into Tilbury. After we had stocked up on provisions, Liam headed towards the Dartford crossing and we boarded the ferry for a well-earned but disappointingly short ferry ride across the Thames and into Kent.
On the other side of the river we hit a problem. Our route to this point had been checked for suitability prior to setting off, but not from here on to Dover. And so, inevitably, tarmac turned to gravel and we were forced to retrace our steps a quarter of a mile and take to the A2. The SatNav desperately wanted us to continue on the gravel and took our rejection badly, refusing to provide us with a new route quickly enough. The final few miles through Rochester, Chatham and onto our destination were difficult and punctuated with frequent stops to study the map.

We eventually rolled into Medway services after 8 hours and six minutes of almost continuous cycling and the re-routing had added an unwanted 5 miles to the day’s total of 80, an amazing effort from the whole team. Liam had been there for some time and had been joined by Tim’s girlfriend, Louise, our day three support driver. We were now very tired and some of us were nursing muscle pains and other injuries. Chris, however, was miraculously healed by the sight of a Costa Coffee and ran off muttering that this round was on him.
Our trustworthy receptionist recommended a small, quiet pub nearby for our evening meal. We arrived at the large, noisy and bustling Bell Pub and fought our way to the bar. There was some confusion as to the whereabouts of the table we had booked but we were soon shuffled into a dimly lit section of the pub where our presence amused the locals. By the time our food arrived later that evening we were about to start gnawing at the table but it was worth the wait. Only Michelle stuck to the pasta diet while the rest of us tucked into pies, curries and chilli, something we were to regret the next day.

Lloyd being put through his stretching paces by Tim's girlfriend Louise - who is a Pilates teacher!

Lloyd being put through his stretching paces by Tim’s girlfriend Louise – who is a Pilates teacher!

As we set off on our final day we had only 45 miles to go but the hilly countryside and the previous day’s exertions combined to make it a really tough slog. We had to stop briefly for our only maintenance issue of the trip when one of my brake levers became loose (a result of too tight a grip on the slopes?) but we were soon on our way again. A little while later Lizzie was stranded by a level crossing. In Faversham we found the townspeople to be extremely protective of their pedestrian area and we were forced to proceed on foot for a short while.

After Canterbury there was little flat road to be had and we made slow progress but an hour or two later we realised that Dover was in sight and the pace picked up for the final two miles. We peddled into the town and onto the seafront where we were met by Louise, who had gone ahead, and Chris’ wife Leah. The sun was shining as we made our way on to the beach and dipped our wheels into the sea. We had completed our challenge and ridden a total of 192.6 miles.

The team on Dover beach having completed the ride. Left-right: Gavin Young, MIchelle Househam, Tim Mackrill, Lloyd Park, Lizzie Lemon, Chris Ditchburn

The team on Dover beach having completed the ride. Left-right: Gavin Young, MIchelle Househam, Tim Mackrill, Lloyd Park, Lizzie Lemon, Chris Ditchburn

A huge thank you to all our sponsors who made our journey worth it by raising just under £2500 (including Gift Aid) for the Osprey Flyways Project. This money will help us to provide wildlife education in West Africa and to link schools and communities along the migration flyway. Here is a video showing the latest Osprey Flyways Project field trip run by Junkung Jadama in The Gambia. Thanks to your kind donations, we’ll be able to continue this vitally important work and help more young people in West Africa to learn about the importance of protecting Ospreys and other wildlife.

Now for quite a long list of thank yous to people without whom the challenge would not have happened. A massive thank you to Kerry Rough and Graham Adkins of Rutland Cycling who generously provided four of the bikes (and excellent bikes they were too), spare parts and some of the clothing for our challenge. Our support drivers Philip, Liam and Louise were instrumental in providing refreshment and encouragement throughout our journey and for transporting all our gear for us. A huge thank you to them and also Leah who helped ferry us all home again. We are also indebted to Mike Willis for organising our first day’s evening meal after a particularly trying first day. Thanks too to Rob Persani at Rutland Radio for giving us some airtime each day to report on the ride.

Personally, I would like to thank the team and all our support for a truly memorable and enjoyable three days. I am extremely proud of the way that our team of novice cyclists dug deep and pulled together all the way to the end.

And now, for those of you who during Birdfair or at the Lyndon Visitor Centre entered our competition to guess how long the challenge would take, the moment has come. We are extremely proud and a little surprised with our overall time of 19 hours and 1 minute which includes the ferry journey, food breaks (these were never more than a few minutes) and messing about with the route. Incidentally, our overall pedalling time was a mere 16 hours and fifty minutes giving us an average speed of 11.5 mph.

Well done to Dennis Trevor whose guess was one minute over our time and who will receive two Osprey cruise tickets and a signed copy of the Rutland Osprey Project’s book.

Gavin (right) and Chris after completing a trial run of the first leg of the journey

The Great Osprey Bike Ride – The Details

Tomorrow morning a team of six of us set off on our journey from Rutland to Dover by bike. Over the last couple of weeks, members of the team have been asked details of the trip. How many miles will we be doing each day? What is the route and where will we be stopping? Are we aware how hilly Kent is?

While we have tried to put questions of the latter kind to the back of our minds, we do have a fair idea of what lies before us, and here it is.

Thanks again must go to Rutland Cycling who have provided us with bikes, clothing and essential advice to get us from start to finish in good shape.

Day one – Lyndon to Abington – 66 miles

Chris and I have ridden this day’s route and (hopefully) have already taken all the wrong turns available. We will start our trip at the Lyndon Visitors Centre at about 9am with our first nasty climb up to Manton Road. From here the route takes us on quiet roads through Edith Weston, Ketton, and after a short section on the A47, down to King’s Cliffe. We then wiggle towards Warmington where we cross the A605 and head across beautiful, but hilly, countryside east of Oundle. When we reach Alconbury, we will have our first longish stint on busy roads to Huntingdon before a lovely tarmac track takes us past the National Trust’s Houghton Mill and onto our lunch stop at picturesque St Ives at about noon.

After a well-earned rest, we will say farewell to our support driver for about 12 miles as we take to the cycle track which accompanies the Cambridgeshire Guided Busway through the middle of Fen Drayton Lakes nature reserve and onto Cambridge. We leave the busway to take the B1049 over the A14 and straight through the centre of Cambridge, past Addenbrookes Hospital, between Wandlebury and the Gog Magog hills and on to our first stop at the Abington Travelodge for around 3pm.

Day two – Abington to nr Rainham, Kent – 75 miles

By far the longest day of our trip, but with a welcome rest for a ferry ride acrosss the Thames at Tilbury. Another 9am start and after two or three miles on the A1307, we turn right at Linton towards Ashton and remain on country lanes through Great Bardfield and Felsted. We join the B1008 at Little Waltham, through Broomfield and into Chelmsford where we will probably take a break for lunch at midday.

We then switch to the B1007, over the A12 and through Billericay before winding our way to Tilbury, crossing the A127 and A13 en route. Again, we will have to part with the support vehicle for our ferry trip to Gravesend (around 3pm?) and then it is on to Rochester, Chatham, past Gillingham Golf Club and eventually to our second stop at the M2 Medway services near Rainham for about 4.30pm.

Day 3 – Rainham to Dover – 45 miles

I’m hoping that 45 miles will seem a doddle after day two, but I think we’ll be loath to get on the bikes for the up and down final stint to Dover. Heading north-east at first, we turn east at Upchurch River Valley Golf course and then on to Sittingbourne from where we cycle alongside the railway to Faversham. From there we skirt the A2 to Canterbury – a nice spot for lunch. Then the final slog passing Bekesbourne, Shepherdswell, Whitfield and then, finally, Dover.

Assuming a 9am start again, I would suspect we will be finishing at around 2pm near to the docks and the start of next year’s rowing challenge across the channel.

Of course, it’s going to be tough, but hopefully our team spirit will get us through and then there is our cause to spur us on. We’ve already raised over £1000 for the Osprey Flyways Project and if you would like to add to that, please visit our fundraising page. If you would like to have a closer look at the route, check out the Google Map below.

View Lyndon to Dover in a larger map

30's GPS data shows that since she arrived on the Senegal coast she has made only short local flights.

Settled in Senegal

As we expected, 30’s latest batch of GPS data shows that she has settled on the Senegal coast, just 2km south of where 09(98) used to winter. Since arriving a week ago, 30 has made only short local flights and spent the majority of her time perched either on the beach or just inland. The sea here clearly provides very rich pickings because the data shows that she has had to fly no more than a kilometre on each fishing trip.

Don’t forget to check out our interactive Google Map page to see just how sedentary she has been over the past seven days. Life for a wintering adult Osprey is very easy!

30's GPS data shows that since she arrived on the Senegal coast she has made only short local flights.

30’s GPS data shows that since she arrived on the Senegal coast she has made only short local flights.

30's migration (yellow line) compared to 09's autumn migration in 2011 (orange line)

A very familiar winter home

When 30’s last batch of data arrived, we were speculating how far south she would continue to fly. Would she winter in Northern Senegal or would she head further south towards The Gambia or Guinea? Well, it now looks as though we’ve got an answer. At 3pm on Monday afternoon 30 stopped on the Senegal coast midway between Dakar and St Louis in Northern Senegal. More than 48 hours later, at 9pm on Wednesday evening, she was still there; suggesting she has arrived at her winter home.  If her location on the Senegal coast sounds familiar, that’s because, remarkably, it is just 2km south of where our previous satellite-tagged Osprey, 09(98) used to winter!

The previous data had shown on Sunday night, 30 roosted just north of the Senegal River. By 8am next morning she had moved 2km south from her overnight spot and was perched beside the river, almost certainly eating breakfast. She was probably disturbed by local fisherman soon afterwards, because an hour later she was perched 8km to the south-east. Then, at 10am she had moved again: a further 1km to the south-east.

She must have resumed her migration sometime after 10:30am because, at 11am, the next GPS position showed that she was 9km to the South-east, flying south at 21kph at an altitude of 500 metres. She continued on this course for another hour, before changing to a more south-westerly heading at midday. She must have know she was now close to her winter home, and three hours later she arrived on the coast after a day’s flight of just under 100km.

The final leg of 30's migration on 9th September

The final leg of 30’s migration on 9th September

Having arrived on the coast, 30 has made only short local flights of up to 5km. This behaviour is typical of an adult Osprey on the wintering grounds. They spend most of their day perched in a favoured location and then make short flights to fish once or twice a day. In 30’s case her favourite perches seem to be located in an area of scattered trees, less than 100 metres from the beach. From here it is just a short flight out to sea, where a wealth of fish will make hunting very easy for an adult Osprey.

If 30 does remain in this area for the winter, her favourite perches are just 2km south of the ones favoured by 09 during the winter of 2011/12. This means that she and 09 would have been neighbours for seven winters. When you consider that 09 wintered almost 1500km away from the one other Rutland Osprey that we have tracked using a GPS transmitter, this is a truly remarkable co-incidence. As the map below shows, 30’s daily flights (red dots and yellow lines) are already over-lapping with the flights (in orange) of 09 during the winter of 2011/12. If only he was still alive!

The movements of 30 at her wintering site (yellow line) compared to those of 09 in 2011/12 (orange line)

The movements of 30 at her wintering site (yellow line) compared to those of 09 in 2011/12 (orange line)

Assuming that she has arrived at her winter home, 30’s migration is the fastest we have recorded. She flew over 4600km in just 12 days, four days quicker than 09’s 16-day migration in autumn 2011. When you compare their migration routes, 30’s flight was more direct through Europe, but once they arrived in Africa, they were remarkably similar, particularly through Morocco. The data demonstrates what incredible navigators adult Ospreys really are.

30's migration (yellow line) compared to 09's autumn migration in 2011 (orange line)

30’s migration (yellow line) compared to 09’s autumn migration in 2011 (orange line)

The next batch of data should arrive from 30’s transmitter over the weekend, so check back for an update on Monday. In the meantime, don’t forget you can upload all her migration data onto your own copy of Google Earth. Click here to find out how. Or check out our interactive Google maps page.

The GPS data suggests 30 a went fishing off the Mauritanian coast on Saturday evening and then flew inland with her fish.

A Senegalese sunrise

She’s made it! The last batch of GPS data showed that last night 30 roosted on the banks of the Senegal River, having completed her crossing of the Sahara. Although, strictly speaking, she is still just in Mauritania, she will have enjoyed a Senegalese sunrise this morning.

The previous data had shown that, after flying 900km in two days, 30 had reached the deserts of Western Mauritania. She still had at least one more day’s flying to complete the desert crossing, but was making excellent progress.

On Saturday morning 30 began migrating at 9am. Three hours later, at midday, she had already covered 123 kilometres and was continuing on the same the distinctly South-westerly heading that she had maintained the previous afternoon. The direction of her flight suggested she was heading for the Mauritanian coast and her afternoon flight confirmed that. By 7pm she was just 4km from the Mauritanian coast, a few kilometres north of the capital, Nouakchott. Interestingly, the GPS data showed that she was flying due east at 7pm, so there is every chance that, having fished in the sea, she was now flying inland with her first meal for several days. An hour later she was perched 4km further east, and that is where she settled for the night after a day’s flight of at least 314km. After three days and 1200km, the majority of the desert was behind her.

The GPS data suggests 30 a went fishing off the Mauritanian coast on Saturday evening and then flew inland with her fish.

The GPS data suggests 30 a went fishing off the Mauritanian coast on Saturday evening and then flew inland with her fish.

30 flew to the Mauritanian coast on Saturday

30 flew to the Mauritanian coast on Saturday

Next day she resumed her migration shortly after 9am, initially flying South-east to avoid Nouakchott and then following the coastline south. She made steady progress for the rest of the day at an altitude of around 700 metres. By 5pm she had flown just over 200km and was passing just to the West of the vast Djoudj National Park. This huge wetland is home to many Ospreys each winter as well as hundreds of thousands of wildfowl. Myself, John Wright and Paul Stammers enjoyed a very memorable visit there in 2011. To read about our trip, which included finding an English Osprey, click here.

By 7pm 30 was clearly looking for somewhere to roost for the evening and an hour later she was perched just over a kilometre from the banks of the Senegal River after a day’s flight of 262km. The river forms the border between Senegal and Mauritania and, like, Djoudj, supports a good population of wintering Ospreys. On a boat trip along the river in 2011, Paul John and I saw at least 25 different individual Ospreys along a 17 mile section of the river. Here’s a video we recorded that day.

Many Ospreys winter beside the Senegal River. Will 30 remain here or continue south?

Many Ospreys winter beside the Senegal River. Will 30 remain here or continue south?

An adult male Osprey at the Senegal River in January 2011 (photo by John Wright)

An adult male Osprey at the Senegal River in January 2011 (photo by John Wright)

30 followed the coastline south during her 262km migration on Sunday

30 followed the coastline south during her 262km migration on Sunday

Having reached Senegal it will be very interesting to see what 30 does now. She could well spend her winter in Northern Senegal, but the speed of her migration – she has only been migrating for 11 days – suggests she is probably going to head further south. The next batch of data will be fascinating. Don’t forget to check her latest Google Map, by clicking here.