Cycling John O’Groats to Lands End

With the benefit of newly acquired hindsight (1061 miles of it) I wanted to share a few ideas for anyone considering cycling end to end.

JOGLE or LEJOG?

The first significant decision you need to make is the direction of travel.

I decided on John O’Groats to Lands End (JOGLE) based primarily on avoiding the midges in Scotland. I also liked to idea of cycling into better weather, however I managed to forget the prevailing wind direction.

It hadn’t been a big deal on previous trips, but having the wind at your back is the biggest single argument for taking the Lands End to John O’Groats (LEJOG) approach.

On the days when I really struggled with the wind (east and west coast of Scotland in the main) I looked on enviously at people travelling in the opposite direction.

Above all don’t believe anyone who says North to South is downhill. It isn’t. The cliff tops at Lands End are significantly higher than John O’Groats, so if anything it’s the opposite.

The difference in elevation between start and finish is a fraction of a percent of the combined elevation you will be dealing with in the total journey (the worst hills being in Devon and Cornwall), which might offer a counterargument to LEJOG – if only because you are likely to be significantly fitter toward the end of the JOGLE trip.

How do you get to and from the start and finish?

Having decided on the direction of travel, the next thing you need to put in place is your transport.

If you’re lucky enough to have someone willing to drive a support vehicle then that will probably be your lift to the start and back from the finish. If you are riding unsupported then the main options will be trains or a flight.

I travelled by train, which can be very economical if booked far enough in advance.

Rail companies sell tickets 11 weeks before departure, and to get the best rates you need to book the day the tickets go on sale. The other reason for doing this is that although cycle reservations are free on most (if not all?) trains, they are limited in number and on routes like the caledonian sleeper they sell out.

Flights can be booked even further in advance, and it is possible to take a bike (rules and costs vary) but with more faffing about – removing pedals and packaging – and it won’t get you exactly to/from the start/end.

I also read about people who ship their bicycles to cycle shops, or engage with specialist transport companies who provide shuttle services from airports or train stations.

I just cycled the 15-20 miles from the nearest train station at each end of the journey and it worked just fine.

How do you go about planning the precise route?

In other words, where do I start?

I started by reading about potential routes on the internet, and quickly decided not to go for the shortest road route – in favour of a more scenic approach. There are lots of good resources on the internet, that will deliver plenty of inspiration and ideas.

I took a different approach to each leg of my journey. I planned the route from John O’Groats to Windermere in a lot of detail, measuring distances using Google Maps (which now has Sustrans National Cycle Routes) and coming up with shorter and longer options.

I wished I’d also researched the elevations, if nothing else it would have helped me mentally prepare for what each day had in store – but more likely I would have broken up the journey slightly differently.

I took more of an ad-hoc approach to planning the route for the second two legs. This is the more adventurous approach, which sometimes took me onto roads I might not have chosen.

I quite liked the freedom to just change the route as I went, but I could often be seen frowning at my iPhone at road junctions – whereas in Scotland I was able to make route decisions much more quickly and confidently having researched in advance.

Sustrans routes consistently delivered more enjoyable cycling, but as a means of travelling between two points they were not the most efficient – typically adding more than 50% to the mileage. I found that to my cost on the day I left Bath, thinking I would be able to use the cycle route all the way to Barnstaple, and only made it to Tiverton (having covered way more miles than I guesstimated it to be).

The Sustrans routes are all in Google Maps now, meaning you can calculate the distance from point to point. I think this is a good idea.

I wished I used them more, though I certainly wouldn’t have been able to use them for the entire journey without taking more days.

Booking accommodation along the route.

Loads of people have asked me about this.

In Scotland I booked in advance which meant I couldn’t vary the route, when I might otherwise have done so. In England I booked as I went, using booking.com to find an available room when I was about 30 mins from where I planned to stop or just knocking on a few doors.

The former gave me more opportunity to research overnight stops, and delivered on quality but at the expense of flexibility. Last minute internet bookings are a decent approach, and I also enjoyed the two nights I spent in pubs after calling in to see if there was any room.

I think the point to make here is that its never too hard to find somewhere to stay. It isn’t something you need to do in advance unless you are travelling in a group or particularly fussy.

I spent around £45-50 a night (except weekends when I was with Chloe) and found the humble British B&B experience pleasure. You could take a tent and camping equipment, but the extra time this would have taken would have curtailed other aspects of the trip (e.g. blogging).

What do you need to take with you?

As always I like to travel light, and my list of kit left me wanting for nothing.

Separating the (often smelly) cycle gear and casual clothes into different panniers makes it a lot easier to find things and pack and unpack and the beginning and end of the day. I use a double sided Eagle Creek pack cube in each to keep clean and dirty clothes away from each other.

I keep tools and lights in a wedge pack under the seat for easy access.

Blogging about the journey

I wrote a blog post everyday, using the WordPress for iPhone app. It helps to keep in touch with people and with raising money for charity.

You can read the blog of my journey here.

Useful resources

Travelling Two – useful site about cycle touring and this article which provided the inspiration for my route

End to End Gazette – I don’t really do membership organisations or certificates, but there is some useful information here

Sustrans – great interactive map to help you find enjoyable routes away from the traffic

Booking.com – easy to use mobile site, great for booking a room on the move

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Learning to walk again

by Mark on May 25, 2013 · 0 comments

It feels strange now the cycling is done.

Not just mentally, physically too.

Walking uses a different set of muscles and is accompanied by a sense of dizziness.

I just don’t feel at home on 2 legs yet.

I’m spending a few days in St Ives before returning to London. The sun is shining, and there’s a good selection of Cornish ales to try before I get back to work.

The ales aren’t exactly helping me walk straight, but I am getting plenty of practice hiking up and down the big hill my B&B is at the top of.

Hills. You just can’t get away from them in Cornwall.

This journey has been so much more challenging than cycling the Rhine.

On the Rhine trip the relationship between time and distance was straightforward and predictable.

This trip introduced hills, headwind and even hailstorms into the equation.

They make a big difference.

Not just to average speed it is possible to maintain, but to the physical effort required to overcome them.

The cumulative effect has been exhausting, and while the soreness in my legs has passed quite quickly, I’m still a few sleeps away from fully recovering my energy levels.

The first 6 days in particular really pushed me (even harder than I had known it would), as have the last 4 days through Devon and Cornwall.

In contrast I’ll remember the 5 day stretch from Windermere to Bath as the easy bit, although even the easiest of those days would normally be classed as a heavy dose of exercise.

I will post more details on the trip, it’s planning and logistics in the next week or two.

In the meantime people keep asking me how I feel now I’ve done it.

I can sum it up in one word.

Tired.

Bike computer stats:

Ride time: 104h 2m
Distance: 1,061.11 miles
Ave distance per day: 70.74 miles
Ave speed: 10.2 mph
Max speed: 42.5 mph

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The weather forecast for today on the chalkboard in my hotel reception looked none too rosy.

11 degrees, showers, and a strong cold wind

It didn’t fill me with much enthusiasm.

Still, it looked fairly bright so I made an early start and rolled out of Penzance at 9.15am.

I passed on the direct road route, instead following my trusty NCN3 around the bay through Newyn, and on to the fishing village of Mousehole.

A brilliant name for a cute little fishing village with its own harbour.

Had I known about it I would have stopped there last night for sure.

From Mousehole the road rose steeply, and a very sweaty 15 minutes later I was cruising along country lanes on between cliff-top fields.

It felt like I was going to drop off the end of the country at any moment, but it was just an illusion as I knew there was still more than 10 miles of the route to go.

A couple of miles later the steepest downhill yet dropped into a secluded valley and a little village full of houses and artists studios. The sunlight was streaming through the treetops and the woodlands were filled with bluebells and other wild flowers.

It was like a secret valley.

If I have learnt anything in the last few days it is that what goes down must always come up again, and sure enough it wasn’t long before another thigh burning uphill took me back up to the open fields.

The road sign said 5 miles to Lands End, but once again the little blue cycle route signs had other ideas, taking me on a zig zag route along deserted lanes and through tiny villages.

I also noted that the ‘cold wind’ was coming from the opposite direction. It was nice to feel the wind at my back for a change, but did it really have to happen on the one day I was planning to do a u-turn and head North?

Eventually I reached the sharp descent into Sennen Cove.

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But Cornwall hadn’t finished with me quite yet.

The little blue signs delivered a last steep pull through the upper slopes of the village to take me one last mile along the cliff top path to the tourist trap that is Lands End.

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Beyond the columns it is like a crap miniaturised Alton Towers, so I stopped just long enough to get the obligatory photo.

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And of course an ice-cream.

I was outraged.

They didn’t sell Magnum’s.

Instead I had to settle for a Thornton’s equivalent (£2 and quite nice).

If a premium ice-cream can retail for two quid in a remote captive market then I can only conclude there has been some failure of market forces in Bath.

I suggest the good people of Bath rise up against the over-priced icy treats. Or failing that at least get over to Asda for their 6-for-£3 multi-buy (thanks for the recommendation Dad).

Or is the real problem that they only do Waitrose in Bath?

I was planning to ride North to St Ives, but with the headwind I opted for the more direct road route back to Penzance and hopped on the train.

I’d nothing left to prove now.

While the rest of the country is enjoying miserable weather, there is at least one corner where it’s sunny enough to enjoy a cold beer on the beach.

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And thankfully I am in it.

If you’d like to sponsor, just click the link to donate to Cancer Research.

Massive thanks if you already have, since last year you’ve helped raise over £6k including tax relief and corporate cheques.

Big clap.

Bike computer stats:

Ride time: 2h 58m
Distance: 28.32 miles
Ave speed: 9.7 mph
Max speed: 22.8 mph

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Lostwithiel to Penzance, and the mining trail

May 22, 2013

I had a lazy start to the day, which meant I didn’t get cycling until almost midday. I was glad I stopped when I did last night, because the enormity of the hill I was confronted with as I left town would surely have reduced me to tears. It took a fair while to ascend, […]

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Tiverton to Lostwithiel, and fatigue causes forgetfulness

May 22, 2013

I ripped up the plan and decided it was time to take a more direct route today. I was knackered before I even started, which may go some way towards explaining what happened next. I spent the first couple of miles fighting a sense of having forgotten something, and mentally running through a list of […]

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Bath to Tiverton and the breakfast hostage

May 20, 2013

After a lovely weekend at a nice hotel in Bath it was time to get back on the road. To aid an early start I ordered an early breakfast from room service, to be delivered between 7.30-7.45. I was showered, packed and ready to go. But where was breakfast? At 7.50 I rang reception and […]

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Bristol to Bath, a day of disused railway lines

May 17, 2013

I only had a few miles in order to reach Bath, just 12 miles by road according to Google maps. I’d spotted a sign for the Bristol-Bath cycle route near the docks the previous afternoon, and thought it would be easy to pick up this morning. It wasn’t. I ended up on the Whitchurch Way, […]

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Gloucester to Bristol and I spoke too soon

May 16, 2013

I got up to a beautiful sunny day. Hotel reception had no idea whether I’d paid or not, but seemed happy to take it on trust that I had. It seemed about par for the course as far as this hotel is concerned. Weirdly protective over potted plants too. I set off following the NCN […]

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Shrewsbury to Gloucester with sun, showers and an injured armadillo

May 15, 2013

It hadn’t stopped raining from the moment I arrived in Shrewsbury, and it was still pouring when I left this morning. Even the cycle path was flooded. I didn’t try to ride that one out. I made pretty good progress down the A49 and things started brightening up when I was about 10 miles from […]

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Liverpool to Shrewsbury and the ferry over the Mersey

May 14, 2013

I began the day by taking the ferry across the Mersey to Birkenhead. Not only is it an iconic journey, but it was the only way of getting over the other side without a long cycle around (bikes not being allowed in the tunnels). It was a reasonably sunny morning, and I enjoyed my ride […]

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