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.
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