Once upon a time I rode from Lands End to John o’ Groats (it was in 2004 but that might as well be the dark ages to my useless memory). I rode an indirect but quiet route with my then riding buddy John Harwood as a set of 8 consecutive 200k Audax UK Perms (for some reason he got credited 8 x 200k but I got 1 x 1600k for the same ride, I don’t remember why). We both took responsibility for route planning for alternate days, John’s were great – mine, mostly annotated photocopies of the route supplied by the CTC, were crap. I hardly remembered I’d ridden it, let alone any detail, so it was nice to come across an A4 envelope the other day with LEJOG written on it in which I found, along with highlighted route maps etc, a day by day account of the ride I must have written at the time. I can’t remember if I did anything with this at the time, I suspect not. It’s too long and not very exciting but I’m going to post it anyway.
Before start – long drive down (Sarah) – Trendrennen Farm
Sun 20/6 (Day 1)
Got soaked in downpour during 4km to start. Negotiated Penzance ok but got turned round at Porkellis and ended up coming out on a lane with the way we wanted to go signposted behind us! Sarah met us at Stithians (where control was shop in the rain) and then drove home satisfied John’s ankle giving no trouble. Apart from hiccup at Truro managed to stay mostly on route despite my misplaced trust in CTC provided route (which was either full of detail or neglected to mention turnings etc).
Lunch at Tesco, Wadebridge was a good idea as St Kew offered nothing but a pub which had stopped serving. Only just in the time limits (@ 15kph) as hills, luggage, off-route slowing us down. Tintagel toBude got awful hilly with a couple of 30%ers on the coast road.
Rolled into Gt Torrington about 8:45pm and had to make do with a Spar Shop supper as too late for pubs. Wyburn House was fine but I think we both felt a bit slow and we’d only just begun!
Mon 21/6 (Day 2)
Ate breakfast watching the rain come down at 7:15 in Wyburn House, stopped as soon as we set off leaving us feeling overdressed. B3227 to South Molton offered a slow start with it’s succession of hills. Climb up to Exmoor very long but nice gradient, not managing to build up any time. Drop down then climb out of Withypool – same again at Winsford where PO store offered our first control of the day. Still on the lower time limits.
A good descent of the Brendon Hills followed by a 1 in 4 out of Crowcombe which had us tacking across the road just to keep moving. Expected cafe in Bridgewater closed but local pointed us over the bridge to ‘Poppys’ where omelette and chips went down well. Left on the limits again promising cafe a postcard from John o’Groats.
Flat bit after Bridgewater allowed us to build a bit of time up so we could enjoy the climb up Cheddar Gorge. Getting quite warm and sunny by the time we reached Saltford for a Coop control. Managed to leave with 30 mins in hand and built up some more along the cycleway. The flattish roads from Chipping Sodbury to the M4 bridge and Cheptow offered a slight headwind but rolled into the B&B about 8:30pm and ate in a pleasant Chinese where I sampled ‘mock chicken/pork’ or some-such.
Tues 22/6 (Day 3)
No cooked breakfast – 2nd most expensive B&B and ‘The First Hurdle’ doesn’t have any staff in till 8am. Orange juice and cereal see us on our way.
Tintern Abbey looks good without it’s scaffolding. John spots a flaw in my ‘cut and paste’ route sheet and ensures we enjoy the correct hill from Brockweir to St Briavels which I thoroughly enjoy in the sunshine with the promise of a flatter day. Successfully negotiate what appears to be some road renumbering after Coleford. The whole-food shop & cafe I was looking forward to in Ross-on-Wye had vanished and the bakery had no veg pasties either so a disappointing 1st stop.
Even John couldn’t make enough sense of my increasingly suspicious route sheet to get us out of Ross on the correct lane so I took us on a short bash down the duel carriageway and got us back into the lanes with a couple of km over. Excellent lane rolled along quiet valley though at one point the surface disappeared under water and red mud causing me to get off before I fell off!
Things might have gone smoother with a GPS instead.
Managed to reach Leominster in time for a slow and expensive lunch despite my dubious route sheet and left with little time to spare as usual. John rescued us again in Ludlow and our way led to another great lane along Corvedale. A shop stop in Much Wenlock was followed by an A road downhill towards Ironbridge from where we climbed back up along a lane that sported less than 50% tarmac in places and led through an uncharted housing estate over the A road and eventually through a gap at the end or the Wrekin.
Despite my best efforts we hadn’t gone sufficiently off route to make up some unexpected under-distance so shortly before Market Drayton we had a look at the map and added a 4km ’round the rural block’ to ease our consciences.
Market Drayton was wet and we got wetter trying to find a control. Crofton B&B was excellent and after failing to get food in the Talbot pub, which we had been warned was going down hill, dined well and cheaply in the Indian in the company of a couple of narrow-boaters who had also been disappointed at the Talbot. I did my best not to argue with our somewhat car addicted companions. Meanwhile it rained, the B&B landlady Jill Russell had attempted to phone me to offer a lift back to the B&B – what a contrast to the First Hurdle!
Weds 23/6 (Day 4)
A good breakfast was followed by a flattish start on what turned out to be a wet but enjoyably fast stage. Garage control stop at Middlewich followed by John successfully navigating us through the outskirts of Manchester using a well researched route sheet. Lunch at Westhoughton was home-made cheese pie, chips and peas. Again we got through Blackburn successfully though Great Mitton failed to provide a control (though it had a fine church) and we continued on till we found a shop just about to close in Slaidburn with a YHA opposite to provide a stamp.
I enjoyed the climb over Great Harlow to High Bentham. John had spotted under-distance when he ran the route through Autoroute but we had made some of it up already so opted for an out and back along the A683, had we been 5 minutes quicker we might have missed the downpour that got us on the way into Kirkby Lansdale. Our change of clothes packages had arrived but no rail tickets (not that I was surprised).
Dined in the Snooty Fox after leaving our obliging landlady at Wyke House to try and dry our soaking shoes.
Thurs 26/6 (Day 5)
A previously negotiated breakfast of scrambled eggs and beans (she wasn’t going to do us the full English at 7:15) set us up well for what I realised would be a return to the hills and slow speeds.
It rained and rained. The wind blew every way but behind us and I suspect the hills on our route would have made the reputed ‘Shap’ on the main road route look like a pimple. Another wet cyclist joined us on the A685 and stayed with us till he headed west to join the A6. A tiny PO with a cheerful proprietor in Kings Meaburn offered a control where Maids Meburn had failed. I bought a bar of choc and a bottle of water which amounted to about 10% of his stock. Leg warmers on to try and compensate for soaking and freezing feet! Castle Carrock had no control but Brampton’s rather posh looking tearoom offered a decent baked spud, tea, fruit crumble and custard.
We had taken the A road from Brampton to Langholm as we were under distance again and didn’t fancy trying to negotiate the fiddly lanes in the rain. We remembered to get a control in Langholm despite me neglecting to mention it on my route sheet. The A roads had taken us out of the rain into a dryish looking Longtown then back into it again to a well soaked Longholm.
We followed the London Edinburgh London route through Eskdalemuir to the Gordons Arms. Somewhere it must have stopped raining and Scotland was quite pleasant. An extra few km to make up the distance and a good meal then bed at the Gordons Arms (who really need to get themselves a rubber stamp). Bikes went in the coal shed due to lack of other options, we seemed to be the only customers that night and rather pitied the staff.
Fri 25/6 (Day 6)
‘Road Closed’ – but not for us!
A good breakfast, a signature in lieu of a stamp, and we were back on the LEL route over the Moorfoot Hills to Edinburgh. The hilly section of LEL was easy going compared with what we’d been through and the weather was pleasant although the repeated ‘Road Closed’ signs had us worried. I had already reassured myself that John, not me, had done the route through Edinburgh so we had a good chance of negotiating it successfully. We opted to sit down and and eat in Edinburgh as neither of our other controls that day looked big enough to offer a cafe. Edinburgh was architecturally impressive and worth going through the middle of. The Forth Road Bridge offered another interesting experience.
A garage did us well at Crook of Devon (which seemed to be more or less part of Drum, our control). An excellent easy grade B road climb over the Ochil Hills out of Yetts o’ Muckhart was followed by a flat, low lying, plain that ended in a steep climb to our control ‘village’ of Fowlis Wester where the church yielded some promotional material as our only control option and the road continued to climb then dropped down to an easy road through Glen Almond.
I was enjoying Scotland – we were making reasonable time for a change, the weather was good and the big hills were tomorrow!
B&B in Blairgowrie (now the same place as Rattray according to it’s sign) was great. We were the only eating customers at the Queens Hotel. ‘Stephen’ at Virgin had reassured me we would be able to get our bikes on the van from Wick to Inverness and I hadn’t been charged for the tickets that never arrived.
A phone call from home told me the bad news I had almost been expecting – Jane’s daughter Sharon had died of the cancer that had been rapidly destroying her over the last few months. Should I return? No – no point now I’d almost finished. Jane wanted me to continue.
Sat 26/6 (Day 7)
Landlady at Garfield House makes an exception and cooks us a 7:15 breakfast. All seems one long, gradual climb up to the Glenshee ski area at 670m, I zoom up it loosing sight of John – thinking about Sharon and her short life and nasty death. The wind is blowing at the top and the tops of the Cairngorms behind me are disappearing in a dark cloud. John arrives and we descend fast to Braemar where we take an unscheduled coffee and cake stop then along the valley to Balmoral and a B road climb and descent followed by a hilly A939 and then a vicious 1 in 5 from the Allargue Hotel.
A year or so later and John had become a much stronger cyclist than me. He went on to cycle round the world starting in 2007. Click on the picture for a link to his account.
What looks like the top of the 1 in 5 round the corner opens up on a view of our road climbing up to the 637m Lecht ski area. The wind strong behind us and feeling good I sail up this one and we whiz down to Tomitoul for a sit down baked potato and tea. We let the wind push us on out of the mountains and over Dava Moor – for some reason highlighted on the CTC notes as ‘exposed moorland’. Dava doesn’t seem to exist so I wait for John after our turn and he hails me shortly after so I slow down. John has bust a spoke in his rear wheel but I follow behind and reassure that the wheel still seems surprisingly true. (We remove the spoke later and compare my only spare but it is much too short so the wheel remains a 35 spoke job for the rest of the trip.)
The rain starts again during my (this time successful) negotiation of the lanes to Cawdor. No castle to be seen but a posh pub does us tea, crisps and shortcake. John puts every item of clothing he can find on and we both feel a bit under equipped despite 2 panniers each. The route becomes over distance this time but the last 8km to Dingwall shrink to 2km due to my unusual distance calculation and we arrive at 7:45pm with 208km on the clock – our fastest, easiest and highest day so far. The wind on our side almost all day for a change. Moydene B&B is great through the pub she points us towards has 3 large Scots bouncers to inform us there in no food Saturday. The Indian they point us to does well if a little pricey.
Sun 27/6 (Day 8)
Good breakfast and OK weather followed by a gentle climb on the B9176 thru Scottish moorland filled with purple heather and yellow gorse. A good descent to Dornoch Firth and Bonar Bridge then onto Lairg where we ate well at the Crofters Cafe.
As John had said the A836 was a single track road with passing places – how this came to be classified as an A road I cannot fathom! It was quiet and pleasant though and the wind still seemed to be following. The B road after Altnaharra was fast at first and gave good views of the tranquil Loch Naver. Rain and a headwind joined us after we turned north and this 70km stage was making me grovel for it’s last 20km.
Bettyhill’s advertised ‘open 7 days a week’ shop was closed but we found food and shelter at Elizabeth’s Cafe where a signature again had to do for a control. By the time we left it was chucking it down and my legs had decided we must have finished as we were on the northernmost UK coast. The A road to Thurso seemed slow and difficult as it rolled up then down at each estuary. Huge sand dunes, curlews and oyster catchers and the contrast between Dounreay nuclear power station and it’s two neighbouring wind generators kept my mind partly off my aching legs. A garage stop in Thurso revived us for the last few km to John o’Groats and we’d done it!
A stamp from the pub and photo courtesy of a passing walker were followed by a meal at the Seaview and a half a nights sleep at the Caberfiedh Guest House.
Mon 28/6 (Journey Home)
Up at 3:30 to cereal and coffee and we were back on the bikes for the last 27km down to Wick. The bike van that accompanied the 6:29 train (but leaves at 6:00 for some reason) left with just our bikes on. They could just as well have gone on the train as no others were waiting. The train rolled into Inverness late after taking us through much wet, flat land down the east coast but we recovered our bikes and got on the (held back) Inverness to Edinburgh train with no real problems. I got us off at the wrong station in Edinburgh but plenty of time so enjoyed another ride down Princes Street and a Marks and Spencer’s feast before joining the fast Virgin train to Oxford. The train manager had both cycled and run (as part of a relay) LEJoG so chatted a while and brought us free coffee when he went off shift. The train was an hour late at Oxford and we were all given complaint forms to fill out in the hope of getting back some of our £91.