Saturday, 27 September 2014

Land's End to John o' Groats the easy way - follow the purple line

For the moment the reason escapes me why I thought it would be a good idea to cycle from Land's End to John o' Groats.  Possibly it was so that watching weather forecasts would be more interesting as I could look at the map of Britain knowing I'd cycled from one end of the weather map to the other.

Quick take my picture before the official photographer sees me and tries to run me out of town
I've been dithering over the whole Lejog thing now for at least a couple of years, but the idea has never got off the ground, and the reason being, it wasn't really the cycling I was afraid of, because that's just cycling, but for longer.  The thing that really scared me was organising the bloody thing.  It's like sitting down at a table with a knife and fork and preparing to eat an elephant, where do you start?

My first pudding of the trip - At the most southerly cafe in Britain, it's almost in the sea
I know people who've done Lejog in around 10 days, alone and unsupported, doing their own map reading, booking their own accommodation etc, Graeme for example, but that all just sounds too much like hard work.  And there's just way too much thinking involved.  I'm supposed to be a lazy cyclist, remember, as in lazy, apathetic etc?

A sign I saw in Stirling - ironic since I saw it on my one non-cycling day
I've been on cycle tours before, and I've found that when I get tired physically, my brain gets replaced by a big bowl of scrambled eggs, and all decision making thereafter becomes a game of stupidity roulette.  Map reading, deciding where, when and what to eat, ordering food etc, even remembering my own name or where I come from, it all goes to mush.  If choice is hell, then decision making under conditions of fatigue is a disaster for me.

Pretending to race Erwan up the cobbles in Haworth - it was all staged for the cameras
So, because organising the whole thing myself would clearly involve hundreds of small decisions which would totally overwhelm me and make me want to forget the whole thing, I decided to just make one big decision and get it out of the way.  I decided the only way for me to do this thing at all was to hand everything over to someone else to deal with, everything except for the pedalling, which I gamely decided to do myself.

Where am I going again?
In my case the person I handed my life over to was Chris Ellison of CTC tours.  I basically just bank transferred him some money, and in return he planned the route, booked all the accommodation, and every meal, and every cafe stop, and almost everything else you can think of.  All I had to do was turn up in Penzance on the 6th September.

Chris and Erwan - I couldn't have done it without them, well maybe I could but a lot more badly
I'd been doing really well in June and early July, cycling loads of miles, including 100 mile days, and I'd really enjoyed doing the Marie Curie Coast to Coast in June, so I'm not too sure why it was that as soon as I'd paid Chris the money for the trip at the start of July and almost immediately after I'd booked my rail tickets to Penzance and back from Inverness, I just stopped riding my bike altogether.  I couldn't even be bothered to go to the corner shop on it.

Riding a bike is a lot like riding a bike - you never forget
Certainly not doing any cycling at all for the 7 weeks prior to departure didn't put me in top form.  I did spend a lot of these non-cycling weeks cross-training (sort of) by running, doing watersports, dressing as a woman and climbing a lot of steps at summer camp, but I'm not sure how much help all this was.  Probably the most helpful thing I had done towards the ride was to lose two stone in weight since the end of 2013.  Trying and failing to drag my fat ass up hills for the full length of Britain with the same lack of style which had seen me fail to complete some organised rides with friends during 2013 would have been no fun whatsoever.

On reflection I should have done a bit more training
I did ride around for 8 miles on the morning of Thursday 4th to check the saddle height, and to check the bike was in full working order after its service, but you can't really call that training.

Also, I did think briefly about not going to Penzance to start the ride, but I hate not getting value for money out of stuff, so off I went on Thursday 4th on a never-ending train journey from Leeds to Penzance, which seemed fine until it got to Exeter, but then seemed to last about another 5 days before getting to Cornwall.

It maybe wasn't exactly an inspired decision on my part to elongate the trip by a day and 56 miles to cycle down to Lizard Point on Friday 5th, so that I could claim some extra brownie points for going to the UK mainland's most southerly point, but I did that too.

I thought I looked a bit sheepish at Lizard Point - probably a bit of apprehension for what lie ahead
Even being a day early, I nearly missed the start of the actual ride by mis-reading the instructions and sitting around in front of Penzance Youth Hostel on Saturday afternoon, instead of meeting everyone at the train station, but in the end I found everyone.  I met Chris, got a Garmin device from him with a purple line on it, strapped it to my bike and proceeded to follow it for around 1000 miles, only stopping when he was parked up at the roadside waving.

Hey look the van is parked up - we better stop and mill around!
Some people who I met on the trip wrote daily blog posts about each day's events as they happened, but as I mostly spent my evenings eating 3 course dinners and / or hanging around in the room I shared with my room-mate Erwan, updating Facebook and Strava and eating as many biscuits as I could find.  As a result my blog is more an overview of the trip as a whole.  Or to put it another way, this is pretty much all the stuff I can remember...I thought I might do it in sort of bullet form, hopefully this might make me look more competent.  Also, because I'm such a fan of numberology (or whatever it's called), I like the symmetry of 18 days, 18 riders and now 18 bullet points.

You think you're almost there when you reach Scotland - but you're not!
1) The riders - who the hell were they?

There weren't any official groups.  Technically, it was every man or woman for themselves!  But sometimes it's good to ride in a group.  It can stop you going nuts.  Or it can cause you to go nuts, it probably depends how tired you are.

A team talk from Chris in Haworth - basically he was telling us to get a move on!
a) The club riders - There were 5 of them.  4 of them were from Lancashire, there were two couples Phil and Emily (technically Scottish), and Mike and Lucy.  And then there was Peter, a printer of labels and former bank manager from Nottingham.  This group set off early every day, rode in a proper bunch on the road like they knew what they were doing, they took turns on the front, stopped at all the tea shops, went off the route on occasions to visit new babies or meet relatives for lunch, but still arrived early every day.  I've no idea how old the 4 lancashires were, but Peter was 72, even though he looked much younger.  They all did.

Phil, Lucy, Mike, Emily, Ray and Peter - I rarely saw them.  They were too fast
b) The sightseers - Lindsay and Cathy, a couple from Vancouver in Canada.  Again these guys were super fast, they stopped to take millions of pictures every day, they stopped at all the tea stops, they sometimes went off route to find viewpoints and stone circles, and yet they still arrived hours before me every day.

Canada on the left there - Barney, Lindsay and Cathy - Very, very fast, lucky to see them stationary
c) The late, late breakfast show - There were 3 of these.  They got up late, or at least packed their bags late, ate huge breakfasts, went the long way round to places, but then sometime during the day they would come screaming past you like a trio of hotel seeking missiles.

PJ heading at some velocity to the Velocity Cafe in Inverness
The group consisted of a Frenchman (PJ, 50 years old), Erwan, a Malaysian 5th year medical student at Aberdeen University (and also my room-mate), aged 23, who sounded Welsh but wasn't, at least his name did, and who was on the trip to do some medical research into the flab content and eating habits of long distance cyclists, sometimes he would come at you without warning with a pair of calipers trying to grab spare bits of flab, and one of my favourite bits of the whole trip was when he fell out of bed into his own suitcase, something which I am so glad I saw.

Barney 5 breakfasts, Erwan, Jackie and Jack
Then there was Barney, another Canadian (aged 69 and a cycling buddy of Cathy and Lindsay's).  I first met Barney on the first Friday night in the youth hostel in Penzance, and it was one of those awkward scenarios where lots of strange men were sharing a bedroom together and sort of averting their eyes and grunting at each other, and he really broke the ice by getting everyone talking, and I thought that was great.  Later in the trip I inwardly started referring to him as Barney 5 breakfasts, because he would demolish anything in his path at breakfast, but he was just loading up for the day with the requisite calories to get him through to the first cake stop 2 hours later.

The slow group entering Scotland (very slowly)
d) - The slow group.  Unsurprisingly perhaps, I was in this group.  The 4 resident slowies were Bob, a retired hotelier from Southport (65), Me (currently a mere 46), Linda, a librarian from Loughborough (never asked her age, not polite)  and Ray (67), a retired middle school maths and IT teacher from Connecticut, USA.  We set off as soon and as fast as we could every day, didn't stop anywhere for long, completely missed some stops to get the miles in, plodded along steadily, rarely took photographs, ate on the bike, literally ran in and out of the bushes if we needed to pee, and we still arrived later than anyone else.

Almost a peloton - Me, Jack, Ray, Bob, PJ and Linda
I was sort of the leader of this group, but it was all a big accident.  Trying to get out of Exeter at the start of Day 4 I was the most confident at reading the satnav, and so I went in front just to get us out of the city.  I stayed there for around 14 days, until we left Lairg in Scotland, after that there was only one road to go on, and I didn't figure they needed a leader anymore, so I just rode off as fast as I could, not even stopping pedalling for long enough to eat a cheese sandwich, which I ate one handed whilst riding.  Also, I wanted to be the first to the hotel for once that day (I failed, but only just, I came second after Bob).

Outside the Crask Inn - just about to make a break for it
e) - The expendables, also known as Terminator 1 and Terminator 2, because they could not be stopped, ever.
There were two of them.  Smiling Jack Glaze, 78 from Las Vegas, a former commercial pilot and racing motorcyclist.  A lone wolf, he'd have a protein shake for breakfast, he had to be persuaded to take meal breaks, he'd ride A roads if he could get away with it, he sometimes crashed, occasionally got hit by trucks (glancing blows only), he would fall into nettles, and if he cut himself, he would bleed a lot because of the blood thinning medication he was on.  I hardly spoke to him until Derbyshire, taking him for a man of few words, but once he started speaking, he was a great storyteller.  This was his second attempt at Lejog, he'd abandoned his last one on the first full day after crashing into a wall.

Jack, having got much further north than on his first attempt
My dad, who I barely knew and who died in 1974 aged 40 was also called Jack, and Day 14 of this trip would have been his 80th birthday, if he'd lived.  I don't often think about my dad these days, and it's hard to explain why, but there was something about riding around spending time with Jack Glaze, and him telling me about going riding with his son, made me wonder what I'd been missing all these years.

Me and Bob - a nice way to spend my dad's 80th birthday
This particular Jack left his hearing aids at one of the hotels on around Day 5, and he had about 10 days without them.  Sometimes he'd ask me to keep an eye on him, because he'd been up all night short of magnesium, and then while I watched him, he'd go off against the flow of the traffic through some temporary lights and try and get wiped out by a mobile home and that sort of thing, but mostly we got on well.  Also, I did try very hard to persuade him not to commit suicide by riding down the A9 dual carriageway over the Drumochter Pass, but I think he just thought I was being soft, even though he did relent and go on the cycle path instead.

Jack wondering what he's doing on a cycle path, when there's a perfectly good motorway next door
The other Terminator was Jackie, from Maryland (somewhere near Baltimore I think, again I never asked her age) She would mostly set off last, ride slowly and alone the whole day, hardly ever stopping.  She would generally arrive last at all the hotels, and she sometimes would fall off, due to not being able to unclip from the pedals, but again, like Jack, she absolutely refused to give in.  She once said to me that her family thought she was nuts for doing the ride, and that she was starting to agree with them.
When I first saw Jack and Jackie, after they'd only done the few miles to Land's End, I thought they looked worn out then, and that they'd never make it to John o' Groats.  But they really showed me!

Me, PJ, Jack and Jackie - Just been for a curry in Stirling on our day off
f) - The went home earlys.  Sadly, there were a couple of withdrawals from the tour in the first few days.  Mike and Dave, aged 64 and 70 respectively.  Dave had sustained an arm injury the week before the tour and his arm really swelled up on Day 4, and Mike decided on Day 3, that he didn't feel able to continue.  I was sad to see both of them go, because in the first few days of the tour, they'd both been great company, and I would have liked to get to know them better.

Mike (second left) and Dave (right) - shame they went home early
Don't imagine that these groups were completely rigid.  We didn't stay within them the whole time, but it's just to give you an idea.  There was a certain fluidity.  Sometimes Bob would go blazing off the front of the slow group, sometimes Erwan or PJ would ride with the slow group, sometimes Jack would get sick of all the minor roads and head down a trunk road like a Premier Inn-seeking missile, like at Sidcot on Day 4, when he was there about 2 hours before everyone.

Am I lost?
2) Route finding / mapping.
At Penzance Chris gave each of us a Garmin devices with all the routes programmed in.  The routes were tried and tested and all we had to do was follow a purple line for about 1000 or so miles, making sure not to go under the wheels of any lorries while we were watching these little TVs.  Apart from changing the batteries, and almost going under a couple of buses in Exeter and up a one way street in Inverness, I never had a problem for the whole trip, and I would definitely recommend this way of navigating.  The routes had been honed by Chris over many previous trips and amazing how we managed to circumnavigate big towns and cities without going into them.  ie Bristol, Carlisle, Huddersfield etc.  Also, watching the line allowed you to anticipate turns ahead of time, instead of having to wait to read the signs at the junction.

If I thought Devon would be easier than Cornwall, I was sorely mistaken
3) Meals
Almost all the breakfasts and evening meals were included in the price of the trip.  The meals in the hotels were on the whole excellent.  We got a 3 course dinner every evening.  Again to cut down on choice and thinking time, I got used to ordering the same thing pretty much every day.
This is basically what I ate for the whole trip.  I generally averaged around 5 meals a day.

Lunch at the Polka Dot cafe in Langsett
a) Breakfast.  Muesli or weetabix with orange juice and coffee followed by eggs, bacon, sausage, mushrooms.  No toast.  Never toast.  Mostly I didn't really want a cooked breakfast, but I did a lot of 'just in case' eating on the trip, where I ate just in case I might run out of energy later in the day.  Breakfasts went pretty smoothly, except for in Boat of Garten where they refused to give us any eggs and in Tain where they had run out of gas to cook things on.  Also, the motorway services at Abington wasn't the greatest start to a day, but hey ho!

Hey Linda, someone has accidentally given me some fruit, do you want it?
b) Mid morning coffee stop.  Coffee and a cake or a scone, and a can of Sprite for the sugar.  Apple pie if available, and if not victoria sponge

A perfectly balanced diet of sugar and caffeine, with a token strawberry for good measure
c) Lunch.  Cheese and pickle or Prawn Marie Rose sandwich.  Occasionally a cheese and ham toastie.

Dining alfresco on the Monsal Trail in Derbyshire
d) Afternoon coffee stop.  Coffee and apple pie, with cream if available.

In Crieff I got a pancake so big I didn't know whether to eat it or use it as a spare wheel...
e) Evening meal.
Starter - Breaded mushrooms or prawn cocktail,
Main - Roast Lamb or meat pie or some sort of stew with veg.
Dessert - Apple pie or bread and butter pudding with custard.

Apple Pie at the Apple Pie Bakery in Carnwath - for some reason they gave me the cream in a teapot
Best meals.  Wetheral (really good lamb, and packed lunch for the next day), Pitlochry (really good meat pie), Tain, really good lamb.  Youlgreave.  Sausage and mash excellent.
The excellent food in the youth hostel at Youlgreave made up somewhat for the Liliputian beds, as did the young man Ash on reception who did my laundry for free!  The stairs in Youlgreave on the other hand were very steep, and made you realise how destroyed your legs were.
Worst meal.  Abington (chewy shoe leathery meat pie and the world's worst ever custard)

Minions - those of you who were at Edale with me will get the reference to Candy Wars, this time I wasn't dressed as a woman
4) A word about BARS!  And by this I mean cycling specific energy bars.  I sometimes think these things are a giant con by their creators.  Our grandparents used to cycle to Blackpool and back in a day on a glass of lemonade and a jam sandwich, and now we don't think we can get to the end of the road without ingesting a sugar factory.  These new bars are so dense they need capital letters, and they take so much effort to chew you need to eat one, just to be able to eat one.  Some of them are so sticky you could break your thumbs and teeth just getting them out of the packets.  One of them was so stretchy I nearly strangled myself with it trying to break a bit off.  When Mike left on Day 3, he left a big red bag full of dried fruit and energy bars.  But it was like eating the stuff that you hang out for the birds.  Not sure anyone was eating them, just passing them round trying to get rid of them.  I kept buying Boost and Wispa bars instead, and carrying the same bird food BARS round but not eating them.  Then about 10 days in Peter gave me 4 with extra magnesium.  Not sure what that was for.  Someone said to cure cramps.  But I don't get cramps on a bike!

Going up Fleet Moss near Hawes the easy way (allegedly) - No cramps but definitely some thigh pain
5) Ways in which we were very, very lucky on the trip.
a) The weather.  We were incredibly lucky with this.  We had 20 minutes of rain in 17 days.  I got my raincoat out 3 times and 2 of those were an over-reaction.  The third one I dried out in 10 minutes sat in my room in Bettyhill.  I never got properly wet once.  We had more rain on the 2 hour bus ride back to Inverness after the ride had finished than we did on the entire ride.

Here's me being very, very lucky, but possibly not realising it at the time
b) The bike.  Not a thing went wrong with it.  Not even a dodgy gear change.  Apart from blowing up the tyres and lubing the chain once in a while I didn't need to touch it.  I never got an Allen key out once.

c) I didn't fall down any holes, or run into any walls, or fall off my bike at all, or skid off on any bad descents, or fall down any cattle grids, or get hit by any trucks, buses or cars.  Considering the thousands of junctions we had to negotiate on the route, the whole thing was amazingly incident free (except for Jack).

The Road to Drumochter - I told them it was easy, but it really wasn't
6) Things which I hadn't expected.
The 3 americans had rearview mirrors sticking off the front of their helmets that made them look like they'd been assimilated by the Borg.

I didn't bother with a rear view mirror - I just kept looking behind me.  It seemed to work okay.
Almost everyone on the trip was much older than they looked.
I didn't expect to see the lost pyramid of Crask, looming out of the skyline in front of me as I descended from the Crask Inn.  Properly looming it was.  

The lost pyramid of Crask - I just came round the corner and there it was
I expected much more in the way of empty roads in Scotland, but even after Lairg there was still a lot of traffic, mostly Germans in motorhomes, but continually having to pull over on the single track road got on my nerves a bit, as I expected complete wilderness.
I didn't expect to hear such a vast difference in regional accents, within such a small distance.  Like one side of the Severn Bridge they were proper West Country, and then on the other side, they had fully Welsh accents.
I didn't expect to feel as if my thigh muscles had been shot by tranquiliser darts pretty much every day after Day 2.  Going up the steep youth hostel steps at Youlgreave repeatedly was especially painful.  I expected to ride myself fitter by around Day 5, but I imagine that will kick in in about a week's time, when the soreness has worn off.

Hey Bob, how do we get out of Lairg without being run over by German camper vans?
7) The necessity for equilibrium.  Fighting to keep things in balance.
I found it hard every day to get the balance right between keeping moving and stopping.  At first I picked this up from Chris.  Near the Severn Bridge he was giving us the hurry up and it seemed like we were naughty schoolchildren just for trying to take a quick photo and have a pee, but we had a bloody long way to go that day, and keeping moving was important.  I started getting called Mini Chris because I also was saying 'Never mind looking at stuff, we need to keep moving', but there was a constant and ongoing trade off between looking at stuff, stopping to eat, and getting the miles in.  Especially after we were christened the slow group at Chepstow, this played on my mind all the more.
I found it psychologically a lot more difficult on the days which were closer to 70 miles.  50 mile days with 25 miles before lunch and 25 after seemed okay but days with 30 before and 40 miles after lunch were mentally tough.

Here's me and my most excellent room-mate Erwan - possibly the easiest person in the world to share a room with
8) The importance of downtime.  It was a great trip but not always because of the cycling.  Sometimes the cycling felt like something to be got out of the way, so I could have a sit down.  I loved spending time with the group at the evening meals, and I also liked sitting around in mine and Erwan's room, drinking coffee and eating biscuits upon arrival.  But it made such a difference getting to the hotels early.  The days we got there closer to 4 or 5 pm were so much more relaxing than those where we got there nearer to 6 or 7.  In some ways, the actual cycling became incidental.  A lot of the best times I've had on bike rides I've done in the past were the not moving parts.  I found the same thing with learning to run again.  The best part of the running is the part after you stop, but you need to run first to get that feeling.

That was another factor which added pressure to the feeling of wanting to keep moving, because I knew I could get more free time if I spent less time on the road.  I guess I was just trying to retain my equilibrium.  A lot of the time I would drink coffee and eat biscuits instead of doing my laundry, or getting an early shower, but the sitting around was incredibly valuable to me.

Here's me at Monsal Head near Sheffield, trying to retain my sense of balance
Maybe I didn't want to spend much time sightseeing because I've been to a lot of places on the route before.  I particularly felt like this in the South West, which is a very touristy place, with lots of cars.  On occasions when I've been there before it was much more relaxing, ie Charlestown sitting having coffee.  This time I was impatient to get through it.  I certainly didn't want to go to Symonds Yat, whatever the hell that is.  I saw loads of those little semi circular signs indicating viewpoints, but if I couldn't see the view from the road, I just kept riding.

I only photographed this signpost because Bob had stopped to repair a puncture
9) Memories.  For the last couple of days of the trip and especially in the area before and after the Crask Inn, I thought often about my friend Alan who died earlier this year.  He always spoke with great enthusiasm about cycling in Scotland and I remember chatting to him about his own Jogle trip of a few years ago.  It made me sad to think he's no longer with us, but also it was nice to finally reach some of the places I'd talked about with him.  As I mentioned before, sometimes my thoughts also drifted back to my dad, especially on Day 14, which would have been his 80th birthday.  Because my mum's been ill too recently, I often thought about her, and how she's doing, and sometimes I got annoyed with myself for not appreciating more the good health I'm currently enjoying which has enabled me to go on the trip in the first place.  But like I said, sometimes it became more of a hard slog than a holiday, and it's sometimes hard to appreciate things at a time when they're stretching you physically.

Shotts - home of the world's worst toilet, and coincidentally home of the 8 item £2.99 breakfast
10) Lowlights.  Shotts, the home of the 8 item £2.99 breakfast was also the home of the world's worst toilet.  Going into that cubicle was the worst 30 seconds of the whole trip.  Route 74 was pretty bad too, for the 50 or so bone shaking miles before and after Lockerbie, where I felt that all my bones had been hit with a hammer.  Revisiting the Lockerbie memorial again made me a little annoyed for taking the whole trip so seriously, reminding me as it did, in the words of my friend Graeme, that it's only a bike ride, and therefore not very important at all.

The Lockerbie Memorial - reminded me it was only a bike ride
11) Extras, bonus features.  I never really understood the concept of Land's End to John o' Groats.  I guess it's because they're the two most distant inhabited places on the British mainland, rather than the places furthest north or south.  So just to make doubly sure I also went to Lizard Point and Dunnet Head too.  It did sort of annoy me at time that all the signs say Land's End and John o' Groats are 874 miles apart, because we did over 1000 miles to get there.

Lizard Point - Just to make sure
12) Best bits.  The best bits of the trip all revolved around the people I was on the trip with, the laughing together, the being in it together.  Mutual support counts for a lot when you're knackering yourself day after day.  I enjoyed messing around near the Welcome to Scotland sign with everyone, and I also enjoyed sitting up till 11 pm every night with Erwan, laughing and talking and refusing to go to sleep even though more rest would have been useful as we recalled all the funny things that had happened each day.

Here's me having fun - notice I'm not on a bike!
13) Absurdity, bizarre things you couldn't make up.
One day as I was riding through a part of Scotland that time seemed to have forgotten, where the price structure of cafes and shops were still at 1970s levels and just after visiting the world's worst toilet in Shotts, I found myself riding along with two deaf Americans with a combined age of 145, one from Las Vegas and one from Connecticut, one whose hearing aids were stuck somewhere in the Derbyshire postal system, the other with an artificial heart valve which meant that his heartbeat could keep you awake at night, both on blood thinning meds, and just as I was mentally going through the scenario of calling an ambulance if anything happened to one of them, one of them indeed did bounce off the side of a passing bin lorry.  And I remember thinking, this sort of thing doesn't happen to me every day.

Lunch in Ludlow - a very nice place which I saw only very briefly
14) Places we passed through all too briefly and which looked great, and which I wish we'd had longer there.  Tavistock, Chepstow, Hereford, Ludlow, Ironbridge, Ross-on-Wye, Much Wenlock, Youlgreave, Haworth.

Pretending to race Erwan up the cobbles in Haworth
In fact, Shropshire was one of the few places I got excited about on the trip and maybe I'll go back there when I'm not in such a rush.  Although I enjoyed the later parts of Scotland, there wasn't anywhere I enjoyed as much as the West Coast islands I've been to, ie Jura, Islay and Mull, and I enjoyed the cycling more there too, so if anything it inspired me to go back there instead.

Ironbridge, with its Iron Bridge - who knew?
15) Best bits - Part Two (I seem to be repeating myself here, probably just to use up another bullet point).  Hereford by the river bank, all of Shropshire.  Messing around by the Scotland sign at Gretna, and then again at Dunnet Head.  The gravestone like sign is not roped off like at John o' Groats, and if anything it was a nicer experience.  The long coffee stop in Haworth, and pretending to race Erwan up the street.  Generally having Erwan as a room-mate.

Hereford - a rare bit of tranquility by the river bank
16) Things I did stop for.  Carrbridge, Drumochter Summit, Big pyramid near Crask, Ironbridge.

Carrbridge - if you want to know where the name comes from, there's a clue behind me
I got a bit of stick off the group, and got called Mini Chris on occasions for giving the slow group the hurry up, but sometimes there were things I just had to stop for.

Looking a bit wind burned at the Drumochter Summit - and where I argued with Jack about going on the A9
17) Value for money.  Was it?  Yes, completely.  Including rail travel to Penzance and back from Inverness, 21 nights accommodation, almost every breakfast and a 3 course evening meal most days, a couple of Premier Inns and hostels but mostly very nice hotels, the whole trip cost less than £2000.  It sounds a lot of money if you say it in one lump, but if you consider what you got for it it was absolutely well worth it.  I probably spent around another £250-£300 on lunches and drinks and bars of chocolate on the trip but I would have spent a good proportion of that at home.

Kingussie - pronounced Kinnoosie - I learned that from watching Slumdog Millionaire
18) Data
Including the extra day going to Lizard Point I cycled 1094.1 miles in total, and the time I spent cycling (while the bike was actually moving) was 102 hours 33 minutes 21 seconds, which gave me an average speed of 10.7 mph.  It's a good thing my luggage was in a van, if I'd been carrying it myself, I'd still be out there now, somewhere in Scotland.

Somewhere in Scotland - actually it's in Pitlochry
Recording the data on Strava as I went along became a matter of urgent importance, and I was very lucky that after trying and failing to get the hotel computer at Lostwithiel to work on Day 2, for every night after that (when wi-fi allowed it) Erwan let me use his laptop to upload and log my miles.  Most days, even as I was riding along, in my mind, the whole purpose of each day was to get to the hotel and log the miles.  Because if they weren't logged, then they didn't happen!

The slow group doing some climbing - very slowly
There was also a huge fascination with the amount of climbing we did on the trip, and there was some debate about the actual figures.  According to my Garmin the total climbing for the trip was 59,959 feet (shame I didn't find another 41 feet somewhere to round it up to 60,000), but the Canadians for example recorded over 72,000 feet of climbing on largely the same route, so I don't know which figure is most accurate.  Maybe they were just taller and riding out of the saddle on the climbs, therefore reaching higher up into space than me, and closer to the satellites.  Who knows?

I've always wanted to go to Ecclefechan - just for the name alone
Since I got home, I've only seen one weather forecast on the TV, and that was by accident, but I did look at the map of Britain somewhat differently than I have before.  I wouldn't say I feel a huge sense of accomplishment yet about doing the trip, because in some ways it all seems a bit unreal, almost like I was having an out of body experience for 3 weeks.  Maybe that's why I wanted to have so many pictures of myself to remember it by, just to prove that I was actually there, and that I went through all those places.

Chepstow - see I did go to Wales, even if it was only for a bit
I didn't just ride from one end of Britain to the other, through England and Scotland and through a little bit of Wales, I also rode across the seasons.  I rode out of the back of the summer and into the beginnings of autumn.  I went from temperatures at the start where I could have fried an egg on my own head, to temperatures near the end where I needed something to keep my neck warm.

John o' Groats - trying to keep my neck warm
I often used to say on the trip, and I wasn't entirely joking, that doing Land's End to John o' Groats is a way of travelling the whole length of Britain without actually seeing any of it, and at times that's what it felt like.  Mostly I was looking at the satnav, to see where the next junction was.

In some ways, with these kind of challenges, they seem not so much like things you want to do but rather things that you want to have done so that you can look back on them from the comfort of a future armchair and say that you once did them.

I didn't go to Hope, but seeing the sign reminded me of the time I did go to Hope in Derbyshire with Emily Lee where I tried on Robocop's legs in the park and came back to life at Summer Camp
But choose your audience wisely, and be prepared for those occasions, when some people, particularly non-cyclists, greet your story with complete apathy, because they have no frame of reference for what you've done, no idea what it's like out there, and to even take a bike 3 miles to the shops is as foreign a concept as cycling the length of Britain.

The End - catching the bus back to Inverness from John o' Groats
When my friend Graeme rode his 10 day Lejog in 2009, solo and unsupported, and doing his own map reading, mostly sleeping in hostels, and having to find his own food etc, I remember being amazed at what he'd achieved, as I was when I was talking to Sarah Herbert in June about her 9 day Jogle.  Although she did it in a group, it all sounded gruelling and mad and almost impossible.  And now I've done it myself, in almost double the time, I'm even more impressed by both of them than I was before.  And by anyone else who's done it.

Slochd Summit - so low it's hardly worth a sign
Because even though I chose to ride Land's End to John o' Groats in the easiest possible way I could think of, with everything except the pedalling taken care of, I still had to do the pedalling part.

And as I found out on when I was crossing Dartmoor on Day 3 (which was the hardest day of the whole ride) and I was overtaken by a load of people who looked like they were on Raleigh Shoppers, but who turned out to be on electric bikes, for me, even though it was the only part I did, the pedalling part was hard enough.


  1. Well done Jonathan. This is something you've achieved that cannot be taken away from you, sure it is only a bike ride, but it is only a bike ride from one end of the country to the other... a darn long bike ride. There will be moments which will come back to you for years to come.

    So.... you've done the country width-ways and now length ways. All that is left are the two rides:

    1. Lowestoft Ness to Ardnamurchan Point.
    2. The coastal "round Britain" 5000 mile tour.

    Once again; well done!

    1. Oh, now you see, there you go again Graeme, giving me ideas! My legs haven't even recovered from the last 3 weeks, and now I'm looking at possible routes from Ardnamurchan to Lowestoft...I'm just going for a lie down in a dark room for a bit..

    2. Excellent, Jonathan, EXCELLENT! For me, your writing is the epitome of British humor - an art form. I'm so glad to have been able to meet you and the others. Thanks,

      Ray in Connecticut, USA

    3. Thank you Ray! You're a real gentleman and it was a pleasure to ride with you every day. Everything about the cycling you took in your stride, and you responded to our sometimes strange British ways with good grace and humour, even if you sometimes got a raw deal service-wise in some of our eating establishments. It was great to meet you, and to have the chance to get to know you. Thank you.

  2. Thank you, Jonathan for a great account of the experience that we shared. Your participation went way beyond "just pedaling", Your positive attitude and your humour were a great asset to us all, and your writing will be there to remind us of the times we enjoyed long after our muscles have stopped aching. Here's hoping that we will meet again someday on another crazy adventure. Best wishes, Barney in Vancouver

  3. Thanks Barney! I don't remember being all that positive on the trip, particularly about the cycling, so it's good that you thought of me that way! It was great to meet you, and I think having a wide range of nationalities on the trip helped to make it such a great experience. I hope all goes well with your house move, and with your future cycling! Keep powering up those hills!

  4. Very nicely written and entertaining article, thanks.