John o'Groats to Land's End in 14 days
John o'Groats to Land's End in 14 days
It was reading other people’s cycling blogs that inspired me to have a go myself. I had never cycled further than a day ride before, so in hindsight, taking on a solo unsupported fourteen day End-to-End as a first tour may have seemed reckless.
I decided to start at John o’Groats in late September and work my way to Lands’ End using a mixture of main roads and cycle tracks. The summer was spent route-planning, reading more cycling blogs and going for increasingly longer day rides.
The day of departure arrived and I found myself cycling across London, in the dark, to catch the sleeper train to Inverness. The adventure had begun.
The following afternoon I cycled the 16 miles from Wick to the start point in John o’Groats. There were many wind farms along the coast and I took this as an indicator of the likely weather conditions. It was certainly very windy the next morning as I set off on the journey proper. I made a detour to Dunnet Head, the most northerly point of mainland Britain. At this point, as the crow flies, I was 57 miles closer to the Arctic Circle than my eventual destination in Cornwall, and the sense of remoteness was overwhelming. I pressed on westwards into increasingly stronger headwinds. No-one said this would be easy.
I’m glad I had pre-booked B&B accommodation for each night. This gave me a target to hit each day and avoided any temptation to cut a day short. On the second day I took a mostly single-track road from Bettyhill to Bonar Bridge and saw fewer than 20 cars all day. Both the weather and the hills made the first few days tough, but any discomfort was more than compensated for by the views. Scotland is truly beautiful and 10mph is just about the optimal speed to experience it.
Looking back, this trip was a long way out of my comfort zone but I am so glad I did it. The sense of adventure and self-sufficiency reminded me how I felt as a 10-year old, cycling off into the Northumberland hills near my home. I would encourage anyone who has considered a similar venture but still has doubts, just to start planning and going for longer rides."
Walter Wright, CTC member
My route took me over the Cairngorms and the Drumochter Pass which was the highest point of the journey. The cycle path alongside the A9 was fine for my hybrid with its wider tyres but would have challenged a road bike. I pressed on through Pitlochry and Edinburgh where I had a hotel booked in the city centre. Coming off the Forth Road Bridge I felt I was almost at my destination, so was somewhat disappointed to see a sign indicating it was “only” ten miles to Edinburgh. There was a good network of cycle paths into the centre but I still managed to get lost. I didn’t mind – it was all part of the adventure. It felt slightly strange being back in a city again after the wildness of the Scottish Highlands.
Day seven was the 1 October and with the new month came a new country as I crossed the border into England. I felt I had broken the back of the trip and started to feel a lot more confident about completing the ride. I rode over Shap Fell which is much easier going from North to South. After the peak there is an eleven mile downhill ride into Kendal. I don’t think I pedalled once and arrived at the B&B with a huge smile across my face. I reminded myself that days like today are what cycle touring is all about.
The next few days were relatively flat as I made my way down the Welsh border via Hereford, and crossed the Severn Estuary by way of the old Severn Bridge. Possibly the strangest event of the tour occurred towards the end of day 11. I was on the Strawberry Line which is an old converted railway line just north of Axbridge. The path goes through the Shute Shelve Tunnel which is a few hundred yards long and very dark. A couple of young girls flagged me down before I entered and said there was something in the tunnel making noises. It turned out to be a goat, which proceeded to chase another cyclist who had just overtaken me. I’m glad I had stopped otherwise that might have been me!
The final push through Devon and Cornwall was tough. The hills seemed relentless and the weather returned to being wet and windy. It was still very enjoyable though, and interesting to compare the landscape with the flatter sections of England and the hills of Scotland. I knew I had only two days left and I had mixed feelings about wanting to keep riding but at the same time having a strong desire to reach my destination.
It was about 5:30 when I reached the Lands’ End Visitor Centre in the middle of a downpour, but accompanied by a huge sense of achievement.
What worked for me?
* I’m glad I planned and booked each day’s destination, and plotted the routes using a Garmin Oregon GPS.
* My Claud Butler hybrid bike was equally happy on roads or cycle tracks.
* I used a Topeak MTX trunk bag which has foldout panniers. They are by no means full size but adequate for a B&B tour. I supplemented this with an Ortlieb bar bag.
* I bought a Pak-a-Jak waterproof jacket and Sealskinz waterproof socks in Crediton but I wish I’d had them for the whole journey.
What would I do differently?
* I would reduce the daily mileage to have more time for sight-seeing.
For further advice or to order the CTC End to End pack (it is free if you are a CTC Member), please contact us on 0844 736 8450. There is also a very detailed and popular Land's End to John o'Groats thread on the CTC Forum that should also be very useful.
Walter Wright is a CTC member who lives in Berkshire. He joined the CTC about 5 years ago to learn more about cycle touring and explore the many resources available through the club.