What I did on my holidays – Land’s End to John O’Groats

I recently got home from a fortnight of cycling from Land’s End to John O’Groats, and wrote this ride report for Islington Cycling Club’s forum – cross-posting it in case others are interested, and to slot in more photos

Probably my favourite thing about the trip was seeing the countryside changing on the way up the country – sharp Cornish hills to rolling Welsh landscape to bleak Scottish wilderness, with different birds and different plants. I don’t think we could have chosen a better time of year for it – the hedgerows were packed with flowers, the fields were full of lambs, calves and foals, and there weren’t too many midges in Scotland. And (apart from torrential rain in Cheshire, hail in Cumbria and headwinds all the way up Scotland) we mainly got really lucky with the weather.

I did it with my friend Sam and I’d recommend it to anyone – there are so many different ways to approach it which would turn into a different sort of trip, and we met people who were doing it with very different levels of fitness, on very different routes, with very different amounts of kit, from lads smashing it over seven days on fast roads with a support car, to pensioners on organised tours taking it easy over three weeks.

We spent a fortnight so that we could take a 1,050 mile route on quiet lanes averaging 80 miles a day (rather than the 850 mile direct route), carry our own stuff (in bikepacking bags on road bikes) and stop to look at the view, rather than trying to set any records. I’d gladly do it again more slowly so that I could camp, or faster in a bigger bunch, or via a different route to see different places, or even just at a different time of year.

One of my main reasons for doing the trip was to see which bits of the country I’d like to explore more – highlights were Cornwall (so pretty, which made up for it being basically all either up or down steep hills) and Shropshire (lovely roads, beautiful scenery, rolling hills). The Forest of Bowland in Lancashire was great – long, steady climbs on deserted roads up to brilliant views. And then the road up through Sutherland and Caithness in Scotland was amazing – it’s a really uncanny, huge landscape, and there’s nothing there – what gets called a village on the map is often just a single house. I’m already thinking about when I can get back to those places for long weekends later this year.

Three things I learned: first, I know I ought to know this already, but on trips like this my mood is almost entirely governed by blood-sugar levels, and my legs carry on for much longer than my equanimity. There were at least two moments where although I seemed to have enough energy to carry on cycling I just felt like the world was going to end, everything I’d ever done was a failure and I’d certainly die alone. And then I had some sugary tea and a slice of cake and everything seemed alright again. I got better at eating enough as I went along, but it took real effort.

Second, I wish I’d done a shorter trip – perhaps a long weekend – with my luggage and bike setup before I set off for a fortnight. I didn’t really get on with the Apidura bag I used – it was a pain to get on and off the bike, which meant I couldn’t access stuff in it during the day, and the clips were a bit flimsy. Luckily Sam was using a Carradice, so I carried some of his clothes to free up space for him to carry food and my wet- and cold weather layers. The Carradice weighed more, but next time I think I’d suck that up for more convenience.

And third – the third day was dreadful! Lots of people had said it would be, because I would be tired, but not yet fittened up or in the routine of riding every day. We’d planned a 100 mile day for that day, and it was grim. I think Sam and I were both almost ready to just catch the train straight home. Sitting in the garden of a bad pub on a horrible a-road outside Bristol under a gazebo in the rain was a very low ebb. I obviously looked as bad as I felt, since – without prompting – the barman brought me a bowl of smarties and biscuits with my coffee. I wish we’d shifted a bit of that distance to later in the trip once we’d hit our stride. Still, an adventure has got to have low points, right?

The two best things I packed were a bar of Vanish clothes-washing soap (small, and really good for handwashing lycra) and a massage ball (not as good as a foam roller, but nearly). Also, special thanks to Gatorskins for no punctures despite some pretty dreadful road surfaces and at least a mile of gravel a day. And if anyone ever finds themselves in need of a bike shop in Blackburn, Ewood Bikes were brilliant.

Overall, it was a great trip, and I can’t wait for the next!

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Packing – 17 litres of stuff to last a fortnight. Took two things I didn’t use – a kindle (too tired in the evening for reading) and a down gilet (we got lucky with the weather)
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The fellow cyclist who took a pic of us at Land’s End was not a brilliant photographer…
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St Michael’s Mount
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Flower-lined lanes. This was basically the whole of Cornwall.
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Luxalyan Viaduct – on a traffic-free, well-paved bike path
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A bit more of Cornwall’s lanes being lovely
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Treffrey Viaduct, Cornwall
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Mercy snacks from the barman when it all got a bit bleak on day three
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Crossing the Severn on the old bridge, which has a bike path next to the road
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Tintern Abbey
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Forest of Bowland, Lancashire – definitely one of my top three bits on the trip
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At the top of Mull, with Arran in the background. Just after getting the ferry from Lochranza to Claonaig
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Distracting myself from the fact that Cumbria was very weather-y (hail, rain, wind) by practicing taking rolling selfies
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Looking over at the Isle of Seil, Scotland
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Castle Stalker, Scotland
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Scotland just generally being stunning
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Heading north through Sutherland, Scotland
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Mist rolling off the hills in Sutherland, Scotland. Photo doesn’t do it justice.
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This is the A-road through Sutherland to Caithness – single-lane with passing places. I loved this bit of the trip.
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Made it!

 

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