NP LEJOG 2016

A brief account of my Land’s End to John o’ Groats End-to-End cycle, in April 2016, over 17 days. Photos on Flickr.

Land's End to John o' Groats

Route

My route was based upon Alan Pewsey’s 15-day route, with some adjustments. Here are the destinations, a link to the routes on BikeMap.net, and the .GPX files I used:

to … miles ↑ ascent (m) ↓ descent (m) route
Day 1 Penzance - Land’s End - Treyarnon 72 1050 1090 BM, .GPX
Day 2 Okehampton 60 1060 890 BM, .GPX
Day 3 Wellington 49 780 890 BM, .GPX
Day 4 Bristol 59 640 660 BM, .GPX
Day 5 Welsh Bicknor 47 680 660 BM, .GPX
Day 6 Longville in the Dale 58 730 590 BM, .GPX
Day 7 Chester 55 240 400 BM, .GPX
Day 8 Garstang 68 390 390 BM, .GPX
Day 9 Penrith 58 680 580 BM, .GPX
Day 10 Lanark 97 730 690 BM, .GPX
Day 11 Lochranza 68 810 1020 BM, .GPX
Day 12 Oban 65 950 950 BM, .GPX
Day 13 Fort William 43 260 260 BM, .GPX
Day 14 Drumnadrochit 49 520 500 BM, .GPX
Day 15 Invershin 52 590 610 BM, .GPX
Day 16 Tongue 45 480 420 BM, .GPX
Day 17 Tongue - John o’ Groats - Wick 82 1160 1220 BM, .GPX

I added two days because (1) Cornwall and Devon were unexpectedly hard, so I shortened day 2 from 80 miles to 60, and (2) something loosened my seat and I got horrifyingly sore knees from an ill-positioned (too low, too far back) seat on day 5. I didn’t diagnose this until day 6, so cut day 5 short after Monmouth, which had knock-on effects.

Equipment

(Not an exclusive list, but all of this I recommend.)

Tips / confessions

Diary

In brief!

Day 0 (Friday, 1st April 2016)

Train to Penzance (bicycle must be pre-booked). Overnight in the grounds of YHA Penzance: heavy rain and complete darkness while pitching the tent, but the hostel has excellent facillities for cooking.

Day 1: Penzance - Land’s End - Treyarnon

Dash along the A30, before traffic became an issue, to Land’s End. Took the requisit photos using innocent bystanders, and then returned to Penzance along quieter, nicer, flatter roads. (This traffic-avoiding strategy worked well, though it was a Saturday.) CycleStreets, in its wisdom and infinite preference for quietness over accessibility, took me off-road, and the first-and-only puncture occurred soon after. A cold night in the grounds of YHA Treyarnon, with the sound of crashing waves.

Day 2: Treyarnon - Okehampton

At 5:15AM, into the hostel for warmth (and breakfast). The worst day began with a lovely 5 mile stretch from Padstow to Wadebridge along the Camel Trail (NCN 32). Then N toward Camelford, initially along the A39 - not pleasant to cycle; it was busy, even on this Sunday morning. Broke off toward St Mabyn and St Tudy, but the disadvantage of these narrow side-roads is the frequency of V-shaped valleys. Some heavy rain. An existential crisis at this point: rain; cold; hills. If there were any train stations in Devon, I possibly would have given up, around about here. Fortunately: there aren’t any. Back on the A39 through Camelford, then terriffic crosswinds across Davidstow Moor. Agonisingly slow progress along essentially flat terrain. Eventually it becomes more sheltered. Through Piper’s Pool, and an unscheduled big lunch at the White Horse Inn. The aim today was to reach a campsite just beyond Crediton, but I realised this was unrealistic. Booked Okehampton YHA in the pub. Fortunately the Easter holidays were ending, so availability not an issue. On to Okehampton; the last part along the excellent Granite Way, beside Dartmoor.

Day 3: Okehampton - Wellington

After posing the big panniers, and 7kg of equipment, home, a very short day, mostly just in case it was as awful as day 2. It wasn’t; I made good time and could have done more, especially considering the upcoming terrain.

Day 4: Wellington - Bristol

The first excellent day, both for route (NCN 3) and weather: beginning with miles of the Bridgwater and Taunton canal, and then across the windy Somerset Levels to the Mendips at Easton. A steep climb (Deerleap) with wonderful views. A reward-drink in the Queen Victoria in Priddy; met Suzanne, who gave lots of encouragement. More steep climbs over Chew and Dundry hills, and then accommodation and dinner with friends in Bristol.

Taunton canal

Day 5: Bristol - Welsh Bicknor

There’s a wide, cyclable pavement along the A4 (Portway) westwards out of Bristol, which takes you under the suspension bridge, and is worthwhile. However, the route to the Severn Bridge deteriorates after crossing under the M5, near Avonmouth: a really unpleasant industrial estate with currently little provision for cycling. If you’re comfortable with city cycling, I’d recommend going through the centre of Bristol instead, just to avoid this. From the Severn Bridge onwards I managed to give myself some horrific knee pain. At the time, I worried this was due to the previous day’s climbs. It put something of a damper on the really spectacular scenery of the Wye valley, and I went at about half-speed. Fortunately, the A466 was surprisingly quiet and from St Arvans, there were no difficult hills. I’d planned to reach Leominster today (and would have made it pretty easily, I think) but bailed out at YHA Wye Valley, just south of Goodrich.

Over the Severn Bridge 20160406-DSC_0088-4928 x 3264 20160406-Day 5 - out from Monmouth - DSC_0092_stitch-19585 x 2846

Day 6: Welsh Bicknor - Longville in the Dale

With knees worrying me, I’d cautiously planned a not-too-ambitious distance. I would bail out at Hereford if the knees were broken completely and I could never cycle again. At the top of a hill somewhere I had the bright idea to adjust my seat, and found it had slipped down and backwards nearly an inch each way. I had assumed, since adjusting it just before setting off, that it was fine. So: that was silly. The knees gave no more problems, after that. Wilderhope Manor is obscenely pleasant.

Day 7: Longville in the Dale - Chester

A fairly short, flat day in nice countryside. Although it’s pretty, in future I’d avoid Chester and perhaps try for accommodation in Liverpool; you can take a bicycle on the Mersey ferry – or go even further, since the terrain is near-flat all the way to Kendal (if you stay west of Bowland / Slaidburn).

Day 8: Chester to Garstang

I left Chester early. Lots of roadworks around the A557 approaching Runcorn. Not pleasant roads, but some cycle lanes and the roadworks gave me a traffic-free lane on what might have otherwise been awful. Had to hop a couple of fences, since the roads I wanted were closed. The A533 bridge over the Mersey was surprisingly pleasant. After Prescot, I was back in flat countryside. I had to retreat from an adamant farmer after a wrong turn through private land from the B5203, but later joined the A570, which until the M58 has a good segregated cycle lane alongside. Cycling beside the Preston canal was pretty (though not a smooth surface). I can recommend the Crofters Hotel in Garstang: they don’t have dedicated parking, but they happily let me store the bike indoors overnight, and seem to get a lot of us.

Day 9: Garstang to Penrith

Today spent almost entirely on the not-too-busy A6, except between Milnthorpe and Kendal. The diversion was worthwhile: amazing views of snow-capped hills to the north, just before Hincaster. Stop in Kendal to buy mint cake. After Kendal, the ascent of Shap Fell begins almost immediately. There are two false summits, although you can clearly see there’s more to come, so nothing to worry about. I could have reached Carlisle today, but the hostel made this a worthwhile stop.

20160410-Day 9 - the top of Shap Fell - DSC_0228_stitch-26112 x 3664

Day 10: Penrith to New Lanark

The route from Penrith to Carlisle is wonderful: long, straight, flat and quiet. The B7076 is quite featureless, and shared with the occasional tractor / logging lorry / coach.

Day 11: New Lanark to Lochranza (Isle of Arran)

A windy, wet day. East of the M74, the roads (A72; B7086/Lanark road) weren’t especially pleasant, but better than the previous day. The roads between the motorway and Eaglesham were pretty pleasant (despite rain). A steep climb over Eaglesham Moor, and then a pretty amazing, long descent along the B764, and again after joining the A77, which has a very good segregated cycle lane. By here I was rushing to meet the ferry; fortunately it is almost all downhill, or flat, to the coast. The ferry itself gave a good opportunity to rest and eat, so in much higher spirits after being deposited in Brodick, on Arran. The coastal road north to Lochranza is lovely, and flat, until a fairly substantial climb after it turns inland. The scenery makes this worthwhile. Drenched.

Day 12: Lochranza to Oban

Beginning with the small car ferry from Lochranza to Claonaig. Amazing (if grim) views looking back to Arran while climbing the first hill from the port. Lots of flat today, but some substantial climbs over limbs of hills when the course veered inland. Another climb out of Talbert, and then a wonderful flat stretch up the A89 to Lochgilphead. Buy a snack in Kilmelford post office to reward yourself shortly after the big climb out of the village.

The ferry at Claonaig, looking back to Arran. 20160413-DSC_0323-Pano-10502 x 3159

Day 13: Oban to Fort William

A short and largely coastal route, with very little climbing; some dedicated cycle lanes for much of the way, and great views. The route onward to Drumnadrochit is mostly quite flat, too, and could perhaps be combined into this day.

Day 14: Fort William to Drumnadrochit

Wonderful views along Loch Lochy - and not such a busy A-road. The river Oich canal to Fort Augustus is highly recommended. Unfortunately what should be a nice road from Fort Augustus to Drumnadrochit isn’t good to cycle: very busy, and narrow, with no cycle lane.

20160415-Day 14 - Loch Lochy 1 - DSC_0017_stitch-17986 x 2960

Day 15: Drumnadrochit to Invershin

Start the day with a big climb out of Drumnadrochit, and then an amazing descent to Kiltarlity. Unfortunately the A9 past Evanton is hellish; much better to take the parallel B-road (if it’s possible). The afternoon climb is much more gradual than the morning’s, and you’re rewarded with a spectacular view over Dornoch Firth before the fast descent to Bonar Bridge. The ride from here to Lairg is flat; Lairg could easily be reached this day.

Day 16: Invershin to Tongue

A cracking day. The B864 between Invershin and Lairg is recommended, and puts you on the right side of the river for perhaps the only shop open on a Sunday: the garage. Stock up: the next 35 miles of single-track A836 are as deserted as Britain gets whilst still being on a road.

20160417-Day 16 - Tongue causeway 2 - DSC_0251_stitch-14453 x 3062

Day 17: Tongue to John o’ Groats (to Wick)

40mph tailwinds along the north coast. Some steep descents and had the wind to assist with the climbs, which aren’t bad. Reached Thurso before 1:30pm. Stupidly followed a NCN sign after Castletown and took a wrong turn in the last few miles (! WHY, NCN? WHY.) Visit both the signpost at JOG and the incredibly windy lighthouse / trig point at Duncansby Head, of course. Again found a passing couple to take my photo. Fought the wind back to JOG, and then a strong crosswind all the way to Wick.

Day 18 & 19: Wick - Inverness - London

Train from Wick (via Thurso) to Inverness takes over 4 hours, and the bicycle must be pre-booked via phone (for free). Then Caledonian sleeper from Inverness to London (again, a bicycle space must be reserved, but is also free). Home on the 20th.

The best!

The worst!

– Nick

Saturday, 30th April 2016