This post was first posted in 2009 on Typepad, reposted here 14 July 2021
During the 12 days from Friday 3rd July to Tuesday 14th July I cycled the 954 miles from Land’s End to John o’Groats, along with my son Will, my daughter’s then boyfriend Matt, and supported by my daughter Michèle, along with help from my son Josh and Will’s friend Jess.
This post tells the tale of that journey in a sequence of photos.
However, first a plug for the charity we were cycling for. We are collecting money for Oxfam. If you followed our progress via this blog, via Facebook, or via Twitter, please make a donation to Oxfam by clicking (now closed). If you are one of the many people who have already made a donation, many thanks.
Will and I live in Nottingham, so our first job was to get our bikes and gear down to Cornwall to start the ride. We decided to travel by train, but Nottingham does not have a direct train to Cornwall and changing trains with bikes can be an issue, due to problems with reservations and timings. So Will and I booked seats from Derby to Cornwall and cycled the 22 miles from our house to Derby station.
Here are Will and I about to leave for Derby on what was a very sunny day. We travelled with small backpacks and, for this leg of the journey, will had a camping mat strapped to his bike.
For much of the ride to Derby Will and I followed National Cycle Route number 6, which was off-road for much of the way.
Here is a picture of Will on National Rout 6. I doubt that either Will or I really understood how demanding the full ride would be at this stage.
At Derby we met Josh who had taken our luggage, via taxi, to Nottingham station, and from there to Derby by train.
From Derby, the three of us travelled to Bodmin station in Cornwall, where we were picked up by my daughter Michèle, who lives in a small village in Cornwall, by the Camel Trail, near Bodmin.
Day 1, Off We Go
Friday morning Mish (Mish and Michèle are the same person, BTW, as are Josh and Joshua), drove us all down to Land’s End to start our ride.
Here are the three riders, (from the left Will, me, and Matt), with our support vehicle in the background. We need to send an enormous thank to you Matt’s Uncle and Aunt, Gary and Penny, who lent us the mini-bus for two weeks (BTW, Gary and Penny run a really great hotel in the ski resort of Alpe d’Huez, read about it here).
Although Will and I are raising money for Oxfam, Matt was raising money for the Cornish Air Ambulance. Matt is Cornish and plays for Wadebridge Camels rugby team, who make regular use of the air ambulance! His justgiving site can be seen here. Note, in the UK most (maybe all) of the air ambulance’s are funded via voluntary contributions.
Here are Will, Matt and me in front of the classic Land’s End sign. On the sign it says John o’Groats 874 miles, however, that is the shortest route and involves motorways, our route choices added another 80 miles to this total.
After many photos, Cornish pasties for Matt and I, and plenty of filling in of forms (to prove we actually rode the distance), we set off for our 12 day adventure.
The first part of our ride was around the coast to St Ives, through places like St Just, and through some wonderful Cornish countryside. This section was not flat, but not too bad.
In St Ives my bike started to play up and by the time we reached Hayle we decided to visit a bike shop, Hayle Cycles.. The guy in the shop disassembled by rear wheel hub, found a spring in the freewheel had failed, and replaced it. This was the first of four dealings with bike shops, all of which left us impressed. However, this meant that with a longish drive to Land’s End, lots of photo delays, and now a repair to the bike, we had only ridden about 25 miles and it was aout 3:30pm.
We got a move on for the rest of the day, going up the coast for a while and then picking a route between the A30 (too busy, dangerous, ugly) and the coast (too hilly) for most of the way to Wadebridge. From Wadebridge we took the Camel Trail cycle path back to Matt and Michèle’s cottage, a distance of about 76 miles for the day. Mish and Josh cycled along the Camel Trail to meet us and Matt’s parent’s (who live in the farmhouse next to the cottage) walked along the trail to cheer us on. All in all we were pretty happy with our first day.
Day 2, into Devon
The second day started with a wet, long climb from Mish and Matt’s cottage up to the A39, which is a real up and down road. Most of the rivers in North Corwall and in Devon run North or South, whilst the route runs West, which means crossing many valleys.
The second day took us up the the A39 to Bude, then accross country to Crediton, and finally over some significant hills to Tiverton, where we stayed Bed & Breakfast in a country pub. We completed 80 miles on the second day, 156 miles completed, only about 800 to go.
Given that most days were about 11 hours from departure to arrival, with about 6 to 7 hours of pedalling, it was vital that we consumed enough food to fuel our progress, which was not an onerous task. The difference between the pedalling time and the total time allows for traffic lights, repairs, traffic jams, meals, map reading, photographs, and ‘comfort stops’.
In general meals comprised breakfast, a second breakfast about after 2 hours, lunch after about 4-5 hours, afternoon tea after about 7-8 hours, and dinner about 12 hours after breakfast.
This was our first fuel stop on Day 2, cream teas near Bude, showing me, Matt, and Will.
Day 3, from Devon to Wales
This was a fairly flat day that saw us leave Devon, travel through Somerset, through Bristol, and across the Severn Bridge into Wales, a total of 91 miles. In addition we dealt with our first puncture of the trip when Matt got a large piece of glass stuck in his wheel.
Somerset is one of the flattest counties in the UK and we made good progress. In Somerset we mostly followed the A38 through Wellington, Taunton, Bridgwater, Burnham-on-Sea, to Axbridge. From Axbridge we took one of our occasional trips away from the tarmac and followed the Strawberry Line cycle path through a tunnel under the Mendips, through to Congresbury, from where the A370 took us into Bristol.
One of the sites along the way was the Wellington Monument high on the hill.
We had a great picnic lunch, supplied by Mish and Josh.
In Bristol we avoided the hills by going under the Clifton Suspension Bridge, down to docks, and then along the Severn to the higher of the two Severn Bridges.
By the time we crossed the Severn Bridge it was beginning to get dark.
Just after we crossed into Wales Mish collected us in the van and took us to the campsite, returning us the following morning.
During the trip we became increasingly aware of how much we relied on Mish and the van, to organise campsites, B&Bs, food, clothing, spares, and isotonic drinks.
And of course Josh and the tent!
Day 4, up to Ludlow
Monday was a wet day and the waterproofs were in regular use, along with some sheltering under trees when the rain was at its worst. This was our slowest day of the whole trip with just 61 miles completed. Matt’s bike had its second mishap of the journey, slashing its back wheel and inner tube, both of which were replaced in Hereford.
The day started by being driven back to the roundabout above Chepstow, where we had finished the day before, and then heading into Wales past historic Tintern Abbey.
Before passing through
Herefordshire. Just outside Hereford Matt’s back wheel went flat and after inspecting it we saw that the tire and the inner tube were both slashed right through. Matt jogged into town whilst I cycled ahead to make plans. Mish found the details of Coombes, a local cycle shop, who replaced the tire and inner tube whilst we had lunch.
And, into Shropshire.
During the late afternoon the weather had improved and we passed 300 miles, which at the time seemed a long way to us, we did not really think too much about the 650 miles we still had to ride.
For some reason bridges seem much more important when cycling (compared with driving and hiking). Here is Matt on the bridge at Ludlow.
We spent the night camping at Ludlow, at a campsite high over the town with a great view.
Day 5, urban riding
Josh had to leave us on the Tuesday to go back to college, but his help had been invaluable over the previous days, especially in helping get our gear from Nottingham to Cornwall.
This was a day of good progress, with 89 miles travelled, but the second half of the day was spent riding in the relatively urban areas, leading up to our overnight stop in Warrington. Our route mostly followed the A49, from Ludlow, through Shrewsbury, a short cut along the B5476 through Wem (the home of the Eckford Sweet Pea) to Whitchurch, and across the Cheshire plain to Warrington.
The only county boundary we crossed was the Cheshire boundary. In the Manchester/Liverpool sprawl old fashioned counties are a rarity.
Day 6, to the Lakes
Day 6 started with yet more urban riding, travelling through Wigan before emerging into the countryside beyond. The day was a little below average in terms of distance, at 74 miles, not helped by Will developing a sore left knee, which was helped a bit with a knee strap and ibuprofen.
The day started by following the A49 through Wigan up to Preston. In Preston we picked up the A6 which would be our main road until Carlisle. On Day 6 the A6 took us through Lancaster, Carnforth, to our destination at Kendal. Just after Lancaster we took a minor route through Hest Bank.
We went through Lancashire, including Lancaster.
Not long after Lancaster we reached the coast at Hest Bank and had our first view of the Lake District mountains in the distance.
The least impressive county boundary of the whole trip was Cumbria.
Once in Cumbria we pressed on to Kendal where Mish had arranged the B&B.
In the first six days of our twelve day ride we had covered 471 miles (just under half of our eventual total). My bike had had one repair, Matt’s had had two repairs and we had changed his saddle, and Will’s knee was troubling him. We were all pleased with the progress we had made but suddenly more aware of the scale of challenge we had undertaken.
On the plus side we were getting masses of messages of support from people following our progress through the blog, through Facebook, and through Twitter. Also, plenty of people were visiting the justgiving site to make a donation to the charity.
Day 7, Scotland at last
Thursday saw us cycle over the Shap pass, all 1400 feet of it, before heading North through Penrith and Carlisle to cross into Scotland at Gretna Green, before heading along the coast through Annan, and then stopping for the night in a B&B in Dumfries, 86 miles in total. Except for the hils of the Lake District this was a pretty flat day.
We stopped in Penrith for bike spares, including new cycling shorts for Will and me, at the same shop Will and I had used three years ago when we cycled the somewhat easier coast-to-coast cycle (the Arragon Cycle Centre).
This was the day when we realised the ride is much more about Scotland than it seems at first. In total we spent 6.5 days cycling in England, 0.5 days in Wales, and 5 days in Scotland.
Before the road to Shap there is a warning about how high it is.
On the way up to Shap we had some wonderful views of the valley below us.
After going over the top of Shap, and having second breakfasts in the village of Shap, we cycled an undulating road to Penrith, with our last view of the Lake District.
Crossing into Scotland was a cause of great celebration and we asked a man who was heading, with his son, for Land’s End to take a picture of the three of us, me, William, and Matt.
We noted all the classic sites at Gretna, but quickly pressed on.
And as well as entering Scotland we were entering Dumfries and Galloway.
Day 8, across to Arran
Day 8 was the only day we had a fixed point we had to reach by a certain time. Our plan was to cycle from Dumfries across Dumfries and Galloway and across Ayrshire to Ardrossan to take the evening ferry to Arran, which meant booking both the van and us on the ferry, and then getting there in time. We made the ferry with plenty of time to spare and we covered 79 miles (which does not, of course, include the miles the ferry covered).
The day started with a setback, Will’s wheel was buckled and a spoke was loose. However, we visited a bike shop in the centre of Dumfries who replaced the spoke and straightened the wheel in a jiffy, for just £5. There is a great pleasure in watching somebody who knows his craft work his magic, as in the way Will’s wheel was so quickly fixed and replaced. (The shop was Kirkpatrick’s, 01387 254011).
Cycling through Dumfries we noted another river and attractive bridge, they seem to be one of the themes of the trip, along with eating.
The roads in Ayshire were possibly the worst of the trip, in terms of road surface.
From the Ayrshire coast we had a good view of island of Arran and the height of the hills we would cycle over (the road goes along the coast and then over a pass).
Once in Ardrossan we caught the ferry and had a picnic dinner. The crossing to Arran was about 55 minutes, which allowed us time to relax on the ferry.
Landing in Arran we noted that the road to the next ferry crossing, at Lochranza, was just 15 miles.
Day 9, up the West Coast
Saturday saw our day start with simple cycle along the coast of Arran, then a hard slog over a high pass, followed by an exciting descent into Lochranza, where we just caught the ferry to Kintyre. We then cycled across to the West coast and up Kintyre Lochgilphead, then across to the West coast again and up to Oban, covering 84 miles (and the ferry ride).
The ride over Arran was in great weather, and we have all fallen in love with Arran.
Here are Will and Matt making the bikes secure for the ferry ride to Kintyre.
Mish was not able to get on the same ferry as us and had to wait for the next one, about 2 hours later. This was due to the size of the van, she needed to be near the front of the queue to be able to get on the small ferry. However, Mish’s great parking and pleasant smile must have impressed the crew as they gave her a chance to drive the ferry!
When we arrived in Kintyre we noted that the signs were now in two languages, Gaelic and English. Failte means welcome and Cinn Tire is the Gaelic for Kintyre.
Crossing Kintye involved some more long climbs, and wonderful descents, with views over to the isle of Jura.
In Oban we had a fish and chip supper, including a battered black pudding, which we eat looking out over the harbour. We we all struck by how light it was at 10pm. When we started in Cornwall it was getting quite dark by about 9:30. By the time we reached the top of Scotland it was barely getting dark at all, despite being some 20 days since mid-summer.
Day 10, into the Great Glen
Sunday was a wet day, but nevertheless a good day. We cycled up the coast to Fort William (where we bought and fitted a new saddle to Will’s bike) and then headed along the Great Glen that runs from Fort William to Inverness, reaching Fort Augustus at the foot of Loch Ness, covering 79 miles.
Will’s girlfriend Jess joined the support team today, having flown to Inverness. Mish collected Jess in the van.
As we cycled up the coast we passed into the Highlands. We had one of the best meals of the journey on this stretch when we stopped for lunch at the Holly Tree Hotel. I had the seafood platter with Oysters, smoked salmon, and longoustine, Mish has the scallops.
As we entered the Great Glen we had views of Ben Nevis, made more majestic by the bad weather.
Towards the end of the day the weather improved and we had scenic views all round, here is a picture of the Caledonian Canal, which connects the three lochs in the Great Glen, making a navigable waterway from the East coast to the West coast.
At Fort Augustus they play the Loch Ness monster for all it is worth.
Here is a view from a bridge in Fort Augustus.
In Fort Augustus we stayed at a great independent hostel, where we seemed to be the only UK people. Here is a picture of Will, Jess, and Matt outside the block that had bedrooms, showers, and a communcl kitchen.
Day 11, up to the East coast
Monday 13th of July was our next to last day of the journey, the penultimate. It started with a pleasant ride along the side of Loch Ness. About two-thirds of the way up the Loch, just after Castle Urquart we turned North and climbed what may have been the hardest climb of the journey, followed by the longest descent of the journey, taking us to the East coast of Scotland, just North of Inverness. We pressed on up the East coast until we reached Brora, where Mish and Jess had set up the tent. This meant we had covered 91 miles during the day, leaving just 64 miles for the final day.
Here is Urquhart Castle, just before we turned North.
As we progressed up the East coast we entered Ross & Cromarty.
After 840 miles John o’Groats finally appeared on the road signs. By now, both of Will’s knees had support bandages.
Day 12, we reach John o’Groats
We had decided to spend two nights at Brora, which meant we did not have to pack anything (although to be fair 99% of the packing has been done by the support team, which mostly means Mish). We got off to an early start in what proved to be the worst weather of the whole trip. Mish and Jess met us twice during the day to offer us a chance to dry out in the van and change to dry clothes.
We arrived at John o’Groats just before 5pm, which meant we were able to get our forms signed. Mish had brought some champagne and she had had t-shirts made for the celebrations at the end.
The total jouney from Land’s End to John o’Groats was 954 miles. Durng the 12 days we typically had 9-11 hours between starting and finishing and tended to have the wheels spinning for about 6 hours a day (the rest of the time being traffic lights, map reading, eating, comfort stops, and of course meals).
It was great to have ridden the distance with Will and Matt, but special thanks must go to the support team of Josh, Jess and most especially Mish.
Moving up the coast from Brora we passed into Sutherland, which seems a strange name for somewhere so far North.
And finally into rain swept Caithness, with a great view of my bike (built by Langdale Lightweights).
This picture of Will on the last day captures the weather, and the wear and tear on his knees.
Here are the three of us arriving at John o’Groats.
Once at John o’Groats we had pictures in our trip t-shirts.
And pictures with our support team. From the left: me, Will, Jess, Mish, and Matt.
The fund raising goes on
Although the ride is finished, we will be continuing to collect money for our cause. You can make a donation at (now closed).
Some Odds and Ends
Home Lovin’ Man. When you are cycling for hours on end you tend to get a song stuck in you head, which goes round and round and actually helps the time go by. Sometimes the songs were inane, such as the children’s classic “The wheels on the bus go round and round”, but the song I most recall filling my inner mind was Andy William’s Home Lovin Man, which is perhaps a bit odd for a song about travelling away from home, but perhaps reflects the anticipated pleasure of returning home at the end of the journey.