How to cycle Land’s End to John O’Groats

LEJOG19: near Altnahara

LEJOG19: near Altnahara

It’s the iconic British cycling journey: from Land’s End in Cornwall to John O’Groats in Scotland. You travel through three countries and climb almost twice the height of Everest over almost 1,000 miles. Cycling LEJOG should be on every British cyclist’s bucket list.

I’ve just made that magical journey for the second time, and loved it even more thanks to better training and a brilliant cycling holiday company, Peak Tours. (More on that later.) In this post, I will share what I learned in my two LEJOG trips and give some advice. In a further series of posts, I will tell the day to day story of this year’s ride including a highlights video for each day of the adventure.

Training is key to enjoying LEJOG

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Top of the climb to Glenshee ski centre

People have completed LEJOG successfully with little or no training. In other words, they set off from Land’s End without getting the miles in in advance. I did my first End to End in 2002 with just a few hundred miles of cycling in the run up. But it was a struggle, especially on the hills of Cornwall and Devon.

This time, I was determined to be fit and ready for the challenge of cycling 1,000 miles in 14 days. By the time I reached Cornwall, I’d cycled over 2,500 miles over seven months. It made those early days so much easier. I will never be a natural hill climber – especially when the road gets steeper than 1 in 10 – but I was able to get into the groove of climbing at my own pace, standing out of the saddle now and again to give extra power and vary the routine.

The real benefit came later in Scotland as the fitness I gained from the ride kicked in. On the last day, we averaged 16.4mph over the 82 miles from the Crask Inn to John O’Groats. I’d have happily kept going but the famous sign was in view.

Just keep eating

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Time to eat: the famous Peak Tours brew stop, overlooking Cromarty Firth

The first time I cycled Land’s End to John O’Groats, it was like driving a car and continually running out of fuel. I simply didn’t eat enough to keep me going. In Dartmoor, I devoured a Mars Bar and energy bar – but by the time the benefits kicked in I’d reached my night’s destination at Moretonhampstead.

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The view from the first brew stop, St Michael’s Mount

This time, I took half my bodyweight in energy bars and gels. I made up a daily bag of bars to keep everything on track. But my preparation wasn’t needed. Within a couple of hours on day one, we’d reached the first Peak Tours ‘brew stop’ overlooking the legendary St Michael’s Mount I realised I would not be needing that mountain of gels. We were given mugs with our names on – and a table laden with snacks to keep us powered and happy. It was a lovely moment, even though the Peak Tours guides would be carrying my excess baggage of energy food for 14 days.

There’s no such think as waterproof cycling clothing

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Raingear – perfect for dry weather…

I always overheat when I’m climbing and so decided to splash out on an expensive lightweight Gore waterproof ready for this special trip. (I knew the chances of a rain-free 14 day ride in Great Britain was vanishingly small.)

I soon discovered that regardless of how lightweight the rain gear is, I will resemble a boil in the bag chicken within minutes of starting a modest climb. While others were still sporting leg and arm warmers, I’d be down to a jersey and shorts in anything other that storm conditions.

But the one thing I regret not packing – despite my pantechnicon of clothes – was a windproof long sleeve jersey. It would have avoided my worst clothes choice of the tour, on our first cold morning’s ride, as we set off from Penrith to Moffat. I had a base layer, long sleeve jacket and my rain jacket. Within 20 minutes I felt like I’d fallen into an oven. So much for layering. A windproof jersey would have been all I needed short of a biblical storm.

I did ignore the suggestion to bring overshoes. I did have a pair, but could only find one! There were a few times when I wished I’d worn them but in my experience overshoes don’t keep my feet dry in torrential weather as the water comes up from the road rather than from the sky.

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Drying off. In a pub…

The one thing I definitely wished I’d brought was a light fleece for lunch stops on cooler and wetter days, including the amazing day when we arrived at Tockholes near Blackburn after an hour’s biblical rain. We were so glad to be given towels to dry off – not to mention pots of tea (which started a two-week tradition on tour and after!) and delicious cheese tart and jam roly poly pudding!

Savour the moment

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Another milestone on LEJOG19

You won’t cycle the length of Great Britain very often. So savour the experience! Stop to take photos and videos. Keep a journal each day to record what you see and how you feel. Note the change of the scenery, the accents and even the local beers as you make your way north (or south). In Scotland in particular, as we ventured from Inverness into the lonely Highlands, I couldn’t resist taking photos of the firths and the way the green hills were giving way to stark mountains and moors. It showed why cycle touring is a the perfect way of exploring a country.

Choose your LEJOG company with care

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Peak Tours – my perfect LEJOG tour company

I wondered if this trip would ever happen. I booked to cycle LEJOG in 2018 with one company, which then cancelled the tour because not enough people had booked. I rebooked with another company in 2019 and amazingly the same think happened again. For 24 hours I was in despair, thinking I’d have to cycle 1,000 miles on my own with no support. But then I spotted that Peak Tours was running LEJOG over almost identical dates. I’d never heard of the company before but the website gave me a very good feeling. How had I never heard of it before?

All those initial feelings proved right. Steve in the office and Simon, Julie and Howard on the road were brilliant. The Peak Tours approach suited be perfectly – morning and afternoon brew stops, with tea and coffee and snacks, and decent lunches in pubs, to break up the day and keep morale high. In the evening we had a few group meals alternating with nights when we could choose our own dining arrangements.

Emotional moments

Cycling the length of the country is an emotional experience for everyday cyclists. I was surprised to get a lump in my throat after we crossed into Wales over the Severn and Wye bridges. (By request, I sang the Welsh national anthem, Hen Wlad fy Nhadau, in Welsh as we cycled from the bridge towards Monmouth on day 4.) It also felt very special crossing into Scotland near Gretna and cruising the last few miles to John O’Groats on the last day.

The Crask Inn

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Sheltering at the Crask Inn

If you ever cycle the road from Lairg to Bettyhill, do stop at the Crask Inn, especially if the weather is bad.You will get a true picture of the days of old, when a pub truly was a traveller’s rest, and indeed salvation.

We enjoyed glorious weather as we headed from Bonar Bridge towards the Falls of Shin. But as we reached Lairg, the weather was closing in. We got soaked and cold as we headed north to the Crask, and entered that old inn with true relief. Rarely was a fire so welcomed in August! By popular request, I sang the Welsh national anthem in Welsh and Kevin did the same for the Belgium anthem in Flemish. So we celebrated this union of cultures and accents as we prepared for the last day on the ride to John O’Groats…

The end of the road…

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I made it!

Finishing the ride was a magical moment. I cycled almost 1,000 miles with no punctures or other mechanical problems. For the second time! Given my training I was in a better state to savour the moment of completing LEJOG this time, and indeed would happily have cycled another 18 miles to complete the day’s century ride.

To finish, here’s the inevitable group shot at John O’Groats, followed by a photo of me stretching over the map of Great Britain to show how far I cycled. Happy memories!

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Summer of cycling

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Chequers

This is my first blogpost for over two years. Have you missed me? I fell off the blogging bandwagon just after Britain voted for Brexit. I swapped the blog for the bike, and have been healthier as a result.

But I felt that I’d lost my voice. I’ve always loved writing, and blogging let me express myself, even if my wonderful Dad was the only person listening. So I’m back. I don’t know how long it will last but I wanted to record what has become a summer of wonder – the best in Britain since the scorched summer of 1976.

I mentioned Brexit earlier on, so it seems appropriate to combine politics and cycling in a photo. Earlier today, I cycled past Chequers, the prime minister’s country home in Buckinghamshire. The road up to Chequers from Butlers Cross is a steep one, but it seems easier after my summer of cycling. Chequers was given to the nation a century ago to allow its PMs a place for rest and recreation. It’s doubtful that Theresa May gained much rest there in recent weeks with her disastrous Brexit Cabinet showdown and President Trump’s visit. But I found it restful: after completing the climb from Butlers Cross, I always love the 18mph swoop down to Great Missenden.

I completed the 32 mile ride with the satisfaction of knowing I’d just completed 2,000 miles of cycling in 2018. That’s good preparation for Prudential Ride London next weekend. Watch this space!

 

 

 

 

Why I love the Garmin Edge 1000

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Ride data from the Edge 1000: uploaded from my iPhone

I blogged in 2012 why I loved my Garmin Edge 800 cycling GPS. I’ve now upgraded to the Garmin Edge 1000 – and I’ve fallen in love again.

Here’s why:

It’s so easy to set up. I went for the Garmin Edge 1000 performance bundle from Wiggle which includes speed and cadence sensors. I spent ages setting up the Edge 800 speed sensor so I was relieved and delighted how easy it was to fit and activate the new generation sensors for the Edge 1000. No magnets here – accelerometers rule! Once you have fitted them, the Garmin Edge 1000 head unit finds them in a flash – and you’re done.

Instant upload of your rides. Once you’ve paired your new Edge 1000 with your smartphone, and selected various other options, your ride data will upload to Garmin Connect and Strava. No more plugging in USB leads to sync – you can do this whenever you have a data signal on your phone.

Strava Live Segments. This is brilliant. When you’re approaching the start of a Strava segment that you’ve starred as a favourite, your Garmin Edge 1000 will tell you, and as you ride the segment it will tell you how your ride compares with your personal best (or the KOM and QOM) so you can up your pace. I recorded a personal record for two segments within the first two miles of today’s ride. Just make sure you pace yourself over longer rides…

The screen is brilliant. A lot better than the Edge 800, and I was always happy with that.

If you’ve used an earlier Garmin, you need to remember some of the set up tricks that you may have forgotten. For example, the auto pause and resume feature is really useful – twice today I forgot to set the new Edge 1000 recording again because I was so used to the Edge 800 doing this automatically after a break.

I can’t wait to get to know the Garmin Edge 1000 better over the coming weeks.

PS: when I got my Garmin Edge 800, I found the Frank Kinlan and DC Rainmaker blogs hugely helpful. Frank seems to have stepped off the blogging treadmill, but DC Rainmaker is as useful as ever. Highly recommended.

In praise of Thule’s amazing customer service

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The repaired carrier in action – thanks to Thule

I’ve always loved Thule’s clever bike carriers. They’re well designed and robust. Our latest Thule carrier is the EuroClassic G6 LED 929 tow bar carrier. It’s brilliant as you can swing the bikes clear of the hatchback door to gain access to the boot.

Unfortunately, I damaged it during a motorway service station stop during an interminable drive back from our Cornwall holiday last year. (I reversed it into a grass verge that was higher than I realised.) As a result, the swing mechanism wouldn’t swing.

I eventually contacted Thule asking how I could get it repaired. I was dreading the cost of having to return it, but to my amazement Thule arranged to collect, repair and return it to me – for free. Outstanding service, especially as I was to blame for the damage.

A very big and heartfelt thank you to Ann and the team at Thule Technical Services team at Haverhill in Suffolk. You’ve made possible many more happy family bike rides such as today’s along the Phoenix Trail in Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire. (The photo above shows the bikes on the carrier at Towersey at the start of the ride.) We even saw a steam train on the Chinnor & Princes Risborough Railway – below.

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The shadow of Profumo: visiting Cliveden

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Cliveden in the spring sunshine

Cliveden will forever be associated with the Profumo affair of the early 1960s. Secretary of State for War John Profumo was forced to resign after lying about his brief affair with Christine Keeler, which began one summer weekend at Cliveden, the then home of the Astor family.

Cliveden today is a luxury hotel, with the lovely National Trust grounds open to the public. Owen and I cycled here on Sunday on our tandem, making the most of a glorious early spring day. As we arrived by bike, we were both given a £1 voucher to use in the excellent cafe.

I doubt that Profumo or Keeler arrived by bike, but Cliveden does make an excellent destination for a cycle ride.

PS: Profumo died 10 years ago this month. He remains the role model for how public figures should behave after a scandal, as I blogged a decade ago.

Ride It! My debut in Evans Cycles’ sportive series

IMG_2977I cycled my first sportive last Sunday. I took part in Evans Cycles‘ excellent Ride It London from the National Trust‘s lovely Osterley Park and House near Brentford.

The ride was due to take place in January, but was postponed because of overnight snow.

Sunday dawned sunny and cold – without any snow. The ride was billed ‘Escape the city’: ironically I had to drive to London to escape it! I was soon cycling over the M4 on my way our of the city, although it was a bit of a trek through Southall and Drayton before we got to countryside. The route also went through Sipson, the village that will be destroyed if Heathrow gets its third runway. More positively, we cycled past my son’s birthplace, Wexham Park Hospital.

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Bravo, Evans Cycles!

A big bike ride in January might strike some as crazy. They’d rather keep warm and dry indoors. But back in October I booked to take part in Evans Cycles West London Ride It sportive event today. It seemed like a good idea after a few beers.

I set the alarm earlier than normal for a Sunday this morning to get to Osterley in time. As I crawled down to make a mug of tea, I saw that it had snowed. I reached for the iPad to see if there was an update on the event. Sure enough: an email from Evans Cycles’ event manager Mark Gregory at 6.37am saying that they were cancelling because of the weather and road conditions. There were also photos on the Evans Cycles Facebook page.

I was disappointed, but impressed by Evans Cycles’ quick communication. I went for a short ride on my mountain bike later in the morning and have to say conditions were horrible: slush everywhere. I was soaked within a mile. So that early morning decision was spot on. Most of the comments on the Facebook page agreed.

Better luck next time!

Below: soaking but glad to get some miles in..

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Back from a slushy ride..

The weekend I became a foul weather cyclist

When friends say ‘You’re a keen cyclist!’, I always reply that I’m actually a fair weather cyclist. Until this weekend.

I’ve cycled 28 miles in the most atrocious conditions over the past two days. I have been soaked to the skin. I have been drenched by drivers as they displaced flood water over me and my bike. The biggest surprise? I loved it.

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Britain’s surviving fingerpost signs

Restored fingerpost in Chalfont St Giles, Bucks

Restored fingerpost in Chalfont St Giles, Bucks

This signpost is one of a dying breed. Fingerposts like this once guided travellers in every corner of Britain. They were simple and graphic guides in an age when people travelled slowly. As speeds increased, they were replaced by bigger signposts that could be seen by speeding motorists by day or night.

Happily, this example in the historic Buckinghamshire village of Chalfont St Giles has been adopted by the local community. It was restored recently for the second time in a decade. It is a welcome sight when I’m racing up Bowstridge Lane on my bike as it means I can relax as the climb is over.

Pointing to Threehouseholds, Chalfont St Giles

Pointing to Threehouseholds, Chalfont St Giles

This fingerpost is a witness to history. The Threehouseholds in the sign refers to the area of Chalfont St Giles at the top of the drag from the village towards Seer Green. It includes the popular White Hart Inn, and was named after the original terrace of three cottages at the top of the hill.

I hope the sign will be guiding travellers for many years.