Last week I rode from Lands End to John O’Groats, fulfilling a long held ambition. Whilst I rode alone I was very lucky to have Ruth, my wife, leapfrogging me in the car to the stage ends so I only had to carry minimal supplies, clothing and equipment. Setting out from Lands End at 0700 on Saturday morning I arrived in John O’Groats just after 1900 on Friday. I faithfully followed the route set out in the Cicerone Press book entitled “The End to End cycle route” by Nick Mitchell. This isn’t the shortest (a total of about 974 miles) nor the flattest (over 50000 feet of climbing) but it was a fantastic version, avoiding most main roads and major cities and incorporating some stunning scenery along the way. I used a Wahoo Elemnt (that is how it’s spelt) GPS which worked very effectively, although there was some minor discrepancy between that and the “Ride with GPS”app, particularly in respect of feet climbed. My longest day was about 13 hours riding and it still had 20% battery life left. It isn’t the most visually pleasing, but has a really clear black and white mapping display with excellent “upcoming turn” indication and alarms if you go off route. It is also very much cheaper to buy than some of the other GPS options.
The route in the book is divided into 14 stages so it easily converts to a week long ride by riding two a day with the stage ends then allowing good accommodation options. The stages broke down as:
Lands End to Chagford ( Dartmoor). 119.1 miles with just over 11000 feet of climbing.
Chagford to Monmouth. 140.5 miles with 8750 feet of climbing.
Monmouth to Runcorn. 133.9 miles with just over 7000 feet of climbing.
Runcorn to Bassenthwaite. 133.4 miles with just over 9000 feet of climbing.
Bassenthwaite to Balloch (Loch Lomond). 148 miles with just over 6000 feet of climbing.
Balloch to Inverness. 148.9 miles with 8,500 feet of climbing.
Inverness to John O’Groats. 150.8 miles with 7,500 feet of climbing.
I was very lucky with the weather. Apart from the first day when the wind blew directly Easterly and at up to 40 mph, the rest of the week I either had cross winds or some help, and it only rained once, for around two hours, in the Lake District. The weather in Scotland in particular was glorious, apart from a final sting in the tail with a headwind for the last 40 or so miles across the top of the North Scotland coast.
I rode a very basic 2017 version of the Specialized Roubaix. The Tiagra groupset and Axis Sport wheels stood up to both the training and ride very well, and the disc brakes did give extra assurance on some very steep downhills. In particular I think the 28 Espoir Sport Blackbelt tyres (which didn’t puncture once) and the seatpost and headset dampers really helped. Some of the road surfaces (particularly in Southern Scotland) were quite poor and the route did follow some cycle paths so the (albeit minimal) suspension really helped offset that repetitive, debilitating road buzz.
I didn’t eat any particularly special food or use gels etc. although I found small pots of rice pudding every hour or so and Naked bars really helped en route. I did drink High5 isotonic tablet drinks and was surprised how much fluid I got through - 8 bottles a day plus drinks at stops.
The high points of the route for me were riding through the Shropshire hills (Clun Hill was the hardest on the route), the route through the Naver Valley in North Scotland and (surprisingly) the cycle path from Cambuslang south of Glasgow right through Glasgow and up to Loch Lomond - maybe 25 miles or more. On the ride from Inverness to John O’Groats I went for miles and miles without seeing a car or indeed a person. The worst was the ride from the top of Loch Lomond to Glencoe, which whilst beautiful was spoilt by the coaches, tourist drivers and lorries. The hardest day, by far, was the first through Cornwall and Devon, which I think would have been the case even without the wind as it is nothing but up and down. The easiest was probably the one from Monmouth to Runcorn - despite Clun Hill!
My body stood up pretty well, given its age. My hands got a bit sore but I wore my cherished KPRC gloves the whole way, stuffing them full of Sudocrem every morning which really helped. My backside only got sore on the last day and my feet were fine throughout. I had some neck and shoulder fatigue on the long downhills but that quickly passed on the flat or uphill sections. My only real injury was caused by a Hula Hoop which cut my gum as I crunched it.
I know hundreds if not thousands of people complete the ride every year but it was a very positive experience for me and one which I would thoroughly recommend to anyone. I have the book, the whole route mapped on GPS and a series of A5 laminated maps if anyone would like to use or download them.