Blimey, can’t believe it’s been a week since we crossed the finishing line at John o’Groats! The train journey home was long and boring, it was more painful being sat down on the trains for so long then it was cycling every day. And the cycle facilities on Pendolino trains is pitiful, each station invited us as being an NCN interchange yet the provision for cycles on the trains is pathetic.
So what did we learn from 17 days cycling the entire length of the country? It’s quite an achievement, around 2000-4000 people a year do it by various means apparently, this makes it much rarer than completing a marathon for example. The train journey really puts it into perspective just how far you have cycled.
To be fair though, in my opinion if you’re reasonably fit and have done a decent amount of training and are happy to cycle 70 miles, get up in the morning and cycle 70 more then it isn’t as hard as you might imagine it to be. Carrying all of the camping gear and fully laden with four panniers, a bar bag and a tent is heavy (we were told we were mad more than once) and tough work. I would not want to do 100 miles a day laden like that, 70 was enough.
The first few days we were excited and didn’t really notice the up and down nature of the cycling, Cornwall and Devon have many short steep hills. Once you get further north and certainly into Scotland the terrain is much more one or two big climbs per day and nothing else. Also after each day in the beginning you are tired and want to sleep, the length of my blog posts reflects this I think. In the mornings you feel a bit sluggish and we set off later as we prepared for the day ahead. It took us about 3 or 4 days to say to each other, right we know we can do this now. You need to get those first few days under your belt and get into the routine, stick at it if it gets tough as it definitely gets easier.
By the time we got to Scotland we had definitely got fitter, we were tired after 60ish miles and glad to reach the campsite and stop but after a shower and something to eat, we felt fine again and were up and ready to do another 70 miles in the morning.
I’m glad we did two short days to start, that was perfect planning. Get off the train and cycle to Land’s End. Do what you need to do there and then do 20 miles and camp. That left us 50 miles to do on Day 2. This was much preferable to camping at Land’s End and then doing 70 miles on the first day I think. It got us into the cycling a bit more gently.
Would I change the route we took? I had spent quite a bit of time tweaking the route, using various online sources and routes. I think it was spot on for 95% of the trip. We avoided nearly all of the main roads, and barely touched an A-road until we got to Scotland by which time they were so quiet it didn’t matter anyway. I would definitely avoid Bristol if I were doing it again, much better would be to cross the Avon using the M5 bridge and go through Avonmouth. Bristol was busy and hilly, by far the hilliest city/town we went through. The only other change I would make would be to use the A82 along Loch Lochy rather than the Clunes forest track, that was harder work than necessary.
I don’t think we could have bettered the route we used through the northwest from Cheshire to Clitheroe. That was absolutely perfect. Also the route through Glasgow from southwest Scotland cannot be faulted. Don’t use the A82 alongside Loch Lomond north of Luss as you would miss out on what is IMO the best cyclepath I have ever ridden.
We knew we were nearing the end when we got to Lairg so the 40 miles through the desolate hills of northern Scotland seemed a lot further than they were. I’m not sure I would enjoy starting a JOGLE that way though as it would instantly show you the scale of the task. Nice gentle cycling though.
We set ourselves No Pushing and No Ferries rules and we kept to them both. I don’t really remember any hill where I thought I might get off and push, the Clunes forest track came closest probably, mainly due to the surface. We even went back to where we had dismounted in Carlisle rather than walk all the way through the city centre! The No Ferries rule was mine, I’m not sure why but it just felt like I wanted to cycle the whole way and ferries felt like ‘cheating’, I know they aren’t really any different to using the Severn Bridge though!
It was very useful to have a general idea where we were going to camp each evening. The only two times I wasn’t sure before we set off were near Kilmarnock and Bonar Bridge. We generally ended up in campsites I knew existed before we started. The only exception was Dumfries where it has closed down and we had to use Google Maps on my mobile to find an alternative. The hardest place to find a campsite was in Ayrshire and we ended up in Troon, the three campsites shown on OS maps near Kilmarnock are all static caravan parks now.
In general the roads were in good shape. The only two times that stick in my mind where the roads were far from adequate was the A683 in Cumbria and the A-roads in Ayrshire which were universally disgraceful. The only time traffic was an issue and the road felt dangerous was between Nantwich and Middlewich in Cheshire on the B5074 and A530. The vast majority of drivers are courteous and overtake correctly, they are most polite in Scotland. I only shook my fist at one driver who overtook into an oncoming vehicle and nearly sideswiped me with the caravan he was towing! I nearly got knocked off in Market Drayton on a double mini-roundabout.
Work out tea and lunchstops each day. Have a town/village in mind, don’t skip it even if you still feel fine as inevitably there won’t be anything else for miles when you really want it.
The thought or sight of what lay ahead was always without exception worse than the actuality. For example we knew we had to climb through Glen Croe and dreaded it the evening and morning before. In fact it was brilliant and one of the highlights of the entire trip. So glad we did the first rest day in Clitheroe as the following hilliest day would have been a nightmare without that recovery time. I think we could have finished OK without the second rest day but the weather was fab and we needed to do our washing!
We were very very lucky with the weather, apart from some downpours in the southwest we saw no other significant rain and timed our passage through central and west Scotland with a heatwave! We only had one day with a bad headwind from Carlisle to Dumfries. Some of the sections of the route would be much more difficult in bad weather, the B3306 in Cornwall and the road north of Lairg are two examples.
Would I do it again? Not this route, it’s been done and it’s a once in a lifetime achievement I think. It wouldn’t hold the same attraction a second time. A JOGLE might be good though! There is also a strong element of getting from A to B on this ride, we knew we had to be in certain places on certain dates which makes you do it a bit quicker than a true holiday tour. There’s no packing up after 40 miles because you found somewhere nice to camp!
Overall it was brilliant, I keep remembering little snippets of the ride and more tips and stuff. I’ll edit this post as I think of them again as I’m bound to have forgotten stuff. Some people have asked me to detail the technology I used to keep the live tracker working and the blog so I will post about that too. I have a list of thank yous I want to post too!