Monthly Archives: July 2003

LEJOG – Day 6 Cheshire

Day 6 – Bridges YH to Chester YH – 58 Miles

Drop back to day 5. Jump forward to day 7

The day’s events

Spoofing at Bridges YH

Spoofing at Bridges YH

Started the day with our usual game of “Spoof” to see who would have the honour of wearing the “Yellow Thong”.  Short day over fairly flat terrain so no real problems ………. until we got to Chester. Up off the saddle to take my momentum over a small climb and I felt a sharp pain behind my knee that felt like a muscle tear. From that moment on as soon as we came to any slight incline I felt the discomfort. This was worrying. Bike problems can be overcome by handing money over the counter of a bike shop but body breakage’s take time and treatment to heal.

We arrived early at around 2:30pm, dropped our kit at the Youth Hostel then headed off to the bike shop to get some running bike repairs, and me to Boots to try and get my body repaired. We got about 200m down the road and there was a massive BANG! It seems that Mark’s rear tyre must have had a split in the side with the tube poking out through which touched something sharp causing a total blow-out – lucky it happened here! Keith and I got our spokes retensioned at a really friendly and efficient bike shop called “The Bike Factory” (www.the-bike-factory.co.uk) .

The staff were really interested in what we were doing and only charged £5 each for doing the spokes and we were all done and dusted in 20 minutes! That’s the bike covered now for my body. A knee support and some Ibuprofen gel recommended and purchased and back to the Hostel.

Ellesmere Canal

Ellesmere Canal

We decided to eat in the Hostel that evening which went a long way towards confirming our poor experience of hostel food. Also confirmed was in these larger hostels, staff and cooks appear to find the members a bit of an inconvenience.

The Hostel cycle store didn’t give us much confidence from the security point of view so as we were billeted into the annexe, we kept the bikes in the room. If may be worth requesting the annexe as a precaution in advance in case you feel the bike store is vulnerable.

Food

Didn’t really stop for any food stops today as we were in Chester by early afternoon and eat in town. We did make the mistake of trying the YHA food and would recommend both from a taste, volume and customer service point of view to eat out!

The Route

Pretty easy today and the route was not bad either from a traffic point of view. Chester however was incredibly busy, lots of traffic and one way systems.

Climbing profile

Lejog day 6 climbing profile

Lejog day 6 climbing profile

 

Statistics

From To

Day Distance (Miles)

Running Total (Miles)

Height climbed (Metres)

Height descended (Metres)

Bridges YH Chester YH

58

419

607

848

 

 

 

Directions

The approximate route we followed for Day 6 is listed below (1:50 000).

I used the Memory Map 1:50 000 Ordnance Survey electronic maps for route planning. Note: – Don’t however buy their Adventurer GPS units as they are rubbish in my opinion.

L out of YHA, past pub and continue on lane from yesterday up hill towards Stitt Farms where L fork to Westcott, Habberley and into Pontesbury. Carry on lane to Hinton, Lea, crossing B4386 at Nox. Pass Shoot Hill and R on A458 where next L on B4473, and L on B4380 to Montford Bridge.

Follow lane to Nib Heath, R before Little Ness to Baschurch. Continue along lane to Bagley turning R at Lower Hordley to Lee and Ellesmere.

After Ellesmere follow A528 to Overton and B5069 to Bangor-on-Dee. L on A525 to Cross Lanes where R onto B5130 to Earndon.

Take L onto B5102 and R on lane to Trevalyn. Turn R on to B5445 and at roundabout turn R onto A483 into Chester

 

LEJOG – Day 5 The Welsh borders

Day 5 – Kilpeck to Bridges YH – 60 Miles

Drop back to day 5. Jump forward to day 7

The day’s events

This was our first completely (just!) dry day. Today’s route took us across the Welsh/English border several times and was relatively flat, and therefore easy compared with the first 2 days.

North of the Wye on the way to Bridges

North of the Wye on the way to Bridges

Our first challenge was to find our way over the River Wye as the bridge on the planned route was apparently completely closed due to roadworks. A slight detour overcame that problem and we headed North. The countryside was beautiful and we felt good. Bodies were coping well apart from a slight muscle strain behind my knee, nothing to worry about. Only bike problems today were Tom with a puncture. Arrived at Bridges YHA, photo below, (only one other family staying there but we never saw or heard them), time for a hot shower, change of clothes and a good meal and beer or two at the excellent village pub.

Food

Bridges YH

Bridges YH

We stopped in the small general store for bananas etc at Kingston. Lunch was at a superb cycle friendly café in the centre of Presteigne. Owned I think by a lady of Colombian origin they served up a superb Colombian originated snack based on scrambled eggs with tomatoes, onion, and herbs on toast.

Added to baked beans, rocket fuel for cyclists! Our evening meal was at the village pub in Bridges. This can only be described as superb pub food with lots of it. Highly recommended.

The Route

The route was varied but mostly very quiet and away from cars. It was easy relatively flat terrain apart from a final gentle climb to Bridges YHA (pictured). Certainly we would choose the same route again.

Climbing profile

Lejog day 5 climbing profile

Lejog day 5 climbing profile

Statistics

From To

Day Distance (Miles)

Running Total (Miles)

Height climbed (Metres)

Height descended (Metres)

Kilpeck Bridges YHA

60

361

1075

927

Directions

The approximate route we followed for Day 5 is listed below (1:50 000).

I used the Memory Map 1:50 000 Ordnance Survey electronic maps for route planning. Note: – Don’t however buy their Adventurer GPS units as they are rubbish in my opinion.

Leave Kilpeck, cross the railway line and join the A465 at Bores Hill Farm where R. Follow A465 until L onto B4348 to Thruxton and Kingstone. At junction with B4349, take lane to Brampton joining B4352 at Tyberton. Follow B4352 to Bredwardine where R on lane over River Wye, and first L to Letton.

Join A438 and take first lane R to Waterloo, Kinnersley, Almeley, Holme Marsh and Lyonshall. R on to A44 and first L on lane to Nextend, Burcher and B4355 to Presteigne.

After Presteigne follow lane parallel and alongside River Lugg to Lower and Upper Kinsham. Follow lane North passing through Lingen. Turn L on to A4113 and R onto B4367 to Purslow. Take lane straight onto Kempton and L on ton B4385

Turn off B4385 at Five Turnings, past Eyton and L onto A489. Turn off R at Eaton onto lane to Wentnor and Bridges YHA.

 

LEJOG – Day 4 Across to Wales

Yatton to Kilpeck (near Hereford) – 69 miles

Drop back to day 3. Jump forward to day 5

The day’s events

Cycling across the M5 Avonmouth Bridge

Cycling across the M5 Avonmouth Bridge

Things didn’t get off to a good start today, at roadworks in Portishead I hit a pot hole and got a rear puncture ruining the inner tube. I quickly replaced with a spare but within 1/2 mile Tom’s chain broke. The broken link removed and within 1/2 hour we were back on the road again but 5 mile later at Juggernaught City (more commonly known as Avonmouth) Keith’s clip-in rear light unclipped into the path of a 32 tonner.

Needless to say it wasn’t worth risking life and limb to retrieve the pieces so we just carried on. It had been dry so far today, but now, just as we crossed the Severn Bridge into Wales, the skies opened and we had heavy rain for 4 hours all the way along the Wye Valley in the mist to Monmouth.

Tom Mark and Keith on the Severn Bridge

Tom Mark and Keith on the Severn Bridge

These early days with Westcountry hills, pot holes and rain had taken their toll, so replacement brake blocks, inner tubes and rear lights were purchased from a Monmouth bike shop. After Monmouth we followed some very quiet lanes roughly following the River Monnow to Grosmont. The day wasn’t quite over yet as Mark broke his chain just before our overnight stop at my sister’s house in Kilpeck, famous for its church, followed by a latenight powercut after returning from the local pub.

Mark and Al at the Monmouth Bridge

Mark and Al at the Monmouth Bridge

The Route

The route was varied from the cycletrack alongside the M5 hard shoulder over the Avonmouth and Severn Bridges, to the quiet deserted lanes between Monmouth and Kilpeck, via the picturesque road through the Wye Valley. Not a bad route and not too much climbing either. (Photo shows the Bridge at Monmouth – We are just opposite a very helpful cycle shop)

Food

We ate in a fish and chip café in Chepstow to escape the rain, and another break in one of the many tea shops in Monmouth. There are plenty of places along the way for food breaks and, I’m sure, in nice weather, very nice scenery.

Climbing profile

Yatton to M48 Junc 2

LEJOG - Day 4 part 1 climbing profile

LEJOG – Day 4 part 1

M48 J2 to Kilpeck, near Hereford

LEJOG - Day 4 part 2 climbing profile

LEJOG – Day 4 part 2

 

Statistics

From To

Day Distance (Miles)

Running Total (Miles)

Height climbed (Metres)

Height descended (Metres)

Yatton Kilpeck

69

301

1453

1359

 

 

Directions

The approximate route we followed for Day 4 is listed below (1:50 000).

I used the Memory Map 1:50 000 Ordnance Survey electronic maps for route planning. Note: – Don’t however buy their Adventurer GPS units as they are rubbish in my opinion.

From Yatton follow B3133 towards North End. After railway bridge take R on lane towards Manor farm, At T by River Kenn take a L and first R.

Cross over M5 and take L at T on B3130, then R onto B3124 to Portishead. At roundabout with A369 take R to M5 J19.

After M5 J19, take first L to Pill and follow NCR signs to cyclepath that runs over the Avonmouth motorway bridge. After bridge take L at T with road towards Avonmouth.

Take A403 (NCR 41 and 4) through Avonmouth to Aust services (now called Severnview Services I believe Grid ref ST 567898. Its the service station on the English side of the old Severn Bridge)  and follow the cycle path over the old Severn Bridge. At M48 J 2 take cyclepath under motorway to Chepstow, and follow A466 through the Wye Valley to Monmouth. Stay on A466 and turn L onto lane to Hospital and Osbaston. (Follows River Monnow)

Follow Lane to Tregate Bridge where L and R at T in St Maughans Green. Join B4521 at Skenfrith, and then turn R on B4347 to Grosmont.

Turn R off B4347 at Kenchurch on to lane to Bagwyllydiart where L at T to Cross Llyde, Marlas and Kilpeck.

LEJOG – Day 3 The westcountry

DAY 3 – Exeter to Yatton – 76 miles

We stayed with family in Yatton

Drop back to day 2. Jump forward to day 4

The day’s events

Boat and Anchor pub at Bridgewater

Boat and Anchor at Bridgewater

We were concerned about the availability of food in some of the more remote parts of Scotland, especially as the Scottish Hostels don’t offer meals. We therefore decided to carry out a “Supermarket Sweep” this morning and post on some food parcels to the Scottish YHA’s.

Although examining chocolate bars for calorie content, it made a nice change to be selecting chocolate snack bars with the highest calorie value. Eventually we left Sainsbury’s with 180 Brunch Bars and 80 Cadbury Boost’s for our Scottish food parcels between the 4 of us. Following our shopping trip, a late start to the cycling at 11:30 but with a strong tail wind we made very good time to Taunton, sustaining around 25mph for much of the way in our close formation 4 carriage express, and boy did it feel good!.
At Taunton we joined the Sustrans National Route 3 for much of the rest of the day, following the canal route out of Taunton and onwards to Bridgewater. The NCR route markings were very poor, especially around Bridgewater, and we eventually got lost and ended up underneath the M5 motorway flyover.

The elusive Sustrans Signs at Bridgewater

The elusive Sustrans Signs at Bridgewater

There were remains of burnt-out cars and the whole area was like something out of Mad Max and the Thunderdome! Eventually resorted to “Gladys” our if all else fails mobile GPS unit to show us the way out and we progressed through the Somerset levels, in the rain, to our wonderful Yatton hosts, Bill and Pat Sales. Well fed and watered Keith and I shared a double bed, (not for the last time on this trip), while Mark was banished to his own room far enough away so that the rest of us would remain undisturbed.

Food

We took a snack in the restaurant of a garden centre at Waterloo Cross (where you join the A38 at Sampford Peverell) which was really good. Lunch today was in the Tesco’s in the centre of Taunton that very handily sits right on the NCR. We soon discovered that you can’t really go wrong with the store café’s in Sainsbury or Tesco, where a full English breakfast for less than £3 is a lot more value for money and tasty than the YHA offerings.

The Route

Well we did have huge problems today with the NCR markers. One important one we missed was smaller than a standard cigarette packet. The canal path, which is part of the NCR3, is a bit tough and slow on roadbikes due to the surface but still passable. I didn’t enjoy today’s route as much as the first 2 days although it was a lot flatter and would probably try a different route next time from Taunton North. (Spot the Sustrans NCR3 sign (4th rail from the right).

Cycling through Exeter

Exeter has a comprehensive network of cycle paths throughout the city. A copy of the Exeter Cycle Map can be found on the Devon County Council website.  http://www.devon.gov.uk/cycling

Climbing profile

Statistics

From To

Day Distance (Miles)

Running Total (Miles)

Height climbed (Metres)

Height descended (Metres)

Exeter Yatton

87

232

1051

1068

Directions

The approximate route we followed for Day 3 is listed below (1:50 000).

I used the Memory Map 1:50 000 Ordnance Survey electronic maps for route planning. Note: – Don’t however buy their Adventurer GPS units as they are rubbish in my opinion.

From the YHA, come out of the main gate and turn L to junction with A379 where L. Straight over at the large roundabout and follow off road cycle track uphill which joins the A3015 after the slip road. Continue straight over the next roundabout where the road becomes the B3181 sign posted to Broadclyst and Cullompton.

Follow B3181 to Sampford Peverell and turn R onto A38. Follow A38 until you get to the roundabout just before Wellington where you can take the first exit that takes you through Wellington, or carry on the A38 that bypasses it. Rejoin the A38 and follow into Taunton. Pick up NCR3 in the centre of Taunton near Tesco’s which follows the canal path, apart from a short section of about a mile, all the way to the Boat and Anchor pub just before the canal goes under the M5.

Carry on following the canal under the Motorway and after about 300Metres turn right away from the canal and follow a cycle path towards the railway line. The cycle path actually goes over the bridge over the railway although it is very badly sign posted. After the railway carry along the path under the Motorway again, past Dunwear and across the A372 towards Chedzoy. L in Chedzoy through Stape X and on to the A39 where R.

Take the first R off the A39 at Horsey, through Bradney and Bawdrip. At Bawdrip there is a cyclepath that follows an old railway line to Cossington where you turn L towards the B3141

R onto B3141 and through Woolavington, East Huntspill, Watchfield and Mark. After Mark first L to Chapel Allerton and then L to A38 at Lower Weare where R. Follow A38 through the pass between the hills and take the L near the top and follow lane to Winscombe. In Winscombe take L off A371 to Sandford.

Straight across A368 and follow lane to Churchill Green where L to Brinsea and Congresbury and Yatton.

LEJOG – Day 2 from Cornwall to Devon

Day 2 – Golant YHA to Exeter – 76 miles

We stayed with family in Exeter. But there is a Youth Hostel. Exeter YH

Drop back to day 1. Jump forward to day 3

The day’s events

Our Minions cafe host, honours the official carrot

Our Minions cafe host, honours the official carrot

Today we followed Mark’s own devised part of our LEJOG route. This avoided the major climb over the centre of Dartmoor, cutting instead between Bodmin Moor and Dartmoor via MinionsHorsebridge and the famous landmark of Brent Tor. (click here for an image) This unique 12th century church is built high on a volcanic outcrop and dominates the surrounding countryside. The church is dedicated to St. Michael de Rupe. There is also a legend about its construction, which concerns the Devil moving the stones from the bottom of the tor to the top, hoping that the walk would deter churchgoers.

Our LEJOG route progressed without incident thoroughly enjoying the peace and countryside. The western horizon is dominated by the Dartmoor massif and would be very demoralising if you knew later in the day you would have to cycle over it! We however could enjoy the view knowing we were going around it.

Delboy, complete with yellow Reliant Robin at Taphouse. Cornwall

Mange Tout Rodney

Eventually the route picks up the Granite Way cycle path at Lydford to Okehampton where a couple of colleagues came out on their bikes to ride with us down the old A30 to Keith’s house in Exeter. Mark punctured as we made our way through “bandit country” between Devon and Cornwall, but other than that we had a very good day with little rain. For anyone who’s done some longish cycle rides you’ll know that it’s important to keep eating regularly otherwise your energy levels rapidly deteriorate (known as “bonking”). We knew from our training weekend that there were few village shops that would be open on a Sunday along this route, and hence had our food stops and onboard snacks well organised. There are one or two pubs but most are only open for the lunchtime hours.

The Route

The route was superb and highly recommended. Apart from the A390 stretch from Lostwithiel, the rest of the route is incredibly quiet picking its way through rural Cornwall and Devon at its very best. It has the huge advantage of avoiding the busy tourist route and climb over the centre of Dartmoor, but you are still blessed with stunning views, and unspoilt countryside and villages. As you are following a predominantly lane route, the inclines can be short and steep in places. This is where you’ll be very happy to have the third chainring and a good range of sprockets.

Cycling through Exeter

Exeter has a comprehensive network of cycle paths throughout the city. A copy of the excellent Exeter Cycle Map is available on the Devon County Council website.  http://www.devon.gov.uk/cycling

Food

We had breakfast in the YH but it was poor value for money and the muesli had a very odd but distinctive smell to it! The “Full English Breakfast” was also very disappointing as it was served on a side plate and there was room to spare!! Despite the lack of food shops along the route, there are a couple of very well placed refreshment opportunities. Lostwithial has a few small general stores, bakeries etc, that gives you a final opportunity to stock up before heading into rural Cornwall and Devon. There is a very friendly and good café at Minions called “Hurlers Halt” The “Highest Tea Shop in Cornwall”, where we stopped for an early lunch. There is also an excellent café in an old railway buffet car at the Okehampton side of the Meldon viaduct on the Granite Way.  Okehampton railway station also serves snacks although I am not sure on opening times

Climbing profile

Day2_image003

Statistics

From To

Day Distance (Miles)

Running Total (Miles)

Height climbed (Metres)

Height descended (Metres)

Golant YHA (Fowey) Exeter

76

145

2096

2119

Directions

The approximate route we followed for Day 2 is listed below (1:50 000). I used the Memory Map 1:50 000 Ordnance Survey electronic maps for route planning.

Note: – Don’t however buy their Adventurer GPS units as they are rubbish in my opinion.
From YHA return uphill to xroads and turn R on to B3269. Follow B3269 and turn R onto A390.Follow A390 through Lostwithiel, West, Middle and East Taphouse. Take next L after East Taphouse onto B3360. Straight on at xroads with A38 at Doublebois onto lane.
Follow lane past Bokenna X, Redgate & Common Moor to Minions.Carry on down hill and cross B3254 at Upton X. pass Rilla Mill, Halwinnick Butts, and turn R onto B3257 to Bray Shop. At Bray Shop take L towards Penpill Farm and Stokes Climsland, and onwards crossing the River Tamar at Horsebridge.
After bridge take L past pub and first R up hill to Sydenham Damerel. Go straight through village and straight on over B3362 to Long X and Brent Tor and in to Lydford. Pass thru village and take L on new cycle path that follows old railway line. Follow signed cycle route to Bridestowe, R in village crossing the A386 at Lake.

Join NCR27 at Lake and follow all the way to Okehampton Station.

At Okehampton Station proceed downhill to centre of Okehampton and R onto B3260.

At junction with A30 carry on through Sticklepath and Whiddon Down to roundabout with A30.

Go straightover roundabout and along lane that follows the A30. Take L immediately after bridge over A30 towards Bowden, where L back over A30 bridge and immediately R again to Cheriton Bishop. Cross A30 at Woodleigh and follow old A30 road through Tedburn St Mary alongside new A30 to Pocombe Bridge just outside Exeter on junction with B3212.

Turn L on B3212 towards Exeter and immediate R towards Ide. Pass Ide to roundabout with A30, straight across and follow main road into Exeter.

Depending on where you stay in Exeter will depend where you go from here. There is an excellent network of cycle paths which is steadily increasing.  The Devon County Council website holds up to date information

The best route to join is the cycle routes that follow the River Exe from the main railway station (St David’s in the North) all the way down the river to Topsham and beyond. If you are staying at Exeter YHA, the easiest way is to follow the river canal cycle routes signed posted to the Double Locks pub or Turf Locks. Once you pass the Double Locks, continue South on the cycle route until you come to the main A379 ring road as it crosses the canal. Turn left and follow the off road cycle track alongside the A379 as it crosses the River Exe and take the first turning left by a pedestrian crossing that crosses the main A379. Follow this residential street and after about 400 Metres your find the YHA on the right.

LEJOG – Day 1 We’re off

 

Day 1 – Lands End to Golant YHA (nr St Austell) – 69 miles

Jump forward to day 2

The day’s events

The trip in the car to Lands End on Saturday 26th July 2003 seemed ominous. The wipers on, black skies and plenty of “Cornish Drizzle”. After all our evening rides spent mostly in warm, dry conditions, this was going to be a nasty shock.

We had the obligatory photos taken at the Lands End Signpost, registration at the Post office, slapped on lots of sudocrem to help ease the strain around the saddle area, and set off in the pouring rain on the beginning of our LEJOG cycle ride.

This took us via some nice quiet B roads with hardly any traffic. The rain did ease off a little but then poured down again with a vengeance as we crossed the King Harry Ferry  for the final 20 hilly miles.

Don't pay the ferryman

Don’t pay the ferryman

No mishaps and everyone in good spirits despite the poor weather. Advice we had been given talked about making sure everything is tested before you go. I thought I had this covered except for the joys of sharing a large dormitory in a Youth Hostel with what sounded like a mixture of farmyard animals. Needless to say, I had a restless night

The Route

Cows at Goviley Farm nr St Austell-min

Cows at Goviley Farm nr St Austell

Overall today’s route was superb. Despite being the first Saturday of the school summer holidays, the roads we used were very quiet passing through lovely countryside and Cornish villages. Highly recommended! The last section into St Austell has a lot of up and down, but following a lot of research and local knowledge we are quite confident the route we chose was the least strenuous.

Food

Plenty of opportunities for food today. We had pasties at the excellent pasty shop in Marazion – although they do sell out if you leave it too late. We also used the General stores at St Buryan and Stithians, and had a hot meal in the café at Safeways in St Austell.

Climbing profile

Day1_image003

Statistics

From

To

Day Distance (Miles)

Running Total (Miles)

Height climbed (Metres)

Height descended (Metres)

Lands End

Golant YHA (Fowey)

69

69

1648

1649

Directions

The approximate route we followed for Day 1 is listed below (1:50 000).

I used the Memory Map 1:50 000 Ordnance Survey electronic maps for route planning. Note: – Don’t however buy their Adventurer GPS units as they are rubbish in my opinion.

Lands End, A30 past Sennen, R on to lane past Trevear Fm to St Buryan.

St Buryan R at church along lane past Tregadgwith to B3315 into Newlyn and Penzance

Penzance follow National Cycle Route (NCR) 3 to Marazion. Cross A30 at roundabout and follow B3280. R after 1 mile onto lane past Millpool, Godolphin Cross, Nancegollan, Porkellis, Carnkie, L to Stithians, Tubbon Hill, straight across A393 to Perranwell Station.

Next right after Perranwell Station across busy A39 to Devoran. Follow lane alongside creek past Point and join B3289 past Trellissick Gardens (NT) to King Harry ferry.

Turn L off B3289 along Lane past Philleigh, next R to Treworthal along NCR3 and L onto A3078.

Past Ruan High Lanes and R on lane to Tippetts Shop (NCR3) where L to Goviley Major.

R at B3287 to A390 where immediate R on lane to Sticker. L on B3273 at London Apprentice to St Austell.

Follow A390 around St Austell where R at roundabout on A3082. L at PH through Tywardreath across B3269 to Golant YHA

 

LEJOG – Planning and preparation

 

Chapter 1 – In the beginning

I retell our story below and add some tips from what we learnt that will hopefully help you on your trip with regard to route choice, training and bike selection

The boys pose before the start of day 5 of their LEJOG

The boys before the start of day 5 of their LEJOG

In addition to the hints and tips I provide below, Greg Venn has an excellent blog post that gives a lot of information on training and nutrition which is well worth a read. Greg is an experienced cyclist with over 82,000 miles under his wheels.

Greg also says: –

On the matter of food this is a good site, http://www.cptips.com/toc.htm#table , but too deep for the beginner I feel. Multi day rides are here http://www.cptips.com/sixrides.htm#mdr . If the reader is not a regular rider (the majority I expect) then they are going to put their untrained body through the mill, so best to go more cautious and hence my advice to eat basically all the time, little and often. The other point is to eat as soon as you stop, if you can 🙂 the body really wants to pack it away. I can see some would wait for an evening meal which is not best. Hence the advice.”

In October 2001 following a leisurely 20 Mile day long cycle pub-crawl, Mark recounted the story over a pint of his summer holiday in Scotland where his family visited John O’Groats. His then 14-year-old son Tom asked why John O’Groats was so well known and next thing Mark knew, he had committed to the idea of cycling with his son on the 1000 Miles End to End  “LEJOG” from Lands End to John O’Groats. Following another pint, I realised I had just committed myself to join them all set for the summer of 2003!

The tour team consisted of myself, Keith, Mark (all “forty or thereabouts  something’s” – and that was just our waist measurement) colleagues from a previous work-life), and of course Mark’s son Tom (who would have just finished his GCSE’s), whose bright idea it was in the first place. Keith had succumbed to our persuasive techniques (more beer involved), the following year after we had talked him into the merits of ditching his mountain bike for a nice sleek lightweight Italian framed racing bike. Before he knew what had hit him, not only did he have a new bike, he had his summer holiday organised for 2003 as well. After all, what are friends for?!

From the outset we wanted the trip to be achievable, enjoyable and affordable so we chose our own route based on the Cycle Touring Club (CTC) Youth Hostel & Scenic Routes. The trip would take 15 days averaging around 71 miles per day, traveling as light as possible and without any support vehicle. Furthermore, we quite liked the idea of travelling up the west coast of Scotland as opposed to going through Glasgow as we felt it would be quieter, more scenic and hence more enjoyable.

With route planning, make it your own is the best advice I can give. This may sound obvious but treat the challenge as a journey rather than purely just the destination, unless you are treating it as a race that is. By this I mean  take your time and enjoy the journey through the country and take it as a tour and an opportunity to explore the scenic island we live on rather than as we normally do in the car, head for the nearest motorway. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by how beautiful and rural it is. My personal preference is to avoid busy Trunk roads wherever you can. They are not pleasant and are dangerous. The number of times I see cyclists on the A30 in Cornwall. Why, when there is so many more safer, quieter and more scenic routes through the county that are far more enjoyable beggers belief.

Consider which areas of the country you’d like to visit, and link them together. There are plenty of resources and routes online these days to help you fill in the gaps.

Anyway, where was I ……

Keith and I had invested in £xxxx worth of fancy 27 geared Italian and American lightweight carbon fibre & aluminum engineered racing bikes (exact cost deliberately omitted in case other half’s are reading this!). Mark however was always up for a challenge and I think wanted to prove that any success would be down to “man not machine”. He paid £3 for his bike and £5 for Tom’s bike at the local Recycling Centre. Admittedly he did update it a little with Index gears and a suspension seat post.

I did a few 25-40 mile day rides during late summer of 2002 but as winter approached the bike got tucked away in the garage and seldom saw the light of day.

Training

2003 arrived and so did the commitment to my New Year Resolution of starting my training regime. With still 7 months to go, I had plenty of time to start gradually building up the fitness. In the gym a couple of times a week with the odd short bike ride thrown in when the weather allowed. Come the lighter evenings, replace the gym sessions with bike rides. Sorted …. or so I thought. Having not attempted a cycle trip of such a distance before, I thought it best to seek advice from the experts regarding recommendations, so I sent an email to the CTC for some guidance. In response, I was told I would be fine as by now with 7 months to go, at least one ride of 50 Miles each week would suffice. I decided to stick to my strategy!

With my training strategy organised, I enrolled on some Aerobiking (Spinning) sessions. This is basically an aerobics class on cycle machines. Fortunately, I had been attending these classes semi-regularly for a year or so, so had the knack of pacing myself and knowing what to expect. However, for anyone starting out from scratch they are extremely hard work. Keith, as a newcomer in a room full of, as he describes, ” lycra-clad techno-thump fitness freaks” tried to look “cool” as the instructor turned up the music and began a hard hour of simulated cycling sprints and climbs over mountains. “One two three, stand up two three, sit down two three, up 3 gears (more friction for simulated hill) two three, press-ups on handlebars two three”. Within 10 minutes he was bright red with a hint of purple, starting to hyper-ventilate and becoming surrounded in a pool of sweat that’d been dripping off his nose and chin. By the time Donna Summer was feeling Love, Keith was feeling sick with still another 45 minutes to go!

We both stuck with it however, and with my added sessions in the gym it wasn’t long before the light evenings arrived and I was ready for some cycling on a proper bike. Distances and average speeds gradually increased until by early summer Keith and I were comfortably undertaking rides of 50-60 miles across the hills of Devon after work. Topped up with a June training weekend that covered the first 2 days of our “End to End” route through Cornwall and Devon, things were definitely looking good.

Training! My mantra in how much training to do is:  “The more bike fit you are the easier you’ll find it, and hence the more you’ll enjoy it” You don’t have to be an Olympic athlete to complete the ride. Take as many days as you need and any fitness work you do before the event in preparation will help but keep it up. Better to do less but regular rather than one big session then nothing. Build up gradually and regularly and you’ll be amazed how much fitter you become and how much further you can cycle comfortably.

From what we did you can see we used the winter to try and keep fit in the gym and build up your aerobic fitness and leg strength. If you can get out on the bike as well even better. Then as you build-up to the event you really can’t beat just cycling on your bike as it is by far the best preparation. Let your body get used to the saddle, legs and knees to the peddling action, and just see how your bike and you perform. Does it fit correctly for instance? Having a bike that is not sized or fitted correctly will be a recipe for disaster. Visit a good bike shop for advice.  It isn’t just a case of making a vague adjustment on the height of your saddle!.  Also don’t forget to do a training trip over a few consecutive days carrying the kit you expect to take with you to see if you’ve got the right kit. Is it too heavy, is there a problem with the panniers, have you forgotten anything, etc,  so that you can get used to another full day’s cycling straight after the previous day.

What Bike?

What Bike? Is another question I am frequently asked. There is no real answer to this really. Any bike will do as long as it is well maintained. You don’t have to buy a specific bike to do the challenge, although you can if you wish … like I did! My thought process was to buy a bike that fitted, had a good range of gears, and was light and low rolling resistance (narrow tyres as opposed to mountain bike knobblies) to minimise drag and make it less effort to peddle. I was also happy to use the bike for my general cycling afterwards therefore worth the investment. If you are intending to camp unsupported  and hence have more heavy kit to carry,  a racing bike is probably unsuitable as they are not designed to carry heavy loads.  and a good quality touring bike or hybrid would be ideal, and perhaps a mountain bike with road tyres rather than knobblies would also be worth considering.

As you can see so many choices. So best thing to do is go down to your local friendly bike shops (more than one, shop around)  and tell them what you want the bike for and your price range and let them advise you. Also don’t forget to give them an idea on how much kit your carrying as a lightweight performance road bike would not be a good idea to pile high with heavy camping kit. It also probably won’t have anything to fix a bike rack to on the frame and possibly no mudguard lugs either – although you can get mudguards that don’t need lugs and bike racks that fit on the seat post, but they are limited by how much weight they can carry.

Anyway, I digress again ….

Which charity are you raising money for?

“Which charity are you raising money for?” This was a frequent question and with about 2 months to go I, along with the others, decided we would each raise money for our own good causes. I decided to raise money for MacMillan Cancer Relief and my local village primary school. The headmaster was very enthusiastic and invited me to talk to the children during an assembly. “Can you come dressed up in your cycle stuff and bring your bike?” Yeah why not. Next thing I know I had been talked into cycling in to the school hall to Queen’s “I Want to Ride My Bicycle”. I managed to avoid hitting any first years and spent a very enjoyable 20 Minutes telling the children all about the trip, the bike, and answering their many questions such as “Are you going to take any money with you?”

What kit to carry

With the training well on course, the time had come to concentrate on the kit to take with us. As we were to have no support, and the lightweight racing bike approach, I very much wanted to keep the equipment to be carried the same. Lightweight travel towel, small wash kit, 1 spare change of lightweight quick dry cycle clothing all crammed into a saddle and handlebar bag. Triple chainring to cope with those steep Cornish and Scottish hills, Keith’s “Top Tip” of extra padding under the handlebar tape using draft excluder. But what about the saddle? Keith had swapped his “no-mercy buttock cleaver” for a nice and comfy touring-type gel saddle. Should I do the same? My buttock cleaver seemed to be fine so after much indecision I decided to risk it. You will be pleased to know that this proved to be an excellent decision.

Our final decision before the start was our tour mascot. It had to be light, fairly small, streamlined and something we could be proud of. Of course a carrot inscribed with “End to End Official Carrot” fitted the bill!

The official Land End to John O'Groats carrot!

The official End-to-end carrot!