Lands’ End to John O’Groats Diary – by Terry Jane
After many years of wishing, wondering, part preparing, and hoping, the time finally arrived it definitely looked like we were going to ride from Lands End to John O Groats! We are Terry Jane (age 56), brother Philip Jane (age 52) and son Ben Jane (age 27). We were supported en route by Terry’s wife Anne and Philip’s partner Nicola who drove their respective cars to carry luggage and sorted the B&B accommodation. I planned the route using a combination of the 3 most popular CTC routes to take in the places we wanted to see. The route planning was done using Tracklogs Software and each leg was planned as a separate track which was loaded onto my Garmin eXtrex Legend hand held sat nav each night and also into Ben’s newer model of the same. Each leg was also printed out onto a single A4 sheet which each rider could carry and use to check the route before each day. Anne did an enormous amount of work online during the planning stage to search out suitable B&Bs near our planned destinations and to prepare a list of them with phone numbers and details to book as we went. She booked the first 3 nights and thereafter we decided to book two or three nights ahead to give use more flexibility. In the event this was a wise move as the attrocious weather we suffered did require us to modify our plans a bit.
The bikes – Terry had a 12 year old modified Marin mountain bike. Modifications included narrower Schwalbe City Jet road tyres, butterfly handle bars and a big gel saddle!
Ben had an even older (17year) Emmelle mountain bike which he had extensively stripped repainted and rebuilt with new brakes, new wheels handlebars and saddle.
Phil had a specially built brand new custom bike with a Cannondale aluminium frame, carbon fibre forks, lightweight wheels and very low gearing.
Here is my log just as I kept it each night during the ride. Highlighted links in the log will bring up other information such as photos and maps.
Wednesday 20th June - Excited now. All preparations virtually complete. Bike set up and cleaned with new tyres new tubes and computer calibrated. Panniers have been waterproofed, hopefully to ward of rain! No chance but you never know!
Saturday night hotel at Sennen has been confirmed as have the following night and Monday. Weather outlook for the start at the moment is changeable but I will be keeping an ever closer eye over the next couple of days.
Arrived at Sennen despite a 1.5 hour traffic jam after Bodmin thanks to Cornwall’s decision to cone off one lane of a perfectly good dual carriageway. Stayed at the Sunny Bank Hotel lovely with newly decorated rooms and friendly hosts. Bikes store overnight in a double garage. Dinner in a pub at Sennen cove. We are ready!!
Awoke to a bright sky though some threatening clouds. All excited and in good spirits and had a fine breakfast. There was another couple of end to enders who were staying and aiming to do it via Ireland taking 4 weeks!
Lands’ End was deserted except for a few eager cyclists and a group about to start the end to end by mobility scooters taking 4 months!! After some photo calls we set off in dry conditions and soon were speeding along the lanes towards Penzance. Stopped for a quick photo as we passed through Sheffield! Not a navigation error but a small village just outside Penzance. Spirits were high as we descended the steep hill into Penzance to be met with a road closed sign due to a fair come market thoughtlessly placed on our route. After negotiating the area on foot we set off again . I had forgotten to bring a paper map in the excitement of the first day and now realised that the sat nav and sat road map were often well mismatched and we missed a turning initially to Mousehole. Soon corrected we stopped for a photo of St Michaels mount and to use the toilet block when the heavens opened. Suffice it to say they did not close again for 3.5 hours. Wet and tired we entered the Star Inn for some well earned lunch only to be told that no food was available. After another 4.5 miles damp ride we found the 7 Stars at Stithians had a great Sunday lunch and even better it stopped raining . Stopped for photos next to Wheal Jane Tin mine. The rest of the ride to Chapel Amble was dry though much longer than anticipated due to the very wiggly roads not matching the sat nav and giving an extra 7 miles of riding up and down (mostly up). So we arrived eventually very tired at 7.00pm. David’s house was an interesting B&B all organic with only one loo and shower for all of us but nevertheless friendly and welcoming. Also the pub for dinner was just across the road.
Next morning forecast bad but looked doable so set off. Big hill right away and then heavy, heavy rain for the rest of the day with 50mph winds. The day was named by the BBC the Day of the Deluge!!! We had to modify the route as the coastal road was flooded out and closed in places so we were forced to stick to the main roads in very bad conditions. I got very wet as ancient gortex failed miserably and a lucky find of the Piers Café on the A39 saved the day (and my life) with coffee pasties and chips whilst the girls came to the rescue with a new waterproof. We decided to go on (probably a mistake). Horrendous conditions gales torrential rain in what became known as the “Day of the Deluge” in the media with over a month’s rain falling in a few hours in Devon. Anyway we made it to the Clinton Arms at 5.0 pm for much drying and rest. Nice meal in pub that evening and decided to go on next day even though the bikes had suffered with the weather and needed some attention soon, as weather forecast to be best day of the week to come. Landlady dried some of our things in tumble drier and bikes overnight in old stable.
Set off in grey but dry conditions in full foul weather kit and so had to stop at the top of the first steep hill into Torrington to strip off as we were all overheating! Eventually we all found some sort of compromise clothing between boiling going up hills and freezing in the chill wind and rain downhill.
As the day went on the weather stayed dry and even produced a couple of moments of sunshine. Some very steep down and up hills produced some exciting rides and tough climbs (25% was the worst). Spirits much higher cycling in the dry and even with a tail wind! Reached South Moulton near midday and found a suitable café for lunch. Phil felt a cold coming on so we tried to find a chemist that sold First Defence but had to settle for some paracetamol. Our other brother Brian arrived with his partner Benilda to help record the occasion and provide moral support. Refreshed and fed we set off and detoured outside South Moulton up a long hill and down into Bishop’s Nympton, home of the famous Jonny Kingdom, who wasn’t there! My Dad arrived to provide further support and filming and then we set off up another hill back to our route for Bridgwater. Both Dad and Brian filmed and photographed us on route for a couple of miles. Finally we came to the Somerset border and recorded the moment with great relief. As promised the roads almost immediately became better condition and the gradients less and views wider. There were still some spectacular sweeping descents and some long climbs but our spirits were even higher having conquered Cornwall and Devon in the worst conditions. There was a slight morale failure as we faced the climb over the Quantocks at the 58 mile point but the long run down into Bridgwater to the B&B was kind to our aching legs and the thought of the rest day ahead was comforting. B&B was Hogs Farm with very nice welcome and comfortable rooms where we were to stay for two nights. Bikes overnight in garage with landlords Harley Davidson! Ben feeling the strain in his legs as he had done the least preparation due to his work.
Rest Day in Bridgwater.
The bikes needed attention with the brake blocks having suffered heavily in the extreme conditions of the first days. Bar tape had peeled chains and gears needed cleaning and regreasing and much crud removing. This was carried out in the morning and the landlady kindly took our washing for cleaning and drying, whilst we went into town to find a bike shop to buy spares. My old panniers had failed miserable despite my attempt to re-waterproof them so I purchased some heavier duty panniers and wet weather gear. A great cycle shop the Chain Store provided all the kit and even gave us a 10% discount. Lunch in the KFC and then an afternoon doing admin and booking the next night's accommodation. All quite stiff in the legs after the hard 3 days!
Set off in the dry! First 5 miles negotiating morning rush hour through Bridgwater then across lovely flat and dry countryside over the valley of the River Brue. Stopped in Wedmore just as a dark shower cloud appeared and found a nice ladies boutique that strangely had a tea room on the side. Got the impression that three men in fluorescent cycling gear was not their usual clientele but the coffee was good. When we came out the shower had passed and the sun was shining for the rest of a gentle ride into Cheddar. Bought picnic lunch in Cheddar and met up with Anne and Nicola for a photo stop in the village before the climb up the gorge. The sun shone all the way up the gorge and we saw goats on the cliffs and heard Peregrine falcons. The gorge was hard work but nothing like Devon or Cornwall so quite enjoyable. Over the top and a nice ride down and on to Bristol. A stop for lunch at Chew Valley Lake where Ben had his first and only puncture. A long climb up to Clifton and then across the Clifton suspension bridge before a complicated and busy ride through the western edge of Bristol, thank goodness for the sat nav and Ben’s local knowledge. Stopped briefly as Ben spied the quaint hamlet of Blaize a collection of half a dozen 19th century houses designed by John Nash for pensioners and still used today. On out of Bristol for a longish stretch to get under the M5 and over the M48 and find the cycle way across the old Severn bridge. Just as we approached the bridge the weather started to worsen with dark skies and increasing wind so on with the foul weather gear before the exciting crossing. Unfortunately although the road to the B&B was visible from the bridge there proved to be no way to reach it so we had to cycle another 7 miles into and out of Chepstow to complete a circuit back to the accommodation at Sedbury. Strange and quite unwelcoming landlady, but warm and dry with a nice restaurant almost under the western end of the Severn bridge for dinner. Bikes overnight in garage.
Used cars to take bikes to start rather than do the extra 7 mile circuit again and set off up a long and quite steep climb into the Forest of Dean. Weather fine and no problems. Lovely scenery and enjoyable ride. Stopped at Symmonds Yat to admire the great view over the Wye Valley and to observe the Peregrine Falcons on their nest courtesy of the RSPB and their telescope. On down onto the Wye valley and lunch in a café in Ross on Wye. Stopped at a strange sculpture-come-seat for a spot of tiffin. As the forecast for the next day was bad we agreed to take another day out and stay two night at our next stop. Problems due to extreme flooding in Ludlow and a festival meant that our intended overnight stops were all booked so Anne managed to get one night for us all in the Talbot Hotel in Leominster and the second night in a farm about 10 miles to the East. We got to Leominster in the sun around 1600 having completed around 50 miles but decided to go on to the planned destination and get the cars to pick us up and return to Leominster for the night and to reverse the process in order to continue on our planned routes. Eventually completed the route after 68.9 miles with Terry suffering some saddle sores for the first time. Overnight at the hotel with the bikes in the conference room.
Rest Day Leominster
Next day wet as advertised but we had a gentle start then looked around Leominster in the morning visiting the Priory and viewing the ducking stool. Lunch in a nice tea room in Leominster and Phil had his treacle pud and custard though he was not happy about either the volume or consistency of his custard! In the afternoon had a fascination visit to Judges Lodgings in Presteigne (Wales) a 19th century assize court and judges lodging preserved exactly as was even with paraffin and gas lighting. Tea in a local tea shop where Ben had Jam Roly Poly and Custard. This time to Phil’s dismay the custard was just right on all counts. Back across Leominster to Hegden Hill to find a lovely Farm called Little Hegden a wonderful oak beamed large farmhouse with very welcoming hosts who even vacated their own room to provide the three rooms we needed. Bikes left on the cars over night.
Took the bikes back to the end of the previous days ride by car as it was some 25 miles from our B&B! Started wet as always, but became dry but showery after a few hours. A bit of a westward jig to begin to get around the Wenlock Edge then a nice steady climb up in lovely dales countryside with the steep sided Long Mynd to our East. A gentle and enjoyable run down onto the Cheshire plane and a timely stop in Habberly for lunch at Mad Jack Myttons pub. On across a flat run via Ellesmere to Chester where the B&B was right in the centre. Phil had been hankering for a Chinese meal and the girls had found an excellent one in walking distance from the B&B with “ all you can eat for £10”. Bikes overnight in a secure yard.
The longest day in terms of miles with a 78 mile run through the built up areas around Bolton, Warrington and Blackburn. Atrocious weather to start with pouring rain and spray from lorries. Cleared at lunchtime and saw several of the places that we visited on our Acton Bridge to Wigan canal trip. Crossed the Bridgewater canal several times and the Manchester Ship Canal. Steep 5.5 mile climb at the 62 mile mark over tested our resolve but we did it and then had a fine run down to Whalley and on into Clitheroe. Dinner in the Emporium, a Raj style pub/ brasserie. Phil’s cold is now fully developed and he is suffering but determined to continue.
Started with torrential rain everyone togged up in full waterproofs. Within 10 minutes encountered 1ft deep floods which made sure we all had wet feet. Then a stiff climb up for a couple of miles before moving out onto moor - like landscape, very wet and the hills covered with torrents of water. At this stage my bike decided that enough was enough and the gears just slipped at the slightest incline. It appeared that a combination of a worn mech and very worn teeth would not allow any of the lower gears to take the strain. So far from any civilisation and out of phone contact the only thing to do was to walk up all the hills and coast down (mostly walk up) Final got phone and called for rescue to get the bike fixed. Made it as far as Higher Bentham (21 miles) and got lunch in the Coach House pub. Anne and Nicola arrived and my bike loaded and I left for Kendal whilst Ben and Phil continued with Ben doing the navigation lead. Evans Cycles in Kendal proved to be the perfect place and fitted a whole new drive train in the afternoon. Ben and Phil completed the other 34 miles and arrived in Kendal around tea time.
We are all in our stride now. The first few days have toned Ben’s fitness and he is now more than happy with the riding, I have overcome the saddle sores and apart from creaky knees have no problems, Phil is suffering because of his cold but otherwise we are all doing well. Started very wet as always but the B&B in Kendal was right on the start point for the nav and on the correct road out of Kendal making for an easy start to the nav. Up over a ridge to the NE still raining then down and on to Tebay in torrential rain. Stopped in the village of Tebay for a coffee with a bit of whisky! Rain stopped and had a good and though hard climb up over Ashby Fell before a glorious descent as the sun came out into the Eden Valley. Lovely ride along the Eden valley though puzzled as the first two pubs we came to for lunch were closed. The third was open and had very nice lunch. Even sunnier in the afternoon though with black clouds both to the left and right. We had one shower within 10 miles of Carlisle but hid under a tree until it passed and finally descended into Carlisle at around 5.00pm after 55miles of the best weather yet. For the first time arrived at the B&B with dry feet!!!Phil’s cold at its worst.
Started dry for the first time and soon sped out of Carlisle across the River Eden and on to the Edenside Cycle route. Nice and flat and fairly quiet which was to set the tone for the day despite some very dark clouds and rain in the distance we actually stayed dry all day and also found the roads the best so far. Arrived in Scotland at 9.45 and took appropriate photos at the “first house” just outside Gretna Greeen. My knee was playing up so a quick stop at the Gretna Green factory outlet and purchased a knee support which helped a lot. On along flat roads making great time before a stop in Beattock for a pub lunch. Knee still hurting so a couple of paracetamols sorted the problem and a long steady but gentle climb up to the higher ground towards Douglas. Mile upon mile of cycleway made for easy riding and we reached Douglas in record time at 5.0pm ready for a rest and an evening meal in the B&B. Bikes overnight in a garage and the evening meal was excellent with a free bottle of wine and after dinner mints!
Best ride yet. Good old Scotland.
Started gloomy and damp , though spirits high and a nice flat and fast ride to Hamilton then awful 4.5 hours fighting through the outskirts of Glasgow then out to Loch Lomond. Tried the Glasgow to Loch Lomond cycle route but it deteriorated in places to rubbish and then stopped completely 5 miles south of destination. Started to rain hard as we arrived in Alexandria so we dived into a café and phoned the girls to have the y cars pick us and the bikes up to get to B&Bs particularly as for the first time we could not all get into the same B&B with Ben being accommodated a mile or so from the rest of us. We picked up Ben and all went into a nice Italian restaurant in Balloch for the evening meal. Bike in a garage overnight.
Started dry and manages to dodge showers all day to end dry. Spectacular ride along cycle trail by Loch Lomond. Amazing ride through the highlands.Lunch at Crianlarich were we met up with Anne and Nicola, then on to the highlands proper. As we entered the dramatic Glen Coe the weather turned and the rain started, worst still for the first time we encountered a very strong and gusty headwind that was funneling down the glen. I still found the scenery amazing but the bad conditions and Phil’s cold meant that he was less impressed and found the 10 miles across the glen a difficult time. After a stop for a drink and a power bar we finally descended from Glen Coe down the impressive valley into Ballachulish and found the B&B almost on the route by sighting Anne waving from the front window.
A hard ride today, particularly the last 15 miles but amazing landscape.
Started wet and windy with torrential rain as we headed into Fort William. Stopped for coffee and to dry out a bit in Fort William. Ben got particularly wet as he was caught with his waterproof trousers off when the worst of the rain hit. The only place open on a Sunday at 1000 being a Subway. Headed out beneath a cloudy Ben Nevis still in showers and then as we hit the mountain’s rain shadow it became dry and even some sun appeared! The ride by the lochs was fantastic with only gentle inclines and some lovely sweeping descents. Sunny and bright as we rode along the shore of Loch Lochy and on to Spean Bridge for a nice lunch. Ben starting to dry out except in unmentionable places! Lots of foreign tourists around. Slight shower after lunch as we climbed up to the Commando memorial then the sun came out again for a lovely ride down into Fort Augusta where we met up with the Anne and Nicola who were taking photos of the locks working on the Caledonia Canal. Stopped for ‘tiffin’ with them in a café by the locks then they went ahead to find the B&B in Invermoriston whilst we took a leisurely ride in the sun along the north bank of Loch Ness! No nessie but some fantastic views and stops for photos down by the shore. Arrived at the B&B (4*) nice and early after one of the easiest and nicest days, despite the morning drenching. The evening stayed warm and dry and after an excellent meal in the Glenmoriston Hotel we walked to the Invermoriston Falls by the old Thomas Telford bridge and then on down through the woods to the shore of Loch Ness. A good day.
Awoke to sunshine!! Started dry and sped along the shores of Loch Ness stopping to take photos. Stopped briefly at Urqhart Castle and at the Loch Ness Centre for photos. Then on up quiet and sunny B roads. Morning coffee in Beauly and then Lunch in Dingwall Wimpy where the waitress correctly guessed what we were doing and said “enders normally sit at table 1 and have hot chocolate”! We had burgers and chips!
On up past the Black Isle with some wonderful views of Cromarty Firth and then over Eastern Ross with fantastic final views down over Dorroch Sands and the estuary before a great descent into Ardgay and Bonar Bridge. Called Anne and the radio and got instructions straight to the B&B arriving at 1605 after a great run in perfect conditions at last!! This was the only day I cycled all day with just a T Shirt and shorts and no wet weather gear worn at all! The anti midge Avon spray worked!
Gray start but dry cold NW wind. Coffee at Lairg nice café. On to north and sun came out but still strong NW wind pushing against us. Met up with another solo E2E and he cycled with us to Crask Inn an isolated little white house in the middle of wilderness but surprisingly busy with locals that seemed to appear form nowhere. Had a pint and ate sandwiches bought at Lairg in the garden. Met two girls doing JOGLE and warned them about Devon and Cornwall though it might not have been the kindest thing to do on day 2 of their trip! This road was the wildest we encountered and in good weather is amazing but it is very isolated and we were glad that we were riding together and not solo. Weather deteriorated in the afternoon with the headwind getting worse and rain and dark clouds as we struggled across the wildest parts before the final descent into Tongue where we met Anne and Nicola. Another 2 mile ride out to the B&B and Ben then driven back to his B&B which was different. A good day but a hard 52 miles with the wind against us all the way. One to go!! Bikes over night in a disused church.
The LAST DAY! Started dry with brisk wind from west (following). Set off with some steepish hills initially to get out of Tongue and head East. Day remained dry. Met the lone E2E rider from previous day though he was keen to finish and pushed on ahead as we stopped at a viewpoint and monument. Stopped at a fascinating rock exposure through road cutting with striking pink granite intrusions into schist country rock. Spirits must have been high because Ben and Phil even listened to my discourse on the geology! Climbs gradually became gentler though long and some great sweeping descents, with some impressive views across the north coast bays and beaches. Past the shop in Bettyhill, open 8 days a week! Down into Reay with views of Dounreay Nuclear Plant still busy with a full car park though now with decommissioning activity. Sun came out for a while at Reay and ate a picnic lunch purchased in the only shop sitting at a table placed nicely by the two petrol pumps! On at a pace into the LAST county of Caithness, with the wind behind us and the end in sight. What a bleak and barren coast to live on. Through some civilization at Thurso where we had to stop at every set of traffic lights and the road surface deteriorated as usual in Scottish towns. Final run and approaching 1000 miles on the clock decided to mark the moment by turning off the road up the drive to the Queen Mother’s Castle of Mey. Hit 1000 miles half way up the drive and celebrated with a tot of malt whisky all round. Phoned Anne and Nicola and warned them we were only 15 or 20 minutes away to confirm they were in place at John O Groats to record the moment! Gentle cycle for the last 5 miles with tail wind pushing us in. It almost felt as if none of us wanted to finish after all this time. Then the John O Groats hotel came in sight and we ran gently down around the car park and saw the girls in place near the official FINISH line. Three abreast we finished as we started a great ride very hard at times in some of the worst summer weather since 1914 but we achieved it and arrived safe and all the best of friends with some amazing memories.
Total 1007 miles 16 riding days