So you know where the start and finish points are but what route should you take in between ? The great thing is, there is no ‘official’ or definitive route, and there’s a huge amount of enjoyment to be had (and hours spent researching) in finding a route that’s suited to your trip.
When I set about researching my route I knew that I didn’t want an ‘off the shelf’ route – I wanted to be able to choose my own options in terms of accommodation and sights – but I did at least want to see what routes others had taken. I needed to know what’s possible and what the various options are. I’ll come back to this topic below.
But first, only you can answer the kinds of questions that determine the style of your end to end trip. For example:
- North or south ? LEJOG or JOGLE ?
- How long ? The average trip is around 14 days but people typically take between 8 – 21 days
- How far ? According to the famous signposts at Land’s End and John O’Groats the most direct route by road is 874 miles. The most common route distances range from around 920 to 1000 miles
- What kind of roads do you prefer ? A trip on A-roads will feel very different to one predominantly taking minor roads, canal tow paths and cycle tracks
- Where are you staying ? A B&B route will throw up many more options than a route staying at campsites, hostels or Travelodges (you may mix of course). Are planning to visit friends and relatives en route ?
- Are there any particular sights you want to see on the way ? St Michael’s Mount, the Lake District, Arran and Loch Ness may all tempt you to take some slight detours. Some people have nipped over to Ireland or the Western Isles on their trips
- Do you have any other plans on the way ? I (briefly) toyed with the idea of climbing the three tallest mountains in Wales, England and Scotland on the way before realising that I couldn’t afford an extra three day’s leave from work.
Once you’ve worked out your answers to most of these questions then you’ll have a better idea of the style of trip you’d like to take.
For my trip, cycling with my nephew in May 2015, we had decided that we wanted to:
- cycle LEJOG – hoping that the UK’s prevailing south westerly wind direction would propel us north. (We could have cycled in either direction to be fair, but those living nearer Land’s End often like to cycle from John O’Groats so it seems that they’re “cycling home”;
- take 14 days – we could only negotiate that amount of time away from work (and other halves !);
- avoid busy A roads as much as possible, taking in more scenic parts of the UK. This meant that we were definitely not going to cycle along the A30 in Cornwall, the A82 in the Southern Highlands or the A9 from Edinburgh to Inverness. Instead, we wanted to see the Lake District and hop over to Arran to go up the quieter, flatter and more scenic cycle route through Argyll up to Ballachulish; and
- ride unsupported, camping as much as we could then staying somewhere a little more comfortable for a proper bed and a shower every third night (at least that was the plan).
I recommend this approach to trip planning – start with the ‘big picture’ then gradually home in on your selected route:
- research other people’s routes to get a sense of the broad options;
- work out the shape of your proposed route;
- identify the duration and length to identify the general location of your overnight stops;
- use online mapping route planning websites to firm up each leg of your route;
- adjust this once you manage to book each night’s accommodation.
So having laid down the rough parameters of our trip the next stage in my planning was to have a look at other people’s routes to gauge the various options. As I mention in the Resources section, there are a great many websites, books, blogs and articles that can give you a starter-for-ten. In fact, the volume of material can be overwhelming – and can consume many a winter’s evening. In fact, I can quite confidently predict that you will have finalised your route and completed the trip way before you’ve had sufficient time to read everything on the topic. So to save you a few hours’ browsing on the internet, let me point you in the direction of what I found to be the most useful resources:
- the CTC Forum (LEJOG section) has wealth of detail and advice, both from people planning future trips and sharing their proposed routes as well as from those who’ve done it before. This was by far the most useful resource I found since you’ll find links to others’ routes and comments on road options, navigation and so on;
- the End to End website contains a huge number of accounts of other people’s trips – if you have the patience to wade through these. More accessible are the 14 route summaries (‘the End to End Collection’) you can buy for £5 which give you an idea of various routes and trip durations. However, since these are only lists of the main towns visited, including overnight stops, they’re useful as a broad guide only;
- the CTC provide detailed B&B and youth hostel routes, available for £12.50 plus P&P. More useful perhaps are the pdf summaries of others’ routes at the foot of the page;
- the Sustrans website outlines two routes following National Cycle Routes (a western and an eastern route, with the latter going via Middlesborough and 1,200 miles in length); and
- the Cicerone End to End Cycle Guide by Nick Mitchell provides one detailed route for LEJOG which goes via Dartmoor, the Welsh Marches, the Lake District, Loch Lomond and the Great Glen.
So by this point in my research I had confirmed that most people take around 12 to 18 days to complete the trip and some familiar route options were starting to crop up fairly frequently. Some key choices started to emerge:
- a northern Cornwall route or a southern route that then crosses Bodmin Moor;
- over the Severn Bridge at Bristol or continue on to Gloucester before heading north;
- through the Lake District, straight up the old A6 or a more easterly route through the Pennines;
- from Carlisle to Edinburgh (the A9 route), to Glasgow (the A82/Loch Ness route) or to Ardossan for the ferry to Arran (the Argyll/Loch Ness route);
- north from the Black Isle following the A9 the whole way to JOG or via Lairg and Altnaharra on more minor roads.
At this point, I followed the advice of a blog I’d read and got my road atlas out and laid it out on the living room floor. I cut it up (in fact I needed to take two apart) and made a huge map so I could roughly identify our preferred route and work out where we might need to stop each night. I knew that at roughly 1,000 miles (taking a slightly longer western route) we would need to be cycling an average of 75 miles each day.
However, this approach was only partly successful. It wasted an enjoyable hour of so creating and sellotaping together a single large map that stretched from one end of my living room to the other. But as a practical tool for planning I soon realised it was pretty useless. Instead, I turned to online mapping.
There are several online route planning websites suited to cycle mapping, including Google Maps, but the one I found most easy to use is Ridewithgps.com. As long as you can define your start and end points of each leg it automatically finds a suitable route, which you can then refine by dragging the path of the route on to alternative roads. It calculates distances and overall height gain. And if you’re using a GPS of course, you can download your routes directly on to your GPS. If, like us, you’re not planning to use GPS for navigation on the ride then you can print out cue cards which give the detailed directions of the roads, distances and turns to be taken for each leg of your ride.
This part of the process was iterative – but this was when the detailed planning really started in earnest. I changed various legs according to the accommodation we eventually booked and on the basis of advice I found on the CTC Forum. I altered the length of some legs which then had a knock-on impact on the following legs. After about six weeks or so, during which we successfully booked the majority of our accommodation, we’d agreed our route. Only the precise detail of the actual route to be taken on the ride itself remained to be pinned down.
At this point it’s worth mentioning the different approaches to route navigation on the ride. In general, I’ve found there to be three types of approaches, with people using one or a combination of methods:
- GPS: using a GPS device attached to the handlebars to give an instant summary of your location and ride statistics;
- cue cards: printing out paper sheets (for example, as an output from your ridewithgps.com routes) and keeping these in a waterproof map case on the top of your handlebar bag; and
- paper maps: either a road atlas (with the unnecessary pages removed) or customised printouts of each day’s route.
We’ll be taking cue cards together with ViewRanger mapping on my iPhone as a back-up if (when) we
get lost temporarily lose our route. Strava and Google Maps are other back-up options but in my opinion they’re not as good as ViewRanger since they don’t use OS maps and they require a decent phone signal to download a map, whereas ViewRanger maps are already stored on your phone.
For the folks left back at home eager to follow our route I’ve signed up to Followmee. It’s a neat little app that runs continuously on your smart phone which means that others can track your movements on an online map. I’ve trialled this and it seems to update only every 30-60 minutes or so but still good enough to let others know your whereabouts. It only seems to use a very small percentage of battery power on my iPhone so I have no concerns with it running continuously.
This article forms part of my Online Guide to Cycling End-to-End:
- Why cycle LEJOG ?
- Planning a LEJOG cycle ride
- Top 10 tips for planning an end-to-end cycle tour
- What to take – Cycling gear
- What to take – Camping and other gear
- Accommodation options
- Getting into training
- Nutrition and hydration
- Getting to/from Land’s End and John O’Groats
My LEJOG cycle – 14 days in May 2015
- Final reflections