If you’re just starting out to plan an end-to-end cycle tour then you may be thinking about where on earth you’re going to stay along the route. Let me give an overview of the various options and also provide some hints and tips to plan your own route.
There are essentially five main options – or a combination of these:
- B&Bs / Hotels
- Youth hostels
- Wild camping
- Visit friends and relatives.
The choice of options will be determined by a choice of factors including:
Many people decide early on that their choice of accommodation is going to shape the style of their ride. Some, for example, want to travel light and enjoy ‘credit card touring’, staying in B&Bs or hotels. There’s a good network of Travelodges available at relatively low cost if you book well in advance, and B&Bs available everywhere of course. You can find cyclist-friendly B&Bs at BedsforCyclists. A variation of the B&B option is to stay in private homes, using websites such as Airbnb. There’s also a reciprocal hospitality network for cycle tourists that goes under the slightly amusing name of Warm Showers. Sometimes, after a day in the saddle, you just want some comfort, privacy and a proper bed.
Youth hostels are a similar option; a little less private perhaps but also a chance to socialise with others. The cost is lower (but probably only if you go for a dormitory bed) and all you need take is a sheet sleeping bag – unless you want to hire one each night. The network of YHA and SYHA hostels is less extensive than it once was but don’t forget that there are many more independent hostels than there used to be. Depending on your route, you should be able to string together youth and independent hostels for most of the way.
You’ll find campsites along any LEJOG/JOGLE route although you’ll probably want to try to avoid caravan parks, particularly those that make most of their money through static caravans. Camping gives you great flexibility and is almost the lowest cost option. Remember that in Scotland you can camp anywhere (as long as you follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code and act responsibly) and so wild camping is definitely worth thinking about: ultimate flexibility. The downsides of camping are that you’ll need to take extra gear (tent, sleeping bag, cooking equipment etc) and it’s unlikely to be as comfortable as a ‘proper’ bed. But get the right weather and there’s nothing to beat camping !
Finally, this is the time to call in favours and sleep on your friends’ floors as well as visit your long-lost Auntie Jean in Ecclefechan. Visiting friends and relatives is your cheapest option (as long as they don’t expect you to treat them to a long evening’s drinking session) but unless you come from a large family or have a wide social circle, is unlikely to be an option for every night of your ride.
On our LEJOG we’ll be staying in a combination of the first four of these options. Our plan initially was to camp two nights and then have a third night in a hostel or B&B to get a proper shower and bed. This didn’t quite work out as we discovered that some youth hostels on our route were completely booked out nine months in advance – I assume by school parties. We also found that once you get to the far north of Scotland your accommodation options are more limited given the sparsity of population. There are fewer campsites and hostels and quite frankly, some B&Bs with TripAdvisor reviews that suggest you’d be wise to give them a wide berth.
So, as you can see from our route, we’re mainly camping (including planning a wild camp on a scenic beach near Appin on Scotland’s west coast), staying in one B&B, one youth hostel, two independent bunkhouses and a hotel for our last night.
If you’re just at the planning stage I’d offer the following advice from our experience to date:
- book at least nine months in advance if you’re planning on staying in youth hostels (we were unable to stay at Cheddar and Patterdale YHs but got into Lochranza and Penzance, the latter for the night before we leave);
- take advantage of lower early booking prices at Travelodges by booking four to six months ahead;
- don’t give up on a preferred overnight stop just because your first choice isn’t available. We managed to book a private room in an independent hostel/bunkhouse at Patterdale even though the youth hostel was fully booked. We’re also staying in a lodge with shared facilities (owned by Hoseasons) near Ledbury, and the Galloway Activity Centre. So look around – there are other accommodation options;
- consider wild camping in Scotland, particularly during the warmer months. Outwith the built-up areas there are lots of options and camping on the beach as opposed to a ‘regulated’ campsite is much more appealing. This is exactly what we’ll be doing south of Oban, ditching our original plan to stay at a Camping and Caravan Club site in favour of maximum flexibility.
If you’re staying at youth hostels, B&Bs or hotels I’d recommend booking well in advance, particularly if your trip is taking place between May to September. Outwith these months you can probably leave things a little more open – although the last thing you want is to be worrying about where you’re going to stay by 3pm each day.
You’ll have more flexibility if you’re camping, particularly outwith the school summer holidays. It will also open up the chance to wild camp in some really scenic places including the Argyll coast, Loch Lomond and Strathnaver (just north of the Crask Inn).
And if you do decide to stay with Auntie Jean just remember to stay awake long enough at the dinner table to make polite conversation.
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
- Route planning and route options
- What to take – Cycling gear
- What to take – Camping and other gear