Unless you’re planning a full-on fundraising expedition complete with your own support vehicle you’ll need to think about how you’re going to get to the start point and then back home again after you’ve completed your end-to-end ride.
There are four broad options to consider for you and your bike(s):
- Take the train
- Hire a van or car
- … or cycle of course.
Let’s think through the pros and cons of each.
1. Take the train:
A cheap and straightforward option, although one that requires careful advance planning. The stations nearest LEJOG are Penzance, and Wick or Thurso (which are on the same line with trains from Wick calling at Thurso). Penzance is ten miles from Land’s End and Wick / Thurso are 16 and 19 miles from John O’Groats respectively.
To get the cheapest prices you need to buy advance saver tickets that come on sale three months before the date of travel. However, the most important consideration isn’t getting a seat on the train but but being able to book bike spaces. There are only three bike spaces on the Cross Country trains to Penzance, and four on the Scotrail trains from Wick/Thurso. To be sure of getting on your chosen train you must book your bike in advance – you cannot leave this to chance, particularly during the busier Spring to Autumn period.
For our LEJOG trip in May 2015 the total cost of our train tickets was £155 from Glasgow. This broke down to £94.50 for the Glasgow-Penzance outward leg and approximately £30 for the Wick-Glasgow return journey, plus £30 for a Two Together railcard.
Since much of our accommodation was already booked when the advance saver tickets were released there were only two possible direct trains we could take from Glasgow to Penzance on the day of our journey south. We therefore booked exactly at midnight on the day the tickets came on sale to ensure we got the first two bike reservations. This was perhaps the most crucial part of our whole trip planning !
Letting “the train take the strain” was invaluable. We could relax, discuss and plan the trip on the way and also do last-minute research using the train’s wifi system.
However, while the train is certainly the most convenient option it probably isn’t the quickest. It took twelve hours from Glasgow – Penzance and just over eight hours from Wick – Glasgow (the Wick – Inverness stretch alone takes 4.5 hours and stops at 25 stations !). However, it’s a fascinating way to see how the landscape changes on the outward leg, and a great way to relive memories of places you passed through on the way home. I would definitely take the train again if I was repeating my end-to-end trip.
The Cross Country train we took to Penzance had three wheel hooks, where the bikes were suspended vertically and secured with straps. On Scotrail trains bike frames are ‘hooked’ over a metal stand and secured with straps (see below); this is either at one end of a normal passenger carriage or beside the toilet. On both kinds of trains, panniers need to be removed before securing bikes. While we were a little nervous at first security isn’t an issue given the bikes are secured by straps, but note that you’re not allowed to lock your bikes.
Strictly speaking you’re supposed to attach bike reservation tickets to your bikes. In practice, all of the train staff were very laid back about this and were quite happy for us to retain all tickets.
2. Hire a van or car
You can hire a self-drive van or car to/from Penzance and Wick/Thurso for two one-way trips. You also need to add the cost of fuel and insurance.
We calculated this would be more expensive than taking the train but could be cost-effective if there are three or more in your party. It’s also a better option for larger groups since trains to Penzance only have three bike spaces on them.
The main advantages of this option are convenience as well as security and the need for minimal dis/reassembly of bikes.
To save time or if you’re coming from overseas, it might be easiest to fly to/from either Newquay, Exeter or Inverness. At Inverness you can take a bike taxi service to John O’Groats (or they’ll pick you up at JOG) or alternatively, you can courier your bike from your local bike shop to the same company in Inverness and they’ll reassemble it and transport it to JOG (or collect it after your ride). Newquay is approximately 40 miles from Land’s End, while you can take a train from Exeter to Penzance (3 hour journey time).
There may be some time saving with this option for UK residents (bearing in mind hanging about airports) but the main disadvantages are higher cost and the need to dis/reassemble your bike.
… or you could just turn cycle to your start point and cycle home after you’ve completed your end-to-end !
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