So much has been written by others who have cycled end-to-end. Everyone has their own story to tell and the range of experiences are so broad that generalisations are meaningless. However, having already set out my ten practical hints and tips that I hope will be useful to those planning a LEJOG or JOGLE journey, I’m providing my own personal reflections on our trip in May 2015.
In the couple of weeks since we returned I’ve now had the chance to put this iconic journey into perspective. For my nephew and I, cycling LEJOG was primarily a personal challenge but the secondary benefit was that we wanted to raise funds for the Maggie’s Centres, who provide respite care for cancer sufferers and their families. We achieved both objectives. It was immensely rewarding but at times, really tough; definitely a ‘lifetime achievement’. We’ve also been extremely grateful to have raised £2,700 for the Maggie’s Centres, far in excess of our original £1,000 target.
Neither of us were cyclists before we decided to take up the challenge and we chose to do it our way: unsupported, mainly camping and taking a deliberately longer, scenic route.
Let me give my personal reflections as answers to the various questions people have been asking me since we returned home.
Did you enjoy it ?
Yes, absolutely. We both wanted to cycle end-to-end to get to see and experience our own country. Most sections in England were new to me and it was only once we got to Carlisle that I was familiar with the routes and places we went through. There are many places I’d want to return to (such as Devon, Shropshire and the Lake District) and so the trip gave a snapshot of ‘unexplored’ Britain.
I’d be lying if I said that I enjoyed all of the journey at the time. It was tough – the toughest physical challenge I’ve ever done – and didn’t help that I developed Achilles tendinitis with 200 miles to go. At the time I didn’t realise how swollen my lower leg had become but with the aid of Ibuprofen I managed to complete it. There’s no denying that the pain of a sore leg, all those times plodding up seemingly endless hills and the discomfort of being cold or wet were tough at the time. But they they are all relatively easily forgotten and it was definitely worth it for the overall experience.
What I’m left with is a sense of achievement and the wonderful memories of places, sounds, smells and people.
In particular, people have been incredibly kind and generous in both helping us and donating money. From complete strangers stuffing tenners into our hands as they got off a train to friends and family meeting us on the way to give encouragement and moral support, peoples’ generosity has just been overwhelming.
The weather played a big part in the trip for me. The two glorious days we had in Herefordshire/Shropshire and the Lake District lifted my spirits and showed the scenery off perfectly. The big skies and sunny weather once we reached Bettyhill and Thurso on Scotland’s north coast were a delight. The absolute highlight – perhaps surprisingly – was the ride over Kirkstone Pass. I say ‘ride’ but in fact I decided at the bottom of the 1 in 4 gradient known locally as ‘The Struggle’ (which only relents after 3 miles) that this wasn’t an endurance test and therefore I was going to walk the steepest bits. Once I changed my mental perspective I could then savour the views and take photos along the way on what was a warm and sunny Bank Holiday weekend.
Some of the other ‘best bits’ were simply surprising or unexpected. We both enjoyed cycle paths along old railway tracks or canal tow paths, many of which we hadn’t anticipated until we studied our daily cue cards. The old railways around Tiverton, Okehampton, Bristol and especially from Connel (north of Oban) all the way to Ballachulish were a joy. While the surfaces on canal tow paths were often mixed they were flat and quiet. The quiet country lanes in South Cornwall (from St Michael’s Mount to Hayle) and between Leominster and Church Stretton particularly stand out, as of course did the 46 mile stretch from Lairg to Bettyhill through the wonderfully remote scenery of Strathnaver. [Note: none of the best bits were on busy A roads …]
Wasn’t the weather pretty wet ?
It’s true that May 2015 was abnormally cool and wet but in actual fact this didn’t affect us much still at all. We only had one wet day (around Fort William) and three showery mornings, when we quickly dried out in the warm sunshine. My issue was less about getting wet through my waterproofs but Goretex not being sufficiently breathable to allow my internally generated moisture to escape. While it would have been good if we’d had slightly warmer weather (I wore full winter gear the morning we left Lairg for instance) the biggest issue we faced (literally) was headwinds. For the most part we had the prevailing southwesterly wind in our backs or left hand side as we cycled north but we struggled on two breezy days when we turned into the wind to head westwards across Dumfries & Galloway and Ayrshire. An added benefit of the cool weather was that we didn’t see a single midge.
Would you do it again and if so, what would you change ?
While I have a huge sense of achievement from having completed the trip I’m not planning to repeat it anytime soon, if at all. First, there are many other places to see and this has just whetted my appetite for other trips at some point in the future.
Secondly, my advice to people thinking of cycling end-to-end is to not underestimate the time and effort the trip will take. You need to bear in mind that this is a commitment that goes far beyond just the time it takes to cycle end-to-end. In effect, the training took up most of my spare time for five months, not counting the two weeks to complete the trip as well as recovery time. Not only does this take a huge toll on your own energy but also tests the patience of close family. (And so you can read into this that I’m making no plans for any other cycling trips for the foreseeable future !).
However, if I was doing it again there are probably three things I would do differently
- I would take more time to see the country, see new places and meet people. In practical terms, I would limit daily mileages to 50 – 60 and take 18 to 20 days to cycle the 1,000 miles. This would mean being able to have a more relaxed schedule, longer (and impromptu) breaks and being able to finish cycling by 4pm each day.
- While we had notions of setting up our tent each night and relaxing in the early Summer sunshine, or having a lazy outdoor breakfast on the campsite, this was far from reality. The weather was too cool and we simply didn’t have much relaxation time at all given we were averaging 75 miles each day. In retrospect, we would have been better not carrying any camping gear, making quicker progress (needing only one pannier each) and then giving us more relaxation and recovery time each day.
- I would spend more time researching Sustrans routes – especially old railway tracks – so that we deliberately followed these rather than stumbling on them almost accidentally. We found ‘Open Cycle Map’ very difficult to decipher en route (why doesn’t it include more place names or integrate at least to some extent with OS maps?) and hadn’t thought to buy any Sustrans maps in advance because we didn’t know how useful they might be.
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
- 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