The first time I thought about cycling Lands End to John O’Groats was during a drunken conversation some years ago with a good friend in our local pub in Northumberland. He explained that it was something he wanted to do at some point. From this conversation, a seed had been planted and from then on, I subconsciously started my preparation.
A few years later, I sit here 3 months after completing my ride thinking about what an amazing three weeks it was. There are a number of things that I gained along the way and a few lessons that I learned. here are a few.
It is all about the Journey
The excitement that I felt when I left my house in Manchester on that Wednesday morning is something that I look back on and smile. Arriving in Lands End then completed the first 10 miles for my first overnight in Penzance, then the nervousness I experienced about what I had ahead of me. Fast forwarding 3 weeks and the last half mile or so dropping down into John O’Groats and the sense of achievement that I felt. These three key points in the ride are only a drop in the ocean of what I felt and experienced along the way. Each day brought a new challenge, a new county, a new bed and a new road in front of me. There were many highs and not so many lows, the highs I remember fondly and the lows I look back on and think, were not that bad. Overall I feel so lucky to have the chance to take on such a challenge.
Don’t be Shy
A question I got asked on many occasions both before and during the ride was “are you doing it on your own”? My reply was always “Yes, why not”. For some, undertaking such a journey with no backup and no company is a complete no, however, for me, it added to the enjoyment. While my journey was solo. I had the opportunity to meet so many new people along the way. I found that sometimes a simple “Good Morning” can spark a conversation with a total stranger when you are riding a fully laden bike. From a simple introduction, I met a number of interesting people along the way. I also made a point of sparking up conversations (or at least trying to) with every cyclist I saw that looked like they were touring. Any cyclist that was stopped or headed my way I spoke too. I even managed to strike up conversations on quiet country roads with cyclists headed in the opposite direction. Each evening I carried this philosophy out in to the places I visited and again I met some wonderful people who wanted to hear my story.
The UK is a Stunning and Beautiful Place
During my lifetime I have driven to most parts of the UK but nothing can compare to cycling End to End. Riding the length of the UK gave me a unique insight into how people live and the unique contrasts that every region has to offer From riding the narrow country lanes of Cornwall to the hustle and bustle of cities such as Bath, Bristol, Nottingham, and Edinburgh, each place has its unique charm. One thing that I can take from this ride is that the UK is a stunning place. The Easy East Coaster route followed quiet country roads and cycle paths which meant I was never far from a spectacular view.
There is nothing better than pushing on up a steep hill to then stop, take a break, and then look backward. To experience views such as the North Coast of Cornwall, Cheddar Gorge, Bamburgh Castle, and the magnificent Cairngorms only scratch the surface. I would sometimes stop at a random gate and spend time looking out across farmland and each time my eyes would be treated to a new part of the countryside and one I would most likely never see again.
The National Cycle Network Can Be Very Frustrating
I am a huge fan of the UK’s National Cycle Network and over the years I have ridden it for many miles. My Lands End to John O’Groats ride was no exception and for the 21 days, I covered many more miles. Looking out for the familiar blue signs or spotting the fantastic Millennium Mileposts that dot the UK cycle network became an adventure. With many routes being traffic free the network often passes through some spectacular countryside and some interesting things.
Some parts of the network have a pristine tarmac whereas others are loose but overall they are generally passable. However, there are some exceptions, one some parts there have been millions of pounds invested in cycle infrastructure yet only a few miles up the road the routes become more or less unpassable. This was particularly apparent while cycling parts of NCR 1 in Northumberland. If you are considering cycling LEJOG and using the Cycle Network, do some research.
Kindness Does Still Exist
Over the 21 days, I experienced a couple of real acts of kindness, complete strangers offering to help in my hour of need. Luckily things were not too serious however instances like this have resorted my faith in human kindness. One instance was on day 2 when my pannier rack collapsed while cycling at RAF Davidstow. The old airfield is remote and I was stuck. Two cars stopped to offer assistance and a fellow cyclist helped me out with a cable tie. I was able to limp on until I knocked on a stranger’s door in search of a replacement bolt. The man went out of his way to help and got me on my way.
Stop and Admire the View
With the daily goal of reaching your destination, it is easy to put your head down and pedal. Stop! get off the bike and take in your surroundings! There are many interesting things to see in the great British countryside, towns and cities.
Don’t Visit Eyemouth
Looking back, the biggest mistake I made was deciding to divert to Eyemouth. Due to a lack of affordable accommodation in Berwick Upon Tweed, I decided to stay in Eyemouth. The result was that I got a great place to stay but the overall effort to reach the small town outweighed any monetary savings!