Sunday, July 03, 2005


Middle age rushes on. So, as part of my mid life crisis I decided to cycle the length of the UK. Cyclists refer to it as LeJog (for Lands End - John O'Groats) which sounds kind of continental and sexy. However, if for some unknown reason you choose to cycle into the wind it becomes JOGLE. This sounds rather like some old fat bloke on a bike. Which it was. Hell, I used to cycle 20 years ago and riding a bike is like riding a bike, you never forget. Besides, training is a form of cheating, and why do any research? I mean, I own a map. What more do you need? Yes, Yes, hindsight is a wonderful thing. But off I went with just a tub of Vaseline and a 1989 road atlas. How bad could it be. Well, Bad. I've reproduced the postcards home below. So if you're a sadist, enjoy.

The Trip

1. Thurso - John O'Groats (22 miles)
I seem to recall youth hostels as friendly places full of fine young men and women. After a lousy drive to Inverness I find a huge, impersonal place full of noisy spotty oiks, no hot water and the overwhelming stench of socks. Still, only 19 more to go. (actually JOG hostel was smashing). Got to Thurso and it stopped raining. Had a lovely ride to JOG apart from my right knee, which complained a bit. Arrival at JOG spoilt by meeting the haggard wrecks who had come the other way.

2. JOG - Helmsdale (55 miles)
Had a wonderful ride to Dunbeath. Sunshine, good roads, good scenery, good cafe's. Only problem was it didn't end there. The last 15 miles to Helmsdale were buggers. Massive hills, My right knee played up, walked half of it. Still, it wasn't as bad as I feared. Smashing girl who runs the hostel, had a beer with her. Nice fish dinner, more nice women and beer. On the whole a good day.

3. Helmsdale - Carbisdale Castle. (40 miles)
Discovered I was rather sunburnt. Puncture within the first mile. Evil headwind that crippled me. Left shoulder has come joined the right knee in protest. The village where I planned to have lunch turned out to be one abandoned cottage and a cemetery. Ground on to Bonar Bridge swearing at the sheep along the way. After lunch I discovered I could no longer move my right leg. Walked most of the last 5 miles to the hostel, which is a haunted castle. (haunted mainly by the smell of socks).

4. Carbisdale Castle - Inverness. (??)
Lousy cycle to Gordonstown. Caught my shorts on my saddle and exposed my baboon like bottom to a bus shelter full of schoolgirls. Afternoon no better. Legs in all sorts of trouble.

5. Inverness - Laggan (43 ish miles)
Was in a dorm with a 'special' person who got a bit confused in the night - not a good nights sleep. Off at 7am. Puncture on the hostel drive. Eaten alive by midges whilst fixing it. But no wind! excellent ride. Good weather, Good views,. Nice stops with ok beer and pretty barmaids. Finished at a nice little hostel in Laggan. Almost enjoyed today.

6. Laggen - Glen Coe. (40 very moist miles)
Hartland weather. Where is Barnstable leisure centre when you need it? Shoulder better, knee no worse. Sitting in the pub watching the rain (and the breasts of the girl playing pool). Life could be worse and almost certainly will be tomorrow.

7. Glen Coe - Crainlarich (35 miles an a very big hill)
EASY (ish)

8. Crainlarich - Glasgow (58 miles)
Saw deer, sheep, fox, rabbit, squirrel, seagull, weasel and duck. All dead on the A82. Just need the elusive pine martin to complete my I spy book of roadkill. Wonderful run down loch Lomond. Sunshine, good cycle path, lots of tea rooms. Reached Dumbarton for lunch. Almost enjoying myself, Then came the last 10 miles into Glasgow. Hail storms, Traffic, Legs hurt. Would like to see Glasgow but I'm to knackered. Off to nearest pub.

9. Glasgow - Wanlock Head (too bloody far)

10. Wanlock Head - Carlisle (45 miles)
So, who's more stupid? the person who decided to put a youth hostel in Scotland’s highest village or the cyclist who decided to stay there? Still, I set off with the certain knowledge that it had to be mainly down hill to Carlisle. So even if there was thunder, lightening and hail, I got multiple punctures and fell off I at least knew it had to be better than yesterday. And Lo, there was Thunder, lightening and hail, I got two punctures and fell off and it was still a lot better than yesterday.

11. Carlisle - Kendal (49 miles)
Today the sun shone. That’s the good bit over with. The sole of my right shoe decided it had had enough and abandoned me a couple of miles prior to Penrith. Spent a while in Penrith shoe shopping. On to Shap. Everyone heading north had warned me that Shap was a bugger. Well, it was a bit of a climb but no problem for a natural athlete like me. Had a pint to celebrate my conquest of the mountain. Unfortunately it turned out that Shap the mountain is a couple of miles south of Shap the village. Walked most of it. Always good in new shoes. Then it was downhill to Kendal, which was full of pretty girls. However, I was to tired to enjoy this fact and had an early night.

12. Kendal - Preston (44 miles)
Flat, sunny, a few nice pubs en -route. Obviously it wasn't actually enjoyable since it involved cycling but probably as good as its going to get.

13. Preston - Chester (56 miles excluding the complete circuit of Preston ring road that I did for 'fun' at 6am this morning)
When you board the Mersey ferry they actually play ferry cross the Mersey on the tannoy. It made me laugh. Or perhaps it was the fact that I was progressing South and not sitting on that bloody bike.

14. Chester - Telford (43 miles)
Nice to get home. Would have been nicer if I had emptied the bin and thrown out the junk food remains before I left. Still, at least it was my smell. Next day is a rest day. Lots of beer and no cycling. ahhh, joy.

15. Telford - Worcester (42 miles)
Wind and rain. Now there's a surprise. Got a puncture that took three-quarters of an hour to fix only to find that the rear tyre had split. Hours walk to Bridgenorth to get it fixed. Afternoon of hell. Finally gave up at Worcester. Found some old mates and had a few beers.

16. Worcester - Bristol (66 miles)
Apart from a downpour before Gloucester there was no rain! Still blew a gale in my face, still hurt, but the sun was out, it was flat, there was beer and pretty girls. The cobbled street in Bristol came as a nasty shock but a bit of savlon on the botty and its all ok.

17. Bristol - Taunton (44 miles)
Now completely off the planned route. Huge climb out of Bristol which wrecked my knee for a while. Still, I didn't need the waterproofs all day which is a pleasant change. Got a grasshopper stuck up my nose - fortunately I carry some fine pliers.

18. Taunton - Barnstaple (54 miles)
Over Exmoor. Not as bad as I expected, just fairly bad. Another dry day. That’s two in two weeks. Stayed in a posh hotel in Barnstaple. First place I found with space and I was desperate for a toilet. Spent the evening chatting up the girls in the bar, the youngest of whom was eighty.

19. Barnstaple - Boscastle (52 miles)
Gale force headwinds. Pouring rain. Hill after hill after hill. it took me two and a half hours to do the ten miles from Bideford to Clovelly Cross and had there been a train station at Clovelly I would be on my way home. Have you read Stephen King's Misery. Trust me, he doesn’t know the meaning of the word. As a final indignity the imodium wore off four miles short of Boscastle. There are levels of Hell less unpleasant than squatting in a nettle filled ditch being stared at by half a dozen sheep whilst your arse drops out.

20. Boscastle - Cambourn (48 miles)
Once or twice the rain almost stopped. The headwind never did. I shall require a double knee transplant when I return. The only good thing about today is that its finally over. Just 24 miles more and I never need to get on a bike again.

21 Cambourn - Lands End. (24 miles)
Had a nice breakfast overlooking St Michaels mount. Was passed by my father (who is kindly giving me a lift home) who took my luggage. Then on to Lands End, only slowed by the half hour queue in a funeral procession. Sort of summed up the trip.


Well, I did it. I cycled from John O'Groats to Lands End. Have to say that any sense of achievement was hugely dimished by the bastards at Lands End trying to charge me £14 for a photo by the signpost. Still, I resisted the urge to hurl the bike off the cliffs at Lands End and dismantled it. And it remains in pieces in the garage. And I fully intend that it will stay there.
Anyway I raised over 1800 pounds for cancer research and the local hospice, which must be a good thing. Many thanks to all who sponsored me. And a rather geeky picture of me appeared in the local paper so I got my 15 minutes of fame. Also, I must confess, I kept the medals which my nephew and niece made me. They hang on the kitchen wall and I am just a little bit proud of what I did.

Hints And Tips

For anyone considering a similar trip, some wise words from old man rich.
1. Don't do it. There are much better ways of spending your holidays. Trust me, find a nice hotel on a tropical beach and take a good book. Long distance cycling is for idiots.
2. Do some research. At first glance it seems sensible to go North - South. Its not. Its into the wind. Your going to be bloody miserable enough without that.
3. Do some training. If you've not been on a pushbike for more than 10 minutes in the last 20 years assuming that you can cycle 50 miles a day still is an error. Also note that sitting in a pub in cycle shorts is not training.
4. Get sponsored. Not only do you raise some money for good causes but it makes it hard to chicken out on day two. The only thing more depressing than cycling long distances is cycling long distances and then giving up.
5. Know what a bottom bracket is. Not just so you have some idea of how to fix your bike if it falls apart but also because your fellow cyclists main topic of conversation appears to be bottom brackets. (and no, I have no idea what one is).
6. I had seven gears. Three were superfluous. Most bikes these days seem to have about three hundred gears, disk brakes, computers and weird suspension. This will all go wrong at some point.
7. Wear the padded shorts and gloves. Yes, you'll look like a tit, but lets face it if your going to do this you are a tit. Trust me, the pain will be much reduced by some good shorts and gloves.
8. Assume that most car drivers are out to kill you.
9. Take plenty of imodium. You may have the best constitution in the world but at some point you will get the runs. This is not good on a bike.
10. And finally, good luck. it will hurt, it will be miserable, it will be grim. You will finish and discover there is no great feeling of achievement or triumph, just a relief that the pain has stopped. But time passes, memory fades and eventually the bike will lure you out once more.