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My Solo Lands End to John O’Groats Journey - James Taylor

 

Day Seven - Liverpool to Lancaster

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Penzance to Lands End for the start of Lejog . Got there expecting the official rip off pic only to find that Lands End didn’t open till 10.00am in May! Signed E2E book n got form stamped in Hotel and headed off. Total for day was 75 miles with 4620 ft of climbing. Just over 6 hrs in the saddle with an average speed of 12.4. Happy with the first day. Day was bright and dry but with strong N winds. A cream tea at The Lizard broke up the day. B&B was quaint, noisy and next to main road, good for a speedy exit!

Day Four - Bridgwater to Welsh Bicknor YH

Day One

In May 2013, Jim Taylor took on the awesome challenge of cycling from Lands End to John O’Groats solo. Here’s his story…
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LEJOG Eve

Uneventful though long train journey. B&B across the road from the station in Penzance. Whiteways Guest House. Cramped but clean. Kit all ready for tomorrow. Route checked. Mascot primed n ready to go!

Day Two

Day 2 dawned windy and raining and stayed that way till about 10 miles from today’s destination, Okehampton YH The Goods Shed, so called because it is a converted railway property. The staff couldn’t be more helpful .The hostel had a shed to lock away bikes and 2 drying rooms. As well as self catering they can provide dinner and breakfast. The ride was wet, windy and undulating and cold.  The final undulation was th the YH which I was to find was not unusual!!   Today was mostly on A roads which proved to be very busy. I met my first other Lejogers!   The first ones I met were 2 youths. All of their kit including 2 Diamondback mountain bikes looked brand new. The other lejogger was the support crew for a cyclist hoping to do it in 4 days!!!

Day Three - Okehampton to Bridgwater

Quite a comfy night in the Goods Shed! It’s just a pity that someone didn’t think to put the heating on in the drying room. I left with a bag full of wet clothes strapped to the top of my panniers. Just as well it was sunny and I had the Grainger Mark 1 cycle drying bag! Varied road surfaces today. Started on unclassified roads some of which were little better than farm tracks. It was almost a relief to get on to the A38 for the bulk of the day, that was until I punctured! I may have mentioned before you can’t prepare enough obviously I hadn’t as my spare tubes did not fit my wheels, the valves were too big to fit through the holes. I located the puncture and patched it and put the same tube back in. En route to Bridgwater I managed to make a detour and pick up 2 others. The final 8 or so miles were along canal towpath and took me right to the door of my B&B for the night, the Boat and Anchor. On the way I met another E2Eer who was doing it with his sister, she was supporting him in a camper van. A nice pub and it was quite busy with people enjoying the sunshine. The room was nice and clean with a double bed but I had to retune the TV for some reason and there was no wi-fi. This morning after a light breakfast and with free sandwiches from the hotel safely packed away I was on my way. Stats for the day 75 miles covered in 6:45:09.
Stats: time on bike 7:43:08 distance 91.75 miles. A longer day than planned as I made a detour to visit Cheddar Gorge. Although there was loads of tea rooms at the bottom there weren’t any at the top and it was a hot day. Thank goodness for Esso filling stations. I had a large cup of tea then filled my bottles up. The first part of the day saw me on fairly flat roads clipping along. There was some delays crossing the Avon bridge as the way was not clear at all unlike the Severn which was clearly marked . I was booked in at the Wye Valley or Welsh Bicknor YH. What a mistake that was. You have heard the phrase “back of beyond”. This was way past that. The only means of communication was a pay phone! I like quaint but this was far too out the way for me.

Day Five - Welsh Bicknor to Shrewsbury

The day started bright and warm if windy. I decided to change the route slightly and stay on A roads for the better surface!  The roads were busy but I made good time.  Next on my list of things to do was visit Hereford home of the legendary SAS and to pay my respects to a friend who had died in the Gulf.  With recent events I decided that I would visit the church in Hereford used by the Regiment and have my own minutes silence. After being diverted by the diversions and losing about 30 mins in Hereford I was back on the road. By this time it was getting grey and rain threatened. I layered up and just in time. I finished the last 20 miles in the rain. The staff at the Shrewsbury Information Centre managed to get me a bed with a bath and wi-fi. I set off and got to the Bucks Head Inn in about 5 mins. Good room and cheap wholesome food. As well as FB and my WordPress blog I had been doing a paper journal but decided this was a step too far and left it in my room.  By the time I had got home the Inn had posted it on to my house! Stats for the day 79 miles in 6:00:18.

Day Six - Crash, Cash & The Cavern Club

Five days had gone by with only one puncture. The route had been good, the weather and accommodation mixed. Day 6 however was a bit of a disaster! It’s strange how apparently unconnected events can come together and shape your day! It rained right from the off today. Nothing worse than starting your day in waterproofs! I was using a mix of UC roads, A roads and B roads. I reached Chester and had a short break before heading for Birkenhead and the ferry across the Mersey. While travelling towards Birkenhead I made a move to get off the road and onto a cycle track and I came a cropper on the wet asphalt and ended up colliding with a brick gate pillar. Luckily I had my helmet on but both my wrists took a bad knock although they didn’t come off as badly as one of my water bottles which skidded into the road and was flattened. I picked myself up, checked the bike out and got on my way. Both my wrists were aching and it was painful to change gear. I looked for a bike shop to replace the bottle and ended up in K Cycles. Bottle duly purchased I set off for Birkenhead ferry terminal. It was 3 pm, later than I’d planned but with 20 miles left I knew I would be in Ormskirk on schedule. It was then a strange conversation ensued with the ticket clerk apparently the Mersey was busy and no more ferries would run that day! Upon enquiring how I could get across I was informed that I should get the train which would drop me at the same place as the ferry. Disappointed I set off for the train station. It was while I was trying to purchase the train ticket I realised my wallet was in the bike shop! I called K Cycles and Dave not only dropped my wallet off he took me across the river and dropped me at the docks. So that is how my day ended in Liverpool at 5pm. 60.5 miles covered in just under 5 hours. I found a bed for the night and headed out to find the legendary Cavern club. Both wrists are still aching and very sore to move but hopefully with rest and some ibuprofen that will sort things out for tomorrow.
Nice easy day today. I had a long lie and let the painkillers and bandages work their magic. After a short run around on the pavements I decided to venture out on the road. So at 10:45 I once again headed north. With Liverpool, Preston and Lancaster to negotiate I was hoping my wrists would hold out. I needn’t have worried there was very little pain all day. The route was mainly flat and when not in the cities it was mainly flat countryside. Tonights accommodation was the Slyne Lodge, a great wee country pub with some real ale and good grub. I covered 57 miles in about 5 hours before calling it a day.

Day Eight - A day of downs and ups

Dull and cold this morning with a northerly wind. Stats- 63.5 miles in 6:05:51. The first down occurred about 300 yds from Slyne Lodge and it was my back tyre that was down! After changing the tube I got on my way. The original schedule called for an overnight at Gretna but I decided to stop in Carlisle and try and get to a laundrette. My route today was almost totally on the A6, through Kendal and Penrith and over Shap summit. I was surprised to see a New Balance factory shop in Shap and even more surprised when I went past without giving it a second glance! A brisk northerly wind kept my average speed down to 10.3 mph.

Day Nine - Carlisle to Red Moss

The day was bright n dry and almost windless as I left Carlisle . I followed NCN74 north. A slight detour into Lockerbie to visit the memorial and I carried on north. The skies started to get grey with occasional spots of rain. A north wind started up and my av mph went down into single figures. I reached Abingdon services and had some food and drink. With mileage for the day hovering around 60 I headed back on the NCN74 and started to look for a B&B. I found a truck stop by the bike route and got a room for the night at £35 BB & evening meal! Miles for day 65, time 5:51:31.

Day Ten - Red Moss to Crianlarich YH or 3 limbs down one to go!

Another day of blue skies with very little wind. Today’s scheduled stop was at the legendary Drovers Inn near Ardlui. I called to book a room but unfortunately there was no room at the Inn. So I set off with the intention of finding someplace along the way, reaching Tarbet at least. My route today followed the B7078, NCN 74, 75 & 7. These paths did add distance to the day but took me from Westburn to Tarbet hardly touching a road. The routes were well signposted with some detours and road crossings but in general were in good condition and much better than crossing through Glasgow! The cycle path had barriers which caused some problems especially with loaded panniers and at one stage I ended up on my backside in a pile of nettles! More of that later.
The final 10 miles was on the A82. With some finger and thumb problems I managed to confuse the Garmin but as near as possible I think mileage for the day was around 96 miles with 9 hrs pedalling time. Due to the almost pancake flat route, I felt quiet good when I finished. It was only as I got ready for bed I noticed my left ankle was swollen! I think it must have been when I fell trying to negotiate the barriers. Not good…

Day Eleven - Crianlarich YH to Spean Bridge

Another beautiful day dawns in Scotland! Bright and dry but not yet warm I set off from the YH at 09:40. I was in no rush today and passing through some of my favourite places, Tyndrum, Glencoe and Fort William. I had not cycled any of those roads before and was really looking forward to it! Route wise you don’t have much choice on a loaded tourer it’s the A82 or the A82 so I decided I would take the A82! As expected the road was fairly busy but I had no problems and drivers seemed to be courteous enough. I stopped at Glencoe Village Cafe and demolished a scone and jam and 2 cups of tea before continuing on. It was possible to use pavements for some of the time and when possible I did. The further north I went the more stunning the views became. I may have just cycled the length of England and part of Wales but I’m afraid Scotland does it every time! I took some time to walk down Fort William High Street and had an ice cream before continuing north to my B&B just outside Spean Bridge.

Day Twelve - Spean Bridge to Dingwall

After an alarm call from the resident cockerel at 3:47am, I dozed on and off till 7 o’clock I was ready to go as soon as breakfast had been served. The route today took me by the Commando memorial at the top of the climb out of the village so I pulled in to pay my respects. Although only 9am it was already busy. The route took me along the side of Lochs Lochy and Ness through Drummadrichit and over Glen Convith. A lumpy route on a stuffy day. Stats 66.5 miles in 4:59:29 with 3,575 ft climbed at an average of 13.3 mph.

Day Thirteen - Dingwall to Altnaharra

Another clear dry day, a bit muggy and overcast at times but very little wind till hitting high points along the route and there was plenty of them! Total for day was 70.5 miles ten more than planned as I went on NCN 1 which more or less sticks to the Moray coastal trail. As the choice of routes becomes less I am meeting up with other E2Ers. Passed two groups today, 4 lads from Lancaster who were doing Lancaster to John O’Groats and 4 from Plymouth who were doing the entire End to End journey. Both groups were supported and heading for Bettyhill. It had to be said the views and the cafes are quite stunning on the coastal trail! Just been sitting having meal and another 2 End to Enders walked in! It’s hard to believe that tomorrow will be the last day. I am looking forward to it tremendously. I have driven along that road and can remember the stunning beaches and sea views and the hills. After tomorrow I may not view it in the same way!

Day Fourteen - Its Dun!

FINISHED!!!!!. As I free wheeled down past the new holiday chalets into a comparatively bustling John O’Groats I was grinning from ear to ear, not that you could see under 14 days growth! However I jump ahead. Day 14 started dull grey and cold but no wind and no rain! I left Altnaharra and headed up Strath Naver stopping ocassionally to read the information signs on the Strath Naver trail. I didn’t have a lot of time to spare as I had three things I wanted to do, one was of course to finish the day and complete the ride but I also wanted the mileage to total over 1000. Seconly, I wanted to detour to Dunnet Head which would complete the duo of most southerly point and northern points on the mainland. Lastly I wanted to get to John O Groats in time to make the famous signpost photograph which I didn’t do at Lands End! So I didn’t dilly dally too much and limited the cafe stops to one! Once out of the Strath and onto the coast road the views are stunning and your breath is taken away at every corner, of course you do have the odd wind farm and nuclear plant blighting the landscape! Through Thurso and on to Dunnet Head to accomplish my first objective for the day. Quick snack and snap and off again 12 miles to John O Groats a quick check of mileage and time. Yes, app miles 1,005 with an ETA of 16:30pm. Time to comb my beard before the pic! A wave of satisfaction and contentment rolled over me at the realisation of what I had done I eased off the pedals, just slightly and coasted in to the finish or rather coasted into the village and souvenir shops as I couldn’t see a finish line! There was a queue at the photo booth, it was a group of three E2E’rs I had seen before, celebrating with some bubbly. I snapped some pix for them and we toasted each others achievements. I had the “official” picture taken, signed the End to End book and headed for the B&B. Total for day was 83.5 miles, total for trip 1,008 miles in 14 days.
Many thanks to James for allowing us to reproduce his superb blog account of what it’s like to cycle from Lands End to John O’Groats solo. James now runs Scottish Bike Touring, a vibrant new company on the Scottish cycle touring scene. Scottish Bike Touring will help you live out the cycling adventure you always wanted to have. Off road, road or a mix of the two. Fancy a Coast 2 Coast?  How about the John Muir Way - 134 miles across Central Scotland? Do it in one trip or take several weekends and do it at your leisure. The choice is yours! More details can be found on their website.  To see a list of their current tours including the John Muir Way, Forth & 3 Bridges, Forth to Tay and Islay & Jura, click here.