John o'Groats Sign

Land's End - John o'Groats

An East of The Pennines Route

The first part of this page covers a description of the route that we chose, and our experiences in cycling it. The second part consists of sections about how we planned and organised the trip, including hints, tips, and web links, which I hope might be useful for anyone thinking of doing the Land's End to John o'Groats trip by any route. Our route was 986 miles.

You can keep scrolling right down the page to read it, or click on words highlighted in the index or in the text to jump straight to a particular section.

There is also a separate page of links called The Ultimate Links List of Land's End to John o'Groats Cycle Trips that will lead you to websites that other people have written about their solo, team and sponsored End to End trips, and a separate page of comments and tips that people have sent me about their own trips - Now including emails from people who have done the ride this year.

I hope that you enjoy this page and any riding it may inspire!

Ian.

 

 

Update 06/05/12

I stopped updating this site in 2007 owing to life taking over and also changing ISP, which has meant I have been unable to access it or read mail.

*****Please don't email me as I still can't download from the email address displayed*****

Now I have regained access, I will try and get round to doing a full update in due course.

Stuck in someone elses frames? --- CLICK HERE --- to see my site properly with pictures!

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Index

(Click any word below to jump to that section, or just keep scrolling down to read the entire page. You can return to this point by clicking 'Index' from anywhere on the page)

Summary Day -1 Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5 Day 6 Day 7 Day 8
Day 9 Day 10 Day 11 Day 12 Day 13 Day 14 Day 15 Day 16 Day 17 Orkney

Choosing a Route | Maps | Bikes & Accessories | Luggage | Accommodation | Training | Recording The Trip | Safety | Money | Getting to & from LE & J o'G | Routemap |

 

Links - The 'Ultimate List of LEJOG Links'. There will soon be over 100 End to End trip sites listed, amongst which you will find lots of pearls of wisdom, and styles of tackling the trip that suit you.

Tips - Information and experiences and route news that people have emailed me about their own journeys.

A few thousand people a year cycle this trip and people from all over the world have looked at this page. If you have cycling experience, or do the trip, and would like to send any thoughts or experiences of your own, or (polite!) critical comments, I will happily add them. I am hoping that the more different accounts and opinions there are, then the more chance there will be of people finding ideas that will suit them.

If you would like me to link to a web site , please let me know. I now have a few web pages on this site where people have emailed me full accounts of their trips, should you like to record your trip but haven't got your own site (see links 62 & 63 as examples). The Links page is probably the most extensive list of LEJOG sites on the net.

My email address is  lejogDELETE@waitrose.com  (please remove the word DELETE from the address first)

 

Summary

17days, 11th to 28th June 1991

986 miles (average 58 per day, longest 80 miles)

or

1581km (average 93 km per day, longest 129km)

 

Overnight Stops

Land's End - Bodmin - Okehampton - Street - Chipping Sodbury - Cleeve Hill (nr Cheltenham) - Kings Heath (in Birmingham) - Bakewell - Haworth - Grinton (in North Yorkshire) - Acomb (Hexham) - Hawick - Kinross (on Loch Leven, south of Perth) - Pitlochry - Tomatin - Carbisdale Castle - Helmsdale - John o'Groats

Having arrived at John o' Groats on day 17, we got the passenger-only ferry to the Orkney Isles, which leaves from the adjacent quay. We then cycled to Kirkwall where we stayed for a few days at the SYHA and did some sightseeing. The Orkneys are well worth the trip.

 

 

See the route map - Route Map

Clicking on the route map will open it on a separate page. If it is taking a while to download, you may want to minimise it and continue reading the account while it completes.

 

The Idea

It all started when I visited my sister in Exeter for a holiday in early Spring and, just like the child in the storybooks, I walked past a shop and saw a shiny new bike in the window!

I'd been riding a second-hand mountain bike for about two years but was thinking of changing to a road-bike, having used it more and more on the road; The hum of mountain bike tyres had begun to get to me! The next day I returned to Richard's Bikes and took a test ride and ended up buying the bike, a Nigel Dean. It's a touring bike, with all the gears of a mountain bike and similar strong brakes. I was planning to use it for keeping fit and seeing more of the countryside. Somehow during the next few days this idea of 'seeing more of the countryside' germinated into 'seeing all of the country', whilst chatting with my sister's friend Steve! He had thought of doing LE to J o'G in the past and had time in the summer to fill after completing his college course.

Neither of us had any serious cycle touring experience. That's why some of the advice and ideas on these pages might seem 'old hat' to seasoned cycle tourists! As we found it all out by doing the trip I have included it all for anyone else starting from scratch.

We didn't want to put lots of pressure on ourselves, as we didn't really know what to expect, so we decided that the philosophy of the trip would be.....

'If we get as far as the Bristol area and have had a good holiday it will have been worth it'.

For some reason the first question everyone asked about the trip was "Oh, are you getting sponsored for it?" They seemed taken aback when told that we weren't. I never worked out whether this was because they couldn't see any other reason to do such a crazy thing or whether they thought that we should at least have something to show for our efforts! It almost made me feel guilty that we weren't getting sponsored, but, as we only came up with the idea in the March and left in the June, and didn't really know whether we would finish, it would have added too much responsibility.

Index

 

Day - 1

So, here I am, out of the train in Central London and navigating across town to Paddington Station. The sun is shining and it's just about possible to keep an eye on the map and watch the traffic at the same time. The bike feels a bit soggy and wobbly with the full load of luggage; With hindsight its odd that I never thought to make a test ride of any length with it loaded as it would be for the trip. I decide that in these conditions I am going to stop if I need to look at the map for any length of time!

At Paddington I am pleased to find that the train is of the older type with an old style guard's van with plenty of room for the bike. You can guarantee that had I not made a cycle reservation then they would have put a newer train on and all the bike space would have been taken!

The train ride down goes without hold-ups and the parts after Exeter, where it goes along the bottom of the red cliffs on the coast near Dawlish, and later over the Tamar Bridge at Plymouth are scenic.

At Penzance the sun is still out and pedalling the 9.8 miles ( 15.8 km) to the Land's End Youth Hostel through the Cornish lanes is a pleasant start to the evening . The hostel is on the North coast just outside St Just and about 6 miles from Lands End itself. I am relieved to find that Steve has made it there before me and hasn't made a last minute decision that cycling is not for him and gone on a fishing holiday instead!

Index

 

Day 1

The 'Start Day' is a complete change from yesterday; It's grey and the mist is light rain, or is it that the light rain is misty? The roads are empty and so is the Land's End complex, when we arrive quite early. We didn't get charged for entry, as it was only for parking a car that there was a fee, as most people arrive that way. There isn't even a person in the booth yet taking photos, so we take our own.

Starting at the Land's End Sign

Then we're off! We point our bikes up the A30 and pedal towards Penzance, and everywhere else for that matter! It definitely is rain now and we put our waterproofs on for the first of the prolonged heavy showers, or were we cycling through rain waiting for the next very short dry spell?

We had decided to take the most direct route through Cornwall and Devon and, having passed through the middle of Penzance, past the heliport and St Michael's Mount, we continued up the A30. We diverted into the town of Redruth for a lunch of Cornish pasties.

The A30 is the main trunk road through Cornwall and not really the most scenic of routes, but, especially in the narrowest part of Cornwall, the only other real alternatives are the more hilly and longer coastal routes. The A30 had a few dual-carriageway sections but we could ride on the 1 metre wide section at the edge of the road. See Safety section.

We continued along the A30 before turning off the Bodmin bypass into the town where we found our first B&B. It was still raining so we didn't look round the town.

Mileage for the day was 65.3 miles (105.1km).

Index

 

Day 2

We set off after a full breakfast and found a good bike shop in the main street of Bodmin, where I got the Cooltool 'spanner head' for adjusting the bottom bracket on my bike. It had become slightly loose and started to move up and down, probably owing to the extra load.

We got back on the A30 and continued pedalling over Bodmin Moor, stopping for coffee and flapjack at the famous Jamaica Inn, of the Daphne Du Maurier book. On the Launceston bypass we crossed the border into Devon....

The Devon Border Sign

The weather had improved by this stage, following rain during the morning, and crossing the border felt somewhat of an achievement. We left the A30 dual-carriageway onto the old A30, which runs more or less parallel but through the villages. We had a good meal of egg, chips and beans at a transport cafe in Lewdown where we met a man on a mountain bike cycling the other way from J o'G to LE.

We rejoined the A30 for a last short stretch, where we touched 50mph on a long smooth downhill, before turning off into Okehampton. Remember to brake well in advance if you get up to this speed and are turning off, as the uphill slip road to the Okehampton roundabout doesn't slow you down very much!!

In Okehampton the post office stamped our record sheet. The B&B we found was excellent, with a good evening meal. It was more like a mini hotel and had a group of telephone engineers who were working in the area for a while and obviously knew a good thing when they found it.

Mileage for the day was 41.8 miles (67.3km) and gave us time to look round the town in the warm evening sun and get some washing done at the launderette.

Index

 

Day 3

We left Okehampton on the B3215 and joined the A3072 to Copplestone. Here we ventured onto the un-numbered lanes.......

In a lane near Cheriton

to miss Crediton and rejoin the A3072 to Tiverton. It wasn't that we had anything against Crediton, just that we had been on the A30 for 2 days and wanted to try quiet lanes! As it was we got a little lost and found some quite steep hills, as I remember! In Tiverton we had lunch, again on pasties and tomatoes and fruit bought at a greengrocers. We continued on un-numbered roads through Halberton to Willand, where we turned north up the B3181 and onto the A38.

We crossed into the Somerset............

Somerset Sign

....and then past Wellington, where you can see the monument column that you see from the M5 when you drive down to the West Country by car. We passed through Taunton, taking the A358 towards Ilminster and, immediately after crossing the M5 at J25, turned off onto minor roads through Ruishton, Knapp, North Curry, Athelney etc, across West Sedge Moor and Kings Sedge Moor, to the Youth Hostel at Street. This last part was a bit of a roundabout route and we might have been better taking the A3259 and A361 from Taunton to Street, but the fenland type countryside we passed through made an interesting contrast to the previous days of cycling. There is a good site at: www.somerweb.co.uk/cycling/default.htm about the levels.

Mileage for the day was 79.4 (127.8 km). We cooked our own meal at the youth hostel with food bought in Taunton.

Index

 

Day 4

We left Street up the A39 into Glastonbury, where we passed Glastonbury Tor, and continued through Wells, where we passed the Cathedral.

Glastonbury Tor

The A39 was fairly quiet. It's marked red on the map, as a main road, rather than green, which is for the busier primary route trunk roads. From Wells it starts to climb over the Mendip Hills where we got a good view back towards the Tor.

A39 after Wells

We passed through Midsomer Norton and Radstock, which were not quite as scenic as they sound. We might have been better following the straightest route to Bath, along the minor roads through Paulton to the B3115. An alternate route from Street to Bath could have taken in the Cheddar Gorge, but was less direct. There is a Youth Hostel at Cheddar that we could have used instead of Street.

We didn't stop and explore Bath but pressed on and found a B&B in Chipping Sodbury, after continuing North on the A46 and completing 45.4 miles (73km) for the day.

It was a good B&B, which we found by asking a couple in the street if they knew of any. It turned out that they did B&B as an overflow for a friend's B&B in a nearby village, although their own house was not signed. They were very interested in our trip.

Index

 

Day 5

The first Saturday of our trip starts with drizzle and it does not really stop raining all day. We rejoin the A46, which is quiet this morning, and continue over the Gloucestershire border....

Gloucestershire Sign

It is in Stroud, in the rain, that we manage to lose each other at a roundabout. The route continues up the B4070 to Cheltenham. Unbeknown to me I must have cycled past Steve who had, by an amazing coincidence, bumped into some friends at a pub in the Cotswold village of Slad. It absolutely pours with rain during the afternoon and in a wooded part of the route I wonder if it is like riding in a rain forest! The cape might not look fashionable but at least it keeps me warm, by catching all the rising heat from my legs.

Cleeve Hill Youth Hostel was just north of Cheltenham on the B4632 and was almost empty that night. Unfortunately the hostel has closed down since we did the trip, so you would have to B&B, or look at the map for another YH nearby. There is one at Slimbridge. We were relieved that we both made it to Cleeve Hill independently! If we'd had mobile phones..... but it was the olden days!

My mileage, including searching around Stroud, is 48.2 (77.6 km)

Index

 

Day 6

Sunday starts grey but dry. We continue to Winchcombe on the B4632 and there take the B4078 to Sedgebarrow and A435 into Evesham for lunch. We are now heading for Kings Heath in Birmingham and continue on the A435 all the way. We come to the Warwickshire border near Abbots Salford and as there was no sign when we entered Hereford & Worcestershire we take a 'backwards' photo as we leave...

Hereford & Worcestershire SignWarwickshire Sign

We leave the Cotswolds countryside and the A435 to Birmingham turns to dual-carriageway but is fairly quiet, perhaps because it's Sunday. That night we stayed with my friends Martin & Hilary, having completed 41.5 miles (66.8 km) for the day.

Having looked at the map whilst writing this account I think we could have followed the B4632 out of Winchcombe to Stratford on Avon and then picked a route on quieter roads that would have taken us between Birmingham and Coventry. We could have perhaps gone through Meriden, which claims to be the centre of England, and where there is a war memorial to cyclists and an annual service is held, then across towards Lichfield to join the A515.

Index

 

Day 7

Birmingham is 'motor city' but as I have cycled there before I decide to go straight through the middle and get it over and done with. We are especially careful of the city drivers on the roundabouts and slip roads (safety)

We are through quite quickly and off to Gravelly Hill onto the A5127, through Sutton Coldfield, and over the Staffordshire border to Lichfield.

Staffordshire Sign

After a good cup of coffee and a walk around the heart of Lichfield we take the A515, heading to Ashbourne in Derbyshire. The A515 is quiet and a good cycling road. We get another good value lunch at a transport cafe along the way, but the name of the place now escapes me.

Ashbourne is about 28 miles (45.02 km) from Lichfield and we keep on the A515 as we leave it and climb up into the the Peak District hills. The road seems busier but the views are good, being at over 1000 feet (305m).

On the A515 after Ashbourne

Dry stone walls are in abundance and about 10 miles (16.1km) from Ashbourne, at the junction with the A5012, we turn down a minor road that takes us through Middleton and Youlgreave down to the A6. This seems a very long and quick downhill run and, at speed,we miss the minor road on the left towards Over Haddon, that would have taken us more directly to Bakewell and avoided the busy A6. We join the A6 near Haddon Hall (a stately home open to the public) and do the 3 miles or so into Bakewell where we find another excellent B&B and later have a pub meal.

We have covered 69.4 miles (111.7 km) but were in Bakewell by about 4.30pm, following an earlier than usual start in the morning. I now think of Bakewell and Birmingham as being a lot closer to each other than I did, having previously lived in the Midlands. The bike trip has started to change my feeling of the size of the country.

Index

 

Day 8

Leaving on the A619 we soon take the B6001 toward Hathersage. It is from here that I post home a large training manual that I had hoped to study for an exam during the evenings on route. I haven't looked at it all week, so have been carrying about 1.5kg unnecessary weight!

The A625 then A6013 takes us to Ladybower Reservoir where we turn towards Sheffield for short way before turning left onto the unclassified road around Bradfield and Midhope Moors to Langsett. Here there is a YHA hostel and a good cafe for lunch. The morning's cycling has been in damp drizzle, but very peaceful and pleasant.

Between Ladybower and Langsett

We don't see a county sign on leaving Derbyshire and hadn't seen one on entering either. This is the same for South Yorkshire so my photo collection is incomplete for these two counties! An email received from a Yorkshire man since putting this on the web tells me that lack of a South Yorkshire sign is because Yorkshire is still one great county as far as many are concerned, despite the politicians!

 

The A616 takes us into West Yorkshire...

West Yorkshire Sign

....and past a windfarm to Holmfirth, home of 'Last Of The Summer Wine'. We don't see Compo, Nora Batty and co. as we pass through towards Huddersfield. I'm getting aching knees, which I decide is owing to cold from the drizzle, so I buy some elasticated tube bandage which seems to keep the heat in and cure the problem. Riding a bike for this distance gives plenty of time for noticing discomforts, be they bodily or bike mechanical, so it is best to deal with them rather than let them get you down!

After Huddersfield's inner ring road we take the A641 to Rastrick then the A644 through Brighouse, Hipperholme and Queensbury. A short stretch on the A629 then left onto the B6141 takes us to Oxenhope then Haworth. This village caters well for tourists, being famous as the home of the Bronte family. They must be very big with the Japanese as the tourist office has signs in that language. We find a really good B&B with space in a utility room for the bikes.

It has been a wet day's cycling, but the rain explains why we passed so many reservoirs on the moors and why there were so many woollen mills built in this area. We passed through some remote countryside and though you might feel you would rather not cycle through the built up areas, they do give a feeling of this part of the world and its history. It was the last built up area on our route before Edinburgh. The days mileage has been 61 miles (98 km)

Index

 

Day 9

Through Oakworth and onto the B6143 takes us downhill to Keighley. We then head to Skipton, on the A629 again, crossing into North Yorkshire. We should have gone straight over the moors from Haworth to Skipton for a more scenic, quieter, route, but I wanted to find a cycle shop where I could get a jacket with a windproof front.

Skipton is the start of the Yorkshire Dales and a nice market town. We take the B6265 into the scenic countryside of Wharfedale. We go through Linton into Grassington, where we take the minor road that is parallel B6160 to Kettlewell for lunch (there is a YHA hostel here).

in Wharfedale

The B6160 continues up the valley climbing steeply as it turns toward Aysgarth. The climb is rewarded by the downhill....

steep hill near Kidstones

We take the minor road through Thoralby to Aysgarth, and its spectacular water falls, and then continue on minor roads to Castle Bolton and another climb, over Redmire Moor, to Grinton Lodge Youth Hostel, in the beautiful Swaledale. The YH is an old shooting lodge on the grouse moors. We enjoyed 52.5 miles (84.5km) of good cycling and the weather had been warmer.

Index

 

Day 10

This is to be a superb day of cycling for us. We sweep down into Reeth, a lovely Yorkshire village with a large village green, shops, and some good pubs that I have visited in the past. It's too early to stop! We continue on the minor road up Arkengarthdale.....

Road through Arkengarthdale

......and, just past Langthwaite, turn right onto the minor road towards Barnard Castle. The country is really quiet and we watch a farmer and his sheep dogs rounding up sheep.

The road climbs to around 1700 feet (520m) and we cross into County Durham, taking a picture of the North Yorkshire border as we leave.

North Yorkshire Sign County Durham Sign

It was a really long freewheel down towards the market town of Barnard Castle, where we get lunch at a bakers and the sun comes out. The afternoon's cycling continues up the B6278 for some 23 miles. Through Egglestone, the road rises again to 1500 feet (460m) or so, onto the moors, before decending towards Stanhope in the Wear valley.

B6278 before Stanhope

It rises again out of Stanhope, it must snow up here in the winter....

Snowpoles on the B6278

Once we we're at the top, a few miles out of Stanhope, we turn left onto a minor road that follows the ridge....

snowpoles along the ridge

...for some way before falling towards Blanchland, where we cross into Northumberland and more hospitable countryside.

Northumberland Sign

We follow the B6306 into Hexham then cross the River Tyne and take the minor road to Acomb and its small but cosy youth hostel. We get chips in the village for supper. The 56.2 miles (90.4 km) and the fresh air on the moors have worked up an appetite, and tomorrow we should be in Scotland.

Most of the cycling today was in the North Pennines region of outstanding beauty.

Index

 

Day 11

Scotland here we come! We take the A6079 through Wall, named as such because it is at Hadrians Wall! We see various ruins, then get on the B6320 to Bellingham (there's a YH here) where we get on the minor road to Kielder Water, the massive reservoir. We have lunch in the visitor centre and enjoy the views. It has been a peaceful morning of cycling through pleasant countryside, climbing very gently up the North Tyne valley.

Only a short while after lunch, we arrive at the Scottish border on what must be one of the quietest roads that you can arrive on, and maybe the most beautiful.

It is a real milestone for us; We feel we have achieved something!

England Sign Scotland Sign

Cycling over the Border

The minor road continues peacefully into Scotland and the first village of Saughtree. Fantastic cycling with no cars, or maybe one, along the whole way!

We take the B6357 north onto the A6088, through Bonchester Bridge, to Hawick. Here we get B&B in a large granite-built town house, with ceilings about 10 feet high.

We had done 59.2 miles (95.3 km) and had another excellent day. I can really recommend the last 3 days of the route.

Index

 

Day 12

It's Saturday when we leave Hawick, which is just starting to bustle with shoppers. We take the quiet A7 to Selkirk, which seems a pleasant small town. Post Office staff here politely refuse to stamp our record sheet but the nice people in the Tourist Office oblige.

The A707 gets us to the A72, which we follow along the River Tweed valley, through Innerleithen, to Peebles, where they are having a carnival parade. We watch the pipe bands pass and they sound superb in the Scottish air. Lunch was at an Italian cafe, complete with Juventus or other team pennants behind the counter.

The A703 takes us towards Edinburgh and near Leadburn we pass into Midlothian.

Midlothian Sign

We continue through Penicuik to the A720 dual carriageway, which is the southern bypass of Edinburgh, and follow it towards the Forth Bridge. It's pretty quiet for a main road, perhaps because it's the weekend. The A90 gets us to the Forth Bridge, another landmark on the trip.

(This summer I have received the following - "One important issue is I went on the A720 round Edinburgh and cycles are now not allowed. I was stopped by the Police and told to get off. There is a local bye-law apparently"- from Alan Clark - see the feedback page).

Forth Bridge

We watch the seabirds flying underneath and enjoy the view of the Firth of Forth and the nearby Railway Bridge. We can't continue on the M90 motorway at the end of the bridge (its illegal!) so we drop down briefly onto the A921 into Inverkeithing, then take the B981 and the B917 past Cowdenbeath. The B996 takes us to Kinross on Loch Leven where we find a B&B with evening meal after doing our longest day of 79.9 miles (128.6 km).

Index

 

Day 13

It is a sunny Sunday when we cycle off from the B&B through Kinross village to Milnathort. We pass an Italian ice cream parlour and realise that a lot of places we've been through have Italian businesses in them. Apparently they were started by Italians who had stayed on after the war. We get onto the A91 and pass into Fife briefly, before turning left onto the A912 and into Tayside.

Fife Sign Tayside Sign

We arrive in the city of Perth, which is almost deserted, and after riding around a little, head out of the city centre on the A9 and find a large supermarket. We get lunch from the delicatessen counter and bakery. The A9 continues out past the big whisky distillery of one of the well known brands, before leaving Perth into the countryside. We stay on the A9 now for the rest of the day and tomorrow as well, as it is one of only two roads to choose through the Grampian Mountains, the tallest range in the UK.

The other route we could have taken was the A93 out of Perth through Blairgowrie and Braemar (where there is a SYHA hostel), then the B976 and A939 to Tomintoul (where there is also an SYHA) and on to Grantown-on-Spey towards Inverness. This is a fantastic route, scenic and quiet, that I once did in a car, but I remember a lot of steep hill climbing, and on the map there are a lot of the little black arrows warning of steep hills! With hindsight, having now done the A9 route, which was fairly busy for that part of the world, I think I would now choose the A93 route if I was there again. However on the A93 there are some quite long stretches through remote and high country (over 2000 feet, or 610m, at Lecht Road where you are on the level of ski slopes) so I would want to plan the days cycling, keep the mileage shorter, and probably book accomodation in advance; It would be a problem if you turned up in Tomintoul, for example, and couldn't find anywhere to stay, as it is at least 15 miles from the next accommodation in each direction. I remember the Braemar hostel as quite good, with posh marble effect bathrooms. See Other Peoples' Comments for how other people have found this route.

As it was, the A9 as far as Pitlochry was not especially memorable cycling. We stop there in the Youth Hostel, having done 47.4 miles (76.3 km) after the long day yesterday.

Index

 

Day 14

For this day I recorded on the record sheet, "A9 to Tomatin (some minor roads parallel)", but not which roads. A look at the map shows there aren't many minor roads to choose from. I remember that the ones we did choose were very quiet, as I guess the only people who use them are locals and everyone else stays on the A9. They were worth taking but perhaps have a few more small hills, being less smoothed out than the new sections of the A9. Since we did the trip Sustrans have been getting on with building the National Cycle Network of cycle friendly quieter routes and the NCR 7 between Pitlochry and Inverness will soon be complete to provide a safer alternative parallel to the A9, using these quieter roads and new cycleways. It also runs South from Pitlochry.

(31/05/02 - from Wil Leaper - I took the 'new' cycle route that runs alongside the A9 from Pitlochry to Inverness. It uses the old A9, some lovely B roads, and some excellent recently constructed cycle paths. A great route, that avoids completely the main road.)

Minor road parallel to A9

On the A9 none of the the hill climbing is steep, just long steady inclines. We pass along Glen Garry between the mountains and eventually we get to the top of the Drumochter Pass and enter the Highland Region.

Highland Sign

The A9 and the mainline railway have been running alongside each other all the way from Pitlochry. I seem to remember there was a sign for the railway saying it was the highest point on the mainline network or something but unfortunately, if there was, I never took a photo of it.

We have lunch at a hotel amoungst the business travellers and then continue toward Kingussie, through Glen Truim. We pass Aviemore, the snow skiing resort, but the A9 does not enter it. There are good views towards the Cairngorm Mountains and we can see snow still on the tops.

snow topped mountains near Aviemore

We head on and after a bit more climbing we turn off into the village of Tomatin as the road starts to descend. We find a good B&B and in the evening stroll down to the local motel for a meal. We could smell whisky from some large bonded warehouses, where it was ageing. The escaping vapour is known as the 'Angels' Tipple' and after a good few years of ageing a measurable percentage of each barrel has evaporated away.

Mileage for the day - 72.8 miles (117.1 km)

Index

 

Day 15

Breakfast is in the kitchen, which is complete with the room bells from when the manse had servants. It starts with kippers, then a full plate of bacon, sausages, eggs etc. We are not going short of protein today! After chatting about deer stalking with the owner, we get back on the A9 towards Inverness, the capital of the Highlands.

We seem to get into Inverness quite quickly, a lot of the route must have been downhill! In town we get the route card stamped at the Tourist Office and visit the railway station and get our tickets in advance for the return journey.

It's then back on the A9 again over the suspension bridge onto the Black Isle, which we cross to the Cromarty Firth. After crossing the long bridge we turn onto the B9176 by Alness. At the time of our trip the A9 bridge over the Dornoch Firth had not been built so using the B9176 saved some mileage for us, and, though it involved more climbing, it was a quiet and scenic route. Even now the bridge is built the B9176 will be the most direct route to the SYHA at Carbisdale Castle, which was our overnight stop.

Carbisdale Castle logo Carbisdale Photo

Carbisdale Castle has to be one of the most amazing Youth Hostels around. It's a massive castle which was built at the beginning of this century for the Duchess of Sutherland, when she was divorced from the Duke. His home was at Dunrobin Castle further up the coast. He had to pass Carbisdale on the train so he used to have all the blinds on that side of his private carriages shut, so that he couldn't see it! The SYHA now run it and while you are staying there you can take the tour of the building to see the works of art and the main rooms. Our bikes spent the night in the massive cellars underneath. This is a hostel worth booking ahead!

By the way, make sure that you follow the minor road from Ardgay to the Castle. It's not possible to get to it from the A836, because of the river and railway, even though it looks close on some maps!

The day's mileage was 58.8 miles (94.6 km)

Index

 

Day 16

As we climb out of Bonar Bridge a spoke in Steve's rear wheel snaps. We make a slow and careful freewheel back to Bonar and get coffee and make the repair (see spokes).

Setting off again, little do we know of the wet ride ahead. I think this would have been a fantastic day of cycling had we been dry and able to see the surroundings through the low cloud. The A9 is quiet and follows the coast for most of the way.The pouring rain makes it unpleasant cycling but we struggle to Helmsdale, having done 51.9 miles (83.5km) including the detour for the repair. Steve deserved a medal, at least we had put John o'Groats within reach for the next day.

We get our cheapest B&B of the trip, at 10 each, in a cottage that was 'simple', but the people were really nice. Our meal was at a restaurant called 'La Mirage' which was decorated on a pink Barbara Cartland theme by a lady who apparently modelled herself on her; Not the sort of place you would expect in a Scottish fishing village, but the only place we could find!

La Mirage photo

Index

 

Day 17 - The Last Day on the Mainland

It's sunny again! The A9 continues along the coast to the town of Wick, where we get lunch before continuing out, past the airport, and it's helicopters to the oil fields, on the final 17 miles to John o'Groats. We do a total of 55.6 miles (89.5 km) from Helmsdale.

There are similarities with Land's End, with stone walls again. Even the photographer's box next to the sign post looks the same.

"I noticed your comments about the similarities between the signposts at both ends. we did get a photo taken at the end, when it arrived I realized they are in fact both operated by the same company - Courtwood Photographic Services of Penzance! - (from Chris Smith - See his Trip in 2000)

Photographer's box and Hotel at J o'G

I can't write much about John o'Groats, as we didn't see an enormous amount there as we left almost as soon as we arrived. The ferry was about to leave.....

On the Ferry

...... and so that was it, we had completed the trip!! A total of 986 miles (1586.5 km).

There is a site about John o'Groats at.. http://www.callnetuk.com/home/hibs/thelast.htm

 

Orkney

The ferry trip across the Pentland Firth is excellent. There are lots of seabirds flying past, some only a foot (30cm) or so above the waves, I think puffins, razorbills, types you don't often see. We land at Burwick on the island of South Ronaldsay, which is connected to the island of Burray and then to the Orkney Mainland by the A961, over causeways.

The ferry's website is: http://www.jogferry.co.uk/

We start on the 21.2 miles (34.1 km) to Kirkwall. The country is good but the day has gone cloudy and cooler and it's a bit of a slog as the total for the day gets to 76.8 miles (123.6 km).

Our two days on Orkney were great. I really can't recommend taking the trip over there enough, it made a good relaxing short break after our ride. They are low flat islands with a mild climate and have loads of archaelogical sites to explore. You get a slight feeling of being abroad, there is even a Norwegian Consulate there, as the islands are closer to Norway than they are to London!

There are over 10 more Orkney islands to visit as well as Mainland and the two I have already mentioned. They have a long history all of their own.

I could go on, but you can use this hyperlink to the Orkney Tourist Board website, where there is tourist and travel information about the islands.

On our day off we looked around Kirkwall and took the bus to Stromness.

Stromness

On the second day before cycling back to the ferry to return to John o'Groats we stopped at

Highland Park logo the Highland Park whisky distillery, which is the most northern Scottish distillery. They did an excellent free tour and an audiovideo presentation about the islands. I don't drink whisky more than a few times a year but the only bottle I keep in the house now is Highland Park and it reminds me of the trip. Experts tell me it's a good whisky! The distillery's been going for 200 years and they use peat fires for malting, local spring water, and age it for 12 years in casks. The customer hospitality worked on me! There is also an unofficial site at http://www.abdn.ac.uk/~src097/highpark.htm

Further on the way to the ferry we stop at the Italian Chapel at Lamb Holm, which on the outside is a metal hut and on the inside is an ornate Roman Catholic chapel. It was built by Italian prisoners of war who had been taken there to build the causeway between the islands, which was really to protect the harbour of Scapa Flow from submarines. There's a page about the chapel at http://www.caithness-mm.co.uk/discover/essential/orkney.html. What with the ice cream and the restaurants (and Hadrian's Wall!) the Italians seem to have brought a lot of things to Scotland.

That night we stayed at John o'Groats Youth Hostel and the next day cycled the 21.2 miles (34.1 km) to the town of Thurso where we took the train to Inverness to start our journeys home.

More Orkney Sites: http://www.orkneyjar.com/ and http://www.scotland-inverness.co.uk/orkney.htm - latter is part of a guide to Scotland

 

Index

 

 

The Information Section

 

Choosing a Route

It's surprising but as long as the route you plot is fairly straight, and does not zig-zag across counties as it goes, the difference between the most direct route, which stays to the West, and going further to the East is not quite as big as you might think. The Autoroute Express program calculates that the shortest route is 800 miles, and this crosses the Severn Bridge and goes up the Welsh Border. Telling Autoroute to plot the shortest route via Lincoln and York only puts the total up to 880 miles, even though on the map it appears so much further East and much less direct.

These are both underestimates as in real life all the small bends and the climbing up and down add to the distance over such a long route, but the program treats road sections as more straight and flat. The errors are probably about the same for both routes and the difference of 80 miles is probably a good representation. The program chooses to use motorways and main roads however, that you would not cycle on, and using more minor roads with more bends would probably put the difference between the routes up to about 100 miles. I think that our route was only about 100 miles more than the shortest western route.

We just looked at the map and the places that we knew and got a flourescent pen and picked out our own route. Where possible we took in youth hostels but did not deviate from a fairly straight line just to get to them; Accomodation had to be 'on' the route rather than needing a 'detour' to get to it. We avoided busy roads where possible, but not completely.

For any readers not from the UK, note that you cannot cycle on motorways, it's illegal as well as dangerous! They are designated as 'M' roads eg. M4, or A1(M). They are marked in blue on maps and have blue road signs when you see them.

'A' roads are the next busiest after motorways. Some are near motorway standard dual-carriageways and virtually just as busy. However there is quite a variation in 'A' roads between busy and quiet. Those marked green on the map are classed as 'primary routes' and are generally quite busy if they are between large towns or part of a continuous route of some length. They have green signs when you are on the road. Some of these 'primary routes' however can be fairly quiet if they are in less densely populated parts of the country.

The lesser, and generally more quiet, 'A' roads are coloured red on the maps and have white signs when you are on them. Often these roads were the old primary routes that now have new bypasses which have taken the traffic off them.

Finally there are 'secondary roads', which comprise the 'B' roads, marked in yellow, and 'C' roads and unclassified roads which are in white on the maps.

The CTC offer some ready-made routes with accommodation lists at http://www.ctc.org.uk which will save you planning. They are however all West side routes.

Also Sustrans produce maps of cycle friendly routes and their National Cycle Network is growing - see http://www.sustrans.org.uk/

If you have read our route but know of much better roads for cycling that we could have used on a particular section I would be pleased to include your suggestions on these pages, please email me at  lejogDELETE@waitrose.com  (removing the word DELETE to send).

 

Maps

We used two Ordnance Survey 3 mile-to-the-inch road atlases ( 1:190 000 , 1cm: 1.9km) and cut out just the pages that cover the route. Thus the maps could be laid out end-to-end and the route 'pre-walked'. It's about 15ft long! We then had a set of maps each, which was useful when we got split up! Two sets are also needed to lay out a continuous route, as running E to W it goes over both sides of some of the pages. We highlighted the route in fluorescent pen and marked a bar across every 10 miles to help estimating distances as we went.

The maps detail even the most minor roads but additional maps would be needed if any off-road sections were to be included. The 1999 atlas costs 7.99 and includes plans of some cities/large towns and larger scale route planning maps. The pages fit nicely in a bar-bag map pocket when folded. They saved all the hassle of folding and unfolding large maps in rain or gales. We never needed more than 3 in a day, often only one.

Click http://www.ordsvy.gov.uk/home/index.html where you can download map sections at scales down to 1:70 000 for free and see this year's road atlas.

Index

 

Bikes & Accessories

Normal touring bikes with 21 gears. The lower the lowest gear available, the better. Surprisingly there seemed more hill climbing in the Cornwall and Devon, where the roads go across most of the valleys rather than along them as they do where the hills are higher! Or maybe we just got fitter as we went!

We carried spare spokes on one bike, just in case we got a breakage owing to the luggage load. They taped nicely to a support rear pannier rack and are still on the bike 8 years later. Remember to read up about tensioning spokes to true wheels before the trip.

On the last but one day we did suffer a rear spoke breakage on the other bike, only to find that the spares didn’t fit it! We repaired this by using a spoke from the front wheel and filing a small amount off the threaded end to make it shorter. Luckily the lighter-loaded front wheel continued without problem with one spoke missing, until we put in a replacement a few days later on Orkney. You really need spare spokes of the right length for each bike; It was only luck that we could adapt the spokes that we had. Spoke lengths for wheels of the same size vary, depending on the diameter of the hub flanges in the middle.

Toolkit: chain link extractor and a few spare chain links, 2 adjustable spanners, spoke key, Allen keys, ball bearings, cone spanners, Cool-Tool ‘spanner heads’ (for bottom bracket & headset), cotterless crank remover, 1 each of spare brake & gear cables, rear free-wheel/sprocket-block remover (essential when replacing rear spokes), grease, chain lube, PVC insulation tape, puncture kit, spare inner tube & tyre, tyre-levers. Swiss army knife was invaluable for cans, bottles and food, as well as repairs.

U-locks & cable were carried and used throughout for security; Any town can have one criminal!

Reflective belts, and stickers on the mudguards, were used for visibility.

2, or more, water bottles – though you can use one and refill it on route, you may get caught out. Also the second may be useful for washing cuts etc in an emergency. I made a point of drinking water regularly as we rode, even when I wasn't thirsty. You sweat more than you realise when cycling, as it evaporates in the wind and you don't feel sticky. This means you can dehydrate without realising, and if your blood gets thicker it is harder to pump and you feel bad. I like to think that drinking plenty of water helped with endurance and keeping in shape. If you get dehydrated without realising it then it is too late to quickly re-hydrate. The best way to be sure you are drinking enough is to make sure that you are still having to stop to relieve your bladder normally, and if you are going for miles and miles between such stops you are not drinking enough!! Often you are well on the way to being over dehydrated before you feel thirsty so don't wait that long.

A first-aid kit is also advisable.

Bike computers - To record total and daily distances, average speed, top speed etc.

Index

 

Luggage

Rear panniers - Bar-bag (all lined with plastic bags for complete waterproofing)

Camera - Notebook & pen - First-aid kit & sun screen - Sunglasses - Wash-kit - Travel towels - Clothes - Cape or waterproofs - Cycling shoes - Sandals - 2 tent pegs & guy rope (put 1 peg in ground loop rope round handle bar of bike, and adjacent bike’s if desired, then pull tight and peg on opposite side; The bikes stand solidly and won’t blow over as with a side-stand)

Index

 

Accommodation

As it was June the only place we booked well in advance was Land’s End Youth Hostel. We also stayed at Youth Hostels at Street, Cleeve Hill (Cheltenham), Grinton Lodge (near Reeth, North Yorkshire), Acomb, Pitlochry, Carbisdale Castle, Kirkwall on Orkney, and John o’Groats. We phoned them a day or two in advance and it was only at Haworth YH that they were full on the day we phoned. We didn't deviate from the route just to get to a Youth Hostel.

For England & Wales hostel info see http://www.yha.org.uk/ and for Scotland http://www.syha.org.uk/. When we did the trip you had to take your own sheet sleeping bag (a sleeping bag made out of sheets!), or hire some at the hostel, to stay there, but now the YHA provide them 'all in' as part of the cost of your stay.

Another benefit of joining the YHA is getting a 10% member's discount at their excellent YHA Adventure Shops, which have good cycling sections as well a camping and general travel and outdoor products for travel all over the world. You can also use your membership to hostel with affiliated hostel associations abroad (SYHA members can stay at YHA hostels and vice versa - you don't need to join both).

All other nights were in B&B (bed & breakfast) accommodation, which we found on route. They all have signs, but if we could not see one we just asked a local for directions. Local tourist offices also had details and will even phone to check for vacancies as you wait. If the office was closed they generally had a list on the door. Pubs and hotels would have been another option but we had no trouble finding B&B anywhere. Had it been busier, perhaps in later July or August, it may have been more difficult. All the B&Bs were excellent and costs were between 10 and 18 per person in a twin room. Some also did evening meals at extra (but reasonable) cost, or would recommend places to eat nearby. Some were very interested in our journey so we sent them postcards from J o’G.

For tourist information click http://www.visitbritain.com/ where the various local tourist information offices throughout Great Britain can be found and then emailed, faxed, or phoned, if the details required aren’t posted on the web.

Click http://www.ctc.org.uk/end2end.html for a page on the Cyclists Touring Club web site. They offer End To End packs with routes and accommodation lists. Though the packs all seem to be West-side routes, I’m sure they could also suggest a similar route to ours. They are THE major UK cycling organisation, but you don’t have to be British or live in the UK to join and they also include free 3rd party insurance and many other benefits, including a good magazine. Surf the rest of their site.

We wrote the YHA addresses & phone numbers in a note book prior to setting off, but it would be easy to get a selection of B&B details from the above sources and enter them also.

If you want to camp it may be worth joining the Camping & Caravanning Club . What it doesn't say on their website is that they have a few thousand Certified Sites for a few tents, at farms, pubs, and other small locations. These are not open to the general public, only to club members, and they send you a 'Big Sites Book' that lists nearly 4000 sites in total, when nearly all the public sites in the UK are added to these CSs. The Certified Sites range from a field with a tap and waste point to much better equipped ones. There are even some (not many) where you can use the owners swimming pool! The other thing is that the prices start at only a few pounds.

Index

 

Training

Regular 10 mile training rides, building up to about 4 a week, with a few longer rides at the weekend. I built up the pace of the 10 mile rides to nearly my maximum sustainable pace, which I think helped fitness almost as much as doing long distances in training.

Having read a cycling book I started to practice pedalling faster but using lower gears. This seemed to reduce leg stiffness after rides but it takes a little while to get used to. The logic is that there is less "pushing" pressure needed on each rev.

Prior to trying this method of pedalling I had tended to push harder on the pedals and let the revs slow down a bit when going into a headwind or uphill rather than changing down; Pushing harder just makes your legs ache more!

I found that if you concentrate on reducing how hard you push down on the pedal with your toes it makes you use lower gears than you would normally choose for any given speed but you have to pedal that bit faster to maintain the speed. Eventually you get a good feel for it and keeping the revs high and more frequent gear changing comes as second nature.

Toeclips really help make pedalling more efficient, especially if you take note of the following comment I received by email -

"I agree with your comments, but have you tried 'ankling' as well? It involves pointing your toe on the downstroke and bending your foot up on the up stroke, sort of waddling, feels very strange at first but it is really efficient when you get used to it (and remember to do it), as your leg moves over less distance and the work is spread over more muscles." (from James who runs Altex - 'The Original Content Based Guide To Exeter')

You drop your heel to push the pedal 'over the top' and drop your toes to push it round the bottom. This means that instead of just pushing the pedal around only the downward part of its circle you are pushing it for a two-thirds or so of its total rotation.

It's also important to set the saddle height correctly in relation to the pedals. I set mine such that when a pedal is at the bottom I can just click my knee backwards and forwards from being locked to slightly bent. You need to test this by leaning on a wall and pedalling backwards with both feet on the pedals. If you have the saddle too high you have to slide from side to side on the saddle to keep your feet on the pedals, which gives blisters in places you wouldn't want them! If you have the saddle too low your legs are too cramped up and the tops of your thighs get too tired.

You can also slide the saddle backwards and forwards which affects where your knee is over the pedal as you push down. I've lost the book I once had which suggested the best position but having it set so that the 'front' knee is over the pedal when the cranks are horizontal is about right. You also need the saddle to be level, or very slightly up at the front, definitely not sloping forward. The new saddles on the market with central cut-outs might be worth considering as according to recent studies they help prevent the risk of groin damage and cancer.

Finally handlebar position and height needs setting for comfort so that you are not reaching forward too far or leaning down too much.

Has anyone got any more tips on 'bike comfort' ?

Index

 

Recording The Trip

We were given a Record Sheet at Lands End, but you could easily make up your own on a computer. We kept notes of the route we followed on the sheet and got it stamped as we went, at Post Offices, youth hostels and tourist information offices, but there are probably other places with stamps that you could ask also. If you are into that sort of thing you can get a badge from the CTC if you are a member and have documentation proving your trip.

We took photos of the county and regional boundary signs that we passed as we went. It would be worth including in your notebook, or on the trip record sheet, where the photos are taken (not that it's a problem with signs!). The travel tickets to, or from, LE and Jo'G are good to stick in the photo album as a momento as well.

Index

 

Safety

On main roads a major safety factor to be aware of is the danger when cycling past the entrance or exit of a slip-road. You can be very vulnerable if you are halfway across it as a vehicle is entering or leaving the main road. If the traffic is light and you can clearly see down the slip road or behind you and KNOW that you are going to be across the danger area without a vehicle using the slip-road then all so well and good, but if there is traffic around please ALWAYS take the safe option.

The safe option for a 'joining' slip road is to stop at the finish of the kerb line of the main road then cross the slip road to its left-hand kerb-line and follow it back up onto the main road and rejoin it.

For an 'exit' slip road then keep to the left-hand kerb line, as if you are taking the exit, and then when level with the point where the right-hand kerb line of the slip road commences stop and cross over and rejoin the main road.

BE WARNED, there have been incidents where vehicles joining or leaving a main road via a slip road have been distracted by overtaking other vehicles or looking behind to filter in to the main road and have not seen cyclists crossing the mouth of the slip road. They have hit them, usually at speed and with often FATAL results.

A similar danger area is when going around roundabouts. A slow moving cyclist passing the mouth of a joining road can be wiped out if they are not seen by vehicles entering or leaving the roundabout at speed. Again you need to be sure there are no vehicles going to arrive at the same point as you and possibly hit you as you pass a road-mouth. The safe way to do it is to leave the roundabout, as if turning left, at each road and then to stop and cross over when safe and return and make a left turn again at the roundabout.

On the 1 metre or so wide edge-section of a trunk road or dual-carriageway you need to keep an eye out for the occasional large stone or other pieces of debris that can get left there as they are not swept away by the wheels of passing vehicles, as they are from the rest of the road surface.

Having a mirror on the bike can make you feel more secure and ready for the draft of large vehicles.

A tip I have always followed is to try and make 'eye contact' with drivers waiting to pull out at junctions or driveways. They may be looking left then right but only 'seeing' cars and lorries and may not have noticed you coming along at the side of the road. Be wary of cycling in front of them if you are not sure that they have seen you.

Be visible - Wear high visibility material and have it on your bike.

Index

 

Money

As there aren't cashpoints in rural and remote areas you need to carry enough cash to last for a few days or use cheques or credit/debit cards. Remember that with debit cards you can now get cash from the cashier when you buy groceries at even quite small shops, such as Coops, by doing a 'cashback' transaction when they have an electronic point of sale machine. This is handy when there are no cashpoints around. Also you can get cash at Post Offices. Many small businesses, such as B&B's, get charged for banking cheques so prefer cash payment.

Index

 

Getting to and from LE and J o'G

We went by train. See the Train page at visitbritain.com for details about train travel and links to train companies. Their travel page has info about buses and getting to the UK by boat and plane and other useful details. Scotrail's site has a page about the line from Inverness to Wick or Thurso, near John o'Groats. TheTrainline.com is a ticket buying and journey planning service. Finally the John o'Groats Ferry website: http://www.jogferry.co.uk/ has a 'travel' page with details of buses and other ways of getting there, but I don't know if they take bikes.

The main thing to remember with trains is that they are often seriously short on space for bikes so you need to reserve a bike space or at least check availability. At the end of our trip we could not travel from Inverness to London on the same train! Steve ended up travelling on the Sunday night and I had to wait until the Monday morning. The 125 Intercity trains only had space for about 4 bikes, if I remember right. A bike reservation cost 4 at the time.

One idea I have seen on another site, which may be a good solution to the rail problem, was to do a one way van hire from home to somewhere near your start point and then do similar on your way home. The people who did it had to leave the first van at Truro and cycle to Land's End, and cycle back to get a return van at Inverness. I guess you would have to use a large national chain of vehicle hire companies, and that may well mean a branch in a larger town or city, but by the time you add up the cost of rail tickets the price may well be competitive. (http://www.christutin.org.uk/endtoend.html is where I saw the idea)

Some feedback   -

"I have booked my trip back from Inverness to Luton with Easyjet for a paltry 22.50. This includes my bike. I will have to get from John O Groats to Inverness but still........cheap as chips!!!!!!!
All the best,
Judd"

- Other airlines might also do this. Remember to check baggage allowances and arrangements for the bike such as packaging - panniers could perhaps go as hand luggage, either singly or strapped together.

Index

 

 

 

Summary | Maps | Bikes & Accessories | Luggage | Accommodation | Training | Recording The Trip | Money | Links |

 

Index

 

fingerboard sign at Land's End

 

Please email me at  lejogDELETE@waitrose.com  (removing the word DELETE from the address to send) if you have any comments on these pages or info or links that you think are worth adding. If you have done the LE to J o'G trip and have comments on your own route or experiences I would be pleased to paste them onto my Other Peoples' Comments page; Please let me know how you would like me to sign them, eg with your first name, full name and/or email address, or left unsigned. I won't add anything unless you tell me you want me to do so.

If you have read this far you must either have a burning desire to do the trip, or you have a subconscious desire that you haven't yet acknowledged! Go on, get on your bike and do it! It's easy, just cycle it in 'bitesizes' that you can manage easily, and don't think of it as a massive distance - If you piled up all the food that you eat in a year you probably wouldn't want to start eating that either!

If saddle pain worries are putting you off then follow this link - Optima Condor Moments UK

If you are about to put up your own website on the web, or have one already please look at my Anti-Spam Page where I have put down all that I have learnt on the subject and how to avoid it. It is why I now have my email address in the format it is on this page! This way hides it from 'Web Robots' who hunt down addresses for spammers.

Summary | Maps | Bikes & Accessories | Luggage | Accommodation | Training | Recording The Trip | Money | Links |

 

Index

 

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