Land's End to John O'Groats

July/August 1997

Probably the toughest cycle ride yet for the TTC - a 1,000 mile cycle ride from the south-west tip of England to the north-east coast of Scotland. Cyclists were (TTC) Mick Banks, Andrew Bowcock, Lynn Harrington, (friends) Jacques Thijs, Paul White and Bob Wilkins. Here's some excepts from my diary!

Day 1 - Saturday 12th July - 17 miles (17) London-Penzance-Land's End-Goldsithney

Our first day - it didn't go well. Paul and I lost the others between Liverpool St. and Paddington (great start!). Took the train to Penzance, where on arrival, we discovered that Great Northern Railways had disconnected one of the guard's vans containing three of our six bikes. Trying to get the railways staff to grasp that the loss of half the group's bikes constituted a major obstacle to us beginning our cycling holiday was no mean feat, but eventually they agreed to do something about it. Skulked around the station until our bikes arrived at around 5.00 p.m. and finally set off in a downpour on the 10-mile stretch to Land's End. Took some photos, adjusted our mile counters and we were off. By 8.30 p.m. we had only covered 17 miles of the "end to end" route, effectively putting us a day behind schedule, but as it was getting dark, we decided to pitch camp. We had dinner in the local pub and went straight back to our tents for an early night. For various reasons (i.e. excitement, apprehension, full bladder, rain hammering on the tents) no-one had a good night's sleep and I for one, wondered (and not for the first time in my life) why, oh why, do I make myself do these things!

Day 2 - Sunday 13th July - 55 miles (72) Goldsithney-King Harry Ferry-Philleigh-Wadebridge

Had trouble deciding whether to turn left or right out of the campsite! Way to go TTC! A very wet morning and the notoriously steep Cornish hills started us off on our long journey. Around lunchtime we reached Andy's sister's house in Philleigh, where Catherine provided us with a slap up meal. Totally pigged out, which didn't help much when we had to get back on our bikes. However, the afternoon seemed a little less hilly, the rain stopped and we eventually arrived at the campsite at Wadebridge at about 5.30 p.m. just as the sun came out! All in all, we all felt encouraged by a good mileage covered and a great meal in the pub later on that evening.

Day 3 - Monday 14th July - 59 miles (131) Wadebridge-Tintagel-Bude-Buckland Brewer

Blazing sun. Bloody steep hills. At Tintagel Andy broke his rear axle but luckily no more than 100m from the local bike shop. Whilst the others helped Andy, Bob and I got a head start on tackling the long, steep, excruciating hill out of Boscastle (admiring the beautiful coastal scenery as we sweated buckets, pulled our muscles and pushed our bikes). The rest of the day was a blur of hill after hill but finally we arrived at Bob's friends' home at Buckland Brewer (near Bideford) later on that evening where Richard and Christel greeted us with gin and tonics as soon as we arrived. Numbed from our second day of pain and suffering enjoyable cycling, we were too tired for much socialising and we creaked into our tents pitched in the garden fairly early.

Day 4 - Tuesday 15th July - 65 miles (196) Buckland Brewer-Bampton-Thurloxton

Straight up two killer hills (with a 25% descent and ascent) to Torrington then on to the B3227 to South Molden. Rained all day long but it we still enjoyed cycling through Exmoor woodlands and then across to Wiveliscombe where we cut across to the base of the Quantocks. Nobody fancied cycling over the top so we asking around for a campsite (no luck). Eventually ended up at The Maypole Inn at Thurloxton where the landlord gave us the use of the function room for the night. What a star. Fell into a coma about 9.00 p.m.

Day 5 - Wednesday 16th July - 62 miles (258) Thurloxton-Bridgewater-Cheddar-Hinton

Bob woke up with a very swollen face (infected wisdom tooth) so we cycled to Bridgewater Hospital to get some antibiotics (and where we bought nappy rash cream to ease the pain produced by cycling in rain sodden clothes). By midday we reached Cheddar Gorge where surprisingly, the climb up the gorge was easier than we had expected. At the top on the Mendips, we cooked some soup for Bob to slurp. The afternoon was relatively easy, skirting the east side of Bristol and onto a tiny campsite at Hinton (supposedly only for caravans but the owner admired our cause and took pity on Bob's poor state). The sun was still shining as we washed ourselves and our clothes under the standpipe and then off to the local pub for an excellent meal.

Day 6 - Thursday 17th July - 66 miles (324) Hinton-Severn Bridge-Coleford-Ross-Mordiford

Straight out into the pouring rain. The morning brightened as we reached Aust services, but then more pouring rain as we crossed the old Severn Bridge into Wales and up the Wye Valley. We stopped briefly at Tintern Abbey then took a ridiculously steep hill up to St. Briavels. Lunch in Coleford was followed by an easy and picturesque descent to Ross-on-Wye where the nearest campsite was at Mordiford on the banks of the river. Strong northerly head-wind all day (so much for Mick's assertion that the winds would be in our favour going South to North and at this time of the year!).

Day 7 - Friday 18th July - 53 miles (377) Mordiford-Leominster-Ludlow-Much Wenlock

The easy rolling terrain would have been ideal but for the northerly head-wind. However, I tried to keep up with the group's pace and in doing so but knocked myself out for the afternoon. Bob stayed behind to wait for me (aah!) and we got lost in Ludlow which is really pretty but needs a bypass. Finally arrived at Much Wenlock where we all had a celebratory lolly and I had a snooze on the town square bench whilst the others chatted about Jacques' broken spoke. Camped out with some hippies (their dog kept peeing up people's tents) who were in Much Wenlock for a story telling festival!

Day 8 - Saturday 19th July - 74 miles (451) Much Wenlock-Telford-Nantwich-Knutsford-Pickmere

Relief! Long, flat roads all morning, hardly any hills. Mick and Jacques went off to Telford to fix Jacques's spoke. The rest of us went to Ironbridge. Met some cyclists coming the other way, seven days from John O'Groats (we were impressed until we saw their support van). After 40 miles we stopped to raid Sainsbury's at Nantwich and then onto our bikes for another 35 miles that afternoon. The blazing sun made the going tough and we finally arrived, sticky, mucky and tired, into Knutsford (Pickmere) at about 7.00 p.m. where we set up camp. I was in my sleeping bag, comatose, before 9.00 p.m. and the others went to the pub (apparently the food was horrible so I didn't miss much!).

Day 9 - Sunday 20th July - 59 miles (510) Pickmere-Westhaughton-Blackburn-Waddington

Rather messy route as we picked our way between Manchester and Warrington. Had a slap up breakfast at Glazebrook, plus tea, scones and ice cream in the hills above Bolton. After all those goodies, I just had to have a little snooze and then we were into open moorland and a fine descent into Blackburn. Got lost in Clitheroe but eventually found a campsite at a farm near Waddington. Had a shower under a standpipe and a wonderful meal to finish a day best remembered for its food!

Day 10 - Monday 21st July - 65 miles (575) Waddington-Bentham-Kirby Lonsdale-Temple Sowerby

Oh God, what a day! We started out with a long and steep climb over to Slaidburn (took us 2 hours to cover only 7 miles!) and then another harrowing 12 miles straight over the fells to High Bentham. Up and over more hills (frequent rest stops), passing Yorkshire's famous Three Peaks. Onward to Kirby Lonsdale, and continuing north to Tebay (more hills) and Orton. (Feeling exhausted, thighs like concrete, energy gone, morale rock bottom, I declared I'd had enough. Bob gave me a cuddle. Things were a little better.) We plodded the afternoon away. By evening, we had one last hill to tackle into Maulds Meaburn and then Temple Sowerby. At 8.30 p.m. we arrived at the campsite, way behind Mick and Paul, and a little later Jacques and Andy (broken chain) turned up. A very draining day, I was so tired. Phoned my mum. Felt better.

Day 11 - Tuesday 22nd July - 54 miles (629) Temple Sowerby-Langwathby-Brampton-Langholm

Fairly late start (we needed a lay-in). Mick left us to cycle to Carlisle to replace a wheel and the rest of us started with a fairly easy 29 miles (helped by frequent chocolate breaks), passing the Peak District in the distance, to Brampton. We had a picnic lunch with a beer at the pub for lunch and then went in search of Hadrians Wall (which we never found) and followed a devious route through the back lanes to Scotland where we all had our photo's taken at the border. Then the last few hilly miles to Langholm. Arrived early at the campsite at 5.00 p.m. where we met up again with Mick. Ice-creams all round and a pleasant evening - even felt awake enough to go onto a wine bar after dinner!

Day 12 - Wednesday 23rd July - 50 miles (679) Langholm-Eskdalemuir-Innerleithen-Peebles

A café breakfast then a slog up Eskdale, Eskdalemuir and the Tibetan Centre where we stopped for tea. For the rest of the morning, the hills were evenly graded hills and we fought with the flies as we passed through the forests. Then more climbing and a great downhill into Tushielaw for a pub lunch (weird staff). More up and over on evenly graded roads, through lovely scenery to Innerleithen and on to Peebles where, having already covered 50 miles, we all voted against Mick "I never get tired" Banks' plan to push on a further 20 miles to the next campsite at Edinburgh. Instead we headed for the nearest campsite, having had quite a good day, and even had energy for drinks and conversation after dinner!

Day 13 - Thursday 24th July - 70 miles (749) Peebles-Edinburgh-Forth Rd Bridge-Perth-Scone

There was a deluge in the night, and Andy and Paul, whose tent was not waterproof, had to stay behind to tumble-dry their sleeping bags. The rest of us set off for an extremely easy (flat/downhill for 25 miles!) into Edinburgh, along the Queensferry Rd and on to the Forth Road Bridge. Once across we had lunch and continued directly north towards Perth via Kelty and Kinross. Andy and Paul caught us up at the campsite having travelled all day without a map. A good fast day. We only had another 280 miles or so to cover in six days!

Day 14 - Friday 25th July - 49 miles (798) Scone-Blairgowrie-Glenshee-Braemar

Easy, flattish start to Blairgowrie (15 miles) then tea at an old mill and museum. A further 18 miles up the glen brought us to the Spittal of Glenshee where we had lunch. Here they have a 'rent a dog' scheme where you can hire dogs to take for walks in the mountains! After lunch the road climbed steeply but evenly up to the pass at 2150 ft. Going up was a slog but we had hot chocolate by the ski lifts and a great 1:10 downhill to look forward to. Not so, the headwind was so strong that we had to grind our pedals round to go forward! Eventually, after 8 miles downhill, the wind and rain stopped and we could take in the scenery around us. It was breathtaking. Blue/green hills covered in yellow flowers and purple gorse, flocks of birds flying overhead following the river and high on my right, three stags peering down at us. What a wonderful end to the day!

Day 15 - Saturday 26th July - 52 miles (850) Braemar-Balmoral-Tomintoul-Boat of Garten

A day of hills and rain. Easy start downhill and flat to Balmoral where we turned left toward Tomintoul and hit the first hill. More hills to the Lecht pass where the rain started to lash down. Retreated to the café at the ski centre to sit out the rain and have haggis, neeps and tatties. Once the rain stopped we got back on our bikes, ready for a great 1:10 downhill. Not so, the headwind was so strong that we had to grind our pedals round to get down the other side of the mountain! After a long, cold descent, there were more ups and downs and eventually we came to the Bridge of Brown and the last major hill. Up and over that and it started raining again but luckily it was plain sailing from there to The Boat of Garten (memorable for its appalling food.).

Day 16 - Sunday 27th July - 60 miles (910) Boat of Garten-Carrbridge-Inverness-Aultnamain Inn

We had to take main roads for 30 miles into Inverness where we pre-booked our tickets for the return journey home (a passer-by suggested that we finish our journey properly by cycling home!). After lunch, across the Kessock bridge, Black Isle and the Cromarty Firth and up into the hills. Through forests and beautiful open scenery, along "A roads with passing places" and occasionally passing a house or two. Eventually, in the middle of nowhere, we came across Aultnamain Inn where we asked the landlord if we could set up camp. He agreed, looking very bemused. We were puzzled. Not for long. Invasion of the Killer Midges!

Day 17 - Monday 28th July - 67 miles (977) Aultnamain Inn-Bonar Bridge-Lairg-Bettyhill

Up and away in record time to get away from the midges. Andy and Paul got up and left at 4 a.m. as their tent wasn't midge proof! Downhill all the way to Bonar Bridge where we all met up for breakfast. Onto Lairg where Mick broke a gear cable, and then out into the last wild stretch to the north coast. A long gentle climb brought us up to the Crask Inn, then 8 miles descent to Altnaharra. From there we turned off down Strathnaver, alongside the loch and following the river to the sea at Bettyhill. Really beautiful scenery all day.

Day 18 - Tuesday 29th July - 52 miles (1029) Bettyhill-Mevich-Thurso-John O'Groats

The last leg. Fifty miles or so eastwards to John O'Groats along the north coast. We'd been told that the first 12 miles were hilly but that after we got into Caithness it would be more or less flat. What we hadn't bargained on was the very strong easterly wind that made every mile hard won. Stopped at Thurso for lunch and then a slow grind in the wind to John O'Groats, where, at our final destination, we had our photos taken with the tourists, just as the heavens opened and we made a run for it to set our tents up in a deluge, finishing the cycle as we started - bloody soaking wet!

Wednesday 30th July to Friday 1st August John O'Groats-Duncansby Head-Wick-Inverness

Although John O'Groats is the end of the 'end to end' it's not actually the most north-easterly point on the mainland, so we got up early and cycled the two miles out to Duncansby Head, which is. Having now actually reached our final destination, we cycled 17 miles into the wind to Wick, and then caught the train back to Inverness (champagne en route!) and where Paul, Andy and Mick caught the sleeper to London.

Since we had a couple of spare days, Jacques, Bob and I opted to cycle along Loch Ness and the Great Glen to Fort William. Along the way we had time to play tourists and visit the odd castle, the highland games at Fort Augustus and take the cable car up Ben Nevis, after which we caught the train home from Fort William. This added a further 70 miles or so to our personal tallies. So, together with the extra bits, etc., we finally ended up having cycled close to 1150 miles.

Lynn Harrington

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