LEJOG – Land’s End to John O’Groats 1st July 2013

Done it!!!


1006 miles over 14 days & was anyone ever so lucky with the weather, the route, the people, the great British countryside, the support & the fact we all got along famously & smiled (almost) all of the way. We’re also motoring past the £20,000 mark raised for Macmillan Cancer Support Jersey.

If you would like more info on this journey we have a dedicated website, shown below,where there are daily diaries to cover the entire trip. From my point of view, it was so wonderful to discover that the Britain we thought may have gone forever, is alive & well & in the main looking wonderful.

For more information, pictures and diaries, Lejogbybike.co.uk

Day Fourteen – Crask Inn to John O’Groats

I find it difficult to describe the Crask Inn & it would certainly be a dilemma if you were asked to recommend it to anyone, without the fear that they’d think you were a lunatic for either recommending it or not recommending it dependent upon their own personality. I met a friend in Jersey, before we left, whose partner had done End to End a couple of weeks before & he describes it as the best pub in Britain. It’s seriously isolated, it’s in a rundown state, it’s not had a makeover since sometime in the 50’s, there’s only an isolated chance you’ll get hot water & the local Health & Safety Inspector must be the owner’s brother in law. When asked about WiFi, Mike, the owner, said ‘he’d heard about it’ On the other hand, there’s huge charm in its age & eccentricity, it’s dramatic in its isolation & we were served a fabulous meal of pork or salmon, (with a white tablecloth) & with Chateauneuf at £18 a bottle & Chablis at £14, we had a fabulous evening in the company of a whole host of very interesting people, including the two guys (Tom & Alex) who we’d offered coffee & snacks to some days ago & who were looking in very fine spirits.

This area of Scotland is popular with walkers & climbers, many of whom look to climb the various local peaks, referred to as Munros after Hugh T Munro who died in 1919. This gentleman published the ‘Munro Tables’ after a meticulous study of locations & heights of all Scottish mountains in excess of 3,000 ft. Thereafter, all mountain summits & associated peaks over 3,000 ft became known as ‘Munros’ or ‘Munro Tops’ respectively. Mike told me that it’s only in the last couple of years that he’s seen cyclists coming through but that it’s now very popular.

We made a plan over dinner to start our final days cycling at 6.00am, as we were aware of the 82 plus miles we had to cover; the 3 to 3 ½ hour return journey to Inverness & the desire to have a final dinner, meet friends in Inverness & say our goodbyes. We made a huge bowl of cold ‘Pam’s Porridge’ the night before & everyone was around at 5.30 getting themselves prepared. Driver Tony declared the porridge ‘like stuff you stick wallpaper on with’ but nevertheless tucked in. The weather looked dire. This place is forbidding looking at the best of times, but with huge black clouds, a fierce wind & temperatures that had dropped to around 12 degrees, it was not inviting. We made a sorry sight as we snaked, one after the other, up the hill away from The Crask. However, as we crested the hill, we were faced with a run that wended its way around Loch Naver in a gently undulating way, single track, with the occasional marked ‘passing place’ (I think Ken had been reading these as ‘pissing place’ & thus his stops, every ten minutes). We flew! All was fine & dandy, until we hit a corner at about 25mph & met a cranky farmer who wasn’t stopping for anyone. The dreadful scrape of tyres on gravel & anticipation of a crunch from behind, but somehow Rodney managed to get between the truck & me & we survived. We still flew after that, but maybe a little more cautiously! Whereas the approach to the Crask had seen us in countryside probably 50 miles wide, we were now in a much smaller valley, possibly only a mile wide in parts, with occasional farms & lots of sheep grazing. Everyone was of the same mind; what must this be like in winter? Or as Tony put it more succinctly, ‘this is where men are men & sheep are nervous’. As we made our way further north, the countryside took on the appearance of an overgrown golf course with gently rolling hills, broom, heather & the very attractive cottongrass in abundance. We were all willing the sea to be over the next rise but this wasn’t to come until about 30 miles when we arrived at the attractively named, Bettyhill & Pentland Firth. The beaches, as you hit the north coast, are simply stunning & would do credit to any Caribbean island & there were many more as we turned right & started the final 50 odd miles of the trip. The run along the north coast was alternating steep climbs & fast down hills. On the odd occasion we met the wind head on we blessed the fact that it was largely favouring us or at least coming in from the side. It was still cold & I was somewhat underdressed, but the need to keep warm was a help in peddling hard & we blessed the fact that, once again, the rain had held off. Our sympathies went out to the few End to Enders we saw coming the other way, at the start of their ride. One of the primary reasons most do this journey south to north is that the prevailing winds are usually favourable & also the first three days probably have the most climbing.

We agreed to have lunch at 11.30 & therefore stopped at the Melviche Hotel (45 miles) at around 10.00 to pick up sandwiches. Rodney’s bike was back onto the stand as Tony tried once again to fix a problem with this nearly new bike. Rodney also learnt a little about the mechanics of bikes i.e. don’t put your finger in the wheel when it’s spinning (that lesson comes quite early in the ‘Duffers Guide to Bike Maintenance Manual’ apparently) We really were motoring & had done 62 miles when we stopped for lunch at Thurso, even though that included some quite steep climbs along what is a very attractive coast with good road surfaces & very little traffic.

As previously agreed, we met Tony 7 miles out from John O’Groats & rode those last few miles in a state of some excitement, down into the car park where we found the support van, but no Tony! Momentary panic, until we realised he was around the corner, camera poised. We then made our way to the famous sign post, which I seem to remember reads 874 miles to Land’s End whereas we were recording 1006.35 miles as of course we’d come via the Peak Tours scenic route which we had blessed each & every day for 14 days. We also realised we’d averaged over 15 mph over the 82 miles today, a real achievement which put us well ahead on our day’s schedule as it was barely 1.00pm. We did the photographs, drank the champagne (courtesy of Rodney), phoned home (how emotional was that!) & generally acted like daft kids for a while. We also received a donation from a kind lady who refused to leave her name. We then met up with a sparkling new mini bus that was to take us & our bikes back to Inverness. We have contracted with John O’Groats Bike Transport in Inverness who will service the bikes & courier them back to Jersey. Rodney is to take his on the train & he’s viewing this prospect with some trepidation as it involves about three changes & of course he also has luggage.

Dinner in Inverness was great & we met beforehand with a couple of mates of BVCC member Nicky. Vonny is Fundraiser for Marie Curie & recently did the length of Ireland ride with Nicky. A lovely, vivacious lady & I can see why she’s so effective for this great charity. There was just the minimum of speeches, mostly to thank Tony & to receive a certificate from him (that’s got to go on the wall hasn’t it!) plus a bottle of champagne (thanks again Tony) & a bottle of whisky (thanks Ken’s brother in law Andrew), which we had to polish off (it would be rude not to wouldn’t it)

So there we have it – Job done!

I will find out the total raised for Macmillan Cancer Support (Jersey) Limited plus the 50% of Rodney’s donations that will go to the Stroke Association & post those figures on this site as soon as possible. I’m really, really hoping that we can make the magic £20k, so if you’re mindful to benefit either of these wonderful charities, we’d be both grateful & delighted.

Awards of the Day

Callum, 16 year old grandson of our support driver Tony, who has been selected to represent the South East of England at the Tour of Flanders in a couple of weeks time. How can he not thrive & prosper as a competitive cyclist with a Manager/Trainer/Grandfather like Tony. Good Luck Callum!

All of the riders on this End to End quite simply for doing it, but more importantly, for enjoying it

Philosophical thoughts of the day

Comments from the participants, at dinner in Inverness;

Paul Davies. Lejog, an iconic ride in memory of my brother-in-law, who died recently of cancer

Paul Rebours. I was full of trepidation when invited to join this fantastic group, but all the training paid off as I thoroughly enjoyed the 14 days & saw parts of Great Britain I’d never seen before. Great organisation by Tony & Steve.

Ken Simpson. What a great trip, wonderful scenery, great cycling, good company, what next?

Tony Hillsden. I’ll dine on this for years! Was our longest day 120 or 125 miles? Top speed 54mph? Temperature 40 degrees?

Rodney Binley. Fitness is just a frame of mind; it’s getting the body to agree that’s tough.

Brian Frith. The perfect storm in a positive way. Perfect weather, fabulous route through the very best of Britain, impeccable planning from Steve & Tony & a great group of guys brought together by a love of cycling & lots of mutual respect.

Vital stats for the day;

Distance 82.10
Cumulative 1006.35
Average Speed 15.2 mph
Time riding ** 5 hours 23 minutes
Climbing 3047 feet
Cumulative Climbing *** 48,230 feet

** I should make a point this is time actually riding, not time out on the road

*** That’s almost 11 times the height of Ben Nevis

Day Thirteen – Inverness to Crask Inn

Inverness has a great feel & as usual, we sent out our scouts (Paul x 2) to find a place for a drink & possibly a place to eat. They quickly homed in on ‘The Place’ & phoned to tell us where it was. We strolled down to the river Ness, passed a number of really smart B&B’s, all with ‘No Vacancy’ signs, over the rather nice bridge, passed a few very appealing looking restaurants & duly found The Place. Not overly swish, with big screen TV’s on the walls, but a very nice Manageress who was welcoming & who served a mean pint of local bitter. After a short while, Paul D stated that we ought to eat there because it was filling up with locals & had a good menu. Good decision. The food was great, the Manageress was one of those rare professionals who took all 7 orders without writing anything down & we all got what we asked for without as much as a ‘Who’s the sole? You are sole’ (these words actually spoken by a friend in Jersey who bellowed this response down the table, in a crowded restaurant!).

We made a good start at 08.30 with everyone in good spirits & left the City as we’ve left so many before, via the industrial sector. It was there that Paul D had his third puncture of the trip, this one also in the rear tyre. All a bit of a pain as his back wheel doesn’t come off easily but take it off we did & Paul did repairs to both the inner tube & the tyre which had a nasty tear. Because of this & because Tony was nearby we did however get him to bring a new tyre & tube. We’d been there a little while when a chap came by; very smart, with tie & note pad & said he was Jim from the Inverness Courier & asked what were we up to in Inverness. We told him our story, pointed him to the webpage & he’s promised us coverage. Fame at last!!

The next 17 miles or so was spent on cycle paths in quite pleasant, but not overly dramatic countryside. We were not grumbling however as dedicated cycle paths make for such an easy passage when you’re not worrying about traffic & these were all proper tarmac surfaces. We had a brew stop at around 20 miles & then started on a steady climb of about 5 miles, which took us into entirely different, more open countryside with mountains to our left & vast open spaces of grassland. We steadily climbed & climbed & eventually turned a corner & faced a long downhill but also the most fabulous view with tons of ‘Wow’ factor at the Cadha Mor Viewpoint. This looks for miles & miles over Cromarty Firth (wasn’t this one of the weather points we used to hear of so regularly?). The downhill was oh so welcome & we seemed to eat up the miles to Bonar Bridge & lunch, by which time we’d covered some 42 miles & thought we’d broken back of the days ride.

Lunch at Bonar Bridge Hotel didn’t give us any surprises (you’ve guessed, soup & sandwiches) but it was good soup & sandwiches & no one was grumbling.

Whilst the rest of the journey was a joy as far as scenery was concerned, it really was a slog. We moved more & more from grassland into full-blown moorland, with broom & heather in abundance & a vast panorama opening up on all sides. This also meant that the wind, which was coming from the west, could make its presence known although for the most part, it was welcome, as the day had become sticky as the humidity rose. As we climbed throughout the afternoon, so it became hotter & hotter to the point where it seemed to just get too much & for about 10 minutes we got rain. Scotland does rain well so this was no mean attempt in terms of size of drops (the size of marbles) but there weren’t that many of them & they came at intervals. After about 10 minutes, it just gave up so we can record about 15 minutes of rain now in the first 13 days!

We heading into the Shin Forest en route to Lairg & took time out to stop at Shin Falls where, had we been there at the spawning season, we may have seen Salmon swimming up the falls. With millions of gallons crashing its way down this mountain & over this waterfall, can anyone explain the instinct that makes these salmon take on the seemingly impossible challenge?

From 45 to 65 miles we had a long & steady climb, which took us further & further into wide open spaces & although the views were spectacular, we were feeling the wind, feeling the legs & feeling this day would never end. Finally we had a short downhill, which took us the Crask Inn. My first words to Mike, at the bar were ‘may I have a drink like the road out there please? One that goes on & on & on’

Awards of the Day

Shall we give it to those salmon, as I’m too tired to think of anything else?

Philosophical thoughts of the day

Be quiet legs!!

Vital stats for the day;

Distance 67.24
Cumulative 924.25
Average Speed 10.6 mph
Time riding ** 6 hours 21 minutes
Climbing 3521 feet

** I should make a point this is time actually riding, not time out on the road

Day Twelve – Glen Coe to Inverness

Kareen, our landlady at Glen Coe was just amazing. Not only was it wine & nibbles when we arrived, superb accommodation & lovely views, but this morning I enjoyed a delicious breakfast of fresh fruit, porridge & scrambled eggs with smoke salmon. Rodney even got his boiled eggs from Kareen’s own hens. He normally has 2 boiled eggs, every Wednesday without fail, but that schedule has been thrown out of kilter somewhat on this trip; Bless. I do have to ask why we bother with these big chain hotels.

Day 12, a big one, so we’re told & we had a lady visitor into the peloton for the day. Big Vern’s Cycle Club does of course have lady members, but we’ve not had one touring with us, so we had to think carefully about the ramifications. Many may not be aware, but cycling all day does create a little confusion in your bodily functions & its reactions. It was therefore not unnatural that one of our present members would ask what was going to happen if there was any passing of wind, belching, that sort of thing. The point was discussed & it was agreed by all that providing Pip was discreet in this regard, we’d not get too uptight or upset with her. The presence of Pip also made us realise that we were now seven; the Secret Seven perhaps? This possibility had Pip immediately volunteering to be Janet. Alarm & upset. Everyone knows that Tony is Janet! It was a while before we could restore any sort of order & get on our way.

The run from Glen Coe to Fort William was a joy as we were on the good roads, with wonderful views of the Loch & not too much heavy traffic. It went in a flash & we covered the 20 miles to Fort William in no time at all & thoroughly enjoyed the ride by the side of the mirror calm Loch. Fort William is obviously a very popular tourist resort & there are some lovely hotels & homes along the loch side & a well-used promenade. It sits at the head of Loch Linnhe, which interestingly, is a sea loch.

From there, we headed off towards Fort Augustus & met a long queue of traffic being held up whilst boats made their way through Neptune’s Staircase. This is an amazing series of 8 locks, which move boats along this section of the Caledonian Canal. It was built by Thomas Telford between 1803 & 1822 & was originally operated by hand, but is now operated hydraulically. There were lots of spectators watching the process & we know from our own experiences with the lock at St Malo that this is a popular spectator sport where there’s every chance in the world you’ll get someone failing in their nautical skills, boats crashing into one another or a serious domestic between husband (thinks he’s the skipper) & wife (I’m not taking orders from that plonker).

We were also now in Ben Nevis spotting country (‘the mountain with its head in the clouds’ being one translation of the name) & there it was looking sort of ordinary with bits of residue snow on it. Apparently it formed from the collapsed dome of an ancient volcano & as I said before about the glaciers, everything gets sort of’ rounded off’ so there’s none of the drama you get with the European counterparts. Whatever, it’s obviously very appealing to many as about 100,000 people attempt to hike to the summit, every year & there are derivatives of the name on businesses & products, for miles around.

We headed up a hill out of Fort William, looking back at the mountain as we went, We thought this was probably why Rodney suddenly cycled into a ditch (oh how we laughed), but apparently it wasn’t the mountain, it was the fact that he’d seen a boat going through a field. This mirage was of course the canal, further down the valley, which runs through the countryside. As we went along & saw more evidence of the canal & the occasional boat wandering sedately along at a few knots, we felt such a boating holiday might go down well about now. However dreams put to one side, we continued a steady climb up to Spean Bridge & the very imposing Commando Memorial in memory of Scotland’s fallen warriors. There were two lady pipers there & this created a very moving experience, perched as we were, way up high, with long & impressive views all around. Tony was also there for a brew stop & we wolfed down the treats he’d got for the day, cherries, bananas, jaffa cakes & all types of drinks. The man is a star!

Next stop, Fort Augustus, via the cutely named Loch Lochy, with more occasional views of the Caledonian Canal. We had almost 45 miles under our belt by the time we stopped for lunch & it was a little daunting that it was being served in a conservatory. Soup & sandwiches in a conservatory in the midst of the Scottish Highlands is something quite wonderful, unless it happens to be on the hottest day of the year when it’s just a tad on the warm side. We therefore didn’t linger although an important decision had to be made, at this point when we still had a little less than 40 miles to go. Do you take the low road (A82, with traffic but somewhat more direct) or the high road (B862, more scenic, higher, with the biggest climbs so far on the trip)? Two elected for the A road & five elected for the B road. In the event, neither one got there much ‘afore ye’ as the song goes, but each party had a different experience alongside the famous Loch Ness. I can only speak for the B-side & say that we did not see a monster. We did however see a monster climb & a few others besides. The first was long & steep (12% so the sign says & Tony used first gear in the van, to get up it) & the others also daunting as they kept presenting false summits. However we all made it & when we got to the very top, with magnificent views, what did we see & hear but a fully kitted out Scots piper. He made us all feel like heroes & we have lots of photographs with this gentleman. We wore his bearskin, we rattled his sword (it has a special name doesn’t it) & we held his bagpipes. Pip was even invited to view what really goes on beneath the kilt & completely stunned this guy when she calmly announced that ‘castration was her favourite operation’ (don’t forget she’s a vet!). Well, I reckon the bagpipes would have been good for an extra octave after that!

From this vantage point we could see the downhill. It went on forever & was absolutely magnificent. We were like kids in a toyshop by the time we got to the base & a brew stop. From there we had more sweeping, curving downhill before we saw, through layers of huge pines, the mighty & forbidding looking Loch Ness. It’s long & I believe it’s very deep & maybe that’s why it looks so much darker than the lochs we’d seen earlier. We were to follow it for another 20 miles or so as we made our way over undulating roads into Inverness. A Jersey registered car passed us along the way & I wish we could have stopped it for a chat & maybe a donation to Macmillan. We had one stop where Rodney magically found us ice creams, just the thing to get the last five miles under our belt. Over 82 miles, the longest that either of Rodney, Rebs or Pip had ever ridden & we were in our digs by 5.30, all feeling pretty good. Inverness has a most pleasant feel & I think if we can stay awake long enough, we shall enjoy our meal in this lovely town tonight.

Awards of the Day

Rebs King of the Mountain on B862 – a magnificent climb!
Pip A lovely riding companion with the best killer line ever
Sionagh Who gave a donation at Ft Augustus

Philosophical thoughts of the day

Rebs ‘I wish I could play golf as well as I can cycle’ & hardly philosophical, but Pips wants to go on record with ‘Loved it, it’s been a pleasure to ride with the peloton’

Vital stats for the day;

Distance 82.53
Cumulative 857.01
Average Speed 14.3 mph
Time riding ** 5 hours 47 minutes
Climbing 3557 feet

** I should make a point this is time actually riding, not time out on the road

Day Eleven – Loch Lomond to Glen Coe

Just when you get all cocky on the weather it comes & smacks you in the eye doesn’t it. The morning was heavily overcast & there was cloud, hanging like a dollop of cream, on all the mountaintops, round about. A Scots friend of mine once said about the Scottish weather ‘we have 7 months of winter & 5 months of bad weather’. Under the circumstances & given our ride thus far, we were not grumbling.

The first part of our trip today was a joy. We had almost 20 miles along the cycle path, most of it alongside the Loch, to a place called Arrochar, which I remember from camping days as a kid. Over the entire distance, we met a pair of walkers & no one else, so it was an absolute joy; the views, the wild roses, the loch side houses, it was just great. We were no sooner started then than we were enjoying coffee & snacks, by the lake, on our mid morning break. The next part of the journey was on the road & we were boldly informed by a road sign; ‘Road Surface Uneven’; No **** Sherlock!! We were back to the ‘Lumpy, bumpy & grumpy’ sort of terrain that we’d had yesterday, with a fair bit of traffic thrown in for good measure. Whatever, we made good progress & were soon at our lunch stop, a rather fine place which was full of armchairs & had an impressive but rather macabre display of stuffed animals, including a mangy fox, reclining on the back of a settee. The upmarket seating had a marked effect on those attending & immediately after lunch, Rodney & Tony were fast asleep.

There was a steady, long climb after lunch & an ever widening panorama unfolded as we made our way into the mountains. This area is vast beyond belief, sort of Lord Of the Rings’ish & if you cast your mind back to your geography lessons, this is the sort of terrain which was pushed, carved, bullied, exfoliated & polished by a glacier that crept slowly over the entire area. The river water then ate its way down the mountain sides & created valleys & waterfalls, plus lakes at the bottom. The result is sort of gentle, with rounded peaks & wide, U shaped bottoms & mountains rising dramatically, all on a huge scale and mostly foliated & green. There were still the remains of snow deposits, in crevasses, on some of the eastern slopes. If I’m being picky, I’d say that the only fly in this heavenly ointment were; the flies. Boy, do they like sweaty cyclists & they had a real good bite, each time we stopped. However, we worked out that we could out run them at about 20 mph, which was extra wonderful as this created a fine cooling effect as by now the sun was out & the temperature was rising. The run down the valley was fabulous & we felt that we were being paid back for all the work that we had put into getting up there in the first place. The run into Glen Coe was off a side road, right at the base of the mountain & down a shady, picturesque lane. The settlement itself is just delightful & it’s impossible to classify the homes there. It’s a mix of Alpine, thatch, kitsch & maybe Northern European. Lovely to walk around & we made a special point of visiting the Mongolian Mountain Wear Exhibition; well you’d have to wouldn’t you!

Our Digs are just fabulous (Lios Mhoire; pronounced however you fancy) & our lovely landlady took away our bikes to lock them in the garage, gave us a beer, put up the umbrella on the front porch (views of sea & mountains) & brought out nibbles. Does a day’s cycling get any better than that?

Pip joins us tonight, for tomorrow’s leg. Pip is the sister of my son-in-law Tom. She is a Vet, lives in Edinburgh & is relatively new to cycling. The poor lady joins us on what is to be one of our longest days of the trip, with one of the fiercest climbs. However, if it’s that or putting your arm up a cow’s bottom then maybe it will not be too bad for her. She is certainly a welcome addition to this crowd, who are beginning to look a little unshaven, a little unclean & generally unappealing.

Awards of the Day

Glaciers Ever so slow moving but boy did they do a number on the landscape & where would that Harry Potter have been without them

Philosophical thought of the day

Growing old is mandatory. Growing up is optional.

Vital stats for the day;

Distance 68.79
Cumulative 774.48
Average Speed 14.3 mph
Time riding ** 4 hours 47 minutes
Climbing 2975 feet

** I should make a point this is time actually riding, not time out on the road