A tale of Le Jog, 958 miles, 9 days, 52,000 feet of climbing from one end to the other of the United Kingdom
Almost too many years ago to remember a carpentry teacher at my school told us of his experience riding the famed end to end – A bicycle ride between John O Groats and Lands End. He had, as a glutton for punishment, done it a number of times. But for me, the reason I was so enthralled was that he had recently done it by tandem. It seemed like a wonderfully romantic way to see the country. I was determined to do it.
Shortly after leaving school I wrote to him, and he kindly sent me some maps and ideas. However the years went by, I lost his notes and rapidly morphed into that scourge of the roads: a fat, middle-aged, lycra wearing, cycling man.
For some fated reason, the conversation came up with my brother (the one with all the hair, in the photo on the left) about cycling it last year. We both maintain it was the other’s idea. After all who would be stupid enough to sit on a bicycle for approximately 8 hours a day for nine days in a row and cycle from one end of the country to the other.
Whilst it was hardly the romantic trip of my imagination, I could imagine few better people to do this journey with.
Nick pulled together a team of crack cyclists to join us and so on the 10th September, Dom, Hamish, James, Nick and I set off on a journey of highs, lows, laughter, boredom and more calories than I could ever have imagined eating, without being some Hollywood actor trying to get super fat in as short a time as possible!
Our Lands End to John O Groats Route
Day 1 Lands End to Okehampton
102.4 miles, 8,957 feet of elevation
In this photo, I think Nick is teasing me for attempting to suck my immense stomach in, by pushing his out as much as he possibly can!
It surprised me that Cornwall and Devon were the hilliest parts of the entire journey. This was also the first and fortunately only time I got punctures. Despite having puncture proof tires, whatever they are, I think that Nick managed to almost get into double figures on the punctures front, by the time we finished.
Day 2 Okehampton to Bristol
101.9 miles, 6,909 feet
This day seems to have gone by in a bit of a blur. Some excitement in Sainsbury’s where they refused to serve 5 starving cold cyclists hot food, saying they needed to catch up with a backlog. Not sure I understood why as there appeared to be only one table waiting for food. Apparently, the Sainsbury’s CEO is an avid cyclist. I wonder if he would have been as upset as we were if all he got to eat were some cold sandwiches It’s tough being a long distance cyclist!
It was also the first of Nick’s interminable punctures. Here you can see him “fixing it”. It was good practice for the rest of us.
Day 3 Bristol to Ludlow
80.2 miles, 5,423 feet
This was our shortest day. What made it especially nice was spending it with James, my oldest brother on his birthday. Can’t remember the last time I managed to do that.
It was also the first time that Hamish, our very own Wim Hof, got his ice bath set up. I rather pathetically opted out, deciding it was much better for my aching bones to be warm than cold. This video, shot by my sister in law, will stick in my memory for a long time to come.
Day 4 Ludlow to Haydock
110.1 miles, 3,793 feet
This was probably the nicest part of the cycling in England for me. Shropshire is my home county and holds a special place in my heart. The roads from Ludlow to the outskirts of Telford were really very special.
One of the things that slightly disappointed me was quite how little weight I managed to lose! I had high hopes that this was going to be the equivalent of fat club, where I would start off as an enormous porker, and finish it as the slender super fit man of my imagination. Sadly it wasn’t to be, although I did manage to lose 8 pounds, which considering that my diet was as many calories as I could eat was quite impressive. The photo here is a fairly typical lunch, although you don’t see the wonderful pudding that accompanied it!
The ride after lunch took us through some beautiful parts of Lancashire, and then into Haydock, just outside Manchester. This last bit was probably the busiest road of the entire trip.
Day 5 Haydock to Penrith
101.7 miles, 5,463 feet
All I could think about on the road to Penrith was the Toffee Shop. According to Dominic (pictured left), this is the home of the best fudge in the world. Considering myself quite the connoisseur I was excited to try it. This managed to keep me going, including up what was I think the longest hill climb of the journey. Some 9 miles from Kendall to Shap Fell.
Unfortunately, we discovered that the Toffee shop would be closed, but I was able to get hold of a couple of boxes. For this and many other reasons, I have to thank Gareth – our incredible support crew of one. Embarrassingly despite a genuine desire to share the fudge with my fellow cyclists, I managed to eat the whole box on my own. Not my finest moment and proof positive that I would almost certainly have failed the marshmallow test as a child, had it been offered to me!
Day 6 Penrith to Hamilton
103.9 miles, 3,960 feet
This was the first time I misread the satnav and ended up doing a slight detour. At the time, it seemed like an epic disaster but it was only about an extra mile. One of the ways in which I suspect cycling has got easier has been with navigation. If I had done this trip thirty years ago, my map reading skills would have ensured I did the trip in nearer to two thousand miles than under a thousand. Something to be thankful to Garmin for!
Gretna Green has long fascinated me. It is apparently where numerous elopements and marriages took place as Scotland had somewhat laxer laws when it came to marriage than the rest of the UK. Just over the border, in the first house in Scotland, I enjoyed a delicious hot chocolate. You can also just see Hamish, lying on the floor getting a leg massage. Somehow he had done something to his foot and bravely (Rule 5), carried on.
Day 7 Hamilton to Fort William
125.1 miles, 6,548 feet
It’s strange to realise just how far we have come. This was the longest day of cycling so we got up extra early. Fortunately, the hotel was able to provide us with a huge bowl of porridge to set us on our way.
There was a song that was big a few years ago, called eat, sleep, rave repeat. Reproduced below:
At the time I remember quite liking the song, listening back to it now I am not so sure! Still, long distance cycling is much the same! Eat, sleep, Cycle, Repeat. We just got to eat more!
There are two routes to Fort William. One goes along the shores of Loch Lomond, the other doesn’t. We chose not to go by Loch Lomond and went for a slightly quieter route. There was quite a lot of climbing today, but it was all worthwhile for the downhill into Glencoe. Definitely one of the trip’s highlights. Needless to say, I don’t appear to have a single photograph!
Day 8 Fort William to Lairg
123.5 miles, 6,352 feet
About 9 miles out of Fort William we stopped at the Commando Memorial. I found it quite powerful, possibly because of the mist. But reading stories of the Commandos and the sacrifices made by so many at the time was really quite sobering. At the base of the statue, you can see some flowers left by a French Commando association.
There is a set of slightly jokey rules of cycling. Rule five states how you should just toughen the F**K up. Compared to the tribulations of the commandos, on our expensive bicycles wearing the latest technology clothing, I suddenly felt like a total wimp!
About five miles outside of Fort Augustus my bicycle started to really play up and I couldn’t quite figure out what was going on. It was as though I was cycling with the brakes on. On getting to Fort Augustus I was able to do some investigation with the help of some of the more mechanically minded members of the team and discovered that somehow my excess weight had buckled the wheel. Fortunately we had a spare bike along for the ride and I was able to change over to that.
Today was another monstrously long day but also involved more of the beautiful Scottish scenery, which helped Scotland recently win a vote amongst travellers of being the world’s most beautiful country.
Day 9 Lairg to John O Groats
96.9 miles, 4,777 feet
Hard to believe that today was the last day. A slight feeling of sadness overcame us along with a huge sigh of relief that soon we would no longer be lycra clad warriors of the road! I decided to trial Facebook’s live feature, coming in to John O groats. The attempt can be seen below. Sadly not very compelling watching, not helped by the wind drowning out what I was saying!
It was a fantastic nine days, and a special thanks must go out to Gareth, who was our support crew. Always smiling and without him this would not have been quite so much “fun”. I am also extremely grateful to my fellow cyclists. A journey like this is made special by who you do it with. Probably Dom, Hamish, James and Nick would be the only combination of people potentially slightly capable of persuading me to do it again!
Our Le Jog Route:
Below is our combined route, as taken from Strava: