My 16 Day LeJog May / June 2017

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My 16 Day LeJog May / June 2017

Postby shadwellrhino » 8 Apr 2018, 9:53pm

I’ve been meaning to sit down and write this blog for months. I spent hours and hours digesting information on this forum over a period of over 6 years before I finally attempted LeJog. I gained some really valuable information, and hope that I am “putting something back”, and that someone will find some of it useful.

Thanks are due to the numerous contributors whose posts I read, and in particular to those who answered the questions I raised in my posts: “Cannondale Synapse”, “Uploading TCX files to this Forum” and “GPX Upload”. Also, I took on board a great deal of Mick F’s routing advice for which I am eternally grateful, particularly in relation to Devon and Cornwall. I also found Royston Wood’s “Land’s End to John O’Groats Self Help Cycle Guide” very useful, albeit much of the book was not relevant to me. Thanks also to my wife Joyce for her selfless support during my training and the ride itself.

Top Tips

Here are the main things I learned during the ride (in no particular order):

1. Make accommodation arrangements as flexible as possible (I needed to change mine at the worst possible time).
2. Accommodation in certain parts of Scotland, especially around the North Sea 500 route, is sparse – book as far ahead as possible. Use Tripadvisor to identify hotels and B&Bs that are not listed on e.g. (as these ones don’t take online bookings)
3. Supplies of food and drink can be equally sparse – eat whenever you can, or take supplies with you.
4. It can be difficult to obtain a meal after 8pm in some parts of Scotland, although many larger villages have Co-op or Spar shops that open late.
5. Phone reception was good in most places, except when I really needed it!
6. The weather and wind direction will change frequently. You may well need clothing for all types of weather.
7. Use a GPS or similar. Mine failed twice, so take paper maps as back up. I bought a large scale Philips road map for just a few pounds on ebay, cut out the relevant pages then highlighted the route. You can discard the pages as each section is completed.
8. Take plenty of sunscreen – you could be in the sun for hours on end day after day.

My Cycling Background and Training

I was 56 when I undertook the ride. My experience of cycle touring was limited to:

• 3 day Coast to Coast ridden on mountain bike, mostly on road. Solo ride, but supported in that my wife carried luggage by car
• 2 day, 120 mile trip along NCN Route 1 from Grimsby to Kings Lynn ridden on a hybrid. Ridden with a friend but self supported.
• 3 day, 200 mile trip from Leeds to the east coast and back on a hybrid. Ridden with a friend but self supported.

Although I had limited touring experience I have been a regular cyclist for many years, mainly on mountain / hybrid bikes, typically covering distances anywhere between 10 to 50 miles depending on time commitments. I had also completed a few 60 – 75 mile rides over the years.
I started in earnest around 12 months in advance. I made a point of getting out perhaps 3 times a week with one or two visits to the gym in between (for back and core strengthening). I rode in all weather conditions apart from ice and snow, and made sure I had plenty of experience riding in wind, rain and cold. By the time of the ride I could easily ride 50 or more miles on successive days (my target average would be approx. 60 miles per day).

The Bike

My hybrid bike needed replacing and I finally took the plunge with a road bike around 18 months prior to LeJog. As a long term back pain sufferer it took me over a year to find a bike that I was entirely comfortable with. I had a professional Bike Fit around 3 months before LeJog. Although the result was not 100% perfect, the small differences it made more than justified the cost.

The bike I used was a Cannondale Synapse 105 Disc. This was modified with a shorter stem (from Bike Fit), and a wider range rear cassette and long hanger derailleur to give a 36 bottom gear (again well worth the money for those Cornish hills)!

The Route

My planned route was nearing completion around 6 months before the start and I was ready to start booking accommodation and transport. I wanted to ride 100% on the road and take roughly 14 days or more (but not much less as I didn’t want to overdo it). I was happy to ride on main roads, but wanted to avoid the A82 to the west of Scotland as I had driven it a couple of times and didn’t fancy cycling it. I live in Leeds, and am therefore used to traffic, although I try to avoid the busiest dual carriageways. Like most other End to Enders I also wanted to avoid the worst of the hills, while keeping distance to a minimum!

I followed advice from various posts by Mick F relating to “easy” routes through Cornwall and Devon, and through the Scottish borders, and eventually settled on an 880 mile route over 15 days. The actual ride was 910 miles over 16 days – additional distance due to detours / getting lost! Although I am a relatively slow rider, I would say that the route I used would be well suited to a fast ride.

These were the key route planning decisions / issues:

• I was generally happy to ride extra miles to avoid the busiest roads / steepest (up)hills.
• I used route planning software to check route profiles / distances before settling on final route.
• Stopovers were generally selected at approx. 60 mile intervals. The last planned stopover was at Latheron, meaning a hilly 79 mile penultimate day. This was simply due to scarcity of accommodation. (A last minute change of plan meant that we actually stayed in Helmsdale after struggling to find alternative accommodation).
• Devon and Cornwall – I followed Mick F’s advice for an “easy route”.
• Somerset – I took a long but very flat route to avoid Bristol and the steep terrain around the Mendips.
• Wye Valley – I chose this picturesque route in preference to the busy main roads in England. The valley itself was nowhere near as difficult as expected, but the hill out of Monmouuth made up for it!
• Runcorn - I wanted to avoid, so stuck to main routes heading north towards Warrington.
• A6 – rode this almost all the way from Lancashire to Scotland with just a few detours, mainly to avoid the busy part near Kendal.
• Moffat to Livingston – avoided the busiest / hilliest roads. Not many fuel stops on this route.
• Avoided A82 – I’ve driven this and know how busy and narrow it is in parts, so took the “eastern route” through Scotland.
• A9 – as far as possible, took the B-roads recommended by Mick F which follow the main road.

Overall I was very pleased with the route. The only bit I would change would be to try to find an easier way out of Monmouth.


At this point in my planning my wife very kindly and unexpectedly offered to accompany me by car, so I didn’t have to carry my luggage. This was brilliant as it meant I didn’t have to skimp on weight, and could bring all of the tools and clothing I wanted. The only real downside was that I had to upgrade the standard of accommodation – hostels out, hotels in!

In reality we stayed in quite a mixture from pretty basic B&Bs to Premier Inns to small hotels, a couple of decent hotels and a holiday lodge near Newquay which we rented as a base for the first couple of days. (The lodge made financial and logistical sense as our daughter joined us for the “grand depart”, and a couple of days mother and daughter time while I struggled my way through Cornwall).

The cost of accommodation varied greatly, from around £60 to £120 per night, but typically around £70 - £80. Our trip included the Spring Bank Holiday weekend which saw prices increase, but the most costly place was after the Bank Holiday at a pretty ordinary Premier Inn at Livingstone.
All bookings apart from the holiday lodge at the start of the ride were made on a flexible basis so that they could be amended without penalty should I encounter any problems. This turned out to be a smart move (see later).

The Ride

If you haven’t yet fallen asleep (!), here are some details of the route, and the ride itself:

Days 1 and 2 - Land’s End to Redruth to Retallack Resort (near St Columb) - 55 miles

The original plan was to complete this in one day. However I split it into two so that we could spend some time together with our daughter. I rode 28 miles the first morning to Redruth then we spent the afternoon and evening together. Next day we drove back to Redruth from where I rode the next 27 miles. Our daughter went home this evening, so full days from now on!

The weather on these days was very warm and very sunny.

The terrain was quite hilly, but the roads were quiet. I’m certain this was one of the best routes through Cornwall. Stayed at Retallack resort for these 2 nights and the previous night prior to setting off from LE – a good spot just off the route and with decent accommodation including restaurant and swimming pool, but probably no use for a one night stay.

Day 3 – Retallack to Okehampton – 57 Miles

Another hilly day. Thick fog made for pretty treacherous cycling but fortunately cleared half way through the day. Got hopelessly lost after missing a turn in Launceston which added a few extra miles (and hills) until I found the correct route. If following my route (courtesy of Mick F), come down the hill towards Launceston, then turn left at the Spar shop and up the hill on the A388, then 2nd right onto Ridgegrove Lane.

Stayed (and ate) at Wetherspoons. Very good room, and inexpensive. Probably the best value place we stayed in. Only downside was no secure place for bike storage, so left the bike fixed to the car.

Day 4 – Okehampton to Taunton – 61 miles

A bit less hilly today. Again the route, courtesy of Mick F, avoids the worst of the hills. Hot and sunny with headwind for most of the day. I had read somewhere on the forum that the junction of the A361/A38/M5 was very tricky, so followed signs for the cycle route from the A361 to Tiverton Parkway railway station, crossed the railway footbridge then followed signs for the tarmac cycle route to Taunton. This is counter intuitive as it seems to go in the wrong direction, but after a mile or so the path crosses the M5 and doubles back in the direction of Taunton. This adds perhaps 2 miles or so to the route, but avoids the busy junction.

Stayed in Beaufort Lodge - a nice B&B on the main road into town which very kindly let me leave the bike in the hallway, and use the hosepipe in the morning.

Day 5 – Taunton to Chepstow – 71 miles

This was the longest day in mileage terms. The route was designed to avoid Bristol, the hilly area around Cheddar, and the busy part of the A38. This was by far the flattest section of the whole ride, so the additional distance was worthwhile. However, the extra time in blistering hot sun was to take its toll later.

Crossed the Avon on the cycle path adjacent to the M5 (off road but good surface) and used the cycle path to cross the old Severn Bridge. Enjoyed both, but you need a head for heights! Note that as far as I know there is no cycle path across the Second Severn Crossing.
Stayed at Marriott St Pierre - a decent golf hotel with swimming pool etc outside Chepstow, but a few miles off the route down a long steep hill. Bike was locked away securely within the hotel.

Day 6 – Chepstow to Ludlow – 61 miles

After a long day in the saddle yesterday I was looking forward to the superb breakfast on offer this morning. For some reason I didn’t have an appetite and hardly ate a thing.

Cycled up the picturesque Wye Valley today. Stopped for lunch at Monmouth, but again had no appetite. This was a totally alien concept to me, and I couldn’t understand it, but for the rest of the ride I struggled to finish a meal.

Having arrived at Monmouth I had completed almost 1/3 of the ride, and had managed to complete every single hill without stopping for a breather – another alien concept to me! The road out of Monmouth was a killer hill and I had to stop several times for a breather. I was now back to my usual hill climbing form which would continue for the rest of the ride! (I did however manage to avoid pushing up any hill).

Followed the A49 for most of the day, but the traffic was pretty unremarkable.

Slightly cooler, but another very hot day. The hilliest day of the whole ride apart from Cornwall and Devon.

Stayed at Elm Lodge B&B on the outskirts of Ludlow – decent room with good breakfast selection.

Day 7 – Ludlow to Tarporley – 61 miles

A pretty flat day. No sun, but no rain either, and a tailwind most of the day! Stayed on main roads for most of the day, but don’t recall any issue with traffic. Called at Halfords in Shrewsbury to replace a broken light. Skirted around the edge of town using a brilliant network of tarmac cycle paths. Stayed at fantastic B&B - New Hall Farm – out of town but just a mile or so from pub with decent food. Probably the best quality accommodation and breakfast of the whole ride, and most welcoming place we stayed in, with secure bike storage.

Day 8 – Tarporley to Preston North Premier Inn 64 miles

Generally overcast day, with headwind all day. Travelled on main roads all day through Warrington, Wigan and Preston. Traffic was light, perhaps because it was a Bank Holiday Sunday. However, these were good, wide roads.

The Premier Inn was a bit of a dump (reflected in price) but they did allow bikes in rooms.

Day 9 – Preston North to Penrith – 65 miles

A lousy start to the day – missed breakfast at Premier Inn which finished at 9am. (Well I think I’m entitled to a lie in after all these miles!) Set off in pouring rain which lasted until well into the afternoon. Had to push the bike through the centre of Garstang due to Bank Holiday parade! Picked up a pasta salad for breakfast at Sainsbury.

Spent nearly all day on the A6 which was pleasingly quiet. Hardly saw any lorries – I’m sure they all use the M6. The first 40 miles or so to Kendal was very flat but I struggled to maintain any sort of pace, as if running on empty. This feeling persisted throughout most of the remaining days, but was at its worst on this stretch.

Had a long lunch break in Lancaster but didn’t eat much. Struggled on to Kendal where I met my wife in a launderette! The desire to lie down and sleep was overwhelming, but overcame it and went to a pub across the road for a snack and cuppa.

Was dreading the ascent of Shap Fell but somehow got a second wind and managed it with relative ease (stopping along the way of course). The descent all the way to Penrith in fading light was a pleasure!

Stayed in a fairly new and very smart Premier Inn with secure bike storage. Loads of places to eat – hotel is in centre of town, next to large supermarket. So tired at end of today that just had a picnic in bedroom for dinner.

Two big psychological boosts today: passing the halfway mark somewhere near Lancaster, and making it over Shap Fell.

Day 10 – Penrith to Moffat – 61 miles

Fairly easy terrain today. Took the direct route to Carlisle, then followed the B road alongside the M6 / M74 almost all the way to Moffat. Crossed the border into Scotland at Gretna Green. Hard to believe that have reached this point, yet still have almost 400 miles to go! Very wet and windy today which spoilt the views and slowed progress. Stayed in Queensberry House - small friendly B&B with bike storage. A few places to eat in town, but difficult to get served after 8pm. Local Italian restaurant kept the kitchen open till 8.30 to accommodate us!

Day 11 – Moffat to Livingston – 59 miles

A bit too hot today, especially with 12 miles uphill to start the day. However, the scenery was brilliant. Travelled over 30 miles between places to buy food and drink, so be prepared if travelling along this route. Biggar is a good place to stop for lunch with loads of places to eat.

Quiet roads until the last mile or two. Stayed at Premier Inn – old and tired, yet the most expensive place we stayed at. Put the bike in room while nobody looking! Difficult to find the hotel without using busy dual carriageway. M&S Simply Food next door was handy.

Now completed approx. 2/3 of total distance - another psychological boost.

Day 12 – Livingston to Dunkeld – 63 miles

Great weather – warm but no sun, with day long tailwind. Skirted around the edge of Edinburgh using the Forth Road Bridge. Not sure if this is still open since the new bridge is now completed.

Stopped at Perth for a snack in the afternoon. Had light stolen from bike, but fortunately there was a Halfords on the way out of town where replacement purchased.

Stayed at Dunkeld House Hotel on banks of River Tay – smart hotel in picturesque spot with swimming pool etc. Good breakfast; secure bike storage.

Day 13 – Dunkeld to Newtonmore – 57 miles

A long (40 miles) but steady uphill slog to 1510 ft, but downhill for rest of day. Generally quiet and isolated roads and good quality tracks alongside A9. Picturesque scenery. Sunny but not hot, with strong cross and headwinds. Stayed at decent B&B but very quirky owners.

Day 14 – Newtonmore to Dingwall – 64 miles

Great scenery and sunshine as passed through the edge of the Cairngorms in the morning. Weather closed in later, with massive thunderstorm after Pitlochry forcing an hour long break in a bus shelter! Arrived late at very welcoming Gowanfield B&B (with secure bike storage). Had picnic style dinner from supermarket as all restaurants closed early.

Only 2 more days / 112 miles to go, then disaster! Sudden onset of severe stomach bug just before bedtime. Absolutely wasted by morning, and in no fit state to ride. Couldn’t eat breakfast. Decided to take a rest day (didn’t have any choice).

No spare rooms at B&B tonight. Fortunately we found a very accommodating B&B a couple of doors along the street that put us up for the night.
We now had to cancel the remaining pre-booked accommodation (fortunately without any penalties).

Day 15 – Dingwall to Helmsdale – 59 miles

NB – the route per the above link includes approx. 20 miles which were actually completed on Day 16.

Didn’t feel great this morning but stomach settled down so decided to go for it. Managed to book into a B&B in Helmsdale for tonight. This was good, as it was more or less half way to JoG.

Weather was absolutely foul, and freezing cold. Fortunately there was a bike shop in town where I managed to buy some warm waterproof gloves. Strong headwind all day. Very wet at start and end of day. Not surprisingly progress was slow all day. Stopped at Brora at teatime to buy a sandwich. Stood in queue at Co-op, and the stomach problem returned! Couldn’t believe my luck – there was a public toilet next door. Tried to call for a lift to B&B but no phone reception! Somehow managed to struggle the last 12 miles to Helmsdale which seemed to take forever. Rushed past the welcoming B&B owner and straight to bathroom!

Woke up in the morning absolutely wrecked. Only 53 miles to JoG but no way could I cycle today. Managed to get an appointment at doctor who himself was a former End to Ender. He said I’d not been eating due to sunstroke picked up on day 5, and that this had left me low and vulnerable to stomach bug. Suggested take a few days off before resuming.

The Helmsdale B&B was full that night. Managed to book into Golf Links Hotel at Golspie, 17 miles south! They surprisingly had plenty of vacancies and we booked in tentatively for 3 nights. Very welcoming place by the golf links with public areas to relax in. Secure bike storage. Rested up here for a couple of days to let stomach settle down.

Day 16 – Helmsdale to John O’Groats – 53 miles

NB – due to forced change of plans, the route for this day actually started approx. 20 miles south at Helmsdale – see route for day 15.

Decided to go for it today. Got a lift to where I’d left off at Helmsdale. The weather all day was cold and overcast with a headwind.

The hill out of Helmsdale was one of the toughest sections of the ride – not the best place to start after the past few days. Just took it slowly, and pleased to get to the top! The Berriedale Braes were probably tougher than Helmsdale, and looming just a few miles ahead! Found a brilliant café – River Bothy Tea Room at the foot of the hill at the base of the Braes and called in for sustenance before the climb.

After those two killer climbs the rest of the day wasn’t too hilly.

Don’t remember much else of the day apart from the “Welcome to John O’Groats” sign, and the view down the hill into John O’Groats. The relief on arriving there was unbelievable.

Went for fish and chips to celebrate at the Seaview hotel. They were quite good, but still no appetite. Left half a portion but who cares?

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Re: My 16 Day LeJog May / June 2017

Postby horizon » 8 Apr 2018, 10:23pm

shadwellrhino: did you know on Day 6 that you had sunstroke?
Bikes belong on trains: two spaces per carriage would meet most needs.

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Re: My 16 Day LeJog May / June 2017

Postby shadwellrhino » 8 Apr 2018, 10:36pm

I had no idea. All I knew was that I had no appetite. I got tired later in the day after Monmouth. The first time I felt ill was on Day 9 when I struggled badly on a very long flat stretch. After that it was generally hard work most of the time, which I put down to not eating very well, but I just felt tired, rather than ill. It was only when I saw the doctor at Helmsdale that I realised.

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Re: My 16 Day LeJog May / June 2017

Postby horizon » 8 Apr 2018, 10:59pm

It's a very interesting report. Although I've no desire to do LEJOG (as I prefer to go south if I have the time and resources) I have great respect for those who do. I've cycled most of the stretches in England at one time or another (Wye Valley, Shropshire, Devon and Cornwall, Gloucestershire and so on) but i think that when you set out to do the whole thing you have burnt your bridges and it's not the same as a day ride or a flexible holiday. And nor is it the same as training in a gym: I think people who don't cycle forget (or know!) that dealing with the weather (cold, hot, wind, rain) is also physically demanding.

The distance and the route place a discipline on the rider: the weather over two weeks is very uncertain, the distance and hills means that you will be challenged however many days you do and the empty spaces of Scotland make planning a bit of a nightmare. I think this comes over very clearly in your report!

I'm just wondering now how you might have felt along the way if your wife had not accompanied you, apart from the practical side of things? Would you have done it alone?
Bikes belong on trains: two spaces per carriage would meet most needs.

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Re: My 16 Day LeJog May / June 2017

Postby shadwellrhino » 8 Apr 2018, 11:07pm

Its a great question, and I'll never know the answer. I'd like to think that I would have completed it, since I was extremely determined, and only had 2 days left when I needed to take a break.

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Re: My 16 Day LeJog May / June 2017

Postby brynpoeth » 9 Apr 2018, 6:18am

+1,very interesting
Your wife must have had a lot of free time after driving each stage, how did she spend it?
When will you report on your LeJogLe?
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Re: My 16 Day LeJog May / June 2017

Postby shadwellrhino » 9 Apr 2018, 8:24am

She’s very keen on stately homes and the like. There were lots of these en route. A couple of hotels had swimming pools. And there were plenty of sightseeing opportunities. Having said that she was very glad to get home at the end!