LEJOG Cicerone Route: Some Notes on Finishing
This is a long post so apologies in advance.
In May four of us rode from Lands End to John O’Groats following the Cicerone route with a few diversions. Here a few notes on the route and some thoughts about the whole ride. Mostly we followed the timetable from the book and also the route with some diversions to avoid what we felt was unnecessary hill climbing. We chose the last two weeks of May in order to avoid the midges in Scotland and also because we hoped it would not be too hot or cold, we were lucky on both counts. We had 14 days of riding due to work commitments and I would have found it tough to do it in less time.
We stayed in a mixture of youth hostels, B&Bs and Hotels and with one exception found it easy to book accommodation in January for the trip in May. My only advice here would be to ensure you have breakfast at the place were you are sleeping or within easy walking distance (Slaidburn YH and The Hark To Bounty). The youth hostel in Keswick had no running water or cooked breakfasts due to a burst pipe which made for a tough start to the day.
Generally traffic was fine. I am used to riding in London and the traffic was only as heavy as that coming up from Avonmouth to the Severn Bridge, then through Runcorn, Warrington and Leigh. When cycling on main roads I found drivers of all vehicles up to and including coaches and fully laden timber lorries were prepared to slow down and wait until they could pass you safely. This was especially true in Scotland where there is often no alternative to the A roads e.g. the A82 between Fort William and Inverness but was equally true in the West Country and Wales.
A constant cause for concern was getting enough food during the day and with stops every 90 mins–2 hours that does require some advance planning. Unfortunately sometimes the café/restaurant/pub listed in the guide or spotted on Google Streetview was shut so do not assume everywhere is open all the time. Also in several cases cafes appeared beside the route that were not on Google searches or maps so flexibility and the ability to eat cake at a moments notice is also useful. We had no mechanicals and only two punctures between the four of us which was very lucky but the Cicerone book does tell you where there are bike shops and you can always look them up on your phone.
I needed all the wet weather gear including overtrousers and overshoes. It was coldest the day we started from Lands End after that it warmed up. There was rain in the second week with a wet finish in Keswick and a very wet start the next morning. The last day was unpleasant with constant rain and an easterly headwind but it was the last day.
When route planning I had loaded the Cicerone routes into Plotaroute and then checked them over. I made a few changes to avoid unnecessary hills. I think this part of the preparation is invaluable as it gives you a feel for the roads you will be cycling on. I then traced the routes onto the cut up pages of a road atlas (Philip’s 1½ miles to 1 inch). This meant I had the relevant page on my barbag under plastic. Two of us had Garmins with the amended route and projected coffee stops etc plotted in. This meant we could use paper and Garmin to cross refer and try and avoid getting lost. Mostly it worked although there were several occasions when the Garmins were slow to update or identify wrong turns. If I did it again I would be quite happy with just the paper solution but each to their own.
Day 1 Lands End to Fowey We followed the route unamended. A gentle start towards Penzance but then a lot of hills. A sharp introduction giving you notice about what lies ahead. The last hill before Fowey is unforgiving.
Day 2 Fowey to Moretonhampstead On the ferry to Plymouth we were told about a route deviation which would allow us to avoid the A386 to Yelverton. From the ferry port cycle east through the city centre on the Royal Parade (A374) which becomes Exeter St. Follow the A374 to Marsh Mills. There, on the other side of the A38 dual carriageway you can pick up a cycle path which is the NCN 27. It is signposted. This follows the route of an old railway and takes you a up towards Yelverton with no traffic and a steady gradient which is not too steep.
When the cycle path rejoins the road the signs are not very clear. Left takes you towards Yelverton but we turned R for a steep descent and then an ascent and first L ascending to cross roads where straight on. R at the T junction then first L and then L at the T junction. This is the NCN 274 through Meavy but there were no signposts saying so. Straight on until in Dousland you come to the B3212 where R to Princetown and then Moretonhampstead. The road across Dartmoor is spectacular but also very hilly. The hills continue nearly all the way to Moretonhamsptead.
Day 3 Moretonhampstead to Aller (i.e. not Glastonbury due to lack of accommodation). A very steep climb out of Moretonhampstead on the B3212 and then mostly downhill to Exeter. The climb from Broadhemsbury onto the Blackdown Hills will live in memory for a long time. It is steep and gets steeper and goes on and on and up and up.
Day 4 Aller to Monmouth Getting to Bristol is fine. From Avonmouth to the start of the M48 bridge on A403 is confusing. There is a cycle path for a lot of the way but it sometimes hard to find and is often not near the road. The A403 is full of very large lorries in a hurry. Do not make the mistake of trying to cross the Severn on the M4 bridge (doh!) you want to be at Chepstow not Newport.
As previously posted the A466 was closed and should re–open in early July but do check. There are diversion signs in place. By the way it is genuinely closed to all traffic including bikes with 3 (three) chainlink fences from side to side.
Day 5 Monmouth to Clun Early part of the route is very straightforward however it goes over some srious hills including Pentre Hodre before Clun. Our support driver found it very challenging driving up and down these hills. If you want to avoid them when coming from the south then turn R in Bucknell on the B4367 heading east towards Hopton Heath and Twitchen. In Purslow turn L on B4368 and follow to Clun. The original route has 296 metres of climbing the alternative has only 155 metres!
Day 6 Clun to Runcorn This is a day when you can cover a lot of ground relatively quickly. The Cheshire Plain is well named as it is pretty much flat and after the hills of the first few days it is a welcome respite. It is worth noting that there do not appear to be many (any?) cafes/pubs between Shrewsbury and Chester. (Other riders may have better local knowledge). You should carry supplies of food and drink and be ready to stop wherever and whenever you see a convenience store or similar. The traffic on the run in to Runcorn is heavy.
Day 7 Runcorn to Slaidburn This is a day when route finding can be tricky and the traffic is very heavy for the first half of the day. In Whalley we stopped at Benedicts (recommended) to refuel before the big climb up to Slaidburn. Highly advisable as the ups are steep but so are the downs. My hands were aching from all the braking! This was the hardest finish of the whole ride.
Day 8 Slaidburn to Keswick Traffic not as bad as expected in the Lake District despite it being the first day of half term holidays. It was, of course, raining in the Lake District.
Day 9 Keswick to Moffatt Very wet and very windy start and nowhere to buy food until Dalston where the Country Kitchen Café (check opening times) provides excellent food.
Day 10 Moffat to Loch Lomond Our preferred start was to retrace to the A74M and then follow the B7076. The alternative going north from Moffat is a little shorter but much hillier. It is still a long climb from the junction on the B7076 but it is a steady gradient and never too steep. We stopped in Crawford at the Heathergyll Transport Café (recommended and open 0600–12 midnight everyday including Sunday!) which is on the way out of Crawford going north (i.e off the A702) and does excellent hot food.
In Cambuslang you will be on a cycle path on the A74. To get onto the River Clyde (which is well worth the effort) look out for a R turn at traffic lights onto Clydeford Road, signposted Parking Town Centre & Park & Ride. There is a church on the corner called Cambuslang Parish Church. Continue along Clydeford Road to the roundabout. Just before it follow the signs to NCN 75 which should take you to the other side of Bridge Road and onto a cycle path beside the river. Follow this down to Rosebank Bridge. Cross the river and turn L. The bike path beside the Clyde is top notch and will take you through the city and out the other side to Dumbarton where there is a well surfaced path beside the River Leven all the way to Balloch. It allows to you to avoid the heavy traffic in Glasgow and Clydeside. You will have to leave the cycle path to find a café or similar.
Day 11 Loch Lomond to Glencoe There is a good cycle path beside Loch Lomond (although it is sometime hard to find). It runs up to Tarbert and from there you are on the A82. We did not find it that busy and as I said other road users, especially coaches and lorries, were considerate of cyclists. It was a long pull up to Crianlarich but with a steady gradient. The Station Tea Rooms are recommended but do check opening times. The road from Tyndrum over Rannoch Moor and down to Glencoe is busier and traffic is much faster but again quite considerate of cyclists. The steep descent into Glencoe can be nerve wracking.
Day 12 Glencoe to Inverness You should check out the Caledonian Canal. I can vouch for the surface between Banavie and Gairlochy and again between Aberchalder and Fort Augustus. It is a well made track, not tarmacked but with a firm surface, fairly smooth surface. Easily rideable on a road bike with 25–28mm tyres and solid enough to allow you to make good time. I am guessing (and maybe others with local knowledge can confirm) that the same can be said for the stretch from Laggan Locks going towards Inverness. And also the final section running into Inverness which we missed the start of so did not ride but it would have been much flatter than the A82. To cycle into Inverness beside the canal it looks like you take a R turn off the A82 signposted Jacobite Crusies which leads to the canal.
Half our party took the military road from Fort Augustus to Inverness and whilst they enjoyed it they found the downs nearly as challenging as the ups!
Day 13 Inverness to The Crask Inn There is a cycle path beside the bridge over the Moray Firth and then good roads take you to Conon Bridge. The route to Bonar Bridge has some exhilarating scenery and tough hills but by now you should be used to them. The good news is that from Lairg to the Crask Inn the road is very deceptive. You’re steadily climbing but it doesn’t feel like it in fact it feels flat!
Day 14 The Crask Inn to John O’Groats Despite what they tell you it is not all downhill to Bettyhill but it is great riding through the fantastic scenery alongside Loch Naver. The hills start on the ascent to Bettyhill and then it is up and down pretty much until you reach Thurso. The café at Bettyhill is is signposted “The Store” and you should turn L before you go down the hill. It is some way off the road in the village itself. This was a Friday early afternoon and it was difficult to find places open selling food. The Café at Bettyhill was the first place in 52 kms.
It is hard to overstate the difference made by having a support car. Of course it means you do not have to carry huge amounts of luggage which makes every day much easier but also the moral support each morning and evening was invaluable. We would not have finished without the help we had from Siobhan and Dan.
If I were to do it again I would look at a route which had less hills. Whether I would go so far as LEJOG for Wimps I’m not sure. I would definitely avoid the Trough of Bowland on Day 7 as the route into and out of Slaidburn is very challenging. Glad to have avoided A roads wherever possible and the Cicerone does have sections of beautiful countryside and quiet lanes. When we did have to use A roads they were rarely a problem. Having driven back down the extreme ups and downs of the coast road from Wick to Inverness whatever route I took through England/Wales and South Scotland I would still go via Bonar Bridge and The Crask to Bettyhill. I would not contemplate doing the ride without having very low gears as without them there would be a lot of walking up hills.
We chose the last two weeks of May in order to avoid the midges in Scotland and also because we hoped it would not be too hot or cold, we were lucky on both counts.
It is a great feeling to have completed the ride and also discovering that riding 75 miles a day for 14 days is not just doable but enjoyable. In addition we have raised over £6,000 for charity. I would whole–heartedly recommend the ride to anyone.
Specific board for this popular undertaking.
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