DUNNIT! LeJoG (Lands End to John ‘O Groats) is a right of passage for any serious tourer. Our own Gina did one in 2010 and is doing another later this year.
But I’m not serious.
LonJoG was an opportunity to cycle to John ‘O Groats in eight days from the convenience of Hyde Park Corner cutting out those rather troublesome hills of Devon and Cornwall. It was the first tour organised by the Fridays, the group of mainly London cyclists who, every month, have a Friday Night Ride to the Coast (FNRttC). This includes several from AnerleyBC and so on the night of the 15th Louise, Marilyn, Clive and myself gathered with around 40 others for the midnight ‘off’.
Thirty four of us planned to do the whole journey. Louise was doing the first five days en route to her ‘Mllle Alba’ 1000km Audax around the Scottish peaks (report here). Marilyn and Clive were doing the first night as far as Milton Keynes.
Night/Day 1: Friday/Saturday 15/16th June 2012
London Hyde Park Corner – Bingham, Nottinghamshire 119 miles
The forecast was diabolical. The actuality was very different. It was almost balmy as we set off up the Edgware Road and the A5 out of London. The sophistication of Maida Vale translates through retail parks to surburbia and, all of a sudden becomes a country lane. Combined with a strong tailwind progress was fast and easy. Passed St Albans it again becomes the fast A5. Dunstable was rockin’ as we sped through to our early hour refreshment at a 24 hour MaccyD and a magnificent dawn – the real bonus of night riding.
The counties rolled by. Bedfordshire with chocolate boxy Woburn into a rather non-descript Northamptonshire. Except at Wellingborough the ladies at Tesco had gotten up early to cook us a very welcome breakfast. A feast for a fiver. Except that after 70 or so miles, no sleep for twenty four hous and a full stomach does encourage some tactical ‘power-napping’.
And on into gorgeous Rutland. A county I’ve never been to. A serious ommission as it was gorgeous. The bright stone cottages and rolling hills was perfect cycling country. so beautiful, mostly quite quiet.
We had lunch in a combined tea and cycle shop. However, while we were eating the sky clouded over and rain began to fall. The next bit was a stiff climb, the rain got heavier, we got colder. The thrill of the first twelve hours turned into grimness. If it was bad now, what would we feel like in a week’s time?
Then as we approached Bingham the skies cleared, the sun burst out and by the time we arrived we were dry! 122 miles – the furthest I had ever cycled. We adjourned to an Italian restaurant, rather a lot of Peronis disappeared and by just after nine ‘o clock I was in bed and oblivion.
Day 2: Sunday 17th June 2012
Bingham, Nottinghamshire – York 80 miles
The weather was fine and improving. We had a delayed start as the campers got lost and had to sprint north to get the lunch stop before they closed. My thighs were killing me and I was having difficulty keeping pace. Then salvation, ‘Big Michael’ passed me and got on his tail. I was sucked along for 10 or more miles and then catapulted into the lead of our sub-pelaton.
Big Michael, my hero
We made it by 5 minutes … a lovely lakeside restaurant at Askern just north of Doncaster. Full Sunday dinner and a mug of tea with change from a fiver. I’m liking northern prices!
The countryside was dead flat helping us to make good progress in perfect conditions. We passed huge power stations that were built to feed off the Selby coalfields. Selby, itself, turned out to be quite charming. Here is their Abbey …
Next stop York with a rather larger Minster. We were now off road on an ex-railway cycle track punctuated by an old pub having a very modern jazz/funk party …
Most of us were staying at the York YHA that night and eating authentic Yorkshire curries … 202 miles on clock now and feeling rather good. Pride before the fall?
Day 3: Monday 18th June 2012
York – Castleside (Consett) 77 miles
Weather still good we set out for County Durham through North Yorkshire with many pleasant and beautiful villages not to mention cafes. Really good cycling country. I was really getting into my stride.
Then as we approached Bishops Auckland the landscape changed. Long slow climbs and then nervewracking descents. I, as were some others, were pretty cowardly at first but as confidence improved I clocked 40.3 mph. It would have been faster if I hadn’t feathered the brakes.
By the time we got to West Auckland we were very happy but very tired with the prospect of an even longer 10 mile climb up to Castleside. Would we have done it without our support vehicle? This not only was ferrying our luggage, dealing with ‘technicals’, but was dispensing bananas, tea and good cheer. You may notice the lady on the rear platform bears an uncanny resemblence to my better half …
A wonderful night in a local Bunkhouse.
Day 4: Tuesday 19th June 2012
Castleside – Jedburgh 60 miles
A ‘hilly’ day that would see us in Scotland and passed the half way mark. The forecast was dodgy so we made an early start. This would enable us to miss some of the heavy traffic on the A68 before it becomes a country road that takes a Roman approach to the local contours. Sixty blind summits made for some exhilirating riding as we spread out into groups or, as below, riding alone in a true paradise …
There was a short shower before we arrived for lunch at the Last Cafe in England – opened especially for us!
Refreshed we again climbed and climbed to more than 1,250 feet on the day and into Scotland.
A lot of climbing was rewarded by one of the greatest descents in the country to Jedburgh. The Young Turks jostled for lead position while we more mature riders marvelled of how the bleak Northumbrian moorland became rolling fertile country. We all dined together that night to celebrate and marvel how lucky we had been with the weather as the reports of torrential rain was spreading into Southern England and the Midlands.
Day 5: Wednesday 20th June 2012
Jedburgh – Kinross 72 miles
Jedburgh was a pretty town with its ruined Abbey …
The sun shone, we all feeling great. We passed beautiful towns and villages, crossed the River Tweed ..
But it didn’t last. We were entering the Central Belt. The weather got grimmer, the towns too and especially the roads. There is no way round Edinburgh and it is damned hard to ride through it. Holes, tram works, it seemed to go on for ever. We escaped by riding along a near motorway until we got to Queensferry for a very late lunch. At least we could get the obligatory photo of the Forth Bridge (the old railway one which works as opposed to the new one which is disintegrating).
The wind was now up. The cycleway over the road bridge is wide but it was still scary. It was getting colder as we sped through towns named after football teams, Cowdenbeath, Dunfermline … we eventually got to Kinross. We had five days of mostly good weather but the forecasts were bad. Northern England was awash.
Day 6: Thursday 21st June 2012
Kinross – Newtonmore 85 miles
Another very early start to beat as much as the weather as we could. Louise got up early to say goodbye. She was to spend the day in Kinross before heading back into the eye of the storm to begin her 1000km Audax.
We only got to Perth before the rain caught us. It got heavier and heavier and by the time we got into Pitlochry for lunch we were all soaked and miserable. The ride was beginning to get serious! We took our time and were gratified that the rain subdued on by the time we had passed Blair Atholl had stopped. However we were climbing and climbing alongside and sometimes on the awful A9 which was prefereable to some of the badly paved cyclepath. Not helped by this sign …
We were eaten by midges, It started raining again, the wind was cold and in our faces. We arrived in Newtownmore in utter misery. Thankfully the hostel had a super drying room. We just stood in there with a drop of malt to bring back a bit of life.
My favourite cycling top …
Day 7: Friday 22nd June 2012
Newtonmore – Tain 78 miles
It was raining again. Was this going to be three days of hell. We reluctantly set off for elevenses in Aviemore. The weather improved, and improved again. We got to the top of the pass …
Yes that is a tandem riding past. A collapsible titanium tandem. Packs into a suitcase – quite remarkable!
A long enjoyable descent towards Inverness. Somewhere I clocked 41.5 mph without noticing. But the bridge there was nearly our nemesis. The dual carriageway A9 takes no prisoners. You have a choice of playing chicken with left turning lorries to get to the footpath or keeping to the road. Our youngest member got clipped by a wing mirror. Those of us on the footpath already narrow and furher narrowed by road signs were buffered both by the wind across the bride and the turbulence by the heavy lorries as they passed only a few feet away. We were very glad to get off that road.
We did return to the A9 and again close passes and windy bridges sucked our entusiasm. I was now beginning to get very tired. The legs were lead I was in difficulty – till one of us passed along handing out chocolate – the effect was immediate, the legs strengthened and the speed increased. Tain is famous as the home of Glenmorangie. I was savouring the distinctive smell of the distellery when bang, my front tube went – only a mile from the hotel stop. The only bike issue I had the entire journey.
Day 8: Saturday 23rd June 2012
Tain – John ‘O Groats 85 miles
The last day and a heavy one. We would be cycling along an exposed coast into a headwind with dodgy weather and almost nowhere to get shelter and sustenence. It didn’t start well. Raining as we crossed another windy bridge.
Don’t ask me what I’m doing and yes, that is a recumbent trike. It was just grind now. We knew there was a bad hill coming. What our leader had hidden from us was that there was an even harder hill behind it. Things were getting desperate. I needed another Mars Bar and spotting some comrades sheltering in a bus shelter I pulled up only to have a decleating moment. I lay on my back and could do nothing but laugh as loud as I could at the ultimate indignity in front of my peers.
The stops by our support vehicle were more frequent as we were nursed along the road. Eventually we made Wick where the heavens decided to dispose of the rest of the damp stuff. Seventeen miles to go. There is no turning back, but forward is misty, wet and the headwind was now a headgale. I had become detached although I knew a good lot were behind me. Press on was all I could do.
I was slow and getting slower. I was not steering a straight line. Indeed I left the road more than once. This was getting dangerous. I had truly ‘bonked’.
I got off and retrieved my last Mars Bar. I waited for the glucose to kick in. I had only four miles left. I couldn’t even get up to eight miles an hour. Could I last another 30 minutes?
Then out of the mist came Big Michael cruising without a care in the world.
I tucked in behind him as he sped off. It was magic I was hardly touching the pedals yet I was doing 20+ mph. For the second time on the tour Big Michael had saved my bacon. We arrived at the Bar just short of the harbour where Hot Chocolate & Baileys (Yep, new to me too) revitalised everything. We waited , not long, until everybody was there before riding down to the ‘End’ in formation oblivious to the appalling the weather. We had done it. We had ALL done it together. We an age span of almost 50 years that was the most remarkable achievement none of us will ever forget.
The night in Wick celebrating was great, the return (us in a coach, the bikes in the van) was marked by one last strike by the p**cture fairy on the A74 as we lost a rear tyre. It took us 15 hours to get back to London. It actually seemed to be further than our bike ride.
I clocked 670 miles exactly. The distances above was the planned route. There were some minor variations geting to/from overnight accomodation which explains the difference.