End to End 2003

John O'Groats to Land End 2003

John O'Groats

What a long way it is in a car to JOG. It was 760 miles from Essex and it felt longer due to the fact that the last 250 miles in on 'A' roads, when we got there it was blowing a gale which somehow seemed appropriate for such a place. We had time to explore the area and have a look at the impressive cliffs and stacks. We stayed in the best hotel in town - actually its the only hotel, the Sea View. It is not exactly luxurious in the same way that the Pope is not exactly Jewish but everyone was very friendly.

The view from John O'Groats

We ate in the hotel that evening and met a group from the Wooden Spoon Society who were also planning to cycle to Lands End starting the next day and were also going to take 8 days. Apart from the first day our routes were quite different so we wouldn't see each other until the end. We had deliberately chosen a route which kept us off the main roads where possible which made our route more hilly and longer but we hoped more pleasant.

The next morning we made ourselves breakfast and coloured our hair purple (Breakthough's colour is purple) and headed down to the sea. The wind was still blowing strongly but it was mainly a crosswind. We took the obligatory photographs and then started.

The Start!

It took a while for us to get used to riding as a group together, you get a lot of shelter from the wind by riding closely together but good communication is required. You need to call out the potholes to the people behind you and you need to let the ones in front know when they are going too fast/slow so the group stays together.
The first support stop was arranged for about 30 miles and as we got to it we found out that Joyce had managed to track down the holder of the key to the village hall and persuade them to open up the hall for us to use as a support stop. We managed to use several village halls in this way on the trip and it was great to get out of the rain and use a real toilet during the day.
The countryside was beautiful if a little bleak. We really noticed the cemeteries attached to just about every village, they seemed incredibly well looked after. We started to make good progress, there were a few long climbs and some interesting descents but overall it was quite flat. It was pleasing when we started to over take the Wooden Spoon cyclists who were already cycling in 1's and 2's - its a long way to Land's End if you are cycling on your own.
After many many miles we turned off the A9 and headed for Beauly and Drumnadrochit on Loch Ness where we met up with Donna for the last 20km. Soon after we were told by Tony that there was a long steep hill just before Drumnadrochit - however it was downhill! This was one of our first descents and gave Ian ample opportunity to demonstrate his lack of descending skills. It was indeed quite steep and we were going quite quickly, a car came around a bend on his own side of the road and Ian who was also on his own side of the road decided it would be a good idea to brake very hard. Unfortunately he did this mainly with his rear brake which locked up and left a solid black line on the road and a smell of melting rubber in the air. He did, however, manage to stay upright and carried on his way. By now Simon and Paul had decided that they would rather descend in front of Ian than right behind him. At the bottom there was a sharp left hand bend and a junction, you really had to bank steeply to make the bend which is what most of us did. Ian, however, didn't quite make the bend and stayed out to the right and went to the right of a car who had just turned into our road. The motorist looked bemused. 10 minutes later Donna arrived at the bottom with her wheel rims glowing.

Day 1 - 215km in 9 hours with 1562M of climbing - very good day.


The accommodation was the White House Lodges which were very good. We ate in Drumnadrochit and were feeling pretty pleased with ourselves. The support team had been good and the ride had gone well.

We decided to start at 7:30am the next day to allow us to get to the ferry in good time. We had had to make a slight change to our route that would turn out to have a bigger impact than we thought. The original plan was that at the end of day 2 we would cycle halfway down the Western side of Loch Lomond before catching a small foot passenger ferry from Inverbeg to Rowardenen on the Eastern side of the loch where we would cycle the last 10km to our hotel in Balmaha. The ferry had all been booked and confirmed in April, however, Donna had heard that there was some doubt as to whether the ferry was still operating. We therefore phoned and found out that the ferry was not running but that there was another boat that went across the loch a little further up the loch that could take us to Inverglaid, however, there was only a track from Inverglaid to Rowardenen. We decided to go for it as the alternative was to cycle a further 25 miles around the Loch.
Before then we cycled along the side of Loch Ness which was beautiful and very quiet - well it was 7:30 am on a Sunday morning. We crossed the Caledonian canal several times over some very pretty bridges and managed to get off the A82 onto some quiet roads for a while. We went through Fort William which was our first major town and where we could see Ben Nevis and carried on the A82 to Glencoe where we had lunch. By this time the Sunday motorcyclists were out in force on the A82, it was frightening watching them weave in and out of cars and even more frightening when one overtook a row of cars coming towards us and went by us at very high speed very close to us.
After lunch we started a long climb out of the Great Glen, it was a steady climb and we were keeping a good tempo going, All of a sudden Duncan (Mad Dog) Bensted put in a big attack and disappeared up the road in front of us, for the remaining kilometres to the top Duncan stayed out in front - what did he have for lunch!? Upon reaching the top we road on a plateau for several kilometres of spectacular scenery with beautiful mountains and ski lifts. We then charged down the other side and along a very busy A82 to Inveruglas. We arrived here at around 4:00pm in plenty of time for our 5:00pm ferry. We had been told that we would have to go on 2 ferries one at 5:00pm and one at 5:30pm as they were too full to take us on 1 ferry. When the ferry arrived a short while later we tried to persuade him to take us across earlier but the he wouldn't play ball.

In Great Glen

When the first group got across to the other side they tried to find the track. When they found the track ( it started by a waterfall), it was definitely not cycleable and indeed in many places difficult to walk, on involving scrambling over rocks and streams and up and down steep inclines. Still there was very little choice by this stage so they pressed on. When the second group arrived they followed the first and all thoughts that they had exaggerated the poor state of the track were soon dispelled. So we carried on wheeling/carrying/cycling the bikes as best we could. We met the occasional walkers coming the other way who looked a little bemused, we could imagine them thinking that this was a strange way to get to Lands End. Nobody we asked seemed to know how long the track went on like this, estimates varied from 2 miles to 7 miles! Somewhere on this track Ian punctured - no surprise, Andy Ballentyne enquired as to whether Ian had maybe hit a stone? At one point there was a wooden bridge with planks for a deck which Duncan bravely tried to ride across - unfortunately the gaps in the planks were just wide enough to allow his front wheel to disappear into the bridge and bring the bike to a sudden halt! Did they not expect racing bikes to come this way when they built the bridge??
After more than an hour of this the track widened and became cycleable - if you happened to have a full suspension mountain bike, full face helmet, body armour - and we started to make faster progress. We eventually finished the nature trail and managed to get one of the support cars to bring us some desperately needed energy drinks and gels before cycling the last few miles to Balmaha - thanks Mike & Tony.

Day 2 - 212km in 12 hours with 1637M of climbing - an interesting day


After a quick shower in the Highland Way hotel we enjoyed a good meal at the local pub before retiring back to our rooms to plan the next day.

Day 3 was a relatively short day but we started at 8:00 to make sure we got there in time for the massage that we had planned. The roads out of Balmaha were pretty good but then started to get a bit lumpy which slowed progress down. We knew that it would be somewhat tricky to find our way through some of the built up areas between Glasgow and Edinburgh and we weren't disappointed. We first got lost around Airdrie and then again in Carnwath. We got shouted at by some kids in this area in a language that seemed to be unique to this part of the world - not even Donna understood it.
We managed to get hold of another village hall for our lunch stop in Forth and had met up with the woman who ran the local charity shop there. After lunch we got back into the countryside and cycled and the A701 which was a very quite road along a beautiful valley. At this point we decided to send a group of the faster riders on ahead to Moffat to ensure that they got there in time for the masseur. They promised they would be good and would not race each other but as Eddy Merkx once said "if you have 2 men on bikes then you have a bike race". The finish of the day was built for Andy Ballentyne - a long gradual incline followed by a long gradual descent into Moffat. Andy managed to out sprint the others to the sign at the edge of the town in the first of the sprint finishes.

Lunch stop in Forth - time for a photo opportunity with the woman who runs the local Breakthrough Break Cancer shop.

Day 3 - 165km in 9 hours with 1828M of climbing - a shortish day


The guest house in Moffat was beautiful, we had cakes when we arrived and were warmly welcomed. We had arranged for Chris Jerrett, a local sports physio to give us all a massage to relieve our tired bodies. As Simon went upstairs to be massaged we all waited in the lounge below to hear the screams. But he was made of sterner stuff and not a word was heard. Chris performed minor miracles in the short time he had with each of us, fixing legs, backs, necks and shoulders - thanks Chris. That evening we ate in an Italian restaurant which had been converted from the old police station, the food was excellent and a combination of Italian and Scottish (Haggis Pizza) and not expensive.
Next morning we were surprised to see that Duncan appeared at breakfast without his cycling kit. We knew he had been suffering considerable discomfort in what he called his 'nether regions' but had not realised how severe it had become. The atmosphere that morning was very quiet as we started off with Duncan in one of the support cars. We also had to say goodbye to Donna who was cycling the 50 miles or so back to Edinburgh as she had only planned to do 2 days with us.
The first section was straightforward and took us past Lockerbie and into Ecclefechan. On the second section we achieved a milestone, we crossed into England after 3 and a bit days and 650km! During the day we enjoyed some great scenery as we cycled through Cumbria and fortunately we again enjoyed good weather. After an afternoon stop in Langwathby we carried on southwards and could see the lake district to the west, we crossed the M6 and then had a long climb up to the last stop of the day at a bleak spot on the Yorkshire dales. We then enjoyed a great descent with some great open bends and set our fastest speed so far for the trip (78km/h).

On the road to Ingelton

We had discussed whether we should take an alternative route for the last section to Ingleton to avoid the main roads. This looked like a more attractive route but a look at the contours on the map convinced us to stick with the original plan. We reached Kirkby Lonsdale and headed along the A65 to Ingleton which was busy but not too bad.

Day 4 - 200km in 10 hours with 2000M of climbing - a quiet day


The Riverside Guest House in Ingleton was great. They did everything they could to help us including drying and ironing some our washing and feeding us with home made cakes. Duncan's wife and son Thomas met us here and stayed with us for the rest of the trip which made us feel like we were getting closer to home. That evening we ate in one of the local pubs. It was a large place and very lively and Joyce was in her element with the collecting bucket, going around the entire pub and restaurant encouraging everybody to support Breakthrough Breast Cancer.
Next morning we had a treat - scrambled eggs for breakfast. Up to then we had only had cereals toast etc. We set out on a fine morning and Duncan had rejoined us and was going much better after a day off the bike. The first section took us over some very beautiful but lumpy countryside there were sheep everywhere which was quite worrying on some of the descents. In spite of that we managed to increase our max speed on one of the descents to 81km/h. Our first stop was near Whalley, we had arranged to meet the guys from SIS (Science in Sport) who had provided us at cost with the huge quantities of energy drinks, bars and gels that we consumed on the trip. After a brief photo-shoot we headed towards Blackburn.

Science in Sport HQ

We thought that getting through Blackburn would not be too bad as we were going in and out of the town on the A666. However, several filter lanes and one way systems later and we were lost. We overcame our pride and asked for help and eventually found ourselves heading in the right direction if not exactly on the right road. The next obstacle was Bolton which actually went very smoothly. We knew that the next support stop was not far now and then we saw Tony signal us into a pub car park. It turned out that he had had trouble getting there as well and had literally just got there in front of us. Over lunch we talked with a delivery man from the brewery who disappeared into the pub and returned with a generous donation.
We carried on that afternoon navigating the route between Manchester and Warrington, sometimes progress was slow we would only go a few hundred yards between stopping to work out which way to go again. Next stop was Northwich were once again Tony pulled in just in front of us - he looked more tired than we did having fought his way through the traffic. The rest of the support team were having a busy day as well, due to our mistake we were one room short in our hotel in Shrewsbury. A room elsewhere was being sought.
We carried on towards Nantwich on some very busy roads where we found our way to the last stop of the day, we already knew we were behind schedule and were going to arrive later than planned. The support team were kept busy re booking the restaurant in line with our ETA. We made good progress on the last section towards Shrewsbury and with about 10km to go Andy B took over the navigating. He had spent a week on holiday recently just outside Shrewsbury and had checked out the route to the hotel. This helped a lot and meant that Andy knew where the Shrewsbury sign was that would mark the site of tonight's sprint. However, it meant that he had to ride at the front which enabled Paul & Simon to overtake Andy on the line!

Day 5- 220km in 11.5 hours with 1857M of climbing - a getting lost day


When we arrived at the hotel it was after 7:30pm and we were grateful for the fact that the support team had sorted out the riders bags into the rooms and took the bikes from us as we arrived. The lack of a room worked out well in the end Alan's wife had turned up unexpectedly to see us (well Alan actually) and that meant that they could use the extra room that had been found close-by. After a very brief shower it was into the minibus that had been hired and off to the Italian restaurant in the crypt of an old church - good food again!
By this stage in the week we were into the routine of cycle, eat then sleep and by 10:30 everyone was shattered and after a brief planning session everyone headed off to bed.

The next day dawned with grey skies and some light rain, we left Shrewsbury and headed off towards Church Stretton. Alan emerged wearing a rain jacket which had clearly been bought with an assault on Everest in mind. It was bright orange and very bulky so we called him Sherpa Tenzing for the day. The route started sloping gently upward but there were a few very sharp climbs as we went over Wenlock Edge. By this stage some of the group were suffering the effects of 6 days in the saddle, and every climb brought its own pain. But the knowledge that we were only 300 miles away from Lands End kept everyone going.
The skies cleared and the ground levelled off and we had a very pleasant cycle down the Wye valley and into Ross on Wye perched on the top of a hill. We enjoyed descending the hill back to the river valley, we enjoyed it a lot less however, when we realised that we had taken the wrong route out of the town and needed to go back up again - grrrrhhh! After a lunch stop we had several long steady climbs eventually following the Wye down to Chepstow.
After that we crossed back into England over the old Severn Bridge - quite an odd feeling riding on a cycle path next to a motorway with a huge river 100 metres below. Once across the bridge finding your way along the Severn and over the Avon bridge is easy - if you are in a car! On a bike it is a different story - we started off OK finding the NCN cycle route as planned. We then had to find our way through the outskirts of Bristol and find our way to the cycle path alongside the M5 over the Avon bridge. We got close enough to see the bridge several times but always from many metres below it. Asking people the way didn't help much as every knew how to get on it by car - and we were not yet desperate enough to try the M5! Eventually down a lane, through a residential street and there it was - the cycle path.
We weren't out of the woods yet, when we got off the end of the bridge we had to find our way to the other side of Gordano. We followed a railway line and went into a residential estate and could see Gordano services but we just could not get where we wanted to. We asked several locals, one of whom suggested we walk across a field as it was only a couple of hundred yards. Given our 'ramble' on day 2 we weren't keen on this idea. Eventually we got on the right road and headed to our last stop where it was already gone 7:00pm. After a very brief refuelling we headed on thinking we had 25km to go to Cheddar.
We were relieved that the navigation was easy from this point on as we could now make good progress. In fact we seemed to fly along as we got on to flat roads around Clevedon and Yatton. Although it had been a long day we seemed to find some extra energy for the last stretch. It was further than we thought though and it started to get gloomy as dusk approached as we still had a way to go. Fortunately Mike & Joyce in one of support cars saw us and decided to stay behind us on the run in to Cheddar shielding us from the cars behind. Much appreciated!

Coming in to Cheddar at 8:30 pm

Day 6 - 241km in 12.5 hours with 1898M of climbing - very good day


We arrived in Cheddar in the dark at around 8:30pm where we were met by many of Paul's family including Jim & Beth who had come down from London to see their dad. Greg had been doing the hotel run that day and he had done a great job so that we could jump off the bikes and get into the showers knowing that everything had been taken care of. 240km or 150 miles - a long way however you measure it.
Later that evening as we walked back from the pub where we had all eaten it started to rain - which was an ominous sign for the next day. We made our own breakfast the next day as we were staying in self catering apartments so it was fairly basic. As we looked out the window we could see the rain coming down which was confirmed by the pictures of dark clouds on the breakfast television weather forecast - it was going to be a wet day. The worst thing about riding in the rain is the first hour when you are getting wet - gradually the water gets everywhere with dry feet becoming sodden, cold water runs down your neck and meets up with the water rising up your back from the spray off the rear wheel. After the first hour you are as wet as you can get and then it is just enduring it and knowing that it can only get dryer later.
The route started with a very flat first section but we knew that later we were going to go up over Exmoor (Hound of the Baskervilles) which on a day like this was not going to be fun. Today Simon broke his own record - after only 23 minutes he needed to stop for a pee, it must have been the sight of water everywhere that did it. We made good progress in spite of the rain and managed to find our way through Taunton and were pleased to see that the support team had secured the use of another village hall in Norton Fitzwilliam for our first stop. It gave us an opportunity to get out of the rain briefly and refuel.
Pretty much soon after this stop the road went upwards and we started to climb through the narrow lanes. We couldn't even take much advantage of the downhill sections as the roads were narrow, twisty and wet. As we carried on the weather gradually started to improve and after a couple of undulating hours we had lunch. Food was eaten, drinks were drunk, pills were swallowed, and gels/sprays were applied and we were off again. We had only gone a few hundred yards when we came around a corner and were faced with a very ugly looking hill. It was very steep and went straight up - coming straight after lunch as it did we were not enthusiastic about this prospect. Simon made his feelings clear on the subject with some colourful language which gave Paul an attack of the giggles which only added to the difficulty of the hill. Fortunately everyone managed to hang on to their lunch and the top was reached - this was indeed the steepest hill so far at 23%!
We started to climb steadily up to Exmoor where things all got a little confusing. At one stage we were all gathered around the maps with the support cars and a few locals trying to decide which way to go. Having decided which way to go the support cars drove on ahead for the next few miles pointing out the way at each junction and leapfrogging each other and us to show us the way. We should have thought of this in Bristol. Exmoor was beautiful though not as wild as we had imagined - by this time the sun was out. Here we reached the highest point of the trip which according to our bike computer was 542M.

On top of Exmoor

From Exmoor we descended down towards Barnstable via a very interesting descent. Andrew G was leading followed by Ian and Paul, we hadn't gone far when a dog ran out from a farm and nearly went under our wheels. Next we went around a bend to be faced with a large tanker crawling up the hill. Andrew braked hard and kept it under control, Ian decided he preferred the look of the long grass on the left hand side of the road and somehow managed to keep the bike upright, slow down and get back on the road and squeeze past the lorry - who says he is a poor bike handler. Everyone else heard the shouts and was OK. At the bottom there was a right hand bend which went over a bridge, as Paul started to lean the bike over for the bend something did not feel right so he straightened the bike up but was now heading into the long grass and for a gate. He managed to stop just before the gate much to the amusement of everyone else. It was only when he wheeled his bike back to the road that he noticed that his front tyre was flat! Good job he didn't go around the bend.
We carried on and joined in the permanent traffic jam which is Barnstable in the summer. Due to a misunderstanding we did a tour of the Sainsbury's car park before meeting up with the support team - just in time as Paul by now had his 3rd and our 5th puncture of the day.
Here we met our sponsors from Lorryspotting.com (John Martin & family) who lived locally. They told us that the last section was a bit undulating but after Gt Torrington it flattened out. The local authorities must have done some serious landscaping since they last made that trip! It was a roller coaster ride, continually downhill then up then down then up followed by some more down followed by yet more up.
Eventually the road sort of flattened out and peoples attention turned to the sprint for the end of the day. There was a closely contested sprint for Holsworthy Beacon which Andy B pointed out was not the right place, however, Holsworthy itself could not be far so the pace remained high. We went up a small hill and Ian found himself struggling to keep up until he realised that everyone else was in the big ring! Eventually Andrew G and Simon broke away and Andrew won it by a head.
We cruised into the old Market town of Holsworthy in Devon - 1 more day to go.

Day 7 - 182km in 10.5hours with 2426M of climbing - a wet day


Holsworthy is the place where it all happens in rural North Devon and the most happening place in Holsworthy is the White Hart Hotel where we were staying. We had been warned when we booked many months previously that on Friday nights they had a band and a late licence until 1:00 am so we were wondering whether we would get much sleep.
Having showered we assembled in the bar where the young farmers had gathered ready to go off for a ball. Joyce was once again in action persuading them to part with their hard earned cash. John Martin said that Lorryspotting would pay for the meal that evening if we paid for the drinks - including his. Thank you.
After dinner we planned out the last day which although short (108 miles) was going to be quite testing - the hilliest day of the whole route and lots of minor roads to navigate. Not surprisingly we decided to give the disco/band a miss and we had no problems with any noise from it - the village clock however was chiming every quarter of an hour right outside our windows!

Next morning was fine, however, it had been raining during the night. The bikes were somewhat wet including one of Ian's cycling shoes which had been permanently attached to his bike since day 3. This meant that every time he wanted to get off the bike he was forced to undo his shoe and hobble around. It was one of those things that there never seemed to be time to fix.
The first section started off OK but it wasn't long before the severely undulating terrain returned but with only one day to go it was OK. The problem in Cornwall is that the main roads are easier to cycle as they are more rolling but they are very busy particularly on a Saturday in the summer and not at all cycle friendly and the minor roads can be very steep and tend to wind all over the place.
After a couple of stops we reached the coast and had a very pleasant descent down to Portreath and a good road along the coast. Here we had a choice for the last section, we could take the coast road which would be further and probably lumpier or take the main road directly to Lands End. In the end we went for the coast road which turned out to be the best choice. The road along the coast was quiet and gave us the opportunity to talk to each other and wind down for the finish. The scenery was also very interesting as we road along the cliff tops looking at the Atlantic ocean. The landscape was very similar to Caithness where we had started 8 days previously.

Lands End

As we approached Lands End shortly before 6:00pm will lined up across the road and crossed the finishing line together with our support team lined up in front of us. We were all tired and glad to have reached the end but felt some sadness that the adventure was over. We all learnt a lot about each other during the journey and things about ourselves and we worked very well together as a team which made the whole experience that much better. We have so far raised around 5000 for Breakthrough Breast Cancer which will be put to good use by them in combating this disease - thank you to all those who have contributed - we will be back for more next year!

The whole team
From L-R
Back row: Duncan Benstead, Alan Swinhoe, Andy Ballentyne, Andrew Granger, Simon Quick, Ian Morgan
Middle: Paul Martin
Front Row: Tony Hodgson, Greg McGlinchey; Joyce Martin; Mike Martin

Our sincere thanks to all those who contributed and to our sponsors lorryspotting.com, Science in Sport, and Impsport