Chris Patterson undertook the huge challenge of riding a bike from Land’s End to John O’Groats (LE-JOG) to raise funds for the DFSG, along with his friend Mike Dean, who was raising money for a different charity. He set off on Sunday, 16 September and arrived at lunchtime on Monday, 1 October, taking 15 and a half days (half a day longer than planned, but he did battle through the worst September storms for 30 years!) So far Chris has raised over £7000 with a bit more still to come in. Watch this space to hear more about his adventures.
LEJOG September 2012
16th September 2012 to 1st October 2012
Like all good ideas the plan to cycle from Land’s End to John O’Groats was hatched in the pub! (The Birkbeck Tavern in Leytonstone to be precise.) My college friend and soon to be LEJOG companion, Mike Dean, relayed his idea to raise money to be able to ship some much needed bed linen to a hospital in Malawi by completing the LEJOG challenge. Three pints later I thought this sounded like an exciting thing to do and offered to join him.
The next day Mike called to check to see if I really meant it and without giving much thought to what I was letting myself into (after all, I didn’t even have a bike at this stage) I confirmed I was willing to take up the challenge with the intention of raising as much money for the DFSG as possible.
I purchased a bike in March and started some fairly gentle training rides. Mike had clearly given the idea much thought and sent me various books suggesting routes, how to prepare, what to take, what pitfalls and tribulations could befall a novice cyclist. Many phone calls and a couple of meetings later we had the general route worked out together with what clothes and equipment we would carry on the bikes. To achieve our target of a 15 day journey we would need to average 70 miles per day and we would stop at B & Bs along the chosen route. Apart from the first night, we were going to select our stop overs depending on how much progress we made each day, with the knowledge that some legs would be tougher than others due to the terrain, not forgetting likely interference from the weather.
I packed my two panniers, and with much trepidation I set off from Sandy Station on Friday 14th September to meet up with Mike before travelling to Penzance from Paddington. The train journey didn’t get off to the best of starts. We arrived at Paddington in good time and waited for our train to be allocated a platform, and waited and waited. With less than 5 minutes to go we finally got a platform and, bearing in mind we had to load our bikes at the very front of an intercity train, we charged down the platform and eventually scrambled aboard after a tussle with a staff member of First Great Western in the Guard’s Van whilst trying to stow our bikes. His only interest was to get the train away on time – never mind the paying customers!
We had a great send off from Land’s End on Sunday 16th September. Mike, Di and Rich Jones, who we met through the DFSG holidays and who live in Cornwall, a journalist and photographer from Cornwall Today and the End to Enders administrator Winnie Aveyn all cheered us on our way. Cornwall Today had contacted Mike to do a feature on us for their December issue – quite incredibly, for a local magazine, they have never featured the Land’s End to John O’Groats challenge!
Our first target was to get to St Newlyn East near Newquay. After becoming entangled in the cycling and running stage of a local triathlon at Marazion , we arrived at the Phoenix Inn in St Newlyn East for a well-earned refresher or two. In order to make the challenge a little more interesting we decided that we would sample and judge the local beers on offer at all our stopovers – in the interests of this research project we sampled over 28 different beers on the journey. The LEJOG good beer guide will be available at all book shops in the spring!
The weather for the first few days was ok thankfully. We were able to make decent progress despite the local geography. We were expecting Cornwall and Devon to be tough and it certainly was. Our chosen route was to try to stick to minor roads for safety’s sake - a strategy that we abandoned by the time we got into North West England, as this took us via some particularly arduous hill climbs (very scenic but we soon tired of coastal and mountain views!) and the road signage wasn’t as good as the major road network. We lost quite a bit of time in the first few days trying to equate road signs with the road map we were carrying.
In order to keep family and friends notified of progress I opened both Twitter and Facebook accounts and posted/tweeted at the end of each day. My progress was closely followed by friends at my local (the Queens Head in Sandy) which became mission control for the duration of the ride. A large map of the UK was posted on the wall and the daily progress was recorded with interest – they even posted a daily bulletin on a blackboard behind the bar.
At each major milestone we both bought local postcards and sent them home – these have proved to be a very useful aide memoire in unravelling the sequence and timing of the journey. Our route took us through Devon and Somerset via Bude and Wiveliscombe and then just north of Bristol to Yate, our day 4 watering hole. During day 5 we realised that both our rear tyres were looking a bit worn so we took a pit stop just after we crossed the Severn. (I could write another book about all the river crossings.) We made it to Bodenham near Hereford later that day (Thursday 20th) and travelled through the Wye valley – a very picturesque part of the world with the road running parallel to Offa’s Dyke Day 6 proved to be quite eventful and very wet! The rain started at Ludlow in the morning and didn’t stop until we got to Market Drayton. I had two punctures so used both our spare inner tubes up, thankfully didn’t get any more that day and was able to repair them the following morning. The day proved to be the longest day not surprisingly - we didn’t arrive at the B & B until 8pm. On the positive side the cycling was much easier as we left the hills behind.
Day 7 from Market Drayton to Bolton was relatively easy cycling and we made good progress to stay at a place called Lostock (apparently where Peter Kaye now lives) - we’d been on the road for a week now and inching towards the half-way point. In order to catch up a bit of time we changed tack slightly to take the A6 to Kendall instead of going over moorland – a wise move given the weather conditions that were about to hit us. We stayed at the Station Inn in Oxenholme in the Lake District at the end of the eight day – a lovely place to stay but those pesky hills had returned!
It was now 24th September, raining and the wind was getting up – just in time to tackle one of the longest climbs of the trip – Shap Fell. Even worse the wind was largely blowing from the northeast. We cycled through Kendall and headed off towards Penrith. The conditions couldn’t have been worse by the time we got to the top of Shap Fell. We were soaked to the skin, Mike had been blown off his bike and I had been blown to a standstill! We kept going and finally got to Penrith by mid-afternoon. We reassessed our target for the day and decided to call it a day at Carlisle. By the time we got to our B & B for the day it had stopped raining but we looked like a couple of drowned rats.
We set off from Carlisle on the 25th September (still raining) in the knowledge that we would at last cross the border into Scotland - another great milestone. We reached Hawick that evening via the A7. (In the event we travelled the entire length of the A7.) We had hoped to make more progress that day but by the time we reached Hawick, we were thoroughly soaked and feeling pretty tired (having spent 10 continuous days in the saddle) therefore decided that was enough for the day. We were made very welcome by the landlady with a hot mug of tea and sandwich prior to getting showered, changed and continuing our quest to sample the local beers.
Following a good night’s sleep and good breakfast we were raring to get going the next day to our next target, Dunfermline, circumnavigating Edinburgh and crossing the Firth of Forth (spectacular views of the Forth Bridge.) We were very grateful to a local/Polish cyclist who guided us to the cycle route across the road bridge after we became ensnared with traffic on the A90 approach road, clearly not suited to cyclists! My everlasting memory of this leg, apart from the bridge crossing, was the state of the road surface of the inner ring road around Edinburgh which seemed to go on for ever – just demonstrating that this was by far the largest city we had to negotiate.
The hospitality at all our B & B’s was great throughout the journey but it stepped up a notch in Scotland. Jim and Doreen at the Davaar Hotel in Dunfermline were typically friendly and even chipped in with some sponsorship! From Dunfermline we followed the B996, parallel to the M90, pretty much all the way to Perth. A quick stop off in Perth to replenish our drinks and energy bars/chocolate supplies and we picked up the A9, which would take us within striking distance of John O’ Groats. The terrain here wasn’t too bad but the journey was taking its toll on the knees and leg muscles, especially starting up after a stop. I found that once I got into a rhythm however, I could cycle for hours (as long as we weren’t cycling into a head wind!). We were certainly glad that we were now using better quality roads (mainly A roads), although there were a few ‘hairy moments’ when being passed by articulated lorries on some of the sections.
Our stopover for day 12 was Blair Atholl with some of the most scenic cycling we had experienced on the whole trip, still not great weather though. Some great beers in the Bothy Bar that evening followed by a great breakfast the next morning (including porridge of course!) and we were on our way to Carrbridge. The journey took us through the Glen Garry and past the Dalwhinnie distillery (no time to stop unfortunately!) towards the Cairngorms. The A9 at this point was particularly busy with heavy lorries which made life interesting - the scenery was passing us by though! With only a few days to go we were beginning to see the fat lady warming up! Carrbridge to Tain (home of Glenmorangie) proved a quieter ride, probably because it was Saturday and there were only a few HGVs about. The route took us through Inverness, where we stopped to book our bikes on to the train home (another story to be told another time) – we were starting to plan the journey home and we were booked on a train south on the following Monday from Wick. The A9 from Inverness took us across the Moray Firth and the Cromarty Firth. Crossing the Cromarty Firth was quite interesting. There was a strong wind blowing towards the estuary creating quite a challenging cross wind to negotiate – the bridge was quite low and we seemed to be in a bit of a wind tunnel. Our bed for the night in Tain was at the Morangie B & B, virtually next door to the distillery – another one to visit next time may be?
Two more Firths to cross (I’m sure there’s a song there somewhere!) on day 14 - Dornoch Firth and Lock Fleet, to reach Lybster in Caithness, on penultimate day of the quest. The road took us through Helmsdale which we nicknamed Helmsdeep (from Lord of the Rings for non Tolkein fans) due to the severity of the hills in this part of the world. We stopped at Helmsdale for lunch at place we later discovered was quite a famous restaurant in the area (La Mirage). The place is very quirky and helpings are very generous- massive portions of chips with everything! We were feeling quite good now after all our efforts, so this was the first occasion we had a beer with lunch.
The weather had brightened up by now and we saw sunshine for the first time for what seemed over a week. From Helmsdale to Lybster we had to negotiate another chasm of a valley at Berriedale, although the terrain generally was fairly easy going Lybster is a real hip town, it used to be a busy herring port but is now in decline. It has a disproportionately wide main street, possibly had market stalls there at one time? Our landlady made us very welcome and was a mine of information on local history. We ate at the only hotel in the area in the evening and watched TV with a few beers in front of a peat fire, which generated an amazing level of heat.
The morning of what was now day 16 was bright and sunny with a tail wind behind us. Lybster is only 30 miles from John O’Groats so we knew we would have a pretty easy run towards the finishing line – not considering at this stage that we would need to cycle back to Wick (our last stopover on the journey) into a fairly strong headwind! We arrived at John O’ Groats at midday on the 1st October, there were a few other cyclists heading away from the hamlet giving us a cheer – we felt great, sun was shining, wind was behind us and it was downhill! John O’Groats was a disappointment though, it was like a building site, with the picture post card hotel on the site being re-developed. The staff weren’t particularly friendly either – they could do with some customer relationship training.
We had the obligatory photograph taken in front of the signpost and headed to the café for a well-earned beer and a bite to eat – after all, we had travelled 978 miles on a bike in 15 ½ days! We battled against the wind to Wick for our last night in Scotland before catching the train the following morning for a marathon train journey back to reality. Needless to say we did celebrate in time honoured fashion that night with the final entry into the LEJOG good beer guide covering ‘Deuchars’ (brewed in Glasgow), ‘Lattitude Pilsner’ (brewed in Orkney) and ‘Golden Amber’ (also brewed in Orkney) – you’ll have to wait for the guide to be published to get the judges verdicts!