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Published on: 2nd October 2020
By Charlie Bladon
In this extraordinary year we were fortunate to be able to run our new Land's End to John O'Groats (LEJOG) tour in September, in a brief window of opportunity adhering to social distancing rules and regulations.
As we sat in the vans at Land's End the rain was pelting onto the roofs and no-one wanted to make the first move into the storm! Fortunately thou it abated enough for us to unload the bikes and for people to get ready for their epic ride, donning their waterproofs and generally hoping not to get too wet. We trooped to the signpost and took our sodden photograph, at which point the rain started lessening and actually stopped at about the time the riders set off! They say that the sun shines on the righteous! By the time we took our coffee break with views of St Michael's Mount the sun was well and truly out and drying the wet patches on the road. The rest of the day turned out nice, with a pasty on picnic benches at the Lizard and then on the tour fist night in Falmouth.
Cornwall and Devon are well known for being hilly and this was certainly the case. The first four days were long - perhaps longer than we had anticipated, and we will be 'flattening the curve' in 2021 to make them a little shorter and easier. Our team did wonderfully, however, and rode in the best spirits, with the words that 'it will get easier in Scotland, I promise' ringing in their ears. As ever, sensible pace and sensible fuelling helped.
By day 5 we had crossed into Wales via the Severn Bridge and took on the mighty Gospel Pass, Wales' highest road. Although it was overcast it was not wet and so the views could be enjoyed, almost much as the seven mile freewheel down to our hotel for the night! A conveniently placed bike shop helped restock and resupply those small things that always get found out after a couple of days - thanks to Drover Cycles in Hay on Wye for your help!
Crossing the stiff undulations of the Welsh Marches was a massive achievement for the team and as an organiser it was great to see them all keeping the pedals turning despite the difficult terrain. For 2021 we will make the route slightly longer but much, much easier and faster. This hard day set the prelude to a wonderful day in Cheshire in beautiful sunshine along a much flatter terrain of quiet lanes, pastureland and old oak trees. I think it is fair to say that they all really enjoyed this day! The famous Cat and Fiddle pass at the end led to a swooping downhill to Buxton in the Peak District.
Heading north the next morning - destination the Yorkshire Dales - was another toughie but the final twenty miles were across beautiful moorland and hopefully cyclists amnesia had done its stuff by the time we arrived for our overnight stop. The next day was, to my mind, one of the most beautiful sections of the whole trip as we cycled up Wharfedale and then down Dentdale to cross over the M6 into the Lakes. The half way point was reached today, always a psychological boost on a tour of this length. The next milestone, the border crossing into Scotland came the next day after a hilly start followed by a lovely flat route to Carlisle and then Gretna and on through Dumfriesshire. The last 20 miles of today resulted in the highest average speeds of the trip so far as the group rode as a peloton much of the way from Gretna to the hotel.
At this point we diverted from the usual route to John O'Groats. In planning this route I wanted to do it differently, as most people will only do this trip once so I wanted to make the most of the fantastic scenery of Scotland. We rode to Ardrossan and took the ferry over to Arran, a real delight with the ferry (and subsequent ones) adding the sense of adventure and journeymaking - and this in common with all long distance cycle touring, is a journey in all senses of the word. By now the sun was well and truly on our side and we saw this part of the country at its very very best. I had promised our riders at the start, way back in Cornwall, that the long range forecast looked as if we might get lucky in Scotland with a band of high pressure getting its timing just right, and it did! How fortunate we were! From mainland to island and back again several times we ploughed our way northwards on days that were far more straightforward than in England, in common with all LEJOG routes. Some of the days had only half a dozen instructions in the route book! Some of our route followed the North Coast 500 (NC500) route but to be honest this can be busy with cars and camper vans so we did our best to avoid it as much as possible.
And so at last, after 17 days cycling, our intrepid team cycled in to John O'Groats on the only other dodgy weather day - not too rainy but enough to be not quite sure what to wear - to toast their magnificent achievements at the signpost pointing back to 'Land's End 874 miles'. Our route had been 1,250 miles and they can wear their commemorative jerseys with pride and not a little bragging rights! Chapeau to one and all, we hope you enjoyed the journey.
Charlie Bladon: 2nd Oct 2020 10:10:00