Cycling in the UK - Lands End to John O 'Groats

The two thousand-plus kilometre cycling journey, from Lands End to John O’Groats, is as much a sojourn through classic British towns as it is a formidable challenge along undulating roads. The United Kingdom has nothing of the soaring switchback-infested climbs you’ll find in mainland Europe but its plethora of steep and narrow ‘Roman’ roads are significantly harder than you might think. They certainly were for me.  

Should you wish to do a little more than just cycling, the journey takes around two weeks.  The further north you travel the better the roads seem to get. That is, if you’re still alive and well after passing through the traffic-infested town of Warrington. There didn’t seem too many alternatives along England’s west coast, other than long deviations that may have been just as busy. 

The first hotel since Lands End. 
Leaving Lands End around mid-afternoon, the 60-kilometre journey to Truro - the most southern city in mainland Great Britain - provided an ideal start. Mildly undulating between Penzance and Helston, there were views across the bay, the most prominent, St. Michael’s Mount, which is connected to the mainland by an underground railway which transports goods up to its castle.

The next day’s cycling, from Truro to Tiverton, via Exeter, was a far cry from the day before. A174-kilometre journey, which included an underestimated climb through the rolling moorland of Dartmoor Forest, took almost the entire day. 

The top of the climb.
The narrow B3357 and B3212 roads between Tavistock and Moreton-Hampstead, felt as remote as anything I’d seen so far, or was likely to see until I reached the Lakes District a long way to the north. Shrouded in mist at the top of the long, steep climb, there was little to see, or photograph, save the odd cow. Though the route was mainly down-hill, and at worst along undulating roads, it was early evening before I tiredly and hungrily reached our accommodation in Tiverton. Needless to say, I slept well that evening.

My third day’s ride between Tiverton and Stroud, via the Mendip Hills, was a far cry from the day before; much shorter and with more gentle ups and downs. The A38 carried me almost the entire way to Bristol, most of it through open farmland.  

Our accommodation in Stroud. 
But one of those large cities you’re already not looking forward to cycling through, long before you’ve even left home, was Bristol. With its city and surrounding county, not far off 500,000 people, I wasn’t looking forward to travelling through its centre; nor even its smaller perimeter roads, for fear of losing my way and riding far further than I needed to. Choosing the latter, the city’s outskirts were as busy as expected, but once across Bristol’s main bridge I was soon heading towards Dursley, and beyond, Stroud. A small village bellow the escarpment of the Cotswold Hills, it was one of those places that we could have spent more days in should we have had the time.  

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Please note: It may surprise you that not every cyclist travels long distances with a GPS; just nearly everybody. If you’ve read my book Lycra, Lattes and the Long Way Round, you’ll soon realise why I wouldn’t and at times, why I wished I did.    

                                          Other books by Mark Krieger:

High Spain Drifter, on Amazon

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