For most cyclists in the UK, one of the ultimate challenges is to
ride the length of the country from the farthest southwesterly point
to the extreme northeast, or "end-to-end" as it's known.
It's often said that setting the date is the hardest part so towards
the end of May 2003 I decided to give myself 2 weeks notice and
To add to the challenge the ride was to be undertaken as quickly
as possible, solo and unsupported, using cycle paths (especially
those of the National
Cycle Network), byways and B-roads wherever possible.
From experience I knew that travelling light was of the utmost importance.
There is always something one wishes one had brought, but too often
so many superfluous items are carried, adding fatigue and unsettling
the bikes handling characteristics.
I used a 1:190,000 Ordnance Survey road atlas that was big enough
to show the minor roads but not so small in scale that I would need
to carry dozens of pages. Only the pages Id need were cut
out of the atlas, and even these were trimmed down to within a 20-mile
radius of the planned route in case of diversions. It also showed
the approximate route of the National
Cycle Network quiet lanes, tracks and disused
roads dedicated to cyclists.
had three criteria for the route:
1. To avoid major roads.
2. To pass through places of historical interest or scenic
3. To clock up at least 1,000 miles within one week.
So after many hours poring over maps and double-checking distances
I set my course
|Land's End -
116 miles, 14 mph average6
Cornwall & Devon
I am fortunate enough to live just an hours drive from Lands
End and so I was able to have a good nights sleep and eat
a hearty breakfast before being chauffeur driven to Cornwalls
most remote corner for a mid morning start.
Whilst unpacking the car I noticed a very professional looking group
of riders doing likewise and the conversation revealed that they
were part of a racing club from Brighton aiming for the same destination
as me but taking a faster route with a support vehicle. My offer
of guidance out of Cornwall was declined and they (somewhat bizarrely
to my way of thinking) set off up the dual carriageway A30!
After the obligatory photo at the First
& Last Signpost 1 I set
off on a familiar route that took me along the rugged north coast
2 & 3,
out towards Padstow 4, and east
I couldnt believe my luck as I had cool sunny weather all
day with an appreciable tailwind.
|Land's End -
82 miles, 14 mph average7
Dartmoor, Exmoor & the Somerset
I felt as though the adventure proper began here as from now on
Id have to concentrate on navigation and every turn would
bring new sights. My route on the B3227 weaved between the two high
moors 7 & 8
but always gave splendid views of the hills on the horizon;
the heather changing through hues of green, blue and purple in the
sunlight. The lush river
valleys and back
lanes 9 made for plenty of
interesting but challenging riding as on one long steep descent
I topped 54 mph I wont say what the speed fell to climbing
up the other side!
The run down to Taunton 10 was
accompanied by a good tail wind once more that continued to push
me along the Bridgewater
Canal towpath 11 and on to
Highbridge 12 where Id arranged
to stop over with an old friend. The wind had been so kind to me
I arrived at 4:00pm, a good 4 hours ahead of schedule.
|Land's End -
139 miles, 13 mph average8
I got rolling at first light aiming to pass through Bristol before
any traffic picked up, and made it under Brunels Clifton Suspension
Bridge 14 and along the cycle-route
NCN 4 which follows the gorge to near the mouth of the River
Avon before 7 am. An hour later I was ready to cross the elder
of the two Severn
Bridges 15 on NCN 4 into Chepstow.
My route into Wales took me along the Wye Valley on NCN 44 past
Abbey founded in 1131 by Cistercian Monks and, after Monmouth
16, up the Golden Valley to the
east of the Brecon Beacons and The Black Mountains, remaining close
to Offas Dyke path. During a sudden shower I dived for cover
under a yew tree in a graveyard and whilst waiting for the rain
to subside, I noticed that Id been sitting on the grave of
no less a mortal than Tom Jones!
Near Hay on Wye 17 I crossed the
Wye again over an ancient
bridge, which to my amazement charged a whole 5-penny toll!
Unfortunately the climb out of the valley took its toll on my right
knee and I struggled on to Bishops Castle 20
for the night.
|Land's End -
173 miles, 14 mph average9
North Wales, Lancashire & The Lake
Starting at the crack of dawn Id hoped a nights rest
would cure my knee but within the first 10 miles of rolling Shropshire
countryside it was hurting again. I had planned to ride through
Radnor Forest towards Snowdonia but the pain made me change my mind
and divert the route to eastwards through Oswestry 24.
Gradually the road started to flatten, the painkillers set in and
a gentle tail wind picked up. By Chester 25
the tail wind was pushing me along at over 20 mph, lifting my spirits
and strengthening my resolve.
One part of the journey I had been worrying about was Liverpool
26. Its always easier to
navigate in rural areas I find and the prospect of battling the
traffic, one-way systems and dodgy back streets hadnt exactly
filled me with joy. As I was pondering my route a shock of grey
hair shot past me laughing and a rich scouse accent called out Come
on lad, whatcher waitin for! Flash git, I thought; probably
just left home. I explained that Id already ridden over 70
miles but John put me firmly I my place by pointing out that hed
already ridden over 100 and was now on his way home for lunch having
been for a spin to Anglesey and back! Well, this wiry septuagenarian
turned out to be a real blessing. I was able to slipstream him as
he guided me to the Birkenhead rail tunnel
27 and pointed me in the right direction out of the city
New Street station towards Preston 28
on the NCN 62 cycle-route that ran alongside the main road.
Onwards through Lancashire
30 I rode though meandering lanes,
then west towards the coastal cycle path (part of NCN 6) along Morecambe
Bay. With the wind in my back I pressed on into the Lake District
north of Lancaster 31, and began
the gradual climb into the hills and vales. Gorgeous empty
lanes overhung with trees greeted me over Cartmel Fell 32
and I freewheeled down the other side to see my first glimpse of
Lake Windermere 33 and find a
B&B for the night.
|Land's End -
152 miles, 13 mph average10
Cumbria, Scottish Borders & Southern
I woke to the sound of rain. Of course the Lakes are famous for
persistent rain so I tuned into the weather forecast and hoped in
vain for good news. After a few hours it became clear that I was
going to get wet so I wrapped up and set off towards Troutbeck through
Pass under the shadow of Helvellyn. I soon found part of the
coast-to-coast cycle-route NCN 71 and climbed up following it along
tiny unused lanes to Caldbeck
34 to look back at the Cumbrian
Mountains now to the south of me.
A long straight decline into Carlisle 35
left me with a dilemma; should I make a quick sprint up the A74
dual carriageway or detour an extra 5 miles north to avoid the main
road. I figured there would be a hard shoulder to ride in
I figured wrong. The traffic was horrendous flying past at breakneck
speeds and the narrow shoulder was full of nails and broken glass.
This short section of road joins the end of the M6 in England with
the start of the Scottish M74 but of course the traffic sees no
distinction as it funnels from three lanes to two. Just as I thought
it could not get any worse the lanes narrowed to cross the River
Lyne just as two juggernauts filled both lanes. I leapt off my bike
and clambered onto the crash barrier as the lorries flew by with
just a hairs breadth between them and me. To top things off
nicely I got a puncture on the slip road into Scotland at Gretna
Green. Just as I was passing the landmark feeling particularly
sorry for myself a group of lads came by who were riding to the
Western Isles. A great fillip to my spirits as we swapped stories
of our adventures so far.
Whilst the map might look as though I rode on the motorway to Glasgow,
my route was in fact on a cycle-route the NCN 74 - using
the old A-road (now known as the B7076) adjacent to the motorway.
This 80-mile stretch took me through ghostly towns that seem to
have had the life sucked out of them since the motorway had by-passed
them. The first 50 miles climbed steadily into the Southern Uplands
and Lowther Hills; a cold, barren
empty moorland, but at least it had its own cycle-path (still
the NCN 74). It was on this track that I came across an odd character
parked in a caravan. Id not seen a living soul for a few hours
so I just had to make enquiries. It turned out he spent his life
travelling the country collecting Ordnance Survey grid reference
squares i.e. ticking them off a list as he went along, hence
to get to this somewhat remote corner hed had to tow his van
along the cycle path!
It was all downhill into the Clyde Valley and north to Kilsyth 38.
The Trossachs up ahead glowered in low black clouds so I made some
investigations about accommodation in the hills. The first Scot
I asked turned out to be a Glaswegian stereotype; Och, yell
neer make it laddie, its a c*** of a climb! he
warned me, repeating that there would be nowhere to stay and Id
probably meet a grizzly fate up there. I scarpered off to seek refuge
in the nearest Travel-lodge!
|Land's End -
174 miles, 14 mph average11
The Trossachs, the Cairngorms &
The c*** of a climb turned out to be quite mild in comparison to
the killer gradients of Devon & Cornwall and I was soon high
in the mountains, passing delightful wayside inns with welcoming
log fires that I could have been warming my toes in front of the
night before. At Callander
40 I picked up another cycle-route
(NCN7 running all the way from Callander to Inverness) that took
me through some stunning
scenery but somewhat lacked a rideable surface (for a road bike
anyway), so at Loch Earn I look the main A84 up Glen Ogle towards
Loch Tay, but much to my disgust I could see the route continued
on a tarmac surface across the valley on a disused railway line!
The ride along the banks of Loch Tay rolled through leafy lanes
and has to be 15 or so of the most enjoyable miles Ive ever
ridden such was the glory
of the scenery. I made a quick stop for a pub lunch at Kenmore
42 and then along the Tay Valley
to Pitlochry 43 famous for its
whisky distilleries, then turned west into a fierce headwind and
the start of the climb into the magnificent Grampian Mountains.
The gravel cycle-path followed the railway and the A9 up to the
highest point for any major road in the UK at the Drumochter
Pass (1484 feet above sea level) where snow still lay on the
surrounding Munroe peaks and blizzards are not unknown at this time
Finally, turning back east I could enjoy the tailwind over the spectacular
as I made my way in bright sunshine towards the resort town of Aviemore.
I didnt think Id be able to make Inverness 45
before dark and was worried about finding accommodation in between
so I stopped for the night at Carrbridge. I didnt realise
that this far north it hardly gets dark at all in June.
Ive heard several well-travelled folk say that the scenery
in New Zealand is incredible and in fact is just like Scotland.
Makes you wonder why they dont just go to Scotland doesnt
it? The views defy all superlatives and the quiet roads, cyclepaths
and long daylight hours make it a cyclists dream
its sunny anyway.
|Land's End -
158 miles, 14 mph average12
North East Scottish Coast
If there hadnt been the prospect of finishing on this day
I would have stayed in bed. Outside it was raining heavily and the
temperature was struggling to make 8 degrees C. I only had lightweight
summer gear, so within a few miles I was soaked through. The road
descended all the way to Inverness so the faster I went the colder
and wetter I became and by the time Id reached the famous
battle site at Culloden Moor I was shaking uncontrollably and had
lost all sensation in my hands and feet. At the first shop I reached
I bought two pairs of womens tights (the only items of clothing
on sale) and changed into them in their storeroom without any explanation
much to the amusement of the two elderly lady shopkeepers!
The difference those tights made to my body temperature and morale
was incredible (you can just see I was still wearing them in the
photo at Duncansby Head below).
The busy bridge over the Moray Firth thankfully had a cycle lane,
but no apparent means of getting to it other than down the main
road! Onwards I pushed north over the Black Isle (which is neither
an island nor black!), over the Cromarty Firth, past the Glenmorangie
distillery on the banks of the Dornoch Firth at Tain 46
and then out along the north east coast.
With the end in my sights I didnt stop to eat but munched
snacks on the move. The coastal
scenery especially around Berriedale
47 was remarkably reminiscent
of my home in Cornwall. I spent the afternoon chasing away from
the rain clouds that seemed to follow the glens to the coast, and
Wick the ground flattened out and before I knew it the
Orkneys came into view and I was in John
OGroats 48 well before
tea time. In case youre wondering, this photo was taken the
following day by the Brighton Racing Club who turned up a day later
after struggling along the nations main roads! The journey
didnt end there however, as John OGroats is not the
most north easterly point, which is at Duncansby
Head two miles east, and the most northern point is a further
ten miles west at Dunnet Head so only when Id reached
this point could I truly say Id dunnet!
The final 20 or so miles were clocked up riding back to Thurso for
the train to Inverness from where I flew home (although I still
had to ride between Luton and Stanstead airports).
If you are thinking of riding the end-to-end,
stop thinking and get riding!