Lands’ End to John O’ Groats
cycling vacations

Anyone that’s ever tackled a long distance cycle ride will know that even with a comfortable saddle tilted to the right position, good-quality shorts and regular stops for a stretch, a sore bum is an unfortunate fact of life. So, while the scenery will amaze you, the pubs will welcome you and the rest of the group will motivate you up every hill, cycling the length of the country is not something to be taken lightly.
People have travelled from Lands’ End in Cornwall to John O’Groats in Scotland by wheelchair, horse, stand-up paddleboard, skateboard, JCB excavator and ride-on lawnmower over the years. And you can bet that by day three or so every single one of them was starting to experience serious second thoughts. This is not just the most iconic journey in Great Britain. It’s also the longest, and if you’ve never done anything like that before, then attempting 1,600km over 14 days might seem a bit of a scary (and painful) prospect. “But,” says Paul Adams from our specialist provider High Places, “you don’t need to be super fit. The key is to be able to get back in the saddle day after day.”

The ride

As often tends to be the case with epic challenges like this, getting started is the hardest bit. You climb into the saddle at the tip of the Penwith Peninsula, and your first day is spent wrestling the Cornish hills, which may not be especially high but are certainly plentiful. Another tough day follows immediately afterwards as you follow a stretch of the Cornish coastline and then ascend to rugged Dartmoor. It gets flatter as you enter Somerset, and by the time you reach the glorious Mendip Hills, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, you’ll be well into your groove.

You cross the Welsh Marches on day six, getting close to halfway through, then reach one of the most enjoyable stretches of the route as you pass through a succession of picturesque villages and follow an ascent that was a regular feature of Sir Bradley Wiggins’ training programme. Then it’s on through the idyllic Lake District via Grasmere and Kendal (save room in your panniers for a few slabs of Kendal mint cake) and into Scotland with a night in the famous Gretna Green.
Pushing on and dealing with some more heavy-duty climbs you reach Loch Lomond, Fort William, the Pass of Glencoe and eventually the Crask Inn. Probably the most remote pub in Scotland, it makes a first-rate option for a hot toddy before an exhilarating downhill, with John O’Groats now squarely in your sights. Once you get there, on a shortish final day (the fifteenth), you’ll enjoy a well-earned champagne celebration before the transfer to Inverness railway station and, for many of the group, a long journey home. Then, presumably, a weekend sat on a cushion.
Essentially, if you can handle the first couple of days in Cornwall then you can be confident of making it to the finish line. Once you’ve got those hills under your belt you’ve got a series of fantastic rides ahead of you through some of England’s finest landscapes: the Somerset Levels, the Wye Valley, Dartmoor, the Lakes and the Scottish Highlands, as well as some impressive climbs, the Cross of Greet and the Forest of Bowland being two particular stand-outs. Perhaps unsurprisingly, apart from the riding itself, what Paul Adams finds people enjoy the most are “the changing landscapes, and the lovely towns large and small that we stay in, such as Wells, Shrewsbury, Hamilton and Bettyhill.” Rob Nutting meanwhile, who completed ‘LEJOG’ in 2017, relished “the camaraderie and mutual support which grew in the group and with our leaders, Nick and Ken, (making) the challenge so much easier and enjoyable.”
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In his review of the ‘LEJOG’ Rob Nutting also offers some valuable advice for first-timers. “Make sure you’ve done sufficient training on a bike beforehand. Thinking you are fit because you go to the gym regularly may not be enough. But do not be put off by thinking that the group will be full of ‘boy racers’. It won't be, and don't think you'll be too old – I'm 69.”

You’ll join a small group of no more than 12 people, meaning that you’ll be able to stay in locally owned hotels and guesthouses throughout. Whenever possible you’ll eat at local pubs, cafes and restaurants, all of which are naturally pleased to welcome a horde of hungry cyclists onto the premises. Most participants look for a sugary, carb-heavy diet to keep those energy levels topped up. You can expect daily rides to range from 80km to 140km, with no rest days, so you will need stamina and a forgiving saddle.
You will be accompanied by a professional guide at all times, and they can really make the trip, as Paul Adams points out. “Most of our guides are part of the cycling community in Sheffield and have leading and bike repair qualifications. All of them have years of cycling experience and an enthusiasm they are keen to pass on.”
In large part you’ll avoid main roads. The route has been carefully arranged to take maximum advantage of cycle paths and quieter stretches. Naturally, a specialist support team will travel with you, there to transport luggage (you’ll be asked to keep it to the bare minimum) and handle any equipment issues. It’s obviously advisable to have your bike serviced fully before departure and to fit good tyres. Getting your own bike to Lands’ End and back from the far north of Scotland can raise its own hurdles, but a professional bike transfer service is available for a supplement.
Something worth noting is that, although this is a small group trip, you won’t always be riding in a pack. It is a vacation after all, so if you want to ease up a little then you’re welcome to take things at your own pace. You absolutely don’t need to be a competitive cyclist, just a regular rider and in decent shape. Some experience of multi-day trips covering 100km each day will come in useful. It makes a great deal of sense to join an organised trip, especially if this is your first crack at LEJOG. A ride of this length is a logistic headache to arrange and you get a lot of peace of mind from the knowledge that there is a spare bike if needed, and all of your accommodations are securely booked well in advance.
Lands’ End to John O’Groats by bike is not an easy ride. The weather, even in June (the best time to go) can add to the difficulty, with headwinds or rain. You’ll need to be prepared for regular climbs at both ends. But it is eminently doable, with adequate preparation and an experienced team in the background making sure everything goes smoothly. Motivation is never in short supply. As Paul Adams says, “pub talk is usually of saddle sores and weary legs, but also mutual encouragement and wasn’t that downhill section great!”
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Rob Faulkner] [Lands End: Stuart Preston] [Pass of Glencoe: Richard Szwejkowski] [Bike repairs: Richard Leeming]