Photo-diary and tips for anyone mad enough to consider cycling LEJOG

July 5, 2021

I would consider myself physically fit, but with little experience of cycling such a long distance – a few 50 mile rides was all I had done. Motivation for doinjg LEJOG (Lands End to John O’ Groats) came as a result of my dad and stepmum passing away recently, so I was determined to do something in their memory. My dad had always supported RNLI Lifeboats and my step-mum suffered from terminal cancer, so I also raised funds for the palliative care ward at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Glasgow.

I was cycling in the middle of summer, to maximise daylight, so had (so I thought) to acclimatise to the heat first before the ride. I participated in a marathon a couple of weeks before, with a slow time of 4hrs 50 in 23C heat, which stood as good preparation. I reckoned I could keep going with panniers on the back of my bike, at a steady 10mph, which would enable 100 mile + days. Doing LEJOG rather than JOGLE helps with prevailing westerly winds, which should (in theory) help propel you through the first 300 miles of Cornish / Devon hills.

The first iteration of my route would take me from Penzance to Lands End to Exeter, then on to Coventry, to Lincoln, then to Penrith via York, up to Glasgow, then following the A82 and the Great Glen to the A9 up to Sutherland and Caithness. This was altered when I realised that there were no bike spaces on the train down to Penzance, necessitating a courier, which promised overnight delivery. Unfortunately, there was a delay in my bike arriving. I had read that Cornwall and Devon were the hardest part of the journey, with a series of unrelenting climbs, so I split the route – Penzance -> Lands End -> St Austell -> Taunton -> Swindon -> Leicester -> York -> Penrith -> Clydebank -> Fort William -> Tain -> John O’ Groats. This is hardly the classic route, which heads to Bristol, hugs the border of Wales to Manchester and then proceeds up the West Coast – it involves extra mileage, but I wanted to visit friends and relatives on the way up. It also involved the classic cycle climb across the North York Moors from Appleby to Tan Hill, and the stunning scenery of the Trossachs and Glencoe, with some hair-raising descents to boot!

Thanks must go to Caroline in Taunton, Jane and Matthew in York and my sister Emma in Clydebank, who provided support and accommodation along the way. I took a one-man tent (OEX Phoxx 1v2) and camped in campsites in St Austell, and in a village park the other end of the UK for the final 100 mile push to John O’ Groats. Finding and getting to the campsite on the first day was difficult, as the bike didn’t turn up until 2pm, and the rear mudguard was damaged and had to be removed. I ended up going down pitch dark Cornish lanes, trying to locate the hamlet of Coombe and Court Farm Campsite at eleven o’ clock at night, then making a ham-fisted job of erecting the tent in the dark. Luckily, it was just good enough to remain waterproof in the rain that night.

Equipment list
Change of cycling gear (2 x bib shorts, 3 x cycling tops)
Survival blanket, first aid kit
Allen keys, gear cable, brake cable, oil – essential to clean and lubricate your chain at the end of each day.
Bike locks – weight was a priority over security here, so went with 2x Hiplock zipties and a Safeman lock
Insect repellent
Sun block
Deep Heat rub
Vaseline
Puncture repair kit
Handheld tyre pump
Spare brake pads
Spare inner tube
Tent, sleeping bag
Chargers: solar charger + 2 battery powered USB chargers
Cycle computer with GPS – often unreliable signal and the fact that the model I used couldn’t re-route for road closures, meant navigation proved difficult. I had a back up map of cycling routes of the UK – better to use a road atlas, as NCN routes were often not navigable with a road bike.

I need to thank the superb support given by Stanford Cycles of Penzance, and would recommend their expertise for anyone considering such a daunting undertaking. They recover old cycles and put these back into use, so I brought down some parts which I had upgraded from my road bike – a Pinnacle Three. I invested in a good quality Brooks leather saddle, a Fulcrum 6 wheelset, and a Shimano 105 11-32 cassette, as well as upgraded handlebars. A bike mirror also saved strain on the neck from having to turn backwards repeatedly. The one thing I hadn’t considered was the cumulative effect of bumpy roads on my hands – good quality cycling gloves and handlebar tape are a must. My palms are still a bit numb a week after completing the journey! In the end, the bike stood up extremely well, with only one puncture and no other mechanical faults the whole way.

The other factor involved is the engine of your bike – yourself! It is important to keep hydrated and plan in stops to refuel yourself regularly. You will be burning a lot of calories, so even if you need to take time out and it may seem frustrating, try to eat before you get hungry and drink before you get thirsty. Mentally, “chunking” the journey into manageable sections helped me, as did simply humming songs in my head to pass the time.

Other challenges involved avoiding the A3 in Cornwall, difficult to navigate around and definitely one to avoid! Your only option is to take the hills across Dartmoor and Exmoor; the A66 in Penrith – there seems to be no other way northwards, best avoid rush hour and go when it is quiet to avoid endless lorries bound for Scotland. I found a local pub for a well-earned meal and a shandy.

On entering Scotland, things got easier (except for a stubborn headwind from Penrith towards Glasgow) – navigation was not so difficult, main roads are quieter – simply a case of following the A74 along NCN74, the A82 up past Loch Lomond, following the Great Glen, then the A9 and A99 to the far north. Even when I finally arrived, I still had a 27 mile bike ride from Burwick, South Ronaldsay to Kirkwall (in what seemed like 50mph cross winds) to the ferry terminal to catch the Aberdeen ferry south, and then finally the train back to Leicester.

A final tip would be to allow leeway in planning your travel, if / when things go wrong. I had originally planned to cycle this in 8 days, but the delay with my bike put me quite a bit behind schedule from the beginning. I was over-optimistic with some of the mileages I had planned in as well. So in the end, it was quite a tight finish to catch the Orkney ferry and connections to the south. However, if all else failed, I would merely need to cycle to Aberdeen and head south on the train, allowing me to bail out in time if needed. Thankfully, I managed to finish the course!

10 days of cycling. 1000 miles.

If you would like to donate to the RNLI – https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/andrew-walton26

Or to Greater Glasgow and Clyde NHS – https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/andrew-walton27

Tin mines near Redruth

Cornwall – picturesque but also very hilly
NCN Route 3 along the seafront
Edge Hill
Back at home (briefly) in Leicester, with helmet hair, looking and feeling exhausted.
Great North Road (a good alternative to the A1 heading north)
North York Moors, towards Appleby and Tan Hill; some classic cycling climbs
Duck Bay, Loch Lomond
Inverness
Penultimate day, light fading. Needed a 4.00 start the next morning to get the 4.30pm ferry to Orkney.
Impromptu campsite for the night
Helmsdale, tribute to the RNLI
Final set of climbs north of Helmsdale, start of the Berriedale Braes
17 miles to go, arrived in Wick around 1.30pm

LEJOG challenge

June 16, 2021

Journey to Magnolia

June 9, 2021

Magnolia! I’ll paint my hall with ya,
The most ubiquitous paint of any hue.
Magnolia, Magnolia – I won’t paint my walls in anything but you.
Magnolia, Magnolia – not yellow or purple or pink or blue.

I went into the travel agent to book my holiday.
But when it came to asking where I wanted to stay,
A particular word stuck in my head and refused to go away.
Outer Magnolia, Magnolia – is the place to go, they say
Outer Magnolia, Magnolia – please take me there today.

Magnolia! I’ll paint my hall with ya,
The most ubiquitous paint of any hue.
Magnolia, Magnolia – I won’t paint my walls in anything but you.
Magnolia, Magnolia – not yellow or purple or pink or blue.

So, on a flight to Nizhny Novgorod and a train to far Irkutsk
I dozed off to the drone of throat singing, dreamt of Gobi’s sandy dunes
Magnolia, Magnolia – to you I dedicate this tune.
Magnolia, Magnolia – my ardent pleas were quite mistook.

Magnolia! I’ll paint my hall with ya,
The most ubiquitous paint of any hue.
Magnolia, Magnolia – I won’t paint my walls in anything but you.
Magnolia, Magnolia – not yellow or purple or pink or blue.

When I got home, I noticed my ceiling, it needed a new coat.
My skirting boards had gone off-white, their dust caught in my throat.
I’ve looked at the whole colour chart, from Alabaster to Xanadu
But Magnolia, Magnolia – there’s no place on my wall for any paint but you.

[Security, we have a disturbance in the home decorating section, near the tins of emulsion
Security – please remove the gentleman dressed in a pointy hat and fur boots immediately.]

Magnolia! I’ll paint my hall with ya,
The most ubiquitous paint of any hue.
Magnolia, Magnolia – you’re not yellow, or purple, or pink or blue.
Magnolia, Magnolia – some things are best not sung about in B&Q.

NHS – happy birthday 72 today!

July 5, 2020
Thoughts on the pandemic – on the 72nd birthday of the NHS

What is Blairism and how do we fight it?

June 10, 2020

I became active in left politics in 2004 – angry at the Iraq war, I joined the million plus people marching in Hyde Park. The largest demonstration in British history. But the Stop the War Coalition had no real strategy of how to oppose New Labour, it made no difference to the policies of Blair – no threat to the system. Demonstrating is important in raising our spirits, in realising our collective strength – but unless we harness that power – either by forming a political party to challenge the status quo, or using the power of the unions to strangle the bosses’ profits at source – leaders can ignore democracy.

I joined what was the Socialist Party – I thought that, in small way, I needed to get involved in building an alternative to New Labour. I was persuaded of the need for revolution as opposed to gradualism, which was an important step in my political awakening – previously, I would have described myself as Old Labour.

Labour was formed, in 1900, as the Labour Representation Committee, a party of the trade unions, bringing together Britain’s left wing parties, including Marxists, in order to represent the interests of the common people, as opposed to the interests of the bosses. Keir Hardie was its first leader – Keir Starmer, in claiming to be socialist, said that he was named after Hardie. This morphed into the Labour Party in 1906.

Labour’s peak was the Attlee government of 1945-51, the post-war deal which brought in the welfare state, the NHS and nationalised much of the economy – but crucially didn’t go far enough, for example leaving the banks under private control. This radical change was brought about by huge anger at Churchill’s government, particularly by the armed forces, who returning to Britain, voted overwhelmingly for Labour.

The architects of this victory leant on Clause IV of Labour’s constitution, “To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service”. This crucially called for the economy to be brought under state control. This came out of a similar desire for change after World War I, in 1918. In 1959, the right-wing Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell attempted to remove this from the constitution, but was blocked by the trade unions – which at that time, still had a say in the Labour Party.

The predecessor to the Socialist Party, Militant, had a policy of entryism within Labour during the 1980s. This meant that they could not openly organise within the Labour Party and meant campaigning for right-wing Labour MPs. On the plus side – a big plus, we saw the election of Dave Nellist, Terry Fields and Pat Wall as Militant MPs, reflecting the huge anger against Thatcher in working-class Liverpool, Coventry and Bradford, which had seen Britain’s manufacturing industry decimated by the Tories and campaigned for decent public housing, and investment in schools and services. Militant also had control over Labour Party Young Socialists, the youth wing of the Labour Party, and a sizeable membership of around 8,000 at its height. 1990 saw an important victory in the defeat of the Poll Tax, and the demise of Thatcher.

Neil Kinnock sowed the seeds of Blairism when he expelled Derek Hatton, deputy leader of Liverpool City Council, removed Labour’s commitment to unilateral nuclear disarmament, began the process of watering down Clause IV, and attacked Militant. By 1992, the leadership of Militant had been expelled, causing a split between those who wanted to remain within the Labour Party, and those who saw the need to build a new party of the working class. The majority, under Peter Taaffe, decided to form the Socialist Party.

Tony Blair introduced what was euphemistically called The Third Way – social democratic policies, a mixed market economy, and supported militarisation and cuts to services. He rebranded Labour as New Labour – Any commitment to socialism was scrapped. Thatcher famously described New Labour as her greatest achievement. Blair massively reduced the power of the trade union movement at conference, and made conference decisions non-binding. Labour became a safe pair of hands for the capitalists. Blair saw a decline in Labour membership. “Blair, in common with all modern party leaders would have liked a mass membership, but had no desire to delegate any form of responsibility or power to it”. Gordon Brown brought in PFI which has strangled our NHS and led Labour, after Blair’s resignation in 2007, to electoral defeat.

In response to Blair, the railway workers’ union and fire brigade union both disaffiliated from New Labour. The late, great Bob Crow led the fight for a new workers’ party, supporting TUSC (Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition) – this later suspended electoral activity in support of Jeremy Corbyn.

It was a fluke of politics that brought Corbyn to leadership – desperate to restore funds to Labour, Milliband ruled that you could become a registered supporter of Labour for less than the price of a pint (later increased to £25 by the right-wing Labour NEC in time for the 2015 leadership ballot) – and it was fortunate that a few right wing MPs such as Frank Field, actually nominated Corbyn to be on the ballot in 2015, in the expectation that he would be crushed.

But Corbyn made mistakes – he was too accommodating: not expelling right-wingers, but attempting to keep the Labour Party “united”, this only emboldened them; campaigning for a second referendum on Brexit; going along with the constant media cries of anti-semitism, even being apologetic for it and not speaking out against the witch-hunting of left-wingers; not appealing to the wider movement enough, not calling for strike action to bring down the Tories and relying instead on Parliamentary democracy. Corbyn also failed to nominate a successor, which paved the way for the right to win back control of Labour.

So this brings us to Keir Starmer, who has talked of a national unity government given the coronavirus pandemic, has put forward no real opposition to the government’s policies, only mild criticism at best, and every indication is that there will be a return to Blairism. The crying need for a new workers’ party re-emerges.

Find out more about the fight for socialism here – http://www.socialistalternative.net

Should have gone to Barnard Castle (with apologies to Frank Zappa)

June 8, 2020

I dreamed I was Dominic C
I dreamed I was a Tory MP
The paparazzi, gathered round see
Under my gate and around my door
Snaps they took, of bobble hat
A hundred degrees, fish-eye view. Ooh!
Oh-oh-Dominic-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh
And the public cried,
Oh-oh-ooh-oh-oh
And the public cried,
Dominic – oh, no, no, no!
Watch out where the tourists go, and don’t you take the A68
Dominic – oh no, no. no!
Dominic – oh no, no, no!
Don’t be a naughty spin doctor.
Doo, doo, diddy de wah wah, de diddy
Check your eyesight, don’t travel too far.
Well, I turned around, and I said
Ho, ho. Ooh!
Well I turned around and I said
Ho, Ho. And the northern wind commenced to blow.
And we said, boop, boop, diddy, de woop woop a diddy – with tears in our eyes
Dominic – oh no, no, no!
Watch out where the Tourists go, and don’t you take the A68
Watch out where the tourists go, and don’t you take the A68

Well right about that time, people,
A photographer, who was strictly from the Daily Express
Strictly from the Daily Express
Had the unmitigated audacity to jump up from right behind my BMW
peek-a-boo, wooo-ooo-ooo
and he started taking photographs of my favourite bobble hat
With a Canon EOS 4000D,
I said, with a Canon, EOS, 4000D.
He said, peek-a-boo, peek-a-boo
With a Canon EOS 4000D.
He went right outside my front gate, and he went snap!
With a Canon EOS 4000D.
And he snapped me from the side and he made sure to get my bobble hat in,
With a Canon EOS 4000D.
And that got me just about as evil as a wannabe-Tory-MP can be
So I reached down inside my brain and I made up a preposterous story about the deadly lockdown rules which I helped to instigate.
The deadly lockdown rules.
The deadly lockdown rules, designed to be as confusing as rules can be, so that the public get blamed for herd immunity, just to take the heat off of Boris Johnson.

I can’t see. Do-do-do-do-do
I can’t see. Do-do-do-do-do
Oh woe is me, COVID-19 has blinded me, temporarily.
Here he goes now, all the way to Durham – drive it!
And then, in a fit of anger, I pounced
And I pounced again. Great googly-woogly
I jumped up and down on the chest of; well I injured the photographer.
Well, he was very upset, as you can understand, and rightly so, because
My excuse was about as prepostorous as any excuse can be.

The deadly virus had deprived me of my sight,
So I got in the car, and I drove around and I said
I can’t see. Do-do-do-do-do-do, yeah!
I can’t see. Do-do-do-do-do-do, yeah!
Oh woe is me, I can’t see. No, no, I can’t see.
COVID-19 has blinded me, temporarily.

Well I stood there, with my car keys in my hand
Across the bleak wasteland of the powerhouse of the North
Trying to figure out about what it is I am going to do about my afflicted eye.
And it was at that precise moment that I remembered an ancient Tory legend,
Inscribed into the head of every devious, lying politician
Wherein it is written: that if anything bad ever happens to your eyes in some sort of global pandemic
The only way you can get it fixed up, is to go drive along the motorway, mile after mile
Drive along the motorway, mile after mile.
Right down to the parish of County Durham
Barnard Castle! Barnard Castle! Barnard Castle! Barnard Castle!
Get in your car and drive to the funky Barnard Castle.

I can’t breathe

June 6, 2020

“I can’t breathe”, said George Floyd, neck pinned to the floor, his face caught in a rictus of pain.
“I can’t breathe”, he cried out, as he fought for his life, a plea which we take up again.
We can breathe, sweet, fresh air, we protest, we revolt, but the White House, enclosed in a wall, spews venom and hatred, anger and gall.
Workers rise up in the land of the free, where Kaepernick bravely took the knee.
Killer cop charged with manslaughter, third degree; the others get away, scot free.
And thousands of black men, confined to their cells. Don’t think it is solely an American crime.
Mark Duggan, Charles De Menezes, in the wrong place, at the wrong time.
So let’s fight for a world which treats us all equally, police elected from the whole community.
Let’s fight to get rid of this capitalist system, it breeds inequality and hate.
Let’s fight for a world that is free of oppression, sow seeds of freedom, rather than a police state.

Cummings and Goings

May 24, 2020

Oh dear, what can the matter be?
Dominic Cummings gone up to Durham, see?
He was there from Sunday till Saturday,
And nobody knew he was there.

First excuse, I had to get a child minder
I’m only the monkey, not the organ grinder.
On the internet, I just couldn’t find her,
And nobody knew he was there.

And it’s oh, dear, what can the matter be?
Dominic Cummings gone up to Durham, see?
He was there from Sunday till Saturday,
And nobody knew he was there.

Second excuse, just nipped out to shops, you see?
But a faulty sat nav, ended up on the A43
From there, short hop up the A1 motorway,
And nobody knew I was there.

And it’s, oh, dear, what can the matter be?
Dominic Cummings gone up to Durham, see?
He was there from Sunday till Saturday,
Nobody knew he was there.

A precedence made by a scientific aide
Neil resigned, he couldn’t resist getting laid.
Why don’t you follow the rules which you made?
‘Cos nobody knew I was there.

And it’s, oh, dear, what can the matter be?
Dominic Cummings gone up to Durham, see?
He was there from Sunday till Saturday,
And nobody knew he was there.

And then there was Catherine Calderwood,
Visiting second home, ‘cos she thought she could
Get away to Fife, but soon she would
Find everyone knew she was there.

And it’s, oh dear, what can the matter be?
Dominic Cummings gone up to Durham, see?
He was there from Sunday till Saturday,
Nobody knew he was there.

A morality tale, for the great and the good
Follow the rules, that you said we should
Don’t try to hide behind spin and falsehood,
Someone will find out you were there.

Stay alert!

May 10, 2020

Stay alert for virus particles, invisible to the eye,
Stay alert for propaganda, deluding you and I.
Stay alert, not stay at home, so it’s OK to go out?
Stay alert in green, that’s safe, right? Rules which we can flout?

Work from home if you can, but don’t use bus or train.
Work from home if you can, road network not to strain.
Work from home if you can, but cycle if you must.
Work from home if you can, Tories we should never trust.

Limit contact with other people, so it’s OK we should meet?
Limit contact with other people, but friends live down our street.
Limit contact with other people, what about our human rights?
Limit contact with other people – is COVID kryptonite?

Herd immunity by another name, is what our rulers preach.
Herd immunity for their gain, vague rules which people breach.
Herd immunity threatens those who fought for you and I.
Herd immunity is fatal: are loved ones invisible to the eye?

Hubris in face of coronavirus

March 27, 2020

Jonas Salk made no money out of the polio vaccine, but regarded it as knowledge to help the whole of the human race, to be provided: gratis, free of charge, nada, zilch, diddly-squat, zero.Might not some of the same compassionate spirit be in order now?

Such public-minded sacrifice is in all too short supply, it might seem, with a desperately underfunded and privatised NHS, and money-grabbing vultures such as Jeff “unsafe conditions in Amazon warehouses” Bezos, Tim “refusing to pay staff and suppliers” Martin, Richard “eight weeks unpaid leave” Branson; not to mention incompetent politicians: Boris “herd-immunity” Johnson, Donald “coronavirus is a hoax” Trump, Jair “Brazilians never catch anything” Bolsanaro.

But then there is the magnificent solidarity of the general public in defence of the NHS, the small acts of kindness between neighbours, looking out for each other and being there (even if it is only over social media) that reminds me that ultimately there is a greater force than the rich and powerful – it is the cleaners, the supermarket workers, NHS staff – the working class, who are truly essential to society.

Socialism, not capitalism is the only way forward for humanity.

Join us – https://internationalsocialist.net/en/