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

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
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 –

Or to Greater Glasgow and Clyde NHS –

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
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


One Response to “Photo-diary and tips for anyone mad enough to consider cycling LEJOG”

  1. caroleclohesy Says:

    Fantastic account of a truly intrepid achievement. Thanks for recording and sharing it.

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