End to End: A guide. Part 1 – Intro

So, in all honesty, I feel I’ve neglected my blog a little bit lately. Well, a lot actually. But for a while now I’ve wanted to write a guide to cycling the length of Britain – the famous End to End from Land’s End to John O’Groats (LEJOG) or John O’Groats to Land’s End (JOGLE) as I did last year.

This will be the first part in a series of articles covering every aspect of the trip – planning, routes, accommodation, bikes, equipment, food, raising money and I’m sure some other additions along the way. I hope you enjoy reading it, and would love to hear about anybody’s trip if they do decide to take the challenge.

For more details about our JOGLE ride last summer, please visit www.bike4charity.co.uk

Introduction

Firstly, a bit about myself and my reasons for writing this guide. It all seems a long time ago now, but way back in 2009 while in year 10 at school myself and two friends cycled the Ridgeway – a 90 mile long ancient road across Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Wiltshire. This must have sparked something in us, because not long later we were planning something much, much bigger. For a while it seemed outrageous…our parents certainly thought so, but it didn’t take long for a plan to come together. We would do our GCSEs, and then set off on 1050 miles of pedalling to raise as much money for charity as possible. Simple, or so we thought.

The amount of planning we did was enormous. For me, it almost became an obsession. I would stay up late for many evenings in a row researching every last detail, every last road. Anticipation grew, and kept growing all the way until the point where we found ourselves staring at the end of the road: John o’Groats. The start was upon us.

1) Why?

It’s important to realise why you’re doing this. Is it for charity, in memory of a loved one, for a challenge or to help you get fit? Depending on which route you take, it may also be to see more of the UK. For me that was certainly a highlight, and certainly shouldn’t be underestimated when choosing a route – busy A roads may be direct, but you’ll miss out on many of the spectacular places you stumble across on the way. A bike truly is the best way to see somewhere, and the many hours in the saddle each day make you appreciate the world that we live in and also that Britain is bigger than you’d imagined looking at the map.

If you’re doing the ride for a specific charity and are trying to raise money, there are a number of things you should do straight away:

  • Get in touch with the charity and let them know what you’re doing. They may be able to help with publicity and they will want to know about your trip
  • Set up a justgiving site – this is by far the easiest (not the only, but the easiest!) way to raise money. People can leave secure donations simply by visiting your webpage, and not only is giftaid added on automatically but you can see all of your donations and post updates right onto the site. For us, this was a critical fundraising tool. It can be found at www.justgiving.com
  • See if you can get any merchandise from the charity – we had the name of ours written on our jerseys but a simple t shirt is an equally good method of showing why you’re cycling through the middle of nowhere in pouring rain. Thanks to our jerseys we had a number of people donate money to us in the street.

Our Jerseys

If you’re doing this as a personal challenge then you need to decide on how much of a challenge it should be and tell people of that. This ensures that you have an incentive to meet the goals that you set at the beginning!

2) LEJOG or JOGLE?

A question that we asked, and that many people ask us is this one: “Which way should I go? North to South, or South to North”. To help you decide, here are the key factors that should affect your decision:

  • Weather – by this I don’t just mean rain (that’s inevitable), but wind. Wind will affect you more than you’d think when you’re cycling as far as this. The prevailing winds in the UK are in favour of LE-JOG, but this is only of real use in the coastal parts near the start and the finish. These winds are in no way guaranteed, and we were lucky not to have a headwind until the last 2/3 days, but it’s more likely to be at your back if you head north, not south
  • Navigation – unless you practice navigating with the maps that you have, on roads that you don’t know, you WILL get lost in the south west of England and crossing the built up Northern belt. If you can afford the extra cost, it may be worth buying a GPS (more on that in a future article) or if you’re lucky enough to have a phone capable of GPS and mapping functions, that will be useful. Going from North to South has the advantage of “easing” you into the navigation side of things. Our first day involved only 3 different roads!
  • Hills – Not all hills are created equal, and you certainly can’t compare the hills in Scotland with those in Cornwall. Scottish hills, on the whole, are long and slow, but easy to climb if you just stick in a nice gear. Cornish hills, by comparison, are horrible. You will spend whole days going up and down short, sharp hills. We left this until the end, when we were quite fit and they weren’t too bad. It’s your choice of what you want to do first
  • Transport – this is the often forgotten factor in this decision. Depending on where you live, you may want to finish in one place or the other so that you have a shorter journey home. From where I live, it was a 13 hour drive to JOG and only a 4 hour drive back from LE, so I was certainly glad we did it North-South. Remember also that you can only fly as far north as Inverness (with BA or easyJet), and from there it’s a train, so make sure to research that (again, more later on)

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Hope you enjoyed reading – stay tuned for the next article on the choice between going supported or unsupported.


 

About Matt

I'll admit to being a bit of a kit freak, but cycling is a great sport for that! I've ridden a bike since I can remember, and now mainly cycle on road and on tour. I completed JOGLE in 2010 and plan to tour Europe next year. This blog is my place for product reviews, guides and my opinions on cycling in the UK