Great Britain has much to offer the touring cyclist – lush scenery and plenty of historical interest. I’ve cycled many thousands of miles all over Britain yet have never cycled the great staple of British cycle touring – Land’s End to John O’Groats (LEJOG). Nor do I ever intend to. These are the reasons why.
To cycle LEJOG you have to get to either Land’s End or John O’Groats and back at the end of the trip. The travel time will be considerable – probably the best part of two days, which could be better used for cycling. It’s very likely the trips will need to be done by train, which in Britain could cost more than the rest of the tour. It could well be cheaper and quicker to travel abroad. You may be able to purchase reduced price tickets in advance but then you are locked in to a tight timescale.
Britain has some fantastic scenery and it’s possible to construct a LEJOG tour that would take in a good proportion of it. The trouble is it would take a very long time. Even taking the most direct route LEJOG is quite a long way and most people are limited to at most a couple of weeks travelling, which doesn’t leave much time for meandering. Taking the most direct routes means a lot of bland countryside and heavily urbanised areas, missing much of Britain’s best scenery.
If you like cycling through built-up areas this won’t bother you, but I don’t. It’s nice to go through the occasional large town but not the vast urban sprawls that comprise much of England’s and Scotland’s central belts. You can wind your way around these areas but it will mean significant detours which could be time consuming.
Follow the Crowd
For me cycle touring is about freedom and breaking out of the rut of everyday life. It isn’t about following a prescribed tour that thousands of other people take. What is the appeal in doing a ride that has been done so many times before?
Nearly all the LEJOG tours I’ve heard about have been tightly organised and regimented – we must cycle 90 miles this day to arrive at this exact point then 105 the next etc., like it’s some sort of military operation. A LEJOG tour doesn’t have to be like this but you do have set start and end points and probably a fairly rigid timescale. For me cycle touring is all about the sense of freedom it brings – to follow the wind or change your route at a whim, to discover new places based on local advice or linger in ones you like. I no more want my trip mapped out precisely than know the exact path the rest of my life will take.
At the mercy of the weather
The weather in Britain cares no more for cycle tourists than anyone else. On a set route you will have to take whatever it throws at you. The wind is generally south-westerly but if it switches you could face a headwind the entire trip! Keeping your route flexible means you can (to some extent) follow the wind and the weather.
Crappy NCN routes
To cycle the length of Britain you will at some point be compelled to use the optimistically titled National Cycle Network. It’s not obligatory but the alternatives are worse – cycling on extremely busy and narrow main roads. Although slowly improving many of the NCN routes are barely fit for cycling.
LEJOG is very popular so you are likely to encounter many other cycle tourists, to the extent where you might feel like you’re on a conveyor belt. Whether this is an advantage or a disadvantage depends on your point of view but is something to bear in mind. I enjoy meeting other cycle tourists but it can get a bit tedious if you’re all doing the same route.
John O’Groats isn’t even the remotest northerly part of Britain
Even on the British mainland it isn’t the remotest part. Dunnet Head and Cape Wrath are further north and Dunscabby Head is further north and east. John O’Groats is also quite boring – just a few buildings near the sea. You also need to cycle back to Thurso or Wick to get a train so it’s not really the end of the tour anyway. Of course, you could do the trip the other way thus ending at Lands End, but you’d probably have a headwind all the way!
Reports From Others
Nobody I’ve met who did LEJOG seemed particularly enthusiastic about it. If anything they seemed glad it was over. That could partly be down to weariness after cycling such a long distance but such feelings seem to be more common among people who see a cycle tour as an endurance test – something to be overcome rather than pleasurable in itself. There is no great achievement in cycling a long distance. It’s actually pretty easy once you get going.
If you’re considering cycling LEJOG ask yourself, is it to have a great experience or am I simply doing it because lots of other people have done it – therefore it’s bound to be good? Is it so you can say, I’ve cycled the length of Britain, i.e. a badge of pride, or do you just want to travel a certain distance just for your own personal satisfaction? If that’s your motivation and you’re happy with it fair enough, but cycling long distances is pretty easy once you get started and most people won’t really care about your trip anyway.
I much prefer circular trips, or at least ones that don’t involve very long train journeys there and back. Within a day’s cycling I have the Solway Coast, the Pennines, the Lake District, the Yorkshire moors. There are beautiful places all over Britain and it doesn’t take very long to reach them wherever you are based. For people who live in Britain LEJOG has the disadvantages of a bike trip abroad with few of the advantages.
The cycle tours I’ve enjoyed most in Britain are ones where I have no set route – just a rough idea whereabouts I’m going – then take each day as it comes. Follow a hunch, local advice, the weather, or whatever takes your fancy. Just don’t follow the crowd.