I know how iconic the bike ride between Cornwall and the Highlands is and wanted to record a few final thoughts:
The climbing is considerable throughout the 1,000 miles. The difficulty doesn’t arise in the ‘hard’ north but rather the ‘soft’ south. The first three days are often busy with traffic, much of it intolerant, and the climbing is, frankly, severe, with lots of over 15%, gradients. Despite my rides to different continents or through the many countries of Europe this ride was tough, day after day. I’m genuinely in awe of inexperienced cyclists who have completed the ride and said they enjoyed it!.
I must add as an important condition of this ‘awe’ then Peter and myself carried our luggage and rode everyday for two weeks. One lithe millennial who I saw arriving on a lightweight carbon road bike at John O’Groats with no luggage missed the point for me.
In talking with riders we met or before we set off there was no consensus on the best route. Our Nick Mitchell Cicerone Guide came with GPX files and was well presented. However, I wouldn’t use it again if I was trying to find the flattest route. Any Lejogger does need to research in detail the route that suits them. There are many route planners on the internet or Apps to peruse.
I also wouldn’t have gone from Inverness to Crask Inn (as unique and lovely as it was). I’d have gone via the A9 to Helmsdale and then straight up. Any cycling from west to east on the top of Scotland invites a headwind.
I would have researched more thoroughly the north of Cornwall and the north of Devon. We went via the brutally hilly south and whilst Exeter provided a fab bike shop to fit a lower gear then neither that town or Plymouth were very interesting.
I made a mess, or my Garmin made a mess, of leaving Clitheroe. I was sent up a kneecap shredding hill to Waddington and then Slaidburn. Check your intended route against the direction your device is sending you. Devices have a mind of their own. I should have checked and my climbing was ridiculous for the day.
I was sceptical about bike packing originally. That is, a road bike with minimum luggage but it does seem the way to go. However you’d still need a compact group set and at least a 34 tooth cassette gear on the back. A steel touring bike is a more leisurely steed but you’re guaranteed to lose an average couple of mph. The route goes through towns with bike shops to sort out any problems. I took a mechanic with me, which I would also recommend!
We washed our laundry but a couple of jerseys, socks and shorts are just about all that’s required daily. The need for more kit comes with the weather. However the reality is that you could end up carry things for much of the journey and not needing it. Maybe a stopover at a relative or friend where you can collect and dispose of items is a good idea.
Fitness & Nutrition
Some ride the route as an endurance exercise. I didn’t. If it’s a sprint then there is a whole different set of thoughts on bike, kit, nutrition and route planning.
For my ride then stuff like having a harden butt is probably more important. A good base of having cycled a lot of miles is important but probably more valuable than cycling lots of miles is the ability to ride consecutive days comfortably. Clearly knowing the bike you’re riding and having steered it up and down a few steep hills is a good idea. The reality is that you’ll get fitter the longer you go on.
For me riding with someone so much fitter and talented than myself made me push myself occasionally too hard. In fact I was feeling so good on the ride into Crewe I got my head down and raced. Idiot! The next day I was a shadow of myself and I was only saved from a pitiful glacial progress by it being a very short day! Pace yourself; stop for that coffee, ice cream and photo opportunity. You’re probably never doing this ride again; see Britain.
Eat all the time. Energy gels, sugary sweets, protein bars and other things you like and can indulge yourself with. You’ll lose weight on this ride. Stuff your face: science says you should be eating every 40 minutes. You’ll burn over 3,000 calories a day on this ride. Make sure you have the energy. Hydration is a no brainer and doesn’t need discussing. The route, unlike many of my others, offers opportunities to stop and buy food usually hourly. You don’t need to carry much to start with.
My selection of Youth Hostels in a Covid epidemic was a poor one. They were neither overly comfortable or cheap. The heat at the one in Glencoe reminded me of being on the beach in Miami! Facilities were closed and food solutions were variable even with hostels that were part of the same group eg. YHA. If it is your preferred solution then I might add that the one at YHA Lands End and SYHA Inverness were fine but the others didn’t match up to a B&B. Budget hotels such as Travelodge or Premier Inn were great value for money and the rooms were clean, spacious enough to take a bike or two and near other food solutions and pubs.
Best Breakfast – The Old PostHouse Moretonhampstead, Devon. Along with the obligatory Full English it came with porridge, soft fruit and cereals. Truly delicious and fabulous cycle aware hosts.
Best Lunch – Katrina & Matt Ives in Reddish – a wonderful Sunday roast with all the trimmings. We ate ourselves stupid!
Best Dinner – Saffron Indian Restaurant at Cradlehall, Inverness. So delicious and high quality that I may cycle back just for the lamb.
Best Accommodation -Crask Inn, Lairg. It was so unique and in the literal middle of nowhere. An interesting selection of guests were in the dining room and the vistas were superlative as we drank our pint outside. The next morning, in a little heat, we set off amongst the heather and stunning views
Best Scenery – The Wye Valley was stunning and new to me, the Trough of Bowland was another feast for the eyes. All the lochs were lovely but inevitably attracted car traffic on their banks.