Land's End to John O'Groats
This classic UK cycling tour, from the South East of mainland Britain, all the way to the North East is a brilliant way to see the country. From the rugged Royal Marine training ground of Dartmoor in the south west, to the Lake District in the north of England, all the way through to the serenity of the north of Scotland, this bike travelling route has it all.
We, my brothers and I, set off as a group of 4 to cover 1000 miles in 12 days. You can complete Land’s End to John O’Groats in a much shorter distance, around 900 miles, and you can certainly do it quicker, but we wanted to enjoy the ride and not race it. We also wanted to take in a few natural beauty spots that a more direct route to Scotland wouldn’t have facilitated.
We left a sunny Land’s End in Cornwall, England, travelling east along the rolling hills. A cut through the harsh moorlands of Dartmoor National Park to the city of Exeter proceeded an epic climb through the Cheddar Gorge in Somerset. The hills in those first few days were brutal. From there things eased a little and we diverted off the main route to Warwickshire to visit my brother’s wife, before hitting the Peak District. I’d never been there before and it’s a great place for riding a bike – rolling fields and nice hills to work your way up – very peaceful farmland. From the Peak District we cut across to the Lake District, one of the UK’s most beautiful areas with its beautiful mountains and stunning lakes. After the Lakes we headed towards Glasgow and continued northwards towards the Loch Lomond National Park.
North of Glasgow, the cycling becomes incredibly beautiful. There is basically just one main road north (the A82), and it takes in the shore of Loch Lomond, Loch Linnie and Loch Ness. You properly feel like you’re in the wilderness of the Scottish Highlands up there. The A82 is probably one of my favourite cycling roads. The road continues all the way up to the capital of the Highlands, in Inverness. It’s actually a beautiful city despite being relatively remote.
North of Inverness there are very few people. The main road, the A9 takes you up the east coast, but can be quiet busy with goods traffic and from what I’ve read, doesn’t make for brilliant cycling. Instead, we took another road, which was predominantly single track, up to the small town of Tongue. It felt really remote up there, but that’s part of the beauty. We stuck out in the local pub when we went for dinner – it’s hard not to notice the arrival of four new customers to your community when the population of the town is about 10 people. From there we followed the coast road all the way along the north coast of Scotland to the most northerly point of mainland Britain, Dunnet Head. From there it’s a short pedal to John O’Groats and the finish line.
It’s a trip I’d definitely recommend, giving you just an idea of to the beauty and variety that we have here in the UK. It also reminds you how much big our island actually is – it’s quite surprising to reach the Scottish border only just having crossed the halfway point. The only drawback of cycling in the UK is the unpredictable weather – all part of the fun I guess.
- Cheddar Gorge - a beautiful climb through the steep walls of the gorge. I didn’t know we had climbs like it in the UK. A great ride!
- Lake District – one of the UK’s biggest tourist attractions, the mountain scenery and the farmland makes for excellent cycling. Definitely worth the detour.
- The A82 – one of my favourite cycling roads incorporating some of the best of the Scottish Highlands: lakes, mountains and wilderness.