Stephen's LEJOG route

This is a record of the route a friend and I took when we cycled from Land's End to John o' Groats in August 2017 over fourteen days.

After being dissatisfied both with Cycling UK's (formerly CTC) members-only route suggestions and with the one guide book I looked at (Cicerone's, by Nick Mitchell). I planned the route myself, based on heavily tweaked output from Google Maps's route planner. My goals, in decreasing priority order, were:

Some of this was in reaction to various things I didn't like about the Cicerone route: it was mostly on A-roads, took some weird diversions (via Keswick!), and its longest legs are also the hilliest and at the end.

Having ridden my own route, I think the result was pretty good, if I say so myself! Sustrans traps were largely avoided. There was very little busy road. The mileage and climbing were fairly well traded off, although I'd change a few things in hindsight. We went through plenty of picturesque and interesting places, which, Britain being Britain, you can hardly fail to do. There are a few small things I'd change, and have changed in the version mapped here.

The principle that “longer days should be flatter days” meant spacing the stop-off points carefully. For us, stop-offs meant bed-and-breakfasts, but camping would be very feasible. (I have to say I was glad of a proper bed each night.) Although we were stuck to a 14-day schedule, otherwise you would have plenty options for different stop-off points, to make a longer or shorter schedule. One thing I noticed as we want along was that there are really a lot of B&Bs out there, including many that don't appear on web searches.

I planned the route in great detail (mostly using Google Maps and drag-editing). However, as with the best-laid plans, there were some unplanned diversions and some would-do-differentlies. Here, the main route that I'm showing is almost identical to the route actually taken, but there are a few minor variations where I'm fairly sure in hindsight about what would be best. These are noted in the text.

Travelling on minor roads is a hillier business than on major ones. This is definitely a hilly route. You could say that the first half is hillier than necessary—that's if you're happy to take busier roads. In the second half, the same is not true, because the options in Scotland are so few. The main decision was to take the Cairngorms (A93, A939), rather than the more “classic” A82 through Glencoe—which is scenic, but also “a horrible road” in the words of one fairly serious cyclist we spoke to en route. We also could have taken the off-road Sustrans path paralleling the A9, but its surface is reported to be poor (no surprises there) and it parallels an unpleasantly busy road. So I'm confident that the Cairngorms route was the best choice. Given that, the second half of the route, from Carlisle onwards, is pretty much fixed. By contrast, the first half does err fairly conservatively on the side of smaller roads. A few of the revisions I've made have been where I think I called it the wrong way at the time.

This is also not a simple route, in the number of turnings. We benefited from a Garmin device (others are available) onto which the route was loaded. It was particularly lifesaving when traversing Bristol, and also useful in some of the other towns and cities.

Usually, Google Maps is only too keen to route you along poor-quality routes including Sustrans off-roaders, canal towpaths and the like. A large fraction of our deviations from the original plan were where I had failed to weed out these paths, especially towpaths, from the initial rough route found by Google. One trick I used for this—but not enough, clearly—was to use the Street View overlay—the blue highlights that appear when you're dragging Pegman around. These highlight most streets, but mostly don't show anything that a van can't get down—which is very close to what we wanted.

Other people have written much about how to plan and prepare for a LEJOG ride, which I won't repeat. In fact, I'll gently contradict it, Much of it is common sense, and the rest is arguably overkill. My “alternative advice” is as follows. Step 1: get a bike you're comfortable on, and clothes likewise, for riding for tens of miles at a time, day after day, including up hills. Step 2: make doubly sure of the foregoing. Step 3: enjoy! Obsessing over planning and eventualities is a great way to build the whole thing up into something stressful. I truly believe it needn't be. Great Britain has the wonderful property that you're rarely far from civilisation. As long as both you and your bike stay in working order, not very much can go wrong. Do guard against the obvious—take some tools and a spare tube. Keep yourself fed and watered. But most of all, enjoy it!

Unless you live in a hilly area, there will be parts of the route that are much hillier than you're used to. If you'd like to compare the hilliness of the routes here against routes you might be used to, be careful comparing elevation gain measured by different methods—it's a minefield. The figures on these pages come from Google Maps, so use that as your comparison. My suggestion is to take hills at your own pace, and not to stress out, no matter how slow that pace is. The hilliest day on the route, day 11, was actually the one we finished the quickest. Practically speaking, it is probably worth a little training on the toughest hills you can reach. But there's no need to go crazy.

(Admittedly I am good at hills. But living in Cambridgeshire where hills are scarce, I was worried about this. I trained only moderately, by going out for the hilliest 40–60-mile rides I knew—mostly around Royston and Saffron Walden. I did this for one or two days on each of the half-dozen or so weekends leading up to the trip, then did three in a row one weekend when I had the Friday off. That was it. As I said, I am unusually good at hills. But my friend, who is less of a hill natural, also agreed that the first day was very tough, but after that it got progressively easier. Aside from a day where we suffered mechanical problems, we were never in danger of failing to reach our destination by a reasonable hour. Even on that day, we reached Cheddar a little before 10pm and our plans were not seriously disrupted.)

Special bottom update: I had no special clothing gear except for padded undershorts, which I was very glad I'd bought. Even they were not perfect: bottom chafeage did get worse for the first five days, and I was worried about where it was leading. But after those early days, my backside toughened up by itself and the discomfort went away completely.

Overall, the main route (shown in blue on the map below) is 970 miles long. The maps also show several possible diversions. The ones in red are parts we did and which you could reasonably do, but I don't recommend; instead the blue route is one I'm confident is better. (Even with the red parts, you won't replicate exactly the route we took, because I haven't documented all the minor would-avoid-next-times.) The ones in purple are ones we did do and which make little or no difference, but you might end up doing. The ones in yellow or orange are plausibly good diversions that I'm less sure about. They might be better than the blue route, but have some clear risk or downside; see the blurb I've written, and/or take a look for yourself. The ones in green are ones we didn't do but I'm fairly confident they're at least as good, and likely better, than what we did do.

Footnote to elaborate my disdain for Sustrans: while a minority of their routes are well made, I've had one too many cycling holiday spoiled by their uncycleable nonsense. I'm definitely no “vehicular cycling” advocate, but I've found the majority of their off-road routes to be unpleasant, dangerous or impossible to cycle on, never mind at the comfortably brisk pace that a 14-day 970-mile trip requires. This is an instance of a very common pattern: supposedly pro-cycling initiatives that actually work against cycling. I have no idea what Sustrans's priorities are, but they surely can't be sustainable transport. It's interesting to follow my routes on this page and see how they do or don't coincide with the Sustrans NCN routes. Very often, my route takes a more pleasant and direct route between two points than the nearby Sustrans route does.

the entire route as a gpx file

If you do cycle the route, or some part of it, and have anything to say about how it went, I'd be glad to hear!

Content updated at Thu 19 Mar 15:45:00 GMT 2020.
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