Category Archives: LeJog

How did the kit work?

The Bike

The green Galaxy. Oldbat's steed for Lands End to John O' Groats.

The green Galaxy. Oldbat’s steed for Lands End to John O’ Groats.

My Dawes Galaxy which had been fully serviced by Pedals and Paddles before the ride stood up to the daily rigours without any problems at all. Ongoing maintenance was as little as bringing tyre pressures back to 100 psi every couple of days using Steve’s small track pump and cleaning the muck off the chain every couple of days with a dry rag and re oiling. My brake blocks wore a bit but this was simple to adjust.

The blown tyre

The blown tyre

The tyre disintegration on day 3 after riding on gravel we believe was a faulty tyre (Schwalbe Marathon) and just bad luck. It happened 500 metres from a bike shop in Bristol so it was easily sorted. If it had happened in North West Scotland it would have been a big problem. After Bristol on day 3 I had no further problems. I replaced the 25mm back tyre that disintegrated with a 28mm tyre. Steve had one puncture after riding over a patch of broken glass on the Severn Bridge cycle track.

We checked the tyres several times a day for anything visual and frequently removed debris. We always stopped immediately if we heard any debris ‘clicking’ in a tyre. The ride out to Cape Wrath on a very rough track for 22 miles resulted in no punctures or damage which confirmed our view that the failure of the tyre in Bristol was due to a fault as the Cape Wrath road was rougher and for a much longer distance than the section of track I rode on in Bristol.

We carried inner tubes, puncture repair kit, spare cables, spare brake blocks, spare spokes, chain sections, multi tools and a pocket knife.

I bought the bike on eBay for £150 to see if I like cycle touring. The only fault is that it is very heavy and the frame is a fraction too big. I liked the straight bars and the drive train and gearing were perfect. I will be looking for a different bike a fraction smaller and a lot lighter but in other respects the same.

I bought Ortlieb Back Roller panniers and they were excellent. The Ortlieb Handlebar box worked extremely well (apart from the inner divider which does not stay in place.) It was very useful to keep all the valuables in and was easy to take on and off the bike, when we left the bikes for any reason.

My saddle was Bontrager Inform R which I bought (in desperation) with a week to go having tried many others with no success. I took my racing saddle which is comfy over shorter harder rides as a back up. I carried it the whole distance but the Bontrager was comfortable enough and I had no saddle sore issues. I used Assos Chamois Cream liberally.

SPD pedals and shoes. SPD pedals have a flat side giving the option to pedal unclipped. The shoes are easy to walk about in.

Navigation

I spent many, many hours planning the route using paper maps, Google Earth and Ride With GPS. Once the basic route was finalised I planned it in detail using ridewithgps and loaded it onto my Garmin Edge 800 using the a microSD card. I had an identical microSD card with me as a back up but this was not used. Steve had the route on paper maps cut out from a road atlas. The combination worked very well and both were of equal value.

Clothes to cycle in

Altura long fleecelined winter trousers with women specific chamois were worn most of the time with some Craft shorts being worn twice. I wore knee length winter weight trekking socks and over boots most of the time. Sports bra, wicking vest, and one or two Helly Hansen thermal tops, Craft long sleeved cycling jersey. I had 2 jackets one very light weight and the other a more substantial jacket which I wore when it was raining. I wore long fingered winter gloves most of the time. On two occasions I wore fingerless mitts. On rainy days I wore my preferred winter combination of thin fleece inner gloves with a heavy mountain bike gloves on top. I had with me the amount of layers I had worn on the coldest, wettest training days so I was confident I would stay warm. It worked.

I had a Gore beanie and a buff with me.

Sunglasses and helmets were worn at all times.

Evening wear

Another Helly with a hooded Rohan micro fleece. Rab Down gilet. This stuff is all very lightweight and packable and could, if necessary, be worn for cycling as well. North Face trekking trousers which are very lightweight, packable and dry quickly.

I am a fan of Crocs and they covered all my ‘off-bike’ needs.

Accommodation

We booked all our accommodation 3 months ahead. My annual travel insurance covered any cancellations should it have been necessary. We stayed mainly in Youth Hostels with 2 Travelodges, 2 nights with friends and 1 hotel. In the Hostels we were usually able to have a private room. The nights where we were in shared dorms were unsatisfactory and something I will avoid on future trips. Travelodges at Tiverton and Preston were a very good inexpensive option. We booked a family room which turned out to be huge and we took the bikes into the room overnight. Hostels are very good. They have a cycle store, often a washing machine and dryer and excellent self catering kitchens. Staff in Hostels were generally very helpful and supportive. Outstanding hostels in order of excellence were: Durness SYHA, Inchnadamph Independent Hostel, Torridon SYHA, Wayfarers Independent Hostel at Penrith and Tintagel YHA.

Keeping clean

As previously mentioned, we stayed in Hostels mainly, with a couple of Travelodges, 2 nights with friends and 1 hotel. All had excellent showers. I had a small trekking towel. I started off with a large bag of my favourite toiletries but ditched them early in the ride to cut down on weight and just kept a small amount of conditioner for my hair. I just used whatever soap or detergent that was available at the accommodation. We washed all our cycling kit in a washing machine on nights 3, 5, 10, 13 and 16. Other nights we washed the ‘next to skin’ layers by hand and managed to get them dry by morning.

Food

We were usually up at 6am and riding before 8am. Breakfast was muesli or porridge with toasted crumpets or bread.

After 2 – 3 hours riding we usually found somewhere for second breakfast which was often cooked and quite substantial. This would sometimes see us through the rest of the day but we would stop for cake if we saw somewhere nice. In the absence of a cafe for second breakfast we would buy packs of sandwiches, crisps, cake, fruit, plain Bountys and anything else we fancied at a shop.

We did carry some stuff all the time and this included nuts, dried fruit and some energy bars. I often had a couple of bananas on top of my panniers. I carried a variety of different tea bags and we usually had some cheese, a plastic jar of peanut butter and a block of butter with us. We had some plastic boxes, Sporks, a bag clip and some zip seal poly bags.
We made a point of having a pint of milk and a banana within 30 minutes of stopping. All I can say is we had no recovery issues no niggles let alone pain or injuries and we were raring to go every morning. We usually had at least one packet of crisps a day – we like them and the salt is good for replacement

We usually managed to find a shop as we were closing on our destination and carried the food for our evening meal and breakfast in the panniers for the last few miles. Cooking in the self-catering kitchens in hostels is easy and we could eat the quantity required. I am vegetarian and therefore choice in a restaurant is more limited. We also didn’t want to be bothered going out as we just wanted to relax in the evenings.

Drink

My drink of choice on the bike is Powerade Berry and Tropical flavour. A 500ml bottle diluted with 250ml of water. 2 bottles of 750ml to start the day.

This stuff is widely available. Alternatively I diluted orange juice to the same ratio. In the evenings we drank milk, water and tea.

We did not usually drink alcohol.

First Aid and Meds

We had a small first aid kit with plasters and stuff. I carried analgesics and various antiseptic creams and ointments. Sun cream and lip protection was used every day.

Ear plugs and eye mask were used in shared dorms.

Comms

My iPhone was used for writing the blog. I had a rollup waterproof keyboard to make writing the blog easier but the switch on this broke after a week so I had to type it on the iPhone. I emailed the blog to ‘Mission Control’ (husband). Images for the blog were taken on the iPhone and sent to Mission Control using WhatsApp.

I also had a compact waterproof camera kept in a pocket which I could use when riding and have over 1000 images on that.

Where we had wifi or 3G I used XC Weather which we found to be very accurate.

Stuff I should have had

  • A 3 way 13 amp adapter for multiple device charging.
  • A soap box or similar for transporting butter.
  • A Titanium Spork as my plastic one broke.
  • An overall small scale map of the UK just to have a bigger picture of where we were.

Day 18: Thurso to John O’ Groats – 58°38′43.3464″N 003°04′08.5597″W – Journeys End

The last day of our cycle ride from Lands End to John O’ Groats was a short hop of 18 miles from our overnight stop at Thurso.

We woke to blue skies and sunshine and were cycling up the hill heading east out of Thurso at 07:30.

The view across to the Orkneys was clear but Dunnet Head the most northerly point on Britain’s mainland dominated the view.

As we approached the village of Dunnet we stopped to admire the beauty of Dunnet Bay, a wide sweep of sand with small surf rolling in.

Dunnet Bay

Dunnet Bay

The wind was lifting the tops off the waves making a salty mist against the bright blue sky.
Our eyes were drawn to the headland and we decided to make the 10 mile detour. As we headed out of the village of Brough the land changed once again to wild moorland with heather and small lochans. It looked more attractive on this bright, sunny morning.

Wild moorland with heather and small lochans

Wild moorland with heather and small lochans

The lighthouse at Dunnet Head stands majestically on the cliff top. We cycled up to the viewpoint,

Viewpoint at Dunnet Head

Viewpoint at Dunnet Head

and had extensive views back along the North Coast to Cape Wrath, north out to the Orkneys and east to our ultimate destination John O’ Groats.

Dunnet Head lighthouse

Dunnet Head lighthouse

We enjoyed the descent on the quiet, smooth road back to Brough and Steve spotted a dozen or so seals hauled out on a slipway, basking in the sun.

We stayed on minor lanes and passed through small isolated communities. Although cuckoo had deserted us, we saw a nesting swan, geese, black-throated diver, curlew, tufted ducks and kittiwake.

We passed by the Castle of Mey with 7 miles to go and even passed two cafes to save ourselves for John O’ Groats.

John O’ Groats is centred around a small harbour.

John O' Groats harbour

John O’ Groats harbour

The views seaward are fantastic with the Orkneys to the North and the Pentland Firth racing around in between.

We had the obligatory photographs and I had my Audax card stamped.

John O' Groats

John O’ Groats

John O' Groats

John O’ Groats

Audax card stamped with the all important JOG stamp

Audax card stamped with the all important JOG stamp

It was very quiet with few tourists on this chilly Monday morning. John O’ Groats is having a bit of a facelift and is looking quite smart. We enjoyed the best scrambled eggs of the trip in the smart new cafe there.

Perfect scrambled eggs

Perfect scrambled eggs

It seemed unreasonable to miss out the most north easterly point on the British mainland so we cycled out to Duncansby Head and looked at the lighthouse there

Duncansby Head

Duncansby Head

Duncansby Head

Duncansby Head

and admired the Duncansby sea stacks.

Sea stacks at Duncansby Head

Sea stacks at Duncansby Head

Bill took a photo of us with the flag. He was geocaching and had found what he was looking for.

We had had the best of the weather and the south easterly wind was strengthening. We had the first heavy hail showers that accompanied our arduous 20 mile ride south against the wind to Wick to catch a train south to Inverness.

The GPX file for today’s ride is here.

Day 17: Durness to Thurso – U-Boats and Uranium

Today we were on a mission. We wanted to get across the North Coast of Scotland from Durness to Thurso. This was a distance of 72 very hilly miles through remote wild country.

We had a very comfortable night at Durness SYHA cared for by Mary Ann the Hostel manager. The buildings may look a bit primitive but it is a very comfortable Hostel in a fabulous place. One I will definitely return to.

Outside Durness SYHA this morning

Outside Durness SYHA this morning

Pete joined us and we started riding at 08:00. The first 3 miles were along the coast passing the Smoo Caves and great coastal scenery.

Moorland and coast

Moorland and coast

We descended to a small cove where some people were wild camping and just as we started the climb to follow the road around Loch Eriboll, Pete had a puncture.

Pete's puncture

Pete’s puncture

We quickly changed the tube and were on our way again. Loch Eriboll is a long sea loch and is the deepest sea loch in Scotland. The road follows it a few miles inland. It is a lengthy and deep sea loch which has been used as a safe anchorage for centuries. There was a mass surrender of Nazi U boats between 10th and 25th May 1945. 33 U boat commanders surrendered in a space of 10 days on the 12 miles long loch.

U-1231 - one of the German U-Boats that surrendered

U-1231 – one of the German U-Boats that surrendered

The Western side is very barren moorland with some scattered houses forming the community at Laid. There is some local fishing activity. The road undulated and our interest was held by the Loch and scanning the moor for sightings of deer and curlew. No sign of any sheep, or indeed our cuckoo – had he slept in? Continue reading

Day 16: Inchnadamph to Durness – Another beard and the beauty of Cape Wrath

70 miles with 6,000 feet of ascent. An exceptional day in our Lejog adventure as we rode through amazing scenery from Inchnadamph to Durness and then were lucky enough to catch the ferry at Durness to cycle out to Cape Wrath. How special is that??

A damp start to the day

A damp start to the day

It was raining hard as we left Inchnadamph Hostel at 07:45. There was a herd of deer grazing nearby and they were unconcerned as we cycled amongst them. After a short stretch along the Loch we began our first long climb with a lovely, albeit gloomy view back ‘doon the way’.

We undulated through deserted, boggy moorland, accompanied by the sound of rushing water and our cuckoo until the long descent to the sea loch at Kylescu where we met Pete who was riding to Durness with us today.

Pete joined us for the final couple of days

Pete joined us for the final couple of days

The bridge at Kylescu replaces a ferry over the Loch but we didn’t linger here to photograph it as we were now on a mission to get to Durness to catch a ferry (kindly arranged by ‘mission control’) at 12:30. This meant a morning ride of 43 very hilly and, today, wet miles . We stopped at Scourie for sandwiches and the preferred extra – plain chocolate Bounty- and continued along this empty, undulating, mainly single track A838. We had tantalising glimpses of Loch Laxford and Loch Inchard and we could smell the sea. Continue reading

Day 15: Dundonnell to Inchnadamph – Wobbly bridges and bigger hills

We have had another sunny, scenic day in the North West Highlands. 55 miles with 4,000 feet of ascent, including the biggest hill so far on our Lejog adventure.

The GPS never lies! Big hill ahead!

The GPS never lies! Big hill ahead!

Leaving Sail Mhor Croft Hostel behind at 08:00, we had a couple of fairly flat miles, weaving our way through a herd of goats before the long ascent towards Braemore Junction. Our cuckoo was with us, so all was well. The river that runs beside the road fell down the hill through spectacular, deep gorges and the sight and sound of the tumbling water distracted us from the protracted climb. This was our longest, highest hill so far and we climbed for the best part of an hour. An Teallach at 1062m dominated the scene we were leaving, with the snow topped Fannichs ahead. Continue reading

Day 14: Torridon to Dundonnell – Cuckoos, Convoys and Cascades

Torridon SYHA is an excellent hostel. It was just after 8am when we set off in sunshine and light winds.

Setting off from Torridon SYHA, a bit later than planned.

Setting off from Torridon SYHA, a bit later than planned.

We cycled along Glen Torridon below the towering Beinn Eighe and through ancient Scots Pine forests.

Cycling along Glen Torridon

Cycling along Glen Torridon

The cuckoo which had been stalking us since we crossed the border back at Gretna was still in good voice. Continue reading

Day 13: Armadale to Torridon – It keeps getting better…and hillier!

Another superb day cycling north towards John O’ Groats. The weather was kind to us and stayed dry. We rode 67 miles with 5,500 feet of ascent along quiet, often remote roads and constantly returned to the sea on the West Coast. The route was very scenic and varied with some tough ascents and some very long, rapid descents.

View from the hostel this morning

View from the hostel this morning

We left the Flora MacDonald Hostel at Kilmore at about 07:15. The small group of Eriskay ponies with their one week old black foal were standing on a small hill silhouetted by the morning sun. Continue reading