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Land's End to John o'Groats

Land's End to John o'Groats

The first recorded instance of someone attempting to ride from Land's End to John o'Groats was back in 1882, when Alfred Nixon took on the challenge. The trickle has become a flood with thousands of riders trying to emulate Nixon. Kinesis ambassador Stu Dick undertook his own attempt to ride from one end of the United Kingdom to the other.

Day 1: Land's End → Launceston

The months of planning and preparation were leading to this day. Day 1 of 10 in my effort to raise my target of £1000 for the National Autistic Society after my wife, Anne found out officially that she was Autistic late last year.

One of the hardest places I've travelled to in the UK so far, with a long train journey from Elgin to London, then a road trip with my brother-in-law, Gordon to Land's End.

I set off just before 8am, with the sun shining and the realisation of the journey that lay ahead of me. This was also my birthday and I felt very emotional, something I could have prepared for and was a theme during my trip. Doing this challenge solo was tough and the first day spent alone really played on my mind.

I was warned by other people who have completed this challenge that the first two days travelling through Cornwall and Devon were the hardest days and it was soon apparent why. The hills are relentless and steep, the downhills are short lived before you're faced with yet another climb. I received a video call from my wife and daughter to wish me a happy birthday, where I broke down crying. I can't emphasise how emotional I was and constantly doubting myself.

I arrived in Launceston later that afternoon and was looking forward to a nice meal and a cold beer, but my body had other ideas. I could only manage half my meal and half my pint (not like me at all), I think my body was in shock as this was my first century ride of the year.

Distance: 101 miles
Elevation: 8743ft
Time in the saddle: 10:05:21

Day 2: Launceston → Glastonbury

I never slept much due to my mind being in overdrive, thinking about the day ahead, whether I would cope and for some reason woke up sweating, more than I ever have before. I still haven't been able to eat much and although I am fuelling my body, I still cannot stomach my usual food types and portions. The weather has been kind and the sun has been on form.

I cannot think of anywhere else I have been that has so many single-track country lanes, wide enough for one car with 6-foot hedges either side. Oh, and I maybe haven't mentioned it yet, but hills, hills and more hills were the theme of the day. I'm talking between 15-20 % and regularly.

I met my first familiar face, Aidan King (@thecycling_chef) who took some time out of his work to meet me in Dulverton. This was another emotional moment for me as I could actually relate and talk to someone I knew, albeit this was the first time we had physically met. He had made me some banana loaf that was very welcome and some reassurance before I headed out of Dulverton to face another big climb.

I received contact messages of support from friends, family and followers on Instagram and could see notifications popping up on my mobile telling me donations had been received through Just Giving. This was huge in boosting my moral and keeping me motivated.

Distance: 109 miles
Elevation: 9624 ft
Time in the saddle: 11:32:20

Day 3: Glastonbury → Ludlow

Today I was met by Chris Rollo, a gent I had met for the first time on the Forth Road Bridge, Edinburgh as he was heading north on his LEJoG challenge, he had asked me to take a photo of him, we exchanged Instagram details and kept in touch ever since.  Amazing to now be joined by him as I am tackling LEJoG.

Chris kept me company as we left Glastonbury and made our way north, stopping at the bottom of Cheddar Gorge to enjoy a sausage sandwich and my first coffee of the trip, I wasn't sure I would manage either, but I did and although still wasn't enjoying food properly, this was very welcome. Cheddar Gorge, wow! This was the first time I had encountered other cyclists who were out enjoying the sun and heading into the gorge, so nice to see so many other people.

Cheddar Gorge was amazing, with wild goats walking the road and a constant stream of cyclists and tourists enjoying the area, it added a really nice atmosphere and took my mind off my behind starting to ache/rub. Chris took me on to the Severn Bridge and left me there as I continued north into Wales. I didn't stay long in Wales, just enough to say I had been and a really nice touch knowing I had cycled from England, into Wales and back out again, I think any end-to-end challenge should do this.

I had a great downhill section that lasted a good few miles and mentally this helped knowing I was able to enjoy some freewheeling and miles being eaten up without much effort. It's amazing what goes on in your mind when you're being challenged like this.

I wasn't alone too long before meeting up with Chris Archer (@carcher2K) who joined me for the rest of day 3. This was my longest day out of the 10 and we broke route to head into Hereford for some sausage, chips and a full fat lemon Fanta or we wouldn't have been able to eat by the time we reached out accommodation. This was the first meal I enjoyed since the Grande depart at Land's End and felt my body was starting to adjust to the physical and mental strain it was under.

I was welcomed into Ludlow by Rae Helm (@msraehp), her father and daughter. Rae previously worked for Vertebrate Publishing and had been a huge support to me, assisting with the Britain's Best Bike Ride book, which I used to plot each day’s route and helping me sort out the form used by people to sign up to join me along the journey. It was so nice to finally meet her in person and during LEJoG too was very special. I enjoyed a couple of beers with Chris and Rae before going to bed for a few hours sleep, although I didn't sleep very well. 

Distance: 125 miles
Elevation: 6000 ft
Time in the saddle: 13:43:44

Day 4: Ludlow → Knutsford

What a way to depart Ludlow. Chris Archer spent the night at the same hotel as I did so he could join me for a good part of day 4. I was joined at the start by Rae and her daughter who wanted to wave us off and also Andy McPherson (@mrkona) and his good friend Neil. We left about 7.30am and headed through the beautiful country on our way to Ironbridge.

It must be said, having company during a challenge like this is so motivating and distracts from the thoughts in your head that really taunt you. Time passed much quicker and before I knew it, I was in Ironbridge, where a bacon roll, and coffee were on order. I was gifted a tub of Veloskin Chamois cream by Andy and this was the first time I had applied any. It was much needed and very much appreciated, this became my new best friend as my journey continued.

A few photos snapped at Ironbridge before I headed off solo towards Knutsford. There I met Steve Jones (@velo__21) who cycled a few miles out to meet me and we cycled together to my accommodation. We enjoyed a good chat, some food and a beer, before I retired to my room to prep for the following day and get my head down.

Distance: 87.6 miles
Elevation: 3822 ft
Time in the saddle: 7:12:13

Day 5: Knutsford → Sedburgh

I woke up early to make the most of the day in the knowledge that I knew once I hit Sedburgh I was halfway through my LEJoG challenge. I almost had a delayed start as my bike had been locked away in the function room of my hotel and I'd been kindly given the key. The only problem being that when the alarm was set to the building, it had to be disarmed before the key would work. I was forced to call the owner and get them out of bed to disarm the alarm.

Panic over, I was soon under way and I was feeling much better in myself. The hills were not as steep or as often and I was enjoying my food again, which was a huge boost. I was on my way to meet Roger Kaye (@ladderskaye) near Aspull, where I encountered my first (and only) puncture, with a large screw breaching my Schwable Marathon Plus rear tyre. It was trying to get this tyre back on my wheel where I really struggled and just couldn't do it with my bare hands.

I was becoming very frustrated and my fingers were hurting when a man stopped his car, asked me if I needed a lift somewhere or any help. I explained what I was doing and together we managed to refit my tyre, get air back in the tube and I was good to go again. This pure random act of kindness made me very emotional and my faith in humanity had been restored. I cried for a few miles at the thought of this moment and the knowledge that without that help, I would have still been stuck at the side of the road fearing my challenge was over.

I met Roger in Aspull and we grabbed a quick sugar hit at a local shop before continuing the journey north. The company and chat was much needed after my puncture incident and his local knowledge led to cutting a few miles and a hill to help me catch some time I had lost.

We stopped at a garage later on to get some more fuel for the legs and I got speaking to the cashier, telling her what I was doing. As I was leaving the shop, she shouted me back and gave me a £2 coin to donate to the National Autistic Society. I gave her a hug, shed a tear of happiness, and went outside to my bike. The gentleman behind me in the queue obviously heard our conversation and he spoke to me outside. He explained he heard what I was doing and gave me a £20 note. I also gave this stranger a hug and my emotions were all over the place. As I began cycling aware from the forecourt, the cashier over the tannoy system wished me luck on my journey.

Sometime later, in Slaidburn, I met Gemma Mason (sweetbutacyclectc) and her husband Steve, who had been waiting for 2 hours for my arrival (I couldn't cycle very fast). Steve had some GT85 and I was able to apply some to my very dry chain. Some hills later, between Slaidburn and Ingleton, we met a lovely old couple at the top of a hill, who on hearing my story gave me a £10 cash donation. Yes I cried. Complete strangers being so kind and supportive had really humbled me.

We carried on to Kirby Lonsdale, where I said goodbye to Gemma and Roger and I continued to Sedbergh. Here waiting for me was Martin Waters (@alltheextremesmartin) an endurance athlete who has been given me loads of advice and tips on coping with LEJoG. I was now at my halfway point and knew that the following day I would be closer to John o' Groats than Land's End and that was amazing.

Distance: 101.16 miles
Elevation: 7156 ft
Time in the saddle: 9:02:24

Day 6: Sedbergh → Peebles

I left Sedbergh very early in the morning as I knew today was going to be my longest day in the saddle with some big ascent to face, but I also knew that I would be crossing the English/Scottish border and heading into familiar territory. What a beautiful and scenic road leaving Sedbergh and as it was early, it was very quiet and peaceful.

I spent the whole journey alone, my shoulders were hurting, my butt was sore, and I knew I just had to keep turning the pedals. I continued my cycle north and as I knew I was nearing the border into Scotland, I once again became very emotional, knowing I had cycled the length of England (and a wee bit of Wales) and how I was much closer to seeing my family really played on my emotions.

As I crossed the border, I was alone and on a country road, away from the major roads and traffic. A quick photo and onward I continued. The hills leading to Peebles were challenging and slowly my journey, but the thought of some food and a cold beer kept me positive. A scenic route full of beautiful sights, sheep and rivers were abundant.  The sun was glorious, and my tan lines were coming on nicely.

I eventually made it to Peebles, where I checked in, has a couple of beers and a pizza and pondered at the most miles I'd ever cycled in one day, with back-to-back big days before that. What a day and what a journey so far. Again, nothing could have ever prepared me for the emotional feelings a challenge like this can raise to the surface.

Distance: 127.22m
Elevation: 9596 ft
Time in the saddle: 11:40:41

Day 7: Peebles → Perth

Yippee, a day of cycling less than 100 miles, just less than 80 miles. I also knew after my ever longest cycle alone the day previous, I would be meeting people to keep me company and spur me on. I made my way alone until Carrington, where I first met Mark Cairney (@mark.r.cairney), we missed each other initially due to a road closure, but we were soon on our way towards South Queensferry where we met Caroline Voong (@carolinev.life) and Ian Farmer (@scottish_cyclist). We said goodbye to Mark who had to make his way back home.

Quick caffeine hit and a sausage roll was on order before heading across the Forth Road Bridge, where we stopped for some awesome photos and some reminiscing of the moment I met Chris on his LEJoG challenge. It wasn't much longer before we hit Perth and Kinross and found ourselves in Perth. The strangest part heading in to such a large city was not being able to see it until you pretty much entered the city boundary. It must be in a valley as we kept expecting to see it on the horizon as we got closer, but couldn't.

A couple of beers before saying goodbye to Ian and Caroline and I met later to have some food in a nice restaurant, feeling out of place in our basic attire. It was very good for the soul to have a shorter day after 127 miles the day before and it felt like I had all afternoon to recover, although I don't think you actually do recover when you're cycling back to back like this.

Distance: 79.61 miles
Elevation: 4304 feet
Time in the saddle: 7:05:56

Day 8: Perth → Grantown-on-Spey

Another early rise and after some confusion on which bridge we were meeting on, I met Caroline, who gave me a big hug and some words of encouragement as I began my journey north in to very familiar territory, Grantown-on-Spey. My original route was mapped out to take my over Glenshee and The Lecht, however a few factors made me change this last minute and with a little help from my good friend Phil Cameron (@rgmtb_moray) a new route was planned that was to take me up the A9 towards Aviemore and on to Grantown-on-Spey.

Once out of Perth, I made my way to Pitlochry, where I grabbed a few bits of food and replenished my water, before heading towards the cycle path that runs alongside the A9 over Druimuachdar Pass. This has been a bucket list cycle for me for years and to do this during LEJoG made this section of my journey even more special. Cycling along this route, I met some other people also doing LEJoG and it was nice to know other people were doing the same thing. This was the first time (and it didn't last long) that I experienced a tail wind and was getting some much-appreciated assistance towards Dalwhinnie.

I have never seen the A9 or any part of this route other than when driving up and down the A9, so it was amazing to see hidden paths and markers I'd never seen before. The new route planned out by Phil took me skirting round Aviemore and on to a section of track he thought was a road, much to my surprise I was soon on a narrow wooden path that was avoiding a burn. Although not the kind of path I expected to see, this really made me laugh and brightened my spirits. It didn't last too long before I was back on the tarmac and making my way into Grantown-on-Spey.

I found myself a chip shop, had a smoked sausage supper, bought some supplies at the Scotmid (beer included) and checked in to my B&B. I couldn't quite believe the following day would be my final full day, but I knew I was having familiar company from people I know which was nice to know.

Distance: 106.34 miles
Elevation: 4921 feet
Time in the saddle: 9:04:32

Day 9: Grantown-on-Spey → Altnaharra

My last full day of LEJoG. Looking back at day 1, I never thought I would see this day, but here I am and raring to go. I am still sore across my shoulders, my butt is sore, but my legs are still feeling OK. I was given a lovely bacon roll and freshly made blueberry muffin by my B&B host. I headed out to the town centre where I waited for Phil, Gordon McKay and Helen Brown (@helzbelzcyclz). I was able to eat my bacon roll and Muffin in the sunshine before they arrived.

Big hugs all round and so nice to see people I actually see on a pretty regular basis. Off we set, heading out of Grantown towards Lochindorb. As we passed the junction to Lochindorb, I could see a couple and a baby in a lay-by clapping and cheering, not assuming it was for me until I got closer and realised it was my good friend Darren Ross, his wife Carolyn and their beautiful daughter Grace. A quick hug all round and off we set.

Bizarre feeling cycling on roads local to me after days and days of not having a clue where I was. It was another hot day and throughout LEJoG I have not seen one drop of rain. We cycled towards Balloch and said farewell to Helen, who was heading back home. Gordon, Phil and I continued down towards the shop where some chocolate milk and other essentials were purchased.

We bypassed Inverness City centre and made our way across the Kessock Bridge. A first for all three of us. As we continued through north Kessock, I travelled more roads I'd never seen before and the views across the Beauly Firth were stunning. Heading into Dingwall, we said ta to Gordon who had his wife collect him and Phil and I headed out of Dingwall and made our way to Evanston. This is where Phil left me to continue alone.

On my approach towards Lairg, I received messages from Chris (@domestique) who said he wanted to drive out catch up with a cycle with me to Altnaharra. This was a good hour and half drive for him, but he did it and somewhere on the beautiful road between Lairg and Altnaharra, Chris appeared, off loaded his bike and off we went, cycling the amazing road in the hot sun all the way to Altnaharra hotel.

There we enjoyed the best steak pie, vegetables and potatoes I'd ever had. I think my love for food and beer had definitely returned by this point. Chris headed back off down the same road we had not long travelled to return to his car and make his way home. Another humbling moment of friends going well out of their way to support me during LEJoG.

My last night alone, I knew tomorrow I would see my family at John o' Groats and that was the best night’s sleep I had during my whole trip.

Distance: 113.01 miles
Elevation: 4820 ft
Time in the saddle: 9:13:30

Day 10: Altnaharra → o' Groats

DAY 10!! How did that happen?

I woke up a little later as my wife made sure I had some breakfast at the hotel before leaving as she was kind enough to pay for my last night and wanted me to take full advantage of the services paid for. So, I did, a nice bowl of cereal, a bacon roll and coffee set me up for the start of my day.

Not too far along the road, I met by a friend (@1photoadayfortherestofmylife) who kept me company until Melvich, where we stopped for an espresso and juice. We had never met before, but the chat was great, and the company really helped me through the first half of my ride. Once I was alone again, the headwind seemed to pick up and the journey towards John o' Groats was very slow and tough. The sun was out as it had been the previous 9 days, but this was the strongest wind I'd encountered.

Eventually I could see John 0' Groats in the distance and knew I was close to the end. I had very mixed emotions, as I was very relieved, excited, and desperate to see my family, but I knew when I was there, the journey was over and the realisation of not cycling the following day was very strange. Although I was sore and uncomfortable, my body had adapted to long days in the saddle, and I know I could have gone further.

The final stretch of the road towards the famous signpost was in sight, I could see my family in the distance waving Scotland flags and cheering me on. I burst out crying and cycled the last few pedal strokes straight towards my wife and daughter. I hugged my wife tightly before looking down to see my daughter who was holding a LEJoG medal that she gave me before given her a big hug too.

My Dad, step-mum, stepbrother and his girlfriend were all there to welcome me and it was such a surreal few moments. I opened a can of beer, took a few sips and posed for photos with everyone. Then we sat down, and I absorbed the moment. 1025 miles from Land's End, across England, Wales and Scotland to reach this moment at John o' Groats - Done!  Over £2000 raised for the National Autistic Society and memories to last a lifetime.

If this experience has taught me anything, it is this - You are stronger than you believe, your body, mind and soul are connected and when you think one can't go on, the other will get you through. Believe in yourself, know you are capable of amazing things, and you are never alone, even if you feel like you are.

There were moments throughout LEJoG where I could have easily jumped on a train home, but I knew I would be devastated in the long run and the more I progressed, the stronger I became and the more I believed in myself. I will forever be grateful to each person who donated, supported, encouraged, and helped me through the toughest challenge of my life so far.


Distance: 74.26 miles
Elevation: 3599 ft
Time in the saddle: 6:30:47

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