LEJOG Journal

Cycling Lands End to John O'Groats April 22nd 2011; 1000 miles, 10 days…will we make it?

Experienced End-2-Ender talks route, cafe’s, pubs and tips.

If you’re planning an End to End trip and you’re anything like us, you’ll probably have lots of questions that you’d like to ask someone who has done the trip. That’s why I decide to contact Al Pewsey, who runs what is probably the most extensive Land’s End to John O’Groats resource on the web, Pewseys.co.uk.

Not only has Al completed the End to End himself, he has heard about the experiences of many others through his website over the years. After you’ve read the interview below, I strongly recommend you check out his site.

Gaz: What is your own End 2 End experience?

Al: I completed my one and only LEJOG journey in 2003 over 2 weeks, and I have to say it was one of the most memorable and enjoyable things I have ever done. I completed it with 3 very good friends and we had a ball from start to finish.

Gaz: Route choice is often a source of much deliberation for End 2 Ender’s, particularly whether to head North (LEJOG) or South (JOGLE). What do you advise route-wise from your experience?

Al: Difficult question to answer as in my view an End-2-End journey is a very personal one. People frequently have the ambition to do it for sometime, or decide to do it to raise money for a good cause following a major incident or trauma in their life. Whatever the reason the route planning and preparation (including building up your fitness and choosing your equipment) is all part of your personal End-2-End journey, as well as the people and places you see along the way.

Preparation and planning isn’t always the mantra though as one particular journey which I thought was a fantastic idea was George and Ben’s LEJOG in 2006. The plan was simple – to get from Land’s End to John O’Groats, by foot or by bike, without spending a single penny. The reason for doing it was to prove that hospitality and generosity is alive and well amongst the people of Britain. Inspiring reading, I highly recommend their blog.

For us, the route choice evolved overtime as we jointly discussed our plans, invariably over a beer or two as the original idea started to take shape and we took into account places we wanted to see or people we could stay with. We wanted to do South to North as the perceived wisdom is that the UK prevailing south westerly winds should be helping rather than hindering you although that is not always the case as I do remember the final Easterly push from Tongue being into a very strong headwind. Also as Devon and Cornwall is our stomping ground we were familiar with the territory that is often feared and hence we felt starting on familiar ground and getting the ‘worst’ over first would be a good strategy.

It’s not necessarily that you climb high passes in Devon and Cornwall its just that the terrain is short sharp steep ups and downs that sap the energy and ruin the rhythm. Some people like to get that over with first and others prefer to hit it when they are fitter at the end; again it’s what you think will suit you best.

My personal advice would be avoid busy roads where you can, and remember that it is about the journey not just getting to the end. The end for us was actually a bit of an anticlimax and tinged with sadness, as we didn’t want the journey to finish. We in the UK live on a fantastically beautiful island and I would advise people to use the journey to discover places you never new existed and marvel in the Great British scenery as it’s not all motorways and cities.

OK, people do do it as a race or a record attempt but most people who contact me have a much more leisurely timetable. However you do the End-2-End, whether it’s a solo effort, as part of a group or on one of the very good organised tours, it’s definitely very worthwhile and I’m sure you won’t regret it as it’ll restore your faith in human nature.

Gaz: What would you say are the highlights in terms of places you passed through on your End 2 End?

Al: We enjoyed most of the route we chose, seeing fantastic scenery and meeting great people along the way. Too many places to mention – you’ll just have to read my LEJOG blog! However, here are some of the main highlights I would pick out.

We chose our own route through Devon and Cornwall using local knowledge that avoided most of the busy tourist routes and steeper climbs as it wound its way through the quieter backbone of the counties whilst the tourists tend to stick to the coasts. It was a highlight for us and having lived in the area all our lives, we found beautiful rural scenery and villages none of us had ever seen before.

Another definite highlight was going via Arran which was stunning and the road from Lairg to Tongue, past the wonderful Crask Inn, was also breathtaking – although the weather was very kind to us that day and it might be a different story in rain and strong winds!!

Also, I’d have to say the section from Slaidburn north to Penrith was glorious as we entered the fells of Northern England, an area I have a lot of fondness for personally.

Sections we didn’t enjoy quite as much were the main road through The Great Glen that was busy and dangerous, likewise the road out of Dumfries. Also the bit around Bridgewater was interesting thanks to obscure Sustrans signposting where we ended up under the M5 at one point in a scene of broken cars and bonfire ashes that resembled something out of Mad Max.

Gaz: Any pub/cafe/accommodation highlights you’d like to pass on?

Al: The Crask Inn is a must on the road between Lairg and Altnaharra for a coffee or a beer. Fabulous setting and lovely people.

Hurlers Halt on Bodmin Moor was also a very welcoming and friendly cafe. There was a superb combined tea and antiques shop with excellent friendly hosts just off the A75 near Lochfoot.

Presteigne also had a nice cafe with wonderful South American recipe scrambled egg but I can’t remember its name.

These were places we found welcoming but that was 8 years ago now. Since then people have contacted me and I have loaded recommendations on my website. One of which who is worth a mention is Joe Halls Pies at Chorley (Lancashire). The owner (Joe) is an End-2-Ender himself and welcomes people on their LEJOG or JOGLE with free Chorley cake, soup and a cuppa to help them on their way.

Gaz: What preparation tips would you give to prospective End 2 Enders?

Al: The best advice I can give is enjoy it and make it your own.

Although you don’t have to be an Olympic athlete or an expert bike handler to complete the trip, I would say that generally speaking good preparation and the fitter you are, the easier it will be and hence the more you’ll enjoy it.

Good preparation isn’t just about getting fit, it’s also about the bike. Get used to riding it – you can’t beat miles in the saddle for good preparation as you learn how the bike handles and performs with you and your luggage. Making sure you can complete basic maintenance on the bike should a minor repair be required. Safety is paramount so obey the laws of the road make sure you are a safe and competent bike handler as accidents do happen and sadly cyclists have been killed in road traffic accidents whilst doing the End-2-end. You can minimise the risk by researching and choosing your route carefully.

Finally, don’t be afraid to ask. There is loads of information available on and off the Internet from people like me who just want to help. Ask your local bike shop or find out if their are any local cycling groups in your area that you can join for rides to gain valuable advice and experience. Lots of people have an opinion and you will get conflicts, but just listen and learn and use what is right for you.

Gaz: What were the high points of your trip and were there any low points?

Al: On the whole we had a very happy trip and the route provided most of the highs and lows I’ve already mentioned. I did have a knee problem just south of Chester which I thought may jeopardise my trip at one point and was a low, but fortunately it cleared up.

All of our group have a very silly sense of humour so having trip mascots such as ‘The Official End-2-End Carrot’, ‘The Copper Boot of Destiny’ and not forgetting ‘The Yellow Thong’ did help tremendously with keeping things fun and happy. One memorable moment was on Day 9 of our LEJOG when we entered Scotland and the famed blacksmith shop at Gretna Green. We had our picture taken with the official piper (you’re going to have to look at my blog again!) who spied our Official Carrot in its beautiful toilet roll wedding gown and you could almost read what was going through his head. Very silly but good for morale as we found it very funny.

Gaz: Finally, you are a prominent figure in the online End 2 End community – what makes you so passionate about it?

Al: That’s very kind of you to say so but I am just a cyclist who completed LEJOG in 2003 and thought I would pass my experiences on to help others with their own trips. I don’t know all the answers and I can only relay what I’ve learnt, and what was right for me may not be right for others but hopefully I can help people find that out for themselves. It started as just writing a blog about my trip as part of a teaching myself webpage building, and it’s just grown from there. I get emails every week from all sorts of people telling me about their plans, asking advice or telling me about their trip, and I answer them all. It’s nice to think that maybe I have helped one or two of them in a small way to complete their own journey, tell their story to others, or raise money for a good cause.

Gaz: Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions Al, I’m sure it will be of interest to our followers. If anyone has anything to add please feel free to comment below.

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2 Responses to Experienced End-2-Ender talks route, cafe’s, pubs and tips.

  1. Teresa Liebenberg says:

    Hi, thanks for a wonderful site. Do you know of any families cycling lejog? Family consisting of a 2 year old and 4 year old? SO trailers will be a must? TX