Lands End to John O Groats is the longest straight line you can draw on our fair isles. Why not have some fun along the way?
A while ago we came up with the idea that we should ride from Lands End at the far tip of Cornwall to the Northernmost nubbin that is John O Groats. It’s a bucket list thing for road cyclists of Britain. With the record sitting at 44 hours, and thousands taking on the challenge each year, it seemed daft not to. Shortly afterwards, it seemed daft to, and I decided that I’d rather not spend two weeks of my holiday exhausted with a sore bum! Neil and Rab were still as keen as the proverbial mustard so it was decided that I would drive support while Neil and Rab pottered along on their bikes. Obviously it would be rude not to sample a few of the finer off road spots along the way. Each day turned into a Top Gear style race between the roadies and me trying to fit in some aweome riding, tea shops and accommodation/food sorting! They only beat me once!
Day 0 – Lands End to Portreath / The Track
After a dribbler filled drive down to Lands End, we decided to get a few miles under the belt, the obligatory photos by the sign post were taken, and they were on their way. I had planned to take in the fantastic looking “The Track” at Portreath, but by the time we’d negotiated the endless streams of caravans and pseudo-surfers that haunt Cornwall we’d run out of time. Instead enjoy a video from a little while ago of Cardiff’s finest old boys doing backflips there.
Day 1 – Portreath to Okehampoton / Gawton Gravity Hub – Tavistock
A 7am rainstorm did little for enthusiasm in the camp, but with biking to be done we set off our separate ways. I headed to Gawton near Tavistock. I’d heard great things about the trails there, and I wasn’t disappointed. 4 different tracks and a couple of ways to push back up the hill. Flyup Downhill (the same boys that run the excellent uplift at the Forest of Dean) offer uplift there, but sadly there wasn’t anything running today – the push up tracks were tolerable enough. There’s a great selection of trails – HSD is super cruisy, Proper-Job is a jumpy, flowy little number, Super Tavi mixes steeper sections with some jazzy stepdowns & Egypt is a more natural root and rockfest where getting wide into the corners was important. There was something for everyone, the locals were dead friendly and it was easy to find. Highly recommended, especially with an uplift!
Day 2 – Okehampton to Severn Crossing / Ashon Court + Leigh Woods – Bristol
A slightly later start thanks to the fantastic and locally sourced breakfast at Upcott House B&B was no bother as I had a gentle day planned with coffee and a catch up with the folks followed by finally riding the much praised trails on the hill by Bristol. Right on the edge of the city, these are a popular set of trails, easily accessed from town on the cycle path network that is growing in Brizzle. With no climbs or descents to speak of and hardpacked surface this is not for the gravity or gnar fiends, but despite this I had a great little ride at warp nine, and if you just need some exercise in the area it’s a good laugh.
Day 3 – Severn Crossing to Shrewsbury / Forest of Dean
I’d been to the Forest of Dean before, and was looking forward to a day of slick uplift thanks to the guys at FlyUp Downhill. I wasn’t disappointed, and with the recent dry weather the trails were running perfectly. 9 or so waymarked DH runs make their way down the hill, from fast and flowy lines like Corkscrew and GBU to the roots and holes of Mr Rooty and Sheepskull to the looseness that is Endo, I had a great day blasting laps. This is a civilised uplift with a lunch stop, and the grub from the café was top-notch. The push up is pretty short and social, or for the lazy FlyUp really let you get the most out of your day – I had 17 runs! There is also an XC loop, lots of non-waymarked trails, and an onsite shop and café.
Day 4 – Shrewsbury to Lancaster / Gisburn Forest
I’d been to Gisburn before, and had a pleasant time so I thought it would be a good blast. There is a new “Hub” that has been built just up from the old car park, now boasting plenty of parking as well as a café. Sadly this was shut. The trails themselves are a mix of tight and twisty lines built by hand, by volunteers, as well as wider open and rockier sections. It all flows reasonably nicely, but ironically, the machine built “flowy” stuff has rather lost its mojo and is feeling a little tired. The classic “Hully Gully” is still good fun but watch out for dirty great braking bumps and holes in all the wrong places. The newish Hope Trail section can be sessioned on the way round and has some nice jumps and berms in. There are also some DH tracks in the woods near the top that are good fun.
Day 5 – Lancaster to Lockerbie / Nan Bield Pass
Obviously the day I had picked for a high level Lake District classic was some of the worst weather of the trip. The Nan Bield pass sits high above Kentmere, and boasts some superb descending, awesome views (according to Rosie, my guide for the day), and a good feeling of adventure. We “got lost” and hiked over the top on a footpath, but the descent to Haweswater and the subsequent climb back up to the pass are similarly excellent. If you enjoy a hearty day in the mountains with some descending that is a far cry from a manicured trail centre this is for you. If you are going to take on the route (which you should) make sure you take a map and appropriate gear, it can get very exposed up there. Full waterproofs in August, what’s that all about?!
Day 6 – Lockerbie to Balloch / Glentress
Glentress is a name that should stick in a mountain biker’s head. One of the first trail centres to really “get it right” with the mix of trails, café and other facilities. The black trail heads out to the “wilds” behind the rest of the trails, while the red and blue offer some truly classic trail centre riding. Generally smooth and fast with a mix of berms, rollers and doubles this is the dirty hit of riding folk head to a trail centre for. The climbs are forgiving and rewarding, with log skinnies to ride along the way, and a few rock step options to keep you amused. At the top car park is the Freeride Area. A blend of small and medium tabletops, some skinnies, drop-offs and wall rides will keep you amused, and from here, make sure you ride the blue descent – super fast through the woods and far less blown out than the red or black lines (These are still fun mind you!). Bike wash, shop, café, showers, bikewash, accommodation, it’s all waiting for you at the bottom. If you are after a steeper time, Innerleithen is just round the corner, check out Uplift Scotland for a lift to the top. http://www.upliftscotland.com/
Day 7 – Balloch to Fort William / Glencoe
I’d been considering the Glencoe DH trails for today’s adventure, having had a great time riding them at the aborted BDS a couple of years ago. Steep, rocky, hard and with a chairlift. Perfect. The weather had other ideas however with gale force winds and driving rain. Luckily today’s local guide Pete knew of a few bits and bobs in the woods to keep us amused. We weren’t disappointed – flowy, techy, steep and in woods so dense I could forget about my other role of road bike supporter! If you’ve seen the Dudes of Hazzard videos you get the idea. We also had a great coffee in Ice Factor Kinlochleven, and Craft n Things in Glencoe Village. Plenty to do by Loch Leven – get exploring!
Day 8 – Fort William to Tain / Learnie Red Rock
Again the weather looked to be stopping play, and while the strong tail wind was good for roadies, it sucked for gondolas. The uplift at Fort William didn’t look set to open until later in the day and with a bit of a timescale to stick to, I had to leave it for another day. Instead I did a bit of googling and found the small but amusing looking Learnie Red Rock trails on the Black Isle North of Inverness. Short and fun, there’s a rocky black trail, some really flowy blues and a “fun park” line of tables and drops. Worth visiting but not really a day’s riding. I also met an off road unicycle club – more on them another time!
Day 9 – Tain to John o’ Groats / Golspie
Golspie is the boy! A superb trail with a cruisy climb that becomes a rocky stepped challenge all the way to the top of Ben Bhraggie at 1300 feet. Chill for a moment with the towering statue of the First Duke of Sutherland, gaze over the sea and then drop your saddle for a non-stop blast all the way back to sea level. Rocky, sharp, drops, tables, tech, steep, gaps, there is a hell of a lot going on the 7km long blast back to the car park. Almost certainly the best trail centre descent in the UK, and with a lovely café (Coffee Bothey) at the bottom, well worth a visit.
In just ten days we had made it from the tip of Cornwall to the far end of Scotland. The riding along the way was superb, and just a tiny sample of each area’s goodness. Everywhere the locals were friendly and loving bikes. Get out there and find an excuse to explore.