LANDS END TO JOHN O’GROATS
The challenge was set, to break the 1000 mile mark and cycle from Lands End to John O’Groats in just 12 days.
The team, formed by Capt Bate, was compiled of 8 cyclists and 5 support staff, lead by the route master, Sgt Andy Wainwright. After several months of planning, the departure day of May the 7th, came round very quickly and we set off from Wattisham station, to RAF St Mawgan in Cornwall.
The overnight stay at RAF St Mawgan gave us the opportunity to carry out any pre maintenance that was required on the bikes, 73 AVIATION COMPANY and to taste the local ales St Mawgan had to offer. The following morning, we set off for Lands End where the epic cycle was to begin. On arrival, visibility was poor accompanied by light rain, but this didn’t dampen any spirits as we were all looking forward to getting on our bikes. According to the sign post at Lands End, the distance to John O’Groats is 874 miles however our planned route was a total of 1010 miles.
The route itself followed the southerly part of Cornwall, passing through Penzance, Truro and Liskeard. It then hugged the western part of Dartmoor passing through Okehampton and staying the night at Tiverton. From Tiverton, the route took us through Bristol, over the Severn Bridge, stopping for the night at Tintern Abbey, before continuing to Shrewsbury. The Severn Bridge proved a challenge in itself. The winds that day were so strong; we were forced to walk over the bridge at times taking a knee due to the sheer strength of the gusts, as two cyclists coming the opposite way found out, as they werecompletely swept off their bikes.
The route continued up through the western part of the country, passing through towns such as, Warrington, Wigan, Preston, Kendal and Carlisle. After a rest day in Carlisle the route turned west, up to Kilmarnock, hugging the west coast of Scotland to a short ferry crossing to Dunoon. It then took us through winding Highland roads, through Fort William and past various lochs, such as Loch Ness. After passing Loch Ness, we were to pass up the north easterly side of Scotland, passing Inverness, Tain, to our penultimate stop Thurso. The last stretch and 1010 miles later, John O’Groats.
There were additionally many opportunities to break up the ride during the day, with the stop in Shrewsbury leading us to an introduction to LCpl Ryna Lanigan’s partner, who subsequently issued instructions that he was to return from the Exercise with the body of a Greek God which he supposedly once had. We had our work cut out with that task!! LCpl Bradley Ingram also entertained, constantly sprinting off the front of the group in order to hopefully win some kind of race we believe. This subsequently led to him earning the moniker “Sir Bradley of Ingram”. The fact that he constantly seemed to be in Team Sky kit further compounded this reputation.
The distance we covered each day was determined according to the terrain. Due to the undulating terrain in Cornwall and Devon, we covered shorter distances during the day, but as we reached the flatter ground on the west part of England, the mileage we covered per day was increased. Even so the hardest stretch in my opinion was cycling through Devon. As quoted by Sgt Andy Wainwright “it’s the hill that keeps on giving” which was safe to say it was one of SSgt Jo Wilson’s and SSgt Sarah Beddow’s favourite part of the cycle. This continued throughout the cycle as Sgt Andy Wainwright kept stating to SSgt Jo Wilson and SSgt Sarah Beddows “ just one more hill”, it didn’t take long for them to lose faith in him.
The accommodation we used during the trip was a mixture of campsites and Army reserve centres. The lady who ran the campsite at Liskeard was kind enough to make us cakes and sandwiches, which went down very well. The most notable accommodation we stayed in was definitely Carlisle Castle; it’s not every day you can tell someone you’re staying in a castle. It proved a good base to start from, considering some of the outrageous fancy dress that had been purchased from Kendal ’s assortment of charity shops.
Typical British weather wasn’t always on our side during the cycle, the very first day we were exposed to light rain most of the day, followed by heavy rain near Bristol, and the Cheshire plains. This therefore meant we spent a lot of the time changing and drying our wet clothes along the route in the back of the minibus. One moment in particular stood out, Sgt Andy Wainwright decided to talcum powder his socks; however the outcome was a mammoth explosion of talcum powder everywhere in the minibus. Well done Andy!
SSgt Wilson, Beddows, and Sgt Wainwright soon discovered their tents were not so waterproof (more like water traps) but as prepared as we were, we had spare tents that kept them dry for the rest of the exercise. Whilst most of the UK was experiencing sunny weather, we spent two days in the Highlands where typically more heavy rain, seemed to follow. Not only was the weather against us at times but the road surface as well. One part in particular in the highlands proved very challenging as not only were we climbing for miles on end, but the road surface was so bumpy it brought the pace of the ride significantly. This definitely tested the patience of a lot us and the relief to see the back of that road was seen on everyone’s faces.
According to LCpl Connor Lambert, Big Foot does exist in Cornwall for the love of ice cream and Cornish pasties, as well vicious wet Wookies. As quoted by LCpl Connor Lambert “a wet Wooky is an unhappy Wooky”. Unfortunately we lost LCpl Connor Lambert after being attacked by a vicious wet Wooky (medical reasons). SSgt Graham McConaghy also discovered that in Carlisle, the bars like to serve concoctions in teapots! An idea very popular with everyone. Capt Bate of the RLC, showed off his fantastic driving skills by running over SSgt Graham McConaghy’s rear wheel, which remarkably survived, and I quote “the single speed lives on!” a moment I’m sure no-one will forget. On reaching the most northerly point of mainland Britain (Dunnet head) it gave us the opportunity to relax in the bay and observe the grey seals. LCpl Scott Williams tried enticing the seals by laying down a whole loaf of bread, which sadly didn’t tempt them to come any closer.
Overall the experience of cycling from Lands end to John O’Groats was fantastic, in my opinion there isn’t a better way of seeing mainland Britain. We had seen some of the most beautiful parts of the countryside and the coast. The high levels of enthusiasm and organisation made the exercise a tremendous experience. The hard work put in everyday by the support team, made it much easier for us cyclists, as our tents were set up for us, and the food was spot on! I would recommend anyone to get involved if the opportunity arises, it felt fantastic to reach John O’Groats and a feeling of disbelief at just how far we had cycled.