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Advice

Bed and Breakfasts

1. Pubs: Pubs are a life saver for lunches, evening meals and liquid refreshments. Unfortunately they are not always the best place to spend the night if you want to get away early in the morning. We were put off by The Barley Sheaf in St. Columb Major, Cornwall, where it was the most the landlord could do to open the door to us. The main problem with pubs is they are open late in the evening. If you have cycled 60 miles in a day you are likely to be tired, and therefore ready for bed fairly early. You may also want an early start the next morning, and many pubs are not willing to accommodate this. Contrary to this, Tushielaw Inn in the Ettrick Valley was excellent.

2. Take Note of their Names: Most street and place names tell you a lot about where the B&B is. For example Bove Town, actually means 'above the town'. Therefore a climb at the end of the day, which you may or may not appreciate.

3. Use a Reliable Guide or Recommendations: The yellow pages is not a good idea if you can avoid it. Try the AA guide or the CTC. (See Favourite Links.)

4. Evening Meals: You are on your bike. You will not want to travel 5 miles to get an evening meal. Check when you book up if there is somewhere nearby, or whether the B&B could prepare you a meal.

5. Space for Bikes: Check you can store your bikes safely and securely. Preferably in a covered area. They will not perform well the next day if they've spent the night in the pouring rain. Believe me, if they are uncovered, it will rain.

Your Route

1. CTC: CTC provide 3 routes to take you from Lands End to John O'Groats. One uses main roads, one using minor roads and Bed and Breakfasts and the last one using Youth Hostels. A link to their website can be found on the Links page.

2. Do it Yourself: One of the best parts of cycling from Lands End to John O'Groats is planning the journey in the first place. Take the opportunity to visit places onroute, and go where you want to go. You often get a better reception from people off the normal route than those who are use to seeing 'End to Enders'.

3. National Cycle Network: The NCN does not make good routes for long distance touring. Off-road sections are often covered in gravel or grass, and other parts require you to carry your bike down stairs. The route markers often leave you when you most need them, and those that do exist are on the junction, rather than before it, and therefore require you to come to a standstill before you can continue. Having said that the NCN is a lifesaver in certain areas in Scotland, when your only route is along a dual carriageway.

4. Minor Roads: Minor roads are not always safer, and will normally be a lot hillier than main roads. This is particularly true in Devon and Cornwall. It will take you longer to cycle on minor roads. You have to check the map more often since it is very easy to get lost. The contours can be horrendous, when your only reward for a long hard climb, is a quick, sharp drop requiring constant braking. While you will see fewer cars on the minor roads, those you do see will likely be travelling too fast for the road, and as the road is narrow you will probably have to take evasive action to avoid them. Also be wary of tractors.

5. Take Your Time: If you are booking accommodation in advance you will get a feeling of 'must get there' each day. You can dampen this a little by cycling a good proportion before lunch, and then relax in the afternoon. However, you are still likely to want to stay on track, rather than wander to see the sights. If you have the time, you will get more from the journey if you reduce your daily mileage, but fit in little excursions as you go along.

6. Daily Mileage: You are likely to cycle more miles than you planned in any day, rather than less. This is because the mileage you calculate will be based on making no mistakes. You will make mistakes if you use the National Cycle Network or minor roads. It is inevitable. Therefore, try to accept this before you go.

Getting To and From Each End

1. Rail System: The rail system in Britain is not currently at its best. Train delays are a common occurence and since you are likely to need a number of connections you must be very careful with the trains you book. Try to break up longer journeys with a stop overnight. This is easier coming home, since you can cycle from John O'Groats to Thurso or Wick in the morning to catch the afternoon train. By staying overnight you reduce the knock-on effect of a train delay early on.

2. Cycles on Trains: Taking cycles on trains is a pain. You can never be sure your cycle is safe, and changing trains with a cycle is a nightmare. Try to avoid changes if you can, otherwise allow double the time at stations, you will need it.

3. Getting to Inverness: The train from Wick/Thurso to Inverness will only carry 2 bicycles. Scotrail run a bike van to carry others, but this only runs certain times of the year. Check before you go. You must book your bikes on the train beforehand to be sure of a space. The train to Inverness takes about 4 hours, despite being just over 100 miles. You will find out why, it zigzags across the country.

4. Getting Your Bike Home: Do not use Parcel Force. The most frustrating, and difficult part of the whole trip was posting the bikes home. We spent 2 hours on the High Street in Wick dismanteling our bikes to get them within Parcel Force's parcel limitations (1.5m long and 3m girth), and then taping them up within banana boxes. The Post Office staff in Wick are the most unhelpful you will meet. It then took Parcel Force longer to get the bikes back home, than it took us to cycle them their in the first place. Costly at over 30 when you have to post your front wheel home separately.

However, I have been asked to add the following notes of advice by Phil Miller, who has recently completed the journey: "We hadn't really thought about how difficult it would be to get our bikes on the train at Wick, especially after the relative ease with which we got to Penzance. So after pointless trips to the train station, phone calls home for 'googling' help, we headed off to Tourist Information who pointed us in the direction of a bike shop called 'The Spot'. The shop will take your bike, dismantle, package it up and have it delivered by parcel force. It's not cheap at 40, but we were very willing to pay the cash so we could get on with our long journey home. The bikes turned up 4 days later, professionaly packaged in a recycled bike box."

Your Bicycle

1. Before you Go: Try to ensure your cycle is in good working order before you leave. A chain should be replaced every 1,000 miles, so change yours before you go. You will need good brakes, so check the pads, and replace the cables. Get a granny ring to help get up hills.

2. Cycling: Take your time. Use your gears. Pace yourself. Bear in mind, particularly in Devon and Cornwall, the hill you are cycling up is just one of hundreds you will face. Therefore don't use all your energy now. Keep your fluid levels up. Try to take a mouthful of water/drink every 10 minutes. It is also useful to drink a pint of water after you wake up in the morning, to replace fluids lost in the night.

3. Each Morning: Take some spray lube with you. GT85 is excellent. This will get rid of muck as well as lubricating. Spray your chain, block, pedal bearings, wheel bearings, brake pivots each morning.

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