How to get to one
end and from the other?
- Train -
This is good if you have an easy service to/from somewhere near your
home. It's certainly the most environmentally friendly way of transporting
you and your tandem. See below for more detail.
- Car - OK
if you have a tandem carrier (we don't) and a willing person to drive
all that way. Don't forget that it's a round trip of 2000 miles or so
for someone to take you to the start and go to collect you at the other
end. That's a lot of petrol, time and pollution!
- Bus - probably
not very practical. I've no experience of this to offer sorry!
- We travelled from
Sheffield so can only offer comments on that journey. There is a leaflet
available from stations called "Cycling by train" which details which
rail companies offer what. We found this invaluable.
- Trains from Sheffield
offer a straight through service to Penzance on Virgin, who also carry
tandems for the cost of two bikes (£3 each). Space is limited so book
(Update June 2001 (see below for later update): as
of 20th May 2001 Virgin are no longer prepared to carry tandems. If
you feel strongly about this, please write
to them, and to other organisations such as the CTC,
the Tandem Club and BikeRail.
It may be that Virgin can be persuaded to change their minds if enough
of us express our opinions. The 2001 issue of "Cycling by Train",
available at railway stations, presents the current situation regarding
(Update February 2002: After some correspondence and representations
from CTC and the Tandem Club, and others, Virgin do now carry tandems
once more. You may have to insist when booking, although the 2002 edition
Cycling by Train leaflet says tandems are carried. It seems
that Virgin are also doing their best to provide tandem accommodation
on their new Voyager trains which were not originally designed
to take tandems. Many thanks to all involved in bringing about this
- Trains in the far
north don't carry tandems (Scotrail do carry pre-booked single bikes
though). You need to get back to Inverness for a mainline train which
will carry tandems (this involves about 120 extra miles of cycling).
Again, book this in advance to be sure of a space for the tandem. Great
North Eastern offer a straight through service via York and Peterborough
but there's no link to Sheffield with tandem carrying facility. We arranged
to be picked up at York by car with a borrowed tandem carrier.
books - Paul Horsley's book "Land's End to John O' Groats
- the great British bike adventure" (Cordee) is very useful. We
didn't follow his route much of the time but we did use sections
of it. He follows minor roads most of the time which can involve
some tricky map reading. We felt that this would be slower than
the main road routes although undoubtedly has the advantage of
being more pleasant. He has some extremely useful hints and tips
for the journey and certainly helps to build the enthusiasm.
on your map - When on the road you don't want to be constantly
checking where you are on the map, you need to be able to see
in an instant. Highlighting your route on the map beforehand saves
a great deal of time and confusion. It also means that you've
familiarised yourself with the details of the route before you
- Use pages
from a road atlas - We found a good source of suitable road
maps is a standard road atlas such as the AA or RAC produce. These
are cheap and it doesn't feel too bad to tear out the pages you
are going to need so that you can leave the rest behind. No point
carrying extra weight! The scale of these is about right for this
kind of journey with enough detail but no need to keep changing
sheets too often. We disposed of our map sheets as we finished
with them, but as the journey progressed we felt that we ought
to have kept them as a record.
- CTC routes
- The CTC offers 3 routes
(free to members) with a choice of routes designed for B&B accommodation,
Youth Hostel accommodation and a third using main roads. We broadly
followed the main road route and didn't find traffic too much
of a problem most of the time. You also get a record sheet which
you can get stamped each day and send it to the CTC afterwards
to get a certificate of your achievement.
tracks? We looked at the new National Cycle Network routes
but concluded that they would be far too slow for such a long
journey. With a tandem especially, there is the problem of the
barriers on these tracks and other obstructions. They are also
nowhere near as fast to ride as a surfaced road. Having tested
some of these tracks in our neighbourhood we decided to leave
them alone for this trip. We do, however, love them for more leisurely
day rides and they would make a wonderful way of travelling for
a less intense holiday ride.
Checking the bike
- Get it serviced
properly - this is essential! Either do it yourself or get your
local bike shop to do it. 1000 miles is a long way and your bike will
be carrying more weight than usual so it will suffer. Our tandem was
only 2 years old and had only done about 2000 miles before we set off
and even we suffered a few mechanical problems. An old, poorly maintained
bike will almost certainly let you down!
When we were at John O' Groats, we got talking to two lads who had arrived
the same evening as we did. They had had terrible problems including
19 punctures and many broken spokes resulting, eventually, in the total
collapse of a wheel necessitating about a 30 mile walk. Breakdowns rarely
happen close to a bike shop and on this trip you can be a long way from
help. They only completed the trip by borrowing another bike. Get your
Things to check particularly: rims and rim tape, tyres and tubes, brakes,
bearings, transmission, use oil on the chains often especially after
rain even though the stoker gets oily legs! It was probably a lack of
oil that caused our middle chainring to wear out. Also make sure that
your bike is set up for you properly so that you are comfortable.
- B&B - comfort,
good breakfast, plentiful which means it's not essential to plan the
route around available accommodation can find a B&B towards the
end of the day when you know how far you've travelled, little need to
book in advance, costly (around £20 per person per night in 2000)
- Youth Hostels
- no experience to offer, cheap, not so plentiful so route needs careful
planning and is therefore less flexible. May be other advantages I don't
know of due to lack of experience.
- a lot of extra weight to carry, perhaps need a trailer, need to know
where camp sites are and route needs planning around their availability,
cheap, least comfortable, may be a lack of sites in northern Scotland
but could wild camp (with permission).
- Cost: for
us 3 weeks in B&B + meals, trains and other costs = about £1500.