Cycling the length of Britain

Cycling the length of Britain

By Andy Chivers and Alison Hill

Alison and Andy are Cyclox trustees

In June we achieved a long-held ambition and cycled from Land’s End to John O’Groats – a distance of 1,030 miles (1,658 km) over 18 days, carrying our luggage in panniers the whole way. Looking back now we are filled with so many good memories.

Uphill and down

Map of Britain showing the route taken by cyclists from Land's End to John O'Groats
Our route

Perhaps the most pervasive of these is freewheeling downhill – a joy that anyone who has ever ridden a bike can appreciate. It is a little-known fact that there is as much downhill as uphill on the journey, though the latter will take you longer.

Our penultimate day was a long one, and in the afternoon there was a gale blowing against us for perhaps 20 miles. There was no denying it was hard work, especially as it was mostly uphill too. But we got to the summit, turned a corner and for the last 8 miles to our B&B we flew downhill at 30 miles an hour with the wind behind us on an empty road and the sun shining on the mountains of the far north ahead of us. Within a minute all our weariness was forgotten as we revelled in our transformed situation.

Wildlife on the way

The other memory is of quiet roads with birdsong the loudest sound and our main view hedgerows and verges filled with pink campion, cow parsley, sweet rocket, even some late bluebells and wild garlic. We went through many wonderful woods: beeches on Hembury Hill in Somerset, oak woodland in Herefordshire and Gloucestershire, and silver birch and Scots pines in Scotland.

In Cornwall and Devon the narrow roads often had a strip of grass growing in the middle and blackbirds feeding in the hedges. Apart from the constant bird life, particularly blackbirds and goldfinches, we saw a lot of buzzards and surprised a sparrow hawk on a fence post a few feet from us. Oyster catchers seemed to have become field birds and we heard several cuckoos as we travelled north in the Welsh Marches. The house martins and swallows became noticeable after a few days of worrying what had happened to them.

We are only too aware of what a depleted natural world we live in compared with even two generations ago, so we rejoiced when we cycled through a cloud of insects – providing we had our mouths shut when it happened.

Though it was lovely to be away from traffic and cities, we were appreciative of people’s kindness and hospitality, and we enjoyed meeting a wonderful variety of people including many fellow cyclists doing long-distance rides like us. 

Even at cycling speed the UK went by too fast and we worried that our memories would just be a blur, but this wasn’t the case, because there was so much variety, with estuaries, rivers, ferries, bridges, moorland, ancient hill forts, mountains, canals, reservoirs, lochs,  forests, and some fine towns and cities.

A new view of the UK

Our journey through Britain created a unifying sense of our country and an appreciation of its scale and diversity but also an awareness of how much more there is to explore. In Cheshire we began to get views of the Pennines, which made us feel we had linked the south with the north, though we were still over 100 miles short of halfway.

Why are we telling you all this? Partly to share the experience so that others who might be thinking of a cycle adventure are encouraged to try it. Partly to remind people that the UK has lots of quiet roads and lovely countryside to escape to – no need to go abroad. Would we do it again? Without doubt.   


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