Top positive review
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Overall an invaluable resource, but some reservations...
on 9 June 2015
I've just completed LEJOG and did it solo / unsupported, using this book (and the GPX files from the Cicerone website) as my sole reference guide.
Ultimately I don't think there is a better guide to use as a reference for LEJOG, and I would certainly recommend this book to anyone considering cyling "End to End", however I did have a few issues with it along the way.
I think the biggest issue, and I am surprised no other reviewer has commented on this, is the terrible format of the book with regard to how the routes are detailed. I have another Cicerone cycle route book (C2C) which is formatted in a similar way, so I suppose it may be the house style rather than the author's fault, however if I was writing this book, I would insist the route directions are given in a clear, numbered order, not written as if you're reading a novel. If you are following this book and are not using GPX files, then to avoid missing turnings along the way you really have to write out the directions properly in a numbered order, as indeed I noticed other End to Enders had done who were following the book without the GPX files.
It also doesn't help that the historical and direction notes are often written together, sometimes in the same sentence. Given the way the directions are written I suppose this is largely unavoidable but it is unhelpful. I do appreciate that some historical descriptions are self-contained in their own boxes, but that is only when a longer description is given.
I also found some of the historical notes a little arbitrary, although I suppose what the author decides is of interest will always be somewhat subjective. For instance, whilst he found time and space (almost a whole page) to provide a detailed explanation of Muchelney, which contains some medieval buildings, which wasn't even en-route but required a detour, I was quite surprised that on the same day there was no recommendation to stop and see the beautiful square and cathedral in Exeter, which you were actually cycling very close to.
Day 1 - The GPX files direct you to the wrong ferry crossing from Fowey to Polroun. Whilst you can take the ferry it directs you to, it only runs about 3 or 4 times a day, whereas the better one runs continuously until late at night so is far more helpful. If you do find yourself at the wrong ferry location, just ask a local who will direct you to the correct place - it isn't far.
Day 3 - After Broadhembury is an incredibly steep ascent which continues for over a mile. The book merely states "Ascend steeply for 1¼ miles." Maybe Sir Bradley Wiggins could breeze up this with fully laden panniers on a heavy tourer, but I couldn't, and I think this hill warrants a more descriptive explanation.
Day 5 - Having read blogs of other riders who have followed this book, just about every one mentions the horrendous hills at the end of this day's ride, which are completely avoidable. The final destination is Clun, and with just a few miles to go, you are told to turn right and head for Obley. This involves cycling two unbelievably steep hills then cycling down a terrifying descent for about a mile, when you are holding on for dear life whilst wearing out your brakes at the same time. These hills may just about be ok if you're riding the lightest racer on the market (ie. perhaps you are riding on one of the author's supported tours) but if like me you're carrying all your gear on heavy panniers and riding a heavy tour bike to begin with, then this is sheer hell. And all for what? For an "exceptional panaromic view". Firstly it wasn't particularly exceptional anyway (there are far better views along the way) and certainly not worth all the hassle. For anyone who is going to follow this book, I strongly recommend you do NOT turn off for Obley, just continue for Clun and avoid all this nonsense. The thing that I thought was really bad was that the author doesn't provide an alternative route. Further on in the book when you reach Scotland, the author does give you an alternative to avoid a hilly route so why not here?
I would also add that Clun is an odd place to have a stop en-route. It's quite small and there isn't much B&B availability, however I appreciate there probably isn't much else en-route, and this does take you into the heart of the Shropshire Hills, an AONB.
Day 7 - I thought it was odd that the author strongly recommends staying at the Holiday Inn during the stopover in Runcorn, which was apparently "reasonably priced". I phoned the Holiday Inn to check the price, but it was far higher than anything else I'd stayed at, and eventually found a very good B&B for half the price.
Day 8 - The route includes the following sentence: "Cycle on for a further 4 miles to the charming village of Grasmere." This was, as far as I can recall, the only time in the entire book that a village was described as charming, so I was quite intrigued as to what it would be like. However in fact you do not actually cycle to Grasmere, as about a mile beforehand, you turn off in another direction.
Day 12 - I ended up cycling along the A82 the whole day, in order to avoid the recommended NCN78 cycle path, given the book actually tells you to take extra care on this route to avoid punctures, (I wasn't taking any chances), and I also continued on the A82 along Loch Ness instead of taking the more hilly General Wade's Military route.
Also, at Invergarry the book tells you to come off the A82 and cycle along the NCN78 canal route. When I did this, they were actually relaying the surface of the canal route and it is absolutely terrible now and should be avoided at all costs. I don't think you can actually even cycle there now as it is just loose stones, and also I think you would get a puncture as some of the stones look quite sharp, so my advice here is to just carry on the A82.
Day 13 & 14 - At Inverness, I decided to cycle along the shorter coastal A9 route, rather than following the inland route shown in the book, therefore I cannot comment on these days. Whilst I have no doubt that the inland route is more scenic, I preferred a shorter last day into John O'Groats.
In terms of the surface quality of the routes, I found these good overall, subject to my comments on Day 12.
The book provides a key to map signs, one of which is a spanner to indicate a bike shop. This is a waste of time and quite misleading, because according to the book, there is only one bike shop in most of the cities you go through. If you're going to use symbols on maps, use them properly otherwise it's just misleading. When I needed to visit a bike shop, I would google "Bike shop near me" instead. Similarly, there are symbols to indicate cafes, food shops and pubs, and I would level the same complaint against the use of these symbols too.
I also found the continuous recommendations to stop at foodstores to stock up on snacks and drinks a bit of an affront to my intelligence. Generally when you're cycling for the best part of the day, you realise you need to buy food and drinks along the way so why continuously remind us to do this.
Reading all the above seems like I have just taken all the bad points, without mentioning any good ones! The fact I am giving this book 4 stars does indicate however that there is a lot right with this book, but it could be improved. Clearly a lot of thought has been given to provide the safest, quietest roads as possible, although for large parts of Scotland cycling on faster roads is to some extent unavoidable.
Finally some advice to anyone considering doing LEJOG. Don't get bogged down reading all the advice on the internet. There is so much there to confuse and dissuade you, when all you're actually doing is going out on a long ride, but multiplied for two weeks. For me, I went on 6 rides (roughly 30km up to 115km in length) beforehand as preparation, then booked a train ticket to Penzance for the next day and also booked the first night's accommodation in Lands End. That was it - off I went, although I had previously cycled London to Paris, so had a good idea what I needed to take.
I occasionally booked accommodation the night before, but more often simply found a B&B to stay when I arrived in the town in the late afternoon / evening, although perhaps I was lucky here as I never had any problems finding decent B&Bs, despite going during a Bank Holiday weekend and half term.
So my final advice is buy the book, download the GPX files if you have something that can read them, and go! It's an amazing experience, totally unforgettable and something that will live with you for the rest of your life.