After cycling the North Sea Cycle Route in 2017, I hatched a plan to cycle the Atlantic Coast from Land’s End to John o’Groats, via England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland. Although shorter (I estimated 4,000km), this was going to be tougher than the 6,000km NSCR, but with more dramatic coastal scenery. Starting in April will add to the fun, with the threat of high winds and rain.
The journey started with cycling from Land’s End to the Severn Bridge along National Cycle Route 3 taking in the hills of Cornwall and Devon, before the Somerset levels. I would use Youth Hostels where possible and camp otherwise, cooking for myself to keep costs down.
The journey started at Slough station, changing at Reading for the service to Penzance. The guards vans empty apart so plenty of space for a fully loaded Thorn Sherpa. A short (hilly) cycle ride brings me to Land’s End, deserted in the rain and wind for the mandatory photograph, fish & chips before reaching the nearby Youth Hostel. I rest easy, contemplating 40-50 days cycling, keeping the Atlantic coast to my left hand side. The hostel is full of adventurous types, walking the SWCP.
The rest was important, as this is Cornwall, where the profile of the hills resembles a chocolate Toblerone bar, the older version without wider spaces between the peaks. A great way to get in shape as you cross the grain of the land. National Cycle Route 3 (NCR 3) takes me through former mining areas between Redruth, Camborne and Truro, patrolled by eerie squadrons of crows and ravens, that frame the desolation, towards King Harry ferry to cross the River Fal.
Distance is nothing – only the first step is difficult, well pedal rotation for this journey – to cycle around the North Sea starting in London heading north to Norwick in Shetland and then on to Bergen and the coast route home via Sweden, Denmark, Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium and France.
This journey will be the longest extended trip away from home. I estimate 60-80 days according to the detailed plans I had been making over the winter. A few short trips on a new Thorn Sherpa, as yet unnamed, confirmed riding comfort and carrying capacity. To keep costs down, I set out to camp every night and do as much cooking myself.
I booked a flight from Sumburgh airport in Shetland to Bergen and would worry about packing the bike when I got there. The flights departed every Saturday, so I timed my departure three weeks beforehand. I joined the National Cycle Route 1 at Hoddesdon, after cycling along the NSC 6 and 61 from Slough. This route would guide me all the way to Shetland.
Catching a ferry is one of the pleasures of cycling the North Sea Cycle Route. I counted 26 in total but I probably missed a few. Some services run for just 6 weeks in summer, so careful planning is needed to avoid long detours.
This is a rough guide to the main ferry services, but it is not exhaustive and some of the ferries mentioned are not strictly on the NSCR.
Starting from London and working clockwise:
LONDON to SHETLAND
Brightlingsea Ferry from Mersea Island to Brightlingsea – brightlingseaharbour.org you cycle across Mersea island down a rough lane and then have to push your bike to the end of a shingle spit. There are no signs or indication that a ferry even runs, but phone the number and they come and pick you up
Harwich to Felixstowe Ferry – the Harwich Harbour Ferry harwichharbourferry.com takes you across the River Orwell and past the huge container port of Felixstowe, landing you on the beach near Languard Fort, very friendly, with a café at the Harwich embarkation point