Planning a route around the Atlantic Seaboard of Scotland would certainly include the Western Isles, but planning a route across the Inner and Southern Hebrides had infinite possibilities. I resign myself to doing a route around the islands at a later date and to catch a ferry to Barra to complete the Hebridean Way.
I was a delight to see so many cycle tourists waiting for the Islay ferry at Ballycastle. Our bikes were loaded swiftly and we settled into our aircraft like seats and lifejackets. The weather was set fair we were all really looking forward to crossing the North Channel.
90 minutes later we disembarked at Port Ellen after a wonderful high-speed crossing in the powerful RIB used by The Kintyre Express service. The winds are slight and the skies are clear as I set out to explore the distilleries along the south eastern shores. Suitably refreshed I set off across an inland route to Port Aksaig to catch a late afternoon ferry to Kennacraig on the Mull of Kintyre. I dawdled gentle along the lanes in no particular rush to reach the terminal, busy with happy tourists delighted with the weather. The Paps of Jura dominate the skyline.
After a mill pond crossing, without any sightings of Dolphins or the like, I settled into a campsite in process of being constructed. Before I slept I noticed a delay on the CalMac App to Barra the next day and calculated that I could make that ferry if I got up early enough. The roads were excellent and a fresh tailwind saw me pushing a great average speed all the way to Oban, via the Crinan Canal and National Cycle Route (NCR) 78 in part. I meet up with cycling friends I met in Ballycastle and after a good shop at Tesco before sailing to the Western Isles, we wait by the quayside in glorious weather. At least 20 other cyclist join us, all resplendent in bikepacking rigs.
At last we saw Dolphins as we cross the Sea of the Hebrides to Barra, chasing the ferry bow waves in crystal clear water. We dock and go our separate ways, some to wild camp on Vatersay, some to stay at the hostel. I camp further up along the west coast and rest well, to be woken by Sandpipers in the early morning. I’m now on the Hebridean Way (aka NCR 780).
Cycling during a school run is never pleasant, but soon I am winding my way through the Monmouthshire country lanes towards Newport. The NCR 4 will take me all the way to Fishguard for the ferry to Ireland in a few days, after cycling through the industrial landscape of South Wales.
Llanwern Steelworks dominates the skyline until I arrive at the wonderful Newport Transporter Bridge. One of only 8 in the world, it is a marvel of engineering and a fantastic way to cross the River Usk. Everyone is smiling and happy in the glorious weather. Everywhere is beautiful on a clear sunny day.
The castle at Caerphilly is an ideal time to stop for lunch. The whole town centre seems to be doing the same. All of us watching the geese nonchalantly waddling around looking for tidbits. A good rail track leads to Pontypridd, which would not be at the top of my list for a lunchtime stop and is followed by a steep, endless climb out of the valley and into the hills. The effort is worthwhile as the descent follows the Ogmore Valley. I can imagine the unspoilt beauty of this part of Wales in a pre-industrial era.
It took some effort to persuade the local campsite to let me stay. Even though the weather is grand, the ground is sodden and have not yet opened. It is a convenient stop, before entering Bridgend and navigating towards Port Talbot by way of the smoke stack belching from the steel works. There are well maintained cycle paths, a result of significant investment, with dedicated bridges to keep you away from the traffic.
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.
After 38 days of cycling and approximately 4,000km I am back home. Cycling from Lands End to John o’Groats hugging the Atlantic Coast around England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland. I generally followed the Sustrans National cycle routes 3,4 and 780; the Wild Atlantic Way, Hebridean Way and North Coast 500 on my trusty Thorn Sherpa. The weather was Wild and Windy, with many good clear exhilarating days. Mostly camping, with the occasional Hostel.
Now I have completed the North Sea Cycle Route and the Atlantic Seaboard, I am thinking of circling the Irish Sea and English Channel to complete all of the coastal options around the British Isles.
Cycling from Land’s End to John o’Groats (LEJOG) via the Wild Atlantic Way. Google MyMaps plan completed at https://goo.gl/raAtwt
I think I have a plan. Follow the NCR 3 and 4 from Land’s End to Fishguard and then catch a ferry to Ireland. Connect to the Wild Atlantic Way at Kinsale and follow the Irish coast to Ballycastle. Ferry to Islay, Colonsay, Oban, Barra (maybe Mull), then the Hebridian Way to Stornoway. Ferry to Ullapool and then coastal to John o’Groats. About 4,000km I think. Mostly Eurovelo 1, but with many diversions.
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.
After 20 days of cycling mostly into a North Easterly wind, I reached the end of National Cycle Route 1 in Norwick, Unst, Shetland. Then guess what happened? The wind changed direction 😦
I was surprised at the quality of the cycle route. I would estimate that from Hertfordshire, approximately 40% is completely traffic free, another 50% is very quiet country roads, the remainder is normal traffic conditions. Who would believe you could cycle safely the length of Britain, thanks to Sustrans. Apart a wet cinder track leading into Whitby eating a pair of front brake blocks, the Thorn Sherpa has been perfection, carrying me and 25kg of gear without fuss.
The next task is to fly to Bergen in Norway for the 4,000km journey to Dover. I have gone through my panniers and shaved off 3kg of unnecessary gear, not to mention the almost 5kg I have lost in weight! Must eat more. My 20 year old MacPac Microlite tent needs replacement as the inner looks like a pair of grannies apple catchers. Everyone I met said spend the money on a Hilleberg, but which one?
Thank you for the encouragement, support and help from so many on the route. Notably, Berwick Cycles; Velocity in Inverness and Dr. Sprockets in Whitby.