I was pretty much packed to go in the summer of 2020 – but then we had a second wave of COVID. As it became clear a vaccine was going to be ready soon, it made sense to wait for that. After I got my first jab in May 2021, I set off on a “practice” tour of the UK.
The classic route across the UK is from Land’s End, Cornwall to John O’Groats, Scotland. I decided to do that but first, I needed to get down to Cornwall.
The first couple of days were sunny, and I didn’t use any suncream. I haven’t had to even in the tropics, and didn’t expect to in the UK. I regretted that mistake and bought suncream on the second day, a bit too late.
For the first few days I was very tired. I had basically not cycled for over a year. By the third day I was exhausted and dreading hills – and they were steep, with gradients of up to 25%.
I reached Land’s End on the sixth day. The weather made it especially underwhelming. Sea view rooms were £150 and I bet those people felt ripped off!
From here I turned around, and gradually started heading north east. I made my way across Cornwall and Devon, then went to visit Stonehenge.
By now I’d returned to a decent level of fitness and wasn’t feeling quite so exhausted as I rode through the midlands, passing through my old university (Warwick) on the way.
Once I got further north I decided it was time for some off-road riding. I spent a couple days following the Pennine bridleway.
The night before I crossed into Scotland, I had my first encounter with midges. In the time it took me to set up my tent, I was surrounded by a thick swarm, to the point I was practically inhaling them. Over the next few nights I experimented with racing to put my tent up as quickly as possible, before settling on a strategy or covering up as much as possible (and looking highly fashionable in the process).
Scotland was definitely the highlight of the trip. I spent a lot of time off-road, and cycled several beautiful mountain passes.
Reaching John O’Groats is a bit anticlimactic, as there basically isn’t anything there. I took the obligatory photo then turned around and started cycling back south.
On the way home I planned to take in the three peaks, the highest points in each of Scotland, England and Wales. First up was Ben Nevis, the highest of the three.
My calves were quite sore for a couple days after that – they don’t get used that much in cycling, but they do from walking down a mountain. Nonetheless I made my way down to Scafell Pike, England’s highest mountain. I climbed this one with Lina and Valerie, two Moldovan women I met.
From Scafell Pike I made my way to Manchester to meet some friends. Then it was on to Wales, and Snowdon. As I was approaching Snowdon, I chatted to a woman walking along the road. She’d just climbed Snowdon, having walked there from Land’s End. She was heading to John O’Groats, via Scafell Pike and Ben Nevis. Walking it is significantly more impressive than cycling!
From Snowdon it was only a couple days ride to get home, where I settled in to wait for my second jab, and plan my next tour.
May 31 to July 2 2021: 3577 km