Great hopes make great men - Thomas Fuller.

A Bridge Too Far - Tale of LEJOG June 2010


The following is a brief account of our failed attempt to complete the Land's End to John O'Groats route in June 2010. Another attempt is planned for August 2011.

Don't worry, this is not another film buff's appraisal of the star-studded film or an account of the wartime exploits of that brave bunch of guys at Arnhem! It is, in fact a quick tale of tandem cycling and our failed attempt to cycle from Land's End to John O'Groats. You'll see the link with the title towards the end.

Completing this cycle has been something that I've wanted to do for some time and, on the evening of Thursday 10 June, we finally set off on the long drive from Glasgow to Land's End. The team consisted of myself and my pilot Ronnie Young along with our support crew of Andy Swann and Heather Barbara - a more motley crew you can't imagine! The plan was to drive through the night and arrive at Land's End at around lunchtime the next day and to cycle from there to Truro, about 40 miles. Everything went perfectly including the weather but we did begin to get an idea that Cornwall isn't particularly flat, with numerous hills in between the multitude of picturesque villages. We even managed to find my friend's house where we were staying the night and were rewarded with an excellent dinner including a massive pavlova!

Saturday continued to plan with only a couple of wrong turnings and, because the weather was holding up, we decided to camp near Bude. Due to the aching legs and throbbing rear ends, we felt that we could justify a couple of cans of lager and a game of 'Chubby Bunnies', which, to the uninitiated, involves shoving as many marshmallows into your mouth without chewing or swallowing them - very childish I know but hellish funny.

Sunday proved to be a massive test of will power with our route taking us into a strong head wind and on what could only be described as a real roller coaster ride, in particular the 1 in 4 slopes down into and up out of Linmouth. The roads were also curiously busy with motor bikes which turned out to be because of a rock concert also in Linmouth. As we pushed the tandem up the hill out of the town, the rain started, coming on full blast as we gained the brow of the hill and moved out onto Exmoor. Morale got pretty low at this point but we rallied as we dropped down into Porlock and the sun came out again. The rest of the day's cycle was uneventful and we got to Minehead in the early evening. Several very pleasant pints and a comfortable bed really did the trick in terms of repairing the waning morale!

Monday and we were heading into darkest Somerset. Generally the roads were less hilly but we still had the head wind to contend with and other little problems were beginning to manifest themselves in the shape of gear problems with the tandem and reports of the support vehicle engine overheating. Ronnie's back was also beginning to give him a lot of pain. To add insult to injury, the GPS appeared to be caught out by what we have named the Somerset Triangle! Going round in circles in a car is one thing but doing additional miles on a bike when your legs and rear are sore is a nightmare! At least our campsite was comfortable and the sun was still shining.

Tuesday and 'the Bridge Too Far'! Well, things had started going wrong on Monday but they were about to get a whole lot worse. The Somerset Triangle continued to send us in odd directions, resulting in us having to take directions from many locals, including, believe it or not, a blind lady out on her mobility training! We should have known that this was not a good sign! We were trying to navigate to the bridge over the River Avon and then on to the Severn bridge, however, the mixture of cycle paths and poor map reading resulted in many more frustrating miles being cycled than we should of needed. Despite the fact that the weather was still fantastic, the final nail in the coffin came as we closed in on the Severn bridge. Ronnie and I had stopped to grab a snack and a drink when we heard from Andy that the support vehicle had broken down just over the Severn bridge on the outskirts of Chepstow with a suspected blown head gasket and certainly not the news we had wanted to hear!

After much deliberation and heart searching, we decided that the vehicle problems, combined with Ronnie's increasingly painful back, meant that continuing the trip this time was not practical. We had covered 276.5 miles in 4.5 days but the Severn bridge was really our Bridge Too Far. Thank God for RAC Recovery!!

This is not the end of the story, just the end of Chapter 1 as we plan to have another go in the not too distant future.