October 05, 2022 5 min read
‘When we wrote our first book France en Velo, we used to joke that it was “like Land’s End to John o’ Groats but with better wine, better food and better weather”. Now, after six years of planning, researching and riding the LEJOG1000 route to produce Britain's Best Bike Ride, we can admit we did Britain a disservice. Here is what we have learnt.’
‘Interest in British wine is soaring; you have probably heard about French champagne houses hedging their bets on global warming by buying up land in Essex. It may still be a small industry but some of the best British wines are globally respected. On our route we pass a couple of really lovely vineyards making fantastic, award-winning wine. Camel Valley Vineyard in Cornwall is a very tempting stop-off and well worth exploring. We are able to say British, not English, wine because one of the vineyards we pass is in Wales. Close to Tintern Abbey, Parva Farm Vineyard is likely to be on or near to where vines originally grew to supply the Abbey with wine.’Photo: Parva Farm – Vines were first grown in Wales during the Roman occupation of the area.
‘Britain loves beer! The growth in craft ales and micro-breweries means that nearly every stage of the route contains at least one independent brewer. It’s impossible to sample a beer from each one – though we did our best. We have hand-picked a few favourites to mention in the book but there are many more to find for yourself. One brewery every LEJOG rider should make time for is the John o’ Groats Brewery. The white-washed walls of the Last House, just a few metres from the iconic signpost, beckon riders in to celebrate their arrival.’
Photo: Leaving Inverness make time for craft ale at the Black Isle Brewery
‘It’s not all about alcohol by any means, but some of the most creative, interesting and entrepreneurial businesses we met were related to fermenting, brewing or distilling in some way. While you expect cider in Cornwall and Devon, we visited a family-run orchard in Cheshire where the orchards have been maintained by the same family for 200 years. Gin, flavoured with local botanicals, can be found from Cornwall to Caithness. In West Penwith you can enjoy a gin that tastes like early Cornish spring mornings. As you approach the final miles of the LEJOG1000 route you can delay your arrival with a sip of Rock Rose gin at Dunnet Head, made with Highland water and hand-foraged botanicals from the spectacular cliffs.’
Photo: Craft cider and apples from Dunham Cider Press, a family run business for 200 years
‘We sang the praises of French cheese inFrance en Velo, saying that cheese is specific to its locality; you can enjoy a cheese at lunchtime and not be able to find it again thirty miles later (the little leaf-wrapped cheese of Banon is a fine example of this). However, despite our lack of protection over names and manufacturing processes, British cheese is as excellent and varied as the French (really trying not to sound like Liz Truss’s infamous cheese speech here). Some places we pass through are obviously cheese-y, like Cheddar Gorge and Davidstow, but there are heritage cheese makers, small farm shops and new makers up and down the country. Every region has its favourite and own unique way of enjoying it – looking at you Lancashire with your cheese on fruit cake – the perfect riding snack! Make the time to visit the farmers’ markets, independent shops and even the ‘honesty boxes’ at the end of lanes and you might well be surprised by the quality and variety of the British food you find.’
Photo: Choosing fresh local produce at Ludlow Market
‘Undeniably Britain gets more rain than France; we have occasionally managed 1000 miles in France without putting on a waterproof, that has never happened while riding LEJOG1000. But even wet weather never stays. In a typical fourteen-day trip you will get windblown, sunburned and soaked, sometimes on the same day. You have to embrace it: the sun is sweeter for the shower before it; the hot bath more luxurious because of the wet feet you endured all day. When a shaft of light breaks through the clouds picking out a distant hilltop, or you descend through the arch of a rainbow coming down from Glenshee, weather has only enhanced your experience, not detract from it.’
Photo: British weather makes for fantastic light as we approach the climb of Glenshee
‘Don’t like the scenery? Can’t understand the accent? The water tastes funny? Whatever your complaint, ride another ten miles and it will have changed. We are a small island packed with variety in everything from landscape to language, which means that as you travel through the route what is around you constantly changes. LEJOG1000 is a narrow thread connecting two extreme points of the country. It offers a chance to see the places you pass through at a speed that makes it possible to observe and note the differences. Depending on your own passions and interests you might note the changes in different ways. Some people might spot the changes in architecture from the thatched roofs of the South West to the slate and stone of Northern England and the low white crofters’ cottages of the Scottish Highlands. For others it might be the type or agriculture or the name of the bread in the bakery (we are not going to get into a discussion on the difference between baps and cobs and rolls, it will take too long).’
Photo: Traditional thatched cottage in Cornwall
‘“I thought it wouldn’t get hard until Scotland”, is the groaning call of cyclists on the narrow lanes of Cornwall. We have very bad news for anyone starting their Land’s End to John o’ Groats journey – Cornwall and Devon are hard! The hills are short but steep and they zigzag up and down like the teeth of a comb. Your slow pace up the hills makes it all the better to appreciate the spectacular hedgerows that hum with insect life and the smell of honeysuckle. The good news is that by the time you get to the ‘real’ hills of Northern England, the 500 miles of training that you did in the ‘easy’ South West and Midlands has started to pay off. You will approach the big challenges of the Scottish Highlands with confidence and their high peaks will be inspiring, not formidable.’
Photo: One of the many coastal hills of Cornwall that plunge down to the sea and back up
John Walsh is an experienced cycle guide; he has guided all over the world from the challenges of Bolivia to the exotic beaches of Costa Rica. With a master’s degree in International Wine Tourism his work and studies have taken him to many beautiful destinations, but nowhere can beat the hills of Cumbria on a sunny day.
Hannah Reynolds is the former fitness editor of Cycling Weekly magazine, author of 1001 Cycling Tips and co-author of Fitter, Further, Faster, a guide to sportive preparation, and Get on Your Bike, an introduction to cycling. She is also a cycle guide and former bike racer, proving that passion is more important than ability. Together, John and Hannah are authors of the bestselling guidebook France en Velo, a guide to the ultimate thousand-mile journey from the English Channel to the Mediterranean.
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