LAND'S END TO JOHN O'GROATS
ON THE NATIONAL CYCLE NETWORK
By Rob Richardson
Published by Sustrans 2017
220 pages, including full mapping
Reviewed by Steve Dyster
As an iconic journey undertaken by many cyclists, yet with no set route, a new perspective will be welcomed both by those who anticipate following the NCN all the way and by those who aim to use sections of it. Demonstrating that cycling into major urban centres was quite possible was one of Sustrans’ aims in developing the National Cycle Network. Though far from all traffic-free, passing through Bristol, Manchester and Glasgow - on this route - is far easier than in days of yore.
Not for the record-breaker, the 1200 miles route in the guide is a good couple of hundred miles longer than a straighter way following quiet country lanes. Whatever way one choses to go there will be great scenery, places of particular interest and so on. Then again, there’ll always be things one will have to by-pass. The route in the guide should keep most touring cyclists happy.
Divided into 28 sections of varying lengths and into colour-coded regions, a section a day may take too long for many to complete the journey in one go. However, many cyclists, even those new to touring, will be able to complete a section and a half or so each day.
Where following the NCN would result in a significant detour without good cause, non-NCN routes are resorted to. These are shown on the map and have detailed directions. Where the route is on the NCN, route directions are more general and following the map - and the signage - (hopefully protected, by those noble volunteer Sustrans Rangers, from the machinations of local funsters) and, if you like, GPS files available for an additional £10, is necessary.
If you have used the excellent Sustrans pocket sized guides to the NCN - actually area maps with added information and suggestions - you will recognise the design. In addition, the LEJoG route is highlighted with yellow edging, which can, on occasion require a second look. Key directions are marked on the map. Generally clear, the colour-coded theme for each region means that I sometimes found these key directions hard to read at a glance - especially, I found, in the North-West section. Guidebook atop a bar-bag, there’ll be places where anyone with eyesight like mine will need to do a double-take. In contrast, in other sections, they appear consistently sharp and clear.
Squeezing the guide into a standard cycling jersey back pocket threatened to tear the seams.
Dealing with surface quality on traffic-free routes is a bone of contention. The author deals with this nicely, pointing out that the entire route was ridden on a 28mm section touring tyre. Even so, there will be variations in quality. Alternatives are sometimes offered or immediately apparent.
Access to the net, smartphones apps and the whole caboodle of the latest technology are a challenge to the guidebook editor. How much information does one include? Well, tech failure is always a possibility - for whatever reason - but it is always necessary to be selective, especially when covering such a “big ride.”
Bearing that in mind, the limited selection of accommodation will need to be supplemented by additional research - a fact recognised in the text. The practical information pages offer useful links, though some might baulk that neither the SYHA or Visit Scotland get a mention amongst Visit England, Visit Britain, YHA and Beds for Cyclists
Similarly, only Camping and Caravanning Club sites are shown on the route. Of course, the Camping and Caravanning Club website lists many non-club sites. Independent Hostels are shown on the map, whilst YHA or SYHA get a mention in the text. Campers, in particular, may wish to search the net in greater depth and annotate accordingly.
Space for notes on places of interest is necessarily very limited, so these are “signposted”. That’s fine - carting a guide the size of a coffee-table book would not be helpful. Tempting photographs can be found throughout, while the text draws one on.
A recommendation for a regional drink and a dish to sample is prominent in each section. Some of the beverages may be best at the end of the day, but, for those who partake, these suggestions may make the journey through England and Scotland even more satisfying.
Rightly, Sustrans aims to encourage new cyclists. More experienced cyclists may well never set out on a tour without pump or lock or lights, but the first, at least, should probably be included in the “essentials” panel.
Would I follow this route? Yes? Would I find this guide useful in planning and following the route? Yes. Do I think it will encourage people to cycle LEJoG? Yes. Could the guide hold more information? Yes. Would it still fit on a bar-bag top? Probably not. Will it take you on a journey through fabulous scenery or a signed and “safe” route? Yes it will.
Minor quibbles aside - and they would not put me off forking out my £14.95 - this is a very helpful guide-book with a new angle on the Great British cycle tour. So, why not go E2E on the NCN?
PERPLEXED? OVERLOADED? DON'T TAKE IT TOO SERIOUSLY ... THERE'S MORE TO AN E2E THAN RIDING A BIKE
PUBLISHED FEBRUARY 2017