See the section for Great Britain of the Trento Bike Pages

Land's End to John O'Groats by bicycle with 3 others - May 1992 - Preparation

By Peter Seaman (, contributed on Fri, 17 Mar 95 19:39 GMT
This is part 1 of a report consisting of 4 parts. See Part 2 (First Week), Part 3 (Second Week), Part 4 (Odds and Ends), the Index, or the (very big!) one-file version.

"This very remarkable man,
Commends a most practical plan:
You can do what you want
If you don't think you can't,
So don't think you can't think you can." ..Proverb
After I attended an outdoor course at Brathay in 1987 I developed a taste for outdoor adventures of one sort or another. I subsequently did a 7-day 'Adult Challenge' course at the Ullswater Outward Bound centre, involving climbing, caving, abseiling, canoeing and various other challenging activities. Two years later I joined a 3-week "Highland Rover" hiking and canoeing experience with 11 others organised by Outward Bound Loch Eil in the wilderness aroud Fort William. The biggest difficulties on this one were the almost continuous rain and biting midgies. Last year I thought it might be interesting to try to cycle from Land's End to John O'Groats with a party of other racing cyclists in a time which for me would be quite challenging.

Although the main purpose of the journey was to attempt a challenge, have a bit of fun and take a holiday, I found that many people expected me to raise money for charity, and when my friend Sue Bickly offered to organise fund-raising provided a portion went to the local school I readily agreed. I found that almost everybody I knew (and many I didn't) were most willing to commit a sum of money on a sponsorship form. Over #500 was raised, of which 80% went to Greenpeace and 20% to the local school. Before leaving, the headmistress asked me to give a talk to the school, so I turned up with my bike and cycling gear and showed them on a globe of the earth the distance we would be travelling. I was most impressed by the behaviour and attentiveness of the children and their non-ending questions.

How much of a challenge?

Many People with little or no training have made the journey in about 14 days. Until recently the 847 mile record was held by John Woodburn in an incredible 1 day 21 hours, who achieved this in 1985 when his age at 47 was little different to my age now. I started cycling in a competitive way about 3 years ago, encouraged by a friend I would meet early mornings to do a 10 mile circular tour. The more we did this circuit the more our times improved, the best to date being at an average speed of 21mph. At the end of last year I joined the Winchester VC Venta Wessex Window Systems cycling club and I have since done a few time trials, achieving 10 miles at 24 mph, and 25 miles at 23 mph. I continued training through last winter with two friends Jim Montgomerie and Dave Byrnes and gradually augmented my weekly distance to about 250 miles per week. Most of these runs have been done at average speeds between 16 and 20 mph. Before the end to end, the greatest distance I have ever cycled in one day was 114 miles across France to Le Havre in 1990. I did find this rather tough and certainly did not feel like repeating it the following day. I decided therefore that 120 miles per day over about 8-9 days would be a good challenge for me, and expected to average when moving about 15 mph.

Selection of riders

Several people at my club have done the 'end to end' and all said it was worthwhile. Many expressed an interest in repeating the exercise but none were available for a trip at the time I wished to do it - May 1992. I decided the only way I could do the journey in a party would be if I organised it myself, so I therefore placed the following advertisement in the Personal column of Cycling Weekly, on October 19th, 1991:-

"LANDS END to John O'Groats, May 1992. Other cyclists wanted to join me on this tour, at about 120 miles/day, accompanied by vehicle. Share expenses. Please telephone 0962-712530"

I was encouraged by the results. Altogether I had 15 replies (all male) to the advertisement, and I also wrote to three friends who I thought might be interested in the challenge. (They all declined). I hate organising things and avoid it whenever possible because I know that it is never simple or straightforward, it takes time and effort and expense and that one invariably receives critiscism when things go wrong and little or no appreciation if things go right. But in this case I decided that the advantages of being able to make certain decisions and to pick and choose my colleages outweighed these disadvantages. Moreover, I knew that if I did not organise the trip myself no-one else would either and I would have to go alone or not at all.

First I set the date and thought about the ideal size of group. I decided that the right size party would be 6 cyclists. Although I object to motor cars and generally have little use for one I felt that one car shared between 6 was justifiable. The car was essential because I was determined to travel light on a racing bike with no mudguards or panniers. More than 6 cyclists would create an extra danger on busy roads and would slow down the party as a whole because of punctures, breakdowns, and discussions. The more cyclists the more likely the slowest cyclist would be out of line with the others. Fewer than 6 increases the expense, reduces the fun and wastes the car.

In order to select 5 of the 15 cyclists I wrote to them all with three basic questions. The first question was to find out the kind of route each preferred - (a) fast main road route minimum distance and time, (b) primarily B roads with a few A roads, or (c) a scenic route consisting primarily of B roads and unclassified roads. The second question asked what distance they ideally wanted to ride each day and the third question asked how much they wished to spend.

From the replies I took full advantage of my position as organiser and selected the 5 cyclists whose replies indicated they were most compatible with the way I wanted to do it myself. The route was to be about 1000 miles along scenic country lanes; our distance was to be 120 miles per day and we would spend up to #500 per person. The chosen cyclists were (1) Ian Noons a prison Officer from Cambridge (2) Ron Gager a retired British Telecom Manager from Caterham (3) Lindsay Venner an ex-English teacher and now a cycling courier from London (4) Ian Dymock a Bosun who works on Admiralty tugs at Plymouth (5) Gary Benjamin a night club owner from Hereford and (6) myself a computer programmer from Winchester.

Surplus riders

Another question I asked each of the 15 applicants was whether they would be willing to organise a second party if they were not selected for my own group. Andy Maddox said he was willing to do this if noone else was. I therefore appointed him leader of "group 2" and wrote to all those not selected for my group suggesting they contact Andy for further arrangements. That was the last contact I made with these 10 people until I contacted Andy in April 1992. I was disappointed to learn that Andy had now decided not to go himself, and was surprised that neither had he contacted the others nor had any of them contacted him, in spite of my efforts in writing to them all.


Between October 1991 and May 1992 several letters passed between myself and the 5 cyclists, covering such matters as route, training, accommodation, car, sponsorship, and clothing. I organised two drivers - my nephew Phillip Beeson and a friend Sandy Booth from Canada. Sandy had visited us in Sept 1991 and when I told her about my trip she was keen to fly over again and drive for us. I contacted the CTC and obtained details of three possible routes. My wife agreed to lend our car which was hoped to be a diesel VW Golf, but being a one-car family I had to arrange an alternative vehicle for her to use.

Selection of route

Based on both my own and everyone else's stated wishes I selected the CTC scenic route of some 1000 miles which involved B roads and many unclassified lanes over some of the loveliest countryside in England and Scotland. I made various modifications, wrote it up in great detail and distributed it to the party for comment in March 1992. No-one suggested changing the route and I therefore prepared my maps with no intention of altering it during the trip without very good reason. As I myself get lost pretty easily I thought it sensible to share the problem of navigation amongst the riders who claimed expertise in particular areas - Ian Dymock for Cornwall and Devon, Lindsay Venner for Somerset Avon and Gloucestershire, Gary Benjamin for Shropshire, Ian Noons for the North West and Ron Gager for Scotland. As far as I was concerned I now considered the way fixed, but I was to discover later that some of the riders ignored this preparation of the route and wanted to change it the night before a journey, causing unnecessary discussion and pressure when time was usually short and sleep desperately needed.

Doubt about one of the riders

In March I started to decide the stops and arrange accommodation, this involved much study of the maps, diversions and many phone calls. I found that Youth Hostels require payment in advance, so I asked everyone to pay me #58 for this purpose. Receiving this deposit would also give me some assurance that they really were intending to come, and I asked for the money by Easter (April 17th) at the latest. Ian Noons did not reply by the necessary date so I chased him up by telephone. He said yes he is almost certainly coming and promised a cheque. This did not arrive when he said it would and I was uncertain whether to assume he would be coming (and pay his deposit myself) or not. Eventually Ian wrote with apology and a cheque, so I now had committment from all 5 riders and I went ahead with the bookings. I arranged through family and friends free accommodation for all at Hawick and a meal for all in Sedbergh in Cumbria. In addition Lindsay arranged a free meal for us at his parents house at St Briavels near the Severn Bridge, so it seemed unlikely we would exceed our budget.

Another rider decides at late stage not to come

A week before the proposed departure I received a letter from Gary Benjamin saying he had been unable to do sufficient training and had decided not to start the trip as he felt he would not be strong enough to keep up with us. I tried to persuade him still to start (suggesting he might consider starting one or two days earlier) but to no avail. This was a big disappointment as it was clearly then far too late to find a replacement. The six riders were now down to five.

Personal problem and delayed departure

Then on the Wednesday before the proposed Sunday departure date a totally unexpected personal problem arose - a serious illness in my wife requiring an operation on the following Monday, the very day we were scheduled to leave for Land's End. After considering various options we decided to postpone the trip by two days to enable me to see my wife through the immediate aftermath of the surgery.

Loss of Ian Noons from party

To see if a two day delay would be acceptable I called each of the other participants in turn. Ian Noons said he had allowed no contingency at all and had to leave on the Monday as planned or he would not be able to return to work 9 days later. The others said they could accept a 48 hour delayed start so I decided to go for it and with assistance from Ron Gager and Sandy Booth we re-arranged the accommodation as best we could. Three of us tried many times to re-contact Ian Noons but he was neither at work nor at home and could not be contacted, not did he contact me. Finally on the Monday night he phoned in from Taunton having cycled there from Land's End solo after deciding to do the whole trip in 6 days on his own. The accommodation had been booked for him but I undertook to return as much of his deposit as possible.

Ian called me a week or so after we returned from John O'Groats to say he had made Bristol the second day but had then given up. Travelling with panniers on his own was no fun and he felt insufficient incentive to go on. It was a pity he did not come with us. From what he told me of his time trial times he is a very strong cyclist. I think he could have cycled with us to somewhere in Scotland and then gone ahead to John O'Groats on his own. He could have made up the lwo lost days by taking say 3 days instead of our last 5 and thereby arriving on the original date planned. Alternatively, he could have done Land's End to Dunoon with us and returned from there, which though not John O'Groats would have been better than Bristol!


As we would be travelling light we needed to be able to contact the car for nourishment and in case of accidents, breakdowns, or bad weather. I purchased a small CB radio and considered mounting it on a bicycle, but rejected the idea because of the need for a 24 watt power supply. I was fortunate in being lent a device that can be used as a PC, a portable computer terminal and a cellular telephone. We considered mounting this on a bicycle, and although compact and relatively lightweight it would have been too cumbersome. At times during the journey we reached 50 mph, and though 30% of the weight of the bike on the handlebars may have added to the excitement at these speeds it would not have improved the safety aspects. I was also lent a very compact cellular phone for carrying in my back pocket on the bike. The Tandy CB radio was fitted in the car but the only thing we ever got from it was noise.
Peter Seaman
This is part 1 of a report consisting of 4 parts. See Part 2 (First Week), Part 3 (Second Week), Part 4 (Odds and Ends), the Index, or the (very big!) one-file version.