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Cycling Journey Accounts

Memorials of the Hon. Ion Keith-Falconer, M.A. by the Rev. Robert Sinker, Deighton, Bell & Co, 1888

Ion Keith-Falconer, among the other achievements of his short life, was a keen racing cyclist, completing one of the early Land’s End to John O’Groats cycle rides in 1882.  He finished in just under 13 days, riding an ordinary (penny-farthing) bicycle weighing 45 lbs.  This biography reprints a fascinating short article by Keith-Falconer giving an account of his ride.

Land’s End to John O’Groats by William B Dawson, Cunliffe Brothers, 1934

William Dawson was a keen cyclist and a turner by trade.  He lived in Todmorden, an industrial Yorkshire town in the Pennines on the border with Lancashire, and at the time of setting out to cycle End to End he had been out of work for two years due to the depression.  I imagine part of the motivation to undertake the trip was to try to make a bit of money from publishing a book: he had previously published a local walking guide.  There was already an established tradition of cycling from Land’s End to John O’Groats by this time, with a recognised route to follow.  At the time this book was written the record was held by J W Rossiter, in a time of 2 days 13 hours 22 minutes.  He had broken a record of 20 years’ standing, although his record in its turn was broken again before William Dawson’s book was published.  Dawson’s journey was altogether more leisurely, undertaken on a bike rescued from scrap.  He had a keen interest in church architecture (but not in religion), but what makes the book so entertaining is his dry and anarchic sense of humour.  Recommended.

British Journey by Bernard Newman, Robert Hale, 1945

During the second world war the British government sponsored a lot of educational lectures to keep the population informed and involved. Bernard Newman seems to have done more than his fair share of these, and got around mainly by bicycle. This book is a readable description of his travels in the spring and summer of 1944: he got just about everywhere and there's a map to prove it.

Land’s End to John O’Groats by Cornelius Burke, published privately (Canada), undated (c. 1975?)

A slim booklet containing a “Three Men in a Boat” account of a cycle tour from End to End.

The Toss of a Coin by Maurice Bird, End to End Labels, 1978

A brief and naïve account of a charity Land’s End to John O’Groats cycle ride.

22 Days Around the Coast of Britain by Nick Sanders, Nick Sanders Publishing, 1984

A curiously constructed account of two cycling expeditions round the coast of Britain: one leisurely and one setting a record of just over 22 days to ride 4800 miles.  The two brief accounts are told in parallel, accompanied by an excellent collection of photographs.

The Wind In My Wheels by Josie Dew, Little, Brown & Co, 1992, also a Warner paperback

This includes a short account of a Land’s End to John O’Groats ride on a wheelchair bicycle (without passenger).

Fling on a Bike by Delia Kennedy, published privately, 1992

A company called Bike Events organised a number of group Land’s End to John O’Groats bike rides for touring cyclists: the Great British Bike Rides.  This is a personal account of joining one of these trips in the summer of 1991.  The cover photograph was taken by Jane Schnell, who published her own account of the same tour.

Both Are Better by Jane Schnell, Milner Press (US), 1994

Most of this book is a personal account of participation in the Bike Events Great British Bike Ride from Land’s End to John O’Groats in the summer of 1991.

On My Bike by David Jordan, published privately, 1996

David Jordan retired at 63 then spent a year planning his end to end cycle ride, including a physical fitness programme.  This booklet gives an account of his preparations (including photos of his training regime) and his successful ride.

Postcards From the Edge of Britain by Peter Mann, Country Books, 2000

This is a well-written account of a 5000-mile cycle trip on a Moulton bicycle round the coast of Britain, and is worth reading if you come across it

The Middle-Aged Mountaineer by Jim Curran, Constable, 2001

Jim Curran is a well-known and well-respected mountaineering filmmaker.  In the summer of 2000 he set off from the north of Shetland on his mountain bike, intending to cycle leisurely to Cornwall via as many rock climbs as he could find.  For one reason or another he doesn’t seem to have got much climbing done, but the account is a very entertaining one.  Recommended.

Pedal Power: Land’s End to John O’Groats in 26 Days by Jenny Alexander, Pearson Education, 2002

This is a brief illustrated diary account of a family south to north cycle trip, aimed at educating children.  The illustrations are generally good, and the text does appear to have been based on a real end to end ride.

Heading North on a By-Pass by Ron Smith, published privately, 2002

Having suffered a heart attack and undergone by-pass surgery, Ron Smith cycled from Land's End to Derby, then walked the rest of the way to John O'Groats. In case you thinking you're starting to see a pattern here, I can confirm that yes, we are all nutters. On the other hand we probably live longer than people who don't tackle an End to End. 

End to End by Andrew Webster, faragher//jones, 2004

A diary account of a Land's End to John O'Groats ride, apparently written on the journey and sent on its way in instalments by Blackberry. Ah, the wonders of technology...

A Part of My Life in a Family At War by Charlie Hankins BEM, published privately, undated (c.2005)

This is a slim autobiographical volume by a disabled ex-soldier. A large part of it covers two End to End charity trips on a hand-cranked tricycle.

Follow the Yellow Gorse Road by John Hopkins and Gordon Leadbetter, published privately, 2006

An account of John Hopkins' LEJOG cycle ride, with very good photographs from Gordon Leadbetter, mainly taken on a follow-up trip the following year expressly for the purpose.

Ten Bodies, Two Bikes and a Boil by Chris Gooderham, www.lulu.com, 2008

A fictionalised account based on an actual 21-day End to End cycling tour.  This is a rather odd mix of fact from the ride with a rather unconvincing fictional subplot.

Cycling Guidebooks

End to End: Cycling From Land’s End to John O’Groats by Christa Gausden, Oxford Illustrated Press, 1983

I’m still looking for this one. I'm not sure whether it was ever published, despite its having an ISBN number.  Let me know if you know different.

Land’s End to John O’Groats by Simon Brown, Cicerone, 1995

A guidebook to a 950-mile route for touring cyclists.  A lot of it is on busy A-roads, so this is not the book for those who want to follow a quiet route.

Land’s End to John O’Groats: the Great British Bike Adventure by Phil Horsley, Cordee, 1996

An excellent book recommended to anyone planning a cycle tour from End to End.  An interesting route is described on quiet roads, with many alternatives including some off-road sections suitable for road bikes.  And one of the alternatives passes my front door.  Recommended.

Cycling Britain by Ian Connellan et al, Lonely Planet, 2001

This includes a 38-page chapter describing a road route for cyclists that avoids the busy trunk roads, following mainly B-roads and quieter A-roads.  It looks a pretty good route to me, and the maps are clear.

Bike Britain: Cycling from Land’s End to John O’Groats by Paul Slater, Epic Guides (New Zealand), 2002

A cycling guide aimed principally at cyclists visiting Britain.  The route is a reasonable one for cycle tourists, mainly avoiding the busiest main roads, although it does take the very busy A82 from Glasgow to Loch Ness and the A9/A99 from the Dornoch Firth to John O’Groats.  There is plenty of useful background information, as well as clichéd historical notes (e.g. a section on Bonnie Prince Charlie), and what “Appendix F: English Kings and Queens” is doing in the book is anyone’s guess.

Land's End to John O'Groats - the Official Challenge Guide by Brian Smailes, Challenge Publications, 2004

A brief booklet. It doesn't make clear what's "official" about it.

Cycling Histories

Cycling: Land’s End to John O’Groats by Alan J Ray, Pelham Books, 1971

A history of Land’s End to John O’Groats cycling records and the men and women who set them.

The "End to End" Story - 100 Years of Cycling Records by John Taylor, Bridgtown Cycles, 2005

A detailed account of all the official End to End cycling records, with much contemporary description from the people involved. There's enough detail of people riding beyond their physical and mental abilities to convince anyone not to attempt breaking any of these records.  Mind you, that tricycle record at 2 days, 21 hours 37 minutes looks a soft touch...  Available direct from Bridgtown Cycles.

Page last updated 26 August 2008