How am I going to get to/from Lands End or John O’Groats?

What is Lands End or John O'Groats all about?

This is not always the first thing people think about when planning their end to end cycle ride but I would suggest putting it early in the planning stage for two reasons:

  1. I didn’t and ended up with problems (see below).
  2. Having fixed (and probably paid for) your travel, you have another incentive to do the ride.

There are a number of options for travelling to/from Lands End and John O’Groats:

Train

Getting to Lands End or John O'Groats by Train

This is the preferred option of many. Trains are available as close to John O’Groats as Wick (approx 16 miles) or Thurso (approx 15 miles) and as close to Land’s End as Penzance (approx 10 miles). You can cycle/taxi the intervening distance.

Depending on your start point you may have to make a number of train changes.  You will probably need at least one train to Edinburgh then it’s a change there to Inverness where there is a final change to Wick/Thurso.  [Make sure you book a space on the train for your bike in advance because these are very limited.]

However, before assuming this is the best way to go check the train times and costs well in advance because they vary over time!  As a cautionary tale, I originally planned a JOGLE for the year before I eventually did it [I didn’t put a cross on the calendar and let it all slide].  I had investigated the various ways of getting to John O’Groats and the train was perfect.  I could leave from Plymouth on Friday evening on a sleeper train and arrive in Wick mid afternoon on Saturday.  This left plenty of time to cycle to my selected B&B, near the start, for a good night’s rest before the start on Sunday.  The cost, if I booked in advance, was £69 plus £3 to book my bike.  Sorted.

The next year I assumed all would be the same.  However, when I came to make my booking (having already booked several of my B&B stops on my route to Land’s End) I found the time table and costs had changed dramatically.  The train journey was now considerably longer with an overnight stop instead of a sleeper train.  Aside from the inconvenience and cost of an extra night’s accommodation, I would need to take an extra day’s holiday to cover the additional day lost travelling.  And the cost had gone up to £240, even booking in advance.  So I ended up chasing around trying to find a better way.

 

Car

Getting to Lands End or John O'Groats by Car

If you are lucky (like me) you might live within an easy car drive of one end of the country or the other.  I live within a three hour drive of Land’s End.  If you are blessed (like me) with a loving and tolerant spouse you might be able to persuade them to drop you off/pick you up.

If you are not blessed, or even lucky, you can still hire a car one way to the start/from the finish.  At least that’s what a number of guides suggest.

Having found that the train was going to put a sizeable dent in my end to end budget and time arrangements I investigated car hire as an alternative.  I discovered that the closest place to Land’s End that you can drop a hire car off is in Penzance – which is ok, only ten miles of so away.  If you don’t want to cycle an extra 10 mile [shame on you – although it is unfairly hilly if you’ve done the JOGLE] you can get a taxi.

But the closest drop off for one way hire that I could find to John O’Groats was Inverness, about 100 miles short.  Options to/from there were to cycle all the way or take the train between Inverness and Wick and taxi or cycle the 16 miles or so between Wick and John O’Groats.  If your budget is not limited you could get a taxi from Inverness to John O’Groats.

Bearing in mind the 10-11 hour drive from Devon all the way up to Inverness and the petrol costs plus the train connections and the need for an extra night’s accommodation, the cost and time implications seemed to be as bad or worse than the train.

Plane

Getting to Lands End or John O'Groats by Plane

Finding both the train and car hire expensive and time consuming I turned, almost in desperation, to air travel.

The closest airport to Land’s End offering internal connections with the rest of the UK is in Newquay (approx. 40 miles).  The closest to John’ O’Groats is Wick (approx. 20 miles).  The normal taxi/cycle options to/from apply.

I was surprised to find that I could travel from Plymouth to Wick (via Edinburgh) for about £100.  And it would only take about 5 hours including the stopover.   So, much cheaper and much quicker than the train or car hire.  The only downside was that I could only take my bike as standby luggage.  Which meant I might arrive at the airport and be told my bike could not travel.  Which would be a problem.

So I investigated posting my bike to Wick.  I googled bike shops in Wick and contacted one to ask whether they would be willing to accept delivery of my bike.  When they agreed I tried googling bike postal to Wick.  Unfortunately all of the operatives I could find on-line wanted to charge an enormous sum to take my bike to the Highlands.  In the end I picked up the yellow pages and found a local courier who would ship it for a reasonable sum.  By lucky coincidence the franchise was owned by the same people who owned my local bike shop and was housed in the same building.  So when the time came to send my bike on its way I dropped it into the bike shop for a full service and they packed it for me and took it next door ready to be whizzed to Wick – all for less than the on-line operatives wanted just to transport.  Ideal.

Well, almost.  Unfortunately there were no flights from Edinburgh to Wick on a Saturday so I had to travel on Friday.  Whilst this meant I had to take an extra day off work, which was no real hardship, it also meant that the B&Bs I had booked were now all a day too late!  So I had to frantically ring around and re-book – thankfully with no difficulty.  And on the positive side I would be starting, and hence finishing, a day earlier so I would have an extra day to recover at the end.

Coach

Getting to Lands End or John O'Groats by Bus

A final option for travel is by coach.  Again, the closest you can get to Land’s End is Penzance and for John O’Groats it’s Wick.  National Express have a fairly wide ranging network throughout England and to Edinburgh.  From there up it’s City Link [bus/coach company, not parcel courier!].

Please note that whilst you can take your bike as luggage [check this before you book because things change] you will need to package it.

Whilst the coach can be relatively cheap it is also slow, so be prepared for a long journey.

 

My Recommendation for Travel to/from John O’Groats

Due to its remoteness John O’Groats is the more difficult of the start/finish locations to arrange transport to/from.  It is one of the reasons I started at John O’Groats – to get the more difficult journey out of the way so I didn’t have to worry about it during my ride.

In 2013 I rode end to end again, this time starting in Lands End.  I took the train to Penzance and cycled to the start from there.  I was not concerned about the return from John O’Groats because, since my previous trip,  I had learnt of the fantastic John O’Groats Bike Transport Company

Based in Inverness the John O’Groats Bike Transport Company offers two services:

  1. they will transport you and your bike, either way, between John O’Groats and Inverness.  They can cater for individuals and groups with comfortable, quality, well maintained vehicles, trailers and racking systems.  They offered to drop me in the centre of Inverness or at the airport and they would be happy to drop you at the train station or similar location.
  2. they will courier your bike to your doorstep or arrange to have it picked up and couriered/transported to John O’Groats ready for your start.  I travelled on a Sunday and my bike was securely boxed up and dispatched on the Monday to arrive at my door on Tuesday in perfect condition (or at least the same condition it was in when I left it!).  Which gave me enough time to clean it and patch it up ready to commute to work on Wednesday.

Not only are all the company’s drivers vetted by the local authority and licensed accordingly, they are also bike mechanics that work at the bike hire business which forms the other part of the company’s trade.  So they have lots of experience in maintaining, handling and transporting bikes. They carry emergency kit in their vehicles so if there are any last minute mechanicals help will be at hand.

I can vouch from personal experience for the efficiency and courtesy of the company, not to mention their cycling knowledge, and would have no hesitation in recommending them.  In fact, if you are riding without vehicle assistance, I think they offer an ideal solution to the transport problem.  They get you to or from Inverness, which has many more transport options that John O’Groats.  Inverness has a regular train service, coaches, one way car hire and an airport.

The airport would be my next step.  You can fly to many locations in the UK and across Europe from Inverness.  I flew with FlyBe to Exeter, via Manchester, and the total trip was 3 hours (although I arrived so early for the flight I sat in the airport at Inverness for 6 hours – but after 8 days on a bike that was not bad thing).  Flybe list 117 destinations and I would guess that 80% of people live within an hour’s car journey of one of the destinations.  And in terms of cost, at the time I flew, it was cheaper than the train or one way car hire (the coach may have been cheaper but held little appeal). 

So, in summary, my recommendation is to fly to/from Inverness and get the John O’Groats Bike Transport Company to arrange the bit from Inverness to John O’Groats, for you and your bike!

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