Taking your bike by train
Travelling by train is probably one of the most popular options for people cycling LEJOG or JOGLE. There's a well served train station 10 miles from Lands End at Penzance, whilst John o'Groats is 16 miles from Wick train station with 3 to 4 trains a day through to Inverness. With stations so close it's easy to see why train travel is so popular!
Reserving a space
Despite its popularity I found that getting your bike on a train isn't always very easy (more seasoned train travelling cyclists may disagree?). Bikes are generally free to take but since spaces are limited you'll need to reserve a dedicated cycle space when you buy your ticket.
Bike reservations are tricky to get and seem to be snapped up weeks in advance - I booked my tickets 3 weeks ahead of time and even then there was no bike space availability on any train on the day that I wanted to travel, and only 1 space (which I took) available on any of the 8 possible trains the day before. Having talked to other LEJOG'ers this seems to be a common experience 😕.
So make sure you plan & book any trains early - and don't book your seat on a specific train before you've checked for bike space availability!
Getting onto the train
Getting your bike onto the train can be a mission too. The space allocated for bikes on the train from Leeds to Plymouth (a modern Intercity train; a Voyager I think) was absolutely tiny. It took a lot of contortioning of the bike to get it to fit and avoid blocking the door for passengers, and in the end I had to stand it up on its front with the wheel bent double. If you've done it a few times you might be used to it, however for a newbie like me (with an XL size bike and large 29er wheels) it wasn't easy working it out.
The train from Plymouth to Penzance was much easier though; this was an old Intercity where the bikes went into the spacious guard's carriage. The downside of course is that you have to get your bike in and secured quickly; you then have to get off this car and back on the passenger section before the train departs. It's also at the very end of the train - if you're unlucky your reserved seat could be a full 10 carriages away down at the other end (as mine was!).
The LEJOG / JOGLE train companies
If you are looking at train travel, the following are links to some of the train companies' policies and guidance on carrying bikes. Some rail operators enable you to book a bike space online, whilst others (eg ScotRail) require you to phone up to do it.
Thetrain between Inverness and London also accepts bikes, and will courier it if there's not enough space.
Below too are links to the bike policies for other train companies you might need to use for connecting services:
Couriering your bike
If you're lucky enough to not be on a really tight budget then having your bike couriered to the start - and back from the end - could be an option, giving you much more flexibility in getting yourself to and from either end of the country.
- John o'Groats Bike Transport Company
At John o'Groats theoffer dedicated services to LEJOG'ers and JOGLE'rs. They run a shuttle bus for you and your bike between Inverness and John o'Groats several times a week, and whilst pricier than the train, it's effortless and quicker too.
Loading the bikes at John o'Groats
In addition, for very fair cost each way, they can also arrange for your bike to be couriered directly to and from your home, allowing you to meet it in John o'Groats (if you're starting) or leave it there for them to deal with (if you're finishing). I used them when I arrived at John o'Groats and had a great service. A minibus picked me and my bike up on the Saturday morning, taking me to Inverness train station and my bike on to their offices where they securely packed my bike up; TNT then delivered it to my house in Leeds on the Wednesday. Check their website out and contact them for the latest prices; I highly recommend them.
- Local bike shops
Another option that some people opt for is to courier their bike to a local bike shop near Lands End or John o'Groats. I didn't use this option but there's plenty of people on forums who have done this over the years. Below are links to some of the local bike shops; call them to see if they still offer this service:
For John o'Groats:
For Lands End:
Flying with your bike
If you're coming from abroad then there's several airports you could consider. And even if you're already in mainland Britain, an internal flight can sometimes be cheaper than the train!
- For John o'Groats, Wick airport is just 15 miles away and served by several flights from Aberdeen and Edinburgh daily. If you book far enough in advance you can find flights from London to Wick (via Edinburgh) with British Airways or FlyBe for around £150 (with luggage but not including your bike), taking just 3.5hrs in some cases.
- The closest commercial airport to Lands End is Newquay, roughly a 52 mile bike ride away. FlyBe operate direct flights to several of the main UK airports, often daily. Bikes count as "exceptional luggage items" and so will incur extra costs, however they are fairly reasonable.
Alternatively you could fly to Inverness airport and then get you & your bike to John o'Groats by using www.johnogroatsbiketransport.co.uk. Edinburgh and Glasgow airports are also options; you'll then need a train or coach up to Inverness (or beyond to Wick).
Other airports in the southwest of England with more connections to Europe are Exeter and (a bit further away) Bristol. You can then get a train down to Penzance from either of these, although the airports are both several miles out of town and away from the train stations. They're easily rideable though or you could check if the shuttle coaches will take bikes.
One of your main hassles with flying will be the packing of your bike - what you do with the packaging once you arrive, and how you pack it again at the end? Some bike shops will happily receive bikes that are couriered to them, and help you pack again once you've finished. Check out the links page for some nearby bike shops.
Another option some people opt for is to hire a car on a one-way trip to or from their home. If there's more than one of you then this can be especially cost effective.
Going by coach & bus
Another cheap - if relatively slow - option is to travel by coach.
- For Lands End you can get a National Express coach to Penzance from anywhere in the UK (no doubt you'll need to change coach at some point though!). They will take bikes too as long as they're packaged and folded as small as possible, although they might incur a small additional charge and will only be taken if there's space in the hold (so travelling by coach could be a bit of a gamble!). Give them a call to find out their latest policies and charges.
- For John o'Groats the nearest National Express destination is Inverness (they seem to have stopped running to Wick), however Scottish CityLink run a bus service from many major Scottish cities all the way John o'Groats itself. Their T's & C's currently say that they'll take bikes as long as they're packaged in a box or bag.
Taking the boat
One final alternative (and scenic!) option for reaching or leaving John o'Groats is by boat, travelling to/from Aberdeen via the Orkneys.
To get to Orkney there's a service from John o'Groats itself, with the early evening JoG ferry to Burwick taking just 40 minutes (this service runs from May to Sept). Alternatively there's also a year round service, the Pentland Ferry, that departs 4 times a day from Gills Bay just 4 miles west of John o'Groats (a 20 minute bike ride away). This service takes you to St Margaret's Hope on Orkney in an hour.
Then once on Orkney it's either a 24 or 18 mile ride (yes, more cycling!) from Burwick or St Margaret's Hope to Kirkwall where the (3 times a week) overnight Northlink ferry will take you all the way to Aberdeen, from where you can catch a train or coach home. Note however that, even in the height of summer, you'll apparently need bike lights for the ride to the ferry (which departs at 11.45pm)!
The advantage of this is that not only do you get to see Orkney (maybe even stay over for a night or two?), but that you have plenty more travel options from Aberdeen than you do from Wick or Thurso. There's fewer cyclists trying to take bikes onto trains as well so getting that all-important bike reservation might be easier.
Join the discussion!
How did you get you and your bike to or from Lands End & John o'Groats? Have you got any tips to pass on to others? Let us know here!