A long-distance bike adventure with my son on the National Cycle Network

by Bicycle NewsJanuary 6, 20190 comments
From Foodhall to Bikehall

Charlie and Will at the end of their journey

From Foodhall to Bikehall

Charlie on a well-needed pit stop

Will, a Sustrans supporter from Manchester, and his son Charlie got into cycling together. So when Charlie, then 11 years old, suggested they attempt the long ride from Land’s End to John o’Groats (LEJOG) together, Will couldn’t think of a good reason not to.

Each of them gave their take on the experience.

Charlie’s story

I had the idea for this trip because I love cycling. This is because you see a lot more wildlife and scenery than in a car and it is really fun to glide along down a descent after a tough challenge uphill.

I fancied doing it now because it was my last chance until after my GCSEs and I wanted to complete it before I got to secondary school. I was expecting it to be tough and I didn’t know if I would be able to do it but I was determined to complete a big bucket list challenge.

I found the first couple of days very tricky as there were a lot of long, steep hills but after that it wasn’t as tough (although I am not saying it was easy). My favourite bit was Cornwall because, even though there were a lot of hills, the views were spectacular and everyone was very kind.

I highly recommend it if you are thinking about giving it a go.

– Charlie

Before I left, my teacher and my classmates sent me inspiring quotes to help me along the way which encouraged me to achieve my goal.

I am also very grateful to my grandpa and uncle who supported me and my dad throughout our journey if we ran out of energy bars or needed a spare pump.

It feels great to have done it and I highly recommend it if you are thinking about giving it a go.

Will’s story

We fell into multi-day cycling really. It started when, fed up with the cost in time and money of driving, I bought a bike for short journeys. A colleague got wind of this and suggested we cycle from Morecambe to Bridlington. Not, I grant you, a short journey. I couldn’t see how this could be done without using the M62, but I was persuaded and spent a great few days cycling the Way of the Roses.

My colleague and I followed this up with Coast and Castles South and I was hooked. It also struck me that the National Cycle Network, on which these routes were based, would be a fabulous resource for adventures with kids.

Charlie was showing an interest in and aptitude for cycling and we made our first foray when he was 8, riding from York to Boroughbridge, a safe, flat 20 miles or so. He too caught the bug.

Coast and Castles was next, in 2015, and over two trips and six days we cycled from Alnmouth to Leuchars.

Charlie’s ambitions, confidence and ability grew so our next challenge was the Way of the Roses in 2016. Throughout this time he was nurturing a desire to ride really big distances and when in October he announced he’d like to try LEJOG, my initial scepticism was defeated by his determination and a realisation that I could not say that he was incapable of doing it (and my own desire to make the trip).

It struck me that the National Cycle Network would be a fabulous resource for adventures with kids.

– Will

Of course undertaking such a journey with a child demands a lot of planning. One can’t arrive in a town with nowhere to eat or sleep; Charlie needed to know that all he had to do was ride and everything else would be fine.

So I devised a route to suit our own particular needs, travelling it virtually through Street View to make sure I knew what to expect, and I booked accommodation well in advance.

We carried our own kit (we always have) but had some great back-up from family members who put themselves nearby with a car and a bike rack, just in case. After battling headwinds across Dartmoor (we had to pedal just to go downhill) I had a bit of a wobble in Exeter and thought perhaps we might need that rack.

Charlie was unbowed, however, and once through the South West our strength and confidence grew. 

It was a remarkable journey, each day bringing a new county, and each county displaying different terrain, vegetation, wildlife and history; we saw the UK in many guises.

A particular, and unexpected, highlight for me was the run from Chatelherault Country Park, south east of Glasgow, to Tarbet on the shores of Loch Lomond: a safe, flat and relatively easy ride through the biggest city on our route to some of the most beautiful countryside along National Route 74, 75 and 7 and Regional Route 40.

This was, without question, the trip of a lifetime, but there is only one question at the end of any such adventure – what’s next?

Are you feeling inspired? Read about other long-distance routes and why not challenge yourself this year

Buy the Sustrans guide to LEJOG

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