Tuesday 8 April 2014

End to End: The Ultimate British Cycling Challenge?

Chris Magowan End to End cycling challenge John O'Groats

For years people have been cycling the length of the UK, from Cornwall’s Lands End to John O’Groats in Scotland. Nowadays it’s seen as the ‘done thing’ – you can’t really call yourself a keen cyclist unless you’ve done the trip. But why is it so popular? And is it really worth it?

To find out I talked to 29-year-old Chris Magowan, who undertook the challenge in 2009.

“I loved it,” he told me. “It’s a brilliant way to see the country and I’d encourage anyone to give it a go.” 

Before the journey, Chris wasn’t much of a cyclist. At the time he was living in a flat in Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire, with his friend Chris Kennedy. They were talking about all the things they’d been through together – GCSEs, A Levels, university – and they realised that they had completed everything they set out to do when they were at school, so didn’t have a target to aim for anymore.

So how did that lead to them doing End to End?

“Chris’ colleague Dan jokingly suggested the cycle, and Chris mentioned it expecting me to shoot it down but I said yes, and that was it. As far as I was concerned I was doing it.”

“We also thought it was a good opportunity to raise some money for a local charity. We managed to raise £2200 for the Hospice of St. Francis. I know several of the carers there and know they do a fantastic job - they need the support as the only funding they receive is through donations.”

Chris Magowan End to End cycling challenge Cumbria

Since he wasn’t cycling much at the time, Chris did a lot of training to prepare. He told me, “I trained quite a bit, gradually increasing the distances. I went from not riding a bike at all to cycling 10 miles to work.” 

Most people choose to go from Lands End to John O’Groats, but Chris did the trip the other way around, riding north to south. “Initially we decided to go north to south, purely because it sounded like going downhill. I spoke to someone who had done the cycle in both directions and he mentioned that the Cornwall/Devon section is the toughest due to the rolling hills.”

Despite enjoying the whole trip, Chris’ highlights were riding through the Scottish lochs and visiting Chester. “It was the end of our longest day and we walked into town to see all the old Tudor-style buildings. Chester was a wonderful place to stay.”

It wasn’t all long days and hard work though, as Chris is quick to point out. “We did silly things to keep each other amused. One of my fondest memories is cycling up Rannoch Moor in the pouring rain singing, ‘We all live in a yellow submarine.’ We also created a game of baa-ing at sheep when we passed a field. If we got a reply we got a point.”

It sounds like they had fun. “Except for Chris’ map-reading,” he laughs. “I map-read for the first 10 days but Chris began to whine that he was bored, so I let him map-read on day 11. Within half an hour we were lost in Bristol’s industrial area. After swearing never to let him map-read again, we had to climb over a fence and carry our bikes through a field to get back on the right road.”

Chris Magowan End to End cycling challenge Land's End

They completed the 1024-mile trip in 15 days. “I was surprised how good I felt at the end. I would have been happy to turn around and go back!” He added he’d like to do the trip again, this time the opposite way around. 

So what’s next for Chris?

“I like the idea of cycling to Monaco for the Grand Prix...”

Chris also had some advice for people thinking about doing End to End. “Allow plenty of time to train and contact CTC (Cycle Touring Club) to review the different routes they have. It’s also useful to do a short trial run trip. But most of all, just go for it!”

Have you done the End-to-End challenge? Let me know in the comments below!

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