Stages: 7

'Official' distance: 1492 km

Distance ridden: 1552 km

Metres climbing: 13,451

Control points: 33

Punctures: None

Mechanicals: Rear wheels trued at Perth after 1070 km

Funds raised for the Alzheimer's Society: £2596.25

Latest on the End to End ride

Andrew Cornwell and Rachel Cooke have successfully completed their 1500 km / 935 mile ride from Land's End to John O'Groats. Read our ride diary on this page. Find out more about the background, preparation, fundraising and time limits at the related page 'Preparing for the End to End'


Rachel Cooke starting the End to End ride at Land's End, Tuesday 8 June 2010 Photo: Andrew Cornwell

Monday 7 June: Travelling to Land's End
Paddington to Penzance is around five hours train travel. We left London in fine weather, but by Exeter the rain had set in. The short 16 km (10 mile) ride out to our hotel at Sennen saw us get a good soaking and a taste of seriously hilly roads. Andy made an early evening recce to Land's End itself (a mile and a half away) which was deserted in howling winds, practically zero visibility and a torrential rain. As we struggled to dry our clothes, and watched grim weather forecasts there was a sense of foreboding about the task ahead.

Rachel Cooke starting the End to End ride at Land's End, Tuesday 8 June 2010

Tuesday 8 June: Land's End to Crediton (203 km)
We knew this would be the toughest day, with over 3,100 metres of climbing compared to daily ranges of 1650 - 1800 metres on the other stages. The hills were indeed unceasing, and although the descents were often a delight, they were usually steep enough to need high concentration at all times, leaving little time for 'recovery' riding.

Given the forecast of prolonged heavy rain, we were extraordinarily lucky to escape with just a couple of hours of cycling in the wet. Indeed we managed to sign the start line book at the Land's End Hotel and take 'landmark' photos under clear skies. We enjoyed clear views across to St Michael's Mount as we climbed through the pretty village of Marazion and began to negotiate narrow twisting lanes. The long steep descent to Penryn was also taken in the dry, followed by a morning tea stop in a picture postcard cafe serving home made cakes.

We missed the most severe downpour at St Austell (88 km) as we shivered over lunch in a Subway branch, but the roads remained treacherous until late afternoon. Spectacular descents such as that to the old stone bridge across the Tamar led to the smell of burning rubber as new rims were tested on greasy surfaces.

Then at Tavistock (149 km) the skies lightened and we enjoyed a stunning early evening ride across Dartmoor to Okehampton, on the quiet and well-surfaced A386, with extended views in all directions. This was followed by peaceful lanes to Crediton. Our time was well in excess of the 12 hours we'd anticipated, but the hardest stage was now behind us.

Wednesday 9 June: Crediton to Monmouth (212 km)
After the brutal climbs of Cornwall the gently rolling lanes around the River Exe felt like our home cycling territory of Hertfordshire. We ran into two other 'End to End' riders after half an hour and unwisely followed their 'local knowledge' to put on a detour of 4 km. Back on route, we were nearly lost on tiny roads approaching Wellington, almost relieved to get some speed up on a main road bash into Taunton (53 km) along the busy A38. The subsequent crossing of the Somerset levels was the highlight of the day, watching bird life and peat cutting as we approached Wells on pancake flat roads.

Then the day started to go pear-shaped as Rachel crashed at very slow speed approaching a traffic light - her bleeding knee was patched up in a tea room close to the cathedral. She was determined not to quit the ride and we continued onwards to the major ascent then drop of the day into a showery and congested Midsomer Norton (121 km). In the next hour or two we encountered some pretty aggressive driving on busy roads, a few gratuitous climbs and a disasterous loss of direction as we tried to by pass Bristol and ended up on the A4 dual carriageway. We couldn't afford any more hairy experiences, let alone a mechanical, as we reached the Chipping Sodbury control (159 km) only minutes within the time limit. Matters improved on more serene roads up to the Severn Bridge, only interrupted by joining the course of a local cycling time trial - when one of the competitors nearly took out Andy as he sped past. The Severn crossing was inspiring but unexpectedly calm, lacking the usual tough sidewinds.

Rachel was close to the 'bonk' at Chepstow, but we applied ourselves for the final 30 km up the Wye Valley. After the climb to Tintern, we were flying along on the fast, deserted A466 in the twilight. At the foot of a wonderful wooded descent the Abbey at Tintern made for a stunning sight. The rain had started to fall as we reached Monmouth in high spirits - and well within time - having overcome the day's tribulations.

Thursday 10 June: rest day in Monmouth
The Audax UK rules allowed us up to three rest days within a maximum ten day period, however our strategy was to only use two, keeping something in reserve for unforeseen emergencies. This day was spent on practical tasks, with Rachel getting some medical treatment for her badly grazed knee. The toughest section of the ride was ahead of us, three days of back-to-back rides totalling over 650 km.

Friday 11 June: Monmouth to Lymm (215 km)

The relentlessly rolling A466 north from Monmouth to Hereford was a shock to the system after our rest day. We averaged only 18 kph in our first hour and a half, and then crawled through the morning rush hour in Hereford. After that the pace picked up on good B roads to Leominster and our first control town, Ludlow (73 km). Service was quick at Costa Coffee ... as the coffee machine had broken. Tea for us, followed by an impromptu tour of historic Ludlow as we negotiated the one-way system and a bustling market.

We then started the hilliest part of this third stage, skirting the southern end of Wenlock Edge before a screaming descent into Church Stretton. At this point Andrew was suffering from bad knee problems but some moderate 'doping' (painkillers) with lunch prevented a possible abandon of the ride. After a brief chat with fellow End to Enders in the wholefood cafe we pushed on to the delights of the Shrewsbury town gyratory and then over quieter roads to our second control at Wem (138 km). 

A fine setting for a short break before the descent to the Cheshire plains on the End to End cycle ride, Friday 11 June 2010 Photo: Andrew CornwellThere was some lovely cycling to come now across the Cheshire plains using quieter lanes to the finish in the des res town of Lymm close to Warrington. World Cup trivia: we were booked in the Lymm Hotel, used by the Brazilian team during the 1966 tournament.

Saturday 12 June: Lymm to Annan (235 km)
Our fourth and longest stage. And also the most complicated from a navigational point of view, as we spent the first three hours picking our way through the Lancashire towns avoiding main roads. Fortunately with a 7.30 am start traffic was light as far as Preston (60 km) which we entered through a pretty car-free route over the river Ribble and across a park. From here onwards the moors were clearly visible as we headed north for a section on the A6 to Garstang. The sky was clear but previous day's headwind was still slowing us, stiffening as we headed up the coastal road to Lancaster. After a lunch stop in Lancaster we climbed sharply into the hills, to be rewarded with fine views across to the Lake District.

At Kendal we made a brief stop to fuel up before the big climb up Shap (424 metres). Sheltered from the north wind, against blue skies, the hour-long ascent was stunning. Beside the summit memorial we were lucky to meet two southbound cyclists, also on the End to End, allowing for mutual photo opportunities.

Andrew Cornwell and Rachel Cooke on top of Shap summit, Cumbria, on their End to End ride, Saturday 12 June 2010As anticipated we paid for the benign conditions of the climb with a sharp headwind on the descent. Too much of that had to be pedalled down into Shap village. Nor were we able to roll down further to Penrith.

Penrith was marked only by a petrol station stop as we started to battle the daily time limit of 14 hours. We used a dead straight empty minor road to Carlisle, where the streets were deserted save for a heavy police presence (and some drunken Scots) as the England v USA World Cup game kicked off. The stage then became a time trial on flat roads against the wind to cross the river Esk into Scotland and reach Annan. We did so with just four minutes to spare at nearly 9.30 pm.

Sunday 13 June: Annan to Perth (205 km)
It's often wet in the Borders. Our fifth stage began with two dispiriting hours in persistent rain along empty Dumfrieshire country roads and then the 'old' A74 parallel to the motorway. After drying out with a coffee stop at our first control town in Moffat (45 km) we started climbing Devil's Beef Tub, at 421 metres our top height of the day - resigned at that point to spending the whole day in the wet. However despite some mist around the pass the rain stopped and we enjoyed a beautiful descent on fast drying roads along Upper Tweedale.

Peebles was the lunch stop at 97 km. Heavy traffic after lunch north to Edinburgh was not such fun but the climbing over the Moorfoot Hills was easy. The sun came out in time for a drinks break on the Royal Mile and a quick photo opportunity in front of Edinburgh Castle (135 km). Andrew Cornwell and Rachel Cooke in front of Edinburgh Castle on stage 5 of their End to End cycle ride, Sunday 13 June 2010The day was shaping up well at this point but we then blew half an hour getting lost on the Forth Bridge approach, followed by an unscheduled and plodding detour around awful Sustrans cycle 'facilities'. The Forth crossing was a disappointment with the eastern cycle lane on the road bridge closed for works, blocking out the best views to the historic rail bridge and Fife.

Once across a stiff climb out of Inverkeithing was surprisingly tough, but rewarded us with good views to the Lomond Hills and Loch Leven. We reached Perth over hilly farm lanes with a magnificant descent to the Tay valley - delighted that the atrocious weather forecast had been wrong, but frustrated by the loss of time around Edinburgh.

Monday 14 June: rest day in Perth
A welcome chance to clean our filthy bikes and kit as we stayed with Andrew's mother in Perth. A visit to Perth City Cycles revealed that both our back wheels needed trueing after the pounding of recent days. It also yielded some helpful route advice. Fine weather was forecast for the north, leaving us in good spirits ahead of the final two legs.

Tuesday 15 June: Perth to Inverness (221 km)
A braw day for a wee ride in the Hielands! We slipped out of Perth along the traffic-free Tayside path under blue skies and with views to Scone Palace, Perth racecourse, and of course hills all around. High above the river Tay on wooded roads, our approach to historic Dunkeld, with its ruined cathedral and whitewashed main square, was especially charming.

We soon endured the first of many frustrations that day with the Sustrans 'National Cycle Network'. Shortly after leaving Dunkeld, the route petered out into an unrideable stony track, leaving us to walk our machines for nearly half an hour. Beautiful as this riverside location was, it was hard to enjoy the scene as our concern mounted about loss of time and whether we would indeed rejoin the road.

Our strategy was to parallel the dangerous A9 road using a combination of minor roads and Sustrans cycle paths. It was an approach that worked superbly on the empty B roads, but fell apart when confronted with the neglected, stone-littered cycle tracks. Eventually we got tired of dismounting to avoid dumped rubble and yawning holes and decided to take our chances on the A9 as the road approached Drumochter summit - at 460 metres, the highest point on the entire End to End ride. Sadly our enjoyment of climbing over the pass on a clear day was practically non-existent as we concentrated hard on the descent to Dalwhinnie in the face of a headwind and convoys of speeding trucks.

Better appreciation of the superb landscape was to follow after Dalwhinnie where we pulled off onto empty minor roads once again, through Newtonmore, Kingussie and Aviemore. The Cairngorm range, still covered in patches of snow, was in constant view for around two hours as we headed to Grantown-on-Spey (163 km) for our tea time control. Excellent scones fortified us there.

The climb to our second major summit of the day, Slochd (406 metres, pictured below) was not a huge effort as the road rose gradually over around 20 km from Grantown through Carrbridge.

Andrew Cornwell at Slochd summit in the Scottish Highlands on the End to End cycle ride, Tuesday 15 June 2010 Photo: Rachel CookeOnce again we were on dedicated cycle routes, some sections being very acceptable parts of the 'old' A9, others ill-maintained puncture breeding grounds. Fortunately we were soon able to rejoin proper roads for the descent to the Findhorn bridge and Tomatin.

The day concluded on tiny, hilly lanes as we sought the 'back' way into Inverness around Culloden. And perhaps the best single vista of the entire End to End, as we descended into Inverness with the Moray Firth, Beauly Firth, Kessock Bridge and Black Isle all spread out before us.

Wednesday 16 June: Inverness to John O'Groats (201 km)
Magnificant landscapes and benign conditions: one of our best days on the bicycle! Leaving Inverness at 7.30 am against heavy rush hour traffic, we were soon on rolling roads in the Black Isle, once again avoiding the A9. Extensive advance route planning paid off as we had picked out a stunning descent to the Cromarty Firth - the first in a series of such water crossings that opened up immense panoramas of Highland landscape.

After running along the waterside to our first control of the day in Invergordon (41 km), a depressed-looking harbour town, we once again climbed inland before speeding back down to the coast at Tain. Tain's claim to fame is the Glenmorangie distillery which we sped past on our way to cross the Dornoch Firth. Dornoch itself, our control point at 72 km, is a charming small town with Scotland's smallest cathedral, a castle and nearby sandy beaches. Equally impressive was the quality of morning coffee and cakes at our cafe stop.

More delights were in store as the road along the shores of Loch Fleet revealed dozens of seals basking on sandbanks at low tide. Views inland as crossed the bridge towards Golspie showed numerous peaks.

Now we faced the long haul to the finish with 120 km entirely on the A9 (later A99) coastal road. Through Golspie and Brora the mix of dunes, cliffs and sea views helped distract us from the increasing levels of climbing, but by the time we reached Helmsdale (118 km) fatigue was setting in and we'd been hit by our first sharp shower.

Everything had been going so well until that point that we were confident of finally putting in a fast stage, with perhaps an early finish at John O'Groats. However, never count your chickens on a ride: we wasted nearly 50 minutes at the lunchtime stop in Helmsdale thanks to a combination of incompetent cafe service and the search for proof of passage. Then as soon as we began to climb into the notorious 'Berridale Braes', some proper Highland weather came down. These hills, at 230 metres, are not the highest, but the steepness of the cliffs leads to frequent sea mists. We soon found ourselves in heavy rain with less than 50 metres visibility. Despite lights being activated, the mist meant that this was probably the most dangerous experience of the trip: we could only hope that trucks and buses would spot us in time. Throw in a couple of searing descents and brutal 13 per cent climbs and the receipe for ninety minutes of suffering was complete.

At Latheron, junction of the A9 and A99, the last of the heavy traffic left, and so did the mist and rain. Soon we were enjoyed a drying tailwind and sweeping views of the empty Caithness hills as we sped towards Wick. At 5.30 pm the town was deserted, and we wasted twenty minutes trying to get served in an unfriendly chippy. But we were running on adrenalin now towards our goal. The final 25 km took us past castles, deserted sands and ruined churches as the landscape took on an ever more isolated feel.

Then we reached the top of the final climb and a scene from the edge of the world was in front of us - the barren uplands around Duncansby Head with its lighthouse, the scattered cottages of John O'Groats and the Orkney islands in the distance across a calm Pentland Firth. The euphoria of the descent was over all too quickly as we reached the tiny harbour around 7.10 pm. After obtaining our proof of passage, stopping for a quick photo opportunity in front of the The Last House and a fish supper, it was off to Thurso (32 km / 20 miles away), our final destination.

Andrew Cornwell and Rachel Cooke at John O'Groats harbour having completed their End to End cycle ride, Wednesday 16 June 2010

The decision to ride this extra 32 km after the official finish had been agonised over, but we had no regrets as we enjoyed an hour and a half of the extended northern evening light on empty roads. Dunnet Head - the true (if uncelebrated) most northerly point of the British mainland - appeared ahead of us, cliffs spectacular in the gloaming. We passed the Castle of Mey, the sands of Dunnet Bay and Thurso Castle itself, all the while with the Orkneys and the nearer island of Stroma for backdrops. A fine bonus to conclude our End to End.

Many thanks to all those people who generously sponsored us to complete this ride: so far over £2,500 has been raised for the Alzheimer's Society.