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Land's End to John O'Groats bike ride was 'almost a mythical journey'


By Alan Hendry

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James Graham arriving at John O'Groats at the end of his two-week, 1000-mile cycling challenge.
James Graham arriving at John O'Groats at the end of his two-week, 1000-mile cycling challenge.

A fundraising cyclist reached John O'Groats after a gruelling two-week journey from Land's End – and admitted that it was "scandalous" he had never explored Scotland's far north before.

BBC radio producer James Graham (48) embarked on the challenge with his friend Tom Shearman to mark the 20th anniversary of a long-distance bike trip they did across Spain.

However, Tom had to pull out with an Achilles strain after the pair crossed the Scottish border so James completed the rest of the route on his own, arriving at Groats on Wednesday.

“It has been great," James said after finishing the 1000-mile challenge.

"It's just so amazing up here and I feel a bit ashamed that I'm 48 now and I've only ever really been to Glasgow and Edinburgh, and to Aviemore once at New Year – but I've never been further north than that, and it seems scandalous.”

James and Tom set off on May 19. They were keen to make the trip two decades after cycling together from Santander to Barcelona.

“This has been a long, almost mythical journey that one day we could do Land's End to John O'Groats," said James, who grew up in Dartford, Kent, and works for the BBC in Salford.

“It has just been one of those things where we could never really justify taking the time. But we thought, 'Let's make the effort for the 20th anniversary.'

“We're not like endurance athletes. We just thought we'd try and do a bit of training and give it our best shot.”

It was intended to be a “dream holiday” but for Tom it ended prematurely.

Charity cyclists James Graham (left) and Tom Shearman getting soaked in the Pennines two days before Tom had to pull out of the journey.
Charity cyclists James Graham (left) and Tom Shearman getting soaked in the Pennines two days before Tom had to pull out of the journey.

“Tom had a few aches and pains all the way though England – he had a massive load of paracetamols and ibuprofens," James explained.

“He was just in too much pain, really, by the time we got to Penrith. He solidered on to the border because he just wanted to hit that landmark – and then there was an emotional farewell in Gretna."

James cycled for up to 10 hours a day during the fortnight, either camping or staying in hostels. He was able to stick to minor roads from Fort William onwards and at one point spent the night on a grassy verge beside one of General Wade's military roads about 10 miles from Inverness.

He was using his reconditioned 20-year-old bike and it served him well.

“I felt a ridiculously strong sentimental attachment to it so I did it up and it has done me proud," he said. "I had three punctures, but that was all my fault because I didn't have a good tyre on the back – I could have avoided that.”

Near the Crask Inn, between Lairg and Altnaharra, knowing that he was nearing the end of the journey, he found himself reflecting on the magnitude of the experience.

James said he had realised that 'you can go beyond your own expectations' as he completed the gruelling bike ride.
James said he had realised that 'you can go beyond your own expectations' as he completed the gruelling bike ride.

“It's such a massive landscape and I was pedalling along trying to get there, no-one else around, and I suppose the scale of what I'd done sort of hit me a bit – how I'd gone far beyond anything I thought I could do," James said.

“The fact that you can just get used to the discomfort... I surprised myself at this ripe old age.

“I have discovered some new things. I've realised that you can go beyond your own expectations.

“It is gruelling, but I would say that there is an appeal to the simplicity of sitting on a bike and pedalling every day, compared to real life which can often be more draining. That's the strange thing.

"It's easy in its own way – you haven't got to think about anything else apart from yourself.”

James and Tom are raising money for educational projects in Peru. Donations can be made on their JustGiving page with £1205 pledged so far.

James is also seeking to raise awareness and funds for Refugees and Mentors, a social enterprise that arranges jobs for refugees who have professional qualifications to help them build a sustainable life in the UK.


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