A very British road trip

by Simon.Heptinstall

Drive Le Jog (Land's End to John O'Groats) for a 900-mile sense of achievement and a view right across the heart of Britain

It all starts at the rocky western end of Cornwall. You’ll drive slowly out of the Land’s End Hotel car park, leaving the crowds of day-trippers looking at the view and munching pasties. Ahead is at least 874 miles of driving right through the heart of Britain to its northwestern extreme, John O’Groats in Caithness.

Often ironically abbreviated to Le Jog, this route is slightly arbitrary - Dunnet Head is further north and Lizard Point is further south. Yet Land’s End to John O’Groats has become a famous route among British people, their small equivalent of mainland Europe’s Cape-to-Cape route from the top of Norway to the foot of Spain. It’s the traditional route for charity walks, runs, cycles and bizarre fund-raising vehicles.

I’ve done it twice. Once, for BBC Top Gear, in a car I bought for £50. That took three days including several breakdowns and me being taken to Walsall hospital by ambulance with exhaust poisoning. The other time was comparatively leisurely - a one-day dash in a diesel delivery van for a motoring magazine.

I’m going to concentrate on the obvious motorway route here but the variations are clearly endless. Hardcore cycling websites can provide small road options for the same trip. Smaller roads will obviously add immensely to the time it takes but allow you to make stops in attractive country towns like Chard, Cirencester and Ludlow. The direct motorway route allows you to do the trip in one long day - at least 14 hours of driving. Any detours are going to mean at least one overnight stop.

The direct route is a fascinating drive. There is plenty of great scenery along the way. The first 120 miles to Exeter are not motorway, and neither are last 250 miles from Perth northwards. And the motorways themselves have many wonderful picturesque stretches away from the main cities. Highlights include the M5 south of Bristol and through the Severn Valley near Tewkesbury, the M6 through the Lake District, and the A74M through Annandale.

And for most people the purpose of this road trip is not to see sights, it’s to complete the longest journey in the UK. Le Jog does make you feel like you‘ve achieved something. You feel like you’ve really seen all the regional variations that Britain has to offer.

I always start at Cornwall and head up the map, as the name of the route implies, but there’s no reason why you can’t do it the other way. If you were dithering about it, I’d say the Orkney views from John O’Groats make a more spectacular and welcoming finale than Land’s End’s busy theme park.

So here is the route in more detail: leave Land’s End on the A30. This will take you all the way to the M5 at Exeter, growing from a narrow lane winding through the village of Sennen to a wide dual carriageway hurtling down from Dartmoor, with views of the Exe Valley below. Then relax as the M5 takes you up to the M6 in Birmingham, which leads you through the Manchester traffic, past the Lakes to the Scottish border. Through the hills of the Border Country the road becomes the A74M all the way to Glasgow. There’s a fiddly part where you need to pay attention through the A80, M80, and M9 to the A9. This is a wonderful driving road, with some of Britain’s best landscapes, through the Cairngorms and Speyside. Beyond Inverness and the Black Isle, the A9 follows the east shore to Wick. The A99 clings to the coast all the way to John O’Groats.

Just like at Land’s End, you pull into the hotel car park with a landmark signpost - but this time there’s no tacky mini theme-park. John O’Groats has similar dramatic cliffs to your starting point but there’s also a memorable view out across the Orkneys and a quaint little harbour.
 
You’ll have a lovely sense of achievement at the end - but don’t expect bunting and a brass band. Hundreds of Le Jog journeys are completed every year and no-one will pay you much attention unless you’ve come all the way cycling backwards in the nude or hopping along carrying a sack of coal.

 

Recommendations

Where to stay

At Land's End
The three-star Land’s End Hotel has double rooms from c£45 per person per night. The views and conservatory restaurant compensate for the touristy feel.

At John O'Groats
At the time of writing, the John O’Groats Hotel was closed indefinitely for major refurbishment. It’s obviously the most convenient place to stay when it opens. Next best option for now is to stay in Wick. The imposing stone building of Mackays Hotel has genuine character and comfort. Double rooms cost from c£97.

En route
Possible stays along the route, within a few miles of the main roads, include:

  • The glorious over-the-top boutique rooms at Hotel on The Park, Cheltenham
  • Victorian country house hotel splendour at Brockencote Hall, near Kidderminster
  • The White House Manor, a grand Georgian house in a quaint village, near Macclesfield
  • Appleby Manor, Appleby-in-Westmorland, with log fires, big squashy armchairs and a reviving swimming pool
  • The Buccleuch Arms Hotel, in the centre of the appealing Borders town of Moffat, is a traditional, cosy old place with hearty food

More information
The End-to-End Club is run by Heritage Attractions, who own both Land’s End and John O’Groats. It’s a way of getting an official-looking certificate to prove that you've done the trip.

Simon.Heptinstall

I've been a hard news journalist, a guitar salesman, a taxi-driver and the editor of a grand old country newspaper, but nothing is as much fun as being a travel writer. Since I somehow weedled my way into this brilliant job I've written for most of the national newspapers, big glossy magazines, been on radio and TV and written a book. And best of all I've travelled all over the world. When I'm not wallowing in a luxurious spa pool in Indonesia or summitting a little-known mountain in Scandinavia I'm usually at home with my young family at our ramshackle house in the Wiltshire countryside pruning the laurels or playing football. Favourite places: The Faroes Budleigh Salterton Tenerife Scandinavia The Palace at Sun City, South Africa Vatulele Island, Fiji Rio de Janiero The Grand Hotel, Stockholm The A39 (and a decent car) The Cinque Terra, Italy