Planning

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Map of route, showing Land's End, John o'Groats, and Skaw.

“Fail to prepare: prepare to fail”, is the old adage, and with a trip like this, I wasn’t going to take any chances.

Having established an approximate route, thanks to Wikipedia, I set about using Garmin’s Basecamp PC software to plan the route more thoroughly. On previous trips around the European mainland, I’ve enjoyed the process of planning the route, and, having learnt a few lessons in this respect the hard way, I’ve got it down to a fairly fine art now: plan travel by time, not distance; limit riding time to an ideal maximum of five hours per day; always zoom in to where you place via points on the route to ensure that they are placed on the route and not slightly off it; and where possible, pick a mixture of road types for variety.

While I didn’t have to avoid motorways, I was looking for something like the shortest route, and eventually devised one which came in at around the 850 mile mark. This divided up neatly into ten stints of 85 miles, giving a comfortable margin between charges. The only exception was the leg between Kendal and Crawford in Scotland, which came in at around 100 miles and would likely involve an additional, shorter stop at Carlisle, so I included that in my planning as an optional but probable mini-stop.

In the meantime, I had mentioned the trip to my Shetland-based older brother, Paul, who goaded me with the line.

“Oh, so you’re giving up at John o’Groats are you?”

Of course, he was quite right. While the traditional route takes people from Land’s End to John o’Groats, it doesn’t consider that the most northerly part of the UK is in fact on Shetland, on roughly the same latitude as Bergen in Norway: actually, slightly further north. Given that the initial plan had indeed been to head to Orkney, which is a short crossing from John o’Groats, it made little sense to stop there, so I decided to extend the journey to Skaw beach on Unst, Shetland: to the most northerly publicly-accessible road in the UK, and take the opportunity to visit Paul and family. This would add a day on Orkney to the itinerary, an overnight ferry from Kirkwall to Lerwick, a day on Shetland, an overnight stop with Paul, with a final day for recuperation on Shetland before taking the overnight ferry back directly from Lerwick to Aberdeen.

I initially planned that we would undertake the ten legs of the mainland part of the journey over three days, riding three stints on the first day, four on the second, and three on the final day. This would be quite demanding, since each charge stop during the day would require three hours and be sandwiched between a couple of hours or so of riding. This would make the second day extremely long. I consoled myself that we would have nine hours’ not riding between four lots of two hours’ riding on that day. But simple arithmetic shows that on this basis, even with a 06:00 start, we wouldn’t finish that day until around 23:00.

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Route planning on Garmin Basecamp.

Having plotted an initial route on Basecamp, I set about looking for potential charge stops along the way. This involved zooming in on the route at around the end of each 85 mile leg and finding the nearest pub or fast car charger, and B&Bs for four nights where we could charge. I went through this process, contacted potential places and explained what we were doing. Ideally, I wanted to find pubs or places along the way where we could get something to eat and drink while the bikes were charging. Without exception, the places I found were all very accommodating and were perfectly happy to allow us to charge. A few were very interested to hear about this electric motorbike and some were somewhat taken aback that such a thing even existed.

I contacted the ferry operator which runs the crossings between mainland Scotland and Orkney and Shetland, Northlink, and explained what we were doing, on the basis that it might make a good story for any publicity on their part. They weren’t overly bothered about the story as such in terms of how they could use it for marketing purposes, but were very happy to sponsor our crossing on the basis that we would also be fundraising on the trip, so they offered to cover the costs of the crossings between Scrabster and Stromness, Kirkwall and Lerwick, and Lerwick and Aberdeen (minus cabin cost). That was a generous offer in itself, and I was very grateful.

The plan was to head down to Land’s End on Friday, 30th June in a rental van, stay overnight at a B&B close in Sennen, as close to Land’s End as possible, then start the journey proper on Saturday, 1st July. I had a few stops and most accommodation organised by mid June, before I headed off on the trip around mainland Europe on my trusty and faithful petrol bike. Well, not necessarily trusty or faithful at one point of that trip, but that’s another story.