Journey Down 31 July 2009
The threeleg train journey down to Penzance wasn’t quite as bad as I’d expected; despite my
disappointment when booking at not being able to repeat the trip my son and I made years ago. At
that time, we travelled Leeds to Penzance direct so had eight hours to sit back and enjoy the
Manchester to Birmingham New Street on ‘Cross Country’ trains turned out to be the most
problematic. I arrived at Piccadilly Station in plenty of time for the 7.26 departure. The train
pulled in and I hurried along the platform looking for the ‘cycle’ logo adjacent to the appropriate
door in which to board what looked like a state of the art piece of rolling stock. It was a steep haul
up into the carriage where I was confronted by what I can only describe as a small wardrobesized
compartment with a hook in the ceiling; and this was supposed to accommodate two bikes? On the
other side of the corridor was an even smaller compartment for one bike. This is a classic case of
designers not consulting the appropriate people at the right stage. Cyclists are constantly provided
with facilities that noncyclists think we should have. How often do Tour de France racers with
stripped down bikes travel by train? It’s more often than not commuters with at least one pannier,
or tourers like me with fully laden bikes. I did eventually manage to dangle my bike by its front
wheel from the ceiling hook, but not until detaching my four panniers and sundry other bits of
luggage and storing them elsewhere. Thankfully, no other cyclists boarded the train. I vacated my
seat after Wolverhampton and spent the rest of the journey reloading the bike ready for a quick
dash at New Street.
When I alighted the train in Birmingham the platform staff seemed to know what they were doing.
I was quickly directed to the lifts and along the walkway down to my departure platform. I had
about six minutes between arrival and departure but, luckily, the trains seem to be running to time.
It was ‘Cross Country’ again for this leg to Exeter but older rolling stock this time. Here the
platform staff proved to be not so knowledgeable. The uniformed young lass with the table tennis
bat ushered me along the train to a ‘wheelchair’ logo and bid me board through the wide door. The
train manager promptly but politely ordered me off again and down to the end of the train where
there was a good oldfashioned guards van with lots of room. My bike was soon secured fully
loaded against one wall for the journey south. It was three carriages back to my allotted seat at a
table across from a couple from Liverpool who were on their way to Plymouth to a relative’s
As with people of a certain age on a long train journey, and especially northerners, life stories were
exchanged. Once they discovered that I was attempting to raise money for a good cause, they
promised to log onto the Harley Slack fund web site and make a donation.
Exeter St David’s to Penzance was a painless leg of the journey. A different operating company
but the train boasted a fullsized guard’s van too, this time at the front. Lot’s of cheerful willing
staff to open doors and help load bikes made the switchover effortless. My bike was soon secured
along with the half dozen others in the spacious compartment. I’m told that some 4000 cyclists a
year do the Land’s End to John O’Groats ride so it was inevitable that other cyclists would be on
this last part of the journey.
The sun had been shining through the carriage window for most of the journey down but, as soon
as I pushed my bike out onto the station forecourt at Penzance, it started to rain. By the time I’d
cleared the town and got out onto the A30, it was pouring down, with a strong blustery wind from
the west making the going hard. Perhaps this was a bit of much needed exertion after spending the
day sat on trains. I didn’t quite see it that way at the time though!
I rode into the complex and round past the rather odd collection of stalls and shops which seem to
‘litter’ the point itself to the rather grand Land’s End Hotel which graces the very tip. The rain was
as heavy as ever, being blown in horizontally by the wind off the sea. I’d passed the caravan and
camping park on the left back down the road and decided that there was no way I was going to
pitch my tent in this weather, especially for the first night; oldage showing already! My inquiry
elicited the information that the Land’s End Hotel was full. I think this was genuine and not the
‘anti cyclist’ rejection that some such places apply. The young woman behind the reception desk
helpfully phoned another hotel in nearby Sennen Cove and confirmed that they had room for me. I
quickly made a note of my odometer reading and zeroed my bike computer – this was genuinely
part of the ride now – and headed back to the turn off for the Cove.
After taking the left turn at the signpost for Sennen Cove and riding for about a hundred yards, I
could see that the road dipped down, what looked almost vertically, towards the shore. The bike
was gathering speed. I had an immediate mental picture of trying to grind my way with fully laden
bike back up there straight after breakfast in the morning and, although it might well be a taste of
what’s to come, didn’t fancy the prospect. A quick decision was called for and I made a U turn
before it got too steep and headed back to the A30. Not far back along the road – in fact only a
mile and half from LE – was the Sunny Bank Hotel. I bagged the last room, just in front of a
group of German riders. The Sunny Bank was really a B & B so no evening meal was available.
However, there was a restaurant a few yards along the road but, when mien host phoned to book
me a table, it was full. He very kindly offered to drive me down to the hotel in Sennen Cove the
very place where I was supposed to be staying that night – and his wife collected me after dinner.
So I had first hand experience of the hill I’d eschewed early, but in a modern car, which had to
labour back up in first gear.
Not exactly as planned but I fell asleep on the night of 31st July have reached Land’s End and
completed a mile and a half of the ride. The journey proper starts tomorrow.
Ernie Buck is 66 years old and has lived in various parts of Yorkshire for the last 30 years. A continual commuting cyclist,he has done a number of long distance solo expeditions within the UK, but dreamt of cycling to India and beyond for years.
In 2009 Ernie did the Land’s End to John O’Groats cycle ride.
The next episode of Ernie’s journey will appear in the February edition of Many Roads.
– See more at: http://bodhicharya.org/manyroads/ernies-end-end-lands-end-john-ogroats/#more-2839