Richard's thoughts on the history behind the idea
I have been looking into the possibility of doing a Lands End to John O'Groats trip by bus for some years - mainly for the sheer hell of it ! I love the challenge of planning a trip - even if I know there is little chance of actually ever getting to do it. I get bored in the evening, or at the weekend and I think ... I wonder if it is possible to get from A to B by bus / train etc... The biggest one I have planned out so far, was a 12-month Round The World - and at the time it was my intention to actually do it!
Anyway several years ago I decided I would do the Lands End to John O'Groats trip, and that I would do it to raise money for a charity - but the thoughts got no further than that. When Heather died in 2009 I dusted off the plans and decided I would do it to raise money for Oxfam in her memory... and so things have grown from there.
Planning the routes
When it came to planning the route I was originally going to just do it one way, over the course of a week. But I quickly realised that living in Devon, not matter which way I did the trip, I would have to either go to Scotland, or come back "not in service" (to use a bus phrase)... so I then decided that I would do a "there and back" over two weeks instead.
When I started looking at the options again, I had one simple rule - "to travel from Land's End to John O' Groats and back by local bus" ... and so using nothing but the online travel planning sites that come under the " Traveline" banner, and where necessary the online timetables of operators, I started to plan my journey. The problem was - where to go, and where to miss out. I wanted to take in as many places as I could, especially if I knew I had friends or family nearby, and I wanted to travel through parts of the country that I had not been to for a long time (or never been to !) or places that I enjoyed travelling through. Ideally I also wanted to travel through each of England, Scotland and Wales...
On and off through this year I have been looking at various options. One included spending two days circumnavigating the Welsh coast (something I had mapped out one "bored" evening as a stand alone trip), but I had had in the back of my mind the desire to incorporate the Western Isles of Scotland on The Trip. Again this was something I had been planning as a stand alone trip for some time - incorporating as many of the Scottish islands from Arran all the way up to Harris and Lewis. Most of the ferries that link Scotland's islands are run by Cal-Mac, and they do these wonderful "hopscotch" tickets allowing you to come onto an island one side, and leave to the next island off the other side - all for one fairly cheap price. In the summer of 2009, along with my Buses Worldwide colleague Simon Brown, I did part of the trip, playing hopscotch from Oban to Ullapool via Barra, the Uists, Harris and Lewis. Despite an unfortunate incident when on one of the small ferries, where a wave caught the side of the ship sending salt water spray across me and my camera (and electronics and sea water lead to terminal damage !) I really enjoyed the trip - the pace of life and the scenery being superb, so I really wanted to incorporate this into the itinerary for The Trip. As it was this meant extending the trip by a day. Although I am still doing Land's End to Land's End in two weeks, it's the time it takes to get from Okehampton to Land's End & back that has extended the trip somewhat ! However it has meant some painful changes to the plan... Not only did the Welsh Coast run have to go, so did the back-up plan of going up through Herefordshire and Worcestershire - areas I have never really covered. The problem was that with the section from Durness across the north Scotland coast to Thurso being limited to the second and fourth Saturdays of the month, and this fixes the whole of the rest of the trip around this section. This meant trying to get from the Bristol area northwards on a Sunday, and being in a position to start from Preston first thing on the Tuesday morning ... Sunday buses heading north from Bristol seem to be virtually non-existent, hence my detour via Swindon and Oxford - taking me far further east than I had intended on my northbound leg. The only way of getting the Wales coast part of the itinerary back into the trip would be to start even earlier, and take even more time to do the trip... which I am reluctant to do as otherwise I'll be taking 4 weeks to do it! Instead I will leave that for a future charity trip - to follow the coast of the UK as much as possible by local bus... but that will take a good three weeks to do at least, and indeed will be near impossible in some parts of the country... Then of course there is the matter of including Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man... so for now I will stick with what I have... until I can work out something even better!
So where are we on planning on going?click here to see the current plan*
* - It may be necessary to make the odd last minute change to the plan - hopefully nothing too major ! This will all depend on if any further changes are made to bus timetables along the line of route between now and July - watch this space !
This plan will no doubt change between now and next July - for several reasons... (1) The timetables will no doubt change on some routes which mean that connections that exist at the moment, may not next year ; (2) I get bored and decide to see what else can be squeezed into the itinerary! The summer timetables will not appear until May time, which may mean some last minute changes to plans if a timetable changes and we can't work around it.
How to join in... Whole trip / Part of trip / A day / Part day
It has always been my wish that as many peopele as possible would be able to join in with The Trip. However I also realise that many of you will not be able to spare two weeks off work, or afford two weeks of travel and accommodation, so instead I encourage you to come along for a day or two (or even just part of a day) as my trip passes through your area. Everyone is welcome ! To try and maximise the amount raised, what I do ask is that anyone coming along, not only makes a donation themselves, but encourages their own friends and family to make donations too. The aim is to get as many people involved as possible. I want this not to just be "my" trip, I want everyone who comes along to feel that it is "our" trip and that they are part of the team. Whilst one aim of the trip is to remember Heather, many of you never knew her, so the main aim is to raise as much as possible for Oxfam ( a charity Heather supported each month).
Also, I want to raise peoples awareness as to what it is possible to by bus, engaging people to make more trips by bus.
Those participating are most welcome to help with the planning ... especially if you have contacts with local operators, local press, know ideal places that can be used for overnight stays and so on. with less than seven months to go I am now looking to see if annyone wants to help with the organising and also if anyone is brave enough to join me for the full trip! If you want to come along for a day or two, please let me know. I shall not be asking for a commitment until March, as there is much to organise between now and then! This will require careful planning as certain sections of the trip will involve journeys operated by small vehicles - for example the bus journey from Durness along the north coast of Scotland to Thurso is operated by a small 12-16 seat slam door minibus... which will have to carry its regular passengers too ... so it's no use having 20 of us trying to do that section (although if there were 20, they would have enough to make it worth their while to run a duplicate with another of their small minibuses !). There is also the matter of space needed for luggage too!
If anyone wants to come along and join us, even if just for a couple of hours as we pass near you, please do get in touch - you will be most welcome ! If you want to do a leg that involves an overnight stop, please get in touch ASAP - it may be possible to make some arrangements for you to stay in the same place as the other travellers on that leg - possibly at very cheap prices ! Also if you intend coming along on the section between Glasgow and Inverness again please let me know - some of the routes only use very small buses, and I want to keep the operators informed on numbers in case they have to look at running a duplicate, or trying to use a larger vehicle
One word of warning - there will be a LOT of travelling on this trip. The amount of time spent at each place will be minimal, so there will not be much time for sightseeing - although I have tried to allow at least half an hour to grab some lunch where possible ! Most of the days will see us covering a high mileage, with most days lasting for at least 11 hours between getting on the first bus and getting off the last one - one day is around 13 hours long ! You will be tired by the end of the day...
The Trip starts on Friday 15th July 2011. The bus from Durness to Thurso, along the north coast of Scotland only runs on the 2nd and 4th Saturdays of the month, so this fixes the whole of the rest of The Trip around it.
Why July? Well as mentioned above many timetables tend to get changed in May or early June, as this allows time for last minute changes. It also means we will be travelling when the days are at their longest (useful as sometime we don't finish until 9 in the evening !). It is also before the school summer holidays start in most parts of the UK, so hopefully accommodation will be available at reasonable prices still!
How to help fundraise
There will be two main ways people will be able to donate money - via a "justgiving.com" website that will be launched nearer the time, and also the traditional way by signing forms - again these will be available nearer the time so that participants can spread the word. I also intend to prepare things like press releases that can be used to target local newspapers of places along the route to try and drum up support. My intention is to spread the word as much as possible - after all the more people who know about The Trip, the more we are likely to raise. I am also willing to consider additional fundraising ideas - especially if you can't come on The Trip for some reason - if you have an idea let me know!
You can also arrange your own fundraising events - such as a pub quiz, or an event at work - there are lots of ways to get people to give, so get in touch and we can help you formulate your ideas!
Mum came up with the idea of producing T-shirts for those taking part. A design for the t-shirt has been finalised and it is hoped these will be ready to order shortly. The cost will be around £10 per shirt.
How much will it cost to join in?
Anyone participating will be expected to pay their own fares, their own accommodation costs, and their own food & drink bills - so the full two weeks will not be cheap... However I have plans to try and minimise the costs where possible - such as getting as many operators as possible to let us travel for free (or at least allowing the first "X" number of people to travel free), with the corresponding amount that would have been spent that day on bus fares donated by the traveller to the collection fund.
Around a third of the places currently planned to be where overnight stops take place, have Travelodges in or near the centre of the city / town in question. If bookings are made early enough rooms can be got for as little as £20 a night, and as most are suitable for two people (one in the double bed, and one on the sofa that converts to a bed), this means that costs can be further shared. Some places (such as the Western Isles and Durness) we will be limited in choice, so twin rooms in B&Bs here are likely to cost a bit more, but it is well worth it - the two hotels / B&Bs in Castlebay on Barra have stunning views across the harbour (from some of the rooms), and they are worth every £ spent ! As for food and drinks costs - well we won't be dining at The Ritz every night.
My intention is to post to a blog as the trip progresses (and quite probably before and after the trip). More details will appear on this website once that feature is available for use.
Many of you are aware I am a bit of an amateur publisher, and my hope is to publish a commemorative book after The Trip. This will be a great way of remembering the fun along the way. I am hoping that the profits from this will also help add to the final total raised. It will also be a great way of thanking all those who took part - either by coming along on The Trip, or those who helped in other ways (such as bus companies allowing us free passage !)