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Can you……..?

…..disguise yourself as a cyclist? he said. As I stood there in my lycra, astride my Litespeed Ti, I looked up at him and replied: ‘Oh, I’m not sure about that… do I do that?

I had gone out for a Sunday morning spin (yesterday in fact) and had forgotten all about the Tour of Cambridgeshire, a sportive that was being run on closed roads to the north of my village. I came across the first road block, and blagged my way through it. I took a diversionary turn off and came across yet another road block (‘Damn these cyclists’ I muttered under my breath……ah, said a little voice over my shoulder, but you are one!). Yes, but don’t let the truth spoil a good curse…….img_20190602_114432877_hdr

I took another diversionary route until I had to come back on myself and, of course, met the first road blockage yet again on my way back…..but this time the thick end of an 8000 rider peloton was just coming through.

‘Am I OK to just drop down this stretch to the other end of the village?’ I asked one of the marshals. ‘Can you disguise yourself as a cyclist?’ he asked. ‘How do I do that?’, I said, playing along with his sense of humour…….

He laughed. ‘Well you look like a sensible sort of guy…..just pretend you are a stupid sportive rider who’s paid £80 entry to come and ride his own bike…. that should do you fine’.

So I hopped into the 8000 strong bunch, pretending to be stupid, for about 1km……saving myself about 50p on the entry fee…..


It’s a dog’s life..

My dogs used to chase people on bikes, then I made them ride one…and guess what? They now know what it’s like to be chased by dogs….😉

Anticipating the sunset…

Catching the setting sun minutes before it dips beneath the horizon, especially over a lake, can be very special….here is a short sequence over Grafham Water….

30 minutes to go..

20 minutes…

10 minutes…

2018 in a nutshell…

Total distance cycled in 2018: 11,141km/6,844 miles. Unidirectional equivalent: Bergen(Norway) to Vladivostok (eastern Siberia)

img-20181028-wa0002I have to admit, I am in a phase of regression…..

At a drinks party over the festive season, I was in conversation with a contemporary about my habits of travelling on two wheels. By way of response to some of the things I said, I heard the following:

“Really, you travel all by yourself? What happens if you get sick or have an accident?…… You don’t have a support vehicle to carry your kit? But you must have hotel rooms booked in advance at least? No? You mean, you have no idea where you are going to stay each night? Aren’t you worried about your own safety…….?”

And so it went on. And this is only one example of dozens of similar conversations I’ve had with people of my own generation over the years which, not surprisingly, pigeonholes me as some kind of weirdo, a man out of synch with his contemporaries. Years ago, adventure travel for me amounted to nothing wilder than staying in youth hostels, travelling economy class, and eating at the cheapest restaurants. But I now find I am wanting to push back the boundaries, back to my penniless days, to experience the simplicity of independent travel, finding the food and drink I need wherever it is available, laying my head down where nature allows me, and accepting kindness and hospitality whenever it is freely proffered.

I will never aspire to be a desert-crossing, Antarctica-sledging, Himalaya-scaling kind of adventure traveller, but my comfort zone is definitely in long-distance solo cycle-trekking, with minimal luggage and few concrete plans other than knowing my general direction of travel, the pace of which is governed only by the date printed on my return ticket to the UK. For some, enough to inspire fear and anxiety, for me, liberating and energising.


Routes: Days 1-3 Vancouver to Belfair 260km

Vancouver to Bay View


Bay View to Port Townsend


Port Townsend to Belfair


BBC News: New Zealand politician cycles to hospital to give birth

Bravo for her…..!

New Zealand politician cycles to hospital to give birth –

Enforced migration…

It’s tough when your daughter chooses to settle on the Costa del Sol, and you quickly sense the predatory footsteps of companies like QuEasyjet behind you bidding for your business. The company of the orange logo happened to be a third choice for this trip, because, first, we decided to overlook Ryanair due to their debacle over staffing rosters, and then somewhat smugly opted for Monarch……BIG MISTAKE! Within a few hours of their crash, however, I had worked out how to retrieve the cost of both plane and train tickets, and booked with EasyJet with little change to our itinerary.

So we ended up in Los Boliches, Fuengirola, with a perfectly proportioned studio apartment (for two people, that is) that afforded daily views of solar salutations announcing the first blushes of the new day, without having to move from the prostrate comfort of the mattress……unless of course, you insisted (as I did) on going down to the beach in person to salute the sun personally. But then it did considerately wait till 7.50am to pop above the horizon….so no great sacrifice there.

Our 11th floor eerie, according to the GPS on my phone, put us at 42 metres above sea level, which gifted us with commanding views of our environment. If ‘people watching’ is your principal sport, you could have a daily workout of several hours. Or you could survey the offshore fishing activities of local fishermen, feast yourself on the antics of windsurfers, paragliders and jet skiers, and catch glimpses of beach bootcamps and yoga classes……but more of that in another post.

A beachside holiday resort has never been our first choice of destination, but when your daughter lives and makes her living in such an environment, it’s funny how your thinking develops. Not to mention the loan of a bicycle from Jonathan, Rachael’s partner…..

How accurate is your GPS?

On most of my (our) bikes, I use both an analogue cycle computer (that relies on wheel revolutions to record the ride) and a GPS (usually a Garmin).

However, I have recently acquired another bike (but more of that in a future post) on which I use only the Garmin and a tracking app on my phone. I decided that fixing an analogue system was too ‘yesterday’. So today, and not for the first time, I used only my Garmin and Strava on my phone to track my route, and interestingly,  they came up with very different statistics. Different enough, in fact, to hold in question the accuracy of GPS technology. But there could be a simple explanation…….bear with me.

Here is the Garmin map:

Ramsey 70km.1It records me covering 70.90km, at an average speed of 24.3kph, with an elevation gain of 310 metres, and a maximum speed of 51.5kph.  For a flattish ride out to the fens, the elevation gain is quite startling………..but it is barometric, and not necessarily accurate.

This is the Strava map:Ramsey 70km.2

Strava, on the other hand, records me covering 69.90km, at an average speed of 24.9kph, elevation gain of 381 metres, and a maximum speed of 45.5kph.

So Strava had me cycling 1000 metres less than the Garmin, had me climbing 71 metres more, at an average speed of 0.6kph faster, but with a maximum speed of 6kph less.

I can’t explain most of these anomalies, but I can add that the auto-pause functions of both devices would have made some difference. The Garmin had me cycling for 2:55:20, and the Strava for only 2:47:38. That critical difference of some 8 minutes would have affected the average speed, and might have affected the divergence in distance, especially if one device took a few more seconds to kick back into activity when moving off from stationary.

Funnily, when I did use an analogue system, I always relied more on the wheel revolutions for giving me a more accurate record of my ride. Maybe I’ve not been so wide of the mark after all……….





Schull-Mizen Head

The driver of the 237 bus from Cork to Schull-Mizen was on the point of charging for my bicycle when he interrupted himself: “Ah sure, what’ll I be doing chargin’ you for t’boike….we’ll ignore that now we will”. And that was only the first of the ‘ignored’ extra charges that day. They obviously thought my accent was cute….in fact one little boy said I both looked and sounded like Mr Bean….not sure what to make of that.
Schull was the closest the bus could take me to my starting point at Mizen Head, so I set off to cover the outstanding 30km into a brisk south westerly. 

But it was a glorious, if hard, ride, with stunning views over Barleycove, and at Mizen Head, of the bridge suspended above the ravine.

So the ride-for-real began with the obligatory pose at the most south westerly point, the lighthouse that supplanted Fastnet 14km away.

 And the day ended with me pitching my tent near a bronze age burial chamber just metres from the sea shore. Ghostly visitations in the night…..?

Goodbye to all that: Robert Graves

GravesAfter a tortured childhood, a desperately unhappy spell at Charterhouse School where he was bullied mercilessly, and his fear of the approaching prospect of going up to Oxford University, Robert Graves quickly signed up for service in the trenches at the outbreak of World War 1.

He vividly describes life and death in the trenches; he drank heavily to assuage his fears and calm his nerves; he was wounded several times, once so severely that he was believed to be dead, and his death was publicly announced and relayed to his parents. The fact that an orderly spotted breath in his ‘corpse’, as it lay amongst dozens of other corpses waiting to be shipped out, was a remarkable serendipity. Though he eventually recovered from his injuries, he was destined to see out the war in non-combative military roles back at home.

After his failed first marriage, he met Laura Riding and, together, they left the UK and settled in Mallorca. It was a bitter separation from his homeland, hence the title “Goodbye to all that”.

Naples ’44 by Norman Lewis

Travel writing with a difference always excites my curiosity. Norman Lewis’s account of Naples during the year 1944 is not the usual memoir of a personal journey of discovery, but the result of being posted out to Italy as a member of the British Intelligence Service in the immediate aftermath of the invasion of southern Italy.

naples-44Lewis came to the posting with a useful command of Italian, learned largely from his Sicilian wife, but the job description that came with the new duties was non-existent. In the early days, they had no idea what they should be doing and, for the next 12 months, much of what they did achieve was the result of following vague orders from on high, with a liberal input of creative imagination. They formed part of an occupation force that was intended to sort out the governance of the south of Italy, long used to the whims and savagery of both the national fascists under Mussolini, and later by the German occupation.

His work was made up randomly of seeking out and dealing with German collaborators, controlling the sale of stolen military goods through the black market, liaising with the local police and people of influence, and dealing with the local Camorra (Mafia). Italy was in a state of crisis and the people were starving. The living conditions were medieval, both because of poverty and the density in which people lived together in squalid circumstance. Typhus, smallpox and malaria were rife. Lewis himself contracted malaria three times during the year.

Although written 30 years later, this memoir vibrates with the immediacy of his experiences, and serves as a perfect snapshot of life that deserves a place in the archives.

Menorca: trying to leave the UK….

A dramatic and confused start to any venture brings with it a few anecdotal stories. I chose Gatwick as my airport of departure because Monarch Airlines offered a very good deal….and my plan to get there? Easy….a straight through train from Bedford to Gatwick. Ah, but there was the little matter of the ongoing Southern Network strikes…..damn! Plan B? Take a National Express coach from Milton Keynes. Straightforward? Sure, but let’s not mention the gathering snow storm hitting the south east which forced the cancellation of dozens of flights (admittedly mainly from Heathrow).

My coach faltered its way around the M25, while vehicles rapidly became enveloped in the white stuff, and it began to bank up on the hard shoulder. There was an element of touch-and-go about the last 30 miles, but we made it in the end, albeit 90 minutes late, putting the driver beyond his legal time limit. 

Any blessings? Oh yes, the fact I had decided to travel down the day before my early morning flight has been, undoubtedly, a huge blessing…… no fretting about the possibility of a missed flight unless, of course, we had got completely stranded on the M25. So, a night sleeping rough in the airport?

The capsule pod. I must be giving in to my feminine side, because I’ve just shelled out £45 to spend the night ‘glamping’ in the South Terminal. I can’t really believe I’m doing this. I was rapidly becoming a world authority on airport sleeping conditions, and the next plan was to write a Lonely Planet guide on airport sleepovers, assigning a starred rating to each one. 

So, proving that the spirit may be willing but the wrinkling flesh is weaker still, I booked into a Yotel, a Japanese-style capsule hotel, where the rooms are tiny pods that look like small (and I mean small) ship’s cabins.

These pods are only a one-floor lift ride from check-in, the pods are superbly designed, with full en suite, TV and WiFi, even a little camping stool and fold-away table. A couple of square metres is about the size of a small family tent.

So, instead of curling up across three uncomfortable seats near check-in and having all the disturbances of an airport at night (automated security announcements, cleaners etc), I am now wrapped up in an air-conditioned sound-proofed little pod where hot drinks are provided at any time of the day or night….and I can lie in bed to watch the 10 o’clock news. Is that cool, or what?

I am now pondering on all of this and asking myself… I on the slippery slope?

A Venetian masquerade..

Caught up in a Venetian masquerade at the elegant Petworth House in Sussex. 

The 50 list: Nigel Holland

50-listNigel Holland, in his early 50s, suffers from an inherited genetic disorder known as Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT), which is a motor and sensory neuropathy. Basically, this means that his nerves cannot communicate action messages to his muscles. He was diagnosed in his infancy and, since then, has progressively lost his ability to live independently. He has been confined to a wheelchair for many years, but has never let this get in the way of meeting the challenges of life. In his own words, he may have a disability, but he is definitely not disabled.

This book is a diary of one year in his life (his 50th year) when he set out to complete 50 challenges, which not only included obvious challenges like scuba diving, zorbing and drag racing, but also less obvious ones like making a creme brulée and completing a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle. The whole book is written as a message of hope to his young daughter, who has inherited the condition, and Nigel wants her to know that she doesn’t have to lower her sights in life because of her progressive disability.

Writing the book itself was one of the 50 challenges, and I would heartily recommend it for its very human story.

Witches awheel!

I’m no agronomist but….

As we approached a remote 5* hotel in Andalucia (one of the most prestigious in the country), along its 3km drive we were informed of this…..

Now, I’m no agronomist, just a humble penny-pinching hispanist, but I can distinguish horses (caballos) from cows from several hundred metres.

What have the string of celebrities, monarchs and oil-rich sultans made of this, as they approached their £400 a night stopover? 

Needless to say, we only went for a coffee….

Bressingham Gardens 80km

We all may have a shed full of bikes at home, but if you put nearly 500 cyclists on a site, you will end up with a sports hall full.

……and not all are conventional two-wheeled machines…

…..a great place for surveying the plethora of different cycling concepts.

On a breezy, gusty day, I headed off with this small group of companions

to Bressingham Gardens and Steam Museum and, on the route back, got waylaid by the fascinating little town of Diss, so beloved of both John Betjemen and Mary Wilson (wife of PM Harold). It’s a town that surrounds a 6 acre mere, giving it an unusually picturesque setting.
This week of pedalling through the country lanes of Suffolk has opened new vistas on a county that is often overlooked by the passing traveller. It’s a county full of hidden gems.

Orford 62km

“Hey up….come on, move it…hup, hup, hup…..”.
I heard this in the distance, and this is what I found…….


…..and there’s no hurrying them.
I’ve also discovered that country churches in Suffolk have baptismal fonts decorated with hairy little men carrying clubs, called ‘wodewoses’….

…and the medieval equivalent of a secure password is to have all valuables put in a chest with 5 locks, so that whenever it is to be opened, 5 men have to be present.

….but then they hadn’t discovered the power of the crowbar.
But the crowning jewel of the day had to be Orford Castle


which, despite its fortified appearance, was probably more of a whimsical folly than a real castle.

Sutton Hoo 80km


As the early-morning mist began to lift, the day promised to be hot and sunny……and it was. Narrow lanes led to hidden villages, sand on the verges testified to the proximity of the coast, and huge tractors and trailers reminded us that the harvest was in full swing.
My primary goal for the day was to spend a couple of hours at the ancient Anglo-Saxon burial site of Sutton Hoo.


The story behind the discovery of the treasure-laden long boat is fascinating, and their exhibition gives an excellent overview of the history. And the star exhibit of the Treasury is this warrior helmet


….simply stunning.
Nearly 150 came to hear my End-to-End of Japan story last night, and now they’ve asked for a second show…..I feel flattered.

Aldeburgh and Snape Maltings 63km

I had to be back to set up the room and kit for doing a slide presentation of my End-to-End of Japan, so a short ride took me to Saxmundum, Aldeburgh and Snape Maltings, the recent history of the last two so connected with the composer Benjamin Britten, and his singer and partner, Peter Pears.


But another gem of Aldeburgh was its eye-catching Moot Hall, part of which still serves as a Town Hall, and the upstairs as a museum.