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Kimbolton to Istanbul: a crusader’s route

If my annual cycling expeditions were to appear on a kind of restaurant menu, my recent trip to Florida would have been the starter, the appetiser. In ‘cycling-speak’, it was an opportunity to get in some winter miles in a place where the weather was not a major issue.

I am now building up to the main course. But like a detailed restaurant menu, when the selection is extensive, the choice is made more difficult. There are many tantalising routes out there, all vying for attention, but in the end you have to make a choice……just as you do in the restaurant. And my choice this year is to set off from my home in the UK (as I did for my recent rides to Rome and Santiago de Compostela) and ride the 2000 miles (some 3000kms) to Istanbul in Turkey, crossing some eight countries in the process.

Like the two previous pilgrimage routes, this route has been inspired by an urge to delve into a bit of medieval history, so it is my intention to pick up the route of the First Crusade (the People’s Crusade) of 1096, when 40,000 people assembled in Cologne, to begin the march to Constantinople (modern Istanbul), and then on to the ultimate prize of Jerusalem. My journey should be at least five times faster than theirs, so I hope to complete the route in about 4 weeks, adding another week as ‘cushioning time’ for wandering off the route and catching my pre-booked return flight at the end.

It’s an exciting cycling project (as all of them seem to be) and, like last year, I will be supporting a specially chosen charity called The Motivation Charitable Trust.

Motivation is an international development charity supporting people with mobility disabilities. It was founded in 1991 by three college friends, including Richard Frost and David Constantine, who is himself wheelchair bound. Their focus is on the development of high quality, low cost wheelchairs specifically designed for use in developing countries. Their wheelchairs transform lives, giving disabled people independence, confidence and hope for the future. Twenty two years on, they are producing some 12,500 wheelchairs per year which not only benefit the recipients, but also some 60,000 immediate family members as well.

As little as £140 can buy a complete wheelchair. Would you care to sponsor a wheelchair yourself? If not, any donation you make will be a valuable contribution to the hugely important work Motivation is doing in the developing world. Thank you for your support.

Further information about the charity can be found at

And an online donation can be made at Or simply click on the ‘Justgiving Sponsor me‘ button at the top of the right-hand menu.

Being stalked by jet lag!

If you have ever been on a long adventure that has been physically demanding, you will understand the sense of disorientation that sets in when you finally stop. In my case, when I had finally stopped pedalling, sedentary lethargy threatened, and then after a 24 hour flight with no sleep, a wicked dose of jet-lag stalked me into submission. But when I arrived at Heathrow Airport, I was bright and chirpy, and delighted to be met not only by Jenny, but also by my brother Dominic.

IMAG0577And as you can see, the answer to the big question “Will he, or won’t he” (ie bring the bike back home) is clearly answered. It will either become a garden feature, draped in all kinds of climbing plants, or if proven fit, it could become a run-around bike for local trips.

A few days at home drifting in and out of sleep at random times of the day, eventually merged into a welcome-home reception at our local Bytes Café. I hadn’t fully realised just how many people had been following my progress all those miles away. Some said how sad they were that the daily post on the blog might cease, now that the journey was over. Some kindly hinted that a book should emerge from all this. Amidst sandwiches, cakes, coffee and raffles, we raised yet more money for the charity, bringing us to almost £6,500………and still counting.

Outside Bytes cafe

I want to thank all those who came out in the cold to welcome me home, and especially to Jean Stratford who was the prime mover in making it all happen. When you are thousands of miles away, pounding the miles in some distant land, forging a lonely furrow from one end of a country to another, you sometimes forget there is a spirit of community that is willing you forward. And coming back to that community is a forceful reminder that these things never happen in isolation.

If you are reading this, and you have followed some (or all) of this journey, and even contributed something to the Children in Syria Appeal, I want to thank you sincerely. For me, it has made the whole thing much more than just one man riding his bike…….it has added our grain of sand to helping a few unfortunate children suffering in a desperate civil war.

Children in Syria Appeal:

The M&M day….

Milton to Moruya: 87km (55m)

Kit dried, limbs rested, body fed, humour restored….I simply could not find a convincing reason to ask the Doc for a ‘sickie’….so on the saddle I climbed, dressed for all the Aussie elements could throw at me. The weather brightened, and off came the layers one by one.
Being the (horti)cultural guy that I am, I began to notice some of the roadside vegetation


…and I know at least one botanist who might be impressed. But then I was mightily glad I didn’t have to climb this hill


…because I’m sure it would have crucified me. So many names of places are suggestive of some significant event of the past, and some are clearly signed as to be in no doubt about their importance


…but when I asked about the chances of becoming an instant millionaire, if I were to spend an hour panning for gold, I was told I should have come in 1850!
Today’s route, because of the changing weather, has been solidly on the Princes Highway, a busy holiday and commercial route, which crosses the lower slopes of the Great Dividing Range…..mountains which separate the outback from the coastal area.


This unequivocally means that you have to cross dozens of creeks in a day, and creeks always flow down steep ravines from the mountains……ergo, I have just spent the whole day descending and climbing back out of deep ravines. OK, I suppose the legs needed a bit more climbing practice, and I know I’m not going to get your sympathy…..:-(
But I do like to be stopped by ladies on the highway, especially when they thrust a $40 bill into my hand.


And when I checked into a campsite, the warden gave me $6 back from my pitch fee as a donation. The above family greeted me as I put up the tent, he offered me a ‘stubbie’ (can of beer), gave me $10 for the charity, and said I could have a ‘spa’ (hot-tub) in their cabin in the morning. People’s generosity continues to astound me, and I am the grateful recipient of it.
I’m not sure the following observation is significant, but several Aussies have photographed the sign on the bike, suggesting they would like to donate online. I, for one, will be watching this space.
Children in Syria Appeal:

Back on the road again…

Queenstown to Mossburn 122km (75m)

After sharing a final meal with my ABC friends from California,


we hugged each other farewell. We were going in different directions, but sharing their company over the last 4 days has been very special. Bob has to fly home to hold the hand of his dying father, and it looks as if their homeward route through S America is now in jeopardy. But priorities are not in doubt.
I tentatively loaded the bike this morning, gingerly wobbled down the first hill, then decided I really needed a substantial breakfast roll (mysteriously called an OTR) and a huge flat white coffee before committing myself


My route into the northern reaches of Southland


introduced me to the delights of Kiwi honeys


but some were products from the bees that might feature more correctly in a beauty parlour


but I was particularly taken by the Manuka honeys, and especially by this


which is a honey exclusively from tree bees, that feed on the bark of trees. And a small jar just happened to fit in the barbag :0)
As I meandered along the edge of Lake Wakatipu, a truck towing a trailer pulled over in front of me, a hand waving me to slow down. Peter thrust $20 in my hand, said he would see me in Bluff, and that he knew a lot of people in the area. I am eagerly mystified!
A little later sitting in a roadside cafe, a German couple came in with a little baby and sat at a table close by. After a few minutes, Florian turned to me with his laptop open, and his first words to me were: “I’ve just put some money on your website!” I was completely taken by surprise……. He had obviously seen the notice on my bike, and simply made a spontaneous contribution without asking me anything about my venture. We chatted at length, and I learned they were on a fly fishing holiday…..and they write a blog about it (in English too):

Oh and by the way, the bike behaved itself impeccably today, obviously fearing the ultimate sanction: that of being chucked on the scrap heap!


So I put up my tent in a quiet remote campsite with an easy mind…….
Thank you to everyone who has generously donated to the Children in Syria Appeal. We keep hitting new targets as people continue to respond magnanimously to the cause.

Emerald green of the Pacific

A fair wind, a cool but sunny day, and a coastal road that hugged the rocky fringes of the Pacific, all heralded the prospect of making up the deficit of yesterday.


Bay after bay, azure blue merged into emerald green, as the road weaved its way round rugged headlands opening up new vistas at every turn.


If you look carefully at this scene, you will detect that the black forms are seals. Colonies of parents caring for their young pups. This went on for miles. No wonder the first British colonists along this coast were the sealers in the 19th century.


A still morning turned into a windy afternoon, but this time it was in my favour. From Ward, I passed through Kaikoura (the whale-watching capital of NZ) and on to Cheviot, where I found a pitch for my tent for $15. 160km (100m): more than my anticipated daily mileage, but wind-assisted this time.
Donations today: 2 Geology students on a field trip gave $5 each, and an English couple, touring NZ on a motorbike, pulled over on the shoulder and made a generous donation.
I estimate I’ve collected nearly $600 so far from spontaneous donations.


Donations to:

Generosity knows no bounds!

Raising money for a charitable cause is a slow cumulative process, but very satisfying nevertheless. People donate spontaneously by putting a hand in purse or pocket and giving loose change (sometimes referred to as shrapnel).
Sometimes people go away to think about it, and a donation arrives by cheque or banknotes.
Others, happy to use a credit card, will go to an online giving site and frequently donate substantial amounts. For the Children in Syria Appeal we’ve seen donations of


£100 and £150 ……. but when I saw one recently for £1000, I was simply left stunned.
A huge thank you to Ian! Your kindness will have a massive impact on the welfare of refugee children.

In the meantime, what does this sign tell me? Massive hill, yes, but definitely not downhill!

The odyssey begins……

CIMG8017After 35 hours of travelling, 48 hours without sleep of any sort, I stepped off the final flight on the tiny airstrip of Kaitaia, the nearest to Cape Reinga, and the start of my end-to-end of New Zealand. Getting off a 19 seat de Haviland is like getting off a bus or train, and the terminal building is little more than a pre-fabricated shelter. An hour later, the bike was re-assembled, the airport manager helpfully discarded the empty box, and a fellow passenger chats and watches me complete the task.

The sign I will be carrying on the back of the bike, advertising the purpose ofCIMG8014 the ride, has already attracted attention, and the readiness of Kiwis to donate to the cause I find both endearing and uplifting. I read somewhere that New Zealanders are the world’s most generous donors to charitable causes. My first few hours in the country are testament to that.

My task was to get out to Cape Reinga, 124 km from the CIMG8027hostel I stayed in on my first night. Lack of sleep, irregular eating patterns, the inactivity of flying and the humidity of the northern NZ climate all prove to be inauspicious. No local bus company could take me and my bike out to the starting point, so it was up to me. After more than 100 km (about 65 miles), just 21 km short of my target, I called it a day, camped in Waitiki Landing, was driven out of my tent by a swarm of mosquitoes, continued sleeping on a couch in a TV room, then tackled the final kms the next day. And was I glad I didn’t tackle them the day before……steep hills and a stiff head wind coming off the Pacific, made the approach to the Cape very challenging. But at the end of this narrow peninsula was the lighthouse, a feature drawing coachloads of visitors and convoys of 4×4 safari

Jasmine,Robert & Lars: good samaritans

Jasmine,Robert & Lars: good samaritans

drivers to a spot that is venerated by the Maori as the departure point of the spirits of the dead, heading off for there final place of rest. Such is the veneration that you won’t find a shop, cafe or information kiosk, and people are asked not to eat or drink in the vicinity.

With this stage of the ride completed, albeit in reverse, I was very happy to accept a lift from three young German engineers, driving an elderly campervan which they had rented in Christchurch and were touring both islands. Jasmine, Robert and Lars were fascinated by my venture, and waved me off with a donation of  NZ$20 to the cause. In all, I reckon I have collected over 50 GBP from passers-by who see my sign and are moved to put a hand in their pocket and make a spontaneous donation.

I am so glad the Kiwis are amongst the most generous people in the world!

Please support the Children in Syria

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