A new beginning, a new journey. As always the first steps are always the hardest. For the last 12 months, I’ve been working for a company named SUMA, a food cooperative based in West Yorkshire, UK. A fantastic company to work for and my decision to leave and head towards Africa on my bicycle wasn’t taken lightly. I’ve also been living in my trusty campervan, a converted ford transit and it’s been great. No bills to pay, just finish work and head to the mountains and spend quality time in nature. I was also engaged in fighting the might of the antiquated fossil fuel industry with the anti-fracking movement in Lancashire which is still ongoing. Through this movement I have met some wonderful, intelligent and passionate people, who I hold in high regard.
So the decision to explore the African continent on my bicycle wasn’t taken lightly. But, here I am again, starting off on another adventure from the front door of my long suffering parents.
A fresh October morning, I cycled through the damp, quiet streets of my home village. Closed down pubs and takeaway joints line the main thoroughfare, a village in need of the right investment. Over the railway bridge and onto the canal, a murial added colour to the faded red brick surroundings.
I pushed on down the Rochdale canal towards Manchester, passing through Middleton, Moston and Newton Heath with trepidation, probably the most dangerous areas of the whole trip.
I reached the Etihad Stadium, the home of Manchester City, cycled a full lap like a Buddhist walking round a temple complex and pushed on along the Ashton canal.
Light rain greeted me as I ambled towards Marple. Steep cobble pathways over bridges, wet and slippery underfoot, pushing the bicycle upwards, precarious and unwanted challenges, the adventure had begun. Through Marple and Disley, I reached the picturesque village of Whalley Bridge and stopped for a sandwich lunch, next stop Buxton.
From Whalley Bridge to Buxton there is a 7 mile climb, appropriately named long hill. It’s a steady rise with quite a bit of traffic. I stopped for a break half way up and spoke to a local man out taking photos. He commented on how autumn was late arriving, noting that the trees over the other valley where late in changing there colours by about three weeks. I mentioned the F word and he implied that the government had its citizens best interests at heart. We shook hands and wished each other well, both carrying on with our respective life journeys.
Onwards and upwards grinding out the long hill, I reached the peak and zoomed down into Buxton. Through Buxton and onto the Tissington Trail, a light relief from the road and the encroaching darkness. I pedalled non stop out the other end and onto some back lanes. Up and down, up and down, the dark night was approaching. I just kept going until finally reaching Derby just before 8. A long first day but I had finally set off.
Do I feel young or old? Today is my 44th birthday. I’ve just cycled 38 miles, something I wouldn’t have been able to do in my twenties! Cycling the country lanes of Derbyshire and Warwickshire, using the cycle network routes 6 & 52, I didn’t see a single motorised vehicle for most of the day.
I’ve not spoken to anyone either, not a bad thing, but when I’m out cycling, I’m usually having a conversation with myself or I have some cheesy pop song in my head, playing over and over again. Today was different, my mind was quiet and clear and no cheeesy pop songs either! I’ve just been cycling along in peace watching the squirrels go bye!!
However, the cold wind is whistling in my ears. I can feel it’s cold bite telling me not to stop for too long. ‘Keep moving and keep warm’ cold wisdom informs me. Don’t forget to drink plenty of water too!!
National cycle route 52 is also known as the Bosworth Trail, named after the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. Basically, 2 rich cock wavers, one named Richard from the House of York and the other, Henry from the house of Lancaster, paid aload of poor people to have a fight in a peaceful field in Leicestershire. Richard lost, his hat was passed to Henry at Stoke Golding and his crew had a party. The end of the War of the Roses.
Being autumn or backend as it used to be called in Northern England, I didn’t see any roses today, only brown/yellowy leaves lining the edges of the lanes. The clocks have gone back and the daylight has dropped rapidly. Winter in the northern hemisphere is on the horizon.
So it’s been a peaceful 44th after a week long session in Derby. It’s been great catching up with an old friend, he has done me proud. I’m spending the night in Nuneaton. Tomorrow, I hope to get past Coventry and make headway towards Oxford.
Nuneaton, the birthplace of the Independent filmmaker Ken Loach. Known for his socialist ideals, his films are about ordinary people and the ordeals they face, well worth a watch if your interested in British culture.
I departed Nuneaton this chilly morning along the Coventry canal. As sometimes happens with canal towpaths, the trail was narrow and bumpy, probably more suited for horses pulling barges. As I neared Coventry, I stopped for a break and the first passerby stop for a chat. A delightful Punjabi man name Suki, a vegan and who had recently backpacked Myanmar was interested in my story. We exchanged a few details regarding Suma and my website and wished each other well.
i pushed on through Coventry only stopping to purchase a msr cooking flask. I then whizzed through the southern outskirts of leafy Coventry on back lanes and major roads.
My next port of call was to be Kenilworth, a town with plenty of history. The largest siege in English history happened at Kenilworth Castle in 1266. The siege was part of the English civil war between the forces of Simon de Montfort who led a rebellion against the Royalist army. I did intend to stop and have a look around, but the cycle route took me to the outskirts of the town. So I kept on cycling picking up the Grand Union canal into Lemington Spa.
Lemington Spa, a nice little town named after the River Learn and some quality architecture can be viewed. I was now in middle England and it all felt rather posh and eloquent!
The next day I followed Clemens Road out of the town, where an unfortunate incident with a gate post, saw my front pannier bag break. Nothing could be done to fix the problem, id done a proper job! I googled and found a bicycle shop to replace the bags and was soon on my way.
Small narrow lanes and winding country roads, I found myself in the lovely village of Fenny Compton. I struck up a conversation with a lady who came at me holding a camcorder and told me to get off her land. I was setting up the tripod to get a selfie at the end of her bellmouth. She then accused me of being a huntsman! When I pointed out to her that I wasn’t but I had seen a group of 30 farmers congregating down the road with shotguns, she told me to ‘go and get them’. When I replied ‘ok, let’s both go and confront them’ she refused. So, not only had she told me to get off her land, she then wanted to send the lamb to the slaughter. Moral of the story, don’t tell people to do something that you won’t do yourself.
The lady then decided to give me a lecture on being a vegan whilst wearing leather shoes. She was talking to me as if I’d just come from another planet and wasn’t conscious of such things. She was just rude. Leave me alone.
So I carried on through the Warwickshire country lanes on National cycle route 5, which would eventually bring me to Banbury in Oxfordshire.
The above photo was my first and last impression of Banbury. The factory caught on fire in May this year, looks like it’s still smoking and not contributing to the destruction of the planet at all!! So I found the centre of Banbury and stopped to make a sandwich.
From Banbury I continued following cycling route 5 and it was lovely.
Through small villages and sometimes through fields, it was great. I reached the outskirts of Outer Warton and a lovely lady informed me there was a great place to camp just before middle Barton.
I cycled on for another 3 miles keeping my eyes open for a farm shop.
I arrived in Middle Barton, spotted the farm shop. I bought some tomatoes and was duly pointed in the direction of the woods by the farmshop owner. A great spot it was too.
It was such a good spot to camp, I didn’t surface the next morning till late. Once I had packed up, it was gone 10am.
From Middle Barton my next destination was to be Oxford. Keeping to National Cycle Network 5 the route into Oxford is lovely. From Middle Barton the route is mostly off road through narrow lanes until Woodstock.
Woodstock, Oxfordshire is a beautiful old market town. A few of the buildings date back to the 17th century. Just up the road is Blenheim Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The palace was paid for by the nation and given to the 1st Duke of Marlborough. Winston Churchill, the twice Prime Minister of the UK was born here! On this occasion, I decided not to visit Blenheim Palace.
From Woodstock to Oxford the cycle route hugs a main road. I cycled into the centre of Oxford, famous for its universities. I must say, the architecture is pretty impressive. Lots of people bobbing about on bicycles, tourists everywhere, Oxford looks a good place to be.
The River Thames at Oxford is also known under its alternative name The Isis, I learn something new everyday! I followed the river out of the city towards Radley. Flat cycling all the way to Abingdon, where I picked up supplies. I then continued a little further until I reached a side road just after Clifton Hampden train station. It was getting dark and I was lucky to find a place to camp.
A wild white layer of mist had silently encroached upon the surrounding meadows overnight. The tent this morning was covered in dew, silken like. Packed away wet, hard to dry when the summer breeze has gone.
I set off through the back lanes towards Little Wittenham and came across the Earth Trust environmental centre.
The Earth Trusts main focus is on people and how sustainable lifestyles are possible. As well as exploring new and innovative ways of looking after the environment, the Earth Trust also boasts an internationally acclaimed woodland where the Earth Trust team study climate change and disease impacts on trees. It was a good and interesting visit.
From Little Wittenham, my next stop was the old market town of Wallingford which lies at the foot of the Chilterns, an area of natural beauty. A few miles outside Wallingford is the interesting not for profit organisation CABI, whose aim is to provide scientific expertise, that improves people’s lives by solving agricultural and environmental problems.
From Wallingford I headed into the Chilterns following National Cycle Network 5. Beautiful cycling an area of real beauty.
The Chiltern woodland is mainly compromised of beech trees interspersed with farmland and little hamlets. The sun came out and the cycling was wonderful.
At times it felt like I was zig zagging up one lane, taking a right turn, then a mile later turning right again and cycling back down a parallel lane. It was lovely.
Through the Chilterns and I was soon entering the largest town in England without the city status, Reading. Here I stayed for the night, doing my best to try and dry the tent.
The following morning the sky was very English, grey. The lovely cycle route 23 took me out of Reading through parkland, canal towpaths and lanes. As I arrived in Bramley a man posting a letter on a bicycle invited me back to his house.
A keen cyclist having done a few tours himself, Keith was intrigued to know more about me. His lovely wife cooked me a meal and warmed my flask, whilst Keith and I chatted about routes. A hungry cyclist appreciates such hospitality. Thank you.
From Bramley I continued along cycle route 23. Through Basingstoke without any issues, I was soon cycling the backroads.
I reached the wealthy village of Bradley late in the afternoon and was approached by a man named. Aidan. A down to Earth local farmer, married to an Italian lady he met in New York back in the 80’s, he was a wealth of knowledge about all things Italian. By the time we stopped chatting it was dark. He pointed me in the direction of an abandoned shed and here I stayed for the night.
It was cold during the night and it felt even colder this morning. After making a brew and packing, I hit the lanes just before 11am. Through the village of Medstead and into the South Downs. Through the South Downs, which didn’t live up to my expectations, mainly farmland. I reached Portsmouth and the end of the UK line.
A beautiful route through the backbone of England. Oxfordshire in particular was especially beautiful. Next stop Santander and hopefully some warmer weather.