It feels like so long ago now yet we’ve only been back for a couple of weeks. It’s funny how getting into a routine again makes the trip seem like a distant memory … damn reality!
Wheeling the bikes onto the ferry in Calais (you’re not allowed to ride them on for health & safety reasons?!) we were on a high and we cracked open a bottle of wine to celebrate getting through Europe.
A short journey across the water and we rode (sorry wheeled!) our bikes off the ferry and made our way into Dover. This was the first place I was based many years ago when I joined the Army as a very young soldier and to be honest it’s not changed much. A quick search on the now active mobile phone and we booked into a local Hotel/Hostel that was only 0.5km from the port. A few minutes later we found the Alma Hostel & Cafe. WARNING: NEVER STAY HERE!! We were greeted (I use the term loosely) by the rudest hotelier I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. A foreign gentleman who went ballistic at us because we wouldn’t leave our bikes unchained outside on the main road overnight. We exchanged some pleasantries and departed to another B&B nearby. I won’t go into all the detail but lets just say it wasn’t quite the welcome back to the UK we had anticipated and I was genuinely waiting for the little Beadle’s Abouts bloke to jump out and say “got you!”.
So onwards with the ride! We departed Dover with an unromantic view of the town, no offense to the good people that live there but when you see charity shops having closing down sales you know somethings not quite right with the place. We climbed a steep hill up towards the Old Park area I remember from 26 years ago and joined the A2 to get some distance. Now, we’ve both been in some scary situations before but after 12 miles of the A2 we both let out a huge sigh of relief when we slipped off onto some back roads. The traffic on this road is a nightmare and it really is Russian Roulette riding along it. We both got the feeling that it was only a matter of time before something happened and we’ve never felt that tense on any road during this trip. It was tragic to read only a few days after getting back of the charity riders killed on another main road in the south of England and we both felt a deep sadness reading about it.
Once we did get onto the smaller roads we soon perked up and started to enjoy the English countryside and the quieter rural parts of the journey. For the next few days we rode when we could on these smaller roads and avoided the main roads like the plague! The weather was kind to us, we made good speed and enjoyed a lot of the journey as we peddled through Kent, Essex, Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire … trying not to go all Lord of the Rings here with the Shires! On this part of the journey we also found a brilliant place to stay when we discovered the cycle friendly Toll House Bed & Breakfast. NOTE: GREAT PLACE TO STAY! Now considering this is only a few miles from Standstead Airport it is amazingly quiet. I’m trying to think of the best way to describe our room! It was essentially a really big wooden hut that was tastefully decorated, comfortable, warm and roomy. The doors opened onto the lush, well manicured gardens and it’s run by a really nice friendly couple who couldn’t do enough for us. There is a hot tub further down in the garden and it’s worth noting that the Tour de France will pass this way on the 7th July next year (book early!). What a pleasant change from the Dover experience!
Time was against us now and we had to put the head down and crank the pedals to make some distance. We rode onto Nottingham and spent the night with my Aunt & Uncle. The next day and after we ridden more than 1500km’s, we got our first puncture. Well, I did to be exact. Then I got another and not to outdone Louise joined in the fun!!! Three punctures in the space of 20km’s on the way to Sheffield. It’s always nice to be shouted at as you cycle and the UK seems to have a special love of shouting at cyclists. Could I just say however and I want to put this in writing … we do actually pay road tax for a vehicle even though we chose to ride our bikes on this particular trip. Just in case you’re one of the motorists that was wrongly thinking we don’t actually pay tax because we’re on a bike. I also love the change in expression a shouting motorist has when he’s (prodominantly it is a male pastime in the UK) shouted some unkind remark, then realises that the traffic lights ahead have turned to red and I’m suddenly switching lanes to come and say hi!
The next few days we found the most challenging (maybe Alps apart). We had been cycling for 3 weeks and knowing we were almost home, for the first time we started to count kilometres. We also knew that we both had to be back at work on the Monday. We stupidly used Google Maps to pick the most direct route through Yorkshire instead of spending some time looking closely at maps. Riding into Sheffield was fairly challenging with tired legs however the route we chose after that definitely pushed us to the limit! Those familiar with places like Haworth and other villages to the west of Keighley will understand the effort the muscles need to make to ride through them let alone after 1700km’s in the saddle. Little wonder le Tour is using roads around this area next year. We battled on though, stopping in the picturesque town of Settle. The next stage of our tour was north to Penrith and Carlisle. By this stage we knew we weren’t going to get all the way to Glasgow by Sunday night, however we made a final big push and late on we cycled across the border into Scotland at Gretna. We were mixed with emotions. The last leg of cycling had been hard work. We were fairly drained and in need of a few days off. We knew work the next day would not allow that to happen and it was to be 5 days really before we were able to look back and feel a real sense of achievement in what we had accomplished. We cycled 1,871km in total and by the time we go back down to finish the last leg into Glasgow itself (we’re planning next weekend), the entire journey will be over 2000km.
The Ae7 Milan to Glasgow idea was born over a bottle of wine (many of the greatest ideas are alcohol induced!) and like a fine wine the journey got better as we aged and made our way through Europe. Cycling gave us a totally different perspective on of the areas we passed as we biked through Italy, Switzerland, France, England and into Scotland. I did think Louise might never get on a bike again however it was only a few days after being back that she muted about the “next time” so watch this space …