An ode to the National Cycle Network


In the beginning there was sun..

During our first year in London, Astrid and I spent a lot of time leaving the UK. For various reasons we found ourselves in the infuriatingly long line at Stanstead Airport, then crammed into a Ryan Air flight to land in some lovely European destination for a few days, followed by a reversal of the procedure. Basically, the whole operation made us uncomfortable. You can’t (well, we couldn’t) cycle half way around the world and not have been affected by the slow and unassuming nature of bicycle travel. It makes jetting off to destinations feel like you are consuming travel rather than a true reflection of what travel encompasses. Aeroplanes are an extraordinary form of transport, but I personally feel we take them too much for granted. Short haul flights are one of the most destructive and unnecessary (unnecessary because unlike getting to say Australia or the US there are feasible alternatives) things we can do to the environment. Sadly, these alternatives are usually (not always) more expensive and longer. Until governments start to subsidise train travel instead of air travel, choosing the alternative will mostly be a conscientious decision to spend more money. However, after a year of not really listening to our instincts about travel we decided to try and completely avoid short haul flights if possible.


The beautiful Cornish Coast

It was always our intention, but this year we have specifically planned trips which feel to us more like the kind of travel we want to do (even though we did have fun last year). Essentially to us this means moving slowly in nature; using trains to get to our destinations and bikes or legs to explore. We might not see as many things, but the ones we do will be at a pace more suited to us.


Which leads me into this blog. We decided we had seen far too little of Britain and thought it was high time we explored this peculiar island we currently call home on our bikes. We booked tickets to Penzance (30 quid! booking in advance and having a rail card is totally worth it!) and made plans to cycle ‘end to end’ meaning we would cycle from the very south of Cornwall to the very north of Scotland. That was the plan anyway…


Roads with no cars are the best kind of roads

Leaving day rolled around and I found myself packing on no sleep – London what have you done to me?! A friend’s house party had inevitable turned into a wonderful all night event and I had made it home in time to sit somewhat confused in piles of stuff and gingerly pack my panniers. Poor Astrid was not much better – a lingering head cold had manifested into something rather unpleasant and we were a slightly broken pair piling on to the train at Paddington. Mostly we slept on the journey west and arrived in rainy and cold Penzance at around 5pm. The plan had been to cycle about 20km to a camp site, but as we rounded the  first corner and were blasted by a furious headwind and rain, we promptly opted for the pub. Over a pint it was decided to go for the backpackers and try again the following morning.


Getting off the train in Penzance


Thanks Penzance


Happiness is going on a biking holiday

After about 12 hours of sleep we were both feeling much livelier and hit the hills of Cornwall in fine spirits. The climbs were intense but the scenery was beautiful; rugged coast, cute villages and country lanes. Even a few prehistorical standing stones thrown in for good measure. We reached Lands End in the early afternoon, took the usual photos and ate some hummus. Then we turned around and began heading north.


Prehistoric standing stones in a field


The is always a sign..


The beautiful beaches of Cornwall

I need to mention early on a hidden treasure of Britain; The National Cycle Network. I have totally disregarded Sustrans and the national cycle network in the past. I mean, try and negotiate their website for a minute and I am not sure you can blame me. However, I will categorically apologise to Sustrans here; the national cycle network is awesome. Sure, it has a few issues (it might be a bit purest at times and take you on a ridiculous alternative route to avoid a B road, and the website!) but there is literally a huge cycle network that traverses Britain! It’s almost like being on a highway for bikes. It connects small country roads to rail trail and bike paths and has so far been nothing short of brilliant. We hardly need to use our phones or guidebooks. It saves a lot of navigational faffing and the routes are super lovely.


Signs like this are literally all over  the country


Car signs. Bike signs. We can share the road.

By evening of the first day we had reached the coastal village of St Ives and were both quite exhausted. Stealth camping just seemed too hard – we had not yet gotten into our dirtbag mindset and opted instead to pay a ludicrous amount for a piece of dirt and use of a toilet. Never mind, sometimes it’s just part of the process. It did feel brilliant to be back in the tent though.


Brilliant country lane cycling


Ruins of a Tin mine


The compulsive snacking has begun. We found vegan Cornish pasties!


Typical English Church Yard


Cornish beers to celebrate the first cycling day, St Ive’s.


Dinner on the beach, St Ive’s


Sunset, hinting at the coming weather

The rain began in the night, and a fierce wind lashed at our tent. By the time morning arrived we were less than excited about facing the weather. Luckily a friend had contacted me about somewhere to stay that night. I had put a photo up on facebook the night before and Holly (a friend we met cycling in Tajikistan) saw my post, just happened to be in Cornwall and had a friend who we could stay with that night. A big part of me really doesn’t like social media, but it can prove useful! Knowing we had somewhere dry to stay that night and that we would be seeing Holly, lifted our spirits and finally got us moving out of St Ive’s.


Cycling into the drizzle..


Cooking lunch in a random village. Note the down jacket in Spring )-:


Awesome off road cycling through former tin mines


Wet but awesome


Truro Cathedral

The day did prove rather wet. The wind was luckily in our favour so it wasn’t all bad. We followed the estuary inland, undulated through farmland and then followed a brilliant off road track through the mining scared landscape. We reached Truro and David’s home covered in mud and water. Being a cycle traveller himself David wasn’t at all disturbed by our less than clean presentation. We were treated to a wonderful evening of food, wine and conversation (not to mention a hot shower!) by David and his partner Norma.


Cycling in Britain IS fun

We woke again to rain but the morning was brightened by the visit of Holly and baby Anissa (sadly Dave, Holly’s husband was in Portugal). It was lovely to eat David’s amazing breakfast and catch up with Holly (the last time we had spent anytime with her and Dave, the four of us had been rather unsettled in a house in Kent – having all just finished our trip). It was ludicrously late by the time we left David’s place but we didn’t really care.


Heading along the Camel Trail

Our route took us to Newquay where we stuffed chips into slices of bread and watched the hardcore British surf in the rain. From there we took the hilly route along the coast – beautiful in the rain but probably stunning in good weather. Our last section was on the camel trail – another delightful off road route incorporated into the NCN. We left the camel trail at Wadebridge as we had organised a warmshowers host who just happened to be a good friend of Holly’s. Small world. Jackie and Richard welcomed us with open arms and we were again treated to amazing hospitality.


Chip butty’s in the rain, can you get more British?




Bedruthan Steps


Minor bike mechanics required


More Camel trail

Rain once more. My spirits were low. I mean we could be in Spain in the sun like normal people. Instead, here we were trying to have “fun” in Britain. And it was cold.  Where the previous rainy days had been slightly humid it was now quite chilly. Still, we pushed on, if somewhat morosely. By the evening it had cleared a little and we found a beautiful spot to put up our tent on a guys trout farm. He let us use the area not currently used by anglers so that we wouldn’t be disturbed.


Cooking cup o soup in a shelter to escape the rain


Such lovely roads



Our trout farm camping spot


journal writing




sunset over the pond

We were treated to the Tarka Trail the next day which led us slowly back to the coast on a lovely off road track, through forest and along an estuary. Another quick restock and we started the long and steep climb into Exmoor. After a rather gruelling (but enjoyable) climb late in the day we lucked out with finding the perfect spot to put our tent. It’s hard to find the kind of wilderness we are used to in Australia in England, but up on Exmoor I began to get a stronger sense of being somewhere a little more remote and wild.


And there was sun!




Cool sculptures of the Tarka Trail


Bird people


Happiness is cider AND tea


Beautiful Tarka Trail


Along the estuary


Lunch stop


Heading up into Exmoor


Winning on our camping spot!

Cycling over Exmoor the following day gave us a reprieve from the endless hedge rows and paddocks. England is beautiful but there are a lot of fields and a lot of sheep. Although London might be the greenest capital in Europe, unfortunately England is the most deforested country, with agriculture everywhere. During the ride whenever we descended to where the trees have been left, I would get a small sense of how beautiful the woods must have been before they were cleared for grazing.


Across Exmoor


Beautiful and wild


Enjoying a break from the hedge rows!


Exmoor pony


Tea stop after Exmoor

By the afternoon we were back on the country roads, pedalling alongside hedge rows, marvelling at the many shades of green and watching the blackening sky in front of us. The rain hit us late in the afternoon and we were more or less drenched. But this is England and we soon found a pub to dry out in. I’m beginning to think there is a reason England has so many pubs…We sheltered there for an hour or two while searching on the net for somewhere to put our tent for the night. At this stage we hadn’t fully gotten to that comfortable place where you know the road will provide. In the end we found a campsite just out of Taunton and headed there. Of course on the way we saw places where we could have slept but we had already phoned ahead and felt like we should make the extra few miles as well. We pitched our tent in a soggy apple orchard and crawled into bed to polish off a few ciders.


Hmm, the weather is coming our way


Yep, no more sun.


Rain rage


Happy to be camping in a soggy apple orchard

I woke feeling really low and out of sync the next day. The weather was still miserable, I was cold, dirty (the shower at the campsite was shit), we were behind in schedule and I felt like cycle traveling wasn’t as fun as I remembered. This is where having an awesome partner like Astrid makes all the difference. She suggested we splurge on a bed and breakfast that night, not worry about how far we still had to go, and let ourselves reset. This really worked. Sometimes you just need someone to give you a pep talk. I tackled that days rain in more or less good spirits (although I occasionally cursed it). We reached our charmingly tacky (think shelves covered in tea pots and walls in novelty plates) bed and breakfast quite exhausted. After a hot shower and ordering the hugest amount of Indian takeaway ever, and a few bottles of beer, we passed out. Reset complete.


Somerset flats


Cute villages were an everyday occurrence


Random, slightly creepy rabbit


Chutney anyone? English quaintness at it’s best.


The strawberry line was a nice surprise


Happiness is all the Indian Take Away ever

Finally, the sun arrived!! What joy it was to cycle in the brilliant sunshine. Everything felt better and my spirits soared. The sun is simply life affirming. We pushed hard towards Gloucester (although not so hard that we didn’t stop for a Sunday veggie roast in a beer garden), alternating between country lanes and a canal tow path. Late in the day we reached Gloucester, where we used our dirtbag tactic of ordering a beer, then asking the bar staff to charge our phones and collecting water from the bathroom for the evenings cooking. I liked Gloucester, the old docks had been gentrified but it din’t take away the impressive nature of the warehouses and brick work. Once we left the city, we were faced with ample camping opportunities in the surrounding park. We chose a forest and I felt like we were slipping back into being at one with this kind of  travelling lifestyle.




First lunch


The Dirty Salmon, with the Salmon


So lovely to cycle in the sun


Second lunch


Heading into Gloucester on the canal path


Pubs are the best places to charge phones and collect water..





Forest camp

From Gloucestershire we cycled into Worcestershire, stopping at Tewksbury to marvel at the abbey and Worcester to drink some beer. The sun kept shinning and riding was an absolute joy. I was beginning to realise how much I had missed this kind of life; being free, outdoors, moving slowly, calling anywhere home for the night. The simplicity is extremely life affirming and I find it incredibly uplifting. I think I have come to understand that I am quite adaptable. Perhaps too much if such a thing is possible. After a few initially difficult months I have adapted to being in London and working well. The truth is I love London a little bit and my life there. It reminds me of the kind of life I lived in Melbourne, where I was really happy. I always feel the hardest thing I ever did was not climbing 5000m passes, but making the decision to leave my really good life in 2013  for the unknown. It was of course the best thing I have ever done, and this trip is reminding me of that. It has reignited something and reminded me of the adventures still to come.


A very old bridge. Don’t ask me how old.


Lovely spring cycling


The abbey


First lunch


More abbey


Crossing another lovely old bridge

From Worcestershire we pedalled into Shropshire which was a real highlight because of the beautiful Wyre Forest and the amount of off road cycling. It was in Shropshire while eating second breakfast at a rather picturesque cafe overlooking a river that we came to the realisation that we weren’t going to make it. No matter how we calculated the remaining kilometres, it was far too many. When they say three weeks is ample time to ride the end to end they probably don’t mean on fully loaded touring bikes, camping, riding mostly the NCN and indulging in afternoon ales. Astrid and I aren’t particularly goal orientated. We are still not sure how far we rode on our big trip (maybe 30,000km?) and we changed our final destination 4 months out to better suit our needs. So, making the decision to continue to go slow and enjoy the backroads of England, ending in Glasgow (actually our original destination from 2013) wasn’t particularly hard. Plus, Scotland shouldn’t be rushed (everyone was telling us it was the best bit). What was even better was that we would be cycling right passed the Cycle Touring Festival. A quick email to Laura  (the festival organiser) and we got some last minute tickets.


Setting up camp on the side of a bike path


Shropshire canal


The beautiful forest of Wyre


I love the forest


Such good cycling


More great paths


Happiness in the forest


It was at this river we realised we were too slow


So much off road riding


Following the 45


Steam train!!


And waterfall

Our high spirits continued as we headed towards Manchester and a day off. In Telford we came across our first rather unpleasant city, getting lost and finding the NCN slightly lacking. Luckily soon we were back into the countryside and passing a pub, right on evening water collection time. It was here that we learnt about the attacks that had occurred in Manchester which therefore made the helicopter circling above our forest camp later that night slightly eerie.




Getting ready to fry up some lunch




More lovely pedalling


Helicopter forest camp


Along the canal passed salt mines



We woke with 100km to go into Manchester, the sun shinning wonderfully yet again. Truly, England is one of the most delightful places when the sun shines. In Cheshire we found the NCN signage somewhat lacking again but managed to eventually fumble our way onto the trans pennine way and a beautiful ride into Manchester. Our hosts Pete and Maya lived in the south of the city and warmly welcomed us. We washed five days of grime off ourselves and promptly got down to serious cycle talk, eating loads of pasta and drinking copious glasses of wine. Pete and Maya had spent 11 months cycling through Africa (Pete had also cycled to India before that) and they totally re inspired us about cycling on the African continent.


Pete, our warmshowers host

Our day off in Manchester was wonderful. We walked the city streets, went to an art gallery, drank some beers, ate some felafel and explored canal street. I know it was sunny and therefore everything seems shinier, but I really liked Manchester. In the evening we cooked thai curry, drank some beers and talked late into the night. I’m sure I’ve said it before but Warmshowers is such a brilliant organisation, connecting like minded people all over the world.


And Maya




more Manchester


And some more


We loved Canal Street

Pete pedalled with us into central Manchester the next day and then bade us farewell. We picked up some fuel for our stove and began the cycle north. It was hillier again now and we had some lovely climbs and sweeping views as we cycled through Lancashire. As we neared Clitheroe our excitement grew. The last section through the Ribble Valley was super beautiful and quite familiar as we had done a bit of cycling there the previous year. We arrived at the festival in high spirits and almost immediately ran into our friends Chris and Pete (who we met in long ago Meteora and have seen many times since). The atmosphere was lovely, people were arriving on all kinds of bikes, putting up tents and chatting excitedly.


Midday beer


Heading towards the festival

This festival is truly special. It is so uncommercial and down to earth (Laura’s family cater most of the food, the beer is local, theres only one stand selling things, plus books from a few of the speakers). The feeling is more of a tribe coming together in the spirit of knowledge sharing and love of bicycle traveling. There is such a feeling of solidarity and friendliness. I have never felt more comfortable sitting down at a table full of people I don’t know. Everyone has a story and it doesn’t matter if you have cycled 6 continents, pootled down the Danube cycle path, or were just thinking about a bike trip. People are humble and excited to share and learn. Someone described it cycle touring anonymous, which is kind of fitting.


cycle touring journal and a beer. Perfect.

Astrid and I spent a lovely weekend going to inspiring talks, chatting to friends we made last year, making new friends, eating lots of sandwiches (hmm maybe that was just me actually), drinking ales and generally having a superb time. All too soon it was over. It may have been our last festival, although maybe not. We will have to see what next year brings..


Happiness is cycle traveling and eating hummus with a spoon

By the time the festival had ended, so had the good weather. We left in soaking rain with plans to be at Chris and Pete’s the following evening. Even though it was raining we weren’t so bothered now. I felt like I had settled in to being okay with being uncomfortable at times, plus a week of sun in Britain leaves a lasting imprint of joy. The cycling was tough at times with some steep climbs but they were followed by beautiful descents into river valleys. We were particularly charmed by a village called Dent, with it’s cobbled streets and beautifully preserved buildings.


Heading up


The ever present sheep


Pushing my bike up a bridleway to make camp


Camping with a view of the valley and loads of sheep for company

Our cycle into Cumbria and Hallbankgate (where Chris and Pete live) was intermittently wet but we were really into the groove of the road and I even enjoyed the rain and the wind. It was a beautiful ride, the mountains of the Lake District could be seen to our left, the Pennine range to our right and the small villages offered delicious food and some warm shelter. It’s always extra lovely arriving somewhere familiar to be embraced by friends. Even though we had just seen them at the festival it was so lovely to spend another evening with Chris and Pete with great food, wine and conversation. We have made many good friends on the road and any time that we spend with them is very precious. Soon Chris and Pete are heading off on their own adventure and after that it’s likely we will be living on the other side of the world from each other.


We did


Beautiful Cumbria

The next day the sun was back. I was surprised and delighted. We rolled out of Hallbankgate armed with road information and Chris’s famous flapjacks. Our first stop was literally across the road at the really lovely Hallbankgate Hub, the cafe/shop that the village had been working on opening  (after their original shop was shut down) ever since we have been visiting. Feeling slightly overstuffed on cake we finally hit the road north towards Scotland. Not long after that we had to stop again to explore the Lanacost Priory, which was beautiful.


Lanacost Priory


More of the Priory


So beautiful


Another lovely old bridge

The ride to the border was hilly. Long climbs followed by long descents to a creek and bridge and then repeat. We reached Scotland in the early afternoon and it felt awesome, and almost immediately different because of the forests (although they were plantation sadly). Our first night in Scotland we had decided to make a slight detour and head to a bothy. There are now officially two things that really enchant me about Britain; canal boats/canals and Bothies. Bothies are huts (mostly in Scotland) that in the past were often basic accommodation for shepherds. Now they are maintained by the Mountain Bothy Association and are free to use for all. They are usually remote and are primarily used by hikers and cyclists. Traditionally their whereabouts has been kept a bit secret, although that is slowly changing. We had heard about Bothie’s before but had been truly inspired by a talk at the festival. I was so keen to see if we could stay in one and it just happened that we could – with a little bit of planning.


Yay! We made it!


Heading towards the Bothy


Valley of sheep, what else?!

The cycle in along the valley floor towards the bothy was lovely in the early evening light. As we got closer, the road deteriorated and it began to feel like we were actually getting a little remote. Houses disappeared and there was only forest and fields. As we rounded the final bend the simple stone structure of the bothy came into view and I just felt delighted. We rolled into the clearing and discovered it was just going to be the two of us for the night. Brilliant. The bothy was situated by a stream and consisted of three rooms with sleeping platforms. There was a stove and an open fire place and a few utensils and supplies. It seemed in really good condition and we felt so privileged that we could stay in such a lovely hut in such a great location. I built a fire and Astrid cooked some dinner and then we did the most appropriate thing for a Scottish hut – drank some whiskey. It was wonderful falling asleep in the cosy hut, watching the light of the fire. Scotland, you are brilliant.


Bothy happiness


Bothy daydreaming


Fire and whiskey, such happiness.


Evening sun outside the bothy

This being Scotland the rain returned the following day. We packed up and left the beloved bothy, wishing we could spend a day sitting by the fire reading and writing. But by now we really did have to make it to Glasgow to get our train home. Using back roads we pedalled through the plantation forest and in Eskelmuir which just happened to have one of the biggest Tibetan Monastery in the West. We headed there and were reminded strongly of our time in the Tibetan part of China. After drinking copious cups of tea we dragged ourselves back onto the road and the impending weather.


Cycling into the monastery


Reading about the escape from the Chinese and drinking tea

After a pleasant morning of cycling we were greeted with an uninspiring afternoon, following the motorway towards Glasgow. Our ‘bike lane’ on the secondary road was terribly surfaced and the rain became heavier and heavier. At least the wind was in our favour. After pushing on into the early evening we decided to call it quits and put our tent up on the side of a section of bike path (there were some off road sections). I cooked us some noodles and then we both jumped into the tent to drink some whiskey and eat dinner.


Noodles and whiskey in a cup


Our camp, right next to the bike path

It rained most of the night but by the morning it was only intermittent. Instead of cooking breakfast we just packed up and headed a few kilometres down the road to take shelter in a truck stop café and have breakfast there. It was hard to leave but as the day wore on the weather began to improve. First some patches of blue, then sun. By the time we were nearing Glasgow things were looking up; the sun was shinning and we were following a lovely bike path along a river. Because we weren’t in a rush we decided to dry all our wet gear, cook noodles and naturally have some whiskey.


Drying out on our way into Glasgow



We rolled into Glasgow in the early evening. After sorting out our train tickets (our original booking had been from Inverness but the Caledonian Sleeper kindly rebooked us onto the Glasgow-London service) we naturally headed to a vegan pub. Glasgow rocks. While we were sitting outside drinking our first beers, a whole bunch of people turned up on bikes. They began chatting to us and it turns out they all work at the local bike shop and The 78 was their usual Friday night post work beers spot. We even got invited to stay at one of their places so that we could spend more time in Glasgow. We both wanted to but home was calling.

So, it seems we had finally made it to what was our original ‘destination’ when we left Australia 4 years ago, not that it really matters anymore. This trip was another brilliant lesson that destinations are not important. Funnily enough they always seem to matter to others more than to us. It sounds a bit cliched but it really is (in my opinion anyway) the journey that matters. I am so glad we took our time to explore England slowly, to take the off road paths and change our route as we saw fit. We will certainly be back on the bikes to explore Scotland before we bid this Island farewell.

Till next time



Celebrating the end of a wonderful adventure


Train home – sleep I did not, but it looks cool.

Learning to Love London


When Astrid and I left Melbourne in 2013 we had always had a vague plan that perhaps we could work as paramedics in the UK at the completion of our ride. At the time the process was quite difficult and I had only heard of one other Australian trained paramedic having done it. Then way back in Western China, when a friend emailed us and told us that London Ambulance were actively recruiting Australian paramedics, it seemed perfect. The ease of getting a job in London  ultimately caused us to change from our original plan of cycling to Glasgow. Instead we arrived in London on our bikes, jobs already secured. On paper it seemed ideal.

Yet by the time we were faced with the  actual reality of an employed existence everything felt wrong. Who I was and what I wanted from life felt like it had been shattered. I was questioning everything. Did I really want to be employed? Did I want to live in a house? In a city? Slip back into my old habits, my old life? My heart longed for something else. To keep traveling, to write, something.  The adventure had opened my mind and soul to different possibilities. I was no longer sure I wanted the life I had so fully chosen before.


London Bridge, looking onto Tower Bridge

We talked about our options but in the end pragmatism won out. We were already here and there was no obligation to stay. Plus, it wouldn’t be forever.  With hindsight, I feel we made the right decision. I am happy here. We both are.  Perhaps in the future I would consider doing it differently. While I don’t think regret is a useful emotion and I  don’t regret the decision we made to work for LAS and live in London I am wary of planning too far ahead next time. In the same breath I will also say that sometimes making a practical decision from a solid place ends up feeling like the right one, once things have settled down. Probably there are no wrong decisions, just a series of choices we make through life that take us on different paths.


Classic London

So after our summer of hiking and then visiting friends we arrived back in dreary London on a chilly and dark November afternoon. We pulled up on fully  loaded bikes in front of the Croydon Park Hotel (Croydon being a far flung suburb of London). The doorman did a double take. We didn’t exactly look like people who could afford this kind of place. And actually we couldn’t. The LAS were putting us up as part of our induction. After the initial shock, he escorted us to our padded cell – also known as a hotel room. We set about trying to make it home. I don’t think we we fully succeeded. I am not sure I have ever been quite as miserable as I have living in that place for a month. There were many factors but its beige walls and dull tones didn’t help. I felt like the wildness in me had been caged. Our one point of rebellion was to fire up our petrol stove in the bathroom and cook dinner on it.


Cooking in the bathroom of our hotel


PPE training


Looking cute, even though the uniform is ugly!


Dramatic Winter sunset

It is a huge process of rediscovery coming from life on the road back into work and conventional existence.  Sitting in that fluorescent lit classroom, wearing that ugly green uniform, not seeing the sun. I felt like a small part of me was dying. Luckily these feelings passed in time and I slowly remembered that I had been happy in my life back at home. Working and living a settled existence doesn’t have to be a bad thing. The freedom I have known and the things I’ve learnt, I can keep them with me, even in London.


Winter gloom often matched my mood

So while living in our padded cell, adjusting to a settled life and being taught how to be a paramedic London style, we also got partake in the fun task of becoming a human recognisable to British bureaucracy. Not an easy feat. I feel deep empathy towards anyone who does not speak english well. It was a mind numbingly frustrating and difficult task and english is my first language. I won’t go into the ins and outs – it’s pretty boring but its something like –  you must have an address to get bank account, but in order to get a bank account you need an address and to get a national insurance number in order to work you need an address which in turn you need a bank account for….AHHHHHH!!


Hackney Wick, near home

Once our work induction was over and done with I was faced with the stark realisation that I kind of hated London. We both did. It was miserable and grey with heavy clouds obscuring the sky for days. The service that now employed us seemed archaic and struggling. Equipment was often missing from our ambulances and technology we had had for more than 10 years back at home was non-existent. This was compounded by the harsh culture of austerity we found ourselves working in and the continued attacks on the NHS. The patients we visited lived in tiny, poorly insulated flats with rising damp. Everywhere was crowded and while you were often intimate with complete strangers on the tube at rush hour (think face in someone’s arm pit) to smile or to talk was a definite no no. People  and the city itself appeared generally harsh, unfriendly and morose.


Eerie light pollution


Street art, Hackney Wick

How do you learn to love a city that you do not get along with at first?

You get on your bicycle.

For me cities are more than just a bunch of buildings thrown together where lots of people live. They have a soul and a mood of their own. I first really fell in love with Melbourne when I began cycling everywhere. Being free to cut through back streets, parks and along rivers gives you an intimate glance into the life of the city that is hard to replicate. You cycle passed people’s open windows and smell their dinners cooking, find short cuts through small streets and stumble upon neighbourhood cafes you never knew existed. Through the seasons you feel the city shift – the hot northerly that will become a cool southerly by the evening (which is inevitably always a headwind), the swollen creek that spills onto the bike path after the rain, warm summer evenings, the smell of cut grass and neighbourhood barbecues. These collection of seemingly insignificant moments are the ones that connected me to Melbourne on a level that was different to the one I felt to the people that lived there. If you can have both of those – a connection to place and to people, well for me that’s what makes a place worth living in.


Biking around London helped come to terms with the city


Canal side bike and pedestrian path

In London it began with canals. Not long after moving to East London I stumbled upon the canal while cycling and this is where my heart began to open up to this strange new place. Canals offer another insight into the city, something beyond the brash, often harsh globalised capital that is London. There is something almost other worldly about the slow moving canal boats with their charmingly painted exteriors. In the summer people sit on their roofs, a few boats gathered together, drinking wine and sharing food. In the winter, they seem to huddle together for warmth, wood smoke mixing with the chilly air. I fell in love with canals, cycling along them, running along them, sitting by their edge and drinking a beer. It was the first thing that delighted me about London.


The Canal


And even more

With the canals as my grounding force  I cautiously explored further, sometimes with Astrid, often alone (our shift patterns didn’t match up particularly well at that time). I would cycle into the city, explore a museum or gallery, then find my way home just by cycling east. Sometimes I used the luminous winter moon to guide my way, knowing that the glowing red AcelorMittal Orbit sculpture (i had to google what it was just now) would eventually appear on the horizon and from there I knew I was nearly home. These long winter cycles began to give me a feel and appreciation for the city that had become my home. It broke it down for me, into neighbourhoods, each with their distinct feel and character.


Foggy morning cycling through Victoria Park

Slowly the season began to transform. The gloomy dark gave way and the incredibly long evenings of spring delighted us all. London began to feel different. The mood shifted, life moved outdoors. As soon as the sun shone the parks and green spaces (of which there are many) filled with people picnicking and barbecuing ( I feel Britain is in dire need of the free BBQ’s so prevalent at home). Our friends and family began to visit as the weather improved and Victoria Park practically became our second home. More and more I realised that London is filled with wild little nooks and crannies. You don’t have to go far to find a little bit of wilderness and it is actually considered the greenest capital city in Europe.




Victoria Park picnics


Long summer evenings with wine and a fire. Perfect.


Exploring the Greenway


Epping Forest,  inside the M25

With the parks and canals as my founding love, as time wore on I began to add other  things I appreciated about London to that list.

It is a city of many cultures, which seem generally more integrated than even my multicultural home of Melbourne. There is a mosque at the end of our street, a bunch of small shops that sell Halal food, a Romanian corner shop and a pub, all within 5 mins walk of where we live. Even in post Brexit Britain London in general remains a place of more liberal and open values. There is an underlying edginess, it feels like a place where anything can happen. Because it is so big and diverse there is always something going on . No matter how random your interest is, in London you can probably find a group of people into the same thing. I like that about living here.

Wondering around East London I also grew immensely fond of the humble corner shop. In Australia the equivalent of a corner shop – the milkbar is a dying, almost extinct phenomena. Here, at least where we live, the ‘Offie (off license) appears not to be going anywhere. The whole high street is dotted with them and they are all through the back streets too. Our local one stays open for 24 hours (great for 2am wine runs). I almost never go to a supermarket which makes me pretty happy.

Like offies, the neighbourhoods are also dotted with pubs. You can still find some old man pubs which are a strange mix of hipsters drinking craft beers and locals doing the crosswords (drinking fosters), probably sitting at the same place at the bar that they have for the last 15 years. I love wondering into a warm cosy pub on a winters night. And yeah, I totally love room temperature flat beers now too!


Our tube stop

By the time autumn rolled around again these collection of experiences and realisations had shown me the good in London. I think we have both more or less found our place amongst the contrasting and shifting landscape that is east London. A pillar of our existence has certainly also been our home. After the time on the road I appreciate the simple things wholeheartedly. Being able to make cup of tea without lighting a fire or pumping our fuel bottle, baking bread and learning new dishes that require more than one pot. Building garden beds, planting vegetables, inviting friends over for a fire in our yard. All these seemingly everyday tasks delight me. While I look forward to the time when our tyres hit the road once more, for now I am very content.




Autumn again, Vic Park


Autumn Vic Park


Eerie autumn fog


Our winter Garden

And while I have written about the city itself and the things we enjoy doing now we no longer pedal for a living, it is our friends that truly make London feel like a home. They anchor us to this place and really give it meaning. There is something quite amazing after a year of living somewhere when you realise you are surrounded by people that you care about and who care about you, some of whom you have known for less than 12 months.

So I want to say a big thank you; to the friends we knew when we moved here – you certainly kept us sane in the first few bleak months, I don’t know what we would have done without you. To our families and old friends who visited us – your gaze helped us see the city in a different light and connected us with love from back home. And lastly to the new friends, the ones we have made since moving here – you have inspired us and helped us feel happy and at home here. It is going to be hard to leave.

Loads of Love




Music, Cycling, Beer…The END..kind of


Getting on the ferry at the Hook of Holland


Beer and concentration. I think I was writing the blog!

The ferry from the Hook of Holland to Harwich was lovely. We met several cyclists, all from the UK returning from shorter journeys on the continent. Beer was shared and stories told. It was good to see the cycle touring spirit alive and strong in the UK.


Securing the bikes

By the time we docked it was early evening, I took in a breath of the fresh sea air and tried to take it all in. Reaching Europe way back at the Greek border had felt momentous, this felt even more poignant. Not only had we reached our final country, but we had also reached our new home. I look forward to getting to know you Britain.


First few miles in England

The English landscape was immediately refreshing with its rolling hills and woodlands. I love Holland but it is rather flat, the undulations came as a relief. A few miles from the ferry port a pub offered camping for five pounds. After setting up it was time for a warm flat beer to celebrate arriving at country number twenty four.


Five pound camping at the back of this pub!


Warm flat beer anyone?


First breakfast in the UK

It took us a day of steady cycling to get within striking distance of Cambridge. Gone were the well marked bike paths of The Netherlands. We were back in car country. Sadly England is not the most cycle friendly land we have come across, odd given its very strong history of cycling. Still, it’s not the worst place to pedal – although don’t try looking at the sustrans website as it will result in an instant headache and much confusion. No wonder there is a twitter feed ‘lost in sustrans’ (sustrans is supposed to be a cycling website). Our first day cycling through the English countryside had us on quiet hedged roads, through charming countryside and picturesque villages. Locals were friendly and it was a novelty to be able to speak English and cycle on the left side of the road!


Beautiful England


Morning market



Lunch time

In the evening, struggling to find somewhere to pitch our tents for the night some lovely ladies on horses offered up the Parish Common (although if anyone objected we were not to tell it was them who had suggested it). But as night fell and we cooked our pasta, a few dog walkers curiously gazed at us but didn’t seem to mind our presence. It was a beautiful little spot, a pocket of wilderness in the otherwise quite gentrified countryside.


The roads in England are small!


Could this be somewhere to spend the night?


Happiness is finding somewhere to call home for the night


Parish Common camping. A table is such luxury!

A busy morning cycle saw us reach Cambridge to be reunited with Courtney who we had not seen since long ago Dushanbe. We had been looking forward to this reunion for months. Not only would it encompass the end of our journey, but also the Cambridge Folk Festival.


Dushanbe reunion!


Folk festival fox

Soon our tents were pitched under a tree and while people bustled around us still setting up, tea was brewed and we eagerly caught up on the last few months. There were many stories to share, especially about surviving the northern hemisphere winter mostly in the outdoors. It was interesting, although Courtney also loved cycling Europe, she too felt like something was missing. An edginess, a rawness, something. We all kind of missed the adventure of the world’s more far flung places and the challenges that come with that.


Checking out the festival guide and making tea


The first of many festivals we hope!

The four of us quickly settled into festival life. After a prolonged breakfast, usually involving eggs, copious cups of tea and reading we would eventually meander over to see the music. There was much dancing, cider drinking, exhausted moments of napping at the back of the crowd, dirty barefeet, beautiful music and generalised festival happiness. I suspect Cambridge will not be our last festival in the UK.






Vegie sausages and beer



Once the long days of festival fun drew to a close the four of us packed up and cycled into the suburbs of Cambridge to meet Steve and Roxy. I went to school with Steve and had randomly remembered that he now lived in the UK. I had thought, why not catch up for a beer with an old class mate? What we got was much more than a beer! Steve and his wife Roxy generously invited us all to stay with them. What was even cooler was that Roxy is an avid cyclist and works for the Cambridge Cycling Campaign. Once again the universe provides!


BBQ with Steve and Roxy

We were welcomed with open arms and promptly set about gently messing up their home as only post festival cycle travellers can. Later we caught up on life since school over a BBQ and a few beers (how very Australian). It was also really interesting for Astrid and I to hear about Steve and Roxy’s experience of living in the UK as we were soon to follow in their footsteps.


A bike park house in Cambridge

The following day I did something I should have done ages ago – organised some of our photos. For anyone interested there now a slide show on our Flikr Page Its rough and still needs a bit of work but it does show a bit of an overview. The main reason for this sudden and uncharacteristic spurt of organisation was because Roxy had asked us to give a talk about our trip to her colleagues at the Cambridge Cycling Campaign.


Speaking at the Cambridge cycling campaign meeting

So in the evening the 6 of us pedalled into Cambridge, and Astrid and I, as well as Courtney, gave a small presentation about what it’s like being a cycling traveller. Thankfully when you are in a room full of bicycle enthusiasts it isn’t exactly hard to convince people about the merits of bicycle travel. No one looked at us like we had two heads or needed to be locked up. Everyone was full of excitement and sharing our stories felt completely natural.

Afterwards we went to the pub and continued on in a less formal setting aided by ales. We weren’t the only ones sharing information though. It was a great opportunity to ask everyone about how we should cycle into London from Cambridge. We got a lot of good information.

Steve and Roxy kindly let us stay the following day. We had planned to leave but somehow (the ales?) just couldn’t face the road. Instead Courtney and I baked a cake and we all drank copious cups of tea. It was such bliss to do almost nothing at all. The seemingly most mundane tasks are wonderful to the long term traveller. Give me a kettle, a toaster and wifi and I am endlessly happy these days.


We took over the kitchen


And made a bicycle birthday cake!

London however was calling. We left the next day but not before partaking in the age old tradition of punting. For anyone who doesn’t know what this is (I didn’t before) this involves sitting on a wooden boat (preferably with wine and cheese) while one person stands on the back and uses a long stick to propel the boat forwards. This takes some getting used to and a specific set of skills not readily found in the cycle traveller. Courtney and I prevailed and eventually got the hang of it. We punted up and down the Cam river, admiring the likes of Kings College. It was almost as idyllic as it sounds. The un-idyllic part was the occasional crash caused by either us or one of the other groups of beginner punters.




Punting is best when you have wine and someone else does the work!



By the time punting was over it was time to leave town. For some reason my enthusiasm was low. We cycled about 10 miles before turning off a country road and following a small track to the edge of some dense woods. It was a lovely spot and the four of us shared the last of our wine and prepared our evening meal. Our peace was however soon disturbed. For the second time ever (the last time was in NSW) we were found by an initially hostile individual. At first he could barely comprehend what he had found and firmly but politely ordered us off the land which he said belonged to a farmer (his boss). He was quite civilised about it and we were allowed to finish our meal first. This bought us some time and the four of us used our considerable charms to draw our new friend into conversation. After 15 mins he kindly said we could stay and we were left in peace. Thank you.


Heading out of Cambridge


The camp where we got briefly disturbed

Our second last day started early as we wanted to be off the land before the workers arrived. Our route took us over rolling green hills, along cute back roads and into a cute village for cream tea. In the afternoon we reached the Lee Valley – parklands and canals not far from the M25 (the motorway that borders greater London). Due to our proximity to London I was a little apprehensive about finding somewhere to camp.


Cream tea!


On the road south

The universe more than provided. We asked some people who lived on the canal (we thought they looked suitably dodgey) if there was anywhere we could put our tent – ‘anywhere you like’ was the response we got. Soon enough, just over a small bridge we found a hidden clearing right next to the canal. Time to break out the Pims. Our ‘last’ night of freedom. There was even a place to build a fire. Incredible, here we were wild camping less than 40km from central London.


In the Lee Valley


A perfect last nights camp – with pims

It was a special night for us all because really it was the finale for everyone. Courtney who had basically cycled from Mongolia was soon to be swapping her bike for hiking boots, Vari who had come all the way from Reggensburg was shortly off to Latvia, and Astrid and I would soon be living a very different life. I tried to take the moments in fully, but these moments are often hard to capture as you are living them.


Final day!


Heading towards Waltham Abbey

Our final day dawned promising a lovely summer’s day. We had a quick bit to eat and cycled the 10km or so to Waltham Abbey. Here we were reunited with part of ‘the pod’ from long ago Malaysia. Charlotte, Ben and Kit had caught the train out early to meet us. What legends. It was a wonderful reunion followed by a champagne breakfast in some lovely gardens.


Champagne breakfast. Ben your awesome shirt was so appreciated!

As we were preparing to leave Waltham Abbey I came across something I had been looking for for 2 days – onesies! It had been my dream to cycle into London wearing something outrageous. A onesie was my first choice. Sadly yesterday had proved fruitless in my search. But here, right in front of me were a a bunch of colourful onesies hanging on a rack. It was just too perfect. It hardly took any convincing. Soon Astrid, Courtney, Ben and I were clothed in our rather ridiculous new outfits, ready to cycle into the capital.


Ready to go in our new ridiculous outfits

The cycle into central London was surreal. We followed the narrow canal path for miles, finally getting a glimpse of the iconic high rises. I was filled with a jolt of excitement. This was actually happening. More than 2 years of cycling and we were nearly there.


South along the canals


Not long and we were out of the parklands, stopping for a pint in a brewery (Crate) in Hackney Wick (soon to become one of our locals). Then with Ben’s expert navigation we pedalled through East london, took the walk way under the Thames and popped out in Greenwich. A small climb and we were suddenly 100m from the Greenwich Observatory. We both choked up a little as we slowly pedalled towards the lookout and then bought the Dirty Salmon and the Green Fairy to a stop. London spread out before us. This was it. This was the end. Although by now the concept of this being just a linear journey with a beginning, middle and end did not ring true. Sure, this was a kind of end, but also a new beginning. It was a moment in time. A moment in our lives.

Two years, four months, two days and three continents.

Time for a beer.



We took a moment or four and then headed with our little team to Black Heath where more friends joined us. The afternoon was spent on the Heath sipping beers and enjoying the warm summer evening. It felt crazy and amazing to be alive, surrounded by friends, the sky streaked with pink, a new adventure waiting.



P.S We plan to continue our blog. After this we head to walk across Spain, then onto the UK for a more settled adventure. We shall let you know how we go! Thanks for reading this part of our adventure. Love Jude and Astrid.