The Dunwich Dynamo

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I never intended to cycle the Dunwich Dynamo. In fact when someone had mentioned its existence a few months before, I thought it sounded crazy. Why would I want to cycle nearly 200km through the night from London to the Suffolk Coast?

It sounded decidedly unpleasant and would probably rain.

Yet, somehow in late June when a friend mentioned he was cycling it, I found myself enthusiastically saying I’d join him. Astrid was going to be away that weekend and I thought it sounded like a solid (possibly type 2 fun) way to spend a Saturday night. I’d conveniently forgotten I didn’t actually own a road bike – only the green fairy; a well made steel framed touring bike with the heaviest rims on the planet, fat off road tyres plus front and rear steel racks. The ideal bike to tackle the dirt roads of Kyrgyzstan fully loaded – not so ideal to ride 200km through the night on tarmac with a bunch of people (mostly) on road bikes.

The Dunwich Dynamo or Dun Run (as the cool kids call it) began sometime in the 90’s – when a group of friends decided it would be fun to ride to the coast overnight. Since it’s humble beginning it has grown into one of the more obscure and fun things to do in London during the summer. No roads are closed – it’s not an organised event – part of it’s charm. And it’s also free. You just rock up and ride. Famously people have done it on a Boris bike and a unicycle. While some people probably take it seriously, most don’t. Pubs along the route stay open and some villages have pop up stalls selling food and drinks to weary cyclists.

Although I had hesitations after my initial enthusiasm I realised having a heavy bike wasn’t actually an excuse not to do this. Instead I recruited Ben to join me as well. He liked long bike rides after all.

The week before the ride I had a brief fantasy that I could make the Green Fairy lighter, less like riding a tractor. I pedalled over to the London Bike Kitchen (an awesome DIY space where you get helped to fix your own bike) and set about giving her a slight make over. This included finally changing my chainring after more than 30,000km, replacing the chain and swapping my fat off road tyres to slightly less fat (but still huge compared to road bikes) tyres. I also spent a frustrating hour trying to take off my rear and front racks which was an exercise in futility.

By the time Saturday evening rolled around I felt more or less ready. I had even bought a novelty shirt from a charity shop to wear, deciding that being a bit ridiculous was going to be my way of tackling 200km. I mean, cycling a long distance overnight is kind of crazy. I packed what I thought I needed (which included a flask of whiskey) into my handle bar bag and pedalled over to London Fields, collecting Ben on the way.

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Ben and I looking keen

The park around Pub on the Park in London Fields was full of cyclists, milling about and sipping beer. I liked the vibe of the event already. After meeting up with Tony and his friends Lenny and Alex,  it was time for us to also partake in the drinking of beer.

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Tony and I – a pint is the best way to start a 200km bike ride!

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Looking keen and full of energy!

We milled around chatting and drinking beer until around 8.30pm when people began to move off. It was a bottle neck getting out of the park at London Fields but soon we were pedalling in a ramshackle group out of Hackney and north eastwards into the suburbs.

As we made our way along Lea Bridge Road I longingly thought about how my bed was currently 15 mins south of where we were. It would be a further 17 hours before I would see my bed again. I didn’t quite realise what the night had in store.

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Heading out of town

On the first bit I pushed a little hard, I wanted to keep up with the road bikes. I tried to ignore the fact that when they were coasting, I was still pedalling. Still, I felt good, the mood was light and we all intermitently chatted as the light faded from the sky.

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Feeling good and having a little whiskey..

Soon the suburbs gave way to the Essex countryside and it felt like we were really heading somewhere as the darkness enveloped us.  The others went ahead and Ben stayed with me as we rode into the night. Eventually we reached a village which was full of cyclists spilling out from a pub. We couldn’t see the others so Ben and I rode on to the next village.

Turns out we had somehow missed Tony and his friends so we waited and partook in the drinking of whiskey and beer to pass the time (15 mins).  To be honest I was beginning to get tired and worried about the road ahead. Ben mused that at the rate we were going we would reach Dunwich after midday (the idea is to make it for sunrise) and this instilled a quiet panic in me. We had barely done 50km and I was pretty shattered. The others soon arrived and after a quick break we rolled on. Our goal was the half way point at Sudbury, where the fire station puts on a feed.

The general mood began to plummet in our little group. We were all feeling it. I definitely did not have enough snacks and was running super low on energy. Plus I was cold and exhausted, the Green Fairy felt like a tractor and every undulation in the dark felt like a Kyrgyzstan style pass. Someone said it felt like a bad trip; we couldn’t figure out why everyone was having fun while we were all so miserable. My one consolation was, unlike all the guys in our group my  saddle which was basically moulded to my bum was not causing me pain. I think everyone else was in utter agony. Tony looked like he was done. Ben was morosely silent. Someone talked of getting the train back from Ipswich.

Although at this point I felt utterly melancholic I had an inkling that things would get better. Perhaps it’s the 2.5 years spent traveling on the bike, but you soon learn that often after the most difficult times come the most rewarding. There is something powerful in being okay with discomfort.

These are some of the things that I thought of as I pedalled those slow and grim kilometres through the darkness.

Eventually, after an eternity we seemed to be reaching a town. It was nearing 3 am, well passed the time I had calculated in my head that we should be at Sudbury, the half way point. Although the fire station was just ahead I stopped at an off licence that had remained open and bought a jar of peanut butter and some bread. I shoved some calories into my face and then set about trying to find the others.

I found them morosely discussing Ipswich and when the trains would start. Everyone looked as shattered as I felt. We limped on to the fire station to take a well earned break and to eat some food.

Disaster. The fireman nonchalantly informed us that they had run out of food two hours ago.

Devastated is probably an understatement.

I am not proud of this but a string of expletives left my mouth. Then I nearly cried. Looking over at the others I felt like they were in a similar headspace.

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The low point: bread and HP sauce

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4 am and everyone’s a little broken..

We were left with no choice but to eat the left over bread rolls with some left over HP sauce. Other cyclists were turning up all the time and being met with the same fate. It was probably the ultimate low of the night. The only thing that saved me was the fact that I had managed to shove some peanut butter and bread into my face before I got to the fire station. My mood despite the tragedy that is bread rolls, HP sauce and instant coffee, began to lift.

I think the break and the food (even if it was far from what we had hoped it would be) slowly began working their magic and eventually we all rolled out of Sudbury, towards Dunwich and the hint of dawn. Ipswich and it’s train station were forgotten.

We had been gifted with quite a mild summers night, and as we now cycled the light began to touch the sky, bathing the countryside in the most beautiful gold. The fields, hedgerows and woods we pedalled passed filled me with the pure joy of nature and my mood soared. It is hard to describe the utter delight the daylight brought. It felt more like a spiritual experience than a bike ride.

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Sunrise!

It was during this beautiful sunrise phase of the cycle that I gained the most important insight into a ride; I think in our modern life we spend a lot of time avoiding discomfort. Surrounded by modern conveniences in our daily lives we often don’t get very uncomfortable. We have cars and uber, takeaway delivery services, electricity, kettles, heating, soft beds, public transport, smart phones and fridges. Everything is designed to make our life easier. I mean when is the last time you collected wood to built a fire to cook a meal? We rarely in our modern, wealthy western existence get faced with real discomfort. And when we do it’s usually for short periods of time while we do exercise or perhaps are rammed on the tube with our face in someones arm pit.

To be honest, I’d forgotten what discomfort felt like. And that’s probably why in the end the ride meant so much more than just a novelty cycle to the coast. It reminded me of our cycle trip because travel, especially travel by bicycle makes you embrace discomfort; From pitching your tent in minus 10, to being soaked to your undies, or pushing your 50kg bike up a 3000m pass along something that more closely resembles a river bed then a road. Not to mention the countless times you are invited to stay with complete strangers, with whom you share no common language, or culture. These things, which happen almost everyday to some extent on a big cycle trip, push comfort zones.

And it is in these moments of discomfort that growth happens.

Obviously here on this bike ride I am talking about physical discomfort but it’s a metaphor really that you can apply to other parts of life. By embracing challenges; be it physical or emotional we force ourselves to reach somewhere beyond our comfort zone. It is precisely when we feel the most uncomfortable that we grow and push out our boundaries, making our world that little bit richer.

As the sun rose and wonderful pink hues coloured the sky my soul was reminded of this, and at the same time also filled with the utter delight of just being alive. It was one of those rare moments where I fully appreciated how amazing a sunrise is. How beautiful and perfect the trees and woods were and how everything just felt wonderful. Looking around at the others I felt like they were experiencing a similar high. It seemed we had all come out of the dark night of aches, pains and fatigue together. It now made sense to me why people do this ride. It is pretty bloody magical

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The magical morning

We were still a long way from Dunwich though. As the high of sunrise slowly wore off  I became a happy kind of fatigued. I knew we would all make it and I was tired but happy. We pedalled on, stopping a few more times at pop up stalls for a coffee and a bite to eat.

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Pretty chuffed with life

We rode on through undulating farmland and towards the Suffolk coast, eventually reaching heath land before at long last the coast. Ive often been tired after a bike ride but this was a special kind of exhausted. Some kind of combination of having just finished a night shift, an epic bike ride, and being on some kind of high. I was shattered but in a good way.

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Happy and exhuasted

We walked onto the beach, enjoying the early morning sunshine and the pure elation of having made it. Tired cyclists had spread themselves all over the rocky shore, the place was a hive of activity. People arriving and leaving, excited conversations and murmurs of congratulations filled the air. It seemed almost everyone was in a place of happy exhaustion. After eating, I managed a swim in the sea (wonderful!) before piling onto a bus with the others back to London.

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We are done.

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Lovely

What can I say about the Dunwich Dynamo? It was difficult and amazing and to me much more than just a bike ride. It reminded my of life lessons I’d half forgotten and inspired me to keep pushing into the places that are that uncomfortable because they are often the most rewarding and inspiring.

Although next time I might bring more snacks.

An ode to the National Cycle Network

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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Getting off the train in Penzance

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Thanks Penzance

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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.

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Prehistoric standing stones in a field

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The is always a sign..

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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.

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Signs like this are literally all over  the country

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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.

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Brilliant country lane cycling

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Ruins of a Tin mine

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

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Typical English Church Yard

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

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Dinner on the beach, St Ive’s

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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.

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Cycling into the drizzle..

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

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Awesome off road cycling through former tin mines

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Wet but awesome

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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Newquay

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Bedruthan Steps

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Minor bike mechanics required

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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.

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Cooking cup o soup in a shelter to escape the rain

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Such lovely roads

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Our trout farm camping spot

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journal writing

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idyllic

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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.

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And there was sun!

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hahahah

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Cool sculptures of the Tarka Trail

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Bird people

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Happiness is cider AND tea

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Beautiful Tarka Trail

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Along the estuary

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Lunch stop

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Heading up into Exmoor

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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.

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Across Exmoor

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Beautiful and wild

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Enjoying a break from the hedge rows!

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Exmoor pony

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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.

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Hmm, the weather is coming our way

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Yep, no more sun.

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Rain rage

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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.

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Somerset flats

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Cute villages were an everyday occurrence

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Random, slightly creepy rabbit

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Chutney anyone? English quaintness at it’s best.

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The strawberry line was a nice surprise

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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.

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Clevadon

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First lunch

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The Dirty Salmon, with the Salmon

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So lovely to cycle in the sun

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Second lunch

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Heading into Gloucester on the canal path

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

 

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Gloucester

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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.

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

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Lovely spring cycling

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The abbey

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First lunch

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More abbey

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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.

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Setting up camp on the side of a bike path

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Shropshire canal

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The beautiful forest of Wyre

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I love the forest

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Such good cycling

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More great paths

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Happiness in the forest

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It was at this river we realised we were too slow

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So much off road riding

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Following the 45

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Steam train!!

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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.

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Bridgenorth

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Getting ready to fry up some lunch

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Bridgenorth

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More lovely pedalling

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Helicopter forest camp

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Along the canal passed salt mines

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Salt

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.

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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.

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And Maya

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Manchester

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more Manchester

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And some more

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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.

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Midday beer

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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.

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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..

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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.

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Heading up

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The ever present sheep

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Pushing my bike up a bridleway to make camp

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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.

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We did

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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.

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Lanacost Priory

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More of the Priory

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So beautiful

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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.

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Yay! We made it!

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Heading towards the Bothy

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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.

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Bothy happiness

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Bothy daydreaming

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Fire and whiskey, such happiness.

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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.

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Cycling into the monastery

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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.

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Noodles and whiskey in a cup

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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.

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Drying out on our way into Glasgow

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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

Jude

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Celebrating the end of a wonderful adventure

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

Music, Cycling, Beer…The END..kind of

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Getting on the ferry at the Hook of Holland

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Five pound camping at the back of this pub!

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Warm flat beer anyone?

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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!

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Beautiful England

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Morning market

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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.

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The roads in England are small!

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Could this be somewhere to spend the night?

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Happiness is finding somewhere to call home for the night

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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.

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Dushanbe reunion!

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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.

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Checking out the festival guide and making tea

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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.

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Hooray!

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Vegie sausages and beer

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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!

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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.

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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 https://www.flickr.com/photos/foonsonbikes/albums/72157656344837999. 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.

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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.

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We took over the kitchen

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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.

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Punting

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

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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.

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Heading out of Cambridge

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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.

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Cream tea!

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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.

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In the Lee Valley

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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.

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Final day!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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South along the canals

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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.

 

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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.

Love

Jude

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.