Tuesday, 16 August 2016

East to West Cycle Ride - 5 - Some Thoughts

From Lizzie:
I have been looking forward to this ride as a way of exploring Britain. You really can't beat experiencing a place from a bicycle seat. The ride has involved more than 7 hours in the saddle some days with little time for stopping and relaxing, so it has been important to absorb the character of places whilst on the move.

Village and town names have been great. As you roll through them you can roll the names around on your tongue. They change hugely through the counties: Swaffham, Whaplow, The Smoot, Fockersby, Goole, Sweden Sykes, Danby Whisk, Haltwhistle....

And they have helped marked the passage through the day. It's good to know when you reach the halfway point. I have been getting hopeful at 70 miles but finding that is too early: the last 30 are the long ones!
It's been really interesting to see the changing uses of the fields. Norfolk and Lincolnshire were so open with a great variety of grain and veg, and agriculture filled the roads too - lots of tractors and huge combine harvesters.  Only today passing through County Durham and Northumberland have we really seen sheep and cows.

The impact of wind power has also been huge. I find wind turbines majestic, but they are prolific. The power stations through Lincolnshire are landmarks. Cooling towers are beautiful. There have also been a number of biodigesters.
The ride has been enlivened by the towns and villages we pass through. Obviously, as an architect, I enjoy looking at buildings, and travelling so far you really see them reflect the changing available materials. Brickwork predominates and is most delightful in rural walls and barns right through to the larger country houses. Pantiles have ranged in colour from red to black to white. Stone appears and disappears but is always present in the most important buildings. Towns built fully of stone are particularly striking.

I have also really enjoyed glimpses of large country houses scattered across rural England. They are so well placed, often sheltered by trees. Avenues of trees, estate fencing and really good brick and stone walls hint at them before they come into view.

Another advantage of being on a bike is that it is easy to chat to people. Their accents have gradually changed marking our passage across the country. They have been really friendly (apart from the little boy on a bike in a mining town outside Durham who frankly terrified me, and the young lady who cussed and refused to stop smoking outside Wetherspoons sitting next to the 'No Smoking' sign, when all the table occupants around her had pleaded with her). They have directed us to good places to eat and sneaky short cuts.

As the day lengthens one's brain fades with one's muscles and distraction is harder. The mind is focusing on how far to go and starts the countdown. Suddenly the miles are crawling by where before they were flying. It's time to eat eat eat and drink drink drink. Too often we battle on thinking nearly there when the reserves are depleted. We now know to stop even with 5 miles to go and stock up. Each day has brought a final challenge close to the destination - for me this is generally a series of steep terrifying downhills - or a long slog into the wind. A village filled with scarecrows helped at one point. In Durham I thought I might lose consciousness on the bike! Whatever the trials, there is nothing to beat the feeling of arrival and the joy of a wash and the Olympics!

I must commend Strava which we used to route-find. It has given us lovely towpaths and railway paths through Kings Lynn and Lincoln. The stretch along the Trent was glorious. We keep finding ourselves on long distance cycle routes that are stunning. Trips on A roads have been minimal and spice up the day! Crossing the dual carriageway A69 today was pretty exciting as was joining one on the way into Durham!

The human body is an amazing thing. I feel I've settled into a pattern of eating, drinking and riding. You have to eat and drink a lot more than you might feel like! Legs are strong. Head winds are horrid and hills are better.

Many thanks to Lizzie for pictures and thoughts.
Lizzie and Tom hope to reach Ardnamurchan Point on Thursday afternoon.


  1. Congratulations, both, on your achievement. Sixty years ago I would have watched you pass, if you catch my meaning. I seem to have spent my childhood perched on the garden-gate alongside the main road through Swaffham, noting down car-numbers and details of anything of interest coming through (there wasn't much). Now here I am, in front of a screen, still watching the world go by... Best wishes for the rest of the trip.