As a Brit, having lived most of my life on the British Isles, I have always looked to explore further afield at any opportunity.
Cycling the world before I’d even really cycled out of Cumbria, Covid-19 inspired me to make the most of what is on the doorstep and plan something firmly located between a challenge and a holiday for the two weeks I could manage to get off work. Being a fan of the mountains, I thought I'd see what the coast had to offer for a change.
A staycation was in order and looking at a map of the UK I thought, why not just go right around it? After realising that was over 3,500 miles, I accepted that probably wasn’t realistic in two weeks so thought a 2,300 mile (mostly road) lap of England could be squeezed into 15 days.
We have so many amazing roads to discover in the UK, and the lockdown encouraged me to ride new roads within just a few miles of home. I knew there was a ton of roads all over the country that would make for a great mini adventure.
I hope everyone can see the value of riding in their home country and this can encourage others to start adventures from home, fulfil dreams and connect with the outdoors and the fresh perspectives time in nature can provide.
After sinking the best part of a kilo of overnight oats and being my usual tardy self, I finally hit the road around 7:30am... an hour and a half later than planned.A beautiful morning helped me to make some good progress as I headed out to the west coast and around the Solway, joining the Hadrians wall cycleway at Bowness on Solway.I noticed the tide was out and the cows were strewn across the sand and gave a fleeting thought to the farmer who pressed upon me last week (as I stopped to eat my PB&J bagel) that the cows often get stranded when the tide comes in and many a time have had to swim back to shore.I swung a left as I approached Carlisle and started heading up to the border, and was met by two friends who would tag along for 50 miles. As we pedalled east hugging the border and enjoying glimpses of the 73 mile long wall that once separated the two countries, the heavens opened and the downpours for the rest of the day were torrential.After saying goodbye to my friends, I began heading north alone again, energised from the company. The rain got heavier and the hills got steeper, and the loaded bike felt heavy as I skirted my way around Kielder Forest and into bandit territory. I wondered how I ever pedalled a 60kg loaded touring bike over 5,000 metre passes!The forest gave way to rolling farmland and as the night began closing in, and I grew ever more disappointed that each village was shy of a pub, so I pedalled on. As 9:30pm approached, wet and hungry I decided to give up on my idea of warm food and drying out in a pub before setting up camp, so pulled into a garage near Wooler and after a short exchange with a local farmer was taken pity upon and invited back to the farm where I would be lucky enough to enjoy a shower, warm drink, great company and an amazingly comfortable bed. I hit the hay just after midnight having pedalled 170 miles and feeling like I’d won the lottery!
The 5am alarm was not a welcoming sound, and with just over four hours of sleep I had to peel myself out of the bed. A few slices of toast and a crack with the farmers and I was buzzing to get back out in the rain and wind... 🤥😂As soon as I was back on the bike and heading down the quiet country lanes beside the river I was pretty content to be pedalling again. I was also relatively happy making my way northeast into a strong headwind as I knew after I hit the coast at Britain’s most Northern town, Berwick, I’d be heading south and reap the benefits of that north-easterly! 🙌🏻Only two and a half miles from the Scottish border in geography but over the border in accent, I made my way south at the coast, feeling pretty smug about the tailwind and even smugger that if I kept pedalling with the sea to the left I’d end up pretty much back home!The Northumberland coastline was stunning, with its miles of sandy beaches and many spectacular castles including the most spectacular, Bamburgh. You might want to check the times for the tide if you want to avoid disappointment of a high tide halting your plans for a quick spin around Holy Island.I thought the route along the north-east coast would be flat, so was caught by surprise when confronted with some steep hills with gradients of up to 28%!The epic costal scenery gave way to urban sprawl as I made my way closer towards Newcastle and crossed the Tyne and into Sunderland where I’d decided to grab a B&B rather than face a wet night in the tent.
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5am came around too quick again and back out into the rain I headed, pretty grateful I wasn’t having to pack up a wet tent.Down the coast I pedalled, passing large scale industrial processing plants aided by a tail wind. Across the river Tees I continued, and down through Whitby and Scarborough where the factories began to make way for seaside resorts and arcades.I had even been unknowingly followed from Middlesbrough by a kind but unknown Instagram follower who brought me a pack of ginger nuts (the most essential of biscuits for the plant based amongst us) 😂.I crossed the county border into North Yorkshire and immediately the weather began to take a turn for the worse. As I headed up and over the North Yorkshire Moors, the rain came down heavier and heavier and the fog thickened. I wondered if it was such a good idea being on such a busy road with such terrible visibility but without many other options I just had to continue pedalling.By mid afternoon I began getting a lot of pain in my knees and the saddle was beginning to become uncomfortable. I thanked the wind Gods that I was being helped southwards, as the power I was able to put through the pedals began to wane.Eventually I made it to Withernsea, where I had a place to stay through a friend of a friend. I usually love the tent but I was so grateful to stay inside again with the weather again being so wet!
This morning I woke up to something magical... The sun! ☀️What a welcome sight it was, and my spirits were lifted so much as I pedalled down the coast in the first rays of the day. Not even the continuation of the industrial processing plants could dampen my mood as I headed out of Yorkshire across the Humber bridge and into Lincolnshire.As my knees and saddle pain strongly persisted I was so lucky to have a tail wind and flat roads. I only accumulated just over 1,000 feet of climbing (305 metres) for the entire day.As it was such a beautiful day I was really looking forward to a place to camp and after finding a somewhere to eat. I set up my tent a couple hundred metres down the road in a field just as the sun was setting.
When the alarm went off at 5am I became immediately aware of the difference of a night's sleep in the tent compared to a proper bed. I felt as though I’d been hit by a bus, my neck, back and hips ached as I crawled out of my tent onto the dewy grass. It had been a dry night but as I packed up the tent it was wet with condensation and I remembered how much time camping faff added on to the day.After a very lame breakfast of a 200ml carton of orange juice and a dry variety pack of crunchy nut cornflakes I hit the road again in full sunshine and felt pretty lucky to be riding in shorts and short sleeves in the early morning sun.The North Norfolk coast was beautiful and I really enjoyed making my way through the woodland, passing Sandringham Estate, along the coast passing through lots of small villages and beaches and was stoked to actually stop at a cafe for lunch. I shoved a flatbread wrap and cake into my mouth before continuing on down the Norfolk coast towards the Broads, where there was a few more tacky seaside resorts with their fast food, souvenirs and noisy arcades.Again by early afternoon I was in a lot of discomfort with knee and saddle pain, and I wondered whether I would be able to actually finish the challenge I had set myself. With a slightly later start then planned and the delays caused by trying to manage my aches and pains I ended up pedalling into the night and arrived at a friend's house, over the moon to have a massive plate of pasta waiting patiently for me!
Despite less than 5 hours sleep again, I felt fresh getting on the bike and was beginning to settle into a good routine. Sunrise is my fave time to ride anyway, it’s so peaceful, the roads are quiet and the light can be really amazing.After navigating the busy city of Ipswich I continued following the coast and crossed over into Essex, which wasn’t as bad as I had imagined (my only impression of the county was TOWIE 😂), but as I was getting closer to London the traffic was pretty heavy and roads were much busier than I had expected. I had also started getting verbal abuse from drivers which is something I’ve never had too much of in Cumbria!The coastline was extremely flat and hills were minimal. There are many inlets to weave and navigate around, sometimes making it frustrating to ride a dog leg and end up only a couple miles south of where I was.The weather was really warming up now, hitting 26 degrees today and I had to invest in some sun cream to save myself from being burned, but I was so grateful for the sunshine... I think it elevates the mood at least 50%!I rode again until about an hour after dark and really enjoyed that last couple of hours riding as the traffic tailed off and I headed on small farm roads east of Southend. At the end of the day I was offered a place to stay again just outside Southend-on-Sea from a friend of a friend and the wet tent stayed in the bag yet again.
I was buzzing this morning hopping back on the bike with freshly washed threads, at least 10% gains right there! I hadn’t anticipated how far-reaching the London urban sprawl would reach as I headed east from Southend, running the traffic light gauntlet in the early morning rush hour to catch the ferry at Tilsbury. Across the river Thames and pedalling west from Gravesend I thought I had finally escaped the traffic. The excitement was short lived as I hit Rochester and the north coast of Kent was way busier than I had imagined as I chopped and changed from road to cycle path and back to the road again as I got fed up with each!I definitely feel like North Kent is the retirement home of the UK. Later in the afternoon I was joined by my first bit of company since hitting the road a week ago and it felt so nice to be riding with somebody else. I didn’t shut up for the couple of hours we rode from Sandwich bay to Folkestone along some great cycle paths and with amazing views of Dover Castle. I rode again until just after sunset and had the best night eating pizza and talking all things bikes with my newly made Insta friends who were again kind enough to offer me a bed and also gave my drive chain a good degrease and lube!
After the best night's sleep, we threw my bike into the back of Emma’s car and back to Folkestone, the point where they had picked me up the night before. Heading west now along the coast, the terrain started to get a little more undulating and the headwind really started to pick up. It turned out to be pretty brutal all day.With winds at 25-35 mph, especially along the flat, exposed coastal sections, I wasn’t even going 10mph 😂. When I get bored or frustrated I tend to eat more, and I was continuously stopping at shops partly for the break from the wind, but also I’ve trained myself like a dog and mentally persuade myself to do things in exchange for rewards which tend to be edible!As I rode towards Brighton along the white cliffs which were really beautiful, the wind was so strong that I could not ride a straight line and at the crest of each brow I could barely stay upright! I even had to pedal hard down hill just to hit 6mph!I navigated through the city as quickly as possible and followed the Sustrans route (which when complete will link Cornwall to Dover) along the seafront. There were lots of people out on the beaches and on the water kite surfing and I wished I could’ve stopped to try it and enjoyed the wind rather than fighting it all day! I continued pedalling along a continuous stream of seaside resorts and amusement arcades (which I was definitely not tempted by) until I reached Bognor Regis, which I've never been to, but have always thought was the worst named town in England.I had an Airbnb booked in Chichester that night (one of three I had booked before I set off not realising I would be offered so many beds along the way), so I made my way up to there, arriving around 9pm to a family that were so interesting I didn’t go to bed until after midnight again!
Another beautiful morning gave me the chance to enjoy the sunrise riding out of Chichester and along towards Portsmouth. It was another morning of traffic lights... the whole stretch for the past couple of days since Southend On Sea was just a long line of traffic lights and I was really looking forward to getting towards Dorset with smaller roads and a smaller population density!As I’d developed tendonitis in my Achilles over the last few days, the constant stopping and starting again was really not helping!I smiled as I passed through Portsmouth, remembering that the last time I was here, almost five years to the day, crossing on the ferry to France on my way around the world and the most amazing experience I have ever had in my life. That feeling stuck with me all day and I felt so happy to be on the bike acknowledging all the experiences, meetings and growth that decision has given me.Even a sidewall tear later in the morning didn’t do much to disturb my mood, especially as I was only half a mile from a (not very friendly) bike shop. I replaced the tyre and was on my way again, pushing west dreaming of the quieter Cornish roads!Things definitely started to pick up west of Bournemouth and towards Weymouth and the roads quietened down, as well as the landscape becoming more picturesque, with no more tacky seaside resorts!At the end of the day heading out of Weymouth I began to get a little taster of what hills would be waiting for me ahead as I climbed up on the Abbotsbury Hill, which was a couple miles long with some 25% steep sections just to finish me off for the day. I was rewarded with a stunning sunset across the Jurassic Coast as I headed down the other side and found a spot to pitch the tent for the night.
You know it's going to be a good day when your elevation profile looks like a hedgehog. I loved the coast of Dorset and Devon...was so beautiful.The perfect day for cycling with blue skies, hills and light traffic. There was barely a flat road all day, with short and steep climbing with rewarding views from the top of every climb. This was the best day for riding so far.I made it to the ferry at Plymouth around tea time and was invited by a Cornish grandpa for tea across on the other side, which I obviously accepted.He kindly offered me the spare room for the night but I still had another couple hours of daylight left so pressed on until an hour or so after dark.I found a field to camp in and realised in the morning I think I was using the overspill field of the campsite next door, but I didn’t notice it in the dark!
The amazing day yesterday was mirrored by an equally amazing day today... and I was again surprised by how awesome the weather had been since the first few bad days!I did have an early morning clip in fall though, which I don’t understand how they keep happening to me. Will I ever learn!?I also banked my good deed for the day when powering up one of the steep hills, as I passed a cyclist covered in oil watching a YouTube video and I had to stop to offer some help. Luckily it was just a chain break and my chain breaker and spare link came in handy. My mechanical skills don’t stretch much further than tubes, tyres and chain repairs!I continued heading south west down the ‘English Riviera’, passing beautiful Sandy beaches and turquoise waters. It really is beautiful down along the south west peninsula and I’d recommend anyone to ride there. Being the only county without a motorway makes all roads fair game!I met an old friend in Falmouth and we cycled on down the peninsula, reaching Land's End just after lunch time. What a weird place... I wasn’t digging it at all, so a quick obligatory Lands end sign photo and back up north, with a timely shower to celebrate turning the corner!The north coast was more rugged than the south, as I climbed up and down the coastline towards Newquay where I spent the night in the back of a campervan, reigniting the dream of having my very own!
Another amazing sunrise this morning as I headed up the peninsula surrounded by orange sky. Another day in the south west goes like this; up a mile, down a mile, repeat until exhaustion and then keep going some more!I managed to find myself a vegan Cornish pasty to make my day, but not so lucky on the vegan scone and clotted cream combo though and had to unfortunately miss out on that speciality.I started feeling a little sad as I made my way out of Cornwall and shortly after crossed Devon and headed through Exmoor National Park into Somerset. As I made my way across the bleak moors of Exmoor just at sunset I had my second puncture right on the very top of the pass and frantically patched it up in the wild winds, known at the top of any UK pass, as the daylight slipped away. Enjoying the descent down Porlock Hill and through some sleepy villages, I hadn’t realised I’d dislodged my jacket from the bungees of the seat rack and managed to get it spectacularly jammed in my cassette resulting in me stupidly trying to pedal even harder as I wondered what was lodged in there. This resulted in me not getting my foot I unclipped in time and descending pathetically to the tarmac once again! Sticking my torch in my mouth to see what the hell was stuck in my cassette, I had visions of the last time this happened to me in the dark in the Australian outback to find I had the carcass of a kangaroo hooked around the cassette. I was a little relieved to find my jacket tightly wound in there and managed to eventually prize it out without hacking away at it with my knife!I rolled into Bridgwater exhausted after covering 160 miles with almost 4,000 metres of climbing at 10:30pm and had to resort to three boxes of cold fries and a coke from McDonald’s as my recovery. Proper athlete!
The 5am alarm came around too soon again after just about 4 hours sleep and it took a lot of persuading my legs to get out of bed, especially my creaky swollen Achilles which I was trying my best to ignore.The morning started off nice and flat as I made my way towards the Severn Bridge, but the hills were waiting for me at the other side as I left the coastline and navigated the beautiful countryside along the border of England and Wales.Up and down I went along beautiful quiet country lanes covered in fresh thorns as the farmers were out trimming the hedge rows, signalling the end of summer and I apprehensively waited for the air to be forced out of my tyres.I was accompanied by a road cyclist that I bumped into along the way who added another 50 miles onto his ride just to give me some company.I was determined to make it to Oswestry that night to give me a fighting chance of making it back home within another two days. As I was hurtling down the dual carriageway for the final few miles into Oswestry I caught a glimpse of the reflective eyes of a kitten peering up at me from the grass verge of the carriageway, but by the time I’d thought whether I should stop or not I was already half a mile down the road and I still kick myself weeks later for not stopping to help the little guy. I could have and don’t know why I didn’t.Making it to Oswestry meant another long day and over 170 miles and a 10pm finish with a midnight serving of chips and beans to boot!
These four hour sleeps were starting to take their toll now as I rolled out of bed again around 5am promising myself a decent breakfast in a couple of hours if I got my ass on the road by 6am. The vegan gods obviously heard my promises and presented me with the best hipster vegan cafe vibes Chester could muster. I was so happy that I ordered two breakfasts and thought about all the guys taking part in the GBDURO who had to carry all their food from start to finish while I get major motivation boosts from cafe stops along the way!Pleased the sun was following me up north, I headed out from Chester along an amazing cycle path which took me all the way up to Liverpool. Where I headed west again following the quieter roads through Southport on my way up to Preston where I was met by a friend who rode with me around the coast past Blackpool and almost as far as Lancaster.It’s such a morale booster having another person jump in for a few miles especially in a headwind up the coast! Talking of morale boosters, what could be better than arriving at an Insta-strangers (now friends) house after over 160 miles to a massive bowl of crispy chilli tofu and great banter!
This morning's motivation for the 5am get up was the promise that if I hurried up n got on the road tomorrow there would be no alarm! I managed to get up, but also managed to not get on the road until 7am as I couldn’t stop talking to my amazing host.Heading along the coast through Morecambe and up to Millom before turning west along the south coast was slightly heartbreaking as I knew I was only about 40-50 miles south of home, and the headwind I had turned west in to would have made a better cross wind. I pedalled hard along the south coast of Cumbria into a fairly strong headwind forgetting how lumpy the south coast was, and was looking forward to hitting Workington where the wind would be more behind me and the road flattens out almost completely.I had two friends join from Workington and it gave me a boost knowing I’d have some company to see out the day with. Up the coast we pedalled, enjoying the tailwind and I tried to soak in the last miles of the epic journey as I turned inland from Allenby and begun heading inland back to Penrith.With a dead battery on my front light, I was grateful for the company and the sharing of lights and rolling into home around 10:30pm. I chucked the bike straight into the shed and collapsed into my bed, leaving the debrief and processing of the past couple of weeks to another day.