Anna Hughes

It’s curious how and why people are misquoted. We read newspaper articles and make the reasonable assumption that the facts are there, and that the person quoted actually said what they say they said.

I used to dismiss protests of ‘context’ as a wriggling out of saying something you wish you hadn’t said. But context, I have come to realise, is golden.

I am currently in charge of running campaign group Flight Free UK, which is asking 100,000 people to pledge to take a year off flying next year. It’s not about telling people not to fly, it’s not about shutting down airports, and it’s certainly not about shaming people. It is presenting people with information about the climate impact of aviation and inspiring them to join a large group of people who will together abstain from flying for one year. Yes, we hope that people might then choose to stop flying for good – but that’s up to them. Yes, we hope that airport expansion won’t go ahead if we can demonstrate that lots of people are waking up to the desperate need for us to reduce our emissions. But if we are to put a definition on it, it is about flying less.

How important is this wording? Very important. It’s a positive campaign about people making a positive choice for the environment. It’s not about restrictions, or taking away choice, or liberty, or being prescriptive, or saying you can’t do something.

I was recently asked to give a couple of soundbites for an Evening Standard article, which I did. The article is here, and goes into great depth about the author’s eco-guilt at his own hypocrisy for occasionally using a plastic straw.

I’m quoted at the end:

Anna Hughes, who leads the UK’s no-flying movement, says that climate emergency means we have to change everything about the way we live, and that some people refuse to see that — so perhaps it will take shaming to make them understand. ‘We can’t afford to be forgiving — because our children will not forgive us,’ she says, adding that it’s worth setting the bar high. ‘Zero waste is ultimately impossible, so most of us doing our damnedest is better than a couple of us getting it absolutely spot on.’

It makes me sound like a hard-line climate zealot, happy to point the finger at people doing it wrong, and not giving any room for error. I was a little surprised to read it – and even more surprised to check the email I’d sent and find that yes, I did say those words. All of them. Even in that order.

The only thing I can really complain about is the description of the Flight Free 2020 campaign as ‘the UK’s no-flying movement’ – because it’s not, not really. It’s a pledge to take a year off.

But the rest comes down to context. In my original email I used the words ‘We should never shame each other’, though here it sounds as though that’s exactly what I want.

I guess the only thing to do is accept that journalists will use whichever sound bite suits their article – and I should know, I’ve done it myself. Should I be more guarded next time? No, I don’t think so. It’s impossible to know which handful of words will be quoted, and to an extent, giving an interview does licence the author to shape your responses in a way that will serve their purpose.

I suppose all that can be learned from this is, don’t believe everything you read. And give those who cry ‘context’ more of the time of day.

Full text from the original email I sent is below.

“Something that I often see people say which I think is really powerful is, better for lots of people to do the best they can, than a few be perfect. In terms of sustainability, if most of us are 80% sustainable that’s better than a tiny few being 100% sustainable. No one is ever going to reach that 100% and stick with it, as it’s so easy to fail, then feel terrible and beat yourself up. So no, we shouldn’t be aiming for perfection. Zero waste is ultimately impossible, so most of us doing our damnedest is better than a couple of us getting it absolutely spot on.

But we also need it to be easier to reach that near-perfection. E.g. I don’t buy bread or snacks any more, I make my own, simply to avoid the plastic packaging (and because it’s cheaper/more satisfying/tastier/better for me). But sometimes I crack and just want some crisps or ready-made hummus. I should be able to buy that hummus in a vegware pot that biodegrades once I’ve finished with it, or be able to put my crisp packet in the recycling and know it’s actually going to get recycled. Sure, I feel guilty about this stuff because I could have made a different choice, but I want to be able to live my life and sometimes eat crisps without feeling guilty.
Mostly, it’s because most people *don’t* feel guilty about eating crisps or buying goods in plastic packaging (even things like bananas which come in their own natural packaging – THE SKIN), simply because there’s a false picture that goods in plastic are more hygienic or more convenient, or whatever the logic is.
We should never shame each other into being the best we can be. It’s about positive encouragement and information that will lead to behaviour change, which I’m trying to achieve with the flight free campaign.
It’s unavoidable that younger generations will worry about their future, and it seems likely that eco-anxiety will increase as a result. Expecting young individuals to bear the brunt of climate budgeting will absolutely have a deleterious impact on mental health. That’s why we need to address these issues now so it doesn’t reach that point. Government seems to be implementing the ‘head in the sand’ agenda when it comes to the action needed on climate change. At the moment, the projected climate budgets of 2.3 tons per person per year could still afford a comfortable life. If we keep going as we are, that will reduce to something where bearing the brunt is exactly what future generations will be doing.
With regards to calling out individual hypocrisy on environmental issues, yes, we should – but in the right way. I won’t comment on our famous flying friend campaigning for XR from LA, except to say, I don’t do her job, and it would be very difficult to do that job without getting on a plane. I don’t do Chris Packham’s job either, and his flights are probably very necessary for his research and work. What *isn’t* necessary, though, is taking lots of other people on safari (see a recent tweet advertising a trip in continental Africa). You can’t support declaration of climate emergency on one hand then encourage lots of people to fly to another continent on the other. Because climate emergency means we have to change everything about the way we live. And some people refuse to see that, so perhaps it will take shaming to make them see it. In one respect we can’t afford to be forgiving – because our children will not forgive us.”

Just to the south of Abergavenny in south east Wales lies the Blorenge, a 561-metre peak that dominates the view from the town. There is a B road that crosses the mountain, the pass known as The Tumble, a climb of three miles and 347 metres with a steady gradient of around 10%. I’ve come here for a weekend of riding in preparation for my assault on Mont Ventoux in the south of France later in the year. In anticipation of attempting the Cinglés (all three ascents of Ventoux in one day), I’m aiming to ride the Tumble three times: once on the ‘official’ ascent up the B road, once up the eastern face from just south of Llanfoist and once up the western face from Gilwern. 

The Blorenge towering above the river Usk in Abergavenny

The Blorenge towering above the river Usk in Abergavenny

I’d already completed the B road ascent a couple of days ago, on a day when weather warnings of wind and rain made for an extremely wet ride out to Blaenavon then across the moors to Brecon. The rain had been blowing horizontally across the road and it took around an hour and a half to make the ascent, stopping frequently to don waterproofs or make a pretence at shelter. The view was mostly of cloud.

Today the weather has thankfully calmed and it’s sunny and bright as we turn off the main road to begin the ascent. My companion is only doing it once – he’s not in training for anything – so he settles into a steady pace while I attack the lower slopes. The tree cover offers snatched glimpses of ever-more-impressive views of the valley, while the slope steadily saps the energy. I had hoped that familiarity would make it easier and it does, almost. A rumbling cattle grid marks the moorland section and the tree cover abruptly ends. This is the place where on less savoury days the wind might knock you sideways but today it’s just a long continuous slog up the unrelenting incline. It’s longer than I’d remembered; each corner teases that it might be the last, but each one reveals another rise ahead.


After the second ascent

The summit, when it comes, is magnificent: a small reservoir and a signpost shortly afterwards marking the peak, and a tussock with a bench from where you can see out to the Bristol Channel. The Blorenge is rust-red with heather, and the surrounding slopes are marked with the spoils of the once-proliferating ironworks. The sun pours unrestrained across the road. 

It took 37 minutes from bottom to top. I strike out across the moorland towards the huge radio masts where the road leads to the ride down the east face. 

Descents are not my thing. I’m clutching at the brakes from the outset, and come to a complete standstill on a couple of occasions for fear of losing control. At least there are no sheer drops here, and the view (when I can wrench my eyes from the tarmac) is completely stunning – mountains frame the luscious green valley, and the road is flanked with the purple and browns of summer heather. Soon I’m concealed beneath an avenue of trees and manage to hold off the extreme speed for the last couple of corners until I’m level with the Monmouth-Brecon canal that circles the base of the hill. It’s not quite the bottom, but the short section below is 20%, and I’m not sure I could make that climb – and I definitely don’t want to. 

It’s impossible to judge a re-ascent from the descent. It’s best not to try – everything is different. The timing, your thoughts, your observations. I recognise certain features as I crawl back up but there is such a disconnect between flashing down a track, trying to keep the brakes under the fingers, watching for patches that might cause a wheel to slip, and a steady uphill effort. It’s actually easier than I thought it might be. Yes, it’s steep, but there are enough sections of respite that it’s do-able – though at one point I’m out of the saddle in a bid to keep moving when the rear wheel slips and I have to stop. It’s too steep to re-start so I push for a little while until it eases off again. 


Sheep watching my ascent on climb #2

Ferns crowd the verges and gaps in the hedge reveal orchards stretching down the hillside. Sheep graze at the side of the road and bolt away as I pass. A pair of them end up on the path and run ahead, bleating as I slowly follow. It’s so funny – if they’d just stop running I could pass, but by the time they work it out and dart off the road they’re a fair distance from their flock. Onwards I forge. The tree cover ends and the two telegraph masts are within touching distance – or so it appears. I can see the road gently making its way there through the bracken and heather, draped over each rise like a ribbon. But it’s deceptively steep and it takes a huge effort to keep climbing, not helped by the sudden appearance of a headwind. But eventually I’m there, photograph number two, jacket back on in preparation for the second descent.

This is the one to which I had least been looking forward, the road that zig-zags down the western face of the Gilwern hillside to the village of the same name, through closely-stacked contour lines and across exposed moorland. The dotted lines on the map suggest little more than a track; it doesn’t even exist on Google. Thankfully the start is really gentle with little need for the brakes, but soon I’ve emerged onto the exposed hillside with a vertigo-inducing, nightmare-fuelling sheer drop to the left. Escape route plans are on my mind at every bend. Back below the tree line it becomes easier again – steep in parts but a gradual return to canal level at the pretty village of Gilwern.


From the bottom, the hill seems impossibly high, the climb insurmountable, but it’s amazing how quickly you make height. Just two turns and I’m already far above the valley floor, level with the tops of megalithic pylons, the A40 nestled in its cutting far below, a bridge in the distance spanning the gorge, and the path once more perched close to the vertiginous edge. At least on the ascent I am going slowly enough that there’s no fear of losing control and plunging to the rocks below. 

This time, when I can see the radio masts I really am nearly there, with the remaining climb far gentler than on any of the other ascents. If you’re lucky with the wind, it’s even easier.

And then it’s back to the crowning glory of the Tumble for the third photograph before a final descent. I pause with satisfaction and a new fondness for this mountain. I must admit I was  nervous about the three climbs, wondering if I did really want to do it. But the routes have been absolutely gorgeous, and far easier than I was expecting. The main ascent is brutal because it is so constant, with little to break it up, and with a very long, unrelenting gradient. Traffic is pretty constant, too. But on the others, the tracks are a delight, and even though they are far steeper in places, the variety makes it easier to tackle. They are fabulously quiet, too: only three vehicles passed on the whole of the second and third routes. 


A somewhat exhausted smile

The final descent lasts all of ten minutes, the wide, smooth tarmac lending itself to easy speed, though I’m still not ready to fully let go of the brakes. I bump over the little canal bridge and complete the short miles back to Abergavenny, fuelled by the euphoria of completing the challenge. It was as much a test of psychology as a test of strength: making three ascents of the same peak in quick succession. On the first climb I thought I didn’t want to do it again, and was even more certain on the second ascent that I’d had enough. But it was more the unknown than any physical exertion that worried me – and once I’d gone down each time, going back up again seemed the most natural thing in the world. So I hope my little trio of Tumble ascents will stand me in good stead for the trio of Ventoux climbs. The good weather prayers start now.


Ascent one, B road: 3 miles, 1273 ft, 37 minutes

Descent one, eastern road: 20 minutes

Ascent two, eastern road: 3.7 miles, 1276 ft, 47 minutes

Descent two, western road: 30 minutes

Ascent three, western road: 4.7 miles, 1178 ft 46 minutes

Descent three, B road: 10 minutes

Bike: Ridgeback Voyage touring bike, with pannier (I’ll be riding the same bike up Ventoux, but an extremely stripped-back version!)

It was about ten years ago that I made the decision to stop flying. I had been aware of the environmental impact of aviation for years, and had started to feel the irony that by flying to see the world I was contributing to its destruction. So I decided that I would no longer go anywhere that I couldn’t reach by bike, train or boat, starting with exploring my own home country.

My first big adventure was cycling 4000 miles around the coast of Britain. Not only was it a true test of physical and mental stamina, it was a real discovery of what the UK has to offer. Perfect beaches, secret coves, crystal-clear water, forests, rivers, mountains and plains. I saw wildlife: puffins, eagles, dolphins, seals, orcas, deer and kingfishers. What I found really fascinating was the infrastructure that was built to serve our industry, from old abandoned railway lines to the network of canals that cuts its tranquil path through the countryside. I went swimming in the sea, which was dizzyingly cold at times, but is completely invigorating if you like that sort of thing. Which I do, a lot.

I remember standing on one particular beach on the east coast of Scotland, somewhere north of Aberdeen, on sand dunes that just seemed to go on forever, feeling as though I was the only person in the world who knew about this place. And then riding through the truly epic landscapes of western Scotland (with all the hills that brings!) and feeling utterly dwarfed by the scale of it all. It was such a magical experience, to be discovering as much about your home land as you are about yourself. Because that is why we travel – to discover, and learn new things. And with that bike ride I learned a huge number of new things.

I also learned what we probably already know – that there are no guarantees with the good old British weather! But despite near-hypothermia in the west of Scotland and a hurricane blowing me off my bike in Wales, there were also some incredible moments: a beautifully warm Indian Summer in the second part of the ride, some absolutely gorgeous Devon and Cornwall miles, some truly astounding views, and a really good tan by the end of it all.

After that trip I completely fell in love with the UK and have done plenty more touring within its limits, including sailing around the whole coastline, cycling up the middle from Land’s End to John o’ Groats, doing various coast-to-coast rides in Scotland, Wales and England, and plenty more in between. The more I discover the more I realise there is to discover, and even going back to some familiar places can have a sense of adventure.

It’s easy to ignore what’s under our noses, but there are so many treasures right here in Britain. In any case, not flying doesn’t mean not travelling. Depending on the amount of time you have, nowhere is off limits!

This summer I’ll be cycling the length of France from Dieppe to Nice, climbing the iconic Mont Ventoux along the way. And once I’ve had my sea swim (I’m looking forward to switching the North Sea for the Med) it will be back home on the train. Though it takes longer than flying (nine hours as opposed to two, although you can bump that up to at least four if you consider checking-in time and baggage claim), it takes me straight from the centre of town to my destination without need for lengthy transfers. I’m going to enjoy watching the scenery pass by, and I’m really going to enjoy my two-and-a-bit hour connection in Paris where I’ll go for dinner and wine on the Seine. And it’s barely even more expensive: £102 as opposed to £82 for flight + Heathrow transfer, which doesn’t include my most precious cargo which is my bike!

Because I’m as passionate about the environment as I am about adventure, I’ve started a campaign to encourage other people to ditch flying, too (or at least take some time off). Flight Free 2020 asks people to pledge not to fly in 2020, as long as 100,000 others do the same. It’s about taking collective action on the climate, rather than feel that your one individual action doesn’t make a difference. The campaign has been running in Sweden for over a year now, and has contributed to a fall in flight bookings and a rise in train travel there. It’s such an important topic to be addressing right now, as we become more aware of how fragile our climate is and how little time we have to sort it out.

So here’s my challenge: see if you can go flight free for a year. Take the train or spend more time exploring the UK. You never know what adventures it could bring!

Wearing BAM leggings, BAM long-sleeved top and BAMbeany

Wearing BAM leggings, BAM long-sleeved top and BAMbeany

Camping LEJOG

I always used to hate camping. On my first big cycle tour, around the coast of Britain, I eschewed canvas for a plan and a bed each night. Writing for Al Humphrey’s blog I explained why this not only gave me two months’ worth of comfy sleeps, it also saved me loads of money. My first micro-adventure involved a rough night in a farmer’s field. But since then, I’ve learned to love camping (though I’ve never been brave enough to just bivvy). It’s so simple and freeing, to be on the road and not worry about accommodation. It’s one of the best ways to be on the same wavelength as the natural world. And, done right, it can be very cosy. 

My ‘do it right’ kit list is as follows:

Watertight tent with separate inner (I know this sounds obvious but one of my early camping experiences involved sleeping with my head in a puddle. This might be why I used to hate it so much)

Good quality sleeping mat/mattress – I have a military grade roll mat and a robust, packable inflatable mattress

Snug sleeping bag – mine is four seasons and comes with a hood

Luxury item – mine is my actual pillow off my actual bed. I use a vacuum-pack bag to keep it small enough to shove in my panniers.

So, here’s your challenge for this month: sleep somewhere other than your bed. It doesn’t have to be secret ‘wild’ camping, it doesn’t have to be at the top of a hill (though there are loads of reasons to do that – check out microadventure king Alastair Humphreys), it can be in a camp site with a shower block and a bar, it can be at the foot of your garden, it can be in the wilds of Dartmoor. It can be a proper holiday or a weekend, or can just be one night. Look at the stars; sip tea from a thermos; cosy up in your tent with a good book; listen to the owls; be awoken by the gentle nudge of dawn. There are loads of ways to do it, and each one of them will give you a story to talk about.

‘My name’s Anna Hughes and I’m an environmentalist.’ It feels like a confession, or something that should be mentioned in a whisper. My whole life I’ve been aware of environmental issues, and as I’ve grown older and learned more about the world, more and more of my decisions have been taken with the environment in mind. I no longer buy fast fashion – most of my clothes are from charity shops. My water usage is very low – I have a composting toilet and I rarely wash my hair. I’ve been vegan for six years, I’ve never owned a car, and I don’t fly.

Up until now I’ve been happy to live to my values, and let others live to theirs, being a ‘secret’ environmentalist or at least a ‘quiet’ influencer – my friends and family are aware of my beliefs, and perhaps it rubs off on them a little, and so far I’ve felt that’s good enough. But not any more. We are on the cusp of climate breakdown; all the warnings say that runaway climate change is a mere decade away. We absolutely have to act, for the good of the planet, and for the very survival of the human race. Tackling this is not going to be easy: it requires a complete overhaul of our current lifestyles. No more ‘I recycle so I do my bit.’ For many of us, it involves changing almost everything about the way we live.

Such is the urgency of the climate crisis that I’m no longer satisfied with my own individual actions. I’m now talking openly and emphatically about climate change, and I am trying my hardest to encourage others to make those sustainable choices, too. That was the motivation that led me to launch Flight Free UK. The campaign asks people to pledge not to fly in 2020, if 100,000 others make the same pledge. Aviation has the fastest rising emissions of any industry, and is in the top 10 polluters on the planet. Every flight you take massively increases your carbon footprint. Even if you take measures to live sustainably, a single flight can wipe out all other savings. 

There are many campaign groups that promote reduced flying as a lifestyle choice, but the unique thing about this campaign is the threshold of 100,000 signatures. It’s about inspiring people to feel part of a social shift. As one person, we often feel that our individual actions don’t make a difference. What good is it us saying we won’t fly if everyone around us continues to do so? But if we can say that we are one of 100,000 who have made the same decision, then our action suddenly becomes far more powerful. 

The campaign is based on the Flygfritt movement that started in Sweden last year, which persuaded 14,500 people to take a year off flying. It has contributed to the general trend away from air travel in that country, with flight bookings down, rail bookings up, and government policy starting to reflect the climate concerns of travellers.

If we can emulate that here, and show that many people are prepared to change the way they live in a bid to save the climate, then perhaps we can influence our own Government’s policy, and industry too. At the moment, aviation enjoys massive tax breaks, and alternative forms of transport are often prohibitively expensive. If we show there is a social movement that demands low-carbon travel, we can urge the Government to put measures in place to address this.

There are many reasons why people feel unable to give up flying – family on the other side of the world, or work commitments, for example. But there are no two ways about it: one return trans-Atlantic flight emits two tonnes of CO2. We are told we need to limit our personal carbon footprints to between two and three tonnes annually if we are to stand any chance of avoiding climate meltdown, so that one flight uses up almost your entire allowance, and that’s before you’ve done any of the things you need to do to live, like eat, house yourself, or clothe yourself. 

Climate change is the biggest challenge humanity has ever faced, but is all too often ignored, or not associated with our lifestyle choices, and certainly government policy does not address its urgency. We all need to take action, and change begins with us. So, think about it. One year off flying to save the planet. Could you be one of the 100,000?

It’s spring (even though some days it still feels like winter), so now might be the time to dust off the bike and start breathing in some of that warm(ish) air. Active travel is one of the best ways to shoehorn the outdoors into your daily routine.

Benefits of active travel:

  1. Fresh air, sunshine on the skin, arrive at work energised
  2. No waiting in a traffic jam
  3. Physical activity and fitness
  4. Exercise without the gym fees
  5. Better for the environment
  6. No petrol or parking costs

It needn’t be every day, but give walking or cycling a try at least once a week. If you live within three miles of work, walking will take an hour or less, and cycling will take 15 minutes or less. Between three and ten miles, you’ll be cycling for up to an hour. Anything over ten miles might seem too far a distance, but it’s amazing what is possible when you try. I used to cycle 26 miles to work each way, and still had enough energy for a full working day.

Walking or cycling are easy and accessible ways to get around. You are completely reliant on yourself and needn’t worry about traffic – your commute will take approximately the same amount of time each day, regardless of how busy the roads are. Being in control of your journey does wonders for your mental health – rather than sit frustrated in traffic, you can be outside, feeling completely free.

Active travel takes a little bit of planning but is always worth it.

Walking advantages:

Doesn’t require special equipment
Gentle exercise
Calm way to travel
Can take an umbrella in case of rain

Walking disadvantages:

Takes a long time to walk a long distance
Carrying capacity is limited

Cycling advantages:

Long distances covered quickly and easily
Can carry heavy items using panniers or trailers
Excellent exercise and gives sense of empowerment/freedom

Cycling disadvantages:

Needs specialist equipment e.g. bike, panniers, lock, lights, waterproof clothing
Can be daunting for a novice
No shelter from the weather

Help is at hand if you want to start cycling to work. Take your bike to the local bike shop to make sure it is in good shape, or learn how to fix it yourself. Book a free cycling lesson through your local council – these aren’t just for beginners, and can be really useful if you need a few extra tips of how to stay safe on the road. Invest in some good lights (essential for cycling after dark) and some panniers (an expensive but well-worth-it way of carrying things around). Waterproof trousers and jacket are a must. Your work place might have showers to enable you to freshen up afterwards, although I personally have never found this necessary – a change of clothes and a splash of deodorant is all I need to be ready for my day.

Read some inspirational stories of people who have changed their lives by changing their commute. Good luck!


I never used to understand running. Why would you put yourself through sweaty, painful, injury-inducing exercise that was slow and boring? Give me a bicycle any day. But then I signed up for an Ironman triathlon, and was forced to learn to run (a marathon of all things – having never run anywhere before!). And to my amazement, I loved it. The mistake I had been making was comparing it to cycling, which it is not. Yes, it’s slower than cycling, yes, it’s harder on the knees, no, you can’t freewheel, but none of that matters when you’re out there. Because running is simply that. You go at a running pace, not a cycling one; your boundaries are redrawn. It opens up new experiences and new ways of looking at life.

Most of my cycling is to get somewhere, but the beauty of the run is that it is solely for the purpose of itself. You run to run. There might be training involved, or a fitness regime, or the undertaking of a massive adventure, but the run is the focus. The simplicity is a revelation, and it’s wonderfully freeing to have enforced head space, and to have the time to think and allow your thoughts to rearrange themselves and process the nitty-gritty of what is going on in your life.

I was also amazed at how good I was at running; as someone who had always resisted it, saying I couldn’t do it, I found myself remarkably suited to running. It was easy. The only barrier was the fact that I’d never tried.

It took time to work up to a marathon, of course, but it’s an excellent reminder of the adaptability of the human body; little by little, I became more adept at this new form of activity. I was really surprised at the muscular transformation: though I’ve always been an active person, running gave me muscle strength I didn’t know I had. I have never felt as fit as when I’ve been running.

And it’s not just physical fitness: it is also fantastic for your mental health. I would always advise running outside, rather than on a treadmill: being in nature, feeling the breeze rather than air conditioning, absorbing the sun – these are all important aspects that should not be overlooked.

So my challenge to you this month is to give it a go, especially if you’re the type who thinks they hate running. It doesn’t take a huge amount of specialist equipment – a good pair of trainers is all you need (and they don’t even need to be that good). There are some very useful programmes around to help get you started, including Couch to 5k and the ubiquitous Park Run. There are also some very inspirational books including Born to Run by Christopher McDougall (I finished it with a tear in my eye and a smile on my face, a sure sign of a good book) and Eat & Run by Scott Jurek – a fellow vegan runner.

This time three years ago I had never run anywhere ever. Now I have completed an Ironman and am on track for my fourth marathon. There’s something quite addictive about it. Give it a try.

muddy run

To celebrate both World Book Day and International Women’s Day, I’m selecting a few of my favourites from my bookshelf.


France en Velo (Hannah Reynolds and John Walsh)

Hannah Reynolds has produced (along with her writing partner John Walsh) the type of guidebook I would love to write: France en Velo is full of gorgeous photographs, tantalising titbits and inspirational passages that make you ache to ride the routes she describes so well. It’s not just a list of overnight stops with an unrealistic schedule – it definitely has the feel of a holiday, especially as so much of the book seems to be spent drinking wine. Since acquiring Hannah’s book I’ve longed to cycle across France, which is exactly what I’ll be doing this September, riding up the iconic Mont Ventoux along the way.

Sally’s Odd at Sea (Sally Kettle)

Sally Kettle and I shared a stage at a fundraiser for a team preparing for an ocean row, and I adored her straight away: a brilliant speaker, funny and self-deprecating, gorgeous too, who clearly gains a great amount of joy from doing what she does. In 2003 Sally set out to row across the Atlantic with her then boyfriend, but when he had to withdraw, she was left with no team mate – so her mother stepped in. The resulting book is an inspiring, hilarious account of their journey across the Atlantic in which you can really hear Sally’s voice in every word. She’s since become a good friend and is every bit as great in real life as she is on the page.

The Lonely Sea (Yvette Allum)

This is an odd little book, but one that has really stuck in my mind since I bought it on the recommendation of a friend. It tells the tale of spearo Sue Dockar who was swept out to sea during a national spearfishing competition and survived 48 hours of floating on her back before she was rescued, horribly dehydrated and sunburnt. Yvette Allum is the author, and weaves Sue’s story with an exploration of what went wrong that day that resulted in near tragedy. What mental strength it must have taken for Sue to resist giving up and sinking to the bottom of the ocean: ‘I still remember the dream I had the second night I was in the water and how peaceful it felt and how easy it would have been to do what the voice was telling me – just let go of my buoy and swim down to that little village.’

Wild Nights (Phoebe Smith)

Fellow Summersdale author Phoebe Smith is a well-known travel writer and adventurer whose recent challenges include walking the length of Hadrian’s Wall at Christmas to raise money and awareness for Centrepoint, the homeless charity, and wild camping in some of the least hospitable place in the UK. Her ‘Wild Nights’ challenge takes her to Britain’s extremes: lowest point, highest point, farthest east/west etc etc, though her attempt to make camp on Britain’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis, is disrupted by a discovery of so much litter that she decides to ditch the challenge in favour of clearing up – an equally worthy task. 

The Carbon Cycle (Kate Rawles)

Kate Rawles is an eco-adventurer who truly walks the talk; for her most recent expedition, exploring biodiversity in the Andes, she built herself a bamboo bicycle and transported it and herself across the Atlantic ocean by cargo ship. The Carbon Cycle, Kate’s first book, tells of a previous challenge in which she cycles the spine of the Rockies from Mexico to Alaska, finding out what Americans really think of climate change. The result is a funny, charming, frustrating yet hopeful look at what we need to be doing in the battle to save humanity and all who rely on the planet for survival.

Waymaking (various authors)

Given to me by my lovely friend (and fellow author) Cathy, Waymaking is a beautiful collection of poetry and short stories by women. I really like this excerpt, from a story entitled Snow by Bernadette McDonald: 

It begins to snow. Oh, how beautiful are these feather-like flakes, this qanki. The falling snow muffles every sound. It seems more silent than usual. I can’t even hear my skis. I try to wipe the images of Dad in the last days of his life from my mind. I try to replace them with memories from the trail: the long gliding descents, the purposeful climbs.

I remember hearing about an Inuit tradition where they walked off their anger in the tundra. They walk and walk until it disappears, and then return, their load lightened. Maybe, if I just continue skiing, the rhythm and the sliding and the snow and the silence will ease this pain. I’ll keep skiing until they do.

Eat Sleep Cycle (Anna Hughes)

I couldn’t write a list without including one of mine. It’s my first book, Eat Sleep Cycle, and I’m very proud of it – I always wanted to be a writer, but never thought I could be, more easily led by the critical voices than the supportive ones. In the end I decided to write a book for me, that I liked – if you try to please everyone you end up pleasing no one. I heard JK Rowling did the same.

The lunch hour: that sacred 60 minutes in the middle of the day when you’re not required to work. It is so tempting to eat a sandwich at your desk and crack on through with that endless list of emails (I know, I have done it), but instead, could you use this time for adventure?

The ‘what’ of adventure

Obviously, within the time constraints of an office lunch break, we are not talking adventure on a grand scale. But adventure can mean anything: discovery, widening horizons, doing anything out of the normal routine. An adventure can simply mean focussing on that second word used to describe this hour: break.

In our busy, must-get-this-done society, it is easy to overlook the value of taking a break. But that huge pile of admin will still be there when you get back, and taking a step away from the task in hand can work wonders in terms of productivity, enthusiasm and efficiency. Our brains are simple things; they were not made to focus on a computer screen for hours on end. They need variety, stimulation and interest in order to function effectively. And mostly, they need fresh air. Checking Facebook doesn’t count as a lunch break (because let’s face it, you do that most of the rest of the day, too). Finish your sentence, send that email, and get out there.

Where to go

Whether you work in a city, town or in the countryside, there will be something of interest nearby. A gallery or museum; a tea rooms or a library. Wherever you are, pick a point that is a twenty minute walk away, and go. Twenty minutes to get there, twenty minutes to eat your lunch, and twenty minutes to get back to your desk. It doesn’t particularly need to be a place of note – anywhere you can sit and eat a sandwich or watch the world going by is good enough. Read the paper. Feed the ducks*. Notice the buildings and people around you. Offer someone a helping hand.

Why go?

Variety enriches us and feeds our brains. Fresh air clears away the hangups of the morning. Even if it is your most stressful day at work and you can barely afford the time, getting outside and away from it all for one hour will make the rest of the day run more smoothly. You can return to your desk refreshed, revitalised, stress-free and ready to put in some good hours for the rest of the day.

At this time of year especially, your lunch hour might be the only time you are able to experience daylight; while the days are still fairly short, commutes to and from work are often done in the dark. Even in the rain it’s important to get out. A good umbrella or rain jacket, and maybe a change of shoes, is all you need.

Mostly, the act of getting up and getting outside, of throwing something new into your routine, is how adventure will creep into your life. At the end of our days, we don’t look back and think ‘what a yummy year of sandwiches I ate while sitting at my desk.’ By being active, by inviting new experiences, we create new memories and new opinions; we exercise our creativity and our curiosity; we develop as people. Who knows what serendipity might befall us when we just open ourselves to the possibility? It certainly won’t happen while we sit at our desks.

Just go

Sometimes it will rain. Sometimes you’ll have a lunchtime meeting. But a couple of times a week, try something new: get out of the office and into the wide open world.

As always, tweet me, email me or leave a comment below to tell me what adventures came along as a result of getting outside in your lunch hour.

*don’t feed the ducks bread – that is really bad for both the ducks and the water. Ducks like grapes (seedless, cut in half), cooked rice, birdseed, peas, corn, oats and chopped lettuce.


This path could lead to adventure…


This beautiful image is taken from

Mont Ventoux looms large on any horizon, especially mine: in eight months’ time I’ll be riding across France to make my own pilgrimage to the giant, and ride its three ascents in a single day. I’m imagining seven glorious days of cycling, warm autumn evenings, sunshine on the air, then the long road through Provence, the lavender fields, and a first glimpse of the mountain, visible as it is for miles around in its isolation from any range. There will appear the lower slopes, cloaked in thick forest, glowing green, with its bald head shining as if with snow, and the observation tower perching regally at the top. Late in the day an evening haze might shroud the peak, or clouds might cling to the tower, snagged on its point as they scud across the landscape. 

Ventoux. The name itself puts fear in the heart, not scared fear, but a kind of reverence and respect, the kind of fear you might have for God. Because this is what the Ventoux is: a god. A god of evil, some say, to whom sacrifices must be made. Its slopes have humbled many a cyclist, amateur and pro; the great Belgian Eddy Merckx needed oxygen after his 1970 ascent, and in 1967 it claimed the life of Tom Simpson, the British cyclist who collapsed a kilometre or so from the summit. He was one of those rare Brits who had made a name for himself on the continent: the first to wear the yellow jersey, and world champion in 1965. But the arid mountain slopes on that overwhelmingly hot day proved too much for him. ‘Put me back on my bike!’ he famously cried, before he lost consciousness, a cocktail of alcohol and amphetamines in his stomach.

The mountain has been on my radar for a number of years, ever since the research for my book Pedal Power led me to read again and again thrilling stories of great Tour de France ascents. More foolhardy was Rob Holden who completed the climb on a Boris Bike, the challenge having added jeopardy given that it had to be completed in the 24 hour time limit for hire of the bike. Then came Peaky Climbers, the book I penned on behalf of the team of the same name, who took on 20 peaks of the Tour de France in seven days, which, if that weren’t brutal enough, included the famous Cinglés challenge: to ride each of Ventoux’s three ascents in a single day. Cinglé. French for crazy. Off one’s head.

Why would one take on such a challenge? It sounds exhausting just thinking about it. But each time I read about others who have made the climb, even (especially) the ones who struggle the most, I feel a compulsion, a desire to have a go myself, to experience the brutal reality of Ventoux. It’s the draw of taking on a challenge where you don’t know if you’ll succeed or fail. I know I can ride, I know I can climb, but can I do this? Whether I can or not, I want to try. I want to feel the uphill burn, to laugh wryly at myself at Chalet Reynard on climb number one when the forest gives way to the unforgiving sun, knowing that I thought it would be easy, and it’s turned out to be anything but. I know I will question my sanity. Yet I want to stand at the top of that mountain and look out at the view that so many others have enjoyed, and know that I earned it by riding every inch of the way from my home in London. I want to stand at the top at the end of a long, hard day, having completed the third ascent, having climbed nearly 4,500 metres and ridden almost 100 miles, being utterly broken, exhausted, sore, overwhelmed and above all, satisfied. 

And I don’t want to do it alone. I’m inviting women cyclists of all kinds to join me and take on this mountain. It’s going to be tough, really tough. But it promises to be an unforgettable experience and potentially one of the best things ever to be done on a bike. Are you in?

Full details are on my Facebook page

If every day of 2019 you were to walk just 2.74 miles, by the end of the year you would have hit 1000. Could you? Would you? Should you?

Walking is a form of exploration that came late to me – I always assumed it would be too slow, too boring, too, well, pedestrian. But I have discovered that, through walking, one can discover a whole new world of interest that doesn’t come in any other way. As a form of transport, it is entirely self-sufficient; as a form of exercise, it requires no specialist equipment; as a method of adventuring, it is unique in its eye-opening slowness.

My first long walk, of 26 miles, took a long time to come to fruition. A lifelong cyclist, I thought I’d be impatient to get there, that I’d be frustrated by the plodding progress of one foot in front of the other. But no; it gave me time to breathe, it gave me time to think. The journey is as long as it is, and it takes as long as it takes, and that is simply that. It turns out I wasn’t saving time by cycling; I had exactly the same amount of time, it’s just that I spent less of it experiencing movement. Forcing yourself to slow your pace also slows your mind. In our hectic, must-have-everything-now society that is a rarity.

There are many ways in which to bring walking into your life, whether that be packing your work shoes in your briefcase and walking to the office, taking a stroll during your lunch hour, or going for  a Sunday ramble to the pub. It could be a full day marathon, or a multi-day tour, or even setting out on the year-long challenge of walking 1000 miles.

However you choose to do it, see if you can spend January getting outside more, on foot.



It’s my pleasure to be a #GetOutside champion for Ordnance Survey for a second year. #GetOutside was launched by Ordnance Survey a few years ago to promote the benefits of spending time outdoors; in a time of increasingly sedentary lifestyles, mental health issues, pollution from transport and a growing burden on the NHS, fresh air is an antidote that seldom gets prescribed. Along with the other #GetOutside champions I’ll be continuing to share my stories and adventures and spreading the message about how great the Great Outdoors really is.

But it’s not just about me – each month I’ll be setting a different challenge, encouraging you, the reader, to experience the benefits of regular time spent outdoors. Last year, the challenges inspired people to walk to work, to dig out their running shoes, to camp out under the stars and to picnic al-fresco. There are hundreds of ways to enjoy the great outdoors – here are just twelve suggestions. Throughout the year, I’d love to know if you are taking up the challenges. Tweet me, email me, share your experiences with me on Facebook or leave a comment below. Good luck, and here’s to a year of #GettingOutside


January challenge: experience life at walking pace (and perhaps even walk 1000 miles…)
February: go adventuring in your lunch hour
March: give running a try
April: active travel to work
May: home-grown or home-foraged food
June: sleep under the stars
July: travel more than ten miles in something other than a car
August: learn to read a map
September: eat a meal al-fresco
October: go swimming somewhere outdoors
November: climb a hill
December: watch the sun rise / set (and write about it)

Cheese. It seems to be the most common thing that stands in the way of people going vegan: fear of missing cheese. I know; it was true for me. I loved cheese as much as the next person, and couldn’t imagine a life without a slab of brie on a crumpet, some bubbling cheddar on toast, a creamy chunk of Gouda with crackers, or a few sneaky slices of Red Leicester when preparing dinner. In my past life I’ve been known to eat most of a block of cheese the day I bought it. I’ll admit it – I was probably a bit of an addict.

In the end, my desire to be vegan overtook my desire for cheese and I took the plunge. The worry had plagued me for days; wouldn’t I just want to eat cheese all the time? But the moment I became vegan, something surprising happened. I didn’t miss cheese. Not at all. Not one bit. It simply wasn’t on the menu any more, and that was that – the lid had closed on that particular box. 

A decision early on was to not go for substitutes. I just didn’t quite buy it – I’m not going to eat animal products, so why would I eat something pretending to be an animal product? No soy milk (I’d taken my tea black for years anyway), no tofurky, no ‘facon’. I knew it wouldn’t come close, so why would I even bother? And this proved to be my best decision. A birthday dinner in my first week of veganism was held at a pizza place (an odd choice, perhaps), but instead of feeling that I’d missed out, I had the best pizza of my life. I asked for no cheese and every single vegetable topping they had. Out came the most incredible display of tomato, garlic, aubergine, artichoke, olives and basil, dripping with oil. I could actually taste the bread for a change. And I easily finished the whole thing, no cheese sweats, no horrible feeling that my veins were surging with animal fat. Removing animal products was enhancing my eating experience, not taking away from it. Instead of cheese on my pasta, I would pour olive oil and salt – just like the Italians do. Heaven.

But it wasn’t all plain sailing. Several months in, I made the mistake of opening my sister’s fridge. The cheese box bulged with all the products I used to adore – and I had an overwhelming desire to slam most of them into my mouth right then and there. And that’s when I realised the power of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ – my own fridge didn’t contain any of this stuff, so I simply didn’t think about it. It wasn’t abstinence, it was simply absence. It’s a mindset: I’m vegan, therefore I don’t eat cheese. End of.

At that time, my choice was aided by the fact that vegan cheese substitutes were pretty awful. Wouldn’t melt, tasted weird, looked wrong. The very few occasions when I did try, I would rarely finish the block. It was like putting cardboard on my toast. It’s possible to make a very tasty lasagne with a béchamel sauce made from dairy-free spread and almond milk. Add ‘cheese’ though, and it’s kind of ruined.

Things are slightly better now – there is some very passable ‘cheese’ out there. But still, I’d rather not. I absolutely love that most pizza restaurants now offer a vegan menu; at Pizza Express there’s even a choice! But the cheese just sits there in little melted blobs, it doesn’t string like it should, and it sticks to the roof of your mouth when you take a bite. It’s so unsatisfactorily like cheese that I still prefer to just go without.

So, my advice to anyone trying Veganuary or making a New Year’s resolution to cut down on animal products or anyone who is slightly V-curious, is don’t bother trying to replace cheese. It’s not going to be anywhere near what you want it to be, so it’s best to just not even try. You might be surprised at the results.

(Having said all of this, I recently bought a Violife block (original flavour), just out of curiosity. It was surprisingly good. And I found myself nibbling the block and cutting myself just *one* more piece at the end of the day. Seems the addict in me never really went away ;))

We are a nation of beach-lovers; not surprising when you consider that no one in the UK lives more than 70 miles from the sea. There’s something magical about the coastline, from stark, rugged cliffs to long golden stretches of dunes, from crashing waves to the promise of adventure on the horizon. At this time of year the drama of the coastline is at its height, with raw, elemental seas and long beaches with a sense of delicious abandonment. And what could be a better way to blast away your New Year hangover than with a brisk winter stroll? 

If you are feeling really brave, an icy paddle or even a dip is a revitalising way to start the year. Forecasts for this year are promising: not too cold, a bit windy, and dry. Wrap up warm and enjoy the great outdoors. Any beach will do – there are some truly beautiful coves, lagoons and sand spits to explore on our varied coastline. Here are six of our favourites.


South West

Appledore, Devon to Westward Ho!

Appledore is a gorgeous sheltered settlement at the mouth of the river Torridge, near the confluence with the Taw. The estuary is full of moored boats and the town is full of pubs and cafes. You can follow the South West coast path north through Northam Burrows Country Park or walk along Appledore beach to the tip of the peninsula. For a longer walk (roughly 4 miles – 1.5 hours), turn south along the beautiful dunes of Westward Ho! beach. The surf at Westward Ho! is irresistible for paddling – but is shockingly cold. There are plenty of places to buy chips at Westward Ho! before making the (shorter) return walk or getting the bus back.

South East

Camber Sands

A stunning stretch of rich dunes and golden sand, Camber Sands is overwhelmed in the summer, with huge traffic jams stretching down the road to the beach. In winter you have the whole beautiful stretch to yourself. Sand dunes are not good in high winds, but the beach itself is wonderful all year round.

Camber Sands is near to the quaint town of Rye, one of the historical cinque ports. Rye boasts artisan shops and independent cafes, with great pubs and water-front dining if you venture down to the harbour. 

You can access Rye by train, and Camber Sands is a just over three mile cycle from the town, almost entirely off-road on the National Cycle Network



Blackpool has been a popular tourist destination for over a century, with good reason: a ten mile stretch of sand from Fleetwood to South Shore, uninterrupted sea views, two piers and the world-famous Pleasure Beach. The rollercoasters are closed on New Years Day but there’s another high-octane activity for the brave: the Fleetwood New Years Day dip, beginning at 0830 this year. For all others, it’s a lovely beach to walk on, with acres of sand, especially at low tide, which this year will be at midday.



The Yorkshire fishing town of Whitby boasts some of the most beautiful beaches in the UK, and there are plenty to choose from.

To the north is the stunning Runswick Bay, made up primarily of sand and rock and an abundance of fossils, where you can spot seals if you’re lucky.

Sandsend Beach stretches from Sandsend Ness (another great spot for fossil hunters) all the way to Whitby, which is a gentle hour and a half walk, taking in Upgang Whitby beach where you can find Whitby jet. Whitby Sands beach itself is the most popular in the area, for its masses of sand and a slow curve with views up to the famous whale bone arch and Whitby Abbey on the promontory. Brightly-coloured beach huts brighten up even the most dull January day.

Finally, there’s Whitby Hill Beach which is tucked away in the sheltered Esk harbour. From here, you can climb the 199 steps to Whitby Abbey.



The west Wales coast is one long line of stunning beaches from Cardigan Bay to the remote Lleyn peninsula. Harlech epitomises the Welsh coastline, with a fabulous castle, vast sand dunes, and a west-facing horizon where you can watch the sun set, all looked over by the mountains of Snowdonia. Popular in the summer months, this beach promises peace and quiet for a New Year’s Day wind-down.


South Queensferry (near Edinburgh)

There’s much to admire in South Queensferry, most notably Britain’s best bridge-scape in the triple crossings: the classic Forth Rail cantilever bridge, the old road suspension bridge (now open only to buses and bicycles) and the new, cable-stayed crossing. It’s a rocky foreshore with views across to the Fife coast, out to sea and up the vast expanse of the Firth of Forth. But the reason to visit on New Years Day is undoubtedly the Loony Dook, an annual dip in the freezing waters of the firth. From 11am, the streets of Queensferry are filled with the noisy procession of the dookers and their supporters, and spectators provide encouragement from the streets and the beach itself. Take part too if you feel so inspired!


Land’s End to John o’ Groats is one of the most iconic rides the UK has to offer, completed by hundreds of people each year, each experiencing the varied landscapes, challenging terrains and pot-luck weather that makes cycling in this country so special. Cycling UK recently announced a network of routes that, once opened, will allow cyclists to traverse the country without once mixing with traffic. I completed my very own LEJOG three years ago. Here are my hard-won lessons from the road.

  • It’s a long way – but it is ultimately achievable
  • Your bike is the best luggage carrier there is, so let it take the strain
  • Don’t split hairs about the route – there are hundreds of ways to get from Land’s End to John o’ Groats (although crossing the Severn Bridge and riding through the Wye valley was one of my highlights, as was the west Scotland route north of Glasgow through Loch Lomond, Glen Coe and the Great Glen). Sustrans can help, as can Ordnance Survey
  • Travel from south to north – you’re more likely to benefit from a tailwind, and you’ll have the sun on your back not in your eyes, EVEN THOUGH it means starting in Cornwall and Devon, which have the most fearsome hills in the whole of the UK, no question
  • Canal towpaths are great for traffic-free, peaceful riding, but are slow
  • Disused railway lines can be similarly wonderful, but they tend to by-pass settlements, and I often find the pleasure of a journey is riding through little villages and seeing the architecture and the people who live there
  • People make the journey
  • Use Warmshowers to make the journey friendly/comfy
  • Don’t be scared of ‘wild’ camping. I pitched in the grounds of a National Trust property, in a secluded spot on the NCN, and on a hillside in Scotland. Arrive late, depart early and leave no trace
  • Ferries are always an exciting way of crossing a river
  • Swim, even in the off season. The sea holds its warmth so it’s milder in October than in April
  • It doesn’t have to be for charity
  • Don’t take too much
  • It’s not a race
  • Build up your mileage – ease your body into it, and allow tendons and muscles to recover
  • LYCRA is not compulsory
  • Knowledge of maintenance isn’t essential, but can be useful
  • The 700 mile mark is the hardest. The initial buzz has waned, it’s an awfully long time ago that you left home, but you’re not there yet, not nearly
  • JoG is not the furthest north or furthest north-east. To get the furthest north-east, you’ll have to go up to Duncansby Head, and to get the furthest north, it’s Dunnet Head. Both are worth it, Dunnet Head especially – the Old Man of Hoy is visible on a good day
  • You can kill yourself training, but what you really need to do is just do it
  • The end can be confusing:

After four weeks of mountains, lakes, sea swims, midges, non-stop rain, t-shirt weather, wide open skies and endless vistas, not eating enough and dodgy camping spots, it was with a jumble of emotions that I finished. Exhaustion, elation, confusion, anti-climax even – I’d spent so long building up to this, now what? The journey had been a rich insight into what makes up Britain, but at the same time had been just a glimpse, and left me itching for more. And that’s the beauty of long-distance cycling: though it was with relief I loaded my tired bike onto the train home, if I’d had the time I would have turned around and done the whole thing again.

To read the full series of blogs from my LEJOG ride, go here

You might be forgiven for thinking that cycling is a dangerous past time. That to step outside the house and mount two wheels requires extensive safety equipment, that the roads are hostile, that you’ll be among a pack of law-breaking mavericks, or that you’re almost guaranteed to be knocked off if you even dare as to set wheel on a main road. Far better to walk, or wrap yourself up in an impregnable metal fortress (aka the car).

You’d be forgiven because this is what the media reports. It was a few weeks ago now, but this page in the of the Evening Standard made me sigh a frustrated sigh. Oh, how the media loves a cycling death. 


The reader’s lasting impression from this page will be the words ‘Cyclist killed’. That’s it. All you need to know. The top two words of the page, in far bigger type than anything else. Brian Barnett was, tragically, the 11th cyclist to be killed on London’s roads this year. The crash that led to his death involved a lorry, a frustrating reflection on all the Safer Lorries campaigning that groups such as the London Cycling Campaign are pushing so vociferously.

The issue, however, is the column opposite. In much smaller type, we are told that safer buses could prevent pedestrian deaths. The (much shorter) article goes on to tell us that 73 pedestrians were killed on London’s roads last year. Seventy three!! Did any one of those make the front page? Do we wear protective clothing and helmets to walk around on the pavements? Are we scare-mongered into not getting around on foot? 

On the exceptionally rare occasions when a cyclist causes serious injury or death to another person, it is headline news. The majority of similar incidents involving motor vehicles go unreported. Any cyclist who loses their life is proclaimed far and wide – quite rightly, as any death is one too many, and publicity surrounding these tragic occurrences go some way to supporting calls for better facilities, extra training, segregation and safer lorry design. But it shouldn’t be used as a method of shifting papers, or reported in a way that implies cycling is dangerous. Riding a bike is one of the safest ways to get around London, and we need to do it more, not less. So please, The Media, stop painting a picture of cycling as a dangerous thing. Stop showing cyclists to be lawless and deserving of vitriol. We need more cyclists if we are to survive as a city, from congestion to air pollution to obesity to accessibility. The bicycle has long been an instrument of freedom, a way to unlock a city, and by reporting in this way you are not only doing a disservice to the many people who tragically and needlessly die on our roads, you are preventing a wider audience from being included in the experience of cycling, with all the benefits that brings.

“So what do you eat?”

It’s the first thing on most people’s lips when they find out I’m vegan, and it’s usually followed by something along the lines of “How do you get enough protein?”

It can be a frustrating question – there’s an underlying assumption that I must be protein-deficient, malnourished and hungry all the time. A pub landlord once asked me, “Why do you do that to yourself?” when I asked if there was anything vegan on the menu. I try not to take it personally, but I can’t help it; I don’t criticise others for eating animal products, so why must they do so for me?

Ok, I get that veganism is not mainstream. Many people couldn’t contemplate becoming vegetarian, let alone vegan. It’s socially expected that we are meat-and-two-veg kind of people; so much so, that a meal without meat isn’t a meal at all. But it’s all just food. I am vegan, but I don’t eat vegan food. I just eat food.

I can understand this mindset though. As a student I discovered I had low haemoglobin, and the leaflets I was given suggested foods high in iron: fish, chicken, lean red meat and eggs. That’s where I stopped reading, even though the rest of the list was a vegan’s paradise: baked beans, chickpeas, lentils, nuts, brown bread, green leafy vegetables and dried fruit. After a few years my iron levels hadn’t increased, but my meat consumption had. One day I realised I was eating meat or animal products with every single meal, and that just didn’t sit right somehow.

And despite having always proclaimed myself as an environmentalist, it took me well into my adulthood to make the link with what I was putting in my mouth. A daily cyclist, a Green Party member, an ardent recycler and plastic bag refuser, a non-flyer, but still, a meat eater.

At a green fair in London I picked up a ‘Vegan beginner’ pamphlet. There it was, in black and white.  Animal farming is responsible for 18% of global greenhouse emissions – more than the total generated by the entire transport sector. Raising animals for food consumes more than half of all the water in the world. Half of the world’s harvest is fed to animals. While precious agricultural land is used to grow animal feed, millions starve in the developing world. These were the very things I cared about. That was the moment. I would be vegan.

It took another couple of years for me to truly follow a vegan diet. At first I would eat ‘mostly’ vegan, but I wouldn’t worry about animal products as ingredients, and I wouldn’t insist if someone was cooking for me, and I wouldn’t bother if I was out for dinner – that was too difficult. I would eat meat if it was organic and local. It was a very convenient way of feeling good about myself but not actually making the commitment.

The final push came when I started using a composting toilet – a strange nudge to full veganism I’ll admit, but it’s far easier to process your own poo if it doesn’t contain animal products. So, five years ago, my true vegan journey started.

I haven’t looked back. I instantly felt better. No more meat sweats. No more feeling massively bloated because I’ve eaten too much cheese. No more guilt. Just fresh, wholesome, feel-good food. It’s not boring – there is a world of food out there that doesn’t involve animals. It doesn’t even have to be that healthy – I could just eat chips if I chose. And by asking for vegan when I’m out rather than ducking out because it’s ‘too difficult’ has raised the profile of my diet, to the point that now, many places offer a separate vegan menu, with choices and everything. It’s the new fashionable, and I don’t mind at all.

Being plant-based more than caters for my active lifestyle – I completed an Ironman triathlon in 13.5 hours, which is a fair old effort, and I’ve also cycled from Land’s End to John o’ Groats as a vegan. Finding enough to eat on the road has sometimes been a challenge, and similarly when abroad, but most cities have some kind of Italian or Mexican options which almost always provide something I can eat. I love the label – it’s now part of my personality, and I’m always excited to meet other vegans. It’s no longer the preserve of the hippy, neither does it mean you’ll turn into a rake (I’ve always been skinny, so no change there, but you can definitely be vegan and fat). I have never been happier. Though my initial motivation was environmentalism, there is so much that is barbaric about our meat and dairy industry that I’m very glad to be out of it. My diet is varied, healthy and delicious. My friends are always impressed with what I eat. And I never thought I’d say it, but I don’t even miss cheese.

I write this as a road user who happens to ride a bike.

When I ride my bike, people shout at me. They yell at me to get out of the way. They swear at me and say, ‘Get on the pavement!’, and when I do that, pedestrians moan that I should be on the road. Drivers pass too close, or try to intimidate me by revving fast behind. Sometimes they throw things at me; I once had a can of coke levelled at my head. Sometimes I get spat at. Sometimes people actually get out of their vehicle and square up to me. All of these things are really horrible and actually quite frightening, and are done for no other reason than that I chose to ride a bike.

Most drivers don’t think I have a right to use the road because they think I didn’t pay for it. Of course I did – roads are funded through general taxation, so I pay for the roads because I pay tax. And you’re wrong about the roads being created for cars: it was the bicycle lobby that led to our current network of roads, which has, in the grand scheme of things, only recently been dominated by the motor car. This sense of entitlement by drivers means that almost daily I am subjected to intimidating behaviour. It’s exhausting being hated just because I ride a bike.

It’s exhausting because riding a bike should be seen as a positive thing. It’s good for my health, and my pocket, and my spirits. I am not contributing to congestion or pollution. In countries where there are large numbers of cyclists, there is better air quality, less burden on health services, safer roads, less congestion and happier people.

I agree that we need more safe, segregated, good-quality cycle lanes. But until that happens, I will continue to share the roads with motor vehicles.

There are loads of cyclists who ride dangerously. Yes, it’s annoying. But no road user is perfect. Because for every cyclist who jumps the lights, there is a driver on their phone. For every rider weaving through traffic, there’s a motorist that pulls out in front of you. For every bicycle on the pavement, there is a car speeding. You see, we are all guilty of using the roads badly, every single one of us, no matter what we ride. I could argue that motorists transgressing is far more dangerous than cyclists doing it, and the statistics back that up. But I’m not here to try and excuse poor cycling by listing everyone else’s transgressions. What I am here to say is, when you go on national TV ranting about cyclists, it perpetuates the view that we’re all a bunch of thoughtless, irresponsible law-breakers. It means that people feel more justified in their views. It means that when I next get on my bike, I’m more likely to be on the receiving end of someone else’s anger. And not only does that anger have a negative impact on me as a person who’s just trying to get where they’re going, not only is it unfair, annoying, dangerous and deeply depressing, it could also endanger my life. 

It’s one of the joys of cycling that bicycles don’t have to wait in a queue; if traffic is stationary or slow-moving, you as a cyclist are perfectly entitled to move past. Getting to the front of the queue can be advantageous: you get a head-start when the lights change, meaning you can clear the junction more safely, and your visibility is increased, as you can see the whole junction and all other road users can see you. Often, there is a box at the front of the queue to facilitate this: the Advanced Stop Line (ASL) or bike box.  

The key here is safety. The bike box is not a target to be reached at all costs. There are many circumstances in which it might not be the safest place: there is a motor vehicle in it (this is an offence which can cost £100 and three points – not many drivers know this!); there is not space to filter safely through the traffic; you don’t have time to get there before the light changes to green; there is a large vehicle or a left-turning vehicle near the box; the box is already full of cyclists. In these situations it might be safer to join the queue in a central position.

If you do decide to pass the queue, two things are needed in order to filter safely: time and space. You may filter on either side of a queue of traffic, as long as there is space: if the left, be aware of left-turning vehicles and vehicles turning into or out of side roads; if the right, be aware of oncoming traffic. Always keep the brakes covered in case pedestrians cross through the queue. You may change position from right to left, but check before you change to ensure no one else is filtering. Keep an eye on the traffic lights – if the lights change to green as you are filtering, join the queue and take a central position in amongst the traffic as it moves off. 

There is often a cycle lane leading into the bike box on the left hand side. This doesn’t necessarily mean that’s where you should be, and in fact, if there is a vehicle turning left from the queue, the bike lane is the last place you want to be, especially if it’s a large vehicle. This is where cycling fatalities occur – becoming trapped on the inside of a left-turning vehicle. Be aware that some vehicles might turn without signalling. Often it is safer to filter on the right hand side, or simply wait in the queue (in the centre of the lane).

The full series of tips for safe cycling can be found here.


It starts as soon as I step off the train. The platform is full of people holding banners, who had escaped my notice as I sat in the carriage reading my book. Placards are held downwards, at rest, hiding, shy, slogans upside down. I suddenly wish I were clutching something too. A protest novice, I didn’t even bring a whistle.

One banner says ‘Dump Trump’ in a collage of red, white and blue bottle tops. One says, ‘My parents moved to America and all I got was this lousy president.’ One simply says, ‘No one likes you.’

From the oppressive heat of the underground tunnels we emerge into the bright sunshine, then there are more people and the shyness is lost as the march becomes purposeful. We surge along the pavement, from every side street more people joining the tide, as though we are following the Pied Piper.

Trump protest

This is the first time in ten years I’ve joined a mass rally. These kinds of things aren’t necessarily my ‘thing’. Many people say protesting is a waste of time: it doesn’t change anything. And no, it doesn’t change anything here and now, and tomorrow Trump will still be president. But we must make our voices heard. Change doesn’t happen if we do nothing. This is often the only tool we have in the democracy in which we apparently live, not that Trump will take any notice, of course: ‘He will call this fake news’ say several placards, or, ‘Trump will lie about this.’ But imagine if we didn’t protest. Those in power read silence as compliance, as agreement. But I do not agree with Trump.

UK politicians say we are embarrassing ourselves, that it is very un-British, and very rude, to be so vocal against a visiting president. I look around at the people on the march. Old, young, black, white, man, woman. A band of trumpets, trombones, tuba and snare drum is marching with us, blaring out the hits to cheers and hip-shaking. People are chatting and smiling. The overwhelming atmosphere is of positivity. No one looks embarrassed.


I am not here because I don’t think Trump should be here, though lots of my compatriots do. They are protesting his very presence in the UK, though that’s not my motivation; he is an American president, and most of them visited the UK during their tenure, and he does have property here, and it is a free world after all (there’s an irony in there somewhere). I am here, protesting, because our politicians haven’t. There has been no calling out of his hateful remarks, of his racist policies, of his sexist views. There has been no calling out of his misogynistic actions. He bulldozes meetings then claims the positive outcomes as his doing. He believes his own hype. Most scary of all, lots of people agree with him. They take his word as fact, because he says it is. It terrifies me that someone like this has such influence in our world. I’m not protesting against him being in office – I didn’t have the power to influence that. I am here because I want to be counted, I want to be one of the tens of thousands of people who turned out to represent a different world view to that of this man. I despair at the lack of protestation from our politicians. I am not embarrassing myself; they have embarrassed us.

‘Free Melania,’ says a placard. ‘Super Callous Fragile Racist Sexist Nazi Potus’ reads another. People have put a lot of thought into this. There are plenty of signs that are offensive, but far more are clever and funny and uplifting. It’s a long, slow, hot walk to Trafalgar square where the rally is in full swing, with rousing addresses, cheers, food, music, and thousands upon thousands of people. It will still be the same world tomorrow. But perhaps it will be one with more hope.


Since I made Bristol my home almost a year ago I’ve been keen to ride out to Cheddar Gorge, that tourist attraction and cyclists’ mecca. I have a vague notion that I visited as a child, but the gorges and caves of Britain fade after a while into one blurred memory of long coach journeys, memorabilia shops and dark, dripping underground passageways. Lying 20 miles to the south of Bristol, across the Mendips, it would be a beautiful ride. Then the Top of the Gorge festival came onto my radar, a weekend celebration of adventure run by the National Trust. This would be the perfect opportunity to visit. With panniers packed and tent strapped to my rear rack, off I went.

The landscape surrounding Bristol is hilly – not surprising, given that Bristol spills out from the Avon valley, its western limits perching above the Avon gorge. To journey to Cheddar from Bristol by road I must pass over Dundry beacon, the legendary hill that each year hosts the ‘Dundry Drubber’, a challenge that takes riders up each of the four Dundry ascents: 3000 feet of climbing with top gradients of 1:4. This was the occasion for such a challenge, to experience the hills that epitomise this landscape, to earn the views that they offer and to enjoy the freewheeling reward. The main A road would be flatter, but it would be busy and noisy and full of Friday night workers, and where’s the fun in that?

The beacon appeared as a wall beyond Bristol’s southern suburbs, with grass and woodland draped like a tablecloth over its apex. The ascent began with an optimistic attack, but soon I had clicked to my lowest gear and settled into the slow pedal-spin that would take me round each hairpin. Each one, I thought, would be the last, but each turn in the road revealed yet more. Almost at the top of the hill, I looked back to see Bristol spread below like a toy town. The high rise buildings stood distant and miniature, the famous Clifton suspension bridge so perfect and small that I felt as though I could reach down and pluck it from its rocky holding. Higher still, the view was of the Severn bridges, clearly visible though almost 20 miles away. Then the road flattened and there was no more hill to climb, instead, a remarkable view to the south of the shimmering expanse of Chew Valley Lake, which made me audibly gasp. With the slope now to my advantage, the miles whizzed easily beneath my wheels and I smiled at approaching cyclists as they fought the incline, nodding to them in acknowledgment of what I had already endured and what they were about to enjoy.

tent up sun down

Ahead lay the Mendips, where a heavily wooded ridge seemed to stretch to the ends of the earth. That would be another biting climb, I thought, and it was, the effort to reach the peak causing my front wheel to lift momentarily from the ground. Hills are never over soon, but they are over eventually, and I emerged onto the farmland at the crest, rolling easily towards the Top of the Gorge festival, arriving to a site buzzing with tents, teepees, a music stage, food vans and people. A hot air balloon rose above the crevice of the gorge into the cloudless sky. As the evening wore on the clear blue became pastel, and pinks and oranges stained the horizon. Sun down, tent up. The light lingered long after the sun had dropped below the ridge, and sleep came soon.

morning tea


I awoke to more hot air balloons and a warm, bright morning sun flooding over a gorge thick with trees. The return journey would be longer in terms of mileage but easier in terms of elevation: I would take the Strawberry Line, a disused railway that runs from Cheddar to Yatton, then return to Bristol following the bed of another railway.

It was a long, slow, winding descent from the top of the gorge to the valley floor, gently weaving round corners, the rock growing ever more towering as the road cut deeper into the gorge, twisting and turning to the village below. The exposed rock faces appeared to grow higher than seemed possible as the road sank from the heights.

down through the gorge

Arriving in the village of Cheddar I picked up the route of the old Cheddar Valley line. Once a thriving passage of trade, it became known as the ‘Strawberry Line’ for the volume of strawberries it carried to the London markets. It is now managed by Sustrans as a leisure route for walkers and cyclists – just one of the many disused railway lines that have been converted in this way since the motor car boom of the 1960s caused many branch lines to shut. Along the sun-drenched dusty path I rode, passing between old station platforms and through a tunnel, the clatter of the railway wagons and the echo of the steam train’s whistle long gone.

From there it was an easy return to Bristol along another Sustrans route, where, from Ashton Court, a turn in the path revealed the iconic Clifton suspension bridge reaching from cliff face to cliff face. I’d last seen it from the top of Dundry beacon, where it had seemed so small, and now, from beneath, it appeared impossibly high. From gorge to gorge: a terrific ride.

Every year in the UK alone, 10 million tonnes of food is sent to landfill. I’ve been involved with organisations since arriving here in Bristol that address the issues of food waste, FoodCycle among them, and have learned loads about the issue at all stages of the process. My next big project is to work to reduce the amount of edible food that ends up being discarded.

Cafe Surplus will be a cafe based entirely on food waste – produce that is destined for the bin – and will serve delicious, nutritious, affordable meals. There are two aims of the project: one, to simply save that food from the scrap heap, and two, to raise awareness of food waste as an issue while demonstrating that much of the food we deem inedible is, in fact, perfectly good to eat.

Cafe Surplus is launching on 7th June here in Bristol, and will then transfer to London: my west country adventure is almost at its end and I will soon be on my way back to London, bringing Cafe Surplus with me.

For tickets for the launch party, go to, or keep up to date on Twitter and Facebook

Cafe Surplus poster small

Much of riding safely on the roads is about positioning. Taking a safe, sensible position can avoid those tricky scenarios which can quickly become dangerous interactions.

Don’t hug the kerb


Many cyclists ride close to the kerb, either to stay out of the way, or because that’s where the cycle lane is, or because we were once taught to ‘stay on the left’. But hugging the kerb is one of the worst places to ride. Not only are you at risk from riding in broken glass, over gravel or down drains, you don’t have any wobble space or room to manoeuvre if someone passes too close. Riding wide from the kerb (at least an arm’s length) makes you more visible and asserts your right to use the road – ride boldly, not apologetically.

Though it can feel daunting to hold this position, especially if there is busy traffic on the road, remember that it’s up to the driver to wait behind you until it’s safe for them to overtake, it’s not up to you to get out of the way. If it’s not safe, they will simply have to wait. It’s unlikely your giving an extra half metre or so would change this, but if it looks as though you are allowing space for overtaking, many drivers will try, even if that means passing too close for comfort.

Ride wide of the door zone

One of the highest causes of accidents for cyclists is being ‘doored’ – crashing into an opening car door. It’s painful, potentially fatal, and completely avoidable. Ride at least an arm’s length away from parked cars, giving you more reaction time and space if that door does happen to open. This might mean you are towards the centre of a narrow road, leaving little room for traffic to pass, which can be daunting if there is a car behind you. Stick to your position and make eye contact with the driver – this should encourage them to give you a bit more time and space. If you feel that the driver is being impatient, or you’d rather they overtake, by all means pull over and let them pass – but not by going into the door zone.

Positioning at junctions

Having someone squeeze around you at a junction is potentially dangerous, and keeping to the left or right of the lane gives space for someone to do just that. Be bold at junctions by ‘taking the lane’ (riding in the middle) – this central position will encourage the person behind you to wait behind until you have completed your manoeuvre. This applies whether you are turning left or right or going straight on, and applies to all junctions including T junctions, cross-roads, traffic lights and roundabouts. Keep the central position until you have cleared the junction, then return to your normal riding position.

If you are passing a side road, keep a straight line and make eye contact with any drivers wishing to turn into or out of the side road. Dipping into the mouth of the junction will create confusion about which direction you are going, and might mean you disappear from view, especially if there are parked cars lining the main road. Keeping the pedals moving gives no doubt to other drivers that you intend to exercise your right of way and keep going.

Pinch points

At pinch points or on narrow roads, there is often not room for another vehicle to pass you safely, but if you stay to the left, drivers might try to squeeze past. Each time you approach a pinch point (e.g. traffic island or similar), check behind and, if it’s safe to do so, move into a central position to discourage dangerous overtaking (if there’s someone directly behind, wait for them to pass before moving into the central position).

Be visible and predictable

A common phrase in cycling accidents is the SMIDSY (sorry mate, I didn’t see you). It’s very unlikely that a driver will hit you if they can see you. Positioning is more important than clothing in terms of visibility – even wearing full hi-viz, if I’m in the wrong position I can’t be seen. Be predictable with your riding: don’t disappear behind parked vehicles or dip into gaps. Accidents happen when people aren’t sure of what another road user is doing.

The full series of tips for safe cycling can be found here.

‘A road is for travelling between places, but a lane is a place in itself.’

The latest addition to my travel bookshelf is Jack Thurston’s Lost Lanes West, a compendium of 36 ‘glorious bike rides’ in the west country. The success of Jack’s previous books, Lost Lanes and Lost Lanes Wales, has established him as an authority on the lesser-known routes that might once have been major roads but, as the network continues to be ever upgraded, are now largely forgotten. The beauty of these routes is that they are blissfully quiet of traffic, and though some might be in varying states of disrepair, Jack’s promise to the reader is that there are no horrible sections where you might have to grit your teeth to reach the next beautiful stretch.

Jack is a fellow GetOutside champion for Ordnance Survey, and I had the pleasure of meeting him at an OS retreat back in January, then hearing him speak at Stanfords Bristol earlier this month. His presentation there was authoritative, entertaining and confident (despite the dreaded technological problems), which is one indication of why Jack has gained such renown among the cycling community. Another is his excellent book.

At once beautiful and engaging, Lost Lanes West is overflowing with photographs, maps and elegant descriptions that instantly tempt more than just a cursory glance – to open it is to get stuck in. Jack is a fine photographer: the pictures are stunning, even those that illustrate the less-than-perfect British weather. His writing is charming, and sidesteps the travel-writer’s tendency to give perfunctory instructions or merely opine on the merits of each route. There is enough detail to facilitate the ride and enough background to feel invested in each route, and through it all is woven a sense that Jack enjoyed his research as much as he enjoys sharing his finds. It is simply a delight, a fascinating exploration of the routes that lie under our noses, presented with such creativity and authority that I thought, with each page turned, ‘I must find time to ride here.’

The routes take us from the sharp ups and downs of the Cornish peninsula to the eerie blankness of Salisbury Plain, in between exploring moors, river valleys, old railway trails, the fearsome hill at Porlock and some stunning coastal landscapes. Mostly between 30 and 60 miles, each ride would make a fairly comfortable day trip, with the opportunity to link the loops together for a more substantial challenge or a weekend away. With hints on how and where to camp, what to take and which ride best suits which scenario, this guide is as useful to the novice as it is to the seasoned tourer. There is even GPS information so the (substantial) book needn’t be carried on tour. Almost all of the ride locations can be reached without need for a car.

Jack’s passion for bicycle travel as a means of discovering the world is clear, as he states, ‘Only the bicycle combines speed, efficiency and freedom with a total immersion in the world around us.’ It’s a sentiment I share, and one that continues to grow with each new adventure.

If there is anything negative to be said about this latest offering from the Lost Lanes series, it is that it’s difficult to chose which ride to do first. I hope at some point to be able to explore them all.

Lost Lanes West
Lost Lanes West is published by Wild Things Publishing and is available to buy now

It’s long been on the list, the Forth & Clyde canal, one of the remnants of our industrial past, an ancient yet timeless example of Georgian ingenuity, an inland link between two great bodies of water, a navigational gift and an easily-ridable path. The Forth and Clyde canal was once an artery of trade, packed with narrow boats and barges transporting goods from Clydebank to Grangemouth, then to Edinburgh once the Union arm was built. As with most canals, its profitability declined with the dawn of the railways, and in the 1960s, 200 years after opening, it was abandoned. Nature was quick to claw back the land, water stagnating, lock gates becoming rotten and broken, towpaths succumbing to the creeping progress of brambles, and sluices rusting. Canal restoration is a modern phenomena, prompted by a wish to preserve our industrial past while giving new life to waterways that now provide pleasure for walkers, boaters, cyclists and tourists. So in the early 2000s, after a multi-million-pound project, the Forth and Clyde canal re-opened.


Being a boater myself it’s no surprise I am drawn by the inland waterways, and with no way of taking my own boat up there (other than by sea – no chance, or by lorry – too much hassle), the bicycle was the best option. I would usually travel with my bike by train, but with a limited income the £10 coach ticket was far more tempting. The only snag was that full-sized bicycles are not permitted on the National Express, so I would be doing this ride on my brother-in-law’s Brompton. I sold the idea to my friend Jude, adding the extra draw of taking a ride out to see the newly-opened Queensferry crossing; a fellow bridge enthusiast, I knew she’d be game.

An overnight coach would take us from London to Edinburgh, and as the evening grew old the coach weaved its way out of city streets packed with traffic. Heads nodded and a rumbling, disturbed sleep followed, with vague flashes of the M1 in the confusion between dreams and reality. I awoke sometime near dawn to find a wan, orange-yellow orb staring back at me; we were following the Northumbrian coast and the early morning glow played over the distant waves. Between dozes the sun slipped steadily higher, its light growing in intensity, flooding full over the landscape by the time we crossed the Scottish border. On reaching the capital city we unwrapped ourselves from sleep, shaking out limbs and righting cricked necks.

Coast to coast has always had a draw of intrigue, to wave goodbye to one shore and ride on a steady trajectory until you can ride no further. So with a sense of adventure (and full of BBL’s delicious vegan Lorne sausages) we stood on Edinburgh’s crown and stared down the Forth to the open sea, then turned our backs, rattling down cobbled streets before ducking out of the city along a disused railway line. The hills were few, but still too much for my two gears, so it was off and pushing frequently, which I didn’t mind at all – on such a tiny bike it was the easiest thing in the world to hop on and off.


By midday we had reached the trio of bridges and took a break in the little tea shop residing beneath the rail bridge. It’s hard not to be impressed by such a magnificent structure, so iconic and grandiose, and we watched the trains crawling like centipedes through its belly. It is exaggeratedly three-dimensional; as Jude described, the detail of its girders have the blur of a 3D picture. We traced the cobbles through Queensferry then came up to the road bridge, bouncing across it in the inevitable high wind, feeling the vulnerability of the gusts and the movement of the carriageway as the buses made their way across. From our vantage point we were afforded stunning views down the firth, and unique perspectives on both the rail bridge and the new road bridge. Only public transport now uses this crossing, all other traffic diverted to the new bridge, and the cycle paths on either side remain.

Once more on solid ground the wind began to take its toll, and we were both feeling the limitations of our tiny bikes, especially with luggage on our backs. It was, therefore, a bleak slog around the north coast of the Forth, following the Fife coastal path – an exposed route, through docks and industry, up and down hills. Partway round I regretted the route choice, wishing we had stuck to the southern round-the-forth route, knowing we could have bailed and made a beeline for Falkirk at any time without the wide expanse of the firth between us and our ultimate destination. But the grass is always greener, and all that. Part of the experience of cycle touring is being in the moment, accepting the journey as it is, a lesson that I re-learn with each trip.


By the time we had reached the Kincardine bridge we were desperate to be out of the wind, but every way we turned seemed to be the wrong one. The bluster whistled in our ears and when we eventually reached the point at which the Forth and Clyde canal begins its passage, the water’s surface was tellingly choppy. Standing guard over the basin were the weird and wonderful Kelpies, 30ft high metallic horse-heads braying into the gusts.

Soon afterwards we reached the Falkirk Wheel, a mind-boggling example of engineering ingenuity, a rotating lift that moves boats vertically from the Forth and Clyde canal to join the higher elevation of the Union canal. Eleven traditional locks once stood in its place, but they were replaced by this design, in which boats enter a watery trough which is then sealed and lifted by the wheel, arriving at the top level five minutes later. It was late in the day when we reached it, the desired trip no longer possible, though with a £13.50 price tag, a 50-minute excursion and an advanced booking, it was perhaps surplus to our adventure requirements. Tea and flapjack it was, then, and as a stroke of luck, just as we were about to leave, the last rotation of the day began, to return the trip boat to the lower level. We watched, awed into silence.


No matter how much experience one has, naivety can still rear its head. Both Jude and I have many thousands of miles under our wheels, and a whole day to cycle a mere 50 miles sounded simple, especially on a largely flat route with straightforward navigation. But dawdling and gawping, tea-drinking and snacking, battling the headwind we should have expected but forgot about, and riding on those silly little wheels added hours. For the last fifteen miles we were distinctly uncomfortable, tired, hungry and aching, and losing patience with our bikes. Oh, for the luxury of a tent and the ability to pitch wherever we chose! But that would have proved impossible to carry on the rack-less Brompton. Onwards we pushed, to our pre-arranged accommodation.

And what hospitality we found in our Warmshowers hosts Robert and Pauline, who had prepared a vegan feast in their beautiful house. “That shower was life-changing,” said Jude, and it wasn’t an understatement; the simple things can have such an impact when life is reduced to the basic instincts of food, rest and shelter. We slept a profound sleep that night.


Rested, refreshed and renewed (though still a little sore in the undercarriage), the following morning we set out onto the canal once more, our eyes seeing the landscape as if for the first time. Hills rose dramatically at the far side of the valley, some with snow at their tips, and the canal lay mirror-like beneath a piercing sky. What a difference a day makes. This was certainly one for shorts.

We had reached the canal’s summit pound, so it was a steady descent of 18 miles to arrive at the pretty little basin at Bowling where the water met the Clyde. Though still miles inland, the river had the distinct air of the sea, and we watched seals dive off-shore as we ate our lunch. From there it was a further ten miles into the city, passing back beneath the towering Erskine bridge and following an old coal-line railway adjacent to the water. Once in the city’s clutches we pottered around the grid of streets, then settled on the grass in a buzzing George Square beneath a cloudless sky.


From sea to sea, from city to city, from east to west, we had completed our task. All thoughts of yesterday’s trials had been forgotten (though we were mightily relieved not to have to sit on those saddles anymore) and we had a rush of affection for our micro-bikes that had, over the course of 48 hours, traversed 80 miles and facilitated our little adventure. We would be back at our desks by Monday morning, our faces aglow with the imprint of the sun, and our minds brimming with tales to recount to our colleagues. Well done Brompton. I might just take you out again.

Biking on a budget:

Travel = £21 return coach journey (overnight London to Edinburgh £10 (advance) + £1 booking fee, daytime return from Glasgow £9 (advance) + £1 booking fee)

Accommodation = £0 (one night Warmshowers, one night with friends)

Food = less than £20 (for breakfast on arrival and snacks. Lunches were packed in advance and other dinners/breakfasts were provided by hosts)

Maps and directions:

Round the Forth Sustrans route (National Route 76) from Edinburgh to Grangemouth (north or south of the water), a mixture of on-road and traffic-free routes, well-signposted throughout. Buy map here:

Forth and Clyde canal from Grangemouth to Bowling, then National route 7 into Glasgow centre. Mostly traffic-free on towpaths and disused railway lines. Buy map here:

Being a bit of a food enthusiast (aren’t we all?), I love a bit of Masterchef, the challenge I enjoy most being the waste and scraps challenge, where the chefs make gourmet meals out of vegetable peelings, fish heads, rough meat cuts and wrinkled leaves; in other words, food that is destined for the bin. The chefs always come up with something impressive. It serves to highlight how so much of the food we get rid of is still good to eat.

Restaurant discards are just the tip of the mountain of edible food that is thrown away. There is waste at all stages of the chain, from the fields to the store to the warehouse to the shop to the home. In the UK alone, we send a staggering 10 million tonnes of food to landfill each year. It seems doubly unjust, then, that 20% percent of the population lives in food poverty.


Many organisations seek to redress this balance, one being FoodCycle, a charity that takes surplus food from local shops, turns it into a delicious meal, then serves it to those who need it.

FoodCycle started in London in 2008, and there are now projects all over the country that provide community meals using food waste, cooked by volunteers. I have been volunteering at FoodCycle Bath for a few months, and today I visited the project in Bristol to see how things work there.

Bristol FoodCycle is unique in that the surplus is collected by bicycle. Four dedicated cyclists trundle around the local shops with their trailers, collecting the stock that’s looking a bit sorry for itself, then deliver it to Barton Hill Settlement, a community space and health centre. The first part of the challenge is to work out what to cook based on what has been provided – there is always plenty of food, but being faced with a ton of cabbage and little else tests the creativity somewhat.

FoodCycle_vegWith a glut of sweet potatoes, turnips, carrots, tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, lettuce, aubergines, spring onions, mushrooms, fruit and bread, we set to work. For starters it would be a soup made with roasted peppers, fennel and tomatoes, for mains it would be a mixed vegetable curry, and for dessert a banana cake with fruit salad and custard. Soon everyone was armed with a board and a knife and the chopping began.


This became…

Over the course of the next three hours we prepared food, drank tea, chatted, sang along to the radio and danced round the kitchen. It was a case of rescuing the good bits of the vegetables for the soup or curry; even though there was a fair amount that got the chop, most of it was perfectly good to eat. It seems shocking that so much food is chucked, especially from supermarkets where best before dates encourage pre-emptive binning. Bendy carrots? No problem! Chuck them in a soup.



By the time our guests arrived we were ready to serve the (literal) fruits of our labours. There was far too much food for our meal requirements, so the remainder went on the ‘free for all’ table. The community hall was full of people from all walks of life, from eco-warriors who hate to see food wasted, to those who value the opportunity to socialise and meet new people, and those who could simply do with a bit of help sourcing their next meal. All lined up to receive their bowl of piping hot soup, accompanied by rounds of bread. The main course curry went down well, but the absolute star of the show was the banana cake for dessert. Light, moist and with a slight crunch on the outside, it was a triumph, and despite everyone being stuffed to the brim, there were plenty of requests for more. It’s always a pleasure (and relief) when the guests come back for seconds, and though we never know how many people will turn up, or how much food there’ll be, no one ever goes hungry.

What a worthwhile way to spend the afternoon, and with so much food in my tummy there would be no need for dinner. I cycled away with a smile on my face and a rack groaning under the weight of panniers stuffed with surplus food.


The Team

FoodCycle runs sessions all over the country. Find your local one here.

It might sound obvious, but having proper control of your brakes is essential for safe cycling. Here are a few tips to make sure you get the most out of your brakes.*


Use both brakes

It’s best to always use both brakes, gently, at the same time. If the front brake is applied too hard, there is a risk of being jolted over the handlebars. If the rear brake is applied in isolation, there is a risk of skidding. There is a science to the percentage of each brake to apply if you want optimum control over your bike, and while this is helpful when undertaking highly-skilled riding such as mountain biking or road racing, for a regular commute and for general road riding, both brakes equally is recommended.

Keep the brakes covered 

Keep the fingers of both hands hovering over the brake levers at all times, so you’re ready to engage should you need. In the cycle training industry we call this ‘covering the brakes’. If you need to stop in a hurry, it can significantly reduce your stopping distance if you already have the brakes covered. Another bonus is that opening your hand encourages you to relax, which is good for your overall biking experience.

Emergency stop

There are many reasons why you might need to stop suddenly, especially when riding in busy traffic or in town centres. Pedestrians might step out into the road without checking (relying on ears rather than eyes), a driver or another cyclist might stop suddenly in front of you or pull out unexpectedly, or a dog might dash across your path (dogs love chasing bikes). In all of these scenarios, without time to think, you’ll be relying on instinct. When slamming the brakes on while travelling at speed, even if you engage both front and rear, there is still a risk of you flying over the handlebars. In order to prevent this from happening:

  1. Brace your arms by locking out elbows in a straight line
  2. Ensure your weight is fully over the rear wheel by pushing yourself backwards on the saddle
  3. Keep your feet on the pedals

It’s best to keep seated the whole time while you are riding on the road. You never know when you might need to pull the brakes, and if you are standing at the time, you will have very little chance of remaining on the bike. Your control is best when there are five points of contact with your vehicle: two hands, two feet and a bottom.

Wet conditions

Your brakes will be less effective when it’s wet, so make sure you are braking early in the rain. Wet weather will also make surfaces slippery, so try to keep moving in a straight line while applying the brakes – any turn will become slippery, especially metal surfaces such as drain covers, and braking will further destabilise the bike.


Finally, make sure your brakes work properly! Most conventional pads have a ‘wear line’ which indicates when it’s time to replace the pad. Brake pads are much cheaper and easier to replace than a wheel rim which has become damaged because you’ve been riding on worn-out brakes. If the pads are fine but the brakes aren’t fully engaging, you’ll need to tighten the cable. This can be done using the barrel adjuster on the brake lever (unscrew the barrel adjuster to tighten the cable, then secure with the locking nut), or by pulling through the cable at the calliper end. If the levers feel sluggish, it’s probably a cable issue and a new cable will sort things out.


*On UK-manufactured bikes, the right hand lever controls the front brake and the left hand lever controls the rear. This is opposite on European and US bikes, which means US or Euro bikes are not strictly legal on British roads. If your brakes are the non-UK way around, take to a bike shop to get them swapped over.

The full series of tips for safe cycling can be found here.

When I was at primary school my sister Sarah and I ran a ‘Save the Earth club’ in our bedroom with whichever friends we could coerce into coming. It was fairly boring: let’s do some wildlife word searches and then go and pick up some litter. The irony that we spent loads of time coming up with planet-saving quizzes then photocopying them hundreds of times for our friends was not lost on my dad, whose office provided the paper. I look back on my younger self and chuckle. Knowing how to spell orang-utan would not particularly make an impact on the world. But it illustrates an interest, a passion that developed and ran deep as I made my way into adulthood.

Now, almost everything in my life is done with an eye on the environment. Every life choice we make has an impact upon our planet, and I want to keep that impact as low as possible. I am vegan, I don’t fly, I cycle everywhere, I conserve water as much as I can, I use a Mooncup, I buy all my clothes in charity shops, I have a composting toilet, my electricity is generated by a solar panel, I waste little, I avoid plastic, I don’t own a car. But still, I consume. Simply by being alive I use the world’s resources.

There are 7.6 billion people living on this planet. By 2050 it’s expected to reach 9.8 billion. Yet there will still only be one planet. And that planet cannot possibly sustain all those people.

Yes, we can reduce our energy requirements, tap into the earth’s renewable resources, all drive electric cars, recycle absolutely everything, find an alternative to plastic, work out how to be less polluting. But the best thing we can do for the planet is simply to stop growing. Fewer people will naturally use fewer resources. As Sir David Attenborough says, “All our environmental problems become easier to solve with fewer people, and harder — and ultimately impossible — to solve with ever more people.”

We all have a choice about how many children we bring into this world. I have chosen to have none; that’s my choice, and that doesn’t mean everyone should make the same decision, but I sincerely wish that more of us would make our choice with the fate of the planet in mind. The world can exist without us. Unfortunately, we cannot exist without it.

I appeared on the BBC website today telling my story. It’s just a snapshot, and focuses perhaps more on it being my personal choice than on the environmental nature of the argument, but the message is simple: an ever-expanding population is unsustainable, and for the good of the planet we should be having fewer children. There is no planet B.

Screen Shot 2018-04-11 at 15.35.04

I also blogged on this topic here: The Morals of Having Children

Addendum: None of this means I don’t like children, or that I think people who have children are bad. I have five nieces and nephews that I adore. Neither does it mean I don’t want a family; if that were to happen, I would adopt (probably a child rather than a baby). I do get frustrated when I see big families, though. If we’re going to put a number on it, having two kids is about right for a sustainable population. There is a lot more information at the Population Matters website, including facts and statistics to back up the research.

St Nicholas Market is a buzzing, vibrant feature of central Bristol, a must-see for visitors and an example of some of the fine Georgian architecture that proliferates the city. It’s also a terrific location for lunch. Stalls line the narrow walkways, overflowing with the smells and sights of cuisine from around the world. At lunch hour, the place is crowded with busy Bristolians eager to satisfy their hunger. By far the longest queue is at Eat a Pitta, which is the first indication of just how good their food is. The team are drawing people in with a free falafel taster: hot, crunchy and packed with flavour.


Though the queue is long, I’m not kept waiting. At least six orange-clad workers are busy serving customers from the bowls piled high with brightly-coloured salads, homemade hummus and sizzling falafel, and my order and payment are taken while I’m still in the queue. My server, when I reach him, is friendly, talkative, and efficient. It seems the most popular dish is the Small Falafel Box, so I opt for the same. Usually the plastic container and cutlery would put me off, but a sign says it’s Vegware and therefore biodegradable, so I’m happy.

It’s good. It’s really, really good. “You won’t be disappointed,” said the server when trying to snare me with the free taster, and he’s not wrong. The falafel itself is one of the best I’ve tasted: lovely crisp exterior, soft interior packed with flavour, and not too big so as to be stodgy. The box contains four balls, which is perfect. Accompanying my falafel is cous cous, olives, red cabbage, hummus, pickles, chick peas, tabbouleh, grated carrot, chopped cucumber and tomato, bulgar wheat and dressing. I tuck in hungrily, and each mouthful is a delight. I’m satisfactorily full by the time I’ve finished and at £5 it’s excellent value.


The only slight negatives are it’s very salad-heavy, so by the time I’ve reached the bottom, I’m yearning for something to mop it up, and with the box filled to bursting it’s difficult to eat. Next time I’ll try the pitta version which might address these two issues. Overall a great lunch: 4.5/5

Slow travel is a state of mind. It’s about making the journey mean as much as the destination; it has less to do with speed than the experience of travelling. I was fortunate enough to appear on a panel alongside eminent travel writers Christopher Sommerville and Nick Hunt at the Stanfords Travel Writers’ festival in February, and that was my response to the opening question: ‘Let’s start by asking, what is slow travel?’

I took a train to Copenhagen once. While roaring across landscapes at more than 100kmph can hardly be described as slow, I count that journey as slow travel – remaining in touch with the earth’s surface, understanding just how big continental Europe is, figuring out how it all connects. When travelling by train rather than by plane, landscape, language and people morph from one country to the next, which gives us a deeper appreciation for our fellow man, and though not ‘slow’ in terms of speed, it is slow in terms of development.

I could have cycled there. This is my preferred method of exploration; though requiring a much greater investment in terms of time, it contributes to experiences in a way that train or motor travel cannot. On a bicycle your sense of landscape is enhanced through physical effort; you earn the journey and become immersed in the natural world, with wind-tugged hair and sun-warmed skin.

Yet still, the bicycle affords us an ease that is mechanical; with the right conditions, one can make short work of the miles.

It took me well into my adult years to appreciate the value of walking. As a form of transport, I always found it too slow; I would rather cycle (especially as I was always running late), and as a method of exploration, it would yield such low daily mileage that I saw little point.

But once I began to walk, I discovered that I loved it. Moving andante is a new way to view the world, different to how one views it by travelling by other means. With each step there is something more to be seen. The experience is wholly different to bicycle or car or train or plane. And that’s where I realised my error, in trying to evaluate walking in simplistic terms by comparing it to others.

My first long walk, of 26 miles, took a long time to come to fruition. “Can’t I just ride it?” I said. “It would be so much easier!” I thought I’d be impatient to get there, that I’d be frustrated by the plodding progress of one foot in front of the other. But no; it gave me time to breathe, it gave me time to think. The journey is as long as it is, and it takes as long as it takes, and that is simply that. It turns out I wasn’t saving time by cycling; I had exactly the same amount of time, it’s just that I spent less of it experiencing movement. Forcing yourself to slow your pace also slows your mind. In our hectic, must-have-everything-now society that is a rarity.

In travelling by foot, we become the journey. I feel the earth; I am giving the entirety of myself to physical movement. Each step we take changes us: a build of muscle, an expansion of lung. Our minds are shaped by what we see, smell, feel and hear. And each step we take changes the path: we make physical imprints with the soles of our boots. The path would not exist without our tread. It is here because people before us have walked it; it will remain because we have passed. We are the path and the path is us.

I often chose to walk now – there are times I am perfectly happy to spend 20 minutes on foot instead of five on my bike. All travel changes you, and it’s up to you how you’d like to be changed. Because I’ve learned it’s not about the time, it’s about the experience. And the experience of walking is one to be treasured.

My GetOutside challenge for January was to go for a walk – could you try it?

This is a guest blog from Moire O’Sullivan, a mountain runner and adventure racer whose journey through motherhood while winning Ireland’s National Adventure Race Series is recounted in her new book, ‘Bump, Bike and Baby’. Here she explains why she writes, and how being a mother has impacted upon her adventures.

The Healing Power of Writing: The Origins of Bump, Bike and Baby by Moire O’Sullivan

BBB_CoverI’ve yet to find anything as therapeutic as turning my thoughts and feelings into written words. I will never comprehend how scribing a book can help me understand and accept myself for who I really am.

Nearly ten years ago, I wrote Mud, Sweat and Tears – An Irish Woman’s Journey of Self-Discovery about how I learned to navigate and run around Ireland’s mountains. The book itself culminates in my completion, on my second attempt, of the Wicklow Round, a one-hundred-kilometre circuit traversing twenty-six of Wicklow Mountain’s highest peaks that must be done within twenty-four hours.

I wrote that book because I wanted to remember; remember what it felt like to achieve something I wasn’t even sure was possible. I also wanted to forge into black and white the pain and elation I went through to complete the Wicklow Round. And I wanted to share with others, especially other women, the experiences I had that are still so deep and meaningful to me. As I wrote in the closing pages of Mud, Sweat and Tears:

‘Moreover I’m proud that I’m a girl. I am a girl who was the first person to complete the Wicklow Round. So often us girls think that these things simply can’t be done. But at the end of May 2009, I proved this belief totally wrong. In doing so, I hope that many more women get to experience the highs and learn from the lows that only the Wicklow Round can provide. And I hope that more women learn to believe in themselves, because when we dig deep, it’s amazing what lies inside.’ 

Fast forward to 2017, I once again felt the need to commit my experiences to paper. This time, however, it was for very different reasons.

Much has changed in the intervening years. I am now married and the mother of two young children. I no longer do daylong runs in the mountains. Looking after two growing boys means I simply do not have the time to disappear for hours on end just to satisfy my running needs. Instead I compete in shorter adventure races that involve kayaking, road biking, and trail running. To help provide focus to my training, I have also hired a coach. I needed someone competent to guide me while my body was going through its pre and post-natal phases, which are notoriously injury-prone.

Early last year, during a catch-up call with my coach Eamonn, he asked me if I could chat with one of his other athletes. I was surprised by his request. Eamonn never divulges the identities of those he trains, let alone providing me with their names and phone numbers.

“Sure,” I said, feeling like I owed him a favour after all the support he has given me over the years. “What it’s about?”

“Well, she’s just found out she’s pregnant,” Eamonn explained. “I thought it might be helpful if she spoke with someone like yourself.”

It was while talking with Eamonn’s athlete that I realised my experience of motherhood, though personal and bespoke, might be useful for others to hear. I figured there must be other women in similar situations, trying to learn how to become a parent while still keeping a semblance of their old identity. I thought they might benefit from reading what happened to me.

Multiple conversations with other active Mums finally begot, Bump, Bike and Baby – Mummy’s Gone Adventure Racing. The book charts my journey from happy, carefree mountain runner to reluctant, stay-at-home mother of two. After giving birth, I forced myself to stick my head above the parapet of dirty nappies and the monotony of breastfeeding, to set my sights on competing in and eventually winning Ireland’s National Adventure Racing Series. This goal helped me maintain my post-natal sanity, while slowly giving me the space to learn how to become a loving, and occasionally functioning, mum.

Writing down the trials and triumphs of juggling pregnancy and motherhood with training and racing has helped me immensely. It has made me confess to, and thankfully forgive myself for, having failed at times in my mothering responsibilities. Writing my experiences has also illustrated to me the times that I have unexpectedly excelled in the parenting role. For example, I did not realise that I could have such depths of patience even when exposed to such torturous levels of sleep deprivation.

A couple of fortuitous events facilitated this writing process. I had barely penned 10,000 words when I got a publishing offer that requested me to finish the book within three months. There is nothing like a tight deadline to get one’s creative juices flowing. Just as the publishing offer came through, my youngest child was taking two-hour afternoon naps. So, as soon as he dropped off, I would turn on RTE junior or Cbeebies to distract my eldest son while I scribbled down my personal daily target of a thousand words.

Creating these two memoirs has undoubtedly helped me gain a better understanding and appreciation of myself; my strengths as well as my foibles. It is also my sincere hope that readers of my books will realise how valuable their own life experiences are, and how equally worthy they are to write down and share.


_Bump Bike and Baby Blog TourFollow ‘Bump, Bike and Baby’ on tour throughout March. Blogs will appear on these websites <– 

About the book

Bump, Bike and Baby – Mummy’s Gone Adventure Racing. Sandstone Press. Format: Paperback. ISBN: 9781912240067. Publication Date: 15/03/2018. RRP: £8.99. Available from Amazon, Foyles, Easons, and Waterstones. Paperbacks can be purchased here: and e-books can be purchased here:

In Bump, Bike & Baby, Moire O’Sullivan charts her journey from happy, carefree mountain runner to reluctant, stay-at-home mother of two. With her sights set on winning Ireland’s National Adventure Racing Series, she manages to maintain her post-natal sanity, and slowly learns to become a loving and occasionally functioning mum.

About the author

Moire O’Sullivan is an accomplished mountain runner and adventure racer. In 2009, she became the first person to complete the Wicklow Round, a 100km circuit of Ireland’s Wicklow Mountains, run within twenty-four hours. She is married to Pete and is the proud mother of their two young sons, Aran and Cahal. While busy adapting to and learning about motherhood, Moire won Ireland’s National Adventure Race Series three times in 2014, 2016 and 2017. Bump, Bike and Baby is about this personal journey. Moire blogs at



A landscape lain with pure-white driven snow,
Beneath the deep-set flakes are snowdrops hid,
The air hangs thick with smoke from coals aglow
and ice-laced water causes ducks to skid.

Soon leaves will bud and blooming bulbs will blaze
and nestlings stake their claim to river’s edge.
Fresh spring succumbs to soporific haze
of summer eves as waterfowl do fledge.

When autumn cool brings leaves that spin and fall
in colours bright, the Harvest moon will rise,
when chestnuts burst and squirrels hide their haul
pale sun will hang low in the frost-clear skies.

Then, with the crisp, cold nights of annum’s wane
enchanted winter comes around again.


In an arty patch of Bristol, full of independent venues and bicycles, stands Cafe Kino, a 100% vegan workers cooperative and the scene of this week’s Falafel Friday search. Many of my friends have recommended Kino with its delicious-looking menu and impressive range of cakes. It’s a well-establised part of Stokes Croft and has an easy-going vibe. I don’t have time to eat in, so I order a takeaway box.

The falafel comes with salad, homemade slaw, pitta breads, hummus and tahini sauce. There’s plenty to eat, and it’s nice, but it’s definitely not the best falafel I’ve ever had. It doesn’t have quite the crisp exterior that I like, and the balls are so big that they are really quite stodgy in the middle. The slaw is nice, though, and the salad, hummus and sauce are great additions. At £7 it is one of the more expensive falafel Fridays I’ve had, and I’m not totally convinced it’s worth it.

Only 3.5/5. Sorry Cafe Kino – I will definitely be coming back, but probably not for falafel!


This is one of my favourite stories from my book ‘Pedal Power’ – I just love the thought of women triumphantly riding the Tour de France. It’s a tragic indication of the status of women’s sport that this no longer happens.

It wasn’t about the money anyway. We did it because we loved it.

When Marianne Martin’s father offered her money as a graduation gift, she said, ‘Great – I can buy a racing bicycle.’ So he withdrew the offer and bought her a camera instead. In 1980s America, competitive women’s cycling was not really the thing.

Marianne had raced throughout her time at college, discovering an aptitude for climbing. Her first national race was the Tour of Texas; she’d called in sick from work in order to compete and then ended up winning. With her picture in the paper she ‘got totally busted’.

In 1984, the organisers of the Tour de France announced an event for women, the Tour de France Féminin. There would be 18 stages compared to the men’s 23, with 1,080 km covered as opposed to 4,000 km. But the race would run concurrently with the men’s, on the same course, with all the climbs, and the same finishing lines. The women would ride ahead and finish their race around 30 minutes before the men. Huge crowds would be there to cheer them on.

Marianne was desperate to ride in the Tour. She had missed out on team selection for the 1984 Olympics, but felt that she was just finding her form and would be good enough. She drove to Colorado to speak to the national cycling coach, Edward Borysewicz, trying to convince him to let her on the team. ‘Believe me, Eddie, you won’t be disappointed,’ were her parting words; she was given the last spot on the team a few weeks before the Tour was due to begin.

Six teams of 36 women lined up at the start. Marianne finished the first stage in third place, with two Dutch riders ahead of her. It was a surprise to everyone – the Americans were largely unknown, and even within the team, Marianne wasn’t thought to be the best rider.

Stage 12 took the riders into the Alps, with two mountain passes. Marianne knew she could climb and was desperate to earn the polka dot jersey. Early in the stage, she made a breakaway, finding herself alone for the majority of the 45 miles. Her gamble worked. ‘I raced ahead because I wanted that jersey and when I got to the top of the hill, I was 10 minutes ahead of the next riders.’ She won the stage and was placed second overall: 1 min 4 sec behind the race leader.

Rather than merely providing a sideshow to the men’s event, the women’s race was proving a huge success. The crowds loved them; the world’s media were forced to sit up and take notice. Following Marianne’s success in the mountain stage, The New York Times finally ran a story. One photographer reported:

‘I got a sense that the women were having more fun than the men – there was less pressure on them.’

Marianne took the leader’s yellow jersey after stage 14. The team knew their job was now to keep Marianne in yellow. ‘It was just exhilarating. This was the best race in the world and we were winning.’

The team went into the final stage with a comfortable lead, crossing the finish line to ecstatic cheers from the crowd. Marianne and the men’s winner, Laurent Fignon, stood side by side on the podium to receive their trophies. Marianne was awarded $1,000, which she shared with the team. Fignon took away prizes worth upwards of $100,000.

Funding and support dwindled in the following years, and there was no race in 1990 or 1991. When it returned, the race was no longer staged concurrently, and in 1998 was renamed La Grande Boucle Féminine. Over time the race shrunk, with fewer days, shorter stages, and in some years no race at all. By 2009, La Grande Boucle had become a four-day race, causing eventual winner Brit Emma Pooley to call it ‘more of a petite boucle’. Then it stopped for good. In 2016 it was reintroduced – as a one-day race called La Course.

Marianne retired from cycling, taking on two jobs to repay the debts she had incurred while racing and riding in the Tour de France. But she had no regrets.

Even if I hadn’t won, so what? I got to race my bike every day, I was fed and got massages every day. And I was in France. To me, that was the greatest thing in the world.’

This is an excerpt from my book ‘Pedal Power: inspirational stories from the world of cycling’

photo from Bike Hugger

photo from Bike Hugger

The ride from Land’s End to John o’ Groats is the most iconic in the British Isles; from the bottom left-hand corner of England to the top right-hand corner of Scotland, the ‘End to End’ ride extends 870 miles through steadily morphing landscapes, stretching from the devilish Cornish hills to the vast Scottish mountain ranges. It’s the most popular long-distance challenge in the UK, and it typically takes touring cyclists between ten and 14 days to complete the distance. In 1954 Eileen Sheridan rode it in two days, 11 hours and 7 minutes.

It was a blustery, overcast day in June when Eileen set out, and the weather only grew worse as she travelled northwards, nearing Scotland in high winds and torrential rain. Fuelled by blackcurrant juice, soup, sugar and chicken legs, she rode day and night, taking few breaks and supported by her team, who supplied her with food and drink and eventually had to feed her when her numb fingers could no longer hold knife and fork. ‘It just went on, and on, and you felt that you were never going to get there,’ she said. With blistered hands, she reached John o’Groats: sleep-deprived, fatigued and with a new women’s record.

It was the most gruelling ride in a career that saw Sheridan break every single one of the 21 professional long-distance and place-to-place records on the books of the Women’s Road Records Association.

Joining Coventry Cycle Club with her husband Ken, it had never been Eileen’s intention to race. Touring and club runs were more her thing: ‘That’s where the club spirit is found,’ she said. Nonetheless, in 1944 she entered an informal 10 mile time trial; her approach was so nonchalant that she turned up without the required racing kit and a fellow club member had to lend her his. Much to everyone’s surprise, including her own, she finished in 28 minutes 30 seconds – a new club record.

A year later she formally entered a 25 mile event run by the Birmingham Time Trial Association. Again, she set a club record. The Yorkshire Federation 12-hour time trial in 1949 was her first big event, though she nearly didn’t go, as money was tight and travelling with a team to Yorkshire was expensive. Several of her clubmates at Coventry CC put the funds together, keen to see what ‘their Eileen’ could achieve. She rode 237.32 miles, breaking the previous record by 17 miles – a distance that would have earned her fifth place in the men’s race.

She began taking all the distance records: the 30-mile in 1948, the 50-mile in 1949 and the newly introduced 100-mile in 1950, which Eileen won in 4h 37m 53s. Nothing would stop her riding, not even the birth of her son: she was back in the saddle seven weeks afterwards and winning races again within five months. Many of her records came within touching distance of the men’s. The nation sat up and took notice – here was a woman who was proving again and again how capable the ‘weaker’ sex could be. Her diminutive and feminine appearance belied her strength and endeared her to the public; she seemed a regular housewife, not the powerhouse rider one might expect. The press labelled her the ‘Mighty Atom’.

Time trialling was the dominant sport of British road riding in those days, in contrast to the bunch-style racing favoured on the Continent. This style of racing suited Sheridan, who was never faster than when she had someone to chase:

‘No one ever passed me in time trials. I loved the thrill of chasing… I just had to try hard and win.’

It was only a matter of time before she attracted the attention of sponsors, and in 1951 Hercules Cycle Company gave her a three-year contract to promote their business by breaking records.

She spent those three years steadily demolishing the existing times. ‘Record breaking was a lonely business,’ she said, just her and the tarmac, her support crew in the Hercules van pacing her as she rode her way through the list: London to York, to Cardiff, to Edinburgh, to Birmingham, to Brighton and back – 25 miles, 50 miles, 100 miles, 12 hours, 24 hours. After that Land’s End to John o’Groats ride, Eileen had gone on to ride a further 130 miles, fighting hallucinations and exhaustion to take the 1,000 mile record. Her time of three days and 1 hour remained unbeaten for 48 years. Five of her records still stand.

Her final record was in 1954: the 25-mile time trial, her least favourite – she claimed it took her that long just to warm up. After two attempts, she secured the record, and with that, she retired – there were no records left to break.

This is an excerpt from my book ‘Pedal Power: inspirational stories from the world of cycling’

Photo from BikeRaceInfo

Photo from BikeRaceInfo

The 1924 Giro d’Italia nearly didn’t happen. The multiple-stage race through the mountains and landscapes of Italy had been staged almost every year since its launch in 1909, but a dispute over pay in 1924 led to a boycott by many of its top riders. In a post-war era, staging races was difficult, though vital in restoring morale and boosting the economy, but without a full complement of participants, the race wouldn’t go ahead. The organisers opened up the field to anyone who wanted to enter and Alfonsin Strada signed up.

Alfonsin was in fact Alfonsina, a woman – while the rules didn’t strictly exclude female entrants, it was highly unusual for ladies to compete. Whether the organisers knew she was not a man and allowed her anyway or whether they genuinely didn’t realise until it was too late, she lined up at the start line in her black woollen shorts, black socks and short black bobbed hair.

Growing up as a peasant girl in rural Italy, it had felt like a miraculous day when Alfonsina’s father had returned home from work with a bicycle that he’d traded for some chickens. Alfonsina was entranced and quickly learned how to ride – she had found a way to break free from the poverty of farm life.

However, it was improper for a girl to ride a bike; people teased her, men made unwanted advances and others treated her as if she were insane. In her town she became known as the ‘Devil in a Dress’. Her cycling brought shame upon her family so they forbade her to continue. But Alfonsina was determined not to give up her passion. She would tell her mother she was going to Mass, but instead would ride to the next town to compete in a race.

Her first win came when she was just 13, and her prize was a pig. She proceeded to win nearly all the girls’ races she entered, and often also the boys’. An invite to race the Grand Prix of St Petersburg followed – highly unusual for a woman – and at the age of 18, she twice raced the Giro Lombardia, the second time finishing ahead of many men. Her mother was desperate for her to marry, become a seamstress and leave all this cycling nonsense behind, so she was thrilled when she found a suitor, Luigi Strada – until it transpired that he was also a cycling enthusiast. They married in 1915 and moved to Milan, where Luigi coached her on the velodrome.

The 1924 Giro began with a 300 km stage from Milan to Genoa; after stage two – a 310 km ride to Florence – Alfonsina was in 56th place out of 90 entrants, and she had caught the attention of the press. The organisers realised that her inclusion would boost the popularity of the race; the spectators loved her. One newspaper reported that:

‘In only two stages this little lady’s popularity has become greater than all the missing champions put together.’

By the end of the third stage, one-third of the field had dropped out; Alfonsina had become the race heroine.

In stage 7, a 305 km mountain stage from Foggia to L’Aquila, the weather turned. Roads turned to mud, their stony surfaces slick with the downpour, and riders made the brutal journey through the Sirente–Velino mountains with descents made treacherous by horizontal wind and rain. Alfonsina fell, limping into L’Aquila with bruised bones and swollen joints. The following stage was no easier: more mountain climbs and impassable roads led to many more riders abandoning the race; Alfonsina had several punctures and suffered a terrible crash which broke her handlebars in two. The heroine’s race seemed over. A local farm woman came to her rescue, giving her the handle from her broom to use instead. But it was too late: she had missed the cut-off time for the stage. Alfonsina was disqualified.

Such was the public support for this remarkable woman that the organisers allowed her to continue, though she could no longer officially be part of the race. Emilio Colombo, the editor of La Gazzetta dello Sport, the magazine which sponsored the race, arranged to pay her continued food, board and massage out of his own pocket.

She finished her next stage 25 minutes past the cut-off time, but the spectators had all stayed, waiting to see this exceptional woman. She was flat-out with exhaustion, hungry and in tears, but the crowd lifted her from her bike and carried her through the air, giving her the reception of a champion. It was the boost she needed; her renewed determination took her to Milan, where she finished the race – all 3,613km of it – arriving to a hero’s welcome and a prize of 50,000 lire raised by the public. Only 35 riders of the original 90 completed the race. By reaching Milan, Alfonsina had earned the respect and affection of her fellow competitors and the public.

She continued to race, notching up 36 victories in a long career, but she would never ride in the Giro again. The following year, the pay dispute was over and the champions were back. Her previous benefactors turned their backs; the organisers refused her entry. No female competitors would ever again race in a Grand Tour. Yet Alfonsina had been, and would always be, the woman who rode with the men.

This is an excerpt from my book ‘Pedal Power: inspirational stories from the world of cycling’

Picture courtesy of Jewish Women's archive

Picture courtesy of Jewish Women’s archive

It took a remarkable woman to set off to ride a bicycle around the world in 1890s America: Annie Kopchovsky had a husband, three children and responsibilities as a housewife. It was not just a novelty for a young woman to leave those duties, but to do it in pursuit of a world bicycle tour was unheard of. The wager that set her off on her adventure might have been a myth: in a time of emerging world travel and public fascination with round-the-world efforts, inspired perhaps by Phileas Fogg in the 1873 novel Around the World in 80 Days, two men had reportedly made the claim that no woman could encircle the globe on a bicycle within 15 months while also earning $5,000. Annie took up the bet.

Perhaps it was an honest bet; perhaps she fabricated it as her token to adventure, fame and freedom from her home life – either way, she set off from Boston, Massachusetts, in June 1894 on a 42-pound Columbia women’s bicycle, with a change of clothes and a pearl-handled revolver. Incredibly, she had never ridden a bicycle before accepting the challenge; a couple of lessons were her only preparation. She was to seek out the American consuls in the cities she visited as proof of travel, and the required $5,000 earnings would come from carrying advertising boards. Her first sponsor was Londonderry Lithe Spring Water, whose payment of $100 had come on the condition that she adopt their brand as her name. This she duly did, and her alter ego was born: Mlle Londonderry, daring world-traveller.

Riding westwards she soon reached Chicago, where the whole venture nearly came to a premature end. Perhaps it was the exertion of riding as a novice, the heavy bicycle and even heavier skirts, or the looming mountains and plains, and the oncoming winter. It had taken several months to reach that point and the clock was ticking on her 15-month wager. The New York Times reported her decision to abandon the journey, and she turned back, ready to retrace her steps home. But before returning she exchanged her clunky bicycle for a man’s 21-pound Sterling and adopted a man’s riding suit. More suitably dressed, on a lighter bicycle and certainly physically fitter than when she had departed, she arrived back on the east coast once more dedicated to the task. She boarded a boat from New York to France to continue her adventure.

Bold, charismatic and beautiful, she captured the imagination of the world’s press: stories of her billboard-laden bicycle appeared frequently in news reports. Labelled the ‘intrepid traveller’, she sought sponsorship wherever she went, making public appearances, selling pictures and giving outlandish interviews where she would spin wildly improbable accounts of her travels. She proved to be an excellent speaker, enthralling audiences with her tales, and an excellent rider, reportedly joining in cycling events and races in the places through which she passed. Posters and placards covered her and her bicycle, and she was often dressed head to toe in ribbons advertising anything from milk to perfume.

But it had been a slow start and Annie had lost much time. In order to be home within the 15 months, she needed to pick up the pace, so after riding south through France, she boarded a boat across the Mediterranean to the Middle East, cycling through Saudi Arabia and Yemen before another boat trip landed her in China. Short cycle trips in Korea and Japan were followed by a Pacific crossing by steamer. ‘She has a degree of self-assurance somewhat unusual to her sex,’ reported the San Francisco Chronicle as she arrived back in the United States.

From San Francisco to El Paso on the Texan border she pedalled, then journeyed up through the mid states to Chicago by bicycle and train, finally arriving back to Boston 450 days after her departure. Though more a journey with a bike than a journey on a bike, she won her wager, and proved herself a master of self-promotion and grit. It had not only been a simple test of a woman’s physical and mental endurance, but a demonstration of how a woman could fend for herself in the world. On her return she moved her family to New York and wrote sensational articles for the New York World about her journey, calling herself the New Woman: ‘If that term means I believe I can do anything that any man can do.’ The New York World hailed the trip as ‘the most extraordinary journey ever undertaken by a woman’.

Her fame soon passed and she died in relative obscurity in 1947; her round-the-world ride was not even mentioned in the death notice placed by her family. It wasn’t until the beginning of the twenty-first century that her story came to light once more; after some sustained detective work, her great-grandnephew Peter Zheutlin painstakingly pieced together her tale: the legend of Annie Londonderry, the first woman to bicycle around the world.

This is an excerpt from my book ‘Pedal Power: inspirational stories from the world of cycling’

Bicycles are just as good company as most husbands, and when they get shabby or old a woman can dispose of it and get a new one without shocking the entire community. ~ Ann Strong, Minneapolis Tribune, 1895

image from

image from

The advent of the safety bicycle meant that cycling boomed. Starley’s invention had universal appeal: anyone could do it, not just the tall, athletic types who were fit and rich enough to ride a high wheeler. It was a comfortable, reliable and cheap method of transportation for the working and middle class alike. Men and women could travel under their own steam; exploration increased and the gene pool widened.

But the craze sweeping across the western world was deplored by some. The Women’s Rescue League of America issued a resolution that denounced ‘cycling’s great curse’, warning that riding caused ‘diseases particular to women’ and encouraged the evil that was associated with sport. Cycling was seen as unladylike and unchristian; it was cited as causing both sexual satisfaction and infertility.

Frances Willard was one of the most well-known Americans of her time. A leading suffragist and founder of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, she campaigned against the consumption of alcohol and promoted the bicycle as ‘a more natural thrill’, even though she did not, at the time, know how to ride.

Frances had been a free spirit as a young girl. Raised on a farm, she had spent much of her time in the fields, helping her father and playing – she even made her own plough. But at the age of 16, she was brought inside, dressed in long skirts, corsets and hair pins, and ‘tamed’. For this was her lot, as this was what society expected of women. Physically restricted by their clothes and financially restricted by their reliance on men, their role in life was as angels of the hearth and managers of the home. Known as the fairer – and certainly weaker – sex, women were never considered to be capable of excelling at anything. It was deemed unfeminine to be learned.

Women were discouraged from undertaking physical activity; perceived as timid and frail, they should be protected from danger. Few women were active, despite the emerging recognition that exercise was fundamental to health.

For all her achievements in the world of women’s rights, Frances felt restricted in her life. She never forgot the freedom she had felt as a child, the satisfaction of doing things for herself. So in her fifties, she determined to learn to ride a bicycle. The experience was so liberating, exciting and revolutionary that she wrote a book: A Wheel within a wheel; How I learned to Ride the Bicycle.

The bicycle had given her freedom: freedom from relying on men for transportation, freedom from the shackles of a society that would smother and protect her, and freedom from the gender differences that ruled every other aspect of her life. When she rode a bike, she was autonomous, empowered and equal.

A new world of sensations had been discovered: the thrill of speed, the buzz of exercise, the clarity of mind. She wanted other women to experience this wider world, which she believed to be key in the fight for women’s rights. Once the bicycle was learned and conquered, the New Woman could conquer new worlds. Her natural love of adventure – a love long hampered and impeded – had been rediscovered because of the bicycle, an ‘implement of power’. By riding a bicycle, a woman would ‘become mistress of herself’, transformed into a ‘rational, useful being restored to health and sanity’.

‘I began to feel that myself plus the bicycle equaled myself plus the world, upon whose spinning wheel we must all learn to ride, or fall into the sluiceways of oblivion and despair. That which made me succeed with the bicycle was precisely what had gained me a measure of success in life – it was the hardihood of spirit that led me to begin, the persistence of will that held me to my task, and the patience that was willing to begin again when the last stroke had failed. And so I found high moral uses in the bicycle and can commend it as a teacher without pulpit or creed. She who succeeds in gaining the mastery of the bicycle will gain the mastery of life.’

The famous suffragist Susan B. Anthony later declared, ‘I think bicycling has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world… I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel… the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.’

This is an excerpt from my book ‘Pedal Power: inspirational stories from the world of cycling’

On International Women’s Day we celebrate those women who have made an impact on our lives. Tessie Reynolds was one of those women: a young cycling enthusiast and an unintentional pioneer of gender equality.

This is an excerpt from my book ‘Pedal Power: inspirational stories from the world of cycling’ 


Picture from Wikipedia

Miss Reynolds… is but the forerunner of a big movement – the stormy petrel heralding the storm of revolt against the petticoat. ~ G. Lacy Hillier in Bicycling News, 1893

In September 1893, a young woman from Brighton cycled 120 miles to London and back in a record time of eight hours and 30 minutes. Aged just 16, her speed was remarkable. But what caused more of a stir at the time was the fact that she wore trousers.

Women in the late nineteenth century were expected to be modest in character and appearance: to wear feminine and becoming outfits consisting of floor-length skirts, tight jackets, corsets and voluminous petticoats. But such clothing was restrictive. Tessie Reynolds and her sisters had all been active from an early age, encouraged by their father to take up cycling, boxing and fencing. He was the secretary of a local cycling club and member of the National Cycling Union (NCU); her mother ran a boarding house in Brighton that welcomed cyclists. It had never been in her nature to wear clothing that would restrict her in the activities that she loved.

The question of women’s emancipation was gaining momentum, pioneered by a call for clothing reform; the Rational Dress Society, founded in London in 1881, demanded that women should be able to wear clothes appropriate to their activities. In America, a certain Amelia Bloomer had developed a practical outfit consisting of a skirt worn over a pair of loose-fitting trousers or pantaloons. Leading suffragist and advocate of cycling Frances Willard said, ‘If women ride they must… dress more rationally than they have been wont to do. If they do this many prejudices as to what they may be allowed to wear will melt away.’ Women campaigners couldn’t fail to notice the irony that men’s outfits were steadily being adjusted to allow them to ride their bicycles more easily – coat tails, for example, were made shorter to prevent them from becoming caught in the wheels. No such compensations were made for women.

As one cyclist of the time put it, ‘A specialist adaption of dress is absolutely necessary, for skirts, while they have not hindered women from climbing to the topmost branches of higher education, may prove fatal in down-hill coasting.’

Tessie’s ride in a rational outfit of knee-length breeches, a shirt and a long coat caused national outrage. In a time when it was scandalous for a woman to reveal her ankles, Cycling magazine described her outfit as ‘of a most unnecessary masculine nature and scantiness’. She was accused of cycling in her knickerbockers.

Though she was not the first woman to wear such clothing, Tessie’s ride attracted a huge amount of attention and was reported as far away as America: she had been racing, something that was not seemly for a woman; she had travelled through a number of towns on her way into central London, thereby exposing her female form to a large number of people; she rode a man’s bicycle; and she was cheered on by a group of male pacemakers, including her father, who had acted as timekeeper. The authorities were appalled, Cycling magazine denounced it as a ‘lamentable’ incident and the Yorkshire Evening Post reported:

‘A pair of legs working like cranks on a pair of pedals is ugly enough in a man; but in a woman, especially with abnormal hips, the sight is a caricature of the sweetest and best half of humanity.’

In all likelihood many of the people she passed would not even have noticed that she was a woman. Perhaps Tessie was delighted with the attention – it certainly didn’t put her off wearing that outfit, which had many more outings as she rode her bicycle.

However, it was men, rather than women, who set records in those days; Tessie’s time did not officially count. Athleticism was discouraged as being dangerous to women’s health; overexertion was blamed for heart disease, pneumatic disorders, overdeveloped muscles, nervous disorders and infertility. Tessie was taken to be examined afterwards by a doctor. Unsurprisingly, he found her to have suffered no ill effects from her ride.

There was much discussion of Tessie’s outfit on the ladies’ page of Bicycling News. She described her pantaloons as ‘very comfortable and convenient’ and women wrote letters asking for the pattern. The female editor wrote:

‘I think Miss Reynolds’ costume is undoubtedly the cycling costume of the future, and I feel sure feminine cycling will reach, with its general adoption, to heights which are at present impossible for it. I congratulate Miss Reynolds on her courage in being an apostle of the movement.’

Leading cycling expert of the time George Lacy Hillier wrote: ‘A well-known cycling legislator recently remarked that he would like to set some of Miss Reynolds’s critics the task of riding from Brighton to London and back with a skirt on.’

Tessie’s fame brought her many letters of admiration and even marriage proposals, and she went on to be an advocate for women’s cycling, promoting bicycles and racing – always wearing rational dress.

Tessie didn’t set out to be a pioneer of women’s rights nor of cycle sport, but it’s indisputable that her ride as a daring young teenager helped both.

This is an excerpt from my book ‘Pedal Power: inspirational stories from the world of cycling’ available to buy now

I wandered along the shingle for a while, my steps uneven on the shifting ground, noticing just how much litter there was. Almost all of it was plastic. How ironic, I thought, that these single-use items are made from a material that lasts forever. (more…)

What happens when an adventure gets in the way of a relationship? Seven years ago I left London and a boyfriend to cycle around the coast of Britain. What might have happened had I not gone?

We met four months before I was due to leave, both of us working as mechanics at our local community bike workshop. I’d always noticed him, his permanently smiling eyes, his kind face, the self-assured but modest way he carried himself. But I hadn’t known his name until the day we ended up sitting in the pub next to each other, the only available seat being next to me, the girl who was drinking the same thing as him. That’s where our conversation started. And at the end of the night, we didn’t want it to stop, and we became an item.

I almost felt like I had to resist it – I didn’t want to get involved with someone this close to my adventure, fiercely determined not to spend the entire trip thinking about someone else. But our delight in each other grew, each minute spent in the others’ company an adventure in itself.

Our relationship was vastly inappropriate in so many ways – he 17 years my senior, a divorcee, me a flighty 20-something, still enjoying the buzz of freedom that I’d been gifted when my previous relationship ended. “Let’s just see how it goes,” he would say in response to my worries. And we did, those wonderful four months that followed bringing us steadily closer.

The day before I left, we sat cross-legged on his living room carpet. He held out his hand, then opened the clasped fingers, revealing a small orange tube. I grinned. “Lip-salve!” “Well, I love kissing you…” he replied, handing me the gift. It was the kind he used daily, his lips always tasting vaguely of the menthol contained in it. So now each time I used it, it would be as if I were being kissed by him.

In his other hand was a small green bag, containing a pair of delicate earrings. I felt suddenly embarrassed – our short liaison hadn’t warranted such a gift, and even though they were small and practical, good for wearing on my bike, I didn’t know how to react. They remained firmly in the bag; the lip-salve had been perfect, and gift enough.

Later, I stood in the shower, my tears mingling with the hot water that doused my face. He’d gone on his night shift, and I was to post the keys through the letter box as I left the next morning. I had wandered aimlessly around the flat, all my belongings packed neatly into the three bags that would serve me for the next 10 weeks. Suddenly I didn’t want to go. Why was I doing this? If I stayed, we could continue as we were, slowly falling in love.

He called the next morning, suddenly wanting to wave me off from Tower Bridge. “I have an overwhelming urge to give you one last hug” he said. “I can be there in 20 minutes?” But I didn’t let him; we’d already said goodbye, and in my mind, that was it. I would not let my sadness linger.

Two days later, it was me who did the calling. It was one of the hardest phone calls I ever had to make. My adventure was only 48 hours old – no time at all, yet I already felt so far removed from normal life. I was finally doing it, the thing that I’d been thinking about and planning for so long. And it had only been four or five texts that he’d sent me – hardly any, yet each one had made me pause, instantly bringing me back to my past reality, threatening to burst the bubble of my adventure. I couldn’t keep it up – I refused to feel like this for the next 10 weeks. I had to break it off.

“Baby, you can’t keep calling me – I have to do this alone.” Silence. He understood. We hung up, and I fell back on the bed, head in my hands. I felt wretched, my chest caving in with emotion. Yet there was nothing I could do. It had to be this way.

We spoke briefly a week later, the night of the London riots. He worked as a fireman and I was instantly terrified for him, but he’d been off-duty that weekend, thankfully immune to the madness that was gripping the capital. From the safety of my Bridlington guest house it was hard to imagine what was going on back home. “Are you calling to dump me again?” he teased, only partly hiding the hurt underneath.

Then a text message as I was cycling around the peninsula at North Berwick two weeks later: Sorry for texting. I was just riding the canal path and it made me think nice thoughts of you. I stopped by the harbour-side and read and re-read it, ecstatic to hear from him, remorseful that he’d felt the need to apologise.

It wasn’t until I reached Thurso that we spoke properly. It had been three weeks since I’d left, and a day off in the most northerly town on the mainland had given me time to ring. “Hello.” He teased that I shouldn’t be calling. We swapped banal stories and I suddenly found myself unable to talk through my tears. “I didn’t mean…” How could I express what I’d been thinking for the last few weeks, that I hadn’t wanted to break it off, that I felt horrible for having made that choice? I couldn’t stand it that he might think I’d made that decision lightly, that I’d hurt him on purpose. We both wept a little. I felt better after that.

He had said that when I reached Aberdovey, he might join me for a few days. This was where his childhood seaside holidays had been spent, his grandma’s town. I’d called him the week before I got there, desperate for his company. “Will you come with me?” I’d asked, my voice small. He stayed quiet for a few moments, then, “I don’t think so.” It was easy to blame it on his work schedule and the train timetable, but I was crushed.

I struggled as I made my way down the coast of Wales then, unable to clear my mind of the feeling that he should have been there. I tried to blame my melancholy on the hills and the headwind – both had been relentless since crossing the border. Or on the physical discomfort caused by an acute strain in my heel and wrist. This was the excuse I gave to my hosts that evening – a colleague’s parents, who had been so kind, so welcoming, giving me tea and cake while I soaked my sore muscles in the bath. I’d spoken to him as I’d walked down to the beach, but it was a brief conversation, one that I couldn’t concentrate on. That evening I made my excuses, citing exhaustion from the cycling as the reason for an early night. I slowly climbed the stairs to my lofty bedroom, then sat down on the bed and cried.

By the time I’d reached England again the hurt had started to fade. We texted occasionally, and it was no longer accompanied by the gut-wrenching feeling. He had a boat on the south coast, and this time, our planned rendezvous worked. Cycling away from Weymouth the day we were due to meet, I was overcome with nerves, unable to think about anything else as I rode the 50 miles to Lymington. I arrived early and sat on the harbour wall, listening to the halyards as they banged against the masts on the rows and rows of boats that sat in the marina. I didn’t know what to do with myself, how I should sit when he arrived, whether I should go over to him or wait for him to come to me. Things that I’d never had to consider before with him. I tried to picture his face but found that I couldn’t.

Then there he was, striding towards me from across the quay, and I jumped up and smiled nervously, waiting as he approached, holding his cheeks in my hands as I kissed him, just so it was out of the way. Then a nine-week hug. “Hi. Sorry about the boat. I’ve booked us a hotel.” He had intended to sail here from Chichester harbour, then the next day we would return, sailing together back to Northney marina – it would just be like taking a ferry across the mouth of a river, but instead of a ferry it would be my own private yacht, and instead of the mouth of a river it would be Southampton Water and the 20 miles either side. But wind and tides had made it impossible for him to get the boat out of the harbour, so he’d driven to meet me. Tomorrow he’d drive back to the boat, and I’d cycle around the Isle of Wight, then we’d spend a second night together on the water, stationary in the marina.

He was laughing as he opened our bedroom door, amused that the only room available had a four-poster bed. The building was old, the floor creaking as we acquainted ourselves with the room and with each other.

Later we went to the pub to eat dinner. I felt shy of him, having lived another life for the past 60 days, one that he’d been utterly separate from. And him – what was it like for him, to suddenly be here with me, becoming a tiny part of my adventure when just yesterday he’d gone to work as normal? His familiar face was no longer familiar. There were 3500 miles between us.

He was astonished by my appetite as we sat snugly below deck on the still water of the marina the next evening, eating fish and chips straight out of their paper. I’d polished off my fish and a cheese fry, as well as all my chips and half of his, then sat there, rendered immobile by my full stomach. The gentle rocking of the boat hastened sleep, and I woke the next morning to say goodbye once more.

This time it was only for a week – a short few days’ ride stood between me and the finish line. It was the final day when he met me a couple of miles shy of Tower Bridge, more proud of me than I was of myself. Perhaps it hadn’t kicked in that I was actually finishing – all I’d done was ride my bike for the past 72 days. I alone knew what that had really meant, what strength and courage it had taken, but also how simple it had really been.


I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t gone, but had stayed, letting myself fall head over heels with this man. Perhaps we’d be inseparable, maybe planning a life together. It didn’t last after I returned. I’d broken us up at the very moment that we should have been paying each other the most attention; the time when the flames of passion either burst into love or simply flicker with affection. I found myself unable to give myself fully to him, holding him at arm’s length, adoring him yet resisting him. What would have happened had I not gone away? I will never know.

My bicycle is my most trusted possession; she is my passport to adventure, my free ticket to work, my trusty pack horse and my faithful steed. But I’ve been guilty in recent weeks of not listening to her. And you will ignore your bike at your peril. A happy bike is a quiet bike: a dry chain will squeak, a broken hub bearing will knock, a loose fitting will rattle. If your bike is talking, listen. I admit to being guilty of not listening.

Every time I reached for the gear lever it creaked in protest. It was saying, ‘Anna, please fix me!’ Each sluggish, sticky shift of the gear said, ‘Please, a new cable is all I ask!’ Eventually, the lever got so stiff I had to pull it from the opposite side, with each man-handling grab the cable complaining, ‘I am old and rusty! Help me, please!!’

Every day I thought, ‘I should do something about this. I have the tools and the knowledge.’ But there is always something else more important to do. And I worried, ‘What if it isn’t as simple as a cable change? What if I have to buy a new chain and gears?’ That was more expense and trouble than I cared to contemplate; it was a job for another day. So I continued to ride, and the bike continued to complain.

Eventually, so tired was she of my procrastination, she played a cruel but much-deserved trick: the cable snapped mid-ride, leaving me struggling up the Bath hills in the highest gear. My hand was forced.

gear fixedIt took a mere 15 minutes to change the cable, and she now rides like a new bike. No longer am I wrenching at the lever to force a rusted cable into action; the lightest of touches is all that is needed. At once, I have re-fallen in love with my bicycle. Bikey, I’m sorry I ignored you for so long. It won’t happen again.

Bicycle maintenance is empowering, very useful and easy to learn. Here’s how to fit a new gear cable.

Tools needed: cable cutters, 5mm allen key / 9mm spanner, pliers

Parts needed: gear cable, cable housing, cable end, lubricant spray e.g TF2. These are available cheaply from your local bike shop.

1.Removing the cable

Depending on the bike you have, you might need to open the gear shifter to access the cable. With drops, simply pull the drop brake lever and you’ll see the round silver top of the cable. A good place to snip the cable is at the derailleur end, near the bolt, then push the cable through and the top should easily come out. As mine had snapped, I needed to root around with needle-nose pliers in the shifter to grab it. Make a note of the route of the cable, as you’ll need to know that when you put the new one in.

2. Replacing/servicing the cable housing

Your metal cable runs inside the plastic cable outer, which is lined with metal. These can both rust and corrode, leading to sticky gears. You can replace the outer to make super-smooth, long-lasting gear changes, though servicing the outer also does the trick (in my case, I like the grey colour and only have black to replace it, so I’m keeping the old one). If replacing, snip the new cable to the length of the old one. If servicing, give a good spray down the cable housing with a lubricant spray. This can be messy, so make sure you have an old cloth to hand.

3. Fitting the new cable

First, and most importantly, make sure your shifter is set to the highest gear. This is where the cable is most slack, so must be installed in this gear in order for them to index properly. Next, route the cable, from the shifter, through the cable outer (this usually has a butt on the frame to hold it), likely in a groove at the bottom of the frame (underneath the bottom bracket), through more cable outer, through the barrel adjuster (at this point, make sure your barrel adjuster is fully screwed in) and into the clamp. There are many different types of clamp, but usually there is a groove where the cable sits. I tend to hold the cable to tension with the pliers while tightening the bolt.

4. Testing the cable and indexing the gears

Change through the gears (either in a stand or by riding the bike); the cable will probably be too slack at this point and will need pulling through more. Remember to leave the shifter in the highest gear before adjusting the cable each time. You are looking for one gear change per click of the shifter. If the cable is as tight as you can get it, and the gear is still not shifting from the highest to next highest, unwind the barrel adjuster (quarter turns will do) and keep testing until the cable is at the correct tension. Once the two highest gears are shifting correctly, the rest should follow suit – check through the gears to make sure, and make small changes to the barrel adjuster if necessary. Unwinding the barrel adjuster tightens the cable (by increasing the length of the housing, science fans).

5. Tidying up

Snip the cable an inch beyond the bolt, and add the cable end. This needs to be clamped onto the cable – the cutters might have a clamp feature, or use the pliers. If you neglect to do this, the cable will fray and will need replacing again!

Plastic waste has loomed large in the public consciousness in recent months, due in no small part to Blue Planet II, campaigns such as Switch the Stick, and the extended 5p levy on carrier bags. Companies are queueing up to reduce plastic packaging and broadcast their plastic-free credentials.

But just how easy is it to go plastic free? My challenge throughout February is to accrue no single-use plastic, and learn a bit more about how much plastic goes into the every day products we use and what effect it has on the environment.

I’ll be updating this post throughout the month with info of how I’m getting on.


Like many, I can’t go without my morning cuppa… or my mid-morning cuppa, or my late-morning cuppa, etc etc. It’s not the caffeine – I gave that up years ago (something about getting old) – it’s the comfort of a hot drink, the refreshingly thirst-quenching that almost scorches as it slips down but somehow does not. Heck, most of my readers are British. I don’t need to explain the value of a good cup of tea.

teaBut now teabags are in the no-plastic headlines. There is a petition here from the very worthwhile 38 degrees, urging PG Tips, the UK’s most popular maker of tea, to stop using plastic in their bags. Who knew there was even plastic in a tea bag? But to make an effective seal, polypropylene is used. It’s only a tiny amount, but means that while the rest of the teabag composts, the microplastic remains, leaching into our eco-system.

(Other problems with tea bags include using bleach to whiten the bags so they have a more attractive appearance – who cares? You’re going to pour boiling water over it! – and shrink-wrapping the box, arguably to keep the tea fresher but probably completely unnecessary. FYI, Clipper doesn’t bleach their tea bags or shrink-wrap the box).

So, in my effort to be plastic free, I will shun tea bags in favour of loose-leaf tea.

The only thing is, once I get my newly-purchased caffeine-free organic Tick-Tock tea home and open the cardboard box, there is a plastic bag inside. Of course there is, otherwise the leaves would go everywhere (although I reckon I could cope). I am struggling to convince myself that I am using less plastic here: once I’ve finished the packet, I will throw the bag in the bin, and the plastic will return to the eco-system via landfill – hardly a better solution. I prefer tea bags anyway – they are easier (sorry – lazy).

The best solution seems to be for manufacturers to make teabags without the use of plastic in the first place. Please, PG Tips, will you lead the way?

Out and about

A day trip to London to speak at the Stanford’s Travel Writer’s festival means that food and drink will be consumed on the move. Usually this might mean a bottle of juice (I refuse to buy bottled water, not just because of the plastic waste, but because of the principle of paying for something that you can get for free), a cup of tea, a flapjack, a sandwich or a packet of crisps. Instead, I make a flask of tea at home and pack a lunch in a reusable tupperware pot. Arriving at the venue I am offered water or a hot drink, but there are only plastic cups or those controversial paper cups provided, so I fill my now-empty flask with water (in my rush to leave home, I had forgotten to pack either a water bottle or my reusable tea cup). Stepping out on stage, Stanfords hands each speaker a tin water flask as a gift. Fantastic – no excuse not to carry water in my handbag from now on.

No flapjacks or crisps today – they all come in plastic packaging (or metalised plastic in the case of crisps.) Dinner is a burrito from the takeaway at Paddington station, packaged in tin foil and paper.


As a vegan most of what I eat is vegetables and beans/pulses/lentils. I tend to shop at local organic shops rather than supermarkets, but Waitrose is all that’s open today so that’s where I headed.

Contents of basket: carrots, potatoes, sweet potato, onions, garlic, parsnip, pears, apples, satsumas, bananas, mushrooms, tomatoes, brussel sprouts, broccoli, tinned tomatoes/kidney beans/chick peas/aduki beans/olives, jars of pesto/olive oil.

shopping basket

The selection of loose fruit and veg was pretty good, though I was really annoyed I couldn’t buy a cabbage as they were all shrink-wrapped. No salad or green leafy veg either – all of these come in a bag. It was a bit of luck that there were a handful of loose sprouts left. Usually my shopping priorities are local and organic, but with the plastic restriction I couldn’t do that – none of these veg are organic, and they aren’t all local either. It depends what your motivations are, but I think plastic edges ahead as the greater of the evils, especially as it is so unnecessary – as proven by the basket! Though frustratingly, with the exception of mushrooms, the bags Waitrose provides for loose veg are plastic. I brought my own paper ones.

All bread products were off the menu. I usually buy crisps or snacks, but even oat cakes, which are in a cardboard box, have plastic wrappers inside. Lentils were also forbidden, as were nuts. Pasta won’t be an option this month either.

Candles were also on my shopping list, but the ones I usually buy (Waitrose essentials dinner candles) have a plastic wrapper around the cardboard. I had never considered this before, but it seems completely unnecessary – it’s not as though the candles need to be kept fresh. It makes it easier for the shopper to see the product they are purchasing I suppose. Instead, I bought tall candles by a different maker, packaged in cardboard; more expensive, sigh, but a higher quality product which should turn out to be better value for money as the candle burns for longer. It also means I am supporting the little man which I believe in, and when I got home the candles fit far better in the bottles I use as holders. A convert!


Items that I was unable to buy in my supermarket shop because they are wrapped in plastic:

Washing up liquid

I am very fortunate to live somewhere where refills are readily available. In central Bath (Walcot Street, opposite the Hilton) there is Harvest Natural Foods which has a large selection of dried beans, pulses, legumes, grains and fruit as well as the standard cleaning products. They even do herb refills (20p per pot – great value)! There’s also Newleaf Healthfoods in Oldfield Park, with the greatest selection of refills I have ever seen. Harvest caters to my washing up liquid, lentils and rice needs. Looks as though I will just have to go without pasta, wraps and crumpets this month. Sigh.

Herb jars

I head to a bakery to buy a loaf for my morning toast: The Bertinet Kitchen, where I buy a granary loaf wrapped in paper. When I get home I put it in a reused plastic bag to keep it fresh. Trouble is, though it’s a perfectly decent loaf, I don’t like it half as much as the one I buy in the supermarket. I’m afraid this isn’t going to be a lasting change; next time I will go back to my supermarket loaf. To ease my conscience, at least the bag it comes in is recyclable.

None of my three sisters are vegan, yet they all took part in Veganuary as their birthday present to me. It was interesting hearing their experiences of essentially doing something because someone asks you to do it, rather than because you believe in it yourself.

Sarah kept a diary which is pasted below. At the end of the month I asked them all for their responses, which are at the bottom.

1st January

I woke up at around 4:30am feeling really rough.  Too much champagne.  Then I suddenly remembered that I wouldn’t be able to ease this hangover in the morning with cereal and milk.  That was a tough realisation.  I’m already considering breaking veganuary, just for the first morning.

Breakfast: 3 slices of fruit bread, toasted, with vitalite dairy-free spread.

Once I had got up, I realised that I wasn’t actually in danger of having cow’s milk on my cereal – we are doing veganuary so that’s not an option.  It really helps that James [my husband] is doing it too, and he’s definitely not going to break it, so this has spurred me on somewhat.  I did have another tough realisation though, while preparing breakfast.  My fruit toast wouldn’t be dripping with salty butter.  Nor would I have a milky cup of tea to accompany it.  The vitalite wasn’t that bad though.  It even melted a bit!

We have soya milk and almond milk in the fridge, but I’m not going to substitute milk for those things unless I’m cooking – I’d rather not have milk at all rather than have something that tastes and feels completely different.  I don’t need cereal that much.  Plus, earl grey tea with lemon is brilliant.

Lunch: Beans on toast.

We have already reverted to Anna’s very useful ‘can’t be bothered to cook – how do I eat vegan?’ list.  It’s new years day for goodness’ sake!!  The vegan cheese isn’t great – it doesn’t melt, and it sticks to itself when I try to pick up a handful of grated stuff.  It makes it look nice though.

Dinner: Pasta with peppers, tomatoes, onions, sweetcorn and pesto.

This is a meal I would normally eat.  With cheese though.  We avoid the vegan cheese this evening, giving our pasta an extra dollop of delicious olive oil.  It’s completely yummy, but not as filling as what I’m used to.

This is already a tough challenge.  It’s harder starting on 1st January than I gave it credit for.  Eating vegan requires forethought and planning, and I’m just not particularly in the zone yet.  At least I can drink wine.

2nd January

Breakfast: 3 slices of fruit bread, toasted, with vitalite dairy-free spread. I’m already running out of fruit toast.

Lunch: Tomato soup.

I went to a friend’s for lunch today, and didn’t want to impress my temporary vegan diet on her, so was prepared to eat whatever she fed me.  However, it just so happened that she had been planning soup and one of the soups in the fridge was indeed vegan.  Bread and soup!  Yummy.

Dinner: Vegetable lasagne.

I made a vegan Bolognese: brown lentils, mushrooms, tomatoes, kidney beans, onions and red wine.  That in itself looked pretty delicious but I persisted with my more-time-consuming idea of vegetable lasagne.  I made a white sauce with the almond milk and vegan cheese (why does it stick to my fingers when I pick it up?!?!) which took longer than a usual milk béchamel, mainly because I was unfamiliar with how it was meant to feel.  I added a mashed potato layer as I wanted to have an extra dimension of creamy comfort.  It worked!  I’m utterly full as I write this.  Completely yummy, although I did spend the whole meal wondering why it tasted nutty.  That would be the almond milk then.

3rd January

Breakfast: The last of the fruit toast.

Lunch: Pea, tarragon, leek (and 3 other green things that I can’t remember!) soup from Lulu.

Dinner: Left-over vegetable lasagne with veg on the side.  Very satisfying!

4th January

Breakfast: Toast with marmalade.  I wish the vegan butter would melt a bit better.

Lunch: Potato salad, sweet potato salad (from the shop), tomato and avocado salad, and salad.

I would ordinarily smother this kind of meal with mayonnaise, but that’s not an option today, so I try with a bit of babaganoush.  It’s good.

The main thing I’m noticing is that I’m thinking about food lots – and not in a particularly good way.  I’m having to plan what we’re eating a lot rather than just going with the flow, and I’m taking all the food responsibility on myself rather than James doing it (he normally entirely sorts out all meals, but I feel that I should be pulling my weight more here as it’s my sister who has requested we do this).  It is really tricky with a baby.  I find myself starting to cook dinner at breakfast time, otherwise I cannot guarantee that I’ll have time later in the day.

Dinner: Bean stew

I followed a recipe that was recommended on Facebook by James’s sister, from an article about Italian food that was ‘incidentally vegan.’  It was a really basic recipe: beans, potatoes, tomatoes, onion and garlic, but the way that simple food like this is made delicious is by cooking it for hours!  Luckily it is a case of preparing it, then leaving it, so I was able to get on with baby-related things while it was on the hob.  It’ll make loads of left-overs too!

5th January

Breakfast: Toast and jam.

Lunch: Left-over bean stew.  This’ll last for ages!

Dinner: Thai curry.

We are very excited about this.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any vegan prawn crackers at the supermarket (I know that sounds like an obvious fact, but we often get vegan crackers when we go out for a Thai).  Ordinarily, a Thai curry has one variety of veg (at the most!) and one of meat, so we bought lots of crudité types of veg and put them in.  Very tasty, and such an easy dish to do.

6th January

Breakfast: Toast and jam.

Lunch: Party food.

Today presented its first hurdle, which unfortunately I fell at.  We went to a children’s party (popular at this time of year, as I have a January baby and all his friends are turning 1) so you can imagine the types of food available.  This is a really difficult situation, but one that I feel I can’t impress my current diet on.  If we had been out at a restaurant or café, I certainly would have ordered vegan, but when a friend caters, it’s not easy to request that my current temporary diet is provided for.

Dinner: Left-over Thai curry.  Curry is always better as left-overs.  Happy days.

7th January

Breakfast: Toast and jam.  I tried my tea with almond milk this morning, but it tastes like a strange sort of hot chocolate which is not what I wanted.  I want a comforting cup of tea!

Lunch: We had another baby party today.  Luckily it was Indian catering so I could have amazing chana masala and all the sundries.  They had also put original pringles out, which are one of the flavours that work for me!

Dinner: Indian take-away

It’s hard having an entire month of an eating challenge.  We are only one week in, and I feel already like it’s been long.  Going back to work, childcare for the baby, January blues… it’s all a lot to deal with!  So James and I have decided that we need a pick-me-up!  Vegetable biryani, gobi bhaji, aloo sag and popadums do the trick.

8th January

Breakfast: Toast and jam

Lunch: Sweet potato hotpot.

I am now at the mercy of school dinners.  Today I started a new school so I don’t know the chef in order to request anything vegan – and in any case I would feel awkward, as I won’t be vegan in a few weeks’ time anyway. I’ve decided to go for the vegetarian option, then see how it goes.  So far so good – the kitchen’s vegetarian option is incidentally vegan.

Dinner: Spaghetti Napoli

Anna and I are going out to celebrate our birthday.  There are loads of great eateries in Ware, but I leave the choice up to her as she is the more experienced when eating out.  We choose a local Italian, which comes up trumps with Spaghetti Napoli.  I don’t even have to ask to amend my order.  Olives and bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar accompany.

9th January

Breakfast: Beans on toast

Lunch: Vegetable tagine

I’ve hit the jackpot again at school.  Only problem is, they seem to be giving me a child’s portion.  I have to go back for seconds.

Dinner: Curry

You can never have too much curry.  Anna has made an amazing dahl and sweet potato curry.  Something great about sweet potato is that it means that I don’t have to have mango chutney, because I already have something gooey and sweet on my plate.

10th January

Breakfast: Beans on toast

Lunch: School dinner again: Bean stew with stir-fry vegetables.

Dinner: Pasta

James was out so I have to do something quick and comforting as my moral-support is absent!  Pasta (no cheese!) is the thing.  We have given up on buying the substitutes, and I’m choosing not to have milk at all rather than have something to replace it.  The thing I like about milk and cheese (how it tastes!) cannot be satisfied by the subs.  If the thing I’m replacing it with doesn’t taste the same, then I’d rather have nothing at all.

11th January

Breakfast: Fruit toast

Lunch: Penne Napoli.

Rowan and I went out to Sfizio for lunch today – this is something I did lots during our maternity leave together, so I wanted to recapture the magic!  Rowan eats half a pizza (luckily I don’t like pizza, otherwise I would have bean mightily jealous!) and I had the only vegan option, but it was delicious.  Amazingly simple – tomatoes, basil and garlic.  I could probably make this at home, but it would either take me hours, or it would only taste a fraction as good (or both!)  This is a recurring problem with Veganuary: there are plenty of vegan dishes out there that I could make at home, but that are much tastier and easier to buy, so I’m spending much more money than I previously would!

Dinner: Sandwiches (vegetarian)

I teach a choir on a Thursday evening and didn’t manage to plan ahead to take my own vegan packed tea.  Therefore I had to make do with the provided sandwiches.  I’ll endeavour to be more prepared next week!

12th January 

Breakfast: Fruit toast

Lunch: Tomato soup

Rowan and I went out for lunch at Costa with a friend.  I looked longingly at the tiffins and other cakes that I used to love!  Thankfully their soup is vegan, and given that I don’t generally like Costa’s tea I didn’t have to miss that.

Dinner: Sweet potato salad/ vegetable paella

January seems to be the season for birthdays, and tonight we went out for a friend’s.  We had a set menu so my options were limited, but I’m finding my options generally limited anyway if we are out.  Unfortunately, the sweet potato salad was awful, and I had to eat it while watching my companions tuck hungrily into their whitebait.  The paella was good though: creamy and filling.

13th January

Breakfast: Fruit toast

Lunch: Bean hotpot

For some reason, I’m not very good at cooking beans!  Other people thankfully can make excellent bean dishes, so I’m glad that Aunty Vanda brought her vegan speciality to a family do today.

Dinner: Pasta with pesto

We got in late, so this appears to be my go-to.

14th January

Breakfast: Veggie sausage sandwiches

It’s James’s birthday today, so we are attempting a breakfast feast.  We bought sourdough bread and Linda McCartney sausages (the advice is that these are tasty but dry, so I’ve prepared caramelised onions and condiments: French mustard and ketchup are vegan thank goodness!)

We are nearly half-way through but we are struggling.  Neither James nor I are particularly looking forward to meals at the moment, especially a birthday treat, which currently is hard work to create, rather than a ‘treat.’  I’m trying hard, particularly as we have been asked to do this by my dear sister who I admire and respect greatly, and whose veganism thoroughly impresses me.  However, it’s tough doing a challenge that has been set by someone else – doing your own challenge begins with your own motivation, and this drives you to succeed.  Doing someone else’s challenge is very different psychologically.  We are trying hard, but it’s tough.  There are other factors involved: I’ve just gone back to work from maternity leave so this brings its own emotions and stresses, and we are both experiencing the January blues.  This is a hard month to give up comfort food!

Lunch: Cheese-free pizza and Penne Napoli

We went out to celebrate James’s birthday for lunch.  Getting someone else to make your vegan food for you is so much more enjoyable and tasty!

Dinner: Beans on toast

15th January

Breakfast: Toast and jam

Lunch: Ratatouille

The school kitchen came up trumps yet again.  All I had to decline was the parmesan-melted pastry top, and I could fill the rest of the plate with pasta and olives.  I even managed to have a vegan flapjack today!

Often I am finding that the school kitchen has to cater for vegans without specifically catering for vegans, simply because they have to provide a meal choice that is allergen-free, mainly egg-free.  Works for me!

Dinner: Risotto

Dad and Valmai came round this evening so we wanted to make something that we would normally make, but without adding animal products.  Risotto packed full of veg ticked all the boxes.

16th January

Breakfast: Toast and jam

Lunch: Sweetcorn and courgette fritters

These were amazing, but I suspect there was some egg or butter in there to bind.  And it was sprinkled with feta so I had to try to avoid that.  Difficult when someone insists on serving you!

Dinner: Shepherds pie and chips

As well as planning vegan, we also have to plan to use our veg box.  This week we had a surplus of potatoes hence the Shepherds pie with chips.

17th January

Breakfast: Fruit toast

Lunch: School Stir-fry

Dinner: Courgette and carrot fritters

As the fritters at school were so amazing yesterday, we decided to try and make some at home.  Here I have the realisation that in fact the fritters at school cannot possibly have been vegan, because the vegan recipes are all very different to what I was provided with.  The binding agents are absent, so basically you are left with a load of grated veg on a plate.  It was ok, but it needed that fritter-like texture to really work.  Maybe a potato cake is the way forward next time.

18th January

Breakfast: Fruit toast

Lunch: Hummus and crumpets

Dinner: Left-overs – risotto

19th January

Breakfast: Fruit toast

Lunch: Burrito

We were out in London today and I picked up a burrito from the station (although couldn’t actually eat it until we got home as I had a sleeping baby strapped to my front.  That would have been a messy baby). Absolutely delicious – I stand by my theory of everything tasting better when it’s made for you by someone else who knows what they’re doing!

Dinner: Leftovers: pasta/ shepherds pie

(She then ran out of steam for keeping a diary!)

Sarah’s end-of-month responses:

  • What did you find easy?

School dinners. Most of the veggie options were vegan as they have to provide a dairy free option for allergens.

  • What did you find difficult?

Not licking the spoon when feeding Rowan yoghurt or porridge!

  • What was the reaction of your family?

James did it too, but we both struggled.  His family thought it was an interesting challenge but thought they could never do it.

  • What kind of things did you eat?

Beans. I’m kind of sick of beans! Curry.

  • What was your favourite/go-to dish?

The Bolognese was great.

  • Will Veganuary change your eating habits throughout the rest of the year?

I’m now thinking of ways that veganuary can have a positive impact on my day-to-day eating habits. I’m trying to use less milk. I’m certainly eating less cheese. I’ll be using vegan spread instead of flora (although I still have butter too). I’ll buy the vegan pesto now. I’ll try to choose a vegan cake if I’m out.

I also want to have a regular vegan night (not sure how regular!) but one meal that is completely vegan every fortnight or so.  And not just something I can make into a vegan dish, ie I loved the mac and cheese you made, but I prefer ordinary mac and cheese so that wouldn’t be on my menu. I enjoyed the sweet and sticky stir fry from Bosh so would have that again for sure.

  • Would you do it again?

No, it wasn’t for me. I’m very keen to make a more positive environmental impact with my dietary choices, but this is something I will now do alongside my current diet. I really struggled with the whole month. We didn’t particularly enjoy it as a challenge, and actually I think that overall was a negative thing – whenever people asked me about veganuary I would sort of groan or put a negative spin on it, which almost defeats the object! I want to talk positively about veganism, and in fact I have done in the past: if I were having a conversation with someone I would always defend veganism because I know it works so amazingly well for you. But during January I was very negative about it, so I cannot imagine that is good for people’s perceptions of the diet! I want to champion positive environmental choices and I think I have a better chance of that if I make a lasting change throughout the whole of the year.

I also bought loads more packaging than I normally do!

Becca’s end-of-month responses:

  • What did you find easy?

Overall being vegan has been fairly easy: we swapped cow’s milk for oat milk and replaced butter with marg in our bread-maker made bread and just omitted the milk powder so that our regular eating patterns have continued as normal.  For the first few weeks I didn’t cook anything that I wouldn’t normally make anyway, I just didn’t snack on cheese while I was making it!

I have a friend who has just been diagnosed with cancer and is eating a vegan diet to help support her treatment.  I have been really pleased that I can take her delicious bakes that are just part of my own normal diet.  

  • What did you find difficult?

For the first couple of weeks I thought about cheese ALL OF THE TIME.  That has lessened now, but as time has gone on I have I have wanted to reintroduce cheese to get a bit of variety in the dishes that we eat as a family.  Yesterday I finally got a vegan ‘mozarella replacement’ but it was not successful and none of us liked it.  

I actually think that I am eating less well as I’m eating more ‘junk food’ like salted nuts and crackers.  I am snacking a lot more than I normally do as I get to the end of the day and don’t feel psychologically full even if I don’t actually feel hungry.  

Some foods that we have been able to continue eating, such as hot cross buns, just don’t taste as good without salted butter and the month hasn’t changed my perception of that.

It wasn’t possible to buy quite a few of the ingredients and foods that we needed locally and so I had to shop at Tesco more than usual and also we got stuck several times without the food we wanted because we couldn’t get it at the local co-op, and we have become used to being able to pop out at any time and pick up food at the last minute.

I provide cups of tea for my singing group members and friends and some of them have been happy with the milk that I provide but others haven’t.   I’ve struggled with this and have resorted to taking mini milk portions from John Lewis when I’ve bought a cup of tea and not used them for myself.  

I have several baking recipes that I find are really successful and I make them when vegan friends come over.  However, I wanted to try new baking recipes and have found most of them disappointing.  When I bake I like to use simple and accessible ingredients, and lots of vegan recipes have ingredients that I don’t have and seem fiddly.  I plumped for the simple recipes and though the family thought they were fine I was not happy to serve them to guests and would not make them again.      

  • What was the reaction of your family?

Oliver (a week after starting): ‘you know that I cried when you told me that we were going to be vegan?  There’s not really much difference’

Lara (three weeks in): ‘Being vegan isn’t too bad’ 

The plan was that our house would be a vegan one but outside it Lenny, Lara and Oliver could eat what they liked. Lenny decided to fully take up the challenge and go vegan for the month.  He has sometimes wondered if he is intolerant to milk and cheese and so was interested to see how his body would react.  The findings are that he farts just as much without milk products, possibly more!  He is looking forward to going back to eating cheese and dairy but wants to make more vegetarian choices when he eats out (he already eats as a vegetarian at home but previously would normally choose meat when eating out).  

Lara and Oliver have continued to choose fish and meat when eating out and at school dinners. 

  • What kind of things did you eat?

Breakfast: cereal as usual but with oat milk


humous sandwiches with salad and: cranberry sauce, mixed with grated carrot, sliced mushrooms, sundried tomatoes.

Toast and avocado

Toast and peanut butter


Vegan sausages and potato, pasta and tomato sauce with sausages, coconut milk and lentil curries, jacket potatoes with humous and roasted veg, pasta and pesto, puff pastry pie with veg and olives, bean hot pots, lentil shepherds pie, pasta and pesto, stir fried veg, veg risotto.  

Snacks: Hot cross buns, salted nuts, crackers and vegan pate, crackers and humous, pistachio nuts, dark chocolate with orange.

Baking: cranberry biscuits, coconut chocolate brownies, carrot cake, almond biscuits, jam tarts.

  • What was your favourite/go-to dish?

For Lenny and me: lentil and vegetable curry.  For the whole family: something with vegan sausages.

  • Will Veganuary change your eating habits throughout the rest of the year?

If someone told me that I was never allowed to eat dairy again I could agree without too much problem.  However, I don’t actually want to.  There were tastes that I missed and didn’t get used to in the space of a month that inhibited my enjoyment of some foods e.g. jacket potatoes without salted butter.  I also felt that my repertoire of food that the whole family would enjoy was much smaller.  I don’t want to cook with highly packaged meat/dairy replacements as I like to cook with fresh, healthy ingredients but this does limit options of meals as the children don’t really like curry and chilli dishes.  

I wanted to do veganuary to break out of my cheese dependence, especially in my habit of having a cheese, chutney and salad sandwich every day for lunch.  I have found several lunches that I enjoy and will make an effort to have several times a week from now on.  I struggle to make sandwiches that Lara likes but we have actually established several options that she likes more than her old backup of cheese.  

As my concerns are environmental I’d like to take advantage of my new habits and have several days a week when we eat vegan.  As I also don’t like waste, I don’t think that we’ll continue to buy replacement milk, so we might have a couple of days having toast for breakfast in order to cut our milk consumption.  

I am keen to be able to use eggs so I want to research the sourcing of my eggs.  I wonder about paying more and getting eggs from Riverford (after researching where they come from) and restricting my use to just six a week.  I also would like to research the organic producers locally and possibly spend more on buying organic cheese and using less of it

In the course of looking closely at ingredients I have realised that some things I eat aren’t even vegetarian e.g. red thai curry paste.  I’ll be more careful in reading ingredients now!  

  • Would you do it again?


Lara: ‘I wouldn’t mind if we did it again as long as we don’t have to eat that horrible cheese again’

Oliver: ‘ummmm, I wouldn’t mind if we did it but, um, I don’t really like all of the vegan meals’

Lenny: ‘If I had to.  If you challenge me I’ll do it’.

Clare’s end-of-month responses:

  • What did you find easy?

Taking my lunch to work – packet Bachelor’s soup with Salt&Vinegar crisps.

Drinking tea and making porridge – rice milk and Koko milk were both fine in tea, and oat milk was good for porridge.

I initially missed hocolate but Becca gave me some vegan chocolate, which I thought was really nice.

I changed my staple treat of iced gems to party rings.

  • What did you find difficult?

Eating out.

I couldn’t eat the cake and chocolates at work that patients were bringing in. I had to snack on cream crackers while at work!

I found the first couple of weeks quite easy because I was very motivated and keen to take up the challenge. But the last 10 days I found much more tedious and my motivation had gone (although my resolve remained).

  • What was the reaction of your family?

Cameron thought that it was ridiculous of me to do it and couldn’t understand why I would want to do it for you! He also frequently told me to break it at first – saying that he wouldn’t tell you. Eventually I managed to convince him that although he may not choose to do this challenge, he frequently takes up challenges of other types and isn’t the sort of person to give up – and nor am I.

Cameron has willingly eaten all the vegan meals that I have cooked though!

My colleagues at work all thought it was a bit funny (particularly when there were sweets and cakes on the ward) but were supportive.

  • What kind of things did you eat?

Vegi Chilli
Chickpea curry
Vegetable pasta dishes
Moroccan cous cous
Soya chilli
Soya yoghurt
Koko milk
Rice milk
Oat milk
Vegan spread from Flora
Lemon drizzle cake

  • What was your favourite/go-to dish?

Vegi chilli (Jamie Oliver recipe)

  • Will Veganuary change your eating habits throughout the rest of the year?

I don’t think it will.

In principle I like the thought of the environmental benefits. But while the rest of the family were carrying on as normal I found that I was buying all the same amount of dairy and meat for them, and additionally buying dairy-free things for me. So I don’t actually think that it made any difference to my family’s dairy/meat footprint.

If the whole family had done it and embraced it then definitely it would change our eating habits.

  • Would you do it again?

I’d like to think that I would.

Overall, once the initial motivation of doing something new/for you, I found that it was becoming more tedious because I’d lost my motivation to cook interesting food (luckily I’d made frozen portions), and also because I don’t have the background passion for it that you do. But I’m glad that I did it for you!

Breeze ride

Gender-specific activities, it seems, will never be without controversy. A BBC East Midlands video promoting British Cycling’s women-only ‘Breeze’ rides has drawn a fair amount of comment, not all of it positive: ‘why are these even necessary?’; ‘inclusion by exclusion is not inclusive.’

I once took part in an overnight bike ride organised by the Fridays, from Hyde Park in London to Felpham on the south coast. The distance and nature of the ride would already exclude a certain group of cyclists, but even so, there were promises on the website that no one would be left behind, everyone was welcome, and please ride whatever bike you have (as long as it’s not crap). On arrival, I instantly felt out of place: almost everyone was male and wearing Lycra. Nevertheless, I started chatting to a few riders as we spun away through the midnight hours, and had a few pleasant exchanges. Then one particular man turned to me and said, ‘You might want to choose an easier gear.’ I was stumped. Just that simple phrase was weighted with, ‘Listen to my advice, young lady, because I know better than you.’ ‘Why?’ I asked, trying to keep my voice steady. ‘There’s a steep hill around the corner.’ ‘Thanks,’ I said, waiting until I could see the hill with my own eyes, at which point I selected an appropriate gear and cruised up that hill, leaving my companion standing. My indignation ran deep. I might not look like a ‘serious’ cyclist, but I have thousands of miles of experience under my wheels. I know how to use my gears, and I certainly know how to climb hills. Your advice, Mr Lycra Man, is unnecessary, unwanted and frankly, insulting.

This exchange was enough to make me not go on another of these rides. I would far rather cycle with friends, or even by myself, than subject myself to male ‘advice.’ Some of you reading might think, but that man was only trying to be helpful – I don’t understand the problem. There was nothing wrong per se with a little friendly helpful hint, but at the same time, it was trapped beneath the weight of its wrongness. It implies I won’t be able to do something without help, and yes, I’m talking about male help. For my entire life, I have been ‘helped’ by men. Some of my male friends, while sympathetic, don’t understand the depths to which it is a problem. And that’s simply because they are men; they have never had the patronising mansplaining, the unsolicited advice, the infuriating ‘let me just help you with this, you poor weak woman.’ In every corner of my life. All the time.

This is the reason Breeze rides exist: an easy, no-pressure, no-judgement ride with other like-minded people. For many women, this is the only situation in which they feel comfortable, and that should be applauded, not criticised. If you are the kind of cyclist who is able to just get on a bike and go for a ride, then good for you. Not all people are like that.

Of course, these rides do not tell the whole story. Yes, there might well be men who are nervous about getting back on their bike after several years, or who don’t demonstrate the confidence needed to tackle our unforgiving roads, or who simply would enjoy an easy jaunt around the local countryside. Neither does it illustrate the female who is more than happy heading off on her bicycle by herself, whether that be long distance exploration or weekly shop. But statistically, fewer women than men cycle, whether that be commuting, leisure or club rides, which is why there is a focus on group rides for women. Anything that gets people riding is a good thing: the more people who ride bikes, the better. And that is something to be celebrated.

The sun has not yet risen as I pedal away from my boat, ahead 140 miles of riding over the next two days. This pilgrimage is to my twin sister’s house so we can spend our 35th birthday together. Pale blue and grey is reflected in the canal as the horizon begins to lighten; the moon still holds its night time magnificence and hangs like a lamp in the sky. The owls are quietened by the promise of day.

The night brought a freeze, and the morning wind holds my face in its teeth. Puddles across the towpath crunch beneath tyres, and on the hills, trees stand bare like chimney brushes. At the foot of the valley the river surges with winter rain, though here, the canal sits calm, feathered with ice.

Other cyclists share the path, as do early Sunday runners; like me they are wrapped within a cocoon of buffs and scarves. A boater stumbles to his neighbour’s with a cup of tea. A woodpecker vibrates against a tree. Birds emerge to chatter in the hedgerows.

The dawn begins its slow burn, a blooming of orange radiating from the eastern horizon, with the colours dissolving into the rapidly lightening sky. The sun wrestles itself free of the horizon to look me in the eye.

The miles pass slowly as tyres stutter over stones and mud sucks at progress. I rumble ever eastward as the canal steadily rises through the locks into Wiltshire. Here, with mudguards clogged, I leave the river to its meandering course and seek out the predictability of tarmac.

At the height of the day the sky shines like glass, the winter sun slowly arcing close to the earth, white and crisp. The moon is chalky now, the crescent adjusting its angle as the sun tracks through the sky. Coal tits and finches flash across the road as though fired from one hedgerow to the next. A red kite fans its tail above my head and starlings rise in one cacophonous cloud. The glint of an aeroplane tears at the blue like scissors to paper.

The freeze has lingered, puddles lying solid in the shade of the bushes. At the crook of a hill, a ford covers the dip, a previous visitor having piled the ice to the side in giant slabs – thank goodness, as an ice rink on the descent could have meant a nasty end to my adventure. The lanes are a delight, unfolding through farmland and climbing up tree-lined avenues where leafless branches bristle in the cold.

By nightfall I am still riding, the sunset having long since stained the horizon. In the sky are a thousand other suns, some fiercely shining, some so faint they appear as dust. The quiet of the road is interrupted as motor vehicles pass, their lights glaring on the tarmac. I had hoped to be there by now, but the slow drag along the towpath, the zig-zag country lanes, a constant headwind and my heavy panniers have elongated the ride. Not that I mind; the steady spin of the bicycle is how I choose to travel, and to see the day pass through every stage has been a privilege.

London is within touching distance: planes hang in the sky awaiting their arrival into Heathrow, and the glow of the city scars the horizon. Tomorrow I will reach the Thames which will draw me into the glorious madness of the capital. It already feels like another world, the gentle canal and the endless plains of the morning. The plod continues towards my overnight stop, the land steadily morphing beneath my wheels, and though tired, cold and hungry, there is a smile on my face. The prosecco can wait. This is the time to see the world.

towpath bike

A proposed 25p tax on coffee cups has been all over the news today, and in my inbox appeared an email from 38 Degrees asking me to share the petition supporting the tax. It stated that the levy could seriously tackle plastic pollution and save the environment.

Obviously, I agree with a tax on throwaway plastics; the fact that we manufacture single-use items from a material that, to all intents and purposes, lasts forever, is an irony not lost on me. It’s clear that the 5p charge on plastic bags has had a huge impact – an 80% decrease in their use according to studies (although just ditch them altogether, I say).

The thing is, I am not convinced that adding 25p to the price of my coffee will have the same effect. The ‘stick’ tactic works with plastic bags because, when it comes to the till, it’s easy for shoppers to a) carry their items b) squeeze more into each bag c) bring their own. Even though it’s only 5p, we would rather do one of the above three things than pay. The key word here is ‘easy’. The choice is made at the checkout. It doesn’t require much forethought (unless you choose option c).

With a levy on coffee cups, the ‘stick’ tactic might not work as well. Options a and b are impossible. The only viable option is to bring your own cup, and that’s actually a bit of a pain because it requires planning, and spending a fair amount upfront. Keep Cups do not fold neatly into a handbag. Let’s be honest, most people are not going to bother. It’s kind of easier to just pay the extra.

What could work better is the ‘carrot’ option. When I use my reusable cup in a coffee hut, I am often given money off my hot drink. This is brilliant – it makes me feel as if I’m being rewarded for doing something good, which is an excellent incentive to keep on doing it. And if I occasionally forget my cup, or I haven’t got around to washing it, I won’t be punished, I just won’t get my reward.

Lots of coffee houses already offer this incentive, and in combination with better publicity (a sign on the door saying ‘Have you remembered your cup?’, for example, in the same way supermarkets ask shoppers if they have remembered their own bags) it could have a great impact upon the number of cups that end up in landfill. That and better waste management – the percentage of single-use cups that are recycled is appallingly low.

Frustratingly, the coffee cup debate seems to have hijacked the general ‘tax on throwaway plastic’ that is the actual thrust of the original petition, by the excellent Natalie Fee and her City to Sea campaign. Definitely tax throwaway plastics (straws, water bottles etc). Coffee cups specifically, I’m not so sure.

Thanks to the Independent website for this image

Thanks to the Independent website for this image

When I migrated this website to its new operating platform, I ditched a large number of my old blog posts. They were either outdated, irrelevant or simply badly written. Given that I was promoting myself as a writer, it would be foolish to put anything out that I was less than happy with. Some of the blogs were about things I still wanted to share, so I re-wrote them; one such entry was about my trip to the Lake District which kick-started the process of turning my round-Britain blog into a round-Britain book. At that stage I was a fledgling writer – I had yet to benefit from professional feedback, and I’d never been edited; I still used the word ‘less’ rather than ‘fewer’ and I had never even heard of a preposition, never mind knowing it’s a word I shouldn’t end a sentence with (haha). Now, though still the same writer, I’m more refined, with better knowledge of how to satisfy my reader and an understanding of what literary clichés are and how to avoid them.

Partway through rewriting my Lake District post, I dragged the original out of the trash. Perhaps I shouldn’t delete it. It’s an illustration of my journey, my writing development. Once I was of the mind that writers should only publish work of which they were proud; it should always be their best. And that is true, to a point. But how can I always write my best work? I am constantly developing, so does that mean that with each new article I should delete all the old ones?

The original Lake District post is truly awful. But I have published it regardless, here. It’s an interesting illustration of a writer who has yet to become so. It is very much a ‘blog’, and not even a good one at that. It lists the places I went to without giving any detail of them. One thing in its favour is that it focuses on a memorable part of my trip, the mountain biking, and describes that in detail, which is a good literary technique. But words such as ‘stunning’, ‘wonderful’ and ‘fantastic’ make me cringe – they don’t describe anything. What made it stunning? Why was it fantastic? I am ashamed that I resorted to ‘take a look at the photos if you want to see what it was really like,’ rather than trying to paint a picture with my words. I relied on the reader to do most of the work: well, of course you will know the Lake District is stunning, because it is, and because I’ve just said so, and don’t you want to see my photos? And I used the word ‘I’ a LOT. Attempts at humour worked, to a point. My mistake was trying to write something that would please everybody, and which ended up pleasing no one, not least myself. Because, yes, I write for others, but it must come from me: first and foremost, I have to like it. And it has to be personal, otherwise no one will connect. That doesn’t mean I have to bare my soul with each paragraph, or write how emotionally changed I was by each hill-struggle, but there has to be something that the reader can identify with, or relate to, even if all that is is a good description of a landscape.

The re-written version is here, and this is a piece that I actually think is good. But I am also proud to present them side by side; it is better to be open than to hide my past writing as if in shame.

Of course, not everything I write is good (not even I think so) but I am satisfied with most of my work. Some posts I think particularly deserve to be read include these:

West of Wales to East of England

In search of Thames Head

Why am I running away?

Slow Travel

and a little poem I wrote, The Kingfisher

I write this as I sit here in my BAM Raja yoga pants. I don’t even practice yoga but my, these pants are comfy.

I am proud to put my name to the BAM bamboo clothing brand: as one of the latest BAMbassadors  it’s my job to wax lyrical about the amazing properties of bamboo. Not that it takes much work: bamboo speaks for itself.

There are plenty of reasons why bamboo is such a terrific material for clothing: it is exceptionally soft, it is naturally anti-bacterial, it provides UV protection, it’s hypo-allergenic, it is moisture wicking, and it is warm yet breathable. An all-round performance fabric that is as good for lounging as it is for sports.

But the thing that sells me the most about bamboo is its environmental credentials. We live in a world where constantly shifting fashion means cheap, synthetic clothing proliferates the market, more often than not ending up in landfill. Bamboo is a wonderful alternative to cotton: it is fast-growing and yields the same volume of cotton from 10% of the land area; it grows naturally without need for pesticides or fertilisers; it’s 100% biodegradable; it needs very little water; and as a grass, it is harvested by cutting not uprooting, meaning it is better for the soil.

So shop with a clear conscience, knowing you are helping the planet as well as yourself. And there is a 50% sale on RIGHT NOW!

BAM top

Running top fresh. Not so sure about the runner.

Kit review:

Serenity top: flattering fit, elasticated around the bottom and wrists with a low-cut waist. I prefer tops that cover my lower hips, so this is perfect. I chose the soft mint and it’s a lovely colour.

Seashore Cover up: really comfy, with a cosy long length and hood. I find the sleeves a little on the short side, but given that most of the time I push my sleeves up, this isn’t too much of a problem. I chose eggplant.

Enduro leggings: mine are from last season but I LOVE them – so comfy and warm, I wear them mostly for recovery after running.

Racer Back Sports Vest: colourful and flattering, this stays fresh despite repeated wear – and I run HARD. Which really helps as I can never be bothered doing my laundry 😉

Socks. Socks socks socks. Who doesn’t need more socks? I have the trainer socks which feel padded and snug when I head out for my run. And when I return they don’t even smell – I really give them a good sniff. Bamboo is truly a miracle material.

For a year-round 15% discount enter code HUGHES at the checkout.

no-car-signMy New Year’s Resolution way back in 2012 was to live without a car for a year. This wasn’t just my car, it was any car: friends, colleagues, taxis, Dad. The challenge was an illustration of what’s possible when you try; I wanted to demonstrate that car-free could be a legitimate option for people. ‘I’m not anti-car,’ I wrote on the first day of the challenge. ‘I’m just anti I-can’t-live-without-my-car.’

Working in the transport sector I would witness first-hand how problematic private motorised transport could be, from congested roads to poisoned air, from unhealthy inactive lifestyles to dangerous and unwelcoming towns and cities. As a daily cyclist I didn’t drive that much anyway, but I wanted to do something a little more noteworthy than what would otherwise have been my normal routine. The car ban began.

Come rain or shine I would cycle to work; with panniers bulging I would struggle home from the shops. Though riding my bicycle had always been my chosen method of getting around London, the fact that I now had to would sometimes grind my gears, so to speak.

Early on I discovered that most of the difficulty of placing restrictions on yourself was explaining it to others. I’m known as a cyclist, but to refuse a lift? Come on now. That’s just silly. People raised their eyebrows, and I felt embarrassed explaining my motivations, like I was some kind of eco-warrior eccentric. Worse, while I cycled to the pub in the rain my mates still drove; I paid for the train to wherever we were going while they split the petrol cost. I sometimes felt as if I were just doing it for the sake of it.

But about six months into the challenge, I received an email, simply entitled ‘inspiration’. David said he used to be a ‘sunshine cyclist’, but reading my blog had inspired him to get out on his bike a lot more. ‘Have now gone 9 days without using my own car. I have been in a car 3 times but at least I am car sharing so it doesn’t feel too bad. This feels great. I have driven a car for the past 24 years so this has been a massive step and buses are a bit scarce where I live.’  His email made me so proud — this was exactly why I had taken on the challenge in the first place.

Day to day I found the challenge easy, but there were a few notable exceptions. My job at the time was organising training courses and providing catering, so I would usually buy the food the day before and take it to the venue by taxi. With this no longer an option, I scouted around for another way to transport lunch ingredients for forty people and ended up borrowing a bicycle trailer from a friend. It was fantastic: capable of carrying heavy loads, the box was a versatile and sturdy way of vastly increasing my carrying capacity, although the weight meant I travelled much slower than usual and the bulk prevented filtering through the queues. Even so, it was a revelation: this is how we get around the ‘but I need to carry heavy items’ problem that motorists often cite. I was sold, and to this day I have my very own trailer.

More of a challenge was moving house. Even the most minimalist of people cannot fit all their belongings into a bicycle trailer. Thankfully the new location was only a mile or three away, and it being a house share I didn’t have much furniture to transport. Using a combination of bike and bus, over the course of six cumbersome journeys I succeeded in shuttling my belongings from one house to the next. Journey one: seven suitcases/bags on the bus. The bags were heavy and there was enough of a walk from the bus stop to make me stop and curse several times. Journey two: panniers and box on bike, pulling a wheely suitcase with one hand. The wheely suitcase broke. Journey three: panniers and trailer. This was taking hours. Journey four: bedside table in the trailer. Losing the will to live. Journey five: riding one bike while ghosting the other. Journey six: picture frames and full-length mirror on the bus. Heavy and awkward. Arrived in my new house exhausted, flustered and completely done in by the length of the task, with new housemates questioning why they’d agreed to this strange girl moving in.

wedding dress bike

On another occasion I cycled seven miles to a friend’s wedding, my dress tucked into my leggings, and I went on holidays to France and the Lake District using a combination of bike, boat and train.
I reached the end of the year having travelled nearly 10,000 miles to places including Brighton, Bristol, Brittany, Cardiff, Cambridge, Devon, Dorset, Dunwich, Edinburgh, Exeter, Gloucester, the Lake District, Liverpool, Lowestoft, all over London, Manchester, Taunton and Windsor.

Had I driven to all of those places it would have cost upwards of £3,000. As it was I spent just over £1,000, mostly on long-distance train travel and continental ferries. But the important outcome wasn’t just the financial savings. Neither was it the environmental benefits. It was more the demonstration that it was possible, that life still happens and happens well without motor transport. Yes, I was richer of pocket, but I was far richer in experience. To break a habit we must sometimes go to extremes, and my year was a demonstration that driving is simply that: a habit. And what a life awaits if we break it.

Lessons learned:

  • That bicycle trailers are a fantastic way of carrying heavy stuff around town (although not entirely problem free: hitches breaking, luggage rumbling loose, difficulty getting through gates etc)
  • That I can get anywhere in the world my heart desires by bicycle, train or boat
  • That if you have a car you use it, and if you don’t, you don’t
  • It is possible to move house without hiring a van
  • Placing restrictions on your life can open the door to adventure
  • Sometimes motor transport is bloody useful

A brief blog about my challenge appeared on the Sustrans website:

To read more about car-free go here:

An ex-colleague of mine set up the fantastic website car free walks:

Other organisations concerned with the reduction of motor transport include Living Streets

An ode to the delicate little kingfisher I see flitting up and down the canal

KingfisherA flash, a splash, a burst of blue,
A rocket of iridescent hue,
A fleeting jewel on endless wing,
He catches fishes as a king.

Alighting on a branch he gleams
In stark contrast to cold-stripped beams,
An orange breast, sharp line of beak:
A fire within the winter bleak.

A sudden movement makes him rise
Into the dull and sullen skies,
His regal coat with glitter shone
Flits up, and drops, and then is gone.

I nearly broke my New Year’s Resolution last night, less than 24 hours into 2018. It is to spend less time on Twitter (and to stop reading the news*) and resist being drawn into Twitter spats with people with whom I’m likely to never agree.

But to see a tweet from none other than Piers Morgan, retweeted by someone I follow, made me incensed. It was mild enough, for him: ‘Veganuary… what new special kind of Hell is this?’ It just smacked of arrogance and ignorance. Because, Piers, #1: Veganuary is not compulsory. If you don’t like the sound of it, just ignore it. #2: Veganuary is obviously not aimed at you. Don’t bash the thousands of people who take part each year in a bid for better health and a more ethical diet. #3: What do you think vegans eat?? It’s not just dust and salad you know. #4: In one fell swoop you have criticised and offended an entire swathe of people who, for various reasons, choose to exclude animal products from their diets. That kind of low-level ‘amusing’ abuse is not helpful. #5: It’s not ‘new’, it’s been around for years. And if you can’t say anything nice don’t say anything at all.

Veganuary responded by saying ‘You know you’re doing something right when Piers Morgan disapproves.’ Good for them. I struggled to contain my reply of any one of the above five points, but eventually broke, heading onto my app to write my riposte. I was stopped in my tracks by a duel between two previous repliers who were arguing over ethics. One of them, to her credit, was trying to kill the other with kindness. I’m not sure it worked. But it made me see the futility of the response. I wasn’t going to win any arguments, and I certainly wasn’t going to convert Mr Morgan in 140 characters.

This is a perfect illustration of why I shouldn’t spend hours scrolling through my Twitter feed, reading ill-informed, incendiary tweets that rile me up and make me feel depressed about the world. I was annoyed that one short statement had threatened to ruin my evening. As I tucked into my vegan beetroot curry I thought about taking a picture and sending it to Piers, but to be honest, it didn’t look very appetising (tasted amazing though). The thing is, I love being vegan. I am really happy in my life choices. My three sisters and their families are taking part in Veganuary this year. There is so much to be positive about, and my life would be much happier if I focussed on those things instead.

But doesn’t it mean I’m living in a dream world ignoring the bad stuff? Well, no. Reminding myself that we are not all like Donald Trump is really important (and actually, Twitter is great for this, so perhaps I don’t need to give it up completely). In real life, I surround myself with people I broadly agree with; I don’t go around picking fights with people who think differently to me, and I’m certainly not friends with Piers Morgan. So why would I do that online?

Several years ago I gave up Facebook, a move that I have never regretted. I’ve written more about this here, and explored further the concept of the Social Media ‘bubble’. Online interactions certainly have their place, and as an author who’s trying to flog a book or two, it would be foolish to remove myself completely. But I think staying out of the arguments and not letting things get to me is a very honourable resolution.

It’s like caffeine: if you don’t have it, you don’t miss it – this is from a genuine tea addict who once drank up to 10 cups a day and now has nothing but Rooibos. So yes, I live in my little vegan, left-wing, de-caffeinated bubble, and you know what, Piers? I like it.


*The ‘No News’ thing is inspired by my friend David Charles, whose various experiments in positive constraints led him to the conclusion that No News is Good News: being fed negativity by world media is not good for the soul, and one can still Find Out Stuff through other sources. Read more about his discoveries here: he makes a compelling case for each.

(Thanks for the dead Twitter bird image)

If you are still cycling in the depth of winter, good for you. Not only is it cold and wet, but your journey to and from work will probably be made in the dark. Lights are a legal requirement (red for rear and white for front*). Always carry spare batteries, or better still, use lights that don’t require batteries, such as Reelight, dynamo, or USB rechargeable (just remember to plug it in at home). And be a blinker**, not a blinder. ***

Hi-visibility jackets can help you be seen, especially in low light or at dusk. Reflectives are best for the dark.

But lights and hi viz are no good unless you ride in a visible position. Be bold and assertive. Ride wide of the door zone. Take the lane at junctions and at pinch points. Don’t hug the kerb. Make eye contact with drivers. Be aware of your surroundings.

There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad preparation. Invest in a good waterproof jacket, waterproof gloves (I find mittens work for keeping fingers warm), waterproof over-trousers (works wonders over a mini-skirt…), and a buff or two for the ears/nose. Other than that, wear whatever you like. Cycling doesn’t have to mean Lycra (though that’s OK too).

* I know this sounds obvious, but if you don’t have a red light, don’t use a white to replace it. White lights are dazzling in a way red lights are not (not very pleasant if you end up following one down the towpath, as I once did); the red and white also works as an indication of direction, as it’s almost impossible to tell if a vehicle is approaching or receding when it is at a distance.

** Flashing lights could attract attention more effectively than a solid light. The law no longer requires cyclists to have a steady light on their vehicle, though it is recommended where there are no street lamps.

*** Most lights on the market are bright – almost too bright. When riding in towns and cities, your light does not need to be on full power: blinding other road users probably won’t aid the cyclists’ cause. On country roads or towpaths, you will need a brighter light in order to illuminate the way – just remember to dip or cover when approaching another road/path user.

The full series of tips for safe cycling can be found here.

I’m excited to be a new BAMbassador for Bamboo clothing, a UK company that manufactures clothing from bamboo. BAM is exactly the kind of company I support: ethical, environmentally friendly and honest. In fact, their ‘sales’ pitch is “We’d genuinely rather make a bit less money and have loads of really pleased and satisfied customers and suppliers than go the awful corporate route of ‘get away with what you can and maximise profit’.” Good for them!

Though they deserve plenty of customers – their products are fantastic. Super soft to wear, naturally moisture wicking and anti-bacterial, they are made from a fast-growing, low-water crop, so kind to the environment. The clothes are biodegradable – as is their packaging!

BAM kindly supplied me with some kit for my Ironman training and race last year, so I can attest to their incredible properties. My running top didn’t need washing for weeks!

So here’s a little Christmas treat: enter code HUGHES at the checkout and get 15% off. You’re welcome.

boat roof small

I have a request. For the first month of 2018, go vegan. It’s not often I suggest people change their lifestyles: usually I present my own choices and leave others to make up their own mind. But this time I am making an exception, because in all the actions I take to tread as lightly on the world as possible, I am most passionate about veganism.

Reasons I am vegan:

  1. The meat and dairy industry accounts for 20% amounts of global carbon emissions – more than transport
  2. Our farming practices are brutal, barbaric and show little regard for any life other than a human’s
  3. Rearing meat for food is wasteful of land, water, and energy
  4. Vegetarianism doesn’t go far enough: rearing animals for meat is not the only way to inflict suffering
  5. Keeping animals in close proximity facilitates the rapid spread of disease, leading to over-use of antibiotics, reducing their efficacy in both animals and humans
  6. Lentils kick ass (who knew there were so many varieties?)
  7. The conditions in which intelligent animals such as pigs are kept is torturous
  8. Artificially inseminating cattle (with what is genuinely referred to in the industry as a ‘rape rod’) then forcibly parting them from their young just so we can drink their milk, that we don’t even need, does not sit well with me
  9. Toxic run-off from silage pollutes our landscape and environment
  10. It’s cheaper
  11. It takes over 600 gallons of water to make a beef burger – almost a hundred times the amount it takes to make a bean burger
  12. 91% percent of deforestation is caused by livestock, much of it through growing feed – we could just cut out the middle ‘man’ and simply eat the feed
  13. No one ever said eat less veg for your health
  14. I used to be an ‘ethical eater’ and though organic, free range, single-reared meat/dairy has a much lower impact on the planet and the animal, there is no way you could feed 7 billion people in this way. It’s just easier to be vegan.

A word of guidance: I don’t bother with tofu or ‘cheez’. If I’m not going to eat meat I don’t want to eat something pretending to be meat. And honestly, those products are so yuck, it would put anyone off veganism. I eat vegetables, lentils, bread, crisps, wine, chocolate, potatoes, beans, pulses, salads, grains, falafel, oat cakes and chips. And anything else that has ever been grown. There is an entire world of non-animal food out there.

And a word of reassurance: I am strong and healthy, and don’t feel deficient in anything. It is marketed to us that meat is the only source of protein, but there is more protein pound for pound in the humble lentil (although eating a 12oz portion of lentils is possibly more arduous than eating a 12oz steak…). Milk is packed full of calcium, but so is broccoli.

Try it: Veganuary. It’s only a month. But it could just change your life.

For more info and recipes go here:

Here’s a week’s worth of recipes to get you started.



8.30am. Whitesands Bay, St Davids. James.

Bicycle and man stand expectant on the beach. In the bay, the sea builds and curls, crashing and frothing as wind patterns the surface. Gannets circle then drop like arrows, tucking their wings tight in a torpedo-dive. Waves surge up the sand and fizz in retreat. A ceremonial baptism for rear wheel; feet suffer the same fate. The sky hangs heavy with clouds, a grey mass over the powerful sea.

Ahead is 400 miles of non-stop riding and a team of five each ready to take the baton. The opposite coast is the finish line; we will ride until we can ride no further. Luck wished, coat zipped, feet clipped. The road leads sharply upwards from the shore, instantly swallowed by the hills, the cogs of the challenge set in motion as the sea continues its slow crash against the shore.

The hills are many, and vicious. Brakes scream and judder on descents, lungs heave on climbs, the cool spring air crystallising in dizzying gasps. Pembrokeshire is a relentless series of peaks and troughs, a slow sprint through a serrated landscape of gorse, sheep and surf. There was talk of a tailwind but no such luck. Coastal view brings coastal breeze. Tarmac unfolds over each peak and round each winding descent. As the route heads inland, roar of traffic replaces pounding of sea. Hours have passed since the ceremonial departure, each mile feeling longer and harder as time marches on. Legs and lungs at tether’s end on the roll into Camarthen, exhausted, relieved, starving.

1.30pm, Carmarthen. Anna.

The hills roll like punches, hard-graft ascents followed by long freewheeling downs. Behind walls of grey stone, sheep bleat, heads raised as rider approaches, a clumsy jolt and a trot as this menace flashes by, a bump into their neighbour, then a lazy return to grazing. At the foot of the hills lies the river valley, a sharp scoop of rock gouged from its surroundings. Above it all the buzzards circle.

Castles are commonplace; that at Kidwelly passes without ceremony, and after the thick green of Pembrey Forest the hills peter out as the river finally reaches the estuary. An abandoned railway track allows easy passage as the view opens up: wide river melting into sea, with the spine-backed Gower resting across the water like a sleeping dragon. The mud flats extend for miles, shining with swirls of the sea. Wading birds crowd at water’s edge. The railway is built upon land reclaimed from industry; the docks, the shunting lines, the dirt all gone, the once-poisoned coast unrecognisable now. Pristine apartment complexes grow incongruously from the wasteland.

It’s a slow climb from Llanelli into the Swansea suburbs. Rain drops begin their patter near the summit; waterproofs are quickly pulled on, the sharp descent into Swansea coinciding with the heavens opening.

4pm. Swansea. Lenny.

The rain falls with a vengeance. Drops bounce from pavements as gutters swirl with rivulets that stampede down the carriageway. Tyres throw water into the air, spatterings of spray marking the passage of car and bicycle. Arms and thighs take the hit, slowly growing soggy as water seeps through overwhelmed waterproofs. Feet and shoulders sit heavy under water’s weight and droplets form on helmet tip. To stop moving is to freeze. Warmth is guaranteed only with continued motion.

From manicured harbour-fronts to the grinding industry of Port Talbot, NCN 4 weaves away from the city towards quieter roads. Into Parc Slip the route switches from tarmac to trail; mud sucks at tyres, slurping in the bog. This would have been lovely in the sunshine but now, with haze masking the landscape, water flicking into eyes, body struggling against cold, the rain saps at the spirits. Dusk descends early, a dreariness precipitated by the weather. Vehicle headlights beam through drumming rain as the route reaches the Cardiff suburbs, then it’s down to the Taff for the final stretch, following the rushing river towards the station. There is the team; the baton is passed by numb hands, soon after to be coaxed back to life in a long, hot shower.

8pm. Cardiff. Andy.

The city roars with commuter traffic and folk spill from the station. A group on a night out hurries past, squealing as stilettos splash through puddles, huddling under one umbrella. It’s a fight to leave, the movement contrary to all others. The city remains loud, overwhelming, dampened by the incessant rain. Ahead are four hours of riding into the growing night. Motivation is called into question.

Away from the city, rain and traffic eases. Darkness descends. Time and place become immaterial: what matters only is now. Wheels whirr over tarmac; legs move like pistons. The countryside between cities is eerily quiet. In the distance the red lights of the bridges come into view, a magnificent duo of construction spanning the water between Wales and England. The lights speak as a guide, drawing rider ever closer. On the approach ramp to the bridge, the suspension cables rise ghostly white into the darkened sky. It is strangely quiet of cars as the day marches into the night. A lone runner passes. Below, the water swirls, black as pitch, hypnotic, languid, deathly. Thoughts of falling, that improbable yet strangely tantalising scenario of bicycle and rider spiralling from the bridge. If it were to happen, no one would know. A brief pause, a glance, then a slow freewheel away from the bridge. The Gloucestershire flats bring a return to perspective, the scale of the surroundings normal once more, the ground solid.

Midnight. Thornbury. James.

Back at the helm for the graveyard shift, the only one that will both start and end in total darkness. Groggy from snatches of sleep in the car. The Cotswolds are at once expansive and oppressive, the darkness almost tangible, the utter nothingness of the midnight hour setting the senses on edge. Phantoms creep at the edge of restricted sight, breaths sound cacophonous in the vast emptiness. Hills rise without warning, the darkness swallowing each clue as to the terrain. The headlight beam stretches ahead, carving out a narrow cone, illuminating dipping branches of trees, sudden potholes and road signs that glare back. Moths stray into the chilly beam. A vehicle approaches, lights blinding with a quick overwhelming white, then passes to leave a steadily fading tattoo on the retina. In the villages all are asleep. It’s a translucent beauty when one is not quite able to see; a suggestion of countryside stretches into the blackness. Silent but for the owls, still but for the fox. The dark is deep and absolute. And in the silence, in the calm, there is a strange sense of freedom.

Senses are jolted as the front light fails. Blackness pounces like a monster. Pannier fumble, phone locate, support car call. The remainder of the ride will be in convoy, the engine purr bringing an end to the dream-like state. A while later the front brake snaps and the remaining miles are ridden carefully, a cable tie holding the parts in temporary place. The lights of Cirencester beckon, a town asleep but for the stumbling revellers of the night before. Waiting beneath garish street lamps for the changeover, the panic has been replaced by calm relief. The worst happened. We are still going.

3am. Cirencester. Anna.

Lights from the town fade to nothing on the exit from Cirencester. The road seems to vanish as if into a tunnel, the countryside ahead completely devoid of light. Haze blurs the periphery; a cool dampness hits the lungs. Miles pass beneath wheels on fast, flat roads. Here at last is the tailwind. In a matter of hours this route will pour with commuters but now, it is shared only with the night creatures. Taking a brief pause, with air no longer rushing in ears, there is the faintly discernible screech of an owl. Later, resting on a darkened village bench sipping tea, a late-night police patrol stops to investigate. Witching-hour riders are a strange lot.

Dawn happens both all of a sudden and creepingly unnoticeably. The first suggestions of light are so faint they could be the reflected lamps of a distant town. Blacks become greys, the road flanked by the faint suggestion of fields and trees. Banners of brightness flutter on the horizon, absorbing the dark, colours becoming distinguishable: yellows, blues, pinks. By 5am the sky is light, the birds shouting with overwhelming energy. It’s a transition few see, the daily miracle of night morphing into day, the passing-on of absolute nothingness. The vibrancy unleashed by daybreak pulses through the air: the world is alive. Tired but emboldened, all that is left is to freewheel into sleepy Oxford, an eye-witness to the making of a new day.

6am. Oxford. Will.

Oxford appears as a ghost town at this hour, the only people wandering amongst its sandy buildings the early morning workers. Another cyclist approaches, a young lad, headphones on, singing at the top of his voice. It’s impossible not to smile. Once beyond the city limits there are few vehicles: on these country lanes, only the wind moves past. There is significance in riding between the two prestigious university towns, to be following a route along which ghost trains of the Varsity Line clatter. It’s calm and cool, with only a whisper of yesterday’s rain, the tailwind a gentle but decisive hand.

The route crosses into roads familiar from past racing circuits and suddenly this is another day and another ride, being carried along in a bunch sprint, watching the breakaway lurch forward, mind whirring with tactics of whether to give chase or sit tight and wait for someone else to make the move. Rhythmic, controlled breaths, the slow build of lactic acid in the legs providing focus as wheels and pedals continue their furious spin.

Back in the present, the mileometer ticks over to 100; there is life in the legs yet, and the approach to Cambridge is cloaked in satisfaction for having the independence and fitness to cover such distances.

Midday. Cambridge. James.

The day is young but the challenge is old: we have been riding solidly since yesterday morning. Body and mind are fatigued with the effort and lack of sleep. Routine is well-worn: ride, baton-pass, rest, refuel, support-car drive, change, fuel, get on it again. Cycling is now along main roads: the picturesque is done. The coast cannot come quickly enough.

3.30pm. Botesdale. Anna.

The final baton-pass, the last push. The Suffolk flats roll fast on the dual carriageway. In a sleep-deprived state a turn is missed: a five mile detour summons tears of exhaustion and frustration. Re-fuel, recover, resume. The roads pass through tunnels of trees, the air warm, the terrain kind. The sprint to the finish line begins.

Desperate for the inevitable descent to the water, the legs grow heavy. The flattening land brings a sense of the coast, the suggestion of sea floating beyond the horizon. On the approach to Lowestoft, a cyclist is waiting by the verge. James! The final miles are ridden as a duo. Across the Broads at last, fatigued, pained, willing the road to end, wondering if it will ever descend, then it does, sharply, to the docks, and there it is, the sea.

8pm. Lowestoft. Anna and James.

Sea crashes dull and grey against dull, grey breakwater. The tidal defences sit stacked against the concrete, unfazed by the strength of the waves. A dial announces the corners of the UK, highlighting this, the most easterly point of mainland Britain. Out at sea wind turbines spin. There is no beach, no ramp on which to wet our wheels, so we make do with gazing out to the horizon, grey with mist. The light begins to fade. We clench hands triumphantly to the sky. West to east; sea to sea; shore to shore. The ride is complete.

West to East cycle

Ordnance Survey map

“Being able to read a map can open up a whole new world…” – Ordnance Survey.

There’s a week for everything and this week is National Map Reading Week. Launched last year by Ordnance Survey, the idea is to encourage and teach the art of reading maps, a skill that is being slowly lost to technology.

I adore maps. The first thing I do when I move to a new city is buy an A-Z, subsequently spending hours thumbing through the pages and becoming familiar with my new home. Here are ten reasons why a physical map beats an app every time.

  1. A wider view. Your tiny phone screen will show you where you are, but doesn’t give much of a picture of where you’re going. Being able, at a glance, to connect your destination to your current position makes route-planning much easier.
  2. Personal choice. You can choose a route based on where you want to go, rather than on where your app thinks you should go. Algorithms don’t always make sense.
  3. Brain power. It’s a valuable skill being able to orientate yourself, and it’s very satisfying to be able to use all the clues in the landscape to work it out. Brains need exercising as much as the rest of the body does. Working things out for yourself is a great way to do this.
  4. Everything you need on one filter: terrain, infrastructure, amenities – it’s all there. Look also for the remnants of the past (disused railway lines, Roman Roads, old canals) – an OS map can be as much a history lesson as a geography one.
  5. Facilitates dreaming. While apps are functional, maps fuel the imagination. Planning routes, thinking of future and past adventures – this is the beauty of the map.
  6. Signal. Always works, even in the middle of ‘nowhere’ (though with a map, nowhere becomes somewhere.)
  7. Battery. No need to charge.
  8. Romance. The wonder and sense of exploration you feel when walking into a map shop. I can spend hours staring at maps. It’s good for the soul. I don’t feel as wholesome when I’ve spent hours staring at my phone.
  9. The anti-Sat Nav. There’s no need to have a disembodied voice telling you where to go if you can work it out yourself, thank you very much.
  10. A work of art, a thing of beauty. Maps on the wall turn your home into an art gallery.

For more info on National Map Reading Week go to

My mother never liked The Archers. Radio 4 would always be playing in the kitchen while we were getting dinner ready, so Just a Minute, I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue and The News Quiz were staples of my childhood, but when the opening bars of The Archers theme struck up at 7pm, she would practically launch herself across the kitchen to switch it off. It made me curious – what could possibly be so bad?

When I started to live on my own, I bought myself a digital radio which quickly became my best friend. It was a source of constant interest, entertainment and education, and would babble away in the corner while I went about my business – much better than an attention-demanding television. I would delight in the 6.30pm comedy slot, and with a slight sense of guilt, leave it tuned to Radio 4 as the 7 o clock news came and went and the schedule turned to The Archers. I quickly became an addict. As opposed to my mother, I loved the ‘soapiness’ of it. It’s silly, and dramatic, and in many cases wholly unbelievable, but therein lies its attraction. I liked the way the writers wove the many story lines around each other, and the fact that it didn’t matter if you missed an episode – every conversation in the next one would let you know what you’d missed. I came to know the characters, and built their pictures in my head (nothing like their real faces, I might add – never go on the website of your favourite radio show). I even stuck with it through Helen’s trial which, I have to admit, was a bit far-fetched.

But today, for the first time ever, I turned it off mid-episode. It was a reaction that has been bubbling away for a while now, a feeling of misrepresentation of real life, far too much scandal, and missed opportunities to explore issues that I feel are really important.

In today’s episode, the insufferable Nolutando criticised the even more insufferable Kate’s diet: “That vegan food takes so long to eat.” It’s only a tiny moment and a tiny example, but it sums up everything that is wrong with The Archers. Stereotypes abound. ‘Vegan’ food, or ‘food’ to you and me, is simply that. If I choose to eat a raw vegetable salad, which is what I think the writers were implying, then yes, it might take a lot of chewing. Anyone can eat a raw vegetable salad, vegan or not. A chicken salad would probably take as long to eat. If I am in a hurry to catch a train, as those characters were, I would pick up a wrap from Bar Burrito which exists at most London train stations, and tuck into my delicious, easy-to-eat, satisfying mix of beans, rice, salad, salsa, and guacamole on the train. Not all ‘vegan’ food is difficult to eat. Sometimes I just eat chips.

Surely it wouldn’t have hurt the writers to come up with a different excuse for missing the train? Nolutando wanted to try on one more dress; Kate couldn’t resist picking up a face lift kit from a health food store. Earlier, Kate has cited her being vegan as a reason she should be surrogate for Ian and Adam’s child. Her diet makes her healthy. I bristle at things like this, small, insignificant things that shouldn’t matter, but that perpetuate people’s misconceptions about a lifestyle choice I have made. The assumption is that my diet is boring, healthy and measly. But it’s not! Yes, I am healthy, but that’s because I eat sensibly, not because I’m vegan. I am never ever hungry after eating (except for the time I went to The Narrow – one of Gordon Ramsey’s, no less – and was given the equivalent of a side salad for my dinner. But that’s another story), my diet is varied, filling, and delicious. And it can even involve fried food!

I’m perpetually frustrated at stereotypes such as this. Perhaps the writers were trying to avoid that trap with another storyline, about the fruit picker Lexy from Bulgaria who’s been doing seasonal work on Adam’s farm. It was an important issue to explore, that of EU workers, one that is emotive and will speak to many people in wake of Brexit. But I can’t help feeling this was also a missed opportunity. Lexy was well-educated with an excellent grasp of the English language, which made it almost laughable that she approached Kirsty for English lessons. I have a Bulgarian friend who has lived in England for far longer than Lexy, whose English is nowhere near as good. Regardless, she is excellent at her job, and she has an English husband and an English daughter. That’s the reality: people making a success of life in a foreign country despite the language barrier and communication issues. Instead, Lexy sails through conversations, being given explanations of misinterpreted English idioms which they all have a good old laugh about.

It wasn’t until recently that I looked up the characters online – after four years, I still don’t know how everyone is interconnected (as all families tend to be in a soap opera), and with the arrival of Nolutando, one of Kate’s children, none of whom she’s much of a mother to, my head was spinning. I was horrified to read about how many affairs everyone has had, and how many illegitimate children have been born as a result. Call me naive, but it does seem ridiculous. And now, Kate is offering to be surrogate for Adam and Ian? The surrogacy storyline has already been covered a while back, with Ian’s best friend Mads failing to come good on the deal (before my time, but it’s not that hard to get the picture). What is wrong with a married couple adopting? That would have been an excellent storyline to pursue, especially as it could address the fact that perhaps having all these children isn’t such a good idea after all

I’ve finally seen that The Archers just pays lip service to the issues that actually matter. It was created to educate and enthuse the public about farming, but it seems to have become a parody of itself. And though it breaks my heart to admit it, as when someone you love turns out not to be quite the person you thought they were, I think my time with The Archers is over. Perhaps my mother was right after all.

The Cotswolds glow with Autumn as we ride along narrow lanes that disappear down tunnels of trees. Leaves drip and swirl golden onto the carriageway and horse chestnuts lie split and smashed on the tarmac. The land sits flat and open, farmsteads hemmed in by sand-coloured walls constructed from slabs of Cotswold stone. The villages are moulded from the same, each building rising uniform yet charmingly different, a ramshackle collection of homes, shops and public houses gathered around the lane, with the church spire acting as a beacon across the surrounding miles.

The little town of Lechlade is an expanded version of the villages we have seen, lying on the confluence of the Rivers Leach and Thames. Down at the riverside we roll past the pub, cafe, canoe hire and swans to see the water where narrowboats line the banks. This is the limit of the navigable Thames, and a mile or so upstream is the Inglesham roundhouse and the junction with the derelict Thames and Severn canal, where barges once transported goods between London and Bristol.

We roughly follow its course. The Ordnance Survey is scattered with the disintegrated remnants of infrastructure but few traces remain. A farm track leads to a humped bridge under which the waterway once flowed; the guardian’s roundhouse still stands but has been incorporated into a modern home, the foundations of which interrupt the canal’s course. The deep cut has been converted to a pond with a neat set of steps forming part of an ornamental garden under the bridge. On the other side a water-filled ditch passes into the distance. Later we glimpse a sunken gully beyond the trees; later still, we stumble across the skeletal remnants of a mooring basin. What had been such a significant feature of the landscape is now mostly lost, the cut filled in, converted to road or border-hedge, or clawed back by nature.

Next is to find the source of the Thames, tracing the river backwards from the limit of its navigation to its heart. In Cricklade it is reduced to little more than a brook, a trickle flowing along a shallow channel, dramatically reduced in the few miles from Lechlade. We are soon deep in the Cotswold water park, the old gravel pits lying submerged to create vast lakes inhabited by wildlife and the rich. The roads continue their slow roll; it’s a cyclist’s paradise of gently undulating lanes, few vehicles and picture-postcard views.

The day is growing old as we near Thames Head where the famous river rises. Our tyres stumble on tractor ruts: tracks across a field lead to the ceremonial stone and a signpost for the 184 miles-long Thames path. There is no suggestion of water here, yet this is the source of the river that will meander through Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and into London, the majestic waterway upon which our capital and many major towns are built, growing in size and gaining flow along the gentle Thames valley. We stay for a while, reading the inscription on the stone, feeling as pilgrims do. It’s almost spiritual, to have found the point where life for so many begins. In this way, a simple ride becomes so much more.

In time we will drink a pint in the Thames Head pub, cycle home, and the sun will set on this day of exploration. For now we contemplate our adventure and dream of adventures to come.

Thames Head

It was at the age of 17 that I was introduced to the sonnet, during my ‘A’ level year when curious minds feed on endless titbits offered by teachers, minds open to exploration and suggestion. I loved the ingenuity of the form, at once restrictive and inviting of creativity, and I admired those poets who could mould phrases and sentiments around its strict rhyming requirements.

One of these was Edna St. Vincent Millay, whose Sonnet I committed to memory and have never since forgotten. It’s an elegy of love and loss, touchingly personal yet universal, words of beauty and simplicity that spoke to my teenage self.

Time does not bring relief; you all have lied
Who told me time would ease me of my pain!
I miss him in the weeping of the rain;
I want him at the shrinking of the tide;
The old snows melt from every mountain-side,
And last year’s leaves are smoke in every lane;
But last year’s bitter loving must remain
Heaped on my heart, and my old thoughts abide.

There are a hundred places where I fear
to go,—so with his memory they brim.
And entering with relief some quiet place
Where never fell his foot or shone his face
I say, “There is no memory of him here!”
And so stand stricken, so remembering him.

Another I adored was Menelaus and Helen by Rupert Brooke, snatches of which come back to me on occasion, though I have never been able to recite it in its entirety. Hot through Troy’s ruin is so evocative an opening, and I’m endlessly impressed by the poet’s frugality with words and phrases to make his meaning fit within the structure. This work introduced me to such words as ‘sate’ and ‘garrulous’, my teenage study requiring as much time thumbing through the dictionary as reading the poem.


Hot through Troy’s ruin Menelaus broke
To Priam’s palace, sword in hand, to sate
On that adulterous whore a ten years’ hate
And a king’s honour. Through red death, and smoke,
And cries, and then by quieter ways he strode,
Till the still innermost chamber fronted him.
He swung his sword, and crashed into the dim
Luxurious bower, flaming like a god.

High sat white Helen, lonely and serene.
He had not remembered that she was so fair,
And that her neck curved down in such a way;
And he felt tired. He flung the sword away,
And kissed her feet, and knelt before her there,
The perfect Knight before the perfect Queen.


So far the poet. How should he behold
That journey home, the long connubial years?
He does not tell you how white Helen bears
Child on legitimate child, becomes a scold,
Haggard with virtue. Menelaus bold
Waxed garrulous, and sacked a hundred Troys
’Twixt noon and supper. And her golden voice
Got shrill as he grew deafer. And both were old.

Often he wonders why on earth he went
Troyward, or why poor Paris ever came.
Oft she weeps, gummy-eyed and impotent;
Her dry shanks twitch at Paris’ mumbled name.
So Menelaus nagged; and Helen cried;
And Paris slept on by Scamander side.

Though widely regarded as the father of the sonnet, it wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I first encountered Shakespeare in a meaningful way. I was seeing an older man at the time, a well-read, artistic type who wore long flowing shirts and tied his hair back in a ponytail. His knowledge of literature intimidated me; I was desperate to impress him or at least appear to match his intellect. We were out for a walk one day, a long, lazy walk around the suburbs of Leeds when we spotted a fridge in someone’s back garden. There were poetry magnets on its door, a novelty at the time, some of which had been arranged into the opening lines of Shakespeare’s sonnet 29: When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes I all alone beweep my outcast stat (there had been no final ‘e’ to complete the word; perhaps it had fallen off). To my amazement my companion proceeded to recite the entire poem. He took the letters and gave them to me; I think I fell in love with him then. The sonnet was quickly committed to memory, the magnets given pride of place on our fridge at home. They have since been lost or rearranged, my father perhaps not realising their sentimental significance, and though the relationship ended not long afterwards, Shakespeare’s words still reside in my head.

When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
(Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven’s gate;

For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

‘Should reckless cyclists face the same consequences as dangerous drivers?’ asks Good Morning Britain on Twitter. The cycling community sighs collectively.

Each time someone is killed on a bike or by a bike, it’s headline news. It perpetuates the perception that cycling is dangerous; it justifies people’s hatred of cyclists. It feeds the simmering nastiness on the roads that results in all of those who ride two wheels getting shouted at, beeped at, spat at, missiles hurled at, sworn at, swerved into, threatened and abused daily. This is the reality of cycling in the UK.

It’s exhausting that people hate me just because I choose to ride a bike. It’s exhausting and frustrating and saddening. I choose to ride because I love it, but it’s not just beneficial to me, my mental and physical health and my purse: it means there are fewer cars on the road, less pollution, better air quality, less congestion. In short, my being on a bike benefits drivers. If more people were active there would be fewer health problems, less of a strain on the NHS, fewer tax dollars given to treat preventable sedentary lifestyle-related illness. My being on a bike benefits the tax payer.

A cursory glance through the responses to this question from Good Morning Britain reveals the same old arguments. ‘Yes, and they should be made to pay road tax’; ‘Yes because all they do is run the lights’; ‘Yes and they should have to take a test’.

First, the tax question. So often this has been used as an argument against me, as a reason why someone would drive dangerously around me. Somehow I don’t deserve to use the road because I haven’t paid for it. Yet ‘road tax’ as it is known doesn’t exist. All road infrastructure is funded through general taxation. I pay tax therefore I pay for the roads, for the pavements, for the cycleways. The ‘road tax’ that vehicles pay is based upon emissions. A cycle doesn’t create any pollution; if you drove an electric vehicle you wouldn’t pay either.

Second, the moaning about cyclists jumping the lights. Yes, cyclists do it, and yes, it’s annoying. Lots of cyclists wait. Lots of cyclists call out other cyclists for doing it. And drivers do it too. Every day, almost without fail, I see a driver run the lights.

Third, the point about having to take a test. The fact is, most do. Most cyclists are also drivers, who have a licence to use the road. Most drivers have a licence, but that doesn’t prevent drivers running red lights, using a phone at the wheel, dangerously overtaking and speeding. Using examples of poor driving is not intended to exonerate cyclists of wrong-doing, but this whole debate exacerbates this war on the roads, this animosity between road users. It fuels ill-thought out arguments, it perpetuates tribalism.

It also ignores the real question asked by Good Morning Britain which is about consequences and culpability. Yes, of course cyclists should face punishment for causing death or injury, just as drivers should. Cyclists and motorists should both be accountable to the law, and penalties that befit drivers for killing someone should also apply to cyclists. The debate has arisen because a cyclist was given an 18 month sentence for killing a pedestrian. Many people on the thread point out the extraordinary number of examples of drivers who get let off with a fine or are found not guilty when they have taken a life.

I feel compelled to write a response to this one: ‘I face cyclists every day and they don’t care about anything around them apart from getting to their destination.’ I reply verbatim, substituting the word ‘cyclists’ for ‘drivers’. The fact is, everyone using the road wants to get somewhere; of course they do, otherwise they wouldn’t be on the road. Everyone gets frustrated, suffers lapses in attention, goes a bit too quickly, sneaks through the light just as it goes red. I do it. Everyone does it. Yet arguably, and statistically, motorists are far more dangerous than cyclists. Because in the time it took for Charlie Alliston to be found guilty of wanton and furious cycling, 300 people were killed by motor vehicles. None of those made headline news.

Yes, the law needs to be changed and yes, there needs to be better enforcement. But we are all road users. There should be no Us and Them. We should be allowed to choose the type of vehicle we travel in/on without experiencing the negative backlash from others.

A few reasoned responses slipped through. One of the replies was, “These cyclists and these motorists are all still people”. I wholeheartedly agree.

In the Netherlands, drivers are taught to open the car door with their far hand. It’s an indication of how bicycle-centric their culture is; by performing the ‘Dutch reach’ the driver is forced to turn their head and body, so can see if a cyclist is about to pass, therefore avoid opening the door in their path.

Cycling UK have this week called for British drivers to be taught the method. Eight people have been killed and thousands more injured in the last five years because of car doors being thrown open without looking. The Bikeability scheme already educates cyclists to ride wide of car doors – the width of a door and a little bit more – but this would put the onus on drivers, too.

I was doored once; never since have I ridden in the door zone. Yet daily I see cyclists in that danger area. There is a lack of awareness on both sides: cyclists feel safer on the left; drivers expect cyclists to ‘Get out of the way!’. You only have to search the word ‘cyclist’ online to see drivers’ rants about idiots riding in the middle of the road. Stay in a safe position and open yourself up to abuse; bow to pressure and end up riding in a position that could cause you more harm.

In a rare positive exchange with a taxi driver I succeeded in explaining that the reason I was riding wide was so I wouldn’t get hit into his path by an opening car door – “then you’d be having a bad day as well as me.” He looked at me for a moment then replied, “I never thought of that; you’re right, I’m sorry.” The buzz of that apology lasted for days.

But more common is the yelling, the unpleasantness, the frustrating exchanges. There are many solutions: better infrastructure, different laws, a cultural shift. But something that could help right now is education. All road users would benefit from greater understanding of each other. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if a journey by bicycle were part of UK driving lessons? In lieu of that, the ‘Dutch reach’ would be a massive step in the right direction.

Chris Froome has cemented his place in the list of cycling greats with a win in the Vuelta España to add to his victory in the Tour de France earlier this season. He is the first cyclist to win the double since Bernard Hinault, the dominant rider of the 1980s, and with four TdF titles, becomes the most successful British cyclist ever on the grand tour stage.

Froome is one of the strongest climbers of his time. Yet he rides under the cloud of Lance Armstrong’s legacy. People spit at him, shout ‘Dopé!’, mimic injecting their arms as he rides past. The spectators get up close, one upturning a cup of urine over his head. A banner with the word ‘Froome’ followed by a question mark appears as cyclists take a bend. The French press label him a mutant; they say he can’t possibly be that good at climbing. There are suspicions of his sudden bursting onto the scene: from a little-known rider on the verge of being dropped by his team, he came out of nowhere to take second place in the Vuelta a España in 2011.

It’s a legacy that Froome and the other riders of his generation will have to overcome. Doping checks and regulations have tightened to an extent that it is now nigh on impossible to cheat. Froome deals with the accusations with characteristic dignity and politeness. He aims to be a role model for clean cycling.

Froome grew up in Kenya, where he used to ride through the townships and among wild animals, selling avocados off the back of his bike as an eight-year-old. ‘Cycling was my freedom,’ he says.

Froome’s first tour victory took place at the historic 100th edition of the Tour, the year after he rode as domestique for Bradley Wiggins. The role of a domestique (French for ‘servant’) is to assist the team leader by providing a slip stream so they can save energy, carrying their water or supporting them in the bunch until the moment of attack. Consequently, the domestiques are largely unknown figures, often sacrificing all for the team, peeling off before the finish line after having spent everything they had. Yet despite riding essentially on behalf of someone else, in the 2012 Tour, Froome came second.

Those crowds that line the route of the Tour give so much to the riders, a much-needed cheer of encouragement, a turbo-boosting Mexican wave, sometimes even a gentle push. It is one of the curiosities of the Tour, these crowds that spill into the road, parting at the last moment. ‘We have a unique sport; it is a privilege to be able to get up close to the race and to the event,’ says Brian Cookson, UCI president. ‘But people have a responsibility to respect that as well.’ It’s what led to the punching of Eddy Merckx; it means those keen photographers whose desire to get a close-up often results in their camera, and the rider, smashing to the ground. An ascent in the 2016 Tour saw a fan attempting to run alongside the riders, cape flowing behind him. He received a jab in the face from Froome.

Poor weather on the ascent up Mont Ventoux in 2016 convinced the organisers to bring the finish line a short way down the mountain, displacing the crowds from that top section and squeezing them into spaces already over-filled with fans. Those groups that spill into the road spilled too far and the lead motorbike had to stop, causing Froome to crash into him. A second motorbike hit from behind and broke his frame. With his support car 5 minutes back, he began to run, cleated shoes slipping on the tarmac. There’s no rule stating that you’re not allowed to run – as long as you cross the finish line with a bike. He was finally given one, and retained the yellow jersey.

Perhaps Froome will be the first to legitimately break the five-win record. ‘I don’t see anyone beating Chris Froome for the next few years,’ said Merckx.

This is an excerpt from ‘Pedal Power: inspirational stories from the world of cycling’ available to buy now

I was released from my bar shift early last night, so I went on the hunt for falafel. Falafel King in Clifton Down was a long walk up a hill (isn’t everywhere in Bristol) but worth venturing out for, so I’d heard, and still open at 10.30pm when others had closed up for the night.

But with half an hour to go, it looked decidedly as though the kitchen was no longer serving. “Are you still open?” “No, sorry, we’ve just finished for the night. Kitchen closes at 10.” My face fell. “Oh no! I check on G*ogle and it said 10.30… and I’ve just walked all the way up the hill…” I tailed off. The server looked from me to the chef and back again. “What were you hoping for?” he asked. “Just a falafel salad, anything you still have,” I said. He turned again to the chef. “Can you do that?” Chef nods. “Thank you so much!”

10 few minutes later out came the most ginormous salad I had ever seen. A huge bowl piled high with quinoa, pepper, peas, broccoli, beetroot, fava beans, chickpeas and pomegranate, topped with parsley, mint and five falafel balls, with a tahini dressing. It was utterly, utterly delicious, and there was so much variety that every mouthful was a delight. The best part was the beetroot. Or perhaps the broccoli. Oh, the peas were pretty good too. And quinoa! I have always shied away from the decidedly middle-class grain, but this might just change my mind. While there was no hummus (that had to be ordered separately) there was such a variety of textures I didn’t mind. And the falafel balls were as good as you would expect from a place that boldly calls itself ‘Falafel King’.

There was so much food on the plate I took the leftovers away and am currently eating them for an equally delicious lunch the next day. Worth every penny. Full marks for quality of food and for squeezing me in when they were supposed to be closing. The waiter happily cleared up around me and let me stay beyond 11 without complaint. A chart-topping no-question 5/5.



When speculation emerged in July that Kate Middleton might be pregnant with her third child, a letter from charity ‘Having Kids’ urging the couple of reconsider met with a considerable public backlash. The charity: for the good of the environment, we should be having fewer children, and those in the public eye have a duty to set an example for the rest of us. The public: who are you to tell them what they should and shouldn’t do?

To not have children is a decision I made long ago. At an early age I was conscious that there were too many people in the world, among them many unwanted children. Why would I contribute to that? My view was usually dismissed by others: “Oh, you’ll change your mind,” and, “Wait until your biological clock kicks in!” I would smile and say, perhaps. But as my teens turned into my twenties, I never developed that maternal instinct, neither did I feel an urge to be pregnant. Babies don’t make me weak in the knees; I don’t quite know what to do with them.

My decision to remain childless has caused tension in past relationships. One boyfriend would say, “I know you don’t want children, but why don’t you want my children?” He wouldn’t accept that this was a decision I could make alone. We argued endlessly about it until one morning he told me he needed to find a woman with whom he could have babies, and that was that. I was heartbroken, but wouldn’t change my mind just to keep him happy.

Most of my friends are now parents. All three of my sisters have children. But at the age of 34, I am still as adamant as ever that I won’t follow suit. Though my resolve is still the same, my motivation has changed. I’ve always been environmentally aware, but it wasn’t until recently that my decision struck me as being an environmental one. Our global population is on the increase, and in a world with finite resources, we cannot continue to grow exponentially. We can be diligent in terms of reducing food waste, using renewable energy, creating less pollution, protecting animals, but fundamentally, if there are too many people on this earth it doesn’t matter how much we protect our resources: there simply isn’t enough to go around. The obvious answer to our environmental woes is to have fewer children.

Yet it’s a controversial issue. When we speak of limiting a population, we think of China and a restrictive one-child policy that has resulted in forced abortions. We think of freedom of choice being taken away. In Western society, large families have been the norm for several generations, with the push after the World Wars to re-build our decimated population, or the historical need for women to have lots of children because only a handful would survive into adulthood. Most people see the choosing of family size as a fundamental human right, illustrated very clearly by the outrage sparked by the ‘Having Kids’ letter.

And so it should be, to a point. We should all be free to make those decisions. But we should also be informed to make those decisions responsibly, with regards to the impact they have on those around us. Everything we do in life affects the environment to a greater or a lesser extent. People consume resources. By bringing a child into the world, we are creating a person who will need food, water, clothes, stimulation, and all the other resources life demands. We are already consuming far more than this planet can provide, a worrying trend that will only continue to rise.

Today, the Cambridges confirmed that Kate is indeed pregnant. The news made me sad and slightly frustrated. While I am against forcibly restricting people in their fundamental freedoms, I wish we could be better educated to make better choices. I’m frustrated because Kate and William are in the public eye; it could be enormously influential if they had chosen to have no more than two children. When I tell people of my decision not to have a family, and explain the reasons why, they are interested, and admit to never having thought of it like that. It is difficult to present limited family size as a positive choice, but it’s an important argument to make, and one that would benefit society and the world for generations to come.

Today was the turn of Edna’s Kitchen. Friends had recommended it; news articles describe it as legendary. I was about to find out.

Edna’s kitchen sits at the top of Castle Park, the small kiosk offering a number of yummy-looking dishes including meze salad boxes of various sizes, halloumi, and, of course, falafel. Again, I opted for a falafel wrap – £6.

Castle Park is a good setting for a takeaway. My bike and I settled down on a bench overlooking the various pathways that lead down to the water, while a man of advanced years free-jumped over the walls as youths looked on with repressed amazement. I took a bite.

I can see why Edna has such a reputation. Crisp and flavoursome falafel contrasts with silky-smooth homemade humous, all offset by a salad of tomato, grated carrot, red and white cabbage, lettuce, gherkin, sweet coriander, biting chilli and dill. With so many contrasting elements stuffed into my little wrap, there was variety in each delicious mouthful. It was brought together well by a generous slop of tahini sauce, though this was to be its downfall. The wrap had been handed over in a single paper bag, not strong enough to hold the various juices that pooled in the bottom, the paper growing weaker and weaker as I ate and eventually bursting… into my handbag. I have to dock a mark for that.

So, incredible falafel and delicious salad – next time I’ll order a meze box in order to avoid handbag-gate. Good value, although not quite as full a wrap as Falafel King for the same price. A very respectable 4/5.


Today it’s the turn of The Bristologist, a ‘Plates and Slates’ bar on Corn Street. They do a falafel wrap as part of their lunch menu: £5.95 for a wrap stuffed with hummus, raita and leaves, served with chips. I’ll be having it without the raita.

Pubs are inevitably more expensive and the food inevitably takes far longer to arrive. This is the easiest option today: I’ve started a job behind the bar here, so might as well check out the only thing I can eat on a menu otherwise dominated by burgers and hot dogs.

When it arrives I can only describe it as less a wrap, more a fold – the hummus, leaves and falafel are rather clumsily shoved in amongst a roughly-toasted wrap which falls apart as I pick it up. There’s little to improve the experience: the falafel tastes suspiciously non-vegan, as if it’s been fried in pork fat, and there are far too many leaves. The chips are nice, though.

2/5, and that’s 1 point for the chips. At least I work here so I didn’t have to pay for it.


It’s week two of #FalafelFriday and I’m lining up the big boys. With a name like Falafel King, I’m expecting something spectacular.

This is the street stall at the head of Narrow Quay, outside Bristol Hippodrome, the little sister of the Cotham Hill-based restaurant. I can have my falafel in a pitta for £4 or a luffa (wrap) for £6. I go for the wrap.

The luffa is gently heated, then covered with plenty of hummus, which is followed by no less than 8 balls of falafel. The accompanying salad comprises julienne carrots, white onions, red cabbage, tomatoes and couscous. I opt for tahini sauce. Once everything has been piled on, the wrap is so full it can barely be, well, wrapped. The server handles it with expertise and passes it over, and I’m ready to get stuck in.

De.Li.Cious. Easy to eat in spite of its size. Excellently-cooked falafel well distributed throughout the wrap, with tasty salad (though I’m not sure about the carrots). Totally worth the £6 for the amount you get. And while it looks far too huge to eat, I finish the whole thing without a problem. A very pleasing 4/5. I will definitely be coming back.


As a vegan in a new city, seeking out places to eat can be a challenge. But there’s one dish that I’m pretty much guaranteed to be able to find: falafel. For years it’s been a staple of mine, from take-aways to street stalls to restaurants. So, how will Bristol shape up in the falafel stakes? Being the greeny, hippy-type place it’s reputed to be I have high hopes. Here begins #FalafelFriday, a weekly search for the best in deep-fried fava beans and chick peas.

Day one of this new adventure doesn’t begin so well, my first Friday in Bristol seeing me wandering the streets in frustration at the apparent lack of falafel. I don’t know Bristol very well yet, and while I could turn to the internet for help, I had a rather romantic notion of exploring. So far it’s not turned up the goods. I wander up Victoria Street but there’s not much to be found, just a few pubs and newsagents set amongst the office blocks. The handful of street stalls here are closed. All is quiet in St Nick’s market. The flashing neons of kebab houses signal nothing but disappointment – no falafel on the menu. I eventually find one hidden down a narrow street. It’s a small, simple kebab restaurant with the regulatory columns of meat slowly turning on their spit. I’m the only customer. Do you have falafel? He nods. With hummus? No. His assistant heads out to the local Tesco. I sit and wait beneath the garish strip lighting with grease filling my nostrils.

Hummus purchased, falafel cooked, oddly enough in the microwave. Two largish pieces of the good stuff are smashed onto the wrap, covered with loads of kebab-style salad, which I love: cabbage, onions, cucumber, tomato. No sauce for me. Expertly rolled with a napkin to catch the drips. £4 and the wrap is handed over.

I walk along the waterfront and sink my teeth in. It’s good: great flavour and variety from all the salads, though I’m not sure about the key ingredient – it could have done with being crisped in the frier rather than heated in the microwave. Also, all the falafel is on one side so I have to be very creative with my biting in order to get a mixed mouthful. Not the worst falafel wrap I’ve ever had, though, and I appreciate the effort they went to. And not a bad price. A solid 3/5.


It’s raining again. Droplets run Matrix-style down the windows, the sky fading from grey to black beyond, the river surging beneath. I look out at the choppy, relentless waves and feel uneasy. The Thames is a beast with which I’m not familiar. I have been battling it for four days, fighting the current, avoiding weirs, and looking on as cruisers roar past, their wash rolling up the side of my vessel and slapping loudly against its flat hull. My narrowboat is not suited to river life.

My mooring tonight is in Henley. The regatta is tomorrow, the rowers out for their final preparations, disturbing the water with their blades so that I knock against the platform where I’m clumsily moored. I’ve moved the fenders twice to no avail – wherever I tie them seems to be the wrong place. Mooring on the Thames is difficult. The town pontoons turned out to be private, and returning to the previous spot was less straightforward than I’d hoped, with some unfortunately-timed gusts of wind, a very shallow bank and a near collision with a passing rower making this one of the more stressful moorings. I’d lashed my lines to what appeared to be little more than a fishing platform, only noticing the words ‘No Mooring’ once I’d disembarked. With the rain sluicing down, finding somewhere else was decidedly unattractive. But soon the river patrol motors over: it’s OK – I can stay, for a fee.

The rain is getting me down. In the four days since I left east London it has rained every day, sometimes pelting, sometimes seeping, always enough for me to become utterly saturated standing on the tiller deck. It is not at all what I had hoped for my summer cruise. Boating, it seems, is not all gin and tonics. For a sweet moment, the downpour subsides and a break in the clouds allows the evening sun to pour unrestrained onto the water and rebound in blinding reflections. A full rainbow arcs over the water, emboldened by the solid grey clouds. I leave the boat and stand on the waterlogged banks, the air still, the sun dazzling, as the perfect curve of the rainbow splashes the sky above my boat.

I am at the beginning of a two-week, 180-mile journey to a new life in Bristol. Since I moved aboard three years ago, it’s been at the back of my mind to travel somewhere beyond the River Lea, my favoured cruising ground where I constantly shuttle between London and Hertfordshire. That’s what boats are for, after all; it would be a shame not to take advantage of the fact that I can move home without actually moving home. Bristol seems as good a place as any: a small, environmentally aware, bikey city, with plenty for vegans and a rich history. I have a couple of friends there. And I’ve never really gone anywhere on my boat. People often buy their vessels outside London and bring them into the capital, the resulting cruise an introduction and (often literally) crash course in boat handling, the statutory adventure and accompanying tales almost a prerequisite to life afloat. I didn’t have that. I bought mine in Enfield, my first cruise being on a chilly New Year’s Day where I motored for two hours through torrential rain then ran out of diesel.

So this is my adventure, my boat move that never was. I’ve been looking forward to it for six months, imagining the beauty of the canal, the long, hot summer and the inevitable tan. But now, after four stressful days of cruising, all I want to do is turn around and go back. The Thames is a struggle, an unfamiliar waterway on which I feel entirely overwhelmed. I have forgotten the promise of a new life in Bristol. All I can think about as I negotiate these waters beneath the overbearing skies is what I have left behind. I mourn my job, my friends, a city I know and love, my darling sister and my boyfriend. Most people move towards something. I feel that I’m running away.

And so it is, in times of struggle, that we forget why we do these things. It would be so easy to pack it all in and turn around. Heaven knows I have thought this before, on long, solitary cycle trips, or in dark moments at sea. These hours of solitude force me to really examine my motives. Why would I yank myself up at the roots to surround myself with unease? In the past I have described myself as fiercely independent; I’ve never held down a relationship for longer than two years or a job for longer than five. Am I always destined to be dissatisfied, to be restless, to hold people at arm’s length? Is that why I’m going? The feeling of being too comfortable, that there is more to life? It’s frustrating, my inability to settle. Why can’t I be happy with what I have?

But it is these adventures, these experiences and challenges that makes up the rich tapestry of our lives. To do is always better than to not. We must take these opportunities when we can: when looking back we want to remember what we did, not regret what we might have done. Yes, I had a wonderful life in London, a rich, fulfilling life, a life that could have kept me satisfied for years to come. But truth be told, If I hadn’t set sail, I would spend the next year wishing I had.

As I continue my journey, people will tell me they admire my independence, that they envy my lifestyle, and I will usually respond benignly, with only a hint of how much I am struggling. Arriving won’t solve things. But eventually I will find a job, make new friends, and learn how to live on this unfamiliar waterway. It doesn’t matter that I don’t know what I’m looking for. Neither does it matter particularly if I find it. Simply being here will enrich my existence, embolden my character and add a few lines to my face, all of which will tell a story. And when I am satisfied with my adventure, maybe then I can go home.


IMG_4129This is a lightly edited version of the cruising log I kept on my move from London to Bristol by narrowboat. Photos of the journey can be found here: 

22nd July 2017.

DAY ONE. The cruise to Bristol begins!

Limehouse to Kensal Green. 11.5 miles. 12 locks. 9 hours

Beautiful cruise out of Limehouse basin with all the big boats. Up Regents Canal through Mile End – first time on this stretch. Lock-shared from the beginning, which was so helpful – I didn’t have to work a single lock. Nell and Rosie came. Horrible weather! Started off nice – we toasted the journey with Prosecco in the sunshine. Rain started at lunch time – soggy pita bread and empty glasses filled with rain. Everyone ended up wearing my waterproofs – luckily I have many. Torrential at points. Paused before Islington tunnel to fill water tank and go to my favourite hair dressers for the last time – £8 for a cut, no appointment necessary. Nell and Rosie headed home after a cup of tea.

Tunnel was fine – my lamp is terrific and I have attached it to my new cratch frame, which also gave a point of reference for the centre of the boat. Far different to my first tunnel experience – no light, no idea where I was going, much crashing and scraping into the sides and a few extra grey hairs by the time I emerged at the other side.

New lock-sharing partners through Camden. Bit of a slog after that – wet and cold. No more locks. Moored up on 4-hour bollards at Kensal Sainsburys, but no one was around so we hoped it would be ok to stay the night (it was). Went to say goodbye to Alex, moored a few boats down, heavily pregnant with twins. Picked towpath blackberries.

Engine smoking a fair amount – had to empty filters three times as so much weed clogging up the water cooling system. Cooked curry. Hard day but good to get started.

23rd July 2017

DAY TWO. Kensal Green to Boston Manor. 15.5 miles, 9 locks, 8.5 hours

Easy cruise for the first 11 miles – no locks! Fine weather with a few rain showers. Stopped briefly at Greenford for lunch. I cleaned my boat – it is Sunday, cleaning day, after all. Made crumble with the blackberries and stewed apples that my aunt Vanda had given me. Turned off the Paddington Arm onto the Grand Union at Bull’s Bridge. Beautiful cutting for the canal. Hanwell flight of locks took almost as long to get through as the previous stretch! Met a boat coming up through the flight – the three men on board couldn’t work out the sluices so we helped. Apparently they had been there for 30 minutes and had decided to give up, back out of the lock and moor up for the night. I think they were grateful we came along. Rained on and off all afternoon. Rainbows. Tarp on and off the cratch frame – I need to get a coat of gloss on it so I don’t need to cover it up any more. Moored up just south of where the Piccadilly Line crosses the river – an impressive iron bridge. It’s a beautiful and peaceful stretch. Feels very far removed from London even though the M4 is right around the corner. First time I have only seen darkness out of the windows.

Mat and Anna came for dinner. We had picked more blackberries and froze them to put in the Prosecco. Lovely meal, wine and company.

24th July 2017

DAY THREE. Boston Manor to Kingston-upon-Thames. 8.5 miles, 4 locks, 6.5 hours.

Left our beautiful mooring on the leafy River Brent and cruised down to Brentford Dock. Gauging lock at Brentford marina operated by volunteer then a small stretch before the Thames lock. We arrived with three hours to wait before tide was right for locks to open. Second in a long queue of boats. I spent the time sponging out the diesel spill in the bilge – how pleasant. Also went for a walk to calm my nerves about the big scary Thames. Horrible stretch of canal – very industrial, no greenery, no facilities, nothing. I was expecting to be able to fill up my diesel tank before going out on the Thames. Oh well. Slightly nervous now.

Went through tidal lock and turned onto the Thames. Following larger boat – makes it a bit easier. Slightly windy but not too difficult. Flooding tide carried us along. Thames wide and absolutely beautiful. We felt very small. Two narrow boats behind us. Looked tiny. Came through Teddington lock after an hour – end of tidal Thames. Purchased temporary licence for non-tidal Thames. No dramas coming along the river – only difficulty when boats coming the other way and creating wash. Lovely bridges. Moored up just upstream of bridge at Kingston-upon-Thames. Dinner and wine on the river and a walk around Hampton Court Palace grounds – got locked in so had to jump the fence!

25th July 2017

DAY FOUR. Kingston-upon-Thames to Old Windsor. 17 miles, 6 locks, 9 hours.

Really sunny day – very hot at times. I was hoping to fill my diesel tanks at Thames Ditton (there’s an underlying fear that I’ll run out at any moment) but the diesel pontoon is private. Next available – Shepperton marina, near Walton-on-Thames. Went into Walton marina first and had to pull off a spectacular turn to get out again without bumping anyone. Similar spectacular manoeuvre to get onto the diesel pontoon in the marina – managed well (and received compliment from passing worker) but then wind caught the bow and nudged me into the neighbouring boat which cracked the window! Grrr. Really nice cruise up to that point – very grand buildings and loads of riverfront chalets. Filled up on diesel – turns out tank was half full so no need to panic. Really must get a dip stick. Cycled into Shepperton to buy something for lunch – very disorientating being on the road again after having been on the river for so long. Forgot which side to ride on!

Continued to Windsor. River is very green with tree-lined banks. Calm and wide. Little other traffic. All locks except one manned so it was an easy cruise. Stressful trying to find a mooring spot! It has to be hardstanding as you can’t just moor anywhere, and most of the moorings are private. But I found a perfect one opposite some beautiful boats in Old Windsor. Free for 24 hours. Engine going strong all day.

26th July 2017

DAY FIVE. Old Windsor to Boveney. 6.5 miles, 3 locks, 3 hours.

A short cruise today – I went to visit Lila and Kerry for lunch. Very rainy ride to the station! Lovely lunch. Got back to the boat at 1645 and set off on the cruise through Windsor. Met another (huge) boat at first lock. Slowly overtook them on the long curve round Windsor Castle grounds. View of the castle slowly emerging. Great coming through Windsor under the town bridge – I’ve been here before a few times. Round the race course – remember going there to see the races! Final lock self-service, helped by the people in the big boat. Upstream moorings full so I doubled up.

Had to really push the engine to get past the big boat. Hope it’s ok. Running well so far.

I can’t say I’m enjoying it so far. The Thames is huge and overwhelming and my boat feels very small. I’m not familiar with rivers and can’t wait to get back to the canal network. At least all the locks are manned which helps.

27th July 2017

DAY SIX. Boveney to Henley-on-Thames. 18.5 miles, 7 locks, 7.5 hours.

Great to have made Henley – means I’ll be off the Thames tomorrow. It was tough mooring up – lots of rowers to avoid, a bit of wind, had to turn as I went into the town where the moorings were private so came back. Paid £10 to moor.

Cruise was sunshine and showers. River at Maidenhead was beautiful and has remained beautiful since. Talked to a few of the lock keepers about my cruise. Seems that the river is quite quiet at the moment. Apparently it becomes more narrowboaty further upstream, beyond Reading.

Spent a few hours this morning painting the cratch frame so had a late start. Engine running well. Spent most of the day listening to Radio 4. “I envy you,” says one lock keeper – a nice change from “You’re brave!” or, “Isn’t it hard by yourself?” <— I know people are just being interested and mean no harm but the implication of statements like that is that I shouldn’t be capable of a solo cruise. It becomes wearing after a while.

The river is beautiful though still overwhelming. Many homes back onto the river with boat houses built into them or constructed at the bottom of the garden. The river often winds around a hill with stately homes built into the hillside. It’s very rich and posh.

28th July 2017

DAY SEVEN. Henley-on-Thames to Reading. 8.5 miles, 3 locks, 3 hours.

Started the day by getting stuck on the bank – bow was blowing out with the wind but stern was struggling to get off with no propulsion in the shallow water. Rower coming! Managed eventually though nearly ended up being blown totally around. Met another narrowboat far side of Henley and lock-shared all day. Not sure about their lock etiquette (made it tricky for me by motoring out at the same time as me, and left before me even though I got there first and was going faster).

Very windy against me all morning and a few showers. Many rowers on the whole stretch. Nearly missed the entrance to Kennet and Avon – quite hidden! One lock then backwater to the town moorings where I knocked the chimney off on the extremely low footbridge. Really dented it. Grrr. Moored by Chestnut Walk Gardens. Roz came for lunch then it rained all afternoon. I couldn’t face going any further so here I am for the night.

It’s such a relief to be off the river. Though the canal is full of weeds and rubbish and my mooring overlooks the back of businesses and industrial estates, I feel far more settled and at home.

29th July 2017

DAY EIGHT. Reading to Thatcham. 14 miles, 16 locks, 11 hours.

First full day on the Kennet and Avon. It starts in Reading by going through the middle of a shopping precinct with a traffic light system to allow one-way traffic only. Turns out this is actually the Kennet navigation rather than a true canal so it really has the feel of a river: very winding with loads of vegetation, a weir at each lock and sluices/weirs along the way. It’s nice being back on the calm of the navigation although it’s often shallow and there are loads of weeds and rubbish and oil. Beth stayed with me til lunchtime. Sunny to begin with but soon started drizzling. Beth at tiller most of the time but sometimes I had to grab it. She went home at Theale, just past the first swing bridge. These are something I’ve not come across before, some operated electronically but some where you have to push them open. Process can be very slow when single handed: moor up, open bridge, take boat through, moor up again, close bridge, go.

A few rainy hours then Jess came to join in. Afternoon/evening was a complete wash-out – got through three waterproof jackets! and my overtrousers started leaking. Jess helped keep the spirits up with white wine and good banter. Nearly had a boat slam into us on a tight bend – ended up entangled in a hawthorn bush in effort to avoid it. Probably our fault as we were on the wrong side… only because there were so many overhanging branches and I didn’t want them to drag anything off the roof. While winding down the sluice at a lock, the windlass flew off the handle then bounced into the water. Jess was mortified. I fished it out with the magnet. We were cruising a bit too fast towards the end – wanted to get to a town by nightfall and to get out of the rain. Caused a bit of surf on the banks which you’re not allowed to do. Engine smoking towards the end of the day. Soggy pint and curry in the pub.

30th July 2017

DAY NINE. Thatcham to Hungerford. 12 miles, 16 locks, 10 hours.

Mostly sunny today but got completely soaked coming through the last lock. So far it has rained every day. I can’t wait for some sunshine. Really pretty stretches of river, some very overgrown with reeds. Came through the second turf lock, a listed ancient monument, that you’re supposed to leave empty – I didn’t realise til after I’d gone, oops. Newbury was really pretty with old mills backing onto the river – a different aspect of the town to what you might usually see. Today I went nice and slow, partly because the river is narrow so you can’t really go fast, but also because the tranquility of boating is somewhat disrupted by a great diesel engine motoring away. Now I’m no longer ploughing through the miles trying to get off the Thames I can take my time a bit more. Lock-shared today – asked a guy to wait at the next lock which he did. Nice guy, constant cruiser around this area. One of the locks wasn’t filling properly – massive hole in the downstream lock gates – so we had to empty it and start again. I chucked a stick in which blocked the hole sufficiently so it filled properly. But it meant I got to jump the queue – I went in with the next family ahead of the the guy who had waited for me. Felt bad. Had a pint at Kintbury. Saw TR! He’s been cruising around these parts for the last year or so – thought I hadn’t seen him for a while. Had a nice chat while my boat got cosy in the reeds. Not much further to Hungerford. Moorings are hard to come by as the river bank is not very firm and it can be shallow towards the edge. Managed to jump ashore to moor up. Walked into Hungerford – lovely little town. Engine is doing fine and is not smoking as long as I don’t push it too hard.

31st July 2017

DAY TEN. Hungerford to Crofton. 6.5 miles, 15 locks, 7 hours.

Not many miles but slow progress – loads of locks. I was really frustrated to begin with and made hard work of the locks, but faced up to the fact that boating is slow! and after that I enjoyed the day. Started off by following someone through the locks so had to reset each one, so cycled ahead to ask him to wait for me. We shared a few locks then I shared with a family. Stopped at the moorings by the Crofton pumping station for the night.

Nearly at the top of the hill! I’ve been climbing since I left London – only six more locks til I start going down again.

I had picked blackberries and apples in the morning so I made a crumble.

I saw a couple of kingfishers and some fish.

Put another layer of paint on the cratch frame. Then it rained.

1st August 2017

DAY ELEVEN. Crofton to Devizes. 18.5 miles, 10 locks, 10 hours.

Reached the summit pound today. The pounds on the way up were very shallow and I got stuck on the bottom in one. Penultimate pound was a couple of feet lower than usual – the water line was way below where it should be. The landscape continued to rise leaving the canal in a deep wooded cutting which then became a tunnel. Four locks descending then a glorious 12 mile stretch without a single lock. My hands are red raw from all the rope work getting into and out of the locks. The Vale of Pewsey is very beautiful with farmland, hills and white chalk horses on the hillsides. It did get a bit tedious though – nothing to break it up. Would’ve been nice to have just one more lock, haha. Lots of boaters live here so there are long stretches of going very slowly. Lots of narrowboats here, hardly any barges or cruisers. Pill boxes at intervals – turns out the K&A was to be a second line of defence after the south coast if England were to be invaded in the war. Canal banks dominated by reeds, often leaving only a narrow channel. All the boats need a gangplank in order to disembark. Shallow in parts. Got told to slow down as I went past Devizes marina – oops. Moored on the visitor moorings opposite Devizes wharf.

2nd August 2017

DAY TWELVE. Devizes to Foxhangers. 2.5 miles, 29 locks, 5 hours.

Yes, that does say 2.5 miles, 29 locks. This is the famous hill. It took all day.

What a day! Terrible weather, really windy and rain that alternated between light sprinkling and heavy downpour. Knowing I had a full day of locks ahead, I waited at the top lock in Devizes for another boat to lock-share with. 45 minute wait! Totally worth it. I got a holiday narrowboat with seven people on board who did ALL THE LOCKS for me. This was basically amazing. We flew down the flight in a few hours and it was brilliant despite the rain. Although they did ram my boat a couple of times, once quite badly! But it was a slick operation and very much appreciated. Dad and Valmai came along and helped as well. Moored up at the bottom and had hot soup and crumble for afternoon lunch.

The valley was laid out beneath as we came down the hill in varying degrees of visibility – sometimes we could see the whole valley, other times just a load of grey cloud. Hills misty with rain. At the top of the locks it felt as if we were cruising off the hill, or just about to tip over the top of a roller coaster. I cycled back up the hill for a pint at the canal-side pub at the end of the day. It had lots of canal-related photos, charts and posters on the walls. No pub at the bottom of the flight. I reckon it’s far harder going uphill than down.

3rd August 2017

DAY 13. Foxhangers to Bradford-on-Avon. 9 miles, 7 locks, 5.5 hours.

It was very, very windy today. I considered not cruising because the morning was so ridiculously windy but it was not so bad once I got going. Tricky sometimes in the locks and at the landings for the swing bridges but mostly it wasn’t too much of a problem. Nice slow cruise. Lock-shared the first few but the rest by myself, although people helped. Most boaters using the canal were holidaying (been the case for most of the trip) – most don’t really know what they’re doing which can be tricky. There are lots of boat hire companies on this stretch.

It was a late start as I had a lazy morning tidying but I arrived in time to have a look around Bradford – just in time for it to start raining, groan. That makes 13 consecutive days with rain.

4th August 2017

DAY 14. Bradford-on-Avon to Bath. 10.5 miles, 7 locks, 7 hours.

Bradford-on-Avon is a beautiful little town similar in appearance to Bath – buildings made of Bath stone built into the steep hills that come down to the river. Lots of ancient buildings. I had a lovely time wandering around this morning, plus I found a ‘Sustainable Supermarket’ – finally! All this time without organic lentils – that won’t do. Beautiful cruise along the Avon valley, partway up the hill – river is at bottom of gorge and canal is elevated. Twice crosses the river on aqueducts. Stunning views (between the rain showers) across the countryside and of Bath as I approached. Canal steadily curves round the hills. Steep descent into Bath – six locks, one of them twice as deep as a standard lock – scary! My boat looked tiny at the bottom. Came onto the river and turned upstream but no mooring so turned below Pulteney Weir and came down to the visitor moorings opposite the old wharf buildings. Good location although currently a building site so not that pleasant.

Took it really slow today as there were loads of moored boats. Two swing bridges where the landing was on the wrong side! Therefore impossible to operate single-handed. Apparently it’s possible with a clever configuration of ropes – luckily there were boaters passing on the towpath who helped. Really sunny evening! But grey day and a couple of rain showers just to keep up the consistency.

5th August 2017

DAY 15. Bath to Keynsham. 8.5 miles, 4 locks, 4.5 hours.

Becca, Lara and Oliver came with me today. We had a really nice day – it was mostly sunny with a couple of scattered showers, and it wasn’t too much hard work. Perfect for a 10 and 8 year old. Lock-shared with a couple cruising their daughter’s boat. Locks were large and took ages to fill up. Everyone took a turn at steering and helping with the locks. We repeatedly passed beneath the Bristol-Bath railway path and passed the spot where I had camped on my LEJOG ride. Got dragged onto a weir boom at one point while trying to hover waiting for the lock, and had a real struggle to get off. That was nerve-wracking.

Moored up on an attractive concrete wall at Keynsham and Bec and the kids got the train home.

The engine has been running amazingly well, considering that I have worked it more in the last two weeks than I have in the last three years combined. But I think the oil has sprung a leak – it went from nearly full to way below the limit in a matter of days. Definitely need a service.

6th August 2017

DAY 16. Keysham to Bristol. THE LAST DAY. 8 miles, 2 locks, 3 hours.

Sara and Lucie, my two Bristol friends, came for the cruise. It was a beautiful day – no rain! It was sunny all day! Sometimes a bit cold though. It was a lovely relaxed cruise, long waits at the locks but that was OK. The river between Keynsham and Hanham then up to Netham was beautiful. It’s tidal beyond Hanham and at low tide it was fairly shallow at the edges. Sara drove for a while.

At Netham lock we stopped to meet the lock keeper and purchase my licence for Bristol floating harbour – this is under the jurisdiction of Bristol City Council so not covered by my CRT licence. Real character – John. He didn’t believe my boat was quite that long, which was very helpful given that you’re charged per metre. Issued a two week visitor mooring for the floating harbour (and a couple of extra days for good measure). All there was to do was motor up the feeder canal into Bristol centre – I felt truly, genuinely excited for the first time. Passed beneath all the bridges, seeing a different view of a city I partly recognise. The last bridge (swing bridge) was very low and nearly knocked Lucie’s bike off the roof – she had to walk up the gunwales and grab it. Moored up outside Arnolfini, right in the middle of it all. We opened the Prosecco I had been saving since London. Amazing location. Loads of boats. Private pontoon so lovely and quiet. Lights on the water at night. Seagulls everywhere. No grey water in the harbour – means no showering and no washing up for the next two weeks! But I’m here. Bristol. Finally made it. I was warned this bit would be horrible and rowdy, but it’s not. It’s lovely. Welcome Slow Gin to your new home.

While working on my bike in a DIY workshop, I overhear a customer speaking to the mechanic about his child’s bike. Can you fit stabilisers? he asks. I cringe. Stabilisers are the cycling instructor’s nemesis. They are an anti-teaching tool – how not to allow your child to learn the one thing that is essential in being able to ride a bike: balance.

The American name, ‘training wheels’, is wholly misleading – it trains nothing other than pedalling motion, which on its own doesn’t constitute riding a bike. Time and again I have adult clients who, in their second or third decade, have not learned to ride a bicycle because their parents were too cautious to remove the stabilisers. It’s a false picture of safety, the desire for the child not to fall; a bicycle can still tip over even with stabilisers, and the only way to truly prevent your child from falling is to teach them how to balance. Stabilisers might delay the falling stage, but they will have to learn eventually, and learning is arguably harder if they have relied on two extra wheels to be able to ride.

The mechanic doesn’t have any stabilisers to hand, and asks the customer to come back when he’s had a look. He could just teach his kid to ride a bike instead, I suggest. The stabilisers, it transpires are £40. Forty quid! In that moment it becomes more than just the concept of being able to ride a bike. It suddenly has a price tag on it. He should save himself the cash and take his kid to the park. For £40 (or for free if you live in London) you can even hire someone to teach your child how to ride. And by that you will be giving them a gift that is worth far more than a pair of plastic wheels: enjoyment, empowerment and a low-cost form of transport they can use for the rest of their life. The gift of freedom.

For advice on how to teach your child (or anyone) to ride a bike, see this post


Summer is a great time to get your kids out and riding their bikes. This is the method I use to teach complete beginners how to ride – it’s remarkably effective and typically gets the rider going within half an hour. It works for adults, too.

Disclaimer: even with this method, it can be difficult to teach your own kid how to ride! If you would like an impartial, professional, experienced adult to help, please get in touch.

Ditch the stabilisers!

Stabilisers are often used as a prelude to cycling, but they only teach pedalling motion, and don’t allow your child to learn that one thing that is needed in order to ride a bike safely and successfully: balance. It can feel scary, removing the stabilisers, but it’s better to do it sooner rather than later.

The right setting

Often, people struggle to learn to ride because they are worried about bumping into the things around them. A narrow alleyway is no good for learning – there is no wobble space. An open field is good, though grass is not always the best choice (despite being soft in case of falling) as it absorbs momentum and makes it much harder to get going. A hard-standing area such as a tennis court or basketball court is perfect for beginners.

Learners can also take a while to get going because they feel they should be riding in a straight line, and ‘wobbles’ feel like failure. Encourage riding in any direction to begin with – the control will come later.

Get rid of the pedals

What does it mean to be able to ride a bike? Is it pedalling? Well, no: freewheeling still counts as riding. Pedals can actually be a distraction from what is actually the only essential ingredient in being able to ride: balance. Turn your kids’ bike into a balance bike just by removing the pedals. A pedal spanner or regular 15mm spanner is all that’s needed. Just remember the left pedal is reverse threaded, so rotate to the right to unscrew.

Lower the saddle

The greatest barrier to someone learning to ride a bike is fear of falling. Remove that fear and you’ll be amazed at how fast they progress. Make sure the saddle is low enough that the rider can sit comfortably with their feet flat on the floor and their knees bent. This removes the fear – they are unlikely to fall, as they can just put their feet down. To begin with, it might mean they tend to not sit on the saddle – don’t raise it, though: persevere and encourage them to sit.

Steer into the lean

Balance is a strange concept to teach. Staying upright on two wheels is not instinctive; in order to learn balance the falling instinct needs to be re-wired. If the bike falls one way, the instinct is to steer away from the lean. But to keep balance, the rider must steer in the same direction that the bike is leaning. So if the bike leans to the right, steer to the right. If it leans to the left, steer to the left.

Allow autonomy

It’s tempting as a teacher or parent to hold onto the bicycle to prevent the rider from falling. But by doing this, all you are teaching is for them to rely on you, not on themselves. Allow them to do it themselves from the beginning. If you do need to give support, hold the child, not the bike.

Stride and glide

A bicycle will only balance if it has momentum; the faster you go, the easier it is. Encourage the rider to push along with their feet with giant steps, eventually lifting their feet from the floor and gliding along for as long as possible. Pushing with two feet together (“hopping like a frog”) can be another effective way to gain momentum, and will aid them in keeping their bottom on the saddle.

The ten-second challenge

If the rider can glide along with their feet in the air for ten or more seconds, they are ready for pedals. Count slowly out loud, and always encourage. It can take 20 minutes or more of gliding practice to reach that magic ten seconds – don’t be tempted to go to pedals too soon. Keep going, varying the methods of riding if possible (stride and glide, frog hops, ‘One, two, three, four, lift your feet up off the floor’ etc). A push can be helpful if the rider is becoming frustrated.

Pedal time

There are a couple of options with pedalling, depending on the size/age and capability of the rider.

FIRST once the pedals have been replaced (make sure the correct pedal is on the correct side – they will always be marked with R or L) ask the rider to stride and glide again, then start pedalling when they’ve gained enough momentum. Encourage them to look ahead rather than down. They might need a supporting hand on the back as they find the pedals.

SECOND replace one pedal at a time and teach them how to set it properly. 1. brakes on. 2. raise pedal to set position (in line with the bottom part of the frame, roughly at 2 o’ clock). 3. look up, brakes off, push, glide. Try to achieve a glide of five seconds with just the one pedal. Important: the push should come from the foot on the pedal, not the foot on the ground. 4. replace other pedal and repeat exactly the same process, starting to pedal after the glide. It will take a while for them to learn how hard they must push in order to gain enough momentum to get going. A supporting hand on the back and a little push can help (don’t be tempted to hold the saddle, though!)

Remain positive

It sounds obvious, but the language you use can have a major impact on the success of the lesson. For example, if the rider can glide for five seconds, say, “Well done! Halfway there!” If they pedal three times then stop, say, “Brilliant! Next time let’s do four pedals!”

Good luck! Teaching anyone to ride a bike, no matter how old, is incredibly rewarding. And remember professional help is at hand if you are struggling – feel free to get in touch.

We emerge from the Channel tunnel into hills that roll just as they do in Kent. The rain still falls. Graffiti adorns trackside walls. People stand on station platforms clutching mugs of coffee as we flash by. By being on the ground we see others, the homes they have built, the infrastructure that facilitates their lives, the land they farm. The roofs are different shapes, but they are roofs. The bricks are different colours, but they are bricks. Folk carving a living from the country in which they live. It reminds us that we are all the same.

As we roll from Belgium to Germany the landscape shifts subtly. There is not much to separate the lowlands – this corner of western Europe is small enough to be topographically similar. What shifts more noticeably is the culture. We are greeted in French, then Flemish, then German, the compulsory English translation that follows an uncomfortable reminder that we are far more lazy than our continental neighbours. Futuristic radio towers adorn distant hills. Cathedrals stretch elaborately towards the sky.

We stop at our first interchange, an opportunity for coffee and to breathe the local air. Everything is cosmopolitan, a melting-pot of cultures. Seating stretches outside each bar. Beers are served in elegant glasses. Despite our best attempts, it’s obvious we are English. The waiter switches effortlessly into our mother tongue. In our short visit we have glimpsed a culture that is different to our own, and tomorrow we will hear other languages and meet the people who speak them in their own cities.

As passengers alight and depart, the make-up of our train carriage changes, one by one, our fellowship morphing until it becomes Danish. By the time we arrive at our destination we will feel less alien, more included, more educated in the culture of the place towards which we have been travelling. Not for us the bubble of recycled air and the shiny welcome gates that parachute-drop us into a new culture.

The continental landmass is huge. It’s important to remember that. We take for granted that we can traverse the globe in a matter of days, but to be travelling overland reveals its true size. We have populated the sky in a way that disregards the true scale of our earth. Surface-level travel takes time, as it should. Air travel is time travel. Our bodies resist it; jet-lag is a rebellion of our being extracted from one location and moved to another at a rate significantly higher to that at which the earth spins.

It’s human nature to focus on the destination, a trait perpetuated by air travel. We want to be there as quickly as possible; we demand instant gratification. Life is too short to waste time in stasis, transiting between places. Such is the message of our non-stop lifestyles. But the journey is how we grow, how we learn. In focussing purely on the destination we miss out on a huge chunk of life.

By the time I reach Copenhagen I have learned, experienced, seen so much more than I would in the inside of an airport lounge and a 35,000ft high metal tube. The experience of that journey has changed me. And as my good friend David Charles once wrote, the only interesting thing that happens on a flight is that it might crash. And you definitely don’t want to be on that one.

This week sees the 104th edition of the Tour de France. A staple of the cycle racing calendar, it is an institution that has been held almost every year since its inauguration in 1903. As a cycle tourer, I’m not particularly a racing fan. Pelotons and breakaways don’t mean much to me. But in researching my book Pedal Power, I came across many extraordinary cyclists who dominated the Grand Tours, and in learning the ins and outs of cycle racing I discovered a new respect and love for the various multi-stage races that take place on the continent. Most interesting is their history. Here follows the introduction to my chapter ‘Grand Tour Masters’, opening with Maurice Garin, the winner of the first ever Tour De France.

With the broad and powerful swing of the hand which Zola in ‘The Earth’ gave to his ploughman, L’Auto, journal of ideas and action, is going to fling across France today those reckless and uncouth sowers of energy who are the great professional riders of the world.

~ Henri Desgrange

Henri Desgrange was looking for a way to boost business. His newspaper, L’Auto, was struggling. A keen cyclist and velodrome owner, he had seen how rival broadsheet Le Vélo had benefitted from its sponsorship of the Bordeaux–Paris and Paris–Roubaix, both long, gruelling feats of the type popular at the time. Desgrange decided to create the ultimate test of endurance: an event similar to the gruesome challenge of the six-day race, but on roads rather than in a stadium, taking place over several weeks around the perimeter of France. He advertised a five-stage race lasting 36 days. Only 15 people entered. Desgrange cut the length to 2,500 km over 19 days and offered substantial prizes. On 1 July 1903, 60 cyclists gathered for the start of the inaugural Tour de France. Among their number was Maurice Garin.

Garin was a popular racing cyclist, nicknamed le petit ramoneur (the little chimney sweep), which he was by trade, or le fou (the madman) because of the speed with which he pedalled around the town. Since his first 24-hour race in Paris in 1893, where he was one of only two people to cross the finish line, he had raced Paris–Roubaix three times, and won both Paris–Brest–Paris and Bordeaux–Paris. Of gruelling length, on unforgiving roads, through inclement weather and through the night, such races drew huge crowds; the riders, who would suffer fatigue, pain and discomfort to reach the end were elevated to the status of supermen. To take part in the toughest race ever conceived was irresistible to Garin. Desgrange had said his ideal Tour would be one in which ‘only one rider survived the ordeal’.

On the afternoon of 1 July, the cyclists set off from the Café Reveil-Matin in a village just outside Paris. Riding through the night, the riders pitted their wits and their strength against each other. Times would be recorded for the completion of each stage; the rider with the lowest aggregate time at the end would be announced the winner. Garin won the first stage and the second. Such were the physical demands of the race that by the end of the fourth stage, only 24 riders remained. After three weeks of riding, Garin won the final two stages to cross the finish line more than 64 hours ahead of the man who would come in last. ‘The 2,500 km that I’ve just ridden seem a long line, grey and monotonous, where nothing stood out from anything else,’ he said. ‘I suffered on the road; I was hungry, I was thirsty, I was sleepy, I suffered, I cried.’

The brutal test of strength that Desgrange had envisaged had proved a huge success. Sales of L’Auto soared. Desgrange announced entries for the following year’s race.

Garin once more took up the mantle, and once again, he won. But the race was marred by reports of cheating; riders were suspected of clinging on to cars and Garin was accused of taking the train. Spectators would conspire to help their favourites and hold back rivals. After being beaten up by a mob, Garin declared, ‘I’ll win the Tour de France provided I’m not murdered before we get to Paris.’ Crossing the finish line in first place, unable to prove his innocence from cheating, Garin was stripped of his title. He never won a race again.

And that was nearly that; Desgrange announced that the Tour would run no more. But by the following year he’d changed his mind, announcing shorter stages, with daytime-only racing to ensure that all entrants would abide by the rules. Apart from during the war years, the Tour de France has run every year since.

Desgrange’s race set a precedent for the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España, the two other races that now make up the Grand Tours. The Giro was launched in 1909 to boost sales of La Gazzetta dello Sport, while the Vuelta was instigated in 1935 by Spanish magazine Informaciones. The races are governed by the Union Cycliste International (UCI – set up in 1900 to replace the ICA) and teams race, as they initially did, for a sponsor (though they briefly raced for national teams).

The Tour de France is still the most eminent of all the Grand Tours, and the coveted yellow jersey – the colour of L’Auto’s pages – introduced in 1919 to be worn by the race leader is a recognised symbol all over the world. Over time, the stages have become shorter and no longer run in a continuous loop. The race always follows a different route, consisting variously of mountain stages, flat stages and time trials, and since 1975 has always ended at the Champs-Élysées in Paris.

Fame and fortune still await those who can finish, and win, the most prestigious bicycle race in the world.

‘Pedal Power: inspirational stories from the world of cycling’ is available now

Yet another cyclist has been killed on London’s roads. On the morning of 22nd May, a man in his 50s was involved in a collision with a lorry, suffering fatal injuries. The news of this latest tragedy upset and angered me more than usual. I have just returned from a trip to Copenhagen, a cycling Utopia where the city is built around the bike, a city where, while accidents and collisions are not impossible, their likelihood is far less. How can it be that in London we force fragile cyclists to share the road with multi-ton lorries?

My day job is as a cycling instructor: I teach both children and adults how to use London’s roads safely. The role exists because TfL wants people to cycle, for all the benefits it brings, but they want them to do it without being killed. The style of cycling I teach is, without doubt, defensive. We instruct our trainees to take the lane, to dominate the road, to prevent drivers from overtaking if there is no space to do so. Eye contact is essential to alleviate potential conflict. The door zone should be avoided at all costs. Signalling is clear, purposeful and bold. Cyclists should assert their right to use the road, demonstrating with their position that they are entitled to be there and showing competence and confidence. We teach speed: if you want to ride with the traffic, you should behave as such. Everything, from how to get on and off your bike, is about staying alive.

I love my job and I feel that I do a service to the people of London. But on returning from my little Danish holiday, it struck me just how much the techniques I teach are survival tactics. The style of riding we encourage is balshy, bold and brave. Riders must be vigilant, constantly on the lookout for something that might kill them. The roads are no place for the timid. In my first few years as an instructor, I was keen that everyone should learn this brilliant syllabus and be trained in how to negotiate traffic safely. But why should cyclists have to be taught simply how to survive? Anyone should be able to use the road safely, without ever having had a lesson. It’s akin to training pedestrians in martial arts. It shouldn’t be like this.

My experience of riding in Copenhagen was a pleasure. Even as a complete newcomer (and with limited experience of riding on the right hand side) I could negotiate the city with ease. The style of riding there could not be more different to what I teach. Cyclists make very little eye contact, because there is no need. Signals are subtle; speed is less frantic. No one takes the lane. It is not necessary to employ defensive riding techniques, because the infrastructure never requires cyclists to mix with vehicles for which those techniques are vital. On every road there is a clear, wide cycle lane, with its own traffic light at junctions. Making turns is simple and safe. The cycle lane has priority over motor vehicles turning off the main road, and that lane has sufficient space for the many and varied cyclists who use it: young and old, slow and fast, office worker and school-run parent.

As my time in London has gone on, I have increasingly come back to the infrastructure question. When I first moved to London I thought, it’s fine, we can share the space. But the more experienced I become and now, having seen first-hand a true cycling city such as Copenhagen, I am fully of the mind that we need cycle lanes. I am neither a motor vehicle nor a pedestrian, yet most of the time I am required to share the space with one or the other of these groups. Why can I not have my own space? Infrastructure does not mean the finger of green tarmac that is painted to the side of the road as an afterthought, a way to remove cyclists from blocking the flow of traffic. Cycle lanes in this city are woefully inadequate. Flagship schemes such as the Cycle Superhighways need far more thought. A large portion of our infrastructure is misleading, useless, and might as well not be there.

“Why would a cyclist go up the inside of a lorry?” asks a group of HGV drivers on the Safe Urban Driving course. “It’s common sense.” But it’s not the cyclists that lack common sense, it’s the infrastructure. And until we drastically invest time, money and political will in changing it, cyclists will continue to die on London’s roads.

Stop Killing Cyclists die-in protest in London. Photo courtesy of Rollapaluza Blog

Stop Killing Cyclists die-in protest in London. Photo courtesy of Rollapaluza Blog

In the automobile boom of the 1960s, people abandoned their bicycles and began to drive. This miracle form of transport, so quick and easy, dry in all weathers, was a status symbol; to have one was to be rich. But then came the problems: congestion, ill health, laziness. The cycling fight-back was slow, stealthy and incremental – a protest against the dominance of the motor car, a gradual transformation of the streets that put bicycle culture back at the forefront of city planning. Fierce resistance was encountered, but over a period of 40 years, Copenhagen became a cycling Utopia: a city admired by others around the world and a place where 45 per cent of commuters travel by bicycle. To ‘Copenhagenize’ is a recognised verb amongst cycle campaigners. 

This is an extract from my new book, Pedal Power, from the profile on Jan Gehl, one of the main architects in building Copenhagen into a cycling city. The book is a series of character pieces on the people who have made cycling what it is today, inspiring and innovating throughout the ages. Gehl was heavily on my mind on a recent visit to the Danish capital.

Because people ride bikes in Copenhagen. The city is a bicycle fanatic’s dream. Everyone rides: tourist and resident, young and old, businessman and student, dad on the school run and granny out for groceries. Outside the school gates sits a queue of cargo bikes after offspring have been delivered to class. Side streets are crammed with bicycles, propped up haphazardly on their stands wherever space can be found. There is no Strava culture here, no Lycra louts. The bicycles are sedate and elegant, as is the style of riding: folk ride sturdy, robust three-speeders, with step-through frames and large, upright handlebars, often adorned with racks, baskets and perhaps a passenger. It’s about facilitating movement, not racing into the office. Bicycles are everywhere. For once, what I do feels normal.

A large part of this is down to infrastructure. The roads are designed around easing the passage of bicycles and, surprisingly, bicycles outnumber cars. There is a wide, often segregated, clearly-signed cycle way along each road. Every set of traffic lights has a separate light for cyclists. At each junction there is a clearly-marked method of turning without having to negotiate lanes of motor traffic. ‘Build it and they will come’ – and they have, in their thousands. High quality infrastructure that works is key to enabling cycling.

But it is not the only thing. Attitude and culture are less tangible but equally important. The system of priority here favours the cyclist: any motor vehicle wishing to turn into a side road must first wait until all cyclists using the inside lane have passed. There is safety in numbers – being a frequent encounter, cyclists are seen as normal rather than a nuisance. Most motorists are also cyclists which helps. The overall effect is a much kinder, less frantic road experience. Drivers wait. No one seems to be in a rush. There is no running the lights. Car horns are rarely sounded.

So entrenched is the cycling culture in Copenhagen that it’s easy to imagine it was always like this. But Copenhagen had its car culture too. It was a steady, sustained effort of investment and political will that slowly changed things until Copenhagen became the world-leading cycling city that we see today. It’s a positive reminder that things can change. There might be hope for London yet.

Pedal Power is available to buy now online, as an ebook, or in any good bookshop

Copenhagen school run

Copenhagen school run

‘Friends’ Season 7 Episode 9

Ross: If you’re not going to ride this bike, I’m going to have to take it back.
Phoebe: What!? Why?
Ross: Because… because, it would be like you having this guitar and never playing it. This guitar wants to be played. And this bike wants to be ridden. If you don’t ride it, you’re killing its spirit.
Phoebe: OK, Ross (disbelieving)
[Ross leaves]
Phoebe (whispering to bike): Please don’t die!

I have a bicycle that I keep under the bed. It’s my round-Britain touring bike, a Ridgeback Voyage, which only comes out for long rides or touring holidays. It’s safe under there – safe from thieves, rain, damage and the needless wearing of the parts when I only ever use two gears in London. I would be heartbroken if it were stolen.

Instead I ride a cheap Giant hybrid bicycle. It’s not a good bike – at less than a year old there’s a knocking in the bottom bracket and the wheel hubs are wobbling. But it gets me from A to B and I don’t mind if it gets damaged or stolen.

This weekend I’m taking part in a ride from the west coast of Wales to the east coast of England. It’s not a ride that I can do on my town bike. I drag the tourer out from under the bed, dust off the cobwebs, and begin to piece the thing back together: wheels, mudguards, handlebars, pedals. I lean it against the wall and take a step back. There is much to admire with this machine. The frame is a sleek silver, the geometry well-suited to my shape. The group set is perfectly capable of sending me over hills with ease. It’s a reliable ride and looks good. Though an entry-level touring bike, it’s a very well-made one. It has seen many miles and facilitated many adventures. The top tube is pocked with the knocks of long rides, the plastic windows of the gear shifters blistered through exposure to the sun. This bicycle tells stories.

The chain has rusted in patches so I give it a good spray and take it for a quick spin. The wheels whirr across the towpath, silent and smooth. I feel comfortable and safe; this bike is beautiful to ride. With a rush of affection I remember how important it is to love the machine you are riding. Loving cycling alone is not enough.

Guilt-ridden at having left my beautiful touring bike under the bed for so long I realise that, by trying to protect it, I am mistreating it. The cables are sluggish. The chain has rusted anyway, through non-use. Bikes are meant to be ridden, not kept in stasis. Wheels are made to spin, chains to run, pedals to turn. By tucking it away under the bed I am leaving it to decay.

As I spin further from home I call to mind Phoebe’s scene with her new bike. Because it’s not just the mechanics that suffer through abandonment. The sole purpose in a bicycle’s creation is movement, to go, to explore, to facilitate travel, to instigate adventure. Hiding it away robs the bike of its raison d’être and stifles its spirit. By riding it I am benefitting, too: the simple pleasure of cycling has caused a huge grin to spread across my face. It’s joy, satisfaction, freedom and health. I vow never to mistreat it again.

While I can’t guarantee that it will be safe from light fingers or the creeping progress of rust, I can give it the life for which it was built, and in return receive those intangible rewards that riding brings.


In 2014, Irishman Breifne Earley took part in the World Cycle Race, a 18,000 mile non-stop ride around the planet. Overweight and never having been on a bike tour, he was not an obvious candidate to cycle round the world, but motivated by the breakdown of his relationship, his career stalling and a wish to take his own life, he signed up. Against the odds, Breifne won, and returned a new man. His story is included in my book, Pedal Power, along with stories of others for whom the bicycle has helped them get through life’s difficulties.

There simply wasn’t space in Pedal Power to include the full interview with Breifne, so here it is.

Breifne Earley

Breifne Earley during the World Cycle Race

Were you a cyclist before deciding to take part in the World Cycle Race?

I hadn’t been on a bike from the time I got my driving licence at 17, in fact I had barely exercised at all through my mid to late twenties. My first attempt at getting back on the bike happened in the gym in late 2010, before hitting the roads in early 2011. It was a swift learning curve through sportives, group rides and some simple duathlon and triathlon events.

What attracted you to cycling?

I was attracted to the cycling out of the triathlon choices mainly due to being a very weak swimmer and having a lack of love with the open water environment. Also my attempts at running had resulted in way too much pain and issues in my joints, my ankles, knees and hips. I found my time on the bike to be enjoyable, fun and made me feel fantastic both physically and mentally.

Have you always suffered from poor mental health? 

Through my late twenties my mental health deteriorated in the main due to a poor working environment. Spending 60-70 hours a week sometimes under the very watchful eye of a bad boss or bosses can be devastating to your mental health. As the environment became more hostile on a day to day basis, I found myself struggling to function in other parts of my life. It affected my relationships with my family, my friends and my ex girlfriend.

Was there a ‘crunch’ moment in your life or a time of mental breakdown?

In early October 2010, I made the decision to take my own life. Before I had an opportunity to act on that decision, a text message inviting me to a memorial service for a cousin’s anniversary and watching the movie, The Bucket List, prompted me to set my own list of challenges. As my cousin’s anniversary was the 10th / 10th / 2010, I chose this as my start date. Over the next thirteen months until the 11th November 2011 (11/11/11) I lost five stone, went on fifty blind dates, learned to swim and cook, changed career, performed in ten open mic nights, saved 10% of my salary, cycled around New Zealand, finished open water sea swims, triathlons and a marathon.

The word ‘depression’ is very all-encompassing but probably doesn’t give an accurate picture of your personal situation. How else would you describe the state of your mental health?

I was at the lowest imaginable point the evening I made the decision to take my own life. Now I enjoy every moment I have to give. I spend it in the company of my family and close friends, doing the activities I want to spend my time doing. My mental health and my mental strength have proven to be in good shape time after time. Setting myself and achieving challenges like cycling around the world, recording an album, writing a best selling book amongst other things since have allowed me to increase my mental capacity to deal with everything that life can throw at me.

How does cycling make you feel? Why do you think it’s a good antidote to mental health issues?

Having tried running, walking, hiking and swimming as methods of exercise, it was the cycling that really raised my happiness levels. The idea that I could actually travel meaningful distances under my own steam whilst getting fitter, solo or with great company alongside me really appealed to me. The freewheeling down a hill having cycled up the other side is the best feeling in the world. Cycling is like an drug, but with only positive side effects.

Once you had decided to take part in the race what was your preparation window?

I had established a reasonable base fitness through my initial set of challenges but I started to prepare specifically for the event in early September 2013, a six month leading time with two daily sessions from Monday to Thursday. The morning session consisted of a two hour strength and conditioning session, focusing on my joints, ankles, knees, hips and lower back, sandwiched between two 1 hour cycles to and from the gym. The afternoon / evening session might be a run or a high intensity 40 / 50 km cycle. Each Friday saw me cycle the 170km distance between my apartment in Dublin and my parent’s home in Leitrim. Saturday was my rest day where I’d catch up with family and friends before making the return 170km journey to Dublin. I tapered off about two weeks out as I got my final preparations together.

What were your top 5 challenges during the race?

My top five challenges were finding a place to stay each way along the journey, trying to find the funding to continue the journey when cash was low, dealing with mechanical issues as they arose hundreds of kilometres from any bike shop or mechanic, having to keep moving on from places where I made friends or would have liked to explore a little more and finally the motivation to keep moving forward when all the other participants had withdrawn or been disqualified.

Top 5 best moments

I could probably pick five top moments from each and every day on the road. Overall the top five moments were: climbing Baldwin Street, the world’s steepest street in Dunedin, New Zealand; cycling across Tower Bridge for the second time, 490 days and 18,000 miles after the first time; crossing the Great Divide while cycling along Historical Route 66 in New Mexico; speaking at numerous different events about my journey, including Irish consulate offices, in front of over 22,000 spectators at a Major League Soccer fixture and in countless schools and colleges around the world; meeting so many people who offered me places to stay, food, drinks, company and conversation. Being treated identically by people of all races, creeds, nationalities, colours and religions was a refreshing reminder of the goodness of the entire human race and the manufactured differences between us all.

How has your life changed since completing the race? 

My life is completely unrecognisable since finishing the race. I don’t sweat the small stuff anymore – people and things that used to get under my skin, upset me and leave me stressed now don’t take my attention from the important things in life: my family, friends and passions. I put a lot of this down to the self therapy during the hundreds of hours with only my thoughts rattling around in my head in the wilderness of the Nullarbor Desert, the Rocky Mountains and along the many miles of coastline in India, South East Asia, Australia and the Pacific Coast Highway.

What was your feeling on arrival back in London/Ireland?

While it was a little bit anti climactic to have finished the journey, the lessons and friends I picked up along the way have combined to leave me feeling very much a stronger and more confident person. The arrival back in Ireland and my hometown in Leitrim in particular left me speechless. The warmth and support from my community was phenomenal.

The full story of Breifne’s incredible journey is told in his book, Pedal the Planet.

Since a man was badly injured in the process of being removed from an overbooked United Airlines flight last week, there have been several other reported incidents of people being forcibly removed from flights.

I was removed from a train once. It wasn’t my finest moment, but it’s an illustration of what happens when someone is forced to do something that they think is unfair.

I’ve been refused access to a train before when I haven’t pre-booked my bike, so I was careful to have my tickets ready, for both me and my bicycle. I arrived at the gate with five minutes to spare – plenty of time, or so I thought. The ticket man disagreed.

“You need to arrive ten minutes before the train is due to leave. I can’t let you on this train.”


I was surprised. No one has ever said that to me before and I’ve been taking my bike on the train for years.

My first reaction was panic. “But I have a reservation!” I really needed to get on that train. It was bound for the Lake District, the venue of my ironman triathlon for which I’d been training for months. To not be able to get there didn’t bear thinking about.

“You can get on the train but you can’t bring your bike.”

My thoughts were running at a hundred miles an hour. I needed this bike for the triathlon – I simply cannot get on the train without it. And even if I could, I didn’t now have time be able to go and lock it up and get back before the train departs.

I needed to get on that train.

“Thank you, but I have a reservation and I need to get on the train.”

I walked decisively past the man and approached the train that was waiting in the platform. Unusually, but fortunately, the bike carriage was at the rear of the train: right next to me. There were no other bikes in it.

The man had followed me from the ticket gate and now stood between me and the train.

“I can’t let you board this train,” he says. “You don’t have time.”

I looked at the clock. There were three minutes before the train was due to depart. Loading a bike takes approximately 30 seconds.

“But the bike carriage is right there,” I replied. “I have a reservation. Please, let me load my bike.”

It was a battle of wills. He stood his ground, repeating again and again that it would be my responsibility if the train was delayed. I kept saying that this is the train I’m booked on, if he would just move to the side, he is the one now holding up the train, please allow me to board.

He was following the rules. I thought he was being ridiculous. In desperation I pushed past him, boarding the train 20 seconds before departure. Off came the panniers, the bike was hooked in its place, and I was ready to find my seat.

The man remained on the train and continued to ask me to leave. I had been calm and polite throughout the entire exchange, but now I started arguing. “But I’m here now! The train is ready to depart. Can’t we just leave it?” I looked around at the other passengers for any kind of support. Nothing.

I don’t know why the next thing happened. Perhaps it was because I had shown such a flagrant disregard for this man’s authority. Perhaps it was because I was breaking the rules. Perhaps he was on a power trip. Perhaps he was just one of those people who won’t let things go. He left the carriage and called the police.

An off-duty member of the British Transport Police happened to be on board. He bustled down the train and burst through the door. I thought he’d be my saviour; I assumed that the police are there to help, that they will listen to both sides of a story and come to a calm and reasoned conclusion. Wrong. “This woman won’t leave the train.” That’s all he needed to hear. “No, wait, I…!” Without waiting for my response he physically picked me up and forced me off. I didn’t go easily. “Listen, no!” I grabbed the handrail as he bundled me out of the door, my little finger snapping as his bulk easily overpowered my slight frame. I stood fuming on the platform while he removed my bicycle from its rack, then threw my bags off after me.

The stand-off on the train had lasted for six minutes. Every minute cost the train company £100 in late-running fines.

I waited on the platform for more BTP personnel to arrive, then burst into tears. My Ironman plans had been thrown into doubt; I was in agony, my little finger having been broken in the ruckus; I was infuriated and humiliated. The BTP lady on the platform calmed me down and arranged for me to get on the next train, for which neither my bike or I had a ticket. It was a more direct train and I arrived in the Lake District earlier than expected.

My problem with this whole episode was not the rules. Afterwards, I checked Virgin Trains’ policy on bikes and yes, it recommends you are there ten minutes before departure. I spoke to a BTP representative and they told me if a member of train staff asks you to leave and you refuse, they can legitimately have you forcibly removed without having to ask questions. All of this I accept. The incident didn’t bring out the best side of me; few interactions like this would.

My problem was the handling of the whole situation. Had the ticket man said to me, “Sorry, you are too late to board this train, but I can put you on the next one,” I would have said, “Sure.” Had I been told when I booked my bicycle that I needed to be there ten minutes in advance, I would have done so. If it is a policy that’s worth upholding to such an extreme extent, it needs to be a clearly communicated policy at every level and upheld by everyone. To be then allowed onto a train for which I didn’t have a reservation shows that the policy isn’t worth the ticket it’s printed on. To my frustration, on my return journey I watched a man run the length of the platform with his bike with 30 seconds to go before departure. The guard on that particular train allowed this, even encouraged it. I obviously got the wrong man.

I didn’t ever complain to Virgin Trains about the incident, mainly because technically I was the one in the wrong. But I still feel that indignation about the whole ridiculous, avoidable thing; I was mistreated, humiliated and physically injured, and, one year on, my finger still hurts.

Isabelle Clement is the Director of Wheels for Wellbeing, a London-based charity that enables people with a disability to access cycling.

I was inspired by Isabelle’s story after having stumbled across this video, and was pleased when she agreed to be part of my book, Pedal Power. Isabelle’s story appears in the chapter ‘Beyond the Bike’, which explores how the bicycle has changed the lives of those for whom mobility is a difficulty. It features Para-athletes, those who’ve recovered from life-threatening injuries to continue to live full and challenging lives, and those for whom the bicycle is a lifeline to their everyday living.

Below is Isabelle’s story as it appears in the book.

Isabelle Clement. Photo credit: Kaitlin Tosh

Isabelle Clement and her handbike. Photo credit: Kaitlin Tosh

Isabelle Clement – Wheels for Wellbeing

It was trying to keep up with her four-year-old son that caused Isabelle Clement to turn her wheelchair into a bike – and open the door to a new life.

Isabelle had a spinal tumour at ten months of age, meaning that she has never been able to walk very far or run at all. When she reached her mid-twenties, she increasingly used a wheelchair to get about. She had once tried to learn to ride a bicycle as a child, but unable to balance or keep her feet on the pedals, she gave up the attempt. The lid closed on the idea of cycling. So when her son got his first bike, and Isabelle struggled to keep up, she began searching around and came across an adapter for her wheelchair. ‘I realised cycling doesn’t stop at the simple bicycle.’

The adapter has a large wheel at the front, powered by hand-cranks, which raises her wheelchair off its two small casters, making the ride smoother, faster and easier. Using hand-cranks means she can go ‘off-road’ without getting mud up her arms.

Her first ride was a ‘walk’ with friends. With her transformed wheelchair, she left them behind. For the first time in her life, she felt the wind in her hair, the blood pumping round her veins and the whoosh of endorphins flooding her body. It was nothing like she had ever experienced before. That first ride was like crashing through a glass door – she had never envisaged travelling any distance at all under her own steam but suddenly, she could go as far as her imagination would take her.

Turning her wheelchair into a bike was a revelation. It wasn’t just the travel; she also experienced a different attitude in those around her. No longer seen as ‘someone in a wheelchair’, she noticed how people reacted positively to her wheelchair bike: smiling, laughing and pointing in surprise. Their reaction is joy, not pity – even though she is exactly the same person, in exactly the same chair.

Isabelle took on the Directorship of Wheels for Wellbeing, a charity that maintains a fleet of bicycles, tricycles, tandems and wheelchair tandems to enable disabled people to access cycling. She also campaigns for better infrastructure for those with disabilities. ‘Cycling infrastructure is built by people who assume disabled people don’t cycle, and access is often poor,’ she says. ‘The assumption is that disabled people want to drive or need taxis to get about.’ Some disabled cyclists are told: ‘You can’t cycle here. And anyway, if you were really disabled, you wouldn’t be on a bike!’

Mobility is freedom, as Isabelle experienced with that first handbike ride. ‘People don’t realise how enabling and freeing the right set of wheels can be,’ she explains. ‘Powering my bike forwards is like powering my life forwards.’

Pedal Power is available to buy now online, as an ebook, or in any good bookshop


Last night we held the launch party for Pedal Power. It was a really enjoyable evening with lots of people to talk to, all within the setting of the lovely Stanfords travel shop in Covent Garden. Thanks to all who attended and made the evening possible.

Copies of Pedal Power can be purchased online or in Stanfords branches in London and Bristol. It’s also available in Waterstones, Foyles, Blackwells and whichever local bookshop you ask. You can also download it as an e-book.

I’m not much one for reviews (as my blog on the topic explains) but if you feel moved, please do post a review online – it helps to lift the profile of the book and hopefully inspire more people to read and ride!

I’m about to publish my second book, ‘Pedal Power: inspirational stories from the world of cycling’. It was a remarkably condensed project: two months of researching and cramming as many words into the day as I could, gathering tales from across the spectrum of two-wheeled wonders. The book is about people: the first innovators of the bicycle; the Grand Masters of continental racing; women pioneers; long-haul adventurers; speed demons and endurance racers; those who use the bicycle to seek solace from the demands of every day life, or to seek thrills, or to highlight causes close to their hearts. With each story I studied articles, novels and websites to gather enough information with which to construct my tale. But it repeatedly led to the conclusion: all these stories have already been told. Why is my version going to be any different? Does the world really need this book?

The more I pondered this the more I doubted that there would be an appetite for what I had written. There are a hundred books about cycling, many of which are presented in the same vein as mine, drawing together stories that explore the interesting, unusual, unique and noteworthy that celebrate this most ingenious form of transport. Cycling is loved by many, for many different reasons, but was there such a thing as market saturation? Was I just adding to the pot of works that sits on the virtual shelves at Amazon and gathers dust?

‘I’m worried I’m not saying anything new,’ I wrote to my editor, before scouring iPlayer for a film that might take my mind away from race stats and truing jigs and distance records. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen popped up. I’d read and enjoyed the book, so I clicked ‘play’ and settled back with my glass of wine. Halfway through it hit me: I’m watching a film of a story that has been told to me before. But still I chose to watch it. Why? Perhaps repetition can be a good thing; I liked the familiarity of it. The different portrayal of characters was intriguing, the interpretation charming. It didn’t matter that I knew how it ended (as it happens, the film ends differently to the book). I still enjoyed it; I laughed; I was moved.

So it is with my book. I might not be saying anything that hasn’t been said before, but the very fact that I’m saying it is enough. My book is different from every other book on cycling out there, simply because it is my book, not someone else’s. We all have different styles, preferences and tastes (just check out the polarised Amazon reviews of my first book), and my book might speak to someone in a way that another might not. I have a different audience. And for that reason alone, it is worth writing.

Ultimately it’s an art form, a form of expression. There can never be too many stories, as there can never be too many songs, films, plays, art works. For this is why we write, to inspire, inform and educate. In times like these, God knows we need it.

On Friday, the tragic news emerged that endurance cyclist Mike Hall had died. He was killed in a collision with a car while taking part in the Indian Pacific Wheel Race in Australia. Mike was well known in the endurance racing community, having won the first World Cycle Race in 2012, and founded the Transcontinental Race, an annual non-stop ride across Europe. Mike was also twice winner of the Tour Divide. He had come to endurance racing in his late twenties and had shown great skill, strength and enthusiasm for the sport.

I was fortunate enough to correspond with Mike several times while writing my book, Pedal Power, in which he features. It’s a sudden and shocking loss that has drawn tributes from all over the cycling community. Below is an edited version of Mike’s profile. The book was printed before Mike’s passing.

Mike Hall – Fastest man around the world

It wasn’t cycling round the world like many would know it, but it was my kind of race.

Many people have cycled the world and many have ended up in the record books as the fastest. But in 2012, circling the planet became an official race: the World Cycle Race. When Mike Hall from Yorkshire wheeled up to the start line in Greenwich on 18 February 2012, a passer-by said to him, ‘You look like you’re going to be time trialling round the world!’

‘I am,’ Mike replied.

Mike’s previous experience in endurance racing had been in the Tour Divide, a 2,745 mile mountain-biking race along the spine of the Rocky Mountains from Canada to Mexico: an unsupported, single-stage event where competitors must carry all they need and the clock never stops. The lessons he learned about fuelling on the move, packing light and sleeping little were applied to the World Cycle Race – it would be essentially the same, but on a road bike and much, much longer.

In a bag no larger than a small knapsack, he carried a tent with an inflatable pole, sleeping bag, jacket and sleeping mat, waterproof trousers and a gilet. A change of clothes would have been an extravagance. The kit was strapped beneath the saddle and in the triangle of the frame, in line with his body in order to minimise any drag factor. His bicycle was made of carbon fibre. The whole thing weighed less than 18 kg.

‘I didn’t need to take equipment, I just needed to take risks. The winner will be the one who lives fast, not necessarily the one who rides fast,’ he said. His average mileage was 200 miles a day, with a century ridden before lunch and another squeezed in before bed. On most days he was still riding at 10 p.m., pushing on until he was almost falling from his bike with tiredness; sleep was snatched in bushes, at roadsides, on beaches, beneath bus shelters and in public toilets.

Initially, the biggest challenge was the physicality of all that riding: the strain, the fatigue, the sleep deprivation. As time went on, the mental side became tougher: unfamiliar terrains, alien cultures and the sheer length of the task. In other races, you can just tough it out but in this it was endless: ‘After a couple of weeks you can’t remember when you started and you can’t imagine the end.’

Despite the gruelling nature of the challenge, Mike never lacked the motivation to get up and grind out another 200 miles. Even when the weather was bad or enthusiasm was lacking, he knew it would be just as punishing for the other competitors.

‘You’ve always got to tell yourself, when you’re going through a bad patch – this won’t last. And when you’re going through a good patch, that won’t last either.’

Mike rolled into Greenwich after 107 days, a world champion. He had spent 91 days on his bicycle and ridden 18,175 miles, finishing 5,000 miles ahead of his closest challenger and coming in two weeks faster than the previous record holder. His victory was achieved on the day he turned 31.

The experience cemented Mike’s enthusiasm for endurance racing. In 2013 he entered the Tour Divide again, and won. The following year he won the inaugural Trans America Bike Race – a gruelling 4,400 miles from the Pacific coast to the Atlantic.

His passion for adventure racing led to him founding, in 2013, the Transcontinental Race, an event he described as beautifully simple yet completely ridiculous. Competitors travel across continental Europe from west to east via the Alps, solo and unsupported, with only the start point, finish point and a few check points dictated – the rest is up to the riders. Because of Mike’s enthusiasm, racing on this scale is growing in popularity: although only 30 people registered for the first edition of the race, over 1,000 people applied in 2016.

Mike Hall

Mike Hall, endurance cyclist, who died on 31st March 2017 after being struck by a car.

His passion led him to compete in the Indian Pacific Wheel Race in 2017, which would be his last ride. Tragically, Mike was struck by a car and died. But his legacy lives on: inspiring thousands of others to experience the joy of endurance cycling.

Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGVs), buses, trucks and coaches make up the smallest proportion of traffic on UK roads, yet are involved in the highest proportion of fatal collisions with cyclists. It’s a scary statistic, and one that is being addressed through safer lorry design and advanced training for drivers, as well as an Exchanging Places programme that puts cyclists behind the wheel and reveals how invisible bikes can be from inside the cab.

The best way to avoid collisions with lorries is to keep out of danger zones and blind spots. A driver’s blind spots are these:


However, infrastructure can be misleading. At a typical traffic-controlled junction in UK cities, there is an Advanced Stop Line (ASL), or bike box, for cyclists to use. This can be advantageous: it gives you a head start; it allows you better visibility of the junction; drivers can see you more easily. But it also encourages you into those places where the driver cannot see you. Most dangerous is the feeder-lane into the bike box. The worse place you can be at a junction is on the inside of a left-turning vehicle: this is the position from which you are most likely to be dragged beneath the wheels. But where is the cycle lane? On the left.

So cyclists riding up the inside of the lorry are not always doing it through lack of common sense. Poor infrastructure can hinder rather than help cyclists.

Large vehicles have limited visibility and limited manoeuvrability. Remember this as you ride among them. Turning and stopping requires effort. A good way to maintain your safety is eye contact: a driver who has seen you is very unlikely to collide with you. Also remember that in the UK, cyclists do not have right of way if a vehicle in front of you is turning.

Never go up the inside of a left-turning vehicle, and only pass a large vehicle if you are certain it is safe to do so.


There are safety tips and much more information on the London Cycling Campaign website

The full series of tips for safe cycling can be found here.

This is an edited extract from my new book Pedal Power, available to preorder here.

Thomas Stevens, a free spirit and explorative soul, lived in San Francisco, where he would listen to the constant whispering of the Pacific Ocean and dream of adventure – and what better adventure than to ride across the United States of America, in search of the opposite coast? In 1884 he set out on his Columbus penny-farthing, whose large front wheel measured 50 inches and heavy frame weighed 34 kg. He carried a change of socks, a spare shirt and a raincoat inside bags lashed beneath his seat, as well as a revolver strapped to his hip. For shelter he planned to sleep beneath his raincoat or rely on strangers’ hospitality. Eastwards he rode, following in the wheels of several others who had attempted the journey, though all had failed and turned back. There followed several months of riding, dragging and pushing his bike along wagon roads, railroads, canal towpaths and the few public roads that existed. Poor weather and rough terrain meant that around a third of his journey was spent walking.

The perils of the journey were many: at one point he escaped a mountain lion by using his revolver; another time he was bitten by a rattlesnake, though the poisonous fangs sank harmlessly into his canvas gaiters. But more dangerous than wild animals was the railroad; though ideal in many ways – a route flat and direct, its network of tunnels and bridges carving a smooth passage through state after state – the rumble of an approaching train would cause Stevens’s heart to beat fast in his chest. Once, he was forced to crouch beneath the tracks to avoid being hit, high above a ravine, his bicycle dangling in one hand.

Once he reached Boston, Stevens had achieved his aim: here was the Atlantic, to whose great waves he could now deliver the message of the Pacific. He spent the winter in New York, writing up the accounts of his travels for Outing magazine. Inspired by his work, the editors offered him sponsorship for his onward journey, if he chose to take it. So in April 1885 Stevens set sail for England for the next stage of what had become a round-the-world mission.

Through England, Europe and the Balkans he pedalled, then across Turkey, Iraq and Iran. In every nation he drew fascinated stares, folk intrigued by this tall, energetic white man with a curled moustache, riding a contraption which had never been seen before. Curious locals frequently blocked his path, asking him to entertain them with his bicycle. Though happy to oblige, this eventually became tiresome: when resting and eating at a cafe in Turkey the proprietor took away Stevens’s unfinished meal, not returning it until he had pleased the crowds. Yet Stevens’s overwhelming impression was of helpful, kind and hospitable people, willing to provide shelter, food and water. ‘Humanity is the same the world over,’ he wrote in his diary – a theme that would become familiar in the tales of generations of world travellers to come.

Thirty-two months after he had departed, with 13,500 miles under his wheels, he arrived back in San Francisco. An article in The New York Times written during his travels said:

‘But how the world shrinks and what a prospect does the adventurous cyclist open up before the eyes of wheelmen! What corner of the world will be left unvisited by the silent riders of the iron steed?… The inventor of the bicycle has done more to revolutionize the religious, moral and social ideas of mankind than all the philosophers of our time.’

Thomas Stevens

Confession: I whacked a car window today. It was the conclusion of a conversation with a driver that had grown more and more heated as we both tried to make our voices heard, a conversation that had no end other than anger. She yelled expletives; I used my fist. Her transgression: daring to suggest I should use the cycle lane.

She was trying to be helpful; I was trying to get where I was going. She thought she was looking out for my safety. But the reality is, I don’t have to use the cycle lane. I can use it if it will help, but this particular lane (and many others) wouldn’t have. It was part of the pavement, a painted line all that demarcated the space between cyclists and walkers. Pedestrians wander across the line, paying scant attention to my passageway, and so they should; it’s easy to ignore. Partway along, the separation ends and the area becomes dual use, with a crowd of buggies and mums waiting for the bus. Here, pedestrians have priority; I have to slow down. Each time there is a side road the cycle lane gives way while on the main carriageway the traffic sails on by.

These are my choices: potentially endanger pedestrians, take longer getting to work, and give up my right of way at each side road, or potentially endanger myself by sharing with motor traffic, but take a fast, direct, well-surfaced, clearly signed route along which I can ride quickly. It’s a positive choice I make to use the carriageway, though the unsolicited advice and abuse is not quite so pleasant.

These are common problems with cycle infrastructure: too narrow, poor surface, unfavourable priorities, disappears just where you need it, doesn’t go where you want, unclear signage. We’re in a stage of transition in London at the moment, where there is plenty of new infrastructure going in, some good, some quite awful, and, at the moment, no legal obligation to use it. Motorists hate it because roadworks cause congestion, the new infrastructure takes away lanes from the main carriageway, and there’s still a bl**dy cyclist sitting in front of you; cyclists hate it because it’s not quite good enough to make use of, yet it encourages people to yell at you for not using it.

The frustration that resulted in my hand making contact with a car window is common amongst all road users. I’ve had my fair share of drivers who scream at me before winding up their window and driving off, offering no right of reply. I’ve also been the one to do the screaming. It’s impatience, frustration, but mostly fear that leads to these exchanges. None of us is perfect, and we’re all just trying to get where we are going. Currently, the infrastructure isn’t helping.

Perhaps at some point in the future there will be a good quality cycle lane along every road, and then I will use it. Until then, we all just need to share the space better.

new bridge

A state-of-the-art, multi-million pound segregated cycle lane, including a brand new bridge, along the Lea Bridge Road in East London. I choose not to use it because…

Further along Lea Bridge Road, lane is squashed onto existing pavement, with street furniture causing obstructions, becoming narrower in the distance. Alternative is to ride in busy road with buses. No plans to extend new cycle lane to this point.

…further along Lea Bridge Road, the lane is squashed onto the existing pavement, with street furniture causing obstructions, becoming narrower in the distance. Alternative is to ride in busy road with buses.

Beryl Burton

International Women’s Day is a chance to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. One of the chapters in my soon-to-be published book Pedal Power is entitled ‘Wonder Women’ and features stories of women throughout the ages who have repeatedly shown that cycling is not just a man’s domain.

One of the most inspirational of these was Beryl Burton, a northern powerhouse who dominated road racing and time trialling throughout the second half of the twentieth century. An amateur throughout her career, she juggled cycling with raising her daughter, often struggling for money, always determined and focussed and with a steely ambition to keep on going. Her time trial performances became legendary, earning her the Best British All Rounder title for an incredible 25 years in a row. In the 1967 12-hour time trial she rode a distance that not only broke the existing women’s record but also demolished the men’s. It’s a record Beryl still holds to this day.

Below is an edited version of the profile that appears in the book.

Beryl Burton – Northern Soul

Road time trials had been the staple of British cycling since the late 1800s, when massed sprints had been banned for being too dangerous. Over distances of 25, 50 and 100 miles, individuals would race against the clock and it was in these events that Beryl Burton dominated, obliterating the field. Dedicated, determined and bloody-minded, she never slowed down. The Best All-Rounder award was given to the rider with the best average score from all of their events over the course of a year. Beryl was crowned the winner every single year between 1959 and 1983.

An amateur throughout her career, she stayed at the top through sheer determination. Training runs would take place in the evenings and at weekends, slotted into gaps between working and raising her daughter, Denise. The family was never wealthy; before they could afford a car, Beryl would cycle to her races, arranging a rendezvous part-way back with husband Charlie, who would ride to meet her with Denise in a child seat. There was no money for the luxury of a track bike; Beryl had just one bicycle that she used for her races on both road and track, switching over the wheels and sprockets as necessary.

Even at the height of her career, whenever Beryl told people that she was a cyclist, they would say, ‘Oh, take it very steady. If the hills get too hard you must get off and walk. I’m sure the boys will wait for you.’

But time and again she proved she was stronger than ‘the boys’. In open events she would consistently beat top class male riders. Known for her gently teasing manner she would pass her fellow competitors with, ‘Eh, lad, you’re not trying!’ In the 12-hour time trial of 1967 she cycled 277.25 miles, beating her rival Mike McNamara and giving him a Liquorice Allsort from her jersey pocket as she passed. He took it with a ‘Ta, love!’ and Beryl went on to set the record. It was two years before a man beat her distance; no woman has ever bettered it.

Even as Beryl grew older, she refused to give up, continuing through illness and injury, her blind determination and sheer force of will keeping her winning titles well into her forties. Doctors advised her to take it easy; friends begged her to scale things back, but she would murmur about having ‘just this race and just that race to do’. She died the day before her 59th birthday while out delivering invitations to the party. After a lifetime of pushing herself to the absolute limit, her heart just stopped. It was a sudden and shocking loss, but in the end she had been doing what she loved: riding her bike.

‘Pedal Power’ will be published on 13th April 2017. Pre-order your copy here.

A recent programme on Radio 4 explored the concept of the Social network bubble – the fact that our Facebook timelines show us only a limited number of posts, using algorithms to determine the information it thinks we would most like to see. These same algorithms are responsible for bombarding you on any web page you ever open with adverts for a product in which you have shown a passing interest, or suggesting books or films you might like based on what you’ve just bought. It has a sinister undertone: we are being fed by machines rather than our own minds, and those machines create a bubble for our lives, presenting us only with the things in which we profess to be interested and thus perpetuating our existing values.

But surely our entire lives are lived in a bubble? We surround ourselves with people we broadly agree with, and with whom we have something in common. We watch the TV channels and buy the newspapers that align most closely with our values. We might have little concept of the worldview and beliefs of others because we have the capacity to separate ourselves from them.

The difference is that, though I live in my own bubble, I choose it myself. I am at liberty to pick the people with whom I want to hang out. Yes, Facebook edits my social circle in a similar way to the editing I already do. But it’s Facebook that chooses, not me.

Long before I heard Bobby Friction’s radio show, I had decided that this kind of choice was not for me. I had been one of those people who used Facebook every day, telling myself that I needed it to stay in touch with my friends, and to remove myself would mean missing out on social occasions. But there remained an underlying sense of dissatisfaction with the platform. The people I saw on there seemed to be having a much better life than me. My group of “friends” included people in whom I didn’t have much interest, from pupils at my primary school to random people from gigs. These connections cease to exist in real life, through age and geography, evolutions that are completely bulldozed by Facebook, whose platform insists you have a perpetual relationship with everyone you have ever met.

Looking at lives we cannot possibly emulate, seeing what all our friends are up to, gives us an unhealthy sense of inferiority (the ‘you’ that is presented on social media is only the ‘you’ that you want others to see – you at your best, your funniest, your most attractive) and FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). It was a moment of realisation at a party of my best friend that finally made me question why I was on Facebook. Sitting in her garden, enjoying a glass of wine on her birthday, I overheard some of her other friends talking about the Facebook invite they had received to the party. Hang on, I thought. Where was my invite?? Then I realised, Anna, you are AT the party. You received a real life invite, in person, from your friend. It’s Facebook that instills FOMO in us. I had ultimate FOMO for the very fact that I was on Facebook. The time had come to hit ‘delete’.

Facebook tried really hard to keep me. “Are you sure?” messages popped up repeatedly. “If you delete your profile you won’t have access to …” I had to give a reason why I wanted to delete, and once I’d given the reason, they tried to answer the reason in order to keep me. Example: I don’t find Facebook useful. ”You may find Facebook useful by connecting with more of your friends. Check out our friend finder.” Example #2: I spend too much time using Facebook. “One way to control your interaction with Facebook is to limit the number of emails you receive from us. You can control which emails you receive here.” I thought about merely deactivating, the half-committal way of feeling good about yourself but still keeping one toe in the social media pool. Until up came a NOTE. Even after you deactivate, your friends can still invite you to events, tag you in photos or ask you to join groups. Read: Big Brother is still watching you.

The process to successful deletion was rounded off by listing some friends who would MISS ME if I were no longer on Facebook. Among them was my best friend (who I only ever interact with in real life), someone I met once, and my ex-boyfriend. I doubt any of them would even notice.

Even so, I hovered over the ‘delete’ button for a long time. What if what they were saying were true? Facebook wasn’t all bad. It contributed to a large part of my social activities. I did have a network of friends that I enjoyed interacting with. There was definite social pressure to be part of it. Even my dad was on Facebook. Did I have the courage to remove myself from this?

As I confirmed my deletion (in about five separate steps, each reminding me there was no going back), I knew I had made the right decision. My life instantly felt more simple. I breathed a sigh of relief. No more pressure. No more wasting hours scrolling through a timeline just to see if the next post would be interesting. I haven’t missed it for a second.

And yes, I continue to live in my own bubble, one I’m unlikely to burst out of any time soon. But at least I am the one to choose it.


My new book, Pedal Power, will be published on 13th April by Summersdale. It’s a collection of stories from all aspects cycling, from professional riders to stuntmen to long-haulers to those who use the bicycle as a form of rehab. It’s available to pre-order here, and below is a taster from the opening of the book.

Pedal Power: Introduction

I recently taught a ten-year-old girl how to ride a bicycle. Older than most of the children I teach, she had passed that stage of innocent abandon, when the stabilisers come off and just a push and some encouragement will do. The feeling of pressure was growing; she felt embarrassed to admit to her friends that she wouldn’t go to the park with them because she couldn’t ride a bike. It was such a simple yet significant thing. In our lesson she was determined and focussed, persevering even though it was hard work and the saddle was uncomfortable and she kept losing her balance. Her smile when she pedalled independently for the first time was incredible. She made me a card saying, ‘Thank you for teaching me to ride a bike. It was the best day of my life. I will never forget it.’

Most people can remember when they learned to ride a bike; I can vaguely recall my own first tentative attempt, wobbling down next door’s drive. Riding a bicycle means freedom. And it’s that freedom that can take us anywhere: to the park with friends, to school, to university or work, to the shops, to the countryside, on holiday. It can take us further afield, following in the footsteps of adventurers such as Dervla Murphy and Alastair Humphreys. It can lead to the world of sport – where speed, strength and skill are nurtured – through road racing, track racing or BMX, finding inspiration in such masters as Eddy Merckx and Laura Trott. It can be used as a way back to health from injury, a respite from mental health problems, or as an adrenaline rush for those who seek the thrill of downhill mountain biking, difficult terrain or extreme height.

The bicycle has huge historical importance, from the women who used it as a symbol of independence in their fight for liberation, to the workers who had a means of escaping to the countryside for the weekend, and the ‘Good Roads’ campaigners who literally paved the way for the road networks of today.

For me, the bicycle has always been important. It was a passport to exploration when I was a child, an independent means of getting to school as I got a bit older and a cheap way of travelling when I was a cash-strapped student. As an adult, it was a way of keeping fit on the way to work and it eventually became my work when I began teaching cycling for a living. It has also been my gateway to adventure: in 2011 I cycled 4,000 miles around the coast of the UK, documented in my book Eat, Sleep, Cycle: a bike ride around the coast of Britain. Through cycling I have met many people and made many friends. I have been on protest rides and leisure rides, I have joined groups who use the bicycle as a tool for social change, and I have raised awareness as well as money.

This is what this book is all about: a collection of stories from every aspect of cycling that have inspired me and many others throughout the ages, and which will continue to inspire people for a long time to come. I hope you too will be inspired.

‘Pedal Power’ will be published on 13th April 2017. Pre-order your copy here.

The curtains in my bedroom hang too long and the sunlight filters through them, nudging me from sleep each morning. Cutting them to size and stitching blackout material to the lining has risen to the top of the to-do list. Not for me the sewing machine, its power requirements too much for my 12-volt boat battery system. I’ll be sewing these by hand.

As I sit in the pale light of the day the stitches progress beneath my needle, a neat line of serrated white which lengthens with each pass. It’s a slow, sedate, methodical job, a creeping progression. It could be achieved in a few minutes using a sewing machine. This will take me several hours.

As I stitch, meditating on the rhythm of my needle, I ponder the worth of completing by hand those jobs that we delegate to machinery. It seems foolish, to dedicate so much time to something that could be completed so quickly. Think of the other things I could be doing with my time. Is this a waste?

The radio is playing, a commentary on life as the cotton rolls between my fingers. Each stitch has care taken over it, a physical effort having been taken to make it. I philosophise as I mark the time with my stitches. It’s not about what else I could be doing in this time, because I am doing this. Sewing by hand is simply that – there is no going faster. It takes as long as it takes. This is the task, and this is what I shall do, steadily working until it is finished. Albeit slow, progress is surely being made, with each stitch the end of the material moving closer.

It’s good for the soul, to understand the worth of what it takes to make things. In our modern lives where instant gratification is everywhere, it is important to step away from that must-have-everything-now mindset. Machinery is a wonderful asset to our lives but detaches us from ourselves. To be labouring over this task, to look around my boat once I’ve finished and know that every stitch, every button hole, every hem was made by me, is my satisfaction. My heart and soul is in this boat – my sweat, too.

The fire has gone out. It’s dark outside; the candles flicker in the draught of the window. My neck is tired, my fingers marked from the sliver of the needle. There is still work to do. I will finish this tomorrow.



Kajsa Tylén and her mum on completion of her year in the saddle

On 1st January 1938, a young lady named Billie Fleming set off from London to complete a challenge that no one had ever attempted before: to set the women’s record for the most miles cycled in a year. The challenge had been launched in 1911 by Cycling magazine and was initially a competition for the highest number of centuries (100 miles) ridden in a year, but soon morphed into a more general target of overall mileage. The first winner was Frenchman Marcel Plains who rode a distance of 34,366 miles, and repeated attempts throughout the early part of the century saw this mileage more than double. Billie was inspired to undertake the challenge by a simple love of cycling and an interest in keeping fit – those were the days when women were taking more notice of their physical health, rather than being chained to the hearth. Sponsored by Cadbury’s and the bicycle dealer Rudge-Whitworth, Billie cycled each day over the course of the year, averaging 81 miles per day, often ending with a fitness talk at a local community hall. She wrote articles for Cycling magazine calling for ‘A million more women cyclists.’ By the end of the year she had accrued over 29,000 miles to set the first women’s record, a distance that remained unbeaten for 78 years.

It was a remarkable feat to undertake, to commit to something so utterly consuming without really knowing what it would involve. But Billie loved her bicycle, she loved exploring, and she was determined to show what was possible, especially for females who had always been considered the weaker sex. ‘I was young and fit and ready to take on anything,’ she said. Billie attracted a fair amount of attention during her ride and was billed as the ‘Rudge-Whitworth Keep Fit Girl’ in the press. The legacy of her ride lasted throughout her life, with others riding in tribute to her, though there were few attempts to better her record, and none successful in her lifetime.

On 1st January, 2016, Swedish-born Brit Kajsa Tylén set off in pursuit of Billie’s record. Her motivations were largely the same: a love of cycling and a desire to get more people out there and exercising. Instead of sponsorship she collected ‘sweat pledges’ from people who promised to undertake some form of activity. Throughout the year she rode from the UK into Europe, wisely sticking to the largely flat sections that France, Belgium and The Netherlands have to offer. Riding into Scandinavia she pedalled beneath a midnight sun. It was an incredible adventure, taking her through the emotional and physical trials of riding for upwards of 100 miles per day for an entire year, persevering through illness and poor weather, testing her resolve and strength, but giving her experiences that she would never forget. By November she’d equalled Billie Fleming’s 29,000 miles and continued until the end of the year to set a new record of 32,326 miles.

The story of Billie and Kajsa is explored in my new book, Pedal Power, along with around 100 other stories of people who have done remarkable or inspirational things on bicycles. It has been a pleasure researching these stories, tales that range from interesting, unusual and challenging to astonishing and heart-warming. It will be published by Summersdale in April 2017. Copies can be pre-ordered here.

For these are the stories we love to hear, tales that make us gasp, smile, or stir us to get out and explore for ourselves. Bravo to both Kajsa and Billie – what a wonderful thing to have done, to have set a challenge and completed it, to have lived on the road, to have tasted all the excitement and freedom that cycling brings, and to have battled through hardship and emerged triumphant. As Billie said, ‘You have to really want to do it. Whatever the weather is that morning, you have to put your clothes on and get on and ride the bike. You will have bad days, but the good days make up for all of the bad ones.’

New bicycle for Christmas? Here is a simple check that will help keep it road worthy.

Dr Biking


A – air

B – brakes

C – chain

D – direction

E – everything else




Pump tyres to the correct pressure – it is written on the side of the tyre the pressure to which they should be pumped. Floor/track pumps are recommended – it’s very difficult to pump a tyre to full pressure with a hand pump.

Riding on tyres below pressure can result in damage to the wheel rim and tyres, and increasingly likely punctures. Soggy tyres absorb your energy – you’ll find it far easier to ride at full pressure.


A common problem when riding on under-inflated tyres is that the tube moves independently to the tyre, slowly being pulled round as the wheel turns, so will become very bunched up at one point and very stretched at another. An indicator that this has happened is the valve protruding from the rim at an angle. Rather than try and shove the pump head on regardless, it’s best to remove the tyre and make sure the tube is correctly laid out inside.


A tube contorted inside a tyre


Check brake pads for wear (there are grooves on the inside of the pad, so once these have disappeared, it’s time to replace) and correct placement. The whole of the pad should make contact with the rim, without hanging off the bottom or touching the tyre, and without the front or rear of the pad engaging first.

The brakes should engage instantly. If the brakes feel loose, either use the bolt on the brake callipers or the barrel adjuster on the brake lever. Tightening at the bolt is best, though it’s a bit more fiddly. Brake levers are sprung, so hold them in position while you undo the bolt to prevent them from springing open. Pull the cable through (a tiny adjustment is often all that’s needed) then re-tighten the bolt. The barrel adjuster is more of a temporary fix – it’s only a set length, so can’t be adjusted indefinitely. Unscrew the barrel adjuster to tighten the cable.


Brake levers come in a standard size, and can be adjusted for small hands. Somewhere on the lever housing there is a screw that can be tightened to move the levers closer to the handlebars. (This will also tighten the brakes so make sure you adjust them too.)brake lever



Healthy chains are free from dirt and rust, and are sufficiently lubricated. Use an old cloth and a lubricating spray (TF2 or GT85) to clean and remove surface rust. Oil sparingly using a dedicated chain lube. Excess oil will increase the likelihood of the chain picking up more dirt from the road and therefore wear it out more quickly. Wet lube is good for rainy conditions, as it doesn’t wash off, but being thick, it can pick up more dirt. Dry lube is lighter but will need to be reapplied if it rains.


If you buy your bicycle from a reputable dealer, this should never be a problem. If you’ve assembled the bicycle yourself, or it’s from Toys R Us or Halfords, definitely check this before riding.

Gripping the front wheel firmly between your knees and feet, try and twist the handlebars independently of the wheel. Try really hard – it needs to be completely firm. If the handlebars move, the bolt needs tightening. There are two common set-ups: a threaded headset, where there is a single bolt at the very top of the stem and a large nut around the base of the stem, and a threadless headset where there is a bolt holding on a cap at the very top and two pinch bolts on the side. Be careful not to tighten the wrong bolt. With a threaded headset, it is the bolt at the top that needs tightening – typically with a 6mm Allen key. With a threadless headset, tighten the two pinch bolts at the side, typically with a 5mm Allen key. Tighten them both incrementally and evenly rather than fully tightening one then the other. Tightening the bolt at the top will tighten the headset itself, rather than the handlebars, and will restrict the movement of the front wheel.

Everything else.

Give the wheels a spin to make sure they are running true.

Check all bolts are tight, especially those holding the wheels in place

Check the pedals are on the correct side – they will be marked with an L for left and R for right. It’s important to get this right – the left pedal is reverse-threaded to prevent it from unscrewing as you pedal. If they are on the wrong side, they will eventually undo themselves and fall off.

Saddle and handlebar stem should not be raised above the ‘minimum insertion’ mark.

Racks, mudguards and water bottle holders should be firmly fixed.

It’s the idea of my friend Ed, to celebrate the end of British Summer Time by cycling along the Meridian Line from capital to coast. We meet at the top of Greenwich Park, the whole of London laid out below in a blur of early-morning mist, the avenues of trees that lead southwards from the Royal Observatory glowing with the bright yellow of autumn. The four of us, me, Ed, Theo and Alex, roll away from the park towards Peacehaven. Clouds suffocate the sun.

The route is dotted with Meridian markers: a sculpture in a park, a compass rose set in the pavement, a finger post along a residential street. A line is drawn on the ceiling of the pedestrian tunnel at Hither Green station; an obelisk sits squat in a park in West Wickham.

Through the suburbs we meander, the countryside soon emerging as houses recede and farms take their place. The landscape is alive with the rusty hues of autumn, reds and yellows vivid even on this overcast day. We ride beneath leaf tunnels, chasing pheasants, chatting as the miles pass under our wheels.

We pause at the end of a climb for a snack. The sporadic drizzle has once more filled the air with moisture. I replace my jacket while we eat. After the next turn it’s a steep descent, says Ed.

I’m first down the hill. It’s steep, and I’m going fast – faster than usual. I’ve always been a cautious descender, never quite trusting that I won’t crash, but recently I’ve been trying to ease off the brakes a little, to let the bike do the work. The road is narrow and the surface is poor – the bike bumps over a rough patch and I loosen my grip on the handlebars to absorb the shock of the road, though they nearly rattle out of my hands. There is a bend in the road ahead, coming up fast. Gently on the brakes, but the bend is suddenly there, and the drizzle has slicked the tarmac, and my rear wheel skids. I shriek, regaining control for a second, but then it skids again, more significantly this time, and down I go. Knee, hip, elbow crashing to the ground, body skidding with the momentum, then head makes contact with tarmac. It bounces off the road and somehow I’m lying facing up the hill, my bike tangled up with my legs. ‘Shit, shit, shit,’ I’m saying as Ed rushes to my aid; ‘I hit my head. Fuck.’ Theo’s a doctor, he tells me, then calls to them: ‘Easy guys, Anna’s taken a spill.’ I’m looking at the sky, hip and elbow burning, the searing sting of ripped skin competing with the throbbing of joints swollen with shock. Theo is beside me: don’t move, he says, and feels my neck, and asks how my vision is, then eases me off the road. My head is cut and there’s a nasty bump, but I’m OK. I sit with my head between my legs, waiting for the dizzy spell to pass as Ed fixes my punctured front wheel. The bike took a battering: bent derailleur, snapped rear light, bashed bar grips, front light in pieces on the road. We pull the derailleur back into place and re-align mudguards, piecing together the front light and checking that wheels are true. The shock is subsiding. Both bike and I really got away with that one.

The crash was 17 miles in and there are at least 40 more until we reach the coast. I would rather keep going – the bike is rideable and moving is good for my bashed-up joints, delaying the inevitable stiffening that will see me unable to move my head properly tomorrow. I berate myself as we ride; I knew I was taking that hill too fast, and in slippery conditions I should have been more cautious. There are certain falls we can’t predict, like the time I skidded in a patch of oil, or when I came down on slippery gravel on the towpath, but here, I should have risk assessed better.

The whole of the right side of my body is in agony – why must I always fall that way? My elbow has barely recovered from the oil crash! I’m annoyed at myself because I wasn’t wearing cycle-specific clothing – I rarely do, because I don’t own much, and I don’t see why I shouldn’t ride my bike in normal clothes. But cycle kit exists for a reason, and had I been wearing my cycling gloves instead of the woolly ones that I removed earlier because it was too warm, my hands would be scrape-free. I wouldn’t have ripped my everyday leggings, or my t-shirt. Heartbreakingly, my lovely new ski jacket now has rips in it, although thank goodness I put it back on – the skin injuries would have been a lot worse had I not.

Mostly though, I realise the vulnerability of my fragile skull, and the terror that went through my mind when it bounced off the tarmac. I wasn’t wearing a helmet. I rarely do, though my family remind me often that they wish I would. I’ve never hit my head before, and now I have, it brings home that the crash could have been a lot worse, and my poor family would have worse news than me limping home. I stand by my previous blog post about helmet use – in my day-to-day life, I probably won’t wear my helmet. But on a ride like this, where speeds are greater and roads less predictable, I will.

Do I regret coming on the ride? Do I wish I had stayed at home today and avoided the whole thing?  It’s going to take days for my skin to heal, and weeks for me to be able to sleep comfortably on that side again. But life is the culmination of our experiences – good and bad. If I avoided things that might cause me pain or damage, I would never leave the house. When we get to the end of our lives we want to be able to look back and remember the things we did, not regret the things we didn’t do. And this ride, for sure, is one I’ll never forget.

‘Easy on the speed, Hughes,’ says Ed as we take another descent. Noted. The knee pain has receded but my head is throbbing and my elbow jolts painfully with each bump. The coast is still fifteen miles away. I’m not going to make it that far.

We roll into Lewes and head for the pub. After a pint I’m going to take the train back to London while the boys ride the remaining miles, hopefully arriving at the Meridian obelisk in Peacehaven in time to watch the sun set over the sea. They have been terrific, making sure I’m OK, buying me food and tea and painkillers and now, a pint. We sit down and I raise my glass. ‘Thanks for looking after me. And even though I really hurt myself, I’m really glad I came. I’ve had a great ride. Cheers.’


My sister’s house has been home this week while my boat has some work done in the marina. To say thanks I’ve cooked dinner each night. For a sister and brother-in-law who are both meat-eaters, my vegan cooking has been something of a change for them. They’ve really loved it – James said the roast on Sunday was the best part of his week!

Here’s what I’ve been cooking, with approximated recipes (I’m less of a recipe girl and more of a make-it-up-as-you-go-along girl). Most of it has been made with the contents of the veg bag that I pick up from Growing Communities in Hackney.

Contents of bag:
sweetcorn on the cob
red kale

Sunday: mushroom and kidney bean pasties roast

Roasted vegetables are always delicious, and a Sunday is not a Sunday without them. I’ll often just have roast veg but this time I made a Wellington-style pasty as the centrepiece. Mushrooms and kidney beans are pretty meaty when mushed together. The leftovers were delicious eaten for lunch the next day with hummous.

potatoes, cut into wedges
carrots, halved and quartered lengthways
several cloves garlic, whole
corn on the cob
handful mushrooms, chopped
onion, chopped
can kidney beans, drained and mashed
fresh herbs, chopped
pastry – I used Just Roll puff pastry

For roasted vegetables:
Heat oil in roasting tin in the oven. Around 170º C is about right. Add potato wedges, carrot sticks and garlic, and toss in the oil. Add salt and perhaps rosemary. Vegetables will take about half an hour to roast, depending on size of wedges. I like the potatoes to go a little broken at the edge – this makes that delicious crunchy roasted texture.

For boiled vegetables:
Place corn on the cob in a pan of water, bring to the boil and simmer for about 20 minutes. Broccoli takes around six minutes – I usually put a tiny amount of water in the pan and place the head of the broccoli in whole (no stalk), so the majority of it steams. Serve with vegan spread or olive oil and salt and pepper.

For the pasties:
Heat oil in frying pan. Fry mushrooms and onions until soft. Remove from heat. Mix together with kidney beans and herbs. Season to taste.
Roll out pastry in an oblong shape. Place the mushroom mixture on the pastry lengthways and roll into a sausage roll shape, sealing the ends and the seam by gathering and rubbing with water. Cook on a baking tray on a high heat until nicely browned. At 190ºC in a fan oven it takes about 20 minutes.

Serve the whole thing with gravy and plenty of salt and pepper.

Monday: pasta bolognese

I love lentils. They are so versatile, and can be surprisingly meaty in texture and flavour. Brown lentils are great when making a bolognese or chilli, or anything that would otherwise have mincemeat e.g. lasagne. They keep their shape when cooked. Buy in health food shops or local shops that sell ethnic cuisine – it’s rare you’ll find them in a supermarket. They are the whole version of the more popular red lentil. This pasta bolognese is rich, flavoursome and stuffed full of protein. A really easy comfort dinner.

handful mushrooms, chopped
one onion, sliced
garlic, chopped/crushed (I usually chop as it means less washing up)
cup dried brown lentils
tin aduki beans, with liquid
tin tomatoes
flavouring e.g. herbs, paprika, vege oxo cubes, vegan bullion, salt and pepper
pasta of choice

Fry the onions and garlic in the oil until soft. Add the mushrooms and fry until cooked. Add the lentils, aduki beans, tomatoes, flavourings and enough water to cover the lentils. Bring to the boil and simmer until the lentils are cooked – this takes around 30 minutes. Check the pan every so often, stir and add more water if needed – the lentils will absorb the water as they cook.

Add pasta to a pan of cold water (I use two handfuls per person), bring to the boil, then remove from heat. I tend not to leave it boiling – the pasta will cook just as well in the residual heat of the water. It takes about as long as it would if you were to boil it, but saves energy! (I discovered this when I ran out of gas halfway through cooking my dinner one night. By the time I’d switched the gas bottle over the pasta was done.) Drain and serve with lashings of olive oil, salt and pepper, and top with the Bolognese sauce.

Tuesday: Thai curry

Thai curry is super easy to make and is a great way of using up any leftover vegetables you might have.

a good dollop of Thai curry paste (check instructions on jar. A few tablespoons is about right).
one onion, sliced
garlic, sliced
half aubergine, sliced
mange tout and baby sweetcorn, or any green crunchy vegetable – broccoli, green beans and okra all work well
can coconut milk (get the full fat stuff – coconut milk ‘light’ is always a disappointment)

Fry the onion and garlic briefly in the oil. Add curry paste and fry until it smells toasty. Add the coconut milk and vegetables, and simmer until the vegetables are tender. Serve with boiled rice.

Wednesday: bubble and squeak with garlicky tomato sauce

This was Sarah’s top pick of the week. I took her plate next door to where she was babysitting, then received a text from her saying ‘This is AMAZING’. Let’s face it, anything fried tastes great. Bubble and squeak is often forgotten as a Boxing Day leftovers dish, but there’s no reason not to make it fresh. It’s oh. so. yummy. And not really that bad for you…

kale, stalks removed
vegan spread (I buy Pure sunflower, olive oil or soy spread. Available in most supermarkets. Vitalite is also vegan, and Flora does a dairy free spread)
onion, sliced
garlic, chopped/sliced
mushrooms, sliced
can beans (I love aduki beans but any dark bean will do)
herbs and spices of choice
salt and pepper

For the bubble and squeak:
Peel/scrub the potatoes (depending on age and quality. Skin-on mash is always good if possible) and cut into chunks. Boil in a pan of water until nearly cooked (about 10 minutes). Add the kale leaves and boil for for a further few minutes until soft. Remove from heat, drain and mash with the vegan spread, salt and pepper.
Heat oil in a frying pan. Fry small cakes of the potato and kale mixture – make sure it is patted together well, or it will disintegrate in the pan. Add small amounts of oil throughout cooking. Serve immediately.

For the tomato sauce:
Fry the onions and garlic in the oil until starting to brown. Add the mushrooms and fry until cooked. Add whichever herbs and spices you require and stir into the onion and mushroom mixture. Add the tin of tomatoes one spoonful at a time, making sure all the liquid is absorbed before adding the next. This is time consuming as it requires constant stirring and attention, but it’s worth it for the rich tomato flavour, succulent onions/mushrooms and thickness of the sauce. Once the tomatoes have all been used, add the can of beans, including the liquid, using the same method. Serve the sauce on top of the finished bubble and squeak with plenty of salt and pepper (I use sea salt flakes rather than table salt – much better flavour and texture, and better for you!).

Thursday: Dhal with kale and cauliflower

This is almost my favourite dish ever. It’s so easy and quick to make, and really makes a superstar of the cauliflower and kale. The ginger and chilli make it deeply-flavoured but not overwhelming. We served it alongside onion bahjis and popadoms from the local Indian restaurant. Creamy, rich and wonderfully spicy. Truly delicious.

onion, chopped
garlic, chopped
fresh ginger (about a one inch piece), chopped
fresh chilli, chopped
spices: fennel seeds, cumin seeds, turmeric (about a teaspoon each)
can coconut milk
vege stock cube
cup dried red lentils
cauliflower, broken into florets
kale, stalks removed
fresh coriander, chopped
salt and pepper

Fry the onion, garlic, ginger and chilli in the oil until soft. Add the spices and fry for a minute. Add the coconut milk, the lentils and some extra water if necessary. Crumble in the stock cube and stir. Bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes, lid on, until the lentils are starting to cook. Add the cauliflower and kale and cook for a further 5-10 minutes, depending on how crunchy you want your cauliflower (I like it al dente). Stir in the chopped coriander, season with salt and pepper, and serve with rice or on its own.

Friday: Carrot soup

‘How is this so creamy?’ asks James of a dish that doesn’t have cow anywhere near it. Pureeing vegetables will automatically give a creamy texture and the lentils give the soup substance. It’s wholesome and warming – perfect for an autumn lunchtime.

carrots – as many as you have!
another root vegetable such as parsnip
onions, chopped
leeks, sliced, outer leaves removed
garlic, chopped
vege oxo cube
dried red lentils, approx 1 cup

Fry the onion, garlic and leeks in the oil until starting to brown. Add the chopped carrots and parsnip. Cook for a few minutes. Add water, stock cube, red lentils and any other flavourings you fancy. Bring to the boil and simmer until the vegetables are cooked. Remove from heat and liquidise. Serve with fresh herbs and plenty of salt and pepper.

Saturday: potato salad

This is not just a salad, it’s a super salad. Don’t be afraid to mix everything together – the more mushing together of the ingredients, the better. It’s a great mixture of warm, cooked ingredients and raw, crunchy ones. The dressing brings it all together.

salad leaves, washed and ripped
new potatoes
tomatoes, sliced into thin wedges, or cherry tomatoes, halved
puy lentils, cooked (allow roughly 1.5 oz per person)
any other salad ingredients: sliced radish, ribbons of courgette, olives etc

for the dressing:
loads of olive oil
teaspoon Dijon mustard
teaspoon wholegrain mustard
large dash lemon juice
large pinch salt

Boil the potatoes (halved, depending on size) until just soft. The lentils should take around 20-30 minutes to cook. Add all ingredients to a large bowl. Place dressing ingredients into a clean jar and shake into a creamy consistency. Pour over the salad and toss really really well. Serve immediately.


This is the fifth year of the RideLondon-Surrey 100, one of the legacies of the London 2012 Olympic Games, and the first time I’ve ridden in such a huge sportive. Nearly 30,000 people registered for the event, and I queue up at the start surrounded by hundreds upon hundreds of cyclists. The logistics of such an event must be a challenge, but we are moved forwards and somehow leave at our projected start time: 0642. Though this is my first sportive it’s not my first century. I’m riding with a friend who really looks the part with a Rapha jersey and a slick bike. I don’t own a cycle jersey and I’m the only one carrying a backpack: sandwich, snacks, and spares.

ACDC blares from the speakers as we cross the start line and head straight onto the A12. It’s a real buzz to be riding on a dual carriageway empty of traffic, the peleton taking up the whole of the road, heading through tunnels and over flyovers that are normally inaccessible to bikes. “I won’t race,” my riding partner says, although his idea of slow and mine are probably very different.

We head westwards out of London through Chiswick and into Richmond Park, the early morning sun emerging as we flow through Kingston and towards Hampton Court. We’re being carried along by this tidal wave of cyclists at an average of 20mph. I’ve never known anything like it; mostly I ride at touring pace, either solo or in small groups, so the feeling of fast is new, and I love it.

Forty miles in, I start to lag. “How are you feeling?” I ask my riding partner. “Great. Doesn’t feel like I’ve ridden 40 miles. You?” “Definitely feels like I’ve ridden 40 miles! Feel free to drop me if you want to go faster.” I manage to hang on for another five or six miles, but as we near the halfway point he pulls away and is soon swallowed up by the riders ahead. Soon afterwards I pass the ‘Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’ sign, followed instantly by the promised hills. It’s a tough climb towards Newlands Corner – the first of many.

I pull into one of the rest stops for a break – the pace has hurt and I need some time to recover. I eat my sandwich and help myself to some energy chews. This is the fourth rest stop we’ve passed, all packed out with drinks, sweets and biscuits handed out by smiley people. There are toilets and plenty of places to rack your bike. It’s all brilliantly organised.

Back on the bike, and back into the hills. It’s absolutely stunning – this is not an area I’ve cycled in before, but I can see why it has its reputation – it’s wonderful cycling, with challenging climbs and long freewheeling downs, winding lanes and picturesque villages. And it’s great day for it, too – the sun gives a rich shimmer to the surroundings. The road is full of bicycles, but despite the numbers it’s flowing really well. I pause for a moment, enjoying the lack of engine noise. Silence but for the whirr of thousands of bicycle wheels.

Soon comes Leith Hill – the steepest and longest climb of the day. The road narrows and cyclists come out of their saddles, weaving across the road. Avoiding touching wheels is almost more of a challenge than the actual climb. “This is the final stretch!” says one of the stewards, misleadingly: there are at least three more false summits and corners before the road finally levels out and the glorious descent can begin.

“Slow down!” the marshals are calling from ahead. There’s an ambulance and some cyclists receiving First Aid, and beyond, two riders lying on stretchers, one with blood covering his face. It’s a scary sight. A little while later I see someone come off and skid along the ground for several metres. It looks really painful. It’s inevitable that there will be collisions in an event with so many people but it’s worrying to hear of the serious crashes that caused chaos later in the day, leading to delays and diversions and two riders being airlifted to hospital.

Ten miles later it’s Box Hill, a famous climb. It’s not nearly as steep as Leith Hill and from having worried since the start line about this section, I really enjoy it. I’m good at steady climbing, and the views as the road creeps higher are astounding. As with any hill, all you need is a low gear and a healthy dose of determination.

With the big hills behind us and 70 miles under the wheels, the final 30 miles are a rip-roaring ride back to London. I’m pumped and stop once more for a sandwich break before the final stretch. “Last climb!” the stewards call as we tackle the hill at Wimbledon, then we pour down towards the river and across Putney bridge. I jump on someone’s wheel and stay there all the way along the Embankment, allowing him to carry me to Parliament Square. I don’t think he noticed. The Mall makes a triumphant finish and I pass beneath the hoarding 6 hours and 5 minutes after leaving. Not bad for my first sportive – I’ll definitely be signing up for another.

14th April 2016. David Cameron was Prime Minister. Boris Johnson was Mayor of London. Roy Hodgson was England manager. Bernie Sanders was giving Hillary Clinton a run for her money in the US Presidential Primaries. Chris Evans was the presenter of Top Gear. Peggy Mitchell was the queen of the Queen Vic. Great Britain was part of the EU. And a Canadian singer called Drake reached the top of the charts with his single ‘One Dance.’

Fifteen weeks later, Drake is the only one who is still there.

If Drake remains at number one for one more week, he will have equalled the record for the longest ever Number One held by fellow Canadian Bryan Adams. Adams retained the top spot with (Everything I do) I do it for you for nearly four months in the summer of 1991, helped no doubt by the song featuring on the soundtrack for Kevin Costner’s swashbuckling romp Robin Hood Prince of Thieves. Drake has already beaten Whitney Houston’s I will always Love You (10 weeks) (which also featured in a film starring Kevin Costner), Rhianna’s Umbrella (10 weeks), Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy (9 weeks) and equalled Wet Wet Wet’s Love is all around (15 weeks).

What is the appeal of this song? Drake has had a string of hits, but none has caused quite such a storm as this. Musically, it is quite strange, a stitching-together of clipped female vocals, Bhangra samples and Drake’s smooth come-on to his girl, held together by a rim-shot dominated drum beat. There’s no rousing chorus, no soaring melody, no classic verse/chorus/middle 8 formula that served Bryan Adams and Whitney Houston so well. Lyrically it’s not particularly moving or uplifting – it neither invokes tears nor inspires joy. There is no video to watch. But perhaps therein lies its appeal: neither divisive nor controversial, it simply is a good song. It doesn’t stick obtrusively in your mind, spinning round and round annoyingly throughout the day, more, it gently sits there like a good friend. There’s nothing particularly to love, but neither is there anything to hate – these other songs tend to split audiences. I remember singing “I wish you would keep your mouth shut!” above Whitney’s warbling “I wish you love.” Even Marty Pello grew sick of his own song and withdrew the record before it became too permanent a fixture at the top of the chart.

With all the turmoil going on in the world, all the political upheaval, the uncertainty in the financial markets, perhaps we just want stability, something comforting, that doesn’t cause controversy one way or another, just a good, classy song that makes you smile each time you hear it because it’s solid and stable and, while politicians quit and establishments fall around our ears, isn’t going anywhere.

As a vegan, I’m often asked, “What do you eat?” One of my staples is lentils – a food I had barely eaten before becoming vegan, but something I couldn’t now live without. Lentils are high in protein and carbohydrates, and a good source of iron, fibre, B vitamins and zinc. They make a natural substitute for meat – high on the list of the questions is, “How do you get enough protein?” so I smugly reply that there is as much protein in the humble lentil as there is in a steak.

Trying to emulate meat in my cooking is not something I really do – if I’m not going to eat meat, I’m not going to eat something pretending to be meat. Tofu and soy are not on my shopping list. But lentils are great at providing a meaty texture if I so desire – especially useful if I’m cooking for non-vegans. Red lentils have a similar texture to shredded chicken, brown lentils make a great substitute for mince, and Puy lentils have a fabulous gamey flavour. Such is the similarity to meat textures, I have been known to question chefs who insist the dish prepared for me is in fact vegan; I’ve even questioned my own cooking, knowing full well animal products have come no where near!

My lentil shelf (yes, I have a lentil shelf) has five types of lentil: red, green, brown, speckled (Puy) and yellow. There’s definitely room for more.

I also have a few beans on my lentil shelf, but dried beans (though cheaper than canned) require forethought (soaking overnight) and energy (lots of boiling time). Living on a boat makes me very precious about overusing my gas stove. Lentils don’t require soaking which means you can buy the dried (cheaper) version and still add them to dishes with very little planning. Typical cooking time: 15 to 35 minutes.

Red lentils cook really quickly and are a great addition to soups and curries. They are good for bulking up a dish and their colour doesn’t fade with cooking. I often use them in carrot soup and always in a dhal.

Brown lentils are my favourite chilli-sans-carne staple. They hold their shape when cooked, and the colour and texture is close enough to the meat mince in my mum’s recipe that I’m sure she wouldn’t mind. They take longer than red (being the whole version of red lentils) so need to be added to the mix fairly early on. I add them to a Bolognese-style dish at the same time as all other liquid, giving a good thirty minutes on the boil in order to soften.

Green lentils are flatter than brown and retain something of their shape when cooked. They tend to lose their colour (though they never start off green – more a dull beige). They are good in stews and salads.

Puy lentils are a revelation. They are just great on their own, which is not true of other lentils. A whole plate of Puy lentils and a dash of soy sauce is just as nutritious and delicious as a steak. OK, only a vegan would say that, but… it’s a good meal. Chuck a few oven-roasted veg in there and some sautéed spinach and you have yourself a gourmet meal. I often add them (pre-cooked) to salads and stir-fries.

Yellow lentils are a new addition to my lentil shelf. They are more a split pea than a lentil, which means they take longer to cook and have the firmest texture of all the lentils. They also look a lot like I’ve poured several cans of sweetcorn into my stew. Tastes great, though, and really gives the dish an extra dimension in flavour and texture.

I used to eat meat three times a day. Now it’s lentils. All praise to the lentil.

This is the mother of all triathlons: a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride, and a 26.2 mile run. In June I travelled up to the Lake District to take part in the Lakesman iron-distance triathlon, an event I’d been training for solidly for 6 months. I’d never run any distance before I started training, nor even competed in a triathlon. I worried in the build-up as to what I’d let myself in for (many tears were shed) which was made worse by a niggling running injury I’d picked up 5 weeks prior to the event. But I got there, I competed, and I completed it. This is what it was like (in post-event bloggy exhaustion)

4am: wake. worry I can’t do it.

5am: try to eat something. Nerves making it hard. I’m worried the water will be too cold, that I won’t complete the things in the time allowed, that it will be hilly, that my running injury will make it impossible to complete the run. Trying not to think about the total madness of the overall event.

6am: swim starts. It’s warm. The lake is beautiful. I find it much easier than I thought and I think of what my swimming coach taught me as I power through the water. It’s far but it takes me just an hour and ten minutes: 20 mins quicker than my best projection.

IMG_31247.30am: start the cycle. I am an hour ahead of schedule – this gives me a boost. Overcast skies and a tailwind. My team missed me getting out of the water because I was so far ahead. They catch up in the car and we hug. Quiet roads at this time on a Sunday morning – a fast ride along the gently undulating A66 on good tarmac. I’m averaging 18mph, 4mph faster than the speed I need to make it back in time. I’m really good at climbing – every uphill, no matter how slight, I power past everyone else. They then pass me on the downs. First feed station – I take a banana and drink some of the oat smoothie I made.

10am: my tummy feels funny. It’s the combination of bananas, energy bars, my raspberry smoothie, nerves, not being able to finish my breakfast, and having got up so early. There are no loos provided on the route, and this is not something I can do on the verge. I see a man watering the plants in his garden and ask if I can come in and use the toilet. He is bemused but agrees. His whole house, including the toilet, is carpeted in beige.

11am: halfway through the cycle. I feel great. Tailwind, smooth roads, no hills. When they said flat they really meant it. Coastal route with a view over the sea. A touch of rain but mainly dry. My team has been popping up every so often and cheering me on. There is a big crowd here in Allonby holding signs – one says “don’t be shit.”

IMG_314012.15pm: second time through Allonby on the mini-lap. I’m starting to struggle. My sister bought me some crisps – the ‘real’ food feels great. I chat to them for a while. I’m still way ahead of schedule, but simply being on the bike for this long is a killer. It’s nearly been five hours. I set off, the final flying stretch where I’ll have flat roads and a whopping tailwind soon over as the route reaches its most northerly point and turns southwards, with 42 miles still to go before I get back to Keswick. That in itself is a huge distance, regardless of the fact that I have already been cycling all day. I try not to think about it.

2pm: final twelve miles. Overriding thoughts: PAIN, whose idea was this, no way I can run a marathon now, PAIN, hungry, worry (leg feels fine, but might not last the run), PAIN, headwind, exhausted, hungry, who invented this – it’s a bloody ridiculous idea for an event.

3pm: back in Keswick. It looks like most people beat me to it – from being in the top 50 out of the water I’m now in the last 30. Rack bike, change, toilet, sit down, eat. I find my team and chat to them for a while. Longest transition ever.

3.30pm: start the run. It’s a five lap course – I’ve told myself I’ll do the first lap and see how I feel. Legs feel fine. Body feels great. I can’t believe it. Smiles all round.

5.15pm: onto the third lap. First two were easy, now it’s starting to hurt a bit. Head up, still smiling. It’s raining which is good for refreshment but not so good for the cross-country sections of the course which are slowly turning into a bog. Legs still fine. Body feeling good. Tiring but still going. Water and coke gulped at each station. I don’t even LIKE coke, but today, I love it. I am running faster than most people and have nearly caught up a friend who was a lap ahead of me when I started. Still smiling and getting lots of cheers. “You’re looking fresh!” people are saying. Keep smiling. Everyone else looks fucked.

6.30pm: final lap. My knees are in agony. I am no longer smiling

7pm: I can no longer run. Talking myself through it now. 100 steps run/stagger, 50 steps walk. Eventually I am running 20 and walking 100. I am finding it hard to breathe and I nearly start hyperventilating at a feed station, tears pouring down my face as I try not to panic. Everything in my body is saying STOP but I am so nearly there. Walk 100 paces, run 20. Final strait. I pick up the running again.

7.30pm: I cross the finish line, 13 hours and 28 minutes after I started. I can’t breathe, I’m cold, I can’t walk, I’m going to have to find the medic tent. My hands cover my face to hide the tears from the cameras, although when I look at the pictures later my gasping grimace looks just like a smile. Amazing.


So, there we are. Ironman done. It was unimaginably tough but at times felt great – just goes to show that if you prepare for something and set your mind on a task, you can achieve it. I’m by no means an athlete, and especially not a triathlete. But I crossed that finish line well within the time allowance and now have my Lake District slate medal to keep for the rest of time. Just never ask me to do it again.

For the second time in two weeks, I’ve fallen off my bike. This isn’t a great score for someone who teaches people to ride bikes for a living, but perhaps it’s for a reason; just call me Anna ‘I Have Accidents So You Don’t Have To’ Hughes.

The first fall was a tough one. Rounding a corner, I saw a patch of what I thought was water, but was actually engine oil, and hitting a patch of oil at an angle, regardless of how fast or slow you are travelling, means game over. I stood no chance: the front wheel instantly gave way and the whole bicycle slid along the tarmac, taking me with it. I landed hard on my hip and elbow, the skin scraping onto my clothing which thankfully kept the wounds diesel-free. Bumped, bruised and grazed, I cycled home to lick my wounds and add my oil-covered clothes to the laundry basket. There’s not much you can do about oil or ice: these are two surfaces that, once hit, mean you end up on the floor. Hitting the ground at any speed is horrible – after the skin wounds scabbed over I was left with two sizeable bumps and the bruises to go with it. I’ll certainly avoid similar patches in future. If in doubt about something on the road, avoid it, and if that’s not possible, try not to ride it at an angle, otherwise you’ll likely end up on the floor.

The second fall was less serious but, being a mere week after the first, and falling on roughly the same parts of my body, it hurt all the more. On this occasion it was a gravel path that caused my front wheel to slip – something that I really should have predicted. It’s a path along which I’ve ridden many times, but today it had rained so the path was wet. Gravel can be an unpleasant surface – in the heat it kicks up dust, in the rain it slides under the wheels – but it’s even more unpleasant when you have to pick it out from under your skin. “Exercise caution in wet conditions,” I tell my trainees. It’s good advice.

When it rains, you need to be twice as vigilant on the road. Everything is slippery, especially manhole covers and drains, and even painted lines. Avoid riding over these in wet weather, and if riding over them is unavoidable, be careful not to take them at an angle or in the middle of a turn. Avoid riding through puddles, as these can conceal potholes. Any bumps or changes in the surface become far more hazardous in the rain, so always take kerbs or bumps at a 90º angle to reduce the chance of slips.

Even in dry conditions, be aware of changes in the road surface: gravel, potholes, kerbs, textured paving, manhole covers and tramlines. The best way to ride across any of these is in a straight line and at a 90º angle. Keep your eyes on the road ahead to avoid suddenly swerving into the path of another vehicle if you need to manoeuvre around hazardous road surfaces. Always keep the brakes covered just in case and, if in doubt, reduce your speed or stop.

The full series of tips for safe cycling can be found here.

It’s the second annual Cycle Touring Festival and I’m here in the beautiful setting of Waddow Hall in Lancashire. The weather is gorgeous and it’s very green: trees and long grasses cover the steep slope that leads down to the water. Some local boys have been walking across the top of the weir. A group of us takes a dip in the river – it’s warm.

The festival has an intimate feel to it – ticket sales are intentionally restricted so it doesn’t seem too crowded. There are enough people here that there is a buzz, but not so many that you don’t know who anyone is. Faces quickly become familiar and connections are easily made. It’s a great melting-pot of people, some of whom are seasoned tourers, some of whom are just starting out on their first adventures.

One of my talks was about finding adventure on your doorstep, where I shared stories of some of my travels within the UK: a ride from Liverpool to Manchester along the river Mersey; a voyage of discovery along old railway trails in Somerset; an adventure within London around the Capital Ring; the magic of overnight rides such as the Dunwich Dynamo. My favourite type of ride is cycling to the sea (preferably following a water course to its conclusion), a wonderfully accessible adventure given that nowhere in the UK is more than 70 miles from the sea.

And it’s not just about the short routes: LEJOG is around 1000 miles; around the coast is about 4000, an epic distance in anyone’s book. But the UK can be overlooked as a venue for travels, not yielding all we might expect from adventure. It’s all here: hospitality from locals, foreign languages, new cultures, habits and traditions, rich history, wilderness, great weather (yes, really!), breathtaking beauty, grandeur of scale, epic distance and extreme physical challenge. A ride from Land’s End to John o’ Groats will take you from the luscious, sub-tropical South-West riviera to the pale evening skies of northern Scotland. The variety in landscapes between these points is huge: farmsteads, industry, sweeping plains, cities, hills steep enough to pick up your front wheel and throw you down, buildings made from the earth around them, mountain ranges, lakes, river valleys and moorland. There is much to learn about local customs, cultures and cuisines, and every region has something unique to offer, be it Cullen Skink, lava-bread, or a Melton Mowbray pie. It’s not unusual to be unable to understand a conversation going on in the local bakery – a delightful feeling of displacement within your own country.

Hearing of the hospitality of strangers is common in tales of far-flung travels. Perhaps it’s not so expected within the UK as we don’t think to ask for it. But our neighbours are just as warm, welcoming and friendly as anywhere in the world. In my round-Britain ride I was given a bed and food on an almost daily basis, mostly by people I didn’t know. People frequently stopped me to have a chat or share their own cycling stories, and gave me water and food. It was an incredible and refreshing insight to human nature: we are sociable creatures after all, and we want to help.

There are many advantages to cycle touring here: a common language, common currency, no need for a passport, close to get to, doesn’t require lots of time, money, logistics or planning. It also has great infrastructure, an easy get-out clause and no dangerous creatures or tropical diseases. There is plenty to be discovered within the UK and the adventure and discovery is all the greater for being somewhere familiar.

I love making an ordinary journey into an extraordinary one, simply by using my bike. When I set off on my sailing trip three years ago I rode my bike to the south coast over a course of four days rather than take a four hour train ride. So I concluded my talk with a little story about a ride from last year’s festival to my friend’s house in Manchester, a last-minute decision to make the journey one to remember. I loved every minute.

According to Transport for London (TfL), 77% of accidents happen at junctions. It’s understandable why this can be a hotspot for collision: there are two or more directions of traffic, visibility can be reduced, and confusion is common. For cyclists, the statistics are more scary: junctions are where most fatalities occur, especially when left-turning vehicles are involved.

Taking the lane at junctions (being in the centre) can greatly reduce the chances of an accident. Picture a typical T junction. If the cyclist hugs the kerb they are effectively inviting someone to come alongside them and turn either at the same time or turn in front of them. If the road has parked cars lining it, the cyclist is concealed from view for much of the manoeuvre. Being on the inside of a left-turning vehicle is the last place you want to be, so don’t invite it by sticking to the side. If you hold a central position you will have more road presence, better visibility, and another road user won’t have room to pass without going into the other lane so will have to wait behind – a much safer and more correct use of the roads (according to the Highway Code, if you’re in front you have priority, and overtaking on a junction is not permitted). If you’re turning right, the same principle applies – by placing yourself on the right hand side of the lane you are opening yourself up to being overtaken. Be bold and take the lane, whether you are turning left or right or going straight on, and take this position at all junctions including T junctions, cross-roads, traffic lights and roundabouts. Keep the central position until you have cleared the junction, then return to your normal riding position.

At pinch points or on narrow roads, there is often not room for another vehicle to pass you safely. If you stay to the left, drivers may try to squeeze past, so each time you approach a pinch point (e.g. traffic island), check behind and, if it’s safe to do so, move into a central position to discourage dangerous overtaking. If there’s someone directly behind, wait for them to pass before moving into the central position.

The way you behave on the roads affects how others behave, and your position can encourage others to drive more safely around you. Where you ride is a form of communication in itself; by riding wide and central you are saying, “Please wait before you overtake,” whereas a position to the side says, “Please go around me.” Think about which is safest for you in each situation and alter your position accordingly.

The full series of tips for safe cycling can be found here.


Dear Boris,

Your Cycle Superhighways are advertised as “safer, faster and more direct” routes into the capital, providing routes for cyclists along the roads they might otherwise drive down – quick, direct routes into the capital that follow trunk roads. The infrastructure for motor vehicles is direct and clearly signposted, whereas for bicycles, it is winding, slow, and, more often than not, poorly signed.

Why, then, does CS1 not follow these guidelines? The original idea was to build a route that followed the A10: a fast, direct route into the capital. The new Cycle Superhighway 1 follows the old London Cycle Network route: a quiet route meandering around back streets from Tottenham to Old Street. Not to be confused with the new ‘Quietways’ scheme, providing cyclists with ‘an alternative to busy main roads’ along ‘direct and clearly signed’ routes. Sound familiar?

I would argue that diverting the Cycle Superhighway from the A10 is slower, less safe, and definitely less direct.

Have you ever tried cycling from Tottenham to Dalston at rush hour? Because that’s when most of your target audience will be trying to get to work. The traffic on those ‘quieter residential streets’ is i n s a n e. Everyone is trying to by-pass the A10, or get to work, or drop off their kids at the many schools along the route. The junctions are narrow, the sight lines are poor, and the traffic is coming from all directions. It’s a symphony of the car horn. It’s impossible to filter safely, people are turning in and out of junctions all over the place, and there is precious little room to pass the queue. Doesn’t sound fast to me.

And as for safety: do you know what the highest cause of accidents is for cyclists in London? It’s being ‘doored’ – hit by a car door as it opens. We teach cyclists to ride wide of the door zone, but what about those riders who are unaware of the dangers, or haven’t had training, or simply don’t have space because of all the traffic? Let’s take a look at these ‘safer’ roads that you’re sending cyclists down. Every single one of them is lined with parked cars.

According to TfL statistics, 77% of accidents happen at junctions. On the CS1 stretch between Tottenham and Dalston, there are 16 junctions at which you have to make a turn. On the A10 there are three.

The signage isn’t great, either. It’s impossible to just follow your nose or the flow of traffic: instead of a straight line south from suburbs to city, it twists and turns all over the place. Wasn’t that part of the point of the Cycle Superhighways? That they would follow those predictable routes?

But whatever I think of the terminology, or the marketing of cycle routes, or the roads that have been chosen, my main concern is segregation. Many cyclists will see cycling infrastructure and think, “Great! This has been put here for me to use by someone who knows what they are doing. This will keep me safe.” They do not think, “OK, this is a cycle superhighway. This is intended for commuters who have some kind of road sense,” or, “Look at this Quietway! What a perfect way to travel for families who don’t have to use the roads at rush hour,” or, “Hmm, that cycle lane is in the door zone. Perhaps I shouldn’t use it.” I once taught a lady who lived on the trunk road south from Elephant and Castle, and was thrilled that a new cycle route had been built outside her house. She merrily went out for a ride on the blue paint, and was passed too close by a bus within minutes. She didn’t try a second time.

All cycling infrastructure needs to be safe for all cyclists all the time. The re-designs of large junctions such as at Pitfield St / Old St are terrific, but until we see large scale segregation that is well-maintained, spacious, and goes where you want it to go, cycling in the capital will not be truly safe.

Chris Stark from Radio 1 doesn’t shower in the morning. Scott Mills thinks it’s disgusting. I don’t shower in the morning; I don’t shower in the evenings either. Often I go an ENTIRE WEEK without washing. But don’t I smell? Well, no.

Let’s start with hair. It’s a fairly common rumour that hair will clean itself if you leave it long enough, though it’s very difficult to imagine how this could be if, like me, you wash your hair every day. Or, I used to. Towards the end of the day I would feel my hair begin to become limp and greasy, and by morning, I would have to wash it. Then, one summer, I went on a camping trip with Otesha, a sustainability and behaviour change group. We camped in the field of a farm house with a composting toilet and no shower. No shower. For. Ten. Days. I have never had such an itchy head. After a week of farm life, we cycled down to the nearest town and begged our way into the leisure centre so we could have a wash – bliss! It was one of the most amazing showers of my life. Then a strange thing happened. My hair felt amazing the next day. And the next day. And the day after that. I didn’t feel the need to wash it again for another week (which was lucky because we were on another farm by then). Toughing it out for those ten days meant that my hair had begun the self-cleaning process. When I returned to civilisation and regular showers, I only washed my hair once a week. Then I upped it to ten days, then every two weeks, then every three. Now, I wash my hair roughly once a month, or whenever I remember (or have to appear at a wedding). My hair keeps that newly-washed feel for at least four days, then it starts to settle down. It looks just about great for a few weeks, then when it starts to look a bit limp after three or four weeks I give it a wash. I could probably leave it for longer, and perhaps I will, eventually. Because the thing I’ve learned is that your hair needs to be washed as often as you wash it. If you wash it daily, it will need washing daily. If you wash it weekly, it will need washing weekly, and so on.

So why are we tricked into thinking that we need to wash our hair all the time? Washing it doesn’t just clean it, it strips the hair of its natural oils, removing all the good stuff as well as the bad stuff so our hair is incapable of coping with not being clean. A ploy by shampoo companies to get you to buy their product? Perhaps. More likely it’s a result of our evolution into the modern era: we no longer live in Victorian times, where only the rich have access to the bath tub. We are all equal; we can all be clean.

It’s the same with skin. If you repeatedly strip your body of its natural oils, it will lose its innate ability to self-regulate. Akin to hair, the more you wash it, the more you need to wash it. Then, because we have removed all the good stuff, we add products. Which then don’t allow the skin to clean itself properly. So we have to shower more regularly. And then put all the oils back in with moisturiser. Etc etc.

The thing is, washing every day is really bad for the environment. Water use, gas to heat the water, chemicals in bathing products getting flushed away into our sewerage system. We are literally flushing clean water down the drain. We shower each day because it’s a habit and a sign of our advanced society.

I don’t shower in the mornings often because I can’t be bothered, but mostly because I don’t need to. I am not going to shower before I go to work today, and I’m certain that my colleagues won’t even notice (and it’s not that they are too polite to say anything). Try it sometime.

BreakfastWhen I have taken on challenges before, I’ve shied away from my vegan diet, unsure of whether I would survive intense physical activity on a plant-based diet. This time there’s no question: I’m vegan. Even with such a gruelling training regime, I’m sticking to it.

And it is gruelling: I’m training to swim 2.4 miles, cycle 112 miles and run 26.2 miles. That’s a marathon after having been cycling all day. I’m training six days a week with a day off on Sunday to rest and recuperate before it all starts again on Monday morning.

At first I worried that I wouldn’t have enough energy to cope with all the training, but I needn’t have: my diet works for me in my day-to-day life, so why wouldn’t it work now? As long as I’m eating enough, I feel energised, healthy and strong.

I’ve never really calorie-counted so I won’t start now, but I am eating roughly twice what I normally eat. For example, instead of half a tin of beans on toast, I’ll have a full tin. I usually cook a huge meal in the evening so I’ll have enough for the next day – then I’ll end up eating the lot.

So, what do I eat?

Typical menu for the day

Pre-workout snack: banana and flapjack

Workout: 30 mins strength or 20 mile cycle

Breakfast: beans on toast

Morning snack: fruit and nut bars such as Nakd bars or Eat Natural (though these aren’t strictly vegan as they contain honey), oat bars, apple

Lunch: wrap with hummus, avocado, tomato, and whatever else I have lying around – last night’s leftovers, salad, lentils, kidney beans etc

Afternoon snack: oat cakes with hummus and salad, crisps, nuts

Workout: Run or swim

Post-workout snack: banana and flapjack/nut bar

Dinner: usually vegetables, lentils and beans, with a carbohydrate such as wholewheat pasta, brown rice or mashed potato. A favourite is vegan chilli: onions, garlic, mushrooms, aubergine if I have one, brown lentils, tinned tomatoes, red kidney beans, loads of spices and herbs.

At the weekend I’ll do a long swim or long cycle, which means eating while riding. Fuelling on the road is difficult, but it’s what I’m going to have to do on race day – if I can force down enough food that is, what with the adrenaline of the event playing havoc with my stomach as it did on the Half Iron. Food in liquid form is going to be best for that, such as smoothies and shakes made with fruit, oats, almond milk, bananas, and peanut butter (not all at once).

Yesterday I completed a half ironman. This is something I never thought I’d do – just the name sounds ridiculous. Maybe that’s why they call it that – to put people off. Because actually, I found it easy. Well, as easy as swimming 1.2 miles, cycling 56 miles and running 13.1 miles can be.

This ridiculousness began around Christmas time, when I decided that I needed a challenge this year. I’ve always wanted to do a triathlon but there needed to be something more to it than that – a standard tri seemed, well, too normal. So I started researching the Ironman, and pretty soon decided this was the event for me: a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride and a 56 mile run. Having never taken part in a triathlon before. Long distance appeals I suppose.

So, since Christmas I’ve been training regularly and have been steadily building up the distances (I’ve written about my running journey here). And yesterday I completed the half iron, my test event, with very little trouble. It all goes to show that anyone can do anything, if they put their mind to it. I don’t see myself as particularly strong, or as an athlete, but I somehow managed to run a half marathon as well as cycle 56 miles and swim 2k. It was all in the preparation: I knew what I had to do so I prepared for it.

My training schedule has been: run three times a week (one long run and two short), swim twice a week (I’m a member of a Masters swim club), cycle as much as I can (which basically means to work and back), strength training every day. I’m now going to step up my training to include three focussed cycling sessions a week and some outdoor swimming.

The full Ironman is in June and if I enjoy it half as much as I enjoyed the half, I’ll be doing fine! (again, using the word ‘enjoy’ for an endurance event seems so wrong. But I did!)

These are my times:

Swim: 38 mins 45 in the pool (time allowed: 1 hr 10 mins)

20 mins transition time! Need to work on that!

Cycle: 4 hrs 5 mins on the road (time allowed, 4 hrs 5 mins + whatever is left over from the swim)

28 mins transition time (I needed a rest and to eat!)

Run: 2 hrs 15 mins (time allowed: 3 hrs 10 mins + whatever is left over from swim/cycle)

Total time, including transitions 7 hours 48 mins (time allowed: 8 hrs 30 mins)

The full story is on Twitter here (I even found time for selfies on the road)

It’s 10.30pm when my alarm goes off, waking me from a brief nap. I set my snooze alarm twice before finally dragging myself out of bed and dressing in my cycling gear. It’s pitch black outside, with a few stars and an almost full moon visible between the clouds. I put some food and my waterproofs in my bag and head off, into central London, to meet my friends at Monument.

Why did I get up when I would ordinarily be going to bed? Why have we gathered with our bicycles at midnight when most other people awake at this hour are in the pub? This is the SeaCycles group: every month we ride our bikes to somewhere on the coast, we swim in the sea and we eat fish and chips. Except this time we are doing it overnight.

We eat biscuits, chat, and psyche ourselves up for the 56 miles that lies ahead. Then we set off, south, towards the sea. All around are the sounds of late night London: revellers spilling out of bars, the neon lights of chicken shops flashing to snare their prey, the gentle rumble of the night bus. The roads are less choked with traffic than usual; we negotiate Elephant and Castle and Camberwell with ease, then climb towards Dulwich, Sydenham Hill, and the red beacons of Crystal Palace.

What is the attraction of riding at night? Why have we set out at midnight to cycle all night to the coast? We could be in the pub; we should be in bed; tomorrow will be a write-off. Yet still, we are here.

“But you’ll miss the scenery!” one of my friends had said. We stand at the top of Crystal Palace hill and look down on a blanket of lights, the whole of London sparkling far into the distance. We smile at each other – here, London is a magician’s box, a treasure chest, a mystery. We rarely see it like this. The roads are quiet and the sky black above us.

A few hours later we have shaken off the city altogether and are deep into the countryside. The country lane winds narrow ahead, passing huge estates where houses sit grand behind iron gates, porch lights illuminating neat lawns and Mercedes in the drive. There is the faint suggestion of fields behind the hedgerows, the black horizon punctuated by the blacker outline of trees, and the moon shines above it all. We are privy to the night creatures: the quick dash of a fox, the slow glide of an owl, the shuffle of a badger. It’s a whole new world, one with which we are almost entirely unfamiliar. The roads are all but empty. Few people are awake at this hour, fewer still out on their bikes. I stop riding and an intense peace descends. This is the magic of midnight.

We didn’t see the fields, we didn’t see the folk who live in those houses, we didn’t see the sun sparkling on a lake, we didn’t see the new buds of blossom on the trees. But we saw so much else, things we rarely see, experiences we rarely experience, and that is enough. And, best of all, as we descended into Ditchling, we saw the dawn.

It was three exhausted and sleep-deprived cyclists who arrived on Brighton beach at 7am on Easter Saturday, ready to hit the sack as soon as we’d found breakfast. Unusual? Perhaps. Unforgettable, yes.

Lessons 1

It’s possible to cycle round the world. I haven’t done it myself, but I know plenty of people who have (including Al Humphreys, whose map this is). The world might seem impossibly huge – but keep the pedals turning and the miles soon pass. It’s true of any distance – my biggest bike ride do date has been 4000 miles around the coast of the UK. On day one, it seemed an insurmountable, impossible distance, but day by day the miles accrued and soon I was into the thousands. I recently cycled 60 miles to Brighton with a friend – she was worried she wouldn’t make it because it was further than she’d ever cycled. But as we descended the final hill she was smiling widely and said, “Now I’ve cycled here I can cycle anywhere!” Approaching any task is just like cycling – take it one step at a time and eventually you will get there.

Lessons 2

I moaned a lot about the weather on my round-Britain trip: It’s too cold / it’s too wet / it’s too windy. None of those things would change. The only thing that could change was my outlook, and only once I had stopped moaning could I deal with it. All I needed were appropriate clothes to keep me dry and an acceptance that the wind would make me go slower than expected, so I needed to throw my timetable out of the window. Once I did that I could relax and enjoy it. Though it being Britain, I never once complained about it being too hot!

Mileage was also a distraction: at one point I passed a sign for the next town which read 8 miles, and the next said 10. I almost cried – 10 when I thought it was 8?! Then I realised that the distance to the next town was the distance to the next town, whatever the sign said, and it would take as long as it took, and I calmed down and started to enjoy the journey rather than focus purely on the destination.

Lessons 3

I’m a plan kind of girl, and for my circumnavigation I route-planned to a T. Sometimes I couldn’t go the way I wanted, and it took a lot of courage to let go of my carefully-laid plans and plunge into the unknown. But had I taken the route I’d intended, the ride itself would have been wildly different: I would not have seen what I saw, would not have met the people I met, would not have the memories I had. Each path taken led to the next path – whether I knew it or not. So it is with life. The decisions we make can change the path of our lives massively, and each decision influences the next.

Lessons 4

When we take on any challenge we pace ourselves so by the time we reach the end point we have used up all our energy. So it is easy to assume that, on reaching the end point, you couldn’t possibly have gone any further. But distance is psychological; you go as far as you’ve set yourself up to go. When I reached John o’ Groats on my round-Britain trip I had cycled over 1000 miles, and I wasn’t remotely tired. I was less than halfway there, and this was simply one more day in my long bike ride. Yet everyone I met there was at the very end of their stamina – this is the end of the famous Land’s End to John o’ Groats challenge that takes cyclists from the bottom left hand corner of Britain to the top right. The people I met had cycled a shorter distance and spent less time on the road than me, and were absolutely exhausted. But that doesn’t mean they couldn’t cycle 4000 miles if they tried. They just weren’t expecting to.

Lessons 5

I have never been an ‘athlete’ – I was quite good at school sports but never excelled at anything. I don’t have the build of an athlete nor the drive to become one. But anyone who cycles 4000 miles by themselves is strong. Perhaps not in the conventional sense, but there are many types of strength: not only muscular strength, but also mental strength and tenacity, and while none of these are things I thought I had before, I realised I do have them simply by virtue of doing what I did. Doing something every day for 72 days makes you very good at it! I returned wonderfully muscular – which didn’t last long, but at least I experienced it! And when the physical strength faded, I could still do things that should be beyond me, simply because I told myself I could.

Bolton Waterstones

It’s a year since I became an author, the culmination of three years of hard work putting pen to paper (well, fingertips to keyboard) and scraping together the story of my 4000 mile bike ride around the coast of Britain. I wrote a couple of blogs about the writing process at the time: Writing a book and Which was easier, writing or riding?

In the past year I have given numerous talks about the book, mainly on my book tour, which saw me pedalling from Land’s End to John O’Groats, putting on talks and events in each of the towns I passed through. I have sold upwards of 3000 books – an incredible achievement that surpassed all my expectations.

I’m immensely proud to be a published author – if I never write another book, I wrote this one, and that’s a huge achievement. People ask if I have another in me – I might, but not just yet. Writing a second book would certainly be an easier process, but this one took an awful lot of time and effort to produce, and I’m not ready to make that commitment just yet.

An obvious part of becoming an author is having a public profile – anyone can look me up on Amazon and buy and read my book. They don’t know anything about me apart from what they read online, or the impression they get of the person I managed to portray in my writing. Everyone will interpret that differently. I receive emails and tweets from people who have enjoyed the book, and I am so grateful for these comments – this is why I wrote the book in the first place, so people would enjoy hearing about my travels and perhaps feel inspired to explore a bit themselves.

Of course, there is also the other side of this: the negative reviews. I managed to make twelve 5* reviews before the first 1* review came in. I have a screen-grab of those 12 perfect reviews, and I’m holding on to that! I am absolutely realistic about my book – I know not everyone will like it, and I don’t expect it to be to everyone’s taste. We are all different, and wouldn’t it be awful if it were otherwise? One only has to look at the Amazon reviews of a book they have really enjoyed/disliked to find there are just as many people who have the exact opposite viewpoint.

But when people are writing negative things about something you have worked so hard on, it can really hurt. I started off reading all my reviews – no matter how much you know you shouldn’t, you just can’t help it. I was amazed at how mean people could be! Dismissing my work in just a few cutting words. I wanted to riposte each and every one. I responded to a couple with what I judged to be fair responses, but you risk getting into a debate with someone whose viewpoint you are not likely to change, so I stopped.

I thought about why people write reviews. It’s a compulsion that we should express our opinion, especially if others have expressed an opposing view. You want your voice to be heard, and to present your argument in such a way that will convince others. I’ve done it myself, and I feel awful – I gave a fellow cyclist and adventurer a 1* review for his book. I simply didn’t realise he would read it – I just wanted to express my view. But of course he would have read it. In the end, the only person who really cares about your review is you, and the author. Other potential readers are going to look at the average and use that the inform their purchase, if they use anything at all. I went back to that 1* review and deleted it.

Now, I don’t look at what people say, good or bad. I am pleased with my book and that’s good enough. Other people can take it how they want, and are free to express this however they please. It’s taken a while to feel comfortable with this – it’s so easy to let those negative comments get to you, especially if, as with one man, they are sent direct to your inbox! Why he thought sending me a personal email about how much he hated my book would be productive, I have no idea. It took a while to get over that one!

So, if you’ve enjoyed my book, please, let me know. Not to massage my ego, simply to let me know that writing it in the first place was worthwhile. For this is why one becomes an author – for people to read and enjoy your work. And if you don’t like it, fine – just be aware that’s not just a book you’re dismissing, it’s a person.

I’m teaching myself to run a marathon. I’ve never run a marathon before, and this is not just any marathon – it’s a marathon after having swum 2.4 miles and ridden my bike for 8 hours. I am taking part in the Lakesman iron-distance triathlon this summer, something I’d never even considered six months ago. I have wanted to do a triathlon for a while – as someone who can swim and cycle it’s an obvious event in which to compete. But I am not a runner. For years I’ve been saying, “I’ll enter a triathlon this year,” but have never got round to it.

Then, as all ‘good’ ideas start, a pub conversation with a friend sowed the seed of the Ironman. This friend has taken part in triathlons before, and somehow he convinced me that I could do a half ironman without having had any prior Tri experience. So we agreed to both enter a half ironman. But the more I considered it, the more I decided that with all the training I would have to do to complete a half-ironman, I might as well go for the whole thing. It’s a skewed logic perhaps, but long distance appeals. And I’m a bit of a sucker for labels: why would I put ‘half ironman’ on my CV when I could put ‘Ironman’?

So, here I am, two and a half months into my training: bike, swim, run. I am a member of a swim club and I train with them twice a week. I ride my bike every day and I ride long distance as much as I can. I do half an hour strength training each weekday, and I rest on the weekend. All this I find easy.

Then there’s the running.

Before the start of this year, I had never run any distance, ever. I used to run the 1500 metres when I was at school, but I was terrible at it. I would often be on the verge of hyperventilation after the 3 3/4 laps that the distance requires. I think they chose me because no one else would do it.

My training started on January 4th with a 10.5 mile run. Straight off, just like that. I don’t know why I decided to jump straight in at the deep end, but I think part of me wanted to see what I was capable of. I took it really slow. It hurt, a lot: after three or so miles the tops of my quads and my hips were in significant pain. But I kept going, and though I walked a large portion of it, I finished it. It took me two hours and by the end I was in agony – I was unable to walk normally for three days. But it served its purpose – I knew, if I could run 10 miles having never run before, I could do a marathon.

So, I started training, properly, building up the distance, starting at 3.5 miles, and increasing incrementally. The pain in my upper quads returned on the first few runs but soon disappeared completely. I started having knee pain once I’d reached 5+ miles (one night so bad that it kept me awake) but, with a knee support and some strategic resting, that too eased. I invested in some proper running trainers which support my ankles and cushion my tread, and I haven’t felt pain since. The distances steadily increased and now I’m up to 12 miles, and going strong (well, I’m totally exhausted by the end of the 12 miles but at least I am physically able to walk afterwards).

I always resisted running because I thought cycling was so much of a better thing. I am a cyclist – I don’t even like walking that much. Running hurts, there is no resting, it’s slow and it’s boring. But much to my surprise and pleasure, once I’d started running, I found none of these things to be true. I really enjoy my running sessions. I didn’t take long to become run-fit, and for it to stop hurting. Sure, there is no freewheeling with running, but if I’m tired I can reduce my pace or simply walk for a while. Yes, it is slower than cycling, but it isn’t supposed to be fast. And it certainly is not boring. Running has allowed me to discover the world at a new pace, and I like it.

I don’t wear an ipod when I run – instead of listening to music I listen to my body, the breaths, the feet, the rhythm of the stride. The one occasion in which I did listen to music, I found it incredibly distracting, and I didn’t feel comfortable with my run. It’s like long-distance cycling: music is an escape, a blocking-out of your current situation. When I’m touring this is the last thing I want – I want to be in the moment, noticing my surroundings, accompanied by the soundtrack of whichever road I am riding. In all my touring, I find my iPod stays in the bottom of my bag, unused, even though part of my preparation in the last few days before departure is preparing a good playlist to pump me up and encourage me and keep me going when it gets tough. When on the road I find I don’t need it. The sounds of the ride, of nature, and the thoughts in my head keep me occupied.

So it is with running. As I run, I tune in to my body. I notice what’s going on around me. I look at the ground beneath my feet and I look up to the sky. I hear birdlife and traffic. My thoughts wander and I am content.

More than ever, I have to be in the present. It’s taken many miles of cycle touring to learn that I shouldn’t worry about what’s around the corner, or count down the miles to the next town, (things I am still learning). With running I think I am learning this more quickly. Because running is a little more relentless and higher impact on the body, the minute I start thinking about how much there is to go, it’s over. If I start wishing desperately for the end, or for a rest, or torture myself about how hard the next mile and the one after that are going to be, the run becomes impossibly hard.

A significant lesson in this is that physical strength alone is not enough; I must also be mentally strong. I have to consciously avoid thinking about how much distance there is to go, or how much I have already done. I think only about the step I’m taking at that moment. Everything is absolutely in the present. I concentrate on my body – how am I feeling? How are my legs feeling? How are my muscles? How is my breathing? I concentrate on my posture: head up, shoulders back, upright, core muscles tight, no bouncing. It doesn’t matter how I might feel after two more miles – what matters is how I feel now. And as long as I am still putting one foot in front of the next, I am doing OK. I don’t think about how much more I might be able to take. As long as I am taking it at that very moment, I am doing fine. Even at my most tired, as soon as I stop projecting and start thinking about the here and now, I feel better. I try to avoid thinking about distances or halfways or miles. Halfway is a fact, and miles are a fact, that’s all. What matters is how you’re feeling. Each stride will lead to the next, and will add up to be the number of strides I need to finish. And that is all I need to know.

Any Ironman is a culmination of months of training. Mine is going to be in the Lake District – a beautiful part of the world that I’m really excited about running/cycling/swimming in. But I can’t just look forward to that day – more than ever, I have to make the journey there count. Wouldn’t it be awful if my six months of training were just a miserable blur of struggle for the sake of a one day event? What if it rains on that day, or I become injured, or I don’t reach the time targets required to continue? What a misuse of my time and effort that would be! It’s a lesson I’ve struggled to learn in the past – in all my long journeys, it’s so easy to focus purely on the destination and forget that the journey there is a major part of it. It’s not just the achievement of reaching your end goal – it’s all the miles that lead to that point. I am guilty of having spent miles in the saddle staring at the tarmac ahead of my front wheel just to get it over with. It’s a tough lesson to learn, one that I still struggle with, but now that I’m running, I’m getting better at it with each step.

A little while ago I was interviewed by Alastair Humphreys for his Adventure 1000 blog which aims to demonstrate how you can have a big adventure without spending loads of money and without being a super fit adventurer. Alastair has collated that interview along with loads of others in his new book Grand Adventures. The interview appears on Alastair’s website here, and also below.


A 4000 mile epic without leaving home

Bicycle adventures are my favourite, because you can go anywhere on a bicycle, and the riding itself is free. A couple of years ago I cycled around the British coastline – a 10-week, 4000 mile trip, which cost me £1017 – roughly 25p per mile or £100 per week – cheaper than my London rent. (That’s a thought – I could have rented out my room while I was away and the trip would have paid for itself!)

This British adventure was fantastic. I am a huge advocate of exploring close to home, of doing something extraordinary on your own doorstep, of starting the adventure the minute you leave your house (without having to *get* to a starting point). I have often been asked, “What was your favourite part?” and it is easy to pick a place or a time – the time I reached John O’ Groats and could cycle north no further, the time I reached the top of the Bealach na Ba (the highest road pass in the UK), the incredible weather and rich blueness of the sea in Cornwall. But in fact, one of my favourite parts was simply that I was exploring my home country and discovering new things each day, even in somewhere that was so familiar.

Another question that people ask me is, “Did you take a tent?” Camping is certainly one way to travel on a budget. But I don’t love camping – I love cycling. I wanted to go on a cycling holiday, not a camping one. I don’t do well without my home comforts – a hot shower and a warm duvet at the end of the day makes me a happy cyclist.

So, what I did was ask for help. I contacted everyone I knew through work, friends, family, friends of family, family of friends etc. It helped greatly that I was working for Sustrans at the time, a national cycling organisation, so I had a couple of hundred email addresses of people who were all too willing to help!

Of course, planning everything in advance meant I was tied to the schedule (within reason – the people I was staying with knew that things could change on the road, so were quite flexible). This doesn’t work for everyone. But it worked for me. Yes, there were occasions when I had a few miles left in me when I reached my destination (and one occasion when I didn’t make it!), but most of the time, having somewhere to aim for each night was a great help.

I was overcome with offers of help – people who knew people who had a spare bed or sofa or floor space. I used all the networks I could think of – I’m a member of the Green Party, so googled local parties on the coast to fill some gaps. I used the website – reciprocal hospitality for touring cyclists. It’s a fantastic network and I met some wonderful hosts, many of whom who rode with me for a little way, which was very welcome support. By the time I set off on my adventure, I had about 8 nights with nowhere to stay. My resourceful aunts set to work, contacting long-lost friends, emailing local bike clubs, and in the more remote areas, phoning up the local library and the local primary school. In the end, I paid for a total of 15 nights’ accommodation in the whole ten weeks.

Free accommodation is all very well. But then, why not bivvy, or wild-camp? You don’t have to pay for that either. But the main reason why staying with all these people kept the cost down so much was the food. Almost all of my hosts cooked me dinner, made me breakfast, and filled my panniers with lunch and snacks before waving me off in the morning. One lovely lady wouldn’t cook, but insisted on taking me out for a three-course meal. The generosity of my hosts was overwhelming. And not paying for food was the biggest reason that I spent so little.

My main lesson from all of this (and tip to pass on to others) is to accept, not expect. People want to help. Imagine someone on an adventure came to stay at your home. Wouldn’t you want to give them as much as you possibly could? I worried about this near the beginning of the trip, that I was getting things for free that you would usually have to pay for, and said as much to my sister (“I’m worried I’m just taking things from these people…”). She reassured me that they had offered to help of their own free will, and were more than happy to give me all these things. If you ask (in a non-expectant and non-demanding way) you shall receive. Accept the kindness of strangers. 34 out of 72 nights I stayed with someone I’d never met before, and they couldn’t do enough to help me. Humans are sociable creatures, yet we tend to shy away from this kind of thing. So often our view is, “Oh, I don’t want to be any trouble…” or, “I shouldn’t ask in case I don’t get anywhere.” Use networks that you know – friends and family, colleagues, friends and family of colleagues. Staying with these people rather than on my own in a tent or B&B enriched my journey beyond the physical bed and food – I received companionship, conversation, advice, local knowledge, and sometimes a lasting friendship.

(Disclaimer: I don’t want to downplay the joys of camping, which I have since discovered!)

Door Zone

When I was 18 I moved to Manchester to start a music degree at Manchester University. To get from my student house to campus I had to cycle up Wilmslow Road through Rusholme – the Curry Mile – a busy route shared with vans unloading at the kerb side, buses, drivers in a hurry, and rows of parked cars. One day, as I was cycling home from lectures, a man who’d just parked his car opened his door and I went crashing into it, and was knocked into the centre of the road. There was no other traffic using the road at that moment – thank goodness, because had there been a bus behind me, I would probably not be here right now.

Being ‘doored’ is one of the most common causes of accidents for cyclists in London. Every day I see cyclists riding close to a line of parked cars, in prime position to be hit if one of the doors should happen to open.

The best way to avoid being hit by a car door is simply to not put yourself in that position in the first place. Ride wide of the door zone: at least an arm’s length away from parked cars. The width of a door and a little bit more (otherwise you’ll end up on the floor).

This might mean you are towards the centre of a narrow road, leaving little room for traffic to pass, which can be daunting if there is a car behind you. Stick to your position and look around to make eye contact with the driver – this should encourage them to give you a bit more time and space. In this situation, you actually have right of way: you are the road user in front, and it’s up to the person behind to overtake when it’s safe to do so. If there’s no room for them to pass, they simply have to wait. If there’s someone in the oncoming lane, again, hold your position. Moving over is giving the driver ahead an invitation to pass, potentially too fast and too close. Staying wide means the driver will be forced to slow down, and as you get closer, you can negotiate past each other, in exactly the same way that you would if you were driving a car. Eye contact works wonders – not only does it make you a person rather than a ‘cyclist’, it shows you know what you are doing and the driver behind or ahead is more likely to act patiently towards you.

On wider roads it can be even more daunting to hold your position out of the door zone – traffic will probably be going faster, and there’ll be more of it. But there’ll also be more room for it to pass.

Another advantage of riding wide of the door zone is visibility. A driver is more likely to open the door in your path if you are riding in the door zone, simply because they won’t have seen you. A cursory glance in the wing mirror won’t pick you out if you’re hidden against a line of parked cars. Ride wide and you’ll be more obvious as an object.

More space gives you more reaction time and more room to manoeuvre. As cyclists, we have been historically taught to ‘stay on the left.’ But you must ride in a position that’s safest for you, even if it means taking more space than you think. Other road users will overtake when it’s safe; it is not up to you to get out of the way. Take the space you need.

And always keep the brakes covered just in case!

The full series of tips for safe cycling can be found here.

For as long as I can remember I have ridden a bike. It wasn’t so much a conscious decision to be a ‘cyclist’ but it just so happened that cycling ticked all the boxes. It was the quickest way to get to school, the cheapest way to get to university, the most enjoyable way to get to work. As I became more aware of environmental issues I appreciated more the value of travelling in a way that doesn’t create any pollution. I got a job with Sustrans, encouraging children to ride their bikes to school for all the benefits it brings: health, financial, social, and environmental.

One day I decided to cycle the 26 miles from my home in London to my office in Basildon. It would save me the train fare, it was quite an easy route, and as Mallory said, it was there to be done. I arrived dripping in sweat and completely ravenous, unable to move from my desk for the remainder of the day — that two and a half hour ride had almost been my undoing. My colleagues shot concerned glances in my direction and offered me a lift home. Nevertheless I got back on for the return trip, and persevered over the next few months, eventually getting my journey time down to 1 hour 35 minutes. The benefits were enormous. I was fitter than I had ever been, in the end hardly breaking a sweat. I had saved myself hundreds of pounds in train fares. My commute was no longer a frantic rush to catch the train, sharing a carriage with the elbows and shoulders of my fellow passengers. My carriage was the wide open sky, my track the road stretching out ahead. The time taken was barely more than it had been when I relied on public transport. Even when I felt like I couldn’t be bothered, or it was raining, once I got going I never failed to enjoy it. I was utterly free.

After that I became a bit of a cycle nut. Any journey that looked like I could make it by bike, I would. I cycled seven miles to a friend’s wedding, wearing my dress tucked into my leggings. I refused a lift from a friend when I moved flat, instead shuttling my belongings the three miles to the next neighbourhood by bicycle. I made dinner plans with a friend in Manchester then decided to ride there from Liverpool along the banks of the River Mersey, turning an hour’s train ride into a day’s adventure. I cycled from London to Brighton to meet a friend for tea, and afterwards turned straight around and cycled back again. 120 miles just for a cup of tea! Any distance in London I would cycle, loving the fact that I could ride from east to west in an hour, getting to know my city in a way that you can’t by sitting on a bus. I found all the hidden back roads, the peaceful canals, the grand docks. Everything seems more exciting from the seat of a bike.

These are my everyday adventures — doing what I’d ordinarily do, in a way that is extraordinary.

In 2011 I did my first long-distance bicycle adventure: I cycled round the coast of the UK. I’d always wanted to do a long-distance bike ride, and not just from Land’s End to John O’ Groats, but something a bit more original. The 4000 mile journey took me 10 weeks — it was long, tough, and demanding, and by far the best thing I have ever done.

From here, I have ideas for grander, and in some ways, simpler, adventures. A few years ago I learned to sail, so I can one day travel around the globe by human power and wind power alone. On a daily basis I teach people to ride bikes — the joy of cycling is too good to keep to myself. I also go to schools and talk about my round-Britain bike ride, hoping to inspire the next generation to have an adventure.

Sometimes it rains, sometimes the winds are against me, sometimes I get shouted by irate motorists. But I have yet to find a better way to get around. I have been car-free for more than ten years, and I can’t imagine a time when I will decide the bicycle is not for me.


I’ve always been fascinated by watercourses, the web of rivers and streams that dissects the land, flowing endlessly towards the sea. I love the path that they cut, both natural and manmade; it’s fascinating to see how we built our societies around rivers as a source of life, of trade, and of transport, and how we’ve built our own version in the form of canals. I love how they connect, how they meander, how they are formed. Being beside a river brings instant calm; even in the midst of city and industry, water is peace.

Liverpool sits at the mouth of the River Mersey; the Mersey flows near my friend’s house in Manchester. Would it be possible to reach one from the other simply by following the water?

In Liverpool, the Mersey is wide and surging. It flows into Liverpool Bay, the wind and the waves and the tide giving it a ferocious personality. I began my journey at the docks among the huge boats, their bright, bold hulls complemented by the deep red bricks of the old warehouse buildings. It was an overcast day, the wind high, the rigging of sailing boats knocking in ghostly rhythm against their masts. I turned my back on the city and the sea and followed the water’s edge, inland. I had no idea where I was going aside from my vague notion of following the river, and this was part of the adventure: to have no plan, no knowledge of the route other than the start point and the end point, and the hope that I would be able to find my way using these ancient forms of navigation.

It soon transpired that this was part of the Transpennine Trail, a Sustrans route that winds west to east from Southport to Hornsea. So I’d be guided by the blue signs that were dotted regularly along the way; not quite the wilderness trail that I was hoping for, but useful nonetheless.
The city morphed into suburbs, then petered out to countryside, and soon the concrete riverside path had become gravel and I was riding along wide cycleways with tall grasses to each side. The river had been growing rather than shrinking as I’d travelled away from the bottleneck at Liverpool and the Wirral, the estuary reaching deep into the land, but it eventually gave way to winding river as the trail reached Widnes. I passed beneath the Widnes/Runcorn bridge, the steel arch rising in the shape of a pirate’s hat. Upstream the river would become unnavigable for both boats and bikes, the banks overgrown and wild, the river bed shallow and rapids-interrupted, so man-made waterways would once have carried cargo further inland. Parallel to the Mersey on the opposite bank lay the Manchester Ship Canal; on my side was the St Helens canal, a ruler-straight cut alongside which the river meandered. I joined the towpath and was soon heading for the outskirts of Warrington, where great plumes of smoke rose from power station chimneys.

A squat structure appeared across the water, four steel girder-like legs holding up a flat, straight and short bridge. I stopped short. The Warrington Transporter Bridge! There is a trio of transporter bridges in the UK, these ingenious structures constructed in the late 1800s to shuttle goods and traffic across the water, the two others in Newport, South Wales and Middlesborough, both still operational, and both crossed by my bike and me. This one is disused, the industry that had once required the constant back-and-forth of goods now gone.

IMG_3415The route criss-crossed the meandering Mersey, reaching the south side where the gargantuan Manchester Ship Canal cut deep between cities, wide, deep and long, the bridges passing high above, double in scale to every canal I’d seen before. Here I left the water and followed an old branch-line railway from Lymm to Altrincham through tunnels of trees and over tracks of roots. The place names became familiar, outskirts of the city where I was a student. Dunham Massey, Altrincham, Sale, Chorlton, all drawing me to West Didsbury where my journey would end.

I finally re-joined the Mersey at Chorlton Water Park, the gently rippling water just a few metres wide; a wholly different animal to that which it had been at the start. It snaked its way through manicured golf greens, civilised and calm, the banks smooth and well-kept. I followed it through the golf course then exited through a gate to re-join roads, where traffic and society replaced water. The Mersey continued its endless flow, back in the direction from which I had come, where it would become wider and faster, meandering through Warrington and Widnes, into Liverpool Bay and eventually the sea.

It had taken almost six hours to travel the 40-odd miles from city to city. I arrived starving and exhausted, but with an overwhelming sense of satisfaction – I had set out to do something and I had done it, with no more preparation than my (at times questionable) sense of direction. I had breathed great lungfuls of Lancashire air, seen the landscape change through industry and nature, felt the benefit that exercise has on my body, and arrived thoroughly deserving of my dinner. I had spent hours under the wide open sky, feeling with every pedal that I was getting to know my country more and more. I just wouldn’t have got that on the train.

It’s been two weeks since I returned home from LEJOG, but real life starts straight away and this is the first time I’ve had the time (or inclination) to sit down with my laptop. On the road, everything is simple. You wake, dress, eat, and ride. Nothing is more important than the journey you are taking. Now I’m back home, the chaos of life has crept in – earning money, housework, friends, catching up with those tasks that were put aside in the lead up to the ride because they were not important then. It’s exhausting, and I’ve had neither mental space or time to tie up all those loose ends.

Ten days ago I was standing at the top right hand corner of Britain, in front of the famous signpost at John O’Groats, four weeks and over 1000 miles after leaving Land’s End. It was a bright, sunny, warm day – perhaps surprising for late September on the north coast of Scotland, but not surprising for a trip in which I’d had to wear my waterproofs only twice. That final day was wonderful – a relatively short journey from my camping spot in Thurso out to the northwest tip of Scotland and back, a round trip of around 50 miles if you include the long-awaited detour to Dunnet Head. This was one compass point that I’d by-passed on the round-Britain, not having had the chance to ride to the tip of the peninsula then, the most northerly point of mainland Britain. But here I was, striking out across the windswept farmland, the sun at my back, each pedal stroke overflowing with excitement to finally be there. I knew what I’d find: one of Stevenson’s lighthouses sitting squat near the edge of the cliff, and a headstone letting me know that I was as far north as I could possibly be. And there it was, exactly as I had imagined, predictable yet extraordinary, with a breathtakingly clear view of Orkney across a rich blue sea. I wanted to sit on the crumbling wall that had once hemmed in the lighthouse keeper’s garden, alone in my thoughts, deafened by the distant crash of the waves on the rocks, but I had to share it with other tourists, those who had driven there, those who took my picture badly, those who asked me where I was riding and where I lived and what I did for a job, questions that I had no desire to answer. Finally, I was tired of talking.

Dunnet Head

The approach to John O’Groats was less euphoric – exhaustion had begun to set in and the road seemed never ending, each village that came and went a teasing prelude to that which would signal the end of my journey. But eventually it came, and down to the water’s edge I went, thinking I would ask them to write “Eat Sleep Cycle book tour” on the signpost. I’d neglected to have my photograph taken at Land’s End, but I would definitely get it done here. Except, the signpost that I had anticipated had been replaced, several years ago it transpired, by a different signpost, a permanent one which was free for all to photograph. It explains the background to the story here. I was disappointed – as much as I thought paying for your photo was a bit cheeky, I was looking forward to getting it personalised with my book name. I liked the old signpost. It looked simpler. This one is a bit grand, and of course, open to graffiti – stickers and signature scrawls were all over it, along with a t-shirt from someone’s charity ride that had been wrapped around the bottom. I thought it a shame. Thousands of people do this ride every year, mostly for charity, so why should your cause be more important than anyone else’s?

I sat in the tea rooms eating my soup, feeling something of an anti-climax. That was it. All over. This point had been in my mind since day one, whenever anyone has asked where I was riding, whenever I wrote my blog or arrived at a venue with one of my posters displayed on the door: “Anna Hughes is riding from Land’s End to John O’Groats!” Well, I was, but not anymore. Now what?

It’s an interesting place, John O’Groats, a tiny settlement named for Jan Der Groot who used to ferry passengers across the treacherous Pentland Firth to the Orkney Islands, now largely overtaken by tourism, with hotels, restaurants, and holiday lets reaching down to the seafront. It can appear quite dismal but thankfully has been spared the theme park treatment of Land’s End. I sat and watched travellers of all kinds stand beneath the signpost for a photograph, before making my way back along the now familiar coastline to Thurso.

The following day the Great Unravelling began, and I sat on the train as it chugged south from Thurso station through Lairg and Ardgay and Dingwall to Inverness, all places I’d cycled through, remembering how I’d felt in each. Then an overnight train from Inverness, and suddenly I was back in London. The roads were overwhelming. A taxi driver shouted at me. I sought the solace of the canal, riding as slowly as I could while those around me raced to work. I reached my boat, stepped on board, and cried. Happy tears – tears that showed how much I’d missed my home. Then I noticed all the maintenance work that needed doing and I stopped crying.

People ask me how it was. They mainly want to hear about the weather, because that seems to be the mark of whether the trip was good or not. Well, the weather was great, and the trip was great. But it was wholly different to the round-Britain trip, a trip in which excitement and discovery was to be found in every pedal. I was wide-eyed then. Now, I am seasoned; I know what I am doing. In practical terms the trip was a success. I arrived at each venue without a hitch and every night (bar one) I had an audience. I sold 200 books and earned almost £1000 (though I spent £1400). I achieved my goal of riding from Land’s End to John O’Groats, I revisited some familiar parts of Britain, and I discovered some new ones. I returned fit as a fiddle and with a glowing tan. And in personal terms, it was fantastic, though not without its challenges. People ask what’s next. My answer: I’m going to have a rest.


Knowing what to take on a cycling tour can be the trickiest part – you don’t want to take too much, as it ends up being dead weight, but you don’t want to take too little because you’re bound to need that one thing you omitted to bring.

Looking back at my kit list for the round-Britain trip makes me laugh. I certainly packed a lot, mainly clothes, and much of it contingency packing (why on earth would I need four pairs of gloves?!), but lots of it for comfort and because, being my first long tour, I didn’t really know what to take. I read others’ kit lists and took their advice, but mainly I just took what I thought I’d need. I wasn’t too far off – a few things made their way back home in the post, but I did use most of it.

This tour is entirely different. I’ve packed far fewer clothes and far less bulk. Let’s compare kit lists:

Cycling clothes:

underwear (6 pairs), socks (6 pairs), padded shorts, normal shorts, leggings x3, cycling tops x2, hoodie, cycling shoes, cycling gloves, buff, baseball cap, waterproof jacket and overtrousers, sunglasses

Non-cycling clothes:

Thin jumper, top x2, flip-flops, swimming costume

Bike stuff:

allen key, chain lube, puncture kit, spare tube, pump

Other stuff:

tent, sleeping bag, roll mat, blow up mattress, wash bag, small first aid kit, towel, LEJOG guidebook, laptop & charger, iPhone & charger (no need for a separate camera), posters for my presentations, books (I sent boxes of books ahead to each venue then carried the spares or sent them on). And 30 vegan flapjacks and cakes from Riverbank Bakery.

It probably weighs around the same, but feels far more simple – everything has a definite purpose, I know where everything is and I’m not scrabbling around in the depths of my panniers trying to find stuff.

However, the purpose of the tour is twofold: not only am I cycling from Land’s End to John o’ Groats, I am also giving talks to the public. Wearing sweaty cycling clothes to give my talks is perhaps not the best idea. Neither do I want to wear the same thing every day, dahling!

So, in each place I reach, I have been buying a dress in a charity shop, which I then donate to the next place. It’s been a great way of having a different outfit each night, something clean to wear (!) and doing my bit for charity.

So, I present, The Charity Shop Tour.

Charity shop tourCharity shop tour page 2

So, this was it: the final push to John O’Groats and the end of the tour. This was to be the longest week in terms of mileage (340) but the shortest in terms of events (only two). Without the pressure of a schedule, it really was all about the cycling.

And what fabulous cycling there is to be had in this part of the world. The week started with a ride north from Glasgow tracing waterways: the River Clyde, followed by the Forth and Clyde canal, then the River Leven, then finally the expansive and beautiful Loch Lomond, where the West Lomond cycle path led me for 17 wonderful traffic-free miles along its banks. I pitched my tent in Crianlarich in a perfect spot to watch the sun rise.

Loch Lomond

But the next morning, it was rain clouds that greeted me, rainclouds that started seeping shortly after breakfast and grew heavier and heavier throughout the morning. It didn’t stop raining for two days.

This was the section described in my guidebook as having some of the finest views in all of Europe. I had little chance of seeing those views. The rain clouds hung low, almost to the ground, swallowing up the peaks on either side. I rode over the pass of Glen Coe, the road creeping out of the mist ahead, unable to make out much of the scenery apart from the base of mountains as they rose into the white. But this in itself was a unique type of experience: ghostly, atmospheric, magical. I descended from the clouds into the valley of Glencoe, where the mist dissipated to reveal the Three Sisters rising spectacularly into the clouds.

Glen Coe

A few miles past Glencoe I came across two boys taking pictures on the bridge. I stopped and asked if they’d take mine, then asked where they were heading. John O’Groats too, it seemed. They were just two of the many End to Enders I had come across, but most I’d waved on as they’d zoomed past with their road bikes and support van. Tom and Kevin were the first two who were riding a similar pace to me, so we set off into the (thankfully lighter) rain, the remaining ten miles to Fort William passing in a flash as we swapped stories of our respective trips and lives. It was wonderful to have such terrific company, and as we sat eating haggis (vegan, I might add) and drinking ale in the pub, I realised how much I had missed this. This had definitely been a solo tour – many people had offered to ride with me, and I had thanked them for offering their support, but had preferred to ride alone. I had been happy with that choice but now, nearing the end, sharing the trip with others was just what I needed.

I bumped into them again the following day after descending from General Wade’s Military Road at Loch Ness, probably the most difficult pass of the whole LEJOG ride. I was absolutely soaked to the skin and my extremities were frozen from battling with horizontal rain for two hours, but there they were, equally soaked but smiling. We rode the final miles to Inverness together then parted ways again so I could find a hostel and warm up before my final talk of the tour, at Waterstones Inverness.

Tom and Kevin

My plan for the final stretch was to ride from Inverness to the Crask Inn, then reach John O’Groats on Saturday evening. Then I’d have a day in hand before my return train from Thurso on Monday. It would be two long days in the saddle. I woke early on the Friday morning and set off.

I’d barely left Inverness before I found a tick in my leg. I’d never had a tick before but I know about them, mainly that there is a risk of disease with any blood-sucking mite. I panicked and phoned everyone I knew, including two doctor friends and my doctor sister, to find out what I should do. I settled down with my tweezers to remove it but the head snapped off. Now, every article I’d read on tick bites are very clear that you should NOT LET THE HEAD SNAP OFF. But none of them tells you what to do if the head does, in fact, snap off. Between finding a GP and pharmacist who could tell me what to do, buying some magnesium sulphate cream to draw the head out (which didn’t work, by the way), and plastering the thing up, it was gone lunchtime by the time time I left Dingwall. My dream of reaching John O’ Groats by Saturday evening (and having a pint with the boys) was slipping further from my grasp.

So, that was the moment I decided that, for once, I wouldn’t have a plan. I always have a plan, whether that be a booked event or a pre-determined route or booked accommodation. So, this time, I wouldn’t. I had a day in hand. Why not use it?

So I set off, calm, relaxed (apart from the underlying panic that I’d just contracted Lyme’s disease), and without concern for miles or hours. There followed two absolutely wonderful days of cycling. From the top of a long pass north of Dingwall I saw the sea; the first glimpse since leaving it at Exmouth. I watched salmon leap in a waterfall at the Falls of Shin. I rode through deserted mountainous landscapes where sheep were more plentiful than cars. I crossed Strathnaver, a barren yet richly historical landscape which had once housed a huge population before they were booted out by the Lords in the Highland Clearances. I swam in the sea at Bettyhill, bobbing amongst the surfers and being drenched by the breakers as they crashed over my head. I traversed the incredible coastline of northern Scotland, the ever-present skyline of peaks a dramatic backdrop to the snaking road as it ascended and descended, ascended and descended all the way to Thurso. I pitched my tent for the final time under the light of the full moon and listened to the waves of Thurso Bay lulling me to sleep.

And then, there it was: the last day, where I would reach John O’Groats. The perfect weather had returned and I rode the final stretch in my t-shirt – a round trip of around 50 miles if you include the detour to Dunnet Head – arriving in John o’ Groats where the famous signpost indicated I’d just cycled 874 miles from the opposite corner of Britain.

The arrival promoted a mix of emotions which I’ve explored here, euphoria and exhaustion among them. I sat eating some snacks as I looked out to the Orkney Isles and up to the lighthouse at Duncansby Head, where I’d sat eating my lunch on my round-Britain trip. Such a lot had happened since then. On that visit, I had been barely a quarter of the way into my 4000 mile ride around Britain’s coast. I was a touring novice, naive in many ways, with the whole of Britain yet to be discovered. John O’Groats was simply a turning point in my journey, neither the start nor the finish, just one more day in my long ride.

But it was the reason I was here again: I have spent the intervening years talking and writing about my trip in a bid to inspire others that adventuring by bicycle is one of the best ways to see the world, and that the UK is a great starting point. The whole point of riding LEJOG was to promote the resulting book. It was a wonderful trip, and a success commercially – I sold around 200 books and spoke to around 400 people, hopefully inspiring others to get out there and discover a little more of this wonderful island on which we live.


Yesterday I spent most of the day tracing waterways, from the River Clyde to the Forth and Clyde Canal, to the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond. The West Loch Lomond cycle path led me loch side for 17 glorious traffic-free miles, with absolutely beautiful views across the loch.

Loch Lomond

I pitched my tent in a little meadow in Crianlarich, not far from the West Highland Railway. This was the view as the sun rose this morning:


Since then it has rained pretty much non-stop.

My guidebook promised me that, on this stretch, “there can be finer views in all of Europe.” The views today were mostly like this:

rain #1

and occasionally like this:

rain #2

although I did see this:


I am now in Fort William, settled in a pub (which serves vegan haggis in a quesadilla!), my tent and belongings draped around the place while I wait for them to dry sufficiently so I can go and find the campsite. More rain tomorrow.

Anything can happen when you’re out on the open road, and here are a few tips of how to cope when things go wrong.

Prevention is better than cure 

The main thing I’ve learned in all my touring is that things are less likely to go wrong if they are set up properly in the first place. Spend time with your bike before you set off, learning how everything fits and which part does what. Take it to a shop for a once-over. A basic maintenance course is also a good idea. Anything rattling or rubbing will get worse as you ride – a quiet bike is a happy bike.

The dreaded puncture

Limit the number you get by: using tyres with puncture protection; pumping your tyres to the correct pressure; checking the tyre frequently for shards and stones and levering these out (I carry a tiny screwdriver for this)

Punctures are more common in the rain and you don’t want to be taking your tyre off for the first time in a torrential storm, so have a practice at home first!

Check the inside of the tyre for stubborn shards of glass/thorns/pieces of flint otherwise you may make a new hole straight away.

Most cyclists swap their punctured inner tube for a fresh one straight away – it’s quicker and you can patch the old one at your leisure which you can then use as a spare. But don’t be afraid to patch – with touring, you have all the time in the world. Wait for the glue to turn tacky before putting the patch on – it will take far longer to stick if you rush. A patched inner tube, when done right, is just as good as a new one. I find glueless patches less effective. Again, when touring, you’re not so in need of efficiency.

If it’s a blowout you’ll need to use your spare tube, and you can use the old one as a ‘boot’ (a small piece of rubber that prevents the inner tube from bulging outside the tyre). Use a folded over section of the old tube to line the inside of the tyre.

Chains and gears

Be nice to your chain — avoid changing gear when standing up in the pedals, and keep it as straight as possible (e.g. if you’re in a high gear at the front you should be in a high gear at the back). Carry a Quick Link in case of snappage — remove broken link using a chain-breaker and snap the Quick Link in place. It’s possible to fix the chain without using a quick link, by pushing the rivet out most of the way, then pushing it back in once the broken link has been removed. This requires care and practice. Something to try out at home!

If the derailleur itself breaks, remove completely and shorten the chain so it sits on one of the middle rings — you’ll only have one gear but at least you’ll be able to ride.

Racks and frame

Bolts in racks can rattle undone as you ride so check them regularly. Cable ties can be fed through the bolt hole, but they break easily — string or twine is much better.

If the rack itself breaks, see what’s in your luggage or by the roadside that can be used as a splint. A spoon handle lashed in the right place can be very effective. Check for cracks in the frame as well. Use Milliput: ‘moulds like putty — sets like rock’. Amazing stuff.


There are some great youtube videos of how to straighten out a bent wheel – entertaining if nothing else! Check regularly for loose spokes and learn to tighten them with a spoke key (righty does not mean tighty with spokes… the nipples turn the opposite way to usual). Carry spare spokes. Broken spokes in the front wheel can be replaced without even taking the wheel off. The rear is more difficult because you have to remove the gears which needs a specialist tool. A broken spoke will cause a buckle in the wheel and put more pressure on the remaining spokes, so replace asap. Loosen off the surrounding spokes and the brakes if necessary to allow the wheel to turn.


Brake pads will wear as you ride, especially in wet conditions. Turn the barrel adjuster periodically to ensure the brake is still engaging (unscrew the barrel adjuster to tighten the cable). Keep an eye on the pads to ensure they don’t go beyond the wear line.

Broken cables are easy to replace with a little intuition (and of course a spare cable). Typical path of brake cable: Hook inside lever, through barrel adjuster, outer casing (may be two separate pieces of casing or one single), noodle (curved metal part – only on V brakes), bolt.

Recommended kit:

Multi-tool — Topeak do a good one with a range of allen keys, a chain breaker and a screwdriver.

Adjustable spanner

Puncture kit plus tyre levers

Spare tube


Spoke key and spare spokes

Chain Quick Link


Milliput (

Surgical gloves

Electrical tape/duct tape

Chain lube

Book signing ManchesterThis week has seen me travel from the metropolis of Manchester to the Lancashire hills, through the grand scenery of the Lake District and onwards to the flood plains around the Solway Firth. I’ve crossed the border into Scotland and now I’m in the bustling city of Glasgow. The cycling is getting easier (or I’m getting fitter) and the weather has, yet again, held up so, while my friends back in London have been suffering in a downpour, I’ve been riding through the sunshine in my T shirt.

I’ve given talks to 70 people, sold 42 books, camped twice, cycled 200 miles and taken the train once (shh!). Find out why here.

The week began with an event at Popup Bikes, Manchester, a little coffee shop and bike store hidden away under the railway arches near Victoria Station. While in Manchester I called into both Waterstones stores to sign copies of the book and I was greeted at the Deansgate store with a stack of 11 books and a cup of tea while I signed them.

My Lancaster event was fab – armed only with a microphone (no projector to rely on) I spoke to a crowd who listened intently as I told the story of my round-Britain ride and read three short passages from the book. It’s always a challenge to rely only on my words, but I feel I’m developing as a story teller the more talks I give (and I hope the audience agrees!)

From there it was on to Kendal and the Lake District, a ride I’ve described here, overcome with the poetry of the area. It was in the Lake District that the book had been born: I took a ten day holiday back in 2012 to begin the process of turning my blog into a book, thinking that I would be done within a year. It wasn’t until three years later that the manuscript was finally finished and I was ready to publish. Photographs from that trip are on my Flickr page.

From Kendal I rode to Keswick, really enjoying being back in the Lake District; the scenery is breathtaking, the peaks are awesome, and the cycling is not as challenging as the terrain suggests, the roads following the banks of the lakes for much of the time with the occasional pass thrown in. From Bassenthwaite Lake it was an ascent of several hours to the Uldale Commons, that wild, rugged landscape where the wind roams freely and sheep wander across the path. There followed a ten mile descent towards Carlisle, the final stopping point before crossing into Scotland.

My first stop in Scotland was in Moffat, where the Moffat Bookshop had arranged for me to speak at the Baccleuch Hotel. A small crowd filled the small room, and I didn’t realise until halfway through that among them were Alec and Anne, who hosted me in Dumfries on my round-Britain trip! Alec is mentioned in the book – in fact, in the very passage I was reading out (thank goodness I didn’t attempt to put on his accent). It was fabulous to see them again as I remain indebted to the folk who offered me food and shelter on that trip.

I’m now in Glasgow where I’ll give a talk tonight at Tiso Outdoor Experience before setting off for Tyndrum tomorrow. My final event is in Inverness on Thursday, then it’s the last big push to reach John o’ Groats, which I hope to do on Saturday.


I’ve been vegan on and off for around five years. I don’t see anything wrong with humans using animals as a source of food per se, but it’s the way we do it that I don’t agree with. The environmental impact of the meat and dairy industry is something to which I don’t wish to contribute:

“…from crops and water required to feed the animals, to the transport and other processes involved … The vast amount of grain feed required for meat production is a significant contributor to deforestation, habitat loss and species extinction… This land contributes to developing world malnutrition by driving impoverished populations to grow cash crops for animal feed, rather than food for themselves” (from the vegan society)

I spent a few years being ‘mostly’ vegan, but I would eat meat and dairy if I couldn’t find anything vegan to eat. But after a while I decided it’s not just about the consumption (surely by cutting down I was doing my bit?), it’s the concept. I would profess to be vegan then go out and eat a pizza. It was easier to just eat what was on the menu – I didn’t want to make a fuss. People didn’t take my diet or my beliefs seriously so I decided to go the whole hog (so to speak).

I’ve now been 100% vegan for almost two years, and I love it. Most of the time, it’s easy. I have a diet rich in beans and vegetables, I feel healthy, happy and energised, and I’m rarely hungry. I feel satisfied to be doing something I believe in. I tend not to eat tofu or soy; if I’m not going to eat meat, then I don’t want to eat something that’s pretending to be meat.

Now, when I go out, I’ll ask what can be adapted from the menu to be vegan. Most of the time, the chef is happy to make something. Sometimes there is even a separate vegan menu. I’m increasing awareness of veganism by asking, rather than taking the easy option and eating something I’d rather not eat. And pizza without the cheese can be really delicious!

But it’s much harder being vegan on the road. When I cycled around Britain I didn’t restrict my diet at all; when you are relying on people’s hospitality, you eat what you’re given, and I didn’t know if I’d reliably be able to source enough food to keep my energy levels up. This time, however, I really wanted to try sticking to my vegan diet. I thought it would be fine – I’d get by on bread and hummous if necessary. But it’s much harder than I thought. Veganism isn’t always catered for in the far reaches of the UK. I am restricted by what I can find – which sometimes isn’t much.

For breakfast I can have beans on toast, tomatoes, mushrooms, hash browns, tattie scones now I’m in Scotland, and veggie sausages – whatever combination I can eat from the Full English menu. Or porridge made with water (yuk). Lunch tends to be soup, or salad with bread and hummous, or jacket potato with hummous, or anything with hummous – I try to eat as much hummous as I can, as it’s full of fat, carbs and protein, and it’s delicious. I’ve found some fantastic cafes, some of them dedicated vegetarian or vegan cafes, that have fed me richly. For dinner I’ve been eating curry or burrito or beany stew or veggie burger or chips.

The trouble on this tour has not been finding food to eat. There’s lots I can eat. It’s been finding enough food to eat, and eating enough variety. On the road I need to eat roughly twice as much as usual, and while in the past that has meant popping into a bakery or shop every couple of hours, those places typically don’t stock much of a range for vegans. Sometimes I can’t find a breakfast stop for the first 20 miles or so, by which time I’m exhausted. Sometimes I’ve gone without dinner, because the evenings are focussed on the talks, and by the time I’ve finished all the food places are shut. As I’ve been riding, I’ve been steadily using up my reserves, such that it came to the point last week when I couldn’t ride; I was too fatigued. I was feeling hungry all the time and no amount of eating would fill me up. I desperately didn’t want to give up my vegan diet, but I started to seriously worry about my health.

So, I took the train for leg 16 – Manchester to Lancaster – and made a concerted effort to eat as much as I possibly could that day. Since then I’ve been making sure that I stop every hour or two and eat something substantial (yesterday I ate three breakfasts before I’d even gone anywhere!) and I am starting to feel better. I have a lot to thank Riverbank Bakery for; they supplied me with a huge pile of flapjacks and cakes before I left (they are my favourite vegan cake-maker) which have been a real life-saver when I’ve not been able to find my next food stop. My bags are getting noticeably lighter as I go through the stash!

I’m going to stay vegan, but make more of an effort to eat properly at each stage.Today I had two breakfasts and a big lunch, and I’m about to have my second dinner, then maybe something else after the talk. It’s not easy being vegan… but I’m doing it.


It’s raining in London. While the roads that I usually ride down are surging with overflowing drains, I am pedalling from Lancaster to Kendal under a piercing blue sky. I feel exceptionally lucky: out of the 16 days that I’ve been on the road, there’s been only one day that I’ve needed my waterproofs.

My route follows the River Lune from Lancaster, the riverside path soon reaching the disused railway line at Halton where a derelict station building stands, the decorative overhang above the platform reminiscent of grander days. A narrow steel bridge crosses the river, and from there it is up into the hills and into the Lancashire farmland. After a couple of steep climbs I am rewarded with a fabulous view of the endless peaks of the Lake District, the silver glimmer of Morecambe Bay at their feet.

I pass into Cumbria, the final English county through which to travel before I reach Scotland in a few days’ time. The ride along Cumbria’s coast of Outstanding Natural Beauty during the round-Britain trip sticks in my memory as a time of Outstanding Rainfall and Wind, but today it couldn’t be more different; the skies are clear and blue, the wind gentle, the visibility across the fells fantastic. I ride at the foot of slopes with peaks of light brown and grey, the green fields below spotted with a scattering of grazing sheep and a grey scribbling of stone walls. Grey stone farmsteads sit nestled in the folds of the hills.

The route criss-crosses the Lancaster canal which once transported Lancashire coal to Kendal and limestone south (earning it the nickname “the black and white canal”). Just outside Lancaster I’d passed under a magnificent aqueduct carrying the canal over the Lune, a design of John Rennie’s. The stretch north of Tewitfield now lies largely derelict, its use becoming less important as freight moved first to the railways and then to the roads (the M6 physically blocks the water at points) and it’s the aim of the Lancaster Canal Trust to bring the canal back into use; maybe one day I’ll bring my own narrowboat up here.

The sun starts to drop to the level of the hills, painting their tips in a rich gold. The view on all sides is huge, three-dimensional, the landscape having been steadily building since just south of Manchester. I pitch my tent in a campsite just out of town, and by the time I’m ready for bed the sky is as black as tar, and a hundred thousand stars shine within it.

I’m now halfway through the LEJOG book tour: 13 days down, 13 to go, 490 miles down, around 500 to go. The halfway point on any tour is potentially difficult – I have as much to do as I’ve already done, and it seems an awfully long time ago that I left Land’s End. But the events are going well and the cycling so far has been terrific, so here’s hoping it continues.

I started this week with a short ride from Wells to Bath, tracing some of the old railway lines that once weaved their way through the Somerset countryside. I’d purposely planned a circuitous route that would take in the newly opened Two Tunnels Greenway, a Sustrans/Bath & NE Somerset Council joint venture that saw the reopening of two railway tunnels on the former Somerset and Dorset line. Approaching the tunnel entrance was fairly daunting (at over a mile long, the Combe Down tunnel is the longest cycling and walking tunnel in the UK) but lights throughout and a music installation partway through made it a pleasant, if eerie, experience.

Combe Down tunnel

My event in Bath was at Johns Bikes; I spoke to a small but attentive group, then headed off to the Bristol-Bath railway path to find a good spot to pitch my tent. A clearing by the River Avon partway along the path was perfect.

The next morning I continued along the disused railway path to arrive in Bristol, making it nearly 30 miles since I’d had to cycle amongst motor traffic. In Bristol I held two events, one at Roll for the Soul cycling cafe/workshop, and the other at Stanfords map and book shop. Both events were sold out and great fun.

There followed the most enjoyable day of cycling yet. The River Avon led me out of Bristol where I passed under Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s spectacular Clifton Suspension Bridge, then onwards to Avonmouth where I met the Severn. This is a heavily industrial area, and gives a wholly different experience to the traffic free riverside path of the earlier part of the day. I followed the banks northwards towards the older of the two Severn bridges, the ever-growing view of both the suspension bridge and the Second Severn Crossing (cable stayed bridge) a source of constant delight. Crossing the Severn by bike was utterly spectacular, if slightly terrifying!

Severn Bridge

From there the road ascended out of Chepstow, then descended towards Tintern to follow the luscious Wye Valley all the way to Monmouth; a delightful route of easy cycling and beautiful scenery.

I stopped overnight in Hereford then it was on to Shrewsbury where my event, organised by Pengwern Books, had a very small but very lovely audience, and after that it was on to Chester where I met my sister Sarah who had just caught a train up from London. I had an afternoon signing at the Waterstones then we were free to explore Chester, which was packed with people in posh frocks who’d been at the races.

Sarah and I rode to Manchester on Sunday, picking up the Transpennine trail just south of Warrington and following it along a disused railway line almost all of the way to Sale. Sarah then headed home on the train while I settled in at Jackson’s Boat pub, where I later gave a talk to a lovely group of cyclists, one of whom had arrived on a Penny Farthing!

A terrific week overall. I’m enjoying the events and the cycling has mostly been great, and there’s only been one day of rain since I started – not a bad score for 13 days on the road!

Many people helped and supported me during my round-Britain bike ride by offering a bed for the night, a meal at the end of the day, or by riding with me for a section. Regretfully, many of these didn’t make the final cut of the book; restricted by a word count, I didn’t have the luxury of being able to introduce and develop each of them as characters, and simply mentioning their names would have been perfunctory.

One of those characters was Simon Wallis, a Sustrans colleague who supported me greatly, by hosting and feeding and riding with me. It was with great sadness that I found out that Simon passed away last year. He was a fabulous colleague, always bursting with mad-cap ideas of how to get more children and families into cycling. He would always sign his emails “Happy days”, and a memorial to him has been installed by Sustrans on the West Kirby waterfront where he lived, fittingly inscribed with those words.

I feel doubly sad that he was one of the characters that didn’t make the final cut, so I’d like to publish his brief role in the story here, from an early draft.
From the conclusion to Day 42: Tarleton to West Kirby

Across the Mersey, the Liverpool skyline stood in an endless panorama of cranes and docks and cathedrals and skyscrapers and warehouses. I was to meet my colleague Simon just outside Birkenhead station and I waited by the railings, the wind whisking my hair into my eyes with unpredictable gusts.

Simon soon appeared from around the corner, riding his old pack-horse mountain bike.
“Hello, Anna!” he said as he hugged me. “How was your ride today?”
“Very windy!” I replied, trying to control the strands of hair that danced across my face.
“It’s not quite over yet I’m afraid,” he replied. “Come on,” and off we rode, following the wide, traffic-free cycle way that traced the edge of the blunt-headed Wirral peninsula towards his home in West Kirkby, struggling to hear each other speak over the roar of the wind.

Simon was one of those people who always seemed to be smiling. Like Graham, he was one of the older Bike It officers, but he never acted that way; at work conferences he would have us in stitches with his comic routines and his off-the-wall fancy dress. “Always give them something to remember,” he would say of his assemblies – whether or not that was simply that he’d worn a swimming costume for no apparent reason.

“You know, this is a journey that I did in my early twenties,” Simon said as we rode.
“You mean cycling around Britain?”
“Yes. It feels like only yesterday,” he said, “though it’s coming up for thirty years now. It’s a fantastic journey, Anna. You are very lucky.”
“That’s brilliant! I had no idea!”
I’d known Simon for years yet had never spoken to him of this, so to find out that I was riding in his tyre tracks was a delightful discovery.

“I didn’t take a tent either,” he said. “I negotiated a great deal from the YHA which filled in lots of the gaps and I spoke to the local radio stations along the entire coast and put out a request for one night stop overs in areas where I was really stuck.”
“I’m glad to hear that,” I said. “Sometimes I feel as if I’m asking too much from people when I stay in their houses.”
“I wouldn’t worry about that, Anna,” he replied. “I think the key thing is to accept, not expect. People want to help you; we’re certainly happy to do that!”

We had reached the northern edge of the peninsula, the tide low, the wind roaming freely over the sand which stretched for miles.

“I also sent some treat parcels ahead to half a dozen Post Offices marked To be kept for Simon Wallis – journeying around the coast” he said. “They were really welcome!”

We were ravenous by the time we rounded the north west tip of the Wirral and came inland, out of the wind. It had taken Simon only 30 minutes to reach Birkenhead where he’d met me, yet we took almost an hour and a half to return.

“Sorry we took so long,” Simon called as he opened the door. “We’ve been having a good old battle with the wind!” The smell of roast lamb came wafting through the house. “I hope you like roast,” he added.
“Yes, lovely!” I had forgotten it was a Sunday, the days passing with no significance other than where I was aiming for each night.

We sat round the table, his wife and two children warmly welcoming me to the family meal. “Help yourself to more,” Simon said as I polished off my plateful in half the time it took for the others to eat theirs. “You need the strength! There’s not that much of you to start with.”
I grinned as I tucked into my second helping, feeling part of the family for one night, blessed with the generous hospitality that had shaped so much of my ride as I had journeyed forwards.

I was asked at a recent talk if I got lonely on the road and how I coped with it. I don’t often get lonely – I am very content being by myself – but sometimes you feel that you need some kind of comfort. I’ve written a few tips on what to do if loneliness hits.

1. Share

Posting photographs and experiences onto social media sites is a brilliant way of receiving instant feedback and messages of support from your loved ones back home.

2. Surround yourself with people

Whether this is friends by pre-arrangement, or cycling enthusiasts, or the people propping up the local bar. There are always communities to seek out, wherever you are. This can be a physical community or an online community – try for a worldwide network of cyclists. Strike up a conversation with someone, even if you don’t quite understand what they’re saying. Some of the most moving tales I’ve read of other’s travels are sharing a cup of coffee with someone who doesn’t speak their language. Signs, smiles and laughter are the same, wherever in the world you are.

3. Make a list of the good stuff

It’s easy to let the bad stuff get you down, and it will keep you down if you let it. There are amazing experiences wherever you are – sometimes you just have to find them. Write down the things that make this trip special: If I hadn’t come on this trip I would never have swam in the Pacific Ocean/ had my apple eaten by a peacock/ seen a puffin diving/ learned to navigate by the stars

4. Have that one luxury in your pack

Travelling light doesn’t mean travelling miserable. Make allowances for yourself – take that one thing that you know is going to make life a little easier on the road, whether it’s a real feather pillow, your most cosy leg-warmers, or your iPad.

5. iPod

Music is magic – a motivational playlist can work wonders. Ask friends to suggest songs in advance, or ask the people you meet to let you know their favourite track and add it to the list.

6. Small steps = big adventure

If you’re finding it particularly tough, set yourself small targets. The big distances can seem overwhelming, but the miles accrue 10, 20, 30 at a time, and suddenly you’re in a new place, with a new adventure ready to greet you.

7. Enjoy your own company

You like you, right?

8. Have a chat with a cow

Animals are great at listening. Tell them your woes. Name them. They won’t be able to talk back, but a good chinwag with a bovine could make you smile for the rest of the day.

9. Remember it truly is a once-in-a-lifetime trip

Tough times are bound to come. You might feel miserable and lonely right now but there will, at some point in the future, be a high to compensate. It’s hard to tell yourself this when it’s raining and there’s a headwind and you’re ill and you’re missing that one special person and you’re wondering why you ever came. Don’t worry. You never have to do this again.

Railway platform

In 1963, the Government published a report entitled The Reshaping of British Railways, written by a certain Dr Beeching. It recommended the closure of around 5000 miles of railway line and over 2000 stations that had ceased to be profitable in the New Age of the Motor Car, and over the subsequent years these railway lines were duly closed.

One such railway was the Cheddar Valley line, running from Yatton railway station near Clevedon to Cheddar and Wells, and known as the Strawberry Line because of the volume of locally grown strawberries it carried to the markets at London.

Another nearby line was the Colliers Way, a tram line that carried coal from the Somerset collieries, built to replace the Somerset Coal Canal which had originally transported the coal but soon fell prey to the more profitable and convenient tram line.

The Colliers Way eventually became part of the Somerset and Dorset railway which ran from Bath and Bridgwater to Poole. Like many railways established in the late 1800s, much of this network was built for the transportation of industry, but soon became more commonly used as a passenger line for the workers who would travel to the coast on their days off.

This, too, was the case with the Midland railway which once rolled between Bath and Bristol, an amalgamation of many smaller lines along which horses had once pulled coal carts. When the route closed as a result of the Beeching Axe, a group of Sustrans volunteers began work to convert the trail to a shared-use path for cyclists and walkers – the very first route on what was to become the National Cycle Network.

Now all of these railways are part of that network, having been resurfaced and way-marked as leisure and commuter routes. From the short section of the Strawberry Line at Wells, to the sweeping Colliers Way that glides along the hillside while the neighbouring roads struggle up and down the gradients, to the Two Tunnels Greenway where the bed of the Somerset and Dorset railway disappears under the huge hills at Combe Down and Lyncombe, these Sustrans routes mean that, for nearly 30 miles, I barely encountered motor traffic. The approach to the Combe Down tunnel was daunting to say the least (at over a mile long I would be underground for at least 10 minutes) but the engineers had done a terrific job: well-surfaced and well-lit, with music to accompany the ride.

The conclusion of this section was the Bristol & Bath railway path, a well trodden and familiar route, and I freewheeled into the City of Cycling on a beautifully hazy morning, surrounded by ordinary people riding ordinary bikes. Thank you, Sustrans, for that memorable section – and keep up the good work.

The first week of the Eat Sleep Cycle book tour is drawing to a close. I’m sitting in a field just north of Wells, laptop on knee, eating the leftovers of yesterday’s curry, having pitched up in a campsite.

The tour started last Sunday with a cancelled train and a broken toe, then took a turn for the better on Tuesday when the cycling proper started. I had a wonderful first day, cycling in the bright sunshine down to Land’s End from Penzance, then making my way back towards Truro, along the coast initially then leaving my old constant to travel inland. The last time I went to Land’s End was on my round-Britain trip; it was neither the start nor the finish, just one more day in my long ride, and my colleague Nick and I ate our Cornish pasties at the last bench in England, the sea haze hiding even the Longships lighthouse just a mile offshore. This time, the visibility was fantastic; approaching the tip of the peninsula I could clearly see the lighthouse beyond, and even the Isles of Scilly perched on the horizon, 28 miles offshore. A large crowd of cyclists was there, ready for their End to End ride, with their lycra, their road bikes, and their luggage safely stowed in the support van. “Are you riding to John o’ Groats?” they asked. “With all that stuff? Rather you than me!”

Lands End


From there it was a lovely 15 miles to Penzance, along the coastal road. I’d ignored the NCN on the previous trip and therefore missed Mousehole, so this time I was careful to follow the blue signs; not careful enough as it turned out, as I missed one of them and ended in a dead end at Lamorna Cove. Damn! I hate going wrong, especially as this had led me down a very steep descent. I stood halfway down the hill, grumbling to myself, trying to muster the strength to make the climb back out. But then I decided to make something of the mistake; why must I be that person who adheres so rigidly to the plan? Why can’t I go off-piste once in a while? So I freewheeled the rest of the way, parked my bike on the rocks, and went swimming. Day one: sea swim. Now, that didn’t happen on the round-Britain.

Lamorna Cove

In Penzance, I popped into the Edge of the World Bookshop to sign some copies of my book, then headed off for the rest of the journey to Truro. I had forgotten just how hard cycling in this part of the world is; those hills are tough, especially so laden with luggage. I arrived in Truro with just an hour before I needed to be at my evening event, so it was a quick dash to the Waterstones there to sign the book, then a hurried meal, then a half-hour cycle back to Bike Chain Bissoe where my first audience awaited. The event had drawn a small but lovely crowd, and I gave my presentation then read Chapter One of the book – fitting for Day One of the tour.

Day Two passed in a blur of hills and ferries: I took the King Harry chain ferry across the River Fal, then another ferry at Fowey, then a final ferry across Plymouth harbour from Torpoint to Devonport (another chain ferry). I was familiar with much of the route, having ridden it in part on the round-Britain trip, and also on the Penzance to Brighton ride that had taken place a couple of years prior to that. But despite visiting places I knew and loved, I really struggled. The hills were just so tough, tougher than I had remembered, and I realised just how fit I must have been the last time I was there – it had been eight weeks or so of cycling that had led up to the south coast section, and those eight weeks had stood me in excellent stead for the brutal climbs that feature on this stretch. I tried to enjoy it, but it turned into a misery plod to the next location; something that I had been so keen to avoid (I’ve explored that in more depth here). I was also a bit sorry that my Plymouth event hadn’t drawn a bigger audience, but those few that came were really supportive and seemed to enjoy it. A swim off Plymouth Hoe before the event was a definite highlight and made up for the negatives.

King Harry Ferry

Day Three: a shorter, flatter ride but a much less enjoyable one; I took the A road for speed and ease, which meant this definitely was a misery plod! But arriving in Totnes was fantastic – it’s a place I have visited before and loved, and I had time to wander the steep High Street, and unexpectedly spied my book on the shelf in an independent book shop! My event at Curator Cafe couldn’t have been better: a lovely, cosy, quaint venue, with a vintage bike hanging on the wall and a large and appreciative audience. Best of all, I had been contacted by Lucy, someone I’d met at the Cycle Touring Festival, who lives a few miles away and put me up in her house, right on the banks of the River Dart. A swim the next morning made three swims in four days. Not a bad score.

From there I rode to Dawlish, once more along a familiar route, passing through Newton Abbot to pop into the Waterstones there and sign books, and arrived in Topsham for my evening event where I was greeted by a fantastic crowd with a few familiar faces. Route 2 Cafe were brilliant hosts – a lively venue in a really pretty village, right on the River Exe, with loads of boats and a great waterside pub. I gave my talk and, after a couple of beers, I returned to the family flat in Dawlish for a good sleep.

Day Five: it’s a 45 mile ride to Taunton, and with the event not starting til 7pm there’s no need to rush. I ride the Exe Valley trail alongside the river – a wonderfully flat and picturesque route made more enjoyable by the sunshine. At 2pm, however, I am still in Exeter, having cycled only 12 miles. It took a while to get going after my late night on Thursday, and the Exeter Green Fair has provided a significant distraction. I gather myself and set off towards Taunton. Puncture!! It only took four days for my bike to fall prey to a thorn or stone or similar, so I limp towards the bike shop for a fix (I have all the parts to fix it myself, but it’s best to save my spare tube for a wilderness change if the need arises). So, it’s almost 3pm by the time I finally leave Exeter for the 33 miles to Taunton. Suddenly the 7pm start seems ominously close.


I’m following the route suggested by Nick Mitchell in the Cicerone End-to-End guidebook. It’s a lovely route north east of Exeter, along country roads and through pretty villages, until I reach the edge of the Blackdown Hills. “Ascend sharply for 1.5 miles” says the guidebook, nonchalantly. This is going to be tough.

But, thankfully, the climb goes smoothly and soon I am out of the wooded hills, the remaining eight miles taking me soaring above the tree line on a quiet and mercifully flat road. The descent into Taunton is exhilarating, and I arrive at Brendon Books for my evening event with 45 minutes to spare. Here, I am welcomed warmly by Lionel and Jo Ward, who not only offer me a bed for the night, but take me out for a curry after the event, which is well attended and a real joy.

It’s a pleasure to ride the 35 miles from Taunton to Wells through the Somerset Flats the next day, the landscape north of Glastonbury giving fabulous views back to Glastonbury Tor and ahead to Wells Cathedral. In Wells I sign books in Waterstones for a couple of hours before finding a campsite in the surrounding hills.

It’s been a full-on week, with all the highs and lows one must expect at the beginning of a tour. I have relished being back on my bike, despite a few niggles, and I am enjoying being a ‘jobbing’ author – using the proceeds of book sales to pay for the tour. But this is only the beginning: here’s to week two!

Camping LEJOG

Anyone who’s familiar with my round-Britain trip will know I’m not the camping type. Perhaps it was the forced nights-under-canvas on family holidays, perhaps it was the cold, wet, and fitful sleeps I suffered as a festival-going 20 something, or perhaps it was simply that a duvet and a shower at the end of the day make me a happy cyclist. Whatever the trigger, I reached my late 20s a self-confessed canvas hater.

So, when I cycled round Britain, I spent the six months leading up to the trip making sure I had a bed to sleep in each night. I contacted everyone I knew, and many people I didn’t know, arranging my accommodation for each place in advance. I would sleep in comfort each night, and the kindness and hospitality I received from my hosts was a wonderful part of my ride. Knowing where I was staying each night helped me when the going got tough, and I could travel relatively light without all that camping kit. I relied so much on the luxury of people’s homes, I didn’t even take a towel!

But I couldn’t help feeling that, despite the advantages, I was missing out. I found myself envious of others who had the confidence to just pack a bag and go, leaving the details of the trip to beautiful chance. And planning to such a degree meant I spent a lot of time unnecessarily worrying about what might happen if it went wrong. On the few occasions when the planned accommodation fell through, it was hard to enjoy the journey, anxious instead about where I might stay that night.

It was in 2012, the year after the round-Britain trip, that I went on my first Otesha tour. And part of the tour was camping. If I am going to camp, I’m going to do it properly, I thought. So I spent real money on real camping equipment, and took my luxuries, including a REAL FEATHER PILLOW. And, to my surprise, I loved it. I was amazed that this thin little layer of canvas could be such an effective shelter; I mean, it was warm inside! And with my roll mat, my blow-up mattress, a cosy sleeping bag and my proper pillow, I had a comfy and satisfying sleep each night.

Since that tour I have gone on other trips with varying degrees of organisation, and over time I’ve learned not to worry about the minor things. You never know what might happen on the road, and planning things in too much detail can take away some of the beauty and freedom of touring. I now have the confidence and desire to just pack a bag and go – I know how to tour; it will be fine.

Now, I am cycling from Land’s End to John o’ Groats, promoting my book as I go. So in fact, the planning for this trip has been almost more difficult than any other, as I’ve booked and promoted an event at every stopping point along the way. The wonderful thing is that the cycling itself hasn’t worried me at all. I haven’t been concerned about what to pack and where to stay, or about what to do if I get lost. I have a simple guidebook to the ‘LEJOG’, and I have a tent and a sleeping bag, and I have a small collection of clothes. It’s so freeing to know that I will cycle to the next place and when I get there I can work out where to stay.

So far, I have ‘wild’ camped (camping without the express permission of the landowner) in the picnic area of a National Trust property, stayed in a hostel, had two beds offered at the last minute (from people who’ve attended my talks) and now I’m set up in a campsite. I’m hoping to do more wild camping as I make my way northwards; I have truly come to love my cosy sleeping bag and tiny little tent, that does an amazing job of keeping the elements at bay, even in high wind and rain. Perhaps I didn’t really hate camping before. I probably just never did it right.

Curator Cafe, Totnes

Day Four of the LEJOG book tour

Last night I gave a talk at The Curator Cafe, Totnes. It was the third talk on my Land’s End to John o’ Groats book tour, having started the tour at Bike Chain Bissoe near Truro, and spoken at Rockets and Rascals in Plymouth the previous night. This was my best event so far: Totnes is a vibrant town, full of green-minded people, and I managed to draw a crowd despite it all being a bit last minute (I only confirmed the venue two weeks ago). The crowd were friendly and attentive, and the cafe were fabulous hosts, putting on a special menu and providing wine and the great coffee they are famous for.

Ordinarily I show a slideshow of pictures and structure my talk around that. But at this venue, there was no projection equipment, so all I could rely on was me. Gulp.

And it turned out to be great. It was nice to be able to expand on a story if I felt the crowd were responding to it, and I could skim over parts that turned out to not be particularly interesting. I read three passages from my book, from three contrasting sections of the ride, and I really enjoyed sharing my written word as well as interpreting it through my spoken word. I sold a good number of books, but most of all people enjoyed the talk and told me how it had inspired them to be more active on their bikes and in exploring Britain – the very reason I wrote the book and decided to take it on tour in the first place.

Even though this is a book tour, I’m trying hard not to make the ride just about the talks. I am, of course, cycling from Land’s End to John o’ Groats; a significant ride in itself, without the added factor of presenting the book. The tour itinerary must go on (if anything were to go wrong with the bike, I would get on the train), but I need to make sure I enjoy the ride as well. It’s a lesson I’ve struggled to learn in the past, to focus on the journey rather than just the destination, and it’s one that I still struggle with. On the round-Britain trip, I had pre-planned my accommodation each night so had my destination in mind with each pedal, and when the riding was particularly tough I could think of nothing else. I am in danger of letting that happen on this trip, too – even more so, as I MUST get to my destination by a certain time each day for the event to go ahead.

The ride today (Plymouth to Totnes) was short, and I chose the A road rather than the hillier but quieter side roads. I am not nearly as fit as I was last time I cycled here, and the hills of the past two days have been a massive struggle, especially with a box of books in tow! So I compromised scenery for ease of travel, which meant that the cycling was almost solely a means to an end and was a real drag. It wasn’t until I reached Ivybridge (a quaint village around the river Erme) and stopped for tea that I made a conscious effort to stop pounding the pedals, take a look around, and enjoy the ride. I started saying hello to things (roadside streams, trees, pretty brick houses, sheep), and looking at the surrounding landscape (happy that I wasn’t climbing those hills but could still have a good view of them), and talking out loud to myself about where I was, and sure enough, the remaining miles flew by and I found myself in Dartington then Totnes before I knew it, having really enjoyed the last section.

I have already cycled through some stunning landscapes and there will be more to come, and many places that I pass through will be unfamiliar to me; though an expert on the coast, I haven’t done much cycling up the middle. So, my aim is to not worry about the venue, the audience, the talk, and the books while I’m riding… and just enjoy the cycling for what it is.

It’s the day before the LEJOG begins: in twelve hours I’ll be setting off from Penzance and pedalling to Land’s End, before turning back on myself and heading north west for that far-off destination of John o’ Groats.

I’ve never ridden LEJOG before, but this is a special kind of tour: as well as cycling, I’ll be promoting my book, Eat, Sleep, Cycle: a bike ride around the coast of BritainI’ve planned an event in twenty venues along the way, where I’ll be giving a talk and reading from my book. It’s been a hard few months securing venues and promoting the events, and I’m looking forward to getting down to some good old cycling.

Except, the cycling nearly didn’t happen.

A few days ago I received a phone call from First Great Western: “Hello Ms Hughes, I’m calling to advise you that the sleeper train to Penzance has been cancelled due to strike action…”

I went cold; I can’t not be there! All my plans!

“…so would you like us to book you into a hotel in Paddington on the Monday night, then on the first train on the Tuesday morning?”

Oh dear. That won’t work – my first event is on Tuesday night so I need to start pedalling that morning.

“No, I’m an author,” I explained, “and I start a book tour on Tuesday so I need be there.” (I’ve decided my author voice needs to be posh).

“Certainly madam; I can book you a First class seat on an earlier train on the Monday, and issue a full refund.”

Wow, this author thing is paying off!

“And I’ll need a hotel when I get to Penzance,” I continue.

“I’m sure that won’t be a problem,” she says.

I feel like royalty as she gives me all the details and I hang up. Disaster averted: I’ll get to Penzance after all. And free First Class travel and a hotel when I get there! Brilliant.

A day later I dropped a D lock on my foot and broke my toe.

After the initial pain had subsided I started to *really* panic: my tour! I can’t ride 1000 miles with a broken toe – can I? Fortunately it’s not the big toe so it turns out I can still ride a bike – whether I can ride 1000 miles or not is yet to be seen.

Here’s hoping that bad things don’t come in threes…

Bealach na Ba, Western Scotland

Yesterday I met with Claire Taylor, author of Detour blog, a project that tries to open up adventurer culture in London. We spoke about what it’s like to go on that first tour; what you need to know, and how you learn it. As an experienced tourer it’s easy to forget what it was like to hit the road for the first time, and make all those mistakes that everyone does (like not carrying a spare tube, for example). The thing is, with touring, you kind of have to learn this stuff yourself – people can advise you, and share how they learned their lessons, but you never really get to grips with touring until you get on the road and do it.

Nonetheless, thinking back to my first tour (a five day ride from Penzance to Brighton), I learned a few things I’d like to share.

  1. Ride at the pace of the slowest rider

It sounds obvious, but I had never ridden in a group before. I led the way, setting the pace and expecting everyone to follow. But before we’d even go to the station where we would catch our train to Penzance, one of the group fell off his bike on the canal towpath (thank God he didn’t go in) and really hurt himself. It took me at least ten minutes to realise no one was following me – I hadn’t checked over my shoulder the entire way along the canal. It just didn’t cross my mind that the others in the group wouldn’t be there right behind me, following like good little ducklings. That was a tough lesson, and didn’t help with group dynamics!

2. Be realistic about mileage and terrain

My commute at the time was 10 miles, which I would ride in less than an hour. If I could ride 20 miles per day in less than two hours, then if we had all day to ride, 60 miles would be fine. 60 miles is a good distance to actually get somewhere.

I didn’t even consider that we would want to do anything other than just cycle. I didn’t appreciate that touring is about looking at things – it’s not about getting your head down and getting on with it. A commute is a very different type of ride.

60 miles quickly turned into 80 by the time we meandered, got lost, and realised I hadn’t quite planned the route correctly. It took us a very long time to reach our destination on day one – I hadn’t factored in breaks, lunch, weather, wind or terrain. The stretch from Penzance to Looe is very punishing and we arrived at our B&B absolutely exhausted.

This pattern continued on day two, three (where the projected mileage of 80 ended up being 100) and four, where I finally joined the others in taking a train to our destination rather than face more cycling (they had already been train-hopping for the past few days). I had broken myself along with three full-grown men.

3. Take a map – an actual map of the area you are actually riding (unless you are happy to follow your nose)

We relied on a road atlas and some printed-out instructions based on my online research of the National Cycle Network. The NCN signposts don’t always point the right way, though, which we realised having cycled in a large circle just outside Truro. The road atlas was pretty useless – when you’re in a car, you want the fastest, most direct route, and on a bike, you most certainly do not, as we found out while blundering down the A390 dual carriageway from Truro to St Austell in the hammering rain.

4. Take time to enjoy it

Cycle touring is supposed to be fun, but this trip was very much, “Follow me everyone, we have to get there!” Four of us started the trip and none of us completed the whole thing. It was too difficult, too demanding, and mostly, not what cycle touring is about. I have fairly miserable memories of that trip – I felt guilty for imposing ‘my’ ride on the others, and because of the poor planning, it meant that we were constantly at our limit and had nothing left to see us through the simple things, like the rain. The riding was awful and I can’t remember much about the landscape that we cycled through (other than that it was hilly). It was all about the destination and none about the journey (though that’s a lesson I think I am still learning).

Now, my touring is much more balanced. It’s good to go far and fast sometimes, just as it’s good to meander and stop and stare. It’s good to allow time for unforeseen set-backs or for extra push-ons if you have the energy. I do much of my touring alone, and I only have to answer to myself about the ride I am taking. When I am riding with others I allow lots more time to chat!

lejog route

In September 2015 I shall be embarking on the famous End-to-End ride, from Land’s End to John o’ Groats. It’s a distance of 1000 miles, and I’ll take a month to ride it, because as well as enjoying the cycling and exploring new places, I will be promoting my book: Eat, Sleep, Cycle: a bike ride around the coast of Britain. I’ll be giving talks, readings and signings in various locations along the way, in cycle cafes, bookshops and community venues.

Any suggestions for venues, please add a comment below.

I never much liked the idea of organised bike rides. They seemed to make too big a thing of cycling, like it’s not something someone normal would do. I always baulked slightly at the forced sponsorship. The sheer number of people would spoil the enjoyment – I am much happier alone, determining my own route and speed. And the BHF London-Brighton bike ride was certainly not on my radar – who would sponsor me to ride to Brighton? I do that for fun!

But my friends were taking part so I agreed. I paid my entry fee. My start time arrived in the post: 6.30am. 6.30am!! I have to get up at 0430 to take part in a ride I don’t really want to take part in? No chance.

But everyone was doing it, so I went along with the plans. Arriving on Clapham Common at 6am, none of my misgivings were resolved. All around me was a sea of lycra and sparkling road bikes – Team Oddball stood out like a sore thumb. Charity shop clothing. A couple of single speeds and my ancient pack-horse mountain bike. There were too many people – I wouldn’t be able to ride up Ditchling Beacon among such a crowd.

It took two hours to cover just 13 miles to the first rest point – battling our way out of London on roads congested with cyclists, I felt a rare pang of sympathy for the drivers. All this for what? To make them hate cyclists even more? At this pace it would take 10 hours to reach Brighton.

But as we stood at the rest stop drinking our tea, I had a word with myself. I was cycling through beautiful countryside surrounded by my friends. The sun was shining. The pace was slow enough we could have a proper conversation – something that comes all too rarely in the city. Everyone taking part was there for a good reason – perhaps they had lost someone to heart disease, or perhaps they simply wanted to undertake the challenge. Most had probably never cycled this far before – 54 miles is not something to be sniffed at. So what if it takes all day? It was a great excuse to be out on my bike.

And once I relaxed, I really did start to enjoy it, and appreciate the value of rides like this. Once we had passed the 20 mile mark, the ride had spread out enough that we were free to ride at our own pace. All the participants, whether experienced or not, were supporting and helping each other. The people manning the rest stops and the marshals on the road were smiley and enthusiastic even though it would be a long, repetitive day. With over 22,000 participants, the charity would have raised an enormous amount of life-saving money. And even though these were not ‘my type’ of cyclists, and many of them would reach the finish line, strap their bike to the rear of their car and drive home, at least they were doing it. The joy of cycling is something that should be shared as widely as possible; who am I to judge?

That first glimpse of the sea from the top of Ditchling Beacon was as exciting as any of the times I’d previously stood there. And to my surprise I had been able to pedal all the way to the top! A unique buzz passed through the crowds, riders euphoric from having made the climb or relieved that it was over. One by one they took the descent to Brighton – the organisers were right – it was downhill all the way.

A glorious sea swim and two pints later, I was ready to go home. My friends were sticking around in Brighton but I decided to head back to the Big Smoke. I hadn’t booked onto one of the organised coaches and the trains weren’t accepting bicycles. How to get back? Cycle, of course :)

One of the panel sessions at the recent Cycle Touring Festival was entitled ‘Cycling as a Woman’. I was asked to sit on the panel alongside touring aficionados Emily Chappell and Helen Pike. We covered many issues in the discussion that I thought would be useful to revisit here, especially as I often receive emails from women wondering about the practicalities of their cycle tour, or from worried parents wanting reassurance that their daughters won’t be subjected to sexual harassment.

(Short answer to that final point – I get more sexual harassment from van drivers in London than I do on a tour)

  1. How to I keep my hair clean/tidy?

My unhelpful answer to this at the time was a smug, “Well, I don’t wash my hair,” so here is a much more useful and detailed response!

I used to wash my hair regularly, even daily on my cycle around Britain (easy when I was using someone else’s shower…). A year later I toured with Otesha around the South West of England. We camped and stayed on farms and in people’s back gardens – our shower was usually a solar shower (a rubber blister pack of water that you leave sitting in the sun until it warms up then dangle from a tree), or we’d beg our way into the local leisure centre. I really struggled in the first days and weeks – I’d never been without running water before, and I felt dirty and itchy and uncomfortable. This is one of the reasons I am such a reluctant camper! I’d heard the rumours that hair starts to clean itself if you leave it long enough, and not having access to reliable cleaning facilities, together with all that I was learning through Otesha about the environmental impact of using too much water, I decided to try and be more natural with my body. I trained my hair gradually, going from washing it every two days to every three, to four, five, six etc. This was four years ago and now I wash my hair roughly once a month, or whenever I remember. It doesn’t itch or flake (I used to have terrible dandruff, which has now gone), it doesn’t smell, and it looks fine. And, when I go on tour, it makes life so much more simple!

Of course, that was a sustained and concerted effort, but one I would definitely recommend as a long-term solution.

As a short-term solution, use a Buff or bandana to cover those greasy locks – Buffs are amazing at tidying everything away and come in a range of colours and designs. Dry shampoo is a great way of freshening you up. Try and get used to not washing your hair quite so often in advance of your tour, if you can. Or you can always shave your head…

2. How do I keep myself clean and tidy?

Two separate changes of clothes, one for cycling and one for when you’ve finished cycling, are great for keeping the sweaty smell at bay.  Once you’ve parked up at your destination, off come the cycling clothes and on go the clean ones. I always have some sort of wash before you go to bed – even if it is just a baby-wipe shower. There’s nothing worse than climbing into your sleeping bag with filthy feet and sticky arms from all the suncream you’ve inevitably been slathering yourself in. Any source of water will do; on one particularly hot day on the Otesha tour we arrived at our farm destination with no shower facilities, so I sponged myself down using the water in the butt that the sheep drank from! I felt amazing afterwards.

3. Dealing with your period

I use Mooncup – a reusable menstrual cup. The benefits of Mooncup are on their website here, and I find it fantastic for touring – it packs lighter than a box of tampons, and there is no waste. If you insert it properly, you shouldn’t feel anything while sitting on the saddle. If you’ve never used one, I recommend getting one now. I swear by them and would never use any other form of sanitary ware. It’s easy enough to empty and clean – if you are using a flush toilet, rinse under the flush and reinsert. If you don’t have access to proper toilet facilities, empty it in the bush – it’s organic matter so there’s no problem in doing this – then give the cup a rinse with your water bottle.

4. Personal security and sexual harassment

None of us had ever experienced any issues with personal security and sexual harassment. In fact, we found it to be the opposite – people the world over will offer help to a solo female, whereas the solo male will be left to fend for himself. A solo male will often also be a target for thugs, which tends not to happen to a female. It was very telling that Kevin from the ‘Cycling as a Man’ session told a story about having to use his wood-chopping hatchet to defend himself against would-be thieves. Dervla Murphey only ever used her pistol once, and that was on a bear.

Emily remarked afterwards that it had been lovely that the session focussed much more on the practicalities of cycling as a woman, rather than focussing on the ‘can I do it?’ mentality. It was much more popular than the Cycling as a Man session!

If there are other questions about cycling as a woman, please do email me or leave a comment below, and I’ll add them to the article.

Ribble Valley

Bank holiday weekend was spent in the Ribble Valley at the Cycle Touring Festival – a gathering of cycle tourers old and new organised by round-world cyclists Tim and Laura Moss. It was a melting-pot of ideas from over 200 cyclists, some veterans, some novices, the young, the old and everything in between. Everyone had something to share and the willingness to listen to the experiences of others. I saw some old friends – including the indefatigable Emily Chappell who’d cycled non-stop from London – and made some new; it’s always lovely to realise halfway through a conversation that the person you’re speaking to is such-and-such on Twitter and you’ve been following each other for ages. I also met two other round-Britain cyclists – James Harvey and Bill Honeywell. It’s a joy to meet others who have followed the same route that I rode almost four years ago, the memories as fresh as if it were yesterday.

After two and a half chocca-block days full of talks, workshops, panel discussions and lots of cake, the festival came to a close. I was to spend the night in Manchester with friends, and I decided to cycle; the sky had brightened so it seemed a shame not to take advantage of being in such lovely countryside, although I wasn’t best prepared – no ‘proper’ cycle clothing at all, just some leggings and plimsoles and a vest, no socks, no cycling gloves. I wobbled off with my tent strapped to the rear rack, my waterproof boots dangling by the laces, one from each pannier.

From Clitheroe my chosen route went straight over a pass – no warm up, no ceremony, just upwards, thank you very much. I overtook a solo male riding a road bike with no luggage and full lycra, wondering what he thought as I zoomed up the hill past him looking every bit the amateur. Who needs the kit when you have a healthy dose of determination? The landscape fell away as the road climbed, views over farm houses and lakes and viaducts framed with the endless hills on all horizons, hills with rain-heavy clouds snagged on their tips, waterlogged fingers reaching down from the heavens to the green, green earth. Each inching ascent was followed by the thrill of the down, the dare-devil speed accompanied by a niggling worry that part of my haphazard luggage might fall.

North of Accrington I joined the Leeds-Liverpool canal, route 6 of the National Cycle Network that would lead me the rest of the 40-odd miles into Manchester. A couple of villages then a disused railway line, following a slow upwards drag into Baxenden. I climbed from Helmshore following the ridge of the hill as the traffic on the M66 rushed far below on the valley floor. Farmsteads clung to the hillside and villages gathered around the waters of the Irwell, once centres of industry, their cylindrical brick chimney stacks elevated high above the rooftops. I saw Manchester about two hours before I reached it, its unmistakeable skyscrapers settled into the valley around which these old industrial villages spread. Another disused railway descended steadily to Bury, a tarmacked remnant of a branch line of the old East Lancashire Railway. Grand columns made of red steel lined the path, once having held the railway tracks aloft the river running beneath, now holding up the sky.

I approach Manchester through Prestwich where I bump across the roaring M60 on a narrow cast-iron bridge and enter the beautiful solitude of Drinkwater Park. The route criss-crosses the River Irwell as it meanders towards the city centre. Soon I enter Salford, uniform rows of clay-coloured houses behind low brick walls taking me back to my university days. It’s all so familiar, even in a part that is wholly unfamiliar. The rain had so far held off but, as one might expect, now I’m in Manchester the clouds are seeping. Whally Range, Withington Road, Princess Road. I’m hungry and nearing the end of my energy – why do I never pack enough food? I’m grateful to Lucy, the other vegan at the festival who had brought some vegan brownies with her – I have one left in my pocket and gobble it hungrily. She’s going to try to stay vegan on her next cycle tour – much better than I’ve achieved on previous tours (every time I cycle to the sea I seem to eat fish and chips…)

I could’ve taken the train and been there in an hour and a half. But I would much rather be on two wheels, breathing the fresh air, travelling slowly, earning my journey. I’ve seen a different view of Manchester, a city I thought I knew so well. I’m exhausted but energised; I had an idea and I followed it through. And as I stand on Princess Road scoffing chips (no fish) I feel glad to be a cyclist.

It’s the kind of outlandish idea that is conceived at the end of the night when too much booze has been drunk. We decide I’ll swim down to Jonny’s boat, then we’ll both swim back to mine. We are moored about 15 boats apart.

I wake and instantly remember the promise we made.

“I’ll do it if you do it.”

“You won’t do it.”

“I will!”

My insistence is going to be my downfall. No one wants to lose face.

I dress in my bikini with a t-shirt over the top. I know it’s going to be cold; it’s early April so the summer heat has yet to warm the river, and there is a chilly wind blowing downstream. The sky is overcast.

The longer I wait, the worse this will be. I step from my boat and sit on the concrete shore, my feet dangling in the water. My toes recoil at the chill. I lower myself in, steadily but decisively, knowing a tentative approach will only delay the horror. It is gaspingly cold and my chest contracts as the water seeps through my t-shirt. The cold shock is instant, my breathing shallow and panicky, and I cling to the shore for a few seconds to acclimatise, 1, 2, 3,  then push myself out into the water.

I tread water for a while, trying to regulate my breaths which continue to come in short, shallow snatches. I remember swimming in the Firth of Forth when I was on my sailing trip: one of the requirements of our training was to be able to swim around the boat. It was a sunny day in May, but the water felt arctic, the cold rising from the depths beneath my feet. This feels just as cold, and instead of swimming around my boat I have to swim fifteen boat lengths, and there seems to be more river between me and Jonny now I’m in the water. I’m still struggling to breathe, and start to think about the process my body is going through. I know from my sea survival training that cold shock can lead to cardiac arrest. It’s little comfort telling myself the first 60 seconds are the worse.

I move out into the middle of the river and start breastroking downstream. Every so often I try to take a deep breath but the cold won’t allow it. I swim in rhythm with my shallow breathing. My arms and legs are soon losing feeling, and my skin feels as if it’s being pierced by needles. I stop for a second to clench and unclench my hands, seeing if I can coax some warmth back into them. The fingers move as if in slow motion. I can feel my heart struggling to beat the blood round my body, and my breathing has still not settled down. What am I doing?

Stroke, breath, stroke, breath. I have reached halfway. Someone is on their back deck and spots me in the water. “You’re brave!” they say. My reply comes out as a gasp: “It seemed like a good idea at the time!” Onwards I swim.

As I pass under the bridge, I start to seriously doubt if I’ll make it. It’s a two minute walk down the towpath between the boats. I have been in the water for around fifteen minutes. My body feels under tremendous strain and I keep imagining that, as I swim, my heart will decide to give up on the pressure of having to beat warm blood around my body, and simply stop, leaving me to sink like a stone. I haven’t told anyone I’m here. Will anyone notice if I just disappear?

I can see Jonny’s boat. There are five boats to pass until I reach it. Even though I’m within reach, I decide that I cannot swim that far – it is simply too cold. I turn for the bank and catch onto one of the mooring posts on the concrete. The bank is high: my weakened arms have no chance of being able to pull me out of the water. I am shivering violently and at last I can catch my breath. But I can’t climb out. There is no option but to continue swimming.

I return to the water with a steely determination – there is no way I will allow myself to die on this stretch of water. Each boat seems to pass more slowly than the last, my weakened muscles dragging me pathetically onwards. At last I pass his bow, and lift an arm to knock on the hull, then struggle to the stern and grab one of the rails. It takes all my strength to haul myself onto the deck and I lie on my front, dripping water, gasping deliriously. He opens the door.

“Jesus Christ! I didn’t think you’d actually do it!”

He gets me a towel and makes me a cup of tea. By the time I’ve finished it I am shaking like a leaf. My jaw is chattering to such an extent that I can’t speak, and my legs seem to have a life of their own. Half of the tea has ended up on the towel. Outwardly I laugh, but inwardly I’m bloody thankful that I didn’t drown.

We do not swim back.

Stanstead Abbotts

Part of my job as a cycling instructor is to deliver SUD (Safe Urban Driving) courses to lorry drivers. The SUD was introduced because, while HGVs make up the lowest percentage of vehicles on London’s roads, they are involved in the highest proportion of fatalities. The course involves taking a group of drivers (almost always men, and often large) out on bikes and showing them another perspective – what it means to be a good cyclist, and why there are so many bad ones. It’s an excellent programme – nearly every burly trucker who takes part says something along the lines of “I’ve been dreading this all week,” but by the end they are beaming and thanking us sincerely for a great day.

It’s just as educational for us to sit in their cab and see what they really can see, to see how tiny the bike looks in comparison to their vehicle, to get a feel for what it’s like to have several tonnes of truck behind you and to have to check all those mirrors.

I drove a white van once, along the same streets that I usually cycle down, the heavy tyres and suspension absorbing each blip, pothole and rough patch that I usually have to keep my eyes peeled to avoid. What scared me most (apart from the fear that I would hit a cyclist — imagine!!) was the number of bicycle riders that pulled out round parked cars or buses without looking. Nearly every one. I just wouldn’t feel safe on my bike if I didn’t check behind me before each manoeuvre. What surprised me most was how few cyclists there were. There seem to be more if you’re one of them. They’re much easier to ignore if you’re in a large vehicle. And what also surprised me is how little I envied them. Even the ones who sailed through the traffic, easily getting to the front of my queue. They just looked so cold! All wrapped up in scarves and gloves! And it looks so dangerous! All that traffic! They seem so vulnerable! Rather them than me. Even though I know how wonderful it is to be on a bike, warm as soon as you get going, reliably making your journey in the predicted time regardless of how heavy the traffic is, much less dangerous than it looks, the freedom of powering yourself an utter joy. I used to wonder why car users didn’t feel more tempted to join us cyclists. But having changed places for just a few hours, I’m now not surprised that more drivers don’t ditch their vehicles for two wheels.

So changing places really is vital for people to empathise with the other side. Make cyclists realise that being more aware and following the Highway Code is so important. Let van drivers see why that cyclist is riding so far from that car door, why they are sitting in the middle of the lane at junctions, or why they are not looking round all the time, and why they filter down the inside even though that’s the danger zone. It should be mandatory for all professional drivers on London’s streets: buses, taxis, delivery drivers. There’ve even been suggestions that a cycle lesson should be part of the standard driving licence. Perhaps that day will come, and hopefully it won’t take another cyclist death to make it happen.

Having cycled 4000 miles then written a book about it, many people ask me which was easier.

Before I started the cycle trip, I thought I knew a lot about cycling. I was a daily cyclist and had been my whole life – how hard could it be to turn that love of cycling into a 4000 mile adventure? Turns out I didn’t know much. I was underprepared and naive. I learned most of what I needed to know on the road, or from asking the advice of people who knew what they were talking about.

Before I started writing, I thought I knew a lot about writing. I’d blogged, I’d written articles and essays, and my written English was pretty good. I thought I could churn out a book in a couple of months. Turns out I didn’t know much. Knowing how to use a semi-colon didn’t really cut it. I learned most of what I needed to know through actually writing, or from asking the advice of people who knew what they were talking about.

Cycling around Britain was, at times, wonderful. There were days when the sun shone, the wind was at my back, and nothing went wrong with the bike. The views and the sense of freedom and the simple joy of cycling were irreplaceable. There were times when I wondered why I would ever choose to do anything else, and mourned the day when it would all be over.

Writing was, at times, wonderful. There were days when the words flowed from my fingers, falling in just the right order to capture the image that I wanted to portray. I would read back the words I’d written and think, yes, this is good! I would sit in coffee shops with my laptop and feel like a true artist, and I’d think forward to the time when the book would be finished, and I would feel sad. I loved those pyjama days when all I did was write.

There were times when cycling was terrible. It was boring, arduous, hard work, and made me question my sanity. The headwinds were strong. It rained. The miles passed agonisingly slowly. I thought each hill would never end, and all I wanted to do was give it all up.

There were times when writing was terrible. Boring, arduous, hard work. The words wouldn’t say what I wanted them to say. I couldn’t think of how to express myself in a way that would make the reader want to keep on reading. I couldn’t type fast enough to capture all my thoughts on the page, and by the time they’d caught up I’d forget what I had wanted to say. I would read back what I’d written and think, god, this is awful. I spent many hours staring at the screen. I drank too much gin. I thought I’d never finish the damn thing, and many times I thought I should just give up.

Eat/sleep/cycle. Eat/sleep/write. Both things were the most simple thing I’ve ever done. Both things were the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Both things were the best thing I’ve ever done.

Cycling around Britain took 10 weeks. Writing about it took 3 years. I think that was the only difference.

The book ‘Eat, Sleep, Cycle’ has been in the writing for two and a half years. I never thought I would write a book, but I had lots of positive feedback from the readers of my blog, so about six months after I returned from my adventure I decided to go for it. I went on a writing holiday – ten days in the Lake District – to start to turn my blog into a story. I thought it would take a few months. A year later I went on another writing holiday – ten days in Oban and the Isle of Mull – to complete what I thought would be the finished manuscript. It was fifteen months later that I actually finished it, and it has taken a further six months to reach the stage where the manuscript is ready for proof reading.

I owe a lot to Jennifer Barclay who was working for Summersdale when she contacted me: “I’m enjoying your blog. Is there a book in this?” I responded saying, yes, as it happens, there was. I excitedly sent her my first draft. “Unfortunately as a book manuscript, this doesn’t really fit our bill, I’m sorry to say,” she wrote. It was too ‘bloggy’ – too much detail about the practicalities of the ride, and not enough development of the characters, least of all me. There began two years of soul-searching – how do I write about myself? Making my voice come across in a meaningful way was the hardest part of the writing, and the thing that most of my test readers throughout that time highlighted.

I had some very candid and useful feedback from my friends, most notably Richard Gibbens, who had the unenviable task of trawling through some very badly-written early drafts and trying to tease out a sense of character and narrative from my writing. My friend David Charles (a proper writer) gave me some very useful tips on character and dialogue. My dad was my first copy-editor. I had never before used the terms “as if” or “fewer” or “bored with” and I’d ended far too many sentences with a preposition. I’d always thought I had a good grasp of the English language, but writing has taught me so much, and my spoken English is now better because of it.

About three further drafts were rejected by Summersdale (Jennifer had left by this point, so I was liaising with her replacement), and after much to-ing and fro-ing I was finally offered a contract in June 2014. Cue excited squeals and jumping up and down.

One of the clauses of the contract was that the manuscript should not exceed 60,000 words. I had already written 110,000 and wasn’t quite finished. I negotiated 80,000 as the final word count. The final submission was 85,000.

Cutting that many words was hard work, but very useful. I really had to put myself in the reader’s head – some of my favourite parts were deleted because, though they meant a lot to me, they would be inconsequential to someone who didn’t know me. And that process was essential for turning it from a barely-readable door-stop to something that people might pick up from the shelf and actually reach the final page. I found it similar to what I imagine film editors must go through – I’ve watched the deleted scenes of many of my favourite films, and though the scenes are enjoyable, they are by no means essential to the story. Making that distinction when deeply involved in the writing is very tricky.

Many characters didn’t make the final cut. I felt terrible about doing this but I had to be brutal: I met so many people during the course of the ride that I couldn’t possibly work them all in to the book in a way that was meaningful.

So, apologies to Sarah Wise, Wendy and Michael Norman, Laura McGinty, Chantel and Andrew, Julien Masse, Flora Lawrie, Martin and family from Arran, Frank and Judy Brzezinka, Jan Rees, Mary Kelland, Simon Wallis, Marianne and Sandy in Llangrannog, Andy Ashman, Huw Evans, Tim Anfield, Julie and Alan Frecknall, Tom Sutcliffe, Nick Ratcliffe (and extra apologies to Nick because he hosted and rode with me and I’ve omitted all that!), Adrian Balletto, Mr and Mrs Sherratt, Hannah and Nathan Gardner, Graeme Willgress, Colin and Kenny who I met in Acharachle, Tristan who rode with me to Western-super-Mare, and all of the people who rode me out of London on the first day: Will Smith, Dad, Georgie Fyfe-Jameson, Andy Casson and Juanita Hard.

I changed a couple of names to avoid repetition, so Martyn Wells, you are now Matthew, to avoid confusion with my ‘uncle’ Martyn, and Pete, you are now Patrick, to avoid confusion with my colleague Pete, and Sarah Varney, you are now Libby, to avoid confusion with my twin sister.

Once I had the manuscript down to a workable length, I was assigned an editor. I was thrilled that this was to be the now-freelance Jennifer Barclay – a lovely symmetry given that it was she who had initially introduced me to Summersdale. She gave me guidance on the continuity of story lines, the development of characters, and clarity of some of my descriptions (what do you mean here, give us a little more detail here, etc). Her input was brilliant and I am tremendously grateful to her, for both her excellent editing, and for contacting me in the first place. Had that not happened my book would probably not have been published (I sent the MS to many companies, but very few accept unsolicited manuscripts). I could always have self-published, but now the world would be burdened with a very dry and un-imaginative 110,000+ word book.

The manuscript was then copy-edited (which involved checking LOTS of facts, including the spellings of all the place-names, of which there were many) and is now back at Summersdale for final proof-reading. Then the whole book will be finalised: cover design, acknowledgements, illustrations and endorsements – ready to hit the shelves in March.

It has been an interesting experience, to constantly re-live something that happened quite a long time ago now. It was August 2011 that I set out on my bike ride around Britain. It was a relatively short adventure (ten weeks) but has taken up so much of my life since and I’m excited to be finally sharing my story in a proper book. Many people have asked, “What will you write next?” and I have been adamant that I’m not going to write another one – while enjoyable, writing this has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But then again, I didn’t think I’d write this one, so watch this space!

As a cycling instructor, I am frequently asked about helmet use. Many of the comments I hear from frustrated road users conclude with, “and they’re not even wear a helmet!” It seems that most drivers would prefer it if cyclists wore helmets – those who don’t are deemed irresponsible.

It’s a tricky subject, and one that has a huge number of arguments on either side. Some studies show that helmets can reduce injuries sustained when hitting your head; some show the opposite result, that a helmet can make injuries worse. Some studies suggest that wearing a helmet makes you feel more safe, and therefore less likely to use the roads sensibly, as if putting on the helmet ticks the ‘safety’ box and your risk assessing ends there. It can also cause other road users to drive less carefully around you.

The two sides of the argument are explored in this Times article, and a critique of the helmet laws in Jersey is given by the London Cycling Campaign here.

Helmet wearing is not compulsory in this country. Cycling is, on balance, a safe activity, the benefits of which far outweigh the risks. Compulsory helmet laws may well discourage current or potential cyclists, which would have a negative impact overall.

I often don’t wear a helmet. Mainly because I would rather not – in the cold I’d rather wear a woolly hat, if it’s sunny I’ll wear a baseball cap, and if it’s raining I’ll wear a hood. I don’t have to wear a helmet so I don’t. It’s not what I wear, it’s how I ride that will keep me safe, and it’s very unlikely I would be involved in an accident in which a helmet would help.

My students often say to me, “I like that you don’t look like a cyclist” – I don’t have all the kit, I wear normal clothes, and I want to promote cycling as a normal, everyday activity that doesn’t require a huge amount of safety equipment in order to take part.

For me, the biggest consideration in this debate is that the helmet question detracts attention from other road safety measures which are more effective in reducing accidents. Helmet use often dominates discussions of road safety at all levels, whereas there are many more things that will improve safety on our roads. Infrastructure is one, training is another. If I become trapped on the inside of a left turning lorry (the biggest cause of deaths on London’s roads last year), it matters very little whether or not I am wearing a helmet. What would help me in that situation is: a) infrastructure that doesn’t encourage me to filter down the left hand side at traffic lights; b) training to make me aware of the dangers of filtering on the left; c) training for HGV drivers; d) better designed lorries that increase visibility of cyclists and won’t drag a cyclist under the wheels.

I recently had an accident, in which I flipped over my handlebars and landed on the floor. I smashed my chin on the ground and fractured my jaw. Having a helmet on would not have helped me in the least, yet the first question that I was asked by the ambulance man was “Were you wearing a helmet?”



I recently went to the Netherlands on holiday, and was absolutely bowled over by the culture of cycling. I knew that the Dutch are world leaders in cycling, but you have to see it to believe it.

Everyone cycles. Young, old, black, white, cool, geeky, students, office workers. Riding a bike is just, well, normal. The provision for cyclists is incredible, from the acres of bike storage at the station to the infrastructure – they have their own lanes, their own lights, and, mostly, right of way. In the Netherlands, the bike is king.

But why is cycling in the Netherlands so different to cycling over here? Is it so impossible to have what they have here in London? The style of cycling is completely different to London and the idea that adults or children can’t ride is unheard of. Cycling in the Netherlands is simply how people get around – it’s easy and safe and an attractive form of transport. Everyone does it, so there is no reason not to. The infrastructure is extensive and functional. People don’t jump red lights, because there’s no need. Traffic (of all kinds: motorised, two-wheeled, and pedestrian) flows. There was a massive investment in cycling around 30 years ago, which has created a culture of cycling which works.


Everybody rides a bike. All drivers take care of those on bikes, because they ride a bike too.

Bikes have priority at junctions, and if they don’t, there is a separate light for them.

Lights don’t stay red for long (for either bikes or motor vehicles)

All roads have infrastructure for cyclists – if it is a main road, there is a separate cycleway, either clearly marked at the side of the road or separated by a verge. Side roads or roads in town centres are often closed to motor traffic. If it is a dual carriageway, there is a parallel road for bikes.

It’s just as easy to get around by bike as it is by motor vehicle – just as direct, with signage.

No one wears a helmet

People rarely signal

Everyone rides a bike, regardless of age, creed or social position, and they all ride the same kind of bike. They are mostly sturdy upright bikes with baskets or crates or bags on the rack.

People ride in the rain. Many hold umbrellas.

You’ll often see two people on the same bike – either on the rear or on the handlebars

The cycle paths are wide and clearly marked, and they all go somewhere.

People leave bikes chained very loosely or with a wheel lock.

No one is in a hurry.


Bicycle ownership is 1.1 bike per person in the Netherlands, as opposed to 0.4 in England. There are 5 thefts per 100 bicycles.

Road transport makes up 36% of total transport emissions in the Netherlands, and 69% of those in the UK

The Netherlands has a relatively low rate of obesity levels and heart disease

As bike use goes up, accident rates go down: 1.1 fatality per 100km cycled in the Netherlands (with 26% bicycle use) and 3.6 fatalities in the UK (with 2% bicycle use)

From the Dutch website

The arguments pro-cycling are overwhelming: it is sustainable, healthy, has zero emissions of everything, is silent and clean, cheap both in purchase and in providing infrastructure, is space and traffic efficient, enhances urban traffic circulation and provides more liveability to residential areas. Despite all this evidence, none of these are the reason for the Dutch to cycle. They just enjoy it.

I’m standing at the top of a hill in Richmond Park with four new friends, about to embark on a microadventure. The plan is to cycle from the confines of the city until we are surrounded by the Surrey countryside, to eat, drink and be merry, then sleep under the stars. It’s about 15 miles to the country pub where we’ll have dinner, and we’re armed with tents and Bivvy Bags – we’ve no idea where we’ll sleep, but with bellies full of food and ale we’ll seek out a quiet spot under the blanket of night. We’ll then watch the sun rise and be back at our desks in the morning.

Our little trip has been organised by Anna McNuff, an irrepressible bundle of enthusiasm who recently cycled all 50 US states. In real life she works as a marketing consultant. The rest of the group are Laura Penhaul, a physiotherapist who is one quarter of Coxless Crew, an all-female four hoping to row the Pacific Ocean in 2015, Sophie Radcliffe, aka Challenge Sophie, an Ironwoman and lover of hard-won fun and adventure, and Jo Pickard, a TV presenter, producer and actor. Jo doesn’t even own a bike. She arrives with her beautifully styled hair, the most glamorous among us, unable to contain her excitement because we’re about to have an adventure on an otherwise normal mid-week evening. We’re all ordinary women really, who choose to do extraordinary things.

Micro-adventure is the brainchild of Alastair Humphreys, round-the-world cyclist and adventurer extraordinaire. Tired with people saying, “I don’t have time to go on an adventure,” he came up with the concept of fitting adventure into daily life. “We are defined by our ‘9-to-5’ but what about the 5-to-9…?” Al asks on his website. “Too busy, too broke, too unfit…” – these excuses don’t mean much when it comes to microadventure. What would you choose to do? We choose to cycle into the sunset.

We nearly don’t make it before the pub stops serving food. We nearly get trapped on the wrong side of a road block. We nearly get stung by an electric fence trying to find our camping spot. We nearly get found by the farmer. We’re tired the next day. But none of this matters – we did it, something unusual, something exciting, something daring. The next day my colleagues asked me what I did last night as I hang my dew-sodden sleeping mat out to dry. “I cycled into the sunset then camped in a field” I reply. How often do you get to say that?

If you’re touring, you’ll be on that bike for hours, days, weeks and maybe months at a time. While there’s no such thing as a ‘right’ bike (people tour on town bikes, road bikes, recumbents, mountain bikes, even Bromptons), it’s important to have a bike that’s right for you.

  1. The frame

Steel frames are great for touring, as they are strong, springy, and easy to fix. Aluminium is lighter and cheaper, but doesn’t absorb bumps and won’t take a load quite as well. Titanium is an option – it’s lighter than steel and just as strong, but much more expensive. A standard touring bike will most likely be made of steel.

2. The handlebars

Most touring bikes come with dropped handlebars. Drops aren’t for everyone, and a good alternative is butterfly bars or sweep-back bars which can give a more upright posture. The important thing is being able to vary your grip position, as you may well develop vibration and pressure problems in your hands and wrists if you are in the same position for hours at a time. Drops offer at least three positions (bar, hoods and drops), and are good for climbing as you can pull upwards on them.

3. The pedals

Pedals with toe clips, or clip-less pedals where a fitting on the pedal attaches to the cleat in your shoe, can be fantastic for touring. Hill climbing is easier, and you become less fatigued as your pulling muscles are utilised as well as your pushing ones. However, clips usually mean that your foot remains static, which can cause problems in the knee. Make sure that you are unclipping every so often and shaking your foot out. Also there’s the danger of the comical fall while clipped in! I prefer pedals with a standard platform on one side and SPDs on the other, so I can use a variety of footwear.

4. The saddle

Some people swear by Brookes, but be careful to buy in advance of the tour – they’re only comfortable if they’ve been worn in. The key is making sure you are comfortable, so whichever saddle you go for, make sure you’ve ridden on it a fair amount before setting off. You can adjust the saddle forwards and backwards as well as up and down, and also tilt it to get the best possible position for you.

5. The luggage

One advantage of a ‘proper’ touring bike is that it will have plenty of fixings for taking racks, bags and bottle cages. There are hundreds of options: rear panniers, low risers on the front, saddle bags, handlebar bags, frame bags, backpacks, even trailers. Weight distribution side to side doesn’t matter too much once you’re riding, but front and back does: too much weight on the front and you’ll find steering very difficult, but too much weight on the back and you’ll find the front wheel lifting each time you go uphill. Trailers can be a terrific way of keeping the weight off the bike, but they increase the drag factor when climbing and in strong winds, though they push you down hills which can be great fun!

6. The fit

Whichever bike you choose, it must fit you. Take the time to check this before you leave – it will prevent problems later on. A bike shop will be able to advise you. General guidance: the crossbar should be 1-2 inches below your crotch when standing flat on the floor; your leg should be fully extended when your heel is on the pedal at the bottom of its stroke, therefore just bent when the ball of your foot is on the pedal; with legs level in the pedals, your forward knee should be directly above the pedal spindle.

7. The make

Ridgeback do excellent entry-level and mid-level touring bikes (the ‘World’ range). Expect to pay between £800 and £1250. Surly makes the fabulous Long Haul Trucker which comes in at around £1000. Dawes Galaxy can vary from basic (£600) to top-of-the-range (£1800). The more you pay, the better quality the components, and the more durable and versatile your ride.

I had the recent privilege of being interviewed by Roz Savage for her Adventure Podcast. Roz is a record-breaking ocean rower – the first woman to solo row the world’s three big oceans: Atlantic, Pacific and Indian. She has written two books about her ocean rows: “Rowing the Atlantic: Lessons Learned on the Open Ocean” and “Stop Drifting, Start Rowing: One Woman’s Search for Happiness and Meaning Alone on the Pacific.” I’ve read the second of these books, which is excellent. I’m pleased that Roz has taken a sneak peak of my (as yet unfinished) book and is similarly complimentary!

The podcast can be found here, on Roz’s website:

Thanks to Roz for the opportunity, and the lovely chat.

ON 1st August 2011 I cycled from London to Southend — the first step of a 4000-mile, 10-week journey round the coast of Britain. The route is fairly flat, tracing the River Thames from the confines of the city to the salt-tainted air of the coast. At the time I was eager to let others know that it’s a journey worth trying: “Everyone should cycle from London to Southend,” was how the first draft of my book began. I wanted desperately to share my experience: the beauty of cycling to the ocean, the relaxed pace of travel, the satisfaction of covering a substantial distance by relying solely on your own power. It’s far enough that it’s a good day out, but not so far that it would be beyond the occasional cyclist.

Last weekend, I repeated the journey, and it reminded me of how much I love cycling, and why exploring this country by bike is the best adventure I know. Knowing more about my home with each pedal stroke, feeling connected to the landscape in a way that doesn’t happen zipping through on a train or car. It’s magical to cycle to the sea, to pedal until you spy that massive body of water that holds our island in its grip, to ride until you can ride no further. The sea is so compelling, so full of mystery and the promise of adventure. We have over 10,000 miles of coastline just waiting to be explored, and every inch is different. Nowhere in Britain lies more than 70 miles from the coast; a long ride, but not impossible. I can’t recommend it enough. Make it a day’s ride, or a weekend trip. Take food, take breaks, eat cake. Find out where the train stations are along the route if you want a get-out clause. But get on that bike and do it.


London-Southend, Sunday 8th December 2013, riding with Laura

Our route starts in the hidden waterways of east London: the Limehouse Cut canal, Bow Creek, the Greenway (built on top of a sewer). Then alongside the deafening traffic on the A13, before reaching Rainham, crossing the railway line and entering the marshes. A Eurostar rattles its way to Paris, a yellow and white caterpillar speeding through the countryside. The Queen Elizabeth bridge that carries the M25 across the Thames stands like a regal gateway above the water. The skyline of London steadily recedes, but it’s not far, really; even beyond the M25 we can still see the skyscrapers at Canary Wharf. Soon we’re deep into Essex, riding down country roads surrounded by fields and hedges and farm buildings. Villages come and go, a collection of houses and country pubs gathered around the squat Parish church. We reach the top of Bread and Cheese hill, a famously testing hill for a county that’s mainly flat. The gradient is 10%, and it’s long. We turn to look back at the industrial areas that not so long ago looked unreachable. But now they are behind. Keep the pedals turning and the miles soon pass.

It’s nearing 3pm when we first glimpse the sea, from the top of a hill in Hadleigh. We both shriek: “The sea!” “Amazing!” “This is the most brilliant day!” We’ve been looking forward to this moment for six hours, the magic of arriving at the seaside something that never fades, even in adulthood. It’s more exciting that we’ve cycled here, that we didn’t do anything other than pedal in order to achieve our goal. There are 45 miles behind us — not long miles, just lovely miles with the wind carrying us eastwards to the coast. Tankers float in the middle of the channel, and we can see the masts of boats moored at Leigh yacht club. Across the water lies Kent. The sun is low in the sky and at its richest, the grass and the water and the road itself blazing. We approach the seafront, clutching firmly at our brakes — the roads here are built into the cliff, and it’s a steep descent to the water. The pier stretches far into the estuary, seeming to almost reach the other side — at a mile long, it’s the longest in the country. The chilly waves suck at the shingle with great breaths; we aren’t tempted to paddle, this time. Huts sell hot donuts and ice cream, and packs of seagulls squawk in the sky above. We sit down to the best fish and chips we’ve ever eaten; we earned these. The rapidly dropping winter sun paints the sky the most impressive shade of orange. It’s a daily miracle that we often forget about, surrounded by buildings in the city. But here, the sky is wide open, and the water reflects the colours, and the sunset goes on forever.

It’s dark by the time we set off home; these short winter days fade fast. Laura finds the station but I still have a few miles in me so start pedalling back to London. I pause in the middle of the countryside somewhere past Basildon. It’s pitch black. The crescent moon is bright but it’s too cloudy for stars. I can hear nothing apart from my own breathing. I feel as if I’m wrapped in a bubble, standing in the middle of the darkness, the silence pressing down. Ahead, I can see London, the big city going about its business, a long line of lights spread from horizon to horizon. There is the white blink at the top of the pyramid at Canary Wharf, there the red spots on top of The Shard. Planes hang in the sky, landing lights glaring as they wait to come into Heathrow. Tall chimneys of power stations shine like red beacons in the darkness. All of it bustling, and here I am, surrounded by nothing. I stand there for a moment, breathing it all in, letting the silence fill me; once I pass under the M25 the lights will return, the road will become wider and the traffic heavier. We cycled to the coast today. We went to the seaside. There are hundreds of other things we could have done, but we chose fish and chips and chose to earn them the hard way. It’s cold, and my legs are almost done, but I’m smiling.

That was a question asked to me by my elder sister, who’s been told by her husband that he doesn’t want her riding a bike anymore. The statistic is terrifying — six deaths in thirteen days! — but, to put it in perspective, in total there have now been an equal number of cyclist deaths on London’s streets as there were last year. That many of them have come so close together has vaulted the issue into the public awareness. The sudden spate is horrifying and tragic, but the fact that it’s therefore hit the headlines could be seen as a good thing. Perhaps now something will change.

James Walsh asked on the Guardian bike blog, ‘Have you had a near miss owing to poor infrastructure?’ My response: no. But I assume that is because I am a better-than-average cyclist (you’d hope so, given that teaching people how to use the roads properly is what I do for a living); I cycle assertively, prominently and predictably and I know how to use the infrastructure I’m presented with safely. Too many people do not, and might see the left-hand cycle lane as somewhere they should be, and will use it even if it’s not safe to do so, and perhaps filter up the left hand side of a left turning lorry. Cycle lanes that are badly implemented lull cyclists into a false sense of security, and simply confuse road users — cyclists feel they have to use them, drivers yell at you when you don’t.

Is cycling more dangerous than it used to be? Statistically, no. Perceptionally, yes.

The debate rages about how we should improve things to make it safer for cyclists. Campaign organisations such as the LCC point to continental countries and ask why we can’t have similar provision for cyclists. Boris retorts that “there’s no amount of traffic engineering that we invest in that is going to save people’s lives.” It is the Cycle Superhighways that have come under scrutiny the most — this is where the majority of deaths have occurred, and these are the flagship, big-money, high-publicity cycle routes. I know a nervous, novice cyclist, who was thrilled when a ‘cycle path’ was built outside her house. She hired a bike and set out one morning, hoping to breeze from Kennington to Colliers Wood. When the first bus passed her, she shrieked and nearly fell off. She was expecting a safe, protected space that she could cycle happily and calmly in, and got a strip of blue paint at the side of a bus lane (thankfully, she signed up for cycle lessons as soon as she got home and is now cycling confidently).

Boris’s comments are madness; of course improved infrastructure will help save people’s lives. But until it improves, what we can do now is improve awareness — educating cyclists that the blue paint they see won’t physically protect them, and educating drivers about how to react to us vulnerable road users.

Even though I have never had a near miss owing to poor infrastructure, I have had hundreds of near misses because people don’t look properly. Almost every day. Drivers pull out from side roads without having seen me, pedestrians step out while looking at their mobile phone, people turn left in front of me, people change lane without checking that the lane they’re trying to join is clear. Sometimes I have unpleasant and intimidating exchanges with drivers. More often it’s the odd toot and a couple of words of abuse, which is equally frustrating. Drivers see me as “in their way” when I ride out of the door zone (I’ve been doored before and it’s not something I wish to repeat.) My response varies between, “You don’t ride a bike, do you, Sir?” and, “No I will not ‘get on the left’ — it’s my road too!”

I will never stop cycling. I love London, and I love cycling in London — yes, it’s smelly and busy and at times, dangerous. But my bicycle gives me the ultimate freedom to go far and fast for free. The roads frustrate me, but riding my bike is always a joy. I just hope that we can educate enough people — both cyclists and drivers — that everyone can use the roads as they were meant to be used: safely.

N.B. Please don’t let this post put you off cycling in London. Cycling in London is (most of the time) brilliant — quick, easy, free, enjoyable — and I find most drivers to be courteous and considerate. Then there are the unfortunate few…

This happened as I was on my way to teach a cycling lesson on Saturday morning.

Coming along Coldharbour Lane towards Brixton, a red traffic light shows at the junction with Atlantic Way. There is a bike box at the lights. A cyclist is waiting on the left hand side of the box, and I come alongside the traffic behind the cyclist, noticing a guy revving his engine to my right. He has stopped behind his stop line, but starts to slowly edge into the bike box even though the light is red. I take decisive action: the bike box is there for bikes, to keep cyclists safe, not for rev-happy drivers. I come into the bike box, in a central position, right in front of him. This is the way we teach people to use the bike box, to prevent dangerous overtaking.

However, on this occasion, it is a mistake. Note to self: *Do not anger an angry driver*

As the lights turn green, I go. Revvy-driver revs. I stay in the centre of the lane so I can safely overtake the cyclist on my left. Revvy-driver beeps. I stay in the centre of the lane until I have overtaken the cyclist on my left, then pull over into my normal riding position. Revvy-driver pulls alongside me and winds his window down. “What the f*ck are you doing?! I’m trying to overtake you!” he shouts. “You were in the bike box!” I reply. “You can overtake me when it’s safe to do so.” He zooms off. Then stops at the next lights ten seconds later. Then opens his car door.

“Oh, here we go,” I say to myself, pull my sunglasses off, and fix my face with my nicest smile.

The man walks back down the street towards me, leaving his car in the middle of the road.

“What the f*ck do you think you’re doing? Why are you getting in my way? Get out of my lane! Why are you in the middle of the road? You don’t know how to use the road! I’m trying to get home to my kids. You’re holding me up! Pull over! You should be riding on the left! You’re making me wait behind you! Learn the rules of the road!!”

This man is aggressive, and angry. I look around at the other road users for help, but I can’t tell if they’re on my side or his. I know what he’s saying is rubbish, but I can’t get a word in edgeways. I try to interject with “I’m not trying to get in your way… I was overtaking this other cyclist (other cyclist looks terrified, and I feel sorry for her)… You had plenty of room to overtake… The centre of the lane is the safest place for me… I’m sorry I added 10 seconds to your journey…” I don’t have time to even begin to explain that, as a cyclist, sometimes I need to ride in the middle of the lane, and the whole point of doing that is that I therefore make this car wait behind me. I’m intentionally holding him up until it is safe for me to pull over, or it is safe for him to overtake. I don’t think he would take too kindly to this.

I then point out that it’s the red light that’s now holding this man up, not me.

But I refrain from adding that I’m a cycle trainer, and that of course I know what the f*ck I’m doing. I’ve learnt that responses like this only lead to “Well you should bloody well get retrained.”

The exchange is unpleasant. He is intimidating, and won’t stop shouting about how he has to get home. His rant goes on. The traffic lights are now green, and he is late home for his daughter, but he’s still standing there, shouting at me. The traffic behind starts to get impatient.

Finally I shout at him, “YOU WERE IN MY BIKE BOX!!”

There. I said it. An eye for an eye.

“You sanctimonious piece of shit,” he hurls at me. “Learn how to use the roads.” He stomps back to his car, and I try not to hear the C-word thrown my way.

As I ride past, he takes a swipe at me, causing him to narrowly miss his exit and swerve back into his lane to catch it.

I cannot believe I’ve been yelled at by someone who drives like that.

I’m shaking as I cycle away. I run through his complaints in my head: “Why are you riding two abreast?” I tried to tell him I wasn’t riding two abreast, that I don’t even know that terrified-looking cyclist, that I was overtaking. Anyway, the Highway Code says “Never ride more than two abreast,” meaning that it is perfectly ok for me to ride two abreast if I need to. “What are you doing in the middle of the lane?” The middle of the lane is the safest place for me — I’m at the head of the traffic, I’m asserting my position as a legitimate road user, I can accelerate quicker than a car anyway, so by the time he’s caught me up I am back in my normal riding position. The Highway Code says “Advanced stop lines allow cycles to be positioned ahead of other traffic. You MUST stop behind the first white line. Allow cyclists time and space to move off when the green signal shows.” “I’m trying to overtake you!” Well, overtake me then — when it’s safe to do so. The Highway Code says “Overtake only when it is safe to do so”… oh Jeez, I sound as if I’ve swallowed a text book. Learn how to use the roads?! I know the Highway Code backwards!!

I’m not getting anywhere with this. I thought about taking down his number plate and telling the police, but he’d gone before I could get that far. I thought about phoning up my boss at the cycle training company and quitting (“How can I teach people to safely use the roads with madmen like that out there?!”) I just sob a little behind my sunglasses and continue with my journey, cycling as safely and competently as I can. Before I’ve finished my journey I see cyclists jump the lights, motorists wheel spin round corners, and a driver making a call on his mobile phone. None of these people get shouted at. Grrr.

The most saddening thing about the encounter is not that this man is so completely wrong. It’s not that he has mis-quoted the Highway Code at me, the thing that is designed to keep us all safe. It’s not that his rudeness and confrontation leave me shaking. It’s not even that, in an argument between car and bike, car is sure to win. It’s that at the end of his rant, he gets in his vehicle, winds the window up, and drives off. That’s the end of the argument, the end of the conversation, and he wins, the driver, who goes faster than me and has a bigger vehicle than me and can shut himself off from anyone he choses to at any given time. It doesn’t matter that I am right. He thinks that he is. And that’s what upsets me the most.

Sunset sailing

I’m currently living on a sailing boat, journeying round the coast of Britain. The trip is run by South West Marine Training, and is called the Round Britain Experience (as is the boat) — aside from a previous two day excursion, which involved motoring round a harbour, I’ve never sailed before. This is one hell of a learning experience.

This is almost the hardest trip I’ve ever done. Harder than riding a bicycle on my own 4000 miles round Britain’s coast. Harder than cycling the 120 miles to Brighton and back in the rain. Harder than climbing the highest road pass in Scotland with 15kg of luggage. It’s a leap of faith to live on a boat for three months with three people you have never met before. But each day I learn a little more about the boat, discover a little more about the ocean, and feel a little less sick.

There have been days that have begun before dawn, the tides and the wind needing us to rise early. We have stood on deck watching the sun rise in the wake of the boat as the wind catches the sails, powering us forward towards the next unknown land. There have been days that have ended in the early hours, where we’ve used the stars and the moon, the beams of lighthouses and the blinking of navigation buoys to guide us safely into the harbour. There have been days where we’ve relaxed on the sunny deck, toes wiggling in the breeze, the sunlight dancing on the waves. There have been days where we’ve huddled shivering under the spray hood, the deep swells of the sea tossing the boat like a twig, mocking this plastic tub that has dared to brave the waves. We’ve endured gale-force gusts, stinging rain, biting wind and rough seas. We’ve seen guillemots and gannets dart over the waves, and had dolphins ride alongside the boat, playing in the bow waves. I’ve seen puffins and solar halos for the first time in my life. The ocean is an endless adventure.

We might anchor, we might tie up on a mooring buoy, we might go to a marina. I love the transient nature of this life — our home is wherever we end up that night. I love looking at the other boats on the marina and thinking, “that’s where I live.” I love seeing our yacht floating on the surface of a calm loch. We go wherever the wind takes us. When you can sail, the world is your oyster.


A day on the boat begins at around 7am, when the combination of ropes and waves knocking against the hull forces me out of my cosy sleeping bag and into the cold heads. The boat is rocking even though we’re moored – a floating pontoon doesn’t offer much stability, and on the occasions where we moor up in a marina, it’s often on a river, susceptible to the racing tides.

Marinas are the height of luxury. It’s amazing how important it is to be able to step straight from the pontoon on to dry land, rather than having to clamber into the tiny tender to reach Terra Firma. They even have running hot water! What a novelty to have a shower that you don’t have to keep turning off while you pump out the water from beneath your feet, shivering as you lather up.

I stumble back to my bunk, trying not to succumb to the rocking this early in the morning, telling myself for the hundredth time that I will get used to it. No-one ever heard of anyone being seasick for three months. Although perhaps I’ll be the first. I can’t imagine being without this queazy feeling that has taken up residence in the pit of my stomach, and nothing will shift it – not eating, not drinking, not sleeping, not shoving ginger sweets into my mouth, not being sick, not even being on dry land. It will get better. It has to.

I can hear the others getting up, gathering themselves to start the day. The kettle starts to sing and I quickly dress, spurred on by the thought of my morning cup of tea. If I can get the forward-facing seat in the centre of the galley perhaps the rocking won’t bother me so much. I sit, sipping the hot liquid, making myself a banana sandwich for breakfast – without shore power we can’t use the toaster. Yesterday we had eggy bread, frying the slices over the gas hob.

Once breakfast is cleared away we set about to ready the ship for slipping (casting off from the pontoon): close all the hatches, put everything in its cupboard and secure all the doors, empty the heads (toilets), prepare the sail, do the engine checks, make the lunch and store it in the cockpit (not having to come down to the galley while at sea really helps with the seasickness), prepare the vegetables for dinner (similarly), add mid-layer clothes (fleece, light waterproof, extra leggings) and top layer clothes (sallopettes and heavy waterproof fleecy jacket), come up on deck, bring in the springs. Now we’re only attached to the pontoon by two lines – one at the bow and one at the stern. Once everyone is in their place we take off the lines and we’re away, motoring into the estuary. The fenders come off and go into the lockers, the lines are coiled and put away, then we set about hoisting the main sail. Hauling on the halyard is hard work – I can’t do it on my own yet.

Once the sail is up we motor-sail towards the mouth of the estuary, heading towards the open sea. The surf is usually high, the Atlantic waves magnified by the wind being tunnelled upriver, or by the depth-change between the deep sea and the shallow river. We stand in the cockpit watching the waves break over the bow, the boat pitching and diving, until with a squeal we duck underneath the spray hood as a particularly large wave crashes over the hull and rolls down the length of the boat. We’re unavoidably soaked, but can’t help giggling at the rollercoaster ride.

As we make our way out into the Channel we cut the engine, unfurling the head sail then adjusting the main sail, making sure the angle and size of the canvas is capturing as much wind as possible. Once clear of the land we set course for the next stopping point, 30 or 40 nautical miles away.

All of this has distracted me from my sea sickness but it soon returns, the constant rolling of the boat causing my stomach to roll also. I sit on the foredeck, staring out towards the horizon, the powerful swell tossing our tiny boat about, trying to get my head around the fact that we are still afloat. The boat is heeling over as the wind fills the sails, living on its ear, threatening to send me into a panic if I think too much about the angle. Instead I let the motion of the waves lull me, lifting and dropping, lifting and dropping, lifting and dropping my stomach also.

Our boat is called Round Britain Experience – an unsurprising name for a boat that will take us all around the British Isles. We’re on a three-month expedition, run by South West Marine Training out of Brixham. All three of us are novices, and we spent a week in the south Devon marina ‘learning the ropes’ before setting out. I saw the whole of this coast when I cycled round it in 2011, so lots of the places we’re berthing are full of fond memories, although there are places I haven’t been – the Scilly Isles, Shetland, Ireland. I was really looking forward to seeing Blackpool Sands and Slapton Sands from out at sea, the spectacular sand bar at Slapton having made a great impression on my bike ride. The long strip of golden sand with white breakers rolling in is a view not to be missed – though unfortunately I was below deck throwing up at the moment the boat passed by. I vaguely heard the crew admiring the view; I also missed the porpoises frolicking near the boat.

The land recedes to our right, the cliffs becoming less detailed with distance and sea mist. To our left the sea stretches endlessly, apparently nothing but wide open ocean. Waves crest on the horizon, momentarily transforming the horizontal line to a serrated edge before melting back into the water. The occasional bird flaps across my eye-line, heading to who knows where – there is nothing as far as the eye can see. Guillemots dart past, tiny and black, their wings flapping furiously, just inches from the surface of the water. Blink and they’ve disappeared. Three gannets glide into view, their long white wings tipped with black as if they are wearing gloves. Later, some are bobbing near to the boat, their yellow heads and intelligent black eyes fixed on us. We pass things floating in the water – dead fish, seaweed, a discarded rope. If we are lucky dolphins might come and play in the bow waves of the boat.

I keep a lookout, not through necessity but more through being rendered immobile because of the feeling in my stomach. I sing songs to myself to keep busy. I understand why shanties were invented, to distract sailors from their sickness and boredom. Clouds cover the sun, and for the first time in my life I see a solar halo.

Eventually the motion gets to me and I quickly dash to the leeward side of the boat and watch the contents of my stomach go over the side. I instantly feel better, though not well enough to venture down to the galley for a drink. Instead I take the helm, hoping that the focus of keeping the boat on course will be enough of a distraction to stop that happening again.

After hours of open sea and constant swell, we sight our destination, changing our course to head inland. The head sail comes in and we start the motor up again, using the navigation markers to make our way into the estuary. The casting-off routine is repeated in reverse – hanging the fenders, preparing the lines, dropping the main sail, coming alongside, lassoing the cleats, securing the boat. If we have water we’ll scrub the decks, if we have electricity we can even boil the kettle. If we’re lucky we’ll be alongside dry land, otherwise it’s a case of inflating the tender and motoring ashore.

Once we’re away from the open ocean the rocking subsides enough for me to stop feeling sick, and suddenly realise how hungry I am. Dinner doesn’t have to be simple – full roast dinners have been known to come out of these tiny gas ovens on board. We have pasta, or curry, or Bolognese. Tinned custard is fast becoming a favourite.

By 10pm I am utterly exhausted, and tuck myself up in my sleeping bag, snuggled tight in my cabin. I sincerely hope that tomorrow will be the day that I stop feeling sick.

You might not have heard of Brixham — it’s a tiny fishing village on the south coast of Devon. There’s no railway station there, no way to get there other than by car or bus. It’s 270 miles away from where I live. I’m going there because that’s where my sailing trip departs from, and I’ve decided to cycle.

I could easily get a train to Paignton and take a taxi for the remaining five miles, and I could be there in 5 hours. My journey is going to take four days.

Why am I doing this? The forecast for the next couple of days is for snow. I can barely lift the rear wheel of my Ridgeback touring bike from the floor, now that everything I need for three months of sailing has been strapped to the back. I could, instead of struggling with my fully-loaded bicycle solidly for several hours a day, be enjoying lazy mornings with cups of tea. But I love riding my bicycle. I love being able to get anywhere I want to just by riding it. I will be living every inch of the journey, reliant only on myself, breathing great lungfuls of country air, getting to know the country that I live in a little bit better.

Day one, and I’m sitting on a bridge on the Thames eating my lunch. The river stretches out towards London ahead of me, Windsor castle sits on the hill to my right, and I’m grinning from ear to ear. I’ve been here a couple of times before, on a train from London, and I love the fact that I just cycled here from my house. The route wound its way through the Hertfordshire countryside, skirting London on the Grand Union Canal, and following an abandoned railway line through Rickmansworth. I’ll soon be riding through Windsor Great Park, past the grandiose Ascot racecourse, and onwards to my aunt’s house in a small Hampshire village. The wind is pushing me along at a fantastic rate and I’m enjoying every minute.

Day two is colder, and further, but I’m still glad to be on my bike, even though by the time I reach my destination my feet are blocks of ice. I pass through Winchester, a charming town with attractive architecture that I’ve never visited before, where two policemen give me directions. “You’re heading for Poole?! And with all that luggage?!” They are impressed that I can haul my load up the steep streets in the town. I cross the top of Southampton Water and meander down through the New Forest. A horse tries to eat my apple. I’m surrounded by scrub and endless woodland. I reach Christchurch and can soon see the vast expanse of the ocean at the end of a lane. I excitedly race towards it, hurtling from the cliff top to sea level, following the wide sweep of Bournemouth Bay towards Poole harbour, my bike allowing me exclusive access to the seafront.

On day three the hills really kick in. It’s an 85 mile ride to Exeter, and my choices are the roaring and exposed A35, where the gusting wind repeatedly knocks me onto the grass verge, or the winding country roads, which are much preferable, but longer and hillier. The countryside is stunning, but hard work. I cross the Dorset/Devon border, following an endless incline into Axminster, promising myself that I’ll reach the top before the song on my iPod finishes. Three tunes later I am still struggling against the gradient. By the time I reach the town I’m sobbing a little, exhaustion getting the better of me. All I can see ahead of me are more hills. I could knuckle down but I decide there’s no point — this isn’t a test of endurance. I find the station and take the train for the last ten miles to Exeter.

On day four the sun shines and the canal-side cycle path from Exeter to Dawlish is an absolute joy. From there it’s a short 15 miles up and down the cliffs along the coastal road to Brixham. The views across Torbay are stupendous. I ride down to Brixham Marina and meet the people I will be sailing with for the next three months. “Have you just come all the way here on your bike?!” they ask. I am smiling widely as I say “Yes.”

When I arrived at my aunt’s house she had asked me “Why do you punish yourself? I would have given you the train fare!” But it wasn’t about that. I could have paid for the train myself. Riding my bicycle is my way of exploring. Powering yourself mile after mile makes the arrival all the more enjoyable. Being in the saddle simply makes me happy. It’s a way to turn a normal journey into an expedition, and an adventure to remember.

I have just spent ten days in Oban, on the beautiful western coast of beautiful Scotland. It’s been a bitterly cold March everywhere and Oban was no exception – zero degrees and a hefty wind chill to boot. But the sun shone most days and there was only the occasional flurry of snow.

I went there to try to finish my book. I started writing it a year ago, on another holiday in the Lake District, hoping the scenery and peace and quiet would inspire me. I’ve been working on it since, while holding down the day job, and I’ve almost reached the end. 76000 words down, and, I hope, not many to go.

I chose Oban because I went there on my 4000 mile bike ride around the coast, which is what the book is about. When I’d come previously, I’d wished I could have stayed a bit longer (I did not want to go cycling. “All I want to do is drink tea and eat cake!” I wrote on Facebook). I also wanted to go back to Tobermory, a strikingly pretty harbour town in the north of Mull, having dashed through it before on the way to catch a ferry, and also go out to Ardnarmurchan Point, the most westerly point on mainland Britain, having missed that compass point on the circumnavigation.

So off I went – bags packed, hostel booked, bike hauled on to the train. I took the 5.30am from Euston and arrived in Oban nine hours later – a long time to spend on a train but worth it when, on the crawling ScotRail line north of Glasgow, I was able to gaze out on miles upon miles of mountains. After the urban jungle of London, Scotland was huge, wide open, and very three-dimensional.

Despite it being a writing holiday, I was determined not to spend all my time sitting at my laptop in the youth hostel. I took walks along the seafront, visited Dunstaffnage Castle, and frequented the various tea rooms and hotels where a warming cuppa or a cool glass of wine might help the words to flow. On one occasion I went up to McCaig’s Tower and propped myself up in one of the blank windows, looking out across Oban Bay, my laptop on my knee. The wide stone made a chilly seat, and, despite all my woolly layers, I managed only 30 minutes or so before a snowstorm drove me back to the warmth of my hostel.

After a few days in Oban I headed out to Tobermory on the isle of Mull. Simply boarding the ferry was an adventure in itself, with all the excitement of crossing a body of water and seeing the world as if from the outside in. Once on Mull, a 20 mile direct ride would have taken me to Tobermory and my guesthouse, but I took the long way round, cycling 40 miles round the north of the island past the Isle of Ulva, round the gorgeous beach at Calgary, and over the huge passes beyond Dervaig. The road was single track, the terrain deliciously wild. The wind was behind me, pushing me to the top of each rise, my legs forced to remember how to climb hills. Snow dusted the slopes of mountains like icing sugar. Tourists watched for eagles. The cold wind bit on the long freewheeling downs and my lungs heaved on the even longer inclines.

The next day I headed off for Ardnamurchan Point, seeking out Stephenson’s lighthouse that sat on the most westerly rocks of the mainland. The visitor’s centre was shut, the tourist season not yet underway, so I walked around the base of the tall tower, clambering over rocks to gaze out to sea, standing in front of the huge foghorn which was, on this occasion, thankfully silent. The views across to Rum, Eigg and Muck were spectacular, the islands floating in the vast blue ocean, the day clear. But the cold wind soon drove me back to Kilchoan in search of tea and warmth.

From Tobermory to Craignure I rode along the very same road that I had ridden along eighteen months ago on my circumnavigation of Britain. The road was mainly flat, I had written in my manuscript, but my memory could not have been more wrong. The single track twisted and turned between the hills, rising and falling for at least ten miles. I wondered why I had misremembered it – perhaps I’d had a tailwind that day, or I had been concentrating on cycling fast to catch my ferry so hadn’t really noticed the terrain, or perhaps I was simply so fit from the six weeks of cycling that had gone before that the inclines were mere blips in my progress. It made me worry that I had mis-represented every other road I had written about. Would I have to ride the whole thing again just to make sure?!

On my final night in Oban I treated myself to a posh fish dinner – so far I’d been surviving on lentils, my meagre budget not even stretching to fish and chips, but I couldn’t leave the Seafood Capital of Scotland without eating out at least once. I chose the local special, Turbot, hoping that the trawler docked next to the restaurant had been the one responsible for bringing it in. It was utterly delicious.

I love Scotland. I’d enjoyed being in one place for several days, having passed through lots of places quickly on my previous visit. I’d started imitating the accent and had enjoyed the friendliness of the locals. It was with sadness that I got on the train, ready for the nine hour trip back to London.

“Hello,” I said to a man sitting in the carriage, still in Scottish mode. He looked at me strangely. “Next stop London,” I thought wryly.

A sunny day in mid September. I’m riding down a street I’ve never ridden down before, and I see a man I’ve never met before, and then I notice his finger outstretched towards me, and I hear him say,  “You’re famous!”

This is one of my favourite moments of my life.

The man is Ben Brangwyn, co-founder of the Transition Network, one of the charities I raised money for as I was cycling round the coast of Britain. My picture is all over my blog so it’s no surprise he recognises me, but his unusual greeting makes my face crack into a huge smile. I had spotted him fixing bikes by the side of the market square, which is why I’d caught his eye – such a typical thing for a cyclist to hone in on another cyclist and want to strike up a conversation.

This is Totnes, the final calling point of my Otesha tour; for the past six weeks I’ve been cycling around the South West with eight other young women, performing and running workshops in schools and city farms, trying to inspire change and promote sustainable living. The tour has been intense but good fun, and we’re relaxing in the nation’s first Transition Town while we wait for a train back home. It’s pure coincidence that Ben sees me – it has been a full year since I completed my round-Britain tour, where we first made cyber contact, and he had no idea I’d be here in Totnes, just like I had no idea this is where he lived.

Every weekend you’ll see Ben with his bike stand offering a free Dr Bike service to passers-by – it’s completely unfunded and he does it purely for the love. I understand his desire to fix people’s bikes for nothing save their thanks (which is often emphatic and overwhelming, accompanied by gifts) – I volunteer at the Hackney Bike Workshop, a free fix-it evening where people can come and get their bikes checked, and fixed, and learn basic maintenance skills by having a go under the watchful eye of their mechanic.

The bike workshop runs in two locations: Frampton Park hall in Hackney on the first and third Tuesday of the month, and St Michael’s Church hall in Stoke Newington on the second Tuesday. The Stokie version was initiated by Transition Town Stoke Newington, and has been consistently popular since it started almost two years ago. Doors open at 7pm and there are always mechanics on hand to talk you through how your bike works and show you how to fix it. After 9pm you’ll find said mechanics at the Royal Sovereign on Northwold Road enjoying the sustainable beer.

Ben says that while his free servicing is welcomed by the punters, he is treated with a little more caution by the local bike shops, some resentful that he is taking trade away from them. I can see their point, but I disagree. Teaching someone how to fix their own bike won’t make them need a bike shop less, but it might well make them need it more. No one is going to become an expert on bike maintenance in the twenty minutes it takes to tune brakes, but they will catch a breath of intrigue. People crave knowledge. And as soon as you empower someone a little, they will instantly want to know more. Someone who never quite got round to riding their bike because it didn’t quite work will suddenly be taking it out every day because of their free bike check, popping into the bike shop on their way home for some gloves or a puncture repair kit or simply to look.

I’m the same. Since learning how to fix bikes I spend more time in the bike shops, forever looking at all the stuff I need, or more to the point, don’t need but want. I won’t pay for a service, preferring to buy the parts and replace them myself, but I’ll buy replacements more regularly, or invest in the higher quality stuff – now I know what to look out for, I have the desire to keep my bike in top condition.

Anything we do to get cyclists on the road is good, and the more people that promote cycling the better. Dr Bikes can co-exist happily with bike shops, both helping people get out and about on two wheels in their various ways, creating a positive effect on people’s health and on the environment. I think what Ben does is fantastic, and I hope to see it more.

5.20am. My alarm goes off, rousing me from my light slumber; I never sleep deeply if I know I have to get up early. I quietly rise and dress, then creep downstairs to make breakfast – flask of tea, marmalade sandwich and an oat muffin to eat on the train. The traffic is scarce as I make my way along the Euston Road towards Paddington, the rush hour still a couple of hours away.

6.30am. My train pulls away from the station. Today, I am travelling to Bristol to give assemblies about my round-Britain bike ride; recently I’ve been working with my old Sustrans colleagues to encourage pupils to ride their bikes to school. I like the work – it’s interesting, varied, and it means I get to travel up and down the country. Even though I rose before dawn today, I don’t mind – I don’t have to do it every day. I hope I am inspiring the next generation of adventurer, or cyclist, or at the very least motivating someone to get on their bike a bit more.

7.00am. The train passes deeper into the countryside, the fields around glowing with the deep orange of sunrise. The hills are hidden in the early morning mist, each ridge swallowed by the clinging haze that is illuminated by the sun’s emerging rays. It’s a magical world as daybreak arrives, colour spreading slowly across the landscape as the sunlight creeps above the horizon.

9.10am. The first assembly of the day. I introduce the pupils to my friend Polly, the Playmobil cyclist who accompanied me on the trip and the subject of most of my photos; some of the children are more concerned about Polly’s welfare than mine and eagerly ask, “But how did Polly keep up with you?” or, “Did Polly get tired?”

9.40am. Bristol is hilly. It’s a tough climb to the next school, but we are rewarded by views over the Avon valley, the Clifton suspension bridge bold and bright in the now clear morning sun. I talk about what it’s like to cycle up a mountain, through a hurricane, to pedal every day for 10 weeks and my audience’s eyes are wide. In fact, it’s often the teachers who are most impressed by my tale, their understanding of the distance and effort of my adventure more profound than the children’s.

11.15am. A quick coffee break and on to the third assembly. I make the mistake of mentioning the Loch Ness monster (trying to relate the remote town of Inverness to something they might recognise) and the subsequent questions are mostly about the elusive beast. No, I say for the fifth time, I didn’t see it. “Did you see much wildlife?” It’s a good question, one that I’ve not been asked before. Flashing through the countryside on a bike there’s not much chance for wildlife spotting – one of my only disappointments of the trip is not seeing any eagles, dolphins or puffins, and only a handful of seals and deer.

2.40pm. We’re on our way to our final school, and I’m exhausted. Talking to hundreds of school children in one day takes a lot of energy. But arriving at the bike pod at the school gates, I recognise one of the bikes: it belongs to Sara, one of the girls I did the Otesha tour with last year. I knew she’d since moved to Bristol, but had no idea she was working in a school – what a coincidence for it to be this one! So it’s with renewed energy that I address the assembly, once more spinning my tale about my coastal trip. I’m sometimes asked if I get tired of talking about the same thing over and over. But each audience is different, making each experience unique. Out of all the things I try to impress the children with, the most gasps come when I say “we cycled all the way to Scotland.”

3.15pm. My day’s work is done, and I have a couple of hours before I need to meet my friend in Bath. I decide to ride the Bristol-Bath railway path, the first ever route that Sustrans developed, part of National Cycle Network route 4 that runs from London to Fishguard on the west coast of Wales. I’ve been on sections of this railway path before, but never ridden the whole thing – it’s a 15 mile ride and on this sunny afternoon it’s perfect. I layer up though – even though the sun is out, February is still bitterly cold. The first five or so miles are uphill – it’s only a gentle incline, but enough to make me push hard at the pedals and breathe heavily as I puff my way to the top. Soon I’m swallowed up in the countryside, the sun creeping lower towards the horizon as I ride, the air crisp and fresh. I pass remnants of the railway – sleepers turned into benches and station platforms, some with the station buildings remaining, some even with statues of people waiting for trains that will never come, giving an impression of what it would have been like before the railway was closed. Then a stretch of track emerges followed by a functioning ticket office – it’s the Avon valley line, running heritage steam trains along a three-mile stretch of restored railway. The station platforms are quaint, but the railway is quiet today. I cross the River Avon then follow its path into Bath, leaving the trail as I reach the city. The cathedral sits squat in the centre, high hills rising on all sides, buildings built on top of buildings up their steep slopes. The light is fading.

5.45pm. It’s dark when I arrive at my friend’s house and give her a hug. She cooks, we chat, I sleep, exhausted by my early start, the talks and the ride. Another day’s work done.

On 23rd December, I joined a group of 30 cyclists riding from the Western-most point of England to the Eastern-most point of England – Land’s End to Lowestoft. The total mileage was more than 450 – an epic effort in just three days. It was the brainchild of Daniel Hughes – an adventurer aiming to raise £1 million for comic relief as he puts the first red nose on top of Mount Everest next year. His website is here if you’d like to support him.

I joined in for the final day – a mere 120 miles from the capital to the coast. With a tailwind, dry weather and lovely flat roads, it was a walk in the park compared to the 175 mile and 161 mile rides the team had done in the two days previous, with hills and rain to contend with. Hats off to them all – they showed amazing strength and stamina, especially as when I met them they were recovering from just 5 hours sleep, having arrived in London after midnight the night before!

The ride was nothing like I’d ever done before. In the handful of times I’ve ridden that distance it’s always been a meandering ride along country lanes, at my own pace, carrying all my luggage with me on my trusty steed: a solid steel Ridgeback tourer. This was fully supported, with the peleton riding between two cars to control the traffic. Bringing up the rear were two vans and a minibus full of kit. Everyone else had super-light carbon road bikes, with no luggage in sight. My D-lock alone weighed more.

We set off. Initially I worried – would I be able to keep up? The team would be pushing 20mph for the entire ride – could I cope for that long? We joined the A12 out of London, our convoy protecting us from the vehicles that shot past at 70mph. I had been apprehensive when I’d looked at the proposed route – couldn’t we have taken the parallel road to the A12, just to stay away from the traffic? A lot quieter and less smelly there. But after a while I saw the sense in it: we were cycling the final 120 mile leg of a 450 mile bike ride – scenery was not the most important thing. For these guys, they just wanted to get there. At least we had an entire lane to ourselves on the dual carriageway – had we been on the country roads we would have been constantly in the way of passing traffic, which would possibly have been more dangerous. We received plenty of toots of support as drivers leaned out of their windows to give us the thumbs-up, shaking their heads at this crazy group of cyclists hammering up the dual carriageway.

Through Romford, Chelmsford and Colchester, we stopped for snacks after each 30 mile mark. “Well done!” one of the group said to me. “I thought we’d lose you but you’re doing great.” By the time we reached Ipswich it was pitch black, the final 20 miles to Lowestoft being ridden in the dark. We pressed on to Lowestoft Ness, the area of the docks that marks the most easterly point on mainland Britain. The sea roared in the darkness and we collapsed in front of the compass marker for the photo call, 11 hours after we’d set off.

No, not my usual type of ride, but I loved it – pushing yourself physically is always rewarding, especially when you can look back and marvel at how far it’s possible to cycle in one day. And the other people on the ride were great – people from all walks of life joining together to spend their weekend pedalling for a good cause.

I sincerely wish Daniel the best of luck in his challenge, and hope he can reach his target of raising £1 million. Go here to donate!

As it gets colder, and wetter, and colder, and snowier, it’s easy to leave the bike at home in favour of the car or the bus. But winter cycling can be fantastic – as long as you’re prepared, you shouldn’t have a problem.

It might be cold at first, but pounding away at those pedals will soon get your heart pumping and the warmth spreading through your body. Make sure you’re wearing gloves (I wear two pairs – one with fingers, with some waterproof mitts over the top) and good thick socks. Buffs are terrific for wrapping around your ears, and topped with a woolly hat/ear muffs/helmet you will remain nice and snug.

As long as it’s not icy, cycling can be easier and more reliable – the roads will be more congested with traffic as everyone tries to avoid the cold, meaning you get extra satisfaction from sailing past the people stuck in their motors.

In the snows last year, I was one of only two people who made a scheduled work meeting, because I’d arrived by bike – almost all my colleagues either couldn’t get their car to start, or were stuck in massive queues of traffic, or couldn’t get off their driveway. I felt so smug arriving on my mountain bike – the simplest things are sometimes the best!

And for those days when none of us have to go to work because it has snowed a lot, playing around on a thick-tyred bike in the white stuff is just brilliant fun.

Dunwich Dynamo

London Fields, 8pm. Hundreds of cyclists mill about, some in groups, some by themselves, some nonchalantly sipping pints, as if they weren’t about to cycle over 100 miles. Some excited, some apprehensive, all ready to ride. Road bikes, mountain bikes, recumbent bikes, a Boris bike. Single speeds, tandems, tourers, some heavily laden, some with no luggage save a camel pak and a towel strapped to the back. Lycra and hi-viz is everywhere.

A constant stream of cyclists heads towards the coast as riders start out on their journey. East, through Hackney and Clapton, across the park and up Lea Bridge Road, drivers honking as the river of bikes floods towards Essex.

The convoy thins out as it reaches Epping Forest, riders choosing their pace for the next 100 or so miles. The sun is starting to set, the moon rising in the twilight sky.

Epping, 9.30pm. Pubs spill out with drunken revellers, some cheering us on, some shouting abuse. The bright lights and sights of an Essex Saturday night. We ride on. Deeper into the woods, the daylight slowly fading as the roads get quieter and narrower, away from the buzz of the suburbs. The sun sinks over the horizon. Trees enclose the road. Bike lights come on and suddenly the road is alive with hundreds of flashing bulbs. Follow the red lights ahead.

Punctures fixed by the roadside, fields, villages flash by. Last orders at a country pub. Bemused bar staff serve the closing-time visitors. It’s dark. Snacks, coffee, a pint: riders refuel for the remaining 92 miles. Onwards, onwards, into the night.

Midnight. The darkness of the sky is absolute. Stars prick the black ceiling, some hidden by a blanket of cloud. Fields pass without remark, all features hidden from sight. Only the blink of red lights ahead and the pools on the road from white head lamps punctuate the darkness. At 1am there is a unique kind of beauty: the almost full moon reflecting the sun’s hidden rays, a tree picked out against its light, the profound peacefulness of a world asleep. Silent except for the whirring of hundreds of bicycle wheels. Red lights snake ahead, an endless line following the meandering road.

3am and the sky is gradually lightening, a pale blue colour poised on the eastern horizon as sunlight slowly edges into the pre-dawn sky. The world begins to regain its shape, silhouettes of trees appearing and shaded grey clouds floating on the horizon. Pedalling onwards and onwards, we chase the dawn. Colours emerge: pale blue, yellow, orange. Details of hedgerows and flowers appear and the dawn soundtrack begins as birds anticipate the pending sunrise. The road is now light, featureless riders once only identifiable by the character of their bike lights now becoming faces. The intensity of the flashing red fades as visibility increases. The night ride is over.

Another tea stop, and while sipping the hot revitalising liquid, excitement bubbles over as a yellow globe surfaces over the horizon in a bloom of gold. “The sun!” Colour floods the landscape, the brilliant blue sky edged with pink and orange, white clouds floating at its edge. The break of day gives renewed energy to the riders, spurred onwards by the sun’s rays. 100 miles down. Cockerels crow, birds sing. The world wakes up.

The final painful 16 miles. At last, a signpost that says Dunwich. 7 miles. Sand begins to line the roads. The glimpse of a nuclear power station above the trees. The coast is near.

The long road to Dunwich stretches into the distance, the energetic few who have made it to the beach already passing us on their return journey.

Past the sign welcoming us to Dunwich, then at the crest of a hill, a strip of blue stretching across the horizon. Down the final hill, round a corner, and there, on the beach, hundreds upon hundreds of bikes. Riders eating, drinking, sleeping, scattered prone across the pebbles. Shrieks from the sea as a brave few venture into its cold waters.

Everyone seems dazed, whether from sleep deprivation, exhaustion, hunger, or simply the accomplishment of 116 miles under the wheels. Did we really ride all night? The journey becomes a surreal memory as sleep takes over on the shingle of the beach.

The sun beats down. Another Dun Run done.

I took a trip up to the Lake District to get away from the city while I started to write my book. If it’s good enough for Wordsworth, it’s good enough for Hughes.

The Lake District is absolutely stunning, and I took the opportunity to try out my new camera, photographing each of the lakes I visited: Windermere, Coniston Water, Buttermere, Ullswater, Esthwaite Water, Derwent Water, Thirlmere, Crummock Water – you can see a selection of the photographs on my Flickr page here.

I made good progress with the book, and had a go at mountain biking – despite having a trail leader certificate, I’ve never really done it before. Well, I’ve ridden a mountain bike, and I have done a bit of off-roading, but that’s just trails, nothing tricky.

My mountain bike was embarrassingly clean.

I am of the opinion that I can do anything on a bike, but a minute of climbing up a very rocky, very steep track was all I could manage before I was off and pushing, chuckling at myself. A motor bike passed me in the opposite direction, coming down the track with great aplomb. He had it right. I persevered, loving every minute of it: the sunlight filtering through the trees, the stunning scenery, the sweat I was working up. I made it to the top, after a mixture of pushing and riding, eventually bouncing along the ridge, enjoying feeling the suspension working on the bike, the fat tyres taking on everything that the track lay in its path.

I was glad of the sunshine, although the previous day’s rain had left its mark – puddles frequently barred the way, and I got stuck in a bog on a couple of occasions, getting my feet utterly soaked in muddy water despite my massive boots.

This was mountain biking at its most extreme (I think). At one point I was hurtling down an old river bed that actually became a river for a stretch, trying to dodge the boulders. Partway down I met a man walking up with his child. “You probably heard me shrieking from up there!” I said, laughing at myself. “Yes”. He seemed disapproving that I should be making all that noise. Oh dear. The descent to Coniston water was an utter joy. It’s worth all that climbing, all that pushing, to get to a point where it’s downhill all the way. Rumbling over gravel, skidding round rocks, clutching at the brakes in excitement and terror. It was wonderful – but I breathed a sigh of relief when I got to the tarmac

It was a fantastic trip, enjoying some of the best countryside England has to offer, and getting out and about in the fresh air on my bike.

The time has come to remove myself from the routine of daily life and begin to turn my cycle trip blog into a book. A writing holiday is in order, to the Lake District. Ten days full of promise and hopefully a book at the end. Perhaps some Wordsworth inspiration will come.

The train hurtles through the English countryside, the dimensions growing in magnitude as I shake off the city. My bicycle is stowed along with the essentials for my retreat: laptop, slippers, camera, teabags and flask, with a hostel bed booked. The plan is to write, cycle and photograph the lakes.

Arriving in Windermere, a slow freewheel leads to the water’s edge. Boats lie hauled on the shingle while others bump gently against pontoons. The lake is grey under the dull March sky. I spend time photographing the swans then it’s a ten mile ride to the YHA at Hawkshead along quiet country lanes, passing by sheep-grazed hills that tumble towards tarns. The roads are edged with grey walls, the stones painstakingly and precisely stacked together, their dry bonds as strong as any cement.

On the first evening I take a walk down the lane in the pitch dark, my feet stumbling against exposed tree roots as I crane my neck to gaze upon the stars. Lights from a house on the hill shine across the valley.

The next day, a ride to Coniston Water takes me up into the trails of Grizedale forest, my first proper foray into mountain biking. Folk pass on their super-suspended, hi-tech contraptions, some with full-face helmets, knee pads and gloves. I’m wearing my wellies; my bicycle is embarrassingly clean. A hard bump upwards along technical terrain is followed by a squeal-inducing cater down a dry river bed, which turns out not to be dry around halfway down. With fingers clasping, tyres jumping and adrenaline pumping I reach the sweet relief of tarmac with sorrow that the fun is over. The road leads through the hills with snatched glittering views as I make my way alongside the lake, the Old Man standing above. Settling down in a tea room with my laptop, fingers tap and the story unfolds.

The sun has grown heavy as I make my way back to the hostel, its evening rouge settling over the fields. Smoke rises from chimneys; daffodils crowd the verges. Lambs canter in the fields though the trees remain bare. It’s a time of mixed seasons: with winter’s passing, spring has yet to fully arrive.

Next day I ride through the walker’s village of Ambleside and up The Struggle which will lead to the Kirkstone pass. The road is aptly named: it appears vertical, snaking through hills that hold up the ceiling of the sky. At the pass, the wind roams freely, snatching at my handlebars as the long freewheel to Ullswater unfolds. Another tea room, another lake to photograph.

It’s a 35 mile ride from Hawkshead to Buttermere where I will spend the next few days. Past Rydal Water and Grasmere I follow the long ‘A’ road through the Cumbrian mountains. Thirlmere stretches below with Helvellyn above. After Keswick I creep down to the moorings at Derwent Water, then it’s a tough road to Buttermere – not one of the famous passes, but steep enough to have to get off and push.

In the morning I take a walk while the world is still shaking off sleep, the sun lazy on the horizon and the early mist lingering on the water. The frosty remnants of dew sharpen the grass underfoot. The far shore is smudged, the colours indistinct, the pale water gently repeating the curve of the mountains.

Later in the day, Crummock Water bursts with colour. It’s peaceful here, isolated, with less passing traffic than other parts of the district, which has been perfect for contemplation and writing. The words flow well, but slowly – one writing holiday is not enough. I shall have to take another.

Photographs from the trip are here

Capital Ring

I’d been curious about the Capital Ring ever since reading an article in the Observer about two people who walked it over the course of a week. The Capital Ring is a 78 mile route around the periphery of London, linking green spaces with river-side paths, winding quietly through the suburbs from Richmond to Wembley to Woolwich to Crystal Palace. It was the idea of exploring unfamiliar parts of my city that excited me; away from the main drag, I would see London from a whole new angle. At the time I was living next to Abney Park cemetery in Stoke Newington, where a green Capital Ring signpost stood. I would often look at the signpost and imagine the places on it: turn left and reach the Woolwich foot tunnel in 12 miles and Crystal Palace Park in 29 miles, or turn right and reach Highgate Wood in 5 miles and Richmond Bridge in 30. Being a circle, all I would have to do was follow these signs until I reached home again. My curiosity was piqued.

It’s officially a walking route, one that people tend to complete in stages. But I don’t walk – I cycle. Would it be possible to follow the whole thing on two wheels? There was only one way to find out.

One morning Nick and I caught the train to Richmond: this would be leg one, cycling back home to Stoke Newington along the northern half of the ring. We set off along the wide Thames Path, the river flowing steady and calm to our left, the rich, green banks peppered with houseboat moorings and waterside pubs. So far, so good. But almost straight away we were off our bikes and climbing the 36 steps up and over Richmond Lock, struggling along the narrow cast iron bridge that crosses the lock and weir.

This was to be a very blue route, following the water, the Thames Path soon turning onto the River Brent at Brentford then meeting the Grand Union canal at Greenford. No longer with the powerful current of the Thames, these canals lay flat as a mirror, lined with narrowboats, every so often a lock halting the flow. We passed beneath a railway bridge as a Piccadilly Line train rattled above. The sun flecked through the canopy and birds called to each other. Welcome to hidden London.

We exited the canal and were faced with a steep climb up Horsenden Hill – not a road climb, but a grassy slope and steps. So it was off the bikes again, heaving them to the top, arriving there breathless to a view of Wembley Stadium. We looped north of Wembley along residential roads and paths through parks, through Harrow and South Kenton, then reached another climb up another grassy slope with another view of Wembley.

We soon reached Brent reservoir, the vast blue expanse dotted with the white sails of dinghies, then the River Brent was once more our guide, more narrow and winding than before, branching off to Mutton Brook, the path waterlogged and overgrown. We passed below where the North Circular turns on to the A1, drivers roaring above us while we tiptoed beneath the trees. After the suburbs of East Finchley we reached rural solitude once more at Cherry Tree Wood and Highgate Wood. On the gate at the entrance was a sign: No Cycling. The gate was narrow, beyond it the quiet paths of the wood covered with fallen leaves. We hoisted our bikes over it and began walking, then cautiously re-mounted; with no one around to complain we quietly continued.

We crossed into Queens Wood then joined Parkland Walk, an old railway branch line that once ran from Finsbury Park through Crouch End to Alexandra Palace. The entrance to a tunnel stood to our left, its blank, overgrown face silent and eerie, so we turned away from it and began the two mile descent to Finsbury Park, our wheels bouncing noisily over the rutted path. We rode between old station platforms, and soared high above or passed below the roads that criss-crossed the track on bridges reminiscent of the golden age of Victorian engineering.

From Finsbury Park the route begins once more to follow water, this time the New River, a man-made aqueduct built in the 1600s to supply London with fresh water from springs in Hertfordshire. The river flows into the East and West reservoirs, huge expanses of water across which we could see the church spires of Stoke Newington in the fading light of the day. The reservoirs are nestled amongst housing estates and residential streets, a busy road running between them, and a main route out of London to the west. I had lived in Stoke Newington for five years, less than a mile from these havens, yet had never been here. We cycled slowly along the narrow path, drinking it all in, then back through Clissold Park and along Stoke Newington Church Street towards home.

Weeks later we caught the train to Richmond again: leg two, cycling back to Stoke Newington along the southern loop of the ring. This had a much greener feel to it, beginning in the vast park at Richmond, the route following tree-lined avenues and crossing plush grass in the midst of the deer park. We took the parallel route (easier to cycle) along the undulating sweep of the Queen’s Road, accompanied by the squawk of parakeets that was once exclusive to Richmond but can now be heard all over London. Then came Wimbledon, Wandsworth and Tooting Bec Commons, huge swathes of seemingly endless green.

Up Streatham Hill, through Norwood Park, and into Biggin Wood, a remnant of the Great North Wood that once stretched for seven miles between Croydon and Dartford, then Crystal Palace park where we freewheeled to the lake to discover a family of dinosaur sculptures lurking around the water.

After Cator Park, Beckenham Place Park and Grove Park it began to rain, and a quick dash to drink tea and dry off in Eltham town centre was a stark reminder of how close to the bustle of London we were, yet blissfully unaware of any of it in our bubble of green.

We returned to the trail and entered Shepherdleas Wood, then Oxleas Wood, then Jackwood, then Castlewood, a strip of ancient woodland stretching alongside the A2. Then once more we were at the River Thames, the tide-ripped waves surging between the banks, far wider and wilder than that which we had last seen at Richmond.

The route crosses beneath the Thames in the Woolwich foot tunnel but, being nautical folk, we joined the queue for the ferry, the roll-on-roll-off vessel passing back and forth between the southern and northern banks of the Thames from morning til night. Upstream sat the Thames Barrier, beyond it the Millenium Dome and the skyscrapers at Canary Wharf. An aeroplane roared from the runway at City airport.

We traversed Beckton Park and came up to the Greenway, a traffic-free walking and cycling route built on top of the sewer that carries waste from Hackney Wick to Beckton – flat, peaceful and easily cycleable, but smelly! Then finally, up the River Lea from Bow to Stoke Newington, passing by the narrowboats and the herons, up through Springfield park towards home.

It was a terrific adventure, discovering parts of London I’d never before been to, knowing at each step that we were a stone’s throw from the familiar rush of the city, yet being fabulously removed from it all. Every so often we would emerge from the trees to see a landmark pinpointing our position, a reminder that this was London.

And how was it to cycle? There were those moments when we were asked to dismount, as in Highgate Wood or along alleyways that don’t permit cycling, and every so often we had to lift our bikes over gates or carry them up steps. Where the surface was not suitable for cycling we took a parallel road. But most of the paths were easily rideable, and we had the advantage of zooming along the residential streets that make up a large proportion of the walk. A truly special adventure without leaving home.


For the record

It’s curious how and why people are misquoted. We read newspaper articles and make the reasonable assumption that the facts are there, and that the person quoted actually said what they say they said. I used to dismiss protests of ‘context’ as a wriggling out of saying something you wish…

The Tumble

Just to the south of Abergavenny in south east Wales lies the Blorenge, a 561-metre peak that dominates the view from the town. There is a B road that crosses the mountain, the pass known as The Tumble, a climb of three miles and 347 metres with a steady gradient…

My no-fly adventures

It was about ten years ago that I made the decision to stop flying. I had been aware of the environmental impact of aviation for years, and had started to feel the irony that by flying to see the world I was contributing to its destruction. So I decided that…

#GetOutside in June: camping/sleeping outdoors

I always used to hate camping. On my first big cycle tour, around the coast of Britain, I eschewed canvas for a plan and a bed each night. Writing for Al Humphrey’s blog I explained why this not only gave me two months’ worth of comfy sleeps, it also saved…

Would you give up flying to save the environment?

‘My name’s Anna Hughes and I’m an environmentalist.’ It feels like a confession, or something that should be mentioned in a whisper. My whole life I’ve been aware of environmental issues, and as I’ve grown older and learned more about the world, more and more of my decisions have been…

#GetOutside in April: active travel to work

It’s spring (even though some days it still feels like winter), so now might be the time to dust off the bike and start breathing in some of that warm(ish) air. Active travel is one of the best ways to shoehorn the outdoors into your daily routine. Benefits of active travel:…

#GetOutside in March: go for a run

I never used to understand running. Why would you put yourself through sweaty, painful, injury-inducing exercise that was slow and boring? Give me a bicycle any day. But then I signed up for an Ironman triathlon, and was forced to learn to run (a marathon of all things – having…

A reading list for World Book Day

To celebrate both World Book Day and International Women’s Day, I’m selecting a few of my favourites from my bookshelf. France en Velo (Hannah Reynolds and John Walsh) Hannah Reynolds has produced (along with her writing partner John Walsh) the type of guidebook I would love to write: France en…

#GetOutside in February: have a lunch hour adventure

The lunch hour: that sacred 60 minutes in the middle of the day when you’re not required to work. It is so tempting to eat a sandwich at your desk and crack on through with that endless list of emails (I know, I have done it), but instead, could you…

The draw of Ventoux

Mont Ventoux looms large on any horizon, especially mine: in eight months’ time I’ll be riding across France to make my own pilgrimage to the giant, and ride its three ascents in a single day. I’m imagining seven glorious days of cycling, warm autumn evenings, sunshine on the air, then…

#GetOutside in January: Could you walk 1000 miles?

If every day of 2019 you were to walk just 2.74 miles, by the end of the year you would have hit 1000. Could you? Would you? Should you? Walking is a form of exploration that came late to me – I always assumed it would be too slow, too boring,…

#GetOutside in 2019

It’s my pleasure to be a #GetOutside champion for Ordnance Survey for a second year. #GetOutside was launched by Ordnance Survey a few years ago to promote the benefits of spending time outdoors; in a time of increasingly sedentary lifestyles, mental health issues, pollution from transport and a growing burden…

But don’t you miss cheese?

Cheese. It seems to be the most common thing that stands in the way of people going vegan: fear of missing cheese. I know; it was true for me. I loved cheese as much as the next person, and couldn’t imagine a life without a slab of brie on a…

Best beaches for a New Years Day stroll

We are a nation of beach-lovers; not surprising when you consider that no one in the UK lives more than 70 miles from the sea. There’s something magical about the coastline, from stark, rugged cliffs to long golden stretches of dunes, from crashing waves to the promise of adventure on…

Planning LEJOG? Here’s some advice

Land’s End to John o’ Groats is one of the most iconic rides the UK has to offer, completed by hundreds of people each year, each experiencing the varied landscapes, challenging terrains and pot-luck weather that makes cycling in this country so special. Cycling UK recently announced a network of…

The Media vs Cycling

You might be forgiven for thinking that cycling is a dangerous past time. That to step outside the house and mount two wheels requires extensive safety equipment, that the roads are hostile, that you’ll be among a pack of law-breaking mavericks, or that you’re almost guaranteed to be knocked off…

My vegan journey

“So what do you eat?” It’s the first thing on most people’s lips when they find out I’m vegan, and it’s usually followed by something along the lines of “How do you get enough protein?” It can be a frustrating question – there’s an underlying assumption that I must be…

Dear Jamelia

I write this as a road user who happens to ride a bike. When I ride my bike, people shout at me. They yell at me to get out of the way. They swear at me and say, ‘Get on the pavement!’, and when I do that, pedestrians moan that…

Tips for safe cycling #8: filtering (and safe use of the ASL)

It’s one of the joys of cycling that bicycles don’t have to wait in a queue; if traffic is stationary or slow-moving, you as a cyclist are perfectly entitled to move past. Getting to the front of the queue can be advantageous: you get a head-start when the lights change,…

A right to protest

It starts as soon as I step off the train. The platform is full of people holding banners, who had escaped my notice as I sat in the carriage reading my book. Placards are held downwards, at rest, hiding, shy, slogans upside down. I suddenly wish I were clutching something…

Gorge to gorge ride

Since I made Bristol my home almost a year ago I’ve been keen to ride out to Cheddar Gorge, that tourist attraction and cyclists’ mecca. I have a vague notion that I visited as a child, but the gorges and caves of Britain fade after a while into one blurred…

Cafe Surplus – a new venture

Every year in the UK alone, 10 million tonnes of food is sent to landfill. I’ve been involved with organisations since arriving here in Bristol that address the issues of food waste, FoodCycle among them, and have learned loads about the issue at all stages of the process. My next big project…

Tips for safe cycling #7: road position

Much of riding safely on the roads is about positioning. Taking a safe, sensible position can avoid those tricky scenarios which can quickly become dangerous interactions. Don’t hug the kerb Many cyclists ride close to the kerb, either to stay out of the way, or because that’s where the cycle lane…

Lost Lanes West

‘A road is for travelling between places, but a lane is a place in itself.’ The latest addition to my travel bookshelf is Jack Thurston’s Lost Lanes West, a compendium of 36 ‘glorious bike rides’ in the west country. The success of Jack’s previous books, Lost Lanes and Lost Lanes…

Forth Clyde Cycle Ride

It’s long been on the list, the Forth & Clyde canal, one of the remnants of our industrial past, an ancient yet timeless example of Georgian ingenuity, an inland link between two great bodies of water, a navigational gift and an easily-ridable path. The Forth and Clyde canal was once…


Being a bit of a food enthusiast (aren’t we all?), I love a bit of Masterchef, the challenge I enjoy most being the waste and scraps challenge, where the chefs make gourmet meals out of vegetable peelings, fish heads, rough meat cuts and wrinkled leaves; in other words, food that…

Tips for safe cycling #6: brakes

It might sound obvious, but having proper control of your brakes is essential for safe cycling. Here are a few tips to make sure you get the most out of your brakes.* Use both brakes It’s best to always use both brakes, gently, at the same time. If the front…

The Kids Conundrum

When I was at primary school my sister Sarah and I ran a ‘Save the Earth club’ in our bedroom with whichever friends we could coerce into coming. It was fairly boring: let’s do some wildlife word searches and then go and pick up some litter. The irony that we…

Falafel Friday: Eat a Pitta

St Nicholas Market is a buzzing, vibrant feature of central Bristol, a must-see for visitors and an example of some of the fine Georgian architecture that proliferates the city. It’s also a terrific location for lunch. Stalls line the narrow walkways, overflowing with the smells and sights of cuisine from around…

The joy of travelling slowly

Slow travel is a state of mind. It’s about making the journey mean as much as the destination; it has less to do with speed than the experience of travelling. I was fortunate enough to appear on a panel alongside eminent travel writers Christopher Sommerville and Nick Hunt at the…

Bump, Bike and Baby

This is a guest blog from Moire O’Sullivan, a mountain runner and adventure racer whose journey through motherhood while winning Ireland’s National Adventure Race Series is recounted in her new book, ‘Bump, Bike and Baby’. Here she explains why she writes, and how being a mother has impacted upon her adventures. The Healing Power…

Sonnet for the seasons

A landscape lain with pure-white driven snow, Beneath the deep-set flakes are snowdrops hid, The air hangs thick with smoke from coals aglow and ice-laced water causes ducks to skid. Soon leaves will bud and blooming bulbs will blaze and nestlings stake their claim to river’s edge. Fresh spring succumbs…

Cafe Kino Falafel Friday

In an arty patch of Bristol, full of independent venues and bicycles, stands Cafe Kino, a 100% vegan workers cooperative and the scene of this week’s Falafel Friday search. Many of my friends have recommended Kino with its delicious-looking menu and impressive range of cakes. It’s a well-establised part of…

Marianne Martin – Winner of the first Tour de France Féminin

This is one of my favourite stories from my book ‘Pedal Power’ – I just love the thought of women triumphantly riding the Tour de France. It’s a tragic indication of the status of women’s sport that this no longer happens. It wasn’t about the money anyway. We did it because…

Eileen Sheridan – The Mighty Atom

The ride from Land’s End to John o’ Groats is the most iconic in the British Isles; from the bottom left-hand corner of England to the top right-hand corner of Scotland, the ‘End to End’ ride extends 870 miles through steadily morphing landscapes, stretching from the devilish Cornish hills to…

Alfonsina Strada – riding with the men

The 1924 Giro d’Italia nearly didn’t happen. The multiple-stage race through the mountains and landscapes of Italy had been staged almost every year since its launch in 1909, but a dispute over pay in 1924 led to a boycott by many of its top riders. In a post-war era, staging…

Annie Londonderry: the first woman to cycle around the world

It took a remarkable woman to set off to ride a bicycle around the world in 1890s America: Annie Kopchovsky had a husband, three children and responsibilities as a housewife. It was not just a novelty for a young woman to leave those duties, but to do it in pursuit…

Frances Willard: ‘She who gains the mastery of the bicycle will gain the mastery of life’

Bicycles are just as good company as most husbands, and when they get shabby or old a woman can dispose of it and get a new one without shocking the entire community. ~ Ann Strong, Minneapolis Tribune, 1895 The advent of the safety bicycle meant that cycling boomed. Starley’s invention had…

Tessie Reynolds – a pioneer of rational dress

On International Women’s Day we celebrate those women who have made an impact on our lives. Tessie Reynolds was one of those women: a young cycling enthusiast and an unintentional pioneer of gender equality. This is an excerpt from my book ‘Pedal Power: inspirational stories from the world of cycling’  Miss…

The Drastic No Plastic challenge: conclusions

I wandered along the shingle for a while, my steps uneven on the shifting ground, noticing just how much litter there was. Almost all of it was plastic. How ironic, I thought, that these single-use items are made from a material that lasts forever.

A lost love

What happens when an adventure gets in the way of a relationship? Seven years ago I left London and a boyfriend to cycle around the coast of Britain. What might have happened had I not gone? We met four months before I was due to leave, both of us working…

An apology to my bike (and a guide to fixing a new gear cable)

My bicycle is my most trusted possession; she is my passport to adventure, my free ticket to work, my trusty pack horse and my faithful steed. But I’ve been guilty in recent weeks of not listening to her. And you will ignore your bike at your peril. A happy bike…

The Drastic No Plastic challenge

Plastic waste has loomed large in the public consciousness in recent months, due in no small part to Blue Planet II, campaigns such as Switch the Stick, and the extended 5p levy on carrier bags. Companies are queueing up to reduce plastic packaging and broadcast their plastic-free credentials. But just how…

An omnivore’s Veganuary Diary

None of my three sisters are vegan, yet they all took part in Veganuary as their birthday present to me. It was interesting hearing their experiences of essentially doing something because someone asks you to do it, rather than because you believe in it yourself. Sarah kept a diary which…

The merits of women-only rides

Gender-specific activities, it seems, will never be without controversy. A BBC East Midlands video promoting British Cycling’s women-only ‘Breeze’ rides has drawn a fair amount of comment, not all of it positive: ‘why are these even necessary?’; ‘inclusion by exclusion is not inclusive.’ I once took part in an overnight bike…

Slow ride home

The sun has not yet risen as I pedal away from my boat, ahead 140 miles of riding over the next two days. This pilgrimage is to my twin sister’s house so we can spend our 35th birthday together. Pale blue and grey is reflected in the canal as the…

Carrot or Stick?

A proposed 25p tax on coffee cups has been all over the news today, and in my inbox appeared an email from 38 Degrees asking me to share the petition supporting the tax. It stated that the levy could seriously tackle plastic pollution and save the environment. Obviously, I agree…

The danger of delete

When I migrated this website to its new operating platform, I ditched a large number of my old blog posts. They were either outdated, irrelevant or simply badly written. Given that I was promoting myself as a writer, it would be foolish to put anything out that I was less than happy…

BAM January sale

I write this as I sit here in my BAM Raja yoga pants. I don’t even practice yoga but my, these pants are comfy. I am proud to put my name to the BAM bamboo clothing brand: as one of the latest BAMbassadors  it’s my job to wax lyrical about…

Un An Sans Car

My New Year’s Resolution way back in 2012 was to live without a car for a year. This wasn’t just my car, it was any car: friends, colleagues, taxis, Dad. The challenge was an illustration of what’s possible when you try; I wanted to demonstrate that car-free could be a…

The Kingfisher

An ode to the delicate little kingfisher I see flitting up and down the canal A flash, a splash, a burst of blue, A rocket of iridescent hue, A fleeting jewel on endless wing, He catches fishes as a king. Alighting on a branch he gleams In stark contrast to cold-stripped beams,…

Resolving to be resolute

I nearly broke my New Year’s Resolution last night, less than 24 hours into 2018. It is to spend less time on Twitter (and to stop reading the news*) and resist being drawn into Twitter spats with people with whom I’m likely to never agree. But to see a tweet…

Tips for safe cycling #5: See and Be Seen

If you are still cycling in the depth of winter, good for you. Not only is it cold and wet, but your journey to and from work will probably be made in the dark. Lights are a legal requirement (red for rear and white for front*). Always carry spare batteries,…


I’m excited to be a new BAMbassador for Bamboo clothing, a UK company that manufactures clothing from bamboo. BAM is exactly the kind of company I support: ethical, environmentally friendly and honest. In fact, their ‘sales’ pitch is “We’d genuinely rather make a bit less money and have loads of…

Go vegan for January

I have a request. For the first month of 2018, go vegan. It’s not often I suggest people change their lifestyles: usually I present my own choices and leave others to make up their own mind. But this time I am making an exception, because in all the actions I…

West of Wales to east of England

8.30am. Whitesands Bay, St Davids. James. Bicycle and man stand expectant on the beach. In the bay, the sea builds and curls, crashing and frothing as wind patterns the surface. Gannets circle then drop like arrows, tucking their wings tight in a torpedo-dive. Waves surge up the sand and fizz…

Ten reasons why maps are better than apps

“Being able to read a map can open up a whole new world…” – Ordnance Survey. There’s a week for everything and this week is National Map Reading Week. Launched last year by Ordnance Survey, the idea is to encourage and teach the art of reading maps, a skill that…

Time to call time on The Archers?

My mother never liked The Archers. Radio 4 would always be playing in the kitchen while we were getting dinner ready, so Just a Minute, I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue and The News Quiz were staples of my childhood, but when the opening bars of The Archers theme struck…

In search of Thames Head

The Cotswolds glow with Autumn as we ride along narrow lanes that disappear down tunnels of trees. Leaves drip and swirl golden onto the carriageway and horse chestnuts lie split and smashed on the tarmac. The land sits flat and open, farmsteads hemmed in by sand-coloured walls constructed from slabs…

Three sonnets for National Poetry Day

It was at the age of 17 that I was introduced to the sonnet, during my ‘A’ level year when curious minds feed on endless titbits offered by teachers, minds open to exploration and suggestion. I loved the ingenuity of the form, at once restrictive and inviting of creativity, and I…

The war on the roads

‘Should reckless cyclists face the same consequences as dangerous drivers?’ asks Good Morning Britain on Twitter. The cycling community sighs collectively. Each time someone is killed on a bike or by a bike, it’s headline news. It perpetuates the perception that cycling is dangerous; it justifies people’s hatred of cyclists….

Another reason to Go Dutch

In the Netherlands, drivers are taught to open the car door with their far hand. It’s an indication of how bicycle-centric their culture is; by performing the ‘Dutch reach’ the driver is forced to turn their head and body, so can see if a cyclist is about to pass, therefore…

The unstoppable Chris Froome

Chris Froome has cemented his place in the list of cycling greats with a win in the Vuelta España to add to his victory in the Tour de France earlier this season. He is the first cyclist to win the double since Bernard Hinault, the dominant rider of the 1980s,…

King of falafel #2

I was released from my bar shift early last night, so I went on the hunt for falafel. Falafel King in Clifton Down was a long walk up a hill (isn’t everywhere in Bristol) but worth venturing out for, so I’d heard, and still open at 10.30pm when others had closed…

The morals of having children

When speculation emerged in July that Kate Middleton might be pregnant with her third child, a letter from charity ‘Having Kids’ urging the couple of reconsider met with a considerable public backlash. The charity: for the good of the environment, we should be having fewer children, and those in the…

Falafel Friday: Edna’s Kitchen

Today was the turn of Edna’s Kitchen. Friends had recommended it; news articles describe it as legendary. I was about to find out. Edna’s kitchen sits at the top of Castle Park, the small kiosk offering a number of yummy-looking dishes including meze salad boxes of various sizes, halloumi, and, of…

Falafel Friday week three

Today it’s the turn of The Bristologist, a ‘Plates and Slates’ bar on Corn Street. They do a falafel wrap as part of their lunch menu: £5.95 for a wrap stuffed with hummus, raita and leaves, served with chips. I’ll be having it without the raita. Pubs are inevitably more…

Falafel King: king of falafel?

It’s week two of #FalafelFriday and I’m lining up the big boys. With a name like Falafel King, I’m expecting something spectacular. This is the street stall at the head of Narrow Quay, outside Bristol Hippodrome, the little sister of the Cotham Hill-based restaurant. I can have my falafel in a…

Falafel Friday: week one

As a vegan in a new city, seeking out places to eat can be a challenge. But there’s one dish that I’m pretty much guaranteed to be able to find: falafel. For years it’s been a staple of mine, from take-aways to street stalls to restaurants. So, how will Bristol…

Why am I running away?

It’s raining again. Droplets run Matrix-style down the windows, the sky fading from grey to black beyond, the river surging beneath. I look out at the choppy, relentless waves and feel uneasy. The Thames is a beast with which I’m not familiar. I have been battling it for four days,…

Captain’s log: London to Bristol by narrowboat

This is a lightly edited version of the cruising log I kept on my move from London to Bristol by narrowboat. Photos of the journey can be found here:  22nd July 2017. DAY ONE. The cruise to Bristol begins! Limehouse to Kensal Green. 11.5 miles. 12 locks. 9 hours Beautiful…

What price freedom?

While working on my bike in a DIY workshop, I overhear a customer speaking to the mechanic about his child’s bike. Can you fit stabilisers? he asks. I cringe. Stabilisers are the cycling instructor’s nemesis. They are an anti-teaching tool – how not to allow your child to learn the…

How to teach a beginner to ride a bike

Summer is a great time to get your kids out and riding their bikes. This is the method I use to teach complete beginners how to ride – it’s remarkably effective and typically gets the rider going within half an hour. It works for adults, too. Disclaimer: even with this…

Slow travel

We emerge from the Channel tunnel into hills that roll just as they do in Kent. The rain still falls. Graffiti adorns trackside walls. People stand on station platforms clutching mugs of coffee as we flash by. By being on the ground we see others, the homes they have built,…

Le Tour de France – a look back in time

This week sees the 104th edition of the Tour de France. A staple of the cycle racing calendar, it is an institution that has been held almost every year since its inauguration in 1903. As a cycle tourer, I’m not particularly a racing fan. Pelotons and breakaways don’t mean much to me….

Stop killing cyclists

Yet another cyclist has been killed on London’s roads. On the morning of 22nd May, a man in his 50s was involved in a collision with a lorry, suffering fatal injuries. The news of this latest tragedy upset and angered me more than usual. I have just returned from a…


In the automobile boom of the 1960s, people abandoned their bicycles and began to drive. This miracle form of transport, so quick and easy, dry in all weathers, was a status symbol; to have one was to be rich. But then came the problems: congestion, ill health, laziness. The cycling…

The spirit of the bike

‘Friends’ Season 7 Episode 9 Ross: If you’re not going to ride this bike, I’m going to have to take it back. Phoebe: What!? Why? Ross: Because… because, it would be like you having this guitar and never playing it. This guitar wants to be played. And this bike wants…

Breifne Earley – from the depths of despair to World Cycle Race champion

In 2014, Irishman Breifne Earley took part in the World Cycle Race, a 18,000 mile non-stop ride around the planet. Overweight and never having been on a bike tour, he was not an obvious candidate to cycle round the world, but motivated by the breakdown of his relationship, his career…

Never argue with a ticket man

Since a man was badly injured in the process of being removed from an overbooked United Airlines flight last week, there have been several other reported incidents of people being forcibly removed from flights. I was removed from a train once. It wasn’t my finest moment, but it’s an illustration of what happens…

Isabelle Clement – Wheels for Wellbeing

Isabelle Clement is the Director of Wheels for Wellbeing, a London-based charity that enables people with a disability to access cycling. I was inspired by Isabelle’s story after having stumbled across this video, and was pleased when she agreed to be part of my book, Pedal Power. Isabelle’s story appears in…

The birth of a book

Last night we held the launch party for Pedal Power. It was a really enjoyable evening with lots of people to talk to, all within the setting of the lovely Stanfords travel shop in Covent Garden. Thanks to all who attended and made the evening possible. Copies of Pedal Power…

Does the world need another book?

I’m about to publish my second book, ‘Pedal Power: inspirational stories from the world of cycling’. It was a remarkably condensed project: two months of researching and cramming as many words into the day as I could, gathering tales from across the spectrum of two-wheeled wonders. The book is about…

Mike Hall – a tribute

On Friday, the tragic news emerged that endurance cyclist Mike Hall had died. He was killed in a collision with a car while taking part in the Indian Pacific Wheel Race in Australia. Mike was well known in the endurance racing community, having won the first World Cycle Race in…

Tips for safe cycling #4: Lorries

Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGVs), buses, trucks and coaches make up the smallest proportion of traffic on UK roads, yet are involved in the highest proportion of fatal collisions with cyclists. It’s a scary statistic, and one that is being addressed through safer lorry design and advanced training for drivers, as…

Thomas Stevens – first to cycle around the world

This is an edited extract from my new book Pedal Power, available to preorder here. Thomas Stevens, a free spirit and explorative soul, lived in San Francisco, where he would listen to the constant whispering of the Pacific Ocean and dream of adventure – and what better adventure than to…

A comment on cycling infrastructure

Confession: I whacked a car window today. It was the conclusion of a conversation with a driver that had grown more and more heated as we both tried to make our voices heard, a conversation that had no end other than anger. She yelled expletives; I used my fist. Her…

Inspirational women

International Women’s Day is a chance to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. One of the chapters in my soon-to-be published book Pedal Power is entitled ‘Wonder Women’ and features stories of women throughout the ages who have repeatedly shown that cycling is not just a…

The social media bubble

A recent programme on Radio 4 explored the concept of the Social network bubble – the fact that our Facebook timelines show us only a limited number of posts, using algorithms to determine the information it thinks we would most like to see. These same algorithms are responsible for bombarding you on…

Pedal Power – an introduction

My new book, Pedal Power, will be published on 13th April by Summersdale. It’s a collection of stories from all aspects cycling, from professional riders to stuntmen to long-haulers to those who use the bicycle as a form of rehab. It’s available to pre-order here, and below is a taster…

The philosophy of sewing

The curtains in my bedroom hang too long and the sunlight filters through them, nudging me from sleep each morning. Cutting them to size and stitching blackout material to the lining has risen to the top of the to-do list. Not for me the sewing machine, its power requirements too…

Billie and Kajsa

On 1st January 1938, a young lady named Billie Fleming set off from London to complete a challenge that no one had ever attempted before: to set the women’s record for the most miles cycled in a year. The challenge had been launched in 1911 by Cycling magazine and was…

Basic Bike Check

New bicycle for Christmas? Here is a simple check that will help keep it road worthy.   A – air B – brakes C – chain D – direction E – everything else     Air. Pump tyres to the correct pressure – it is written on the side of…

The BeST ride: Greenwich to Peacehaven along the Meridian Line

It’s the idea of my friend Ed, to celebrate the end of British Summer Time by cycling along the Meridian Line from capital to coast. We meet at the top of Greenwich Park, the whole of London laid out below in a blur of early-morning mist, the avenues of trees…

My vegan week

My sister’s house has been home this week while my boat has some work done in the marina. To say thanks I’ve cooked dinner each night. For a sister and brother-in-law who are both meat-eaters, my vegan cooking has been something of a change for them. They’ve really loved it…

RideLondon 100

This is the fifth year of the RideLondon-Surrey 100, one of the legacies of the London 2012 Olympic Games, and the first time I’ve ridden in such a huge sportive. Nearly 30,000 people registered for the event, and I queue up at the start surrounded by hundreds upon hundreds of…

I Need One Dance

14th April 2016. David Cameron was Prime Minister. Boris Johnson was Mayor of London. Roy Hodgson was England manager. Bernie Sanders was giving Hillary Clinton a run for her money in the US Presidential Primaries. Chris Evans was the presenter of Top Gear. Peggy Mitchell was the queen of the…

In praise of lentils

As a vegan, I’m often asked, “What do you eat?” One of my staples is lentils – a food I had barely eaten before becoming vegan, but something I couldn’t now live without. Lentils are high in protein and carbohydrates, and a good source of iron, fibre, B vitamins and…

The unlikely Ironman

This is the mother of all triathlons: a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride, and a 26.2 mile run. In June I travelled up to the Lake District to take part in the Lakesman iron-distance triathlon, an event I’d been training for solidly for 6 months. I’d never run…

Tips for safe cycling #3: Hazardous surfaces

For the second time in two weeks, I’ve fallen off my bike. This isn’t a great score for someone who teaches people to ride bikes for a living, but perhaps it’s for a reason; just call me Anna ‘I Have Accidents So You Don’t Have To’ Hughes. The first fall…