A day in the life
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.