Memories of touring: LEJOG week three
Four years ago this month I set off on a Land’s End to John o’ Groats bike ride (LEJOG) to promote my book, ‘Eat, Sleep, Cycle’. Here is my account of week three of the tour.
I’ve been vegan for around five years. 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.
But it’s hard 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. On this tour I was keen to stick to my diet: veganism is part of my personality. But on the road, needing to eat roughly twice as much as usual, I struggled: animal-free eating is not always catered for in the far reaches of the UK. My reserves of energy had been steadily depleting since Land’s End, and as I rolled out of Manchester it caught up with me: I couldn’t ride; I was too fatigued. There came a difficult decision. Give up my beloved vegan diet? Or find another way of travelling to my next talk? After a fair amount of soul-searching I headed off to the station. I am vegan; that’s now a defining part of me. The book tour must continue; the cycling was secondary. So I travelled from Manchester to Lancaster by train and spent the whole day eating. After that I felt better and for the rest of the tour I made sure to stop for food every couple of hours.
From Lancaster north I encountered more stunning weather and incredible scenery. Alongside the Lancaster canal I rode, then up into the hills of the Lancashire farmland with the shimmer of Morecambe Bay on the periphery. 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 this couldn’t have been more different; the skies were clear and blue, the wind gentle, the visibility across the fells fantastic. I rode 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.
Kendal heralded the start of the Lake District, where the roads led me along gently undulating lake-side routes with peaks stretching into the sky in every direction. I gave a talk at Saddleback Cafe in Keswick, then it was an incredible ride out of the Lake District the following day, past Skiddaw, an ascent of several hours to the Uldale Commons, a wild, rugged landscape where the wind roams freely and sheep wander across the road. A ten mile descent into Carlisle followed, an endless downhill, at times thrilling, then it was through the Solway Firth flood plains and into Scotland, crossing the border at Gretna Green, the wedding town crowded with tourists.
My first talk in Scotland was in Moffat, where the Moffat Bookshop had arranged for me to speak at the Baccleuch Hotel. A small crowd filed into the small room, and I began my customary address. This is my round-Britain adventure; here is where I went; these are the photos. Each presentation would conclude with a reading from Eat, Sleep, Cycle, usually from the section nearest to where I was at that time. On that occasion I shared the chapter about my return to England from the windy banks of the Solway Firth, a ride that had been accompanied by my host in Dumfries, Alec. I glanced up throughout the reading, addressing my audience. Making brief eye contact with a man, I faltered, then looked again. ‘Alec?’ The realisation hit that this was the very man I was reading about, the man I had stayed with in Dumfries, who had quietly slipped into the room with his wife and taken up their seats to hear my talk. I laughed in delight, introducing him to the audience, then resumed my reading, chuckling. Thank goodness I hadn’t attempted to mimic his Scottish accent.
From Moffat to Glasgow I criss-crossed the A47 motorway, a route bemoaned by some LEJOGers as dull, noisy, flat and boring. But I loved it, following the crevices of the Clyde gorge and the railway, enthralled by how the manmade follows the natural. A van had pulled up in a lay-by with LEJOG emblazoned on the back, so I stopped to chat to the driver who was setting up refreshments for the cyclists who would soon arrive. Five smiling men soon appeared, who insisted I join them and handed me a huge mug of tea.
The Clyde valley grew more and more built-up, twisting and turning its way into Glasgow where the water emerged wide and dull beneath an overcast sky. Rain threatened to end a week of terrific weather, but I didn’t mind, with a rest day in Glasgow between my two scheduled talks. Another day, another charity shop dress, another audience, another couple of books sold. With just one more event in the diary, the end was in sight.
This is part three of a four-part mini-series of my 2015 tour from Land’s End to John o’ Groats.