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 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! www.flightfree.co.uk/pledge