touring

It can’t be done…

Cycling around the coast of the UK, it can’t be done. Not enough roads or tracks run parallel with the sea. Farming also gets in the way. Then there’s those vast swathes of land, owned by us all but managed exclusively by the Ministry of Defence. I gave it my best shot, pedalling 6,194 miles in just over 4 months on a fully-laden, too heavy to lift, £350 Dawes Mojave. And I only pushed once, 23 miles into Oban, when a weary derailleur shifted into the back wheel.

I’m not yet sure if I enjoyed myself. I was relieved, rather than elated, to cross the finishing line. Memories of the misery induced by the really challenging climbs and descents in South West England remain. Maybe things will change with the benefit of rose-tinted vision but I definitely left a bit of me, both physically and mentally, behind.

I was lucky with the weather though. Whilst my home town flooded twice I was baked on the west coast of Scotland and only halted in my tracks for 2 days by the late September deluge when making my way north along Cardigan Bay.

Fortunately there were some real highlights. The deserted beaches of Sandwood Bay, Kearvaig on Cape Wrath, the amazing wildlife at Newburgh estuary, Findhorn bay, the Pineapple (not too far from Stirling), an idyllic morning spent drying out at Aberdour and overwhelmingly courteous motorists were all big plusses. Less impressive moments, apart from much of Devon and Cornwall, and many over-caravanised coastal stretches, were climbing and descending Sgurr A’ Chaorachain in a thunderstorm, my wild camping pitch coinciding with a boy-racer meet near Fishguard, and some useless signage and surfaces on more than a few “cycle” paths.

Only 4 punctures to report, though 2 new tyres and 1 rear wheel were needed, the pannier rack also cracked near Aberystwyth, but I was fortunate to receive an excellent free service, about half way into the trip, from Dave the volunteer at Middlesbrough’s superb Cycle Centre. That, along with many of the people who stopped for a chat, or even pedalled alongside, gave me and the bike, much needed boosts and encouragement to keep going.

Originally published in The Cycle magazine April 2013.

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