Observations on our country from the perspective of three long distance cyclists

Posted by Matt Heason on Aug 29, 2018

It’s summer 2018. The UK is still in the grip of the heatwave. At least the bit of the UK we are in is. Three of us have set out from home (Grindleford) on our bikes, heading south towards France. We are Dylan, 9, Bryn, 12 and me somewhere in my forties. We are to be picked up on Thursday as my wife
 drives our van down to Folkestone for a couple of weeks in France. We hope to make it to France but have Nanna's house in London as our primary goal. 

It transpires to be something of an epic. With daytime temperatures in the 30s and toxic blue-green algae in the reservoirs, but we make it to London. 5 days, 45 hours in the saddle, early starts and late starts, no punctures or other technical issues, 400km and a good number of wild swims, some in some decidedly green water, no tumbles, no sunburn, but a heap of memories and observations made from the vantage point of slow moving saddles. Here are a few:

Hot weather makes for billions of blackberries. 
The hills up north are steeper but that doesn’t mean it’s not hilly down south. 
Forget the plastic in our oceans for a minute, our roads are literally awash with rubbish. 
There is a drinks can every few metres. Introduce a deposit to all cans to encourage recycling. 
Too many blackberry stops mean extra loo stops. 
Laughing is contagious. 
Laughing too hard can induce a ‘laugh trump’. 
There are WAY more house-boats in the UK than you think. 
The majority of house boat owners sadly don’t look after their homes. 
There are more new homes being built in the south than the north. 
On the face of it there seems to be a stronger community spirit in villages down south. 
Community spirit down south is most evident in the communities posting banners outside their houses asking others to leave their communities alone. 
There are fewer community spaces or events in villages down south. 
We live in a country of vastly different cultures. Buying cold drinks from a Pakistani shop keeper who spoke with such a strong accent we couldn’t understand her contrasted sharply with chatting to an Israeli American rabbi on the banks of the river Cam whilst students punted by. 
Being a politician and trying to make sense of these gulfs, the litter on our verges and the break down of community down south is a worthy job indeed. 
We need to look up how fast a kingfisher can fly. 
And how fast a bike can go. 
We can live without screens but they are pretty useful for navigating. 
Not enough people say hello to each other. 
Not enough kids ride bikes. 
Our bike paths are in dire need of upgrading. All over the country. 
Roadside milk dispensing machines are AMAZING in thirty degree heat. 
Big birds are awesome. 
People are inherently friendly but you have to break the ice to get to that friendliness. 
Roadkill is sad. 
Swimming in canals with big fish is scary. 
So is swimming in weeds. 
If you cycle slowly, stop lots, eat when you are hungry and change your route often it’s amazing how far little legs can go! Seriously, kids are so much more capable than most adults give them credit for. 
Wild camping seems to be warmly accepted by those who use the countryside but not by the land owners who put up the signs saying no camping. 
Wild camping, foraging for fruit and charging electrics from solar panels as you ride feels awesome. 
Tent pegs are sharp when kicked. 
High viz jackets and a flag sticking into the traffic encourages 99% of motorists to slow down. 
Two-person tents are not designed for three people. 
There is virtually no litter by the side of bike tracks.
The rivers down south are warmer. 
People swim in the rivers far more down south. 
London is a spectacularly diverse and vibrant place pulsing with energy. 
There are not enough bakeries.
Chafing is worse in the heat. 
Would-be politicians should undertake a similar ride. 
Anybody with a bike should undertake such a journey.

Some photos from the trip.

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