Damage done, the offer on the flat was accepted, I can now leave Scotland and start the long meandering way towards the southern sun.
The first stop is Cumbria and lunch with the Winders in Wigton. The temptation is there to retrace the route i cycled last year, but the time is limited and the weather not perfect, so I leave the high lakes for the next time I’m in the area. If I remember correctly the route should be just fabulous without having to worry about the heart attach risk which is inbuilt into any Lake District bicycle expedition.
So in the end it’s going to be mostly motorway to Holmfirth and the clutches of Andrew and Shirley. In saying that when i get just north of Manchester I choose to get out of the M6 and into a cross town tour of “the north”. Bolton, Bury, Rochdale, Oldham, all town I heard of over and over, but that I have never been close to. Well, in one sweep I go through all of them and, in the process, I will only later learn, I manage to get £100 fine and three point on my driving licence for going at 36 MpH through a road work.
Now, if you allow me a short digression, do you know how slow is 36 MpH on a bike like mine? It’s almost stationary. I’m not known to be the most literal interpreter of the highway code but this seems to me to be a little too much. On top of that it was Saturday and there were no workers around. #notHappy
Get to Holmfirth in great time and, let me tell you, crossing the high peaks on a motorbike is a far better experience than crossing them with the bicycle. We have a great evening and, as we had talked about the Anthony Gormley’s “Another place” installation in Liverpool the last time I was with And and Shirley, they decided to take me there on Sunday.
Monday morning and the next stop on the tour is a small hamlet just south of Stratford Upon Avon. I’m Staying with Mark and Clare but I only get there after a rather long and convoluted and totally self inflicted journey that takes me zig zagging through the Peak District and then to Birmingham before getting to Stratford.
Unfortunately the weather is not on my side and I feel I am not getting the best of the Peak District. Said that the few pictures I manage to take are pretty special.
Another night with friends I had not seen in a year. Seems quite strange, I used to see these people two or three times a week in my other life, and now it’s strange to to have to travel long distance to see them once a year. On the way from Birmingham to Stratford I go through Henley in Arden and again, as in Edinburgh I find it difficult not to go back with my mind to all the memories, the good and the bad ones. It’s tricky to cry and ride a motorbike at the same time, but it can be done.
We have a great night, catching up with all that has happened since we saw each other last and after a chat with Mark in the morning I am on my way again, again going south, and for a while retracing the route I took last year on the bicycle, but then turning west towards a place I’d never been before, Bristol.
The reason for going to Bristol is to see John, an ex colleague and friend of Tarn whom I had not seen for some time. We have something to eat and then he takes me for a tour of the city. We have a drink and we go for a walk on the Clifton suspension Bridge, rather splendid. John is great and he insists that if I ever want to explore the south west I must go and use their place as a base, I’m already looking forward to see him again.
After Bristol it is off to Southampton. As well as seeing the Divers clan the objective of the trip is to go to the boat show. On the way there is however a brief detour worth considering: Stonhenge.
I have been there before, twice, but it’s such and amazing place that it is sad not to stop if you’re in the vicinity.
I however get really upset when I realise that they have changed things since the last time I was there. Unlike the Giant Causeway, here they have taken the entrance way back to a place where you cannot see the ring and have not offered, like at the Giant Causeway, free of charge access to the site. If you want to go any closer than on the A303, you’ve got to pay. I think this is way off the spirit in which world heritage sites should be managed.
The boat show is good but extremely wet. This makes getting in and out of boats a bit of a pain. I make good experience though and, as I suspect I’ll be visiting a few more of these before I buy my boat, I learn a lot of useful lessons.
And the boat were great.
After a good evening with Peter and Jacquie I am off to Warwick, Leek Wootton to be precise, to see Jo and Martin. A little bit of zig zagging through England in these few days but worth it just to catch up with friends.
And after this it’s goodbye to the Midlands and a firm heading towards the last stop in the United Kingdom, the capital.
On the way to London I stop on the Oxford outskirts. I had stopped on the way up the day before to order a top box for the bike. Three weeks of riding experience told me that if I ever wanted to use the bike for any serious touring I was going to need the additional storage space and once you have decided you need something you might as well get it and make the most use of it. It does not take long to fit the thing and I manage to get to London in time for lunch. I meet Cristiano for a Scandinavian bite and I get to Cathy in the afternoon where I start looking at the European leg of the ride and at all the things that need to be researched for it..
The week end in London is great. It’s great to go out on Friday night for an Eritrean meal and a it’s great to stroll through town on Saturday.
I like London, not sure I’ll ever want to live there again but it might become one of my favourite tourist destinations.
Sunday Morning arrives and, after a lovely full on breakfast, it’s time to say bye bye to Cathy and to head for the border.