Cycling in Ireland, day 6

Rathlee to Sligo: 58km, 3hr 4 mins, av 18.8km/hr, max 41.8km/hr

It’s my final day of cycling in Ireland, but it shouldn’t be a long one; it’s only around 55km to Sligo, from where I’ll catch the train back to Dublin at about 3pm, if all goes to plan.

Now, if I was a pro cyclist I’d have probably set off at 7am, in order to do a few extra side trips and visits in and around Sligo. But I’m not; the bed is super comfy and I’m tired, so I have a lie in, and don’t get going until about 10.30am, which has been my default start time most days, to be honest.

The home-owners have gone out to work for the day but they’re totally cool with me just letting myself out and leaving the front door unlocked – but guarded by 2 very cute and not-at-all intimidating dogs. I guess that’s one of the advantages of living in such splendid isolation.


My first stop is just down the road, at Easky Tower, where there’s also a small harbour and another surf beach. From here, I stay on the coastal road, the R297, which is part of the Wild Atlantic Way.


It’s a lovely scenic, quiet road, with a few ups and downs, but nothing too strenuous. Then, for some reason, just past Skrean, the signs point you back towards the main road, the N59. I follow the signs, rather than stay on the back road for another 3 or 4km, which is the only bad roads decision I’ve made, since the N59 is fast and busy, and not a road that you want to be on for longer than strictly necessary. So, if you’re going this way, be sure to stay on the R297 for as long as possible!

I pass through Ballysadare and pause for a quick lunch (last night’s leftover chips in a bun!) in a random little patch of grass on a luxury housing estate close to the water, before pressing on towards Sligo.


Thankfully, there’s a quiet little side road running parallel to the railway and the main road into town, the N4 – the first dual carriageway I’ve seen, and definitely not something you’d want to cycle on.

By the time I get to Sligo, I’ve not got much time to do anything. Yeats is buried in a cemetery a few kms north of town, and a few km’s beyond that, is the iconic Benbulbin mountain, which I’d have loved to have seen but will have to save for another time.

I cycle around a bit, but there’s not really time to do any of it much justice, so I head to the train station, ready to head back to Dublin.

A shout to my WarmShowers host in Dublin that evening, Philip, who was super nice, a great cook and very hospitable.

My Ireland adventure has (almost) come to an end, bar the cycle to the ferry terminal tomorrow. It’s been all I’d hoped; exhilarating, beautiful, scenic, refreshing, challenging, hard work, pure me-time, with plenty of time to think and reflect on the road my life is on. And, if that’s not what cycling is all about, then I don’t know what is.

One surprise though; not a single bird of prey spotted the entire time.

Cycling in Ireland, day 5

Binghamstown to Rathlee: 113km, 5hr 36 mins, max 49.5km/hr, av 20.1km/hr,

Boy, today was a long day! And I’m not even adding on any extra side-trips this time. If anything, I’m actually having to miss a couple of excursions to amazing places, just to keep on track. So, the spectacular headland at Carrowteige will just have to wait.

For the first part of the ride, I’m going back on myself, but this time with the wind behind me. I’m on the ever-reliable R314 again, and I make speedy progress north east, up towards the coast again. Piece of piss, this cycling lark.

I have my first major stop at the Ceide Fields, a huge neolithic excavation site, with an impressive permanent exhibition housed inside the visitor centre, which has been designed to appear semi-underground, to mirror the excavations going on around it. It’s all pretty fascinating to learn how they lived and farmed here 5,000 years ago, and how the pattern of living in a loose spread of dwellings over a large area, with their animals in adjacent fields, hasn’t really changed in millenia. Just now the fences between fields are made of barbed wire rather than stone.


The actual excavations, piles of stones and rubble, aren’t in themselves especially exciting, but the overall experience and information that you learn is enough to bring the stones to life.

From the rooftop viewing point, Downpatrick Head is visible, and that’s to be my next stop, after a quick lunch break in a lovely walled garden in Ballycastle.

Downpatrick Head is a slight excursion, but totally worth it. The stack of rock is mighty impressive, as are the sheer cliff faces all around, the sculpture that’s been built around a blow-hole about 100 metres inland, and an intact (or restored) World War 2 lookout post, of the same design as the one at Erris Head.

Back at the car park, I’ve left my bike behind a Tea Caravan (the friendly owner says he’ll keep an eye on my panniers, and he is true to his word). In return – fulfilling my side of the unspoken deal – I buy a cuppa from him, and sit down to drink it. There’s a guy sat down also who, it turns out, is 2 years into a walk around the entire coastline of Britain and Ireland.

Peter estimates he is about half way, and to make it more of a challenge, he’s not sleeping indoors for any of it (and his tent has been destroyed). So he’s basically sleeping under the stars, under a bush, or in abandoned houses (and there are plenty of them around here). He’s raising money for environmental charities, The RSPB, World Land Trust and Renewable World. Please give generously!

From here, it’s south and east, taking in the lovely bay at Lackan Strand, and the impressive Round Tower at Killala, where a kind lady invites me into her (holiday) home while she refills my water bottle. So far, I’ve managed to not buy a single plastic bottle of water or fizzy drink – resisting the lucozade temptation on several occasions – and have survived with just my steel bottle, refilling it either from hillside rivers or friendly people along the way.

On the outskirts of Ballina I spot a fish & chip van, parked up in a layby, and decide to indulge myself. Even though my air bnb hosts have said they’ll leave me some food, I am starving, and I have been cycling all day.

They wrap up the food well, so I cycle on to the town centre and find a spot by the river to eat. 15 minutes previously, at the van, it was blue sky and sunshine, but, by the time I get to the river, the skies are darkening (again! It’s been sunshine and showers all day) so I have to wolf the food down before the rains come.

I’m on the home straight, but still around 20km to go. It’s getting tiring now. At Enniscrone, I go and investigate the beach, where there’s someone attempting – successfully – to kite surf. There’s a little pavillion type thing which provides enough shelter for me to make a cup of tea on the stove, with a bit of millionaire shortbread to see me through the final few km’s.

I arrive at my air bnb at around 8.45pm – it’s been a long day. They’re very friendly and they’ve kept food for me. To be honest, eating a second meal after the fish and chips is a struggle, but I just about manage to eat the spag bol they’ve left me.

The lady of the house encourages me to run a hot bath with salts added; it’s one of those huge deep baths with the tap in the middle so is pretty luxurious. But well deserved I reckon. Afterall, this is the first time I’ve managed a long ride with an average speed of more than 20km/hr! Either I’m getting fitter or I just had a lot of luck with the tailwind today. I think it’s probably the latter.

Cycling in Ireland, day 4

Ballycroy to Binghamstown: 5hrs 12 mins, 91.4km, max 39.3 km/hr, av 17.5km/hr

Day 4 and today’s overnight destination, Binghamstown, is a mere 35km or so away. So, I throw in a couple of excursions too.

First up, a speedy journey north on the N59 to Bangor Erris, with the wind behind me and an average speed of around 22km/hr. The road is dead quiet, with just the odd car speeding past (the speed limit again is 100km/hr).

After a quick fuel stop (bananas, not petrol) then it’s north-west on the R313 to Belmullet. This time, with a bit of a westerly headwind and a couple of squally showers passing through – rain stinging my face; basically an outdoor shower (I didn’t have one this morning, so it’s all good). But with the stinging comes a delicious feeling of being alive. YOU’RE NOT SOLUBLE, EGH?

Belmullet appears to be a lively little town, but I decide to press on for a 20km loop up to Erris Head and back. It’s a lovely little ride out of the town, through more peat and bog, until eventually I hit the jagged northern coastline of Eire. There’s a car park with 1 car in it, and soon a couple of walkers appear, back from doing the Erris Head loop. They recommend it so I decide to give it a go, leaving the bike locked, with panniers on (and my passport inside, oops). But this place is so deserted, I don’t see another person on the entire walk.


It’s a lovely walk, leading to a windy headland, complete with a decaying army lookout point, and an old WW2 sign in rocks on the ground, EIRE 62, which was meant to signify Ireland as a neutral country to any overhead German bombers.


Right way round


Upside down; 62 Eire

90 minutes and 5km later, I’m back on the bike, and it’s 10km back to Belmullet, in a much heavier and prolonged shower, which forces me to take refuge in a Spar Extra supermarket on the edge of town. Eventually it shows signs of clearing, so I set off towards my b&b for the night.

Stinging wind and rain once more, before it clears, and soon I’m at my Air bnb for the night. It’s a little different from the others, a real house (well, still a bungalow, but feels more lived-in than the others).

It reminds me a little of houses that I grew up in. I have a cup of soup, unload half of my luggage, before setting out on another excursion, this time down to Blacksod Bay; where my great, great grandfather was lighthouse keeper around 100 years ago.

It’s a windy ride to start with but, eventually, the sun comes out and I pass a sheltered little bay so decide to stop for my daily cup of tea on the stove. There’s one other person on the beach, walking their dog. Once they’ve passed, I dip a toe in the water. It’s not that cold. The water’s clear and calm, and no one around aside from the odd car going past.

I throw caution to the wind (no towel, no swimwear) and strip off before running into the water. I stay in for all of a couple of minutes, not head-under but long enough for a swim, before running out and getting dry with my running top as a towel. I regret nothing! Apart from having the tea before the swim rather than after.


Blacksod Bay lighthouse is just around the corner. It’s now a lovely evening with a great view across to Achill Island. The lighthouse isn’t accessible in anyway, but it’s great to see it. It has a plaque on the side, explaining how the lighthouse changed the course of history when it issued a report of a “weather window” which enabled the D-day landings to take place.

From here, there are a couple more sites of interest; a beautiful little stone sculpture; a wrecked church with a tiny window which I climb through three times in order to not die at sea; and a holy well, which has some very tiny creatures swimming around (so I don’t drink from it).


Then, just for good luck, I hit another rain shower; it lasts all of about 30 seconds as I’m cycling over a hill. I whizz down the other side into sunshine, and then a rainbow appears.



From here, I have the wind behind me and I speed back to the place I’m staying, to enjoy a meal at the family table while the owner, Joseph, eats a meat and 2 veg meal with his daughter. Finally, a Guinness from a can, then a very good night’s sleep in a bedroom very obviously once belonging to a teenage boy (he’s now about 20 and studying in London).

Cycling in Ireland, day 3

Newport to Ballycroy: 4hrs 45 mins, 68.4km, max 48.1 km/hr, average 17km/hr

Day 3 is all about the Greenway, Ireland’s longest stretch of off-road cycling, following the old railway line from Westport/Newport to Achill Sound. It’s not an especially long route, maybe 50km in total, but it is great fun to cycle it. The surfaces are good, the signposting is clear, and the scenery is always interesting. Plus, of course, NO CARS!

Again, I stop lots to take it all in, attempt to take photos of housemartins in flight (no chance!) and add or remove layers according to the weather (the showers come and go, but are at least getting lighter).

Unlike the previous 2 days, today I do actually see some other cyclists! I meet a couple from Canada who are riding a tandem; they’re doing the thing where you hire the bike and have a van take your luggage and act as back up in case you have a puncture or whatever. I looked these up when researching the trip, and they’re not cheap, considering all you’re doing is going for a bike ride. But hey, if you can afford it and if it helps more people get on two wheels, then why not? There are also kids going on a bicyclating adventure of their own – they look like they’re having fun.

At the small town of Mallaranny, I have a choice. Do I carry on to the end of the Greenway at Achille Sound (and then have to come back), or start to head north? I decide to carry on, and see what’s at Achille.

In truth, there’s not much, apart from a bridge over the Sound, a couple of pubs and a supermarket. I don’t doubt there’s loads to see and do on Achille Island; the information boards boast all sorts of highlights, and if I had more time I’d have loved to explore it properly. But, unfortunately, I don’t, so I instead re-trace my route back to Mallaranny, wind behind me this time.

If you’re short on time, the stretch of Greenway between Mallaranny and Achille could definitely be skipped.

Heading north now, I make good speed as I race towards the Ballycroy National Park visitor centre before it closes. This means I have to skip what looks like an interesting 2km boardwalk on the left. It’s part of the National Park and, if you’re lucky, you might see an otter there.

I make it to the Visitor Centre a few km further north in decent time; most importantly the cafe is still open so I sit and enjoy lashings of tea with a fruit scone, jam, and an incredible view towards Claggan Mountain.

The Visitor Centre is free to look around and has some really good exhibits about the blanket bog and its importance for maintaining biodiversity and fighting climate change, as well as about the generations of people who have lived and worked here.  Definitely worth checking out. The staff were also really friendly and knowledgeable, recommending good places to visit in the area.


When it closes, at 5.30pm, I’m still good to do the 2km walk around the area, and have the place pretty much to myself. The views out towards Glencullen are amazing. Huge wide expanses of bog and sweeping, sombre hills.

Back at the visitor centre before I head off, I notice some nest boxes that have been put up to attract swallows. They’re making a lot of noise and for a moment I think perhaps there’s a young family of swallow chicks inside; then I remember back to the exhibit which explained how they’re relaying the sound of swallows in the hope they will be heard on the wind and eventually real swallows will be attracted to nest here. The sounds have been playing for 2 years now, without any luck. Which actually makes it the saddest, most plaintive sound in all of Ireland. 

Onwards bound, I pass yet another abandoned local shop/pub (often the two are combined). It’s been faintly depressing to see so many – a sign, I guess, of the outward migration this part of the country has experienced. As well as, no doubt, the growth of car culture which makes local shops uncompetitive with the bigger supermarkets you find in the towns.

I peer in the window and, eerily, there are still loads of products on the shelves. I can definitely see a display of Ritz cheesy biscuits! I wonder what the story is; I’m guessing an old owner died recently.

It’s just a few more km to my air bnb for the night, which really is in the middle of nowhere, like so many rural houses that are scattered all over this part of Ireland. When the owners eventually come to the door, I’m welcomed into my part of the house, which has its own bathroom, dining room, lounge and bedroom. There’s a peat fire roaring and it’s very cosy. Bliss in fact, until I make the mistake of turning the TV on and watching the latest Tory leadership debate. Urgh. Now why did I do that?

Cycling in Ireland, day 2

Connemara to Newport: 3hr 57 mins, 74km, max 46.6km/hr, average 18.7km/hr

It’s raining (like, really raining) when I wake up, and when I have breakfast, and when I pack up. So I have a coffee and wait. And then wait a bit more.

By about 10.30am it’s easing so I set off, looking forward to going back on myself a bit – this time downhill and with the wind, hitting 46.6km/hr at one point – as I cycle back towards Leenaun.

From here on in, I’m breaking new ground as I head onwards around the water, then back around the other side of the fjord (on the lovely R335), before heading north towards Delphi.

I make pretty slow progress as I keep on having to stop to photograph things; the incredible views, St Joseph’s Well, a graveyard overlooking the water, a man fly fishing, a house called Joseph’s Retreat, sheep ‘pon the road, and so on…



sheep pon the road

Eventually, I come to Doo Lough, a wide expanse of water with a large hill jutting up on one side. It feels like the Scottish Highlands. I decide to make this my lunch spot; it’s relatively sheltered, which means I can get the gas stove out and make a cup of tea on the shoreline. Lunch is a crisps and jam sandwich – aka: winning at life.

I dip a toe in the waters, just to see if a swim is possible. It feels cold – really cold – and the hint of sunshine evaporates at about the same moment. So, no swimming today. Still, it’s been a great lunch spot and totally deserted too.

Onwards, and the next stop is the Doo Lough Valley famine memorial. It’s hard to imagine what misery went on here, but the display board spells it out:

How lucky we are to live in (relatively) peaceful, prosperous times.

From here, the countryside opens out, I have the wind behind me, and I can properly say – I’m cycle touring and loving it. I decide to skip the Sheeffry Pass, which is the more direct route to Westport but also the more hilly, so instead head towards the coast at Louisburgh, then westwards. As I near Westport, I accidentally cycle into the grounds of Westport House; it’s stately but not especially amazing (apart from the giant killer swans), so I press on.



From Westport (which i don’t cycle through but is supposed to be very nice), I decide to take the scenic route, passing beautiful bay after beautiful bay, at Carraholly and Inishcottle. The sun even comes out and it’s t-shirt weather for the first time!

The sky is blue, and the air is fresh and full of birdsong. What birds exactly, I’m not sure. Redpoll and chaffinch, I think, wren definitely (although it sings with a regional dialect), little flocks of starling, house sparrows, goldcrest, and lots of pied wagtails.

Finally, I join the much-flaunted Greenway cycle route, for the last few km into Newport. It’s off-road, well sign-posted, and takes me through fields, sometimes runs alongside the road, and sometimes is a purpose-built track.

Newport is pretty small but quite pretty, mainly due to the Newport River and the old railway viaduct that traverses it. It has a well-stocked supermarket and a decent pub, The Grainne Uaile, where I order a veggie burger and chips before making my way to digs for the night – an air bnb called Harbourside. It’s basic, but after a long day of cycling, all I really need is a hot shower and a comfortable bed, and it has both.


Cycling in Ireland, day 1

Galway to Killary Fjord: 4hrs 10 mins, 82km, max 43km/hr, average 19.6km/hr

This is my first time in NW Ireland, but not to Ireland. Previously, I’ve enjoyed childhood holidays in and around the Dingle peninsular, a weekend romantic break in Dublin, and (from what I recall) a slightly miserable solo break to Cork, back when I still used to jump on a plane without really thinking about the consequences.

Doing a sale-rail has been on my to-do list for some time; it’s relatively cheap and you can take your bike for free, which makes it cheaper than doing the same thing by plane – even if it does take a day instead of a couple of hours. My employer, Friends of the Earth, has, since I got back from hols, introduced a new Climate Perks policy, giving 2 days paid leave if you decide to travel overseas by surface transport rather than air. I wonder if I’ll be able to claim it retrospectively?

Alas, train chaos (due to someone on a bridge considering suicide – thankfully, he didn’t jump) results in me missing the ferry and eventually arriving in Dublin at about 12.30am. Thankfully, my warmshowers hosts are very kind and stay up late to let me in.

So I’m not exactly fresh-faced and raring to go after an early start to get the 8.30am train from Dublin to Galway. But rare to go I must, so I jump on my newish bike + 2 panniers, and set off… all of about 100 yards.

This is the distance it takes for me to realise that a stop for pancakes and tea in Galway – no point cycling on an empty stomach – is probably a good idea before I get going. It’s a good decision, as I get to hear a local busker doing a version of Jolene, my name on Facebook. A good omen?

This will be my first cycle tour on my new bike, so I’m interested to see how she holds up.

The ride out of Galway along the seafront is pleasant enough, passing through Salthill and Barna on the R336 coastal road. But, it’s *really* busy. On the other side of the road, there’s a traffic jam of cars heading into Galway, all idling with engines on, while on my side of the road, it feels like cars are stacking up behind me as there’s not much room for them to overtake. This isn’t what I had envisaged, and I start to worry that the whole of the Wild Atlantic Way route (marketed very much as a “driving” experience) will be like this.

I experience a couple of close passes by frustrated drivers; and then it starts raining. Just a few spots at first, but within 30 minutes it’s become heavy. Somewhere around Inverin I seek warmth, dryness and food in a promising-looking pub. It has a covered area where I park the bike; peering through the window I can see a fire going – so far so good. So in I go.

There are 3 people inside, 1 behind the bar, 2 the other side. I order a lager shandy (I have no idea why) and then enquire about food. There are tables laid up for dining so I’m optimistic. The landlady replies, “No food today I’m afraid, we’re waiting for a wake to arrive.”  Ha! Just my luck. I try and dry off by the fire a bit, then cut my losses and head back out into the grey mist.

Beyond Inverin, I turn north, and the rain intensifies. A couple of miles up the road, The Courthouse Cafe provides welcome shelter – and food. Aware that I can’t stay inside for every, I head out into what seems to be slightly lighter rain, and continue to head north, towards Maam Cross. By this stage, the traffic has generally disappeared and I’m on a much quieter, more rural road, passing bogs and small lakes. The rain comes and goes.

At Maam Cross I have to decide whether to turn left and head to the coast towards Clifden and Letterfrack (I love this place name!) Clifden in particular is recommended, and taking this route would allow me to pass Connemara National Park. But time isn’t on my side, the N59 is a busy, fast road, and the ride would be westward, into the headwind. So, reluctantly, I continue to head north to Maum, then north west to Leenaum, on a lovely quiet road, with just a couple of small hills to get over.

At Leenaum, suddenly, there’s a fantastic view of Killary Fjord, but a left turn takes me into the headwind, and then up the biggest hill of the day. I’m about 75km in at this point, but my destination is within grasp. A long slog uphill brings my average speed below 20km for the first time today, but with such amazing views unfolding to my right, I’m not complaining too much.


100km/hr? Sure, why not.


Then it’s a simple roll down the hill to the ace Connemara Sleepzone Hostel. At which point, the sun comes out! This place is in an amazing location and is highly recommended; it has great facilities and lovely, snug areas to read, play pool, cook and eat. Plus, I get an entire dorm to myself so enjoy a good night’s sleep.

It’s been a great first day of cycling in Ireland, once I escaped the traffic of Galway. They could definitely do with some cycle lanes and/or speed restrictions on that road because it was pretty hairy.

Stolen: Keys to the city

For a long time I’d had a “to do” note in my mind: to write a blog piece about how, these last couple of years, I’ve felt so incredibly lucky to be able to have the confidence, fitness, experience, ability and (some might say) foolhardiness to cycle all over this ridiculous city we call London.

It was going to be called ‘Cycling – my keys to the city’, and it was going to chart how cycling has become my default transport of choice, to the extent that other methods rarely get a look-in these days:

  • Cycle to work in the pouring rain, or take the bus, get stuck in traffic and arrive 20 minutes late? No contest, just make sure you have good enough waterproofs and take it easy. A choice made even easier now that I’ve made the revelatory discovery, 8 years too late, that I can cycle down the old Peckham Canal greenway, then across Burgess Park, making about 70% of my daily commute off the main road.
  • Cycle to a gig in Hackney after work, then take the bike on the Overground train home, or struggle across town on the underground and Overground at the tail end of rush hour? No contest.
  • Cycle 40 minutes across town to my theatre group on a Monday in Docklands, including the always exciting crossing of Tower Bridge, then take the Greenwich Foot Tunnel home (flouting the NO CYCLING bylaw, since it’s so quiet at that time) and be back in 20 minutes. Or spend most of the evening figuring out how the DLR works and navigating that awful interchange at London Bridge. No contest.
  • Cycle to my workday volunteer sessions in Sydenham Hill Wood in less than 20 minutes (and get a heap of exercise in the process), or take 2 buses which would take 45 minutes.
  • Cycle all the way to Walthamstow to meet Bas Jan in a pub to buy their record, and have an urban adventure in the process, cycling across Walthamstow Marshes and getting soaked, but feeling incredibly alive. Or be boring and take the train.

In short, this humble little machine unlocks the city. It lets me go anywhere, quickly and almost for free. As well as exercising the body, riding also exercises the mind (both in terms of navigation and staying alert to danger). And, in those moments of cycling through parks or on quietways, it also affords thinking time: the day ahead, the day just gone, where I’m going in life (literally and figuratively).

So, when your keys are stolen away from you, it’s kinda hard. On Monday 10 December, at approximately 5.30pm, my trusty Dorothy Dawes was stolen from outside my office. I was sat at a desk about 20 metres away, with windows overlooking the bike rack!

Upset about the day’s events – my friend and 14 others had been found guilty in court of breaking into an airport and causing ‘risk to life’ after they stopped a deportation charter flight taking off at Stansted Airport – I went off bouldering at lunchtime and then, not thinking properly, I failed to lock the bike up properly when I got back (locking just the front wheel to the metal bike rack – doh!)

Annoyingly, there’s a “secure” bike cage in the basement at work, although I’d got out of the habit of using it after it was broken into earlier in the year, with several bikes stolen. I’m also lazy, and it takes more time and effort to take bikes down into the basement – no good if you want to pop out at lunchtime, as I often do.  It was also uninsured.


The whole theft was captured on CCTV, and I’ve been able to take grainy stills from it, as well as hand over the footage to the police. The chances of them doing anything with it seem slim, even though I’m pretty sure a ‘sting’ operation could catch the person within a couple of hours. They almost certainly check the racks every day for carelessly-locked bikes, like mine was.

It’s also bizarre that despite us all having digital phones that can take pictures in millions of megapixels, all CCTV footage ever recorded has always been and always will be grainy, low-res and impossible to identify someone from. Them’s the rules.

Getting the bus home that evening, I was annoyed with my stupidity, and upset about my loss. Not just financially, but also the loss of my keys to the city, and the loss of a special friend – we’d gone *everywhere* together, doings thousands of miles, including:

  • Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and China – on the ‘bikepacking’ trip of a lifetime with Rachel Porter (which led to this blog being started)
  • Glastonbury Festival, Green Man, Supernormal, Wilderness, and the Howlin Fling on Eigg – twice!
  • The COP21 protests in Paris, and the Ende Gelende action for COP23 in the Rhineland, Germany
  • Tree planting rides all over the place (Hebden Bridge, Heart of England forest, Knepp, Epsom)
  • Countless trips around SE England, Isle of Wight, etc.
  • Two Dunwich Dynamos (count ’em!)
  • Twice London to Cambridge on FA Cup day (weirdly!)
  • Various cycle-based protests including a Stay Grounded action at Heathrow Airport and a Stop the Arms Fair action at Docklands Excel Centre, plus many Critical Mass rides and the Tour De Frack in summer 2018
  • Hundreds of rides across and around London



But, I reflected, a bike is also just another ‘object’. Inanimate, replaceable. No-one died and at least I don’t have an unjust prison sentence hanging over me. Keep things in perspective, man.

And luckily, I had a ‘spare’ Trek Hybrid in the shed – itself stolen from Brick Lane while I was having a ukulele lesson (what else?!) Miraculously, it was recovered by the police a couple of years later and returned to me, thanks to being ‘Bike Register‘ marked. Although a bit rickety, it’s kept me on the move during the last couple of weeks, and now my sights are set on a new bike.

One thing about Dorothy Dawes was that although she was rather heavy, she was  incredibly sturdy and reliable with it: no major mechanical or frame fault in four years, and no punctures either! Pretty incredible considering all the stuff I’ve asked her to do and carry.

I’ve joined a couple of rides with London Bike & Beer Group over the years, including one out to Box Hill in Surrey, which I got up fine, but I struggled to keep pace with the group, who were all on road bikes with slick tires. Even before the theft, I’d been contemplating getting a really cheap road bike as a second bike, for rides like this.

But typically, when I go cycling, I end up off-roading at some point; taking a short-cut across a farm, looking for that elusive Youth Hostel in the South Downs, a gravel canal-side path…

So, I want the reliability, sturdiness and comfort of Dorothy Dawes, combined with some of the speed and performance of a road bike. I’ve done a bit of research and, since 2014, it looks like there’s a new kind of bike in town called an Adventure Bike, imported from the US ‘gravel bike’ scene.

They have disc brakes (which would be a first for me), clearance for fatter tires, and can take mudguards and a back rack for touring. I already miss not having a pannier, so that’s a must. I’m not gonna spend heaps (I live in London) so here are my two options: The Calibre Dark Peak (£550, sale) or the Voodo Limba (£350, sale) from Halfords, which is 2.5kg heavier, has fewer gears (16 compared to 20) and slightly inferior parts.

I went to Halfords yesterday and they were worse than useless, but neither do I fancy a trip to Thurrock Lakeside just to look at a bike. Why is buying a new bike so difficult?!? I’m leaning towards the Dark Peak, as it’s so damn light, but also sturdy, which is the hybrid upgrade I’m after. It also gets a great review here.

Update: I went for the Voodoo Limba from Halfords. Time will tell if this was a good decision. I’m worried it doesn’t have enough gear range, but I have got up Jerningham Road and Sydenham Hill successfully so far..!

Any advice, recommendations or tips appreciated – as I’m not so tall, I need a smaller frame size, which limits options somewhat (especially on eBay/Gumtree).

The Breacon Beacons to Exeter, pt. 4

Seaton to Exeter
circa 65km, av 13km/hr, lots of very steep bits (Lost the data today after bike fell over and ‘computer’ got reset, while I was trying to take a photo of an award-winning carbon-neutral housing estate, as you do…)


On paper, today’s ride should be easy – not too far and plenty of time to do it, since I set off early (there’s no way I’m hanging around in last night’s field any longer than I need to). But, as usual, I conspire to make it harder, with a couple of detours to local beaches along the way. This means steep descents down to the sea, and even steeper ascents back out again.

The first beach I call in at is Branscombe, a lovely little village nestled between rolling hills down to the sea. It feels completely remote, like you could live in splendid isolation here, in one of the little houses between the hills and the water.

The beach is pretty deserted – it’s not yet 9am – but I do spot signs of life: there’s a tent pitched on the beach. Damn! Why didn’t I think of that, instead of camping behind an old dung heap!? I could have gone to sleep my favourite way: to the sound of the sea. It coulda been beautiful. Oh well, next time.



I continue on, and up – past a beautiful house covered with flowers, just as the sun starts to come out and things start to get warm. It’s a long climb out of Branscombe, so I take a recovery walk around a wooded area near Salcombe Regis, bursting with berries and birdsong. It’s gorgeous. But, onwards…


Next I chance across an observatory, the Norman Lockyer observatory. The buildings are closed but the grounds are open so I have a good nose around. It’s fascinating. My fave thing here is the human sundial. The sun comes out from behind clouds just on cue, and at first I think the dial is an hour out, before reading that you have to adjust to allow for BST.


From here it’s a fun descent  down Salcombe Hill into Sidmouth. This place is a bit bigger and quite busy. I grab some baked goods (yes! they still make iced buns) and sit on the seafront in the sunshine.

Then it’s another climb – this time a long slog – out of town and on to Budleigh Salterton. Another pebbly beach. Despite the ‘yellow’ on Google Maps. Why haven’t they got a way to indicate pebble beaches? And where did all the sand go? Important questions.


By now it’s really quite warm, so it’s time for another swim. Again, it’s pleasantly warm enough for a long swim. After, I think I may have dozed off on the rocks for a bit; I’m certainly tired enough, and anyway, I have time to kill. By the time I’m ready to move again, clouds have started to roll in. The weather seems to be on the turn.

Next stop is Exmouth, a proper seaside town complete with crazy golf course and mini-big-wheel. After a delicious fish in a bun, I cycle to the other end of town to explore the Jurassic Coast. There’s a prime bit of it jutting out on the headland – millions of years of geological time right there in front of your face. It’s staggering. I walk up to the headland, where a simple but stunning needle sculpture marks this World Heritage Site.

It’s getting on for 4 by this time, so it’s time for the final stretch, a cycle route that follows the railway line along the estuary to Exeter, passing Lympstone and Topsham along the way. It’s a lovely little ride, almost all off-road.

As I approach Exeter, navigating past a family of swans that have taken up residency on the cycle path next to the River Exe, the heavens open. It’s been at least a week since it last rained – I’ve been massively lucky with the weather – but even so, the timing is rotten. I pedal on, reaching my friends Ollie & Anna looking a little like a drowned rat. On a bike.


It’s been quite the (little) adventure. I’ve loved seeing more of this island I call home, but I’m ready to take the bike on the train tomorrow, rather than cycle to Totness for the start of the SeaChange music festival. Sometimes it’s good to let the train take the strain.

Over and out.



The Breacon Beacons to Exeter, pt.3

Glastonbury to Seaton:
91.7km, av. 15.3km/hr, max 45.7km/hr, time moving: 5 hrs 57 mins

Day 3 of the ride starts with me unzipping my tent to see a lone cow standing a few metres away (I thought I could hear cud-chewing…) A lone cow that wasn’t here last night. A few minutes later and I spot a couple of men standing at the gate of the field, and they definitely spot me.

They seem pretty chilled though, and are mainly interested in trying to coax the itinerant ruminant towards them, perhaps so they can identify it (it has a tag on its ear). After a few minutes they succeed in their task and happily wander off, without saying anything to me. Which is nice of them.

I pack up the tent, push out onto the road (closing the gate behind me) and set off – but still undecided as to my final destination for the day. My original plan was to head west, to Bridgewater, through the Quantock Hills AONB and onto Exmoor National Park. But, looking at the map, it’s further than I thought. Plus, I’m not sure if I want to spend a chilly night camping up on the moors.  So I decide to go west for a bit to explore the Somerset Levels, and then south, to the sea!

The first stop along the way is Shapwick Heath National Nature Reserve. What a place! A guy I’d been volunteering with at Green Man had been telling me about it, since it was he that helped secure the funding and (from what I could gather) was the architect of the whole project, which has been to turn an old peat-cutting area into an incredible wetlands nature reserve, with a cycle track running right through it.


Unfortunately, for reasons I still can’t fathom, I somehow miss the cycle track! Instead, I go the long (and hilly) way, only later realising my mistake when I have to double back on myself. It’s an annoying mistake, but not fatal.

I still get to explore a decent chunk of the reserve on foot, and “walk the plank” along a restored stretch of neolithic walkway. Tens of thousands of years ago, the area was inhabited by early human; they constructed elaborate walkways to traverse the flooded wetlands. I also find a hide, but don’t have binoculars to try and spot a little egret – they are in plentiful supply here.

It’s an incredible spot, and a place I’d like to see more of another time – along with the Huntspill River NNR & Bridgewater Bay NNR. But, after a spot of brunch, it’s time to get moving, and start heading south. It’s mankini time…


I pass through some wonderfully named places: High Ham, Low Ham, Muchelny Ham, Kingsbury Episcopi, Curry Rivel, Shepton Beauchamp. Some of them via the Stop Line Way, named after the ‘Stop Line’ – WW2 defences against a possible German invasion in the southwest – that now forms part of NCR33.


After the long stop this morning, there’s not much time to rest or pause for very long again; all effort is now focussed on reaching the sea. And reach the sea I do. After passing through the very lovely Axmouth, I roll into Seaton, with its pebbly beach and warm early evening sunshine. I park my bike and head straight into the water, which is refreshing but by no means cold (it’s been a hot summer after all).


Next task: find food. There’s a fairly dilapidated pub on the sea-front that only has one thing on the menu but that’s OK because it’s fresh mackerel.

Dusk is starting to gather, so the next task is to find a place to camp. I’m less sure how this is going to work out; the land around here feels a little more fenced off and, er, ‘owned’, than it did in Somerset. I cycle out of town a bit, through a village called Beer (mmm, lovely beer), and then uphill and inland a little, in search of countryside.

Eventually I find a field that looks promising. I enter through a gate, and look for a place to pitch. Unfortunately, the field borders a local football ground, and there are people in there having a drink or something. There’s also a barking dog that picks up on my presence and won’t shut up. So I push on into the next field, which is green and secluded.

But, there’s a problem… in a field further down, there’s a tractor going about its noisy business. It’s not clear if the fields are connected, but I figure there’s a risk of the farmer driving out through this field, and spotting me.

I decide to abandon this location, and continue on. About 500 metres up the road, I pass a field with a gate wide open, and a huge old dung heap near the entrance. A perfect place to hide a tent behind – I’ll be invisible from the road. Ah, the glamour of wild camping!

Without thinking too much more about it, I pitch up, feeling smug at this stroke of luck, just as it’s getting dark. I then investigate my surroundings a bit more. And that’s when I make an awful discovery. OK, no dead body in a ditch, but…

In the distance, I can see and hear the same tractor rumbling around the fields. My nemesis. And from this angle, it looks like this field is very much joined onto his field. And he left the gate open… (I’m assuming it’s a he, but of course it may not be).

I am now convinced that Night Tractor is going to drive into my field at some point, and turf me out. I watch him for an hour or so while nursing a beer. Sometimes he disappears behind a hill, and all goes eerily dark and quiet… then a couple of minutes later he’ll come roaring back, headlights beaming right onto the place where I’m sat, hiding. It reminds me of the film ‘Duel’.

It’s gone 11pm and he is still out there (god knows what doing), so I decide to call it a night and hope for the best. I drift off to sleep… but after maybe half an hour dozing, I hear the sound of a tractor; the same tractor. And it’s getting louder. I stick my head out of the tent and can see the headlights in the distance; but it looks like he’s on the road. Perhaps he’ll just stay on the road, jump out to lock the gate, and be gone?

Alas, no. Suddenly the tractor (actually it looks much bigger than a tractor) is in the adjacent field, and then… shiiit! He’s in MY field, goddamit! And he’s driving right at me, floodbeams blazing, engine roaring. My head is still stuck out of the tent, I must look like a rabbit in the headlights. The lights are so bright I can’t see into the cab – I can’t see the manic grin on the face of this psychotic driver. OK, this is not looking good. I don’t want to go out like this!

Like something out of a movie, at the last second he turns the wheel and swerves away… Thanks fuck for that. He simply drives towards the gate, stops, shuts the gate, and drives off.

After this slightly hair-raising experience, I don’t sleep so well, dreaming that he’s coming back with all his farmer mates armed with pitchforks.

So, lesson learnt: if a gate’s been left open, it’s not an open invite to set up camp; in fact it’s the opposite.




The Breacon Beacons to Exeter, pt. 2

Bristol to Glastonbury:
64km, av 14.3km/hr, max 40.7km/hr, time moving: 4hrs 26 mins

Day 2 and, after a deserved lie-in and a vegan feast of a breakfast (there’s a theme developing here – thanks Amy!) I set off sometime around 11am. On paper, today’s ride looks like it will be easier. And it is.

First stop is a general store in Bristol to pick up some new bungie cords. One was nicked or lost at Green Man, and another has gone the way all my bungies go – mashed up in the chain when I forgot to attach everything before setting off.  That job done, it’s south-west bound – to Glastonbury!

There was no Glastonbury Festival this year, and I’ve never actually properly seen the town, so I’m excited about the prospect of visiting. If all goes to plan, I’m also going to “wild camp” somewhere near Glastonbury Tor.

Despite all the cycle lanes, or perhaps because of them, it’s a bit of a dull escape out of Bristol suburbia, flanked by busy roads. Not especially fun, but these eventually give way to  country lanes and open countryside – the Mendip Hills AONB.

Before that, I pass through the excellently named Chew Magna and Chew Stoke, although I’m nursing a throbbing toothache which takes away some of the enjoyment. Skirting past Chew Valley Lake is lovely, but I decide to press on.

It’s really great cycling country round here, and I also have plenty of time and perfect weather, so I decide on a scenic diversion to Cheddar Gorge. I don’t *think* I’ve been here before, so it seems like a shame not to.

Racing down the hill through the gorge is pretty thrilling, as buzzards and red kites circle overhead. I want to look up at them but I have to concentrate on the road. Nestled among the rocks makes for a perfect place to stop for food, before free-wheeling past all the grockle-shops as we used to call them (aka: tourist traps).

Once through, I decide to swing a left onto a completely perfect little winding lane which runs parallel to the main road – for a while, at least. Somehow I miss the turning for Rodney Stoke National Nature Reserve, so I make no mistake about finding Ebbor Gorge National Nature Reserve.

I lock my bike up then hide it, and panniers, in some bushes (there’s very few people around and you’d have to be nuts to try and ride off with that lot in tow…) before heading off on foot around the reserve.

What a stunning place it is, with shady nooks and crannies, as well as a couple of amazing wicker beasts that give you a real surprise when you come across them – a nod to the wild animals which would have roamed here millions of years ago.

At the top of the Gorge there’s a stunning view of the Somerset Levels, with Glastonbury Tor standing proud above it all. With clear blue skies and a supply of roadside-bought strawberries, it really isn’t a bad way to spend a couple of hours.

I also come across another touching memorial, this time to some unlucky lad more recently departed. Turns out he died on my birthday last year, of a ketamine overdose. Part of the structure is made of a bike chain, so I guess he must have been a cyclist. Another reminder of mortality, and the surprises that life has in store for us all.

If I do one day die on a bike, at least I will die happy.


Next stop is Wookey Hole. No further explanation needed…


From here it’s a short ride into the Glastonbury sunset. I’ve heard the stories about it being a bit of a hippy enclave, and it turns out that this is something of an under-statement. It’s brilliantly out-there and I love it.

Imagine if every high street was like this – tarot readers, crystal healing, acupuncture clinics, yoga studios, vegan cafes and no doubt tantric brothels if you enquire in the right places. What I’m looking for though is a little more pressing; a decent meal. After a couple of false starts, I find Hawthorns, a nice little pub doing veggie curries for 9 quid. Jackpot.

Fed, and with a couple of pints to go with it, I head off outta town looking for a place to camp. I don’t really know what I’m doing, apart from the fact that it will be vaguely illegal but round here they probably won’t care too much.

I head off into the nearby countryside and choose a quiet looking lane away from houses and any obvious attractions that might cause people to stop. I soon find a dirt-track and go investigate. It feels pretty OK around here, and briefly consider putting my tent up on the path itself, but then think about early morning dog walkers and joggers.

There’s an empty field (many have cows or sheep in them) so I decide to go for it. There’s a gate, so I throw all my stuff over the top (including bike) before realising the gate isn’t actually locked. Doh!


By now, it’s dusk, so I figure that I’m fairly invisible from the road, and most drivers will probably be experiencing tunnel vision anyway, since they now have their headlights on. So I pitch my tent in the far corner of the field, hidden from any passing walkers. I’m within sight of the Tor, and bats are flying all around me as I bed down for the night.

This’ll do nicely.