Several readers and others have asked me what the highlights of my trip were. This is a very difficult question, there were many (and as always in these types of things, the most recent things tend to dominate). There are also overlaps between highlights. Anyway, here goes with a top ten …and this might change!
Meeting Rob and his family, Becci and Keith in completely unplanned circumstances was brilliant. It is a small world, but this was amazing!
9. Cycle shops and Cycle.travel
I do not have a picture of a cycle shop, but I interacted with three on this trip (and my local shop prepared the bike before I left). All were exceedingly friendly and professional – it is amazing how fast they can get jobs done that would take me hours of fiddling. So a big shout for: Aldridge Cycles in Camborne, Cycle Scene in Haxby, York and Holburn Cycles in Aberdeen.
My track was also devised using the excellent on-line service Cycle.travel, run by Richard Fairhurst from the Cotswolds. The program found some great routes, and despite occasional glitches was superb. Nearly all of the maps that I included in the blog were screen saves from Cycle.travel. If anyone wishes to find interesting cycle routes, whatever you are doing, I strongly recommend it.
8. Newcastle and Dundee cycle paths, with additional mention for all old converted railway lines
I do not know much around the politics and funding of cycle infrastructure (perhaps I ought to!) but there is plainly considerable variance in what happens. I suspect that this variance may be driven by one or two local people who understand what is needed. I think Newcastle and Dundee had the best infrastructure of the cities that I passed through and plainly new developments had taken account of needs well. AS I mentioned earlier in the trip, it is a tragedy that the decommissioned railway line routes were not kept intact – just imagine how good our cycle (and walking) infrastructure would be then. I should mention that cycle.travel makes the most of all dedicated cycle lanes in suggesting routes.
I saw a great many scenic and wonderful places on this trip, but the weather and scenery combined to perfection in Strathnaver this time. There were also no midges! I am certain that a few other places could beat Strathnaver had the weather been good there, and that in Strathnaver bad – e.g. Pennines, Salisbury Plain.
6. Curlews (and snipe)
Most of the bird-watching while cycling is in fact bird-listening (this in reality applies to much bird-watching too – initial cues as to the presence of birds is as often aural as visual. If I could hear curlews though, I knew that I was somewhere nice and remote, or at least the agriculture was allowing these wonderful birds to survive. Equally, if I could hear snipe in the evening or by night, I knew that I was staying somewhere fine too. I think that I need to live near curlews though.
5. English lanes
These were a revelation to me. Anywhere outside a radius of around 100 km from London there is a huge network of barely used lanes. Cycle.travel was extremely good at routing me down these. I posted many pictures of these and appreciated many more. Please do not take your cars down these – get on a bike (or walk) and really appreciate them. It appeared that within 100 km or so of London that there were so many people moving around that quiet lanes have all but disappeared – very sad.
4. Visiting houses that I used to live in and meeting current residents
This of course was part of the purpose of this journey – I spent quite a lot of time beforehand wondering what houses would be like now. Some of my previous residences had been destroyed, but I tried to contact current residents in most houses that I lived in. I did not get an answer from some, but those who did answer were very interesting to talk to, and to learn their life stories and how they interacted with the place. A great way to make some interesting connections – and also to pass on a little history.
I have been humbled by the number of generous friends, acquaintances and people who I do not know that have donated their money to the two charities that this bike ride was partly for. Literally as I write this, the total has passed my target of £8000, which is fantastic. Thank you all so much.
Both charities are partly personal – but the Spinal Injuries Association is particularly personal following my sister’s accident before Christmas. I called in to see her in Stoke Mandeville hospital and am in awe of her drive to try to recover as much function of her body as possible – inspirational stuff, and much harder than my bike ride. Just three days ago she messaged to say that during a hard session of physiotherapy she had gone from sitting to standing alone without any harness and not pulling a lot with her arms. This is fantastic progress – long may it continue.
2. Visiting friends and family
This again was another reason to make this long ride. It has been particularly good to see friends that I last saw many years ago. It was though sad that visits were often too short – I wish that had had more time. I recommend taking time to go and see people – much better than writing or phoning!
1. An email
This was a totally unexpected highlight. I received the following as a consequence of an article that the Dunmow Broadcast were good enough to publish (no other newspaper, including my local ones in Scotland, took any interest in my story). I have withheld the name of the sender for obvious reasons.
I saw an article in the Dunmow Broadcast (6.6.19) which you were in on your return to this neck of the woods. I wanted to write to you regarding your father Dr Tasker.
I grew up in Dunmow in The Old Manse Childrens’ Home in New Street and your father was our doctor. Twice a year he made visits to the Home to check the health of the children there by weighing, measuring etc which took nearly all day.
He was always lovely and kind. An early memory to share with you was I attended his surgery to have my ears syringed for the very first time but when he produced the equipment for the procedure (having a needle phobia) I would not let him near me and ran around his room. Instead of getting angry with me he reassured me that no needle was involved and merely water was used.
Also I had left the area but was visiting and had a leg wound which another doctor had assured me was fine. On changing the dressing the people I was visiting were concerned enough to suggest a visit to the local doctor. And although no longer under your father’s surgery he agreed to see me at short notice. Once the wound was exposed he called all his colleagues to come and see it and said it was the worse case of septicaemia he had ever seen and that I could have lost my leg. Thankfully, with his advice and treatment that was avoided.
I have very fond memories of your father and tremendous respect for him as he took the fear of visiting a doctor away. He was one of the few adults who treated us with kindness and courtesy in our situation. I am thankful that he was our doctor. You must be very proud.”
This did indeed make me proud, and also left a lump in my throat. If I had not done this ride, I would not have known this story. There are likely quite a few more like it. An outstanding highlight.