Tag Archives: Bike

Norfolk – life in the slow lane (in a good way)

Norfolk. UK. It can be an odd place. There are the obvious jokes that seem to apply to any county that isn’t close to a huge metropolis, or which is agriculturally focussed. After 25 odd years of living here I still find the lack of serious hills a bit boring at times; having grown up in East Sussex with the South Downs, Norfolk can seem a bit flat until you get to the North coast.

It’s a beautiful county though; huge skies and horizons, the Norfolk Broads, the coastline and endless beaches, the picturesque little villages you stumble upon where time still seems to run more slowly than the rest of the world. The people are friendly and hospitable, and not hesitant about sharing a story or two, in fact it can be hard to get away if you engage them in conversation.

Today I went on a slow bike ride around a bit of the the Norfolk Broads, around Neastishead and Irstead, not far from Wroxham. I was deliberately pedalling slowly, just looking at everything, and pausing frequently. There were children playing in the country lanes, neighbours chatting on village greens and staithes (in a mostly socially distant manner) over a glass of cider (ok, can of scrumpy maybe). Nature was thriving everywhere with birds singing, mice foraging, lambs gambolling and even a glimpse of an Otter. And the plants, mighty Oaks and water loving Alder, hundreds of different wildflowers I can’t even begin to name, all buzzing with insect life.

What’s my point? I was just wondering why people feel the such a compulsion to holiday abroad, getting on a plane, flying to a concrete hotel complex somewhere in the world, with a sterile beach and swimming pool, food they ultimately complain about, with accompanying travel stress and carbon footprint. We have all this on our doorstep. Norfolk isn’t unique in having loads of places to explore and things to do. Coming out of lockdown why don’t we all fly less and visit the wonders on our own doorstep? I’m certain local businesses would appreciate it for a start, and connecting with nature in our local area is so good for folks.

I really enjoyed my slow bike ride today, and wander round Alder Fen Broad, then Barton Broad. Highly recommend visiting them; although maybe just leave Alder Fen Broad alone as it’s lovely and quiet, a bit of a hidden gem; so many Dragon Flies!

Exploring hidden pathways is fun, and did anyone else read Swallows and Amazons as a child?

I’ve really got to get myself a canoe. Sometimes paddling beats pedalling.

Anyone know the story behind the statue above Irstead Church doorway? Some kind of Broads Serpent maybe? I love how a ride round your local area can inspire your imagination.

Barton Broad offers another chance to see an example of car woodland; not much of this around anymore.

It’s been fun exploring my local area whilst I’ve been on holiday. I’m back to work next week, but hoping to work a bit less and get out a bit more!

Finally, for my Extinction Rebellion friends: Next Rebellion announced today, 01 September, Parliament Square in London if you’ve not got a local rebellion. Coincides with Parliament reopening. With Boris saying ‘Build Build Build’ (all the wrong ‘builds’ too), and 4C temp rises now predicted, it’s time to Rebel For Life; We want to Live!

Please stop scalping Mother Earth

I haven’t written to the Council for a bit, or to my MP, however after pedalling round my local country lanes over the last few days I felt motivated to write the below. I might also submit this to the local newspaper tomorrow to see if they’d life to print a version of it. I’m sharing it on my blog as I’m sure many of you will feel the same way. Here’s a nice photo before getting into the letter; let me know quick if you spot any typos!

Norfolk waterway

Norfolk waterway with willow trees and cow pasture

03 June 2020

Dear Sir/Madam,

I’m sure like me being able to enjoy Norfolk’s glorious countryside over the last few months has been of great solace during lock-down. We have an amazing variety of habitats, plants, mammals and birds, and I was delighted to see the Swallowtail butterflies when I cycled up to Hickling Broad the other day.

I am currently working from home, as are many people; those fortunate enough not to have been furloughed or made redundant, or our committed key workers who run the risk of catching COVID-19. I try to get out once a day for some exercise, which generally involves a bike ride or a walk around the Salhouse area. At the weekend I go on longer rides taking in many of the county’s country lanes, teeming with wildlife and bird song.

One of the upsides of lock-down is that I’ve been able to get out in my local area a bit more, to appreciate nature in all its glory as Spring turns to Summer. The hundreds of varieties of plants and wildflowers, the insects in their multitudes that feed on them, the birds and mammals eating the insects; a wonderful trophic cascade. A couple of week’s ago I spotted a Stoat bouncing down a lane, hunting along the hedgerow, a sight that filled my heart with joy. It was accompanied by the magnificent sound of Skylark’s song overhead.

In the last two weeks it all seems to have dramatically changed, leaving me very sad, and filled with considerable rage.

Now when I cycle down the same routes the roadside verges, once teeming with life, are quiet, shrunken and lifeless things. They have been shorn down to the bare minimum, often the naked earth, as if Mother Nature herself has been scalped. Gone are the wildflowers and plants, the brightly coloured beetles, the butterflies around the nettles, the birds finding food for their young. There is no sign of the Stoat; there’s nothing for it there anymore.

I don’t understand why this is done. I have checked the information on the Norfolk County Council website on the page linked to below:

https://www.norfolk.gov.uk/roads-and-transport/roads/road-maintenance/trees-hedges-and-grass-verges

It says that roadside verges are only cut for safety reasons and not appearance. They are cut to ensure visibility and safety at junctions. It also extols the virtues of ‘almost 10 miles’ of roadside nature reserves; 10 miles, out of the 1000’s of miles of roadside verges we have in the county.

Now I get the safety and junctions point, and to an extent the visibility bit on some stretches, but the cutting goes far above and beyond this. Most cutting, aside from in the very few designated roadside nature reserves, is extreme, leaving very little cover. I am guessing this is to reduce the frequency of cutting, or is just down to ignorance or lack of care for the habitat being destroyed. I guess it’s also possible the contractors doing this work are assessed and have to make sure it’s clear where they’ve cut, and that the council is getting their money’s worth. I imagine there is a whole governance and sign off process around it that’s miles distant from caring about the safety of the plants, mammals and birds whose homes are being destroyed, or the vitality of the habitat that brings so such joy and relief to walkers and cyclists alike.

It’s not just roadside verges. There are reports of park or common land where wildflower meadows that have been allowed to grow, being dramatically cut back, with nesting birds disturbed or killed. Local residents in those areas have been rightfully devastated and angry to find their little bit of nature gone; it’s really bad for people’s mental health.

It appears the temporary reprieve nature had in many parts of the county, due to lock-down, is over. The stay of execution has expired. Not only are roads getting busier again, packed with traffic with a corresponding increase in roadkill (I passed a beautiful grass snake half squashed near Ranworth the other day, and lets not even get into hedgehog deaths), but we have restarted our relentless pursuit of dominance over nature. It’s got to be controlled, cut, shaped, moulded and turned to our purpose.

I request we change the way we’re looking at this. Roadside verges and hedgerows provide some of the last remaining habitat in the UK for our native flora and fauna. We’ve simply got to realise we’re a part of nature, not apart from nature. By destroying it, and roadside verges are just one simple but effective example, we’re harming ourselves and future generations.

Instead of cutting nearly everything back, which seems to be the case in most places, why can’t we reverse the policy and only cut at real key points, such as at junctions as the Norfolk County Council’s website references. On straight stretches of road, with a clear line of sight, there really can’t be any excuse for cutting down to the bare earth. We’re in a climate and ecological emergency, and desperately need to protect our remaining biodiversity. Instead of just a handful of ‘roadside nature reserves’ why can’t we have just a handful of ‘roadside cutting zones’ with the new normal being verdant habitat for wildlife. Give the plants, mammals and nesting birds a chance.

I’d like to talk about a couple of other things, just to support this.

The UK has been hunted, developed and farmed to within an inch of its life for thousands of years. We have very few wild places left, and a massively reduced diversity of plants and animals. Very few bits of ancient woodland, or habitat that has reached its climax state, remain. We are highly critical of other parts of the world who are destroying their own perhaps more obviously biodiverse habitat, such as rainforest, for example for agricultural purposes. The poorer nations doing this are often doing so to provide goods and services for us. They’re doing now what we’ve done to our own country for centuries, and our own corporations are encouraging them to do so in the name of progress and economic growth.

We’re massively exploiting the Global South for things like food, precious minerals for our mobile phones, palm oil and fossil fuels, with profits mostly going to line the pockets of the elite in the Global North. We’re privileged hypocrites and most of the time we don’t even realise it. Can’t we spare our remaining bits of nature the chop, and try and set a bit of an example for other nations? This also links in with social and environmental justice, but that’s a topic for another day.

The Coronavirus originated in China, and it seems evident that anthropogenic (human based) pressure on natural habitats caused the outbreak. Human incursions (habitat destruction, pollution etc) into natural habitat, stressing natural systems and balances, caused this horrible virus to jump to humans, leaving us with a global pandemic and widespread tragedy and grief. I’m not saying that cutting verges and hedgerows will cause a similar outbreak, but it’s the same principle; destroying nature harms us in the long run, and we’ve got to learn to live alongside it and not try and tame it all the time.

I was really hoping that we could emerge from the pandemic with a new strategy for life, a refreshed system, with no going back to old harmful and destructive practices. I know many people are trying to change the way they live, with working from home becoming the new normal, and perhaps reduced consumption rates and associated emissions. Please can we do all we can to encourage this, including stopping the highly destructive practice of roadside verge and hedge cutting where it’s not needed? It may seem like a little thing, but all these small steps add up to something bigger.

And if we can get a new normal, with more working from home and much less traffic on the roads, we could scrap other environmentally and ecologically destructive projects such as the Wensum Link Road, or housing developments on County Wildlife Sites such as Thorpe Woodlands, or plans to expand Norwich airport. We desperately need to invest in a greener and more sustainable future, and to relieve ourselves of the suicidal notion that unfettered economic growth is either possible, a positive measure of success, or leads to happiness and satisfaction.

I humbly request that as a county we revisit the policy on grass verge cutting, as well as decisions made in a different era on developments that are no longer needed, and which don’t make any sense when we know we need to reduce emissions and protect biodiversity.

If we don’t act now, we wont leave anything for future generations. Please stop scalping Mother Earth.

Yours sincerely,

James Harvey

Salhouse resident

 

P.S. Photographic evidence of excessive roadside verge cutting available upon request

 

 

A wander down country ways

Another week done and it’s suddenly Easter! I’ve fallen into a new routine and try to get out once a day for a walk or a bike ride, around work stuff. Dunno how long the lockdown is going to go on for, but feels like a few weeks at least. Was hoping to get down to my parents for Easter, but obviously that’s not going to be possible. At least I can still stay in touch with family via FaceTime etc. Happy Easter everyone!

One of my excursions this week ended up at Salhouse Church, where I sat under Yew tree for a bit. I wrote a poem about the Yew, a tree that has a lot of mythology associated with it. If you fall asleep under them you can end up having very strange dreams, especially when there’s pollen in the air.

Yew Tree at Salhouse Church

Yew Tree at Salhouse Church

A wander down country ways,
To ease the stress of strangest days,
I stumble on a church and grounds,
Yew trees gather close around,

These guardians of ancient sites,
Witnesses to age old rites,
Dare I climb its spiky limbs,
As evening comes and daylight dims,

Instead I sit and breathe in deep,
Will Yew tree pollen make me sleep,
And bring with it the strangest dreams,
Not everything is at is seems,

A gateway to deathly halls,
Its poison touch darkness calls,
But life and rebirth it can bring,
Something good to make one sing,

I didn’t climb this mystic tree,
Respectful of its solemn key,
I’ll find another trunk to climb,
And come back here another time.

I’ve been exploring a few new trails on my bike rides, finding new hidden gems I wasn’t aware of.

I’m not sure I’d be able to stay sane if I wasn’t able to get outside once a day. The good weather is definitely helping too.

Norfolk has a lot of churches, a testament to its rich farming past. Landowners competed for prestige by building churches, some of them quite large in relatively small villages.

For some reason I always convert church photos to black and white, seems to work quite well. As a counter here are some Bluebells from down by Salhouse Broad, which have started to come out in the woodlands round me; useful ancient woodland indicator species.

As usual it’s beautiful down by Salhouse Broad at the moment, especially given it’s relatively quiet, with plenty of room to maintain social distancing rules. Very grateful to have it on my doorstep.

I’ve been trying to get to grips with learning new plant species.  Hedgerows are crowded with new growth, flowers and colours. There are at least 4 species of nettle I’ve seen (dead nettles), as well as lesser celandine, stitchwort, chickweed, Alexanders; I think I’ll do a separate blog post for wild flowers and plants, which will help me learn their names, especially the Latin ones!

It’s great cycling at the moment, a real pleasure with so few cars on the road. I’m really hoping that when we get back to ‘normal’ people choose to use their cars less, maybe work from home more. It would do wonders for the environment, and hopefully mean people have more time to enjoy the important things in life. Less cars also means less road kill, which has been very noticeable over the last few weeks. Nature is definitely breathing a sigh of relief with verges left to grow, and animals and birds spared being hit by traffic.

I’ve been trying to get a bit of track and sign practice in too, as I’ll be assessed on it later this year. It’s got trickier this week as the ground is harder (not rained for a while), and given I only have a brief window of opportunity each day I can’t explore as much as I’d like to. I found a nice Muntjac deer print (think it is anyway), and the remains of a pigeon which I reckon was taken by a bird of prey. Also found a bearded lizard in my herb garden! (they might be pets though)

I’ll finish with a picture from Wroxham Bridge, showing a very quiet river. Last Easter Wroxham was packed with visitors, but today there’s practically tumbleweed blowing down the high street. Oh, and here are some cat pics too – current house guests leaving fur everywhere whilst enjoying finding new places to sleep.

Adios for now.

Is it my imagination?

Is it my imagination, or are the birds louder, the insects more buzzy and does the air taste sweeter? Out on my bike for my once-a-day exercise break, I glory in the lack of background noise from traffic, the roads and skies quietened by necessity.

Sometimes I pedal down to the Broad, not too far from my house, to enjoy the peace that water brings. I’m alone there aside from a few dog walkers; usually it’d be packed with picnickers and boats.

It’s fun poking about, looking at the tracks and signs animals have left. I’ve yet to find Otter footprints, but have seen signs of their feeding. I’m sure there must be a badger set somewhere close by, but as yet it alludes me.

Spring flowers are bursting into life, which is helping me learn to identify new species. The flowers and warmer weather no doubt account for the large clouds of insects I pedal through, although I wonder if the cleaner air and reduced traffic are also playing a part in their increased numbers. Insects are such a vital foundation for trophic cascades and ecosystems, it would be wonderful to see their numbers recover. I sat and watched a bumble bee buzzing round the Broad for several minutes the other day.

As well as Salhouse Broad I sometimes cycle down to the River Bure, opposite the Ferry Inn on the other side of the water in Horning. There’s no one drinking and eating outside the pub, aside from gaggles of ducks and the odd swan.

On the home front I need to get out in the garden more, but remain pretty occupied with work. Did manage to get a bit of bread braking done, and was very happy to find Hedgehog scat in my garden; I think one might be visiting my pond at night.

Things are a little busier in my house than normal as I’m now playing host to 2 cats, 2 bearded-lizards, and an additional human who have all joined me for the ‘Lockdown’.  The cats like finding places to lounge in the sunshine, and seem content. It’s good to have house guests, as although I’m always happy in my own company, I’ll probably start to go slightly mad if this goes on for several months. I’ve also fixed up my big off road touring bike to explore local trails, and been carving spoons to practice my bushcraft skills; the course has been paused for obvious reasons, but will hopefully continue come Autumn.

As well as keeping on top of my natural history study, it’s been fun to try to improve my photography skills. I’m conscious I’m lucky to live where I do, and am able to get out on my own into the countryside and nature. There’s a  very low risk of bumping into anyone else, and if I do it’s easy to maintain several metres distance. I’m trying to post up a few photos on my Instagram and/or Twitter accounts from my daily exercise jaunts.

The Broad still has the greatest draw for me, although the Mallards do not obey social distancing rules.

It won’t be long until the Bluebells are out, carpeting the woods round here in colour. Definitely something to look forward to.

For the time being the Daffodils, Marsh Marigolds, Lesser Celandine, Stitchwort, Dead Nettles, Wood Anemones and countless other plant species I don’t know the names of are bringing colour to the landscape. Also, going on a walk can be quite a slow process now, as I keep having to stop to try and ID plants or animal tracks; Fallow deer example below I think.

A bit further on from Salhouse Broad is Ranworth Broad, another beautiful spot currently devoid of most humans. There are waterfowl aplenty to be seen, and I’ve spotted an elusive Kingfisher flitting about a couple of times; the brilliant blur of colour as it flashes past.

 

When I’m out in the countryside it feels like being out in a time warp. There are so few human based sounds and sights compared to normal, it sometimes feels like it could be a hundred years ago, or more. Nature seems to be thriving and I can’t help thinking it’s doing us all good (‘all’ being all inhabitants of this planet) to slow down a bit, COVID19 impacts notwithstanding. I’m hoping that we, as a species, can learn from this crisis. Maybe we can stop our relentless pursuit of economic growth, and destruction of the planet, slow down, appreciate what we have, and lead a more harmonious existence; one that might preserve the Earth for generations yet to come.

I’ll end with a bit of film from the Broad, which is mainly to showcase the birds singing.

Stay safe and sane.

Get paid for cycling to work?

I thought the ‘Beast from the East’ was behind us when I went out for a pedal round the Norfolk countryside on Saturday, and to begin with that appeared to be the case. The snow was contained to small patches in fields, and I merrily splashed down narrow lanes full of melt-water. What remained of the previous week’s blizzards was quickly disappearing, with rivulets of water joining together to form larger streams, and in some cases torrents, flowing quickly downhill. Beneath the retreating snow crocuses and other spring growth were appearing, soon to replace the snow drops. The birds were in fine voice, celebrating the snow’s retreat by collecting twigs for nests and generally getting jiggy with it.

I’ve recently rejuvenated my Ridgeback Panorama used for my Bike around Britain tour in 2013. My Oxford Bike Works Expedition Bike is off the road at the moment awaiting wheel repairs and a general post winter rebuild. It’s good to be back on the Ridgeback, despite it being a bit creaky these days; it brings back good memories and the larger wheels mean I’m a bit speedier on the morning commute.

So, the Ridgeback and I were speeding along, having taken in Woodbastwick, Ranworth, South Walsham and several other small villages, when we turned down a road near Burlingham which obviously hadn’t seen much sun.

No road closure signs required

No road closure signs required

Determined not to be defeated by this impasse, I decided carrying my bike over the still significant snow-drifts was the way forward. The drifts must have been at hedge-height level prior to the thaw.

Ridgeback portage required

Ridgeback portage required

I made it to the other side with feelings akin to those Amundsen must have felt on reaching the South Pole in 1911, however perhaps shorts hadn’t been the best choice of clothing for this outing, and my shoes were on the damp side by the time I hit tarmac again.

As well as weekend rides I’ve been using my Ridgeback for the daily commute, determined not to have to resort to driving which tends to leave me in a grotty mood for the rest of the day. I was snow-bound for a few days during the Beast from the East episode, and not being able to get out for a ride left me feeling irritable and fidgety. It took me a while to realise it was because I hadn’t been having my daily dose of exercise. Cycling has so many benefits, as I’ve extolled before, that I find it difficult to understand why you would drive if you have an alternative. Here’s 10 reasons to get on your bike:

  1. Health and fitness – stronger and better endurance, helps you lose weight, and keeps me prepped for my next tour
  2. Reduced risk of cardio-vascular disease and cancer, and no doubt many other diseases. Some studies have shown it’s better for your lungs than driving, as you avoid more fumes. It also appears to help maintain brain function due to better blood flow, reducing the risk of dementia
  3. Boosted immune system; read an article this week about pensioners who cycle regularly having the immune system of people in their 20’s
  4. Keeps you looking more youthful – or so I like to think
  5. Improved mental health – from exercise, being outside in the fresh air and nature, and taking some time-out each day
  6. Cycling has less impact on your body than, for example, running, so you save your knees! I know this to be true because I went for a run for the first time in ages on Saturday, and still haven’t completely recovered
  7. Less polluting than other forms of transport, so better for the environment and more sustainable. We really need to reduce our CO2 emissions
  8. It’s actually quicker than driving in cities, and you find places you’d never see in a car. It improves your navigational skills and sense of direction to boot
  9. You can eat more cake; other foodstuffs are available (and frequently taken advantage of)
  10. Improves your sex-life; apparently it’s all about muscle groups

There are other benefits to be had, however if that isn’t enough I don’t know what is? If you’re still not convinced how about being paid to cycle to work? In New Zealand one business owner has taken it to a new level and is paying his employees $5 a day if they commute by bike for 6 months, rising to $10 a day after that, paid as an annual basis. He’s paying for it out of business profits, and says it’s covered by the improvement in employee productivity and better health.

Here’s a link to the article on this:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/mar/07/new-zealand-cycle-cash-10-a-day-employees-work-company?CMP=share_btn_tw

This got me thinking about whether we could do this in the UK. People are often more motivated, at least initially, by monetary incentives rather than the 10 benefits listed above; I know, weird isn’t it, you’d think you’d cycle for those alone with any money being a bonus. If companies can’t afford to do this themselves perhaps the government could offer grants to at least partially fund it. Their incentive to do this would be less stress on an already straining-at-the-seams heath service, as well as improvements to the transport network due to less road erosion, and less traffic jams. It really has to be a win-win for everyone. I suppose the government already pitches in via cycle-to-work schemes, which give you tax breaks, however there have to be the opportunities to encourage cycling.

I’m wondering how I can turn this into some sort of business case to present at work, however it might be a bit tricky to assign an actual £ value. Got to be worth a go though, as my gut instinct says the benefits of a more motivated, healthier and happier workforce would outweigh any costs.

And perhaps instead of all the money being paid in a bonus to employees they could opt for some or all of it to be paid to charity instead, with Gift Aid on top of these donations.

I’ll do some more work on this and maybe float the idea at work. It would mean we’d probably need more places to lock bikes, and maybe more showers, but these things are all doable. In the meantime if you have any suggestions or comments please let me know, all gratefully received; let’s get more people self-propelled!

Brake the Cycle

A couple of weeks ago I came across Brake the Cycle, a touring company that organise adventures combining bicycles, caring about the planet, eco-communities and permaculture, with helping individuals find a new healthier and happier path in life. What better way to do that than on a bike? In short it’s all the sort of thing I’m passionate about, in trying to practise a more balanced, sustainable, and connected to nature lifestyle.

Here’s a video from their website that’s really making me look forward to touring again a bit later this year; I’m hoping to pedal down the Wild Atlantic Way in Ireland.

You can check out there website here – www.brakethecycle.xyz

If you’re thinking about giving cycle touring a go, but a bit nervous and would like to do it with a group of like-minded individuals, then I’d recommend checking them out. They organise tours in the UK, such as Lands End to John O’Groats and an Odyssey in Wales, to pedalling round Spain or Greece. And they’ll carry your luggage for you! A great way to see new places, make new friends, and experience the joys of cycle touring in a sustainable way.

I recently wrote a guest blog post for them, which you can read here – www.brakethecycle.xyz/single-post/bikearoundBritain

Incidentally I have no commercial connection to this website, I just really like what they’re trying to do and may well get a few friends to join me on one of their tours.

I’ve also copied in the blog post below, as I really enjoyed writing this one, and want to keep it for posterity.

Bike around Britain by James Harvey
Riding a bike. I don’t think I could do without it now. I get grouchy if I haven’t cycled for a couple of days. If I have to use my car to commute the day is definitely worse for it. On my 10 mile ride to work I see people stuck in their vehicles, looking grumpy, frustrated, bored, and disconnected from the world outside their sterile, sealed metal boxes.

Wouldn’t it be brilliant if more people used their bike to get to work? There are so many benefits to be gained from a regular pedal: mental and physical health, fitness, saving money, and less pollution. It’s actually quicker in towns, and you can eat more cake without worrying too much about the calories. You’re closer to the natural world too — not separate from it like so many people seem to be these days. As we move into Spring and everything starts waking up there’s more to see, smell, listen to and experience whilst pedalling.

Snowdrop covered bank

Take the path less travelled

Cycling several times a week also means that when it comes to your next cycle tour your legs are better prepared for it, although it’s one of those hobbies where you really can get fit on the job. I started cycle touring properly in 2013, when a major life event made me re-evaluate what’s important. I took some time out and decided, fairly randomly, that I’d cycle around the coast of Britain. Why wait until you retire to start adventuring? You never know what’s going to happen. If you have the chance to do something different, to pursue something out-of-the ordinary you’ve always wanted to do, then go for it, ‘brake the cycle’ and take that first step out of your front door. Every step after that is easier. One of my favourite quotes, from Henry Rollins reflects all this:

‘No such thing as spare time
No such thing as free time
No such thing as down time
All you got is life time. Go!’

I didn’t especially know what I was doing when I set off round the coast. I bought a bike I’d been reliably informed was decent for touring, as well as camping equipment I could fit on it, and a whole  host of other bits and pieces I thought I might need. Once I’d packed my panniers I mounted my trusty steed, and gently tumbled onto the grass outside my house. It appeared I might have to cut down on what were going to be my worldly possessions for the next three months. That was the start of realising you really don’t need much to be happy. In fact, from what I’ve observed, the more people have the less happy they often are. You meet a lot of people when touring, whether it be in Britain, or in more remote places (for us) such as Albania, Scandinavia or Turkey. The friendliest and most content people I’ve met are often those that seem to have the least, from a material possession point of view; I’d argue they probably have the much more from a spiritual and non-material angle.

Starting from Norwich and heading to Lowestoft, on the East coast of Britain, before turning North, getting fitter as I went. I almost immediately had a crash on a Norfolk coastal path, when I discovered loaded touring bikes don’t cope well with sand. This wouldn’t be the last ‘stunt’ of the tour.

It didn’t really take very long to get to Scotland, however it took a me a disproportionate amount of time to get round the coast of that glorious country. There are so many ins-and-outs, up-and-downs, sideways then back up bits. Thankfully on a coastal tour it’s quite hard to get lost, all you have to do is keep the sea on one side, and in Scotland there aren’t a lot of roads to choose from when you get beyond Edinburgh. Another Scottish bonus is you can wild camp as long as you’re sensible and respectful, so finding a place to rest wasn’t hard.

Wild camping on the shores of Loch Fyne

Wild camping on the shores of Loch Fyne

I always get asked what my favourite bits of a tour are, and it’s often hard to pick one. I know that the journey is definitely more important that the destination — the latter often being a bit of an anti-climax after all the adventures along the way. On my 2013 Bike around Britain tour I can definitely say Scotland was my favourite bit, aside from the midges which will eat you alive if you’re not careful. The coastline is amazing, especially the West Coast, and then there’s Orkney where I immediately felt at home,  and Skye and Mull which are quite different from the mainland. The wildness of Cape Wrath where I camped next to the lighthouse and ate fresh wild Atlantic salmon was amazing, and I’ll never forget cycling over the Bealach na Ba pass from Applecross, up the steepest ascent in the UK, then descending carefully down the other side with my brakes smoking. That’s feeling alive.

Bealach na Ba

Bealach na Ba

Eventually it was time to leave Scotland and cross back into England, via Gretna Green. That in itself was a culture shock after weeks in relative wilderness; coach loads of Japanese and Chinese tourists greeted me as I pedalled through, and I suddenly had to contend with roundabouts and traffic lights again, a rarity in the highlands. Then it was on to Wales which turned out to be, whilst beautiful, very wet and windy. In fact it mostly rained for all of Wales, but you get used to that kind if thing whilst cycle touring, as well as dirt and mud; my theory is your skin is waterproof, so all good. A few local cyclists I met on the road bought me the odd meal, or a pint, which kept motivation levels up.

When you’re on a long cycle tour you’re much more in touch with the natural environment you’re in, especially if you’re camping most of the time. You become attuned to the daylight hours as well as the weather, and are definitely very much a part of nature, rather than disconnected from it. On your bike you spot things you’d never see in a car, and meet people you’d never normally speak to. They’re interested because you’re on a loaded touring bike and they want to know where you’ve been and where you’re going ; this can often lead to free meals! You rest when you’re tired, eat when you’re hungry, and take a diversion to see something interesting if the notion takes you. I’d challenge anyone not to feel less-stressed after a week or two of that.

 

Cycle touring - enjoy spectacular sunsets in nature's embrace

Cycle touring – enjoy spectacular sunsets in nature’s embrace

The funny thing was as soon as I rode to the other side of the Severn Bridge it stopped raining. I could look back into Wales and it was still cloudy on the other side of the Severn, however I was now in sunshine. Wales is damp, lovely country, but damp.

The South West was another highlight, although the hills were steeper than in any other part of the tour; I didn’t have to get off and push until I got to Devon. I rode to Land’s End on a wonderful sunny day, completing a rather long and unconventional John O’Groats to Lands End (‘Jogle’) trip. I laid back in the heather and dozed for a bit, listening to the waves crashing against the rocks far below. The sound of the sea, my constant companion for the three months of my  tour, is always relaxing and trance-inducing.

Lands End - listening to the sea

Lands End – listening to the sea

Along the South Coast it got a lot busier, but remained entertaining, with the odd ferry to catch over inlets and estuaries. There was more regular supply of ice-cream, and friends joined me along the way to experience a bit of life on the road.  After the peace of Scotland the South East was the opposite. A more frantic pace of life as well as an increase in traffic and prices, and more opportunities to get lost. As with everywhere folks still often wanted to say hello and find out what I was doing, or to offer hospitality.

Helford - ran out of road, waiting for ferry boat

Helford – ran out of road, waiting for ferry boat

Heading North across the Thames I joined the Tour de Latitude, taking a diversion to cycle to the music festival. It proved to be an excellent decision, a chance to catch up with a few friends and ease tired muscles, before heading back to the coast to finish the circuit back in Lowestoft, and home to Norwich.

I learnt so much about myself and the UK on that tour. Since then I’ve continued to go on adventures on my bike, including a six month pedal around Europe in 2015, taking in Nordkapp, Tarifa and Istanbul. But there really isn’t any need to leave  Britain to get away from it all, reconnect with nature, and try something new. We have so much on our own doorstep to enjoy, learn about and be part of.

You have a lot of time to mull things over whilst you’re pedalling. In the last two hundred years we’ve grown more and more apart from the natural world, somehow forgetting about it, or believing we’re above other species on this planet. There’s a constant pressure for growth, whether that be population, industrial, agricultural or economic, which is at odds with the finite resources we have access to, as well as our own wellbeing. I can’t help wondering if a lot of the mental health issues we experience today are caused by the realisation, by all of us at some level, that things aren’t right at the moment. Getting on your bike, whether that be for you daily commute to work or to take up touring, is a great way to start reconnecting with the world, to start working out what’s important, and to bring more contentment and satisfaction into your life.

People always seem to ask me what I’m going to do or where I’m going to go next? I ask, where are you going next?

“Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
The Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.
Alice: I don’t much care where.
The Cheshire Cat: Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.
Alice: …So long as I get somewhere.
The Cheshire Cat: Oh, you’re sure to do that, if only you walk long enough.”

Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

James Harvey is a keen cyclist and advocate of two wheels for wellbeing. Find out more about his 2013 tour (with routes) here: www.bikearoundbritain.com. You can find James sharing his thoughts on the wonderfully titled www.selfpropelled.life and follow home on Twitter here @jam_har

 

Anger…

Most of the time cycling to work is great. It’s relaxing, keeps you fit, non-polluting, burns calories, and all the other positives.

Sometimes however it can leave me feeling a bit angry, for various reasons.

Today was one such day. I wrote a poem about it on my lunch break.

Anger
As I cycle…

Fields flash past
Forest, stream
Wild hedgerows
Full of thorns
Rooks caw
Cold, clear
Fresh, free, clean
Relax…
Turn the pedals
Breathe deep
Enjoy the moment

Then
I sigh…
Two young hedgehogs
Hit…
Dead
On the verge
Did they crawl there to die?
A blackbird
Head crushed, slain
Will sing no more
A pigeon
Ragged, bloodied, feathers everywhere
I pass more corpses
Rat, deer, rabbit
Hawk, pheasant
Lying on a tarmac altar
Sacrificed for what?

Plastic, litter
Infesting hedges, ponds
Fields, woodland, paths
No-where is spared
Polluting, poisoning
More jettisoned
From car windows
No thought
Heedless of damage
Why no shame?
Why so lazy?
Why think this is okay?

Fumes, foulness,
Exhausts belch
Black smoke, invisible toxins
More poison
Choking, chest hurts, throat burns
And new roads
Scar the countryside
More bad smells
Bitumen
Strangling Earth
Infected arteries
Opening the countryside
To more…
Death

Past the Broad
A small sanctuary
Peace
Smile returns
Weave down the road
Morning dogs!
Wildfowl paddling
Early morning rowers
Swans gliding
Majestics presences
Not enough

Drivers, many good
Some, not so
No indication
Pass too close
Abuse…thanks
3 mile commutes
Or less
Why not walk, cycle?
They won’t
Don’t think
Too hard
Too much effort

That’s why
I’m sometimes angry
Depressed, despondent
Can this ever change?
People won’t
Too selfish
Too…someone else
Until it’s too late
Then they’ll blame
Others
Instead…
Look in the mirror

END

 

Thankfully it’s not all bad, and a lot of people are trying to make things better. That was, however, cathartic.

Hit the road…James

I haven’t been on a decent cycle tour for a while, so decided my September break should be used for a pedal round some parts of the UK I haven’t visited before. I did the coast in 2013, and marvellous it was, but decided to head inland this time.

I set off from Salhouse, my new place of residence (moved earlier this year), through Norwich then down to Bury St. Edmunds. Day 1 took me to Cambridge via a slightly different route to the one I’d normally take. The bit down to Bury was alright, but not keen on the road from there to Newmarket. What was nice was to be on my bike again, letting the miles drift by, taking in Autumn sights, sounds and smells, and feeling work stress vanish surprisingly quickly.

After staying the night at my brother and sister-in-law’s house in Cambourne, saying hello to their new chickens, and playing with my niece and nephew, I set my sights on Oxford. I decided to try cycling along the Icknield Way, an ancient trail that runs from somewhere near Thetford all the way to Oxfordshire. It is cyclable, but not really suitable for a touring bike; would be fine for bike packing. After about 20km of hard riding, where my panniers kept dragging on the grass, I swapped it for the road, crossed over the M1 and into the Chilterns, a range of hills my brain had conveniently decided to forget about.

Now I’m fairly fit from cycling to and from work, and longer rides at the weekend, but Norfolk doesn’t have a large number of hills and a fully loaded touring bike weighs quite a lot. I didn’t have to push up any climbs, but there was quite a lot of huffing and puffing, and a bit of swearing. The Chilterns cycle way is a beautiful ride though, and nice to pass through somewhere I haven’t visited before. I stopped at a campsite near High Wycombe for the night, conveniently situated next to a pub, splendid. Incidentally, quite a few of the campsites on this tour, completely by ‘chance’, were situated in close proximity to pubs…a clear sign the gods were smiling on my efforts (apart from Loki who conspires with the sheep).

After a restful night I pedalled off to Oxford, stopping to eat blackberries on the way. It started to rain so I didn’t pause for long in the city, but did find a good pie shop to acquire lunch from. From there it was another pleasant cycle through the countryside, chatting to a few cyclists along the way, and perhaps stopping for a cheeky cider to cool down. My next campsite was near Malborough; forest campsite, cheap, cheerful and quiet, just the job, although there was a psychotic hill to get up just prior to the campsite, on tired legs, that took some doing.

I awoke to a grey and damp day, but with the prospect of Avebury and Stonehenge on the horizon, places I’ve wanted to visit for a while. From Marlborough it’s a reasonably short ride to Avebury, where I stopped to look round the museum, and to pause for thought amongst the stones. There’s a lovely looking pub in the centre of the village, probably close to the centre of the stone circles, but it was a bit early for lunch and besides, wasn’t open yet. I really liked Avebury. There weren’t a lot of people about, the museum was good, and the place had a nice feel to it.

After a good wander about I set my sights on Stonehenge. There I was pedalling along, up and over hills, splashing through puddles, damp but enjoying myself, when I started to pass fields of sheep. Now I’m not saying it was definitely them, but feels a little bit coincidental that as I got near the top of a particularly long climb, where the rain really started in earnest, and the wind picked up, I fell victim to a puncture. I pulled over onto a farmer’s track to fix it, with rain infiltrating my waterproof. A flock of the devils regarded me with suspicion, and not a small amount of malice, from a nearby field.

It took me quite a while to fix that puncture, and there was quite a bit of cursing whilst the sheep continued to watch me, chewing, and occasionally bleating. Travelling Lobster was absolutely no help, you probably won’t be surprised to hear. I have a new back wheel as the old one wore out, and tyres seem particularly tricky to get over the rim; more practice required probably, but hopefully not in the vicinity of sheep.

I plunged down the other side of the pass towards the Salisbury plains and Stonehenge, getting slightly lost due to not looking where I was going and just enjoying freedom from the flock. Thankfully a helpful local pointed me in the right direction, and after a diversion round some closed roads I made it to Stonehenge.

Stonehenge was good to visit, but expensive, and very busy. A warden told me I was there on a quiet day, but there were still bus loads of tourists arriving, being shuttled to the stones, taking a selfie and then getting back on their coach. To be honest the place felt a little dead, which was disappointing, perhaps due to the volume of people and general feeling of disrespect folks had for the ancient monument. I still enjoyed seeing the henge, and taking a turn around the museum to learn a bit more about what they’d found here, and the speculations on how it was built; personally I think it’s obvious that druids flew the stones here, as per Terry Pratchett. I noticed a small number of tents and caravans on some land next to Stonehenge, and wonder if they are there all year, perhaps travellers and pagans wanting to be close to an ancient nexus of power, who knows?

I rode the short distance from Stonehenge to the campsite near Berwick St. James, ideally located for anyone wanting to visit the area, and cheap if you’re on a bike. Whilst there I bumped into a fellow cycle tourer, Carl, on his way down to Cornwall to visit family. It was his first cycle tour in about 10 years, and he was loving it. Unfortunately he had the headwind the next day, which I managed, for once, to avoid.

From Stonehenge I pedalled to the New Forest, passing through Salisbury on the way. I spent the day cycling around the forest, stopping for a double Cornish pasty break Lyndhurst. I spoke to a couple of locals who confirmed the village is always that busy; an endless stream of traffic flowing into and out of it, as ‘they’ refused to let a bypass be built in the seventies. I love the New Forest, despite the fact it’s a bit crowded, even in September. The gently rolling landscape, trees, heathland and wildlife are to be savoured.

After watching a convoy of horse and traps pass me on the road, making there way from some kind of event, I stopped for the night in Ashurst, possibly my favourite campsite of the tour; the staff were really friendly, the campsite beautiful with animals mixed in amongst the tents, and there was a pub next door! I had an interesting conversation with a 70 year old Australian lady about tents. She was travelling round the UK and was admiring my Hilleberg Akto, thinking it would be good for her next adventure; you’re never too old!!

After a restful night, post thunderstorm, I had a early start to try and make it down the coast to my parents house near Hastings. I wasn’t sure I’d make it, and had a back up plan to stop in Brighton, but was hopeful a strong tailwind would help me on my way.

I took the ferry from Hythe to Southampton, then rode round the back of Portsmouth and along the coast following a different route to that which I took in 2013, when I used a few more ferries and island hopped. The weather got steadily worse as I pedalled, with the wind building and rain getting harder. I did however pass several cycle tourers going in the other direction, who were having a much harder time of it; at least I was getting mostly blown in the right direction.

That was a tough ride, in-spite of the tailwind. Even for me it got a bit sketchy at times, especially when I got blown into the verge and had to perform a rapid and not particularly elegant dismount. One can forget just how powerful the wind can be! After around 107 miles, the longest leg of the tour, I made it to my parents house and shelter from the storm, which was really quite brutal by that point; very wet, very windy, kinda exciting.

I had the next day off, drying stuff, catching up with Dad, and meeting my friend Ian for lunch. Mum had travelled up to Cambridge to help look after my niece and nephew, but I hoped to rendezvous with her on my way back to Norwich.

Feeling rested and well fed I set off back North, through East Sussex and into Kent. East Sussex really is quite hilly, but lovely countryside and lots of familiar sights from my childhood. I made my way to Gravesend to get the ferry over the Thames; a passenger ferry you can take your bike on, much easier than going through London. Landing in Essex I rode to Kelvedon Hatch, the site site of a ‘secret’ nuclear bunker, with a campsite nearby which was most welcome after the busy roads and increasingly bad weather. It was another stormy night, with my tent getting somewhat battered, but the Hilleberg Akto is practically indestructible, despite the holes in the groundsheet caused by the voles (varmints) in Sweden, and once again did me proud.

From Kelvedon Hatch I rode back up to Cambridge and Cambourne, overnighting with family again and meeting up with Mum, before the final leg back to Norwich the next day. The weather was again a bit inclement, whatever that means, but the sun did come out as I pedalled through Thetford Forest. The dry spell was short lived, forcing me to take shelter under the bandstand, which isn’t a bandstand but I can’t remember what it’s called, in Wymondham; luckily there’s a baker nearby which helped pass the time.

I arrived back in Salhouse after pedalling around 600 miles, losing a few pounds, and generally feeling a lot more relaxed. Link to the map of my route:

https://www.strava.com/athletes/11810278/heatmaps/7ef5dc22#8/51.90967/-0.18951

To close here are a few pictures from the last couple of week’s in Norfolk, where Autumn has really taken hold. Autumn is my favourite season, and Norfolk looks beautiful.

Norwich beer fest soon!

Autumn adventures

I may well have extolled the virtues of Autumn before on this blog, however it really is my favourite time of year with the countryside looking beautiful, lots to forage, and plenty to do before the harsher winter weather sets in.

Over the last few weeks I’ve had lots of opportunities to get out and about, both on two wheels and a few mini holiday breaks further afield.

Suffolk has plenty of places I haven’t been before. A short break saw visits to cosy small villages, RSPB Mimsmere with its Marsh Harriers and waterfowl, and Sutton Hoo which I hadn’t been to for several years.

I swapped my bike for a short stint in a row-boat, discovering it’s quite hard to go in a straight line if you don’t notice the boat also has a rudder.

As well as lots of birds to spy, and a few deer, Mimsmere also had an abundance of fungi to get confused about. My mushroom identification skills are sadly lacking.

Still a few flowers around as Autumn continues, and pine cones with their interesting Fibonacci sequence geometry.

Amongst adventures further afield I still managed to get out for a good cycle around Norfolk; not as flat a county as you might think, and great at this time of year with less holiday traffic.

Autumn is also deer rutting season, and we visited Holkam Hall for a wander around the park. Some of these Fallow deer really know how to pose.

After misplacing my camera (Canon SLR) for about 12 months, it’s nice to have found it again, although I think I need a bit more practice at focussing using zoom. These Red deer came out alright through.

And Holkam grounds look lovely with the leaves turning, and more fungi to get confused about.

There were also several quite spooky trees; apt for Halloween.

It’s been very mild for the time of year up until last week, however it looks like the colder weather has arrived with November, in time for bonfire night. This did not however deter a group of friends and I heading off to camp in the woods for the weekend. Armed with the right kit you can still be nice and toasty in your sleeping bag, and I’m thoroughly sold on hammocks versus sleeping on the floor, even if my hammock did nearly tip me out at one point; could have been user error. Camping out in the wilds of Norfolk exposes you to some beautiful sunsets.

The woods were warmed with candle light, campfires, friends and good food cooked over glowing embers. There might have been the odd glass of mulled wine too, just to stave off the cold.

And some dramatic fire poi action to round off the evening. No-one set themselves on fire this time around.

That might have been the last campout for 2016, however I would like to get one more in during December, just to round off the year; already missing the campfire, woods and good company. I might have to take some whisky with me if it gets much colder, if I can wrestle it from Lobster’s grasp; he is still around, and still needs a wash.

Lobster likes whisky as well as chocolate apparently

Lobster likes whisky as well as chocolate apparently

Happy Autumn adventures everyone.

Troll Hunting

I was going to write a blog with some post referendum thoughts. Some musings on how we have to be careful we don’t make the decline of the UK, recession and doom a self-fulfilling prophecy, and commenting on the general air of insanity, panic, vitriol and political nonsense that seems to have gripped the nation recently…

…but it’s my birthday and I want to focus on happier things.

After work today I went for a pedal through the Norfolk countryside, enjoying the sunshine, nature, smells of summer and mental freedom elicited through just going for a bike ride. Sometimes it’s nice to let your imagination run wild, and regress to a child-like state-of-mind, something us adults probably don’t do enough.

It’s amazing how your sense of smell can evoke such powerful memories. Today the smell of recently cut grass took me back to seemingly endless childhood summers, helping in the garden, exploring the countryside and going on adventures, or just lying in the sunshine and spending time with family. A wonderful period of life that was, of course, taken for granted at the time, but which truly were the moments when you were most free, as a child, with none of the burdens of adult life and responsibility.

So for a couple of hours this evening I left my adult mind behind, and entered the world of pretend. I stopped worrying about anything else and lived in the moment, letting my imagination do whatever it wanted too.

It’s a liberating feeling, and something I find easier to do when pedalling. Something about the motion of the bike, combined with mild exercise and being out in the countryside helps you enter a somewhat meditative state. You can let you mind relax, take some deep breaths and try to switch your head from rushing from one task to the next, to a more creative and playful place. The feelings of stress that can build up over the day or week just vanish.

So if you get the chance, go and have some play-time, and hunt some trolls. With all the mental health issues going on at the moment, maybe that’s what everyone needs.

Caveat: No trolls were harmed in the making of this blog, and any inferences to anti-social or violent troll behaviour is purely speculative. I’m sure most trolls are very nice, once you get to know them.