Tag Archives: Tour preparation

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


Looking forward to getting lost

It’s been a manic last couple of weeks, hence no blog updates recently, however I’m hoping to start a more regular service from now on, depending on reception in deepest darkest Scandinavia; or should that be deepest lightest Scandinavia? It doesn’t get very dark there at this time of year.

In a nutshell I was busy with work up until the Friday before last, then had to dive headfirst and flailing into packing up my house so it’s fit to rent out. Work gave me a great send off in the form of a fried breakfast (thanks Marge and the canteen team) and many well wishes. I’ll definitely miss everyone, however not so much the actual work bit, think I prefer pedalling.

Can't beat the Great British Fry Up

Can’t beat the Great British Fry Up – you’ll be missed

I think I’ll gloss over the packing up my house bit, which was probably one of the most stressful experiences I’ve had to undergo in recent times. How I accumulated so much stuff/crap is a little beyond me, however getting rid of a lot of it turned into quite a cathartic experience. I’ve put a fair amount into storage for the next 6 months.

Putting stuff into Storage - spooky corridors

Putting stuff into Storage – spooky corridors

Everything finally in with Dad's help, will the door shut?!

Everything finally in with Dad’s help, will the door shut?!

My heartfelt thanks goes out to my parents, as well as Norman, Sheila and Susan, for their help in packing stuff up, or in the case of the latter for taking some of my unwanted goods to either make use of or take to charity, couldn’t have done it without all your help. With the house locked up and ready for tenants I guess I’m effectively homeless now, which is quite a liberating feeling.

Last Wednesday I got in my parents car, with my bike loaded on the back, to drive to Derby. Leaving the house I’ve been in for 8 or so years, through quite a lot of upheaval, turned into quite an emotional experience. It’s possible I won’t live in it again, depending on what I decide to do when I get back, however it definitely feels like the end of an era and the start of something new and exciting. Who knows where I’ll be in 12 months? Possibly still pedalling somewhere.

After a great meal out with my folks, Uncle, and cousins, I got on my bike on Thursday morning to cycle from Derby to Sheffield, a relatively short leg but a good warm up for the roads to come.

Bike loaded and ready to ride

Bike loaded and ready to ride

Bidding adieu to parents and uncle in Duffield

Bidding adieu to parents and uncle in Duffield

It was only 35 miles, with a few challenging hills thrown in for good measure, but it took me a good 6 hours due to cycling at a snail’s pace, just enjoying the freedom of the road. I felt a real mix of emotions again as I pedalled away from Duffield; anxiety and nervousness over the adventure to come, was this really such a good idea, am I woefully unprepared? This was mixed with bouts of euphoria, with the stress of the last few weeks evaporating, and a growing sense of excitement over what the immediate future holds.

Pedalling through the Derbyshire countryside, dark clouds looming

Pedalling through the Derbyshire countryside, dark clouds looming, hopefully not an omen

Chesterfield - twisted spire

Chesterfield – twisted spire

Thanks to the twisted spire on the church in Chesterfield I had Prodigy and ‘Twisted Fire Starter’, or rather twisted ‘spire’ starter, going round my head for the rest of the day. Still, better than Aqua and ‘Barbie Girl’ which sometimes happens…quite loudly…on country roads…can cause embarrassment…but mostly just sheep and cows giving me curious glances.

I haven’t been to Sheffield before, my stop-over for the night staying with Tom, Ali and their kids,  and have to report the roads are in somewhat of a state of disrepair. Apparently there’s a programme to resurface them all, however in the meantime it led to a number of jarring bumps and potholes as I made my way to the North West of the city. I haven’t seen Tom for at least 15 years, which is inexcusable really. We spent a very enjoyable year as students in Marseille. Needless to say a great evening was had catching up over a few glasses of red wine, just like old times really, before a good night’s sleep then pedalling off in the morning.

Departing Sheffield; kids getting in the cycling spirit

Departing Sheffield; kids getting in the cycling spirit

Happy 40th Birthday on Sunday Tom!

Friday’s ride took me through Yorkshire and Lancashire on my way to Clitheroe, through beautiful scenery, and over several challenging climbs which proved good tests for my legs. They passed for the most part, although I did have to push a bit up the hill out of Hebdon Bridge when my foot slipped and I couldn’t get going again; very fierce climb. I cycled on part of the route being used for the Tour de Yorkshire, happening on Sunday, and enjoyed waving and chatting to lots of other cyclists out for a ride.

I’m currently camping at Waddow Hall, enjoying the UK’s first cycle touring festival , and having a great time despite the weather. Already picked up loads of useful advice and tips for the road, met loads of great like-minded people, and am feeling a lot more confident about the next 6 months. I’ll write more about the festival at some other point. Tomorrow (Monday) I cycle to Manchester where I’ve booked a cheap hotel for the night, before flying out to Nordkapp (Norway) on Tuesday to start my tour proper.

After a very busy few weeks it’s fantastic to be on the road, and to leave behind all the stress, hustle and bustle that accompanied wrapping up my last tasks at work, packing up my house, and preparing for this tour.

In essence, I’m very much looking forward to getting lost.

Travelling Lobster helping with tour prep

Travelling Lobster helping with tour prep

Welcome to Self Propelled

Welcome to Self Propelled, my new blog site where I’ll be recording my latest exploits. The site is still under construction, however more soon, including details of my forthcoming 6 month cycle tour in Europe.

I’ve booked my flight to Norway at the end of April, and from Nordkapp in the Arctic circle will be pedalling South through Europe to Spain, then on to Istanbul, before returning home.

Very excited, as is Travelling Lobster.

You can still access my old blog, including details of my 2013 cycle tour around the coast of Britain, at www.bikearoundbritain.com