We are now more than halfway between Land’s End and John O’Groats and I thought you would like an update. That is, we have cycled 560 miles through Cornwall, Devon, Somerset, Bristol (is that still Avon?), Monmouthshire (Wales), Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, Shropshire, Cheshire, Greater Manchester, Lancashire and now God’s Own County as Sam insists we must call Yorkshire. We have cycled between something over 40 and 70 miles a day and how tough it is depends on the wind and the hills. As we move north it is getting hillier, though Devon and Cornwall were hardly flat. The cycling adage that each day’s cycling is training for the next day is sort of true. Sadly the last three days have been on a bicycle. Caroline fulfilled her threat and left after seven days at Ironbridge to finish her book. Actually a bicycle is livelier, friskier, more responsive and altogether easier to cycle than a tandem. But I liked the companionship of a stoker. Norman is doing astonishingly well and, powered with his electric bike is always first up the hills. Absent a disaster, he is definitely going to complete the ride on two wheels. The rest of us too.
And what have we seen? The hedgerows and trees look to be in pretty good shape throughout the country but there are far too many cars on the roads. Some drivers are slow and patient, some are careless and aggressive. It has been impossible to discern a pattern except that shiny, fast, expensive cars tend to be the worst. Lorries, vans and old beaten up cars can be patient and courteous or cruel. There is also a depressing amount of litter along the sides of the busier roads.
Cycling north I am struck by what staggering builders the Victorians were. Every village and provincial town is, at heart, now Victorian and what great things they did. There is also an amazing amount of building going on now. But almost all the building is for ‘prestigious, exclusive, unique or luxury’ housing. Often little pockets of 10 to 20 buildings on prime land at the edge of villages or towns. Suburban creep. We have seen absolutely no social housing and precious few attempts at reviving some of the poorer and more dispiriting places we have cycled through. These new developments are imposing great homogeneity on the landscape. Much of England is still staggeringly beautiful. Achingly so often. There are incredible views, beautiful gardens – though far too many garden centres which turn out to be something of a misnomer. They have useful loos but are really just a way of spreading out of town gift shopping developments. One of the enduring pleasures of the ride has been the smell of fresh-cut grass. All the usual farming smells too. And it is true that as you move north the country becomes more beautiful, and outside the nineteenth century industrial and mining centres, less ravaged too. The real north and Scotland comes now.
John Ruskin described this as ‘probably the most beautiful view in England. And therefore the world’. Perhaps he wasn’t much of a traveller.