A short cycle through western Europe (Part 1)…

Setting off…

We’d been dying to get back on the road for what seemed like ages. I’d had my passport for over a year and I still hadn’t really used it properly. We were also madly in love, and had been for many years. So, our conclusion was this- get married and then go travelling around Europe. But by what method? With what mode of transport? We’d had a van together. We’d also done our fair share of long distance walking. But we hadn’t done all that much long distance cycling together. Having vessels of which we fully understood the mechanics seemed like a good idea, seeing as we would be exploring foreign lands. It would make things a lot cheaper too, our bodies being the engines. And it would make finding camping spots in the countryside easier too, us being able to navigate the narrow tracks.

I wasn’t the only one who had just got a passport. Our dog Rags had recently got his too, so he was coming as well. I was going to ride on a tricycle with him in a box on the back (when he wasn’t running). My wife, Adriana, would be towing a trailer with all the food and cooking utensils in. On top of that we had to carry: a tent, sleeping bags, air beds, clothes, bike tools, books, and a guitar. But being as we were both well-schooled in unconventional travel, it all soon came together.

Picture Toby Williams 07920841392We got married at the very beginning of the summer. It was magical. I know it’s rather cliché of me to say, but it was one of the best days of my life. There was such great energy flowing. It was just a small and simple affair; no family or friends from afar, just a handful of close pals who lived nearby in Edinburgh, and a licensed official. We had the reception at the foot of Arthur’s seat, in Holyrood park; filling the green, hilly sanctuary with music, cake, rum and laughter. And then the next day we left.

We headed out of town along Dalkeith road, towards the town itself; soon taking to our task. Trying to manoeuvre with such heavy loads on our cycles was hard; we both wobbled violently with the strain. We knew we’d get used to it eventually, but we couldn’t help wondering: “Do we really need all this stuff?” Rags had it easy in the back there, just casually watching the scenery go by in comfort, sniffing at the passing wind. We’d planned to be travelling for quite some time; out past Germany, Poland, down to the Alps, around Italy, the south of France, and so on. But after the first few miles we realised that this might not be so easy, what with the weight slowing our pace to almost nothing. The slightest incline required the most strenuous of leg movements to even just begin. But we didn’t let it put us off.

We continued out past the green hills of Penicuik and Biggar, struggling up, then rolling down through the barren terrain. After a couple of days we were soon into the swing of it, our limbs well attuned to their task, navigating with ease the segregated route 74 of the national cycle network south, towards Gretna green.imag0014

We’d planned on doing a bit of wild camping, as usual, but we were also going to make use of the many camp sites along the way. We had a bit of money this time, for once. We’d worked hard in the months leading up to the trip, and money we’d earned, along with a couple of cash wedding gifts, gave us no less than £3000 in total. This, for some, is perhaps not that much for a lengthy trip around Europe; but for us it was a fortune! And along with a bit of busking we were determined to make it last.

The weather was very kind to us. It was June and the sun shone gallantly in the sky. It was hot! And there’d not been one day of rain so far. Experiencing this kind of weather in Scotland makes you feel very blessed; the warm, glowing light brings out the intricate details of the overpowering landscape which surrounds you. But on the fifth day It changed. Suddenly. Any hopes of escaping Scotland un-sodden were soon washed away. We’d been staying in a pleasant overgrown woodland, somewhere out past Moffat, surrounded by tall Pine trees and bushy clumps of Cow Parsley which sprung up around their bases. At first three or four birds of prey had been circling above us, cawking, not pleased at our presence; we were worried that they might try swoop down and carry off wee Rags, into the skies. But after we’d got the tent up they eventually disappeared, leaving us free to feel more comfortable in the space, lounging around carelessly in amongst the bracken. But then, in the morning, we awoke to the sound of water.

imag0015It’s horrible waking up in a tent to the sound of rain. It’s nice on the one hand- you’re not getting wet; but if you’ve got to move on, knowing that you’ll be doing it in amongst the droplets, it ain’t too appealing. We needed some provisions, we couldn’t hang around. So, we rather reluctantly loaded everything up and proceeded to get wet.

It didn’t let up. It was belting down; bucket-loads and bucket-loads cast down upon us. And once we’d got out of our woodland the landscape around us once again became very bare and open, gaping under the dark, angry sky. There was nowhere to hide from it. Wetter and wetter us and our belongings got, the moisture soaking deeper and deeper into our clothing and bags; dampening our spirits as well. You know when the water dribbles down your back and into your underwear; it soaks through your socks and shirt. Snot dribbling. Hair dripping. Ears wet and waxy. And on and on this went for hours and hours, getting worse and worse. Rags was okay, he had a rain cover for his box; he just lay there casually thinking nothing of it. But for us humans out on the pedals, there was no escape.

imag0020We couldn’t wild camp again, we needed to get dry. The next camp site wasn’t for another 20 miles or so, and our moral was in no way strong enough to thrust us on that distance. It just wasn’t happening. So, by the time we’d made it to Lockerbie we set about finding an alternative. We’d hoped to find a cheap B & B, but there wasn’t any around; none that accepted dogs anyway. So, we did something that we’d never done before; something that we’d never had the option of. We found a hotel.

We both felt incredibly guilty. It cost £90 just for the night. Of all the wayward travels we had both done, this kind of outcome had never come around. We never even stayed in camp sites in the past, let alone hotels. But there really wasn’t anywhere else. Besides, it was our honeymoon, it’s okay to be pampered a bit, ey?

It was a really nice hotel. One of them old, farmy types, with a lot of wooden grandeur. And they treated us fabulously. After a night in there getting dry, and a big hearty breakfast in the morning, the next day we were more than ready to continue cycling down to the English border at Gretna green in no time…

Enjoy this story? Then you might like my book, ‘At Home in the Bushes’. It’s about a year I spent cycling, wild-camping & busking around Britain. You can order your copy for £10 now!

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