At Home in the Bushes is about a year I spent cycling, wild-camping and busking around the north of Britain. This point in the book finds me at the beginning of my first long trip. I’d cycled the entire length of Lincolnshire in a day and had set up camp under a willow tree, in an industrial estate, overlooking the Humber estuary…
I AWOKE the next day, or rather, was rudely awoken by some man looking for his dog. “Toto!!” he shouted, “Toto, where are you?!!” It was a little disorientating hearing this as I regained consciousness, as you can imagine, and I felt a little alarmed at having someone so close to me in my vulnerable state, but I soon shrugged it off. Besides, anyone who called their dog Toto seemed not to be a threat. It took a few minutes and then eventually he found Toto and I was left once again alone and in silence. Everything around me seemed still apart from a soft breeze which gently rustled through the leaves and branches of the willow tree above me. Slowly unzipping the door to the tent found me greeted by a bright, wide, open and blue sky. It was yet another nice day. The nettles surrounding me swayed ever so slightly as I got up to stretch in amongst them, making sure carefully not to get stung. I once again felt that pure, true and infinite sympathy with the world around me, and its pure, true and infinite sympathy with me. We were as one, me in the bushes, the bushes in me. I felt more alive than usual after resting in nature’s cradle. It was refreshing. And I was once again not dead. But I was tired. My bones ached, from tibia to fibula, and beyond. My muscles were severely overworked and sore. It took a whole lot of effort to even stand up. But I did it, and was soon used to the notion. I had work to do. I had to continue my journeying beyond.
I had some more biking to do, but not much. I had decided there and then that I needed a rest from any heavy cycling. I wasn’t going to push much further north, but I did have to make it over the Humber. I had decided to spend the day in Hull and do a little busking. I was in need of money for food. And beer.
The bridge looked big as I hazily approached. You get a much different perspective from the handlebars. It is a mighty structure, a masterful feat of engineering. The beams reach high into the sky, stretching from end to end the huge coils of wire which with a colossal tension support the crossing platform. It is bowed. Or perhaps arched. Getting to the middle was very difficult, especially in the blustering sea wind, but once I was past the central point I could pretty much roll all the way to the other end.
The bike was still going well. It was free from any malfunctions whatsoever. I hadn’t even had one puncture. And the problem with the chain had seemed to sort itself out, the back wheel had slotted perfectly into place. There were miles and miles left in the crank. Once I’d made it all the way to the other side of the bridge I took one last glance behind me. The water was brown.
I came to the first roundabout in Yorkshire and snuck off into a small woodland on the right hand side, through a gap in the boundary’s fence. I wasn’t looking for another camping spot, just somewhere to stash my bags for the day, but as it turned out I had stumbled upon a spot of much use and seclusion. It was a dry gathering of trees, about one hundred or so metres in length and twenty or so wide. It stood at a curve separating the large roundabout on one side and a large horse field on the other. Branches lay strewn across the floor in all directions, they had begun to rot and moss had started to grow upon them. The trees, it seemed, were decaying and giving up. Tall trunks stood cracked and slanted, each one of them misshapen, their large limb-like boughs fallen, unable to carry the weight of a glamorous pose. Everyone had forgotten about them, everyone just passed them by without a glance. Everyone except me. They seemed delighted at my presence. They seemed to coax me in: “Come, come. Come into the shade.” I stepped over the scatters of brown, snapping and clicking the smaller twigs beneath my feet as I moved deeper inward. Two brown horses flapped their large, knotted tails in the field adjacent. When I reached the heart of the dwelling it was most apparent that I was there. Two large logs were laying at an angle to each other, arching out in front of a wide holly bush behind, creating a triangular clearing. This was camp. It was as if it had been prepared for me beforehand, as if the wise, old trunks had been awaiting me all this time. The logs made for a good place to sit. The holly bush provided camouflage and protection from beasts. And the floor provided me with a flat space to stretch when it came around to bedtime.
This woodland was at the Western tip of Hessle, which is one of the older villages of Hull, situated beneath the Humber bridge. It was about a five mile ride into the city from there, but I decided to cycle another mile up the A164 and enter the city through Anlaby instead, due to it being a simpler route.
It was very posh, once I turned off the main road. The houses were big. Really big. Long gravel driveways were enclosed by large, metal gates, which stood guard over the entrances. All the cars were shiny, sleek and expensive. My carriage felt a little out of place passing them by. And so did I. But fortunately it was all downhill, a nice gradual gradient which led me with ease into the next district. It then became more built up. The city reared its tall and busy head. There were no longer big, extravagant houses, but big, extravagant blocks of flats, and council properties instead. Within the turn of a corner I’d moved from posh suburbia into the rough inner-city district. All the telephone boxes were yellow. The street signs were positioned high up on lamp posts, rather than at waist height, as is the case with most places. They gave the place a sense of individuality, and made me feel quite far away. Some place else. The one to my right said ‘Askew Avenue’, and was hung, rather quirkily, at a slight slant.
I continued down the large Boothferry Road and became immersed in even more bustle. Cars were streaming to and fro, motorists eager to get to the workplace. The hectic drones of the engines accelerating, then halting, then accelerating blended in with the repeating honks of horns to form an air of much frustration. But not for me. I pedalled on by, overtaking them with ease, and pitying the sight of them sat in their sticky seats, looking fed up. I was enjoying the day. This for me was the best time, the time I felt most free. I love the mornings! I had relieved myself of all my weighty what-nots, they were securely stashed, I was safe in the knowledge that not much likely was it for someone to find them. Even if some-one did come across them, and even if they did steal them I wasn’t going to be aware of this until I went back there in the evening, so for now I had absolutely no need to worry. I was no longer the travelling hobo which the passing road users saw me as. I was no longer the trespasser in the woods trying not to get seen. I was, for now, just the scruffy guy on the bike, riding down the road with his guitar.
It took about an hour for me to get right into the centre of the city. I wasn’t rushing. I was taking it easy, observing the goings on around me from the safety of the handlebars. Plenty of people were about, and busy it seemed spending their money and accumulating bag after bag of purchases. I cycled onto the pedestrianised streets. Outside the Art gallery, at the very centre, there is a circular arrangement of statues paying homage to Queen Victoria. Beneath it are the main town toilets. Opposite it stands a huge television screen showing sports and local-made documentaries. I thought this area would be the best place to leave the bike. There was a long rack for locking up such things. I had by now got a lock, but it wasn’t very good. It didn’t actually lock, so whether or not you could call it that I am unsure, but it gave the impression of being locked. I’d found it in Charlie’s garden. It was a small chain with a padlock connecting the rings. I didn’t have a key for the lock but, two of the hoops had split and could be connected, thus making it appear locked. I was fairly sure that no-one was going to steal the bike, it looked sorry, and wouldn’t fetch much on the black market. But it would be a darned inconvenience if someone did so.
I had a choice of three or four wide, pedestrianised shopping streets which I could busk on. They were a little noisy, and quite intimidating, but supplied a good amount of passers-by for me to play to. I chose my pitch outside a closed-down pie shop on Jamieson Street. It was a bit too wide and quite noisy, but there were a row of benches opposite which gave me somewhat of an audience. After a couple of hours I’d earned twenty pounds, which was plenty enough to keep me on my way. “That’ll do.” I told myself, and toddled on down to the chip shop, picking up a few cans of beer along the way.
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