Rudy’s first tour

As I did with Tristan, after our trip in France I decided to ask Rudy if he felt like writing a summary of his first tour. Below is part 1.

It was when the pandemic hit that I started cycling again. I hadn’t really cycled in more than 10 years! One of my friends from university left his bike behind when he moved back to his country. I got the road bike, but didn’t even know how to change the gears properly. I decided to take it to a shop to get the bits repaired and also to see if anyone would help me with the gears. That was when I met Luca who worked in the cycle shop. He was very helpful, but more importantly, he was into motorbikes. I have always been a motorbike lover, had three mean machines back home, all of which I had to sell before moving here. We had a nice chat about our mutual interest in motorbiking and Luca showed me how the gears worked. He told me that he was a student at the same University that I was studying in. On the way back, I felt that I should’ve asked him to connect on social media so one day we could go for motorbike rides together! I found his profile and ended up connecting on social media. He was quite sceptical about this at first but later on started chatting about cycling and our interest in sports. He told me that he bike camped down France previously (check out the blog from that here!) with his friend and was planning on a similar trip across the UK in the summer. This peaked my interest, but I knew I wasn’t fit enough for the adventure. I took up shorter rides and ended up riding with cycling UK Merseyside. This improved my fitness levels and my confidence on two wheels. Later in July, when I heard from Luca, he was on his trip and asked if I wished to join. I really wanted to, but he was half way through the journey already. Also, I did not have any gear or equipments for such long rides and camping. Plus as was usual in most of 2020, I had little to no money to afford anything. However, I had a feeling that this might be a great opportunity to have an amazing experience travelling across the country when travelling was almost impossible by other means due to the global pandemic. I would think about it every night and was excited about the possibilities. I decided to get the gear and equipment for the journey and took help from some generous friends to fund this. And just like most travel plans, I decided to do it without much actual planning, and kept an open mind, leaving everything for Luca to chart and take me along. I booked a train ticket from Liverpool to Manchester, then to Sheffield and then to Nottingham. And finally from Nottingham to Boston where I would meet up with Luca. The next day, I started my journey from Liverpool very early and the cyclists compartment and cycle storages proved to be very useful. These are things that do not exist back where I come from. It was exhilarating and I was full of energy and enthusiasm to start riding with Luca. One of my trains got delayed and I remember having to run across a couple of platform bridges with my fully loaded bike and somehow making it in on the next train as the last person to board (the next train was scheduled for hours later!). These challenges made it even more exciting. I realised that moment that my decision to join him for this ride was indeed the right one. My friends and family, however, thought differently, and thought I went mad, because this is not something common or ordinary back home. But what is the fun in doing something ordinary?

Rudy’s bike just before he set off.

Even though I was enjoying the scenic routes on the way to meet Luca, I was dreaming of how the whole trip could turn out to be. This was my first ‘trip’ after moving here, as the pandemic had put an end to all my previous plans to travel. I finally reached Boston and got in touch with Luca who was already in the town, getting his lunch sorted. I had enough time to get some food for myself and catch up with him. Funnily enough, I ended up riding the opposite direction, moving farther away from him. I realised my mistake and turned around, but on the way back, collided with a lady on her bike at a blind turn. Luckily neither of us were injured. Crossed a bridge to find Luca waiting for me. We started riding together and it felt great riding with a seasoned tourist. I followed his lead and on the way talked about his journey so far and my preparations for it. He was quite doubtful about my tent holding up as I had only got a cheap one. It was going to rain heavily that evening and we quickly had to find somewhere to camp for the night. We were on the national cycling network (NCN) route 1 and Luca being an expert navigator found an area with some thick tree cover where we could camp. It was an idea location in all senses, with good enough tree cover to stop the rain from falling straight onto out tents and also away from settlement, not very visible from the road. I had tried setting up my tent the previous night just to make sure I wouldn’t struggle when it actually came to setting it up. Yet, I did struggle quite a bit, and briefly regretted not joining scouts at school. Luca helped me with sorting this out and lent me some sturdy tent pegs as well. It was definitely an experience worth remembering getting into my very own tent, i felt like a kid again. It was already drizzling when we were setting up camp. As soon as we settled in, it started pouring down. I was preparing to be flooded by the heavy rain as we didn’t expect my tent to hold up through the storm. However, to our surprise, the tent held strong. I called my mom to let her know that I was safe, updated my status on social media for friends, had some food I got earlier that day and went to sleep. Luca had advised me to get a sleeping mat so that my sleeping bag wouldn’t be right on the ground, helping me insulate from the cold better. Even when I got comfortable enough to sleep, it was no surprise that I couldn’t sleep. I was tired but my excitement for the adventure wouldn’t let me sleep. Moreover, it was my first night in the wilderness, a completely new experience for me when I realised yet again that life has so much more to be explored and experienced!

Our campsite!

Day 16: 30/7/20

Thursford to Claxton: 66.8km

This morning started off any other morning, setting off then shortly after having a quick food stop. The next few days are going to be really warm, so we decided to look for a river we could wash in, and to cool off. We found one 25km into the day, where we had a good wash and cool off in the (cold) water. As we were finishing up, a bunch of local kids started to jump off the bridge into the water below – I was tempted to join them, but couldn’t be bothered to get wet again. It was here where we met Alex, a tall bike rider and Activist who is planning on Riding around the British Isles , self supported, on a tall bike! [It is days like this, why I like not having a schedule to stick to! We were able to stop for several hours and not fall behind or anything. If I had a schedule to stick to I would’ve been in a rush, and might not have even stopped in the first place!]

Just after our swim, letting the sun dry us and our kit out.

We pushed on after being by the river for an hour or two, or three, and headed through Norwich. On our way out of Norwich (just after what I can only assume is a sewage plant) we hit some very rough section of track, that Rudy really struggled on.

Bikes make very good drying racks! I always try to dry stuff off before I pack it away when possible.

Just before we got to our aimed stay for the night we were both in need of some water, so Rudy knocked on the door of a house with an external tap. A lovely lady opened the door and let us use the tap! We filled up then pushed ahead to where we were planning to stay the night. We met a man who said we couldn’t get into the woods, but we could go back up the road and follow a track down to a grassy spot by the river. We found it, and it was amazing! One of my best campsites.

One of my best campsites, and it was free!

Once we got to camp, I realised that one of the bolts on my panniers has come out, so I managed to bodge that together, and then checked all the other bolts – several were loose!

Day 15: 29/7/20

North Wooton to Thursford: 64.5km

Unlike yesterday, where nothing really happened today was full of events! This morning started off with quite a few hills, where my knee held up fine in all but the steepest gradients.

Soon after we left camp we went through Sandringham Estate, where we stopped for Rudy to get some coffee and use the toilets (Rudy wasn’t quite comfortable with going to the loo behind a bush just yet!)

Making the most of the stop to check up with friends and family.

Not long after we got going again, we turned into this amazing park. Of course, getting in wasn’t an easy feat with me barely fitting through the gate. The park turned out to be this amazing park, originally from the 1700s! a 2 mile straight led to a huge manner house. As we were pulling off the road to take a photo of said house, Rudy’s front wheel washed out in some gravel and he crashed. Luckily he was going slow enough to be able to leap off the bike and not injure himself!

Today I hit 1000km for the tour! Overall I should definitely hit 1500km, which is slightly more than my trip in France 2 years ago. It’s about 300km until London, and about the same home going the long way.

It’s always fun riding with other people.

Tonight we have set up camp in some woods, Rudy in his tent and me in my hammock. The Fly net really came in handy.

Our little camp!

Day 14: 28/7/20

Kirton to north Wooton – 90.4km

Today was the first proper day of touring with Rudy, and his first full day on the bike! My main concern today was my knee, and wondering if it would hold up! Luckily I’ve got a few days of relative flat ahead of me. For the most part my knee held up, which is great! It means I am able to carry on my tour.

The majority of today was spent either fighting the wind, or with a huge tail wind.

Very rare to see myself cycling – huge thanks to Rudy for thinking to take all these photos!

Rudy badly needed to get some better better tent pegs, as the ones his tent came with are small and useless! We found a shop that seems to sell everything you could possibly need, from suits to camping kit, so Rudy managed to run in and grab some tent pegs and a few other things to make his life easier.

We stopped for a nice lunch in a field in the middle of a town, where I had some more bacon and eggs – of course!

I was preparing a good fry up, whilst Rudy looked on with slight jealousy.

Rudy had brought a backpack with the intention of wearing it as he rides, to carry his sleeping bag. He quickly realised that carrying a backpack all day whilst riding is far from ideal, so he tried to strap it to his saddle bag. That barely worked, so when I found a strap on the side of the road, after a bit of persuading he picked it up and secured his bag properly.

Our bikes, with Rudys showing his road bounty that saved his backside. Literally!

Aside from the wind, today was a very nice and easy day following some very nice roads. we managed to ride all day and only had about 100m elevation!

We found a place to camp in some woods fairly close to a path, but we can’t be seen so no issues there!

Day off : 27/7/20

Today was spent mostly avoiding the miserable weather. The weather can’t seem to decide what its doing, but an occasional drizzle is guaranteed. Luckily we are nicely tucked away, as its incredibly windy! [ We were very glad we stayed in our tents, as mid afternoon there was a huge rain storm, that really tested Rudys tent. Half an hour later we both opened our tents up and just laughed about how ridiculously heavy that rain was, and how his cheap tent was still standing!]

After the downpour, just laughing about how strong the rain was! One of the Heaviest rains i’ve ever camped in.

My knee, or my inner quad more accurately, has been giving me grief for the past few days. I have been having lots of protein and rest in an attempt for it to heal up. If it doesn’t feel any better tomorrow, unfortunately I may have to end my tour in an attempt to minimise the risk of a severe long term injury.

I’m looking forward to more bacon and eggs tomorrow!

Whilst it’s far from the best sunset ive ever seen, its not bad!

We saw an amazing sunset tonight, just a short walk away from the tents. It was nice to get a chance to get out the tents and have a walk! Rudy went back to the church where we filled our bottles yesterday to fill up on water, as he drinks a lot!

Route 45: Mercian way

National Cycle Network (NCN) route 45, otherwise known as the Mercian Way, stretches from Salisbury up to Chester. This 435km route takes you through some breathtaking scenery, along some amazing roads and tracks! I completed this trail as part of my tour in England this summer. Click here to read more about that tour, and a day by day journal of the trip! Whenever I talk about this route, I am greeted by looks of bemusement and confusion. For some unknown reason it is very poorly known, but the silver lining of this is that when you’re out on the trail, large sections of it are remote, and you really feel like you are in the middle of nowhere!

Throughout this overview of the route I plan to answer some of the more common questions, but if you do have any questions please leave them in the comments section below, or get in touch with me via email or twitter (details of how to get in touch with me can be found at the top of the page and here)

History of the Route:

Mercia originates from the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom (this is from before the unification of England). However, the southern part of the route is actually in what used to be the kingdom of Wessex. Originally this route was going to be called ‘The Ancient Stones Cycle route’ due to the proximity of the route to Stonehenge and going through Amesbury.

Many of the towns and cities on the route are Roman or Anglo-Saxon in origin. As you ride the route, occasionally you will see the statue of a Mercian Figure, which acts as a route marker.

One of the Mercian soldiers guiding your way.

The Route;

Route 45 is a 435 km, or 269 mile ride. On the whole it is clearly marked, but I would strongly suggest printing the maps out available from https://cycle.travel/map/journey/426, and having a smartphone with you would be a good so you can double check you’re on track, especially if you’re not too keen on navigation by paper maps.

I rode it from the South heading North, but it is rideable the other way round.

Due to a recent change in NCN routes, some sections have now been removed from the NCN route so you may find some sections not signed. As far as I can tell, these are limited to a stretch between Telford and Shrewsbury and short sections in Tewkesbury, Bridgnorth and Whitchurch.

How long does it take?

Somewhere between 5 and 7 days, depending on your level of fitness and how fast you want to go! There are many small towns with amazing looking pubs and coffee shops, so you can take as long as you want! I did it in 5 days, but due to the circumstances of when I rode it, most coffee shops weren’t open or very welcoming!

Whats the surface like?

You will ride along a mix of small paved roads and gravel tracks, so some experience of riding off road is recommended, but not essential! The infographic below comes from the Cycle travel page, where you can get specific details about the route, including printable maps and an interactive map.

The summary below shows that the vast majority of the route (74%) is on paved, small roads, with only around 10% of the route on dirt. only 3.1 miles of the entire route are on busy roads, and most of these can be avoided with some work looking at google maps with the cycle path overlay.

Because of the mixed terrain I would avoid riding this on a road bike, especially if you want to get the full experience! I did it on a fully loaded touring bike and didn’t have an issue at any point. I would suggest either a touring/ adventure bike or a hard tail mountain bike. For more details about what bike to take, check out my summary here!

If, like me, you enjoy a challenge there are certain places where you can deviate off the route and explore some nice dirt roads and tracks. The best example of this is in the Salisbury plains. the route follows the paved road, but if the military tracks are open to the public at the time, I would strongly recommend going along them! Sure it’s tough work and you will need to be fairly happy riding on rough stuff as some parts get very loose and rough, but is it worth it? 100% yes!

A particularly rough section of the Track in the Salisbury Plains. When riding roads like this, keep your weight back and stay away from the front brake where possible! When on my touring bike, I personally drag my rear break on any technical descent, as it just gives me that bit more control. Don’t be afraid to stop and have a break – it’s very tough riding in these situations, and you’re arms get a beating!

How hilly is it?

Due to the location of the route, you do have some fairly serious climbs to tackle, the biggest being as you climb out of Bridgnorth. There are other significant climbs scattered throughout, but they are all doable! When the route passes east of Wem you are faced with some short but serious climbs which are easily overcome by simply getting off and walking! Another section where large amounts of pushing will be require is Herepath, the track as you come out of Amesbury. The first half or so is very steep and requires pushing, but its all worth it for the views you get from the top! This is mostly avoidable by following the paved roads, avoiding the oldest road in Britain!  The off-road parts are south of Shrewsbury. From there to Chester, it’s pretty much all on-road or good quality towpath.

Taken from https://cycle.travel/route/mercian_way

Re-supply?

The route passes through lots of smaller towns and villages, most of which have shops! On average you will be able to stop in a shop every day, but I would recommend carrying 2 days worth of food with you, just to give yourself that peace of mind!

Water re-supply can be tricky in places, and you may have to resort to knocking on doors. I carried just shy of 3 litres, and I only actually ran out of water once when I was going over the Plains (read about that here) Churches often have external taps where you can fill your bottles up. In normal times Coffee shops and Pubs will happily re-fill your bottles. There are very few, if any, functional water taps along the route. I did carry water purification tablets, but I never needed to use these.

Accomodation?

I wild camped, or permissive camped the entirety of the route, with the exception of when I stayed with my friend. If you can afford it, I would recommend wild camping the majority, but staying in a campsite occasionally. Personally, I can’t afford most campsites on a regular basis so I avoid them. I have a rule where if I have to climb a fence or gate to get to somewhere to sleep, then I don’t. I will carry on until I find a suitable pace that doesn’t require climbing a fence! In some situations you will need to ask the locals for their recommendations on where you can camp – some might even invite you in! If you want to wild camp the entire way, like I did, I would make sure that you’re comfortable with sleeping in some very strange and exposed places!

If you want to make your life easier, then hotels are always an option. A quick google of hotels along the route will show you how many you have to choose from, based on budget, etc. Travelodge, Premier Inn and Holiday Inn hotels usually allow you to bring your bike into you room, but its worth calling ahead to check.

My accommodation most nights.

Access to the Route:

Both Chester and Salisbury are big cities, with large train stations so access is broadly very good! The route goes through a few big cities such as Gloucester, Swindon and many others, so you can easily start or finish at any point along the ride.

Is it a good route for my first tour?

I think this would make a very good first tour, as long as you are already bike fit. On the whole it is very well signed. If you’re reading this blog, you also have the advantage of being able to speak to locals and ask for help! If you’re new to bike touring, do check out my beginners section where you can find lots of good information!

What time of year should I do it?

The route, as I did it, is best ridden in the drier months due to the sections along dirt roads and Canal paths. I rode it in July, and for the most part had nice weather! With it being in the UK, you will be very lucky if you manage to ride the whole route without getting wet at least once.

I was lucky with the weather for the most part.

Is it worth doing?

Absolutely! You get amazing views and get to ride your bike along some great paths. If you’re considering riding it, check out my journal series where I upload my daily journal entries written as I rode the route here.

Day 13: 26/7/20

Horsington to Kirkton: 47km

The aim for today was to get to Boston, where I will meet up with Rudy. This meant I didn’t have a huge amount of mileage to do today, which was lucky due to the brutal head windfall day and my knee still being sore. Most of the way into Boston was following a canal.

bacon and eggs on a camp stove. The Panniers in the Background are set up like that to act as a wind block.

This morning I had a craving for bacon and eggs, so made myself some bacon and eggs. It tasted amazing! Once I got to Boston, I met up with Rudy and we made our way South. It was starting to get late, so we immediately started looking for some place to camp. Knowing that tomorrow is going to be a very wet day, we wanted to find somewhere hidden where we could stay for two nights. This was quite problematic, with a serious lack of woods! Eventually I found a small patch of woods, with open access that had a space where we could tuck our tents away from the wind and fairly hidden from the road.

Our Campsite whilst we wait for the bad weather to pass. I was very impressed with how well my tent blended in with the surroundings!

Tonight is the first night ever in a tent for Rudy! He bought all his kit specifically for this trip, but on a strict budget. He bought a cheap tent from Decathlon, and apart from the pathetic tent pegs that came with it, it’s a surprisingly good tent!

***The photos posted in the next few entries until Rudy leaves me are a mix of our images****

Day 12: 24/7/20

Worksop to Horsington: 74km

The aim of today was to get to Jordyns house as early as possible. After a very uneventful morning of nice bike paths along quite roads until I turned towards Lincoln. After passing through a literal field on the NCN route, I hit an Amazing straight bike path that would lead me through Lincoln and out the other side, where I will pick up the Eurovelo 12 which I will follow until London.

As I went through some tiny sets of stairs and passage ways no wider than my rear panniers are wide (I was certainly not on the bike path at this point, if you’re following this route I’m sure you will find a better route!) the sun came out, and it was amazing. The 25km ride to Jordyns house the other side of Lincoln was along an amazing bike path, beautiful scenery and even next to a canal for most of it! The strong sun worked wonders for my moral.

Loving the hot sun! Very glad I made the decision to head east from Liverpool.

After a bit of searching I found Jordyns house and met her sister, Cerys. After being shown around and being fed a pizza (!) she left for the weekend, leaving the whole house to myself! As she was leaving she mentioned that I was welcome to use her hot tub. After a nice shower to wash several days of dirt off me, I jumped into the hut tub and soaked for half an hour whilst all my kit was in the sun drying off.

My knee has been sore all day, so plenty of stretching and deep heat on tonight. Hopefully it will be better after a day off tomorrow.

Day 11: 23/7/20 Results day!

Stocksbridge to Worksop: 58.8km

Slow start to this morning as I was waiting for my results to come out at 9am, whilst I was sat in my tent, trying to dry it out from the heavy rain last night (yes it did rain, and a lot!) Once I got my grades (I passed everything!) I dried everything up as best as possible, packed it all up and headed on my way. It started off with some great, but incredibly steep forest tracks. My knee had a bit of a moment today, but it felt fine 5 minutes later. Hopefully it was just one of those weird little spasms!

Today was a weird day, as I actually had to go slower that I normally would. I am meeting Jordyns sister near Lincoln tomorrow, and waiting out the bad weather on Saturday in their house, but I agreed to meet her at midday tomorrow. This meant that this morning I had roughly 100km to do in 2 days. Easy!

I had found some woods just past Worksop, and decided to find somewhere to sleep there in the woods. When I got there, after passing through what felt like a rough part of Worksop along the canal I found a very Fern and Pine Rich woods with great cover! I found an old animal track, and followed it into the bush for bit, before making my own clearing and pitching my tent. About 30 second after I pitched my tent it started to drizzle!

Whilst I was going out of Worksop I was passed by some boys on pit-bikes, which I then saw again at the entrance to the woods. My main concern was for one of them to see me go down the animal track, so I timed it so they didn’t. I heard them go up and down the track several times, but luckily I was so well hidden they wouldn’t have been able to see me, even if they tried!

Day 10: 22/7/20

South Manchester to Stocksbridge: 73.1km

Today was a big day, crossing through the Pennines chasing the sun to the hopefully drier East coast!. The ride started off as expected, with more flat tracks! The closer I got to Glossop, the bigger the hills got. In Stockbridge (note this is a different place to where I finished for the day) I met a really nice man who gave me some really good advice on which roads to take and which ones to avoid.

After most of the day on dirt, I really started to regret not having lids on my bottles!

I started to run low on water, and knew that it would be a hard and dry push through the Peaks, so I found a pub and goy my bottles re-filled. Soon after, the main climb started, easy at first, then really ramping up towards the end (lots of pushing my bike today!). A short descent of 200 vertical metres later, I turned onto an old railway track, which was amazing! Along the way there were several funny installation, but I don’t have the space to show them on this post! A gradual downhill on smooth gravel and dust led me most of the way to the woods I am in now.

Not a bad spot for lunch!

I met an interesting man who has been touring in Asia every year for the last 20 years! We had a good chat, then headed off when it started to rain.

It’s been weird weather today, with weather ranging rom rain and strong winds to hot sun! When I was stopping for the night, as usual I checked the weather forecast. One app said heavy rain all night, the other said no rain! I have set my tent up, but I really hope it doesn’t get wet!

I had to push quite far up the hill side to find somewhere flat enough to camp. Its close to a well used track, but its the best I can do! I’m sure there won’t be anyone walking along the path in the rain and dark!

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