once a day – DDXXVIII – and beyond

When I heard I was only allowed out to exercise once a day the chorus of this old heartbreak song popped into my mind.

You know there’s been a revolution? You know there’s been a revolution  when the Government calls an indefinite general strike. All that’s left is to decide the winners and losers. The Dunwich Dynamo is two moons away, what will it be like in these post-revolutionary days?

In the current context – regardless of the detail of any regulation and guidance in existence on the fourth of July – it’s irresponsible to go beyond your comfort zone. In summer 2020 London, Essex and Suffolk are – alas – not soft country. If you are unsure of your ability to look after yourself stay near home.

Part of the original raison d’etre of the Dunwich Dynamo is to encourage people who like riding bikes but are intimidated by the idea of riding a ‘long’ way to be more ambitious. A function of the Dunwich Dynamo is to disclose cycle-touring’s dirty little secret…
…it’s not that hard.

The raft of ancillary events that nowadays support and profit from the annual pilgrimage; the Southwark Cyclist’s coach-convoy, daybreak opening at the Flora Tea Rooms, food and drink all night long, all along the road, have made the event even simpler for inexperienced riders.

This July these support events may not be legal, practical or profitable. It seems likely that these services won’t be available this year?

A ride from London to the Suffolk Coast alone – or in company of other household members – a swim and a ride home is an innocent pleasure.

If you want to ride a Dunwich Dynamo there are other dates close to the full moons on fifth of June, fifth of July, third of August, second of September and first of October. Temporal distancing will allow anyone who can ride an unsupported Dunwich Dynamo out-and-home from their safe-house, well within their comfort-zone, to enjoy this delight discretely  – and discreetly – without adding to their own, on anyone else’s, risk.

By July I hope we may be permitted to ride with trusted comrades kept at a safe distance. Think of aerodynamics when calculating this – at high speed, in the plume of turbulence trailed by another rider – you may risk contagion at a distance considerably greater than an arbitrary two metres.

If you’re a hard rider feel free to do whatever you consider prudent. If you want to ride a Dunwich Dynamo don’t expect, or ask for, food, water, any pastoral or logistical support. And don’t get booked or arrested, unless you want to, in anticipation of an interesting court case.

The DD is a cycle-touring event. In it’s purest form cycle-touring is based on self-reliance and spontaneous decision-making. ‘Cancelling’ the Dunwich Dynamo is as preposterous as cancelling Christmas, Ramadan or Halloween. The idea that it’s even possible relies on the widespread misconception that somebody ‘organises’ it. It’s a tradition that belongs to everyone – including YOU – and is owned by nobody.

Next year the July full moon will be on a Saturday night.

Dunwich Dynamo XXIX 24 July 2021.

dunwich dynamo XXII

Was stage 3 of the 2014 Tour de France, from Cambridge to London, an homage to the Dunwich Dynamo? Of course it was.

The great frivolity, the twenty-second edition of the Dunwich Dynamo, runs tomorrow night so it’s just possible you’ve time to put a data display on your bars, toss some ‘factor 50’, sandwiches and budgie-smugglers in your sun-bleached, Carradice, Longflap and head for London Fields. More likely you’re still short of sleep so why not turn off your computer and take a nap? You can read this later.

Essex sections of the traditional route – Epping, Moreton, Fyfield, Finchingfield – are still glowing from sanctification by the passage of Le Grand Boucle. ‘VEHICLES PARKED HERE WILL BE TOWED’ signs were conspicuous while riding the DD route-sheet reconnaissance a couple of weeks ago. Was stage 3 of the 2014 Tour de France, Cambridge to London SW1, an homage to the Dunwich Dynamo? Of course it was.

photo: ms. rif

Ignoring this sprinters’ benefit on my doorstep I took a spin – via Cambridge – to Yorkshire for Sunday’s classic GC shake-down. Two hundred miles of riding slowly are the perfect warm-up for the task of witnessing a big, international road-race. It slows down your mind so you’re ready to wait – for hours – calmly.

The Tour de France was invented to sell newspapers. You don’t go out to watch it to see patterns. The point is to be there. It’s a spiritual thing.

As usual – almost – the best part was the publicity caravan that precedes the race. The Caravane publicitaire is at its best after a couple of weeks, once fatigue has turned its relentless participants into grinning zombies; but it’s still pretty spectacular, even on stage 2.

giant motorised packet of frozen chips climbs Holme Moss

The surreal parade, the trinkets flung to the crowd – who blithely risk their lives to retrieve worthless tributes among the speeding floats – show human organisation at its most base. The Caravan pub. is tacky, venal and vulgar. The perfect prelude to the fleeting passage of 197 unemployable, under-weight hypochondriacs, on whose, self-sacrifice, fortitude and unquestioning loyalty to an abstract ideal, the whole over-blown, mobile metropolis is based.

Monday afternoon; fast riders suffering in one direction.

Saturday night; a hedonistic beach-bum excursion rolls the other way.

Dunwich Dynamo logo
Dunwich Dynamo: Illustration by Jamie Wignall
 The entourage of the Le Tour is visible from space.

Thousands of pilgrims to the drowned city can pass like ghosts leaving no trace.

Back to the future

Take a snapshot of today’s conditions and breaking the cultural, and physical, domination of the automobile seems like an impossible dream. In a longer historical context it may be safer to assume it’s inevitable?

“The Motorcar ended the countryside and substituted a new landscape in which the motor car was a sort of steeplechaser. At the same time the motor destroyed the city as a casual environment in which families could be reared. Streets, and even sidewalks, became too intense a scene for the casual interplay of growing up.  As the city filled with strangers, even next-door neighbors became strangers. This is the story of the motorcar, and it has not much longer to run.”

Marshall McLuhan 1964

2013 was a great Summer. Not just because I passed my big test (a subject I will almost certainly return to during the dark days of Winter) also because I can’t remember a formal Sunday ride which didn’t mingle with at least one other event. Everywhere it seems people are grappling with the – so far unanswered – question; how do you ride a bike?

Highlights included the twentieth  Start of Summertime Special…

…in April, which for some distance entwined with an  ‘epic sportive’ from Newmarket. The thrill of meeting other pilgrims enhanced by the knowledge that these neophytes were paying £28 for a 100 miles, while us leathery old-timers enjoyed 210 kms for £6.

In June the magnificent Three Coasts,…

…a nice little ride out of Mytholmroyd in the West Riding, included a sunny afternoon on the Fylde which – apart from ominous views of distant uplands – was like being in the Netherlands, pan flat with untold people of all ages out on their bikes.

People in cars seem to be getting used to sharing roads with blocks of happy pedalling pilgrims. Maybe not content – hyper-mobility and contentment don’t often go together – but at least resigned to relatively long periods moving at human-scale speeds. Perhaps the popularity, the ubiquity, of the new golf is finally eroding  the traditional view, that people on bikes are a low-status out-group?

Early this year 20 mph became the default speed limit in the London Borough of Islington and lately the City of London has declared it will follow.  The Borough of Haringey – which bestrides the jagged coast between bicycle paradise Inner London and the great doughnut of inaccessibility that is Outer London – is currently consulting on the subject. If you live in, ever pass through or visit this unwieldy administrative area feel free to chip-in here. The consultation runs until 31/10/13, why not fill in the questionnaire now?

Some may complain that 20 mile per hour speed limits are currently unenforced and, so widely ignored that they’re meaningless. I prefer to take a long-term perspective.

It’s worth remembering that the British state’s first reaction to the modern automobile was a universal speed limit of 20 mph under the Motor Car Act of 1903. The campaign to smash this restraint, led to the formation of the Automobile Association who undertook non-violent direct action to subvert enforcement. The AA sent paid scouts on push bikes to sabotage police activity by warning criminal drivers to slow down where there were speed-traps.

The 20 mph limit lasted until 1931 but in latter years it was so irrelevant that bus companies published timetables that could only be met by vehicles moving at illegal speed. Descent into the asocial brutality of mass motor dependence was marked by a long period where a 20 mph limit existed but was ignored by almost everybody. Perhaps progress to more efficient and convivial living systems will see the process reverse? Let’s get the 20 mph limit in, even if hardly anyone – police or sofa-jockeys – take much notice, then we can start nudging behavioural norms and the thinking that informs them. That’s what happened with drunk driving. It used to be normal, there was no legal limit for blood alcohol before 1967, now it is generally considered a menace to society and ‘criminal’ behaviour.

Occasionally when flogging down the Islington section of Green Lanes – the A105 – between Manor House and Clissold Park, where motor-traffic sometimes runs free and fast, I’m surprised to find a motor-vehicle, usually a rented van, maintaining a precise 32 kmph on the wide, open road with the big white ’20’s painted on it. It’s usually on a week-end morning and is – I suppose – just another bike fancier moving house?

One of the – many – good things about riding a bike is that you don’t have to worry too much about cars. The worst thing is probably having to listen – and maybe even offer a facsimile of sympathy – when primary victims of motor-dependance explain, at unnecessary length, their difficulties ‘getting through the traffic’ or finding somewhere to park their vacant saloons. It can be hard work trying to affect sincerity while you’re actually wondering how they manage to combine so much patience with so little imagination? It is – however – also currently true that motor traffic dominates a great deal of public space. We are all secondary victims of motor-dependance and the freedom – of children in particular – to travel autonomously is disastrously restricted.

In the 1980’s senior officers of the Department of Transport argued that it was illegal to put speed-humps on public roads. Now those little manifestations of conflicted motivation can be found all over the place. Armed only with a snapshot of today’s conditions, breaking the cultural, and physical, domination of the automobile seems an impossible dream. In a longer historical context it may be safer to assume the end of mass motor-culture is inevitable?

Marshall McLuhan may have under-estimated the longevity of motor-dependence, but most of his predictions seem to come true in the end. If you’re reading this in Seattle it’s probably not worth responding to the Haringey speed-limit consultation. But welcome to the Global Village.

It won’t happen by accident. There is work to be done. Go ride your bike and set a good example. And for people with a critique of the prevailing, inhuman, highway conditions, who lack the chutzpah to enjoy riding their bikes on roads shared with motor-traffic, there’s a new potential hobby; join a car club and put in some miles playing the radio while diligently observing the ‘new’ civilised speed limit.

Dunwich Dynamo XXI; never mind how many hours, what about finesse?

Cycle-sport is perverse. If you want to go fast get a motor-cycle. The point of riding a push bike is to enjoy the journey.

In the days before, along the road, people keep asking how many are riding this year? My reply is always that nobody knows, nobody has to count. What if someone sets off from Cambridge, picks up the route near Sudbury and trundles out to the coast? Do they count as one, as a half or none? My concern is always with quality.

A point of the DD is getting inexperienced riders to raise their ambition, to understand that riding further is not that big a deal, that a ‘long’ journey is just a collection of short trips strung together. If – however – you inspire the naive and innocent into the darkness of Essex and Suffolk it’s good if there are some role-models around to give clues as to how it might be done with ease and style.

Weston Cafe congratulatory message.

Dunwich Dynamo Twenty One – the first with a rain and headwind combination – had no hint of moonlight at any time. Another first for 2013 was a complaint from a householder about noise in the small hours…

“I am sure you all had a lovely time cycling from London to Dunwich on Saturday/Sunday night – couldn’t have been a better night I shouldn’t think. However, I wonder if you could just ask the participants for next year just to think a little more about the people in the villages they pass through during the night.   We live right on a junction on the A****  in Suffolk about 20 miles from Dunwich in the village of *********** and the cyclists found it necessary to stop and shout directions to each other at the junction, which woke our dog and started him barking between 3am and 5am – thereby waking us. PLEASE do remember that Suffolk villages are usually quiet at night and neither we nor our dogs are used to night time noise.  In any case, surely it is only considerate to keep your voice down outside houses during the night. Sorry to raise this but a little consideration would be appreciated.”

…the complaint is not a ‘first’, every year there are a few, not all as polite and considered as this. The ‘first’ is that the junction described is two or three miles from the suggested route.

Repeating the messages – “don’t make noise near homes”, “don’t drop litter” –  like a stuck record, the problem is that the least imaginative people, the most likely to cause a nuisance, are the hardest to reach.

As years go by more and more people who live along the route are embracing the Dunwich Dynamo in a continental style. Pubs stay open late and fill their tills, residents sit out and watch the stream of fools pass, some run front-garden pop-ups, pushing coffee and bacon sandwiches in aid of charity and all-night fun. In Sudbury – just for example – the Horse and Groom, Weston’s Cafe and Torque Bikes all stayed open. People put up routing signs, and personal notices for locals who are making the trip. I heard a rumour that Anglia Railways now run extra bike capacity during the day before the ride for all the people coming in from Essex and Suffolk to join the great wave of lunatic joy.

It’s sad that DD supporters in Essex and Suffolk will have to deal with criticism from their neighbours annoyed by unnecessary noise, litter and loutish behaviour from nit-wit participants, the kind who imagine that riding 185 kms at their own pace is some kind of mighty achievement and give no thought to doing it like an adult, doing it with panache.

Thousands of people – almost all carrying wallets or similar cash receptacles – moving into countryside is cause for joy, an extra Christmas for hard-pressed country pubs, a chance for people from across the country, international visitors, to discover the pleasures of East Anglia. Many will return to further boost the rural economy. The fact that they do it on bikes puts minimal stress on infrastructure. If we conduct ourselves like adults, ten-thousand can go through like ghosts, leaving no trace creating no disturbance.

There’s no excuse for noise, or litter, or pissing near homes. It was a hot night so more sleeping people had more windows open. There was no moon and maybe under-equipped pilgrims needed to gather under street-lights? Anyone who knows what they’re doing carries a headlight for punctures, reading directions and sign-posts, wardrobe changes or cigarette rolling in the dark.

Part of the pleasure of cycle-touring is to stop. The best place is not in a sleeping village, that will likely be at the bottom of a hill with a climb on cooled legs to follow. Stop in the gateway of a farmers field on a hilltop and you can chat freely and get rolling again with minimum effort.

Cycle-sport is beautiful. You can learn a lot from studying, more from participating in, cycle-sport. But cycle-sport is perverse. If you want to go fast get a motor-cycle. The point of riding a push bike is to enjoy the journey. I’ve read plenty of first-person narratives of DDXXI. Some major on pain and suffering, which is boasting about how ineffective you are at riding a bike. Most – for no explained reason – tell how long the trip took. I prefer the ones that concentrate on style.

I have definite plans not to post next week but if you want to find out roughly where I am you can look here; https://londonedinburghlondon.com/lastseen/?rider_no=B60.

Reclaiming the earth

The fashion for one-way streets is long passed its sell-by-date.

  • A month of Sundays
  • A blue moon
  • A Sheffield flood

…add to any index of proverbial rare events a head-wind Dunwich Dynamo.

2013 – the legendary beach-party’s twenty-first edition – promises this unlikely happenstance.

The balmy North-Easter is good luck for those who like an extra portion, the bonus of a gentle ride back to London. There’s a relative shortage of back-wheel on the road home. Whatever your plans after the salt-water finish don’t forget the sunblock.

A further novelty for DDXXI is an extended cyclo-cross interlude, courtesy of Essex Highways who are renewing retaining walls and drainage on Wethersfield Road on the western approaches of Sible Hedingham and have built the kind of temporary runway that goes through beer tents in Belgian winter races.

Last Friday, on the final check, I figured the ‘ROAD CLOSED’  and ‘DIVERSION’ signs which start 8 kilometres ahead of the works, on the exit of Wethersfield, were actually what are called – in progressive circles – these days ‘modal filters’, and that a pedestrian – even armed with a bike – would be able to force a route through without rope or crampons. When I finally reached the filter I walked through on the road with no trouble and it’s good to see that pedestrian access is maintained even if it’s considerably more elaborate now. If you’re on a tandem, and can’t get it through the gate, take the bags off and wait until enough fellow pilgrims are assembled to hoist it over without risking a hernia. Please make the negotiation quietly or the people in the house across the road will be disturbed.


Intelligence from Braintree District reports that – after a rash of complaints – the kissing gate has been removed. So we can pass EVEN MORE quietly.

Riders in pretentious half-human-half-machine footwear have the option to change into their beach shoes to yomp through the chicane. If you’re wearing shoes that don’t work for walking – and aren’t carrying a seaside change – you can follow the signed diversion via Gosfield and the A1017 and turn left at the Total garage in SH for the village hall, which will give you a bonus 10 kilometres at no extra cost; either that or turn round and go back to London because you’re not going to have much fun on the ghostly shingle of the Lost City in your stocking feet anyway.

A further, further novelty, new for 2013 – supposedly for a trial period but with no real chance of reversion – will be riding North on Mare Street, Narrow Way, Hackney Central, without transgressing a dopey Twentieth Century  prohibition on uphill cycle-traffic which was lifted earlier this year. Buses have lately been rerouted away from this human-scale shopping lane. The street is now much more convivial and more than twice as good for people on bikes.


Hackney Narrow Way is part of an old corridor whose line – or lines – are not only prehistoric they might (guidance from readers with palaeontological backgrounds very welcome) be pre-human?  Narrow Way, Broadway Market, Columbia Road are all on this line which connects London Bridge with the Lea Bridge Road; the lowest natural crossing points on the two great rivers. Powerscroft Road – which features in the DD’s early kilometres on the London side of the Lea – has also had a short one-way section recently returned to the default-setting, for cycle-traffic.

Two way operation makes roads easier to cross on foot, reduces the number of times you have to change lanes on a bike, makes it easier for bus passengers to find their stops and is probably more convenient for local motor-traffic. It’s better for everyone except the motor-fantasists who want the World remade as parody of car-racing circuits.

Thinking animals like us construct reality from theory. Some people abuse the privilege. The Twentieth Century vogue for one-way traffic systems can be interpreted as modifying the World to justify a prevailing assumption that automobile travel is quick and convenient even in urban areas. One-way operation always produces alienation. The days when you could rely on rolling into a town on a road named after the last one visited, find the town square and pick a road named after the next one on your itinerary may have gone but much of the infrastructure remains waiting to be reclaimed for our luxury use.

The Dunwich Dynamo – for example – aspires to historic desire lines and spends half it’s distance on roads named after their origin or destination settlements. Big holes are the gyration of Sudbury – how much sweeter to roll into the very centre of town and exit on East Street? – and the Eastern exit of Needham Market where Coddenham Road is cut to two stumps by the A14 running up the Gipping valley from Ipswich.

A fashion, a social movement – mass motorisation for example – may carry a lot of economic inertia. It may be so dominant that it’s widely treated as permanent; but nothing lasts forever. Time passes, ideas change, cities get washed away.

See you on London Fields, on the road or on the beach.


‘pssst’ competition: the winner

Nothing slows you down like stopping; which is why I like it.

a puncture is decisive

A puncture is decisive; it neatly answers the question of whether to stop
versus whether to carry on.

I’m indecisive, and lean towards carrying on at the expense of stopping;
riding optimistically past superbly placed benches, picturesque cafes,
patches of shade in the midday sun and patches of sun at the end of the
day, improbable scenes well worth photographing, bus shelters delightful
enough to take a nap in.

For this reason I like realising that the new noise I can hear is fast
escaping air passing my forks once every rotation, followed by the
roughness of the road becoming apparent. Nothing for it, where shall I sit?

Nothing slows you down like stopping; which is why I like it. A puncture
early one midsummer evening in Scotland resulted in me finding my favourite campsite for over 1000 kilometres. The campsite was one that I would have ridden straight past in the knowledge that daylight was plentiful had I not recently realised how good it was to take in the mountains from a seated position on the ground.

It consisted of an empty field surrounded by distant peaks with a stream
running through it and a single toilet block. One toilet, one sink, one
wooden slatted thing to stand on in front of the sink, and a clouded
mirror. The door frames were painted green and peeling, the walls inside
painted pink and peeling. The floor cold stone, the water from the hot tap
hot. The low evening light hit the pink walls like a flood light while the
stream sounded outside.

I didn’t find the farmer that evening on my walk but he found me in the
morning – the only tent in his field. He drove his tractor over just to say
hello and that I certainly didn’t owe him any money. He had white hair and
a red face and his trousers were held up by braces with a repeat pattern of
different tractors on.

Jane Stables 11/12

The author apologised for the absence of a photograph to accompany this tale. I hope you’ll agree it doesn’t need one? The words take you there without assistance.

‘pssst’ competition: first loser

we heard a gunshot close by and all looked back in panic

rim fails, tube must pop

In the European leg of a long bike tour, for a two week period we regularly
seemed to get punctures at the worst of times, wearing our patience thinner
than the tyres. There was one on the clay towpaths of the Main-Donau canal, however, which was quite wonderful.

After a brisk morning overtaking the canal’s main wayfarers –touring
grandmothers – we were riding through Nuremburg and had just passed a
travellers’ camp when we heard a gunshot close by and all looked back in
panic. Moments later, realising we weren’’t under fire or in danger, we
stopped to inspect the damage. Gav’s inner tube had exploded and taken half
the wheel with it.

Gav, being the most physically imposing of us, had been a super domestique, taking the wind for far longer than his due. He deserved our solidarity. There being four of us, the only thing to do was for two to remain with the bags and two to find a bike shop in the city.

Cursing our luck, Tim and I sat down at a nearby radweg café and ordered a
radler. The hours passed, as did the touring old ladies, beaming tortoises
to our hares. And the radlers turned into beers. The company was first rate,
including some scholarly Polish builders, whose German was only bettered by their English, and a charming young French couple, who were cycling with their two-year-old son to Canada. The food was pickled fish sandwiches, but you can’’t have everything.

Pete Bloor and Time Keeling

The wearily triumphant pair returned five, maybe six, hours later, having
enjoyed the best of inner city traffic and having managed, at great length,
to find a wheel that was ready to ride. They found a couple of drunks,
gushing about a perfect sunny day on the canal-side to whoever the latest
passing drinking buddy was. The next day, and because of the hangover I
can’’t be sure, but I swear Tim and I found ourselves taking the wind more
than usual.

Peter Bloor 12/12

eds note: A ‘Radler’ – literally ‘cyclist’ – is a mix of beer and soft-drink, a sort of deutsche shandy.

the example of Seville

At the turn of the Century cycle-travel accounted for just 0.02% of all trips in Seville – now 7% of journeys are made on a pedal bike.

A highlight of the first session of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group(APPCG)’s ‘Get Britain Cycling’ inquiry was Dr. Lyn Sloman describing the rapid – in local-government terms at least – transformation of the city of Seville in Andalusia now acclaimed as the ‘cycling capital’ of Spain.

Cycle lane in Seville - the example of Seville

the example of Seville

Starting from a very low base – at the turn of the Century when cycle-travel accounted for just 0.02% of all trips – now 7% of journeys in Sevilla are made on a pedal bike.

In 2010 I rode across Iberia – on the way to Fes taking as direct a route as possible across the corrugations of Andalusia, passing the delightful towns of Andújar, Baena, Cabra, Olvera and Ronda to hit the Mediterranean coast at the mouth of the Hozgarganta river. A slightly easier route, in terms of hills and navigation, might be to run down the Guadalquivir valley via Cordoba – with the added bonus of the chance to check-out Seville’s network of bike paths and ancient city centre – and then to proceed to the ferry-port of Tarifa – or Algeciras – via Jerez and Cadiz?

Into Africa

Daughter of DD needs to be arrestingly unlikely, needs to start in London. It needs to terminate somewhere mysterious and interesting enough to avoid anti-climax. Welcome to London-Fes.

Happy new year. Welcome to the teens.

If – back in the late Twentieth Century – I’d told you that one day a Mayor of London would…

  • 1. travel to work on a pedal bike.
  • 2. leave 10,000 push-rods standing around the City and West End for any chump to use, pretty much, for free.

…the chances are you’d’ve asked if I’d been working too hard, suggest I take a glass of camomile tea and sit in the shade for a few minutes. The challenge is to try and imagine scenaria strange enough for the coming years.

This brings up the question of a follow-up to the Dunwich Dynamo. The legendary frolic, which once seemed very strange, now has a raft of tribute events including, since December 2012, a first in the Southern Hemisphere. The Newcastle Overnight just misses out on alliteration but in other respects follows the tested formula of a summer night-time spin from the city to the beach under a full moon.

The NO – or for francophone readers the NoN – contains an extra layer of perversity as everyone knows Sydney is blessed with many idyllic swimming strands and all towns in Australia – except Canberra, Alice Springs and various open-cast mines and sheep-stations – are on the coast. So not only do you leave a city hooching with saltwater swimming opportunities, the itinerary is never far from the Tasman Sea.

Into Africa - Tetouan: first mention of Fes on the road from London

Tetouan: first mention of Fes on the road from London

Not so much a ride to the beach as a ride along the beach but what the heck it looks like fun and if the current vogue for backward social-policy continues, and I get transported to the antipodes, in chains, for stealing a loaf of bread, it’ll definitely go on my to-do list.

Daughter of DD needs to be arrestingly unlikely, needs to start in London. It needs to terminate somewhere mysterious and interesting enough to avoid anti-climax. Welcome to London-Fes.

Fes is an ancient capital of Morocco.

Fes contains the largest area of motor-free urban space in the World.

Fes is in Africa.

Fes is definitely different to London

Into Africa - cricket on the beach anyone?

cricket on the beach anyone?

While the DD can – often is – undertaken on a whim, an extended international jaunt whilst, neither necessarily, serious or arduous, is best undertaken with a little more forethought. Time to rake up funds to enjoy the trip and plan time away from work and family responsibilities. For this reason the first formal edition of London-Fes will take place in October 2014. It will continue on a four year cycle, 2018, 2022 and so on, conveniently L-F takes place in the Autumn preceding a Paris Brest Paris summer.

October is preferred, first because after the equinox – on September 21st – riding South means the days get longer also because tourist facilities tend to be quiet but not shut and afternoons in Andalusia and Morocco are not too hot. These are formal dates but there’s no reason why the ride can’t be undertaken at anytime. You could leave tomorrow.

The most direct route from London to Fes includes around 2500 kilometres of cycling. London to Portsmouth for a night boat to Ouistreham in Normandy. South across the Loire to Royan where a short ferry over the Gironde puts you on the flat, coast road to the Basque country. Up into Navarre, across a corner of Aragon onto the high plains of Castille. Madrid is an option if you have time then across the Sierra into the corrugations of Andalusia from Algeciras to Morocco then a last 300 kms up to the old Berber city of Fes.

This is a classic route but there are other possibilities, a boat from Portsmouth to Bilbao to miss out a week crossing France. You could cross France diagonally and take a boat from Marseille to Melilla.

When the DD was launched there was no internet for everyday people, ideas were spread with flyers, alliances cemented with coupons and cheques. Nowadays things are much easier, more fluid. London-Fes is an idea. The plan is to build a resource a place for people to share ideas.

The only actual event currently planned for the first edition is a party in Fes in the last week of October 2014. The advantage of keeping trimmings to a minimum is not putting people off with too much targeted marketing. The trip can be undertaken by thrifty people hauling tents and kitchens and by others whose idea of survival is “if you can’t find a five-star hotel check into a four star.” Average 70 miles a day and you can do the riding in three weeks. Go faster and you can leave later or spend time exploring places that take your fancy, Pamplona, Madrid, Cadiz? A few days to hang out in the hallucination that is Fes and a train journey – two and half days – back to London add up to a month. When I rode London-Fes in 2010 I broke my bike in a gloomy garage and posted it home in a box which made the train journey simple and glamorous. The Moroccan Postal service is professional and used to shipping bulky items – mostly souvenir carpets – to the North.

London-Fes 2010

Fes is definitely a different place but, because I’ve measured every dry millimetre with the power of my will, somehow I still feel at home.

(8/10/10) M.V. Normandy docks at Ouistreham before dawn and – after yesterday’s ride to Portsmouth and a sweaty night on-board – I turn West along the coast for a few hundred metres, lean my bike by an imposing D-Day memorial and trot down the beach. It’s a long way to the water. On the last dry sand bank I take off my shoes and clothes, stack them neatly with my passport, cards and cash, then run into the shallows to bathe.

Returning, scouring the gloom for my possessions, I imagine losing them to the incoming tide. When a dark pile becomes my stuff relief breaks in a warming wave. On a trip like this you have to trust yourself, trust others and the World.

London-Fes 2010 - roadside Jesus and funny bike in Anjou
roadside Jesus and funny bike in Anjou

Normandy sand stays in my shoes until I swim in the Loire – camping wild on a river island – two nights later. Two more and – like some low-rent Richard Long – I’m rolling in the Atlantique at Soulac sur Mer. Sleeping to the sound of crashing waves, hooting owls and mysterious cracking noises, too diverse to be human, on the nearly deserted camp-site; some kind of nocturnal woodpecker is my first guess? In the morning I work-out it’s pine cones, loosed by the breeze, hitting chalet roofs.

(14/10/10) There’s no sign for Spain until you’re 1500 metres from the frontera. Is this because I’m on the old coast road rather than the autovia, Francocentrism or sensitivity to Basque nationalism? Funny to find a whole country, an empire, treated like some municipal amenity. Orwell called Spain “a lump of Africa crudely soldered onto Europe” is there still evidence you’re entering a new continent, a new World view? The small “Welcome to Spain” sign has – predictably – been defaced by Basques, with something about “Nazios”.

My morning coffee in France was often taken in an empty bar, or one shared by a rheumy-eyed town drunk nursing a – not necessarily unfortified – orange juice or coffee, and wondering where it all went wrong? In Irun I nip into the first local, a small room, nearly full of big men with bellies and moustaches, smoking, shouting and drinking spirits in generous measures.

My arrival causes some muted interest as they go out in ones and twos to check my bici-comico, a Burrows Ratcatcher. They politely don’t engage me in conversation as I drink my con-leche but, after I pay and bring my drinking-bladder in for the barman to fill, they burst into a raucous chorus of “Whisky-Coca’ – Whisky-Coca’ – Whisky-Coca’ “. It’s tempting to build psycho-geographical theories on an anecdote. My first coffee in Spain was slightly later in the day and in a more urban setting than those necked in rural France… …but it did make me think?

60 km uphill to the first continental pass at 847 metres. Near the top the new road runs in a tunnel, closed to cycle-traffic, so I climb further, alone on the old highway, winding gently through intricate forest hairpins. An unfamiliar road sign – the silhouette of a petrol pump? – indicates a spring-fed, roadside fountain. Two elderly men in shabby clothes are filling plastic bottles, putting them, four at a time, in carrier bags and loading them into the back of a battered saloon car.

They stand aside to let me wash my salty face. I ask how far it is to the top? “Not far” The first suggests.
“A kilometre?” I ask.

“More or less” offers the first.

“Less than half a kilometre” adds the second.

“More clothes.”

“More clothes.” They agree. The cloudless evening is drawing in and I face a 25 km drop to Pamplona.

lobby exhibition, Hotel Yoldi, Pamplona

At the Hotel Yoldi – mentioned by Hemingway in “The Sun Also Rises”, where, every Saturday, by tradition, Miguel Indurain hosts a get-together for his extended family – they insist I park my bike in the lobby, among the designer furniture, as “an exhibition”. I’m certainly not in condition, not tough enough, to ride weeks of consecutive 150 km days on a classic bike.
Late night department-store shopping yeilds a set of maps for the Iberian diagonal.

The high plains of Castille are cold in the mornings and hot in the afternoons under skies of blank Velásquez blue. I see the towers of Madrid from the hills above Guadalajara. In Peurtollano, a mining town strung along a valley like South Wales, well dressed people in early middle-age have rickets. Not long ago this was poor country.

The roads in Spain are mostly even better than France, but occasional sections are rough, on some cycle-traffic is exiled to a dirt-track service road, I can’t identify these from my 1:200,00 maps. Where old roads are being renewed whole sections are closed entailing lengthy detours.

London-Fes 2010 - from the ramparts of Atienza, high plains of Castille
from the ramparts of Atienza, high plains of Castille

(20/10/10)Into Andalucia over four mountain passes through a lonely parc naturel. I see, a brown squirrel with tufty ears, deer the size of horses and an Iberian lynx. I might have thought it was a big domestic cat but for the multitude of road signs telling everyone to keep under 40 kph as this is “the Country of the Lynx”. The signs persist for fifteen miles and the scarce motorists respect the limit. Motorists in Spain are the politest I’ve ever ridden amongst.

In Andalucia the evenings are warm in pastel-painted towns busy with animated citizens like an operetta’s opening scene. Two days of rolling hills with nothing but olives. Low down it looks like you’re lost in a great, green sea and – from hilltops – as if the country has been upholstered in some tufty green and cream fabric. The trees seem gnarled and ancient but are planted in regimented rows to be serviced by machinery. The largest building in every town is the olive oil refinery. Their heavy scent is everywhere.

Relief from this hallucination of stasis only comes with rugged mountains and white, Moorish, hilltop villages, at odds with the road network, making navigation troublesome. Andalucia clings to my heels like some plaintiff lover, probably singing a nasal ballad, Arab pop with Castillian vocals and just when you think you’re breaking through to the coast, the shock of English ex-pats, behaving like they’re in East Sussex with the heat turned up. At a café I find an English-language flyer for a dog show.

Hilariously I must walk the last kilometre in Europe as the Algeciras Port police are affronted that I’m riding sin casco – no crash-hat. I told them I’d only had politeness from people and police of all categories all the way from Navarre. Was their dual-carriageway really the most dangerous road in all Spain? It felt somehow OK to be hounded out of Europe by jobsworths.

(24/10/10) Landing in Africa it’s a short ride to the border of the Spanish enclave of Ceuta and entry into Morocco proper. Here the landscape, the faces, the crops, lots of the architecture, are indistinguishable from Andalucia. Do the Spanish hang a quarter pig behind every bar, drink spirits for breakfast, beer for lunch and wine at night, to convince themselves, and everyone else, that they’re no longer Muslims? You’re leaving lands where people expect cars and fridges, for those where street markets feature second-hand shoes and old clothes. In the country some families must walk to collect their water.

The sparse roads of the Moroccan countryside are quiet and well surfaced. Some of the motor traffic a little less disciplined than in North West Europe but the possibility – round any corner – of very slow moving traffic, flocks of sheep, ancient trucks labouring up hill or creeping gingerly down – keeps everyone vigilant. I manage to avoid being overtaken by any donkey carts.

Down the Mediterranean coast, through the Rif mountains, across a fertile plain – where the only tourists go speeding by in buses and towns are strung along the highway like sets for wild-west movies – to reach the mysterious, ancient capital Fes; exactly three weeks riding from London.

Fes is definitely a different place but, because I’ve measured every dry millimetre with the power of my will, somehow I still feel at home.

London-Fes 2010 - light commercial freight waiting to enter the Old City
light commercial freight waiting to enter the Old City

(28/10/10)First stop a home-furnishing shop in the new city to cadge a coffin-sized cardboard box. Then to a carpet shop in the old city to enquire about shipping to London. I buy a 10mm hex key and some candles in the souk and in a gloomy garage spend half a day breaking up the bike and packing it, with my road clothes. A barrow porter wheels the resulting carton to the post-office.

London-Fes 2010 - Soraya

(01/11/10) After a couple more days exploring the alleys of the old city an early morning train to Tangier.

(02/11/10) Lunch between trains in Madrid, and – just over the invisible French border – onto a rattling sleeper.

(03/11/10)Breakfast in Paris, London by lunchtime.