A Whistle Stop Tour of Britain
Christine At Eaton

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

Chinese proverb

The UK Part of our trip started wet and grey. It matched the hungover mood and provided a massive incentive to cycle south as fast as we could. Of course we were leaving in September, a decision determined by the medical rotation dates, staff changeovers in UK occur in February and August. So we knew we were cycling into winter and the further south we went the better. We cycled out of my parents house with the whole avenue waving and cheering. A ceremonial send off if ever there was.

"I would rather own little and see the world, than own the world and see little of it."

Alexander Sattler

The First Days

We were planning on cycling the British B roads, a fairly good network of roads with little traffic and a meandering rural route. This meant we cycled through fields and villages with great scenic appeal. If you want to explore England then do a B route tour. The steady drizzle and grey skies took some of the scene out of scenic but we persevered south. The trailer weighed a ton and we soon realised we had to push the overweighted machine up any steep hill. Oh dear not a good start.

We staggered into a muddy field outside Crewe. A mere 30 miles. Felt like 300. We put up our tent in the rain and fell over, convinced we would not make Birmingham, let alone Egypt. The very first try the stove would not light. So we went to bed with a sore head, sore butts, sore muscles and a belly full of cereal for supper.

Our tent was knee deep in cow pats and driving rain hammered on the canvas. But exercise is a great sedative and we passed out. A cold day dawned with rain and no tea to start the day as the stove was still dead. Denying an Englishman his morning cuppa is a capital crime. Still the hangover was gone!

And so the journey began. If I had to say what is the best thing about British camp sites, they are almost all next to pubs. A bit rough and ready otherwise, and staffed by rather supercilious and disinterested workers, but still it’s a bonus. After 3 days, innumerable punctures, and pushing the massive trailer up every hill, we had our first crisis


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Dudley inspecting the buckled wheel and the bent and mangled chassis of the trailer. The trailer had only lasted three days.

Just south of Birmingham, as we came off the pavement, the weight of the trailer caused it to do a somersault in rush hour traffic. The wheels simply buckled under the weight. We banged the wheels and chassis back into shape with brute force and pushed the trailer to the nearest camp site.

It was go small or go home! Go home was not an option after the biggest send off since the QE2.

The trolley and its contents were popped on a train to Manchester (47 kg of it!) and the parentals were dispatched to pick it up. I won’t lie, a few arguments ensued as to the definition of essentials, but in the end we were going small.

Four twenty litre panniers and a rack behind the stoker is all we could take.

The New Reality

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The new look !!! Four panniers, front and back wheel racks.

One pannier carried food and condiments, 1 pannier carried the small but efficient petrol stove and cooking pots, 1 pannier clothes, 1 pannier shoes, petrol carrier, books, bicycle locks, tools and spares for the bicycle. The front rack carried the raincoats and 1/2 a bedroll, and the back rack carried the ground sheet, jackets and sleeping bags. Dudley's handle bar bag carried the film, film camera and maps, and the small tent was tied to the front handlebars.

A quick visit to the camp shop and we were equipped with a micro petrol stove, 4 panniers and a 1 1/2 man tent. Unable to fit in 2 sleeping mats we took 1 and cut it in half and stuck it together side by side so we had a mat from shoulder to pelvis. No more expansive luxury. We packed it tight and hit the road.

Each day any clothes that did not dry were left behind, until we had 2 sets of clothing each. All my fashion items were jettisoned. Some unworn and unused.

Heart sore, even I could see the improvement in our speed, time and effort on the road.

A few marital spats were negotiated over the more eclectic fashion items. A brand new pair of boots were left on the counter of the campsite office in Windsor, as I threw myself back on the bike in a blue funk.

On the upside the days of multiple punctures were long gone. We celebrated the first hill without dismounting. You could say we discovered the principals of Marie Condo before she was even born! We were finally free.

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The new look !!!

The cosy tent just enough space for one really, but we were recently married!.

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The sulk

No boots for Paris led to a sulk but it soon passed when we could actually pedal up hills.

London And Surrounds

Our trip south took in the wonders of Stratford, Oxford, Windsor and Eton (A weird dress sense and an interesting history. Did you know in the early 19 th century students were flogged if they refused to smoke! How times change.) and Blenheim palace. (Cricket matches on the lawn and strawberries and cream in the ancestral home of Churchill and the Dukes of Marlborough). We dined in bus shelters and farmers fields on blackberries from the hedgerows, and fresh bread from quaint little shops. Basically anything cheap.

Hairy traffic moments were mostly linked to the fact that most Brits would rather knock over the cyclist than run over any wild critter running across the road. If their dogs were running at you to bite your legs off the pedals, there were loud cries of "leave our dogs alone!". We learned to be wary of sudden swerves, and to recognise wild eyed suicidal squirrels. Our first introduction to defensive driving!

  • Blenheim Palace
  • Eton
  • Windsor Castle
  • Changing Of The Guard at Windsor
  • Brighton Pavillion
  • Stratford Upon Avon

“Nothing is certain in London but expense.”

   William Shenstone, 1743

Cousin Michael

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Christine's cousin Michael who kindly helped us through London. He is a well known portrait painter with a house in Dulwich. In true London style they could only afford to buy half a house although he later acquired the other half!

We were lucky to have a cousin in London with a free floor who rescued us from trying to stretch our meager budget beyond breaking. We had a budget of £5 (R8.50) a day which did not stretch very far. We worked hard at finding free days in the museums and art galleries. As the trip progressed we were not averse to less law abiding tricks, sneaking in back doors and buying student tickets on the black market.

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Mikes first famous painting, titled Muriel Sick In Bed. Several of his portraits hang in the London Portrait Gallery. He was finishing a portrait of Prince Phillip at the time we were there. He loves to merge media in his art.

Thrown Out Of The Dorchester Hotel

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We decided to spend 5 days budget on 1 beer each at the Dorchester Hotel, sat down and ordered a beer at £15.00 each.

We were promptly escorted to the door by a guy in a top hat and tails and a very severe expression with the comment "Sorry Sir we do not serve people like you".

We were lowering the tone of the establishment with our gaiters and bicycle clips. It did not help that we had chained the tandem to the front door.

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The Driver's Comments

London was one of the worst cities we cycled in, rivalled only by Naples. The motorists were inpatient and the taxis would put their bumpers on your pannier at the traffic lights and then accelerate pushing you onto the pavement

London To Newhaven

Although we had a few sunny days, we were dissuaded from a leisurely trip through England by the weather, and the knowledge that winter was just around the corner. We hit the coast for the ferry at Newhaven just about 10 days after we left home, as September moved into October and the nights grew shorter and colder. I was able to get a half price ticket for the ferry on account of being under 26 years old. Dudley had to pay full price for his 2 extra years of wisdom. Our first experience with random ageism. Does a 25 year old take up less space than a 27 year old? A windy, and hilly, diversion to the Brighton Pavillon via the blinding white cliffs, and we hopped on the channel ferry for our next adventure. Vive la France. Here we come.