Birmingham is synonymous with concrete but showed a beauty of its own on a recent bike ride back to London along the Grand Union Canal. If you fancy doing the trip in one day it takes around 15 hours. Expect a few punctures,a sore arse and some magic along the way. A good adventure.


Overnight your bike on London’s streets and it’s likely to attract the attention of one of two nocturnal predators.

There are the pub-wallahs who like to cap off an evening’s drinking with a bout of opportunistic wheel stamping, while the metal locusts strip it of anything that isn’t chained or bolted down.

Oh, to have seen the faces of this (former) bike owner in the morning.


A 50 mile cycle ride takes you from east London to Cambridge passing through some of the most picturesque countryside in the South East.

Head north of Chigwell and grey suburban streets are quickly replaced by a quiet network country lanes, wooded dells and gently rolling countryside fat with the bloom of late summer.

Essex’s patchwork of sleepy villages and single track roads are a pleasant discovery for those who associate the county with ugly satellite towns like Basildon.

The place names are equally rustic: Molehill Green, Duck End, Little Laver, Toot Hill, Radwinter and the wonderfully named Nasty.

There’s not a white stiletto or boy racer in sight as I follow the soft green folds of the Rodings northwards over forded roads, past signs warning of deer traffic and cricket teams playing off the baize of village greens.

The rural idyll extends to people leaving home-made jams and honey for sale outside their homes along with donation boxes. There are ‘for sale’ signs for ducks, hens and rabbits. Some saintly soul is even giving away free manure.

I half expect to hear the distant sound ‘Jerusalam’ carried on the breeze such is the Englishness of it all.

Summer’s last sigh is in the air and what better way to watch her slip into autumn than stopping off for a cone of Mr Whippy’s finest.  Today was a good day.

Anyone who has reached the end of this rambling rather self-indulgent blog may be wondering about the photo. Didn’t I tell you? Essex is awash with the living dead.


My father recalled how his sisters cycled from London-Brighton and back in a day fuelled by nothing more than a bottle of pop and a bagful of cheese sandwiches.

They’d  spent a couple of hours on the sea front, flirt with the local boys and share a ice cream before the journey home with the sun at their backs.

The girls got home after dark rosy cheeked with achievement to be clucked and fussed over by a proud but relieved mother.

My dad remembers being impressed by the colossal size of the thighs needed to power his siblings’ boneshakers on the 120 round mile trip.

It reminded me of the maxim that it is the journey not the destination that counts and that growth comes from our experiences in reaching a goal rather than the goal itself.

It somehow felt like a challenge thrown down across the ages and I decided to recreate the journey sixty years later to show the next generation still had some powder in its keg.

Surely it couldn’t be that difficult, could it? After all, the London-Brighton route is completed by thousands of cyclists every year.

Therein lies the folly entertained by every couch potato and bar jockey in the land. Namely, the fact that because lots of people have achieved a goal, it must be easy.

I have one friend who breezily told me over a pint that Mount Everest isn’t a challenge anymore because hundreds of climbers summit every year.

Really? And what’s the highest point he’s ever climbed? Beckton Ski Slope in east London. And he stopped for a fag halfway up that.

It took me seven saddle-sore hours to cycle to Brighton. The low points included a two hour crossing of south London which held all the charm of Mordor on a winter’s day and a bewildering array of road kill including a dead badger, deer and assortment of squashed rabbits and hedgehogs.

You can’t call Ditchling Beacon a low point because its actually very high.

It is the coup de grace waiting to finish off any unsuspecting cyclist in the shape of an 800 metre high hill several miles before the long freewheeling descent to Brighton.

I told my dad about the journey and my amazement at his sisters stamina in completing the round trip in a day.

“Did I say that?,” he laughed. “Don’t be daft. They stayed in a youth hostel overnight.”

Cheers dad.

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