North -> South


At the end of March I’m moving to London. By the time I move I would have lived in Leeds for the best part of 10 years and I have, unsurprisingly, been feeling a bit sad about leaving the north. So here is a bit of a list of stuff that I’ve liked about/noticed whilst living in Yorkshire.

I was born in London and grew up in towns and villages twenty minutes or so by train from Kings Cross so I am, most definitely, a southerner. I don’t think I had ever really been to The North (as it is referenced on ALL road signs once you leave London), I’d briefly been to Manchester and Nottingham to watch sport, I’d been to Bradford ONCE when my dad worked there for a few months and I’d been to the Lake District a couple of times but I hadn’t really spent any time in any northern cities.

I moved to Leeds in 2004 to go to university and have been here more-or-less ever since.

Leeds has changed so much in the time I’ve lived here. My first year was spent on the south side of the city centre at the – then new – Mill Street halls of residence, near enough to the brewery for everything to constantly smell faintly of a combination of yeast, marmite and stale beer. My flat was on the sixth floor so I had a pretty good view of the, admittedly low-lying and uninteresting, Leeds skyline. The same area now has loads of new hotels, the LCM halls of residence, redeveloped blocks of flats and the brewery itself has been turned into an art gallery.

I don’t think I really explored, or appreciated, the area properly until I had finished uni and moved out of the city to Horsforth (about 5 miles north-west of the city centre). Being slightly out in the suburbs made me realised how brilliantly located Leeds is to be able to easily access the countryside. Within 10 minutes of my front door I could be in the woods and the canal towpath was only a little further away (on which you could walk to Liverpool if you felt like it), the Dales were within half an hour’s drive and it was easy to take in some amazing scenery on a Saturday morning bike ride. It’s also pretty to get north, south and west from Leeds by train.

Someone recently said that Leeds is an ‘easy’ city to live in, I think I’d probably agree with that in so much as it is incredibly compact and pretty well-equipped so that almost everything you need is within easy reach. However it is also a slightly odd, grumpy place that has a fairly sizeable chip on its shoulder when it comes to trying to pull together and get anything done. It is almost like it succeeds (when it does) despite itself. I am also constantly amazed at how, in such a relatively small place (which really does just feel like a big town most of the time) there are so many things going on of which noone really seems to be aware. The left hand rarely seems to know what the right hand is doing, in fact I’m often convinced the left hand has forgotten the right hand ever existed.

However despite that I have loved living here, people get on and get things done, being ‘up yourself’ isn’t tolerated in any way, everyone more-or-less rubs along together without too much fuss and the stereotype of everyone calling each other ‘love’ is completely and gloriously accurate. More recently (over the last 2-3 years) there seems to have been a real explosion of ‘stuff’ in terms of bars, and gigs, and galleries and things opening and happening, I suppose this can only be a good thing. I remember when I was a student the nightlife in the city was fairly rubbish, that could no longer be said to be the case.

It is also nice to be outside the London/South-East bubble just in terms of having a slightly different, more representative perspective of the country you live in.

So, I will miss the people, I will miss the countryside and I will miss being able to get to Edinburgh, Sheffield, Newcastle, Manchester, York or Liverpool easily by train. I will not miss the terrible and expensive transport within the city itself, the inept urban planning and the constant message that Leeds=shopping.

I also hope that, one day, I will be back.

Mapping Leeds

I was reading this article about the 6 Days of Ghent over the weekend and something (other than all the cycling fun) jumped out at me. Namely, this: “The Ghent Free Map, produced by Use-It ( and made up of tips by locals“.

Now I have always been of the opinion that you will inevitably end up seeing and doing much more interesting things when you visit places if you either a) just wander around and see what happens or b) tap into some local knowledge. Inevitably the ‘official’ tourist information (and most guidebooks) will push you towards the big, shiny obvious things to do/see which, in my experience, are usually never the best things to do/see. Even more so in my experience of Leeds.

I like the idea behind the “Ghent Free Map“, could something similar be achieved – online initially – for Leeds? The Leeds Free Map?

I do worry that this idea has a little bit of a ‘reinventing the wheel’ feel about it, I’m sure there are endless ‘undiscovered Leeds’ (or equivalent) guides and a crowd-sourced map seems to stray quite far onto territory already covered by Google Maps BUT my (admittedly brief and shallow) research seems to indicate that nothing really quite fits the description, there are numerous blogs which detail the delights of the lesser-known corners of Leeds and then the shopping/arena/sport-focussed (as you’d expect) “official channels” but nothing really seems to draw all of the insights of the former together in one place, in a way that easily shows you where everything is.

Anyway, I’d be interested to try and get a feel for whether this is an idea that’s worth pursuing (it feels like it might be).


End to End

Ever since I supported the Jane Tomlinson Appeal End to End ride in 2008 I’ve thought that it is probably the best way to challenge yourself while seeing some of the best, and most out-of-the-way bits of our country. Unfortunately attempting the ride in 9 and a bit days meant that everything got a bit much. I do want to stress that overall I had an amazing time and am so glad I did it, however there were frequent moments of frustration, tiredness, pain, stress, sunburn and getting very very bored with cycling.

Starting the end to end at John O Groats is a bit more difficult (in my opinion) than starting it at Land’s End. For starters John O’Groats isn’t near anything, at all. The nearest train stations are Thurso and Wick (both 20 miles away). As we were doing the ride unsupported we needed to get up to the start with all our stuff but nothing more, so we hired a car in Leeds, drove to Inverness and dropped the car off. We then wheeled the bikes over to Inverness train station and had a 5 hour train journey up to Thurso.

Having set off from Leeds at about 5am we arrived at our b & b in Thurso at about 6pm. Thurso is far away.

On looking at the maps for day 1 it immediately became clear that I had miscalculated when I’d worked out that Thurso was ‘quite near’ John O’Groats, it isn’t, it’s 20 miles away. This meant that our 100 mile first day was now going to be at least 120 miles. Not a fantastic start.

Day 1 saw us making a suitably early start and setting off into the fog, wind and drizzle for John O’Groats (not quite the predicted sunshine). After about an hour and a half cycling into an incredibly demoralising headwind we arrived at the derelict hotel, carpark, postcard shop and public toilet that marks the start of the end-to-end. It was at this point that I took the first of many tumbles due to not practising properly with my cleats. I unclipped my left foot, shifted my weight to the right and promptly overbalanced and fell over. Idiot.

The very far north of Scotland

The scenery in the far north of Scotland is pretty stunning but also desolate and hilly, there isn’t much to see apart from lots and lots of heath. The last 10 miles into Lairg at the end of day 1 were fairly miserable, I hadn’t eaten or drunk enough and my body was going on strike. A valuable lesson learned.

Day 2 to Grantown-on-spey was the shortest (apart from the last day) and easiest day by far. Everything seemed really straightforward, I’ve no idea why. We managed to cut a fair few miles off the planned route by going over some hills, but even they weren’t too…hilly.

A “big ‘ill” north of Inverness

Day 3 was by far and away my favourite day, it was mega in every way – mileage, scenery, hills but it was absolutely brilliant. We headed straight over the Cairngorms which was AMAZING, we cycled past 2 ski stations (Lecht and Glenshee), did 5 or 6 big climbs and it was generally unforgettable.

The following day which took as round past Edinburgh and then down and across to Annan was one of the hardest days, I think it’s fairly obvious now that the hills completely took it out of me, I’ve no idea how the Tour de France guys do 3 or 4 mountain stages on the bounce (well, we know how some of them might). The number of wind farms we passed indicated that we were at least lucky not to cycle into yet more headwinds but it wasn’t much fun and was really one of those days when you just get your head down and keep hoping for the end.

The Cairngorms!

The next day took us back into England, everyone we spoke to in Annan referred to the terrors of ‘Shap’ awaiting us, Shap turned out to be a little village near a quarry – my thoughts were ‘what was all the fuss?’ yes there had been a bit of a hill but nothing too bad. Turns out the Shap that everyone was referring to was a big old climb after the village that wasn’t too steep but just went on, and on, and on…and on. It didn’t help that half the road was closed, this meant that trucks, coaches and almost every other vehicles whistled past, not bothering to slow down or even try to give me a bit of space – fun times. Down the other side we hit Penrith at rush hour, which was interesting and resulted in us getting a bit lost. But we eventually made it down into Lancashire and, after getting shit on by a seagull, ended up at Mick’s parent’s house near Lancaster.

The next two days were, in a word, ridiculous. We were just outside Lancaster at the start of day 6, we were aiming for Bath by the end of day 7. This is far. Turns out, it’s too far. The plan was to ride about 120 miles from near Lancaster, down round Chester, into Wales to just outside Welshpool. The following day we would then ride down the border between Wales and England, cross the Severn, skip round Bristol and end the day in Bath, I didn’t have a precise figure on what the intended mileage was on this day but it was further than the day before (i.e. 120 miles). Stupid. Then the sun came out and I got hilariously sunburnt.

Turns out it’s really bloody hilly between Lancaster and Bath. Powys, Shropshire, Herefordshire, Monmothshire, all places I’ve not been to before, these are all places I can now tell you – through experience – have lots of hills.

We made it to Welshpool ok, admittedly we were both very sunburnt and we didn’t finish until it was dark – and I had an interesting encounter with a cattle grid (in case you were wondering, yes a bicycle wheel can slip between the grids) but we made it.

We tried to reroute the following day, originally I’d had us going all round the houses to try and avoid hills and towns and main roads. However we decided to just go for it and head in as straight a line as possible for Bath.

Straight lines, experience now tells me, are rarely flat. We made it across the Severn ok but by then it was about 6 o’clock and we still had to get to Bath which was a way away, not sure exactly how far but far enough that by the time it started getting dark at about 8 we were still about 2 hours ride away. By this point we had two options, finish early or ride, in the gathering gloom, down a main road in the vain hope that Bath would show itself before too long. We chose the first option and decamped to a fairly posh b and b in Chipping Sodbury (I don’t think the owners were hugely impressed with two very dirty, very smelly, very sunburnt cyclists turning up out of the blue).

The next day we set off early in an attempt to make up the miles we’d lost. That morning proved we’d made the right decision, the main road was hilly and incredibly busy – it also had no lighting so in the dark would’ve been lethal. Bath is pretty but, sods law decreed, is also built in a little valley, all downhill to the town centre and all uphill for miles on the way out. GREAT. But we made fairly good time, made up the miles and finished the day in deepest darkest Devon (a few more counties ticked off along the way).

The next day saw us entering the final part of the trip into Cornwall. Now, confession, I love Cornwall but the 1 and 1/2 days I spent cycling there tested my affection to its complete and utter limit. Cornwall is horrible to cycle in, horrible. The roads are a succession of unenjoyable steep uphills and downhills, they are also narrow, busy and poorly maintained. Rubbish. The penultimate day saw us finishing near Redruth.

Every bike ride I’ve done has resulted in me becoming obsessed with the stats that crop up. Unfortunately I managed to break my phone a bit so the only numbers I can share are:
travelling 992.3 miles in 95 hours cycling over 9 and a half days. Throughout the ride we were always trying to keep above an average speed of 10 miles an hour so it’s good to see we managed that.