Untitled photo

The length of the UK by bicycle - 6 rolls of film & 674 words about 1200 miles

I’ve slept barely. Clotted with cold and hunkered down hard, the bric-a-brac of bramble leaves me with little wiggle room, leaf mould moulded around my S-bent body. Despite this, I’m most definitely awake, and alert inside my sleeping bag. My brother Ben and I are about to prepare for yet another ten-hour day of cycling – another long stretch at a relatively calm pace. At the end of the twenty-day trip, we will have averaged about 65 miles a day, having steadily pedalled one of the most iconic and scenic routes the UK has to offer.

Riding from Land’s End to John O’Groats was never about the physical challenge – most riders complete the journey within a week or two. We allowed three. To start with, the whole goal was to raise money for a good cause while having a good time. This we did, ultimately raising and donating just over £2000 for the important but little-known charity called VulPro. Based in South Africa, VulPro are a leading light in the important but little-known area of vulture conservation. African vultures themselves are also little-known and important. They are charismatic, intelligent, and play a crucial role in preventing the spread of diseases and viruses. They are also critically endangered birds. I am overjoyed to have gone out and done a thing to raise so much money for people doing an even more important thing. I am also beyond grateful to the donators who contributed to this mission and helped it happen.

But I digress.

One tent, two bikes, three weeks, four panniers, 1200 miles. A hearty adventure for two heartily adventurous lads. Just another storybook to add to the shelf of anecdotes and achievements. It would be a right laugh and it would be easy, because it’s only England and Scotland and even a four-year-old has done it. And in a sense, it was easy – we are both in good shape, and in most places there’s practically a grocery shop on every corner. No warzones, no desert, no visas to worry about. Just us. And maybe that’s why it was surprising.

I’d begin pedalling with the UK stretched ahead of me, and by the time we’d cruised to the other side I would have produced a whole portfolio of images, a short film and maybe even a small book. I would take it all in my stride and join the internet ranks of self-supported adventurers, conveying the wonder of a simple, beautiful journey by bicycle with my brother.

And I have nothing to say.

I can’t.

Pedalling away patient miles that neither judge you nor listen to your feelings, you see places from a different perspective. A perspective that is impossible to reach or understand without travelling to via bicycle under your own steam.

One of the things that sticks in my head is the tall pink flowering stems of rosebay willowherb that lined the roadsides across most of Scotland. Along with the spiced scent of pine and the chatter of myriad small birds, these elegant flowers graced us wherever we went across the highlands. I have the clearest memory of late afternoon sun, peaching through the thin pink skins of their petals, the rows of stems nodding together in a mountain breeze while bees brushed along the flowerheads. We found two adders basking beneath, coiled cords of olive and black zigzag. Beyond, a brook banked rushily over babbled stones – small brown butterflies tinkered here and jinked across the low Jacob’s ladders cast from the sky. The march of flowers hid the water from the road – but on a bike, you can see it; stop, dismount, lean in. Touch, smell. Back pedal for a second pass if you’re thorough.

The day after we’d reached John O’Groats, we were driving back home in the van. A metre beyond the window, the verge lapped by in a rush of green. A single green shape, a vortex of One Colour. The pink flowers that had kept us company for 500 miles through Scotland, become invisible at 50 miles per hour.

Thank you for reading and checking out the images, those three weeks on a bicycle with my brother were honestly the most intense and incredible weeks of my life. Nearly three months later and I'm still processing all that happened.
           
I hope you got something out of this blog post - if you did, you can sign up to my newsletter here for more adventures and photographs from me. See you there!

All images shot on Kodak Ultramax and Lomography 800. Scanned and developed by The Film Safe.