Cycling from London to Nottingham: a personal guide

Head up through the memories of Stoke Newington and past the Jewish community in Stamford Hill. Hang an accidental right at the top of Tottenham, and make your way through Edmonton and other anonymous suburbs. It’s only when you try to leave that you realise that London stretches on close to forever. 

Keep cycling, but take care. These roads may not have been built for cars but they’re not for you any more. Pass over the north circular and under the M25. Pass old market towns swallowed by their own bypasses. Note the Vote Conservative posters that will be your companion until you reach the next city.

Finally escape, thrillingly, into the country. Giggle at the sight of fields full of oilseed rape, yellow and sweetly smelling in the April sunshine slowly burning the back of your arms. You are now in Hartfordshire, and on a series of gently twisting B-roads. Move through best kept villages from 2004. Stock up on snacks. Keep moving.

The alpacas are not a figment of your imagination.

  

Pass down a single track road through more fields of future vegetable oil as the land opens up ahead of you. See how the motorway carves a scar through the land to your right, caring not a jot for gradient or topography. These people have places to go, fast.

  

See a byplane bank overhead as you cycle down a tree lined lane. This is Duxford, leaking bits of warlike past into the skies. You’re nearly in Cambridge, and you’ll start to notice something strange: other cyclists, some with baskets, others with children. The cycle network might be piecemeal and scattershot, but it exists. Hence, there are people on bikes. They are not cyclists. 

Stop for a restorative pint under a tree by an old river, surrounded by students of privilege and tourists seeking fish and chips. Watch the punts go by, and think of Shada, the great lost Doctor Who story.

  

Eat some crisps. Things are about to get strange.

Head north, and look for an old railway line. It’s now a guided busway, whereby buses wedged by concrete tracks speed their way to Fenland market towns along the flats. You can see for miles here, not that there’s much to see. Relax as there’s no motor traffic on your path for the next ten miles or so. Take a picture of that great looming metal structure in the distance. It’ll gradually get bigger over the next half an hour, and then it’ll be gone.

  

Have some chips and put your bike lights on in the pretty little market town of St Ives: this trip is taking a while longer than you thought it would, and the gloaming is a coming in.

From here, head down a very flat and straight B-road. Lots of things are flat and straight in the fens. Past an unexpected air base, with a 1950s fighter jet stuffed and mounted at the gate. Turn right at a T-junction, and become convinced you’ve lost your gloves. You haven’t lost your gloves.

Spot a long line of bright lights in the distant darkness. Is that the A1(M)? It’s the A1(M). Head down the hill – the hill is nature’s way of telling you you’ve reached the edge of the fens – and join the Great North Way.

The Great North Way is a sad service road running parallel to the motorway. Its glory days (and highwaymen) are behind it. But it’s mercifully quiet. Head north until you reach junction 16, and a Premier Inn on the outskirts of Peterborough. The friendly staff will express their bemusement when you tell them you’ve cycled from London.

“Up the motorway??”

“No.”

Have a bath and get some sleep: you’ve got a long day tomorrow.

Get up, and breakfast. An Alan Partridge style big plate won’t be necessary: it’s an unlimited buffet. Eat as much bacon as you can stand.

Return to your bike, and sit on it. On no account point it in the direction of Peterborough, you’ll only be detained by its many distractions and ring roads. Instead, continue following the service road. This cunningly veers left just before the city, and heads under the motorway towards a series of country lanes and chocolate box villages. And also a wind prevailing against you, and some middling but insistent hills. 

Head through the imaginary county of Rutland. Do not see the lake itself, that’s considered back luck. Instead, stick to the back roads. If you’re lucky you’ll pass a cracking owl sanctuary.

  

Buy strawberries and Haribo from an old man in a village shop.

“Where have you come from?”

“London.”

“Very different round here.”

“Yes.”

  

Get your head down. You’re nearly at Melton Mowbray. That means pies.

The thought of these pies will sustain you for the next hour. 

Rejoin the main road you’ve been avoiding for the past twenty miles. Force yourself to the top of a hill, and pause to savour the sight of Melton in the valley below. It is the shape of a giant pork pie.

Speed down into the town, past Ukip banners and medieval kebab shops. It’s time to feast.

   

 

Panniers laden with pork? Excellent. It’s time for the last stage of our voyage.

Head north out of Melton on some country lanes narrower and quieter than any you’ve experienced so far, bar the odd car on a cheese run to Colston Bassett. 

Note the occasional oddity.

 

Find the country fall away in front of you. Is that Nottingham in the distance? It is.

  

You’ve less than twenty miles to go. Enjoy the sensation that you’re probably going to make it.

Pass through an old mining village on Nottingham’s southern border.

Head along the Grantham canal to avoid the worst of the A-roads on the approach to the city, and so you can call yours friends and encourage them to come to the pub.

Cross Trent Bridge. Avoid the meadows. Head up Maid Marion Way. Hang a right by the nearest hen party.

You’ve made it.

   

   

Published by jamesofwalsh

My past blogs haunt the internet like ghost ships on a digital sea.

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