Day 1: London Victoria to Market Harborough Travelodge
London is a difficult place to escape. It always takes longer than you expect.
Ian Nairn drove out of London on the Edgware Road, on his way to being charmed by Northampton, horrified by the M1, and bemused by urban clearance on the edge of Man
For me it was cycling along what was once the Great North Road, via a thousand memories and occasional fever dreams.
Finchley. Ash. The bones of a former Wimpy. And finally escaping the city, over a bridge over the A1. An important moment.
Lunch was taken outside a nice deli in St Albans, next to a man who looked like Phil Collins, who amused himself pouring his coffee between three identical paper cups.
A flotilla of expensive prams cruised past me. An older couple blinked at the menu. I felt out of place. It was time to move on.
At the edge of town, the road becomes fast, with no crossings for pedestrians. Flowers around the railings a memorial to the human cost.
My route from here to Market Harborough was more beautiful than expected. To my left, the sharp ascent of planes taking off from Luton; later, to my right, rumours of Bedford.
Milton Keynes, Kettering, Wellingborough: all were expertly avoided.
For a mile of quiet, I enjoyed the company of a kestrel overheard, navigating by my country road.
Dusk brought one beautiful hare, gangling without a care in the world.
100 miles after leaving Victoria, with dusk falling, I arrived in Market Harborough. For the last few miles, my road followed the East Midlands main line, the rail route I’ve travelled more than any other.
I know the view out the carriage window off by heart; this was the first time I’d travelled this way under my own steam.
A train does not cause the scar in the landscape a motorway does, but still: it was all much more memorable than I was expecting.
The view from my hotel room was of a delightful brutalist courtyard. As is typical for a little market town after twelve years of austerity, there was plenty of violence of a different nature out there on this summer Thursday night. In the local spoons, the conversation was Daily Mail and Boomer Facebook bingo.
Definitely send migrants to Rwanda because they’re all murderers. The problem is police can’t use violence any more. All travellers should be kicked out of the country. George Floyd: the policeman was framed. LGBTQ+ pride: “it’s like wearing a swastika”.
I moved to a less extremist part of the pub, near the back. Nearby, two young women advised the resting bouncer, about a person unknown: “you’ve got to watch him. He cut a guy’s ear off last week.”
Day 2: Market Harborough to Nottingham
Given the conversations I had overheard the previous night, I was keen to get out of Market Harborough as quickly as possible. After a disappointing sausage roll, I headed north.
Little of note happened. There were some beautiful villages, looming at me from a hill that I was then obliged to climb.
I met a couple of other cyclists, neither of whom believed I was cycling to Edinburgh. The second, a kind man from Wales, told me that my trip was his dream. And then my chain fell off and he disappeared over the hill.
Nairn coined a word for the dreary, drab residential landscapes on the edge of town: subtopia.
The modern day equivalent is the new built estates, with no public transport, no facilities, and no hope, encircled by dual carriageways and plastic grass. In an era of climate change, they are already obsolete, and I feel so sorry for any children trapped on one.
The last of these is just off the A52 – Brian Clough Way – which I join briefly before turning towards West Bridgeford.
The last time I cycled to Nottingham was with Ruth, via Cambridge and Melton Mowbray. Now as then, I got to experience the emotionally resonant journey across Trent Bridge, up through the Meadows, and to the Castle, and Ye Olde Trip To Jerusalem. I met my parents and had a Radler.
Bill Oddie memorial wildlife spotted en route
🦅 3 birds of prey (I think kestrels and possibly a falcon, but I am no non-Star Trek bird of prey expert)
🐰 Two rabbits and one beautiful hare at dusk
🐖 An unidentified creature in the undergrowth that might have been a wild boar
🦌 A young deer who nearly got hit by an Audi
Forever in our hearts memorial roadkill spotted en route
🪶 Two pigeons
🦫 One weasel