DEPARTURE DATE: April 25 2001

Set out on my round the British Isles tour by first cycling to landlocked Oxford. No, I wasn’t lost, I went to visit a friend. First stop though was Owens Cycles in Petersfield because, after completing the grand total of 8 miles, I decided I needed a new chain – so swapped from a horribly noisy clunky-changing Shimano one to a super-smooth Sachs.

Big squally soak-you-in-seconds showers accompanied me all the way to Winchester where I spent my first night with Clare, a friend brought up in my village but who had moved to New Zealand. She was back in England for a bit and staying with some friends – one of which is a master of calligraphy and consumer of daffodils. (He had once eaten a whole vase full). Leaving the next morning Clare said my bike was so heavy it felt as if I was carrying a dead cow.

Bounced along on narrow country lanes that bypassed Basingstoke and Reading – two towns that on previous encounters by bike had appeared to consist entirely of cars and roundabouts and uninspiring buildings.

North of Goring I passed lots of hazard signs warning ‘TOADS AT NIGHT’, while in turn I was passed by far too many four-wheel-drives, Mercedes, BMW’s, Jags and red AGA vans for my liking.

Oxford proved big and busy and full of buses (urgh!) and bikes (aahh!).

Two days of heavy rain and wild winds and up-to-my-hubs-flooded roads saw me to Portsmouth (official START and FINISH point of my coastal ride) where I met my mum on her trusty shiny red Roberts steed. Together we cycled across the Isle of Wight in freezing rain and hurricane winds, stopping en route to dine on bananas and Ryvita in the sumptuous setting of a vandalized and graffiti-riddled bus shelter. Unfortunately, couldn’t stay long enough to read all the obscene slogans and detailed diagrams as we had to get moving – hypothermia was setting in.

At Totland Bay I swapped my mother for my builder (a Roberts-riding one at that) and we took off across the north of the island back to Ryde, stopping on the way to eat a pannier-full of tinned sardines on a bench at Egypt Point. Down at the bottom of the long length of Ryde Pier we wheeled our way on to the WIGHTlink ferry that whisked us back to Portsmouth.

From there another vessel, Condor’s Commodore Clipper, floated us to Jersey where we seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time eating bananas and tins of sardines either in our Roadrunner tent, or on the ice wind-raked beach, or in the airport (the builder had to fly home as he had a building to be building). I continued riding around the rest of the Channel Islands on my loansome.

Back in Portsmouth I turned my wheels westward (ho!) and had a thoroughly unpleasant ride up and around Southampton and Totton and the oil refineries of Fawley Power Station. To cap it all, the weather suddenly decided to turn far too tar-popping hot for a fair-skinned damsel in distress, and, on a freshly resurfaced loose-chipping highway laden with racing elbow-grazing oil tankers, a puncture struck (sharp chipping had embedded itself in gooey tar-encrusted tyre). My mood was not good.

From Fawley I sallied forth for Lymington and on to Bournemouth, which judging from roadside placards, was in the midst of a Shark Awareness Week. As I value my toes I avoided a dip off the pier lest a cyclist-hungry Poole Bay Jaws should happen to be passing.

And so to the wonders of the Purbeck Hills – where I crossed the army range (red flags flying so lots of very loud booming target-practising tanks) before plummeting down to Lulworth Cove.

Camped at the Door of Durdle (never fails to impress) before heading up over the hills to distant Portland Bill, which, on arrival, I found daubed in bright blue graffiti: IMAGINE – FRISKED 2000 – SPOONFED SUPANOVA – DIG IT – LIKE A ROLLING STONE.

From Weymouth I took the train home to pick up my slides as I had been called upon by my publishers to go on a 3 week publicity tour around the country’s bookshops to give cycling talks as my latest book, The Sun In My Eyes, had just been published. Felt odd (not to mention a little scary) at having to try to talk again. I think I’m best sticking to cycling.

More travel tales from the saddle soon….