Mike Carter gives up his day job in London to cycle around the coast of Britain on an epic 5000 mile journey. This is one of the best cycle travel books that I have read. It paints a vivid portrait of Britain, not just the magnificent scenery, but also of the people. Carter has a knack of bumping into some incredible characters who are happy to share their stories. The trip feels like a great adventure, it makes you want to get on your bike and the author's enthusiasm for the joy of cycling and exploring the country is infectious.
The premise of the book, like so many others of this type, is that the author is fid up with his job and wants to do something exciting, so decides on a bicycle trip. What stands out with this book compared to others is that it concentrates on the encounters the author has with people, so that the chapters are full of interesting conversations. Sometimes these are just a few sentences, sometimes several pages when he meets someone really fascinating. For example, a whole chapter is given over to the ferryman who reveals that he once cycled across the ocean (on a pedalo craft) to Hawaii.
I enjoyed the descriptions of the landscapes, villages and towns, but I found myself longing for the next conversation with a local or fellow traveller because they made this book such a page turner. The author encountered incredible kindness from strangers. I lost count of the number of times he was offered free accommodation. For example, near Montrose he comes across a farmhouse surrounded by antiques and bric-a-brac. The owners welcome him inside and give him dinner and a bed for the night. This book pretty much destroys any negative stereotypes about British people. It made me feel good about living in a country where such generous hospitality is offered to travellers.
The author comes across as a friendly and likeable person, so it appears to be natural for him to chat to people easily. In fact, he says that he is not normally this open with people, but the bicycle trip seemed to bring out a new confidence and general happiness.
The ability of cycling in the countryside to bring about a positive change in a person is a theme that carries throughout the book. Carter perfectly captures this with sentiments that I can easily identify with:
"...a blissful state of existing purely in the moment, concerned only with the need for food and a place to sleep and, for the times in between, breathing and pedalling. It was such an uncomplicated and happy life."
Carter uses his sense of humour to good effect throughout the book and there are several laugh-out-loud moments. He seems to get himself into some funny and embarrassing situations that he is not afraid to tell us about.
The book gives the impression that Britain is a beautiful country and if you live here you should be proud of it and spend more time exploring it, but the author does not shy away from reporting on parts of the country that are not so nice. He is disappointed by Blackpool and if there is litter, graffiti or rude people he does not leave it out.
I was eager to read about his time in Scotland and he raves about the scenery. In particular, the cycle route from Cullen is described as "one of the finest sections of largely traffic-free riding I'd experienced since leaving London." His journey does seem a little bit rushed and he passes through many places without stopping or saying much about them, but this just goes to show that even 5 months travelling in Britain is not long enough. It may be a relatively small island, but there is a lot to see.
This book shows that you don't need to leave home to have a travel adventure. It is really enjoyable and one of the best of this type of book that I have read.