Ever wondered what it is like to cycle the length of Britain, from Land's End to John O'Groats? It is the classic long-distance cycle route in Britain and this book tells the experience of two cyclists who took their time, took the scenic route and take their beer seriously.
A large number of cycle travel books use humour to carry them and Mud, Sweat and Gears by Ellie Bennett is no exception. You can tell from the title, the mention of the pub and the blurb on the back of the book that this is not going to be serious. The book certainly has its funny moments, particularly the banter between the author Ellie and her friend Mick.
For me, it wasn't laugh out loud and I thought the strength of the book is actually to be found in learning about the places that are visited. There are plenty of interesting snippets about what there is to see and do along the route. I looked forward to reading about their experiences in Scotland.
I learned about the town of Moniaive in Dumfries and Galloway, a place I had never heard of before. It sounds really pretty and is home to many artists, musicians and writers who are inspired by the beautiful scenery. It is known as Scotland's Festival Village due to the large number of events held here.
Bennett had this to say about her Oban bed and breakfast: "It was mediocre, but not terrible, which on reflection was my opinion of Oban in general. Sorry, Oban, if this is unfair; it had been a very long day." That is a shame because I like Oban and was actually travelling there whilst reading the book. I think a lot of people arrive into Oban and quickly leave again because they are on the way to somewhere else, but if you give it a chance it is an enjoyable town with superb seafood restaurants.
Ellie and Mick took around 4-weeks to complete the route, whereas many people normally try to complete this journey in about one week. This is an encouragement to those who are not super fit and want to take their time. Some might consider these two the complete opposite of the typical cyclist doing this route- they spend a lot of their time in the pub.
The author has a keen interest in real ale, so this journey is as much an exploration of beer as it is about a bike ride. Ellie and Mick take their beer seriously and so there are descriptions of the pints that they have and at the end of each day's ride the "stats" include how many pints they drank. If you are not a beer fan you may not enjoy this aspect of the book, but then food and drink is as important to defining an area as its history, architecture and landscape.
Ellie and Mick met a snobbish cyclist at Glen Nevis. He looked down on their bikes and was more interested in tech and speed than the simple joy of travelling by bicycle. Bennett beautifully mocks his chat: "It comes with a knob chainring; I had dickhead spokes fitted specially, and the saddle is a limited edition from Prickland." I am with you there! There is nothing worse than another cyclist slagging off your journey.
And that is the beauty of bicycle travel. You do not need to be some amazing racing cyclist with the most expensive kit to do a long-distance bike journey. This book encapsulates this philosophy and it certainly inspired me to do this journey. I was never that interested in Land's End to John O'Groats because I always had the impression that you had to do it quickly and cover a huge distance each day. But this book shows that you don't have to do it that way and you will see much more if you take your time and enjoy the opportunity to really get to know this land.
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My name is Colin Baird and I want to see all of Scotland by bicycle.