After cycling (and subsequently writing about my experience) from the UK to Southern Italy in 2010 and then from Greece to Portugal in 2013, there was only one route that I felt could top what I had already achieved; from Europe’s Southernmost point at Tarifa in Spain to the Northernmost point at Nordkapp in Norway.
The Cycling Route
The route that I was required to follow would be via France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, Denmark & Sweden (in addition to Spain and Norway of course) making sure I didn’t repeat any of the cycling I had done on the previous two trips. Indeed it would take me to parts of the contient that I have never explored before, either on or off my bicycle, notably Scandinavia.
The problem I had is that a journey of around 8,000km (5,000 miles) would take me around 4 months to complete. I was still living in Berkshire and working at a school in Oxfordshire at the time. I did however have long-term plans to move back to Yorkshire, the county where I had been born and brought up and where most of my family still lived.
A change of living plans
It seemed as though this was the moment to leave my job down South, making the move to Yorkshire and fit in the longer cycle during the summer months of 2015. I left my job in December 2014, relocated to West Yorkshire at the start of February this year before flying off the Souther Spain with my bike at the end of the month.
Practicando mi Espanol
As a Teacher of languages, I also wanted to improve my Spanish so before setting off from Tarifa just after Easter, I spent most of March studying Spanish at a language school in Cadiz. That in itself was an amazing experience but once the extraordinary festivities of the Semana Santa were over my mind turned towards the cycling and on April 9th I set off.
The route through Spain was predominantly along two pilgrimage routes; the Ruta de la Plata and then the Camino de Santiago de Compostela (albeit in the wrong direction) taking in places such as Seville, Salamanca and Pamplona. My plan has been to camp as much as I possibly could, but this proved to be quite difficult in Spain as I was travelling through regions well away from the coast and it was still April. Many of the campsites had yet to open so for much of the time I used hostels and cheap hotels.
I crossed the Pyrenees with the pilgrims streaming in the opposite direction and my first town in France was St. Jean-Pied-de-Port. From there I made my way to the West Coast of France and headed directly North through the pine forests. Much of this section of the journey was on dedicated cycle paths along a route that the French called the ‘Velodyssey’.
Cycling in La Rochelle
Upon arrival in La Rochelle I changed direction and headed for the Loire Valley before arriving in Paris by mid-May. By coincidence the school that I used to work at in Oxfordshire were visiting the French Capital at the time and it was fun to meet up with some of my former colleagues as well as the students who were a little bemused to see me to say the least.
From Paris I cycled towards Belgium where I met up with a chap called Kevin Mayne who some cyclists may remember as the man who used to be in charge of the British CTC (Cyclists Touring Club). He is now a Director at the European Cyclists’ Federation in Brussels and it was fascinating visiting him as he lives near the battlefield at Waterloo. The 200th anniversary was about to take place and I took a day off the cycling to explore the area with Kevin who seemed to know just as much about history as he did about cycling.
I continued my journey via The Netherlands albeit very briefly with an overnight stop in Maastricht before arriving in Germany and continuing the cycle along the Rhine through the centre of Cologne and Dusseldorf.
North of Dusseldorf I picked my way through a series a German towns and cities including the small town of Syke which I visited to see if there were any obvious connections with me as a ‘Sykes’. There didn’t appear to be but it was a fun diversion nevertheless! In Hamburg I took an extended rest of three nights staying with friends before completing the German portion of the cycle in Flensburg on the border with Denmark.
Cycling on Scandinavian soil
I had never before stepped foot in Scandinavia so everything from this point would be new. It involved much island hopping and hill climbing but after only a week or so I arrived in Copenhagen before taking the ferry to Sweden from the town of Helsingor, famous for being the fictional setting for Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
Sweden reminded me very much of southern France as I followed a route called the Kattegattleden which weaved its way through the forests along the coast in the direction of the border with Norway.
This final country – number 8 – was by far the biggest in terms of its length and it would take me nearly a month to cycle from the Swedish border to Nordkapp.
I chose a route that would take in the capital Oslo, Lillehammer, Trondheim, Bodo, The Lofoten Islands and Tromso before the final push through the relatively inhospitable countryside at the top of the continent.
However, at around midday on Tuesday 28th July, I arrived at my destination, Nordkapp, tired but very satisfied that after 96 days of cycling and 15 days of ‘resting’, I had achieved what I had set out to achieve; I had crossed the continent by bicycle from south to north. As a bonus, I saw the midnight sun for the first time. It seemed a fitting way to end the journey.
How to get home?
That said, I needed to return home so my travels were not quite finished yet. On previous trips I had caught a flight back to the UK but from the very northern point of Europe that wasn’t so easy and anyway, there was an alternative; the Hurtigruten ships that ply their trade along the Norwegian coast.
And so the journey began again
I spent a magical four and a half days on the shipping line’s oldest and smallest ship, the MS Lofoten. It was very much like living on the boat in the film Death on the Nile albeit without the deaths or indeed the Nile.
Upon arrival in Bergen my journey continued in somewhat less style via a series of ferries and trains before I returned to Yorkshire via the boat to Hull and a Trans-Pennine Express train to Huddersfield. It was a nice touch to cycle the final few miles from Huddersfield to my new home a few miles away on my faithful companion, Reggie…
All that remains is for me to write the third book in the trilogy, provisionally entitled Heading North on a Bike Called Reggie, before planning the next cycle in, well, I’m not sure yet but the world is a big place!