Is it just me, or is England boring by bike?

This year’s summer tour in Europe kicked off with a gentle trip up the east of England to visit our son James at university in Scotland, back via Manchester to visit our daughter Lizzie and her family and then on to London to visit our other UK-based daughter, Charlotte, and her family.

The family visits were enormous fun, but not much else stands out. Is it just me, or are large tracts of the English countryside just plain boring? Okay, we had a lot of ground to cover in five days, so we took the M1 for speed and convenience as far as Leeds, then headed east to Scarborough on the coast.

We’d booked into a Premier Inn for convenience. It cost £100 – clean and convenient, as always, but not cheap, although other hotels in the town were looking for £200, which is nonsense in the low season. I get regular emails from Premier Inn urging me to stay with them for £39, but that doesn’t seem to cut any ice in Scarborough.

We set off on foot in steady rain to explore the town, me in my Rukka jacket and helmet. It must have looked weird, but at least I was dry. Scarborough (main photo) is like so many English seaside towns, a picture of faded grandeur from a bygone era. It even has the obligatory seafront arcades, full of lights and naff games. This evening, there was only a single punter in the largest emporium, a woman of uncertain age pulling on the handle of a one-armed bandit.

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Amid the decay and the faded paintwork lay a pleasant hillside park. We walked through it, remarking how it was a bit overgrown and unloved-looking, then came across a beautiful so-called Italian Garden with manicured lawns, pretty flowers (many beds were empty, and signs said the plants had all been destroyed by deer), a water feature and a statue of Mercury. Impressive stuff, despite the heavy rain.

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We walked back along the waterside promenade, to be greeted by the sight of about six men in their late teens or early 20s, shooting up whatever one shoots up with needles on park benches at 7 pm in Scarborough. Not a great tourist attraction. Don’t the police care about this stuff?

The rain had passed on the following morning, and we followed the coast road to the nearby port of Whitby. We opted for a pavement table at a coffee shop, where the coffee was Maxwell House instant. Seriously? In 2017? We didn’t manage to finish the coffee, and headed off instead for Scotland.

I’m told the east of England has some great biking roads, but generally the A1 ain’t one of them. Apart from a few stretches where we could give the Valkyrie its head, and be rewarded with sweet exhaust music, it was boring and full of traffic. I’d read in Bike magazine about five great biking roads in the Yorkshire area, but they were all out of our way and only ran for about 10 miles, so it made no sense to make a detour for a few miles of bend-swinging.

Even the Yorkshire Moors were a bit of a disappointment. I’ve seen better bleak scenery (and more of it) and better riding roads in the west of Ireland. Maybe a more extended tour of the Moors would have changed my view, but we didn’t have the time or the inclination. It was bucketing with rain again, but obligingly the rain stopped as suddenly as it started and the sun came out, big-time, as we left the Moors, which helped.

Our destination was Stirling, half way between Edinburgh and Glasgow, but Peter wanted to see and travel across the new Forth Road Bridge, opened just a few days earlier by none other than Her Majesty The Queen. We found it all right, but so had hundreds if not thousands of motorists, and the queues either side were several miles long. I’m an inveterate lane-filterer, but the new (to us) Givi panniers on the Valkyrie made the bike feel a mile wide. The concentration needed to thread something that wide through lines of traffic, being deflected by cat’s eyes and thickly applied white lines, was immense.

Impressive bridge, nonetheless. We eventually made it across and back, got ripped off with high petrol prices on the motorway into Stirling, and spent a very pleasant two days exploring the Trossachs (of Loch Lomond fame) with James. Gloriously sunny on Saturday, raining steadily on Sunday – that’s Scotland for you.

More rain greeted us in Manchester, of course, but nothing could dampen our spirits as we got to meet our three-week-old granddaughter Grace, her almost-five-year-old brother William, her mum Lizzie and dad James. Then it was back on the motorway network to Surrey for a day’s laundry and bike wash before the next leg down to Italy. The M25, of course, was as clogged as ever, and again the wide Givis forced me to spend way too much time stuck in the traffic, but they were so convenient in general that I forgave them on that count.

 

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