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Uphill All The Way – The Idea

Published on: 11 May, 2014
Updated on: 11 May, 2014
The book that started it all

The book that started it all

by Martin Giles

It’s Edward Enfield’s fault. If he had not written that book I might not ever have wanted to do this.

It started over ten years ago just because I missed my train home from work. I was working in Croydon, a place I found less than inspiring, so any delay to my nightly escape was depressing, especially on a dark, damp, dreary evening, in late autumn. When it happened I would sometimes go to the Evans bike shop, opposite West Croydon station, to browse and imagine idyllic bike rides.

On that particular evening I noticed for the first time, at the back of the shop a book shelf with a small selection of cycling books. It might have been the title Downhill All The Way that attracted me.

I am not, I have to admit, an heroic uphill cyclist by preference. Anyway, the blurb on the cover explained that the author was comedian Harry Enfield’s father and the book his account of a cycle ride the length of France, from Normandy to Provence. I found the urge to purchase the book irresistible.

Back on the platform I started to read and soon realised I had made a good choice. It was pure escapism from my miserable surroundings. The style of writing – relaxed, humorous and perceptive, was, for me, addictive.

By the time I got off the train at Guildford my ambition to emulate my new hero Edward had been formed. All I had to wait for was my retirement!

So smitten was I with the whole idea that I did something I have never done before or since. I wrote what I suppose can only be described as a piece of fan mail to Mr Enfield telling him how much I had enjoyed his book and how I hoped to follow his example. Being the gentleman he obviously is, he courteously replied with a hand written letter.

Perhaps he gained the impression of greater age than I had, at that time, achieved because he advised me to get cracking just as soon as I could. He made it sound urgent, as if he imagined my physical ability had a very limited shelf life.

I thought, “What’s to stop me?

So just over ten years later, free of an employer, and with our two sons recently flown, I thought, “What is to stop me?”

I expected my wife, a fluent French linguist, to accompany me but these days longer bike rides have become too uncomfortable for her. Then I thought, if she isn’t going to come why don’t I cycle the length of my own country first? This had two added advantages: I could start from our doorstep and would not need an interpreter (so long as local dialects are decipherable).

There was something of Edward’s urgent warning that had haunted me. It had made me extra aware of my biological clock and the need to get cracking while I can still cycle at a reasonable rate. It is something I do regularly, although I have never been one of the Lycra brigade.

Not for me the joys of the pelaton. I don’t dislike them – they are still, after all, comrade cyclists. I am often in awe of their speed and stamina but I am happy for them to overtake and leave me, as nonchalant as Corporal Jones, in their wake.

To me one of the main attractions of cycling is the slower pace, the feeling of freedom and direct contact with one’s surroundings, so one can smell the bluebells or mown grass or whatever, call a cheery greeting to a recognised pedestrian or, when something of interest is spotted, stop and look without worrying where to park.

Of course there is a downside, the steep upside of hills to name but one, especially if unexpected. And, of course, one is at the mercy of the elements. When the heavens open or a strong head wind blows the enjoyment rating can plummet.

It's uphill all the way to Scotland

It’s uphill all the way to Scotland.

I know that in common with most, if not all, humans I often remember life, including bike rides, through those rose tinted specs our brains are equipped with, perhaps to make our existence more bearable.

Maybe my idea is romantic and the execution will not be nearly as enjoyable as I hope. But I remain determined to do it and even if the cold north east blows at length, accompanying days of torrential rain I will at least look back at it as a challenge met.

Alternatively, the sun could shine on my back, I could be completely invigorated by my adventure, delighted at newly discovered countryside and towns and gladdened by new acquaintances with interesting perspectives. We shall see.

I say ‘we’ because I intend to share my experience with you, if you would care to join me, in a series of articles entitled, as I will be cycling “up” to Scotland and in homage to Edward Enfield, “Uphill All The Way”.

Soon: Uphill All The Way – The Plan – Pt 1

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Responses to Uphill All The Way – The Idea

  1. Vanessa Griggs Reply

    May 12, 2014 at 12:30 am

    Hi Martin.
    Good luck with this fantastic challenge. I’ll definitely be following your progress looking forward to seeing the pictures and reading the blog we will be with you all the way!
    Enjoy every moment, even when the going gets tough! The very best of luck on this tremendous challenge and great experience, go safely!

  2. John Schluter Reply

    May 14, 2014 at 12:21 am

    The best of luck Martin. I hope you arrive at and depart from your destination before they vote ‘Yes’.

    We may never see you again otherwise.

  3. David Rose Reply

    May 14, 2014 at 12:36 am

    I am looking forward to Martin’s updates that will appear here of the places he visits on his trip, comparing and contrasting them with Guildford.

    On my suggestion and for reference purposes, he’s going to get stuck into J B Priestley’s ‘English Journey’ and George Orwell’s ‘Road to Wigan Pier’.

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