Caught by the River

Cycling Round the British Coast by Nick Hand.

Nick Hand | 21st June 2011

illustration by Jon McNaught

An extract from the new Caught by the River book, On Nature.

Once past the Martin Parr world of Mablethorpe and Skegness, you take a left at Boston and into the flat lands of Norfolk and Suffolk. These are indeed beautiful huge landscapes.

I had bought a couple of tickets to see Wilco at the Troxy in London, and so cycled to Norwich and hopped on a train. I also took the opportunity to see my friends over at Innocent Drinks and do a little interview with the clothes designer Paul Smith, who is a massive cycle fan. I quickly got back to the coast and continued south. By now I had an excellent beard and enjoyed being on the end of a road rage incident in Cromer, when someone shouted ‘beardie’ at me for blocking his way.

South again. The weather turned wet and windy as I hopped over from Felixstowe into Harwich and Essex. This bit of the ride was like cycling through a bunch of Ian Dury lyrics, so places like Burnham-on-Crouch seemed familiar even though I’d never been there before. I liked Southend, but didn’t enjoy the A roads heading west past Canvey Island and it wasn’t until I got to the Tilbury ferry that I began to feel like I belonged on the roads again. From Gravesend it was east and soon I was literally cycling through the laden orchards of Kent. I stayed in a brilliant little beach hut in Whitstable that belonged to Emrys, a friend of a friend. I loved Whitstable, really nice little town to stay over in.

There was a lovely ride out of Whitstable where I cycled on the sea defences all the way to Margate and then round the corner to Dover, where, miraculously, you can see France just a short hop away. You can pretty much hug the coast here. Dungeness is amazing, like a frontier town in an old western film (albeit with nuclear power station), and I rode onto Rye, which is dead posh. To be honest I thought I had found a back way into Bath. I did, though, get a great deal in a little hotel that had a swimming pool and sauna, which was just amazing at the end of long hot day.

Thanks to Nicki and Vera who contacted me through the website, I got a lovely welcome (and free nosh) at the C-side café in Bexhill-on-Sea and also got to take a look at a Joseph Beuys exhibition in the brilliant De La Warr Pavilion, a modernist 30s gallery saved by the people of Bexhill from some development nightmare.

From here it was a short ride to Brighton, which I’ve always thought of as a kind of Bristol by the sea. Mostly because it’s where people move from Hackney and Islington when their kids get to school age (well they seem to go to either Bristol, Bath or Brighton).

I have this little gizmo on my bike that enabled me to upload my exact route each night to my website, it showed my distance, how much I climbed each day and my exact speed. One thing I quite liked about it is that it also showed where I went wrong and where I got lost. I quite liked it when I got lost, which is difficult to do when you are basically riding along the coast with the sea to your left. But it did happen a few times and it always was interesting. Like when I climbed a long hill on the Gower peninsula and finding a spot with skylarks all around where I could see the coast to the north and south. I also got lost a lot in towns and cities, often following cycle routes that petered out. Then I would ask a local actually I would normally ask a few locals and take a consensus view. I would often still end up on some grim by-pass or sometimes an ill-advised short cut across a field (which I did in Carlisle and ended up watching a Carlisle United training session for an hour).

The full account of Nick’s journey can be found in Caught by the River presents On Nature, now on sale in our shop at the special price of £17.99

Nick will be discussing his ride with Rob Penn and Mike Carter at a book launch event in London on July 6th. Click HERE for details.