All posts by katelamb

Kate Lamb is a London-based actor and tree climbing enthusiast.

The last one

This has been a long time coming and I apologise for that. Scout and I have been adjusting to London life and working out how to finish this journey here on the blog and not just on the road. So here it is – the final 130km of Bulgaria to London and the few days that followed:

After immediately abandoning the British ‘cycle’ paths in Harwich and taking to the tarmac I enjoyed country roads, beautiful open fields, views of the sea and the sun on my face. The morning was fresh and cold and my knee ached a little from my fall – thanks British climate and ageing joints. I’d wrapped up against what I had assumed would be a blustery and rainy English day but to my delight the sun persevered and I had to stop to change into my shorts. There was no opportunity for Scout to run beside the bike but we found some Rugby playing fields to have her first English walk.

IMG_5501Matt, whose home I was staying at, had managed to move some meetings and cycle to meet me at Tiptree (of the Jam fame) on his fancy road bike and together we enjoyed the hills of Essex until the massive one he lives at the top of which rivalled anything in the Schwäbische Alps in Germany and had my heart rate pumping for a good ten minutes of climbing. It felt like acceptable hardship to make up for the gorgeous comfort, love and curry that I received at home with Matt, Moira, their kids and their dog.

Matt and I also sat down and plotted a good route to London using our local knowledge of each end and paying closer attention to the ‘suggested’ roads and so I set off with a mere 64km to the finish line. It was cold but clear and I couldn’t quite contemplate that it was our final day on the road. I didn’t know if I was happy or sad. The last week had been so easy compared to the big weeks previously that I felt like I could just keep on going…what would it mean when we stopped? What awaited us in London? Would Scout even like it there? Would I?

Despite Matt’s and my best efforts my journey into London was the worst day of cycling I’ve had. The cycle paths aren’t big enough. People park on them. They run out. People drive in them. They are full of potholes. They mean nothing. They don’t exist….I hated it. GOPR2003I was constantly on my guard and had to pay attention to everything around me. It’s every man for himself on London roads and cyclists are not just ignored they are, in some cases, actively resented which is a pretty dangerous state of affairs. It was incredibly unpleasant towing a dog and everything else and being passed too closely and cut up by big, fast, solid cars. Nope. No thanks. Not doing that again any time soon. I had felt like getting a lift or a train into London would not sit right with the whole Bulgaria- London adventure but I was seriously questioning my decision.

Of course, I did what I’ve done every time it’s been kind of tough; I kept going. And eventually I got to familiar territory and even stopped by the Chainstore Parkour Gym for a bathroom break before rolling on to the North entrance of the Greenwich foot tunnel, on the other side of which I had friends and family waiting to greet me. The sun peaked out and Scout and I had a little leg stretch while looking out across the river at the finish line, home, family. The end of this journey was five minutes away and I was so very ready to get there. I took off my helmet, tried to smooth out my helmet hair and pushed the bike around to cycle, for the first time, underneath a river. Only, when I got there it turned out the lift wasn’t working. Ha. Ha, ha ha.


I had timed everything perfectly. I was due at 2.30pm and at 2.24pm my descent below the Thames was thwarted by a scrolling NOT IN SERVICE sign. I nearly cried. And then I decided to laugh. I thought about cycling to the Woolwich Ferry and couldn’t quite face the roads and the 40 minutes it would probably take. Then I realised that for the first time…I had help. I wasn’t on my own anymore. I called my brother and he, Emma and a pair of my (many) surrogate parents, Bill and Gaynor, arrived to strip Jeeves of his bits and help carry the entire set up down into the tunnel where it could be reassembled for my under-river journey. It was hilarious and wonderful to have them come and give us a leg up over this final hurdle but while I was waiting for them two cyclists who realised they would also need to carry their (unladen) bikes down the stairs made perfectly sure that I had help on the way and shook my hand and congratulated me on my achievement. I’m pretty certain the kindness of strangers would once again have got me out of trouble, but for some reason relying on the kindness and strength of my big brother at that moment was much more meaningful for me.

The sun rolled out as I emerged at the Cutty Sark, tourists and Saturday fun-havers pointing delightedly at Scout’s peeking face and my heart singing to be on home turf. My brother and I made certain of the final route to the park entrance and I took a few deep breaths and set off again, for the last time. I rolled gently through the gates to cheers and huge banners and for once there was nothing I could do about the tears.

My mother had put my face on cupcakes, my friends had brought flowers and champagne, my flatmate had brought me my trainers (bliss) and people I’ve never met had brought me gifts, congratulations and “welcome home”s. There were three huge K8 and K9 banners (provided out of pure generosity by HelloPrint*). It was glorious. Everybody got a chance to meet Scout and she was on top form. I was so proud of my happy, relaxed girl and, when I thought about it, I was quite proud of myself too…which is a fairly rare occurrence. For the final few kilometres home my family insisted on taking my panniers and for once I accepted the help – my stubbornness finally giving way to the acknowledgement that I’d done what I said I’d do and it wasn’t cheating now. It’s possible I hold myself to slightly too high standards…

And now it’s been almost two weeks since our return and I’ve been struggling to make sense of what I’ve achieved and why. It’s safe to say I wanted to sleep for a week but puppies don’t really understand that, and that there has been an element of ‘coming down’ from the high of finishing and raising so much money for Street Hearts. I think I’ve already forgotten the heady feelings of pride and accomplishment. Individual encounters are blurring into part of the ‘I once cycled from Bulgaria to London’ whole. Scout’s not very good at reminiscing.

So, before I forget: it was approximately 2,549km, 44 days, 5 nights in a hotel, 8 nights in a house, 4 punctures, 5 jars of peanut butter, 30 bags of Orijen Tundra dog food, innumerable coffees and pretzels, five thunderstorms, 36 river crossings, 8 countries, about 55 kilos of stuff, and 44 mornings of waking up with a purpose, a goal, a job to do.

I am proud of what I’ve done. But I think it’s a little like childbirth in that I have to think really hard to remember how difficult it was…the thought of getting back on a touring bike doesn’t fill me with dread. I know I’m a stubborn old thing sometimes and just put my head down and get on with things, and being on my own for so long has meant that there was no-one who was significantly absent from my days, or my arms. Plus, I had Scout. I’m under no illusion that without her it would have been physically much easier, (approx 30 kilos easier) but mentally far harder and lonelier and I don’t think I’d be much interested in being any lonelier. I do a lot of travelling on my own, but it’s not really through choice. It’s simply because I won’t let anything keep me from adventures and new experiences. If you want to go out there and do something but you’re waiting for someone to join you, you might miss out on some really awesome stuff. Phones will keep you in touch with family and friends and you’ll see them soon enough, you’ll probably make some new ones too.

Start slowly. You don’t have to cycle tour on your own with a dog unsupported for six weeks in foreign countries for your first adventure. It’s probably not a recommended entry level trip. Start with a week, a weekend. Join an organised trip with support and guides and new friends. Book guest houses along the way. Do what you need to feel safe and strong but if you’ve ever thought ‘that’s something I’d like to do’, about anything, then you really owe it to yourself to do it.

To everyone who has supported me, financially or just by reading this blog and commenting or sending messages of goodwill, you were as much a part of this journey as Scout and I were. There are so many four-legged lives that will be changed by this money, and undoubtedly a few two-legged lives as well. Dogs can do that, you know. I’m pretty sure this one is going to change mine. I’m already planning our next adventure. I think it’s going to involve a Canoe so Scout better get practicing the doggy paddle and I better get used to the idea of wet dog in the tent again….

Thank you everyone, now go be awesome.

K8 and K9


*Please go to Hello Print for all your banner and printing needs – they are ace.

Holland to Harwich: A Ferry Tale

The wind blew trees over…I tried to leave early but had to wait for the storm’s final assault, occasionally ducking outside to redirect the run-off from my tarp set up and trying not to get too wet. The wind threatened to lift us off the ground and I knew I’d be packing up a wet tent once again and spending my final night in a damp tent. Because Holland is great I had wifi in my tent and I had a look on my cycle-touring community app ‘Warm Showers’ to see if there were any people living in Delft who might be able to host a girl and a dog at very late notice. I sent out two requests and got two positive responses throughout the day and was promised a warm dry bed when I reached Delft which put me in a distinctly more positive mood despite the weather’s best efforts to grind me down.

Leaving Dordrecht was a matter of dodging the boughs and branches all over the roads and cranking down into the granny gears to push into the 30mph head and cross winds on the way to Rotterdam. It took me 2.5 hours to travel under 30km. Average speed = 11kmph. It was utterly exhausting and pretty miserable and my bashed knee was beginning to complain but it did at least only rain occasionally and when I eventually battled my way over the several bridges spanning the watery landscape of southern Rotterdam, at risk of blowing off each time, I found myself a bakery to hole up in, with a safe view of my bike and a playful cockapoo to play with Scout where I had the best avocado and beetroot sandwich I’ve ever had, some delicious soya-milk coffee and good old read of my book while Scout sunned herself in the window. Excellent city points to Rotterdam.

Man I love Holland and its cycle lanes everywhere. I have studiously avoided cities throughout this tour as I quickly learnt it was an unpleasant experience on a large bike with a dog. There’s nowhere safe to leave your transport and dogs aren’t generally allowed in museums and other tourist attractions so there’s very little you can see or do. Small towns have been my friends, but Rotterdam was easy to navigate, and I very easily found a park to dry out my tent as it wouldn’t be used that night (yay) and exercise Scout where she discovered Duckweed – that small green plant that grows on very still waters and looks remarkably like grass to those who’ve never seen it – and dogs. A duck sat confidently four meters out in the pond and Scout, bless her, ran down the bank and leapt towards it only for the ground to swallow her up, which, if that had been me, I’d have welcomed given my inevitable mortification, but she popped up, made a few token strokes towards where the duck had been and then swam back to the edge with a muddy, pondweedy grin before shaking all over me. She ‘styled it out’ and learnt the meaning of ‘testing the waters’ after that.

Cautious of Duckweed now

And so to Delft – I followed beautiful, easy signage and arrived in Delft at ‘rush hour’ with people of every age weaving through the cycle lanes at speed – it was astonishing. The Dutch are incredibly proficient cyclists and groups of teenagers peddled along inches from each other, laughing and jostling, people conducted telephone conversations and texted, little children followed their parents or sped on ahead to wait for them, they overtook me with the confidence of Hungarian motorists, diving back into the right hand lane ahead of me just before colliding with oncoming cyclists, neither person batting an eyelid as they passed within a hand’s breadth of each other. I felt ludicrously heavy and clumsy compared to the swiftness of the Nederlanders who looked like they were born on two wheels. These four wheels have been my life for five weeks and it was like I’d trundled into a velocipede utopia. I had a while to enjoy the city before meeting my hosts and I got Scout out to trot beside the bike as we explored the beautiful pedestrianised canal centre of Delft. I highly recommend this city. It has two theatres even though it’s pretty tiny and still has the old architecture that you rarely see in Holland throughout the centre. It also seems pretty multicultural – I heard English being spoken throughout the city, quite often as a second language, based on the accents. I definitely wanted to spend more time here and meet more citizens of Delft, especially after meeting Cathy, John and Rocky; an Australian couple and their little dog who were my hosts for the evening. Keen cycle tourers, avid travellers, dog lovers, and all round delightful people.

Scout and Rocky were firm friends within minutes and we spend a lovely evening getting to know each other and discussing cycle touring – they’d just returned from their trip along the Rhine – their blog is here: – and it turns out we’d stayed at some of the same camp sites and shared some similar dog-related problems.

New friends – Rocky shows Scout our room

They washed my stuff and John and I walked the dogs in the morning before I set off. They were everything the cycle-touring community had promised it would be; interesting, interested, warm, funny, relaxed and generous. In return I was able to offer some advice about Rocky and his social skills and help him control his excitement around other dogs. He and Scout were a little bit in love.

My final day in Holland was the rainiest day they’d had all year according to everyone I met and I don’t think deluge is too strong a word to use. Luckily when I arrived at the Hague to meet a parkour friend, Saskia Neville – Holland’s champion female tracuer – she directed me to FREE guarded bike parking (Oh, Holland, I love you) and I sat my soggy self down in a cafe to eat amazing food and drink excellent coffee and catch up. While we were there the rain actually upped its intensity and began streaming through the closed doors of the cafe. We stayed put. Saskia used a weather app that gave accurate local predictions for rainy patches and I eventually retrieved my bike and saddled up to meet Liane and (another) Saskia who were going to accompany me to the boat in slightly less rain than there was thirty minutes earlier. Scout had been in the trailer all day because of the hideous weather and I wanted to tire her out for the boat ride so we cycled the coast path and she ran the whole 15km like an absolute champ. We may have slowed near the end but she did brilliantly and it was a pleasure to ride with my Dutch guides even in the wind and the rain. At the port (following ever-so satisfying signs to ENGELAND) they both gave me wonderfully generous, tasty and thoughtful gifts and I said my final goodbyes to the continent and the people who had hosted, guided, and directed me for six long weeks.

I boarded my Stena Line Dutch flyer as though I was a car, and tied Jeeves and trailer up on the car deck, drawing many smiles and stares. I really wish I’d thought about packing a single pannier that had everything I needed for the one night on board but I hadn’t and so I was a little hampered with two panniers and a plastic bag with Scout’s stuff and the dog as we rode the elevator to the main deck to check Scout in to her kennel. I went through Holland because trying to get a dog across from France had proved remarkably difficult, especially in light of how wonderfully easy the Dutch have made it. I was given an entrance code for the kennels and led downstairs to settle Scout in for the night. Each dog has a roomy kennel and there are blankets, bowls and fresh water provided as well as a small outside ‘walking deck’ where you can take them at any time during the crossing and cleaning supplies for any ‘accidents’. I’d bought Scout a special chew in Delft to give her, along with a bowl of her Orijen food to keep her busy and hoped she’d be exhausted enough to sleep. There were, unfortunately, two other dogs in the kennels (five in total) who were rather unhappy at being separated from their owners and it was a fairly barky experience. She did get some sleep though which I could see from my private cabin as there was CCTV in the kennel room beamed to all the room tvs, accompanied by Radio 4. I was practically in England already.

Stena Line made travelling with my dog the easiest thing in the world and they even gave us a charitable discount on our passage. Holland is so easy to get to, guys, and Stena Line make it even easier. Take your bikes and go find out what it’s like to cycle cities without fearing for your life. Spoiler alert: It’s excellent.

As I rolled out of the car deck another friendly Dutchman showed me where there were some large gaps in the floor so as to avoid them and passport control was an absolute doddle. I cycled through customs with nothing to declare but my delight to be home, and my father was there waiting for me. We hugged and caught up and he met a very tired dog who, back in the safety of her trailer was finally eating the chew I’d given her which she’d clearly been a little too stressed to enjoy in the night. A quick breakfast in the morning sunlight and some more cuddles with a sleepy pooch and I set out to follow the route to Chelmsford where I was spending the night with family friends, taking care to stay on the left hand side of the road…boy was that confusing. Not thirty minutes on British soil and I encountered one of those wonderful zig zag barriers that had plagued my training ride. No matter, I’ve done them before, I now have intimate knowledge of my width and length and necessary angles for turning and clearance, but I clearly looked like I needed help because a bloke in his 60s dove straight in to lift the trailer (which Scout was none too happy about) and proceeded to make things far worse. He pulled the handle off the trailer which I couldn’t then reach to replace without the bike falling over and all in all it was an embarrassing fluster of him not listening and me trying to tell him I was fine and no, that doesn’t really help. We made it through in the end and as he came around the side of the bike he said in his broad Essex accent, ‘That’s a man’s bike!’

‘I’m sorry? It’s just a people bike.’

‘That’s a man’s bike, no wonder you can’t ride it, love.’

I refrained from punching him, told him he’d just ruined any benefit of doubt I’d given him and that I’d ridden this bike 2,500km thanks very much. He continued with his ‘banter’.

‘Bulgaria? Ah that’s just down the road, love.’

‘Alright mate, you give it a go tomorrow. Have a good day.’

‘Aw I’m only joking, take care of yourself.’

‘Have done so far.’ I yelled behind me, the exchange’s resulting fury fuelling my next 5 kilometres with ease.

Welcome back to the UK, here is your six weeks’ unclaimed casual everyday sexism.


The Kindness of Strangers

Köln was a place of rain and little wifi but the enforced stop and decision to extend the trip was wondrously good for my head. I slept, I ate lots of vegetables and although my homecoming got further away, the route became easier and a lot less pressured. I wound my way up the Rhein to Dussledorf, stopping by the Chocolate Museum in the morning to pick up some samples…unfortunately dogs were not allowed inside. The day was dry but cloudy and cold and it would have been nice to cuddle up inside with a hot chocolate but…ho hum; no dog, no deal. I grabbed some Lindt balls in every flavour and a bar of something and kept trucking; it was pretty early after all. I’d met possibly the third English cycle tourist of my trip – Paul – that morning who was heading to Oktoberfest and then Australia (that bit not by bike) and was enviously lightweight in terms of baggage. But he was heading south through Germany and, I think, likely to experience some pretty hideous weather along the way…that was one reason against postponing my return – Winter is coming, guys. IMG_5169I guess south is better than north with regards to that but Germany for me had been pretty chilly compared to anything further east. I took my time wiggling north, Scout trotting along beside me on the lead, leisurely as anything and then hopping in so we could make better progress but without any pressure to make a certain distance. Dusseldorf was in sight and when I looked at the map I realised that Holland was not very far away.IMG_5186 I’d planned on following the Rhein there but it was so close now – just off to the left – and the Rhein hadn’t been anywhere near as enchanting as the Donau…I actually wanted to change it up a bit – I looked at my previous route taking me to Holland…it wasn’t even that hilly, it would be something different. I looked at campsites on the route and realised it would be best to push for Holland in one day and so I camped just north of Dusseldorf, sky threatening but never breaking over us, excited to think I’d be sleeping in country number seven the next night.

I’m guessing this place was famous for making shoes?

The campsite was right on the low, wide banks of the Rhein, and as a result, prone to flooding. Everything was on stilts or easily moveable including the toilets, reception, fencing and the power points. However, it stayed dry and there was no need to move to higher ground in the night. I was joined by a Dutch/English couple, Neil and Margit who had just arrived from Venlo – exactly where I’d planned to cross into Holland and was buoyed to hear their journey had been easy enough. They had a palatial tent, an extra tarp to extend their real estate and have more room to sit and cook and relax and those Heliox chairs I’d seen throughout my trip. I was only a little jealous. They were chasing the weather after some bike-related delays in the UK and Holland and looked to have a pretty fun adventure ahead of them.


We sat and ate together and Margit gave me a stroopwafel – my second Dutch cyclist to give me one and it tasted like home. Not only because I was getting closer to Holland and therefore the UK but because of good old Tregroes waffles from Llandysul in Wales, which were a popular treat in Tenby and then compulsory cupboard items when my parents moved to Llandysul itself, around about the time I went off to school in Africa – coming home was invariably a waffly affair. Neil even uploaded their GPX track to get me to Venlo the next day and I followed it contentedly without any of the self-doubt that badgered me every time I encountered a woodland track or gravelly path on the routes I’d made for myself. I knew for a fact that this route worked and would get me to the Maas river within 60km. It was really very lovely – thank you Neil and Margit! Follow their journey here: Neil and Margit on a bike.

Germany into Holland
Holland did not disappoint.

The weather, unlike the route, was not very friendly. It was a cloudy morning although it had stayed dry in the night and after stopping to let Scout have a run along the grassy banks we were about to leave behind the rain started and, to my recollection, didn’t really stop. Oh, it varied in its intensity, but was most definitely riffing on the general theme of wet. So I was wrapped up in all my plastic stuff the whole day, sweating and getting cold again…I mean, it wasn’t my favourite day. But I did cross into Holland and there was even a helpful little border monument and brick line so there was something tangible to photograph. I faffed about in the rain, ate my last German laugenstange and headed into the land of liquorice and waffles and windmills. It was early afternoon when I reached Venlo and experienced how easy it is to cycle in Dutch cities! IMG_5197It was bliss, roundabouts have clear bike-only bits in a shade of red I have come to find incredibly comforting, and the signs are regular and almost all have destinations, not just a vague arrow. Pretty cool if you ask me, the woman who’s got lost on a bike in 6 countries so far.

I set up camp in the rain but as luck would have it the campsite I chose had a communal recreation area with wifi and sofas and, most crucially, a roof. It turns out I’d used my waterproof shoe covers a bit wrong and stuffed my trouser legs into them to keep them close to my calf in true cyclist style which meant that I’d basically created little channels through which all the water running down my legs could soak happily into my shoes. That coupled with the fact that the bottom cleat piece was bending out and creating a watery entrance from below meant I was pretty squelchy by the time I reached the campsite. My shoes were absolutely sodden. So sodden in fact that I couldn’t wear them for two days and had to don my crocs (to my abject horror) not only for walking around camp and towns but for cycling as well. I’d read countless good reviews of this option in very hot or very wet weather but I am not at all convinced. It was pretty rubbish in fact; I was slipping and sliding off the pedals and my toes kept pushing against the ends. Nope. Not for me, thanks. Although it was. It had to be. For two days. It was at least, not too cold – they are remarkably insulated somehow so my toes were chilly but they didn’t fall off so there’s that. I guess. On the other hand (or foot) I got a blister from the croc with the heel strap still attached…Scout saved me from two blisters by removing the other heel strap a while ago. I should have been a little more grateful at the time I suppose.

The next day, it rained on and off; Holland is flat enough that you really can see the weather coming and I became quite good at stopping in time to get the shutters down, as it were. I took a brief windy and sunny opportunity to dry out the tent as much as possible as clouds loomed in front of me, packed up before the weather could undo the work and finished the job later in the afternoon after a stubborn ice-cream stop…it was officially too cold and windy for ice-cream but I’d not had any in Holland yet and was quite adamant about it. It was good but nothing beats Austrian ice-cream so far. Over my picnic lunch on a wooden river boardwalk, two fathers out with their young daughters chatted with me, one thrusting five euros into my hand because he knew he’d forget to go online later and do it. My god, everyone has such great English here, and the people are getting top marks for sure. If the weather could sort itself out, I’d be in heaven.

Speaking of the people, my destination that evening was the home of the lovely Dutch couple I met in Passau who invited me to stay with them within about ten minutes of us chatting. We were camped next to each other and the first thing they said to me was ‘Hello neighbour!’ Hans and Carlie are retired with 6 grandchildren, 4 bikes and a camper van and it’s safe to say that they’re two of the nicest people I’ve ever met. They welcomed us like old friends and sent us on our way almost like family. I honestly felt so cared for and loved that I had tears brimming and a hammering heart as I pedalled away after my stay with a packed lunch, treats for Scout, full tyres, a fixed spoke and a doggy passport signed and stamped by the local vet. Hans and Carlie’s neighbour, Tineke, had lost her old dog just two weeks ago and she insisted on paying for Scout’s final checkup at her vet’s. Her husband had died just 8 months ago and when we went over to thank her she told me in her rusty English that when her dog died she’d asked her husband why he’d had to take their dog too. It must be very quiet in that house for her now. We fought our tears and I hugged my thanks and Scout got some treats.

That day was horribly rainy and I could not have been more smug to have a bath and a warm bed and a dry tent and clean, dry clothes. Even my shoes were dry when I left this morning and although I was promised a dry day with only a drop of rain at 5pm the weather played silly buggers and I was alternately showered and shined on throughout. It would pour it down and I’d hastily stop to wrap up and roll down Scout’s waterproof windows and within ten minutes the sun would peak through and I’d eventually decide to de-wrap and five minutes later I’d be under a hideous dark cloud with blue sky either side and wiping rain from my face. I had to refrain from taking it personally but it really did seem beyond a joke. And then the wind. My old mate, back again, screaming across the wide open plains of Holland. The windmills are clearly not just an quaint traditional aesthetic…Holland can blow. Which becomes pretty demoralising eventually, until you finally roll into camp and set up with time enough to cycle into Dordrecht without your luggage and along a path that Scout can exhaust herself on and sit in town with a hot chocolate (finally) and write your blog….So yeah, it’s ok really.

At some road works I stopped and chatted with one of the men and he said I was the second person he’d met making a huge journey this Summer – the other was a guy he’d met in Germany cycling with a dog (!) from the North of Spain to the Black Sea (I think) – I wanna be pals with him. And then there was me – we talked about Scout’s passport and how she needs vaccinations, a microchip and medical checks to get one and then I can safely take her in to the UK without losing her to quarantine for months. Scout has an EU passport and once again the embarrassment of the Brexit decision nearly made me cry (I think maybe I’m quite tired but this issue gets me good). He said it had been a real shock for the Netherlands (as it had been for me). I told him that underhand tactics were used, people were lied to, people didn’t know enough facts….But beyond all that, 52% of us made a decision to be selfish. And that is why I am embarrassed. That is why I am devastated. That’s why I am so full of shame to be British in Europe right now. What’s the point of screwing over your neighbours? Isn’t it nice to have friends? Who wants to live on a street and never speak to any other residents, never help anyone else, never be helped? Since when has living selfishly and isolated ever, ever made for a fulfilled and emotionally prosperous life? Why would we stop being a part of the community that is Europe? Even if there was an economic edge to “leaving” (which I don’t believe there is), I don’t care because we are always stronger together. The UK is one of the stronger EU nations, so, yes, we help out weaker ones but we get so much in return and who knows when we might need help too? I don’t want to live in a world that will not help its neighbours. Hans and Carlie were my neighbours for one night and extended generosity to me I can’t repay, but it benefited us all – there is no selfless act – giving is one of the best feelings in the world. If you’re reading this blog then you probably already know that because you’ve donated to this project. Thank you for that; no matter how big or how small, your donation means food, or a passport, or a vaccination, or a kennel for our four legged neighbours in Bulgaria. Thank you, kind stranger, together we’ve raised over £10,000. And now I’m coming home. 

Cologne at last….


I’m now in Köln, or Cologne, having battled to find wifi anywhere and finally found some in a lovely hotel Villahotel Rheinblick, which I am not staying in. Sigh. Every euro I don’t spend on a warm, friendly wifi having hotel is another euro that goes to the dogs in Bulgaria so most of the time it’s an easy decision to make. But sometimes I really, really want to stop and get into clean white sheets. The last week since leaving Ulm has been one of furious peddling and not much rose smelling. Scout runs along when it’s safe for her to do so but I found myself looking at the speedometer and thinking, sorry, girl, that’s not going to cut it – back in the trailer if we’re going to get over 80km today. It’s not fair on her, and it’s not fair on me. I haven’t stopped for Gelato in days. Yesterday and the day before I ate my midmorning pretzel whilst riding. It’s a ridiculous pressure to be putting myself under and although I enjoy pushing myself and achieving things I realised this isn’t a race. I want to be home. I want to start giving Scout some stability and some routine and some training, I want to not worry about keeping things dry or clean or how much I can afford to spend on coffee and wifi access. I want to get home on Sunday so my friends and family can come and celebrate with me. But I spent a night in a valley with absolutely zero phone or internet reception with one other camper – a Dutch cycle tourist who does around 100km a day for four days and then rests and realised I’d been going for 6 days already with double the weight he’d been carting and averaging 85km and before that I hadn’t had a break in 14 days and basically what the heck was I doing and who was I trying to prove it to?

He had a map – everyone has actual maps and, to be honest, it totally makes sense; they don’t run out of batteries or get confused or rely on phone signal – and he showed me routes he’d taken and whether my projected route into Holland and to the ferry was sensible. We decided it would work, a few hills but nothing like the Schwäbische alps outside Ulm and if I rode 90km a day from now, I’d get there for the Saturday night crossing. It was possible, if I wanted to do it. I decided I did. And then, alone in my tent, I decided I didn’t really. I took it easy in the morning and thanked my friend for his help and advice and told him I was going to extend the trip and try to take my time a little more. He thought it was a very good plan and wished me well. I’ve met so many people and not one person has said, ‘yes, go as quickly as possible through Europe and try not to stop too much,’ so why have I been so intent on doing that? I’m a goal oriented person, and summit fever is definitely a real thing but I’ve given myself a good talking to about journeys and not destinations etc. On my way into Köln I listened to an episode of the Tough Girl Podcast with Kathryn Bertine (@KathrynBertine), road cyclist, activist, and author who talked so brilliantly about rest and recovery and performance (among other awesome things) and I’m not so pigheaded that I’ll ignore that kind of specific advice on my 7th consecutive day of cycling long distance with masses of luggage. I’ve just paid for a second night at my campsite for the first time since Budapest and am taking an actual, honest to god rest day…rain is actually quite a help in achieving this – I got up at 12pm.

Accommodating my friends and family into being there in London when we arrive basically means I’ve got another 10 days to do about 450km. I’m going to have to smell a lot of roses, drink a lot of coffee and savour a lot of moments (ice-cream). Yes it’s getting colder but I’ve got two sleeping bags, a warm dog, friends, family and people I’ve never met spurring me on, stoking that little fire inside me that keeps me going. So I won’t be back this weekend, but I’m aiming comfortably for the 16th and collecting all the memories I can – apparently they don’t weigh anything – bonus!

Days in the sun


Mountains and Rivers

As I navigated my way out of Ulm, reflecting on the reasons I very nearly cried as I hugged Janina goodbye; still so tired, such a brief stay, such a long way still to go…I relished the bike paths and noted the gradual climb out and away from my dear, dear, friend the Donau, and EuroVelo 6. 
IMG_4926Ulm, is, however, under a lot of construction – awesome – go Ulm, you grow that city, but PLEASE think of the cyclists and give us viable alternatives, not truck filled roads or gravel tracks.As I found my way back onto a cycle path I saw a little puppy rounding a corner behind his owner, happily trotting along the pavement and no sooner had I thought, wow, he must be still very young or very well trained, he paused, bounced towards his owner and then immediately veered playfully into the road where he was struck by a car coming down the hill. I won’t go into the details but he was moving and breathing and trying to get up when I rushed across the road to him. I stayed with the owner and the driver reassuring young Max, limited in my usefulness for lack of German skills, until the owner’s wife arrived in the car (with her two daughters who witnessed all) and we stretchered Max into the car and on to the nearest Vet’s that (so I gathered) a passing motorist had provided details of – the owners’ place being much further away.

My bike and Scout abandoned on the roadside while I helped.

The moment stayed with me all day, and actually all week. I didn’t think Max had seen us when he darted out but I keep thinking maybe it was my fault for being there, and that he was crossing to see Scout. He certainly should have been on a lead, but he may never have rushed across at that exact moment if we hadn’t also been there…a pointless exercise in what-if-ing. It’s extra sad for me as there’s no way to know how he is. So if anyone lives in Ulm and knows a family with a young pup called Max who was hit on Bergstrasse in Blaustein and knows how he is, please get in touch. I’ve been thinking about it ever since and have kept Scout pretty close around roads.

I eventually found myself in the more rural, bike specific routes out of the city – they are not great. Big white gravel paths and ones with tire tracks and grass in the middle. Not long after leaving the puppy I had Scout running beside me with the lead when she stopped abruptly to have a poo and, for some reason I was clipped in to my left cleat which resulted in me falling over and mashing my knee in the sharp white stones.

Mashed up knee a few days later

The second sight of blood that morning. I then rode along a tarmac road parallel to the gravelly way which after about 2 km suddenly diverged and I ended up climbing an extra 100metres in height over about 1km for no reason. Because I couldn’t tell how long or high this hill was I stubbornly just kept going.  A German man cycled past me giving encouragement and what I had assumed was – ‘you’re nearly there!’ – but on reflection was more like, ‘you’re about 30% of the way up, it’s a really big hill, are you sure you know what you’re doing?’ So I took a slight detour to visit the town at the top of the hill (760m) and have a rest and a coffee and a Pretzel, Bretzel, Laugenbrot. I may have mentioned but I LOVE THESE THINGS.

WANT. Always want.

I finally rejoined the gravel track after whizzing down 7% incline tarmac and that 100m elevation I’d just sweated up and found a nice couple who assured me I was going in the right direction – Otto and Anne, out for a circular bike ride and picnic – no electric bikes for them – proper stuff. And then after we chatted I set off and met a family warning me seriously against going along the track they’d just come from, their unburdened mountain bikes caked in mud – road works, huge areas of muddy, lumpy uneven path, I’d have to unhitch the trailer, it would be a nightmare. Probably best to go back up the tarmac road I’d just whizzed down. Oh god. I balked at the very thought, but then Otto and Anne came along and heard the news and said there was another road that was a little longer than this track but would get us where we both needed to be – they would accompany me and all would be well. It was a gravel/woodland track again but it wasn’t torn up and would be better than the tarmac hills.

Amazing. We rode together, Otto telling me the history of certain towns and the renowned baker he’s visited by bike a few times a year ever since he was a child to get his amazing bread. And then we parted and despite a few more wrong turns and having to deviate from my path it was really just a case of me keeping on pedalling my little legs off and getting Scout out when it was safe enough and the hills were so steep there was no alternative. It was over 30 degrees and the hills were utterly knackering. I had to push twice (once with Scout in the trailer because we were next to a road) and it was back-breakingly slow and heavy work – I went so slowly the auto-pause on my Garmin kicked in. But when I finally found myself going down the other side it was wonderful. There were a few more little hills between me and the campsite so when I saw a supermarket I had to stop again for a couple more pretzels, (they seem to fuel me like nothing else), but I finally got there. 15 extra km than my initial route to make an impressive 71 and 826m elevation over the day. It took me 10 hours though. There were stops of course – lunch and a read of my book for an hour and my coffee stop and of course the time spent leaving the city and helping out with the puppy, but it was close to six hours in the saddle and the most punishing hills since Bulgaria (Transfagarasan Highway not withstanding) along with some pretty challenging riding surfaces. They’re known as the Schwalbe Apes in these parts…Boy am I glad I had two days’ rest!

It thundered in the night. I packed up a soggy tent, looking at the sky and knowing there’d be no hope of drying it any time soon and saddled up to get to Stuttgart. Scout had chewed the campsite shower keycard 5 minutes before leaving, costing me an extra 10 euros – thanks, buddy – and she snuggled up contentedly in the trailer while I donned my wet weather gear and shuffled away, red faced. 

M-Benz arena fencing across the bike path.

Stuttgart is the home of Mercedes Benz and boy do they like to tell you about it! There’s an entire town around the factory area and I was happily following signs to Stuttgart town centre and accidentally rode into one of the massive entrance roads – the lady was very upset about me trying to do that and sent me back the way I’d come, ignoring the bike path signs.I later realised I obviously should have gone out to the right and not the left despite it being the opposite direction in real terms to the centre and there would have been some lovely bike road to follow the river into town. 


As it happened, I followed the angry woman’s instructions, perhaps suitable for a car, (Mercedes Benz seem not to worry too much about cyclists for some reason) and found myself on horrible city highways and roads and pavements skirting around the massive MB arena that were blocked by fencing, forcing me into oncoming traffic. I. Was. So. Done.

Had to get off and shift two massive dumpsters to get through this cycle path. 




It was absolutely miserable weather, cold and rainy and my coffee stop was a windy affair with no chance of getting Scout into the bakery with me. With my wifi hunt still fruitless I asked my mum to look into hotels or guest houses in Stuttgart which she dutifully and diligently did, booked and paid for and sent me the details. Love you, mum. I got there about 2.30pm – Stuttgart had not been too far away and even then it took until morning to dry my tent pieces, tarp and clothing with the two radiators. I thoroughly recommend Gästhof Ziegler in Stuttgart. It was an amazing comfort to be clean, warm and dry with wifi and a bed. We ventured out into the rainy evening to find some food and I tried some Maultaschen which is a sort of massive ravioli which was pretty nice but didn’t photograph well and I don’t want to do it a disservice. I don’t seem to have much luck with big cities. Rain is not the best way to get to know one so the next morning I grabbed an actual soya milk Starbucks Cappuccino (don’t hate me) from the station and wiggled my way out of the grey and drizzly city for hopefully the last of the hills ahead of me.

I followed my planned route and although the paths were next to busy, loud roads and sometimes on them, the hills were nothing compared to two days before and by the end of the day, I had found sun and the Rhine and it felt so good to be back on the river. I’m a mountain girl; I love hills and have spent most of my holidays for the last few years in some European Alpine setting, come snow or sun, but stick me on a bike and all I am interested in is the flattest, most boring route possible. Which was lucky because that’s mostly what I got from Karlsruhe northwards to Speyer. I couldn’t even see the river for most of it. The next day had two thunderstorms, one which totally ruined my leisurely breakfast by rolling ominously in the distance and causing me to abandon my tea and break camp and pack up in record time, finishing just before the rain started. All kitted up I didn’t think there was much point waiting around and pushed off into the rain, stopping about ten minutes later to shelter in a Lidl carpark as the thunder and lightening crashed around us, drawing looks of sympathy and confusion and a sweet from one man who looked at the two of us and clearly felt an overwhelming desire to help in some way and that was the best he could manage. I was grateful all the same. 

Campsites were scarce along that stretch of the Rhein, I’d nearly not found anywhere the night before and what I had found was very basic and very overpriced but as the day drew on and my mileage crept up and the sky threatened to break again I saw wide beachy areas on the opposite bank where fishermen were camped and, I’m pretty sure, a large group of cyclists had set up for the night. My new plan was to cross at the next ferry and find a beach to camp at, but first I rode through lightening and rain in one of those states of stubborn teeth gritting ridiculousness, talking to myself and the Gopro as I predicted the intentions of the storm and my grand plans to beat it and camp wild and dry on the other side. I finally made it to the ferry and Scout drew interest from a couple on foot who, when I said I was going to look for a place to camp for the night pretty much instantly offered me a room in their house. They were walking and I assumed they lived at the town across the water and immediately decided that would be wonderful and as we made plans they revealed they lived about 15-20km by car that would take my day’s total close to 100km….I actually felt it would be rude to back out, and so took on closing day and arrived in Darmstadt at 8pm to the couple’s youngest daughter welcoming me into their home, feeding me, giving me a towel for a warm shower and taking Scout for a night time walk as she’d sat so miserably in the trailer for so long that day. Martin and Nicole arrived back from Nicole’s birthday meal with a friend from Frankfurt who’d been evacuated because of the unexploded WW2 bomb discovered there and she made mojitos for everyone and I was given a slice of homemade birthday plum tart. Oh god, if you’re reading this and thinking it sounds like such heaven you are right. If you aren’t, try spending more than a month on the road and then read it again.

The morning came and Martin went to the bakery for rolls and croissants and made me coffee (with soya milk) and also gave me a little nut cake bar thing for the road. The night before, riding along horrible roads because of diversions and google maps to get to the house I’d thought many times ‘just stop here and put up the tent and be done – you’ve got food, you’re going the wrong way, it’s not worth it.’ But I kept on because I am stubborn and my god how wrong I had been. It was so, so, worth it. Martin and his family were so kind and caring to me and a soft bed that night and the conversation and warmth I felt from that home were absolutely worth 40km off my route. [Disclaimer: political statement follows] Among other things, we discussed Brexit that night and I almost cried again for shame. We really mustn’t do this to our neighbours or ourselves. I love the EU and Europe. I do not want to leave it. [ends.]

I found the river again and met some friendly cyclists who told me to stay on the east side of the river rather than getting the ferry as planned and my journey through Mainz was probably so much nicer because of it. I could see the main city across the river and simply enjoy the view from my grassy bike path on the other side and eat my sandwiches and Martin’s cake slice without getting into any of my previous big-city confusions. They’re always when I manage to lose my way and slow down and get stuck but thanks to the friendly cyclists I could stay by my beloved river and mostly enjoy the ride. One thing’s for sure, the days are getting colder and wetter and I’m well aware it’s now September, I’ve got a long way to go and right now the river is a windy serpent with intimidating, unfriendly mountains either side – no short cuts it seems – I’m sticking with the river, come Rhein or Rhine.

Dog training

IMG_4637Austria passed in a blur of beautiful river vistas, ferries, bridges and campsites. I found a gorgeous little pet shop run by Steffi Graf…yeah no, not that one, who makes and sells collars and leads and stocks tonnes of natural treats and food and basically is awesome and also spoke pretty good English so we chatted dog equipment while I waited for the ferry to take me over the river. I also, of course, bought Scout some treats and a slip lead – she has an elastic bungee one so that if she pulls while we’re cycling I’m less likely to crash but it means I can’t give lead corrections at all effectively when normal walking so we got a handmade bright orange one and it’s very smart. Thanks Steffi! This is her fb page: Der Hundeladen

Camps along the Danube were simple affairs and quite lovely but wifi was still proving elusive and/or extremely slow. Between Vienna and Linz the Danube is surrounded by hills and for a few days it felt very closed off – quiet, isolated – I was told wifi hadn’t really found its way here yet which was charming, if a little annoying. Big cruise boats sailed up and down and I occasionally tried to jump on their wifi but they were too quick for me. It was fun to try though! As we camped in a little place called Melk we realised KD had a flight to catch in a few days and we weren’t anywhere near Passau yet – it would have been good to get to Germany but her flight was from Frankfurt so she had to make her way there and we said goodbye at my campsite after a crazy few days along the Danube. I’m really excited to see what the footage looks like, I’m pretty sure it’ll be great. The nights were most definitely growing colder as we headed West and KD made sure I wouldn’t forget her for the rest of the trip by leaving her sleeping bag at the reception of her last campsite for me to snuggle up with. Absolute legend.

And then, before I knew it I was in Germany, and then Passau at an adorable little cycle-only camp site just fifteen minutes’ walk from the old town and ice cream and pretzels but, unfortunately, not a whole lot of wifi. I managed a blog post all the same and found a brilliant camp store called Pritz Globetrotter Depot who helped me replace my knackered stove and stocked footprints for my fancy tent which, given the forecast, and fanciness of said tent, seemed prudent to have with me. I was camped next to a lovely Dutch couple who offered me a bed when I got to Holland and a Spanish couple who we’d camped near in rainy Vienna. I chatted to a Polish cyclist who takes 5 months off a year from his IT job in Perth to tour Europe. He told me I had too much stuff. I’m sure that’s very true but it’s my first tour, I’ve got a dog and all the paraphernalia associated with video documentation and yes, I am probably still packing too much but, I didn’t really know what to do about it…you live and learn, right? I wish I could have stayed longer and eaten more ice-cream in Passau; it seemed a beautiful city – the Venice of Germany, apparently, but come the morning I cycled up to the post office to send a 2 kilo package of unnecessaries home and on into Bavaria where more pretzels awaited.

And that’s when the wheels really came off. Well, one wheel. But it really came off. Surprisingly, German cycle paths are pretty gravelly affairs a lot of the time and Jeeves, trailer and my bum weren’t all that keen on them to be honest. And then the left trailer tyre, which had been working loose all trip eventually abandoned ship and properly bent itself as it flew off. I’d just started down a particularly bumpy and steep patch of gravel when the vibrations rattling my body suddenly got extremely intense. Something was not right. I came to a halt and looked back to see an abandoned tyre in the middle of the path and trailer at a decidedly jaunty angle. Balls.

I’d been making good progress and wanted to press on but wasn’t sure my attempt to straighten and right the wheel was going to last. So I stopped at a small campground and used my depleting internet to search bike shops, spare parts and a route that would only involve silky smooth tarmac tomorrow – riding along country roads with zoomy lorries and cars again, it was a compromise I had to make if I wanted to get anywhere with two wheels still attached. Two other cyclists heading the opposite direction arrived, one of them a woman – possibly the only solo woman cyclist I’d spoken to on the whole trip. We appear to be a rare breed. Indeed, a lot of people have remarked that it’s good I have a dog with me so I’m not alone. Anne was travelling all the way to the Black Sea via the Danube and I told her what I could of my time in Bulgaria and Romania – we hadn’t taken the Serbian route because Scout’s EU passport doesn’t give her free passage there. She was an older German lady, although living in Holland and we managed what we could in Germanglish. I was envious of the cycle through Austria ahead of her, aware that my time near the Danube was dwindling. The next day I started out early and rolled up my wet tent, enjoying my early starts and enforced coffee/tent drying stops. It was Saturday and although I wanted to get to Regensburg – the next big old town on the Danube – I realised I might not get there until the shops were closing and nothing opens on a Sunday in Germany. Seriously, a lot of restaurants even have short or no opening hours on the holy day. It took some getting used to and some petrol station dinners before I realised I needed to plan in advance on weekends. I’d planned to avoid Straubing but it looked like the only chance of a good bike shop and as it happened there was a big one on the cycle path on the outskirts. IMG_4699It was too hot to leave Scout in the trailer outside so I pulled out the wheel and took her inside with me, walking the 50m to the back of the store where it said ‘reparaturen’. And then Scout peed on the shiny white floor. She’d been in the trailer for a few hours. I should have given her a little walk before taking her inside. My bad. A lady gave me kitchen roll and I cleaned up, spluttering my English apologies. Luckily the repair guys hadn’t seen the incident and they were very helpful. It would take three or four days at best to order a new part but they could try to straighten it out. Which they blooming well did – after some banging and crashing it came back to me, straight as an arrow and with some nice white grease. It fit perfectly and the quick release skewer bit hard into the axel tube. I felt confident it was going to stick around. Thanks to the Stadler bike guys and sorry for pissing on your floor…

The day was so hot but we managed to find bike paths and an encouraging countdown of the kilometres to go until Regensburg and even a delightful stop next to a small river where Scout finally, finally decided that water could be fun and swimming wasn’t just a way to get out of the water as quickly as possible. I have no idea what she was actually doing but she was sticking her face in the riverbank, digging, snorting, and having a mucking great time. I was content to dip my toes and watch her as she tired herself out, until it was time to leave. Now. Scout’s recall is not very good. In fact it’s terrible. It’s the sort of thing you really need to start work on when dogs are very little and quite impossible to work on in an environment like Street Hearts where there are lots of dogs and no way of directing commands and rewards. It’s quite hard to do while cycle touring as well as it happens but as soon as we’re on home turf that dog will be going through intensive obedience training.

So I packed up to leave and Scout was far too interested in the secrets of the river banks to pay my calls any heed. She swam across the water, hopped out the other side and dashed around to find a new place to snort mud and water and I resolved simply to do the ‘Ok, I’m going then, see you later’ ploy used with toddlers. She’s always kept me mostly in sight and run to find me when she’s been distracted by, say, dead stuff. So I took off, and called to her, rolling back across the bridge to continue on the route.Now that confused her. She knew how to get to the lunch spot on one side of the river, but she could not for the life of her work out how to get to me, now on the other side. She ran up and down the bank she’d spent the last 45 minutes jumping off and swimming from, a little anxious, a few yips escaping her as I patiently called to her and made a show of rolling off. It honestly took her about 10 minutes of trying to reach me, getting distracted and then trying again. I had to turn around as I’d gone out of sight and pretend to ride off again before she remembered she could get into the river and run up the other side and find me there. Problem solving is a great skill and I knew she’d get there in the end, at least, I really hoped she would…I’m reevaluating her intelligence level as we go.


And then Regensburg. Beautiful, friendly, historic, wifi-laden, vegan restaurant having Regensburg. I had a vegetarian burger and salad (pretzels are great…but fresh veggies are a little difficult to work into my day sometimes) and then ice-cream for good measure and we rolled on to a tiny little campsite on the Danube that was actually the local Kanu (Kayak and canoe I think) club’s grassy area. On my to the two of Regensburg’s campsites a lady cycled up to me and told me I should definitely go to the Kanu club – it was cheaper and quieter and all I would need. Decision made. It was all she’d promised and some club members who were having a ukulele session showed me around before the owner got there to take my money and make a fuss of Scout and tell me more about Regensburg and the crazy Walhalla on the mountain top I’d passed on my way in and had greatly confused me – something to do with a mad king I think.

I was utterly exhausted by the day and even when four young German men arrived with their canoes and beers at 10pm, I couldn’t muster the energy to sit carousing with them. What a waste. They were barely awake when Scout and I left for Ingolstadt in the morning. It was a bright and sunny Sunday and people were out with their dogs along the river – I stopped and spoke with quite a few, I’m constantly amazed by the level of English everyone has! I’d realised yesterday that my Uni friend now living in Ulm had taken days off work to spend with me and I was going to miss her if I didn’t get a move on. And I’d not had a rest day since Budapest, a full 14 days ago. So I cycled like a demon to Ingolstat Bahnhof and bought a ticket for a person, a bike and a dog and made the most spectacular sweaty fool of myself trying to get trailer, bike and me in an elevator. Twice. In 8 minutes. I had to unhitch and managed to get us all inside, just about, Jeeves wobbling and swooning all over the place (get a bloody grip mate), then push Scout out into the underpass, leave her, race Jeeves to the elevator to the platform, prop him up and tell him to stay still, run back to rescue the dog, most definitely drawing concerned looks, push her into the lift and then grab Jeeves, by which time the lift had been called and Scout had gone up on her own, luckily also descending still inside so we could all go up together, crash our way out (seriously, Jeeves) and onto the waiting train. 

Ah the train. The train had an electronic display that told you not only the destination and stations etc. but also the time and the speed. I’m aware of my speed pretty much all the time so it was rather nice to be able to keep tabs on that. And seeing 160km ph flash up was pretty exciting. The day had been long and thunderstormy and sticky and I was not the freshest of daisies so I sat as still and small as possible, certain I was offending all nostrils around me and desperate to wash everything I owned. Janina met me at the station platform to avoid any similar hideousness exiting the train but there were no lifts to contend with and we began the cycle to hers. Up a massive hill. I could not have been more ready for a shower and a bed and good food and clean clothes and all the delightful things that Ulm provided, not to mention a few cards from my mother and new tee shirts from my bro. I was a very happy little lamb, even if I’d had to cheat to get there.

Vienna waits for you

Rainy, rainy rain. It began as a light smattering. A sprinkle, a dusting, a delicate shower. I thought, ‘I won’t grab the waterproofs out just yet – don’t want to get too hot and sticky; it’s still quite warm. It looks brighter over there, he won’t last long – this dreary newcomer to the trip.’ But, unfamiliar and unwelcome as he was, the rain proved insistent and my old friend the wind was not about to be bested by a rookie. So the two of them dogged my journey to Vienna. I was already on the wrong side of the Danube to the Eurovelo route because of the campsite location and rather than add 14km to my journey I checked the maps. I found a Vienna to Hainburg en Der Donau cycle route and saw a crossing to the north side just 10km upstream. Perfect. Despite inclement weather I was in good spirits, the thought of apfel strudel mit eis was keeping me motivated and after getting stuck on the wrong side of a railway track, and finally stopping to cover my now soaked, cotton K8 and K9 t-shirt, I followed the signs to the river and what I hoped would be a simple car ferry, you know – my fave. After all, it was a recommended cycle route so I figured it had to be vaguely bike-friendly.

I rolled down a steep hill that I knew I’d never get back up if I had to turn around and then the road just…turned into…off road. Rivers ran over cobbles the size (and vague shape) of footballs, as the path carved its way through wetland, rushes, muddy bogs and inlets. Huge trees added to the darkness of the day and the ducks eyed us menacingly. It was all beginning to feel a bit Jurassic Park. The ‘road’ ended at the river, a dirt track to the left with a battered sign high up in a tree commanding no bikes and a hilly continuation of the cement and rocks from before on the right. My map told me there was a ferry point to the right and so I cycled that way until it became clear that unless there truly was a ferry that way, it would be foolish to put Jeeves, trailer and Scout through the pain of the final 15 meters of ‘road’. I parked up, rain beginning to fall fat and loud around us and walked to the sign which I think told me to ring for the ferry and gave a number. My phone was with Jeeves. As I trudged back I could see another cyclist in the darkness of the trees ahead. They were only 30 meters away but KD (who was capturing the excitement on film) had to text me to let me know that a German speaking man was calling a ferry to the left – the wind and rain made conversation impossible, even with her far-reaching Australian tones. 

Photo 19-8-17-3
Scout’s Blue Steel with Wanda-woman

But it looked like we were in business. Stefan and his 6 year old daughter, Wanda, had actually arrived at our campsite late last night and had come the same way as us towards Vienna where they were going to spend a few nights. She sat up on a seat just behind the handlebars and was the toughest little thing I’ve ever seen. Scout had a fully waterproofed carriage.She had a bright red rain mac. What an absolute hero.

A ferry man arrived and we pushed through sandy mud (my bike cleaning work swiftly undone) onto a rocky beach that pulled every wheel in a different direction but to my great relief there was a ramp from boat to beach just about the width of the trailer.We powered across the gushing river with rain and wind lashing at us terribly dramatically for about 45 seconds before the captain docked facing fully upstream alongside a floating boat/restaurant/pontoon, killing the motor with the exact amount of time to leap up to the stern and grab a securing rope so that the flow of the river landed us gently in line with the landing gate. Both Stefan and I commented on how precise and skilled our ferry man was as the bearded man casually opened the gate to the dock.

Off across the Danube (again)

 A little more difficult manoeuvring of bike and trailer, which I am not really getting much better at, and we paid the man, and said our goodbyes – they were going to have hot chocolate and coffee at the restaurant before moving on. A good idea perhaps but I had apfel strudel waiting just a 40km away, on the actual bike path. I was pushing on.

We found the bike path (woohooo) and the signs took me closer and closer to Vienna and apfel strudel. The rain let up and Scout got her second good run of the day – easily hitting 20kmph along the safe, wide and quiet tarmac cycle paths. But I was getting hungry. I was holding out for Strudel but a 45min stop to meet with KD and make central Vienna plans pushed my hunger over the edge, taking my phone battery over with it and allowed the rain to swoop back in on us. I relied on my Garmin to get me into town to a specific park KD suggested and, to be honest, I’m not sure I should have trusted it. It’s a robot. And it gets stuff wrong quite a lot. Anywho it was rainy and a bit cold and I had no idea where I was going in a very big city with big cars and all those things and confusing German bike signs that I hadn’t got used to yet and then I turned across some tram tracks and suddenly I wasn’t turning, I was spilling to the ground. My front tire had slipped happily into the tram track and my momentum hadn’t agreed with the decision at all. Jeeves pulled away from me and I toppled to the left, skidding along the ground a little and after taking the brunt of the impact with my wrist and side, my helmeted head tapped the tarmac sharply as I came to a stop. The trailer had remained upright and Scout was sat up, obviously concerned for my welfare (sure), and as I stood some people crossing the road asked if I was ok. It wasn’t a busy street and no cars had been near, thank goodness, and as I got up I realised I was fine, a little shaken and a slight fizz in my head but nothing I was concerned about having wiped out more than a few times while snowboarding. So I righted Jeeves and got back on the bloody thing, low blood sugar doing me more harm than the tumble, I reasoned, and blindly followed the Garmin, no idea how far I was from strudel but praying it was close. It wasn’t particularly, and when I finally found KD I was cold, wet, hangry as anything and thoroughly disillusioned with Vienna. Having a dog when it’s raining is quite a chore – sitting outside when it’s dry isn’t a problem but when you want to sit inside in the warm quite often der hund isn’t allowed. Not that I had time to be choosy, I ended up grabbing a salmon sandwich and chips at a sea food chain called NORDSEE – nothing the slightest bit Vienese about it but it was food and it was what I needed and they didn’t mind Scout sitting under the table with her Hungarian muzzle on (I removed it when they weren’t looking). It was the definition of an anticlimax and there was still no strudel. The cafes I’ve strudelled at before are grand affairs and I was soggy and muddy and I couldn’t be bothered to even begin to find one that would allow a dog and then find a place to leave Jeeves, preferably within my eyeline, just to sit and have my well earned strudel. So it never happened.

I changed out of my wet under clothes and then we went sight seeing so that KD could get some nice K8 and K9 in the city footage. I’ve had a lovely few days in Vienna with the Globe and a few times since then but today, and with a bike and a dog in the rain, I was disenchanted with it and wanted to set up camp outside the city and start making my way through Austria, finding little towns with little cafes for my strudel fix instead. That’s something I am fast discovering – cities are not the most friendly places to be when you’re on a bike on your own with a dog. I have fond memories of Vienna and I’ll go again but probably on foot or by car. It rained that evening but I showered and warmed up and Scout met a hedgehog that was happily snuffling its way around the campsite – utterly unfazed by the attentions of a curious pup and surprisingly swift! Scout reeeeallly wanted to play with it but I was quite mean and didn’t let her, couldn’t really be bothered with a vet visit, to be honest.

We had a slow morning as the day dawned with the promise of sun in Klosterneuberg and beyond. I’d already found the cycle path the evening before and from here on out Donauradweg (Danube Cycle Way) was all I needed to know. The signs were pretty good and I just double checked with my app when I needed to but mostly you could be either side of the Danube and there was always a cycle path to follow. KD popped up every now and then to film me whizzing by, or struggling up a rare hill, and document (far better than me) the changing landscape as we charged through Austria. The Danube sometimes cuts through vineyard strewn hills, sometimes rocky, tall, pine treed slopes, other times open fields of drooping sunflowers or proud and swaying corn. We had pretty amazing weather, although the wind was almost always against me and I was one of the very few people travelling East to West because, apparently, it’s always slightly up hill that way. Great. There were so many cyclists though, it was amazing to see. Especially older people. Bikes are awesome. For everyone. I love bikes.


 There are several companies that hire bikes and panniers to you and by the looks of things there are several options you can take from a group tour with a guide and your bags dropped at the next hotel by van; no guide but bags dropped at the next hotel of your choosing; or simple hire of bikes and more bags and the freedom to camp or hotel wherever you fancy. Something for everyone. Even electric bikes. The number of old people whizzing past me up hills on their electric bikes…yeah, not jealous at all. Not at all. In all honesty I tend to smile when I see them. I love the fact that they can still get out there and enjoy the beauty of the Donauradweg, I hope I’m still chasing adventures at their age.

Photo 21-8-17

Then, just after my lunch at Dernstein and halfway down a steep hill to rejoin the bike path a man yelled ‘Kate!’ and pulled over on the hill. ‘Are you talking to me?’ I said, surprised. ‘Are there any other Kates on the street?’ he crowed back. ‘Do I know you?’ I uttered, still trying to make sense of the situation, ‘We know you!’ he replied as his wife joined him. Jeff* and Glenda Miller from Adelaide had had breakfast with KD in Vienna before getting the train to Passau to rent bikes and cycle back, and she headed west to find me. IMG_4590

They’re fans of CTM and endeavoured to keep an eye out for me and lo and behold they’d managed it. 10 minutes earlier and I’d still have been eating my lunch and they might not have seen the trailer. It was a remarkable coincidence and a delightful boost. Some more lovely Australians to add to the pile I seem to be encountering in Europe.There have been plenty of others too though – a Swedish over 70s cycle group wished me good luck and commended me, lots of Italian tourers did the same, and I’ve had more than a few photos taken. Hopefully they visit the website and share it – £10,000 is a huge amount and unless I can get more people interested I’m afraid we aren’t going to get there!


Fingers crossed the sign on the back is getting some traffic to the website and get the idea – I really should have had home pages made in different languages – the amount of times I’ve explained the website to people; ‘in English it’s sort of a funny way to write my name and also the scientific name for the dog species…so, it’s sort of, me and the dog…’ you know what they say – if you have to explain it…sigh.

Oh well, please, please share this amongst your English speaking friends and help spread the word – Street Hearts have already started making things happen with some of the money so far and I give you my word that it all goes to Scout’s old mates in Bulgaria so they can find their feet and their forever homes.

* or Geoff – sorry I didn’t check

BONUS: Pictures from KD from Hungary to Vienna © @kdvideo







And we’re rolling (in dead stuff)

I left my riverside campsite in high spirits and ready to face the next day. The path was on roads and gravel tracks and, at one point, a rutted, bumpy, hideous tractor path. But before that point was a fairly hard gravel track far from the road and with no crops around and I let Scout off the lead to run alongside the bike at her own pace as I wasn’t hitting much over 11km per hour. She galloped happily alongside me and occasionally dipped into the grass for a sniff and then rushed to catch up, head-banging with excitement. When she nipped off into the bushes I imagined she’d be out again shortly and continued dodging potholes and choosing the path of least resistance along the track. But when she didn’t emerge and I was a good 60 metres from where I’d seen her last I stopped the bike and started to call her. Ten seconds passed and then I saw the bobbing head and flapping ears as the black and white blur came closer. She ran up to me and as I patted her I realised she had something sticky and muddy on her neck and side, and front, and head, and harness, and bandana. The smell hit me. Something rotten, dead, decaying, long, long, departed but reeking its lasting mark on the world. And it was greasy. Under the reddish dirt was a grey fatty smear. It had saturated the bandana, mashed itself over the harness and worked its way into Scout’s fur. It. Was. Hideous. I whipped off the bandana and gingerly put it in a poo bag and stashed it in the trailer pocket, used the few wet wipes I had to wipe down the harness and Scout and threw her in the trailer hoping she wouldn’t stain the whole thing with her stench. And it was on my gloves. I was pretty sure some of it was on my gloves and therefore on my hands and holy christ it was gag-makingly rancid. I would like to make clear, if I can, that I have dealt with my share of fox poo and other dog related odours but this one was beyond anything else. The fact that it was not water soluble just meant it was pervasive as well.

I then rode through a bumpy, hilly, multilevelled tractor path that would I’m sure entertain mountain bikers but was a fair old annoyance to me. For once, I was actually quite far from the river. I kept praying for a road and a town and one of those adorable blue water pumps that occasionally sat at the side of the road for all to use. And then suddenly, as soon as I met tarmac, a glorious light blue water pump emerged in front of me and I dragged Scout under it to douse her in (regrettably) clean drinking water (sorry for taking your good water, little village). But it was actually quite tricky.

Zero regrets

The pump only gushes water when the handle is being depressed and I needed one hand to hold a squirming Scout in place and the other to try and agitate some of the grease free of her fur. I did my best. My nose told me, quite plainly, it was not good enough. The next few hours I spent stopping at two supermarkets to buy first wet wipes and then kitchen cleaning wipes. I used my sports bottle to squirt water on her and my shampoo in her fur but I could never shift the smell. As I neared Györ, a point I had hoped to camp north of I sought out a hotel. I wanted her in a shower, soaked head to toe and lathered in washing up liquid, I was not sharing a tent with that thing as it was. I found one and within 45 minutes of checking in we were both squeaky clean and happy and I was definitely looking forward to the luxury of a mattress and a duvet for the night.


Györ is also where I met up with KD. She’s a filmmaker from Australia who heard about my trip and outrageously offered her services for a week to get some good footage and help the cause. There are some bloody good people in the world. We can easily forget that but I promise you; they’re there.

So from that point on I had someone meeting me along the road, pointing a camera at me and asking me where we were and what had just happened. She’d race along the road and try to find a place the cycle path intercepted it and set up her tripod for an action shot. When we met at one point I discovered one of the trailer tyres was flat and so we got a good bit of footage of me fixing the puncture in the sun at the side of the road. If it hadn’t been so clearly a thorn that had caused it I might have suspected her of engineering some drama. She promised she had documentary-maker integrity although the number of times she helped me out over the next few days suggests she was not holding herself strictly to the ‘do not interfere’ documentary code.

KD got these printed in Vienna before meeting me!

She offered to take some of the weight from my panniers, I used her trainers almost everyday to save me from the unbearable experience of walking around a town in crocs, and on one very cold morning she had woken early, showered and warmed up and then threw her sleeping bag on me and took Scout for a walk so I could double up the sleeping bags and grab an hour of snugged up sleep. Legend.

From Györ with a good night’s sleep and without the faff of tent drying and breakfast making we were on the road and made it to Bratislava by 5.30 to sit at the river bank festival eating a massive tortilla wrap and listening to live music. Nice work, Bratislava. There was no fanfare as we passed into Slovakia – it’s part of Shengen and the open borders countries so I had to check the map to see if we had crossed over. I took a picture when I figured we’d done it which was when I began riding on this big, wide, recreational road.

Slovakia! (I think)
Bratislava riverside

It was Thursday evening and everyone was out and about on their bikes or roller blades making the most of the evening and being total outdoorsy awesomes. I even passed a little lake with beach-like edges one half of which was clearly for the naturists, right there, at the edge of the cycle path. Go Slovakia, I guess! I was knackered, the day had been hot but I had only thought about getting to Bratislava; I hadn’t thought about where to stay and then realised that campsites were so very rarely in the centre of cities. The nearest one was 10km out the wrong way…last night’s hotel bed had been so wonderful that KD and I jumped on our phones and tried to find the cheapest, nearest pet-friendly place to stay. We took the opportunity to charge our computers and various bits and bobs and steal the toiletries.

Expecting to be wheeled everywhere now.

It was a big hotel, we were on the third floor, and there were long carpeted hallways to the lifts…when I took Scout out for a wee she um…didn’t quite make it. I guess she’s never been anywhere quite like that before and was a little confused. She did go next to a plant so maybe she figured she was actually outside? I lifted her up to try and stop her mid-flow and ended up with a few more things to wash in the bathroom sink. Good job I love that pooch!

From Bratislava the cycle paths were mostly great and clearly marked. But it was hot. We’d spent the morning in town and didn’t get going until about 2pm when it was creeping up to over 30 degrees. Once again I had to guess when we crossed into Austria, but it was around about the time this butterfly decided to chill with us in a shade break.

Shade buddy

We made fair progress and then left the recommended path as the evening drew on to get to a campsite that was on the other side of the river. A brief stop in a pretty little walled town for a cup of tea brought back memories of an Austrian town I’d stayed in when on tour with Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. I told myself that not all Austrian towns were alike and besides, lots of things were different, there were just some similarities in the town square and such. Onwards; it was 7km of hilly, wind blown gravel tracks and I felt like I was going absolutely nowhere. When we eventually arrived we found a tiny little campground attached to the back of an indoor tennis centre with changing rooms and showers. A German family were on their second night there, a foursome of young cyclists were lounging in hammocks in a back corner and there were two camper vans with fairly elusive inhabitants. The evening was clear and warm and I sat down to clean my bike – something I hadn’t actually done yet and with a tip from Michael and the baby wipes from Scout’s moment of disgrace I did an alright job I reckon. The whole thing certainly felt smoother and happier the next day. But that night, oh that night was so beautiful. The stars were so bright that we sat out staring up at them for ages.

Just checking there’s none left… 

The next day I messaged my cast mate to ask where it was we’d stayed on tour and she sent back: Hainberg an Der Donau. Exactly where we’d stopped for tea! We actually hired bikes and cycled along the Danube on a day off…I’d post the pictures if I had them with me. If I’d had any sense of the symmetry I’d have had them prepared and done that thing of recreating old photos but…yeah. Nope. The next day dawned with a threat of rain and the wind that had pushed so hard at me the day before. Vienna and apfel strudel were waiting and I was about to get my first taste of wet-weather riding. Tune in next time for the short and sharp story of my front tire meeting a Viennese tram track….

Leaving Budapest – a ferry bad time

Leaving Budapest. Well, that was not the easy move I had hoped for. Firstly, I couldn’t get out of my tent, I was so exhausted and had been so chilly in the night that I couldn’t now remove myself from the snugness of my sleeping bag. It wasn’t until the sun hit me at about 8.30 that I was forced out and I slowly packed away while chatting to various other campers who were curious about Scout and the bike and the Union Jack flag. Most everybody can speak some good english and I’m both grateful and thoroughly embarrassed that I have zero Hungarian and very little German. I tried once again to use the internet at the campsite to upload my pics and video to the cloud which has been a singularly frustrating endeavour for the entire trip. Predictably it didn’t go to plan this time either and I reluctantly set off back into Budapest centre to find the EuroVelo 6 again and head north out of the city. Only I was still so zapped of energy that I stopped for coffee as soon as I crossed over into Buda. Budapest is actually two towns on either side of the river – Buda and Pest – that merged at some point into one sprawling capital. As a result the two have quite different personalities and architectural tendencies. I’d spent most of the day in Pest yesterday and sitting for coffee in Buda (and using good wifi to finally upload my blog with pictures) felt very different – quieter, older, more relaxed and it set me up to move on. One of the waitresses was also a blogger and she took a picture of the website address to follow us – Budapest has been full of lovely people interested in the story. I know how to say ‘she is a street dog’ in French and Spanish and that’s been enough where English fails but people remark on how fine she is and ask her breed: Mongrel, Bulgarian edition.

I’m beginning to feel quite proud of my little urchin pupper, especially when she sits close to the tent and bike and curls up quietly while I build or break camp. She’s a little afraid of the dark though and tends to be a bit barky when loud people, especially men, approach our tent. She actually was very perturbed when a mother was sort of play wrestling with her youngish son who was making those youthful noises of exertion and frustration. I couldn’t tell if he was misbehaving and wanting to run away from her or if they were simply playing but his effortful exhalations could easily be interpreted as distress. Scout was very alarmed and started barking at the pair until he ran away from her and Scout growled and watched the mother as she walked past us with serious suspicion.

IMG_4447The cycle route was fair to middling, a little rough and confusing in places but mostly I could tell I was leaving the city, even if I hadn’t got moving until after twelve. I’d wanted to get to a campsite at Esztegom by evening but that was now impossible, I figured I’d be wild camping somewhere up-stream. I passed crazy looking riverside homes that I envied and waved at lots of cyclists, giving me some confidence at least that I was on the right track.


At some point a Budapest tour guide on his day off joined me and asked where I was heading, what my route was, what my plan for the evening was. I was anxious to make some distance but thought again about my promise to say yes more… We stopped for a swim and some food at a little beach he recommended and he told me about a beautiful camp area on the northern point of the island of Szigetmonostor, one that I needed to take a ferry to get off in the morning and that would take me out onto a busy road the wrong side of the Danube to the cycle route – he termed it the ‘highway to hell’ and, quite frankly, I’d had enough of those. Having been without the EuroVelo for the days leading to Budapest I was loath to deliberately leave it, even with the recommendation of a local but I thought about it.


He was going to come with me – it was a truly special place, he said but in the end it wasgetting late and I bailedand thought I’d be better off crossing the river as per the route before finding somewhere to camp. So Peter sped off, unburdened by dog and belongings and I continued, lost the path, doubled back, asked directions and discovered I needed to take a foot passenger ferry to that island anyway. And there were steps to get to it.

A google search image of the ferry in question. I was too flustered to document it.

When I’m on tarmac, when I’m moving forward, when the wind isn’t catching me from the side, Jeeves and trailer handle the 20kg of luggage, 15kg of dog and 60 odd kg of me incredibly well – we glide, we’re balanced, everything seems so efficient. But stop moving forward, introduce steps, divorce Jeeves from trailer, try manoeuvring them through any space not straight and wide and, my god, they’re like beached whales. Heavy and awkward and not interested in going anywhere fast. Actually they’re more like beached sharks because they also have sharp bits that try to take your leg off. I unhitched the trailer, ran to the ferry, now already loaded with passengers and asked a strong person to help – Jeeves is about 35kg with bags and unwieldy af, – a nice man took on the challenge, and carried the trailer and Scout down the steps along the metal grid gangway she refused to walk on. There were steps down into the tiny boat also – he’d said yes to bikes but it clearly wasn’t built with them in mind. We wrestled Jeeves and trailer and Scout inside, to the bemusement of the other passengers. “I’m going to London!” I said in an attempt to garner sympathy or at least temper the unamused looks of the ferrymen. Of course, to add to the embarrassment and apologising and flustering it turned out I didn’t have enough Forints to pay the fare. I hadn’t realised I’d be taking ferries on the bike path and hadn’t worried about getting more cash after my coffee.

I am so much better at hiding my distress than Scout.
I had euros and the elder ferryman consulted the younger, “five” he said, and I dug around for my change, thankful for their accepting me, thankful I could repay them somehow and gave him all my change – six euros. After the nice man (who I shamelessly thanked by telling him how strong he was) had deposited Jeeves, up a ramp on the other side, stopped the trailer from rolling back onto the gangway when I turned away from it, and had walked back to his car, almost certainly laughing at my claim to be cycling all the way to London I hitched Jeeves and trailer together and got Scout inside again. She hadn’t enjoyed the experience much more than me. Thank god that was over, the ferrymen continued to watch me with that particular unsmiling curiosity I’ve encountered in Eastern Europe and I smiled and waved and tried to hide my utter exhaustion and mounting self-doubt.

It was getting late and I thought about travelling north to the camp ground Peter had told me about. It wasn’t on any of my maps but it was local knowledge, maybe it was a good idea? But this island seemed utterly deserted, nothing here, people had taken the ferry to get in their cars to go somewhere I couldn’t see. I rode on along dirt roads, praying the next ferry (yes, to get off the island again and onto the mainland on the other side of the Danube – I hadn’t looked very closely at the day’s route) was a car one that I could roll onto without making a total tool of myself.IMG_4458 I decided to stick to the bike route and didn’t head north, I wasn’t enjoying this empty island and didn’t fancy getting deeper into it not knowing where exactly I was heading, so I cycled to the other side and to my deep relief saw a car ferry – great floating platforms attached on one side to a boat that basically pushes, drags and twists it from one side to the other – it’s some pretty able sea-manning. By now the day was wearing on and I was, I’ll admit, a little fraught. When the man asked me for a third of the price the other ferry had asked for and I couldn’t even pay it I felt terrible. All I had was a ten euro note and 100 Forints and he dismissed me as the silly foreigner I truly was shaping up to be. I pushed off the barge thoroughly demoralised and foolish feeling and with a creeping sense that finding a place to camp would be a joyless experience and that’s when I met Michael, standing astride his touring bike, his matching panniers oozing experience and confidence. “You’ve got a lot of stuff!” he yelled cheerily at me as he queued up to get on the return trip. “I’ve got a dog!” I said only slightly defensively. “Is there anywhere to camp along the path this side?”

“What? No, I’m heading on to the island – there are two campsites there. Come on!” he beamed in his undulating Australian accent. “Oh, I, er, I ran out of money! I didn’t pay just now!”

“Well I’ve got money. Let’s go. I wanna hear your story.” And so, with a little more protesting from me I finally gave in and fell in with Michael who looked as seasoned a cyclist as you could find and as calm and unhurried as you might expect an Aussie to be. He was my polar opposite right now and his confidence and generosity (he had to pay for my first trip also when the money guy saw that I’d found a man to pay for me, more utter embarrassment on my part) began to slowly smooth my nerves and unruffle my feathers. Both campsites were long closed but one let us set up on what used to be a camp ground and, of course, Michael paid for it.

Aussie saviour
Through some confusion they also opened up a twin room with ensuite in their empty 60s motel-type establishment that we could use, although not with the dog – I was happy to camp and to his enormous credit, Michael forwent a bed and camped alongside me. I was, happily, able to repay him slightly by cooking us dinner and loaning my power bank to charge his phone. He was on his way to a few days in a lovely apartment with family in Budapest and was happy to slum this last night with me. We chatted long and Scout and I were devoured by the most insistent and insidious mosquitos so much so that I popped her half a piriton to relieve her swelling bites. I learnt about touring, about bikes, about his tours and travels – the man has seen a lot since he began biking in retirement – and picked up a few great tips. The night was so cold I had to hug Scout for warmth, I don’t think my sleeping bag is going to cut it if the nights get colder. The next morning Michael showed me even more about touring pace – he was a most unhurried man and I was constantly quelling the voice in my head saying ‘You need to get going, you didn’t cycle far enough yesterday – you’ll have to make up for it today, no time for this, no time for chatting.’ But I was held hostage to Michael’s wallet – he was luckily going back to the side he’d come from and heading to Pest on the East bank and would, again, pay my ferry fare – the ferrymen hid their confusion well. I was so lucky to have met him, but when he invited me to have coffee with him, I declined, the voice in my head finally screaming at me YOU HAVE TO GET GOING – why!? Why, voice? Why do I have to? It didn’t answer that but I decided I would finally appease it and took off, thanking Michael profusely and agreeing to add the amount he paid for my (three) ferry crossings and the camping to the fundraiser and to consider it a donation. What an awesome guy to have met at possibly the most stressed and flustered I’ve been on the whole trip. I literally had to say yes to his suggestions and we shared a very pleasant evening in each other’s company. Thank you Michael! I’m sorry we didn’t get that coffee. But I managed to see Esztegom and clean my chain with baby wipes, and get to grips with – you not only saved me that evening, you continue to make my journey easier. I’m also getting (a little) better at stopping for coffee and taking my time. I cycled a good 90km that day and wild camped at the edge of the river and, having shaken off the tensions of yesterday, I slept like a baby.

Ice-cream and lunch by the river and lovely paths:

A much more relaxed third ferry crossing the next day:

And Esztergom and my river camp:

On My Own…

For the last few days I’ve had a Les Miserables song in my head, the snippets that I remember anyway. “In the rain, the pavement shines like silver,” “all alone, I walk with him till morning” or something like that, “all my liiiife, I’ve ooonly beeeen pretendiiing.” It wasn’t until I sat down to this blog just now that I worked out why that song. It’s called On My Own. And I’ve been on my own for five days. I’m clearly quite preoccupied with the fact.

So, Emma and Anthony packed us on our way with a tear and a wave along a safe and vaguely shady Hungarian cycle path next to a big main road heading North West to the Danube. I absolutely did not cry, it was definitely the wind making my eyes water and IMG_4353my voice shake. Wind does that, guys. Especially in Hungary – you don’t know! It was hot but we had water and a plan to take shelter and a couple of campsite spots to aim for come the evening. As we turned off one main road to another the cycle path disappeared, the road was busy with lorries and there was little to no shade – the sun was on the other side of the road and so was the shadow and it was approaching one pm. But all was well as I saw a petrol station sign with little pictures of WCs, showers, Wifi, coffee, the works, and I pulled into the forecourt and set the bike in the shade so we could settle in for our midday siesta/sun avoidance. About ten minutes later I decided togo into the shop and buy IMG_4514something cold and then discovered it was and had been very closed for a while. There were two cars there which had thrown me but it was most certainly not currently open for business. There would be no coffee or ice-cream. Devastated. Unsure what to do I hid out for a little while longer before deciding to make a push for a station just up the road that was marked on my google maps. It was also closed. So I kept cycling along this hideous road in the baking sun looking for shade or an establishment of some kind. I passed two other closed petrol stations (seriously, what happened to the petrol market?) and pulled into a track that looked like it might be a shady place to stop for a few hours but there were clearly dogs at the house at the end who were none too happy at our presence and so I ventured back onto the road.

This road was heading mostly North. I’ve observed a thing or too about North/South roads in Hungary. The tarmac clearly heats up throughout the day and the final assault of the sun’s east to west trajectory is thrown full throttle at the far right hand side (if you are looking Northwards.) This means that the tarmac gets hot and soft and the heavy and constant traffic manages to squish and push the tarmac so that it rises in a line about two foot in from the edge of the road. Exactly where my bike tyre wants to be so that my rear right trailer tyre stays on the road but not too far into it. So I was forced further into the road than I’d like. Still, with flashing lights and flapping flags people appeared to see me in advance and mostly give me a wide berth. Thanks, driver-folks.

I eventually, at long last found myself a petrol station with some picnic benches and water for sale. We set up camp, read, ate, slept (Scout). We drew stares and puzzled looks. No other cyclists passed and I was dreading getting back on the road. Which eventually I decided I had to do, just after six pm and just hoped that pedalling fast would get me somewhere, anywhere, and away from the zoomy road. Progress was slow and my original camp destination was clearly too ambitious, I thought, as the sun began to finally dip and diminish. There was another place, closer but off the route a little and I pedalled my little legs off to get there just before eight pm and with just enough sunlight left to pitch the tent. It was still warm and close and uncomfortable. The campsite was large and well managed and popular, situated right next to a lake with paid entry and water slides and inflatable islands and stuff. I also think no-dogs were allowed but as the day had drawn to a close and darkness had almost fully descended I just walked confidently through the gates with Scout at my side and strode out into the lake. Oh lord it was delicious. It was warm and cool at the same time and Scout enjoyed the more gradual entry to the water for her second swimming lesson. It was so warm that after cooking and sitting out she was mostly dry by the time we got into the tent…wet dog smell was not as overpowering as I’d feared. We woke and packed up and were on the road by 7.15 and Scout ran beside me along the cycle path before hoping in the trailer and hitting the roads again. I desperately wanted to find the Danube and the Euro Velo bike route that would take me all the way toGermany as safely as the EuroVelo people could devise.


I knew I was close because of the map but my Garmin was taking me parallel to the river but not next to it. And as the temperature raised I took shelter at a little bar to hunt out my evening campsite, a man arrived on a bike and had a beer and then left. He came back about thirty minutes later and did the same. He offered me an ear of corn. I was touched but politely declined, unsure what to do with it. The nearest campsite on route was too far to reach when the temperature dropped and I decided to head back on myself, camp by the river, get a good night’s sleep and make an early start for Budapest – about 85km or so. 

Not as excited to see the Danube as me

I set up camp by about 2.30pm, lay down and couldn’t get back up again. So. So. Tired. When I finally managed to get up and shower I came back with my hair in a towel which Scout voiced her embarrassment at (she did the dog thing of really not enjoying head-gear and barked at me for a second). An older French couple had come the opposite direction that morning and warned me about small fast roads on the route ahead. Damnit. It was awfully hot and it was hard to get an early night – it wasn’t until eleven pm that it started to get windy and the stagnant air shifted and cooled enough for sleep.IMG_4359IMG_4365

She really likes to hide behind the bike. It has fallen on her once, nevertheless she persists

I was up and on the road just after 6.30 for the great Budapest push. I found and lost the Eurovelo twice and then lost it a third time for good. I found myself instead on a fast, narrow road and thought ‘this must be what the couple had warned me about’ it can’t last. And oh my god, the wind. The WIND. I was honestly being blown off the tarmac. The road ended abruptly with a four inch step off onto gravel and scrub and I was constantly in danger of losing a wheel or two off the edge. The wind was coming diagonally from North West and occasionally WNW which I and the trailer absorbed like a sail. Surprising gusts left me fighting to stay in a straight line but, I reasoned, at least it’s blowing me off the road rather than into it. It was also blessedly cooler and I could cycle through the hottest part of the day. And so I just kept cycling. I kept on the fast roads, desperate to see directions to the Eurovelo, or to find an alternative, constantly surprised my flagpole survived as it was bent nearly horizontal by the wind, and greatly perturbed when I saw a big sign depicting NO HORSES, NO TRACTORS, NO CYCLES. I turned off onto a smaller road but that led to basically falling over in dirt sand and having to push the bike and so it was back to the scary fast zooms roads instead. 


After every junction and no cycle path I sighed and pushed on but it was exhausting. I could make good time but it was stressful cycling – I had to pull off on the verge about five or six times because there was someone barrelling towards me trying to overtake a line of cars and I couldn’t be sure they’d seen me. Eventually about 25km from Budapest I googled ‘why can’t I find the Eurovelo 6?’ and found there was an app that could show me where it was. And it was on the other side of the river.


Found it! It was pretty rough and bumpy in places though and I had been making much better time on the fast roads, albeit in fear for my life. Some friendly guys helped me over a poorly sized barrier, lifting Scout ensconced in her throne. I met a Belgian guy on a bike and we travelled a while towards town on the worst bike paths ever – cobbles, tree roots, bushes, mud, massive pot holes, paths with barely enough room for a bike, let alone a trailer. How on earth was this the official bike route 5km out of the capital city?

Budapest seemed so close for so long and then it was there. My old uni friend and director, Tom was visiting our other uni friend, native Hungarian theatre designer and director Eszter, and he was cycling to meet me. What a thing to turn up in a new city to a friendly face. What a thing. We had food and drinks at an outdoor park where Scout had her first park walk – she did pretty well, she stuck close and came to me when she was scared by another dog. And the next day Eszter walked Scout while Tom and I went to a Thermal Spa and put our bodies through a cycle of differently heated baths and steam rooms so that when we left I felt both rejuvenated and utterly exhausted – my mileage had reached 103km the day before and for the first time my legs really knew about it. We saw some touristy things and I bought a laptop so I could keep up the blogging and when Eszter and Tom headed off to the festival that Eszter’s show was at I made my way back to my campsite, on my own again, with a dog wearing a muzzle because that’s a Hungarian public transport regulation.

I nipped out on the bike with Scout running to the local supermarket only to realise it was Sunday evening and everything was closed apart from a pet store where I bought some nice meaty treats and a new rope toy (to divert Scout’s tendency towards the tent guy ropes) and Scout played with a 5 month old chocolate Labrador puppy like they were best friends. She’s so tall and lanky I forget that she’s still a puppy sometimes. I grabbed some food from a petrol station instead and settled in for the night, on my own again and with 250km to Bratislava – the next thing on my mind – having had a ‘rest day’ that more thoroughly exhausted me than my 103km day. I envied my fellow camper’s chairs and back rests and their company. A lovely couple from Oxford on a euro tour with a pair of bounty black dogs were in a campervan next to me and had offered me a chat and a proper cup of tea that morning which was a tonic I didn’t know I needed. They had left on the rest of their trip when I returned. The internet failed me again and late arrivals next to me cooked and caroused together late into the night, tent walls are thin. I wanted more time in Budapest but didn’t feel I could have it – I’ve given myself a punishing schedule and little wiggle room for stopping to smell the roses. It seems at odds with the entire ethos and method of cycle touring. I made a decision to say yes more and make more connections with fellow travellers. I was on my own, yes, but I wasn’t alone.