Immersion in mother nature – summer smiles, sunshine and silliness 

Immersion in mother nature – summer smiles, sunshine and silliness 

This summer has been pretty unusual in that I decided to take my summer holiday in the UK, well… Wales to be precise – so no planes, and no trains – instead bicycles and campervans, and numerous flotation devices from paddle boards, sea kayaks, to power boats that ruled the waves, which always means adventure in my book.

I’ve had Vinnie my VW campervan for nearly two years now. So far, we’ve shared many day trips to the beach, weekend trips to see friends further afield, week long stays in Cornwall and the Lakes, and more recently a summer holiday to Wales. With nine days of annual leave booked I wanted to head somewhere new, somewhere I’d not been before. So with new horizons in my sights, I decided to head to the mountains in Wales. You may ask, why Wales? In June 2021 I went on hols with some Bella Velo girlfriends with a company called Glaudax Cycle Tours and discovered the delights of the Elan Valley and the remoteness of the hills, which prepared me well for the Pennine Rally in July 2021. But this year I was looking for something a little more chilled. A holiday with no 6 or 7am alarm calls for 8am departures, I wanted to enjoy being in nature, ideally soaking in some rays during the day and the milky way and stars by night. And so began the tale of two halves… 

Part 1 – Inland in Cantraf and the Brecons Beacons 

The first gem was arriving at the campsite that Jasmijn had suggested – what a view! Not only was the campsite the perfect spot for a sunset, it also provided the optimal viewing spot to watch the sunrise – I never get bored of watching either. And not having a loo in Vinnie meant an early morning walk for a wee – and as every cloud has a silver lining, with every early rise I was rewarded with the sunrise. 

Sunrise in Cantref

During my time in the Brecons I ventured on two wheels out on the Taff Trail, saw the Brecons Mountain Railway train, passed loads of lakes, breezed along canal paths, cycled through military land (with permission) and witnessed the most spectacular views. I enjoyed ice-cream, homecooked Welsh cakes, eat the best steak I’ve tasted in months, and sampled some home-cooked BBQ lamb that had been marinading in a delicious mix of herbs and spices for over 24 hours. Much of the above was thanks to the hospitality, kindness and generosity of Jasmijn for taking me out on the trails, and her husband Chris for being a master chef on the BBQ. 

If you fancy checking out my bike routes on Strava, have a look here ‘Taff Trail’ and here ‘Brecons Loop’

Adventures on two-wheels

In addition to two wheels, me and Jasmijn ventured out on a walk up to the Fforest Fawr Geopark. And as tempting as it was to swim in the glacial lake at the top, it was not remotely tempting to take a dip in the river flowing down the mountain… it was freezing, properly bone chilling as soon as you put your feet in. It was interesting to do this walk and to discover some more about the heritage of the region, plus read about the legends and tales that have been captured over the years. 

Fforest Fwar Geo Park

Part 2 – Out by the coast and playing on the sea in Nefyn

The drive from the Brecons to Nefyn was stunning. In total the journey time was 4.5 hours. Taking in many twists and turns through narrow lanes and the stunning Snowdonia National Park, I was not short of beautiful views to keep me alert and on the ball. I also had a range of CDs (yes, CDs) to sing along to. From Andrea Botchelli to Anastasia, I had a retro kickback to tickle my tonsils. I guess that’s also another benefit of solo travelling, you don’t need to negotiate the route you’re going to take, or the music you’re going to sing along to. 

It’s true to say that some things never change – and that’s my spirit for adventure. So, I knew I was in good company with my uni friend and round the world travel buddy, Cat! We’ve shared and experienced so many incredible moments together and even though we don’t get to do so much together these days, when we do get together, we really are up for anything active and do effortlessly squeeze the most out of every day. 

Beach BBQ before the moon rise kayak

From morning cycles around local hills, to afternoon swims and paddle board adventures, to sun-downer BBQs in different bays, and watching the super moon rise over the saddle of the hills in Nefyn as we kayaked by night under the stars – this experience was quite unique and magical, and I think we may have witnessed the last super moon of 2022. Following a haze of peachy light in the distance, a blazing ball of pink fiery light literally rose from nowhere. Moreover, with the super moon shining bright, the tide came right up to the seawall – this made for an interesting knee deep walk along the beach at the end of our adventurous and fun packed evening. 

Pedal adventures for coffee and cake

At the other end of the scale, the night before we’d had our glad rags on and danced the night way at the Nefyn Sailing Club summer dinner. I’ve not danced or sang like that in a long time and it felt bloody brilliant, you can’t beat a crazy boogie to classic 80’s power ballads and 90’s super tracks.  

A life of adventure 

It’s not very often that I have some relatively unplanned and unstructured time. But what I loved most about taking this trip was my conscious decision to not plan much, other than the first two nights accommodation in Cantref in the Brecons, and that I was driving on to Nefyn on day six, then planning to drive home on day 9.  I knew I’d see Jasmijn in the Brecons and Cat and her boys in Nefyn, but the rest was open to evolution – no fixed plans, just the intention to have an adventure and to have fun. And what a raft for magic taking that approach created.

As far as cycling goes… it’s always about the coffee, chat and cake!

Sometimes I am refuelled by doing very little, then at other times I’m refuelled by playing and being active outside in nature. I realise that it’s a rare gift to have a staycation when the temperature stays on average 28 degrees day on day, with blue skies and blazing sunshine – and for that I’m extremely grateful and thankful.  

I hope you’ve also managed to discover and enjoy some natural gems this summer. 

Super moon rising Friday 12th August 2022

All photos my own.

Gorgeous Girls go Gravelling in Girona

Gorgeous Girls go Gravelling in Girona

Train tickets purchased… rental bikes ordered and paid for… AirBnB booked… bag packed (yup, one small trolly dolly for ten days), passport in hand – and I’m ready for the off!

For one reason or another, March was a pretty weird, stressful, and unusual month (take your pick of those words, they all fit the situation). I’m not going to go into that here as it’s not the topic I want to share. What I do want to talk about is the excitement of going on a new adventure and to a new destination, to me never explored before.

Two trains, no planes, and one automobile

Leaving the office in Leicester Square to get to St. Pancras International launched the start of our train journey from the UK to Spain, and before I knew it, I was with Tricia, Alison and Ruth on the Eurostar whizzing through the countryside on our way to Paris. The train is such an amazing way to travel, so much to see, people to watch, imaginary stories to make up about their lives and where they are going, to entertain us on our way. With a gin and tonic in hand, and much chatter, the time passed quickly. Before we know it we were enjoying another tipple in a bar in France!

After a welcome sleep at our hotel, we split into two; Ruth and me opting for a taxi to get across Paris, Alison and Tricia choosing to walk to the Gare du Lyon, before regrouping for breakfast and stage two of our journey from Paris to Girona. I hadn’t realised that France had implemented a ban on short haul flights, encouraging travellers out of the sky and onto the SNCF – perhaps that’s why it was full to the brim?

As I write, me and Tricia are watching the virtual realtime map as we approach the French / Spanish border. It’s not only been lovely to catch up and chat, but also brilliant to see the countryside change as we’ve gone through Nimes, Montpellier, and now the mountains are emerging on the horizon.

This trip will be different to others, as we’ve organised it ourselves – well, in reality Alison has done most of the heavy lifting, suggesting the idea of going to Girona in the first place, finding the AirBnB, and much more. So, what’s different about this trip? The first four days we’ll be having two wheeled adventures on our road bikes, followed by a further four days off road on gravel. With routes sourced through friends and fellow adventurers, we have approximately 40 to choose from. I love this kind of adventure, when there’s a bit of a plan and structure in place, but in reality, the days evolve as does the exploring of new territory.

Our home in Girona

I’ve heard that Girona has many coffee bars… and I love fresh coffee but it doesn’t seem to like me… but that’s not going to stop me sampling some deliciousness. Let’s hope the caffeine headaches don’t last for too long!

The Stats – My distance on two wheels

  • 598km in total, road and gravel
  • 7,750 metres climbed, road and gravel

Those numbers may not be huge but they tell a story of travel, adventure, giggles and much fun!

Gravel Fun with Sharpie – Take 2

Favourite days in the saddle

In truth I’d say all of them, but if I had to pick two…


Our ride to the coast where we saw some of the Volta a Catalunya. The scenery is just incredible, the variety endless over the rolling hills and down to the sea. Great company and chat too! Pushing our timing a little having been stopped by the rolling road closures for the race, we eventually made it back to base before sundown.

It’s not raining! The day of the Volta a Catalunya and pizza


This ride was titled ‘So much fun’. True to its name, the route was properly out in the wilds. It was like being a kid again, flying through the trees, off the beaten track, over sand, rocks, tree roots, little bumps, big downhills, a few 20% sections up to navigate, this route had it all! Me and Maria added a few extra KMs going around Banyoles lake, then caught up with Alison and Ruth for the wooded section flying up and down some paths and tracks in the trees.

Grave fun in the almost sun

I’d happily go back and do both of these rides again, and many more for that matter.

Tasty treats to fuel the fire

Hands down, the three things that pop into my head are the seafood pizza at the coast. Totally by chance we found a restaurant overlooking the sea, quite a wonderful location. And all this before we had the surprise of watching the pros in the Volta a Catalunya.

I’ve never eaten a pizza that’s tasted this good!

Second were the cakes at La Fabrica. Nestled in the cobbled streets of old Girona this place is utterly amazing, the cakes are out of this world, and the food is super tasty – perhaps made even more delicious after a five hour ride in the rain when you’ve skipped lunch, and need to replenish the stocks before you face-plant on the pavement. In all seriousness, I highly recommend this café, it tickles and pleasures to all the senses.

La Fabrica

Third were the prawns me and Alison ate on our last gravel day. Me and Helen found this restaurant in the middle of nowhere the day before, I’d eaten a packet of crisps and a chocolate croissant (which was utterly divine) and drank a coke, before we raced the clock back to Girona to get Helen’s bike back to the shop for 5pm – but that’s another story of all together, skipping lunch whilst riding is not wise but does cause hilarity and much resourcefulness. Thankfully, with a minute on our side, our mission was complete and we finished with a fabulous Aperol Aperitz in the Placa de la Independencia, taking in the sunshine – happy days!

A tasty treat in at La Masia Mas Llunes

Making memories

It feels like I’ve been away from home for a long time. In fact, ten days is a long time. We’ve made the most of every minute, hunted out new adventures, taken on new challenges, and discovered new ground – whilst also learning new things about each other, be that bike skills, family history, dance moves, and a host of other quirks to entertain and keep us smiling.

Whether on road or gravel, it has been incredible to cycle through the rolling Girona hills and see the snow-capped Pyrenean mountains in the background… they are in complete contrast to the red poppies and other fauna flowers dancing in the wind and spring blossom popping out on the trees.

Banyoles Lake

This week has thrown everything at us… wind, drizzle, biblical rain, and finally some very welcome sunshine!! The geography here is vast and makes me realise – again – how on top of each other we are in the UK. Of course, most capital cities like London and Paris are busy. In contrast, it’s been great to have ten days away, with the majority spent outside in nature, in fresh air, in the elements, with friends who share a love of the great outdoors making memories to treasure.

Now on our train journey home, we are rolling out of Girona on the TGV towards Perpignan… to the left I can see the snow-capped mountains of Andorra. Funny to think that whilst we’ve been cycling, only a matter of a few kilometres away people are skiing and enjoying the mountains in a completely different way. It seems they spark joy all times of the year for many people – I know they do for me.

A big THANK YOU for all the giggles you gorgeous group of gravel girls ❤️

Alison (Dexy), Ruth (Root), Claire (Lady M), Maria (Magic Doctor), Tricia (Wordle Queen), Helen (Sharpie), Karen (Kamikazi)!

Until next time…

Big thanks to Eat, Sleep, Cycle for the bike hire!

Autumn Adventures – Playing in the Lakes with Vinnie

Autumn Adventures – Playing in the Lakes with Vinnie

This Autumn I wanted to strike out and go on another Vinnie Adventure before Winter truly arrived. Over the summer various friends had been up to Cumbria, the Peak District and into the Lakes and I began to feel the beginnings of a plan being hatched.

Being fuelled by the attraction of discovering new places and walking on new ground – well for me at least – I found myself checking out some new spots around Windermere. A big lover of my name-sake Miss Beatrix Potter, there was a natural pull to visit Hill Top and remind myself of all the ground breaking things this extraordinary lady did in her time. Back then women were not championed in carving their own path, they were expected to stay home, choose a husband and marry ‘well’ (whatever that means), and fall into what society expected of them. But Miss Potter was different – she had a love of nature, drawing, and painting, and she had a vivid imagination that conjured up the most amazing stories like ‘The Tale of Peter Rabbit’, ‘The Tale of Jemima Puddle Duck’, ‘The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin’ and many more.

I’m not too sure why I’m sharing this now – but I guess I’ve just noticed a synchronicity that it was Barbara Hepworth that inspired my trip down to Cornwall, and it was Miss Potter that inspired my trip to the Lakes. Both extraordinary women do extraordinary things.

Honister Pass – Valley View

If it was not for Potters imagination, her following her passion, and writing her wonderful books that I loved as a child – we may not have been able to enjoy the Lake District as we are able to today. She preserved the landscape, the geography of the land, and in doing so, has enabled thousands, in fact more like millions of people to enjoy this luscious, mountainous, and adventurous part of our country.

So, whilst many politicians are busy knocking the great out of Great Britain, I wanted to experience something that is truly great about Britain – and for me, that’s the landscape in the Lake District.

Borrowdale and Honister Pass – exploring new territory

The last time I was in the Lakes was about seven or eight years ago over the August Bank Holiday weekend. Back then I’d joined a lovely guy I was dating at the time on a walking weekend near Windermere and we’d all stayed in a beautiful youth hostel. For this autumnal trip it was the middle of November, and it was a particularly soggy week, so I got online to check out which YHAs naturally caught my attention as I figured I may want alternative accommodation to Vinnie – my van. It was Borrowdale YHA that immediately jumped out and caught my attention. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it initially, but on arrival I think it was its remoteness as it literally is in the middle of nowhere, and only a few kilometres from Honister Pass – a cheeky little number I had in mind to cycle over.

Honister Pass – Slate Mine

Following my motto of ‘seize the day’ on arrival I took the decision to get into my lycra and set off on a two-wheeled adventure. Typical of me, I’d read a little (but not enough to put me off). So, 5 km into my ride I found myself going up Honister Pass! For those that don’t know, this is a long drag of a hill, that ramps fairly swiftly up to 25% and more. Laying as flat as possible over my handlebars to stop my front wheel bouncing off the tarmac as I continued to ride, I soon rose through the mist and arrived at the summit of the climb. Even in the wet, soggy, grey mist it was a beautiful, panoramic view.

Honister Pass before I drop down into the mist!

What also became quickly apparent was the acute drop the other side! Not only was it narrow, wet and slippery, it was 26% and more, but this time downhill. Too steep to whizz down without touching my brakes, and watching the time as I wanted to get back to Borrowdale YHA before nightfall, I slowly set off with my brakes musically echoing around the hills.

Borrowdale YHA and my little wooden pod

My cycle ride took me all around the rolling lanes and after 60km or so I cycled through Keswick and then back to my home for the evening. As the rain drilled down and wind whirled through the trees, I was relieved and pleased that I’d had the foresight to book myself a little wooden cabin. Nestled in the green entrance to Borrowdale these basic yet cosy pods sleep two, they have no running water or the convenience of a loo, but they are warm, comfortable and quiet which made me feel more up close and personal with Mother Nature. Not only that, I was able to enjoy the heat of a roaring log fire in the communal area of the hostel and chat with fellow adventurers before I retired for the evening, and to what turned into a 12-hour sleep.

Friendship, laughter and play – a hat-trick of happiness!

Going up ‘North’ also gave me the opportunity to catch up with a couple of lovely girlfriends I’ve known for many years but have not seen for some time. At the beginning of my trip, I caught up with Fiona. I met Fi, at University in Nottingham where we were both studying Textile Design – Fi focused on construction in ‘knit’, and I focused on surface pattern in ‘print’. We studied together for three years and also lived together for two and a half years. In that time, we made hundreds of amazing memories, laughed lots, skied lots, drank lots, and danced lots. This time round it was a little calmer as our time was quite compact and it was wonderful to sit down for dinner, catch up on many of the incredible life events that have happened in the time we’d not connected, and it felt like no time had lapsed at all.

On the tail end of my trip, I caught up with Heather, a fabulous and vivacious young lady that I met doing my one and only ski season in 1999-2000. Both finding ourselves in Courchevel 1850, in the Haute Savoire region in France, we worked for different ski companies, yet we bonded over drinks and playing games in the Jump Bar, chatting about boys that had caught our attention, and enjoyed many swooshes down the slopes over our five months in our snow bubble. In the 21 years that have passed we’ve lived in different places, worked different jobs, enjoyed several beach adventures on the south coast, and now I’m getting to join her husband and her family of three wonderful boys in the gorgeous home in countryside. From collecting the boys from school and walking in the woods, to creating pirate ships out of lounge room furniture and exploring new villages – it was a blissful, whistle stop tour and I loved every second.

Heather and I – Lovely!

What was wonderful about seeing both of these brilliant ladies was that it seemed like only yesterday since I’d seen them last. There’s a saying I heard, I can’t remember when, but it’s about friendship – it’s either for a reason, a season, or a lifetime – I’m very happy to say that both Fi and Heather are ‘lifetime’.

The seasons are changing, a new chapter awaits!

As we pass the winter solstice – the day with the fewest hours of daylight – we move into a new chapter. With everyday there will be a glow on the horizon as the days slowly lengthen and we move towards the new year, then springtime. I did have plans to watch the solstice sunrise but for one reason or another (Covid) I was unable to be outside. So, as the new year begins to unfold, I’ll be making an extra special effort to enjoy many a sunrise – be that near my home in south London, or further afield on more adventures in Vinnie. I’m excited to see what the new year has in store for me.

No doubt there will be much laughter, love and enjoyment of this beautiful journey we call ‘life’. Let also the new year be a celebration of doing things differently and carving my own path.

The last glimpse of daylight before night time arrived.

‘IF’ – The poem in the slate

This state stone has the word ‘IF’ carved into it, it’s located at the top of Honister Pass. For those that don’t know, ‘IF’ is a famous poem by Rudyard Kipling. The slate captures the first two sections only, so I’ve captured the full poem below.

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master,
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)

‘IF’ – Rudyard Kipling

Cornish Creations – Me, myself and I

Cornish Creations – Me, myself and I

For years I’ve wanted to go away on a multi-day solo adventure but for some reason I’ve never plucked up the courage. I don’t know why as I’ve travelled around the world to hundreds of amazing destinations with friends and joined several group cycling holidays to many a mountain range, yet a proper ‘solo, on my own’ trip has eluded me.

Why? I don’t know as I’m very happy in my own company. In the back of my mind perhaps I’ve always wondered what if I get bored or lonely, and “Will people think I’m strange?” so that’s stopped me from putting any ideas into action. However, in September 2020 (the crazy year when it all went a bit bonkers), I brought a VW campervan who I’ve named ‘Vinnie’. 12 months ago, I made a promise to myself that by the close of September 2021 I’d have gone on a solo multi-day trip with me, myself and I in Vinnie.

Initially I had planned to drive down to the South of France for my friend Adeline’s 40th birthday celebrations, followed by a few days in the Southern Alps enjoying the mountain air before I drove back to home. But all the travel restrictions put me off, so my van adventure across France will have to happen sometime in 2022. Having been gifted a rather fabulous book authored by Martin Dorey titled ‘TAKE THE SLOW ROAD’ which talks about inspirational journeys round France by Camper Van and Motorhome, the world is my shrimp (as my mother would say).

For now, the Cornish coast was calling! And I discovered a place called Mylor Harbour… not only was it stunning, the campsite was wonderful and the village had one of the most incredible seafood restaurants right on the harbour where I met a friend for a drink and watched the sunset. It was here I decided to treat myself so some local seafood delights and I wasn’t disappointed.

On a pedal adventure – taken just outside Mevagissey

Sculpture and art beckon

The inspiration for me taking a trip to Cornwall stems from 25 years ago when I was at Uni in Nottingham studying Textile Design. In my third and final year I discovered and felt rather spell bound by the work of Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore, so much so my drawing and painting were driven by their genius.

For those that don’t know, the Barbara Hepworth Museum is located in St. Ives, way down the peninsula in Cornwall where the mining industry thrived many moons ago. Upon the arrival of Hepworth in St. Ives the town really began to transform into an artist mecca. Over the years she was heavily involved in championing the creative industries which attracted huge talent to the area. Now in St. Ives there’s a thriving community of artists, potters, painters, jewellers and other creatives who get their inspiration from nature – just as Hepworth herself did.

Barbara Hepworth Museum, St. Ives, Cornwall

Traditionally when I think of a museum a big, grand, and cavernous building is conjured up in my head, however the museum in Cornwall was quite the opposite. On arrival I discovered a small building, a tiny house in fact, with a fantastic studio space and perfectly formed garden where many of her sculptures are now homed. It felt quite special to be in the space where she spent many years creating some of her most well-known, world-famous sculptures. In the garden the pieces are preserved loving by a team of specialists who honour the material the pieces are created from, with the aim of maintaining them for art lovers to enjoy and admire for decades to come.

Nature is the inspiration

I’ve always been inspired by nature. The contours of the land, edges of lakes, curves of pebbles on the beach, the sculptural nature of flowers and petals, rugged spikes in the mountains, and the vast majesty of the Stawamus Chief which is located along highway 101 British Columbia, Canada between Vancouver and Whistler Village, at 700m in height it overlooks the nearby waters of Howe Sound. A little fact – second to Ayres Rock, the Stawamus Chief is second biggest monolith in the world.

In the garden of the museum there are many sculptures and what I love about them most is how they change in the light. The day I was there it was a feast between grey skies, showers and a sneaky peak of sunshine. But when the sun comes out it creates some wonderful contrasting light and the sculptures kind of frame each other as you walk around them and see them from a different perspective.

Barbara Hepworth Musem, St. Ives, Cornwall

When I first discovered Hepworth some 20 years ago, I didn’t appreciate just how big an impact she had made on me, and so many people before me. She really was quite a formidable woman – leading the charge, striking forward and carving new ground, no pun intended, yet years on her sculptures are still utterly mesmerising. Her creations are timeless, sensuous, and beautifully modern.

Discovering Cornish Ports – Making it up as I go along

Whilst down in Cornwall I look the opportunity to explore some coastal paths on foot which was stunning, but ended up covering more ground by bike. One thing I remember from my childhood from visiting St. Agnes, Perranporth, and many other beaches is how pretty the coast is and how typically Cornish the coves and tiny ports are. After a long night of rain, I’d decided to check into an AirBnB in Portscatho where a met a lovely couple and their family. And once again I fell in love with the Cornish coastline. When bathed in sunshine it shines even brighter. Whilst keeping the sea on my right I made up a route as I went along… turning left, turning right, going down wonky narrow lanes to be greeted by curvaceous cove after cove, beautiful village after beautiful village, the rugged landscape just rolled on and on.

Cycling down into Mevagissey

My ride took me from Portscatho across the Roseland Heritage coast to Portloe, Portholland, Penare, Gorran Haven, Portmellon, Mevigissey (where I had the most amazing piece of cod for lunch and chatted to some lovely ladies on their holiday), through Tregiskey, Pentewan and up to St. Austell before I meandered through some more 17% and 1:5 hills en route back to Portscatho. Next time I’m down there I’ll have to make up some more routes and see where I end up.

The cycle ride I discovered when heading out of Mylor was pretty stunning too and it was definitely a novel thing to do to have to catch a ferry from Flushing to Falmouth only 3km in. I do like the sense of surprise when doing something unplanned and new, and also chatting to the people I meet en route, always lots of interesting characters with often funny and entertaining stories to share.

One of the many ports… Portloe I think!

New adventures on the horizon

My next opportunity to embrace a solo adventure is in mid-November. As much as I’d love some winter sun, I’m also feeling myself drawn to staying nearer to home – perhaps the Lake District or the Brecon Beacons… time will tell but the ideas are flowing. Wherever I choose to go I know mountains will be a feature, and hopefully some blue skies and sunshine.

Portscatho Beach just before sunset

The Pennine Rally – ‘Riding the rough with the smooth’

The Pennine Rally – ‘Riding the rough with the smooth’

‘Rough with the smooth’ means you have to accept the bad or unpleasant things in a situation as well as the good things.

Who knew that June would be such an epic adventure into the unknown: With a love for nature, mountains and the great outdoors… when I was asked by Alison Dex to take a last-minute place in the inaugural Pennine Rally organised by Rapha – a self-supported adventurous pedal that goes mostly off-road from Edinburgh to Manchester, 15th to 19th June 2021 – I naturally said “yes” then promptly thought about the logistics of making it happen! But happen it did…

Our adventure begins

Generally speaking, I’m more creative than a numbers or stats person, but when it comes to long distance cycling the numbers stack up. For all the stats lovers out there, this will give you an idea of what The Pennine Rally equates to when it comes to digits, from the start in the Gamma Transport Division café in Edinburgh, to the finish at the Rapha store in Manchester.

For me personally The Pennine Rally translates to:

• 523.84 kms ridden
• 9,566 metres climbed
• 39 hours, 17 minutes time in the saddle
• 41 hours, 41 minutes including commuting and registration rides
• View the full route from Edinburgh to Manchester on Ride with GPS here

An introduction to hike a bike

I was intrigued by the coincidence and repetition of the number 4141 so googled their meaning:
• Number 1 – Helps you discover yourself. It represents personal growth., personal strength, success, goals and ambitions. It also represents new opportunities, a fresh start, a new phase, and a positive attitude.

• Number 4 – Carries the vibrations that symbolise spirituality and balance in life. It helps you understand and appreciate the importance of inner peace. It emphasises that these two concepts, spirituality, and balance, are very significant in your life. Helps you turn goals into reality – through hard work and determination you have an opportunity to make your life better.

• Number 41 – Live a genuine and authentic life.

I was a bit blown away at how these numbers and their meanings resonated with my feelings and thoughts towards the challenge completed. I do strongly believe in balance in life and for me, spending time in nature creates that. Moreover, participating in these rides really does take me outside my comfort zone, they do require a positive attitude and a high degree of resilience – without these attributes I’d not make the finish line.

A sneaky peak inside each day

Me and my pedal partner in crime agreed that photo stops were an essential part of capturing our journey so throughout the ride we took lots of photos – I’ll do my best to share a couple from each day in the hope that they convey some of the experience we shared together.

Day 1: Edinburgh to Selkirk

• 86.33 km and 1,706 metres climbed

Today in five words… excited, smiles, rocks, headwind, laughter.

I’m now beginning to understand the description given on the Rapha website when they said “Only the hardy need apply”…

The rough with the smooth… bike hike into a headwind

In five words the day has been incredible, adventurous, hilly, windy, brutal. The hills are relentless… everyone walking (I’m not the only one) and the headwind is something else.

The scenery is utterly breath-taking… endless rolling green hills that keep on giving, steadily rolling into the distance. The people are super friendly. The vibe set this morning in Edinburgh was one of friendly, informative, helpful and fun. All encouraging each other as we reach the top of the climbs and chatting along the way.

This evening we enjoyed a fish and chip supper – local Eyemouth catch – followed by homemade apple pie and custard. My tummy needed a feed!

@alisondex you are an excellent co pilot.

Still smiling…

Day 2: Selkirk to Bardon Mill

• 136.32 km and 2,449 metres climbed

Today in five words… forest, moss, remote, breath-taking, fun.

In just under 12 hours we’ve ridden from Selkirk to Hadrian’s Wall… it’s been a rather mental day on two wheels! A complete mix of terrain from logging trails, mud paths, cuttings through the trees, forests with millions of pine needles and beds of spongy moss, and lots and lots of hills.

Heading deep into the woods

One tumble for me coming through a 4-inch gully and thankfully a soft landing in the grassy peat where I met a few black squidgy slugs. No damage done.

This evening we stayed at YHA The Sill. A very welcome lasagne with garlic bread followed by sponge pudding and custard… delicious. Clothes washed and having a spin in the tumble dryer.

We’ve burned through so many calories it’s impossible to consume. A few cokes, one coffee, two Snickers, one bar, one gel, two sandwiches… porridge and a full English for breakie… so I’ve had a good go!

Painkillers and a big sleep, in preparation for tomorrow.

Discovering the thick of the forest

Day 3: Bardon Mill to Keld

• 107.72 km with 1,552 metres climbed

Today in five words… beautiful, scenic, pine needles, cuckoo, wild garlic.

It’s been another rather epic day in the saddle… more variety of terrain, country lanes, disused railways tracks, gravel, rocks, headwind, tailwind, hills and a few more hills.

Viaducts and valleys

Being able to see so many remote parts of our wonderful country is something quite special. The expanse of the views, epic viaducts, the sense of space, the smell of wild garlic, everything is so green, the birdsong is so varied too – cuckoo, warblers, I’m turning into a twitcher! Yesterday we enjoyed the smell of pine needles, the forest floor and fresh cut wood – every day is different.

This evening we dined and stay in a lovely place called the Bunkbarn – a very welcome sight it was too! We’ve been warmly welcomed and served a delicious dinner with a glass of red.

Big shout out to my co-pilot @alisondex – we’re still smiling and we’re rocking this!!

Two days to go until we celebrate in Manchester.

Kevin & Pixie rest while we are having our second breakfast

Day 4: Keld to Gisburn

• 109.98 km with 2,302 metres climbed

Today in five words… brutal, epic, fatigue, hills, wept.

Another monster day, lots of 25% climbs, lots of walking, epic views, feeling privileged to see so many beautiful remote spots and hidden gems.

This morning brings some bridge climbing too

Brilliant seeing the @rapha_uk van out on the road… great for coffee, coke, Tunnock cakes, pretzels and chat with other riders – helps to keep the spirits up and to exchange lots of lost and found flip flops en route.

Always fun seeing the Rapha guys in the van

Big thanks to my partner in crime @alisondex and to the wonderful group of ladies riding @helebridg, @carolyngreensmith, @clare.liley, @helen.sharpie who helped get me functioning again after my crumble and face plant on the table on arrival at the pub this evening.

Quote from the waiter at dinner…

“Is she OK? We don’t want any dead people in here.”


Arriving and having a warm welcome at the Foxhill Barn B&B was fabulous, just what we needed, now for sleep.

There was a sneaky flat route under the viaduct… we obviously opted for climbing the steps and whizzing down through a field!

Day 5: Gisburn to Manchester

• 83.49 km with 1,557 metres climbed

Today in five words… cobbles, smiles, hills, memories, happy.

I was slightly hesitant starting our fifth and final day, and also somewhat relieved as my body was feeling a little beaten up. However, once riding it didn’t too long to warm up as the 25% plus hills came thick and fast. To keep myself going I often focus on four pedal revolutions then have a little celebration to myself – then hit repeat. Four is an achievable number that’s totally replicable. Alison adopted my crazy method for keeping our legs going – it really does work!

As we climbed and pushed our bikes up the hills, clambered over rocks and navigated a gazillion gate ways, we slowly reached an old cobbled roman road along the ridge as we approached Manchester. It was magnificent seeing the city get closer and closer. Having completed all of the climbing for the day in the first 50 km, the final 30km rewarded us with the gentle, flat canal path as we meandered into town. A rather fitting end to complete the rally along the canal as it mirrored the start in Edinburgh.

The end has arrived… our epic off-road adventure from Edinburgh to Manchester is complete. The sun has shone, the sky is blue, the cheers on arrival at the Rapha store were just brilliant and to see so many smiling welcoming faces. The beer and arancini were delicious too – followed by rose and pizza to celebrate our pretty special achievement.

A quick bite and a beer were very welcome

@outdoorprovisions – you mapped out a truly fantastic route… twists and turns, full range of every terrain going – cobbles, canal paths, rocky ascents and descents, grass verges, and everything in between.

Thank you!

A few more rocks and gravel to navigate!

A team effort – “Thank you”

A massive thank you to Alice Fowles for letting me have your place. I know you’d much rather have ridden with Alison as planned, but your help in transferring your place to me and your continued support throughout the event was incredible and much needed to keep our morale high – you were with us in spirit for the entire journey and adventure.

Getting to the start line was took some serious plate spinning and help, particularly by my friend and super star mechanic Rohan Dubash – without you pulling out all the stops to service and practically rebuild my bike (a Pearson gravel bike called Rough with the Smooth) there’s no way I’d have made it from start to finish. The hills were punishing, the off-road was utterly mental, and throughout the entire ride I had no punctures or mechanicals!

To my pedal partner in crime Alison Dex, you are a total legend! And together we have achieved something quite extraordinary! Before we started you shared with me some priorities, passed to you by our friend and fellow rider Helen Sharp, they were…

  1. Have fun and remain friends
  2. Get to the finish
  3. Finish within the timeframe set

We scored 100% and with beaming smiles too!

We’re on the Roman cobbled road… exhausted, happy and smiling.

At the moment I’m struggling to find the words that convey what we’ve just achieved – perhaps it’ll sink in over the coming days. One thing I am sure of is how proud I am of you, of me, the Bella Velo riding crew, and everyone else we shared the experience and the adventure with along the way.

Right from the outset, the vibe set by organiser and UK activation manager Louis Van Kleeff, Rapha, for The Pennine Rally was chilled, friendly, collaborative and fun. It’s a tough balance to strike yet he struck it perfectly. Of the 80 rider places available it was fantastic to have parity with 40 places being allocated to women and 40 for men – it’s not often you see this in cycling events so a great example for rides to come, I hope.

There’s a whisper in the air

Usually, when I finish a multiday ride, I say to myself “never again”, yet thoughts and ideas for the new adventures are already beginning to form, particularly something of the off-road self-supported variety. I did have plans to ride the King Alfred Way this summer so perhaps that’ll be next to share with friends who share my love of nature, cycling and the great outdoors.

Let’s see where the next chapter takes me. Who fancies coming along for the ride?

Manchester awaits..

Adventures by bike – Just how far can I go on my your first self-supported journey across France?

Adventures by bike – Just how far can I go on my your first self-supported journey across France?

If a friend of yours suggested a self-supported cycling trip across France what would your initial response be… “Are you nuts?” or “Yes, why not”. To be fair, I didn’t really think too much about why or what I’d said “Yes” to, other than I knew I’d made a choice to experience life expanding travels, so this invitation seemed a logical step (or revolution of my wheels) in the right direction. 

Packaging for 10 days on two wheels 

The word brevity or sparce comes massively into play here. Let’s face it, other than cycling kit what do you really need – my civvies consisted of a pair of shorts, a vest top, a jumper, long yoga pants and not much else. To carry said items for the duration I had two panniers and handlebar bag – and as the trip rolled out my packing skills got better and better, finding space that didn’t appear to exist the day before. 

To give you a little insight into our journey I’ve decided to break the trip down into three sections – Getting There, Across France, and The Journey Home – the main bulk of kilometres covered was ‘Across France’. In essence, the entire trip was one huge adventure, involving lots of navigation, several nights of random camping sourced on the fly, and we also stayed with wonderful family and friends on three very precious nights whilst away. 

Getting there – The journey unfolds

Having left London on Thursday night the last week of July, we eventually arrived in France two days later on Saturday lunchtime, just in time to commence our first proper ride of the trip. However, the journey to St. Malo in France was an adventure in itself as we had to get to Poole via train, then travel from Poole to Jersey via ferry, then another ferry from Jersey to France. Along the way various measures had been put in place to manage health and safety of passengers in regards to Covid-19, including a test on arrival in Jersey, to which I receive a daily SMS health check message that I was invited to respond ‘WELL’ to if well, and ‘COVID’ if myself of anyone in my group has symptoms. I’m happy to report that my response was always ‘WELL’ and may it remain that way. 

Covid-19 test in Jersey

Here’s the lowdown on stats:

  • 760 kms – Door-to-door from the UK, across France (St. Malo to Bergerac) and back to Blighty via plane from Bergerac into London City Airport
  • 5737 metres climbed 
  • 17 rides – 
    • Getting there (x4 rides) – London, Poole and Jersey
    • Across France (x7 rides) – Taking in several regions along the way including Bretagne, Paye de la Loire, and Poitou-Charentes 
    • The journey home (x6 rides) – Taking a series of trains to get us from Angouleme to Perigueux and nearer to Bergerac. We had lovely social engagements to fulfil, BBQs to enjoy and pools to swim in, and some little cycling trips to connect the destinations.

Across France – in a heat wave 

Day 1 – St. Malo to Mexant, 101.53km  

It is a strange but also very liberating feeling to roll off the ferry on your bike and just pedal down the road. We had our route planned for today so it was pretty straight forward navigation on our Garmin. Also, lots of leaves provided dappled sunshine through the trees so not too hot. Having reached our AirBNB we discovered our host was an eccentric cat lady – although ‘host’ is probably a generous overstatement – we got showered and settled for the night. Thankfully we had use of the kitchen facilities so we did make a delicious homemade meal with local ingredients washed down with a bottle of rose. I think staying there alone you’d want to sleep with one eye open!

Day 2 – Mexant to the Coast (Camping du Golfe) – 89.24km

We decided to make a fairly swift exit and thankfully we had some of the porridge oats we’d squirrelled from the UK with us. First stop once riding was a boulangerie – our daily ritual was to purchase a pastry, a baguette, and a filled baguette. This way we didn’t get caught out by the often ‘quirky’ opening times of mini supermarkets, charcuteries and other necessary refreshment shops. To continue our desire to be in fresh air, our destination was a campsite on the mudflats – and what a gem it was… so beautiful, quiet, amazing facilities, no WiFi, and a barn to cook another homecooked meal – plus we enjoyed some local beer. Heaven!

Day 3 – Coast to Crossac – 65.55km

This is a special day as today we see Claire – a super special woman, one of my favourite ladies in the world, and we get to celebrate her eldest boys 21st birthday! After a relatively short ride, it was wonderful to arrive in Crossac and have a cuddle with my godson Erwan who’s just adorable, funny, caring and an absolute gem. Claire is the hostess with the mostest so we enjoyed gin and tonics, nibbles, BBQ beef, salad, and other delights… and that night for me the first proper ‘sleep’ – it was great to wake up feeling refreshed.  Friends for life, Claire and I have the ability to click back seamlessly, laugh endlessly, have a bloody good time being silly and entertaining ourselves with daft antics – effortless and beautiful. 

Refreshing local beer at the end of a hot sunny day

Day 4 – Crossac to Montaigu – 120.73km

Having said our ‘Good-byes’, and for me with a few tears as the last time I spent some time with Claire was just before we went into ‘lockdown’ in Barcelona, so I was a little emotional – the visit was lovely but just too short. Packed and ready we set off down the lanes shortly after 9am with freshly laundered clothes in our bags (very grateful for that). On Claire’s recommendation we amended our route to cross the river on La Bac de Loire, a little ferry between Indre and La Montagne. It saved us traversing the massively high bridge at Nantes, a slightly scary thought as it’s pretty windy up there. Having made swift progress through endless fields of sunflowers, we stopped for a ‘Plat du Jour’… the starter I chose was terrine, the main veal with tagliatelle, followed by chocolate mousse. All I’m going to say is we did well to consume the main at all… I nicknamed it ‘Testicle Tagliatelle’… it turned out to be veal kidneys (I hate kidneys). The main thing is it fuelled us for the afternoon and to find a wonderful campsite where we watched a glorious sunset, dined on tomatoes, tuna, onion and baguette and drank some chilled local beer. I found the sound of the donkey ‘eeeeooooorrring’ at dusk and dawn strangely comforting and rather cute. 

My home for the night

Day 5 – Montaigu to Niort, Magne – 51.90km + 106.52km

Today brings another super ‘hot hot hot’ day… 44 degrees, endless sunflower and corn fields roll out in front of us with very few places to replenish our water bottles. Peach iced tea once again quenched our thirst and provided a shot of sugar quickly into our systems, and thankfully the cemetery water taps where we soaked our hair, soaked our clothes, refilled our bottles and drank a lot on the spot. Sometimes it’s only when you stop near a water source that you realise just how thirsty you are. Not realising the distance we would need to cover in the afternoon, for the second and last time, we stopped for a Plat du Jour in Ferriere. Our meal consisted of melon and palma ham, porc chop and salad, followed by pear tart and coffee – delicious (hooray for no kidneys), and it was much lighter without the pasta!! Again, a fabulous campsite found at dusk, so a super quick shower, eat and sleep.

Lunch stop in the sun

Day 6 – Niort, Magne to Angouleme – 124.86km

Early to rise for what was to be our last long hot day in the saddle. The heat in the afternoon was relentless, frying and baking our skin – no cool breeze to regulate our temperature so by the evening I think I had a bit of heatstroke, my bottom lip was also burnt and blistered which was uncomfortable. Thankfully a charcuterie was open at lunchtime so we purchased some rillette and some goodies for dinner. Rolling fields of sunflowers waved at us all day as we cycled through another region… madness probably in the heat. In the evening at dusk we found a fabulous campsite, managed to sneak in before the reception closed at 8.30pm, but sadly we missed the restaurant so we had warm quiche Lorraine, warm salmon and spinach slice, and delicious fresh fruit. You learn quickly to never throw any food away as you don’t really know where your next meal is coming from, so it pays to be prepared and always have some emergency supplies stashed away.

It was on this day as we neared Angouleme that we decided to get the train for the next leg to Perigueux. A welcome rest to our legs but a slightly anxious time to with Covid-19 and the restrictions with getting a bike on a train in France. I swear guardian angels had watched over us the whole week as the SNCF and tourist information staff were super helpful which made our journey easier. Not being allowed on the initial train we’d booked also allowed us to enjoy a galette before our new train left, and a carafe of rose and ice-cream for lunch in Courtras on a ‘transition stop’. 

Fields and fields of sunflowers

The journey home –trains, planes and bicycles 

Having started to use trains as a mode of transport for me this marked the start of our journey home. We stay with Bill, Denise’s cousin who lives in a picturesque farmhouse on Friday night, then her friends Nicola and Darren on Saturday who live 20 mins from Bergerac – these two days were a welcome slowing of pace for some stolen and much needed relaxing social time. It was also a time to pack our bags away in cardboard boxes to get them on the plane from Bergerac to London City. It was quite entertaining if a little stressful having to re-pack my bike at the airport, but the BA crew were fantastically helpful and kind.

Flying from Bergerac, France to London City Airport, UK

The plane had maximum 30 people on so plenty of space to socially distance. In line with health and safety rules, the plane was spotlessly clean, everyone was wearing masks, and the flight was fluid and quick. On arrival in London it was time to put our bikes back together and pedal home – it seemed only fitting to stop en route at the pub in Putney for a beer to celebrate our adventure and reflect a little on what we’d achieved.

Nights under the stars 

It would be true to say that I’m not someone who would look to camp, so this was the No.1 hurdle for me to overcome. Thankfully I have some fairly adventurous friends (I seem to have a few) and fellow cyclist Sally lent me her two-man tent. Although how you’d fit two normal sized people in it is beyond me, but for the time I was away, and for a subsequent ‘Bivvy Weekend’ in the UK organised by Jasmijn Muller, it was a home and safe sanctuary as I tried to sleep through some super-hot nights. 

A few ‘Thank you’ to make… 

Friends and some fellow cycling nuts 

  • Denise – If it wasn’t for your determination to find a route across the channel and your sense of adventure this trip would not have happened 
  • Claire – I’ve known you for over 40 years and you’re my rock, always wonderful memories made and fabulous to celebrate Oliver’s 21st birthday 
  • Bill – For your amazing hospitality, amazing food, engaging storytelling, home cooked food and a safe place to camp for the night 
  • Nicola and Darren – For the warm welcoming, great conversation, delicious BBQ, relaxing and rejuvenating pool, and safe haven for the night 
  • Sally – If we’d not got together at yours for a BBQ the weekend before I’d have missed out on borrowing your portable home 
  • Jasmijn Muller – I may (coughs – definitely have) put on a few Covid kilos, but thanks to your training I’m fitter and stronger than I was this time last year
  • Rohan – AKA Dr D, my friend and mechanic who looks after all my bikes, keeps them safe and make them ‘sparkly a new’ every time he works on them
  • Clubs Bella Velo and Kingston Wheelers for having me and for enabling so many great adventures and friendships.
Our final destination – time for a swim in the pool!

Adventure Kit and Active Travel brands 

  • Apidura – Jonathan was a superstar for getting my new products to me in time for departure (9L Expedition Handlebar Pack, 9L Expedition Saddle Pack, 1.2L Backcountry Food Pouch and 1L Backcountry Top Tube Pack) – I feel this was the first of many bike packing adventures, many more to come. 
  • LifeVenture – Endless kit here including sleeping bag silk liner, 22L waterproof lightweight rucksack (packs down really small) which was perfect for food shops at the end of a day, and my washbag (used on multiple trips and adventures).
  • Eagle Creek – Packing cubes… I’ve had these for over 25 years and they’re still going strong. For camping they double up well as a pillow. 
  • Ortlieb – I’ve had my panniers for over 6 years as I purchased them for commuting into London (wearing a backpack was uncomfortable and irritated my skin).
  • Wolrus – My home under the stars, a one-woman (two man) tent for life expanding travels in Covid times.
  • Genesis –  AKA “Brownie’ my steel steed for carrying me and all my kit safely on the road (and some off road as it happens thanks to Komoot)
  • Garmin 830 Edge – For navigating and orientating us in 44+ degree heat whilst in France, and for helping us locate ferry ports and other transport hubs along the way.

Life is one big adventure – let’s inspire each other 

As we travel quite literally through our years, I’m discovering more and more the importance to make every day count. Whatever is thrown down in front on me, it’s important for me to assume that people are inherently good and when asked, will be helpful, kind and inspire me to go further. On that subject, I recently received a message on Strava from Dave Compston, a friend who in July this year Everested the Col de Boyer in France, securing his place in the hall of fame. As coincidence would have it, I supported my boss and friend Roger Barr as he Everested Box Hill 73 times – the same summer (2014) I was with Dave in France training for the Raid Pyrenean. The message from Dave read:

“I thought of you Emma whilst doing the everesting, when you were here you wanted to do lots of climbing every day to reach your goal of 2,000 metres a day for 6 days.”

Dave Compson

You said…

“I’m happy to ride up and down the same hill to reach my target.”

Emma Potter

I thought how driven you were (mad), look what you’ve done. 

On that note – I’m going to sign off by saying as ordinary people, we’re all capable of doing extraordinary things. Let’s keep inspiring each other to step outside our comfort zones, try something new and have an adventure. 

SNCF – Bridging the gap

Digital Detox – Embrace nature, be present, breathe in the fresh air and tune in.

Digital Detox – Embrace nature, be present, breathe in the fresh air and tune in.

Six bikes… Five days… four nights… three great friends… two flights… one boat – and much laughter, amazing adventures enjoyed, and many fantastic memories made. 

In the last few years there’s been a host of press about the ‘digital detox’ – meaning a period of time during which a person refrains from using electrical devices such as smartphones, regarded as an opportunity to reduce stress or focus on social interaction in the physical world’. Spanning ‘Digital Minimalism’ books that advocate a 30-day plan to take your life back, the introduction of voice recognition and virtual assistants that have been reported to discretely push technology into the background of our lives, to some tech platforms and their bosses acknowledging the potential negative impact of tech on mental well-being – to the point that some have built in features to track over use – I’d say it’s a good time to experiment with what taking a digital detox means for you.  

So, in a world that’s ‘always on’, there’s never been a better time to switch off your WiFi, switch to ‘airplane mode’, or simply to switch your phone and other digital devices ‘off’ completely, and be present with where you are, the environment you are in, the people you are with, and to bathe in nature. For me, this meant meeting up with some cycling friends and exploring the Channel Islands.

Guernsey 2019

Going native in the Channel Islands

I’ve travelled fairly extensively over the past 27 years or so, but nothing prepared me for the stunning beauty of the Channel Islands. Not only it is extremely accessible and easy to get to from the UK, a 50-minute flight from Gatwick to be precise, once you get there everything is on your doorstep. From WWII history of Nazi capture, and tunnels and battlements to protect the coastline, to great places to eat locally caught crabs, moules and other seafood, stunning coastal paths to roam, white sandy beaches to walk on, azure seas to swim in – the islander community has a lot to offer people of all ages. 

For me it was real solitude peace and quiet; proper dark nights where you see the stars glow and shine; rosy red sunsets that light up the sky and go on for ever; and the opportunity to spend some quality time with some great friends as they showed me around their native Island of Guernsey and surrounds. 

In five days and four nights we truly packed in some epic adventures, giggle fuelled fun and relaxing down time from work – this included climbing down the 200 plus steps to swim in St. Martin’s Bay in Guernsey before dining on scallops for dinner; mountain biking around Alderney, stopping to explore Fort Clonque and several other battlements, the light house and other sights en route before sleeping on the boat moored to a buoy in Braye harbour (that was slightly wobbly); mountain biking around Sark having scooted the bikes to shore on the dingy; cycling on our road bikes in France having moored the boat in Guilette to pedal around Lower Normandy and through a gorgeous town called Bricquebec; then boating back to Guernsey via Herm, a tiny yet beautiful island that we walked around whilst eating ice-cream and admiring the sandy, shell covered beaches. Whilst on the open water, with the waves and swell swirling up around, you truly get a feel for how tiny we are in the world, it sets a new perspective. 

Creating communities through cycling and sport 

At its core, cycling, a keen interest in adventures by bike (and now boat), and a love of nature, it what formed the foundation of my friendship with Jo and Dan. In the past few years we’ve been on four cycling trips together – we’ve pedalled through the French Alps from Gevena to Nice on the Raid Alpine, ridden the Classic Cols of Gran Canaria, cycled up and down Mont Ventoux a couple of times and around the Verdon Gorge in Provence, and enjoyed the 6 ways in 6 days Tenerife Teide Challenge – all with Marmot Tours. This summer we thought we would mix it up a little, introducing boats, walking and swimming with mountain and road bikes. 

Delight in a digital detox and tune in with nature 

Our world, and our lives – personal, work and social – are increasingly busy and demanding.  In that world, we are constantly ‘on-demand’ by bosses, colleagues, partners, children, family, and often times, if we are not ‘on-demand’ ourselves, we want someone else, or something else (think Netflix, on-demand T.V.) to be ‘on-demand’ for us.  There is rarely a time when our phones and other digital devices are out of reach, as they buzz with notifications to grab our attention. 

Sometimes I feel guilty for wanting to take a ‘digital detox’ to ‘tune in’ – notice I’m saying ‘tune-in not tune-out’ – to what’s really going on around me.  To be present with the environment I’m in and the people I am with, so I enjoy every moment, remaining curious and consciously engrossed in captivating conversation. For me tuning in and being in nature is restorative, it enlightens my spirit and is a must have in my life, as is spending quality time with family and friends – they are all fuel for a happier, healthier, motivated mindset. 

When was the last time you gave yourself the opportunity to tune in and delight in a digital detox? 

Intrepid Cycling Adventures – Journey to Ventoux and the Verdon Gorge

Intrepid Cycling Adventures – Journey to Ventoux and the Verdon Gorge

The mountains are calling… there’s a little voice inside my head that’s constantly talking – where to next? Which country has the most compelling draw, is it the panoramic scenery, the rolling hills or simply just the joyful feeling of exploring?

This autumn I had the pleasure of going on a fantastic intrepid cycling adventure. I always like to find a new destination to explore and this time the lure of the Verdon Gorge and Ventoux were too much to resist. So after a few weeks of research, checking the expected weather forecast and speaking to friends, I booked my fourth trip with Marmot Tours, accompanied by a couple of cheeky reprobates aptly named Jet Pack Jo and Dan the Man.

You may be surprised to know that the premise for this trip was to have a holiday, which is where I should probably define, that what a ‘holiday’ means is only cycling four to five hours a day, opposed to seven or eight! And doing 1,500 – 2,000 metres of climbing a day, opposed to a minimum of 3,000 for six days on the trot. 

My flights booked, bike bag packed and trolly dolly in tow… my journey to Provence and the Verdon Gorge was on track. 

Back in the saddle 

Our midday arrival on Sunday 30th Sept allowed for a gentle spin. So with my allen keys at the ready and bike re-assembled – myself, Jo, Dan and some others in our group headed out for a short little leg warmer, followed by a coupe of beers and chat in the late afternoon sunshine. I have to say, this was a great way to ease into our holiday. Here’s how the next six days unfolded…

Heading for the hills…

Day 1 – Saint Maximin la Saint Baume to Moustiers Saint Marie

(98km with 1,494 metres of ascent) – view on Strava

A gentle, beautiful day as we roll through a host of villages – Esparron, Varages, La Verdiere, Montmeyan, Quinson – in the Verdon National Park. Nestled comfortably by the lake side, we stop for lunch – a few of us enjoyed a lovely plat du jour (which comprised a fabulously fresh salad with charcuterie, pan-fried trout with garlic potatoes, followed by a sensationally sweet slice of pecan tart), the perfect set-up for a leisurely afternoon. The rose was good too!

Day 2 – Ride into the Verdon Gorge

(108km with 2,464 metres of ascent) – view on Strava

Verdon Gorge

Today we passed sheer drops and experienced vast vistas as we meander through the Verdon Gorge. We also felt the full force of the Mistral as it rolled and rushed over ridges, for 10km or more as we cycled through the lavender fields – it was actually quite hard to stay upright. More delicious food, local beer and rose are on tap in the evening to replenish stocks for the days that lay ahead. 

Day 3 – Moustiers Saint Marie to Sisteron 

(102km 1,074 metres of ascent) – view on Strava

I absolutely loved today – a few minor undulations and swift descents in amazing scenery. A rambling ride that concluded with a swift peloton swinging around the bends into Sisteron – thank you Jet Pack Jo and Dan the Man for the generous tow. Arriving in the early afternoon permitted a walk around The Citadel of Sisteron to learn some local history and understand more about geology of the land. 

Sisteron – views across the valley

Day 4 – Sisteron to Malaucene and the vineyards of Gigondas 

(120km with 1,468 metres of ascent) – view on Strava

On departing Sisteron I took a slightly alternative route (not intentional), thankfully a fellow rider navigated us back on track. All week the scenery has been epic, yet today it was turned up a notch. Climbing to the top of the Col de la Pigiere (968m) and Col de Macuegue (1068m), then descending through the Gorge de la Nesque was quite stunning; the views are truly something else. Epically expansive evolving hills spill into the distance and revealed glimmers of what was to come… 

I gave a massive thank you the German couple that saved me by refilling my bottles with sparkling water – my saviours in the blazing sunshine. 

Day 5 – Ventoux Double 

(84km with 3,093 metres of ascent) – view on Strava

Malaucene to Bedouin to Malaucene. To be fair I wasn’t intending on making a double ascent of Mont Ventoux (1911m), it must have been the sunshine and euphoria of making it to the top once that made me think, well I’m here, so let’s try the other side. A small matter of three hours later I make it to the summit for the second and final time. 

Tommy Simpson Memorial – it was a hot day

Several others were going for the Cingles Challenge – meaning all three ascents – from Malaucene, Sault and Bedouin. That challenge is something way out of my league but it was brilliant cheering them on as they flew past me at Chalet Reynard. It’s a must to stop at the Tom Simpson memorial.

Day 6 – Malaucene Loop Parc Regional des Baronnies Provencales (95km with 1,420 metres of ascent) – view on Strava

Refuelling once I’d found the group again (I managed to do this ride in reverses – don’t ask)

Today is our last day in the saddle. To be fair my butt is asking for a day off, as are my legs, arms and back – but my heart and head say ‘you know you want to get out there’. And although I did manage to do the entire route in reverse (don’t ask), taking in the Col d’Aulan (845m) and the Cote de Bluye (578m), I did manage to meet my fellow pedal friends for a mouth-watering lunch. 

Other cyclists that day included the Haute Route riders – I don’t think I’ll ever be mad enough to take that on – there were some extremely weary faces passing in the opposite direction. 

All day the summit of Ventoux loomed in the background. It never ceases to amaze me the distance and quite frankly, the incredible terrain we cover when on two wheels. For me, there’s no better way to explore.

I”m a big fan of a panoramic shot

Until next time… a fond farewell!

Without doubt, it is the encouragement; kind words, humour and patience of our guides Gavin and Merve from Marmot Tours that made our trip go smoothly on all counts. As usual, whenever you need them they appear – like magic – out of the heat haze or mist with bananas, banter, jelly sweets, M&Ms, cake, crisps, and most of all a beaming smile. 

I wonder where I’ll explore next?

Jo, Dan, me and the crew
And I made it to the top – TWICE!

Orange Box – Big Ride to Work 2017

Orange Box – Big Ride to Work 2017

In three short weeks I’ll be joining a group of wonderful people from Orange Box when we cycle from Huddersfield to London – the purpose being to raise money for two very important charities, PWSA UK – Prader-Willi Syndrome and Velindre Cancer Centre.

  • Day 1: 100 miles, Huddersfield to Melton Mowbray, approx. 2575m climbing
  • Day 2: 95 miles, Melton Mowbray to Stevenage, approx. 1000m climbing 
  • Day 3: 35 miles, Stevenage to London, approx. 500m climbing 

Raising money for two wonderful charities

Two employees from Orange Box, Andy Hiscocks and Dave Carter, have selected these charities as they have personally helped to support their families. You can read more about their stories below.

DONATE HERE: Please give generously – our target is £5,000.00

Nancy’s story (words from Andy Hiscocks, Nancy’s dad)

Our three-year old daughter, Nancy, has Prader-Willi Syndrome (‘PWS’). It’s a rare genetic condition, caused by a chromosome disorder that is estimated to affect 1 in 22,000 children. 

As a baby Nancy was very weak and required a constant flow of oxygen for a few months and a feeding tube for several months more. The condition affects Nancy’s muscle tone so she is not yet able to walk very far unaided, although she’s getting there slowly with physio and hydrotherapy. PWS also affects the part of the brain that controls appetite so as children get older their appetite will become insatiable. 

This coupled with her poor muscle tone and a decreased calorific requirement means that children with PWS need to have their diet strictly monitored to prevent potentially life threatening obesity. 

People with PWS have central nervous system and endocrine gland dysfunction causing varying degrees of learning difficulty, short stature and impacting upon emotional and social development. 

The Prader-Willi Syndrome Association (‘PWSA’) has been a huge support to us as a family; not only in providing us with a wealth of information and support about the condition, but by organising regional family days out to allow us to meet other affected families. We feel very lucky to have the support of this charity and are so grateful to anyone that makes a donation – a huge ‘thank you’!

Tom’s story (words from Dave Carter, Tom’s dad)

From an early age Tom’s been sport mad and with a special love for cricket (he’s been a demon batsman from the age of 8!). He went from being captain of his school team, to playing at county level for Gwent and then at just 17 years old found himself playing for Newport 1st team. 

Soon after though, Tom was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma of his left tibia and was referred to Velindre Cancer Care Hospital and started his first chemotherapy at the teenage cancer trust unit in Cardiff. 

After two courses of chemo he had to have his left leg amputated above the knee. 18 months later, the cancer had spread & he underwent a further operation to remove his right lung. Despite all this, Tom kept playing cricket & even went on to captain the Wales disabled team. 

More recently, Tom started complaining of headaches and double vision and a CT scan showed a tumour on the brain, which has meant yet more chemo and radiotherapy back at Velindre. 

All through his treatments the care Tom’s received there has been outstanding and the support for our family has been amazing too. You can’t really explain how much this means to you until you’re in this position and we’re so grateful for any donations to help them support many more families like ours.

Through Virgin Money Giving, you can sponsor us and donations will be quickly processed and passed to our two charities. Virgin Money Giving is a not for profit organisation and will claim gift aid on a charity’s behalf where the donor is eligible for this. We really appreciate all your support and thank you for any donation, no matter how big or small.

New friends – creating memories through sport

This will be the second time I’ve ridden with the Orange Box team. The first was cycling from London to Wales a few years back, when myself and a few other Kingston Wheelerslead riders from the Orange Box office in Northampton Road in East London, out into the Surrey Hills, where the route continued down to their head office in Cardiff, Wales. 

It’s a privilege to be invited to join the team again, to help map out the final leg into London and generally enjoy time with riders on the road. He’s to three fun filled days of adventure, camaraderie and friendship.

  • 4000+ metres of climbing 
  • 200+ hilly miles
  • 32 riders
  • 5 support staff 
  • Three days 

DONATE HERE: Please give generously – our target is £5,000.00

A big ‘Thank you’ in advance for your support.

Follow our journey on Twitter – @EmmaPotter73 #BRTW2017

My love of the two-wheeled machine – the power of cycling to inspire

My love of the two-wheeled machine – the power of cycling to inspire

I was recently asked why I love cycling so much… For me the answer is simple, and several words quickly sprung to mind, amongst them friendship, laughter, adventure, community, comradeship, and travel, to name a few… What’s not to like about some, if not all of those aspects of the sport? When combined together, in my book, they make a truly compelling mix.

Ten years ago I used to be ribbed by work colleagues for cycling so much (I think they thought it was a bit square and not so trendy to wear Lycra, especially by choice). In recent years the tables have turned – many of those very people have adopted the sport and now regularly ask my advice on what to wear, they request information on recommended routes to ride, and trips to plan, both at home and abroad. 

Locally in London the Ride100 has done wonders to drive interest in cycling. In addition Froome, Wiggo and their Tour de France success has also been a key driver to raise awareness of the sport. Essentially cycling is accessible to all, irrespective of your age or your fitness level, and that’s one of the many reasons I love it so much. 

For me cycling has become a major part of my life. And this is why…

  • Friendship 

I’ve met some amazing people and made some wonderful friends through cycling. They span multiple decades and cycle rides have been known to feature friends in there 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. We share great times together both on and off the bike – beer, food and fun are a regular feature!

  • Laughter 

We laugh a lot and then a bit more – you know the kind of laugher that makes your belly ache and your eyes leak – that’s my buddies and me. We take the mick out of each other, play pranks on each other, celebrate birthdays together, and generally have a bloody good time.

  • Adventure 

Sometimes it’s just fun to go with the flow. Last summer a friend posted on Facebook – “Anyone fancy riding from London to the Isle of Wight and back?” – and I thought, sure, why not! What was meant to be a 300km ride turned into 373km and 14.5 hours of riding; I left home at 5.30am on Sunday and got home at 1.15am on Monday. Basking in the sunshine, relaxing on the ferry crossing, and consuming lots of food – a memorable, great day was had by all.

  • Community 

I’m a member of the Kingston Wheelers Cycling Club – a fantastic club based in South West London. From fast, short TT’s and LONG Audax routes, to Summer BBQ’s and Sunday Club rides – there’s something for everyone. We’re a pretty social bunch. 

  • Comradeship 

We’ve all had bad days when we’re suffering on a bike. Where we’ve not eaten enough food, not had enough water to rehydrate, our lungs aren’t working or simply our legs have had it; that’s when you really want and need your friends around you to keep you going. No one ever gets left on the road.

  • Travel 

I’ve experienced many countries and cultures. From the high and midi Atlas mountains in Morocco where there’s truly breathtaking scenery; the classic cols of Mallorca, Corsica and Sardinia that again offer stunning views and an amazing array of seafood to refuel; to Raids in the AlpsPyrenees, and Dolomites, where there’s climbs and descents for all abilities, there’s hundreds of amazing places to visit. I wonder where I’ll go next?

A sport for all to enjoy… any time of the year 

There’s something invigorating and refreshing about feeling the fresh air, wind and sometimes rain on your face. So whether the sun is shining and there are blue skies above, or whether there are grey stormy clouds and the sun is no where to be seen – I always feel compelled to get out on my bike. It won’t surprise you to hear I have a two-wheeled machine for every occasion.

Be part of something special 

Whatever your reasons – health benefits, weight management, socials, adventure, and travel – get in the cycling mix. You’ll be amazed what you discover about yourself, your resilience, and what your body can do when you put your mind to it.