I cycled almost 2500 miles through 14 European countries and regions during the autumn of 2010. My aim has been to raise awareness of prostate cancer and to raise funds for the Prostate Cancer Charity. I cycled with Andrew Butcher for the first 2 weeks from Corfu (Greece) to Slovenia, and then continued back to Wales on my own, arriving some 5 weeks later. Oh, and I passed the grand old age of 60 on the way!
All you wonderful people out there sponsored me by donating over £ 8000 to the Prostate Cancer Charity. Thank you!
Click on the photos to enlarge them...
7 km / 4 miles, 4 hours, with Andrew
I cycled to Manchester and met Andrew at the airport. We flew to Corfu and took the ferry to Sarandë in southern Albania - and that's where the real adventure began.
505 km / 316 miles, 5½ days, with Andrew
Wonderful cycletouring - fabulous mountain scenery, little modern 'development' and some rather exciting roads. I'd love to return one day to explore more of this beautiful and fascinating country.
Life is hard for most rural people and the older ones regret losing the securities and certainties of their recent communist past even though they were so poor; young people mostly prefer the supposed opportunities of today's free market. Everyone we met was friendly and helpful and we experienced several acts of kindness and generosity. Most roadside bars serve filling meals prepared with local produce, but the favourable exchange-rate made it rather too easy for us to order more than we could comfortably eat at one sitting!
112 km / 70 miles, 1 day, with Andrew
We left Albania to skirt the east coast of the lovely Lake Ohrid. We enjoyed a suprisingly comfortable night in a room above a petrol filling station but also had to endure another one at a run-down campsite with the most disguting ablution facilities imaginable.
155 km / 96 miles, 1½ days, with Andrew
After looping inland for a week, we returned to the Mediterranean coast. This part must have been lovely before the cheap, wall-to-wall holiday facilities were built - but places to pitch our tents were few and far between.
113 km / 71 miles, 3½ days, with Andrew
The southern Croatian coast is beautiful and development has been controlled, but the busy coast road is an unpleasant experience for cyclists. So after visiting the ancient (and very expensive) city of Dubrovnic, we turned down a peninsula towards Korčula and followed quieter tracks next to the sea. These were wonderful and the tough cycling was rewarded by some fabulous scenery and some really picturesque Mediterranean villages; we also feasted on wild figs, pomegranates and grapes that we picked along the way. We finally took a ferry up the remaining coast instead of battling with heavy traffic on the nasty road.
340 km / 213 miles, 4 days, with Andrew
It rained torrentially for two days in Slovenia and we endured one of the wettest nights under canvas that I can remember. We crossed a mountain on endless forest tracks that bore little resemblance to those on our map, and we reached Ljubljana on one of the few roads that weren't closed to traffic due to the flooding. Cold, wet and exhausted, they were a couple of days when we were glad of each other's company - and then it was time for Andrew to fly home and I was on my own.
But the next day's cycling wasn't so bad after all as the sun came out and I enjoyed the mountainous scenery of northern Slovenia in perfect conditions. And I stayed with Kate and Dom that night and had my first hot bath since leaving the UK - what bliss that was!
While we were in Ljubljana, I found the bridge where my parents first met in 1948. They'd never been back so I took lots of photos to show my Mum when I got home. And Andrew and I celebrated my impending birthday with a wonderful meal of local food, beer and schnaps - thank you Frank!
348 km / 218 miles, 3 days, solo
A long day across a flat and rather uninteresting part of northern Italy brought me to Venice, which I explored on foot. Then, after a short train ride out of the city, I was on cycle paths. These continued, on and off, most of the way to France - miles and miles without having to worry about motor traffic - brilliant!
174 km / 109 miles, 2 days, solo
This Italian-administered, German-language region felt prosperous. The apple orchards seemed to go on for ever, their apples were bigger than any I'd ever seen before, and the sheer cliffs of the Dolomite mountains next to the cycle path were really impressive. But I developed a bad cold here and, every day for the next week, it became a real effort to push onwards. I stuggled to get over the Reschen Pass into Austria, pushing my bike much of the way up fearful gradients into a strong, cold headwind - psychologically, this was the low point of the whole trip.
13 km / 8 miles, 1 hour, solo
Only a few kilometres in, but Austria felt different. It was beautiful. I must return one day!
385 km / 241 miles, 8½ days, solo
Still feeling unwell, I pushed on to Luzerne, where Di was waiting for me, and took a break for a few days. We stayed with friends (who spoiled us rotten), picnicked on a mountain, visited a tropical greenhouse and generally had a good time. I rested a lot and felt much better when the time came to pedal northwards again.
Switzerland is a country where everything works like clockwork and people don't usually step out-of-line. Even the footpaths are signposted to show you exactly where you must go. It's great, but I wonder whether a rebel like me would last very long if I had to live under such a system. (I got told off in Basel for cycling on an empty pavement where the road was blocked!)
155 km / 97 miles, 1½ days, solo
Straight up the Rhine as far as Strasbourg. There was an easy cycle path all the way, except for one section where the signs seemed to have been designed to make sure you got lost and ended up in Germany's equivalent of Alton Towers - well I did, anyway!
835 km / 522 miles, 8 days, solo
I followed canals all the way to the English Channel, sometimes on their towpaths and sometimes on nearby minor roads, based on the knowledge that by doing so I'd avoid any serious hills (French maps don't usually show contours). But disaster struck on the first day when my rear gear-lever disintegrated. I struggled on to Sarrebourg with just 2 gears and seriously considered whether I could complete my ride at all. But salvation came in the form of Guillaume (standing next to me below) who kindly gave up his morning to find an engineer who could turn me a replacement part - merçi Guillaume, mille fois!
Northern France is where much of the appalling trench warfare took place nearly 100 years ago and I learned a lot about the First World War as I cycled through this area. But I could feel the monotony of the flat landscape taking its toll as I eventually rode into Calais and jumped on the next ferry back to the UK.
819 km / 512 miles, 10½ days, solo (start and finish of trip)
Arriving off the ferry in Dover is a cyclist's nightmare and it seemed all the more so after all the special cycling facilities I'd become used to on the Continent. Whyever can't we try to be a little bit more civilised? I cycled as far as Brighton and across the Isle of Wight - otherwise I caught trains rather than battle with heavy traffic along the ugly south coast. However the ride from Dorset to Bristol was much more pleasant, the trees looking especially beautiful in their autumn colours.
I stayed with my mother in Wareham and she took me out to celebrate my 60th birthday, the day before, in style. Thank you Mum!
Crossing the Severn Bridge into Wales always lifts my spirit and I became more and more excited the nearer I got to home. The Brecon and Monmouth Canal follows a stunningly beautiful route and its towpath is a joy to cycle along - it's very different to the French canals I'd been following a week before. The last day was a tough one as I not only had to cross the Cambrain hills but had to do so in torrential rain. But I made it!
© Di + Chris Bell