Well of course I’m serious about my music but there are moments of weakness when the sommelier in me reaches for the cheap bottle of plonk and enjoys it. William Michael Morgan’s September 2016 debut release on Warner Bros, Nashville label is such a thirst quencher.
Not that the album is anything short of excellent but there is no ground breaking here and whilst the best studio talent that Nashville has has been corralled around this young man then you’d have to be suspicious that if another beautiful voice had been lined up with this set up then they would have also rattled toward of top of the Billboard charts.
So the Nashville hit machine has chucked out William Michael Morgan, a 23 year old native of Vicksburg, Mississippi who found his way north to Nashville in his teens to learn his trade. I came across his most successful hit single, “I Met A Girl”, on a round up of the 2016’s best Country singles and was immediately drawn to the rich baritone voice and the picture he paints of this girl.
With this poised and beautiful voice, so classic Country, he works with the cream of Nashville’s songwriters (he only gets one joint writing credit on the 11 tracks) and musicians to produce Vinyl. Lots of me shouldn’t like this album…. the Stetson hat, the trendy topical reference to vinyl LP’s and a song about beer. However, Warner Bros have completely nailed this launch with great songs, poignant lyrics, a faultless band and William’s voice and personality.
So what’s on heavy rotation? I love the single “I Met A Girl” along with the follow up of Missing. However, classic Country compositions about loving and losing are available in Loserville and, as Country music can often do, then topics closer to home are aired and in the gentle “I Know Who He Is” where he sings about a father with dementia and his touching love.
If you like Chris Young, George Strait, or dare I say it, Jim Reeves then queue the needle: this is one for you.
Everything hasn’t been complete plain sailing over the last few weeks as I carelessly collected my second deep vein thrombosis at the end of January. The earlier one was seven years ago. As illnesses go then it was a needle fest with daily blood checks and booster blood thinning injections for a few weeks. For a man who had spent his whole life avoiding hypodermic syringes then this was a condition to make up for lost time in a month.
Second time around then the treatment is less demanding, mainly popping pills. However, there has been the requirement for a CT scan, which required the insertion of a cannula. As we all know then none of this hurts but to describe my anticipation of the event, as anything less than stressful would be wrong. I actually came out of the scan shaking like a leaf. Feeble I know but we’re all made differently.
Possibly and strangely then I always feel that I should not be using the NHS. I walk in there knowing that it is a precious resource and maybe it should be prioritised for those who couldn’t afford health insurance. It lives in a world of bad news stories about a lack on money, patients on trolleys in corridors, political strife and unhappy staff, which is probably not completely or nearly true. My experience of York District Hospital is nothing other than good.
Other trips into York were a lot more pleasurable and the present Mrs Ives took me to the theatre to see ‘Sunny Afternoon’. This musical has been on tour from the West End. It is the story of The Kinks. They take the story up until the early 1970’s when their catalogue of classic pop songs was at the top of the charts. Great stuff. Even more salutary was the power of the ‘grey pound’. On a damp Wednesday evening on a cold February night to get a full house at £36 a seat is no little achievement. The audience, my wife excluded as she reminds me, was of a certain vintage and they have the time and money for nights out.
As my Twitter description (@AHIves) advises then I have a large record collection – about 3,000 albums. I list this, naturally, on a spreadsheet (I am male and this is what we do). I wanted the spreadsheet to do something quite sophisticated with various ranking charts. So I asked my Favourite Youngest to put her immense talent to find a solution and I sent her the file. She played around with it and sort of found a fix. In her work she input some data to trial the fix. If you look at the picture then she’ll see what she thinks about my record collection!
Lastly when Anna gave up her grocery/delicatessen in Knaresborough – ‘Mungo Deli. Then it was probably time to move on but she so did enjoy the people interaction and misses the folk she became a friend to. I asked her about a small toy on her counter that wound up and would then somersault to entertain the small children who visited the shop with their mum. Unfortunately this was surrendered amongst the other assets. However a replacement toy has been sourced and now resides in Acaster Malbis. Ahhhh…..
I have become disillusioned with Trip Advisor over a number of things. Things To Do are biased and slanted toward promoted activities also I’m not sure that the accommodation is particularly complete as a selection in any town. So you end up, in any case, searching Google to truly understand what you can. I want small digestible chunks of information that either interest me or I can quickly discard.
So I thought why not do this with York? I’ve started to do this. I started a new Facebook Page called ‘York in 30 Seconds’ where I give a snapshot of what I’m talking about. With York there is a lot to cover and I shall tick off attractions when I go to a part of York where there is something to talk about.
Talking about ‘something’ to talk about then Anna is a devotee of rhubarb. (Eating not talking). So we ended up on tour just south of Wakefield at a rhubarb farm on Saturday – Oldroyd & Sons. This farm is one of eleven in the UK and is in the magic rhubarb triangle (I’m not making this up).
I was interested to learn about the various species, Sainsbury’s specific requirements, it’s arrival as a vital ingredient in Molten Brown cosmetics, blood thinning and cholesterol reduction properties, it’s WW2 history, its discovery on the banks of the River Volga in Russia and their reliance on Eastern European labour to pick the stuff. Sadly stopping hair loss hasn’t yet been attributed to this divine fruit but you feel that it is only a matter of time.
All this was explained by the most down to earth Yorkshire folk who just say the way it is. In the dark shed we received an apology for the low temperature – this was due to some previous visitors fainting when it was kept at its usual 24°C. Oldroyd’s couldn’t have that happen again because it “meant lots of form filling and it damaged the rhubarb when they fell on it”.
I shall have to slow down as a Speeding Fine has been received from the laughingly called ‘West Yorkshire Casualty Reduction Partnership’. These thieves (Police) have put in a speeding camera in a village just south of Wetherby, called Walton. For about half a mile you go through this sparsely populated settlement at, hopefully, 30 mph. I lost concentration and in the dark, at about 10pm, with no pedestrians or cars about; I soared to 36 mph. Booked.
At its worst that is 3 points, a £100 fine and an increase in insurance premium on the four cars we drive so, say, another £200 p.a? There’s a chance I will be allowed to attend a ‘Speed Awareness Course’ and at least avoid the points and the need to declare this crime (against humanity) to the insurance company. I wonder why so many people don’t respect law and order?
Lastly, like Star Trek, then with the present Mrs Ives I ventured to ‘where no man has been before’, namely east of Hull. We went to the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust reserve on Spurn Point. This is the long sand spit/bar that extends well into the Humber estuary. We were transported up the spit on a truck flat bed, in safari style, and got to see the wildlife, RNLI Station, WW1 & 2 emplacements, lighthouse and a lot of shipping heading for Immingham and Hull! Tremendous, put it in your diaries.
I think there is a generation that heard Joni Mitchell for the first time and from that point onwards she became a friend for life and not least a commentator on your own foibles and inner feelings. I know. I was that soldier.
I first found Joni on frosty car rides between Heaton Moor and Manchester Polytechnic, in the winter of 1974, as I steered the Triumph Herald to the city centre. Neil Smith, my fellow lodger at the digs, had a cassette of this classic.
Joni Mitchell: flower child, poet, observer, singer songwriter (yet a jazz musician) and great sultry beauty had been a commercial success before this album but her arrival was with ‘Blue’, still the favourite of many. I love nearly all her albums but this is the one that I’m grabbing out of the burning house.
The compositions were suited to acoustic, rock band and jazzy piano. They never failed to be illuminated by her swooping vocals with its wide range which touched subjects such as her poor choice in men, heartbreak at being rejected, loneliness, seeking independence, troubled children and always people watching.
By this time, in her career, she could call on a superstar selection of musicians to help her – Larry Carlton, Joe Sample, Robbie Robertson, David Crosby, Graham Nash and Tom Scott’s L A Express. With this band plus sophisticated compositions, interesting arrangements, occasional odd jazz syncopations, mellifluous singing and beautiful melodies then this is a classic contemporary recording.
Written and issued as she entered her 30’s: then by this time the Canadian native had become a resident on the West Coast and along the way had had a child, which she’d given away for adoption, one failed marriage and many relationships. She had a lot to say.
When Rolling Stone deliberated and published its Top 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time then this clocked in at #113. More importantly it makes my Top 25. In fact Jodi is one of the few artists who was able to produce a catalogue of magic over 30 years. Few artists have such longevity other than those recycling the Blues or Rock.
All tracks are engrossing but ‘Down To You’ will be my Desert Island Disc pick but I’ll play ‘People’s Parties’ and ‘Help Me’ a couple of time to make sure I’m sure before I hand in the list.
As I cycled along in the middle of nowhere on my American cycling trips then I always knew that somehow there would be enough to write a daily blog about. This journal/blog is no different. Imagine my delight at the arrival of ‘Comedy Gold’ from my Favourite Eldest. Pornography.
One of the perks of her working for NBC in t’Smoke, who own Universal Pictures, is the occasional invite to a London premiere screening. So collecting her from York railway station to bring her home involved a review of the soft porno follow up called ‘Fifty Shades Darker’. To think I would be debating such a topic with my daughter is not even fathomable.
Also as regards the Silver Screen then we succumbed to a Netfix subscription, yes I know I am the last person in the world to get this arranged. The lure of being able to see the remaining episodes of ‘The Crown’ proved too large a temptation. I’ve been buying DvD boxsets on Ebay to feed my habit. The free month and eventually monthly subscription rate seems good value.
Less expensive are podcasts. I got my weekly fix of BBC Radio’s ‘Desert Island Discs’ with their guest this week guest being the brand that is David Beckham.
For those not familiar with the format then you get to hear the eight records that they would take to a desert island whilst Kirsty Young, the interviewer, picks though a handy recent autobiography.
Our David always struck me as a handsome footballer who played as long as he could and then had the frightening problem of being beyond wealthy but having little idea of how to spend his next 50 years without a football at his feet.
Quelle surprise, he has devoted a lot of his life to promoting good causes as well as underwear, after shave, watches etc. Recent media reports suggested that David, Goodwill Ambassador for Unicef, was furious that he didn’t receive the obligatory Knighthood. Frankly judging by some of the plonkers who have got this gong then he was right to be perplexed but nevertheless ‘two wrongs don’t make a right’ and his frustration just highlights how obsolete and broken the British Honours system is.
However, I digress. Had I been asked how he might select his eight records then I imagine a PR executive on a fat retainer would be giving him advice. Given the target market and profile he has then I would never have selected Ella Fitzgerald or a jazz clarinetist born in New Orleans at the end of the 19th Century – Sidney Bechet. What a record collection that executive must have.
Lastly I reached the end of the Bruce Springsteen autobiography – ‘Born to Run’. In terms of ‘running’ then completing the 510 pages might be viewed as more like a marathon than a sprint. In his early days his wordy albums painted colourful pictures of young urban working class America often laced with epic rock tunes. His book falls into the wordy category; never afraid to use 40 words when five might do. If self-analysis is a feature of his songs’ young heroes then I genuinely feel that this book could be seen as a cathartic project for him. He’s obviously driven and tells a story of rags to riches but he pulls no punches in discussing his fractured personal relationships and his underlying mental health issues. Maybe with the world conquered it felt like time to put it all out there warts and all. He does and his honesty, if not his brevity, deserves credit.
If you’re tempted to read the book then there is a recent Desert Island Disc episode with him and you may learn as much, but in a fraction of the time.
1975 – I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of it
World domination by the Manchester four piece is on schedule with their second album from early in 2016. After having come together at the beginning of the century then it wasn’t until 2013 that they released their eponymous debut.
Attractive to mainstream pop radio then the singles have flowed and extensive touring in the UK and the USA has brought them to a wider audience. Their second album spawned a new logo/look and a pretentious title. However for all that then the album is exceptional and Matt Healy, the songwriter, voice and frontman, has variety in his repertoire and spans a number of styles. His lyrics can often be banal but there are some compositions that are reflective of the world he inhabits (Nana).
With songs ranging between straight pop chart pop (Change Of Heart, She’s American & This Must Be My Dream), instrumental electronica (I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of it & Please Be Naked), rock (Lost My Head), 1970’s white soul à la David Bowie’s ‘Fame’ (Love Me), 1980’s synthesiser anthems (Paris & The Sound) and acoustic guitar singer songwriter ballads (She Lays Down). It is an album that you will find something to explore for a long time to come.
It takes considerable talent to produce a convincing selection of different sounds. Not least are the production achievements on the album with some simple arrangements but often weaving multi layered vocals, synths, dance grooves (think Chromeo or Jungle), electric guitars and even a trumpet solo (If I Believe You) something that I worry that many of their current fans might not be able to identify! At the helm again was Healy but also the ubiquitous Mike Crossey who has worked with Wolf Alice, Artic Monkeys, Foals, Keane and Jake Bugg – only a few million downloads between this lot!
The album always engages and provides a platform to move into the heavyweight division of rock artists with a fat catalogue of excellent work behind them. Matt revealed in his Rolling Stone interview that he is a mixed up boy with a lot on his mind but let’s hope that the creative juices keep flowing.
In early October I went into Leeds for a morning interview. I parked up with time to spare and found myself in a very empty Jumbo Records. One of the original record stores that seems to now have an assured future given the new found popularity in vinyl. They were playing some jazz – hard bop. I like a lot of modern jazz but some of it is too sophisticated for me and I seldom feel much of it is something you can listen to unless you’re completely in the mood.
As I entered Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers were climbing into the title track ‘Moanin’. The piano was tinkling the signature. Behind was a tight band playing a melody weaving together their various solos. Art Blakey was on drums – the band leader: he had a career of putting together bands of young talent. This was no exception.
Art had an illustrious career in several bands throughout the 1940’s, 50’s & 60’s. Along the way he converted to Islam and managed to fit in four marriages. Busy boy.
In the line up then Benny Golson is on tenor sax but he also writes most of the compositions and keeps his boss happy with ‘The Drum Thunder Suite’ where Art gets to feature, not by way of tedious solos but various flourishes of different styles and syncopations.
Lee Morgan with a clear and mellifluous tone handles the trumpet. He was only 20 years old when this was recorded in 1958. Sadly he never made it past 33 years old as his then common law wife shot him at a jazz club in New York. Due to heavy snowfall, the ambulance was late in getting to the club and he bled to death before he got to hospital – you can see why Hollywood (La La Land) likes 1950’s jazz: it has a story to tell.
Keys are in the capable hands of another youngster, the 22 year old, Bobby Timmons. His style is sparse but he is the man who gets the chorus but that’s when he’s not soaring along with his own solos. It goes without saying that Bobby succumbed to drug and alcohol addiction before he reached his 39th birthday.
This album never gets discordant, maintains a melody and bears endless repetition. It may be a plce to start if you are tempted by this era of jazz.
I spent a few hours with the other York Carers Centre Trustees on Sunday at an ‘away day’ but despite this coming under the category of work I was released from a task that my wife was pleased (and equipped) to complete. That was looking after the three year old son of my nephew and his wife. Despite sharing a lot in common with males of this age group then I was frazzled after only two hours.
On returning him back to his keepers we did ask about the strange names given to a couple of his soft toys. A bear was called Barry and a cow was called Bossy. Apparently Barry was just a name knocking about when the ‘said’ animal was christened. The cow was christened around the same time and when his mother, slightly surprised, asked as to why the cow got this name then Ted looked at her as if she were stupid and calmly explained that as it was a cow then obviously it would be called Bossy cow.
As we are into mysteries then we went to the cinema this week to see ‘La La Land’. Great acting but tuneless, a stitched together plot, a Musical with folk who couldn’t sing and whilst jazz saved the couple hours for me then most people don’t like jazz! No doubt it will sweep the Oscars in between various speeches telling me that global Armageddon is imminent. Emperor’s new clothes?
Eventually the bridge in Tadcaster has re-opened after having been closed for 13 months after storm damage. The TV news crews were there in force as well as a live Facebook feed of the actual completion and access being granted. This was after the Prime Minister was asked to share her joy in Parliament by the local MP. Great to see this little place on the national news.
The weekend saw me in London. The favourite eldest has her own small corner of Haringey with her boyfriend, which enables me to perch for a very reasonable rate for a few nights. This does require the catching of buses to get around. Frankly I always thought that these were for poor people or more commonly for getting from the Terminal to the aeroplane.
Lunch at The Hawksmoor in Covent Garden was with old (obviously) school friends from Ashville College – John Varley and Mark Davies. After a short recovery the next morning saw me in the Barbican with an old chum from my MBA days, Tony Franco, for a cholesterol special breakfast. He arrived by Surly bicycle…. very cool. In the afternoon I took up his recommendation to visit the Tate Britain in Pimlico with Katrina. What a superb free gallery.
To be honest I wanted something relatively flat as a holiday route and cycling to Copenhagen from Europort (Rotterdam) offered that solution. In fact it was 500 miles before I got anywhere near a demanding incline, assuming that you don’t count several bridges over Dutch canals.
A winter of keeping fit after cycling down the USA, had led me to be riding 100 miles a week including tough rides in the Yorkshire Wolds. On one such ride then I could barely keep the bike upright as I ascended a 25% gradient outside Birdsall at which point my left knee complained (not unreasonably) and I picked up an injury which stayed with me from thereon. A summer on the road was still a priority but maybe with a few less hills.
I had intended to cycle up to the top of Jutland and then return to Rotterdam but as you’ll read then one of the joys of being on a bike expedition, with no return ticket and no time constraints, is that things change. This tour took place between July 31st and August 13th.
If you know me (bad luck!!) then you will know that as an experienced tourer. I haven’t dwelt on all this stuff in the blog. I have all the right camping gear, a good bike and enough of a sense of humour and resilience to get me across a long distance. If you have any questions about tents, luggage, maps and the like then drop me an email I am sure I can help you with any insomnia.
Day 1 – York to Hull
From being a young boy then a trip on a ferry was always the absolutely best way to start an adventure/holiday and I left York to catch the Hull to Rotterdam ferry’s evening sailing. It is always a bit spooky to cycle up onto the ferry amongst the queues of cars.
On the way there I cycled through Melbourne – a sleepy farming village and it is strange to think that my father was posted here at a local RAF Airfield repairing Halifax bombers during WW2. When my father told my grandmother that he was to be stationed in Melbourne she thought he’d been despatched to Australia!
The sailing was smooth and a bite to eat and my last pint of English bitter was had.
Day 2 – Europort to Amsterdam (82 miles)
On the ship were other disembarking cyclists, the guy in the ‘Omega’ shirt was cycling to Berlin. Leaving with other cyclists can be excellent because exiting a port with its side roads and warehouses can be confusing and difficult – much better to follow someone who knows the way out. Arriving on a Sunday meant it was extra quiet out and about on the overcast Dutch roads or cycle paths.
In the Netherlands you can get nearly everywhere on a cycle path – in fact you are directed to do so! Frankly this isn’t bliss unless you are steering your ‘sit your up and beg’ into a town centre to do the shopping. If your plan is to ride 70 miles a day then it is infuriating to be often sent on very indirect routes literally ‘around the houses’. There are numerous cycle path junctions controlled by traffic lights where I could have deployed a shaver given the time I seemed to spend waiting and as is always the case then cycle paths are never maintained like roads and you could crash along the asphalt as cracks and holes might abound. That being said it does get many Dutch out and about because of this safe cycling and often amazing infrastructure. However, you don’t see businessmen or many blokes who wouldn’t ride bikes in the UK: it is women, young adults, children, pensioners and avid cyclists in lycra.
So I headed north and got lost! Well I kept heading north but not in a straight line. This was a combination of the wrong setting on my Garmin Satellite Navigation and maps that weren’t detailed enough. I regrouped at a McDonalds and was offered a beer by a lively group boarding a coach in a car park at the restaurant before heading off to presumably drink more beer – I thought this was a good introduction to Holland!
The sun came out though and I started to see the flat countryside when I left the built up areas. The Dutch like their dairy products and the pastures are full of cows and so is their smelly tell tale calling card. I couldn’t imagine living near many of these fields.
In the early evening then my thoughts turned to finding a campsite. I was now back in the large conurbation that is built up around the capital. I had researched possible solutions before travelling but that went out of the window as I got behind schedule. Whilst attempting to get through the outskirts of the city I stopped two other commuting cyclists and got some directions around Amsterdam – as always they had immaculate English. In fact I ended up cycling past the Ajax football stadium and loads of evening crowds milling about before I found a campsite just south of the city. Quite a nice site albeit very busy as it serviced the capital. I like a plain campsite with few facilities other than an opportunity to charge my devices and get a shower. Less neighbours the better! Oh well not this night. It was different and unusual to find kids huddling around the shower block smoking cannabis but hey… welcome to Amsterdam.
Day 3 – Amsterdam to Oldemarkt (77 miles)
With navigation sorted then the next challenge was to get across the Gooimeer – a stretch of water separating south and north. The bridge took some finding on a bicycle but as I looked down on the water I felt that I was on my way.
Holland has major populations in its cities but in between it is quite rural and obviously flat and straddled by cycle paths. For all that there isn’t a lot to see and I just trundled north appreciating the ease of passage but little else. I found camping via Google Maps and my Garmin and in Oldemarkt there appeared to be a couple of options.
Not to my choosing I found a large site with lots of facilities (bad) and children (worse). I cycled around the site before checking in. I did this to see where I’d like to pitch. On Reception they accommodated my desire for peace and quiet and stuck me in a back field.
However, your average Dutchmen and woman likes to camp, quite a characteristic of this nation, and revel until late into the night. There isn’t much sound insulation in a tent (I do carry earplugs but they only help to a point) and the folk all around kept up a steady din until past midnight. Predictably the volume picked up as their consumption of alcohol increased. It was much to my displeasure.
The usual routine on site was to pitch the tent, get a shower, do the laundry (pitch your tent near to a hedge or tree so that you can hang up your washing to dry) and then make something to eat.
As regards communication with Anna or the girls over the couple of weeks then it was by FaceTime on an iPad or iPhone.
If I was lucky enough to get a wi-fi signal at the tent then I could do it in relative warmth, shelter and privacy but otherwise on the trip I might find a spot during the day when they were free where, with earphones in place, we would catch up.
Day 4 – Oldemarkt to Drieborg (74 miles)
So refreshed (not) I trundled north past the cows and occasionally being berated by motorists for venturing off the cycle path and cycling on the road! Holland is held up as the model for the promotion of the bike and it is but the infrastructure is such that the driver is seldom compromised, there is none of this living tolerantly with each other stuff. I came to a junction near a canal and in a sparsely populated area with no traffic; not sure about which way next I came off a cycle path onto a road and was about to pull up to look at the map when a motorist wound down his window and gave me a mouthful about not being on a cycle path. I was a lot less than impressed.
I didn’t know that cannabis was legal outside of Amsterdam and in Veendam I cycled past this coffee shop. Frankly I can agree with the argument that alcohol is a destructive drug and that frankly we’d have been best not inventing it and that cannabis is less destructive but I’m not sure that I’m keen to see is legitimised.
I was in shape to reach the German border and got to Winschoten to find a supermarket to buy something to eat that night and also to get some wi-fi to find a campsite.
I don’t ‘switch on’ my roaming capability on my iPhone when touring. It is there as an emergency solution but due to the cost and the general availability of wi-fi then I can usually get a signal formy smart phone and iPad.
One of the challenges is to work out the suitability of a campsite before getting there. Otherwise it can involve cycling, say, 15 miles, to find it is shut, only for RV’s/camper vans, fully booked or whatever. I was struggling for choice at this point but found a site near a very small town called Drieborg.
So I cycled into the polders (recycled land) and saw no settlements or people and just cereal fields as far as the eye could see. I was not feeling optimistic and time was moving on. Even if I resorted to Plan B of stopping in a hotel then there wouldn’t be anything out here. I went around a bend that had a couple of houses and a tree on it and lo and behold in someone’s garden was a type of shed with a shower and WC in it and you just pitched on their lawn. This worked out fine except as night fell and the dew came then a sea of slugs appeared on the lawn.
Further down the flower bed a young Swedish guy and his German paramour cycled in and pitched their tent. They’d done about 20km during the day and now needed to rest! Also there was a Portuguese girl in her early twenties who was working in London but had come across to Holland for a walking holiday – I secretly suspected that she was doing research on cows. I was bemused at her strolling out here without anything to see and asked if she listened to music? She did but had exhausted her playlist. She seemed delighted to get the advice of hooking up with a few podcasts. Podcasts have accompanied me across Continents and some are so great that I can tell you where I was during the most memorable ones.
Day 5 – Dieborg to Brake (82 miles)
The tent packing was done in the rain and I pushed off in a persistent miserable drizzle. The weather so far had been fine but things were about to get a lot wetter and colder overall. I was at the German border quite quickly and hoped to get the photo of the border sign but ended up with this sign. There is no formal border, it is denoted only by a sign telling you that there are different speed limits. I was surprised at the level of integration. It helps to start explain why the British priority of controlling our borders seems a very foreign idea to Johnny Foreigner. Immediately Germany was busier, more built up areas and a lot less attractive. In fact it started to look not a lot different to the UK, except that we don’t have as many factories making things! Still the road was flat.
Stopping at a bus shelter to probably put on a rain jacket then this bug landed on my leg. The last time I came across this type of insect was in Kansas, I didn’t expect it here!
Cycling through Leer then inevitably there was a cycle path junction (yes, I know I had left the Netherlands but the damn things persisted) and I queued up waiting for the train to pass. So apart from more industrial activity I also started to notice a different mix of ethnicities. I think in this area they were very happy to welcome immigrants as the area looked industrialised and there was a need for labour. This is contrast to the south of Germany where I had driven through in June andwhere the population appeared different in composition.
The ambition for the day was to reach Bremerhaven. To get there I would have to cross the estuary of the Esser. Here I would stay in a hotel and drink copious quantities of German beer whilst feasting on schwein knuckle. The crossing was not possible by bridge but necessitated me to catch a ferry at the top of the estuary on the coast. I know this because the map said so. I mentioned earlier that if things don’t work out at the intended destination then you may have cycled for hours and done many surplus miles. Well…. I have to say that the signs I saw as I cycled up the estuary did suggest trouble ahead (see below). However, it wasn’t until after I stopped at a bus depot where I accosted some mechanics who with immaculate English said the ferry was ‘kaput’. So what do you do at 6.30 pm at night without a campsite or hotel nearby? I held hopes that back down the estuary toward Bremen there may be a ferry or bridge and so I cycled back through the mazy countryside, occasionally glimpsing the estuary but feeling I was getting more lost.
(I have to add that I always carry some food and water on the bike and if disaster struck then I could survive the night in my tent but what about that German beer?)
So as I’m pedalling down a country lane a railway barrier in front of me starts to fall. I’m not happy as I envisioned watching a long train go past for several minutes when I had pressing problems to solve. I noticed a path to the right though and steered up this and found myself on a railway platform. The train pulled in and as it was heading toward Bremen I thought why not push the bike on and get a free ride and so I did! about 10 minutes later I was in Brake and looking for accommodation.
This gasthaus came into view and very shortly after that I had a room. You can see by the other photo then all things really ended well!
Day 6 – Brake to Heide (81 miles)
I was left a large breakfast on a tray outside my room. Other residents had left at about 5 in the morning and I was vaguely aware of some noise outside my room at the time. In time honoured tradition I had my breakfast and used as much of the surplus up to make some sandwiches for the road. Obviously the first step was to find a ferry! I found it back up the road and waited patiently with two German middle aged ladies who were crossing to the other side for a day out with their bicycles.
A conversation ensued, as usual with faultless English, and the usual types of thing were exchanged but it was quite delightful and sincere to be asked “and how is your Queen?”
The other side was quiet and the run up to Bremerhaven was along the river albeit much of the time it was hidden by a large high flood barrier. Along the way there were thatched houses. Bremerhaven was the first step toward cycling up to Cuxhaven. I’d identified that I could get a ferry across the Elbe (which linked Hamburg to the North Sea).
Getting to the ferry terminal was a problem as there were several jetties with ferries going in different directions and I was tight for time as I found quite a large ship that would take me up the Elbe to Brunsbüttel. I found time to absorb more German culture with a couple of sausages, a bun and mustard.
It was quite incongruous in proportions as this large ferry ship docked at a purpose built jetty for this small town that was on the same peninsula as Denmark – Schleswig-Holstein.
So I had in mind to get as far north as possible and Heide looked like quite a large settlement. I do get into some difficult situations when touring but I love them! They are the experience that I am looking for. Character building is the phrase that comes to mind. This was such a hairy event. To explain then, I got to Heide in the early evening. It was a working town, not pretty and not a lot to it. Googling had shown some hotels but I could not find them as I cycled around and I, in effect, started to circle the town losing hope.
By this stage my mind is working overtime about options such as staying in the Railway Station overnight and what time could I hang around in the McDonalds until etc.
I had found an awful looking pub/hotel that I had decided I wasn’t going to stay at. As I am on this fruitless circuit the sky turned black and it rained biblically. So I am now sodden in a darkening town and without accommodation. I had been touring around for an hour and so I relented and cycled to the awful pub/hotel and presented myself at the Reception. A man appeared at the desk to behold a sodden bedraggled cyclist. He had no rooms! I think he just didn’t like the look of me and despatched me out into the storm. My parting shot was ‘well do you know of any other hotels?’ He half thought about it and pointed down the road saying that there were a gasthaus down there. I’d been down there but felt I should try again.
So I entered a residential area and saw a sign. I came to a large house and sure enough it had a sign indicating accommodation. I knocked, rang, knocked, found other doors and no answer! Eventually someone answered and a lady who had worked for British Airways in another life, let me in! She said that she only had a €50 room left. No problem providing that I could escape the rain and dry out. When inside I asked if I might use the tumble dryer!
Day 7 – Heide to Tønder (64 miles)
So when I got outside my accommodation I came to the decision that I should travel alone. I had had a passenger stuck to my bag, since Holland, and so I set off in the rain slug-less.
The route north was into a steady headwind with sun and occasional rain, still on cycle paths. I had not experienced a proper hill since leaving the UK and so any tribulations with the knee never arose throughout the tour.
As I got closer to the Danish border then I started to get the feel that I was entering an area where there were lots of holidaymakers. I cycled through Husum, which was located on the coast and was quite a buzzing place with a funfair and market. I bought a map and made a mental note that I should plan to get some Danish Kroner as soon as I got across the border when the Euro ceased to be legal tender. Germany had been very affordable.
As I crossed the Danish border I came to a town called Tønder and entered the town to find an ATM. This had a beautiful cobbled pedestrian precinct and it was very busy with tourists. I later learned that the town hosted a superb Americana/Country/Folk music festival a little while after I had been there. Certainly an attractive town.
I decided to make camp here. There was a site close to the main road and town centre and it looked tidy and quiet. I had never come across a community block with ovens as well as microwaves etc. before and so that was a first for me. Other small stuff really cheers you up like some dedicated washing lines to hang up drying laundry and the additional joy of finding clothes pegs. This facility was also covered which probably tells you all you need to know about Danish weather.
Just a quick photo of dinner. The sauce is there to be seen but I would add some pasta nicely cooking in the kettle. One of the pleasures of the trip is to accumulate movies or episodes of TV boxsets that I would watch. I upload these onto my iPad. I loved every episode of ‘Mad Men’ and I think I polished off the last of Season 7 in a Danish field!
On other cycle tours then I kept a daily blog. On this trip I didn’t hence this catch up. However I did post a few videos on Facebook – often when I had time to do so on a ferry. I would have posted them here but there a technical constraints.
Day 8 & 9 – Tønder to Esbjerg (59 miles)
A really wet start to the day and the misery of packing up the tent in a steady rain. However, as I cycled out of the town I came across a McDonalds and was able to compare a Danish Egg McMuffin with those I have eaten elsewhere across the globe. Small!
I had in mind to get to Esbjerg and find a hostel. There was one listed and I planned to take a rest day in some shelter. I say that because the weather was now quite cool, rainy or overcast and a stupendous headwind for most of the ride. I should have got a clue when I noticed that wherever I looked there was a wind farm. The Danes are famous for their manufacturing these large whirling beasts and they were evident on this west coast where a gale seemed to blow off the North Sea all the time.
There was little scenery but a steady flow of cars up and down the coast and I was still confined to cycle paths. I had an address for the hostel but as always it took some finding although I eventually did and checked in and got a single room at what was a reasonable rate. I say that because Denmark is very expensive. I have no real complaints about this because I saw it coming and could afford it but when you are used to much lower prices for everyday things then it still surprises you.
The hostel was a mixed blessing in that you had a great room, wonderful kitchen, bike shed, washing machines and proximity to a supermarket. However, on my floor were multi bed dormitories full of children who were in town for a football tournament (Brighton & Hove Albion lost to Sturm Graz in the quarter finals I was told by some weary coaches in tracksuits waiting for their bus to ship the kids back to Blighty the next morning). That night due to poor supervision – you know, blokes in their twenties glued to their smart phones down in the communal areas – their kids ran riot in the dorms at quite a late hour.
However things changed when a weary looking old bloke in baggy shorts and flip flops appeared (looking a lot like me) in the communal area and asked pointedly if they were responsible for the noise upstairs? Things were managed and quietened thereafter. The moral of the story was to ask at check-in where the room was and who might be your neighbours.
On my rest day then a quick glance outside the window confirmed heavy rain and wind – tee hee! I wasn’t riding into it today. In the corridor were some Asian guys in cricket kit. I struck up a conversation with one player and discovered that there was a dormitory full of Pakistani Danes from Copenhagen over here to play a league match. Fascinating and I wished them well although I expect that they never got a ball bowled and were on their way back east by lunchtime.
I ventured out on my bike to look round Esbjerg and not least see the four large white men stationed on the shore.
I got soaked cycling round and retreated to the bike shed to clean up the bike and then back to my dry room. Here I had a Messenger conversation with Jannie, who is occasionally from Copenhagen, and I had met her in Alabama the year before, in weather that couldn’t have been more different. Now in South Africa she sympathised about the weather, told me about her current work with cheetahs and wild dogs and not least tried to explain why the Danes had little circles over certain letters in their alphabet.
I’d originally planned to do a circuit of Jutland and then back to Rotterdam but I was now thinking that getting to Copenhagen was attractive. I’d been there a couple of years ago (in my Morgan) and thought another visit was interesting and then I’d get a flight home. There was only a certain amount of rain and cold I could willingly plough through before my morale collapsed.
Day 10 – Esbjerg to Vedersø Klit (64 miles)
This was a windy ride north up the coast and literally involved nearly all four seasons in one day. It was a beautiful ride out of Esbjerg on the cycle path which avoided the rush hour traffic.
What was clear was that this was a tourist area and lots of Danes and probably as many Germans on view. All squirrelled away in cabins on the coast in between ventures into the blustery sunshine.
Part of the ride took me along a very long strip of land separating a concealed lagoon called Ringkøbing Fjord from the sea. To get along this long sand bar was into the eye of a gale that was hard to cycle into. The route was along a sandy path and I passed a few other cyclists and some young touring cyclist couples – this would test their courtship I concluded.
Along the sandy path up the sand bar was a large hill/dunes that concealed the actual coastline and no doubt protected the housing from the gale force winds. I did however park the bike and ventured over the hill to see the beach and the angry sea. The sand was whipping up off the dunes and stung my legs.
Halfway across was a town called Hvide Sande that was a harbour as well as inlet onto the Fjord. It was a mixture of resort and working harbour with some small tug size ships that probably worked offshore. I stopped here for some lunch and mingled with the holiday makers.
Eventually I came off the sand bar and left behind the tourist enclaves and headed north on a main coastal road. It was hard going and now wet and my mind turned to camping. As seemed to be the pattern then campsites were few and far between and badly sign posted. It was getting on as the bike ride on the sandy and windy paths had been slow going – I had only averaged 9.6 miles per hour for the day. Eventually I came off the main road and found a small village that had an established campsite. The proprietor understood the challenges of pitching a tent on the coast and recommended that I try and do this very close to the wind break provided by a cabin on site. Much to my joy then there was a restaurant on site and so I didn’t have to cook and it wasn’t long before I was snuggled down in my flapping tent calculating that my weight within it should stop it becoming airborne. This would be my last night of camping on the tour.
Day 11 – Vedersø Klit to Aarhus (94 miles)
So after the coastal brutality of heading north then this was a day heading east and I went well – 12.4 miles per hour! The plan was to get to Aarhus and then get a ferry to Zealand the next morning. The middle of Jutland is simply arable farmland. What can I tell you? I was still guided onto a cycle path and much to my surprise the landscape did occasionally offer a bit of an incline. I found an Englishman (expat) behind the counter in a sandwich shop. He ruminated on the fact that the UK had voted to leave the European Union, something I gathered he was unhappy about. He commented that the Scots were also unhappy – he had determined this after a trip to Edinburgh recently. Despite his inner turmoil he did deliver on the Danish preoccupation with elastic bands. It seemed to me that most meals came with one! Maybe the wind necessitates things being secured?
This was to be my longest day in the saddle and I have to say that there is always great satisfaction doing a long ride day. After this speedy ride then Aarhus arrived in the early evening and on the way into the city centre a McDonalds came into view. I am not ashamed to admit I entered the temple for sustenance.
I wasn’t going to camp because the weather was poor and I reckoned a hostel was the solution. There are a chain of hostels across the country and the quality was superb. I investigated the options and tried to book online but it was difficult because when I input my details it only looked for single or dormitory accommodation and there was none! So I cycled to the hostel in the middle of a wooded park to get offered a 4 berth room at a discounted rate. As it was late on then I expect for them it was rent the room or not.
Day 12 – Aarhus to Tisvilde (42 miles)
Given that it was August 10th then I didn’t expect the day to hit the dizzy heights of 11ºC (52ºF)! Clearly I was relieved at the conditions otherwise I might have had to put on sun cream and take off my 3 layers and full finger gloves. So I waited around in Aarhus for the time to go up to the ferry port. What a beautiful city centre – certainly worth a visit on another day. The ferry was large and there were many passengers heading to Zealand in cars. I’d waited in a room close to the ticket office until boarding due to the rain and temperature. Disembarking we were at the west end of Zealand and I was in no hurry to get to the east and Copenhagen today.
All of a sudden the road started to rise and fall and the scenery was made up of smaller farms and quite regular settlements. Beautiful. You may have detected that I had a downer about the weather. Can you imagine my incredulity on climbing a steep hill to discover vineyards! I mentioned this later to a few Danes who, to a person, suggested that it was expensive urine (and a similar colour). Clearly someone thinks it is worth cultivating. Even more surprising about the wine was an optic in a supermarket allowing customers to sample the (imported) wine before buying. I can think of a number of towns in Yorkshire where they might be queuing down the street to sample the wine if it was free!
For the first time I cycled with someone! A lad from Odense, who worked in a bike shop, was cycling toward Denmark to stay with his grand parents and we trundled along together for a short while but he wasn’t a climber and the different speeds meant a parting was a kindness to him. I ended up in Nykøbing and had some lunch.
I was going to head along the northern coast and try and find a hostel about halfway along and the next day roll into Copenhagen at a time that the hostel would accept me. What seemed to be evident was quite a holiday environment with holiday cottages and marinas packed with yachts. I had to stop for a little while in Rørvig to wait for a ferry. This was to be my last – seven in total for the tour. Look at those skies.
From here I cycled to a type of holiday park which also let out its small apartments and took a type of chalet. This was in Tisvilde. After the sequence of shower and laundry I climbed onto the bike later and cycled into the town for a pizza that I ate at the takeaway which had a couple of tables. I was amongst some money in this town and after falling into a conversation with a father and son, who like me were working their way through a Margherita, I discovered that the coast is within commuting distance to Copenhagen and many have a place up here. Nice work if you can get it. As I climbed back on the bike the heaven’s opened and I got back to the chalet drenched.
Day 13 – Tisvilde to Almager (Copenhagen) (53 miles)
An Amnesty was granted, on my last day of cycling, by The Rain Gods and I had a lovely ride to the capital. I kept broadly to the coast and poodled down country lanes and past some lovely and hidden away housing. As you start to stop going east and, in effect head south to Copenhagen then you start to get a feel of prosperity.
I will never be a credible advocate for cycle paths but this was my favourite one! For those in pursuit of a quality/car grade surface with a wide lane then head just south of Hornbæk (damn I never asked her how you pronounced this). So the idyllic ride continued into Copenhagen past even more expensive yachts and then into the ‘cafe society’ of North Copenhagen. By now on the cycle paths.
there was quite a lot of bicycle traffic and I am being overtaken by ‘yummy mummies’ in heels – you’ve got to love the spirit (also taking this photo at 12 mph with an iPhone is quite an achievement as holding onto my handlebars and avoiding other road users was a priority at the same time!) Getting through Copenhagen was nearly joyous as the infrastructure included an amazing flyover bridge (near the railway station?) to get across the various rivers that separated the centre of the town from the south. I would have taken a picture but there was no place to stop on this ramp. I got to the south of the city and found the hostel. This night I was sharing accommodation in a dormitory that ended up only having one other man in it.
Day 14 & 15 – Copenhagen
This is the hostel – I have taken a photo of the interior as well. It was fabulous along with its secure bike shed. I have managed to behave as regards complaining about the cost of everything in Denmark but much of it was outrageous but I think these two nights in a hostel only cost about €70 which was remarkable.
So you chilled out on the day before your flight out?
I in fact resolved the last challenge that all cycle tourers face and that is to get a bike box to pack your bike into. I’d emailed a bike shop before getting to Copenhagen and they were happy to let me have a box for free. This was kind but then you have to get the damn thing back from the town centre to the hostel – this means looking quite odd lugging this thing through the streets and then onto the metro. Back at the hostel you have to try and dismantle the bike sufficiently to make it fit in!
However, before the return trip I wandered around Copenhagen and was drawn to the record shops and spent quite a while perusing old vinyl and making investments. The selection was fabulous. I had been in Copenhagen in 2011 and done the sights (on a bicycle tour) and had no inclination to do that again but knew it to be a friendly and attractive place. I must admit that I still haven’t done the Tivoli Gardens and no doubt I will need to tick this off eventually.
Just keeping back sufficient Kroner I arranged a taxi for early the next day and made it to the airport in good time for my Easyjet flight back to Manchester. (I didn’t book this flight until Esbjerg).
At Manchester Airport I had to re-assemble the bike. This meant disposing of the box! I tried to abandon it in the Arrival area and was told I would create a security alert and needed to put it outside of the building!
So after doing as I was told I wheeled the bike to the nearby railway station and embarked onto a through train to York. Got off there and rode it home.
So my final thoughts?
Door to door I rode 836 miles. It was very flat! I know how attractive that is to many tourers but being flat does take away a lot of character from the countryside and also encourages agriculture! So predictably there are many many arable fields to ride past (or evil pastures with cows) on often straight roads; that isn’t interesting. I had the interesting destination of Copenhagen which is a bonus and I always like a coast line, however it wasn’t until Zealand that I saw much of it.
The places were very civilised and there wouldn’t have been a problem that couldn’t have been quickly solved. The ferries were always a treat and a well timed break often on a long day. Germany surprised me and seemed different to other parts of the country that I had visited. Denmark is different in the way that the Scandinavian countries are – the economy and attitude to social welfare is different and ordinarily the country is very tidy and smart but there is a price, literally.
Had I sailed along in glorious sunshine on still days then I wouldn’t have been in these countries (!) but the weather was poor for the time of year and I would caution anyone to note this. I always plan for the worse and had the correct clothing but whilst I expected rain I was shocked at the temperature. (I was told in September the weather was sensational).
If you, say only had 5 days to do a short European tour then a trip around Zealand would be perfect.
Lastly I talk about my tours and have presentations that last up to about an hour (listed on the website). I ask for a few pounds for the charity that I am a trustee of. If this grabs you then I can be contacted on 07970 455616, firstname.lastname@example.org or on here. I would travel further afield than Yorkshire, in the UK, but you may need to help me with some petrol money.