Commemorating the kindertransport day 6: Harwich to London

There’s footage and there are photos of the kinder stepping off the ships at Harwich and onto free British soil for the first time. I imagine the children would have felt a mixture of excitement and trepidation, not speaking English and not knowing where they would be going next. They were fostered by family all over the countries, siblings were often separated, some reported positive experience with the families that cared for them, others were not so happy.

I expect many of them were psychologically affected by the trauma of what they had seen and left behind, and this will have made them a challenge to look after. It must have been difficult for the families who took the kinder in to ensure that they felt safe and comfortable. Some of the children and teenagers were evacuated or relocated several times during the war adding to their sense of instability. Meanwhile representatives of the CBF (Central British Fund for German Jewry, now World Jewish Relief) kept in touch with all the kinder, reporting on their well-being and making recommendations for the improvement of their care.

Those feelings of trepidation were not present for me as I disembarked the ferry, only relief having eventually found my way after getting lost on the wrong staircase.

Before setting off we attended a small reception with the mayor of Harwich and one or two other local dignitaries. The town cryer shouted a welcome and good luck message, the mayor expressed the town’s pride at having been part of the kindertransport story, while Paul Alexander, one of our riders, spoke of how emotional and meaningful it was for him to be here again after 80 years.

After photos (for which the mayor asked to borrow my overtly pro-Europe cap) we set off for London, encouraged by a local trumpeter playing a fanfare / trad jazz mash-up. I have asked the leader of our Sunday morning cycling group to institute a similar arrangement.

It was now approximately 7.30am and our plan was to be at Liverpool Street Station by 4pm for a welcome reception. That gave us plenty of time to ride the 90 miles or so but there were tricky logistical considerations today as well as several miles of slow urban roads so we needed to get a move on.

Following yesterday’s “bonk day” for me and several others, mojos had returned and we flew along, which was a shame in one sense because I didn’t take the opportunity to truly appreciate the Essex countryside which provided, without question, the prettiest scenery of the entire journey. Narrow, high-hedged country lanes, woods, beautiful views and hills featured heavily. That’s right, it wasn’t flat, and other than one time saving stretch on a rather busy “A” road, we meandered our way from point to point between hedgerows to the outskirts of London, rather than ride in straight lines across windy, unprotected plains.

Orange Tree Hill, Romford.

On the other hand this was England, and so a hitherto hardly-used word entered our vocabulary of calls: “hole!” This, of course, accompanied by a hand dropped to the side in order to point out the unfilled death-trap crater in the road.

Also, in contrast to yesterday’s battle against the hurricane that was trying to blow us back to Berlin, this was the perfect sunny and warm day on which to finish our ride. It all felt very good.

The last gathering point was just by Aldgate station from where we were sent off in small groups for the final half a kilometre or so to the finish line at the station. For this part of the journey 92 year old kind, Harry Bibring, joined his son Michael and grandson Lee, both of whom had ridden from Germany, another three-generations crossing the finish line along with the Alexander family.

Harry, Michael and Lee Bibring

We were cheered in by friends, family, and several other kinder while curious commuters passed by our cordoned-off area at the third of the Frank Meisler bronze sculptures that had punctuated our journey. We remembered those who had perished in the holocaust, we celebrated those who survived thanks to the extraordinary initiative that our ride commemorated, and we thought of refugees around the world today in similar situations to European Jews of the 1930, who live so precariously between life and death.

Not every child of the kindertransport took the route we made. Trains went from various parts of Europe and indeed not all came to the UK by train at all. Some, like Sir Erich Reich, who, along with others spoke movingly at the ceremony, travelled by boat from Poland.

That gave me my idea for next year’s challenge: Gdynia to Harwich by canoe. Who’s in?

Thanks for reading these blog entries over the past few days. If you’d like to make a donation to World Jewish Relief for the humanitarian work it does here’s a link: https://www.worldjewishrelief.org/nickberlintolondon

And here’s the route graphic for the last stage: https://www.relive.cc/view/g21876562470

Epilogue

Like many cyclists, when I’m in a new place I think about the cycling possibilities, and having ridden point to point for charity in the past, Berlin to London sprung to mind when I visited for the first time in 2016.

I sat on the idea for a while to let it percolate, and in the subsequent weeks realised that the 80th anniversary of the the first kindertransport from Berlin to London was upcoming. Now the idea really appears to have legs, or wheels.

Nonetheless, I really only thought it would be a bunch of my cycling friends and maybe a few others quietly riding though Europe while raising a few quid for charity. My idea was very simple: we would set off on a Sunday morning and reach London by the following Friday afternoon, having followed the route of the railway as closely as was practical.

I took the idea to World Jewish Relief, the charity originally behind the kindertransport programme, and they liked it. I introduced them to the cycle tour guide company, Saddle Skedaddle, with whom I had previously travelled several times, and left it to the two organisations to work out the rest of it.

I had no idea that the idea would be so inspiring, bringing kinder and their descendants from far away to participate, gaining so much media attention, and attracting 42 riders who between them raised over £150,000 for the work WJR does today to help refugees and impoverished people around the world.

More important, perhaps, what began as a simple fundraiser became a way to education thousands of people about the kindertransport story and to remind people that we are currently living in worrying times with a European refugee crisis asking us the same questions as in 1938. Do we offer people safety and freedom, or do we abandon them to an unknown, but probably terrible, fate?

We finished the ride on the day when the American government was being severely criticised for separating children as young as babies from their parents and detaining them in caged areas. Dehumanising people in this way – treating them as if they are unworthy of the dignity that any person is entitled – is how genocides begin.  I’m not saying this is the path that America is on, but I am asking us, as is WJR through rides like ours, to be vigilant.

Never again.

I’m immensely proud of my part in this project but I’m not a completer-finisher and rely on other people to make things happen. Huge thanks are due to all the professionals from Saddle Skedaddle and WJR who made the Berlin to London ride a reality, to everyone who supported us before, during and after the ride by social media and at Friedrichstrasse Station, Harwich and at Liverpool Street Station, to our generous sponsors, and especially to the cyclists with whom it was an absolute pleasure and a privilege to ride.

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Commemorating the kindertransport: stage 5 – Arnhem to Hoek van Holland.

It’s the end of possibly the worst day of cycling I’ve ever endured. Around 140km into either a full-on headwind or a full-on crosswind, on a route that was mostly urban cycle paths. This is entirely my fault. We had a ferry to catch and the stipulation that the ride needed to start on a Sunday and end on a Friday afternoon meant that there was very little flexibility over logistics for our excellent tour guides from Saddle Skedaddle.

A rare section of today’s route that was actually worth photographing

There’s usually a day like today on these trips. A day when people just don’t want to get on their bikes in the morning. When the saddle sores are starting to really hurt as opposed to just hurt, and when you feel you have absolutely nothing left to give because all you have is tiredness in every part of the body.

But this is all sounding very negative and no matter how uninteresting the ride has been for large parts, the incredible stories I have heard from people, and their reasons for signing up to the ride, have blown me away.

Stories like that of Ian, who knew from childhood that almost all of his father’s family perished in the Holocaust but hadn’t been told that he was Jewish and only made this connection later in life. When, in 2016 Ian started to make further enquiries about Robert, his now long deceased father, he discovered amongst his belongings a school set-square with the address of an orphanage in Hamburg and a Star of David scratched into it.

Looking to learn more Ian contacted World Jewish Relief who furnished him with the full story of Robert and his brother, Brian, including pictures and several years of reports about the boys’ progress and health. Robert was on the very first kindertransport that arrived in the UK on December 2nd, 1938. He was 13 and his brother was 12.

And because of this Ian, along with Robert’s grandson, Tim, are riding with us this week to commemorate the 10,000 children who survived thanks to the kindertransport.

Accounts like that put headwinds into perspective, I’d say.

With Paul Alexander at Hoek van Holland, who was last here nearly 80 years ago as a 19 month old baby.

Commemorating the kindertransport: stage 4 – Osnabruck to Arnhem

I woke up this morning feeling as if someone stole into my room during the night and bashed my legs, just above the knees, with a rubber mallet. Shortly after I concluded that the intruder had also bashed my calf-muscles with the same mallet. Ahead of us was the ride’s “Queen” stage, so-named by me for two reasons: 1) because it was the longest stage of the ride at around 190km, and 2) because we would be crossing the border from Germany into the Netherlands where they have their very own queen.

Since yesterday ended with hills it was inevitable that the only way out of Osnabruck would require some climbing. Fortunately it was out of the way early on leaving us with the rather unappetising prospect of about 100 miles of the same flatness that we had been forced to endure for the first stages of the ride.

It was flat. So very, very flat, but it was more interesting and pretty than it had been. There was more livestock to be seen for one thing.

Picture of animals for clickbait purposes.

Much of today was on excellent cycle paths, miles and miles of them, in tree lined boulevards. We also got right up close to this on one of them.

You must be getting sick of pictures of these things, but this is a good one, right?

Four kilometres after lunch we crossed the border into the Netherlands. It was a poignant moment. It is said that when the trains crossed left Germany behind the windows could be opened and the children would look out and spit back at it.

I doubt Annette Morland for whom I am cycling would have been amongst them. At just five years old I don’t suppose she was aware of the border crossing or what it meant. I suspect she was beyond distressed at having been separated from her parents.

The border is open these days, but for how long? The desire of many people to restrict free movement across Europe is growing. Refugees, such as those children we are remembering, are less and less tolerated. Hatred based on religion is on the rise again. I wondered if those borders might be re-instated some time.

Crossing the border into the Netherlands.

Having stopped for the obligatory photo we rode on, fifty or so miles to go. It was a beautiful, hot day and there is a new law I made up today which is that one must eat an ice-cream in such conditions while on a big bike ride. So we did.

Important to keep your helmet on while eating an ice-cream.

The last few kilometres of a very long ride always seem further than you think. For some reason the town of Arnhem was about twice the size of London today, on top of a steep hill, and our hotel was on the other side of it. Moreover, the entrance road to the hotel building wound its way through dense countryside. I could see the building from miles away but must have covered about three before I reached the door.

Crossing the Arnhem by bike, car and train.

Arriving late meant a quick shower, a plate of food so vast that an elephant would not have been able to finish it, and the reward for the day – a proper deep massage. I think I now know who it was that came into my room to beat me about the legs last night because he was at it again this evening, and I paid him to do it.

Here’s the graphic of today’s ride: https://www.relive.cc/view/g21807954875

Commemorating the kindertransport: stage 3 – Hannover to Osnabruck

After yesterday’s long and tedious haul through the arable interests of Lower Saxony’s numerous farmers, today was, in my head, going to be light relief with only 146 km to cover instead of 176. I was wrong because today we had hills. Yes that’s right. All bunched up they were, like the bellows of a concertina, all through the afternoon. They weren’t steep or long, but they sapped my energy like a colony of leeches.

Our hotel was just east of Hannover and as we were heading west we were obliged to pick our way through traffic lights for the best part of an hour during which were covered hardly any distance whatsoever.

Hannover looks to be a pretty decent place at least in comparison with anything else we have passed through since leaving Berlin. It has some proper old municipal buildings and a fair smattering of public art as well as a lake, the Manschee, which is impressive even if it was man-made under a Nazi employment programme. That said, the place reminded me of Geneva which is, in my humble opinion, possibly the most boring city I’ve visited in Europe. I can’t really say I visited Hannover so it would be unfair to seriously compare the two, but I’m fairly sure it comes close.

Left: Hellebardier by Alexander Calder (1972) and right: Fackeltrager aka Olympic torch bearer (1937)

Leaving town we soon re-entered the agricultural flatlands, today suffused with the pungent whiff of wild garlic. But can it really be called “wild” if it’s being cultivated on this massive scale? And why do people buy it? Come down to the banks of our local brook and you can pick the stuff to your heart‘s content although admittedly people do walk their dogs down there.

As we ate our lunch one of the riders recounted the story of his grandfather and great-aunt’s escape to freedom on the kindertransport. Like many survivors, Dan’s grandfather never talked about his experience, claiming he had been born and brought up in Blackburn. It was only after the discovery of some letters and further investigation that the story of a 17 year old boy, at first suspected of being a possible spy for the Germans and who later served in the British army during the latter part of the war, was revealed.

I’ve had several conversations with people on the road about their connection to the kindertransport, each one unique and moving. This is really what has made the trip so special for me. The riding has been incidental; the education has been inspirational.

Following lunch came the hills. We saw them approaching from some way off and I assumed we would be skirting round them rather than going over them.

Look! Over there! Hills!

To be honest, they weren’t really hills, more like undulations, but after the past couple of days they felt like hills, and when you don’t know how many there are, each incline is heart-sinking. When you’re some distance from your destination you just hope there aren’t too many of these energy-sapping grinds, but worse is when you are approaching because each time you turn a corner and see the road rise into the distance you hope it will be the last. And then another comes.

And with hills come valleys, and with valleys come wind turbines. Yay! And with wind turbines come headwinds, always headwinds. Boo.

I was mightily relieved to finally reach tonight’s hotel ready for a good sleep before tomorrow’s stage, the longest, at about 117 miles, taking us into The Netherlands.

Here’s a graphical representation of the route: https://www.relive.cc/view/g21771344184

Commemorating the kindertransport: stage 2 – Tangermünde to Hannover

Today was the first scary day. Scary for two main reasons: 1) because it was going to be a very long day in the saddle, and 2) because it was likely to be a very boring day in the saddle. A good word to describe today’s terrain would be… flat.

Today was long at just shy of 180 kilometres and flat. Like a pan. Or a pancake. Except when we went over the motorways and railway lines. Actually to be fair there was, for a few kilometres, a barely imperceptible gradual climb that at one point kicked up to about 4% for about 20 metres but you wouldn’t have known, and neither would I had not the chap riding alongside me excitedly screamed the fact across the plains of Lower Saxony.

Lower Saxony. There’s a clue in the name.

Last night at dinner we were treated to a short and moving talk by Paul Alexander. You may have seen some of the media coverage that this ride has benefited from, largely because of Paul’s extraordinary story. He spoke about the hero that his mother was, entrusting him to fate at the age of 19 months having, during the previous 10 years, lost three babies at birth or soon after. Can you imagine how brave it must have been for her to let her only child travel to England unaware of what might happen to him?

Paul’s story ended happily when he was reunited with his parents in England and they went on to make successes of their new lives.

Even more wonderful is that he is doing the ride with his son and grandson who, I might say, is an extraordinarily strong cyclist at 14 years old. He dragged me and a few others along for the final few kilometres of today’s epic.

When you’re faced with long straight flat roads it’s important to find a way to avoid falling asleep. Such roads offer the potential to pick up speed and for chunks of the day a group of a dozen or so of us rode together in a tight formation, sharing the burden of the head and side winds by continuously rotating. This enabled us to eat up many of those horizontal miles. (See that? I found another word for “flat”).

Along the way we passed through several towns and villages, each one seemingly duller than the last, but there was one highlight, and when I say highlight, I mean something mildly interesting.

It was OK to travel across this point after 6am on December 23rd 1989. Just in time for Christmas shopping.

We stopped for lunch a short distance beyond the old border between the German Democratic Republic and the Federal Republic of Germany. Then we ate lunch.

Today was really about keeping the legs turning and arriving at our hotel in Hannover as quickly as we could. Having showered and rested for a few minutes I went down to the buffet restaurant and ate about three times as many calories as I’d used in potatoes, rice, pasta and anything else they offered. Then I went back for more. Then I ate dessert. Then I went back for a bit more of the other stuff again.

OK, so I like cream. Even aerosol cream.

Here’s the flat route for those that like flat things:

https://www.relive.cc/view/g21740344933

Commemorating the kindertransport: stage 1 – Berlin to Tangermünde

Let me say at the outset that this is not a rider’s ride. It’s a challenge insofar as riding an average of about 95 miles a day for six days on the trot is quite tough, but that’s not what this ride is about.

We gathered at 8am for a 9.30 departure. Mass rides are like that. People need to do stuff. Cyclists are awful faffers. We have all sorts of kit to remember, we ponder the weather and ask anyone within earshot if we need to take a rain jacket when the weather forecast is for a warm cloudless day, we make adjustments to our bike and we have to find a public loo so we can apply chamois cream. (Well I do).

Today we had more than the usual faffing to do before departure.

We were sent off with heartfelt speeches from Petra Pau, vice-president of the Bundestag, Sir Sebastian Wood, British Ambassador to Germany, Karina Hauslmeier, Germany’s Foreign Office Representative responsible for Holocaust Affairs, and student Rabbi Josh Weiner, representing the Berlin Jewish community.

L-R Karina Hauslmeier, Sir Sebastian Wood, Petra Pau

They spoke movingly about the importance of Holocaust memorial projects and the poignancy of our ride in 21st century Europe, expressing genuine concern that the conditions that led to the Holocaust – division and hatred – are on the rise again. The Holocaust didn’t start with the gas chambers, that’s where it ended.

About to leave

And so it came time for us to begin the ride home roughly following the route of the kindertransport trains. When I conceived the idea for the ride I imagined that we’d be riding alongside the tracks the whole way. Of course I knew that logically this wouldn’t be possible; cycle routes for mass participation rides are obliged to consider many more important factors and no doubt our route planners gave not a thought to the train tracks. There are three crucial points on this ride: Friedrichstrasse station, Hook of Holland/Harwich and Liverpool Street Station. How we cycle between those points is really not so important, nonetheless there is much symbolism in the idea of riding the route.

Don’t try this at home, kids.

For this reason I appreciated the reminder of what we were doing whenever I crossed railway lines today.

As for the cycling, don’t read these daily submissions if you’re looking forward to descriptions of lung-busting climbs, 50 mph descents or breathtaking vistas. This ride is flat pretty much the whole way. The climbing happens when we rise up over motorways. If you continue to read this over the next few days get used to the word “flat”. I’ll try to find some synonyms to break up the monotony but I won’t try too hard. If it’s going to be monotonous for me it may as well be for you too.

We passed wind-turbines. I like wind-turbines. I think they’re beautiful when massed together like an army of Magnus Pykes. I also like them because they get up the noses of climate change deniers, for which they are the perfect shape.

View of wind turbines utterly ruined by an electricity pylon, a scar on the landscape if you ask me.

Another exciting part of the cycling today was when nearly all of us overshot the lunch stop by about 5k.

Here’s a graphic of today’s route

https://www.relive.cc/view/g21703758666

Commemorating the kindertransport: prologue

This rather grand building at 44 Güntzelstraße in Berlin’s affluent Wilmersdorf district is where Ingrid Annette Harz lived for the first few years of her life.

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The door has 16 buzzers and I don’t know which was her apartment but I imagine it to have high ceilings and several large rooms. In any event she didn’t live there long because at the age of five Ingrid was sent to England on one of the first kindertransport trains from this station, Friedrickstrasse, in the centre of Berlin.

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Had her parents not managed to get her on that train, instead of being one of the 10,000 children who survived the Holocaust thanks to the kindertransport, she might well have been one of the 1.5 million children who perished. Jews remaining in Berlin from 1941 were mostly sent east on trains from a different station, Grunewald, where they were ordered to report for deportation on an almost daily basis until the end of the war. Around 50,000 Berlin Jews took these trains, mostly to the concentration camps of Theresenstadt and then later Auschwitz.  The memorial at Gleis (platform) 17 testifies to this.

Meanwhile at Friedrichstrasse station there is a memorial by artist Frank Meisler called Trains to Life / Trains to Death.  It depicts two children facing west to safety, and four facing east to their almost certain death.

On Sunday 17th June, along with 41 other cyclists, I will be riding from Friedrichstrasse Station to Liverpool Street Station to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the first kindertransport.  We will be following the route of the trains, going via Hook of Holland and Harwich to our destination where the ride ends after 600 miles, six days later at another Meisler sculpture.

I will be riding in the name of Ingrid Annette Harz who is still alive, and the mother of a friend of mine.

Chris Hoy and the body fascists

That article for GQ magazine.

Speaking as an over 80kg middle-aged man in Lycra, I agree with Cris Hoy.  Wearing team kit is naff. See Rule 17. So is wearing white shorts, an aero-helmet and undies under your padded shorts.

He’s also correct in saying that too much blubber under Lycra is not a good look, but that can’t be helped.  You don’t have to built like a rake thin pro to be a cyclist, and there’s no question that Lycra is the most appropriate clothing for a road cycling.  Moreover, Hoy may feel that Lycra does not look good on people weighing over eight stone but that didn’t stop his own cycling apparel brand offering gear in XXL size.

Chris Hoy

Chris is happy with his debut article for GQ, and so he should be.

Old men in Lycra may well be the subject of sniggers, but I can live with that. Cyclists do it weekly, so of course we’re going to want to wear the right clothing. Are we really expected to change mid-ride in order to be more appropriately dressed when we stop at a cafe?

But there’s a much more serious point to all this.

By picking up on one point Hoy made – that overweight people don’t look good in Lycra, and ignoring the very important qualification he made – that perhaps some of them were twice that size before taking up cycling, the shower of media disapproval adds to a real problem in society: body fascism. Hoy actually spoke positively about overweight people getting into Lycra but all the reports focus on the first part of his statement only. That’s not helpful.  So much more good might have come from emphasising his point that getting into Lycra will increase the health of the nation.

But that won’t bother GQ.  They will be delighted with the attention the piece has garnered.

Chris Hoy is a new columnist for GQ. He’s going to be writing a series of articles addressing cyclists’ dilemmas. GQ is a magazine for somewhat shallow young men who lose sleep over things like what brand of after-shave they should be using now that they’re growing a waist-length beard. It’s quite easy for Hoy to play to this gallery by taking a pop at Mamils, allowing some controversy to be manufactured by the wider media, and thus giving the mag far more publicity than it would have otherwise attracted for what is, after all, not exactly the journalistic signing of the century. Then just as the harrumphing gathers pace, our national treasure of the track tweets apologetically, thus feeding the story even more.

The original piece is about as bland a cycling column I have ever read.  It really says nothing of interest, so a hat-tip goes to GQ for creating so much out of nothing. Shame nobody took the opportunity to focus on encouraging people to get fit instead of looking acceptable.

Inperceptably falling off a cliff.   C2C day three.

By the end of day two the trip was over bar the shouting. No more climbs, just a few miles on the plateau before dropping down for the last stretch on cycle paths through the centre of Newcastle ending at Tynemouth which to the ignorant like me, is still Newcastle. In other words today was a thirty mile valedictory ride.

A brief check of the elevation profile seemed to confirm this, but elevation profiles are deceptively cruel. They squash up distances so that climbs appear to be unfeasibly steep and very short.  They are not to scale and this lulls you into believing they are simply an indication of the normal ups and downs of any terrain.  In reality those hardly noticeably sawteeth turn out to be a series of more significant efforts than expected.

What’s more, after yesterday’s exertions nothing today could possibly be anything other than a pimple in comparison, so my assessment of the elevation profile was summarised as “gradual descent, big descent, flat” and psychologically I was about as prepared as if I were nipping up to the shops.

That gradual descent turned out to include a couple of lung-squeezing climbs and the big descent never seemed to materialise because it was hidden amongst a series of lights, sharp turns and heavy traffic entering Newcastle. The profile looked like I would be falling off a cliff but it was more like slipping down several dropped kerbs – most unsatisfying.

Once at sea level we progressed at a leisurely pace.  Partly because we were on narrow cycle paths and partly because only recently some psychopath had strung fishing line across this route at neck height intent on causing serious injury or worse to any cyclist who failed to notice it in time.  Fortunately nobody was hurt but who knows if a second attempt might be made? We rode the paths cautiously.

One of those bridges

Before long we were alongside the Tyne and its marvellous bridges. We stopped for coffee at the Cycle Hub cafe and then hopped on our bikes for the final tiny flat stretch to the sea at Tynemouth.  A tiny flat stretch that turned out to be about ten miles with more lumps.  This was turning out to be the most dragged out anti-climax of my life.

Eventually we arrived, dipped our wheels in the North Sea, looked for the van, found the van, changed, ate an undeserved but obligatory plate of fish and chips, jumped in the van and headed south.

North Sea dipping

As always, for me at least, the best part of these trips is being out in the open doing what I love doing most with and without my friends. One great thing about cycling is that you spend part of the time being sociable and part of the time in your own space, the beauty being that you can choose how much of each and when.

The terrain was challenging – that’s a primary reason for doing it – and glorious to look at for the most part.  This country offers scenery as majestic as anywhere in the world, I’m convinced. Thank you England. Your people may be separatist numbskulls, but I won’t argue against the claim that you are the New Jerusalem.

I discovered how to burn calories easily. C2C day 2.

As feared, we set off into miserable drizzle, leaving the Briery Wood hotel before the breakfast service began at the surprisingly late time of 8.30. Without food in me panic sets in.  For psychological reasons more than anything I needed to eat before any progress could be made, after all, we were heading away from civilisation – who knew from where or when the next meal might come? All I had on me was about eight energy bars and six gels. We therefore stopped at a friendly Ambleside takeaway cafe and I took on board a scrambled egg baguette and a large cup of coffee.

The way out of Ambleside is up a very steep road for a couple of hundred yards until you reach the beginning of a long, moody, heartless drag which, having brutalised you at the start, relents slightly for most of the following 4k, before punching you with another unfeasibly steep final section. They call it “The Struggle”.  In spite of that it’s the kind of stretch I like.  There’s a building that beckons from the top that you can see from way back. This sort of thing I find helpfully encouraging.

Lake Windermere from the top of The Struggle.

The pain of climbing is almost always rewarded with a fast and long descent.  The further you have to climb, the more enjoyable the drop down.  It’s a bit like skiing, except there’s the satisfaction of having reached the top under your own steam as well.  In this case the reward was not only fast and long, but also beautiful as we hugged the north bank of Ullswater before heading out of the Lake District National Park and on towards the Pennines.

Targeting Alston for lunch meant getting over Hartside Fell, the longest ascent of the trip at just under five miles, but what a joy it was. Never too steep, instead, a consistent baby-smooth slope that allowed me to find a comfortable rhythm and enter my own world of thought for 40 minutes or so. I think these are my favourite kind of climbs.  I loved it.

When middle-aged men, keen on sport and fitness get together, especially if one of them is a retired doctor, conversation inevitably turns at some point to the subject of health. Chuffed that we are relatively fit for our years, we are compelled to congratulate ourselves by talking about it. After the obligatory discussion about the pros and cons of the PSA test I steered the conversation towards calorie burning as we ate a slightly under-portioned lunch.

“Does the process of digestion burn calories?” I wondered. Rodney explained that the basal metabolic system means that just to stay alive we are burning calories, and that indeed our body burns calories when it digests foods.

“So the more we eat, the more calories we are burning?”  I suggested as I scooped up a mouthful of waffle and ice-cream. “And when we sleep as well.  What you’re saying is that the more I eat and the more I sleep the more I’m losing weight,” I concluded with a large creamy dollop of satisfaction.

Off we set, lunch immediately followed by another brute of a climb, Killhope Cross, which eventually brought us down to Stanhope, (pronounced Stanup) at the foot of perhaps the most dramatic climb of the day that took us up through Crawleyside onto Waskerley Moor. This just went on and on but thankfully it was the last of the day.  The only challenge that awaited us was the insult of the final mile and half into a 20mph headwind.

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Waskerley Moor.  It’s all downhill from here.  Well, sort of.

A cyclist needs to burn a lot of calories.  Today’s ride, including four serious climbs over about eighty miles, certainly justified all the fuel I shovelled into my stomach. In fact, just to be sure, I thought it best to have the banana split with aerosol cream and more ice-cream at dinner that evening. Well, I didn’t want to become suddenly hypoglycemic in the night. There were thirty miles of mostly downhill cycling to negotiate tomorrow, after all.

I lay in bed comforted by two things. One that I had successfully completed one of the hardest days I’d ever spent in the saddle, and the other that while I slept I would be shedding kilos. I fell asleep and dreamed of breakfast.