Downhill … all the Way
The idea of cycling across England first came to me in the early 1990s, when a gang of us were reasonably fit and used to do the annual London–Brighton Bike Ride. Looking at the map, the ironic motto 'Downhill All the Way' sprang to mind immediately and is probably what kept the idea alive for fifteen years. The simple reason for the choice of journey was that it goes from the eastern-most point in England to the most westerly. The direction was dictated by the relative flatness of East Anglia where one can work up the final modicum of fitness before tackling the hills of the West Country. Also, Lowestoft Ness doesn't make much of a destination after an epic ride, being hidden away behind the gas works, next to a fish processing plant. My last two-week cycle tour had been exactly forty-two years before I embarked on this ride, so it was time to set myself a challenge before advancing years caught up with me. With the demise of the much loved and respected Bartholomew's Half Inch maps, I found a substitute in a road atlas of slightly larger scale but much less detail. Taking a huge gamble, I sat at our breakfast bar and began to trace a route across the maximum width of England along unclassified roads, lanes and B-roads. A-roads were used only as a last resort – a decision which the journey was to fully justify. In order to keep the distance as short as possible – having chosen the greatest width! – I kept as close to the straight line between start and finish as the road network would allow. I did incorporate a loop northwards to avoid the web of main roads around Letchworth. It was no coincidence that the same loop took my route very neatly around the top end of the Chiltern Hills and channelled me down the Vale of Aylesbury and the upper Thames Valley, between the Chilterns and the Cotswolds.