Words: Max Armstrong-Blake
Photos: Callum Painter
Distance: 700 Miles
It’s hard to know where motivation emerges from; rarely a conscious or instant decision. After two summers of riding between hedgerows and open fields around Norfolk, camping on beaches and in woodlands we gained a desire to explore further away and unfamiliar locations. In my opinion, traveling by bike is the most rewarding way to travel. The change in pace and perspective from a car or train seat to a bike saddle allows for a greater appreciation of the environment you’re in. Every small change in gradient is noticed; all the organic chance encounters with strangers and every prediction of rain is made more meaningful.
Callum Painter (left), Max Armstrong-Blake (right)
In August 2022 after months of bike and travel prep, we left Norwich heading south. Through the empty country lanes of Norfolk and Suffolk; arriving in Harwich where the ferry would take us across the channel. We then cycled through the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark to finish in Malmö, Sweden, celebrating with schnapps, crayfish and meatballs with coffee laden sauce. I could write thousands of words but here are some highlights...
3rd day, very hungover and riding across the 30 kilometre long Houtribdijk, a dam and road connecting North Holland with Flevoland; it was a mesmerising 90 minutes. To the right a huge concrete bank from which flocks of birds would leap out and chase us. To the left, an exhaustingly flat blue mass of Lake Ijssel punctuated by sea birds and an occasional yacht.
The Captain’s attic near Bremen that we stayed in on the 6th night. A house filled with trinkets from every nook and cranny of the world. I could’ve sat and listened like a grandchild at Christmas to his tales from the sea. ‘Hot?!’ he said to my comment on the near 30 degree heat, ‘You should try the middle of Persian Gulf in summer with no air conditioning!’ He chuckled and sipped from the perpetual glass of whisky in his hand. He’d earnt it.
Making it to North-Eastern tip of Shlesweig-Holstein in Germany and the island of Fehmarn. Inhabited by sheep, windsurfers, a random English guy who ran a bar and took the piss out of us immediately, and bizarrely a Jimi Hendrix memorial stone. We set up beach camp in serenity on the western edge of the island, next to the glass flat sea with a pure feeling of achievement after the most amount of continuous cycling we’d ever done. I awoke at 3am and the sea was no longer flat, however my tent was completely horizontal along with the storm driven rain. Once the rain subsided at 6am I crawled out from my collapsed and sodden casing in a delirious state, hurriedly stuffing things into panniers. We kissed the curious Jimi Hendrix stone for good luck; tired and damp we eventually found the ferry on to Denmark.
Once in the land of England’s invaders during the 9th century, we felt annoyingly at home. The rural landscape of Lolland is identical to Norfolk, but somehow even flatter. Our image of the country was purely based on the capital; the stereotype of modern design, vibrant urban spaces and a high standard of living. We were surprised to find the streets dusty and empty, vacant of life and difficult to see where any could be hiding. The rusty old bridges and non-existent cycle paths were more akin to Great Yarmouth than Copenhagen. However by the end of the first day, where we stayed in one of the hundreds of shelters across the country, we could appreciate that people lived very content lives. We were glad for some quietness, happy without the obsessively pristine towns of Holland or the officiousness of Germany. We did become slightly deranged by the second day though, screaming at the top of our lungs and purposefully crashing into obstacles for at least something to happen.
Thanks to everyone we met along the way and everyone who donated to the Ben Reamers foundation. Special thanks to Tom and Rudi in Alkmaar for filling us with food & booze and also to Victoria & Daniel in who met us in Næstved. See you again : )