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  • Jamie Shannon

It's always exciting to board a boat! Brighton to Harwich.

After three days in Brighton, I felt it was time to get on my way. I had booked a ferry from Harwich to The Netherlands the day before giving myself three days to make it to the port. I really didn’t want to be pushing hard every day and this also gave me enough time to get lost a little and enjoy the pleasure of simple cycling through pretty landscapes. That’s always the plan anyway.

From Brighton, I had expected it to be an uphill struggle out from the coast towards Lewes, but as local guy had instructed me, I followed a slight downhill cycle path along the main road all the way there. This was a pleasant surprise as I feared the worse and my knees still weren’t properly recovered.

From Lewes, I took some lovely and gentle B roads through some small villages. The weather was brilliant sunshine, the traffic was light and I was on my way to another country. Life was going well I thought. You might now think this sentence would be followed by the word 'but' or 'however' though I can assure you, it will not.

The cycling couldn’t have been easier. With amazing sunshine throughout the day, I was even getting a tan; me, the whitest guy ever. Out of Royal Tunbridge Wells, and after many stares, bewildering looks and sporadic gestures of goodwill, I found a road in the direction of Gravesend. It was here I found just the perfect place to camp for the evening. Crossing over the road, I pushed my bike into a forest and surveyed my surroundings. Seeing and hearing no one, I immediately set to work putting up my tent in the lush undergrowth when I saw a dear. And then another one! I couldn’t believe my eyes, I mean, I was just south of London and there were dear roaming about here. I had never heard of anyone being trampled by a dear during the night and so I continued to set up whilst wondering if I had saw a dear here in one of the most populated countries on earth, what kinds of wildlife would I see in the more remoter parts I planned to visit. My excitement was growing day by day.

The following morning, after another peaceful and more importantly free night under the stars, I ate my porridge, drank my coffee and stretched my legs. By 08:00, I was on my way.

By 12pm, I had arrived in Gravesend where I caught a ferry across the Thames to Tilbury on the other side. Having dropped into the supermarket to pick up some fruit and chocolate I was heading to Basildon where I realised I had lost my scandals from the back of my bike. They only cost ten euros but it was just another reminder that if I attached any small item to the back, there was a large chance I would loose it. I had to stop doing that but I just found it easy to tuck things under the bungee cords.

Cycling into Basildon however became a real headache. My map just wasn’t detailed enough and I once again only found a maze of duel carriageways and busy A roads. After many questions I was again on my way but not before I stopped to ask one guy and his girlfriend in which direction this road was. His response was both strange and interesting as he asked if I was going fishing. I don’t know why that was his first thought but I enjoyed it all the same.

A little later I was on my way through the small roads around Maldon with cars buzzing past horridly, no doubt on their way home from work. I must say though that it did give me great satisfaction knowing I wouldn’t have to work in a long time. Obviously not a choice everyone would take but one I had been looking forward to enjoying for some time.

I always thought it would be easy enough to find somewhere to camp around the countryside but actually this night was proving difficult. Every available area was either fenced off or clearly intended for some other use. With this, I started to get a little anxious as it was approaching six and I still hadn’t cooked anything. After having scanned every available area though, I came across another little forest and so pushed my bike as far into it as I could. I then proceeded to take everything off it in order to walk on even further before doing the same with my bike. The safest place is always the place where you will not be found I thought.

Today I would be arriving in Harwich and with Harwich came a ferry to The Netherlands and for this reason alone I was extremely excited. I mean, I was finally going back to Europe!

Having cycled through Maldon where a lot of my friends grew up and then visiting briefly the pretty town of Chelmsford, I was on the last leg of my journey through England when, low and behold, I got a puncture. Well it’s happened before and it will happen again. This one took a long time to fix however, and all told, I was at the side of the road for over an hour trying to get the dammed tire to inflate. In the end, and having removed a huge pin from my tyre I was once again cycling towards the coast.

From here, I had the option of taking a lovely flat but busy dual carriageway or an immensely hilly but quiet B road towards Harwich. I opted for the latter and, despite being very hard work, was worth the effort tenfold. I guess over the previous ten days or so I had conditioned my body to the point where It was no longer unbelievably difficult to cycle up hills. Now it was just difficult.

Just out of a little town called Manningtree, I was finally greeted with the coast and was so infused with glee I stopped to pick up a bottle of beer, hoping to enjoy it under the sun when I found a suitable beach. Alas the beach never came and the hills grew and twisted as angrily as ever but, I was on my way to Europe!

Finally, as I neared Harwich, a strange mist began to grow over the town, as if in the form of a bush fire. It was very weird. A lady, whom I had enquired about directions to the port, had told me it was a passing cloud but, looking around, I wasn’t so sure. It didn’t look like the most welcoming of places. Arriving at the seafront a little later, there was no beach, or pretty cliffs or anything else really; only rusty old tugs and fishing trawlers lining the promenade. It wasn’t what I had hoped for but it was as good as anywhere and so I drank my beer knowing Europe lay just around the corner. Oh and tonight I would find myself sleeping in an abandoned church yard. Every cloud and all that…

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