A 1000 Mile Journey to All the Places Called Hope
“The first lockdown was wading into the unknown, not even knowing what questions to ask. I buried myself in maps and found Hope. All over the country, from the highlands of Scotland to coves of Devon Hope lurks waiting for us, reminding us that we can look beyond the current maelstrom and see a better world. I decided to cycle all the places called Hope in Britain.“
On the 12th August I arrived in a fanfare of midges at Hope Bridge in Scotland, ready to cycle to Hope Cove on the Devon coast – a 1000 mile ride. I was going to cycle Loch Hope, past Ben Hope, to Hope, then on to as many Hopes as I could find. I’d planned out a route, working out how to fit in as much Hope as possible.
I did this because while I love cycling made up routes, I also want to help The Bike Project. They give refurbished bicycles to asylum seekers, complete with lock, lights, and helmet, as well as getting beginners cycling, and offering local mentors. A bike may not change the world, but it can make life a lot easier and bring a ray of hope. If you’re trying to live off £37.75 a week, and you’re not allowed to work, even essential journeys become an expensive choice.
Cycling gives you a unique perspective on the country. A bike is an invitation to find the other routes, lanes and tracks that twist convoluted within the landscape. Some roads had not just moss, but grass, ferns and a full ecosystem thriving down the centre, while even a Fiat Panda would be brushing vegetation on both sides, the solid earth banks barely much wider.
Every contour becomes a pain or a pleasure; light, water, heat ensconce you; winds help or hinder. The scents change with every hedgerow, you catch sounds of whispering grasses, and glimpses of flitting birds are not muffled by a metal box. In Devon a stoat ran across the tarmac, squealing in fear as my front wheel came within inches of its speeding backside. I’d crossed the North Pennines serenading sheep and cows as I passed. It’s just you, your gently purring bike, and wherever you happen to be.
The Great Glen Way was a highlight. If you’ve never been, go there at once. Take my bike. The glen bisects Scotland, following Loch Ness and the Calendonian Canal from Inverness to Fort William, and beyond. The cycle route takes you up over mountains, giving you tantalising glimpses of the sparking lochs, before bursting out at the water’s edge, and following the gentle towpath along the dreamy canal. A single track road winds through mossy, tangled, fairytale woods, and sheep graze idly on the foreshore, creating one of those little moments of heaven, the low evening light twinkling off the loch.
At a summit I stopped to take in the view and revel in the endorphins. A couple were having a car picnic, and we chatted bikes, as they recounted their younger days. They offered me their last sandwich. “It’s Morrison’s finest. You need it more than us.” I found this generosity all over the country. People are awesome.
I felt lucky to have the whole of Britain to explore. In the middle of the Yorkshire Dales I opened a field gate onto a lane more grass than tarmac, nonchalant sheep eyeing me. I glanced back and saw the bold outline of Bolton Castle on the next escarpment. I hadn’t even realised it was there. Britain is teeming with interesting historic things. The round brochs of the Highlands, ancient stone circles and churches from lost millennia dot every hillside, little nuggets of delight.
As I rode, I started seeing Hope everywhere – on noticeboards, road names, car number plates. Hope is everywhere, for those who care to look. It gave the whole journey a better outlook.
I’d climbed up to Tan Hill, the highest point on the whole route, before dropping back into the valley and climbing another vertical up to Hope Edge, and down the other side to a couple of farmhouses that tried to constitute a village. I squealed in joy when I saw the sign. “Hope”, bold and simple in Transport Heavy. Hope could be found down this little lane. Hope was what I needed, as my tired legs looked forward into the evening gloaming.
I made it back up to the peak when my gear cable snapped. My bike always knows which spares I haven’t brought, but somehow it didn’t feel impossible. It was now getting dark, so I coasted downhill and, as always when in doubt, went to the pub. I paused at the noticeboard, caught by a little card, “Mobile bike mechanic.” Sometimes things just work out. I sent an email, then pushed off to set up my tarp against the rain, in the lea of a dry stone wall.
Next morning I emerged into the drizzle, and cruised into a village in search of signal, and called the mechanic. Paddy had seen my email the night before and had already been up to the pub to ask after me. My stealth camping was apparently a little too stealth, and he’d gone on to another job. He directed me to the Dales Bike Centre, which lay a mile further along my route, entirely downhill. I had a proper coffee as Stu fixed my cable. People are awesome. My bike, Claude, could not have chosen a better spot to break. I was very happy that this was my only mechanical the whole trip.
Hope gave the journey focus and meaning, as I considered what hope is and how it can lead us forward through what seems impossible. Hope has been described as humankind’s greatest strength, and greatest weakness. It is through hope that we can bring change, it is through hope that we can continue blindly on into the darkness, believing it to be right, the outcome unknown. My journey was relatively comfortable but having Hope to spur me on was a great help.
My final day was drich with mizzle, and everyone wanted Hope. The single track road was heaving, until traffic melted away as I coasted down to the sea. Hope Cove beach lay in a secluded rocky bay, overlooked by the Hope & Anchor and Hope Cove Stores. I joined the crowds in traditional British beach attire – shorts, anorak and wellies, for ice cream, hot tea and a warm pasty. I scurried down to the beach, looking for some magic moment and sense of arrival, completion. The waves carried on lapping, kids carried on building dams, dogs carried on flollopping happily on the sand. Reaching the sea, the edge, the end of the land felt conclusive. I could go no further on this line.
2020 has been a year of uncertainty, the future now flits and flutters before our eyes, as planning increasingly becomes like pinning jelly to the wall. But we at have a beacon ahead of us, taking us forward, that is Hope. This second lockdown brings news of vaccines offering a very real hope, to all of us, that we can once again be free to travel, explore and meet up with others.
“Don’t leave off hoping, or it’s of no use doing anything. Hope, hope to the last.” – Charles Dickens
There is Hope in the UK
Helen’s journey in numbers:
- Miles: 1008
- ‘Hopes’ visited: 10
- Money raised for The Bike Project so far: £1258
- Days on the road: 12
- Times I washed my jersey: 7
- Top speed: 42mph
- Punctures: 0
- Mechanicals: 1 (easily resolved)
- Nights spent under the stars: 4
- Nights spent under the midges: 1
- Greatest distance in one day: 114 miles
- Highest elevation: 531m (Tan Hill Inn, North Pennines)
- Most climbing in one day: 2159m (Tan Hill accounted for a chunk of that.)
- Lowest elevation: -22m (My GPS assumed I forded the Huntspill River, ignoring the bridge.)
- Total climbing: 18,186m
- Total rainfall: 5 metres (felt like)
- Endangered animals almost run over: 3
- Endangered animals actually run over: 0
- Sheep, cows and horses serenaded: 43
- Cheese and Onion pasties consumed: 11
- Chocolate Yazoos consumed: 5,236 (approx)
- Distance added to avoid high bridges: 93 miles
- Ferries taken: 2
- Times I used my stove: 0
- Distance I carried that pack of couscous from Aldi, unopened: 1008 miles
- Times people sent me images or videos on Hope: 4
- Times I lost Hope: 0
If you would like to donate The Bike Project via Helen’s journey, you can do so here.